My alter ego!!!!

That’s right, Spud fans, my personality has splintered (as we all knew it would someday), and the good folks over at Tumblr have allowed me to create an alter ego called: SuperFunHappySlide. It’s a film scrapbook, it’s a repository of awesome, but most importantly, it’s an ongoing chronicle of my battle with my Netflix Instant Queue. I’ll be posting every 1-2 days (work permitting), so check back often.

The journey starts here:  SuperFunHappySlide

Fear not, for Small Potatoes is definitely not going anywhere. In fact, look for more in depth film reviews on this site in the coming weeks. Thank you to everyone who has stuck by me and my efforts over the past couple of years. It’s time for me to get back to work.

The A-Team: The Potato loves it when a film comes together!

1983. A legendary network television show was born. It featured action, adventure, comedy, brotherhood and, of course, Mr. T. Creators Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo found a way to combine the popular detective procedural drama with a boys-with-Tonka-trucks sense of precocious male abandon.  It was a huge hit, and ran for 5 seasons until it was canceled in 1987. After 23 years of the franchise lying dormant, the world will be reintroduced to: The A-Team.

::Cue burst of machine gun fire::

That’s right everybody, Hannibal Smith, Faceman Peck, B.A. Baracus, and Howlin’ Mad Murdock are back, and they’ve finally brought their particular brand of military justice to the big screen.  At the helm of this camouflaged runaway freight train is a particular brand of director, and his name is Joe “Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane” Carnahan.  A perfect marriage if I’ve ever seen one.  Of course, as with all resurrected franchises, we have to reintroduce it to the younger folks who only know The A-Team as some show that Dad can’t shut up about, and so the film version is an origin story of sorts: the team forms, the team is shown in action, they get framed and arrested, they break out, and then they begin their quest to clear their names.  It couldn’t be the exact same story, because it was so much of its time and politics that it would ring false today.  Instead of being made up of Vietnam vets, they’re Gulf War vets, and so their circumstances behind their framing, arrest, and escape have all been tweaked to serve this contemporary update.  The major plot points and characters, however, remain the same.  The result is a cigar-chomping, testosterone-dripping comic action opera that satisfies the inner child’s need for danger and adventure, with as many one-liners fired as bullets.

For a TV show that contained such memorable characters that all had an unlikely chemistry (the very chemistry that made the show what it was), their big screen counterparts did not disappoint.  The two versions of the cast are proportionate to the action universes they inhabit.  The TV show features military heroes. The film is a big-budget, explosive, 80’s-informed blockbuster (in the best way), requiring the cast to do more heavy lifting.  They have to be more than military heroes; they have to be action heroes. Of course, comparisons are inevitable, and they may also be warranted.  How could anyone replace Dwight Schultz?  How could anyone truly replace Mr. T.? Mr. T. built his entire legacy around the B.A. Baracus character.  He is B.A. Baracus.  Even in an updated film, the best that any actor can do is imitate him and for an imitation, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson did a good job.  He could definitely handle the action, he pitied fools constantly, and he could keep up with his lively costars.  The script gave also his Baracus an emotional depth that could be expressed with fewer words and more actions.  Though the updated Baracus is not as cuddly, he comes from a similar place.

Much like George Peppard before him, Liam Neeson plays Hannibal Smith as a tough-as-nails Army colonel, with a big heart and mischievous look in his eyes.  Anyone who has seen the action opus Taken knows that Liam Neeson can growl painfully and dispatch movie baddies with convincing aplomb.  In this film, Hannibal Smith is still the man with the best laid plans, and he still never hesitates to get in the fight.  The most perfect casting comes in the form of Bradley Cooper as Faceman Peck.  Cooper matches Dirk Benedict’s old school urban swashbuckling charm perfectly and is the glue that holds all the other performances together. Faceman is the most complicated because he is both the finesse and the fire, and while Dirk Benedict is responsible for creating him, Bradley Cooper is keeping Faceman alive and well.  The big surprise is District 9’s Sharlto Copley who is able to effortlessly capture the constant mania that Dwight Schultz brought to the Howlin’ Mad Murdock character.

