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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Carmen Ejogo

Alien: Covenant (2017)

It’s basically Jason X, but in space. Oh, wait. Jason X was in space. Never mind. So basically, it’s Jason X.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy so that they can continue on with the human race, but this time, elsewhere, members aboard of the colony ship, Covenant, seem to be going just fine. However, disaster strikes when they’re ship is hit, killing the Captain (James Franco), leaving a new one to take his place (Billy Crudup). The odd thing about this Captain, however, is that he believes a little too much in faith, which makes him a bit detested by the rest of the crew, which would be fine and all normally, but makes their situation all the more heated when they discover a new planet. Rather than just continuing on with their journey, they decide to check out what this new planet is all about and believe it or not, it’s not exactly what they expected. Instead, it’s the planet where the dreaded Prometheus expedition crash-landed all of those years ago, and still harbors David (Michael Fassbender), the scariest robot around who is still, somehow, on and being creepy.

Tell me, could you hate a face like that?

The fact that Covenant is better than Prometheus, may not be saying much. The later is a flawed movie that, yes, while brimming with all sorts of ambitious ideas and themes about life, faith and science, also didn’t have much a plot, and even worse, lame characters. It was a sight to see on the big screen, but also felt like a hollow experience, made all the more disappointing by the fact that it was done by Ridley Scott, aka, the dude who kick-started the whole Alien franchise in the first place.

But now, Scott seems to be back in his comfort-zone with Covenant, the kind of Alien movie you’d expect an Alien movie to be. It’s tense, exciting, silly, scary, gory, and at times, pretty wild, but at the same time, also feels like every other horror movie we’ve ever seen done before, where instead of Freddy, or Jason, or hell, Leatherface, we’ve got a bunch of aliens, running around and taking people that we don’t care about, off one-by-one. Now, is that disappointing, too? Or, is it just something to expect?

Either way, Covenant can be a good movie to watch, for quite some time, because like Prometheus, it’s clear that a lot of attention and detail was put into how slick and cool the movie looked. But unlike Prometheus, it has some characters to care about (sort of), and most of all, a plot that’s easy to fall in-line with. Sure, it’s formulaic and a little conventional, with all sorts of exposition flying left-and-right, but it’s less of a metaphysical experiment than Prometheus was so, once again, it’s better.

But still, a tad bit disappointing. I don’t know why, either.

Not Ripley, but still has an odd hair-do. For some reason.

Because honestly, Scott does a solid job here. He knows how to racket up the tension, he knows how to take advantage of an A-list cast, and most importantly, he knows how to still shock and surprise us, but still, there’s a feeling had with the movie that’s all the same beats hit, again and again, time after time, and now, it seems like it’s just running out of ideas. Then again, maybe it’s not; Covenant does set itself up as a sequel, but also shows us that there’s a much larger, much grander universe out there, just waiting to be explored with more and more movies to follow.

So in a way, Covenant is like a refresher-course for those who were worried of the Alien franchise blowing and not having any reason for its return. Scott seems to have a genuine interest in where these stories can go and eventually, lead to, even if it seems like he’s taking his good old time, taking an opportunity to give us another trapped-in-space-by-aliens-tale, rather than, you know, exploring more and more.

Then again, it’s entertaining. it’s hard to have an issue with a movie when it’s doing that.

Even though, yes, it is a bit frustrating to watch such a talented and awesome ensemble, essentially, be left to just spout out a bunch of sci-fi gibberish, when they aren’t giving us frightened and freaked-out reaction-shots, but hey, it’s nice to have them around, right? The one who gets away the most is Michael Fassbender playing, get this, dual roles as one robot, and another one. But there’s a key difference in the way the two are – David is a cool, sophisticated robot with personality, whereas the new one, Walter, is much more advanced in that he doesn’t think for himself and is, basically, as dull as a doorknob. It works for Fassbender who has fun, both as a the square-edged dork, as well as the charmingly freaky David, and makes his scenes, genuinely intriguing, because you never know where they’re going to go, or lead to.

Something this movie needed more of, but once again, was still entertaining.

Consensus: While not necessarily a game-changer for the franchise, Covenant is still a fun, intense and rather exciting entry that showcases Scott doing what he does best, even if there is some disappointment in him not trying a bit more of something, well, new.

7.5 / 10

Everyone’s waiting, Ridley. Now kill ’em!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

It’s like Tinder, or Grindr, but for ugly-looking creatures.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York by boat, carrying a suitcase with him. Why? What’s in the suitcase? And why does the year have to be, specifically enough, 1926? Well, it turns out that he has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. He’s arrived in New York just for a brief stopover that, he assumes, would go down without a hitch. However, his suitcase randomly opens up and a mysterious, platypus-looking creature named Jacob runs out of it, leaving Newt to have to search the city, far and wide, for this creature and get him back in safely his suitcase, so that he can continue on with his adventure. However, his stay in New York becomes far more difficult once he meets a factory worker aspiring to be a baker (Dan Fogler), and an odd woman named Tina (Katherine Waterston), who also turns out to be a member of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). Meanwhile, a deadly, terrifying force is taking over the area, destroying all sorts of buildings and killing people. No one knows where it’s coming from, or from whom, but Newt has an idea and will stop at nothing to make sure that no more people are hurt.

"Come with me, Newt! We've got to show that hack David Blaine what real magic's all about!"

