Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Starring: Griffin Gluck, Thomas Barbusca, Andrew Daly, & Lauren Graham
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Based on the best selling novel by the same name, it was widely believed that this would be the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid, sadly it was not. Griffin Gluck was fantastic is his first starring role, but the rest of the cast really didn't have much chemistry, and overall the film just wasn't all that funny. Rafe Katchadorian (Gluck) is a troubled kid, who is sent to his third and final Middle School in the district. It's very strict and if he doesn't follow the rules, he could be headed to military school. Once he gets there, Rafe learns that his principle (Andrew Daly) is beyond strict and decides to get back at him by anonymous breaking not one, but all his rules, causing a school wide rebellion. The story seemed like a good one, but the truth is the pranks weren't all that extreme or funny. The kids in the theater laughed more at the preview before the film than they did at the pranks in the movie. There were also times in the film where you expected the typical crude middle school humor, and while the writers set it up, they never delivered the punch line. That's not the only issue with this film, the kids had some chemistry, but the family didn't. Lauren Graham was terrible, as her character was completely different than that of her kids. She had no connection to them or any idea what was going on with them. But for as bad as she was, it was nothing compared to how awful Rob Riggle was. I have never been a fan of his, but he was beyond annoying in this film, his personality is just so obnoxious and over the top, that the last place he belongs is in a family film. Finally, the whole animation angle brings the movie to a dead stop. Gluck's character is an artist and likes to draw, and at times throughout the film, his drawings come to life in his imagination and take the place of what's happening on the screen, often at the worst possible times. The bottom line, for young actors in a family film, Gluck and Thomas Barbusca did a terrific job, but the story fails to live up to expectations, the humor just isn't there, and the whole thing was full of scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Chicago Fire

Starring: Jesse Spencer, Taylor Kinney, Monica Raymund, David Eigenberg, Eamonn Walker, Charlie Barnett, Lauren German, & Teri Reeves

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After twenty-five years and six Law & Order series, creator Dick Wolf, decided that it was time for a change. His latest idea centers around the heroes of Chicago, and what he did was basically take the show Third Watch, and split it up into three different TV series that interact with each other, on a semi-regular basis, with a fourth one coming later this year. Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and Chicago Justice, make up the new look of drama on NBC, and the ratings have been hotter than the show that started it all, Chicago Fire.

As I said the show, the story lines, and the realistic way that it's filmed are very reminiscent of Third Watch, which was one of my all-time favorite shows, however, by splitting, the Firemen, Police, and Medical personal into three shows, the story lines run deeper, and the characters and character development is much stronger. This is why Chicago Fire works and is the only real stand alone show about Firemen to actually last more than just a couple of seasons.

Every character, even the part-timers have story lines and there is a deep connection to everyone involved in the show, but the main focus of the show is on Jesse Spencer who plays Ben Casey, one of the two guys in charge out in the field. Casey is very by the book and believes in the system, although that faith is tested on a regular basis. The other main focus is Taylor Kinney who plays Kelly Severide, who is the complete opposite of Casey. He will do anything to save lives and get to the bottom of a situation and the rule book be damned! The dynamic often causes conflict and causes people to choose sides, which further lends to the drama of the show.

The one negative I have is with how believable the stories are. Obviously it's a TV show and Hollywood is going to take it's liberties. The firemen are going to do things that are impossible and take risks that no one would ever take or survive if they did, but my issue is with things like the time. Someone will be injured and we'll be told they need months of rehab and could be out a year. The captain will talk about not having the money for a replacement and having to work short handed, putting the other men at risk. Then the very next episode, the injured man is back at work and cleared for duty. The actor doesn't even miss a couple of episodes, he's back the very next week. I don't know about you, but things like that bother me. Another timeline issue is involved with the crossover cameos, which don't always line-up. For example, Severide was involved in a Chicago P.D. matter, that was serious, and involved his whole family, but at the same time, there was no mention of it on Chicago Fire and it was business as usual? 

Obvious timeline issues aside, the action is fantastic, the story lines are gripping, the actors and actresses are as hot and exciting as the fires they are fighting, and there is a reason this is a top ten show. If you haven't started your journey into the heroes of Chicago, start at the very beginning with Chicago Fire Season 1, you won't be sorry.

