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Chi-Raq (2015)
A bit of a 'mixed bag'., 28 January 2016

'CHI-RAQ': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

Popular filmmaker Spike Lee's new comedy-drama musical; based on Aristophanes' ancient Greek comedy play 'Lysistrata' (but set in modern day Chicago). The story revolves around Chicago women, who withhold sex from their partners; until peace can be made. The title is a popular phrase, combining Chicago and Iraq, which is used to relate Chicago's Southside, to a war zone (it's also used as the nickname, of a character in the film). The movie stars Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson and Samuel L. Jackson (Snipes, Bassett and Jackson have all worked with Lee, multiple times before). The film didn't perform well, in limited release, at the Box Office; but it is one of the best reviewed movies of last year. I found it to be a bit of a 'mixed bag', but ultimately a good film.

The story takes place in South Side, Chicago; where deadly gang violence, is an everyday occurrence. A local woman, named Lysistrata (Parris), decides she's had enough; she also happens to be the lover of a popular rapper (in the area), and local gang leader, called Chi- Rag (Cannon). So Lysistrata decides to lead other female residents, in a revolt; by withholding physical affection, from their partners, until peace can be made. The movement becomes popular all around the world.

The movie is part satirical comedy, part musical, and part serious drama. It's also a political commentary; on the gang violence epidemic (in South Side, Chicago). The film definitely has a hard time balancing all these things; but it does have multiple well done (and memorable) moments, and a pretty good (positive) message. Spike Lee has made many better movies than this before; but it's definitely not a bad film, or a waste of time.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Informative and very frustrating!, 28 January 2016

'CARTEL LAND': Four Stars (Out of Five)

One of 2015's Oscar nominees, for 'Best Documentary Feature', is this Mexican drug war flick; about vigilante groups, on both sides of the border. It was directed by Matthew Heineman; who also helmed the 2012 doc. 'ESCAPE FIRE: THE FIGHT TO RESCUE American HEALTHCARE' and 2009's 'OUR TIME' (a documentary about America's youth). The film focuses around vigilante leaders Dr Jose Mireles, and Tim "Nailer" Foley. I found it to be a bit slow-paced at times, but also pretty compelling.

The movie takes place in Mexico, in the state of Michocan, and on the other side of the border, in Arizona's Altar Valley. A physician, called 'El Doctor' (Mireles), leads a citizen uprising group, called the Autodefensas, against a vicious drug cartel, named the Knights Templar (in Michocan). At the same time, an American veteran, Foley, heads a paramilitary group in Arizona, called the Arizona Border Recon; in trying to prevent drugs from crossing the border. The film simultaneously documents both vigilante groups.

The documentary is brutally violent, at times, and heartbreaking to watch, as well. It's informative, and very frustrating; in it's depiction of the lack of government control (in the areas). You can't help but sympathize, with both of the central characters. It is a bit slow-paced, at times though, and trying to keep up with the subtitles, can be frustrating too. Still, it's definitely worth the watch.

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War Room (2015)
It's target audience, should be more than pleased., 27 January 2016

'WAR ROOM': Two and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

Another Christian drama flick, from the 'Kendrick Brothers'; the team that's also responsible for such previous 'worship-themed' films as 'FIREPROOF' and 'COURAGEOUS'. Alex Kendrick directed and co-wrote the movie, and Stephen Kendrick co-wrote and co-produced it. The story revolves around a couple, that turns to God; to fix their struggling marriage, with the help of an older, wiser, woman (named Miss Clara). The film was made on a budget of just $3 million, and it stars a cast of mostly unknown actors. I think it's a fairly decent Christian movie; compared to other, much worse, ones (I've seen recently).

Tony (T.C. Starling) and Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) seem to have it all; a nice house, two great jobs, and a polite young daughter (Alena Pitts). The couple are not happily married though, and their daughter feels resented. When Elizabeth, a realtor, attempts to sell a house, for a nice (older) lady, named Miss Clara (Karen Ambercrombie), she's inspired to renew her faith again. By doing so, Elizabeth also finds the courage to fix her troubled marriage; and save her struggling family.

