Thursday, July 14, 2016

Empire State (2013)

Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Emma Roberts, & The Rock
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Chris Potamitis (Liam Hemsworth) has always wanted to be a cop, but as is the case with most recent graduates, he's on a waiting list, so he takes a job as an armored truck guard. Almost as soon as he starts working there, Chris is scared by the amount of money and the lack of security at the place he's working, and stupidly mentions that fact to his best friend, Eddie (Michael Angarano). Eddie immediately plans and executes a robbery, which both the police and Chris's mobbed up bosses thinks he's involved in. Now his life is endangered on three separate fronts and he's not sure where to turn. Empire State is a tremendous thriller based on a true story, written and directed by Dito Montiel, and if you don't know the name, you should. Montiel made a stunning debut, telling his life story in the film, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, in 2006 (On of our Must See Movies). Montiel's career has been all up hill from there. He grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, and all his films are based on real life stories from the neighborhood, that were forgotten a long time ago. With Montiel films you're always guaranteed a few things, a well written story, a tremendous cast, lots of action, and lots of eye candy, and Empire State does not disappoint. This film has everything from the insider angle, to the mob, inside the police investigation, and of course Liam Hemsworth at the center of it all. Big brother Chris may get all the recognition in Hollywood, for being the all-mighty Thor, but baby brother Liam, really does get better and better in every film I see him in. Empire State has a little bit of everything, it is well written, and comes at you from so many different angles. This film was so much fun to watch, it's the kind of thing you want to see more than once, and it's streaming so if you're not doing anything right now, go check it out!

Cyrus: Mind of A Serial Killer

Starring: Brian Krause, Danielle Harris, & Lance Hendriksen
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

It's possible for a film to have a cool title, cover, and even preview, but still be a complete waste of time, enter Cyrus: Mind of A Serial Killer. In a remote Midwestern community, over a hundred women have disappeared over the last twenty years. Not wanting to create a panic, the local authorities have explained away most as accidents and isolated incidents, while they search for the truth. The cover up has worked until a local reported is contacted by a man who claims to not only know the truth, but know who the killer is. The film is laid out in a flashback, as this mysterious man tells the life story of this man, Cyrus, and what created him, what he did, how he did it, and why. Just one problem, it's boring! This film is supposed to be an inside look at a serial killer and what makes him tick, how he operates, but not only does it move as slow as molasses, but you really don't even see much of anything! This is an independent film about a serial killer!? Where's the gore, blood, insanity? It's more like watching a documentary on the History channel. As for the cast, Brian Krause isn't a bad actor, but certainly not someone I would ever think of as a serial killer, he's just very quiet and emotionless throughout, in other words, boring. The old man, Lance Hendriksen, sits in a chair and tells a story the whole time, also boring. The producers of this film built it up to be this huge thing, an inside look at a serial killer the likes of which we've never seen before, and they were right, I've never been so bored watching a horror thriller in my entire life!

Home Alone

Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, & Daniel Stern
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It was my favorite movie as a kid, it featured my very first crush, and while there have been many copycats, there will only ever be one Home Alone. I highly doubt that anyone reading a movie review blog hasn't seen this film by now, but those select few...The film centers on Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) a bratty kid, whose extended family is preparing for Christmas in Paris. During dinner, Kevin starts a fight with his older brother, Buzz, and is sent to sleep alone in the attic. An overnight power failure leaves the family rushing to catch their flight and Kevin gets left home alone. At the same time, a pair of idiotic home invaders working his neighborhood and want to rob his house. Kevin sees himself as the man of the house now and knows its his job to defend it. As his parents rush to get back to him, Kevin prepares for war! Home Alone is the epitome of a family film and is what all family films aspire to be. These films all claim to be fun for the whole family, but lets face it, they're geared toward children. Most of the time you take the family to see them and twenty minutes in you're on your phone or falling asleep, but not here. The chemistry between Joe Pesci and Macaulay Culkin is fantastic. We all know Pesci for his mobster roles, so it's easy to forget that he got his start as a comedic actor, and it is actually what he does best. Paired with a great cast, a legendary director, and a terrific story, this is simply the best family feature film I have ever seen. Home Alone has something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and beg for more, and that's why there are five god awful sequels and a whole bunch of other films trying to duplicate the magic of this film, but as I said earlier there will only ever be one Home Alone and it is an absolute must see movie!

Jamesy Boy

Starring: Spencer Lofranco, Mary-Louise Parker, & Ving Rhames
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I have always been a huge fan of real life drama, because lets face it, some of this stuff you just can't make up. Even the best writers couldn't imagine some of the things these people have had to endure, and it makes for some amazing films. On the otherside of that, there are other stories, which just aren't that unique or interesting, and in my opinion really don't warrent a full length feature film, Jamesy Boy is an example of this. James (Spencer Lofranco) is your typical rebellious kid from a single parent home. He's not poor and has a lot of opportunities, but for whatever reason, he's turned to drugs and crime. He's living the gangsta life on the streets until the inevitable happens, and he winds up in jail. Once there, James witnesses a crime, and meets a man who helps him unlock a talent he never knew he had, but will James turn to the straight and narrow or will his friends pull him back into his old life? This is a true story and newcomer Spencer Lofranco was fantastic, but haven't we seen stories like this done over and over again? To be honest the only reason I kept watching it was to see which path James chose after prison. I wanted to see how his life turned out, but either way, we've seen films like this many times before and Jamesy Boy doesn't stand out in any type of significant way. If you want to do a film that has been done over and over again, true story or not, there has to be something about it that makes it stand out from the pack, and that doesn't happen here. The bottom line, Jamesy Boy is decent and it's fine if you're just looking to kill a couple of hours. It features a pretty good up and coming young talent and some old familiar faces, but beyond that, there's nothing really special about it.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Kids For Cash

