Danny Collins – Movie Review

An aging rock star decides to change his life when he discovers a 40-year-old letter written to him by John Lennon.

Release Date: April 10, 2015
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Director: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Benning, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer

Al Pacino plays Danny Collins, the aging rocker, who still manages to sell out stadiums across America. As famous as he has become, Collins is a man going through the motions on stage and finding solace in drugs and his very young fiancé. On his birthday, Collins’ manager Frank Grubman (Christoper Plummer) bring Danny a letter than John Lennon had sent to him before he became famous. The letter was never delivered to Collins and Grubman found it from a collector.

The Lennon letter is an instrument of irony. It was an encouragement to Collins to remain true to himself and soft-handed warning about the trappings of fame.  The letter prompts Collins to examine his life and where he is. It also prompts him to visit the son he never knew.

Collins take a trip from Los Angeles to New Jersey hoping to mend things with his son, Tom Donnelly (Bobby Cannavale), Tom’s wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and his granddaughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). Collins says at the local Hilton, where he meets and becomes smitten with the manager Mary (Annette Benning).

Danny Collins is a story of redemption. Can Danny make things right with the son he abandoned as a child. Considering he is the result of a one-night stand and never bothered to know his son because he just didn’t care. On the flipside, can Tom forgive the father, who never wanted to be his father. Can Tom allow himself to be the object of Danny’s redemption. Finally, will Danny Collins ever become the artist that John Lennon say 40 years ago.

Danny Collins is a story that’s been told before, but these stories never starred Al Pacino. Pacino brings Danny Collins to life as a celebrity famously known around the world. You root for him as a man who wants to change and fix the pain he’s caused in the past. You also root for him in hopes that he overcomes the demons of not only drugs, sex and rock-n-roll, but the demon of failure.

As his son Tom, Bobby Canevale holds his own against Pacino. He is not a victim of Danny’s apathy, but then again, he is. Tom also faces a struggle of him own and soon realizes how much he needed a father-figure in his life…better late than never.

Danny Collins, the movie, is no Dog Day Afternoon and Pacino’s portrayal of Collins is no Michael Corleon. But Danny Collins is a light, fun comedy that leaves you feeling good about the world in the end. As a veteran actor, Pacino is comfortable as Collins even to the point of singing his own songs. It’s clear the Pacino wanted to do a comedy as a challenge and he picked the right one from writer/director Dan Fogelman.

Kung Fu Panda 3 – Movie Review

Kung Fu Panda 3 is a solid film for both children and adults, but mostly children. It’s the story of Po (Jack Black), the greatest warrior in the ultimate search for who he really is.

Release Date: January 29, 2016
Writer: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Director: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh
Cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu

After two full-length features and a television show, Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black) is the hero and guardian of China and specifically, the Jade Palace. Po’s greatness has progressed to the point that his Master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has made Po the new Master of the Jade Palace. Po does not feel he is ready to be the new master, let along the new teacher of warriors. He quickly fails at training his crew: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross).

Meanwhile, in the spirit realm, a new threat is brewing. The evil Kai (J.K. Simmons) is collecting the “chi” of all the great kung fu masters. Set on vengeance against his one-time friend and greatest warrior, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), Kai has the power to steal of chi of any living being and turn them into Jade monsters. His ultimate goal is to return to the mortal world and steal the chi of the last great warrior, Po.

Back in the mortal realm, a mysterious stranger arrives, and it turns out to be Po’s father, Li (Bryan Cranston). Thinking he was the last of the pandas, Po returns to the Panda villiage with his father, Li hoping there he can learn the power of chi and save his friends and all of China. Po returns to learn the slow and lazy life of his panda ancestry. In the meantime, the rest of China is slowly being overrun by Kai and his ever growing jade warriors.

Can Po learn the lesson of chi from his fellow pandas? Can he become strong enough to defeat the powerful Kai? Can Po learn who he is and become a great teacher?

