Starring: Mark Wahlberg & John Goodman

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

(Paramount Pictures)

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     The new Mark Wahlberg film, “The Gambler, ” is based on the 1974 film of the same name that starred Sunnyside native James Caan who was at the peak of his career coming off both “Brian’s Song” and “The Godfather.” In the film, Caan played Axel Freed, a literature professor at an unnamed New York college, who had a serious gambling addiction and found himself $44, 000 in debt which was very serious money during the Watergate era.

Fast forward 40 years and Mark Wahlberg is Jim Bennett, an English prof at an unnamed LA university. Jim is a novelist manque whose most recent book sold a paltry 17, 000 copies and it’s clear that its commercial failure has taken a toll on him as he constantly berates his students. He does have a soft spot however for Amy Phillips (Brie Larson), a top student who is very attractive yet quite shy, and a star basketball player, Lamar Allen (Anthony Kelley), who has NBA aspirations and is a lot sharper than he lets on.

Like Caan’s Axel Freed, Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett is a gambling addict whose habit forces him to make the acquaintance of underworld figures who want a return of their principal along with an exorbitant return on their investment.

That is where the similarities end however. Axel Freed had a great relationship with his family and was a generally content person with the exception of his gambling vice. Jim Bennett is self-loathing and hates his very distant mother who places material things above love. He claims that he wants to get rid of all of his possessions but he loves driving his fancy sports car, wearing his Armani suites, and living in a beautiful condo.

Bennett represents the prototypical hardcore gaming addict who doesn’t seem to care whether he wins or loses as long as he has action. When on a good run at the blackjack table Jim inevitably lets every chip ride until he goes bust on a hand and loses it all. Inevitably he has to be extended lines of credit, known in the trade as being staked, by some nefarious types.

As was the case with Nicolas Cage’s “Leaving Las Vegas, ” it is very difficult to watch a film where the lead character is self-destructive but “The Gambler” is so good that it’s worth the effort. Although he doesn’t get the celebrity gossip media buzz that say George Clooney, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt do, Wahlberg has long proven to be one of Hollywood’s dependable leading men. I would bet that the grosses of his recent films are greater than that of any of the aforementioned trio.

As good as Mark Wahlberg is here it’s his supporting cast that makes this film. Screenwriter William Monahan of “The Departed” fame, has wisely created mobster loan sharks three-dimensional characters who have offbeat senses of humor. Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), is a Korean underworld figure who is enthralled by Bennett’s brazenness, while Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams) is the Chris Tucker of thugs with his witty repartee and wild gesticulations. Outdoing both of them however is Frank (John Goodman) who prides himself as a lender of last resort and spouts gritty philosophical truisms. What’s unusual is that Frank is actually rooting for Jim to clean up his act and rid himself of his gambling habit.

Monahan smartly avoids cliches by underplaying Jim’s relationship with his top student, Amy. They spend some time together on-screen but it doesn’t dominate the storyline. 25 year-old Brie Larson, who reminds me of indie film actress Greta Gerwig with her combination of smarts and girl-next-door beauty, has a bright future.

Just as the original “Gambler” made great use of the non-tourist sections of New York (some of it was filmed in Rego Park), this semi-remake makes great use of LA neighborhoods that have not been overly saturated in the movies such as Pacific Palisades, Koreatown, and Boyle Heights.

“The Gambler” is worth the ticket-buying gamble.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 228 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2014/12/26/the-gambler-a-review/

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With the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Peter Jackson puts a cap on his Middle Earth Saga. And much like the way George Lucas wove his Star Wars epic, Jackson’s second prequel trilogy does not hold up to his first masterpiece.

There is an irony in all of this, since the Lord of the Rings trilogy – released during the time Lucas’s Star Wars prequels were being released – proved that a CGI movie could tell a good story. The Lord of the Rings had a rich story with complex character development and the special effects only enhanced the tale.

