Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Naomi Bishop is well-known as a shark of a senior investment banker, but doubts have arisen after her most recent challenge with a major investment. When presented with a cybersecurity company to represent and launch, she has an opportunity to truly shine in response to her boss’s recent announcement of retirement. The most significant challenge she faces is her gender and the associated perception of her business and networking style. She uses her staff to run triage and help manage her client to success, but she also begins to realize that there might be corruption woven into her efforts. Between a client who appears to be getting reckless and doubt forming about the people closest to her, Naomi begins to get more desperate about her avoiding another failed launch.

Women in a Man’s Profession: Regardless of the success women have achieved in business and banking, there were still many double standards portrayed in this film. Naomi was a shark and extremely detail-oriented. To some of her co-workers and her clients, the sense was that she was standoffish or acting extra frosty. In comparison, Erin Manning used a bit of her sex appeal to soften the atmosphere around her male partners and clients. Naomi actually pushed that sense out of her as well. This was not something she did comfortably, as it became more apparent that she hit a breaking point with their client.

The scene where she met with other rising professional women felt like such a powerful moment. She admitted that money drove her focus on her career. It is not a statement that some women feel comfortable making, but she owned it clearly and completely.

Double-Crossing: While Naomi seemed to be staying on-point with her goal of launching her client’s IPO, all of the people around her seemed to be letting their personal agendas get in the way of her game plan. Erin appeared to be a team player until she saw a moment to strike for her own advancement. Michael enjoyed having a relationship with Naomi, but he was gradually looking for a way to use her for insider information. Even Samantha reconnected with her to try to pry into her company’s activities while investigating Michael.

Final Verdict: Films about successful women tend to shy away from some of the shark-like behavior that was highlighted in this story. Anna Gunn was stellar in her frosty but powerful portrayal of a woman who knew what she wanted but was getting stabbed in the back.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5



Phiona, a young Ugandan girl, has a simple life working with her mother to sell crops at the market. She stumbles upon a missionary and his chess club, feeling invited to join and enjoy a little break from her simple life. Robert Katende believes she is a true champion and invests in her development as a player. She resists during her training because she feels guilty about having opportunity well beyond her family’s simpler life. When she finally gets the chance to compete, her competitiveness gets put to the test.

Confidence in Talent: It was beneficial that Robert believed in her, but Phiona quickly developed a sense of strength in her ability to see multiple steps ahead of her opponents. She quickly rose to the top of her group at the missionary, but it was not until she started to compete that she began to get inflated. Failure set her back a bit, but Robert’s belief in her pushed her back into competition.

Ugandan Slums: There are a number of films out there that depict the stark contrast of conditions between first and third world areas. Queen of Katwe felt like a realistic look at the lives of families living in the slums. There was a sense that the environment was a bit more colorful than reality, but it still exhibited the harshness of the monsoon and limited resources.

Opportunity to Achieve: While Phiona certainly was the focus of the film, the rest of the kids were entertaining to watch as well. Their personalities were bold and inspiring. The kids were at odds when Phiona first showed up, but they found support through their combined success. Her achievements were elevated by her peers and they found strength in being the outliers. Each of them went on to gain scholarships and further opportunities to advance their education.

Final Verdict: This was a truly feel-good film highlighting a young talent. Phiona was an easy girl to like, with her combination of confidence and heart.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Oscar Night 2016: Predictions & Winners

Posted: February 28, 2016 in Personal

It is Oscar Night and time for another set of predictions. Before I get to that, let me first mention the elephant in the room. This year’s Oscars are not significantly different from recent years, but it is clearer in a time of civil unrest that there is an absence of diversity in the nominations. Straight Outta Compton, for example, did get a nomination, but it was for the White writers. Outside of that, there was virtually no diversity in the major categories.

Besides the lack of diversity, there seems to be an effort to make this Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscars. The Revenant is definitely not even his best effort, but he seems to be a lock for many people to win.

Over the past several years, I have been able to see more of the pictures across all categories. I tried to do my best, so let’s see how the predictions wind up.

