Friday, September 30, 2016

“Hell or High Water”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast:

   Chris Pine plays Toby Howard, half of a desperate duo that sees no other option to save their family ranch than robbing the very bank that is foreclosing on the ranch. Pine does an excellent job of portraying a man that, although he is desperate, still tries to make his gains with a minimum of problems and no casualties if he can help it.

   Ben Foster plays Tanner Howard, the other half of this desperate duo. Being an unstable ex-con, it’s likely he would have robbed the banks anyway without having to be motivated by saving the ranch and helping his brother. Foster plays this role well and excellently conveys a man with a lot less empathy than his brother, while having quite a bit for his brother. 

   Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors that only seems to get better over time. In this film he plays Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton, slated for mandatory retirement. Bridges executes the role of a man not ready to hang his hat up perfectly. Further, he nails the crotchety, ball-busting ranger raining constant racial zingers at his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) stemming from a deep affection and respect. 

The Plot:

   Two brothers in West Texas are in need of $40,000 owed to the Texas Midlands Bank from a reverse mortgage their mother took out before her death from cancer. If they cannot raise the money in a week, the bank will foreclose and take the ranch. One brother, Toby took care of his mother and tended to her until her death. Bring divorced and having two children and no job, he is desperate to save the family ranch from being taken by the bank.

   Tanner is an ex-con (sent to prison for killing his abusive father) that is all too happy to help his brother Toby save the family ranch and is exuberant to be robbing the very bank that is trying to take the ranch. As both brothers rob their way across Texas, they draw the attention of a particular Texas Ranger slated for mandatory retirement that sees solving the robberies as a perfect way to end his career.

   As the brothers continue their spree, Texas Ranger Hamilton begins to put the pieces together from the evidence and witness testimony. It’s not long before he has profiled them good enough to begin closing in on them, knowing he has to catch them soon since the evidence points to them trying to raise a certain amount. Just as he deduces the next branch they will rob, and on his way there, the brothers rob said branch…but end up getting into a massive shoot out with customers and townsfolk (the right to bare arms is real).

   What happens next is the culmination of an extensive investigation and financial desperation coming together in a hail of bullets and bodies that will leave everyone involved, changed forever.

The Verdict: 

   This film is simply excellent. There is much action throughout the movie but that just serves to further the story as it is a story-driven film with an excellent cast and flowing script. From the beginning of the film it’s clear that the ride is going to be a good one as it jumps right into the first robbery. The banter between the brothers is great and the reactions of the employee is probably about as “Texan” as you can get (I’m guessing since I’m not from Texas).

   Although the film tries (and successfully) to give the feel that it’s just the little guys standing up to corporate greed, if you take a closer look, you really see a bunch of crazy guys robbing banks for money they probably could have gotten legally and easily (since oil was found on the ranch). The film does a great job of never allowing you to look closer as it draws you into the world of both these brothers, and the retiring ranger…and has you thinking the bank is sticking it to them just to get the oil.

   The camaraderie between the rangers is also effective and fun. It’s just as important and relevant as the relationship is between the brothers. I’m not sure if everyone will understand (at first) that all the racial jokes Hamilton makes about Parker is simply his way of showing affection and does not stem from any malice…but indeed reveals how they have bonded over the years.

   This film has it all….drama, comedy, and action and with an excellent cast executing the story, it’s no surprise this is one of the best films to come out this year easily robbing four (4), out of five, cinnamon sticks from my cup of tea.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

“America the Great….?”


   That is the simple answer to that inquiry, but where many want to put a period, there should probably be a comma. Yes, America is great and there is no place else I’d rather live. Does that mean America is perfect? No. Of course there is room for improvement. Of course we can reach greater heights and continually become better than we are. Not only can we do this, but we absolutely should do this….we are, after all, America!

   Why should any of this even be a question? 

   Well…current events are bringing the character of America to the forefront. Colin Kaepernick has, by his refusal to stand for the national anthem, brought the issue of police brutality against minorities (really, in general) to the forefront of a discussion that was formerly not even being had. The seemingly daily incidents of black people being killed by police is being injected into the leisure time of many (as this is being talked about on various sports outlets), and the backlash is very telling.

   I’m personally stunned at all the attention Kaepernick himself is getting instead of the reason why he has chosen to bring such attention to himself. Many are offended by his refusal to stand for the anthem citing his disrespect for the country, veterans (although there are many that support his position), and police. Few of these same people seem to have any outrage when a black man is killed with his hands up while not in the process of committing a crime.

   So…it seems the way many in America are choosing to deal with all this is to simply change the subject. Obviously it all just goes away if you ignore it…except, it really doesn’t…and you really can’t.

