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A great stand-alone episode and a Santiago feast
The season three finale is a wonderful episode featuring Saundra Santiago as both her mother and her regular character, Gina Calabrese. Jeroen Krabbé and Shawn Elliott guest as former lovers of Gina's mother, and in supporting roles are the regulars: Crockett, Tubbs, Joplin, etc.
Flashbacks from Cuba in the early 60's provide the opening background for an episode that focuses on lost love and revenge. By the end we have learned a great deal about Gina's 'backstory' and seen one of the strongest performances Santiago provided during her five years on the program.
Krabbé provides the sort of strong performance that many prominent guest stars brought during the life of the program. Elliott does a nice job in a fairly familiar role, but Krabbé really shines in a piece of inspired casting. Much like Liam Neeson, in the first episode of Season Three, Krabbé adds a nice performance in scenes with Santiago's 'Gina' and her normally supporting female character is able to really show her stuff as the lead.
In addition to the regular Jan Hammer soundtrack this episode mixes in some strong torch songs from the 30's. The well-constructed finale fits around a classic tune as the ending matches the tone set in the opening scene. Heroes of the Revolution is yet another example of why Miami Vice was the must see crime show of the 80's. It was and is simply superior television.
For those that aren't familiar with the series this is a good episode to enjoy as a 'stand-alone' item. You don't need to know the history of the characters or be a strict Don Johnson fan. A nice hour of well-written and well-acted cop drama is here for you to experience. You will get a little taste of all the regular characters and a full banquet of Saundra Santiago.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
The Biblical epic updated for your pleasure
A movie need not be a mirror that you gaze into to somehow discover your own soul, the human condition or much of anything at all. It is quite alright to watch a movie for a little harmless entertainment. Ah, but there are those of our species that wish each event could be crafted to teach a lesson, or right a wrong or bend the mind of the uneducated to a certain point of view. They are happiest when they exert a little control over you, citizen! Those people just bore me to tears.
I found this to be an enjoyable 'Biblical Epic' type of film with above average acting, cinematography and direction. I believe that if a person has two hours to spend and wants a little diversion this will do. It is a work that represents the 'spectacular' genre these days and is well worth the time and rental fee.
On the other hand, if a person wants historical accuracy they should probable seek out a documentary and cross their fingers the era handled by Scott isn't all that well known and there is much disagreement about the Jewish migration out of Egypt. At the time, nobody was taking pictures or tweeting about the experience. As a result, almost all we know about that time is either speculation or mythology or both. (Those that argue about the 'accuracy of this movie really tickle me.) Of course, this movie deals with religious topics. You already knew that I bet. If you are going to watch Exodus for religious reasons look out! If you are really devout, you will find it weak. If you are without religion, you will find it too strong. If you practice the faith of Rameses you will no doubt be offended. Happy entrails to you.
Ff you like to get your religion from someplace other than from a Ridley Scott movie you will be OK on the faith issue. I was neither converted nor offended.
And, if you are looking for cinema that will either reaffirm your political beliefs or teach you something really, really deep then bypass this. It is a movie, not some sort of brain add-on that will make you a better person or symbolically pat you on the back for being so accurate, either left or right, in your politics.
Chris Bale is good as Moses. I know, easy for me to say (I never met Moses) but I think he is good. Bale's character develops and grows as the story goes on and though he's a little young I can buy him as the patriarch. Joel Edgerton is a good Rameses. No, he isn't Egyptian by birth. But, he is all the Rameses I looked forward to and he's appropriately cruddy when the need arises. Pharaohs are a spoiled bunch and Joel conveys that quality well. Maria Valverde is effective in her role as Mrs. Moses. She is a model, by the way, and a woman that is skilled at appearing glamorous. Ben Kingsley gets to play the Ben Kingsley part. I really have no problems with his casting and he does his version of Ben Kingsley quite well.
Several of the named talents have very small, insignificant roles. That is too bad for them, I am sure. But there screen time doesn't harm the movie.
The more spectacular elements of the story are done well. Plagues, parting waters, theological discussions with you-know-who, all pulled off skillfully. Sex is quite muted (less than pre-Hayes stuff)and the gore isn't all that gory (for the most part) so I think it is OK for the kiddies. This isn't history a la Pasolini.
Way back then things were probably quite rotten for many of the residents. This movie shows the conditions without bleeding all over the screen. I think that is a plus. But the sense of struggle for an oppressed minority is effectively conveyed.
