Now on DVD – Movie Review – “The Book of Life” – Directed by Jorge Gutierrez

     Since it is Halloween, I’m throwing back to my review of “The Book of Life,” which was originally posted on Reviews of the Arts SA’s Facebook Page on October 16, 2014. Would love to have your comments below.  Happy Halloween!

     Rather than focus on Halloween, the origins of which are rooted in paganism, producer, Guillermo del Toro and director, Jorge Gutierrez’ adorable movie,”The Book of Life,” is about the Latino/Christian celebration of Dia de Los Muertos – the Day of the Dead, a holiday that honors deceased loved ones. The Book of Life is an animated fantasy about Manolo, who comes from a long line of legendary bullfighters, and his struggle with living up to his family’s legacy and being true to himself so that he can create his own.

     The story is told using vibrant colors, ornate costumes, and beautiful artwork. Many of the characters are calaveras (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calavera) that come to life for Manolo when he crosses over to the land of the dead. Manolo visits the land of the remembered souls as well as the forgotten souls. He is given a chance to face his fears, especially his fear of being himself and then he’s given a second chance at life. Though it is not intended, the movie may frighten children under six because of the skeletal-like characters, however those that were in the viewing audience seemed to enjoy the film.

     While the story is made for children, all can benefit from the lesson – live your life the way you want to be remembered. It is a lesson as old as time. Even Shakespeare in Julius Caesar said, “. . .the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Even if your career path does not mirror that of your ancestors, living an honorable life and staying true to yourself will carry on your family’s legacy.

     The all-star cast, which includes, Channing Tatum, Ice CubeI, Diego Luna, Christina Applegate, Zoe Saldana, Cheech Marin, and Hector Elizondo, to name a few, make this movie funny for all ages. Go see “The Book of Life.” Think about living your book and the outline you are creating for future editions.- BMT (Reviews of the Arts SA)

Movie Review – Our Brand is Crisis – Directed by David Gordon Green & Written by Peter Straughan

     As politicians have begun their race for the Presidency and we are beginning to see party debates showcasing each candidate’s strong characteristics and highlighting their weaknesses, the timing is right for “Our Brand is Crisis,” (“Crisis”.) The movie can be seen as a funny tool to educate voters.  As the title indicates, during political campaigns, each contestant focuses on selling the public their “brand.”  Similar to product advertising campaigns, a brand represents the culmination of a variety of traits.  For a political contestant, that “brand” can include, integrity, appearance, character, position on key topics, but more importantly the immediate public need they will fulfill.     

     “Crisis” is a comedy-drama that plays like a documentary, probably because it is fictitiously based on a documentary, with the same name, about the presidential election of 2002 held in Bolivia, which used American campaign strategies. Anthony Mackie plays Ben and Ann Dowd plays Nell.  Both are representatives of the American agency hired to manage the campaign of Pedro Gallo, played by Joaquim de Almeida.  They immediately contact retired political consultant, Jane Bodine, also referred to as “Calamity Jane,” played by Sandra Bullock, to run the campaign.  Sandra gives the role her usual best, Pedro was President many years ago, but is not very popular this time around.  His opponent, and leader of the popular vote, is Victor Rivera, played by Louis Arcella.  Rivera hires Jane’s rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), which makes this campaign a personal competition for Jane and Pat, which creates many comedic moments.  It is so much fun to watch the underhanded tactics each of them uses to raise their candidate’s ratings.  The acting, as expected from a Sandra Bullock movie, especially one produced by George Clooney, is outstanding.  Reynaldo Pacheco, who plays Eduardo, a local volunteer and an assistant to Pedro Gallo’s campaign crew, is adorable and his acting talent should be noted.  Famous director, Elia Kazan’s granddaughter, Zoe, who surely inherited the family talent, plays a political investigator hired by Jane’s team to uncover “skeletons-in-the closet.” Not only does she research the opponent, but also she is surprisingly asked to investigate Pedro first and does so, against his wishes!

     The lesson to be learned from the movie, which most of us already know, is that political campaigns are more about selling a brand than they are a true reflection of who the best candidate really is, what they stand for, and how they will improve a country’s socioeconomic situation once they take office.  Sometimes, no matter what brand we choose, it does not satisfy the need as promised, in the same way that weight-loss and hair-growth pills have little to no effect.  Voters are merely pawns in the game.

