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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Orange Is The New The Black: An Irresistible Look At Amorality And Social Survival Among Women in Prison


While actress Anna Gunn's outspoken New York Times piece that addressed some viewers' harsh perception of complex female characters continues to stir online debate, lets expand the discussion to a series that flashes a similarly uncompromising light on its female characters-- Orange Is The New Black. Have you heard of it? If you haven't, you really need to get on it and quick. It's one of the latest series in Netflix's impressive original programming that follows the lives of federal female prisoners. Simply put, Orange Is The New Black is more confirmation that the small screen has some of the most layered and satisfying characters for actresses.

In case you're unfamiliar with the premise, OITNB follows real-life character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a waspy middle class Caucasian woman who is sentenced to one year in jail for her part in shady drug dealings with her ex-girlfriend, Alex (Laura Prepon), that occurred 10 years prior. By the time of the ruling, however, her "wild" past is long behind her and she is engaged to be married to her boyfriend, Larry (Jason Biggs). Very soon after the couple exchanges teary goodbyes, the plot quickly moves from a whimpering waspy romance to a riveting drama that could best be described as The Vagina Monologues meets Oz. Once Piper enters prison, the show shifts tones and unleashes a variety of tangible narratives of women who just so happened to be trapped in purgatory.



In a series where most of the characters are female, wear the exact same wardrobe (an orange or khaki jumpsuit) and reside in the exact same place, its creator Jenji Kohan and her team of writers have managed to conceive individual narratives for more than ten inmates. Each of them is as richly crafted and riveting as the next. They even each have their day of poking holes in the social and legal justices systems as much as they can while confined behind bars (anything to keep their days occupied). As their stories begin to unfold (and, at times, unravel), you become more invested in them--Who were they before they got here? Where are they from? How do they survive? 

Although each episode surrounds Piper's wide-eyed navigation of prison life, the other characters, portrayed by marvelous actresses of various ethnic backgrounds and age groups, serve equal purposes. You've got Suzanne aka 'Crazy Eyes' (played with hilarious intensity by Uzo Aduba), the haughty Russian jail chef, Galina aka 'Red' (Kate Mulgrew), the very territorial Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), wild-coifed lesbian Nicky (the always spectacular Natasha Lyonne), soft-spoken tough chick, Dayanara (Dascha Polanco), loud-mouthed diva, Tasha aka 'Taystee' (Danielle Brooks), fallen track star Janae (Vicky Jeudy), transgender prima donna, Sofia (Laverne Cox), and methhead bible-thumper Tiffany aka 'Pennsatucky' (played with surprising depth by Taryn Manning). And that's not even all of them.


What's so addictive about OITNB is that these women are messy, hilarious, rebellious, lewd, vulnerable, savvy, and strong all at once. They're cliquey (think junior high school cliquey, where even the cafeteria is a stressful social warfield). Some even suffer from highly questionable hygiene. And, yes, others may actually be undiagnosed lunatics. They're totally unapologetic. But you know what? I can't get enough of them. Of course, I can't imagine in real life ever calling one of them on the phone and inviting them to Sunday brunch or becoming besties. But that's the thing; I don't feel I have to relate to a female character in order to find them completely enthralling to watch. In fact, I don't even have to like them.

For instance, Piper is can at times be eye-roll worthy--a privileged young woman who's made very, very bad decisions but blames everyone else for them. She is finally forced to come to terms with that realization and hopelessly tries to make amends before it's too late. Her perpetually timid kitten act borders on grating. But she's authentic; you may not like her but you know her type. She is familiar. She is exactly how you would expect someone in her position to react once behind bars--dumbfounded, somehow feeling more above jail time than the other inmates yet still absolutely terrified of them. Picture a preppy Wall Street hustler ending up in jail, struggling by sheer necessity to acquire quick street cred. That's Piper.



The rest of the characters also teeter on the opposite end of the likability scale, but are so interesting to watch that you don't mind plunging into their stories. Even when they're doing something of which you disprove, they remain true to their character's identity--an important aspect of any personality development. They are profoundly flawed, but pretty soon you'll find yourself caring about them.

You may even end up rooting for Alex, who Piper would like to have us believe is her biggest rival in the jail. Nicky is more of an unreliable frenemy, slithering between crowds and often leaving mild chaos in her wake. However, her omnipresence and nosy nature come in handy when one of the characters is in a bind. Dayanara, who's forced into a compromising situation, could also be criticized for putting herself in an even crappier position than she already was in. Meanwhile, Taystee finds herself in an enviable position until one wrong move pushes her right back where she started. Ugh, if they could only heed my warnings as I shout at them through the TV screen! They're so frustrating

Orange Is The New Black doesn't hide behind the amoral values it presents, nor does it ever attempt to condemn or judge its own characters. Rather, it creates an open and accepted breeding ground for imperfection, while it also helps break down longstanding stereotypes of how ideal female characters are supposed to look, act and feel.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Matthew McConaughey Is A Drug Smuggling HIV Patient In The Trailer For "DALLAS BUYERS CLUB"

After more than two decades on screen, I think Matthew McConaughey is finally starting to realize that you've got to do something really unexpected (like go on the Christian Bale Machinist diet and star in a career-turning AIDS drama) to get some respect in Hollywood.

It looks like that's exactly what he's done in the new trailer for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. The actor stars as real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroff who, after being diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985, is given thirty days to live. So he does what any normal guy would do: smuggle non-toxic, antiviral medications from around the world that are illegal in the United States. He becomes his own entrepreneur, supplying other patients, until things go awry somehow (judging by the trailer).

Jennifer Garner plays one of the doctors, while Jared Leto (taking time from his busy 30 Seconds to Mars band schedule) returns to the screen as a transgender woman who helps Ron with his business.

