American Pastoral

The pages of one of the 20th century’s most endearing novels comes to life on the silver screen, in Phillip Roth’s “American Pastoral”. Starring first time director Ewan Mcgregor, the movie follows and all American family across several decades, as their idyllic existence is shattered by social and political turmoil that will change the fabric of American culture forever. Seymour Levov (Mcgregor), a once legendary high school athlete who is now a successful businessman is married to Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), a former beauty queen. The turmoil brews beneath the polished veneer of Swede’s life when his beloved daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) disappears after being accused of committing a violent act. It is then that Swede dedicates himself to finding Merry and reuniting his family. What he discovers shakes him to the core, forcing him to look beneath the surface and confront the chaos that is shaping the modern world around him. No American family will ever be the same. “American Pastoral” is rated R for some strong sexual material, language and brief violent images.

There’s definitely a lot of evidence to Mcgregor being a first time director, but none more evident than that of his emotional integrity, and because of that “American Pastoral” is a failed attempt to pass itself off as a meaningful tribute to 1960’s paranoia within the escalating tensions from Vietnam. Going into this movie, I was curious to see the mystery of this troubled family unfold and see how it played against the backdrop of a war that nobody on home soil supported. Roth’s ideals for the story has always been that every family has problems, and sometimes even the most physically gifted struggle with some of the greater feats of strength within the psychological layers of the American family. The problem though, is Mcgregor’s film plays everything one step behind what we have come to know as compelling drama. There was always a yearning for a greater emphasis of the bigger picture in this documented world, and not just the effects of characters in a family who weren’t presented in the brightest of potential lights.

In a nutshell, this movie lacks the kind of substance or leveling message that crafted Roth’s story as one of the most monumental of the last twenty years. Mcgregor is a capable enough director when it comes to his artistic merit. This is a beautifully shot film, with plenty of establishing shots of the rural countryside being displayed for the audience. But it’s in his directing to characters that makes this difficult to follow or even care. When you first meet the Levov family, you will find yourself failing to relate to a lot of their struggles. The intention to display them as the perfect American family only comes back to bite this film because their lack of character depth in exposition causes some flimsy problems in character traits to come out of nowhere midway through the second act. This is definitely a case of rushed storytelling, as opposed to letting the history foreshadow the story of what is to come. The movie certainly isn’t a predictable one, but that isn’t a benefit when most effects don’t resonate well from the cause that they came from. In the end, the story mostly felt like it was making a mountain out of an ant-hill to further what little drama actually materialized within the story, and that lack of care with the development of material really weighs heavily on an ending that had very little wiggle room against contrivances to send the audience home happy.

The performances aren’t memorable enough, albeit except maybe Fanning who always delivers a silent sting. Of the trio of big name actors in this movie, Dakota is the character we should care the least for, yet rings the truest in terms of what this story and these events mean to her character. Fanning glows a ghoulishly haunting demeanor particularly in the third act of the movie, when all rules are off. For Mcgregor and Connelly, this feels like an opportunity to get lost as their characters, but we don’t ever truly understand the motivations for such an uprising in change. Connelly in particular is held in the air to be anything of any kind of remote importance to this story, settling for the mundane in the ever-changing atmosphere of the household. Her character is displayed as shallow and emotionless as her story, and sadly none of that is of Jennifer’s doing. Mcgregor is decent in the movie, but some laughably bad dialogue left his character feeling like a less-than believable shadow-filler to the reputation that the movie garnered for his character. For the intro of the movie, we are told how great and honorable “The Swede” (A terrible nickname by the way, because he isn’t Swedish) is, yet Mcgregor never lives up to that social standing. We never catch a remote glimpse of a hero in motion, and instead settle for a middle aged fossil who can’t keep up with the revolution that is taking place right outside of his door.

The ending left me feeling like this story didn’t really move much from its initial blows in the opening act. How you can usually tell a good screenplay is in the intersecting nature of a constantly moving script that took us on a vast journey from point A to point B, and screenwriter John Romano, whose adaptations from novels usually springs from the pages, evaporates the nuance within such nostalgic literature that never had a problem emotionally or physically moving its readers from a bolt of unsettling parental fears. The possibility at one last final moving scene settles to dust, as the screen faded to black, diminishing the last chance at a memorable scene within the clutches of this blunder.

“American Pastoral” is a stern warning that not every novel has admirable intentions to be adapted to the big screen. It’s a 103 minute dreary dragging of incompetent storytelling and hollow substance in material to ever require watching. Mcgregor’s first directing effort shows promise in design tapestry, but his ambitious reach in compelling direction is far outweighed by the miniscule grasp he settles for in short-cutting every moment of moving drama within the film. Instead of giving the audience something enticing about that family that lives behind the picket fence, it only further cements how little is actually going on.

