Monthly Archives: July 2013
His sobbing was only disturbed by his deep intakes of air as sadness dripped off of him. I felt helpless as I stood nearby. Quietly entering into my field of vision was his pet dog, slowly walking towards him sprawled across the bed. The dog stopped to look at me, as if to tell me he would take care of it, before jumping up onto the bed. Carefully stepping across the thickly quilted bedspread, the pet came up to my friend and settled alongside him. Then the most startling thing happened next. The dog stretched his front right paw out onto my friend’s shoulder. It looked like the dog was comforting him, staying right by his side; I began to tear up. I was witnessing this dog’s empathy towards his master. One could see how easy it would be to place human emotions on animals. Unfortunately this documentary showed what the consequences could be by doing such a thing. After seeing the film The Cove which was about the capturing of dolphins, my feelings toward animal attractions changed. Seeing animals doing tricks for human entertainment now upsets me. I am not referring to one’s pet but to big corporations that take intelligent creatures and exploit them for profit. February 24, 2010 was when the news broke that senior trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca killer whale at SeaWorld of Orlando, Florida. The whale was named Tilikum and he was the main focus of this upsetting movie. As a reviewer it was hard for me to write this piece. I wanted to do two; one review based on the emotional reactions to the film and the other towards the technical aspects used in making it. The way the director interviewed former trainers while old film clips were used to show their performances in front of thousands of spectators made for some powerful movie moments. It was heartbreaking to have fishermen explain the footage that showed baby whales being captured in the open seas, only to be subjected to cruel training methods. This Sundance Film Festival nominated film had its moments where I felt I was sitting in a classroom lecture; however, the scenes and the emotions came across as real for me. Before you decide to book you vacation to an amusement park with animal attractions, I suggest you watch this movie. It has changed me forever.
3 1/2 stars
It felt as if I was receiving the winning lottery ticket when I was handed my high school diploma. I saw it as my opportunity to become someone different. You see, I was tired of being a punching bag and a punch line in high school. One of the reasons why I chose the particular university I attended was, as far as I knew, no one from my high school had applied there. The summer prior to attending the fall semester, I let my hair grow out to its natural curly state, began an exercise and diet program and most importantly, found student housing off campus. My studio apartment was on a floor that had mostly graduate students. Being the youngest and newest on the floor, the older students not only helped me navigate my way through the university system, but looked out for me. It was a whole different world for me, where I was finally able to be myself and not be judged. Having always felt that peer pressure was a highly infectious disease; I immediately understood where valedictorian Brandy Klark, played by Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, Damsels in Distress) was coming from in this story. Determined not to still be a virgin by the time she started college, Brandy made a to do list of all the activities she felt she needed to achieve her goal. This comedy was filled with a multitude of strong, crude, graphic language and scenes. I did not have an issue with it, understanding the attraction to this film was having the story being told from a woman’s point of view. To verify my reactions, I imagined scenes where the female characters were male and came to the same conclusion: I did not find this movie funny. There were pockets of humor here and there, but overall I felt the movie was on overkill. Brandy’s relationship to her older sister Amber, played by Rachel Bilson (Jumper, Hart of Dixie-TV), was similar to other sister relationships done before. I felt more humor could have been mined from Brandy’s parents Judge and Mrs. Klark, played by Clark Gregg (The Avengers, 500 Days of Summer) and Connie Britton (Conception, Friday Night Lights-TV). As for Bill Hader (Superbad, Saturday Night Live-TV) playing pool manager Willy, his character was no different then the characters he did before on television. I did find the crisp pacing led to tight, steady scenes. If only the to do list in making this movie had been double checked.
