Saturday, October 31, 2015

Highway (2002)

Starring: Jared Leto, Jake Gyllenhaal, & Selma Blair
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Before becoming household names, Jared Leto, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Selma Blair were all cast in an independent movie, that was so unlike anything we've seen to that point, that it led to the creation of many of the quirky road trip films we see today. 1994, In a Las Vegas, Pilot (Gyllenhaal) is a small time drug dealer, and his best friend, Jack (Leto) is doing a mobsters wife. Life seems great for these high school dropouts, until a series of screw ups lead to them becoming targets. After stopping for prostitutes, (because that's what guys on the run typically do) they embark on a trip to Seattle where they pick up a hitchhiker (Blair) and prove that they are every bit as crazy as they are funny. Eventually the group winds up in Seattle, for the memorial to Kurt Cobain, where things get even stranger. The talent of this young cast is evident right from the beginning of the film, and you won't believe the amazing things that happen to them during their epic road trip. There have been a lot of best friend teams in films like this, Bill & Ted, Harry & Lloyd, Alan & Phil, but I would say that despite being completely overlooked, Jack & Pilot may be the best of the bunch. This film clearly paved the way for the buddy road trip comedies that followed and did so in such a way, that I felt like I was back in the 90s, watching a true cult classic. I say it all the time, but films like this are the reason I watch so many independent films. Highway is worth every minute you spend on it and is an absolute must see movie!

Lost For Life

Starring: Joshua Rofe
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I watch a lot of documentaries, but rarely if ever, do I review them. The truth is that very few documentaries are objective. They are always an attempt to get the producers own point of view out to the public, and it's very hard to judge someone based on their personal philosophies. In this case I made an exception, because of the controversial nature of the film. My hope is that people will chime in and it will re-energize our failing comment system. 

This film focuses on youth offenders, who were given life sentences for the crimes they committed. The question is, should a persons entire life be determined by one act they committed as a teenager? Several of these people are interviewed and the overwhelming opinion is that most of them don't deserve to remain where they are, despite what they've done. In fact a new law is going to allow for lifers, convicted as teenagers, to have their case re-examined after a specific amount of time, based on the nature of the crime. Given the people interviewed in this film, it's easy to say they deserve a second chance. Who doesn't feel for a kid, who was with a crazy friend at the wrong time, and convicted of felony murder, just for being there? Who doesn't feel that a fifteen year old, who killed his sexual abusive parents, twenty years ago, shouldn't be released? It's easy to feel this way when presented with these types of offenders, but what about the people they didn't interview? The kids who brutally kill, just to see what it feels like or the kid who goes into school and shoots a dozen people because he's been bullied, do they deserve a second chance at freedom? I don't argue with the fact that a persons development isn't fully complete by the time they are a teenagers. I also don't argue that this lack of maturity leads to their stupid decisions. In some rare cases, these cases should be re-examined. However, when someone is so broken, that they kill for fun and without remorse, even at a young age, they are broken, and until we knows for certain how to fix them, they belong behind bars. What does everyone else think?

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, & Miles Teller
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of the Divergent series, and after reading all the books, I went so far as to proclaim that parts of it were even better than the Hunger Games. Unlike The Hunger Games and the first film in the series, Insurgent starts to veer away from the novel, making it hard for the fans, to envision just how they'll make the jump into the third book in the series. In what was once Chicago, the war between the factions has begun, and this time, no faction is safe from the Erudite. The intellectual faction has started collecting all the Divergent, in an attempt to open a mysterious box, that supposedly contains something that will change all their lives forever. Tris and Four are on the other-side, doing everything they can to stop the group from hunting the Divergents, whom they see as the key to changing everything. The first part of this film is an excellent representation of the novel and is every bit as exhilarating, but the second part veers off into a new direction. The films producers said they wanted to make the story easier for the casual fan to understand, and they did that, unfortunately, taking away the complexity of the story, takes away some of it's magic. As for the ending, it is completely different from the novel, leaving many to wonder if they'll make the third book into a film at all. Indeed they plan to, but it's hard to see just how they will go about doing it, after the events put in place by the end of this film. Shailene Woodley and Theo James returned for the sequel and again, they played the characters to tee, I really felt like these two were meant to play Tris and Four before the book was even set to be released on the big screen. Once again, the special effects, the acting, and the story are amazing, and this film would be worthy of five stars, if not for the ending that diverted too far away from the original story.

Sorority Row

Starring: Briana Evigan, Rumer Willis, Julian Morris, & Carrie Fisher
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The daughters of Bruce Willis and Greg Evigan team up in Sorority Row, a remake of the 1983 Horror classic, The House on Sorority Row. The remake is of course modernized and takes the classic independent horror film to the next level, with terrific effects, increased levels of fright and gore, and of course a ton of beautiful people. Where is this college and how soon can I apply?! Every guy and girl featured in the film, with the exception of Carrie Fisher, could be models, despite being well passed the age of most college students. The story starts out much like the original film does, with a Sorority prank that goes horribly wrong. The girls decide to cover up the incident and put it behind them, but at a large cost to their sisterhood. A year later, at the same party, someone knows what happened last year, and have decided to make the whole Sorority pay for their crimes. This film is a classic 'who done it' mashed together with a slasher film, and the results are pure excitement. The truth is that most of these film don't have much in the way of a story line and the killer is obvious to everyone, but not this time. This film is very reminiscent of Scream, and it really had me on the edge of my seat. A good Horror film is hard enough to find, but one with all that suspense and a compelling story to follow, that's worth it's weight in gold! Sorority Row is a perfect choice for those who want to spend Halloween, in front of the TV watching a scary movie!

Don't Blink

Starring: Brian Austin Green, Mena Suvari, & Joanne Kelly
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Independent Horror films are always hit or miss, there is no in-between. They are either better than any Hollywood movie or as awful as a film can be, Don't Blink is part of the latter. Ten friends in four cars go away on vacation, to a small resort village in the middle of nowhere. When the group arrives they are shocked to find, the town is abandoned, so why don't they just leave? All four cars are low on gas and of course the pumps at the only gas station in town don't work, for that matter neither do any of their cell phones, what are the odds? I don't know about you, but if I was in the situation, I'd run away as fast as I could, but these geniuses decide to huddle up in the main cabin and hope for the best. As they try to keep calm, members of their party start to vanish, one by one, in the blink of an eye, and soon, the group descends into madness. The whole premise of this film is ridiculous and the budget is so small, that most of the film is shot in the same location. As far as what's happening to them, don't think you'll ever find out, because that is supposedly the scariest part of the whole thing. Don't Blink, sounds like it would be fast paced and exciting, but it's as slow as can be, with a lot of talking, by a lot of stupid people, who are in a situation that would never happen. The dialogue is amateurish, the bad acting is the only real joke in the film, and the ending makes the whole thing just a complete waste of time. Even though I see movies like this from time to time, I'm still amazed that someone thought that something like this deserved to made into a feature film, and I continue to wonder if anyone reads these scripts before producing the film.


Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Jack Coleman, Milo Ventimiglia, Ali Larter, Masi Oka, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Greg Grunberg, James Kyson Lee, Adrian Pasdar, Zachary Quinto, Noah Gray-Cabey, & Jimmy Jean-Louis

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Even casual readers of this blog will know that I hate superheroes, so why then did I watch the series Heroes? The truth is that I put it off for a long time, until I unlocked it's secret. They aren't really superheroes and the special abilities that some of the characters posses is only a small part of the story.

All around the country, ordinary people are discovering that they have remarkable abilities. Some see these abilities as the next natural step in human evolution, other see these people as a threat. The show begins with one group trying to understand their abilities and how to use them for good. A second group is trying to exploit there abilities for personal gain, while the third works for a group known as the company, which is trying to contain the whole situation.

From a TV standpoint, this show was really innovative with special effects and a large cast of future stars, but there in lied the problem. The show was so expensive to produce that by the fourth season, when the ratings started to fall off, the show was cancelled. However, thanks to streaming services like Netflix, the die-hard fans were able to prove their love for the show, and six years later, NBC has brought it back for a fifth season, which will supposedly tie up the loose ends from the season four cliffhanger.

The show is continuous and the multiple story lines are vast, so I won't go into them, but I will mention a few stand outs from the cast. Heroes launched the career of Zachary Quinto, who played the villian Syler. Syler has the power to absorb others abilities and become the most powerful of them all, only he is unable to focus leading him in many directions. Sometimes he's helpful, other times he has plans of world domination, and occasionally he just wants to know where he came from. Syler is the deepest, most interesting character of them all, going through a range of emotion and a love/hate relationship with the audience. The ability to portray such a complex character has led Quinto to superstardom and rightfully so.

Next is Masi Oka as Hiro Nakamura, the master of space and time. The Hiro character not only added a lot of much needed levity to the show, but also introduced writers to all kinds of possibilities, such as time travel and alternate histories. To me, these were some of the best story arks they had and it's all the more fun, when the guy leading the charge is hilarious.

Finally is Hayden Panettiere, as Clare Bennett, the cheerleader who can not be hurt. She's the character that most fans can relate to, because she's just a teenage girl caught between the factions. All she wants is a normal life, but can someone that can heal themselves ever truly be normal?

Heroes was terrific science fiction, which covered more story lines and topics in four years, then some shows have covered in twenty. The characters are always changing and the story is continuous, so don't skip episodes. There are constantly changing roles and relationships, which kept the series fresh, moving, and always entertaining. Even if you didn't like one of the story arks, there were still a half dozen more going on at the same time. Heroes is some of the best science fiction you will ever see on TV, it's just a shame that it only lasted four seasons. It is a perfect example of the networks continuing desire to go with cost over quality.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, & Bill Paxton
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

There was a huge buzz on the internet about this film, because of Jake Gyllenhaal's outstanding performance, but a great performance doesn't always make for a great film. Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is down on his luck, he drives an old car, lives in an disgusting apartment, and doesn't have a job. He drives around at night looking for ways to earn money, when he comes across a film crew taping a crime scene. It seems like easy money, so Bloom goes out, gets a camera, and starts filming the police himself, only, he doesn't follow the same rules that the others do. I will not dispute that Gyllenhaal was terrific, but his character was beyond annoying. Louis Bloom is this O.C.D. guy, who is constantly rambling and talking to himself, something that basically ruins the whole film. This guy gets so annoying it's to the point of frustrating. On top of that, it takes a long time for anything substantial to happen. I was really looking forward to seeing this film and was impressed by how far Jake Gyllenhaal has come, but despite it's looming cult classic label, I found this film to just be one frustrating scene after another. Critics are willing to give films like this four stars and tell you it's a must see, because of an Oscar worthy performance, but what's really the point of seeing something that most people aren't going to want to sit through? Similar to Citizen Kane, it's got a great reputation, but don't let that fool you, this is one of the most nerve racking films I've ever sat through and to be honest, I'm sorry I did.

Truth or Die

Starring: Liam Boyle, Jack Gordon, & Florence Hall
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

It was a simple graduation party in the suburbs of London, that was starting to get boring. With nothing else to do, the drunk teenagers decide to play Truth or Dare. One of the popular kids decides to use the opportunity to embarrass one of the less popular kids with disastrous results. In order to make it up to him, the popular kids agree to go to his birthday party, at a lavish country house, but when they get there, Felix isn't there. Instead the group finds his older brother, who forces them to play a more extreme game. I love the horror site Bloody Disgusting, and I watch most of what they recommend. For some reason they occasionally choose these obscure British films, with actors I've never heard of, and they almost always turn out like this. Truth or Die is unbelievably slow moving, and as expected, nothing really happens until the last ten minutes, and even that didn't make this film worth watching. As for the cast, it's no wonder I never heard of them, because most of them were absolutely terrible. The story is somewhat unbelievable to begin with, but add to that a bad cast, with thick accents, bumbling lines, and you get a film that is nearly unwatchable. I respect the opinions of our friends at Bloody Disgusting, but in this case, I don't know how they could have made this a selected film, it really is a complete waste of time.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Starring: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, & Tim Meadows
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I'm not a fan of farces, and to be honest, I'm not that crazy about John C. Reilly, but one thing you can be sure of, is that when I see Judd Apatow's name attached to something, I'll eventually see it. Walk Hard is a mocumentary about an Elvis Presley type persona, whose music spanned an evolved over a 50 year career. As styles changed, so did Dewey Cox, his outfits, personality, and his music, it was all very clever. I especially liked when he ran into the Beatles at a monastery in India. Walk Hard has some very funny moments, but this film would be nothing without John C. Reilly. It seems like he's in everything these days and most of the roles are quite forgettable, but Dewey Cox is easily his crowning achievement. Reilly is an actor I don't care for, in a style of film I don't care for, yet I was still very amused by the whole thing. The one negative I can give the film, is that is was exceptionally long for this type of film and it spent far too much time on the early stages of his life. The end of the film felt rushed to avoid it becoming a three hour movie, which to me suggests that maybe it should have been split in two. The inherit problem with comedies is that the longer they are, the more tiresome they become. While I enjoyed the first half of the movie a lot, by the end I really couldn't wait for it to end. Farcical comedies are usually way out there and Walk Hard has some of that, but by and large it was an interesting take on fifty years of American pop culture. The film and it's star far exceeded my expectations and for what it was, I was impressed.

The Black Donnellys

Starring: Jonathan Tucker, Tom Guiry, Billy Lush, Michael Stahl-David, Olivia Wilde, Kirk Acevado, Keith Noobs, Peter Greene, Patrick Brennan, & Brian Tarantina

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

NBC's answer to the Sopranos, was a show called The Black Donnellys, and it was a show about the Irish mob, starring Jonathan Tucker, who is as talented as he is good looking, so what went wrong? As it turns out, there were a lot of things wrong with this show that could have been easily corrected. We forget though that this is the era of on-demand, DVR, and Netflix, and in today's world, network shows that don't crack the top 50 in their first 13 episodes, don't stand a chance. 

The Donnelly brothers grew up in a tough Boston neighborhood, and their father, was heavily involved in the Irish mob. Wanting a better life, Mr. Donnelly's four sons inherited his bar and try to run a legitimate business. There is of course a problem, not all the Donnelly's are keeping their noses clean. Eventually, a pair of brothers run into problems with the Italians, and have to learn the lessons their father never wanted them to learn. The show has a very solid backstory and if it were presented in the correct way, I think it could have been a huge hit, but as it turns out, the show was like a bad joke, which only a handful of viewers seemed to get. 

For starters, the show is narrated by a wise-cracking family friend who is always telling the story in some comedic way to one law enforcement agency or another. The big joke is how does this guy know all these things when he's not there, and then, just like that, he's randomly there in the background, with everyone looking confused. 

The timing of the story is also problematic, because when you're doing a show like this, you need to draw viewers in before starting the story from the very beginning. Would anyone have watched the Sopranos if Tony Soprano was a twenty year old kid, just getting started? If this show had started a few years later, when the brothers were established gangsters, in some full on mafia war, and then gone back and showed how it all started, it would have been a lot more interesting. As I watched the episodes, I could see the show leading into something bigger and better, but it never go there. I suspect there were big plans for future seasons, but how can you start a show assuming there will be more seasons? 

As for the brothers, they are all former child stars, led by Jonathan Tucker. While he's not a huge star in Hollywood, he has made it a lot further than his co-stars, and his experience and talent are very evident, especially by comparison. Tucker has what it takes to take the lead in a show like this and draw in an audience, but that's impossible when the show is poorly written and just doesn't seem to go anywhere.

The bottom line, I like the idea behind the show and there were a couple of really interesting characters. If this show had lasted, I have no doubt that it would have grown into something bigger and better, but as it stands, The Black Donnellys didn't make past it's first season, and with good cause. I kept waiting for things to happen that never did and eventually gave up on it too. Having an idea for a long running series usually means that show will be well written and highly intelligent, but in today's world, if you want to go beyond one season,  then you really need to go all out, right from the beginning, if not, you'll be a forgotten show on Netflix, that some talented reviewer finally sees eight years after the fact.