Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Tony Shalhoub Director: Michael Bay
For reasons I don’t entirely understand, Michael Bay and his films have become the butt of many critics’ jokes in recent years. With his most recent film, Pain & Gain, winning the box office this weekend many writers are debating whether or not the oft-criticized director apologized for making his 1998 blockbuster Armageddon. Regardless of his predilections towards expensive explosions there’s no doubt that the man can make a winner, and despite its weak structure Pain & Gain is no exception.
When a muscled-up personal trainer (Wahlberg) and his two larger and dumber friends (Mackie and Johnson) decide they have taken enough bullshit from they’re asshole clients with massive bankrolls, they decide the only thing left to take is their money.
Nothing is well thought out by this trio of meatheads as they abduct a wealthy client (Shalhoub) and the film takes a drastically dark turn. From its lighthearted beginning carried by Wahlberg’s egocentric narration the film spirals into a a mass of quick cuts, freeze frames, slow motion and an ever-growing array of new narrators.
Despite Pain & Gain being Bay’s lowest budget film since his debut Bad Boys in 1995, the director still manages to pull out all the stops. The actors are bigger (literaly… Wahlberg bulked up to plus 200 lbs and The Rock is nearly 300), the plot is thinner (even though it is based on actual events) and Bay even manages to work in a trademark explosion or two.
In the end it’s a good thing the characters are not particularly relatable seeing as how their increasingly poor choices seem trivialized as they devolve from working class heros into wanted criminals. If their is one thing that is certain in Hollywood these days it’s that Michael Bay is going to make money… and honestly, that’s good enough for me.
IMDb: 7.0/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 48% Metacritic: 45/100
Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach Director: John Sturges
The Ocean’s Eleven of the old west, The Magnificent Seven tells how a star-studded cast of seven mercenaries are hired by a small Mexican town to protect them from an oppressive gang of cowboys led by Calvera (Wallach). Whether it was Brynner’s booming baritone, McQueen’s piercing blue eyes, Charles Bronson’s steely glare or James Coburn’s perfected strut that inevitably won the day is still open for debate, but seeing them all stand side by side in a battle to the death is priceless.
This Americanized version of the Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai spawned three sequels and a TV show in its own right, but nothing quite stands up to the unthinkably perfect cast in the original, not to mention only Brynner saddled up again for the second installment.
Even with the amazing credentials of the cast, their performance falls second only to Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated score. The Wild West inspired tunes that accompany the antics of our seven heroes are some of the most recognizable and popular sounds in Hollywood Western lore.
While a bit of overacting by some of the lesser stars occasionally detracts from the film’s unbearable coolness, the headliners don’t disappoint for one minute. Whether you love McQueen’s scene-stealing antics behind the other actors, Bronson’s heroic last stand in the climax or Brynner simply pointing forward when asked where he’s going, The Magnificent Seven holds up as one of those great Hollywood Westerns of the ’60s.
IMDb: 7.8/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 93% Metacritic: N/A
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro Director: David O. Russell
What do you get when you mix a delusional bipolar rageaholic fresh out of the looney bin with a socially dysfunctional young widow? Probably the freshest and most interesting romantic comedy in recent history.
Cooper plays Pat, the local freak show who nearly beat his wife’s lover to death when he caught them red handed. While his loving mother (Jackie Weaver) and obsessive-compulsive Eagles super-fan father (De Niro) try to keep his anger in check, a brash and vulgar new friend (Lawrence) helps him to find this particularly gray cloud’s silver lining.
For the first time since 1981s Reds, Silver Linings Playbook received nominations in all four acting categories, as well as nods for Russell’s innovative directing and writing styles. While recognition from the Academy is no new thing for De Niro or Weaver it is refreshing to see Cooper and Lawrence break out from their recent stereotypical roles.
Cooper is probably best-known for his role in the raunchy comedy The Hangover, but his dramatic and erratic performance here has earned him his first trip to the big show. Lawrence, on the other hand, burst onto the scene in 2010s Winters Bone (earning her a nomination), but recently she took the role of The Hunger Game‘s Katniss Everdeen, a role she could have easily been stuck with. Instead, both Lawrence and Cooper have broken out of their comfort zones to garner emotional and touching adult performances.
Russell has an explicit connection to his actors, proven by the seven nominations his casts have earned in his last two films. This particular project hits even closer to home for the director who tries to reach through his art to show his bipolar and OCD son he is not alone. The mix of wry comedy and extreme drama makes Silver Linings Playbook a much deserved eight-time nominee in tonight’s Academy Awards.
IMDb: 8.0/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 92% Metacritic: 81/100
Starring: Kevin James, Henry Winkler and Salma Hayek Director: Frank Coraci
With budget cuts looming, high school biology teacher Scott Voss (James) decides to lose Mix Martial Arts matches in order to raise money to save the music program and his friend Marty’s (Winkler) job. With the sometimes reluctant help of Marty, the sexy school nurse Bella (Hayek) and a hilarious group of misfits, Voss fights all the way to the UFC.
