Sunday, October 26, 2014

Good Morning, Vietnam


Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, & Chintara Sukapatana
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Throughout his whole career, Robin Williams was known as the guy who could carry a film simply by being a part of it. Good Morning, Vietnam is once again an example of this extreme talent. Not all of Williams' films were great, and as was the case with Dead Poets Society, when you break down Good Morning, Vietnam to the basics, it's simply a story about a raunchy radio DJ pissing off his superiors. The story isn't very deep and there isn't much to go out aside from an out of this world performance by the late Robin Williams. In this film, Williams portrays armed forced radio DJ, Adrian Cronauer, who in 1965, took a job with the Army as a radio host. In the 60s there was no satellite radio or TV at the touch of a button, so stations like this were the mens only connection to home. Most of the time these stations played soothing music and gave the news, but Cronauer gave the men something they desperately needed, some humor in an otherwise terrible situation. He was definitely one of the first shock jocks to ever hit the airwaves and Williams portrayal was absolutely terrific. Much of the radio bits featured in the films were never written in any script, as Williams simply went up to the microphone and did what he does. The rest of the story is unfortunately not as interesting, featuring Cronauer befriending the local populations and falling for a young Vietnamese woman. Good Morning, Vietnam is another one of Williams films that you must see simply because it was one of the best performances ever recorded on film. In all honesty, without Williams, this film would have fallen flat on it's face. This is why, films like this would pay Williams to come in and do his thing, because he took films like this one from ordinary to extraordinary.

Texas Killing Fields


Starring: Sam Worthington, Jeffery Morgan, & Chloe Grace Moretz
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Texas Killing Fields is a movie that should have been a TV series instead. There is way too much going on here for a simple two hour movie, leaving things confusing and unsettled. Based on a true story, Texas Killing Fields tells the story of an area outside of Texas City known as the highway to hell. Since 1970, more than 60 bodies have been found dumped in this desolate area and most of the crimes have never been solved. This film follows the arrival of a New York City Homicide Detective, who has moved to the area and starts investigating a recent series of crimes. If this film had stuck to the story, it would have been terrific, because there was a lot to work with. Instead, the film jumps between three different crimes, in two different jurisdictions, which leaves a team of detectives separated and working on their own things. There is absolutely no background story on the detectives, the victims, the suspects, or the fields, and when the cops are talking to people, it feels like you've missed a whole lot of background information. Everyone knows everyone in these small towns, but the writers seem to have forgotten that we don't know anyone and were left extremely confused. There are a dozen suspect and a new victim every half hour. With each cop working on his own, we are thrown back and fourth to the point where the film becomes unwatchable. Avatar's Sam Worthington stars and as with that film, he's really nothing special. The guy is an interesting side character at best, but definitely not ready to be starring his own film. His partner is played by Jeffery Morgan, who eerily looks like he could be Javier Bardem's twin. Morgan was somewhat better than Worthington, but again the performance was uneven and hard to judge, because it was simply impossible to keep up with what was going on. Texas Killing Fields had a real life story to play on, but too many good ideas for it's own good. The producers try to pack in as much as they could into 105 minutes, which wasn't enough time to tell the story, and left the audience scratching it's heads.

McCanick


Starring: David Morse & Cory Monteith 
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

