Kids For Cash

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9.5/10

Ladies and gentlemen, i give you an early favorite for film of the year. It’s very rare that a documentary will hit me in such a way that Kids For Cash does. That’s not to say that i don’t enjoy documentaries, but when compared to the year’s best screenplay films, it never adds up. I think that is about to change with this enraging documentary about the 2007 Kids For Cash scandal that saw many innocent kids under the age of 18 go to jail for minor offenses. The film explores the huge holes in the American legal system and how we are one of the only countries to have no revisions to our original juvenile legal system. This is a film that i feel every parent should watch because it’s about those times when being our children’s protectors is taken from us due to corruption and greed. The story focuses mostly on two judges from Pennsylvania who accepted a 2.2 million dollar bribe from a prison owner to fill his prison in order to get a new prison built and more funding coming through the doors. The judges in question are Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. One thing that really impresses me about the story that director Robert May tries to tell is that he tells it with both sides debating their points. Ciavarella and Conahan are each given their time to explain why they accepted the bribes that they did, and the only small points that they did wrong. It’s interesting that they take no blame what so ever in sending these kids away and ruining their lives for small things like a stolen bike that the child had no idea was stolen property, a girl creating a fake Myspace page, and a kid getting in a fight at school. While watching this film, you will absolutely despise these two judges and there is no way around that. Without spoiling too much, i can say that one result of a child in particular will get you to the point that you feel like you are this boy’s parent and fighting and yelling against Ciavarella. I am getting off topic, but i promise you that the film itself is very stylishly shot. Screen text throughout the film will always keep the reader side by side with where the story is headed even if you don’t fully understand the legal mumbo jumbo of the lawyers and judges, respectively. There are lots of legal information about ours and other countries around the world when discussing child punishment laws. It paints the picture that even though we are one of the most lucrative countries in the world, and one of the most powerful, we are still years behind on a perfect system. The zero tolerance policy is not a system that will ever work well for children because you can’t compare them to adult criminals. The film goes as far as to explain that the teenage mind will never be fully developed when a child makes a terrible choice. They are literally still being molded into the people they will become one day, and grouping them with murderers and rapists probably isn’t the most logical choice. The background score is done very beautifully as well with lots of mellow tones to accomodate the parents when they tell the horrors of what their children went through. The ending credits are played off to a child choir singing Creep by Radionhead. This is quite appropriate for two reasons. The first is the sad tone coming from the choir voices, and the second is that it’s during that song we learn the fate of the two judges. In his directoral debut, Robert May examines hard hitting details as a result of over a decade of interviews. This is a film that wasn’t made in a year and you have to respect that with how fast films are thrown at the public in the course of a year. Kids for Cash does what any great advocacy doc does: give you the cold hard facts to get you angry and make you want to pay attention so that something like this never happens again. It’s a cruel look at a crime that will never happen again, but baffle you that it ever happened in the first place. No parent can miss Kids For Cash. I am glad that after a 5 month wait i was finally able to catch this film on Amazon Instant Video. INCREDIBLE.

In Fear

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7/10

In Fear grips like a full speed thrill ride even as the tension threatens to spin out of control. I was curious to check out this film if only for the 100% rating it currently has on Rotten Tomatoes, and it didn’t disappoint…….completely. This film is the happiest i have been with an original thriller in a good couple of years. It stars two young adults who have only known each other a couple weeks and are on their way to a festival when they decide to get a hotel room for the night. Just miles from the hotel, they encounter a maze on the way to getting there. They take different ways at different times to get there but end up at the same place they started. I really enjoyed some of the chilling themes of this movie like being stuck in isolation in the woods. Make no mistake, setting is VERY important in a film like this. It’s obvious that not a lot of money was involved in making this picture, so you have to hit the audience with ideas that can make the experience memorable. Alice Englert stars as female lead Lucy. It is in Lucy that we feel her pain as being stuck in the woods with someone she doesn’t fully know or understand. When you really think about it, that can be frightening for anyone. The sound editing/mixing is also something that should be complimented in this film. The suspenseful score starts the engine, but it is the amplified sound that compliment the high speed chases the most. I felt like i was getting the most i possibly could out of a movie with three characters and a car. The last British thriller that i saw was The Descent films, and i think this movie is sooooo much better than those. As the film’s 85 minute run time goes on, it is the darkness that plays the biggest role. Our characters sense a feel of panic and time running out with a car’s gas tank. It’s those little things that sneak up to the audience and hit you hard when you realize what is coming. The only problems i had with the film were a couple of the things the couple encounter during the movie. (Minor spoiler) With only one villain, it’s hard to imagine how all of this stuff was accomplished. I also felt the ending wasn’t entirely satisfying. It did give me a sense of pleasure, but not worth what these characters entailed. Overall, In Fear is a straight to DVD film (March 11th) that is definitely worth a look. If you like 80’s style suspense that is almost complimentary to the John Carpenter feel, this is a good film for you. I don’t know if today’s audience will be completely satisfied with the film, but it will be refreshing compared to today’s standards of shot on video (Or shot on shitteo, as i refer to them) films that are plaguing the genre.

