Monthly Archives: April 2016

Don Verdean

Don VerdeanDirected and co-written by Jared Hess, known for the sleeper hit Napoleon Dynamite, Don Verdean is an example of when the timing and hilarity of a movie fail to make the mark. Hess uses jokes that are there, but the subject matter doesn’t work in this storyline.

Verdean is hired by a determined small-town pastor to find sacred artifacts in the Holy Land. Verdean presents himself as an archeologist but doesn’t deliver the goods and attempts to cover up his fiasco. The hilarity enters the story when he tries to cover up his serious mistake.

Jared movies are pretty clean when it comes to harsh language, but Don Verdean changes that style. We hear the more common expletive words in the English language, and it is not funny.  Besides that, Sam Rockwell provides a performance worth watching. He offers some serious hilarity to the idiosyncrasies of a well-intended archeologist. His accent holds its own quite well with his quirky slang.  I would like to see more of an arch in his decent to misbehaving. Amy Ryan is great as Carol Jensen. Her mannerisms and timing work well with the material Hess offers.

The crux of the storyline is forced and not simply told because the movie is off-beat, slap stick, and then serious. The ending comes quickly but is worth watching because there is a surprise. Here the story comes to form, and it is easy to see what Hess is trying to get across to the audience. I should mention the co-writer is Hess’ wife, Jerusha. I am not sure what aspect she contributed to the movie, but she does collaborate with her husband on each of his movies.

I am sure some will find the humor both eccentric and indirectly nonsense. The cast is fantastic, but the comedy is not mainstream. You will probably have a good time watching the movie if you are familiar with the Bible.

Miss You Already

MissyoualreadyDirected by Catherine Hardwicke, known for directing the first Twilight movie, Miss You Already starts with Jess, played by Drew Barrymore, as a young child moving to the UK from America. She meets Milly, played by Toni Collette, and they become what is known today as BFFs. Their friendship is long-lasting with its extreme ups and terrible downs. Morwenna Banks, best known by the UK as the voice for Peppa Pig, wrote the non-linear screenplay that keeps these two best friends together.

Jess and Milly have personalities that are totally opposite of each other, which creates a great story. Jess is more conservative and holds back while Milly is over-the-top and willing to do anything, and she does anything.  Milly’s mother, Miranda, played by Jacqueline Bisset, stands by her daughter’s penchant for the dramatic aspect of life.

Barrymore and Collette are true to form and work very well together, creating a very endearing story that reminds of the movie Beaches.  Yes. It is that kind of movie, pull out the tissue ladies.

The story is about women being friends. Throughout the movie their friendship keeps building because they share everything together. I must confess that I didn’t want to see this movie because the ending is not happy. It’s tragic but holds a strong message we all want to share. Friendships are very important. We can never take friends for granted. So, hold them near and dear to your heart.

Exposed

ExposedDirected by Declan Dale, Exposed is not an easy film to watch because nothing is explained in the movie until the very end.  We meet Isabel, played pleasantly by Ana de Armas. She is a young Dominican woman, whose husband is in Iraq, and she lives with his engaging and happy family.

Her brother-in-law is connected to the mob in some way, but they are very close since his brother is deployed.  For some reason, late at night, he lets her go home by herself on the subway, which is the first mistake in the movie.  No one in their right might would let that happen. While Isabel is on the subway platform, she has strange visions, and they are not explained.

The visions consist of male albino in a black suit and a completely white-styled woman to look like she is a Capital from The Hunger Games. I want to stop here for a moment to point out Isabel continues to have visions of the Capital woman through the movie. She reappears as all black and finally as all red. I am not sure of the purpose behind these visions, and a 2-minute scene with Isabel and her brother-in-law or another family member about the visions would have been great.

After we see Isabel in the subway, the story cuts to a detective Scott Galban, underplayed by Keanu Reeves, who is investigating his morally suspicious partner’s murder. The movie continues to cut from Isabel and the detective throughout the movie, indicating a relationship between his dead partner and her.  Much later in the movie we find out the connection.

Isabel’s life seems strange and inconsistent. One scene she is working at a child-care center, and then she is waiting on tables at a local restaurant.  She befriends a little girl at the child-care center. The girl is quite like Isabel and shows signs of having problems at home with her father. Again, the movie doesn’t explain why this relationship is in the movie until the end.

Galban is widowed, grieving for his partner, and has a young son staying with his sister because he can’t cope with his life. His partner’s wife, played by Mira Sorvino, flirts with Galban while making demands her husband’s murderer is brought to justice as long as they don’t expose any of her husband’s transgressions.

The story continues with more stuff being added to the plot without explanations, making the movie even more confusing. Eventually, the end arrives and everything comes together, but it wasn’t worth the time to find out.