Here's an official synopsis of the film in case you need one:

"Matthew McConaughey stars in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ as real-life Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof, whose free-wheeling life was overturned in 1985 when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. These were the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and the U.S. was divided over how to combat the virus. Ron, now shunned and ostracized by many of his old friends, and bereft of government-approved effective medicines, decided to take matters in his own hands, tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. Bypassing the establishment, the entrepreneurial Woodroof joined forces with an unlikely band of renegades and outcasts – who he once would have shunned – and established a hugely successful “buyers’ club.” Their shared struggle for dignity and acceptance is a uniquely American story of the transformative power of resilience."
The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) and written by first time scribe Craig Borten. The trailer looks pretty impressive too. Watch:


Dallas Buyers Club by cleetusvandamne

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is in theaters December 6th.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

12 New Images From "RIDDICK", Starring Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel as a blind futuristic rebel has never really been my thing, but I have to admit that the newest images from RIDDICK look spectacular. In fact, they almost make me want to see it. Almost.

In case you're unfamiliar with the franchise, RIDDICK is the third installment of the Chronicles of Riddick sci-fi series that always gave me an Escape from New York/LA vibe. Here's a little more on the new movie:

Release date: September 6, 2013

Genre: Epic action-adventure

Cast: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Gerard Funk

Directed by: David Twohy

Written by: David Twohy

Based on Characters Created by: Jim & Ken Wheat

Produced by: Vin Diesel, Ted Field

Executive Producers: Samantha Vincent, Mike Drake, George Zakk

Riddick, the latest chapter of the groundbreaking saga that began with 2000's hit sci-fi film Pitch Black and 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick reunites writer/director David Twohy (A Perfect Getaway, The Fugitive) and star Vin Diesel (the Fast and Furious franchise, xXx). Diesel reprises his role as the antihero Riddick, a dangerous, escaped convict wanted by every bounty hunter in the known galaxy. 

The infamous Riddick has been left for dead on a sun-scorched planet that appears to be lifeless. Soon, however, he finds himself fighting for survival against alien predators more lethal than any human he's encountered. The only way off is for Riddick to activate an emergency beacon and alert mercenaries who rapidly descend to the planet in search of their bounty. 

The first ship to arrive carries a new breed of merc, more lethal and violent, while the second is captained by a man whose pursuit of Riddick is more personal. With time running out and a storm on the horizon that no one could survive, his hunters won't leave the planet without Riddick's head as their trophy. http://www.riddickmovie.com
Put it this way, if I see this it would only be for Jordi Mollà (and Bokeem Woodbine, who I always felt was underrated). 

You've probably already started seeing the TV commercials for the movie, but if you've missed them feel free to watch an extended clip from the film in my previous post. Below are the images:












Monday, August 26, 2013

Maggie Q Is Giving Me Everything I Need In The New 'DIVERGENT' Teaser, Starring Shailene Woodley



The trailer for DIVERGENT, the latest contribution to the list of dystopian YA adaptations, has surfaced today. While fans zero in on its star Shailene Woodley, I am all about the five seconds that Maggie Q is in the clip. If you've watched even 10 minutes of The CW's "Nikita," then you know that Maggie Q is all kinds of awesome. Plus, it looks like she's got her hair up in spiked tendrils, so you know she means business. I can't wait for it.

But she's not the star of the movie and I have reluctantly come to terms with that. It's Woodley who, at any minute, I expect to stand up and volunteer as tribute (but, no, that's The Hunger Games). In all seriousness, I do think Woodley is a decent enough actress to helm this kind of movie. In case you aren't familiar with the film (inspired by the popular Veronica Roth novel of the same title), here's a little more about it:

DIVERGENT is a thrilling action-adventure set in a future world where people are divided into distinct factions based on their personalities. Tris Prior (Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, she must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it's too late. DIVERGENT is based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth.

I have to admit, I find the idea of uniqueness as a possibly fatal detriment, especially among the younger set, quite fascinating. So I may just read the novel before the movie hits theaters next year (March 21, 2014). Anyone of you read it? You're welcome to share any thoughts below in the comment box. 

The film is directed by Neil Burger, who helmed Limitless and The Illusionist (neither of which I particularly like), and is written by Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs). Okay so these three don't have the best credits, but lets hope their joint collaboration defies expectations. Besides, Kate Winslet is in the movie too so how bad can it be? Right?

Zoë Kravitz, Mekhi Pfifer and Ashley Judd also appear in the film. Check out the clip:



Intrigued?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cinema In Noir: Ben Affleck As Batman, Hollywood's Civil Rights Depiction, And The Damnation of Layered Female Characters

That's the theme question behind most of our discussions on today's "Cinema in Noir." Our co-host, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon, reviewed The Grandmaster and Mother of George (both currently in theaters). She said she was surprised by the former film, which is sold as a martial arts film, but has a riveting female narrative that viewers may not be expecting. Which brings us to a former discussion on a previous episode where we talked about certain films and TV shows luring a certain audience in with a mainstream appeal (in this case, the global adoration of martial arts) with the intent of illuminating the story of another (a strong Asian female character). Sounds like we may be on to something with this method.

Rebecca also wondered whether the impending award season would include Danai Gurira's work in Mother of George, which both she and our other co-host, Kimberly Renee, praised. Will Hollywood honor a film that highlights a Nigerian-American family? We're not sure...

In our news segment, which includes lots of interesting headlines, we discussed the hottest news on the casting block: Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Now I know this news has sparked a heated debate online (mostly riding heavily on the "oh hell to the nah" side), and I know Daredevil still exists and is still bad. But may I just present Hollywoodland? Back down, haters.

In honor of this weekend's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we discuss how Hollywood has depicted the civil rights era and what stories we'd like to see moving forward (Grace Jones anyone?).

Lastly, we shared our thoughts on actress Anna Gunn's (from Breaking Bad) New York Times piece (which I wrote about here) that calls out viewers whose inexplicably strong dislike of complex female characters has presented a whole new problem in how we view the gender as a whole.

Listen to an encore presentation of today's podcast here, and sound off below.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Actress Anna Gunn, Who Plays Skyler White on 'Breaking Bad', Is Not Here For You Haters


You may remember a post I wrote a few months back discussing the inexplicable level of hatred spewed at "Mad Men" character Betty Draper Francis, specifically from female critics. The often vile comments don't just stop with Betty; the relentless bemoaning has spread across the board with the many complex female characters that we should feel honored to have graced our TV screens lately, including Skyler White from "Breaking Bad." 