“Come with me, Newt! We’ve got to show that hack David Blaine what real magic’s all about!”

Coming from a person who, as much as I hate to say it, doesn’t quite love the Harry Potter franchise, it’s surprising how much Fantastic Beasts can be at times. Director David Yates who directed the last four Potter movies, shows up here and brings the same kind of fun, lively and exciting bit of whimsy that he brought to those movies, but while the installments he worked with were far more darker and scarier, this time around, he gets to play everything down a bit.

I would mention the same way he did with the Legend of Tarzan earlier this year, but I think we all know that’s not true.

Anyway, the best part about Fantastic Beasts is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, or get too bogged down in the actual plot itself; due to this being an actual franchise-in-the-making, it would have been very easy for the movie to just set up a whole bunch of stuff and just sort of leave it all up in the air, knowing that we’ll still come back anyway. Instead, the movie’s more concerned with giving us the chance to know these characters, this setting and just what this wonderful, slightly more grown-up world of fantasy and wizardry has to offer. There’s a whole heck of a lot more scarier beasts this time around, period-details about the good old days of the roarin’ 20’s that only older people would really appreciate, let alone, get, and even the humor itself, while obviously silly at times, also feels like it’s aiming for a smarter, more adult crowd than the Potter movies.

Bad buzz-cuts automatically mean "villain".

Bad buzz-cuts automatically mean “villain”.

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with those movies or the people who like them, it’s just that, for awhile at least, they were movies specifically created for kids. Times have changed and for Yates, it seems like he understands that the better aspects of Fantastic Beasts are actually getting us involved with this world and all of the colorful, surprisingly wacky characters and creatures that inhabit it. While characters like Newt and Queenie are meant to seem off-kilter, even the human characters, like Tina, or Jacob Kowalski, still seem placed into this bright, shiny and sometimes weird world where magic does exist and for the most part, takes priority over all else. It reminds me of what the early Potter movies set out to be, all before they got obsessed with their own sense of sadness, dread and darkness.

That said, Fantastic Beasts still runs into its problems.

For one, it’s story doesn’t quite work. While in the first half or so, Yates doesn’t get too bogged down by what’s going on, who’s to blame for it all, and how it all can be stopped (magic, right?), eventually, he changes his tune and in the second-to-last-half, decides that maybe it’s time to actually give us a full-blown story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, nor really matter. The best times of Fantastic Beasts are whenever we’re sitting there, watching as these characters run all throughout NYC, chasing creatures, tripping over themselves, and hitting constant obstacles, as if they were outtakes from the Looney Tunes, but whenever we focus in on the actual so-called “villains” of the tale, it never quite registers.

Most of that has to do with the story itself being so incredibly dark and disturbing, making Fantastic Beasts feel a tad bit off. Without saying too much, the subplot involving the so-called “baddies”, ends up coming down to child abuse and depression, which, in a movie where the first hour is dedicated to a bunch of characters chasing around what is, essentially, a platypus who can stick all sorts of items inside of him (please, don’t ask), is odd. It also doesn’t help that incredibly talented actors like Colin Farrel, Ezra Miller and Samantha Morton, are all left to work with some lame material that seems like it wants to be more sinister than it actually is. Even though the evil creature actually turns out to be quite scary and loud, there’s almost no rhyme or reason behind it all; we get the sense that maybe this character’s strict religious beliefs have something to do with it, but maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t quite work and only gets in the way of making Fantastic Beasts as bright and as shiny of a spectacle as it so clearly wants to be.

Consensus: Even with an overly complicated plot that seems to promise darker times to come in future installments, Fantastic Beasts can still be a very fun, charming and lovely little spin-off the obviously more famous Potter franchise.

6.5 / 10

You're Newt, Eddie! You're not Stephen Hawking anymore! So stop with that quivering lip!

You’re Newt, Eddie! Not Stephen Hawking! So stop with that quivering lip!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, The Movie My Life

Born to be Blue (2016)

Let’s get lost on all sorts of drugs and fun.

Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke), at an early stage in his life at least, truly was someone to love and behold. His records were selling like crazy, people wanted to meet him, be him, women loved him, and yes, he was even getting film-roles. But that all seemed to change one day when, all of a sudden, he gets his ass beaten within an inch of his life, taking out his teeth and vowing to never let him play again. Why did this happen? Well, let’s just say that Chet always had problems with drugs and money, and those that beat him up, had a good reason for it. But still, Chet is trying to make something out of this misfortune, whether it’s still continuing to record and play, or start a family with actress girlfriend Jane (Carmen Ejogo). No matter what though, no matter how hard he tries, or where he goes, Chet’s demons always follow him and it’s one of the main reasons why he’s stayed so far away from the mainstream.

Rather than being your ordinary, conventional biopic of a music-legend, Born to be Blue changes things up slightly. What writer/director Robert Budreau does here with the Chet Baker story is that he takes a part of the man’s life and films it for all of the world to see. By doing this, Budreau allows for us to see all that we need to see, or what we need to know about Baker, by highlighting this time in his life where he seemingly had it all, and then lost it all, in a matter of seconds.

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Does it really change the format a whole lot? Not really, but it’s a nice little change-of-pace for a genre that can get so old and tiring when it isn’t paying attention.

