Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

After an embarrassing incident in high school, Robbie Weirdicht disappears from contact for 20 years, with only a moment of kindness from Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner serving as a glimmer of positivity. Calvin’s life took a roller coaster, as he married his high school sweetheart but never seemed to reach the professional success he appeared destined to achieve. Right before his 20-year high school reunion, Calvin gets a Facebook message from Bob Stone, who he comes to learn is a reinvented Robbie Weirdicht and a CIA agent. His life is about to take a turn for the exciting as he has to navigate whether Bob can be trusted.

Hart & Johnson FTW: There have been a lot of comedy duos that have stepped up in recent years. While this duo is a little more slapstick than some of the other great combinations, both actors have proven their range and willingness to put it all out there. Kevin Hart may seemingly stretch himself thin with the number of films he stars in, but there is no shortage of energy from the man. He is willing to play the fool to pull the laughs out of the crowd. For Dwayne Johnson, he has proven himself both as a comedic and dramatic actor. The range helps emphasize the goofier side of his personality.

Double Secret Spy Games:¬†The film centered around the idea that a confidential list potentially was going to end up in the wrong hands. While Bob initially promoted a version of the story of being framed and trying to do the right thing, Calvin was quickly approached by CIA agents highlighting a very different description of past events. While Calvin had no interest in getting caught up in the chaos in the first place, he struggled with Bob’s kindness and the conflicting stories balanced against his own safety as to whether he should continue to stay involved.

Physical Comedy Versus Comedic Themes:¬†The comedy was twofold in this film. On the one hand, there were the physical elements, such as Hart’s flips and attempts at combat. What made the film funnier was actually Johnson’s awkward character development. While Calvin was a man who was focused on his failure to meet expectations after high school, Robbie was a man who never seemed to actually emotionally or culturally develop after high school. Wearing unicorn t-shirts, obsessed with Calvin’s letterman jacket, and always equipped with the fanny pack, Robbie was just as likely to break a jaw as he was to break into a John Hughes movie reference or make a sexually-suggestive reference without realizing it.

Final Verdict: While not necessarily a breakthrough comedy, it also still feels like it could be the first in a series of potential sequels. I would definitely enjoy watching more of this duo.

Dan’s Rating:¬†3.0/5

Jackson Healy is the type of guy you call when you’re in a little trouble and need someone to use a little force to get the job done. Holland March is not someone anyone should call, but he works as a somewhat crooked PI just trying to make it. The two get caught up in the same case when Jackson realizes that he is protecting the same girl, Amelia, that Holland is seeking. They both lose track of her but discover that there is a bigger problem. The girl is the daughter of DOJ representative Judith Kutner. Now working together, they start to put the pieces together of why Amelia is constantly on the run and what Judith is actually in uncovering by getting her daughter back.

Sophisticated Slapstick: Russel Crowe has had an up and down career in terms of the range of his acting, but an area where he can definitely play to the role is quirky action comedy. As a hired muscle, his stature and fighting abilities served him well in the actions sequences of the film, but the delivery somehow also maintains a lightness to raise the entertainment level. Gosling boosted the comedic element to a greater extent as an often lucky but still clumsy detective who allowed self interest and alcohol to commonly cloud his judgment. Rarely can someone have multiple pratfalls in a film and flow between the hilarity of the situation and transitions into more serious plot points.

Corruption in 70s Hollywood: With Judith Kutner serving as a champion against moral depravity, her interest in retrieving her daughter and fighting against the growing industry of sexual media seemed to be a great cause for a government official. As Jackson and Holland fell deeper down the rabbit hole, they discovered that everyone in their situation had ulterior motives beyond their involvement in pornography. Even when they finally find Amelia, they discover how little they know about what they got caught up in and what they would have to do to get out of it. Eventually, someone was going to tip their hand, which was when Jackson and Holland had a chance to strike.