Starring: Mark Ciavarella, Michael Conahan, & Robert May
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

It is one of the most disturbing stories of just how greedy and corrupt people can truly be. In 2000, Luzerne County Pennsylvania needed a new Juvenile detention facility, but couldn't afford it, so they privatized it. Leading the group that won the contract, were two of their own Juvenile court judges. That alone was a grey area, but not the issue. Soon, the judges learned that the more occupants the jail had, the more money the facility would receive from the state. So, despite the law, which requires juvenile offenders to be sentenced to the least restrictive environment possible, kids as young as thirteen, with no previous record, were being sent to JV for very minor offenses. As a result, the facility was receiving millions from the states, which the judges were embezzling. As the scandal unfolded, this documentary was filmed and shockingly, both judges agreed to be a part of it, claiming they were always tough on juvenile crime and had done nothing wrong. Judges never comment on cases and defendants are always advised not to talk to the media, but for some reason these judges did, and the way they justify their actions is truly sickening. There is even one scene where a mother confronts one of the judges outside of court house, holding a picture. She says to him, this is my son, he was fifteen when you put him in jail for drinking some beers and fighting with other teens. He served three years and within six months of being released he killed himself, and that's your fault. The judge could care less, it was truly amazing. The documentary is an eye opener and it follows the scandal through the family and offenders stories, through the investigation, right up through the trial and outcome, it really something to see. The whole thing really makes me wonder, if judges can be swayed that easily, just how corrupt is this country and how many truly innocent people are there sitting in jail or on a list somewhere, all because someone was paid to put them there?

End of Watch

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, & Natalie Martinez
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

By now, everyone knows that I hate these camcorder films, because they are lazy and don't really have much of a story to them, but there is an exception to that rule, and that is the TV show Cops. Police work comes with natural real life drama and action, in this instance the script really does write itself, so I was okay with it being used for a film like this. I just wish it had been done more naturally. I understand that the film takes place in a gang infested area of L.A. and that they needed to make it more dramatic and action packed for it to succeed in theaters, but you talk about going over the top. That's where Director, David Ayer comes in, after all gangs and going over the top are his specialty. End of Watch does have some great chase scenes and some really cool moments between partners, but for the most part it's just one non-stop explosion filled gun battle after another, making Los Angeles look like Fallujah. The point of view cameras do give us an interesting look at the action and some new perspective into how it's all made, which I thought was really cool, but I mean the lack of story line and constant shooting was beyond ridiculous. I'm some what surprised they'd didn't just go full on crazy and release the whole thing in 3-D.

Millennium (TV Show)

Starring: Lance Henriksen, Megan Gallagher, Terry O'Quinn, & Brittney Tiplady

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Following the initially success of the X-Files in 1996, creator Chris Carter introduced Millennium as his next big project, and after initial success, it looked like it could be the next big thing, but soon after it fell flat on it's face. 

Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) was the best homicide detective the Seattle P.D. had ever seen. He has this special ability to think like the killer, to get inside their head, and to see their actions. For this, his colleagues often thought of his as more of a suspect instead of an investigator, and it's hard to write on a police report about how he solved a crime by walking in the killers shoes, so he left the force and began working for the mysterious Millennium group. An agency that recruits people with abilities like his to track down and catch serial killers.

The premise behind this show is fantastic, and I loved the whole genre behind it. The show was very dark, set in the always grey and rainy Seattle Washington, it was methodical and creepy, but what I didn't like was the casting. Frank has this great ability, this beautiful young wife, a young daughter, is starting this new career, and he's played by a guy who is fifty-five years old! Lance Henriksen can't chase bad guys and protect his family anymore, he's not the action hero he once was, the lead character doesn't fit the role, and it was a glaring problem! 

Second, the show was left to fend for itself before it had any kind of following. Originally it was paired with the X-Files and did really well, but the rating for X-Files started dropping and Fox immediately put it back on Sunday nights, leaving Millennium all by itself after only ten episodes. The ratings starting to drop and before you know it, it's was on Friday nights and only on the air to keep Chris Carter happy. 

If this show was paired with X-Files and had it featured some young, hunky action star with eye appeal as well as these fantastic abilities, I think this show really could have been something, but having a guy who is nearly a senior citizen, running around with a hot wife and a little girl, trying to solve crimes like he's Mulder, just didn't work out. Chris Carter is a fantastic writer and very imaginative, but in this case he let the network destroy an idea with a lot of potential.