Let’s get to the predictions (post any agreements or challenges in the comments section):

Best Picture

  • My Prediction: The Revenant – It is unique to produce such an immersive wilderness film, and his success from Birdman has proven that Iñárritu is able to meet the Oscar qualifications.
  • My Spoilers: Spotlight – This true story has an incredible cast and a tangible/memorable topic. Room – Truly my favorite film in this category, the connection with the characters was significantly more tangible than any other film in this list.
  • Winner: Spotlight

Actor in a Leading Role

  • My Prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio – It is a shame that this is what he is going to win for…he was significantly better in The Man in the Iron MaskTitanicThe Wolf of Wall Street, and several other films over this one…
  • My Spoiler: none – While I like the performances of Michael Fassbender, Eddie Redmayne, and Bryan Cranston, I just don’t see anyone else stealing this one. I would have said Jacob Tremblay for Room, but he didn’t get nominated.
  • Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • My Prediction: Christian Bale – He was brilliantly crazed but incredibly intelligent. This is the type of role that highlights the range and emotional presentation that has accompanied the roles across his career.
  • My Spoiler: Sylvester Stallone – Creed was actually a good film and Stallone was more emotional and even understandable than most of his other recent outings. While he may get the emotional win, I actually could also see Tom Hardy deserving it for his strong performance in The Revenant than DiCaprio.
  • Winner: Mark Rylance

Actress in a Leading Role

  • My Prediction: Brie Larson – While the film overall was fantastic, she was absolutely amazing. Her plight was clear between the lack of control inside the room and even after her release.
  • My Spoiler: Jennifer Lawrence – She has become a bit of a fan favorite, even though he other characters have been better stories to tell.
  • Winner: Brie Larson

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • My Prediction: Alicia Vikander – She was even more impressive in Ex Machina, but she will get some great recognition for her role in The Danish Girl.
  • My Spoiler: Rooney Mara or Kate Winslet – Both actresses are well proven and both provided emotional and powerful performances in their respective films.
  • Winner: Alicia Vikander

Animated Feature Film

  • My Prediction: Inside Out
  • My Spoiler: Anomalisa
  • Winner: Inside Out


  • My Prediction: The Revenant
  • My Spoiler: Mad Max
  • Winner: The Revenant

Costume Design

  • My Prediction: Mad Max 
  • My Spoiler: The Danish Girl
  • Winner: Mad Max


  • My Prediction: Alejandro González Iñárritu – The Revenant is about to get a lot of recognition, which is deserved for the way the story was presented. Acting in a limited dialogue script is something worth the recognition.
  • My Spoiler: Lenny Abrahamson – While I think that Miller will probably have a lot of support for Mad Max, Abrahamson’s direction of the simple yet emotional Room was truly an experience.
  • Winner: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Documentary (Feature)

  • My Prediction: Amy
  • My Spoiler: The Look of Silence
  • Winner: Amy

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • My Prediction: Body Team 12
  • My Spoiler: Last Day of Freedom
  • Winner: A Girl in the River

Film Editing

  • My Prediction: Mad Max
  • My Spoiler: The Revenant
  • Winner: Mad Max

Foreign Language

  • My Prediction: Son of Saul (Hungary)
  • My Spoiler: Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
  • Winner: Son of Saul


  • My Prediction: Mad Max
  • My Spoiler: The Revenant
  • Winner: Mad Max

Music (Original Score)

  • My Prediction: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
  • My Spoiler: John Williams for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Winner: Ennio Morricone

Music (Original Song)

  • My Prediction: “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
  • My Spoiler: “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre
  • Winner: Writing’s on the Wall

Production Design

  • My Prediction: The Revenant
  • My Spoiler: Mad Max
  • Winner: Mad Max

Short Film (Animated)

  • My Prediction: Sanjay’s Super Team
  • My Spoiler: n/a
  • Winner: Bear Story

Short Film (Live Action)

  • My Prediction: Ave Maria
  • My Spoiler: Day One
  • Winner: Stutterer

Sound Editing

  • My Prediction: Mad Max
  • My Spoiler: The Revenant
  • Winner: Mad Max

Sound Mixing

  • My Prediction: Mad Max
  • My Spoiler: The Revenant
  • Winner: Mad Max

Visual Effects

  • My Prediction: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • My Spoiler: Mad Max
  • Winner: Ex Machina

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • My Prediction: Room
  • My Spoiler: The Big Short
  • Winner: The Big Short

