Cartel Land (2015)

The crowd in a tiny Mexican town called Apo chants, “The people, united, will never be defeated!” They’re following the leadership of Dr. Mireles, their humble doctor of the town. So many of their family members have been killed by the drug cartel, they are heart-sick and defeated. The people are done being pushed around.

Cartel Land (2015)
R | 1h 40min | Documentary | 3 July 2015 (USA)

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman examines the state of the ongoing drug problem along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Director: Matthew Heineman
Stars: Tim Nailer Foley, José Manuel ‘El Doctor’ Mireles, Paco Valencia

This documentary was extremely enlightening about what goes on in one part of a border town in Mexico, and probably many others. You witness first-hand scenes shot with modest camera crews. You don’t see any kill shots but you know they are there between the cuts. The director, Matthew Heineman, has created a powerful set of moving images and sound. We are not shown what to believe about the drug problem but rather given data to make our own conclusions.

This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. You meet these people involved. What’s surprising is that only a few of them have their faces covered. It’s as if they live in a native sense where they can’t comprehend any danger that could come from the media. Their danger is right here.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, it’s a bit fatalistic and I always look for solutions. Having said that, I’ve never lived in this town. They are fighting against these gang-like forces and the government for their very lives. For a raw look at what is happening in this situation, I recommend this film. As of 7/8/2017 it is streaming on Netflix.

9/10

Baby Driver (2017)

This film has done extremely well at the box office. It’s an exciting tale of a young man with an interesting history and an uncanny talent for driving a getaway car. I’d be remiss to not mention there is some great music in the background here.

Baby Driver (2017)
R | 1h 52min | Action, Crime, Music | 28 June 2017 (USA)

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm

The director had this idea for quite some time before it became a film. I always enjoy movies where the director had a long term vision he fought for. Before this film, his accolades include Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013), made with recurrent collaborators Simon Pegg, Nira Park and Nick Frost. While still in the prime of his career, he has proven he is a capable director.

The casting was effective but perhaps one of the weaker aspects. Kevin Spacey sort of worked as the killer boss who grows a heart. We needed more hate for Baby from Jamie Foxx, that could have saved his impression with me. The actor who played “Baby,” Ansel Elgort, is 23 but appears to be much much younger in his skinny jeans and RayBans. I think some younger viewers will identify with his character because he is in fact so young looking and doing such a crafted thing as driving a getaway car. It’s fantasy on so many levels.

I loved the choice to cast Lily James. She is the most normal, well developed, character in the film. And mind you, there is very little character development here: it’s a car chase film.

The story is, in a shortened way, that a boy is an orphan and learns to drive really really well. Then he becomes a getaway driver. Then he wants out and meets a waitress. He doesn’t get out. There are several heists and exhibitions of speed. He gets arrested. The girl dotes on him. The boy gets out. His name is not really Baby (big surprise) it’s Miles and the movie ends in a dreamlike sequence of Miles driving off into the sunset with the girl.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really had fun watching this film. I was actually surprised how much I liked it, the title was a little off-putting. There are lots of car chase movies out there and as time moves forward there are likely to be more. This is a cool movie. I don’t know if it’s as “special” as a lot of people are saying. It is probably because some scenes are synchronized to the music and that is undeniably cool. The story of the protagonist was lacking for me, I didn’t buy in. I didn’t like most the songs chosen and I felt the bad guys were miscast. Those aren’t important issues though, this is a winner film. If you go for a fun car chase and heist film, you’ll get your money’s worth. I recommend it.

7/10

The Devil’s Candy (2015)

Some horror movies are great for a sleep over when you’re in high school but aren’t very deep for discussion. This is one such film. It has creepiness and some jump scares (not too many) and it works on that level. As a serious horror movie however, it doesn’t make my grade. It’s just ok.

The Devil’s Candy (2015)
Not Rated | 1h 19min | Horror | 17 March 2017 (USA)

A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas, in this creepy haunted-house tale.
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Stars: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince

This film is directed by Sean Byrne. He is from Tasmania. He has a strong background making films such as The Loved Ones, a horror movie involving power drills. film shorts and commercials and has received much acclaim for creating this film. Still, it isn’t a massive scale film most young directors hope for. He does show much promise though in this film so I await what he does next with enthusiasm.

Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince are the top three actors in the film and they are a stronger feature than the story in my opinion. Embry is known from films like Sweet Home Alabama. He has that all American boy look but in this film, he is a hessian metalhead, trying to be a good guy but failing. Appleby landed a huge role in the reality series Unreal. She is well cast in this film because her eyes always look scared, stressed, and sad. Pruitt Taylor is from Mississipi Burning. He looks psycho, in this film he is psycho, or possessed or both.

The basic story line here is the possession of a painter who lived in a home. A couple moves in and he comes back seeking the will of the devil who lives in the house. It’s an ok horror movie. IT has some thrills and it;s nice to see these actors’ faces. Because I would not see it again, I’m grading it down to a 6/10 which isn’t failing.

6/10

Following (1998)

Long before Christopher Nolan directed the Dark Knight, he created a sleepy noir film called Following. He definitely has a lot of us following him now and it all started with this first visionary film of his. This is streaming now on Metflix.

Following (1998)
R | 1h 9min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller | 5 November 1999 (UK)

A young writer who follows strangers for material meets a thief who takes him under his wing.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell

Plot
This is a film with a very odd beginnng. A man is questioned as to why he follows people and he responds that it is a fixation. He isn’t out to hurt anyone, he just follows people. If that isn’t creepy enough, he does get into stealing and harming people when a criminal he is following decides to teach him his ways. What ensues after that is the meat of this movie.

My Thoughts
The actors are all excellent. I found it more interesting to learn about why he follows people than to see the details of breaking and entering. I think it’s a universal fear that someone would go through our private things when we’re out of the house. The dialog in this film is engaging and draws you in. The characters feel real and you can see how the director went on to be so successful. It is slow however and takes a long time in between “happenings.” For that reason I’d say you could miss it and be okay but fans of the noir genre and of Christopher Nolan will find it delightful as a sort of novelty. I recommend it for those types.

6/10

Across the Universe (2007)

The music of the Beatles is incredible. You tap your foot to it, some people think of it as the best music in the world. What’s more, they hold this view even though the band has been broken up since 1969. This film is visually stunning and equally incredible in its presentation of Beatles songs with a modern take.

Across the Universe (2007)
PG-13 | 2h 13min | Drama, Fantasy, Musical | 12 October 2007 (USA)

The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.
Director: Julie Taymor
Writers: Dick Clement (screenplay), Ian La Frenais (screenplay) | 3 more credits
Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson

Julie Taymor is the director. You may know her directing efforts from films like Frida, the biographical film about the mysterious Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The female lead, Evan Rachel Wood, has been in several successful films which include: The Wrestler and The Ides of March. The male lead, Jim Sturgess also has some big films under his belt with Cloud Atlas and The Best Offer. These two lead us through the music in the film well. It’s like a 2 hour and 13 minute music video. Each song is stitched together in a cohesive story that really works.

Themes of Vietnam and young love are addressed through the music. There isn’t one boring scene. If you love the music of the Beatles this film is for you. If you don’t know their music, this would be a great way to get introduced! It is rather long for movie like this and there are some songs that are interpreted less for the music and more for the dark elements of war. This film isn’t for everyone so that’s why I give it

7/10

Tomorrowland

Disney has been writing new stories with Disneyland as a backstory for years now. The worst that comes to mind is the Haunted Mansion. Tomorrowland falls into the “backstory of Disneyland” category. The trouble here is that people don’t share a concept…

Disney has been writing new stories with Disneyland as a backstory for years now. The worst that comes to mind is the Haunted Mansion. Tomorrowland falls into the “backstory of Disneyland” category. The trouble here is that people don’t share a concept for Tomorrowland. Instead of pushing it aside and making a movie disconnected from the “land” at Disney, to the right at the end of Main Street, They’ve attempted to tell us all the backstory that never was. I think it’s that common insult to Disneyland fans that derails the bus to best picture. They’ve also had mixed success with remakes in the past 2 decades. Having said that, if you can get beyond their puny rationale for what the real life Tomorrowland is, there is a pretty great story here to be enjoyed. So far, the reviews I’ve seen have not been kind to this movie. I have a different take, it’s a pretty great movie. The lofty ideal of hope in movies springs eternal. One of the reasons I love movies is because they often make me feel hopeful.

