This Wednesday night, after 33 years on Late Night TV, David Letterman will say "so long" from the Ed Sullivan Theater. He will deliver one last monologue and give one final Top 10 list. So I thought I would make one of my own, on why Letterman was a pioneer in television:
10. Letterman started out as a local weatherman. Normally a talk show host would begin in comedy or broadcasting, not forecasting.
9. He went to the movies. Some talk show hosts only pretend to praise their movie star guests' films without actually seeing them. Letterman actually saw the movies that his guests came on to promote and seemed to enjoy sharing the best parts with them during their conversations.
8. He fought through every weak Top 10 list and shined during all the strong ones.
7. He was the Late Night symbol of New York City, especially following the events of 9/11.
6. That laugh.
5. He persevered through the whole Leno/"Tonight Show" controversy - coming out the other side a lot stronger than Conan O'Brien.
4. Letterman set the standard for what Fallon, Kimmel, Corden & Co. are doing now: the wild, unpredictable, wacky stunts.
3. Letterman and my pal, Regis Philbin, developed an incredible friendship - so playful and hilarious that every time these two got together it made for must-watch TV.
2. Another fantastic friend: Paul Shaffer. Dave admitted recently he still can't believe how talented Paul is, getting to hear his music every night.
And the Number One reason why David Letterman was pioneer on TV: He never tried to be anyone else, but rather stayed true to himself the entire time - from local weatherman to daytime, from NBC to CBS. And you can't top that!
“Pitch Perfect” only made $65 million back in 2012, but a cult “Girl Power” following along with the growth in popularity of stars Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson helped convince Universal that they were A Ca-ready for “Pitch Perfect 2”.
Elizabeth Banks, who reprises her role as A Cappella competition co-commentator Gail, also directs this sequel, which is bigger and slightly better than the original. Once again there are no huge laughs - but several entertaining song renditions, some solid performances and a few genuine surprises help “Pitch Perfect 2” avoid hitting the low notes.
After a performance for the President and Mrs. Obama goes horribly wrong, (the First Couple is actually shown more than once) the Barden University Bellas are suspended and face termination unless they can win the World A Cappella Championship, which no U.S. group has ever done. Among the teams they’ll have to defeat is the German group Das Sound Machine - easily the frontrunners for the title.
That’s pretty much the plot, and so, at just under two hours, “Pitch Perfect 2” is longer than it needed to be. A song battle featuring David Cross as emcee and members of the Green Bay Packers belting-out pop tunes, along with a Bellas bonding retreat (the perfect setting for some over-the-top antics from Wilson), are drawn-out and don’t advance the story much.
The strongest element of “PP2” is a subplot involving Beca (Kendrick) secretly interning at a recording studio. Keegan Michael Key puts a more grounded spin on the typical demanding music producer role (and has some of the film’s best lines). And a scene involving him, Kendrick and none other than Snoop Dogg, who’s in a booth working on his upcoming Christmas album, is my favorite of the entire movie.
Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”, “Ender’s Game”) is a nice addition to the cast as Emily, the newest Bella. Kendrick’s original song “Cups”, from the first film, became a pop hit. This time, it’s Steinfeld and Kendrick’s “Flashlight” that you’ll likely be hearing everywhere.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Pitch Perfect 2” gets a B-. In a summer packed with action films, this light and fun version of escapism is a nice alternative.
Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon and "Modern Family"'s Sofia Vergara team-up for the action comedy "Hot Pursuit". It's such a cliche considering the title, but this really is one hot mess.
Witherspoon, complete with an annoying southern accent, plays Cooper, a Texas police officer. She's a plucky, non-stop talker who hasn't been out in the field since she tazed (and set on fire) the son of a mayor over a wacky misunderstanding. But now she's been asked to escort the wife of a drug trial witness to Dallas so she can also testify.
Things get complicated fast when Cooper and a fellow officer arrive at the mansion of Mr. and Mrs. Riva and within minutes, two different sets of gunmen show-up and open fire. Cooper barely escapes with the loud and flamboyant Mrs. Riva (played by Vergara). They're now on the run - wanted by the bad guys and the bad cops. Will this unlikely pair make it to Dallas by morning without getting caught and killed? Of course, with a premise like this, it's not going to be easy.
"Hot Pursuit" is directed by "The Proposal"'s Anne Fletcher. I wasn't a huge fan of that 2009 rom-com, but I'd sit through it a couple more times before going anywhere near this film again. The first half does have a handful of random, chuckle-worthy one-liners. But then the over-the-top gags and goofy situations start piling-up, including a guy shooting-off his own finger and Witherspoon then giving a dog the Heimlich because she thought he swallowed it.
