Movie Review: “Fury”

Starring
Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena
Director
David Ayer

Dayid Ayer has always made macho movies; it’s evident even in his early screenplays for films like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Training Day.” But once he stepped behind the camera, Ayer’s proclivity for telling stories about manly men doing manly things became somewhat of a trademark for the filmmaker, one that he wears like a badge of honor in his latest movie, “Fury.” Although it’s nice to see Ayer taking a much-needed break from the crime thrillers that have dominated his career since the beginning, “Fury” also represents a more mature piece of work for him, showcasing his growth as a storyteller without abandoning the gritty style that sets the film apart from the countless others in the genre.

The movie takes place in April 1945, and while World War II has all but ended, the fanatical German resistance continues to fight, forcing women and children to pick up arms and hanging those who refuse. The U.S. military is suffering as well, but with an end in sight, they make their final push through Germany to wipe out the remaining Nazis. At the front of the lines is Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), a seasoned tank veteran who’s been fighting with the same crew – including Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) – since North Africa. But when their assistant driver is killed, clerk typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is ordered to replace him, despite having no experience on the battlefield, let alone inside a tank.

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Movie Review: “Men, Women & Children”

Starring
Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Olivia Crocicchia, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Elena Kampouris
Director
Jason Reitman

It’s never fun seeing a filmmaker you enjoy stuck in a rut, but that’s exactly what seems to have happened with Jason Reitman, who tainted his near-flawless body of work with last year’s soapy romance “Labor Day.” And though his latest movie isn’t nearly as bad, it’s a fairly mediocre drama that doesn’t completely succeed in its attempt to be a merciless social commentary on communication in the digital age. “Men, Women & Children” might as well have come with the subtitle, “Or Why the Internet is Really Bad,” because that’s pretty much the message that Reitman is preaching. Is it a little heavy-handed, melodramatic and obvious at times? Sure, but it also features some great performances and an intriguing multi-story narrative that doesn’t pull any punches in its denunciation of the internet.

Adam Sandler stars as Don Truby, a middle-aged schlub whose sex life with his wife Helen (Rosemary DeWitt) is so non-existent that he’s resorted to watching porn on his teenage son’s computer. Bored with the lack of excitement in his marriage, Don hires an escort from an online service, totally unaware that Helen is using a website for married people seeking affairs to have one of her own. Their son Chris (Travis Tope), meanwhile, has become so desensitized from watching porn at a young age that he’s unable to perform when he hooks up with sexpot cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose own mother (Judy Greer) has been enabling the wannabe actress by posting provocative photos of Hannah on her modeling website. And the worst part is that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong.

The other kids at school are just as messed up. Fellow cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris) has resorted to anorexia in an attempt to win the affections of the school hunk, while star quarterback Tim (Ansel Elgort) has been taking his mother’s recent abandonment so hard that he’s quit the football team and rechanneled that energy into playing an online role-playing game. Having lost most of his friends as a result of that decision, Tim forms a bond with shy girl Brandy Beltmeyer, whose mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is so obsessed about the potential dangers of the internet that she monitors all of Brandy’s online activity and tracks her every movement with her phone. So when Patricia discovers that Brandy has been secretly hanging out with a boy, she doesn’t think twice about the ramifications of her constant meddling.

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Movie Review: “The Book of Life”

Starring
Channing Tatum, Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate
Director
Jorge R. Gutierrez

Does Pixar have a spy within its ranks? In 2008, the studio announced a project titled “Newt,” which involved two amphibians that were the last of their kind on Earth. Three years later, 20th Century Fox released “Rio,” which featured two birds that are the last of their kind. (Pixar scrapped “Newt” in 2010, citing an inability to get the story right, while acknowledging that Fox was going to beat them to the market.) Shortly after Lee Unkrich won an Oscar for directing “Toy Story 3,” Pixar announced that his next project would be about the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Cut to the present, where Fox once again beats Pixar to the market with the similarly themed “The Book of Life.” Don’t be surprised if Pixar is more tight-lipped in the future when it comes to non-sequel projects.

Of the two ‘stolen Pixar’ movies, “The Book of Life” is hands down the better movie. The animation is spectacular (executive producer Guillermo Del Toro’s influence, for sure), the story is breezy but smart (well, smart-ish), and it teaches valuable lessons about family, honor and being true to oneself. It also raises the stakes on pop music drop-ins (having a character sing a modern-day pop song in an out-of-context time period) by having the guts to use a Radiohead song. The movie gets a star for that moment alone.

A group of children are taken to a museum, and their tour guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) tells them the story of La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, agreeing to a wager with Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. The wager concerns best friends Manolo and Joaquin, and which one of them will win the heart of their friend Maria. Maria is sent to Spain to study, and when she returns years later, Manolo (Diego Luna) is a bullfighter who’d rather be a musician, and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is a brave, powerful soldier. Xibalba, who has already interfered with the bet, senses that Manolo has the upper hand, and begins a chain of events that will send Manolo searching both netherworlds for Maria (Zoe Saldana), where he will learn a lot about his family history, and therefore himself, than he ever knew.

