Category Archives: Reviews

Insurgent Review

Shailene Woodley, Theo James, InsurgentThe Divergent Series: Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent, picks up where the last film left off, with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four, (Theo James), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and frenemy Peter (Miles Teller) are on the run from the Erudite faction who are in pursuit after the group ruined their plans for a coup.

Robert Schwentke directed the sequel, based on the book series by Veronica Roth, with a screenplay by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback. The film does not really follow the novel, and may appear almost unrecognizable to fans of the book. This works to the film’s advantage, getting rid of some of the more annoying plot lines and simplifying the story. For example, the conspiring between Tris and the leader of Abnegation, Marcus, has been completely removed. The filmmakers have also scrapped the bickering between Tris and Four. Without discussing the end sequence to avoid spoiling the end of the film or the novel, it’s completely changed. Many of the supporting characters from the first film are back, but they barely appear, leaving the focus on Tris, Four, and their struggle against Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of Erudite.
Shailene Woodley, Tris Prior, Theo James, Four,  Ansel Elgort, Caleb Prior, Insurgent
Jeanine is trying to find a divergent to unlock a box that she thinks contains a necessary element for her to be in charge of dystopian Chicago. Meanwhile, Tris, Four and friends are trying to get the other factions to join them in their rebellion against the Erudite and the faction system as a whole.

As a series, Insurgent continues to present Tris as a hero, with the guys, including Four, acting as her support, often acting alongside her as her soldier in combat. However, Tris finds that her goals require more than leadership, and she struggles with how to come to terms with that and what decisions to make.

The film has many strong women, though it makes little use of many of its actors. Woodley and James give passable performances but have little to work with in regard to any character development or depth. The film also stars Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Daniel Dae Kim and Maggie Q, though the fact that they haven’t been mentioned until now is an accurate representation of their use in the film.

The film has a crisp look, more sepia compared to the blue tones of the first film. The film is entertaining and worth watching if you’re a fan of dystopian movies or light action films, as looking as your only looking for entertainment and not anything too intellectual or Oscar worthy. Insurgent is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Captain America: Civil War Review

The Night Manager Review

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Captain America: Civil War Review

Captain America: Civil WarCaptain America: Civil War, otherwise known as Avengers 2.5, was written and directed by the Russo brothers, and stars so many Marvel characters it would take the entire review to mention them all (though that’s not a bad thing).

The film brings the issue of civilian casualties to the forefront, taking the time to establish the issue and the reasons different characters would have their own views on it, creating a believable situation where disagreement could exist, something necessary for the rest of the movie to work. The specifics of the issue revolve around an international agreement that would put the Avengers under the control of the United Nations through an accord that they would sign. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads the team against the accord, while Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) leads the team in favor of the accord. Continue reading

The Night Manager Review

 

Tom Hiddleston, Jonathan Pine, Hugh Laurie, Richard Roper, Olivia Coleman, Angela Burr, The Night Manager, Elizabeth Debicki, JebThe Night Manager is a miniseries based on a novel by John Le Carre, and was written by David Farr, directed by Susanne Bier and stars Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Coleman, and Elizabeth Debicki.

For this modern adaptation of the novel, which takes place in the 70’s, Farr makes it more relevant by moving it to January 2011, during the Arab Spring Awakening where Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston), a former soldier, is working as the night manager in a hotel in Cairo. Pine is introduced in a scene that has him walking through the streets in a light blue linen shirt and cargo pants, while all around him things are exploding and gun shots are going off, none of which seem to phase him. It’s a beautiful shot. When he arrives at the hotel, and his co-worker questions his sanity, he responds, “I’ve seen worse.” This scene encapsulates Pine, who plays everything close to the vest and is not easily ruffled. Continue reading

The Escort Review

Lyndsy Fonseca, The EscortThe Escort is a romantic comedy starring Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita, Agent Carter) and Michael Doneger, who is also a co-writer. However, it is not quite a conventional romantic comedy. Both lead characters have some relatively dramatic problems and their attempts to navigate them give the movie it’s comedy and appeal.

The film follows Mitch (Doneger), a writer who gets fired at the beginning of the film, for reasons relating to his problem. He goes on a job interview that doesn’t go very well, and this leads him to offer to write a story on spec, meaning the magazine can print it if they want, but aren’t obligated. This leads to Mitch meeting Natalie (Fonseca), a hooker who works at a hotel where Mitch is meeting a hookup. That gives him the idea to write an article about Natalie.
Lyndsy Fonseca, The Escort
Natalie is a character that has some depth. This isn’t a fairy tale story. While the film is a romantic comedy, and thereby somewhat predictable, it isn’t your Julia Roberts story about a hooker and a john with a heart of gold. Natalie is a Stanford graduate and has her own business (even outside of being a sex worker) and throughout the film, she saves herself. She isn’t waiting for someone else to save her. She also is not a victim. She owns her career choices, and has logical reasons behind them. She isn’t concerned with Mitch’s opinions about her choices.

