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Category Archives: Cinematic
Reviewed by Heidi Nast
Philomena is a heart-wrenching 2009 investigative book transformed into a movie based from the writings of BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith staring Steve Coogan about his journey with Philomena Lee. Starring Dame Judi Dench as Philomena, the title character sets out to find her son Anthony who was sold away from her to America at the Roscrea Abbey in Ireland when she was a child herself. This film was directed by the incomparable Stephen Frears whose credits include The Queen.
It would be unfair to give any part of this film’s story away in this review, you must experience it yourself. Philomena is beautiful to watch, highly stylized, and touches one on a much deeper level whilst brilliantly portrayed by top-notch actors.
What I will focus on is the basic Catholic tenet of penitence, and what Philomena is all about.
Cited in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary penitence is defined as: a feeling of deep sadness because you have done something wrong. Penitence surfaced in the 13th Century rooted and expressed as Anglo-French penitance, from Medieval Latin poenitentia, alteration of Latin paenitentia, regret, from paenitent-, paenitens, to present participle.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation focuses on healing, forgiveness and peace. And yet in order for this sacrament to be valid, the sinner must do more than just confess sin to the priest. They must be truly sorry, have a firm commitment to never commit sin and perform the penitence imposed by the priest. Penitence originally was a process for the sinner to appear before the bishop in a public ceremony, they admitted what they did and expressed how sorry they were for their wrong doings. A penance was then mandated, and during one’s penance, the sinner could not enter the church until the church welcomed them back. Confession plays a key component and the repetition of prayers, thus the words of Absolution releases the sinner from their transgressions.
Fifty years hence, hasn’t Philomena suffered long enough with the search for her son? Consider if Philomena Lee forgives Sister Hildegard who will never understand the loss of a child. Philomena releases her anger by admitting that is just too exhausting to hold onto any longer. Philomena never regrets her relationship and what comes from that chance moment in time. Whose transgressions does one live by with the Catholic doctrine? And I ask, how long does one have to suffer loss and at what cost? Where is the Sacrament of Reconciliation that focuses on forgiveness, peace and the Joy of Healing? Isn’t that what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about? Philomena has embraced that sacrament and has excused herself from her sins and past transgressions. She finds her closure, she finds her peace, and she grasps her own healing process and inner forgiveness with incredible understanding against the adversity of great pain and very final realizations.
Philomena is a must see film. Sit back, breath in her discoveries and the grace in which she handles truth in life. It is a testament of how each of us must seek forgiveness in this lifetime to find peace and tap into one’s higher self. This is a journey each of us walks everyday and I promise Philomena will give you hope that life is truly wonderful and worth living, even under great duress.
The state of filmmaking and watching is an ever-moving target. There are the concerns about filmmakers, even those with heavy-hitting last names like Spielberg and Lucas, struggling to get Hollywood to back their projects. Then there are concerns that the studios are pricing themselves out of the market because they expect all cinema houses to have digital projectors. That in turn forces the theaters to charge $16 for a popcorn and soda combo. And if you want to catch a new release in the theater, do so on the first week because if the box office returns aren’t high enough, the film will have a short theater life and the hope is to capture those dollars in rentals, movie purchases and overseas distributors.
Filmmaker and film professor Mitch Brian agrees the problems start at the top, “The studios are well-financed arms of massive corporations so by demanding theaters to go digital they know they are pricing many small theaters out of the business. They want to control all aspects of the industry and are in a business model that demands their movies make hundreds of millions of dollars just to break even. They spend because they can. It is one of the few things Hollywood can still do better than anybody else.” Brian is joined by fellow film professors Lyn Eliot and Kevin Willmott in teaching film studies and continuing their film art form in the metropolitan area.
Film critic and aficionado Bob Butler says the other significant plus and minus, in the big picture, is the international market. “Those films that fail in America often make it internationally. They are the films with sex, violence and action. The downside is that while these films transcend cultures, we start seeing more films crafted in big, predictable patterns which doesn’t allow for much room for the independent filmmaker and his voice. The upside is that the bigger films keep Hollywood going and that allows the decision-makers to give us a movie out of the usual patterns from time
KANSAS CITY IN THE LIMELIGHT
For Kansas City audiences and filmmakers, being in the Heartland has a few benefits. Within the metropolitan community, several film organizations support and nurture directors, screenwriters, actors and production crew. Some of the groups include the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, Film Society of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City Women in Film and Television, CinemaKC and Films For Action KC.
With the Film Commission of Kansas City, Board Chairwoman Heather Laird, who leads her own casting company and directs, has been serving as the de facto film commission. “We have not had a film commission supported by the city in about 10 years,” she says. “With no film commission, someone needs to answer questions. As chair, I am the one who gets the phone calls and the e-mails. We run the gamut of experience on our volunteer board so I draw on them to help with the questions I get. Often television and commercial production are the areas of interest.”
Several times a week, they are fielding questions from shows like America’s Got Talent. “None of us is qualified to sell Kansas City. If an America’s Got Talent came to Kansas City, think about what they would spend in the city and what the free advertising would
look like.” The organization has done some preliminary research that has shown the companies in town were impacted by more than $100 million in 2012 because of commercial and television productions.
“We aren’t a qualified research team, but the billings from our local companies look good. We do the math and extrapolating the results, we are going to take these numbers to the mayor and the city council,” she says. The organization wants to be an active part of the Mayor’s Task Force for the Arts. “I came back 21 years ago from Los Angeles and my records from production over the last 20 years show we have averaged three movies a year around the Midwest.”
Michelle Davidson Bratcher helps Laird as a member of the commission. She is also the past president of the KCWIFT. She’s also an actress, producer, morning talk show host and film writing partner with local filmmaker Patrick Rea. She sees the excitement not only in the independent short films she writes and produces, but also in the television, web series and regional commercials. “I agree that a city staff person who could sell the city would be best. Think about all the visually appealing area. There’s the Plaza, the Crossroads, and more. If we are going to stand on the idea that we are the Creative Crossroads, we need to stand up and show off our potential.”
