Movie Review: Argo

20121015-143026.jpgWritten by Dan O’Connell, Contributing Writer

In the early days of the Iran Hostage crisis, six Americans in the Iranian Embassy escape to the Canadian Ambassador’s house, and CIA Operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with the only feasible plan to get them out. He plans to enter the country under the pretense of being a Canadian filmmaker scouting locations for a Hollywood film, and he’ll have the hostages pose as his movie staff. Once there, he’ll take them out as a team. His stateside helpers include: members of the CIA (Cranston, most notably), a gruff veteran producer (Arkin, signing on as a fake producer to make the story more believable) and a cheerful makeup artist (Goodman, who also helps to sell the Hollywood ruse). Once Mendez enters Iran, the problems arise. It’s not nearly as easy as it seems, and the story unfolds in one of the most suspenseful films in history.

Affleck’s winning streak as a director continues, armed with great performances, terrific dialogue, outstanding music cues (Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away” for the win), and the best late 70s period design since “Boogie Nights” — right down to the Warner Bros. logo that opens the movie (a KILLER touch). Though I wasn’t thrilled with Affleck’s decision to underplay his role, by the third act it’s irrelevant. This film is an easy contender
for multiple Oscars.


Movie Review: Seven Psychopaths

20121012-125109.jpgWritten by Dan O’Connell, Guest Contributor

It’s Meta time as screenwriter Martin (Colin Farrell) is blocked, so he decides to write a script called “The Seven Psychopaths.” When he’s not writing (and we’re not seeing what he’s writing acted out for us), we’re treated to a look at his off-kilter friends, including Billy (Sam Rockwell), a kidnapper of dogs who, along with his pal Hans (Christopher Walken, in all his glorious, glorious Walken-ness), gets them all in over their heads when they abscond with a Shih Tzu that belongs to sociopathic gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson).

Writer Director Martin McDonaugh (who previously worked with Farrell in In Bruges) doesn’t have a solid handle on tone – the action veers from absurdly gory to flat out dull, often within the same scene. But was that intentional? Using Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation start-up kit, McDonaugh (through the vessel Farrell) is comments on the action, but the ratio of success is pretty much 50-50. Regardless, no one has a way with a line of dialogue like Walken, who may have evolved into self-parody years ago, but is still a true original. Some welcome faces pop up in brief cameos, and between Walken, Harry Dean Stanton, and Tom Waits, it fulfills its “grizzled character actor” quota and then some. Overall, it’s clever enough to recommend, but curb your expectations and you’ll enjoy it.

Rating: 3 Dishes

Movie Review: Taken 2

The Taken franchise works because you know exactly what you’re getting and you’re satisfied when you leave. It’s not a high grade action flick. It’s a cheesy, low-budget, plot-easy movie that successfully keeps the suspense afloat from beginning to end. And because Liam Neeson is an unassuming action star who has made his career with more relevant portrayals, I rooted not only for his character, but for the idea that an actor can reinvent his career at any point in life.

The film is much like its original, centered solely around Neeson’s attempt to retrieve his “taken” family members. Though critics have suggested it’s a duplicate, I’ll repeat the answer that I had for that same criticism of the Hangover sequel: if it worked once, then do it again. The main difference between the two films is its quality. The sequel is more polished, the action sequences are better choreographed, and Neeson’s character has more opportunity to show his post-CIA knowledge base. There’s a reason the movie opened at number one. And it’s refreshing that you don’t need one hundred million dollars to accomplish it.


Movie Review: The Expendables 2


When our favorite crew of mercenaries led by Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Lee (Jason Statham) and the rest of the boys are blackmailed into doing a job in Bulgaria by the vindictive Mr. Church (Willis), things naturally go awry and they run afoul of one Jean Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who’s using Bulgarian residents to salvage plutonium out of an underground mine. So along with Booker (Chuck Norris) and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), they blow tons of stuff up and shoot countless rounds of semi-automatic ammo to take him down. While it lacks the freshness of the first installment, the gang knows what their audience wants – blood, guts and mindless, unrealistic violence – and delivers it without flinching.


‘Magic Mike’ — Movie Review

The best part of this film is Matthew McConaughey’s hilarious strip-club-hosting antics, and the second best part is Channing Tatum’s ass. Other than that, it’s just a plot-less guilty pleasure. The film follows “Magic Mike,” a guy with a dream to start his own business building custom furniture, who strips on the side to raise the money. He meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) during a random construction job, and he convinces the troubled, aimless kid to join him later at his strip club. Strip club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) thinks Adam’s “got something” and he hires him to strip. When Adam gets into trouble, his sister Brooke (Cody Horn) blames Mike, and Mike’s crush on Brooke leads him to a painful monologue about how he’s “more than Magic Mike.” There were many moments of this film when I found myself turning to my friend to ask, “When will they get back to the stripping?” and “Where is Matthew McConaughey?” I actually felt bad for Channing Tatum, whose acting skills were severely put to the test given that he had absolutely no foil to work with. In fact, the aforementioned “painful monologue” felt like a Channing Tatum’s screen-test, because Cody Horn looked as if she was too tired to actually act. Perhaps she was holding script pages instead of listening? As for Alex Pettyfer, he too could use some acting lessons. To be fair, it’s possible that the director (who I was shocked to discover is Steven Soderbergh) told his actors to “play it boring.” But the most disappointing element of the film wasn’t the actors, it was the limited amount of choreographed dancing. If you’re going cheap on the plot, then you better amp up the dancing. And three sequences is just not enough. That being said, get some popcorn and go see it. It’s not every day you see A-listers wearing next-to-nothing.


