Posts Tagged ‘Bradley Cooper’

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10 Cloverfield Lane is a well-acted, tense thriller that unravels to reveal a true piece of shit.

My gripe is not with John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or John Gallagher Jr.—the acting elevates the writing and makes this movie worth watching. If you enjoy the craft of acting, then you’re nearly guaranteed to be deeply engaged with these characters. However, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down during the odd, stilted third act that culminates with a ridiculous finale.

In hindsight, where 10 Cloverfield Lane really lost me was the name.

I am jealous of those who can watch 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie. To be clear, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a standalone movie. Leading up to the release, J.J. Abrams said 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” to Cloverfield—intentionally teasing a directly shared universe.

Cloverfield was and still is a very divisive movie. Most people hated the shaky camera and found footage gimmick. But I think it worked beautifully in the context of a monster destroying a major city. As an admitted fan of creature features, Cloverfield delivered a unique, enthralling adventure with a distinct creature wreaking havoc on New York City. While 10 Cloverfield Lane builds tension in a similar but different manner, the anticipation does not crescendo to a satisfactory conclusion.

When you slap Cloverfield on the title of your movie, you’re establishing a certain set of expectations. Of course, J.J. Abrams isn’t one for delivering on expectations. Everything the man has done is all setup and zero resolution. Without spoiling anything (yet), 10 Cloverfield Lane is right in line with the Abrams brand. I don’t mean to give J.J. too much responsibility since he was only the producer of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but you can see the sequences that bear his direct influence.

Before I unload my personal problems with this movie, let me talk about the good things.

Howard Angry

There are plenty of good things about 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Goodman is legitimately great and he puts on a magnificent display as Howard—a doomsday prepper with deep paranoia and a potentially dark history. His character is enigmatic. You’re never quite sure what he’s doing or what motivates his actions. Howard’s doomsday bunker is a sizeable underground fortress that ends up providing shelter for Howard, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Emmett (played by John Gallagher Jr.)—although Emmett helped build the bunker, he was not an intended guest. After a car wreck under mysterious circumstances, Michelle woke up to find herself shackled in the bunker with no memory of what happened. As the audience, you have to put the pieces together as the events unfold.

I was captivated whenever John Goodman was on the screen. Howard isn’t exactly a likeable character, but there is an undeniable charm. You just have to ignore the gruff exterior and creepy, controlling personality. Mary Elizabeth Winstead holds her own as Michelle against Goodman’s gregarious presence. The relationship between Howard and Michelle is bizarre from the beginning. That absence of an explanation is a recurring theme in 10 Cloverfield Lane—and the Abrams brand, in general.

Don’t expect any explanations from this shared universe. You will only disappoint yourself.

You can expect some spoilers while I explain my contempt for this shameful marketing ploy.

Spoilers galore.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Now enjoy some Good(man) dancing.

Good(man) Dancing

I was sold a false bill of goods. 10 Cloverfield Lane is all misdirection.

The setup is so enjoyable, which makes this so ultimately unsatisfying. The concept of a restricted narrative in an underground bunker is an interesting hook. With 10 Cloverfield Lane as the title, the most tantalizing hook for me was how this connects with Cloverfield.

Surprise: there is no direct correlation. Fucking “blood relative” of Cloverfield, my ass.

Cloverfield had no business being so incredibly entertaining. I think we can thank Matt Reeves for that. Maybe I love it a little too much because it was also my introduction to T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan. There were genuinely great, memorable moments in Cloverfield—in fact, innovative with that horrific night vision chase scene in the subway tunnels. The end wasn’t exactly gratifying, but I have come to terms with that. In time, I’ve almost appreciated the absence of explanation in that movie.

I cannot appreciate or mildly tolerate the intentional lie of titling this movie 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Initially, this movie started out as The Cellar. Dying a slow death in development hell, J.J. Abrams rescued the movie by slapping Cloverfield on the name to manufacture mystery. Fans of Cloverfield have been feverishly waiting for a sequel. It’s an embarrassing slap in the face to loosely tie this in with Cloverfield when it doesn’t really have any vital connection to the original movie.