After his performance in last year’s District 9, which was largely improvisational with little written dialog to work from, Copley was tested with the A-Team’s more traditional script and had to show that he could sustain an already existing character. Any skeptics should worry not, for Copley’s performance is the heart and soul of The A-Team’s dynamic.

As far as supporting casts go, this one is game.  As Captain Sosa (and Faceman’s former flame), Jessica Biel does a lot with a thankless role, holding the line between love interest and woman-of-action.  Gerald McRaney (Major Dad?) starts out playing General Morrison as the General from Predator, but his character gets more complicated as the plot thickens.  Extra kudos goes to Lakeview Terrace’s Patrick Wilson as CIA Agent Lynch, a wormy, sociopathic G-Man so duplicitous that you love him as much as you hate him.

Making an impact with his first feature Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, and making a smaller yet deeper impact with Narc, Joe Carnahan should have made his action smashup debut with 2006’s  Smokin’ Aces, but it was a misstep. The cinematography and offbeat dialogue suggested that Carnahan would be a director who could handle large action while maintaining a uniquely graphic vision, but Aces fails because the story falls apart in the third act, and also does not deliver the action that it was building towards.  In The A-Team, I must say, I love it when a Joe Carnahan movie comes together.  His cinematic vision for the franchise is a combination of Tony Scott and True Lies-era James Cameron.  It is an immensely entertaining homage to old-school Hollywood spectacle. The script, co-written by Joe Carnahan, Skip Woods, and Brian Bloom (who also plays rogue mercenary Mr. Pike) is a breezy, expertly strung together tapestry of one-liners with a clever plot and a few interesting twists along the way. The action sequences are fierce, fun, and impossible, culminating with an unbelievably destructive scene at the Long Beach harbor.  Amidst the chaos, Carnahan keeps the film moving in its quieter moments, and though there aren’t many, they’re very well placed. In The A-Team, Carnahan is tasked with aiming a shotgun at a target, and instead pulls out a rocket launcher and fraggs the entire mountain. Hoo-yah.

If you’re an A-Team fan, if you’re an action fan, a Liam Neeson fan, or pretty much a fan of all things loud, fun, and awesome, then maybe you can hire…The A-Team! I give it an enthusiastic 4 out of 4 stars/bullets.

Mr. Conley interviews The Potato.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Will Conley is taking over the airwaves.  Last Sunday, he hijacked me for about 45 minutes, and this is what came out of it. For legal reasons, we called it an “interview”. My first interview. If you dare, you can listen to it on Will’s Posterous site by clicking below.  Thanks again, Will, for the opportunity.  Much mischief was made.  Enjoy!

http://willconley.posterous.com/the-search-for-meaning-at-the-brink-of-the-un

The Potato stayed up late for “Iron Man 2”

Tony Stark.  In the Marvel-verse, he is the eccentric billionaire weapons manufacturer turned superhero.  In Jon Favreau’s follow up to the Marvel megahit “Iron Man”, Robert Downey Jr. is the undisputed star of the summer kickoff tentpole “Iron Man 2”.  Stark is a man haunted by the sins of which he and his father are both guilty.  In this sequel, the sins of the Stark family catch up to Tony in the form of criminally insane Russian physicist Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash.  Nefariously connected to the Stark family legacy, Vanko will not rest until he has turned Tony Stark’s advanced technology against him and everyone he loves.  Also on the offensive is weapons manufacturer and Stark rival Justin Hammer, who will stop at nothing to steal the Iron Man technology, and Vanko is the key to making that happen.

