Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden

Seal Team Six showcases the story of how the Intelligence Community found bin Laden, received the green light, and the Seal team accomplished its most important mission ever.  This movie seems to be a prelude into the more Hollywood version coming out this December in theaters.  This film is a straight to DVD film and is clearly low budget.  But the film is not bad.

The film showcases a B-level cast including Cam Gigandent (Priest, Easy A, The O.C.), William Fichtner (Dark Knight, Prison Break, Armageddon), Robert Knepper (Prison Break, Transporter 3), and Xzibit (Derailed, XXX2).  The acting was solid with enough strong mid level performances without any clear star or poor performances.  The director used an interview style to narrate the film and give some of the back story and inner emotions of the team. While this has been used a lot lately, it was not very effective in this film.  It seemed to constantly stop momentum in the story telling.  Using it as a bookend tool would maybe have worked better than constantly dispersing the film with random interviews with the Seal Team and lead analyst.

Overall not a bad film.  I would call it one of the better direct to dvd action films.  The subject matter helped since it was the first time the subject hit the screen.  However I am sure Zero Dark Thirty directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, and Kyle Chandler will exceed this film in every way.  I give this film 2.5 stars.  Not bad for an afternoon rental and as a great way to learn the basic subject matter before the blockbuster this December.

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The last few days I decided to catch up on a few movies I had missed in theaters.  The first one I watched was Bernie starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine.  I had heard very good things about this movie during its run at the SXSW film festival which is premiered at.

Bernie is the story of a overly kind man who found his calling as a mortician who takes great pride in his work of preparing the recently deceased for a peaceful and beautiful passing into the afterlife while being presentable and easier for families of those they leave behind.  He took his job so far that he would actually stay in contact with the families of those he had prepared burials for to make sure their grieving was slightly alleviated.

His kind turn found himself befriending the local towns hag and who most people in the town called a "complete bitch".  She was horribly mean to everyone, but Bernie became her friend and they built a nice relationship after her husband died.  Her rudeness began to show again though and he finally snapped and killed her.

This is based on an actual true story of a real mortician in Carthage, Texas who killed a rich woman that he had befriended and eventually was caught and stood trial.  This is one of those dark comedies which you have to be able to really appreciate that type of comedy to enjoy the film.  It definitely had its funny parts but most of the film was filled with just awkward moments.  Jack Black was perfect for the role and portrayed the man the film was based on very well.  Shirley MacLaine was so perfect, she was almost adorable at times before you realized, no you are supposed to hate her.

As far as independent films go, this was pretty good.  While not a favorite by any means, it had its moments of humor and was worth a free watch on Netflix.  Great for a random afternoon when you can't find anything else to watch. I give it 3 stars.  Check it out- the main characters are the best part of the film and keep you engaged for the hour and a half running time.

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The road to the Oscars's starts here!  Lincoln was one of those movies that you walk away from thinking there is no way another film could beat it this awards season.

Lincoln follows Abraham Lincoln at the beginning of his second term and his struggle to end the civil war, pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, and healing a broken nation.  In the months before his death he struggled with House Democrats who refused to sign anything saying slavery was an abonomation and an affront against God.  The House Democrats were also skeptical of the President negotiating with the south and how those negotiations with the south would be tainted by the passing of a bill outlawing something that seemed inherent in the traditions of the south.  The Republicans opposed the President negotiating with the south seeing as how they were rebels and not a separate nation to negotiate with.

The movie is more like an epic West Wing episode than the story of the Civil War or the assassination of the President.  The story follows Lincoln and his allies as they try to persuade opponents in the House to sign the 13th Amendment while also secretly planning a sit down with the leaders of the south to negotiate a truce.

Daniel Day Lewis, President Lincoln, delivers an outstanding performance.  While no one knows what Lincoln sounded like or how he walked or moved, Lewis portrays him exactly as you would think Lincoln would be.  Sally Field delivers a powerful performance of Mary Todd.  Most people do not think too much of her when they think of Lincoln, but she was an important partner and obstacle in his legacy and Field portrays her flaws and odd sense of love in an incredible way.  Tommy Lee Jones plays grumpy old Thaddeus Stevens who battles Lincoln at every turn and has earned the scorn of Mary Todd.  However when it comes to slavery, the two men see eye to eye and he works his "charm" to convince members of his party to defect with him and side with the President to abolish slavery.  Jones' performance ranks amongst his greatest ever.

