Tag Archives: Crime

Review: The Fate of the Furious

fate poster
via Coming Soon

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

PG-13 / 136 mins.

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson

Director: F. Gary Gray


Things are changing in the world of the Fast and the Furious.

Paul Walker has passed away due to a tragic car accident, meaning his character Brian is not returning in future installments.  The stakes continue to rise as Dom and his crew get their selves wrapped up in global conflict.  Dom has turned on his family!?  Things are certainly changing as the street-racing-turned-blockbuster-action-franchise returns with its eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious.  Even though Fate serves up a delightfully fun and silly experience its beginning to feel like there is an onset of series fatigue.

Of course, this is a natural for a series that has been around for sixteen years.

fate 1
via Universal Pictures

In the franchise’s eighth ride, directed for the first time by F. Gary Gray, Dom (Vin Diesel) is placed under the grasp of an international terrorist who goes by the name of Cipher (Charlize Theron).  She meets up with the former street racer in Cuba and all it takes is a single photograph for Dom to change sides, supposedly betraying his “family” in the process.  This is the narrative hook that has been captivating fans of the series up until its release.  It is an outlandish premise, and at times unbelievable, but the reasons for his “betrayal” are satisfying and make sense.  In fact, this is probably the most coherent plot the series has offered in a while.  What is even more satisfying is the secret plan that Dom formulates while working for the other side and the way in which it all turns out in the end.  It is a ton of fun and there is some fan service that will make any Fast fan giddy with excitement.

Charlize Theron’s Cipher is one of my favorite villains this franchise has seen.  She is equal parts cunning and ruthless.  She does some pretty messed up things during the movie’s run time and you will end up hating her by the end.  Past villains in the series have been hit or miss, but I am confident when I say that Cipher cements herself at the top.  Unfortunately, the worst part about her character is that we do not see enough of her in action.  She spends the lion share of her time in the movie aboard her plane within the confines of her headquarters.  She is rarely on the ground getting her hands dirty and we certainly never see her behind the wheel.  Charlize Theron is an actress who is going to be starring in the action-thriller Atomic Blonde (who’s trailer we see before the movie) so it is quite a shame that she never throws a punch or swings a kick.

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via The Hollywood Reporter

Despite Dom and Cipher being the centerpiece of this movie’s plot, it is the other characters that make this movie such a delight.  Dwayne Johnson reprises his role as the super-cop Hobbs.  He has a ton of great moments and this movie would not have been the movie it is without his presence.  What is most entertaining is his relationship with Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham.  The two despise each other (which is understandable) so when forced to work together, things get interesting.  Jason Statham is one of my favorite parts about this movie.  He is a fusion of humor and seriousness and he plays both parts amazingly.  The fact that the team is totally cool with him despite his murder of Han in cold blood is a little weird, but the movie does a respectable job at making him a redeemable character, especially during a laugh-out-load scene involving a plane gunfight towards the end.  Then there is Roman, Tyrese Gibson’s character.  Did you think there was not enough Roman in previous installments?  If you said yes, then you are in for a treat.  Roman reprises his role as the comic relief and his character is constantly a joy.  Every line he mutters made me laugh.  Just wait for the Barents Sea scene…it is tough to not laugh.

The rest of the cast is fine.  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is now happily back with Dom.  Tej Parker (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are still the hackers of the group.  Kurt Russell makes a return as Mr. Nobody, along with series newcomer Scott Eastwood, who plays the “little nobody.”  His character did not do much for me.  I am sure he is going to be in future movies, so good for him.  He has some funny moments but he ultimately seems like a boring stand-in for Paul Walker’s character.

fate 3
via iMDB

The action sequences in Fate come from the same brand of ridiculous that the Fast movies have become famous for, but they pale in comparison to previous movies.  There are only so many things you can do with cars, which is the inevitable problem with a series like this running for so long.  It is hard to top set-piece moments like the aircraft scene in Fast 6 and the skyscraper jumps from Furious 7, but Fate still has its fair share of crazy action moments.  There is a zombie car sequence in New York which is essentially Day Z but with cars and the submarine chase that has been heavily featured in the trailers offers some insane excitement.  Reality is constantly thrown out the window and the approach to some of these situations can be laughable, but that is what makes these movies so special.  I am not here to question the physical plausibility of such scenes.  I am here to eat popcorn, turn off my mind, and enjoy the blockbuster action in front of me.  That is something these movies tackle perfectly.

Another complaint I have with the movie is its recycled gags and plot points that it comes to.  Hobbs gives a stern speech in the beginning but it is revealed that he is giving said speech to a girls’ soccer team.  Roman and Tej are still vying for the admiration of Ramsey.  Those are just two examples.  Of course, this is a symptom of series fatigue.  The series’ writers are falling back on the same tricks that they have pulled in past movies, which is a little concerning.  The movie switches things up by placing Dom on the villain’s side, but with two more movies left, the writers are starting to run out of places to go.  The Fate of the Furious is a very familiar feeling movie, but maybe it is starting to become a little too familiar.  This familiarity does not just stop at gags and plot points.  The movie falls into a lot of similar tropes that have been common for the series.  This is not necessarily a terrible thing considering how great the past three movies have been, but this sort of laziness is not going to fly for much longer.