All I hear online is how "annoying" these characters are, or why they are "always in the way" or "not supporting" the efforts of their men (who, just in case you don't watch, run the gamut of philanderers/identity thieves to methamphetamine moguls/murderers). But yet the women remain the bane of viewers' existence, not their crazy (ex)husbands. 

Yesterday, actress Anna Gunn (Skyler White) wrote an amazing column for the New York Times in response to the "venom" her character has received from viewers and what it may say about how we place female characters in general. 

She writes:

Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or “stand by her man”? That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?

Hold on, can we take a minute to reflect on her last question? Because that is an excellent observation of what may be a realized point for Skyler.

But I digress. Gunn goes on:

It’s notable that viewers have expressed similar feelings about other complex TV wives — Carmela Soprano of “The Sopranos,” Betty Draper of “Mad Men.” Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol.

She also reveals that some of these hateful comments too often move beyond the fictional character to the actress herself, who writes that someone posted that they wanted to kill her because of Skyler. Seriously? It's a TV show, people. Calm down, crazies. 

Despite all the negative hoopla enrcircling her character (and unfortunately herself as an actress), Gunn respectfully took the high road and concludes the piece with a reflection of the way we perceive ourselves and female characters as a whole:

I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.

I can’t say that I have enjoyed being the center of the storm of Skyler hate. But in the end, I’m glad that this discussion has happened, that it has taken place in public and that it has illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives.


If it had been me, I would have probably thrown in  a few four-letter words. So bravo to this remarkable actress who took a stand and called out the haters. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

'JOBS' Review: Was Steve Jobs An Erratic Sociopath Or Was It Just This Bad Movie?


If you're like me, the only thing you know about the late Steve Jobs is that he was the face and name behind every Apple product. But if you go into JOBS, the new movie inspired by the charismatic mogul, with that finite knowledge, you may very well discern that the man many looked up to might have been a sociopath.

That's not just because Ashton Kutcher, who plays the titular character, often falls into trance-like states when struggling to exude emotion in the film's more dramatic scenes (his effort is noted, but unsuccessful). It's more on account of Matt Whiteley's jagged storytelling and failure to humanize a well-known figure, something that should come par with taking on a biopic. Whiteley, who according to IMDB has no previous credits, painted a flat portrayal of Jobs, which is mostly made up of explosive board meeting disagreements, flagrant dismissals of those closest to him, and one great skill--identifying the genius of others and cashing in on it (using erratic business measures).

Despite its subtle attempts to rip off the far superior The Social Network--the liquidation of assets of co-founders, boardroom antics, social ineptitude and a loner look complete with the rejection of shoes--JOBS is neither compelling nor witty. It's obvious that everyone involved in the film, including director Joshua Michael Stern, presented it with the assumption that the audience already knew both Jobs and his progression to the top--both personally and professionally. Too many of Jobs' biggest blow-ups and outbursts are delivered with little to no pretense, while other scenes make arbitrary references or feature characters that are never explained.



For instance, we see Jobs blow a gasket when his girlfriend (Ahna O'Reilly) reveals she's pregnant with his child, even throws out her belongings and orders her to leave. At this point in the film, we have no idea which year this is, which is outrageous because 1) the movie is fairly diligent with time stamps until they're actually needed, and 2) this comes after an earlier scene with Jobs lamenting to said girlfriend over how his biological parents just "threw him away." Irony? Or is this a weird case of the pot calling the kettle black? We don't know what causes this particularly extravagant temper tantrum that, like many others, is never really mentioned again. Basically, the whole movie is made up of uninteresting (or alarming for the sake of being just so) snapshots that happened to be in chronological order inside of a movie that pretends to be a biopic.

To make matters even more ridiculous, Kutcher attempts to interpret Jobs' walk, which can only be described as having crap in his pants with a mild backache. It's just odd, and unnecessary even if it's true. In fact, much of Kutcher's performance borders on cartoonish, exacerbated by the obvious makeup (put to the test in the only scene that showed Jobs as an older man in 2001) and his hollow attempt to act like like Jobs rather than embody him. Too often the audience is taken out of the scene with thoughts of Hey, isn't that Ashton Kutcher? simply because the portrayal comes off too contrived.



However, a bright note in the movie comes whenever Josh Gad is in a scene. He plays Jobs' lowly co-founder Steve Wozniak, the real brainchild behind Apple, whose knack and passion for technology was first spotted by Jobs, who turned it into an empire. For the sake of identification, you can simply call him the Eduardo Saverin to Jobs' Mark Zuckerberg (yes, another The Social Network reference). But, unlike Eduardo, it wasn't Steve's finances that were diluted but his friendship with Jobs. In a few brief but effectively heartbreaking scenes, we see Steve mourn to Jobs over the loss of their solidarity and excitement for what they were each trying to accomplish (for Steve it was simply to have fun getting paid doing what he loved; for Jobs, it is still unclear). Predictably, Kutcher's Jobs is completely stone-faced.

Right now, a filmmaker somewhere is eagerly researching Jobs' life and those closest to him (if those type of people exist) to provide a full scope of Jobs for a good movie that doesn't just rely on his name and unidentified passion to hook an audience. In the meantime, let's just pretend this one never happened.

Rating: D- (* out of *****)

Friday, August 16, 2013

2013 Summer Action Films: Looking For Social Consciousness In All The Wrong Places?

Remember when all we cared about blockbuster action and horror films was that they had the right amount of scary moments and made us say, Oh snap, did you just see that? THAT was awesome!?

I do. But lately there's been quite a bit of focus paid to figuring out the deeper meaning behind a blockbuster's plot and how it has somehow failed to offer solutions or a provocative analysis of life or society's problems. You can perhaps blame movies like The Dark Knight that have spoiled us into expecting that every movie--no matter how spectacular its effects--should offer a compelling sociological study. But I wonder whether we are asking too much.

