Movie Review: Southside With You

This movie is highly unusual because it is entirely dialogue consisting of two people, Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson on their first date. I cannot remember any movie that was entirely about a long conversation between two people with the exception of Before Sunrise or Before Sunset that starred Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpy. The challenge with a movie like this is to make the dialogue compelling enough so that it is not so boring that you don’t care that the entire movie is about a conversation. For the most part, the screenwriter of this movie, Richard Tanne about the first date of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, did a good enough job with the writing to pull this movie off. For the most part, this film held my attention throughout the entire 90+ minutes.

The actors in this movie, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers also did a very good job in their challenging roles of nothing but dialog and I appreciated the numerous moments of “show not tell” where just by her eyes, Michelle showed her enormous displeasure of Obama’s constant chain smoking and this also included the moment when she told Obama to “forgive his father” for abandoning his family so he can go on and achieve more than what is father could have. From Obama’s eyes, you could tell this was the moment where he fell in love with Michelle.

One issue that most amazing about this story is how Barack Obama is still alive at age 55 considering the extreme smoking he has done throughout his early years. How someone as intelligent and successful as Obama could have smoked this much is a mystery and also a miracle that he didn’t​ get any of the many diseases that smoking causes.

This is a solid movie and I do recommend it.

Movie Review: Mechanic Resurrection

From The definition of the word Contrived:

obviously planned or forced; artificial; strained:
a contrived story.

When a person goes into most action movies and with rare exception you have to suspend your common sense almost as if you are turning off your brain for two hours. At some point, however, there has to be some sense of logic to a movie, a story that makes sense and action sequences that are not so over the top that they are not just plain stupid. Unfortunately “Mechanic Resurrection” is not one of those movies. Just about all of the action sequences in this film are ridiculous especially when you consider how often one man can kill about 40 other people in two hours, most of whom are carrying high-powered machine guns and never once is the main character shot or even cut. How can this be? It’s literally impossible and all we ask as an audience is to put more thought into the action sequences to make them more believable. None of this exists in this movie. Even the story of Mechanic Resurgence is absurd. Criminals kidnap a woman, who works for a charity in Cambodia in the hopes that because​ she is so attractive she will get the main character to fall in love with her and then they will have leverage over him so he will kill 3 people for them, and then make the assassinations look​ like an accident. This entire idea is stupid. Why would the producers, screenwriter and director even think a story like this is plausible? Anybody in the audience should be insulted by a plot this idiotic because it demonstrates an alarming lack of respect for the audience. Producers should spend another few months on a script and come up with a better story, because the story in this movie, is just plain absurd and contrived.

As far as Jason Statham, all of his fans will see nothing new in this film. This film is the same karate and violent​ death movies Statham has done many times before. As far as Jessica Alba and Tommy Lee Jones you have to figure that they took this movie because they wanted to stay in the public eye or perhaps because they owed a favor to someone. Maybe other reasons would include that all quality independently made movies don’t pay enough money or they never read the script for this film.

I recommend this movie only for extreme Jason Statham fans, for everybody else you should stay home and miss this mostly bad film. If you do see this movie for any reason, remember to leave your brain in the car.

Movie Review: Hands of Stone

The movie “Hands of Stone” has to be one of the first, if not the only movie biography that is equally about 2 people, Ray Arcel and Roberto Duran and their stories are both extremely well told throughout these two hours. Given that this movie is equally the life stories of two people, I was impressed that they were still able to tell the entire story in only two hours. For those who remember the famous “No Mas” fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran on November 25, 1980; after all these years, we all finally know the full story about what really happened and because of this, you have to figure that the happiest person in the world about how his life story was told in this film is Roberto Duran himself.

Roberto Duran’s life is easy to understand. He was born into extreme poverty, where his American father left him and his family at a very young age leaving him to forage food in dumpsters and on the streets of Panama. When a person is born into a nightmare life like this you have two choices. Either you lay down and accept it, or you get angry and refuse to accept your reality. Duran got angry, very angry and he turned that anger into extreme energy and rage in the boxing ring where he very soon became known as the “hands of stone”, knocking out a high percentage of the fighters he faced.