Dom Hemingway

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5/10

Jude Law stars in the role he was born to play. He plays Dom Hemingway, a mob worker who is jailed for 12 years after taking the rep for a drug deal gone wrong. While in prison, he abandons his daughter and wife, the ladder dies from cancer. When he gets out, it’s about a man on the verge of redemption. Law is absolutely amazing as Hemingway. He plays him as a loser who is always looking for the easy way out, but we cheer for him during all 90 minutes of this movie. Dom is an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a guy who has clearly not learned a lot from the 12 years he lost. He picks right up with a drunken three way with two prostitutes paid for by his mob boss. Law is very fast talking with brash English cursing to everyone he ever comes across. It is a role that is easy to like even with his flaws. The movie doesn’t do much beyond that to keep the attention of it’s audience. The film suffers greatly whenever Law isn’t on screen because everyone else is boring compared to our protagonist. The film does have some well shot scenes, but it almost feels like they don’t go on long enough for us to get the background of these other characters. The relationship between Dom and his daughter is presented, but we don’t have a heart to heart between them until the final 10 minutes. By then it is too late to ever get any clarity from this relationship, and that is a shame. This is the biggest probelem with this film; it goes nowhere. The main character really is no better by the end of the film because he is riddled in one bad luck scenario after another. Overall, i wish the film was more along the spark that it kicked off with in the first 20 minutes. It is there that we see so much promise for the journey ahead. By the 87th minute, Dom feels so defeated that there is nothing to look forward to at that point. If you see the trailer and feel like you really have to see this film, get it on DVD. It will be hard to find in theaters in a couple weeks, and i certainly don’t think it’s worth the journey to find it.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

 

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6/10

Ben Stiller is back in a film that is a little different than the films he has been known for over the last decade. He stars as Walter Mitty, a man who daydreams his life away while publishing photos for Life Magazine. The crew at Life are told that this will be the last issue ever published with most of the people losing their jobs. Some of the things i liked about this film was the amazing scenery and beautiful cinematography. It sets epic stages for Mitty to reclaim his life and go on the adventure of a lifetime. The Secret Life also gives us some awkward characters in the form of strangers he meets along the way. It’s sad that in these strangers we find that we care about them more than our two leads (Stiller and Kristen Wiig). Stiller and Wiig are very awkward in their form of conversation. It’s almost like two robots who have never met are talking for the first time. When we find out they have known each other for a couple months, it seems even weirder that they have such a problem being personable. Adam Scott gives another great performance as the villain of the film. Scott has been known to be very famous in these roles including a great performance in Step Brothers. The film runs out of miles in the main base scenes while Stiller is working at Life and at home. It’s kind of symbolic to the way this film goes. It’s only interesting when he is climbing mountains in the Himalayas or playing soccer in Afghanistan. The daydreaming also gets old by about the 3rd of 4th time it’s done. We see how predictable it is to tell the difference, and can see the joke coming from a mile away. Films like A Nightmare on Elm Street have always been great at producing a believable dream scene. I appreciate the explanation of why Stiller has less and less dream scenes by the end of the film, but it’s too late by this time. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has the ability to be one of the year’s best, but it flutters in the basic bore of Stiller comedy. Give it a shot on DVD, but nothing more. The Film Freak’s Mother – 8/10 – I really enjoyed the scenery of this film. A lot of the fields of green reminded me of my time in Ireland. I also enjoyed the role of the mother (Played by Shirley Maclaine) as she reminded me a lot of myself in the things i do to Christopher. Some of the scenes i didn’t like were the daydreaming. I felt it was really drawn out and overdone with too many minutes wasted on it. I also didn’t like the boss (Adam Scott). I felt he was a jerk.

