Archive for Taraji P. Henson

Hidden Figures

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1961, mathematician Katherine Goble works as a human computer in the segregated division West Area Computers of the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, alongside her colleagues, aspiring engineer Mary Jackson and their unofficial acting-supervisor Dorothy Vaughan.

Following a successful Soviet satellite launch, pressure to send American astronauts into space increases. Supervisor Vivian Mitchell assigns Katherine to assist Al Harrison’s Space Task Group, given her skills in analytic geometry. She becomes the first black woman on the team; and in the building, which has no bathrooms for non-white people.

Katherine’s new colleagues are initially dismissive and demeaning, especially head engineer Paul Stafford. Meanwhile, Mitchell informs Dorothy that she will not be promoted as the bureaucracy is not planning to assign a “permanent supervisor for the colored group”. Mary is assigned to the space capsule heat shield team, and immediately identifies a flaw in the experimental space capsule’s heat shields. With encouragement from the team lead, she submits an application for an official NASA engineer position and begins to pursue an engineering degree more assertively.

At a church barbecue, widow Katherine meets National Guard Colonel Jim Johnson, and they are attracted to each other, but she is disappointed when he voices skepticism about women’s mathematical abilities. He later apologizes, and begins spending time with Katherine and her three daughters.

When Harrison invites his subordinates to solve a complex mathematical equation, Katherine develops the solution, leaving him impressed. The Mercury 7 astronauts visit Langley and astronaut John Glenn is cordial to the West Area Computers.

Katherine becomes better acquainted with her colleagues. Harrison finds Katherine not at her desk one day, and is enraged when she explains that she must walk a half-mile away to another building to use the colored people’s bathroom. Harrison abolishes bathroom segregation, personally knocking down the “Colored Bathroom” sign. Regardless of Stafford’s objections, Harrison allows Katherine to be included in their meetings, in which she creates an elaborate equation to guide the space capsule into a safe re-entry. Despite this, Katherine is forced to remove her name from all the reports, which are credited solely to Stafford. Meanwhile, Mary goes to court and convinces the judge to grant her permission to attend night classes in an all-white school to obtain her engineering degree.

Dorothy learns of the impending installation of an IBM 7090 electronic computer that will replace her co-workers. She visits the computer room to learn about it and successfully starts the machine. Later, she visits a public library, where the librarian scolds her for visiting the whites-only section, to borrow a book about FORTRAN. While congratulating Dorothy on her work, Mitchell assures her that she never treated her differently due to the color of her skin; Dorothy is unconvinced. After teaching herself FORTRAN and training her West Area co-workers, she is officially promoted to supervise the Programming Department for the IBM, bringing 30 of her co-workers to do the programming. Mitchell eventually addresses Dorothy as “Mrs. Vaughan,” indicating her new-found respect.

As the final arrangements for John Glenn’s launch are made, Katherine is informed she is no longer needed at Space Task Group and is being reassigned back to West Area Computers. As a wedding and farewell gift from her colleagues (Katherine is now married to Jim Johnson), Harrison buys her a pearl necklace, the only jewelry allowed under the dress code.

The day of the launch, discrepancies arise in the IBM 7090 calculations for the capsule’s landing coordinates, and Astronaut Glenn requests that Katherine be called in to check the calculations. Katherine quickly does so, only to have the door slammed in her face after delivering the results to the control room. However, Harrison gives her a security pass to the control room so they can relay the results to Glenn together.

After a successful launch and orbit, the space capsule has a warning light indicating a heat shield problem. Mission control decides to land it after three orbits instead of seven. Katherine understands the situation and concurs that they should leave the retro-rocket attached to heat shield for reentry to which Harrison agrees immediately. Their instructions prove correct and Friendship 7 successfully lands in the ocean.

Following the mission, the mathematicians are laid off and ultimately replaced by electronic computers. Katherine is reassigned to the Analysis and Computation Division, Dorothy continues to supervise the Programming Department, and Mary obtains her engineering degree and gains employment at NASA as an engineer.

An epilogue reveals that Katherine calculated the trajectories for the Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle missions. In 2015 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The following year, NASA dedicated the Langley Research Center’s Katherine G. Johnson Computational Building in her honor.

REVIEW:

We all know that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have worked for NASA over the years, many of which were instrumental in getting the space program off the ground, as it were. With that in mind, I would be willing to bet no one knew about the three remarkable women that Hidden Figures is about. Let’s find out if the film taught us something about them, or should have left well enough alone.

What is this about?

