Gangster Squad the new movie from genre-blending filmmaker Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) has a tone problem. The scatterbrained approach to the vigilante tale is summed up in one particular sequence: the "Squad " cops given permission to take down the goons of Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) by any means possible bust a dope smuggling operation at an airport in Burbank. Instead of tailing the criminals making off with the drugs they engage them in a car chase full of gunfire explosions and hyper-stylized CG-assisted camera work. When they finally do capture Cohen's men the squad leader Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) interrogates them then shoots the cowering thugs in the back of the legs before rolling them down a hill. Within seconds the movie jumps from outlandish comic book roller coaster ride to gritty crime fiction exploring the moral complexity of defeating crime lords. The two mix onscreen like water and oil.
Fleischer packs it all into Gangster Squad and rarely does any of the material shine. Brolin works as the hard-nosed policeman dedicated to justice physically perfect with beady eyes and a square chin. But that's all his character has to offer with his squadron offering even less. Ryan Gosling appears as the whippersnapper cop on the verge of corruption expressing his doubts with the whiniest '40s accent ever to grace the screen. Anthony Mackie Michael Pena Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick fill out the group — after sleek Ocean's 11-style introductions — bringing identifiable traits that open the door for one or two oh-right-that's-why-you're-here moments throughout the film. They feel barely existent in Gangster Squad's zippy script convinced to work outside the law all too easily and following O'Mara into suicidal missions that likely have sounder alternatives. For O'Mara whatever takedown creates the biggest mess — be it the aforementioned chase or setting a Cohen-owned club aflame — is top priority.
The saving grace is Penn playing Cohen like a long lost castmember of Warren Beaty's Dick Tracy. Every moment he's on screen Penn is scarfing down scenery and spitting it in our faces going over the top and sticking to it. He loves money he loves women he loves fudge sundaes. Penn makes a choice one the movie desperately needs. Surprisingly Emma Stone can't keep up as his arm candy Grace Faraday who falls head over heels for Gosling because it's an old fashioned noir throwback and well you certainly can't have one without hammy dialogue and paper thin romance.
The nods to Hollywood's golden era upgraded with flashy costumes and special effects would work if Gangster Squad didn't insist on bringing reality into the picture. Too often the movie resorts to moments of shocking violence much of it intensified by the slow motion shots of a tommy gun. The violence is raw while the film surrounding it is cartoonish. The choice raises questions Gangster Squad never answers: is O'Mara in the right when he takes the law into his own hands? Ribisi's techie character — a WWII vet like O'Mara and someone deeply changed by his war experiences — asks these questions challenging his boss' choices. Briefly. O'Mara and the film brush off the debate any time it comes up making room for more slick scenes of action.
Muddled in some of the most heinous digital photography in recent memory (no exaggeration: half the movie is motion blur) Gangster Squad is an experiment in modernization gone wrong. As Brolin and Penn trudge their way with entertaining choices Fleischer's film goes rogue around them. In this case entertaining outside the law doesn't work.
Music's been such a huge part of President Obama's reelection bid. He went on tour with opening act Bruce Springsteen, serenaded one lucky audience at a campaign stop with an impromptu rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," earned endorsements from Bob Dylan, Dave Grohl, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and even got a lyrical assist from Jay-Z who altered his famous "99 Problems" to "I've got 99 problems but a Mitt ain't one." So it should be no surprise that Obama's victory celebration last night at Chicago's McCormick Place would feature some killer tunes.
But who knew it would become an 18,000-person dance party? Mark Ronson, half a world away in a hotel room in Dubai, even tweeted, "Seriously, who is dj'ing OBAMA HQ? incredible. Teena Marie, MAZE etc....every global news station is blastin Frankie Crocker classics," referring to the legendary New York disc jockey and Studio 54 demigod who died in 2000. Well, Crocker wasn't pulling any kind of Lazarus act last night. For maximum hip factor, the Obama campaign brought in Austin-based mixmaster Mel Cavaricci, better known in the dance music scene as DJ Mel. And he put together one helluva victory playlist. Still basking in the glow of Election Day? Recapture the moment with these 22 songs that DJ Mel played Tuesday night, a playlist that he put together with a little input from the Obama campaign itself.
President Obama's Official 2012 Victory Celebration Playlist
Al Green—“Let’s Stay Together” (Not the Obama cover, I'm afraid)
Bill Withers— “Lovely Day”
Marvin Gaye— “Got to Give It Up”
Michael Jackson—“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”
McFadden & Whitehead—“Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”
The Heavy—"How You Like Me Now"
Doris Troy—"Just One Look"
Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions—"Keep on Pushing"
The Supremes—"Come See About Me" and "You Can't Hurry Love"
Contours—"Do You Love Me"
Ray Charles—"What'd I Say, Part 1"
Shalamar—"The Second Time Around"
The Four Seasons—"December 1963 (Oh What a Night)"
KC and the Sunshine Band—“Boogie Shoes”
Jean Knight—“Mr. Big Stuff”
Maze—“Before I Let Go”
Teena Marie—“Black Cool” (Marie, who died in 2010, actually wrote "Black Cool" about Obama before her death.)
The Beatles—“Twist and Shout” (played right after it was announced Obama had won the election, because nothing conveys joy like John Lennon's throat-shredding vocals on the 1963 cover)
Stevie Wonder—“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (Obama's entrance music before his victory speech)
Bruce Springsteen—“We Take Care of Our Own” (which the especially witty Brian Williams noted at 2:00 a.m. Wednesday morning has been widely misinterpreted, much like Springsteen's "Born in the USA" before it, as a pat-yourself-on-the-back anthem rather than a critique of laissez-faire domestic policy)
Democrats really do know how to party, don't they?
