Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Pain and Gain" - Review

“Pain and Gain” - Review

“Pain & Gain” is a true story dark comedy action film based on a series of Miami New Times articles on the kidnapping, brutal torture, extortion and the murder of several victims by body builders Daniel Lugo, Paul Doyle (renamed in the movie) and Adrian Doorbal who were referred to as  the "Sun Gym Gang."

Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) was a regular bodybuilder who worked at the Sun Gym along with friend Adrian (Anthony Mackie). Both are tired of living a poor life existence, so Lugo concocts a plan to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a rich, arrogant local businessman and a regular at the gym with the idea of extorting his money by torturing him over several days until he signs over all of his assets to the gang.

 With the help of recently released criminal Paul (Dwayne Johnson), the "Sun Gym Gang" successfully gets Kershaw to sign over all his finances. But when Kershaw survives an attempted murder by the gang, he hires a private investigator named Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris) to catch the criminals after the Miami Police Department dismisses his claims as meaningless; fabricated at worse.

So what is my review? Speechless is my review; I was left speechless as to what I had just witness for the 2 hour running time. On one hand it could have been the dumbest movie I had ever seen or the maybe the most amazing unbelievable true story about dumb people I had ever seen.

At its core this is a story about 3 steroid induced Neanderthal morons, who put in motion a stupid idea that they actually believe is brilliant under the guidance of film Director Michael Bay who strategically and correctly bathes the entire film in perpetual comic relief. But the prevailing question here was the film any good? Not enough for me to say to see it in the theater, but still good enough of a recommendation for you to eventually rent when it becomes available.

This is not a bad film, just a hard film to watch about what unbridled pristine stupidity looks like in its purest form that also managed to creatively provide several scenes (mostly involving actor Dwayne Johnson) that had me rolling out of my chair in laughter.

In the end, “Pain and Gain” from each scene to the next left me to ponder reflectively how this could have ever actually happened on this planet earth in any life time. And yet it did.

2 – 3/4 Stars

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Mud" - Review

“Mud” – Review

You know what happens when you tell a story devoid of any vestige of cell phones, computers or casual living in opulent palatial homes? You know what happens when put in its place are beautiful vistas of quiet natural unspoiled backdrops with tall trees and slow moving large bodies of water? You know what happens when the people in that story are uniformly unpretentious, look neatly un-kept and care only about the work they do to provide for their families? You know what happen when at the end of each day the only thing they care about is having that special someone to love and be loved in return? Well you will have a fabulously well crafted, well acted and beautiful looking film called “Mud”.

"Mud" on its surface is a an adventure story about two teenage boys named  Ellis and his friend Neckbone, who find a mysterious man obviously hiding out on a small river locked island on the Mississippi River named Mud (Matthew McConaughey).

“Mud” openly describes to the two boys a fantastic story about how he killed a man in Texas for the love of his life named “Juniper” (Reese Witherspoon) who is waiting for him in town and who he plans on meeting to eventually escape with just as soon as he can repair an old abandon boat he found after a recent flood.

The boys while skeptical about the honesty of his tall tale are yet still intrigued by him and agree to help him in his plans.

While the adventure is the obvious aspect to this movie, the real subplot of this film is about men. Men at the various stages of their emotional lives in the ways they try to secure and maintain love; how they process when love is the biggest truth in their lives and when love becomes the biggest lie.

Men, all men want to be loved, but their sometime impulsive nature to try and control things unintentionally get in the way. So through trial and error, reciprocated or unrequited, with ebb and flow; successes and failures, all men no matter what their ages are eventually learn that love “is a hell of thing, a hell of thing”.

"Mud' is a must see film.

4 - Stars

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Oblivion" - Review

“Oblivion“– Review

“Oblivion” takes place in the not so distant future where the earth is largely devoid of any life. Its landscape is a meld of the Grand Canyon and the Mohave – Sierra Deserts cleverly and imaginatively dotted with iconic man made structures (bridges, stadiums, memorials) and vistas from our past to provide subtle context to the story’s place and time.

