Final Destination 5

12 Aug

The highly successful Final Destination is back in its fifth edition.  The formula remains the same; a group of young people avoid death by making a last minute move that saves them from a disaster.  In the first edition, they deboard a plane which later crashes. Here in Number 5, several coworkers riding a bus to a corporate retreat escape a horrific bridge collapse. Just like in the previous stories, one of the group members has a premonition that leads a select few to escape certain death.  But the grim reaper doesn’t  like to be cheated and he pursues the escapees with a vengeance.

While I am not fan of horror films, I have always liked the Final Destination series. The writers don’t just kill the characters; they do it in very creative and graphic ways. This version is no different.  In fact, the initial bridge mayhem is so stirring that by comparison the rest of the movie drags a bit.

However, the writers do an excellent job of creating suspense because every piece of machinery or even a boiling pot can be a tool of gruesome destruction and you never know for sure when another one will bite the dust.

The cast is made up of a talented group of relatively unknown performers which is a smart move by the producers because in these types of films the “star” is the screenplay. So there is no need to spend a lot of money on megastars.

As to our Cast Diversity rating, The Final Destination 5 gets an “A” with three black actors in major roles. Courtney Vance plays the federal agent investigating the strange accidents that keep happening to the survivors.  Tony Todd is the creepy coroner who warns the survivors of their inevitable demise. Arlen Escarpeta is Nathan, one of the survivors.

The verdict on The Final Destination 5 is that it gets a See It rating.  The Final Destination series is consistently one of the best of its genre.  Number 5 combines the intense gruesomeness its fans crave while being supported by superior acting and a solid story. And it looks like the series will continue based upon the final scenes of the movie.

It’s 92 minutes and is rated R for its bloody, violent scenes.


30 Minutes or Less

12 Aug

30 Minutes or Less is the story of two sets of friends’ whose worlds collide.  First, there’s Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) a pizza delivery guy and his frenemy Chet (Aziz Ansari). The two have a heart to heart talk in which they share deep secrets about things they have done to each other.  This chat results in their getting so angry that they end up tussling on the floor and decide to no longer be pals.

Then there’s the low lives Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), who decide that the best way to come up with the money to start their tanning salon-prostitution business is to kidnap Nick and force him to rob a bank –  putting a bomb around his chest as an incentive.   With no one else to turn to, Nick is forced make amends and seek the help of ex-best friend, Chet.

 30 Minutes or Less is another one of those sophomoric films targeting the teen – young adult male audience.  It starts off with moronic behavior such as Dwayne and Travis acting as if they are humping a character on the screen of a floor to ceiling, big screen TV. I thought to myself I gave up the chance to see Glee 3-D for this?  (Glee was screening at the same time right across the street.)  But once the two humpers kidnap Nick, the film actually becomes interesting.  It’s fast paced with lots of action. The story and character development are strong.  And at 103 minutes it’s just the right length.

On our Cast Diversity rating it gets a “B+”.   Aziz Ansari who plays Chet is one of the main stars. Ansari is a first generation American born to immigrant parents from India. Dilshad Vadsaria who plays Chet’s twin sister, Nick’s love interest and a source of conflict between the guys, was born in Pakistan, although she is of Greek, Portuguese and Indian descent.  There are also many other people of color in various supporting roles.

30 Minutes or Less gets a RENT IT rating.  While it definitely has some entertainment value, there is no need to rush to the theater to see it.

Again, its 103 minutes and is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence.

Review of “The Change Up”

5 Aug

 The grass is always greener on the other side, as the saying goes. That’s the premise of The Change Up.  Lifelong friends, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) the womanizing, aspiring actor and Dave (Jason Bateman) the ambitious lawyer and the married father of three (Jason Bateman) admire lives.  Mitch envies Dave’s stability.  Dave longs for Mitch’s freedom. So one night after drinking, they urinate into a magical fountain, lighting strikes and the next morning they find each of their personalities housed in the other’s bodies.

 The carefree Mitch has to handle an almost billion dollar merger deal his friend has been working on and become a husband and father of three. Dave has to takeover Mitch’s soft porn acting gig and carryon Mitch’s “creative” love life. The viewer goes along for the rid.

 One of the unfortunate downsides of the success “guys behaving badly” films is that they breeds cheap imitations.  The film, Hangover about four guys who wake up in a Las Vegas Hotel in a bizarre set of circumstances in which they retrace their steps to determine what happened, was a huge hit. Then there was Hangover Part II, with the same guys in Asia. This other films such as The Wedding Crashers have led to a series of copycats like The Change Up.

 While The Change Up is an occasionally humorous movie, but like the films it imitates, there’s sophomoric toilet humor like flying baby poop and loud and animated bowel movements.   The story develops in steady often predictable way.  They guys stumble through surviving in each others lives and of course start to appreciate the lives they had. 