WHAT LOCAL DIRECTORS SAY
Two local directors concur that today’s access to film equipment is good and bad. “Cameras and editing equipment is so accessible to so many people. Canon and Nikon are making cameras affordable and that puts filmmaking in many people’s hands,” says actor and director Damon Lee Patterson whose film, Art Saved My Life, has been getting great buzz around the city and film festivals.
Writer and Director Patrick Rea, whose film Nailbiter has taken many awards and found a circuit at horror film festivals, says the increase in availability of cameras saturates the market, especially in horror films. “People can make them cheaper, but that is the disconnect. It’s all about story and acting, the right lighting … I honestly think it harder than film with the digital cameras. Film is forgiving, but digital can be video-like and cheap. Directors have to work extra hard to make it look good.”
Patterson says the inundated technology also extends to how film is shown. “There are outlets like YouTube, Vimeo and the film festival market. Film can be in accessible, but at the same time, multimillion dollar studios can’t seem to take too many risks.” He thinks the playing field may even out if independent filmmakers catch up with independent music makers. “They have the grassroots marketing down. They put together sales out of their trunk and use social media in huge ways. When independent filmmakers adapt, it will open up more. There are so many more venues for musicians and fewer for movies. What makes a film venue – it’s a projector screen, a projector and a sound system. In terms of presentation, you need some chairs and perhaps a concession area.”
Rea says horror films have been some of the most successful with lower budgets and higher box office returns. “We don’t have to recoup millions. If a film builds the buzz, then it takes off. “We still root for the surprise hits like District 9. Sure people are more judicious about spending their money to go to the theater, but there will always be movies people want to see on the big screen.”
KANSAS CITY’S FILM FUTURE
Laird says, “We will always be a film city. We have a strong production company and we have a big advertising community. Those two combined help the area. There are jobs for crews and for actors. Young and independent filmmakers are the energy that drives a really exciting filmmaking community here in Kansas City.” For bigger budget films to return, the state must reinstate tax credits. “It’s strictly economics. These filmmakers need to get the biggest bang for their buck. However, there is the television component. Sure 10 years ago, television shows didn’t go outside of L.A., but reality television has changed that. While they bring in a lot of their own crew, there is still an economic impact as they eat in our restaurants, stay in hotels and put our city on the air.”
Even through the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, requests come in for inquiries for B roll. “They want to know what signposts, locations and such are iconic. They want to put our city on national television. Kansas City is film friendly and ripe for the economic impact. We need someone in City Hall with the materials to convince a group to come here. That is the piece of the puzzle that is missing.”
Bratcher believes the future of film is something that many are trying to figure out. The growing film festivals are important, she says. “We need more people to continue supporting film and that audience needs to grow. It needs to be seen as another art form. People are still going to the movies to experience the collective laugh, scream or cry.”
Butler figures people will continue visiting movie theaters as the human experience from centuries past dictates that people enjoy sharing. “The history proves back to when the Greeks saw theater as a sort of religious celebration. While film is not this, there is still that group experience where a collective gasp or laugh is so much better than alone.” He believes non-mainstream movies will continue as long as an audience shouts their support and attends the movies. “Ironically theater has returned to the movie houses with Jerry Harrington at the Tivoli bringing in the videotaped plays from groups like the Royal Shakespeare Company.”
Kansas City’s film future could be what Austin, Texas has now. “There’s not an Austin school of filmmaking, but the environment allows for filmmakers to find and refine their cinematic voices.” Butler applauds the filmmakers here too. He likes Rea’s horror films. “It’s just a matter of time before a filmmaker makes his or her mark on Hollywood.”
Meagan Flynn-Mesmer, an actress, producer and director, is also active in KCWIFT. She served as vice president last year. She has taken on overseeing the annual screenplay contest.
She agrees with Butler that Austin may be the right role model for Kansas City. “We also have a terrific arts and philanthropy scene. We have progressive smaller theater such as Fishtank or The Living Room. Film could be the same here. We have filmmakers like Kevin Willmott and Patrick Rea who make sure they are using local talent. The trick is to always have a quality product and that starts with good screenplays. Then we need to keep an active film commission. It’s not necessarily about studio blockbusters, but creating good films.”•
Film festivals hold an increasingly important sway to viewers and those who make films. While a theatrical showing may have a financial reward, many times it’s through cable packages and DVD sales that help. Of course, a film festival allows smaller films to find a screen and a market. They may find a niche for the home video market. For others, a film festival allows an audience to seek out films they may not normally pursue in the larger cinema houses made for mainstream cinema.
THE KANSAS CITY JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
From Oct. 12 to Oct. 20, the Kansas City Jewish Film Festival (KCJFF) brings in nine narratives and documentaries that explore and celebrate Jewish culture and film at the Jewish Community Center.
Rabbi Neal Schuster says film festivals, on the most basic level, bring people together. “Many festivals play films that we don’t have access to outside of the context to bring a movie in. There might be a connective element, such as a theme or genre. Many films can stand alone, but string them together, as with the Jewish Film Festival, and there is even more.”
Schuster will facilitate the discussion after the documentary film, Hitler’s Children, Oct. 15. Only two of the nine films directly deal with the Holocaust. Hitler’s Children is the third that leans on the Holocaust, but is very different, Schuster says. The 2012 documentary examines the lives of children and grandchildren of some of Hitler’s top leaders: Himmler, Goering, Hoess, Frank … “With the film, we are trying to understand the post-Holocaust experience. Can children and grandchildren carry the sins of another generation,” he says. Schuster says another aspect is this idea of perpetuating evil. “It is easy to see these men as monsters and we do so, but as appealing as that it, they were ordinary people on so many levels and had ordinary children.”