The film is smarter than most romantic comedies, and has some great supporting characters played by actors such as Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice), who add quirkiness to the film. The narrative does follow the generally accepted romantic comedy formula, hitting all the beats the audience has come to expect, but it does it well, and it doesn’t make them seem contrived.
Lyndsy Fonseca, The Escort
Mitch has a younger sister, played wonderfully by Rachel Resheff, and the interaction between Natalie and Emily brings a lot of heart to the story. Emily acts as somewhat of a catalyst for Natalie to fix some of her regrets in her past, leading to endearing, yet hilarious, results. Emily also has some personal issues that are demonstrative of Mitch’s larger family problems.

The movie has some trouble in developing the relationships between Mitch and his friend, JP, played by Tommy Dewey, who seems to have no purpose other to criticize Mitch, as if to explain the problems Mitch is facing to the audience. Throughout the film, it is unclear why Mitch would continue to be friends with him. Dewey does a fine job with his performance, but the character is very one-note and annoying.

The movie has great performances and is entertaining and uplifting. It is definitely worth watching. The Escort is available on DVD, as well as Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

Take Care Review

Revenge of the Bridesmaids Review

Laggies Review

Beyond the Lights Review

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Take Care Review

Leslie Bibb, Thomas Sadowski, Take CareTake Care, written and directed by Liz Tuccillo, and starring Leslie Bibb and Thomas Sadoski, tells the story of a woman, Frannie, recovering from a car accident in convalescence in her apartment in New York City.

As a result of the accident, where she was hit by a car, Frannie is housebound, and somewhat bedbound, as she has multiple broken limbs resulting in many casts and slings. As a result of these injuries, she is also in a lot of pain. After finding herself alone in her apartment, after her sister and friends have left, unable to do things for herself, she calls her ex-boyfriend, Devon (Sadoski). We learn that when they were together, Devon was diagnosed with cancer and Frannie devoted herself to caring for him, only to have him break things off with her once he was in remission. Due to her present circumstance, Frannie is feeling bitter about this. When Devon arrives, she basically guilts him into taking care of her on a daily basis, including spending ten minutes talking to her.
Leslie Bibb, Taking Care
The film takes place almost entirely in Frannie’s apartment, and as such, is largely dialogue driven. The script is entertaining and sometimes funny and has an emotional heart to it that lets you connect to the characters and understand their internal struggle, whether it’s Frannie’s frustration with not being able to do things for herself, or Devon’s feelings towards Frannie as we learn the real reason he broke off their relationship and the drama that ensues as Frannie and Devon spend so much time together, causing them to remember why they loved each other in the first place, complicated by the fact that Devon is engaged to someone else.
Leslie Bibb, Thomas Sadoski, Take Care
By telling the story mainly from Frannie’s perspective, Bibb conveys the frustration with not being able to do the simplest things, and the need for human contact that results in her calling Devon and convincing him to talk to her. Part of the fun exists in the little details, which include Frannie’s addiction to Law & Order and Devon’s weird ability to know the voice featured in every commercial, something that includes some vocal cameos from different celebrities.

The film is light hearted and the ending isn’t exactly something that you won’t see coming, but the film is fun and entertaining, and the actors do a great job in bringing the viewer into this world that exists in Frannie’s apartment.

Take Care was released in 2014 and is available to watch on Netflix instant streaming.

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The Big Short Review

Ryan Gosling, Jared Vennett, Steve Carrell, Mark Baum, The Big ShortThe Big Short tells the story of the financial meltdown of 2008. That, conceptually, doesn’t sound like an exciting film, but the screenwriters, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, do a great job of turning what could be dry subject matter into a humorous and tension filled film, even as you know how it must end.

