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.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Paranoia


Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford, & Amber Heard
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

After making a name for himself in the Hunger Games, teen heartthrob, Liam Hemsworth got his first leading role in the corporate thriller, Paranoia. This film has a somewhat complicated plot to explain without spoilers, but I will attempt to do so. Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) is a low level employee at one of the worlds largest tech company. His boss has learned that their main competition, his former employer, is about to unveil a revolutionary piece of new technology, that can change everything. Fearing for his companies future, Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) decides to give Cassidy the opportunity of a lifetime, that is if he's willing to break a few dozen laws or so. Liam Hemsworth was terrific, giving a performance similar to the one Bradly Cooper gives in Limitless, as a guy with an important job that's in way over his head. Hollywood finds these good looking guys and the truth is that a lot of them have nothing to offer, but Hemsworth proves that he has the talent it takes to star on the big screen. In the film he's supported by a real all-star cast, that includes Harrison Ford, Richard Dryfuss, and Gary Oldman, all of whom do what they've been doing for half a century, making great films even better. The only reason this film isn't getting 5 stars, is the same reason it didn't do as well as it should have in the box office. Paranoia is about corporate espionage and at times, the business aspect is confusing and makes us feel as overwhelmed as Hemsworth's character does. Other than that, I can't find a thing wrong with this film, it is absolutely one of the best edge of your seat thrillers I've seen all year and easily earns the right to be called one of our must see movies!

The Call (2013)


Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, & Michael Eklund
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

When it was announced that WWE was staring a film company, like most, I thought it was a joke. After some success with films like the Marine and 12 Rounds, the company earned some legitimacy and with it comes bigger talent and better Directors. The Call is the first WWE film that doesn't star a wrestler, and it was every bit as good as any Hollywood thriller that was released last year. Halle Berry stars as a 911 operator, whose worse nightmare is realized, when a kidnapping victim calls in from the trunk of a serial killers car. From there, the Call becomes 90 minutes of pure, non-stop intensity. It's hard to imagine a film that features a girl in a trunk and a woman in a call center, being as entertaining as it was, but that's where the experienced Hollywood talent comes into play. Halle Berry is not someone I consider to be a terrific actress, but she surprised me, by playing a character who had to overcome emotion and think on her feet. It quickly becomes evident that going by the book will lead to this girls death, and the operator comes up with some pretty novel ideas about how to deal with the situation. The supporting cast, which does feature an active WWE superstar, is also very good in assisting with the statewide manhunt. This film was really on pace to be one of my favorite films of the year until the ending. It was very strange, but the film gets to a certain point and then just ends. There may not have been much more of the story to tell, but the way it ended made me feel like I left the theater a few minutes early to answer an important phone call or something. It maybe a small thing to some, but to me, it really took a lot away from an otherwise terrific film. The Call is not that original, outside of the particular situation, it's a type of film you've seen many times over. It is however intense, fast paced, very entertaining, and most definitely worth the price of admission.

Cruel World


Starring: Andrew Keegan, Sanoe Lake, & Edward Furlong
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The formula for Horror is very simple. Outrageous characters, creepy music, blood, and lots of beautiful people, but Cruel World is one of those rare Horror films that actually has a story worth telling. After being scorned on a reality dating show, Philip Markham (Edward Furlong) has decided to create his own show. A fear factor type competition with a one million dollar reward. The only problem is when you lose the game, you lose your life, a stipulation the contestants weren't previously aware of. This was a fun film for me, because not only is it original, but it has a cast full of seldom seen 90s teen idols. My regular readers know by now that I consider Edward Furlong to be one of the hardest working, most under appreciated actors in all of Hollywood, but to be honest, he wasn't anything special in this film. Furlong's character is one of those evil geniuses that really seems to be all bark and no bite. The true stars of this film are the lesser known contestants like, Andrew Keegan and Sanoe Lake. The contestants are all oblivious and watching them trying to figure things out under the guise of winning a competition was really clever. The contestants and the competitions are really what helps to distinguish this film from all the other slash films. While including the four elements, and finding a lot of reasons for the pretty people to take their cloths off, there is actually a better than average story here and an experienced cast. The combination of the two make this film much more entertaining than the slasher films you've become accustom to. While I was disappointed in the fact that Edward Furlong couldn't carry this film in the way I've become accustom to seeing, there were still plenty of great performances and exciting moments. If you're a big Horror fan like I am, and you're looking for something a little bit different, give Cruel World a try.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Undocumented


Starring: Scott Mechlowicz, Pete Stormare, Alona Tal, & Noah Segan
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

This film really surprised me, because I usually hate these found footage films. Aside from the nausea, caused by the constant movement of the camera, I find that these films not only lack a budget, but also a decent story and cast. Undocumented was different though, as it was a novel idea with some fairly stable camera work. The story focuses on a group of college kids, making a documentary about illegal aliens, and how they cross into the United States. The group join a coyote for a run across the boarder when they are unexpectedly capture. Unfortunately for them, their captors aren't the police, but rather a group of self-proclaimed patriots, who abuse the illegal immigrants for their sick pleasure. We see a lot of films about how and why people cross the boarder and even a lot about what the police and government are doing about it, but I can't ever remember seeing a film about these vigilante groups, that do exist, and pray on illegals. Prison Break's Pete Stormare stars as Z, the leader of the rebel group and he basically makes the movie. This guy usually plays a gangster or inmate in the background of some random film or TV show, but he's never really the star, and it's a shame because he makes this movie. Z is such a deep character, who is brilliant yet deranged at the same time, a man who is as compassionate as he is brutal, it was really something to see. He's paired with a young cast of teen actors, who have been around for years, and who do a terrific job in support of his performance. This film isn't listed as a horror film, but it is pretty brutal and bloody, meaning you shouldn't watch it if you have a weak stomach. For me, it was an interesting take on an aspect of immigration that is rarely seen or talked about. The performances were impressive, the characters were deep, and the film never stops moving. I enjoyed the fact that this unique film really didn't have any big named stars in it and even though it had a shoe-string budget, the producers really made it work.