There is, however, a recent trend of blockbusters that aim to tackle or theorize some of our most plaguing civic issues. World War Z, The Purge and most recently Elysium all fall under that category. But, while they all made tons of money at the box office and are thrilling to watch, they each suffer from over-extension and thematic desolation. Is it the audience's fault that we are expecting more from them, or is it on account of a poorly executed vision? Or is it misleading marketing?

I think it might be a combination of both. World War Z, a massive undertaking of an adaptation, took the title of Max Brooks' original book and not much else. So fans of the book went in expecting this heavily researched, politically sweeping global tale but received a surprisingly tidy horror film instead. Thrilling, but that story originally explored a fascinating political landscape where zombies were the global antagonists. The Purge and Elysium, while not having the advantage of a large reader fanbase, still offered accessible sociopolitical themes that are never fully developed or explored. Again, gripping but ultimately dry.

So as summer 2013 winds down, I wonder how the audience's tastes or anticipations will evolve. Will the reception be a lot like the candy-coated Pacific Rim, which offered a lot in terms of effects but little else? While Pacific Rim divided critics and fans alike, it was interesting to see a generally warmer reception for it than there was for the aforementioned films that had so much more potential but suffered with execution. What made it so much different than the others in essentially the same genre?

It may all come down to the mood we're in, our expectations and ultimately what we want films to solve or address. As our own political views and concerns continue to morph as the years go by, what will we demand of our movies? Will fantastical escapism cease being enough to quench our desires of film?

Sound off below in the comments box.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bullies, Superheroes And Moving Targets: A Review Of 'KICK-ASS 2'

 

There's a great moment buried in the center of writer/director Jeff Wadlow's KICK-ASS 2 that best epitomizes the film. When Dave aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) realizes that he's going to need more than just his self-made prowess and equally amateur partner, Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), to defeat the street scum that perpetually invade the area, he is introduced to a crew of up-and-coming vigilantes who are none other than regular people who in one way or another have been bullied or mocked by society, senseless crime and life itself. They just happen to wear costumes.

It's that eye-opening moment when the film becomes more than simply a frenzied, sometimes entertaining blur of violence; it is an offer of hope for the meek, solidarity for the desperate loners and satiable vengeance for those seeking an outlet for their pain. This is further punctuated by the brash yet surprisingly humble character Colonel Stars and Stripes, the leader of the aforementioned gang of misfits, excellently played by Jim Carrey.   

But the movie doesn't have many moments like this, it does seek to say something more than the first film helmed by Matthew Vaughan did. It begins in standard Kick-Ass style: The nerdy Dave (who has somehow managed to keep his girlfriend from the first film) gets a few lessons in badassery from the ultimate card-carrying member, Mindy aka Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), who shoots a few rounds into his bullet proof vest to toughen him up. After he gets over the stun of getting beat (by a petite high school freshman, at that), they share a few laughs and go on to their next challenge.


Mindy teaches Dave everything she knows about street defense, then soon abandons him when she is encouraged by her guardian Marcus, a detective played by Morris Chestnut, to give up her warfare and get back to being a "normal" teenager. After Dave, who takes comfort in the ability to transform behind his superhero gear, tries to persuade Mindy to rejoin the superhero realm to no avail, he sets out on a solo mission to avenge thugs, which is when he meets Colonel Stars and Stripes and his people.

Things are going fairly well for the good guys until they learn their non-violent but aggressive approach to retaliation is no match for Red Mist reinvented as The Motherf%&*^r aka Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the raging lunatic carrying a a serious grudge against Kick-Ass after he killed his dad in the first film. Tripping on his power with his newfound gang of crazies, he concocts a plan for which none of them are prepared.



While the character development and underlying premise of this installment are far more eloquently stated than they were in the first film, KICK-ASS 2, like its characters, suffers at times from a dual identity. It's clear that Wadlow aimed to take the shock value of extreme violence and underage cursing from the first   film and turn it up a notch, even showing Hit-Girl throwing a man under a speeding car and The Motherf%&*^r aka's gang wind up a lawnmower and hoist it through the windshield of a cop car. It's over the top and uncomfortably graphic at times, and it's oddly paired with emotional scenes like Mindy struggling to fit in with the popular mean girls clique while simultaneously longing to carry out her late father's legacy as a superhero. It's fine to add this nuance to a film that could be seen as unequivocally alpha nerd male, but its two tones, while strongly written, are equally imperious to the point of fatigue. Wadlow is trying to say so much at once sometimes that by the time we get to a few of the scenes, like when Mindy gets back at the mean girls, they just come off as noise.

But aside from its frequent attempt to show itself as a more hopped up version of the first installment, there are genuine moments in this new film that wonderfully support the chaotic appeal of the masses. Moretz is effectively charming and wild all at once, while at the same time gives the film its much needed heart. The moral compass of the film, however, unexpectedly comes from Carrey, whose militant colonel offers a soft paternal comfort to his crew long even after they venture out on their own. Carrey seamlessly blends his erratic fireman alter ego from "In Living Color" with a more dramatic distinction that could only be attributed to his evolution as an actor. Plus, he still manages to be hilarious.



Mintz-Plasse is part cartoon and part maniac, and he does both extremes quite well. For a relatively small guy like The Motherf%&*^r, who relies on his own hype to intimidate everyone around him, he manages to still come across shockingly evil wearing a costume made out of his mom's kinky leather gear. Meanwhile, Taylor-Johnson is attractive but still lacks the charisma of a more polished actor. He is serviceable as both Dave and Kick-Ass, but not without the help of the rest of the cast that provide more magnetic performances, regardless of screen time.

At the end of the day, is KICK-ASS 2 a fun watch? Absolutely, it's a cinematic rollercoaster that should probably come with a seat belt. But it also approaches topical themes that will resonate with audiences, particularly parents and young adults. While Wadlow's efforts aren't always smooth, in many ways they're a step up from the more one-dimensional original.

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)

KICK-ASS 2 is in theaters Friday. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We Need More Coming Of Age Films With Female Leads And Characters Of Color

Lately there has been a lot of attention paid to the new crop of coming of age films turning up everywhere , most recently The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now. I get it, we all want to revisit that warm and fuzzy (and sometimes awkward) time in our lives when we weren't quite sure who we were and what we wanted to become but we were excited--or fearful--about the possibilities.