Unfortunately, The Hobbit does not have the same source material. The 1937 novel is only about 300 pages long and far too short for three movies. And with The Battle of the Five Armies – the shortest of the movies at 144 minutes – the thin source material shows.

The movie picks up right after The Desolation of Smaug ended with the titular dragon flying to Laketown to punish the people with fire. The destruction of the town and ultimate defeat of Smaug too the first half hour and then the other two hours contained a drawn out battle for the riches in the mountain.

We see Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) go mad with what was called dragon sickness while the Elvish king Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the dragon slayer of Laketown Bard (Luke Evans) look for their cut of the riches, which were promised to them by Thorin and then reneged.

Ultimately a CGI battle occurs with the Elves, Dwarves and Men fighting the orcs. An army of giant eagles ago come to the aid of the good guys to round out the five armies.

Much like Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith, The Battle of the Five Armies wraps itself nicely and connects it with the original trilogy.

There are some nice scenes in the flick, especially the one with Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Sarumon (Christopher Lee) coming to the aid of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and fighting the ring wraiths. But those are few and far between as the movie does drag.

And even though, it’s called The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is not the focus of this film and his fine work gets lost in the shuffle.

Looking back, a Hobbit trilogy would have been better served with shorter movies. Sure New Line and MGM want to make as much money as possible with their franchise, but if they kept all three around two hours each, a much tighter story would have been told.

Rating 6/10

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 189 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2014/12/18/the-battle-of-the-five-armies-ends-the-middle-earth-saga/

“Birdman”

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts &Emma Stone

Written & Directed by: Alejandro Inarritu

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an actor who is facing a dilemma that frequently befell anyone who played a superhero in either film or television. The ability to find new work after you’ve completed your run seems to be inversely proportional to the popularity to the role that made you rich.

Rather than accept a life of appearing at one entertainment convention (such as the recent New York Comic Con) after another and making easy money by appearing on panels and autographing glossies, Riggan wants to be relevant and not remembered merely for playing a popular cinematic comic book hero, Birdman. To accomplish that end, he helps finance a Broadway show in which he’ll star based on Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

A key reason that “Birdman” has generated a lot of advance buzz is because writer/director Alejandro Inarritu has created a sharp satire of the entertainment industry in much the same manner that the late Robert Altman did over 20 years ago with “The Player.”

Michael Keaton played “Batman” in two films and while he has always found new parts to play he has never been the same kind of A-lister that he was 25 years ago. It’s clear that he sympathizes with Riggan’s travails including hearing the voices of a Birdman alter-ego that urges him to give up this pretentious theater nonsense and put the aviary suit back on to make big dollar Hollywood sequels.

Keaton is not the only actor here who is playing a part that is close to home. Yale-educated Edward Norton, who had a solid theatrical background before making films, is Riggan’s co-star, Mike Shiner, an out-of-control, self-absorbed method actor, who claims that he is only genuine when he is on stage. He sure acts like a sociopath off of it. Mike’s co-star, Lesley (Naomi Watts) is the stereotypical insecure starlet who always winds up in a relationship with guys like Mike.

Adding to Riggan’s stress is the fact that his social media-obsessed daughter, Samantha (Emma Stone), is just out of drug rehab. He feels guilty that he was never there for her because he always put his career first and that’s the reason that he hires her to be his assistant.

Trying to help him cope at the critical juncture are his agent-lawyer-best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis in a rare subdued straight-man role) and sympathetic ex-wife Sylvia (Flushing native Amy Ryan).

Alejandro Inarritu works hard to make this film feel like a cinema verite documentary similar to the kind that Frederick Wiseman used to make for PBS. It seems as if one camera is following the actors at all times.

There is also authenticity here as the setting for a good chunk of the film is Broadway’s St. James Theater and the streets surrounding it. It is hard not to laugh when Riggan makes an unplanned run through Times Square in a scene that will gladden the hearts of Naked Cowboy fans everywhere. It should be noted however that a number interior scenes were shot at the Kaufman Studios in Astoria.

