Posts Tagged ‘brad pitt’

thelma and louise

Louise (Susan Sarandon) is bored with her life, and with her boyfriend Jimmy, (Michael Madsen)  so she decides to call up her friend, Thelma (Geena Davis) who is sick of her domineering husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald) and so they decide to drive to Mexico.  Thelma ominously brings her husband’s gun along, in case there’s any trouble.  They go to a bar, and right away, Thelma gets too drunk and too flirtatious with a guy named Harlan. (Timothy Carhart) Harlan takes Thelma to the parking lot of the bar and tries to rape her.  Luckily, Louise gets to the parking lot just in time and shoots Harlan.  They are now fugitives from the law, on the run.

Louise calls Jimmy and asks him to wire her own savings to her; Louise also picks up an attractive, young hitchhiker named J.D., (Brad Pitt) at Thelma’s urging.  When Louise goes to pick up the money, Jimmy is waiting for her.  He asks Louise to marry her.  Does she accept?  Is J.D. is innocent and carefree as he appears?    What of Hal, (Harvey Keitel) the cop who doing the leg work to find Thelma and Louise, does he track them down, or do they escape to Mexico?

The first time I saw this movie, I thought it was an acceptable escapist feminist revenge fantasy.  I see it now and I can’t stand this movie.  The only character who’s got any redeeming characteristics is Louise.  Thelma does one stupid thing after another that gets them deeper and deeper into a hole. So much for being a feminist’s dream movie. J.D. is not what he appears to be, Darryl is the king of the jerks, Jimmy who appears decent has a dark side, and Hal the cop chasing them seems to be the only man who has any empathy at all.  Even the waitresses and superficial and empty headed.  Bar patrons are rapists, and truckers are harassing stalkers.  Khali Khouri who was lauded in the book I just read, wrote a screenplay full of one dimensional, superficial characters in my opinion.  Thelma is supposed to show some growth but her dramatic arc from stupid to wise happens too quickly to be believable.

The acting is adequate.  Susan Sarandon really stands out in this movie, as she does in most movies, and gives a hellacoius performance.  She’s gotta stay one step ahead of the law, and one eye on her friend, and her performance illustrates the frustration she must endure, and also the joy of being free from the things that are shackling her.  I don’t think Geena Davis should have been Oscar nominated, she’s playing the ditzy airhead she always played and wasn’t convincing when her transformation takes place.  Brad Pitt was just asked to be a pretty boy, take his shirt off, and flex his muscles and that’s what he did.  Michael Madsen was very good as Jimmy, he gives the character depth, and a quiet strength. Harvey Keitel with a Southern accent is unintentionally funny, and the accent makes it difficult to take the performance seriously.

The direction is only so-so, while there are some stunning visuals of the American Southwest, but the pacing is inexcusable, it is so painfully slow that it’s painful to watch.  I kept watching hoping the story would move and it didn’t move fast enough, not even remotely fast enough for me. There was so much about what a great director Ridley Scott is in the Over The Cliff book, and he is a good director for science fiction, this story is not his milieu, so he was right in not wanting to direct it.  He shouldn’t have.  He got some good performances, and some not so good ones.

Thelma and Louise.  Don’t Louise sleep over this one.

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The Big Short

Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the founder of the Scion Hedge Fund.  He notices a trend in mortgage default rates,  based on the explosion of subprime mortgages written by banks. He predicts that subprime lending will cause the housing market to collapse in 2007, and finds a way to bet against the banks.  Burry goes to Goldman Saks and asks them to create a Credit Default Swap, which Burry used as a short selling tool against the impending mortgage crisis. Burry invests 1.3 billion of Scion’s money in shorting the banks. Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) learns of Burry’s idea and runs against the grain of the rest of the traders in his company by thinking Burry is onto something.

