Tag Archives: Michael Pena

TAKE TWO: 30 Minutes or Less

19 Aug

30 Minutes or Less

Rated: R

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Chris’ Take: Ruben Fleischer was the talk of the action-comedy town back in 2009, with his smash hit zombie comedy (or zomcom for short) Zombieland. The script was snappy, the action superb and it was enjoyable from start to finish. His latest comedy attempt, reuniting him with star Jesse Eisenberg, shows only a minute amount of the genius that he displayed.

Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a pizza delivery boy who spends his off time getting stoned and dating the sister of his best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari). When Nick receives a pizza order that takes him out to an abandoned warehouse, he soon finds himself kidnapped by two redneck criminals, Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), who strap a bomb to him and tell him that he has 10 hours to rob a bank or he’ll blow up.

The film starts out fast enough, introducing us to two somewhat likeable idiots as protagonists and Danny McBride channeling his inner Kenny Powers, but we really didn’t get to know the Chet and Nick as well as I would hope. There is about one scene where they are together and we establish that they are “friends”, but immediately there is discord and you don’t feel like you know them enough yet to care. It seemed that Fleischer spent more time establishing who the criminals were, almost to the point of making them sympathetic, that I felt that the film was going to be more of a dark comedy about Dwayne and Travis trying to kill Dwayne’s Dad.

From there, we immediately moved into the second act of the film, which moved rather quickly as well. Chet and Nick try to figure out how to rob a bank and put together a terrible plan, which was sure to bring hilarity, and it did. However, the second act was far too short and a scene which could’ve easily been stretched out, or at least made more comically intense was squandered. Maybe it had something to do with budget, maybe it had something to do with the writers not knowing where to go with a potential hostage situation, but I just felt like it was wasted.

Or maybe the writers were...

Then, the third act was upon us and stayed for what seemed like forever. At this point, I cared very little about any of the characters involved since Nick and Chet could’ve easily found a way around the previous situations, so they are kind of too dumb to be concerned about. Dwayne and Travis were the funnier pair, but you knew things couldn’t end well for them so it was a waste to root for them too. Michael Pena makes an appearance as a hitman, and was probably the funniest character introduced to the plot, but he kind of brought the laughs a little too late and I was just hoping this would be over as quickly as it started, but it dragged out.

He a pimp!

I really felt that a good portion of the time allotted to the conclusion of the plot could’ve been given to the beginning, establishing the friendship between Chet and Nick, or in the middle, lengthening out the ridiculous bank robbing scheme they developed.

When all was said and done (I won’t be specific because I don’t want to spoil it for you if you still want to see it), the actions of the “protagonists” had me pondering whether they were the better people. I guess they didn’t really want to kill anyone, but they definitely weren’t on any moral high ground, which isn’t exactly necessary to establish in a dark comedy, but 30 Minutes or Less didn’t conform to that genre.

With all the talent involved with the project, I expected more, and while I think it was admirable that they tried to limit their time to 83 minutes, I don’t think it was paced well at all. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Ruben Fleischer is a bad director, he’s proven before that he has talent, it just seemed like he was getting lazy this time around. Maybe if he added some zombies this would’ve been right up his alley.


Pac’s Take: I couldn’t agree more.



TAKE TWO: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

15 Mar

Battle: Los Angeles

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Ne-Yo

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Chris’ Take: Watching this film reminded me of a scene from the sitcom Arrested Development where one of the characters opens a refrigerator to see a paper bag marked “Dead Dove: Don’t Eat”. Despite the warning, his curiosity is piqued and he opens the bag to see a bludgeoned bird and says, “Well, I don’t know what I was expecting….”. Perhaps when I saw the trailer for Battle: Los Angeles, I was drawn to the hope that it would return me to the teenage wonderment of when I watched films like Independence Day. Whatever it was, I probably should’ve heeded the looks of the previews to determine that this would be a clunker.

Battle: Los Angeles starts off quickly, launching right into the alien attack with very little build up. SSGT Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is on his way out of the Marines after being haunted by some tough decisions he had to make earlier in his career, but before the paperwork is officially filed he is brought in to assist with evacuating civilians from a mysterious meteor shower. As his platoon approaches the area they find out that this is no ordinary meteor shower and that it has brought alien invaders bent on colonizing Earth.

As you can probably tell from the description, this film throws almost every cliché in the book at you. You have the crusty old Staff Sargeant who is about to retire and is called in for that fateful last mission. Then there is the badass strong-willed chick (Michelle Rodriguez).

