Friday, July 29, 2016

Hiding (2012)


So many movies have been made about people in witness protection and then being found out by the bad guys they are supposed to be protected from. The stories usually turn into some kind of action/thriller where a ton of people are getting killed so some bad ass FBI agent comes in and saves the day or the person who is supposed to be protected does the ass kicking. The 2012 movie Hiding took the story of a person in witness protection but did not make it as predictable as a story like this could be.
            Alicia Torres (Ana Villafañe) is being relocated to a small town in Montana through the Witness Protection Program by an Agent Noah Carter (seriously, he is Agent Carter… well, not my favorite Agent Carter, if you know what I mean). She is to go by the name Josephine Russo and she is not allowed to make contact with anyone from her former life including her grandmother and friends or even be able to paint and draw like she used to or even speak Spanish. Alicia, or Jo as she will now be referred to, is placed into the home of a social worker named Debbie. Debbie has a daughter named Lucy who is the same age as Jo. Jo is not used to people being so nice she is used to the hustle and bustle of New York and people having attitudes. Throughout the movie she as flashbacks to her old life in New York with her parents who were killed and who’s murders she witnessed.

            Jo begins school the following day. She is almost immediately hit on by the football team captain Brett (Jeremy Sumpter). His hitting on Jo causes his ex-girlfriend Zoe to become extremely jealous. Zoe approaches Jo to try to intimidate her but that does not work so well because Jo gives her a big old New York attitude right back and stands up for Lucy who was with her. Jo standing up to her makes Zoe super pissed so she starts looking into Jo to try to get some dirt on her.

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            While walking down the hallway, Jo passes by the art room. She goes into the room lured in by her passion. In the art room is a kid named Jesse (Tyler Blackburn) who is working on a painting of the Chicago skyline. They are both drawn towards each other (haha art pun). Jesse is the smart, thoughtful, talented guy compared to Brett who knows he can get whomever and whatever he wants with his stupid charm.

            One-day Jo realizes it is her grandmother’s birthday and asks Debbie to send her grandmother some flowers. That backfires when a man simply known as Mr. Ostrog is sent to find Alicia for the man who killed her parents. Mr. Ostrog tracks down Alicia’s grandmother through the high school she attended when he poses as someone who wants to set up a scholarship in Alicia’s name. At the nursing home where the grandmother is Mr. Ostrog finds the flowers from Jo that were sent through a flower shop in New Jersey. By contacting the flower shop Mr. Ostrog finds out the order was placed by Debbie in Montana.


            Meanwhile, back in Montana, Zoe has a student obtain Jo’s school transcripts and records. She cannot find a trace of Jo online. To try to get Brett back, Zoe tells him she looked into the school Jo was supposed to have transferred from in Seattle and that she is nowhere in their records. This does not bother Brett at all, in fact he tells Zoe to back off.
            Mr. Ostrog comes to Montana. He tracks Alicia down to the high school and even manages to bump into her outside the school. After that encounter he starts stalking her from his car. Of course Jo notices she is being followed, Ostrog is not that good at being inconspicuous. Since she cannot have a cell phone where she can possibly be traced, Jo uses the school phone to get in touch with Agent Carter (hahahaha) to tell her she thinks she is being followed. As she is waiting for Carter to call back she sketches out the guy she bumped into outside the school and faxes it to Carter. In her panic Jo asks Brett for the keys to his truck and his cell phone. Before Jo can even get in the truck Mr. Ostrog comes from behind and chloroforms her.
            Mr. Ostrog takes Jo to a cabin in the middle of the woods (soooooooooooooo clichéd). He has her tied to a chair and of course Jo manages to be a bad ass and run away and then of course she is caught by the bad guy and of course the hero Agent Carter comes in and shoots Mr. Ostrog before he can kill Jo.

            In the end everything is great. Carter tells Alicia that just as long as she can keep quiet and not cause another scene she can stay where she is which makes her very happy.
            The only reason I even heard of Hiding is because of Ana Villafañe. Last week I got to see Villafañe in the Broadway show On Your Feet where she plays Gloria Estefan. The girl is ridiculously talented! I enjoyed her performance so much. She is a stunning singer and excellent actress. In the Playbill under her bio some of her TV and Film work was listed and Hiding was one of them. Naturally, I was curious to see Villafañe in something else since she was so amazing live in front of me on stage. Her acting in Hiding was so good. Jo was supposed to be a tough New Yorker girl and that is exactly what Villanfañe played. You believed she was from NYC and had a fabulous tough girl NYC attitude.  I would love to see her in more movies and shows down the road… maybe if On Your Feet gets turned into a movie? I mean, come on the girl is a clone of Gloria Estefan AND she can act on camera so well.  


