Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 2009, an elderly Cecil Gaines recounts his life story, while waiting at the White House to meet the newly inaugurated president.

In 1926, at the age of seven, Gaines is raised on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia, by his sharecropping parents. One day, the farm’s owner, Thomas Westfall, rapes Cecil’s mother, Hattie Pearl. Cecil’s father confronts Westfall, and is shot dead. Cecil is taken in by Annabeth Westfall, the estate’s caretaker and owner’s grandmother, who trains Cecil as a house servant.

In 1937, at age eighteen, he leaves the plantation and his mother, who has been mute since the incident and presumably dies of old age by the time the plantation shuts down. One night, Cecil breaks into a hotel pastry shop and is, unexpectedly, hired. He learns advanced skills from the master servant, Maynard, who, after several years, recommends Cecil for a position in a Washington D.C. hotel. While working at the D.C. hotel, Cecil meets and marries Gloria, and the couple have two sons: Louis and Charlie. In 1957, Cecil is hired by the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. White House maître d’ Freddie Fallows shows Cecil around, introducing him to head butler Carter Wilson and co-worker James Holloway. At the White House, Cecil witnesses Eisenhower’s reluctance to use troops to enforce school desegregation in the South, then his resolve to uphold the law by racially integrating Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.

The Gaines family celebrates Cecil’s new occupation with their neighbors, Howard and Gina. Louis, the elder son, becomes a first generation university student at Fisk University in Tennessee, although Cecil feels that the South is too volatile; he wanted Louis to enroll at Howard University instead. Louis joins a student program led by Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) activist James Lawson, which leads to a nonviolent sit-in at a segregated diner, where he is arrested. Furious, Cecil confronts Louis for disobeying him. Gloria, who feels that Cecil puts his job ahead of her, descends into alcoholism and an affair with the Gaines’s neighbor, Howard.

In 1961, after John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, Louis and a dozen others are attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan as well as people wearing Nazi uniforms. while traveling on a bus in Alabama. Louis is shown participating in the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, where dogs and water cannons were used to stop the marchers, one of the movement’s actions which inspired Kennedy to deliver a national address proposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several months after the speech, Kennedy is assassinated. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, enacts the transformative legislation into law. As a goodwill gesture, Jackie Kennedy gives Cecil one of the former president’s neckties before she leaves the White House.

Louis is later shown participating in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, which inspired Johnson to demand that Congress enact the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson also gives Cecil a tie bar.

In the late 1960s, after civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Louis visits and tells his family that he has joined the Black Panthers. Outraged, Cecil orders Louis and his girlfriend, Carol, to leave his house. Louis is soon arrested, and Carter bails him out. Cecil becomes aware of President Richard Nixon’s plans to suppress the movement.

The Gaines’ other son, Charlie, confides to Louis that he plans to join the Army in the war in Vietnam. Louis announces that he won’t attend Charlie’s funeral if he is killed there because while Louis sees Americans as multiple races, Charlie sees the country as one race. A few months later, Charlie is killed and buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Louis does not attend. However, when the Black Panthers resort to violence in response to racial confrontations, Louis leaves the organization and returns to college, earning his master’s degree in political science and eventually running for a seat in Congress.

Meanwhile, Cecil confronts his supervisor at the White House over the unequal pay and career advancement provided to the black White House staff. With President Ronald Reagan’s support, he prevails, and his professional reputation grows to the point that he and his wife are invited by President and Nancy Reagan to be guests at a state dinner. Yet at the dinner and afterwards, Cecil becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the class divisions in the White House. Finally, after witnessing Reagan’s refusal to support economic sanctions against South Africa, he resigns. Afterwards, Cecil and Gloria visit the Georgia plantation where he was raised, which by then had long been abandoned.

Gloria, wanting Cecil to mend his relationship with Louis, reveals to him that Louis has told her that he loves and respects them both. Realizing his son’s actions are heroic, Cecil joins Louis at a Free South Africa Movement protest against South African apartheid, and they are arrested and jailed together.

In 2008, Gloria dies shortly before Barack Obama is elected as the nation’s first African-American president, a milestone which leaves Cecil and Louis in awe. Two months, two weeks and one day later, Cecil prepares to meet the newly inaugurated President at the White House, wearing the articles he had received from presidents Kennedy and Johnson. A man approaches Cecil and tells him the president is ready and shows him the way to the Oval office. Cecil tells the man that he knows the way and as he walks down the hallway the voices of presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson are heard which later fade away as president Barack Obama’s famous “Yes we can” quote can be heard as Cecil walks through the doors of the Oval office.

REVIEW:

When Lee Daniels’ The Butler was released a couple of years ago, there was much talk about how it would be received, partially because this was another historical race-based film that seemed to be tailor-made for a run at the Oscar. All that talk subsided, though, when people actually watched the film and realized that it wasn’t as racially motivated as they were led to believe. If race isn’t the driving force of this picture, then let’s find out what is, shall we?

What is this about?

Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker delivers a powerful performance as Cecil Gaines, who served as the White House butler under eight presidents. His three decades of service unfold against a backdrop of unparalleled change in American history.

What did I like?

Longevity. The timeline of this film is from the late 20s to 2009 (or somewhere around that time). In that time span, our lead character became a butler at the White House in the early 50s, during Eisenhower’s administration, and was steadily employed there until the end of the Reagan era, and still kept spy until his death is 2010. Sakes alive! We can only wish for that type of longevity, right?

History. As I said, this isn’t a race film, but you can’t go through 80 something years without hitting the racial strife and turmoil in this country’s history, especially when the main character is a black man. As such, we get to see the Civil Rights movement, rise of the Black Panther party, Voting Rights Movement, etc. These have little to no effect on Forest Whitaker’s character directly, save for the Civil Rights movement, but his son is involved in them all, which causes an interesting subplot of family drama.

Silence speaks words. It took me awhile to recognize who Whitaker’s mom was in the first scenes, but as it turns out, she is that great actress, Mariah Carey! Ok, I’m being a little facetious, but Carey does give a really good performance…and she doesn’t say a word. The plantation owner takes and rapes her, and the other couple of scenes she’s in are silence. Her silence, though, speaks volumes as to how she was affected. Mariah is good at these small, but powerfully dramatic roles. Maybe she can graduate to bigger ones, soon.

What didn’t I like?

Spitting image. I’m really not sure what to think of the casting of the presidents in this film. With the exception of Robin Williams and John Cusack, they all resemble their counterpart (with the aid of makeup), but I still wonder if someone just pulled names out of a hat and said they should be this person. How else do you explain Alan Rickman as Ronald Regan or Liev Shrieber as Lyndon B. Johnson? I will give credit to John Cusack and James Marsden, they were pretty good at bringing their characters to life, despite not really resembling them.

Comment on Hollywood? Halfway through the picture, I noticed that a good chunk of black Hollywood was in this film. Some of the bigger names are missing (Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Queen Latifah,  Angela Bassett, etc.), but I have a feeling they were at least contacted. Here’s the thing, what does it say about Hollywood when everytime there is a film that casts a chunk of black actors, it is the same handful? Case in point…there is a scene in which Oprah and Terrence Howard are talking about hooking up. Funny thing is that they were husband and wife a few years back in The Princess and the FrogA good chunk of the cast starred in Red Tails and Oprah and Forrest Whitaker seem to be joined at the hip. Just some food for thought.

Underrated support. Most people know Lenny Kravitz as musician, but he’s been making a name for himself on the big screen, most notably in the Hunger Games franchise. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that he is a level-headed fellow butler who seems to have his pulse on the world outside. A stark contrast to the fast-talking, smooth ladies man that is Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character. What strikes me as odd, though, is that neither of these guys gets any recognition for their fine performances. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know they were in here until they appeared on the screen, yet I knew Vanessa Redgrave had a tiny part at the beginning. Definitely underrated performances, if you ask me, and they deserve more respect for what they accomplished.

So, Lee Daniels’ The Butler…what did I think of it? Well, first of all, it is a very fine piece of modern cinema. It manages to keep the audience captivated from start to finish, which is a hard task, especially with this subject matter and over a vast amount of years. That being said, I feel this film may have spent a little too much time with the oldest son, as opposed to giving the youngest a little time to shine and/or focusing on the titular character. That said, I do recommend this. However, for me, it is a bit too heavy to watch more than one time. If I feel the need to check it out again, I’ll just find some clips.

5 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 12/24

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags on December 24, 2015 by Mystery Man

It’s Trailer Thursday!!!

As you may, or may not, be well aware, tomorrow is Christmas. In the spirit of the holiday, I figured this week’s trailer should be a holiday classic.

Now, there has been some debate, as of late, about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. My vote is that it is, but not in the same way as something like It’s a Wonderful Life happens to be.

Enjoy!

Merry Christmas to you all!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Approximately 30 years after the destruction of the second Death Star, Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, has disappeared. The First Order has risen from the remains of the fallen Galactic Empire and seeks to eliminate Luke and the Republic. The Resistance, a military force backed by the Republic and led by Luke’s sister, Leia Organa, opposes them while searching for Luke to enlist his aid.

Resistance pilot Poe Dameron meets with village elder Lor San Tekka on the planet Jakku to obtain a map to Luke’s location. Stormtroopers under the command of Kylo Ren destroy the village and capture Poe. Poe’s droid BB-8 escapes with the map, and comes across a scavenger, Rey, at a junkyard settlement. Ren tortures Poe and learns of BB-8. Stormtrooper FN-2187, unable to kill for the First Order, frees Poe and they escape in a stolen TIE fighter; Poe dubs FN-2187 “Finn”. They crash on Jakku, and Finn appears to be the only survivor. He encounters Rey and BB-8 and tells BB-8 of Poe’s fate, while lying to Rey that he’s a part of the resistance. The First Order tracks them and launches an airstrike, but the three are able to flee the planet in a stolen, rundown ship, the Millennium Falcon.

