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Captain America: The Winter Soldier REVIEW

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I am not a comic book geek. That statement is in no way in disrespect for those who label themselves as such. It takes a certain level of dedication to know every nuance and minutia of their favorite superhero. I say this in an effort of full disclosure as my review is based solely on the film alone and not based on any prior knowledge of preconceived notions. My first deep exposure to Captain America was not in the first CAPTAIN AMERICA film but THE AVENGERS. Yes I know blasphemy to some but I just never had an interest in seeing the film. Even in THE AVENGERS I found him to be a pretty bland character. I attributed that to a combination of his role in the film as and the actor who portrays him Chris Evans. And hold on to your hats geeks, I only saw CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER until a day or so before I saw the sequel. I did not find that film all that enjoyable. In fact I thought it was somewhat cheesy. I did not have very high hopes for the sequel and despite the early good buzz for the sequel I was not expecting to like the film very much. I was wrong.

The film takes place two years after “the event in New York” and finds Steve Rogers AKA Captain America still working for S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) and trying to find his place in a world that has literally passed him by. This is an interesting aspect of the character but the film barely  devotes anytime delving into this. There is a brief sequence in which he visits The Smithsonian and sees an exhibit of Captain America’s history. The main purpose of this sequence is to set up events that will occur later in film. That is about all the time the film has for character development. The film is more concerned with action and intrigue and it delivers on both.

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The first action set piece is very well made. He and fellow agent Natasha Romanoff AKA The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are assigned to a rescue mission to a save a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel from pirates. This sequence shows both Rogers’ and Romanoff’s fighting skills and the whole sequence is very well staged. I also noticed a lack of CGI in this sequence. The next big action sequence is one of the film’s best. It involves and ambush and assault on Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) while he is enroute to a rendezvous. The sequence involves a high speed car chase, a shootout, and high-tech battering ram. The effects are done in camera and it at least to my eye was not aided by CGI. It is all very realistic and grounds the film in reality. The sequence ends with not only the best vehicle flip since the truck in THE DARK KNIGHT but also introduces the film’s villain, The Winter Soldier.

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There is a great deal going on in the film plot wise. It is more a spy thriller/action film rather than  a superhero movie. The plot is bit talky and complicated but I was able to follow it. However the film seems to be more  concerned with advancing the Marvel Cinematic Universe than being a complete stand-alone film. That is not to say that is not good entertainment. The definite strength of the film is the villain. As with all action pictures they are only as good as their bad guy and this film has a winner with The Winter Soldier who may remind some viewers of The Terminator. He is virtual no talk all business and seems to possess the same strengths as Captain America. Though they are fundamentally opposite they are physical equals. Another of the film’s strength is the limited use of CGI in the films action set pieces which are mostly car crashes/chases and shootouts. Similar to THE DARK KNIGHT the action sequences are shot on real city streets and aids in giving those set pieces a realistic look. These are some of the best action sequences I have seen a quite a while. The film’s biggest weakness.enough Winter Soldier. I have a theory as to why there is a lack of screen time for the villain. His identity is supposed to be a surprise to the character and I believe the audience. Well at least a surprise to a novice like me. He is not one of those “talky” villains as he speaks thru his actions. Like The Terminator he has very little dialogue in the film. Another weakness is the film is overstuffed with characters that may or may not play future roles in future Marvel movies. Will Rogers’ new found friend Sam AKA Falcon (Anthony Mackie) join him for future adventures? I certainly hope so. Then there are the characters played by film legend Robert Redford and television star Emily VanCamp. Sometimes you need a flow chart to keep it all straight. Sometimes Rogers feels like a supporting character in his own film but the action sequences make up for the time that spent on exposition.

Overall this is a really good film. The action sequences are first rate though I would have like to have seen a little more insight into the Steve Rogers/Captain America character. I would also liked to have seen more of the villain do his thing as well. The film is not very “super” which is an aspect that I liked. Fans of course will eat this film up though there is lot for non-fans to enjoy here as well. Though you might want to brush up on your Marvel knowledge before seeing this. I am sure I missed a few in-jokes and references but hey as I said I am not a comic book geek. Any film that has a sequence that has a montage set the Marvin Gaye’s TROUBLE MAN will always get a Thumbs Up in my book! As the end credits say “CAPTAIN AMERICA Will Return in THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. In the meantime can we get a Black Widow movie? Please!

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Sidenote:

As Marvel fans know, stay for the credits. I will say no more.

Need For Speed- Review

NEED FOR SPEED

1 Star

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            I do not conduct a great deal of research before I see a film. I avoid trailers, commercials etc. as I like to go in fresh with as little knowledge as possible to keep things fresh. Imagine my surprise when I walk into the screening and I am given 3D glasses. I had no idea the film was in 3D. As the film begins I see a logo on the screen that says EA Films. Hmm. EA? Isn’t that a video game maker? And then it dawn on me that I was about to watch a film based on video game! This is not going to be pretty.