            The rest of the cast was alright. Jeremy Sumpter was so damn creepy! He looked like a psycho killer and stalker. I do not think I have ever seen him in something else before this and I am perfectly fine with this being the only Sumpter movie I ever see. Tyler Blackburn was good. I liked his character so much better than Sumpter’s and his acting was way better.

            The story was not too bad. The only thing to me that really brought the movie and story down was the storyline with the popular girls and Zoe. That was a good macguffin to think that Zoe had something to do with getting Mr. Ostrog on the path to finding Alicia/Jo. The actresses who played the popular girls were terrible. Some of the story was totally clichéd but since I like Villafane so much and the fact that the story was not the worst I was able to look past the clichés and enjoy it.

            Hiding was a decent movie. I was just so happy to see Ana Villafañe in a movie and to see that she truly a very talented actress. As much as the story was clichéd in some areas there were differences that makes it a bit of a stand out in Witness Protection-themed movies. The ending was left open ended. It did not just end, not all the bad guys were caught. Well, to me it could have been both open ended and just finished because the focus was on this one guy looking for her and not a whole bunch of other people. I liked open ended/ambiguous endings like that because it lets you kind of create a story of what happened next.  If you can find Hiding I recommend giving it a watch. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)


“We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I think we don't have a choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”

            Someone I follow on YouTube Tweeted out one day “Here’s the problem with music today: Artists in the past wanted you to know the music. Artists now want you to know them.” That is actually very accurate and very sad. We hear more about how certain musicians are getting into trouble or what they were doing on their day off than we hear their music. Before we had all this social media to follow our favorite music acts and all these tabloid and gossip rags got out of hand all we knew about musicians and singers was their music. If they were a singer/songwriter we heard their beliefs and worries and struggles. If they were a pop singer with a bouncy catchy song, we just knew their song and had a great time bouncing along with it. If a singer had a ballad out, we knew and felt their heartache whether true or untrue to their lives.
            There are a few songs I like that deal with social issues of certain decades. Bob Dylan made his career singing about his times. N.W.A. found fame and notoriety with their song “Fuk tha Police” about the intense unrest between African Americans and the police in the late 80s early 90s. In the 1950s through to the 1970s Nina Simone soulfully sang about injustices.
            Nina Simone and her thoughts on racial inequality and her life are told in the Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? Her story is told in her own voice through interviews throughout the decades of her fame and by her family, friends, and colleagues.
            Simone was born and raised in the south to a poor family. She found her talent for playing the piano through church and was given lessons by an old lady in town. When she was a young age, Simone played in a church recital. Her parents were forced to stand in the back but her music teacher told the all-white parish that Simone’s parents were to sit in the front to see their girl play or she would not play at all. Her mother wanted her to be the first black classic pianist to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Simone was accepted to one school for music but was denied entry to another to complete her studies because, as she found out decades later, because she was black. Simone supported herself and her family for a while playing piano at place in Atlantic City. The club owner told her if she wanted to keep her job she better sing. And thus began her singing career.  
            Simone scored success with her song “I Loves You Porgy”. After that for a long time she toured jazz festivals. Simone hit some nerves when she released her Civil Rights song “Mississippi Goddamn.” The song was very controversial but it mirrored Simone’s disgust and anger over the Civil Rights movement and how African Americans were being treated. According to Simone’s daughter, her mother’s voice was never the same after singing that song so much because her anger ran that deep and emotional.
            The rest of Simone’s life was fraught with difficulties. For a long time, she did not perform because her personal life was in shambles. She divorced her abusive manager-husband, lived abroad in Africa for a while, was abusive to her daughter, and only started to perform again when she needed money.
            Before watching this documentary, I did not know who Nina Simone was. I believe I have heard of her through the years since I like music so much but I never heard any of her songs. Simone’s voice was incredible and her piano playing was amazing. What I liked about this documentary was that certain songs were played in full so instead of just hearing snippets I was able to hear the entire songs. There were great messages to her songs that were able to get out and create impact because of her voice and musical talent. I particularly liked the part of the documentary where Simone’s intense feelings about the Civil Rights movement was discussed. Today I do not believe musicians would ever write a song along the lines of “Mississippi Goddamn” and strongly voice their opinions out loud like Simone did. Simone literally said in an interview how she wished she could arm African Americans against the police and fight with guns for their rights and freedom. The Civil Rights movement and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. really impacted Simone and her life.
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            I know quoted that YouTuber’s tweet about how singers back then wanted you to know their music rather than today where singers want you to know them and then proceeded to review a documentary that went more into the personal life of a singer. I think What Happened, Miss Simone? was a great balance of getting to know the singer as well as her music. There was only Nina Simone, her colleagues, and family and friends telling her story. There was no narration. You got to know Simone as a singer and pianist and got to know her songs as they played in full in the background. To me a good documentary makes me interested in learning more about its subject or, in this case, hearing more of the music and that is exactly what this documentary did. As soon as the documentary was over, with an understanding of Nina Simone and her music, I listened to some of her songs. I got to hear them without any talking over them and they were incredible. What Happened, Miss Simone? has gotten much praise and with good reason. I definitely suggest watching What Happened, Miss Simone? if you have access to Netflix. 
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)