The Falcon breaks down, leaving Finn and Rey stranded. They are found by Han Solo and Chewbacca, who reclaim their former ship, taking it aboard their freighter. Han reveals to them that the force, the Jedi, and Luke Skywalker, who were thought of as mere stories, were real. He explains that Luke tried to rebuild the Jedi Order, but after a student turned to the dark side and destroyed all that he had built, Luke went into exile, feeling responsible. Criminal gangs seeking to settle debts with Solo attack, but the five escape in the Falcon. However, the criminals inform the First Order of Han’s involvement with the droid. The Falcon crew arrive at the planet Takodana and meet Maz Kanata, who can help BB-8 reach the Resistance, but Finn wants to flee on his own. Rey is drawn to a vault and finds the lightsaber that belonged to Luke and his father before him. She experiences disturbing visions, and flees into the woods. Maz then gives Finn the lightsaber for safekeeping.

At the First Order’s Starkiller Base, a planet converted to a superweapon capable of destroying star systems, Supreme Leader Snoke orders General Hux to use it for the first time; they use the weapon to destroy the Republic capital and its fleet, declaring it the end of the Republic. Snoke also tells Ren that to overcome the call of the Light Side of the Force, Ren must kill his father, Han Solo. The First Order then attacks Takodana. Han, Chewbacca, and Finn, who uses the lightsaber in the fight, are saved by Resistance X-wing fighters led by Poe, but Rey is captured by Kylo Ren and taken to Starkiller Base. Ren, confident that he could find the map from Rey and didn’t need BB-8, interrogates Rey, but she resists his mind-reading. Discovering she too can use the Force, she escapes her cell with a Jedi mind trick.

Han, Chewbacca, Finn, and BB-8 arrive at the Resistance base on D’Qar, where they meet Leia and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2, the latter of which has been inactive since Luke’s disappearance. As Starkiller Base prepares to fire on D’Qar, the Resistance devises a plan to lower the planetary shield so their fighters can attack. Using the Falcon, Han, Chewbacca, and Finn infiltrate the base. They lower the shields, find Rey, set explosives, and encounter Ren. Han confronts Ren, calling him by his birth name, Ben, and implores him to abandon the dark side. Though conflicted, Ren kills Han. An angered Chewbacca shoots Ren in the arm, kills several stormtroopers, and sets off the planted explosives, allowing the Resistance X-wing fighters to attack the weakened weapon and starting a chain reaction that destroys Starkiller Base.

The injured Ren chases Finn and Rey to the surface. Ren, bent on taking his grandfather’s lightsaber for himself, knocks Rey unconcious, forcing Finn to battle Ren with the lightsaber. Finn holds his own and even slashes Ren in the arm, but he is wounded by Ren. Ren tries to take the lightsaber using the force, but a now concious Rey proves to be stronger with the force and takes the lightsaber to fight Ren. Although Ren is the better lightsaber fighter and starts off with an advantage, she overpowers him with the Force and wounds him before they are separated by a fissure opening. Snoke orders General Hux to evacuate and bring Ren to him, while Rey, Chewbacca, and Finn escape in the Falcon. On D’Qar, the Resistance celebrates its victory while Leia, Chewbacca, and Rey mourn Han’s death. R2-D2 then awakens and reveals the rest of the map, allowing Rey to travel with R2-D2 and Chewbacca to an island on a distant planet. Finding Luke, Rey offers the lightsaber to him

REVIEW:

Finally, after what has seemed like forever and day, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has arrived in theaters. Those of us super nerd fanboys can die happy…right? Maybe not quite yet. I hear this is only the start of a trilogy, as well as more movies, series, etc. that Disney has planned for the franchise. As long as they don’t go overboard like George Lucas did, that’s fine with me, but it is all for naught if this film is no good.

What is this about?

The Galactic Empire was defeated thirty years ago. The Galaxy is now facing a new threat: a new faction named the First Order. Their main mission is to rule the Galaxy and destroy all who oppose them. Their commander is a ruthless, mysterious, powerful Sith, Kylo Ren. Kylo has an ambition to find and kill the last Jedi who is able to restore order and revive the Jedi ways, Luke Skywalker. Luke’s unknown location is also a main concern for General Leia Organa, a General from the Resistance that now trying to find him too. Han Solo and Chewbacca meet some new companions: Finn, a defective First Order Stormtrooper, and Rey, a scavenger from the Jakku planet who acquired Luke’s location through a BB-8 rolling droid. This unexpected team is forced not only to fight and resist the First Order, but also to find Luke Skywalker

What did I like?

Know where you come from. The prequels are generally reviled by fans of the franchise, so for this film to really stand on its own and not be compared to those it did the smart thing, return to its roots. What do I mean by that? Well, we are now 30 years after Return of the Jedi, and on this planet Jakku, you can see remnants of Star Destroyers, AT-AT, and even the Millennium Falcon is found there. While the latter becomes part of the film, it is still a nice easter egg for us die-hard fans to see these vehicles.

