A powerful force is set in motion in ‘Unstoppable’

Rating 3.5/5

This film, based on actual events, suggests what happens when determination and experience are brought forward to solve a pending disaster. All of the elements – story, character, action, and cinematography – come together as director Tony Scott takes Mark Bomback’s script and spins a great story into an action flick that delivers some fine entertainment.

The story begins when an engineer (Ethan Suplee) mistakenly sets a train in motion. It happens when Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) takes on a new guy, Will Colson (Chris Pine), on another train. We soon discover the two trains are on the same track. To add to the thrills, the unmanned train is carrying toxic chemicals and is headed towards a not so rural area. The person in charge of operations for the railroad, Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), is alerted of the situation and discusses with other personnel how to handle the situation. Meanwhile, an executive in the main office, Galvin, played by Kevin Dunn, is more concerned about the cost of losing the train than arriving at a solution that would be beneficial for everyone. After failed attempts at stopping the train (which was warned by Barnes from his 20 plus years of railroading experience that everyone fails to listen to), Hooper begins to take Barnes’ experience into play, despite the continued hesitations from Galvin. A new plan is made on how to slow the train down and it begins to work for a little bit. However, a new plan is made and Barnes and Colson spring to action as a final attempt to stop the train.

Scott uses masterful shots of the train speeding down the track as news choppers hover around providing coverage of the impending disaster. The high-speed velocity of the train adds to the action and builds up, as the train gets closer to the populated town. Character development is somewhat lacking in this film, but that doesn’t seem to really matter as the attention is focused on the actions Barnes and Colson and their actions on stopping the train. There are some character moments from the pair that dives into their lives and explains where they are at that particular time and place, and that only adds to caring what happens to them and whether or not they will succeed. Galvin is your typical greedy executive. Hooper is the character that seems to lean towards her own judgment or executive judgment rather than the experienced employee and soon changes her views. These characters, and the supporting cast, play their characters well enough to care about a few and add to the tension to dislike a few (like Galvin).

Unstoppable is a full throttle train ride of action, tension, a little suspense, and some humor thrown in to make this film an enjoyable film and delivers enough to keep you on the track.




A gritty depiction of war and survival in ‘Lone Survivor’

Rating 4/5

They say war is hell. And nothing could be further from the truth as depicted in the events of this film. Not since Saving Private Ryan have I seen such a realistic display of the brutality of war. Writer/director Peter Berg adapted the book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, by former Navy SEAL Leading Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and writer Patrick Robinson.

Operation Redwing was a mission to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a feared Taliban leader, in June 2005. The mission started as a team of four was sent in on a nearby mountainside to do reconnaissance on the target. The team consisted of Luttrell, Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Gunner’s First Mate Second Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Second Class Petty Officer Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster). The mission begins flawlessly, but soon turns disastrous. Communications begin to falter, cutting them off from the command post and then the mission becomes compromised as a small group of goat herders come across their path. Knowing there is a possibility of them being aligned with the Taliban, the men are faced with a difficult moral decision. As they debate their mission’s purpose and the rules of engagement, they are faced with three choices. Ultimately deciding to let them go, the men move to higher ground in hopes of better reception to call in an extraction team. However, they soon find themselves trapped as they become heavily outnumbered and outgunned. This ensuing sequence is intense as the four men fight for their survival, trying to dodge bullets and RPG fire, jumping off the steep cliffs hitting trees, rocks and hard ground.

The performances are excellent and provided a sense of realism to the story. The direction did the story justice from the opening that told the origin of the mission to the gut-wrenching sacrifices these men made (and every military man and woman make in times of war) during their fight with the Taliban and to the final moments of the rescue operation of the lone survivor. The dialogue was real and added to the everyday moments these men had at their base to the heightened sequences of action throughout the film.

This remarkable true story of survival was one of the finest displays of heroism during impossible odds. The mission began like an ordinary reconnaissance mission, but soon nothing seemed to go as planned and quickly became a fight for survival. One could go back, and through a series of “what if’s,” could see a different outcome and these men would have more than likely survived the ill-fated mission.