3/10

Top 20 Most Anticipated Films of the Summer

 

The Summer movie season is on the horizon. It’s the season where the big budget blockbuster productions come into play, and this year is no different. Once again, the Summer season offers a fair share of winning choices among a backdrop of sequels and remakes. One thing I noticed was that a majority of my favorites seem to be taking place during the earlier months, leaving the later part of Summer with a hangover from all of the money-making explosions that surround the season. Below is my list of twenty films that I am dying to see, in number of importance. While the official first day of Summer is June 20th, the Summer movie season to me has always been May-August. Four big months of knock-down, drag out mayhem that usually offers its fair share of yearly favorites when I do my countdown in December.

Enjoy the list

20. Money Monster

Starring –  George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack McConnell

In the real-time, high stakes thriller Money Monster, financial TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and his producer Patty (Julia Roberts) are put in an explosive situation when an irate investor (Jack O’Connell) takes over their studio, with a bomb strapped to his chest. The two television workers must figure out the motives of this mysterious threat, while figuring out what the connection is to their show.

19. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Starring – The Lonely Island

When his new album fails to sell records, pop/rap superstar conner4real (Andy Samberg) goes into a major tailspin and watches his celebrity high life begin to collapse. He’ll try anything to bounce back, anything except reuniting with his old rap group The Style Boyz.

18. Star Trek Beyond

Starring – Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto

The first leg of the USS Enterprise’s five year mission takes them into uncharted territory. There the Enterprise is nearly destroyed and strands Kirk and his crew on a remote planet with no means of communication. Kirk must then work with the elements to reunite his crew and get back to Earth.

17. Most Likely To Die

Starring – Chad Addison, Jake Busey

A group of former classmates gather for a pre-party at one of their homes the night before their 10-year high school reunion, and one by one, they are brutally slain in a manner befitting each’s senior yearbook superlative.

16. The BFG

Starring – Rebecca Hall, Mark Rylance

A girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) encounters the Big Friendly Giant (Rylance) who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because unlike his peers refuses to eat boys and girls.

15.  High Rise

Starring – Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss

Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) is the newest resident of a luxurious apartment in a high-tech concrete skyscraper whose lofty location places him amongst the upper class. Laing quickly settles into high society life and meets the building’s eccentric tenants: Charlotte (Miller), his upstairs neighbor and bohemian single mother; Wilder (Evans), a charismatic documentarian who lives with his pregnant wife Helen (Moss); and Mr. Royal (Irons), the enigmatic architect who designed the building. Life seems like paradise to the solitude-seeking Laing. But as power outages become more frequent and building flaws emerge, particularly on the lower floors, the regimented social strata begins to crumble and the building becomes a battlefield in a literal class war

14. Sausage Party

Starring – Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill

A misplaced sausage (Rogen) and his savory friends embark on an existential adventure through the aisles of a massive supermarket in this raunchy animated comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. As the store’s annual 4th of July sale draws near, the perishable pals must return to their rightful places on the shelves before the customers come flooding in to fill their carts.

13. The Shallows

Starring – Blake Lively

When Nancy (Blake Lively) is attacked by a great white shark while surfing alone, she is stranded just a short distance from shore. Though she is only 200 yards from her survival, getting there proves the ultimate contest of wills.

12. Me Before You

Starring – Emilia Clarke, Sam Claifin

A girl  (Clarke) in a small town forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man (Claifin) she’s taking care of.

11. Finding Dory

Starring – Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks

The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish (DeGeneres) reunites with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

10. The Founder

Starring – Michael Keaton, Linda Cardellini , Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

Written by Robert Siegel (BIG FAN),  the film is a drama that tells the true story of how Ray Kroc ( Keaton), a salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald (Offerman,  Lynch), who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential. He maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire called McDonald’s

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9. The Purge: Election Year

Starring – Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell

Two years after choosing not to kill the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Barnes (Grillo) has become head of security for Senator Charlene Roan (Mitchell), the front runner in the next Presidential election due to her vow to eliminate the Purge. After the betrayal by one of their own, the two find themselves in a fight to survive against the many supporters of this evil act, on the very night of its celebration.

8. Kubo and the Two Strings

Starring – Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey , Art Parkinson

Kubo (Parkinson) lives a quiet, normal life in a small shore side village until a spirit from the past turns his life upside down by re-igniting an age-old vendetta. This causes all sorts of havoc as gods and monsters chase Kubo who, in order to survive, must locate a magical suit of armor once worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior.

7. Suicide Squad

Starring – Will Smith, Joel McKinnon, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

A secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency.

6. The Secret Life of Pets

Starring – Kevin Hart, Louis CK, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet

Taking place in a Manhattan apartment building, Max’s (Louis CK) life as a favorite pet is turned upside down, when his owner brings home a sloppy mongrel named Duke (Stonestreet). They have to put their quarrels behind when they find out that an adorable white bunny named Snowball (Hart) is building an army of abandoned pets determined to take revenge on all happy-owned pets and their owners.