The movie is filled with some cheesy dialogue, and bad acting (at times); but it also has a few good performances, and some inspiring moments (especially for those of faith). The low-budget shows, and it does feel (a lot) like a TV movie; but the film is still better than other Christian-themed flicks (that I've seen, in the past few years). It has a good message, and it's at least somewhat inspiring. Probably not something that will interest non-believers (at all); but it's target audience, should be more than pleased.

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I think the filmmakers put a (slightly) 'Hollywood spin' on things., 26 January 2016

'A WALK IN THE WOODS': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

A biographical comedy flick; based on the 1998 memoir, by travel writer Bill Bryson. The film tells of Bryson's ambitious attempt, to walk the Appalachian Trail; with an old friend, named Stephen Katz. The movie stars Robert Redford as Bryson, and Nick Nolte as Katz. Redford also co-produced the film, and Ken Kwapis directed it. The screenplay was written by Michael Arndt and Bill Holderman; the movie also features Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Schaal and Nick Offerman (in supporting roles). I enjoyed the film; quite a bit more, than I expected to.

Bill Bryson (Redford) was a popular travel writer; who spent two decades living in Britain, and then returned home to New Hampshire. Instead of writing more books, or retiring to live happily with his family, Bill decided to make an adventurous hike of the Appalachian Trail (in his 60s). His wife, Catherine (Thompson), worried of the dangers of him traveling the trail alone; so she insisted he ask for company. So Bill asked many of his old friends, to accompany him on his quest. His old buddy, Stephen Katz (Nolte), responded to his request. The film tells of their (often humorous) journey together.

The movie is definitely entertaining, and funny; although a little bit unbelievable, in places. It's supposedly all based on real events, but I think the filmmakers put a (slightly) 'Hollywood spin' on things. Even so, I expected the movie to be a lot cheesier than it actually is (from seeing the ads for it). Redford and Nolte both give good performances; and they at least make their characters seem genuine, and real. There's a decent amount of humor, and some effective drama, in the film, as well. I recommend it.

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It ruined my fantasy!, 22 January 2016

'IN THE BASEMENT': Two and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

An Austrian documentary flick; about people, hanging out in their basements, and giving into very perverse obsessions (and demented fetishes). The movie was directed by Ulrich Seidl, and it was written by Seidl and Veronika Franz. I had a chance to see it at at the OSU International Film Festival (at the Darkside Cinema, in Corvallis, OR), but I missed it. I instead recently caught it on Netflix; and I almost wish I hadn't.

The film starts out somewhat normal; as it just follows odd people around, doing strange things in their basements. As it goes on, though, the documentary gets weirder and weirder. I wanted to stop watching it, several times, but persisted (so I could do this review). It's only 82 minutes long, but it seems a lot longer (and it's a very painful 82 minutes)!

The movie is one of those films, I really wish I could unwatch. It's one of the most disturbing experiences, I've ever had (watching a film of any kind); and I love movies! I also thought I liked domineering women (and femdom fantasy), but I realize (after watching this documentary), that the real thing is definitely not for me (maybe just in role-play). Which is another reason I wish I could 'unwatch' this movie; it ruined my fantasy for me (at least for the time being)! It's well made, and serves it's purpose 'very effectively' though; at being a completely 'F'd up' film!

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I love performance art!, 22 January 2016

'MEET THE PATELS': Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

A comedic documentary flick; about an Indian-American actor, who's been single most of his life, that agrees to allow his traditional parents, to set him up with a potential bride (on a trip to India). The film was directed by Ravi Patel (who also stars in the movie), and his sister Geeta. Geeta also filmed most of the documentary, in really poor quality video, and her footage is mixed with comedic animated sequences too (explaining unfilmed plot points). The film is interesting, and funny; it also has a great leading man performance, in Ravi Patel.

