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The Best of Me (2014)
Trite story, bad direction, poor casting, barely redeemed by performances
Good romantic films are almost as rare as good comedies. I really did not ask for anything special, as I like "chick flicks" and Hollywood has such a love affair with action movies, Hollywood has almost stopped making them. Nonetheless, I really disliked this one; because, even with the clichés, this movie had so much promise. The movie opens with a fine action sequence; and James Marsden is a really watchable actor. However, as soon as the parallel love stories begin, the movie falls apart. First of all "young Amanda" (Liana Liberato) not only does not look much like "older Amanda" (Michelle Monaghan), their body languages and acting styles are completely different. There is even a bigger disparity with "young Dawson" (Luke Bracey) and "older Dawson" (James Marsden). Thanks to terrific performances by Liana Liberato and Gerald McRaney, the flashback sequences are much more entertaining than the present sequences, even though Michael Hoffman's direction is much better in the present sequences. Hoffman shoots WAY too many of the flashback sequences as medium shots, when closeups would have been far better. Even the ending seems tacked on and trite.
Except for Liana Liberato and Gerald McRaney, "The Best of Me" is anything but. I give "The Best of Me" a "5".
Hustle & Flow (2005)
The roots of "Empire".
My wife and I are HUGE of "Empire". So, imagine when I discovered two of my favorite actors, Terrence Howard ("Lucius") and Taraji P. Henson ("Cookie") had appeared together 10 years earlier in a similarly-themed movie about hip-hop. Unfortunately, while "Empire" is consistently entertaining, "Hustle & Flow" builds slowly and unpleasantly. While Terrence Howard's "Djay" is an earlier incarnation of "Lucius," Taraji P. Henson's "Shug" appears mentally-challenged. Worse, the two characters responsible most for the outcome are white. Also, the scene where "Shug" gives "Djay" comes out of nowhere. Just WHERE did the very-pregnant "Shug" get the money to give "Djay" this VERY expensive gift? Not to mention, the Oscar-winning song, "Its hard out there for a pimp" is not as good as the original song created for "Empire"; and it pretty much the only song in the movie.
I fear many of those who see the reviews and awards for "Hustle & Flow" are going to be as disappointed as my wife. I liked "Hustle & Flow" for its raw honesty. However I resent the "tools" given to white racists who will watch "Hustle & Flow" and say, "See?" I give "Hustle & Flow" a "6".
Elsa & Fred (2014)
I really like Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer. So, I was pretty surprised to find them starring in "Elsa & Fred". After all, Netflix Streaming lists the two stars as (Gasp!) Marcia Gay Harden and James Brolin. Hello Netflix! James Brolin appears in only TWO scenes. I guess whoever listed "Elsa and Fred" are either Gen X or Gen Y. Otherwise, he or she would realized BOTH Shirley MacLaine AND Christopher Plummer have won Oscars! Well, yes, so has Marcia Gay Harden; but JAMES BROLIN? Anyway, the ignorance of those responsible for Netflix Streaming is the LEAST of the problems with "Elsa & Fred". I do not care if Michael Radford DID win an audience award. Radford's direction is listless; and nearly the entire first half of "Elsa & Fred" plays out almost as a series of unconnected scenes. Despite the great efforts of MacLaine and Plummer, there is simply NO chemistry between them during the first half. However, once Plummer's character "comes out of his shell," the chemistry between him and Shirley MacLaine is quite touching. Unfortunately, by then, it is too late. The narrative builds no tension, even with the cliché "character in jeopardy" subplot. More engaging music would certainly have helped.
If you really want to see this type of movie done right, watch "Still Mine," with James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold. Now, THAT is a "geriatric love story" worth seeing.
Oh, I must point out, when MacClaine dresses as "Anita Ekberg," MacClaine proves she is STILL hot at 80. Sadly, I must ALSO point out that James Brolin, at 74, looks WAY too young to be convincing as MacLaine's estranged husband.
I give "Elsa & Fred" a "4".
Step Up All In (2014)
A big step DOWN from "...Revolution"
"Step Up: Revolution" is, admittedly a hard act to follow. "...Revolution" contains some absolutely jaw-dropping dance sequences, from the opening "cruising scene" to the "art gallery" scene; both of these are some of the flashiest ensemble dance sequences I have witnessed. However, this does not excuse "Step Up: All In" from being such as tacky, lethargic let down. Absolutely none of the dance sequences, individual, team or group, are even remotely memorable, much less equal to even the weakest numbers in "...Revolution".
The trivia mentioned for "...All In" pointed out there were no choreographers listed in the credits. I am not surprised.
There is not even any romantic chemistry between the leads.
What little acting takes place is a pathetic joke.
I wish most of the dancers from "...Revolution" were back, as well as Cleopatra Coleman. While not a dancer, Coleman was a scene stealer in "Revolution"; and not just because she was so hot.
While the production values are top notch, every thing else seems bargain basement. I give "Step Up: All In" a "4", mostly for the photography and sound.