Before you all jump down my throat and start giving me shit about seeing the new Ghostbusters movie let me tell you this: the original Ghostbusters movies are two of my all-time favorite movies ever. I know them both word for word and scene for scene. I have been watching the Ghostbusters movies since before the age of five. My parents have me and my older cousin on video running around with his play proton pack when we were little. They are two movies that I have nothing but the fondest memories of watching and that have impacted my life. I also have nothing but respect for the cast and director of the originals. Usually I do not like remakes, I freak out whenever I hear Hollywood finances a remake instead of something original. But, let me tell you guys, the new Ghostbusters movie is hilarious and in no way even a remake. I say it is a different telling with some throwbacks to the originals.
            This story begins with Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig). She is a professor of physics at Columbia University in New York City. Just before a class she is approached by a man who has read her book about ghosts and the paranormal. He needs Erin’s help with investigating a ghost in an old Victorian mansion he is a historian at. Erin is furious to find out her old friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) is selling the book they had both written together. This book could jeopardize her tenure that she is up for at the college.
            Erin goes to see Abby who is working at some sort of school for science. Abby is now working with Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) on new devices to catch ghosts. Erin tells them about the guys who came to see her about investigating the mansion. Abby and Hotlzmann are so excited so go check the place out that Erin tells them she will only take them to the mansion if Abby takes the book off of Amazon.
            At the mansion they find a full body apparition. All three women cannot believe what they are seeing. Erin tries to go up to talk to the apparition and the ghost spews goo all over her. Erin now fully believes there are such things as ghosts and the paranormal and her shouting her new belief was filmed by Holtzmann which Abby then puts onto the Internet. Columbia finds the video and kicks Erin out.
            Soon Erin, Abby, and Holtzmann get a call from a MTA worker named Patty (Leslie Jones) who says she saw a ghost in the subway after she had tried to chase after a guy who walked off that platform and onto the tracks. Before she saw the ghost she had seen something that had been placed on the electrical panel and sparked and exploded. They all see the ghost but they have no way of catching it. Or they do but they have nowhere to store it. Holtzmann keeps improving on their machines to catch ghosts as the story progresses.
            Ghost sightings occur at different places around the city. Erin notices a pattern. The pattern actually forms an X over a certain place that could be used to open up a portal for all the ghosts to come out of. And of course the portal gets opened and the Ghostbusters have to hilariously save the day.

            There is so much more to the story but why would I want to ruin a good thing? You guys have to go see it for yourselves.
            Obviously the major difference in this movie is that the cast is entirely female. That is awesome and if you do not think an all-female cast like this is awesome stop reading this review and get with the modern times. I think it was completely genius to have an all-female cast and especially because they are four of the funniest actresses around today. Kate McKinnon practically steals the entire movie. Every scene Holtzmann was in I cracked up so hard. I have never seen McKinnon on Saturday Night Live, I have only ever seen her in her bit part in the movie Sisters. She was even hilarious in that small part. Holtzmann is eccentric and fantastic and I now count her as one of my all-time favorite movie characters. With Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig I feel like their comedy was a bit toned down. To me they usually play these over the top comedic characters and in this movie they were not as over the top (I am sure that made absolutely no sense whatsoever to anyone but me). Leslie Jones was hilarious. I do not think I have never seen her in anything else. I enjoyed her character a lot too. Cecily Strong, also from Saturday Night Live, has a small part. I like her, I never mind seeing her in a TV show or movie, she is so funny.
I have to give a mention to some of the actors. Chris Hemsworth plays the secretary. I am not too much a fan of his acting but he was not that bad. It was funny seeing Hemsworth play such a clueless person. I nearly freaked out when I saw Matt Walsh. You have seen the guy in so many movies and shows as a bit player. I know him as Trotter from Upright Citizens Brigade.
            This Ghostbusters movie would not be complete without cameos from the original cast. Spoiler alert: they do not make cameos as their original characters. All of the cameos were great.

            Ghostbusters was one of the best times I have had sitting through a movie in the theater. Everything about it, to me, was perfect. The best was that it did not for one moment take itself too seriously and that helped so much because it was just silly all around. Paul Feig’s direction was awesome; his direction of Kate McKinnon’s scenes was the best. The cast could in no way have been any better. Do not let all the negative reviews get in your head and turn you off to seeing it. As I said, I am a diehard fan of the original movies and I loved this new Ghostbusters. Absolutely go see Ghostbusters as soon as you can.
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