Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: The Spirit (2008) [Reviewed By Clifford Kiyabu]

Directed by: Frank Miller
Written by: Frank Miller (screenplay) & Will Eisner (comic book series)
Genre: Action / Comedy / Fantasy / Thriller
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity.
Released: 25 December 2008 (USA)
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Jaime King, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Stana Katic, Paz Vega, Louis Lombardi.

Plot: Rookie cop Denny Colt returns from the beyond as The Spirit, a hero whose mission is to fight against the bad forces in Central City.

Review: 6/10

My thoughts: on June 2nd 1940 comic legend Will Eisner published Spirit Section #1 which was the first appearance of the masked vigilantly “The Spirit”, Eisner the man behind the creation of the crime-fighting fictional character didn’t quite know that what he created would soon become a monumental foundation piece for graphic novelization. And for years now there have been a number of attempts made in trying to turn it into a live action film. And in all attempts there has been nothing but failure after failure. This ultimately halted any further talk of future attempts.

That is until esteemed comic writer Frank Miller stepped up to take a shot at making the impossible, possible, with Miller having achieved a massive amount of fame for the hug successes of his two previous works adapted to screen (“Sin City” and “300”) no one would dare deny that he has what it takes to make a film like this happen. However, what is the result of when you allow one legendary comic artist to take the helm of another legendary artist’s work? A disaster of epic proportion is what comes out of it. The film is simply a mess of things that just don’t work well together as a finishing product, it’s not that Miller is bad at filmmaking, but how he handled the direction he took The Spirit in as a filmmaker, the film is without a doubt a visually stunning flick with some very beautiful graphics and cinematography work, and it just so happens to be an all-star cast filled with some of Hollywood’s most gorgeous A-list actresses, and not to mention the entire premise of the film carries pretty size amount the comic, it’s funny as well as mysterious with hints of action meets drama into the mix and it’s got a highly respectful name behind the director’s char. One would think that these are all the right marks in making a great film, and yet it isn’t. So what went wrong you might ask? Well the problem doesn’t lie within the plot or the film in general, but rather within the choices made by Miller himself in both filmmaking and in writing the screenplay, the thing is this; Will Eisner’s work on the spirit had a nice blend of mystery, action, horror and even comedy all wrapped up nice and tightly into his comic with a little red bow, but on the other hand Miller tried too hard to incorporate his own writing style of storytelling into Eisner work but altering presence and motives of each character and giving them mind numbing dialogue that is so cheesy that it doesn’t have a praying chance at being taken seriously, not to mention the fact that there was way too many scene in which are meant to be taken seriously but end up coming off more like a joke than anything else.

Anyone can tell you that this can and will only bring disarray and disorder to any situation. You don’t try to change a work of art into something that it isn’t, but rather try to understand its perfection and go with the flow on its terms and not yours. Personally; Miller’s work is a favorite of mine among the comic writers, but what he did to Eisner’s work was pure blasphemy to the graphic novel medium, and it will take me a long time to forgive him for causing such pain. However this does show as a sign of proof that as good as a comic may be, three attempts should show as proof that not all of them should become a live action film, and some things are best left in the pages of art. I will say though, that the film did have “its” moments where it wasn’t so bad, and maybe, just maybe a small part of you feels a bit of guilty pleasure for enjoying these moments, but still, when you allow the film to fully boil down in the back of your mind you realize that it’s still a bad movie and you can’t help but wish that so much wasn’t changed. But I will say this; I have a strong feeling that despite it being a hug let down among the critics, moviegoers and fans in general and it bombing at the box-office I think that with time this movie may gain a cult fallowing based upon the certain celebrities starring in the film and or Frank Millers name being attached to it. I won’t recommend this film to buy because I honestly don’t want you to throw your hard earn money away like that, but I will say that if you really want to see it than renting it would be your safest bet. And hey, if you just so happen to like it, then go out and get it, otherwise don’t bother with this flick.

The story is about: Adapted from the Will Eisner's graphic novels, "The Spirit" tells the story of a man who fakes his own death and fights crime from the shadows of Central City. The Octopus -- who kills anyone unfortunate enough to see his face -- has other plans. He's going to wipe out the entire city. The Spirit tracks this coldhearted killer from the city's rundown warehouses, to the damp catacombs, to the windswept waterfront...all the while facing a bevy of beautiful women who either want to seduce, love or kill the masked crusader.

