Friday, January 01, 2016

MAINSTREAM & INDIE FILMS TO SEE IN 2016 reviews & interviews by Gerald Wright

MORE FILM REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS BY GERALD WRIGHT GO TO: FILMSHOWCASE.WEBS.COM






HACKSAW RIDGE
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Running time: 138 minutes
Release date: November 4, 2016
Genre: Drama, War, and Biography
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
MPAA Rating: R

This film is about Desmond Doss, an American pacifist combat medic who became the only conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II.  The biopic stars Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, with Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Richard Pyros, and Rachel Griffiths.

Young siblings Desmond and Harold "Hal" Doss (Nathaniel Buzolic) reside in the rural hills of Lynchburg, Virginia with their relgious mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) and father Tom (Hugo Weaving), who is an abrasive hard-drinking man haunted by his World War I service and the subsequent loss of his childhood friends.  One day, young Desmond and Hal are fighting in the yard when Desmond, overwhelmingly losing his temper, picks up a brick and strikes his brother Hal in the head, rendering him unconscious.  This traumatizing experience, along with a talk with his mother, firmly reinforces his belief in the Sixth Commandment of the Old Testament.

This backstory structuring magnifies the plot of this epic and historical costume period-piece drama that covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop.

The story progresses swiftly to a young adult Desmond where he takes to heart donating time to hospital work and is smitten with a nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer).  This is his involvement to his dedication to the medical field (later as a military medic), and his falling in love with Dorothy.  The biopic moves on to the outbreak of World War II and he and his brother Hal's enlistment in the Army, which upsets their parents. Because of Desmond's beliefs as a conscientious objector, he intends to serve as a medic. Before his deployment, he and Dorothy marry.

In a character and plot-driven presentation for the first part of this film, the tone is transformed to an action war drama, set in the heat of battle of World War II.  As Desmond refuses to carry or use a weapon and commits to the Seventh-day Adventist (Saturday as day of Sabbath), has problems under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) as his immediate superiors Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) fail to get Doss discharged for psychiatric reasons.

This latter part of the film is filled with the acknowledgement of the horror and heartbreak of war, letting the actual combat fighting on land, sea, and air provide the primary plot and background for the action of the film.  The setting was enhanced on screen replicating Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of World War II where Desmond saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun.  It was not so much of the outstanding acting of the cast, but it was the the elaborate production action adventure elements staging this heroic figure, accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, dramatic scope, and high production values.

The true life situations and stories involving intense character development and interaction provided the most impact for the screen. The graphic special effects battle and hand-to-hand combat scenes added the highly overtone for this formidable film.

This is a riveting film depicting a person of high honors.

FILM RATING (B)

    

KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?
Directed by: Leslie Small and Tim Story
Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes
Release date: October 14, 2016
Genre: Documentary and Comedy
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

Actor/Comedian Kevin Hart performs in front of a crowd of 50,000 plus people at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field outdoor venue.  He is executive producer and co-writer on the script.

However, before the camera brings the viewer to the stand-up venue, a 007 Bond spy scenario is introduced, giving Kevin Hart the tag of Agent 0054 and Hallie Berry as his co-operative in a spy spoof.  In addition, the cast includes Don Cheadle as a card-playing advisory, with David Meunier, Ashi Dowling, Dennis Keiffer as a Man In Black character, Jeff Bauman as a Pit Boss in a Casino Royale location, and Richardson Jones as Bernard.  The spy spoof is meticulously funny giving Kevin Hart and Hallie Berry a platform to produce humor, as they share good chemistry on screen. Yet, returning to his hometown of Philadelphia for the setting and backdrop, the movie is really Kevin Hart's vehicle for absurdity galore.

As the narrative interweaves into a stand-up comedy documentary, Kevin Hart gives an hour's worth of non-stop, gut-grabbing comic relief.  This is the funniest comedy stand-up film since The Original Kings of Comedy (2000) starring Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and the late Bernie Mac.  

Of course some of the language is subject to adult themes due to sex related humor and profanity, but the backstage atmosphere and audience participation draws you right into the venue.  Kevin Hart is at the top of his game with several euphoric jokes and skits that keeps the audiences, both in the viewing theater and the actual venue, in stitches.

This is a total hour and a half of hilarious escapism and fun.

FILM RATING (B+)


   
DEEPWATER HORIZON
Directed by: Peter Berg
Running time: 107 mins.
Release date: September 30, 2016
Genre: Drama, Action, Thriller, Biography, and Adaptation
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Based on the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, that killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in American history, is a biopic adaptation of the 2014 documentary The Great Invisible and an adaptation of the New York Times article.  

Lined with a cast starring Mark Walhlberg as Mike Williams, Kurt Russell as Jimmy Harrell, John Malkovich as Mr. Vidrine, Gina Rodriguez as Andrea Fleytas, Dylan O'Brien as Caleb Holloway, and Kate Hudson as Mike Williams' wife, gives a celebrity talented action packed version and a "Hollywood" account of the executives, survivors, and Gulf Coast residents who experienced this catastrophe as the survivors awaited rescue.

The chronicle of courage of those who worked on the oil rig brings to life the extreme moments of life threatening danger, moments of bravery, and survival in the face of what would become one of the biggest man-made disasters in world history.

This plot and character driven presentation cover a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop.  The story shares elements of the elaborate adventure tone and adds heroic figures, extravagant setting, accompanied by spectacle, dramatic scope, and high production values.

Deepwater Horizon's edgy intensity is frequently displayed on screen.  The performances are a non-stop thrilling occurrence, and the suspense promotes intense excitement, a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety, and nerve-wracking tension.  The character interaction and development is brilliantly portrayed.

Although this is a "Hollywood" account of this true story, this epic version is a solid social drama whose central struggle is between champions of survival, a problem of unjustified greed, and a tragedy in society that should never be forgotten.

FILM RATING (B)



SULLY
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Release date: September 9, 2016
Genre: Drama, Biography, and Adaptation
Distributor: Warner Brothers
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Acclaimed actor and director Clint Eastwood tells the untold story behind the miracle on the Hudson.  The story behind of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flight 155 crew and passengers.

Academy Award winner Tom Hanks portrays Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger and Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles his co-pilot.  This is a look at the event that took place on Thursday, January 15th, 2009 the "Miracle on the Hudson" when Captain Chesley Sullenger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River saving the lives of all 155 aboard and aftemath investigation.

The substance of the film relies heavily on Sully, portrayed by Tom Hanks with realism, as he is being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill.  As an investigation unfolds as to his procedure being correct or not, it threatens his resputation and his career.

The character study is a serious plot driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations involving intense character development and ineractions.

Much of the historical content is dramatized and it covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop.  It is a historical event that adds an extravagant setting, accompanied by grandeur and spectacular, dramatic scope, and high production values.

This depiction of Sully's life and the situation of "The Miracle on the Hudson" presents an important historical personage (and group) from the past and present era.  Yet, the film offers a social drama, stories whose central struggle is between a champion/hero and a problem or injustice in society.  Sully has a personal stake in the outcome of the struggle.

Sully is a highly moving and emotional biopic.

FILM RATING (B+)


HELL OR HIGH WATER
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes
Release date: August 12, 2016
Genre: Drama, Western, and Crime
Distributor: CBS Films
MPAA Rating: R

Screenplay writer Taylor Sheridan is credited for crafting a contemporary American western story, merging the exploits of the 19th and early 20th century western bank robbery traditions meeting the new 21st century's crime wave.

Chris Pines (Star Trek Beyond) as Toby and Ben Foster (The Finest Hours)as Tanner portray ying and yang attitude brothers who decide the bank that holds the threatening mortgage over their family property, is their enemy.  In a clever, yet ruthless plan the two men rob small town banks in their locale and deposit their laundered spoils back into the threatening mortgaging bank to pay off the outstanding debt hovering over their family property.

The setting is of small town values and the tone is of brotherhood loyalty.  However, with the drama developed around the sinister actions of criminals, particularly bank robbers and hoodlums, the good-guy must solve the crimes and bring them to justice.  This person is played by Jeff Bridges, as the soon to retire Sheriff Marcus.  His grisly demeanor is of a methodic lawman, who always gets his man.  In this case, the bank robbing brothers are always one step ahead of him, and this disturbs him.

This cat and mouse scenario is perfectly paced with sometime adventurous two-dimensional good guys against bad guys scenes exerting non-stop motion and spectacular rhythm of high energy shoot-outs and explosive escapes. 

In a highly intense cat and mouse crime drama set in a present-day western genre, Hell or High Water is a serious plot-driven presentation. The character interaction and engagement is brilliantly portrayed by some of the finest performances of 2016. Along with supporting cast members Katy Mixon, Melanie Papalia, Dale Dickey, and Marin Ireland the cohesive ensemble brings an outstanding plot to screen.

This is an edge of your seat film that will be acknowledged at "Oscar Time".

FILM RATING (A)      



OUR KIND OF TRAITOR
Directed by: Susanna White
Running time: 107 mins.
Release date: July 1, 2016
Genre: Drama, Thriller, and Adaptation
Distributor: Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions
MPAA Rating: R

From the desk of author/novelist John le Carre', who is well known for his book "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" and the recent TV adaptation of "The Night Manager", comes an edgy espionage cinematic thriller period piece.

In the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and with Britain on the brink of economic ruin, a young English couple on a holiday attempting to resolve the marital woes in a tropical locale meet an amiable Russian family.   Perry Makepiece (Ewan McGregor), an Oxford professor, and his barrister wife Gail (Naomie Harris) leave their London home to vacation and meet Russia born and bred Dimitri "Dima" (Stellan Skarsgard) and his family.  Dima and his family embrace the Makepiece clan, and soon they become very close friends.  At Dima's request, Perry conveys a message to MI6 in England that Dima wishes to defect, and on arrival home, Perry and Gail receive a summons from MI6 to a debriefing.  

The debriefing turns up information that Dima is a Russian money launderer, on the global scale of finances unbalancing world economics.  The stage is set for cloak and dagger scenarios as this serious plot driven production ignites a suspenseful tone.

Stellan Skarsgard's Dima character is a likable Russian criminal, who ties to ruthless Soviet hoodlums runs deep.  What he knows about the illegal operations, is critical to the mobsters all over the world.  Perry and Gail, played by Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris, have great chemistry on screen, as they maneuver through their marital problems, yet engage Dima and his family as good friends in assisting their escape from the Soviet Union to England. 

The main story of espionage involving intense character development and interaction moves with a strong determination of conviction.  It promotes a high level of anticipation, suspense, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety, and nerve-wracking tension as the defection to the U.K. is a daring and dangerous life threatening escape.

The hard-boiled adventures and challenges in the cold and methodical pursuit of the criminal intent and the solution, makes Our Kind Of Traitor a formidable thriller.

FILM RATING (B)

    
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Running time: 2hrs. 24 mins. in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D
Release date: May 20, 2016
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Adaptation, and Sequel
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In this ninth installment of the X-Men film series, based on the Marvel Comics characters of the same name, this film stars an ensemble cast, led by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Oliver Munn, Lucas Till, and Hugh Jackman.

This episode is the story of the ancient mutant Apocalypse awakens, and plans to cleanse the human race and take over the world, leading the X-Men to try to stop him and defeat his team, the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse.  In this case, the use of new recruit X-Men (students) are added to the team.

The plot starts with En Sabah/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), a powerful mutant believed to be the first of his kind, rules ancient Egypt until he is betrayed by his worshippers, who entomb him alive and is awakened centuries later in 1983.  He is agree, and believes humanity has lost its way without his presence.  He decides to destroy the world and remake it.  He recruits a fight club member, Angel (Ben Hardy), who possesses a pair of large feathered wings on his back that Apocalypse turns into metal, to enhance his powers.  He also, recruits a pick-pocket from Cairo named Orono Munroe/Storm (Alexander Sipp), who can control weather, and maximizes his abilities.  Meanwhile, at this time mutant Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) recruits another fight member, Night Crawler aka Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee) for her purposes of stopping Apocalypse, as informs Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), leader of the X-Men and the Westchester, NY Mutant School, of the impending issues.

Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, a mutant who controls magnetic fields and manipulates metal becomes one of Apocalypse's horsemen, known as War.  He becomes involved with the evil-doers because of the death of his wife and daughter by paranoid humans when his true indentity is discovered, as he was disguised as a human in prior years.  Olivia Munn plays Psylocke/Pestilence another horseman, with the power of projecting a purple energy blade that can burn through metal.

As the sides of good against evil is chosen, the science-fiction plot thickens with the concern of the end of civilization due to the potentially existential catastrope of nuclear warfare, pandemic, and cybernetic revolt.  The time-frame is a essential tone for the film because it focuses on the travails and pyschology of survivors and the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten.  However, the super heroes with strong moral codes, including the willingnesss to risk one's own safety in service of good without expectation of reward, exert their motivations as a sense of responsibility.

The action in this film is projected in how the heroes are thrust into a series of challenges that typically include physical feats, extended fights scenes, violence, and frantic chases.  CGI and other visual effects such as the use of computer animations create additional action sequences forming unrealistic and highly unbelievable events (all for audience enthusiasm).  

The important impact feature generated is the open conflict that relies on the suspense of a struggle in which the heroes, through perhaps a fight against all odds, is not doomed.  Even with a cameo sequence of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine adds hope in defying the evil-doers.  It foreshadows in the form of ominous hints and symbolic hints, and conditions the audience to expect certain logical developments.  The dramatic irony is the fulfillment of a plan, action, and expectation in a surprising way, opposite of what is intended.

This is a lengthy, yet captivating film that doesn't feel like two and a half hours.  Each celebrity cast member gets substantial screen time and dialogue - and uses it.  It is truly an eye-candy experience and a fun film to watch.

FILM RATING (B+)



THE ANGRY BIRDS
Directed by: Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly
Running time: 97 mins.
Release Date: May 20, 2016
Genre: Animation, Action, Comedy, and Family
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG

In a film using 2D and 3D formatting, the question of why the birds so angry, is answered.

The movie's setting is an island where flightless birds live in a happy atmosphere.  They all worship the Mighty Eagle (voice of Peter Dinklage), as their leader and savior.  That's everyone except for,  Red (voice of Jason Sudeikis), a bird with a temper problem and a natural distrust for everyone. This problem lands him in the legal court of Judge Peckinpah (voice of Keenan-Michael Key) and resolves with a anger management sentence for Red.  At the sessions, led by Matilda (voice of Maya Rudolph), Red meets fellow patients, speedy Chuck (voice of Josh Gad) and the volatile Bomb (voice of Danny McBride), who have always been outsiders.

When an invasion of pigs land on the bird's pleasure island in space-like aircrafts, the amiable birds welcome them.  However, Red is leary of the motivations of the invaders.  With misadventures of chaotic events, the fast pace adventure takes off on an active visual ride the young audience can enjoy.  The humor, at times crude, is somewhat worthless and really can't engage an audience.  However the upbeat popular musical score throughout the film keeps the plot intact for the most part.

With an all-star supporting cast for comedic value of Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Tony Hale,Tituss Burgess, and Ike Barinholtz the film offers enough 'eye candy' to engage a young audience, but does not apply any logic to the narrative.

FILM RATING (C+)



SUNSET SONG
Directed by: Terence Davies
Running time: 135 mins.
Release date: May 13, 2016
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age, and Adaptation
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

This is a brilliant film adaptation based on Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon's, A Scot's Quair: Sunset Song Triology.  It's a Scottish tale set in the beginning of the 20th century, seen and told through the eyes of a young woman Chris, from a dysfunctional Guthrie family in a rural Scotland farming community.

The film opens in 1910, as Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) is shown as a highly diligent academic student, preparing her life for higher education and aspiring to be a teacher.  However, she must revert to a home of sexual dominance between her middle-age mother Jean (Daniela Nardini), who is saddled with four children (two young twins, older brother Will, and Chris), and a physically abusive father John (Peter Mullan).  When John impregnates a reluctant Jean once again, and forces the family into dire economic conditions putting undesirable strains on the family with another child, Chris' academic outlook is hampered.  Meanwhile, the oldest of the siblings, Will (Jack Greenlees), wants to set out on his own and start his own family.  However, Will must endure harsh and brutal attacks from his father, who wants to maintain a unhealthy dominance over his family.

Giving a brilliant and formidable performance as Chris, Agyness Deyn masterfully captures a young woman faced with a choice between her harsh farming life and the seductive but distant world of books and learning.  When her mother kills her unwanted new born child and commits suicide, Chris eventually decides to remain in her rural community, bound to her intense land of the land.  This toll is more than she expects as her widowed abusive father dies from a stroke and a questionable sexual pursuit against his own daughter.  When Will leaves home, it is only Chris left to tend to the family farm.

This is a serious plot-driven period piece drama, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  It describes the life of Chris Guthrie, a woman from the north east of Scotland during the early 20th century.  In Sunset Song, Chris grows up in a farming family in the fictional Estate of Kinraddie in "The Mearns".

The film follows Chris as she adapts to her new world, displaying an intuitive strength, which, like the land which she loves, endures despite everything.  Life is hard, and she finds comfort in a young man Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie), and she marries him.  He becomes Chris' partner in the land, and they have a child.  The intervention of the first World War leaves her choices in tatters.  A reluctant Ewan goes off to war and *(spoiler alert)* returns a deserter to face a firing squad.

Adapting a brilliant novel to screen is not an easy transformation, but screenplay writer and director Terence Davies masters this feat. Sunset Song, is shocking, yet mesmerizing, emotionally impacting, and heartbreaking.  


FILM RATING (A+)

   

MOTHER'S DAY
Directed by: Garry Marshall
Running time: 118 mins.
Release date: April 29, 2016
Genre: Drama and Comedy
Distributor: Open Road
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In the tradition to the beloved holiday-themed hits Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, legendary filmmaker Garry Marshall directs an all-star cast in Mother's Day, an endearing romantic comedy about everyone's first love.

Jennifer Anniston, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, and Britt Robertson are the lead stars in the interwoven stories about a group of women with one thing in common - mothers.  Expectant mothers, single moms, stepmothers, gay moms, estranged mothers, long-lost moms and mothers of all kinds get their due in an emotional tribute to the tie that can't be broken.  In the week before the one day of the year when Mom comes first, the lies of a group of strong, loving and wildly imperfect women, from a divorced mother dealing with her kids' new stepmom to a young mother trying to find her own birth mother, provide an emotional and humorous reminder that every mother is her own kind of hero.  As Mother's Day approaches, each of them is about to prove the power of the maternal bond in sweet, smart, sassy, and sexy celebration of mother's everywhere.

