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Movie Review: The Dictator

Mike Finkelstein believes in the oppression of the people of Wadiya. He is in full support of the supreme leader, Admiral General Aladeen. So when a documentary about the wonderful life of the supreme leader hit theaters in America, Mike made sure he was first in line, three weeks early. Now, while smelling like a homeless person due to living in a sleeping bag outside his local theater for three weeks, here is his review of “The Dictator”.

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Mike Finkelstein believes in the oppression of the people of Wadiya.  He is in full support of the supreme leader, Admiral General Aladeen.  So when a documentary about the wonderful life of the supreme leader hit theaters in America, Mike made sure he was first in line, three weeks early.  Now, while smelling like a homeless person due to living in a sleeping bag outside his local theater for three weeks, here is his review of “The Dictator”.

PLOT: During a trip to America to address the United Nations, Admiral General Aladeen (Sasha Baron-Cohen) is betrayed by his uncle (Ben Kingsley) and left in New York City with no beard, no clothes, and no way to deliver his speech.  With the help of an exiled Wadiyan scientist (Jason Mantzoukas) and a liberated feminist/Vegan food store owner (Anna Faris), Aladeen must prove to the world he is who he says he is before his Uncle turns his beloved country’s government into a horrid democracy.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  I was once told that in the world of art, you have to evolve, or you die.  Whether it be altering your sound a bit with every new album or changing your roles in every new film, you need to be able to rise to the next challenge.  (Otherwise, you’ll just end up like Milli Vanilli or Pauly Shore, and who wants that?)  And while Sacha Baron-Cohen seems to be trying to evolve with every new project he tackles, his new movie, THE DICTATOR mostly reverts back to the things he should have left behind long ago.

THE DICTATOR follows Admiral General Aladeen (Baron-Cohen), one of the last living dictators, as he heads to New York City to appear in front of the UN and answer questions about his country’s nuclear weapons program.  Before Aladeen can deliver his speech, his jealous uncle, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), gives him up to the Americans. Miraculously, a newly shaved Aladeen (part of his torture) escapes his tormentor and ends up wandering the streets of New York, trying to figure out a way to stop his traitor uncle from taking over the throne, selling off the country’s oil, and turning the entire country into a democracy.

Here in lies Baron-Cohen’s first real fictional narrative, and yet it’s not too different from the mockumentaries that came before it.  Just like BORAT and BRUNO, we are looking at the world through one ridiculously absurd character’s eyes, and that leads to some very smart, very funny, and very offensive perspectives on society and world politics in the process.  We always wondered what these dictators are thinking.  Now, because of General Aladeen, we know…to the most ridiculous extent.

If the film stayed on this track, it could have been one of the better political satires of this generation (starting with a great little tribute to a recently deceased dictator and ending with Aladeen’s monologue, which is absolutely priceless for anyone who even knows a fraction of political issues going on today).  But instead, what we get are a bunch of priceless moments mixed in with too many throw away gags…poop jokes, vagina jokes, pubic hair, etc.  Some were lackluster, some were shocking, and some were just wrong.  Yes, these worked with BORAT and BRUNO, and with their style, they should.  (Remember, they were all about the shock value and real people’s reactions.)  This time, where the crew actually had time to put a real script together, it almost feels like we’ve been cheated as an audience.

Don’t get me wrong…Sasha Baron-Cohen is an extremely talented man.  To create characters like Ali G, Borat and Bruno, and convince a nation that you ARE those people is a praiseworthy achievement in itself.  Add onto that some noteworthy performances in HUGO, SWEENY TODD, and the upcoming LES MISERABLES, and you also have a comedian with real acting skills that you could respect.  Even here, he does a beautiful job sinking into the skin of both Aladeen and his body double, giving us two completely separate personalities and reasons to laugh.  We just know Baron-Cohen could have pulled off something even funnier while still being an intellectual and not stooping to such a level.

As for the supporting cast, there are some fun moments courtesy of John C. Reilly and Ben Kingsley, both of whom go through the motions just fine (although the back and forth between Reilly and Baron-Cohen during the torture is priceless), but the stand out relationship comes courtesy of Jason Mantzoukas, who plays a completely unorthodox nuclear scientist trying to help Aladeen get home.  The two have absolutely great chemistry, like two idiot bickering brothers (can’t explain it any better way), and lead to the best moments in the film.  Anna Faris’ Zoey, however, came across like nothing but a caricature.  Faris did her best with what she was given, but I wish she could have been appreciated a little more instead of wasted on that.

Sacha Baron-Cohen’s THE DICTATOR is definitely a mixed bag.  On one hand, you have the next Peter Sellers giving us his first full narrative—an ambitious undertaking for anybody—with some pretty funny observations.  On the other hand, you have so many juvenile, disgusting moments that the above sentence kind of gets washed away by it all.  I just hope that on the next outing, Baron-Cohen steps it up a bit.  We all know he can.  Let’s just see if he knows it, too.