5. Free State of Jones

Starring – Matthew McConaughey, Mbatha-Gunta Raw

As civil war divides the nation, a poor farmer (McConaughey) from Mississippi leads a group of rebels against the Confederate army.

4. War Dogs

Starring – Jonah Hill, Miles Teller

The true story of two young men, David Packouz (Hill) and Efraim Diveroli (Teller), who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

3. X-Men: Apocalypse

Starring – James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence

With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse (Isaac), the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

2. The Nice Guys

Starring – Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Kim Basinger

A private eye (Crowe) investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and uncovers a conspiracy. He finds assistance in the most unlikely of sources, in a small-time investigator (Gosling) who he punched out just hours before.

 

 

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Starring – Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson
  3. Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America (Evans) and Iron Man (Downey Jr). This forces the rest of The Avengers to pick a side in the biggest hero VS hero battle ever
  4. Captain America: Civil War trailer

 

Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky

Central Intelligence serve as eye witnesses to an attack that they have disturbed, in the newest film from director Gavin Hood. “Eye in the Sky” stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a brash UK-based military officer in command of a top secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. Through remote surveillance and on-the-ground intel, Powell discovers the targets are planning a suicide bombing and the mission escalates from “capture” to “kill.” Things start to get crazy for the intel officers, But as American pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is about to engage in a rebuttle attack, a nine-year old girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute, while reaching the highest levels of US and British government, over the moral, political, and personal implications of modern warfare. The world’s deadliest secret becomes a chess match of who strikes first, leaving no officer without life-changing decisions. “Eye in the Sky” is rated R for violent images and language.

Gavin Hood has crafted a modern day masterpiece with “Eye in the Sky” that really questions the kinds of situational terrors that surround our military every day. For a movie that comes out in April, it really does render that kind of Oscar like stature to the achievements it prevails in. It’s a bone-chilling suspense train that collides with social commentary for what goes on in our own world, and the kinds of things we take for granted living where we are. Whether you are for or against war, terrorist reponse, or surveillance, the film offers all of the facts without swaying in one direction or the other. The most important aspect of the script is in the decision to follow characters who sometimes have to make the decisions that really make it difficult for us an audience to get behind. Hood’s script asks us figuratively and literally if saving one life guaranteed to die is more important than saving eighty lives hypothetically. The question might seem easy from afar, but once you allow yourself to open your eyes as a viewer of Hood’s rollercoaster of cause and effect, this question and many others showcase just how polarizing the jobs of armed service protectors are. One of my favorite choices within the movie is the showcasing of just how far the United Nations have taken their spree of surveillance on countries with terrorist activities. The best kinds of socialistic films to me are the ones the not only open the eyes of its viewers by educating them on just how far this concept has gone, but also the kind that doesn’t need to beat you over the head with expositional dialogue. We see the terror that is coming behind every reaction in this film, and because of that, Hood puts us front and center in this terrible place, thousands of miles from where the button pushers make their final verdicts.

If the movie had one slight critique from me, it comes in a first act that is very uneven with the rest of the film. That’s not to say that the pacing is bad, quite the opposite actually. The movie needs to build the suspense of the issues one layer at a time, and sometimes that means sacrificing the real intrigue of the movie for the second half. That is the case with “Eye in the Sky”. The first half hour wasn’t very appealing to me, and that is understandable, for it’s in this timeframe when the film takes us through the different branches and aspects of the military just to make the simplest of decisions. It’s very informative on the chains of command, but it will have audiences testing their patience as to whether they can keep moving forward. I could’ve also used a little more character backstory during the opening scenes. I think if we get more than brief flashes of their lives, we can understand that these are everyday people like us who are forced to make the ultimate sacrifices day in and day out. That almost second side to everyone involved would make for more of a surprise in their change of attitudes from start to finish.

When the second and third acts start dishing out one plot twist after another, this film and its cloud of tension are as good as anything I have seen so far in 2016, but there are two impeccable reasons for this. The first is a heart-pounding musical score by Paul Hepker (Rendition). Several scenes build this aura of invisible claustrophobia around us, and that’s because Hepker expands the terror unfolding before our eyes and puts it in audio form, building and building each strike of the keys before the visual explosions on screen that push our senses to their peak. Paul’s final score during the third act summarized the very consequences on-screen, and the sorrow that we feel for the people caught in the crossfires who are victims of wrong place wrong time.

