Tuesday, April 21, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - Danny Collins

This is a movie in limited release that every movie goer should see.  Al Pacino leads an all-star cast in the new half-truth fable, Danny Collins.

Danny Collins (Pacino) is a 1970's rock star heartthrob who is well past his prime.  He is now approaching 70, and is still on tour singing his old songs to an aging audience.  He has had a lucrative career and has money beyond his wildest dreams.  But he is not happy with this life, or the music he has built his empire on. 

His manager (Christopher Plummer) then gives him a 40 year-old letter written to Danny from John Lennon. In 1971, Lennon was a big fan of then young Collins, and urges him to never sell out for the mighty dollar.  Problem is Danny never got the letter, and he DID end up selling out, recording music he didn't like or write.  But it was lucrative.

Danny decides to make major changes in his life by cancelling his concert tour, and heading back to New Jersey to try to reconnect with his grown son he has never met.  He also decides to live in a Hilton Hotel, write new music and hit on the hotel manager Mary, (Annette Benning.)  Although Danny's heart is in the right place, his actions are not always in sync with his heart, or common sense.  What will happen to Danny Collins?

This is a very entertaining movie that is well written for the most part and done overall very well.  Yes, there is a fumble or two in the written story, and the ending has a bit to be desired, but this is a movie that is a joy to see.  Pacino in the right role is always fun to watch.  He is perfect as the gaudy, aging and eccentric Collins. Plummer, is great, as is the wonderful Jennifer Garner, and Bobby Cannavale as Danny's grown son.  Annette Benning is always a joy on screen, and she is terrific here as the recently divorced, and cautious hotel manager who is reluctant to accept Danny's advances.

The music soundtrack is dominated by John Lennon music, and that adds a ton to this. Lennon's presence is always there, and it helps set the tone for Collins the man, and this movie.  This is well directed, and well acted and it's a shame more people are not going to see this in the theater. But more than likely, this will be a big rental and streamer in a few weeks, as Pacino will bring them in

Danny Collins.  Go see this. This is quite good.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - Unfriended

I have to hand it to Unfriended in one regard, you have never seen a movie like it.

Unfriended is a new teen slasher flick of sorts that can also serve a wake up call to parents about what their kids are doing online. More on that in a minute.  This movie is based in part in reality, and part in the supernatural. 

This movie right up front, is a one shot movie where you are watching on an angle that never changes.  You are watching 6 high school teens being terrorized by some unknown entity during a 6 way video chat online.  Yeah I know, that sounds silly and some of this is.  And some of this is eye opening.

A bit of back story, a young girl named Laura Barns commits suicide a year before our movie begins. She killed herself because of an insanely embarrassing video someone posted of her drunk, passed out and in the most vulnerable and humiliating position imaginable for a young woman.  Now as these 6 kids chat, an unknown person is tagging along in the chat, and actually controlling it. It appears to be the ghost of Laura Barns who is back to take her revenge.  She now becomes a real life cyber-bully, bent on killing these kids.

Look,  clearly not any of this really makes sense  - in a literal sense.  And of course ghosts don't come back and make kids kill themselves, or are killed by some unknown force.  But this does let us inside the lives of teens, and what they are doing online in their rooms when the door is closed.  It also makes a very strong case and point that once something is out there online, it it always out there. And there are consequences.

This movie is very tidy, checking in at about an hour-twenty.  And that's a good thing because you can only watch this one shot computer screen for so long.  This is imaginative movie making to be honest, but this falls a bit short, as this could have been much better if some of the decisions in the story would have been better, and a bit better told.

Word though to parents.  This movie allows us way inside teen chats, and showcases their computer savvy.  If you ever have wondered what might be really going on after bed time, this will make many consider pulling the plug on the computer in the room at night.  Even though this is an extreme scenario, there is a shred of truth to it all that cannot be denied.

Unfriended.  Teens will love this movie.

MOVIE REVIEW - It Follows

Here is a little review for a little movie.  But for what this is, It Follows is a pretty darn good flick.

This movie has been shown a film festivals all over the world.  This has been received fairly well for a scary pic. Yeah this is not for everyone, but for those who choose to see this, it is not your run of the mill teen horror movie.  This one actually does have a brain, and a heart.

It Follows is essentially the story of Jay, who is a 21 year old college student that is very attractive.  She goes out on a date with someone she hardly knows a time or two, and ends up having sex with him in the back of a car.  The young guy states that he is sorry, but now that they have had sex, she is going to be followed by these zombie-like people that only she can see.  And if they catch her they will kill her.  He also tells her to "pass it on" as he claims this "curse" was passed on to him by another girl.

