James Franco and Jonah Hill scrap the laughs for drama.
From the start, True Story fudges its facts and ironically adds tension to the unknowable. Here’s the plot: Michael Finkel (Hill) a New York Times journalist is fired for twisting facts in his story about child slavery in Africa. After being dismissed, Finkel decides to revive his career and reputation by writing a book based on his jail interviews with Christian Longo (Franco). Longo is accused of murdering his wife and three children. Oddly enough, while on the run in Mexico Longo identifies himself as Finkel.
Maybe from these interviews both Finkel and Longo can find a silver lining to their sins of the past. While at first it was hard seeing Franco and Hill in the same room together without being funny, the tone quickly turned stern. I kept anticipating Seth Rogen to pop in and make a guest appearance, thankfully that didn’t happen. Once you established your serious face and let it all sink in, Franco and Hill added a sense of paranoia to the story. So far, director Rupert Goold kept his film factual, but his story takes many unknown turns ahead down the road. Finkel’s book takes its own liberties and his wife (Felicity Jones) visits Longo in the jail room.
Through its muddled narrative, I came to the conclusion that Goold and co-writer David Kajganich didn’t want the audience to know what was true and what was false. This added more tension but put a damper to the film. Luckily, Franco and Hill’s performances are worthy enough to carry the film to a modest standing. True Story leaves the audience in hell on wanting to known everything, but Goold holds back and keeps you guessing right up until the very last frame.
True Story is rated R (Restricted). For language and some disturbing material.
The No. 1 action flick of the decade is finally here! Brace yourselves; director George Miller’s brutal and cinematic whirlwind is breathtaking on a massive apocalyptic scale. This film will kick your ass hard.
Where to begin with the latest installment of Mad Max? For starters, it’s a real grandeur to see Miller, 70, step away from the tap dancing penguins (Happy Feet) and return to his post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s been 30 years since we’ve seen Max on the big screen and with the advancement of technology, Fury Road has changed the definition of action films. Many of you probably remember when a young Mel Gibson playing the iconic Max Rockatansky hit the road in Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, after his family was murdered.
Max had lost everything and now is apart of this wasteland, consumed by grief, anger, vengeance and now survival. His days as a cop are in the past and his moral conundrum has simply dissolved from his presence. Now, 30 years later, Miller returns to the desert to continue Max’s story of survival in this world of fire. Replacing Gibson from the crown is British actor Tom Hardy as Max. Backed by Hardy is a fierce Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. Hardy is superb in the role of Max, but the real award goes to Theron who steals the screen with her gut-wrenching performance of a warrior striving for redemption. Hitting a feminist core may surprise some fanboys, but this propels the film to exciting new levels of adventure.
All of you men’s rights bigots can piss off because this is Theorn’s show and she’ll kick your ass. Going back to old school, over 80 percent of effects seen in the film are real practical effects, stunts, make-up and sets. This gave the film a more gritty and realistic feel. Many action films today fall under the heavily used CGI, which boggles down the film. The stunt work is state-of-the-art, as we see vehicles collide, explode and bodies fly. From the get-go, Miller throws the audience into madness and goes full throttle with the plot. Hardy tells the audience with a voiceover, "My name is Max. My world is fire." That’s all you need to know about Max at this point. Haunted by his lost child, Max is captured by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played the evil Toecutter in the first Mad Max), an insane warlord who governs his people by controlling their water supply.
Joe’s elite are brainwashed war boys, who shave their heads, smear body paint on themselves and believe in a zealous fantasy of an erotic afterlife: “I live, I die. I live again!” The plot goes vroom, when Joe’s trusted ally Furiosa (Theron), a warrior with a mechanical left arm, goes rogue and takes off in a heavily-armored War Rig with his five breeder wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton and Riley Keough). Joe is furious and commands his war boys to pursue after them. While this is happening, Max is literally being used as a human “blood bag” for one of the war boys Nux (a wildly fun Nicholas Hoult). Nux wants to get in on the pursuit and straps Max to the front of his car, while still feeding him blood.
