Monthly Archives: July 2013

“American Masters” Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter

If one is fortunate enough they can spend years on an intimate journey with one of their favorite musical artists. The path, lined with stepping stones of shared memories, sings of the joyful times as well as the moments of grief. I have been lucky to have witnessed the “birth” of a few musical stars. Spotting them first as a warm-up act or in a small nightclub, there was something about their voice and the songs they sang that resonated inside of me. As I followed their careers they would have songs that reminded me of particular times in my life. We shared many a night as I played certain songs over and over, depending on my mood. The history I share with my favorite artists made watching this musical documentary extra special. It was between the late 1960’s to early 1970’s when musicians who were singer/songwriters came to prominence. Doug Weston ran a Los Angeles nightclub called the Troubadour, where he would show new talent. He certainly had an ear for music since early performers at the club were Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, David Crosby, Steve Martin and Elton John, to name a few. The main engine driving this film’s story was following the special bond between Carole King and James Taylor through their long musical careers. It was awesome to see early film clips of them performing, besides the other clips of various artists. The variety of people interviewed for this project helped to provide a larger perspective for the events discussed. Looking at this from a historical perspective, this documentary provided more of a light overview than an in depth look into the creation of the singer/songwriter genre. However, it did not take away any of my enjoyment in watching this Sundance Film Festival selection. Granted I am a huge music lover, but I think anyone would enjoy seeing or should I say hearing this fun retrospective.

 

3 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: Pacific Rim

I never understood why monsters would constantly attack Japan. The poor citizens were caught on film as they screamed and ran away from creatures, who had names like Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. At the age where I would soon realize those horrible monsters were actually humans dressed in costumes; I could be found sitting on the floor in front of our console television, mesmerized by those massive creatures of destruction. Even today I can still hear Godzilla’s roar just before flames would shoot out of his mouth. Writer and director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) has created a beautiful tribute to those old classic movies with this science fiction film. In the fine tradition of Japanese director Ishiro Honda (Godzilla, All Monsters Attack) and American visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad), Guillermo honored these 2 men with this visual masterpiece. Earth had been fighting a war against alien beings called the Kaiju (Japanese for strange creature). To combat the massive beings, the government created colossal robots called Jaegers (German for hunters), that were each synched with 2 pilots that were mentally connected. Under the command of Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba (Prometheus, Thor), it appeared the Kaiju were learning to adapt with each battle. Cast in the starring role of Raleigh Becket was Charlie Hunnam (Children of Men, Sons of Anarchy-TV). This was not the best choice because he lacked screen presence. Compare him to Idris or Rinko Kikuchi (Norwegian Wood, The Brothers Bloom) as Mako Mori and you will see what I mean. Details were spent on the special effects and the fight scenes. The monsters were certainly imaginative; but I found myself drawn more to the robots. What was weak for me was the story, particularly some of the cheesy dialog. It did not help having the overly dramatic music accompanying several scenes. I hope they will make a sequel because there were parts to this film that verged on greatness. It just came up a little short in becoming one heck of an exciting thrill ride movie for me. Move over Godzilla, there is a new beast in town. Stay through the first set of credits at least.

 

