Archive for "Movie Reviews"

Movie Review: “Battle: Los Angeles”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 8:00 am.

Summary:  Back in 1942 in Los Angeles, air-raid sirens and anti-aircraft artillery were fired due to what some believed was a reaction to an alien attack.  However, the government said it was a false alarm prompted by a weather balloon (artillery just for a weather balloon?!). This standard “when aliens attack” flick is loosely based on those incidents.

Review: “The world is at war” is one of the first lines from Battle: Los Angeles. You know the deal. Killer aliens, the ultimate in American patriotism, and the typical characters: There’s the retiring sergeant, the sacrificial rookie, frantic children, random civilians turned heroes and one female who can “ride with the boys.” It’s guns, explosions, screams and a replica of any war film in the past 40 years, but with an alien twist. There isn’t an original frame in Battle: Los Angeles, but it’s surprisingly a solid film.

The sci-fi flick is directed by South African native Jonathan Liebesman. The shaky script and cheese-ball dialogue is embarrassingly painful, but once the actors let the explosions do the talking, the movie does its job for its genre. Battle: Los Angeles will deservingly receive its fair share of mixed reviews, but props are due to Liesbesman for the film’s excellent execution of tension and aggressive action.

The film also features Ne-Yo in his first film since Stomp the Yard. The R&B crooner has a small role as Kevin Harris, a glasses-wearing corporal who has little backstory and is only relevant because of Ne-Yo. Nonetheless, the Grammy winner made the smart move. Unlike many singers who have rarely acted, he got his feet wet in a small role. The character didn’t require much power, but Ne-Yo was a natural. He possibly has a potential career in Hollywood and can deliver a line without sounding like a robot—the curse of many rappers and singers turned actors.

Another plus for Battle: Los Angeles is the extremely diverse cast. There are newcomers like Ramón Rodríguez and Adetokumboh M’Cormack. Plus, BET fave Cory Hardrict and action diva Michelle Rodriguez.

There is nothing incredibly memorable about Battle: Los Angeles, but it’s a fun junk-food flick. A strong plot line, unsuspecting twists, and award-worthy dialogue should not be expected. Lower your standards and enjoy the ride.

Battle: Los Angeles is in theaters today.

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Movie Review: “The Adjustment Bureau”

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 11:30 am.

Matt Damon is David Norris, a politician who lost an election for the United States Senate. While rehearsing his losing speech in a restroom, he meets a mysterious woman, played by Emily Blunt. It was supposed to be a one-time encounter, but he falls for her. However, their union is not in the Adjustment Bureau’s plans. Who is the Bureau? A group of fedora-wearing men who control the behind-the-scenes of life—think The Matrix but with magical hats (the fedoras allow them to travel through a labyrinth of New York City doors).

If David stays in contact with the mysterious woman it will ruin his life’s preordained blueprint, but he can’t live without her. Can David challenge the Bureau’s plans for him? Will love conquer all?  Take a wild, Hollywood-ending guess…

The Adjustment Bureau is labeled as a “romance science-fiction thriller.” This three genres-in-one approach is the first sign that this flick needed some critical adjustments (maybe sticking closer to the short story by Philip K. Dick, which had less of a romance angle).

At first, the film started surprisingly strong. The concept that one decision in one second can change the trajectory of your life was handled interestingly by first-time director George Nolfi. Furthermore, the cinematography in CGI-ed New York was rich and polished. Nonetheless, all of the shine is pointless with a weak story. By the time we reach the second act, The Adjustment Bureau became Sex and the City meets The Butterfly Effect.  A potentially fresh and original flick morphed into something dreadfully conventional.

The film also includes Anthony Mackie in a small role as one of the trenchcoated men in the Bureau. There is no character that Mackie can’t play, and although there wasn’t enough depth in this role for him to shine, Hollywood will hopefully sooner than later give him a lead role in a mainstream film.

The film’s vacillation between sci-fi, thriller, and romance ruined it for all audiences. In the end, The Adjustment Bureau stalls as another “love conquers all” dud.