1 3/4 stars
Longing for a lost love can be akin to waiting for an end of season plant to bloom again. It can no longer give you what you need. The memories of their scent that would linger after they left the room; the brilliance of their smile, that would burst upon their face; even the way they could calm you with just a look; all of these things can prevent one from moving on. At the time it is hard to realize those petals of memories, which return to the earth, will be the nourishment needed to make a new relationship grow. That sense of loss was apparent throughout this adventure film as movie viewers witnessed the internal struggles that plagued Logan/Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, Les Miserables). Flying to Japan to visit an old friend, Logan found himself thrown into the middle of a plot to wrestle control of the family fortune away from his friend. For someone not familiar with the character Wolverine, they may find themselves somewhat confused with several scenes in this action film. I will say Hugh poured himself into this role. The amount of time and work he put in to transform himself into his character was impressive. Because of his presence, I felt the director took more time filming the fight scenes; they stood out from the other parts of the movie. There was a flair to them that briefly reminded me of the classic Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone sword fight in The Adventures of Robin Hood. The issue I had with this movie was the uneven story. I felt the love interest angle rang false and unnecessary. Newcomer Rila Fukushima as Yukio was an interesting character as Logan’s guide. I did not understand the role of Viper, played by Sventlana Khodchenkova (Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, Mala Moskwa); her motivations were not clear to me. The main focus of this film was placed on the action and I will say it carried my interest through the parts of the movie I found confusing. A valiant effort was made to make this film the seed for a blooming sequel. Make sure you stay through the first set of credits. Several brief scenes contained blood in them.
2 3/4 stars
Once one gets past the awkwardness of puberty and the teen years, is there any reason to be embarrassed for something you had no control over? I am not talking about your hair accidentally being dyed a color not found in nature or tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. Instead I am referring to things like your birthplace, parents or current residence. I find it perplexing when someone is embarrassed to have visitors over to their perceived small, or some other negative adjective, apartment, because the guests live in a swanky or trendy place. Another example would be being ashamed of a parent’s lack of education. Maybe some of these comparisons could be considered a form of envy which I find distasteful. I had the same type of feeling for this comedy film. Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live-TV) played aspiring playwright Imogene. Struggling to become successful in New York City, she found herself in a predicament that required her to move back in with her mother Zelda, played by Annette Bening (Ruby Sparks, Running With Scissors). Things would not be the same due to two strangers Lee and George, played by Darren Criss (Glee-TV) and Matt Dillon (Crash, Wild Things), living in her mother’s house now. I have to tell you right from the start; this movie was not a comedy, it was a tragedy. This is not a compliment. To create a balance of drama and comedy, it takes work with a little finesse. The story was atrocious; none of the characters were likable. For the duration of this film I found maybe two or three things that were slightly amusing. One of them had Darren Criss’s character singing. Outside of that I have to say this film was icky. In an instance such as this; it would be totally understandable if the actors were embarrassed about their finished product, I know I was for them.
1 1/2 stars
The guards go after the one that is not bloody. This was told to a friend of mine, who was doing one on one work with a prison inmate. The prisoner was told if he got into a fight he should not fight back, for the guards assume the non-bloody combatant was the instigator. I was surprised to hear the guards would act on assumptions before facts; but then, I realized so many people make assumptions solely based on a person’s looks. In grade school when teams had to be formed during gym, I was usually one of the last ones to be picked. I was large and uncomfortable with my size. However, during a game of Bombardment my classmates discovered I could throw a fast accurate ball. For all future games I suddenly was picked much earlier to be on someone’s team. Even today I am sensitive about people who make assumptions. In the scheme of things my experiences were trivial compared to the events in this powerful movie, based on a true story. Twenty-two year old Oscar Grant with his girlfriend Sophina, played by Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails, Chronicle) and Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind, Raising Victor Vargas), decided to take the train into the city to celebrate New Year’s Eve with their friends. It was a ride that would shake up the California Bay Area community. Not knowing anything about this story, I do not know how accurate it was with its portrayal of the events that took place. From a movie standpoint, I thought the acting was raw and real. Michael and Octavia Spencer (The Help, Seven Pounds), who played his character’s mother Wanda, were incredible. Kevin Durand (Real Steel, I Am Number Four) as Officer Caruso was so good he scared me. The hand held filming with its shakiness did not work for me except in the scenes on the train. Overall I thought the story was well presented except for a few parts that seemed unnecessary, like the dog scene. This Sundance and Cannes Film Festival winner could be used as a case study on the effects perceptions and assumptions have on society. There were a couple of brief scenes where blood was shown.