Kung Fu Panda 3 is a solid story for children and adults. Kids will love the numerous battle scenes, and adults will admire the beautiful landscape and artistry of its Chinese origins. Jack Black continues to bring his likable persona to Po, and Dustin Hoffman shines again as the wise teacher Shifu. Best of all, the ultimate lesson of being the best you, you can be, is not lost on the young audience.

Also shining is veteran Asian actor James Hong as Po’s adopted father, Mr. Ping. He more than matches the wit and humor of Po as the father, who is about to lose his son to his real father. The Chinese culture also shines throughout the movie. Already noted are its beautiful landscape, food, and artistic dream sequences.

It’s hard to find good films for children during the winter period. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a great moment to get out of the rain and laugh with the little one. There was a lot of laughter in Kung Fu Panda 3.

Fifty Shades of Black – Movie Review

Fifty Shades of Black is Marlon Wayans’ parody of the sexually-charged movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. In this parody, businessman Christian Black (Marlon Wayans) is looking to naïve reporter, Hannah (Kali Hawk) to be his sexual submissive.

Release Date: January 29, 2016
Writer: Rick Alvarez, Marlon Wayans
Director: Michael Tiddes
Cast: Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk, Mike Epps, Affion Crockett, Jenny Zigrino

To say that Fifty Shades of Black is a bad movie is being kind. The movie suffers from being incredibly bland. It strings together a series of mediocre jokes using a fragile, if non-existent, storyline. The fact that this is a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey, the filmmakers use the storyline and structure of the film as a loose guide solely to get us from the beginning to the end of the movie.

It is almost not worth summarizing the story, but let’s try. Christian Black is a successful and mysterious millionaire, who has made his riches selling drugs and stealing everything. Hannah is a young ingénue, who interviews Black, when her nymphomaniac roommate is under-the-weather after a night of violent banging.

During the incredibly awkward interview, Christian is enamored by Hannah and offers to enter a business-like love relationship, which includes sessions in the playroom. If you’re familiar with Fifty Shades of Grey, you know where this is heading.

As a comedy, writers Rick Alvarez and Marlon Wayans basically took every scene from Fifty Shades of Grey and rewrote it by added a series of jokes and gags. The problem lies in that by adding jokes to a scene they managed to remove the parts of the story that leads you to the next scene. So while you might mildly laugh at the juvenile sex humor, you then wonder where is this movie going?

For example, the scene where Hannah is talking to her roommate Kateesha (Jenny Zigrino), about the interview with Christian Black. While Hannah is going over the questions, Kateesha can’t help but go on and one about her sexual encounter the night before that left her in this weakened state.

The other problem is the level of inconsistency in characters and in its storyline. It’s as if the filmmakers just want to throw jokes in your face hoping you’ll laugh at something. In one scene Christian is going to spank Hannah for some reason I can’t remember. The joke is Hannah butt is tight and as Christian spanks her, he is the one who feels pain in his hands. Later in the film, Hannah is being whipped on the rear and she feels pain. It’s as if they write these scenes completely independent of one another and are not concerned with how they match against each other.

Fifty Shades of Black is just a plain old bad movie. The original Fifty Shades of Grey was funnier because you had actors saying and doing the most ridiculous gags with a hilarious level of seriousness. In this movie, the actors are comedians both in on the joke and telling the jokes. Gags are shoved into scenes because they need gags. Laughs are childish, scatological and penis jokes.


ADA/AVA – Theater Review – Segerstrom Center for the Arts

ADA/AVA tells the story of the bereaved twin ADA dealing with the loss of her sister AVA. The story is performed live and engages the audience as a full-length cinematic feature.

Performance Dates: January 19 & 20 at the Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa
Director: Drew Dir
Cast: Manual Cinema featuring puppeteers: Kara Davidson, Sam Deutsch, Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia Miller and Musicians: Maren Celest, Michael Hilger, and Kyle Vegter.

From Chicago, Manual Cinema tells the story of ADA and AVA, two elderly twins. Their story is told using the ancient form of storytelling known as shadow puppets. As you enter the Samueli Theater, you see a large open stage and your eye is drawn directly to a white screen and a table with four old-style overhead projectors.

