BIGGAFF @ THE MOVIES

BEST MAN HOLIDAY

I was trying my best to avoid seeing this second version of "The Best Man" franchise. I enjoyed the original film and made the assumption that this one would not be as well made; as is all too often the case, I was very wrong. 
 I dismissed this as a"chick flick."  It is a wonderful film on many levels: funny, yet very serious, profane, yet spiritual
   I have seen few films where there is more foul language, yet the film is strong in favor of religious values. The characters go after one another in attack mode, yet their love and concern for each other is genuine and heartfelt.
   If you don't like this movie, I can't imagine what would
please you, the interaction of these characters is so well
written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, that his name could well be
called out at the Academy Awards. I won't continue to tell you how much I liked this film, I want to list every featured player with my remaining space, they earned the respect: Morris Chestnut - Melissa De Sousa - Taye Diggs - Regina Hall - Terrence Howard - Sanaa LathanNia Long -
Harold Perrineau - Eddie Cibrian. I wish I could list the amazing child actors in this film, they have a bright future ahead of them. 
Don't cheat yourself,as I almost did, see this film.    

I feel compelled to add a brief note to this review: Terrence Howard is becoming a superstar among superstars.
He is already a fine, professional, accomplished actor and becoming one of those
few performers that makes every role special.
I look for him to get the first name treatment very soon: Marlon, Sidney,Denzel,he is that dynamic.

12 YEARS A SLAVE

    I was speaking with independent film producer /director, Rane Parish and she pointed out that the lead actor in "12 YEARS A SLAVE" does not show a wide range of emotions, even though he is in most of the scenes. I agreed with her, but I realized why -- the story in not about him, though his character, Solomon Northup, is the real life author of the tale.

    Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is our guide to a world of deceit, cruelty, abuse, hatred and inhumanity, that is so beyond the pale, it has to be true, you can't make up this level of evil. Director Steve McQueen ( no relation to the late, great actor )does not fire up the emotional fuel present in a great many scenes - if you are a decent person, you will provide the passion without any special theatrics from the characters. 

    The abuse given to the slave known as Patsey, played by -- actually I should say, bought to life by -- LuPita Nyong'o , will bring tears to your eyes. The mindless evil of slave owners, Paul Giamatti, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson and many others will sicken you.  
    Brad Pitt, plays a small, but crucial role in this story. 
    The real strength of this movie, is to convey the hopelessness of the people trapped in the evil bondage of slavery,there is virtually no chance for heroic actions or escape. There is not one laugh in this film and that is a tribute to how intense it is in showing the facts of man's inhumanity to man. 

    This is a powerful film and it will wear you down with the weight of the evil it presents.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Let me start by saying this is the front runner for the 2013 Academy Award as best picture and Tom Hanks will be nominated as best actor. Gee, I guess you could stop reading now, I have told you the bottom line. This film just makes good decisions after good decisions.

 Except for Hanks, they don't have an actor in the film you can name or ever saw before - this makes you accept the characters as real people and not Hollywood personalities playing real people. The Somali pirates are actually Somali citizens ( but not actors or
 criminals ). 

 When you know the ending, because the story is fact based and yet, you worry about each step the characters make, that is the sign of an outstanding production.

Credit must be given to the writers and director, Paul Greengrass, when they can make the audience care and even become emotionally involved with the villains (pirates)in the story. It is a rare film that has you hoping that both the good guys and the "bad guys" survive this ordeal. Somali pirate captain,Barkhad Abdi, will be in the mix for best supporting actor. 

One last outstanding feature of this film is its ability to have you physically and emotionally share the 
stress that this hostage situation places on every member of the cast.  I don't recall one joke, one moment that the movie allowed in the usual "comic relief" - this is a hardcore emotional roller coaster and you will
need time to recover from this film,I repeat,it drains the viewers, not just the actors.

GRAVITY

 While researching the details for my review of "Gravity," I ran across this statement by a Canadian movie fan, I could not say it much better than this, so I "lifted ( stole ) much their statement :  

This movie is absolutely stunning from the get go. I can't 

remember ever being pulled into a film so completely and 

thoroughly, and I don't think I've seen a more beautiful film. 

Its an  intense ninety minutes, with Sandra Bullock's character 

constantly battling one catastrophe after another, and all of it is 

amazing to see. The plot is pretty straight forward, but its the 

way they pull it off that makes it absolutely worth seeing. 