At the beginning of the film, Tony Stark justifies withholding of his benevolently destructive supersuit from the U.S. government with the reason that he and the Iron Man suit are a singular entity.  If you take one, you take the other, and Mr. Stark bows to no one.  There couldn’t be a more perfect analogy for Downey’s performance.  For lack of a better phrase, Downey IS Tony Stark/Iron Man.  Like Stark, Downey is all charm and wit when the flashbulbs are popping. When the spotlights finally dim, Downey shows a depth of emotion so subtle yet so present that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that it’s the same person.  This was also true for the first film, and this is where the criticism lies.  To be fair, it’s not Downey’s fault.  He does everything that the role requires.  The fault has to lie with the script.  When Tony Stark comes face to face with the possibility that his Iron Man suit might be slowly killing him, it causes him to fall into a (brief) self-destructive spiral.  This could have been a compelling section of the film, but the script passes over this character moment in favor of more comic relief.  As a result, Downey gives the same performance in this film as he did in the last Iron Man movie, with a few brief moments of darkness that serve little more than to move the clunky plot forward.

The rest of the returning cast are all up to their jobs:  As Pepper Potts, the new CEO of Stark Industries and the only woman Tony Stark will ever love, Gwyneth Paltrow is just as solid here as in the first film.  Her character gets more face time, and her chemistry with Downey is apparent, but the role is little more than a flustered girlfriend who exists only to yell and be frustrated with Tony Stark.  As Lt. Col. “Rhodey” Rhodes, Don Cheadle does a fine job, yet doesn’t really build on the character that Terrence Howard created in the first film.  In another Avengers-setup cameo, Samuel L. Jackson brings wily fire to the mysterious eyepatched Nick Fury character, but I just kept waiting for Jackson to slip into some silver-tongued soliloquy from “Pulp Fiction” and then rule ass singlehandedly.  I mean, he and Stark share breakfast at a classic diner, for crying out loud.  Extra props go to Clark Gregg for reprising his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson.

The new additions to the cast are also quite good: Sam Rockwell nearly steals the show as Stark wannabe Justin Hammer.  Every scene that he and Downey share is gold.  I would love to see the two of these guys do another movie together.  Human method acting exercise Mickey Rourke was inspired casting for the vengeful Whiplash and he is indeed as menacing as he is in the film’s trailers.  Rourke doesn’t get as much screen time as one would hope, and he actually disappears from the film for about twenty minutes during the second act.  As S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Natasha Romanoff, Scarlett Johansson wears a Marvel-made tactical leotard very well and proves she can handle herself both as an action heroine and as a competing love interest for Downey.  In a hilarious cameo as Senator Stern, Garry Shandling crawls out from his comfortable rock and shows these juniors just how sarcasm is done.

Jon Favreau can make a hell of a comic book picture.  He’s obviously a director who loves the source material and loves to entertain.  The action of “Iron Man 2” is shot with the audience in mind, designed to show the viewer just how powerful these weapons can be, and how much destruction they can cause.  Retaining Matthew Libatique as Director of Photography, Favreau creates an Iron Man world that is backlit by technology and fueled by a playfulness that recalls swinging 60’s action romps.  “Iron Man 2” is a fun movie for what it is.  The criticism, again, lies with Justin Theroux’s script.  I’m not sure how many constraints he may have been working with, since he was challenged with continuing Tony Stark’s storyline along with setting up characters who will undoubtedly be appearing in future Marvel films.  Unfortunately, this left the plot of “Iron Man 2” very convoluted and disjointed.  Characters appear and disappear for long periods of time.  The film seems to be a collection of action scenes strung together by a weak revenge narrative and survives on the charm of its actors, specifically Downey and Rockwell.  On a positive note, the dialogue is very cool and funny with enough puns to compete with at least half of the James Bond series.  As a complete film, “Iron Man 2” fails to capture the magic of the first film, and while high expectations may have had something to do with that, the film doesn’t feel complete.

Overall, “Iron Man 2” is a fun summer blockbuster, but when you’re exiting the theater, you’re going to feel one of two ways: “I liked it.  That movie was fun” or “It was awesome, and I can’t wait for The Avengers!!!” Both reactions were overheard in the theater as I exited.  If you liked “Iron Man”, if you like Robert Downey Jr., or if you just want to have some well deserved fun watching some colorful expensive comic book explosions, blast off to the theater for this one.  I give it a 2.5 out of 4 stars.