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • My Prediction: Spotlight
  • My Spoiler: Inside Out
  • Winner: Spotlight
Percentage Correct: 15/24 – 62.5%
Percentage from 2015: 18/24 – 75%
Biggest Winner: Mad Max (6)
Other Winners…
A Girl in the River
Bear Story
Bridge of Spies – Best Supporting Actor
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Room – Best Actress
Son of Saul
Spotlight (2) – Best Picture
The Big Short
The Danish Girl – Best Supporting Actress
The Hateful Eight
The Revenant (3) – Best Actor/Director

horns_ver3_xlgSuspected of the murder of his former girlfriend, Ig Perrish tries everything he can to avoid the community that has turned on him and instead follows him with hatred. Fighting for Ig’s innocence, only his lawyer and childhood friend Lee Tourneau seems to be in his corner. While spying on a vigil on the spot where her body was found, Ig overhears her father speak hateful words against him, causing him to take out his anger on the offerings. The next morning, Ig discovers he has horns growing out of his head. Unsure of what is happening, he also discovers that everyone he meets seems to unveil their darkest feelings and desires to him, which he realizes he can use to help him investigate and find Merrin’s real killer.

Review: Daniel Radcliffe (Ig Perrish) has left behind his Harry Potter days for pastures much more dark and adult. While he may not be big in stature, Daniel threw around some serious anger and aggression. As his character dove deeper into the dark depths, his character’s confidence and presence grew. Juno Temple (Merrin Williams) was a bit of a wild card. When the relationship was strong, she was flirtatious and sweet. When her personal troubles started to rise, her character became a strange collection of emotions that did not help with the overall tone of the film.

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Horns combined a dark humor with moments of suspense and drama. Using flashbacks to help tell the story, Ig’s and Merrin’s perspectives, as well as some of their friends and family, came together to complete the picture of what happened between Ig’s attempted marriage proposal and Merrin’s death. As he discovered his ability to influence others, he decided to use it for his own gain. When bothered by the news reporters, he promised an interview to the last person standing and caused a reporter brawl more intense than from the Anchorman series. After interrogating the men in the bar, the conversations led to the men losing their inhibitions and burning the place down. On the flip side, it also led to difficult moments of realization about the truth regarding Merrin’s odd behavior and subsequent death.

The film was imbalanced and had an odd flavor, but it also has an interesting cult flavor through its dark humor.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Chappie_posterIn turbulent Johannesburg, the city’s police department has partnered with Tetravaal to supply robotic police force. The creator, Deon Wilson, is proud of his achievements but also seeks to advance his efforts to give the robots consciousness. Meanwhile, Vincent Moore is losing out with his Moose program, as his human-piloted mechs are too expensive and forceful to mass-produce. Deon decides to go against his boss’s wishes and steal the recently decommissioned No. 22 to test out his new consciousness program, but he is captured by three criminals looking to find a way to shut down the police robots. Deon convinces the group that there is no shutdown feature but that his program could allow them to train No. 22 with a clean slate. The newly conscious No. 22, nicknamed Chappie, starts to learn about life, for better or worse.

Review: This film tried to be a lot of things, unlike Neill Blomkamp’s hit District 9. That film was a review of conflicting civilizations and conflicts of identity. In contrast, Chappie was a referendum on sentient life. It was a commentary on violence and police force. It was a representation of parenting and the effect of the nurture side of the nature/nurture debate. Because it was less focused, it made the story a bit less cohesive.

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The casting was another interesting point of this film. Dev Patel (Deon Wilson) put forth a solid performance, mixed with moments of excitement and desperation. Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore) was a bit more one-dimensional, but his brash persona played well as a counterpoint to Dev. As for the inclusion of Die Antwoord (Ninja and Yolanda), their acting was a little rough, but they played the part well as criminals desperate to get out from under a crime boss’s thumb. Sharlto Copley (Chappie) was a little hard to judge, but the overall performance seemed to be full of human emotion.

Focusing on Chappie himself, it was interesting to watch him essentially grow up on-screen. Learning to speak and understanding the world around him, Chappie’s development was much like that of a child. Moral reasoning was at a basic level, meaning that he developed his decision-making based on what others told him. He had Deon imprint a sense of non-violence on him, while Ninja remained focus on his goal of criminal activity. Chappie, though being a robot, was fooled into some criminal acts, but he eventually learned to distinguish between honorable and ulterior motives.

