Monday, June 29, 2015

“The Homesman”

   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 just knew there was going to be great performances because both Jones and Swank can deliver very realistic and believable characters. That said, you might expect passable performances from the rest of the cast…especially the lesser known ones, but everyone else was excellent in the delivery of their characters.  
   Tommy Lee Jones is simply one of the best at what he does and immediately stole the film for me. His onscreen persona is so captivating and grounded that I couldn’t help but get caught up and mesmerized by the life he brought to the story.

   I have to give Hilary Swank her due here. It’s tough to play opposite Jones and not get totally drowned out, but she managed to do just that. It helped that she had ample screen time before Jones was even introduced to set the stage for her character and cement that persona in my mind so that when she and Jones started sharing the screen, she was complimentary to his performance.

The Plot: 
   Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) is an independent-minded woman on the frontier making a life for herself. She is tough, smart, and resourceful…none of which has helped her to find marriage by age 31.

   George Briggs is a drifter that has made questionable decisions due to the very plain and self-serving view with which he lives his life.

   When three women are driven insane by the various pressures and struggle of frontier life, they must be transported across the country to be cared for properly since their husbands lack the resources, patience, and desire to care for them. 
   Cuddy volunteers to transport the women from a mixture of kindness and the reality that her life as she’s living it is quickly dead-ending on her. While preparing for her trip, which is perilous at best, due to the fact that she is largely inexperienced in such missions and she is a woman, she happens upon Briggs who is in desperate need of her help.

   Cuddy helps Briggs on the promise that he, in turn, will accompany her on her transport mission, using his applicable skills to assure their success.  
   What follows is an adventure that details just how hard the old west really was, as experienced through the interaction between Cuddy and Briggs, and the dangerous situations they must contend with, not only from their environment…but the from the very people they are trying to help.

The Verdict: 
   This film surprised me on many levels. As much as Jones and Swank carried it, there is no denying that, in some respects, the insane women were also the stars of the film. Without really ever saying a word, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter delivered pivotal performances that brought the story together.

   I was also surprised by the rawness of some of the scenes that literally had me writhing in my seat, wanting to look away, but unable to. That said, it was the type of “disturbing” that fit perfectly within the setting of the story and so was much more acceptable as it served to drive home a profound point about life on the frontier. 
   Of course, it is always a pleasure to see a veteran actor like John Lithgow and the enigmatic James Spader.…both playing minor supporting roles, but still delivering great performances.

   This film left me with a sense that the “point of it all” was somehow lost in translation…but reflecting back on it, the “point of it all” wasn’t about the entirety of the film, but spoke more to the struggles of each individual to cope with lives that have largely gotten the best of them, leaving mostly the worst of them on display. I drank deeply on this one and thoroughly soaked three and a half cinnamon sticks, in my cup of tea.

Rating 3.5 / 5

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Beginning at the End

   Life is replete with beginnings and endings and we must accept the truth of the fact that life is a series of constant changes…..some great, others…not so much. I have spoken many times (well….maybe just a few) about relationships, dating, and the chasm that seems to separate men from understanding women. Very rarely have I concentrated on the less pleasant aspect of a couple’s experience….separation (or divorce for those that are married).

   I knew a few friends growing up that had to deal with parents no longer willing to stay together, and I know that it is very hard for a child. Heck…it’s hard for the parents as well. As tough as it is and can be, the fact remains that such an ending is a beginning to something else…as most everything else in life.

   Life is often romanticized with little regard given to the reality of it. Children (those not touched by realities such as the one mentioned above) grow up with this idea that adulthood will lead to getting married, having children (and possibly a pet), and living in a big house with a picket fence. That sounds nice….but there are so many variables in that pristine picture that it’s almost not worth painting it in the first place.

   Not everyone can find that perfect person or cultivate the ultimate relationship with a soul mate…and must plod along through life making mistakes and learning from them, in a series of beginnings and endings. The idea that an ending is a bad thing is entirely dependent on what exactly is ending.

   There is a societal view that the ending of a relationship is a bad thing, but try telling that to a person that knew nothing but happiness when such an event occurred. It’s the same with divorce (and rightly so most of the time) but again, try passing that off as truth to someone grateful to be able to start again, free of the burden of a realized mistake.

   Divorce seems to carry a stigma of negativity that overshadows the reality of it’s occurrence. Society seems to be slow in accepting that this, like any other reality of life, will never go away and will always be a part of our humanity. The focus is always on the ending…and hardly ever on the beginning that ending creates.

Now there is a progressive approach to the subject with the creation of a site (Divoree) that actually promotes the idea that if it has to be done, then it should be done in a way is more efficient and cost effective. A novel idea…completely in step with the forward growth society has recently embraced.

   Also…it’s worth mentioning that people often find themselves in situations that are very detrimental to them, either from physical or mental abuse, with no financial recourse to free themselves to continue their growth. 

   With so many people touched by this unpleasant reality….why not support someone else in realizing that you can begin…at the end? 

