Whiplash

November 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Saving Christmas

November 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Kirk Cameron, Darren Doane, Bridgette Cameron
Directed by: Darren Doane (“42K”)
Written by: Darren Doane (“42K”) and Cheston Harvey (debut)

Kirk Cameron has an agenda, and it might not be what you think it is. Sure, the former teen heartthrob from TV’s “Growing Pains” is an outspoken evangelical Christian, therefore you might think Cameron’s goal is proselytize, using his one-time super fame as leverage, which he does plenty of. And before you demonize me, don’t think I’m dismissing the man’s religious convictions. I do not share his beliefs, but mostly I just don’t have a horse in the race.  No, Kirk Cameron’s real agenda is lighting a fire under his fellow evangelical Christians, convincing them that their faith is somehow under attack at all times, be it from within from Christians losing their way or (especially) from the outside, via the entirely fabricated nonsense like the “War on Christmas.” Business is booming for faith-based entertainment, and nothing gets Christian fannies in the seats better than alleging you’re offering something that reaffirms the beliefs they already hold that supposedly the people in charge don’t want you to see. Cameron’s true agenda is to make sure the artificial wedge between Christians and the bogeyman liberal agenda PC police stays firmly in place so he can continue wringing money out of that market.

All promotional material for “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” heavily implied another straw man take on the “War on Christmas,” with Cameron swooping in to save the holiday from those who seek to remove all things Christ from the nation’s by far most popular holiday. Cameron repeats this message in a tacked-on prologue before the movie starts again to feature none of that, instead focusing on a fictionalized Cameron family Christmas party being held at Kirk’s sister’s house. Ever the master of ceremonies, Kirk realizes during the merriment of passing out punch that the man of the house, Christian (director Darren Doane), is nowhere to be found. When Cameron asks his sister (real-life sister Bridgette Cameron) about Christian’s absence, she lets him know that all the modern aspects of Christmas today have Christian feeling down and convinced that this just isn’t the way to be celebrating the birth of Christ. Enter Kirk Cameron to lecture Christian (get it?) on how every aspect of Christmas—even Santa Claus—is connected to Christ in some fashion.

Let me reiterate: I don’t have any problem with the message here. If one Christian wants to educate another Christian on the biblical significance of everything from the Christmas tree to wrapped presents being representative of the skyline of New Jerusalem, I don’t have a problem with that (sure, I’m a little miffed at the straw man bait-and-switch, but I’ll live), but certainly even the most faithful of Christians will have to recognize how agonizingly padded and slow this movie is. Cameron and Doane interact with little editing, with every syllable and pause in their back and forth testing patience at every turn. Random comic relief pops up between two bit players who rattle off conspiracy theories for a few minutes, then disappear so the lecture can continue. There is what must be a 7-minute dance sequence wherein the whole party takes turns break-dancing in front of a Christmas tree, and there are 10 minutes of credits stuffed with outtakes and bloopers that just barely stretch the runtime to an hour and 20 minutes. Considering there is maybe 30 minutes of actual material throughout, it’ll be a Christmas miracle if anyone leaves this movie satisfied.

The Drop

September 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace
Directed by: Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”)
Written by: Dennis Lehane (debut)

Adapted from his short story “Animal Rescue,” screenwriter/novelist Dennis Lehane is known for setting his crime dramas in the city of Boston. Two of his novels, “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River,” were given the cinematic treatment a few years ago and made Boston brim with the kind of atmosphere you couldn’t generate in any other U.S. city. It’s doesn’t seem to be as important to Lehane in “The Drop.” Although his original story is set in Boston, filmmakers have transplanted the narrative in Brooklyn and have done so without upsetting their characters’ way of life. Maybe the studio changed locations because crime dramas in Boston have become overused in recent years (along with “Gone” and “River,” films like “The Town” and “The Departed” have taken full advantage of the city’s unique ambiance), but whatever the case, “The Drop” is still a smart, seething production led by a striking performance by actor Tom Hardy.