The second thing comes from a timeshare of exceptional performances from a strong veteran cast. Helen Mirren captivates as this colonel who is a little too eager to always push the trigger. Her character has good intentions, but she is a victim of being in the board room for too long, so she doesn’t always see the terrors unfolding on the ground beneath her. Aaron Paul also continues to add to a stellar decade that has him expanding his acting horizons. Aaron showcased great visual reactions, and the movie uses this depth to label him as the voice of reason within this growing cast of characters. His transformation from beginning to end is something to admire and feel great apathy for by the time it’s all said and done. The best performance for me though, came from Alan Rickman and his final live action role before his untimely death this year. Rickman’s performance serves as a reminder to just how many emotions he was capable of expulsing from the audience. He could make you laugh, cry, love and hate him at the same time, and there’s so much to his role in this movie that communicates to us that this is a man who has been at the helm of this job for far too long. Rickman’s role is one of great calculation, as well as taking the lives of every citizen in his country, and deciding what is best for them. Alan plays it with a stern command, while also offering a pleasing underbelly of great sarcasm that he has been known to shine for.

Overall, “Eye in the Sky” is an independent gem in an otherwise frightening weekend of movies. I greatly recommend it for anyone who loves a good political thriller, combined with crippling drama sure to leave you in a state of great shock. It’s an ethical standstill that offers no easy answers for the questions of morality that you will have hours after reacting to the final blow.

9/10

The Vatican Tapes

The Vatican Tapes

The biggest battle between good and evil is about to take place through the eyes of a young woman during the night of her 23rd birthday. In ‘The Vatican Tapes’, Angela Holmes (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is a young woman on the cusp of a great life. She has a beautiful home, a loving boyfriend (John Patrick Amedorl), and an army coloniel father (Dougray Scott) who would do anything to protect her. She begins to have a devastating effect visible to those closest to her, causing serious injury and death. Holmes is examined and possession is suspected, but when the Vatican is called upon to exorcise the demon, the possession proves to be an ancient satanic force more powerful than ever imagined. It’s all up to Father Lozano (Michael Pena) to wage war for more than just Angela’s soul, but for the world as we know it. The plot of this film sounds like more than enough to maybe produce a sleeper hit for the Summertime season, even so much as not needing a found footage resolution to garner cheap thrills to it’s audience, and instead opting for the movie style of realtime shooting. So where does it all go wrong? EVERYTHING. This movie is without a pulse, just like it’s main protagonist. The movie borders on directionless ground with many of the scares essentially coming out of nowhere with very little to no build. This results in a lack of anything serious to pull out a scare or shriek from it’s audience. In fact, many of the films possession scenes are played off in such a ridiculous manner that i couldn’t help but laugh from the obsurdity and underwhelming acting from a cast of mostly veteran Hollywood actors. Scott and Djimoun Honsou are almost non existent in their portrayals. The movie needed some veteran leadership that it never found, and it felt to me at least that these two had very little interest to be in the film. Pena is definitely the best part of the movie, but it’s hard to fully grasp him as a man of the cloth with some of the roles in his recent films. For now, he will be typecast as a comedic clown, and it’s unfortunate because a movie like this was really his best chance at breaking out of the mold. I mentioned before that the movie didn’t do the found footage gimmick, and this is true all until the final half hour of the movie when we see that a lot of these scenes are afterwards being watched on a surveillance style kind of camera. Who is watching these? It’s never really made clear. I mean, i know they are being presented to the audience, but that is one of many ways to make your movie painfully obvious in the self aware field. The ending to the movie feels like it is trying to get preachy about the people in our own world who we are ready to write off as profits. The message is very jumbled and not exactly coherent, and we are left with a final image that feels like another twenty minutes are coming, somewhere just beyond the credits. It never happens, and it all sums up the 83 minutes of time wasted. ‘The Vatican Tapes’ is another failed experiment in possession films. A genre that has long since reached it’s peak for cinematic creativity in 2005’s ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’. In that film, we were treated to a courtcase drama, as well as a possession film. This movie offered nothing original, and even mocks many scenes from past movies that were done a hundred times better. It’s all so poorly done that Director Mark Neveldine (The Crank movies) better thank his lucky stars that the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise isn’t what it was ten years ago, because this movie screams and points to be made fun of. Don’t waste your time on such poorly made chuck.