Ray Arcel’s life was all about boxing and as he called it the “brain game” strategies that made him probably the greatest boxing trainer of all time and the first person inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Arcel’s earlier career in boxing was when the sport was dominated by organized crime and he was almost killed by the Mafia when he tried to making boxing more mainstream to include the rest of the Unites States and not just New York City and more specifically Madison Square Garden. He was allowed to continue in boxing by the Mafia only if he agreed to never get paid as a boxing trainer and while training Duran he was never paid for this training.

Some of the scenes between Robert Deniro, who plays Ray Arcel and Edgar Ramirez in between rounds of during major fights show once again, why Robert Deniro is one of the best actors of all time. Due to Duran’s mistrust of all Americans, the conflict between Arcel and Duran between rounds is outstanding and as real as anything I have seen on the screen in a long time. Time after time, Arcel would try and get Duran to take direction and follow the pre-agreed strategy only to be rejected because Duran did not trust his intentions as somehow he thought that Arcel could be working for the other side and wanted Duran to lose. This film points out the brilliance of Arcel knowing that boxing is far more than just physical skills, but also is at least one third a mind game as well. The singer Usher does a good job at playing Sugar Ray Leonard and you have to admire the hard work both Usher and Ramirez had to go through to get into believable boxing shape for this movie. I thought the boxing scenes were very well done in this film but not as good as I expected they would be going in. The actress Ana De Armas is also outstanding playing Duran’s wife and she was also recently very good in her role as the wife of David Packouz in War Dogs, which is also recently reviewed in this blog. Due to her performances in these two movies, Armas looks like she has a very promising future ahead in the movies.

As far as the No Mas fight, Duran to this day says that he never said “No Mas”, which means “I give up”. The real reason why he stopped fighting Leonard in their second fight was because he should have never been forced to fight Leonard again in the first place. He was 35 pounds overweight and had to lose all of that weight in some 75 days. Unfortunately, there was a deal made by his handler that forced him to fight Leonard or be sued by of all people, Don King. Later in the press conference a day before the fight, all because​ of a wink that Leonard made to Duran’s wife, he overate​ that night and because of this felt sick during the fight. Duran quit against Leonard not because of he was a coward, but because people in the audience were laughing at him because of Leonards clowning, which included sticking out his head and bolo-punching. Duran stopped fighting because of his pride gained through all the years of coming back from living like an animal on the streets of Panama. You could almost hear his thoughts when he left the ring, “nobody laughs at Roberto Duran”. Considering that Duran was able to come back from the very dark place he was in after this fight is an even greater tribute this movie can make to him apart from his great accomplishments​ as a fighter.

The movie “Hands of Stone” is outstanding throughout, and you don’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate the history and the stories of two men who paid their dues in life, in a very big way. I highly recommend this film.

Movie Review: Equity

This movie reminds all of us of something that most of all already know. When you are on Wall Street and responsible for millions if not billions of dollars that could be made or lost, the stress and pressure of a job like this is overwhelming. If you are successful, you will make millions of dollars, but the cost of this kind of success and money is high. Many long hours, titanic amounts of dangerous stress and anger and having to fend off many other people who are trying to knock you down and backstab you and take your high paying job away from you, something I have experienced first hand in the corporate world. We all know that high level of stress is about as dangerous to your health than anything and with the stress of high paying jobs like the ones depicted in the new film “Equity” you will pay a huge price for the money and success you may receive. The question really is, “what amount of money is worth your health and maybe even taking years off of your life?”

Anna Gunn is the lead actor in this movie and according to IMDB this is the first starring role in a movie she has had since the end of Breaking Bad in 2014, arguably the greatest television drama series of all time. Gunn is very effective playing a hard driving Wall Street executive whose job it is to handle IPO’s (Initial Public Offerings) for new companies that decide to go public. All IPO’s on Wall Street involve many millions and in some cases billions of dollars, which adds to the stress and pressure all the people behind the IPO are under for months before the stock is released to the public. If things go well, the initial investors in these companies make a great deal of money. If things go wrong, then investors lose millions of dollars and careers are lost.

