“Their story, once read, will stay with you forever.” – REEL BRIEF
We continue our tribute to “Remember the Fallen” for this upcoming Memorial Day on Monday…
Below is the winning 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Best Feature Writing by Jim Sheeler for the Rocky Mountain News from November of 2005. The Rocky Mountain News’ photojournalist Todd Heisler also earned the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in the best Feature Photography for his photos that accompanied Sheeler’s article.
Together, Sheeler and Heisler tell an emotional and powerful narrative on the true price of freedom. Their story, once read, will stay with you forever.
Read the article here: ‘Final salute‘.
Worth your time…
In this hilarious continuation to the surprise hit from 2012, Anna Kendrick reprises her role as Beca, orchestrating her collegiate a cappella singing group’s return to competition. Rejoining Beca on stage is the returning cast of misfits from the first movie, along with politically incorrect competition commentators John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks). “Pitch Perfect 2” marks a stunning directorial debut for Banks (“The Hunger Games” collection), who took on the difficult Hollywood task of making a sequel as good as–if not better than–the original film.
“Pitch Perfect 2” delivers a chorus of nonstop laughs throughout the movie using gags, one-liners and expanded story lines on each of the singers. The always amusing Australian stand-up comic Rebel Wilson headlines most of this film’s funniest scenes. As Fat Amy, Wilson provides us with an impeccable, quick-witted physical comedy presence not seen since Leslie Mann’s magnificent, Jim Carrey-esque performance in last year’s “The Other Woman”.
Director Banks wisely brings back the head-spinning sing-off competition that pits all the a cappella groups against each other in an informal, sudden death elimination match. As some ingenious NFL cameos and hit music from the 80’s are mixed into this soundtrack, the throw-down sing-off challenge has become the trademark moment of the “Pitch Perfect” series. Never straying too far from solid lyrics and ear-pleasing music, Banks fully understands that audiences not only want laughs, but also entertainment, from this talented cast of Bellas.
Even a few changes and fresh faces appear in this chapter of the girls’ lives.
As Beca continues her lone wolf ways seeking an internship at a record label, her fellow Bellas welcome a new addition. 2011 Critics’ Choice Movie Award winner for “Best Young Actress” Hailee Steinfeld, shows off her singing chops as the group moves on to the International Championship. Viewers may recognize Steinfeld from 2010’s remake of “True Grit” or last year’s “Begin Again”.
Through expanded story lines of each of the characters and a high-water mark for laughter that surpasses even the original blockbuster hit, “Pitch Perfect 2” nails it. Viewers who enjoyed the 2012 Barden Bellas will once again find this one music centric and personality driven. First time director Elizabeth Banks deserves credit for knowing what audiences have enjoyed along the a cappella competition circuit and for masterfully catering to those viewer desires. Her successful debut is marked by charming characters, pleasing music entertainment and perfectly timed humor. How impressive is Banks’ on-screen singing product? Well, “Pitch Perfect 2” opened last weekend alongside “Mad Max: Fury Road” and earned the top spot at the box office with $70M–nearly double the gross ticket sales the George Miller sci-fi classic. Add another win in the sing-off competition for the Barden Bellas.
“Pitch Perfect 2″ is rated PG-13, with a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.
Holy tissue alert Batman! The documentary “Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World” opens in select theaters on June 26th.
You may remember this story from back in November of 2013, when this young crime fighter took San Francisco (and the world!) by storm–capturing the hearts of nearly two billion people…yes, that’s billion with a “B”. KAPOW! Julia Roberts has already signed on to produce and star in the movie adaptation of “Batkid“. No timeline on when her film will hit movie screens at this time.
As for now, enjoy this trailer’s awesomeness, knowing that we haven’t seen the last of “Batkid” and his amazing story….
A special shout-out to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America. Granting wishes and turning them into game-changers for children! A great organization doing amazing things for kids and their families.
Ah, Hawaii, my old stomping grounds. Great memories of wonderful people with such a rich culture and history!
I grimace every time actors put on the military uniform for display in front of millions. Rarely do Hollywood films and technical advisers behind-the -scenes “get it right”. “It” being the proper wear and use of the one look that makes our servicemen and women distinct from all other forces in the world. However, in these two and half minutes from the “Aloha” trailer below I didn’t immediately pick up on any serious uniform infractions. Maybe I was glued to Rachel McAdams. But I’m sure others with more combat time logged standing outside the entrances to dining facilities down range will see things much differently than I. That’s another post for later. Moving on…
No one does romance better than the guy who gave us 1996’s “Jerry Maguire” — Cameron Crowe. Women still recite “You complete me” from that flick while us guys still can’t believe “the human head weighs 8 pounds”.
“Aloha” hits theaters two weekends from now. It has all the ingredients of a sleeper blockbuster hit to me…brilliant cast led by Bradley Cooper as the Lone Wolf pursuing perhaps two hotties…McAdams and Emma Stone. Throw in some Alec Baldwin paparazzi-like anger with the dude from “The Office” and I think we’re ready for takeoff!
Catch “Aloha” on May 29th. It’s rated PG-13.
Tomorrow, May 19th, 2014’s most surprising film is released to the public on DVD. “American Sniper” ended up as the United States’ highest grossing movie last year, as well as the highest earning war film of all-time (not adjusted for inflation)–with $543M brought in worldwide. It also marked the highest earning film of Clint Eastwood’s career to date.
I call the success of “American Sniper” a surprise for two reasons. First, I’d bet when the true story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was shopped around Hollywood crickets could be heard. Iraq War? No thanks. A movie based off of a military sniper’s autobiography? Come on, give me author John Green! Secondly, seeing “American Sniper” nominated for only 6 Academy Awards–not even including Eastwood in the Best Director category. But another surprise was in store for “American Sniper”. Patriotic movie goers were flooding locations to see this film and setting new box office records. Remember “American Sniper” opened on Christmas Day in only a handful of theaters….but still set new attendance marks. By the time the wider release of “American Sniper” came on January 15th, the public could not be held back at the theater doors. Lines formed hours in advance of showings. Michael Moore opened his mouth and inserted his foot. Theater managers juggled other movies into smaller venues to get more “American Sniper” viewers in front of their largest screens. People were turned away from movie theaters on both Saturdays and Sundays the first few weeks.
By the time Oscar Night rolled around February 22nd of this year, we saw “American Sniper” director Clint Eastwood sitting in the audience amongst all of the Hollywood elites and heavy film favorites. But of the eight films nominated for Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards, Eastwood’s “American Sniper” had already grossed more at the box office by the Oscars than all of the other 7 top movies combined. And who remembers that back in May of 2013, Steven Spielberg was first tapped to direct this heartfelt, shocking true story? In fact, after Spielberg felt his vision of Chris Kyle’s story couldn’t be made with the measly budget proposed by Warner Bros., the “Saving Private Ryan” director walked away entirely from “American Sniper”. By the time Clint Eastwood got the call asking him to direct the sharpshooter’s account, “Dirty Harry” Callahan happened to be reading Kyle’s book and only a few pages from the end. “OK”, he said. Spielberg wanted the focus of the movie to be on the terrorist sniper. Eastwood believed “American Sniper” should tell the story of Chris and Taya Kyle. And the rest is history…
Enemy forces also grew to know of Kyle’s legendary marksmanship skills and close whereabouts, witnessing their al-Qaeda in Iraq members dropping dead after each single shot from Chris’ rifle. No one, however, was more aware of Chris Kyle’s presence and four tours of duty in Iraq than his wife, Taya Kyle, left behind. It’s that marriage and relationship between Chris and Taya Kyle that “American Sniper” steadies upon, takes aim at, and, ultimately scores a direct hit for viewers…
Eastwood has kept faith with Kyle’s bestselling autobiography by the same name and put together an exceptional tribute to Chris Kyle the husband, father, son, teammate and patriotic American. It does not feel like a U.S. Navy recruiting film, a la 1986’s “Top Gun”. Instead, it graphically illustrates the repeated hardships and sacrifices mustered by our U.S. military and their families in defense of our country.
The genuineness of Kyle is always found in (Bradley) Cooper’s eyes—whether he’s beaming with joy, attempting to control his anger, or staring through a rifle’s scope. Perfectly complimenting Cooper’s potent character is the Taya Kyle role of devoted military wife and mother—effortlessly played by Sienna Miller.
“American Sniper” will squarely hit civilians in the heart and mind about the sacrifices made by so few, for so many, and for so long. With less than one-half of 1% of the American population wearing the U.S. military uniform, this film offers a snippet into the dangers of those charged with answering our nation’s call.
The film acknowledges and honors the sacrifices of a special American who was charged with executing the last 2,100 yards of our national security policy. It also responsibly and realistically portrays the extremely difficult challenges, hardships and loneliness faced by military families of deployed loved ones. While “American Sniper” offers moviegoers the most pulse-racing, intense urban combat operations since 2001’s “Black Hawk Down”, it has no rival in comparisons to highlighting the burdens assumed and carried by our military families. It also takes great care to explain and help Americans understand the emotional toll that war takes upon our warriors– particularly special operators we’re extremely fortunate to have in our nation’s arsenal and their families supporting them and us. The Damn Few.
You can read my entire review here – ‘American Sniper’ hits emotional mark.
“American Sniper” is available on DVD tomorrow.
This year’s growing anticipation and buzz surrounding writer-director George Miller’s return to lead the fourth installment of his “Mad Max” series has been palpable and on a level only attained by one other 2015 cult classic…this December’s release of “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. In fact, many might argue that Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” dwarfs J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” since it’s been 30 years since Max Rockatansky roamed the Australian post-apocalypse Outback desert on film.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” begins with one of the best opening sequences of any movie so far in 2015. After a quick (although too short) narration by Tom Hardy as Mad Max, an all-out suspense thriller ensues for the next fifteen minutes. During this time we’re introduced to the roving band of marauders sporting a guitar lead and one renegade fighter named Imperator Furiosa, played convincingly by Charlize Theron. Similar to other strong female rebels found in the Mad Max movie collection, viewers will have to determine if Theron’s Furiosa is a good character or an evil one. Beyond the film’s exciting start lies continuous battle scenes that become so repetitive and numbing to the eyes, only younger iGeneration Mad Max fans and “Transformers” filmmaker Michael Bay will applaud.
Aside from its impressive choreography and cinematography throughout the film, “Fury Road” lacks a compelling, understood story. Viewers are given plenty of sand skirmishes and scantily clad concubines to follow, but no backstory on Max Rockatansky—the former Australian patrol officer who goes mad after seeing his family killed by gang members during society’s breakdown in the 1979 original movie.
This is Max’s story to tell, yet Hardy rarely strings more than 2 or 3 words together at a time. The lack of dialogue in “Fury Road” becomes noticeable to viewers and takes focus away from Max’s background story, as well as his current predicament. No explanation or character development is offered on Theron’s sparkplug Furiosa either.
“Fury Road” is merely the place-holder for the next George Miller endeavor–“Mad Max: Furiosa”–which has already completed filming. As we’ve seen from the likes of the Marvel comic series or even last year’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1”, studios are making movies for the sole purpose of setting up their next film. Sometimes an incomplete movie is used to generate a need to see the next one. This tactic leaves movie goers with questions as to what they just saw, but knowing the answers and true understanding can only to be found in the following film coming down the pike. Which according to Tom Hardy in recent press reports, will include his appearance in three more George Miller Mad Max films in our future. Let’s hope the lingering questions and character development omitted in “Fury Road” get addressed in “Mad Max: Furiosa”. This spectacular franchise and its increasing fan base deserve it.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is rated R for intense sequences of violence and disturbing images. Its running time is 2 hours.
Below are three movies I can highly recommend from 2014 that are now available for rent via DVD or streaming….
How important is Matthew McConaughey to “Interstellar” and its success? Very. As the stalwart father-engineer-astronaut figure who just goes by “Coop”, McConaughey takes a mind-boggling space travel narrative, without traces of romance or laughs, and transforms an above average movie into a very good one. Director Nolan’s nimble storytelling attempts to drop viewers the furthest distance from their starting point, omitting key connecting dots along the way. It’s actually McConaughey that keeps the viewers glued to the galactic ride, using his slow, calming delivery to sell us the story. In this thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, McConaughey leaves his shirt on, proving his dramatic acting skills and the character “Coop” have made leaps and bounds over the years.
My full movie review: McConaughey propels thought-provoking ‘Interstellar’ voyage.
“Interstellar” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours, 49 minutes.
This film’s striking cinematography also gives credence to the threats and risks faced by our nation’s Greatest Generation during World War II. Credit 10-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins for the realism exhibited in the movie. From the shark infested waters of the Pacific Ocean, the crippled B-24 bomber & aircrew taking numerous bullet holes, or the unimaginably harsh conditions of the Japanese POW encampment, “Unbroken” unapologetically showcases Zamperini’s real-life hardships without pulling any punches.
Angelina Jolie has passed her watershed film moment moving from one end of the movie camera to the other. As director of “Unbroken” she stayed true to Laura Hillenbrand’s epic novel and her bold, intense storytelling. But even more importantly, Angelina Jolie honored a son, a brother, an Olympic athlete and true American hero named Louis “Louie” Zamperini. His unfathomable, real-life survival during World War II are brilliantly presented and told by Jolie in this landmark military movie. “Unbroken” is a phenomenal tribute to one man’s endurance over a lifetime, achieved by his confidence, resiliency, steadfastness and faith. And a film as shocking as it is inspiring.
My full movie review: ‘Unbroken’ honors remarkable life, hero.
“Unbroken” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours, 17 minutes.
This film’s heartfelt and frightening look at the early onset of Alzheimer’s leaves viewers to ponder and question their own mortality. It offers the unpleasant and unfair ending to a brilliant life, the result of a ruthless disease that attacks, degrades and then destroys one’s mind over time. The movie feels like a punch to the stomach for audiences, as it calculates the disease’s heaviest toll; the loss of one’s ability to reflect back on their most precious moments accumulated over a lifetime. It focuses on one family’s response to Alzheimer’s, underscoring the need for acceptance and understanding of this terrible life sentence. The movie saddens and shocks in a world where one’s Bucket List of all the must-do sights, sounds and tastes to remember before death, are replaced by the disoriented, forgotten and mistaken lists of an Alzheimer’s sufferer.
My full movie review: “Academy Award winner Julianne Moore is phenomenal“.
“Still Alice” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour, 41 minutes.
Only within the last decade have cellular devices begun their takeover of our daily lives in earnest–assuming vast new roles outside of just dialing our phone numbers and getting us connected to the World Wide Web. Now they maintain calendars and balance our schedules, ensuring we never miss business appointments or family events. Our cell phones tell us where to go–providing real-time directions to get us from Point A to Point B, so that we arrive at the exact ETA it predicted we would. They hold the keys to communicating with the people we cherish most, memorizing their contact numbers and addresses so we don’t have to. And when we don’t know the name, phone number or even the address of someone we want to speak to or find, we merely have to ask our electronic device or car for the answer. An answer given to us in human-like voices or text messages.
In more recent years cell phones and computers have begun tracking our every move and thought; our shopping preferences, personal interests, impulses, desires and social habits using the information through search engines that we’ve provided them. Computers and phones now know what we think. But what if they knew how we think?
“Ex Machina” is a phenomenal sci-fi thriller that shocks film goers with philosophical questions not only about the human psyche, but also our future existence. As a sharp, young computer programmer visits an underground laboratory at the invitation of the facility’s researcher, he finds a robot with human features that he must quiz to determine her actual intelligence level.
This computer whiz kid, more correctly called a “Coder”, is asked to perform a Turing test on this artificial intelligent (AI) machine named Ava. These series of questions were developed by Alan Turing, known as the Father of Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, and the same cryptanalyst portrayed in last year’s Oscar-nominated best film “The Imitation Game”. In “Ex Machina”, Turing’s test described in his 1950 paper is used to find Ava’s ability to exhibit behavior equivalent or indistinguishable from that of a human. From here, viewers realize that this story is less about research and more about survival. Our survival.
The cerebral dog-fighting in “Ex Machina” makes this movie one to watch in 2015. The human species hasn’t been this challenged by evolutionary creatures on film since Charlton Heston’s spacecraft landed back on Earth in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”. Between all the generated algorithms, programming languages and source codes rests a fight to be the dominant species. “Ex Machina” provokes an unusual and unique look into the audience’s soul through search engine results and robotics. Only later and off-screen, upon further reflection, does the film download another afterthought for viewers to contemplate; our society’s over-reliance on high-tech instruments for communication, information and the ability to function in today’s world.
“Ex Machina” is an appropriate and timely movie on humans and our interaction with artificial intelligent forms. Whether it’s a home computer, laptop, tablet or cell phone, our lives are being controlled, managed and stored by these devices we hold dear to us. No longer do they only know what we think. Now they’re understanding how we think. The information we input into our computer and electronic gadgets makes them powerful and influential parts of our life. But how much power and influence do they really have over us? You’ll know the answer to that question the next time you misplace your phone.
“Ex Machina” is rated R for graphic nudity, language and sexual references with some violence. Its running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Both of these films sparked controversy, but for much different reasons. I discuss LBJ’s portrayal in “Selma” below, as well as my no-holds-barred take on “Fifty Shades of Grey”–a better movie than its been given credit for.
“Fifty Shades of Grey”
What makes this film so interesting isn’t the power and influence imparted by Dornan’s Christian Grey character upon the physically weaker Ana Steele. This movie’s main catalyst is Miss Steele’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Mr. Grey, pushing back on his misguided mannerisms, re-negotiating his non-disclosure agreements, all the while attempting to come to terms with her own emotional and physical limits. The banter between the costars throughout the film is abundant, easy and feels natural. Lastly, both Dornan and Johnson deserve credit for better-than-expected acting performances in this bondage story.
No film can ever compete with a reader’s vast imagination created from reading a book. However, most viewers who have read “Fifty Shades of Grey” should be very satisfied with this sexual fantasy unfurled upon the big screen. While it may not have been possible for the film to live up to all of its pre-release hype, “Fifty Shades of Grey” does give viewers what they’ve come to expect: explicit, dominant-submissive sex. And lots of it. Read my entire review here; ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ toes kinky line.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is rated R for strong sexual content, including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.
“Selma” is a powerful, must-see film on a multitude of levels. The movie seamlessly educates, inspires and shocks audiences with knowledge, faith and unfiltered images. It unapologetically documents the importance church played in American society at one of our nation’s most trying times. The film denotes the vital importance religion played in spawning renewed support from all regions the country, particularly white church goers and religious leaders. No religious spirit and kind heart was touched more so by the outpouring of followers than Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Selma” is more than just a film about eliminating barriers to black voters. It’s a movement about one man’s place in our history–going from spiritual leader to national preacher. With steadfast determination and non-violent tactics, Dr. King used the church to gain momentum for his march between the cities of Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. In comparison to the harsh treatment from the white establishment, Martin Luther King Jr. and his non-violent ways convinced many religious organizations and whites to ultimately join his cause. The most influential of those who came around to accept Dr. King’s hastened timeline, and later signed the Voter Rights Act of 1965, was the President of the United States at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson. After almost 200 years, the voices and votes of those who’d suffered the most over that period were now going to be heard and counted–finally. That’s the grateful tribute of “Selma” to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his peaceful, non-violent means to achieve a justified end…and the real reason to see this exceptional, historic story. Read my entire movie review here; ‘Selma’: Powerful! Inspiring ‘must-see’ film.
“Selma” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours and 7 minutes.