Category Archives: Movies

John Wick Chronicles – VR Experience at the 2017 E3 Expo

The Geek Lab was privileged to dive head first into the world of the Continental with the John Wick Virtual Reality Game. We played John Wick Chronicles now on Steam and HTC Vive.

Available for $19.99, John Wick Chronicles gives players the opportunity to explore the iconic Continental Hotel and tasks them with assassinating seemingly unbeatable targets that only John Wick himself could handle.

While you’re at it. Pick up on the game and the movie on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD.

Steam Order: store.steampowered.com/app/382360
Website: JohnWickVR.com
Geek Lab Movie Review: John Wick – Chapter 2

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wonder Woman – Movie Review

Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air…when it comes to DC movies. It used to be that we looked forward to how good a Marvel movie would be and how bad a DC movie would be.

Release Date: June 2, 2017
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright

Wonder Woman follows the demi-god, Diana (Gal Godot). She lives on the island of Themyscira with her fellow Amazons including her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright). The island is mysteriously hidden from the rest of the world, while the rest of the world slowly destroys itself during World War I.

Wonder Woman is an origins story. It starts by lumbering through an explanation of the Greek Mythology, of Zeus, and of his son Ares. But the real story here is Diana’s struggle to become the greatest warrior of the Amazons and the mystery as to why Queen Hippolyta will not allow this to be.

Meanwhile, as World War I comes to an end, American spy and pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his damaged plane off the shores of Themyscira while fleeing a squadron of German fighter planes. Diana rescues Steve and vanquishes the German soldiers with the help of her fellow Amazons. Untrusted and captive, Trevor tells Diana about the “war to end all wars.” He pleads with her for his release so he can deliver the stolen formula of a potent nerve gas that Germany will use as a last-ditch effort to win the war.

Diana helps Steve escape in order to help him win the ultimate war. After proving herself to her mother, Diana leaves the island as a warrior and with an ominous warning about ever returning. Eager to become the heroine, she is destined to become, Diana finds herself increasingly impatient with Steve’s stalling and British bureaucracies.

Demanding to head directly into action, Steve teams her up with a motley crew of fighters including Sameer (Said Taghmaoui)-master of disguise, Charlie (Ewen Bremner)-PTSD scarred sniper and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) – Street-smart trader of goods. That’s Wonder Woman.

I mentioned in my Man of Steel review, that Zach Snyder’s depiction of Superman is not Superman. As good as Henry Cavill was, the man on screen is not the Superman I came to see. Thankfully, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Beauty aside, she is a convincing warrior with moral conviction. She has the confidence and strength to be a hero. She has charm and Patty Jenkins masterfully tells a brighter story in contrast to the dark overtones of Man of Steel. DC finally made a hero that girls (and boys) can admire.

A pre-requisite of a superhero film is good action scenes. The battle on Themyscira was fantastic showing Amazon cunning in a fight of guns and mortars versus swords and arrows. The movie’s set pieces of Diana leading the charge into “No Man’s Land” is a spectacular display of Wonder Woman’s power, strength, and fighting ability.

I have only two minor complaints about Wonder Woman. I won’t belabor it because this is an exceptional movie. One, the origin segment at the start and its mythology, just needed to move a little faster. I think we’re proving that origins are not necessary for all hero movies.

Two, there is a moment when Diana is in London and she is the fish-out-of-water moment. It’s played for laughs and at the expense of this strong character, Jenkins had established for over an hour. While humorous, the sequence is not very original. She is portrayed as a little naïve when she could have been portrayed as regal.

Wonder Woman is a straight up superhero film. It is a story about Diana’s transformation into Wonder Woman. It’s not making a statement about gender. While Diana is a woman. She has no hang up about gender inequality, she’s a powerful confident person with all the experience of being female. She is not fighting men, she is fighting evil. She is not fighting for women only but fighting for all people in hopes bringing peace to a war-ravaged people.

