Monday, December 12, 2016

Hellion (2014)

Starring: Josh Wiggins, Aaron Paul, & Juliette Lewis
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Coming of age films are a dime a dozen, and what it really comes down to is the stregth of the young actor or actress. The way it usually works out is that the better they are, the better the film is, and when it comes to Hellion, casting was dead on, but there was also something else that made this one special. After losing his mother, Jacob Wilson (Josh Wiggins) started acting out. Maybe his fathers transformation into a full blown alcoholic had something to do with it, or maybe it's the fact that he's left to be the adult and take care of his little brother that's the problem, but whatever the case it gets a whole lot worse. After stupid teenaged behavior causes his younger brother to be taken away and placed with his aunt, Jacob has to become the adult and convince his father to clean up in order to bring his little brother home, a herculean task, when you consider the fact that Jacob himself is still a wreck. The young star of the film, newcomer Josh Wiggins is absolutely terrific, outshining multiple award winning actors and actresses in this film, but he's not the only difference here. Hellion takes on the dark southern poverty stricken surreal feeling of other similar films that have become extremely popular in recent years. Similar to Winter's Bone, Joe, and Mud, there is an aspect to this film that is methodical and real. It's almost like you aren't watching a movie, you're just seeing real life unfold in front of your eyes. This combined with an extraordinary young talent made this extremely enjoyable to watch. Everything was very raw, emotional, and just real, a credit to both the writer, director, and cast involved in Hellion. This style is fairly new in cinema and has really defined the 2010s era, to see it combined with something that was so relate-able made for a very special film.  

The Blacklist

Starring: James Spader, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Ryan Eggold, Parminder Nagra, Henry Lennix, Amir Arison, Mozhan Marno, & Hisham Tawfiq

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Blacklist is the wildly innovative new crime drama that took network television by storm four seasons ago. The show did so well in the ratings in fact, that Netflix shelled out a ton for the exclusive streaming rights, but was it a good investment, lets find out.

Raymond Reddington (James Spader) is number one on the FBI's most wanted list. There isn't a crime that this former government agent hasn't committed, so everyone is shocked, when after years on the run, he turns himself in under the condition that he speak with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), an agent who just started working at the FBI, that very day. Eventually Reddington comes to an understanding, that he will provide information about the worst criminals out there, from what he calls his blacklist, but he will only do this for Agent Keen.

On the surface this show is ingenious and was originally very addictive. The writers of this show have a way of developing the bad guy that would put Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to shame. Some of these guys have committed acts and exhibit personalities like you have never seen, but they all fail in comparison to Red. The show is extremely addicting, but it is somewhat narrowly focused for a continuous show. 

What I mean by this, is that the show features continuously running story lines and you have to see every episode to keep up, but these are such a small piece of each episode, that the series almost plays as though it were episonic. Some of these story lines run in circles and drag out throughout entire seasons, long after the audience has figured them out, as a viewer that can be quite frustrating.

All that aside, James Spader is the star and he is as good as he has ever been. Most actors come across their career defining roles early on, and its somewhat unusual for someone to find the character they will forever be associated with, after they've been doing this for decades, but much like with Anthony Hopkins and Hannibal Lechter, James Spader has found his role. Spader will be forever known as Red and for good reason.

The bottom line, sometimes the story lines are frustrating, but James Spader is as good as it gets, particularly on a network show. The writing isn't always amazing, but the character development for the Blacklist is top notch. This show is unusual in that it's more about the personalities than it is about the actual stories, but that really is the point isn't it, something different?

The Expendables 3

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, & Mel Gibson
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

After the success of the sequel, everyone knew the Expendables was destine to become a trilogy, because after all, there were still a few action stars who hadn't gotten in on the action (pardon the pun). This time however things did get a little out of hand, as one can see by the enormous cast in the movies poster. the Expendables added something this time around that the other two films were severely lacking in, comedy, whether it was intentional or not. Included in this were how Barney's team had to be bigger than ever to fight the baddest guy of them all, Mel Gibson. Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger taking part in a machine gun battle from a golf cart, since they obviously can't run anymore, and they even managed to sneak in a joke about Wesley Snipes being in prison for not paying his taxes. New editions included Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Ronda Rousey, and various other UFC personalities, leading to a lot more hand to hand stuff than in previous films, but much like the other films, the third installment of the Expendables was an action junkies dream come true. There were non-stop explosions, gun battles, and bodies, all surrounded by a very thin and improbable story. We don't watch these movies for the story or even the characters, we watch these films simply for the adrenaline rush. In that context alone, Expendables 3 hits the target every time, but if you're looking for a good story, great performances, or even a reason behind the madness, then you're watching the wrong series. When it comes to the Expendables think less Die Hard and more Michael Bay.

23 Blast

Starring: Mark Hapka, Max Adler, & Alexa PenaVega
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Movies can inspire us by introducing us to people who overcome the odds, despite having much bigger problems than we do. Most of these films are based on true stories, and are as real as it gets, but sometimes, no matter how amazing the story, it doesn't necessarily make for the best cinema. 23 Blast is one of those films, as it tells the inspirational true story of Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka), a star High School Football player, on his way to a College scholarship, when a rare illness struck him blind. For many High School students, football is just a means to popularity, but for Travis, football was his whole life. His illness left him devastated and almost killed him, until miraculously, with the help of an unorthodox coach and supportive teammates, Travis was able to play again. The story here is almost unbelievable, and while it would make for a terrific episode of ESPN's 30 for 30, I found it severely lacking in content for a feature film. 23 Blast is the directorial debut of actor, Dylan Baker, and while he does a great job of telling the story and inspiring the audience, there just isn't enough story here to keep people interested for a full ninety minutes. The film focuses a lot on Travis's depression and rehabilitation, while a key component of the story, it also takes up a good majority of the film. If one were to shorten those scenes, there wouldn't be enough for a full length film. As for the young cast, they turned in surprisingly strong performances, in particular Mark Hapka, was excellent, but in the end it all comes down to this. 23 Blast, while inspirational, also moves extremely slowly, as it keeps coming back around to a single focus, Travis's illness. There is no deviation from the main story line, and things continue to go around in circles, until the last half hour or so when they finally get to the point. Basically, I loved the story, Travis Freeman is an inspiration, but the film is a bit of a snooze.