The central plot revolves Jack Harper (Cruise) a combination pilot – drone repairmen temporarily stationed on Earth as part of a massive operation to extract vital resources to take to the Saturn moon Titan where humans have relocated after decades of war from an invading terrifying threat known as the Scavs. Jack's mission along with Victoria his cohabitating team member navigator is coming close to completion.

After another routine patrol Jack’s existence and mission changes when he investigates a crashed ship where he discovers it contains a beautiful stranger that he rescues from the lurking Scavs. It is the woman’s arrival to earth that triggers a chain of events that compels Jack to question everything he knows to be true about his mission on earth and his eventual potential fate on Titan.

“Oblivion” literally pays homage to every single great science fiction film there has been for the past 40 years (trust me you will see them all) with the first hour of the film from an acting and story telling point of view being very sharp and easy to follow
with ariel flying scenes captivating and technically crisp.

HOWEVER, similar to the nose dive flying maneuvers Jack performs off his lofty platform home in a hybrid helicopter – jet fighter, so does Oblivion ‘s plot by getting overly, overly complicated with an ending that may have you saying “huh?

Basically as the story starts to reveal more and more about who was who and what was what I started to care less and less about who was who and what was what.

Still, “Oblivion” (in IMAX) for the most part held my attention and nourished my always insatiable appetite for inventive smart science fiction films.

3 – Stars  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Trance" - Review

“Trance” – Review
“Trance” (Rated R) is about a Londoner art auctioneer named Simon (James McAvoy) who consorts with a underworld boss named Franck (Vincent Cassel of “Mesrine”) and his gang on an audacious plot to steal a masterpiece painting by artist Goya from a major public auction. When it appears at the last moment during the robbery Simon may have double-crossed everyone, Frank angrily knocks Simon unconscious, rendering him in real trauma – maybe.  Or is it that Simon is unwillingly, stubbornly or absolutely shrewd in his absence of any memory as to where he has stashed the stolen artwork. That is the prevailing question.
After beating and torturing Simon for hours in hopes to coercing from him the painting's location Frank reluctantly concludes that maybe a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) can get Simon to talk in a deepen mental state. But Elizabeth also shrewdly discovers who the gang is and insists on a piece of the stolen arts $25 million dollar value once she helps Simon reveal its hidden location.
This sounds good doesn’t it? The plot, the cast (characters) and screenplay seemly should of worked well together to make for an exhilarating highbrow psychological thrilling ride, but it doesn’t.
Should someone invite you to dinner for a meal on one plate of cake, pizza and steak that while they all may taste good separately, it does not mean they all work well together at the same time.
“Trance” tries way too hard to be smarter than the story requires. Instead it felt more like a movie ‘Goulash’ stew of needless violence, a way too intricate and contrived subplot and an abnormally stylish jumbling screenplay.
2 – 1/2 Stars

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"42" - Review

“42” – Review

“Capraesque” means a style of movie making better known from the early years of Hollywood developed by famed Director Frank Capra, where he uniquely told stories that focused singularly on the courage of the lead character, their positive effects on the greater good and ultimately the triumph of the underdog. Such is the style of story in the Jackie Robinson film “42”.

We all know the basic history and impact of Jackie Robinson of being the first Black man to break the color barrier in American baseball and in that respect “42” delivers. It also does a good job in reintroducing and showcasing viewers to this iconic American’s courage and mental strength as a player, his love and devotion to his adoring and supportive confidant wife and the unique passion and compassion of visionary Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey.

And while “42” manages to deliver all of these entertaining virtues through out the film, including a very pristine and wholesome cinematic backdrop to this story  with hardly any false steps in it’s pacing, in the end I didn’t learn anything new.about Jackie Robinson that isn’t part of general knowledge already.

What could have been a much more revealing film was some time telling how Jackie Robinson the man’s early life was forged to bring him to the pivotal moment of him meeting Branch Rickey. Instead the film spends most of it’s two hours on just two years where he played minor league baseball as part of his eventual transitioning to that fist season in the major leagues and of course into the history books.