The various plots are lighted-hearted consistently and deliberately designed to amuse and provoke laughter by often exaggerating the situations, the language, action, relationships, and characters.  Yet, as the narrative offers a dramatic source and projects a multi-plot presentation, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  It also adds a formulated romantic theme filled (with mis-matched lovers and female relationships), tear-jerking, and issues about family crises and emotional carthasis and female bonding situations involving families, mothers, daughters, and children.

Mother's Day also stars Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondro, Jack Whitehall, Aasif Mandvi, Sarah Chalke, Margo Martindale, and Shay Mitchell who support this production.

However, this being a great memorial and acknowledgement to the matriarchs of the world, Garry Marshall's directorial style gives this multi-character dramedy a low caliber situation sitcom tone not suitable for the silver screen.  The overall structure compiled from each story is too formulaic to actually engage.  Each scenario imposed on screen is too brief to react to when humor is delivered. It offers far too many narrative layers to digest, which takes away from the individual performances rendered.  Perhaps, less could have been more for a better execution of its delivery.  In this case it is penalized.

FILM RATING (C-)




THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Running time: 120 minutes
Release date: March 18, 2016
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, Adventure, Adaptation, and Sequel
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
MPAA Rating: PG-13

This is the sequel to The Divergent Series: Insurgent and will be followed by the concluding entry, The Divergent Series: Ascendant. As a post-apocolyptic American sci-fi adventure based on the novel Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, and the third installment in The Diverent Series (film), the film brings back stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Qand Naomi Watts while icluding Jeff Daniels, Ray Stevenson, and Bill Skarsgard to the cast.  Mekhi Phifer returns to this film for a brief amount of sequences.

Allegiant takes Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) into a new world, far more dangerous than ever before.  After the earth-shattering revelations of Insurgent, Tris must escape with Four and their comrades and go beyond the wall enclosing Chicago.  With high-energy, big-budget physical stunts and chases enhanced by CGI, the battling, escapes, and rescues prevail.

Four's mother and self-appointed leader of the enclosed Chicago, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), is set on revenge on her old enemies and is reluctant to Tris, Four, Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Peter (Miles Teller), Tori (Maggie Q), and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) leaving the enclosure. Yet, Johanna (Octavia Spencer) leads a non-violent group who wants to rebuild a more humane society.  But for the first time ever, Tris and comrades leave the only city and family they have ever known.  However, once outside the enclosure, they are pursued by Evelyn's army led by Edgar (Jonny Weston) through the toxic wasteland known as the Fringe before being rescued and escorted to the ultra-high-tech compound of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.

Once there, Bureau mastermind David (Jeff Daniels) singles out Tris for being genetically "pure" and enlists her to champion his mysterious cause.  Tris will be forced to make impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

This installment of the series is the best by far. It exerts non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, and adventurous, often two-dimensional good guy heroes battling bad guy villains - all designed for pure audience escapism.

FILM RATING (B+)


   
LONDON HAS FALLEN
Directed by: Babak Najafi
Running time: 1 hour 39 mins.
Release date: March 4, 2016
Genre: Drama, Crime, Action, Thriller, and Sequel
Distributor: Gramercy Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

Reuniting the principal cast and key members of the creative production team of Olympus Has Fallen (2013), this sequel brings the heroic Secret Service Agent Mike Banner (Gerard Butler) back to do what he does best - save the free world from threatening sinister factions.

As the film's opening scenes sparks the screen, high energy action is provided as terrorists attack the Philippines.  Then a counter drone attack by the U.S. Air Force destroys a terrorist group sheltered in Pakistan.  As in all wars, there is collateral damage and terrorist leader Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), a lethal weapons dealer and one of the most wanted men in world, has many of his family members killed at his daughter wedding celebration during the U.S. drone strike.

The film skips two years into the future, and the setting is Washington D.C. where our protagonist Mike Banner and his wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) are a homebody couple eagerly anticipating their first child.  However, in this fast pace narrative, news of the British Prime Minister's unexpected death plagues the media. Assigned to the U.S. President Asher's (Aaron Eckhart) Secret Service team, Mike Banner is always on alert under the orders of his Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett).  They are ordered to prepare for their visit to the United Kingdom for the British Prime Minister's funeral.  With every free world leader to attend the funeral, the U.K. must secure the environment. However, the U.S. leaves nothing up for chance and handles their own security.

The plot opens and expands with a revenge scenario launched by Aamir Barkawi and son (Waleed Zualter) to attacked London and kidnap U.S. President Asher.  Filmmaker Babak Najafi does not spare the non-stop motion and spectacular rhythm with the big-budget stunts and chases.  The movie explodes with battle, fight, and disaster scenes designed for pure audience escapism.  The plot also thickens as the secondary cast is introduced from the Washington D.C. war room with Morgan Freeman as Vice President Trumbull, Melissa Leo as DS Ruth McMillan, and Robert Forster as General Edward Clegg.  This gives the film a multi-dimensional plot format as it works countering the English performances of the new British Prime Minister Leighton (Clarkson Guy Williams), MI6 Agent Jacqueline Marshall (Charlotte Riley), and MI5 Intel John Lancaster (Patrick Kennedy).  With an extensive international cast, this film uses every aspect of the epic genre.

The panoramic backdrops are elaborate and sets the tone for all of the denunciatory approaches toward warfare.  London Has Fallen is a film that acknowledges the horror and heartbreak of war, allowing the fighting to provide the primary plot and background for the action of the film.  Yet, it opens in multi-levels, with a window for the human emotional aspect to shine through by showing an honest relationship of family dynamics that people of civil and military service must endure.

FILM RATING (B)

  
DEADPOOL
Directed by: Tim Miller
Running time: 108 mins.
Release date: February 12, 2016
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, and Adaptation
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: R

Cut from the Marvel Comics comes an unlikely American superhero, whose personality is less than marvelous.  Deadpool is intended to be the eighth installment in the X-Men film series starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin,  Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapicic, and veteran actress Leslie Uggams.

The film follows Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) who, after being subjected to an experiment that leaves him with new abilities, hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson aka Deadpool, a mercenary whose botched experiment in regenerative cells to cure cancer, rendered him accelerated healing superpowers.  However, Wade is a shallow anti-hero with a dark and twisted sense of humor.  His search is for The Recruitor (Jed Rees), the Weapon X person that enlisted Wade into the program in hopes to cure his cancer and Francis/Ajax (Ed Skrein), a mutant with enhanced strength and the ability to feel pain, who is a weapons expert.  He is also a member of the Weapon X program that was responsible for the experiment for which Wade volunteered to cure his cancer.

Using added comic relief from T.J. Miller as Weasel the bartender, Wade's best friend who regularly helps him carry out his activities as a insecure superhero, the sidekick position is given a new light of sarcasm and humor.  Morena Baccarin as Vanessa Carlysle plays Wade's girlfriend who believes she lost him in death to cancer.  Reluctantly, Wade's disfigurement causes him to stay away from her and not let her know that he is alive.

The multi-layered plot offers a great deal of villainous characters. Gina Carano as Angel Dust, is a mutant in alliance with Ajax, who possesses superhuman levels of strength and speed.  She is a sexy vixen who dangerous as well as beautiful.

Wade gets unwarranted help from Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Piotr "Peter" Rasputin/Colossus (Stefan Kapicic).  Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a trainee mutant, who possesses powers to detonate atomic bursts from her body. Colossus is a mutant member of the X-Men, with the ability to transform his entire body into organic steel, and possess super-strength while in that form.  Veteran actress Leslie Uggams plays Blind Al, an elderly blind woman and Deadpool's roommate.

With the use of high energy, big-budget physical stunts and chases with rescues and battles, fights, and escapes, the non-stop motion and pacing adds the two-dimensional 'good guy versus bad guy' scenario.  Yet, the witty sarcastic dialogue of Ryan Reynolds secures a consistent degree of amusement, as it exaggerates the situations.  The romantic twist falls into play as Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) secures her relationship with Wade when the plot unfolds and the truth is unveiled>

For pure movie entertainment, Deadpool is designed for audience escapism!

FILM RATING (A) 


HAIL, CAESAR!
Directed by: Ethan & Joel Coen
Running time: 106 mins.
Release date: February 5, 2016
Genre: Comedy, Drama, and Musical
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

The talented Coen Brothers penned a screenplay depicting the mechanics of the movie industry from one studio in a period piece of the 1950s.  Blacklisting, studio moguls dominate, and celebrity status has its reputations determined by media tyrants.  

Hail Caesar! follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer for Capital Pictures, who cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry.  But when studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears, Mannix has to deal with it.

Using the backlot locations and the tainted personal lives of the movie industry as the narrative motor that drives the pacing, the plot and subplots interact with each other.  It a film on film scenario with characters such as, a Hedda Hopper dual character played by Tilda Swinton, an artistic director Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes), a singing cowboy star Tobey (Alden Ehenreich), and a swimming movie star reminiscent of Esther Williams played by  Scarlett Johansson makes this film a cartoonish spoof on the 1950s movie industry.

It's lights, camera, and abduction of Baird Whitlock from a production set much like Robert Taylor's Quo Vadis (1951), as he is kidnapped by Communist industry employees for a ransom, led by a song and dance man Burt (Channing Tatum).  This is a farce that floats without any particular meaning except for having Eddie Mannix fixing the situation.

By no means this is the Coen Brothers' best work, but the quirky subplots and humorous characterizations make this a fun-filled romp.

FILM RATING (B-)



KUNG FU PANDA 3
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson & Alessandro Carloni
Running time: 95 mins.
Release date: January 29, 2016
Genre: Animation, Action/Adventure, Comedy, and Sequel
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG

A once American/British computer-animated action comedy martial arts film produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed originally by Paramount Pictures in 2008 has now switch lanes to an American/Chinese franchise distributed by 20th Century Fox.  

The idea for the film was conceived b Michael Lachance, a DreamWorks Animation executive.  The film was originally intended to be a single movie parody, but in 2010 DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katsenberg decided that the Kung Fu Panda franchise will have six movies or chapters.  

Kung Fu Panda 3 is the sequel to the 2011 Kung Fu Panda 2 film and the third installment in the Kung Fu Panda franchise.  The film features the returning voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross, James Hong, Bryan Cranston (new voice), Kate Hudson (new voice), and J.K. Simmons (new voice).

Set in a version of ancient China populated by anthropomorphic talking animals, the plot revolves around a bumbling panda anmed Po (Jack Black) who aspires to be a kung fu master.  In this installment of the series, Po reunites with his biological father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) and travels with him to a secret sanctuary of pandas where, to his surprise, he does not fit in.  There he meets Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), an overly eager panda, who had been promised to Po through an arranged marriage when they were children.  To make matters worse, an evil ancient spirit called Kai (J.K. Simmons) begins terrorizing China and stealing the powers of defeated kung fu masters.  Now in the face of incredible odds, Po must train the village of clumsy fun-loving pandas to become a band of Kung Fu Pandas and bring peace to the land.

As a family-friendly movie, this film takes the audience to netherworld places that transcends the bounds reality.  It shares an element of magic, myth, wonder, and the extraordinary.  It appeals to both children and adults.  In addition, Hans Zimmer returned to score the film.  

The musical score includes performances from renowned Asian musicians such as Chinese pianist Lang Lang, Chines cellist Jian Wang, erhu musician Guo Gan, and Taiwanese pop singer Jay Chou and Canadian-Taiwanese young singer Patrick Brasca with British pop-rock band The Vampires.

The light-hearted animation comedy offers action where one and more heroes are thrust into a series of challenges that typically include physical feats, extended fight scenes, and frantic chases. All this while featuring a resourceful character, Po, struggling against life-threatening situations, a villain, and a pursuit which concludes in victory for Po and his friends.  Yet, it is a story whose central struggle is about the hero finding his place in the world, as a coming of age scenario.

FILM RATING (B-)



THE FOREST
Directed by: Jason Zada
Running time: 93 mins.
Release date: January 8, 2016
Genre: Horror
Distributor: Gramercy Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Set in the legendary Aokigahara Forest of Japan, The Forest follows Sara (Natalie Dormer of "Game of Thrones" and "Hunger Games"), a young American woman in search of her twin sister Jess (also Natalie Dormer), who has mysteriously disappeared in the Japanese forest known for people committing suicide.

Rising with terrifying grandeur at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, the real-life Aokigahara Forest is the suspense-filled setting of the supernatural thriller.  As Sara journeys there in search of her twin sister, she meets expatriate Aiden (Taylor Kinney).  They embark a search into a forest having been warned to 'stay on the path' and not to stray.  Determined to discover the truth about her sister's fate, they stray.

As in most horror films designed to frighten and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often with terrifying twists, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience, the lead characters go where they should not.  Sara will have to face the angry and tormented souls of the dead that prey on anyone who dares to come near them.

The meat of this unique thriller is how Sara deals with the malevolent spirits lying in wait for her at every turn.  As she plunges into frightening darkness, more and more clues draws her to own hidden past and her sister.  

Natalie Dormer gives a solid performance in this horror flick, but the supporting character Aiden loses his effectiveness as the plot misuses his direction in the story.  However, there is enough fright to balance out the satanic experience.

The Forest is an intriguing thriller, with a successfully twisted and shocking finale.  It's worth the wait just for the final scenes!

FILM RATING (B-)



THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Running time: 187 mins.
Release date: December 25, 2015 and January 1, 2016 (wide)
Genre: Western 
Distributor: TWC
MPAA Rating: R

As the major defining genre of the American film industry, this western is creative.  This is a 70mm film eulogizing the early days of the American frontier.

In The Hateful Eight, set six or eight or twelve years after the Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry Wyoming landscape. The passengers, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitve Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), race towards the town of Red Rock where John Ruth, known as, "The Hangman", will bring Daisy to justice.  Along the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims to be the town's new Sheriff.  Losing their lead on the blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass.  When they arrive at Minnie's, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by four unfamiliar faces.  Bob (Demian Birchir), who's taking care of Minnie's while she's away, is hold up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, the eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock.

The stellar cast is brilliant in their performances.  The large expansive tone set in chapter formats with very negotiable plots, elements, and characters is engaging and often humorous.  However, the dialogue reflects an excessive negativity of racial exploitation.  The tone of the bigotry (which is needed to set the tone) is well established early in the storyline, and need not be exasperated throughout the entire film.  I find the filmmakers' form of sensationalizing the post-Civil War Era's racist mindset is overwhelming and really doesn't add very much substance to the overall character development, interaction, and plot.  It has become Quentin Tarantino's cinematic trademark to utilize the derogative racial slur of African Americans as an accepted form of writing his dialogue in several of his films.  But it is troublesome for some audience members whose personal beliefs on racial exploitation, whether historical or contemporary, to embrace repetitive distasteful usage of this type of dialogue on each and every movie he makes.

Using melodramatic themes as the plot builds, the recognizable story of the dusty frontier, six-guns blazing, and desperadoes is thrilling and suspenseful.

FILM RATING (B-) 



THE PEANUTS MOVIE in 3D
Directed by: Steve Martino
Running time: 93 mins.
Release date: November 6, 2015
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Adventure, and Adaptation
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: G

Based on the comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz, all the characters from Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Sally, Violet, Schroeder, Linus, Lucy, Pig Pen, Peppermint Patty, Patty, and Marcie come to life on the big screen. With an addition of Frieda the little red-haired new girl, the kids are navigating their lives in the neighborhood and school.

Charlie Brown (voice of Noah Schnapp) has always suffered from low self-esteem, but when a new red-haired girl Frieda (voice of Anastasia Bredikhina) moves next door, he desperately tries to impress her.  
However, his shyness and lack of self confidence is his downfall.  His weird dog Snoopy (voice of Bill Melendez) imagines this romantic situation in one of his Red Baron 'flying dog fight' dream sequences, as he romantically pursues another female flyer dog named Fifi (voice of Kristin Chinoweth).

While using a comedic coming of age scenario and a light-hearted plot consistently and deliberately designed to amuse, the 3 dimensional effect transcends the bounds of the playground, the school year, and summer vacation.  It all adds an element of hilarious magic and wonder.

The misadventures and the young affectionate adventures offer the audience (all all ages) a thrill every moment the youngsters place themselves in various humorous situations, as they struggle to find their place in world.

FILM RATING (B+)


LOVE in 3D
Directed by: Gasper Noe
Running time: 135 mins.
Release date: October 30, 2015
Genre: Drama and Romance in English and French with English subtitles.
Distributor: Alchemy
MPAA Rating: Not rated

Written and directed by maverick French filmmaker Gasper Noe (Irreversible 2002 and Enter The Void 2009), comes Love in 3D, a daring erotic love drama.

Using artistic and technical reasoning, filmmaker Gasper Noe crafts a sexually arousing film about a romantic entanglement of an American film student Murphy (Karl Glusman) living in Paris, France.  He meets a beautiful young artist named Electra (Aomi Muyock) and their highly sexual and emotional relationship takes off.  

Under the direction of Gasper Noe, Karl Glusman as Murphy and Aomi Muyock as Electra light up the screen with non-simulated scenes of sex, while building character development.  Their furious love affair scorches the screen capturing images in various sex acts and positions, not necessarily offering sensuousness, but to expose the audience to the aspect excitement.  As the love affair progresses, so does the risky business of experimenting with exploring other partners.  The mutual agreement of allowing another woman named Omi (Klara Kristin) in their sexual relationship causes a problem when she happens to get pregnant as a result of Murphy's infidelity.  This unwanted pregnancy ends the relationship between Murphy and Electra.

The foundation of the narrative works off of an early morning  telephone call from Electra's mother Nora (Isabelle Nicou) to Murphy, concerned about the location of her daughter.  Knowing that Electra has suicidal tendencies, Nora instills a worry in Murphy.  Murphy reflects on his two year relationship with Electra, which is a filmage of visual eroticism in 3D.

Love, dares to use film in a realistic mode of sexual acts.  Whether it captures and expresses the joy, beauty, passion, and/or thrill of good sex, it is left to the viewer's interpretation.  The portrayal of the visual acts can be quite artistic and intellectual in its accomplishments.  Due to the lighting, composition, cropping, and exposure in the production of this film, the overall effect is daringly  executed.  However, the three dimensional effect is whimsical, and does not add any euphoric value.  At best, it is a troublesome effect and can be considered over-exposure.

FILM RATING (C+)  



   
MI AMERICA
Directed by: Robert Fontaine
Running time: 126 mins.
Release date: October 16, 2015
Genre: Drama and Crime
Distributor: Industrial House Films
MPAA Rating: R

Filmmaker Robert Fontaine, pens the script and stars in this gripping tale based on true events.  The underlying focus is concentrated on late 20th and early 21st century hate crimes in a small upstate New York community.

Hate crime laws in the United States protect against hate crimes (also known as bias crimes) motivated by enmity or animus against a protected class.   Although state laws vary, current statutes permit federal prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's protected characteristics of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability dating back to the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994), and Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009).

