Friday, February 21, 2014


“Three Days to Kill” focuses on the life of Ethan Renner, CIA agent, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Upon learning this information, he decides to try to reconnect with his estranged wife and teenage daughter living in Paris.  Unfortunately, he is coerced into completing one last task which may in turn, save his own life.  But the consequences may be more than he bargained for.

“Three Days to Kill’ starts off with a BANG! Literally.  Many bangs, actually, as we see several dead bodies, gun blasts and at least one explosion within the first five minutes of the film.  Ethan Renner (Costner) is the aging agent whose time in the Agency is coming to a close, but he can still out-shoot, out-run, and out-smart 10 “bad guys” at one time.  Ethan agrees to continue to search for “The Albino” and “The Wolf” not to be confused with the Wolverine which I believe is a completely different absurd movie series.

But Ethan’s real troubles start when he returns to his wife and daughter after being the absentee dad for the last 5 or more years.  Balancing a career and a kid is a tough act, but balancing being a CIA hit man and a 16 year old daughter is even tougher.  Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) never lets Ethan, as she calls him, forget that he’s been gone.  But alas, there is always time to do those father-daughter moments like teaching his daughter to dance and ride a 2-wheeler.  

As “Three Days to Kill” begins quite violently and at some points disturbingly so, it takes a completely different turn about a third of the way through the film.  What direction you might ask?  Why, the comedic direction, of course.  Seriously, this film truly attempted to be funny.  It actually bordered on silliness in parts.  Yes, those of us with teenagers can relate to all that Zoey put her dad through, which definitely lightened the mood. If you have a teenage daughter, you can all relate to the fact that a bad hair day truly IS the end of the world!  The funny moments between the Zoey and Ethan are really quite humorous which make this rather predictable movie a bit more enjoyable. And everyone can use some Italian cooking tips in making sauce, right?  (Capers and white wine are the secret ingredients!) 

However, as daddy-daughter time loses the focus of the film and the lens is pointing back toward finding these two really awful bad guys---I’m still not sure why they were bad---more explosions, death, and gun fire ensue.  The film seems to just continue on and on so that more explosions and gun fights can occur.  Even with the gun fights and chases, the pace seems to drag.

The “bad guys” are stereotypical and almost comic-book in stature with their shaved heads, a limp, and wearing all black.  The film has all the requisite car chases including careening around corners while shooting expertly out the window with the precision of a neurosurgeon. There are plenty of cliches knocked around even with Costner’s monotone voice, he can still relay humor.  

“Three Days to Kill” should be taken for face value although, ironically, the title actually has a couple different meanings.  This is a typical and predictable CIA vs. Bad Guy movie complete with gun fights, car chases, and explosions.  Where this movie attempts to be different is with the father-daughter issues and trying to make the most of the time this agent has left.  With humor, sentiment, and plenty of killings, it is a combination that only mildly succeeds.  It would have done better to just make fun of itself and the concept and take the comedic part all the way through.  The father-daughter aspects of this film are truly the best parts.

5 reels

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Ahhh, romance.  What better day to release a romantic movie than on Valentine’s Day.  That’s what the marketing company for “Winter’s Tale” must be thinking as well.  Even my hardened, cynical heart has a soft spot yearning for a romantic movie reminiscent of Christopher Reeves’ movie “Somewhere In Time.”  Unfortunately, “Winter’s Tale” just made that soft spot a little smaller.

As I sat down to enjoy my wonderful pour of wine and watch "Winter's Tale," the couple next to me began to bicker about who is more negative.  As the accusations continued on, I wondered why the couple even wanted to see this film.  Thankfully, the movie began which quelled the verbal jousting.  Unfortunately, the husband loved having a running commentary of the preposterous aspects of the film and when there was just a smidge of tenderness, a loud snort and "HA!" blasted my left ear.  I think it's going to take more than a romantic movie to set this couple straight.  By the way, Mr. Whoever You Are, you are the more negative one in that relationship!