New class. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford could probably still carry this franchise if need be, but they aren’t as young as they used to be. It is time for some new blood to be injected. Enter Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. I didn’t really know what to expect from these two. Boyega I’ve seen in Attack the Block, but I didn’t pay that much attention to him back then and Ridley is cute as a button, but this is one of her first roles. The chemistry these two have, though, really lets them shine when they are together, couple that with the talent they have on their own and these two have very bright futures ahead of them, in this franchise and beyond!

Practicality. George Lucas ruined the holy trilogy by forcing CG into scenes where there wasn’t any and the prequels may as well have been as CG as The Clone Wars animated series. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams shut that down and used mostly all practical effects. Meaning the creatures you see are actual people wearing costumes, as opposed to someone in a MOKAP suit. I really can appreciate this approach to filmmaking. We are entirely to reliant on computers for everything these days, and it isn’t for the better!

What didn’t I like?

Kylo. How do you follow up a classic cinema villain like Darth Vader? Apparently, you create someone similar, give him daddy issues, and throw in the little subplot about his leaving jedi training to follow the Dark Side. Ok, all this works, but something about this guy just wasn’t menacing. He seemed more like that high school bully, rather than a threat to the whole universe. Think back to Star Wars, from the first time we see Darth Vader, it is known that he is not a force to be reckoned with. Don’t get me wrong, Kylo Ren has impressive powers, but there is something that just doesn’t make him a threat, yet. It may have been that he took his mask off, but I can’t be sure.

All for one. As I said earlier, there are some clever easter eggs for those of us that grew up with the holy trilogy, but the biggest of those may be the plot of this film. It is very similar to Episode IV. I was on board with the girl on the desert planet who finds a droid that has to complete its mission, her discovery of jedi powers, and other parts similarities too numerous to list. When it came to the giant planet that destroys solar systems though, I had to take issue. Is there nothing else for the First Order to do but to blow up planets? Did they not learn from the Empire’s mistakes?

Starkiller. How many of you have ever played The Force Unleashed? Anybody? Well, the main character is a clone Darth Vader made and his name is Starkiller. I’m not sure if this is mean to be a coincidence, an easter egg, or what, but naming this giant battle station Starkiller felt a bit forced, pardon the pun, if that was the intention. I guess Death Star III would have been too much, though.

Let’s not beat around the bush, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was definitely worth the wait! I was a little nervous going in that this was going to be one of those overhyped pictured, but it wasn’t. Sure, there are some scenes that I felt could have used a bit of tweaking, especially in the early part of the film, but all in all, this is quite the enjoyable experience. For me, I got the feeling i did (and still do) when i watch the holy trilogy. Now, it isn’t quite at the level yet, but it could get there. Do i recommend this? Yes! Yes! A billion times YES! Why are you wasting time reading this? Go see it NOW!

5 out of 5 stars

Lawrence of Arabia

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film opens in 1935 when Lawrence is killed in a motorcycle accident. At his memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral, a reporter tries (with little success) to gain insights into this remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him.

The story then moves backward to the First World War, where Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant, notable for his insolence and knowledge. Over the objections of General Murray, Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau sends him to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal in his revolt against the Turks. On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali for drinking from his well without permission. Lawrence later meets Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment, and leave. Lawrence ignores Brighton’s orders when he meets Faisal. His outspokenness piques the prince’s interest.

Brighton advises Faisal to retreat after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes a daring surprise attack on Aqaba; its capture would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies. The town is strongly fortified against a naval assault but only lightly defended on the landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men, led by a sceptical Sherif Ali. Teenage orphans Daud and Farraj attach themselves to Lawrence. They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water. Gasim succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night. When Lawrence discovers him missing, he turns back and rescues Gasim—and Sherif Ali is won over. He gives Lawrence Arab robes to wear.

Lawrence persuades Auda abu Tayi, the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to turn against the Turks. Lawrence’s scheme is almost derailed when one of Ali’s men kills one of Auda’s because of a blood feud. Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, so Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. He is then stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the very man whom he risked his own life to save in the desert, but he shoots him anyway.

The next morning, the Arabs overrun the Turkish garrison. Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commander, General Allenby, of his victory. While crossing the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand. Lawrence is promoted to major and given arms and money for the Arabs. He is deeply disturbed, however, confessing that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but Allenby brushes aside his qualms. He asks Allenby whether there is any basis for the Arabs’ suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia. When pressed, the general states that they do not.

Lawrence launches a guerrilla war, blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley publicises his exploits, making him world famous. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured. Unwilling to leave him to be tortured by the enemy, Lawrence shoots him before fleeing.

When Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Deraa with Ali, he is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey. Lawrence is stripped, ogled, and prodded. He strikes out at the Bey and is severely flogged and possibly raped. He is then thrown into the street. The experience traumatises Lawrence. He returns to British headquarters in Cairo, but he does not fit in.