As the United States raced against Russia to put a man in space, NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history. Based on the unbelievably true life stories of three of these women, known as “human computers”, we follow these women as they quickly rose the ranks of NASA alongside many of history’s greatest minds specifically tasked with calculating the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson crossed all gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance and desire to dream big, beyond anything ever accomplished before by the human race, firmly cemented them in U.S. history as true American heroes.

What did I like?

Who knew? As I said in my opening, the amount of people who know anything about these women can probably be counted on your hand. This film brings their story to us and also shows little girls that they too can grow up to work at NASA. It truly is amazing how this part of history has never been taught or even mentioned. Sure, they aren’t up there with the likes of George Washington, Martin Luther King, and Walt Disney, but these women paved the way for future generations!

Music. I was digging the soundtrack, I must say. On top of the score, we have some soulful period music, a couple of new tunes that were composed for this film and fit the era and, most importantly, there is some jazz on the side. A little something for everyone and these tunes aren’t depressing and morose, but rather upbeat and fun. I’m going to go track down the soundtrack and just sit back and listen to it. If I can keep from dancing, that it.

Tonality. Most biopics these days tend to focus on the negative side of a person’s life, totally ignoring that they did enjoy living at one point. These are human beings. Are you seriously going to tell me that they didn’t joke around with some friends at least at one point in their lives? Thankfully, this film takes note of that and shows these women in a way that represents who they were as human beings, rather than just characters in a movie. The film itself has an almost comedic tone at parts that I’m sure some will not care for, but it works for me, at least.

What didn’t I like?

Is that you, Sheldon? I feel bad for Jim Parsons. The guy has created a character so iconic and recognizable that he can’t play anything else without comparisons being brought up. His role as the head engineer, at least to me, felt like what Sheldon would have been doing were he “normal”…and then throw in the racism and sexism that this guy displays. I don’t want to say that he shouldn’t have been cast, because he did a fine job. I just couldn’t help but make the obvious comparisons to his character from Big Bang Theory

Race. I have two opposing viewpoints on how race was handled in this picture. On the one hand, I am glad it wasn’t the focal point of the film. On the other hand, we have here a picture set in the 60s, some things just can’t be ignored. This is the problem with this film. Race isn’t a big issue for the film, and I applaud it for instead focusing on the main characters, but there are times when we get some heavy stuff, such as any scene with one of the women’s husband, who seems to be more of a militant than the caring, peaceful types in the rest of the film.

Make it personal. I keep praising how the film focused on our 3 leads, Taraji P. Henson’s character, especially, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed in how we were shown their lives outsides of work. It is almost like they go to work and back home with maybe a side trip to church if it was convenient. A few more scenes of their home life would have been nice. The whole romance angle with Henson’s character could have been shown, rather than an introduction in one scene, a second meeting, and then they were getting married. Where was everything else?

Final verdict on Hidden Figures? Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect going in. I assumed this would be another one of those films that pushes the race angle down our throats. That was not the case as this turned out to be a fun film in which I learned something about these women and the space program, as well as had a few laughs. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! This is the kind of flick that everyone can enjoy and learn from.

4 out of 5 stars

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 2005, Daisy, an elderly woman, is on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital. Daisy asks her daughter, Caroline, to read aloud from the diary of Benjamin Button. It begins with an introduction note written on April 4th 1985.

In 1918, Mr. Gateau, a blind New Orleans clockmaker, loses his son on the battlefields of France in World War I. As a way to deal with the grief, Gateau builds a large clock for the New Orleans train station, but fixes it so that the time goes in reverse. When asked why, Gateau states that maybe time will reverse and the men lost in the war—including his son—might come home again.

On the evening of November 11, 1918, a boy is born with the appearance and physical maladies of a very elderly man. The baby’s mother dies shortly after giving birth, and the father, Thomas Button, abandons the infant on the porch of a nursing home. Queenie and Mr. “Tizzy” Weathers, who work at the nursing home, find the baby, and Queenie decides to care for him as her own.

In 1925, Queenie and a 7-year old Benjamin attend church; he physically appears 77. Learning to walk, Ben declares that moment a miracle, as written in his diary; the priest has a sudden, fatal heart attack.

In November 1930, 12-year-old Benjamin, having exchanged a wheelchair for crutches, befriends six-year-old Daisy, whose grandmother lives in the nursing home. As Benjamin’s body grows younger, he accepts work on a tugboat. Benjamin also meets Thomas Button, who does not reveal that he is Benjamin’s father. In 1936, Benjamin leaves New Orleans with the tugboat crew for a long-term work engagement. He eventually finds himself in Murmansk, where he starts an affair with Elizabeth Abbott, wife of the British Trade Minister.