On the surface, McCanick is a simple story of a cop going after an ex-con who he has a history with. As the film progresses, the lines begin to blur, leaving the audience to question who is really the good guy and who is actually the bad guy? This film is notable, as it is the last thing Glee star Cory Monteith worked on before he died, and it was a definite change in direction for the young star. The story starts on Eugene Wellington McCanick's birthday, a happy day that should mark a reunion with his son, but instead marks a day where he learns that the biggest bust of his career, acquiesced killer Simon Wells (Cory Monteith) had been paroled. McCanick is ordered to leave the situation alone, but he can't rest while this man is on the street and McCanick goes looking for trouble. This is a very dark and methodical drama that really seems to have no depth whatsoever, until you see both sides of the story presented in flashbacks. David Morse stars as your typical tough loner cop, whose life is all about the job. The kind of cop that takes his job personally and will do whatever it takes to bust the people he sees as a threat to his city. When I think tough guy, David Morse is not the first person who comes to mind, but he has a history of playing both the good and the bad guy, making the role of Eugene McCanick perfect for him. He's paired with Cory Monteith, who as a teen heartthrob, has never really been seen as more than a sweet, loveable guy. Simon Wells is anything but sweet an loveable, as he's been severally damaged by a life on the streets, but the question becomes just how bad a guy is he? McCanick is the kind of film where everything seems to be laid right out in front of you, the kind of film where you're not expecting a surprise, but that's the whole premise of the film. The whole purpose of the film is to make you question everything you believe and it really turns into to something very unique and special. McCanick doesn't have a cast or a preview that screams out to you, many people are just going to skip it, but if you do, you'll  be missing that special kind of movie that leaves you thinking about it long after it's over.

5ive Days To Midnight


Starring: Timothy Hutton, Randy Quaid, & Kari Matchett
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Professor J.T. Neumeyer (Timothy Hutton) and his daughter have never fully recovered from the loss of their wife/mother, but try to live a simple life of solitude in suburban Seattle. After 10 years, J.T. is finally seeing a women, who he really likes, and things seem to be going good for the family, until a mysterious briefcase shows up. J.T. opens the case only to find an old police report, dated five days in the future. The file is an unsolved murder case in which the victim is Professor J.T. Neumeyer. 

5ive Days To Midnight was a very unique and entertaining story, but for some reason, it was given to the SyFy channel and turned into a four part mini-series, rather than a movie. It's problematic, because to fill the extra time, they have to come up with a lot of side stories that never fully resolve themselves. Sometimes with Science Fiction, things are never resolved, because they simply can't be explained and I'm okay with that, but simple things that can be resolved should be, otherwise the story leaves more questions than it answers. That is the case with 5ive Days To Midnight, it's really well written and has an outstanding cast, but being that it's four hours long, there wasn't any reason to leave parts of the story unfinished. The conclusion was therefore the best and worst part of the whole thing. The ending was fast paced and exciting, real edge of your seat type stuff, but as soon as it was over, there was a small two minute conversation, and then that was it. With all the time the writers spent on the back story and the introduction to the characters, to just leave us with a story that basically just abruptly ends, was defiantly disappointing to me. 

What doesn't disappoint is the other three hours and forty-five minutes of this mini-series. I find that with mini-series, a lot of times the description and preview are actually better than anything else, but that's not the case here. This is a well written mystery, with some great action sequences, mixed with Science Fiction, and there is even a mob element to the whole thing. Timothy Hutton stars as the professor and gives the performance of a life time. How does one investigate their own murder and protect their ten year old daughter at the same time? His character was in a unique situation that really came off well. The whole package is outstanding, which is why the disappointing ending really bothers me more than it probably should.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Raven (2012)


Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, & Alice Eve
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

165 years ago, Edgar Allen Poe was on his way from Boston to Virgina, preparing for a new job. He never made it and was found on a bench in Baltimore, near death. He was delusional, wearing someone elses cloths, and kept repeating the name Reynolds, before he died. To this day, the cause of death and his reason for being in Baltimore are unknown. On the anniversary of his death, I decided to watch The Raven, which contrary to popular belief, is not a remake of an older film. This story is a fictional take on Poe's last days, as the writers have Poe assisting local police in catching a serial killer. A killer is on the loose in Baltimore and using Poe's stories as the inspiration for his crimes, so who else is more qualified to help catch him than Poe? I am not a big fan of period dramas, as most are historically inaccurate and move at a snails pace, but the Raven was different. As fiction, it is of course extremely inaccurate and features Poe as an eccentric has been and a fall down drunk, but surprisingly the film is fast paced and really keeps you on the edge of your seat. The idea of using Poe's stories as the inspiration for a real murderer, who tries to copy his stories to the last detail was really brilliant and it plays very well, especially to fans of his work. John Cusack plays the mysterious writer and by this point in his career, I'm convinced that the man can play anyone and be believable. In thirty years, there isn't a role he wouldn't take on and I'm hard pressed to remember even one instance of him failing to be spectacular. The Raven is a stand alone film, with a common title for films featuring Poe, however this one is a great mystery that incorporates very little modern day thinking into the story. The Raven has everything you'd expect from this type of film, simply set 165 years ago. From police chases on horse back to wild 1800's costume parties, this film really surprised me with just how good it was and most definitely gets labeled as a must see movie!

