Monday, October 20, 2014

THE MAGIC OF HEINEKEN: THE LITTLE BEER THAT COULD

I'll start by saying that while this movie shows in several spots as a dvd it's not listed that way at amazon.com. Instead its there as an instant video or download. My copy arrived on dvd and I'm assuming it is available in that format so for all Heineken fans keep looking.



To say that Heineken is a little beer is a bit misleading. Sure it comes in those small green bottles that beer drinkers have come to know and love. But the company itself is no small thing. Instead it’s gradually worked its way into becoming one of the biggest world beer companies around. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

THE MAGIC OF HEINEKEN is a documentary about the family owned brewing company that is responsible for Heineken beer. While some could call this a propaganda piece for the company I found it instead to be a fascinating look behind the company from start to current plans. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t drink beer!

The movie has a back and forth flow to it, opening with clips of commercials that result in the background song “The Golden Age” by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, a song that many will recognize from Heineken’s commercials a few years back. It then moves into what is going on with the company and then delves into its history via the use of stop motion animation. Being a sucker for stop motion animation this got my interest right from the start. It also says a lot about the company and how they do things. Where they do indeed use modern machines to produce their product they also continue to use things from the past as well. The most important of these is a desire for perfection.

Some people might think they know Heineken but they’d be wrong. Most people think of it as a German beer but the fact is the company began in 1864 in Holland. They still have a main brewery there to this day. What about the green bottles that are synonymous with the company? Well they weren’t always that way. Those began when they came to the US and family member Freddie studied advertising, changing the fortunes of the family that had been bought out by other stockholders. Enough so that he regained the family majority ownership.

The movie continues moving back and forth in time to the current period where we see them opening up a new plant in China. This intertwines with an explanation of how they became global, purchasing breweries in other countries and taking along with them the production of not just their product but long standing recognizable names from those locations as well. It’s not just about taking over but blending in.

The company also has a long history of family association as well depicted here. Not just with their own family but with those of the people that work for them. They attempt to keep up with good wages, health benefits and donate to causes that attempt to raise people up from poor surrounding into better ones.

The production values of the film are up to the task at hand. Not only are the stop motion pieces I mentioned earlier done well but the combination of stock footage from the past mixed with newly filmed pieces works quite well.

As I said, the movie could be mistaken for a puff piece on Heineken but that’s a cynics point of view, a conspiracy lovers dream that every film that speaks fondly of its center piece must invariably be hiding something. The fact is that sometimes there are good people in charge of companies that actually make a quality product. Since I don’t drink beer I couldn’t say but people I know speak highly of the brand. Knowing what there is going on behind the scenes past and present makes them seem even better than I thought before.

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SHARKNAGO 2-THE SECOND ONE: A NEW SO BAD IT'S GOOD FLICK

So when there was the hubbub about the movie SHARKNADO I didn't jump on the bandwagon knowing up front that the movie was probably as bad as it sounded. I mean most of the made for TV movies that I'd seen on SyFy were so bad that I wouldn't want to waste my time with them. So when I heard that a sequel was in the works I felt the same way. Then it arrived on my doorstep and I thought maybe I should watch just to warn people. Instead I found myself laughing out loud a number of times, more than some of the recent comedies I'd watched.

This is not to say that SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE is a great movie. Rather it falls into that category of films known as "so bad they're good". This designation is saved for movies that are either so terribly made (unintentionally so) that you can't help but laugh at them or movies that are the opposite, made this way so you can snicker at them and laugh knowing up front that they were intended to be bad from the start. This film falls into that second category.

Having not seen the first one, something I need to rectify soon, it took me a moment or two to figure out that this film took place some time after the first one ended. Fin (Ian Ziering) and his ex-wife April (Tara Reid) are heading to New York to promote the book she wrote about surviving the first sharknado. If you don't know what it is it's a tornado that pulls up tons of sharks into it and then hurls them around and lets them lose at various individuals causing much CGI spilled blood in the process. The pair finds themselves flying in the midst of a freak storm and Fin begins to see sharks flying beside the plane. He's told to settle down but soon everything changes as one shark slams into an engine blowing it apart while others begin to find their way into the plane. When the pilots are eaten/knocked out of the plane, Fin comes to the rescue and lands it.

