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"The Choice" I admitted my transgression at the beginning of the last podcast where we review Guardians Of The Galaxy, so check that out. Feel my pain.



Qstorm Reviews Guardians of the Galaxy

Qstorm was hesitant to accept this assignment since he don't know nothing about these people. But Michael Dean reminded him that with great power comes great responsibility. So here's my review. Agree or disagree, but let us know what YOU think!



Qstorm Reviews LUCY

lucyLucy is a mixture of a number of familiar elements from other movies. There's a lot of Limitless (2011), The Matrix Reloaded, Transcendence (which I admittedly didn't see, but its clear from those trailers that there are similarities) and just a dash of John Travolta's Phenomenon (1996). The basic plot, of which I will not reveal any more than the trailers, is about a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who involuntarily becomes a drug mule and has a package of drugs sewn into her abdomen. The drug in question is CPH-4, which is a synthetic version of--oh, hell with it, it's just like the drug in Limitless, okay? While in captivity, she's kicked in the stomach by a henchman, causing the bag within to leak the drug into her body, embuing her with god-like powers. Which begs the question, why did the henchman, who I assume knew she had the bag in her stomach, kick her in the stomach repeatedly?

Besides the fact that Morgan Freeman seems to playing the same character here as he did in Transcendence as well as the theme of becoming enmeshed in technology, I noted that Lucy had much in common with The Matrix Reloaded and Limitless. The problem is, although Lucy's central story is strikingly similar to Limitless, it doesn't crib enough from that film's fun, exciting, heady moments and unfortunately steals way too much from the turgidity of The Matrix Reloaded. Remember the scene when Neo meets the Architect, who proceeds to engage in the most boring incomprehensible exposition in the history of cinema? Lucy has a lot of scenes like that. Well, not nearly as bad, but it's full of exposition that becomes tedious. At the beginning of the film, we see Morgan Freeman's Prof. Norman lecturing at a symposium about the nature of man, Darwinism and the capacity of the human brain. This is intercut with scenes of Lucy being coerced into delivering a package to a drug kingpin by her boyfriend. Both elements go on way too long. Johanssen's opening scene with the boyfriend goes on forever until the viewer is like, "Please, either do what he's asking or just walk away!" And Freeman's lecture becomes an interminable diatribe. It becomes clear that the film wants to be a grandiose thesis on how humankind is failing to live up to its potential, and Freeman's monologue sets the stage for what turns out to be an inert lesson in humanity's shortcomings in reaching evolutionary perfection.

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When Freeman's not lecturing about this topic, we're forced to hear it repeated over and over again in dialogue or voiceover as the movie goes along. Every time I thought I was clear on what the film was trying to tell me, the script never hesitated to beat it over my head yet again. The film does attempt to break up the monotony of Freeman's exposition with allegorical footage of wild animals and Mother Nature at her worst. As the boyfriend, who's obviously a scumbag, corrals Lucy into delivering the briefcase, the movie cuts whimsically to footage of a cougar hunting a gazelle (or some mammal of prey). I thought this was indicative of a filmmaker who had a unique, quirky vision; it reminded me of when I first saw Tom Twyker's Run Lola Run. But Twyker knew when to stop. This technique goes past its expiration date when Freeman gets to lecturing about climate change and we see footage that we've seen many times before on the Weather Channel.

There are some great action sequences in the film; there's an energetic car chase (Hollywood must have mandated that any and all car chases must involve the protagonist driving the opposite way into one-way traffic) and a stunning scene in a hallway where Lucy is outnumbered by bad guys with guns. As Lucy's powers grow more and more implausible, the metaphysical dialogue becomes more burdensome and we begin to care less about the main character. I know my suspension of disbelief was pushed to the limit. Had I been allowed to get to know Lucy a little better, I may have been more invested as she grew more powerful. I may have been willing to stick with Lucy longer than I did. But we get virtually no background on the character. The story is off and running before we get to know her as a person, so it's difficult to empathize with her as she becomes less of a person. For me, the more compelling story was that of the drug mules who are rounded up and forced to courier the drugs. I was curious to learn more about them than anything else that was happening onscreen. Their terror is palpably convincing, partly because of how brilliant Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) is at playing the sociopathic drug lord Jang (yes, a significant portion of the film takes place in Taipei, since Hollywood knows where the money is to be made). It's immediately clear once we meet Jang that Lucy and the other mules are in serious trouble. I also found Amr Waked compelling as Inspector Del Rio, a guy just doing his job and trying to make sense of what's happening around him.