     BUYER BEWARE! Just before the credits role, the moral is revealed, the movie takes a completely serious turn, and Jane switches gears.  Unfortunately, in the 107-minute run time, with so much of the focus being the campaign, the brief allusion to Jane’s newfound purpose leaves the audience wondering exactly what she has achieved in her new role.  Since the movie began and ended as an interview of Jane, it appears the movie is intended to be about her, so a little more information should have been given as to what she subsequently accomplished – a few factual and/or statistical slides at the end; the way most biographical/”true” stories end, would have been helpful.  Therefore, if I were to give it a star rating, I would give it a four out of five.  “Our Brand is Crisis” opens Friday, October 30, 2015.  Shop for yourself; don’t let me stop you from buying it. – BMT

Review – “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” Directed by Christopher Landon

Well, I didn’t go into the theater expecting much from this movie and, for me, it delivered just that – not much! I’m not into the zombie craze and I really can’t stand unnecessary gore in movies, so I may not be the right person to critique this movie.  However, since the movie studio provided me with the screening pass, it’s my duty to provide you with my opinion.  Based on the title, the poster, and what little advertisement I saw, it sounded like it would be funny, so I accepted the challenge.

It started out cute. The Paramount Pictures introduction logo was made into a scout patch. Then the movie opens with a young janitor mopping the floors in the desolate hallway of a science building.  He’s got headphones on and he’s jamming to Iggy Azalea’s, “Black Widow.”  It’s not long before he encounters a zombie and the movie goes downhill from there.  If there wasn’t so much disgusting, gushing blood with every zombie encounter, the movie could have been considered a straight comedy.  In many ways, it was hysterical.  There were several scenes that had the audience shrieking with laughter because many of the lines and situations were actually funny, not to mention that the whole concept of zombies is so stupid, that it’s funny.

Some people can see the humor in the horror scenes because we all know that we are watching fiction, but once I saw all that blood, I immediately wanted to leave. It was as if we were ping-pong balls being hit between comedy and tragedy.  No sooner than were we engaged in laughter, the director, Christopher Landon, rapidly and frequently brought us back into terror mode.  Actually, Christopher Landon deserves praise, because being able to create a roller coaster of emotions within the audience is really the art of cinema!  We couldn’t expect anything less from the son of master producer/director – the late, great, Michael Landon.  The problem though, is that those parts were so upsetting to us, after an hour into it, my daughter and I finally left the movie.  

Though it is a rated “R” movie, the “Scouts Guide” in the title may have been misleading and a poor choice of words because several people brought their young children – somewhere between the ages of three and ten.  I personally do not recommend this movie for children under the age of 13 because young children may have nightmares after seeing it.  Heck, I’m staying up to write this review because I was so scared, I’m afraid I may not be able to fall sleep tonight!  My daughter wanted to leave because she said she didn’t like that feeling of suspense when someone comes up from behind and scares the daylights out of people.

In short, if you just want to laugh, or if you have stress anxiety and/or post-traumatic stress disorder, I do not recommend this movie.  However, since it opens Halloween weekend, if you enjoy having the pants scared off you, get your tickets now, “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” opens October 30, 2015!  – BMT  

http://www.scoutsandzombiesmovie.com/

Review – Flashdance the Musical October 20, 2015 – Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

SAM_5639When I heard “Flashdance the Musical” was coming to town, memories flooded my head of how great the movie made me feel back when I was 17 and life was still so far ahead of me.  I, like most girls my age, left the movie theater feeling invincible, as if I could accomplish whatever I dreamed.  I was so excited to see this show. I hoped that I’d get to share that experience with my soon-to-be 17 year-old daughter.  Sadly, I have to admit that halfway into it, (shortly after the fifteen-minute intermission,) I found myself wishing it would end soon.  My daughter found the story-line cliché and corny.  It’s probably been over 25 years since I’ve seen the movie, which was released in 1983.  Apparently, what was entertaining to teens then is passé now.  This performance lacked the passion that was in the movie; moments that should have been dramatic were flat.  In short, I would equate the performance to reciting an action story in monotone.

flashdance program coverThe sequence of events was choppy, so if you’ve never seen the movie, as my daughter had not; it was not easy to follow along.  I also felt the set changes were too visible and the scenes ended abruptly.  Perhaps it would have been better if the lights dimmed while the singing and dancing faded-out or maybe they should have made use of a curtain. I don’t know, but actually seeing the cast and crew moving props around was distracting. The intermission occurred just after the water scene and we watched as the crew took the entire 15 minutes to dry all the water from the stage!