But have you noticed that many of these films share one glaringly common theme among them? I'm talking about the fact that in most cases they're about young white males, or even their older--and apparently still directionless--counterparts. Michael Cera and Paul Rudd aren't the only ones who could play wondrously clueless wusses on screen. What about all the young girls who struggle with the pains of adolescence, or women who may for whatever reason be looking for a new beginning, or even the characters of color who must contend with a whole other set of challenges as they set out into the world on their own? They're inexplicably--and unforgivably--being overlooked.

While Hollywood has promoted and accepted this trend (relying on the fact that some of the themes may be universal), audiences are starting to take notice and voice their discontent about it. Black Girl Nerds posted a piece questioning Where Are All The Twenty-Something Black Actresses? The writer lamented over the fact that young actresses of color are rarely sought after for coming of age tales.You'll also notice that whenever many writers construct of list of the top coming of age films, you'd be hard pressed to find many (or any) where the main character is a female or of color.

So why the unbalance? Is there any need to rehash the fact that Hollywood's virtually unwavering focus on the white male goes far beyond the coming of age genre? While the industry timidly tries to break out of that pattern with films like Girl in Progress or The Kids Are all Right, the overwhelming number of white male films not only take precedence but are often the ones that garner more critical accolades.

I wonder whether the common misconception that females tend to be the more focused and mature gender has anything to do with their virtual absence in the genre. However, Kristen Wiig seems to be single-handedly fighting against that stereotype as she's carved out her very own "hilariously hot mess woman who desperately tries to get her act together" category of films. I'm just saying, it would be nice to see more stories like that of Eve's Bayou, Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love (two imperfect films that at the very least more eloquently illuminate the term "coming of age."

And I don't know about you, but I am tired of the so-called coming of age stories featuring characters of color who "come of age" by taking part in some kind of a crime or witnessing something equally devastating. That image has been played to death and is just a crutch at this point (note: that angle is not restricted to films with characters of color, but still). With the critical success of Pariah, you'd think Hollywood would be interested in promoting similar films, ones that illuminate that the drama that comes along with growing pains is often triggered by internal not external circumstances.

Lets do better, Hollywood. It's 2013.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

(Review) LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER Illuminates The Fascinating And Heartfelt Story Of Eugene Allen


With Hollywood's recent focus on African-American domestic/oppressed characters, it has seemed as though the industry has regressed back to its golden era of blacks being primarily fit for a certain kind of role. What some of these more modern roles have in common, while technically they are of leading status, is that their point of view is often overshadowed by the larger story of their white counterparts.

But that trend may have finally ended with LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Director Lee Daniels illuminates the remarkable life of Eugene Allen, who served 34 years (1952-1986) on the wait staff (eventually working his way up to becoming a butler) at the White House. His long tenure saw him through eight presidencies and political landscapes, as he continued to gain the respect--and admiration--of not only each POTUS but his professional peers as well.

While the film fictionalizes many aspects of Allen's true story (even changing his name to Cecil Gaines) for dramatic effect, it stays true its sentiment. We've seen the images of racial strife and political unrest during this era depicted in film before, but never have we seen this period reflected through the eyes of an African-American domestic in a prestigious capacity. It is a fascinating eyewitness account of the history of the White House and U.S. politics, during both the acclaimed and inglorious moments, by an unwaveringly loyal servant who had learned to never make his presence known in even the emptiest of rooms.

An extraordinary story even without the Hollywood treatment, the movie allows for its star-studded cast, led by Forest Whitaker as Gaines, to shine in roles that portray the human aspect of each character. Whitaker, who at first glance doesn't exactly look like the real butler, delivers a performance so compassionate that you forget about their dissimilarities altogether. As a result of his portrayal and Danny Strong's tender screenplay, Gaines isn't only a super in-the-know domestic of the highest proximity, but also a devoted family man and provider whose controversies at home were always at the forefront of his mind, but never disrupted his job at the executive mansion.



Those troubles mostly surround his elder of two sons, Louis (impressively played by David Oyelowo), whose associations with the Black Panthers are often a concern for both his parents, but especially his father who excelled in part due to his own obscurity and quiet forbearance. In several scenes we see father and son clash on politics, ultimately leading up to a blow-up at the dinner table resulting in Gaines kicking Charles (and his barely clad girlfriend, Carol, played by Yaya Alafia) out of the house for good. Meanwhile, Gaines' other son, Charles (Elijah Kelley), is a much more complacent member of the family who often provides often a needed comic relief to the film's more tense scenes (balancing nicely with the far more combative Charles).



The film most succeeds during these more personal scenes. It is not your expected civil rights anthem, though it certainly has moments when you want to shout "Fight the Power!" (particularly the scenes that include actual footage of some of the monumental events during the civil rights moment). But at its core is a heartrending drama between a family that is often divided by political motivation. Even Gaines' sashaying, often alcohol-dependent wife, Gloria (a hardly recognizable Oprah Winfrey), adds further pressure on the patriarch by engaging in an illicit affair with a neighbor (played by Terrence Howard).



Daniels, however, doesn't avoid adding what could be seen as teaching moments in the film. Take, for instance, when a young Gaines (played by LUV's Michael Rainey, Jr.) is taught never refer to himself as the n-word by his first professional mentor (Clarence Williams III) because it's a derogatory word given to him by the white man. These moments are not heavy-handed, but they do slightly remove you from the story. But they sound a whole lot less cringe-worthy than "You iz kind, you iz important..." 

One cannot say enough about the film's gargantuan cast, each person committed to their varied characters and significance in Gaines' life. While Mariah Carey's very limited dialogue covers up her somewhat emotionless brief performance as Gaines' long-suffering mother (as does Minka Kelly's unconvincing Jacqueline Kennedy), the rest of the sumptuous actors are like a who's who in Hollywood.  Cuba Gooding, Jr. (in what is hopefully a career-turning performance) and Lenny Kravitz play friends and colleagues of Gaines who further highlight his most personal moments.