   I saw a video on social media by Mike Slater of AM 760 KFMB on the subject and was just flabbergasted by many of the points he made. He brought up the fact that Kaepernick is adopted (which does not address recent police brutality). He mentioned many programs that help inner city youth (which does not address recent police brutality). He mentioned Frederick Douglass calling America “righteous” (which does not address recent police brutality). He even mentioned one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter taking a crash course in law enforcement to understand the other side of all this (which does not address recent police brutality). He brought up black-on-black crime (which does not address recent police brutality). He even had the audacity to end his segment by saying “I only have time for people making a positive difference”…as if bringing attention to recent police brutality in hopes of correcting this issue is not positive. Perhaps we should just ignore the issue and simply continue to let people be killed unjustly by police? Yes…that seems positive.

   The backlash has been visceral…all over the national anthem.

   Well, Kaepernick’s protest has even brought the anthem itself into the discussion and much of what has been revealed is astounding. Forget the fact it was written by a slaveowner and the third stanza actually talks about killing runaway slaves, let’s talk about how it even came to be a part of the NFL ritual as observed today.

   Until 2009 no players stood for the anthem because no players were even on the field when it was being played. They were moved to the field as a marketing scheme (yes, scheme) to make them look more patriotic, as the US Department of Defense and the US National Guard paid the NFL more than $10 million (combined) between 2011 and 2015 to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies as part of a military recruitment budget line item (#paidpatriotism).


   America is great, but it is not flawless…and we do not have to simply accept the flaws when the very identity of being an American means we strive to correct them. There is a segment of the nation that doesn’t want correction, they simply want to bask in a false image of a “perfect” country and lambaste anyone that interrupts that image with reality. They care more about what Kaepernick is doing than why he is doing it. They are more outraged by their perceived disrespect of our flag, than the blatant civil violations of the citizens that flag represents. 

   I have faith that America will move forward despite these people wanting to hold it back. It’s what America has always done and must continue to do if being “great” is going to continue to be a statement instead of a question.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

“The Legend of Tarzan”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast:

   Skarsgård plays the hero and title role of Tarzan (aka John Clayton) and brings back to life a very controversial character (given his origin and historical context) and does a decent job of it. They won’t be handing out any Oscar’s for the performance, but given the lack of depth of the script, Skarsgård did what he was able to do to make Tarzan somewhat relatable. A tough assignment given the current pulse of society.

   Waltz is always a joy to watch, and that was probably the only reason I was watching him here as Leon Rom. Again, the dud of a script left him with very few lines (but he is still able to convey his villainy without speaking) and the few times he did speak I felt I was giving him a pass simply because I like his style and have enjoyed him in past films. Watching him here save what little he could of his character made me decide I like him much better as a hero (Django Unchained) than a villain.

   Margot Robbie plays Jane…and what would Tarzan be without her? Probably more interesting. What would this film be without her? Probably better. Really though, with shades of Harley Quinn peeking out every now and then, I found it hard to take her seriously. The “damsel-in-distress” is a tired cliche at this point and really didn’t help the film advance beyond the bubble it was already in simply by tackling the Tarzan mythos and the subject matter surrounding it.

   Samuel Jackson has been in more films than anyone in the history of Hollywood…ever. Taking roles like this is why. Playing George Washington Williams, the token sidekick to the real hero, didn’t help dispel the racial quagmire presented here, and instead reinforces everything that is wrong with the film (well, not everything). Sam is a great actor, but here it seems as though he was just playing himself, and calling the endeavor someone else. A shame really since George Washington Williams was a real person of great accomplishments.

The Plot:

   Taking heavily from history and sprinkling some fictional Tarzan in the mix, King Leopold II is using slave labor to rape the Congo of all it’s natural resources. Heading this endeavor up for him is Captain Leon Rom, a man with no moral code willing to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. Of course, all this is happening in secret and is suspected by George Washington Williams (the true life hero that exposed all this without Tarzan).

   Williams uses Tarzan as his ticket into the Congo, after Tarzan is invited back by the nefarious Rom under a false invitation. Rom has cut a deal with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to deliver Tarzan in exchange for some rare diamonds that will pay for the funding of the exploitation of the land (unbeknownst to Mbonga).

   Of course Jane insists of going (even though she has no skill for the mission or purpose for the trip) and the three of them set out for Africa. Naturally they are ambushed and Jane is taken captive by Rom…and Tarzan and Williams must set out to rescue her…and as a side note, expose the fact King Leopold II is using illegal slave labor…and settle up old scores with King Mbonga along the way.

   What follows is an adventure through the lands and jungles of the Congo filled with treachery and danger from all sides that only a native son not native to the land (huh?) can solve.

The Verdict: 

   This travesty should have never been made. It is barely watchable with very few redeeming qualities aside from the fact…it’s barely watchable. I honestly don't know where to begin to dissect this film into it’s base components. Do I start with the racial quagmire? Do I start with the incapable script? Do I start with the fact they built this film up to be something really special and the only special thing about it was my fortitude to watch it?

