Director J.J. Abrams knows how to slap together a fun movie. “Star Trek Into Darkness” has most everything. Sometimes I enjoy simplicity. The movie has a beginning, a middle & an end. Less interpretation, more up on the screen. I will say, in this installment, character development was scrapped over more action sequences. But hey, I’m OK with that. It’s time for a summer popcorn movie & it’s not Oscar Season. The heartbeat of the movie is the complex friendship between The Human: Kirk & The Vulcan: Spock. Chris Pine & Zachary Quinto provide the spark that ignites the entire movie.
The Crew of the Starship: Enterprise, headed by Captain James T. Kirk has been given their latest mission. But it’s really less of a mission and more of a Black OP. NO SPOILERS HERE. Trekkies will absolutely love subtle and notso subtle references to the original 1960′s TV series. Maybe they should call him James T. KINK. He just goes for it, every single time & I dig that. I advise you to seek passage aboard the Enterprise & strap in for it’s 5-year mission. I had a complete blast. Just like Scotty, Bones & Ohura you can certainly follow me on Twitter @leoquinones. Q-Out.
“The Iceman,” Richard Klukinski (Michael Shannon) was a contract killer for the mob. Legend has it, he’s whacked over 100 people. Based on a true story is the statement that drives this film. New Jersey: 1964. Richard Klukinski is a man living the American reality. He’s just another guy trying to get by on a modest salary. His paths cross with mid-level mobster Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) & suddenly he’s got a new job & a new title: Hitman. This thing turns into Diners & Deathbeds, in a hurry.
Michael Shannon was born to play this guy. When he’s up onscreen, you really can get hypnotized by his intensity. His acting is on point, hitting every single tone. Klukinski’s wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) for the most part accepts the fact the her husband is a good man, who happens to work a white collar job on Wall Street. Ryder adds in layers of doubt about her husband’s career, but never really calls him out on what he’s really up to. I think it’s the best thing Winona Ryder has ever done. Other supporting players include rival assassin, Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans) & low level enforcer, Josh Rosenthal (David Schwimmer).
This movie is an absolute must-see. In lots of period films, I can see beyond the frame & envision set people off to the side holding Starbucks, awkward light rigs, bulky cameras & everything else you’ve seen on a movie set. Director, Ariel Vromen & his production team wove every detail into the fabric of the films. You can see details down to the the lamps, the cars, the wardrobe, the lighting. It’s all right there & never lets the audience think, ‘oh, this is just a movie.’
About two years ago, the young director convinced Michael Shannon to participate in a 1-day screen test. This screen test, unlike many others would be a fully-produced scene. The idea was to film an intense scene & use it as bait to attract money to back the film. Anyone can provide a clip from “The Iceman.” What I’ve got for you is so much better. It’s the actual screen test with Michael Shannon & Michael Wincott. (The Crow, Hitchcock) You’ll know this great actor when you see him in the clip. Let me set it up. Wincott is playing Mr. Freezy, the other hitman that Chris Evans plays in the movie. The pressure of cops & killing is getting to these guys. They are desperate. The dialogue is pretty much word-for-word as you’ll see in “The Iceman.” Wincott & Shannon nail it. Makes me wonder, why didn’t they keep Wincott in the film. “The Iceman” is Rated R. Go see it.
Truth is stranger than fiction. “Pain & Gain” is a true story about 3 dudes with way more brawn than brains. The events unfolded between October 1994 & June 1995. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is on course to be a low income personal trainer for the rest of his life. That’s exactly what he doesn’t want. Then is fate crosses paths with a passionate, inspirational, unorthodox & foul-mouthed self-help guru, Johnny Wu. (Ken Jeong) Daniel lives by Wu’s motto: “If I feel I deserve it, the universe will serve it.” The problem: Lugo thinks he deserves everything at all costs, no matter who gets hurt, no matter what the consequences.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is by all means getting better & better as an actor. Here he plays ex-con, Paul Doyle. A man drawn to his demons. Rounding out the nefarious trio is Adrian Doorbal. (Anthony Mackie.) Another personal trainer who’s always strapped for cash. When Daniel recruits these dudes, it’s about one thing: Targeting one rich person & taking everything they own. It’s a very twisted way of achieving The American Dream.