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Car Review: 2015 Kia K900

kia_k900_1

Kia is now officially in the luxury car business. With one fell swoop, they have launched the K900, a modern and elegant sedan that signals a new era for Kia and advances the brand to new levels sophistication. We drove the all-new 2015 Kia K900 and had to keep reminding ourselves that this car was a Kia! Things change so fast in the car business, and I’m sure some rivals keep wondering what the folks at Kia will come up with next.

EXTERIOR

When you first take a look at the 2015 Kia K900, you know that this car is for real, and a serious attempt by Kia to be a player in the luxury car segment. The long 119.9-inch wheelbase and wide 63.8-inch front and 64.1-inch rear track of the V8 translate to considerable road presence. In profile, the swept rake of the greenhouse, subdued cut lines along the doors and high rear deck lid lend a muscular tension to the sheet metal. The K900 V8’s standard 19-inch multi-spoke chrome wheels are shod with 245/45R-19 tires up front and 275/40R-19 tires at the rear.

Kia’s signature grille resides nearly vertically in the smoothly contoured front fascia. A chrome halo surrounds the dark chrome inner elements, which hints at the power and potential behind it. Airflow-smoothing underbody panels mounted beneath the nose, engine bay and cabin help reduce drag and improve efficiency. Standard on the V8 as tested are adaptive LED headlights. With 16 LED bulbs providing powerful, natural light for enhanced luminosity, the beams, which adjust to follow the bends in the road, shimmer beneath crystal clear lenses that pull back deeply into the front fenders. Soft-glow LEDs frame the multi-faceted headlights. Mounted low and at the far corners of the nose are sleek LED daytime running lamps and LED fog lights. Similar use of LED technology can be found at the rear of the K900. The trapezoid taillights offer defused LEDs for the brakes and bright LEDs for the turn signals. A tasteful chrome bezel cuts high across the K900’s standard powered rear deck lid, adding elegance and lending visual width. The standard power and heated rearview mirrors integrate auto dimming, LED turn signal indicators and Blind Spot Detection System (BSD) in a smooth, aerodynamic form that helps reduce wind noise. The rear bumper is accented with fully integrated, dual chrome-tipped exhaust ports that mimic the shape of the taillights.

INTERIOR

Open the door to the all-new K900 and the same sense of elegant sophistication can be found within the luxuriously appointed cabin. The three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel is substantial and features controls for audio, cruise control, entertainment and vehicle information. A heated wheel is available on the V6 and standard on the V8. Standard high-grade leather is found throughout the cabin on the V6, which can also be optioned with soft Nappa leather in black or white with contrasting piping. The V8 K900 arrives with standard Nappa leather. Soft-hue LED interior illumination is standard across the K900 line. Genuine walnut (with black Nappa leather) or poplar (with white Nappa leather) wood trim sweeps across the dash and door panels, beautifully complementing the richness of the interior and is available on the V6 and standard on the V8. A 12-way adjustable driver’s seat, including power lumbar support, is standard on both the V6 Premium and V8 Luxury models, and a 16-way power adjusted driver’s seat features power headrests and cushion extender for added thigh support as part of the V6 Technology Package and the V8 VIP Package. The front seats feature standard multi-stage heating and ventilation for individualized comfort in all climates.

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Checking out what’s new in Vegas at MGM Resorts

wine_amplified

Las Vegas is constantly evolving, and no one is more attuned to the necessity of making those changes than MGM Resorts International, the company behind such Vegas properties like Mandalay Bay, Aria and Bellagio. Two weeks ago, Bullz-Eye was invited to check out MGM’s latest hotel, the completely renovated Delano Las Vegas, and sample the accommodations, restaurants and nightlife that visitors can expect during their stay. But because there’s a lot more to what MGM Resorts is doing beyond the launch of the Delano to enhance its guest experience, we were invited back this past weekend to witness first-hand some of the newer additions that have helped transform Las Vegas into a destination that’s more about luxury than gambling.

In fact, MGM has seen a major shift over the last 10 to 15 years in how important things like food, entertainment, pools and nightclubs have become for the typical Vegas visitor, to the point that casino gaming now only makes up about 30% of its business. That’s a pretty remarkable statistic for a city where gambling used to be its bread and butter, but it just goes to show why MGM is striving to stay ahead of the curve in addressing the priorities of its guests, and they’ve done an amazing job so far. This may have been my first visit to Sin City, but after discovering all the cool things it has to offer, it definitely won’t be my last.

Day One

There’s nothing worse than air travel, especially when you’re forced to deal with unwanted layovers and delays, so by the time I finally arrived in Las Vegas and checked into my room at the hip and swanky Delano, the only thing on my mind was face-planting into the comfy hotel bed for a much-needed nap. But the folks at MGM had invited myself and three other travel writers joining me on the trip to an once-in-a-lifetime cognac dinner at Sage inside Aria, and it was an event not to be missed.

sage

In addition to a specially crafted five-course menu by Chef Shawn McClain, with Drappier champagne pairings chosen by Director of Wine Kim Wood, we sampled five different cognacs brought by special guest Benedict Hardy, the CEO of Hardy Cognac. Though the menu featured plenty of highlights, including a Fois Gras Custard Brulee, Kobe Skirt Steak Diane and Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta, the chance at tasting some high-end cognacs was a real delight, especially the pre-1870s unblended variation confidently called Perfection, a genuine antique that runs $25,000 bottle (or about $800 a glass), of which only 200 or so remain.

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