Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy (2014) Review:

The year 2013 had a curiously captivating idea introduced into its horror genre. The launch of The Purge (2013) attracted many people to the theaters due to their eager nature to see the kind of macabre acts that could happen if such an event were real. The premise was unique and intriguing but the end result was not what people expected or received. Instead of seeing this concept being fully exploited, the production crew gave its viewers a very average film with stock characters with inhumane personalities, generic violence and standard execution. But like many other films that did well at the box office (even with bad reviews), managed to obtain a sequel. However unlike most sequels, this installment actually improves upon the original. It's not vastly refreshing but it does have better qualities than its predecessor.

Frank Grillo & his tag-alongs
If a viewer has seen the first film, a good guess can be inferred on what this one will be about. Instead of continuing the story on its beginning characters, writer/director James DeMonaco focuses on a new set of characters (quite honestly that’s fine, not many liked the original characters). All of which start as different character threads of which different people become apart of the annual purge, whether they expected to or not. What works with having separate story lines is that they come together as one, rather quickly. This keeps the story moving not only in maintaining audiences’ attentions but also by physical location. In place of having the setting focused on one household, DeMonaco now directs the viewers’ attention to the world outside where this annual "holiday" happens nationwide. Accompanying that is Jacques Jouffret's cinematography, which enlarges his viewfinder to get better panning shots of the disarray happening around the main characters.

The characters that we look at are of different areas and situations. Frank Grillo plays a man out for vengeance after his son was killed. Notably, Grillo kind of looks and acts (a little) like The Punisher. I could only imagine what a field day The Punisher would have on this day! But I digress. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul play a mother and daughter duo who end up being saved by Grillo's character. Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez play a couple who becomes stranded at the beginning of the purge. When all these characters finally meet up together, it is their determination that makes them likable. In fact, they even help each other develop which is important in this kind of movie, where morals are highly advised when it comes to the legalization of murder. Even Edwin Hodge (the victim from the last movie) has a brief cameo along with Michael Kenneth Williams who both play rebels against the purge. They are both very welcome to fight back.

Unsuccessfully, the film still does not overcome much else. The writing incorporates multiple subplots. Some of which pertain to the main characters, where either it is concluded and has no effect on the plot or isn't concluded and felt irrelevant to begin with. There's also a subplot about government conspiracies where it is partially addressed and then left alone with giant plot holes that make no sense. When people complained about the violence being too generic from the first, apparently nobody heard them because nothing is exactly fixed there either. People are still beating the crap out of each other with the simplest and common of weapons. If this is the night of legal violence, then get creative! Use something different! The only true scary element to this movie is how sadistic various people are depicted and the beliefs they hold to this event.

Giving your buddy a thumbs up or a fist bump because they get the chance to blow someone's head off or dismember them is god awfully sick. It should make the viewer excessively happy when these perverse people are put in their place. It is so gratifying. It's also strange because as the confrontations continue from beginning to end, they seem to become less and less personal, which is kind of what I thought the purge was all about. But to watch these weirdos say their wicked holy prayer before butchering somebody is just plain fiendish. However going back to the last flaw, Nathan Whiehead's musical score again fails to compel. The composition is loaded with electronic pulses and ticking percussion to emphasize tension but in the end it's not the best listening experience for music collectors. It is an improvement in different areas but still not spectacular entertainment.

Writer/director James DeMonaco did make some noticeable revisions to this installment compared to the first entry. This time it has likable characters with the right development, better casting and moments that do make the purge look even more sick than before. Yet, it still suffers from the cliched surrounding violence, unimportant subplots and a tiresome musical score.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ride Along (2014) Review:

The genre of buddy cop films has not seemed to wear down. There's just something about two bickering officers of the law that get people laughing. This is not to say it works all the time because their have been various flunks that people stay away from. However, this doesn't stop people from going if what's put on screen either puts a different spin on the original concept or changes it up entirely. As for this rendition, the overall story suffers from the usual cop cliches but also manages to surpass them by adding in new things. Also, the biggest difference is that audiences got to see tough rapper Ice Cube pair up with comedy hit Kevin Hart living off the success of his latest comedic roles from two years prior.

Ice Cube & Kevin Hart
Written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi (Clash of the Titans (2010) & R.I.P.D. (2013)), Jason Mantzoukas and Greg Coolidge, the story follows Ben (Kevin Hart), a man who wants to step up his game and propose to his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter). In order to do that though, Ben wants to get his thumbs up from Angela's brother James (Ice Cube), a no games cop. So to get James' approval, Ben joins the police academy. Nonetheless, this doesn't win over James very easily but accepts him under one rule - shadow him for one day and he measures up, James will give Ben a go. As far as plots go, it's a mix of ideas. Audiences all know the protective brother character and they are also familiar with the rookie going around with the seasoned cop. Have they ever been put together into one script? Maybe,...but as of recent memory it does not ring any bells. Yet outside of this, no other parts of the writing are that far out of the box. The script is filled with a number of cop genre cliches that viewers would be able to at least guess what might happen. Most of it is fairly predictable in that particular vein of story telling.