In “The Drop,” Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a quiet, goodhearted bartender who does what he’s told and never lets the fact that his bar operates as a place where Brooklyn’s seediest criminals conduct money drops affect him. Along with his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini in his final film role and playing against type although it’s a mob movie), who owns the bar but still has to answer to the Chechen gangsters in charge, the two men seem content having a low-key profile and sticking to what they know best: serving beer to their neighborhood customers. When their bar, however, is robbed one evening by two masked thugs, Bob and Marv are thrown into a life-threatening situation they’d rather not be in.

Carried by a performance that shows what an incredible range Hardy has as an actor, the character of Bob Saginowski is a confident albeit understated one reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nominated role in the original 1977 “Rocky.” You can tell Bob isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but there’s something about him that lets you know he’s in control of the situation. Aside from being on bad terms with the Russian mob for losing their money, Bob is also caught up in another incident that has him looking over his shoulder. After saving an abused and abandoned pit bull puppy from the street, with the help from a woman in the neighborhood (Noomie Rapace), Bob is confronted by the dog’s ruthless and irrational owner (an incredible Matthias Schoenaerts) who is a known murderer amongst the locals in the area.

In his English-language directorial debut, Oscar-nominated director Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”) is able to slowly build up the intensity of each scene effortlessly despite some of the storylines stretching themselves thin at times. While Rapace is a reasonable factor to include in the scenario, not much builds out of the relationship between her and Hardy to consider it significant. It’s the connection between Bob and Marv and the criminal underworld and how they’ve adapted to it over the years that feels the most authentic to what Lehane and Roskam want to say. It’s this part of the  narrative that keeps the Brooklyn-based plot involving all the way up to its twisty climax.

Locke

May 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson
Director: Steven Knight (“Redemption”)
Written by: Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”)

If the only things you know actor Tom Hardy for are his growly role as Batman’s masked nemesis Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” or when he slummed it in the painful-to-watch romantic comedy “This Means War,” then you might not think Hardy is one of the best actors of his generation working today. Simply put: he is. From his frightening and under-seen lead role in the 2008 crime drama “Bronson” to his emotionally-charged and underappreciated role in the 2011 sports drama “Warrior,” it’s no surprise Hardy’s stock is rising fast. Another highpoint in the burgeoning British actor’s career comes by way of a film practically set up as a one-man show – and what a show Hardy gives audiences.

In “Locke,” a film written and directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises”), Hardy commands the screen single-handedly as Ivan Locke, a construction foreman who is facing a life-changing decision on the eve of the biggest day of his professional career. Only hours before what is considered one of the biggest cement pours in European history, Ivan gets into his car and drives away from the construction site and towards London where a woman he had an affair with is giving birth to his child. Ivan may be the only indispensable employee for this massive task his construction company about to undertake, but he’s decide he’s not going to be there. His decision kicks in to gear a series of phone calls that ultimately make up the whole of the movie and give Hardy an incredibly diverse scale of emotions to work from.

From making calls to his anxious co-worker who can’t believe what Ivan is doing to his phone confession to his distraught wife who is at home with their two sons watching a big soccer match on TV, Hardy takes on a collection of genuine personalities with each conversation. Some of the most compelling dialogue Hardy delivers is when he looks into his rearview mirror and speaks to his imaginary father, which gives audiences a sense of the deeper reasons Ivan has decided to abandon one responsibility for the other. It’s a tough choice and Knight sets up the conversational narrative effortlessly. While the 85-minute film takes place entirely in one car and in one position, the intense nature of the exchanges between Ivan and each person in his life feel like they are always surging forward. Not only is this real-time film experiment suspenseful, especially for a storyline that has its main actor sitting in the same spot for the duration, the more complex themes and metaphors Knight uses to explain how fragile life really is never feel overworked or superficial.

While there are a few spots where “Locke” may feel a bit tedious to some moviegoers (if you can sit through Robert Redford doing absolutely nothing in “All is Lost,” however, you can sit through this), Hardy’s wonderful portrayal of a logical man who is about to lose everything that is important to him is the reason stay for the entire car ride. It’s easily one of the best performances of his career.