‘Imitation Girl’ – Sci-fi Tale Screens Tonight at Dances with Films

A mysterious being appears in the Southwestern desert and assumes the identity of the first person she sees – a woman on a magazine cover. Taken in by Iranian immigrants, she forms an understanding of her new surroundings and comes to appreciate the beauty and the sadness of her new world. At the same time, Julianna, Imitation’s world-weary earthly double, knows both glitz and grit working as an entertainer in New York City, where her fraying life and relationships threaten her dreams for an audition that might finally set her on a happier path. On learning of Juliana’s existence, Imitation heads to New York, where only by sacrificing themselves to each other can the cosmic twins complete a full portrait of a woman.

This is the first feature film of Iranian-American filmmaker Natasha Kermani. It stars indie horror actress Lauren Ashley Carter. “Imitation Girl” makes its Los Angeles premiere at Dances With Film at 7:15 pm – TCL Chinese Theaters. Director Natasha Kermani, producer Tim Wu, and talent Neimah Djourabchi and Sanam Erfani will all be in attendance and will be present for a Q&A after the screening.

‘Save My Seoul’ Documents The Hidden World of Prostitution and Human Trafficking in South Korea

Save My Seoul screened as a participant in the documentary category of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I spoke with its director Jason Lee.

Save My Seoul follows two Korean-American brothers as they discover rampant prostitution and sex trafficking in Seoul, South Korea. With the use of hidden cameras and access to pimps, johns, and sex-workers, Eddie and Jason explore and unravel the complexity of the sex trade in Seoul. They learn that this problem is rooted in issues far deeper than lost girls and lustful men. Instead, it’s a consequence of the broken Korean culture that turns a blind eye to and condones one of the biggest human injustices of our generation.

Check out the Geek Lab’s other filmmaker interviews.

Western ‘Cassidy Red’ Premieres Tonight At Dances With Films

The World Premiere of the feature film “Cassidy Red,” a Western ballad of love and hate, written and directed by Matt Knudsen, a UCLA MFA student—starring Abby Eiland (“Criminal Minds,” “Life on Mars”), David Thomas Jenkins (“Girl Meets World,” “CSI: Miami”), Jason Grasl (“Hot in Cleveland,” “White Collar”), Gregory Zaragoza (“The Sopranos,” “The Last of the Mohicans”)Jessy Knudsen, Rick Cramer (“True Blood,” “Live Free or Die Hard”), and Lola Kelly (“The Grinder,” “The Fosters”). The film screens as an Official Selection in Competition Features at Dances With Films on Friday, June 2, 2017, at 7:15 p.m., at the TCL Chinese Theatres (6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California).

Set against the backdrop of the 19th century American Southwest, the story follows “Josephine Cassidy,” the headstrong daughter of a prostitute and gunslinger, who returns to her hometown seeking vengeance against the corrupt lawman she believes murdered her lover.

Director Matt Knudsen says, “I wanted to acknowledge all of the iconic ingredients that made us fall in love with Westerns in the first place. But I conceived of the character Josephine Cassidy to represent the kind of progressive heroine that could help push the genre into a more interesting, contemporary place.”

The 92-minute film was shot at Old Tucson Studios (a historic location home to dozens of John Wayne classics) in Southern Arizona. Knudsen’s inspiration was the Spaghetti Westerns of his personal hero, the famed Sergio Leone, and the result owes much to the Italian classics he grew up watching. With the recent successes of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” Antoine Fuqua’s remake of “The Magnificent Seven”, and HBO’s “Westworld,” Knudsen has tapped into a nostalgic desire for the genre at a key moment.

Knudsen adds, “Like Leone often did for his films, I examined the genre and saw that there were stories, characters, and themes not being represented. The superstructure of ‘Cassidy Red’ is forged from familiar elements we associate with the Western: the untamed frontier, the constant threat of violence, outlaws, betrayal, corruption, saloons, jail cells, livestock, prostitution, bloodshed… But, at its core, the film examines elements underrepresented in classic Westerns: strong, complex, proactive female characters, familial ties, heartbreak, sacrifice, choice, and star-crossed love.”

