Film Review: A stoner who can smoke ‘em down in ‘American Ultra’
John Leguizamo (left) and Jesse Eisenberg are
shown in a scene from “American Ultra.” (AP Photo/Lionsgate)
The likably awkward chemistry of Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg remains
intact in “American Ultra,” a violent stoner action-comedy that’s half
“Pineapple Express,” half “The Bourne Identity,” and not as good as either.
Stewart and Eisenberg, who starred together in the splendidly low-key summer
comedy “Adventureland,” again come together as an appealing, mutually
mop-headed tandem that matches Eisenberg’s stuttering unease with Stewart’s
They play a flannel-wearing West Virginia couple, Mike and Phoebe, happy
together despite Mike’s weed habit, perpetual apologizing and panic attacks
from just about anything that upsets his seemingly innate inertia. Looking
at a car that’s crashed into a tree, he wonders to Phoebe, placating and
devoted, if he’s the tree and she’s the car.
The small-town, low-stakes drama of “American Ultra” is convincing in the
beginning, thanks to the two stars. But it’s a setup.
Unbeknownst to Mike, a convenience store clerk, he’s an elite killing
machine trained by the CIA, a decommissioned government experiment. Few in
the movies would be a more unlikely secret agent than Eisenberg. Did the
program include Michael Cera? Was Woody Allen in charge?
Switching to Langley, the film, directed by Nima Nourizadeh (“Project X”)
and written by Max Landis (“Chronicle”), fills in the backstory. A petulant
young agent (Topher Grace) has risen in the ranks and now wants to eliminate
evidence of the experiment that gave Mike his secret talents, overseen by
Connie Britton’s more sympathetic Victoria Lasseter.
To prevent her former student’s death, she sneaks to the convenience store
and activates Mike with a few code words. When a handful of thugs come to
kill him, Mike is astounded to find himself expertly stabbing one with a
spoon. Afterward, he cowers behind a lamppost, looking at the bloody
wreckage: “I have, like, a lot of anxiety about this,” he tells Phoebe.
Much mayhem ensues, surprisingly violent and cartoonish in its extremes. The
small town comes entirely under siege. “American Ultra” is a stoner’s
paranoia come to life. A toothless Walton Goggins joins the strong ensemble
as the nuttiest of the CIA’s small army, along with John Leguizamo as a
local drug dealer.
The assembled talent could use more character development and a little more
wit in place of the sadistic, fun-draining comic-book action scenes that
increasingly co-opts the comedy, which is too dependent on the eventually
tiresome joke of Eisenberg as action hero.
But “American Ultra” has its simple genre charms, thanks significantly to
its entertaining cast and leading pair. Stewart, in particular, looks like
she’s punching below her weight class. As is often the case, Stewart’s the
best thing in the movie. And she and Eisenberg remain lazy losers we can
love, Bonnie and Clyde for a more laid-back generation.
“American Ultra,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture
Association of America for “strong bloody violence, language throughout,
drug use and some sexual content.” Running time: 96 minutes. Two and a half
stars out of four.
Jolie Pitt turns grief over mom’s death into ‘By the Sea’
Angelina Jolie Pitt arrives at the 2015 AFI Fest
opening night premiere of “By The Sea” on Thursday, Nov. 5, in Los Angeles.
(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - “By the Sea” is a very personal film for Angelina
Jolie Pitt — and not just because it reunites her onscreen with her husband,
Brad Pitt. It’s not even because she wrote, directed, produced and stars in
“By the Sea” is personal because it was inspired by the grief of losing her
mother in 2007, Jolie Pitt said at the film’s premiere in Los Angeles
earlier this month.
She started writing it when she was missing her mother, without knowing
exactly what she was creating.
“When you write something from a blank page, it’s very hard to say, ‘This is
important,’ because you don’t know: It’s your own life. It’s your own
depression. It’s your own questions about your mother. Grief. Where to put
your pain,” Jolie Pitt said. “For me, it was important to try to do it. And
it was important to try to do it for my mother. It was important for myself.
