Tag Archives: Emma Stone

“Gangster Squad” (2013) – Review


Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writer: Will Beall

Stars: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone

Gangster Squad is the story of a select group of LAPD officers working above the law to fight Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) in 1950s LA. Cohen runs the City with impunity. He has most of the police force, judiciary, and prosecutors office in his pocket in LA and the surrounding cities. He dreams large and plans to be the top man in the City; nothing is going to stop him.

Enter Chief Parker (Nick Nolte). Parker enlists Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to start a clandestine police squad whose purpose is to take down Mickey Cohen. The men are to operate outside regular legal channels. When they make their move they go in with no names, no badges, and no mercy. O’Mara’s pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), is not happy with the news of the squad, but eventually helps O’Mara select his recruits. In short order he has his team.

The first sting goes horribly wrong with two of the squad ending up in the Burbank jail. If not for the well-timed intervention of Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), a cop who originally rejected O’Mara’s offer, the whole operation would have been finished before it started. But Wooters involvement also brings trouble; he’s dating Grace Faraday (Emma Stone)–Mickey Cohen’s current squeeze.

Gangster Squad is a bizarre combination of The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential that goes horribly wrong. It is a perfect example of style over substance.

The greatest failing of the movie is the story, followed closely by poor editing. There are giant leaps in narrative events–in effect too much happens too soon. Couple this situation with editing where it appears key scenes were left on the cutting room floor and you have a very choppy film. The director, Ruben Fleischer, also makes poor choices. In a film where all the gangsters are horrible shots and the good guys have incredible aim, he choses to show a pivotal shoot-out in painful slow motion. As literally hundreds of bullets fly, the mobsters only successfully destroy the hotel lobby center piece while O’Mara & company lay waste to them. As yet another piece of fruit slowly flies in the air and is finally destroyed by another whizzing bullet, you begin to notice that six shooters are now ten shooters and the machine guns appear to have a limitless supply of ammunition.

For a film with a well-known cast, the acting is surprisingly mediocre. Brolin and Stone appear to be bored, Penn is overly hammy, and Gosling chose to use and amazingly wispy voice. (Admittedly, I have not watched many Ryan Gosling films so this may in fact be his actual voice, but I have never noticed it before.) The only actor who appeared to be trying was Giovanni Ribisi as Conway Keeler, the smart guy of the squad.

The only success of the film is its look. The set design, art direction, and costuming all worked to convey a sense of a stylized and very cinematic take of gangland LA.

Grade = D

Click on image to view trailer.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012 – IMAX 3D) – Movie Review

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Director:  Marc Webb

Writers:  James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves

Stars:  Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, and Sally Field

The Amazing Spider-Man begins in the past with a Hide-n-Seek Game between the child Peter Parker (Max Charles) and his Father (Campbell Scott).  During the game, Peter enters his father’s office and discovers it has been broken into and searched.  Frightened, he calls out to his father.  Quickly the family packs and heads to Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) & Aunt Mae’s (Sally Field) house.  Peter is left there while his parents flee.  Flash forward to the present:  Peter (Andrew Garfield) is a teenage loner not comfortable in his own skin–constantly moving and bouncing around.  At school he has no real friends and travels the halls with his film camera.  What Peter does have is a sense of right & wrong and the courage/rashness to stand up to the big guys.

Flash Thompson (Chad Zylka), the jock/bully, is abusing a fellow student, and orders Peter to take photos.  Peter not only refuses, but also antagonizes Flash to such an extent that he release his victim and attacks Peter.  Peter is then saved during his beating by Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

Back at his house, Uncle Ben is moving items up from a flooded basement when Peter arrives battered & bruised.  He makes a feeble attempt to explain his bruises that Uncle Ben does not believe.  Down in the basement away from Aunt Mae, Uncle Ben asks “how the other guy looks”.  As they move items in the flooded basement Peter discovers his father’s old briefcase.

Later in his room Peter lays out all the briefcase’s contents and soon discovers a hidden compartment with a scientific file he remembers his father grabbing before they fled their old home.  With a possible clue as to why his parents fled and what happened to them, Peter goes to Oscorp in search of answers.  From here the standard mythology progresses with Peter being bitten by the mutated spider, discovering his powers, allowing a common criminal to escape who would eventually kill his Uncle Ben, and then Peter eventually donning his costume and persona as Spider-Man.  Along the way of his search for the murderer of his Uncle, Spider-Man because public enemy #1 to the Police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen’s father, and foe to The Lizard.

The writers (Vanderbilt, Sargent, and Kloves) do a good job in making a familiar story fresh.  By not making his parents dead but on the run for some unknown reason, and having them leave Peter behind the writers have given him a sense of abandonment, as well as a darker edge.  The basic story is how Peter Parker goes from being a man-child trying to discover who he is to a man who knows what path he must travel and the challenges he faces to get there.  In this case there is a giant super-strong, super-intelligent and super-crazy man lizard in his way.

Another strength of the story is how well-developed all the characters are.  Uncle Ben is more human and less saint-like.  He is not there simply to tell him “with great power comes great responsibility” and then be murdered.  But he is there as Peter’s surrogate father; doing his best to raise him right, but not afraid to be a hard-ass when Peter has done something wrong.  Flash Thompson is not just the school bully; he goes through his own minor arc as well, and by the end of the story is a better man than at the beginning.