People helping people is a good thing.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

“The Loft” 

   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: 

   It’s tough for me to watch Karl Urban now and not think about Doctor McCoy (unless his face is hidden ala Dredd). Even with that though, he continues to be very entertaining to watch and remains a great actor.
   I haven’t seen James Marsden since his cameo as Cyclops in the last X-Men film. I have always found him to be a capable actor, even though for me, his association now seems to always be Cyclops. Surprisingly though, his performance here was good enough to take my mind away from all that, as I laughed at the weakness of his character.

   Wentworth Mller has always been entertaining to me since Prison Break…and I thoroughly enjoy him now as Captain Cold on the Flash television series. The delivery of his role here is very good and he brings more to the film than anyone else.

The Plot: 
   Vincent Stevens (Urban) is an architect on the rise and has an idea he shares with his four best friends. The five decide on sharing a loft as a place they can bring other women to cheat on their wives.

   Chris Vanowen (Marsden) is reluctant at first but later finds himself seduced into using the loft. Unfortunately, with his marriage teetering on the edge, he lets his emotions get the best of him and falls in love with a situation that is purely sexual for the bother person.

   Luke Seacord (Miller) is the most loyal to his wife and never uses the loft for the nefarious purpose the other four do, even though he accepts a key and promises his silence about the secrets of everyone else.

   When Luke goes to loft one morning and finds the body of woman chained to the bed, he calls the other four and kicks of a mystery that takes more turns than a roller coaster and has more twists than a Twizzler.

   What follows is the unraveling of secrets within secrets held together by lies leading ultimately to revenge!

The Verdict: 

   The films starts off near the end and backtracks to tell the complete story of how we get to the end. It’s not a new formula, but given the number of characters in the movie and the secrets they have, it was the best way to tell this story.

   I enjoyed the chemistry between the five friends and the different dynamic each wife brings to the film through their unique relationships with their husbands. I was drawn into everyone’s personality and was pleased how they played out as the plot and their specific stories were revealed.

   I’m usually pretty good at figuring out who the villain is in a mystery, but another part of this process is figuring out the motive…and this is where the film gives you extra helpings of, motive…for everyone.

   In the end, this film was entertaining enough to watch, but not good enough to watch again. The acting was good and the story was interesting, but the ending was very poor…especially considering the build up to reveal the truth. That said, this film was only able to hide two and a half cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup of tea.

Rating 2.5 / 5

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I’d Rather Be the Rapper…

   Sitting and thinking one day (yes I know, a very dangerous activity these days) I pondered those rappers that have moved on from their music to attain greater success in the acting industry (without, I might add of some, the ability to actually act). In thinking abut where they are now and where they came from, I started pondering the other half of their humble beginnings…the DJ. 

   Where are the DJ’s now? Why did they not make the leap with the rapper they made sound so good? Why did the rapper leave them behind? Methinks if you are a DJ of a small set (just you and the rapper), you might want to read this and consider putting together some lyrics as well.

   While Ice-T has had some success in film (as in he’s made some) he’s probably best know now in acting circles for his work on “Law & Order: SVU.” I personally don’t watch the show, but it must get good ratings as it’s still around and there are a million “Law & Order” branch shows on television. In all of this, I have yet to see Evil E…Ice-T’s DJ from way back. I guess all the shout-outs on the tracks is as far as it goes for Evil-E when it comes to Ice-T reaching back and putting his DJ on in acting, regardless of his acting chops. I mean, if Ice-T can act…anybody can.

   LL Cool J has probably had more success in the film industry than Ice-T (as in he’s made films that have made more money, if not really all that good) and like Ice-T is now on television in a crime drama, “NCIS: Los Angeles.” While he has had more success (arguably), his DJ has had far less. Cut Creator (far right in the picture) doesn’t even have a wikipedia page! I remember there was a whole song about him…and it was pretty good, but it seems that’s as far as the fame is going to go. I guess that phone call was never made asking him if he wanted to be an actor…for whatever reason. Heck…he could at least play a criminal on the show…but I digress.

   Nobody refers to Will Smith as the Fresh Prince anymore….those days are done, and for good reason. He is one of the most talented actors of the 20th century and far exceeds anyone thus far mentioned in this post. In fact, I need say nothing at all about his acting career, it speaks for itself. Now, his DJ….Jazzy Jeff, is another story. It’s ironic that back in the day the duo was known as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince when today top billing is all Smith ever gets. At least Jeff appeared on television with Smith during the days of the “Fresh Prince if Bel Air”….in a recurring role! However, when real fame hit, it looks like Jeff was given the jazz.

   Don’t get me wrong…there is a LOT of money to be made being a DJ, and I’m sure those listed in this post make their fair share (although my research shows some make much more than others) and I’ve heard of the top DJ’s in the business making upwards of 250K a show! My point in all of this is if you are considering being a DJ for an up-and-coming rapper, you might want to also invest in some lyrics so that when the transition is being made from music to film, you have shot of going with the rapper.

   I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dr. Dre…DJ turned rapper, producer, and entrepreneur. His success, without becoming an actor, should be a real inspiration to DJ’s everywhere. That said…given the odds, I’d rather be the rapper in any DJ/Rapper duo.

   As always…..make whatever you are doing work for you. Peace!

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.