And it was wonderful to work with Brad, and for us to be able to get through
it together, because we tested ourselves to see if we could do something
like this together.”
“By the Sea” is a slow, quiet drama about a wealthy American couple on a
French seaside retreat. Roland (Pitt) is there to write, but mostly just
ends up drinking. Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) is there to relax, but ends up
grumping around and popping pills. They avoid each other and their
relationship is clearly strained. Their dynamic begins to change when they
befriend (and secretly spy on) a newlywed couple on their honeymoon.
The camera lingers on Roland’s lean frame and Vanessa’s face and figure.
As in 2005’s “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” the two stars play a married pair facing
serious relationship challenges. Only this time, the actors relied on the
strength of their real-life relationship to do it.
“It’s really no different than trying to get the kids to bed at night,” Pitt
said. “I mean, you know, it’s a tag team, Ultimate Wrestling kind of
endeavor. And here on set, again, we’re working together and solving
problems and making the thing work and figuring it out. And there’s just a
great collaboration. She’s just, she’s my wife.”
As for being directed by his spouse?
“She’s very decisive. She’s really intuitive,” Pitt said. “Her instincts are
really good with stories. So, I really trust her when she redirects a
Jolie Pitt loved working with her husband, too.
“You’re going to have a long life ahead of you and you’ve got to shake it up
and, sometimes, it’s really wonderful to test yourselves, to push each
other,” she said. “I talked to (actress) Gena Rowlands. She was talking
before, and how she and (director-husband) John (Cassavetes) would take the
rubber band and you stretch it as far as you can. And this is a part of
marriage and this is wonderful. So, that I loved. And that was what we did.”
Pattaya Music Festival going ‘international’ again in 2016
Pattaya plans to re-introduce the word “international” to its annual music
festival next year, inviting 10 artists from Southeast Asian neighbors to
celebrate the start of the Asean Economic Community.
A budget of 25 million baht has been set aside for the March 18-20 festival
with musical acts from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar,
Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam tentatively set to perform.
At a Nov. 3 planning meeting, city officials and business leaders discussed
optimal locations for three stages, with the decision made to place them at
the Dusit curve, Central Festival Pattaya Beach and at the mouth of Walking
Authorities will make sure that there is plenty of space for food stalls,
small product shops and tight security as well.
One highlight of the event will feature the Dutch Swing College Band, a band
that has proved very popular in Pattaya during their previous performances.
Other than that, many different styles of music will be available, including
world, country, and rock music.
Once a staple of the annual music fest, international acts were dropped
several years ago as the event downsized following 2011’s devastating floods
and delays caused in 2012 by a royal funeral and Songkran.
‘Spectre’ stirs, doesn’t shake old Bond formulas
Daniel Craig is shown in a scene from the James
Bond film, “Spectre.” (Jonathan Olley/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia
Pictures/EON Productions via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - Where to go when 53 years of action-scene set
pieces have exhausted seemingly every exotic corner of the Earth? How much
globe can a globe-trotter trot?
The answer kicking off the latest James Bond film, “Spectre,” is a doozy.
Beginning with the words “the dead are alive” across the screen, director
Sam Mendes opens on a long shot through the Day of the Dead in Mexico City,
tracking Bond (Daniel Craig), masked but unmissable in a skeleton costume,
through the festive throngs. He ushers a woman (Stephanie Sigman) out of the
masses and into her bed, only to disrobe into a suit, step out the window
and stride down the ledge. Finally spying his real prey, explosions follow,
walls collapse and the resulting chase spins into a helicopter careening
over a mobbed Zocalo Square.
It’s a sequence of such startling audacity (some 1,500 extra were used) and
gorgeous black-on-sepia tones that a nagging desire to hit “rewind” persists
through the rest of “Spectre.” Handsome and riveting as it often is, the
film never again reaches such heights.
It’s not for lack of effort. Mendes, who helmed the last entry, the smash
“Skyfall,” has raised the bar on 007, pushing the budgets and the
grandiosity in a bid to not just reinvent the franchise but overwhelm it
with eye-popping craft.