It is rumored there is a director’s version of the movie, but the studio intervention made the movie worse, hacking it to confusion. The director’s version is much better and casts more light on the characters, central themes titled Daughter of God.   Let’s hope the director’s version is release in the near future.

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

the lady with the carDirected by Joann Sfar, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun reminds me of the 1960s European thrillers as an erotic, hazy story that spellbinds you because you can’t quite figure out what is going on with the femme fatal character. Is she good…is she bad? Still, she is the center of the movie, played by Scottish actress Freya Mavor.  Her luxuriant outfits, and cinematographer Manuel Dacosse leering camera offers the possibility of a good movie, yet the rambling mystery never fully takes shape.

Based on the 1970 remake starring Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed, which I never saw, the story actually comes from Sebastien Japrisot’s convoluted 1966 novel.  The story follows apparently a normal French secretary Dany Doremus, played beautifully by Mavor.  She works for a shady boss, played by Benjamin Biolay. She arrives at his home to transcribe important documents. His wife, played by Stacy Martin, is at home, and she used to be friends with Dany. Now, they are uncomfortably distant. The couple asks her to drive them to the airport the next day.  They let her use his classic blue Ford Thunderbird. After dropping them off at the airport, Dany decides to take a joyride.

The movie is a bizarre journey, acid trip, and murder mystery. Nothing seems to add up as the story feels like an aimless road trip.  Situations happen to Dany, and she seems like she has a pipe in her head or a screw loose, but nothing is quite explained as to what is happening.

The story comes together, but by the time that happens, everything is lost. All except, Mavor as Dany. She is every man’s hot dream as well as Sfar, who films her at every and any angle to evocate what men want or can’t get enough of her.

The music haunts the film and crawls under the skin, especially with Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” pulling off a mind-blowing result.

All in all, the movie has some good merits, and some will enjoy it.

Pay Back

paybackThe title makes it easy to figure out Pay Back is a revenge movie. Directed by Fu Xi, the movie is totally Hong Kong style and enjoyable if you like these types of movies. The style is choppy and unclear at times, which is, most likely, Fu Xi’s style.

The real reason this type of movie attracts people is the fight scenes.  Pay Back scores big time with the fight scenes, but there are a couple of mediocre ones. The tongue and cheek aren’t too bad either with a jab at being good citizens. As good citizens, we are supposed to tolerate life as it comes. Not so true oh wise one, karate chop, and jab.

The story is about a decent man, who has a wife and child, but trouble comes along. His family is taken away from him by vicious gang members. Now, it is payback time, so the gang is hunted down and fight scenes ensue.  The movie has potential, but a bit convoluted with scenes not relating to other scenes.

I am sure it is worth watching if you like martial arts.

Mojave

mojaveDirected and written by talented and Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan, Mojave indicates that Monahan is better at writing movies than directing them. On his next try, he should take a course in Directing 101.  He has a talented cast with moments that are enthralling, but these factors barely compensate for moments of inauthenticity and emotional contradiction.

Thomas, played well by Garrett Hedlund, is a well-known filmmaker who is filthy rich but troubled. He goes on a journey into the Mojave Desert to set himself apart from his life of prosperity, coked-up producers, and seedy agents. He hopes to find comfort and peace. All the same and one of the inconsistencies of the story, Thomas demonstrates the opposite. He screams at the coyotes, drinks, and drives crazily. He even crashes his jeep. Stranded with less than a gallon of water and some smokes, he heads off to nowhere. It obvious he is heading for a death wish. Then, he sees a figure over the horizon.

The figure is Jack, played well by Oscar Isaac, who appears at Thomas’ campfire. Jack has a screw loose with backwoods intelligence. He talks non-sequitur about Shakespeare, Jesus, and government corruption. All in all, he is downright evil. Thomas and Jack start fighting with Thomas leaving him unconscious by the fire.

From this point on, the story gets mighty crazy, convoluted, and just plain wild, depicting the worse of Hollywood.  The movie is really about men confronting their demons. The cinematography by Don Davis is magical with wide shots of moonlit landscapes and dark, foreboding interiors.

Mark Wahlberg shows up as the over-the-top, coked-up producer, and Thomas’ producing partner.  He offers comic relief to the high-tension testosterone movie. I am not sure that was Monahan’s intention.

Which brings me to the conclusion that I would have liked to have known the characters better, so I could understand their motives and actions. Otherwise, it is just too confusing.

I am sure Monahan will direct another movie. But, his dance card is a bit full with 10 screenwriting gigs, so it will be some time before we see him take another jab.

History of War Collection

History WarHistory Channel is pretty darn good at making documentaries. The History of War Collection is an excellent example of how well the History Channel produces documentaries. The 17-Disc set takes you on a tour of America’s military role through all of its major wars.

You will learn and see how warfare evolved from the time of the American Revolution up through the Civil War and into modern times. The discs offer so much information about how America became the land of the free and home of the brave.