The Potato failed to “Kick-Ass”

Costumed vigilantes face off against local New York mobsters in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass”.  High school geek Dave Lizewski asks the question that most kids his age would ask: “Why hasn’t anyone tried to actually become a superhero? Like, in real life.”  Dave dons an appropriately comic book-ish wetsuit, sheaths a couple of taped up batons, and goes out into the world to look for his cause.  Predictably, Dave gets his pubescent ass handed to him in his first time out, putting him in the hospital.  After that, he learns that some of his nerve endings are damaged, which left him a (slightly) higher tolerance for pain.  His new “power” allows him to gain moderate success against petty criminals, and his internet buzz skyrockets as a result.  Soon, Kick-Ass becomes a cultural phenomenon, which leads Dave to father-daughter crime fighter team Big Daddy and Hit Girl.  Big Daddy’s the loony ex-cop-turned-ex-con with all the weapons, while Hit Girl is the tween who’s deadly with all things sharp and explosive.  Of course, the mob isn’t too happy with these new developments, especially boss Frank D’Amico, who throws every goomba he has at the superheroes, and they still just keep coming.  Throw in another superhero wannabe named Red Mist, who may or may not have a secret of his own that could threaten the lives of the entire team if not uncovered in time, and you’ve got yourself a “Kick-Ass” superhero film.  Right?

As Dave, Aaron Johnson has the sort of anti-charisma that this film needs, as his character is more of an iPhone-generation reboot of Peter Parker (he makes several references to Spider-Man throughout the film, in case you miss the metaphor).  He fails, however, to craft a multi-layered character worth caring about.  His attitude towards his superhero experiences always feels slightly aloof and his character never has a real arc.  Does Dave have remorse for any of the things he’s done? Does Dave truly care about helping the common citizen?  I guess we’ll have to wait for the sequel.  Like Kick-Ass, Red Mist (played by Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse) doesn’t have much to do but just look nerdy cool and wait for the trouble to come to him.  Not much more than a spectator who helps move the plot forward until the very end, Mintz-Plasse does what he can with the role.

The Nicolas Cage twisted renaissance continues with his Big Daddy performance.  Cage plays it goofy and mostly reigns in his Castor Troy-isms until a very pivotal scene, where Cage just lets it all hang out. His Batman-meets-Ned-Flanders take on Big Daddy almost redeems his Ghost Rider performance, but not quite.  Cage’s performance is not, however, the standout of the film. That title goes to the youngest (and deadliest) of the costumed vigilantes played by Chloe Grace Moretz, better known as Hit Girl.  She may look like a Disney Channel childlike automaton, but the steely precocious bloodlust in her eyes tells a different story.  In all of this post-modern brouhaha, Moretz crafts a character who is simultaneously a well trained killer and very much 11 years old.  Hit Girl is a character who the audience must believe can dish out punishment as well as take it in mass quantities, all while remaining engaged in her emotional story.  Along with Cage, these two characters represent the film’s emotional crux, and they both deliver.

Mark Strong is one of the hottest actors on the scene today, and this on-screen baddie is just another gold star on an already fine career.  Not much more can be said of his character Frank D’Amico. He’s bad, he wants the superheroes dead, and he wants to be a zen Scarface while he does it (I guess you had to be there).  Like most of the other actors, Strong does what he can, but he gave a better villain performance in Guy Richie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.

Matthew Vaughn is a director with a specific vision who has the talent to stage Hollywood-sized action while wielding a sword of satire.  “Kick-Ass” takes its cue from films like “Watchmen”, but more like from Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” franchise.  The action scenes are well executed and the cinematography is rich with graphic novel imagery, New York grit, and iconic superhero shots.  Why then, did I only sort-of enjoy this film?  It was so busy trying to subvert all of the so-called “old school” superhero films that it forgot to give me characters that I cared about.  All of the characters have their purpose, they have their superhero references, they curse, and they have their hip post-modernist accidental coolness. All I have to say is: who cares?  Their stakes never feel real, and their lives never truly feel threatened.  The kids will enjoy the action and the humor, as it seems that this is the path that comic book films are headed (Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” will no doubt hit similar notes).  The violence is abundant, but not gory.  The writers set up the characters well enough that they could realistically withstand all of the punishment, so much so that seeing an 11 year old Hit Girl getting pummeled by the film’s main bad guy failed to arouse my offense.  I still advise against parents letting their kids watch this one.  If they must see it, put it on the shelf next to “Watchmen” and wait until they’re in high school.

