Tag Archives: Ghostbusters

Gangster Squad (2013)

I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of this film the other day. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what it was about (aside from what I assumed was a squad of gangsters), and I didn’t know what the critics were saying about it. I only knew who was in it and that I got to see it for free, which was good enough for me. Thankfully, Gangster Squad was quite a fun film.

The story takes placte in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and everything about it feels authentic, from the clothes to the music to the lack of today’s advanced technology – the last of these being pretty important since this film features some elements of espionage. From the very beginning of the film – as in the first two minutes – we are shown that this is going to be a pretty violent film, which makes sense since we’re dealing with gangsters. The title is derived from a special team of cops, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whose goal is to take down the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer and now the head of organized crime in LA.

In the assembling of the so-called “Gangster Squad,” we’re treated to what I consider to be an Avengers-esque montage in which we’re introduced to each member and their specific talents one by one. There was another scene later that seemed to be a cross between the fight montage from Captain America: The First Avenger and the newspaper headlines sequences from various other films (i.e. Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, etc.). That’s not to say that they weren’t well-done or original – just familiar.

There are two standout performances in this film. The first comes from Josh Brolin as “Sarge” (as he’s called in the movie); I’d only seen him before in The Goonies and in the 2010 remake of True Grit, so seeing him in the lead role here was a nice, real introduction to him as an actor. His character exuded a strong confidence that fit his position as leader, and his desire to do the right thing no matter what was palpable. Ryan Gosling was even better than Brolin; I’d never seen him in anything before and only knew that he had been in The Notebook, so I didn’t anticipate him being anything special, but I was amazed to see that he was not only competent but also quite good. His character is Sgt. Jerry Wooters, a man who is at first reluctant to join the Gangster Squad, but his fraternization with Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) and the death of a friend at the hand of some of Cohen’s men convince him to join the fight. Gosling’s character brings some humanity to the field; he’s passionate for both his friends and his girl, and he holds the lives of these people at a higher priority level than he does the arrest of Mickey Cohen. He makes sure to keep Sarge in check so that he’s keeping his own life a priority.

*major spoilers in this paragraph*

My favorite part of this film was that the filmmakers weren’t afraid to let members of the Gangster Squad die; in fact, two of them do. They don’t have a miraculous recovery, but their deaths do not feel superficial…it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers killed them just to kill them. Sometimes, it seems like characters are killed just for the sake of killing them, and other times it seems like characters that should die due to injury are granted ridiculous reprieves. Thankfully, this film is smarter than that.

*end spoilers*

Overall, Gangster Squad may be violent and have some bad language, but that’s expected from a film like this. It’s a lot of fun, the actors do a great job, Jablonsky’s score is (surprisingly) superb, and the film itself feels neither too long nor too short; at just under two hours, it’s a perfect length for a film like this. The storytelling is pushed along by the action, but it isn’t mindless at all, and, in fact, most of it is quite entertaining. Everything is done really well, from the 1940s setting to the acting by everyone involved – Brolin, Gosling, Penn, Stone, et al. – does a fantastic job in a film that does a fine job of kick-starting this year’s movie lineup.

EDIT

Upon mulling over it a while longer, I’ve lowered my original rating by a star. Enjoyable, but not fantastic. Suffers from poor storytelling, flat character development, awful dialogue, and a few instances of just bad cinematography. I stand by my evaluation of Gosling especially, who was brilliant, but everyone else, including Brolin to a point, falls short.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence and language

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Space Jam (1996)

I was only 4 years old when Space Jam was released in theaters, so I don’t remember seeing it for the first time, but I do remember times spent watching it on VHS as a child. Looking back on it now, the film still has the same fun and charm that it had upon its initial release 16 years ago (my goodness…has it really been that long?!), but I’ve come to realize that it’s far from what could be considered an “excellent” film.

First, the good: for the most part, Michael Jordan does a great job and is pretty likable. Though he’s certainly not an Oscar-worthy actor, he holds his own, doesn’t try too hard, and entertains us. Seeing him alongside Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes characters is amusing because their cartoon-y rules now apply to him and to any other humans who make appearances in their world; throughout the film, we see humans getting sucked through holes like a drink through a straw, squashed flat against the ground, and stretched in ways that only cartoon characters can. The Monstars – the aliens who threaten to enslave the Looney Tunes – have some funny moments as well, such as when they are fooled by Bugs into thinking that there are rules that they have to follow before they can kidnap anyone. Perhaps my favorite moment in the film is when Bill Murray shows up at the game and the Monstars’ boss says, “I didn’t know Dan Aykroyd was in this picture!” (a Ghostbusters reference, for those of you who needed help) There are several laugh-worthy jokes, including jibes at Michael Jordan’s actual career (“I’m a baseball player now!” “Right…and I’m a Shakespearean actor.”), and the second half of the basketball game is the best part of the movie.

However, the plot is just awful. While “cartoon characters kidnap a former basketball star to aid in defeating aliens in a basketball game that decides their fate” may work for kids, it’s an incredibly ridiculous premise. While some may argue that it’s allowed to be ridiculous because it has cartoon characters and humans interacting with each other, I’d like to point out that Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Mary Poppins before it did the same thing in a hugely successful way without having terrible story lines. Another problem I had with the film was the inclusion of Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park), who plays Jordan’s bumbling publicist/assistant, serving no purpose other than to provide some physical comedy. If his character had been excluded from the film, it would have made it that much better.

Fortunately, Michael Jordan acts with an ease that overcomes much of the film’s downfalls, interacting well with these animated characters – an impressive feat for a non-actor, especially when you realize that, from the moment he enters Looney Tune Land, he is almost completely on his own…cartoon characters aren’t added in until after the scene is filmed. For me, it’s the combination of Jordan and the nostalgic memories watching this as a child that makes this film worth the watch – despite the things that aren’t so great. Space Jam might not appeal to adults, but kids will love it, and – who knows? – maybe even the kid in you will like it too.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for some mild cartoon language