Viewers should get fun out of watching Ice Cube and Kevin Hart exchange lines. The contrasts are not only physically noticeable but also through the attitudes each one has. Ice Cube is gruff and self contained, while Kevin Hart is light and attention grabbing. It's even funnier when Hart attempts to be tough but can't manage even getting past the simplest of tasks. I feel him, when you try and nothing seems to work, all because of how tall he is. The supporting cast also helps too. With appearances from John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen, Bruce McGill, Gary Owen and even Laurence Fishburne, the story doesn't feel empty with a bunch of no name actors with any credibility. Laurence Fishburne looks like he enjoyed himself too considering how much older he is now and the limitations that come with it.

The action and special effects looked good. There are shootouts but it's not boring either. One of the reoccurring topics argued about between Hart and Cube's characters was about playing video games and whether they help in real life. Although I can't say for sure if what is presented could actually be legitimate or not, it still is funny to see. To watch Kevin Hart run around thinking the situation he's in is like a Call of Duty multi-player, is comical. Meanwhile, Ice Cube's reaction face is priceless. The special effects that go with these sequences nicely play off the timing for comedy and action. Whether it is Kevin Hart being blown away or Ice Cube packing some firepower, it is displayed professionally for viewing.

Tika Sumpter
Regrettably, there are more issues to come. One the areas that brings up certain questions are continuity errors. There are moments that get pretty tense and it entails people in trouble. Then out of nowhere, the certain individual is abruptly out of harms way without any explanation. How did that happen? On top of that is fairly uninteresting cinematography provided by Larry Blanford. Blanford was also the DP for Think Like a Man (2012), another Kevin Hart film but looked better. Instead, Blanford acquires a lot indoor shots. If this is cop film, why are there not as many outdoor arrests or scenes? The phrase "cleaning the streets" means being on the outside. As for music like many other Tim Story directed films, Christopher Lennertz composed the score. Unfortunately, Lennertz score is only effective in the comedy because that's his forte. Lennertz does not compose for action films and that's apparent because the action cues are not recognizable. However, even with these issues, the film is still a fun time to watch play out.

It's a concept that combines two familiar ideas and makes a somewhat new idea but it also contains a lot of elements that makes this cop film almost average. Thankfully, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart have enough chemistry through their comedy and the action scenes along with the supporting cast to make this a fun little comedy.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tokarev (2014) Review:

Working for the wrong side of business has never been easy to escape. This has been depicted through an abundance of films. Once you're in deep, getting out of the hole takes much more work than digging the hole itself. It's common sense and it is also a known fact that fighting with fire usually does not end the way anyone wants it too. But for this particular man, he seems to think otherwise. Paul Maguire (Nicolas Cage), once a criminal with strong connections who now tries to live as a reformed individual, discovers his daughter has been kidnapped and decides to round up his cohorts to take revenge. And like many other kidnapping movies, there are no rules that the main lead gives himself. The goal is to claim what is his by any means.

When that hair's out of place,....you know
that Nicolas Cage face!
Upon further analysis, there are only a few things that show this film had potential. Everything else wasn't used the correct way. First and foremost, writing isn't the sharpest here but it’s not the worst either. The story is very similar to other "people taking justice into their own hands" scenarios. Sean Keller and Jim Agnew, the writers to this production add very little to the genre. There is however one real highlight to this screenplay that was specifically written and that's what to remember when you decide to go down this dark path. The lesson is that you will never be safe and you should never get close to anyone. Plain and simple. If these rules are followed by the book, the only person you have to worry about is yourself.

Acting wise, Nicolas Cage isn't convincing as the lead. As a father, Cage comes off as one of the most unpleasant fathers to know. The way he addresses younger gentlemen about his daughter depicts him as deranged. As a reformed criminal, Cage doesn't act like a father who has a daughter in trouble. Cage acts more like a man with anger issues. Perhaps this was what he's was trying portray but audiences may not consider shouting matches rage; that's more like immaturity. There were scenes where he depicts more emotions than just grimaces and anger but those too do not seem genuine. They just don't look like tears of pain. Considering that Cage just got back on his feet with praiseworthy performances from films like The Frozen Ground (2013) and Joe (2014), it's disappointing to see these kinds of showings.

However, the supporting cast members are credible and more likable than Cage or the character that he plays. Even actors Aubrey Peeples (from Sharknado (2013)) and Max Fowler give more believable performances than Cage. Danny Glover plays a detective who shares apart of Mr. Maguire's past and tries to steer him in the right path. Rachel Nichols (Scarlett from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)) plays Mrs. Maguire. Although she's not in the movie frequently throughout, her performance is decent. Playing Paul's old crew is Max Ryan, Michael McGrady and Peter Stormare. All of which have their own quirks and bugs about them that make them different. Pasha D. Lychnikoff as a Russian mob leader is also plausible considering is ethnic background.