Everyone is familiar with the financial meltdown at this point, and the film takes you on an inside view of the people who saw it coming. They explain it in a way that’s easy to understand without being condescending. As a result, by the end of the film, you are extremely frustrated, because things haven’t changed, and there is no sign that they’re going to.
Ryan Gosling, Jared Venett, Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Mark Baum, Christian Bale, The Big Short
The film has a large cast, including Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Finn Wittrock, Max Greenfield, Marissa Tomei, and Melissa Leo, as well as numerous others, and the way they all interplay shows how complicated and immoral, as well as fraudulent, the events that led up to the economic downfall of the housing market were, and the stress it caused, no matter what side you were on, whether you were making money from the long or the short investment, or whether you were an average person trying to have a place to live.
Brad Pitt, The Big Short
Conceptually, it has some parallels to 2015’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which was also about financial excess, but this comes at it from a different angle, and tells the story while keeping in mind that those watching were very likely effected by this economic catastrophe. The filmmakers don’t expect you to find humor in what happened, even as you find yourself laughing at many situations that come up along the way.
Christian Bale, The Big Short
This is an important film, because it makes a complicated concept digestible, while also keeping it entertaining. It allows the viewer to leave the theater feeling like they understand a lot more of what happened, but more confused as to what can be done, and feeling more powerless armed with more knowledge than you did with less knowledge. It’s a story of the combination of ineptitude, greed, and immorality, all coming together to create a global disaster.

Randolph and McKay did a fantastic job writing this story. McKay also directed the film using brilliant camera work, with cuts that show excess and contrasts of power, bringing the stress home to the viewer.
Ryan Gosling, Jared Vennett, The Big Short
The Big Short is in theaters now, and is nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Christian Bale, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

Rating: ****/**** (4/4)

You’re Not You Review

You’re Not You is a film that deals with ALS, a subject dealt with much more thoroughly and better in last year’s The Theory of Everything. This film stars Hilary Swank as Kate, a woman who has a seemingly perfect life. She’s married to Evan (Josh Duhamel), and they have a seemingly perfect relationship. Kate even plays the piano to later help demonstrate the seriousness of illness.

The film skips ahead to when Kate is dealing with the major symptoms of LAS, which prevent her from doing basic things that require fine hand movements and coordination. To demonstrate the seemingly perfect marriage, Evan is applying Kate’s makeup for her, because it is important to her and he is that devoted. Because it is very difficult to care for Kate, they decide to hire a caretaker, Bec (Emmy Rossum), who is the typical sort of messed up college student with no experience, so of course Kate immediately likes her and insists on hiring her.

This is where the movie begins to derail. It turns out that Evan had a brief affair with a co-worker because he was having a difficult time dealing with Kate’s illness. It is here that the movies devolves into somewhat of a soap opera, as Kate wants a divorce. In addition to the soap opera element, while Swank does an acceptable job portraying an ALS patient, she always does it while managing to still look pretty and often smiling. This is why I mention The Theory of Everything, where Eddie Redmayne portrayed Stephen Hawking, and his symptoms, which are much more severe than those we see Kate deal with. While Hawking has lived much longer than your average ALS patient, his symptoms are much more realistic. Kate never suffers the less attractive muscular failure, such as the inability to hold her head up or the slack muscles. While she can’t use her hands, they still look perfect. The movie basically fits the stereotype of those disease movies where people die beautifully of cancer, erasing all the ugliness of the disease from the viewers sight.

There is a subplot with Bec, who has disapproving parents, and Wil, a guy who Bec sleeps with but then tries to avoid, though he is clearly interested in a relationship. Bec and Kate develop a sisterly relationship where Kate uses the wisdom she has gained from her experiences with ALS to give Bec advice on how to live better.

The film was written by Shana Feste and Jordan Roberts, and directed by George C. Wolfe. The performances are all good, outside of the fact that Swank doesn’t show the full severity of the disease, though that may have been a decision of the screenwriter or director.

Rating: 3***/5

American Horror Story: Hotel Review

American Horror Story HotelThe latest season of American Horror Story sees a recurrence of most of the series regular actors (Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Denis O’Hare, Angela Bassett, Chloe Sevigny) as well as some that are welcome additions from Ryan Murphy’s other work (Matt Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson) and the completely new and fun addition of Lady Gaga as The Countess.

This season is not quite as graphic as some, though it involves a lot of throat slitting, so be prepared for that. However, there are some really fun characters and story lines that are enjoyable without any kind of weird ick factor. Or with a whole lot of weird ick factors, depending on your perspective.

There is the story of Donovan (Matt Bomer) who has been spurned by the Countess, who turned him into a vampire, and his relationship with his mother, Iris (Kathy Bates), with whom he has a very damaged, unhealthy and co-dependent relationship.
Matt Bomer, Lady Gaga, American Horror Story Hotel, Donovan, Countessa
Then there is John Lowe (Wes Bentley), a police detective who has had a lot of problems since his son was kidnapped. Little does he know that the Countess kidnapped him. As a result of the loss, John and his wife, Alex (Chloe Sevigny) have a very fractured relationship, from which their daughter suffers the most.

