Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

As a means of earning some much needed supplemental income, I often work with a lot of teenagers throughout the week at a local high school in south Austin. Sometimes I'm simply a substitute teacher but at other times I'm in essence a social worker who's sole purpose is to keep kids from killing or impregnating one another. And more often than I'd like to admit, I find myself searching for the future strippers of the world. Not that I like strippers or even strip clubs; it's just that I find it slightly amusing and at the same time fairly depressing when a kid's destiny is written all over their face.

I promise it's not as creepy as it sounds. It's just that I can't help but giggle when a girl shows up to school bobbing her head to some Rick Ross while wearing a short skirt and the infamous stripper perfume. Sometimes I just want to "accidentally" drop a dollar on the floor to see what will happen next. I kid, I kid. Please don't call the authorities! Besides, if this was the year 1893 my behavior would be considered perfectly normal by most of society's standards. Back then creepy old men traditionally sought out young 16 year old girls to be their wives; I saw the movie The Color Purple.

So what does any of this potentially damaging personal information have to do with The Diary of a Teenage Girl? Well in this wonderfully challenging movie we meet the young and vivacious Minnie. She's a passionate 15 year old girl who's just discovering her sexuality in the what most people consider to be the romance capital of the U.S. in San Francisco. It all starts one night when her mother's boyfriend accidentally brushes his hand on her breast while they're watching a movie. It's at that moment she realizes her desire to be constantly touched and loved by a man. And from that point on, she's hooked and proceeds to seduce him.

On the surface this sounds like a wet dream of Colin Farrell's, but in reality it's just a honest look into this young girl's journey to adulthood. I have absolutely zero idea of what all goes through the mind of a teenage girl but this movie is based on a book written by a woman and it's screenplay was written by the female director Marielle Heller. So I will defer to them on the accuracy of the content. Heller does an amazing job of showing how Minnie boldly acts on her desires while at the same time harbors the same insecure feelings that most teenagers would have when falling for their first love. She is able to do all of this without ever glorifying or even condemning underage sex.

But you clearly see how someone of Minnie's age isn't ready to handle all of the emotions that come with sex as her mother and obviously her mother's boyfriend (Monroe played by Alexander Skarsgard) still seem to struggle with it themselves. I'll leave it to you to form your own opinion
 about Monroe; but just know that everyone is not going to walk out of the theater with the same view of him. Heller is great at not painting a judgmental portrait of any of the characters in this story.

I thought this was a solid film that tastefully tackled a fairly controversial issue; and it managed to do so it a funny, moving, and visually stunning manner. I rate this movie as FRESH and I suggest you go see it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hitman: Agent 47

I know that it’s purely a numbers game when it all comes down to it, but when you really look at it, how hard can it be to get constant work in Hollywood? All you have to do is be in decent shape, have the right agent, and take advantage of your opportunities when they present themselves. I say this because I see a ton of movies every year and unless we are talking about a Stanley Kubrick or a Werner Herzog film, you can be a fairly average to below average actor and get some pretty decent roles. Keanu Reeves is the ultimate example of this. But even on a smaller scale, someone like Paul Walker made millions of dollars by simply saying the word bro and pretending like he knew anything at all about cars.

In fact, Walker was supposed to be the lead in Hitman: Agent 47 but was replaced by Rupert Friend (Homeland) for obvious reasons. Friend is no Charlie Chapman himself but he looks like the next Tom Hardy when compared to his counterparts in this movie. It seriously felt as though they just took all of the extras from The Walking Dead and cast them in major roles in this movie. And speaking of awful actors, can they kill off Glen already??? I know they have to keep their minority quota up but Black dudes disappear off that show with the quickness all of the time.

Anyway, the point is, this movie might have actually been considered a decent flick by most uptight critics out there had they simply cast someone with some flare or moxie to be the leads in this film. I know that agents aren’t supposed to really experience any emotions but hell, Tom Hardy didn’t speak for 90% of Mad Max: Fury Road and he put in one of the best performances of his career!

Having said all of that, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Agent 47. It was as if they knew they had a limited budget, so they just said screw it and chose to spend all of the money they had for actors on Ciaran Hinds. They then took the leftover money from that budget and spent it on an unnecessary, but awesome none the less, helicopter scene where it crashes into a building and takes out a ton of random henchmen in the film’s climax. What can I say? I’m a sucker for random and pointless violence, in the context of a movie that is.

Director Aleksander Bach knew exactly what he had to work with when he was making this film: a derivative script, B and C list actors, and a projected late summer release date. So why waste time trying to make a video game movie an Oscar worthy masterpiece? Why not just have fun with it and make it as silly and over the top as you possibly can? Well that’s exactly what he did.

If you have ever seen any of Resident Evil movies and actually enjoyed them, then all you have to do is just take the same look and feel of those movies and substitute secret agents for zombies. Agent 47 is about a genetically engineered soldier who has advanced physical traits that make him unbelievably skilled in combat. But he lacks normal human emotions like compassion, fear, and love. And it’s the lack of these emotions that made soldiers like him more dangerous than their creators could have ever imagined. So they decided to put a stop to the program.

Well a secret evil organization has decided to try and reopen the program. But in order to do so, they need to locate the program’s head scientist who has since gone into hiding for his own protection. They believe they have found the key to finding him through his daughter Katia but they must get to her before Agent 47 does.

Again, I want to reiterate that this movie isn’t good in the traditional sense by any means, but if you like cheesy action movies, you’ll love it. It’s full of terrible one liners, ridiculous technology that makes absolutely no sense no matter how much you try and suspend reality, and excellent gun fights.

After the disaster that was the Timothy Olyphant Hitman, I wasn’t expecting much. So I must say that I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t want to walk out of the theater within the first half hour. So for all of the movie snobs out there, I rate this movie as WEAK. But for us action junkies, I give it a rating of kind of pretty FRESH!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Look of Silence

I’ve always imagined that if I ever took over the world, I’d implement a ton of fresh guidelines and holidays that the entire globe would love and embrace me for. Every Wednesday would be Breakdance Wednesday, a day where you would be required to break out a series of tight moves before you were allowed into your school or your job that morning. And how good your moves were would determine just how long of a lunch you were allowed to have on this amazing day. Ill moves could get you a 90 minute lunch break with your family and friends, whereas wack moves might have you serving lunch to those who actually brought the funk earlier that morning. But don’t get too bent out of shape on that last part, I’m still working out all of the details.

There would also be fresh holidays like WillisFest Wannukah; a week long celebration of Bruce Willis films where everyone could relive the glory days of Die Hard and Look Who’s Talking Too. You would be forced to work in at least one Willis quote per conversation; something along the lines of "You touch me again, I’ll kill ya!"The Last Boy Scout or "Now cowboy the f up" Tears From the Sun. Again, I’m still working out the details.

But the point is, my world would be infinitely better than the world Adolph Hitler would have ruled had he actually won the war. Imagine a butcher like him being in control, lying about how he took over, and basically forcing the entire country to celebrate him and his SS generals as if they were heroes. Well that’s basically what happened in Indonesia.

Back in 1965, the Indonesian army revolted and overthrew its government. They did so under the guise of an anti-Communism campaign but in reality all they really wanted was to be in power and to be among the country’s elite. Anyone who opposed their new reign was automatically labelled a Communist who lacked morals and religion; and the punishment for this dissension was death. In over a year’s time they managed to savagely kill over 500,000 (the documentary gives a larger number than that) innocent people and in the process got rich off of their leftover possessions. In many cases they not only took their money but also their wives.

Well in Oscar nominated director Josh Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, we see the after effects of this revolution through the eyes of Adi Rukun. Adi was born two years after the mass killings but his brother Ramli was unfortunately a victim of these terrible events. Adi is the optometrist in a small village(this explains the film’s opening scene and it’s most memorable image) in Indonesia where nearly 1600 people were butchered. He services not only the victims’ families but also the generals and their families, who live rather opulently right next to their terrified neighbors.

Most people in the village deny the fact that the killings ever even happened and the few that do recognize what happened are too scared to talk about it. They are afraid to open up what they called healed wounds as they are constantly reminded of what took place during that dark period when they see these evil terrorists just going about their daily business or even when their kids are simply going to school. Learning about how awful the Communists were and how poorly they were treated as a result of it is a part of the normal curriculum.

But sadly this isn’t the worst of it. Oppenheimer first introduces you to Adi’s parents, and in almost a poetic fashion, Ramli’s brutal murder is told to you through the dream of his heartbroken mother. You can’t help but feel her pain as she describes the last few hours of her son’s life and how she begs his killers to show him mercy.

You also see shot after shot of his despondent and horrified brother'sreaction as he sits through a recording of Ramli’s murderers almost gleefully describing what they did back then. And you also see the risks poor Adi is taking as he confronts some of the people who were responsible for these events.

This is easily one of the most powerful films I’ve seen quite some time and I truly believe that it’s a story everyone needs to hear. Bravo to Mr. Oppenheimer for making such a poignant and powerful movie; he deserves every accolade he is going to get once award season rolls around and I give this movie a rating of very FRESH!
 

Friday, August 21, 2015

American Ultra

I can't imagine what kind of roles I would have gotten had I actually chased my dream and made it to Hollywood. At best I could see myself as the token Black friend of Ben Savage on Boy Meets World or maybe even one of the Cobra Kai who actually felt sorry for Daniel when he got repeatedly beaten up in The Karate Kid. But who knows, I could've been the star of the episode where Topanga finally gets jungle fever and has to deal with racism for the first time or I could've been the one who makes out with Ali with an I in the corner while Bobby nearly breaks Daniel's leg in the All Valley Karate Tournament. Either way, I would've been breaking down barriers and would certainly have been way ahead of my time in my field.

Ok so neither of those would have ever really happened (on screen anyway) but I did get a date from this random girl who once saw a pic of me in a Dell flyer. Granted, she was a ghetto massage therapist who tried to order a frozen strawberry daiquiri at a fine dining restaurant, but hey, it was a start.

The point is, I would have been more than comfortable with my place in Hollywood and would've gladly stayed in my lane to prolong my career. But sadly this is something that the talented but annoying Jesse Eisenberg has yet to do as he continues to slowly run his career into the ground by taking roles that don't quite fit his personality or his skill set. I give him credit for trying to branch out and challenge himself but he needs to realize that his wheelhouse is in playing the snappy and sharp-tongued introvert who everyone is afraid to test intellectually. This is why he received so much love for his role in The Social Network, playing the genius yet cunning Mark Zuckerberg fit him perfectly. No one sees him as Lex Luthor or the stoner who is really a dormant government weapon who is just waiting to be activated.

Those are roles better reserved for Keanu Reeves. Sure he's not that great of an actor but everyone loves him so much that it doesn't really matter. Keanu could play Obama in the next presidential biopic and it would easily open up as number one in the box office that weekend!

Well in American Ultra, Eisenberg plays a whiny stoner who works at a convenient store and has little to no ambition. The only thing that seems to drive him is his love for writing a comic book series about a space monkey who gets into random adventures. He has panic attacks every time he tries to leave the city and his only real friend comes in the form of is his drug dealer Rose (John Leguizamo) who likes to go to strip clubs at 8 in the morning.

But somehow this loser manages to have a cute and loving girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) who sticks by his side in spite of all of his glaring faults. Well one day Matt (Eisenberg) realizes that Phoebe is the only real thing he has going for him so he comes up with an elaborate plan to propose to his loyal girlfriend. He has everything set in place to do just that, until the C.I.A. comes in and ruins it all by sending a couple of their goons to inexplicably take him out.

Well unfortunately for them, something inside of Matt is triggered once he's under attack and all of a sudden he becomes this deadly killer. He is understandably freaked out by this new personality of his and he can't quite figure out what's happening to him. But he must find out who is really is before he and his girlfriend both wind up dead.

Now once again I should've known that this movie was going to be awful when I saw that the writer (Max Landis) also wrote 2012's found footage hit Chronicle. This marks the second time this month that someone associated with that movie crapped the bed when they were given the opportunity to take on a more challenging task (Fantastic Four). Literally 99% of the jokes in this film bombed and their lame attempt at making this a combination of The Bourne Identity and Grosse Pointe Blank misfired at every level.

There was one kind of cool action scene where Matt is taking on an entire army with only the kitchen utensils he finds in a convenient store but it pales in comparison to what Denzel did in The Equalizer. The other scenes were just tired rip offs from better action movies like The Terminator or The Raid. And every time they tried to give this movie some heart, it just simply led to unintentional (and not in a good way) comedy. For some reason we are forced to hear about stopping trees and moving cars for what seems like a half hour.