In this story, Rolando Ramirez (Robert Fontaine), a Hispanic-American Detective, and a longtime resident of the upstate New York community of Braxton (Newburgh), is assigned a case that has origins of a earlier kidnapping and disappearance of five Hispanic migrant workers. This old case opens up into an uncovering of a white hate group that practices hatred, hostility, and violence towards the local Hispanic race.  In a certain instance, a massacre of these Hispanics is the nature of the crime.

The film carries a contemporary setting playing out Detective Ramirez's investigation with occasional flashbacks to tie in a backstory of racial bigotry plaguing the divided communities.

Robert Fontaine's performance is solidly convincing and effective in setting the tone.  The serious plot driven presentation portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction creates a taunting atmosphere.  However, using a multi-layered storyline, deprives the audience to settle in on the seriousness of how one hate group advocates in violence and criminal activity.  With alternating subplots supported by a good cast of Brad Lee Wind, Michael Brainard, Grant Boyd, Angel Valle Jr., Mariana Fernadez, Lily Autumn Page and Zoe Hunter as Ann Ramirez my attention was interrupted by its less interesting dramatic source.

Mi America is a gritty film that delves into an issue that is mainstream media and is worth seeing. 

FILM RATING (C+)  


FREEHELD
Directed by: Peter Sollett
Running time: 103 mins.
Release date: October 2, 2015 (limited) & October 16, 2015 (Wide)
Genre: Drama, Romance, and Biography
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
MPAA Rating: PG-13

The story of Laurel Hester and her domestic partner Stacie Andree first drew national headlines in 2005.  In an age when civil rights pertaining to same sex couples and marriages was (and still is) a monumental issue in all walks of life and politics, Laurel Hester was a decorated police officer with the Ocean County Police Department in New Jersey.  She rose to national attention with her deathbed appeal for the extension of pension benefits to her domestic partner, as a diagnosed cancer patient.

This dramatic biopic is based her battle shown in Freeheld (2007), the winner of the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary by Cynthia Wade.  Adapted for a feature narrative by screenplay writer Ron Nyswaner, starring Julianne Moore as Laurel Hester and  Ellen Page as Stacie Andree, the film begins as she falls in love with Stacie Andree.

Julianne Moore delivers an emotionally charge portrayal of this 23 years of service police officer Laurel Hester, who hid her sexual preferences from the rank and file.  When she meets Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), a 19 years younger soft-spoken auto mechanic, they instantly fell in love.  The film spends much of its time sharing the romantic and domestic bliss they shared.  It's a thoughtful approach to this biopic, giving the audience a feeling of tranquility.  Yet, the shadowing dilemma of prejudice and bigotry is a frightening factor holding the plot together.  This is relevant throughout the story, as Laurel's longtime police partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), is reluctant at first to accept her way of life.  The attitude is shared among the "all male" police unit she was associated with in Ocean County, New Jersey.  The same attitude is rendered as Stacie works hard as an auto mechanic in an automotive industry dominated by men.  The film unselfishly and honestly navigates the viewer through their journey dealing with prejudices in their social and professional lives. 

The film's sophomoric theme is tempered with intensity as Laurel's cancer materializes and spreads to her brain.  It becomes clear that she has little time to live.  Laurel lived with and jointly owned a house with her registered domestic partner Stacie Andree, who would not be able to afford mortgage payments upon Laurel's death.  A married heterosexual with Laurel's years of police service would be able to pass on pension benefits to a spouse, but this privilege was not accorded to same-sex domestic partners in Ocean County.  Attorney Steven Goldstein (brilliantly played by Steve Carell) takes the lead in advocating on behalf of Laurel and Stacie.  His performance adds a stimulating impact to an already controversial and challenging plot.  

Freeheld is a universal thematic film.  It's focus is that everyone wants to be treated with respect, and have the right to love the person we choose to, while having the world acknowledge it without prejudice.  

FILM RATING (B)



SICARIO
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Running time: 121 mins. 
Release date: October 2, 2015
Genre: Drama, Crime, Mystery, Thriller, and Action/Adventure
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating: R

In the realm of developing a crime drama around the sinister actions of criminals, mobsters, underworld figures, and ruthless hoodlums, Sicario delivers on all counts.  

An idealistic female FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by a U.S. government task force to assist in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between U.S. and Mexico.  

In a multi-layered suspenseful plot Emily Blunt's character of Kate is fearless, yet timid in nature.  She portrays an aggressive woman in law enforcement whose ideals are by the book.  Once inducted into a special task force led by a "devil may care" agent (Matt) played by Josh Brolin, who gives a rogue agent Alejandro (mysteriously played by Benicio Del Toro) free reign, Kate is caught up in the adrenaline of hunting down drug cartel king-pins.  However, Alejandro's free reign consist of revenge killing, which is below the high standards that Kate maintains.  Can she be corrupted to bend the law?  Can she look the other way when she knows it's illegal, wrong, and immoral?  These are the plot layers involved in this challenging and lively thriller.  It is a wild, desolate, gritty, and harsh cinematic ride anchoring unsolved crimes, murder, and disappearances of one and more characters.  The hard-boiled investigative sequences and methodical pursuit of criminals and solution to crimes is the substance that enthralls the audience.

Emily Blunt is the lead character, who shows a complexity in her personality.  She's a woman who is suffering from personal self-esteem, and counters it with a strong motivation in doing her job.  Yet, her naivety in the underworld reality, leaves her in a troubled situation.

As a serious plot driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction, Sicario offers Emily Blunt a platform to stretch her talent in this shocking, yet mesmerizing narrative.

FILM RATING (B+)  



    
CAPTIVE
Directed by: Jerry Jameson
Running time: 97 mins.
Release date: September 18, 2015
Genre: Drama, Crime, Biography, and Adaptation
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Based on the non-fiction novel An Unlikely Angel by Ashley Smith, screenwriter Brian Bird pens an American crime drama thriller under the direction of Jerry Jameson.  Extracted from the memoirs of hostage Ashley Smith held in her home by escapee convicted murderer Brian Nichols, this gives a character study of two individuals who rely on a redemption text doctrine to overcome a life threatening situation.

A true story about Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo), who escapes on March 11, 2005 from the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia during his case trial for rape, takes off from his murder of the presiding judge Rowland Barnes (uncredited), as well as court reporter Julie Brandau (uncredited) and a sheriff deputy.  He also shoots Sgt. Hoyt Teasley (E. Roger Mitchell) while escaping from the holding cell, and then Agent David G. Wilhelm (Rob Bouton) at his home while fleeing.  Nichols then kidnaps single mother, Ashley Smith (Kate Mara), at her home, as a hostage.

This film lays out a solid backstory on the major players, Brian Nichols and Ashley Smith.  It depicts Brian Nichols as a bitter unstable man on the run from a city-wide anhunt and determined to make contact with his newborn son.  While, Ashley Smith is shown as a fragile recovering addict and single mother of a young girl named Paige (Elle Graham), grasping for serenity.  Both David Oyelowo and Kate Mara capture the honesty and desperation in their roles of two broken people who find a sliver of light in a very dark time period by reading The Purpose Driven Life by author Rick Warren (published 2002). 

Ashley Smith receives a book from a fellow recovering addict at a meeting, titled The Purpose Driven Life.  This redemption text doctrine is use for motivation in recovering from obsessions that causes addictions and mental instabilities.  It book is one of the best selling non-fiction books of all time, the second selling hard cover book of all time after the Bible.

The film's high intensity is magnified when the two major characters are confronted with finding an inner freedom during the seven hour captivity.  How her actions that night fueled her belief that she could truly start a positive life again, despite her past.  And he could find a solution through the power of acceptance, the answer to all problems through serenity and having no control over things he cannot change along with the wisdom to know the difference.

Supporting cast members Leomor Varela as Sgt. Carmen Sandoval, Jessica Oyelowo as Meredith MacKenzie, Mimi Rogers as Aunt Kim, and Michael K. Williams as Lt. John Chestnut along with many extras secure a solid crime drama adaptation.

FILM RATING (B)      



CHOCOLAT
Directed by: Claire Denis
Running time: 105 mins.
Release date: May 1989 (US), September 18, 2015 Restoration (US)
Genre: Drama in English and French with English subtitles
Distributor: Film Desk
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Made a her debut feature narrative, Claire Denis adapts her semi-autobiographical story to screen.  Base on her childhood in 1950s colonial French West Africa, this film depicts a realistic tone of the final years of French occupation in Cameroon, and examines the racial inequality and servitude seen through the eyes of pre-teen girl.

A young woman France Dalens (Mireille Perrier), a daughter of a civil servant Marc Dalens (Francois Cluzet) and mother Aimee Dalens (Giulia Boschi) reflects on her girlhood in this highly cinematic flashback in West Africa's Cameroon.  This erotic, sophisticated, and distinctive film is an enthralling account depicting a family's struggle during the last years of French rule in this region, while focusing on the little girl's friendship with the family's devoted black male house servant Protee (Isaach de Bankole).

The curious and observant 7 year old girl, France spends her days amidst the paradise of her family's remote estate, but behind the household's exterior beauty lies a growing hostility brought by France's always traveling father, which plagues her mother.  It plagues her mother enough to escalate sexual tension between the black male servant Protee, who scorns her.  

Using subtle plot driven insights, Claire Denis navigates its audience  with exclusions, betrayals and agonizing comprises.  Various characters introduced in the film, from an emergency plane landing to the estate brings a motley collection of people to the house.  They  come into the film as a quiet unfolding part of the movie, episodic rather than connected in character development.  However, this is the meat of the narrative, examining the state of racism, rage, loyalty, friendship, and uncertainty within the family unit.  Shot in long sweeping often silent frames, the film is as much about what isn't said in dialogue, as what is.  The performances are understated and often enigmatic, allowing the psychology of the characters to emerge with subtlety. 

After 25 years of this film's original release date, Chocolat holds up brilliantly and truly one of my best Claire Denis' films.

FILM RATING (A)


     
DRAGON BLADE
Directed by: Daniel Lee
Running time: 127 mins.
Release date: September 4, 2015 (U.S.)
Genre: Action/Adventure and History in English, Latin, and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating: R

After a massive success this year in its native China, Dragon Blade brings action spectacle on a grand scale to U.S. audiences.  

Featuring an international cast led by Jackie Chan (co-executive producer along with Susanna Tsang), John Cusack, and Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody, the film features the fight for the Sik Road when East and West collide.  

When corrupt eastern region Commanding leader Tiberius (Adrien Brody) arrives with a great army to claim the Sik Road, Commander of the Protective Squad of the western regions Huo An (Jackie Chan) and his group of trained warriors teams up with an elite legion of defected Roman soldiers led by General Lucius (John Cusack to maintain the delicate balance of power in the region.

As in most action/adventure films that usually include high energy, big-budget, physical stunts and chases, with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, this film attempts to balance its tone with a historical thesis.  The plot maneuvers this balancing act by means of an epic endeavor which include costume drama, and a period piece that cover a large expanse of time set against a vast, panoramic backdrop.

However, as the plot becomes a scenario of dividing peace in a society by sacrifice and self-esteem - or by fighting for peace to keep respect, the screenplay and direction by Daniel Lee becomes unraveled by mediocre performances by a highly credible cast of actors.  What is intended to be character and plot driven presentation, challenges any emotional impact the story was to express.  The poor delivery of dialogue by much of the actors, except for Adrien Brody's performance as a shocking and mesmerizing evil man, hindered much of the execution of this production.  Yet, what gives this film merit is how it exerts being gritty, desolate, and harsh by use of the great landscape, which is in my eyes another character.  Its cinematic epic theme take an historic, mythic, legendary event, and add an extravagant setting accompanied by grandeur and spectacular, dramatic scope, and high production values.

Dragon Blade, has been greatly received at the Beijing International Film Festival in 2014, where star Jackie Chan and director Daniel Lee announced the film to be released in IMAX 3D on February 19. 2015, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and in New York at the July 2015 Asian American International Film Festival.  But, in my criticism, it remains to be a disjointed epic period piece film.

FILM RATING (C+)


    
THE SECOND MOTHER
Directed by: Anna Muylaert
Running time: 1 hr. 52 mins.
Release date: August 28, 2015
Genre: Drama and Comedy in Portuguese with English subtitles
Distributor: Oscilloscope
MPAA Rating: R

Brazil's director Anna Muylaert mines an incendiary drama when old ideas and new worlds collide.  The immense satisfaction and fun of The Second Mother stems from watching tacit social codes and delicate hierachies waver as a new generation blithely treads on sacrosanct boundaries.  Filmmaker Anna Muylaert has given a fresh, contemporary spin on class distinction in Brazil, wrapped in a deeply moving story of what belonging and family mean.

The Second Mother centers around Val (Regina Case), a hard working live-in housekeeper in modern day Sao Paulo.  Val is perfectly content to take care of every one of her wealthy employees' needs, from cooking and cleaning to being a surrogate mother to the teenage son Fabinho (Michel Joeisas), who she has raised since he was a toddler.  But when Val's estrange daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila), whom she left behind to send money to and physically never raised in 18 years, suddenly shows up the unspoken but intrinsic class barriers that exist within the home are thrown into disarray.  

Camila Mardila plays a smart, confident, and ambitious Jessica, and refuses to accept the upstairs/downstairs dynamic, testing relationships and loyalties.  From day one, Val and Jessica are in conflict with each others idealistic values.  Regina Case's outstanding performance as Val, an established servant, with subordinate ideals, is the catalyst of Jessica's resentment.  Jessica is of the new wave of a non-cast system in the new Brazil.

The patriarch and matriarch of the estate is Carlos (Lourengo Mutarelli) and Barbara (Karine Teles).  Carlos is a doctor and takes an interest in Jessica, as she intends to go to university.  However, Barbara, an attorney, is annoyed by Jessica's free spirit in not respected the social distinctions and independence.  It goes further, as 18 year old son Fabinho and 18 year old Jessica become friends around the household, which is part of the Brazilian social new wave of equality.  

Family dynamics come full circle when Jessica is asked to leave the estate and find a place of her own once she gets accepted to university and affluent young Fabinho doesn't.  But Val finds out, Jessica has baggage from her past that is reminiscent to her own past,  and the pressure of accepting a new way of life and her daughter hinges on whether she will accept it or not.

The Second Mother is a brilliant, funny, and honest look at a mother/daughter bonding.  Yet, the movie offers much more in the study of Brazil's racial and economic cast system divisions.  

FILM RATING (B+)


  RETURN TO SENDER
Directed by: Fouad Mikati
Running time: 95 mins.
Release date: August 14, 2015
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
MPAA Rating: Not rated

In this serious plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, and life situations, filmmaker Fouad Mikati develops a crime thriller anchoring on rape and revenge.

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Jack Reacher, and Wrath of the Titans) stars as a nurse, Miranda Wells, whose life is very low-keyed, yet rewarding.    Living in a small town, not far from her father Mitchell Wells (Nick Nolte), she has plans of selling her house for a new one, with the assistance of real estate agent Judy (Illeana Douglas).  However, after being apprehensively applauded for accepting a blind-date by co-worker nurse Nancy (Camryn Manheim), Miranda prepares herself for the social occasion.  

The day of the blind-date arrives and a man comes her door.  She assumes it is Kevin (Billy Slaughter), her date, but it isn't.  It is a man named William Finn, a low-life sexual stalker.  Not actually knowing this isn't Kevin, Miranda welcomes him in her home, but suddenly finds herself uneasy with his presence.  Unable to protect herself, she falls victim to being rape.  Some moments later, the real blind-date Kevin appears at Miranda's door, and finds her brutally assaulted sexually.  

Even after her attacker William is captured, convicted, and sent to prison, Miranda can't overcome her ordeal, which leads her to live an abnormal life of fear and instability.  Her aspirations of becoming a doctor is diminished and the sale of her home is less desirable to the market (it's labeled as a home of a rape victim and can't be sold).  Her next step is to no longer accept the role of a victim, but to seek revenge and become a predator of her rapist.  

This is only the first half of the film, and it only methodically floats in its pacing.  I find the pace and settings uninspiring for the most part, although Rosamund Pike gives her best as another psychopathic character (referring to Gone Girl -2014).  With a stellar cast of accredited actors, I find them poorly used in substandard character performances.  The dialogue lacks emotional impact and the tone is much too light.  

The film attempts to build intensity when Miranda begins to play up to her rapist William, as she sends him letters  and visits him in prison.  Filmmaker Fouad Mikati allows the audience to see Miranda display a "Stockholm Syndrome" scenario in her flirtatious prison visits to William.  Yet, it is obvious she is setting him up for a big let-down once he is released.  The sensitivity of this sexual crime is handled with care on screen by good solid performances by Rosamund Pike and Nick Nolte, her father, but it opens problematic dialogue about Miranda's long time decease mother, that frustrates the flow of the plot.  By adding multi-dimensions in the storyline, it becomes somewhat disjointed.  

However, with a strong performance by Rosamund Pike exerting a revenge strategy, it proves to be a high point of the film, and a challenging characterization for a revenge scheme.  Yet, the final scenes dissolve and fail in executing a real shocking ending.

Return To Sender, is a slow-burner and doesn't offer enough credible character interaction to energize this narrative.  But it does offer enough curiosity atmosphere to keep its viewer anxious in its mediocre execution.

FILM RATING (C+)




MISTRESS AMERICA
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Running time: 84 min.
Release date: August 14, 2015
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In a screenplay co-written by director Noah Baumbach and co-lead actor Greta Gerwig comes a funny female bonding film.  

Men love when a woman isn't too proper to laugh at a crude joke in today's outrageous gag film comedies, raunchy stereotypes and sexploits are the name of the game.  Victoria Secret models and Brazilian bombshells step-aside, it's time to make way for hottest new trend in sexy.

In Mistress America, Tracy (Lola Kirke) is an 18 year old lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned.  But when she is taken in by her soon-to-be 30 year old stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), a resident of Times Square and adventurous gal about town, she is rescued from her disappointments and seduced by Brooke's alluring mad schemes.  Enthralled by Brooke's picturesque but illegal apartment and a lifestyle she only dreamed about, Tracy is quickly swept into a series of mad-cap adventures.

Using the foundations of female bonding, stories of funny love affairs, and how two opposites are attracted to each other over strange situations, the emotionally impacted funny film finds a delicate balance of both romance and comedy.  It manages the unique mixture of sexual and comedic chemistry with fresh realism.

As Tracy narrates the story, she also introduces a coming-of-age scenario to follow.  By use of brilliant performances by the entire cast, the satirical theme is dramatic, yet it retains its serious tone.

This is a witty screwball comedy, that displays intelligence in its pacing, performances, delivery, and execution.  