A short time later in Jerusalem, Allenby urges him to support the general’s “big push” on Damascus, but Lawrence is a changed, tormented man, unwilling to return. He finally relents.

He recruits an army that is motivated mainly by money rather than by the Arab cause. They sight a column of retreating Turkish soldiers who have just slaughtered the people of the village of Tafas. One of Lawrence’s men is from the village; he demands, “No prisoners!” When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks alone and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man’s cry, resulting in a massacre in which Lawrence himself participates with relish. Afterwards, he regrets his actions.

His men take Damascus ahead of Allenby’s forces. The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but they are desert tribesmen, ill-suited for such a task. Despite Lawrence’s efforts, they bicker constantly. Unable to maintain the public utilities, the Arabs soon abandon most of the city to the British.

Lawrence is promoted to colonel and immediately ordered home, as his usefulness is at an end to both Faisal and the British. A dejected Lawrence is driven away in a staff car.

REVIEW:

We are coming to the end of the year and, per tradition, I am trying to empty out my Netflix queue and also watch some true classic films. You may recall last year, I tested Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This year I have a couple of masterpieces lined up, the first is the epic masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia.

What is this about?

This Oscar-winning epic tells the true story of T.E. Lawrence, who helped unite warring Arab tribes to strike back against the Turks in World War I. This lush, timeless classic underscores the clash between cultures that changed the tide of war.

What did I like?

Score. Wow! Maurice Jarre really captured the essence of the sweeping desert winds with the main theme of this film. Not only that, but he also composed a score that fits perfectly with the rest of the film. I didn’t notice any part of it that stuck out or felt like it belonged to another genre. I am not inherently familiar with Jarre’s work, but if this sample is any indication, this man is severely underrated!

Cinematography. When people talk about epic films and sweeping cinematography, it is this film that they tend to use as an example. The lush score mixed with the visual of the vast desert makes for a great image. Add in an army crossing 20 days worth of barren sands with no water in sight, and you have the visual formula, as it were, that many films attempt to use still to this day (note that I said attempt).

A pint of Guinness. Alec Guinness is best known to those of us less cultured saps as Obi Wan Kenobi from the original (holy) Star Wars trilogy. Seeing him outside of his Jedi robes sometimes takes me aback, but then I remember that this is a man who is quite the capable actor. His scenes as Prince Faisal are quite interesting as he portrays this man as forceful, yet gentle, slow to rage and respected. The depth and range of his performance is of note because he isn’t on the screen but for maybe 10-15 min total. A trivia tidbit, this role was originally meant for Sir Laurence Olivier, but he couldn’t take because of other engagements.

What didn’t I like?

Extra, extra! Lately, there have been a string of films set in the middle east area. Here in the present day, one would think that casting directors would do everything they can to cast actors that fit what people in that part of the world look like, rather the whitest actors alive, just with a dab of tan makeup to make an attempt to look like they are native. That isn’t the case, however. The old saying, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” is certainly coming true in Hollywood today as film like this, Cleopatra, The Ten Commandments, and others did not cast accurately. I will give this film credit, though. The extras look like they actually are from this part of the world and Omar Shariff is a major character

Length. Look, this is an epic film and it tells a grand story, but did it really need 3 hours and 42 minutes to do so? I think I fell asleep somewhere near the end, but I’m not sure. I will admit, though, that audiences in the 60s had better attention spans, so perhaps this was not a problem for them, but for me it was a challenge.

Dead men tell no tales. As the film starts, we see present day, well 1935,  T.E. Lawrence riding a motorcycle until he is killed in an accident. The very next scene is his memorial service where we thrown to the rest of the film. I am fine with this being told as a flashback, I just feel that it should have bookended with the reporter again at the end, rather than the abrupt ending we were shown. A bit of closure would have been nice there.

So, there is no doubt that Lawrence of Arabia is a grand, epic film, worth of high praise and accolades. One review I happened to see on Netflix said it best,

Lawrence of Arabia is not a film to be trifled with. It spreads out its own epic-ness like a down comforter, and then proceeds to roll around in it luxuriantly for the next four and a half hours or so. T.E. Lawrence is a complicated man, equal parts genius and lunatic, and Peter O’Toole’s decidedly quirky performance conveys this excellently. The smart script also pays close attention to the political string-pulling behind Lawrence’s thrilling adventures, and displays admirable respect for its Arab characters. The likes of Sherif Ali and especially the sad, dryly witty Prince Faisal are presented as full-blooded human beings, without the slightest trace of condescension. With all these graces, gorgeous desert cinematography and a lush score, you’ve got a movie so appropriately mammoth it’ll take two nights’ viewing to appreciate it all.

Not much more I can really say after that summation. Do I recommend this fine example of what cinema should and could be? Yes, very highly, but make sure to clear your schedule before viewing.

5 out of 5 stars

Revisited: The Crow

Posted in Movie Reviews, Revisited with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

On October 30, Devil’s Night in Detroit, Police Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) is at the scene of a crime where Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) has been beaten and raped, and her fiancé Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) then died on the street outside, having been stabbed, shot, and thrown out of the window. The couple were to be married the following day, on Halloween. As he leaves for the hospital with Shelly, Albrecht meets a young girl, Sarah, who says that she is their friend, and that they take care of her. Albrecht tells her that Shelly is dying.