“Spectre” is Craig’s fourth Bond movie and his muscular tenure has been
defined not just by his full embodiment of the character, but his overall
stewardship. His ability to attract top-notch talent, in front and behind
the camera, and to imbue the spy series with a seriousness of purpose reads
in every frame. His Bond may still sip martinis, but he’s stone-cold sober.
Having ushered 007 through the Eva Green highs of “Casino Royale,” the
overwrought lows of “Quantum of Solace” and the climactic extravagance of
“Skyfall,” ‘’Spectre” finds Craig’s Bond pursuing the videotaped orders of
Judi Dench’s late M in a more traditional 007 plot. Her instructions lead
him to a shadowy international criminal organization led by a longtime Bond
villain, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).
The pursuit skirts the snowy peaks of Austria, the cloak-and-danger
cobblestones of Rome and the Mediterranean maze of Tangier, with enough
corresponding outfit changes to stock a runway show. Bond is operating
outside of MI5, where new head Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) is overhauling the
intelligence services with digital surveillance that he says will render the
old-fashioned 00 program obsolete.
The surveillance reference is a mostly shallow attempt at political depth.
But such self-aware conflicts between new and old now constantly bounce
throughout Bond films. The mythology, fearful of showing its age, is
perpetually torn down and built back up again like an ever-rebooting
superhero. Every gesture (and drink order) is a winking comment on 007
traditions; even the opening recalls the New Orleans funeral march of “Live
and Let Die.” When it works, it’s refreshing; when it doesn’t, it’s merely
“Spectre,” scripted by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, feels more
like the latter. For the first time, all of Craig’s reinvention hasn’t
carried Bond all that much further than where the spy always was —
especially when it comes to the women that adorn “Spectre.”
First there’s Monica Belluci as the widow of the man Bond kills in Mexico
City. He sleeps with her after picking her up at the funeral. She’s quickly
dispatched for Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), whose family connections bring
Bond closer to the elusive Oberhauser.
Seydoux, the French actress of “Blue is the Warmest Color,” gives the film a
jolt, but the romance between Swann and Bond is slight and the character is
little more than Bond’s usual love interest. That said, the seductive
Seydoux and the sinewy Craig make an attractive pair. When they eventually
arrive at a remote Sahara outpost, they could really just stay there,
handsomely smoldering in the dry heat like a Hemingway couple.
What’s missing most is the steely spine of Dench. The off-kilter menace of
Waltz would seem perfectly suited for “Spectre,” but his scenes pale in
comparison with Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva in “Skyfall.”
Also with big shoes to fill is cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, stepping
in for Roger Deakins. He surrounds the film with shadows and reflective
mirrors, ably capturing Craig’s slinky stride in any locale.
“Spectre,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture
Association of America for “intense sequences of action and violence, some
disturbing images, sensuality and language.” Running time: 148 minutes. Two
and a half stars out of four.
Film Review: ‘Sicario’ a searing, sad portrait of border drug war
Actress Emily Blunt is shown as Kate Macer in a
scene from the film “Sicario.” (Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP/Lionsgate via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - The billion-dollar drug trade along the
U.S.-Mexico border is so bloody and lawless, the line between right and
wrong has become impossibly blurred.
Such is the dilemma in “Sicario,” a grisly, disturbing portrait of the
malignance and corruption inherent in the war on drugs.
Troubling, sad and deeply compelling, this film succeeds on every level:
story, performance, music and photography. But the subject and perspective
In his debut screenplay, Taylor Sheridan (best known for his recurring role
on “Sons of Anarchy”) explores the complicated legal and moral territory
tread by officials on both sides of the border. A Texas native, he visited
northern Mexico often as a kid and wanted to examine the anarchic violence
that now reigns there. He found a rocky landscape where even the most
righteous can find themselves doing wrong.