Steven Spielbergs direction was impeccable as ever.  The movie came in at about 2 and a half hours but Spielberg keeps the story moving so well, you almost could sit there for another 2 hours.  The sets were outstanding, the cinematography breathtaking and playing an important role in building the enormity of the situation and time.

The only adverse feeling to this film I had was the ending.  While this will not spoil anything, of course Lincoln's story ends in his assassination.  There were several moments at the end of this film I think would have been incredible finales to an outstanding film.  I had hoped that the assassination would not be the ending since the film was not about his assassination or the hunt for the killer.  We had already seen that in The Conspirator.  While the assassination was handled nicely and did not ruin the movie, I felt like it detracted from what he had just accomplished and think the film would have been just as good if not even better leaving it with his political success rather than his assassination.

This movie should be an oscar sweep based on other possible nominations I have seen so far.  From Best Movie to Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and many other artistic awards, we should see a big night for this film.  I highly recommend seeing this film and give it 5 stars.

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Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2

The Twilight series finally concludes with Breaking Dawn Part 2.  This is one series I cannot understand how the 2nd movie ever got made, much less 4 more sequels.  My wife read the books and so I got suckered into seeing the first movie.  The first movie- Twilight- was quite possibly one of the worst mainstream films I have ever seen.  The story had a lot of potential but that potential was absolutely destroyed by a ridiculous director and horrendous acting.  Each movie since, I got excited when I saw the previews.  Each preview showed so much action and suspense but then every movie was a let down.  All the action was slammed into the 2 minute trailer and the rest of the movie still dealt with annoying teen angst and a weak vampire story really.  While each movie was progressively better than its predecessor, this series would need to really get to about 10 before you started really getting an audience past the readers of the Twilight series.

With all that negativity being said, I have to admit, Breaking Dawn Part 2 was pretty good.  The acting has become considerably better.  Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have really improved and become much more natural and believable in their roles.  Kristen also finally seems to have learned to keep her mouth shut which was always so annoying in previous films.  The direction of the film was also much better and epic than previous films.

Most of the action was tightened into just the last 30 minutes of the film, but that was ok because the action was pretty incredible.  The action in the movie had finally lived up to the anticipation built by the trailers.  The final scene even departed slightly from the books ending so that fans of the novels were given a twist and spin, which I think is important.  As long as the twist does not change the story or the basics of the story, it is smart to keep the audience surprised and on their toes even if they have already read the ending.

While still leaving some to be desired from a vampire/werewolf movie, this was by far the best in the series and a pretty good film overall.  I give it 3.5 stars.  If you haven't suffered through the other films, I wouldn't recommend seeing this one- it won't make much sense.  Definitely check it out though as a nice ending to wasting those hours watching the first 4.  The epic battle should be seen on the big screen- it was impressive.

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Skyfall is the 23rd official James Bond film in the series and it proves there are still opportunities to make amazing films, shock and thrill audiences, and make more money than any previous Bond film- even after 22 other films.

Skyfall has been the most critically acclaimed Bond film in recent memory- maybe since the Connery days.  While Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were good, they had been such a sharp departure from the traditional Bond (or the one we had dealt with for the last 3 decades) some fans were still skeptical.  Skyfall puts fears to rest.  Daniel Craig has eased into this role with a charm that only a true James Bond could do.  While the first two Craig films were gritty and dark, this one begins to bring some of the Bond charm we had come to expect from previous Bonds.

The premise of Skyfall is that someone very powerful has obtained a list of all the undercover agents that NATO allies currently has in the field.  The leak of this information is embarrassing to Britain because they were not even supposed to have such a list of their allies activities.  The villain knows how MI-6 operates and is able to anticipate every move Bond and M make leading the obvious that this is an inside job.  Bond's investigation takes him all over the world (as usual) to Turkey, Shanghai, and Japan, but most of the film takes place in London and Scotland.  While most Bond movies pride themselves on how many locations they film at, Skyfall proves that bad guys are sometimes closer to home and that London and Scotland have just as many exotic locations as any other place in the world.

This film introduces Q for the first time since Craig took over as well as many other characters that have been seen in previous films.  Skyfall notes many famous previous Bond moments. I won't spoil anything in this review, but suffice to say- keep an eye out for all kind of hidden easter eggs and tongue in cheek jokes that relate to previous Bond movies.