Despite the lackluster script, and considering this was her debut performance, the beautiful Julia Macchio did a good job playing Alex Owens, a young girl who works in a steel plant and moonlights as a risqué dancer in a bar.  Yes, you read that correctly, “Macchio.” Julia is the daughter of the “Karate Kid”.  However, I don’t think she’ll be getting a black belt for this performance.  I am certain she has natural talent, but this musical doesn’t do her justice.  She is perfect for the role of Alex because she has a fantastic body and really can dance.  However, the director(s) chose to highlight those assets only in the last few minutes of the production – in the scene when she auditions for the Shipley Dance Academy.  That was the most entertaining portion of the entire show, but it was too little, too late. Julia did dance her heart out, that’s why I credit the writer(s) and director(s) with the fail.

Alex looked very comfortable in the infamous cut-off sweatshirt.  It was not quite as revealing, but for a moment, she looked just like Jennifer Beals.  Here’s a little piece if trivia – I saw an interview where Jennifer Beals explained that the cut-up t-shirt was not planned in the script at all. Apparently, it was her own shirt, which had shrunk in the wash.  She wanted to wear it to rehearsal, so she cut the neckline off so it would fit over her head.  Director, Adrian Lyne, liked the look, so he had the costume designer make one for her to wear in the movie.  Now you know!

I would have to say that the most professional performer of the show was Tanisha Moore, who played Kiki, one of the dancers at Harry’s, the bar where Alex works. Tanisha gave a Tony-worthy Broadway performance.  When the four girls performed, “Put it On,” she rocked the house with her powerful voice.  I could see her playing lead in a musical about Gladys’s Knight or Ella Fitzgerald.  Another noteworthy actor was John Langley, who played Joe, one of the steel mill workers. The rest of the cast seemed to be over-acting ad nauseum, including Ryan Neal Green, who played Nick Hurley – Alex’s boss and boyfriend.  However, he was nice “eye candy!” The underlying plot of “Flashdance” is that a love affair is supposed to be unfolding between Alex and Nick, yet throughout the play, they only kissed twice. During several of the songs sung between Alex and Nick, instead of embracing and singing in each other’s faces like typical star-crossed lovers, they were simply pacing around the stage.

Ironically, as I was searching the web to refresh my memory about the original movie, I came across an article entitled, “Flashdance: Recalling the Film, the Actress, and the True Story Behind It” http://www.officialstickman.com/2013/03/flashdance-recalling-film-actress-and.html, which states:

Roger Ebert, a professional film critic and television film-review co-host, placed this movie on his personal list of “Most Hated” films and stated, ‘Jennifer Beals shouldn’t feel bad. She is a natural talent, she is fresh and engaging here, and only needs to find an agent with a natural talent for turning down scripts.’”

So, I guess I can say the same for my fellow Hofstra University Alum – Julia Macchio – girl, next time be more selective and insist they let you dance.

I was also disappointed that some of the songs from the original movie – huge hits in the 80s – such as “Maniac” and “Gloria,” were condensed.   In my opinion, that was a huge mistake.  To me, those tunes were sure to have engaged the crowd.  Unfortunately, just as we started getting the urge to sing along and dance in our seats, the song and the scene would end! In contrast, where a little theatrical dialogue would have been sufficient, the characters would simply walk across the set, singing songs with lyrics that were difficult to discern. I’ve seen many shows at the Tobin Center, so I know the venue’s acoustics are excellent.  However, my daughter and I had trouble hearing some of the actors, including Macchio, whether they were speaking or crooning.  A few times, I heard cackling from the microphones, so it would appear the tour’s sound equipment was in need of adjustment.

The finale, “What a Feeling,” was a culmination of the entire cast’s best singing and dancing for the entire night. When it was over, my daughter turned to me and said, “When the ending IS the musical.”

San Antonian’s must have done their research, because there were a huge number of empty seats. Since I knew the plot, I didn’t feel the need to look for reviews prior to the show. I can’t say it was the worst play I’ve ever seen, but it was by no means a Broadway show. I talked to a few people in the lobby that were of the same opinion, but I also heard some raving about how good it was.  From my view, the actors should have put a little more emotion into their roles and pizzazz in their steps throughout the show.  In conclusion, I’ll say this; “Flashdance the Musical” was comparable to a really good high school musical or a really low budget, off-Broadway production. I think if you don’t expect too much, you’ll enjoy it!  If you saw it or plan to see it, let me know what you think. – BMT

SAM_5730Postscript – Attention Litter Bugs

As a side-bar note, shame on you San Antonio! It is very disturbing to my daughter and I to see cups – both empty and full, food wrappers, and food scraps, all thrown on the floor and left on the seats at the end of performances.  Your mother doesn’t work there.  The ushers are volunteers!  The Tobin Center is not a stadium or an arena; it is a theatre for the performing arts.  Millions of dollars were spent to build the Tobin for our benefit; it should be treated with respect, so let’s keep it beautiful.  You wouldn’t toss drinking cups and food scraps all over your formal living room, would you?  Well, then, stop trashing our house!  Thank you.