Schuster is the senior Jewish educator at the University of Kansas Hillel. He teaches on Jewish film and film in general. He looks at values and lessons presented. “The message, the teachable moment, is to look at the lines you don’t cross. I can see the tremendous burden and how difficult it would be to build a life, to create a sense of self when you want to remove yourself from the past. Film gives people a chance to view something powerful and seeing documentaries are something we don’t get often. We can learn about something together with this film festival.”
Associate Professor and Department Chair Tamara L. Falicov from the KU film studies department will also facilitate a discussion. She will lead a panel after the showing of the autobiographical Foreign Letters Oct. 20. In a note from the filmmaker, the film is autobiographical and looks at how critical and difficult it can be to be a teen, let alone being an immigrant teen.
KANSAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The Kansas International Film Festival has hit lucky number 13. From Oct. 4 to Oct. 13, at the Glenwood Arts Theatre, hundreds of enthusiastic film buffs will parade in to catch more than 50 films.
Dr. Dotty Hamilton, vice president of KIFF and in charge of programming, says one of the highlights is the audience awards for both the best documentary and the best narrative feature. There are two jury awards – one for best narrative feature and one for best social justice documentary – chosen prior to the festival, but announced that Sunday morning at the Filmmaker Recognition Brunch.
“All four award winners receive a one week theatrical run at the Fine Arts Theatres,” she says. “It’s a great prize for filmmakers looking for more recognition and exhibition of their films.” The jury award winners are also replayed on the Wednesday and Thursday evening of the festival. “On opening night, we will screen the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which screens around the world that weekend and our audiences get to vote on the winners, which are announced on MSF website.”
Other collaborations include working with the Kansas City Women in Film and TV, who will sponsor female-directed films for closing night, as well as the Independent Filmmakers Coalition, who will have a Wednesday night screening of their members’ films, Hamilton says.
TALLGRASS FILM FESTIVAL
Tallgrass is the most distant of the film festivals in Wichita, but Kansas City filmmakers have been known to enter this film festival. Last year, the 10th annual Tallgrass Film Festival screened nearly 190 films from 30 countries around the world, including two world premieres and 1 U.S. premiere.
Tallgrass flew in 34 visiting filmmakers from all over the country to present their films to Wichita audiences over four days, which also included parties and educational offerings. The 11th Tallgrass Film Festival will be held in and around downtown Wichita, Kan., Oct.16-20.
I am not a fan of the Kick Ass comic books.
There I said it.
Why am I bringing this up? Because in comparison, I really enjoyed the 2010 film version and even with all its ridiculous over-the-top killing, poor language and juvenile humor, I felt that it was light years better than its source material.
Happily, I can say the same thing about Kick Ass 2.
Set after the events of Kick Ass (2010), our heroes find themselves searching for normality. High school, hormones and hoochies everywhere find both Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) struggling to be regular teenagers. With new heroes popping up on the streets everyday, both are reminded of the lives they once lived and the thrills of being heroic. At the same time, yearning for revenge over the death of his mafia father by Kick Ass, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz Plasse), haphazardly creates a plot to become the world’s first real super villain and begins forming an evil army against his unsuspecting rival.
Let the mad carnage begin.
Without having to be weighed down with an origin portion of the story, I found Kick Ass 2 to be a good companion to the first. Where most sequels fall far short, I felt this film expanded upon a few of the characters well and was a good extension of the Kick Ass story with some pretty good humor and fun, ironic approach to the super hero stories we have been bombarded with over the last several years. However, while I was entertained, it’s not till the end that I realized that this film, while fun, was not as sharp as the first installment.
When the first film was released, the bloody death scenes and the “what did she just say?” shock of having a little girl spew amazing curse words and mutilate adults worked in its favor. While in no way a small film, the bite of its approach helped deepen its effect on pop culture at the time and allowed three young actors to blossom in unique roles. However, this film seems way more watered down in comparison. Yes, there is some shocking fight scenes and of course the main villain is called the M#therF&cker, yet, in this film, I felt as if the shock value was more of an afterthought versus being central to the story’s core. As if the names of the villains and possibly a hero named Night Bitch were enough to win the fans over. In many ways, humor is used to disguise the horrible things that are happening and for some audience members, I think that will work perfectly … but for me, it just started to effect the film and it skewed my overall enjoyment.
By far the stand-out for this film is, once again, Moretz. Just like in the first film, Hit Girl is the shining star and by far a more interesting character then Kick Ass himself. In this film, I appreciated the attempt to better round out her character and make her more than just a foul-mouthed, mini-ninja as she was in the first one. I dislike teen angst story lines with a passion – one of the many reasons why I can’t finish a Twilight novel and why Harry Potter fizzled for me in the late books; however, the approach the filmmakers take on Hit Girls attempts at being a “normal” freshman in high school are both hilarious, thoughtful and, for me, very refreshing.
In comparison, while Johnson’s Kick Ass is still extremely likeable and his insecurities the core of what the film is based around, he’s just not as interesting as Hit Girl. In the middle the film I found myself not really caring as much about his story arc and wanting more from her. The same can also be said for Plasse’s villain character. More of a bumbling idiot trying to be bad, he never really takes that step into evil. Yes, he does bad things, but in the end, he always orders other people that are worse than him to his bidding and thus can never be taken seriously as a bad person. Even when the story arcs to bring the two against each other, the tension is built on other people doing bad things or, in one character’s case, a complete lack of intelligence. Kind of lame.
Rounding out the cast is palette splatter of costumes with Jim Carrey, Donald Faison, Clark Duke, Stephen Mackintosh and Lindy Booth all jumping into a life of crime fighting.
