Sunday, April 20, 2014

Safe House (2012)


Starring: Denzel Washington & Ryan Reynolds
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors, and anyone who follows him knows that he is pure intensity. For that reason, he is usually best paired with someone who is charismatic, but in this film, he's paired with Ryan Reynolds, another intense actor, leading to a very straightforward and inflexible film. Safe House is your typical C.I.A. inspired action film, that features a wanted traitor turning himself in, in order to escape the men he's doubled crossed. The names and places are different, but the story is the same, lots of fighting and corruption, traitors and double agents, it's nothing new. The intensity in Safe House is just off the charts, as there isn't one second of comic relief. The movie starts intense and just continues that way until the end, which really does an injustice to the always strong performance of Washington. The fact of the matter is that this film could have been an interesting one, had Washington and Reynolds had any chemistry whatsoever, but they were basically the same person, on opposite sides of the table. Chemistry in a film like this is really everything, even in a film like Unstoppable, another straight forward and highly predictable film, it was entertaining because of the chemistry between Washington and Chris Pine. All in all, Safe House is an average film, without much of a supporting cast. It's two hours of chases and gun battles, over the same stuff that all these other films are based on. It's a textbook example of an action movie, with nothing else. It is forgettable and isn't unique in anyway, just the same thing you've seen a million times before.

Death At A Funeral (2010)


Starring: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, & Zoe Saldana
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Death At A Funeral is a remake of a 2007 British comedy by the same name, and is usually not the type of film I go for. For starters, I hate Chris Rock, and I really couldn't see a film about a funeral being all that funny. The previews were a riot and I love Martin Lawrence, so I decide to give it a try and was once again was taught that you can't judge a book by it's cover. This film turned out to be one of the funniest I've seen in a long time. It's a solemn day for Aaron and Brian, as they prepare to lay their father to rest. They expect it to be a small, simple ceremony, but they are soon reminded of why their family only gets together at weddings and funerals. A series of unbelievable and hysterical events keep disrupting the service, which include, but are not limited to, a gay midget, a guest tripping on acid, and a crotchety old man that really has to poop. I'm not surprised that I liked this film as much as I did, but I was surprised by the reasons why I liked it. You'd think an R rated film staring Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence would be raunchy as hell and way over the top, and it was, but not because of either of them. Rock and Lawrence were actually fairly toned down in this film and it was the large cast of supporting characters who really make the film. Danny Glover is amazing as Uncle Russell, an old timer who hates everyone and isn't afraid to run his mouth. James Marsden is equally as good, as the hated white boy friend, who takes what he thinks is Valium to calm down before the service. Death At A Funeral is absolutely hysterical and full of non-stop ridiculousness, if this film doesn't make you laugh, there is most definitely something wrong with you.

Ca$h


Starring: Sean Bean, Chris Hemsworth, & Victoria Profeta
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Some of the blandest of stories can be made into gems by the performance of one man. The story in Ca$h is by no means original, but the addition of an outstanding bad guy, with his own original way of doing things, makes the film worth seeing. Sean Phelan (Chris "Thor" Hemsworth) is down on his luck and about to have his house taken by the bank, when an amazing thing happens. While driving on the highway, he sees a high speed chase in progress. The robbers, not wanting to be caught with the evidence, throw their loot off the overpass and right onto Phelan's car. The Phelan's think that God has smiled on them and they start making plans for life in the fast lane, when their luck turns again. Thanks to their greed, the robber (Sean Bean) is able to track them down and shows up at the Phelan's door, demanding his money back. LOTR's Sean Bean stars as the bad guy and he really has turned into one of the best criminal actors you could get. He's this big scary guy, with such a calm demeanor, willing to tell you everything that's on his mind. Bean takes the Phelan's through a wild week, trying to get back his money in a variety of ways, that I think will really surprise you. One of Bean's strength as an actor turns out to be a weakness to his character in this film. As I said, he has a way of always telling you what's on his mind, and in this film it's all about the cash. That being said, Bean keeps trying to figure out the amount of money left to be repaid and it gets pretty annoying. Also of note, while this was a pretty entertaining film, it is also about 40 minutes too long. Admittedly, the story is a bit thin, so the writers try to expand the story as much as they can. While it's terrific at first, by the end, the film is seriously lagging, and it takes a lot away from an otherwise terrific film. Ca$h doesn't offer many surprises, but the cast is terrific and it most defiantly has it's moments. It's the perfect film to use if you're looking to kill some time without having to think too much about it.