Sure enough, Jay is now terrorized by these creatures.  She shares the info with her friends, and sister and they come to realize that she is not crazy, and she actually is being followed and stalked.  So they try to devise  a plan to deal with this.  Jay decides to have sex with one of her friends, and then a few total strangers, and another friend to try to rid herself of this. But to no avail. The zombie like people are still there. Can the all survive?

This has been interpreted many different ways.  Many think it's a symbolic of the AIDS virus. That unwise sex can indeed kill you.  Me, I thought it did make a statement for AIDS, I also thought that it was a statement on STD's in general.  That unwise and unprotected sex can lead to consequences that sometimes never really go away, and you can indeed pass it on.

This is pretty smart and pretty well done. Filmed with a cast of unknowns, with the backdrop of dilapidated Detroit that gives this a real authentic look.  This is suspenseful, and more than anything, this is original and interesting.  It's not perfect, and not for everyone, but this is pretty good.

It Follows. For what this is, well, well done.

Friday, April 17, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - Paul Blart 2

Tough to go to a movie these days where there's not a number at the end. So here we go again, Kevin James is back as Paul Blart Mall Cop 2

Hard to believe that the original was 2009, but it has been 6 years since the first one.  And right off the top this is not going to be in the Oscar conversation, as the first one wasn't.  But the original did bring in a whopping 146 million dollars, and was a hit with movie goers.

In this installment, Paul is still living alone with with his grown daughter in New Jersey.  He gets an invitation to attend a security convention at The Wynn Resort in Las Vegas.  There, as you might suspect his "talents" are needed to break up a theft ring, as a group of highly trained thieves are ripping of the resort of its priceless art. 

Somehow, Paul's daughter is caught up in the action, and finds herself kidnapped by the thieves, so Paul must save her as well as the rest of the day. Can he do it?  I'm guessing he can, and will. That in a nutshell, is Paul Blart 2.

This movie, like Blart himself is an easy target. This is simply about 90 minutes of silliness that really goes nowhere and has no real reason for being made.  Except that this is a comedy of sorts for those who want their comedy clean, and slapstick.  And I am going to commend that.  There just are not very many family friendly live action comedies out there that people can go to. And this is.

This is what it is.  It's silly, it's senseless, and a bit mind numbing but that's OK.  James has a big fan base (as well as a big actual base) and although he kind of only is capable of doing one thing, he does it here.  And fans will love it.  This is not offensive, raunchy or tasteless and we do need some more of this out there to fill a need.  This is not great cinema, but it is family cinema, and that is a void that needs to be filled by live action, and not simply animation.

Paul Blart 2.  It is what it is.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - The Longest Ride

The Longest Ride is new this weekend, and the latest Nicholas Sparks book to come to the big screen. 

The last few Sparks flicks have been nothing short horrible, including last years The Best Of Me, which I picked as the worst movie of 2014 for every reason there is. This movie I am happy to report is far better in about every regard. 


The Longest Ride is the story of Sophia (Britt Robertson) and Luke (Scott Eastwood).  Sophia is a college senior in North Carolina but is originally from the East Coast.  She is an art major, and is planning a new career of working in the art world. Luke is a North Carolina native who is one of the best professional bull riders in the world.  They meet, and of course strike up a steamy romance trying to meld their very different worlds.

They befriend a very nice old man they saved from a terrible car accident Ira (Alan Alda).  Sophia becomes a very good friend of Ira's, as he cannot read anymore. Sophia and Ira bond over many days of her reading his old love letters to him he wrote over the decades to his deceased wife, Ruth (Oona Chaplin).  

As Luke and Sophia march on, the differences of their world become very difficult. Is this bad timing?  Or is this fate and will they end up together as it would seem they are supposed to?  And what role will Ira play in their fate at the end of his life? These are the questions asked in The Longest Ride.

This movie does a number of things very well.  There has been some talk of it being very different in some aspects from the book.  But on screen they do capture well, the characters and how they live and act in today's world.   Sophia is a of course a Sparks character, and she's a bit too god to be true, but she does represent in her actions that of a nice college senior.  Luke, is a typical "old school" traditional values guy, and for the most part he is believable.  This does stick to the typical Sparks formula of movie making, but not as much as in the story on screen.

It is amazing that all of these Sparks movies can look the same after a while, but they do. This move does dare to be a bit different. For once, we are not on the Carolina Coast, and there are not boat, boat house, or seaside scenes. Also, bull riding is a part of this movie and that is way outside of the realm of Sparks.  And even though this does deal with flashback stories running side by side much like The Notebook, it doesn't really feel the same.  Alda is very good in this limited role, and he gives this a nice boost.