Director Denis Villeneuve skillfully brings Sheridan’s story to life,
setting finely tuned performances to a cacophonous soundtrack under Roger
Deakins’ masterful lens to create a searing and timely thriller.
Kate (Emily Blunt) is a by-the-books FBI agent invited to join a covert
operation after discovering a house full of corpses owned by a Mexican drug
cartel. On board the secret mission, she meets cocky government agent Matt
(Josh Brolin) and mysterious operative Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), both of
whom willingly bend the law as their needs dictate.
Told she’ll be traveling to El Paso, Texas, Kate is whisked into Juarez,
Mexico, the drug cartels’ blood-spattered battleground, where headless
bodies hang from bridges and gunfire rattles as background noise. She’s
hoping to arrest those responsible for the murders of the people in that
house, but Alejandro and Matt have bigger plans: They want the cartel
kingpin, and they’re not trying to arrest him.
Complicating things further, Kate learns that Alejandro doesn’t represent
the U.S. government, but works for the Colombian drug cartels, which stand
to benefit from a shutdown in Mexico’s business. He is vengeful and focused,
cryptic and poetic. To him, finding the cartel boss “would be like
discovering a vaccine” to the addiction, death and corruption drugs cause.
Curiosity and duty obligate Kate to continue the mission, to see how deep
the trouble goes. She desperately clings to her notions of justice as order
unravels around her.
Blunt and Del Toro each act with their eyes, which is perfect here. Hers
alternately convey interest, anxiety and determination. His half-mast glance
says Alejandro has seen more than he wanted to. As the story progresses,
Alejandro’s personal connection to the cartels becomes more clear, blurring
the shades of gray even more.
Deakins’ breathtaking photography is all about darkness and light and the
space between the two, a perfect visual expression of the story’s theme.
Dust in a beam of light somehow bodes ominously. The shadow of a plane, tiny
against Mexico’s vast desert, speaks to the scope of the war on drugs. At
times, the audience sees through grainy security cameras and thermal-imaging
goggles. After 11 nominations, let this be the film that finally brings
Deakins his Oscar.
The sense of doom in “Sicario” also comes through in Johann Johannsson’s
foreboding score, which goes from industrial grating to sounding like a fog
horn with bad intentions.
Villeneuve has crafted a compelling, unflinching look at the deadly and
complicated war on drugs sure to challenge even the most straight-edged and
law-abiding viewers, showing that what’s right and wrong isn’t always so
The director will take on that theme again in his next film, the sequel to
“Blade Runner.” ‘’Sicario” says he’s ready.
“Sicario,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association
of America for “for strong violence, grisly images, and language.” Running
time: 121 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
Daniel Craig won’t say whether ‘Spectre’ is his 007 swansong
Daniel Craig. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
London (AP) - Is “Spectre” Daniel Craig’s Bond swansong?
We’ll have to wait and see.
The British actor makes his fourth appearance as suave secret agent 007 in
the Sam Mendes-directed film, which had its world premiere in London last
Speculation has swirled that it will be Craig’s last film as James Bond ever
since the actor told Time Out magazine that he would only make another Bond
movie “for the money.”
But in answer to the rumours, Craig said that “I love making these films.”
Asked by Britain’s Press Association about returning to Bond, Craig joked:
“Do I have a choice?”
Bond battles a shadowy international conspiracy in “Spectre,” which stars
Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as 007’s nemesis. The film opens in Thailand on
DiCaprio finds joy in Macau
project with De Niro, Scorsese
(From left) film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert
De Niro and director Martin Scorsese pose for photos during a launching
ceremony of the Studio City project in Macau, Tuesday, Oct. 27. (AP
Macau (AP) - Leonardo DiCaprio says being able to work with his two
cinematic father figures on a short film commissioned for the opening of a
Macau casino resort was “a slice of heaven.”
He spoke in the Asian gambling mecca ahead of last week’s debut of “The
Audition,” which also stars Robert De Niro and was directed by Martin
Scorsese, who also attended the press briefing.
DiCaprio said that “for me the great joy was finally getting to be on set
with both of these guys.”