As for the acting: what can I say, this film has nothing but top notch actors in the prime of their careers, and yet it’s got no appeal, all the actors felt out of sync, like they were acting in completely different movies from each other, none of the chemistry between them seem to work well and half the time some of them seem unsure of themselves or at least unsure about the directions they were getting from the director. Gabriel Macht was a bit of buzz kill for me, I mean he acted the part of the Spirit quite terribly to be honest, during the scenes that were supposed to be sad and full seriousness I laughed, and during the scenes that were supposed to be funny I cried, but not in that “oh that’s so sad” kind of cry, but the kind that makes you say “why! Why must I watch this person act so… badly! Why lord why? ” maybe I’m overreacting or maybe I’m still making him sound better than it really was, but damn, he really killed it for me. Sarah Paulson gives a performance which I found hard to stomach, why is that? because she phones in her performance most the way. Eva Mendes was a letdown for me, I’ve been a fan of hers since the first time I saw her in a movie which was the film “A Night at the Roxbury”, and let me tell you; the very first time I saw her playing the part of the Maid of honor I said to myself “damn, this girl is going places” and in that respect her career has in a big way jumped. But when I saw her performance as “Sand Saref” in this film, I was very disappointed because it was like she didn’t even try to act, it was more like she was just reading lines of a cue card and using her sex appeal to cover for her lack of performance. Jaime King was a little offbeat in her role as “Lorelei Rox”, I loved her in the film “Sin City” but I felt that she was torn between wanting to do this film and having to do it, maybe I miss read her body language wrong but that what I got, it was really mixed. Scarlett Johansson did fairly nice, she may have looked drop dead gorgeous but as talented as she is as an actress, she was still lacking terribly in the acting department, sad thing is, I love her films and have never missed a film of hers yet (this can easily be because I personally have a thing for her) so with that being said, for me to say that about her in this film means something right? Paz Vega was… okay, I’m going to be completely frank with you here; her only reason for being in the film is to be eye candy for the male audience’s pleasure and nothing more, because if there was something else other than that than I was not convinced. And last but certainly not lease is my man, Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the part of “The Octopus” arch nemesis to the spirit. It saddens me to say this but; he overplays the part in a hug way. Everyone knows that when Jackson takes on a role he doesn’t play it, he becomes it, problem though, the role is so corny that it ends up playing a number on him instead. Given the cheesiest of dialogue in the entire film, Jackson is hardly given any chance of redemtion for playing the role, nor does he get any respect from the movie going audience as a mad scientist, but instead plays out as a winy lame duck who spends more time playing dress up than actually being the ultimate bad ass supervillain.

Final Say: The Spirit was a big disappointment for me, I wanted this film to be so much more than it was, than again what I was asking for, was for it to be at lease fairly enjoyable, but that of course was asking too much, this disaster has in fact put somewhat of a damper on my feelings towards Frank Miller and his ability to re-create the successes of his film “Sin City” with its future sequels in the works. Oh well only time will tell and I’ll hold back my judgment until then, however this film is not worth the purchase, save your money and rent it if you must see it.

Copyright 2009
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 4, 2009

Review: Uptown (2009) [Reviewed By Clifford Kiyabu]

Directed by: Brian Ackley
Written by: Chris Riquinha & Meissa Hampton & Brian Ackley.
Genre: Drama
MPAA: Not Rated
Released: 15 July 2009 (USA)
Starring: Chris Riquinha, Meissa Hampton, Deirdre Herlihy, Derek McAllister

Plot: Two wounded hearts; one lonely, one lost, come together in the uptown side of the big apple to find that something missing inside them only to fine more than either expected.

Review: 7/10

My Thoughts: Love is a tricky thing, it can make you do some crazy and unbelievable things, things you never would think of doing that would even question your very morals. But we do them anyway because we are blinded by love, and when it comes to doing it all for in the name of what lies within our hearts we will gladly walk off a cliff for it.

Uptown is the debut film of actor/director Brian Ackley and is the second installment in the One Way or Another Productions “Naked Series”. Ackley is an actor who also co-starred in another film I reviewed not so long ago called “Cookies & Cream”, and now he has taken a step further and leaped into the director’s chare alongside director Princeton Holt to produce a film about finding new love in the big apple. Uptown is a titillating film about a guy name Ben (Chris Riquinha) and a girl name Isabel (Meissa Hampton), two people who met online as friends and decided to take their friendship a step further to meet and make it a night out on the town with their newfound friendship, it is only than that secrets about each other are shared back and forth. secrets that neither would have ever expected about the other, Isabel, who originally set out to be just friends reveals that she is newly married but has a lonely heart being married to her husband, but Ben, who is a lost soul in the game of love originally set out for finding something more than a friend in Isabel, but is shocked by this reviling bit of news by her, but decides to continue being friends with her regardless, through this though, exceed much more than that of a friendship between the two of them and begins to manifest itself into something much more, but is the risk worth the cost of their friendship or Isabel’s marriage?

