Friday, July 31, 2015

Insurgent (2015) Review:

Revolutions are not uncommon among societies. It is littered through recorded history and proves that when people become defiant enough about their situation, they will do something to change it. The change however that goes about may not be peaceful or violent. It all depends on how the people who want to change the situation think is the best way to do it. Another key thing to remember is that when people have a revolution it is because their eyes are opened up to the truth (and most of the time, the truth hurts). When Divergent (2014) arrived, it did not have the strongest of action sequences or strikingly recognizable music but its characters were well written, had distinguishable personalities and a story that was different from most eutopian Earth settings. The most unique trait about the story was that the society was separated by factions according to personality but if someone matched all of them, they were considered a "divergent"; a danger to society.

Tris and her new dooo
After learning herself that Tris (Shailene Woodley) was one herself, she originally fled to try and stay out of trouble. Later on though after meeting new friends and gaining confidence, she turned around and decided to fight back against Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the head of all control. The story line to this sequel is where it leaves off. However, even with all writers from Divergent (2014) being replaced and throwing in an extra writer didn't seem to add any depth. There are more explanations but not all of it makes sense either. Audiences will now learn that Jeanine has a box from the outside society's protective walls that if unlocked, will tell the secret to destroying all divergents. The only way to unlock this box is by having a divergent person pass its mental test, which is no cakewalk. The mental test is so difficult many have died, but Jeanine won't stop until she finds the right person to open it. Yeah but if Jeanine is killing divergent people in the process, isn't she kind of getting what she wants anyway? It sounds like she's making this more complex than it needs to be.

Another threat is also the addition of devices that'll immediately tell Jeanine's head cronies Eric (Jai Courtney) and Max (Mekhi Phifer) who is 100% divergent. So now people have percentages of divergent in them? From what Divergent (2014) stated, it sounded like if you were divergent, you were divergent - not 30% or 95% divergent. Let's be consistent please. Besides the confusing continuity and nonsensical plot device, the execution is mostly predictable as well, which isn't the best. This specifically pertains to the revolution where Tris ends up meeting Four's (Theo James) mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) who wants to fight back against Jeanine as well. Although not as prevalent as before, character development still exists. There are still appearances by the original cast - Octavia Spencer, Tony Goldwyn, Zoë Kravitz, Ray Stevenson, Ashley Judd, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller. The acting thankfully saves some of the quality to the characters. All actors can perform the right emotion for the right scene.

Again other than main characters, Jai Courtney looked like he had the most fun in his role being an utter jerk yet one who enjoys his job. In fact, it's a bit deceiving because at one point during this series, the role of Eric could've developed into something more. This is not the case however, for the writers took a more predictable route. One aspect of the film that was ramped up compared to Divergent (2014) were the special effects. The look of them are polished enough to look real but what was creative the most were in box mental tests. Not all were inventive but for the parts that were, it was impressive. The action however still wasn't anything that was attention grabbing. Much of it was the usual shootout between divergents and the people trying to capture them.

"I need better test subjects"
On the upside the cinematography by Florian Ballhaus (The Devil Wears Prada (2006), RED (2010), Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)) was well shot. Although Divergent (2014) also had wide panning shots of scenery, Ballhaus tended to get even more that not only included more shots of the city but also other landscapes. All of it is steady and clearly visible.  However, there is one missing signature camera trick and that's the ultra-zoom shot mastered by director Robert Schwentke. It's fine that this action/fantasy film doesn't have action sequences like Schwentke's previous work like R.I.P.D. (2013) & RED (2010), but he still could have at least used his ultra-zoom shots. They're smooth, quick and they make the action feel more energetic. Other than that, Ballhaus' work gets an approval. The film score composed Joseph Trapanese was fairly reminiscent of Junkie XL/Hans Zimmer iterations but it didn't exactly emote the proper emotions when needed. Sometimes it felt like a track was going somewhere but it wasn't engaging enough. Plus, no reoccurring theme for the franchise? Let's go people.

It is still watchable to a point with its occasionally creative special effects, decent acting and lovely looking cinematography, but that's it. The action is still rather uneventful, the continuity isn't recognized, the music remains anonymous sounding and the story itself is fairly predictable along with an overly complicated plot device.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Duets (2000) Review:

For comedy/dramas or "dramedies" as one might call this form of film, the blend of humor and human characters is essential to creating believable story lines. The way of going about this has been done multiple ways. A frequently picked method of execution is "the separate story threads conjoining at the finale" direction. Although not anything new, it is a common way of telling individual stories that share a common theme and then bring them together at the end for one grand congregation. The most recent movie that came to mind when thinking of this type of storytelling goes to John Herzfeld's Reach Me (2014). Although entirely stepped on by official critics, it wasn't entirely a waste of a film. It was quick on the draw for certain parts of its script but it also had a positive overall message about improving oneself as a person using unique characters. In some respects, the way this movie was presented felt somewhat in the same vein.

"Baby let's cruise.....away from hereeee" ^_^
Different groups of people from various areas of the U.S. enter a karaoke contest in the hopes of being awarded $5,000 as the winner. Along their travels, they learn things about themselves and each other. Sounds simplistic enough right? It is in fact, but this is not the problem. The issue lies underneath all that once looked at under a closer lens. The screenplay, written by John Byrum (The Razor's Edge (1984) and Mahogany (1975)) suffers from three factors. One is that the movie cannot find a clear tone in its entirety and its three independent story lines. One story is about a selfish karaoke hustler named Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) who discovers after his distant wife passed away left him his daughter Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow). Then there's Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti), a rundown salesman who gets tired of the same old same old and leaves his life behind while running into just released convict Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher). Lastly is Billy (Scott Speedman), a guy who just got cheated on and discovers new girl Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello) who has a knack for getting what she wants by sacrificing her dignity.

It's difficult to say which story feels the most sympathetic. The father/daughter struggle could've been heartwarming all the way through but instead is kicked around as a nuisance and is only quickly reconciled later on. The adventure salesman/convict thread only seems to get more uncontrollably rash and negatively misunderstood the longer the characters are on screen. As for the lonely guy/new girl parable, the play out often feels like a dark raunchy comedy that was meant for another film entirely. With all the inconsistent tones, the film as a whole doesn't work that well. What exactly are you trying to be movie? Unfortunately with the confusing tone brings up the second issue with the screenplay and that's the story lines not complimenting each other in some way. How does one find a comparison between these three-mismatched story threads? Finally, the last issue (which is probably the biggest and most noticeable) is that the whole concept of karaoke isn't of main focus for a lot of the running time. It's actually more of a backdrop and that's rather sad due to the pros that are about to be listed next.

