Tuesday, September 30, 2014

During the Urbanworld Film Festival, we attended one of their "Shorts Program 6" that included the following films.  One of the films below actually won Best Narrative Short.  The film that won was good but not my favorite of the seven short films below.  After the films, there was a short Q&A with the filmmakers of which you can see the pictures below.

Anatomy of Assistance
Directed by: Corey Bowles
The favorite of mine, the intricacy in connecting the characters together is amazing.  The lead that plays Talia does a phenomenal job as a headstrong teen.  With the ending coming full circle, the short keeps the audience engaged from beginning to end.

Barrio Boy
Directed by: Dennis Shinners
This love at first sight short actually opened the shorts program and was not what I expected.  The narrative by the lead, acting and dialogue was impressive.  The Director who was in attendance indicated it was part of a longer feature he hopes to do, and I wouldn't mind waiting for it.  The only local filmmaker in attendance, the film was filmed in Brooklyn not too far from where the Director grew up.

Isaiah's Birthday
Directed by: Shawn Gerrard
Touching story of a father, Kevin trying to be closer to his son that doesn't know him.  The actor that plays Kevin was in attendance along with the Director.  They spoke about the difficulties of finding the right boy to be cast as the son.  Eventually they used Kevin's nephew who has no experience acting but performed well in the short.

One Past
Directed by: Juli S. Kobayashi
With a slight bit of horror element to it, this supernatural tale of two close sisters struggling to move on when one's a ghost and the other lost without the other.  The short was entertaining, with the ghostly sister, Director Juli S. Kobayashi, as well as another actor in attendance for the Q&A.  They discussed some of the difficulties filming including having to move locations in short notice after being denied at their location of choice.

Directed by: Albert Espinosa
I really enjoyed the performance by the young male lead with his narrative of the day that changed his life.  The film from Spain is about a boy's courage and dream as his class visit Mercabarna, a market in Barcelona.  As a father, the only objection I have with the film which is more of an indication of our current society is having the strange man befriend the boy and helping him after the boy's embarrassment.

Present Trauma
Directed by: Mark Manalo
With America constantly in deployment the last decade or so in its war against terror, this story really resonates as to the trauma some soldiers face coming home.  Well acted and written, this is another story I wouldn't have mind being made into a full feature film.  Keith (Patrick John Flueger) is a marine with a lot of ghosts being the only survivor of his band of brothers that survives an ambush.

Woman In Fragments
Directed by: Quan Zhou
This was the film that I wanted to see the most and I wasn't disappointed.
Heartfelt performance by Akemi Look who was in the Q&A, the story touches anyone with an elderly parent.  During the Q&A, she talks about her dancing background which she had to give up due to an injury but jumped at the chance when she was offered this.  The theater had a few hiccups in getting the subtitles to display for the short but for those who stayed was well rewarded.

Despite the focus of Urbanworld Fim Festival, I was surprised by the overall quality of films from various ethnicities that were shown.  One of the things that makes Urbanworld Film Festival great is the access to the filmmakers who attend the festival in which you can interact with and discuss about what you have just seen.  Here are a few photos from the Shorts programs as well as from the Addicted panel red carpet event.

Short Program 6 Q&A

Addicted Panel Red Carpet


Various Red Carpet

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chef releases on Blu-Ray+DVD combo pack along with Digital HD on
September 30th, 2014.  I had a chance to review the Blu-Ray+DVD combo
pack which I will talk about below based on the DVD.

The movie itself I had actually reviewed back in May of which can be found here:


As far as the features of the Blu-Ray and DVD, it includes Commentary from Director Jon Favreau along with Chef/Co Producer Ray Choi as well as deleted scenes.  Jon in the commentary audio takes the lead and goes over a lot of the scene and how it is set up and filmed.  Ray talks along with Jon especially on the scenes that involves food selection,
preparation, and cooking as Jon's consultant and teacher.  It's interesting to hear the changes that Ray makes as far as the scenes with food to make it more authentic, and even Jon's own vision into making the film as realistic as possible and his influences.  The final commentary is of course of Ray showing Jon how to make a Grilled Cheese during the Credits in which Ray didn't realize he was being filmed.  Jon talks about how they had a scene with Ray making a cameo but felt it was too forced and that this was better.

With regards to the deleted scenes, it includes:

  • Farmer's Market - Father and son discusses funnel cakes and who's the boss
  • Gauloises - Short scene between Carl and Molly
  • Amy Sedaris Outtakes - Jen on the phone with Carl, going on and on
  • Versailles Lullaby - Percy's grandfather singing a lullaby as he sleeps
  • Cuban Coffee - Percy trying Cuban coffee for the first time
  • Second Line - lively funeral marching through
  • First Fridays Setup - Chef Ray's cameo appearance and Jen stopping by the truck

Of the deleted scenes, I really like the Farmer's Market and the part with Jen in First Fridays Setup.  Amy Sedaris Outtakes was my least favorite, and unnecessary long.  Besides the above, there are also other trailers available of Universal films coming on out Blu-ray and
DVD.  The only thing missing that would have been great are recipes of the food from the movie.  If you're a fan of the movie, I would recommend purchasing it.

The Book of Life

Releases October 17th, 2014
1 hr 35 mins
Rated PG
Action/Adventure, Animated


Director: Jorge Gutierrez


Diego Luna as Manolo
Zoe Saldana as Maria
Channing Tatum as Joaquin
Christina Applegate as Mary Beth
Ice Cube as The Candle Maker
Kate del Castillo as La Muerte
Ron Perlman as Xibalba
Cheech Marin as Pancho Rodriguez
Héctor Elizondo as Manolo's Father
Plácido Domingo as Manolo's Great-Grandfather
Ana de la Reguera as Manolo's Mother
Eugenio Derbez
Gabriel Iglesias as Pepe Rodriguez
Ricardo Sanchez
Danny Trejo as Manolo's Grandfather

Review by Stephen M.

The Book of Life by Reel FX Animation Studio is a stunningly beautiful animation that is a must watch for the whole family.  A wonderful soundtrack, with imaginative characters and colorful designs for both the characters and the lands they inhabit, there is little to fault in this tale based off of various Mexican folklore.  From Day of the Day, Cinco De Mayo, Land of the Remembered to Land of the Forgotten, we see and learn about various aspects of Mexican culture and beliefs in a story within a story.  

The story starts off with delinquent school kids getting a special tour through a museum guided by a beautiful lady.  She tells the tale of a classic love story story of one girl Maria (Zoe Saldana) who has captured the heart of two guys, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum).  Each of the fellows are used as a cosmic pawn by deities that represent what we would be perceived as good and evil in a wager of love.  La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) rules the Land of Remembered which is a festive place for the dead, while Xibalba (Ron Perlman) rules the Land of Forgotten which is quite the opposite. Each of the voice actors does a great job in their roles, even Channing despite his lack of Spanish ancestry.

What I enjoyed most about the film besides the unique boxy puppet animation itself are the beautiful songs especially by Manolo to Maria as well as the humor of the film.  Despite the film having what you call as villains, they are not terribly frightening and thus suitable for even young children who can sit quietly through a film.  The only gripe that I would have about the film is that there is not enough character given to both Manolo and Joaquin's character.  Both lack enough charisma to stand out on their own as the deities and even Maria's character overshadow them.  Manolo with his Sanchez family rich in bullfighters as well, simply overshadows Manolo despite being the male lead.

Overall, I would highly recommend watching the film, as it's a refreshing break from the classic fairy tales we come to enjoy from Disney.  With Maria, a sharp strong female lead with her fencing and martial arts skills, Zoe has picked another great female role following her bad ass role as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy.  The humor of the film is spot on with such lines as when Joaquin asks "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" with a response "Because no one's that big, man!"  As I said before, the film is suitable for young kids and the adults will enjoy as well, so bring the whole family.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Men, Women & Children
Limited release October 17th, 2014
1 hr 56 mins
Rated R
Comedy, Drama


Director: Jason Reitman

Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel Truby
Jennifer Garner as Patricia Beltmeyer
Judy Greer as Joan Clint
Dean Norris as Kent Mooney
Adam Sandler as Don Truby
Ansel Elgort as Tim Mooney
Kaitlyn Dever as Brandy Beltmeyer
Emma Thompson (voice)
Dennis Haysbert
J. K. Simmons
David Denman
Jason Douglas
Shane Lynch
Olivia Crocicchia as Hannah Clint
Elena Kampouris as Allison Doss
Travis Tope as Chris Truby

Review by Stephen M.

Men, Women & Children is a brutally honest look at our constant connected society and how it affects our relationships with one another.  The story looks at several families intertwined meticulously by the filmmaker, whose movie is based on a novel of the same name by author Chad Kultgen.  Topics included are peer pressure, adultery, porn addiction, cyber bullying, over protective parenting, inappropriate exposure of minors and more.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film from the great acting, to the plot, to the instilled humor despite the overall seriousness of the problems each family, or individual faces.  There were no particular actor or actress or subplot that stood out, as they were all effective and entertaining at the same time.  The importance of technology in the story from social networks, the proliferation of porn on the internet, and even MMORPGs such as Guild Wars woven into the story speaks to every generation that has used a computer or smartphone.

My gripes for the film would have to be the length of the film with a few points dragging as well some of the stories being quite predictable.  Parts that dragged included the unusually long opening credits in space as well as any time Ansel Elgort's character Tim Mooney is moping and feeling apathetic which is often.  Ansel, fresh from playing Augustus in Fault in Our Stars seems to have a lock on these type of characters.

Overall, I would recommend the film, though it may not be suitable for young teens.  It has a lot of good lessons to be learned for both young adults and parents, but the subject matter such as Dennis Haysbert's big black .... may be a turn off for some.  As well, I would have love for some of the characters to have more happier endings or at least some definitive conclusion then leaving it open.

What did you think of the film if you had the chance to see the film?


Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Equalizer
Releases September 26th, 2014
2 hrs 12 mins
Rated R
Action/Adventure, Suspense/Thriller


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Denzel Washington as Robert McCall
Marton Csokas as Teddy
Chloë Grace Moretz as Teri
David Harbour as Masters
Haley Bennett as Mandy
Bill Pullman as Brian Plummer
Melissa Leo as Susan Plummer
David Meunier as Slavi
Johnny Skourtis as Ralphie
Alex Veadov as Tevi
Vladimir Kulich as Vladimir Pushkin
E. Roger Mitchell as Lead Investigator
James Wilcox as Pederson
Mike O'Dea as Remar
Anastasia Sanidopoulos Mousis as Jenny
Allen Maldonado as Marcus
Rhet Kidd as Jay
Mike Morell as HM Brian
Matt Lasky as Marat
Shawn Fitzgibbon as Little John Looney
Vitaliy Shtabnoy as Andri
Timothy John Smith as Detective Gilly
Robert Wahlberg as Detective Harris
William Xifaras as Home Mart Laborer

Review by Stephen M.

The Equalizer based on a 1980s television series, Denzel Washington plays the mysterious lead Robert McCall leading a simple life as a Home Depot-like store worker.  The only thing that draws your attention to him is his sleepless nights walking the neighborhood and frequenting a diner where he meets escort Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz).  When Teri gets a bad break, literally from her pimp Slavi, something in Robert awakens in which he can't even explain himself.  From there, Robert starts equalizing, seemingly as an addiction, which draws the attention of Russian mob enforcer Teddy (Marton Csokas).

Overall, I enjoyed the film, from the action of the film to the cat and mouse scenes between the two leads, Denzel and Marton.  Marton plays the bad ass Teddy incredibly well, from his looks, body language and dialogue, his character instills fear well... unless of course you're the Equalizer.  Denzel looks tired throughout most of the movie, and that's fine because that's the sense you get out of his character.  Chloë surprisingly doesn't get as much screen time as you would expect.  Her youthful looks make it difficult to accept her as a Russian escort, but I suppose they sadly do exist.  Haley Bennett who plays an escort as well, named Mandy is another standout in the film.  Her scene with Teddy is just chilling.

Aside from the beginning, the movie does move fairly quickly with intermittent violence that will have you going, holy cow.  My favorite scenes include Robert taking apart Slavi's men.  I have never seen the original television series despite it being filmed two blocks from my home.  But I don't really see the purpose of the moments in which he scans and analyzes the rooms right before an intense action scene.  Usually in those moments we get glimpses of what the action would be, but here, Robert just stands there in frozen time and looks around at a few items.  For the viewer, the only delight is knowing that the sh*t is about to hit the fan in a second or two.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it.  Aside from the slow beginning, the film has a lot to enjoy as a suspense and action film.  I would have loved to see some flashbacks to better explain Robert McCall's character.  I would have also liked to see more vulnerability in the character so it seemed like a more fair battle.  Based on just the bloody violence alone, I would not recommend the film to kids, but that didn't deter a mother from bringing her toddler yesterday to the screening.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill
Releases on DVD September 30th, 2014 (US)
1 hr 28 mins
Not Rated

Director: Kevin Gates & Michael Bartlett

Craig Stovin as Himself
Criselda Cabitac as Herself
Michael Bartlett as Himself
Rob Whitaker as Himself
Mark Jeavons as Himself
Kevin Gates as Himself

Review by Stephen M.

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill takes a different spin on the usual found footage horror genre, going the route of a docufiction with interviews before and afterwards of the investigators' experience as well as footage of their nights at the location.  Clophill, located in England, has an old church ruins, formerly St. Mary Church, that has been the site of a black mass in the 1960s and continues to this day to be used by trespassers for rituals, ghost hunting and other paranormal activities.  The Writer/Director Kevin Gates does a great job in blending the fact and fiction to create a horror film that stands out from the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activities type movies.

As with most documentaries and reality ghost hunting shows you may have seen, there is always a ton of down time before things start to happen.  It is usually during these moments in which intrigue is built up of which The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill does an adequate job.  We get a bit of history of the location, with the goosebumps moments coming from interviews of people who has had unusual experiences at the old ruins before.  What I also liked, if you're not familiar with these type of operations, is the background given as to the equipment and the individuals involved in the team that would investigate a paranormal activity.

Criselda Cabitac is the standout among the cast, as the fear she portrays in her face really grips you.  Most of the remaining investigators also does a decent job.  My least favorite would have to be Craig, who seems out of place at times.  As to the actual frightening scenes in the movie, personally I found to be a bit tame.  The scares are better illicited in the reactions from the cast especially Criselda and one of the interviewees then from what they actually witness on their third night.

Overall, I would recommend renting it if you are into this type of genre.  The movie does well in giving a history of the old church as well providing some good scares.  What I wish they could have done better was tie up some loose ends at the end, such as the disappearance of Kevin, and a discussion among the team of what they saw on their third night.  The scene just after their third night including footage of their driveway would have made a great introduction to a horror film.  But instead the film's ending leaves us hanging after a slow methodical build up throughout the film.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Beyond the Lights

Releases November 14th, 2014 (Limited)
1 hr 56 mins
Rated PG-13


Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood


Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni Jean
Minnie Driver as Macy Jean
Nate Parker as Kaz Nicol
Danny Glover as Captain David Nicol
Machine Gun Kelly as Kid Culprit
Jordan Belfi as Steve Sams
Hayley Marie Norman as Shai
Tom Wright as Reverend Brown
Jesse Woodrow as Carl

Review by Stephen M.