Pasha D. Lychnikoff
As for the supporting fundamentals to this production, there's only one good-looking feature. That is the special effects. For the budget that it had, there are a number a shootouts that are shot in slow motion and most of it looks moderately presentable. For all that, this doesn't mean the action in which these scenes were put in slow-motion are executed with any originality. There's only one scene that may be new to some viewers, which involves a cinderblock. Everything else that happens are plain shootouts, shaky car chases and witless fight scenes that barely have an emotional impact on its viewers or plot. Andrzej Sekula's cinematography (the man behind Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and American Psycho (2000)) is colorless and unappealing. Laurent Eyquem musical composition improves nothing either with only one or two tracks that jog any kind of intrigue. Eyquem's filmography is mostly in dramas and it shows because his action cues are very forgettable here. The crew tries but it's not pushing any new boundaries.

It's writing is for the most part very predictable except for one or two concepts,...which is what should've been used. Instead, viewers will see bland action, stark music, and Nicolas Cage looking uncomfortable as usual. The special effects seem decent and the supporting cast helps but not by a whole lot.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Video Games: The Movie (2014) Review:

A video game's basis goes back to technology. Technology is what got us to this point today. The internet and several other mediums are the very things that allow billions of people around the world to communicate the way we currently do. Just imagine how much slower the world would move without it. Not only this, but there would also be various other things missing as well. In this documentary, first time feature writer/director Jeremy Snead, gives us this intriguing movie about the history of video games, how they came to be, evolved and continue to endure today.

Looks retro to me!
Best known for playing Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings franchise, Sean Astin narrates the documentary through assorted lenses. Initially to brief their audience, Astin and Snead chuck out a bunch of statistical information about video games. Topics like what percentages of age groups play them, how many play between each gender and how many roughly per home. It's an efficient ice breaker to help their viewers understand just how significant video games are right now (of course those numbers will change over time). After this, the real captivating information begins to unfold starting from the beginning. Who invented the video game? It's interesting to know because for those who are in engineering, probably would not have much of a clue because video games are a marriage between science and art. Most of the time, engineering schools stick to the science and do not include the art.

The other subjects discussed are the types of roadblocks the gaming industry came across. One of the biggest issues mentioned was the video game crash after the release of Atari's E.T. in 1983, which also was covered by The Angry Video Game Nerd for anyone who follows cinemassacre.com. Other problems such as the affects of simulated violence on children and the whole universal perspective of gamers as a community are also talked about; along with the possibility of future gaming in general. Plus, gaming as a culture has had a massive effect on how people live today as well. It may seem like there's not many, but there's more to it. The fact that there's an underground society that only casual gamers might not have even considered. Gaming has a big following - no doubt about that. These are just a few of several subtopics examined throughout the film's running time.

As an actual documentary, it's largely solid. The crew was able to get multiple interview snippets of various people who either worked on video games, actors or even the creators themselves. To name a few; Zach Braff, Cliff Bleszinski, Chloe Dykstra, Donald Faison, Chris Hardwick, Wil Wheaton, Max Landis (story writer to the cult film Chronicle (2012)) and Nolan Bushnell (creator of Atari). When it came to visuals, the majority of the film cuts to a time line with numerous icons that showcase the particular year, thus segueing into the next topic of discussion. That's not all though. The crew also likes to insert a diverse amount of video game clips from different eras and even home videos of people playing games or news anchors of different broadcasting stations. It gives it a very nostalgic feel.

The name of this guy is already mentioned...
The cinematography, also provided by writer/director Jeremy Snead, has the ability to show the culture of video games today. Examples like this are the conventions people attend, the massive competitions that take place in super stadiums and the atmosphere of which the culture has grown from. It's actually somewhat overwhelming because of how passionate these people really are. The only minor flaw to this documentary is Craig Richey's score. Viewers should be able to hear from time to time with its soft piano and occasional nostalgic 8-bit songs, but it gets overshadowed frequently. This is either due to the inclusion of contemporary music or just because it wasn't emphasized at the right time. This also isn't Richey's first composition so I wonder if he didn't think all that much effort was needed. Oh well, it's still very cool to watch.

This documentary pretty much covers all bases here on video games. Even though it's musical score isn't as effective as it could; the writer/director is able to give its viewers and fans the best information available about why gaming is so popular and how it became that popular.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Drive Hard (2014) Review:

Hostage comedies are rare movies. There are a handful that have a name for themselves, but very few are memorable in the vein of the action genre. It's questionable to why these particular match-ups don't work. Possibly incorrect casting? Maybe a very loose script? I don't know. However, it is certain that this production just didn't have what it took to be anything out of the ordinary. Other than some minor elements that make this viewing less than barely passable, the rest of it just doesn't feel like it's worth the time. This movie actually is somewhat parallel to that of Stand Off (2011) starring Brendan Fraser.