In terms of the story, I felt everything felt a little rushed – especially, for me, the portion that focused on Kick Ass and Hit Girl’s relationship. There is some gold in their training moments and quickly, their partnership moves on to the stranger hero types that begin popping up throughout the city. Of course the story is based on the idea of a “super hero team” and these other characters are integral, but I wish a little more time was given to them together in the middle of the film versus just book-ending the events in the middle.
At the same time, I think the same can be said for the special effects. In several scenes, the special effects are very poor quality and nowhere near the level of quality audiences are coming to expect. There is one scene in particular where a few bullies get their due and what is a hilarious and moth-dropping sequence quickly looses its value because the effects look so poor.
Overall, I did enjoy the film. Hit Girl is and will always be one of my favorite new hero characters. Part Wolverine, all badass, she really ends up carrying this film and while not nearly enough to make it great, she still keeps it from falling apart. Less shocking than its predecessor, I still found the film extremely funny, entertaining and enjoyable. Anchored at the end of the summer movie season may end up burying this film from getting huge audiences, but niche fans will find it and fall back in love with the little purple ninja, while hardcore source material nerds will hate on it because … well … that’s what they do. I should know. I’m usually one of them.
3 out 5 sick sticks
In terms of big budget, over-the-top summer fun, conceptually you can’t get any better than director Guillermo del Toro’s slugfest Pacific Rim. With nerd culture booming out of control and society quickly adapting some of our most prized possessions (zombies, super heroes, giant robots fighting giant monsters, etc.) this film is hitting at just the right time. The buzz behind this film was crazy exciting sending geeks and nerds into fits of joy that … well … comes every time something new comes out … so … I guess it’s actually kind of normal in that sense … but … anyway.
Unfortunately, a drub leading man, a “paint-by-the-numbers” plot and a story that keeps getting in its own way stops this from being the amazing experience that it should be.
The basics of the story is actually simple. Big monsters come through a dimensional rift deep in the Pacific Ocean. These monsters, called Kaiju, are devastatingly brutal and smash/devour everything in their path. After tons of loss of life and resources, Earth’s governments unite and develop a new weapons program called Jaegers – giant robot vessels with a co-op fighting system. However, after years of successfully stopping the invading Kaiju, bigger, badder versions are coming through and mankind is falling way behind in the war.
Sound freakin’ amazing doesn’t it? Hell yes it does! Bulls-eye directly into my attraction template.
And for some of the film it is amazing. From the outstanding (although headache inducing in 3-D) fight scenes, the fantastic set and creature designs and some great gems hidden throughout (such as hearing Ellen Mclain voice the computer for the Jaegers) it’s extremely disappointing that, in the end, I just did not like as much as I should have.
Shout out to my buddy Tim who I can feel is starting to roll his eyes at me right about now.
With strong performances by Idris Elba playing the lead military muck-a-muck of the Jaeger program and Rinko Kikuchi as a designer and wanna-be Jaeger pilot, at it’s core, Pacific Rim is set up for success. While the rest of the cast are pretty bland filler – save for a very annoying Charlie Day (just playing a slightly more intelligent version of Charlie from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) and Ron Perlman - the stand-out performance (and this is not a positive) goes to Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as lead character Raleigh Becket. It is so cringe-inducingly poor that it ruined most of this film for me. Zero range of emotion and a complete lack of chemistry with anyone around him made it extremely difficult for me to relate or like him as a character. His monotone, scratchy voice was way more destructive than any of the Kaiju and sucked all of the fun out of almost all of his scenes. Watching his performance immediately reminded me of Taylor Kitsch’s turn as John Carter.
At the same time, as a del Toro film … I don’t know … I just didn’t expect it to be as generic as it was. From Chronos (one of my favorite vampire films of all time) to Pan’s Labyrinth to his two Hellboy films, del Toro’s unique perspective on genres has always grabbed me as a consumer and made his films special experiences. Yet … not here. After a very interesting opening sequence that sets everything up, all the plot pieces begin to automatically fall into place and you start to just know what’s going to happen. Oh, this happened, well then this person will do this. Oh that blew up, then this will happen now.
And that leads me to the story. Man does it get in its own way. Sure, there is a lot to get through. The Kaiju, the Jaegers, even the “mental handshake” that the co-op team needs to do in order to control the giant machines – yes, you need a lot of exposition to set up everything up – I get it … I don’t even mind it. But, when the film starts repeating itself and smashing the audience over the head with unnecessary nonsense, you just have to say enough is enough. For example, a major plot point concerning the Kaiju is so silly and so unneeded that the film goes from awesome to becoming the sequel to Independence Day that nobody wants or needs. We know the set-up, stop wasting time with stuff that does not matter. For spoiler-sake I won’t go into detail but a lot of time is wasted in the film.
With all that being said, clearly this movie is going to be a hit. Despite everything I’ve written, I did enjoy the film for what it was – a nerdgasm of monsters fighting giant machines. Everything about the Jaegers is fun and while highly stereotyped, the different versions and their presentation is like watching a comic book come to life (Michael Bay, take note, this is what Transformers should have been). Along with that, the Kaiju are pure monster bliss in every savage way possible. However, an extremely lacking lead actor and a cliché plot proves heavier than the weight of a Jaeger and nearly sinks this film for me.
3.5 out of 5 Swords … Just use the Freakin’ Swords
A Film Review of Despicable Me 2 by Alexander Morales
A funny thing happened in 2010 … a sweet, well-made animated comedy about a villainous do-badder with high hopes came on the scene and surprised the heck out of a lot of people. I remember liking the idea of Despicable Me, a new animated tale focusing on a villain but just thought … yeah OK. Then I saw it … and after wiping away the tears from laughter and falling for the daddy/daughter experience, I was hooked.
Fast forward three years and while I still have a warm place in my heart for Gru and his girls (mainly because the DVD is in regular rotation at my house) … maybe it would have been better just to leave this one alone.