This is one of the dumbest films I have seen in a long time and remember folks I see a lot of films. It is full of many plot holes and improbable events that it is laughable. At first glance it would appear to be a rip-off of the FAST AND FURIOUS series however it owes more to SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and VANISHING POINT. It wishes it was as good as those films as the basic premise of the film makes absolutely no sense. Street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is sent prison after being wrongly accused of causing the death of his friend in a street-racing accident.  A very basic police investigation would have ruled him out a suspect. After being released he participates in an underground race which would require him to get from New York to San Francisco in two days to avenge the death of his friend. How does that avenge the death of his friend? I do not know. This issue is the least of this film's problems. At the start of the film there is a big issue made of Tobey and his band of buddies being manipulated into fixing Tobey’s rival Dino’s (Dominic Cooper) rare Ford Mustang. Typically in films of this type we get a “fixing the car” montage, but no not this film. The next scene the car is fixed, souped up, and on display at an auto show. How long did it take them to fix it? Were there any issues? The film does not bother to tell us. One of the characters Bennie (Kid Cudi) is a pilot and plays lookout from the air for his street racing buddies. How does he afford to maintain a plane? The film never bothers to tell us. Throughout the course of the film Bennie is seen flying three different types of aircrafts as Tobey travels cross country to participate in the underground race. How does he do this? How is he able to land and take off at will? The film never bothers to tell us.  Another of Tobey’s pals has left New York and now lives and works in Detroit in a typical high rise office building. Tobey calls him on his cell and tells him to go to the window and what do you know he goes directly to the correct window that will allow him to see Tobey below. How does he know which window to go to? You get the point.

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            The only asset in the film is the lack of CGI used for the racing sequences. That seems to be a good selling point but with a weak script it negates the sometimes impressive stunts. However this is one crash that is pivotal to the film that seems to be in bad taste as it echoes the death of FAST AND FURIOUS star Paul Walker. While the filmmakers have no obligation to do so they should have been more sensitive to this aspect and figure out a way to edit the sequence so that is not so eerily similar to a real life event. The acting in this film is average at best and the only actor that is able to bring life to the proceedings is Michael Keaton who plays radio host Monarch, who also happens to be the sponsor of the race competition. Keaton has the good fortune to appear in all of his scenes alone so he does not have to interact with the rest of the cast.

This film is flat out stupid. On the bright side the 3D is actually done well but not well enough for me to recommend this film. The plot holes are too numerous and it shows that the filmmakers did not care to actually make a good story. The story is just an excuse to showcase hot cars in action. If that is your thing that by all means see this film. Those that care about plot, characters and plausibility should look elsewhere. You will leave this film with more questions and this is not the type of film in which that should occur. Skip this film and play the video game instead. It probably has a better story than this mess.

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Robocop – Sean Hill’s Review

ROBOCOP
2 STARS

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When I first received confirmation of the decision to remake Paul Verhoeven’s classic 1987 film ROBOCOP, my first thought was, "Why remake a classic that, aside from the special effects, is almost a flawless film?” It is no secret that many popular film franchises that have run their course become fodder for, reboots, remakes and my personal favorite term: the reimagining. Some of the new versions ranged from the good (THE DEPARTED) to the bad (CARRIE) to the downright ugly (FIGHT NIGHT). Since most of these films fail to set the box office world on fire, one has to wonder why these movies keep getting remade. The cynical answer to both questions is simple: they are cheap to make and need very little advertising to get people in to the theater. In most cases they cast unknowns or TV actors in the lead roles, which help in keeping the film’s budgets under control and take shortcuts that make it possible for the studio to make a profit off of these remakes. The problem is that those shortcuts often sacrifice quality and creativity in the process. So as long as people go to see them, rent them or buy them they will continue to be made. While the new ROBOCOP is not a complete failure, it is another unnecessary remake in a long list of other unnecessary remakes.
As with most remakes the film attempts to bring the action in the “modern” world and make it relevant to the current days’ time. The original film dealt with the crime-ridden city of futuristic Detroit and although this film is also set in Detroit the themes are present of a global scale. Robots are being used to fight crime and aid in the war on terrorism. Although successful we are told that the American people would not approve the use of the machines in local law enforcement. OmniCorp, the company that makes the machines, led by CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) comes up with the idea that in order to “sell” the idea there needs to be a human element to the machines. Along with company scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) they decide to incorporate a human being with the technology. Quicker than you can say car explosion cop Alex Murphy is badly injured which gives them the “body” that they need to complete their creation. Before you know it Robocop is born.

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It was my intent to review this film without comparing it the original but I have found that to be an impossible task. This remake makes many changes from the original material most notably the rating. The original was an ultra-violent film and that worked to its advantage. The criminals were extremely violent therefore Robocop had to be even more violent. The current film has watered it down so much to achieve its PG-13 rating that it has morphed into a bloodless video game. There are many shoot-outs and people getting shot but there is not a single drop of blood spilled. Another major change that derails the film is the lack of Robocop’s journey of self-discovery that is present in the first film. That was an important theme in the original as Murphy begins to rediscover who he is/was. The current film does not kill off Murphy so he is aware of who is and his past at all times. The original had a man trapped inside a robot and that dynamic is missing here. Fans of the original who remember the last line of that film will be disappointed. The film is also missing the satirical wit of the original as well. However, the filmmakers attempt to use the classic line “I’d buy that for a dollar” but it seems forced and it does not work.
Is this film better than the original? The answer is a resounding no. The original is considered a classic and still holds up to viewing today. The only difference is that the original should not be viewed by younger viewers. It is quite possible that the target audience have not even heard of the Robocop character and they actually could be confused as presented he is a somewhat reminiscent of Ironman. This film should not have been made and although it's well made technically and good performances from the supporting cast, it simply does not live up to the original. It does not improve on it only makes it different. While different is okay better is, well better. If the original did not exist I would only slightly recommend it.