Jesse Stone: Thin Ice


Starring: Tom Selleck, Kathy Baker, & Stephen McHattie
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thin Ice is the fifth Jesse Stone film, and the first that didn't come directly from one of Robert Parker's novels. Parker didn't write this one, but Thin Ice is still every bit as gripping and mysterious as the other Stone stories. Since becoming the police chief in Paradise Massachusetts, Stone has injected himself into local business and politics, discovering a lot of corruption, and a connection to organized crime. He's done a tremendous job, but the town council is very upset with him. All these arrests and headlines have put Paradise on the front page, and it has taken it's toll on the towns main source of income, tourism. The town council tells Stone he has to tone it down or risk losing his job. In typical fashion he responds by telling them, "you can fire me, but you can't tell me what to do." An upset Stone, heads to Boston to have dinner with his friend, the state homicide commander, when a mysterious shooter tries to take them both out. Now Stone is in the middle of another headline grabbing investigation that's become personal. As always Tom Selleck is terrific and pairing him with Picket Fences' Kathy Baker has only made the film series that much more enjoyable for me. Every film has two mysteries, that feature Stone right in the middle of the action. Thin Ice being written by a different person, shows Stone as edgier and more sarcastic, something that was interesting to see. I've read most of the novels and know the character of Jesse Stone very well, and to see him exhibit different personality traits, in an extreme situation, really was a treat for me. If you're not familiar with Jesse Stone, you should take the time to do so. He is one of the most complex characters I have ever come across and he's played by the absolute perfect choice, Tom Selleck. The man has been playing a cop for nearly 40 years and has learned a thing or two about what it takes to lead audiences through an investigation. Thin Ice was definitely a change in direction, but it works, as even in it's fifth installment, Jesse Stone is still every bit as good as it ever was.

Keeping Up With The Steins


Starring: Daryl Sabara, Garry Marshall, & Jeremy Piven
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Being Jewish, I have a bias towards liking a film like this. The usage of Yiddish, along with the many exaggerations of the Jewish family are something most people won't understand, unless they grew up around it. Parts of this film I found to be hysterical, while my non-Jewish friend, sitting next to me, didn't get it at all. As for the film, it's a lie before the credits even stop rolling. Keeping Up With The Steins, really has very little to due with the Stein family, as they are part of the background story at best. The film is actually about a broken family, forced together on the eve of a child's Bar Mitzvah. Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara) is turning 13, which in the Jewish religion means that he is about to become a man. His parents are well off and are making huge plans for the event, but Ben wants no part of it. In an attempt to take the attention off himself, he sends an invitation to his estranged Grandfather that he's never met, a Grandfather, who shows up to the families wealthy neighborhood in an old RV, with a woman half his age. This is where the heart of the story comes from, as father and son are forced together after fifteen years. Jeremy Piven stars as the son and believe it or not he's a big time Hollywood agent, living in a life of luxury. This toned down version of Ari is forced to see his father, played by the legendary Garry Marshall. For the past 15 years, he's been living as a hippie, teaching on an Indian reservation. As soon as they see each other, the two are at odds and it really is very funny. The star of the film is Spy Kids, Daryl Sabara, who I have never liked. He's just always so shy and painfully awkward, I really just don't understand his appeal. While he is a major part of the story, the parts of the film that feature him without Marshall or Piven are just painful. Keeping Up With The Steins isn't raunchy and much of the humor is intertwined in the Jewish religion. If you're not Jewish, you'll probably have the same reaction my friend did. Personally I loved it, but I can understand how this film won't appeal to everybody.