As much as the problems mentioned prior bring down the film a lot, there are positives to bring up and these points at least show it had the potential to be better. For one, the acting is solid. Every main character has a certain personality and the actor portraying that character fits it nicely. Even Huey Lewis, for the small amount of times he's acted plays it cool (although arrogant). Paul Giamatti gets more and more psychotic as time progresses and his dialog gets more and more garbled. Maria Bello with a Southern accent is different and her attitude is quite sharp. This is just a few from the tip of the iceberg. Now if only the characters were actually written better. Also just for fun, there are a couple of cameos viewers may not be aware of. For one, Michael Bublé has an obvious appearance but is still fun to see him doing what he does best (singing that is). There's even a quick shot of Terminator (1984) director James Cameron having some fun. Weird but intriguing.

Paul Giamatti & Andre Braugher
The cinematography was adequate too. Shot by Paul Sarossy (Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997)), there's a mix of outside and inside shots. However even for inside camerawork Sarossy manages to keep the camera moving substantially without being distracting. This at least gives the audience something to look at and get an idea of where they are and the scale at which the setting is taking place. Finally the music, which is a mix of instrumental score but mostly singing was good. The best part of this film is seeing the actors actually sing. Other than Huey Lewis (for obvious reasons) singing, who knew Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Giamatti, Andre Braugher and Maria Bello could sing so well? It was very believable and certainly made the performance feel a tad more emotional. Again though, if only those characters were written better. The best sung song from the film would be the popular single "Cruisin'" (originally by Smokey Robinson) covered by Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow. A very smooth and enjoyable song. The score produced by familiar composer David Newman was also appropriate. It was anonymous but useful for the scenes required, this time.

Sadly even with catchy songs sung legitimately by the actors, good camerawork and solid acting, the entire execution is just a hodgepodge of ideas that don’t coalesce as easy as it should have. The individual story lines don't match in tone, which doesn't make the film understandable in its message and the whole concept of karaoke isn't focused on like the premise promotes. It had potential but wasn't utilized properly.

Points Earned --> 5:10

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008) Review:

Matahyus can't seem to cut a break when it comes to straightforward storytelling. Originally being introduced in The Mummy Returns (2001) played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, the character would earn himself enough popularity to warrant a spin-off with Johnson reprising the role in The Scorpion King (2002). Although the prequel explaining the origins of the character had a screenplay that wasn't exactly clear and suffered from goofy acting, it was still a competently made film with steady camerawork and entertaining action sequences. With the success of that, came this entry which sounds interesting but doesn't really have much to offer other than the ability to waste time if needed. Unfortunately, there just isn't much substance to this and it's surprising since this film has 17 more minutes than the original. Although labeled with a "2" in its poster art, this sequel is in fact another prequel. Why does Mathayus have to have such a backward story line?

Karen David & Michael Copon
In basic plot the title speaks for itself, it explains (if that's what you call it) how Mathayus (Michael Copon) earned his way up in the ranks from childhood to young adult to overthrow and evil king named Sargon (Randy Couture). If that were the case alone it would be somewhat doable but instead the film suffers from misguided direction headed by Russell Mulcahy (The Shadow (1994) & Highlander (1986)). The story starts out with Mathayus as a kid when his father Ashur (Peter Butler) was alive. However that is quickly thrown to the wayside due to Randall McCormick's screenplay, which focuses much longer than needed on Mathayus in his young adult years on a journey for a powerful artifact. A lot of it is a borefest. Much of the journey is just Mathayus and a few followers going from point A to point B running into obstacle after obstacle. These setups quickly lose their appeal after being done time after time after time.

The protagonists in their journey are all right in some respects because of their distinguished personalities. Although Michael Copon as Mathayus is perhaps too young looking for the role, he at least has the physique to look like he's on his way and he can passably act for what it's worth. Along side Mathayus is Layla (Karen David), a childhood friend/potential lover. She's fun to watch in her action sequences but her role is not defined clearly enough. Why include a possible love interest when clearly she would not return in Mathayus' future? Then there's Ari (Simon Quarterman), a Greek poet who runs into Layla and Mathayus and persuade them to find the ancient artifact. Don't expect much for special antagonists though. Randy Couture as Sargon could've possibly pulled off being an okay villain if he had more to do than scowl/stand and speak with an enhanced voice-over. It's obvious that Couture is not acting material but he at least could've done something. Sure he flips over some people but that's about it. Next to him is Natalie Becker as a goddess named Astarte. Although she actually does a couple things like battling and explaining how Sargon got his powers, she's not all that interesting to get to know. What was her motivation to even give Sargon her powers?

That's the problem; even with all these issues, if the script was at least written so the audience could relate to Mathayus and his father in some fashion and developed them, perhaps the drama between them would've been more understandable. As mentioned before, the action sequences do have a certain amount of energy thrown into them. Like a lot of other ancient movie settings, sword fights and mystical devices are essential at the minimum and that's at least taken care of. It's not anything special or out of the ordinary in performance but it at least tries. The special effects on other hand looked like they were wasted. There was only one setting which actually looked decent and that was when the protagonists headed into the underworld where the dead becomes apart of the habitat. That at least looked real and like actual creativity went into it. However, that doesn't make up for everything else where every creature was either concealed entirely by darkness or up close camera shots so that the whole image could not be seen. Lame.

Randy  Couture
The cinematography handled by Glynn Speeckaert was adequate however. The entire film does not have wide shots of landscape but for the moments that do, it looks believable. If the setting to this movie takes place in ancient times near Egypt, there has to be a couple of desert shots. It's where this whole spin-off franchise started. The music was a shock on the other hand. Composed by Klaus Badelt (best known for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) score), the score was not only forgettable but was also difficult to find physically. The sound is organic but unfortunately lacks any flare the original score by John Debney had with its mix of hard rock and orchestra. It is because of that the music sounds very anonymous with no recognizable signature. Plus since this is a franchise, one would expect some type of main theme by now but nope.