3 1/4 stars
Dreams are the fuel that propel us forward on our life’s journey. They instill a sense of hope that helps us traverse the choppy waters we may encounter along the way. I still can recall one of my earliest dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up: a window washer. There was something about being on the outside, way up high, that appealed to me. Good thing I did not follow through since these days I am exactly opposite, preferring to be inside and close to the ground. Even though my dreams evolved, I have always been aware how they have pushed me forward in life. The same could be said for the main character in this animated film. Garden snail Turbo, voiced by Ryan Reynolds (Buried, The Proposal), dreamed he would one day race at the Indianapolis 500. No one would take his dream away from him; including his sensible brother Chet, voiced by Paul Giamatti (Win Win, The Last Station). When a freak accident gave Turbo the ability to move fast, he was not going to let anyone or anything stop him from achieving his dream. This adventure film had a diverse cast of actors to voice the many characters. For example, there was Michael Pena (End of Watch, Shooter) as Tito, Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained, Pulp Fiction) as Whiplash, Bill Hader (Men in Black 3, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Guy Gagne and Snoop Dog (Old School, Bruno) as Smooth Move. Though the animation was quite good, I found the story was lacking a couple of key elements. I did not find it exciting except for the beginning and ending parts. The characters were okay but really did not leave any impression on me. It felt as if the characters were created as a way to sell toys to kids. Compared to other animated films I have recently seen, this one just left me with a blah feeling. I think only young children would enjoy this movie. It was a shame the movie studio could not dream up a better story. Stay through the first set of credits.
2 1/4 stars
There is an easy camaraderie created when a group of people have a singular purpose. Whether one is an employee, volunteer or teammate; when personalities blend together a relationship is formed of shared experiences. When I have done volunteer work I notice there tends to be a quick connection made between all the volunteers. The same happens when new fitness instructors come on board at the health clubs, where I teach. An added benefit to these types of connections is the ability to have fun. Yes, even at one’s place of employment there can be times of fun when everyone is supportive of their fellow employees. Well okay, let us say at least bearable. This sense of fun is what I appreciated most about this action comedy. It was obvious the actors were enjoying both their roles and each other in this sequel. Joining Bruce Willis (Looper, Moonrise Kingdom) as Frank, John Malkovich (Burn After Reading, Dangerous Liaisons) as Marvin, Helen Mirren (The Debt, Hitchcock) as Victoria and Mary-Louise Parker (R.I.P.D., Weeds-TV) as Sarah were Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, The Terminal) as Russian agent Katja and Anthony Hopkins (Thor, Hitchcock) as mad scientist Bailey. The story was far-fetched about Frank and the team trying to retrieve a megaton explosive device that was smuggled into Moscow during the cold war. Being a fan of Helen, I got a kick out of her role being more physical this time. The script was uneven where some lines were humorous while others fell flat. Bruce has been doing the same type of character for so long, he tended to be a bit cartoonish for me. In the case of John; since I have seen him perform live on stage and know what he is capable of doing, I thought he was excellent in his role. Anthony was exceptionally good with his character. This was not the type of movie where one needed to think much; there was nothing deep about it. Honestly, I think the success of the first movie gave these actors the opportunity to hang out again and share some good times, while filming took place all over the world.
2 1/4 stars
The random clicking sound became deliberate, attracting my attention. It sounded as if it was near the kitchen door. My hand slowly slid around the dining room wall, looking for the light switch before I would enter the kitchen. As the fluorescent fixture soaked the room in white light, I intently stared at the back door. The transom window was closed and what light spilled onto the back porch did not reveal anything lurking outside. A sigh of relief passed through my dry lips just as the floor behind me groaned under a sudden added weight. I spun around to a vacant room, shaken up by the noticeable sounds. Walking over to the television, I turned the sound up louder and waited for the return of my parents. You see, it was the first time I was left home alone without a babysitter. It was surprising how my imagination took those familiar sounds from my home and turned them into something sinister and threatening. That feeling of oncoming dread slithered its way throughout this thrilling film. After Carolyn and Roger Perron, played by Lili Taylor (The Haunting, High Fidelity) and Ron Livingston (The Cooler, Drinking Buddies), moved into their new home with their 5 children, unexplained incidents began to occur. When they seemed to turn aggressive, paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, played by Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Source Code) and Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Watchmen), were asked to find an explanation for these hostile events. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) did a beautiful job of crafting an old-fashioned horror movie. The acting was formidable, especially from Vera and LIli. I was swept into the story partially because it did not use blood and gore to scare the audience; it made the viewers use their imaginations. For me, the middle of the movie played stronger compared to the beginning and end. This was a good old-time, scary film that will have you gripping your arm rests. A couple of brief scenes had blood in them.
Currently there is nothing built strong enough to contain one’s feelings. No matter where they get buried or stuffed, feelings always find a way to get out. Some people use food as a way to keep their feelings at bay; others utilize drugs or alcohol to try and numb the emotions bubbling inside of them. I admit there was a time where I would take my feelings and hide them deep inside of me, where no one could ever find them. They were stored in my heart, where the door was sealed by hatred. To show my true feelings was something I associated with getting hurt. It took a lot of work to realize it was okay to express how I felt; that no one had the right to judge another person’s feelings. When this DVD arrived at my home this week I chuckled since my two previous reviews had to do with the music world and now there was going to be another review of a musical film. In actuality, music played a minor role in this story. Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man franchise, Contagion) played country music star Kelly Canter. Pulled out of rehab early for a concert tour by her manager/husband James, played by Tim McGraw (The Blind Side, The Kingdom); Kelly’s sponsor Beau Hutten, played by Garrett Hedlund (Troy, Four Brothers), locked horns with James. He was concerned the pressure would be too much for Kelly to handle, in her vulnerable condition. I am not a big fan of country music, but I enjoyed the songs in this dramatic film. The surprise came from Garrett and Leightom Meester (Monte Carlo, Gossip Girl-TV) as former beauty queen Chiles Stanton. They were terrific playing two singers trying to break into the music business. Though the acting was solid with everyone, they did not have much help from the cliche ridden script. It was easy to spot each turn of events which did not allow any room for one to be surprised. If you are a fan of country music, you might enjoy seeing this film. For everyone else there is the chance you will become bored. At least that is how I felt about it.
2 stars — DVD
Look closely at a favorite picture or photograph; I mean really take a good look at the details. The use of shadowing, the way brushstrokes accentuate the hair or how color is used for depth; each component adds to the richness of the picture. One of my favorite pieces of art was created with tiny dots of paint. The same concept of layering applies to music. There is the use of instruments, in some cases random noises, besides sound levels; each part makes an important contribution to the ultimate musical piece. I was already aware of background singers; but after seeing this remarkable documentary, I can now refer to them as musical angels. You may not be familiar with the names of Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton or Judith Hill to name a few; but I know you have heard them sing. I loved the way this film took an iconic song and used multiple interviews to create a frame of reference on its creation. Some of the musicians interviewed were Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Patti Austin, and Bruce Springsteen. What made this movie special was hearing the back up singers’ recollections of the songs they performed. If that was not enough to make you tap your feet to the beat, the old film clips that were used were incredible to watch. The beauty of this film festival winning film was how it took human emotions and thoughtfully infused them into scenes, where I would tear up at one point and then suddenly be chuckling at the next. Talk about unsung heroes; listening to the lives of these singers, I have a whole new level of appreciation for them. To see their drive, determination, passion, their souls, just to do what they love; it truly was inspirational to witness. One of the best films I have seen this year. With yesterday’s movie review, I certainly am having a musical week. After seeing this film, I dare you to try and not hum one of the songs from the movie as you leave the theater.