“Winter’s Tale” has promise.  It’s stars Colin Farrell and centers on a love that lasts forever.  The basic premise of the movie is that Peter Lake (Farrell), an orphan, becomes a thief to survive.  He angers his “boss” which means he’s on the run.  His “magical” horse saves him and convinces him to do one last heist.  During this robbery he meets and falls in love with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) who has been diagnosed with Consumption and has only a short time left to live.  The two spend every moment together as Peter helps Beverly make the most of every day.  As Beverly dies in his arms, he somehow awakens almost 100 years later to try to find his purpose in life and to perhaps be reunited with Beverly. 

“Winter’s Tale” requires the viewer to suspend belief in great proportions~too great of proportions.  For example, in 1916 as the baby Peter is set off from Ellis Island in a model boat that his soon-to-be deported parents placed him in, the NY Harbor gently washes him ashore.  (Flashback to Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments.”)  Now fast forward to adulthood where we learn that Peter fraternizes with the wrong kind of people.  We then have the appearance of the mythical or magical white horse to save Peter from certain death. And still those romantics out there will want to think, “It’s ok.  I can still buy into this movie for romance’s sake.”  We want to believe, as they say in the film, that “we are all connected and are part of a moving plan.”  It’s the introduction of Good vs. Evil that brings this film over the top of ridiculous.  Pearly Soames (Crowe) is the Devil’s right hand man who is hell bent (pun intended) on making sure Peter’s miracle doesn’t happen.  It is the obvious costuming in black and white to make sure we know who to root for and the overlay of the Disney classic Snow White or Sleeping Beauty that truly makes this film a fairy tale of ludicrous proportions.

Colin Farrell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, and Will Smith are all a part of this live action fairy tale film.  Farrell is his usual charming, big, brown-eyed sweetheart wooing any woman who crosses his path with his non-NY accent.  At least they explain why Bev has a British accent in the film, but there’s no explanation for Peter’s Irish accent.  Will Smith has an unusual role, rather small, but quite important to the plot.  He does justice to his evil role.  The rest of the cast including Hurt, Connelly, and  Findlay, play their roles with as much depth as is possible with the writing.  

Overall, the writing is just too far-fetched to bring any believability to this film.  Anyone going to a romance movie understands that this stuff just doesn’t happen in real life, but there has to be some level of reality.  After all, that’s one reason we “girls” like to go to these films; we like to imagine ourselves in it.  The film lost me with the white horse with wings.  It is a continuous downward spiral as the lines from the narrator tell you to believe in magic (Isn’t that a Disney line or the Lovin Spoonful’s song?) and that true love never dies.  The never-ending coincidences which are meant to pull at your heartstrings, just make your eyes roll back in your head. 

Unless you think you can completely suspend all belief and can allow yourself to watch a live-action film that should have been an animated feature marketed to 10 year old girls, I’d skip this one.  If you’re looking for a good date movie for Valentine’s Day, the believable, heart-breaking, and wonderful film “Labor Day” will be just the ticket you’re looking for.

2 REELS (1 Reel for Smith's performance and 1 Reel just because I like Farrell's brown eyes and Irish accent)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

'VIOLET' HAS HEART by Pamela Powell

Starring:  Junio Valverde and Leticia Dolera
Written and Directed by Luiso Berdejo

VIOLET is a sweet story of serendipity written and directed by Luiso Berdejo and starring Junio Valverde and Leticia Dolera.  This film, quite a departure from the horror genre Americans might recognize the writer and director for, captures the essence of youth, love, and family.  

The story begins as Alex (Valverde) happens upon a polaroid photo at a flea market while living in Santa Monica.    He becomes obsessed with finding the woman in the photograph.  With the help of his girl friend and the guidance of his grandfather’s words of wisdom imparted on him before he passed away, Alex begins his journey.  Along the way, he discovers much more than he anticipated.

Alex and 5 (Dolera) seem to be inseparable best friends.  As Alex searches for this mystery woman, you see the conflict of emotions within 5 who absolutely adores Alex.  Their conversation and interactions let you know that they know each other well, but there is a boundary there that 5 does not cross.  They are friends.  She obviously will do whatever Alex needs to make him happy; including finding an unknown woman in a photo he has fallen in love with.  Alex seems to be a free spirit---young and happy without many worries.  With the luck of a mishap, even money isn’t an issue. As Alex follows his intuition, you see how he honors and holds his grandfather and his wisdom in high regard.  Alex follows “the signs” and all the coincidences that occur, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.  While you know the chances of Alex finding this woman are slim, and you root for 5, you still want him to find this woman...or do you?  