With all that's gone on by now you would think people would begin to prepare right? Nope. Instead they go about their business including Fin's sister and her family. The guys head to the ballpark and his sister takes her daughter to see the Statue of Liberty. You guessed it, both are hit by the shark filled tornados that fling more sharks at people and tear apart the city, including Miss Liberty. When this starts happening the family decides it's time to head back to their hotel to be with one another.

Amazingly (yeah right) Fin and his brother in law and nephew meet up in this huge city and make their way to the hotel. Along the way they're helped by Fin's old girlfriend and a cranky NY taxi cab driver. Fin suggests a plan of attack on the sharknados. That's right; there are two of them heading for one another which would turn them both into one huge sharknado spelling disaster for everyone.

If you've gotten this far you have to be wondering if I'm serious or making this up. I'm not. This is indeed the movie being seen. And it's SO over the top that it becomes hilarious. Home made bombs put together using small propane tanks, chainsaws used to slice up sharks and sharks actually leaping from the water filled streets of Manhattan are all found in this movie. And because it's so blatantly bad it becomes even more hilarious. These were the sort of movies we were cheering years ago when we went to midnight movies!

To cap things off there are tons of cameos in the film. I won't spoil the actor playing the plane's pilot (it's that good of a joke) but you'll find more than him here. Included in the film are Wil Wheaton, Judd Hirsch, Downtown Julie Brown, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kurt Angle, Robert Klein, Mark McGrath, Kari Wuhrer, Vivica A. Fox, Sandra "Pepa" Denton, Judah Friedlander, Perez Hilton, Richard Kind, Biz Markie, Matt Lauer, Al Roker, Kelly Osborne, Kelly Rippa, Michael Strahan and more all avoiding the flying sharks (in some cases trying to and failing).

No this is not a movie that is destined for the Oscars. But it will be one that you can laugh at and is well worth the rental fee. It might even be worth adding to your shelf for one of those nights when you want to pop some popcorn, sit down and make comments ala MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 2000. There will be plenty to laugh at and comment on. Don't take it seriously but rather sit back and have some fun. This movie offers that with a little bite to boot.

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OBVIOUS CHILD: UNFUNNY TOPIC

When I first heard about the movie OBVIOUS CHILD I thought for sure someone had gone crazy. That was based on the subject matter and how the promotional department decided to handle it. It described the movie as a comedy about abortion. Being the touchy and topical subject that this entails I could not believe anyone could find some way to make the killing of a child funny. Even those who have no problem with abortion I would assume would find it hard to find humor in the subject matter. So going in a part of me was all ready to slam this movie. What I found was a serious film on the topic that delivered near non-existent humor. Whoever promoted it this way needs to find another job.

The story revolves around Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a young stand up comedian by night and book store employee by day. Donna dreams of stardom and seems to be headed that direction by the popularity of her act at a local club. As the movie opens though she finds herself in the midst of heartbreak. Her boyfriend dumps her for one of her friends, partially unhappy at the way she uses their relationship for the material she performs on stage. Rather than take this mildly she begins to stalk them with the intent to confront her but instead hits the bar at the club instead.

Clearly intoxicated she takes to the stage to perform but instead offers up more of her life, this time without any sort of humor attached, leaving an uncomfortable audience. Her choice to handle this is to drink more. And then she meets Max (Jake Lacy), a young businessman who missed her performance but finds her interesting. Before the night is over the couple share some interesting intoxicated moments and head back to his place for a roll in the hay. Waking the next morning and regretting the night before, Donna heads home.

A few weeks pass and after feeling ill Donna talks to her best friend and after taking a pregnancy test discovers that she is indeed with pregnant. Being a modern woman there is no talk at all of having the child and the decision to abort seems to be made immediately. As we have already witnessed, Donna is not a woman who is ready for any sort of commitment let alone having a child. Scenes between her and both of her parents reveal this in situations rather than words.