12 Years a Slave

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10/10

There are very few words that i can say to express how amazing and disturbing this film was. Steve Mcqueen is back with another masterpiece which is his best work to date. He has an amazing way of shooting the expressions in an actor’s face and it’s those reactions that really bring out the story of Solomon Northup, a New York businessman who is captured and tortured as a a slave in Georgia for 12 years. Many films and series have done this premise and the story on racial inequality before, but none better than this film. There were times when i had to look away because the scenes were done so tragically. When a movie can reach through the screen and grab at my heart strings, that is when it will more than likely receive a ten from me. People always ask me why i don’t give them out often and it’s because it will mean more when one finally does come out of my mouth. If Chiwetel Ejiofor doesn’t win an Oscar for his work in this film, the academy are a bunch of morons, plain and simple. I feel like Mcqueen is one of those directors who can push each actor to the peak of their performance, and that is evidenced in this film. Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson and the amazing Michael Fassbender give the best performances of their lives. I was even impressed with Paul Dano as i do not usually enjoy his work. 12 Years a Slave is one of those films that show us that our pasts should never be forgotten. Racial equality has come a long way in this world, but it also took a long time to get here. I don’t feel incorrect at all in saying that this film doesn’t have one thing wrong with it. It is the best film i have seen in a long time. I don’t want to give too much away because the images are something that has to be seen to be believed. All i will say is that i totally recommend this film to everyone. If you have to pay 1,8,10 or 12 dollars to see this film, hand it over without questions. There are still a lot of Oscar contender movies to come out over the next few months and i cannot wait to see them. It just sucks for those films that 12 Years a Slave came out the exact same year.

Thor : The Dark World

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7.5/10

This anticipated sequel to the original masterpiece comes close in bringing the greatness again. I enjoyed this film a lot from different aspects that the first film didn’t bring. It is nice to see Loki and Thor team up to form one powerful union. I can only hope that something comes of this when The Avengers 2 comes out in a couple years. Make no mistakes about it, this is Tom Hiddleston’s film. As Loki, he provides us with the best lines in the script and the deepest character development of anyone in the film. I also enjoyed how this film wasn’t afraid to take more risks than the first one. There are a couple of death scenes in the movie that really open your eyes and let you know that Malekith and The Elf Army mean business. Malekith just falls short on the magnitude of Loki as a bad guy and that is understandable. Loki is after all the biggest rival in Thor’s comic book series. With that said, i enjoyed how Malekith spoke in a different language. It has always been weird to me how these civilizations talk in perfect english in these films, so it’s nice to see a villain who goes against the grain. The action scenes are there once again with some amazing damage being done to Asgard and London. This film clocks in at around 110 minutes, but it never drags. I think that is why i prefer the Thor series as opposed to Iron Man or The Hulk. It manages to keep itself fresh in two films that are around the 2 hour mark, and it still has lots of story to tell. I wasn’t too crazy about how this film set itself up for a 3rd one, but we shall see if Thor can break what i refer to as “The curse of 3”. Overall, i definitely recommend this film to everyone. I don’t think anyone will be turned away when it comes to the action that Marvel always brings to their films…………..Ok, Daredevil and Elektra don’t count

Last Vegas

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6/10

This film about four friends who travel to Las Vegas to have a bachelor party for the playboy of the group who finally settles down. The film stars Michael Douglas, Robert Deniro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline as the group of friends who have done everything for each other for nearly 60 years. I enjoyed this film based on the undertones of settling down and finding love before this great dance we call life is over. Freeman and Kline match each other on line for line for the best role of the film. I personally think Freeman edges him slightly because it is funny to see Morgan do things like judge a bikini contest and dance to LMFAO. Beyond that, the movie lacks in substance. It doesn’t really drag from it’s 92 minute run time, but it just doesn’t have enough story to fill that time. There is an interesting love triangle that develops midway through the film that makes you wonder who will end up with whom. This film had a lot of similarities to The Hangover trilogy, and if i were to judge i would say that this film is better than The Hangover 2 and 3, but falls just shy of the original. That film had more laughs than this one, but i also understand that they are two different styles of film. Last Vegas is a good recommendation for someone who is a big fan of any of the four stars. I would recommend that you see it in a dollar theater or rental though. There just isn’t enough there for me to warrant this as anywhere near the top of my end of the year list.

Ender’s Game

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6/10

I have a lot to say about this film, but i’m not sure where to begin. First of all, i am not reviewing the novel of Ender’s Game. I have never read the book and i will not even try to debate my knowledge on that subject. The film is an easily forgettable one. Is it a good film? Yes, but to anyone who hasn’t read the book or know a decent amount about the story, you will be lost at times. When i saw big names like Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley, i imagined that this film was going to turn in some incredible performances. But the trio of award winning actors are kind of left to waste with short dialogue that doesn’t give us any time to know their characters. Ford is the best by far in the fact that he is hiding more than we are led to believe throughout the film. For the first 90 minutes, i thought this film was all about practice and training, which would have put my review at around a 4 or 5. But this film redeems itself a little in the final ten minutes which pulls the wool from our eyes and turns around everything we were led to believe in the film up to this point. The action and set pieces in the film are beautiful. There is no debating that if you are to see this film, it must be at the theaters. I also enjoyed the work of Asa Butterfield as the story’s main character. His voice is a little pre-teen screaming when he gets excited, but i think he is great to play the role of a kid who knows he has a revolution that he is responsible for. In the end, Ender’s Game gives us a look at a possible sequel and i do think there will be enough fans to support that wish. To me, Ender’s Game is recommended, but it’s nothing incredible. The script seems rushed with so many of the events that are portrayed, but overall it’s not a bad little film. I would put this one somewhere in the middle of all the films i have reviewed this year.