   This film has been called a racist film that should never have been made, indeed…it’s being said the character and subject matter simply cannot be rebooted in it’s original format and find relevance in our time (although current events seem to be disputing this). I agree with all of these sentiments and will simply add that Hollywood knew exactly what they were doing when they made this film…and simply didn’t care.

   The CGI borders on horrible but oddly enough fits the film since the script is just as bad. There was not a single moment in the film that blew me away, not a single scene that jumped out as something for conversation later, not a single memorable moment in character development or action in the entire film. 

   Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this film…I just didn’t find any redeeming qualities in it given how insulting it was to my common sense and need to be entertained. Tarzan was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs during a time when racism was the widespread accepted social norm. There really is just no way to reboot this story in that setting without cultivating those seeds and trying to modernize the character for 2016 seems ridiculous given the current technology and the state man has reduced nature to. Could Tarzan be a character who’s time has finally passed? If this film is any indication, that would be an affirmative.

   This film was aching tooth from the beginning and became a root canal the more I watched it…making it hard to enjoy the two cinnamon sticks (2), out of five, it dropped in my cup of tea.

Rating: 2 / 5 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

“Ever Wonder Why….?”

   Sometimes I find myself observing situations that defy logic (in my mind) and I have to wonder why those situations are taking place. I know the world doesn’t always make sense, but that doesn’t mean we have to go along for the ride… and not make sense with it. Perhaps I’m the one having comprehension issues and simply can’t figure out what the perfectly logical explanation is for the things I see? Maybe there is more to the puzzle than the pieces I’m observing? Whatever the case is…join me now for a few simple observations that made me wonder…”why?”

   So you’re sitting in traffic, bumper-to-bumper, moving at a crawl for what must be an accident or some sort of construction. It’s not “rush hour” (the time of day where nobody is actually rushing) so the aforementioned hypotheses seem to be good ones…when you spot the real cause of your traffic ailment, a police officer…”directing” traffic. It’s not the fact that the cop is directing traffic that has you wondering what the heck is going on…it’s the fact they are doing it when the traffic lights are working perfectly! Yes, the lights are operating as they should, but there is a cop directing traffic anyway…sometimes against the light, sometimes attempting to go along with the light…but all the time making a holy mess of traffic, unnecessarily. I have a few friends that are police officers, and would love for them to clarify for me…why?

   So you’re sitting in traffic (again) and you see a bus go by with a bike on the front secured to a bike rack. Umm…if you have a bike that is working fine, then why is it on the bus rack while you are riding the bus? Can’t you simply ride the bike where you need to go? Now, I get there are some obvious situations that would explain why you would see such a thing, like the bike has a flat tire or is in some way damaged that would prevent riding. I’ll even concede the person was simply tired and decided to take a break. Really though, if you’re going to be biking and need to ride the bus during your travels, you probably should stop using the bike and stay with the bus because when I see you get off the bus, done your helmet while wearing you racing gear, all I’m thinking is…why?

   So you’re at the supermarket (after finally getting out of traffic because of the cop) and you grab a few items you need before making your way home. You go to the front of the store to check out, and see a line that goes down the isle and around the corner. No big deal, since you got only a few items, you’ll go to the express lane except….that long line IS for the express lane. Wait..what…? If everyone that has twelve items or less, regardless of the status of any of the other lanes, actually takes a spot in that line, it’s no longer “express” now is it? I mean, when you can go to a regular line and still get through it before that last person that was in the express line can get through….the express line is probably too long. I’ve always thought that maybe they put the slowest cashier in the express lane and the fastest in the other lanes to even them out….but when the fast person is really fast and slow person is really slow, it results in an express line that isn’t really express….and me looking at all the drones in that line and wondering…why?

   I’m not the smartest guy in the world….I’m not even the smartest guy in the room when I’m sitting in one by myself (huh?), but I’m inquisitive enough to wonder about these things, and perceptive enough to even notice them in the first place. Like I said earlier, perhaps I’m the one having a comprehension issue and the true logic is escaping me…or, perhaps not.

Friday, July 29, 2016

“The Shallows”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast:

   I enjoyed Blake Lively’s performance in her first top billed film, “Age of Adeline” and think she did very well in this film also even though the role called for her to be much more physical and display a different emotional range due to the context of the action.

   Here she plays a woman named Nancy that has come to a secluded beach, once frequented by her late mother, to surf and enjoy some alone time as she gathers herself to determine what direction she wants to take her life.

   Lively does an excellent job of conveying her need to experience this secluded beach and what it means to her to finally be where her late mother once was. Throughout the film, Lively’s performance is enthralling which speaks volumes of her ability to perform her craft as she is effectively the only character in the film with any real substance.