Mark Baum (Steve Carell) becomes interested in the big short when Vennett mistakenly places a call to Baum’s hedge fund companies.  Baum had always been suspicious of the banks and their motives for lending, but the banks’ use of collateralized debt obligations as securities, exacerbates the risk of global financial collapse, and makes Baum eager to short the banks.  Newbie investors Charlie Gellar (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Witrock) pick up a flier from Vennett and are immediately interested in making this transaction, but their hedge fund falls short of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association fiduciary requirement for making such an investment, so they seek the help of Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) a trader, who’s given up the Wall Street rat race, but agrees to help the young investors.  As 2007 approaches, the housing market is still going strong, and the premiums paid by these three sets of investors for shorting the banks continue to mount as does the pressure to dump their short positions. Do they stay with their original positions or succumb to the pressure and sell their Credit Default Swaps?

This is a great film, funny and smart and sharply written.  Best of all, it simplifies the complex financial transactions in an entertaining way so that everyone can understand.  Unbelievably, it is able to find heroes in the carnage of the financial meltdown of 2007, people who had the courage to bet against the banks, and so viewers have someone to root for in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  The ending of the movie is depressing and anger-inducing at the same time, but that is the intent of this complex movie to pull viewers in and then to have them realize the disastrous impact of what will take place. The only quibble is the movie lasts a few scenes too long and should have ended sooner.

The acting is superb.  Bale is nominated for an Oscar as Michael Burry, I think he overdid the Asperger’s Syndrome a bit with Burry, but overall, it was a good performance.  Burry was perhaps the most sympathetic of all the characters, and Bale plays him with the right amount of sensitivity.  The best performance was given by Steve Carell as angry, guilt-ridden hedge fund manager Mark Baum, sporting a bad haircut, and a nasal twang, Carell seems like the antithesis of a hero, but he gives this complex character many sides, one of which is an everyman fighting against the colossus that is the banking industry.  It’s nice to see Ryan Gosling play a relevant role again, he is not exactly a hero, he is more a jerk than anything else, but Gosling makes Vennett likable.  The only clunky performance was Brad Pitt, he tries to disguise himself with weight and a scruffy beard, but he doesn’t put much emotion into the role.  Like 12 Years A Slave, thanks Brad for Producing, stop casting yourself. Nice cameos by Selena Gomez,  Margot Robbie, and Anthony Bourdain.

The director Adam McKay, is mostly known for directing Will Ferrell movies, but does an excellent job of directing this movie, the pacing is good, although it languishes a bit towards the end, and he gets good performances, even though it is not hard to get good performances from a cast like this. This isn’t even the best financial crisis movie made, that honor goes to Inside Job, a 2010 documentary narrated by Matt Damon.

The Big Short:  Long on entertainment.

Movie Review Fury (2014)

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Drama
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Norman (Logan Lerman) and Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) in Columbia Pictures' FURY.

Tank Commander Don Collier (Brad Pitt) leads a group of soldiers on a mission to hold a crossroads from a Nazi SS division in 1945. His loyal subordinates have fought with him from Africa to France on D- Day and now into Germany. The veterans, Boyd Swan, (Shia La Bouf) Trini Garcia, (Michael Pena) and Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal) try to break in a new assistant tank driver, Norman Ellison (Logan Lehrman) who used to be a clerk typist before entering combat. Can the tank soldiers hold the crossroads until reinforcements arrive?

I have heard that Fury is based on a number of true stories from World War II. If that is the case, the collection of stories seem awfully disjointed, and lacking in continuity. Every movie about WWII had a mission to complete. In Saving Private Ryan, the soldiers try to recover a missing soldier, in the Great Escape, a group of allied POW’s try to escape a Nazi POW camp, In Stalag 17, the allies try to uncover a Nazi spy in their midst, and probably the best of these is Band of Brothers, which follows the exploits of Easy Company the first parachute infantry regiment during World War II. There is no mission here, no cohesive story, the soldiers just hop from mission to mission, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. It’s supposed to be a character study, but the characters are paper thin. Pitt is the leader of the group, but why do these soldiers follow him around through the whole war, and why are they willing to lay their lives on the line for him. The rest of the characters are little more than stereotypes, Swan spouts scripture at every turn, which is an insult to a true Christian. Garcia is a loutish Hispanic character, Grady Travis is the stereotypical Hollywood redneck, which is an insult to Southern people. And Lehrman is the new guy being put through the requisite amount of hazing before being accepted by the group. To top it off, the ending is shockingly unrealistic. If it wanted to concentrate on how muddy, and filthy and bloody war is they succeeded, but again, what kind of story do they want to tell, a heroic war story or a gritty anti-war war movie? The length of the movie, is far too long, and one scene, where the soldiers hold two women prisoner, encapsulates the problem. The scene goes on and on, and doesn’t provide any insight to these men, or why they behave they way they do. 2 hours and 14 minutes is horrendously long for a movie with seemingly no point.