The conclusion is nearly incomprehensible. I won't give anything away, but it involves a lot of CGI, animation and mind-effing. As unbelievable as Lucy's powers become, the denouement tops that with a "WTF, that's IT" resolution, that is to say, the movie doesn't really bother to answer or even speculate on the questions it raises. I don't mind ambiguous endings; Lost In Translation, also starring ScarJo, is an example of ambiguity done right. I was so vested in those main characters, I didn't mind filling in the blanks as pertains to her whisper into Bill Murray's ear. After all the lofty platitudes and preaching Lucy throws at us, it thinks it can provide answers with effects razzle-dazzle when it fails to provide a fully fleshed out main character with which I can identify. That's the biggest mind-eff of all.

2/5 reels

P.S. I'll say this much for Lucy: having seen the trailers and thinking that the titular character was just a derivative of Scarlet Johannsen's Black Widow, I was purged of that notion about a third of the way into the film. There's no resemblance between Lucy and Natasha Romanoff. Funny thing is, I'm not so sure that's a good thing. Maybe a little more fighting with fists and high heels instead of with her mind would've given at least one more cool action scene.


Critical thinker
Critical thinker

Life Itself, based on Roger Ebert's 2011 memoirs, feels like three movies rolled into one. The first movie consists of a generic tableau of the early life of Roger Ebert, with sporadic moments of real insight into the man's persona. I say sporadic because throughout the first third of the movie, I'm reticent to say I found myself somewhat…bored. Sure, it was interesting to learn that Mr. Ebert was a recovering alcoholic. As a fan, I was surprised to learn this for the first time watching the film. It was also interesting to learn how he came to work for the Chicago Sun-Times, what his friends thought of his taste in women, how he came to write the screenplay for Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, particularly the motivation for his involvement in the Russ Meyer production: "boobs." All this is great to discover, but I felt oddly removed, it all seemed rather antiseptic, that there was something missing which didn't allow me to truly connect with the person. One would think that the story of Roger Ebert, a personality so large in a field that I am also passionate about, would hold me glued to to the screen. But the first third of this movie fell somewhat flat for me.

Perhaps it was the jumping in time from Mr. Ebert's early years to the last years of his life. Perhaps it was the glossing over of his family life as a child (we don't learn much about his parents). Perhaps it was the jarring mixture of the electronic voiceover narration from his computer (which Ebert used to communicate after his thyroid surgery) combined with the live voiceover from either Ebert himself (or from an excellent voice imitator) and the director Steve James (Hoop Dreams). Perhaps the filmmaking technique wasn't interesting to me. Perhaps it was the dearth of interview footage with Ebert; the few clips of him being interviewed in his prime are captivating. What I can say with certainty is that the film almost does a disservice to Mr. Ebert by segueing into the second act/film and sparking to life once Gene Siskel enters the picture. Of course, there's no way around the fact that Siskel played a prominent role in Ebert's career, ensuring that Siskel had to be featured in the film centering around Roger Ebert. There's an abundance of behind the scenes footage which had me riveted. I had seen some You Tube clips of the two critics bickering with each other both on camera during their iconic program as well as behind the scenes, during the taping of program promos, seemingly loathing each other, one step away from wringing each other's neck. We see Siskel's wife in an interview who sticks up for her husband when she speaks of the battles between the two critics. Then we see shots of the two of them appearing on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and all is well with the world. And inevitably, we see the passing of Gene Siskel and learn that despite the rivalry between the two, they considered themselves brothers to each other.

The film then moves into its third act, where it settles solidly on Mr. Ebert's travails battling thyroid cancer. This final act is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. Although we've seen footage of Mr. Ebert post-surgery in the first two acts, we see it resolutely here in the conclusion. The camera is unflinching at revealing the devastating nature of the disease which robbed Mr. Ebert of his lower jaw, his speech, his ability to eat solid foods. We the public saw the positive spirit of Mr. Ebert during this traumatic period, but the film brings home how truly courageous he was and how unpleasant the multiple surgeries were. But the star of the third act is, without question, Chaz Ebert. Once she appears onscreen, she takes the narrative in a direction for which even the word 'inspirational' is too inadequate a description. Watching her, listening to her speak about her husband, it struck me what was possibly missing from the first act--Chaz Ebert. Although she obviously wasn't in Ebert's life early on, I would've nonetheless loved to have heard her talk about Ebert's early life. Of course, he would've shared stories from his past with her during the couse of their marriage; the passion in her voice would've trumped hearing an electronic vocal facsimile or a vocal imitator (if in fact it was an imitator delivering Ebert's quotes). The love between the two of them is palpable. We would all be lucky to have a Chaz Ebert in our lives.