Relationships are Central to Success:¬†While not a main theme of the film, one of the important side products of the story was the importance of having people you care about. For the Kutners, Judith seemed less concerned about her own daughter than the situation with which she was involved. More importantly, Holland’s daughter Holly was a clear fixture in their investigation. While he made constant attempts to keep her out of the fray, she forced her way back in to help wherever she could. She saw that her father was still suffering from the loss of his home and his wife, and she did not want him to loss his way.

Final Verdict: In some slight ways, the comedy of this film felt like Lethal Weapon and it truly worked. Crowe and Gosling made an interesting and entertaining pair, with a solid story of corruption and deceit framing their character development.

Dan’s Rating:¬†3.5/5

As the host of a major stock market program, Lee Gates boasts all sorts of claims on the air. Sometimes, he calls locks for major opportunities to buy or sell. His advice is not always accurate, but one particular tip bankrupted one of his viewers and left him desperate for answers. When Kyle Budwell sneaks into the middle of a program and fits Lee with a bomb vest while holding the host at gunpoint, time seems to stop and the world begins to watch the incident as it unfolds. The longer Lee remains in the crosshairs, the more questions seem to pop up about the questionable practices and situation over at IBIS.

Star Power Goes to the Small Screen:¬†Bringing together George Clooney (Lee Gates) and Julia Roberts (Patty Finn) immediately made¬†for¬†opportunity for a great film. Clooney projected his big personality in a perfect match as the host of a money management show similar to¬†Mad Money. Julia tends to play more metered characters at times, and she served as the voice of reason during an extremely tense situation. Jack O’Connell (Kyle Budwell) also seems like a star on the rise, playing a character at the end of his rope.

An Issue of Pride v. Desperation:¬†For Lee, his program was less about truly digging into the truth of the market trends and incidents but rather focusing on simply trying to make finances more interesting. As a man of wealth, he took little concern for what his advice actually meant for his viewers. When Kyle showed up and created the sense of panic, it knocked Lee off of his vantage point and forced him to think about the significance of his televised guidance. At times, his conversation with Kyle and his gimmicks were more about protecting his chance of survival. Once the questions seemed to get exponentially greater, Lee’s purpose shifted from survival to curiosity and he actually started to feel for his captor.

Questionable Corporate Practices:¬†Kyle’s whole reason for entering into his dangerous hostage situation was related to his major money loss after betting on IBIS. He attacked Lee first because he saw his best opportunity to get both Lee and IBIS CEO Walt Camby in the same room was through¬†Money Monster. As time passed and questions began to be asked, it became clear that something shady was happening surrounding the company’s $800 million glitch. To make matters worse, Walt decided to cancel at the last minute and then could not be found by the producers of the show or even the people within his own company.

Final Verdict: While the film simplifies corporate corruption and plays a little too much to the Mad Money-style antics, it still has a few humorous moments at the start to intensify the beginning of the standoff. While the hostage situation is a little pedestrian, there are some truly enjoyable dramatic moments and twists to make this a very entertaining film.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

71ubEWUG4VL._SL1136_With Detroit falling into the category of most violent, crime-ridden city in the US, the most dangerous section has been walled-off and segregated. Within its borders, unrest is brewing with the surrounding city and its politicians. After Brick Mansions leader Tremaine Alexander pulls off a heist to steal a bomb, the city sends in Officer Damien Collier to try and shut it down. To help him with his mission, he is partnered up with a convict, Lino, who has incredible physical ability and agility to get close to Tremaine. With thoughts of revenge a desire to bring him to justice, Damien’s focus on Tremaine serves as both a motivation and a potential challenge toward the success of his mission.

Review: While the tribute to the late Paul Walker (Officer Damien Collier) was certainly a nice touch, this felt like a film without clear direction or development. For Walker, his character had a basic obsession for revenge and flashes between moments of overconfidence and out-of-nowhere anger. David Belle (Lino) had nearly no character development at all, with the exception of his clear desire to rescue his girlfriend. He played the character recklessly and with a brutish demeanor. RZA (Tremaine Alexander) was a mixed bag. As the advertised villain, he wavered between aggressiveness and tempered cunning. He felt less like a maniacal villain than a more complicated antagonist. Unfortunately, there was little more to the actual character than what was presented initially.