The performers now approach the stage. Three musicians provide the score and foley effects. Their instruments include two keyboards, a cello, electric guitar and clarinet. Two laptops provide the sound effects for the show.

Five puppeteers provide the action. Characters are portrayed using cutout cardstock figures placed on the overhead with transparent plastic attached aot the puppet’s joints to simulate movement. The only the main characters of AVA (Kara Davidson) and ADA (Julia Miller) are performed live as shadows against the screen. Backgrounds are created with photographs and graphics printed on transparency film and props are created with cutout cardstock.

As the puppeteers, place backgrounds, characters and props on any of the four overhead projectors, the performers are able to create dozens of unique visual effects, like lightning, and dozens of cinematic effect like scene transitions and focus transitions. Through perfected choreography, the musicians and puppeteers can tell a 60-minute story that is visually stunning and engaging. The fact that the performers are there on stage in front of you, revealing their tricks, is even more amazing and at times leaving you dumbstruck.

The story is also told without dialogue. ADA and AVA are identical twins. As children, they are competitive, but quickly learn that they are a truly inseparable pair. Today, ADA and AVA are seniors. They live together, shop together, play chess together and run the town lighthouse together. Before you know it, AVA passes away, and the rest of the play follows the grieving process of ADA as she attempts to cope with her everyday life as half of a duo.

Life and loneliness do not treat ADA well. Soon a mysterious carnival comes to town, the same carnival that ADA and AVA loved as children. ADA is drawn to the carnivals Mirror Maze, and it is here that ADA is plunged into a journey of life and death. ADA’s spiritual journey can only be told with this unique form of shadow puppetry from Manual Cinema.

ADA/AVA is part of the annual Off Center Festival at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. I encourage you to check out not only ADA/AVA by Manual Cinema but the other performances during the festival. Think of it as an alternative to the movies and television shows we review. There is a spectacle and daring element to a living performance that you can’t feel on film or streaming on your computer. The Off Center Festival is happening now and ends on January 31. Go to www.scfta.org/offcenter for more performances.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the story of six CIA hired guns and the battle of Benghazi. Director Michael Bay tells an apolitical story of the events leading up to and during the attack on the U.S. Embassy and secret C.I.A. base in Libya.

Release Date: January 15, 2016
Writer: Chuck Hogan based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, James Badge

In 2012, the United States had an embassy in Libya with an idealistic ambassador, who felt peace with the Libya was possible. Along with the embassy, is a secret CIA base collecting intelligence under the noses of the Libyan people.

Because the CIA base exists in a non-military capacity, the base the security of the base is accomplished by a contracted force of ex-military. The movie follows this security force comprised of Jack Silva (John Krasinski), Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (David Denman), John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), and Mark Geist (Max Martini).

The first act of the movie shows a little about how the perception of the U.S. in the Middle East. People want peace, but at the same time don’t trust the Americans. Also, Libya is going through their own civil war after the capture and execution of Moammar Kadaffi. Knowing the difference between friend and foe is difficult and trusting your friend is just as daunting.

The start of the second act takes place on September 11. Both the embassy and base are on high alert and on lockdown in fear of a potential attack, which becomes a reality. As the sun sets suspicious activity around the embassy leads to an assault on the U.S. Embassy and the search for the Ambassador. As the attack progresses, the C.I.A. security wants to help but given strict orders to stay and protect the base and the sensitive intelligence collected.

Of course, the human spirit and U.S. patriotism motivate the security for to help and thus begins the real story of the movie.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a straightforward account of this battle. It stays for away from any of the political issues surrounding the U.S. State Department’s choices in staffing the embassy’s security staff and the reluctance to send in forces to help defend the ambassador and C.I.A. base.

What makes the movie interesting is the way it portrays the new kind of warfare we face in the Middle East. Every engagement is more of a diplomatic mission that a display of force by the U.S. Military.