GRADE: B-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) SACHA BARON COHEN: You have to give the man credit…he may be completely disgusting at points, but he fully immerses himself into every role he does.  Seeing him play both Aladeen and Aladeen’s double, and the amount of dedication he put into both characters just impressed me even more.

2) JASON MANTZOUKAS: This man was the saving grace of the movie.  Despite being kicked out of the country and almost beheaded, he has no problem coming right back at Aladeen like the two are little bickering brothers.  A smile was on my face whenever he was on screen, and that says a lot, especially when comparing it to the rest of the movie.

3) CERTAIN CAMEOS: Some cameos were not cameos at all.  Others were pretty damn funny.  The ones that were pretty damn funny absolutely owned.  (See the movie, and the previous three sentences will actually make sense.)

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) CROSSED THE LINE:  How many gross out jokes can you fit in one movie?  How many orifices can you talk about in one scene?  How many times can we sit and go “Okay…that was supposed to be funny, but it was just disgusting?”  Let us count the ways…

2) ZOEY: Anna Faris will always be adorable, but there was nothing in this role to help her out.  Zoey was neither cute, nor attractive, and was really just annoying throughout.  Also, the love story was nothing short of ridiculous.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) The language that Aladeen and Nadal speak on the helicopter tour is actually Hebrew.

2) On “The Daily Show”, Admiral General Aladeen reveals his first name to be Shabazz.

Entertainment

REVIEW: “Sing Street” Will Put a Song in Your Heart… and Your iPod

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“I have just seen an instant classic.”

That’s what I said to myself as I left the theater, with the music and adrenaline of “Sing Street” still coursing through my veins.

It’s the kind of movie you want to turn around and see again, immediately. Right after you download the soundtrack. Yes, it’s that good.

Haven’t heard anything about it? I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have known about this film either, except that my Regal Crown Club card finally paid off in the form of free tickets to an advanced screening. (Never mind the $25 popcorn.) Anyway, let’s watch!

Hooked yet? You will be.

Irish writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) has conjured a nearly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Dublin. Think “The Commitments meets “Sixteen Candles meets “Footloose,” but all in one glorious package that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Drawing from his own teenage years at the real Synge Street school, Carney avoids the trap of creating a pure fluff piece by infusing the story with real heart.

A large part of that is due to the breakout talent and hero of Sing Street,” 16-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. As “Connor Lalor” navigates the tricky currents of a new school, family drama, and first love, Walsh-Peelo is heartbreakingly earnest, predictably awkward, and unexpectedly optimistic. Everything about his performance rings true. No small feat, considering that this is his acting debut.

Thanks to Carney’s non-actor, open casting approach, Walsh-Peelo is also joined by some equally promising new faces. Lucy Boynton is luminous as his love interest, “Raphina,” and Mark McKenna is quietly compelling as Conor’s songwriting partner, “Eamon.”

One of the most satisfying pairings, though, is anchored by the more experienced Jack Reynor (“Transformers:Age of Extinction”).  He shines as Conor’s older brother, “Brendan.”  Dealing with the angst of his own stalled dreams, Brendan tackles his brotherly mentoring role with gusto. Conor soaks up the advice like a ruddy-cheeked sponge, then begins to find his own way as his confidence grows.  Rarely do we see the underlying affection between two brothers played so simply and honestly,  so the relationship between Conor and Brendan is a lovely surprise.

The other undeniable star of “Sing Street” is the music.  While the story could have easily been told with the band only performing covers of ’80s hits,  Carney had a bigger vision for the film.  He collaborated with Scottish songwriter Gary Clark to craft 8 original tunes that not only add layers of light and shade to the storyline, but could be stand-alone chart toppers today.  From the gleefully retro “The Riddle of the Model,” to the Cure-tastic “Beautiful Sea,”  to the EMO ballad “To Find You,”  there’s something for everyone. Welcome to your summer soundtrack, people.

There are few darker notes to the plot, and the ending feels slightly of place, but in general “Sing Street” will leave you feeling as light and fizzy as a packet of Pop Rocks.

The movie poster reads: “Boy Meets Girl. Girl Unimpressed. Boy Starts Band.”  That’s it in a nutshell, of course, but happily, this film is so much more.

SING STREET opens in New York April 15th, and is in theaters nationwide on April 29th.

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrate The Fourth With Our Picks For Great American Movies!

What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

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What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

It’s impossible to list them all… this is just a handfull! Scroll down and tell us what your favorites are!!!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you have what it takes to watch a black and white classic? (Don’t break my heart by replying if the answer is no.) Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 classic starring James Cagney – telling the story of the great entertainer George M Cohan. He’s the man behind the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”  A true classic with distinctly American music and showmanship. Watch the trailer!

There’s something about the fifties and sixties that still plucks at the nostalgic heartstrings of America. And yet, two of the most iconic movies about that period were actually shot decades later, with a heartfelt look back at those times.

Both American Graffiti and Grease come to mind. While American Graffiti can take bragging rights for bringing us more breakout stars, (and being written and directed by George Lucas), Grease seems to enjoy more clout as a family friendly favorite.

