Based on the television series by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell. Hannibal (Liam Neeson) leads a team of Special Forces, namely, B.A. Bacarus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), Murdock (Sharlto Copley), and Face (Bradley Cooper). General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) sends them on a secret mission to Baghdad to retrieve counterfeit money plates. A CIA agent, Lynch (Patrick Wilson) assists them during their mission which, eventually, lands them in prison because they’re framed for a murder when the mission doesn’t go precisely as planned. Hannibal concocts a clever plan to get him and the rest of the team to escape from prison so that they may hunt down the diabolical person who framed them. Jessica Biel plays a sexy military officer who also happens to be Face’s former girlfriend and still remains attracted to him even though it’s her job to track him down and apprehend him. The screenplay co-written by Brian Bloom, Skip Woods and director Joe Carnahan chucks logic and reason out the window in favor of mindless and thrilling action sequences. One of the most exhilarating action scenes here takes place in the air as Murdock pilots the team in a fighter jet as another fighter jet chases and fires at them. At times, the dialogue is quite snappy, for instance, in the way that Hannibal lets the soldiers on a grounded military aircraft that they’re about to steal the aircraft or when Hannibal quotes Gandhi. Sharlto Copley, whom you might recognize from District 9, shows off his great comedic timing here, although, in truth, each member of the team is amusing to watch. The Losers treaded similar ground back in April, but The A-Team has zanier characters, less preposterous scenes, more wittiness and excitement without any dull moments. The terrific cast certainly helps to keep you entertained and hungry to watch the team devise more clever and fun plans in further missions once this one comes to an end. At a running time of just under 2 hours, The A-Team is a mindlessly entertaining blockbuster brimming with thrilling action sequences and delightfully zany characters that never take themselves too seriously.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
Ganster's Paradise: Jerusalema
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
This wildly entertaining, hilarious and surprisingly moving documentary focuses on the life and work of 76-year-old comedian and television personality Joan Rivers. On stage while she’s performing her stand-up comedy routines she projects fearlessness, charisma, energy and plenty of pizzazz. She’s relentlessly fierce and irreverent when it comes to her sense of humor which often results in uproarious laughter from her open-minded audiences. If you’re familiar with her work, you’ll already know that she started out as a thespian in the play Seawood before performing in comedy clubs during a time when female comedians weren’t so vulgar and sexually explicit in their comedy routines. In many ways, Rivers broke through that barrier and paved the way for many other brave female comedians nowadays, such as Kathy Griffin who considers Joan to be her inspiration. River gained a lot of fame through her appearances on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson, but their friendship took a nosedive when she accepted to host a rival show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. Soon after, her business partner and husband, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide, yet she continued to make her fans laugh as she remained a television personality. Co-directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg do an impeccable job of providing you with background information about Joan Rivers’ uphill battles as a comedian as well as shedding light on what she has learned from all of her struggles. Sociologist Erving Goffman once noted that everyone has a frontstage life and a backstage life. Stern and Sunderberg gives a rare glimpse of what Rivers is truly life backstage behind that obstructing curtain. Backstage, Rivers maintains her razor sharp humor, boldness and panache, but, most importantly, she comes across as an honest, intelligent, self-aware and sensitive human being. She candidly admits that no one has ever called her “beautiful” and that she knows that without continuing to work so diligently every day from morning 'til night, she can easily become unemployed which is her greatest fear. If you’ve never seen Rivers without her makeup on, well, now’s your chance. At a running time of only 1 hour and 24 minutes, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work manages to be a gut-bustingly funny, endearing and unflinchingly honest documentary that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally. Joan River’s perseverance, audacity and sheer brilliance is an inspiration for everyone.
The Karate Kid
12-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) must move with his mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson), from Detroit all the way to Beijing, China when she accepts a job transfer. A large part of his struggles to assimilate to a new environment and culture includes facing a group of tough bullies at school who beat him up with their kung fu skills. He befriends a young Chinese girl, Meiying (Wenwen Han), which angers one of the bullies, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), whenever they’re together. Will Dre find a way to defend himself against those bullies and win over Cheng? His chances to accomplish that increase when he meets Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), his apart building’s maintenance man who turns out to be a kung fu artist. Mr. Han persuades him to compete in an open kung fu tournament where he would face the bullies each of whom train in a nearby martial arts academy. He trains him in peculiar ways such as by having him hanging up his coat, throwing it on the ground, picking it up, putting it on over and over. Meiying promises Dre that she will comes to watch his tournament while he promises her to attend her concert where she hopes to be selected to join the Beijing Music Academy. Not surprisingly, Mr. Han comes to Dre’s aid when he’s once again attacked by the school bullies. The screenplay by Christopher Murphey spends too much time leading up to the much-awaited tournament and making sure that you really end up hating Dre’s bullies. You’ll find so many tangential storylines crammed in such a contrived way that it distracts from the overall flow of the film. For example, the romance between Dre and Meiying gets threatened when her father forbids her to see him anymore. Then there’s the backstory of Mr.Han’s emotional burdens, and the relationship between Dre and his mother who has no appreciation for the art of kung fu. Jaden Smith gives a charming, heartfelt performance that will win you over and make you realize his potential to become a huge star. It's equally engaging to watch Mr. Han train and interact with Dre, especially when he trains him right on the Great Wall of China. The tournament itself, though, seems to last for an eternity with round after round and, just when you think the movie’s finally over, there’s yet another few mind-numbing rounds of kung fu. At a running time of 2 hour and 20 minutes, The Karate Kid overstays its welcome, lacks surprises and feels intermittently captivating thanks to Jaden Smith’s charming, heartfelt and star-making performance.