In 1941, while the tugboat crew is still in Russia, Japan attacks the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, thrusting America into World War II. Mike, the captain, volunteers the boat to be a ship in the U.S. Navy and the crew is assigned to scrap collection duty. During a patrol, the tugboat stumbles upon a sunken U.S. transport and the bodies of hundreds of American troops. While surveying the carnage, a German submarine surfaces. Knowing his duty, Mike steers the tugboat full speed towards the sub while a German gunner fires on the tugboat, killing most of the crew including Mike. The tugboat then rams the submarine, causing it to explode, sinking both vessels. The next day Benjamin and one other crew member are picked up by ships of the U.S. Navy.

In May 1945, Benjamin returns to New Orleans, and learns that 21-year-old Daisy has become a successful ballet dancer. Benjamin again crosses paths with Thomas Button, who, terminally ill, reveals that he is Benjamin’s father. Thomas wills Benjamin his possessions before he dies.

Daisy’s dance career is ended in Paris in 1957, when she is hit by a taxi cab and breaks her leg. When Benjamin goes to see her, Daisy is amazed at his youthful appearance, but frustrated at her own injuries; she tells him to stay out of her life. In 1962, Daisy returns to New Orleans and reunites with Benjamin. Now of comparable physical age, they fall in love and move in together.

Daisy gives birth to a girl, Caroline in 1968, when Benjamin’s 49. Believing he cannot be a father to his daughter due to his reverse aging, Benjamin sells his belongings and leaves the proceeds to Daisy and Caroline. He begins traveling the world in 1970 (as written on one of Caroline’s postcards), really in his early 50s but appearing to be in his early 30s, including going to India, and doing motorcycle work. Finally, Benjamin ends his travels in 1981, at age 63.

Appearing 21, Benjamin comes back to Daisy that same year. Now married, Daisy introduces him to her husband and daughter as a family friend. Daisy then visits Benjamin at his hotel, where they share their passion for each other. Daisy admits that he was right to leave; she could not have coped otherwise. After saying goodnight to her, Benjamin watches Daisy leave in a taxi from his window.

In 1991, widowed Daisy receives a phone call from social workers. They have found Benjamin — now apparently about 11 years old. When she arrives, they explain that he’d been living in a condemned building, and was recently taken to the hospital in failing health. They have contacted her because they found her name in his diary. The bewildered social workers also say he’s displaying early signs of dementia. Daisy moves into the nursing home where Benjamin grew up and takes care of him as he becomes increasingly younger until, physically, he becomes an infant once more. Daisy says to Caroline that in 2002, Gateau’s clock was moved into storage, replaced by a digital screen clock. In 2003, Benjamin dies in Daisy’s arms remembering who she was. Benjamin’s story now told, Daisy dies in her New Orleans hospital bed as Hurricane Katrina approaches, and the scene fades to the storage room in which Gateau’s clock is contained; the film ends with the clock still running backwards, as the room in which it is contained begins to flood

REVIEW:

None of us are getting any younger, that’s just a sad fact of life. Imagine, though, what it must be like to live your life in reverse. I’m not quite sure I would care to see those around me grow ever so slowly older and eventually passing on. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes us through a journey filled with ups and downs, all the while we watch as Benjamin grows from an old man to young boy.

What is this about?

On the day that Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, elderly Daisy Williams (nee Fuller) is on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital. At her side is her adult daughter, Caroline. Daisy asks Caroline to read to her aloud the diary of Daisy’s lifelong friend, Benjamin Button. Benjamin’s diary recounts his entire extraordinary life, the primary unusual aspect of which was his aging backwards, being diagnosed with several aging diseases at birth and thus given little chance of survival, but who does survive and gets younger with time. Abandoned by his biological father, Thomas Button, after Benjamin’s biological mother died in childbirth, Benjamin was raised by Queenie, a black woman and caregiver at a seniors home. Daisy’s grandmother was a resident at that home, which is where she first met Benjamin. Although separated through the years, Daisy and Benjamin remain in contact throughout their lives…

What did I like?

Process of aging. The makeup artists did masterful job of making Brad Pitt look old in the early parts of the film, and then they reversed the aging process for the latter parts (or just spliced in a few scenes from Meet Joe Black). They also make Cate Blanchett look quite a bit younger as well as aged Taraji P. Henson in her last scenes.