The acting is underwhelming. Pitt gives a dull, listless performance, and expects the audience to follow him regardless. It’s like he’s saying, “I’m a star, that’s why you should spend 2+ hours watching me.” Sorry, that’s not good enough. After two lackluster performances in 12 Years A Slave, and World War Z, I’m beginning to have serious doubts about Pitt’s acting ability. He is capable of giving a good performance, he did give a great performance in Inglorious Basterds, ironically a World War II movie. Logan Lehrman gives the best performance, but the character is so hackneyed and clichéd, that it’s hard to appreciate his performance. Shia La Bouf easily gives the most insincere performance of his life as a Bible thumping evangelical, and Michael Pena should be ashamed of the lines he has to say. If I want a sermon, I’ll go to church, if I want a negative Latino stereotype, I’ll watch John Leguizamo.

There is one scene with outstanding cinematography, unfortunately it’s the first scene, and then the rest of the movie is filled with a dull sepia imbued film. This is undoubtedly done for effect, but instead of illustrating an uplifting tone, it adds to a depressing tone. The pacing is slow and ponderous, much like a tank ride though Germany. The story meanders for a long time, before trying to build to an exciting ending. It doesn’t.

the counselor

The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is a lawyer who is deeply in love with Laura. (Penelope Cruz)  He wants to marry Laura, and buys her a prohibitively expensive engagement ring, and seems to be set for a life filled with happiness.  The Counselor inexplicably wants to become a part of the drug trade in Juarez Mexico.  He meets with his friend Reiner, (Javier Bardem) and a middle man named Westray (Brad Pitt) and despite their warnings, the Counselor goes ahead with his plan to make 20 million dollars on a drug deal. When a drug courier is killed, and the drug shipment disappears, the kingpin, Jefe (Reuben Blades) goes after Laura.  Does Laura survive?  Who has the drug shipment?

A movie with this kind of star power, directed by Ridley Scott should not be this appallingly bad.  I blame the writer Cormac McCarthy, I’ve read The Road and seen the film, I saw No Country For Old Men, and now there’s this movie, all three gave me a massive headache.  McCarthy’s writing style is enigmatic. There is no cohesive story, no central theme to build a story around.  Is it a cautionary tale about drugs or money or is it an exciting drama about the drug war with sexual overtones? It tries to be both, it ends up being a muddled mess.  The characters are spouting, flowery almost poetic language one minute, and spouting four letter words the next.  Neither the flowery language or the sex talk or PG-13 sex scenes move the story along one iota, and only serves to confuse matters even further.  McCarthy never answers the question why.  Why does a lawyer, with a beautiful fiancé have a desire to join the drug trade? The characters aren’t clearly drawn or delineated, and so the Counselor has great actors, a great director just begging for a good story.

This is the first time I’ve seen Michael Fassbender and his acting wasn’t compelling to me.  Brad Pitt gives a dull, listless rendering of Westray the middle man.  He has a very limited range of skills, limited to comedic action roles. Javier Bardem looks like a troll, I liked Bardem in Skyfall, his character was funny and a nice change of pace.  But this is supposed to be a different movie in tone than Skyfall, and Bardem plays ostensibly the same character, and it doesn’t work in this instance.  Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz, who can be great actresses are used as little more than eye candy.  The other Latinos, Blades, Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo are all stereotypically portrayed as criminals, and there is not one heroic character of any race in the entire film, just men with varying degrees of murderous avarice.

