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Flash Movie Review: Chi-Raq

The use of satire to tell a story is a perfectly valid art form. Satire is defined as a way to use humor to show someone or something is foolish or bad. It was first used in the early 1500s. Many authors and film directors have used satire as a way to get their creations past some form of censorship that was imposed on them or the surrounding area around them. The first time I heard about this movie nothing was mentioned about it being a satire. The focus was on the title which is a combination of Chicago and Iraq. I have been following all the controversy about this film and what amazed me was how vehemently some people were complaining about this movie without knowing anything about it. Some elected officials of Chicago were up in arms that this film would paint a “bad” picture of their city. I found their thinking flawed due to the fact that innocent people are indeed being shot in the city; one cannot hide that fact. What is most troublesome is no one ever comes forward, so it seems, to identify the shooter for fear of retaliation. Freedom of speech is everyone’s right and if director and writer Spike Lee (Inside Man, Do the Right Thing) wanted to shine a light on one city’s particular issue, then he has the right to do so.    SEEING yet another person being killed in her neighborhood Lysistrata, played by Teyonah Parris (Dear White People, Mad Men-TV), enlisted the help of her fellow female citizens in a plan she felt would force people to stop killing each other. With a story based on an ancient Greek play, this dramatic film immediately jumped into the viewer’s face. There was a powerful soundtrack and strong acting from actors like Nick Cannon (The Killing Room, Roll Bounce) as Chi-Raq, Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers franchise, Big Game) as Dolmedes and John Cusack (Dragon Blade, 2012) as Father Mike Corridan; there were several gripping scenes throughout this movie. There were two issues I had regarding how the story was being told. The first one was a majority of the dialog was spoken in a way similar to rapping or a slam poetry session. One had to pay attention to the words to get the meaning; however, there were times that it went too fast for me to understand what they were saying. Also, after a while I was tired of devoting so much energy to the dialog instead of the action and scenes. The other issue I had concerned the unevenness with the scenes; they came across choppy where some were strong and others weak in their attempt to tell a story. There were times where I felt they were even cartoonish. The bottom line here is this film is shining a light on a problem; it is using satire to make it palatable for the viewer. There were scenes with blood, sexual situations and strong language.

 

2 3/4 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Dragon Blade

The passage of time quickly vanishes any time one sees the person responsible for them having stored inside of themself fond memories. It does not matter if it is a real or fictional person; the fun feelings do not discriminate. It is like this old friend I have who lives across the country from me. We may not talk or see each other for months and months, but as soon as we do it seems as if we had just been together a day or two before. That bond we formed decades ago continues just as flexible and permanent as it did back then. I experienced a similar reaction when I saw some of my classmates when I attended my high school reunion recently. It is relatively easy for me to attach these types of feelings onto an actress or actor based on their screen roles. There is one actress I am especially fond of because I know every time I go to see one of her movies I will never be disappointed by her performance. Even if the film is not that good, she still shines in it. This explains why some people do not bother reading reviews (except for mine I hope) when their favorite movie star is in the cast, since they are going to see them anyway. It does not matter what genre or time period; the feelings people have for their actors never waivers unless something blatant changes their opinion. For me, once I saw one of the actors in this action adventure film I was reminded of his comical martial arts skills.    VITAL for continued growth throughout the region Hua An, played by Jackie Chan (Rush Hour franchise, Shanghai Knights), and his band of trained warriors would stop at nothing to protect the Silk Road. When a new threat appeared, Hua An would need to forge alliances between warring factions if he wanted to keep the road from falling into enemy forces. This award winning drama was filled with massive, spectacular fight scenes. Seeing Jackie back on screen after all this time was fun to see. His style of martial arts always had a comical goofiness to it. Where someone like Bruce Lee was always serious in his fighting, Jackie comes across as if he stumbled in the situation; he incorporates any and all objects around him into the fight. With John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, Love & Mercy) as General Lucius and Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Tiberius, the three of them could have done so much better if the story was not so over the top filled with melodrama. For such an historical moment, the script did not do anyone justice here. If it was not for my fond memories of this type of action hero movie, I would have been bored. There was blood and violence throughout the film.