This important and provocative documentary follows four families as they enter their kids into the admission process for the Harlem Success Academy, a prestigious private charter school that not need to adhere to union rules and regulations. Each year, the admission is open to any families who want to send their kid to that charter school which would provide them with a better education than public schools offer. A lottery system must take place because demand exceeds supply, so, according to the law, the charter school must randomly select the students. Only 16% of total number of applicants get selected which means that a whopping 84% of them lose the lottery to the game of chance. Their son or daughter might be very smart, but, when it comes down to it, the enrolment in the Harlem Success Academy all comes down to pure luck. Director Madeleine Sackler chooses to document families of four children, Ameenah, Christian, Greg Jr. and Eric Jr., from Harlem and the Bronx, as they struggle through the admissions process which proves to be filled with tension up until the very end where they join other families in an auditorium while waiting and hoping for their child’s name to be called. The charter school’s founder and CEO, Eva Moskowitz, along with Joel Klein Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, want to get rid of a Harlem public school and replace it with a charter school much to the dismay of the union leaders, one of whom, during a public hearing, dares to disbelieve Moskowitz when she says she lives and even grew up in Harlem. Interviews with politicians (i.e. with the mayor of Newark), principals and teachers from the charter school as well as from public schools, all help to shed further light on the multifaceted issue of whether charter schools are truly beneficial and necessary. What’s missing, though, is more interviews with those who are against charter schools and a thorough assessment of all of the interviews, testimonies, fact and figures which would have offer practical solutions to the escalating tensions between public and charter schools. At least The Lottery, at a running time of 1 hour and 21 minutes, manages to be an eye-opening, provocative and heartfelt documentary that will inspire you to debate and discuss the issue of charter schools openly and intelligently.
Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her near-catatonic mother and younger siblings, Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) and Sonny (Isaiah Stone), in small town located in the Ozark Plateau of Missouri. Her father has mysteriously disappeared and misses a court date. A bail bondsman arrives to inform Ree that she has one week to find her father or else she will lose her home because he had put it up for collateral. Ree goes from neighbor to neighbor around the town in hope of finding the whereabouts of her father who may or may not be dead. One of the neighbors, Victoria (Cinnamon Schultz), seems to be withholding some sort of secret when Ree knocks on her door to ask for information about her father. Even her own uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes), refuses to help her, at least at first. Director/co-writer Debra Granik, who previously wrote/directed Down to the Bone, combines drama, mystery and suspense with mixed results. Given that you never get to actually meet Ree’s father before he goes missing, it’s difficult to grasp the bond that he and Ree had or to care about whether he turns up dead or alive. Granik throws you head-first into the life of Ree and, admittedly, it takes a while to feel even slightly immersed in the narrative while getting used to its cold and shady characters. The most interesting character is actually the Ozark setting itself which gives the film a sense of foreboding as if something sinister will happen at any given moment. Strong, well-nuanced performances by everyone, particularly Jennifer Lawrence, helps to keep you marginally engaged. A truly great mystery, though, like Fargo, ought to have intricate details and intelligent surprises that make sense in retrospect while keeping you riveted as you try to put all the pieces together as the events transpire. Winter’s Bone certainly establishes a relentlessly dark, eerie and even melancholic atmosphere through its setting, pacing and the characters themselves each of whom seems hiding emotional scars that could burst into anger at any moment, especially when it comes to the menacing Teardrop. However, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Ree’s father starts out intriguingly, but, as Ree visits her neighbors, asks questions, and gets some kind of trouble which won’t be spoiled here, the gradual build-up of suspense fizzles out while some scenes drag until the revealing third act. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Winter’s Bone lacks adequate suspense and intrigue, occasionally drags, and leaves you feeling underwhelmed despite strong, well-nuanced performances and a richly atmospheric setting.