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Thursday, April 30, 2015

“Furious 7” 

    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: 

  
   Vin Diesel reprises his role as Dominic Torreto as he battles against the bloodthirsty brother of previous nemesis Owen Shaw in a bid to save his family. Diesel is still the bad-ass he’s expected to be, bound and determined to come out on top.

  
   The tragic death of Paul Walker did not prevent the reprisal of his role as Brian O’Connor. Through CGI and the help of his brothers, O’Connor came to life as a man torn between family and the fast pace, in need of a stark reminder of what is really most important.

  
   Dwayne Johnson is back as Hobbs and is his classic epic self as he delivers the first fight scene of the film and later swoops in to lend support to his now, extended family.

   Jason Statham is Deckard Shaw, a man out for revenge for his brother and is bent on burying Toretto, his family, and anyone that would stand in the way of his goals.

The Plot:   
   Deckard Shaw embarks on a quest to eliminate Toretto and his crew for the extensive injuries to his younger brother Owen. With seemingly unlimited resources to become a ghost that is every where, and nowhere at once, Toretto and his crew are on borrowed time.
  
  Toretto and his crew have left the fast life behind them and think there are nothing but sunny days ahead when they get the news that one of their own has been murdered and they are being hunted by one of the worst possible people on the planet.
  
   To complicate matters, the US government is trying to get possession of a hacker that has developed a new technology and only Toretto and his crew have the needed skills to do the job. Doing the job also helps them as this new technology is the very thing they need to go from being the hunted to the hunter.
  
Completing the job is just the tip of the iceberg as the government is not the only interested party and stealing it is not the same thing as keeping it.

   What follows is pure adrenaline and fast-paced mayhem as Toretto and his crew do the impossible, seemingly in every frame of the film!

The Verdict: 
   
   After six films, if you don’t know what to expect when the lights go out in the theater, you might as well not even bother to buy a ticket.

  
   This film was so packed with action that it was actually over-the-top. I found myself sitting in the theater thinking to myself “no way” as each stunt went further and further into left field leaving all semblance of realism behind.

   I expected as much when I decided to see this film and while I was thoroughly entertained, I felt something was missing from the film when it began to border on the ridiculous with scenes so crazy I began to wonder if the film was actually spoofing itself.

   Great cinematography, fast cars, and bad-ass fight scenes will always be a plus in my book and will always hold my attention. Crazy stunts that make me say “no way” will have me thinking about what I’m watching instead of just enjoying what I’m watching. That said, this film was certainly a flavor I enjoy and soaked three and a half cinnamon sticks in my cup of tea.



Rating 3.5 /5

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

State of Emergency

   In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore has erupted into a city on fire. It has gone from a city in protest to a city in revolt. The Governor has declared a state of emergency, but really it’s not just this city that should be labeled as such, but the entire country as we live in a climate that threatens to erupt anywhere at any time with every life lost where inaction is deemed the appropriate response. 

   
   The story of Baltimore has become nothing more than a narrative of violence and criminality exacerbated by narrative-driven media coverage of police under fire and unabated looting. Indeed, the cause of the unrest has long ago become a footnote in what has become sensationalized coverage of an imploding city. The way clear of the plaguing problem of police brutality has been muddied by a city of youth bereft of parental guidance.

   
   Let me be very clear in pointing out that the situation in Baltimore did not start in Baltimore. I have long ago sounded the trumpet of a nation in peril when I posited that the good guys are not the people wearing the badges (parts onetwo and three). Looking at any city in riot conditions simply shows that “good” and “bad” is a part of the human condition regardless of your occupation, race, or philosophy. People have justified some of the heinous acts of authority caught on film just as they have justified the destruction of their own neighborhoods. I don’t justify either and think real justice starts when we hold everyone accountable for what they do.

   
   Maybe I missed the riots in South Carolina over the death of Walter Scott? Or perhaps instead, I didn’t because the swift action taken to arrest and prosecute Officer Michael Slager curtailed the tide of outrage that surely would have erupted had he been simply suspended with pay pending an internal investigation that resulted in the department finding nothing wrong with his actions. I’m curious when those in power will finally understand that they live in a nation no longer willing to accept the systematic justification of abuse of that power? 