James Marsden, who is rarely ever an actor worth mentioning in a movie, has managed to impress audiences in two back-to-back roles this summer (the previous being in the unfortunate 2 Guns). Here he plays JFK as a benevolent and ill-fated president ahead of his time. Liev Schreiber steps into the shoes of Lyndon B. Johnson. Robin Williams is Dwight D. Eisenhower. John Cusack is Richard Nixon. Jane Fonda is Nancy Reagan. True Blood's Nelsan Ellis as Martin Luther King, Jr. Vanessa Redgrave and Pariah's Pernell Walker round out the film's most notable cast.

Daniels' keen direction brought out the best in this massive cast. A film that is surely no simple feat that was tremendously researched is executed seamlessly and doused with raw affection and riveting conflict at every turn. It further compels with a soulful soundtrack indicative of the years it spans, including old school gospel, to some rock n roll and plenty of other soulful tunes. If there was one thing Daniels could have added to the film it would have been the presence of such black power players as Sammy Davis, Jr. and other notables stream through the official residence. While whites dominated the house, it is known that as time had progressed black celebrities and other personalities occasionally visited. Without their presence, the film appears strikingly monolithic on both sides. This is probably intentional to convey a point, but deserves noting.

Gripping, authentic and heartrending, LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER is probably one of the biggest surprises to enter the awards race this upcoming season from a director who (even at his worst) has never shied away from a challenge.

For more on Allen's story, read Will Haygood's Washington Post article that inspired the film.

Rating: B+ (***1/2 out of *****)

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER is in theaters Friday. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

(Review) AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS Has Tons Of Potential, But Ultimately Suffers From Futility



If we learned anything from the critical successes of backwoods dramas like Winter's Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene and even The Hunger Games films, it is that the most powerful ones are those that offer an accessibility in their storytelling that goes beyond their primal landscapes. Does AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS do that? Eh, not really.

The problem with the film, written and directed by David Lowery, is that it's tepidly drawn, with molasses-like pacing and an anticlimactic ending that does little to keep the audience invested. Luckily, the film's committed performances from stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, and supporting players Nate Parker and Keith Carradine, will keep you from walking out of the theater altogether.

Mara stars as Ruth, a small town young woman who's humble in every sense  of the word. Lowery, obviously taking a page out of Terrence Malick's handbook, introduces Ruth in a flicker of scenes portraying her silent emotion. When we meet her, she's annoyed because she thinks her beau, Bob (Affleck), has plans to leave her. Affleck, always the guy you feel compelled to trust even though you probably shouldn't (something he's great at), as Bob gently smooths over Ruth's worries with a playful hug and an earnest vow to love her forever. And thus begins their sorrowful romance.



Weaving together a movie that often feels like a fated Emily Dickinson poem bundled in a rugged noir-style lens, Lowery paints a tale that could best answer what would happen if Bonnie and Clyde were forced to separate after Clyde took the fall for a crime Bonnie committed while raiding a general store. A police officer is shot by a pregnant Ruth. Bob is given a stiff prison sentence, leaving Ruth to care for their daughter and rely on the hope that their love will one day reunite them. Years later, Bob manages to escape from jail with his heart focused on his return to Ruth. The bulk of the film is spent on his bumpy, and at times bloody, trek down the Texas dirt roads to reclaim his love, while fending off law enforcement and other kind along the way.

Lowery juxtaposes Bob's determined journey with the much less eventful one Ruth has embraced, with only an unrequited romantic suitor (a meddling Foster) being the most interesting thing about her (especially as she has become quite content with her lower, modest profile as a working mother). But the pace of the film is interrupted by Ruth's rather bleak story, causing both parts to drag. The film relies heavily on the poeticism of their love, but since we rarely spend any time with them together as a couple (unless you count Ruth's scattered flashbacks) there is nothing else left to sustain its audience. It's dry, inaccessible and leaves you utterly unsatisfied (the trait of any bad romance if there ever was one).



But though the part itself is less notable, Mara makes it more affective by allowing Ruth to feel a certain level of regret and anger blended in with her heartbreak. That's not something you see very often in modern romantic dramas--the use of anger as a crutch to escape heartsickness. It makes it more authentic and painful to watch.

Parker and Carradine, two wandering characters with whom Lowery clearly enjoyed toying around, aren't among the two fated pair but still provide an intriguing escape from the melted central romance. Bob seeks refuge with Sweetie (Parker), who we never get to know too well but he has moments of dissimulation when we don't really know what his next move may be, or how he may choose to sit with information Bob has given him. It's an interesting tactic that never really comes to fruition, but is a good initial front for the character. Meanwhile,  Carradine plays one hell of a devilish confidante for Bob and is less unassuming with his intent.

Overall, AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS features a slew of wonderful talent that had the unfortunate task of uplifting a screenplay that had all the potential but no resonance.

Rating: C- (** out of *****)

AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS is in theaters Friday. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cinema in Noir": Mindy Kaling's Controversial Comments on Diversity, A Q&A With Director Rodney Evans And Shemar Moore on All-Black Casts

This last week has been the week of foot-in-mouth comments from various actors of colors, and we discussed all of it on tonight's "Cinema in Noir" podcast.

First off, Mindy Kaling, creator/writer/star of "The Mindy Project," was recently celebrated in the Hollywood issue of Entertainment Weekly. While the piece gushes over all her accomplishments, which is certainly justified, some of her comments rubbed audiences the wrong way. You may remember this post I wrote about Kaling's lack of diversity and distance from anything racial unless it's in a mocking way. The actress responds to similar criticism by saying the following:

"Do people really wonder on other shows if female leads are dating multicultural people” she asks. “Like I owe it to every race and minority and beleaguered person. I have to become the United Nations of shows?"

This is one of those cases where it's not exactly what is being said rather than how it's being stated. The ladies and I dissect her comments in a segment you won't want to miss.