There is a lot to like about “Birdman” but it’s far from flawless. There are too many scenes feel like you are watching a class at acting studios such as Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner with actors entertaining themselves with the audience being an afterthought. A confrontation with a snooty New York Times theater critic also feels like an actor’s fantasy instead of something that could really happen.

Parents of young children should not be fooled by a film whose title is that of a fictional superhero. There are a lot of epithets hurled around along with a surprisingly graphic scene involving two of the leads.

Overall however “Birdman” is a flight worth taking even if it doesn’t always soar.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 193 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2014/12/03/birdman-a-review/

337b9f00-63a9-11e4-871e-1b62bfda1b3c_horrible-bosses-2“Horrible Bosses 2″

Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day & Jennifer Aniston

Directed by: Sean Anders

(Warner Bros.)

 

     The 2011 comedy “Horrible Bosses” was not a great film by any stretch of the imagination but it found an audience because of a simple, yet rather underutilized, story line; namely that a lot of workers have bosses who are either unappreciative or are bullies. The only film that I can recall where that was a central theme was the 1980 Dolly Parton vehicle, “9 To 5.”

Whereas “9 To 5″ was a smart comedy, “Horrible Bosses” was pure slapstick where three buddies who are being humiliated at work plot to kill their respective bosses. It was more “Three Stooges” than it was “The Sopranos.”

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are back with another caper in “Horrible Bosses 2.” The guys have developed a product called “Shower Buddy” and they are looking to be entrepreneurs instead of employees. An appearance on a local LA morning TV show draws the attention of a major appliance distributor who offers them a deal that sounds too good to be true.

As is generally the case, it was indeed to good to be true and the distribution company executives, the father and son team of Bert (Christoph Waltz) and Rex Hanson (Chris Pine), snooker the guys by using a bridge loan to steal their product out from them legally. The idea of bringing in lawyers and CPAs to look over any contract is apparently an alien one to our heroes.

Be it as it may, Nick, Kurt, and Dale are down but not out. They come up with the idea of kidnaping the odiously spoiled Rex, who flaunts his wealth in the faces of everyone he meets, in exchange for a princely ransom from his father. Predictably Murphy’s Law kicks in and everything that can go wrong, does. One unforeseen complication is that Rex has his own reasons to extract money from his dad and winds up commandeering things from the guys.

“Horrible Bosses 2″ is not horrible but the film makers are lazy as is frequently the case with a comedy sequel. Jokes run on far too long such as one about gay oral sex in the first scene as well as the obligatory finale chase scenes through the streets of downtown Los Angeles . Director Sean Anders, who also doubles as a screenwriter, lets his cast have fun by allowing them to ad-lib to their heart’s content.

The best thing about the film is its talented and game cast. Jason Bateman once again plays the straight-arrow in a comedy who has to do numerous slow-burns being the voice of reason. Jason Sudeikis, as was often the case when he was a key cast member on “Saturday Night Live, ” plays a clueless but confident and upbeat character. The only weak lead is Charlie Day who is a poor man’s Bobcat Goldthwait playing the “Nervous Nellie” here.

The supporting cast is even better than the leads. Kevin Spacey returns in a cameo as the ultimate emasculating boss who makes Alec Baldwin’s tough-guy character from “Glengarry Glen Ross” look like a wimp in comparison. Chris Pine delivers as a handsome sociopath. Jennifer Aniston once again steals the film as a sex-obsessed dentist whose salty language about her proclivities would make a longshoreman blush. Say what you will about Aniston’s box office failures as an actress; she certainly has courage playing a role that is the antithesis of her iconic Rachel Green character from the old “Friends” TV series.