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via Dark Horizons

Despite inklings of fatigue, The Fate of the Furious still manages to take viewers on a thrill ride, offering a lot of dumb, silly action.  If you are coming into this series fresh without any knowledge of the previous movies, your mileage may vary with this movie but if you have been a ride-or-die fan since day 1, you will find a ton to love with this movie.  With a ninth and tenth installment imminent, I am eager for this franchise’s future.  I am hoping it sets up for a strong finish.

fate score

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Review: Luke Cage Season 1

luke-cage-s1-posterLuke Cage (Season 1) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Action / Crime / Drama

Starring: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi

Creator: Cheo Hodari Coker


He just wanted to be left alone, but the city needed a hero.  That’s one of the things I love about Netflix’s host of Marvel TV shows.  The featured superheroes, or vigilantes as some might say, never revel in the spotlight that is thrust on them.  They never bask in the glow of praise (or hate) that gets thrown their way.  They just do what they feel is necessary.  They get the job down because it’s the right thing to do.  Luke Cage, the star of Marvels’ Luke Cage, was just the neighborhood guy, hanging out at Pop’s barber shop in Harlem.  However, after his name gets tarnished he needs to fight to clear his name and save his neighborhood.

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via gamers.vg

Some superheroes wear capes; others wear hoodies full of bullet holes.  The one thing that Luke Cage absolutely nails, among other things, is its titular hero.  We got a taste of Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Netflix’s other series Jessica Jones, but this time around he’s front and center.  He’s an ex-con who literally just wants to be left alone.  He’s the neighborhood guy that everybody loves.  He also has superhuman strength and durability, which comes in handy more times than not.  The show doesn’t waste any time in showing you that Luke’s bulletproof.  I was going to count how many hoodies he lost because of bullet holes…but I quickly lost count.  Colter brings a toughness to the role that I really like.  He also does a good job at portraying a man who has a lot of demons, demons he wrestles with all season.  Luke’s a complex character, one that ever so relatable.  As a white male, I would be lying to you if I told you that I related to Luke Cage, but there is a massive demographic of young black males that will quickly identify with Luke’s character, especially in light of the events in current society.  This isn’t by accident either.

Another aspect that show creator Cheo Hodari Coker nails is the story, full of great supporting characters as well as villains.  Like all of Marvel’s Netflix shows, the story stays grounded in Harlem, a city full of gangbanging and corruption.  One of the neighborhoods’ biggest players is Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali) who goes by the name of ‘Cottonmouth.’  I absolutely adored Ali’s performance as the classy gangster hungry for power.  Nothing made me giddier than the show’s iconic scene that has Cottonmouth demonstrating his power in front of a portrait of late rapper Biggie Smalls.  It’s a great example of the show’s fantastic cinematography.  Cottonmouth’s not the only player in Harlem though.  There’s also councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Herman “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi).  Both give great performances, along with some other villains that I won’t mention in fear of spoilers.

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via News Times

But who’s on Luke Cage’s side?  At first, Luke’s relationship with Harlem detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is a rough, but the two slowly warm up to each other as the season moves on.  They both are in search of justice and want to make sure that it’s found, no matter the cost.  It’s also refreshing to see Rosario Dawson get substantial screen time as Claire Temple, a good friend of Luke’s.  We have seen Dawson in both Daredevil and Jessica Jones as Claire, but only in smaller, more supportive roles.  This time she’s a prime part of the story, helping Luke find answers and seek justice in any way that she can.  She has experience tending to heroes like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which makes her a qualified sidekick on Luke’s quest for vengeance.

The first couple of episodes chug along at a slower pace, but the story quickly picks up at a faster and more thrilling pace.  Although the main focus is Luke’s quest to avenge Pop’s (Frankie Faison) death, we also see bit and pieces of Luke’s past as an ex-con and how he became the superhuman that he is now.  I think these bits of backstory are neatly framed within the context of the story and they never feel too egregious.  They also play a big part in developing the characters and their motivations in the story.  Even though I enjoyed the show’s story a great deal, it was still lacking a thing that all good stories need: conflict, which might seem silly when you see Luke Cage fighting his way through gangsters and taking bullets like hunting target.  “Of course there’s conflict, what are you talking about!?”  Sure, there’s a surface level conflict, but I never felt like Luke was ever in real danger at any point during the course of the season.  There’s clever ways that the plot tries to build roadblocks in Luke’s mission, but I always knew in the back of my head that Luke was going to be just fine.  That’s the problem when you have a character that is, literally, bulletproof.  There were, of course, an abundance of thrills but these thrills were the byproduct of well-choreographed fight scenes and action moments…never the byproduct of conflict.

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via Digital Trends

Let’s circle back to a positive aspect of my time with Luke Cage and that is the show’s production and style.  Everything from the imagery to the show’s amazing soundtrack play a big role in putting you in the city streets of Harlem.  I already mentioned it previously, but the scene including Biggie’s portrait is a perfect example of the show really embracing Harlem’s culture.  There’s also the soundtrack, which is heavily influenced by old-school rap.  It even boils down to the show’s episode titles, all of which are references to the classic rap duo Gang Starr.  The show’s creators really understood the culture and setting that they were working with and hit a hole-in-one in terms of Harlem’s look and feel.  It did a great job at placing you in the beating heart of Harlem’s neighborhood.

If I had to rank Marvel’s Netflix shows as of right now, I would probably put Luke Cage above Jessica Jones but below Daredevil.  Regardless of its place among its sister shows, Luke Cage still excels on its own.  There’s a few blemishes, specifically with the conflict for a near-invincible vigilante, but the story delivers a wonderful cast of characters placed in the beautifully painted depiction of Harlem.  Ever since I saw Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Jessica Jones I knew I wanted a full-on show devoted to the character, and Luke Cage delivers and succeeds in its mission.  But seriously, Luke really needs to buy some higher-grade hoodies.  Don’t they sell bullet-proof hoodies?