John Cusack looking bad,....until he opens his yap
Not only are main leads Thomas Jane and John Cusack stuck in a foreign country and surrounded by foreign actors (just like Fraser) but so is the situation. Both are hostage situations, except Fraser's was in a single building, this film involves motion. After having a successful career in sports racing, currently ex-racer Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane) settles down with his wife and kid in Australia. There he makes a mediocre living of reliving his past by working as a driving instructor. There, Roberts bumps into Simon Keller (John Cusack), a thief who's supposedly so good at his job, no one has been able to catch him. However, Roberts doesn't realize this until Keller robs one of the biggest banks in the country and is offered a chance to take some of the robbed money. It's not the worst of plot setups but the all around execution is meager by comparison.

One of the biggest issues and downright obvious flaws is John Cusack and Thomas Jane's chemistry. In a way, it feels as if both actors are not acknowledging their co-stars personality, therefore not registering what types of responses they should answer with to make the conversation funny. Instead a lot of the interplay doesn't connect with its audience. Occasionally, the leads may have one or two humorous exchanges but it's very infrequent. Thomas Jane plays his character as if he's clueless; most likely due to Jane having very few comedic roles under his belt. Jane is funnier when he plays his character deadpan,...which is exactly how John Cusack plays it up. Cusack also looks like he enjoyed playing his character as some lazy antihero. Again though, nothing that was really special.

The only other redeeming element to this production is the fact that the rest of the cast is Australian,..which provides the audience with a different listening experience. Mostly this credit belongs to actors Zoe Ventoura, Christopher Morris and Damien Garvey. Other than that, every other character is forgettable, yet there are still other additional characters added in the film for no reason. An example of this is Peter Roberts’ daughter. The story could've just been written for Roberts and his wife - excluding his annoying daughter. As for anything else, nothing is very promising. Along with its hit and miss tone provided by the main actors’ antics, the subplots here are too many to care about. Writers Chad and Evan Law pack the screenplay with different characters and motivations that not only make it feel bloated but also cliche. What a surprise that someone's crooked as an undercover thief. Been there done that.

It's no wonder that the film’s direction wasn't any better, considering the man directing it was Brian Trenchard-Smith. This is the same guy behind Leprechaun 3 (1995) and Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996),...that should say enough. And with below average directing comes below average music, action and camerawork (also with weird job placement). Tony O'Loughlan who normally works on visual effects was designated cinematographer and it is flat as can be. There are some wide shots of what is supposed Australian landscape but it's kind of hard to tell. The special effects are almost non-existent and when they are, they look mediocre. Not cheap,…just mediocre.

"I'm leaving",....is what Jane should have
said before being cast into this mess
Bryce Jacobs' score wasn't impressive either. Much of the instruments used were guitars involving rock tunes. If Jacobs was looking for rock, he should've went to composer David Sardy for inspiration. With scores like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) and Zombieland (2009), Sardy could've helped Jacobs at least make one hard knuckled composition. Occasionally Jacobs will resort to a reoccurring electronic theme for the chase scenes, which are kind of toe tapping but is also easily forgettable. Making matters worse is that the action scenes are painfully boring. Quick edits and constant shootouts do not constitute as acceptable action sequences for a plot that involves driving. For the whole running time, only one car flips,...one. There was certainly more that could've been done to improve the quality here; but no one saw a need I guess.

With an awkwardly written tone, half inspired music, flat camerawork and dull action, Thomas Jane and John Cusack barely salvage what's left of this jumbled mess of a movie. The supporting Australian actors are interesting to watch along with the two leads but it's hardly adequate to entertain many viewers.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Alive Inside (2014) Review:

How many times does one visit the nursing home? Feed the hungry? Or volunteer in any other way? It's an act of caring and giving that takes a lot to stomach. Many people these days, including myself try not to pay attention to these things because of how uncomfortable it is visually and physically see right in front of us. It's a quiet pity that we all hold and tend to push to the back of our minds. Hoping that all of our other daily tasks can distract us from such awkwardness. In some ways it's almost like today's generation is too embarrassed to acknowledge the issues and don't expect it to happen in our lifetime. When in fact, this is the exact opposite.

Dan Cohen,.....what a generous man
Now that's not to say when we get older, we will all develop alzheimer's and be put in nursing homes, but it's important to understand that it's also not the most uncommon of diseases like vitiligo or polio. Alzheimer's affects numerous elderly individuals and once it's diagnosed, there really isn't anything anyone can do from stopping it. However, one man has found a remedy to help slow it down, along with exposing various aspects of today's healthcare system. Dan Cohen (a public social worker) and filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett team up in this stunning documentary about how bringing music to alzheimer's patients can help bring back some, if not most of the life and soul of what used to be the youth of the early to mid 1900s.