That said, Born to be Blue does a nice job at giving us the small details about Baker, his life, his personality, and his issues, that make us feel like we are actually getting to know him underneath all of the sweet-ass playing-skills. So often do biopics of these nature forget that one of the main reasons why people care so much to see these flicks in the first place, isn’t just to see an actor fake-playing an instrument or whatever, but actually getting a chance to see the heart and soul of said person. Here, Chet Baker is shown, warts and all, no apologies whatsoever, but that’s fine.

In a way, it makes the movie better, if a tad gloomy. Just when we think that life is going to turn out perfectly fine for Chet at this time in his life, little do we know that, right around the bend, is something tragic, sad, or depressing that’s going to turn him back to his old, evil ways. It’s quite upsetting really, because we get to see Baker as a sympathetic person all throughout, so that when he does turn that corner and begin to not just hurt himself, but those around him that love and support every little thing that he does, it hits even harder.

It’s meant to, because the rest of Born to be Blue depends on Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker and well, as you could have guessed it, he’s pretty great in the role. As usual for Hawke, he gets a chance to play it small, quiet and subtle as Baker, never fully lashing out into hysterics to show his pain, but still getting plenty of other chances to do so. We understand and we hear just how talented and great Baker is, but the tortured soul that lies somewhere in between it all, is seen through Hawke’s wonderful performance, showing more sides and dimensions to a person that deserves plenty of them.

Match made in jazz hell.

Match made in jazz hell.

Then again, it’s not entirely his movie, which is what makes Born to be Blue something special.

As Jane, a failing actress looking for that last glimmer of hope and fame, Carmen Ejogo is perfect, because she brings a lot of pleasantness and sweetness to a movie that sometimes forgets all about that. Her character is so interesting in her own right that she could have probably gotten her own movie, but as is, she serves as a solid counterpart to Baker’s sometimes outlandish ways, while giving us someone who loves and understands him exactly for who, or better yet, what he is. It helps that they have great chemistry, too, but really, it’s Ejogo who steals the movie from Hawke and everyone else.

Which is to say that the movie is good, if not great. The performances definitely help it, but it’s also quite limited in its scope and its affect, mostly because it still sets out to tell Baker’s story. While it’s effective at doing that, the emotional-connection that’s supposed to be felt, never quite comes through. Some of this could be chalked up to the fact that the movie is quite stand-offish when it comes to portraying Baker’s day-to-day interactions with the people around him, but it also comes down to the fact that maybe he was just such a mystery, in the way he acted and sounded, that it’s hard to make a movie that really gets to the meat of the matter.

We see him so sad and depressed, but why exactly? We hear some hints at his childhood, but really, they all come and go, while we just sit and watch as Hawke comes close to tears in every scene. Maybe there’s more to Baker than we’ll just ever know. For all we got now is the sweet and soulful music that he allowed for our ears to be treated to.

But was it enough? Unfortunately, we may never know or find out.

Consensus: Sad, but incredibly well-acted, Born to be Blue still suffers from being a biopic, but also has a keener-eye towards the heart that makes it seem slightly different and fresh.

6.5 / 10

Smile, Chet. It's okay.

Smile, Chet. It’s okay.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Pride and Glory (2008)

Keep it in the family. Even corruptness.

After a bunch of his fellow cops are shot dead in what was supposed to be a drug-ring raid, Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) returns to the detective field to figure out just who killed these cops and just exactly how it all happened. And because his daddy (Jon Voight), his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich), and brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell), are all apart of the force as well, it should make absolute sense that he should have no problems getting the right kind of answers he so desperately seeks. However, what Ray begins to find out, though, is that the details surrounding the killer and what happened are a bit shady. For one, nobody can find the supposed-shooter, and to make matters worse, it turns out that perhaps some brothers in blue may also be a little bit dirty. Which is expected, but there’s a possibility that these dirty cops may have been involved with the killing of the other cops, leading Ray to start questioning all of the cops around him, including his family. Obviously, they’re all appalled and shocked by Ray’s findings and accusations, but at the same time, there’s still some truth to it, and this is when everybody involved starts getting desperate and finding a clean way out of this dirty situation.

"Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?"

“Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?”

If you’ve seen one cop movie, generally, you’ve seen ’em all. Hardly do they ever stray away from the norm of what we’ve all come to know and expect with a cop movie, which begs the question: Why does Hollywood keep making them? Is there really any huge sell or draw in them that makes people flock out to the theaters to check them out? Or is that Hollywood can’t get over its weird affection and interest in the brothers in blue, so they still continue to make movies about them, not offering anything new or interesting to say about them, either?

Well, whatever the answer may be, Pride and Glory doesn’t really do much to make sense of it.

Although, Pride and Glory is a different kind of cop movie; for one, it’s about dirty cops, being, well, dirty and corrupt as all hell. Given today’s political climate, you’d think that this would be a hot-button topic worthy of being touched upon and prodded at, but director Gavin O’Connor doesn’t really seem interested in diving deep into that discussion. Instead, he just sort of wants to show off his dirty cops as they were; doing stuff they shouldn’t be, pointing the fingers at others, and telling lookie-loos to “mind their own business and shut their mouth”. O’Connor may have some sort of interest in what drives a seemingly normal, everyday cop, to become a drug-dealing, money-stealing baddie, but he doesn’t quite show it.