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This film promoted strong action sequences that mixed together free-running with some martial arts. While the scenes themselves were well choreographed, the story was weak and none of the characters were all that interesting. The plot mixed together a kidnapping, a bomb, a missile, and a lot of corrupted activities. The film essentially taught that politics are corrupt and everyone is at least a little dirty. While Tremaine may have seemed like the villainous center, his minions seemed to be quite aggressive without his direction and the corruption within the Detroit police and government systems appeared to be the bigger threats. The conclusion also seemed to try to hard to finish the story with a nice neat bow without actually explaining how the events actually got the city to that point.

While not his best work, Paul Walker was able to notch another action film to his resume. There was plenty of activity…just no substance.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

nightwalker3Louis Bloom is not the most honest man. Stealing¬†items to sell in scrapyards and pawn shops, he gets by on these devious actions. While driving late at night, he sees an accident, stops, and observes the emergency personnel and the camera crew¬†documenting the scene. Living by his motto “if you want to win the lottery, you gotta have the money to buy a ticket,” he picks up a camera and a police scanner and begins to roam the streets at night for footage to sell to Channel 6 News. Eventually striking a deal with producer Nina Romina, Louis expands his business by adding an intern, upgrading his equipment, and seeking out the deadliest stories in the Los Angeles area. As he starts tracking more serious incidents, he begins to put himself and his intern into¬†murkier and more dangerous waters.

Review: This gritty, dark thriller boasted a team of unlikeable characters that were difficult to stop watching because of the compelling nature of the storytelling. Jake Gyllenhaal (Louis Bloom) turned in a very unlikeable but remarkable performance as the thief turned nightcrawler. As Louis, he is nothing but dedicated to his craft, and quite the quick learner. Rene Russo (Nina Romina) provided an essence of the seedy side of the news, focusing more on sensationalism over substance. Riz Ahmed (Rick) was also the surprise of the film. While he was a supporting character and was meant to help elevate the sleaziness of Gyllenhaal, he was able to make Rick the only character that you would want to connect with and see succeed.

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The theme of the film was about that attraction to sensationalism of which people cannot get enough. While Louis was doing less harm (at least initially) with his transition from thievery to nightcrawling, he was still dealing with the underbelly of LA. Fighting for position amongst other established nightcrawlers, he studied and showed tenacity to wedge his way into the crowd and start to establish himself above the rest. In order to win out, he pushed the envelope to get the edge, even manipulating scenes and putting himself and Rick in danger to get the perfect footage.

The tension is gripping and compelling. The characters are seedy but impossible to ignore. The film may not be a revelation, but it is a great story.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

Focus (2015): Never Drop the Con

Posted: February 27, 2015 in Comedy, Crime, Drama
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focus concept poster will smith margot robbie con artist junaid bhat 2015While having dinner, Nicky is approached by a young woman asking for him to save her from a man at the bar by pretending to be her boyfriend. They spend the entire night together, ending with a trip up to her hotel room. Once inside, their time together is interrupted by her husband, but Nicky immediately makes the con and foils their plans. Jess is devastated but gets her chance for redemption as Nicky is open to teaching her some methods of conning. While it appears that he leaves her to her own game, she follows him to New Orleans to beg for chance to join his team. Allowing her into the game as an intern, she quickly tries to prove herself and fight her way into the big league. While Nicky has his eyes on amassing a fortune through a lot of individual cons, Jess has her sights on racking up the big one.

Review:¬†While having a bit of an¬†Ocean’s 11 vibe,¬†Focus aimed to entertain through trickery, double-crossing, and moments of sensuality. While the overall film was enjoyable, the surprises were not completely surprising and the sensuality was relatively mediocre. Will Smith (Nicky) certainly had a better showing in this film than his past several, having a few deeper moments and quite a few more humorous ones. Margot Robbie (Jess), on the other hand, was actually a more enjoyable on-screen presence. She showed better range and energy. Adrian Martinez (Farhad) was actually quite enjoyable as well.