Ravi Patel is a 29-year-old actor; who's played a lot of clichéd Indian-American 'bit parts' (in many movies). He's been single most of his life, and just broke up with his first girlfriend (Audrey Wauchope); due to a fear his parents wouldn't accept her (Audrey is an American redhead). On a trip with his family to India, he decides to allow his parents (Vasant and Chapa), to set him up with an Indian girl; in the traditional Indian family way. The film examines the concept of arranged couples, while Ravi's sister (Geeta) films the whole thing (she's also been single most of her life).

The movie is interesting, in a very comedic (but informative) way. It's also extremely personal at times; and Ravi Patel is very funny, and charming. I enjoyed the movie, quite a bit, but it's a little hard for me to believe it's all completely genuine. Like a lot of modern documentary films, the movie seems more like really creative performance art; than like watching real people (acting completely genuine), in completely real situations (it seems at least partially staged). But I love performance art, I practice it a lot myself; and I love entertaining documentary flicks, like this, too.

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The film is classic Noah Baumbach; who's becoming one of my favorite filmmakers!, 22 January 2016

'MISTRESS America': Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

Acclaimed indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach, reteams with actress Greta Gerwig (for the third time); to make this hilarious, but very sweet, quirky comedy flick! The film was directed by Baumbach, written by Baumbach and Gerwig, and it costars Gerwig and actress Lola Kirke (of 'MOZART IN THE JUNGLE' fame). The movie tells the story of a depressed college freshman, who finds new inspiration for life; when she meets her 'soon-to-be' stepsister. The film is classic Noah Baumbach; who's becoming one of my favorite filmmakers!

Tracy Fishko (Kirke) just started her freshman year, at Barnard College; and she's having trouble fitting in. She develops a crush on another student, named Tony (Matthew Shear); but he begins dating another girl instead, named Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones). Tracy's mother (Kathryn Erbe) is about to be married, and she advises Tracy to meet her fiancé's daughter, Brooke (Gerwig). Brooke is full-of-life, and she inspires Tracy, in ways she's never experienced before. So Tracy writes a fictional short story, influenced by Brooke, and she begins spending a lot more time, with her 'soon-to-be stepsister' (as well).

The movie is brilliantly written, and beautifully directed! The characters are extremely likable, and quirky, and the dialogue is all very witty, and fun too (there's so many classic, quotable lines; all through the movie)! The film is also really inspiring, hilariously funny, and it has a great (nostalgic) 80s feel to it, as well. I absolutely love it, and Noah Baumbach!

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A decently entertaining action flick (as all Michael Bay films are)., 15 January 2016


A war film, depicting true events (at least somewhat); of the 2012 terrorist attacks, on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. The story focuses on the six (brave) American security contractors, who defended the compound; and then came under attack, themselves. The movie was directed by Michael Bay, and written by Chuck Hogan; it was based on the 2014 book, '13 Hours', by Mitchell Zuckoff. It's a bit too long, slow-paced at times, and not very dramatically involving (compared to what it should be); but it's still a decently entertaining action flick (as all Michael Bay films are).

When an American ambassador (Matt Letscher), was visiting a U.S. compound, in 2012 Libya, an army of Islamic militants attacked him. A six-man security team, stationed in the area (made up of military veterans), tried to come to his defense; and then they were attacked themselves. The film stars James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, David Denman, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa and Pablo Schreiber; as the team. It also costars David Costabile; as their arrogant commander Bob (also called 'The Chief'). Chaos, and very violent bloodshed, ensued.

