Monday, March 30, 2015

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, & Jennifer Lawrence
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

I love science fiction and I hate superheroes, but I credit the X-Men series with giving me an appreciation for them. X-Men has showed me that in the proper context, with some great writers, superheroes movies don't have to be the lowest form of sci-fi entertainment. Days of Future Past seemed to confuse some people, as it's not part of the trilogy and therefore it's timeline is off. The ending of the film also creates a paradox, which eliminates certain mistakes made in the other films. In layman's terms, some of the things that happen in the other X-Men movies, never happen, because of Days of Future Past. In an undetermined era, sometime between the end of the original film and Last Stand, a new enemy has been targeting mutants. These machines, meant to eliminate the mutants have malfunctioned and are now targeting humans as well. The machines are made with mutant DNA and therefore have the combined forces of all the mutants it's come in contact with, making them unstoppable. The only chance the X-Men have is for one of them to go back in time and stop the machines from ever being built. Wolverine is the only one with a mind strong enough to survive the trip and is sent back to the 1970s, where he meets the cast of X-Men: First Class. While difficult for non-sci-fi aficionados to understand, this film was not only extremely well written, but serves dual purposes for the series. First, it brings both casts together in an extreme fashion and it's a tremendous gift for the fans. Second, it allows the writers to undo mistakes from The Last Stand, which was at the time, set to be the final X-Men film. The ending to Days of Future Past, effectively explain that everything that happened in Last Stand, never happened, as it was part of an alternate timeline. This allows the writers to bring back characters like Prof. X (who is seen killed in that film) for possible future films. It really was an ingenious move for the franchises future, but it also allowed fans to experience the "old timers" and the "new class" working together, in a huge, diverse, and very impressive cast. Seldom are superheroes films so complicated or as well written as Days of Future Past. The writing is out of this world, the cast is full of stars, and the special effects were absolutely amazing. Love it or hate it, superheroes are part of the science fiction genre, but Days of Future Past was simply incredible and for that, it's our latest must see movie!

The Interview (2014)

Starring: Seth Rogan & James Franco
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

No film in the history of cinema has had more press than the Interview. It almost started a war and made world headlines for almost a week, still it lost money, and is considered to be one of the biggest flops in recent history. In The Interview, the hottest duo in comedy, Seth Rogan and James Franco team up for their third feature film together. This time the pair play a TV talk show host and his producer respectively. Their show is like a combination of Maury and TMZ, and is considered by most in the media to be a joke. Wanting to change that image, the team decide to get in contact with the reclusive leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, for his first televised interview. Once announced, the duo is contacted by the CIA, who wishes to recruit them to take Un out. The first time I saw Rogan and Franco together was in Pineapple Express, and I thought it was one of the funniest films I'd ever seen. They have terrific chemistry and I expected great things from them in the future. It might have something to do with the fact that their characters are always so similar, but the more I've seen them together, the less impressed I've been. Seth Rogan is kind of annoying to begin with, especially that chuckle of his, but it's usual balanced out by Franco's extreme behavior. In the Interview, this dynamic didn't work, as Franco's character and portrayal was even more annoying than Rogan's. The cameos may have been impressive and so was all the attention this film received, but the truth is that many of the jokes were amateurish, and the film was a giant step back from Pineapple Express. When people work together, especially comedic duos, the films are supposed to keep getting funnier and more outrageous, but Rogan and Franco seem to be going the other way. The Interview isn't a great story and it isn't that funny, in fact, it's more frustrating than anything else. I love both Seth Rogan and James Franco, they've both given me hours of quality entertainment, but sadly enough, I can't add the Interview to that list, as it's bark was much worse than it's bite.

Dark Skies (2013)

Starring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, & Dakota Goyo
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Despite my love of Science Fiction, I had no desire to see Dark Skies. Someone from the groups Facebook page messaged me, telling me it was right up my alley, so I decided to give it a shot, and you know what, they were right! Dark Skies is portrayed as something completely different in the trailers and ads. I was under the impression that it was another of these crazy awful demonic possession films, but it was a whole lot more interesting than that. The Barrett family is experiencing some weird occurrences in their home that they can't explain. At first it seems like the kids are pulling pranks, but they come to realize it's much more serious than that. The family has become the target of an alien race known as the grays, and are fearing an eventual abduction. Felicity herself, Keri Russell, gives an interesting performance with a cold, quiet, intensity that was something to see, but the real star of the movie was young Dakota Goyo. Goyo is best known as the annoying little kid in Reel Steel, but he's grown up quickly, and was simply the most realistic character in the whole film. What makes Dark Skies unique is it's fantastic ending, which was very unexpected, and much more eclectic than one would expect to see in a film like this. Some fans complained that the ending was too reminiscent to that of 1408, and while it was similar, unlike 1408, the ending of Dark Skies wasn't nearly as predictable. The ending comes out of nowhere and as far as I'm concerned, it's the cherry on the sundae. Dark Skies wasn't as technical or scientific as the most of the Sci-Fi I like, but it was still quite entertaining and the ending made a good film that much better.

Blood Ties (2013)

Starring: Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis, & James Caan
Rating: 2  out of 5 stars

Shot in a 1970s style, Blood Ties certainly has the right look. The film features a great cast, that made me desperately want to see it, but the problem is that it's a very common tale and it moves along at a snails pace. Even with a story that's been done over and over again, Blood Ties still could have been something special, because of it's cast, but that didn't happen simply because it is one of the most predictable films I've seen all year. The film features two brothers, Chris (Clive Owen) a career criminal, just released from prison, and Frank (Billy Crudup) a New York City Detective, who tries to help Chris get back on his feet. Didn't I see this movie in 2007 when it was called We Own The Night? That film has the exact same tagline, but fortunately wasn't as predictable. Billy Crudup stars as the good brother and was the only interesting character in the film, surprising considering the film features two of my favorite actors, James Caan and Charlie Tahan. Unfortunately neither of them have a particular big or interesting role, as everything centers around these two brothers. The con is played by Clive Owen, who honestly seemed like he didn't want anything to do with this role. He is emotionless, uneven, and every time he has any kind of long dialogue, I thought I was going to fall asleep. The bottom line, one's a cop, the others a con, I wonder what's going to happen? What happens is exactly what you think is going to happen, so why even bother to watch this extreme disappointment?

The Equalizer (2014)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, & Melissa Leo
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Equalizer was one of the most underrated shows of the 1980s, it was a great show, but it always lacked a certain intensity that the lead character needed. In this 2014 film adaptation of the series, Director, Antoine Fuqua, made sure that didn't happen again. Denzel Washington stars and can play anyone, but I find he's at his best when he's playing a dark loner like Robert McCall. McCall, a former CIA operative has retired and is attempting to live a normal life. Everything is going as planned, until he sees a young girl being abused, and decides to take action. McCall believe he's just going up against a local pimp, but discovers it's a lot more complicated than that. Washington continues to be at the top of his game, as the ageless wonder is once again spectacular. This film is everything I loved about the series, with a whole lot more action and intensity. Director, Antoine Fuqua, has been on a role after films like Training Day, Shooter, and Olympus Has Fallen, and he has become THE guy when it comes to action films. Playing off an established franchise and paired with Denzel Washington, The Equalizer has come back to life and is one of the most refreshing action films I've seen in a long time. Sometimes with a different team, what was once old, can become new again, and I was practically jumping out of my seat with excitement. As far as the continuation of the series goes, Fuqua is in the early stages of a sequel. It may not be a new TV series, but it's still something exciting for the fans, and I for one can't wait to see more.

Inherit The Wind (1960)

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly, & Fredric March
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I don't watch a lot of old movies, because I can't stand over-acting. Some of the legends of early film were notorious over-actors, and in my opinion, it made a lot of these early films unwatchable. In the case of Inherit The Wind, an over-actor meets one of Hollywood's all-time greats, head to head in the courtroom, and the result is pure gold. Based on the famous 1925 Scopes trial, and the 1955 novel, Inherit The Wind follows a courtroom trial, in a small town, that gripped the nation. The accused, Bertram Cates, has done the unthinkable, taught the theory of evolution to a high school class in the deep south. The trial is not the issue, neither is the slap on the wrist punishment, what's at stake here is the right to teach information that contradicts the bible. With the case gaining national attention, two world renown lawyers come to argue the case. In real life, those were Clarence Darrow and former Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. The legendary, Spencer Tracy portrays Darrow, in one of his best known performances. As Darrow, Tracy is witty, but at the same time, whole-heatedly behind his belief in the U.S. Constitution, and he argues with a passion that is rarely seen in the films of today. Tracy is paired with notorious over-actor, Fredric March, who plays his opposing counsel. March was so over the top to the point of being ridiculous, but when paired with the fervent defense presented by Tracy, it's the perfect dynamic. The film is simply about a trial, that doesn't even result in life or death, it's a fairly boring concept, but what makes the film the classic that it is, was the chemistry between Tracy and March. Seldom, if ever, have I seen two actors with completely different styles, play so well off one another. In the rarest of cases, Inherit The Wind was not entertaining for the story, theme, or elements, the fun lies in watching Tracy and March go at it in a way that you may never see again, and that's why I highly recommend this classic.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Age of Summerhood

Starring: Lucien Maisel, Raquel Alessi, & Christopher McDonald
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Coming of Age films are amongst my favorite types of films, and I was really excited to sit down and watch the critically acclaimed Age of Summerhood. I really liked the fact that for once, the actors were actually portrayed by kids the same age as their characters. Many times in films like this, the kids are portrayed by much older actors, in order to spare the young ones from the language and grown up elements expressed in the film, but in 2015, what kid hasn't heard the F word before? Using real kids made the film a lot more authentic and because of it, those funny moments were really funny. The film is the story of a group of ten year old friends, and their adventures at summer camp. I wish I could give a better description than that, but that's really all this film was about. Most coming of age stories are about life changing events, that will come to define the main characters life. Sometimes they are about a crime or first love, but not in The Age of Summerhood, as this film is nothing more than a film about kids at camp. While the writers briefly touch on typical coming of age elements, the film doesn't really get into them, in fact, the film doesn't really go into anything, as it's a series of short scenes, some funny moments, and nothing of substance. 10 year old, Lucien Maisel, stars as Fetus and he was great. As I said early having real kids play the roles, made the jokes that much funnier and made the film feel that much more authentic, but it's completely wasted on a film that just doesn't go anywhere. Age of Summerhood is too cute for adults and too raunchy for kids, it's falls in the middle. While my fellow critics loved it for it's authenticity and the debut of future stars, I found the film to be just one big jumble of kids acting like kids, with the occasional laugh, Age of Summerhood is not a bad movie, but not all that entertaining either.

The Paper Chase

Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay Wagner, & John Houseman
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The Paper Chase is considered to be a classic, but not because it's a good movie, but rather because of the performance of one man, John Houseman. His Academy Award winning portrayal lead to the films reputation and even spawned a successful television series, however similar to Dead Poet's Society, this film is revered for just one performance. The Paper Chase takes place during freshman year at Harvard Law School, where the students meet Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman), a throwback to when school was hard and degrees had to be earned. Kingsfield relishes in his reputation as the toughest Professor on campus, and his students have no idea what they're in for. Timothy Bottoms stars and really is one of the big problems with this film. He's the student who had to work harder than the rest just to get there, and wants nothing more than to become Kingsfield's favorite, but he's an asshole. How are viewers expected to get behind and root for someone who is so selfish and vile? As for his counterpart, John Houseman, he really was terrific and earned every bit of credit he has received for his performance. Without Houseman's portrayal of Professor Kingsfield, this film would have been quickly forgotten about, forty years ago, but it was the kind of performance that makes a career and carries a film, something that will never be forgotten. From the stand point of a moviegoer, the film is slow and boring, with a leading character I couldn't stand, but as a fan of film, I can't help but be impressed by John Houseman and recommend that his amazing performance be seen by the fans of today.

The Ice Harvest

Starring: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, & Connie Nielsen 
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

When two low level mafia members are frustrated with their roles, they come up with a plan to steal two million dollars from their boss. Everything goes off without a hitch, and now, they just have to wait one night before they can get out of town and move on to a new life, but things are never that simple. The Ice Harvest was an interesting film, with a great cast, and had they been able to pull off what they were attempting to do, it would have been a classic. Producers decided to make this film a modern day, 1930's type noir film, but at the same time, they wanted to mock how cheesy and over the top these films could be. It was a great idea, but it didn't work because the mocking wasn't subtle. In fact, the film takes it so far, that it becomes exactly what they were trying to make fun of in the first place. John Cusack stars and he can make any film better. This guy can play anyone and is always amazing, I just can't understand why he doesn't take on bigger roles. Here he's paired with Billy Bob Thornton, who under the right circumstances, can be hilarious. While he was pretty funny, he has almost no chemistry with Cusack and that hurt the film. These guys were partners, but on completely opposite pages and it just doesn't work. The Ice Harvest was an interesting story and I wish they had been able to pull off what they were attempting to do, but very quickly the film becomes a farce of itself, brutally predictable, and simply a waste of time.

Sons of Anarchy

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coats, Tommy Flanagan, Maggie Siff, Theo Rossi, Ryan Hurst, Dayton Callie, Johnny Lewis, & William Lucking

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Some shows just don't sound that interesting, and I admit when I heard about this new show, featuring an outlaw motorcycle club, I wasn't interested. Similar to shows like Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy gained it's reputation by word of mouth. Once word got out about just how well written this show was and how deep the character development was, it gained a following, and by the end, it was one of the highest rated shows on cable. 

For over 20 years, SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Originals) and Sheriff Wayne Uncer (Dayton Callie) have kept the small town of Charming California safe, a suburban paradise in an otherwise corrupt world. A series of events start to change all that, and SAMCRO is forced under the microscope. A shift in attitude, an ambitious young sheriff, and the ATF all threaten to destroy Charming and SAMCRO. Left with few options, the club must form new alliances and carry on business as usual if they hope to survive.

I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong about this show, I just couldn't wrap my head around it. How could a show about a motorcycle club be any good? It turns out that it was more than good, due to a combination of complex characters and tremendous writing. No one would have ever imagined just how in depth and shocking this show would become, and it's a real tribute to Creator, Kurt Sutter, who always had another trick up his sleeve. Just when it seems like there is nowhere else to go, the show changes direction, characters change, and the story evolves. Sons of Anarchy seemingly gets better with every season, but it's not just due to the writing, it's the actors themselves.

Sons of Anarchy has some of the best writing I've seen in a television show and the characters (while on the surface are nothing more than outlaw bikers) are so complex and interesting that I was hooked after just a few episodes. This show is as addicting as it gets, because everything seems to fall into place and it just work. From the casting, to the comedic moments, there isn't anything about this show that I could possibly complain about, as it earned it's reputation for being one of the best shows on cable. Sons of Anarchy, if nothing else re-enforces the old theory that you most certainly can't judge a book by it's cover.