Most of the time, O’Connor allows his movie to fly-off the rails with fine actors going a tad bit over-the-top. Gifted character actor Frank Grillo is sadly the clearest example of this as his cop character, albeit a dirty one, wants absolutely each and every person in the movie to know it. It’s almost as if any and all subtlety was lost here and O’Connor told Grillo to “just have fun”, and he really did. Problem is, all of the yelling, punching, kicking, and gun-slinging doesn’t do much to help create a character, but further highlight a type that needs to be done with.

But Grillo isn’t the only one who is dialing it way, way up.

Colin Farrell is intense, doing his best De Niro impression here, but once again, his character feels like he has no rhyme or reason for breaking bad. Sure, we get the idea that maybe greed took over and he couldn’t stop himself, but we can only assume that because we never see this character actually be a good cop – we just see him as this dirty one, who can’t be trusted with anything. There’s an unpredictable nature to Farrell that he brings onto the screen each and every chance he gets, but mostly, it just ends with him yelling or acting out in some way.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

I mean, hell, the guy almost hot irons a baby! What the hell!

Edward Norton, thankfully, dials it down a bit more and seems to actually be more interested in diving dig into his character’s psyche. Issue is, this tends to make his character feel a bit more boring and dry than he probably should, which is an even bigger shame because he’s the lead protagonist we’re supposed to stand behind, root for and spend all of our time with. Norton has solid scenes with just about everyone around him, but when it comes to pushing the story-line along, there’s a never ending sense of normality that overtakes Norton, as well as the movie and it’s hard to get away from.

By the end though, O’Connor decides to stop sitting around and let everything and everyone, within Pride and Glory, run wild.

This means that guns are shot, people are beaten-up, noses are bloodied, faces are battered, people start shouting, and out of nowhere, which was, at one point, a slow, almost meandering drama, is now this wild-and-out, action-thriller where people can’t stop beating the hell out of one another. Is it exciting to watch? Sure. Does it feel like a whole completely different movie? Oh, most definitely and it’s an issue that seems to make Pride and Glory, yet again, just another cop movie.

Although still plenty more watchable than season two of True Detective.

That’s for sure.

 

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, Pride and Glory is drenched into too many cop movie cliches and conventions to really do much, other than just mildly entertain those looking for some entertainment.

6 / 10

"We're brudders. We ain't eva gain to brake apaart."

“We’re brudders. We ain’t eva gain to brake apaart.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Selma (2014)

Believe it or not, there’s actually more words after, “I have a dream“.

In 1965, racial tensions in the United States were very high, most importantly though, in the South. A region of the country in which, even though blacks were legally allowed to vote, they still had to jump through all sorts of law abiding rules and regulations that was obviously set out to make sure that their race, and only theirs, wouldn’t be allowed to vote and therefore, not have their voices be heard like any other citizen. This is when Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) decided that it was time to step in and allow for his voice to not only be heard, but acted on as well. Most importantly though, MLK travels Selma, Alabama of all places to arrange a march that would not only get the attention of everybody’s eyes and ears, but also President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson)’s, and would hopefully drive him to make some severe changes to the voting-process. Although, as one could expect, LBJ wasn’t always down to change certain voting restrictions, especially with the looming pressure of possible voters and fellow confidantes like George Wallace (Tim Roth), J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), and Lee C. White (Giovanni Ribisi), among many others.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Contrary to what some may believe, Selma isn’t necessarily a biopic about MLK, his life, his achievements, and everything else that transpired when he was alive, and what soon followed afterwards. Instead, it’s much more of a film in which a good portion of MLK’s life is documented, yet, never fully chronicled to make it just his, and his own; there’s plenty more people apart of this story, helping out to create a larger, more thought-out picture than just being standard. The same could actually be said for the civil rights movement(s) that Selma seems to portray – it wasn’t just one person who is single-handedly credited with all of the accomplishments, it’s everybody who was there to help that one person out and make sure that his dreams were fulfilled, as risky as they sometimes may have been.

And in the world that we live in now, honestly, Selma couldn’t be anymore relevant. And to be honest, director Ava DuVernay fully knows this, which is why this movie hits as hard as it does, but without ever seeming like it’s pandering in any sort of way. Surely DuVernay sees and understands the civil rights movement as a significant time in our history (as well as she should), but rather than making it a simple and easy history lesson that any fifth-grader could teach to a class of hundred or more, she strives for something more difficult and ambitious. While DuVernay portrays the civil rights movement, and those behind it all, as smart and inspiring, she also shows that the tactics that would eventually land most of these participants in hot water, not just with the government, but with fellow members of their own race.

For white people who got involved with the civil rights movement, they suffered threats, day-in and day-out from fellow Caucasians who believed that it wasn’t their right to get involved. The black people suffered this, too, and definitely a lot more worse, but as the movie portrays it, it wasn’t just the white people that blacks had to deal with on a regular basis, it was actually some people of their own race. DuVernay shows this with the inclusion of Malcolm X, and as small as it may have been, it’s a smart move on her part to show that some people preferred to side with X’s way of violence solving any and all problems, whereas some others preferred to stick with MLK’s way of not fighting back and instead, using peace as the best medicine to ridicule those who use violence to their benefit. In a lesser film, each and every person of the same race would have gathered, hand-in-hand, and marched happily together, but in DuVernay’s much smarter film, sometimes, they’re at-war with themselves.