Bad Grandpa

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6.5/10

This film can best be described as shock-comedy. With that said, i really enjoyed this film from the producers of the Jackass TV show about a widowed grandfather who has the task of driving his grandson back to his father across the country. This film definitely made me laugh and gave the viewers a lot to talk about for years to come. It didn’t give me the same satisfaction as watching an actual Jackass movie, but the little boy (Played by Jackson Nicoll) is pure gold. He totally steals the movie with the things that come out of this child. My favorite scene of the film takes place at a ladies night dance club where Irving realizes it might be easier to pick up chicks if they are already hot for buff bodied male strippers. The only complaint i had from this film is that it’s too short. It clocks in at about 85 minutes with credits included, and by that point i felt like the film could run another 10-15 minutes and be entertaining. The 2nd half of the film is definitely the better act because it spikes up the storyline with the comedy that is already present. I recommend this film to lovers of the TV show and Johnny Knoxville fans. Johnny is his same charming weirdo self, so you won’t be disappointed

The Counselor

 

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4/10

I am now convinced that most of the films i anticipated this year are trash. 2013 is a bad year for film. I had such HIGH hopes for this film and i couldn’t have been more disappointed. Before you see this film, make sure you know everything about the plot and what it is about. I read a ton up on this film and i still had trouble following everything that was going on. We never understand why Michael Fassbender accepts the job of the counselor, and we don’t even understand what that position entails. We are literally just given a bunch of colorful characters and prepare them for the worst. The only things i liked about this film was the beautiful shots in cinematography and the work of Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt. Diaz plays the best role of her life and is the only effort on conquering this awfully told story. But even she couldn’t overcome the tremendous odds laid against her. There is pointless and laughable sexual dialogue during the first 20 minutes that will make you roll your eyes when you think professionals wrote this. I was such a huge fan of Mccormick’s 2008 hit No Country For Old Men, but i have trouble believing The Counselor was written by the same person. There is almost no trace of that brilliance with building the story up. Surprisingly, this film has a lot of gore and blood. Some of the death scenes are done really well, but you wonder why they have to happen at all. I couldn’t imagine anyone is going to get any enjoyment out of this film other than the things i mentioned above. If you wish to see it, i would wait till DVD. When you pay 8-10 dollars for a movie, you are kind of forced to stay for the whole thing.

Escape Plan

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5/10

I was very disappointed in this film starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger about an escape artist who escapes from prisons for a living. This film was INSANELY unbelievable even for a Stallone film. I watched The Expendable movies and loved them, but this film doesn’t pack the same charm. There are limits to everyone’s suspension of disbelief, but this excedes those limits to overdrive. It is also very predictable as you can see many of the swerves coming from a mile away. I did enjoy the work of Jim Caviezel in this film as the villain atop the prison. He seemed to be having a lot of fun in the work as the villain for once. A lot of the action scenes and witty dialogue is there, but it just doesn’t give us the same kind of charm from this year’s Bullet to the Head and The Last Stand. Those films were far superior and give us a story that is down to earth. The thing i didn’t understand about the prison was if they knew Stallone was an escape artist and they studied his work by reading his book, why wouldn’t there be more focus on him? I would have a guard on him 24 hours a day. Even when he sleeps. Those same thoughts will ruin this film for anyone with half a brain. I recommend this film to hardcore Stallone/Arnold fans, but no one else.

Carrie (2013)

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6.5/10

Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore star in this remake of the 1976 thriller about a girl with telekinetic powers. This film wasn’t as bad as i thought it was going to be. The dialogue was awful, the high school kids were a little over the top with their villain hatred, and it’s a little hard to believe Chloe Moretz in this role. Moretz is a great actress and a great pick for the role of the prom scene, but it’s every thing else that i have a problem with believing her in the role. Moretz is too beautiful to play a role that was described as an “Ugly duckling” in Stephen King’s book. The prom scene is pretty badass though. They modernized it to make some pretty gruesome deaths that much more interesting. Julianne Moore and Judy Doyle were amazing as the mother and gym teach of Carrie White, respectively. Moore is one of those actresses that can play any role you put her in. She is just that damn good. I sort of wish the film were a little longer than the 91 minute cut that we received. I can imagine there are some decent deleted scenes as there was a good chunk of the story left out. Still, Carrie isn’t a bad little film. I would recommend it for the dollar theater if you want to get out of the house. We don’t really learn anything new in the story, so the only reason to see it is to see the performances by the different actors at the helm.