The movie has a touching story that those who have experienced the sense feeling lost in finding the right one will relate too on so many levels that; we as individuals feel what these characters are feeling, the wanting what you cannot have is undeniably heart wrenching, it reminded me of a quote I once read that said “A woman never forgets the men she could have had; a man, the women he couldn't.” I feel that to a degree all men can relate to this quote as do the main character, Ben, who is falling so deeply in love for Isabel, but knowing that he cannot have her because she is unavailable only fuels the need for her to replace the emptiness in his heart. The film projects a great deal of promise for Brian Ackley as a filmmaker, he manages to capture the essence of the out of synch emotions we feel when we want someone so badly, and though it has a few flaws here and there that I honestly feel if worked on could make this film truly an incredible slice of satisfaction. It does however still make up for itself with gorgeous cinematography work that makes you feel like you’re right there in the film, the score was outstanding, it really carries a set of emotion of its own onto film that works well, but the most impressive part of this film would have to be the ending. Because it doesn’t try to sell you short on a predictable ending most films in its genre receives, instead it gives you an ending that is more fitting to reality than anything else, nor does it try to sell you a new method on how to live your life or a message from some brilliant anecdote, no sir, it’s only moral to the story is simply showing you the realism of life in the real world with real people in it, and, even if you don’t agree with the outcome, life goes on and you must take a deep breath and just deal with it. I must say though that with time Ackley could become a name many will come to know by one day. Like all new filmmakers out there whom I’ve had the pleasure of seeing their works, I’m honored to have enjoyed the experience that was Uptown and look forward to Ackley’s next project.

The story is about: Ben has been single for a long time. For his part, he is a loner but as well a romantic: he enjoys the solitude of his simple being but appreciates intelligent and witty company just the same. By yielding to both extremes, Ben remains caught between reason and arousal. Isabel has been married for a year. The passion that had once carried her 5-year relationship has lost its pulse. Passive, protective, and without poise, it now threatens to claim hers. Waiting in abeyance, Isabel is lost between loyalty and loneliness. Uptown is where they come together.

As for the acting: all the actors give it their best in Uptown, Chris Riquinha does a great job in the role of Ben, he gives the character a strong sense of realism that is both provocative and impressive. Meissa Hampton was wonderful in the role of Isabel; she gave the character a unique style that was very enjoyable, I feel the raw tension between her and Chris Riquinha characters, plus I enjoyed how she played the character off as naive and sometimes bashful, every time their characters would hug or got really close I would be at the egad of my seat ready to yelling out “kiss each other already!” [Laughs], and believe me when I say; if two actors can get me that wild up than it’s something I really enjoyed because actors and filmmakers who can make the viewers feel that involved in a film is a rare talented indeed, it’s a special kind of talent that doesn’t come by every day. Derek M. McAllister does a nice job portraying Kasheem, Ben’s good buddy, I enjoyed the scene’s was in and only wished he was in more of the film. Deirdre Herlihy did a fairly good job, I liked her style of acting, would be nice to see more of her in more films in the near future. Overall the cast was great, I really enjoyed their acting skills that were projected on screen and showed they have a very decent set of on screen chemistry which was nice to see, far too often do we see good actors with bad on screen chemistry which proves to be tiresome to see as well as ruining the film overall, but this is not the case with the cast of Uptown.

Final Say: I had a great time with Uptown, and despite some minor problems I had with, none of which will stop me from seeing it again someday. I recommend it!

Copyright 2009
All Rights Reserved

On a side note; the film is currently running on the festival circuit. But you can however purchase the “Naked” release festival version of the DVD by clicking here

Review: The Video Guys (2009) [Reviewed By Clifford Kiyabu]

Directed by: Dan Brennan
Written by: Dan Brennan
Genre: Comedy / Romance
MPAA: Not Rated
Released: 2009
Starring: Dan Brennan, Russ Camarda, Johnny Ferro, Allison Lane, Samuel Whitten, Stephanie Faith Scott, Carolyn Morrison, Diana Brennan, Sabrina Brennan, Thomas Doran, Christopher Douros.

Plot: The Video Guys is a comedy about the wedding business and all the crazy things that happen.

Review: 8/10

My Thoughts: Every girl dreams of their fantasy wedding, where they eternally become one with their prince charming and lives happily ever after. But what do you do when things go badly on this special eventful day, and every possible bad scenario suddenly becomes a reality? Who are you going to call in such a crisis? There is only one group to call.