San Antonio Movie Screening Passes Available

I have 1 admit 2 passes to the following movie screenings tonight:

“Steve Jobs” at Santikos Palladium – 7:00 p.m.

http://www.stevejobsthefilm.com/

AND
“The Last Witch Hunter” – Santikos Embassy – 7:00 pm.

Screenings are first come first served, seats are not guaranteed, so you will need to get there at least 1 hour before to ensure a seat.

Comment below if you are interested. Feel free to share post.

Way Back Wednesday – Ringo Starr Concert Review*

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, at the Tobin Center – October 7, 2014

Dream Come True

What a show! Ringo Starr & his All Starr Band put on a great show at theTobin Center for the Performing Arts last night! When I was 16, I played Ringo Starr’s “You’re 16” repeatedly – so much that I’m actually surprised the record still plays! I think it was released the year my Aunt turned 16 and I remember her playing it over and over too. I pass the torch (well actually the 45 record) to my daughter who turns 16 next month. Though it was our mutual dream to hear Ringo Starr sing it last night, I guess he doesn’t consider it one of his greats – so it wasn’t on the set list. I guess it’s not orthodox to start a review of a fantastic concert with a negative comment, but now that it’s out of the way, we can focus on all the perfection that it was!

I was born after the Beatles invasion, around the time Revolver was released. I guess you could say I grew up listening to their music, but I never experienced their magic first hand. In fact, it was only a few months ago that I watched some Beatles episodes from the Ed Sullivan Show with my daughter. If you watch those clips, you see Ringo happily smiling and playing the drums but doing very little, if any, singing. Despite his being “so hard to see”, from my perspective, Ringo was the main ingredient. As my daughter says, take away the drums and you have no song! He was (and still is) my favorite Beatle! Nothing against the other 3 greats, John Lennon, Sir Paul McCartney, or George Harrison, I’ve just always had a thing for Ringo and his upbeat personality. I digress.SAM_3720

Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren

I’m embarrassed to say that I was not really aware of its members or how awesome the All Starr Band is. So, I was not expecting that last night would not only be a concert of a lifetime because we were seeing Ringo, but we also got to experience the music of Steve Lukather, (Santana, Toto, Journey) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Lukather, Todd Rundgren http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Rundgren, Richard Page (Mr Mister) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Page_(musician), Gregg Bissonette (Santana, David Lee Roth) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregg_Bissonette, Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregg_Rolie, and Warren Ham (Toto) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Ham.

SAM_3674

The All-Starr Band

The All-Starr Band

Ringo sang one of his newer songs called, “Anthem (for Peace and Love)” but I think Todd Rundgren, dressed in a psychedelic pant suit like someone right out of 1971, sang another anthem Ringo subscribes to – “Bang the Drum all Day.” As Ringo said, “Well, that’s what I do.” He looked genuinely thrilled to be playing the drums while the All Starr Band members belted out classic tunes that made them famous, such as “Africa,” “Roseanna,” “Oye Como Va,” “Love Isn’t Always on Time,”. He even sat in the background playing the cajón drum while Richard Page showcased his new song, “You are Mine.”While he never said the word, “Beatles,” he enjoyed directing fans to sing along to classic Beatles tunes – “Yellow Submarine” and his finale, “I get by with a Little Help from my Friends.” Ringo even made a sarcastic remark after he sang, “Don’t Pass me by,” about how after he wrote that song he “was like, watch out (John and Paul), I’m coming through!”

SAM_3719 SAM_3697

Despite his fame and financial status, I think all will agree that Ringo is a down-to- earth kind of guy with whom you could just be yourself and chat with at a party. Ringo’s infectiously joyful personality shined through last night at the Tobin Center. As fans yelled out his name, he acknowledged them with “don’t just say my name, say ‘Ringo, we love you’. . .it makes me feel good.” He also acknowledged a fan dressed in a pink Sgt. Pepper costume. The intimate layout of the Tobin Center allows the artist to interact with the fans and the fans to feel as though the artist is speaking directly to them. Several times during the night, I felt as if Ringo was looking right into my eyes – even though I was about nine rows back and he was behind his bright red drums. If you want him to really look into your eyes, that’ll be $3,000, but it’s for a good cause, the proceeds go to Ringo’s charity, the Lotus Foundation. Fans were also able to purchase Ringo’s artwork, drumheads, jewelry, and various other reasonably priced items to help the Lotus Foundation and of course, the usual T-shirts, photos, and other memorabilia from the band’s merchandise booth.

