Monthly Archives: September 2015

Families of the World: Families of Puerto Rico

FamilyPRI thought I’d take a look at one of the multi-award-winning live-action Families of the World series episodes called Families of Puerto Rico. The purpose of the series is to give an intimate portrait into the lives of people in countries around the globe.

Another reason I decided to view the Puerto Rico DVD is the recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15, 2015. Known as a time for people to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States and celebrate the group’s heritage and culture.

The Puerto Rico episode introduces an adorable nine-year-old boy named Jose. He lives with his mother, father and sister Tanya, in the capital city of San Juan. A hurricane is on its way, so Jose and his family are making preparations while still going about their day, which includes school for Jose and his sister, and work for their parents. Jose shares the history of his homeland’s name. He explains the island of Borinquen was renamed Puerto Rico by the Spanish after a visit and claiming by explorer Christopher Columbus. He also touches on what “good manners” mean in his country, and his desire to be a veterinarian when he grows up.

The series also introduces eight-year-old Laura. She lives on a farm with her mother and father. She attends private school more than an hour away, learning both English and Spanish while her parents work.  She talks about her weekly piano lesson and introduces her pet Coquis frog. Later she visits the world’s largest radio telescope to listen to radio waves from outer space and reads before turning in for the day.

I enjoyed visiting these two children and learning about another culture. I recommend the series because taking a look at other cultures allows us a better understand of the world.

American Heist

amercianheistDirected by Sarik Andreasyan, American Heist is your typical thug movie without anything special to mention. With lines like “It was always me and you against the world.”, originality is lacking big time. Frankie, played by Adrien Brody, is just out of jail. His brother and crime partner, played by Hansen Christensen, is living a clean life after getting his act together while his brother was in jail.  But, Frankie doesn’t have any money or home. He needs his brother’s help to carry out one last heist. The final heist isn’t just for Frankie. Its success will help them both.  Added to the mix is some bad boy rappers, and they don’t really ad that much to the movie. Sorry boys.

I wasn’t bored watching the movie, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bad movie at all. There are some points in the movie that I did enjoy, but the story is pretty nonspecific with Brody carrying the movie on his shoulders by pure talent.  When I see Christensen in a movie, I am looking for the Shatter Glass performance that impressed me so.  Not in this movie, I am still hoping and watching.

Hollywood heist movies are very popular if done right. Such movies as Ocean Eleven, Reservoir Dogs, and The Usual Suspects are fine examples of these movies using elements that set them apart from parallel stories.  American Heist is not unique in that sense, which is its downfall. It is a typical movie that needs some panache in order to be good and worth watching.

The Definitive WWI & WWII Collection

The Definitive WWI & WWIII am amazed how The History Channel has produced an assortment of documentaries and episodes concerning the two Great Wars, WWI and WWII. The set is endless with titles that include The Color of War, an unrivaled five disc, 13-episode documentary about WWII, and The World Wars, a stellar production that spotlights a few of the more well-known individuals from the two wars.

Altogether, the complete package is over 44 hours and some content overlaps from disc to disc. The whole set could be organized better, and not so annoying while I try to come to terms of the flow from one disc to the next. The mixture of documentaries along with episodes from The History Channel series offer lot of views on both World Wars, but realize the product is a collection of distinct productions and not an epic told as a story from beginning to end. With that, don’t let the time, over 44 hours, allude you to the idea that each distinct disc covers all aspects of these two Great Wars. There was no way I could watch the entire set in order to review the product. I did catch some of the episodes and here are my thoughts.

Foremost, I found the discs had advertisements for other History Channel programs.  I wish it was an option instead of the trailers coming on right at the beginning of the disc. Sure, I fast forward, but it bugged me.  Here are some of the programs I had an opportunity to view.

The World Wars, a three-part mini-series, is well worth my time and energy to watch.  The series has a pretty decent overview of WWI and WWII told just about entirely through analysis of some key figures, including MacArthur, Stalin, Hitler, Churchill and Mussolini. The acting and production is appealing.  More vintage footage would make the series even better. The bonus content makes up for the lack of vintage footage. Characters have in depth overview of such notables as FDR, Truman, Hitler, Truman, Churchill, and Eisenhower. The feature is presented as a discussion by the panel of historians and professors who also contributed to the main program. They hold their discussions while clips from the program are shown.

100 Years of WWI is a two-disc set that offers a several episodes worth mentioning. They are Armored Beasts, Clouds of Death, Massive Air Attacks, and Underwater Killers. This documentary concentrates on how the industrialized world modernized to make horrific weapons of war like tanks, mustard gas, flamethrowers and submarines. The blend of vintage footage with modern, re-enactment footage is worth watching.