Tomorrowland gives you a good feeling about the past, present and future. There’s also a personal charge to decide your own fate. These are just a few of the positive messages in the film. If you’re like most people, you’ve read the nasty reviews and seen the low ratings. Don’t pay them any mind. This is a movie for the future citizens of the world. They may have lost points by trying to tie it so closely to Disneyland. It’s slow at times and the characterization is not as good as say: Escape to Witch Mountain. Still, there is a fun “ride” here in the form of a movie. Because they tied it to Disneyland in title and theme, it lost points with me. Never tell a church going person what church is. At the same time, the legions of moviegoers with expired, yellowed Disney passes in their wallets are too strongly connected to the real land. This is one director’s vision and we are all directors. If you can set that aside and see it as its own movie, it’s pretty good. Not excellent but pretty darn good.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

A film showing the darker face of religion when the wolf comes in sheep’s clothing. In this case, Robert Mitchum plays a great wolf, and as he usually is a scary one too.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)
1h 32min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 24 November 1955 (Argentina)

A religious fanatic marries a gullible widow whose young children are reluctant to tell him where their real daddy hid $10,000 he’d stolen in a robbery.
Director: Charles Laughton
Writers: James Agee (screenplay), Davis Grubb (based on the novel by)
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish

Plot Summary

Harry Powell is a lifelong crimimal doing time with a one time thief, Ben Harper, seeking only to secure his kids’s future. To Harry it’s all about greed. While in prison, Harper tells Powell about his huge stash from the crime and Harry Powell dedicates himself to getting it. Posing as a preacher, he infiltrates Ben Harper’s town and family as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” but find that money from the secrets he shared with his children isn’t going to be easy.

Director and Actors

This is actor Charles Laughton’s only credited work as director. He has a very recognizable face. You may know him as the hunchback in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sir Wilfrid Roberts in Witness for the Prosecution, or any other of his many successful roles in film. I admire his direction in this film, the characters all seem focused on the same page. The “page” is something that would have been a real taboo in that day. Preaching is often mocked to make a point. Even though we know the villain is no preacher, all the significant particulars relating to religion tend toward a reality that isn’t flattering. This would seem to be the intended message of the director.

Robert Mitchum is just scary as all get up in this. I’d say it comes close to Cape Fear as such. I suppose it you’re religious, you view him as worst of the worst because he’s posing as a man of the cloth. If you’re not, you might see religion as the evil here. Either way, he’s a truly bad dude doing really bad stuff out of greed. Shelly Winters plays Willa and does a really good job as such. Nonetheless my favorite character in the film is Rachel Cooper played by Lilian Gish. She comes later in the film but is such a strong force. She helps build a lot of plot to a climax. She’s the real hero of this story.

My Take on the Film

This is an oldie from 1955. It carries that air of mystery you might sense in an Alfred Hitchcock film. At the same time, there is the classic look everywhere like in the wooden houses or even the archaic farm equipment. The boats, the wardrobe, everything reminds of a time long ago. One aspect that isn’t far off though is the evil that people do in the name of religion. Toward the end of the film they seem to redeem faith but in the first 2/3 of the film religion in general is portrayed in a bad way. No one can deny it enables the villain to have access to the wife and her kids. Most the film is suspense, drilling down on the wife and kids. Mitchum is at his best faking religious drawl as he seeks to extract the location of the money from the kids. The film stays on that for a large chunk and it is enjoyable, a definite thrill ride. But when the kids see fit to escape, we are relieved of the suspense, Mitchum is free to play an all out evil wolf, and a slightly different air rises up in the film. It’s more a stalker film at that point. I enjoyed the dialect and story of the film. It was also very well cast.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who’s seen Robert Mitchum as an evil character in a film knows he is unmistakable and talented as such. This is no exception. Watching him weave his wiles as a preacher in the family and as Willa’s new husband in hypnotic. He is very convincing. You find yourself saying “No No Willa, think of your kids” as she’s taking her vows. His smug face is so perfect for the role. If you’re hankering for a suspense filled black and white from the 50’s, I highly recommend this one!