Thanks to some incredible special effects, great direction, and 

solid acting, this movie is outstanding. George Clooney does a 

fine job with his character and they  are the only two characters 

on the screen, except for a brief  appearance by a fellow astronaut. 

 The bottom line is, you root for these two characters and once 

a film can get you that concerned, it is a good film.
  
Much of the credit has to go to Mexican writer, director, Jonas Cuaron.  

 I wish more films would limit themselves to a 90 minute format 

and stop dragging out material to reach the two hour mark, as 

if that is  a goal worthy of reaching - short and sweet still works 

for me.

"PRISONERS"

"Prisoners" has a first rate cast.  The story is compelling: two young girls are kidnapped right in their very safe and pleasant neighborhood, with their parents only a few seconds away.  While the police are
"working" the case, the father of one child can't sit on the sidelines, he must get involved in finding the children. 
 The story stirs the blood of the audience, you have to be a pretty cold hearted person to not want to see those kids rescued and yet, what can you do to help, beyond prayer?
     Hugh Jackman is the vigilante father, Jake Gyllenhaal is the dedicated police detective. Maria Bello and  Viola Davis are the mothers who suffer in silence as hope turns to despair.  
Paul Dano is the suspect who may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time and Melissa Leo, is the kindly neighbor, doing all she can to help end this suffering. 
  I have saved mentioning the second father, played by the always excellent, Terrence Howard, because his
character is really the key to this story of rage and passion.  He represents most of us - uncertain of what to do and how to do it and not sure if he is doing the right thing or only making a bad situation worst.
This film violated a Gaffney Rule, by running for  over 150 minutes, but I have to forgive
director Denis Villeneuve, since the time was put to good use.  If you like an intense movie going experience, you should not miss "Prisoners."

THE FAMILY / THE GETAWAY

 The new Robert DeNiro film is, "The Family."  Don't be late to the theater, the opening scene is very powerful -- it lets you know what you are dealing with in this story.  I can't think of a comedy that opens with such a powerful and violent scene. 
      This film is about a mob boss who gave testimony against members of his former crime family and is now in the witness protection program with his biological family. 
I found this film to be another in a long line of films that seem to promote the idea that one ethnic group is genetically linked to criminal activity. Even in a comedy, that idea is given new life.
       If I had to summarize the plot, it is designed along the lines of a classic comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."  Wild and wacky things take place and are treated as normal.   
A family member goes shopping and destroys the store, another goes out for a walk and buries a body in the backyard.  Outrageous behavior is treated as perfectly normal and you are forced to see humor in these bizarre situations. 
       Young actress, Dianna Agron, is just lovely to look at and John D'Leo is her very smart and corrupt young brother.  Michelle Pfeiffer's character is poorly written at the end of the story, she is nothing like her earlier persona.  Tommy Lee Jones is always money in the bank to give a solid performance.
                                   ************
I have to comment on another movie, "The Getaway."  I have not seen it, but in a rating by film critics, it got an approval score of 2%.  I have never encountered such a low rating and felt you might want to go see a movie that is so bad, that 98 out of 100 viewers thought it was dreadful. It "stars" Ethan Hawke and Jon Voight.

YOU'RE NEXT


     I left home headed for this movie, "You're Next'', with every intention of being a hero.  I was going to ride to your rescue and much like Paul Revere, sound the warning that  would alert you to avoid this film like the plague.  Well, I saw the movie and I feel I can play the role of a hero, all I have to do is tell you how wonderful I found this modest independent film to be.
    There is not one person in this production who can be considered even a low level star; there is not a famous name in the entire cast or production crew that you would recognize. Yet this film is excellent. 

  Now, the story is about a family celebration in a rural estate, which is interrupted by a gang of masked savage killers.  This a formula used many times to kill both characters and the time of the audience in cheap, unimaginative C-level productions.

"You're Next" breaks the mold, it is well written by Simon Barrett and expertly directed by Adam Wingard and fairly well acted by the totally unknown ensemble of thespians.

 90% of the time, in a film like this, with so much gore, the actors will ham it up for the camera and do outrageous things to draw attention to themselves - here the cast is disciplined and the director is always  focused on the storyline.

  I can't go into the story without spoiling surprises in the plot, but keeping track of the death toll is a demanding task in this movie, bring a calculator. 