In catching up with Gru, Despicable Me 2 finds him living the straight life, leaving villainy behind and trying make an honest name for himself. However that doesn’t last long when a super secret spy network of good guys (the Anti-Villain League or AVL) needs some extra help and considers Gru their best hope for success.
Ridiculously over-the-top cultural references and stereotypes about Mexicans aside, this film was pretty fun. Good voice acting, fun action and another semi-sweet storyline involving love all helped Gru sort of get his groove back. Helping immensely, the filmmakers (directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud) along with their writing team (Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul) promote the (clear fan favorites) Minions to the forefront and make them integral to the storyline which, in my opinion, helps save this secondary tale from suffering the sophomore slump.
Hearing Miranda Cosgrove (Margo), Elsie Fisher (Agnes) and Dana Grier (Edith) re-voice their parts which pulled on my heartstrings and Kristen Wiig’s animated version of one of her Saturday Night Live sketches was a great addition but hearing the semi-nonsensical blathering of the Minions put a permanent smile on my face that still comes back when I think of some of their hijinks.
I will say, however, that this film got a little boring in the middle. I’m usually complaining about the length of films, but in this case, I think it was less the length of the film and more the content. The movie does not suffer from a lack of stuff to look at – with the Minions doing funny things and so forth – but it’s clear that something is just … missing. In the first film, it was comforting to see how Gru as a character evolved into something new by the addition of the three little girls. He changed. His character’s motivations changed and thus he, as a character, moved the audience with him. This time around, Gru never really goes anywhere. Sure he becomes a spy, has a snazzy new partner and some shiny gadgets, but now he’s a good guy and while this film tries to make his new transition focus on a personal relationship, it just doesn’t resonate as much as in the previous film and thus he as a character is just not as interesting.
Luckily the Minions are there to pick up the pieces.
While not as clever or surprising as the first film, my daughter and I did enjoy the movie. The Minions are funny – laugh out loud funny – and a pet chicken adds some much needed comic relief in a few needed places. With the long, holiday weekend coming and kids out of school, Despicable Me 2 is a solid outing for family-friendly fun. Children are going to fall back in love with the Minions and enjoy their many misadventures. Parents beware, this too will be in regular rotation once out on DVD.
3.5 out of 5 Tortilla Chip Sombreros with a Guacamole Bowl on Top
Someone needs to write Bruce Willis a thank you for laying the groundwork in 1988 for the terrorist/ hostage movie genre. If it weren’t for his lone wolf character, John McClane, we wouldn’t have his never ending sequels to Die Hard or movies such as White House Down. He had set a pretty high standard in the industry by placing an average joe in an above average hostage rescue situation. Currently we have Channing Tatum and director Roland Emmerich (director of Independence Day, Godzilla) teaming up to either rip you off or pay homage to his work.
Not unlike the 1988 movie Die Hard, the 2013 White House Down takes our hero and places him in unbelievable situations where he kills several bad guys, survives multiple explosions and saves the day with no recourse to his actions. And, why not? It’s a summer action flick, don’t take it too serious.
Our hero is divorcee John Cale (played by Tatum), a Capitol Policeman, whose duty is to escort the Speaker of the House, Eli Raphelson (played by Richard Jenkins) and to chase squirrels from the Speaker’s bird feeder. Cale has a pretty bland existence but today is a big day for him. He gets an interview with the Secret Service, a dream job of Cale’s. He picks up his 11 year old daughter on his way to the interview so she can see the White House up close.
Meanwhile, the story is being set with President Sawyer (Played by Jamie Foxx), who is returning from the G8 peace summit. He envisions a world with peace in the Middle East, therefore eliminating the need for a large American defense contract.
Cale bombs his job interview and takes his daughter, Emily (played by Joey King), who is a political and White House junkie on a tour with a very humorous tour guide. We learn a lot about the White House’s history while on this tour. Every detail that we learn comes into play later on in the film.
It doesn’t take long before the terrorists show up on the scene. After exploding the Capitol’s rotunda. They make their way to the White House to capture the President. You would think that would be a difficult task because the Secret Service is there to protect the Commander in Chief. However, the terrorists have an inside track, they are working with the head of the Secret Service, Martin Walker (played by James Woods). He lets them into the White House with no real issue, only a very high body count.
Once the terrorists are in the White House it is up to Cale to not only save the President but also his own daughter. He is up against the stereotypical terrorist organization – they have a macho ex-military man, a computer hacker, and a psycho. There must be a store out there that sells these starter packages for building your own terrorist cell.
The movie takes a turn into the buddy/ cop genre quickly when Cale and Sawyer meet. They do work well off one another with Tatum’s bullet dodging sequences and Foxx’s reserved diplomat turned suburban gangsta personality.
All the while there is a back story developing in a bunker not far from the White House explaining the terrorists actions. We see Hollywood’s idea of what could possibly happen if the President did die and who would take over as the leader of the free world. It turns out that it is pretty easy for the Vice President to become President, they don’t even need a proof of death, if they see something blow up on TV that’s all the proof they need. We are just fortunate that we have President that can survive explosions several times over.
Should you see this movie? Well, have you seen “Die Hard?” The similarities were too much after a while. Here’s a short list – single dad vs terrorists, fighting terrorists shoe less, pulling glass out of the body, an armored vehicle attacking a building then being blown up, the hero being mistaken for a terrorist when fighting on a rooftop, helicopters coming in low over the city to blow up the terrorists, computer hacker easily breaking into an unbreakable computer system, and our hero stripping down to his undershirt to fight the bad guys.
All that aside, the movie is still a fun Summer action flick with plenty of cool one liners. If you have not seen the aforementioned film, a lot of this might seem relatively new to you. An additional note – for a PG-13 rating the body count is pretty high.