But this is just me getting further and further away from what Selma really does here, and that’s portray a brutal, yet significant time in our society’s history, without ever shying away from some of the more dark and dirty aspects that would push certain people away from seeing this. We’ve seen white cops beating on black people in movies (and sadly, in real-life, too) done before, but the way in how DuVernay shows the sheer terror and madness is not only disturbing, but downright terrifying. It not only opens our eyes a little more to what this film is setting out to do, but also puts into perspective what is really being fought for here, rather than just telling us and trusting that bit of info as is.

Like I mentioned before, though, there’s a good portion of this movie that likes to argue against what most of us may know, or think we know, about the civil rights movement and how all those apart of it acted. For instance, not every person in this film is a clear-cut good guy, or a bad guy; they’re, simply put, just people that had a foot in history and all had their own goals, whether they may, or may not be desirable to us watching at home. This is especially clear in the case of LBJ who yes, definitely seems like a racist, but is also a politician, meaning, that he knows he has a lot at stake here in terms of his voting numbers come re-election time. While it’s made clear to us that maybe LBJ’s morals aren’t in the right places, he is still trying to give MLK what he wants, just in his own way. They may not be perfect and they may not always get the job done, but they’re still efforts on his part and that’s more than he can say for many other white politicians during that time.

The same said for LBJ, could definitely be said for MLK, which is definitely surprising considering that you’d expect a piece praising the figure for everything that he did while he was alive, and the influence that still holds precedence in our society today. DuVernay instead dives a bit deeper into the man of MLK, what made him who he was, and how exactly he got through this tough time in his life. And with this, we see that he wasn’t always the perfect man; he was a shitty husband who fooled-around a bit too much, didn’t always step to the front-line like he had initially promised, and got a little big-headed for his own good. But nonetheless, MLK was MLK, a man who accomplished more than what anybody expected of him when he was alive, and it’s a true testament to the person he was, rather than the person people want us to see and believe in.

Round 2. Fight!!

Round 2. Fight!!

Doesn’t make him any less of a good person, it just makes him a person, first and foremost.

And as MLK, David Oyelowo is pretty outstanding. This isn’t too surprising considering Oyelowo has been churning out amazing performances for the past couple years or so, but it truly is great to see him tackle a role that so many people think we already all think we know of, and do something different with it. Because MLK isn’t made out to be the most perfect human specimen ever created in this movie, we see certain shades to his persona that we don’t get to see in his speeches; sure, the speeches are here and they are downright compelling to watch and listen to, but they aren’t what make this person. What makes this person is that he stood up for what he believed in and, at any cost, tried to make his dream a reality. He had many of bumps in the road, but ultimately, he prevailed in getting what he wanted, even if he definitely did gain some enemies in the meantime. Then again, who doesn’t?

Though there’s more to the cast where that came from and rightfully so, too. The previously mentioned LBJ is done well by Tom Wilkinson who fits perfectly into the role and constantly makes it seem like this man is going to explode at any second; Carmen Ejogo has a few strong scenes as MLK’s wife, Corette, and shows the painful side to being the one who is constantly left-at-home, when your significant other is off, fighting the good fight, and constantly allowing you and the rest of your family to be threatened; Tim Roth is pretty damn campy as the overtly-racist man that was George Wallace, although he does with it just enough scenery-chewing that there’s no need for the mustache-twirl; and honestly, plenty more where that came from.

In fact, so many more to talk about that to put one over the other would just be an absolute disservice to each and every performer who shows up here, ready to perform and give it their all with their roles, no matter how small or large they may be. But above all though, it’s DuVernay who deserves the most credit for handling this large ensemble and giving just about every member something substantial to do and add another layer onto a story that, quite frankly, is already very engaging to begin with. Although there are plenty of hiccups to be found on the road leading to the final-act here, DuVernay still brings us a solid depiction of the Selma marches, how they affected us as a society then, and how they do it to us now. Because seriously, the years may change, but the stories remain the same.

Who knows when the change will come. Let’s just hope it’s soon.

Consensus: Smart, powerful, and well-acted by just about everybody involved, Selma is a complex, detailed-look into the civil rights movement that knows it’s important, but never shoves it down its viewer’s throats.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

When they mean "strength in numbers"? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

When they mean “strength in numbers”? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Thankfully, I’d still have my Dorothy Doors. Nobody’d ever look down one of them.

It’s the year 2023 in America and it’s Purge Night. This means that the government is allowing everyone and anyone to go out there, commits all sorts of crime, for a certain amount of time, without any police authority ever taking control. Sounds ideal for those nut-balls out there in the world, but for the common-folk who don’t enjoy killing people – it’s a bit of a disaster. On this one night in particular, we follow three stories: a couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) whose car accidentally breaks down on the road, moments before the Purge actually begins; a mother (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter (Zoe Soul) who are kidnapped by a bunch of men dressed in SWAT uniforms for unknown reasons; and a lone, silent man (Frank Grillo) who has a clear mission and is planning on following that on throughout the whole night. That is, all until he ends up gaining a conscience about half-way through and decides to save the mother and daughter, making them have to come along for the ride as he continues to finish what he set out to do in the first place. But on a night like “Purge Night”, nothing is ever going to be easy.