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Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows

batman e1 cover
via PlayStation 4 You

Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games

Developer: Telltale Games, WB Games


Batman has been made great again.  Recently, Batman games have been hitting it out of the park, but it wasn’t until Rocksteady Studio’s Arkham series that the series found its stride.  They portrayed a grittier side of Batman, a vigilante willing to do anything to serve and protect the grungy city that is Gotham.  What about Bruce Wayne?  Everyone knows that Batman’s identity is the rich bachelor Bruce Wayne, but we’ve only had glimpses of him in the video games.  With the mission of exploring both sides of the caped crusader, Batman: The Telltale Series comes to us with the first addition to its episodic series, “Realm of Shadows.”  The episode finally lets us take the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne as one fights crime in the night and the other navigates the tricky landscape that is politics.  It’s a fascinating start that occasionally gets bogged down in a lot of unnecessary backstory.

batman e1 1
via Press A Key

Characteristic to most Telltale games, Batman’s strongest suit is its story which is more multi-faceted than any of the studio’s games.  In the first episode alone we are introduced to a multitude of different subplots.  The game does a good job at splitting up the amount of time you play as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.  As Batman you patrol the city streets at night, keeping the city of Gotham safe from goons and other evils.  On the other side, players navigate Bruce Wayne around the sphere of Gotham’s elite socialites.  Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is campaigning to take spot of mayor from the corrupt Hamilton Hill and it’s up to Wayne to support him and get him to that spot.  Unfortunately, your forced to support Dent, whether you want to or not, but the extent of Wayne’s support is determined by the player.  The Batman segments are about what you would expect but making choices as Bruce Wayne is really unique and sometimes stressful.  Every single little detail, down to a simple handshake, can change Gotham’s opinion on Wayne, which makes every decision you make pretty important.  As it turns out, entertaining a schmoozy dinner party is a lot harder than you would think.

Hamilton Hill isn’t the only form of conflict that players will have to deal with.  As Batman you stumble across the sneaky Catwoman who has her eyes on some sensitive files that she needs to obtain for her employer.  In attempt to put a stop to her shady dealings you let her get away, but she comes back in a rather unexpected way, one that will bring some deeper and unwanted trouble.  There’s also the powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone who has his hands in many of Gotham’s webs.  His criminal dealings have been driving the city into a hole and his many connections could put a wrench in Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s political campaign.  Finally, we’re also introduced to Bruce’s childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot, who could be an alley or a nuisance depending on how you approach things in Gotham.

batman e1 2
via MMoga

The story, which also includes series favorites like Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon, is pretty fascinating and has the possibility of going in many different directions, hopefully.  There’s one facet of the story that falters however, and that is the insanely unnecessary amount of backstory that is apparently crammed into every nook and cranny.  Anyone familiar with Batman’s story knows that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in a theater alley and that the city of Gotham is pretty ugly and corrupt.  Unfortunately, Batman feels the need to belabor these points way too hard.  Your constantly reminded of these facts over and over again.  This backstory is probably necessary in some sort of fashion for those unfamiliar with the caped crusader’s story, but do we really have to talk about the death of Bruce’s parents every five minutes?  Hey!  Hey!  Remember when your parents died!?  Yeah that must suck huh.  There’s even a couple at Bruce’s dinner party that describes the death of Bruce’s parents in brutal detail.  These examples of bashing the player over the head with repetitive backstory is a sign of weak writing, which is a shame since the rest of the story is really well-written.  I’m willing to bet that this type of backstory is going to stop after the first episode, but the inclusion of all this repetition is pretty bad.

There’s three gameplay modes that players will become familiar with over the course of the episode and the rest of the series.  Firstly, the traditional style of Telltale’s adventure games is the main slice of interaction that players will take part in.  You choose your dialog options, which in turn helps shape the story that you want to see play out.  Then there’s the quick-time events, which come into play primarily during Batman’s segments.  Quick-time combat isn’t new to the Telltale games, but Batman’s combat feels a lot faster and requires a lot more focus.  There’s a meter at the bottom corner that fills up with each successful button press during a combat sequence.  When the meter fills up, you have the ability to perform a finisher, a move that involves two button presses instead of one, something new to the Telltale games.  Obviously the combat doesn’t rival Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, but Batman’s combat is fast and fluid, and a lot of fun.  Lastly, we the first episode contains a detective sequence that involves scoping out an environment examining various areas and objects, connecting them together to piece together what took place at the scene.  It isn’t too challenging to play detective, but the first episode’s segment was a fresh change of pace and pretty unique.  There’s also a segment that involves planning out a plan of attack using Batman’s investigative abilities.  I hope we get a lot more of these types of play styles over the course of the series as they were some of the best parts of the episode.

batman e1 3
via VG24/7

Again, the game’s presentation style is similar to Telltale’s previous games, but with an improved engine to boot.  The improvements aren’t drastic, but the game’s art style and lighting do the series a ton of favors.  The game feels like a comic book brought to life, which is the best case scenario for a game like Batman.  The voices for both Batman and Bruce Wayne (voiced by well-known voice actor Troy Baker) are fine, but they could be better.  Troy Baker fits into the role of rich bachelor pretty well, but it’s Batman’s voice that could use some work.  The vigilante alters his voice, giving a bass-boosted voice to the character.  The voice just sounds way too heavy for my liking.  Turning down the voice’s bass levels would do the character wonders.

I am heavily anticipating future episodes from the series, which should all release by the end of the year if things go according to plan.  The first episode closes its doors with a bunch of open sub-plots that leave us with a lot of questions and excitement.  There’s also a massive wrench thrown into the story at the very end that could spell a lot of problems for Bruce and his family’s name.  It comes out of left field, but provides a unique angle, one that hasn’t really been explored in Batman media.  With the absence of a need for backstory, the future episodes could be something special and fun for fans of the caped hero.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and help change the face of Gotham City.