One year later, a crow taps on the grave stone of Eric Draven; Eric awakens and climbs out of his grave. Meanwhile, a low level street gang, headed by T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), is setting fires in the city. Eric goes to his old apartment and finds it derelict. He has flashbacks to the murders, remembering that those responsible were T-Bird and his gang: Tin Tin, Funboy, and Skank. Eric soon discovers that any wounds he receives heal immediately. Guided by the crow, he sets out to avenge his and Shelly’s murders by killing the perpetrators.

The crow helps Eric locate Tin Tin; Eric kills him and then takes his coat. He then goes to the pawn shop where Tin Tin pawned Shelly’s engagement ring the year before. Eric forces the owner, Gideon, to return the ring and blows up the shop, letting Gideon live so that he can warn the others. Eric finds Funboy with Sarah’s mother, Darla. After killing Funboy, Eric talks to Darla, making her realize that Sarah needs her to be a good mother. He visits Albrecht, explaining who he is and why he is here. Albrecht tells him what he knows about Shelly’s death and that he watched as she suffered for thirty hours before dying. Eric touches Albrecht and receives from him the pain felt by Shelly during those hours. Sarah and her mother begin to repair their strained relationship. Sarah goes to Eric’s apartment and talks to him. She tells him that she misses him and Shelly. Eric explains that, even though they cannot be friends anymore, he still cares about her.

As T-Bird and Skank stop at a convenience store to pick up some supplies, Eric arrives and kidnaps T-Bird. Skank follows the pair and witnesses Eric killing T-Bird; he escapes and goes to Top Dollar, a top-level criminal who controls all the street gangs in the city. Top Dollar and his lover/half-sister Myca have become aware of Eric’s actions through various reports from witnesses. Top Dollar holds a meeting with his associates where they discuss new plans for their Devil’s Night criminal activities. Eric arrives looking for Skank. A gun fight ensures the deaths of nearly all present, with Eric succeeding in killing Skank. Top Dollar, Myca and Grange, Top Dollar’s right-hand man, escape.

Eric, having finished his quest, returns to his grave. Sarah goes to say goodbye to him and he gives her Shelly’s engagement ring. She is then abducted by Grange who takes her into the church where Top Dollar and Myca are waiting. Through the crow, Eric realizes what has happened and goes to rescue her. Grange shoots the crow as it flies into the church, making Eric lose his invincibility. Myca grabs the wounded crow, intending to take its mystical power. Albrecht arrives, intending to pay his respects to Eric, just after Eric is shot and wounded. Top Dollar grabs Sarah and climbs the bell tower as a fight ensues, with Grange being killed. The crow escapes Myca’s grip, clawing her eyes and sending her down the bell tower to her death. When Albrecht is wounded, Eric climbs to the roof of the church on his own. There, Top Dollar admits ultimate responsibility for what happened to Eric and Shelly. In their fight, Eric gives Top Dollar the thirty hours of pain he absorbed from Albrecht; the sensation sends Top Dollar over the roof of the church to his death. Sarah and Albrecht go to the hospital, and Eric is reunited with Shelley at their graves.

REVIEW:

In the early-mid 90s, there was a movement to be moody and depressed…goth if you will. One of the films that came out and helped strengthen this movement was The Crow. In the years since then, there has been a cult classic status has been achieved by this picture, but I wonder if it is really worth it.

What is this about?

Exactly one year after young rock guitarist Eric Draven and his fiancée are brutally killed by a ruthless gang of criminals, Draven — watched over by a hypnotic crow — returns from the grave to exact revenge.

What did I like?

Sting. In the late 90s/early 2000s, I became a fan of professional wrestling for a second thanks to the likes of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Goldberg, and Sting. Why do I bring this up? Well, the first couple of times I watched this film, I didn’t really pick up on the similarities, outside of the face paint, but watching it tonight, I noticed the dark avenger persona Sting has been using in WCW, TNA, and now WWE comes from this film. You may scoff at that being a part of its legacy, but take a minute and think about how global wrestling is and to think that Sting has kept his character, which was based on this film, going for so long blows the mind!

Who you gonna call? Ernie Hudson never really got a chance to do anything in the Ghostbusters movies, but in everything else I’ve seen him in, the man has really shown he has some acting chops. It makes you wonder what kind of ectoplasm was holding him down in those classic films, doesn’t it? I like that, in this picture, he plays a cop with a heart of gold. A man who will do anything to protect his beat. In this day and age when police officers are just randomly beating, shooting, and killing anyone that looks at them wrong, it is a breath of fresh air to get that from a boy in blue. Shame that the real police can’t follow suit!