 

2 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Love & Mercy

I feel very fortunate that I was introduced to a variety of music genres at an early age. For anyone who can put two musical tones together, they have my respect. Music has a way of clearing the fuzz off of our daily life, allowing us to experience emotions in a pure way. One of the first composers that made a strong connection with me was Ludwig van Beethoven. There were 2 things that grabbed my attention about him. The first was his place in history; he was a trendsetter, leading music from the baroque period to the romantic era. Next, his ability to continue writing music after he had become deaf amazed me. Beethoven was the first artist where I realized there could be a connection between great art and human suffering. Walk through any art museum and you are bound to experience breathtaking art done by an artist who had to deal with their own demons or tragedies. Cutting off an ear or dying from a horrible disease and yet these artists created something of lasting beauty; I have to wonder what came first, the ability or the suffering. Someone had once told me that when a person cannot use one of their 5 senses, the other ones acquire a heightened ability. An example for me would be Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles. Look at how many musical artists we have seen who died early or experienced some type of deficiency, yet produced music that not only moved us but stayed with us.    CREATING a whole new sound for a song took more than stringing a group of musical notes together for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. He would have to battle against the voices in his head. No matter when you were born, more than likely you have heard at least one song by the Beach Boys. This film festival winning biography, not to be funny, blew my mind. Getting a glimpse of what was taking place during the time the Beach Boys were producing their hits, it was incredible to see what was happening to their major songwriter Brian. With the dual story lines Paul Dano (Prisoners, Ruby Sparks) played the younger Brian and John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, The Raven) played the older one. The 2 of them were excellent and I thought it was a great idea to have 2 actors play Brian as the script took us back and forth between the different eras. Also part of the cast in this musical drama included Elizabeth Banks (Every Secret Thing, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Melinda Ledbetter and Paul Giamatti (San Andreas, Cinderella Man) as Dr. Eugene Landy. Due to the story being so compelling, the minuses to this film were minor compared to the pluses. Once again here was an example of artistic genius coming out of painful darkness.

 

3 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Maps to the Stars

With their arms stretched to their maximum length, they are yelling out the names of the celebrities walking past them. Though they are not close enough to touch; just a turn of the head, a slight nod, a smile or the ultimate acknowledgement–a wave of the hand, will make the bond between them complete. However, that connection is only in the spectator’s mind. Now you would think with my love of movies i would be right in the middle of that crowd, jostling my way to the front to catch the eye of a movie star, but you would be wrong. I absolutely want to be at the event, but do not see celebrities as demigods walking the planet. They are humans with bodies that function the same and are similar to anyone else. The rise in people’s fascination with celebrity/reality stars is something I find very odd. I do not understand why anyone would care about the mundane occurrences of essentially a stranger’s life. The thing that I find the most offensive are these “stars” who feel they need to bestow upon us their advice on what or how we should live our lives. Sorry but in my book just because someone has money doesn’t give them the right to tell me what I should or should not be doing. You cannot equate wealth with intelligence. In fact, there are many celebrities or wannabes who are filled with ugliness inside.    FROM all appearances Dr. Stafford and Christina Weiss, played by John Cusak (The Raven, High Fidelity) and Olivia Williams (An Education, Seventh Son), looked like a successful couple. With him being a best selling author and her managing the acting career of their son Benje, played by Evan Bird (Chained, The Killing-TV), it would be hard to imagine they had any problems. This film festival wining drama directed by David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis, A History of Violence) had an incredible cast that also included Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland) as Agatha and Julianne Moore (Still Alice, Non-Stop) playing Havana Segrand which she won at Cannes for best actress. The story showed how deep ugliness grows even in some of the most recognizable celebrities. I enjoyed the way the scenes moved from one character’s plight to another. Though the acting was wonderful there were parts of the film that did not gel for me. It almost felt as if there was not enough drive with the characters, becoming similar to caricatures. The writers seemed to have worked harder to show the ugliness in the characters than their history. I felt disconnected at times, similar to when I see celebrities in the news doing dumb things. There were a couple of brief scenes with blood in them.

 

2 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

If you really want to learn something about the area you are in then talk to a local person. I discovered many hidden treasures this way when I traveled to new places. This is one of the reasons why I use public transportation when visiting a new city. With advice from local residents, I was able to experience the best pecan pie in Charleston, South Carolina and a wonderful BBQ meal in Dallas, Texas. In case you were wondering if I am only concerned about food when I travel, I do ask local residents about places that a guide book may not cover. One of my best trips took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota simply because of a woman who was standing next to me at a bus stop. She gave me some wonderful tidbits about local spots. When a story is being told by the person who lived through it, it allows us to relate to it on a personal level. This was a wonderful device that was used impressively in this dramatic film, inspired by a true story. Forest Whitaker (Phone Booth, Repo Men) played Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served through eight different presidents’ terms of office. The viewer was a witness to numerous historical events, told through Cecil’s eyes. Aware the script took creative license with facts; this review is based on the movie’s entertainment value. Forest was outstanding as the stoic, quiet butler who took to heart the advice given to him on his first day of employment: The White House was not a place for politics. Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple, Beloved) as Cecil’s wife Gloria, showed us she can be known as an actress who has a talk show. I was impressed with David Oyelowo (The King of Scotland, Lincoln) as Cecil’s increasingly militant son, Louis. The actors used to play the various presidents came across more like a stunt to me; the only convincing one was John Cusack (Martian Child, High Fidelity) as Richard Nixon. For their brief scenes I felt Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End, Blow-Up) as Annabeth Westfall and Jane Fonda (Nine to Five, Coming Home) as Nancy Reagan were the only ones who stood out. I thought the story’s flow was well done, despite several scenes being too syrupy for me. Strictly speaking on the entertainment factor, this movie provided a glimpse into historical events, using both drama and humor to tell the story. And what a story it told; my interest never waned. There were a couple of scenes where blood was shown.