If there is one flaw in the film, it is character development. Aside from seeing some SEAL training and camaraderie among the guys, there is very little we get to know about these men other than most of them have significant others. However, that does not belittle the story or narrative of the film. The film’s deep impact is not compromised and brings forth a strong account of military brotherhood, survival, and sacrifices this small group of heroes made and how one lived to tell the tale.

‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ offers story of the human spirit

Rating 3.5/5

The fact that Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on a true story makes the story’s central themes that much bigger. The story has elements of racism and essentially slavery and what makes those issues so prominent is the fact that it takes place in Australia. The film is a reminder of the fear and animosity the “white” man had towards the “black” man. In a screenplay written by Christine Olsen, from a book written by Doris Pilkington (the actual daughter of one of the main characters), spins a tale of hope and survival in the Australian Outback.

Set in the early 1930’s, the Australian government set forth a policy that children who were fathered by white men to the local aboriginal women (also known as half-castes) were detrimental and must be saved from a black society for fear their “white genes” would overcome them and allow them to rally the aborigines to stand up for their rights. Three children, Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi), Daisy Craig Kadibill (Tianna Sansbury), and their cousin Gracie Fields (Laura Monaghan), are ripped from their family by a government official and taken to a type of school to prepare them for menial labor, such as domestic servants. The girls are there only for a short time before they make a daring escape to travel over 1,200 miles to return home. Kenneth Branagh plays A. O. Neville, an administrator of the relocation policies of the government, who wants to track these children to return them to the “school.” David Gulpilil plays the tracker Moodoo, who pursues the girls across the country, and also in pursuit are government authorities, most notably Constable Riggs (Jason Clarke). It is somewhat sad to see, as we are told, these relocation policies remained in effect until 1970. That is one of the things that make the movie, particularly the ending, so emotional.

On their journey, we see the vast scenery that stretches across the Australian landscape. They make it to a fence that stretches for miles and leads them home. The fence is made to keep rabbits from getting on the aborigines’ farmland, thus the title of the film. The girls travel along this fence for most of the trip. It is not until the girls begin their trek across the country that we realize the determination and hope in these girls. The trip is a long one. They do face some obstacles, but they do overcome them. For me, the film began a little slow but picked up in the second act. And once the girls began their long journey home, I was fixed on them, going through the emotional and physical journey with them.

The girls showed raw emotion that brought life into the characters. As the tracker, Gulpilil did not have much dialogue, but his use of facial expression and gestures showed his character traits of being strong-willed and determined. Branagh had a quiet, menacing charm about him with a strong determination to find the children, and Clarke displayed a sense of urgency with a higher level of energy.

This film keeps up a steady pace through most of its 94 minute run time. Directed by Philip Noyce, Rabbit-Proof Fence is filled with emotion and is a testament of the human spirit.



Election 2016: This Year It’s Real

With the current state of affairs with the two-party system, coupled with this election year, I thought I might take a look at a brief history of the evolution of political parties in the United States.

U. S. Political Party History

The first political party formed around 1787 by Alexander Hamilton and other leaders who wanted a strong central government. They called themselves the Federalists. By 1796 some grew against the Federalists platform and a group of followers, led by Thomas Jefferson, started a party called the Democratic-Republicans. They believed in a smaller national government, while leaving the governing power to the states and local governments.

When Jefferson came to the office in 1801, the Federalists were losing power to the Democratic-Republicans. Although the Federalists hung on as a minority party for 20 years, the differing thoughts and values through the developing United States (which ultimately led to the Civil War) paved the way for new parties.

When Andrew Jackson was elected and served two terms, the party was renamed to Democrats, thus making Jackson the first Democrat president. Former Federalists joined in opposition to the Democrats and formed the National Republicans, or Whigs. The Whigs enjoyed four presidents in office – William Henry Harrison, who died while in office in 1841 (the first president to do so). John Tyler filled in and remained in office for one term. In 1845, the Whigs lost to a Democrat, James K. Polk, only to regain the office in 1849 with Zachary Taylor. However, he died in office 16 months later. Millard Fillmore became president and was out of office in 1853. Democrats took the office for the remainder of the 1850’s.

