Reasons to Vote for ‘Breaking Away’ as June 2017’s Movie of the Month at The Large Association of Movie Blogs!

It’s about being young and chasing your dreams.
It stars a very young Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern.

It’s NOT only about a cycle race but also love and coming of age.
It’s a coming of age story about All-American boys you won’t soon forget!
It’s my entry and if I win, I get to appear on the podcast to discuss this wonderful film.

Please go and vote now at this link.

Real Steel

Last night my wife and I sneaked out leaving the brother to babysit and saw Real Steel, the new movie out about robot boxing. I have to say, I wasn’t too excited to see it. The idea of robots punching each other for 2 hours didn’t really pique my interest. But I am happy to recommend it now as a fun family film, with some fight scenes, that has all the charm of the Karate Kid and cgi as good as Transformers.

It was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the MuseumBig Fat Liar …) and stars Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, and newcomer Kevin Durand. Jackman plays Charlie, an ex prize fighter who now slums as a robot coach (of sorts). Jackman discovers he has a son, Max, and try as he might to do otherwise, he is destined to partner up with his 13 year old son throughout the movie. Charlie and Max try their hand at robot management and coaching but it has mixed results. It isn’t until they have a few shared experiences that they acquire a new, plain, yet mysterious powerful robots. What that power is remains to unfold. Together they discover the worth of teamwork and the analog body in sync with the digital robot technology. I won’t give away anymore about the plot but know that it’s quite a fun ride.

Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Jackman’s ex. She is the calming force in his life even now that they are not together. They share a little romance that sizzles off the screen. Max is just happy-go-lucky. He ends up getting a dad and a prize fighting robot in the deal. There is not a while lot of real life character development but for what this movie is, an action movie, that isn’t required. Atom is the robot. You end up feeling like he is an actual person. He is the classic underdog fighter with no chance and a small physique. The twist is that he is not a human, like Rocky from the 70’s, but rather a steel fighting machine. He never says to his corner man to “cut me” but several comparisons are obvious, as well as to the Karate Kid.

All in all, this movie isn’t very real amid the steel. That being said, you will cheer when the good robots win fights. It is just the right time for this sort of movie to be made. Technology makes these things seem like real chunks of 1,000 pound metal to watch, enjoy, and give a high five to. While weak on the storyline and character development, this is the ideal underdog movie for the kids of today. And for those of us in our slightly older years, we should suspend disbelief so this movie can please us as well.

Article first published as Real Steel: The Underdog Fight Ensues on Blogcritics.

The Theory of Everything

The-Theory-of-Everything-Poster-2I went in to see this movie while on vacation in Las Vegas with my lovely wife. I expected a romance. Having known of Stephen Hawking and his ultimate divorce, I imagined the film would delete that and sugar coat his romance prior to him becoming confined to a wheelchair. I had it only partly right. The director focused on their romantic relationship in the early years, the late sixties and seventies. You see how they meet and get a feel for what he was trying to with his theory of everything. It is quite touching and certainly the stuff of chick flick type of movies. At the same time, I enjoyed watching that part so it may be suited fpr guys as well, or guys that want to cuddle with girls. It’s after all that is established and they are in a relationship that the disease hits and it hits powerfully. You might call it exquisite pain for the protagonist and the invested audience.

After doctors give Hawking 2 years to live, you see he and his wife have learned to get along. The movie is still a love story but takes on a new dimension of a family. Yes, they are able to have children. Hawking becomes a famous author we follow him through more and more sophisticated wheelchairs. My wife at one point said to me, “This is where you say thank God for technology.” Through the use of a special machine, he learns to speak again through typing. There is also a running theme throughout about religion. She has it, he doesn’t. It makes for some interesting interplay at chosen points in the movie. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if he ever renounces atheism or not. Either way, he delivers a powerful speech on the topic. This is a tear jerker, a romance, and an inspiring film to boot. I give in 5/5 stars.

Slow West

Title: Slow West
Genre: Action, Mystery, Romance
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: John Maclean. Known now for writing and directing this film. A newcomer to watch!
Top Billed Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” Michael Fassbender, “Prometheus,” and much more, and Ben Mendelsohn, known for the tv show “Bloodline.”
Brief Synopsis: When traveling across territory, it helps to have a partner. Everyone has different gifts and needs so choose as your needs require. In the West, anything can happen and often does.
My Word to the Wise: A succinct, plain but totally enjoyable Western movie with amazing actors and pistols! Just what a western aspires to be.