Poor Hardy is stuck behind another mask, similar to the muzzle he wore as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. While not spoiling any of the fun, Miller and his team of co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris pump your adrenaline with spectacular stunts and electrifying action. The entire film is one giant chase scene, but Fury Road is still packed with character development and narrative heft. This heart stomping, summer blockbuster never lets up. Miller’s Fury Road is daring, as it is emotionally satisfying.
Theron is a knockout and deserves an ovation for her powerful performance and even when he’s not saying much, Hardy’s facial expressions are compelling. Once Max and Furiosa team up the movie let’s loose. Miller’s fast pace and direction are keen, as he keeps putting obstacles in the way. Fury Road is not only the best film of the summer; it’s the best action flick of the past decade. Period. Believe the hype, I give Miller and his visionary creation the highest of highs … five out of five stars. This mad masterpiece is definitely worth the ticket price and will send movie-lovers out with a bang! “What a lovely day!”
Mad Max: Fury Road is rated R (Restricted). For intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.
After sitting through a torturous 94 minutes, I am still wondering how the hell did Paul Blart get a sequel?
In 2009, we were introduced to a goofy mall cop know as Paul Blart (Kevin James). This clumsily but harmless comedy was a fine time waster for the little ones. Unfortunately, the madness didn’t end there because the studio thought it would be a grand idea to follow up with a sequel. Another sin Sony Pictures has made in recent years. In addition, James reprised his role as Blart and we are almost given the same exact situation as its predecessor… almost.
There’s a different scenery but less jokes and no charm this time around. And after years of being the funny big man, I have given up on James right now. He’s following the same path Adam Sandler has taken. By selling his soul to these worthless films, Mr. James is no longer funny. Oh where to begin, Blart tells the audience in an opening narration that the triumphs of the first film were short lived. Blart’s wife has divorced him after six days of marriage and his beloved mother was run over by a milk truck. Luckily, actresses Jayma Mays and Shirley Knight make their exit fast in the first five minutes of the film, a wise decision.
So Blart needs a major vacation after these recent events. He’s off to Sin City with his daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez, Austin & Ally), as they stay in the Wynn hotel. Maya is torn with telling her dad that she got accepted into UCLA because of everything he has been through. Another familiar storyline comes into play, as bad-guy Vincent (Neal McDonough) plans on stealing the casino’s hidden treasures. It’s up to Blart to save the day! Roll credits. The film proceeds into a rent-a-cop formula and leaves a sour aftertaste in the audience’s mouth.
I’m not trying to be harsh, but this film aimed to be so funny and in the end, fell flat on its face. There's merely no human effort seen throughout the entire 94 minutes. You’ll get a couple chuckles in, but it’s mostly a silent tomb. Director Andy Fickman (the awful Parental Guidance and You Again) musters his way through hell to finally get the audience to the ending credits. Whatever oddball charm Blart may have had in the first film is completely lost here. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 cruises into town with wooden acting, zero direction, lazy writing and offbeat humor, leaving the film with embarrassingly unfunny results.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For some violence.
Ex Machina is one of the year’s best films, an instant sci-fi classic!
Screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later and Sunshine) makes his directorial debut in Ex Machina and recreates life for the A.I genre. Garland’s Ex Machina is one of the smartest and most engaging sci-fi films to come along in the last decade. And the less you know about this thought-provoking mind-bender, the better. Ex Machina works heavier on ideas and less on special effects, which engages its audience to think. This visually polished piece of work will keep audience on the edge of their seats until the end.
Caleb Smith (an incredible Domhnall Gleeson) is a coder who wins a competition to spend a week with his reclusive but isolated boss, Nathan Bateman (a workaholic Oscar Isaac). Isaac strips down to the core of his character in this film by shaving his head, growing a beard and binge drinking. Nathan is an Internet genius and alcoholic who’s trying to get his latest A.I. program off the books, which is where Caleb comes in. Caleb is the human component for the “Turing Test” to evaluate the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of an A.I. named Ava (a breathtaking Alicia Vikander).