The issue of slavery rose to the forefront of the political stage leaving little room for other issues. The Whig Party began to fall apart, due in part to members leaving to form Northern Abolitionists, who wanted to abolish slavery. A new Republican Party was formed and by 1860 there were four major parties – Northern Democrat, Southern Democrat, Republican, and the Constitutional-Union Party. With slavery a strong issue, Republicans secured their first president Abraham Lincoln. States’ rights began to be an issue with slavery and in 1861 the Southern states seceded and the Civil War began.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the two parties – Republicans and Democrats became the major political parties – took their turn with the presidency. During this time, third parties also began to appear like in 1872 a woman, Victoria Woodhull, became the first woman to run for president. She shared the Equal Rights Party ticket with African American leader Frederick Douglass. The People’s Party of the U.S.A., also known as the Populists, gained their support from the common workers and farmers. Republicans split and formed a group called the Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party in 1912. After the Second World War, Southern Democrats formed the States’ Rights Party in order to fight for the civil rights of African Americans. The Libertarian Party, formed in the 1970’s, was for individual rights. The 1990’s saw the rise of the Reform Party, led by Texas businessman Ross Perot. The Green Party has formed to take on the environmental movement.

The Presidents

Below is a list of the presidents with affiliation, and length of presidency:

George Washington – Federalist (1789-1797)

John Adams – Federalist (1797-1801)

Thomas Jefferson – Democratic-Republican (1801-1809)

James Madison – Democratic-Republican (1809-1817)

James Monroe – Democratic-Republican (1817-1825)

John Quincy Adams – Democratic-Republican (1825-1829)

Andrew Jackson – Democrat (1829-1837)

Martin Van Buren – Democrat

William Henry Harrison – Whig (1841)

John Tyler – Whig (1841-1845)

James K. Polk – Democrat (1845-1849)

Zachary Taylor – Whig (1849-1850)

Millard Fillmore – Whig (1850-1853)

Franklin Pierce – Democrat (1853-1857)

James Buchanan – Democrat (1957-1861)

Abraham Lincoln – Republican (1861-1865)

Andrew Johnson – Democrat-Union (1865-1869)

Ulysses S. Grant – Republican (1869-1877)

Rutherford B. Hayes – Republican (1877-1881)

James A. Garfield – Republican (1881)

Chester A. Arthur – Republican (1881-1885)

Grover Cleveland – Democrat (1885-1889)

Benjamin Harrison – Republican (1889-1893)

Grover Cleveland – Democrat (1893-1897)

William McKinley – Republican (1897-1901)

Theodore Roosevelt – Republican (1901-1909)

William Howard Taft – Republican (1909-1913)

Woodrow Wilson – Democrat (1913-1921)

Warren G. Harding – Republican (1921-1923)

Calvin Coolidge – Republican (1923-1929)

Herbert Hoover – Republican (1929-1933)

Franklin D. Roosevelt – Democrat (1933-1945)

Harry S. Truman – Democrat (1945-1953)

Dwight D. Eisenhower – Republican (1953-1961)

John F. Kennedy – Democrat (1961-1963)

Lyndon B. Johnson – Democrat (1963-1969)

Richard Nixon – Republican (1969-1974)

Gerald Ford – Republican (1974-1977)

Jimmy Carter – Democrat (1977-1981)

Ronald Reagan – Republican (1981-1989)

George Bush – Republican (1989-1993)

Bill Clinton – Democrat (1993-2001)

George W. Bush – Republican (2001-2009)

Barrack Obama – Democrat (2009-2017)

Lesser of Two Evils

Political parties in the United States have seen and wide and varied existence since the Federalists were formed in the late 18th Century. Today, this election year, the two major parties – Republican and Democrat – have given us candidates Trump and Clinton. Two seemingly polar opposites and both appear to be wrong for this country. I’ve heard people say they’ll vote for the lesser of the two evils. But which one is that?

There have been discussions where Trump is the lesser evil, but also that Clinton is the lesser evil. My opinion is that Clinton is the lesser evil of the two. But sometimes it seems hard to tell. It is difficult to see. Clouded is their future. The shroud of the dark side has fallen and clouds everything.