   
   Like all situations, there are many angles from which to observe them unfold, and so I have to equally wonder when the people being abused will understand that destroying the very infrastructure they depend on to survive is the least effective way to facilitate the change they are so desperately seeking? If the systemic application of abusive power is perpetrated by an authority that views you as little more than an animal, it only exacerbates that view when you take it upon yourself to actually act like an animal.

   
   The plain truth is the story of Baltimore is a reactionary tale. Although the media will have you believe this story began in Ferguson, it is a tale much older than the fate of Michael Brown. It is a story that has been often told, but rarely believed…and now with the advent of a society under constant surveillance, simply can no longer be denied. 

   
   As the world watches, America is squandering an opportunity to be the leader it always claims it is. Those in authority are dropping the ball on a problem that has a solution as simple as having professional accountability for the personal decisions of those in the profession. Meanwhile those not receiving the professional treatment afforded them are stripping themselves of dignity and liberty at a time when they should be empowering themselves through solidarity. This cycle must end if we are ever going to move from a state of emergency into a state of emergence.







Tuesday, March 31, 2015

“Nightcrawler” 

   
   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: 

  
   Jake Gyllenhaal is an outstanding actor that always seems to gravitate toward roles with some sort of edge to them. In this film he channels his inner “weird” and “disorder” to deliver a performance that keeps you looking at the screen for fear of missing the latest “are you serious?” or “whoa” moment. For a character with which we are not given much background, Gyllenhaal shows us everything we need to see to determine the depths of the dysfunctional life his character had to have lived. It’s not surprising really, as Gyllenhaal dedicated himself to the role by losing twenty pounds and starving himself to channel his character.

  
  Rene Russo has always been enjoyable to watch…well, not so much in the “Lethal Weapon” films, but much more so in the “Thor” movies. In this film, the role fit her skills perfectly and she is able to absolutely sell a woman in charge that is masking the insecurities her position has created. Her interaction with Gyllenhaal is tremendous in exposing her vulnerabilities while at the same time contrasting the depths of which he is far removed from regular society. Scenes like this are set up by the script, but the delivery and selling of them are reflected by the skill of the actor. Russo shows us in this film that she has matured in her craft.


The Plot: 
   
  Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is man on a mission that won’t let morality or the law get in the way of his goals. With a quick tongue delivering for an even quicker mind, Lou makes his ends meet by thievery until he happens upon a car accident on the freeway that changes his focus and launches him on a journey that can only be described for him as destiny. With the world of freelance independent filming (of accidents, fires, and crime) opens up to him, he steps through not with a whimper, but with a bang that will effect several people before it’s all over. 

  
   Nina Romina (Russo) is a producer for one of the lowest rated networks on Los Angeles television. Tough in her position and driven by her ambition, she is not expecting the collision she has when Lou Bloom enters her life delivering exactly what she needs, but offering what she dare not refuse.

  
   As Lou becomes extremely good at what he does (and what he does is not nearly always legal or moral), there is a power shift in the professional relationship he has with Nina that culminates in a very personal way. As he constantly pushes the envelope of how far he will go the get the story….his ruthless drive becomes how far he will go to make the story. What follows is a thrill ride into a profession few really understand, that leaves a trail of bodies nobody expects.


The Verdict: 

 
   This film took me for a ride early as the delivery by Gyllenhaal was so creepy and interesting, that I had to keep watching to see what he was about and how he was going to progress. This is the trap of the film as the more you see him, the more you see him evolve, although never in a way that I could truly identify with. I suppose the character having antisocial personality disorder had something to do with that.

 
   That said, it isn’t just the weirdness of the character but the intelligence he displays which he uses to disarm nearly everyone he comes across, despite lacking the ability to fully mask his antisocial nature. I got the feeling much of his education came from sources other than real people, including how to deal with real people, which he then refined…to do exactly that.

  
   I loved how the film brought this out by his interactions with other people, notably Nina, but also with Bill Paxton’s character (Joe), another “nightcrawler” with numerous years in the business, and Riz Ahmed’s character (Rick), a homeless man and former prostitute that he takes on as an employee. It’s with Rick that we really get to see how Lou simply refuses to impose limits to what he will do to get what he wants.

   I do love a good drama and this film delivered that as well as thrill and action. It was much more engaging than I anticipated and much more fun than I expected, in a “watching a train wreck” kind of way. Without a doubt this film had a very unique flavor as it captured (on film) four out of five cinnamon sticks, in my cup of tea.