I am the night. 99% of this film takes place in the night. Why is this important? Well, think about the character of the crow. Does this look like someone who would do well in the middle of the day? No, but in the middle of the night and he flourishes. Unlike all 5 Spider-Man movies, the filmmakers knew what the time frame our hero works best in is and they used that to his advantage.

What didn’t I like?

Scum and villainy. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, a good hero needs a good villain. The Crow, at least in this outing, doesn’t have one. I’m not saying he needs a name villain such as the Joker or the Kingpin, but someone who poses a threat to more than just a neighborhood block. The antagonist we are given is nothing more than a bully who happens to have hired thugs. Honestly, the thus are more intimidating than him. If he didn’t have the long hair, I doubt he’d even have been the one in charge! Ha!

Bye, Ling. Funny thing, Bai Ling is actually a normal character. Something must have happened to cause her to lose a few screws because everything of note that she has been in after this, the woman has been muy loco en da cabeza! Take Crank: High Voltage as an example! That isn’t why I bring her up, though. She seems to be learned in some sort of mysticism, but we never see that, other than her knowing the significance of the crow.

Candyman. Tony Todd is an intimidating presence, both in terms of his looks and stature, as well as his deep, booming voice. So, tell me why is it that this man is relegated to being a right-hand man? I would say this is one of his early film roles, which would allow me to forgive his lack of leading man ability, but this man been around since Platoon, if not longer! Maybe the filmmakers should have had a crossover, especially considering Todd’s success in Candyman. Can’t you see it? The Crow vs. Candyman? Fight to the…whatever it is that comes after death.

So, what is my final verdict on The Crow. To be honest, I don’t really see the lasting appeal, nor do I see why everyone is so in love with this picture. That being said, I appreciate the performance given by Brandon Lee, it is just too bad that we never got to see how far his star was going to rise. The action here is enough to appease those that don’t want to just watch someone brood for 2 hours. I feel as if the mother/daughter relationship as well as some more back story on our titular character would have added a little something to the picture, but that’s just me. Overall, I do think this was a decent picture and I would recommend it to those that are interested.

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

Penguins of Madagascar

Posted in Animation, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In Antarctica, three young penguins – Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico – defy the laws of nature to save an egg the other penguins believe to be doomed. After saving it from a pack of leopard seals and accidentally setting themselves adrift on an iceberg, the egg hatches into Private.

Ten years later (after the events of the previous film), the penguins decide to leave the circus to celebrate Private’s birthday by breaking into Fort Knox in order to treat him to a discontinued snack called “Cheezy Dibbles” in the vending machine of their break room. Despite this, Private begins to feel out of place with the team, as he is described as being the “secretary/mascot”. Suddenly, they are abducted by the machine and sent to Venice, Italy by Dr. Octavius Brine, a renowned geneticist who removes his human disguise and reveals he is actually an octopus named Dave, who has grown resentful of penguins after their nature of cuteness had shunned him out of every major zoo in the world.

Rico swallows Dave’s collection of snowglobes along with a canister of a green substance called the Medusa Serum before the four escape and are chased through the canals and streets of Venice by Dave’s henchmen. When cornered, they are rescued by a group of animals from a spy agency called “North Wind” consisting of their leader, a grey wolf whose name is classified, (Skipper mistakenly refers to him as “Classified” throughout the entire film) a harp seal demolitionist named Short Fuse, a polar bear named Corporal, and an intelligent snowy owl named Eva with whom Kowalski is instantly smitten. Their mission is to help animals who can’t help themselves.

At their hideout, their communication systems are hacked by Dave, who reveals that he has an enormous supply of the Medusa Serum and that he intends to capture the penguins out of every zoo he was kicked out of. Not wanting the penguins’ help, Classified sends the group to their most remote base (which happens to be on Madagascar) but the penguins awaken midflight and crash land in the Sahara Desert before making their way to Shanghai, which they mistake for Dublin, Ireland. Discovering Dave’s next target in Shanghai, the penguins ship themselves to their current location and make their way to the zoo. Disguising himself as a mermaid-tailed penguin (a tourist attraction) to distract Dave from his real target, Private himself is captured along with the Shanghai penguins after the North Wind arrives to put a stop to Dave’s plan. The penguins take the North Winds’ high-tech plane to give chase, but accidentally self-destruct the machine. They manage to track Private to an island though, using a device planted on him when Classified tranquilized them. Meanwhile, on the island, Dave demonstrates his way to genetically mutate the penguins into hideous monsters as an effort to make humans disgusted in them as revenge.

Skipper and Classified argue on the best means to rescue the captives and stop Dave, settling on Classified’s plan of a frontal assault. The North Wind manages to corner Dave at his lair only to be captured by Dave’s henchmen as well as the other penguins. Dave demonstrates his disfiguring ray at full power on Private, apparently disintegrating him with the beam, but unbeknownst to them he escapes at the last minute by using a paper clip he swallowed earlier. Private rescues the North Wind members, who want to regroup, but Private, not wanting to leave anyone behind goes to stop Dave. As Dave’s submarine docks at New York with the promise of returning the penguins he found to the zoo, he turns the ray on the rest of the penguins, mutating them all into hideous monsters. The city erupts into chaos as the brainwashed, mutated penguins run amok on the terrified human crowd. Getting the senses back into Skipper, Kowalski and Rico, they decide to connect the cute Private into the ray to return them to normal. They turn all the penguins back to normal in one huge blast.