I was able to immerse into the 17-disc set, which digs deep into the twists and turns of America’s most significant and deadly conflicts-from the American Revolution, the Mexican-American War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War to WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam and Korean Wars.

Produced as a documentary, the set features over 42 hours of programming amassed from over 20 History Channel documentaries. The credits are impressive with renowned historians and scholars, special guest narrators Edward Herrmann, Oscar de la Hoya, and Sam Rockwell on several programs.

Teachers, historians, and students will find the set informative and eye-opening tour of America’s military role through all of its major wars.

I was most impressed with how warfare evolved from the time of the American Revolution into modern times. Evidence depicted with reenacted stories of the countless brave Americans who put their lives on the line to defend their country and their beliefs.

You might not get through the entire set, but I highly recommend The History of War Collection.

Grace and Frankie

Grace and FrankieGrace and Frankie airs on Netflix and stars four legendary actors worth watching until it is obvious they have run out of material. Homosexually is not uncommon anymore. Nobody has to be in the closet because it is excepted now. I just wish the series moved forward more quickly with the story handling other situations that are funnier and not so sad.

Grace, played believably by Jane Fonda, is straight-laced and a former owner of a cosmetics company. Frankie, played over-the-top by Lilly Tomlin, is an open-minded hippie who tries to generate good vibes no matter if her life is falling apart.

The point to the series is these two women in their early 70s have nothing in common until their husbands, played by Sam Waterson and Martine Sheen, declare their love for each other and are leaving them to live as homosexuals.

All due respect, they are bisexuals and Waterson’s character clearly shows his attraction to his former wife, Frankie.

The series is a comedy with serious undertones, but it would have been much better in the 1980s with the issue a hot topic. Today, this is old news. Though husbands leaving a 40-year-old marriage for another man is not common, the idea is not shocking anymore nor is it funny.  Still the series has funny moments with more slow and off-beat situations.

The cast is what makes the series. They bring a lot of charm, verve and truth to their characters.  Sheen and Waterston are cast against type because they are not your usual eye-candies. Tomlin is as funny as ever as the flaky hippie, and Fonda timing is beautiful but a bit crusty.

I just wish the four of them would get on with their lives and deal with situations that are more entertaining for this day and age.

Gangland Undercover Season 1

ganglandHistory Channel produced an excellent series when they decided to capture the life of an undercover informant who was brave enough to sneak into three outlaw biker gangs. The fact that he lived to relate his story to the world is awe-inspiring as well. Charles Falco, the author of Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws, goes from convict to infiltrator as he secretly documents the Vagos’ illegal activities and ultimately brings them to justice.

History Channel transports Falco’s story to real life in this fact-based series that sees him work as an informant for the Feds on a covert mission inside the dangerous Vagos world of violence, murder, and drug trafficking. Having climbed the gang’s ranks while facilitating 62 arrests, Charles Falco exposes how he crippled the criminal enterprise from the core of the biker underworld in this mind-blowing true story.

The series is by no means the same old thing about biker gangs but rises above the other motorcycle gang TV shows and movies.  Gangland is nothing like Son’s of Anarchy, so I will not bother to compare them.

Gangland will ring true for those who are familiar with bikers in the 70s. History Channel avoids soap opera characters and sensationalism. Instead, the show hits on the truth and scores a strong fan base.

Ari Cohen’s acting is good, and the writing is even good. What is interesting about this true story is that Falco was a meth cook, and he had a choice of jail or being an informant, which makes him and anti-hero in real life, but History Channel doesn’t depict him that way. That is Hollywood. The trailer below doesn’t do the television series justice.

Flight 7500

flight 7500Directed by Takashi Shimizu, who directed The Grudge, Flight 7500 introduces us to the excitement of getting ready to take a trip on a plane in the friendly skies. But, soon the flight turns into a spine-chilling journey to the dark side.

Taking off from Los Angles to Tokyo for a 10-hour flight overnight, the plane is shaken up by a server storm. When the turbulence subsides, a violent death of a traveling businessman happens.  The other passengers investigate the cause, and it looks like a supernatural force is unleashed. More passengers are taken over by some kind of evil force causing them die while they try to figure out what the cause is.

Shimizu does a good job of moving the mystery along rather nicely, and it is entertaining, but there is nothing original about the story.  So, the overall story is kind of flat and goes nowhere but, because of the cast and crew, I was interested throughout. The ending has a twist, but it was very weak and didn’t fit the storyline, so I didn’t like the end. Besides that, it is worth watching when you have nothing else to do and want to be entertained.

Leslie Bibb, Jamie Chung, Jerry Ferrara, Ryan Kwanten, Johnathon Schaech, and Amy Smart are all very good in the movie. The DVD comes with a featurette called “Inside Flight 7500.” The featurette tells you how the movie was made, which is always nice to watch and learn about filmmaking.