The Adjustment Bureau is in theaters Friday.

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Movie Review: ‘Desert Flower’

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 11:57 am.

Summary: The biopic of Waris Dirie, a model from Somalia who became an international star. The story follows her incredible journey, from her upbringing in a desert in Africa, to female circumcision and its longstanding effects, to homelessness and eventually her dreams coming true.

Review: Desert Flower is a once-in-a-lifetime story. This is not your typical fashion movie, packed with narcissism and eating disorders. Waris Dirie’s powerful life, which she detailed in her biography of the same name, tugs right at your heart, whether or not you’re interested in the modeling world. Directed by German filmmaker Sherry Hormann, Desert Flower is a superbly told story with unapologetic conviction, noticeable fire, and the purest intentions of moving your soul.

Despite creaky transitions from high-fashion modeling to the deserts of Somalia, Desert Flower has a clear, engaging direction. Each scene blends into the next, whether it’s the horrors of female circumcision or a young girl surviving the brutality of living in the third world; Hormann gives the viewer a vivid journey.

Ethiopian model Liya Kebede stars as Waris. One might think a model playing another model in a biopic isn’t much of a stretch. However, Kebede gives a breakthrough performance, leaving the glamour on the catwalk. Her walk, her talk, and the vulnerable look in her eyes are everything a great performance is made of; she has certainly earned the right to be called an actress.

The film also includes the always polished Anthony Mackie as her potential boyfriend and Sally Hawkins as her kooky roommate.

Desert Flower is not your typical “message” flick. Being that the main focus is female circumcision, no matter how great the film is, some audiences will not want to see it. Most importantly, this is Dirie’s life—she is not condemning the culture, only asking for education and evolution. The most serious moment is the reenactment of Dirie being circumcised as a three-year old girl, which is difficult to watch. As in 2009’s Precious, the abuse is recounted with compassion and cinematic sensitivity.

Presented by National Geographic Entertainment, this is the first must-see movie of the year. With complaints that not enough black films were released in 2010, we have already started the new year on a high note with Desert Flower. Hopefully by this time next year, the creators of this unforgettable flick will get the recognition they deserve during awards season.

Desert Flower opens in select cities Friday, March 18.

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Movie Review: ‘The Rite’

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, January 28, 2011 at 12:00 am.

Summary: Loosely based on a true story, The Rite tells the tale of Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue). Raised in a funeral home with a religious father, Kovak has two choices: to be a priest or a mortician. He goes with the priesthood, but doubts his faith. Kovak is forced to live in Italy, where he witnesses an exorcism by an older priest (Anthony Hopkins). Will it make him believe?

Review: Anthony Hopkins is one of the greatest actors to have ever lived. But none of the greats could’ve made this poorly crafted, lethargic, unoriginal gush of foolishness work onscreen. The Rite struggles on every level, and, with the exception of a few good one-liners from Hopkins, the film evokes no emotion—neither suspense nor laughter, as horror films sometimes do.

Ever since 1973’s The Exorcist, Hollywood has been obsessed with reinventing the exorcism storyline. It’s always a brunette girl contorting and cursing with holy water splashed on her face. This premise was a one-hit wonder and Oscar gold in the ’70s, but has rarely resonated well with audiences since then.

Directed by Mikael Håfström, The Rite stumbles along with a monotone Colin O’Donoghue as a skeptical soon-to-be priest. Within the first 20 minutes, you can predict the ending. By the end of the nearly two hours, will the priest find Christ or become an atheist?  Take a wild Hollywood guess.

Everything else in between is schlock dressed as “horror.” The cheap scares consist of mules with red eyes, colorful frogs as demons and religious imagery tainted by the “devil.”

Moreover, there is an uncomfortable agenda-driven religious message enforced in The Rite that I am sure the likes of Fox News will appreciate it. Agendas in film work for well-done movies; this film is the opposite.

The Rite is all wrong. I have faith this flick will be plagued with bad reviews and a strong opening weekend but vanish in the following weeks.

The Rite is in theaters today.

