Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Few Options"

In 1987, Frank Conner made the biggest, dumbest mistake of his life: driving a carload of cocaine across several states. He got pulled over by the highway patrol and sent to Terminal Island for possession with intent. 22 years later, the California Department of Corrections is over budget and overpopulated. Frank's name comes up in a lottery, meaning he'll be released 13 months early. He'll be completely on his own, no probation or parole officer to report to. Unfortunately, early release turns out to be Frank's only bit of good luck.

With a pillowcase of belongings and $157.32 to his name from years of pressing license plates, Frank pays a visit to his cousin Don, who had promised to help Frank get back on his feet. Don hasn't written to Frank in 5 years and is surprised when he turns up on his doorstep. Don is now married and his wife doesn't want Frank in the house. He agrees to let Frank live in the garage as long as he makes no noise, doesn't let the neighbors see him, and generally pretends not to exist. He can't even come in the house to shower unless Don and his wife are at work.

Frank, having nowhere else to go, agrees to the living situation. He wants to hit the job trail, but for that he needs his driver's license and Social Security card, which he left with his mother when he got locked up. Don has more bad news; Frank's mom Martha had a debilitating stroke and is in a nursing home. There's a box that belonged to her in the garage. Frank digs through it and finds everything but what he needs: costume jewelry, his high school diploma, and old family photo albums.

The next morning, Frank goes to the DMV and Social Security office. They can't issue one card without the other. They'll accept a notarized letter with his picture on it from the prison, but it'll take 10 business days to arrive. Frank desperately needs to find a job so he can save up for his own place. He buys a suit from a thrift store and goes on several unsuccessful interviews. Frank's old friend Russ comes to visit with an employment opportunity: security guard at a strip club. The owner doesn't care that Frank doesn't have a driver's license or Social Security card; they'll pay him cash under the table.

Frank goes from security guard to chauffeur when Helen, a failed actress-turned stripper/prostitute, needs a ride to a private client's house. When she's done, er, entertaining, Frank drives her home. Drunk and high on cocaine, Helen makes aggressive sexual advances. Frank gallantly refuses to take advantage of a woman who's intoxicated. The two soon strike up a relationship, though Frank is socially awkward as hell having spent 22 years without female contact.

Frank eventually learns that the strip club is owned by Chris, the cocaine dealer who sent Frank on the drug run. Frank didn't rat on Chris because Chris had threatened to kill his parents. Chris is still pissed about the shipment he lost; however, he's willing to forgive Frank's debt if Frank will do something else that's highly illegal. The rest of the movie focuses on Frank trying to adjust to 21st century life and deciding whether or not to go through with what Chris wants.

Casting a main character with Frank's background is tricky: somebody you can empathize with but doesn't go "oh woe is me, I went to prison for drugs; it's not like I killed anybody!" Frank, the ex-con with a heart of gold, is played by Kenny Johnson. Kenny's turn as conflicted Detective Curtis Lemansky on The Shield made him perfect in this role. Not to mention it makes the scenes where Frank mopes around in a wifebeater very aesthetically pleasing.

Helen, played by Erin Daniels, isn't quite as sympathetic a character as Frank, but the two make a reasonably cute couple. Kenny is joined by fellow Shield alumni David Marciano as strip club manager Russ.

Even with an unsatisfying ending, Few Options is still a nice little indie drama.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War"

This is a rather difficult movie to review; there's not much anyone can say about it without major spoilers. Essentially, the plot is that an Avengers mission goes sideways and results in massive civilian casualties, including an African king. The UN gets involved and doesn't believe the Avengers should be able to operate independently; a binding resolution should control when, where, and if they deploy. Tony Stark AKA Iron Man thinks it's their best chance at being able to keep operating; others agree, including War Machine and Black Widow. Steve Rogers AKA Captain America is opposed to this binding resolution, as are Falcon and his bestie Bucky Barnes AKA the Winter Solider.

The performances by all the actors involved almost make up for the borefest that was last summer's Age of Ultron. There's betrayal, intrigue, and buried secrets around almost every corner. The strongest cast members this time out are Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., which of course makes sense due to the plot being all about their blood feud. That's about as much detail as I can give about the storyline itself. Here are a few other random observations:

  • Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to name the African superhero the Black Panther? That name has pretty negative connotations associated with it. I understand that may have been the character's name in the original Marvel comics, but changing it would have been a good idea.
  •  After whiny Tobey Maguire and the sucktastic Amazing Spider-Man movies, I developed a deep and serious dislike of that character. Tom Holland makes an appearance as Peter Parker. Socially awkward Spider-Man was much more relateable and sympathetic. He also had some genuinely funny one-liners. This kid made me want to see the new Spider-Man reboot when it comes out.
  • Vision is freaking creepy as hell.
  • I still haven't forgiven Scarlet Witch for the terrible hallucinations/flashbacks she made all the Avengers have in Age of Ultron. Those characters, oddly, don't seem to be holding even the slightest grudge. She's living with them in the Avengers compound now.
  • After rolling my eyes at the trailers and refusing to see Ant-Man, I found myself liking his character. I might even watch his stand-alone movie now.
  • There are two post-credits scenes, the first one of which is kind of emotionally traumatic.
  • It's good to see Marisa Tomei back on screen again, this time as Peter's Aunt May.
  • I hope to God that Deadpool never appears in an Avengers movie. The character is such a repulsive tool (and I've only seen trailers for that movie).
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