There really isn't much to dispute about here. Both the writer/director and social worker duo demonstrate the power of music simply by putting headphones on the older folk. To watch them go from slumped over and quiet or mumbling to bouncing around and crying or laughing is astonishing. The results are phenomenal and it's quite honestly baffling because how come no one had ever thought of doing this before? You didn't even need iPods to figure this out; someone back in the late 1990s could have tried this with Walkmans or portable CD players. It all seems so obvious now and it's weird that no one considered this as a type of therapy. I mean, there are therapy dogs and other types of animals that are used to help jog patients' memories, so why not music? It's better than just feeding them pills and vitamins constantly everyday. Where's the enjoyment in that?

Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that even with all the positive results, the film crew displays continuous rejections from top authority figures in the healthcare system. It's tragic because who would deny such optimistic opportunities? Viewers should not only get a kick out of the end result to these amazing transformations but also how this particular story unfolds. The way this documentary is told, is by looking through the eyes of Dan Cohen when he first started trying this particular study. As time plays out, the viewer will see the struggles he had to face, the turndowns and even the surprises. An example of this would be how this particular film came to light. All it needed was to be released onto the internet and it got people motivated. I didn't even know about this until a friend of mine who plays in a group shared the link.

Another thing to think about are the possible futures that lie ahead for the currently old and the one's who will become old. Michael Rossato-Bennett brings into play how the number of elderly people have increased over time and if it continues at the same rate, there will be less supplies available to take care of them. It's a grim outlook if things aren't looked at carefully. As for the actual quality of filmmaking, it looks very good. Itaal Shur's musical composition perfectly blends in raw emotion and tenderness for each scene. Shachar Langlev's cinematography shows many POV shots giving viewers an idea of how bland and lifeless a nursing home looks like no matter how friendly the people who work there are.

When that music hits though!
This is perhaps the only drawback to this involving movie. It is a tad one-sided (although rightfully so for everything explained prior). But there are some things that aren't explored. For one, has there ever been a patient that was not willing to listen to music? Or has there ever been a patient willing to listen but it did not have the positive effect it had on so many others? These special scenarios would've been interesting to see as well. What would Dan Cohen's next step be to counter such a roadblock? These kinds of questions are important. Perhaps with a little more running time, the crew could have added that to this production. It is a very intellectual film that any viewer should watch because at some point, everyone gets old and just like Dennis Haysbert would ask from Allstate - "Are you in good hands"?

Aside from being a bit one-sided, this documentary explores the alternate avenue of fighting alzheimer's with the power of music. The provided information, music, patients and emotion are all authentic and it is exactly what makes this so uplifting to see.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

About Last Night (2014) Review:

Romance comedies are all over the place now a days. Good or bad, they are one the most popular types of comedy films always being produced. So how does one production define itself from another? First, the source material from which it's taken has to be somewhat relevant to today and uncover various issues that go on in everyone's social lives during their youth. Then there has to be a cast of actors that can blend in with this age demographic. And from what it looks like, these specific parts to the film were taken care of nicely. It's still not perfect but it measures up in the end.

Bernie and Danny (Hart & Ealy)
Before the massive following of Kevin Hart turned this movie into one of his vehicles, this title had earlier beginnings going back to 1986 of the same name starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins. Of course that was a different time then too. The characters' names remain the same, but the actors are different. The story revolves around two homeboys and their girlfriends and how they try to live with each other’s decisions and how they act with their significant other. All of this occurs when one day Bernie (Kevin Hart) introduces his girlfriend Joan (Regina Hall) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) to his introverted buddy Danny (Michael Ealy). The fireworks just never end between these two couples. Surprisingly, the screenplay doesn't rely on the usual romance-comedy cliches that everyone is familiar with.

Writing for this production is Leslye Headland, who only had one other theatrical release credit prior to this, being Bachelorette (2012), which wasn't considered movie magic. Perhaps it’s the source material of which she had to work with. I don't know but it's definitely is more polished here. The leads to this story do wonders too. Kevin Hart, although still loud and rambles his mouth off at least doesn't make the movie feel like it was all about him. This time he shared the camera with his co-star counterparts, especially with Regina Hall. Both exchange some funny lines together, of which provide most of the energy. And if Regina Hall and Kevin Hart are the energy, then Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant are the foil to them, displaying the romantic side of being with a significant other.

Its good to have this contrast because it shows the fun you can have when it comes to being outside or inside the house. Along with this come the struggles of the outer forces that always seem to interfere with our desires and goals. Work, Ex-girlfriends, pets and babies. These particular topics are all addressed in a way that feels more relevant today than it ever has before. Even more remarkable is that certain topics like Ex's, is handled in a way that would seem cliche but ends up concluding in a different direction which is good. Also because this is an R rated comedy, the loves scenes will be more explicit than your regular tween PG-13 movie.