Okay. I digress.

Back to Trump and Clinton. It seems some, or most, of America does not approve of either candidate. That’s when they say they’ll vote for the lesser of the two evils. But again, which one is that? I guess some people don’t seem to take the time to look for other options. That’s where third and fourth parties come in. The trouble is they don’t get a lot of publicity until late. But this year, right now, there is a third party candidate on the Libertarian ticket that is making headway. Check out Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is supposedly still in the race, but is not getting numbers like Johnson is. So come September in the first presidential debate, there might be a third member on the stage with Trump and Clinton, something that hasn’t been done since Ross Perot in 1992.


If you don’t like Trump or Clinton, look into the other candidates. There is plenty on them. Johnson and Weld are both former Governors and both former Republicans. Check them out. Here’s an introductory ad for Johnson/Weld:

Johnson/Weld Ad

You can listen to an interview with Johnson below:

Gary Johnson Interview

A vote for Johnson, if (and hopefully when he gets there), will not be a wasted vote. Check out their website: Johnson/Weld 2016

Let’s give America another choice. This election year is too important to just check a box in order to check a box.

Four friends bring fun, sentiment to ‘Last Vegas’

Rating 3/5

The premise of Last Vegas brings the idea of four life long friends coming together again for a big hoo-rah after nearly 60 years. This kind of formula has been seen before and since the release of this movie. However, it still works. It works, due in part, to the acting talents of Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline. That’s not to say the film isn’t flawed, but the flaws are minor and are somewhat lost through the fun overall story.

The film generally has a nice story of friendship and forgiveness, mixed with a love triangle (twice). The film begins with four young boys who seem to do a lot together. They protect each other. They have fun together. Flash forward to nearly 60 years later and we find the four are living their lives, but they still have a yearning to have some fun. It starts with Billy (Douglas) who is dating a much younger girl and suddenly proposes to her. So what does he do? He calls his childhood buddies to the wedding in Las Vegas. We then see Archie (Freeman), after suffering a minor stroke, living with his son (who treats his father as a child, becoming very protective). Sam (Kline) is married, but still misses his youthful times. Archie and Sam, on their way to the airport, decide to stop by and pick up Paddy (De Niro). Here we learn Paddy and Billy have had a falling out. Paddy reluctantly agrees and the three head off to Vegas.

Upon arrival, they meet up with Billy and get to the hotel only to find the hotel is still being renovated as they squabble over who was supposed to make the reservation. They go to the casino, to the bar, to the pool and manage to obtain a room for the rest of the weekend until the wedding. While there, they meet a beautiful lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen) who Paddy seems to instantly fall for, and Billy is not far behind. This brings up a similar love triangle from their childhood where they both liked the same girl. This ultimately resulted in their riff between each other. This plays out, though, through comedy and a touching gesture that turns their friendship around.

Jon Turteltaub directed the film written by Dan Fogelman who created likeable characters and an enjoyable story with humor, love, and sentiment. The film ran for 1 hour 45 minutes, which seemed a tad long to tell the story, but the story was good and the pace seemed to flow. However, one problem of the film’s story was when the guys meet Dean (Jerry Ferrara), a seemingly obnoxious 20-something and that whole line in the story just didn’t seem to satisfactorily play out. There were a couple of decent moments with the character, but it just didn’t seem to fit in as well with the rest of the film.

De Niro, Freeman, Douglas, and Kline all turned in fine performances, as did the supporting cast. It wasn’t stellar. But it didn’t have to be. It was a very enjoyable film. And now it seems there is a sequel in the works with an unknown release date. Time will tell if it will be as enjoyable and satisfying as this first go around.



‘The Lego Movie’ snaps together, brings fun entertainment

Rating 4/5

When I first saw the previews for The Lego Movie, I wasn’t sure what to think. Of course, it seems like there has been a run of success with Lego video games base on films like Star Wars, so why not have a film like this. I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained. With the success of this film, another film – the Lego Batman Movie – comes to theaters next year.