2/10

Southpaw

Southpaw

Critically acclaimed director, Antoine Fuqua returns to the silver screen that stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a professional champion boxer who loses everything in one night. ‘Southpaw’ tells the riveting story of Billy “The Great” Hope, reigning Junior Middleweight Boxing Champion of the World (Gyllenhaal). Billy Hope seemingly has it all with an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife (Rachel McAdams), an adorable daughter (Oona Laurence) and a lavish lifestyle. When tragedy strikes and his lifelong manager and friend (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) leaves him behind, Hope hits rock bottom and turns to an unlikely savior at a run down local gym; Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker), a retired fighter and trainer to the city’s toughest amateur boxers. With his future riding on Tick’s guidance, Billy enters the hardest battle of his life as he struggles with redemption and to win back the trust of those he loves. There is a lot to enjoy about this film. From Fuqua’s hard hitting cinematography that offers an up close and impactful feel to the action going on in the ring, to the gritty and moving dramatic free for all’s that his characters go through when they fall from grace. Antoine is a director who knows how to get the most out of every situation, even if that situation sometimes feels overdone. What gives this film it’s originality despite boxing films being an every year thing, is the step by step process that Hope goes through. It’s something that could happen to anyone realistically, and it’s in that realism that we see a lot of ourselves in these defeated characters. The film stays on the downtrodden for a majority of the nearly two hour run time, and i personally didn’t have a problem with that. My problem was more in the uneven feeling of cliches used during the last act of the movie that felt opposite of a mentality in the first half of the movie where anything could happen. It’s in that final half hour where the movie really loses a lot of it’s steam because you know where it’s going, while leaving a lot of questions unanswered. I feel like the case behind McAdams death was kind of left on the cutting room floor without much attention to the consequences from one wild night in New York City. The acting is above all else spectacular, with Gyllenhaal and Whitaker really giving the audience something different that crafts these three dimensional characters. Jake went through a gym lifestyle makeover to play this part, and it’s one of the many reasons i have always enjoyed his character acting. We see such tremendous effects that life in the ring has played on his psyche outside of the ring. He’s not a character who is perfect in the decisions that he makes, and that’s what makes him so worthwhile for following. I did hate his last name in the film. Most people won’t have a problem with it, but it took me out of the movie everytime it’s mentioned on screen. Why not just call him Billy Fighter? Practical enough? One impressive aspect was the acting of 13 year old actress Laurence. She adds so much to the motivations of Billy, and is the one thing that he can’t run from long after he feels like he has healed inside. Oona has such a wide range for her age, and it was impressive to see her dramatic tones in a way that never overexceeded how a child should act. Overall, i would recommend this movie for everyone. The boxing plot (believe it or not) is such a small part of what’s really going on here. It’s a movie about family being the only thing left when the lights go off, the cameras stop rolling, and the people forget your name in a world that finds a new celebrity every ten minutes. ‘Southpaw’ is a champion in a summer of dramatic duds.

7/10

Dark Places

Dark Places

5/10

Gillian Flynn’s second novel adaptation to the big screen is an obvious departure from the edge of your seat mystery that was ‘Gone Girl’. 25 years after testifying against her brother as the person responsible for massacring her entire family, a mentally tortured woman, Libby Day (Charlize Theron) on the brink of bankruptcy is approached by a secret society that specializes in complex, unsolved cases. With a new look into the case that changed her life, Libby is forced to to see things a little different from the way it all went down that night in Missouri. Flynn is one of my current favorite authors, and Dark Places is my second favorite book in her trilogy, and while the film does remain faithful narratively to the contents of it’s literature, it lacks the emotional depth for it’s characters in a monotonous haze, as well as plagues itself with a big screen debut of an inexperienced director (Gilles Brenner) whose creativity came up a little short for such great content. The film remained on the shelf in post production hell for over a year, and it’s painfully obvious that Flynn fans were destined to be disappointed when inevitably comparing this film to the 2014 smash hit that was ‘Gone Girl’. Most noticeably missing is an infective score that always keeps the audience smoothly moving in transitional scenes of past and present in the film’s storytelling. The mood in this film feels very rigid, complete with somber acting from many of it’s leads. Theron is decent in the role. I had doubts originally about her in the role of Libby, but i feel like it was one of the only things done right about the adaptation. While it never feels on screen that Libby reaches a transformation from beginning to end, Theron makes the most despite playing against one-note emotions for the entire film. Nicholas Hoult didn’t really add much to the film, and i feel like some more scenes between he and Libby could’ve really established his care for the traumatized girl. The obvious missing of the secret society after only one scene is also something that negatively impacts the lack of supporting characters that could’ve helped in taking some of the load off of it’s protagonist. If the film does anything good, it’s in the guessing for an audience not familiar with the novel. People who don’t know what to expect might not feel as obligated to stay true to the book because there is enough intrigue in the mystery of these characters and the revolving wheel of revelations that hits them one at a time. There is some convenience to the way things are tied up, and i personally wish some of the elements of character on-screen time in the film wasn’t as obvious in determining the end result when the bombshell drops. It is an alright film, but disappointing in the aspects of how long fans of the novel waited for this film to see the light of day. The longer you wait, the more you expect, and Dark Places shows more creative light in it’s pages rather than on screen.