“To be able to have scenes with Bob and being directed by Marty is a small
slice of heaven for me as an actor,” DiCaprio said. He described the two as
like his “fathers in the world of cinema.”
The 15-minute film’s premiere is part of the star-studded lineup to launch
Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd.’s Hollywood-themed Studio City resort in
Macau. The casino’s ability to draw such star power attests to the rising
influence of the special Chinese region, which has grown into the world’s
top gambling market.
Scorsese described the film as “reality-based with some humor.” The plot has
DiCaprio and De Niro invited to Macau by Scorsese to compete for the same
part in a movie. Brad Pitt also appears in the film but did not attend the
Scorsese has directed multiple films with DiCaprio or De Niro, but “The
Audition” marks the first time the three, along with Pitt, have
Producer Brett Ratner said he hoped that the short could be turned into a
“It’s just a teaser. We come to Macau, Marty comes here, lives at the hotel
for three months, six months and we make a big event movie,” he said.
Q&A: On new album, Bocelli celebrates the music of movies
Bocelli poses for a portrait in New York, Oct. 29, 2015. (Photo by Drew
New York (AP) - Andrea Bocelli’s new album “Cinema,” a collection of
songs from movies, is the culmination of a longtime dream.
The classically inspired singer fell in love with many songs as a child that
he didn’t know came from the movies.
Now he has gone back to his childhood memories and recorded some of those
songs, including classics like “Moon River” and “Cheek to Cheek.” Pop star
Ariana Grande also appears on the song “E piu ti penso.”
Bocelli, fresh off a performance for Pope Francis in Philadelphia and ahead
of a U.S. tour in December, sat down with The Associated Press to discuss
the album and more last week.
AP: Why an album of movie songs?
Bocelli: The music of the movies is a very inspired and free and beautiful
music. It’s a music of freedom — like a big field where the composers can
gather and run wherever they want. And, finally, it is inspired by emotion.
AP: You’ve had a real crossover career — alternating between classical and
pop music. Is there a big difference in how you approach the different forms
Bocelli: I do my best in order to be a good inspiration for many people.
There is a difference from the point of view of expression. Because when you
sing opera you are very far from the people, you are onstage, and between
you and the people there is the orchestra. So you have to launch your
emotions very, very far. When you sing pop, you are singing very close — the
microphone is very close to your mouth. You can whisper your emotions into
AP: What’s your favorite movie song?
Bocelli: There are many masterpieces. I love very much for example “Moon
River” (from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”) But I can’t choose, it wouldn’t be
AP: You recently sang for Pope Francis in Philadelphia. What was that
Bocelli: The pope is a very special man. (Even) apart from religion, he’s a
AP: Did your children inherit a love of music from you? Can it be inherited?
Bocelli: Virginia, the last (youngest) one, sings every day. All day. The
other two study piano. I think you do (inherit it), but also there’s the
possibility of educating people to listen to music. Because if you don’t
have the possibility of listening to music, you can’t know if you love it.
AP: If you hadn’t become a singer, what career would you have chosen?
Bocelli: I studied law, and I was ready to be a lawyer in my country
(Italy). Probably it is better for many clients that I changed my direction!
But I was happy to study and I was a good student, I finished my studies.
And everything that you learn is useful in life.
Bieber quits concert because fans won’t listen to him
Copenhagen, Denmark (AP) -
Canadian pop star Justin Bieber says he stopped a concert in Oslo after one
song because fans got in his way as he tried to wipe up liquid on stage.
On Instagram, he wrote that he “chose to end the show as the people in the
front row would not listen.” Videos posted on social media show a visibly
irritated Bieber saying “Gimme a second. Guys, I am done. I am not gonna do
The 21-year-old singer removed his cap and headset as he walked off the
stage at Oslo’s Chateau Neuf concert hall before some 1,000 screaming fans.
Bieber, who earlier last week quit a radio show in Spain, blamed a rough
week, saying “I don’t always handle things the right way but I’m human.”