‘Ted’ — Movie Review

Written by: Dan O’Connell, Guest Contributor

Hilarious extended riff on the wish-fulfillment storyline, a blue collar Boston guy (Mark Wahlberg) tries to balance his relationship with his extremely patient fiancee (Mila Kunis), and his stuffed bear Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane), who came to life when he was eight after a Christmas wish. Now, Ted has turned into the equivalent of a former child star, getting high and sleeping around with hookers, and attempting to make it on his own with a crummy minimum wage job.

MacFarlane gets a lot of flak for running the pop culture references on “Family Guy” into the ground, as well as overly relying on non-sequiturs, but the guy knows how to keep a 90 minute feature afloat, and he keeps the laughs coming consistently. As for Wahlberg, he proves once again after his great comedic turn in “The Other Guys” that he knows how to play the straight man. Though the film ladles on the schmaltz a little too much toward the end, it’s a consistent laugh from beginning to end.


The Amazing Spider-man — Movie Review

Written by: Dan O’Connell, Guest Contributor

Let’s party like it’s 2002: Wimpy high-schooler Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), is bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him the ability to sling webs and fly about the city, but putting his burgeoning relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) at risk, while battling Gwen’s police chief dad (Denis Leary) and the nefarious Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who has the ability to morph into a giant lizard and release clouds of noxious gas over NYC.

Many said this “reboot” came along too soon, only 10 years after Sam Raimi’s original, and I’m among them. Too much focus is put on the relationship between Pete and Gwen, and the movie spends much too much time setting up Spidey’s origin and doesn’t introduce the bad guy until over an hour into the film. There’s nothing here that wasn’t done better before. Every story element is almost exactly the same, and – although I never thought I’d see myself writing this – Tobey Maguire’s goofiness easily trumps Garfield’s introspective angst. The effects are solid, the 3D is well employed, and as a whole it isn’t bad, but it’s unnecessary, and smacks more of a cash grab than a legitimate attempt to revitalize a floundering franchise.

Overall Rating: 2.5 Dishes

Movie Review: Prometheus

Written by: Dan O’Connell, Guest Contributor

Two scientists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of cave paintings that indicate the possible existence of the origin of man, so they board a spaceship with a terse captain (Charlize Theron), a tough pilot (Idris Elba), a benign android (Michael Fassbender) and a bunch of other folks who make no impression whatsoever to explore another planet. However, it’s not too long before they start getting attacked by… something, and this all ties into the first Alien movie somehow too.

Given the level of anticipation built up for Prometheus, (it’s got the Aliens in it! And Ridley Scott is back in space! And also there’s also 3D!) some letdown was inevitable, but I was not expecting how much I’d truly dislike this movie. The movie feels like a cobbled-together collection of scenes with no build, no solid throughline, and zero tension. Sure the effects are decent (although the 3D is so negligible that it needn’t have been employed at all), but they’re at the mercy of a script with forgettable dialogue, enigmatic characters who don’t seem to have any motivation for the way they behave from one scene to the next, and indifferent performances (everyone’s raving about Fassbender’s android, but I’ll take Ash or Bishop any day over this clod). There’s exactly one scene that grabbed my attention (imagine if John Hurt had a little mechanical help extracting his little friend in Alien, and you’re close), but it’s been quite some time where I’ve been so disinterested in something so grandiose.


Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Written by: Dan O’Connell, Guest Contributor

Wes Andesron’s latest entry into the Museum of Quirk is “Moonrise Kingdom,” or as I like to refer to it, “Wes Anderson’s Bible Stories.” Set in 1965 New England, two pre-teen lovers, Suzy and Sam (newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, respectively) begin a lengthy pen-pal courtship and decide to run away, putting the local sheriff (Bruce Willis), Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton), and Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Anderson mainstay Bill Murray) on the alert – not to mention the dozen or so Khaki Scouts who are also dispatched to find them.

See if you can pick up a pattern here – Sam and Suzy find their own personal EDEN but are soon forced out of it by the adults, a big flood endangers NOAH’S Church, in which the Khaki Scouts disguise themselves as ANIMALS to aid Sam & Suzy’s flight… yes, Wes hit the Good Book as inspiration. As with every Anderson film, the production design is stunning and the kids are solid along with the newcomers to Anderson’s repertory company (and nary a Wilson Brother in sight), but the tone is so subdued and lightweight that it’s hard to believe that this is the guy who wrote and directed “Rushmore,” with its punk attitude and British Invasion-based soundtrack. It’s entertaining, it’s never dull, but it feels very slight – cute and maybe a little twee, but I’d probably put it somewhere in the middle of Anderson’s oeuvre.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Dishes

Movie Review: The Avengers

Joss Whedon is a genius. He not only made a great film, but he also successfully reinvigorated four suffering franchises. That’s an epic move for Marvel, who will now be able to capitalize on the missteps of other directors, who caused significant damage to Hollywood’s biggest money-makers (see ‘Iron Man 2’ and Edward Norton’s ‘The Hulk’). The plot might actually be less important than the dialogue. All you need to know is someone is trying to destroy the world, and The Avengers are commissioned to prevent it. Their unity proves to be a hilariously difficult task, and they often spend more time fighting each other than the enemy. Does it get better than Iron Man insulting Thor’s dated manner of speaking, or everyone insulting The Hulk’s awful temper? The beauty of this film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s an action film worth every penny, which is something difficult to achieve in such an ailing economy.