Ride. This film takes you for an emotional ride, that’s for sure. Not only do you feel sad for this woman who is on her deathbed in a hospital as Hurricane Katrina is about to make landfall, but the emotions of Benjamin as he goes through life experiencing love, tragedy, and what have you. Those that are apt to emotional outbursts might want to have a box of tissue handy when you watch this.

Similar, yet different. I’m sure many people are going to make a fuss about how similar this film is to two others. First, there is the Robin Williams’ flick Jack, where he plays a boy who ages four times faster than he should…another aging chid film. Second, there quite a few obvious similarities or nods to Forrest Gump, such as both being southern, working on a boat, being born on a signficant date in history. The way this film was going at points, I was half expecting him to end up sitting on a bench with a box of chocolates. That being said, these are all different films that have similarities, but should not really be compared and contrasted.

What didn’t I like?

Watch your step. When Benjamin is left on the doorstep, he is literally stepped on by Queenie and her beau. I’ve never stepped on a baby before, but it seems to me that a full grown man of what appears to be slightly athletic/muscular build coming down the stairs and stepping on a newborn babe would either crush the child or do some serious injury to it, especially if it has as brittle bones as an old person.

Accents. Brad Pitt should know better. I’ll get to him in a second. As someone who lives in Louisiana, just an hour away from New Orleans, as a matter of fact, I can’t ignore these accents. I’m not really sure who taught these people that folks down here talk like that, but that isn’t the way. The reason I say Brad Pitt should know better is because I seem to remember reading something that he and Angelina had bought a house down here. That would mean he gets a taste of the local culture eveyrday. Let us not forget that he was down here years ago, using the exact same sad accent, in Interview with a Vampire. He may have become a better actor since then, but his accent is as sad and wooden as ever.

Length and waste. At nearly 3 hours, this film is way too long for its own good. Yes, it is one of those artsy-fartsy films and all, but still….geesh! Julia Ormond is a very fine and talented actress. I don’t blame them for getting her involved in the project. However, I can’t help but wonder why it is that they felt the need to cast her in such a medial role, when they really could have just picked up some random chick from down Bourbon St. and she would have worked just as well.

A little bit more serious and dramatic that films I tend to go for, I found myself actually really enjoying The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Great acting, setting, visual effects, and a story that sucks you in make this a must-see. No wonder it was nominated for all those awards. I highly recommend this one as a film to see before you die.

4 1/2 out 5 stars

Larry Crowne

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), a middle-aged Navy veteran is fired from his job at a big-box store, despite his seniority and satisfactory work, because the company has decided that his lack of a college education impedes any chance of advancement. Larry, who is divorced and lives alone, cannot find a job and he almost loses his house. Larry’s neighbor, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), advises him to enroll in the local community college and get an education in order to get better opportunities in the future.

Larry then decides to check out the college campus, and as he is looking over the college catalog, he meets the college dean, Dave Busik (Holmes Osborne), who encourages him to take Economics and Speech. Later, while pumping gas in his SUV, he sees a couple on scooters filling up gas and how much cheaper it is to do so. This prompts Larry to haggle with Lamar over a scooter that Lamar is selling at his never-ending yard sale.

At the first day of school, Larry meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a free-spirit who also drives a scooter. They form a friendship right away. Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts) pulls up to the parking lot, and appears reluctant to be at the college. She walks into the Speech class that she teaches and notices only nine students in attendance. Mercedes makes an announcement that since the state requires at least ten students to be registered for a single class, that the class is cancelled, much to her delight. Suddenly, Larry appears and wonders if he is not too late for class. With Larry now being the tenth student registered in class, Mercedes reluctantly begins teaching class.

Larry and Talia share the same Economics class, taught by Dr. Ed Matsutani (George Takei), who mixes sarcasm with seriousness in his teachings. He appears to pay strict attention to Larry and confiscates Larry’s cell phone due to his texting habits with Talia.

Mercedes comes home to her husband Dean (Bryan Cranston), who is looking at pornography on his computer, but removes the web pages before Mercedes can catch him in the act. Apparently, Mercedes already knows of his porn-browsing, and Dean’s defense is that he’s just “a guy, who’s a guy, being a guy.” Mercedes is unhappy with her marriage and is an alcoholic.

Talia takes a strong liking to Larry and invites him to join a gang of people who ride scooters that is led by her boyfriend Dell Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama), who appears to be somewhat jealous of all the attention Talia gives Larry. Talia and her friends raid Larry’s living room and rearrange his furniture, while one of her friends gives Larry a haircut. Talia also gives Larry a bunch of clothes she keeps in her storage unit. Larry is fitting in quickly with Talia and her gang.

