Beyond the Lights (2014)

Beyond-the-Lights-2014-movie-poster

Score = 5/5

(Drama/Romance/ PG-13)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  Sometimes a pause button is just what the doctor ordered.

I’m going to start out by praising the director/writer, Gina Prince-Bythewood. I’ve been a long-time fan of hers ever since she dropped Love & Basketball. Her major motion picture directing list isn’t a mile long, but what she lacks in quantity, she more than quadruples in quality; and you can’t really be upset at that.

Her directing style is something many drama/romance professionals should take note of.  She always does a phenomenal job of capturing the essence of each main character’s background and the overall atmosphere of a movie. Her movies always give you that sense of “being there,” and for me, that’s a heavy point.  I want to lose myself in the story and feel like I’m going through whatever is happening on the screen.

Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a young up and coming “it” girl in the music business and is right on the bubble of super stardom.  All she needs is that award winning album release to catapult her to the next level. Of course, the pressure of success and an overbearing mother/manager (Minnie Driver) tends to create a few speed bumps on the road. She also has the burning desire to be her own artist rather than the artist others want her to be, which weighs heavily on her shoulders

Kaz (Nate Parker) is a young police officer moving up the ranks and following in his father’s footsteps.  He’s on the path of

Kaz and Noni

Kaz and Noni

politics and his father (Danny Glover) isn’t too thrilled about his son’s current romantic interest having the potential of derailing his future.  Kaz sees Noni’s dilemma, or better yet, understands her in depth while others can only grasp the surface.  He has no choice, but to follow his instincts and lend her his strength in her hour of unsteadiness.  Of course he’s also smitten by her.  He’s a man of morals and isn’t one to turn a blind eye to things he disapproves of.  He has to make it right.

This movie runs at such a great pace that you don’t even notice it’s over 2 hour run time.  Each seen is crafted in a way that you remain interested.  Once the initial big event happens early on, you’re hooked in as the love story unfolds and we see our heroine blossom from a caged black bird to one that is flying free.  Even though it seems this girl has it all, we root for her throughout the entire movie and cheer for her to finally stop trying to appease others and find herself in the process.

The acting was on point for everyone in the movie, which boosted the experience up a few notches.  Gugu and Nate have great on-screen chemistry which sells the love story.  Minnie delivers a nice performance as the mother who pushes her daughter to the brink.  Even the guy playing Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly, don’t worry, I haven’t heard of him either, but he must have some kind of rapping chops if Diddy signed him a few years ago) does pretty well.  Although, I’m not so sure I can call a rapper acting as a rapper, true acting so…

Love, escapism, self-discovery and heroism are great themes, and all of them are represented in Beyond the Lights.  Reality happening behind the scenes is inevitable in all aspects of life.  It always seems to be the accent point of anyone in the public’s eye thanks to the media’s hungry search for dirt.  This movie does an excellent job of taking us through one woman’s journey on a path to spread her wings with the help of her very own personal hero by her side.  Any movie that has me itching to hit the replay button as soon as it’s over is definitely a good sign.

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Furious 7 (2015)

Furious7Score = B+

(Action, Thriller, Crime)  PG-13

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: “Cars dont fly, Dom!”

Movie euphoria.  That’s the first thing that came to mind after watching Furious 7. By no means does it indicate a perfect movie, but it does mean you will not be bored watching it.

The movie kicks off its one hundred and thirty seven minutes with an adrenaline pumping fight between Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).

Shaw and Hobbs dukin' it out.

Shaw and Hobbs dukin’ it out.

Talk about setting the stage.  If you watched the extra scenes at the end of the 6th movie, you know that Deckard was responsible for the death of Han (Sung Kang).  Of course, if you didn’t watch the 3rd Furious movie then you’re probably lost as to how Han ended up flipped upside down and trapped in the car in the first place, since Deckard had nothing to do with that part. Yup, the order of the movies is not exactly chronological, but the writers did a half way decent job of mashing them together.

Like many insane action flicks, the plot in this one is razor thin, but it is just enough to give us some foundation for checking out the movie in the “second” place. 🙂   Deckard is seeking revenge for the Furious team’s involvement in permanently crippling his brother Owen (a government agent gone bad) during their London antics in the 6th movie, which apparently takes place before the 3rd movie that is Tokyo Drift.  Again, you’ll have to watch them all to figure out the time lines.  I think 4,5 and 6 all happened prior to the 3rd one.  Most likely has something to do with having the original crew back together after the 2nd and 3rd movies had some…issues.  Deckard — who is also a European ghost assassin badass — is ultimately hunting down our Furious team and ends up in the states to take everyone out of commission.