SAM_3699Ringo is a real star that is not afraid to let the spotlight shine on his co-workers – a technical term because I don’t think any of them were “working” last night. Music is a passion for most people, but only a select few get paid for fueling that passion. True, as fans we provide their source of income, but our reward is the wonderful feeling they leave us with when they take their final bows. The acoustics in the Tobin Center are amazing. We shot some video using our phones and small digital cameras. I think you’ll agree the sound quality is pretty good and you’ll forgive me for their jumpiness. I hope you enjoy these video clips and photographs at least half as much as my daughter and I enjoyed being there to take them. Peace & Love. – BMT

*Originally posted on Facebook October 9, 2014 – https://www.facebook.com/ReviewsoftheArtsSA/posts/754744957924532

The Walk – C’est Manifique

The cinematography was great.  I highly recommend watching it in 3-D to get the full effect.  When he looks down, you feel like you are looking down too!

The cinematography was great. I highly recommend watching it in 3-D to get the full effect. When he looks down, you feel like you are looking down too!

Just 20 days after September 11, it’s hard to believe the topic  of the Twin Towers could conjure up inspirational and happy thoughts, but “The Walk“ did just that.  Based on the book, “To Reach the Clouds,” by Philippe Petit and directed by Robert Zemeckis, “The Walk” is the true story of Petit’s high-wire walk between the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist who was always coming up with cool places to put up his wire and walk.  As if the rush of walking a ½ inch wire at high altitudes was not enough, Philippe liked to add the element of illegality to the venture!  In 1971 he was arrested after walking across the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  While reading the article about his Notre Dame escapade, his girlfriend, Annie, played by Charlotte Le Bon, pointed out an article announcing the completion of the Twin Towers.  She knew that from the moment Philippe heard about their construction, he was obsessed with a desire to walk the gap between the towers.  He saw this coincidence as a sign that it was time to put his dream into action.  He called the project a “coup,” planned the target date of August 6, 1974, took a trip to New York to scope out the scene, and set out to recruit a team of “accomplices.”  He somehow made his way up to the roof and imagined placing his rope across the Towers.  He narrated, that he “whispered, so the demons would not hear, ‘it’s impossible, but I will do it’.” I found the irony of his reference to [the buildings’] demons very eerie.

I heard someone say he was over-acting, but I thought Levitt’s French accent was tres bien!  Charlotte Le Bon did a good job portraying Annie, who was supportive of Petit, but wasn’t too thrilled about living in his shadow.  She was a talented musician but became consumed with the planning and execution of the “coup.” Sir Ben Kingsley plays Philippe’s mentor, Papa Rudy, who came from a long line of wire-walkers, which included his own sons.  Even though he required Philippe to pay for all of his training and often harsh advice, Papa Rudy believed in Philippe and genuinely cared about him.  The accomplices each contribute to the suspense as well as the humor of the movie, two of them proved that when it comes to trusting people, you should take heed of your first instinct – the other “coup” members had a bad feeling about these two and sure enough, they both bailed when their help was needed the most.

september 11 photo

Let’s not ignore the “elephant” though.  I am a native New Yorker and lost a very close friend, Joe Hunter, on September 11, 2001.  http://www.firehero.org/fallen-firefighter/joseph-g-hunter/ He was one of the first responders at the World Trade Center and ironically, the day I screened the movie would have been his 46th birthday. Thus, I have to admit, tears were shed at certain points in the movie, not only for Joe and for all the souls that were lost that day, but also for the Towers themselves, which were larger than life and had their own “soul”.  While this movie tells Philippe’s story, it is also an homage to the Towers, spotlighting their massive features and depicting them in all their glory.  Once the tallest buildings in the world, the Twin Towers were always in the news.  Having grown-up in the 70s, I was in elementary school when Philippe performed this historical stunt, so you can imagine how proud I was to live in the Empire State.  Not only was it home to a long list of historical landmarks, which included the Statue of Liberty, Yankees Stadium, the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center, but its additional claim to fame was that the Twin Towers were also the site of this world-famous walk.  This made the observation deck of the Towers one of the coolest field trip destinations!  I remember looking out at the city from that observation deck; it was an amazing view and very scary being up so high.  I would never dream of leaning over the ledge, let alone walking across a wire!

Philippe was the only man to ever dream-up and accomplish this breathtaking feat and will hold that title forever. I’m sure many New Yorkers will get teary-eyed as the camera pans to an immense view of the Towers, which is why I feel this movie should have been released on August 7 – to honor the anniversary,  instead of screening it during the month of September.  But for the most part, watching “The Walk” will make you feel exhilarated and maybe even inspire you to garner the courage to check-off something challenging from your own “bucket list!” – BMT