Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sausage Party

Starring: Seth Rogan, Kristen Wiig, & Michael Cera
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

It was one of those days where I just wanted out of the heat, so I went to the movies. I was looking for something simple, stupid, and low-brow to just give me a laugh or two, just enough to keep me awake. I like Seth Rogan, so I choose Sausage Party, a film I'd never normally see, and while it had what I was looking for, surprisingly, it also had a lot more. I was expecting nothing but the typical drug and sex jokes, but in addition to that, there was a cleverness there that I wasn't expecting, the kind of thing you'd normally get from Family Guy. It's hard to say more without spoiling it, but one such element seen in the trailer and used through out the film, is the use of ethnic foods to represent the real life conflicts and stereotypes of the people associated with them. There are also plenty of food related jokes through out the film that seem so obvious for a movie like this, but you didn't think of them, and that's why Seth Rogan never has to pay for his weed.... The bottom line, I'm not saying this film is going to win any awards or that's it's going to become some huge cult classic or anything like that, just that it's far more clever, intelligent, and entertaining than I ever assumed it could be. You might be forced to see it because of yours kids, but you won't be as disappointed as you think.

When The Game Stands Tall

Starring: Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis, & Laura Dern
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The one thing you can always count on when watching a football film, is that it's going to be exciting. It doesn't matter if it's a true story, like When The Game Stands Tall, or a made up one like Friday Night Lights. It doesn't matter if the team has won 100 straight games or lost 100 straight games. Every film about football is going to be exciting, so what makes one better than the other? The personalities involved, it all comes down to who the film is focused on and this film has it's eyes on the prize. Jim Caviezel stars as Bobby Ladouceur, one of the most successful high school football coaches of all-time. Ladouceur became a national celebrity, not only because of a big winning streak, but also because of the way he incorporated family values and religion into his coaching, trying to make his player more well-rounded individuals. Caviezel was outstanding, as he is in everything, but after watching six seasons of Person of Interest, it's almost disappointing seeing Caviezel in a role where he doesn't kill anyone. The other focus of the film is Alexander Ludwig, who portrays Chris Ryan, a kid who has all the talent in the world, but has to decide, if he's pushing himself toward greatness for himself or because of a psychotic father. Ludwig always gets second billing, but as with the Hunger Games, nothing would be as good without him. He is the unsung hero of this film as he rounds out the emotional roller-coaster. When The Game Stands Tall has action, emotion, conflict, religion, family, love, hate, a little bit of everything and believe it or not, at the heart of it all is a simple, stupid little game called football. This film was great, it reminded me a lot of the TV version of Friday Night Lights and it's an absolute can't miss for sports enthusiasts.

The 4400

Starring: Joel Gretsch, Jacqueline McKenzie, Patrick Flueger, Conchita Campbell, Chad Faust, Richard Kahan, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, & Billy Campbell

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The 4400 was a science fiction show, that featured time travel, strange powers, government agents, conspiracies, and a whole lot more. After a very solid, yet writers strike shortened first season, The 4400 looked like it was going to be Heroes meets the X-Files, easily the next big thing in science fiction television. If that wasn't enough to interest fans, the show also had a head start, as its creators weren't newcomers. The 4400 was the brainchild of Rene Echevarria (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Scott Peters (V, The Outer Limits). The show looked like a can't miss, then came Season 2...

Seattle Washington, 2004 - It's a seemingly normal night, when a space satellite picks up something unusual. Government agencies are in a panic, as this weird object descends over a mountain lake and emits a bright white light before vanishing. Once it's gone, 4400 people stand on the banks of the lake, 4400, who as it would turn out, have at one time or another been missing since as far back at the 1940s and as recently as six months ago. There's a big to do about what to do with these people, but they are soon released and a new agency is tasked with tracking and monitoring them. A seemingly easy job, until it's discovered that many of them have developed super human abilities.

The premise of the show is fantastic, on top of that it was created by one of the guys who is behind Star Trek: The Next Generation, basically a God in my eyes, and if that weren't enough it features Joel Gretsch, who is one of the most believable, realistic actors to ever play a federal agent in the history of television. This show had everything going for it, even the ratings were good, so why did they have to go and change things so much!