It has okay action sequences, distinguishable protagonists, steady camerawork but with only these components that work, it makes this prequel to a prequel spin-off series not all that interesting. Its music is generic, the special effects look last minute, the direction is misguided and its villains are not anything to talk about.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rocky Balboa (2006) Review:

Sylvester Stallone like every Hollywood star has had their ups and downs in their careers. However throughout their career, Stallone is probably one of a small group of actors who have channeled their personal experiences into their own filmmaking. As many fans of the original Rocky (1976) know, the story of a down-on-his-luck boxer being given a chance of glory was taken directly from Stallone's own life. It was because of this parallel that Stallone was able to relate to his character and act so well. As time went on, every sequel after the original became influenced by Stallone's personal experiences. With that, the Rocky (1976) franchise has had mostly decent writing for every entry. Even with Rocky V (1990) being the weakest of the series, it still had parts of its writing that were intriguing. Thankfully with the failure of Rocky V (1990) this touching entry may not have been conceived at all. Apparently Stallone was disappointed enough with the outcome of Rocky V (1990) that it made him want to correct that mistake with one more entry and boy did he.

"When you live somewhere long enough,
you become that place"
Credited as actor/writer/director Sylvester Stallone has proven once again that he can manage these tasks simultaneously (of course given the right material to work with). Several years after Rocky V (1990), fans pickup with a now older Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), a widower and the owner of local Southern Philly restaurant named Adrian's. When a boxing simulation is played publicly of who would win between then-Rocky and current heavyweight boxing champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver), Dixon's managers convince him it would make a good career boost to make this a reality. Rocky on the other hand has things to consider. Stallone's writing feels much closer to the first two films than it ever has before; it is very character driven. Rocky is still the fuzzy teddy bear he was 30 years ago and continues to enjoy talking to people and telling stories. He still hangs with Paulie (Burt Young), who still works at the original meat factory and reminisce the days of Adrian (Talia Shire's role) in various throwback settings. This is by far the greatest tribute to any of the characters in the Rocky series, it is truly touching.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's loads of development for several characters. Paulie, who usually has nothing great to say until the very end has a key moment with Rocky that shows his soft side. Milo Ventimiglia plays Robert (Rocky's son) and has his own issues to confront with living in his dad's shadow when the time came and it is handled appropriately with deep impact. Rocky also happens to run into a grownup Marie (Geraldine Hughes) from his past (in the original film) and son Steps (James Francis Kelly III). Marie too provides supporting dialog that is rich in texture and meaning when Rocky begins doubting himself in what he wanted to do. And although he could've been utilized far more than he was in final cut, long time training buddy Duke (Tony Burton) has one of the best pep-talks audiences will hear in years. It's great to see that man back, he is a dedicated man that shows he's still got a kick left in him.

Along with that are numerous references to the older films. That means whether it is minor characters, landmarks or flashbacks. There’s always something for the fans of the original to look back on and remember with nostalgia. There may be references that even the most adamant of the series may not catch because of how subtle they are. When it came to the sports aspect of the film, it was well represented. Apparently not only did Stallone and Tarver physically share their faces with their fists but they also kept the actual sounds as well. The actual amount of boxing isn't that abundant but it does payoff when the third act comes into play. Even so, with the amount of writing included to develop the characters properly, the boxing match is just the icing on the cake. The realism to this sports match was turned way up for this entry.

God bless you Tony Burton
Coinciding with the realism is cinematographer Clark Mathis' work. Initially, the execution plays like a regular film but as the running time continues the camerawork changes from that of movie to  realistic PPV camerawork. All of which is credible and well done except for one scene. This scene is when Rocky is explaining himself to the boxing board for him to have a boxing license. What Rocky says is moving but is clearly distracted by a shaky cam. Why - hard to say. Sure what's being viewed looks more realistic but it's distracting from what audiences should be hearing of what Rocky's saying. Other than that it's fine. Bill Conti returns again for the music to this popular series but he didn't compose much of anything new. That's probably the only disappointment. Sure, his music is recognizable by now and all he really did was cut and paste his old tracks to emote the feelings for each scene (which work great by the way), but that's not what should be expected. It's not like it's being asked that Bill Conti change the Rocky theme or other memorable motifs but there's always room for additions. It just feels lazy even though he did a great job mixing and editing his tracks.

The whole experience is gratifying in its own sense just to see how Rocky has changed over the years and what he's had to deal with. Even with competent camerawork that becomes randomly obnoxious at one point and memorable music that is recycled that clearly could have had additions, the final installment to the Rocky saga is a heartwarming closure due to its character driven writing and sports realism.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, July 24, 2015

Blade II (2002) Review:

Although Marvel in the late 1990s was just beginning to produce and widely release live-action versions of their comic book properties, not many probably saw what would be the upcoming popularity of Wesley Snipes starring in Blade (1998). It might have been an obscure character at the time but that particular movie is what ignited the fuse for what would be Marvel today. With its stylized hard R action/horror and storytelling elements, it was definitely not the type of movie Marvel would release until more than half a decade later. It's weird too because with this powerhouse releasing up to roughly 3-4 properties a year (some of which are sequels) nowadays, it's surprising to see that the popular vampire hunter got his well deserved sequel after 4 years. Talk about neglect. With this entry there's a lot that was kept right but it did have more noticeable problems than the first.

"So Blade,....why am I still human?"
Like most sequels should start, the time Blade II (2002) takes place is a little after the first movie. After recovering the coordinates to where a group of vampires are holding his old friend Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) captive, Blade (Wesley Snipes) and tag-along techie Scud (Norman Reedus) are approached by Nyssa (Leonor Varela) a leader of pure blood vampires for assistance against a new type of vampire. The new vampire is named Nomak (Luke Gross) who not only feeds on humans but also other vampires (pure blood or not) and the after effects are still the same except they turn into what Nomak is. As the saying goes "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" or as Blade puts it "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" - well put. As for putting Blade in a new situation, it's different and new. As for how the story is executed is another thing to be debated on. It's not that it doesn't work as entertainment because it is fun. The problem is that once viewers begin to see how things start unraveling, it becomes fairly predictable.