4/5

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The “Empire” Effect

   
   There has been massive buzz about the new hit show “Empire” and with fourteen million people watching, it is certainly having an effect. It seems you can’t engage in any social media without happening upon a post or tweet about the latest episode. People are watching and talking about it, but what kinds of discussions are they having? Maybe a more important question is what kind of discussions should we be having? If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know what kind of discussion we are about to engage in.

  
  Ratings don’t lie…”Empire” is a hit. The show is heralded as being a breakthrough for viewership of a mostly Black cast.  I suppose this is a good thing, possibly even a testament to “progress”…except I have to ask, the progression of what? There has been sharp criticism of the show as it is analyzed and dissected by those thinking profoundly about its “effect.” The most common rebuttal to this criticism is that the show is just entertainment, so there is no real harm. Well, the word entertainment means “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” There is no exclusion of harm in this definition.


  
   Dog fighting is very much entertaining to a segment of the population (not with me), but I dare say there is great harm in it. Watching videos of people in compromising situations is constantly entertaining people…and many of those videos show harm. Entertainment does not mean there is no harm. Anybody saying “Empire” is not harmful because it is entertaining has now been educated as to why this statement is fallacious. 

  
  That said…what harm could this show possibly have on anyone? It has been meticulously compared to “Dynasty” and the comparison seems to be a pretty sound one…except for the fact that the Carringtons would have to go “gangsta” to aptly mirror its African-American alter ego. Umm…what?  I don’t think the Carringtons were about that life…and when you stop to think about it, is being about that life helpful or positive in any way at all? Understand that comparisons of “Empire” to any other soap really stops when the show is predicated on reinforcing a stereotype that is literally killing Black people.

  
   To a young person watching this show and thinking they can also make it big….where do you think they will have to start? What example does the main character Lucious Lyon set? For that matter, extrapolate this line of thought to the Hip-Hop music industry and tell me it’s a positive path to success where those that make it impart wisdom and positivity to those listening to them.  I won’t lay it all on the industry though, because if we as a people don’t demand more for ourselves, then we are getting exactly what we are settling for…which is mostly garbage.

  Am I supposed to be blinded to more of the same in the form of “Empire” because it’s soapy, shocking, has music, displays fashion and tackles the issue of homosexuality? If only I could be that shallow. 

  
   Sure, it’s great that Black actors and actresses are being given work and I don’t begrudge anyone from making a living and providing for their family. It’s just sad this show has to be the vehicle by which they do it…but the sadness is not with the show (Hollywood can make whatever they want), it’s with the people that have no idea they are swallowing the wrong pill and choosing to remain in the Matrix.  

  
   There are lots of reasons why “Empire” works on television…and none of them matter a bit. When the country we live in is rife with our youth being shot by law enforcement and constantly depicted as nothing more than thugs by the media, we have to ask ourselves…are the ratings of “Empire” a reflection of this sad reality, or is the show helping to perpetuate a detrimental cultural mentality? 


  
   We know we can’t count on the media for answers as they are simply an extension of the same machine that powers the very industry in question. There can be no profound discussion had with those that seek to perpetuate the very problem that needs our collective attention. How can there be when reason and wisdom are vilified? So once again….the task remains with us, and once again we will either rise to deal with the issue…or continue to let the issue define us as a cycle of self-destruction.







Thursday, February 26, 2015

“The Judge”

   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: 

  
   Robert Downey Jr. continues to deliver stellar performances showing why he is currently one of the best in the business. He has been amazing in the Iron Man series and Sherlock Holmes films…but a film like this, devoid of all the effects candy, where the entertainment can only come from your acting ability, shows exactly why he is at the top of the pile. It helps tremendously that the role is not unlike previous ones where he is called on to tap into arrogance and conceit, but it also calls for a serious connection that explores why his character has been shaped thusly. This is where it’s revealed that Downey is truly top notch and can deliver the goods.

  
   Robert Duvall has had a very long career of great performances and he continues to deliver in this film. It really doesn’t matter what the role is, Duvall makes it work. This role works very well as it calls on him to take us into the heart of a man that has shaped his life by dispensing justice, but has not been so successful at dispensing love to his children in their later years. Being very prideful and dealing with serious health issues, Duvall’s character issues are magnified and complimented by his interactions with Downey and excellent chemistry they project as estranged father and son.