1986 was a  good year for Tom Cruise, and a good year for movies. Top Gun starred Tom Cruise stars as a student at Top Gun Naval Academy. It sparked a sense of patriotism, and the continued ascent of Cruise’s career. (If you’re watching with your kids, you might wanna skip ahead once you start hearing the song “Take My Breath Away.” Love scene ahead! Still, some might argue it’s pretty tame by today’s standards.)

Forrest Gump (1994) proved not only to be an excellent movie, but also an impromptu history lesson.
The story follows an unlikely hero (played by Tom Hanks) as he journeys through life, finding himself witnessing (and sometimes even influencing) a series of historic events, but is largely unaware of their significance. A true classic.

Before the luster of Mel Gibson had worn off, he portrayed Benjamin Martin, a man who becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War. The late Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army.

The most recent of patriotic classics is 2012’s Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a flawless performance as our 16th President under the directorial brilliance of Steven Spielberg. A new classic for the ages.

SHARE YOU PICKS BELOW! AND TWEET YOUR FAVORITES TOO!

For more movies updates, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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Movie Reviews

MOVIE REVIEW- WORLD WAR Z Is a Messy, Relentless Zombie Horror Flick That Really Works

Check Out Steven’s review for one of the biggest surprises of 2013, the epic zombie flick WORLD WAR Z.

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world-war-z-posterWORLD WAR Z

Paramount Pictures

Director- Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale. Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, David Morse, David Andrews.

Steven’s Quick Review- Yes its production was messy, but WORLD WAR Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer movies in 2013. Thanks to relentless action, a number of good scares, and an on-target performance from Brad Pitt, WORLD WAR Z is an excellent zombie film. Even though it is barely based on its source material, Damon Lindelof’s rewritten third act will keep audiences guessing and add some scares to your summer movie slate.

Steven’s Review- Brad Pitt has become the kind of actor who now only does movies he truly wants to do, and only takes roles that challenge him. So when Pitt and his Plan B studios initially won the rights to Max Brooks bestselling novel WORLD WAR Z the options were endless. Yet from the start of production the movie had issues, between the initial script lacking invention, a director in Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who was found it difficult to make important decisions and the very public spat between Pitt and Forster that nearly sidelined the film indefinitely.  There were also the on-set issues, besides the arguments between the actor and director, there were problems on set in Hungary when government officials stormed the set and removed live weapons. Also, forced re-shoots that moved WWZ from a winter release to a summer tentpole. It’s easy to assume WORLD WAR Z was doomed from the start. But something happened along the way, something that shocked plenty during our screening of the film in May. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Pitt, Forster, and crew actually made a darn good zombie flick. With help from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) who came to the rescue and reworked an ending  after the studio deemed the initial conclusion was not good enough for release.  Following Lindelof’s changes and a massive marketing campaign Brad Pitt’s newest pet project was ready to show the world.

WORLD WAR Z the book takes place in a post zombie war setting, when a journalist and U.N investigator goes all over the globe talking to survivors and getting their stories.  The film adaptation written by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), Matthew Michael Carnahan (STATE OF PLAY), J. Michael Straczynski (THOR) and Damon Lindelof  has little to nothing to do with Brooks acclaimed novel. We begin meeting Gerry Lane(Pitt) , a former UN investigator who lives with his family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  Within 5 minutes of the opening credits, we are thrown into a full on zombie invasion, with riots in super markets and speedy zombies chasing people down. WWZ Starts off with a bang. Gerry’s wife Karin(“The Killings” Mireille Enos), and his daughters Constance(Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) desperately leave the city and head towards New York, finding themselves in the streets of  Newark, New Jersey where they pick up supplies and await a helicopter pick-up thanks to Gerry’s old friends at the United Nations.

WORLD WAR Z is in no way a perfect movie; every now and then it finds itself deep into horror cliché, only to drag itself out with one big sequence after another. Pitt carries the film as he finds himself in worse situations every moment, but without being totally indestructible (meaning as an audience you never quite know whether Gerry Lane will make it out alive). Pitt’s performance feels dressed in reality, while he searches the globe for reasons why this zombie apocalypse is happening, worries for his safety and hopes to return to his family.

WORLD WAR Z is a suspenseful zombie flick that contains a few scares, but has the advantage of almost never slowing down.  The filmmakers found a way to protray a lot of violence and still receive a PG-13 rating – they show you enough death and destruction without maimed bodies and severed limbs. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of WWZ and the fact it never drags, it allows characters to develop and story to move forward without forsaking the zombie action fan in all of us.

As far as adaptations go, WORLD WAR Z could be considered one of the worst, it barely contains any connection to Max Brooks brilliant novel, other than a few characters names and one or two plot points. As far as summer surprises, WORLD WAR Z is a welcome break from comedies and super hero flicks that take up most of our time. But the pressure is on: it needs to bring in $500 million dollars to turn a profit for everyone involved. I enjoyed WORLD WAR Z and hope they can find a way to make some cash, so we can get more zombie action just like it.

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