In short a rather good movie! If you wish, you can believe those that would rather (ahem) make your thoughts their concern to the point that they direct your behavior. Or, you can trust good old me, I promise that for a modern day Old Testament epic this one is dandy.
Time Lapse (2014)
A highly enjoyable little gem of a science fiction thriller
Time lapse is a very well-made and entertaining little movie, something that should satisfy the average science fiction/thriller fan. The three leads all perform at a high level. Matt O'Leary as a young artist is appropriately fragile, Danielle Panabaker is not the 'good girl' you might assume from her appearance and George Finn conveys real menace in his portrayal as their friend, sinister from the middle point on.
Settings are simple but effective and the atmosphere is well held together by the staging and the clean production. There won't be any awards for set decoration but it works and isn't a distraction to the story. Unlike many low budget efforts it doesn't have that 'cheap scenery' feeling at all.
The lean script has enough science in it to work, but not too much to make it muddled. You aren't going to cheat on your next physics project by borrowing from this movie but you won't be offended by the theory in play. The good news about the story is that it works and by the end of the experience you will feel entertained with intelligent and clever writing. Your brain will be teased by this film.
There are several dark moments in the movie that show some real Hitchcock influence, though a film maker worker in this milieu is wise to borrow from the master. In addition, from time to time the score swells into a legitimate (though very minor) homage to Bernard Hermann. Again, a very good idea. The windup is complete and clean, revelations during the body of the film become evidence that tickle with satisfaction as it ends.
Low budget, but you aren't going to feel like you are watching some derivative film school project. This is a good movie with young actors creating their own characters. I think almost all viewers will find it artistically fresh. This is the first work I have seen from this director and after seeing Time Lapse I will look for his name for future entertainment, along with the names of his young stars.
When you find a film like this with unknown actors, a director you don't recognize and subject matter that could easily become boring you are forgiven if you don't fully commit to a full viewing when the streaming or broadcast starts. Personally, I gave it 15 minutes to prove itself when I began and was quickly stuck on it until the end. You should allow it to be the only content showing at the moment for you and your co-viewers, this is one to pay attention to in order to really enjoy. But, I think enjoyment is nearly a done deal.
Zulu 2013 is well worth your time to enjoy
This is a very good movie. There, I said it. Let me say it again: this is a very good movie.
If I can identify one weak point, then I will point to the script that at times introduces some plot elements that rapidly fill in the blanks to advance the story. However, the script more than makes up for that minor problem by revealing complexity to the Whitaker and Bloom characters in a subtle way that makes us truly care about the two cops they portray.
Whitaker is very good, establishing a character then staying true to what he presents initially. If you like watching the mature Forest Whitaker do his thing then you will enjoy this movie.
However, to me this is Orlando Bloom's movie to carry, and he scores big time. If you are one of those that enjoys Orlando then this is a movie for you. All of that time he has spent adding to his bank account with fluffy roles has also brought him to this point where he can truly pull off a major role with skill.
Zulu is set in modern day South Africa and the portrait of that nation isn't pretty at all. Further, it is pretty easy to see that the social problems the film deals with are not only current but real and accurate. Zulu isn't just a who-done-it, but a powerful indictment of the causes of the subject crime embedded deep in 20th century history.
Like all good cop movies there is some redemption at the end so fear not in the middle, if you find yourself a little depressed. Stick it out and you will feel a little redemption yourself, maybe a little hope.
I see that the budget was $20 million and I think the producers got a great deal of worth for their investment. Problematic I guess is distribution of a cop film set in South Africa with some pretty harsh elements, at least to American audiences. Fortunately, for a few bucks in the near future you can watch it online.
Go see it if it at all sounds like your cup of tea, I promise you that you will enjoy it.
Winter of Frozen Dreams (2009)
Good performances, cheap look
Thora Birch is a pretty good performer. I don't know how she got roped into this project, perhaps boredom? Clearly, not for the money.
Overall, the acting is a bit above average. The story is solid, with a few nice twists. If you are into it for only average plus acting and a neat little screenplay then maybe this is your thing.
But, where the movie truly suffers is in production. Bad lighting, lousy camera work, below average editing, all those little things that might have completed the project nicely are just not very good.
I wonder if the stated budget here is correct, $1,000,000? To be honest, these days that is a bit beneath chump change for a film. But, if that number is true then another mystery solved, Why is Winter of Frozen Dreams so not-very-good? You get what you pay for.