Yi dai zong shi (2013)
A fine wine turned to vinegar
For the first 45 minutes, "The Grandmaster" is exquisitely beautiful, perfected composed and edited production; the likes of which I have rarely seen since the Sergio Leone films and "The Godfather" Parts 1 and 2. Then, when Japan invades China, the movie crumbles in the same tragic manner as the fortunes of the Chinese elite. While the film remains exquisitely beautiful, the storyline becomes so disjointed as to become completely uninvolving. Scenes requiring dramatic impact are summarized in voice-over and scenes which should have played in parallel are presented in flashback. The proper title for this film should be "The Grandmasters," as there are two grandmasters in the foreground; Tony Leung's "Ip Man" and Ziyi Zhang's "Gong Er". Zhang is missing from the film for far too long to care much about her fate. Yet, when we finally do learn what happened to her during the war, Leung's character is missing long enough for us not to care about him, either. The closing scenes are flat and unnecessary. Both my wife and I found ourselves squirming, waiting for the movie to end. This is a shame; as, had "The Grandmaster" been edited in a coherent fashion during the last hour, it would be one of the great martial arts films. Instead, it winds up barely being good. I give "The Grand Master" a weak "6".
Like Murphy/Robocop, nearly lifeless
I do credit the producers for taking the risks of remaking a classic AND attempting a different perspective than the original. However, in order to do this successfully, one needs to understand the elements that made the original "Robocop" a classic.
The classic film "The Terminator" had already addressed the dangers of robotic warfare, soldiers, armor and drones. However, "Robocop" (1987)focused on the dehumanization of mankind and one man's struggle to regain the humanity taken from him. While physically almost all machine, "Murphy" was more human than all of the other characters, except for his partner and a sympathetic police lieutenant. In this "Robocop," there are plenty of sympathetic humans supporting Murphy, even if some of them are seriously flawed.
Dan O'Herlihy was brilliant playing the white collar psychopath CEO of Omnicorp in "Robocop" (1987). His CEO was not even aware he was a monster. Likewise, Ronny Cox brilliantly played a corporate executive clearly aware of his white collar evil. Unfortunately, Cox's character does not appear in the remake, having been replaced by paramilitary robotics engineer, extremely well played by Jackie Earle Haley. While Haley is great, his character is a poor substitute for the character played by Ronny Cox.
Likewise, Kurtwood Smith's hilariously evil assassin in "Robocop" (1987) has been replaced by a bland assassin blandly played by Patrick Garrow.
Thankfully, Garry Oldman and Abbie Cornish, who play characters who either did not exist or were peripheral to the plot in "Robocop" (1987) perform brilliantly. Cornish, a world class actress, is, quite simply, amazing in a nothing role. I shudder to think how this "Robocop" would play without her.
Finally, one of the brilliantly prophetic elements of the original "Robocop" was the trivialization of news and entertainment, clearly suggesting a "dumbed-down" society totally unconscious of the decay and chaos surrounding them. However, in this "Robocop," we get a poor parody of Fox News and "The O'Reilly Factor" and an overused Samuel L. Jackson instead of either a Bill O'Reilly lookalike or Alec Baldwin (who would have been perfect). In addition, Detroit in this "Robocop" looks like a prosperous city, not a "war zone".
The producers would have been better served by simply re-shooting the original story with updated special effects, as the stop motion animation in the original "Robocop" was the worst thing about the movie.
I give "Robocop" (2014) a weak "6" based ENTIRELY on Abbie Cornish.
Gripping, character-based science fiction.
"Extant" is the type of science fiction I truly love. Gripping and character-based, with multiple mysteries and obstacles challenging the main character(s). This is what distinguished the original "Star Trek" from all the successors. Halle Berry is perfect as Molly, with her beautiful expressive eyes capturing empathy from the first frame. Flashback is used as it should be, to enable suspense to build slowly; as suspense is dependent upon empathy with a character or characters. Those who consider it implausible that Molly would spend 13 months alone in space know little about the logistics of space exploration. I do, because I worked logistics on the International Space Station in the 1990s, which includes cost estimating. The single biggest expense of maintaining a manned space station is the cost of life support. Thus, intelligent robots and continuous communication with the earth would be used to substitute for human contact. As following allowing the ship's "commander" to delete security camera footage, the "commander" has overall authority of what is recorded in the ship's log, especially within the interior of the ship, where privacy issues are concerned. Most US astronauts would not set foot in a vehicle unless they could do this.
"Extant" is handsomely mounted, sophisticated adult entertainment. Those expecting the exciting, but juvenile excitement of "Star Wars" should look elsewhere.
I give the "Extant" pilot a "10" and hope the series can keep up its excellence. I will admit, however, the plotting of this series seems limited. So, I would be surprised if it survives more than one or two seasons.
2 Guns (2013)
It takes good chemistry.