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********************Side Note****************************

As you are probably aware from the ads Samuel L. Jackson is in this film. Quite frankly it is time for Sam to start saying no to some projects. His role in this film can only be seen as a cash grab from a guy that should not need the cash. He is not required to act in anyway and is literally being “Sam Jackson” here. In his role television host Pat Novak all of scenes with the exception of one is him talking directly to the camera and is eerily identical to the current credit card commercial. I was honestly expecting him to say “what’s in your wallet?” at any given time. It would not surprise me one bit if his scenes were filmed in a two days max. I never thought I would ever say that Jackson brings nothing to a film, but sadly he has earned that sentiment.

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3 Days To Kill – REVIEW

3 DAYS TO KILL
1 Star

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Despite not being a very good actor in my opinion Kevin Costner became an extremely successful actor in the late 80’s. After co-starring in several films he received his first starring role in 1987’s THE UNTOUCHABLES and a few months later starred in BULL DURHAM. Both films were box success and in 1989 he struck box office gold again with FIELD OF DREAMS. As with most film stars it is hard to continue to be successful with every film and this proved true for him with the dismal film REVENGE, also released in 1989. He would redeem himself with his next film DANCES WITH WOLVES, which would win multiple Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner. After that film Costner would steadily work but his films were not as successful as his previous work. However, he has not had a starring role since 2009 although he has appeared recently in MAN OF STEEL and JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT in supporting roles. Now Costner is back in a starring role in 3 DAYS TO KILL which might be his worst film since REVENGE.

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Costner stars as CIA agent Ethan Renner who at the start of the film is on the trail of The Albino and The Wolf with members of his team. While he is on surveillance he takes the time to call his daughter for her birthday. Why he could not do it before or after the operation is over is a question that remains. Despite suffering from what he thinks is a cold he is quite effective at his job but of course the plan does not go as planned and members of his team are killed. In a very good action sequence The Albino sets off an explosion that allows him to escape but the ailing Renner is in pursuit. Renner is able to shoot The Albino in the leg before he passes out due to his illness. Turns out that Renner does not have a cold but has brain cancer that has spread to his lungs and he is given 3 to 5 months to live. In an effort to put his affairs in order he decides to try to repair his relationship with his estranged wife and daughter. Oh and his also recruited for “one last job” by the mysterious Vivi to help capture, who else, The Albino and The Wolf. In exchange for his services he is offered and experimental drug that could extend his life.

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The film is part spy thriller; part domestic drama and it does not do either well. After a very good opening sequence the film all but abandons that plot and its inclusion later seems like an afterthought. The film is more concerned about Renner’s relationship with his daughter which would be fine if it were handled in a manner that is not full of clichés. McG, the director of this mess, shows that he is inept at bring out the drama in the material. There are moments in this film that made me laugh at loud, which I’m sure was not the intent. Example. In an effort to win her over he makes an effort to purchase her a gift for her birthday. The gift. A purple bike. Why purple? Because that was her favorite color as a child. Why a bike? Who knows. His daughter is at least 16 so wouldn’t a car be more appropriate. A running gag in the film is Renner unsuccesful attempts to give her the bike her refusing but the jokes fall flat. The revelation as to why she does not want the bike is that she does not know how to ride a bike. This is met with cheesy sad music on the soundtrack and a montage of Renner teacher her to ride the bike.

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This film is flat out awful and even Costner cannot save the material. Much like Bruce Willis in A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, Costner seems to be aware that he is in a bad film and seems to be going thru the motions to earn his paycheck. Costner owes his fans more than that. This film is so bad that even the title does not work. One would think that the title would be in reference to the amount of days he has to live and complete his assignment. Nope, it is said by his daughter to Renner when she learns he will be staying with her for three days while her mom is out of town. It is early in the year but as of now I have a contender for one of the worst films of the year.

As of 2/21/14 Kevin Costner films that are streaming on Netflix are:
BULL DURHAM
DANCES WITH WOLVES
THE UNTOUCHABLES

Boobs, Blow, and Benjamins: Defending The Wolf of Wall Street

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Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is one of most controversial movies playing right now. It’s probably the most talked about and debated film since 2012’s DJANGO UNCHAINED, which coincidently released exactly one year apart. Some people love it and some people hate it. There have been reports of walk-outs and movie patrons demanding their money back from theater managers. I personally witnessed about eight walk-outs at the screening that I attended. Why is the film so hotly debated? It is a 3hr film with wall to wall sex and drug use. It also happens to be one of the best films of the 2013 featuring a career best performance by star Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordon Belfort

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            One would hope that those that are going to see a Martin Scorsese film are familiar with his previous work. He is one of the most celebrated directors working today and yes he makes very violent movies.  TAXI DRIVER, GOODFELLAS, and CASINO are examples of his films that are violent and they are regarded as some of the best films ever made. However, those films are not about violence but about characters who act violently. Both GOODFELLAS and CASINO are gangster films therefore some level of violence should be expected. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is not a gangster film. It is about a stockbroker, as the title would suggest. Stockbrokers, to my knowledge, do not tend to be violent. Since the film takes place during the late 80’s in New York it is safe to assume that there was some level of drug use involved. I am in no means condoning the behavior but that was a reflection of the times. For those that have seen the film the character played by Matthew McConaughey give a detailed and somewhat reasonable explanation as to why he should do cocaine and lots of it. For those that remember the “greed is good” 80’s should recall the excesses that many people lived that had money. The film, based on a true story by the way, tells the story of one person who lives that lifestyle to fullest because a) he wanted to and most importantly b) he had the means to do so.         