Private is left mutated from the machine while the rest of the penguins are restored to normal. Despite his strange new look, the Penguins show their gratitude and newfound respect for Private. Dave (who caught in the blast) has been turned into a pipsqueak version of himself and is trapped in a snow globe where he is admired by a little girl. Finally seeing one another as equals, Classified promises to grant the Penguins anything they want. In addition to Kowalski getting a kiss from Eva, the Penguins are given their own jetpacks and they then fly off above the clouds looking for their next adventure.

In a mid-credits scene, the Penguins return to the circus and plug Mort into the ray and use him to revert Private back to normal. Mort does not appear to show any side effects from the ray until he manages to swallow King Julien whole, much to King Julien’s delight.

REVIEW:

Well, we have now reached that point in time where the animated franchises we’ve been watching the past few years are now letting their popular side characters have their own films. Aside from this film, Penguins of Madagascar, there was this summer’s huge hit Minions, next summer we get a film based on Scrat from Ice Age, and I’m sure there are more to come.

What is this about?

Having shown their mettle in previous Madagascar animated epics, dauntless penguins Skipper, Rico, Private and Kowalski team with a covert group, the North Wind, to stage an all-or-nothing showdown with the fiendish Dr. Octavius Brine.

What did I like?

On their own. We were first introduced to the penguins way back in the first Madagascar movie. Seeing as how they, and apparently King Julien, have been the breakout stars of that franchise, rather than the main characters, it makes sense that they have their own show on Nickelodeon and are making an attempt to cash in some more with a big screen adventure. Not having any of the characters from their original franchise, not counting a mid-credits scene, allows them to stand on their own two feet, which I can appreciate.

Documentary. When it comes to nature documentaries these days, Werner Herzog seems to be the guy you go to for narration. He pops up at the beginning of this, filming what looks to be a penguin documentary. I’m sure this was put in for the adults watching, and it was a very nice touch.

Animation. The other day, it was brought to my attention that it has been 20 years since the release of Toy Story. Think about what that film looks like and compare it to the more recent animated films that have come out. You can clearly see how far animation has come! In this case, there is a fluidity to the octopi that we wouldn’t have seen not that long ago, a more defined look to the penguins feathers, and even the snow looked more realistic. I still am no fan of using computers to animate, but I respect what they have been able to accomplish.

What didn’t I like?

Dr. Brine. The villain of the film is an octopus who masquerades as a human scientist and feels he has been slighted by penguins around the world. Ok, that makes for a good plot to go with the story, but what is my issue? Well, in his human disguise, he is still moving around like a slinky! How does no one get this? The villain in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 does something similar, but he’s a yoga nut, if I recall. Also, the design of this guy doesn’t fit with John Malkovich’s voice. Don’t get me wrong, Malkovich does a great job as the villain, but the way this guy was drawn, you’d think they were expecting Rainn Wilson!

Puns. When it comes to jokes, there are certain types that are sure to generate laughs, others that will draw boos, and then there are puns. Puns are the best when used sparingly. Someone should have told that to whoever it was that wrote this script, because the puns used as names was a joke that got old fast. For example, “Halle…bury them! Helen…Hunt them down! Hugh, Jack…man the battle stations! Charlize…they’re on the ship [sic]” (Halle Berry, Helen Hunt, Hugh Jackman, Charlize Theron). Admittedly, these could be clever, but for me it was too much at one time.

Attempted feelings. Someone thinks that these penguins needed a backstory complete with feelings about how Private is left out and unappreciated. I don’t know who this person is, but they messed up the dynamic of the team by doing so. Skipper is the leader! It is his job to lead the penguins, regardless of the outcome. Private is the young and cute one. End of story! Why must everyone mess with the formula. Remember when Coca-Cola tried that in the 80s? Didn’t work too well, did it?

For a spinoff children’s film, Penguins of Madagascar wasn’t half bad. It accomplished what it needed to in a short amount of time which, given the ADHD of the audience this is made for works out just fine. There are a couple of jokes here and there for parents to enjoy, and a flashback to Madagascar 3, for those that wanted to see what the penguins were up to while all that singing and dancing was going on. All in all, this is a pretty good picture to watch with the kids. Do I recommend it? Yes, I do!

4 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 12/17

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags on December 17, 2015 by Mystery Man

It’s Trailer Thursday!!!

In one of the early episodes of Family Guy we saw Gene Kelly dancing with Stewie. Where did this clip come from? Well, originally, Stewie was Jerry of Tom & Jerry fame and the scenes was from the classic musical starring Gene and Frank Sinatra, Anchors Aweigh.

Check out the trailer and see if it is something you’d like to watch sometime (it is currently on Netflix streaming)

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