FILM RATING (B+)


  
ANT-MAN in 3D IMAX
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Running time: 115 mins.
Release date: July 17, 2015
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Adaptation
Distributor: Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

The next evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings a founding member of The Avengers to the big screen for the first time with Marvel Studio's "Ant- Man".  Based on the Marvel Comics characters of the same name: Scott Lang and Hank Pym, is a story of a man armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength.  

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang/Ant-Man, a down-on-his-luck petty criminal who is recently released from prison, working menial jobs, and acquires a suit by a robbery that allows him to shrink in size and increase in strength.  Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, is the daughter of brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the designer of the Ant-Man suit and Janet van Dyne, and a senior board member of Pym Technologies, who helps Darren Cross take over the company.  Corey Stoll plays evil-doer Darren Cross/Yellowjacket, a former protege' of Pym, who takes over Pym's company, militarizes a similar version of the Ant-Man technology and creates the Yellowjacket suit. 

In supporting roles, Bobby Cannavale as Paxton, is a police officer and friend of Lang's, who has married Lang's ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer), and reluctantly allows Lang to visit his daughter Cassie.  With a strong comic relief performance by Michael Pena as Luis, Lang's ex-cellmate and bestfriend, Tip "T.I." Harris as Dave, and Wood Harris as Gale brings this comic book adaptation to life on the big screen.

This high energy 'popcorn flick', is non-stop action, displaying spectacular rhythm and pacing.  The two-dimensional 'good guy' heroes battling 'bad guys' are all designed for pure audience escapism. 

FILM RATING (B)


   
AMY
Directed by: Asif Kapadia
Running time: 128 mins.
Release date: July 3, 2015 (limited) & July 10, 2015 (wide)
Genre: Documentary
Distributor: A24
MPAA Rating: R

Asif Kapadia's cinematic examination on the six-time Grammy winner features unseen archival footage.  It's a film primarily seen through the sad eyes of Amy Winehouse's father Mitch Winehouse and could be fashioned after his book, Amy, My Daughter.

Amy Jade Winehouse (14 Sept. 1983 - 23 July 2011) was an English singer and songwriter known for her deep vocals and her electric mix of musical genres, including soul (sometimes labelled as blue-eyed soul), rhythm and blues, reggae, and jazz.  Her 2003 debut album, Frank, was a critical success in the U.K.  Amy Winehouse's follow-up album, Back to Black, led to five 2008 Grammy Awards, tying the then record for the most wins by a female to win five Grammys.

The film takes the viewer through her early life when her grandmother Cynthia suggested she attend the Susi Earnshaw Theatre School, where she went on Saturdays to further her vocal education and to learn to tap dance.  Amy also toyed with her brother Alex's guitar.  She attended the school for four years and founded a short-lived rap group called Sweet 'n' Sour with her childhood friend Juliette Ashby.  Soon she sought full-time training at Sylvia Young Theatre School where she was expelled at age 14 for not applying herself and for piercing her nose.  However, Sylvia Young denied this, along with Mitch Winehouse's latter testimony.

However, at the age of 15 started entertaining patterning her style with legendary greats Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington.  The film shows clips of Amy's best friend, the soul singer Tyler James who sent Amy's demo tape to an A&R person, which led to her signing with Simon Fuller's 19 Management in 2002.  Meanwhile, she regularly sang jazz standards at local clubs.  This when she fashioned herself in the likes of the 1960s girls group, The Ronettes.

The controversy of Amy Winehouse is thoroughly examined.  Winehouse's dichotomous public image of critical and commercial success versus personal turmoil proved to quite controversial.  By 2008, her continued drug problems threatened her career.  Her personal life was unstable as she dated chief musician Alex Clare, while on a break with her on-off boyfriend and future husband Blake Fielder-Civil.  The marriage with Fielder-Civil was a turbulent and abusive one.  Amy and her enabling husband went down a road of self-destruction and degradation.  In various interviews, including Amy's father Mitch, along with legend jazz singer Tony Bennett (who praised her talent) the sorrow is shared.  However, substance abuse and mental health issues was a heavy contributing factor in her death on July 23, 2011 in Southgate, London, England.

FILM RATING (B+)


DOPE
Directed by: Rick Famuywa
Running time: 103 mins.
Release date: June 19, 2015
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Crime, and Coming of Age
Distributor: Open Road Films
MPAA Rating: R

The simplest way of looking at this dramatic comedy is to say that it surprises, startles, shocks, and delights.  Dope has the essential aspects of comedy and drama that goes beyond the ordinary, the dull and familiar.

Set in contemporary Englewood, California, teenage high school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore), in a outstanding breakout performance, is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood.  While juggling college applications with the focus on attending Harvard University, academic interviews,  and the S.A.T. examination, he and his three best friends Jib (Tony Revolori), Bug (Keith Stanfield), and Will (Blake Anderson) enjoy their 'nerdy' companionship.  In a combination of Blaxploitation, crime thrilling suspense, and a coming of age theme, the story covers of the realm of what it is like living in the Black Ghetto.  Yet, it exposes the audience to the universal problems of peer pressure, consisting of affairs of the heart, sexuality (specifically Will who is a male dressing young lesbian), acceptance, and domestic difficulties, that plagues young people everywhere.

In a plot driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction, the story takes form when the foursome receives a invitation to an underground party, where Malcolm nervously pursues the 'hot' Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) who is drug dealing gang leader Dom's (A$AP Rocky) girlfriend.  Fortunately, Dom befriends Malcolm.   While the party is being raided by the police, a drug package is dump into Malcolm's tote bag by Dom.  As Malcolm escapes from the raid with Nakia, so does the drugs.  Malcolm and his friends must adapt to being street smart and dropping the geeky ways to maneuver themselves in the world of criminals and illegal operations.

The crisp paced and energizing narrative takes form as an adventurous dark humored crime drama, as Malcolm and his friends play hide and seek with ruthless hoodlums and police, while attempting to keep their proper  perspectives.  The balance of keeping this film youthful in spirit and promoting a thrilling suspenseful tone is perfectly mastered by the dialogue.  A sense of decorum is established by the character's performances, i.e., what is said is appropriate to the role and situation of the character.  The exposition that is established secures the relationships, tensions, and conflicts from which later the plot developments derive.

In a film influenced and produced by Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams, and Sean Combs, the supporting cast of Kiersey Clemons, Tyga, Casey Veggies, Vince Staples, Chanel Iman, Quincy Brown, and Rick Fox, makes this film a rare gem.  Each of the tactics of this dramedy disturbs, disrupts, alters and changes things from what is expected with every cast member's performance.  The whole impetus is to create a distance, a perspective on the world, a world that is no longer pedestrian, but comic.  

Filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa relies on an open conflict scenario in this lively tale.  A plot structured on the suspense of a struggle in which the hero, through fighting against all odds, is not to fail.  Yet, the performances of the key roles  are given a thorough examination in them finding their place in the world.

Dope is an imaginative and highly creative film that will leave a formidable impression on its viewer.

FILM RATING (A-)




LOVE & MERCY
Directed by: Bill Pohlad
Running time: 120 mins.
Release date: June 5, 2015
Genre: Drama, Biography, and Music
Distributor: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions
MPAA Rating: PG-13

This is an intimate and unconventional portrait of Brian Wilson, the enigmatic singer, songwriter, and co-founder of the legendary musical rock & roll group, the Beach Boys.  Set against Wilson's groundbreaking, era defining music, the film examines the personal voyage and ultimate salvation of a cultural icon whose success came at extraordinary personal cost.

The movie is a portrait of a real person revealing the little known, behind the scenes drama that unfolded as the young musician began to explore the depths of his prodigious talent while battling deep-seated insecurities and psychological distress.

This is not a straightforward narrative of Brian Wilson' life.  It's more of an interpretation of two important times in his life: the creative era of the 1960s where Paul Dano portrays him and the psychologically complicated era of the 1980s where John Cusack portrays him.  Toggling back and forth in time, the multi-layered portrait takes the audience on a compelling journey into the life and mind of Brian Wilson.

Paul Dano plays a very gentle and sensitive young Brian Wilson and John Cusack plays the older complicated and disturbed personality.  Paul Giamatti plays Dr. Eugene Landry, the psychotherapist accused of making Brian Wilson a virtual prisoner for more than a decade.  Brian Wilson remained Dr. Landry's patient for more than a decade, paying almost a half-million dollars a year for his services and eventually becoming a hostage.  This is mirrored what happened to Brian Wilson in the first part of his life with his abusive father, who also kind of held him hostage in a dominant father/son relationship.

Dramatically, the plot is highly serious and driven with a story involving intense character development and interaction as it depicts a personal struggle.

With outstandingly stimulating performances, presenting real-life scenarios and settings, Love & Mercy is a mark of brilliant cinema.

FILM RATING (A+)




DOOMSDAYS
Directed by: Eddie Mullins
Running time: 91 mins.
Release date: June 5, 2015
Genre: Drama and Comedy
Distributor: Candy Factory Films
MPAA Rating: Not rated

In a dramatic sense of comedic surrealism which laughter arises from cynicism and skepticism, Doomsdays is a film that mocks the victims and gives acceptance to its antagonists.

Director and writer Eddie Mullins crafts a tale of vagabonds illegally appropriating rural vacant Catskills homes.  Slackers Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) and Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick), illogical and immature in their mannerisms, aimlessly roam secluded upstate New York countryside and towns with the intent of stealing and  vandalizing property.  Their purpose is to live freely before their  self-assessed doomsday ideology becomes reality.  

Structurally, the movie begins in thoughtless movement, without backstory and direction.  However, it's quick to understand that this is the tone and theme to be established.  Uniquely, the plot surprises, startles, shocks, and delights the audience.  It is an essential aspect of this dark comedic drama that goes beyond the ordinary, the dull, and the familiar structure.

The movement and pacing of the story is ongoing, as each venture into another dwelling brings on different scenarios for the destructive duo. The character development and interaction range from absurdity to mockery, and sarcasm to irony, as academically endowed Dirty Fred and violently destructive Bruho adventurously find homes to squat and destroy. During their criminal exploits, they recruit an impressionable young man named Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson) and an attractive free-spirited woman, Reyna (Laura Campbell).  These two new characters add a romantic theme with Rayna and a coming of age scenario with Jaidon. The foursome's commitment to the lifestyle is challenged when the two newcomers bring their personalities aboard this oddball crew.

Using humorous and satirical mannerisms while retaining seriousness, the film exposes its audience to both laughter and discomfort, sometimes simultaneously.  The characterization successfully portrayed by the cast, creates a different match of the protagonist against the antagonist.  It exploits complexity and vitality through dialogue depicting climatic ironies and misunderstandings.  The fulfillment in the plot is a surprising reversal in expectations and renders the theme in conditions the audience will find uncertain in its development.  The setting and action tends to be suggestive rather than panoramic and colossal.  The story uses both settings and action a little more than hints for the audience to fill out, but employs a determined dramatic sense of conditions to support a dramatic conviction.   

Doomsdays, is a film that will offer an unconventional genre, that will surprise you - often of what is intended or logically expected.  The whole impetus of this dramatic dark comedy is to create a distance and a perspective of the world.  Each tactic used in this production is to disturb, disrupt, alter and change things from what we consider normal in society.

FILM RATING (B-)


    

SUNSET EDGE
Directed by: Daniel Peddle
Running time: 87 mins.
Release date: May 29, 2015
Genre: Drama, Mystery, and Thriller
Distributor: CAVU Pictures
MPAA Rating: Not rated

In the theme of a Hitchcockian plot intertwine with a thrilling mysterious coming of age storyline, Sunset Edge is a beginning to end mesmerizing gothic thriller.

The basis of this emerging narrative is the visual surrealism.  Using decaying landscape of rural North Carolina and its solitude of its inhabitants project a loneliness of life.  The film merges two narratives to expose the lifestyles of teenagers, Haley (Haley Ann McKnight) and her boyfriend Will (William Dickerson), along with skateboarding buddies Blaine (Blaine Edward Pugh) and Jacob (Jacob Kristian Ingle).  As the teenagers cruise the abandoned streets and homes of a dissolved community, they come across mysterious and haunting aspects it possess.  

However, the story takes a sidestep to a Gothic tale where people disappear.  The backstory of this theme is complexed and requires the audience's undivided attention because of its flashbacks.  The secrets of this story unfolds using suspense and poetic visuals as the multi-layered plots come together with attentive continuity.  Yet, the past narrative is centered around young people on the verge of their maturation process.  It's truly the rites of passage into adulthood, but leaves an untold tale of another journey into adulthood by way of a shadowy past.  

This untold past narrative offers a shocking plot-driven presentation with eerie performances by Liliane Gillenwater as Dora Mary Moon. Jack Horn as Pa, and Gilberto Padita as Malachi.   

Sunset Edge, is an unconventional movie that is strongly implied that the decisions which the characters make on key elements will impact the rest of their lives.  On a grander scale, these decisions may provide much valuable information about the broader mysteries projected on screen.  This is the perfect build up for the extraordinary creative final scenes that brings closure to the multi-layered plot that is executed with perfection.

FILM RATING (B)


    
SURVIVOR
Directed by: James McTeigue
Running time: 96 mins.
Release date: May 29, 2015
Genre: Drama, Adventure, and Thriller
Distributor: Alcemy
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In this British-American spy thriller starring Milla Jovovich, Pierce Brosnan, Dylan McDermott, Angela Bassett, and Robert Forster that promotes intense suspense, excitement is not spared.

With the acknowledgment of terrorism and war, the collateral damage of heartbreak and its horror is the setting.  Using by-the-book elements of a dramatic spy thriller, filmmaker James McTeigue orchestrates a solid film.  

After being mysteriously framed for a terrorist bombing, Foreign Service Officer Kate Abbott (Milla Jovovich) newly posted to the U.S. Embassy in London, must evade government capture and death by a ruthless assassin Nash "The Watchmaker" (Pierce Brosnan).  

The crisp pacing is relentlessly on-going as Britain's MI-6 is pursuing Kate as well as her assassin.  As Kate's superior, Sam Parker (Dylan McDermott) offers his support in evading capture. Reluctantly, the Embassador Maureen Cran (Angela Bassett) is willing to 'throw her under the bus' and assume she is guilty in a bombing and the killing of co-worker agent and mole Bill Talbot (Robert Forster).  The film also focuses on the unsolved crimes, as it moves methodically in character and plot development.  Milla Jovovich gives an outstanding performance as she eludes elements on her trail.  And Pierce Brosnan is diabolical as he pursues his prey.  

There is an underlying interlocking subplot of an impending disaster, that is to develop in New York City.  This adds more excitement and intrigue to an already stimulating story.  

Promoting a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety, and nerve-wracking tension, Survivor, is well worth watching.

FILM RATING (B+)
       


TOMORROWLAND
Directed by: Brad Bird
Running time: 130 mins.
Release date: May 22, 2015
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Adventure, and Mystery
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG

Fiction dealing with imaginative content such as futuristic settings, science and technology, parallel universes, and time travel is the theme of this fantasy.  

Although, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells was published in 1895 and was instrumental in moving the concept of time travel to the forefront of the public imagination, and encouraged many filmmakers to replicate and extend on this genre, early stories featuring time travel go back to ancient Hindu mythology with Mahabharata (written around 700 B.C.).  Another very old script can be found in the Talmud, with the story of Honi HaM'angel (written in 300 A.D.).  Other stories such as, A Christmas Carol, A A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Star Trek, The Terminator, and most recently X-Men:Days of Future Past all have been successful in cinematic and literary markets.

Tomorrowland, starring Academy Award winner George Clooney as Frank Walker, a grizzled inventor (Thomas Robinson portrays a young Frank Walker), along with Britt Robertson as an affirmative minded Casey Newton and Raffey Cassidy as Athena (an Android), are the lead characters.  Hugh Laurie plays the evil-doer David Nix, who sets up his own futuristic utopia for his own personal gratification is another instrumental character setting the tone.  As for tone, filmmaker Brad Bird uniquely regards the time travel motif as providing a necessary distancing effect which can allow fiction to address contemporary issues in metaphorical ways, and valuable for providing a view of history where every person is significant.

The premise is interesting, as Frank as a youngster at the 1964 New York World's Fair encounters a mysterious scientist named David Nix   and a enthusiastic young girl named Athena.  Soon, he finds himself in a special venue, and then in another world.  However, the plot jumps to the contemporary 21st century, where Casey Newton is introduced to the story as a positive scientific thinking teenager.  She inadvertently meets an adult Frank Walker hiding in an old farmhouse from alien intruders.  The two elude the evil aliens with help from Athena, and the threesome travel to a place somewhere in time and space only known as Tomorrowland where their actions directly affect the world and themselves.

This visionary story, complete with heroes, aliens, distant planets, impossible quest, improbable settings with great dark and shadowy villains is held together by fine performances by the major characters, and a solid supporting cast of Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, and Thomas Robinson.  The special effects are extravagant against an elaborate panoramic backdrop.  The interaction between the characters are dramatically intense and their development renders a natural flow on screen.  This is a commendable outing for this production.  

I find this to be a good and exciting family-friendly film!


FILM  RATING (B) 

   



5 FLIGHTS UP
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Running time: 92 mins.
Release date: May 5. 2015
Genre: Drama, Comedy, and Adaptation
Distributor: Focus World
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In a film adaptation of the novel Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment (2010), quoted by O, The Oprah Magazine, "a painterly depictions of a ratted city...deliciously biting satire of media and real estate madness."  Starring veteran acting greats Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton, is a magical story of growing older with grace.

With New York City as the backdrop, the atmosphere is on high alert as a gasoline truck is stuck in the Midtown Tunnel and the driver has fled. Through panic of alleged terrorism and gridlock, Alex (Morgan Freeman), an artist, and Ruth (Diane Keaton), a retired teacher and Chekhov devotee, must suddenly transport their beloved pet dog to an animal hospital.  But this is also the weekend when they want to sell their lower east-side apartment, overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, in which they have lived for 45 years, most of their adults lives.

The scenes that border on parody, the local news adopts a danger in the city with local television polls about terrorism to fuse "Big Apple" tension. Meanwhile, Ruth's niece Lily (Cynthia Nixon), a real estate agent, adds urban enthusiasm to list their property to see what the market might bear.

It's an ordinary plot, yet it's a gentle gem of a film.  The dialogue displayed by Freeman and Keaton is smart and funny.  Their chemistry on screen is perfect, as they generously work well off of each other.  The scenarios of the veterinary, real estate, and domestic details are crafted like elements of a thriller plot, but hold the audience in a light-hearted and surreal atmosphere.

It is safe to say, without being a spoiler, that Alex and Ruth realize that the same bond of love that has kept them together the many years, will see them through many more, as they embark on their new adventure of their later years of life together.  