“I am interested in the eccentrics that are often in plain sight,” says Lyn Elliot, filmmaker and professor at the University of Missouri-
Kansas City. “So often there are people and objects that are part of our daily landscapes and daily lives that have something unusual, strange, or absurd about them, but we don’t stop to notice it.”
With short films, Elliot has discovered a means to share these treasures. In her latest short film, A Good Match, she explores what happens when a couple breaks up, but the young woman, portrayed by local actress Liz Golson, in the relationship still wants to be around her ex-boyfriend’s mother. Actress Nancy Marcy who plays the ex-boyfriend’s mother sees a hopeful message.
“What I wanted to do was take a character getting out of that narcissistic stage and realizing she is not going to be 25 forever. Instead, she starts noticing older women who have something to offer rather than simply being someone’s mom,” Elliot says. “This young woman realizes that she has found a woman who is satisfied with her life and could learn from her. Unfortunately, that can be tough when other relationships change. The joy is the connection the younger woman Ann has to Carol as the audience can see Carol as a person who is well-rounded. She’s a teacher, a church choir member and a friend.”
Elliot’s favorite scene comes in the park as the two women are sharing a walk and a conversation. “Ann asks Carol about how she decided on marriage. Carol says her life was good before marriage as a young woman starting off on a career. Hopefully the feeling conveyed
is that happiness does not hinge on being married, but that happiness comes from all sorts of positive connections made in life,” she says.
For Elliot, this short film marks her first film in Kansas City. She had almost the entire cast and crew from Kansas City. “I moved here almost two years ago for the job and found lots of outlets for my art.” She found the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City. A call for short films that might be featured at the annual arts luncheon spurred her to submit Another Dress, Another Button. The charming short stop-motion animation film drew attention earlier this year at the luncheon. The short can be seen at her website, www.lynelliot.com.
Another Dress, Another Button looks at the charming lives of spare buttons. “I wanted to give these forever-waiting buttons some activity.” Three women also share brief narratives about why they keep the buttons and what they mean. The film received awards at the Black Maria Film and Video Festival; James River Shorts; Humboldt Film Festival; and Kansas City FilmFest. There were also selected screenings at Maryland Film Festival, Florida Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, and 2012 Black Maria Film and Video Festival Tour.
“I also applied for an Inspiration Grant through the Arts Council. I used the funds for sound mixing, color correction and final touches to A Good Match.” The short film should make its way around film festivals. “I also plan to enter it into some of the regional festivals such as Tallgrass and the Kansas City Film Festival. The curated festivals are tough, but if you make it, you know your film had the right qualities. As a filmmaker, you start creating a positive reputation. That can help with future collaborations and future funding opportunities. For some, the creation of short films means you might think about a full-length feature. I don’t know if directing a feature is in my future, but I would like to write one.”
She also met some of the actors and other artists at the Artist INC program. This program focuses on coaching teaching artists in business skills such as marketing, finance, grant writing and more. Artist INC is taught by artists for artists and is appropriate for generative artists of all disciplines. Visual artists, musicians, film makers, dancers, performers, and writers come together for intensive work on the components of a viable and sustainable arts practice. “I got involved quickly when I moved to town. It has been such an inviting community,” she says. “I also joined the Kansas City Women in Film and Television and the Independent Film Coalition.”
Elliot grew up in Wellesley, Mass. Initially she jumped into English as a major. She read voraciously and wrote short stories. Then the filmmaking bug bit. She took a screenwriting class and then a video production class. After growing up and attending undergraduate school out east, she moved to the University of Iowa for graduate school. While working on her English degree, she started taking film production classes. She was treated basically as an individual working artist. “I suppose another way to say, I learned to value short-form filmmaking as an end in itself,” she says.
Because of her background with literature, Elliot starts with a script. “I have loved short stories since I was a kid. I have written many since my youth. None are published, but I see the start of the story that way. Sure I took screenwriting in college, but I look at describing the images first and foremost. Then I aim to surround myself with actors and crew with good visual imaginations.”
She taught undergraduate film and video at Penn State and since 2011, she has been a film and media arts professor in the communication studies department at UMKC. Elliot describes herself as an academic filmmaker. “I am fortunate to be in a university setting. I identify being an educator. I like to teach. I have been working on films for 15 years and I have evolved. I teach them about the skills that work for me, but I want them to make their own mistakes.”
Inspiration still comes from books and the little things around her that are often overlooked by others, Elliot says. “I still aim for the humor in life. I may think about examining something important, but it might be in the context of the little moments.”
Elliot’s next project will be a short animation in collaboration with co-director Nina Frenkel. “We are even creating a Kickstarter for the month of July that will help us employ some animators here.” The short animated film is called I Was a Teenage Girl, Apparently. “A found diary leads a grown woman to journey back in time to talk some sense into her former teenage self. It should be fun,” she says.
A Film Review of Man of Steel by Alexander Morales
Opening to great hype and a legion of future movie deals on its back is the Man of Steel, DC Comics’ Hail Mary pass to try and keep its film franchise relevant. Unfortunately, do to a Swiss cheese-like plot and cringe-inducing dialogue, this modern day Messiah falls well short to its potential.
Let’s start with the good. Henry Cavill as the title hero is fantastic. Cavill’s portrayal of Kal-El, Clark Kent/Superman is epically perfect and he both looks and plays the part the way it should be. Discretely humble, every moment he fills the screen you simply can’t take your eyes off of him. Every moment he is allowed to be “super” is breathtaking and it’s a shame that this film does not live up to his performance. At the same time, Antje Traue (Pandorum) is strikingly gorgeous as she is deadly. As the heavy’s right hand enforcer, Faora-Ul chews up the screen with her limited time and, next to Cavill, steals the show. I was smitten with her villainy.
Along with that, surprisingly Kevin Costner gives an emotionally strong turn as Jonathon Kent – Kal-El/Clark’s adopted father. I was both surprised and pleased to see such sweet exchanges between a boy and his father that I honestly felt a little teary-eyed during one scene in particular.