So who’s the unlucky mark? Enter local businessman, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub) He was just at the wrong gym, the wrong time with the wrong personal trainer. Hey, it happens. As you’ve seen in the movie’s trailer, Kershaw is about to have his life turned inside out. Over the course of the film, the criminal masterminds are anything but disciplined. Just looking at the trio execute their crimes, makes anyone who’s ever watched any of those CSI TV shows think, “Geez, these idiots are dropping a million clues, traces, evidence & traceable steps.” You watch, there’s gonna be a “Pain & Gain” drinking game. Drink everytime they leave a clue. Get a designated driver. You’ll be doing copious amounts of shots.
NO SPOILERS: I liked the fact the Daniel Lugo ran his operation like Ethan Hunt of “Mission: Impossible.” He was just so awful at it. What’s more amazing, is his team back him on everything, even murder. You know it’s just a matter of time before these idiots get caught. “Pain & Gain” is a good time at the movies. Follow me on Twitter @leoquinones, Tony Stark does.
Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” takes us back to the year, 1858, two years before the Civil War. I appreciate any attempt to bring back Westerns. It’s a genre ripe for a resurgence. The setting works: A bounty hunter (Christof Waltz) teams up with a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) to capture criminals & ultimately help find & free Django’s slave wife. (Kerry Washington)
There are excellent scenes within the film. You’ll enjoy textbook Tarantino dialogue exchanges. Leonardo DiCaprio turns in an excellent performance as a savvy & sinister slave owner, the callus Calvin Candie.
As a whole however, this wasn’t one of my favorite Tarantino films. Going back a few years, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ was utterly brilliant. The Hans Landa character played by Christof Waltz, in my opinion, should have remained inside the world of ‘Inglourious Basterds.’ Instead, I kept seeing Hans resurface in ‘Django Unchained.’ I know everyone else did too, but won’t admit it. Let’s compare. In ‘Basterds’ he was dubbed ‘The Jew Hunter.’ Here he’s The Bounty Hunter. For some reason I can’t explain, he also hails from Germany. Oh, & he speaks at least (3) languages, just like Hans Landa.
This is just nit-picking now. Why do certain directors always feel compelled to hurl themselves into their own movie? It stymies me. Why does Quentin do this? My first thought every time I see him onscreen in one of his own films is: What is Quentin doing? It catapults me out of the movie! No one in Hollywood will admit this. They all want to work on one of his movies. I’m not an actor. So again I ask Quentin, Why insist? Why?
Final note, “Django Unchained” is still better than 85% of what’s out in theaters. It’s worth watching. You can follow me on Twitter @leoquinones
When it comes to studying U.S. History, some students (myself included) were more interested in hearing the lunch bell ring. Don’t get me wrong, certain times in U.S. history were fascinating. Abraham Lincoln was the architect of one of those times. Steven Spielberg avoided Lincoln movie cliches by focusing primarily on the last four months of his life.
For too many reasons, Daniel Day-Lewis is my favorite actor. Maybe it’s because he’s only done five films in fifteen years. I love his pursuit of minutiae & total immersion. No one goes deeper or does more when it comes to really trying to embody a character. Production designer, Rick Carter said it best, “I haven’t gotten over the first time I saw him. Daniel Day-Lewis was not who I saw in front of me. I saw the man who was President of the United States in 1865. I saw Abraham Lincoln.”
Spielberg shied away from encroaching Day-Lewis on set. It was quite the opposite. “I never asked Daniel about his (acting) process. I never questioned it. I never looked a gift-horse in the mouth. I just received it with tremendous gratitude….I was constantly saying to myself, ‘Don’t get in the way; Celebrate these words, Capture these performances, Get it in the best way you know how. And let the actors cast their long shadows.”
I believe that’s exactly what happened. The 1865 Congress, in this application, was the place where young America formed a more perfect union. The method seemed madness. There was shouting, name-calling, back-stabbing & shout-at-the-top-of-your-lungs debating of the issues. Most prominent: Slavery was the law of the land. The passage of the 13th Amendment to our Constitution would abolish slavery forever.
The Civil War was on the verge of it’s fourth Spring. Hundreds of thousands of men were dying. Lincoln employed shrewd political tactics to bring both sides together on an issue that still, in my opinion, divides this great country. In 1865, Democrats believed slavery was an essential cog of their thriving economy. Republicans at the time wanted to take literally the words, ‘all men were created equal.’