I don't have any idea how accurate, or true (to actual events) this movie is; or if it has a political agenda (or not). I can review it (simply) on it's own merits, as a movie though. I think it's a pretty entertaining action flick; but at 2 hours and 24 minutes, it's a bit too long. It's also really slow-paced, at times (despite all of it's bloody action), and sometimes it's pretty hard to follow. That might have been Bay's intent though, to better relay what the soldiers were going through (complete chaos). In some ways, Bay is perfect for this type of movie; and in other ways, he's not. He's definitely good at the action scenes, even though they're so chaotic. The film kind of reminds me of a 'TRANSFORMERS' flick (at times); in how hard it is to tell what's going on. Bay is also not that good at emotional depth, or character development; but he does deliver some good drama (especially at the end). Krasinski and Dale are both great action hero leads. It is odd to see Krasinski teamed with Denman, again though (in a serious action movie). Both actors were on 'THE OFFICE' (as Jim and Roy); I kind of wanted to watch them fight again, over Pam. The film is also not nearly as good as 'AMERICAN SNIPER' or 'LONE SURVIVOR'. Both of those movies were also released on the 'Martin Luther Day' holiday weekend (in 2014 and 2013). Hollywood definitely knows how to follow a successful business pattern!

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It's a pretty funny film, most of the time., 15 January 2016

'DADDY'S HOME': Four Stars (Out of Five)

The new comedy flick; which re-teams actors Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (following 2010's 'THE OTHER GUYS'). In the movie, they play a father and stepfather; both vying for the love, and affection, of their two young kids. The film was directed by Sean Anders; and it was written by Anders, John Morris and Brian Burns. Morris and Anders previously co-wrote, such popular comedy flicks as, 'SEX DRIVE', 'HOT TUB TIME MACHINE', 'SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE', 'WE'RE THE MILLERS' and 'HORRIBLE BOSSES 2' (Anders also directed 'SEX DRIVE' and 'HORRIBLE BOSSES 2'). The movie costars Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro. It's a pretty funny film, most of the time.

Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, a very conservative radio executive; who's also a husband, and loving stepfather. There's nothing Brad wants more, than for the son (Vaccaro) and daughter (Estevez), of his new lovely wife (Cardellini), to love him, as much as he loves them. Brad is finally starting to make a lot of progress, with the two kids, when their biological father, Dusty (Wahlberg), decides to pay them a visit; and won't leave. A bitter competition ensues; for the love of the two children, and their mother.

I'm a big fan of Anders and Morris; the films they've done together, are some of my all-time favorite comedies. I also love Will Ferrell, and I really enjoyed 'THE OTHER GUYS'. Given all of those things though, I expected (at least) a little more from this movie. It has hilarious moments, and the premise is a great idea; but there's also a lot of jokes, that just don't work well (at all). Ferrell and Wahlberg's chemistry together (also) isn't nearly as effective, this time around; and some of the humor is just too mean- spirited (for my tastes). Parts of the film are hilarious though!

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Tangerine (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Definitely seems like you're watching real people, doing real things!, 14 January 2016

'TANGERINE': Four Stars (Out of Five)

Critically acclaimed indie flick; about a transgender prostitute, searching for her boyfriend (a pimp who cheated on her), in Hollywood, on Christmas Eve. The movie was directed by Sean S. Baker, and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch. It stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O'Hagan and James Ransone. The film was made on a budget of just $100,000; and it was shot (entirely) on three iPhone 5s smartphones! It's definitely a well made, and very memorable, movie.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve, 2014; in Hollywood. Sin-Dee Rella (Rodriguez), a transgender sex worker, just got out of prison; after serving a 28-day sentence. She meets another transgender prostitute, her friend Alexandra (Taylor), at a donut shop. Alexandra (accidentally) informs Sin-Dee, that her boyfriend, a pimp named Chester (Ransone), cheated on her; while she was in prison. Sin-Dee goes ballistic, and spends the rest of the day, looking for him; and his new mistress (O'Hagan).

Despite being filmed on iPhones, the movie is surprisingly beautiful at times; especially in it's most poignant, and very subtle, moments! It's dirty, and very disgusting, a lot of the time too; but it's also very moving. The two lead performances are impressive, and they're performed by openly transgender actresses (too); and the supporting cast is all good as well. The movie definitely seems like you're watching real people, doing real things; in a part of life, I'm not familiar with (which makes it all the more fascinating). It's an impressive little film!

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