Sunday, December 7, 2014

Divergent


Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, & Kate Winslett
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

When I first heard about Divergent, I though the first Hunger Games rip off was upon us, and besides that the whole story seemed somewhat confusing. It is Science Fiction and Directed by Neil Berger, the mind behind Limitless, so I decided to give it a shot, and it was the best idea I had in a long time.
In a post war America, the city of Chicago is fenced off from the rest of the world, and has split into five factions of people. At the age of 18, all citizens must take an aptitude test, to determine where they belong. Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is one of the girls taking the test as the movie starts, and her results show that she has an aptitude for all five factions, making her Divergent. Divergent's are highly intelligent, rebellious, and seen as a threat to the Government, so she hides her results and joins Dauntless, the equivalent of the National Guard in Chicago. During her rough training, the now renamed Trice, meets up with Four (Theo James) who she has an instant connection to, but who is also a threat to her secret identity. One thing that was never explained is why these people have to take the aptitude test, if they are allowed to join whichever faction they choose. It's a major plot hole and the only reason this film didn't receive 5 stars, as I really hate plot holes. Shailene Woodley stars as Trice, making the jump from TV to film, and she has done it with a bang. In much the same way Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice to play Katniss, Woodley was perfect for the role of Trice, and brought so much more to the film than I ever thought she would. Theo James is also terrific as Four, the mysterious trainer and love interest of Trice, and together the team is the perfect pair. Divergent is highly original, really well written, and introduced Hollywood to a whole slew of new stars, not to mention it's Director, Neil Burger, is on one hell of a successful run of films. Divergent has everything I look for in a film and in my favorite genre, and for that it is now one of our must see movies!

Born Killers


Starring: Jake Muxworthy, Lauren German, & Gabriel Mann
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

I never would have thought that I could be bored watching a movie about a pair of serial killers. Born Killers changed all that, as it is easily the worst serial killer film I've ever seen. Surprisingly enough, this film starts out pretty good and slowly descends into being unwatchable. John & Michael were left to learn about life from their father, a complete psychopath, so it's no surprise, that they turned out to be killers as well. John (Jake Muxworthy) is the quiet, good looking, methodical one, while his brother Michael (Gabriel Mann), is reckless, leaving John to clean up his mess. After we get the back story on the brothers, and see them in action, they go their separate ways, and the story focuses on John. Jake Muxworthy plays the quiet killer, who eventually meets up with a girl. He falls in love and tries to put his killer urges behind him to live the normal life. Muxworthy was the only reason this film got a rating at all. The film lacked the action I was hoping for and just turned into one conversation after another, but Muxworthy was as advertised, as this good looking, methodical killer, who not only plans things down to the last detail, but who also narrates the story. Born Killers wasn't bad in a way where the movie didn't make sense, the problem was how boring and slow moving it was. After the initial action, nothing really happens except for a lot of people doing a lot of talking, and if that's all I wanted to see, I'd just hang out at the mall.

Sleeper Cell


Starring: Michael Ealy, Oded Fehr, Henri Lubatti, Melissa Sagemiller, Alex Nesic, & Blake Shields
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It is a common misconception that Sleeper Cell was cables first failed attempt to recreate the hit show 24, in a more extreme format, and that Sleeper Cell was the precursor to the smash hit Homeland. In reality, Sleeper Cell was a highly rated mini-series that was picked up for another year. The show was actually the inspiration for Homeland, as if one were to take Sleeper Cell and mix it with 24, the result would be Homeland.

The story follows Darwyn Al-Sayeed (Michale Ealy), the FBI's best undercover agent, who also happens to be a Muslim, making him the perfect choice to infiltrate the domestic side of Al-Queda. Darwyn poses as a recently paroled Islamic militant, who wants to strike a blow against the country that imprisoned him.

Through his prison contacts, Darwyn is connected to a mysterious man named Farik (Oded Fehr), who even the FBI can't identify. Through a series of tests, Farik introduces Darwyn to the rest of his cell and together they start to plan an attack on Los Angeles. 

Michael Ealy stars and played the role of Darwyn as if it were specifically written for him. Ealy is the kind of actor who is easily recognized from dozens of minor movie roles, but I've never seen him star before. The character he's playing, Darwyn, is basically Jack Bauer with a lot more self-control. He's cool and collected, but ready to take action at a moments notice, making for a great character.

Ealy is paired with Oded Fehr, of the Mummy series, and he too was terrific. Obviously you need an actor with a Middle Eastern background to play this role, but Farik isn't you're typical Al-Queda, as he is able to easily fit into the suburban community. Farik is a ruthless killer, but also has a peaceful, caring side, that really comes across in the episode where they go to Mexico. 

Sleeper Cell has all the action and edge of your seat drama that 24 had, and more, because let's face it, This was a cable show. Thanks to a top notch cast, some well known Directors, and a great team of Writers, Sleeper Cell was a sleeper hit on Showtime, that was easily overlooked, because it was only on for a short time. Besides only having 18 episodes, Showtime originally presented the show in a very strange way, airing all the episodes on back to back nights. This means that combined, both seasons were on the air for less than a month, and in a time before on demand had gotten popular. That is why this series was so overlooked, but thanks to Netflix, Me and thousands of others have been exposed to this hidden gem, that is worth every second that you put into to watching it.