As terrible as that scene is, nothing comes close to the escapade on a senior citizen tour bus, which is so flat-out ridiculous that I'm stunned the writers thought people would actually find it entertaining. At least "Hot Pursuit" is only 87 minutes, though it would've simply been a half-hour sitcom pilot if not for all the tiresome, double-crossing/triple-crossing, "Let me explain" scenes.
Vergara can be very funny in small doses on TV, but here proves she can't handle a co-leading film role. As for Witherspoon, going from career-high work in "Wild" to an embarrassing role like this is a shame. However, she does provide the true gem of the film in the closing credits outtakes. She delivers a line, but that take can't be used because a crew member quickly tells her she has to check something. Witherspoon responds, "God, I was giving the performance of a lifetime" and sarcastically laughs out loud. I did the same thing.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hot Pursuit" gets a D.
Marvel’s superhero sequel “Avengers: Age of Ultron” kicks-off the Summer 2015 Movie Season. And while it’s sure to break box office records, this follow-up to 2012’s original is more grim and less entertaining on practically every level.
“Age of Ultron” begins promisingly with a solid action scene. Returning director Joss Whedon stages the mighty heroes coming together in slow-motion, with dramatic music behind them, to enhance the excitement. And we quickly learn that Ultron - Tony Stark’s secret defense system created assure world peace - will be the centerpiece of this story.
Ultron gets into enemy hands - and comes “alive” - in the form of a metal maniac. James Spader provides excellent voice work as the genuinely evil villain. His goal? First to destroy The Avengers, and then the entire human race. That’s the best Whedon and the writers could come-up with for this evil villain - to destroy the world? Also, Ultron isn’t given nearly enough to do in the story and his reasoning for all of the madness that ensues is never properly exposed.
“Age of Ultron” is a difficult film to actually enjoy. Whedon clearly set-out to make a different, darker film than the last - and maybe that’s also in reaction to last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”, which was just so much fun. Here, we get a lot of “mind games” and psychological mumbo-jumbo. I get enough of this stuff in dramas and documentaries. I want my Marvel Movies filled with gags and wisecracks and laughs and action scenes I’ve never seen before. You get none of that here.
There is a romance between Bruce Banner aka The Hulk aka Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow, so at least that’s something new. It’s Marvel’s version of “Beauty and the Beast”, a perfect marriage, now that they’re part of Disney.
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye actually gets the most screen time of any of the Avengers, and some new recruits join the team, including two who part of a very weak plot development. The overall story lacks compelling elements and includes practically no surprises. I kept waiting for that cool twist - and I’m still waiting.
This is the fifth film Robert Downey, Jr. has starred in as Iron Man, and you can tell, just as his Tony Stark is getting weary of having to save the world, Downey, Jr. is starting to get tired of playing this role. His signature, sarcastic one-liners are beginning to wear thin. And considering how “Age of Ultron” ends, don’t be surprised if his screen time decreases for future “Avengers” installments, including next one, teased with a brief clip during the closing credits.
Thankfully, the visual effects are stellar - probably the best of any Marvel movie ever. Several of the action scenes, including a Hulk-sized Iron Man fighting the green guy himself, are worthy of the franchise, but the grand finale is unspectacular and a major letdown.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" gets a C+.
Just as "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" explored the unusual concept of someone aging in reverse, a new cinematic fable, "The Age of Adaline", centers around another unique variation of the aging process - or more specifically - the non-aging process.
Blake Lively, in her first film in nearly three years, delivers a standout performance as Adaline Bowman. Born in San Francisco on New Year's Day, 1908, Adaline lives a normal life until, in 1935, while driving on a rare cold night, she's involved in a car accident and ends-up underwater in a river. Unconscious and close to death, a bolt of lightnight strikes the car, bringing Adaline back to life.
But the incident also gives her an amazing power: from that moment on she would never age another day. And she spends her life avoiding the police, hospitals, and having her photo taken, so that her identity won't be discovered and she won't become a medical test subject. After spending the next eight decades traveling the world, constantly changing her name and avoiding relationships, she returns to San Fran to be near her daughter, who's now a senior citizen. But on New Year's Eve, Adaline meets a man who will change the course of her life once again.
"The Age of Adaline" is a delicate film with an effective story. The pacing is purposely slow - but at no time do you lose interest. I was invested in this character and her complicated and quite sad situation from the start. And there are some emotional scenes involving Lively and her latest in a long line of cocker spaniels, her daughter (played by Ellen Burstyn), new boyfriend (Michiel Huisman) and his father (the incomparable Harrison Ford).
Some scientific reasoning for Adaline's immortal existence is presented to us through on-again, off-again narration, though not in a loud or distracting way. And while all of the plot elements don't make perfect sense, this is one of those films where it's best to just go with it and enjoy the results.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Age of Adaline" gets a B.