We also chat with Rodney Evans, director of the upcoming film, The Happy Sad (in theaters Friday).
He discusses the stereotypes of depicting sexuality in films and how his film crosses the gender, race and sexuality barriers. A really interesting chat for sure.
Also under our They Said What? segment is Shemar Moore, who recently stated that all-black casts are more difficult to market. He tells Shadow and Act, "If every character in the movie is black, it’s going to be looked at as a black movie and that might alienate other people from going to see it."

This isn't an altogether false statement, but folks are up in arms about it so of course we had to talk about it.

Oscar winner Rita Moreno spoke out about how Hollywood has failed to cast Latino actors and actresses in 'award-worthy' roles in an upcoming PBS documentary detailed in a Huffington Post piece. And we can hardly disagree with her. While there are certainly talented Latino actors out there, many are not being used to to their full potential.

Speaking of which, the always more-your-money actor Diego Luna makes a brief appearance in the number one movie in America, Elysium, which Rebecca reviewed on the show. Rebecca also enlightened us to the fact that the film's star Matt Damon was playing a Latino actor. Um, what?

I also reviewed In a World... right before we went into our film/TV news of the week.

Missed the show? Catch it online here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

(Review) Lake Bell Shines In The Feminist Dramedy 'IN A WORLD...' But Leaves A Lot of Loose Ends



Remember the name Lake Bell, because she has become my newest deadpan obsession until the obligated Jason Bateman/Janeane Garofalo love child is finally birthed. Despite (or perhaps, in spite of?) her moderately successful career as a background actress, Bell has turned her attention behind the camera for her full feature directorial debut, the quirky dramedy IN A WORLD...

Employing her own confidently awkward appeal to the film, in which she stars and also wrote, Bell adds a delightfully charming nuance to a piece that is otherwise safe in its varied attempts to approach feminism. Bell plays Carol, an unsettled young woman whose latest stab at adulthood leads her to become a vocal coach not for singers but for women whose ineffective or childlike speaking voices hamper them from advancing in life (hilarity ensues whenever Carol imitates them behind their back, and sometimes to their face). But that just pays the bills, or rather the small amount she gives her dad, Sam (Fred Melamed) to live in his house. What she really wants to do is be a voice-over artist. First, she has to climb over the very high gender barrier firmly set by so  many men before her, including virtuoso Don LaFontaine and her very own father, who's become an icon in his own right.



The premise of Bell's debut is so rich and so off-the beaten-path that it you really want it to succeed on all fronts. But it is her grand attempt to illuminate every theme as broadly as possible that ultimately becomes the film's downfall. She's got so many great angles and truly interesting characters that once she introduces one, she leaves it dangling at its most fascinating point and starts another one.

Outside of the film's core, there is the adorably imperfect couple, Carol's sister Dani and Moe (played by Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry). They don't really serve much purpose to the main theme of the film, but they are certainly a fun duo to watch. Dani works as a hotel clerk, whose extracurricular activities result in Moe feeling betrayed. Meanwhile, Carol, who's been living on their couch after her father finally kicked her out of his house, feels right in the middle of it, which means on top of her own gargantuan goals she must fix their problems as well.

In the middle of the film there is the all incumbent uncomfortable dinner scene with Carol, Dani, their dad Sam and his young wife, Jamie (Alexandra Holden). We learn here that Dani, like Carol, isn't much of a fan of the juvenile bride, and that both sisters have unresolved mommy issues, which further add to their cold relationship with their dad. However, their relationship with their mother isn't completely revealed here, yet this scene is so sharply written but still starkly executed. It comes across empty and bleak, and doesn't fully capture what makes their relationship so troubled. There is something important here that gets left on the table.

Carol's own flirtatious and infectiously goofy relationship with her voice-over producer, Louis (an equally charming Demetri Martin), stops short of becoming a full-on romantic comedy with its vacillated development.

Fragmentary sub plots aside, Bell does try to approach some of the parallels between Hollywood sexism (and ageism) and what appears to be similarly happening within the voice-over artist industry--misogyny, inequality, elitism and the overall resentment of female progression. Carol gets a rude awakening at a particularly fancy schmancy industry soiree that pits the modern legends (like Ken Marino's Gustav) and their groupies against the wannabes and their blind ambition. It's that epiphany that further propels Carol's determination to succeed and conquer.

But right when we think the whole feminist aim really starts to take off, especially after a particularly honest encounter with voice-over power player Katherine Huling (deliciously played by Geena Davis), it's sideswiped by Sam's melodramatic meltdown upon realizing that the tables have turned and he's no longer the master of his professional universe. You feel that at the pinnacle of Carol's success a man steals the glory. It's an odd sequence of events that play against the film's most provocative theme and don't exactly flow smoothly.

Though the film comes off amateurish at times, Bell's keen eye for identifying and turning the most uncomfortable scenarios into natural comedy is on clear display here. The outline of the film shows a lot of potential for Bell's future directorial projects, and ability to bring out the authenticity in her characters and cast, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Until then, lets add Bell in the running for our imaginary live action adaptation of "Daria."

Rating: C+ (**1/2 out of *****)

IN A WORLD... is now in theaters. Watch the trailer:


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ridley Scott Wins Today's Internet With The Red Hot Full Trailer For THE COUNSELOR

File this trailer under "We're not really sure what this is all about but goddamn this cast is FINE." Because, seriously, it is. Michael "Fassy" Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Hollywood hot couple, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, headline director Ridley Scott's (Prometheus, Alien) latest nail-biter, THE COUNSELOR.

The official synopsis doesn't give too much away about the actual plot, other than that it "tells the story of a lawyer, played by Fassbender, who finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking. Violence, mayhem and cheetahs follow soon thereafter."

The trailer is giving me very No Country For Old Men meets Traffic, which isn't ever a bad thing. Bardem has even got the crazy hair, which you know helps him act even more badass (unconfirmed rumor). Speaking of No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy, the author of the original book, also penned this script. He also wrote All The Pretty Horses, the novel which inspired the 2000 film starring Penélope Cruz. So there may just be a winning formula here, despite us being kept in the dark about the plot.

The film also features Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo, Dean Norris and Goran Visnjic.

But enough about all that, just watch this sexy trailer and let me know your thoughts below.