Beyond the Lights opened the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival last night with much anticipation.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Noni Jean, a superstar singer who is cracking under the stress of her overbearing mom and the expectations from her record label.  Her fate changes dramatically in one night as she attempts to commit suicide but is saved by officer Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker) who is assigned to guard her hotel room.

What you will enjoy most about the film is the soundtrack.  The music is just amazing, which is what you would hope for in a movie about a musician.  The actors and actresses does a phenomenal job in the movie from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker to Danny Glover.  My two stand outs for the film would have to be Minnie Driver who plays Noni's Mom, Nancy and Machine Gun Kelly who plays Kid Culprit, Noni's label mate and boyfriend.  Minnie's intensity and MGK's charisma brings both these characters to the forefront for me.

What I did not like about the film is the uneven pacing especially shortly after Noni and Kaz meets.  The pace drags quite a bit and the direction is as lost as Noni is with herself.  During this period, the romance feels rush as Noni literally throws herself at Kaz after having just trying to throw herself off a balcony.  The Director redeems herself in the latter half of the movie with more realistic scenes as the couple gets away and builds up toward the finale.

Overall, I would recommend this film especially if you are into this genre.  The story is deep and touching as Noni and Kaz each struggled to find their own voice and not just their parents'.  But as I mentioned, the film is a bit long in the tooth and could have benefited from tighter editing especially during the middle of the film.  The film contains some adult situations and thus I would not recommend for young teens and below.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

美少女戦士セーラーダッシュ (Sailor (Moon) Dash)
Publisher: M-Take
Genre: Action

While not an official game from Bandai, the fan made Sailor Dash, creates a side scrolling dash game with Sailor Moon and all the familiar graphics from the series albeit cuter.  Sailor Moon, in the game, is constantly running across the screen as you leap over obstacles and uses her tiara against enemies.

The entire game is in Japanese, but is pretty straight forward in game play.  I do not read Japanese, so the below is just based on trial and error.  In the start screen from left to right, you have Game, Tutorial, Downloads and Communicate.  As you can also see, the game is heavy in ads on every screen, which makes you wonder when Bandai plans to bring the hammer down on the app.  The Downloads (Green) button appears to let you download other games.  The Communicate (Blue) button brings up twitter for you to share about the game.

On the second screen after pressing Game, you have the Play button just below Sailor Moon.  There are the different symbols of the various scouts, but only Sailor Moon is playable.  Also indicated here are her health levels and amount of power.  Again, the game contain ads on every single screen.  When your character dies either by falling off a cliff or losing too much heart level, you're face with another pop up ad.

So here's a screenshot of the game in action.  Above, you have the health meter and power as well as distance traveled.  Below on the left is Jump, while the right button is to shoot.  The enemies are stationary making them easy targets usually with one shot taking down multiple enemies.  What's difficult about the game is the controls, particularly pertaining to the jumping.  One tap, gives you a jump, two taps, a double jump which is higher.  Along your way you collect stars and other power ups and refills.  For example you can get a Luna Ball to help you, as well a bevy of Tuxedo Mask's roses to rain down from above.  If you fill up your power meter you get a special attack as well.

The image above and below are from the game maker, which shows how the enemies look like and various stages.  It's kind of deceiving because you don't play the other scouts and the enemies do not move.  As you travel, the worlds and setting change slightly as you travel farther but the game play remains repetitive.

Overall, the game lacks enough depth to keep your interest.  There's not enough variety in the game or challenge other than control issues.  The game's greatest strengths are its graphics and music, but since they're basing it off of a popular license, you wonder when the game will be pulled as the game makers are sued for copyright infringement.  The rating is based on the version on Android played September 2014.  In the future, as they release more characters to play and more functions, I will review again.