FILM RATING (A)


HOT PURSUIT
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
Running time: 87 mins.
Release date: May 8, 2015
Genre: Comedy and Action
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13

An uptight, super-straight by-the-book San Antonio female cop Cooper (Reese Witherspoon), is a law enforcement prodigy.  She is honored and thrilled to be assigned the seemingly simple task of escorting mob wife Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara) across Texas, where she and her husband Felipe Riva (Vincent Laresca) will testify against a major drug lord. However, when crooked cops and mob gunmen intervene, Cooper must flee a shoot-out with Mrs. Riva.

The plot is simple as the two women run for their lives, on this comedic road trip to safety.  Mrs. Rivas, the curvaceous Columbian beauty with opinions as strong as her accent is just the opposite personality of life naive Cooper.  It is of a 'odd couple' scenario, as the two grow into buddies, with Reese Witherspoon plays the funny part and Vera Vergara does the straight woman part of this comic duo.

However, that's all that can be said of this pathetic attempt at comedy. The jokes are not funny, the southern accent of Reese Witherspoon is over-the-top in its delivery, the character interaction is flawed, and the development of the characters is less than desirable.  What is deliberately designed to amuse with the script's humor by writers David Feeney and John Quaintance, is destructively designed to annoy.  

The idea of a female-driven buddy action comedy is great, but this project is troublesome and whimsical.  Hot Pursuit, is penalized for poor execution and delivery.

FILM RATING (D)

  

EX MACHINA
Directed by: Alex Garland
Running time: 110 mins.
Release date: April 10, 2015
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, and Thriller
Distributor: A24
MPAA Rating: R

Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with a stylish and cerebral thriller, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a computer programmer and coder at an internet-search corporation called BlueBook Inc., wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company's brilliant CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).

Upon his arrival by airlift to the secluded and remote estate, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test (an experiment in making artificial intelligence, A.I.).  Nathan assigns Caleb with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness of Nathan's latest experiments in A.I.  This experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a beautiful A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated and deceptive than the two men could have imagined.

The plot revolves around Caleb's and Ava's relationship, as Caleb evaluates her - and her him.  However, Nathan has another A.I. on the premise called Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), an attractive Japanese woman programmed by Nathan not to speak.  This is to keep all privilege information secretive, as Nathan goes on his occasional drug and alcohol binges. 

Using a slick and mysterious theme, Ex Machina proves to be visionary and imaginative.  In this movie, the formulaic and commonly used elements of sci-fi films are futuristic technology, unknown and unknowable forces, and the threat of forces to remove mankind.  Yet, the formidable drama gives its audience a challenging concept to hold, as it shows how emotions and systematic reactions can be confused as being the same.

This is a great outing for first-time director Alex Garland.

FILM RATING (B+)



LAMBERT & STAMP
Directed by: James D. Cooper
Running time: 117 mins.
Release date: April 3, 2015
Genre: Documentary
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
MPAA Rating: Not rated

In a kaleidoscope study of an era, this is an infused examination of the managing of rock and roll celebrities that became, The Who.  Present-day interviews with surviving principals, now older, reflect on their relationships and life trajectories.  

Christopher 'Chris' Lambert and Christopher 'Kit' Stamp, aspiring filmmakers, set out to make a documentary in the early 1960s about the mod world of rock and roll, but sidetracked into managing and developing the sonic powerhouse musical that became, The Who.  This is a story that has never been told before, featuring lots of archival footage of rock and roll's legends such as Jimi Hendrix, and starring interviews with Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend to name a few.

The study examines Lambert and Stamp, from their different backgrounds.  Chris Stamp (July 7, 1942 - November 24, 2012), an East London roughneck, born into a working-class family, and one of five siblings from London's East End.  Actor Terence Stamp is his older brother (also interviewed in the film), his father was a tugboat captain and mother was Ethel (nee Perrot).  Chris' film and music career began at London's Shepperton Film Studios as a filmmaker and met collaborating business partner Kit Lambert while working on such films as, I Could Go On Singing, The L-Shaped Room, and Of Human Bondage.  Kit Lambert (May 11, 1935 - April 7, 1981), a sensitive gay-man, was  the son of the composer Constant Lambert and grandson of George Washington Lambert, a sculptor and painter who was an official artist for the Australian government at Gallipoli during World War I.  Kit who studied at Trinity College at Oxford, served in the British Army, and later set out on an expedition with a comrade (comrade killed by tribespeople) to attempt to discover the source of a remote tributary of the Amazon River.  He was just the opposite of his collaborating business partner.  However, they were products of World War II and wanted to be part of the 'new wave movement' that captured post-WWII Europe's 1950s.

Meanwhile, in 1959, a rock and roll band called The Detours (later called The High Numbers), consisting of lead singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon (replaced by Kenny Jones after Moon's 1978 death), was playing illegal underground dance clubs.  The film gives a full insight on these young men's beginnings, prior to their success as, The Who.  The founding members of The Who, Daltrey Townshend, and Entwistle, grew up in Action, London, and all attended the same grammar school.  Townshend's father played saxaphone and his mother sung in the entertaiment division of the Royal Air Force during World War II, and both supported their son's interest in rock and roll.  Entwistle played French horn, and as Townshend, their friendship grew, and so did their love of music to form a traditional jazz group.  However, Townshend's love of art carried him to an art college, while Entwistle to a symphony orchestra.  However, these were boys who were troubled with gangs and fitting in school, so rock and roll was their outlet.

The intertwining character examinations merge when in 1963 Lambert and Stamp came to share an apartment in west London, and Lambert convinced Stamp that the two should direct their own film about the burgeoning British rock scene.  In this documentary Stamp is interviewed and quoted, "Our idea was to find a group that somehow represented the emerging ideas of our times.  They would be rebellious, anarchistic and uniquely different from the established English pop scene."  Stamp and Lambert met the members of The Who, then known as The High Numbers at a local club, and as Lambert states in this film, "I shall always remember that night we first saw them together.  I had never seen anything like it.  The Who have a hypnotic effect on an audience.  I realized that the first time I saw them.  It was like a black mass.  Even then Pete Townshend was doing all tha electronic feedback stuff.  Keith Moon was going wild on drums.  The effect on the audience was tremendous.  It was as if they were in a trance."  Stamp and Lambert's contrasting personalities and backgrounds also made an impression on the band.  Despite having no prior experience in business management or the music industry, the duo made a move to acquire The High Numbers rock and roll group.  Lambert had learned from The Beatle's attorney, David Jacobs, that the band's contract with their manager was invalid.  In 1964, Lambert and Stamp became their new managers and officially changed the groups' name to, The Who.

The film delves into the latter years of the relationships between these animated personalities.  Fall-outs over the groups' direction, the music labels of Track Records associated with musical acts Jimi Hendrix, Labelle, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the loss of Shepperton Studios (which they acquire on their rise to success) due mismanagement of funds, the controversial legalities in the rights of the Tommy stage and film productions, and lastly the over indulgence in drug use which enabled the death of Kit Lambert.

Filmmaker James D. Cooper takes the audience on an insightful cinematic journey examining two men who shaped one of the most exciting bands of all time.

FILM RATING (A)



           
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
Directed by: John Madden
Running time: 122 mins.
Release date: March 6, 2015
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance, and Sequel
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG

In 2012, the sleeper comedy hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel beckoned audiences on a journey with a group of seven British pensioners who 'outsourced' their retirement, taking a risk on a newly opened Indian hotel claiming to cater to the "Elderly & Beautiful."  Though the hotel turned out to have seen better days, the fearless and optimistic residents came to realize that no matter what their age, the best might be yet to come.  The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel brings together the original cast, headed by co-managers Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) and Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), along with Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy).  

As in some sequels, one should know the background.  In this case, the film picks up right after its predecessor and is not understandable if you don't know what to expect.  The original film took the audience to an exploratory cinematic journey into the lives of ordinary, complicated, and funny senior people embarking on a bold adventure played by the finest actors of their generation.

In this sequel, co-managers of the establishment Muriel and Sonny have a dream of expansion, while Evelyn and Douglas venture into a new fabric industry and wondering where their regular breakfast dates will lead.  Meanwhile, Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) cement their exclusive relationship, as Madge (Celia Imrie) juggles two very eligible suitors, and recent arrival Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) finds a muse in Sonny's mother, Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey) for his next novel.  All this is happening on screen, as Sonny's marriage to Sunaina (Tina Desai) soon approaches.

The story is quite busy, but not disjointed.  It is ignited by the presence and performances of the world's talented regal actors.  I personally did not care if the story had flaws concerning 'Bollywood' dance scenes that side-stepped the flow and pacing, because the talent overcomes those barriers.  Understandably, the musical and dance scenes placed emphasis in a significant manner on the Indian culture, but it did not integrate properly as part of the film's narration.  The plot driven presentation portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations and stories involving intense character development and interaction made this film a special movie to watch.  

FILM  RATING (B)



THE LAZARUS EFFECT
Directed by: David Galeb
Running time: 83 mins.
Release date: February 27, 2015
Genre: Sci-Fi and Horror
Distributor: Relativity Media
MPAA Rating: PG-13

From masters of horror Blumhouse Productions, producer of The Purge, Insidious, and Sinister franchise, The Lazarus Effect follows a group of researchers who achieve the imaginable of bringing the dead back to life.

The facts concerning the production is nothing new reflecting on the stories of Dr. Frankenstein.  In this contemporary theme, the thought is to set the tone of humans having to sought the power of time immemorial.  This film delves into the perilous journey of altering the most basic law of nature - cheating death.  This story builds on a mysterious medical reality that has resulted in more than three dozen documented cases of the so-called Lazarus Phenomenon - when a patient spontaneously returns to life even after resuscitation has failed, named for the Biblical figure Lazurus who rose from the dead.  While scientists don't know precisely what might trigger a stopped heart's electrical system to restart, this film puts an imaginary theory to a cinematic narrative.

Following a group of researchers led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancee Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who have achieved the unimaginable by bringing a deceased animal back to life, the team is ready to unveil their breakthrough to the world.  Along with their team (Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger and Evan Peters, take matters into their own hands after being rejected by sponsors and losing their funding from the university's financial backing.  This sets the intrigue and intensity of the plot on how they strive to achieve their goals.

In a mild and 'B Movie' scenario of a science fiction, the procedure of the team appears to be successful, but the team soon realizes something is wrong when Zoe is the used for underground experiments.  They find that the problem is not in the attempt of resurrecting, but in the collateral damage of Zoe's return.

As this film is designed to frighten and to invoke our hidden fears, in a terrifying manner, it fails to captivate or entertain us at the same time in a cathartic experience.  The quasi-scientific setting is stale in delivering visionary and imaginative energy.  The performances are substandard, and floats on being sappy and frustrating.  The special effects are essential to the plot, but it isn't handled skillfully.  It seems that it does not serve a necessary function and sacrifices the film's plot and characterization.

The Lazarus Effect does not live!

FILM RATING (C)

  

    


QUEEN & COUNTRY
Directed by: John Boorman
Running time: 115 mins.
Release date: February 18, 2015
Genre: Comedy, Drama, and Period Piece
Distributor: BBC Worldwide North America
MPAA Rating: Not rated

The setting is the early 1950s London, when post WWII still holds its inhabitants in a stage chaos from collateral damage of the Blitz.  Yet, this story written by filmmaker John Boorman, of the classics films Point Blank (1967) and Deliverance (1972), is a reflection of his own life crafted in a fictional narrative.  It is a film about a young Englishman who grew up in London during WWII, and joins the military to fight in the Korean War.

This film is a hilarious continuation of John Boorman's Hope and Glory (1987) film, when 9 year old Bill Rohan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards and Arran Best) rejoices in the destruction of his school by an errant Luftwaffe bomb.  Queen & Country picks up the story nearly a decade later.  The backstory shows young 18 year old Bill (John Boorman's real life alter-ego played by Callum Turner) dreaming his life away at the family's riverside home on the Thames, waiting to be called up for two year's conscription in the Army.  His carefree lifestyle is of swimming each morning and yearning for a pretty girl who daily cycles past his home at the same time.  The routine is broken when he is called to duty by the military.  The harsh realities of boot camp shatters his misconceptions of what discipline is about.  This sets the tone for a surreal, yet comedic sense of irony in a young man finding his way.

The plot takes form when Bill meets a free-spirited recruit Percy (Celeb Landry Jones).  Percy is an amoral prankster, and Bill's rival during boot-training, but soon becomes best-friends as they find a common ground to rebel against their rigid tormentor, Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis).  The story takes on a No Time For Sergeant theme, as this trio are at each others throats.  Bill and Percy are the Sad Sacks of the misadventures that take on a 'tug of war' scenario. 

However, the pressures of the strict military life is briefly relieved by excursions into the outside world, as Bill seeks out and falls in love with a troubled aristocratic beauty Orphelia (Tamsin Egerton) and Percy falls for Bill's older sister Dawn (Vanessa Kirby), who returns from Canada, leaving behind her two children and an uncertain future with her husband.  

With the two parallel plots merging, the superb ensemble cast weaves this wonderfully funny and often moving depiction of a still-recovering postwar England into a romp.  As a costume dramedy with a historical setting it covers a large expanse of time set against a panoramic backdrop and leaves a lot to gather as a story that centers on affairs of the heart.

Filmmaker John Boorman states, "many of the characters in the story are inspired by people I met at that time and my own family.  All the major events in the movie occurred much as depicted."  Whether fiction or not, Queen & Country is quality work, and the fine actors breathe life into those events that occurred more than sixty years ago.

FILM RATING (B+) 



FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Running time: 125 mins.
Release date: February 13, 2015
Genre: Drama, Romance, and Adaptation
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

In a film adaptation from Fifty Shades of Grey (Trilogy) by E.I. James, is an edgy love story that moves into dark territories of romance.

When literature student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) goes to interview young wealthy entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), she encounters a man who is handsome, brilliant, and intimidating.  The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants him and despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him.  Unable to resist Ana's quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Christian admits he wants her, too - but on his own terms.

The terms Christian dictates is strictly of masochism.  He is a victim of rape and sexual bondage as a boy by an adult woman, who now psychologically invokes his will on selective women in a reverse form of now being the oppressor.  This gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation inflicted and imposed on Ana would give him pleasure.  Ana being a person who has never had sexual intercourse, is without experience, but full of curiosity.  The film attempts to explore her romantic journey, centering on passion and emotion.

As Fifty Shades of Grey is targeted as a romantic tale, it falls short.  It is a pathos-filled tale of romance with stereotypical characters that would be directed to the appeal of feminine audiences.  Much too lengthy on running time and repetitive in nature, this story that is filled with rationalizations of sexual bondage, s&m, and sexual abuse is lacking substance.  The tone and theme suffers from a thoughtful plot by offering perversion as a substitute.  Does sexual exploitation and illogical nudity on screen give meaning to a romantic film?  In my opinion, it does not.  It does not share the form of erotism, but validates nonsense.

Casting the two leads in this movie is a waste of good talent.  Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dorman give as much of themselves on screen, as the film offers them to give - which is exasperating.  Jennifer Ehle as Carla, Victor Rasuk as Jose, Eloise Mumford as Kate, along with Marcia Gay Harden, as Christian Grey's mother, give solid supporting performances, as this controversial narrative struggles with partial merit.

Fifty Shades of Grey is penalized for poor execution in its delivery. It is troublesome, whimsical, and irritating.

FILM RATING (C-)



THE SPOONGEBOB MOVIE: Sponge Out of Water 
(IMAX-3D)
Directed by: Paul Tibbett
Running time: 1 hr. 33 mins.
Release date: February 6, 2015
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family, and Adaptation
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG

In a live-action and animation production, based on the television series by Nickelodeon and originally written by Stephan Hillenburg comes the second movie in the large screen SpongeBob Squarepants series.

The animated characters are unique and humorous.  SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) is a yellow sea sponge and is the main character.  His best friend is Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), a starfish.  SpongeBob works as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab eatery, best known for its Krabby Patty.  His home is a pineapple, and he practices karate with Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence), a scientist squirrel.  His boss a crustacean capitalist named Eugene H. Krabs (Clancy Brown).  SpongeBob likes working, but has an aggressive competitor across the way named Sheldon J. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence).  Plankton is the evil genius owner of the Chum Bucket restaurant, who hates the Krusty Krab and wishes to take the Krabby Patty formula.  Along with these characters are, Squidward Tentacles (Rodger Bumpass) the octopus, and the newly addition of Burger-Beard (Antonio Banderas, the fiendish pirate, and Slash (Jerry Vandergeld).

This romp's setting is focused on life in Bikini Botton where the animated characters work and reside.  Burger-Beard puts a plan in to steal the recipe of Krabby Patty and sell them to the humans for profits.  SpongeBob goes on a quest with his friends to discover and recover the stolen recipe that takes him to the human dimension, where he tangles with the pirate.

The whole point of this family-fun tale is to wonder how they would survive without a Krabby Patty.  It's an unlikely team-up of rescuers.  Innocent and naive SpongeBob and cynical Plankton are initially arch enemies, but there is a great juxtaposition to their dynamics when they are forced to depend on each other for the recovery of the recipe from the dastardly Burger-Beard the pirate.

There isn't much of a stretch in the storyline, but this light-hearted plot is deliberately designed to amuse and provoke laughter with one-liner jokes and exaggerating situations.  Yet, the fantasy takes the audience to netherworld places (another dimension) where events are unlikely to occur in real life.  It transcends the bounds of human possibility and physical laws.  It shines in the element of magic, myth, wonder, and the extraordinary.  This is a film that appeals to both children and adults.

FILM RATING (B)


   


PROJECT ALMANAC
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Running time: 106 mins.
Release date: January 30, 2015
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, and Coming of Age
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In the history of science fiction thrillers from works of Jules Verne to Gene Roddenberry, writers Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman have added their names to the list.  This American found footage film formerly titled Cinema One, Almanac, and Welcome to Yesterday is a contemporary science fiction thriller cemented in a coming of age scenario.

As a graduating high school student and aspiring inventor, David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is admitted into MIT, but is unable to afford the tuition.  Upon learning his mother, Kathy (Amy Landecker), is planning to sell their house.  David enlists his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) and his geek friends Adam Le (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn Goldberg (Sam Lerner) to go through the belongings of his father, Ben Raskins (Gary Weeks), an inventor who died in a car crash on David's seventh birthday, in hope of finding an old camera with a video recording his birthday, in which he briefly spots his seventeen year old self in a reflection.  

Later on, the four teenagers find blueprints of a temporal relocation device that Ben was developing for the U.S. military, and use the available resources to build a functional time machine.  With the use of David's longtime crush, Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black D'Elia), and her car battery, they charge up the machine and begin to go back and forth in time.  

Of course, these kids find all the good things to do with this device, such as monetary gain, parties, and all the frivolous things they want.  David specifically uses the device to win Jessie's affection.