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Movie Review: Johnny Mad Dog

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 12:00 am.

Summary: In a film based on the novel by Emmanuel Dongala, cross-dressing child soldiers high on drugs are fighting a war in an unknown African country.

Review: Johnny Mad Dog is a brutal, haunting film that is based on the real-life phenomenon of children being recruited as soldiers in wars across Africa. Child soldiers are not unique to Africa, but what is unique to the largest continent in the world is the history of colonization, which has sparked massive civil wars. The movie tackles the horror of war and childhood, acknowledging that these villains are victims of circumstance.

The highlight of Johnny Mad Dog is the acting; this is a showcase for undiscovered talent. These unknown actors are so real you almost feel as if you’re watching an episode of Frontline. There is a rage in their eyes, a stress in their facial movements, that makes them look possessed. However, there is a reason that the performances resonate so strongly — many of the actors were former child soldiers, and the movie was filmed right in Liberia, where a war like this took place. I’m not sure how healthy it is for teen actors to relive this horror for the cameras, but the French director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire said it was “therapy” for the kids. Christopher Minie, who plays the leader of the pack, Johnny Mad Dog, carries the film. This is an actor moviegoers can only hope to see more of.

Sauvaire captures the visuals and highlights the actors, but unlike City of God, the storyline here doesn’t have much polish. Many of the scenes just cut to more blood and gore, similar to a horror film. The characters aren’t fleshed-out enough, which leaves the viewer wanting more. The anticlimactic ending, one of those “it’s your interpretation” scenarios, feels like a bust, but it doesn’t ruin the whole film.

One aspect that is never discussed is the reason why many of the soldiers are cross-dressing. One kills in a wedding dress, another rocks a Nicki Minaj-like wig, and some wear masks. According to a 2003 article from, “Cross-dressing is a military mind game, a tactic that instills fear in their rivals. It also makes the soldiers feel more invincible. This belief is founded on a regional superstition which holds that soldiers can ‘confuse the enemy’s bullets’ by assuming two identities simultaneously.”

More than anything, Johnny Mad Dog will help continue a conversation on the terror child soldiers face in countries like Liberia, Uganda and Sudan. It’s a film that I would recommend– it’s educational, truthful and important.

Johnny Mad Dog is playing in select cities now. For New Yorkers, the film plays for only two more nights, Wednesday January 26th and Jan 27th at 7pm and 9pm.


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Movie Review: ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, December 17, 2010 at 12:00 am.

Summary: Based on the book of the same name, decades ago a young girl disappears on an island owned by a powerful family. The uncle of the child is haunted by her memory and makes it his life mission to discover how she disappeared. He hires a journalist and a computer hacker, unfolding an unpredictable and disturbing story.

Review: Just when you think every film on the planet is predictable, here comes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a tour de force of mystery that keeps you guessing until the last frame. The Swedish film stars a perfectly cast group of actors, all wrestling with their creepy demons, without the viewer ever knowing who is the true villain. Read the rest of this entry »

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Movie Review: The Fighter

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, December 10, 2010 at 12:00 am.

Summary: Based on the true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Dicky was on his way to boxing super stardom after fighting Sugar Ray Leonard but soon developed a drug addict. Micky tries to make a name for himself in boxing with his brother training him and his mother managing him.

Review: Films about boxing have had every possible plot line punched out of it. Can audiences ever get worked up Hollywood boxing matches like they once did for Rambo? Most would have bet money that it was impossible, which partly could be why it took so long for The Fighter to get off the ground. Nonetheless, The Fighter is a powerful film, less about the ring and more about family. Read the rest of this entry »

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Movie Review: ‘Mother’

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 4:33 pm.

Summary: A mother believes her mentally ill son, who is accused of murder, was framed. She manically searches for the real killer and will stop at nothing to find out the truth.

Review: This Korean film is not another foreign language flick packed with subtitles and scenes you cannot understand. This is a true thriller, and the mother in this movie is an obsessed, crazed woman who loves her son without limit.