I would agree with some out there that Skyfall can now be considered one of the best Bond films ever.  The modern take on James Bond makes it difficult to compare it to the charming, comedic Bond films like Goldfinger, Goldeneye, and other fan favorites.  I give this film 4.5 stars and highly recommend seeing it in theaters.  It will be hard to wait to see what happens in the next Bond film as Craig has two more in his contract before the Walter PPK is handed to another.

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Argo is another movie based on a true story.  However unlike Flight, most of this movie is true.  Argo is the name of a fake movie the CIA created in Hollywood to shoot in Tehran, Iran.  The director, CIA Extraction Expert, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), travels to Tehran to scout for filming his sci-fi film.  At least that is his cover.  His real mission is to get six American embassy workers out of the country after the embassy was overrun by revolutionists.  These six escaped the embassy during the protests that ended with Iranians taking over the embassy and taking the remaining Americans hostage.  These six were taken in by the Canadian Ambassador and hid in his residence until they could be safely taken out.  The movie revolves around the CIA and American Intelligence community trying to determine the best way to get the Americans out safely.  Mendez's plan of creating a fake film is shot down until they determine that its the "best worst idea they have".  Ben Affleck's character teams up with John Goodman and Alan Arkin to start developing the movie and get it to a stage where he could legitimately head to Tehran as a Canadian filmaker and "meet" his other 6 pre-production crew members there.

While there is very little actual action in this film, it is filled with intensity.  Ben Affleck does a stellar job of directing while also delivering an excellent acting performance.  The supporting cast was quite large and talented as well.  As usual Alan Arkin and John Goodman do an incredible job and are quite believable as 70's Hollywood big shots.  Bryan Cranston also does a phenomenal job further cementing his ability to play both crazy meth drug dealer (Breaking Bad) and a convincing CIA operative.  He continues to showcase his acting talents and grown.  Everything was very timely- something I find very important in movies from certain time periods.  Everything from clothes, cars, planes, newspapers, everything was set firmly in that period around 1979.  The casting was spot on.  While Ben Affleck's character was slightly off- all the other people were spot on from their pictures.  At the end of the movie they do a photo match from the real people and the actors that portrayed them in the movie.

This was an incredible movie and one definitely to go see.  A terrific story that is not well known, amazing acting, and beautiful directing make this in my top 10 for the year.  I give it 4.5 stars.  While I am not sure this movie could win best film or actor, it very well has a shot at winning best director and best supporting actor- Goodman, Arkin, or Cranston.

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I love movies that seem impossible but have "Based on true events" at the beginning of the film.  Like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre- how on earth is that based on true events.  Flight has the same effect.  It raises the question, is it even possible to turn a commercial airliner upside down and fly it so for several minutes?

Well for starters this story is loosely based on terrifying stories of drunk pilots who project sob stories while they put thousands of lives at risk.  The "true" part only refers to pilots who have flown drunk and a loose connection with one particular alcoholic pilot who fought his addiction after he was imprisoned for flying intoxicated.  The incredible flight at the beginning of the movie in which Denzel Washington turns the commercial airliner upside down to keep it from crashing out of the sky never happened.

The first 45 minutes of the film was incredible.  Denzel's character while flawed, does something so incredible you forget how bad of a person he is.  After saving almost everyone on board, Denzel goes into hiding and struggles to fight his alcoholism   Denzel Washington's performance was absolutely incredible.  Not surprising- its what we have come to expect from the talented actor.  His performances always leave you feeling strongly one way or another about his character.  John Goodman's character was also quite entertaining.  However about half way through the movie, Denzel's character takes a bad turn and the character reverts back to his drinking habits.  The movie at this point seems to drag a little.  The momentum really slows down and you are really just waiting for the ending.

There were some subtle faith aspects to this film which I also thought was interesting.  The overarching question seemed to be was the issue that brought down the plane an act of God, was it God that gave Denzel the power to do something no other pilot alive could have done- drunk or sober, or was it simply the fact that Denzel was a remarkable pilot?  It always seems to me that faith really is a strong factor in flight whether you pray before take off, pray as you crash to the ground, or ask why God would do such a thing after a horrific crash.

Overall the film was good.  Denzel definitely deserves a nod for an Oscar however there are other actors that beat him this time around (more on that soon!).  While the flight catastrophe was impressive on the big screen, I don't see any reason not to wait for dvd.  Its worth a watch if only for Washington's excellent performance.  I give the film overall 2.5 stars though.

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