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            Scorsese brilliantly shows the excesses and Belfort and his co-horts during their heyday from 1987 thru the early 90’s. There many scenes that show them having sex with many women and activities that can only classified as orgies. However Scorsese directs all the scenes in a hyper kinetic way that it almost seems like an exaggeration, which I believe it is. Remember folks the movie is based on the memories of someone who was clearly drugged out of his mind during that time so to say that his memories are a little hazy is certainly not a stretch of the imagination. The events certainly could have happened as portrayed but this is a movie not a documentary.

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            What is it about the sex and nudity that is portrayed in the film that has caused such a stir? I would argue that there is just about the same amount of nudity/sex in BASIC INSTINCT or SHOWGIRLS.  I understand that they may not have been expecting the level of skin seen in the film. In full disclosure the film does contain both male and female full frontal nudity. However walking into a Scorsese picture one is at least going to see violence so would that alone cause a walkout.  For example GOODFELLAS opens with a vicious stabbing and WOLF opens with Belfort receiving oral sex while driving a car and shortly thereafter snorting cocaine out of girl’s bottom. Both films feature the excesses of the world that they live in. Is one worse than the other?

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            Another aspect of the film that people have an issue with is the length of the film. The film is 3hours long and of course it could be a little shorter but why limit a good thing. A good movie can never be too long and a bad movie can never be too short. TITANIC, also starring DiCaprio, runs 20 minutes longer than this but that did not stop people from going to see it multiple times. I have viewed WOLF twice now and have the urge to see again. It is not one of those films that makes you feel its length. It is absolutely brilliant and fans of both DiCaprio and Scorsese will not be disappointed. If you have not seen it I strongly urge you to do so and if you have seen it then by all means see it again. Keep these questions in mind. What does that say about us as a society if we are more offended by sex/nudity rather than violence? Would those same people who walked out on this walk out on GOODFELLAS? Are the actions of the characters in GOODFELLAS and different from the actions of the characters in WOLF? I hope the answers are obvious.

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Ride Along – REVIEW

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The modern cop-buddy picture has been around for a while. The genre really started with the release of 1982’s 48 HRS starring Nick Nolte and then film newcomer Eddie Murphy, as mismatched partners that must work together to solve a crime. The film spawned a dismal sequel and countless remakes. It seemed like box office gold; just get two popular stars and pair them together and watch the sparks fly.  The typical plot of a buddy cop film is as follows: Introduction of the crime and and/or bad guy. Intro of the “lead character,” typically the “straight-laced one”; cut to a separate intro of the wilder “loose cannon” character. The two leads discover that have a mutual enemy in the bad guy and discover that they must work together. Usually both are resistant to the idea and think they can do the job alone. They bicker and they fight. Somehow and during the course of the film they discover a mutual respect for each other. They defeat the bad guy and by the time the credits roll they are not only friends, they are ready to return for a sequel. For further proof, take a look at the list of buddy cop films here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_cop_film I have basically described the plot of RIDE ALONG the latest in a long line of buddy cop films.

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The late Roger Ebert came up with the term “wunza” as any film using a plot which can be summarized by saying "One's a...."  This film follows the classic buddy cop formula almost to the letter with the only distinction in that one of two is not a cop. Ice Cube plays the cop and Kevin Hart plays a cop wanna be. The plot is as follows Kevin Hart is dating Ice Cube’s sister. Ice Cube does not like Kevin Hart. Kevin Hart wants Ice Cube’s approval. Ice Cube decides that in order for Kevin Hart to prove his worth, Ice Cube will take Kevin Hart on a ride along putting him in tough situations. Notice that I used the actors names rather than the characters names. That is because neither actor is stretching their acting chops but merely doing a variation of what they have done before. It is remarkable just how unremarkable this film is. There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, here that you haven’t seen before. The b-plot is so predictable I would not be surprised if was copied and pasted from another script. There are FOUR screenwriters credited to this film. Four screenwriters could not recognize that their film was riddled with clichés. The only original aspect of the script is that the two leads already know each other once the film begins but having that twist does not work either. Kevin Hart overacts here but the blame cannot all be placed on his shoulders. He is given nothing to do. He has one good scene and it was more than likely improvised. The scene could be seen as a nod to Eddie Murphy’s classic hillbilly bar scene in 48 HOURS but does not even come close to that star making scene. I lost count at how many times he screams, yells, falls down, and slammed into something.

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This film is not very good to say the least but fans of Cube and Hart may find some level of entertainment. It is utterly forgettable and is better suited for the home video rather than the big screen. This is a prime example of inspiration ending at the casting because so little care was taken in the plot that it seems like a mere after thought. Consider this; Ice Cube is looking for a mysterious criminal by the name of Omar. I will not reveal the idenity of the actor that plays him but once you see the opening credits you will instantly know who it is. The only evidence that Omar exists is a picture of him when he was very young. Like 10 or 12 years old young and the picture looks like a publicity photo for the actor when he was that age. Now I am now seasoned investigator but would you attempt to do an age progression analysis of the photo to get an idea of what he looks like today rather than 40 years ago. Maybe he tried that but the film does not bother to tell us. A sequel is already in the works and is expected to start filming soon. I can only hope that they have a better script. I wanted to escape from this ride along.

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Qstorm reviews The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hunger? I barely knew her!
Hunger? I barely knew her!