Essex Boys

Starring: Sean Bean, Alex Kingston, & Tom Wilkinson
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

Mafia movies are always somewhat confusing. They move very quickly, so it's hard to keep track of the timeline, and they introduce characters so quickly, that at times it's hard to keep track of who's who. Sometimes you have to watch a good mafia film a couple times, just so you can pick up on everything, but with Essex Boys, you'd be lucky to make it through the film just once. If the fast pace of the movie and large cast weren't confusing enough, add thick British accents to the mix, and it's hard to know what's going on. Sean Bean is a favorite of mine, especially when he's playing a bad guy, but there is so much back and fourth between different factions in this film, that I'm not so sure he was the bad guy. In fact, I'm not too sure of anything with this film. To me, Essex Boys was just one big confusing mix of gangsters double crossing and shooting at each other, the whole thing just didn't make a whole lot of sense at all. It really was a difficult film to watch and apparently, according to the other poor reviews, I'm not the only one who thinks so. Despite all that, not one, but two sequels have been made to this film. I am just bewildered by the whole thing, and my best advise is that even if you are the biggest mafia movie virtuoso in the world, this is a film you should definitely skip.

Date Night

Starring: Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, & Mark Wahlberg
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Despite an all-star cast, that reads like a who's who of comedians, the much anticipated, Date Night, from Night At The Museum Director, Shawn Levy, failed to deliver in a big way. Of course there is that old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen, but that wasn't the problem here, as individually, the performances were pretty good. What I didn't like about the film, was a lazy story that hasn't only been done before, but seemed to just run around in circles. The Foster family is going through your typical dry spell as a married couple with kids, and the news of a recent friends divorce has them worried about their own relationship, so they decide to start having a regular date night again. Not wanting to wait at a fancy restaurant without a reservation, they claim to be someone else, who are very late arriving to their reserved table. The Foster's think they're just stealing a reservation, instead they are stepping into the lives of two people who are wanted by many different people for many different things, leading to the wildest night of their lives. This story had some great potential, but once again, if these writers would stop worrying about PG-13 vs. R, in regards to who will go see their films, and just let the story take off in whatever direction it's going, the film could have been so much better. Instead, the writers hold back, because they don't want a raunchy comedy, they want a date movie, and the result is a mediocre comedy that should have been so much better than it was. Date Night is good for a chuckle here and there, but otherwise, the story goes in circles, it's predictable, and it wastes the talent of a terrific cast.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Friday Night Lights (TV Show)

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Aimee Teegarden, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Zach Gilford, Derek Phillips, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Brad Leland, Gaius Charles, Blue Deckert, Michael B. Jordan, & Matt Lauria

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For five seasons, Friday Night Lights was the number one teen drama on television and I have yet to find a single person who didn't love this show. It's impossible to imagine that a show centered around a football team could be so successful, when TV shows centered around sports almost never succeed on television. Looking back, I can't find a single TV drama that was centered around a sports team that lasted longer, so why was Friday Night Lights so successful? The answer is quite simple.

While the show was centered around the Dillon Panther football team, football wasn't the end all and be all of the show, it made up a quarter of the series. The other parts focused on the town of Dillon, the Taylor family, and the lives of the players. It's this mix that left something for everything. As a sports fan, I loved the football angle to the show and thought that Coach Taylor was on of the most realistic portrayals of a coach that I have ever seen. For the ladies, there is plenty of romance and teen drama involved with the show, surrounding the players, the high school, and the Taylor's young daughter. As for the adults, there is the family values aspect, as the Taylor's truly care and don't just take care of the students they are entrusted with, but they take an interest in helping the entire town that they are a part of. 

The story lines run deep and the character development is as good as you will ever find in any television show. In binging five seasons of this show, I felt as though I knew some of these characters as if they were members of my own family. 

As for the stars of the show, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton had amazing chemistry, which they used to play off each other and the result is that neither of them have ever been better than this. The Taylor's were career defining roles for both actors and they aren't the only ones. This show also launched the careers of Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemmons, and Zach Gilford, all of whom have gone on to some very successful roles following Friday Night Lights.

If you're thinking that this show is just some MTV teen drama or a show about football, you couldn't be more wrong. This is one of the best depictions of life in small town Texas, Southern youth culture, and the struggles associated with life in a small town that you will ever find. I highly recommend this show for it's drama, it's exciting action, but most important of all for it's amazingly accurate portrayals and lessons associated with real life in small town America.

