Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quantico


Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Yasmine Elmarsi, Johanna Braddy, Jake McLaughlin, Aunjanue Ellis, Graham Rogers, Josh Hopkins, Tate Ellington, Blair Underwood, Russell Tovey, Pearl Thusi, Aaron Diaz, Anabelle Acosta, & Tracy Ifeachor

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 Last year, Quantico debuted on ABC with an incredible story line and a new action star for the next millennium. The show was so innovative and original, that it jumped quickly to the top of the ratings and was easily renewed. ABC thought the show was strong enough that it could draw viewers on any night, in any time slot, but they couldn't be more wrong. Quantico's first season was one of the best seasons of television I've ever seen, but it was the kind of story that left many viewers questioning, what else could they possibly do afterwards?

In only it's second season, Quantico set two television records. The first, saw the biggest drop in rating ever between a first season and a second. The second, saw the show renewed for a third season, as it had some of the highest DVR and on demand numbers of any show ever! Quantico was renewed based solely on DVR and on demand numbers, something that is unheard of and as little as five years ago never would have happened.

The series started with a bang, a big one, as terrorist blew up New York's Penn Station and immediately blamed for it, an FBI agent of middle eastern decent, Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra). She's an introverted person, and she knows she's been set up, by the only people who could have, one of her classmates from her time at the FBI academy at Quantico, she graduated from a year earlier. From there, each episode is a mix of Alex on the run in real time, trying to figure out who set her up and flashbacks to her time at the academy, showing her interacting with her classmates as she tries to remember anything she may have missed. 

TV shows just aren't written this well, it just doesn't happen, and when it does, it's usually in a ten episode cable series. I have never seen a network show that was this clever and gripping. Aside from the writing, Bollywood star, Priyanka Chopra, made the leap to Hollywood in a way that hasn't been done before. While Bollywood is just as big as Hollywood, it's biggest stars have never enjoyed the same success stateside, until now. She was beyond impressive and regardless of what happens with Quantico, has a bright future ahead of her.

Season two just started streaming and it's next up on my list, but like many, I am beyond curious about what could possibly happen next. For better or worse, the mystery was solved in season one, at least that's what we believe. What could possibly be left for season two? We saw them graduate the academy and we saw the end of the case, supposedly (I'm still a bit skeptical), where does the series go for here. Quantico always struck me as that series that was one hell of an idea, but if it succeeded, and it did, how does one keep the story going and keep it going with the same intensity? Similar shows with big ideas and tremendous first seasons like The Killing, The Riches, Under The Dome, and Wayward Pines quickly fizzled out. Will that ultimately be the fate of Quantico, or will it stand the test of time?

Little Accidents (2014)


Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Josh Lucas, Boyd Holbrook, & Jacob Lofland
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In a small mining town, an accident has killed several workers, leaving a lone survivor, Amos Jenkins (Boyd Holbrook). The townspeople are furious and blame the mines owner, the towns wealthiest resident, a cold, heartless man, who many suspect caused the accident with his shortcuts and cheap business practices. The town is out for blood, but only one of them, literally, as soon after the accident, the mine owners teenage son turns up dead. Little Accidents is yet another example of these dark modern noir type films, that have become so popular the past decade, and normally I am a huge fan of them. This film however, may have had the modern noir feeling, but actually had the old noir story line AKA slow, strange, and confusing. I chose this film because one of it's stars is Jacob Lofland, who at just 21 years old, has only been acting for 5 years, but he is a natural in every sense of the word. Every performance he has given has been better than the one before it. His talent has lead him to leading roles in the Maze Runner series, as well as the AMC show, The Son. Being as fond of his style as I am, I decide to go back and watch his filmography from the beginning, and that's where I found Little Accidents. While Lofland's part was minor, you are still able to see some of the skills that brought him to where he is today. Paired with Elizabeth Banks and Josh Lucas, this was one fantastic cast, featured in a terrific setting, and I was sure this film was a can't miss, but the story had other ideas. Little Accidents was all over the place, some of things that happened have nothing to do with the story, and make little sense. The Bottom Line, don't let a terrific cast fool you, this film is slow and all over the place. The mystery, isn't much of one and the story will leave you scratching your head.