 In filmmaking the writers and directors have to get the little things right. Like Justin Bateman’s 35 year old character who has a very attractive wife, wears 1950s Leave It To Beaver, Ward Cleaver type pajamas that today no man under 80 would wear.  And he uses baby powder on their twins which went out years ago because of the danger of being inhaled.

 Supposedly set in Atlanta, GeorgiaThe Change Up gets a “D-” for Cast Diversity. This is about as non diverse of a cast as I have seen in a while.  None of the major casts or supporting performers are people of color.   Even in a scene featuring a children’s ballet dance class with 20 students, none are black.

 The Change Up gets a RENT IT rating.  It’s not worth going to the theater to see but has enough entertainment value to make it worth renting.

It’s 112 minutes in length and is Rated “R” for sexual situations.



Review of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

5 Aug

The apes are back.  The Planet of the Apes film series begin in 1968 running through 1973. There was even a short run TV series in 1974.  Now in 2011, they’re back.  In this edition, Will Rodman (James Franco) is a highly regarded research scientist focusing on a cure for Alzheimer’s.  His father suffers from the disease giving Rodman a personal interest in finding a cure.  A new drug he develops show promise until one of the apes it’s being tested on goes berserk.  The head of the research lab, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) orders all of test subjects killed.  His orders are carried out except for a baby chimp, an offspring of one the subjects.

Rodman takes the young animal home, names him Caesar and soon realizes that Caesar has exceptional intellectual capabilities inherited from his mother after she took Rodman’s drug.  Rodman meets Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto) a primatologist who helps him take care of Caesar and the two humans eventually fall in love. When Caesar becomes violent trying to protect Rodman’s father, the authorities demand that Rodman be put a facility equipped to deal with primates. The caretakers at the facility are brutal and Caesar uses his superior mental capabilities to organize and plan an escape for himself and the other captives.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes works more as an adult film than one for youth.  Much of the storyline and dialogue explains the scientific research behind the development and testing of the drug.  Its interesting stuff but it may lose some of the younger audience. And you’ll find yourself wondering when the story will shift to the action segments of the apes escaping and trying to take over. 

The writers must be given credit; they do develop the story. Too many films today believe that exceptional special effects are enough.

These types of films don’t require exceptional acting. This cast led by James Franco who’s still trying to live down his disastrous stint as the co-host of this year’s Oscars, does a good job. They’re effective and that’s all they have to be.

Weta Digital’s of Avatar and the Lord of the Rings trilogy fame creates the world Caesar and the other apes inhabit. This creation is magical especially how the Caesar transforms from a monkey to a thinking and reflective being. You can see the development in his eyes and gestures.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes gets an “A” for its cast diversity rating.  Rodman’s love interest, Freida Pinto is Asian.  David Oyelowo an Englishman of Nigerian descent plays a pivotal role as chief executive of the research lab and Rodman’s boss.

 The storyline in Rise of the Planet of the Apes can be a bit technical but over all this is visually stimulating production supported by solid acting.  It gets a See It rating.

It’s rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence and is 110 minutes in length.


Review of “The Help”

5 Aug

Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help tells the story of middle class white women and the black women who work for them as domestics and maids. The story begins with “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) returning to Jackson after graduating from the University of Mississippi.  Skeeter gets a job at a local newspaper and reestablishes relationships with her friends, some of whom have married and have children. She’s troubled by the disappearance of her family’s longtime maid, Constance (Cicely Tyson) and doesn’t accept her mom’s explanation that Constance up and moved to Chicago.

 Skeeter is also no longer comfortable with the social mores she grew up with.  She combines her strong desire to be a writer with a new found interest in the experiences and views of the housekeepers. She pitches an idea of book about those experiences to a New York publisher who agrees to read what she comes up with. But the maids are reluctant to speak to her. Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) whose son dies unnecessarily while employed at a construction site is the first to agree to talk. Minny played by Octavia Spencer, is next.  Minny worked for Missus Walters (Sissy Spacek). But when Walters moves in with her daughter, Hilly,  (Bryce Dallas Howard), both Walters and Minny come under Hilly’s control and that’s when the fights begin.

The Help is an entertaining and often amusing production. But it’s also important for its historical value. It displays the extraordinary – and often degrading – efforts blacks Americans had to make to survive.

Also reflected in this story are the complicated and contradictory relationships between the employer and employee.  For example, maids could kiss, hug and raise the white children and prepare the household’s meals but couldn’t use the family bathrooms. Anyone that I would not want using my toilet,  I also wouldn’t want cooking for me or touching my children.

While the maids do raise these kids, at some point the children usually adopted their parents’ views on race.

The acting is outstanding; not a weak link in the entire cast. Viola Davis as Aibileen turns in a performance nothing short of Oscar worthy.  A film cannot have truly great heroes without truly great villains – or at least one great villain.  Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly is phenomenally evil.  She too is Oscar worthy.

The cinematography is impressive.  However, the editing is poor and the film is too long.  It often moves aimlessly from scene to scene.