There are a couple subplots so as not to make the movie too simple in delivery. The team ultimately looks to turn the tide and hunt down Deckard with a hacker device dubbed God’s Eye.  It has the ability to pretty much hack any digital device with a camera or microphone and locate anyone anywhere on the planet.  Of course retrieving this device is easier said than done, since it was stowed away in a hard drive and unwittingly sold to a trust fund chap out in Abu Dhabi. The pieces connected to this subplot seem more like time filler aspects than actual necessary elements, but the great action happening –flying cars– and other elements make up for it.

The remaining subplot dealing with Brian’s (Paul Walker) turmoil and life changes is more directly tied to the series and makes perfect sense.

Brian and Mia

Brian, Mia, baby Jack and Dom

His relationship with Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) and taking it to the next level with the family situation was a great set up to the end of the movie.  The writers were absolutely on point with Paul’s mental struggle to let go of his dodging bullet days and settle down with a wife and kids.  I also spent a nice portion of the movie wondering how they were going to end his character due to Mr. Walker’s untimely death, and I was pleasantly surprised at how they did it. There may have been a tear or two… Maybe.

flying car

Look ma! No wings!

The best part of a Fast and Furious movie is non other than the insane car chases and stunts.  This is ultimately the reason some of us adrenaline junkies watched the series, right?  Well that and to see some sweet rides grace the screen at 200mph. Some of the stunts like flinging a super car through penthouse windows (yes multiple) a few dozen stories up were pretty sick and reminded me of the old Knight Rider days.  Had to stow the excitement in the theater on that one.  Felt like a roller coaster!

There were a few cameos in the movie.  Some greatly welcome, others… not so much.  Iggy Azalea’s performance can be summed up in one word…”Why?”   Ronda Rousey’s two minutes of screen time wasn’t all bad.  She did well in the fighting scene.  Although her actual speaking parts were a tad rough (to put it nicely).  I also wasn’t too thrilled with the dress they put this otherwise lovely (when she smiles anyway) woman in.  The dress and the way they styled her hair made her look bloated and didn’t show that chiseled figure she has.  Didn’t do her justice at all.  And then there’s Kurt Russell. Freakin’ KURT RUSSELL!!  Damn I’ve missed this guy in movies.  Sure he’s gettin’ up there in years just like the rest of us, but once he puts on those sun glasses, he’s still got the swagger. Acting chops are still in tact as well!

Furious 7 delivers the high octane goodness that one expects from the series. Even though the acting and cheesy points — like everyone apparently having Teflon skin and walking away from these insane car crashes with nothing more than a scratch — are down right laughable at times, it’s good to know that the seventh installment still manages to not take itself too serious and keeps us entertained.

I give this one a B+.

And this hottie’s in the movie.

Nathalie Emmanuel

Nathalie Emmanuel

Just wanted to put her picture in, ‘cause she’s hot.  Chow!

TOP FIVE (2014)

Top Five 600x938

Score = C

TOP FIVE (2014)

(Comedy/ R)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  Redman, Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, Royce Da 5’9”, Jay-Z, and Drake for my 6th

That logline has more to do with the movie title than the movie title has to do with the actual movie.  Get all of that?  Usually a title gives you some sort of insight or has a smidge of relevancy to what you’re about to embark on, but unfortunately the creative minds here thought otherwise.  Although I imagine the movie title was probably the brain child of one or two co-producers (Jay-Z, Kanye West) on the movie rather than the lead actor and writer, Chris Rock.  Just a guess…

Chris rock is our leading man in this comedy to close out 2014.  He plays the part of a stand-up comedian turned highly successful movie star who desires to switch gears from being a funny man to a serious actor.  In the midst of releasing his new serious movie with a serious message, he’s also on the cusp of a high profile marriage to be aired on a live television reality show.  Our lead actress in Top Five is the beautiful Rosario Dawson, who plays a reporter who is tasked with shadowing our funny… err ex-funny man around for an exclusive interview.

The movie watches like a biography into our protagonist’s past and we are taken on a journey of seemingly random moments in his life which brought him to his current mindset.  It also centers on the fact that he used to be an alcoholic and its effect on his decision not to do comedy anymore.  He regrets his role in making the uber popular “Hammy the Bear” movies and things come to a boil since all everyone wants to know is when the fourth movie is coming out rather than the new path he’s chosen to move his career into.