 

3 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Paperboy

Wow, I was both horrified and mesmerized throughout this movie. I could not take my eyes off of Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Rabbit Hole), who was an outrageous southern woman named Charlotte Bless. Honestly, when you think of Nicole you think of a statuesque, porcelain skinned, reserved woman. She was exactly opposite in this thriller with her heavy makeup and tough talking. The director and writer Lee Daniels (Precious, Shadowboxer) deserves credit for getting Nicole to do some of the things she did in this film based on a true story. The tale was about Ward Jansen, played by Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe, Magic Mike), returning to his hometown in Florida to investigate the case of death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter, played by John Cusack (Martian Child, High Fidelity). With his brother Jack, played by Zac Efrom (The Lucky One, Charlie St. Cloud), Ward used Charlotte as a way to get a meeting with HIllary; since she was engaged to the inmate. Ward’s investigation would cause some dangerous repercussions that would be felt by all. Parts of the movie were highly textured, filled with intense acting and southern gothic atmosphere. But then there would be scenes that plopped down with a thud. John Cusack was unbelievable with his ugly creepiness, while Matthew let his southern drawl coat the intensity that was simmering just below his surface. Once again, Zac was the weak one of the cast. Granted he is trying his hardest to break away from his pretty boy sweetness, but casting him with much better actors only showcase his limited acting abilities. Even his unscripted dance scene in the rain with Nicole, wearing only his underpants deserved extra points; it simply was not enough to make his acting blend in with the others. The movie is worthy of seeing for Nicole’s crazy performance. She may have just acted her way to an Oscar nomination this year. Brief scenes of violence and blood.

 

2 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Martian Child

Where is it written that you have to fit in to the norm? Yet how many of us growing up tried our best to be part of a group? I know I felt different from an early age, like a minority within a minority. Sure I did my best to be considered “normal” but my brain was not programmed for it. My imagination would take me to far away lands just by pretending my pen was a space ship. And let us be honest here, you must have realized I was different by the amount of movies I watch–right? This is why this gentle movie resonated with me. The story celebrated the joy of being comfortable with one’s uniqueness. David, played by John Cusack (High Fidelity, Must Love Dogs), was a widowed science fiction writer who lived a solitary life. He began to wonder if he could become a father when he met an unusual foster child named Dennis, played by Bobby Coleman (Snowmen, Must Love Dogs). Dennis was afraid of the sun, preferred standing inside a big cardboard carton box and believed he was from the planet Mars. This child actor was gifted in this role. Having recently grown tired of John’s roles, I felt he went beyond the ordinary in his work here. The chemistry was perfect between the two of them. For anyone who has felt different or has an overactive imagination, this exceptional movie will ring true for them. For all others this wonderful film will show you a larger world we all live in.

 

3 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: The Contract

I had high hopes for this film. Why wouldn’t I when it starred Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, The Dark Knight) and John Cusack (HIgh Fidelity, Must Love Dogs). And the added bonus was Morgan’s character, Frank Carden, was an assassin. Sadly, the script was poor and a bit ridiculous. John’s character, Ray Keene, wanted to bond with his son by going on a father/son weekend trip. During a hike they came across two nearly drowned men who were handcuffed to each other. I don’t know about you, but if I saw two people handcuffed together, I would keep my distance, calling the police instead. And it was at this point where the story took the silly path:  Father Ray could not get reception on his cell phone.  So instead of trying to find help or phone reception, Ray decided he would bring Frank to the police and become a hero in his son’s eyes. The rest of the movie was one long chase scene. As the police were trying to catch up with Ray and his group, Frank’s villainous associates were chasing them, trying to kill Ray and his son. When I turned off my reasoning power, I was able to sit through this movie. Besides, I enjoyed the scenery. So what if the lines were cheesy and some of the situations were loony. I did not mind as the story jumped from one predicament to another with bullets flying and perilous dilemmas defying reality.

 

2 stars — DVD

 

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