As to our cast diversity rating, it gets an “A”.  The movie by necessity has a very diverse cast.

The Help is rated PG and is 2 hours in length. And it gets a SEE IT rating.

Review of: The Smurfs in 3D.

30 Jul

The Smurfs in 3D.

 View as screen from The Smurfs in 3D:

The Smurfs are the creation of Belgian artistPierre“Peyo” Culliford. He bought the little blue people to life in 1958 as comic book characters. They live together in a village under the guidance of Poppa Smurf. Their names reflect their different personalities: Clumsy, Brainy, Gutsy, and Grouchy, among others. Then there is Smurfette who was originally created by their arch enemy, the evil wizard Gargamel, to undermine the Smurfs. However, Poppa Smurf using his own magic, converted her into one of them.

 In the 1980s, NBC developed a Saturday morning cartoon featuring the Smurfs. Now, in 2011, Sony –Columbiafilms brings them to the big screen in 3D.  In this episode, the Smurfs travel, with Gargamel in pursuit, through a magical watery porthole and arrive inManhattan. The Smurfs wind up in the household of a young couple, Patrick and Grace Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays). The busy Patrick has just been promoted to corporate Vice President and has little patience for his diminutive houseguests.

 In this film, it’s as if the writers and producers were satisfied merely with the idea of having the Smurfs in 3D in New York City. Because that is just about all there is. Great animation in 3D is simply not enough. The storyline is weak, disjointed and overall this product is weak. The Shrek series with its state-of-the-art animation and fascinating plots set the standard for this type of animated feature and The Smurfs in 3D fails miserably in comparison. Neil Patrick Harris seems bored in the lead role and is overshadowed by the energetic performance of his costar Jayma Mays.

 The Smurf voices are by Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry, Anton Yelchin, Fred Armisen, Alan Cumming and George Lopez. Hank Azaria is Gargamel.  I always wonder why studios spend big bucks hiring stars to do the voices in animated features. Do the kids watching these movies even know or care who’s speaking for the characters.  And in the mythical village where all the Smurfs live, how does Grouchy (George Lopez) develop a Mexican accent and Gutsy (Alan Cummings) a Scottish one?

 The Smurfs in 3D gets a split rating. If seeing them in 3D is enough for you then it’s a SEE IT.  If not, wait and rent it.

 It’s 86 minutes in length and is PG-13. It’s actually pretty violent.


Review of: Cowboys & Aliens

30 Jul

 View a scene from Cowboys & Aliens:

 It’s been a while since there has been a film with such an impressive line up: 

  • Jon Favreau who hit pay dirt directing the Iron Man series.
  • Daniel Craig, the most recent James Bond.
  • Harrison Ford who garnered international fame in the Indiana Jones and Star War series.
  • Mega-heavyweight producers, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard.

But as the NBA’s Miami Heat just found out, sometimes having a lot of big names just ain’t enough. Cowboys & Aliens based upon a novel by the same name, combines the old west toughs with invaders from outer space. But this film misses its target and never really takes off.

 Lonegan (Craig) plays a mysterious drifter who losses his memory but encounters others who know him well. One of those is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who has a past with Lonegan that he can’t remember. Then the local sheriff recognizes Lonegan from a wanted poster and jails him.  Ford is Dolarhyde, a wealthy, time worn rancher. His son is a local bully who can count upon his powerful father to rescue him from paying for his misdeeds. The son gets locked up when he accidentally shoots a deputy. As he has done before, Dolarhyde rides into town to save his misbehaving son.   While Dolarhyde and his men try to free his son, a group of space aliens arrive from the heavens to attack and make off with innocent town’s folk.

 This leads to an awkward alliance between Lonegan, Ella, Dolarhyde and eventually a Native American tribe to do battle with the aliens.

This combination of genres Westerns and sci-fi outer space invaders is not an appealing combination. This isn’t champagne and orange juice; this is more like milk and vinegar. Further each component part, the Western and aliens segments, have to be compelling on their on. Then come together to create a powerful film. But each individual storyline fails and together they create an even bigger failure. It’s like two boring people don’t create an interesting couple.

 Hollywood has become the master of special effects, but this movie’s effects are decidedly mediocre. 

 The Cowboys & Aliens producers prided themselves on drawing from history. The Native Americans featured in the film are Chiricahua, decedents of Geronimo’s tribe. The producers should be commended for this authenticity.  However, one error this film makes as do most Hollywood Westerns is the lack of black cowboys. In an exhaustively researched article, the U.S. News & World Report determined about 20% of cowboys were black. One historian went even further stating that the very term itself, cowboys, was coined to described black slaves who drove cattle from location to location for their wealthy owners.

On our cast diversity rating Cowboys & Aliens gets a B- for the Native American involvement.

 On its overall rating,Cowboys & Aliens hits rock bottom and is Dead on Arrival.

 At 118 minutes, it’s just shy of two hours in length and rated PG-13 for violence.