 I find it strange that I am recommending this film, but I was impressed with the running time of only 94 minutes,  that is 
the right amount of time to tell such a story and get to a conclusion before we start to ask too many questions.  

Please, please I repeat, don't come to a film built on violence, if you can't handle on screen bloodshed, because there is plenty of that, but it is a necessary part of the story, the insanity  of the plot must be written in blood.  

THE BUTLER


  To fully appreciate "THE BUTLER" requires a few things of the audience:
1. be in your seat for the first ten minutes - nothing is more powerful than those early minutes.
2. remind yourself that none of this film takes place during the era of slavery in America - what you witness      is happening to people who are "free" American citizens.
3. you will be emotionally uncomfortable watching the pain of good people trapped in bad situations - this film    conveys the diabolical nature of racism and injustice to a degree I last experienced in watching
   "Schindler's List" explore the sadistic environment of Nazi Germany.

   This film chronicles the journey of one man, who transcends his less than humble beginnings to work at the highest station in his profession, butler at the White House. We are shown the hard work, personal sacrifice and lucky breaks it took for him to arrive at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and to encounter injustice there. 
 I feel I am doing a public service in letting you know that a fine film is available for your viewing. So often we are bombarded with ads to see vampires and robots fight for world domination. This film gives us all a chance to see the best and worst of the real world, it shows us both the highs and lows of this social experiment we call The United States of America. 
  The acting is at such a high level that I can't even consider recognizing most of the cast, you would think I was listing the rooster of a football team. Forest Whitaker is the focal point of the tale, Oprah Winfree is the all too human wife, with both faults and virtues in her well written part.Mariah Carey is key to those traumatic first ten minutes I mentioned. DavidOyelowo is the older son in the family and he provides the information we need about the struggle for human and civil rights in America.
  I will skip a ton of great performers and mention that the villain of those ten minutes I keep referring to is a young English actor, Alex Pettyfer -- you might as well know who you will be hating with such a passion.
   
  I must salute Director Lee Daniels for his work, he keeps us focused despite the many 
elements which make up this tale.
  This film is a saga and I won't try to capture it all, that would take most of the pages of this publication. I will strongly advise you to see this film,  your friends and neighbors will 
want your opinion and you will want a voice in the discussion that such a movie as this brings forth. 
  
  One more thought -- when you get to that very last scene, think back to this man's journey starting with those evil ten minutes in the summer of 1926. You will be proud you shared his adventure. 

2 GUNS

This was one of the quickest reviews I have ever written; "2 GUNS" is such an easy film to analyze. The plot is convoluted and that does not matter. I have never written a review where I could say that.  The action is meaningless in this action film, this is also a new revelation for me.

This film is 99% based on and dependent on chemistry.  

You have Denzel ( is the last name really ever necessary )
Washington and Mark Wahlberg giving the audience their version of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". That is worth the price of admission, so money wiseyou are even from the start of the film.

Then along the way you get five more outstanding characters to keep you interested in
this pretty silly / outrageous / over the top / action / romance / comedy / drama.
This film touches all the bases and I don't know what box to put it in if you want a category to file it under.

Besides the two stars I mentioned, this film really is generous in sharing the spotlight
with the great supporting cast, they are all given a chance to shine and they all make the most of the opportunity. 

Paula Patton, she was the concerned guidance counselor in "PRECIOUS," is the romantic interest and looking at her, it is easy to forget the forgettable plot.

Bill Paxton is so arrogant, corrupt and evil, you have to
 be motivated to root for his downfall.

James Edward Olmos is mean and evil, but he
is a villain with a sense of honor, business ethics and dignity that makes you question if he is really a "bad guy".

James Marsden is a snake and that is an insult
to those colorful reptiles.

Fred Ward is either a crook or a misguided
military commander - you have to judge for yourself. 

The overall plot is, as I mentioned, meaningless.
This film lives on these interesting characters having their moments on the silver screen.  You can enjoy this barely average film, because of the superior acting of the cast.

Director Baltasar Kormakur should take a great deal of credit for giving this fine cast their
moments to shine and for almost making us forget that there is no coherent plot.

I have to assume the writers were so busy with the snappy dialog, they forgot the storyline.

FRUITVALE STATION



The main problem with the film, 
"Fruitvale Station", is that it does not gift wrap the package for us.  We have grown accustom to films that do most of the work for us:

* we see the star's name and know he or she will survive
     and  be victorious 

* we know early on the hero will have one minor flaw, such 
    as smoking or a minor gambling habit

* we will imagine ourselves as being the hero by the 
        film's  end

"Fruitvale Station" does not follow that long established                      pattern of film making / storytelling. 