Jesus Henry Christ


Starring: Jason Spevack, Toni Collette, & Michael Sheen
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

When you watch as many independent films as I do, you know you're going to come across a few weird ones. Jesus Henry Christ may take the cake though, as it was really out there. 10 year old Henry Herman (Jason Spevack) is a genius, with one of the highest IQ's ever recorded. This genius was actually a test tube baby, and his lifelong goal has been to find out where his genius comes from. It's certainly not from the Herman family, which is the definition of a dysfunctional family, so whoever it is, has to better than them. Henry will come to discover that his father is a college professor, who wrote a book about how to condition your children to be gay from birth. He has a sister too, who thanks to her father, is the laughing stock of her whole school. When the two halves of Henry come together, hilarity ensues in this screwball comedy. Young Jason Spevack stars, and while he's just a kid, his character was super annoying. If you hate people who think they are smarter than everyone, try watching a kid who knows he's smarter than everyone. Thankfully, there is more to the movie then the musings and rambles of young Henry. His Grandfather and half-sister are both hilarious, and easily are the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, they don't have huge roles, and the film is left with simply moments of hilarity. Overall, Jesus Henry Christ is a strange film, with a few funny moments, but generally it's pretty slow and uninteresting. Toni Collette of Sixth Sense fame is the only person of recognition in this cast, but her role was so insignificant, that she doesn't do much to help an otherwise young and inexperienced cast. While it's not a bad film, Jesus Henry Christ isn't great either. It has it's moments and the story is somewhat interesting, but unless the storyline interests you, I would go ahead and skip this one.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Neighbors (2014)


Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, & Rose Byrne
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

From the Director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek, comes Neighbors, and you usually can't go wrong with a comedy that stars Seth Rogen. In this film, Rogen is actually playing a grown up, with a new baby and a new house. Life seems to be perfect for Mac (Rogen) and his new wife Kelly (Rose Byrne), until they get new neighbors, a fraternity house. They seem like they'll get along okay, until the couple finally calls the police on their neighbors, then all hell breaks loose. This film had all the makings of a great comedy and would have been terrific, if there had been less partying, and more fighting. While there were some extremely funny moments, most of the film either features the eye candy partying or Rogen and Byrne consistently interrupting each other during their long, loud, confusing conversations. This film really was the first time I understood peoples complaints about Rogen, as his rambling and interrupting was just ridiculously over the top. The surprise of the film was easily Zac Efron. I've seen him in several films before and he's good at what he does, usually playing this super attractive, really nice guy, in some love story or teen drama. I can honestly say until this point, I never really enjoyed anything he was in, except for 17 Again. This film marks a change in direction for the young stars career and he was really great. Most of the funny moments in this film, actually came not from Rogen, but from Efron. It was great to see, but still not enough to save this film. There is a lot of partying, drinking, pot, and eye candy, but when it comes right down to it, this film really wasn't anything special.

Europa Report


Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, & Daniel Wu
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

I've let my feeling be known many times on how I feel about these found footage documentary films, that use camcorders. They are lazy, usually have no storyline, and the constant camera movement is just nauseating. Europa Report is different, as the film is told through surveillance cameras, aboard a state of the art space ship. Europa is a privately funded mission to the sixth moon of Saturn, to investigate strange heat signatures detected by NASA, that could be alien lifeforms. The cinematography was better than most of these film, and there was somewhat of a back story, however Europa Report is really not much different than a million other similar films. Nothing really happens until they reach their destination, they find something strange, and then must decide if fighting for their lives is worth the potential for scientific discovery. I bet you can name a dozen other films that were similar. As for the cast, they were just like film, in that they were very average, with little to nothing of note. Science Fiction is my favorite genre and I'm always hoping these films will show me something new and excited, but as with Apollo 18, Mission To Mars, Sunshine, and Moon, I was extremely disappointed. Europa Report wasn't a bad film, but it wasn't unique in any way. If you haven't seen many films, you may be wowed by something like this, but if you're like me, all you're going to find is a very boring and unimaginative film. 

Arena (2011)


Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kellan Lutz, & Katia Winter
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, but what if it was used for something other than sex or slavery? The story of Arena is of a rich millionaire, who wanted to blend the UFC with Roman gladiators. The people taken are all men in excellent shape, who believe they're about to have sex with a beautiful woman, when they are kidnapped, and forced to fight to the death on a highly popular internet site. Everyone from the rich to college kids bet on the fights and then determine the fate of the loser. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from a film like this, but the story far exceeded my expectations. There is a huge back story to their most recent acquisition, a firefighter from Denver, who is dubbed as Death Dealer. Kellan Lutz plays him and he's one of these OC, Twilight, model types, who gives a surprising performance. This guy must have some kind of special fight training and portrayed this scary dude, who just wasn't going to give up. He's paired with the legendary Samuel L. Jackson, who was his usual hilarious, twisted self. Jackson is one of these guys who is just at a point in his career where everything he does is worth watching, and in a relatively small role, he really adds a lot to this film. Arena was a little better than I expected, until it reached it's conclusion. At the end of this film, there was a huge twist that would have made M. Night Shamalyan proud. I really didn't see it coming and the ending changes the whole theme of the movie. It's the kind of ending that makes you want to watch the film again, after you know the ending, to see if there were clues to figuring out the truth earlier than it was revealed. Arena is far from an award winning film, but it's got much more going for it then I ever would have expected. It's got some crazy violence, but there is also a pretty compelling story, with an ending that will absolutely blow your mind.