Overall, “Kick-Ass” moderately lived up to its name.  If you like comic book films, if you liked “Watchmen”, and if you like seeing things get blown up followed by a wink and a scoff, I recommend this film.  I give it a 2.5 out of 4 stars.

Quick sidebar: Every superhero in “Kick-Ass” gets to be part of a big action sequence.  Kick-Ass and Red Mist mostly need rescuing. Hit Girl gets to be the cool one, laying waste to most of the henchmen on screen, and I thoroughly enjoyed her character.  Big Daddy, the only adult of the group, gets to be part of the action the least, but is allowed a single fight scene against a warehouse of bad guys.  In my opinion, this is the scene where “Kick-Ass” has the most kinetic energy, and it’s only moderately important to the plot itself.  For all of the high concepts and young it-actors that dominate the spotlight, you still can’t fake true presence.  Cage’s character was the only one who looked heroic, even if his character is bat scat crazy.  It made me wish that Cage hadn’t taken the role of Ghost Rider, because he would have made such a formidable looking superhero in a greater franchise.  I still wonder what it would have been like if Cage had ended up playing Superman.

The Potato wins with “The Losers”

Exactly 4 months ago, a crack commando unit was framed for a crime they didn’t commit.  These men survived assassination and promptly escaped to the Bolivian underground.  Today, thought dead by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have an ass that needs kicked, if the government sets them up, and if you can find them, then maybe you can hire…The Losers? ::cue machine gun fire and explosions:: BOOM!

Sound familiar? You were expecting maybe a different ending? Ok, so maybe 2010’s “The Losers” isn’t exactly “The A-Team”, but it is damn close.  If you sort of know the opening narration from the classic TV show, I could recite that synopsis and easily fool you.  The lyrics are different, but they’re both singing the same tune.  This may sound like I’m unfairly criticizing “The Losers” for being basically DC Comics’ answer to “The A-Team”, but no.  “The Losers” is a cool, snarky, cigar-chewing action adventure that is both a throwback to the action comedies of the 80’s (specifically a certain aforementioned TV show) and a great showcase of hyper-stylized comic book thrills of today.  Part “The A-Team”, part “Smokin’ Aces”, and part “Beverly Hills Cop”, “The Losers” just plain rocks the socks off.

The casting of “The Losers” is spot-on perfect in the kind of way that made “The Hangover” so watchable.  With the wrong cast, both films would have been absolutely dreadful to watch.  As the leader known as Clay, Jeffrey Dean Morgan proves that his performance in “Watchmen” was not an action fluke.  Like a Bruce Willis, Morgan knows how to portray the tough guy without having to sacrifice vulnerability.  Likewise for Idris Elba’s character, known simply as Roque.  The scenes that these two men share rival even the manliest scenes of “Predator”, and that’s a manly movie.  This film will benefit Morgan just fine, but I hope that Idris Elba gets some more lead roles as well.  He manages to be completely entertaining and still remain underrated as an actor.  As the wheelman and techie of the group, respectively, Columbus Short and Chris “Captain America/Human Torch” Evans both hold their own in the fight, and also wield the comic relief like two kids who found their dad’s pellet guns.  They’re having fun, and that means we’re having fun too.