According to her contract, this is the only type of character she will play.

Throw in the rookie whose inexperience endears him to his squadmates and the man who has a personal vendetta against the leader which will no doubt cause issues at the worst possible time, and boom….action film gold. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even try to do anything different with these characters. Instead it only feels comfortable on ground that has already been tread and fails to make anyone care about the soldiers in the attack.

What I did like is the Black Hawk Down style approach to the combat. While there are plenty of special effects to go around, it doesn’t use lasers and aerial battles and it doesn’t focus on the President or civilians, but instead hones in on the urban warfare aspect of the invasion that hasn’t been done before in an alien invasion film. The bad part of this was mentioned before, the characters weren’t interesting enough to put any sort of emotional attachment to them, which is what makes the best warfare films so intense.

I feel bad for Aaron Eckhart. He did his best with a horrible script, overacting to compensate for the lack of ability that surrounded him. What I found funny about his role is that he was constantly trying to separate himself from the group, which may have been a call on the actors’ part instead of actually in the script. The film would have actually been a lot better if Aaron Eckhart had just gone off on his own to take on the aliens, even though I never really pictured him as an action star.

Still more believable than this guy.

The only other actor that I was remotely interested in seeing, Michael Pena, was on-screen for a short while and his talents were completely wasted on a stock character.

Again, I don’t know what I expected from this film. I may have been duped by that haunting song in the original preview that made it appear more thoughtful than a movie written by the guy who wrote the horror film atrocity Darkness Falls. The film had its merits in its visuals, creating a gritty environment for anti-alien warfare, but it was lacking in almost every other area. I really shouldn’t have expected a whole lot, but I did kind of expect a little bit more than this. 2011 continues to disappoint.

  • Characters: D+
  • Cinematography: B
  • Directing: C
  • Plot: C
  • Performances: Aaron Eckhart (B-) Everyone Else (D+)

Pac’s Take: The satisfaction you’ll get from seeing Battle: Los Angeles, like with almost any other movie, is determined by the expectations you set for it.  The director, Jonathan Liebesman, has The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Darkness Falls as his only notable credits, while the writer Christopher Bertolini has a resume that reads a lot like mine.  I can just imagine the first few meetings with this brilliant duo before production.

I’m not opposed to small bill casting, especially when a film has other means to draw box office revenue, but typecasting actors into stock characters only accentuates the lack of effort put into the character development.  Michelle Rodriguez played her best Michelle Rodriguez and Ne-Yo was nothing more than a poor man’s Will Smith from ID4 (right down to the pending nuptials).

Ne-Yo's glasses were uncredited

Aaron Eckhart and Michael Pena did their best with the lack of depth their characters were given and tried to carry the rest of the cast and the script through to the credits, but not without some unfortunate missteps.  Give the actors credit though because despite the aforementioned criticisms they did manage to make a terrible script at least watchable.  Cheesy dialogue, plot clichés, and little to no character depth made this film all flash and no substance.

However, much like a lens flash, the cinematography and direction of this movie left the user at least temporarily blind to the rest of the films flaws.  Normally I’m not a fan of shaky handheld cameras and extremely tight shots, but Liebesman seemed to make it work.  In doing so, and by focusing on a small contingent of Marines as opposed to the large-scale destruction and mayhem (one plus to the script), Battle: Los Angeles felt more like a war film than an invasion flick.  The inspiring elements of Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan were obvious in the cinematography and were welcomed.  I applaud Liebesman for salvaging what had the potential to be a disastrous film and making it watchable by blending the invasion and war genres nicely and using innovative concepts from inspiring films to put together what was actually a visually appealing work.  Part of the fun I got from watching this film was trying to identify the various elements of every film he listed as inspiration.  I’m more encouraged with the decision to allow Liebesman to direct Wrath of the Titans and hope that he can continue to improve as his directorial resume lengthens.

Battle: Los Angeles feels more like a video game than it does a motion picture.  Action sequences and shootouts interjected with brief cut-scenes for plot development (not character development), the death of a few ancillary characters to alert the user/viewer that they’re in a dangerous environment (not to elicit emotion), and a patriotic but anticlimactic ending leaving the series open for a sequel.  The film is a seamless blend between COD: Modern Warfare 2 and Halo, in fact the overpass scene looks a lot like the end of the campaign from the first Modern Warfare.

Most players don't know COD has a campaign mode

Here are my grades:

  • Characters: D
  • Cinematography: B
  • Directing: B
  • Plot: C-
  • Performances: C