A big question left unanswered is the return of Kris Kristofferson's character. It's not that nobody wanted him back but how it is quickly brushed over that doesn't look or feel legitimate. Apparently Whistler was held captive for years, but that's not the biggest question. The big one is how'd he recover from a headshot wound? So apparently he was bitten and turned - okay. Blade finds him and injects a remedy and was quickly cured. But if it was years since Blade recovered Whistler how'd he heal so easily? It doesn't make sense, plus the subplot of thinking that Whistler isn't fully recovered keeps being brought up but is never confirmed. What's the point? Comic book aficionado David S. Goyer again wrote the screenplay. It's appreciated that Goyer attempts at keeping everything straightforward but it's all in the wrong places. It's too straightforward in execution and not enough in subplot information.

This is about it though in flaws. All the old and new characters are interesting to get to know or revisit. Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson still have great chemistry along with Leonor Varela (who is quite attractive). Co-starring Varela's character is Ron Perlman, Matt Schulze, Donnie Yen and a few others who play the pure blood vampire group. It also makes sense as to how Ron Perlman got cast to star in Hellboy (2004) since Guillermo del Toro is directing this feature. Another nice little addition that usually comes with the "del Toro package" is at least one creative creature design. If there's one thing del Toro works best with, it’s creature effects/design. Here is no different - the new vampire that Nomak represents is much more threatening than Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) ever could have been. They have a special feature to their bite that is just jaw dropping. And for this alone, you know there'll be a good dose of horrific gore and action. This again no doubt is stylized action; full of sword play and fist fights. Always entertaining stuff.

The cinematography by Gabriel Beristain in his first megahit movie was nicely shot. Beristain has had experience before but this would be his first work for a much bigger film that had a much larger release. All of Beristain's angles are steady, well lit and capture all the unique set designs. The music composed by Marco Beltrami had an interesting take and provides a different listening experience. With Beltrami's experience in the horror and action genre, it only feels appropriate that he could make the music his own. The only thing that Beltrami does not do the film right is creating a continuous main theme for Blade. The main title that cleverly mixes electronic synth and jazz like tunes is catchy but it's never revisited again. If Beltrami could make a memorable theme for Hellboy (2004) two years later, why not Blade II (2002)? The action cues are well constructed however, with loud percussion and horns. It's basically taking a horror score and injecting it with adrenaline. Bring it on.

If paid attention to closely enough, the execution becomes fairly predictable and an explanation for a returning character goes unfinished. However, those errors do not sink this sequel below good quality. The hard action/horror elements, main characters' chemistry, music and cinematography help keep the vampire hunter vehicle running on all cylinders.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Walking Tall (2004) Review:

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has always had a strong fan base. Even starting out early in his film career, he had loyal followers just by playing the lead in the silly and yet fun The Scorpion King (2002). Although not every film The Rock auditioned for had this kind of tone, not many outside viewers could take him as a serious actor. Most of that skepticism was from his other career in the WWE. However no matter the case Johnson kept his feet in the pool and made a couple of movies here and there before he really took on more projects as years passed. For Johnson's rise to stardom, it was his first batch of films that got him seen by more people. This film was one of them along with The Scorpion King (2002) and The Rundown (2003). Is it to say that this film tops or is equal to a lot of other great action/revenge films or the remake of Walking Tall (1973) it was based on - no. But does it still entertain? Yes.

Dwayne Johnson & Johnny Knoxville
Directed by TV show director Kevin Bray and had a screenplay written by four people, this tale of "don't mess with a man's home" certainly shows how hostile people can become when their nostalgia is messed with. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays Chris Vaughn, a military veteran who just returned from service. After visiting his home, he heads out and begins to notice the town he grew up in isn't all that it used to be. The lumber mill factory his father (John Beasley) used to work at is closed down. His young nephew is being influenced by the wrong people and an associate of his, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) established an out of place casino in the middle of town. That's just a few things; as time goes on, Chris begins noticing more and more things that make him realize how far south his hometown has gone. Once Vaughn gets angry enough he grabs a 2x4 and takes matters into his own hands.

Accompanying Vaughn in his self-made mission is Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville) and Deni (Ashley Scott). The character of Deni is an important part of the plot because she gives Vaughn another reason to retaliate. As for development, the four writers couldn't manage to make her any different from any other action film. It's not that say the development does not exist, it's just overly predictable and cliche to use. It can be said that for the character of Ray (for people that know of Knoxville's acting) that it's not very different from other Knoxville performances. Yet, Knoxville is funny and lively edition to the cast. He balances out the straight, no games attitude Dwayne Johnson carries around and Ashley Scott's typecast action role. There's several moments where Knoxville is just allowed to go cuckoo and it just makes the appreciation for the character go way up. For all it's worth, Knoxville may just be playing himself, who knows.

Neal McDonough as the casino owner has a number of deadpan comical moments as well. This is mostly due to how he sees Chris Vaughn and how their relationship changes over time. Kevin Durand has a minor role in this film and although his character isn't likable, his character also has a key part to play in the unfolding of the story. As for action, all sequences are well staged and pack enough energy to keep the film going (even if the end credits take up 12 minutes of time). Dwayne Johnson carrying anything (it doesn't have to be a gun) as a weapon is an instant win just because of how sheer deadly he can be. However, in the writing there was a missed opportunity and that belongs to the finale fight. It's not that it doesn't look good or isn't fun. The thing is, where the fight initially starts actually looks like it would've been a better setting for the final action sequence to take place. Sadly as soon as the setting was introduced, it was quickly moved to somewhere else. Imagine if it did stay there though (for those who saw it already)?

Neal McDonough
The cinematography for this movie belongs to Glen MacPherson. Although a lot of MacPherson's experience is being the director of photography for TV movies, his camerawork looks good here too. Even with a number of scenes taking place in doors, the shots are all well lit and have lots of color. Plus like several other cinematographers, getting shots of landscape is important to give the audience a sense of the scope the setting takes place in and MacPherson did that nicely. The music produced by Graeme Revell was adequate although it was a bit undistinguished. A number of scenes have country/rock soundtrack songs inserted for transition and then there's just instrumental music that are only acoustic. It's difficult to say whether that's Revell or not. However when it came to action cues it was definitely Revell because of his use of tribal drums and electronic clicks. For those parts it reminisced to that of the Daredevil (2003) score. It is weird how Revell doesn't get all of his scores released though. What's the point of making music and not releasing it?