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

My only final thought for you on this movie is the freshness of it. It isn’t bland in any way but the elements of the classic Western roll off like a conveyor belt onto a claim jumper’s plate. It is a strong story brought to life with incredible sets and costumes. Finally, the director is taking his first shot at writing and directing and I declare he has scored a bullseye. This film aims to be a thoughtful Western and on those criteria, I say it succeeds. It lost no star with me.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Lower your standards for acting and dialog but not for CGI and cinematography. It started very slow and laborious but the middle and end were actually a lot of fun.

If you want to bring people in to see your movie, make it a prequel or sequel to a box office explosion like the Wizard of Oz. Additionally, cast mega actors in the lead roles. Oh, and of you really want to blow it up, get the best CGI into it. Voila, you’ll have a monster hit. Will Oz, the Great and Powerful be “monstrous” successful at the box office? Probably but time will have to tell. On opening day, the critics are divided. Some are saying it’s bad writing but should that matter with a fantasy family movie like this?

This Disney film was directed by Sam Raimi, known for the Evil Dead and the Spiderman Trilogy. It stars James Franco as Oz, Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Michelle Williams as Glinda. In addition to those giant-name actors, there is cast of lesser-known known yet famous actors.

To summarize the plot with minimal spoilers: Oscar Diggs is whisked away from Kansas and ends up in Oz (familiar?). He meets three witches who he must contend with to stay alive. In the process, her learns about believing in himself as he saves the Emerald City. He uses his skills of illusion to foil the bad witches impress the inhabitants of Oz. An important note is that he never returns to Kansas.

Prequels contain certain unavoidable things. For sure you are bound to hear the origins of things. Oz the Great and Powerful is no exception. My wife was surprised there was no backstory of the slippers but no other stone is left unturned. It’s as if the screenwriters had a checklist and went right down the line. Even though the script seems canned and simple at times, the movie doesn’t need depth to please viewers. We are talking about a prequel to the Wizard of Oz here, the name along with the Disney moniker is enough to bring in the minions. I was there opening night and I have never seen our small town Cinemark that packed. Will it have staying power? Time will tell but I think but probably. It started very slow and laborious but the middle and end were actually a lot of fun. Lower your standards for acting and dialog but not for CGI and cinematography.

The Damien Riley Podcast – A Nightmare on Elm Street

In just over 4 minutes running time, I preview this horror classic for you all, especially those who haven’t seen it yet. I urge all horror fans to do so … It’s now streaming on Netflix

Blogging Mistakes, My Apologies

I noticed my post today Christine (2016) had some errors after I posted it. I want to apologize and let you know I will be proofreading better. I’ve struggled with this for years and years. Thank you readers for your patience and generosity in reading my posts warts and all.

Above are gravatars of past years that represent how errors can work pave the way to good things and nobody’s perfect. Behind every perfect picture is an imperfect story. I know my backstories! Enjoy your day, may it be perfect.

Please Vote for Breaking Away as Movie of the Month on the LAMB

I’m championing this film as Movie of the Month on the LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs). Please help me win! If I do win, I get to be on a podcast discussing why it’s so great. Trivia: Did you know the AFI voted it #8 Most Inspirational Movie of all time? Vote for Breaking Away Here.

Breaking Away (1979) [Damien Riley, Riley on Film]

From the archives: My review of Breaking Away

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Fans of horror films know that some are genuine works of art like the Monalisa or Starry Night. They look past the things that shock others etc. to unearth a spectre of understanding of human greatness on the screen. This film is one of those for many horror fans. I truly hope more people, including non-horror fans, get a chance to see this lovely foreign film.

devilb_poster300

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Cast

Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi

Directed by

Guillermo del Toro

Written by

Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras, David Muñoz

Other Info

Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Rated R
1h 46min

What are ghosts? Why do we get scared as children when we hear ghost stories? These are primal questions we may never have a scientific answer to. In this film, ghosts are beings that are stuck. They keep doing the same thing and it is thought of as haunting. Carlos is a boy in an orphanage in the Spanish civil war. His father has died in battle but no one tells him. Instead, he is abandoned at a small orphanage. In front of the orphanage is a mammoth sized defused bomb. This is that backdrop and setting for this drama that contains elements of horror.

The ghost is referred to as Santi, or “the one who sighs.” He looks a little like a zombie but he can talk and probably use reason. He was once a boy just like Carlos. Santi seems to be somewhat of a protector of the orphanage. His mute eloquence speaks volumes about how war is hell and how men can be overwhelmingly evil.

This film is a beautiful painting. Guillermo del Toro calls it his “most personal work.” When the boys get into their mischief, I couldn’t help but imagine a young Gullermo there. The horror is scant but it serves it’s purpose in telling this entrancing story. The characters are so well written and played, I felt I was watching a live university theater production. There are tons of quotes shared by the narrator and after watching it I felt wiser. There are subtitles and the film is entirely spoken in Spanish. Still, the cinematography and deft writing kept my eyes glued to the screen. I do speak Spanish but I am not a native speaker. I gladly read the subtitles that capture some subtleties of the language. This is beautiful film to watch and to listen to despite the subtitles. There is so much else here. Any horror film lover must see it and even if you aren’t one, this is an incredible drama with ghosts, fantasy, and revenge.

The antagonist is a class A asshole. I’ll spare you the spoilers but you will enjoy a few things surrounding his story. Towards the end you start to wonder who is a ghost and who is not. All in all, this beautiful piece of cinema serves to display the hell of war. It also raises the question of what ghosts are. Can they exist outside of religion? When we fear them, perhaps we lose sight of their help. Guillermo has said in so many words that we should not fear the dead as ghosts but the living. When we examine war and what it does to people, even children, we should remember that suggestion of his.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Some of the hoopla was well founded but more than some failed to deliver on such a powerful story as that of Snow White.

The trailers were abuzz the last several months with the event that now is Snow White and the Huntsman. Some of the hoopla was well founded but more than some failed to deliver on such a powerful story as that of Snow White. The film was directed by Rupert Sanders. He has nothing prior on file with IMDB, in other words he’s a “noob” with this one. An interesting factoid is that IMDB lists his future project as a sequel to this movie. I suppose they’ll need a new witch to fuel the dollars further? But I digress. It was written by Evan Daugherty, also a relative noob to the business, and John Lee Hancock who is known for direction the amazing film the Blind Side. There are two other credits for writing listed on IMDB but the link is misdirected. Anyone who has collaborated on any creative knows that the more people involved, the more delicate and difficult the challenges become. I have a feeling some of the holes in this screenplay are owing to the abundance of creative writers.

There are plenty of movie stars in Snow White and the Huntsman. Kristen Stewart, known for Twilight, plays Snow White. She is an interesting choice with pros and cons resulting throughout. Chris Hemsworth, known for Thor, plays the Huntsman: an oddly familiar figure as if from Gladiator and Spartacus the HBO series. Charlize Theron, known for so many things like Hancock, Devil’s Advocate, and Monster, plays Ravenna. There is a long list of other A-name actors in this film as well. One example is Bob Hoskins who plays one of the key dwarves. Sometimes this many stars can equal a great movie but other times, and I would argue in this case, they are lured by the promise of a name like Snow White in the title. A big budget with big actors does not an amazing movie make. It takes a lot more than that and it’s too bad these writers and the director didn’t know that. The movie is fun, okay I will say that but it is not believable and worse than that, confusing in many places. Snow White and the Huntsman should have flowed better in my opinion.

Did you know the horses scenes were difficult for Kristen Stewart because she suffered an injury as a child while riding one? You wouldn’t know it from the film footage. She rides deftly as she does everything else. From the dwarves to the trolls, everyone in the forest is buying it. For me? I wanted more of a reason to believe she was going to save the kingdom. What’s more, I wanted to believe the all-to-famous kiss was heartfelt. But I’ll stop on that subject there. Here a short version of the film: Ravenna is running out of life after lifetimes of sucking it from youthful people. Her mirror, which is a gold shape shifting thing instead of a mirror like in Shrek, tells her she must kill Snow White or face a final demise. She dispatches the huntsman to bring her back to the castle but he instead decides to join with Snow White to win back the kingdom. Many things happen in the forest. There are new creatures the likes of which we have never seen, not even in Lord of the Rings, although there is much borrowing of tone and theme throughout. I suppose any movie that makes as much money as LOTR did will be copied right? Eventually, the entire forest and oppressed people of the kingdom fight for Snow White and the end is played out (which I never like to share in these reviews). It is a contrived movie from start to finish but the effects are good and when Kristen Stewart isn’t struggling with her accent, it’s a fairly decent adventure/fantasy film.

In the final analysis, this is a swashbuckling film that sways quite aways away from the original Grimm fairy tale. Audiences will like the special effects and the actors though, in spite of the writing that may a little too far afield of the original story for some viewers. Oh, and one last thing: the PG-13 rating is well earned. There is a lot of blood and senseless violence here. I’d say kids below 10 would have a hard time with this.