The Call Up (2016)


Starring: Max Deacon, Morfydd Clark, Ali Cook, & Chris Obi
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

One day the best gamers in the world receive an invitation to compete for a $100,000 grand prize. When they all arrive, they find themselves alone in an office building, given instructions by a computer, which tells them to put on these state of the art suits, and once they do they are literally in the game. The game is like nothing they've ever seen before, a real life Call of Duty, but when they engage the terrorists, they learn that the consequences are all too real, and the only way to get out is to win. The Call Up isn't a new idea, however after the failure of films like Gamebox 1.0 and Stay Alive, it's been a decade since anyone has attempted to make a film like this. Since then, the technology has come a long way, allowing the filmmakers to finally get it right. The CGI and computerized effects are impressive for any film, not to mention a B-movie. The original idea and tech are so innovate, that it takes your mind off the fact that the acting in this film wasn't all that great. Additionally, the development of the characters and their backstories was fairly strong, strong enough, that each viewer should have their own favorite to win, meaning the audience is invested in the game as well. Watching this film is an adventure, in that one feels a part of the game, the strategy, and even has an investment in what happens to the individual gamers. A better cast would have added a lot to this film, but as I said it's a B-movie and I'm guessing all those special effects didn't come cheaply. Viewership without any performer of recognition may have been a factor, but once people click that watch button, they will be quickly drawn into a film the likes of which hasn't been seen before. The Call Up receives big points for originality, special effects, character development, and certainly stands out for being a film that is truly one of a kind.

Who Took Johnny?


Starring: Noreen Gosch
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In 1982, missing children reports were so rare, that often times the local authorities didn't take them seriously. Most of these kids were considered runaways, as authorities at the time couldn't even fathom the depths of depravity that some people are capable of sinking to. In the case of Johnny Gosch, not only wasn't he a runaway, the compelling documentary, Who Took Johnny?, and the subsequent books by his mother, Noreen, have shown that not only may Johnny still be alive 35 years later, but he may have suffered more torture than anyone in the history of this planet. On September 5, 1982, Johnny Gosch, a local paperboy was abducted from Des Moines, Iowa. Despite eyewitness statements, the local police, considered him to be a runaway. Over the years evidence and even a witness go to the FBI to say that Johnny was used for human trafficking. Pictures have turned up and even his mother claims, Johnny stopped by the house for a brief time, 15 years after he'd disappeared. The documentary shows how the local authorities, didn't care and mishandled the case right from the very beginning, and how the FBI kept the family completely in the dark. To this day, despite the fact that her son could be god-knows-where, Noreen Gosch has become an outspoken defender for missing children and the rights of their parents. There is no doubt that this documentary is anything but unbiased and impartial, and while I'm not sure I believe everything Mrs. Gosch says, when taken as a whole, one can't ignore everything that happened in this case. The other side of this gave blanket statements or declined to be interviewed, which tells me, she's right about more than a few things, and even if a third of this is true, it's appalling. When catastrophe strikes, we rely on those in power to take care of us and make things right, but what happens if they just don't want to? This documentary is truly eye-opening and provides plenty of ammunition to victims rights advocates. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Marvel's Luke Cage


Starring: Mike Colter, Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson, Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali, Erik LaRay Harvey, Theo Rossi, Frank Whaley, Frankie Faison, Sonia Braga, & Ron C. Jones

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was never a big superhero guy, but what I love about this new crop of Netflix superhero shows, is that for the most part the characters are new and relatively unknown to the general audience. It's so refreshing to see something in the genre beyond Batman and Superman. What's more is that this new crop of superhero is much more realistic than anything we've seen before, perhaps none more so than Luke Cage.

Luke Cage was in prison for a crime he didn't commit, the victim of a horrifying experiment that left him with super strength and unbreakable skin. Unlike the other superheroes, Luke doesn't want to be a hero, he just wants to live a normal life in obscurity, in his Harlem neighborhood content with working in a barber shop. What Luke can't stand though is seeing injustice, when he knows that he is capable of doing something about it. When he finally decides to take a stand, all hell breaks loose.