The cinematography is stellar. El Paso Texas and Salt Lake City Utah look glorious doubling for Juarez Mexico, it’s those opening shots the draw the viewer in, just as much the dialogue repels the viewer.  It’s a pity that a great visual director like Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien) had to waste his time trying to breathe life into a lifeless script.

The Counselor.  Has No Appeal.

killing them softly

Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) wants to rob a closely guarded mob card game.  Amato uses two inept gunmen, Frankie, (Scoot McNairy) and a drug Aussie named Russell. (Ben Mendelson)  Amato doesn’t want to use Russell to knock over Markie Trattman’s (Ray Liota) poker game, but Frankie convinces him.  Amazingly, the two bumbling gunmen pull it off.  A mob associate, The Driver (Richard Jenkins) brings in a hitman named Jackie (Brad Pitt) to hunt down and kill Johnny, Frankie, Russell, and Markie Trattman.  Jackie’s reluctant to kill Markie, even though he thinks Markie is in on it.  Jackie brings in a washed-up hitman called Mickey (James Gandolfini) to track the four men down.  Jackie doesn’t need much help finding the perpetrators, because Frankie’s been bragging about robbing the poker game to Jackie’s mutual friend Dillon (Sam Sheppard).  Does Jackie find Amato, Frankie, Russell and Markie?  What does he do when he finds them?

I don’t like this movie.  It tries to be a cheap copy of a Tarantino movie and fails.  Do you know how I know it tried to be a Tarantino knockoff?  Frankie and  Russell start talking about things that aren’t related to the heist in an irreverent way, but the difference between this movie and a movie like Reservoir Dogs, which successfully punctures pop culture, the writing in Killing Them Softly SOUNDS like movie dialogue, it doesn’t sound like the way gangsters talk, the way Tarantino would write it.  Another disappointment in this movie is the interspersing of political speeches by W, and Obama during the financial crisis, with the action in this movie.  I don’t know many bar owners or gangsters that are interested in politics, but in every scene there’s some pol making a speech in the background.  Lest the viewer think this is accidental, Pitt makes a long soliloquy about what he thinks about the government.

Brad Pitt needs to realize his limitations as an actor, he is good in certain roles, action movies, that take advantage of his comedic timing, like Inglorious Basterds, a  great Tarantino film.  But Pitt is deadly serious here, not even a hint of irony.  This movie reminds me of Drive, but Pitt is not nearly as good an actor as Ryan Gosling is. Gosling’s moody performance in the Driver is what made that movie work,  Pitt’s mumbling throughout makes this movie snoozeworthy.  It’s nice to see James Gandolfini, in what could have been his last role, but he does nothing more than reprise his Sopronos role, and reinforce the tendency of casting directors to typecast people. Ray Liotta makes the best of a small role, but he was much better in Goodfellas.

The movie is slow, but it’s not the direction, it’s the writing, but you can blame the same guy, Andrew Dominick, he wrote and directed this movie.  He also wrote the similarly boring Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.

Killing Them Softly:  Death By Boredom.

inglorious

In 1941, a dairy farmer is hiding Jews under his floorboards.  The dairy farmer is visited by Nazi colonel Hanz Landa. (Christoph Waltz) Landa lets a Jewish girl escape from the dairy farm, and live.  In 1945, in Nazi occupied France, the little girl named Shoshana (Melanie Laurent) has grown up to be the owner of a successful movie theater.