The story behind this movie is a very good one that essentially boils down to some very bad people and a ton of greed. In the corporate world of money, there seems no measurable lower limit when it comes to how bad people will be to get ahead.

This movie is a very good representation of Wall Street and corporate greed and I recommend​ this film. The screenwriter Amy Fox, seems to be a newcomer and I thought the story and dialogue in this movie were outstanding.

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Movie Review: Don’t Think Twice

While watching this very good movie I kept thinking that it was high time an idea like this was turned into a film. Most stories coming out of Hollywood are the success stories of the lucky few who make it and with the happy ending but that is not real life. Real life is about the tens of thousands who want to break into an extremely difficult field as fickle and cruel as show business and those who try their whole lives and never get the break they deserve even though they are very talented. People who are cursed with the “show business bug” very often work in horrible depressing menial jobs during the day in the hopes that they will be discovered at night at some comedy club or at some improvisation group, which is the premise of this movie. During this film, there are several improv sketches performed by the comedy group that comprises the cast of this movie and I thought just about all of them were very well done even though they all started by asking the audience the same question, “Did anyone have a bad day today”?

This film follows a group of friends who have started their own comedy group in the hopes of being discovered by a weekend show that is equivalent to Saturday Night Live. One of the friends of the cast, played by Keegan Micheal-Kay is discovered and as a result of this most of the rest of the cast become jealous which is a major part of the struggle to be one of the lucky few in show business; extreme jealousy for the very few who make it. Keegan’s experience with this Saturday Night show proved that even if you make it or think you have made it, you still have to deal with the cruel comments of people who are in charge and anoint themselves the judge and jury over other people. Insecurity and fear is a major part of performing, most especially comedy and you have to have respect for anyone who would even try to make a group of people laugh in front of any kind of an audience. The actress Gillan Jacob’s does a very believable job as a comedian in the improv group and plays Keegan’s girlfriend and they face several relationship problems as Keegan’s character gets on that Saturday Night Show and she is too afraid to audition. One of the other members of the group is Mike Birbiglia​ who also wrote and directed this very solid film.

I highly recommend “Don’t​ Think Twice”.

Movie Review: Ben Hur

So why did producers in Hollywood decide to remake a great classic movie that originally came out in 1959? This one is easy, its all about name recognition and making money. The producers of this movie knew that most people have at least heard of Ben Hur, even if they never saw the original movie. So they thought that they would have a guaranteed level of box office because people have heard the name, Ben Hur. According to IMDB, the movie cost over 100 million dollars to make but for the opening weekend it only made 11 million. We all know that this movie will not be in the theaters for 10 weeks so odds are high this film will lose money. The problem is that the original movie is an all time movie classic that was 3 hours long, but this movie is a pale imitation of the original and only 2 hours long. The only thing worth seeing in this 2 hours is the chariot race at the end, which is better in this movie because of the technical abilities that are available now with computer effects that were not available in 1959. In the end, what makes money and what is worth going to the​ movies is a great original​ story and most ideas like this one will fail. People normally do not like remakes of classic movies even with the addition of a well-known​ movie star like Morgan Freeman, who is not nearly enough of a presence to rescue​ this film. On top of this the scenes that had to remove to reduce this film to 2 hours were some of the best scenes of the first movie. Another big mistake.

If you have not seen the original Ben Hur that came out in 1959 you should see that great movie and miss this one entirely. I would recommend trying to find the Chariot Race on YOUTUBE for this new movie.