One night, after a date night with Dean goes horribly wrong, a drunken Mercedes demands to be let out of the car. Larry and gang notice Mercedes waiting alone at a bus stop, and Talia encourages Larry to give her a ride home. Mercedes reluctantly gets on Larry’s scooter with a helmet on, but her attitude changes when they ride by Dean getting arrested by a couple of police officers. When Larry gets Mercedes to her home, she asks Larry for a kiss, and they do. She wants to have sex as well, but Larry declines, not wanting to take advantage of her. After she closes the door, Larry appears happy over their kiss.

Dean comes home by cab to find all his stuff on the front lawn. Mercedes, who is now starting to take a liking to Larry, sees him and Talia together and is slightly jealous of their relationship, but is unaware that they are just friends. She makes Larry wait after class to tell him not to brag to anyone about what happened the night before. Larry says he will keep silent about what had occurred between them.

Now that Larry cannot afford to live in his house any longer, he uses the knowledge he gained in his Economics class to legally turn over his house and keys to the bank, with a 30-day notice that he will be gone. Larry ends up hosting a yard sale and pizza party at Lamar’s house, and upon paying for the pizzas, he’s surprised to see that the delivery man is Jack (Rob Riggle), a snide executive who helped fire Larry. Larry is also now working at at a diner run by his friend, Frank (Ian Gomez). Mercedes runs into Talia, who is telling her English teacher (Pam Grier), that she will be dropping out of college to start a thrift store. Mercedes assumes that Larry must know about her actions due to their supposed relationship, but Talia assures her that they are just friends. Mercedes appears to be happier now that she knows the truth. Larry, however, does not know about Talia dropping out, since he was surprised that he didn’t see her in Economics class that day. He visits Talia, and appears to be slightly disappointed about her actions, but also wishes her luck in her future endeavors.

Finals now come, and right before the Speech final, Larry and Mercedes meet outside class, with her telling Larry that she scheduled him last with his “geography” speech. After everyone has finshed their speech before him, Larry stands up in class and talks about his travels around the world while in the Navy, and makes references to the other students’ speeches, who all appear to be inspired by his. Larry then looks at Mercedes as he mentions that he could never have told about his life with great passion and enthusiasm if he had not taken her Speech class. Larry is given a big round of applause by his classmates, as well as Mercedes, who is happier in her life without Dean and has developed a passion for teaching again.

While working at the diner, Larry sees Mercedes with a friend, and approaches the table. She tells Larry that she gave him an “A+” in her class, which makes him very happy about going to school and finding more meaning in his life. When the next term begins, some of the students from Mercedes’ Speech class register for her Shakespeare class, but are sad to see that Larry isn’t registered for that class as well. Larry is seen taking Dr. Matsutani’s second-term Economics class.

Mercedes walks to her office and sees a note from Larry on the door, which is an invitation to have her over for a French toast dinner, with the address to his new apartment. She drives over to his apartment and he greets her, they kiss and both enter the apartment, closing the door behind them

REVIEW:

What kind of world do we live in where a man who has served his country in the Navy and has worked his way up to some kind of shift manager cannot keep his job, simply because he did not go to college? Given his circumstances, you would think they would make an exception. However, if not for the company “downsizing” him, we may not have had the deceptively funny Larry Crowne.

What did I like about this film?

Chemistry. We all know that Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are great actors in their own right, but, to my immediate knowledge, they have never worked together. I could be wrong, though. At any rate, the chemistry between these two is apparent even before they meet each other. One has to wonder why they haven’t been put together on film before now. My guess is money.

Relatable story. I’ve never been in the military, unless you’re one of those people who counts high school ROTC, so I don’t know what this guy was going through. I’ve also never been divorced (or married). My job is, for the most part, one of those that won’t be downsized, but many Americans don’t have that luxury. In this economy, this film is very relatable, especially when you bring in the parts of him losing his house, selling his car, and gas prices (that’s what he gets for driving an SUV in California, though.)

Supporting characters. A friend of mine took issue with the fact that the many of the major supporting characters were all African-American. Personally, I didn’t notice that, but I was aware that these were some big name actors, such as Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, and the great Pam Grier (more on her later). All of them do what they do best, though, so it is hard to fault their casting.

New blood. In the past week, we have lost two major stars of the disco era, neither of which were that terribly old. I think Hanks is about the same age as Donna Summer. It just goes to show you that established actors aren’t destined to be around forever. So, with the introduction of newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw, we have some new blood who may very well be around for some time. Hopefully she’ll go on to do great things. She definitely has a good start.