VIOLET is a sweet, lighthearted film with a message about life.  What a wonderful combination.  The film is shot entirely on film which gives the movie even more of a feeling of real life.  It’s grainy, but colorful, especially when 5 is in a scene.  The innocence it captures immediately transports the viewer back to his or her own youth when anything is possible.  Berdejo’s writing fully represents that innocence along with humor and Valverde brings it all to life.  Dolera’s performance is skillful as she conveys so much with her expressions.  You have empathy and truly care about this character.  With creative writing and talented acting, the story succeeds not only in entertaining you, but reminds you of what is important in life.  Sometimes, if we just listen, the answers are right in front of us.

VIOLET is a sweet and simple story about self-discovery as a young man follows his heart and intuition.  It’s also a story about love and being open to really seeing what’s around you.  Coincidences are truly serendipitous in this emotionally satisfying film full of words of wisdom to live by.

Watch for the broadcast of Reel Honest Reviews' interview with Luiso Berdejo on WKCC's The Reel Focus!

Thursday, February 6, 2014


“The Monuments Men” opens today with an unrivaled cast consisting of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett.  The film, based on true events and the book by the same name depicts a time near the end of WWII when a special task force of art historians, curators, and architects from around the world collaborated to find and return art stolen by Nazi Germany.  This group of special men and women had not only a keen understanding and love of art and culture, but understood that once artwork is destroyed it can never be replaced.  They were “fighting for culture and achievements.”  

“The Monuments Men” silver screen version is written and directed by George Clooney to tell this important part of not just American history, but world history.  Frank Stokes (Clooney) leads the band of art brothers and easily convinces these seasoned civilians to join the army, go through basic training and set off to save the art world.  Granger (Damon), the curator at the Met in NYC is key in his knowledge and connections in helping to recover the art.  With a little bit of luck, persistence, and grit, the group helps in not changing history, but keeping it.  However,  it’s not without a high price to pay.

“The Monuments Men” tells a very important story about our history.  This is a piece of our past that many don’t know.  Unfortunately, this big screen version doesn’t do history justice.  The film is flat.  It feels as if it is all part of a sound stage and perhaps Bing Crosby will soon come out on stage and grace us with a little song and dance.  It transports the viewer (for those of us old enough to remember this) back to the 1950’s version of a WWII movie complete with campy music.  The film also attempts to insert humorous aspects into the film, but that too falls flat.  Overall, the film gives you an unreal or disingenuous feeling to what should be a significant and powerful story.

The cast comprises some of the best actors in film today and you expect nothing but the best from them.  Credit is given for portraying real people who fought for our country, but their characters were never really developed.  This leaves you feeling unsatisfied as you really don’t get to know them.  With 1 hour and 58 minutes, you would think you have enough time to explore who these people are, where they come from and what truly motivates them to put themselves into harm’s way for the sake of art.  Unfortunately, they all just jump on the band wagon without more than a second thought.  There is  the potential for delving a little more deeply into their past and how they know each other, but that aspect is just briefly touched upon, again, not realizing the full potential.  For example, Campbell (Murray) and Savitz (Balaban) are quite antagonistic, but we never learn why.  And Stokes knows a lot about Jeffries “mistakes” in the past, but again, we are never given the full story. With all the characters, perhaps too many, there are only brief brushings with real personalities which just punctuates that feeling of insincerity.

“The Monuments Men” is an amazing story which, unfortunately, is not well-told.  It is an important part of history, but the film falls flat leaving you uninspired.  What could have been an exciting and intense film turns out to be a very mediocre movie complete with a musical score to accentuate that yes, folks, this is Hollywood.  The predictability of events becomes weary. If you know nothing about this part of history and are curious, there is a lot of information on the internet. You could also pick up the book The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter.  Or you can wait for the DVD.