Watchable on a rainy, boring night
Sam Rockwell has done some really great work. Not here, but he has, trust me. Ditto Michelle Monaghan, Olivia Wilde and Ray Liotta. And, let me be clear when I tell you that they try very hard to make this a nice little comedy. Sadly, all their hard work is pretty much wasted, and combined with the unnecessary Jane Fonda Narration I found Better Living Through Chemistry to be one of those movies you might watch some rainy, boring night - one of those nights when this is the only possible choice.
Rotten weather tonight? Seen every episode of Two Broke Girls at least twice? Need to save your gray matter for tomorrow's presentation? Great! This is a movie for you.
I think that the below average production really detracts from the film. There is something 'funky' about the sound and the filming is just a little bit off, like it was filmed half digital/half Eastman Kodak. No need for me to be more specific, you will notice. Trust me, again.
Another negative is knowing how much you have enjoyed the leads in the past. Consider Rockwell in Moon, or Monaghan in True Detective, two very strong performances. Rockwell in this movie comes off more like the new Rick Moranis (Honey, I drugged the kids) and I don't recall ever seeing Michelle so tired around the edges. I mentioned that they work hard, right?
This is not some comedic breakthrough, by the way. I do believe it has all been done before, thematically.
Though this is a film about a pharmacist, there is nothing new in this comedy as far as concepts or gags. You have seen it all before. The script isn't at all fresh, a real problem for me. It even has the oddball kid, you know the one that is going his own way or words to that effect. The core concepts that are supposed to work and make us laugh just don't work often enough.
I don't know if this ever made it to the theaters, or went straight to video. If it was in general release it is impossible for me to imagine it generating the sort of buzz to attract many folks to the old movie house.
However, it is watchable. Sound odd? Not really, just don't expect much. And, don't worry about pausing when you need a quick trip to the john, you won't miss much and no new techniques will be introduced.
Bad Country (2014)
Could have been much better
Bad Country is watchable with some real heavyweight talent and a setting that promises great viewing. But, because of poor character development and overall production it falls far short of anything but average.
No blame to Matt Dillon or Willem Dafoe, both carrying the movie with excellent performances. In fact, Dillon's involvement in almost any project automatically guarantees reliable entertainment. And Dafoe is as gritty and pained as usual, just what you might expect.
But, the script is shallow, the sound editing amateurish, and the overall cinematography average. The final, expected scene can't be saved by the actors when all the technical facets pull together in a below average manner.
This could have been much better. So many elements are in place that Bad Country practically screams for the sort of polish and technique the cast deserves. I have no doubt that in the hands of Mann or Bay demands would have been made and ideas enforced to carry this movie to the box office with some real effect. As it is, by the end I could only wonder what could have been.
Watch it, but don't expect much.
The Returned (2013)
Nice little film
I have been wondering: where do all these zombie films come from? This one comes from Canada. Like everything else, genres come and go in cycles. Fortunately, this is one of the better in the cycle, if it is even a zombie film at all.
Very good news: this isn't a 'found footage' mess, so those of you, that like me prefer real movies, will be pleased.
In an interesting twist a 'new' take is offered on the 'zombies have problems too' theme. Early on we find that a serum that keeps the undead alive and normal is running out. What to do! From there we are treated to a very nice thriller.
In fact, thematically this could easily seen as a thriller and not a zombie movie. If you are one that must wince as you avoid the screen during some of the bloodier flesh-consuming relatives to The Returned don't worry. Very little of that untidy stuff.
For a small budget we get some pretty fair production. Nice camera work, nice score, all filmed in Canada where apparently one gets quite a bit for their money. And, the dreary Canadian background seems very fitting, nice and gray.
Though no one in the cast really stands out they all perform very well together. Unlike other small budget films there isn't that actor or two that is such a 'clinker' that the whole production suffers.
Overall, very watchable, on par with the better made for television stuff. I have read that some feel the ending is a bit shocking, but I can't agree with that at all. The plot is developed nicely by that point and all fits together very well for me.
The Counselor (2013)
Not awful, but was Brad Pitt reading from a teleprompter?
I am a devoted, long time fan of Ridley, so long and so devoted to his work that it isn't easy for me to offer the sort of criticism I immediately wanted to share after viewing 'the Counselor'. Even worse, I have viewed the Director's Cut only, or in other words the improved version he would like us to see.