It is stunning how much Scott Eastwood looks, sounds and acts like Clint in parts of this movie. He is well cast, and does a nice job here. Robertson is a nice fresh presence on screen, and is actually quite likable.  There really nice no supporting cast to mention, as these three are the primary people on screen.  This is well done for the most part, it paces along fine, and even though Sparks movies all seem to be the same, this one is OK.

The Longest Ride.  Good, schmaltzy movie for romantics. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - Furious 7

This is the seventh installment of the Fast And Furious franchise, and somehow these just keep getting bigger, and yes better.

This is the continuation of the franchise with virtually all of the cast still in tact. Vin Diesel and his crew always find a way to really entertain us, with new and different action sequences. Of course, this is the final goodbye for the late actor, Paul Walker who was killed during the filming of this movie, as he has been a staple from the beginning. This had an amazing opening weekend, bringing in 143 million.

You do have to know what this series is all about to jump in and hang on to Furious 7.  This has been a sequential series, and the back story is mandatory. But I don't think that's a problem for those who go to these.  This has developed an amazing fan base who are ultra loyal.  This installment also bring in stars, Kurt Russell, Rhonda Rousey, and Jason Statham to add to the cast of Diesel, Walker, The Rock, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludicrous, and the rest. And they all fit and it all works.

This movie is just flat out fun. This is packed with really fun and over the top action sequences that involve about every kind of vehicle there is, and yes including some really great cars. Our crew is trying to again do right, and work off the books, trying to save the world from terrible fates, and all the while being hunted by the brother of one of the bad guys they took down a movie or two ago.

One of the things I have always admired about this series is that they have never really sold out. Yes, there is some violence. Yes there is some lawbreaking. Yes, there are some scantily clad women from time to time.  But this series has never crossed the lines the could have many movies ago, and most other movies do. The language overall is fairly tame.  The violence is not the gory, bloody type, and as the movies have gone on the story has grown, and the characters have developed nicely.

I have a ton of respect for this franchise.  They have been able to keep this going, keep you interested and they keep pushing the envelope of what they can do with their amazing action sequences to hold you engaged.  Are these movies perfect?  No, but they are wildly entertaining, and have a heart.  They continue to reinvent themselves, 4 movies after the tremendous flop that the Tokyo Drift installment years ago when they though about packing it in. They brushed off the dust, and moved ahead to heights unimaginable.

Furious 7.  This is just fun. Well done, enjoy.  If you're a fan, you'll love this.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Passing My Dad

I am lucky.  I have been blessed with great health my entire life, and it's something I do not take for granted.

But I can't always say that truthfully.  When we all were younger, getting a medical physical was simply a formality.  You went they did what they did, and you got a letter a week or two later saying all is well. Maybe lose a few pounds and don't smoke.  That's how I always thought of it until this year.

I am seldom sick and honestly outside of hernia surgery 4 years ago, I have never really entered the health care system. And that was outpatient stuff.  I took a konk above the eye with a ricocheted golf ball a few years ago for my one and only ER trip.  But by and large, I have been very healthy and I am thankful.

Next week I go in for a yearly checkup and a couple of other things that you need to do.  This year it's a little different for me.  I am the exact age my dad was when he got sick and passed away.  That was a long time ago. In those days you got cancer, you did chemo, radiation, and then you died. Things are very different today as treatments are so much better and results are as well and we should all be thankful for that.

But this is a bit sobering for me especially since I am so much like my dad.  I look like him, am built like him and have so much in common, my mom still shakes her head at me and laughs.  Plus, there are people in my life that have been battling illnesses and conditions they don't deserve many at or around my age.  I am not afraid of this appointment by any means, but I would be lying if I said it hasn't been on my mind some.  I have done what you can do. I have lost some weight, I am eating better, I have not smoked cigarettes in 27 years, and have an active lifestyle.  I look forward to the letter in a couple weeks saying I am OK.

This checkup coming up is the same week as my dad's passing, in fact just a few days before the actual date.  It worked out that way by accident, and I'm glad. It's a chance to look back to a different time, stare it down, and go zooming by a place that was his last stop. And that's exactly what I am planning to do.  It's the least that can be done considering his time was cut so short.

It's a funny thing when you start to look at things differently than earlier in your life.  I remember when my dad died, I thought I was the one who got a bad deal. After all I was only 16 and I think under the circumstances it is normal to have those feelings.  But now, I realize that it was him that really got the bad deal as I have now caught him in age and I feel his mortality.  He lived a healthy life, and it all didn't work out for him like he planned, or deserved.  And I feel somewhat ashamed for thinking for years it was my loss alone, when it was more accurately his. But I was young, and proper perspective is not granted to the less seasoned.

So here's to good health and leaving places behind that are better left there.  And to my dad Robert who will be cheering me on well past his finish line, all the while telling me that mine is well beyond the horizon and no where in sight.