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Review: Central Intelligence

central intelligence poster
via Good Film Guide

Central Intelligence (2016)

PG-13 / 114 min

Comedy / Crime

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber


When you put Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson in a movie together, it should be pretty clear what kind of movie you’re going to get.  The two actors have some great off-screen chemistry, so buddying them up in a movie like Central Intelligence just seems like the right way to go.  In fact, the movie might not have been as good without the two stars.  Central Intelligence largely works because Hart and Johnson’s chemistry is what carries the movie.

central intelligence 1
via Filmonic

The fun begins in high school, where we are quickly introduced to Hart and Johnson’s characters.  Hart plays Calvin Joyner, the all-around cool kid at Central High.  He’s practically involved in everything and has been voted as “most likely to succeed.”  He’s the model student.  On the other hand, we have Johnson’s character, Bob Stone.  Bob Stone is his alias that he goes by, but frankly I forget his actual name. (I know it’s something similar to “weird dick”) Anyway, he’s a fat kid (The Rock was actually transformed into a fat kid, yeah I know, surprising!) who’s the target of every bully at school.  After being thrown out onto the gym floor in front of everyone at an assembly, naked, Calvin helps out Bob by giving him his varsity jacket to cover up his special parts.  This plants the seed for a future friendship.

Twenty years later, we find Calvin looks exactly the same, but he’s working as an accountant.  Not exactly the type of job he would have wanted after being voted most likely to succeed.  After sending Calvin a Facebook message asking him if he wanted to meet up, Calvin finally meets up with Bob Stone who now looks like…well, the Rock.  How did he get so jacked?  Well, he worked out six hours a day, every day for the past twenty years.  Pretty simple right?  Later that night Bob Stone, who happens to be part of the CIA, ropes Calvin into a matter of national security…one that he can’t get himself out of.  Thus, hilarity ensues.

central intelligence 2
The Austin Chronicle

The movie is about as formulaic as a mismatched buddy comedy can be.  If there was a golden slate listing all the common tropes that these films need to contain, Central Intelligence follows it to a T.  The thing that makes the film seem fresh is the scattered bits of bullet-spraying gunplay that usually involve Johnson’s character doing all the work while Hart somehow manages to flail around without getting hit.  No surprise there, but it still leads to some funny moments.  This is the kind of movie where a banana is a credible weapon that can do some serious damage.  The movie isn’t trying to be sophisticated.  That’s not its mission.  It’s a lot of dumb fun; a movie where you turn your brain off for a little while.

There’s a lot of laughs to be had throughout the movie thanks to the signature brand of Kevin Hart comedy.  Some might find it gets old, but I personally still enjoy every minute of it.  There’s also lots of movie and pop culture references to be found, more than I was expecting, that lead to some great moments as well.  16 Candles anyone?  Some of the film’s best moments however come from the interactions between Hart and Johnson’s characters.  The actor’s chemistry shows and they instantly become very likable.  Like I previously said, the movie would have been a bore if it weren’t for these two actors taking the top spots.

central intelligence 3
via The Wrap

Where Central Intelligence starts to break down a little is towards its ending, where plot-wise the movie starts to become a mess of who’s who. The movie’s main plotline is the identity of the mysterious Black Badger, the guy who is trying to buy some top secret intel from the CIA on black market auction sites.  Calvin and Bob’s mission is to find this guy, but there seems to be a bunch of people who are thought to be the Black Badger.  You don’t really know who the big baddie is until the movie’s final moments.  It becomes hard to follow, but once again it’s the humor from Hart and Johnson that pulls it all out of the water.

Central Intelligence isn’t a groundbreaking comedy by any means.  With a Hart and Johnson comedy, you should be well aware of the type of movie you’re signing up for.  There’s still a bunch of fun and laughs to be had however that makes this a comedy that works.  The movie might not be for everyone, but if you like Kevin Hart’s previous big-screen comedic efforts, then this should be a movie for you.

central intelligence score

Review: The Shawshank Redemption

shawshank redemption poster
via Movie Poster

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

R / 142 min

Drama / Crime

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton

Director: Frank Darabont


The prison walls can do a lot of things to people.  The confines of such walls can drive some men into a dark pit of madness while others might look upon the walls with hope, hope that one day they can see the light again on the other side.  Some men are put inside these walls because of their own doing, while some have no choice.  Some prisoners have fear while others believe in hope and it’s their mindset that can keep them from seeking redemption.  This is the idea behind Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s directorial debut.

shawshank redemption 1
via IFC

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a well-to-do investment banker, is the last person you would expect to find behind the bars of prison.  After a series of unfortunate coincidences, Andy is convicted of murdering his wife and the man she was seeing behind his back.  He truly believed he was innocent, but the judge and jury saw otherwise.  Carrying the burden of two back-to-back life sentences, he is sent to the Shawshank prison, where he will spend the rest of his life for something he didn’t do.  The first couple of days are rough.  They’re rough for everyone, but Andy seems to walk with an air of confidence, one that surprises his fellow inmates, including a prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman), a “veteran” of Shawshank.  After some time has passed, Andy starts to make the best of the situation he was thrust into.