Eventually Donna has discussions about the abortion with most of the people she knows, her divorced parents, her best friend, her gay friend, her doctor and eventually the audience that comes to hear her comedy based on her life. It is during her performance that Max shows up and discovers what happened. Again we're presented with a modern man, someone who doesn't discuss any option other than having the abortion. The question that rises from what has happened is will she actually go through with it or will she find some reason to change her mind?

The good parts of this movie were the performances by all involved. There was something real in each of the characters and how they were portrayed. Of course the mind set was definitely stereotypical New York, that kind of group where everything performance yields art and its fun to snipe at anyone who doesn't see it your way. Slate and the writers do a good job of making you actually consider the topic. There is nothing wrong with being pro or anti abortion and yet watching a woman who isn't sure enough of herself or her position in life enough to take on having a child. Whichever belief you have will certainly help to form your judgment on the topic at hand and this movie won't change your mind. It will make you think though.

The bad parts are the treatment of abortion as a wonderful thing as if there were no consequences to having one. One scene *spoiler alert* even has her mother laughing it off saying she had an abortion long ago when she was a young woman as well prior to meeting Donna's father and then describing the horror stories we've all heard about backstreet abortions. The other bad part of the film is actually the comedy. I've always felt that movies that tried to show a stand up comic performing always get it wrong. This movie helps prove that point. There was no time during Donna's stand up performances when I found myself smiling let alone laughing. Slate is an actual stand up comedian and I hope her performances are better than this.

In the end I can't hate this movie with the venom one would think that someone who is anti-abortion might have. Sorry but we all walk into this movie with our own preconceived notions. At the same time I can see where the story makes an interesting drama. As I said, your mind won't be changed by the movie but perhaps the strength of your argument might.

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TRANSFORMERS-AGE OF EXTINCTION: BIGGER ISN'T ALWAYS BETTER

My son and I have had a running debate concerning director Michael Bay. For years I have said that he's not as bad a director as my son has found him to be. I've always found his movies entertaining and action packed. But somewhere along the way Bay has had nothing but yes men tell him every choice he makes is the right one. With TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION I can no longer defend him. He has reached a point of excess that goes too far.

If you've never seen the TRANSFORMER movies then by all means go back and watch the first two and stop at those. As with the third film Bay chooses here to decrease the story and acting on display by real life actors and increase the amount of effects. The film suffers because of that. Yes, stick with the first two and stop.

If you must watch this one here is what we have on hand. Out with the old characters and in with the new. After the semi-destruction of Chicago as seen in the third film, the transformers are now thought of as bad for our planet. They are hunted down and systematically being destroyed. We open up with this hunt and then move to Texas where we find Marc Wahlberg as Cade Yeager.

Yeager is a tinkerer, an inventor with a penchant for all things electronic. Clearing out an old theater he purchases a beat up old semi not realizing that it is actually Optimus Prime, leader of the autobots aka the good transformers. Cade lives with his teenage daughter which of course means she the rebellious sort who goes out dating without his knowledge. After Cade wakes the autobot the next day his partner/slash employee ignores his instructions and calls in the government with the hopes of claiming a cash reward. Instead a group of men in black thugs arrive and threaten the family until Optimus breaks out and saves them.

Now on the run and with a small drone Cade grabbed mid-air as they left their now exploded farm (the first of far too many explosions in this film) they follow the lead it provides them to Chicago. A company there is using the technology of the decepticons to create a new line of transformers, their own militarized groups of automated soldiers for the U.S. to use against any more transformer threats. Need I say that using a decepticon for the software is not a good idea?

All of this leads to the first of many battles between good and bad transformers. Along the way to Chicago the good guys picked up more autobots. Now they take on the new decepticons and begin to once again blow up half of Chicago. But that's not enough. From there the decepticons and the government officials in charge of this new line of robots head for Beijing where we get to see another city nearly destroyed and the battle carry on.

While that may seem like plenty of story in reality it isn't. It is a framework around which Bay has chosen to have far too many car chases and to explode so many vehicles, buildings and transformers that perhaps a third of the films overlong screen time is filled with fireballs and various projectiles. I'm sure this is for the 3D crowd out there but it makes for a boring film.  An hour and 15 minutes into this film and I was already bored. And at 2 hours and 44 minutes I couldn't figure out why it had to be this long.

The actors involved here are wasted but it's not their fault. The script gives them little enough to do except run and shoot and dodge flying material. The special effects are well done but we've seen them already over and over again in the three previous films to the point they aren't as spectacular any longer. Instead we have a display of excess that needs to stop here. My fears are that it won't and we'll get another sequel that will be equally excessive.

See this movie if you must to complete the series. Own it if you like for the same reason. For me I passed on owning the third film for the very reason I won't add this one. It was boring and un-involving for me. It left me with one question: with all the Hollywood stars worried about the environment why do they not have a problem with the wasted fuel used to cause this amount of explosions in a movie? In the end it's not worth your time.

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HAWAII FIVE-O SEASON 4: FAMILY

With the appearance of the TV series HAWAII FIVE-O I was wondering if it would be any good or if it would be just another remake that tossed out anything good in order to make a new familiar yet different show for the network. I was pleasantly surprised when I found its new take to take some of the best parts of the old series and modernize them. I mean when looking back now at the original series there was no way it could have been identical and remained interesting.

With each passing season the stories have gotten more involved and the cast has become closer, not just behind the scenes but on screen as well. Where some characters were actually family members others were not. That's gradually changed each year as the folks from Five-O grow closer and depend on one another more each year. They are indeed a family unit unto themselves. That's become even more apparent in season 4.

Introduced into this family has been Grover (Chi McBride), a tough as nails SWAT leader recently moved to the islands from Chicago. Seeing his force as the one to deal with most crimes instead of McGarrett's, the two butt heads often early on in the season. At the same time they begin to develop a mutual respect for one another. By the end of the season Grover is offered a place on the Five-O team, something that is earned and not given lightly. McBride does a great job as a counter play to O'Loughlin's McGarrett. Both are headstrong, both think they're always right and both have a sense of fun they keep well hidden until the time is right.

McGarrett's girlfriend Catherine (Michelle Borth) also finds herself in an odd situation this year. Now a regular cast member, she joins the team early on after leaving the Navy. The affection shared between her and McGarrett is on display throughout the season but apparently not enough for the network to get behind her. By the end of this season she's off on a secret mission seeking a friend in the Middle East and in season 5 off the cast altogether. It would have been nice to keep her as the show is more testosterone than estrogen.

But family continues to work its way into this season in other forms. McGarrett's mother disappears but Danny's (Scott Caan) comes for an extended visit in the form of Melanie Griffith. It turns out she's leaving her husband after all these years and Danny is having problems dealing with that. It does provide for some seriously funny moments though as she dates while on the island much to Danny's chagrin. More is learned about Chin's (Daniel Dae Kim) father and what went on with him. Kono (Grace Park) goes missing for much of the season, on the run as the Yakuza try to find her fiancé. And in the season finale Grover's daughter is held captive by cyber criminal Ian Wright forcing him to make a decision that will affect everyone.

As I said, this season has revolved more around family than any other. In doing so it didn't focus just on those family ties but also in making the tie with each other that much stronger. And it wasn't something that was a plot device in 2 or 3 episodes but slowly spooled out and developed which made it more natural. It's added something to the show that wasn't so much missing but makes it feel more complete.

I've been pleasantly surprised by this series. It offers plenty of action, lots of heart and at the same time more laughs than you would expect. Some might think of it as nothing more than a 1 hour commercial for vacationing in Hawaii but that's not the case. It offers great storytelling, solid acting and holds your interest from the start to the end of the season. In short, its one of the better shows on TV right now. Having it on the shelf to be enjoyed over and over again is just a side benefit.

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THE PERFECT WAVE: TOO MUCH FILLER



I really wanted to like this film. Knowing that it was based on the true life story of evangelist Ian McCormick made me want to know more. But as a movie it left much to be desired. Of all things the biggest problem didn't stem from the source material but from the way the story is told.

Ian McCormick (Scott Eastwood) is a young man with little on his mind except for surfing. In his early twenties with no job prospects in mind, he decides to travel around the world in search of the perfect wave, a surfer's goal. His parents aren't pleased with the idea, especially when he sells his car to pay for the trip, but off he goes with his best friend on his search.

This is where things begin to take a turn for the worse. Not for Ian but for those of us watching. The movie begins to take on the feel of one of those old travelogue movies from the past, showing us highlights of the countries that Ian travels to with a dollop of surfing footage along the way. That footage never lives up to what we've seen in past films, notable THE ENDLESS SUMMER, and just seem like filler here.

In his travels Ian meets a young girl and falls in love with her. But problems follow when his jealous side rises and another opportunity for something deeper is lost in this story. She seems interested in Buddhism but that's never explored. It could have been since the underlying story of this film is one of faith, displayed regularly by Ian's mother (Cheryl Ladd) and lost on Ian. Early in the film he feels no connection to faith because he never hears God speak to him while his mother says she does. This loss of faith becomes the center of the film...except that rather than appear in the center it pops up in the last 15 minutes of the film when a life altering accident takes hold of Ian.

Perhaps it's me. Maybe it's just that I wanted more focus placed on Ian and his conversion, his acceptance of God, rather than a movie that just took us around the world showing different surfing locations. The makers of this film have been involved in numerous faith based movies and perhaps that's why I expected as much. Instead is supposed to be the most important moment in the life of the real Ian McCormick feels like it was tossed in at the last minute.

One interesting note is Scott Eastwood. Yes, he is Clint's son and at moments you will see a camera angle shoot him and be amazed at the family resemblance.  He comes off here as a talented actor and I see good things coming from him down the line. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well. I just wish there were more for them to work with here. 

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DEAD WITHIN: AN INTERESTING TAKE



The zombie holocaust seems to be taking over horror films these days. It seems like there is a new zombie movie being released each week. Where THE WALKING DEAD led the way for this new increase in interest in the genre, the knock offs have been nothing more than excuses for an over abundance of gore and lack of story telling. That's not true with DEAD WITHIN.

Rather than take the characters involved in the story out into the world to watch them battle zombies we instead centralize the story to take place in their home, fortified and made safe to prevent being attacked. Located in the woods a stone's throw from civilization, Mike and Kim have been holed up in their cabin for 6 months. The only time away from one another is when Mike heads out to salvage for supplies to keep them alive.

What makes this different from most zombie flicks today is that it focuses on the couple and not the zombies. Sure there is a zombie fight tossed in when we see flashbacks to another couple that visited and turned at some point but the main concept here is the couple. What makes it even more interesting is that you begin to wonder as it moves forward if there really is a zombie attack going on or did Mike make Kim believe this in order to keep her to himself in the cabin? Or could it just be that Kim has gone insane?

The answers to these questions come up before the credits role but the journey to that point makes for an interesting film. No one usually takes into account the problems that survivors would face on a day to day level and when they do it's always a quick flash and then back to action. Here we see a couple trying to live off of what they can find and some times that means sharing a single can of peaches for your only meal that day. Not only that but the only person each of them has contact with day after day each other. That's got to take its toll after a while.

Things slowly begin to spiral downward. When Mike is gone for longer than usual, while at the same time a group of wolves approaches the house, things become tense. If that weren't enough Kim begins to reveal more of the story of what went down with their friends as well. What we see here is less a tale of survival and more a story of a woman's descent into madness.

While I doubt I'll watch this again it was interesting the first time around. It kept me watching until the end and offered a new view of the whole zombie genre that many never seem to consider. If you're a fan of the genre of or horror films in general I'd recommend watching it. It might not be one to keep on the shelf but it's worth one viewing at least.

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