To quote Dan Brennan’s character (Paul) “If you want to know what love looks like, go to a wedding. You see it in the flowers, the vows, the smiles, and the kisses. Everyone sees it. Everyone except the bride and groom. To them it’s a whirl wind blur of hugs and handshakes. They need to see it. Someone needs to show it to them. That’s what we do. We’re the video guys”, that is exactly what the viewer will get with The Video Guys, a comedy about the wedding business and all the crazy things that happen in it, it’s about a group wedding camera men who chronicles your wedding day from start to finish for the bride and groom and if should a problem of any sort arise they will be the first to deal with it or else they don’t get paid. The films’ main plot deals with Paul “Dan Brennan” the co-leader of the video guys, he has the ability to see if a couple is truly in love or not and if their marriage will stand the test of time, however despite this uncanny ability he has which is never wrong, he was unsuccessful in maintaining his own marriage with his wife Elizabeth (Allison Lane), now he spends his time making other people live happily ever after than trying to repair his own life, but when his darling Ex shows up to tell him that she’s getting married suddenly the old sparks start to fly once more between them, but question is will Paul and Elizabeth be able to realize that they’re made for each other before it’s too late?

The Video Guys was a very enjoyable film, it captures a wide range of things that occur at a wedding, from the typical problems that most weddings usually encounter as well as the not so common unfortunate ones, they will see to it that you will have a perfect day no matter the cost, but what makes this film so darn enjoyable is the fact that with every problem the plot presents to the viewers with, lies a solution that proves to be humorous, thoughtful and touching, this film is fantastically gratifying, and an all around feel good film. But what makes this film truly a worth watching movie is that for an in dependent film it carries an atmospheric style that is able to rival some of Hollywood’s big budget competitors in the same genre with are you ready? An original story that isn’t a carbine copy of another film… I know it’s hard to believe that such a thing is possible in today’s films but it is, Dan Brennan who aside from starring in this gem of a film is also the mastermind behind directing it, which believe me is always a great thing to see, because directors who star in their own films tend to make movies with outstanding performances, why is that you might ask? Because they know what they want and what better person to do the job right than the one who knows exactly what he wants. The film is flawed, true, but every faulty and unsound part of this film oddly does not hurt this film at all, but rather gives it a strange sense of presence that many can relate to in some degree or another. I personally enjoyed this film a great deal and didn’t want it to end, The Video Guys was very entertaining, I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy myself as much as I did going into this but was glad to be wrong, overall this is a worth watching film.

The story is about: Love is hard to find but it’s easy to videotape. Paul McNamara and his video guys have shot over 2500 weddings. Every type of crazy bride and wacky groom. They manage the wedding day and keep the in-laws from killing each other. Now Paul must face his greatest challenge to date: his ex-wife’s wedding.

As for the acting: Dan Brennan leads an ensemble cast of outstanding that works extremely well together. Brennan give a fantastic performance as the lead, he gives this film the driving force that makes the chemistry between the cast work, and work well it does. Russ Camarda does an fantastic job, he give a stellar performance as the group’s ladies man, Rick, who is without a doubt the member of their gang that makes them cool, and actor Camarda does this extremely well in the part. Actor Johnny Ferro, who plays, Chuck the newest member of the video guys, does a great job in the part, like all other members of the group his character (as well as an actor to the film) has a uniqueness about’em that makes them all function well together. And of course Allison Lane, who plays the leading lady of this film does exceptionally well, she gave the film that touch of Sexy meets classy to the film that works so perfectly, I’m surprised I have not heard of her sooner. Sabrina Brennan does incredible job as the character Miss Pinky, now I’m not one to give praise to child actors because frankly I don’t think most child actors can perform in the same league as the adults, however I must say that Sabrina Brennan gave a very decent performance that has earned kudos from me. I could go on and on about every member of this film but I would probably tire myself out from typing [Laughs], so know that I speak from the heart in my reviews and give only my truest most sincere opining, so when I say that; as a whole the entire cast does an extremely good job I mean it, I enjoyed the hard work these individuals put in to making this film as entertaining for me as well as for those who see it. I commend them with nothing but high praises for this lovely piece of Indy cinema.

Final Say: The Video Guys was a fantastic film that was truly a pleasure for me, I honestly could not stop laughing at the hilarious scenarios presented in the film, I also was touched by the story itself which was full of heartwarming moments that is well worth checking out. I highly recommend it!

Copyright 2009
All Rights Reserved