There is the immortal serial killer James March, played by Evan Peters who brings such character to the part that it seems like he’s in a black and white film even when it’s in color (sometimes it actually is shot in black and white), and Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) a transgender bartender that feels like he was saved by the Countess.

And, of course, there is the Countess herself. Most of the other characters revolve around her, and Lady Gaga brings a lot of attitude to the role. It’s not a role that requires her to have a lot of acting talent, which isn’t to say she doesn’t, it’s just not evident from the Countess, and it doesn’t need to be. Her makeup and costumes do most of the acting, and Lady Gaga just stares down people and says her lines with great authority, and it just works. It’s easy to see why all the other characters are so intimidated by her.

As the season progresses, many of the story lines begin to become intertwined with each other, and some of them have surprising twists. There are many scenes where you will fear for the safety of Scarlett Lowe, the daughter of John and Alex. The backstory of each character is revealed, and they are interesting and draw you further into the show, making you care about the characters more with each episode, even as you fear what they will do to each other.

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Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Mad Max Fury Road, Charlize Theron, Imperator Furiosa, Tom Hardy, Mad MaxI went into Mad Max: Fury Road with no particular expectations, just some curiosity over all the attention it got for being feminist, including a reporter asking Tom Hardy (Max) if he wondered why there were so many women in the film (he didn’t). I’ve never seen any of the original Mad Max movies, so that may have informed my opinion, though I couldn’t say.

As the film started, I just thought it was a bit strange and I wasn’t really sure what I was watching. The titular character (Tom Hardy) is kidnapped by some really weird people and has his blood taken. He tries to escape, but is unsuccessful. He then ends up tied to the front of a vehicle as it’s driving through the desert in a relatively intense car chase scene, the entirety of which he spends in that same position. Other than a voice over, I don’t think he had even spoken to that point. Throughout the rest of the film, he isn’t a big talker, either.

Mad Max Fury Road, Charlize Theron, Imperator Furiosa
At the same time, a woman called Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the first part of which I think is a title, who seems to have a high position within these people who paint their faces like skulls and steal blood from random passerby that they have kidnapped, is going out on a mission. During the mission, she goes a different way than planned, and it turns out that the emperor has a group of very young wives that Furiosa is freeing by taking them to the “green place”. Continue reading

Aloha Review

Bradley Cooper, Brian Gilcrest, Rachel McAdams, Tracy Woodside, Emma Stone, Allison Ng, AlohaAloha, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, faced a lot of backlash when it was released in theaters for the casting of Emma Stone as a part-Asian woman. The criticism was justified, as there is no explanation in the film for her Asian name and red haired, Caucasian appearance. However, moving past that, the film was much better than I expected, which is to say it was adequate.

Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a man who was in the military but now works for a private contractor (Bill Murray), which is what brings him back to Hawaii. When he exits the plane, we meet Allison Ng (Emma Stone) and Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), establishing the love triangle right off the bat. For those who have seen many of Crowe’s films, this one doesn’t depart from his usual collection of plots.

Tracy is Brian’s ex-girlfriend, and since their break-up, she has married Woody (John Krasinski), another military man with very little to say. It’s a plot device/joke throughout the film that Woody is not very communicative. Krasinski definitely didn’t have trouble remembering his lines.
Emma Stone, Allison Ng, Aloha
Tracy and Woody are having relationship problems, introducing the opportunity for a possible reconciliation between Rachel and Brian. Simultaneously, Brian and Allison go to speak to the native Hawaiian people about an issue that was mainly a plot device that I’ve already forgotten. The bottom line is that the natives want their land, which includes the sky, to be respected, and the military wants to put a satellite in the sky above the island. Brian is working for the military contractors building the satellite and Allison is vehemently against it.

The film follows Brian back and forth between meeting with Tracy about relationship issues and getting to know Allison as they work together. After a party, Brian and Allison end up sleeping together, but that relationship lasts for about five minutes before Allison finds out that Brian knew about the satellite, and then there are a few twists to the story before it resolves exactly as you think it will.
Emma Stone, Allison Ng, Aloha
The film is adequate in every way, with the possible exception of the beautiful Hawaiian scenery. The acting is adequate (even with two Academy Award nominated actors), the writing is adequate in that it is entertaining if you’re looking for a film to watch, but not memorable or great. The female characters are not particularly developed, but neither are the male characters. Emma Stone is the best part of an entirely adequate film.

If it’s on television or Netflix, Aloha is worth a watch as a diversion, though that is really all. Otherwise, check out one of Crowe’s other, better films.

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Bradley Cooper, Brian Gilcrest, Emma Stone, Allison Ng, Aloha