This love letter by Knudsen to the Western takes the audience on a journey through the American Southwest where two brothers fall for the same woman, resulting in a deadly love triangle.

The film is produced by Brooks Yang. It was shot by Director of Photography Julia Swain. The original soundtrack by Andrew Carroll (lead singer of Los Angeles indie folk quintet The Lonely Wild) is available on Amazon and iTunes and features 70 minutes of original music.

Website: http://www.cassidyred.com/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cassidyredmovie
Twitter: @cassidyredmovie / https://twitter.com/cassidyredmovie
Instagram: @cassidyredmovie / www.instagram.com/cassidyredmovie

Dances With Films Opens Today in Hollywood

Dances With Films is a little gem of an independent film festival and it is celebrating its 20th festival today in Hollywood. The films opening today’s festival are American Folk and Missing in Europe.

Dances With Films take place at TCL Chinese Theaters. American Folk starts at 7 pm and Missing in Europe at 9 pm.

American Folk

When their plane from Los Angeles to New York is grounded on the morning of September 11, 2001, strangers Elliott (Joe Purdy) and Joni (Amber Rubarth) are unexpectedly thrust together amidst the chaos of that historic day. With little in common but both needing to get to NYC urgently, they accept help from Joni’s family friend Scottie (Krisha Fairchild) who lends the duo a rusty old 1972 Chevy Van. The shock and stress of 9/11 quickly threatens to derail their cross-country journey until the pair discover what they do have in common: a love for old folk songs. Armed with a pile of guitars left in the van from Scottie’s touring days, Elliott and Joni raise their voices together (and with those they meet on the road), re-discovering the healing nature of music and bearing witness to a nation of people who, even while mourning, manage to lift each other up in the wake of tragedy. With a refreshing gentleness and beauty, AMERICAN FOLK lovingly chronicles the spaces between the suffering and fear, where music has the power to connect. Musicians Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth give nuanced and thoughtful performances, with voices that are uplifting and achingly gorgeous. Filmed over 3,500 miles in 14 states, AMERICAN FOLK serves as a love letter to the natural beauty of America, to the style of music that has shepherded us through historically tough times and to the kindness of all of the “folk” that make America what it is.

Missing in Europe

Cyber security expert Sara Woods has just touched down in Belgrade, Serbia. Under the guise of attending a conference for work, she is really there to check in on her daughter, Karissa, who has been studying abroad. Their happy reunion is cut short when Karissa and her classmate Lara go clubbing and seemingly disappear into thin air. Sara is certain that her daughter has been abducted. Utilizing a host of hacking skills and following the clues Karissa is leaving behind, she starts to uncover a major sex trafficking ring. Even worse, it seems the local police force is in on it. With nobody to trust but herself, Sara uses every tool at her disposal to locate her daughter before she’s sold to the highest bidder and disappears forever. Starring Miranda Raison (Match Point, My Week with Marilyn, MI-5) and Emmett J Scanlan (Hollyoaks, Charlie Casanova, Guardians of the Galaxy) and newcomer Sophie Robertson, the film was shot entirely on location in Belgrade, Serbia in twelve days. Other than the producers, director, and writer, the crew was Serbian as were the rest of the cast, drawing talent from Serbian television and theater. Produced by MarVista Entertainment, the film is a female Taken as a mother tries to save her daughter from human traffickers. Dances with Films is the World Premiere.

Dances With Films

In 1998 DWF began as a film festival dedicated to finding tomorrow’s talent today and continues to carry on this mission today. With many World and West Coast Premieres, DWF provides a coveted first stop on the festival circuit. With a vast number of submissions, the selection process is based solely on merit and discoverability. DWF continues its dedication to and is a devoted champion of fresh and creative voices, mandating that all competitive films have no known actors, writers, directors, or producers. For the past 20 years, DWF has proudly provided access and opportunity to thousands of films and filmmakers from across the globe that diligently work year after year to see their dreams realized. With more than 12,000+ festival attendees and 2.5 million impressions per month on www.danceswithfilms.com, DWF is loyal and dedicated to the indie filmmaker and is considered their champion in Hollywood.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Movie Review

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is back in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. He finds himself on a reluctant quest to find the Trident of Poseidon. His journey is complicated by his nemesis Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) and the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).