Always at the center of the politics, the strife, the casualties of war was Abe Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis for whatever brief moment in time seemed to carry the burdens of our 16th President. You can see it in his face, you can witness it in his walk. It’s there in a magnificent scenes with Sally Field as Mary. Suddenly Lincoln’s not a statue, but a man consumed in marital chaos. You’ll come away with a feeling not like reading a history book, but a feeling that you were right there seeing history happen.
For a guy who wasn’t big on history in school, I love being transported back in time to learn & possibly gain insight to what may have happened in Lincoln’s last days. I also enjoyed the comedic & primitive lobbying tactics of James Spader, Timothy Blake Nelson & John Hawkes. They provided the perfect balance to the often time heavy material. To that I must add, Daniel Day-Lewis played Lincoln as having a keen sense of humor. His obvious gift storytelling, whether the troops, a crowd of citizens or the intimate gathering of family draws you in completely & never lets you go. Watching, ‘Lincoln,’ that school lunch bell never even entered my mind.
As Mel Gibson’s character Porter grumbled in “Payback,” “Dirty Cops. Do they come any other way?” Cop movies most always thrive on Bad Cop Syndrome. They’re either on the take through organized crime or confiscating cash to send their kids to college, ripping off drug dealers or at the very least hiding behind badges as bullies. Those are the reasons why ‘End of Watch’ is such a fresh look at the cop movie genre. The story’s about two partners in the Los Angeles Police Department. Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) & Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) get up every day & do the job. What I loved about the movie is, these guys weren’t looking to score a huge payday & retire. It was quite the opposite. Their idea of ‘hitting it big’ is always in the form of a big bust. These LAPD officers are the good guys.
What I also enjoyed was the balance between action on the streets & verbal action between buddies in the squad car. Spending endless hours on patrol, Brian & Mike talk about virtually anything from sex to Starbucks. These scenes just tick away until the moment something happens. When they get the call, it’s on. NO SPOILERS. I live in Southern California. What happens in Downtown Los Angeles seems a million miles away. It is dark, desolate & dangerous. The actors playing gang members are a constant reminder: Make sure your GPS works, respect their space & stay out of alleys.
On the first night of prep for this film, Jake was on an LAPD ride-along. It’s there where he witnessed a shoot-out between gang members and one person was murdered right in front of his eyes. Gyllenhaal did express experiencing intense moments of fear out in the field. How could you not? The point of exposing yourself to such violence & potential life peril, is to simply funnel all that energy into a performance, which he most certainly did. When they do go out an those calls, I had to remind myself to breathe.
Finally, a cop movie where you’re rooting for cops. The only problem: The bad guys are just too well-funded, too many in numbers, too armed & way too murderous. “End of Watch’ is rated ‘R.’ You can follow me on Twitter @leoquinones
CAUTION: This is the RED BAND Trailer for “End of Watch”
I love when a movie takes me back in time. Such is the case with “Lawless.” It’s a true story based on the novel, “The Wettest County In the World.” The Bondurant Brothers were bad-asses during prohibition in the remote mountains of Franklin County, Virginia. Making illegal moonshine was big business for the brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeuf) Forrest (Tom Hardy) & Howard (Jason Clarke). The trouble always starts with “The Law.” Kudos to Guy Pearce who plays Agent Charlie Rakes who plays this big-city lawman with undeniable smirks & utter creepiness. Charlie’s haircut is worth a thousand words. Guy was completely entertaining. I also enjoyed Gary Oldman as gangster Floyd Banner. It’s classic Oldman, changing his physical appearance yet again. He’s a true cinematic chameleon.
There’s a great divide between Tom Hardy’s Forrest & Shia LaBeuf’s Jack. Forrest is the string silent type, while Jack is eager to a fault. To exist in that period, you had to comply to “The Law.” The Bondurant Brothers would not bow to any man, group or gang. During this time, their legend grew to the point of immortality. The film steadily builds with a steady performance by Jessica Chastain who plays Maggie, a Chicago girl looking for a quieter life. By the end of the film, the booze, bullets & blood are flowing.
It’s a good film & I highly recommend it. “Lawless” is Rated ‘R’ for violence.If you follow me on Twitter @leoquinones I’ll do my hair like Agent Charlie Rakes. Watch
Disney Pixar jumps into the summer box office fray with “Brave.” It’s the story of Princess Merida, a spirited lass from the Highlands of Scotland. Animators first journeyed to Scotland way back in 2006. They then returned in 2007 to immerse within Scottish culture. Their research included taking in stories steeped in the Scots culinary habits, foggy weather, wildlife, trees & rich ancestry. These steps are what make the animation is as good as what you’d expect from Pixar.
Merida’s journey revolves around a universal theme of most teenagers throughout the ages, ‘Let me live my own life!’ The conflict comes from within the family must be resolved with family. The story involves witches, potions, ferries & thundering horseback rides. Young girls all over the world will absolutely love watching ‘Brave.’ The movie is being pushed as 3D, but you can save a few bucks per tickets by watching it in 2D. It’s just as fun.
I think Brave is a wee bit scary for kids under the age 6. There’s classic Disney villains & there’s things nightmares are made of. Hit a bullseye like Merida & Follow Leo on Twitter @leoquinones. The Film Freak iPhone App is %100 FREE. Just search Film Freak.
The year: 1987. Mullets were the rage. I know, I had one. On the upside, I had my share of fun & frolic on the famed Sunset Strip. It’s literally a Miracle Mile for Blackouts. Such is the time and backdrop of ‘Rock of Ages.’ The Broadway Musical’s now a full-fledged, star-studded feature film. so I sit down & when the movie started I was genuinely lost. What’s happening here? Why is everyone singing? After 10-15 minutes, I was struck by the obvious hammer: It’s a musical. I know, I’m a genius.
So I settle in for a rock n’ roll journey. Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) is a small town girl. Drew (Diego Boneta) is a city boy, born & raised in South Detroit. You get where I’m heading. She dreams of being a singer. He wants to be the next Rock God, Stacee Jaxx. Their fates intertwine at The Bourbon Room, a fictitious Rock N’ Roll sanctuary on the Sunset Strip.
The bread & butter of “Rock of Ages” is the music. It’s funny how a few actors in the movie were not really into the music. Alec Baldwin, who plays Dennis Dupree owner of The Bourbon Room, says he remembers “switching off the radio in the 80′s.” Russell Brand who plays Lonnie, Dennis’ right hand man freely admits he wasn’t into pop-rock at all, but The Cure. Be that as it may, the music drives the movie.
Tom Cruise should get alot of credit here for taking on the role of Stacee Jaxx. The love story of Drew & Sherrie revolves around the surreal rock star existence of Stacee Jaxx, longtime lead singer of the rock band, Arsenal. Jaxx is at a crossroads in his life and career. The thing about Cruise that I appreciate most is his work ethic. Unlike many actors, he doesn’t inhabit a role without first doing his homework.
The result is out there on the “Rock of Ages” soundtrack, forever. The guy spent months getting his voice right for the part, before ever stepping on set. Two highlights were his versions of Bon Jovi’s anthemic, “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and a duet of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” with Malin Ackerman.
NON SPOILER FACTS: When I saw the movie, I thought they’d closed part of the Sunset Strip. I was about 3,000 miles off the mark. The crew scouted locations as far away as Sydney Australia. The mock Sunset Strip is actually located in Miami in the neighborhood of Overtown. Built in 6-weeks, the set included The Bourbon Room,a Guitar Center, The Roxy, The Comedy Store, The Sunset Grill, Duke’s Filthy McNasty’s which is now The Viper Room and of course, Frederick’s of Hollywood. If you look closely, you’ll see a Shell gas station where a gallon of gas was just $1.31.
Dressing the set, you’ll also see vintage cars of the period like Corvettes, Pontiac Fieros, Jeeps & even a 1985 white Cadillac Fleetwood limousine used by the one & only Stacee Jaxx. You’ll also see a blow-up, 20-foot balloon of a chick sitting spread-eagle atop the Tower Records building. But my favorite piece of background dressing is the DeLorean sitting in front of the Venus Gentleman’s Club owned by Justice. (Mary J. Blige) I’ll have to confirm later if that was a tip of the Hoverbaord to Doc Brown & Marty McFly.
I do have to state, with all these 80′s pop songs driving the plot, there’s a definite cheese level at play here, but ultimately that’s the fun. Cynics take caution: The tone of Rock of Ages doesn’t ever make fun of the music, the high hair or the huge shoulder pads. It celebrates it. Who’s in for the ride? I see cougars simply loving this movie & anyone who wants nuthin’ but a good time.
Directed by Adam Shankman, Rock of Ages is Rated PG-13. Hey man, Follow me on Twitter @leoquinones. I mean why not, Stacee Jaxx & Heyman do do and they’re my Rock N’ Roll brothers.