There are a number of cameos in the film from previous generation comedians.  Cedric the Entertainer, Jerry Seinfeld and even Whoopi Goldberg make an appearance, just to name a few.  Most of them were only on screen for a few minutes, but it was definitely enough to warrant nostalgia of a stronger comedic era than the current one.

Top Five is a comedy for those familiar with the 90’s and maybe even the 80’s.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also doesn’t seem to be a good thing either for this particular film.  It has a couple of cringe worthy shocker parts that seem to be obligatory in today’s comedy movies, and of course there are also laugh out loud moments. (After all, Chris Rock is a good comedian in general.) I just can’t say this movie, released at this time, in this day and age was truly an enjoyable experience throughout the majority of the 102 minutes.  Maybe if it was released in the early 2000’s?

I give Top Five a grade of C.  It was an “OK” movie.  Plus, how many movies do you see the legendary Ben Vereen in these days?

Ben Vereen

Ben Vereen

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians small

Score = B

(Adventure-Action–Sci-Fi / PG-13)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  “Dance off, bro!”

You ever just feel like being entertained for a few hours?  Or maybe just feel like kickin’ back with a good movie and havin’ a little “me” time?  Well Guardians of the Galaxy allows you to do just that.

Let me start by noting what this movie does NOT do.  It does not provide you with a love story, nor bog the experience down with some long drawn out moral cause that ends up making you hate your life because you — just like the rest of us — color outside of the lines at times.  Although it does hint at both to make things interesting; and that’s quite alright.

What Guardians does encompass is a heavy dose of action and comedy. Rocket (the raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) heads up the comedy by successfully throwing out zingers at the crew and occasionally himself at just the right moments to keep things light.  Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is our main protagonist, and his occupation is an intergalactic black market dealer.  He gets paid to acquire things that others want, but for one reason or another are unable to obtain these items themselves.  His latest job has him gathering a particularly powerful orb that seems to be a hot commodity on the black market.  So hot that he almost dies gathering it, as well as almost dying a second time trying to collect the money for it.

Our antagonist, Ronan (Lee Pace) is also tasked with finding this strange orb by an all powerful being, Thanos.  Of course once he discovers the contents of the orb, Ronan switches the plan and wants to keep the prize for himself just like any respectable villain should.  He stays true to the evil mastermind guidebook in wanting to destroy everything and everyone for some unspecified reason, which I think is this movies weak point.  I haven’t read the source material from the comics and all, but I’m thinking the screen writers could have added maybe five to ten minutes of background story to give us a solid sense of meaning behind this guy’s motives for wanting to destroy the universe.

The rest of the guardians round out with the over-literal Drax (Dave Bautista), a sentient tree who calls itself Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Gamora the assassin ( the always lovely wear-any-color-of-paint-in-a-movie-and-still-look-good Zoe Saldana).  Everyone brought their A-game so It was a blast watching each character on the screen.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy flies off of the screen with a solid B in my book.  It has good sci-fi action and a comedic story with just a smidge of drama to anchor things down before getting back to the good stuff.  Other than giving us a peak into the antagonist’s motives behind his actions, this movie gives us just what we want out of an easy Sunday afternoon; entertainment.

Sean Gunn

Sean Gunn

Oh yeah, and I thought it’d be worth mentioning that this guy is in the movie for a little bit.  Haven’t seen him in anything solid since Gilmore Girls, (yes Gilmore Girls, it’s a damn good show…watch it!) well, at least not anything in my viewing circle. Then again, maybe I need to expand my horizons.  🙂

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014)

 

Toothless and Hiccup

Score = A

(Animation-Action–Adventure / PG)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

LoglineA Chief always protects his people

 Hiccup is a young Viking of adventure.  He’s always on the go in search of undiscovered lands to add to his map, because as we all know; there’s always something more out there.  But, he’s the son of a chief, and with that comes responsibility.  That responsibility includes being groomed to one day take over the duty of looking after the townsfolk.  Although he seems reluctant to even think about his destiny, there is always someone else willing to accept the job.

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is considered The Dragon Master in the town of Berk.  If it wasn’t for his uncanny ability to domesticate dragons in part one of the series, the town would still be at war with these wonderful beasts.  Unfortunately for the dragons, he’s not the only one with wrangling abilities.

Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) is a dragon master of a different breed.  Rather than earning a dragon’s trust and friendship, he uses fear and intimidation to demand their loyalty.  And why, you ask?  To build an army of course; even if it means tearing through the town of Berk to achieve this.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 the crew small

Look at those cute faces. How could you not want one. 🙂

The movie is penned by Canadian screenplay writer Dean Deblois, who is also responsible for a little gem called Lilo and Stitch.  The material for the ‘Dragon series movies was adapted from the books written by talented Londoner Cressida Cowell, who has an impressive collection of children’s books under her belt in addition to the How to Train Your Dragon series.  And with the number of source material we have here, I think this series might actually give Mrs. Rowling’s famous wizard a run for his money in terms of books to movie conversions by the same author, in the same series; especially if the movies keep turning out as good as the first two.

There is just not enough room on this page to really discuss the many things this movie gets right.  Vocal talent and delivery, check… Cate Blanchet, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, etc.  It’s like a smorgasbord of well-known talent on this project.  Striking visuals, check.  The personalities and traits of each dragon are portrayed so well through the animation, you will definitely want one by the end of the movie.  Story, double-check.  Comic, love and tragic elements to play with the gamut of human emotions, triple check.  In fact, it’d be easier for everyone to note what was NOT perfect in the movie.  And even then, it’s only with a trained eye that I’m even mentioning it.  That rough little culprit would be the lip syncing.

There were a number of points during the movie when the animation on the lips just didn’t quite line up with the words being heard through the speakers.  I’m thinking maybe the animators on lip-sync duty may have possibly been on a time crunch and didn’t have a chance to put the fine polish on some of those vowels for better sound to visual integration.  But again, I’m not sure how obvious this is to an untrained eye, and it by no means disrupts the enjoyment of the movie.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a straight up solid film and is right on par with the first movie in terms of quality.  This one scores an A for a positively delightful way to spend a couple of hours out of your day.

Maleficent (2014)

maleficent main small

 

Score = B

Maleficent (2014)

(Action–Adventure / PG)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: Sleeping Beauty; the other truth

 Maleficent is a fairy, but not just any fairy.  She’s the strongest fairy among the Moor folk.  In Disney’s latest film we get a snippet of her childhood, which consists of growing up parent-less in a forest brimming with all types of non-human beings.  As strange as this seems, it succeeds in revealing a new depth to the character’s psyche.  We see that she wasn’t always the queen of all evil portrayed in the tales of old.  She was actually a sweet and caring young fairy.  She first appears in the movie in what looks to be her pre-tween years (in human time tables), and it still tugs at my brain to see how mentally developed she was at such a young age with no formal guidance.  I guess some fairies are just smarter that way.

Maleficent Faries small

Thistletwit (Juno Temple), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Lesley Manville (Flittle)

As intelligent as the younger Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) was, there were still many lessons she needed to experience first-hand to truly understand; and one of them was a lesson in love.  Her first sniff at this powerful emotion happened during her young age when she met the human boy, Stefan (Michael Higgins) invading her domain.  Although she told him it was dangerous to be in the forest, he threw caution to the wind and revisited her throughout the years which sparked an emotional connection between the two.  There was a non-essential scene where they showed the main characters as teens, but if you blinked, you missed it.  I’m guessing it was an attempt at transitioning to adults, but I’m thinking it would have been better to extend the story showing them as youngsters.  Either that or have something more significant happen while in their teen years.

Time passes and both are now adults.  The adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) has higher priorities on his list and has been absent from the forest for some time.  One of those priorities includes becoming the next king; by any means necessary.  King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) is not thrilled at being thwarted in his attempts to go deeper into the forest by the now infamous Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), and the ailing king presents an opportunity for Stefan’s dreams to come true.  The cost to be the boss?  Kill Maleficent.

Angelina Jolie does an excellent job in the retelling of Maleficent.  As expected, her acting prowess carries the movie forward with excellent timing and just the right amount of cynical delivery that makes her character pop on the big screen. As a small caveat to the previous sentence, I do think her gut wrenching, “I’m in the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life” chops need a bit of work.   Copley’s acting is quite the opposite to our heroine.  A great percentage of his acting and line delivery seemed struggled and awkward.  At times it even felt as if he forgot his lines while the camera was running before finally blurting out an ill-timed sentence.  Sam Riley had great chemistry along-side Jolie as her side-kick, Dival.  Their banter definitely kept things a bit light during movie.  Screen veterans Kenneth Cranham and Imelda Staunton were great to watch on-screen and right at home in their roles as well.  Isobelle Molloy also made a great Young Maleficent, which definitely portrayed the surprising side of our protagonist.