Release Date: May 26, 2017
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Director: Joachim Ranning, Espen Sandberg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario

Full Disclosure: I have only seen the first two Pirate movies. I am unaware the events up to Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales suffers from too many plots and subplots. The movie really doesn’t take off until the plots find convergence in the second half of the film. Let’s go over the plots. First, Pirates opens on a young Henry Turner (Lewis McGowen) as he summons the cursed Flying Dutchman. This is the ship that is crewed by his cursed father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Henry dedicated his future to finding the Trident of Poseidon, believing that this Trident that controls the seas can release his father from his curse.

Then there is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who is accused of being a witch by the local townsfolk. Carina is not a witch, but a self-taught astronomer. She was abandoned as a child by her father leaving only a journal with a star chart to the Trident of Poseidon. As an astronomer, she is a woman of science and does not believe in ghosts and curses. She is also attractive and the same age as Henry Turner.

Jump ahead nine years and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) jumps from ship to ship to find clues and a crew to take him to the Trident of Poseidon. While on a British Naval ship, the ship is overtaken by the ghostly shark-like ship helmed by the legendary Captain Salazar.

Captain Salazar was once a captain in the Spanish Navy. His goal in life was to destroy all pirates. He defeated them all, except one. That’s right–Captain Jack Sparrow. Let me just say that Disney has been using CGI to bring a youthful version of their aging stars to life—Michael Douglas, Robert Downey, Jr., Kurt Rusell, Carrie Fisher and now Johnny Depp. The technology walks that fine line of cool and creepy. Back to Salazar, his ghostly goal in life is kill pirates and kill Captain Jack.

More subplots? Yes, Captain Barbosa has a treasure to find thanks to a mystical compass. Captain Jack on the other hand really has not a subplot, Ugh, too much going on. Fortunately, all the subplots and their exposition happen in the front half of the movie. It does feel labored but it’s survivable.

Where Pirates shines is the second half. There’s a lot of action. The battle between naval, pirate and ghost ships are well animated and easy to follow. Disney also does swashbuckling action as good as any studio can. It seems that pirates are actually interesting when they do pirate things.

There is one reveal in the film, that I can’t say anything about, snuck up on me. This final subplot pulled me into the story of two characters, I thought would not connect until it happened.

The main problem that Pirates of the Caribbean suffers from is its own mythology. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter had the luxury of a prolific author, who built the world and its mythology. Thought went into this mythology over the length of its run. The mythology was honed, refined and reflected human nature, so readers could relate to it.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a theme park ride. I don’t believe Walt Disney ever had the world of the pirate in mind when creating the ride. He just wanted to tell a simple story. Finally, when the first Pirate movie came out, it was the first film to be based on Disney rides. My guess is that they just wanted the first film to be successful. The studio was not thinking it would be a five (maybe six) film series, so the world of Pirates is now created on the fly as new films are needed.

Why is this important? Audiences just don’t have an emotional connection to the pirate world, like they do with The Hobbit or Harry Potter. We have no stake in the life path of Captain Jack Sparrow. This reduces the whole series into one action film after the other.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is light fare. It has amazing action sequences but suffers because there just is not enough time to develop any existing or new characters properly.

Bad Rap Documentary Follows The Asian-American Struggle Into Mainstream Popularity

Available now on VOD is Bad Rap, a documentary by Salima Koroma. Find it on iTunes, Google Play, VUDU and Amazon. Our review is here – Geek Lab review of Bad Rap.

Hip-hop culture has transcended many racial and cultural boundaries after its founding in the ’70s by African-American and Latino youth in the South Bronx. Since then, rappers have emerged as legitimate pop culture stars around the world and hip-hop’s global movement has become increasingly more diverse. Yet the face of rap in America remains primarily black, brown, and white.