What I find odd is how everyone is talking about Wonder Woman. How it's more than time we had a strong female superhero and how great the film was, but no one mentioned the fact that it's about time we had a strong African-American superhero too. What's more is that his story was completely original and more realistic than any other superhero film or TV show I've ever seen! Luke Cage isn't a blind attorney who somehow sees everything. He's not fighting some ridiculous weird purple mist, and he's not some samurai who thinks he's a God, Luke Cage is just a man, who is fighting gangsters and corrupt politicians. 

Mike Colter is the star of the show and he just has this way about him that is infectious and makes you want to follow him. He couldn't be more perfect for this role, as he's laid back most of the time until he's not and then watch out. As for his co-stars, the stand out among them is recent Academy Award winner, Mahershala Ali. I said it years ago when I reviewed his awful show, the 4400, and I've repeated it every time I've seen him since, this guy is outstanding! Ali is one of the best actors, who until last year, nobody knew existed. Every single thing he is in, is that much better because of it, and I am thoroughly entertained every single time I watch him. His portrayal of the gangster Cottonmouth, was the best villain I've seen in a superhero themed project since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

The bottom line, Luke Cage IS a real life superhero. To date there has never been anything in the genre, even close to being as real or as honest as this. Luke Cage is unique, dynamic, and exciting, as well as being the best written out of any superhero show that I've ever seen. Marvel didn't just hit a home run with Luke Cage, they hit a grand slam!

London Has Fallen


Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, & Morgan Freeman
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Action movies didn't really take off until the 1980s, when the technology caught up with the big ideas. Out of those films some big stars emerged, many of which are still hanging in there making movies today. However, in recent years a new crop of action star has emerged, one that is more charismatic and more of an actor than just simply a big guy. One of the most exciting of the pack is the star of London Has Fallen, Gerard Butler. After surviving a kidnapping attempt in the thrilling, Olympus Has Fallen, President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) won't go anywhere without Mike Banning (Butler) by his side. Despite a lot of chatter, the pair travel to London for a world summit, where terrorists plan on doing a lot more than talking. They plan to distract the high police and military presence by attacking the city, thereby leaving President Asher vulnerable to assassination. So if I'm understanding this correctly, blowing up half of London will distract the U.S. Secret Service enough to leave the U.S. President vulnerable? This is why nobody watches action films for the story lines. We watch these movies to see the incredible moves, the gratuitous violence, the unbelievable special effects, and of course that catch phrase we all know is coming. Gerard Butler stars and he just gets better with every film he is in, as his technique and style remind me so much of a young Bruce Willis. Let's just hope that M. Night Shyamalan doesn't make him shave his head and turn him into a zombie as well. Assisted by a cast of veteran award winners the likes of Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and Angela Bassit, this film doesn't just have the moves, but it has the star power to back it up. The story here is absolutely ridiculous, but when it comes to a great action film, who really cares? London Has Fallen has everything you could ever ask for from an action movie and it's star is only continuing to rise.

Dying of The Light


Starring: Nicholas Cage, Anton Yelchin, & Alexander Karim
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Evan Lake (Nicholas Cage) was a legend at the C.I.A., but after years in the game, and a particularly horrible experience at the hands of the Taliban, he was diagnosed with dementia, and forced into retirement. Lake is moving on with his life when new information comes to light, that his old nemesis, a terrorist leader long believed dead, is back. Knowing their best chance to catch him is Lake, they turn to him for help, but can he keep it together long enough to complete his mission? This unbelievably was a b-movie, yet a remarkably strong performance for Nicholas Cage, who randomly had to go between C.I.A. legend and confused old man. His performance is aided by the late Anton Yelchin, playing an analyst who admires Lake so much, that he goes against orders to help him with his mission. The whole dynamic between the man at the end of his career on his last mission, and the boy at the start of his career on his first mission, really added something different, that you don't typically see in espionage films. Dying of The Light really does have a lot to like about it, but one must remember, it is an espionage film and a direct-to-video one at that. The writing isn't spectacular and parts of it are more than somewhat confusing. They also throw in a lot of Evan's flashbacks and delusions at the completely wrong times, which really did start to bother me as the film got more intense. Overall, I did enjoy this film, I thought the acting was terrific, and I loved the dynamic and chemistry between the two leading men, despite the obvious age difference. Dying of The Light certainly isn't a perfect movie, but it's still an entertaining one.