“Horrible Bosses 2″ is a harmless under two-hour film but I would wait until it comes out on DVD or when it makes it to premium cable. It’s not worth today’s high movie theater ticket prices.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 209 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2014/12/03/horrible-bosses-2-a-review/

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Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton & Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Directed by: Nick Cassavetes

Fox Films

 

The philandering husband has long been a staple of TV soap operas and probably every other show that has ever been broadcast on cable’s Lifetime Network.

Film studios have generally shied away from making spousal cheating a central focus of a film because it has been done so frequently on television. A notable exception was 1996’s witty comedy “The First Wives Club” that starred Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler as wives of successful men seek revenge on their former husbands for ditching them for younger women.

It did extremely well at the box office generating over $180 million in ticket sales. Its success disproved an old Hollywood axiom that films geared towards an older audience have limited appeal.

Based on the coming attractions, “The Other Woman” appeared to be following the blueprint of “The First Wives Club” to the letter. The idea of three women giving a scoundrel a taste of his own medicine was the central plot while three of the leads (Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) were north of 40 years old. Sadly “The Other Woman” lacks the wit and character development of its predecessor.

The film opens with high-powered New York attorney Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz) enjoying a romantic dinner with venture capitalist Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a man she met two months ago and who she wants to introduce to her dad.

When Mark has to break a date with Carly because of an alleged plumbing problem in his Connecticut home, she decides to surprise him by taking a limo to Greenwich. When she knocks on the door, Mark’s wife Kate (Leslie Mann) answers. Quickly realizing that she has been dating a married man, Carly quickly excuses herself saying that she has the wrong address and vows never to speak to Mark again.

Kate, although coming off as gullible to the point of infantile, and pathetically needy even though she is intelligent, tracks Carly down through Mark’s cell phone. After some initial bickering, the tough-as-nails Carly bonds with the distraught Kate and vows to help her get what she deserves.

In a bid to differentiate itself from “First Wives Club, ” screenwriter Melissa Stack has the villainous Mark “cheat” on both Kate and Carly as he wins the affections of Amber (SI swimsuit issue cover girl Kate Upton) a very attractive twenty-something. When Kate and Carly get a hold of Amber and explain Mark’s modus operandi she quickly joins them.

“The Other Woman” had the potential of being a worthy successor to “First Wives Club” but badly squandered the opportunity. Carly went to college at Cornell and graduated Columbia Law School. In spite of being gorgeous, she is a quintessential New York career woman who can’t seem to find the right guy. Rather than explore that angle, the filmmakers spend more time trying to fit in as much slapstick comedy as well as defecation and vomit humor that seemed to be leftovers from the script of “Bridesmaids.”

The uber-successful Mark King should have been a three-dimensional character but instead we get is a cartoon-like villain. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does the best that he can with him given the script’s limitations. Coster-Waldau is a dead ringer for fellow actor Aaron Eckhart and you get the feeling that Eckhart’s agent wisely told him to pass on this junk.

Don Johnson has fun playing yet another Lothario, in this case, Carly’s five-times divorced dad who likes to score with women 40 years his junior. It’s funny; the film conveys the message that men who cheat on their wives are evil but there is something charming about a guy hitting on a girl who could be his granddaughter’s age as long as he is not married at the time.

The one performance truly worth noting is Queens’ own pop star Nicki Minaj’s wisecracking legal secretary. She is a beacon of light in this bloated 110-minute movie.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 204 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2014/04/25/the-other-woman-review/

mr-peabody-and-sherman

Baby boomers will fondly remember the early 1960s television cartoon series “Rocky & Bullwinkle, ” created by the late Jay Ward, which smartly satirized both American pop culture and the headlines of the JFK era in America. While Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose were understandably the most memorable characters (though I was partial to the duo’s inept villainous Russian counterparts, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale), the “Peabody and Sherman” segment of the show had its share of fans.

Mr. Peabody was a brainy canine who spoke with a patrician lilt and had adopted a boy he named Sherman. Peabody was an inventor for whom no obstacle was insurmountable. In a tongue-in-cheek salute to HG Wells, Peabody created a time machine which he named the WABAC (“way back”), in which he and Sherman traveled back to major events and interacted with historical figures in a playful manner. It was Ward’s way of wanting to impart the joy of history to his audience while thumbing his nose at dull school history textbooks.