Despite good ratings and reviews, people thought the show was too much like the X-files, so they turned the 4400 into this kind of religious cult. Instead of being a mostly episonic show with underling storylines, the show went continuous, spending all of it's time following just a handful of characters. The line between good and bad, blurred, and most times you really couldn't follow who was doing what for whom and why anyone was doing what they were doing. After the first season, there were a couple of good episodes here and there but by season 3, the whole thing had just completely fallen apart. 

I readily admit that I watch far more television than most people and far more than television than any normal person should, so trust me when I tell you, that in all my years of doing this, I have never seen a show go so quickly from as good as the 4400 was, to as bad as it became. It defied all logic, honestly did the actors and network involved in producing the shows not realize that after a while the whole thing just didn't make any sense anymore? 

The bottom line is that the 4400 should have been the next Heroes, X-Files, Lost, Fringe, what have you. It should have been that next big sci-fi show, that had everyone talking. Instead too many chefs ruined the pie and the show literally became unwatchable. 

Dead Souls (2012)

Starring: Jesse James, Magda Apanowicz, & Bill Mosely
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Dead Souls is every adopted childs biggest fantasy and worst nightmare roled into one. On his 18th birthday, Johnny Petrie (Jesse James) finds out that he's adopted and there is an inheritance waiting for him. Despite being told not to go back to his home town, Johnny does any way, and learns another secret about his past, one that will put a target on his back. Dead Souls is another film produced for the little known NBC owned cable horror network, Chiller. Because these films are made for TV, they have to be somewhat toned down, something that is always going to hinder a good horror film. For this reason, Chiller films usually come down to two things; the cast and realism. The filmmakers can't use the gore and violence associated with most modern horror films, so it comes right down to how believable or frighting is the story? That brings us to Dead Souls, which has a fairly creepy backstory, that starts out believable, but really stretches near the end. What is enjoyable about this film is that instead of focusing on what it can't do, it works extra hard to be the best at what it can do, meaning get ready to jump, scream, and be on the edge of that seat. As for the cast, Jesse James makes it happen, and no I don't mean that Jesse James. I am referring to the blond haired, blue eyed, twenty-eight year old, who started his career in horror at the age of 9, and like a fine wine, he has only gotten better with age. James has been in some huge Horror films, worked with all the big names, and he was more than over due to star in his own film. Even when this movie starts to fall apart towards the end, Jesse James and his unique style of the cute country boy with the fire inside, is what keeps you watching all the way through to the end. Dead Souls isn't a great film, but it's not a bad one either, and when you compare it to some of the other originals Chiller has put out there, it's a big step in the right direction.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, & Joel Kinnaman
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Now before people start screaming about shutting me down, keep in mind, that I've promoting and talking about this film for over a year now. Not only that, but I was actually one of the nut jobs standing out in the rain at midnight, waiting to see it the night it came out, and I can honestly say I am disappointed. First of all, how do you make a film like this and not go all out for the R rating? Second, isn't there something wrong with a Joker who is more sexy than he is funny? 

Let's get into the film. Following the events of Dawn of Justice, the government is afraid that with the death of Superman, should another meta-human come to earth, they won't be prepared to stop them, so they turned to the most skilled and deadly people they can find, the worst of the criminal element. The film starts with a rushed introduction to the characters, which is focused on Deadshot (Will Smith). So there he is, the Fresh Prince at age 48, with the same persona he had in Independence Day, twenty years ago, telling the same type of jokes that were old then, after 8 years in Bel-Arie, and they are basically per-historic now! 

After basic training and more jokes aimed at thirteen year olds, they are dropped into the city and dredge on to their main object. Exactly like Katniss Everdeen in Mockingjay Pt. 2, except at least then there were some decent special effects and they weren't fighting big globs of shit. The story here is so basic that it's laughable, the make-up was better than the special effects, and the humor that was supposed to make this movie a classic just isn't there. That's the bad, what about the good? 

Jared Leto is still the perfect choice to play the Joker, unfortunately he doesn't get enough screen time, and he's not funny, if they ever let him off the leash in future DC films, I'd image he'd give a performance that would rival that of Heath Ledgers. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn is the breakout star of the film, and really the only one worth watching in this mess of madness, as she was genuinely entertaining, and may actually be able to use this film as a launching point for a very promising future. I also loved seeing Joel Kinnaman of the Killing, finally get some of the attention he deserves, as he's always great and deserves a lot better than Robocop. 

The bottom line is that the Suicide Squad should have put DC right up there with Marvel, but it falls flat on it's face. There is no story, no character development, nothing that says we're catching up. While Suicide Squad is pulling in big numbers at the box office, if DC continues to disappoint us, the way they have with their last two blockbusters, that's not going to last either. It's time to take the gloves off and give the fans what they want, because this certainly wasn't it.

Invasion (TV Show)

Starring: Alexis Dziena, Evan Peters, Ariel Gade, Eddie Cibrian, Tyler Labine, William Fichtner, Kari Matchett, Lisa Sheridan, & Nathan Baesel

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ever since the popularity of LOST, ABC has been trying to find another strange, prime-time, sci-fi series to fill the void. One of the better ones was Invasion. This show managed to last a full season, but just like V, Flash-Forward, Life On Mars, Persons Unknown, Surface, and so many others, it didn't last. Why not you may ask? The truth is that the network keeps using these great show ideas and either takes them off the air for months in order to air some lame reality show or in this case, they keep making it stranger and stranger until it's unwatchable. LOST was weird, that's what we loved about it, but that show was written by J.J. Abrams, not Shaun Cassidy. Some people can make weird work and some just can't!

Invasion takes place in a small town bordering the Florida everglades, where a strange family dynamic is taking place. The Varon family has split up and the kids spend half the time with their father, Russell (Eddie Cibrian), a park ranger who is engaged to a local reporter, and their mother, Mariel, who is a Doctor and whom has remarried the town sheriff, who also has a daughter. Going back and fourth between fighting parents is hard enough, but in an area as dangerous as the everglades, it can be downright deadly. One night, a massive storm blows into town and people see strange lights in the sky and in the water. When things settle down, certain people are somehow different. Some, like Russell, are skeptical that anything happened, others like his brother-in-law to be, think the planet is under attack, but no one really knows what the truth is.

This is a modern version of invasion of the body snatchers and a much more subtle version at that. The series starts off with a bang and is definitely binge worthy, but then it hits a brick wall. I mean it is the same thing around and around for about ten episodes and it is ridiculously frustrating. Things finally get going again, and it just becomes weird, they jump back to story lines they haven't mentioned since the pilot, they investigate things they never mentioned before, the show is really kind of all over the place and it just gets worse.

Shows like this kill me, because it started out so good, the story was extremely promising, and best of all was the cast. William Fichtner best known for Prison Break and dozens of blockbuster films is one of my favorite actors, and he is amazing in this show, there are points in Invasion, where he keeps the whole thing together and I may have stopped watching, if I wasn't so interested in what his character was up to. Paired with Third Watch's hunky fireman, Eddie Cibrian, the pair make for perfect rivals and strange bedfellows, and oddly had terrific chemistry. Add veteran actress, Lisa Sheridan, and a sixteen year old future TV star named, Evan Peters, to the mix, and this cast was fantastic. 

The bottom line is this show should have worked, it should have lasted, but ABC wanted it to be the next LOST. Someone kept messing with the story at the last minute, until the point that even the writers were confused about what they were doing, and things just fell apart. It's a shame, the first few episodes of this show were as good as it gets, while the last dozen or so were a struggle to get through.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, & Sebastian Stan
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

What can you say about Marvel films that hasn't been said already? When Marvel started making movies, with the exception of Batman, I hated superheroes, I hated everything about them. I had written them off as the lowest, cheapest form of  science fiction, and the first few Marvel films did little to prove me wrong, but then they started getting better, and arguably the best films in the franchise, or at least my favorites have been the Captain America films. Chris Evans is just terrific, he has this innocent naiveté about him surrounded in a childlike wonderment, but when the time comes, he can still kick some ass and even crack a joke, Evans just fits the role like a glove. There's not much point summarizing the story, because if you're not into the whole Marvel scene, you're probably not going to understand or see this film anyway, and that's a shame, because from a visual stand point alone, The Winter Soldier rivals anything Marvel has put out to date. On that note, the one draw back to this film is there is a lot of Avenger story line involved. This is supposed to be a stand alone film, fans of the series loved it and rightfully so, but what about the people who just like the character and aren't into the whole genre? All the other Avenger/Shield/Hydra stuff and other characters from other series could make the story for them more than somewhat confusing. In watching this film, you almost have to have some kind of background knowledge of the characters involvement in other films in order to be in the know and that doesn't sit right with people, particularly kids, who just want to see Captain America. For the fans, however it doesn't get much better than this, it's slightly longer and rougher around the edges than The First Avenger, but it is still a great film, and a must see for anyone who is trying to keep up with the Marvel franchise.

Shenandoah (2012)

Starring: David Turnley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ask yourself a question, what if a loved one was brutally killed, but you were the only one who cared about getting justice for the victim? That was the reality in the small town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania in 2008, when a migrant worker was killed in a hate crime. Shenandoah is one of those small towns, where everyone knows everyone else, most people even work in the same place, but recently, things had been changing. Migrate workers had been brought in to keep the failing factories open, and the citizens of the flailing town were losing their jobs. One night some drunk teenagers were joking around, but to a recent arrival to this country, who didn't speak the language or know the culture, it looked like something else. As he confronted the teens, they proceeded to assault him, shouting racial slurs in one of the worst assaults the town had ever seen, and when the dust had settled, the worker was dead. After a brief investigation, the police linked the crime to several football players and charged them with minor crimes, but the town wasn't outraged, in fact, as this documentary explores, most of the townspeople actually approve of what the police did! This documentary is utterly shocking, taking us through the crime and investigation, while giving us a look at both sides from the towns reaction to the man's fiancee and the very few outsiders who actually faced threats and harassment, simply for asking that justice be served. Does this kind of thing really still happen in the United States? According to this documentary, the small town racist, gang, mentality is still alive and well, and it's closer than you think. Fighting it isn't as simple as going online and telling people about it either. The documentary was truly shocking, not just because of the ages of the boys involved, but for the sheer fact that these people thought they were justified in what they had done, and by how the react to anyone who tries to tell them differently.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Reservation Road

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, & Jennifer Connelly
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Some stories can be extremely compelling and make for truly heart-wrenching drama, but no matter how real the story is or how much we feel for the characters, there are only so many angles and so many ways to tell a story. After a school residual, The Learner family stops to get gas and their 10 year old son goes to release fireflies by the side of the road. At the same time, a man returning from the Red Sox game is more interested in his cell phone than the road, and runs the young boy over. From there on the movie is as you would expect it to be. One side is devastated while the other is in cover up mode. The police investigation, vigilantism, bereavement, and the justice system get involved in what turns out to be little more than a lifetime movie of the week. Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic as the grieving father out seeking revenge, in the kind of performance that really makes you feel for the guy, but aside from that, Reservation Road is just a very predictable film that is out for one thing, your tears. It's a sad story told from every possible angle, covering every possible thing that could happen in a situation like this, and it's definitely preaching about the dangers of distracted driving. If not for the huge cast, this could have easily been a lifetime movie, as the writing was that predictable and amateurish. The bottom line on Reservation Road is that it's a preachy, predictable, tear-jerker, without much substance, probably not worth your time unless you like that kind of thing.

Diary of A Wimpy Kid

Starring: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, & Devon Bostick
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Like most adults, I was under the impression that the wimpy kid series was nothing more than the latest fad in youth literature to hit the big screen. I figured it was just another kids movie and passed it off as such, but recently at a family event, I was forced to see parts of it and found it interesting, so I queued it up and as it turns out, this film was legitimately funny! Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is about to start middle school, where all he wants to do is become popular, like his older brother was. Greg goes to extremes and displays some very odd behavior, as he and his best friend, try to enter the elite club of popularity. What's really interesting about these films are that most of the cast members have limited to no experience what-so-ever before being cast in a major motion picture. Some of them, like Gordon, are really talented, while others like Robert Capron are just awkward kids, who are just naturally funny in the way they carry themselves. The dynamics of a family film are always a very difficult thing, because if you don't take a few risks, it's a kids movie that the adults with be bored with. On the other hand, if you go too far, the film will get a PG-13, which means the kids won't be allowed to see it and your audience becomes very limited. The writers of Diary of a Wimpy Kid found the magic formula however, as they managed to create a cult classic, that is fun for kids, teens, and adults alike. The film has it moments and at least a few things that every single one of us can relate to. It certainly isn't goodfellas, but I thought this film was a lot of fun, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm actually looking forward to checking out the sequels.