Hot Coffee


Starring: Joan Claybrook, Oliver Diaz, & Al Fraken
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Like most documentaries, Hot Coffee uses a sample size of cases in the minority to push it's own agenda. The focus of the film is on tort reform and how it hurts people who have been legitimately injured. Tort laws put caps on the amount of money that an injured party can get, in certain types of lawsuits, for the purpose of stopping what the government considers to be frivolous claims. The documentary focuses on five specific cases and brings up the old discussion on whether or not it's better to let ten guilty men go free, rather than to punish one innocent person. Yes, the people in these stories were legitimately hurt and didn't get a fraction of what they deserved, because of these laws, but they are the exception instead of the rule. The most notable case the documentary focuses on is the case in which an elderly woman sued McDonald's, after she spilled hot coffee on herself. It's a case most people would consider frivolous, until you actually hear the facts. The woman's legal team was able to show that she received third degree burns and almost lost her life, because McDonald's required their coffee to be kept at a ridiculous 190 degrees. The elderly woman won over two million dollars, but had her award capped due to tort laws and the result was barely enough money to cover her medical bills. As I said before, these cases are exceptions to the rule, and by compiling these exceptions, this documentary makes it appear as though innocent American's are being screwed on a daily basis, which isn't true. While some people unfortunately fall through the cracks, the film fails to mention all the fraud and non-sense that has been stopped by these laws, or how these laws have kept insurance costs down. The bottom line, anyone can push any agenda they want, as long as they find a few select examples that can make their case for them, but it doesn't mean that their claims have merit.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Homeland


Starring: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood, Diego Kattenhoff, Jamey Sheridan, David Marciano, Navid Negahban, Jacskson Pace, Timothee Chalamet, & Morgant Saylor

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From the creators of 24, comes the thriller Homeland, a show that is much edgier than 24, but lacks the action we've come to expect from this team of writers. What this show lacks in action, it more than makes up for with an intriguing look inside the mysterious CIA.

It's no secret that the CIA is the spy agency in America, that seems to have a hand in everything, but what exactly do they do and how do they do it? Can they arrest people? Do they carry guns? Are they really spies? These are all questions answered by the show Homeland, an edge of your seat thriller, that takes you deep inside the inner workings of the most mysterious government organization the world has ever known.

Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a CIA analyst, working in Iraq, when one of her contacts tells her that an American prisoner of war has been turned by Al-Qaeda. 6 months later, an American POW is discovered during a raid on an Al-Qaeda compound. The Marine discovered, Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) comes home to his family, after 8 years, to a heroes welcome, and everyone sees him as such, everyone except for Carrie. 

Mathison is immediately suspicious of Brody and puts her career on the line by deciding to stick to the man like glue, she even goes so far as to start a sexual relationship with him, in order to stay close to him. Brody is suffering from a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder, which leads him to do some very strange things. The big question is, whether he's acting this way because he's a terrorist or because he's been damaged by his time in captivity.

I've never been a big Claire Danes fan, because she has a habit of being eccentric and way over the top, but quite ingeniously, the writers use her weaknesses as an actress as a strength for Carrie. Mathison is eccentric, over the top, and unconventional, it's what makes her a terrific agent and very entertaining to watch.

Danes is paired with Damien Lewis who is just out of this world, leading to multiple awards and nominations. I've only seen Lewis playing bit parts in movies, but similar to Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, he's one of these guys, who comes out of nowhere to land the perfect role. Nicholas Brody is one of the most complicated and intriguing characters I've ever seen and it's his chemistry with Danes that really makes this show as good as it is.

It's rare for me to give a perfect rating, especially to a TV show, but the creators have taken the action and excitement of 24 and put it into a cable show, where they can get away with anything. It's edgier and extremely hard hitting, even though the action has been scaled back. 24 was about an impulsive man, who would do anything to stop terrorism, but Homeland, takes that same storyline and shows you what goes into discovering these acts of violence before they become a down to the second event, requiring the intervention of a Jack Bauer. It is smart, emotional, and will have you craving more. I literally watched the first two seasons in a week an a half, you'd think I'd have gotten sick of it by now, but all I want is for season three to be released, because this show really is that good.