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While the themes of the film were about slight of hand and trust, it left viewers questioning everything (for good or bad). With each of the cons presented throughout the story, you were left to guess what the double-cross or real motive behind each action was. For the first con, Nicky had already made Jess before she even approached him. When she arrived in New Orleans, he was already aware that she would attempt to follow. When he bet the farm on a bet at the Super Bowl … you get the picture. The film makes the concept of conning seem very cool, but it also felt a bit repetitive in the way. As the film attempted to shift gears toward the romantic relationship between Nicky and Jess, it felt like the big con was more of an inconvenience to the question of whether they were truly meant to thrive.

While not a perfect film, Focus is still a fun one. See if you can guess if any of their plays are ever as simple as they seem.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

runner_runner_ver2As a Masters student at Princeton, Richie Furst is struggling to play for his college bills but tries to manage the debt through online gambling. Making a commission on getting his students to sign up to play, the dean catches wind of his ventures and orders a cease on all gambling activities. Richie decides to play out all of his luck on an all-night bender. He loses it all but believes that something greater than chance was at play. With his friends, they discover that the site was cheating players by changing the odds. Desperate to reclaim his money, he travels to Costa Rica to find Ivan Block and report his scandal in hopes of recovering his losses. Instead, Ivan respects his tenacity and offers him a job with his organization. Quickly, Richie gets in deep with all of the money and benefits but learns that there is a major dark side to the lifestyle. With threats from within and the FBI pressuring his involvement in the investigation, Richie needs to find a way out.

Starring: Justin Timberlake (Richie Furst), Ben Affleck (Ivan Block), Gemma Arterton (Rebecca Shafran), Anthony Mackie (Agent Shavers), Michael Esper (Billy ‘Pet’ Petricoff), Oliver Cooper (Andrew Cronin), Yul Vazquez (Delegate Herrera), John Heard (Harry Furst), James Molina (Esteban), Louis Lombardi (Archie), David Costabile (Professor Horstein)

In this thriller, Timberlake serves the role as the protagonist who goes from being a little sure of himself to scrambling for a plan. Given his polished appearance, he tended to reduce the believability of his character’s plight considering the lack of funds to travel. Affleck was not overly compelling but filled the role as the villain decently. Mackie’s character seemed a little overzealous at times. Arterton felt like no more than eye candy, as her character was underdeveloped with her lack of a more comprehensive backstory.

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Brad Furman’s thriller was set in Costa Rica and explored the dangerous world of gambling and criminal activity. Richie was a smart kid and had a lot of opportunity in front of him. While he had participated in a gamble in the past with Wall Street, he was unable to maintain his involvement and required further education to reenter his dream job. He did not know that he could get involved in a gambling organization and Ivan was able to convince him to abandon his old life to take on a new one. The money and status kept him in the business for a while, but his friends (who he brought down to work with him) began to hit their limit. The sleaze and the illegal activity had become too much for them. Even Richie realized he was in over his head, but he was forced to get a little too close to death before he devised his plan to release himself from the burden.

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The movie had some twists and turns, but a lot of what was portrayed was flash with little substance. The thriller element was mostly displayed through scenes like the crocodile feeding and the attempted breaking point when Richie was short the bribe money. The plausibility of someone throwing their life away for a huge gamble was both the point of the movie and a very weak plot point. Finding the right type of ending to the film was going to be tough, and it just seemed like it was wrapped up with a bow a little too easily (except, of course, for the getaway for the hero and his love interest). Weak emotional connections with the characters and hazy action hurt the actual thrill elements of the film.

Runner Runner could have been a more intriguing film, but several other gambling films have already proven themselves more engaging, intriguing, and emotionally investing.

Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5