Sunday, January 26, 2014

I, Frankenstein

In Writer/Director Stuart Beattie’s I, Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein dies in his attempt to track down his monstrous creation (Aaron Eckhart), who escaped after killing the Doctor's wife.

However, the monster is found by members of the Gargoyle race, who have been charged by Archangel Michael with protecting humanity from Demons, who wish to take over the Earth. 
Frankenstein’s creation turns them down and goes off to live alone for a few hundred years until the present day, when the Demon Lord (Bill Nighy) is having a doctor (Yvonne Strahovski) attempt to recreate Dr. Frankenstein’s feat so he can bring to life his collection of soulless bodies and have them possessed by fallen Demons from Hell.
Sounds interesting.  Right?  Well, the story is until it goes awry in the final scenes, when we are not quite clear as to whether it’s all been a setup for a sequel or just fell apart.

The film does have some exceptional effects of Gargoyles and Demons, as well as some great battles.  However, I question whether it will be popular enough to earn a sequel.  

So, I guess we’ll never know how the monster earned his soul, whether the Demon’s minion escaped with the plans for reanimating the bodies the Demon Lord has hidden around the world and whether a partner will be created for the monster or he'll end up with the hot doctor.

Still, it was a good attempt and I give I, Frankenstein a 3 out of 5.

Ride Along

Director Tim Story’s Ride Along is an action comedy that depends upon how funny you think Kevin Hart is.

Initially, I felt pretty much like Detective James Payton (Ice Cube) did about Hart’s character Ben Barber, i.e., somewhat annoyed.  His lines and actions were amusing, but not laugh-out-loud.  He was getting on base with walks and singles and I was hoping for triples or home runs. But, just like in the story, Hart and his character grew on me and I came away pleasantly entertained.

I will say, however, that other audience members seemed to think he was hitting doubles and, perhaps, a few triples.

I give Ride Along a 3+ out of 5, but, for Hart fans, it’s a 4.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Director/Actor Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a high-tension action picture once it gets going.  Its only problem is expressed in its very title.

The film starts out with too much about Jack Ryan, the injured war hero, being brought back to physical health by a loving doctor, having caught the eye of a CIA operative, being sent back to school, having moved in with the loving doctor, being recruited by the CIA to work in the banking industry…
That covers 5 or more years of Jack Ryan’s life and, while I don’t want to say it felt like 5 years of watching, it did take up too much time and could have been dealt with through better writing by taking place during the opening credits.  We came to see an action film, not a biography!

 However, the Shadow Recruit portion of the film takes place over a few days and is truly exciting with thrilling chases and fight scenes.  And, yes, this portion covers, at least, three quarters of the film.

Christopher Pine is a fine precursor to Harrison Ford, Kevin Costner is spot-on as his Control, Keira Knightly is her usually beautiful self and Kenneth Branagh is excellent as the ruthless Russian bad guy.

I give Jack Ryan a 2+ and Shadow Recruit a 4+, for a 3+ out of 5, overall.

Aya: Awakenings

 Writer/Director Rak Razam and Co-Director/Cinematographer/Editor Timothy Parish have succeeded in giving a very true and exciting portrait of the Amazonian plant medicine ayahuasca in their excellent documentary Aya: Awakenings.

I didn’t know if it would be possible to give an accurate feeling for the ayahuasca experience on film, but Razam and Parish have done it.   Better yet, their portrait is honest, in keeping with the true spirit of the plant’s usage, which has, too often, been sensationalized by those seeking it only for a psychedelic high.

What the filmmakers bring out, which was most astonishing to me, when I went on my own expeditions to Peru, is that the revival of the plant’s usage has been brought about due to the interest of Westerners.  The sad reality of the Amazon peoples is that they were pulled from many different areas by force to work in the 19th and 20th century rubber plantations.  As a result, the subsequent generations of these peoples had, for the most part, lost their cultural identities.  What’s more, indigenous shamans were not, usually, local and one had to await a traveling shaman or go, sometimes, as much as a hundred miles to find one. And, unfortunately, many took advantage of the native people.  As a result, they fell out of favor and they and their medicines became distrusted until the presence of Westerners and their interest seemed, now, to put a stamp of approval on them.

The film concentrates primarily on the initial level of the ayahuasca experience, that of “cleansing,” and only touches on the second level of “healing” before turning to a segment on the DMT experience.  I wished that, instead of this segment, it would have delved into the subsequent levels of the plant experience, the raising of the users “vibratory level” and, finally, “connection” to all.  But, perhaps, those are levels the filmmakers have yet to experience and we can hope for a sequel.

Nonetheless, this film is a very valuable piece of learning on the subject and gets across the fact that the true experience has as much to do with the shaman one works with as with the medicine itself.  What’s more, it is, ultimately, a spiritual experience.  This fact is most often lost on “naturalists” such as the wag in the discussion group following the film, who didn’t understand the difference between a drug and a medicine.

If the subject is of interest to you, I urge you to see it.  

I give Aya: Awakenings a 4 out of 5.

Indigo Children

Completing a first feature film is no small feat.  So, kudos to Writer/Director Eric Chaney for getting Indigo Children onto the screen.

However, it is not unusual that what a novice filmmaker says he/she was trying to communicate is not what the audience sees.  And, that was the case here.
But, first, the good news.  Cinematographer Jay Hufford did an admirable job of capturing broad images, close-ups and even super close-ups of a butterfly, a bee, a caterpillar.  And, Composers Jesse Lee Herdman’s and Trevett McCandliss’s music was delightful.

As for the actors, the young female lead Isabelle McNally is both extremely engaging and watchable.  With proper training, she should have a successful career. 

And, for the film’s treat, I’m reminded of the Old Actor’s line in The Fantasticks, “There are no small actors; only small parts.”  Suzanne Lynch, as the male lead’s mother, who is distraught over the death of her husband, gives a haunting performance without uttering a word. The scene where, having overdosed on pills, she rubs the ashes of her husband over her face and body is truly poignant and is the high-point of the film.  Casting Directors, Producers and Directors take note… If you can’t get the great Melissa Leo for your film, give Suzanne Lynch a try.  You might be pleasantly surprised.
Now, for the bad news.  From the very badly phrased first line, which is repeated in the middle and at the film’s end, the script is very weak and the editing is a schizophrenic mish-mash. If Chaney wants a career, I suggest he work with and listen to a strong script consultant or, better yet, concentrate on his budding directing skills.

But, the film’s worst offense of all is its title.  While it’s perfectly okay for a character to claim she might be an Indigo, it is disrespectful to the audience to purport that your film is about Indigos and it is a dishonor to the true Indigos, who are here to help us.  A more fitting title, in keeping with the subject matter, might have been The Kindred; or, in keeping with the movie’s glacial pace, Molasses.

I give Indigo Children a 2 out of 5.