Days turn to months and the months to years as time starts to pass.  Andy has a rough tenure during his first couple of years but he starts to make a name for himself inside the prison walls.  He gets on good footing with Shawshank’s warden Norton (Bob Gunton), builds and organizes a prison library with the help from senate funding, does the taxes for almost every single guard within the walls, and most importantly, deepens his friendship with Red and some of his other fellow inmates.  This is not the kind of prison movie that you would expect.  Sure, there’s some violence here and there but this is a story of redemption and good will.  Perhaps the title didn’t make that clear.

shawshank redemption 2
via Fan Pop

What makes the film work so well is the deep bond between Robbin’s Andy and Freeman’s Red.  The duo’s friendship comes a long way since the day Andy rode into the prison in a white bus with Red and his cohorts taking bets on who would be the first to cry.  The two help each other, together coping with the situation they were given.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are the standouts by far, but the rest of the cast did an amazing job as well.  Every character was well written and they were all instrumental to the overall story.

Just like the characters, every single scene and detail played an important part in the progression of the story.  There were no filler scenes.  Everything was important, whether viewers know at the time or not.  The sequences documenting Shawshank’s librarian (James Whitmore) and his life outside of prison were super effective and some of the best parts of the movie.  They were depressing in a way, but they were important.  This is a movie where you want to pay attention to every single little detail because you know they will come into play later.  The Shawshank Redemption is an example of brilliant writing.

shawshank redemption 3
via Fan Pop

There’s a build-up that takes place from the very start.  The movie might seem slow at parts, especially during the second act, but this all leads to the grand finale.  Remember the part where I said every little detail in this movie has meaning?  Well, there’s a twist that comes in the movie’s third act, one tighter than a corkscrew.  It’s an impressive twist that will leave you in awe wondering how it all even happened.  However, after careful examination of the events and subtleties that led up to it, everything makes perfect sense.

It’s a battle between fear and hope.  People handle these emotions in different ways and The Shawshank Redemption encapsulates these emotions in fantastic ways.  Inside the walls of Shawshank there’s a story of hope, friendship, redemption, fear, and perseverance in the face of dire circumstances.  The Shawshank Redemption is a feel-good story that succeed tremendously in execution.  It also goes to show that it’s not always doom and gloom inside the walls of prison.  There’s always a shimmer of light inside the darkness.

shawshank redemption score

Review: Nightcrawler

nightcrawler poster
via Fat Movie Guy

Nightcrawler (2014)

R / 117 min

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Director: Dan Gilroy


There’s something slightly unsettling about Nightcrawler, director Dan Gilroy’s exploration into the world of L.A. crime journalism.  Until watching this movie, I didn’t even know this sort of industry even existed.  Essentially, the act of “nightcrawling” involves racing around the streets of L.A. during the twilight hours to capture b-roll footage of all the crimes that take place during the night.  This footage is then shopped around to news agencies, ripe and ready to be broadcasted during the morning news cycle.  It’s a ruthless business, one that requires you to stay ahead of the curve if you want to succeed.  Nightcrawler is the story of Louis Bloom, a rookie to the business who takes his entrepreneurial abilities a little too far.

nightcrawler 1
via Moustache Magazine

Jake Gyllenhaal takes the lead role of Louis Bloom, a grungy greased-up entrepreneur.  He’s a hustler, persistent to the point of annoyance and willing to do anything he has to in order to put his foot ahead of the rest.  His search for a job comes to an end when he drives past a car accident on his way home.  He gets out of his car and before he even has the chance to take a couple of steps, a van comes to a halting stop next the accident, with two video journalists hopping out to capture the footage.  Ideas start brewing in Louis’ head and before we know it, he is dipping his toes into this somewhat sleazy business.

Louis’ operation escalates pretty quickly as he starts to learn the ins and outs of the business.  He purchases his own equipment, learns the police radio codes, and even hires an assistant (played by Riz Ahmed).  Unlike the other video journalists, Louis takes his craft to the next level and begins to blur the lines of morality.  His first video package that he prepares for a local TV station gets a little nosey as he “breaks” into a house to get the “perfect shot” of a crime scene.  His primary contact at the TV station, TV veteran Nina Romina (Rene Russo), loves this up-close-and-personal footage and decides to air Louis’ work, despite some hesitation from her peers at the station.

nightcrawler 2
via Business Insider

Things only get more intense as Louis tests the waters of moral ambiguity.  Gyllenhaal does a perfect job at portraying the young entrepreneur.  He’s cut-throat in his doings and he’s a little bit insane.  Gyllenhaal takes you down the character’s rabbit hole that he gets himself into as he tries to get “the perfect shot.”  The film ramps up in intensity, especially during a murder scene at a suburban mansion.  It’s the film’s peak, the moment that begins Louis’ decent.  Rene Russo’s Nina also takes part in this decent, although to a lesser extent.  The performances are great all around, but I would have liked to see more from Riz Ahmed’s character.  His relationship with Louis was a toxic one, one that I thought could have been explored a little more than it was.

Nightcrawler shouldn’t really be looked at as an accurate representation of the business, but more as a satire.  However, the film does raise questions about the moral ramifications that stem from such a sordid, yet lucrative job.  Morality is one of the primary driving themes behind the story, one that is handled pretty well.  Like I said in the very beginning of this review, there is something deeply unsettling about the act of nightcrawling.  It’s not the most glamourous of occupations, and this film does a great job at portraying this.

nightcrawler 3
via Reel Brief

Events build up as the movie rolls along but the final scene felt a little bit anticlimactic, and almost unnecessary. Things came to a close in such a jarring way that I was not expecting.  The ending wasn’t really effective at all and didn’t really put the nicest cap on an otherwise very well-made film.  The movie could have been extended or shortened by a scene to wrap things up better.  It would have made a big difference.