THE COUNSELOR is in theaters October 25th.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Meryl Streep And Robert De Niro To Reunite For The Fourth Time Onscreen In The Comedy, THE GOOD HOUSE



More than thirty years after the duo first played opposite each other in The Deer Hunter, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro reunite for a fourth time in the upcoming comedy, THE GOOD HOUSE. The Oscar-winning pair will reportedly play love interests in the film, which will be adapted by Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Hours" (which inspired the 2002 drama starring Streep).

More from the press release:

FILMNATION ENTERTAINMENT ACQUIRES RIGHTS FROM JANE ROSENTHAL TO NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER THE GOOD HOUSE

ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS MERYL STREEP AND ROBERT DE NIRO ATTACHED TO STAR

Jane Rosenthal and FilmNation’s Aaron Ryder and Karen Lunder To Produce

New York, NY – August 6, 2013 – FilmNation Entertainment has acquired the rights from Jane Rosenthal to New York Times Bestseller The Good House by Ann Leary.  Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham is set to adapt the project. Attached to star are Academy Award winners Meryl Streep, who previously collaborated with Cunningham on The Hours, and Robert De Niro, making this the fourth film Streep and De Niro will appear in together.

Rosenthal will produce and Berry Welsh, VP of Production, will executive produce for Tribeca Productions. Aaron Ryder and Karen Lunder will produce for FilmNation. FilmNation partner Steve Samuels played a role in bringing the project to FilmNation through his relationship with Leary.

The Good House is a wickedly funny look at denial, told through the eyes of Hildy Good (Streep), a New England realtor and not-so-recovering alcoholic whose perfectly compartmentalized life starts to come apart at the seams when she forms a new friendship with Rebecca McCallister. As Rebecca becomes the subject of town gossip, Hildy rekindles an old flame with Frank Getchell (De Niro), a tell it like it is Yankee, who tries to uncomplicate her complicated life in this darkly comic and strikingly authentic tale.

FilmNation’s EVP Production Karen Lunder said, “We knew right away with Jane’s and Michael’s demonstrated talent and Ann’s bestseller that we have the opportunity to create something truly entertaining. It is undeniable the authenticity and chemistry Meryl and Bob will offer us as they bring these characters to life.”

“Ann Leary has an intoxicating voice and created a truly original character in Hildy Good. When I read the book, I was only sorry it ended - but so thrilled that we'll be able to bring it to the screen with Meryl Streep as the irresistible Hildy,” said Producer Jane Rosenthal. “It's the perfect project to work on with Michael Cunningham and we are excited to be doing this in partnership with FilmNation, as they were equally passionate about Ann's characters.”

It doesn't sound like a director has been chosen just yet. While the premise doesn't particularly grab me, I am intrigued by the thought of another Streep-Cunningham pairing. What say you? Are you excited about this project?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

(Review) 2 GUNS Is One Of The Most Phoned-In Action Films This Year



You know you may be in for a dud when they don't even spend any time coming up with a snappier title for a summer action film than simply 2 GUNS. But it's Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, so it can't be that bad...can it?

Well, because it's them, no it's not that bad. But it ain't good either. Though we get to see the two actors flaunt their action comedy skills (a notable first for Washington), the plot itself (directed by Baltasar Kormákur and written by Blake Masters, who adapted it from the graphic novels) left much to be desired. As the title indicates, the film is about, well, two guys who are obviously armed. At first, we're not really sure whether their partners, allies, enemies, or what. But, for the sake of avoiding any form of the word bromance, lets call them brenemies.



Washington stars as Bobby, an undercover DEA agent trying to catch Papi (Edward James Olmos), a Mexican drug lord, in the act by staging a trap for him. That's the simplest way to describe this character whose intentions become more and more convoluted as the film progresses. When we first meet him, he and his, erm, brenemy, Stig (Wahlberg), a perpetually T-shirt clad, wink-friendly naval intelligence officer, are seated at a diner heavily engaged in witty banter (the first of many in the movie). Somewhere in the middle of their exchange, we notice that they're actually planning to rob a bank located directly across the street. Hold on, aren't these two supposed to be the good guys? Yeah, but good guys rob banks sometimes in order to catch the bad guys. Or, at least they do in this movie.

But before they commit this federal crime, the movie sloppily flashes back (or forward, or maybe off to the side?) to a scene featuring Bobby and his loverly, Deb (Paula Patton), a rather useless character who tries to be deceptive like the fellas but is really nothing more than a damsel in distress, discussing his grand plans for a bank heist. This is where he might have mentioned why he was even involved in it, but it's hard to pay attention when Patton's bare breasts are clearly in command of the scene. Why is any of this happening right now? Who knows.

Flash back (again, unsure of the direction here) and we're smack in the middle of the heist, which goes along swimmingly (Bobby, wearing a Freddy Krueger mask, even stops to comfort a screaming baby). It seems like the unlikely duo have pulled off the act until both realize the other may not be working for their side, and things get a little bloody between the two (hence, becoming brenemies). They split up only to reconcile later in the movie once they learn that things aren't so rosy for them all alone either. Long, convoluted story short, the two find themselves working together again in order to preserve their own lives (and probably because no one else could possibly put up with their incessant yet clever chatter) with Papi and ruthless law enforcer, Earl (Bill Paxton) hot on their tails.



We should really take a minute to commemorate the film's one saving grace--the toxic yet hilarious relationship between Bobby and Stig. It's silly, it's often pointless but cures our sleep dependency triggered by the rest of the movie. While Washington capitalizes off his natural sarcasm and ingenious one-liners, Wahlberg gives it right back to him in a series of taunting quips, even pulling out his classic, "tell your mother" line. He reaches so far back in his vault that one could only hope he'd pull out one of his timeless moves from his Funky Bunch days (he doesn't).

But even with the tangy chemistry of its two stars, it's hard to get past the nonsensical story and the often gratuitous moments that serve no real purpose. 2 GUNS is bubbly, fun, yet unexciting despite its barrage of explosives used. Lets hope Washington and Wahlberg get another chance to work together with a far more decadent script.

Rating: D+ (* 1/2 out of *****)

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