I am still curious as to how his sense of abandonment by his father he never knew affected him? How growing up in segregated Cairo, Georgia as a teenager in the early 1930s molded him? What was the catalyst that drew him to sports and baseball to get an education as a stellar athlete for 4 years at UCLA? How he met his wife? What were their personal thoughts on those many nights alone at home not knowing would Jackie be harmed by someone? What was the Black community’s role who came to games faithfully providing Jackie the moral support and courage by cheering him on to succeed while also enduring the same threatening insults and racial taunts?

“42” is absolutely worth seeing, but when I was leaving the theater I immediately knew that I would have my many probative questions explored, thoroughly examined and ultimately answered by famed historic film Director Ken Burns who plans to tell his “Jackie Robinson” story for PBS in 2015.

3 – 1/2 Stars  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

“The Place Beyond the Pines” – Review

“The Place Beyond the Pines” – Review

“The Place Beyond the Pines” (translation is “Schenectady) is a well paced and superbly crafted film that feels more theatrical than movie in its structure and it is cleverly broken into a 3 part trilogy where it delves head on into the human consequences of when moral and immoral decisions are made.

Ryan Gosling plays a traveling carnival motorcycle rider named Luke's who early on discovers he has a son from a casual relationship a year ago. With no meaningful employable skills to speak of Luke decides to naively commit a series of crimes in the hopes of financially supporting his child and also maybe recapturing the love of his former girlfriend Romina

Romina (Eva Mendes) has physically, but not necessarily emotionally moved on to a new committed relationship. But it is from Luke’s ill-advised criminal activities that the film’s central plot ensues and examines how it affected two generations with perilous consequences involving both a young police office named Avery (Bradley Cooper) and eventually 15 years later impacting Avery’s and Luke’s teenage sons as well.

With 2 plus hours of running time (with the 3rd trilogy being the less dynamic of the stories), “Pines” manages very well to tautly hold on throughout the film its cinematic haunting style, mood and tone. But its real strength is in the way the Director is not afraid for all of the films characters to be emotionally dangerous to each other. To show genuine human despair and conflict, human corruption and redemption; to feel human dread and helplessness and in the very end pose the question are we preordained at birth to a certain legacy or is life just a compilation of random and instinctive responses and judgment to ups and downs; ad hocking our way to solutions through years of sometimes fateful intersections and roadblocks.

I love this film immensely because it has a brave heart at its core and does its powerful story telling without an unflinching uncompromising eye. Not once ever giving us any one character to have sympathy for. Not once making us feel a bit comfortable as to where the story may be taking us or maybe not going at all.

Strong performances from Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes (her best work yet), Ray Liotta and Bradley Cooper who shows here his Silver Linings Playbook effort was no fluke. Bradley has real heavy weight acting skills on display in “Pines” that I am absolutely certain will have him on the big screen as a star for many years to come.

4 - Stars

Friday, April 5, 2013

Favorite Bank Robbery – Heist Films

Favorite Bank Robbery – Heist Films

  1. 2 Days In the Valley
  2. A Fish Called Wanda
  3. Bandits
  4. Batman: The Dark Knight
  5. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
  6. Bonnie and Clyde
  7. Bound
  8. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
  9. Croupier
  10. Die Hard
  11. Die Hard: With a Vengeance
  12. Dog Day Afternoon
  13. Goodfellas                               
  14. Heat
  15. House of Games
  16. Inside Man
  17. Jackie Brown
  18. Layer Cake
  19. Mesrine: Part 1 - Killer Instinct
  20. Mesrine: Part 2 -  Public Enemy No.1
  21. No Country For Old Men
  22. Oceans 11 – (Clooney’s Crew)
  23. Oceans 12
  24. Out of Sight
  25. Payback
  26. Point Break
  27. Public Enemies
  28. Reservoir Dogs
  29. Ronin
  30. Run Lola Run
  31. Snatch
  32. The Bank Job
  33. The Getaway
  34. The Grifters
  35. The Ice Harvest
  36. The Italian Job
  37. The Long Riders
  38. The Lookout
  39. The Score
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. The Sting
  42. The Thomas Crown Affair  (1999 & 1968)
  43. The Town
  44. The Way of The Gun
  45. The Wild Bunch
  46. Thief
  47. Three Kings
  48. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
  49. True Romance
  50. Usual Suspects

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Classic African American Films


Over the weekend someone asked me, what were some of my favorite African American themed films?