Ava’s emotional intelligence proves to be more sophisticated, as she is seductive, for the two men to handle. Sexuality, deception and booze play a key role in this dazzling sci-fi extravaganza as we see Caleb develop feelings for Ava, while Nathan becomes for ruthless in his attempt to play God. The title reflects the Latin phrase deus ex machina, which refers to the idea of man playing God. Hint: is Nathan getting lost within his own creation? Garland’s main focus of this film is about his characters and their moral disposition of humanity. Garland also throws hard questions at his audience like: what defines humanity? Is playing God morally sound for the good of mankind? And can consciousness be independent from the brain’s functionality?
Garland plants grand ideas throughout the film and leaves the audience in a daze of what to make of them. Like a rat in a cage, the film takes its viewers down different twist and turns they weren’t expecting. Ex Machina is a complex maze of mirrors that will keep you guessing and intrigued up until the end. This riveting sci-fi film is one of the best to come of 2015 thus far and is an intelligent leap forward for the A.I. genre. Garland’s tour de force will spring in the shock and awe from viewers, as they take a deeper look at sex, violence and artificial Intelligence.
Ex Machina is rated R (Restricted). For graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence.
While Age of Ultron doesn’t capture the charisma of its predecessor, still, Earth's Mightiest Heroes are exuberant and eye-popping summer entertainment.
Age of Ultron sends off the vibe of this summer’s fireworks glee to geeks and non-geeks alike. 2008’s Iron Man unhatched the start of a universe engulfed with superheroes and beyond for the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. And the audience’s long and enduring wait finally paid off in 2012, when we got to see our first look at the group of superheroes come together in Marvel’s The Avengers. Fanboys were ecstatic, while others were aroused with some great superhero pulp. We finally got to see Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk come together all in one comic book package.
Marvel’s The Avengers had charisma, wit, energy and action splendor. Of course, with every box office domination Marvel was on pace to follow it up with a powerhouse sequel. So far, the eleven MCU films are connected but also can stand on their own turf. As for Age of Ultron, does it have the hype of the first Avengers? Yes. Is it as good or better than the first Avengers? Sadly no. However, Age of Ultron is still packed with high energy and most importantly, fun. Director and writer Joss Whedon (Marvel’s The Avengers) returns to the director’s chair and explores a darker root of our watchful team. He digs into bruised psyches and wholesome fears of future destruction.
Whedon does take some shaky routes along the way but recovers like a champ to give the audience a spectacular finish. Tony Stark/Iron Man (a sharp Robert Downey Jr.) screws up big time. Stark’s fear for future events over shadows his recklessness as he creates a robotic force of artificial intelligence, Ultron, that’s gone bad. Ultron (voiced by a malice James Spader) is out-of-control and wishes to release hell onto the rest of the world. We can’t have that happen now, can we? Cue team Avengers! Its time for Steve Rogers/Captain America (a fantastic Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth and his golden flow), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (a calm Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (a kick-ass Scarlett Joanansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (a canny Jeremy Renner) to suit up!
Age of Ultron is filled with emotional heft and vivid backstories of both Black Widow and Hawkeye. Whedon and his team also try to spice the film up with introducing a bash of powerful newbies (Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlett Witch). These Eastern European twins are identified as “he’s fast and she’s weird.” Just wait until you see them both on the screen. Marvel’s FX experts unveil exciting new action scenes for us as our team of friend’s battles this worthy foe. And that’s not all, when James Spader’s Ultron isn’t stealing the show; it’s Paul Bettany’s The Vision. I won’t spoil any of the fun, but Bettany’s version of the super powered moral A.I. is a visual treat.