75 Years of WWII is also a two disc set with disc one containing D-Day material is worth watching, but disc two is nowhere near in comparison.

The Color of War is close to ten hours long and is probably the best program out of the whole package. The program takes a unique turn and offers an honest view of the civilians and home front. There is a lot of vintage footage and color film.  There is however lots of battle footage that incorporates violent imagery. If you are faint at heart this set might be difficult to view. Peter Coyote does a fine job narrating the whole series.

WWII In Space is a different approach to the Great Wars with a visual presentation incorporating many maps and CG animations, more than any documentary. The visuals keep the geography in proportion to the size of the planet we live on.  I like that because it gives me an idea of how the world is influence by the both wars.

Love & Mercy

L&M_bdskewLove & Mercy delves into the part of the entertainment industry where evil people lurk. Such people control and manipulate the artist while feeding off the artist’s life force, creativity, energy force or whatever you want to call it. There are not a lot of these life suckers, but the few that are there can wreak havoc. This movie answers the questions of what happened to Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Robin Williams and so forth. Luckily, Brian Wilson meets a woman who has the tenacity to help him and save his life.

The movie directed by Bill Pohlad, his second film as a director, takes a refreshing, and almost clandestine, approach to the story about Beach Boys co-founder and song writer, Brian Wilson. Two very talented actors play Wilson in different stages of his life. Paul Dano is the younger Brian. Here we see him with his cousin and a good friend, together; they launch the Beach Boys musical group in the early 1960’s. John Cusack is Brian in the 1980’s while under the control of his ingenious and vicious psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy, played truthfully by Paul Giamatti.

The story flashes forward and back while twisting the lives of both the young Brian and the old Brian. Watching young Brian create memorable music, we see a whiz kid. He starts with “surfer” music and moves to more complicated music produced as studio sound. During this time we hear some great music by the young Brian Wilson. He is a unique soul, creating hit song after song.

He did have problems to face, such as not wanting to fly in an airplane or being on the road with the Beach Boys. So, he refused going on the road and worked in the studio instead. He also took popular recreational drugs at the time, which probably caused all his problems. Some may label him while others would say he did have demons, but psychiatric treatment is not the answer.

Dano is great as the young Wilson. His performance captures Wilson and his various mood swings and eccentricities. Here the viewer must not mistake this for mental illness. He is a genius while conversing about the mind and spirit. The older Wilson is constantly under the psychotherapy of Landy’s 24-hour surveillance and over-medication and misdiagnosis. He blatantly manipulates Wilson guising help with a colorized screen of undermining half-truths, invalidation and total lies.

The older Wilson decides he wants a new Cadillac and meets saleswoman, and his champion, Melinda Ledbetter, played brilliantly by Elizabeth Banks. They fall for each other and begin dating, supervised by Landy and his associates. History will prove that there were other interests that Landy had in Wilson other than his mental health, which Melinda touches on as she confronts the ill-intended psychologist.

At first, the flashbacks are a little annoying because the younger Wilson and the older Wilson are two very different people. After awhile it all makes sense. Both the young and old versions are hard to watch, yet Melinda proposes a breather of hope. And when she confronts Landy, I cheer her on. She does the right thing and doesn’t smack him in his demented face as he shrinks back from her absolutely determined smile. She saves Wilson and flourishes.

The Age of Adaline

ageadalineThe Age of Adaline appears to have everything a movie needs to be in order to be a really good movie. So it seems.  Two main elements are missing – a really good script and a seasoned director.  Nevertheless, it is the number one romance movie at Amazon as I write this review.  The wave of potential has carried over to On Demand, Blu-ray and DVD because of the astounding cast and cinematography.

The Age of Adaline tells the story of Adaline Bowman, played very well by Blake Lively (Gossip Girl). She is a woman born in 1906 and looks like she is in her late twenties when we meet her in 2014. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would know the big part of the story is that she will never age another day.

In a series of flashbacks, the movie narrates while showing how Adaline was given the baffling curse of never aging past the age she was at the time of the curse. The narration is where both the writer and the director made their big mistake. Any filmmaker will tell you to let the story unfold. Don’t tell us. Show us.  The imagery worked just fine where the narration is used unnecessarily twice. The narration made it all seem so hokey. As if the director had to convince us that this transformation really happened to Adaline. The narration is not needed because throughout the movie her curse is so believable.  It’s like a fairy tale. Lively is convincing and her talent held my attention throughout the movie. Along with a very talented ensemble of co-stars kept me hoping for a better story.