2 3/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Grown Ups 2

Someone, please hand me a breath mint because I still have a bad taste in my mouth from this wretched film. Usually a sequel will show some kind of growth for its characters, but not this one. Coincidently, I recently attended my high school reunion. Visiting with former classmates was real special. We shared memories and laughed at some of the crazy things we did while attending school. The thing that separated us from the characters in this movie is we grew up. The closest I found to a story line in this celluloid catastrophe was Lenny Feder, played by Adam Sandler (The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore), moved his family back to his hometown, where he grew up with his old friends Eric, Kurt and Marcus; played by Kevin James (Here Comes the Boom, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), Chris Rock (Head of State, Down to Earth) and David Spade (The Benchwarmers, Tommy Boy). The lack of a story made for a dull series of infantile jokes and gags; some that had no relevance to what the characters were doing. In fact, I found some of the jokes offensive. With Adam being credited as one of the writers, all I can tell you is the writing was lazy. It seemed as if the characters were thrown into the story just to give Adam’s friends a job. What I did not understand is why someone like Steve Buscemi (Rampart, Boardwalk Empire-TV) would agree to do a cameo as Wiley. I thought he was successful and making decent money. As for some of the other actors in cameo appearances, it was obvious they needed a paycheck. There was nothing I found redeeming about this film. I did not find anything funny about people with flatulence or indigestion. There are two reasons why I gave an extra 1/4 star to my rating of this so called comedy. The first has to do with the cast. Without naming names, this film is doing taxpayers a favor because it included several actors who would otherwise be collecting unemployment benefits. The second reason is for the complete shock I had that Rob Schneider (The Hot Chick, Deuce Bigalow franchise) was not part of the cast.

 

1 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain

There is an electrified energy felt when sitting with a group of like minded people who share a common interest. The size of the venue does not matter because everyone has the same purpose for coming together–to experience their favorite comedian or musician in the flesh. I sometimes can get that feeling in a movie theater, but it is only if everyone is into the movie. Live music or comedy acts are different because they start out by drawing people who enjoy that type of music or brand of comedy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of sharing laughter with a multitude of people. The laughter feeds on itself, carrying some people to a total release. Music concerts do the same thing; but instead of laughing, people can be transported to a world of magical musical notes and blooming colors floating in the air. Unfortunately not everyone can experience such things due to financial circumstances. For that reason I believe filmed concerts are a valid way for people to experience their favorite artists. With that being said; in reviewing this film I only knew Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man, The Five-Year Engagement) as an actor, not a comedian. I have never seen his act or comedy specials on television; so, I feel I may be at a disadvantage to write about this concert movie filmed at Madison Square Garden. The movie was only 75 minutes long, with the first 15 of it being a weak lead in to the concert. As for the concert I was surprised Kevin’s shows were sold out for such a large arena. So evidently there are people who like his humor. His stories and jokes focused on a more personal level; talking about his kids, divorce and relationships. I found them amusing but not really funny. The use of strong language got old for me; I feel comedians use profanity just for the shock value. There is not much more I can say about this comedy film except the patrons around me were all laughing loudly. If you like Kevin’s style of humor you will like the movie. On the other hand, you may want to see it anyway because a movie ticket is a whole lot cheaper to buy than a concert ticket. Strong language used throughout the movie.

 

2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Sommersby

Memories are the bridle that tether us to a place of hope, where we dream of the way things used to be. You may know such a place; I know I do. It is here where one hangs on to the relationship they are in, even though it may no longer be healthy. We desperately hold on to those old memories; hoping for change while not strong enough to leave. I can remember wishing that person I knew to be inside of them would come back out and replace the stranger standing before me. I wanted to believe my sheer determination could make everything all right again. Alas, it was a sad and painful lesson for me. I saw a similar pain move across the face of Laurel Sommersby in this dramatic movie. Played by Jodie Foster (Panic Room, Inside Man), I had forgotten how good of an actress Jodie can be. The story was an Americanized version of the award winning film, “The Return of Martin Guerre.” For this movie, the story was set in the south right after the civil war had ended. Laurel with the help of Orin Meecham, played by Bill Pullman (Independence Day, While You Were Sleeping), was settling into a life without her husband who was presumed dead, getting a handle on the family farm. A couple of years had passed when unbelievably her husband John Robert aka Jack was spotted making his way home to her. But this man who went off to fight in the war was not that same man who returned home. Richard Gere (Arbitrage, Amelia) perfectly blended his character John Robert with Jodie as his wife Laurel. Though there were dull moments in the movie, Jodie and Richard were able to draw me into their romance. The addition of James Earl Jones (Finder’s Fee, A Family Thing) playing Judge Barry Conrad Issacs was great; even though I thought his character was not realistic for the times. I enjoyed the acting more than I liked the story. This movie made me realize how easy it is to understand how the sheer will of hopeful dreams and memories can motivate a person to hold on.