Personally, this attempt to generate interest among a group of dedicated fans gloriously backfired because there is no connection—no Cloverfield monster or human-sized parasites. Not even a reference to the event. If a giant fucking monster destroyed New York City, I want to know how that would change the way people lived their lives. The largest city in the U.S. was attacked by a massive creature. In order to stop the devastation, the HAMMERDOWN protocol was initiated to bomb the monster into oblivion. During the credits, there was also a line suggesting the creature still survived.

iPhone

Since the events aren’t referenced, I’m not sure whether 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place before, during, or after Cloverfield. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character owned the newest iPhone, which suggests this takes place after Cloverfield. If this indeed takes place after a monster destroyed New York City, then Howard isn’t a conspiracy nut for building a doomsday bunker. Cloverfield certainly invoked the emotion of the 9/11 and that aftermath has impacted our reality so it was ripe for exploration.

Not referencing or including the events of Cloverfield in 10 Cloverfield Lane is a stupefying decision.

None of this feels natural. This is very obviously two separate movies glued together.

You can tell what parts remained from The Cellar, and those original sequences are enthralling. When Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finally escapes, the science-fiction elements felt so fabricated and out of leftfield. Instead of using the ready-made human-sized parasites from Cloverfield, there’s a mechanical worm-dog and some sort of weird flying creature with other similar types of ships.

It’s fucking aliens?! Aliens. Fucking hokey CGI bullshit. Some television shows have better effects.

The official story from Cloverfield was that the monster was awoken from the deep sea by a fallen satellite, which you get a glimpse of at the end of the movie. It wasn’t an alien monster—it was already here hidden in the ocean. Now, I guess it has been changed to an alien. Maybe this is a part of a coordinated alien attack. You still don’t know after this movie and you will never know.

It is an empty promise.

The most emphatic connection within 10 Cloverfield Lane is the reveal that Howard worked on satellites. If you happen to be familiar with the Cloverfield ARG (alternate reality game), you might recognize an envelope with the logo of Bold Futura—Howard’s employer, which is tied to a company involved in the events of Cloverfield. It’s not only disgraceful as false advertising. It is a disservice to this movie.

Cast

When you name the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane, you immediately add the expectation of science-fiction elements. Therefore, the payoff is not even a surprise. Instead, it feels fake and contrived. You can sense that it was tacked on purely to give it the illusion of a connection to Cloverfield—simply because there is a monster. The final shot shows the house’s mailbox (revealing the address), which is utterly pointless. None of these decisions make any rational sense and have no practical justification.

Rumors of a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series have already started swirling.

Fantastic, an anthology would allow J.J. Abrams to continue posing questions without any answers. I have had enough with the absence of explanation here. It’s not enough to have an interesting setup.

J.J. Abrams is a marketing maven. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s impossible to judge 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie, but I sincerely wish I could manage to appreciate it by itself. Dan Trachtenberg showed impeccable vision in his directorial debut. The parts from The Cellar were worthy of 4-star consideration, but I cannot ignore nor forgive that awful ending.

Quite literally, this movie deserved a better treatment.

I wish the Cloverfield monster would just swallow this movie whole.

Cloverfield Monster

2 out of 5 stars

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For two months, Guardians of the Galaxy has completely dominated the box office. Without question, this is the best movie of the 2014 summer blockbuster season. If you haven’t already seen this movie, there’s nothing I can possibly write to convince you to get off your ass and go watch Guardians of the Galaxy.

While summer has come and gone, Guardians of the Galaxy has remained the constant.

For the record, I could not care less about the vast majority of the Marvel superhero movie stream. Iron Man was a very good, interesting movie, but the sequel sucked despite Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell attempting to save the franchise from itself. Thor was a bore, and I ignored the sequel. Captain America is not captivating even when channel surfing for something to watch on television.

And I still have not watched The Avengers. It does not interest me.

However, I was immediately on board when I heard James Gunn was directing Guardians of the Galaxy. Walking tree and talking raccoon be damned. This was my most anticipated movie of the summer, and James Gunn didn’t fail to deliver. Despite my absolute non-interest in most of the Marvel movie world, Guardians of the Galaxy serves as a fantastic film capable of standing alone on its own merit. In terms of sci-fi fantasy, this movie is right there with Star Wars—and even better in my mind.

James Gunn deserves so much credit. Throughout the two hour runtime, this movie remained entertaining and it transcended the typical trite comic book bullshit. Guardians of the Galaxy could have easily turned absurd, and I imagine this would have been a steaming pile of shit if not for Gunn’s deft guiding hand.