I remember playing with my Legos often as a child. I had a series of the Lego spaceships and spacemen. I fondly remember my brother attaching firecrackers to the Lego men. For the longest time, I had several with no hands and burnt bodies.

But I digress. The Lego Movie is a wonderfully crafted piece of animation. The film’s story introduces us to Emmet (Chris Pratt), an average guy who is happy with his life (oh, and by the way he is in construction). He is happy to follow the instructions for living implemented by President Business (Will Ferrell). Soon he meets a fiery adventurer called Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who lets Emmet in a prophecy stating that a hero will rise up to save the people from President Business’ evil plans of using a weapon of mass destruction known as the Kragle.

As Emmet is seemingly mistaken to be the hero, he is introduced to Virtruvius (Morgan Freeman) and Emmet then becomes aware of President Business’ plan. Virtruvius tries to instill the belief that Emmet can be the hero they need in order to stop the dastardly plan. Along the way, Emmet is introduced the team of Master Builders comprised of a 1980’s Spaceman Benny (Charlie Day), (the exact kind that my brother so eloquently blew up), the pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Batman (Will Arnett) and others that include a few known heroes from the DC Universe.

Writers/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller masterfully penned a script that has fun, action, and humor, with just the right amount of sentiment to make these characters fully “animated” with life. I found the film’s theme song, “Everything is Awesome,” was a catchy, entertaining song and added to the fun of the film (and was Oscar nominated). The film was a fun, colorful spectacle of imagination brought to life on the screen. Everything seemed to click in this film, from the dialogue and characters to the story and visual effects. With heart, The Lego Movie also showed the idea of working together (despite differences) and accomplishing great things. It taught us to believe in one self; dream big, and that we can be a part of something awesome. The Lego Movie is charming, fun, and very entertaining.

Adventure rises in Pixar’s ‘Up’

Rating 3.5/5

Up is one those animated films that doesn’t seem to cater to being a film for “kids,” although it certainly relates to a younger audience, but transcends through all ages. With its use of colors and masterful animation, it brings the characters and story to life.

Another great work from Pixar with Pete Docter directing, Up tells a story of love, loss, adventure, dreaming big, and never giving up. The story begins with two children, Carl and Ellie, who happen to have a chance encounter one day. They discover they both have a love for adventure and hope to one day be explorers. Then, through an elegant montage of bits we see their life as they grow closer, get married, buy a run down house and turn it into their magnificent home, they grow older, and Carl is left to deal with the loss of his wife. This sequence is done without dialogue, while music underscores the entire montage. This quickly, but effectively, sets up the rest of the film. Carl is left to deal with his loss as he soon decides to attach thousands of helium filled balloons to his house and be carried away to Paradise Falls (Carl and Ellie’s dream spot). Little does Carl know he has an unsuspecting stow away aboard his flying house – Jordan, a plucky Wilderness Explorer Scout.

Meanwhile, in Carl’s childhood, another explorer, Charles Muntz, was famous for his adventurous exploits until one of his great discoveries was proved to be false. He vows to return to Paradise Falls and capture one of its creatures to restore his glory. He has spent years in Paradise Falls trying to capture a magnificent, elusive bird. With him are hundreds of dogs, of various breeds, which also cook, clean, serve, as well as perform various other tasks, like helping him hunt the creature. He has also equipped them with collars that enable the dogs to actually speak. He arrived there in his giant airship, which looks more like an oversized zeppelin.

Edward Asner lends his vocal talents to the elder Carl. Charles is voiced by Christopher Plummer, and Jordan Nagai voices the Wilderness Scout, Russell. All of the characters appear as real as any other characters in recent Pixar movies.

I enjoyed this film, although, it did appear to slow down some, it still had just enough to hold my interest and be entertaining. This film had heart. It wasn’t just action and adventure. It had humor and was also emotionally moving at times. It was also a little refreshing to see elderly characters at the heart of the story. Pixar has another stupendous work under their belt with a lot of the credit going to a wonderful screenplay by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, who were also co-directors. They brought this seemingly wonderfully simple story to life to entertain all audiences.