Okay, so it’s obvious that the big question concerning this sequel is, “Is it better than the first?” Well, coming from a lad like me who actually didn’t hate the first, but though it was mildly interesting disappointment, feels like that is the case here and I can’t say I’m too surprised. I knew that there was a whole bunch of promise in the first movie, but due to the fact that it didn’t have such a big-budget or cast-members, it seemed like it was a movie that could be remade, time and time again, except with more money and characters involved. Because all that movie really did was make a home-invasion thriller, with the fact that the cops can’t be called; as a result, making it something like a Funny Games, just with more blood, violence, characters, and less self-aware thoughts.

#TrueDetectiveSeason5

#TrueDetectiveSeason5

But with this sequel here, we get a bigger budget, which also means, more ground to cover. Which, yes, as a result, does mean that we get plenty of more violence, blood, and murder in all sorts of places now that everything can be spread out all across L.A. without there being any problems whatsoever with the studios. And because of that, the movie is definitely better; the violence, without sounding like a psychopathic nut-case, is pleasing because we get to see a lot of bad things, happen to bad people; the characters actually seem to have personalities, as well as smart minds that are capable of thinking rationally; and the ideas that carry-on from the first, are explored a lot more in an effective way that makes you think that maybe this Purge thing should not be happening. It gives this premise, this rather imaginary world more of a purpose and shows that, little by little, step by step, installment by installment, this franchise could really take the world by storm.

That said, it will definitely take some time and I don’t think we’re all that there yet. Because while this movie can sometimes be a compelling piece of violent fun, there are still some bits and pieces that need to be worked on. For instance, James DeMonaco, despite this practically being his “love child”, doesn’t seem like the perfect director for this material. You’d think that with the story spilling out all over on L.A.’s streets, that there would be more havoc, carnage and overall craziness, but there isn’t much of that. Sure, we hear people yelling, screaming, getting killed and all that fun stuff, but we never really get a sense that this is happening everywhere these people turn, which I think in a place like L.A., totally would be occurring.

Maybe it’s not quite all that far to be putting the blame on DeMonaco, and more of on the studios that back him up with all their wads of cash, but there was still a feeling of disappointment, from an action stand-point. Now, I don’t want it to seem as if I was asking for there to be a death every five or six seconds in the movie, but it did feel a bit “tame”, all considering what this plot truly is about and where it goes. Not saying you won’t enjoy some bouts of violence, blood and action, but when it does show up, it’s not quite filmed perfectly and makes you wonder why we haven’t put the shaky-cam thing to rest by now.

I mean, seriously: Everybody but Paul Greengrass hates it! Just put it away and bring it out every so often, like as if it was your acoustic-guitar you had from college and are bringing out at a fancy schmancy dinner party. That would be perfect and it would definitely show all of these action movies that, in order to excite or please us, they don’t have to constantly shake the camera as if they are in the freezing cold without any mittens; just have good action-sequences that are worthy of our full, undivided attention.

If the Raid 2 can do that, why can’t anyone else?!?!

Anyway, the one neat aspect about the Purge being such a big hit amongst and attracting anybody who automatically hears that title uttered in everyday conversations, means that the casts don’t have to be filled with big names to attract more people. That would most certainly help, but I think any Purge movie, is good enough than no Purge movie at all, regardless of who it is starring. And that’s why I like this cast so much: We’ve all seen these people before in countless other things, and although some of us may be able to tell them apart better than others, it’s still nice to see them getting work in a mainstream flick.

"Warrrrriorrrrrsssss commmeee outtt toooo....ergh! I mean, hey, let's Purge, guys!"

“Warrrrriorrrrrsssss commmeee outtt toooo….ergh! I mean, hey, let’s Purge, guys!”

Mostly though, I’m just speaking about the inclusion of Frank Grillo here and his lead role as Leo, the cold, stoic, soft-spoken bad-ass that has a plan and wants to stick to it as much as he can, with keeping just enough of his morality in tact. If you’ve ever seen Grillo in any of the numerous stuff he pops up in, you’d know the guy is the real deal and always leaves you wondering, “Why isn’t that guy a bigger name yet?”. Regardless of why that is, it doesn’t matter because Grillo’s a quality actor and handles this role very well, considering all he has to do is act tough, beat the shit out of people, and still be gentle enough to be considered “a good guy”. It’s a great role for Grillo to get his name out there and it’s also one that shows everybody he’s due for a Punisher re-boot.

You know, just saying.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re pretty fine, although there are some weak-links to be found. Real-life couple Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford are fine together, although I felt like he was a bit too stiff to play the common-dude-turned-bad-ass that occurs later on in the movie, as it occurs with just about every one of these characters. Carmen Ejogo is a lovely actress I’ve always enjoyed seeing in anything, and though I wish there was more for her to do other than look scared and frantically run around, having her around is still better than not. However, the weakest-link of this cast is the one who plays her daughter, Zoe Soul. I get that the character was a mid-teen that was trying to grasp what’s up with the world around her and how she wants to make a difference in it, but man, she would not shut up. Rather than having her play a character that is, essentially, “the cute kid” role that’s given to the ages that range from five-to-twelve, here, Soul plays the “too-smart-for-her-own-damn-good teenager”, and it’s the kind of role I don’t hope to see from here on out.

Although, like with the shaky-cam, nobody in Hollywood will listen. Story of my life.