While Age of Ultron doesn’t have the same pow as the first time around, Whedon’s last hurrah captivates your imagination. It’s sad that Whedon won’t be return for Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 1 and Part 2; which is starting production next year. The Russo brothers (Captain America: The Winter Solider) have already filled in for the director’s chair. As of right now, Avengers: Age of Ultron makes this Whedon’s last Marvel directorial film ever. And just as one should do, Whedon takes a bow and sends our fighting heroes out to battle to keep our universe safe. Bravo Mr. Whedon.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For intense sequences of sc-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.
In honor of the late Paul Walker, Furious 7 does justice for the late actor as we drive back down memory lane with the series one last time.
Through thick and thin, the Fast and Furious audience has been through it all and continues to be the beating heart of this franchise. They are just as the cast, family. After the tragic death of Paul Walker in 2013, the future for the franchise was unclear. With only half of Walker’s scenes finished, the franchise had to make some tough calls for the future of Brian O’Connor and the cast. Without losing focus of the story and Walker’s legacy, Furious 7 raced to the finish line as worthy tribute for our late hero. After Walker’s family took time to grief, his brothers (Cody and Caleb) stepped up to help finish scenes that CGI could not. It was a tough job but the film looked almost seamless in the end.
Furious 7 hits all of the high notes that we as audience have come to know from this car-racing series. There's more over-the-top thrills, cheesy one-liners, stylish cars and attractive girls shown through scenes. While the series did loose focus in the forgettable 2 and 3 films, F&F made a tremendous comeback in Fast Five. So is Furious 7 the best of the series thus far? You bet! Turn your brain off, sit back and watch some car-racing bravura. Finishing the film in honor of Walker brought out the best of the F&F cast, which helped drive the film as a whole. To catch you up to speed, Deckard Shaw (an out-of-control Jason Statham) is seeking revenge on Dominic Toretto (the iconic Vin Diesel) and his family for putting his brother into a coma after the events of the previous film.
With the past three entries taking place between the 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Furious 7 is the film of the series to take place after Tokyo Drift. We see Deckard kill Han (Sung Kang) and blow up Dom’s house. Hell, he even puts FBI agent Hobbs (a badass Dwayne Johnson) in the hospital. This means war for Dom and is crew. The plot is pretty basic from there, but the action and thrills never stop. We see cars fall out of planes and fly through skyscrapers as Brian screams to Dom “Cars don’t fly, Dom, cars don’t fly!” The story also focuses on Brian’s character as a father with him and Mia’s (a stellar Jordana Brewster) infant son. Brian feels uncomfortable in the suburban world and wants to feel the rush again. As Mia puts it “Brian misses the bullets.”
To stop Deckard’s menacing glee, Dom gets the crew back together to take down the bastard once and for all. In no time, we see Dom’s lover Letty (a fantastic Michelle Rodriguez), tech-wiz Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) back in the drivers seat. Kurt Russell also joins the film as a government Mr. Nobody who wants the F&F crew to snatch a computer hacker, Ramsey, out of a terrorist lair. Ramsey (Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel) has invented a software program that can track anyone at a given time via digital devices. Russell wants this program and in exchange he would give them Deckard. Got that? Either way, it really doesn’t matter because the stunts and action scenes engulf the rest of the movie. From Brian running up a falling bus to Hobbs still being a badass by shooting down a helicopter.
All of these factors lead up to a fitting conclusion for Walker and his character. The tribute sends the audience down memory lane and if your eyes don’t swell up with tears, then you probably don’t have a soul. Furious 7 zooms to the finish line and sends Walker off to victory. It’s sad to see him go and even sadder that he won’t be returning for future F&F films that will follow. Furious 7 has a big heart and an even bigger one for its family. F&F has plenty of fuel left in the tank and I am thankful that we got to see one last ride with Mr. Walker. Wherever he’s watching from, I know that deep down he’s probably smiling and applauding his crew. For Paul!
Furious 7 is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). For prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language.
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