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.


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.


Starring: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, & Uma Thurman
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

While you may not know the name Phillip K. Dick, many of the biggest Science Fiction films of the last thirty years have been adaptations of his work. Dick is responsible for the films Blade Runner, The Terminator, Total Recall, Minority Report, and Paycheck just to name a few. Due to the popularity of his work in film and how successful they've been, even a lesser known work like Paycheck has been made into a film. The story includes many of the action sequences and interesting characters associated with Dick's stories, but Paycheck does lack the futuristic Science Fiction that has become Dick's signature, which is the main reason this story isn't as well known as his other works. The story takes place in modern day, where a man is offered an irresistible deal. Jennings (Ben Affleck) is told that if he works on a secret project for the next 3 years, he will receive 100 million dollars. The only catch being that after the 3 years are up, Jennings memory will be erased and he will have no idea what he worked on. As expected, Jennings accepts the deal and returns to his life 3 years later, but nothing is that simple. Soon everyone from the FBI to bounty hunters show up trying to get to him, and the only clues he has come from an envelope he sent himself, containing 19 random items that seem to have little or no value. Ben Affleck stars and by this point we all know how I feel about him. Affleck is a terrific Director, who seems to have little interest in acting anymore. Paycheck however is a 2003 film, a time before Affleck had proven himself and he shows that rare charisma that is only present in his real early work. His performance is outstanding and aided further by his chemistry with co-star Uma Thurman. Thurman is another performer who I find isn't very good unless she's in very specific type of role, and fortunately for Affleck, this is one of those roles. Paycheck is missing the big signature associated with Dick's work and will be somewhat disappointing to his fans. I did miss the futuristic element, but I was intrigued by the mystery Jennings was trying to solve and the 19 items. Combined with the action sequences, (that are always top notch) Paycheck isn't what I expected, but was still very well done and definitely worth watching.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, & George Carlin
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Since the very beginnings of film, "buddy" comedies have always been very popular. From Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello to Cheech & Chong and Harold & Kumar, audiences love to see what kind of trouble these guys can get into. After 25 years and with talks of a second sequel on the way, I finally decided to see what Bill & Ted were all about. I was always scared off by the PG rating, I mean George Carlin in a PG rated film, come on! The first part of the film was pretty much what I expected it to be, as the two failing history dudes, fly around the world looking for historical figures. Things turn from ordinary to extraordinary when the group finally returns to 1989 and decide to go the mall of all places. This is where the film really finds itself and becomes more than just your typical buddy story. The interactions with people and the reactions on both sides are absolutely priceless and is what changed my opinion of this film. Keanu Reeves stars in one of his earliest roles, and manages to show that at some point in his life, he did have a personality and could tell a joke. His partner Alex Winter didn't really do much before or since, and while he wasn't great, he did have chemistry with Reeves, which always helps a movie progress. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure wasn't so excellent, but it was different and manages to hold your attention. I still think this film would have been much better if it were R rated and a lot more edgy, but for what it was, it wasn't bad at all.

Killing Them Softly

Starring: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, James Gandolfini, & Ray Liotta
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 Stars

I really liked the trailer and story associated with the film Killing Them Softly, as it appeared to be an original idea in the genre of organized crime. Usually these films are all somewhat similar to The Godfather or Goodfellas, and while that's not a bad thing, I was really interested in seeing something a little different. Killing Them Softly starts out on the right foot, with a daring heist and a bunch of wiseguys left reeling. I was excited and thought this would be a terrific film, but as it continues it really slows down and the story dies right along with it. After a big mafia card game is robbed, the wiseguys want answers and turn to a man named Jackie (Brad Pitt), a problem solver who works under the radar to get the right answers to the right people. Almost as soon as the heist and fallout from it are over, the film goes from an Action Thriller to a painfully slow Drama. Killing Them Softly had all the makings of a great mob movie, the story, an intriguing leading character, and three guys who were in the Sopranos. The beginning was amazing and the ending was pretty good too, but for the hour and a half in the middle, nothing happens, and It was infuriating! We all know what a great actor Brad Pitt can be, especially in this type of role, but his talent is just completely wasted by a Writer who had a beginning, an ending, and no idea in between. Aside from Pitt, the rest of the cast only has brief appearance here and there, except for Scoot McNairy, who you may remember from the awful Science Fiction film, Monster. Since then he's turning up everywhere and I couldn't imagine why, until I saw him here. McNairy plays a good kid, who is caught in the middle, and just wants to survive. He goes through a range of emotions and from side to side as if he were a veteran well beyond his years. What a thrill it must have been for a young actor starting out to show up on the set and be surrounded by the likes of Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, and Ray Liotta! As for the film, the bottom line is this, it has a big cast we all know and love, with a few scenes that will really blow you away, but overall the story is severely lacking in content and just wastes the talent of it's performers.

The Least of These (2008)

Starring: Isaiah Washington, Jordan Garrett, & Robert Loggia
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

At a small Catholic High School in Connecticut, everyone knows everyone elses business. One priest has mysteriously disappeared, while another has come to take his place. That priest is former student, Andre James (Isaiah Washington), who from the very beginning knows he isn't entirely welcome at his old school, which he comes to find holds many old secrets. I'm always a bit weary of films that are centered on religion, because if isn't done just right the film is ruined. If there isn't enough of a religious angle, the film isn't believable, but if there's too much, it feels like you're being converted. The Least of These manages to strike a perfect balance, as religion is a part of the story, but it doesn't dominate every aspect of the film. The true heart of this film is in it's mysteries, such as what happened to the old priest and what's this new guy all about? Isaiah Washington stars in what turns out to be the first serious role I've seen him play, and he is outstanding. Father James is battling his own demons and for all the good he wants to do, a part of him doesn't feel entirely comfortable in his new surroundings. Quite ingeniously, Washington is able to portray this not through words, but through his demeanor, which changes as the story progresses. Washington is paired with Jordan Garrett who is always very likeable no matter what type of character he is playing. It doesn't matter if he's playing an evil kid on Law & Order or the innocent victim in Death Sentence, Garrett somehow always manages to connect with the audience and get them pulling for his character. In this film, he plays an introverted outcast, who seems to be devastated by the disappearance of Father Collins. After connecting with Father James, the boy opens up and becomes yet another mystery of the old school. The Least of These was pretty entertaining and I suspect that a lot of the bad user reviews come from people who didn't make it through the whole film. I agree that it starts out slow and takes forever to get moving, but once it does, it really is a terrific story told by a stellar cast.

I Spit On Your Grave 2

Starring: Jemma Dallender, Yavor Baharov, & Joe Absolom
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The sequel to 2010's remake of I Spit On Your Grave, features a very similar storyline, however it takes torture and gore to whole other level. Unlike many Horror fans, I love blood and gore, but there has to be a line, and this film crossed it early and often. I've seen thousands of movies and a good portion of my collection is Horror, so I thought I'd seen it all, then comes this film. Using blood, puss, feces, and extreme genital mutilation, I Spit On Your Grave 2 is so extreme, that even I was wincing and turning away from the screen. The story is almost identical to the first, as a young woman is abducted, raped, tortured, and left for dead, but she survives and plans her brutal revenge. The first film took place in a cabin in the woods, while this one features a girl abducted by human traffickers and brought to Belarus. Other than the location and the extreme depravity, these films are nearly identical, yet the sequel gets two stars less than it's predecessor because it is much too long and it really is vile. I understand that Horror is a very hard genre to develop original ideas in, and I also understand that in order to stand out, one director is always trying to out do the other, but this movie is so beyond disgusting that it makes the Saw movies look like a Disney production. As for the cast, it is almost completely comprised of newcomers, and unlike the first there really isn't a whole lot of dialogue. Jemma Dallender stars, and while I appreciate that even pretending to have some of those things done to you must be rough, she really shows no personality. She's a victim from the second the film starts and transforms into a psychopath who simply repeats her captures lines to them as she tortures them back. The 2010 remake had a good story, was well thought out, and while it was pretty violent, it was within reason. I Spit On Your Grave 2 is nothing more than a snuff film, with scenes of things that people should never see. The first film was a must see movie, but as is often the case, you can really skip the sequel.