 

2 1/2 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: I’m So Excited

There is a sort of beauty and curse that I consider airplanes flying elevators. The doors open, you walk in, the doors close and when they open the next time, you are in a different place. I enjoy that aspect of flying. Being confined in a small space with strangers is the part I do not like. Because I am always having to talk both at the office and in my classes, when I get on a plane I want to zone out and relax. Small talk is not something that comes easy to me. I have been known to pretend I do not understand English, to avoid conversations with the people sitting near me. All of that would change if I was stuck on a flight like the one in this comedy. When a plane had a mechanical failure with its landing gear, the passengers and crew were stuck circling their destination until a solution could be found. Left to their own devices; the crew did whatever they could to get through the crisis, as the passengers’ anxiety continued to rise. From the imaginative writer and director Pedro Almodovar (The Skin I Live In, Bad Education) this was lighter fare compared to his other recent films. Javier Camara (Talk to Her, Bad Education), Carlos Areces (The Last Circus, Game of Werewolves) and Raul Arevalo (Even The Rain, Dark Blue Almost Black) played the outrageous flight attendants Joserra, Fajas and Ulloa. The dialog came fast and sharp as each character’s story played out. I found some scenes amusing; others a bit witty, but none that were worthy of a belly laugh. Out of several scenes that had a sexual nature, there was one in particular where I wondered if it would have caused controversy if the roles of the female and male passengers were switched. If the movie was meant to be a satire or have some political agenda it was lost on me. I found the film to be light fluff overall. However, it did make me think flights could be fun if the airlines starting booking entertainment acts on them. Spanish with English subtitles.

 

2 1/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Unfinished Song

There are times when it is better to be the patient than the doctor. When you see the one you love in discomfort or pain from an illness, it can break one’s heart. I was in a long term relationship where at one point they were sick for 2 consecutive months. The doctors could not find the cause of the sickness; my heart would crack a little further each time I looked into their eyes. Gratefully, things turned out fine; but I know how hard it could have been if it was something that turned fatal. Everyone handles sickness and death differently. The beauty of this touching film festival winner was watching Vanessa Redgrave (Letters to Juliet, Coriolanus) and Terrence Stamp (Wanted, Yes Man) play long time married couple Marion and Arthur Harris. In a previous review I talked about the attraction of opposites. This couple perfectly showed how two strikingly different individuals built a loving and supportive life together. Marian was the bubbly, outgoing joyful one; while Arthur was the dark, brooding sourpuss. The story showed how two people handled the intrusion of illness into their lives. Though there were no surprises with the story; the acting from Vanessa and Terrence was something to behold. More drama than comedy, I was surprised with the turn of events in this musical movie. Regarding Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretal: Witch Hunters, Quantum of Solace), this was a different type of role for her as she played choir director Elizabeth. I actually found her character to be undeveloped; there was not enough information to understand what motivated her. A puzzling side note has to do with the audience sitting around me. I was the youngest person in the theater; the majority of patrons were senior citizens, several being assisted by walkers. I have no explanation for it. The story may not have been special, but watching Marion and Arthur brought tears to my eyes. To have someone special in your life is truly a gift; I just wish it could last forever.

 