BAD RAP follows the lives and careers of four Asian-American rappers trying to break into a world that often treats them as outsiders.Featuring dynamic live performance footage and revealing interviews, BAD RAP will turn the most skeptical critics into believers.

From the battle rhymes of crowd-favorite Dumbfoundead to the tongue-in-cheek songs of Awkwafina; the unapologetic visuals of Rekstizzy to the conflicted values of Lyricks—BAD RAP paints a memorable portrait of artistic passion in the face of an unsung struggle.

Logan: Noir – One Night Only at the Frida Cinema

Few understand the power of the black-and-white movie. Color creates visual noise that can pull the eye in different directions. Black and white forces your eye to the centers of action.

For one night only, tonight at 9 pm, the Frida Cinema will present this year’s hit film. Logan. in beautiful black and white.

Set in a bleakly familiar near-future, the latest installment of the X-Men franchise finds a weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) caring for an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) at a remote outpost on the Mexican border. His plan to hide from the outside world gets upended when he meets young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) with whom he finds much commonality. When dark forces set out to capture her, Logan must overcome both physical and emotional pain to save her.

Bad Rap – Documentary Review

Bad Rap comes to Video on Demand (VOD) this Tuesday, May 23, 2017 on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu.

Since the 70’s hip-hop has made global stars of its finest artist. Those artists are predominantly black, white and brown. Bad Rap follows four Asian-American rappers in their quest to perfect their art and as they try to break into a world that that treats them as outsiders.

Release Date: May 23, 2017
Director: Salima Koroma
Cast: Dumbfoundead, Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, Lyricks, Jin the MC

A documentary, like Bad Rap, is hard to put together. The director, Salima Koroma, masterfully chooses the most pressing topics, present the state of Asian rap and provide insights into the melding of Asian and hip hop culture.

Bap Rap follows four Asian rappers: Dumbfoundead, Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, Lyricks. All at various stages of their careers. It looks at their careers and the challenges they face as Asian breaking into a world that does not necessarily know what to do with them.

The movie starts with the most controversial topics when two cultures collide. The first being Asian in the world of hip hop. Are these artists trying to be an individual rap artist or are they simply Asian-version of rap. Is just enough to bring Asian references into a song or will audiences slap on the label of “Asian” and dismiss the music as second-rate.

Culture appropriate is the next controversy addressed. The idea that hip hop music is an African-inspired form of music and that Asians are trying to make money from an artform that is not there’s to take. Most fascinating is an argument between singer Rekstizzy and producer Jaeki Cho. The two battle over the appropriateness of Rekstizzy’s new music video, where he sprays ketchup and mustard on the posteriors of his Black background dancers. Is it culturally offensive or is it freedom of speech?

Bad Rap also spotlights female singer, Awkwafina, who managed to create her own style of hip-hop-influenced style and music. She created a unique laid-back style of rap and successfully broke into the mainstream. Even with her success, her contemporaries question if her success came, because it’s “easier” to book Asian females over Asian males.

Bad Rap also looks at other pertinent topics of Asians in the arts. For many of these artists, they had immigrant parents, who came to the United States and worked hard so their children would have a better life. Rap was not the life they imagined. For the artist, Lyricks, who comes into conflict with his deeply religious background. He struggles to maintain a mainstream rap career while struggling over his Christian upbringing.

Director Salima Koroma does a few things that are fascinating. She allows mainstream bookers and producers to view the work of the four artists. They give their honest and insightful opinions on the crew’s talent and potential. She also documents Dumbfoundead’s return to his roots of battle rap as he comes face-to-face with celebrity rapper, Conceited. Finally, Koroma jumps forward two years to see how each artist progressed over time.

Full Disclosure: I am not a fan of rap or hip hop, but I am an Asian-American. For me, Bad Rap excels in documenting the struggle of Asian-Americans in finding their individual voices as they blend in with the world they live and the culture they came from. It’s a story of individuals who find that hip hop is the only way they can express who they are and what they experience. It’s the story of these individuals finding meaning in a world they hope sees them as a serious artist and not a novelty.