Maleficent Aurora-creature small

Ellie Fanning as Aurora

Sleeping Beauty is our silent hero without being the hero in this movie; if you catch my drift.  If not, you’ll get it when you watch the movie. *Wink-wink.* No spoilers, my friend.  We see her at two younger ages; one of them including Angelina’s real daughter, Vivianne, before the teenage version played by Ellie Fanning.  I always find it interesting when actors put their young’uns in films.  It makes you wonder if their child will follow in their parents footsteps and do as great a job.  No pressure!

There are always three sides to every story:  The protagonist’s side, the antagonist’s side, and what really happened.  Since 1959 we’ve been reminded of the human version of this good versus evil tale.  Over half a century later, we’re finally treated to the other side of the story.  I have to admit, I have always sensed there was more to the story than meets the eye.  I mean, come on, hexing the king’s daughter due to being snubbed from a celebration is a tad extreme.  Gives a new meaning to a scorned woman, right?

This years Maleficent was a good time.  Small blips like stiff flying in some CG scenes and Shalto’s acting didn’t deter the movie from being an enjoyable hour and a half.  I give Maleficent a solid B.

Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2010, JAPAN)

time traveller 2

Score = A-

(Sci-Fi/Adventure/Romance/Foreign)  Not Rated (PG if I had to put a stamp on it)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  Time travelling with a side of heart-strings on board.

This film struck a number of nerves…and ninety percent of them were all good!  Time Traveller is a foreign film released in Japan a few years back.  It’s based off of a novel written by Yasutaka Tsutsui in 1967, but was first published in Japanese youth magazines years before that.  The story is old people.  But, this is a testament of what happens when great story telling is put together properly with nice scenery and excellent acting. (Riisa Naka’s performance was like inhaling the scent of cherry blossoms on a cool, breezy day–refreshing.)  The story has had many adaptations through live-action film, anime, short stories, and even television throughout the years.  Looks like people really enjoy it, eh?

This particular iteration of the story deals with the daughter, Akari (Riisa Naka) of the well-known main character of the original, Kazuko (Narumi Yasuda).  Akari has just passed an exam and well on her way to following in her mother’s foot-steps in the world of science.  These two have a great bond and it’s only natural that they celebrate together.  Akari’s birthday is near and Kazuko receives a mysterious note from her brother which strangely enough, makes her start having flashbacks and day dreams at random times.  One such time happens to put her in the hospital by way of a car accident and lands her in a coma.  She comes out of the coma long enough to tell her daughter about a man named Kazuo and tasks her with going back in time to deliver a message to him.

At first glance, Time Traveller seems a tad too cheesy for a film that was made in the last three years.  I will admit, I almost started to check for another movie after the first fifteen minutes, but it kicked into gear after the set-up.  Director Masaaki Taniguchi blends new age environments and settings to old-school camera close-ups and dramatic lingers.  But, as the film goes on, these techniques, along with others, actually blend perfectly to obtain the desired effect of its world.  Tight quarters are prominent throughout the apartments and the film reflects this thanks to the shots and angels.  There were a few moments when I felt myself scrunching my body closer together at the utter lack of space in Ryota’s (Akinobu Nakao) apartment.  When a movie can make you physically react to something happening on-screen, well that’s just good directing right there!

Time Traveller is more than just an adventure.  A solid love story on two fronts unfolds during the movie and achieves the rare sync of multi-layered plot lines that most other movies just can’t seem to get right.  The over-arching theme of what/why Kazuko needs to get a message to this mysterious man during an earlier time in her life and the truth about what really happened with Akari’s actual father, cleverly unfold during the movie.  Add Ryota’s connection with a few members of Akari’s family and the type of relationship that may or may not be happening between the two of them and you’ve got a triple threat of genius.

The scenery is also nicely done in the film.  The majority of everything dealing with different time periods is creatively on point.  Everything from modern technology in 2010 to city blocks/building setups and cars circa 1974 look good.  Even our glance, albeit very brief glance, into the 2600’s get the mind thinking about what if…  With that said, my slight peeve with this film actually involves the on-screen imagery.  There are a few inconsistencies that pop up, but are not enough to ruin the movie.  (I won’t mention them, because if you’re like me, you’ll start waiting for the moment to come up on-screen instead of enjoying the movie)  Now, if there were a bunch of them, then it wouldn’t matter because they would ruin the film themselves.

Time Traveller is a random movie I decided to watch when the appetite craved something a little different, and it inadvertently ended up being the best romance movie I’ve watched in years; and it isn’t even a rom-com! (Yes, there are comedy moments.) Aaaand it has sub-titles! (I usually hate sub-titles.)  I definitely recommend this movie to anyone who wants something a little different and happens to like their romance with a little bit of sci-fi flava.  Tastes gooooood!