The acting across the board is good to great.  Andrew Garfield goes from a frenetic ball of energy at the beginning of the film to a controlled superhero by the end, but never losing the sense of humor that makes Spider-Man an endearing & enduring character.  Garfield and Emma Stone have a palpable chemistry together, and their relationship grows naturally.  The only negative with Stone’s performance is physical–she does not look like she would be in high school.  Rhys Ifans is solid as the doctor who slowly goes mad as The Lizard personality takes over.  And Denis Leary does another great performance where you forget he started his career as a stand-up comedian.  Martin Sheen & Sally Field work well together as a long married couple and surrogate parents.  Field in particular has a great moment at the end of the film with Garfield after the climatic battle:  Garfield as Parker arrives home bruised and battered, Field hugs him and supports him, he delivers the organic eggs he previously forgot, she smiles–all the while you know that she knows he is Spider-Man, but never saying it.

Marc Webb has proved to be an inspired choice for director, even though he has very few credits to his name.  The film has a nice balance between the reality of the Christopher Nolan Batman films and the pure comic book vibe of The Avenger’s anthology films.  You can imagine this Spider-Man existing in the real world.

There are only two minor negatives.  First, it feels as if a scene involving Flash Thompson was left in the editing room floor.  Something is missing between when Flash tries to connect with Peter after Uncle Ben has been killed and at the end of the film when they are jovial to each other.  We are missing the story in Flash’s life that he wants to share with Parker in order to help Parker through the pain of his loss.  Second,  Uncle Ben’s voicemail.  Though the message makes sense in the context of when we as an audience listened to it, it makes no sense when it was actually left.  A less heavy-handed message could have been used to similar effect.

Grade = A-

P.S.  I purposely wrote this review without any reference to the original Spider-Man films by Sam Raimi with Tobey McGuire.  As to my opinion on whether this should have been Spider-Man 4 with a new actor or a reboot, I prefer a reboot.  Unless a film franchise is based on a series of books (i.e. Harry Potter), I feel the longer a franchise runs the more the films within that franchise become caricatures of the original films.

“Zombieland” – DVD Review

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Director:  Ruben Fleisher

Writer:  Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Stars:  Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigal Breslin, and Bill Murray
It’s a sad commentary on the state of summer movies so far when my favorite movie to date is a movie that came out last year and I just watched on DVD.
Anyway, this is a great popcorn movie.  The script is great, movie well paced, and performances on target across the board.  The story is a comedic version of a postapocalyptic near future.  The Earth has been infected with a virus that causes people to turn into zombies once bitten.  We follow Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) as he heads East to find his family back home in Columbus, Ohio.  As he travels he teams up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who wants to go back to…you guessed it, Tallahassee.  The characters use names of the cities they are either from or going to to identify each other–by doing so they hope to not develop emotion attachments to each other.  Along the way they get car jacked–twice–by sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigal Breslin).  This is their story on how they survive and become a family while fighting zombies and accidentally killing Bill Murray.
Jesse Eisenberg does the standard Jesse Eisenberg performance–which is the standard Michael Cera performance but with quicker dialogue and no hoodie.  He works well with Woody Harrelson and has good chemistry with Emma Stone.  Bill Murray is great as himself.
If you are a fan of Scott Pilgrim Saves the World, you’ll be a fan of Zombieland.  It has the same vive with the floating captions and quirky musical score. The main difference that makes this movie more enjoyable, though, is that it is more realistic–as zombie movies go.  You can relate to the characters and empathize with them.
You will not be disappointed if you put this on your Netflix queue.  While not fun for the whole family, everyone over thirteen will have a great time watching this film.
Grade: A
PS  The DVD extras are good as well.

“The Help” – Movie Review

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Writer / Director:  Tate Taylor

Stars:  Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer

The first thing you need to know is The Help is a women’s movie; male characters are almost completely absent from the screen.  The second thing you need to know is that the film is predictable, but it still makes you feel good.

I have not read the book and have no idea how faithful the film is to it, but the screenplay is decent.  At its simplest form, the story is about the courage of three women–a white southern society girl returning from college and two black servants–writing a book and sharing their stories about the black female servant experience in the racist world of 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi.  The main issue is there seems to be a lot going on–a lot of characters with a lot of different story lines.  Also, the major event that results in the first stories being told is a weak plot point.  We are lead to sympathize with one servant by hearing how she & her husband have saved for years for their twins to go to college but are short some money.  When she asks her employer for assistance she is quickly denied.  Later she discovers a diamond ring underneath the sofa and pockets it.  No matter how remorseless the antagonist, she is in her rights to have the servant arrested for theft when she discovers her ring was sold at a pawn shop.  In the end, the servant did do the deed and was correctly punished.  Why would this be the motivating factor for Aibileen (Viola Davis) to start sharing with Skeeter (Emma Stone)?  The servant was not framed.  She did commit a crime.

The look and feel of the film is nice and sugar-coated.  You never feel the danger the women are in for coming together & writing the book and the consequences for its publication.  Again, the film is decent but not inspiring; you feel good but not motivated.  I’ve been to a black church and have felt the energy of the minister, choir and congregation; though you saw that in the film, you didn’t feel it.  There never was a sense of urgency; you always felt like everything was going to come out fine.

The great strength of the film is the acting.  Emma Stone is fine, and Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer (Minny) shine.  The supporting cast also greatly elevates the film.  Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook) is an excellent antagonist, and Allison Jenny (Charlotte Phelan–Skeeter’s Mom) steals every scenes she is in.

If you are excited to see this film, then see it on the big screen.  If you weren’t sure, then you can wait to rent it.

Grade:  B-

Click on image to learn more about the book.