Beyond the Lights (2014)

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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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Django Unchained (2012)

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Score = B

(Action/Drama/Western) Rated-R

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline: Pass me that gun…I’ve got a wife to collect.

Set in the 1800’s, Django Unchained takes place two years before the civil war.  Slave trading was big business and plantation owners held all of the power.  Django(Jamie Foxx) knows all about slavery, having being born into it and all.  His slave destiny is altered by Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Walz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter, who recruits him to assist in collecting a sizeable bounty.  Given his current circumstance, it’s a no brainer to assist the good doctor in hunting down a few criminals he happens to be very familiar with.

Django is not your typical western.  Then again, maybe it is if we consider the concept of revenge in movies.  This western, however, keeps the focus on a slave who happens to take advantage of his lucky break and become the hero we expect him to be…all in the name of love.  And who wouldn’t do whatever it took to rescue not only a wife we actually loved, but also one as beautiful as Kerry Washington?  All of us should be so lucky as to find a spouse we’d move heaven and earth against all odds to rescue.

Quentin Tarantino does a good job in making our protagonist smart, but not all knowing as apparent in his struggled reading and vocabulary bank.  The progression of Django as a wild, timid slave from the beginning of the film to a hero brimming with consciousness and gusto toward the end felt smooth and on point.  We also felt Django’s struggles throughout the film by way of his explosions and at the same time massive restraint during critical points.  The anticipation of this guy flipping out and shooting everyone was a bit of the magic that kept you glued to your seat for the near three hour movie experience.

But, the movie doesn’t really feel like three hours.  The story is interesting enough and includes a good deal of subtle and not-so-subtle moments to keep you focused.  I like the fact that there is almost always some sort of meaningful action happening during the movie, even when we are in plot revealing sequences.  Mr. Tarantino has definitely evolved since the days of Reservoir Dogs in terms of static imagery.  (That film felt like chewing a stick of gum—good when it starts, but so draining from the chewing that you’re glad to spit it out.)

All in all, I give Django Unchained a strong B.  Not exactly an “A” due to the simple fact that Quentin likes to over use certain expletives throughout some of his films.  A few times here and there is fine for effect, we get it.  But dropping the “N” bomb enough times to make it the stand out word throughout the entire friggin film is a tad much buddy; retro-metro western or not!

Fire with Fire (2012)

Fire-with-Fire

Score = D

(Action/Crime/Drama/ R)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  Sure there’s a fire, but without the blaze.

A neighborhood hero in the form of a fire fighter has life figured out.  A good job, good friends, and his pick of lovely ladies .  One morning after a successful fire dousing, he and a few co-workers hit a convenience store before heading home.  Our protagonist (Josh Duhamel) goes in solo while his buddies supposedly go across the street for something else.  Of course something serious is about to go down when a pair of thug looking fellows enter the establishment.  More than a robbery unsettles the convenience store as our hero witness’s murder, up close and personal.  Barely escaping with his own life, he’s now faced with a moral dilemma of testifying against the murderer, an Aryan supremacist (Vincent D’Onofrio), or turning the other cheek to protect anyone he even remotely considers a friend.

Coerced into doing the right thing by a local detective (Bruce Willis) with personal stake in convicting the killer, he’s placed under witness protection and relocated.  The obvious plot point kicks in gear as the court date approaches and the killer starts making good on his threats, causing our hero to change gears from the hunted to the hunter, so-to-speak.

Fire with Fire struggles in a number of areas.  One in particular would be the lack of tension building throughout the movie.  There are a lot of tense moments in the action, but there are also plenty of missed opportunities to build up to their proverbial money shots.  The director seemed to try to shock the viewer with a “surprise” attack here or “fill-in-the-blank” connection there.  Sure some things were obvious, such as our hero’s love affair with a U.S.  fire-with-fire-movie-image-josh and-rosarioMarshal (Rosario Dawson), or the local detective’s extreme hate for the murderer; but we never really get a chance to witness the love affair’s inception or any real history of much in the film to become emotionally invested in the character’s stories.  A mark of a great film maker/story-teller is the ability to make the viewer care about the characters they are spending time with, and this film doesn’t quite make that happen.

Follow-through was also a part of the missing link to this film.  What was the resulting effect on the gang war that was brewing?  What was the outcome of his friend?  Did the U.S. Marshal get her ass chewed out for ultimately being stupid more than once during the film?    Is our hero safe or is there retaliation by the brotherhood for his actions???  No follow-through, just a bunch of unanswered questions.  Fire with Fire is a movie with a solid core, but lacks supporting features to strengthen that core.  The overall general surface ambiance is hard to miss with all the “window shopping” of potential stories throughout the movie.  Action, thriller, drama, crime, romance; the film wants to be all of these things, but severely shoots itself in the foot with potential motives and minuscule execution.  With a plot driven script such as this, maybe it would have benefited the movie makers to focus on one or two of these avenues, rather than trying to make an all-inclusive movie to make for better story telling.  On a final note, this is a straight to DVD concoction, and the box-art succeeds in rounding out all things brain boggling.  Mr. 50 Cent is in the movie for about five minutes with less than a spec to his script and without poppin’ a single cap.  His subordinate in the movie, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson’s role is larger than his.  So why the hell is he on the cover art instead of our villain? Wonder how much he paid for that one.  SMH…