Reverse psychology. I often mention how today’s comedies lose the funny and turn into dramas. Well, this film is actually the opposite. It is a drama (supposedly), but is actually quite a bit funnier than most of today’s “comedies”. It accomplishes this while keeping it’s identity as a drama. Not too shabby, I say.

What didn’t I like?

Cooling down the hotness. Pam Grier, at 62 years young (wow…she’s the same age as my mom…weird), is one of the hottest women around. Talk about growing old gracefully! Hotness aside, she is barely used. They do decide to actually give her something to do in the last 3/4 of the film when they break into this random montage, but for me, that was too little, too late.

Bad break. Bryan Cranston’s character, who apparently is some former professor of some sort that now stays home and works on his blog (looks at porn) is the typical douche husband that you just know she is going to leave for the main character before the film is over. The thing is, the audience shouldn’t feel sorry for him, but we do. I think that is because he doesn’t do anything particularly wrong other than look at porn while she’s at work and a drunken rant about the size of her breasts (I like ’em big, too!!!). These are forgivable things, in my opinion. It isn’t like he cheated on her, but I’m a guy, so what do I know, right?

All in all, Larry Crowne turned out to be an alright flick. This is definitely one of those flicks you should put in the “date night” category. Strong performances and story, comedy, drama, and even a motorcycle (scooter) gang…what more could you want? Who knows…if you watch this, someone may cook you french toast in the morning (watch the film to get that reference)!

4 out of 5 stars

The Karate Kid (2010)

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , on November 27, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

12-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson), arrive in Beijing from West Detroit to start a new life. Dre develops a crush on a young violinist, Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han), who reciprocates his attention, but Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), a kung fu prodigy whose family is close to Mei Ying’s, attempts to keep them apart by beating Dre, and later harassing and humiliating him in and around school. During a particularly brutal beating by Cheng and his friends, the enigmatic maintenance man of Dre’s building, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), comes to Dre’s aid, revealing himself as a kung fu master who adeptly dispatches Dre’s tormentors.

After Han mends Dre’s injuries using fire cupping, Dre asks if Mr. Han could teach him Kung-Fu. Han refuses, but decides to go meet Cheng’s teacher, Master Li (Yu Rongguang), to attempt to make peace, but the brutal Li, who teaches his students to show no mercy to their enemies, challenges Dre to a fight with Cheng. When Han declines, Li threatens him, saying that they will not be allowed to leave his school unless either Dre or Han himself fights. Han acquiesces, but insists the fight take place at an upcoming tournament, and that Li’s students leave Dre alone until the tournament. The amused Li agrees, but tells Han that if Dre doesn’t show up during the tournament, Li will personally bring pain to Han and Dre.

Han begins training Dre, but Dre is frustrated that Han merely has Dre spend hours taking off his jacket, hanging it up, dropping it, and then putting it back on again. After days of this, Dre refuses to continue, until Han demonstrates to him that the repetitive arm movements in question were Han’s method of teaching Dre defensive block and strike techniques, which Dre is now able to display instinctively when prompted by Han’s mock attacks. Han emphasizes that the movements Dre is learning apply to life in general, and that serenity and maturity, not punches and power, are the true keys to mastering the martial arts. During one lesson in the Wudang Mountains, Dre notices a female kung fu practitioner (Michelle Yeoh, in an uncredited cameo) apparently copying the movements of a cobra before her, but Han informs him that it was the cobra that was imitating the woman, as in a mirror reflection. Dre wants Han to teach him this technique, which includes linking Han’s hand and feet to Dre’s via bamboo shafts while practicing their forms, but Dre’s subsequent attempt to use this reflection technique on his mother is unsuccessful.

As Dre’s friendship with Mei Ying continues, she agrees to attend Dre’s tournament, as does Dre her upcoming recital. Dre persuades Mei Ying to cut school for a day of fun, but when she is nearly late for her violin recital, which has been rescheduled for that day, she tells him that her parents have deemed him a bad influence, and forbid her from spending any more time with him. Later, when Dre finds Mr. Han despondent, he learns that it is the anniversary of his wife and son’s deaths, which occurred years ago when he lost control of his car while arguing with his wife. Dre reminds Han that one of his lessons was in perseverance, and that Han needs to heal from his loss, and tries to help him do so. Han then assists Dre in reading a note, in Chinese, of apology to Mei Ying’s father, who, impressed, allows Mei to attend the tournament.