There’s a dose of grittiness and darkness that covers Nightcrawler, an unnerving look into the seedy world of crime journalism.  Gyllenhaal gives an outstanding performance of a man who takes things a little too far.  The film documents the steady decline of his character as he does some dirty things to get ahead of his peers.  It’s a fascinating film that’s full of great performances and thrills.  It’s just a shame it wasn’t brought to a conclusion in better fashion.

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Review: Heavy Rain

heavy rain poster
via Giant Bomb

Heavy Rain (2010 – PS3) (2016 – PS4)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Developer: Quantic Dream, SCE XDev Studio


Losing someone you love is one of the toughest things we have to go through as humans.  It’s even tougher if they’re young.  You end up asking a lot of questions and you sometimes question yourself, especially if you had a chance at preventing the loss.  In Heavy Rain, a game by David Cage and Quantic Dream, a father loses his child and is on the brink of losing another.  Feelings of guild, depression, love, and contempt all rear their head as he tries to save his son.  How far are you willing to go to save someone you love from the clench of death?  This is the primary theme that drives Heavy Rain, as well as its four main characters.

heavy rain 1

Tension has been rising as a serial killer, calling himself the “Origami Killer,” has been killing innocent children by kidnapping them from their parents and drowning them in rain water.  Their deaths are marked by the presence of an origami figure, placed in the kids’ cold lifeless hands.  The latest victim is Shaun Mars, son of Ethan Mars, one of the four playable characters.  He’s kidnapped during the course of the game and he only has a couple of days to live.  It becomes a race against the clock as Ethan is given a set of trials that test his love for his son and his willingness to go through hell to save him.

Meanwhile, you play as three other characters who are all concurrently after the Origami Killer in one way or another.  Norman Jayden is a criminal profiler who works for the FBI.  He is contracted by the town’s local police department to investigate the recent killings and he uses the help of his gadget ARI (Added Reality Interface) to help with the investigations.  Madison Paige is a freelance journalist and photographer who ends up meeting Ethan at a local motel.  It’s through this chance meeting that she starts to become involved in the Origami Killer’s doings and she begins to start a private investigation of her own.  Finally, there’s Scott Shelby, an ex-cop turned private investigator who has been contracted by the Origami Killer’s victims’ families to investigate their murders.  Each of these characters, including Ethan, have their own stories and motivations that drive their actions.  The game flips between perspectives, giving you control of each of these characters as the game goes on.

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There’s a lot of heavy material that the game covers and there’s a lot of tense moments that will make you sweat, quite literally.  There’s a lot of twist and turns, including one big one towards the end that caught me off guard.  However, after going back and examining the events that led to this twist, everything made sense and came together, which is an indication of a really well-written twist.  There’s also some plot-holes here and there, but they aren’t too offensive and they don’t detract too much from the story.  The performances were also really well done.  The characters you play as and interact with were all motion captured, which really helped convey emotion and feeling.  You could see the emotion in character’s faces, giving them more life and believability.

The game is an adventure game where all of your choices affect the story in ways that are predictable and not so predictable.  Gameplay mainly takes the form of quick-time events and dialogue choices.  If a character dies due to a failed quick-time sequence, then the story goes on.  There’s no game over screens to save you.  The story is constantly adapting to your choices (and your mistakes) and contains a multitude of different endings based upon the story’s happenings.  A lot of games claim that your choices affect the story but there are few that have high-impact decisions.  Every little choice you make in Heavy Rain affects the story in big and small ways.  Even the smallest of details, like the color of a character’s clothes, can play a big part in the way the story plays out.

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One of the things I really liked about the way the game handles its quick-time events is the way they conveyed emotion through these events.  As you play through the different sequences, buttons will appear on the screen indicating a quick-time event.  Sometimes these indicators will be calm and stable while other times they will be shaking uncontrollably.  This can lead to some frustrating moments where mistakes are easy to be made, but this works in the game’s context.  If a character is nervous and at the precipice of danger, then they are more likely to make hasty decisions and mistakes.  You always know what the character is going through based on the presentation of the quick-time events, which is brilliant and works really well in conveying story without explicitly describing how a character feels.

Heavy Rain was initially released in 2010 on the PS3, but I have been playing the PS4 remaster, which gives the already good looking game a complete HD makeover.  The game looks amazing and even the slightest details like the boxes you find in a convenience store are all retouched and redone in a higher resolution.  The game still looks a little dated at moments but the gorgeousness is undeniable.  Unfortunately, the movement mechanics were not redone for the remaster.  Movement is handled by pressing down the right trigger while moving the stick in the direction you want to move.  It’s a dated mechanic that does not hold up well at all.  I often found myself running into walls and scooting past an object in an environment that I wanted to interact with because I was trying to grasp the character’s movement.  It’s not a thing that gets better with time either.  I was still having annoyances with the mechanic late in the game.