Dope

Dope

5/10

I would think that a film about 90’s hip hop music and fashions would intrigue me to the point of must see cinema for the little film that could, known as Dope. The film has a nice message to the kids who don’t fit in during high school, as it shows them that being different can sometimes be beneficial to being overlooked when taking the tough roads to acheive your success. The movie stars Shameik Moore as Malcolm, a straight A student faced with the tensions of surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, while opening up to a life that is foreign to him. What the film has going for it works in spades. The artistic direction in cinematography is tightly shot to give you some different angles for a city that has had more than it’s fair share of movies based in. The wardrobe and soundtrack are by far the best things about the film, and serve as a callback to the 90’s golden age of hip hop when all of the big colors and hairstyles dominated the market. It’s all a nostalgic tribute to a time in place where the streets were at their most transparent with many upper class people getting a lyrical education into their world. So why do i score Dope so low? Simply put, sloppy filmmaking. The movie seems to have a problem with tone selections as to how the movie is going to proceed for the 95 minute run time, and it never quite figures it out. The opening 40 minutes of the film are treated as an almost stoner comedy when crossed with the awkwardness of being an African American nerd. It’s certainly an original side of cinema that we haven’t seen a lot of, but it doesn’t work when in the second half of the film the movie tries to be like those films like “Higher Learning” or “Boyz In The Hood”, and it just doesn’t mix well. Seperately, these films would be great one hour short films by themselves, but together it all feels uneven. There are also those scenes that drag on for far too long. Many of the edits come way too late in a shot where yet another character is trying to come off as a weirdo behaviorally influenced by drugs. I personally wish the movie would’ve ignored more of the comedic efforts and aimed more for the second half of the movie which heavily guards this nice zero to hero storyline surrounded by filler. Characters also disappear for long stretches of the movie. We aren’t just talking about secondary characters here, but Malcolm’s love interest is gone for at least forty minutes during a time when their chemistry could’ve been built to make us care more about their ending. I was quite surprised to see that this film is getting almost entirely unanimous positive reviews when i was checking out feedback online. I certainly have never had a problem standing against the critics, and there is enough in Dope to make the title feel like more than just a slang term. The movie is completely overburdened with too much in too little of time, and as a result, we are given thinly directed characters in a plot that doesn’t follow the formula of less being more. If you have to see this film, i recommend a DVD viewing. I am sure a lot of people will disagree with my opinion on this film, but if you look at the huge holes that plague this movie, you won’t be influenced by the critics who itch to see their name in commercial text.

Maggie

Maggie

5/10

Director Henry Hobson and writer John Scott III present some original ideas during a time when zombie films are becoming an overabundance. In ‘Maggie’, a deadly zombie virus sweeps the nation, and a father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) will stop at nothing to save his infected daughter (Abigail Breslin) in this post-apocalyptic thriller with a heartbreaking set up. Hobson’s film involves some very groundbreaking ideas to keep the genre fresh for many years to come. Most of all comes in the storytelling of characters backgrounds. For a film that is predictable in terms of where it will end, the movie keeps it’s audience on the edge of their seats pitting family characters against each other in a world where zombies are commonplace. Where the film struggles is in the amateur frame work involving many key shots being cut out, or opposite of the center of each scene where an important event needs to be. Speaking of important events, there are very little in the film. Scott knows how to tell a story, but he leaves a lot of intrigue on the cutting room floor, instead opting out for long continuous shots of character reactions. There are very few scares about the film, and about as much gore on top of it. I understand why this film is classified as a horror movie, but it never gives the audience that chilling moment to honor such a genre. I did enjoy the gnarly makeup work by Melanie Deforrest, a longtime Hollywood props artist most notably for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, and the upcoming ‘Jurassic World’. The slow-decaying design of Breslin’s on -screen appearance takes it’s time when most zombie films are known to push the turn button as fast as they can. With each passing day, we see piece by piece of her facial features rotting away, with just a hint of bone collapse just below the surface. The performances are decent enough, but i think the reviews for Arnold’s performance were a little over the top. He does a solid job as a father who is losing the most important people in his life piece by piece, but we never experience that gritty scene of him breaking down as a result of him knowing that he will eventually be forced with ending his daughter’s life. The film could’ve played a lot more for these dramatic moments, and as a result, the film struggles to find any true identity with a lack of gore/violence or long winded dramatic dialogue. A film with this idea works for a nice independent short film, but struggles to fill it’s 90 minute run time with anything other than slowburn emotionless filler. The ending left me still searching a definitive answer on the fates of our characters. If the movie doesn’t care, then why should we? ‘Maggie’ has some creativity spinning it’s wheels, but it takes more than just one great idea rise from a development graveyard. It’s lifeless like it’s main female protagonist.