The Green Hornet (2011)

Starring: Seth Rogan, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, & Christoph Waltz
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I know, it was pretty hard for me to imagine Seth Rogan as a superhero too, but as it turns out things aren't exactly as they appear. In this 2011 re-imaging of the series, Rogan play Britt Reid, the son of a billionaire publisher, who (surprise surprise) is a big time party animal, with no real ambition in life. When his father passes away suddenly, Reid is given this huge empire to run and with no idea how to do it, he starts to lean on the people around him, people like Kato (Jay Chou). Reid knew Kato for years, but knew nothing of what he could create and nothing of the skills he was capable of. With Kato's help, Reid decided to take on crime in the city, only one problem, he sucks at it. This film may be the most evenly scored film I've ever reviewed, because I can honestly say my like and dislikes were exactly fifty-fifty, most notably were the cast. Seth Rogan in the right setting is brilliant and in the wrong setting is just annoying as hell, with that hardly laugh and his never taking anything seriously, it is perhaps never more abundantly apparent as it is here. Cameron Diaz also adds nothing to the cast, but name recognition and a lazy one sided performance. On the other hand, Jay Chou was fantastic as Kato, he was clever, funny, exciting, and in my opinion he made this movie, it simply isn't a superhero film with him. Then there is Christoph Waltz, the man with the mesmerizing voice who forever capture our attention in Inglorious Bastards, and has been the quintessential bad guy in everything since. The bottom line is the new Green Hornet isn't without it's problems, but the story here is better than I expected it to be, there are some stand outs among the cast, and the special effects and fight scenes were hit or miss. This is the kind of film you'll be into or you won't. Just like my list, audiences are going to be fifty-fifty on the one as well.

Unknown (2011)

Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, & January Jones
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Liam Neeson has a very particular set of skills and instead of using them to save his family, this time he's using them to save himself. Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) has gone to Berlin, with his wife, for a medical conference, when an accident has left him in a coma. Upon awaking, no one knows who he is, not even his wife, but worse than that, there is another person walking around claiming to be Martin Harris. I don't know about you, but after three Taken movies and a handful of similar film, all starring Liam Neeson, playing the same type of character in the same type of situations, I've gotten pretty tired of him and his particular set of skills. At least the Taken movies moved at a reasonable pace and had more than a narrow focus, the same can't be said for Unknown. Parts of this film are as slow as can be, featuring Neeson and company sitting around talking about what could be going on and what to do before they show them doing it. They story is also so narrowly focused, that it leaves little flexibility for anything else. This film is as serious as it gets, it is a hundred percent focused on the story at all times, and Liam Neeson is as dry as the banks of the Colorado River. The chase scenes were cool, the conspiracy around everything was well written, but all in all this film feels very long and moves way too slowly for an action thriller, not to mention, I think I speak for everyone when I say we've had more than enough of Liam Neeson in these type of films.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, & Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Another best selling teen fantasy novel hits the big screen and thanks to Tim Burton, it's a big success albeit a little strange. The story centers around a boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield), whose grandfather always told him these strange stories. The whole family thought he was a little off and no one put much stock in them, until one day his grandfather is attacked, and Jake sees things that he can't explain. Jake decides the only way to get the answers he seeks is to find out if the stories of Miss Peregrine and her school are real, so with his father's assistance, he travels to Wales to find them, and begins the adventure of a lifetime. Even without Tim Burton's unique twist and strange characters this story is extremely original and more than carries it's weight, but the visual elements certainly help, especially when it comes to bringing in the young audiences. As for the stars, Eva Green is your typical Tim Burton casting job, while she doesn't jump off the pages to the screen as Miss Peregrine, she does fit the role in the way Johnny Deep did in the Chocolate Factory or Michael Keaton did in Beetlejuice. She was an important part of the story, but she wasn't the whole story. The real star of the show to me was Asa Butterfield as Jake. His character does jump off the page directly to screen, as Butterfield gives one hell of a performance. Butterfield has been acting since the rip old age of nine, and almost every role he's had has been a leading role. There's a reason for that, and as with Hugo, The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas, and Ender's Game, he proves why yet again in this film. Miss Peregrine is a terrific book, that honestly shouldn't work well as a film, but when you add Tim Burton and his eccentricities, the experience of Samuel L. Jackson, & the raw talent of Asa Buttefield to the mix, you get a unique and special film, that while not the same as the book, it's just as good in a different kind of way.