The film was flawed due to its unclear plot focus, but the gritty acting and intriguing development of Chappie made this a much more interesting story than critics have seemed to rate it.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Hiatus Coming to an End

Posted: January 29, 2015 in Personal

Hello, readers…if there are any out there. I took a bit of a hiatus from typing up reviews for a while. I used to manage 3 different blogs, cut back to 2, and ended up taking a break from all of them. I would like to get back into the groove again, and there are a lot of movies I have seen that I need to catch up on for reviews. I will also be playing around with some different formats as I continue to adapt and refine my reviewing style.

Drop some feedback if you have some and let me know if there are any movies you’d like to see me review. I am currently working on the slate of Oscar films and some other hits from the past year.

TMNT-CollageWith New York City stuck in a crime wave, it appears that the only solace is the assistance of Eric Sacks and his industry’s assistance with the NYPD. While his efforts seem to be working, reporter April O’Neil believes that there is more to the story of the Foot Clan and their criminal actions. She heads to the docks one evening to find the Foot Clan unloading containers. While trying to document their actions, a mysterious vigilante thwarts the group and forces them away. Convinced that she must uncover the truth and get her big break with Channel 6 News, she gets caught up in another of the Foot Clan’s exploits, but is saved by more than the one vigilante. Following their escape from the scene, she discovers that the vigilantes are actually mutant, ninja crime fighters. With virtually no proof but too much dedication for the story, she continues her investigation, only to stir up a sinister plot to bring New York City to its doom.

Starring: Megan Fox (April O’Neil), Will Arnett (Vernon Fenwick), William Fichtner (Eric Sacks), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Pete Ploszek (Leonardo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), Danny Woodburn (Splinter), Tohoru Masamune (Shredder), Whoopi Goldberg (Bernadette Thompson), Minae Noji (Karai), Abby Elliott (Taylor)

With the story focused more on April’s first meeting with the turtles and not specifically with the turtles origins, Fox had a lot of responsibility for leading the cast. She was not as over-the-top as she could have been, but her overall performance was reminiscent of Transformers without the oversexualization. Arnett was a solid supporting actor, with his role being more of the desperate sidekick and comic relief. As for the turtles, each of the actors clearly presented more of a comical, exaggerated version of each character’s personality, whether it was Ritchson’s brashness or Fisher’s carefree and clownish antics. Woodburn was not as memorable as Kevin Clash’s version of Splinter in the 1990 original. Masamune was certainly menacing, but the audience never got to see his face or learn anything about him other than his high level of aggression and unclear degree of intelligence.

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While the Michael Bay influence can be felt a bit, this film may have done better with Jonathan Liebesman directing the action. The story was a bit different in this one, as compared to the other versions. The more known story about the turtles was that they and Splinter were creatures in the sewers that came into contact with the Ooze, which had been discarded. The mutagen caused them to transform. Splinter had learned martial arts by watching his owner prior to meeting the turtles, and he had witnessed his master’s end at the hands of Shredder. Instead in this version, the turtles and Splinter were lab experiments that received regular doses of the mutagen, and they were being treated by April’s father and Eric Sacks. April saved them from a fire and released them into the sewers to survive, not knowing that the mutagen was starting to take effect and transform them. This plot point was significant in that it established an earlier connection between April and the turtles, while also placing April more at the center of the film’s story.

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The presentation of the film was a bit of a mixed bag. The fact that the film was more about April meeting the turtles made the action seem almost secondary to her attempt at breaking a major story about the Foot Clan, at least for the first half of the film. While it was interesting to see more of the development of the turtles from non-mutated to evolved children to teenagers through a relatively quick bit of storytelling by Splinter, there was little other character development across the rest of the film. Eric Sacks and his relationship with Shredder was explained with only a quick student-master comment, while Shredder never really got much of a story or clear visual presence outside of the mechanical suit at all. Each of the turtles had individual personalities, but some of the exaggerated qualities were a little much. Leonardo and Raphael seemed to be represented much stronger than Donatello’s overly-geeky image (now sporting glasses) and Michelangelo’s odd blending of urban and surfer personas. They were entertaining, but a little over the top at times. The ending to the film clearly set up an opportunity for sequels, as so much of the story was left wide open with almost too many questions to count.

In a summer of strong action and sci-fi films, this one was just simple entertainment. While it will not totally impress viewers, it was a worthwhile way to enjoy a couple hours of CGI entertainment. In addition, I was not a fan of the character model design for the turtles, Splinter, or Shredder’s armor, but the objection did fade with time. The best versions still remains the first and second movies from the 90s.

“Tonight, I dine on turtle soup.”

Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5