Unlike the 2000 film flop “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” that was a mixture of live action and cartoon (a la 1987’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”) and starred Robert De Niro, Rene Russo and Piper Perabo, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is an entirely animated feature.

Considering it has been over 50 years since the last “Peabody & Sherman” cartoon was made by Ward, this movie stays very faithful to his vision. Ty Burrell, one of the stars of ABC’s biggest hit, “Modern Family, ” does such a spot-on impression of the late Bill Scott’s Peabody that it is impossible to tell the difference. Max Charles is not as fortunate channeling Walter Tetley’s Sherman from the TV series. The 2014 Sherman is a lot more doltish than the eager and brighter 1959 TV cartoon character.

“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” nicely walks the line between satisfying its intended young audience, which may know nothing about the cartoon’s television roots, and its adult audience, which either saw the TV series in its first run or at least in syndicated reruns.

For the kids there are great 3-D special effects as well as the public school love-hate relationship between Sherman and his nemesis but soon-to-be best friend, the troublesome but deep-down goodhearted Penny (voiced by Ariel Winter).

Longtime Peabody fans won’t be disappointed, as the movie has those beloved puns that elicit simultaneous chuckles and groans. “I graduated valedogtorian from Harvard, ” Peabody states nonchalantly in the beginning of the film. The movie also makes good use of the voices of Stephen Colbert, Patrick Warburton, Stanley Tucci, Dennis Haysbert (I thought he was going to try to sell Allstate insurance to Mr. Peabody when I heard his voice!) and yes, Mel Brooks.

As per the old cartoon series, the writers let their imaginations fly as our heroes go back to the French Revolution, the Italian Renaissance (it turns out that Leonardo da Vinci and Mr. Peabody are longtime chums), the Trojan Horse and King Tut’s time in ancient Egypt. The best bit is having a cartoon “Bill Clinton” make a quick comment following George Washington and Abe Lincoln.

Just about the only bit that doesn’t work is a harridan social worker from some protective services agency who wants to remove Sherman from Mr. Peabody’s custodianship.

You have to love a film that asks the question, “If a boy can adopt a dog, then why can’t a dog adopt a boy?”

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 285 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2014/03/10/mr-peabosy-and-sherman-a-review/

After one day together — July 15th, 1988, their college graduation — Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew begin a friendship that will last a lifetime. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition who dreams of making the world a better place. He is a wealthy charmer who dreams that the world will be his playground. For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced over several July 15ths in their lives. Together and apart, we see Dex and Em through their friendship and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. Somewhere along their journey, these two people realize that what they are searching and hoping for has been there for them all along. As the true meaning of that one day back in 1988 is revealed, they come to terms with the nature of love and life itself.

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Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 237 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/08/06/one-day/

Blu is a domesticated Macaw who never learned to fly, and enjoys a comfortable life with his owner and best friend Linda in the small town of Moose Lake, Minnesota. Blu and Linda think he’’ the last of his kind, but when they learn about another macaw who lives in Rio de Janeiro, they head to the faraway and exotic land to find Jewel, Blu’s female counterpart. Not long after they arrive, Blu and Jewel are kidnapped by a group of bungling animal smugglers. Blu escapes, aided by the street smart Jewel and a group of wisecracking and smooth-talking city birds. Now, with his new friends by his side, Blu will have to find the courage to learn to fly, thwart the kidnappers who are hot on their trail, and return to Linda, the best friend a bird ever had.

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Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 221 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/08/06/rio-2/

Trailer for Saving Private Perez

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Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 207 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/08/06/saving-private-perez/

The ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS franchise returns for a third outing with this 20th Century Fox production, the first in the series to be presented in 3D.

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Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 231 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/08/06/alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrecked/