Tuesday, November 29, 2016

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

   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: 

   Cruise is back as Jack Reacher (sparking up the Reacher versus John Wick debates) and delivers more of the same we saw in the first film. There will be no Oscars going out for his role, but Cruise is consistent in bringing Reacher to life and does well with the material both in acting and action.

   Smulders (Major Susan Turner) is used to playing the military woman-in-charge type of character from her role as Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She does it well although the chemistry between her and Reacher seems to get lost later on after being built up so nicely. Kudos to her for doing her own stunts (a page taken from Cruise himself no doubt).

   Danika Yarosh nails the rebellious Samantha, who not only has a huge chip n her shoulder for life in general, but is also street savvy, observant, and a proficient thief doing whatever needs to be done to get by. 

The Plot: 
   Reacher is still drifting from place to place doing good wherever he can, but now has a military connection (Major Turner) feeding him information to resolve cases and helping him out with amenities from time to time. Of course their interaction begins to lead in a romantic direction…I mean, how could it not (sarcasm).

   When Reacher finally decides to drop in personally and finally meet Turner, he finds she has been arrested and locked up. His inquiries about her case draws attention and inadvertently lead to Reacher finding out a paternity suit has been filed against hm.

   Reacher begins to investigate the paternity claim while digging deeper to prove Turner’s innocence and finally get to the bottom of what is really going on. This puts Samantha in the cross hairs of those that are trying to stop Reacher as he must free Turner from prison and expose a conspiracy involving top brass in the military.

   As the players and their machinations are revealed, Reacher is marked for death by The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger) and must protect both Samantha and Turner while battling elite forces for survival. What follows is tirade of busted skulls and broken bones as Reacher shows why he is one of the best of the best.

The Verdict: 
   I very much enjoyed the first installment of “Jack Reacher” and thought this sequel was almost just as good. Whereas I found the first film to have a great story that unfolded smoothly, this story wasn’t as interesting nor did it unfold quite as smooth. 

   I realize these films are loosely adapted from the Jack Reacher novels, but perhaps more attention should be paid to the actual content of these novels to avoid making films that are just “good” and instead make films that are “great.”

   I was very pleased though with the increased combat action as it really showcased Reacher’s abilities against trained and elite personnel instead of regular and ordinary people whom you’d expect Reacher to dismantle with ease.

   The film tried to make an interesting character out of Espin (Aldis Hodge) but I never felt that interested in him as it first seemed he would be an antagonist only to later fall into the role of hero support…without ever making the transition feel real.

   Overall this film was just good although still quite entertaining. It could have benefited from a better script and better direction, but despite that, was still able to deliver more of those elements of Reacher I wanted to see…revealing three (3) cinnamon sticks in my cup of tea.

Rating 3 / 5

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Changing Childhood

    Being a child isn’t what is used to be, especially with the interjection of current technology. I can remember having quite a bit of fun growing up. Sure, there were some times when it was not so fun, but overall my memories are good ones filled with the excitement and joy of discovering my abilities and finding out my boundaries. Now, maybe not everyone can say that about their childhood (in fact there are certainly those that obviously can’t), but I don’t see that as a reason to so drastically change the school recess experience of being a child today.

   There are many games and activities that are increasingly being banned from schools. The result of which has yet to be fully determined (we’ll have to wait to see the full impact as these children grow up) but what is clear is much of the joy and discovery I experienced in my youth is being denied to the youth of today.

   Take for example “Dodgeball” being banned for being too violent and promoting a bully mentality. Sure I can remember times when we had to be reminded not to “head-hunt” but overall it was great fun to dodge the ball (especially if you were good at it) and to throw it at someone. Did I want to beat someone up because throwing a ball at them gave me a thirst to conquer those weaker or slower than me? Certainly not…it was just a game.

   “Kickball” is another game going the way of the Dodo. Having to hit someone with the ball to get them out is too violent apparently, but not only that, if it is allowed you can’t keep score (because nobody ever loses in real life right?). I can remember amazing kickball games we used to have in the schoolyard…the stuff of legends when certain kids were up to kick with seemingly a bionic leg that could launch the ball into the stratosphere, eclipsed only by the occasional  catch by that one kid that, at that time, developed and iron nerve and a laser-like focus. Good times some children today will never experience.

   Of course “Tag” is banned. Heaven forbid a child have emotional distress over being “it” and of course touching another child is certainly out because…touching. Never mind the fun variations you can make to the game like freeze-tag or team-tag. Sure some kids can’t run as fast as others, but how does a child learn to cope with their own limitations if you do not allow them to find out what those limitations are and discover how to improvise to compensate?

   Banning “Duck, Duck, Goose” threw me for a loop until I read the continued skewed reasoning behind it. I just can’t cosign that being the goose is emotionally distressing when it’s the most exciting part of the game, instead of just sitting there being a duck. Always being one of the fastest kids was certainly an advantage since if I didn’t feel like exerting myself I could “goose” the slowest kid, but that didn’t stop any of the slower kids from “goosing” me in hopes that they might finally outrun me and make it back in the circle (and some certainly did). I can tell you from experience, it was an esteem booster for those kids and took nothing away from me personally since I knew I was still actually faster (just not fast enough in those instances).

   “Red Rover” is another banned game that is depriving children of fun and developing strategy. Sure…I loved becoming a human missile that few could stop and some actually let go at the last minute, but I had my share of surprises when I hit those sets of arms that would not yield, no matter how fast I was. Of course this game is banned since learning to work together and be stronger together to thwart the machinations of a lone abhorrent is something we never do in real life…as a nation or otherwise (smh).

   “Musical Chairs” has been added to the list. The emotional stress of being that person without a chair is just too much. The potential for argument and confrontation over a chair is too great. This game wasn’t one of my favorites since it had less to do with actual physical ability and more to do with the anticipation of being in the right place at the right time…but isn’t that a skill set we use in real life? Why are we depriving children an early look at what they’ll need when they get older?

   Winning is also being banned. The very point of most games, the icing on the fun cake, is now a bad thing. We teach children now that there are no winners or losers…and that’s just an outright lie, and setting them up for the hard truth later on. Everybody should not get a trophy just for participating (a ribbon maybe, but the trophy should be for those that go above and beyond). Winning makes the losers feel bad, and of course nobody ever feels bad in real life (sarcasm).

   Hey, I get it. Children could get physically hurt playing some of these games. That’s a part of life though, getting hurt actually happens. Children might feel bad playing some of these games. That’s a part of life though, feeling bad actually happens. How do we prepare our children for these parts of life by trying to remove them from their childhood? We don’t…we just create a generation of people that will be disillusioned by reality, to the detriment of society. If this continues, methinks it won’t end well.

   For our future…marinate on this one.

Monday, October 31, 2016

“Magnificent Seven”

   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: 

   What can be said about the quality of Denzel’s acting that has not already been said? He seems to ignore his own age and continue to astound with quality acting giving what we all have come to expect from him exercising his craft. Taking the lead here is just another notch in his lengthy habit of meeting expectations.

   Chris Pratt put himself on the map with Guardians of the Galaxy and continues to deliver with each role he takes. This role is no exception as he mixes his style of comedic drama with the western genre to bring us Josh Faraday, a gambler that makes his own luck in a world decidedly unlucky.

   Ethan Hawke is Goodnight Robicheaux, a man with a past rooted in the Civil War that continues to define him as he tries to move on. Hawke plays this role well dangling the mystique of his character in front of us before delivering a very human affliction that brings the character full circle.

   Vincent D’Onofrio is the frontier tracker Jack Horne and although he is a man of few words surrounded in mystery and fear, when he does speak it captures your attention to the exclusion of all else, showcasing why he is such a great actor.

   Peter Sarsgaard is the villainous Bartholomew Bogue, a role he seems born to play as he is very good at “bad.” Granted, it doesn’t take much to be the bad guy (one would think) but not everyone seems able to pull it off and the fact this film is a period piece just makes his brand of villain all the more interesting.

The Plot: 
   A small mining town is besieged by the nefarious intentions of Bogue to take over the mine and by extension, the town.  When his actions spurn the resistance of the townspeople getting one in particular killed, the wife of this brave soul (Haley Bennet) seeks justice…but will settle for revenge.

   In her travels to find someone wiling and able to defend the town against Bogue, she happens across  a man named Chisolm (Washington). Unbeknownst to anyone, Chisolm not only has a past familiarity with Bogue, but after staunch persuasion, is willing to help the town .

   To help the town Chisolm needs the help of some very gifted men, the first of which he recruits is Faraday (Pratt).  Knowing exactly who he wants to recruit, he and Faraday set out to gather the rest of the “seven” with Faraday bringing in Robicheaux (along with his partner Billy Rocks…played by Byung-hun Lee) while Chisolm recruits Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

   With five assembled, they actually fail initially to recruit Horne, but he soon comes around just in time for the recruiting of their last and unlikely member Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). With all seven assembled, it’s time to teach the town how to defend itself and ready it for the invasion of a small army.