The Frozen Ground


Starring: Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, & John Cusack
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

I find that the best thrillers come from films that are based on real life events. Some of these stories are just so twisted and crazy, that even the best writer wouldn't be able to imagine them on their own. The story told in the film The Frozen Ground, is one such story, telling the world about serial killer, Robert Hansen. From the 1970s until 1983, Hansen was one of the nations most prolific serial killers. What makes Hansen's story unique is that he was able to do all this, without the police even connecting the cases, because of where he lived. Hansen's story begins in Anchorage Alaska, where he began preying on prostitutes. After torturing and killing them, he would dump the bodies in remote, unpopulated areas of Alaska, where they were ravaged by the weather and wild animals. This made finding the cause of death or even identifying the victims nearly impossible. Hansen would probably still be active today, if it wasn't for Cindy Paulson, the only victim in 12 years, to escape the madman, and that's where our film begins. Nicholas Cage stars as Jack Halcombe, a state police detective who comes up with a wild theory that all these missing people and strange deaths, could be connected. Halcombe has a tough time convincing anyone of this, especially since his only witness is a drug abusing prostitute. Nicolas Cage excels in movies like this and is again terrific. Cage was born to play a cop and in my opinion does it better than anyone else out there. In this film, he's paired with Zac Efron's ex, Vanessa Hudgens, who wasn't great, but was much better than I expected. It's difficult to make the transition from Disney cover girl to a legitimate movie star, but I'd say that Hudgens is well on her way. Finally, John Cusack rounds out this all-star cast, playing Robert Hansen. After all the films I've seen Cusack in, I really couldn't imagine him as the bad guy, but his performance is what really helps this movie stand out, and hopefully will lead him to other similar roles. The Frozen Ground is a little slow, but it is supposedly very accurate, and tells an interesting story that most people know nothing about. It's the kind of film that I really go for and hopefully you will too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

R.I.P. Ultimate Warrior


There are three men responsible for making me a life long wrestling fan, Hulk Hogan, Bret "Hitman" Hart, and The Ultimate Warrior. Because of these three men, I still watch wrestling to this day, even though it has become a sixth grade soap opera with more talking than fighting. 

In 1987, right at the height of Hulkamania, came a new wrestler, a man who seemed like he would fit in better in a mental hospital than in a wrestling ring, that man was the Ultimate Warrior. He came sprinting into the ring, wearing bright colors, and screaming non-sense, but this man could do something that even Hogan couldn't, and that was fire up even the toughest crowd, just by making an appearance.

For five years, the Ultimate Warrior was a cash cow for the WWE, while being one of the worst technical wrestlers on the roster. Much like Howard Stern, people tuned in to see the Warrior just to see what he would say or do next. It was this unpredictability that made him something special. 

While he was awful by technical wrestling standards, the man was always full of energy and good for a laugh. When I think of the Warrior I will always remember two things. His ridiculous promos, where he would talk about the sun, the moon, and the Gods above, and of course his psychotic behavior in the ring. Who can forget how he would run into the ring and then bounce from rope to rope, over and over again, delivering half a dozen clotheslines at once?

The Warrior could have been even bigger than Hulkamania, but unfortunately for him, the man behind the make-up, Jim Hellwig, was almost as crazy as the character he portrayed. He was often critical of his employer, saying and doing things that one shouldn't do in any type of business and this resulted in him being blackballed from pro wrestling. For nearly 15 years, the man who legal changed his name to Warrior, was considered to be a menace, criticizing the sport and his former colleagues, while filing lawsuit after lawsuit against Vince McMahon and the WWE.

It was only a few months ago that McMahon reached out to Warrior in an attempt to reconcile these difference and to allow the Warrior to take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame. A very much humbled and toned down Warrior signed a legends contract and was inducted into the Hall on April 4, 2014.

On April 7, the Warrior made his first appearance on Monday Night Raw in 18 years to do something we never thought he'd do, thank the fans for making him the man he was. In a sense it was the perfect way to say goodbye to the WWE Universe. During that appearance, I did notice he was winded walking out to the ring and had a hard time shaking the ropes the way he once did, but who would have expected what happened next?

The very next night, while leaving his hotel the Warrior collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack at the age of 54. Many people believe that we have a purpose in life and move on once that purpose has been fulfilled. It's almost as though now that Jim made peace with the WWE and finally acknowledged the fans as the reason for his success, his mission in life was complete and he was able to move on peacefully to the next world. 

The Ultimate Warrior helped to make wrestling more than just an Olympic sport. He brought intensity and style to the sport and changed the face of the WWE forever. As someone who followed his career through all the ups and downs, I am really going to miss the unique character of the Warrior and the strange man behind his creation, Jim Hellwig.