As the sole lady of action, Zoe Saldana continues to tear apart the screen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (in a very well shot fight sequence in a flaming hotel room that obviously is meant to set up their sexual tension).  For being in so many blockbusters in her short career including the highest grossing movie of all time, Zoe Saldana STILL needs that big role.  She doesn’t get it in “The Losers”, but her presence makes the film just that much better.  But the big, big surprise performance in the film comes from its main villain, played to the absolute lunatic hilt by Jason f*cking Patric.  He’s always been a favorite of mine, and it’s great to see him chew the scenery in a film like this.  Every time he walks into the frame, insanity ensues.  Think of his character as a mixture of every Connery-era James Bond villain with Nicolas Cage’s character in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”.  You have to see it to believe it.

Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt have crafted a very fun and funny script.  Its tone resembles Tarantino’s self-awareness and Lethal Weapon-style badassedness.  As far as the direction goes: Sylvain White, where did you come from, sir?  I had only seen his previous collaboration with Columbus Short known as “Stomp The Yard”, and as fun a dance movie as it was, it did nothing to predict that Mr. White could emerge as a “get this guy an action franchise right now” kind of director.  The man can clearly handle very large action set pieces, special effects, and edgy camera work.  I’ll be very interested to see what his next project is going to be.

Overall, if you like action films, if you like comic book films, if you like “The A-Team”, you will have a crazy good time during “The Losers”.  I give it a 3.5 out of 4 stars.

The Potato on the Edge…of Darkness

Mel Gibson is back in action again as veteran Boston cop Thomas Craven in Martin Campbell’s tight thriller “Edge Of Darkness”.  The story is simple: Cop tries to reconnect with his daughter, before he can, she’s gunned down outside of his home. He thinks the shot was meant for him, but as he digs deeper he finds that his daughter was not the innocent baby girl that he remembers, and goes on an increasingly futile quest for revenge against her killers.  I say futile because the movie becomes more than just a revenge tale as the plot thickens.  Evil government contractors, evil weapons corporations, dirty cops, dirty lawyers, and dirty politicians all come into play during “Edge Of Darkness”.

Even for being in his fifties, Mel Gibson looks like he’s seen better days.  I also don’t approve of his personal life choices. Going into the film, I was worried that I couldn’t divorce “Mel Gibson: Actor” from “Mel Gibson: Asshole.”  At first, when Tom tries to reconnect with his daughter Emma, all I could do was think: “I just bought a ticket to see a movie starring the guy who dislikes Jews and likes to comment on women’s body parts in a less than flattering manner.” Ok, so my thoughts were a bit harsher, but that’s not the focus…right?  I started connecting with the film as soon as Emma was brutally gunned down by a shotgun on the doorsteps of her father’s house.  Mel Gibson may be, well, Mel Gibson, but he’s still got it. His presence has only become more intense with age, and I found myself rooting for his character all the way to the film’s violent climax.  I hope this marks a return to form for the actor, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in more movies.  As far as supporting performances go, it’s hard to tell if Mel Gibson is a supporting actor in his own movie.  More characters and villains start popping up from this way and that, and they all do a fine job in their limited parts.  Danny Huston turns in another genuinely (if not over the top) evil performance as malevolent CEO of the Haliburton-esque company called Northmoor.  As government spook with a (possible) heart of gold Jedburgh, Ray Winstone sufficiently creeps and charms.  “That guy” actor Jay O. Sanders is also very good as Gibson’s friend and fellow Boston police detective with a secret of his own.

Martin Campbell could direct a movie like this in his sleep.  The action beats are all there, the sets are believable, the tension is felt, and the cinematography is solid.  Campbell has directed better in better pictures, but it’s a fine film to further pad to a great career.  The film doesn’t come close to “Casino Royale” or “The Mask of Zorro” or even “No Escape”, but it’s certainly better than “The Legend Of Zorro”, “Beyond Borders”, or “Vertical Limit”.  The script, penned by William Monahan, is full of Bostonian references, snappy dialogue and plot twists (it better be, after all, he did win an Oscar for writing “The Departed”).  Monahan could be the next David Mamet if his career continues on the same path.

Overall, I liked this film more than I thought I would, and I’m glad that I gave it a chance.   If you like action thrillers or Mel Gibson or both, I recommend renting “Edge Of Darkness”.

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