Fast & Furious 7

furious7

7/10

The high octane fast paced action of Dominic Torello (Vin Diesel) and the gang return in the most action packed sequel yet. “Furious 7” picks up right after the events of “Fast Six”, as Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge for the death of his little brother, Owen (Luke Evans). Hell bent on nothing less than death, Deckard aims to pick off the gang one by one in this latest installment. I was a little worried on how well this film would fare due to the untimely death of star Paul Walker, but i can safely say that this film pays off in ways that every “Fast” film should; it’s entertaining. What this franchise has managed to do is impressive because it’s full proofed itself into making any critic feel ridiculous for pointing out the negatives about it’s films. The things i didn’t like about the movie were few and far between, but the entertainment is brought down by a couple of factors. First, the film’s two hours and twelve minute run time is definitely taxing on an audience that experiences one action packed juggernaut scene after another. The action is very well shot while not dragging the audience through shaky camera shots that are famous in action films today. The fight scenes include a lot of revolving shots where the camera circles around it’s two competitors, and this is a prime example of the expertise of long time director James Wan (The Saw Franchise). I mentioned the film’s run time, and it could easily be trimmed with a lot of the sequences (Mainly the final one) that often run over twenty minutes a piece. I also feel like this is a franchise that can’t afford to add too many more characters, as the ones in this one didn’t have a lot to do. The Rock is in the movie for about fifteen minutes total, and this is a negative as i felt his character had a lot to do with the success of the sixth film. If you ask me where the gold lies in “Furious 7” however, i would say it’s in the surprising dramatic touches of the characters ongoing stories we have come to see over the last decade and a half. There are a lot of heartwarming moments, mostly in the audience thinking above and beyond the movie with this being Walker’s final film. The movie gives us a fitting send off for the man with the million dollar smile, and fans of the series will really dig what Wan gives us with the final ten minutes of the film. I do hope this is the end for this series, as i couldn’t imagine a better ending. Another sequel also wouldn’t make sense with where things are left at the end of this one. The defying of gravity scenes and suspension of disbelief is massive, but if you have made it this far, “Furious 7” will be a welcome nitro boost to an already disappointing film year. If you want a movie that doesn’t require you to think for too long, as well as entertain the hell out of you, check it out. Put your brain in neutral, grab ahold of your seat, and enjoy the ride.

The Gunman

The Gunman

4/10

Sean Penn is just too good for this mess. That sentence is a reflection of his newest film titled “The Gunman”, in which he co-wrote and starred in. Penn (who just turned 50) is the latest to up the machismo and show the world that he (Like Neeson, Brosnon, Costner, Fill in the blank) too can be a gun holder for the “Over 50 action genre”. The film from Director Pierre Morel (Taken), is about a sniper (Penn) on a mercenary assassination team, who kills the minister of the mines of Congo. The assassin’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. After Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad himself, who are hell bent on revenge. The film’s uninspired plot is just a fraction of the real problems facing this nearly two hour bore. The movie has solid action sequences, as well as great sound editing/mixing, but that is expected of such a genre. It never goes above and beyond to etch it’s name in an overcrowded genre. Instead, settling for mediocrity in the form of silly plot convenience, as well as laughable dialogue and line readings. The film also stars Javier Bardem, and Idris Elba. Both of which are wasted. Elba is in two scenes as an Interpol special forces agent, and the role feels like a last minute addition to carry a little star power. Bardem totally felt uninterested by this film. He (Like Penn) knows he should be working on much better material, and it shows in his lackluster line readings. There were plenty of times during the movie where his actions brought a giggle or two to my experience. For instance, Bardem ends up marrying a woman who Penn leaves behind when he goes into hiding. When Penn returns, he is pissed with Penn over leaving her, but why not arrange to have a dinner meeting between them. This of course leads to them sleeping together, but the real gem is that this happens on the very same night they reunite. She apparently held no ill will feelings towards Penn completely forgetting about her. It’s logic like this that kept me from every feeling fully intrigued by the film. The structure itself, i thought made for a worthwhile story. Complete with Penn inserting some real life footage of Congo citizens being forced out of their homes due to violent revoking of their rights. But the movie’s subplots are what really weighs the rhythm of the storytelling down. The film goes from a political thriller, to a love triangle, to small angles that were inserted earlier in the film. Penn’s character suffers from brain trauma, and this causes him to have blackouts and dizzyness in spots. This is mentioned once during the first ten minutes of the film, and never again until it’s convenient for the plot. It’s the same when we find out who the person is in charge of having Penn killed. It’s treated like it’s supposed to be a big mystery, but we only saw this person literally for one minute during the opening of the film. By this point in the film, i knew it wasn’t going to get any better, and this film was doomed to a lifetime similar to a crumbled up piece of paper in a wastebasket of scripts that never should’ve been given the time of day. “The Gunman” is a misfire of blanks that never comes close to hitting it’s target. Many early 2015 films should be forgotten, and this is among them.

Birdman/ The Lockview

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Film Freak : “Birdman” with a side of grilled cheese and goldfish

By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

In a tweet: In “Birdman,” Inarritu offers a striking dark comedy about an actor famous for portraying a superhero trying to launch a Broadway play.

What it’s really about: Michael Keaton, as former superhero movie star Riggan Thomson, has to battle his ego while attempting to recover his family, his career and himself.