Debbie and Joan (Bryant & Hall)
In fact, some of the scenes are just downright goofy. This is fine though because for two reasons. First, this is a comedy, so if goofy is what it takes to be funny, so be it. Second is that sex can be funny. No one ever said it ever had to be serious or always passionate either. Aside from this though, the heavier emotional scenes are also handled with care. At some point, each character will see the error of their ways, which leads them to rethink their decision. All proper and required development to have likable and memorable characters. If there's anything pick on for this production its the audio and visual style to the movie. The music composed by Marcus Miller does fit the scenes they are played in, but do not stick out. Also the cinematography is rather repetitive. The sets do not seem to deviant from more than three places so the settings become too familiar too quickly. However, that's not much to be concerned with. Overall it's a good time.

A romance-comedy that doesn't stick to the usual formula, viewers should get a kick out of this contemporary take on the struggles of people who catch strong feelings for each other. Plus, the story is supported by a humorous cast and likable characters.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Divergent (2014) Review:

Being in a futuristic eutopic society is not all it's cracked up to be. Throughout film, there have been plenty of movies that take place in the future where Earth has become a robotic like eutopic society. People must follow certain guidelines to maintain stable tranquility. Of course, because the main inhabitance are human, one individual is bound to think differently from the rest, thus making them different and a possible "threat" to everyone else. It's one of those self-discovery stories where the main protagonist must figure out for himself or herself where they belong among everyone else. This is what happens to a young girl named Beatrice.

Shailene Woodley (far right)
To know one's place in the world she lives in, citizens take a mental aptitude test which then they have the choice themselves to follow through on their test result or choose their own. Among these groups to choose, there's Factionless (poor), Abnegation (the givers), Candor (truthful), Amity (friendly), Dauntless (fearless), Erudite (the brains). Tris, as Beatrice will call herself later, chooses Dauntless not only because it fit her better than Abnegation of which she originated, but also because she discovered she was Divergent through the mental test. According to the world she lives in, Divergent individuals are being hunted due to how unpredictable they are. It is at this point Tris must learn how to keep herself under the radar.

This story is very character based. Audiences are introduced to a slew new people along the way and surprisingly it’s easy to follow. Plus, the actors play their roles with the right amount of charm to feel a connection to each of them, including the not so nice ones. Shailene Woodley as Tris is likable and is able to show genuine emotion when the time came. Tris also meets one of the leaders named Four (Theo James) who looks like a cross between Billy Zane and James Franco. He also gives his character the correct amount of enthusiasm to be interested in understanding more. The rest of the Dauntless crew that Tris gets to know is played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Christian Madsen and Zoë Kravitz, all of which give enjoyable human performances. Possibly one of the most likable jerks in this story however was Jai Courtney as Eric. His duo deadpan and mean spirited attitude make him one to be reckoned with and probably Courtney's best role thus far.

We also cannot forget the supporting characters played by the underrated Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn, Mekhi Phifer and Kate Winslet. All of which have very minor roles but important ones nonetheless. What is really apparent about this character driven story was Neil Burger's direction of which the kinds of choices he had this character's make and the writing provided by Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)) and Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs (2012)). The development was one of its strongest points. The cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler (DP of R.I.P.D. (2013)) looked decent as well. He was able to show the contrast between what people normally see on the surface and the underground operations people don't know about. Even with a minimal amount of special effects they too were integrated well into the movie. No complaints there.

Jai Courtney as his punk self
Though even with all these good points, the film still suffers from other issues. For one, there are loopholes in its story. If this particular society is so rigid and perfectly made so there are no problems, why is it that there are still problems? How is it that if one character can change factions, the upper authorities won't know? This movie's running time was very close to two and a half hours, I'm sure they could have fit a quick explanation in somewhere. Then there was the music composed by Junkie XL. It certainly was a tolerable score with its hybrid mix of electronic and orchestra but there wasn't much to remember it by nor were there any themes for the franchise or characters themselves. It was effective in its scenes but still disappointing. Lastly, the action was a bit bland. It's obvious that it wasn't a full out action movie but audiences might expect more than a few fight sequences, a "captured the flag" like scene and a some other shootings. Perhaps it'll escalate? We will see. It certainly isn't a waste of a movie but it did need improvement on all other aspects besides its characters.

This movie is like the reversal of other fantasy films. It has a big cast with competent actors and writing that develops its characters effectively. With this, its supporting elements don't seem as exciting with average music and somewhat uninspired action scenes.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Woman in Black (2012) Review:

Ever since his introduction as Harry Potter from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), Daniel Radcliffe will forever be remembered as the child actor who grew up to play Potter all the way to adulthood. Since the finale to the franchise, Radcliffe has been working at his very best to lose that image. With that, he officially displayed this to the public with the release of this ghost story. Although it is not a far departure from the genre Radcliffe originally started with, it shows that he started gradually. The Harry Potter series was not horror related but it did have spiritual entities from time to time. This story is along those lines too but with a much darker intent.

Ciarán Hinds as Sam Daily
Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a widower of one son looking to keep his job at a tough law firm. When given one more chance to maintain his position at the firm, his task is to finalize the latest condemned house in a marsh. Turns out this particular house has a secret only the townsfolk seem to know about and do not like talking about it. For Mr. Kipps, it'll be an eye-opening experience he did not see coming his way. The only person kind enough to help Kipps is Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), one of the wealthy men of the area who provides what feels to be a foil to Kipps'. Kipps believes that spirits possibly exist, while Sam doesn't. Yet, even with their opposite views, they are both likeable characters. This is where the writing succeeds in developing its protagonists thanks to Jane Goldman, who also wrote Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011).

Plus, James Watkins' direction lets the characters explore other avenues of solving certain issues differently than normal. Also there's the chilling background about the house in the marsh. Its story is tragic and unsettling. And how about that set design and camera work? Both go hand in hand. Tim Maurice-Jones' cinematography looks authentic with its backdrops and every picture has a very gray look, which not only matches the time period of this story but also sets the tone. Every color looks drained and almost to the point of ill. Kave Quinn's set design for the house is just too good. The entire house is that of what would look like if you returned to a house after two or more decades. Dusty, full of cobwebs, rickety floorboards and strange sounds. I get goosebumps just writing about it.

Marco Beltrami's score to the movie was also well thought through. Arthur Kipps had his own reoccurring theme and there was barely a track in the album that contained stings - which is nice for once. Frequently this is all the horror composers make in their scores and it gets not only repetitive but also tiresome. Beltrami comes up with some very creepy tunes. The only issues that arise in this movie are a few things. For one, pacing is a bit slow. This doesn't affect the overall flow but there are certain scenes that just feel like they drag sporadically. There's also continuity errors with which belongs to events that happened at a certain time. Specifically talking about how fast a body decays; the process of decay is slow but under certain conditions I'm sure the rate changes,...in this movie, it didn't seem to acknowledge that. Not too big of a deal, but it could make viewers curious,...briefly.

That house ......0_0
When it came to the horror elements to the film, there wasn't much at all specifically because of its PG-13 rating. But even for it's rating, it did have some very dark moments that were intense. The Woman in Black is not any better than Mary Shaw from James Wan's Dead Silence (2007). Nooo. However, along with that came the most cliche of horror movie tropes - jump scares. There are several moments where these particular jumps happen. Some work, while others don't. As mentioned before though, composer Marco Beltrami didn't include the stings in his album and that's appreciated. For horror movies, directors have to come up with some type of way to be either more creative with their jump scares or not use them at all. They are really becoming overused. As an overall experience though, it is a well made horror film that should be scene for any fan of the genre.

As one of the first movies Daniel Radcliffe doesn't play Harry Potter, he nails his part in this chilling ghost story. It has well-rounded writing, good music and even decent horror elements for a PG-13 movie.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sniper: Legacy (2014) Review:

It really is amazing to how some franchises continue to thrive on after so long. Sniper (1993), Sniper 2 (2002) & Sniper 3 (2004) were all films that belonged to actor Tom Berenger. As Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett, Berenger solidified his presence as the man behind this franchise. There's no other way to explain it, the Sniper film series must have a loyal following. And although the quality did slip initially, the stories have slowly progressed into a decent franchise. Fans were even more surprised when producers released Sniper: Reloaded (2011) with no Berenger but instead brought in young actor Chad Michael Collins and veteran actor from the original, Billy Zane. Not only did it surpass its two previous entries but also it brought up questions to how it would continue after that. Well here we are and wow. Another solid entry even though it did not exceed Sniper: Reloaded (2011).

Chad Michael Collins & Mercedes Mason
(forgot to mention but Mason is pretty cute)
Characters are hard to revive, especially when they go AWOL. Yet, this movie somehow achieves this in Tron: Legacy (2010) fashion (coincidentally along with the title). Out of nowhere, Beckett (Berenger) returns to greatness teaming up with his son and others to take out a deadly assassin who has gone rogue. If there's one character fans will be most happy to see, it's Tom Berenger. To be honest, with the previous movie I thought Berenger was done with the franchise. Apparently not and the interesting thing is, it's like Berenger never stopped being Beckett. He hasn't lost the attitude nor the mannerisms. As for others, Chad Michael Collins continues to be competent in his acting ability and its nice to see him finally meet up with his long lost father. Sadly, the topic of characters is where John Fasano's writing falters.

Even though audiences will finally see Brandon and Tom Beckett reunited, there are several missed opportunities for proper character development of these individuals. For example, where has Beckett been? Why did he leave Brandon? These are crucial questions to help the Beckett family reconcile past problems. Instead, it is initiated but scooted aside abruptly. Most audiences want an emotional attachment to their characters. By brushing it aside, your brushing aside what makes the character the character. There's also issues of unexplained plot holes. Questions like does he still have that finger stigmatism that began giving him problems from Sniper 3 (2004)? What happened to Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz (Brandon's secret lover) and Richard Miller (Billy Zane) from Sniper: Reloaded (2011)? All these questions needed were quick logical answers, but are ignored through and through. The late Fasano was a decent writer, I guess going over these particular matters were not accepted by the producers or director Don Michael Paul. I don't know who, but they should've gone in this direction for a little bit.

Any of the new characters played by actors like Doug Allen, Dennis Haysbert, Dominic Mafham and Mercedes Mason perform respectively. It would've been nice though if the story stuck with one girl because Mason's character comes off like a love interest to Brandon but doesn't express it. If she was in Sniper: Reloaded (2011) then it would not have mattered because the audience would be able to remember from the prior film her relationship with Brandon. The same goes for the actress who played Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz in the last sequel. Dominic Mafham had an interesting character portrayal. He resembled that of a good knock-off of Clive Owen. Dennis Haysbert doesn't get heavily involved but he does play a significant role and that's appreciated.

There he is!!
The action was nicely paced throughout. It was not as bloody as Sniper: Reloaded (2011) but it still entertained. This time, the action also included several firefights. Not just between Snipers but AK-47s and other handheld machine guns. As for camerawork, Martin Chichov achieved some beautiful scenery such as shorelines, urban terrain and grasslands. It's also nice how each Sniper film has changed locations around the entire world. Sniper (1993) was in Central America, Sniper 2 (2002) was in Europe, Sniper 3 (2004) was in Asia, Sniper: Reloaded (2011) was in Africa and this film takes place in the Middle East. The music by Frederik Wiedmann was appropriate. When there was action there was plenty of strings and percussion. But because there were barely any emotional scenes, it was hard to hear anything soft enough. However, because of the location Wiedmann did include several tracks that sounded appropriate for the setting and it felt authentic. It's not the best sequel but it is a good one.

It's writing misses several moments to develop its characters the way they should be, along with unexplained details from the last entry. Yet, the return of Tom Berenger feels too gratifying to be upset over for too long. The actors perform decently, the action, music and camerawork are all well staged.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008) Review:

The Muppets are no strangers to the Holidays. They have had many a film produced incorporating Christmas related themes. The best and most popular of them all was The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). But that hasn't stopped the Henson Company. Before Kermit and his friends came back with their return film The Muppets (2011), they were still doing productions for the small screen. Prior to this, another holiday made for TV production was released - It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002). Other than that, this is the Muppet's latest outing at the holiday season. Is really good? Mmmmm,..not unanimously but it is decent enough to be seen.

Deliver that mail!
This time, viewers follow their favorite characters at the post office waiting to send their holiday mail. When Gonzo forgets to put his in the mail, it’s up to Kermit and friends to find a way to get them to Santa on time. Here's what does work. First and foremost, The Muppets (and voice-actors) themselves. They are always key and the fact that they were of main focus all the time was great. The humor also works because of the certain situations Kermit and his friends get into. The gags range from bad jokes, silly puns and goofy reactions the Muppets make. Thankfully, these eye-inducing moments aren't as bad they could be because it’s the Muppets. Another element that will have viewers happy to see is the tone of this movie. Unlike It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie(2002) which had a very mean spirited tone, this feature has a much more upbeat feel and that's especially good.

Another good component was the cameos of various actors. This ranges from Whoopi Goldberg, Uma Thurman, Nathan Lane and even Michael Bloomberg. Camerawork by Luke Geissbuhler (the DP of Borat (2006)) was appropriate as was Chris Caswell's musical score. However, this is where things don't work. For one, the running time is too short. Yes it is a TV movie, but so was It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) and was well over an hour. The problem with this is that it cuts everything down to an unnecessary length. This goes for cast cameos and even the Muppet characters. That can be a bit frustrating if this is a Muppet Movie and you only see a few of the Muppets instead of the whole bunch for more than five minutes.

"What? You didn't tell me the running time is only an hour!?"
Along with that is issue of writing. The story for this movie is cute but again, with a shortened running time, everything must fall in place quickly or it won't work. With this comes cliche and convenient contrivances that either defy logic or are impossible to begin with. It's not to say it isn't funny or doesn't work but the story almost had a finale that would've seemed more mature and realistic than what was chosen. There can always be a happy ending but that doesn't mean it has to be exactly the way the audience expects it to be. Adding to the bit of blandness are the songs that the Muppets sing composed by Paul Williams. It's not that they bore but they're not as memorable as other Paul Williams pieces. It certainly won't be an hour wasted but it could've been better.

It has all of the basic components to make a really good Muppet Christmas movie but it instead comes off as fairly generic. The main problem is its running time, which trims down several parts that make up a good Muppet film.

Points Earned --> 6:10