[Photo Credit: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images]
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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
When you see the same characters week-in and week-out, they tend to become not only ingrained in our memories but also carved into a special place in a hearts and minds. Often times, we watch, wishing and hoping that our families are as awesome and cultured as the Huxtables; our parents are as kind and funny as the aforementioned Cliff and Claire, or the Seavers, the Taylors, Keatons, heck, maybe even the Bundys, if your family is full of cynics. Perhaps some of us long to be a part of the cool groups of kids on 90210 or at Bayside High, drink coffee with our six favorite Friends or do absolutely nothing except wax eloquently about the mundane whilst getting into sitcom style situations ala Seinfeld. Whatever your tastes may be, there is no doubt that all of us aboard couch force one have enjoyed the company of these characters at one point or another.
Even though we still can hang out with our favorite characters of television’s past in re-runs, Netflix and DVDs, television is still giving us great characters and families to wish we were a part of.
The Pritchett / Delgado / Dunphy / Tucker Clan (Modern Family)
Certainly one of the best and brightest shows to have come out of the pipeline in recent memory is Modern Family. Now in its third season, the mockumentry series about three inter-related families works on many levels simply because of how realistic it is; maybe not in its situations, but definitely in its characters and how they interact with one another. As an MF’er (that’s Modern Family fan), it’s easy to envision yourself as part of this family. You have weird uncles; a dad who tries the best he can to be super dad and super friend all in one; and some great mischievous kids (and adults) to have zany adventures with. The MF family will go down in history as one the most endearing families on television thanks to the perfect mix of out-of-control wackiness and realistic emotions that everyone can relate to.
Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)
Like so many wacky next door neighbors before him, Dr. Sheldon Cooper has all kinds of quirks to make you hit pause on the DVR so you can continue dying from laughter. However, on The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is one of the show’s main stars, which makes Parsons’ job even harder – he’s got to be as odd as he can be, while still being relatable. For the comic book nerds out there, Sheldon is our hero, saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said without (intentionally) hurting feelings; constantly aspiring to win that Nobel Prize; and being the biggest comic book nerd in the galaxy.
Abed Nadir (Community)
We were bound to find one sooner or later: a television character as real as all of us couch potatoes. Abed is a walking encyclopedia of television and movie knowledge. You know the type – heck if you’re like me, then you are the type— only Abed is funny, and like Kramer before him, he has no qualms about pointing out other characters’ foibles. NBC might have cruelly benched Community and Joel McHale might have originally been the series’ main star, but Danny Pudi (and Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes) are the show’s true breakout stars. If anyone at NBC has any brain cells left, they’ll put Greendale Community College classes back in session real soon.
Gregory House, MD (House)
He’s irascible, incorrigible, unstable, and irreverent. Ask any House fan and they’ll tell you if they were ever (knock on wood) in a situation that landed them in the hospital, they’d want Dr. House to solve the medical mystery. House is envisioned as Sherlock Holmes type of character (Holmes loved his opium, as House does his Vicodin) and Hugh Laurie has brought so much more to the character, creating a new American icon the process. Not bad at all for a British comedic actor previously known best for his role on the U.K. series, Black Adder. House may be a drama, but it’s Laurie’s antics and wit that can make any bad diagnosis laughable.
Charlie Harper (Two and a Half Men)
There’s a reason that Charlie Sheen is seemingly indestructible –and it’s not because he’s a Vatican Assassin Warlock with Tiger Blood. It’s because the guy is actually made of Teflon and rubber. Everyone in Hollywood and America love a great comeback story and Sheen has had a slew of them. While his latest and most publicized tirades got him fired from the top-rated series that made him the highest paid actor on television, the guy has an army of fans waiting with bated breath to see what’s next. It’s one of the reasons Charlie Harper worked so well. Never mind that the role was written with him in mind, Sheen infused Harper with that sort of loveable reckless abandon and a dangerous side that we all wish we could have – maybe then we could get away with nearly half the crap that Charlie Harper got away with for eight years on Two and a Half Men. I’m still holding out against hope that ratings will get so bad that Charlie pulls a Kenny McCormick and simply walks back onto the show at the end of an episode. Alan would stare agape in shock and disbelief and ask how it happened and Charlie will look at his brother, give him a hug and deadpan “Alan, I’ve got tiger blood and I’m a warlock from Mars. Rose can’t kill me and I still plan on marrying her.” For now though, we still have re-runs of the lothario gone wild.
Marshall Eriksen (How I Met Your Mother)
Ted Mosby might be the lead character of How I Met Your Mother and Barney might be the show’s wacky breakout star, but Marshall Eriksen (and his relationship with Lilly) is the series’ heart and soul. When Marshall is having the time of his life, it’s infectious and we viewers are enjoying his happiness too. When he is heartbroken, HIMYM is at its most tear-jerking. While the show has had its emotional montages and crazy goat-laden birthday parties, Marshall’s journey from big goofball to loving husband and soon–to–be father has been the real plot thread that has kept How I Met Your Mother ticking while we await the show’s big reveal to occur.
Jess Day (New Girl)
I’m going out on a ginormous limb here, but though it’s not even ten episodes in, the pretty adorkable New Girl has created a new girl who girls want to hang with and guys want to be with. Zooey Deschanel may not be perfect – and neither is her character, Jess -- but that’s part of why she’s awesome. She warms your heart with how oddball and weird she can be. We can all related to the girl who tries way too hard to be liked by everyone and who is nice to everyone. I should also make special mention of New Girl’s Schmidt (Max Greenfield). Greenfield’s comedic timing and fearlessness in making his character a complete D-Bag steal every scene; he’s clearly the standout male of the show.
There are all kinds of great characters we could put on this list that many of us love more than our own friends and family. If I left any of them out leave some comment love below or catch me on Twitter @CouchForceOne.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.