Introducing a young love affair into the plot gives the targeted young audience a love story.  Jonny Weston and Sofia Black D'Elia are perfectly casted for their parts and share solid chemistry as young lovers.  This affair of the heart that center on their emotions and affection is magical.  The journey of the romance sparks the screen.  However, it does not take away from visionary and imaginative quasi-scientific theme and tone.  

The story is fun and exciting as the kids take on impossible quests to fantastic places.  Perhaps, the quests sometimes share a theme of  fantasy with futuristic technology, but it is all in fun.

This is a highly creative sci-fi thriller with a contemporary setting reminiscent to a compilation of films such as, Loopers, Groundhog Day, and The Terminator movie series.  The lively performances excite a coming of age plot while igniting non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing.  It is adventurous and pure audience escapism!

FILM RATING (B-)




PADDINGTON
Directed by: Paul King
Running time: 90 mins.
Release date: January 16, 2015
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, and Adaptation
Distributor: TWC-Dimenson
MPAA Rating: Not rated

This is the first film adaptation of author Michael Bond's beloved long-running series of children's books that first debuted in 1958.  The film is based on Paddington Bear by Michael Bond and stars Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, and Nicole Kidman, with Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington.

Paddington tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear who travels to the city of London in search of a home.  This is inspiration begins in the deep jungles of darkest Peru, when an explorer named Montgomery Clyde played by Tim Downe locates a family of semi-intelligent bears, whom he realizes can learn English and have a deep appetite for marmalade.  He tells them they are always welcome should they wish to go to Britain.  The bears, aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon), live in harmony with their nephew.  One day, an earthquake strikes their home, forcing them to seek shelter underground causing the death of uncle Pastuzo.  Aunt lucy encourages her nephew to London for solace and she moves into a retirement for old bears.

The misadventures begins as the young bear reaches London but fails to find a home, until he is taken in by the Brown family, who name him Paddington.  Mr. Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) is adament to Paddington's staying with the family permanently because of the series of accidents around the house.  As Paddington's feelings of being ostracised emerge, he goes in search for the explorer Montgomery Clyde.

This light-hearted plot consistently and delightfully transform into a fun film.  It is deliberately designed to amuse and provide laughter by exaggerate the situation, the language, action, relationships and characters.  The simplest way of looking at this is to say that it surprises, startles, and delights the audience.  The essential aspect of the movie is that is goes beyond the ordinary, the dull and the familiar by using live-action animation and actual live actors.  To do this in a good manner, it uses a whole range of comic tactics from absurdity to mockery, to sarcasm to irony, which creates a distance and perspective on the world, a world that is no longer pedestrian but comical.  Yet it tells a story of tolerance by way of humorous tactics that disturb, disrupts, alters, and changes things from what is expected.  

Paddington is a comedy of delight.  It brings to the screen a sense of what if all the obstacles were removed, and the venality and cruelty were banished.  

FILM RATING (B)




A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Running time: 125 mins.
Release date: December 31, 2014 (limited) & January 9, 2015 (wide)
Genre: Drama, Action, and Crime
Distributor: A23 Films
MPAA Rating: R

Filmmaker J.C. Chandor also scripted this period piece crime drama set in New York City during the winter of 1981.  The setting is post 'Son of Sam' killings (also known as the .44 Caliber killings) of the late 1970s New York City, when gasoline bootlegging gasoline rackets ran rampart.  While drug trafficking, construction schemes, loansharking, and extortion rackets were ran by the Genovese crime family, and an underbelly Russian organized crime syndicate emerged.

This is a fictional account of a fact based era, statistically one of the most violent years in the city's history.  The film centers on the life of an immigrant and his family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in.  Focusing on the bootlegging gasoline rackets conceived by the Russians and in cooperation with the New York Mafia Five Families, the mobsters would set up shell companies to distribute gasoline at a price fraudulently represented as including federal, state, and local excise taxes.  

However, this particular family's patriarch Abel Morales played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac, along with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), aggressively attempts to legally run their petroleum company.  With many disrupting corrupt elements altering their attempts and legal authorities investigating their every move, the process of living right is threatened.

The stylish plot is a crime drama, particularly emphasizing cynical attitudes reminiscent of the classical film noir.  Although this is filmed in color, the dark shadows and texture enhances the theme.  Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, a protagonist, as well as, an antagonist, who is portrayed as a sometimes victim of circumstance.  Jessica Chastain gives another outstanding performance as a 'hard as nails' beautiful loving wife, whose backstory is of a femme fatal.  The methodic pacing is patient, until the final scenes when the element of surprise is exciting.  Spotlighting expressionist cinematography of New York City as a backdrop, is quite effective in this setting.  The camera angles are used impressively in setting the tone.  Skillfully using a nostalgic soundtrack as part of the characterization, it makes the film's symbolism authentic.

A Most Violent Year, is a serious plot driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character interaction and development.  With a supporting cast of David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks, and Catalina Sandino Moreno, along with others to contribute, this is an emerging narrative.

FILM RATING (A-)

      


NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: Secret of the Tomb
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Running time: 97 mins.
Release date: December 19, 2014
Genre: Comedy and Sequel
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG

In this final episode of this 3 part imaginative and humorous series, the quest to save the magic continues.  Capsuling the Fox synopsis, imagine walking into the world's most magnificent museums, where the wonders and history of the world comes to life.  That was the starting point for the Night at the Museum motion pictures, which have captivated audiences globally.  Now, its third installment takes all of its beloved characters around the world for their greatest adventure yet.

Ben Stiller reprises his role as museum guard Larry Daley is once again at the helm, producing and directing a pantheon of comic talent.  Beloved actor/comedian Robin Williams, who sadly, passed away earlier this year, reprises his role as Teddy Roosevelt.  Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley stars as Merenkahre, father of Ahklmenrah's (Rami Malek) and Pharaoh of the Nile.  Acting legends Dick Van Dyke as debonair Cecil, the late Mickey Rooney as Gus and Bill Cobbs as Reginald reprise the roles of the original night guards, which they created in the first Night at the Museum.  Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan return as the comedic duo Jedediah and Octavius. Dan Stevens portrays Sir Lancelot, while Patrick Gallacher and Mizuo Peck reprise their roles as Attila and Sacajawea.  Ricky Gervais and Rebel Wilson are new faces to the cast playing Dr. McPhee (head of NY museum) and Tilly (guard of London's museum).  And lastly, the show stealing monkey, Crystal.

The plot is lively and amusing when the New York's Natural History Museum's exhibits, which comes to life at night, start to behave strangely.  Larry, the newly promoted director of nighttime operations at the Museum, must find out why.  The Tablet, which magically brings the creatures to life, has started to decay and the only way to restore it may at the British Museum.  Larry, who'll do anything to save his museum family, along with his son (he shares with ex-wife) Nick (Skyler Gisondo) and the museum exhibits, travel from New York to London, where they must discover the Tablet's secret.

In a recent press conference the question of why this film series lasted the years was answered by director Shawn Levy.  He states, "we knew we had a good idea at the core......and it was a conscious decision to bond father and son (in this final episode) characters."  Ben Stiller added, " I'm glad we connected children and adults."  Ricky Gervais commented, " I love museums." While Rebel Wilson added, "We didn't have museum's in my hometown.  My biggest challenge working in this film was the cold weather when shooting the movie."  And Owen Wilson complimented his director in saying, "Shawn allowed me to experiment with my work with Steve Coogan."

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, is a fun-filled finale to a successful film series that embraced universal audiences of all ages.

FILM RATING (B)



THE GAMBLER
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Running time: 111 mins.
Release date: December 19, 2014
Genre: Drama, Crime, Remake, and Adaptation
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

Screenplay writer William Monahan adapted and scripted this American crime drama film based on the 1974 film starring James Caan of the same name and of original screenplay written by James Toback (Two Girls and a Guy).  In this version Mark Wahlberg takes the helm and portrays the literature professor who is titular gambler.

Much like the 1974 predecessor, this remake is an edgy psychological crime drama depicting the mind of an obsessed gambler who is an academic literature professor.  Mark Wahlberg is Jim Bennet, a brilliant college literature professor with the same weakness as one of Dostoevsky's characters.  He can't resist a wager.  However, he is in so deep that even his seemingly good- but lethally dangerous - bookie Neville (Michael K. Williams) threatens to kill him for past due amounts.  With a bailout from another gangster, Frank (John Goodman), Jim Bennet further drives himself into a financial hole.  After winning big, Jim isn't satisfied in walking away and clearing old debts.

Mark Wahlberg doesn't capture the aggressive compulsiveness of the gambling addict in a believable manner.  This role is to capture the personality of a man split between a seemingly intelligent teacher and an uncontrollably stupid impulse.  

The emotional roller coaster is only introduced with clarity through Jim's love interest and student Amy Phillips (Brie Larson).  Yet, the chemistry and romantic structure is strained on screen between Mark Wahlberg and Brie Larson.  

This crime drama is developed around the sinister actions of criminals and hoodlums with an emphasis on gambling addiction.  The only inspiring moments seem to come out from supporting players, such as, Jessica Lange who plays Jim's wealthy mother who enables him.

The Gambler as a serious plot-driven presentation portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations and stories involving intense character development and interaction falls short on this measure.  It is penalized for poor execution!

FILM RATING (C)



THE HUNGER GAMES: Mockingjay - Part 1
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Running time: 123 mins.
Release date: November 21, 2014
Genre: Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, Adaptation, and Sequel
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating: PG-13

This is the first of two cinematic parts based on the novel Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins, and the third installment in The Hunger Games film series.  

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland.  It is the prequel to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2.

The story continues, which finds Katness in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever.  Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katness spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage.  This is inspired by her (Katness) escaping the Third Quarter Quell and becoming a reluctant hero and symbol of hope for the nation of Panem.

Although this is a 'cliff-hanger' scenario, this is a very impressive mature character-driven plot with solid performances by all actors along with brilliant political and social themes.  It also, keeps its tone as an epic costume drama that covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop.  It is elaborate, yet subtle in its delivery displaying grandeur and spectacle.  It acknowledges the horror and heartbreak of war, letting the actual combat fighting (against nations and humankind) provide the primary plot and background for the action of the film.  However, the human interest sequences inspires a natural emotional setting.  The dramatic scope and high production values shine throughout the film.  Giving the audience every bit of enjoyment.  

The second and final addition to this exciting franchise will prove to be rewarding and highly anticipated.

FILM RATING (A)



ST. VINCENT
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Running time: 102 mins.
Release date: Oct. 10, 2014 (Limited), Oct. 17 & 24, 2014 (Wide)
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Distributor: TWC
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Theodore Melfi is the writer/director of St. Vincent starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, and Chris O'Dowd.  It is a story based on an idea from Melfi's daughter about an unlikely friendship between a young boy and a rough-around-edges misunderstood older man with a genuinely good-natured heart.

Bill Murray portrays cantankerous Vincent, a Brooklynite who develops an unusual friendship with a 11 year old boy named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).  Oliver's mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single parent, meets Vincent as she and her son move into their new home in Brooklyn.  Forced to work long hours as a nurse, she has no choice but to hire Vincent as a sitter for Oliver.  Reluctantly, she leaves Oliver in the care of their new neighbor Vincent, a retired curmudgeon with a penchant for alcohol, gambling, and the love of a Russian American pregnant stripper/prostitute named Daka (Naomi Watts).  An odd friendship soon blossoms between the improbable pair of Vincent and Oliver.  Together, Vincent and Oliver's after school adventures are trips to the race track, strip club, and the local dive bar.  

In a coming-of-age scenario, the first part of this film focuses on how Vincent helps Oliver grow to become a man, while Oliver begins to see in Vincent something that no one else is able to: a misunderstood good-hearted man who is dealing with an ailing wife suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

The film works on multi-levels as Oliver makes Vincent the saint in his homework assignment as they change each other's life.  Yet, there is a theme of recovery in Vincent's dealing with the lost of his institutionalized wife, along with the unorthodox love relationship between Vincent and Daka.  Daka is a Russian American stripper/prostitute with a lot of attitude, and a no-nonsense state of being.  Noami Watts is hilarious, and is the comedy piece of the film oppose to natural comedian Bill Murray.  Her performance is comically spontaneous, fresh, and strong.  However, there is much more to digest as Melissa McCarthy's character Maggie, dramatically deals with single parenting issues.

This a stimulating film, that is rich with character studies.  The ensemble, led by Bill Murray, show a multi-dimensional picture of human beings dealing with difficulties.  This is a brilliant dramatic narrative laced with humorous bitter sweat situations.

FILM RATING (B+)

    
MY OLD LADY
Directed by: Israel Horovitz
Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes
Release date: September 10, 2014
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance, and Adaptation
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
MPAA Rating: PG-13

With its unique blend of comedy, drama, and ultimately romance, My Old Lady marks the directorial debut of internationally celebrated playwright Israel Horovitz, adapting his own hit play.

Taken from the production notes of the studio, this is a project filmed on location in a ravishing Paris, France, of quiet back streets and familiar locales, this movie is a touching romantic drama about inheritance and past secrets coming home to roost, featuring an all-star cast working together at the height of their talents.

As further stated in the synopsis, Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) is a down on his luck New Yorker who inherits a Parisian apartment from his recently dead estranged father.  However, when he arrives in France to sell the vast domicile, he is shocked to discover a live-in tenant who is not prepared to leave.  His apartment is a "viager" - an ancient French real estate system with complex rules pertaining to its resale - and the feisty elderly Englishwoman Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), who has lived in the apartment with her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas) for many years, can by contract collect monthly payments from an impoverished Mathias until her death.

The plot-driven presentation portrays serious and realistic characters, brilliantly played by these outstanding actors.  Often the life situations are humorous in nature yet dramatically involving intense character development and interaction.  The unusual twists and turns of the plot offers a unique and highly complicated theme to love stories that center on passion, emotion, affectionate involvement of the main characters, and the journey that their love took and takes them through.

My Old Lady, is heartbreaking yet a wonderful tale, as the plot becomes entangled when Mathias finds himself with no place to go.  He strikes a tentative lodging arrangement with Mathilde, instantly clashing with suspicious and lovelorn Chloe over his private dealings with a rapacious property developer, who wants to purchase the apartment.  The intensity grows as an uneasy detente settles in as the quarreling Mathias and Chloe come to discover a common ground of childhood pain and neglect manifested by Mathias' late father and Chloe's mother Mathilde's long distance love affair of the past.  As they draw increasingly closer, Mathias unveils a complex labyrinth of secrets that unite the trio in unexpected ways.

This is a very good empathetic portrait of people who strive to transcend the limitations of life's terms.

FILM RATING (B+)


LIFE AFTER BETH
Directed by: Jeff Baena
Running time: 91 mins.
Release date: August 15, 2014
Genre: Horror, Comedy, and Romance
Distributor: A24 Films
MPAA Rating: R

In his directorial feature debut, Jeff Baena (co-writer of I Heart Huckabees), writes and directs this quirky zombie comedy film.  With a young cast starring Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan along with Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, and John C. Reilly, this ridiculously funny horror gives new life to macabre.

Teenaged Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan) is a regular high school senior who is emotionally distraught when his girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza), unexpectedly dies.  Devastated Zach is amazed when she seems to miraculously comes back to life after rising from her grave.  Not aware of her real situation as a member of the walking dead, Zach takes full advantage of the opportunity to share and experience all the things he regretted not doing with her before.

In supporting parts are the families of the Zach and Beth.  Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines portray Zach's naive father and mother, Noah and Judy Orfman, along with Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach's civil patrol-minded flashlight cop older brother Kyle.  On the other end, Beth's parents Maury and Geenie Slocum are humorously played by John C. Reilly and Mollie Shannon, who are in extreme denial of their zombie daughter's situation of flesh deterioration, odor, and cannibalism habits.  These are essential elements scripted into the storyline to make this campy film successfully work.  

Designed to frighten and invoke hidden fears of the audience, this film fused satire to deliberately amuse and provoke laughter by exaggerating situations, language and dialogue, relationships, and characters.  With over-the-top scenarios and the newly returned Beth isn't quite how Zach remembered her and, before long, Zach's whole world takes a turn for the worse.

If you want a funny romantic film focusing on a girl who is a human-hungry zombie, Life After Beth, is your movie!

FILM RATING (B+)  





AUGUST 8. 2014 RELEASES:
Into The Storm, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3D, James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D, and At The Devil's Door opens weak on consensus:

These four films open on August 8, 2014, to a mediocre to poor reception, giving the mid-summer market a weak presentation to the movie industry.

Into The Storm, a WB release from the Newline Cinema Studio is an 89 minute dramatic action thriller under a PG-13 rating.  This is a movie that is directed by Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) telling a tale spanning in just a few hours of the most furious twisters they have ever seen. Using the theme of disaster flick hinging on impending crisis as its basis.  Not with a challenging format to tell this story, it sweeps locales attempting to interlock a cast with natural perils.  High production values but low production taste.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3D, a Paramount Pictures release is a 2 hour comedic action adventure under a PG-13 rating.  This is a movie that is directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) rebooting the Nickelodeon franchise.  The origins of the Turtles came out-of-the-blue in 1983 when comic book artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman began their project to the first feature film in 1990.  This gives a new audience a chance to relive the exciting tales of the tenacious terrapins.  Fighting crime and fear that are spreading through the streets of New York City, as evil-doers Shredder and Foot Clan are put down by the oldest and most disciplined of the amped-up amphibians Leonardo, Raphael the rebellious bad-boy with a temper to match, Michelangelo aka Mikey the surfer eating pizza lover, Donatello the smartest of the terrapins who comes to life as a non-stop digital inventor, and Master Splinter rounds out the Turtle's patchwork family as the father-figure, instructing them in the way of the Ninja.  Included in the cast is Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and William Fichtner.

James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D, is a documentary directed by John Bruno, Andrew Wight, and Ray Quint that follows the dramatic story of James Cameron's odyssey as he undertakes an expedition to the deepest part of the ocean.  This is a journey of historic proportion and risk.  The film panders Cameron's personal quest in exploration and hopes to mesmerize viewers of all ages with the thrill of true discovery and the allure of the unknown, of new forms, and of vistas never before captured on camera from the depths of the sea.  It is a bit pretentious in nature, but has merit for scientific material.

At The Devil's Door, is an IFC release horror film directed by Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) that follows an ambitious young real estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who is asked to sell a house with a checkered past.  She crosses paths with a disturbed girl (Ava Acres) whom she learns is the runaway daughter of the couple selling the property.  Designed to frighten and to invoke our most hidden fears in a cathartic experience between captivating and entertaining, the eerie plot ventures into a realm when Leigh tries to intervene and help her.  Leigh becomes entangled with a supernatural force that soon pulls her sister Vera (Naya Rivera) into its web - and has sinister plans for both of them.  Lacks continuity and substance.