In 2008, there was a ridiculous Vh1 reality show called Scream Queens where mostly shitty actresses compete for a role in Saw VI—back when that was a thing. While I was already familiar with the Dawn of the Dead remake and Slither, I didn’t know James Gunn, but I soon would because he was the best thing about Scream Queens. That’s actually a lie, Gunn was the second-best (or third) thing—next to Lindsay Felton’s boobs. But seeing the incredibly genuine, professional way Gunn interacted with these mostly mediocre actresses was shocking. Despite an utter lack of talent, Gunn could coax an interesting performance out of someone—even if it was only for a scene with over-the-top campy material.

In a world where Michael Bay is wildly popular while making shitty action movies, I immensely appreciate the work James Gunn has given me to enjoy. As a director, Gunn has definitely blossomed the past few years with Super (considerably better than its counterpart, Kick-Ass) and now Guardians of the Galaxy.

Star-Lord

James Gunn simply has an eye for creating an entertaining product.

I could go through all the enjoyable moments peppered throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, but people really need to see this movie for themselves. This isn’t even a kids movie, but rather a movie for adults (in a stage of arrested development) masquerading as a kids movie. In terms of summer blockbusters and the comic book genre in general, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best of the best.

You could certainly argue for The Dark Knight, but that’s probably a bit unfair considering the phenomenal, career-defining performance from Heath Ledger as The Joker. If you remove Ledger from that role, then The Dark Knight would fail to have the same lasting impact. Most people forget about those long, boring scenes like the completely unnecessary Hong Kong kidnapping sequence.

If there’s a fault to find with Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie does not have a very memorable villain. Ronan and Thanos fill the villain roles opposite our ragtag group of miscast heroes. A singular villain would be ideal, but Thanos needed to be introduced since this movie will eventually intertwine with The Avengers.

The best compliment to James Gunn is that Guardians of the Galaxy rates astronomically high on the re-watchability scale. In a manner of two months, I have already watched this movie 3 times—3D, regular, and at a drive-in. Every time, I have been thoroughly entertained. I know the punchlines to the jokes, but the comedic timing is so fantastic that it’s still as funny through multiple viewings.

Rocket

Bradley Cooper was downright superb in his instrumental voiceover role bringing Rocket to life. Despite not being asked to do much, Vin Diesel’s array of “I am Groot” deliveries are spot-on each time. Zoe Saldana isn’t remarkable, but she hits her lines and serves her purpose while this is a breakout role for Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord—which should springboard him into stardom. But the most surprising performance came from Dave Bautista—a lumbering, muscle-bound former wrestler. Transforming into Drax the Destroyer, Bautista is perfect in this role and he owns the some of the best lines of the movie. I’ve seen Dave Bautista in other movies (notably Riddick, with Vin Diesel) so either he’s becoming a true actor or James Gunn deserves more praise for putting Bautista in the best position to succeed.

As a longtime fan of James Gunn, I cannot wait to see the direction of where he’s now allowed to travel thanks to the success of this movie. As evidenced with Slither, Super, and now Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn puts part of himself in his movies. This movie’s soundtrack that everyone loves comes from Gunn’s childhood memories. This movie’s infusion of comedy comes from Gunn’s uniquely twisted humor.

With movies becoming increasingly repetitive and watered down, everyone should appreciate what a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy gave us during a completely mundane summer slate. This is the rare epic blockbuster with a beating heart. We need more James Gunn in this world.

Groot

5 out of 5 stars

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Don’t believe everything you’re told.

American Hustle is a movie where the characters and audience alike are unsure whether or not the wool is being pulled over their eyes. Judging by what I overheard while leaving the theater, many people got lost during one of the several twists and turns in the story.  David O. Russell might be among those lost.  Describing the plot of American Hustle as jumbled is probably an understatement and it also seems slightly disjointed, but that doesn’t completely detract from this character-driven drama.

And it is a drama—regardless of the current marketing of American Hustle as a comedy. Although there are some humorous moments, expecting more than a few chuckles will lead to disappointment. Instead, appreciate the good that is provided through phenomenal acting performances from the entire cast.

Bale

Christian Bale is masterful as Irving Rosenfeld—the schlubby, yet somehow stable keystone of this crumbling house of cards. Bale certainly deserves an Oscar nomination (even in what should be a crowded field) for completely transforming himself into a kinda creepy con artist that’s successful because he knows his limitations. Get in and get out. Irving is a man who attempts to justify his dirty dealings on the moral grounds that these are bad people who deserve to lose their money in his pay-to-play scheme.