Movie Review: War Dogs

War Dogs is a movie about greed, corruption and stupidity which always go hand in hand. The easier the money seems to be the greater the possibility for crime, screwing over other people, corruption, and stupid mistakes. The success and all that money go​ to your head and many people actually become stupider the easier it seems to make money. This certainly was true during the glory days of the internet bubble in 1999 and the first 3 months of 2000. All the things that seemed to work so perfectly for so long very quickly stop working and then you start to lose money, very quickly. The saying goes, “If it seems to good to be true, then it probably is”. This is true of the stock market bubble in 1999 and it was definitely​ true of the story behind the film War Dogs.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star in this very good movie about the true story of two young men who get involved in finding and selling weapons to the United States Government based on a simple website where a list of many thousands of Government Weaponry supplies are available for any company to bid on. The Government website open bidding process was a new law made available by the Bush Administration in 2004 to potentially lower the cost of the purchase of Government weapons and thereby giving more companies a chance to make money to stimulate the economy.

The mastermind of using the Government website to bid and provide weapons to the US Military was the idea of Efraim Diverolo, played by Jonah Hill and later David Packouz, played by Miles Teller. They form a company called AEY – nothing more than a series of 3 letters that according to Efraim stand for absolutely nothing. Very soon the very simple and brilliant idea of “searching the website for crumbs that nobody else wanted” got out of control and before long the money and the risks became greater than either Efraim or David ever thought they would; including​ driving into Baghdad from the country of Jordan to illegally run guns into IRAQ while the IRAQ war was currently being fought. Due to the many Government regulations and restrictions, each new deal that Efraim and David tried became more difficult, causing them to take bigger risks that not only risked their precarious business but even their lives. The irony here is that if they both stuck with the original business plan of only getting involved with the small contracts that no other big vendors wanted then none of the criminal activity and risks would have occurred, giving them all the money they would ever need. As it often does, greed and easy money makes you want more and makes you stupid as soon as you think you are smarter than everyone else and you learn the obvious lessons the hard way. I found the very short prison terms of Efraim, 4 years and David, 6 months house arrest, extremely low amounts of time considering their crimes. Somewhere in this film, I thought their small prison terms should have been explained. At the end of the movie, we also find out that AEY could sell arms to the US Government again in 2022.

There is also a very good back story concerning David Packouz and his attractive wife played by Ana De Armas and David’s struggles to make a living by selling bed sheets to retirement homes and as a massage therapist. What makes their lives​ even more complicated is David’s lying to his wife about the gun running and they have a baby. Bradly Cooper also has a small role in this movie, playing another gun runner who gets involved in the biggest and most dangerous gun deal in the film.

This movie was very well done and I highly recommend it.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water

A common theme involving a poor town and two brothers in a depressing part of Texas and bank robberies has certainly been done before, probably in many other movies in the past. So a new twist in a story like this is necessary and for the most part, this movie is successful in creating a compelling interesting story from very familiar ground. Jeff Bridges is very convincing as a small town Sheriff who with his partner is determined to track down two bank robbers who have been robbing banks in the area for relatively small amounts of money. Chris Pine is equally convincing along with his brother, played by Ben Foster in playing the desperate bank robbers who are motivated​ by more than just the money they can easily steal from small banks in the area but they are also motivated by revenge against the bank who has been trying to take away their deceased​ mothers property for many years.

One of the best lines in this film as far as I was concerned was, “how can anybody make a living here”, referring to the flat, hot, poor and depressing areas that this movie is based from. Chris Pine describes being poor as a “disease that lasts for generations” and I can confirm that depressing reality from first-hand​ experience. This story behind “Hell or High Water” is a very simple one, but very often in good or great movies the more simple the main story the better, but this movie takes the simple story several levels higher.

I highly recommend this movie.

Past Movie Review: Fargo

Fargo, which was released in 1996 is another one of those rare movies, like Ordinary People and perhaps High Fidelity in 2000 where just about everybody in the cast was enjoying the best part they ever had in their entire career and then, lightning​ never struck ever again for any of them, not even close. Francis McDormand won the best actress Academy Award for her portrayal of a pregnant police officer, by far the best acting job of her entire career. William H Macy was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar​ and he should have won. One of the many great things about Fargo was it that it was a movie that for the first time in my memory of films I have seen that it showed what it was like to live in the cold desolate area like South Dakota in the dead of winter. One had to wonder while watching this great movie why anyone would ever want to live there as the surrounding areas in that city are just about as depressing as any I have​ ever seen.