I hadn't intended on seeing this film. I was one of the few who didn't like the first film, partly based on the fact that I found the mining of entertainment in the murder of children and teens to be reprehensible. But after having heard so much word of mouth about how good this film was, even from those who, like me, didn't enjoy the first one, I decided to see it. The most compelling tidbit I kept hearing was the fact that this film was this generation's Empire Strikes Back. Well, if that's so, I pity this generation.

Let me provide one other bit of set up: I remember vividly back in 1991, going to see Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This was subsequent to seeing the original Terminator, which was a head buster. While I learned to appreciate T2 (though even that groundbreaking film looks dated today), I was sorely disappointed initially because the movie was basically the exact same  story as the previous film. Such is the case here. The trailers for Catching Fire speak of rebellions, uprisings, and revolutions. Yet, all I saw was a retread of the previous film…which as I mentioned, I didn't care for. If anything, rather than being similar to The Empire Strikes Back, one of my all time favorite films (http://qstorm.com/lightningstrikes/toptenmovies_8/), this movie is more similar to The Matrix: Reloaded in how it concludes on a cliffhanger as well as my dislike of it.

Granted, there are some elements in this movie that are done well. As compared to the first film, I liked the varied age range of the tributes in this installment, and I also felt like the tributes were more realized and developed here. Jennifer Lawrence proves herself to be worthy of the Sigourney "Ripley" Weaver Action Heroine award. I love what she does with this role. I liked seeing the sympathy from Elizabeth Bank's Effie. Conversely, I don't understand why Lenny Kravitz was given virtually nothing to do other than be beaten to a pulp. I also don't understand why Philip Seymour Hoffman was allowed to wear clothing out of his own closet as compared to the rest of the cast.

But I really can't get past the fact that I didn't see anything new in terms of story or setup. Maybe another reason I can't get into these films is that the central concept doesn't make sense to me. What I derive is that the Capitol wants to keep its starving citizens in the surrounding districts complacent and docile by parading its two newest victors of the games throughout the twelve districts. In today's world where Facebook, Twitter, XBox and a myriad of additional distractions keep so many of us (basically the target audience for this movie) from focusing on our society's issues, this concept is admittedly very timely. But as executed here, it makes no sense. It is suggested that in the first film, the defiance of Katniss and Peeta by nearly eating toxic berries out of a pretense of intimate love for each other, rather than fighting to the death, could inspire rebellion throughout the districts. Also, Katniss and Peeta have to maintain the illusion of being lovers. My question is, why? Aren't the games themselves, where 23 children are murdered annually, combined with starvation and oppression--wouldn't that be a sufficient catalyst to cause a rebellion? Why do Peeta and Katniss have to continue pretending to be in love? Their love is the difference between status quo and anarchy? Unless someone can explain this to me, I contend that it makes no sense at all and thus, the central concept of the movie is lost on me.

I will say that this film offered more than the first in my opinion. Perhaps had this film been released as the first in the trilogy, I would've gone into this with no expectations and would've been more entertained. I understand I'm probably in the minority here, but as far as the Hunger Games goes, I wish I hadn't gone back for seconds. 2.5/5 reels

 

 

Homefront – REVIEW

1 Star

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            I promise you I attended the screening of this film and watched every moment of it. As I am writing this review I have absolutely no memory of the film at all. Nothing remarkable occurs. The film begins , characters are introduced, Jason Statham kicks some butt, things blow up, and there is a car chase or two, credits roll, the end.

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            I’m not surprised that Jason Statham has not become a big action star. He lacks the charm, charisma and screen presence of other action stars. It was surprising to learn that the screenplay for this film was written by Sylvester Stallone. This seems like the perfect vehicle for Stallone about 20 years ago so it is no surprise that this has been pawned off to Statham. The film stars Statham as Phil Broker, a former DEA agent, who has settled into small-town life with his young daughter. In an act of self-defense his daughter beats up another kid whose mother happens to be the brother of the local meth dealer Gator (James Franco). In a twist that can only occur in the movies Gator learns the true background of Broker’s past and just happens to have a connection to the person  who has sworn revenge against Broker. You can probably figure out what happens from there.

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Unfortunately there is not a great deal to say about this film  . It is a typical run-of-the-mill action film with a run-of-the-mill star. Franco makes an ok villain but to make a good action picture the villain just cannot be ok.  As for Statham, I am looking forward to  seeing what he will do with his turn as a villain in the upcoming FAST 7 film. Maybe he will make a better villain than the focus of a film. Time will tell. Skip this one. You have seen it all before and done way better. It would seem that the studio is not even giving this film a chance. Nothing says Thanksgiving like a movie about a man protecting his family from meth dealers.

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Black Nativity – REVIEW

3 Stars

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There is a segment of the population that is going to be turned off by this film simply by the title. That is shame because the film is surprisingly entertaining for all audiences. The film is a musical which is rare for a “Black” film. IDLEWILD and DREAMGIRLS, both released in 2006, were the last time there were Black musicals released to theaters. While DREAMGIRLS, the more commercial of the two, was a box office and critical success and IDEWILD, the less commercial of the two, was not it took 7 years for another Black themed music to hit the silver screen.

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The film stars singer/actress Jennifer Hudson as Naima a struggling single mother raising her teenage son Langston (newcomer Jacob Lattimore) in Baltimore. Naimi receives an eviction notice and decides that she will need to work more hours to earn money to be able to move to a new place. She also decides that it would be best if Langston temporary temporally goes to live with her estranged parents Reverend Cornell Cobbs (Forrest Whitaker) and his wife Angela (Angela Bassett). Of course Langston is not happy with this idea since they are complete strangers and they live in New York. Langston does make the trip and it turns out to be an odyssey of self-discovery and he learns the lessons of family, love, forgiveness and faith.

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As mentioned previously the film is a musical so of course there are musical numbers peppered through the film and some of the numbers are more effective that the others. In the early portion of the film the songs seemed awkwardly staged but as the film progresses they seem to work better. The majority of the actors in the film are singers (Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige, and Nas) so the musical numbers are easy on the ears although I have a problem with the singing style of Jennifer Hudson. There is no question that the she can sing but for me she tends to over-sing and for me her voice is like nails on a chalkboard. I personally would have preferred if Mary J. Blige play her part but I do not get to make those decisions. There are 3 very good musical numbers in the film that got me involved more with the story. Unfortunately the same thing cannot be said with Nas’s contributions to the film which are an obvious attempt to appeal to a certain demographic.

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Although I enjoyed and was moved by the film it is by no means a perfect film. There are a few continuity errors that are glaring, a plot point or two that do not quite make sense and an ending that seems a bit forced. The imagery is a bit heavy handed at times as well. Having said that, the film has it heart in the right place and for that I applaud it. When was the last time you saw a Black film that is set in the “hood” and contains no violence, bad language (including the N-word), sex and death? I cannot think of a single one. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that and praise the film because of that achievement alone. Often there are complaints that there is lack of quality films geared towards Blacks that have positive messages and no negative images or stereotypes. If you are looking for that type of film this is it. It is absolutely appropriate for kids of all ages and I hope that families will go and support this film. It is a better holiday film that the current “Black holiday” film playing right now. I hope audiences of all colors have an opportunity to see this film. Its message and theme that is applicable to all people.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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If I have learned anything from reviewing films is to surrender my expectations. However, I had low expectations when I viewed the original HUNGER GAMES (2012) and found it to be a surprisingly entertaining film. I liked it so much that I named it one of the best films of the 2012. Prior to seeing the film I had no exposure to the books and I had no idea what to expect from the story. After a slow start I found myself completely involved in the story. I was also impressed with the performance of Jennifer Lawrence as lead character Katniss Everdeen. She brings toughness, determination and vulnerability necessary for the role. Lawrence earned a nomination for an Oscar for her role in WINTER’S BONE (2010) and took home an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012). Clearly she is a very good actress and without her the film would simply be average. Can you imagine Kristen Stewart in the role? Me neither.

If you are reading this review I will assume that you have seen the original film therefore I will not go into details and plot of that film. The story picks up a short time after the end of the events of the first film. Katniss and games partner Peeta have returned to their home District 12. Katniss is reunited with her lover Gale while Peeta is still carrying a torch for Katniss. Katniss is still haunted by the events of the games and is still carrying guilt because of the death of Rue. Their time at home is short lived as Katniss and Peeta must go on a Victory Tour in which they go to each district and pay homage to the other tributes that lost their lives games. During the tour it becomes evident that not only are they heroes but they seem to have been a spark that has ignited a revolution against The Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss represents hope to the oppressed; Snow is not happy with this turn of events and develops a plan that forces Katniss to participate in the games once again. If Snow’s plan is successful it will eliminate Katniss for good and restore order throughout the twelve districts.

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The film is a perfectly executed sequel. It takes the existing characters and ups the stakes for them while also expanding the themes of the original story. Effie (Elizabeth Banks), clothing designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and District 12 mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) have all returned have returned from the original story and we get to know a little more about them as well. The film follows the structure of the first film fairly closely but make no mistake, this is no carbon copy of the original. The training sequences and the actual games themselves take on a deeper meaning and with the stakes being higher it gives them more emotional resonance. Once the actual games begin the film is non-stop action with each set piece being better and more intense than the previous one. By the time was over I was worn out but in a good way.

CATCHING FIRE is a film that improves upon its predecessor. It joins THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as one the best sci-fi sequels of all times. Similar to that film it is darker and adds additional characters who play an important role the story. The film also has an opened-ended conclusion with sets up its third and final chapter. This film is spectacular entertainment and fans of the series are going to have a great time watching it. Katniss Everdeen will return and may the odds be ever in her favor.

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The Best Man Holiday – Review

2.5 Stars

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The original BEST MAN was a surprise hit when it was released in 1999. The film featured an all-black cast with the fresh faces (at the time) of Taye Diggs, Monica Calhoun, and, most notably, Terrance Howard. Rounding out the cast are Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau and Sanaa Lathan. The film was fresh; unlike most “black films” that preceded BEST MAN, the characters were all college educated and did not live in the hood. For those who missed the original, the story involves Harper (Diggs) who has just written a book to be featured on Oprah's Book Club. Harper is also going to be the best man at his best friend Lance’s (Chestnut) wedding. Simple enough. However, it seems that the book is based on Harper and his friends and may or may not reveal that Harper slept with Lance’s bride-to-be Mia. One of the groomsman Quentin (Howard) is not happy with his portrayal in the book and further complicates Harper’s attempt to keep Lance from reading or finding out about the affair. Although the filmmakers offer a “Cliff Notes” version of the major events in the first film, I still recommend seeing the original before seeing the sequel.

Fourteen years later, the entire group has reunited to celebrate Christmas at Lance and Mia’s home. Although the first film ends with an apparent resolution between Harper and Lance, it seems that there is still tension even after all the intervening years. This film is one of the rare instances wherein all of the original cast members returned after such a long layoff. There is Harper and his very pregnant wife Robin (Lathan), Murch and his former stripper girlfriend Candace, Quentin and his ever-present mouth, Jordan and her boyfriend Brian (Eddie Cibrian who is noticeably absent from the movie poster), and Murch’s ex-girlfriend Shelby. Shelby’s presence in this film is suspect, but the film attempts to cover it by suggesting that Shelby and Mia are sorority sisters; I do not remember that aspect from the first film. There is still very good interplay and chemistry between the four guys but make no mistake this is Howard’s film. He provides the film’s humor and serves as a reminder at just how talented he is.

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There is a great deal going on in the film but it is successful in juggling the different story lines until the Shelby plot becomes prominent. Shelby did not play a very big role in the first film and her presence here serves as a distraction. Otherwise, the leads are engaging and help carry the story along until the film takes a surprising shift in tone for this type of film. I will not reveal the details but I must admit that I was surprised that it went in this direction given that it is being billed as “holiday” entertainment. The last 45 minutes is heartbreaking but director Malcolm Lee does a good job at shifting between humor and tragedy.

The film runs about 15-20 minutes too long—similar to the first film—and could have used some tighter editing. There is an entire sequence towards the end of the film that it is not only unnecessary but out of place in this film. There are a few other minor qualms I have with the film as well. For instance, Lance has been playing football as a running back since the conclusion of the first film but seems to have no ill-effects from playing for all that time. Robin is having a high-risk pregnancy, I am skeptical that she could travel so close to her due date. Eddie Cibrian’s absence from the film’s poster is also troubling. The same thing happened earlier this year when another major characters from BAGGAGE CLAIM—a white character—was mysteriously absent from the film’s poster. I will save that discussion for another time.

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This sequel is not necessary. In my opinion the first film was very good and left no room for a sequel. The story for the original is far more compelling that the story of its sequel. Although I do believe this film is worth seeing, do not be fooled by the film’s advertising. The film is somewhat manipulative in drawing an emotional reaction from the audience. There was audible crying at the screening I attended. My advice: take tissue. So much for feel-good holiday entertainment. The filmmakers covered themselves this time and left themselves some wiggle room to make another film if they desire. Hopefully, it won’t take another 14 years for them to do so.

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Thor: The Dark World – REVIEW

Thor: The Dark World

2 Stars

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I am not a comic book guy. I am not a big superhero fan, either. I am one those folks who still believes 1978’s SUPERMAN is and always be the best superhero movie ever made. The superhero genre made a resurgence with the release of 1989’s BATMAN. With the advance of special effects the films became larger in scope with story and characters taking a back seat to big action sequences. With the exception of THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, which took a real world approach to its story, the majority of the superhero films are style over substance.

The original THOR was released in 2011 as a part of the “Phase One: Avengers Assembled” group of films that consisted of IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, IRON MAN 2, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and THE AVENGERS. Each film was a box office success given the loyal fan base that these characters have. I found the original THOR to be an average film—not as good as some of the previous films in Phase One. Thor just is not an interesting character to anchor a film; he does not have an alter-ego, he is not a part of the mortal world, and he can be, well, preachy. The audience can have a difficult time relating to him, leaving him to be dull and uninteresting. This film is no different.

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THE DARK WORLD picks up after the events in THE AVENGERS and the film reminds of us of this at least six times, referring to “the event in New York”. It seems that love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been unsuccessful at moving on and is still carrying a torch for Thor who is back on his home planet of Asgard. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned by his adopted father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). There is talk of something called Aether but I honestly have no idea what it is and why it is important but it seems to be very bad stuff. From there things happen, stuff blows up, there is endless talk of the Nine Realms and all of it went over my head. As always I take notes but in this case I need notes for my notes.

My opinions on films are not based on the reactions of other people, but I saw this film with its target audience and they did not seem too excited by the film. The lukewarm reception could be due to some technical difficulties that caused the screening to start almost an hour late. The film just was not a lot of fun and with its convoluted plot at least for me I was unable to become engaged in the story. There are some good comic relief moments provided by Foster’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Dr. Erik Selvig. There is also a funny cameo by one of the Avengers that drew some cheers from the audience.

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The film will probably be a hit with its core audience but casual viewers should avoid this one. Once again the 3D format is gratuitous and should be avoided at all cost. As is true with most of the Marvel films, these films always have post-credit scenes; this film is no exception. There are two on this film, so be sure to stick around if interested. The credits also proudly proclaim that THOR WILL RETURN. I am sure he will. I just hope he returns in a much better film

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12 Years A Slave-The Anti-Django

12 Years a Slave

4 Stars

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The cynic in me says that this film was only made to respond to DJANGO UNCHAINED. In my opinion that film was unfairly criticized for not accurately portraying the atrocities that took place during the era of slavery. I would argue that DJANGO was not about slavery, but a revenge film that is set during the era of slavery. Make no mistake 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a film about the atrocities of slavery. This film is also one of the most powerful pieces of filmmaking I have seen in quite some time.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York with his wife and two children, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. After he determines there is no way to get anyone to believe his story, he decides that he has to try to survive rather than escaping. Based on a true story and book of the same name written by Northup and published in 1863, the film chronicles his 12 years struggling to keep his dignity while observing all the unjust treatment of not only himself but the other slaves as well. His first plantation owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) recognizes that he is not like the other slaves and treats him reasonably well. On one occasion Northup stands up for himself and is nearly killed for his action. This leads Ford to sell Northup to a more sadistic owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) where his resolve to survive is put to the ultimate test.

This film is brutally honest in its portrayal of slavery. Since it is based on the real life story of Northup it cannot be accused of being over the top. Director Steve McQueen pulls no punches in showing the events that took place during this time. McQueen uses several unbroken shots to enhance the audiences experience in the horror of slavery. Early in the film when Northrup discovers that he has been kidnapped and is being bound by chains, he is beaten by one of his kidnappers on his back with a paddle. This is shown in real time without cuts so the audience is unable to divert their attention elsewhere. Another sequence of note is another early scene in which a mother and her two children are sold separately. This shows one of the biggest horrors of that time which is the complete separation of families from each other forever. The scene is heartbreaking to watch but this was an unfortunate fact of the times. After Northrup tries to defend himself and has a fight with one of the overseers he is tortured by being hung but with just enough room so he can barely stand on his toes. In another unbroken shot we are shown Northup hanging for several minutes. McQueen uses the ambient sounds with “normal” life going on around him. No one attempts to help and the audience is forced to sit and watch him suffer. Some may say the sequence goes on too long but I thought that it help emphasize the point of his helplessness and suffering. However, the most disturbing and brutal moment of the film involves the whipping of another slave. I will not reveal the details because it is important to the plot but it the most heart wrenching scene in recent memory. It is absolutely brutal in its realism and it was at this point that I could hear audible sobbing from several members of the audience.

While this is a great film it is by no means perfect. The film’s opening disjointed structure had me confused. It would have suited the film better had it been told in order. The biggest misstep in the film is the casting of Brad Pitt in a pivotal role late in the film. It is no coincidence that Pitt is one of the producers of the film and he is cast in a role that is not slave owner. I did not feel like I was watching an actor here but watching a movie star playing dress up and attempting to give the film credibility. The material is strong enough and his presence was not needed.

I hesitate to call this film entertaining because of the dark nature of the film but it is gripping and compelling. I do expect multiple Academy Award nominations for the acting for Ejiofor, Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. The film is the polar opposite of DJANGO UNCHAINED so if you are going in thinking that it is that kind of movie you will be in for a shock. This is an important film that should be seen by all. Hopefully it will open up meaningful dialogue about this country’s history so we are not doomed to repeat the past. Much like SCHINDLER’S LIST it is an important film that documents a tragic time in history but it is not always easy to sit thru. The film is an important history lesson for all people. See it.

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Carrie – Review

CARRIE

2 Stars

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When I first received confirmation of the decision to remake Brian De Palma's classic 1976 film CARRIE, my first thought was, "Why remake a classic that, aside from the special effects and the 70’s clothing, is a pretty flawless film?” It is no secret that many popular film franchises that have run their course become fodder for, reboots, remakes and my personal favorite term: the reimagining. Some of the new versions ranged from the good (Friday the 13th) to the bad (My Bloody Valentine) to the downright ugly (Prom Night). Since most of these films fail to set the box office world on fire, I have to wonder why these movies keep getting remade. The cynical answer to both questions is simple: they are cheap to make and need very little advertising to get people in to the theater. They cast unknowns or TV actors in the roles, which aids in keeping the film’s budgets under control. They take shortcuts that make it possible for the studio to make a profit off of these remakes. The problem is that those shortcuts often sacrifice quality and creativity in the process. So as long as people go to see them, rent them or buy them they will continue to be made. Unfortunately, all of these horrors are true of the remake of Brian De Palma’s classic 1976 film CARRIE, which is another unnecessary remake in a long list of other unnecessary remakes.

I will admit I was more interested in this remake due to the decision to cast Chloë Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her overly-religious mother Margaret. Directing duties we assigned to Kimberly Peirce, the director of another awkward teen coming-of-age film BOYS DON’T CRY. Unfortunately that is where inspiration stopped. There is nothing new or fresh in this film. Lines of dialogue and entire scenes are lifted directly from the original film. Although the film is modernized with the use of cell phones and the Internet, even this update is mishandled. The technology is used to further torment Carrie but the opportunity to explore cyber-bulling of the story is more an afterthought in this film. The story’s climax which takes place at the prom-a possible upgrade to De Palma’s version- but the original maintains the edge due to the use of split-screen to show the mayhem that ensues. A car wreck and its aftermath on the occupants of vehicle in the remake is the best sequence in the entire film but it is not enough for me to recommend the film. The performances by Moretz and Moore are as good as you can expect but they are not enough to counter-balance the awful performances of the supporting actors in the film. Given the caliber of the director, I was surprised at the lack of quality in the performances.

I try view remakes in a vacuum and pretend any previous versions of the film do not exist: this is the only way I can fairly treat sequels, remakes, reboots, and "reimaginings". As I began to watch CARRIE I kept trying to convince myself that the original did not exist and enjoy this film on its own merits. Unfortunately, there were not many good merits to judge it by. Every time I saw something promising, there was a "but" that destroyed the effect. In short, I am disappointed with this film. It further cements my notion that Hollywood needs to stop with these remakes unless they truly have a new twist to the original material. The "twists" of this remake simply are not substantial enough to warrant the existence of this film. As I write this review, the original is streaming on Netflix: skip the remake and see the original instead.

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