Red Lights (2012)

Starring: Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, & Cillian Murphy
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Professor Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and he assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) have a very unique and interesting job. They travel the country trying to prove of disprove psychics, magician, paranormal researchers, and people in similar fields. They would like nothing more than to find the real thing, but so far, Matheson has only found one person she hasn't been able to prove is a fraud, and that's Simon Silver (Robert De Niro). She is terrified of the man, but he assistant doesn't know any better and wants to make a name for himself by going after the legendary medium. I am in utter disbelief that a film with a cast like this was direct-to-film, but all that aside, it's as good a story as you'll find on the big screen. What can you say about De Niro and Weaver that hasn't been said a million times before, but this film is almost like a passing of the torch, as Murphy got the majority of the air time. How'd he do, Cillian Murphy absolutely stole the show right out from under them, in what is easily his best performance to date. To be honest, this is one of those films I watched for the cast, I wasn't super interested in the story and at times it was painfully slow, but Red Lights has some downright creepy moments, and the ending will absolutely blow your mind. If you're the patient type who enjoys a great performance, this films for you, if not, you might want to skip this one, as it takes a while to get going, and gives you some things you really have to think about afterwards.

Legends (TV Show)

Starring: Sean Bean, Ali Larter, Morris Chesnutt, Tina Majorino, Steve Harris, Amber Valletta, & Mason Cook

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Based on the terrific novel by Robert Littell, and brought to television by the same team that gave us 24 and Homeland, two summers ago, TNT treated us to the show, Legends. The show featured spectacular action, edge of your seat drama, and some of the best writing on television, but it was gone after just twenty episodes. Some viewers had a problem with the casting of Sean Bean, as the lead character, but the real issue was with a network that just couldn't leave well enough alone.

Martin Odum (Sean Bean) is a man who is told that he doesn't exist. Odum the best CIA undercover agent in the game is approached on the street one day, told that there has been an accident, and ever since that day, he has bought his own cover or legend and now believes he is this man Martin Odum, but who is he really? It's a slippery slope for Odum, as he tries to continue doing his job, while at the same time trying to figure out who he is and why he's posing as a CIA agent.

With this series, TNT wasn't only getting a show that was created by arguably one of America's best espionage writers, but they also got the team that single-handedly changed the face of television drama, with nine seasons of the innovative show, 24, and the continuing drama of Homeland. These people know what they're doing, but even after a successful first season, the network wanted more, and decided to drop the current storyline and replace almost the entire cast for season two. Fans were expecting to continue where they left off and instead, were trust into the middle of what amounted to a brand new show. A brand new show that was hardly advertised and was cancelled immediately after the end of season 2.

Sean Bean stars and while he fits the character of Odum, as a forty-something British guy, fans of Bean know that he always plays the bad guy, most notable in the film, National Treasure. Seeing Bean as one of the good guys does take an adjustment, but a lot of time he's undercover as one of the bad guys, so it's really not as strange as his fans make it out to be.

...and what was the purpose for replacing the original cast? It's not as if they were all inexperienced newcomers. Ali Larter is beautiful and a network veteran of shows like Heroes, Steve Harris has seemingly been in everything, and Morris Chesnutt was a revelation on the re-launch of the show V a few years back. 

Legends had all the makings of a terrific show, with outstanding writers, directors, producers, and an experienced cast, but the network it was on wanted huge ratings from the show and when they didn't happen immediately, TNT threw in the towel. I enjoyed the undercover angles, the humor, the action, and of course the drama, of Legends, and Sean Bean in particular gives some of the best performances of his career, but it was all for not as the plug was pulled before things even got started. If you want to know the real truth behind Martin Odum, you're just going to have to suck it up and read the book.