When her child is believed to have killed a teenage girl, she is heartbroken; but she knows her son is not the murderer, and she will go to any length to discover who is. Read the rest of this entry »

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Movie Review: ‘La Mission’ Takes On Gays in Latin Culture

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 8:30 am.

Summary: A former criminal, recovering alcoholic and single father is struggling with his only son being gay.  Set amidst the machismo of Mexican culture, La Mission covers new ground that has rarely been explored in Latin films.

Review:  Yes, we have all heard the story before.  Dad finds out his son is gay and has a neurological breakdown.  While this may seem like territory that has been trekked over a billion times, adding the element of Mexican culture gives La Mission some needed flavor.

Unfortunately, many people think that the gay community equals shirtless White men.  However, the gay community is just as diverse and complicated as any other group, coming in all shades and backgrounds.

Thankfully, this isn’t another story about a man “on the down low,” but more about family and how destructive someone can be when they are willfully ignorant. Benjamin Bratt gives the best performance of his career as Che,  a single father who prides himself on his masculinity and being a respected figure in his neighborhood.  Jeremy Ray Valdez delivers a breakthrough performance as Jesse, a stellar student and athlete. Knowing his father would hate him if it was ever discovered he was gay, he sneaks around until he is found out.  His father reacts violently, beating him on the sidewalk and the whole neighborhood finds out his son is gay.  His son is terrorized in schools and on the streets, resulting in an awful act of violence.

We also see the return of Erika Alexander, Maxine from Living  SingleNot having aged a bit, she is their neighbor and tries to teach respect to Che, but his reactions are always aggressive and violent.

Directed by Benjamin Bratt’s brother, Peter Bratt, La Mission could’ve easily been a made-for-television movie on Logo.  Much of the dialogue is deeply cliched and the scenarios sitcom-typical, but this is not just another gay movie.  This is about respect, culture and the dreams parents have for their children.  The last 20 minutes are particularly painful to watch, showing what happens when people choose to live in ignorance — it will eat you alive, ruining everything around you.

Without a big budget and little promotion, the creators of La Mission brought together one of the more memorable movies of the year.

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Movie Review: ‘Conviction’

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 8:30 am.

Summary: Based on a true story, Betty Anne Waters’ (Hilary Swank) brother, Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell), is wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983. Knowing her brother was innocent, Betty Anne, a high school dropout, earns her GED, bachelor’s, master’s and eventually a law degree. She became her brother’s lawyer and proved through DNA evidence that he was innocent, eventually getting him out of jail after 18 years.

Review: As we all know, there have been hundreds of people who were wrongfully convicted of a crime and later freed due to DNA evidence. However, since DNA evidence is fairly new, one can only imagine the thousands of people who were wrongfully convicted of a crime, spent the rest of their lives in prison or maybe even faced execution. For that reason, Conviction is one of the most important movies of the year; not a prefect film but the fact-based message overrules any movie-making flaws.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn, Conviction isn’t one of those, “What’s going to happen next?” dramas. The resolution is obvious. This film isn’t about the unpredictable but more about the journey that one woman will take to save her family. Sure, it’s not terribly original and script is choppy in moments, but the excellent ensemble cast elevates Conviction to Oscar-worthy status.

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank can effortlessly play a down-and-out chick. The role is no stretch for her, she is sincere in every moment with no residuals of her characters in Boys Don’t Cry or Million Dollar Baby. Sam Rockwell, who was just in Iron Man 2, plays opposite Swank and convincingly captures the frustration of so many inmates. Also, we can’t forget Juliette Lewis. While she only has two scenes, they are some of the most memorable moments in the film. She is unrecognizable with a transformation so extreme that if she had more screen time she could’ve been the Mo’Nique in Precious of 2010. Nonetheless, her performance is still award-worthy and she is overdue. Hand over Juliette Lewis’ Oscar already!

Conviction is a story that rises above race and class.  Considering prisons are predominately African-American and Latino, regardless if you’ve heard the story before, this injustice is relevant, powerful and needs to be told.

Conviction is in theaters now.

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