Rarely is there a film that manages to reach as many audiences as Here Comes the Boom does. James is the best physical comedian since John Ritter, and putting him in the MMA octagon against a modgepodge of buff and athletic fighters (including a cameo by real-life UFC star Chael Sonnen) is outstandingly gratifying. The mix of comedy, action, romance and even a little blood and puke means there’s something for just about everybody.
James is also surrounded by a fun and familiar cast that are veterans of James and producer Adam Sandler’s past films. Former UFC heavy weight champ turned actor Bas Rutten is a riot, as is James’s older brother and former King of Queens co-star Gary Valentine.
The slapstick, fatman style that James is known for surrounds the film, but many UFC figures including announcers, referees and James’s friend Joe Rogan all play along. Sometimes there really is nothing better than seeing someone get smacked in the noggin.
IMDb: 6.4/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 39% Metacritic: 40/100
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson Director: Martin McDonagh
Struggling screenwriter Marty (Farrell) is in search of inspiration to finish his script Seven Psychopaths. Lucky, his dog-napping best friend Billy (Rockwell) and his pacifist partner Hans (Walken) fit well within the definition of psycho. When the pair of petnappers abduct the beloved shih tzu of a murderous crime lord (Harrelson) yet another psychopath is thrown into the mix. With three down and four to go, Marty is well on his way as he observes and becomes part of his own crazy story.
With such an impeccable cast it’s hard to mess up a story that includes shootouts, throat cuts and excessive use of the word “cunt.” Walken and Rockwell were born to play crazy people and the supporting cast is excellent. Keep an eye out for Abbie Cornish, Harry Dean Stanton, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Pitt and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tom Waits in cameo roles.
Always aware of itself, this film seemingly tells the tale of its own creation. This becomes incredibly apparent when Marty suggests the main characters should “drive out to the desert and talk in the middle of the film” while our film’s main characters are driving out to the desert to talk. Though it’s important to keep in mind this is not Marty’s film, it’s Billy’s.
McDonagh’s strange, vulgar and gory script would even entertain an ADD support group as they mainlined sugar, but it is more than just a quick-paced bloodbath. It was even nominated for a BAFTA award for outstanding British film, despite the fact that not one major actor was British (Farrell is Irish… close I guess). Just try watching this flick without being disgusted, amused or both at the same time.
IMDb: 7.4/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 82% Metacritic: 66/100
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper Director: James Bobin
Gary (Segel) always looked after his younger brother Walter who was always picked on for his diminutive height and eerie resemblance to his idols The Muppets. When Gary takes his girlfriend Mary (Adams) to Los Angeles for their anniversary he can’t help but take Walter along to tour the run-down Muppets Studios. While there Walter overhears a corrupt oil baron (Cooper) plotting to purchase and demolish the studio and immediately knows what he must do… reunite the disbanded Muppets.
Along the way, Gary and Walter must search out the splintered cast including Fozzy (who is crooning in Reno with The Moopets), Gonzo (the plumbing tycoon), Rowlf (asleep on his hammock) and of course Kermit and Ms. Piggy who have since split up and now live on different continents.
Segel’s script is an homage to the movies and TV shows he loved growing up and it shows in every tongue-in-cheek musical number, self-referential comment and beyond ridiculous pun. Other major stars and Muppets fans make brief cameo appearances throughout the film including Jack Black, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt and many more.
The Muppets transcend the demographics as adults and children alike adore their distinct brand of comedy. The late Jim Henson’s disfigured and deranged children will never go out of style (especially since they were purchased by Disney in 2004). Proving this point, Segel’s loving adaptation of the characters has become the highest grossing Muppets film since The Muppets Movie in 1979.
IMDb: 7.3/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 96% Metacritic: 75/100
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio Director: Quentin Tarantino
Just before the break of the Civil War, a German dentist turned bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz (Waltz) frees a trouble making slave named Django (Foxx) to help him find a trio of wanted brothers. When it becomes clear that Django is a natural shot, Dr. Schultz agrees to help him buy back his estranged wife from the eccentric land owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).
Like most of Tarantino’s films, Django draws from the styles and trends of a previous film genre. The popular Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s were chided for their overt violence, but Tarantino ups the ante. Blood flies from beginning to end and in one scene the walls are literally painted red by the innards of fallen baddies. Think of the scene in Pulp Fiction were Phil LaMarr gets his head blown off John Travolta… now picture that happening 250 to 300 times.
Not only is Django violent and bloody, but it also holds water as a depiction of the horrors surrounding slavery. The contrast between the bitter and scarred exterior of Django and the well-dressed Schultz who has quick wits and even quicker hands is entertaining and fascinating, but comparing Django to Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom-like servant of Candie is even better.
Oscar talk is always in the air surrounding a Tarantino joint and this film is no exception. Waltz and DiCaprio have already been nominated for Golden Globes and the film received another 3 nominations for Tarantino himself. And let’s face it, no one can shoot up a room in a crude and violent manner like Tarantino can… it’s truly a gift.
IMDb: 8.7/10 Rotten Tomatoes: 89% Metacritic: 81