Aside from a missed opportunity in setting for the finale and cliche character development, this is a lean, solid action flick. Dwayne Johnson brings the muscle into the action sequences, Johnny Knoxville brings the energy with the laughs, the music suits the scenes and the cinematography is well shot.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Breakdown (1997) Review:

There's something about Kurt Russell and a lot of the roles he has chosen over the years in his filmography during the 1980s & 1990s. As far as it has been seen, Russell has three major sides. There's the cult role, where although it wasn't recognized upon release, it became popular later. There's also the comedy or action role he has taken part in that people remember him for fondly for. And then there's Kurt Russell's thriller side of films, where he plays an ordinary man caught in extremely dangerous situations that could happen in the real world. But as far as situations go, this is by far the film that hits closest to home just because of how nerve-rackingly possible it can be. Not to mention but the tag line to the movie says it all - "It Could Happen to You". Great, thanks for reminding us.

J.T. Walsh as Red Barr
The story to this thriller is about couple Jeff and Amy Taylor (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan) who are moving to California from Massachusetts. On their travels, their car stalls and manage to get a passerby's attention driving an 18-wheeler. The trucker, Red Barr (J.T. Walsh), offers to drive them to a next stop so they can call a tow-truck. Not wanting to leave their car alone, Jeff lets Amy go with Red. After some time, Jeff manages to get his car running and heads to the stop where he was supposed to meet his wife. As it turns out she's not there and nobody saw her arrive. This starts Jeff on a long search and rescue and his findings reveal to him things he never thought possible. Written by Sam Montgomery and Jonathan Mostow (who also directed), this thriller is tense all the way although it becomes more fictitious as it goes on, it still is a thriller that crosses the boundaries of how plausible this situation actually is.

The acting is one of the strongest parts to this story. Although Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan do not have much screen time together, they feel like an authentic couple. J.T. Walsh as the passerby truck driver is also convincing in his performance for the character that he plays. There's also other roles played by other known actors like M.C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy and Rex Linn as the town police officer. The only part of the writing that doesn't work in favor of the actors is the story's predictability. There really is no surprise. The trailer to the film alone allows some spoilers to slide. But even without viewing the trailer, the execution itself reveals its hand a little early. As to whether the secret was supposed to be kept hidden is unknown but again, it is rather obvious. The bigger question that'll linger on the audiences' mind is what's going on. This is the second strongest element to the film - tension.

As the film progresses, small clue tidbits are given to the audience as to possible outcomes of what happened to Jeff's wife. With that, there's only so many solutions one can create to try understand the problem. Without the audience exactly knowing what happened to Jeff's wife is a great way to get the viewers' imaginations to run wild with thought. This is exactly why this thriller is so much scarier than  running into the Sawyer family from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) (although it does have small traces of influence). The fact that several people everyday go missing is much more realistic than crossing paths with a chainsaw wielding cannibal, is why this hits closer to home; just like the movie's tagline, "It Could Happen to You". To assume any normal human being would want to be captured would be absolutely insane. Besides, if you wanted to be captured, then you're really not being captured as definition claims the action to be.

"Run run, as fast as you can....."
Thankfully, along with the high tension come some worthy retaliation scenes that involve fighting back. Of course, if you want the protagonist to get what they want, it's going to be fun watching those scenes. Who doesn't like watching antagonists getting what they deserve? The cinematography is a nice addition as well. Handled by Douglas Milsome (Full Metal Jacket (1987)), numerous shots contain what they need to show; barren rock land,...better known as isolation. Yet as gloomy as the setting feels, it is quite beautiful to look at. Bright clear sunny skies, mountain ranges in the background and a single road highway. Definitely a different setting than your usual urban territory. Finally the music composed by Basil Poledouris (best known for his work on RoboCop (1987) and RoboCop 3 (1993)) was decently constructed. There's no recognizable main theme but Poledouris includes a number of tracks that emphasize the bleak emptiness that is the desert area of North America. Even so, his tracks that involve fighting are also well made too. All around, an intense watch.

It has a bit of mystery in its story but much of that is revealed way at the beginning. However with chilling storytelling that concentrates on how it could happen to the person watching it, the events that occur are scary at times. The acting is solid, the music sounds organic and the camerawork looks great; all of which keep the tension high the whole time.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bad Boys (1995) Review:

It's definitely something to see when watching a film that kick-started a lot of Hollywood's contemporary stars. Although Will Smith was already a popular sensation with his hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996), this would be Smith's first entry into the action genre of films, thus having to never turn back after that. Martin Lawrence was pretty much in the same seat except that he didn't have as much notoriety as Smith. However, this film would too have Lawrence jump into the action film typecast role. Then there's the biggest realization of all. Other than directing a number of music videos, this would end up being the first film helmed by action director Michael Bay. It's interesting that there wasn't even a transition for this man. Straight from music to action blockbusters. Not even a TV movie before this, he must have had some connections.

"You having fun?"
The plot follows a drug heist headed by mastermind Fouchet (Tchéky Karyo) where two cops who grew up together through childhood, Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) only have a couple days to figure out where the deal to sell the drugs is going down. The only way these two can get the information is by protecting eyewitness Julie Mott (Téa Leoni), who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. For three writers consisting of Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland (who both wrote for comedy sketch shows for Dave Letterman) and Doug Richardson (Die Hard 2 (1990)), the script actually has nothing that stands out as something without good quality. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have energetic chemistry and work off each other well. Both also properly emote at the right times and give the right amount of clues to the audience on how each one grew up compared to each other. Will Smith is the smooth, calm and collected one. Even when he's mad, he's still calm. Martin Lawrence plays the opposite; a hyper, loud and rambunctious married man.

Plus, there's a slew of other casting choices that make each scene worthwhile. Theresa Randle (a popular actress during this decade) plays Marcus' wife named Theresa (oddly enough). Joe Pantoliano plays Mike and Marcus' captain on the force that definitely acts like one. And then there's Nestor Serrano and Julio Oscar Mechoso who play another pair of cops who work along side Mike and Marcus. The only actor who isn't interesting in their role is Tchéky Karyo as Fouchet. Aside from trying to get his plan into action without being caught and speaking with his foreign accent, there's not much to say about his performance. Sure, Karyo is an unfeeling man with no conscious but much of his scenes don't involve him interacting directly with the main leads for the majority of the time. It just feels like there's a disconnect. Other than that, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have some very comical exchanges. Plus, with the film having an R rating, they both can really unleash their thoughts uncensored.