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David Cage’s game took the gaming industry by storm when it was first released.  Heavy Rain, despite some of its mechanical woes, still holds up extremely well today, thanks to some of Quantic Dream’s remastering work.  There’s a thrilling story to be told, one that will most likely move you in one way or another.  All of the characters are dynamic, interesting, and even relatable in some ways.  Heavy Rain was on of PS3’s best games and that quality still stays true today.

heavy rain score

Review: Daredevil Season 2

daredevil s2 posterDaredevil (Season 2) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Action / Crime / Drama

Starring: Charlie Cox, Jon Bernthal, Deborah Ann Woll

Creator: Drew Goddard


Morality seems to be a hot button topic in superhero movies and TV these days.  This weekend was the debut of Batman v Superman, which focuses heavily on the actions of Superman and whether they are warranted or not.  We also have the impending release of Captain America: Civil War, which looks to put the Avengers in check for their destruction that they construct around them.  The intentions are always good behind a superhero’s actions, but you have to consider the innocent that get caught in the crossfire.  A different type of morality is at the center of Marvel and Netflix’s second season of Daredevil.  This time we have another strong season that raises the question as to whether killing is warranted or not.  It’s not the most original idea, but the season shines nonetheless with a strong story and amazing cinematography.

daredevil s2 1
via Slate

Charlie Cox reprises his role as Matt Murdock, a lawyer by day and the devil of Hell’s Kitchen by night.  The other two employees of Nelson & Murdock and good friends of Matt are Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, played once again by Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll respectively.  The group dynamic between the three is tested this season, unlike last season.  Last season there was tension here and there but this season we have a heightened sense of mistrust and stress, thanks in part to one of the biggest cases they have ever had as a law firm.  This big case involves Frank Castle, also known as the Punisher.

The Punisher, played brilliantly by Jon Bernthal, is a cold-blooded vigilante that isn’t afraid to take the law into his own hands…by any means necessary.  He’s a killer, with the mindset that taking the bad guys off the street for good is much better than Daredevil’s methods of putting them in jail.  After things go bad for Castle, he is put on trial for his actions.  New York and Hell’s Kitchen are tired of this vigilantism that has been taking over the city.  The public wants him out of the picture, as well as Daredevil.  Morality is a key idea that is brought up time and time again as the season goes on.  The Punisher’s character is kind of boring at the beginning of the season, but he starts to become a more multi-faceted character when we start to learn about his true motives and how he got to be the person that he is.  Even though he’s dirty in his ways, he started to become a lot more likable as time went on.  His relationship with Karen is fascinating as well and makes for some tense moments.

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via Digital Trends

One new character that was consistently interesting throughout the season was Elektra, played by newcomer Elodie Yung.  As an old love interest of Murdock’s she comes back into his life and literally flips things head over heels for Murdock.  She’s equal parts elusive, sexy, and fiery, making her one of my favorite characters this season.  She also tests Murdock’s ability to balance his normal work life and vigilante life, another big theme this season.  Between the massive court case and a gang of sinister thugs posing a threat to Hell’s Kitchen, Murdock really has his work cut out for him.

One of the things that hurts the season a bit is the lack of a strong villain.  The show’s debut season had The Kingpin, who was a fantastic and dynamic villain that proved to be a true menace.  Unfortunately, we don’t get a villain like the Kingpin this season.  The first half of the season makes it seem like the Punisher is the real enemy, but then the focus switches to the people that murdered the Punisher’s family.  Then there’s a mythical group that comes into play as well.  As the season drove towards the end, it started to become confusing as to which group of bad guys posed the biggest threat.  The last couple of episodes were pretty strong with a huge dose of intensity, but I never really understood who was the primary target of Murdock.

daredevil s2 3
via Yahoo

Just like the previous season, Daredevil continues to have some of the grittiest and heart-pulsing fights that we have seen.  Last season’s “hallway fight” took the internet by storm and we get a couple more “hallway fight” scenes this season, paying homage to the original in a way that will surely please fans.  The fights are well cut and put together, graceful with a touch of style.  They were always super fun to watch and they never became boring or too thin.

There’s a lot of powerful moments in this season of Daredevil that will please fans all around.  When it comes down to the thick of it, I liked the first season just a tad more than this season, but both seasons are special in their own way.  The second season has a nice share of callbacks to the first season while taking the show in a new direction.  The season suffers a little from a sluggish start and a lack of a clear villain, but don’t let that sway you from watching the latest iteration from one of Netflix’s best shows.

daredevil s2 score

Review: Breaking Bad Season 4

via Meet in the Lobby
via Meet in the Lobby

Breaking Bad (Season 4) (2011)

AMC / TVMA

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn

Creator: Vince Gilligan


With season four of Breaking Bad, we’re starting to see a changed Walter White.  He has had numerous close calls, successes, and hardships that have grown to shape the person he is by the credits of the season’s finale.  We have a much different Walt than the one we had back in the show’s first season…and boy have we come along way.  Season four has probably been my favorite season of Breaking Bad so far…and I still have the final season to get through.

via Pop Screen
via Pop Screen

I should probably start off by talking about the one blemish in an almost perfect season.  The previous season had a great ending with some tense episodes leading up to the finale, which included a pivotal moment for Jesse (Aaron Paul).  Because of the season’s finale, the beginning portion of season four was a bit slow, tying up loose ends that were not taken care of in the previous season.  These first couple of episodes were absolutely necessary to the story, but they would have fit better in a longer season three.  I know things like this are not really possible, but they should have thought about that going into the third season.

It’s around episode four when season four of Breaking Bad technically begins and it keeps rolling all the way till the finale.  Things pick up quickly as Hank (Dean Norris) starts a brand new investigation after the wake of his big accident.  The “blue” just can’t leave his mind and he starts to look into the events that took place at the end of season three.  He believes that Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the supposed charitable owner of the Los Pollos chain of restaurants, is the brain behind the operation.  As one would expect, this makes way for a lot of problems.  Walt (Bryan Cranston) has to desperately pick up any crumbs that he might have left.  The same goes with Gus, who noticeably looks a lot more concerned as time goes on.  That isn’t normal for the guy that always maintained a somewhat unbreakable facade.

via AMC TV Blog
via AMC TV Blog

Skylar (Anna Gunn) also plays a big role this season when she starts to dip her toes full force into the mess that Walt has gotten himself into.  She begins to take over the operation of a local car wash, the fuel to their money laundering schemes.  Out of nowhere however comes her old boss, who presents her with more problems that could potentially lead to trouble down the road with Walt’s operation.  Because of this, she has to cover her tracks as well.  With all of these people covering their tracks, it’s only a matter of time before someone forgets a crumb.  As one would expect, the finale was the end of the road for one important character and it was a spectacular end.  They went out with a sort of comedic bang…in a messed up sort of way.