The story of Fargo was loosely based on an actual criminal cases from years earlier that involved kidnapping and murder and while watching this amazing film you wondered how a crime this insane could have actually happened. The other great thing about this classic film is the emphasis on the strange dialects of the people in that area, which was a source of humor throughout the movie.

Fargo was written and directed by both Joel and Ethan Cohen arguably the best ever team of writer-directors in movie history and in my opinion Fargo has been their best effort of their careers. Steve Buscemi has never been better or more convincing in any role in his career and in my opinion he should have been nominated for an Academy Award. Fargo won an Academy Award for best picture in 1996 and the Coen brothers won for best original screenplay.

If you have not seen this great movie you owe it to yourself to see it. Its one of the all time greats.

Movie Review: Indignation

My guess is that many people think they can act and after seeing this great movie they will realize that they can’t and never could. Many of us think they can write a screenplay or even great dialogue and after seeing this great movie you will realize that there is a big different between average or run of the mill and greatness in the art of acting and screenwriting. This film is one of the best movies I have ever seen because it has the very rare combination of great acting, dialogue, and screenwriting. I also thought while watching this great film that it seemed to be a throwback to movies that were made in the 40’s and 50’s. In those days, the story, the writing and the acting were the most important and never just special effects like many movies that are made today.

There are so many things that are so impressive about “Indignation” but for me what amazed me the most were the subtlety and simplicity of the storytelling and despite this simplicity, the dialogue and story stayed very complex with symbolism, subtext and messages all the way to the surprise and shocking ending.

There are two scenes in this movie that involve the main character Marcus, a young Jewish freshman college student in the year 1951 from Newark New Jersey played by a great young actor named Logan Lerhman and the Dean of the college he is attending played by Tracy Letts that involves some of the best acting between two actors I have ever seen. While watching the first scene between the two of them, I wondered why the Dean was hammering away at this straight A student over and over again about so many trial issues including like why did he move to another dormitory after having a conflict with his two roommates? Why he was an atheist? Why did the Dean care about the personal religious beliefs of a student, why did he pry into the private life of this young man so rudely as clearly, none of this was his business? The argument between the Dean and Marcus slowly became more and more intense, even causing the young man to become ill because of all the anger and stress the conversation was causing. We later find out that Marcus was having an attack of appendicitis brought on his emotional conversation with the Dean. I thought that the message behind this argument was that very often something that may seem trivial and unimportant could eventually become extremely important and this reality does occur towards the end of the film where Marcus, like so many other students, was paying another student to attend a required religious meeting. The end result of this seemingly trivial mistake is catastrophic and brings about a shocking and unexpected ending.

The other story in this film is the relationship between a very attractive female student played by Sarah Gadon who becomes involved with Marcus and at the end of their first date she does something rather shocking, especially considering the year is 1951. What eventually becomes much more important as this film continues is not that she did what she did with Marcus, but why she did it. The reason for her indiscretion​ is once again brilliantly brought out by another subtle scene while visiting Marcus in the hospital for his appendicitis​ where Marcus asks her about her surgeon father. Later scenes with Marcus mother and her noticing the slash on his girlfriend’s wrist are also brilliant as the simple but complex story plays out.

This movie should be nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, despite the fact that it has come out so early in the year. The arguments between Marcus and the Dean are so well acted that both of them should receive Academy Award nominations just for these scenes alone. This film is a very rare great movie and should be seen by anyone who appreciates movies as an art form and how rare a greatly acted film like this one comes around. We all suffer through so many bad movies in the hopes that we will find one gem out of so many bad films that are made every year. This movie gets my highest recommendation and is one of the best movies I have ever seen.