The good news, this is a very pretty, stylish and well edited movie. Great photography of things like sunsets and big cats. but, as Brad Pitt might add at the end, don't lose your head yet.
The bad news, where do I begin? How about this: scene after boring scene where characters go on and on and on...yet say in every three sentences what they could have said in one. There must be a formula here, take the minutes of each scene, divide by three and...oh, my...not good news. In addition, much of the dialog is spoken in such a flat and odd cadence that at times it appears the actors are reading from TelePrompTers.
There is a great deal of philosophy offered in the wordy scenes, kind of like what you might expect in a good Kung Fu movie. Huge life lesson stuff, if you know what I mean, where the obvious is overstated and then there are 'gee whiz' moments of silence allowed so that we viewers can ponder the essence of who-knows-what. I am afraid I never got into it, much like those characters speaking line after line in mechanical earnest, like robots issuing instructions for life.
The Director's Cut opens with a scene that is tedious, unnerving and too long. I have read in other reviews that this version has 'extended' scenes that are intended to improve the final product. Don't be fooled as I was. Scene one is just an entrée to a movie with scene after scene where the key players talk too much without effectively advancing something worthy of Mr. Scott's reputation. I kept watching and hoping but it never got any better.
Oh, well, it is pretty
Casting is a real problem. There is no 'lead' actor present in the movie. Yes, the titular character is Mr. Fassbender, but his role never rises to a 'lead' position. Ridley never allows that to happen. Penelope is just window dressing and Javier is as bombastic and quirky as ever, but we all know he will never rise above a super-character actor slot. And, Brad? Well, he is there but don't lose your head expecting him to rise above his supporting role. Then, there is Ms. Diaz. Her role could have been filled by one of several actresses available. A better choice might have been Gong Li, Julia Roberts or one of your recently middle-aged cousins. Instead, Cam got the part and walks through it like someone in a narcolepsy study.
The cast is like a football team without a quarterback, so to speak. Before release I read about the 'powerhouse, dream cast'. Add a lead to the mix, take away the teleprompter and recast Fassbender and Diaz and I might agree.
One might think that the wordy scenes and overbearing dialog would at least paint a very clear picture of what is going on in the movie - OK think again. Transition periods from scene to scene are sometimes 'fill in the blank' for viewers, as the movie progresses. Better take notes if you can, that could really help.
Prince of the City (1981)
One of the greatest English language 'cop' dramas ever made
One of the greatest English language 'cop' dramas ever made.
Lumet and Williams take us along a path where almost everyone one might trust is dirty, the fantasy of the 'war on drugs' is forced to confront the reality of the streets and everyday life, and the closest bonds imaginable between men are fractured by a judicial system that is often itself corrupt and impossible to trust.
Over the years much has been said about this film and its lack of recognition, especially in light of only one academy award nomination and no wins. I can't speak to why that happened, but I can say that a greater set of awards earned is the almost universal recognition of this movie as a truly relevant and brilliant statement still fresh over time.
So many movies from 30 plus years ago are clearly 'showing their age'. Techniques used, scripts employed, acting, even costumes nail most films from c. 1981 to a particular time frame. Viewers must make allowances for the age, a real negative to enjoyment. Not so, Prince of the City. It is as crisp and compelling now as it was when first released. The only real difference between it and contemporary dramas is the ability of people to now enjoy it as a masterpiece and a reference to a great age of directors like Lumet, instead of a 'first run'.
Lumet used a huge supporting cast. How amazing is it that so many near perfect performances are offered by actors that either were never heard of again or slipped into a careers that aren't worth mentioning? To me, that is a little bit of proof of the crazy magic of Prince of the City. For some reason so many people came together and jelled into an ensemble that for 167 minutes can still help us suspend time as we live the story with them. Certainly, the reason has to be the masterful hand of Lumet.
If you haven't seen Prince of the City but enjoy this genre of film then please see it soon. It's long, so give yourself the required time to enjoy it. Extra points to you, if you watch it with one or more friends that not only enjoys 'cop' dramas but also enjoys great direction, smooth acting, and like to discuss film making in general. You will find great joy not only in the movie but in the conversations it will inspire. No doubt two threads of your conversation will emerge: where can I get more Lumet movies and why didn't Treat get more recognition for his work. Question one is easy to answer, check out IMDb. Number two is a question film buffs have been asking for over 30 years without satisfaction.