10/10

Inside Out

There are movies that need no introduction because you can tell from the trailer they are cool. Inside Out was cool out of the gate. Judging my the packed in house on a Monday night when I took my family to see it, people agree it’s cool. There’s somet…

There are movies that need no introduction because you can tell from the trailer they are cool. Inside Out was cool out of the gate. Judging my the packed in house on a Monday night when I took my family to see it, people agree it’s cool. There’s something about a simple concept brought to the screen or television with a gang of hella talented people that wins the crowd every time. I compare it to Seinfeld that way. It has a simple premise: a little girl’s mind going through the challenges of school and moving. Her mind is where the characters are and they produce some hilarious if not downright profound discussion material.

Without giving any of its delights away, I will tell you there are two platforms the movie switches back and forth from: the little girl’s mind and the real world she’s in. It heartwarming, suspenseful, enlightening, and entertaining the way they portray her emotions. We get her from the inside-out: emotions first, real world second. It’s an excellent movie for kids because it opens up conversations on fear and anxiety, which as we know children feel from both small and big events in their lives. It’s also quite fitting as a date movie or if you’re just out with a friend. I always like movies that shine a light on the human condition and don’t preach. These sort of movies allow the viewer to pour themselves into the questions and draw their own conclusions. In this case those experiences will be childhood and adulthood.

Jurassic World

Fans of the original Jurassic Park are likely to love this one. There isn’t much new in the way of a twist though. I remember the build up back when the first came out, people came out to the movie in droves. It really was like waiting in line for a ri…

Fans of the original Jurassic Park are likely to love this one. There isn’t much new in the way of a twist though. I remember the build up back when the first came out, people came out to the movie in droves. It really was like waiting in line for a ride. It was an original idea my Michael Crichton and everyone wanted to see the giant lizards. It was basically three things that made that movie popular: 1) The dinosaurs, 2) The action, and 3) the story. On all three levels I still give the first one a 5/5. This new one is good, very good. It is a rollicking rode for sure and worth the price of a ticket. At the same time it really lacks in the story department. I went in hoping to get something new and fresh that made me think about dinosaurs. In between the guttural dinosaur special effects, it just isn’t there.

Having said that, I doubt moviegoers really care about that. The dinosaurs and there, in full tech regalia. I’ve always thought dinosaurs were cool. I like to watch them but in real life they aren’t there. I even think museum bones are a bit boring now thanks to this franchise. I felt the need to explain to my 8 year old that dinosaurs were extinct. It seems kids in the past 20 years have seen them so much on the silver screen, they seem real. I loved the movie, I offer no spoilers except to say you’re gonna love the dinosaurs and the action. Some stories don’t need to be improved upon, maybe that’s what the makers of this Jurassic Park were thinking.

Ex Machina

ex_machinaI don’t know if it is my advancing age or the inclusion of several laborious scenes set to synthesized music but I nodded off twice during the film. I did like it though, it certainly took an original spin on an age old robot theme. This film dispenses with the question of whether we can create AI. Instead it looks at what AI may think of us after having been created. Then yet another question arises: will AI agree to the station we assign it? Ex Machina is a very slow movie but it is clever and interesting if you are rested, at least I am sure it would be. It raises ethical questions about the manufacture of model-figured women who are not human but created to serve. I couldn’t help but recall the Stepford Wives.

There isn’t an original theme but the directorial choices are peppered with new stuff. The special effects are captivating. There are some jabs at Google and the collection of information. The maker says he was able to secure millions of cell phone data banks because the providers steal it and he threatened to expose them unless they shared. This was far fetched in my opinion but an interesting wake up call that Google and cell phone companies probably have far too much on us. Google execs and programmers are the new Howard Hugheses (plural sp?). In this film they are very scary, almost to smart for their own good. What’s more, they’re making female robots, often fully naked on screen, that are devoid of morals. This could be interesting for some. For laborious scenes and general lack of original theme, it lost 2 stars from me.