FILM RATINGS for all (C)

     
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (IMAX 3D)
Directed by: James Gunn
Running time: 121 mins.
Release date: August 1, 2014
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, and Adaptation
Distributor: Walt Disney Motion Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

From Marvel, the studio that brought the global blockbuster franchise of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers has adapted for screen another comic book epic.  A comic book written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, is an action-packed adventure that stars an all-star cast of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, with John C. Reilly, Glen Close and Benicio Del Toro.

Without knowing the basis of the story, the film gives a thorough jump-off backstory set in 1998.  Beginning at the following his mother's death, a frail young teenage Peter Quill (Wyatt Oleff) is abducted from Earth by the Ravagers, a group of space pirates led by Yondu Udonto (Michael Rooker).  As the plot skips fast-forward six years later on the planet Morag, young adult and brash adventurer Peter Quill, finds himself in the midst of a theft of sphere-like artifact.  Once, he steals this mysterious orb coveted by fanatical Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace),  a member of the Kree clan led by her father Kree Ronan.  However, Peter escapes with the sphere, but Yondu discovers his theft and issues a bounty for his capture while Ronan sends the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after the orb sphere.

In an atmosphere of adventurous comic relief, including non-stop motion of action and high energy, Peter Quill takes on comrades like genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), tree figure humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel), and green face Gamora (Saldana) to escape the clutches of the many sinister elements.  The plot thickens as Peter Quill must negotiate a truce with his rogue rival Yondu, once the orb is taken from Peter by evil Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a Kree ally to Ronan who is a feared intergalactic hunter.  

Meanwhile, on the planet Xandar, a peace agreement is breached and Nova Prime Irani Rael (Glenn Close), who leads this government with the security assistance of Corpsman Rhomann (John C. Reilly), must defend along with the Gaurdians of the Galaxy, their existence from evil evaders.

Additional voices are added in this production by Josh Brolin as Thanos and Benicio Del Toro as Tanleer Tivan/The Collector, an obsessive keeper of the largest collection of interstellar fauna, relics, and species in the galaxy who operates out of a place in space named Knowhere.

Using this film as a staging point to enlighten an audience not aware of this comic book's origins, Guardians Of The Galaxy is a combination of Stars Wars and Looney Toons, and it gives its viewers a spectacle of special effects, heavy humor, and action.  The story may be light on content, but it is all designed for pure escapism.  A fun film!

FILM RATING (B)


    

LUCY 
Directed by: Luc Besson
Running time: 89 mins.
Release date: July 25, 2014
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, and Action
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

In a film production started in 2013 in Paris, for the the most part at the Cine' de Cinema, a new megastudio located on the outskirts of Paris, Luc Besson, who directed, written, edited and co-produced with Europacorp, aspired to bring an English language female French superhero to the silver screen.  

This is a story of a woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal of involuntary drug trafficking by an Asian cartel.  The tables on turned on her captors and transforms her into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

In a world that is run by the mob, street gangs, drug addicts, and corrupt cops, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an American woman living in Taipei, Taiwan who is forced to work as a drug mule for an Asian mob led by Kang (Choi Min-sik).  The drug implanted in her body inadvertently leaks into her system, changing her into a superhuman, due to accessing much more than the normal 10% of her brain capacity.  She can absorb knowledge instantaneously, is able to move objects with mind, and chooses not to feel pain or other discomforts.

Morgan Freeman co-stars as Professor Norman who teaches the theory of mind capacity and its usage.  Lucy reaches out to him to unlock her secrets to him and to further the study with her facts.  While Amr Waked plays a French policeman who vows to assist Lucy in her quest to unlock the mysteries of the universe and capture the bad guys. 

In a colossal and visually handsome spectrum of action scenes, Lucy becomes a high energy, big-budget physical stunts and chases flick that takes its production shooting crew to France, United States, and Taiwan.  Using these locations for the backdrops makes this an international adventure with entanglements, rescues, battles, fights, escapes, a plot-driven presentation of non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing.

Lucy is a two-dimensional theme movie, good versus evil.  All designed for pure escapism, this fictional story based on facts - it has factual errors.  The major premise of this movie is that humans only use a small percentage of our brains as proclaimed in the dialogue by acclaimed veteran actor Morgan Freeman's character Professor Norman, which is false.  But it does not matter for this 40 million dollar film production, it is only to promote an image of strong violence, sexuality, and special affects galore.  Using the quasi-scientific, visionary and imaginative theme, complete with impossible quests, improbable settings along with dark and shadowy villains, and futuristic technology to create havoc is somewhat of an offshoot of a fantasy.  

However, Lucy is a fun film of science fiction that expresses the potential of technology.

FILM RATING (B)




THE PURGE: ANARCHY
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Running time: 103 mins.
Release date: July 18, 2014
Genre: Horror, Action, Thriller, and Sequel
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

This is the sequel to 2013 film The Purge and does not bring back Ethan Hawke, but stars Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, and Michael K. Williams.

The plot is laid out on the sixth annual killing event's eve.  The Purge is a night where all crime is legal and all hospitals, fire stations, prison control centers and police stations in the United States are closed down for 12 hours.  

In 2023, a year after The Purge of 2022, a married couple on the brink of separating, named Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), are driving to one of their sister's house in Los Angeles to wait out the Purge when their car runs out of gas just as the Purge begins, and they run from masked attackers on motorcycles and minibikes.  This is the beginning fuel for non-stop motion of action in this movie.

Meanwhile, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) goes out onto the streets to get revenge on a man who killed his son, and a hard working single mother Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and an outspoken daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) run into the night after being attacked in their tenement by a group of well equipped unknown assailants and Eva's father selling his body to the wealthy for slaughter (to enrich the family economically).

This plot-driven presentation is less dramatic and more designed to frighten and invoke our hidden worst fears, often in terrifying and shocking scenes while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience.  However, the whimsical storyline is troublesome.  The stale theme is saturated with irritating performances, and leaves the 'wanna-be' horrific scenes to comic relief.  

FILM RATING (C)


 

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (3D)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Running time: 130 mins.
Release date: July 11, 2014
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, Sequel, and Adaptation
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In the production development notes, it is stated that after the release of the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, director Rupert Wyatt comments on possible sequels: "I think we are ending with certain questions, which is quite exciting.  To me, I can think of all sorts of sequels to this film, but this is just the beginning."  In the light of this statement, it is quite evident that this 2011 film was the platform to reboot the Planet of the Apes series that originated in 1968.

In this epic film starring Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Keri Washington opens this sequel with a news report showing the ten year global pandemic of a virus, since the ape breakout in San Francisco.  It shows a middle-age Caesar (Serkis) as leader of the new generation of apes living in a communal civilization apart from the humans who are struggling to survive in a post apocalyptic society.  The apes thought that human existence has long been gone until a human patrol imposes of the apes territory for the use of a broken dam for generator energy.  However, the humans are armed with assault weapons and cause havoc. 

Caesar orders the humans to never return and tells them, "Apes do not want war."  Yet, Malcolm (Clarke), a human scientist along with his group, consisting of Ellie (Washington) and Malcolm's son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) befriend Caesar and his immediate family.  This bond is sabotaged by prejudice parties which promotes the conflicts.

As in most action films, this movie explodes with high energy, big budget physical stunts and chases, with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm, and a stimulating pace.  The quasi-scientific scenario is visionary and imaginative complete with improbable settings and unknowable forces.  It all adds to the promotion of intense excitement, suspense, high level of anticipation which increases the audiences expectations, uncertainty, and anxiety.

FILM RATING (B+) 


 

TRANSFORMERS: Age of Extinction (IMAX 3D)
Directed by: Michael Bay
Running time: 165 mins.
Release date: June 27, 2014
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, Sequel, and Adaptation
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

It is the fourth installment of the live-action Transformers film series and is part of the science fiction action movies based on Transformers (Hasbro Toys) franchise.  

A sequel to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the film takes place four years after the invasion of Chicago.  Like its predecessors, the film is directed by Michael Bay and the screenplay is written by Ehren Kruger (served as screenwriter since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).  However, Shia LaBeouf steps down from the lead character in the version and Mark Wahlberg takes the helm.  Along side of Mark Wahlberg, the cast consist of a star clustered performers including; Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer, Li Bingbing, Sophia Myles, Titus Welliver, T.J. Miller, Melanie Specht, and Victoria Summer.

The premise is predictable in this series that four years after the events of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a mechanic Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and his daughter Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz) discover a deactivated autobat leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen).  Meanwhile, a powerful, ingenious businessman Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a group of scientists, and a paranoid government official Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) attempt to learn from past Transformer incursions and push the boundaries of technology beyond what they can control.

As motivated as a storyline can be, this is a lengthy lack-lustered plot that is big on special effects and small of substance.  This big budget film is to be high energy, but it overloads itself with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, destructive crisis (floods, explosions, natural disasters, fires, etc.), and non-stop motion.  It gives too much on the quasi-scientific scenario complete with hero aleins, impossible quests, improbable settings, unknown forces, and extraordinary monsters (creatures from space).

In the tradition of the franchise, this fourth edition is an action-pack sci-fi movie that will energize and ultimately entertain its audience.  The adrenaline is contagious, yet I found it to be excessive.

FILM RATING (C+) 





ME AND YOU (IO E TE)
Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci
Running time: 97 mins.
Release date: June 27, 2014
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age, and Adaptation in Italian with English subtitles.
Distributor: Emerging Pictures
MPAA Rating: Not rated

This Italian family film is based on the 2012 novel by Nicolo Anmanti of the same title.  It reprises the childish perspective and sinister psychological frightedness of his international best-seller I'm Not Scared (2002).  It is a narrow world in a constrained perspective of aristocracy, and made up for the most part, of only a cellar of a residential building a rebellious teenager inhabits while his parents think he's on a skiing trip with his classmates.

Lorenzo, a quirky 14 year old loner played by Jacopo Olmo Antinori, who has difficult relationships with his parents and peers, decides to take a break from everything by hiding out in his buildings neglected basement.  No one has a clue that clever Lorenzo will actually be abandoning a school ski trip to be alone.  For an entire week, he will finally avoid all conflict and pressure to be a "normal" teenager.  He plans to live in perfect isolation with his favorite music, books, laptop, and ant farm, an interesting alternative to watching television.

However, an unexpected visit from Lorenzo's artistic wayward older half-sister Olivia (Tea Falco) changes everything.  Away for years because of ill feelings towards Lorenzo's mother (Sonia Bergamasco), who is her step mother, she plummets into the small basement room in search of some forgotten possessions.  A worldly 25 year old beauty, her problematic and fragile state upsets Lorenzo's total escape from reality.  Yet, the siblings bond as Lorenzo aids his sister in going "cold turkey" from her heroin addiction.  As we see this bonding taking place on screen, the plot opens with backstory and allows the film to gracefully evolve in front of our eyes.

Their forced cohabitation in the basement's confined space brings forth confrontation and old resentments, but also a need for affection and intimacy.  A few emotional days and nights with his sister Olivia ill inspire Lorenzo to see the world through new eyes.

Me and You transforms the obvious "claustrophobia" of a small basement scenario into a love confinement in enclosed spaces.  The youthful actors capture vitality and curiosity in this brilliant coming of age narrative.

FILM RATING (B+)





THE ROVER
Directed by: David Michod
Running time: 102 mins.
Release date: June 13, 2014 (NY/LA Limited) & June 20, 2014 (wide)
Genre: Drama, Western, Crime, and Adaptation 
Distributor: A24
MPAA Rating: R

For his follow-up to 2011's universally acclaimed Animal Kingdom, a family drama set in the Melbourne, Australia criminal underworld, writer/director David Michod broadens  his palette for another thriller, this time set in the Australian outback, ten years after a great Western economic collapse.  The world of THE ROVER is a near future of social and economic decay, where services, utilities, law and order have fallen into dangerous despair. And yet, people from all corners of the world have come to this desolate outpost to work the mines that feed the Asian century.  With them follow the leeches, hustlers and criminals who hope to exploit the mines' economic margins.

The plot is dark and gritty as Guy Pearce plays a loner named Eric.  He's a cold and angry drifter who has left everything and everyone behind.  When his last possession, his car, is stolen by a gang of desperate desert hustlers, Eric embarks on a ruthless mision to track them down.  Along the way, he is forced into an unlikely relationship with Rey (Robert Pattinson), the naive and injured younger brother of gang member Henry (Scoot McNairy) who has left Rey behind in the aftermath of the gang's recent robbery.  The road trip of murder and mayhem is the center of this terrifying story.

The Rover, a dystopian western crime drama, does a delicate balancing act between outright nightmare and naturalism.  What binds the film together, throughout its shifts of tone, is the mood created by Guy Pearce's performance.  As the film establishes its depraved universe, there are some superbly touches of dark  cinematography.  But as you get caught up in its ever more involved drift, what distinguishes this film from others is that it is richly morbid.  However, it takes patience to be rewarded by its pacing. 

FILM RATING (C+)

    
 
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
Directed by: Josh Boone
Running time: 126 mins.
Release date: June 6, 2014
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Teen Romance, and Adaptation
Distributor: 20th Century Fox/Fox 2000
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Adapted to film from John Green's 2012 novel by the same title, is a soulful story that tackles life, death and love through the eyes of youth.  This is a coming of age tale with the blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion concerning terminal illness and the will to live.

This emerging narrative focuses on a clinically depressed 16 year old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) who is a three year stage IV cancer survivor.  To help her deal with, her mother and father (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) guided by their doctor send her to a weekly support group where she meets Augustus 'Gus' Waters (Ansel Elgort), a fellow cancer survivor.  The two teenagers along with a blind support member Isaac (Nat Wolff) who share an acerbic wit and have a disdain for the conventional become close friends.   Hazel and Gus immediately fall in love and this romantic journey sweeps them away and takes them on an unforgettable miraculous journey.

The two kindred spirits share a sense of humor and an immense charm in their relationship, as it is profoundly displayed in the enduring performances by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.  Hazel's inquisitiveness of an ending of a novel written by Peter van Houten (Willem Dafoe) launches Gus' questions to human conditions such as, how will they be remembered, and does their life and death have meaning.  To find answers, the two teenagers take a trip to Amsterdam to interview bitter Peter van Houten.

Using an intelligently paced plot, The Fault in Our Stars is beautifully conceived and executed.  This film artfully examines the largest possible considerations of life, love and death with sensitivity, intelligence, honesty, and integrity.  This is a movie that shows its audience how it is like to live with cancer, sometimes no more than a breath or a heartbeat way from death.  Yet, it shows the triumph of spirited love even while acknowledging its pain.

This raw and honest film explores the humor, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

FILM RATING (A-)


 


FILTH
Directed by: John S. Baird
Running time: 97 min.
Release date: May 30, 2014
Genre: Drama, Crime, Comedy, and Adaptation
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
MPAA Rating: R

Based on Irvine Welsh's 1998's novel by the same title, director and screenplay writer John S. Baird adapts his version of this story of a Scottish bigoted bipolar junkie cop who manipulates and hallucinates his way through the Christmas and New Year season in a bid to secure promotion and win back his wife and daughter.

Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson brilliantly played by James McAvoy desperately wants a promotion.  In his confused demented mind he believes he is clearly the best man for the job and the rest of his colleagues are just idiots.  Although he leads everyone in his unit with arrests and convictions and the promotion should go to him, a high profile murder case is open and his boss Chief Inspector Toal (John Sessions) wants results.  The closing of this case will assure his promotion, but Bruce has unorthodox methods of handling this case, as in other cases he has solved.  He actually believes that he is in control as he drinks and drugs his way through life, and will win the promotion and get his family back.

Enlisted to solve the brutal murder and threatened by the aspirations of his colleagues, including a young inspired Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell) and Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots), Bruce sets about ensuring their ruin right under their noses, by sabotaging evidence, and stealing his colleagues wives and exposing their secrets.

The plot is scabrious, lurid, blackly comic as James McAvoy vividly portrays a sadistically twisted sexual man preoccupied with several women and his increasingly chronic appetite for cocaine and alcohol.  The torrid childhood memories gives this story magnitude and relates to his superego, as this detective spins out of control wasting himself in a misanthropic rage.  This is a supreme antagonist who thrives moral deprivation, yet this extreme behavior is humorous in its dark direction.

Filth is hypnotic, harsh, and masterfully displays a deeply peeved sense of humor.  It is also, a challenging murder mystery using clever dialogue to promote a quick pace for the pursuit of the criminal(s) and the solution to the crime(s).  James McAvoy is a marvel to watch!

FILM RATING (A-)      


GODZILLA (3D IMAX)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Running time: 123 mins.
Release date: May 16, 2014
Genre: Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, and Adaptation/Remake
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Celebrating its 50th year franchise anniversary, Godzilla, the world's most revered monster is back to the silver screen with a vengeance to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless.

The film stars an international ensemble cast led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene), Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samuri), and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) with David Strathairm (The Bourne Legacy) and Emmy plus Golden Globe Award winner Bryan Cranston (Argo and TVs Breaking Bad).

From the giant monster's first Japanese appearance on screen in 1954 as Gojira, originating from a series of tokusatsu films, Ishiro Honda's Godzilla has become a worldwide pop icon starring in 28 films produced by Toho Co., Ltd.  The franchise film was Anglicanized to the western world with the Hollywood version starring pipe smoking Raymond Burr that same year, giving acknowledgement to its creators Tomoyuki Tanaka, Eiji Tsubaraya, and director Ishiro Honda.

While staying compatible to the original screenplay, this adaptation/remake leads off the film with nuclear disasters stemming from Japanese installations.  Perhaps using headlines from actual incidents of Japan's past, the undertones are very vivid in the minds of Japanese citizens and cites Japanese consciousness that Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons.  As radiation spreads, so does the world's eco-balancing becomes distorted.  Unstable weather prevails and tidal waves cause havoc.  All this is being investigated by once prominent scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), whose wife and co-worker Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) died twenty years earlier, in a post WWII nuclear meltdown.  Their surviving son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), grows up with the shadow of not knowing the complete truth of a government cover-up.  None the less, he becomes a U.S. military man and marries Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and they have a son.  

The epic plot thickens as Joe Brody passes the torch to his son Ford to find the truth of what alien monsters thrive off of radiation and what alpha monster is awakened to combat them.  Dr. Ishiro Serizawa intensely played by Ken Watanabe, leads the scientific charge to head off the "dooms day" for all mankind.

Godzilla is designed to frighten and invoke our hidden fears, while captivating and entertaining at the same time in a cathartic experience.  Yet, it is quasi-scientific, visionary and imaginative - complete with heroes, aliens, impossible quests, improbable settings, great dark and shadowy villains, futuristic technology, along with unknown and unknowable forces.  All this is set against the backdrop of an impending disaster scenario in locales such as aboard imperiled aircraft, trains, ships, and towering burning buildings and homes.  The high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety is fuel for the audience to feed on for two hours.

Lets hope for another fifty years of this great franchise!!

FILM RATING (A+)

 

CESAR CHAVEZ: An American Hero
Directed by: Diego Luna
Running time: 98 min.
Release date: March 28, 2014
Genre: Drama, Biopic, and History
Distributor: Pantelion
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In Cesar Chavez, director Diego Lunar presents a powerful cinematic portrait of the legendary activist.  The film stars Michael Pena in the title role, along with America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, and John Malcovich.

Chronicling the birth of a modern American movement originally set in California, Cesar Chavez tells the story of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer torn between his duties as a husband and father, and his commitment to securing a living wage for farm workers.

Michael Pena's magnificent performance approach in this period piece to portraying Cesar Chavez is passionate.  As a humble soft spoken person, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in his global struggle to bring dignity to hard working deprived people.  With exceptional performances by Rosario Dawson as the legendary Delores Huerta (tutored by 84 year old Huerta on the film set), America Ferrera as Helen Cheves, and John Malkovich as land owner Bogdanovich, the authenticity of filmmaker/actor/producer Diego Luna's four year project is nothing short of brilliant.

Obtaining 80% of the funds from Mexico, Diego Luna states, "I found a connection in this film as a journey."  He also said, "I promised my family to do this film."  His approach to realism was to use actual farm workers as extras on the shoot.

As a mark in American history, Chavez inspired millions of Americans from all walks of life who never worked on a farm to fight for social justice.  His triumphant journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one individual's ability to change the world.

FILM RATING (A)  

DIVERGENT (IMAX)
Directed by: Neil Burger
Running time: 2 hr. 23 min.
Release date: March 21, 2014
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Adaptation
Distributor: Lionsgate Films/Summit Entertainment
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Based on novel book series of the same name by Veronica Roth is an action-adventure film adaptation thriller set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues.

In a futuristic post-apocalyptic Chicago, Beatrice 'Tris' Prior (Shailene Woodley) daughter of Marcus and Natalie (Ray Stevenson and Ashley Judd) and younger sister of Caleb (Ansel Elgort), discovers that she is a Divergent, meaning she doesn't fit into any one faction (which is illegal), and soon uncovers a sinister plot brewing in her seemingly perfect society.  

When Tris joins the Dauntlet faction, a youthful police force, she befriends and later finds romance with a leader named Tobias 'Four' Eaton (Theo James).  When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader Jeannine Matthews played by Academy Award winner Kate Winslet to destroy all Divergents and enslave the society, the intensity begins.

With much of the cast being young popular actors such as, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Christian Madsen this is merely a cosmetic Hunger Games.  The film is epic in proportion, yet minor in content.  It leaves the audience with a larger than life coming of age romance story as a subplot.

Perhaps, this is a good read in Veronica Roth's best selling book series, but it does not comes across well as a cinematic gem.  Distilling her fine books into this one of three film series, does not construct well in the two and a half film.  It lacks a good backstory, good acting, and solid plot.

FILM RATING (C+) 

  
RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA
(The 19th Edition)

The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance Films celebrates the best in contemporary French cinema for its nineteenth year.  This year's line-up is comprised of 24 exceptional films making their New York, U.S., or North American premieres.  Included is master filmmakers Bertrand Taverier, Agnes Jaoui, and Francois Ozon, along with critics' favorites Sege Bozon, Michel Gondry,, and the Larrieu brothers.
THEATRICAL FILM REVIEWS & NON-THEATRICAL CAPSULE PREVIEWS BELOW:

Opening Night

ON MY WAY (Elle s'en va)
Directed by: Emmanuelle Bercot
Running time: 113 min.
Release date: March 14, 2014
Genre: Drama and Comedy in French with English subtitles
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

In an excellent dramedy displaying the expertise of veteran thespian Catherine Deneuve as Bettie, a young minded senior citizen and restaurant owner handling a recent break-up of her married lover for a much younger woman, finds life stressful.  Bettie played by Catherine Deneuve in a performance unlike any other in her legendary career, gives an enthusiastically graceful performance of a former Breton beauty queen turned bestro owner.  With the assistance of her elderly yet feisty mother Annie (Claude Gensac), the two ladies barely survive the everyday operation of a business that is going under.

What makes this poignant film a marvel is the reinvention of Bettie's family ties, specifically with her estranged daughter Muriel (French icon pop musician Camille) who asks Bettie to drive her pre-teen son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) to his other grandfather's home.

In filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot's fourth feature, she uses a plot structured on a dramatic roadtrip thesis foreshadowing in the form of ominous and symbolic incidents.  It comes across as a grandmother and grandson bonding which conditions the audience to expect certain logical developments.  However, the clever irony is the fulfillment of the expectation in a surprising way, which is opposite of what was intended.  This is shown in an emerging theme  of a bonding of family members, having Bettie revisit her past, and a coming of age scenario.  The development is a delight to watch.

THE AGE OF PANIC (La Bataille De Solferno)
Directed by: Justine Triet
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: U.S. Premiere
Genre: Drama and Comedy in French with English subtitles

During a largely French broadcast political race, a female broadcaster is juggling her job of covering the race, dealing with her babysitter, her ex-husband, and a new boyfriend.  Filmmaker Justine Triet uses the backdrop of the contemporary French political race to examine the child visitation rights of a father (Vincent Macaigne) versus his ex-wife's (Laetita Dosch) control.  As she maneuvers her coverage of the political campaigning and results she relies on her male babysitter to insure the well being of her young toddler son.  The often complicated funny plot races in crisp pacing towards a resolvement of the domestic dispute and involves the audience with some actual political rally footage.  

In a documentary style format, this fictional emerging narrative ignites political issues of the Franch while merging a plot-driven character study. 

Closing Night

THE FRENCH MINISTER (Quai D'Orsay)
Directed by: Bertrand Tavernier
Running time: 114 min.
Release date: March 21, 2014
Genre: Drama, Comedy, and Adaptation in French with English subtitles
Distributor: IFC Films

In this film based on the graphic novel Quai d'Orsay (2010) by Abel Lanzac and Christopher Blain, filmmaker adapts to screen an impressive political character(s) study of post 9/11.  This is a film revealing the tension and politics through a French insider's point of view, with satirical humor that softens the controversial subject matter.

The setting is France during President Bush's "War on Terror" era, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms played by Thierry Lhermitte is the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the land of enlightenment: France.  He is tall and impressive, a man of style, and very attractive to women.  His gift to the world is his wit, yet it is fueled by his silver tongue.  This fuel is manifested by a team of speech writers as he takes on American neo-cons, corrupt Russians and money-grabbing Chinese.

Along comes the young Arthur Vlaminck (Raphael Personnaz), a graduate of an elite school in France, who is hired as head of 'language' at the foreign ministry.  He is to write the minister's speeches, but he also has to learn to deal with the sensibilities of the boss and his entourage of advisors who stalk the corridors of the Quai d'Orsay - the ministry's home - where stress, ambition and dirty dealing are the daily currency.

Between the tantalizing comedy and the reality of the characters, situations and dialogue The French Minister offers a light-hearted plot deliberately designed to amuse and provoke laughter by exaggerating the situation, the language, action, relationships and characters.  However, it shines in the dramatic scenes with a plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, and life situations pertaining to the global platform.

 
For more information on films and tickets go to: www.FilmLinc.com or www.RendezvouswithFrenchCinema.com


 XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



 
THE LEGO MOVIE in 3D

Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: February 7, 2014
Genre: Animation, Action, and Comedy
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG

The Lego Movie (3D) is the first full length theatrical LEGO adventure.

Directed Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ('Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' and '21 Jump Street') crafts the original 3D computer-animated story that follows Emmet, an ordinary, rules/instructions-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as The Special, the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world.  He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously underprepared.

To fully appreciate this fun-filled movie, it must be understood what LEGO  is?  The Robotics sets was initiated in 1999, however the roots of the product originated in 1932 with Danish master carpenter  Ole Kirk Christiansen and his son Godfred Kirk.  The company adopted the name LEGO in 1934 (LEg GOdt from the danish words) meaning "play well".

Chris Pratt is the voice of Emmet.  Will Ferrell is the voice of the evil-doer President Business aka Lord Business, an uptight CEO who has a hard time balancing world domination with micro-managing his own life, and Liam Neeson is the voice of Lord Business's loyal henchman, Bad Cop/Good Cop, who will stop at nothing to catch Emmet.

Voicing the members of Emmett's rebel crew on this heroic mission are Morgan Freeman as the ancient mystic Vitruvius; Elizabeth Banks as tough-as-nails Wyldstyle, who mistakes Emmet for the savior of the world and guides him on his quest;  Will Arnett as the mysterious Batman, a LEGO minifigure with whom Wyldstyle has a romantic history;  Nick Offerman as the craggy, swaggering pirate Metal Beard, obsessed with revenge on Lord Business;  Alison Brie as the sweet and lovable Unikitty and Charlie Day as Benny, the 1980-something Spaceman.

The quest to stop the LEGO evil tyrant from gluing the universe together opposed to just attaching, is the adventure.  Using non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, often with two-dimensional 'good-guys' battling 'bad-guys, and a motivation such as a sense of responsibility and a strong belief in justice and humanitarian service.  This family-friendly movie is all designed for pure audience escapism.  

However, exceptional traits are exploited where the children audience is pushed into the thought of perfection, opposed to being themselves (if only mediocre, if that is the potential).  Yet, it is a good self-esteem narrative for kids, with the strong moral code that every child can't be super, but they should be super in the eyes of their parents and teachers.

The Lego Movie is a must see 'family flick'!

FILM RATING (A)



THE PRETTY ONE

Directed by: Jenee LaMarque
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: February 7, 2014
Genre: Drama, Comedy, and Coming of Age
Distributor: DADA Films
MPAA Rating: R

Filmmaker Jenee LaMarque creates a cinematic stage that incorporates an audience's involvement to the fact that they have, at a single point had a common experience to be someone else.  In this instance, when an eccentric and insecure young woman is mistaken for her identical twin, she seizes the chance to leave her pathetic existence behind and assume her sister's life.

The Pretty One is a dramatic comedy work that employs 'gallows humor'.  The definition being a Freudian term that anesthetizes an emotion, that all humor is 'black humor'.  While incorporating a coming of age scenario about the identity complex of Laurel, the identical twin of Audrey (both played by Zoe Kazan), lives a mundane virginal lifestyle while aiding her widowed father Frank (John Carroll Lynch) as a replica painter in the surburbs.  Meanwhile, her sister Audrey, who has long left home for the city to secure a high profile real estate sales position, is very much the extravert and quite shallow.

The plot takes form when Audrey returns home for a visit and the twins are placed in a tragic car accident.  Through this absurd situation when one of the twins is killed in this fatality, a masquerade as 'the pretty one' takes as the theme of the narrative.  Examining the film closely, details about the many ideas contained within the film become whimsical.   While the setting and atmosphere attempt to be successful, the plot did not flow all the way through the film and becomes disjointed and messy part of the way through.  The theme (what the story means as opposed to what happens in the plot) is stated clearly in the title, but doesn't hold solidly through dialogue by character interaction when romantic interest (Jake Johnson) enters into the storyline.  The theme becomes less obvious and emerges only after some study or thought.  The abstract issues and feelings only grow out of the dramatic action shown on the basic insecurities of the romantic exploits.

This is a film that toys with the journey that love takes through courtship and a story whose central character struggles with finding her place in life.  It is a clever movie riddled with tightly wound diatribes.  It gives Zoe Kazan a great platform to show her 'chops'.  The plot at times slips, yet the flow is consistent.  However, The Pretty One fails to find the common ground for it to settle for.

FILM RATING (C+)

  



THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

Directed by: Tom Gormican
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: January 31, 2014
Genre: Comedy and Romance
Distributor: Focus Features
MPAA Rating: R

When it comes to romantic comedies or 'romedies', there is a new look at the genre.  What is 'bromance' - a look at how the guys perceive the affectionate involvement of the main characters (usually a leading man and lady), and the journey that their love takes through courtship and/or marriage.  

Filmmaker Tom Gormican penned the screenplay because he was interested in the idea of making a romantic comedy with a twist - the story would be told from the guy's point of view.  Using his years as a young single New Yorker as a jumping point, he spun a story about three very different 20-somethings enjoying life in the big city wile trying to make their marks professionally and socially.

Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller star in this hilarious  'bromance' about three male best friends who find themselves at that confusing moment in every dating relationship with the modern women when they must decide - "So...Where is this going?"

Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) are living are carefree single life in New York City when their best buddy Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) learns his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) wants a divorce.  In a show of support, the three longtime friends  promise each other that they will avoid commitment at all costs and stay single together, but their plans derailed when Mikey starts to surreptitiously dates his soon to be ex-wife Vera, and Jason and Daniel unexpectedly fall in love with respectively Ellie (Imogen Poots) and Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis).  Soon each man finds himself confused.  The question explored throughout the movie is what it actually means to be in a relationship?

The simplest way of looking at this romantic comedy is to say that it surprises, startles, shock and delights its audience.  The essential aspect of the story is that it goes beyond the ordinary, the dull and familiar.  The plot uses a range of tactics from absurdity to mockery, to sarcasm to irony.  The whole impetus of this comedy is to create a distance and a perspective of the world.  Deliberately, with likable characters each of the tactics imposed in the flow and pace of this comedic plot enjoyably disturbs, disrupts, alters and changes things from what is expected.  As it may be a staple for women to cling to romantic comedies, men will find That Awkward Moment enduring as the characters interact in sexual and romantic pursuits.  Each performance of the characters strongly being identified in some compelling visible desire, and desperately trying to win and win back the love of another.  They are desperate to achieve their goals, and terrified by the conflicts they face.  The humor arises from the way they overact to their situations.

In an interview with the cast, Zac Efrom stated, "The story allows guys to see their side of the situation and give girls a new perspective on relationships.....and we will all get a chance to laugh at ourselves and our friends in the bargain.  I thought it was a really unique idea."  Miles Teller commented about his fellow cast member Mackenzie Davis by saying; "My character was simple to adapt to because Mackenzie is a cool person - so I just got to know her personally."  Imogen Poots mentioned, "I felt part of an ensemble" and Michael B. Jordan said, "we went on a trip to the Adirondacks (upstate New York) and bonded."

That Awkward Moment is a likable and humorous movie that will engage couples.

FILM RATING (B-)   

 
GIMME SHELTER

Directed by: Ronald Krauss
Running time: 101 min.
Release date: January 24, 2014
Genre: Drama and Inspirational Biopic
Distributor: Roadside Attractions & Day 28 Films
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Based on the inspiring true events, this film centers on the courageous story of Agnes 'Apple' Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) and her incredible path to motherhood as a pregnant homeless teenager.

Filmmaker Ronald Krauss has been writing, producing, and directing intensely personal movies since his short film, Puppies for Sale (starring the late Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon).  Whether making documentaries or narrative films, Krauss' focus is always on reflecting real-life issues with compassion, hope, and authenticity.  He is recently known for his movie, America, a devastating drama about human trafficking screened at the United Nations.

Acclaimed actress Rosario Dawson co-stars in this parallel plot story inspired by the life of advocate Kathy DiFiore (Anne Dowd), a strong New Jersey woman who went from being homeless to opening her home as a shelter for women in need - - and a story of  teenage girl Apple, who is forced to flee from her abusive drug addictive mother June Bailey (Rosario Dawson) and her turned away biological Wall Street Broker father Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser) whom she never knew.

When asked, in an interview with Rosario Dawson on what inspired her on doing this movie, she replied, "I think I had a lot of reasons that compelled me to be a part of this.  My mom was a teenage mom - she got pregnant with me at 16.  I don't know my biological father so that could have totally had a huge impact in my life had it not been for the fact that my stepdad married my mom when I was one and raised me as his own.  He will always be my hero for life because of that, marrying some woman whose child is not yours and she (mom) is 18 and he was like 21.  It was just really remarkable."  Rosario Dawson also added,  "My mom worked in a shelter when I was 10 called WOMAN, Inc. in San Francisco."....."So much about this (script) really kind of caught my attention."


The real-life Kathy DiFiore commented on her talk with filmmaker Ronald Krauss on doing this project and said, after a couple of meetings,"...in my head I'm thinking that he seems like an awfully nice guy, but I don't know."  She continued by saying, "I let him talk to the girls (of the shelter), I let him get closer, and then when the girls decided to trust him, it was like actions speak louder than words because they do not trust easily.  That's when I knew that God was directing me in a different direction - the time has come (to approve the movie)."

The fierce and compelling performance by Vanessa Hudgens as Apple was complimented by others, such as, veteran actor James Earl Jones as Reverend Frank McCarthy who in the depths of her despair compassionately leads her to salvation and support in the shelter for homeless female teenagers.

Gimme Shelter, is a heart wrenching, yet an uplifting inspirational film that embraces the future with clarity and hope.

FILM RATING (B+)




LONE SURVIVOR

Directed by: Peter Berg
Running time: 128 min.
Release date: January 10, 2014
Genre: Drama, Biopic, War, Action/Adventure, Thriller and Adaptation.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R

Based on the New York Times bestselling true story of heroism, courage and survival, Lone Survivor tells of the incredible memoirs authored by the only member to live through an ambush in the mountains of Afghanistan, Navy Seal leader Marcus Luttrell.

This is the true story of the fire team leader Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), the sole survivor of Operation Redwing, and the desperate battle in the mountains that led, ultimately, to the largest loss of life in Navy Seal history.  The film adaptation, based on the  first-person memoir/book, has become a motivational resource for its lessons on how the power of the human spirit is tested when pushed beyond mental and physical limits.  

Starring alongside of Mark Walberg as other members of the Seal team are Taylor Kitsch as Michael Murphy, Emile Hirsch as Danny Dietz, and Ben Foster as Matthew 'Axe' Axelson.  They project a natural realism as members of their team on a covert mission to neutralize a high-level al-Qaeda operative who are ambushed.  The pacing is quick and the flow of the plot is intense as they are faced with an impossible moral decision when they find themselves isolated from help and surrounded by a much larger force of Taliban ready for war. 

Watching the first part of, Lone Survivor, it gave me a deep appreciation for just how hard it is to become a Navy Seal with the exhausting training endured.  The latter part of the film gave me a deeper appreciation of the servicemen who fought ferociously beside team leader Luttrell until he was the last one breathing.  (Spoiler Alert) The survival was explored thoroughly on film as he managed over four days, badly injured and presumed dead, fought off six al-Qaeda assassins who were sent to finish him, only to crawl seven miles through the mountains before he was taken in by a friendly Pashtun tribe.

This is an outstanding and compelling portrait of bravery!

FILM RATING (B+)