There were a number of times I seriously thought about getting up and walking out of this trash but I figured if I could sit through all of The Gambler with Marky Mark, then I could sit through anything. Well it looks as though Hollywood has a found a new low and that low is American Ultra. This movie gets a rating of WACK!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

How is it that James Bond doesn’t have like 85 illegitimate kids running around? Pierce Brosnan himself has even gone on record as saying that Bond never uses condoms simply because he doesn’t have the time to put them on; he might get his head blown off (no pun intended) at any given moment, so he needs to be as efficient as humanely possible. Heck even the secretly gay cop in True Detective was able to plant a seed in that little Spanish hottie of his and she was nowhere near as hot as the groupies 007 gets. Everyone knows that the hotter the girl the stronger the uh…release you’re going to induce from a guy. So Bond should be up to his neck in paternity suits. I don’t know, maybe what’s considered to be a 10 to me is simply thought of as slumming it to Bond.

The point is, I could never be a secret agent; I’d wind up being the Eazy-E or Magic Johnson of the spy world. And this is exactly why I told this unbelievably cute girl I met the other day that she could never live out her dream of being an undercover operative, I don’t think she’d be prepared to handle all of the duties that comes with it. Or at least I’d hope she wouldn’t be prepared for that, then she’d be the Courtney Love of the spy world. I kid, I kid but not really.

So naturally as I went to go see The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I was pleased with the fact that the American spy in the movie (Solo) kept with the tradition of banging every woman that crossed his path. The problem though is that Henry Cavill tried to emulate everyone’s favorite modern day spy in Archer with his portrayal of the suave Solo. Now don’t get me wrong, Archer is cool but Archer’s cheesiness works because he’s a cartoon. Trying to bring that to real life is only possible if you’re Sean Connery and the last time I checked, only Connery could get away with slapping a random woman on the ass as he told her to bring him a drink (Goldfinger). So suffice it say that Cavill’s attempt at a very public audition to be the next Bond with his performance in this movie failed miserably.

Overall he really wasn’t all that bad, it’s just that it takes you nearly a third of the movie to get over his approach. But once you do, U.N.C.L.E. turns out to be a fairly entertaining film. Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) brings his over stylized approach to this movie and thankfully it actually aids in helping separate it from the usual spy flicks that you’ve seen in the past 20 years. His quirky soundtrack and his filming of the action scenes (which makes them look like they are straight out of a comic book) takes you back to the days when you were a kid and everyone wanted to be a spy. You couldn’t wait to wear tailored suits, play with cool gadgets, and be able to drink hard liquor in the middle of the day without anyone giving you a hard time.

And it also helps that this movie has an inexplicably evil criminal organization in it that wants to create an atom bomb to sell to the highest bidder. So Solo is forced to work with his Russian counterpart, the temperamental Illya, to try and bring down this organization before they have the keys to ruling the world. And as they do you are taken to an array of exotic locales that are full beautiful women, cool cars, and unforgettable landscapes.

I hate to say it but Ritchie was somehow able to pull this movie off. I give it a rating of barely FRESH!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

When a movie about aliens, robots, or spies (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) comes out, that's without a doubt the first movie I always go see in the theater. Unless of course that movie stars the scrub who almost single handedly ruined my childhood memories of the Lone Ranger in Armie Hammer. I should have known that Gore Verbinski and an over the hill Johnny Depp would spell disaster for the modern day Western.

But obviously I chalked that up as a lesson learned and was not about to make the same mistake again. So I went to go see another movie that was also about my childhood in Straight Outta Compton. Now I realize that I am straight out of Victoria, Texas but growing up as kid, all I kept hearing about was this dangerous gang of rappers from Los Angeles called N.W.A. This was before the age of Internet, so all I had available to me was magazines. And when Black magazines like Ebony and Jet are scared of you, then you know you have to be crazy. But something about F the Police resonated with me. Hearing all the stories from my cousins who lived in real cities made me well aware of the fact that something was seriously wrong with the way that law enforcement viewed minority youth; and this was just our way of letting people know about it.

Well obviously the rest is history as N.W.A. blew up and eventually became one of the most influential groups in music today. Director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator) starts the movie off with one of the most intense scenes you will ever see in what is basically a music documentary. He shows you the world that Eazy-E was caught up in before he became Eazy-E. He was living the dangerous life of a drug dealer and was facing either death or serious jail time if he didn't change things and change things rather quickly.

He also shows you Dr. Dre before he became Dr. Dre; he was a young kid who's entire world was making music but was also struggling with the issues he was having at home. And then he finally shows you the star of the movie, and some would even say the star of N.W.A., in Ice Cube. If Dre was the soul of N.W.A. then Ice Cube was clearly the heartbeat. He was truly the ghetto journalist he claimed to be as he was able to almost poetically write about the world he grew up in.

Well once they decided to put their talents together, they took the world by storm. But greed and the shady manager Jerry Heller tore them apart and what was once the world's greatest super group eventually broke up. Gray in an entertaining and funny manner takes you through all of this and the aftermath that followed.

Some of the film's best scenes are when the group is on tour and you get to see how their music connects with everyone who hears it. You almost feel as though you were the one who was being constantly harassed by the police. Heck, even I almost got up in the theater with my portable placard and started a Stop the Penis Party chant! That's a P.C.U. reference in case you didn't catch it.

The film's clear highlight is when Ice Cube hears N.W.A.'s diss of him on record for the first time. He immediately goes into the studio and writes what is possibly the best diss record of all time. The movie almost plays No Vaseline in its entirety and everyone in the theater instantly knew who the king of N.W.A. was.

I honestly believe that some people were hearing it for the first time as they were clearly losing their minds over how genius it was. Anyway, Straight Outta Compton is a powerful movie about five friends who found a way to better their lives and change the world in the process. If you call yourself a fan of hip hop, then there is no way that you can miss this movie.

It runs about 20 minutes too long but any movie that showcases an artist who can make a room full of hot girls chant Gimme that Nut over and over again, gets a free pass from me. This is one of the better movies of the year and it gets a solid rating of VERY FRESH.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cop Car

Let me just say that I completely empathize with the two young stars of the latest indie film Cop Car because growing up in the country where there is absolutely nothing to do will make even the dumbest kid in the world run away from home. Just look at Bridgette Fonda in Doc Hollywood, even she was smart enough to realize that if you're in a town where nicknames like Big Country or Butch outnumber normal names like Michael or Kelly, then it's high time to split town before two drunken hicks try and reenact a scene from A Time to Kill on you (Yes they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hell!!!).

In Cop Car, two kids who have decided to run away from home stumble upon an empty cop car in the middle of nowhere. And after realizing that there aren't any cops in sight and that the car keys are still in the vehicle, they decide to take it for a joyride. Little do they know that the car belongs to the local sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) and that the real reason he left the car behind is that he was up to something shady in the woods. Well once he finds out that his car has been stolen, he immediately starts to cover his tracks before the kids get caught or they find out his deadly secret.

This movie starts off playful enough with the two kids daring each other to say the dirtiest words they've learned to this point of their lives. And at first everything seems harmless and fun as they are getting to drive a car for the first time; driving it as fast as they can and playing with the siren and CB radio. But the second they hit the actual highway, things take a turn for the worst and you are immediately reminded why a couple of eight year olds left alone to their own devices can be one of the worst things in the world for both the kids and the people that happen to encounter them.

There are a number of moments in this movie that had me audibly gasping for air and shouting at the screen as if the kids could actually hear me; and I'm not even a parent, I'm just a scrub who appreciates human life. Parents who do go to see this movie will never let their kids out of their sight again, not until they turn 23 that is. And you have to keep in mind that you experience all of this well before the kids even run into Sheriff Kretzer.

This film is original, chilling, and haunting, and I have to admit that I had to sit outside of the theater for quite a few moments to collect myself before driving home. Thankfully though it gave me the opportunity to get into a debate with a couple of hipsters about the fact that Bacon might have only agreed to do this movie because it gave him the opportunity to expand his Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. I'm just glad he didn't taint any more young starlets like he did Denise Richards and Neve Campbell in Wild Things to do so.

This movie is very FRESH and I strongly suggest that you pop in to check it out.