American Hustle draws more than a little bit of inspiration from Boogie Nights and Casino—among others. Jennifer Lawrence plays Christian Bale’s wife, and her performance as Rosalyn Rosenfeld is unquestionably the best performance of her career. Rosalyn is a schizophrenic mess that’s eerily reminiscent of Sharon Stone’s character in Casino, but more entertaining because Jennifer Lawrence makes her somehow likable (dare I say, lovable) with a nuanced performance that’s equal parts subtle and eccentric.

Omelette

But Bale and Lawrence aren’t the only outstanding performers. American Hustle benefits from the entire cast putting forth their best efforts. Amy Adams is remarkable as Christian Bale’s side pussy and sham partner in these overly elaborate cons. Director David O. Russell comes across as in love with the clothing and hair that craft this period piece. Amy Adams as Sydney/Edith (I seriously lost track at one point) is often distracting because her character always wears an outfit with a plunging neckline.

Speaking of hair, Bradley Cooper’s perm is just fucking ridiculous. Christian Bale’s character has a laughable combover that requires three cans of hair spray, a glob of cement glue and what appears to be a brillo pad. But Bradley Cooper just blatantly stole Mike Brady’s perm. As a secondary character, Bradley Cooper plays coked out perfectly as obsessive FBI agent Richie DiMaso—also serving as a driving force for the plot.

American Hustle starts with a wink and a nudge as the title card says “Some of these things actually happened.”  The opening scene sees Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper trying to entrap Mayor Carmine Polito (played by Jeremy Renner). After this scheme unfolds, the story is thrown in reverse and the audience is treated to about 30 minutes of the events and character development that takes place leading up to this special scheme. Personally, I don’t think this was a wise decision in terms of storytelling because it unnecessarily muddles the already confusing plot with too many moving parts to track.

However, the backstory is at times brutal and painfully boring so the opening scene instills some optimism that the train will get back on the right tracks. And it does that even if the transition isn’t ideally smooth.

My main issue with American Hustle is that too much time is dedicated to convincing the audience that this is serious and the stakes are high, but there are never moments that feel intense—which is unfortunate given the circumstances that need those moments to be gripping. The stakes just don’t seem that high.

Without a gritty texture or tuly evil, awful character, American Hustle fails to define itself in the same manner as the movies it resembles.  American Hustle missed that Joe Pesci element. In a cast of shady characters with unclear intentions, there is a faint beating heart hiding underneath this character study.

In particular, Jeremy Renner is ridiculously good as Mayor Carmine Polito. It would have been relatively easy to relegate this character to a run-of-the-mill corrupt political mannequin, but Renner’s portrayal comes across as someone who genuinely seems to care about the people he serves. Carmine conveys this message in several moments throughout the movie, which is important because his character transforms into the linchpin of the story as he’s trying to do anything possible to rebuild Atlantic City. The net just keeps getting bigger as they follow the money. In some aspects, Mayor Carmine Polito has a hint of Rod Blagojevich (former Governor of Illinios and oompadour aficionado) in him—both good and the bad. And that fucking hair! The interplay between Renner and Bale is awkward and amazing at the same time given the conflicted nature of their relationship. I cannot express how much I love how these actors mesh. It’s the one truly worthwhile element exclusive to this movie. Although these interactions lack intensity, the incredible acting keeps the audience engaged and waiting for the other foot to drop.

You never quite know what is coming around the corner.

Smoking

As the con becomes increasingly more complicated, you’re just waiting for the whole ball of yarn to come unraveled. Warning: you’re left waiting for a long fucking time. With a runtime approaching nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes, American Hustle is needlessly long and feels like an elaborate music video on occasion. I appreciate directors having the control to shape a film to their liking and ultimate vision, but this is yet another instance where an independent editor with a strong backbone and balls is desperately needed.

If you give me a machete, I could quickly hack off at least 40 minutes to reshape the story arc and make American Hustle exceedingly more bearable. Despite some unlikable characters and non-linear storytelling, American Hustle succeeds because of its phenomenal acting performances from the entire cast. You experience the stress mounting on the mind of Christian Bale’s character and you feel his anxiety.

American Hustle goes to great lengths to show the desperation of people who want to be someone else. While the story itself is nothing special, it doesn’t need to be in this case. Just enjoy some awe-inspiring acting that explores interesting characters, and forget how numb your ass is while you wait for it to end.

4 out of 5 stars