In terms of the special effects – wow! Superman flying has never looked this good and the massive amounts of destruction that occurs is spectacular. While more restrained in terms of his visual style for this film, Zach Snyder (300, The Watchmen) knows how to sculpt a scene. Substance … well that’s another thing.
Unfortunately, now it’s time to move on to the not so positive aspects. Pretty much everything else.
More “alien invasion” than super hero film, Man of Steel spends so much time setting itself up and jumping from one set piece to the next that it never really allows the audience to get comfortable. In some genres, this is a good thing. But not here. Instead of a simple roller coaster ride of entertainment, detail after monotonous detail is thrown at the audience making it difficult to just enjoy the film. Every moment leads back to the same father/son lesson, repeated over and over again throughout the hero’s lifespan while overly complicated DNA genetics crap buries the moments making the audience either irritatingly say “OK, I got it!” or “Who cares?”
The plot falls a part so easily that it is nearly laughable. Convenience is the best (and possible only way) to describe the story arc which works directly against how the the filmmaking team of Synder and Christopher Nolan (with writer David S. Goyer) described their motivations for the film. “A more realistic look” or some other buzz-filled quote was what we were promised but the delivered product was not even close. Yes, I know it’s a character based on a comic book, but nothing from the way military acts to even the mass destruction and death of thousands of people seems realistic or believable. Why was Lois Lane allowed on the ship? Oh, just so she can do that. Why is the ship over Metropolis? Oh, just so these characters can seem in harm’s way. It’s all just matters of convenience versus real motivations.
Speaking of Lois … what a waste! Not that Amy Adams does a bad job with what she is given, but she is never really allowed to be the Lois Lane fans would both expect or want to see. Sure, they give her a gun for part of it, but it’s not even close to enough. At the same time, Michael Shannon as General Zod is never really given the chance to be the badass he needs to be. Confused zealot is possibly the best way to describe him in the film and unfortunately, we’ve seen this before. Nearly the exact same character as Agent Nelson Van Alden from Boardwalk Empire, I expected to him to go into his spaceship and begin flogging himself for his sins.
However, the most glaringly negative aspect that can’t be denied is how much this film steals from the Matrix film franchise. With an art direction that looks stolen from Geof Darrows’ rejection pile from 1998 and the exact character template as Keanu Reeves’ Neo, Man of Steel is extremely lacking in the originality department. Babies get harvested by machines, Christ-like overtones (not even undertones) and a final fight scene that is such a complete retread that if Neo and Agent Smith were inserted into this film, you wouldn’t even notice. There’s even a machine that looks exactly like the squid-like robots that Superman has to fight near the end. Save for the near 60 minutes of explosions that Man of Steel pours into your eyeballs, this film falls just a short of its promised potential as Matrix: Revolutions. Other creative properties that were pick-pocketed include, but are not limited too Avatar, Invincible (the comic book which kind of stole from Superman but then was robbed for this film) and Alien.
Too long in terms of run time and too little in terms of substantial story, Man of Steel comes nowhere close to representing the 75 years of legendary character that DC Comics has built. Is it a better film than Superman Returns? Most definitely. Can it contend with Marvel’s wave of super hero films? Not really. Lacking fun and vibrancy, Man of Steel is as dull as the metallic black and grey color palette that overwhelms the film.
I will say, even with all of these negative aspects, I was still entertained. I can’t say enough about how Cavill and his performance and presence helped keep the film engaging. This really is impressive considering the lagging moments of boredom that occur and a character decision that the story has Superman make that is exactly the same thing that he is trying to stop Zod from doing. (No spoilers.)
Also – there is no reason to see this movie in 3D. Headache inducing hand-held camera work and nearly zero 3D effects make that a waste of money.
Overall, while nowhere near what we were hoping for, Man of Steel will probably still make its money. Flocks of people want to see this film and hopefully some of them enjoy the experience more than I did. Word on the street is that they are already fast tracking a sequel … so good for them. Bad for Superman aficionados. My heart skipped a beat when Clark wears both a Royals and University of Kansas shirt (Rock Chalk!) in the film, but that just wasn’t enough to win me over. Poor storytelling, heavy dialogue and a lack of originality kept this Man of Steel from being my summer movie hero.
3 out of 5 Flying Krypton Creatures
“Man of Steel” Saves Our Summer
By Jason Gregg
Ugh, it has been a brutal summer at America’s theaters. With expected blockbusters like the Hangover III, After Earth and Now You See Me filmed to impress us; they have fallen flat. We have been waiting patiently for a hero to rescue us (agreed we did get Iron Man 3 earlier this year), and to rise above our expectations letting us escape into a world of fantasy for a couple of hours. That hero comes in the form of Kal-El, er… I mean Superman/ Man of Steel/ Clark Kent. Call him what you will, he still gets the job done.
We begin with the birth of our hero Kal-El on planet Krypton. He is a special infant, since this is the first natural childbirth in centuries for the people of Krypton. After Kal-El’s birth, there is a violent coup by General Zod (played by Michael Shannon). We discover that Zod and Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe) were once friends but thanks to Zod’s coup, the line between them has been drawn. That’s OK because Jor-El doesn’t live long after his son is jettisoned into space to begin his new life on planet Earth (Well, Jor-El dies but not really, I’ll explain later). General Zod is soon arrested and his fellow collaborators are banished to space prison.
Director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer (who penned the stories for The Dark Knight trilogy) take a non-linear approach to Kal-El’s (played by Henry Cavill) life on earth. We see him as a grown man named Clark Kent, jumping from odd job to odd job, searching for an answer to who he is and where he comes from originally. For a drifter, he is totally ripped in the muscular sense. He has flashbacks to his childhood and how he learned to harness his strength, X-ray vision and desire for revenge. His earthly father, Jonathan Kent (played by Kevin Costner) and mother, Martha (played by Diane Lane) taught him how to be more human like.