   What follows next is a magnificent display of  bullets, knives, death and mayhem…western style.

The Verdict: 

   I don’t much remember the original (western) version of this film or the original samurai version so I was not burdened with watching this film while subconsciously making comparisons. I took in what was presented and found it to be a very entertaining  way to spend an afternoon.

   Although I kinda felt the assembling of the seven was a bit rushed, especially in the case of Red Harvest (like what really was his motivation to even join), I felt the characterizations of the different character’s personalities and how they interacted with each other really brought some depth to the film.

   It was the classic formula of bad guy terrorizes town, town gest heroes to help, heroes s stop the bad guy. You really can’t mess that up…all you have to do is add your own flair and style to it and this film did that.

   There were no Oscar performances here, but there was a lot a fun. It wasn’t the best film ever made, but it certainly wasn’t the worst film either. It did just what the formula it followed should have, with a few surprises here and there, and shot up three and a half (3.5) cinnamon sticks in my cup of tea.

Rating 3.5/ 5

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Land of the Free (Politically Enslaved)

   The “land of the free and home of the brave” is an expression associated with America, but have you ever stopped to wonder who the free and the brave really are? Freedom is a subjective term and bravery is more than putting yourself physically in the line of fire. When it comes to our political system, there is very little freedom and the brave are those that seek to challenge the status quo machine.

   This election cycle has exposed the American people to their own folly by flaunting a rigged system in front of them with no consequences. I’m not talking about the rigging Trump is talking about, I’m talking about the rigging he is actively a part of. We live in a country that is dominated by two parties…but was never intended to have simply a two party political system.

   It’s absolutely sad to me when I try to have a political conversation with a friend…and they say things like “We only have two choices.” The sad part is not them saying that since they may honestly think that only two candidates are worthy of the office. The sad part is them believing that there are only two candidates to actually choose from. It’s tragic actually, when you consider this mindset is not happenstance, but by design.

   Even people that are aware that there are more choices often retort that a third party candidate has “no chance of winning, so why waste the vote?” Personally, I think the real wasted vote is one cast for a person you know is bad for the country but is the “lesser of two evils.” See, the lesser of two evils…is still evil. 

   Being a third party candidate is brave.

   Neither the Democrats or Republicans want to lose votes to a third party candidate, so to be one means you have the financial and political power of these two entrenched machines gunning to shut you out of the process, and shut you down if you become a part of it.

   There is a monopoly on exposure and funds controlled by the Democrats and Republicans that is politically enslaving the citizens with the illusion of freedom. If we do not educate ourselves though, we, the people, are at fault for the calamity this process is bringing us.

   There is a reason why we never see a third party candidate on the debate stage anymore and that reason is nicely summed up with this quote:

In the land of the free they feel the voting population are teenagers that require structure and limited choice. In the land of the free two parties get to debate as decided by a debate commission comprised of those two parties.

   That’s right….the people that control who can debate on national television are sponsored by the very parties debating.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is an independent nonprofit corporation established in 1987 under the joint sponsorship of both the Democratic and Republican political parties in the United States.

   If you believe the political system is set the way it is to benefit the people, you are wrong. If you think the mainstream media is interested in exposing this travesty for your benefit, you are wrong.  So when a brave soul steps forward with a desire to help the country and serve the people, it’s no wonder you never hear about them. Those in power have only one desire…to remain in power. They learned a valuable lesson when they allowed an alternative to be heard:

Over the intervening 28 years, there has been one commission-organized debate that included a third-party candidate: Ross Perot in 1992, with Bill Clinton and the senior Bush. That was allowed to occur because both parties thought Perot’s inclusion would ultimately help them, but that may have backfired, the suit contends: Perot’s public support nearly tripled after the debate, from 7 percent to 19 percent.

It hasn’t happened again.

   This particular election cycle is relevant to the subject since both candidates (Clinton and Trump) each have a national disapproval rating of over 60%. Imagine what would happen if all those people voted for an alternative candidate.

   When you do the research into why things are the way they are you will understand why the system is set up so that only those with money can be a part of the process. You understand why the mainstream media gives no coverage other points of view. You understand why you will only see a Democrat and Republican on the debate stage and why the debate is formatted the way it is.

   When you do the research into why things are the way they are you will understand why we live in the land of the free, but freedom is a subjective term because we are politically enslaved.

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