Consensus: With a bigger budget and more ground to explore, the Purge: Anarchy is better than its predecessor, although it’s still clear that there’s plenty of improvement needed for this franchise to really work wonders and be more than just “a gimmick movie”.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!! 

Oh, Cynthia. Such a silly girl.

Oh, Cynthia. Such a silly girl.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

Alex Cross (2012)

If only Madea decided to dress-up for the occasion.

The plot centers on Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) trying to resolve a series of grisly murders by the cunning and sadistic killer (Matthew Fox), who just so happens to be more of a threat than Cross, or anybody else on the task-force, had originally imagined.

Since I’m not much of a reader, I usually depend on the movie-adaptations to give me something good and reasonable that makes me feel like I have already read the book, without even opening it up. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m a dummy, and maybe I depend too much on movies, but all I know, is that I like to watch movies rather than read books. That’s why I’m a movie critic and not a book critic (thank the heavens for that). However, movie-adaptations like this make me feel like it’s time for me to get my ass out to a Barnes & Noble (notice how I didn’t say Borders, RIP), and start reading what was really supposed to happen in the first-place, until Hollywood had to take it over and shit everything up.

This is not the first Alex Cross movie to ever be done before. Apparently Morgan Freeman starred in two of those adaptations and did pretty well, both for the movie and for the books as well. Sadly, it seems like Hollywood wanted to see what they could stretch out of that series once again and it’s a stupid-move that they should have just left with the Freeman. But, you would think with a director like Rob Cohen (who has done fun, but dumb action-flicks like The Fast and the Furious, XXX, and Stealth), that there would be something even remotely promising to see, but somehow. Cohen totally drops the ball on that idea.

I’ve never been a fan of Cohen, but the guy does have some fun movies to his credit but this one, is not one of them mainly because it seems like a lazy direction from the guy. Nothing here feels like anything new, original, or improved that we haven’t seen before already and just feels like one, long episode of CSI that you have to go out and pay for actually see. That wouldn’t have been so bad either, if the film just decided to relax a little bit with it’s camera-movements but they didn’t, and instead gave me a freakin’ head-ache. And when I mean that it gave me a head-ache, I mean exactly that.

I’ve seen so many damn films that have this shaky-cam, and they have all bothered me but have never made me sick or had any physical impact on me, until I saw this movie. Seriously, it’s so bad that during one scene where Perry and Fox face-off in what was supposed to be a climactic/epic head-to-head battle, that you cannot what is happening to who in the fight. You see people getting hit and you hear some damage being done, mainly because of the corny sound-effects, but there’s no actual sight of or understanding of what’s happening. It’s just a camera moving in such a rapid-fire way that it will anger even the biggest Tony Scott fans. Yes, it’s that bad.

However, when there’s a will, there is a way and I can’t say that this movie was all that terrible in every-aspect, especially in terms of the acting. I highly doubt that people imagined Tyler Perry would be the go-to-guy to take over a role that was once captured so famously by Morgan Freeman, because so many people thought it would have been Idris Elba in the role. And in all honesty, Elba would have done such a better job with a this role, even though Perry’s not all that terrible either. It’s obvious that Perry has a decent-amount of likability to him that shines through most of the movie, and for about the first 30 minutes, he captures that well and makes it seem believable. The problem that he runs into is when the film, and his character start to take a darker-edge towards everything and it feels very-forced in a way that didn’t even seem like Perry was all that infuriated. His character is supposed to mad and hellbent on revenge for something tragic that has happened to him, but it never feels like he actually is, and more or less, just feels like a guy that’s a little ticked-off. Can’t say why he’s ticked-off in the first-place, but it’s something that would infuriate anybody, but apparently Alex Cross is too composed for that.

The main villain who causes this tragedy, is named Picasso and is played by an almost unrecognizable Matthew Fox. When this movie was all said and done, I felt really bad for Fox because the guy goes through this huge and insane physical transformation that really seems like he put a lot of hard-work into, but seems undeserved for a movie that doesn’t really do anything with it, let alone even show it all that much to freak us the hell out. Since the camera is always shaking it’s ass off as if it was in a wild, ecstasy-fueled rave, Fox’s clean-cut body never gets to see the full light-of-day and is barely shown in it’s full-look to actually have us intimidated by what this guy can and most likely could do with his body. However, I can’t put too much of the blame on the camera as it’s also Fox to blame for this character being an ultra-lame villain that just seems like he’s phoning it all in, with crazy eyes and all. He’s a laughable villain, that never seems like a real threat to Cross and for the most part, never feels like Cross is even a real threat to him either. They just feel like two guys that have a problem with one another, but still don’t have anything special about either of them that could really eff-up the other person. It’s just a lame and boring rivalry that never feels fully-established.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re all okay but once again, it’s a bunch of talent that feels wasted on material that couldn’t give a shit if they were in these roles or not, they’re just there to fill them in. Edward Burns is good as Cross’ buddy/fellow-cop and does his usual Irish-guy shtick that we all know and love by now, but even his relationship with Cross feels lack it really lacks something to make it memorable and believable friendship that could stand all of the heart-ache that they go through. Rachel Nichols once again shows-up as another sexy girl, in a movie that sucks and does fine with it, but still feels like she deserves bigger and better for her looks and talents; Jean Reno is fine, but only shows up for 7 minutes throughout the whole film; Dr. Cox, aka John C. McGinley feels like he’s really lost in this movie and deserves way, way better; and Cicely Tyson probably does the best job of the whole cast as Cross’ mommy, who shows up to give nice advice on life and what he should do next.