The central character in this real life drama is
Oscar Grant ( played by Michael B. Jordan).
 We know from the start that things won't work out well for  Oscar and we learn Oscar is flawed:  reckless, 
 underachieving and quick to anger.
 Yet, the young man  is good in many ways, loving, 
 caring and charming at times.

You have to come to this film prepared to let go of the melodramatic elements that allow you to see what is coming next in most films------ you must allow this story to
unfold before you in its own manner, even if it takes 
unpleasant turns.

 Join me in appreciating a film without a single vampire, zombie or machine making speeches and fighting 
another machine for world domination.

Director / writer Ryan Coogler does a great job, as winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival will attest.

Oscar award winner Octavia Spencer ( "The Help" ), is very convincing as the strong, but soft-hearted mother of the main character.

This film runs for 90 minutes and those minutes are not wasted on topics and sub-plots that are off the topic at hand; - 
a lesson many other movies should try to imitate.

Be prepared to leave the theater in a down state of mind - this is not that Hollywood formula film with the motto of 
                   "leave them laughing" 
this film will leave you thinking and we are not normally required to do that very often.

THE LONE RANGER

I am in the same position I was with the late and not so great - "Gatsby" film.
"The Lone Ranger"  is a movie with all the technical bells and whistles. If you just want to see magnificent sets and great action sequences, this is paradise for you.
The problem comes to the forefront if you also want a coherent story to go with the scenery.  
If you fail to value your time and have 150 minutes you don't need and if you want to see a movie called "The Lone Ranger", which really is about "Tonto", this is that film.
I used the word "tedious" (tiresome by reason of length) to describe the film. Another critic wrote, the movie keeps 
"not-ending" for an extra hour. My third guest critic wrote, the film does not know what it wants to be.
 When the film is finally over, you won't be able to really focus on what it was about.  I did not hate this film, but I would not
send anyone to see it if they value a film with a clear: focus, 
purpose, direction, goal, outcome. "The Lone Ranger" seems to just wonder around trying to find a theme that will allow all the plots and sub-plots to come together and make this film meaningful - that goal was never reached.
 One problem is that Johnny Depp's "Tonto" is the star of this film, not the ranger.
 The cast of Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkerson, William FichtnerHelena Bonham Carter, and Barry Pepper do well, without much help from the script. 
Director Gore Verbinski does a fine job with each scene - it is not his fault that the writers never made the wandering plots equal a first rate movie.
 OLD SCHOOL ASIDE --If you are a child of the 1950's -- you might be like me - we never called the hero, The LONE Ranger, he was always The LONG Ranger. How many kids use the word "lone" in their daily conversations, none that I knew.

WHITE HOUSE DOWN

I recent wrote a cousin of mine and mentioned to her that critics are not telling you what to see, but most often warning you about what you will see if you buy a movie ticket. If you go to see "White House Down," you will see "Die Hard" without Bruce Willis. 
You will see senior government officials agonizing over a decision that a fifth grader could make with confidence in under ten seconds. "Should I save the world from total  destruction or do what is best for a child I met five minutes ago?" 
 If you were lucky enough to have seen "Olympus Has Fallen" a few months ago, quit while you are ahead, this current film is not in the same league with that production, though they share the same basic storyline.
I was going to point out several other plot elements that make little sense, but as I already mentioned, this is "Die Hard" in Washington, D.C. -- not "Hamlet in Denmark," so there is no point in attacking it for its intellectual shortcomings. It is an action film with plenty of action, that is the most positive comment I can make about it. If you want to see a lot of shooting and miracle escapes from certain death, this is the picture for you.
   I am not doing the cast members any favors in mentioning their names - but, Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, James Wood, 
 Maggie Gyllenhaal and young Miss Joey King are the stars and Roland Emmerich is the director. 
 I should make it clear that I really liked "Die Hard" back in the day, but moving it to a different city is not worthy of two hours and seventeen minutes of my time in
the year 2013.