At the tournament, the under-confident Dre is slow to achieve parity with his opponents, but soon begins to beat them, and advances to the semifinals, as does Cheng, who violently finishes off his opponents. Dre eventually comes up against Liang, another of Master Li’s students, who is instructed by Master Li to break Dre’s leg. When Liang insists that he can beat Dre, Master Li sternly tells him that he doesn’t want him beaten, but broken. During the match, Liang grabs Dre’s low kick and delivers a devastating elbow strike to Dre’s leg, along with a series of brutal follow-up punches. Although Liang is disqualified for his illegal strikes, Dre is incapacitated, which would allow Cheng to win by default.

Despite Han’s insistence that he has earned respect for his performance in the tournament, Dre convinces Han to use his fire cupping technique to mend his leg, in order to see the tournament to the end. Dre returns to the arena, where he confronts Cheng. Dre delivers impressive blows, but Cheng counters with a debilitating strike to Dre’s already injured leg. Dre struggles to get up, and adopts the one-legged form he first learned from the woman on the mountain, attempting to use the reflection technique to manipulate Cheng’s movements. Cheng charges Dre, but Dre flips, and catches Cheng with a kick to his head, winning the tournament, along with the respect of Cheng and his classmates, both for himself and Mr. Han

REVIEW:

 I don’t hide my distaste for remakes, as proven with every remake I’ve watched and reviewed, but I do keep an open mind until I’ve actually seen the film. The Karate Kid remake does nothing to change my mind about remakes. If anything, this was almost as much a waste of time as The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), which, coincidentally, also starred Jaden Smith, Hmmm…

For some reason, everyone thinks this was a good film. I’m not going to sit here and say it sucked, because it didn’t, but it is nowhere near on the level as the original. I may be slightly biased, but this Jaden can’t wipe the sweat from Ralph Macchio’s crane kicking foot!

Just because he’s Will Smith’s son doesn’t mean he’s got his talent or charisma, yet I think everyone was scared to give this film the review it deserved because of the ties to Will.

I will say that the scenery here is pretty breathtaking, and quite frankly, is the highlight of the picture. There really isn’t anything else worth remembering. Again, that isn’t my bias, this is just a boring flick.

In the original film, Daniel was a teenager, but here Jaden is a 8 yr old. Are you seriously telling me that an 8 yr old is going to beat you near death like that? I realize that kids today are such hardened killers and all, but come on! This just isn’t going to happen.

The young girl that is the love interst is actually quite beautiful. Maybe she’ll be the next Lucy Liu or Michelle Yeoh.

Jaden Smith, as I said before, is just not his dad. He comes off as if he’s trying too hard to not only make a name for himself, but also to make this his a franchise that people will remember him for and forget Ralph Macchio. It doesn’t work. Having him sing on the soundtrack with Justin Bieber didn’t help, either.

Jackie Chan is probably the best choice for the Miyagi-type role, but he just seems to be in pain the whole film. Sort of like he knows he can do better than this mess.

I have to look at this picture from two angles. As a fan of The Karate Kid, I’m offended by this charade of a film that does nothing but spit on the legacy. As bad as the fourth film was, it was still better than this mess. On the other hand, I look at this as a film fan and say it has its moments, mostly with the breathtaking scenery, but tis major faults are that a film like this should not be this long, especially with this little action. Do I recommend this? Not really, but I do suggest you check it out to make your own decision and comparisons.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Date Night

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are a married couple from New Jersey with two children whose domestic life has become boring and routine. Phil is a tax lawyer while Claire is a realtor. They are motivated to reignite their romance after learning that their best friends, Brad (Mark Ruffalo) and Haley (Kristen Wiig), are planning to divorce to escape the married-life routine and to have more excitement in their lives.

To avoid the routine that had become their weekly “date night”, Phil decides that he will take Claire to a trendy Manhattan restaurant, but they cannot get a table. Phil takes a reservation from a no-show couple, the Tripplehorns, despite Claire’s misgivings. While eating they are approached by two men named Collins (Common) and Armstrong (Jimmi Simpson), who question them about a flash drive they believe Phil and Claire stole from mobster boss Joe Miletto (Ray Liotta). Phil and Claire explain that they are not the Tripplehorns, but the men threaten them at gunpoint. Not seeing any other way out, Phil tells them it is in a boathouse in Central Park.

At the boathouse Claire pretends to search; while Collins and Armstrong’s backs are turned, Phil hits them with a paddle and escapes with Claire on a boat. At a police station, Phil and Claire talk with Detective Arroyo (Taraji P. Henson) but discover Collins and Armstrong are also detectives, presumably on Miletto’s payroll. Realizing they cannot trust the police, they decide to find the real Tripplehorns. They return to the restaurant and find their phone number.