Téa Leoni as Julie also adds some inventive scenes that aren't usually exploited in the buddy cop genre films. Although this film is in that vein, it doesn't feel so much like that here. Does the Julie character act with courage - yeah but does she do it because it's needed - no. It's always good to have a headstrong female character but here, Julie is just there to get Marcus and Mike hot headed. Then there's the action and special effects to this film. From what it looks like, this movie looked like it used no CGI, just practical effects. The action is also abundant as well with plenty of fistfights, shootouts and an occasional explosions. Which again, are all real looking. It's funny to see a movie directed by Michael Bay and see a movie done completely with practical effects and infrequent explosions. It just doesn't feel like the same guy everyone knows of today.

Téa Leoni
However, the cinematography shot by Howard Atherton (best known for Fatal Attraction (1987)) isn't anything to cheer about. There are some camera shots that capture the Miami setting, but much of it is closed quarters. Whether it be in someone's home or warehouse, the angles from inside just don't suffice. There are a number of slow-motion shots (most likely due to Bay's request) that look good but again don't always stand out. Finally the music was an enjoyable listening experience. Composing the film score was Mark Mancina who had his first successful music release with Speed (1994) and then Fair Game (1995). Here, Mancina thankfully has a main theme for the franchise using guitar and what sounds like islander type drums. Considering the setting and who is starring in the film, it sounds appropriate. The action cues, which sound familiar to that of Trevor Rabin (but not entirely synthetic), are also lively enough to match the sequences that are displayed on screen. It's at those points; more percussion is used along with strings and horns. It is certainly effective. It's a fun watch.

The plot's main villain isn't well defined and the cinematography is rather plain looking but the rest is wholesomely entertaining. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have peppy chemistry along with a number of other cast members. The catchy music and action sequences coalesce nicely too.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monday, July 13, 2015

Zombieland (2009) Review:

George A. Romero's Living Dead trilogy has left quite an impact on today's culture. Although the actual phenomena has never been a fact, the idea that an outbreak of whatever causes this possible danger could happen, is reason enough to be prepared (just in case). Of course, the concept sounds preposterous but anything is possible nowadays. Technology and science are our greatest weapons no matter how much they excel our lives. With that, multiple zombie genre films have been created decade after decade portraying zombies in new and outrageous ways. However, has anyone every jotted down the key things in every film that tends to get zombies their meal of the day? Well unless you watched them all, the best way would probably be seeing this movie here. Remember that Nickelodeon TV Show Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide (2004–2007), which gave all the tips and sparknote clues on how to survive middle to highschool? Well this is basically the same thing in feature length movie form instead with zombies.

"Get away from my Twinkie"
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)) as their first theatrical screenplay and headed by Ruben Fleischer in his first directorial debut, this collaborative trio managed to put together a solid horror comedy that is fun in a number of ways. The story follows a group of random individuals living among a planet of unlimited zombies, looking to get to their own specific destination. Audiences are first introduced to Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a scrawny geek who has trouble socializing with people and hasn't had one girlfriend. Along his travels he meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a funky human swiss-army knife that has a hankering for Twinkies. Then comes Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), a pair of scam-artists that are convincingly good at their craft. The best thing about Reese and Wernick's writing is that majority of the story focuses around the characters and that's important when it comes to development and there's plenty of it too.

The second best point made are the guidelines Columbus refers to the audience about key thoughts one should have in mind if being chased by zombies. If this were real, this would probably be the briefing video on how to pull through. The characters themselves do have personalities of their own but the most memorable character of the bunch was Tallahassee. Harrelson looked like he was having a blast in his role and definitely took advantage of every moment that required some amount spontaneity. The only part of the writing that doesn't work in this film's favor is the comedy. It is funny a number of times but only because of how stupid goofy it gets. By this, it means that the world these characters live in don't take the situation very seriously. For example, "Zombie Kill of the Week",...who's even keeping tabs? It's funny but ridiculously nonsensical. One of the rules mentioned is to "Enjoy the little things", which is fine for some cases but it does seem a little overblown if people are having contests on the best kill on a weekly basis.

Other than that however, the special/practical effects do look convincing for the budget as well as the gore. There's plenty of blood, gunshots, wisecracks and zombies. Perhaps the only other thing that some gore hounds may not like is that there are not enough victims in the movie. Yes, there are people who die in the movie but a lot of the story revolves around the main characters mentioned prior. This may leave some viewers who enjoy the gore a little starved of their usual intake. The poster is also a little deceiving because nobody uses a chainsaw in this movie. But there are things that make up for that (kind of). It's not abundant but there are a couple of special cast appearances throughout the movie. There's one of Amber Heard as one of Columbus' neighbors and an extended cameo of Bill Murray playing himself. It's interesting though to hear Murray reference a few of his own works just to break the fourth wall.

Always follow the given guidelines
The last two components to look at are the cinematography and music. Michael Bonvillain was the director of photography for this project. Although there are areas that look like a lot of other zombie films, Bonvillain does get some good shots of landscape to give the setting some scope. Bonvillain has proven his talent before in Tom Berenger's Sniper 3 (2004). Instead of bright colors here, he has a lot of gray colors to emphasize the lack of life, which also helps the colorful characters stand out. As for music, rock enthusiast David Sardy composed the film score. Prior to this, Sardy only had composed music for 21 (2008) but would later do bigger projects like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012). All in which Sardy uses a familiar sound of hard rock guitars to indicate his unique score signature. Here is no different; Sardy mixes aggressive guitar chords with organic orchestra compositions to create one interesting score. At times it sounds like it belongs to the horror genre with string stings, other times it's comedy with banjo like cues and other times drama using lengthy chord progressions. It's a weird score for a weird movie. Case in point.