Starring: Grahame Fox, Martin Delaney, Grant Masters
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I don't know what in the hell possessed me to rent this film, and why I thought there was even a possibility that it would be even close to good with such a stupid plot, but I went there, and I'm sorry I did. Apparently, the British military has nothing better to do then to build a big chamber underground, at one of it's secret military bases, for the purpose of summoning and imprisoning a ghost. Once they do, they can't possibly understand why the ghost is so angry and is killing people, so they bring in a psychic from The United States, because I guess there aren't any in the UK? She does her talking and tries to make a connection, when inevitably the ghost escapes and runs a muck on the base. This is the kind of poorly written ridiculous story that gives horror movies a bad name. If this were the only kind of horror I'd ever been subjected to, I'd think horror movies sucked too. The cast acts like a bunch of complete idiots, the writing is a complete joke, and I'm left asking myself what's the point? Let me ask you a question, if a ghost is attacking and you shoot a gun at it, and it doesn't work, would you continue to shoot at it for the next hour? This movie is literally that stupid. I don't know how things like this get made, they are not only demeaning to the people who star in them, but they are insulting to the people who have to watch them, avoid this film like the plague.

Better Call Saul

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mckean, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, & Michael Mando

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Series Facts:
- The series takes place in 2002, six years before the beginning of Breaking Bad and seven years before Saul's first appearance.

- Saul Goodman is a pseudonym that was picked because it sounded Jewish and sounds like, "it's all good man."

- Better Call Saul scored the second highest debut rating in cable TV history.

For the die hard fans of Breaking Bad, the series ending was a crushing blow, and as is the case with the more popular series, few were happy with the way it ended. The fans wouldn't be disappointed for long however, as it was soon announced that fan favorite, Bob Odenkirk, who played shady lawyer Saul Goodman, would be getting his own spin-off and once again Vince Gilligan and the beloved genre he created lived on.

Better Call Saul is not what most of us expected it to be, as we assumed, Saul wouldn't stay where he was after the events of the Breaking Bad finale, and that we'd come to see what's next, but in fact, it's just the opposite. The series begins with a depressed and sentimental Saul, taking a look back at where it all started, back when he was kind of an honest man, who kind of cared about a few people, and went by his real name, James McGill. McGill was a con-artist who was frequently bailed out by his brother (Michael McKean) who was a big time lawyer at a huge firm. It was he who convinced Jimmy to turn his life around and try to follow in his footsteps and that's what he did....kind of.

Lets start with the show, because it is every bit as clever and well written as Breaking Bad was. You might not have the shocking violence, at least not yet, but as with it's predecessor, the show is always three steps ahead of you, it's clever, humorous in that dry kind of way, and it is extremely entertaining.

Also similar to Breaking Bad, you have some great side characters, but one man is the show, and that man is Bob Odenkirk. If you thought he was good on Breaking Bad, you haven't seen anything yet. By the time he was Saul, he was a complete con-man, everything was a joke or a scam, but Jimmy, he hasn't really crossed that line completely, he has his moments, but he still has his humanity and compassion. That internal struggle between doing what's right and doing what he deems is necessary is at the heart of the show, and Bob Odenkirk is the heart and soul of the show.

The bottom line, Better Call Saul is not on the same level as Breaking Bad...YET, but it's headed that way. What did you think of Breaking Bad after twenty episodes? Did you feel the same way as you did after sixty? That's the point, Saul is feeling his oats, building his story and his reputation. As for Vince Gilligan, he learned from his mistakes and I think people are going to catch on and get hooked a lot faster this time around. This show has the same feel to it and things are only going to get bigger and better, so if you're putting off on watching it until you start hearing more hype, that's your choice, but you're missing out on some pretty good stuff.

Awaken (2014)

Starring: Natalie Burn, Vinnie Jones, & Darryl Hannah
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

For a small, independent, real-life horror film, Awaken has a lot of pieces to it's story, there really is a lot going on, in what initially seemed like a cut and dry story. If this film had been done a bit differently, and if it's impressive cast had been used for more than simple cameos, this may have been a much better film. The story begins with Billie (Natalie Burn) waking up on an island, being chased by strangers, and rescued by another group of strangers. She comes to learn that everyone in her group of rescuers woke up as she did, and appear to be hunted for sport. Billie wants to escape to one of the nearby cluster of islands, but learns that attempts have been made, and no one has ever come back, but Billie is a military brat and refuses to accept that. The story here is very well written, especially for this type of film, but everything is so anti-climatic. Just about every scene turns into a fight scene or a shoot out and there is nothing original about that. Honestly, what is the point of having this great story idea if ever scene is going to end up the same way? There is also the fact that the casting is a complete mystery. This film managed to get Darryl Hannah, Edward Furlong, David Keith, and Robert Davi and they simply make cameo appearances in ancillary roles? If that's the case, why even waste the money to bring them in? Awaken had the story, it had the cast, it had the looks, it even had a premium location, but poor dialogue, predictable outcomes, a misused cast, and a painfully horrendous ending absolutely destroyed what could have otherwise been a rather entertaining film.