The Plot:

   As stated above, Nancy has come to a secluded beach (the name is never revealed as if there is some mystery that needs to be solved) to unwind the only way she knows how to…by surfing. With her mother having passed, the beach is all the more significant to her since her mother also surfed the waves in this secret spot.

   From the beginning Nancy is not alone as there are a pair of surfers already surfing there that seem to frequent the area daily. Nancy is a bit cautious at first but soon realizes that if there is some sort of threat, these local surfers are not it.

   After the locals leave for the day and Nancy opts to stay out in the water for more surfing, things begin to take a turn for the worst. Nancy notices something strange in the water and decides to investigate. That investigation reveals a dead whale…but more importantly the predator that killed the whale is still in the area and has it’s sights set on Nancy as the next meal.

   What follows next is not just a reiteration of a simple “Jaws-type” film, but a battle for survival that happens so close to shore that hope is never abandoned, but so fierce that tragedy is the only outcome that makes any sense…all happening on the edge of your seat!

The Verdict: 

   This film was better than I expected it to be as I thought it was only going to be some cheap remake of “Jaws.” However, the simple dynamic of this one woman versus this one shark in the shallows of a secluded cove made the film more personal and gave this small encounter a huge impact.

   The shark in the film looks completely real and raises the hairs on the back of your neck as it terrorizes Nancy with it’s simplistic need to feed and the instinct to do whatever it has to do to get that done. Kudos to the special effects crew here as the shark is all CGI and at no time does it feel like we are dealing with a fake shark.

   I like how the direction of the film keeps ramping p the suspense as the situation seems to keep deteriorating with no visible resolution in sight. Every temporary solution to the situation is made more temporary as the antagonist (shark) is absolutely relentless in it’s goal of making Nancy the cherry topping to his whale cake.

   That said….I’m not an expert on shark behavior, but it did seem to me that the shark was more single-minded than is believable possible (seeing as it had a whole whale to feed on just a few yards from Nancy), but it was easy to look past this for the thrill of the hunt, and fight for survival.

   This film was better than expected and kept me on the edge of my seat to easily soak three (3), out of five, cinnamon sticks in my cup of tea.

Rating: 3 / 5

Thursday, July 28, 2016

“Viva Vermont”

   Planning a vacation can be stressful and expensive. Every year I probe my brain to figure out where to go that will be fun and relaxing, but not force me to mortgage my home to do it. You might be surprised to know (I was) that you need not travel around the world or cruise the ocean to find wonderful places you have never really been, or do exciting things you have never done before. Sometimes adventure and relaxation is right around the corner…or in your backyard, figuratively speaking.

   Living in Massachusetts, Vermont is my “backyard.” Now some of you reading this might have a certain impression of that state (as my daughter admitted to after we got back...that her impression was way off), but trust me when I say there might be a lot more to it than just mountains and woods (although the mountains and woods are absolutely majestic at times).

   I started off my vacation with a trip to an amusement park (yes, Vermont actually has one, sort of). Bromley hosts Vermont’s Summer Adventure and it’s what happens when you turn a mountain for skiing into a fun park in the summer. Without going into all the details I’ll just say it’s fun to go down the mountain on a sled gingerly married to a track (although I left quite a bit if skin on said track), and I retained my crown in mini-golf.

   I ended my vacation with trips to a couple of cheese and maple farms that had more varieties of cheese and maple syrup than I ever imagined were possible. Seriously….some of the combinations were so far off the wall they hadn't even made it to the floor. That said, most of them tasted absolutely fantastic, with a few that either gave you the stank face, or were so hot and spicy that they turned all the soft tissue in your mouth to ash.

   In between the beginning and the end of vacation was a plethora of trips to the local wineries and brewing companies. Let me tell you….wine tastings are one of the best kept secrets in the world. For a few bucks you get to sample some really good wines, and when I say “good,” I mean great when it comes to alcohol percentage by volume! The beer was the same, although there are less breweries than wineries, I particularly recommend Magic Hat Brewery. The free guided tour ends with samples of their beers…and it should go without saying how that ends (wink).

   Vermont being big on their local food and drinks, has many places to get some excellent food…native to the region, that you really can’t get anywhere else. Even the Cabot Cheese factory has flavors of cheeses that don’t seem to make it across the border, and they are a big company.

   I am no stranger to Bennington VT, having been there numerous times throughout the years, but I must say traversing the rest of the state and exploring all the beauty and hospitality (seriously, the people are some of the nicest anywhere) was one of the best vacations I have ever taken.

   Now….not everyone reading this will go to Vermont (although I expect some to actually trust me on this and make the trip), but the larger point I am making is that no matter where you are, perhaps a great time of fun and relaxation is just the next state over and with some meticulous planning and a few hours of driving, you can have one of the best times of your life.