Claire remembers a former client, Holbrooke Grant (Mark Wahlberg), is a security expert and James Bond-like action hero. At his apartment, Grant, whom Claire flirts with, traces the signal to an apartment owned by Tom Felton. Collins and Armstrong arrive, but Phil and Claire escape in Grant’s Audi R8.

They arrive at Felton’s apartment and break in. They question Felton, nicknamed “Taste” (James Franco), and his wife “Whippit” (Mila Kunis) about the flash drive and Joe Miletto. It turns out that they went to the restaurant but left when they spotted Collins. Realizing they are in danger, the couple gives the flash drive to Phil and flees. When Phil and Claire get back in the Audi, Armstrong and Collins shoot at them. Phil and Claire crash the Audi headon into a Ford Crown Victoria taxicab, resulting in their Audi and the Ford being attached at the bumpers. Phil and the cab driver (J. B. Smoove) decide to drive off to get away. Phil climbs into the Ford to navigate while Claire navigates the Audi. Phil checks the flash drive on the driver’s Amazon Kindle and finds pictures of district attorney Frank Crenshaw (William Fichtner) with prostitutes (early in the film, a press conference shows Crenshaw highlighting his integrity platform). After evading Collins and Armstrong, they are eventually hit and separated by an SUV. The Ford falls into the river; Phil and the driver escape, but without the flash drive.

In a subway, Claire determines that Felton obtained the flash drive to blackmail Crenshaw. They return to Grant’s apartment, and Grant is reluctant to help after becoming exhausted by their incompetence, but Phil begs and he agrees. Phil and Claire go to an illegal strip club that Crenshaw frequents, with Claire under the guise of a new prostitute and Phil as her pimp. After doing a pole dance for Crenshaw, they confront him and tell him they are the Tripplehorns. Collins and Armstrong come in and hold them at gunpoint and take them up to the roof with Crenshaw. Miletto arrives with henchmen and it is revealed that Crenshaw has been paid by Miletto to keep him out of jail. When Phil mentions the photos, a feud escalates between the mobsters and Crenshaw, Collins and Armstrong. Phil asks Claire to count to three (her typical method of calming their children). When she does, a helicopter appears and Arroyo and the SWAT team come onto the roof to arrest Miletto, Crenshaw and everyone else. It is revealed that Phil was wearing a wire courtesy of Grant, who informed Arroyo of the situation.

After being declared heroes, Phil and Claire enjoy breakfast at a diner, where Phil admits he would marry Claire and have their kids all over again if given the chance. When they return home, they kiss passionately on the front lawn.

REVIEW:

I don’t think there is anyone out there who is either married or in a long-term relationship who can say that the spark hasn’t dimmed a bit and could use a date night once in a while. Of course, if they all ended up like this one, it might be better off keeping with the humdrum routine, right?

Date Night is a hilarious film from the beginning. Of course, it stars Tina Fey and Steve Carell, do you really expect something less? While not a laugh riot like you would get from a Will Ferrell film, this really makes your side hurt after it is all said and done. 

The plot is pretty simple, a married couple is so busy that the romance ad excitement has left their marriage and lives, so they opt for a date night in the city. Randomly, instead of waiting for a table, they take the reservation of another couple who don’t show up, thus starting an exciting and rather funny chain of events that leads them to realize how much they truly love each other.

Carell and Fey are two of the funniest people around and the chemistry between the two on-screen is amazing. They make sch a cute couple and at times I wondered if they really were married.

Taraji P. Henson is authoritative as the detective in charge of their case, and yet she’s still hot as hell.

Mark Wahlberg apparently doesn’t own any shirts any this film, which I’m sure many female viewers didn’t mind. While his role is minor, at best, he commands the screen when he is on, mainly because of the fact that he’s just randomly sitting around with no shirt on.

Ray Liotta is known for his tough persona, which has led to many of his roles. Here he is the same kind of mafia tough guy, but his character isn’t really developed until the last minute, which really makes you wonder why they didn’t just go get a lesser known actor.

James Franco and Mila Kunis make a hilarious cameo as the real Tripplehorns. You have to see it to believe, is all I’m going to say about them.

Date Night is highly underrated. It is an action comedy that actually delivers on both the action and more importantly, the comedy aspects. With a great cast, awesome story, and fast pace, it is hard to not like this film. I highly recommend this to everyone!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars