REVIEW: “HITMAN: AGENT 47” (2015) 20th Century Fox

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The stunning Rupert Friend explodes onto the screen here as “Agent 47” – one of a numbered group of genetically DNA engineered ‘Hitman’ from the popular video game giving a second try at a film franchise here. Hannah Ware plays Katia van Dees, the daughter of a missing scientist Dr. Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds) who back in the 1960’s was responsible for creating a super-soldier program that brought Agent 47, and at least 46 other deadly assassins into the world. Syndicate International, one of those typical diabolical organizations that always seem to exist, run by Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann) wants Katia’s father as they think he holds the secrets to making more. Agent 47’s employers want her dead.
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Zachary Quinto’s aptly named character John Smith – who’s name pun you will understand when watching.. seems not to really fit his part in the beginning..after a few decent plot twists in his favour he turns it around and pulls his character off. He after all is also an ‘agent’ in a sense with a pretty neat change up of DNA in him.

Along with a bland storyline and too many plot holes to count or even care about, the films plus side is in if there is one demographic that it would try to please, it’s obvious that aim is for 15-20 yr olds video-gamers who live for hours stepping into this world of CGI-done assassins killing off his enemies while wreaking maximum havoc in the process. And oh..the blood looks good. I’m serious it really does. 47 1
Friend as Agent 47, is a killing machine fighting other killing machines with whom I’d thought that we’d seen every imaginable killing stunt – but this film truly does become imaginative in that area and comes up with some doozies I’d think the likes of us haven’t even dreamed up.
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In the end, we do have a few surprise twists but there is no spark of life is to be found in a few of the characters most disappointingly in Ware, whose Katia is meant to be the supposed emotional linchpin of the enterprise. We’ve seen Friend do the cold and calculating before as Peter Quinn on Homeland where he actually scares us at times. The same goes here, American accent included. They have a few moments of mild playfulness mostly that Friend tries half heartedly to inject in their partnership without much success.
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And of course what would the ending be if not to give us a little after name credits roll – scene of what is to come. And for the third time in a month, I’m seeing in that teaser scene what will probably be a better sequel than original.

End note: Paul Walker was scheduled to play Agent 47 and due to his untimely and tragic passing, Rupert Friend stepped in. RIP Paul

Grade: C-
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Screening: Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 – Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Nationwide release: Friday, August 21st, 2015

REVIEW: “MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) Warner Bros. Pictures

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Director Guy Ritchie starts off with a wonderful, very highly stylized car chase. From that moment on I pinned my hopes that the whole film would be just as good as this sequence. It ends up turning into rather a bumpy ride between plot highs..and plot lows..making it an overall fun, but uneven film.
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Henry Cavill as ‘Napoleon Solo’ and Armie Hammer as ‘Illya Kuryakin‘ are the dymanic spy duo coming from differing enemy camps – Solo being from the CIA and Kuryakin respectively, the KGB, who must work together along with help from German/car whiz girl mechanic/possible double agent (maybe even triple we’re not sure) ‘Gaby Teller’ (Alicia Vikander) to battle the forces of mysterious and evil criminal organization – The Vinciguerra Empire – a rogue Italian group of ex-Nazi loyalists ran by “Victoria Vinciguerra” (Elizabeth Delbecki) & her husband “Alexander” (Luca Calvani). The goal is to uncover the plot to stop them from obtaining and detonating a nuclear bomb.
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Following a fairly standard formula for spy plots that involves good guys vs. bad guys to save the world, here Ritchie throws intrigue to the back burner and instead ramps up the charm and personality of his characters. Each one has their own unique set of traits which set them apart, yet it also brings them perfectly together to create the type of “spy team” with palpable chemistry that works all the way around and delivers to us a most entertaining ride.
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Add in the always witty and charming delivery of Hugh Grant, Jared Harris and Misha Kuznetsov in their respective roles as head of differing agencies and you can’t beat the overall fun that they dish out. 1DE8C234
As with any film of this genre, my motto of ‘your only as good as your villains’ once again applies as I did find those being the only characters the lacking the charm and chemistry of their counterparts, though still stylish, just missing what is truly needed to a baddie, the ability to still like them even though they are the villains.

Ending with the perfect setup for a sequel, I do hope the wonderful stylization remains as do the characters, though with a bit better plot and new villains as it could prove that a sequel might even turn out to be better than an original.

Grade: C
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Screening: Arclight Hollywood – Wednesday, August 12, 2015 – Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Opens Nationwide: Friday, August 14, 2015

REVIEW: “STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON” (2015) Universal Pictures

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Art comes in many forms. A Masterpiece for instance is usually a word used in the art world as a painting or portrait that is brilliantly done and is usually invoked by inner thoughts and feelings of so many emotions. That could sum up the feeling of this story and what a story it is. This film has everything you see invoked in a masterpiece painting. Love, war, death, money, drugs, power, sadness, happiness and most of all, music. It’s a story about art in the truest sense of the word. These 5 young men –
Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young,
Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright,
O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson,
Lorenzo ‘MC Ren’ Patterson, &
Antoine ‘DJ YELLA’ Carraby
changed the world with what they did and this more or less, is their story.

Director F. Gary Gray takes us through the years from the group’s origin in 1986 to Dr. Dre’s founding of Aftermath Records in 1996 and while it’s the N.W.A. story..it’s mostly a three-man show focusing on Dre, Cube & most especially Eazy-E. It does justice in recreating a Compton from back in the day so perfectly and dare I say it, beautifully, as if the time & place and what the street life of the city truly was like, came straight out of a time machine. This is a big plus throughout the film.
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Opening with a drug deal gone bad for Eric ‘Eazy-E’ might seem somewhat cliched way to enter the story but is actually quite fitting especially since Eazy is the truly the main focus of the first half of film. He was the money, albeit it was from those deals, that enabled them to get studio time to record “Boyz in the Hood” and it was that song that attracted and brought manager ‘Jerry Heller’ (Paul Giamatti) to them. Heller knocks on the doors and pounds the pavement to connects them to their 1st label, Priority Records and we all get a laugh when we find out from that the only group ‘Bryan Turner’ (Tate Ellington) and the company had ever recorded before signing N.W.A was the California Raisins. Yep..you have dig real deep and go way back to remember that one!! But cash those checks from that Turner did, enough to land the company N.W.A. As we watch the group go from playing skating rinks to huge massive arenas across the nation. Meanwhile, Jerry also manages to finagle himself into part of starting up Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records where we see everyone but E get underpaid & overlooked.
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This leads to acrimony between the guys and while on tour Ice Cube, reminding everyone that he is the one who has written most of the music, departs the group. But before he leaves though we do get the anthem that penned the groups title as ‘the world’s most dangerous group‘ mainly because they scared the bejesus out of middle America with their anthem “F**K the Police” which comes straight from Cube after we witness multiple scenes of humiliation and harassment of not only him, but the group, their friends, their neighbors for just basically being.
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The movie clearly focuses on the big three of the group, ‘Dr. Dre’ (Corey Hawkins) and ‘Ice Cube’ (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) with ‘Eazy-E’ (Jason Mitchell) taking the lead, with ‘DJ Yella’ (Neil Brown Jr.) & ‘MC Ren’ (Aldis Hodge) getting only minor attention. They easily brush right over their misogynistic lyrics as women here are barely given the time of day and only the wives or girlfriends of the moment get a few lines at best. Though as with most bio-pics, while we might not be getting the complete story here – it’s still a very good story.

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We see bits of the infamous East Coast/West Coast rivalry that started up. And once Cube is gone we get right in the middle of his lyrical riffs with the remaining members of the group badmouthing each other back n forth through their music giving us surely what is only a glimpse into this and then with Dre also going his own way with the ever and still unscrupulous ‘Suge Knight’ (R. Marcos Taylor) – showing the forming of and his subsequent abandonment of Death Row Records.

We catch beginning snippets of ‘Tupac Shakur‘ (Marcc Rose), ‘Snoop Dogg’ (Keith Stanfield) (or as his character notes – that’s Snoop D. O. double G.), ‘Jimmy Iovine’ (Mark Sherman) & the beginnings of Interscope Records. Along with this, we get clever allusions to what is to come – Everything from Cube’s films ‘Boyz N The Hood’, ‘Friday’ and it’s sequels, to Dre when walking out on Knight, almost cheesily referencing Aftermath. The film closes with updates on the band members careers post-1996 with various interview clips in large focusing on Dre and Cube’s successes, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and 50 Cent, among others, paying homage to Dre showing the fruition of what both his and Cube’s visions came to be. Also, the sad and untimely passing of Eazy-E from AIDS. Noticeably absent are updates on DJ Yella and MC Ren.

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For all it’s small flaws here and there, this is still a hellava story to be told. N.W.A helped to change the musical culture of the time because they actually told the world what was happening in their own backyard through their music. And in doing so they succeeded in making themselves one of the most powerful groups of the time.
Oscar buzz? Probably not. But fan favorite (and one of mine) – definitely.
RIP Eazy-E.

Grade: B+
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Screening: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 – Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Nationwide release: Friday, August 14, 2015

REVIEW: “FANTASTIC FOUR” (2015) 20th Century Fox

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With so many superhero/comic books films coming out over past decade at this point you really need to ‘dress to impress’ if you’re going to put one out there. With this being a well known fact – the question looming on most everyone’s mind regarding this film:
‘Is Fantastic Four..well..Fantastic?’
With only a few ups and many downs, the answer sadly is no. How you ask can this happen? Well oddly enough it’s the sheer lack of an exciting story.

We open on brilliant child scientist Reed Richards, (Miles Teller) who is on the verge of discovering how to both transport matter to another dimension and then bring it back though they don’t know where it goes or comes back from. Jump to a few years later at his high school science fair and he and the project while being dis-qualified from the fair are being recruited by Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey).
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With this Reed is given the resources and help by Storm’s children, the brother & sister team of Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) along with Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), to finish what he started all those years ago in his garage. When they finally crack inter-dimensional travel, Reed invites his childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) to travel to the other dimension/world along with him and the team. An accident causes their physical form to drastically change. Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben must learn to harness and use their powers and work as a team to stop Von Doom who is now hell bent on destroying Earth.
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You would think this could all be exciting right? Well it’s actually a rather dull and plodding affair which was surprising as with most of the cast here notably Teller, Jordan, Bell and especially Toby Kebbell are all actors who have had some damned notable roles in their perspective careers.
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While I could have used more Von Doom, it probably still wouldn’t have saved this lifeless movie as the whole storyline is just weak with a finale that will impress no one. I expected so much more.

Grade: D+
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Screening: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Opens Nationwide: Friday, August 7, 2015