Once upon a time, a couple of writer/producers were hanging out, enjoying their favorite recreational drugs, when one of them said, "I'm tired of making the same old franchise crap." "Whatdoyouwannado?" asks another. "Lets make something different...but not TOO different?" "KnowwhatI'dliketosee?" chimes in another...a buddy movie with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington." "YES!" replied the first. "Mark Wahlberg worked GREAT with a Teddy Bear. He can certainly work with Denzel." Gazing around the room, the first writer/producer spots his favorite reading material, a comic book (Well, EXCUSE ME! A graphic novel). "PERFECT!" he shouts.
Well, by this time these three writer/producers must have been as fully loaded as Mark's and Denzel's weapons. What else, besides a lack of talent, would explain HOW they created such an incoherent mess as "2 Guns"? And, they must have been writing in sequence and coming down HARD by the time they finished, because this is EXACTLY how "2 Guns" plays; a humorous, promising start that turns convoluted and unsavory, barely redeemed by its finish, which must have written at another "hangout". Two guns has two fine "A list" stars; two distinguished character actors in Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton; lots of firepower, explosions and great one liners. Fine ingredients and great chemistry. Well, it takes great chemistry to make a stink bomb, too.
I give "2 Guns" a 5; but only because I gave "Man of Steel" a 4; and I want "Man of Steel" to remain my worst "A" list movie of the year.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Third rate screenplay, first rate production
When I first saw the trailer for "Pacific Rim," I said to myself "Rock'em, Sock'em Robots". I mean, the idiot-level concept that the gigantic monsters would not be stopped by torpedoes, missiles or guns at sea or a submarine net rigged with explosives or electricity just seemed to stupid to endure. However, two things made me change my mind: 1) my wife wanted to see it and 2) the movie had a really beautiful "look" (thanks to topnotch production values and use of a RED camera (the same camera used for "Step-up Revolution). Minutes into the movie, my other suspicions were confirmed: 1) this movie is marketed to an international cast, as the the three main characters are all of different races and nationalities; and 2) the storyline would be one cliché after another.
Nonetheless, I rate "Pacific Rim" highly for the acting, direction, music and those aforementioned production values. Even the cliché plot lines seem fresh and original due to the fine acting; especially Idris Elba, who could impress reading a soup can. Also, always welcome, is Ron Perlman, who somehow always manages to class up the most ridiculous projects.
With a cast of real actors, not stars, the most modest of romances and lots of violent action, this movie screams "International (particularly Asian) project". I certainly expected to see more Asian names among the technical credits. However, when one figures three-fourths of this movies grosses came from outside the US, it is clear Guillermo del Toro intended to make an international film, and he certainly made a handsome one. I give "Pacific Rim" a "7".
Man of Steel (2013)
Hollywood remakes "First Knight"?
The Superman character was only 20 years old when I first began reading the DC comics. Superman and Green Lantern were my favorite DC characters, as Green Arrow and Batman had too similar origins and partners, Speedy and Robin, respectively. Marvel Comics were not even carried on any of the news stands I frequented. While I later became more found of characters who relied on their skills rather than super powers, I certainly read more Superman, as he appeared in both the Superman and Detective Story comic books. I had never been really satisfied with the movie versions of Superman; it always seemed to me they chose the wrong actresses to play Lois Lane. Both Noel Nell ("Adventures of Superman") and Terri Hatcher ("Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman") resembled the comic book Lois Lane, both in appearance and class. However, until "Man of Steel," I had never seen a such a hash of the Superman legend. Even as a kid, I understood that Kal-El embodied BOTH Clark Kent AND Superman; and that Lois, while a fearless, crusading reporter, was so vain and self deceptive that she could not recognize that Clark and Superman were one in the same; as she was unable to accept both sides of Kal-El. Kal-El loved Lois, despite this tragic character trait. The widely-despised "Superman III" actually makes a point of this; in that Lana Lang loved Clark Kent and could not care less that he was Superman. However, in "Man of Steel," Lois is ONLY non-family member who knows Clark Kent is Superman. The entire theme of "the inner man" has been tragically shelved.
Henry Cavill does a fine job of playing Kal-El, even if he less resembles the comic book Superman than Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain or George Reeves. Clearly Cavill has a great future in Hollywood.
Amy Adams, an otherwise superb actress ("American Hustle") is totally wrong for Lois Lane. Not meaning to be unkind, I asked myself, "Just how does one actually go about kissing a woman with such a LONG nose". As written, NONE of Lois' trademark characteristics are visible in Adams' role.
Russell Crowe seems to have as much screen time as Cavill. Whose movie is this, Jor-El's or Kal-El's? In the original comics, the Kents were an ELDERLY couple. Here, they appear to be in their mid to late 40s.
While the effects and production design are handsomely mounted, there is nothing new here to rave about. Worse, the movie is numbingly long. Superman does not even appear in costume until nearly two hours into the movie. Say what you want about any of the Christopher Reeve efforts; they were never boring or ponderous. "Man of Steel is both.
"First Knight" was rightfully savaged in 1995 when it created a travesty of the King Arthur legend. "Man of Steel" gets kudos. Has our cultured declined THAT much in the last 20 years?
I give "Man of Steel" a "4".