2 3/4 stars 

Flash Movie Review: The Way, Way Back

My tongue instinctively brushed the surface of my teeth looking for my braces that were made from the shiniest metal on the planet. I had to check my face to see if any angry pimples were about to burst out from under my skin. Then there was the vision of me seeing the first wave of facial hair spreading across my face like a brewing storm, warning me of the impending turmoil of adolescence that was coming over me. All of those awkward and confused moments swirled up from my pooled memories while I sat and watched this wonderful, coming of age film. Liam James (Fred Claus, 2012) was perfect playing the 14 year old character Duncan. A simple look from him easily conveyed those embarrassing emotions we all felt at one time or another during our adolescent years. Duncan was stuck going with his mother Pam, played by Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, United States of Tara-TV) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Get Smart) to Trent’s summer home during summer vacation. Uncomfortable with his surroundings, Duncan found refuge at a run down water park managed by the kid like Owen, played by Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and his wife Caitlin, played by Maya Rudolph (Grown Ups, Bridesmaids). This was one of the best performances I have seen from Sam; his character was crazy and memorable. I loved the unexpectedness of this poignant film. Everyone’s acting was so strong and realistic; Allison Janney (Juno, Liberal Arts) was hilarious as Trent’s alcoholic neighbor Betty. The script offered up such ideal lines, I actually felt a bond forming between me and several of the characters. After experiencing many memories from my youth during this film, a shadow of my adolescence remained behind as I walked out of the theater.

 

3 1 /3 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Lone Ranger

The first musical notes may not be recognized by younger people, but almost everyone else will know the William Tell Overture. As soon as I hear the music I can recall the excitement I had seeing a majestic white horse standing on its hind legs, the rider dressed in white except for his black mask as he exclaimed, “Hi-Yo, Silver! ¬†Away!” Danger, thrills, disguises and chases are things I associate with the Lone Ranger. He was a strong character who fought for justice, alongside his Native American companion Tonto. In this action film you at least get the white horse. For nearly 2 1/2 hours you get a boring, ridiculous mess of a movie. Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows, The Rum Diary) played an ancient Tonto telling in flashbacks his story of witnessing the transformation of John Reid into the Lone Ranger, played by Armie Hammer (Mirror Mirror, J. Edgar). I am tired of movie studios slapping bizarre makeup and costumes on Johnny, thinking that is all that is needed to make a memorable character. Sure, I remember the outfit but I also remember Johnny hardly did any acting worth noting. Partners need chemistry to convince the audience that they have a solid bond and are there for each other. I did not feel any such thing between Armie and Johnny. Having the older Tonto tell the story was utterly useless; it did nothing to enhance the story except the duration of the movie’s running time. The explosions were well done and a couple of chase scenes had some thought put into them, but it was like watching fireworks. The story was so disconnected I felt I was just watching one fight after another. The only decent acting came from Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, The Debt) as businessman Cole and William Fichtner (Contact, Black Hawk Down) as outlaw Butch Cavendish. The best way to watch this film would be going out for a meal at the start of the movie then arrive back for the last 1/2 hour of the film. At least you will get to hear the William Tell Overture. Better yet, download the music and look for an old episode of the television show to watch. There were a couple of scenes with blood and one particularly disturbing scene.

 

1 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

The magic of cartoons is their ability to turn something real into the unreal. They can take a current topic and provide a different spin on it or turn it into a satire. Cartoon characters can be beaten and hurt multiple times, yet still come back for more, while providing us with a good laugh. And then there is the use of color and design; everyday items can suddenly defy gravity and physics in their twisted, illogical shapes and hues. I was raised on the classic Looney Tunes cartoons from Warner Bros. The foundation to any cartoon is a solid story and Looney Tunes was brilliant in their ability to play with a story. In this animated sequel I felt the story was disappointingly weak. Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night) was back again, this time as Gru the family man to the three orphaned girls. Gone was Gru’s nastiness, though I thought Steve still did an excellent job voicing the character. New to the cast was Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Friends with Kids) as agent Lucy and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Catwoman) as club owner Edwardo. The story this time had Gru being recruited by the Anti-Villain League to track down a new super criminal. On the plus side the Minions were back and offered some fun gags. However, the issue I had with this movie concerned the lazy writing. I mean come on, did we really need to try and mine humor out of flatulence? It was just an easy way to piece the story together. Where some of this year’s recent animated movies entertained both children and adults; I think younger kids would like this comedy more than adults. Another issue I had with the movie was its predictability. Cartoons should be able to offer at least a surprise or two for the viewer; I did not find anything close to being shocking. Instead of creating magic with Gru and the girls, it seemed the studio was looking to make a quick buck; some magic act.

 

2 1/2 stars

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