Monday, February 3, 2014

WARREN Reviewed by Pamela Powell

Starring:  Alex Beh, John Heard, Jean Smart and Sarah Habel
Written and Directed by:  Alex Beh

"Warren" is a film we can all relate to.  Whether we are a parent or a twenty-something trying to figure out where life will take us, there is something for everyone to enjoy in "Warren."  Written and directed by, as well as starring Alex Beh, this film captures the turning point in one young man's life and how it affects those near and dear to him.  As quoted from the film, "There's what you're supposed to do and what you have to do."  The choice is Warren's.

Warren, the main character, has given up on his dream of being a comedian and now works as a barista at a coffee shop in Chicago.  Frustrated by his spinning wheels and lack of forward progression, he bumps into his lost love.  Old feelings come rushing back, but this woman is now engaged to be married.  Warren must now decide where his life will take him. Will he "follow the fear or forever be stuck in neutral?

"Warren" has such a talented cast and is set in the perfect city---Chicago.  Yes, I'm biased, but that's ok.  Watch the film and I am sure you will understand my prejudice.  "Warren" captures Chicago's lake, its neighborhoods, and its vibrancy.   Along with Alex Beh, John Heard, Jean Smart, and Sarah Habel star in this "slice of life" film.  The first scene sets the tone of the entire film.  Jack (Heard) is talking to his son, Warren (Beh), 10 feet away...using a megaphone. This is exactly the embarrassingly funny stunt many fathers would do if they had a megaphone in hand.  As the neighbor looks casually over to see today's antics, Warren sits dreamily in the old Porsche stored in the garage, key in the ignition, ignoring his father for just a few more moments.  Immediately, you see that dreams have been either lost or put on the back burner.  In the film, we discover that the father-son connection is very close and that trying not to have the apple fall far from the tree is a conscious choice.

Warren is like many other twenty-somethings trying to fulfill dreams and seize the moment when they can. Regrets at an early age are a hard topic to deal with and when Emma (Habel), Warren's former love, bumps into Warren working at the coffee shop, the disappointment and embarrassment is palpable.  Warren's support system as he works out his thoughts and feelings about Emma are comical, yet real.  With stand-up comics for friends, there is no lack of humor in dealing with this situation.  This well-rounded film also incorporates Jack and Warren's relationship, both past and present.  Jack has never given up on loving his soon-to-be ex wife, Claire.  Jack and she have been working on getting those final divorce papers signed for 5 years.  Unfortunately, Warren gets caught up in the havoc that occurs when you still live near your parents and don't pursue your own dreams.

This strong cast brought life, love, and family to the screen.  John Heard and Jean Smart are the perfect North Shore separated parents who still share two children together; one adult and one in high school with some rebellion issues.  The film has two focal points:  Warren and Emma, and Warren and his father.  While Warren's feelings of love and loss with Emma are evident, an equally heart-felt part of this movie is his relationship with his father.  The connection between these two men is not only seen, but felt by the viewer.  Watching Heard's character sitting and eating pizza with his boys is so natural and realistic that you truly feel like this is a family.

Heard transforms himself into Warren's father, Jack.  But his character is much more complex than just being Warren's dad.  Jack has his own struggles, professionally and personally, that are so subtly revealed that you can empathize with his every emotion.  But at the end of the day, you realize that this father wants exactly what every parent wants for his child---to be happy.

While the entire cast is compelling, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one other standout in this wonderful cast:  Marc Grapey.  A Chicago area native (Kankakee), Marc's character of the obnoxious cell phone user/customer at the coffee shop becomes increasingly funnier with each scene.  I know we have all encountered such a person and he completely embodies that character.  Well-done!

It's so refreshing to see a young writer and director take on a film and successfully tell an entertaining and emotional story.  The keen direction and intelligent writing pulls you immediately into this story, reeling you along and allowing you to laugh at irony and look at your own life by comparison.  There are even a few words of wisdom you might want to take to heart.   Beh brings this tale home, deftly tying up all loose ends that you are supposed to know.  He leaves a few things to your imagination which makes you think and come up with your own back story about things like why the house is slated for demolition.  "Warren" is a slice of life full of emotion and reality.  Again, well-done!

Watch for the interview with Alex Beh or catch it soon on WKCC's The Reel Focus!