Tag Archives: True Grit

R.I.P.D. (2013)

NOTE: Review originally written for and posted at MovieByte.com. To see this post and check out the guys over at MovieByte, click here!
RIPD

One word: WHY.

R.I.P.D. tells the story of Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), a police officer who opens the film with the burying of some mysterious pieces of gold under an orange tree in his backyard. We quickly learn that the gold was found by him and his partner, Bobby (Kevin Bacon), during a drug bust, but Nick tells Bobby that he has decided to return the gold. Later that day, during a raid, Bobby shoots Nick, killing him and sending him to the office of Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), head of the Rest In Peace Department, or R.I.P.D. for short. The organization’s purpose is to find dead people, called “deados,” and capture them. Nick is partnered with veteran R.I.P.D. officer Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), who is not too keen to have a partner. As the two work together on Earth in their avatar forms (Roy as an attractive woman and Nick as an elderly Chinese man), they uncover a plot to start what amounts to an apocalypse, so they must learn to work together in order to prevent the coming of the end of the world.

From the very start of the film, when a voiceover from Nick tells us about how “3 or 4 days ago” he didn’t even know about the R.I.P.D., to the “jokes” that were intended to make us laugh to the choice of the avatars for the two lead characters, everything had me asking, “WHY?!” Why is any of that necessary? Why not just start the film by telling the story rather than with a weird opening that shows us something that happens later in the film? Why make Roy’s avatar an attractive woman (for a reason other than “LOL BECAUSE IT’S FUNNY SINCE HE’S REALLY A DUDE!”)? Nothing in this film made much sense to me, whether it was any of these issues already mentioned or why I was supposed to care about any of the characters or why they made such stupid, obviously incorrect decisions (i.e. apprehending a bad guy and taking him into custody when he obviously wanted to be captured). (I’ll try to minimize my use of the word “why” now…I’m sure you get the idea).

Jeff Bridges does his best Rooster Cogburn impression as Roy: an officer who speaks in a difficult-to-understand “cowboy drawl” with a criticized penchant for killing people rather than capturing them and is also opposed to having a partner. Though Bridges is inherently likable in every role, his general likability doesn’t keep his character here from being lame and uninteresting. Ryan Reynolds, while not necessarily bad, doesn’t bring anything special to the table here, so I didn’t care about him or his wife, even when the two are brought together for what I’m sure is meant to be an “emotional” moment at the end of the film. Kevin Bacon is appropriately sinister as the villain, but, again, his lack of interesting motivation, or anything interesting at all, really, makes his character flat and non-threatening to the audience.

The “jokes” in the film are unfunny (I don’t think I laughed or did anything more than crack a slight smile even once), and the absence of any sort of creativity whatsoever (“deados?” Really?) makes this film fall short of any sort of expectations I had, which, believe it or not, were actually moderately positive. I didn’t expect this film to be super fantastic, but I also didn’t expect it to be on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from that, either. I’m pretty sure that my facial expressions while watching alternated between a general scowl and “what the heck.” R.I.P.D. may look slightly entertaining in the trailers, but don’t be fooled; the movie is more dead than the “deados.”

-Chad

Rating: 1.5  (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references

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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


We Bought a Zoo (2011)

The only Matt Damon films I had seen before this one were the Bourne trilogy and 2010’s True Grit, so it was nice to see him as a less aggressive, more father-like figure in We Bought a Zoo. This film wasn’t one that I ever got excited for, which is why I just watched it for the first time on Blu-Ray, and now, even after watching, I have mixed feelings.

Based on the memoir of the same name by Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo follows a father (Damon) and his two children six months after the mother has died. They’re still hurting and trying to move on with their lives, so it just seems too perfect when the opportunity to buy a zoo rolls around to give them a fresh start. The 7-year-old daughter, Rosie, is filled with wisdom beyond her years, and not just in the “kids say the darnedest things” sort of way; her father literally goes to her for advice or for serious adult conversation more than once in the film. The son, Dylan, is the typical 14-year-old teenager: filled with angst, thinks his father hates him, etc. He is also a talented artist who has recently begun drawing disturbing images, such as a head being severed from the body. Why a dead mother would warrant such graphic drawings, I’m not sure, but, then again, I’m no psychology expert.

In the zoo, there is an aging Bengal tiger who is just about at the end of his life, but Damon’s character, despite the pleas by the lead zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson), insists on doing whatever he can to prolong this tiger’s life. I think that this is supposed to be a metaphor for his relationship to his dead wife and his unwillingness to let her go, but it’s a weak comparison. At least, I certainly wouldn’t equate ending a dying tiger’s struggle for life to a widower’s struggle to move on after losing his wife, but that’s just me. But alas, with the decision to put the tiger out of his misery comes a mended relationship between father and son and a possibility at new love for Damon’s character.

The dialogue was particularly irritating to me at times, mainly because it used “man” constantly, as if this was The Big Lebowski or something like that. It starts with Thomas Haden Church’s character, brother to Damon’s, calling him “man” all the time, but it gets so bad that, near the end of the film, Damon’s character has a yell match with his son, calling him “man” at least 15 times, give or take a few. Its usage does nothing but distracts…it just makes no sense to me! The score by Jónsi was distracting at times as well, sometimes not matching the scene even remotely. However, when it did match the scene, the music did a nice job of sounding the whimsy of the story.

Anyway, while I did have a lot of complaints, We Bought a Zoo worked well as a family film, with Damon’s performance carrying the film and Johansson doing a decent job. Church’s performance felt forced to me, with the fact that he’s supposed to be playing the brother to the main character being nearly completely lost to me; there’s absolutely no brotherly connection between the two of them. Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie will make you smile frequently with her sweet comments and adorable smile, and the story is saccharine and predictable enough to please just about anyone who enjoys that kind of thing. I didn’t dislike it, but it’s certainly not a movie that I would like to own for myself.

-Chad

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for language and some thematic elements