Beyond the Lights (2014)


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.


Fire with Fire (2012)


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…

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Score = B

Seeking a friend for the end of the world (2012)

(Drama–Comedy-Romance / R)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  What would you do with less than a month to live?

Lorene Scafaria.  Ever heard of that name before?  Me neither.  She is the director and also screenwriter for this off-beat film.  She’s an up and coming triple threat—writer, actress, and singer– out of New Jersey.  Her work spans throughout a bit of television, theater, shorts and DVD releases, but this is her first official commercial outing involving her screenwriting and directorial talents.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a cynically comedic approach to the inevitable apocalyptic end of our planet; centered on the theme of love.  Dodge (Steve Carrell) is a nice guy with a safe job, in a safe apartment, with a safe wife.  Well, at least until news of the impending asteroid approaching earth seemed to “wake up” his wife, causing her to haul ass and never be seen again.   Dodge is a tad distraught about his wife just up and leaving, especially with only three weeks left before the end of the world.  However; Dodge is a bit of an internalized individual, so not much emotion is displayed about things until he befriends one of his neighbors.  Penny (Keira Knightley) is his neighbor from downstairs, with a “wicked case of hypersomnia,” and has just broken up with her boyfriend, Owen, (Adam Brody) and naturally finds herself crying out on the fire escape of our protagonist.  The two bond for a night and Dodge briefly talks about the one that got away (not the wife) before walking Penny to her door the next day, only to discover she’s had some of his mail for the last three years.  In that pile of mail was a letter from his long-lost love and Penny urges him forward to search for and be with the girl of his dreams during earth’s final days.

This film managed a unique combination of charm and raunchiness in the same breadth.  The charm was a man who sought the love of his life, in addition to the magic that happened with his new best friend.  The raunchy was mankind’s incessant need to go to extremes in the face of danger– whether that need be rioting or having a flat-out orgy at your friendly neighborhood restaurant—it tends to speak volumes at what most are really thinking behind that society-masked filter.  Everything moved along at a decent pace in addition to the actors’ performances capturing the essence of their characters.  Of course, can you really go wrong with Keira Knightly and Adam Brody (even though he was only in the movie for about five minutes) in your roster?  I think not!

Although the movie was not a box office smash, (most likely due to the lack of marketing) this film was a pretty decent ride from Ms. Scafaria. On the flip side, I would have liked to have seen more of Penny’s back-story in the movie.  Aside from meeting up with one of her old flames, Speck, (Derek Luke) her character felt a bit skeletal in terms of content.   Overall, I give Seeking a Friend for the End of the World a solid B for its comedic presence and the over arching theme of love conquering all… even a giant asteroid named Matilda.

Moonrise Kingdom

Score = B-

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

(Drama–Comedy-Romance / PG-13)

Review by: Kisho Wolfe

Logline:  Romance of the adolescent kind.

Set in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom is a story of two dissimilarly troubled youths who throw caution to the wind and travel up a coast in New England with only the “bare essentials.”  A handful of well-known talent is present in this film; Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand , Bill Murray, and even Tilda Swinton makes an appearance, as Social Services.  All of them, however, are little more than suggestive adult mandates to the focus and dialogue of the world seen through the eyes of “tweens.”

Suzy (Kara Hayward) is the “yang” to Sam’s (Jared Gilman) “ying” and is branded as a “slightly” disturbed child of sorts.  Her emotions are well under wraps for the most part and are typically only revealed when provoked.  Her parents are lawyers and the family is well off as they live their days in a sizable house/light house near the ocean.  Suzy spends most of her time watching the world through a pair of self-deemed, magical binoculars and reading fiction, which may give cause for her beliefs of the grass being greener on the other side of life.

Sam’s background is almost non-existent.   Other than the fact that he is an orphan and a Khaki Scout, the most interesting thing told about his life is the bit about his foster parents pretty much disowning him.

One day at a church play Suzy is performing in, she encounters the mysterious Sam when he wanders into the actors’ dressing room.  After a brief conversation about her costume, Sam is quickly shooed away when a coordinator enters and urges everyone to the stage.  In an era when texting and cell phones were wishful thinking, Suzy sends out a request for the Khaki Scout to write her and they become pen pals.  After a while it’s clear that both are unhappy with their current circumstances so they decide to “fly the coop” into the unknown together.  While Sam’s Khaki Scout skills are the saving grace of the young lovers, the film does well to avoid the illusion of twelve-year-old children having in-depth knowledge the likes of  grown adults.  Though there are a few key shots thrown in to make things interesting.

Moonrise Kingdom  is a film chock full of camera tricks of yester-year in the form of quick cuts, stiff zooms and at times comical lip syncing; all of which we can only hope were purposely done to compliment the mid-sixties atmosphere.  While the film felt aged as it was most likely intended, the long pauses throughout the film felt forced and seemed to negatively pull me back out of the film world, impatiently wishing they would get on with the next scene.  For the most part, the movie entertained at enough intervals to make it “OK” that I spent six bucks to view it, but not enough to make me ecstatic about it.