I was afraid that the film would seek to manipulate me and my fellow viewers by focusing on the struggle of the disease. I went in desiring to see a complete portrait of a man whose work I admired, but that I knew very little about. I'm not sure that this film delved deeply enough into who Roger Ebert was as a person, outside of all the accolades and the success as a critic. It goes without saying I walked out of the theater knowing more about him than when I walked in. His alcoholism spoke to troubling times in his life, and there were tender subtle moments: giving a positive review to a young African-American female filmmaker who felt "safe" handing her film over to him; the promise to a young filmmaker that he would screen his film, with the stipulation that he might not like it; the handing down of a prized possession to said filmmaker. I wanted more depth in areas where the film skimmed the surface and I wanted more of those personal moments early on. And while it was satisfying (and necessary) to see the real relationship between Siskel and Ebert, in the end, I was most moved by seeing his courageous battle with cancer and the strength of his wife and family. I was saddened but sympathetic to his eventual surrender to the disease. James puts some of the actual text messages onscreen between him and Ebert to illustrate their conversations during his illness; one text message in particular hit me, and I'm sure everyone else, like a ton of bricks. But, unlike many of the films Mr. Ebert reviewed in his latter years, I never once felt manipulated. 3.5/5 reels


Prior to moving to Philadelphia, I made the acquaintance of Craig Johnston, my next door neighbor while I was living in New Jersey. Although I had moved to Philly, I had a client in Jersey, which meant I had to commute weekly back and forth. On one occasion while in Jersey, preparing to drive back to Philly, Craig and I decided to grab dinner and catch up.

At some point while living next door to each other, I mentioned to Craig that I worked in video and he mentioned to me that he was from South Africa. Both of these revelations came into play at our dinner. Now, I've known Craig for about eight years, but at our dinner, out of the blue, he preceded to tell me stories about his youth in South Africa during the era of apartheid that had my jaw hanging open. He told me about how all South African youth are obligated to serve some time in the military and he told me about some of the things he saw perpetrated on the black population in the townships. Of course, I was aware of the apartheid oppression, but Craig's stories were detailed and specific, which made it all the more astonishing.

Then he told me about a radio station called Capital 604. He told me how, despite the overwhelming censorship of the South African government and the propaganda the government was disseminating over the SABC airwaves, Capital 604 was able to rise to cult status by broadcasting the truth, playing the music that was banned, telling the truth about the oppression of the black population and thereby playing a part in the groundswell that led to the demise of apartheid and the democratic election of Nelson Mandela, who listened to Capital 604 from his Robben island cell. Craig informed me that he had all the archival footage and contact info of many of the people who worked at Capital 604 (visit the Capital 604 Facebook page). He asked me if I thought that would make a good documentary. I said, "Hell, yes."

That dinner took place not too long prior to the death of Mr. Mandela. From that time, Craig and I went back and forth on how to go about getting the idea started. And then we decided, despite the well-known adage that you never spend your own money, why not either fly to South Africa and get some interviews or fly one of the guys out here? Well, our schedules at the time dictated that we couldn't fly to SA, as well as it being somewhat cost-prohibitive. Alternately, we decided to invite Mr. Anthony Duke, former Capital 604 program director out to Philadelphia; Craig paid for his flight, I paid for his hotel, Craig drove down to Philly from Jersey, I gathered up all my video equipment, set everything up in the hotel room and got an interview for the ages. Anthony was understandably jet lagged from his 20 hour flight to New York's JFK International airport, then a four hour drive down to Philadelphia, but he gave us a great interview.

This trailer is just a sample of the story we hope to tell by way of a full-length documentary feature. It's the story of a few men and women who wanted to be liberated from the censorship of the South African government, who felt that apartheid was wrong, and who realized that the general public had a right to know what was going on under their very noses. As we speak, Anthony Duke is visiting friends and acquaintances here in the U.S. who may be able to help get this off the ground. The trailer is rudimentary and much of the footage is borrowed. Again, it's our hope we'll raise the "capital" (no pun intended) which will allow us to acquire all the footage we need, hire the staff we need and move forward to launch this important story.

Please take a look, leave your feedback, your suggestions, your recommendations, your referrals. It is all greatly appreciated!