I had to pause for a moment to reflect upon the question, largely because my cinematic film interest, taste and preference has always been predicated on seeking out quality films with only the more pedestrian considerations in mind such as overall plot interest, film reviews, success and track record of the director, actors involved and so on.

Still I could not separate myself from my friend’s question mostly because I believe the American film industry has done a lot (some bad and some good) in shaping how people, cultures, groups and organizations view each other through the prism of movies to wide audiences.

So, with that in mind I took the time to list those films that I have personally watched over the many years that I believe are top quality films which reflect uniquely on the African American experience. These stories are told through the typical formats of fiction and truth, historical, comedy, documentaries and drama, but ultimately in the end it is a list that I believe is a compilation of genuinely quality films that should then and now have broad appeal to all audiences.

Now I am certain I will leave off some films of the more popular and recent variety so I apologize in advance for their omission. However what I tried to do here is list those films that reflect on the broadest of human themes without any regard to it being 100% exclusive to ethnicity and or the directors and actors involved. At the same time I did try to list those films where the African American experience is still ever present in the film’s plot whether it was a glaringly obvious or far more subtle to the viewer.

Make sense?

So here they are and in no particular order of my preference: 

  1. A Patch of Blue – 1965
  2. A Raising in The Sun  - 1961
  3. A Soldier’s Story – 1984
  4. Ali – 2001
  5. Amistad – 1997
  6. Antwone Fisher - 2002
  7. Barbershop - 2002
  8. Blazing Saddles - 1974
  9. Boomerang – 1992
  10. Boyz N the Hood – 1991
  11. Buck and the Preacher - 1972
  12. Car Wash – 1976
  13. Carmen Jones - 1954
  14. City of God – (Mix of Brazilian - African Culture) - 2002
  15. Claudine – 1974
  16. Coming to America - 1988
  17. Cooley High - 2004
  18. Cry Freedom – 1987
  19. Django Unchained – 2012
  20. Do the Right Thing -1989
  21. Dream Girls – 2006
  22. Eve’s Bayou – 1997
  23. Friday - 1995
  24. Get on the Bus – 1996
  25. Glory - 1989
  26. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner - 1967
  27. Hollywood Shuffle – 1987
  28. Hoop Dreams – (Documentary) – 1994
  29. Hotel Rwanda - 2004
  30. Hustle and  Flow - 2005
  31. I’m Gonna Get You Sucka - 1988
  32. Imitations of Life -1959
  33. In the Heat of the Night - 1967
  34. Lady Sings The Blues - 1972
  35. Lean on Me – 1989
  36. Lilies of The Field – 1963
  37. Lincoln – 2012
  38. Malcolm X – 1992
  39. Menace II Society – 1993
  40. Mo Better Blues – 1990
  41. One False Move – 1992
  42. Precious - 2009
  43. Purple Rain – 1984
  44. Ragtime – 1981
  45. Ray – 2004
  46. Round Midnight – 1986
  47. Shaft – 1971
  48. She’s Gotta Have It – 1986
  49. Soul Food - 1997
  50. Sounder - 1972
  51. Superfly - 1972
  52. The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings - 1976
  53. The Brother From Another Planet – 1984
  54. The Color of Purple - 1985
  55. The Defiant Ones – 1958
  56. The Great White Hope – 1970
  57. The Help – 2011
  58. The Hurricane - 1999
  59. The Learning Tree – 1969
  60. The Nutty Professor – 1996
  61. The Preacher’s Wife – 1996
  62. To Kill a Mockingbird – 1962
  63. To Sir With Love – 1967
  64. Trading Places – 1983
  65. Training Day – 2001
  66. Uptown Saturday Night – 1974
  67. Watermelon Man – 1970
  68. What’s Love Got To Do With It – 1993
  69. When We Were Kings – Documentary - 1996
  70. Zulu – 1964
  71. Tropic Thunder - 2008
  72. White Men Can't Jump - 1992
  73. Men of Honor - 2000
  74. A Soldier's Story - 1984
  75. Stormy Weather -1943
  76. The Cotton Club - 1984
  77. The Last King of Scotland - 2006