What made this season stand out the most however was the stockpile of great moments that kept flying in left and right.  Walt had some touching moments with Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte), Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) continued to have great scenes, the flashback to Gus’s older days was fascinating to watch, and Jesse had an amazing monologue at his group therapy session.  Let’s also not forget Walt’s powerful speech about how “he’s the guy that knocks people off.”  It was a chilling chain of words that left even Skylar speechless.

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This brings up the point of Walt’s changed persona.  So far, Walt has been levelheaded and cautious, always aiming to please.  He was always careful to get on everybody’s good side.  With season four, Walt takes a turn down to the dark side.  His speech to Skylar was just a starting point.  The act of killing someone starts to not faze him as much as it used to.  He starts to pack heat in order to protect himself.  He frequently gives the bird to the cameras that are scattered throughout the meth lab.  He even brings a bomb into a children’s hospital.  How evil do you have to be to bring a bomb into a place full of children?  Even Jesse realizes that’s a certain level of messed up.

Walt’s taking a journey down a dark road, and the fact that season four ended with little to no loose ties makes the prospect of the final season even more enticing.  What decisions is Walt going to make in the future.  How is he going to alienate his family who he is growing detached from more and more?  What is Jesse going to do in all of this madness?  He seems to be the wild card at the moment.  Say what you will about the slow nature of the season’s beginning or perhaps the comical ending, but season four felt like a complete package full of tense and memorable moments.  How come I have the feeling that there’s going to be exponentially more great moments in the final season?

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Review: The Transporter Refueled

via Rama Screen
via Rama Screen

The Transporter Refueled (2015)

PG-13 / 96 min.

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Ed Skrein, Loan Chabanol, Ray Stevenson

Director: Camille Delamarre


Being a Transporter requires you to follow a simple code when it comes down to conducting business.  First, once the deal is made, the deal doesn’t change.  Everything is final.  Secondly, no names are to be given.  Finally, the contents of the package that will be transported are to remain unknown to the driver.  It’s a relatively simple code, one that series protagonist Frank Martin has been upholding for a while.  The Transporter series has had its ups and downs but through it all it has been a relatively fun and sometimes ridiculous action franchise.  After a long break, director Camille Delamarre returns to the franchise with The Transporter Refueled.  Much to the movie’s detriment, literally everything that made the original films so special is thrown right out the window of Frank Martin’s Audi.

via Cinergetica
via Cinergetica

What made the Transporter movies what they are is perhaps the casting of Jason Statham as driver-for-hire Frank Martin.  He brought suave stoicism and uncanny wit to the role that gave the films a lot of charm.  After offering Statham minimal pay for Refueled, the actor refused to reprise his role.  This left a vacancy for the role, which was later filled by British actor Ed Skrein.  Skrein does an alright job as Frank Martin, but it’s hard to fill the shoes of Jason Statham.  Skrein captures the suave nature of the character, but everything else about Frank Martin was nowhere to be found.  It’s a shame, because Skrein is a generally likable guy.  He just doesn’t have the chops to carry a franchise under his arm.

Another thing that is ripped apart is the steadfast code followed by the Transporter.  Within minutes of the movie’s runtime, the rules explicitly stated by Martin are immediately disobeyed and things start to get pretty rough.  The package he has to deliver involves transporting a group of women…that he clearly sees.  There goes the plausible deniability.  There goes everything that makes a Transporter movie a Transporter movie.

via Manners
via Manners

Sure, the movie is technically a reboot of the franchise, but why even call it a Transporter movie?  The dumb fun of the previous movies came with the situations that Martin gets himself in while sticking to the code of being a Transporter.  His “cargo” also reveals that they kidnapped his father, blackmailing Martin into following their directions to complete their mission.  The deal changes and changes again as the movie goes on, breaking the code even further.  The movie started to devolve from a Transporter movie into a generic summer action movie, real quick.

Refueled started to tread the waters of cohesiveness as Martin’s deal starts to change and change.  I would start to understand what was going on, only to lose the one thread of understanding moments later when a ridiculous plot point was introduced.  This continued to happen again and again all the way to the film’s finale, which relatively didn’t make that much sense.  The storyline was so convoluted at that point that I didn’t really care what was happening.  The movie’s final events played out and I just gave a shrug and left the theater.

via Black Film
via Black Film

There were some moments here and there that stuck out.  The introduction of Ed Skrein’s Frank Martin was fun to watch.  There were also some action sequences that stood out from the rest, including the final scene on the yacht.  These kinds of intense action intermittently popped up here and there but most of the movie was largely forgettable.  The car chases, which the franchise is known for, were dull, uninspired, and…well, boring.

It’s safe to say that The Transporter Refueled was doomed from the start.  The movie gained little promotion and its release this weekend was pretty under the radar.  The absence of Jason Statham was also a big blow that knocked the movie’s momentum right out of it.  There was little to like about Refueled besides the few moments here and there that reminded me of the past Transporter movies, like how much cooler these moments would be with Jason Statham.  Some shoes just can’t be filled, no matter how hard you try.  There’s also rumors that this might not be the last Transporter movie.  With the trajectory that these films have taken, more of these movies might not be the best idea.

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