WORLD WAR Z



"World War Z" is a zombie movie. You can paint it a different color and film it in a unique manner (less blood and gore than usual), but it is still a zombie movie and are there any among us who would say we need another zombie movie?  
The saving grace for this film is Brad Pitt turning in a serious reading of his role and he sends the message  for the audience to pay attention.  It was a surprise to me that Mireille Enos, basically an unknown was cast as his wife. She is not glamorous and you expect Brad to have a Playboy Bunny at his side.  I think the message was that this is movie to be taken seriously, it is an adult and intellectual zombie movie - if such a thing is possible.
  Don't be late for this movie - the first few minutes
are very powerful.  You are given a situation where you observe people running away, in a state of mass hysteria / panic. The vast majority don't know what they are running from and the first question the film poses is, would you remain and examine the problem or would you join the herd and stampede without knowing what you are running from and where you should run to.  I have not broken the 
"spoiler rule"( don't give away plot secrets ), because you will have to face this question as the scene unfolds - warning or no warning.

   The film undermines itself by solving a major problem Pitt faces too early in the story, but it
rebounds with other problems, so the story remains
compelling to the end.  
Pitt is supported by African actor, Fana Mokoena as a 
United Nations official with powerful resources and 
Daniella Kertesz as one strong Israeli soldier and a 
female who can be as tough as Brad when the going gets rough.
I wish they had avoided some of the scenes where the zombie hordes do special effects things that gravity and the laws of physics would not allow - but, having a dead person walking around pretty much breaks the rules beyond repair, so my complaint is not really valid for a zombie movie.
This is not a must see film, at two hours it is a little long, but not bad -- if you can handle one more walking dead production. No matter what its
virtues are - it remains a zombie movie. 

MAN OF STEEL > SUPERMAN 2013


The theaters should cut their ticket prices 50% for this
production of "Man of Steel," since you will be getting only half a decent film. My one word review of this film is "disappointing." Question: was the target audience 15 year old boys?
Any part of this film that goes back in time to explain the
origins of this superhero icon is excellent.  Once you get to the present day parts of the story, the production goes into pointless and over-done explosions, gunfire and general
destruction of any vehicle or structure that is handy at the moment. 
The disappointment is knowing that the entire film could have been as good as the flashbacks showing the origin and development of the Man of Steel
I am also sad to see Christopher Nolan involved in this mess as a writer, after the great work he did as director of the Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale.
 When a scene involves Russell Crow, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner or Amy Adams, good things are taking place; all the scenes involving guns and explosions are repetitious and pointless.
Henry Cavill is fine as Superman, he looks the part and that is 75% of the task. Laurence Fishburne is wasted in his small role as newspaper editor, Perry White. 
I won't blame director Zack Snyder, no one person could be responsible for messing up what could have been a great film, he would have to have "help".
Many folks might think, after seeing this film, I was too critical, but if you look deeper, you will see it was the parts about the growth of Superman that you liked, not the "Transformer" type senseless violence.

AFTER EARTH

During my college days at St. Francis in Brooklyn, we discussed the theory of "dying at the height of your greatest glory."  Once you come to bat in the  seventh game of the World Series, the ninth inning with two outs and your team trailing by three runs and you hit a grand slam home run -- it is only fitting and proper that you die after crossing home plate with that winning run.  The theory is, your life can only go downhill from that moment on, so it is better that you depart his world while on top.

I say all this because M. Night Shyamalan, the director of "After Earth" might be proof that this theory is valid.  This man directed the great movie, "Sixth Sense" in 1999 and has not approached anything that
good since.  "After Earth" will do nothing to break his very long downhill slide.

    This film has all the bells and whistles of a first class production - if only great sets and scenery were enough to make a film work.  

The story is thin, you have the entire story in the first few minutes and even the brief running time of 100 minutes is too long.  A really successful film has to make you care and this writer / director has lost his way and can't seem to realize that very few members of the audience will give a darn about these folks.   
   I don't want to bash this film, they made an honest effort to put a story on the screen, but unless you are very forgiving, you will have to admit that they missed the boat and the plot was too thin to support the time and money spent to produce this weak film - maybe
it should have been marketed for a pre-teen audience.  

Will Smith and Jaden Smith are the key players in this production and I would have been kinder if I did not mention their names -- this certainly won't be their moment of greatest glory.

In the future, I will use the name M. N. Shyamalan as a "buyer beware" warning sign in selecting a film to pay money to see.

This film is really beautiful to look at, but nothing much gets you involved in the film -- the themes of love, family, life and death are in the story, but not in a manner that makes you care.  I should have been rooting for the characters and I was merely watching them.