Fortunately Clark’s journey’s leads him to the far north where the U.S. Air Force is uncovering a spaceship that has been trapped under ice for the last 20,000 years. A feisty young reporter from the Daily Planet, Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) is there to break the story. Clark eventually steals the ship and is reunited with the consciousness of his dead father (see I told you he wasn’t dead) who teaches Clark about his backstory and gives him a snazzy new suit with a bright red cape and big S on the chest (but on Krypton it’s not an S; it’s a symbol for hope). After a few attempts Clark learns to fly and it’s pretty darn cool to take a few minutes to watch him fly over different terrains. Sure, it’s all style and little substance, but who cares.
General Zod, after breaking free of his space prison, makes his appearance and with one shi, holds our entire planet of 7 billion people hostage while demanding that we release Kal-El to him. Clark is torn and seeks guidance at a local church, and in his moment of clarity, we see his Messiah moment complete with a stained glass image of Jesus Christ in the background. He realizes he must make a sacrifice for us.
And, sacrifices he does make, to the extreme. The rest of film truly his one long action packed fight after another. Lois comes to Kal-El’s rescue while aboard a spaceship and then Kal-El rescues her… quite a bit. And it goes on like this for a while. A long while – a fight destroying Superman’s hometown Smallville, Kansas (much love is given to our Jayhawks and Royals throughout the movie) and a good chunk of the fictional city Metropolis is ruined. A minor character even mentions that Superman saved them, even though half of their city is now rubble. There is fight after fight until the very end when truth and justice prevails, but not without us seeing Superman’s darker side.
Should you see this movie? Yes, it’s a solid piece of work with a great performance by Cavill who plays a quieter Superman. His dialogue is at a minimum compared to the rest of the cast, but with all that flying around and fighting, it’s hard to say much.
The story does not focus as much on the superhero fantasy but takes a science fiction approach to the plot with the reasons why General Zod his trying to destroy our hero. Many of the ships and textures used are reminiscent of War of the Worlds or the latest Star Trek films. While several of the scenes take place outside of earth’s atmosphere, we are still reminded that our hero is not an earthling but still has the characteristics of one of us.
Six. Can you believe it? Six? With a seventh already on the way. Yeah … for real.
Since 2001, Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner have been revving the engines of fans and taking audiences for rides in some of the fastest 10 second cars Hollywood could build and while the second film in the series suffered from a sophomore slump … there’s no denying that the filmmakers behind the Fast and the Furious franchise are living by the motto – “Go big or go home.”
While not nearly as good (surprisingly) as Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 is pretty damn entertaining. By bringing back Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent Hobbs and Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, this film is giving fans exactly want they want in their summer film fun – more, more, more. Of course, this film is not going to win any acting awards. Never. No way. But in knowing that, this movie can be appreciated it for what it truly is – a return to the macho, one-liner, testosterone fueled action-fests that are hardly ever done well anymore.
Quickly wrapping up the events of the first, second, fourth and fifth installments (skipping part three of course because Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift occurs after the events of all of the before-mentioned films) with a montage of scenes over a hip hop beat, everyone gets back on the same page. After pulling off the big heist from the last film, our heroes are all living the life, spending their riches and trying to move on from their criminal pasts. That is until Toretto has an encounter with Hobbs, learns that Letty is still alive and calls the team back in for an afternoon drive. Now, with Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Sung Kang (Han), Gal Gadot (Gisele) and Ludacris (Tej) all together, they can help Hobbs take down an international criminal (Luke Evans) and (possibly) get their records wiped clear and be able to return to American soil. Got it. Yeah, like a season of Scandal, this is soap opera goodness for gear heads.
Along the way, Gina Carano shows up, kicks some ass and shows why she is the baddest hot-chick on screen. And yes, I understand that in calling her a chick, I run the risk of getting punched really hard in the face by her … but that’s a risk I’ll take just to be near her.
This film is ridiculous. Not in the “were-they-trying-to-be-serious” kind-0f way, but overall in terms of the action, plot/story and character development. From the thuggish thievery of the first film to this international espionage tale, everything has grown exponentially over-the-top. Luckily, in this case, it kind of works … for the most part.
Things to consider before watching this film:
1. Physics do not really apply.
2. Everyone can take ass beatings that would kill an average person.
3. A quarter-mile race in a 10-second car takes about five minutes.
4. You will see gear shifting.
5. Who cares? Just have fun.
Super-charged muscle cars, bone-shattering wrecks and a tank are just the beginning. When the action is on, the movie really works. Put any of the characters behind the wheel of anything with tires or let them fight and it pops. Clearly, this cast is having fun. You can actually see Carano smirking through every fight scene showing off her skills. Where the movie fails … pretty much at all the quiet spots in between. While the cast does have good chemistry and there is some fun humor, the dialogue is cringe-inducing and the over-acting is silly at times. Luckily … who cares? It’s the Fast series. You’re not expecting Shakespeare. Just go with it. However, the run time is 20 minutes too long and I believe would have been a better experience if it was shorter. Cut out some of the excess and the movie would stay in gear longer.
While nowhere near the level of Fast Five, Fast 6 is still a solid addition to this guilty pleasure franchise. In my opinion, Tokyo Drift was the best – which also (interestingly enough) only included Diesel in a quick cameo role at the end – but with the addition of Johnson and growth of action in the last film, the franchise has grown with its audience and expanded into something more than street racers running from the cops. Pure cheesy goodness, fans will be excited with what they see and by connecting the dots throughout all six of the films, this oil soaked soap opera will get the one thing every summer movie wants – fans in the seats. While average in terms of scale when compared to the other big films coming out, I’m sure fans will not be disappointed.
3 out of 5 NOS canisters