Consensus: Alex Cross is what you expect from any conventional/unoriginal detective-movie that feels like it could have been so much better, but just isn’t because of it’s lazy-direction, under-written roles that feels like a big waste of time for the talent that’s in them, and an incredible over-use of the “crack-cam” that I always hate to see in movies, except for The Bourne Ultimatum, but I’m going to act like I didn’t even mention that movie in the review for this one.

4/10=Crapola!!

Sparkle (2012)

Where’s Kevin Costner when you need him?

Set in the 1960’s, three sisters form a Motown singing group, but fame has a heavy price, and Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is seeing her family fall apart right before her eyes. While Sparkle is writing her songs, it’s her sister, named Sister (Carmen Ejogo), who has center stage.  The other two sisters are backup for her, but she is a troubled soul and could make all their hopes and dreams come crashing down.

Being one of the only three white people in a crowd full of black people, I went into this expecting nothing much except for good music, some good times, and also, something that may have not necessarily been targeted towards me. Thankfully, I got both with just a bit more than I expected and yes, it was for me.

I never saw the original Sparkle, and to be honest, I have no plans on doing so since it seems like this one takes that story, adds nothing new, but somehow still makes it work. I think a lot of that credit has to go director Salim Akil who actually generates a lot of nice touches here and there with rich human moments that sometimes ring true, and plenty, and I do repeat, plenty of great music to listen to and even dance along to. The Motown sound is one of the best and this film remembers it all in the best ways with a lot of of fine tracks you may have, or may have not heard before but regardless, you’ll be tapping your toes and fingers. Now maybe if the Motown sound isn’t your bag, then this probably won’t be the best film to jam around too but since it’s mine, I enjoyed that aspect of this movie. Hell, I already listened to the whole soundtrack so you know it got me going!

But once you get past all of the exhilarating and fun musical numbers, you get what is none other than your usual, predictable story of a bunch of gifted singers, trying to make it big but end up falling short due to some terrible occurrences. Yeah, it goes down the road you would expect it to within the first 5 minutes and it’s a shame because this film could have really shown off some real twists and turns that would have gripped me a lot more had they decided to go down the road less traveled with musical flicks. You get wives being beaten, race cards being pulled, felonies committed, and racial politics being discussed, and it just gets to be the usual cliché-ridden tale you would expect from a story about a bunch of singers in the 60’s and 70’s.

But at the end of the day, everything is predictable and obvious but you never once get left out the story. There’s a type of sensitivity that Akil brings to this material where he spends times with these characters, allows us to get to know where they come from, and where their dreams are headed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a rich character drama that takes time with it’s story and characters, but at least it gives us something to hold onto and make us root behind these people when their lives really seem to go to shit. But it wasn’t just Akil’s direction that made these characters work, a lot of that has to be because of the ensemble cast of characters on-display here that make every one-dimensional character, seem like a hell of a lot more despite what’s on paper.

American Idol hopeful Jordin Sparks does a fine job as Sparkle because as cliché and obvious this character’s motivations can be, she at least makes her appealing and cute to the point of where she’s at least someone we like to watch on-screen, even if everything she says and does is pretty much calculated. Carmen Ejogo kicked ass as her sister, aptly named Sister, who is the obvious Beyoncé of the group who’s live eventually starts to go down-hill once too much fame and drugs come into play. I’ve seen this Ejogo gal before in other stuff before but whatever it was, it doesn’t matter because she did a great job giving a character that is pretty two-dimensional, more of a heart and soul that feels battered (literally) and bruised due to all of her problems with breaking out of normality. Maybe I gave the character more to chew on than this flick actually did but at least she kept me interested and I wouldn’t have minded seeing a whole film about her.

As for the dudes in the cast, they all do fine with a certain somebody, once again, stealing every scene he was in. Mike Epps did a phenomenal job as the hated comedian, Satin Strothers, who just disrespects everybody he comes around and doesn’t do a nice thing throughout the whole movie, but yet, you still want to see more of him. Epps is one of these actors that can use that perfect blend of seriousness and comedy to his advantage, which he does in-fact show here very well, but there’s a type of intensity to him here as well that makes his character so damn scary whenever he’s on-screen. Yeah, the dude is pretty much your essential dickhead that doesn’t do anything pleasant throughout the whole movie, but with Epps playing him, it’s all fine and dandy.

The real shame of this movie was that this was going to be Whitney Houston‘s big comeback and sadly, as everybody knows, she died about three months after completion for it and what a freackin’ tragedy that is man because she does a great job here as the girls’ strict momma. Houston has never been an actress to write home about but at least she gives it her all and this flick as the momma that is never, ever allowing them to make the same mistakes that she did and you can feel her love and emotional support from her the whole movie. It also helps that when Houston belts out one song, she tears down the house, as you would expect from her and it’s just another sign that she could have really came back after all, and tore it down once again. Sadly, that did not happen and it’s a total disappointment.

Consensus: Sparkles features little or no surprises when it comes to its story, but features a great load of nostalgic music that takes us back to the Motown days, some fantastic performances from the cast that actually elevate these characters, and a couple of nice touches here and there of melodrama that work more than they should.

6/10=Rental!!