The Plot: 
   
   Hank Palmer (Downey) is a successful Chicago lawyer that has made a lucrative career to of defending the worst society has to offer…criminals with real money, power and influence. He is known for never losing and doesn’t care that his clients are guilty…only that such a fact cannot be proven in court.

  
   Joseph Palmer (Duvall) is a small town judge that has been on the bench for over forty years. He is hated by some, loved by most and highly respected for his position and dedication to dispensing the law fairly. Very prideful and strict, his children address him by is title in personal situations and defer to his authority when around him. His middle son, Hank, has been the only son to buck his system…moving away as a statement of his defiance.

  
   When Hank’s mother, Joseph’s wife, passes away unexpectedly, events are set into motion that will bring these two back together in the most unexpected way. Hank returns home for the funeral to find that his father has gotten himself into some serious trouble, and in their small town, he is the only person good enough at what he does to even have a chance to help his father escape the punishment of prison. What follows is an intense look into a tough relationship shaped by them having to navigate through this difficult situation.


The Verdict: 


   I very much wanted to see this film because I knew that Downey and Duvall would deliver very powerful performances. In this I certainly was not disappointed. I was also pleasantly surprised by the other talent tapped for making this film….such as Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

 
   Just as much as the film was about the relationship between father and son, it was also about Hank Palmer coming to terms with his past and his connection to the small town he grew up in, and the relationships he previously had that resurface from his visit. The foreshadowing in the film is very revealing if you are able to pick it up. I enjoyed the fact that the filmmakers added some twist as some of the situations seems painfully obvious to me.

  
   I expected a cliche ending and was very pleased, if not also a little sad, that the film didn’t end as I expected. Overall, the closure was a relief, but the open nature of what the future holds for Hank left me wanting some semblance of answers to the questions I had.

  
   I do love a good drama every now and then and this one was certainly my cup of tea. I knew I was going to be treated to stellar performances and was very pleased not to be disappointed in that. The direction was also very good as was the script.…leaving three and a half cinnamon sticks in my cup, and feeling a bit guilty it didn’t leave more.



3.5/5




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Creating the Ultimate “You.”

   Everyone has a life philosophy, or at least they should…in terms of how to live life to the fullest while being a positive contribution to it.  Some may not agree and that’s fine (hopefully there are more that do than don’t). I actually adhere to several philosophical views while navigating the complexities of life and had an opportunity to share one of them with my daughter recently.

   My daughter is very bright and gifted, but like the rest of us, must balance the totality of who she is and wishes to become within the hours allowed to all of us each day. So when she came to me concerned about the pressures of school, calamity of home, and overall frustration with life…I was delighted to once again be afforded the opportunity to impart what little wisdom I have acquired over the years.

  
   Success in life is not just the balancing act of tasks and goals, but also a focusing act of dedication and progress. Although “success” is a subjective term according to what your goals and philosophy is, the formula for attaining it remains pretty consistent. For me, becoming the best version of “you” that is possible is the ultimate success. This, of course, is tied into the original idea of living life to the fullest while being a positive contribution to it. 

   The answer to the woes afflicting my daughter were, of course, about organization…but more importantly than that (given the fact school already organizes much of the day for her) was that she give 100% of herself to what she is doing, at the time she is doing it. I know this may sound simplistic (and it probably is) but the application of such has worked tremendously for her.

  
   Focus, for a teenager, does not come easy. The practice of compartmentalizing life is, in my opinion, helpful. For a teenager dealing with school both academically and socially, focusing all your energy on the subject at hand, knowing all other subjects will be dealt with accordingly the same way in their own time, relieves that “weight of the world” feeling. 

   When she’s in class…it’s 100% into whatever subject is presented blocking out thoughts of future plans, past situations, and other subjects (boys…smh). The same is applied to basketball after school (or whatever sport she elects to do), homework, and music (she is self taught in numerous instruments with a love for the piano).

  
   In this way I have convinced her (with some success) that she can create the “ultimate her.” Her grades have improved, her game has improved…her overall happiness has improved. I should also mention that she has begun taking her faith seriously as well, with the same dedication of focus and time…completing the improvement of her “total fitness.”


   So now I share this philosophy with the world (many are already practicing it no doubt) in hopes that this sharing can help someone else to improve and embark on the worthwhile endeavor of creating the ultimate “you.”