She is stalked by Fredrick Zoeller, (Daniel Bruhl) a hero to Nazis, who is besotted with Shoshanna. Zoeller is so famous for his role in one battle where he killed hundreds of Allied soldiers that German propagandist Joseph Goebbels wants to make a movie about Zoeller and his exploits And Goebbels wants to show the film in Shoshanna’s theater. Shoshana can’t stand Fredrick and has hatched a plan to blow up the theater with her boyfriend and kill as many Nazis as they can pack into the theater.  Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt) heads a group of Jewish American solders, called the Inglorious Basterds, who not only kill Nazis, they scalp Nazis.  The Basterds know about the gathering of the top Nazi brass through German double agent and actress, Briget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is working with three Brits pretending to be Germam trying to infiltrate the propaganda movie premiere. The operation is codenamed Keno Raine finds out through Von Hammersmark that none other than Hitler will be at the theater, so Raine sends two of his men into the theater with bombs.  But guess who starts unraveling the details of Operation Keno? None other then Colonel Landa?  Does Colonel Landa kill ll the conspirators or does operation Keno succeed?

This is a fun movie, fast paced, action packed and bloody like most Tarantino films.  The first scene does drag a little, but that’s needed as part of the plot exposition.  Brad Pitt is as funny as I’ve seen him in anything, and the two women, Laurent and Kruger do star turns as integral characters to the plot.  The viewer really wonders are the many pots going to dovetail, or is it going to all blow up n the Allied soldiers faces.  OK the history is way off, there is no way the Nazis would put Hitler, Goring, Goebbels, and  others of the top brass all in the same room, but relax it’s a movie, not a documentary.  Much of the film is in German and French with subtitles and the subtitles moved a little fast even for me, and I read a lot of subtitles, but hearing people talk in their own languages adds to the authenticity of the film.  I also like how most of the anti Nazi group has something to do with the film industry. Von Hammersmark is an actor, Shoshanna runs a movie theater, her boyfriend is a projectionist, a nice touch.  This is easily Tarantino’s best work since Kill Bill 1.

Inglorious Basterds.  Glorious fun.

“Cornelius” (Norton) works as a recall analyzer for a major car company.  He calculates whether a recall is financially worthwhile to the auto company he works for.  Cornelius hates his job, hates his boss, and has insomnia.  To cure himself of his insomnia, he starts going to support group meetings of people that have terminal diseases.  Cornelius doesn’t have a terminal disease, but the release of his pent up emotion helps him sleep at night, so he keeps on going.  It is at one of these meetings that Cornelius meets Marla Singer. (Bonham-Carter)   Marla doesn’t have any terminal diseases either, but it’s cheaper than a movie, and it has free coffee.

Cornelius flies a lot on business.  It is on one of these flights that he meets Tyler Darden (Pitt) Tyler is many things, a homemade soap salesman, a film projectionist, and a bit of a philosopher.  After Cornelius’ apartment burns down, Tyler suggests that Cornelius free himself of all material wealth to find true happiness.  On one occasion, Tyler asks Cornelius to punch him as hard as he can.  The two have so much fun fighting each other that Fight Club is born, I secret club where two men fight each other until one gives up.  Fight Club evolves into Project Mayhem, which begins as low-level vandalism but itself evolves into something bigger.  All of a sudden, Tyler disappears, can Cornelius find Tyler, before the true impact of Project Mayhem is felt?  As Cornelius travels around the country looking for Tyler, he finds more and more Fight Clubs opening up, will more Project Mayhems follow suit?

I liked about the first hour an 50 minutes of this movie, and then it all fell apart for me, after the “big reveal” which ripped a massive plot hole in the movie and stained the credulity of everyone involved in making this movie.  The last 25 minutes of this movie sounds like conspiracy theories spouted by the lunatic fringe of both political parties.  It then takes that propaganda and turns it into justification for the unjustifiable.   The acting is great, particularly by Norton, as an everyman loser fed up of the rat race and keeping up with the Jones.’  Pitt is effective as a salesman of increasingly toxic ideas, and Bonham-Carter is as appealing as I’ve seen her in any movie, as the girl who keeps turning up like a bad penny.  It’s the good performances that kept me involved in this movie for as long as I was.  Unfortunately the plot twist made shambles of what could have been an excellent movie.

Fight Club.  Fight the temptation to see this movie.