Why it’s good:  Director Alejandro Inarritu, who also “Babel” and “Biutiful,” working off first-timer Alexander Dinelaris’s script, is more ambitious this time, telling a riveting story with Oscar-worthy camera work that presents the two-hour film as if it’s done in one continuous shot.

Who you’ll remember: In his best starring role ever, Michael Keaton leads a cast of A-List talent—Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zach Galifanakis—with a film that makes you question the character’s sanity, even as it weaves a tale that, on the surface, seems like art imitating life.

How it’ll surprise you: Parts of the film are very surreal, concerning the Birdman character, breathing life back into Riggan’s dead soul.

Bonus points: The score works beautifully considering it’s only drums throughout the whole film, and the neon backgrounds perfectly compliment New York City, the film’s setting.

Restaurant Recommendation :

I saw “Birdman” at The Nightlight Cinema, and when I’m in downtown, there’s one place I almost always have to eat. Famous, if even just locally, for its creative touches on the classic grilled cheese sandwich, The Lockview offers a wide range of ingredients from artichoke to roasted red peppers to smoked gouda and fresh basil on sourdough. Each served with tater tots and/or Goldfish. A full appetizer menu, plus soups and salads, rounds out a field of options perfect for complimenting with one of their tasty cocktails or a pint from their selection of brews.

Film Freak’s suggestion: Start with the basket of deep fried pepperoni served with marinara sauce. Make the main event a “Number Ten,” a Havarti dill cheese with pickles, grilled red onions and a spicy brown mustard on rye bread.

http://www.thedevilstrip.com/home/film-freak-birdman-with-a-side-of-grilled-cheese-and-goldfish/

The Lockview

207 South Main Street

Akron, Ohio, 44308

330-252-5128

http://www.thelockview.com/

22 Jump Street

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7/10

Some would look at my rating for 22 Jump Street and think i liked it, but didn’t think it was amazing. That is true to a certain degree. I did enjoy this movie and thought it was a more than capable sequel. One thing that might surprise you however, is that i thought the film was very smart in the aspects of the way it mocks the first film and the Hollywood sequel in general. 22 Jump Street returns us to the world of two best friend cops (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) who go undercover at a college this time. It’s a sequel that is told to pack more of a punch because those are the rules that Hollywood instills. It pokes fun in many aspects like the natural progression of the script and how there are many things the same as the first film. If a movie is smart enough to realize that it is putting out the same movie and acknowledge it, then i believe that makes that movie acceptable to be a copy. I shouldn’t really use the word copy because there are a few differences in the sequel that make for fun entertainment. In this film, Tatum is the popular one of the duo, Jonah Hill is the one struggling in his police work, and the most obvious answer in the mystery isn’t the right one. The ladder is one of the things i liked the most about this film. It’s not just a bromance comedy, but a great mystery that had me guessing for a lot of the film. It all culminates in an amazing fast paced action chase scene that makes the last half hour of the film the best part of the movie by far. In fact, if the film didn’t have a slow and terribly paced opening forty minutes, 22 Jump Street would be closer to a 7.5 or an 8. It almost feels like two different directors took the helm of this movie and that makes sense because the co-directors were Phil Lord and Chris Miller. I personally think that the co-honors shows in the different tones and pacing between the first and second acts. It is in the 2nd act where the chemistry of Hill and Tatum return to the glory of the first film. We see their ability to play this duo that have basically become brothers, and the reason why no other relationship in their lives ever seems to fit. There is one shocking reveal in the middle of the movie that involves Ice Cube that absolutely gives the film the adrenaline shot that it needed. Speaking of Cube, he is the best part of the movie. On the surface it may seem like he is playing the typical angry man Ice Cube character that he always plays, but the mystery reveal will take his character in a whole new direction and help the viewer in relating to a character who we didn’t get much time with in the original film. The performances are hit and miss. Jonah Hill is a miss because his character doesn’t grow in the same kind of transformation that Tatum’s character has. Tatum does some parkour routines that make his character the same kind of guy he played in last year’s White House Down. 22 Jump Street even pokes fun at that movie in a scene where the two male leads are practically winking at the audience. I do like Hill in comedies, but i would like to see him get back to his straight roles more often. The guy has some deep acting chops, so i don’t think he needs to always be held down with the same comedic schtick. I could write a two page review on the end credits alone because they are among the best i have ever seen. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it pokes fun at anyone who goes to see the same movie over and over again (Like The Hangover films). It is so brilliant and so funny that no person will want to leave their seats because they will want to see how far this will go. There are some excellent cameos in that credits scene that will make every fan and non fan of the TV show happy they stuck around. Overall, 22 Jump Street is a more than worthy sequel that is definitely worth a look for anyone who liked the first film. I would be interested to know where people think it stands compared to the original. For me, it fell a little short, but 22 Jump Street is a welcome edition to a sequel world that is 50/50 at best.