Other than not having enough victims on screen and some absurdly dumb humor (at times), this horror comedy is a fun watch and not just for one time. The characters are written with distinguished funny personalities, the violence is abundant, the camerawork is competent and the film score is wildly experimental but surprisingly appropriate.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron (2007) Review:

When a live-action movie comes out and then an animated TV movie, this leads mostly to the popular character having its own television series. But for Hellboy (2004), the iconic character went in this direction but then kind of just floated around. How Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006) did with viewings and ratings are a bit beyond my knowledge. After seeing it, it definitely did not feel like a total waste of time. It was by no means perfect with choppy animation, a confused demographic it was trying to attract and an undetermined setting of which it took place but it still had things to have fun in. If that warranted this second animated feature I'm not sure what the whole point of it was. Was it going to be a TV show or not? Or were they just made to hold over its fans for the upcoming sequel? I don't know, the reason seems unclear. So does this entry improve upon the last - not really. It's just more of the same brainless fun.

Everyone's here,...including that guy on the left
The story to this entry is about when the owner of a mansion begins to suspect it’s haunted. When in fact it turns out years before Hellboy (Ron Perlman) was kicking demon's butts, Dr. Broom (John Hurt) had visited the mansion once before vanquishing an evil vampire queen named Erzsebet Ondrushko (Kath Soucie). Now, Dr. Broom suspects someone might be attempting to revive her. As an overall story, it is certainly not as sluggish in its pacing as Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006) was. It is a lot more straightforward with its execution. However, the timeline placement is now off. For the prior animated film, Dr. Broom was not seen, so it was assumed what was depicted was after Hellboy (2004). But for this viewing, Dr. Broom is around so this must be before the first live-action film. I guess the writer Kevin Hopps is just picking random stories.

The only part of the writing that isn't clear is a subplot involving Hellboy confronting his destiny with some goddess named Hecate (Cree Summer). It's brought up first at the beginning and then flies in from left field right at the finale. It feels almost unnecessary with how little it has to do with anything else. The characters are still as likable as ever and there's a more of an exclusive cast of voice actors this time around as well. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and John Hurt all return as their respective characters and they do a fine job at it. Peri Gilpin as Erzsebet sounds convincing in her role as a deadly youth obsessed vampire. Even Cree Summer as the other goddess sounds fairly terrifying. But the fun part is when you can also pick out the characters that are voiced by Rob Paulsen and Jim Cummings. You just can't go wrong with such talents as those.

When it comes to action, these sequences contain the required energy to keep the movie moving. And considering its Hellboy, there needs to be enough action. Hellboy's has to be punching something at some point and making a wisecrack. The interesting thing is, the violence in this motion picture is even more graphic and edgier than Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006). There's animated blood all over the place in this entry. But this isn't the only thing that makes it edgy. There's also a slew grotesque imagery, dead people and a fair share of nudity with demons and voluptuous figures. Is it just me or did the animators really not think this through on who this feature film is designated for? The other animated film could be seen as a movie for both old and young ages, but this one totally denies any presence of a viewer younger than 13. The directors to this movie was Victor Cook (Dante's Inferno (2010) and Tad Stones (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins (2000)) of which they direct it fine but represent two opposite sides of the demographic for animated films.

You know.....for kids!
The only thing worth picking on here is the animation, which is again choppy in areas. The only sections that look decently animated are the entertaining action sequences. Other than that, all other animated scenes have rigid character movement in body parts and mouth movement. It's a shame when you have animators like Kirk Tingblad and Andy Chiang who have worked on numerous animated projects and yet here it doesn't feel polished. The final component to the movie that does feel well put together is the film score composed by Christopher Drake. Just like Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006), Drake maintains Marco Beltrami's main theme for the franchise and even uses some quite horrifically good sounding tunes to amp up the atmospheric setting at which the story takes place. It's still fun but not any different from before.

This feature film is about the same compared to Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006), with the same choppy animation (except for the action sequences), unclear timeline placement and an unfinished subplot. Yet, the voice cast is still fun to listen too, the edgy tone and violence is respectable along with the appropriate music. The demographic seems more adult focused here than the last one.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Army of One (1993) Review:

Adventure / thriller movies are always big on action. At some point through the running time, decisions have to be made whether to accept fate or try and change the oncoming outcome. This kind of balance needs to be checked because if not monitored, either the viewer will end up being stuck in an explosive marathon in nothing but action after action without any story, or too much exposition and no action at all. No matter what the extreme, either or will bore its viewer. Unfortunately, that is the case for this action flick and surprisingly, it suffers from both extremes believe it or not. After being framed for murder of a police officer, Santee (Dolph Lundgren) is sent to a penitentiary only to almost be killed by the man who framed him. After escaping, Santee takes one off-duty cop named Rita Marek (Kristian Alfonso) hostage while having Lt. Franklin L. Severence (George Segal) on his tale close behind.

"Don't mind me,....just gonna steal you for a bit"
Directed by usual stunt coordinator veteran Vic Armstrong (his directorial debut) and written by Steven Pressfield (Above the Law (1988)), this action thriller is very low on the entertainment and high tension meter. There's only a few good areas to point out. Its strongest element are its cinematography captured by Daniel L. Turrett. Although this is Turrett's ONLY cinematography credit to date, it is decent. The rest of Turrett's work is credited as camera operator and although that is a totally different task, Turrett did what he could. The entirety of this movie is set in the desert and Turrett shot as much footage as he could get to include wide landscape and long running mountain ranges. It sure is nice to look at. The second best aspect to this movie are most of its cast and how they act. Sadly, the cast that is respectable are not on screen as much as the actual main cast.

For Lundgren himself, there is no complaint. He has all the best lines and works well with that alone for this particular film. Aside from him though, George Segal as the Lt. Severence is wholesomely uninteresting because of his sniveling voice. Even the young Kristian Alfonso is remarkably banal in her performance. Yet, audiences will have supporting cast performances from the underrated Geoffrey Lewis as the local Sheriff helping Lt. Severence. Backing up Lewis is a younger Nick Chinlund as a Deputy. He's easy to pick out. Then there's the cameos (not really, but because they show up for all of about 5 minutes. Ken Foree (known from George A. Romero's Dawn of the Living Dead (1978) and Texas Chain Saw Massacre III: Leatherface (1990)) plays Eddie, Santee's partner. Along with Foree is another young Khandi Alexander playing Eddie's wife. Too bad they didn't have longer roles. Finally, the last part that works here is the action (partially). What is meant by partially is that the shootouts are well staged and set up. Those are fun.