What is fun about the movie is the story shifts through history with some hitches along the way. Adaline worries she will be recognized as a curiosity and terrified that she will be used as a guinea pig for governmental experimentation.  Adaline decides to live on the run, changing identities and locations in a timely manner. Until she encounters Ellis Jones, played charmingly by Michiel Huisman, he is a man beguile by her inscrutability and decides to woo her with her own medicine – history. He captures her heart, but not without a disquieting concern. It just so happens that another Jones family member Ellis’ father (played by Harrison Ford) might have a stronger connection to Adaline than any person knows.  Ford is great as he always is, and I just love watching him in this movie.

Lively is gorgeous in personality and body.  Yet, while watching the movie I kept feeling that she didn’t get along with the director, Lee Toland Kriegerm, or he didn’t know how to bring her over the top as the star of the movie and let the story be told. He just placed her in the scene hoping something would happen.  What she did was fantastic. Kriegerm just didn’t know who to capture it. The reason I say this is because the seasoned actors like Harrison Ford were true to form. Kathy Baker and Ellen Burstyn had minor roles, but I had a great time watching them in the movie.  They knew what to do with an inept story and director.

Being number one at Amazon merits a mention because the movie has its qualities. The overall story is engaging because of the concepts it offers like love at first sight, lasting love, growing old, becoming wiser, and finding old friends and family. They are magical, endearing through Adaline.

The Quiet Ones

thequietI am not a horror fan, but love movies like The Sixth Sense or The OthersThe Quiet Ones comes close to these two movies but is still a horror movie.  The movie is based on a true story and is entertaining.

Directed by Director John Pogue (The Skulls, Quarantine II) the movie lacked a strong storyline and character development.  Don’t get me wrong, the movie is worth seeing if you are into horror, but it’s not out of this world.

Based, sloppily, on a real experiment that took happen at Oxford in 1974, this film brings to light the deep notion of what the supernatural experience might manifestation in the minds of believers who have a few screws loose.

We follow Professor Coupland (Jared Harris), graduate students Krissy (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne and videographer Brian (Sam Claflin of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay).  The group investigates the psychic phenomena produced by the suicidal young Jane (Olivia Cooke) with the justification of treating her. Like all psychiatric treatment, it’s barbaric and inhumane.

Coupland’s techniques are questions as Jane’s health is increasingly becoming at risk, and Coupland turns frenzied in his mania to treat her.  The drama of the story becomes intense when clearly Coupland and Brian share a bloodthirsty importance that skirts a sexual obsession in saving her.  Their actions cause conflicting measures.  Jared Harris’ acting is inspiring and committed while on the other hand Sam Claflin comprises the whole story with emotional weakness. Olivia Cooke directed her crazed, disturbed, unstable and sensitive angst well.

Like I said the movie is good and entertaining moments with gripping, shocking, scary and long scenes wound up in a ball about to spring out with a creep factor of 150 plus.  The movie turned into having to explain why all this horror stuff was happening, rather dull point, and there is a twist.

Where Hope Grows

wherehopegrowsWritten and directed by Chris Dowling, Where Hope Grows stars Kristoffer Polaha as Calvin Campbell, a former professional baseball player. He would rather spend his time drinking with his buddies than spend time with his troubled seventeen year old daughter named Katie. She is going out with an older guy, who is all hands and aching for a touch. Katie knows her father doesn’t approve of him, yet she runs to her boyfriend’s arms when her dad pays no heed to her wanting his attention.

Calvin goes to the local grocery store to pick up some food and alcohol. He meets an employee with Down syndrome named Produce, who just happens to work in the produce department. He a reliable employee, who knows all the produce SKU numbers by heart. Calvin is impressed with Produce because he works hard and recognition from management eludes him, but that doesn’t stop him from working just as hard. He makes lot of friends with the customers because he is so helpful. Even Calvin wants to be his friend for some obscure reason he thinks Produce can help him get his life back on track.

It is easy to see where the story goes from here as a Faith-based movie. There is a lesson learned through redemption and paying attention to the ones you love. The movie is predictable with fine acting. The movie’s message “not under-estimating people” or “not giving up on people” is clear and needs to be shared.

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray include deleted scenes, digital HD copy, audio commentary with Chris Dowling, and a feature about the casting of David DeSanctis, who does a fine job playing Produce.