But now we hit the bad territory. The bad side to the action are the car chases and fist fight scenes. For sequences you'd think would move quickly and get your attention, does not happen here. This is the movie's biggest problem; pacing. When the sequences occur, it gets old really fast. So quickly, in fact it feels like its drawn out just for padding purposes. Then there's the scenes that involve exposition, which don't even get told correctly. This is said because Lundgren's character says nothing about what's going on the whole time. The only way viewers will understand what's going on is by listening to Alfonso's character - why? Because she asks all the questions that don't get answered and she figures them out on her own. The thing is, the information to understanding this plot is held back for such a prolonged amount of time, there comes a point in the movie where the viewer just may not care anymore and wish for the film to end because they won't understand why things are being done without any reason.

The coroner from CSI: Miami knows guns? =o
Pressfield's writing is very mediocre here. Another thing that is eye-roll inducing is how cliche the execution is. You have the protagonist (a muscular dude) out fighting the way he wants to and doesn't care if he dies and runs across this hot young chick. There's no guessing to what'll happen between them because it has been seen time and time again in these kinds of action/adventure thrillers. Of course they're going to hookup, why wouldn't they? There's also a subplot that sort of explains Santee's relationship with an old man played by Bert Remsen but it has no effect on the plot so why it was included was beyond understanding. Lastly, bringing the list of bad components to a close is composer Joel Goldsmith's musical score, son of legendary composer Jerry Goldmsith. Here, Joel Goldsmith's score hardly warrants any recognition even with a couple of repeating themes for certain scenes. Much of the score uses the cheap 1 or 2 instruments that would be required for a Richard Band production and its more disengaging than anything else. Thankfully it hasn’t been released to the public.

The title correctly portrays what it says and that's Dolph Lundgren mowing down bad guys without getting a scratch. But this doesn't happen that often. Besides good looking cinematography and a few actor cameos that tease the audience more than anything else, this cat and mouse chase is boring half the time with bad pacing, cliched writing, and poor sounding music.

Points Earned --> 4:10

The Wiz (1978) Review:

The world is made up of numerous cultures. Of these civilizations, their followers do things differently from every other one. Some may have similarities while others bare no resemblance. When it comes to portraying these customs to a wider audience, it is of great relevance to include key parts that help define it as what people know it for today and why it is the way it is. So the best way to get a viewer’s attention would be to adapt this sequence of events in some way that follows the same lines as other critically acclaimed works. The Wizard of Oz (1939) was phenomenally groundbreaking for its time and is considered to be one of the all time classic movies to see. So why not use this as the foundation for a similar movie but this time using somebody else's culture. For that idea alone, it's ingenious but that also requires a great understanding of the subject matter. Which, this film does mostly get right but doesn't fully take advantage of it the whole way either.

Introducing the Scarecrow
The backbone of the screenplay, of which Joel Schumacher (known at the time for Sparkle (1976) and Car Wash (1976)) is unchanged for the majority of the time. Dorothy (Diana Ross) is caught in a tornado (a blizzard actually) in the middle of New York and is thrown into the land of Oz where she must find the wizard (Richard Pryor) to get home. Sidney Lumet (who’d later direct Prince of the City (1981) also directed the film. This is okay for some things but not for others. What's good about it is that fans of The Wizard of Oz (1939) can pick out the parallels to how the story plays out and see how creative the production got. The problems arise when the execution starts out promising and then ends up becoming just a routine as the running time continues on. It's difficult to say whether this was intentional or not but the best scene that seems to provide the most social commentary is the introduction of the scarecrow (Michael Jackson - in his debut entry). At the start, talking crows (who sound like the crows from Dumbo (1941) oddly enough) that remind him how significant he is hanging on the post and doing nothing surrounds the scarecrow. That alone is an analogy to the unfair "Jim Crow" laws that were pro-segregation – of how African Americans were forced to do nothing but be bullied by the “crow” laws.

However as for the introductions to the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell) and Lion (Ted Ross), the social subtext behind them doesn't feel visible. If it is there, it was a deeply hidden message I guess. Joel Schumacher is actually a good choice for penning the script considering Sparkle (1976) and Car Wash (1976) had predominantly African American cast members and were significant for their time. Aside from the incomplete writing, which was supposed to have an African American undercurrent, everything else was fine performance wise. Diana Ross as Dorothy is sweet, brave and caring. Michael Jackson (who is almost unrecognizable in his makeup) as the scarecrow is goofy, innocent and for a guy who's known for his footwork shows that he can look like he hasn't walked a day in his life. Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man is the soul of the group providing much of the needed energy to quite side of the bunch. Ted Ross as the Lion, who perhaps hams it up a little too much sometimes, is still funny with his cowardice personality.

All the visual elements work nicely with each other. The cinematography provided by Oswald Morris (The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)), which would be his 4th to last work expertly caught shots that had grand matte paintings and other physical set pieces. Even the special/practical effects were very convincing. The dancing also was well choreographed and staged by Louis Johnson who was nominated for a Broadway's 1970 Tony Award. Plus, the dance sequences were a no 3-4 member group count. This was wide scale, 1000 of extras on board all performing the same movement together in unison. That takes skill. As for music, the film features a soundtrack and score, both composed by Charlie Smalls who would unfortunately pass away a decade later. Here, Smalls uses a lot the 1970s style instruments used in song making at the time. That means including synthesizers, electric piano and lots bongo drums. The soundtrack is a different story.

That's a lot of extras...imagine the work to get
that right in one take
The songs, which were also drawn up by Smalls, has a number of catchy themes. Cues like Dorothy's "Is This What Feeling Gets?" (which is the main theme), "Ease On Down the Road", "You Can't Win, You Can't Break Even" and "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" are only a bunch of jazz/R&B/soul songs that come to mind because a number of the tunes play will get the legs moving. For these songs, the actors sing them and 95% of the emotions feel real especially for Diana Ross; you can tell she's singing that. It's difficult not to get a little choked up. However there are a couple of exceptions. For example, Ted Ross seems to have someone covering for him because he can't seem to look authentic covering the singer's lines. The only problem to bring up was the use of unexplained characters. There's a homeless guy running around the film who apparently becomes a threat later on but for no real reason or motivation (that is given). It doesn't make much sense, but that's it.

The social undercurrent in its writing works at first but then is completely dropped. That and one character in the movie has no real importance and some lip synching isn't all that convincing. Yet, the movie is mostly made up with decent effects, a lively main cast, great looking choreography, cinematography and catchy music.

Points Earned --> 6:10