Monday, September 2, 2013

The Art Of Getting By (2011) – A Film Review by Mike D


This is a review I wrote back in 2011 when I was writing for BacklotD.  The movie came up recently in a discussion with a new friend and I figured I would share it with you.  This will also give you a glimpse of what my writing skills used to be and what you can look forward to.

Remember those fun loving teen angst filled 80’s movies about people forgetting about your birthday, skipping school and Saturday detention?  Clearly writer/director Gavin Wiesen does because he has delivered a brilliant 21st century version that John Hughes himself would doff his cap to.

Wiesen gives us George (Freddie Highmore), an intelligent and artistically gifted high school senior who just can seem to care about anything.  He feels that since we are all going to die at some point nothing until that end has any meaning.

George’s mother (played wonderfully by Rita Wilson) and teachers just don’t know what to do with or for George.  It goes so far that George’s principal (played very credibly by Blair Underwood) gets involved and things get pretty serious pretty quickly.  Ultimatums are given, lines are drawn.

Enter new friend and love interest Sally (Emma Roberts) and George is no longer a loner.  Through Sally, George meets more friends and gets a feel for being part of a social circle.  He even finds himself Dustin, a former student at George’s high school who is impressed with George and decides to mentor him.

This movie really delivers with realism and honesty.  The emotions and situations depicted in this film are true to real life and easy for the audience to relate to, even if you are not a teenager.  George’s mom and step father struggle with careers and the tough economic times as well as with the challenges of the non nuclear family. Wiesen does a great job of bringing us the perspective of the other characters besides George.

This movie is NOT preachy.  It is NOT self indulgent.  It is raw, edgy and gritty.  This is shown in every aspect of the film from the dialogue to the scenery and even the style in which it was shot.  This film is a case study of what life is like, or at least FEELS like in 2011. 

It is praiseworthy to not how Wiesen gives this perspective for not only our main character, George, but also for his friends, parents and teachers as well.  No aspect of this story or George’s world was ignored.

Life is hard.  Love is hard, especially when you are young and experiencing things for the first time.  It can feel like you are trying to navigate your way through a never ending mine field with no map or guide.  Sometimes you get kicked in the gut and don’t know if the pain will ever stop. Sometimes you are just treading water. 

This is Gavin Wiesen’s full length feature directorial debut and he delivers in Spades.  It is charming and brilliant and most definitely worth your time and money.  Besides, if it is good enough for John Hughes it is good enough for us.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Joss VS "Empire"

I was checking out and saw a headline that immediately grabbed my attention.  "Joss Whedon has a problem with 'the Empire Strikes Back'" Just shouted click me click me!  So I did.  Turns out the author of the piece, Alisha Grauso was informing us that there is a 10 page interview with Joss Whedon in this week's EW (entertainment Weekly) and Joss says he has a problem with the fact that most people pick "Empire" as the best of the Original Trilogy.

Why, you might ask?  Apparently because Joss feels the film is incomplete.  It is incomplete because it doesn't really end.  Says Joss," 'Empire’ committed the cardinal sin of not actually ending. Which at the time I was appalled by and I still think it was a terrible idea."  

Joss elaborates: "Well, it’s not an ending. It’s a Come Back Next Week, or in three years. And that upsets me. I go to movies expecting to have a whole experience. If I want a movie that doesn’t end I’ll go to a French movie. That’s a betrayal of trust to me. A movie has to be complete within itself, it can’t just build off the first one or play variations."

Do I agree with Joss?  I do agree that it did not have a concise, definitive ending.  I was/am not appalled by it nor do I consider it a betrayal of trust.  I understand that Joss was being hyperbolic as he is prone to do.  

I do not agree that it needed to be complete and within itself because it was designed to be a part of what was to come.  I understand that Episode IV can stand alone but it truly and honestly isn't complete, the destroying of the death star is not the end of the story, the end of VI was when the Sith were destroyed and balance was restored to the universe.

It is a "come back next week or in three years" but it was designed to be.  Lucas was heavily influenced by the serial style story telling and intended the Star Wars films to be chapters in a larger story.  I think that the "cliff hanger" ending to "Empire" was compelling and I was ok with waiting for "Jedi" to conclude the story.

i'm first in line forever and always to throw stones at Lucas, figuratively speaking of course.  In general I don't disagree with Joss but in this case I think I am going to have to.  There is no flag on this play Joss.  I respect you and your opinions and I see where you are coming from but I just don't feel that it is a fair critique in this case.

If you want to check out more work by Alisha just click on this link and away you go:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gathr Film Series

Are you looking for the best in indie films?  Would you like to see them before places like New York or LA?  Lucky for you there is the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills.  There is a new film screened every week.  You can buy either a 1 month or 3 month subscription.  The 1 month will cost you $19 (less than $5 per film) and the 3 month will cost you $49 (a little more than $4 per film).

They did a great job remodeling the theater so not only will you see cool new indie films but you will see them in style!  Check out the web site for more info:

Also, you can check for free passes!  I recently saw "The Trials of Muhammad Ali" via Film Obsession at the Maple for the Gathr series and I saw a very good film and had a great time doing it, win/win!!!!!

The Trials of Muhammad Ali – A Film Review by Mike D

The Trials of Muhammad Ali – A Film Review by Mike D

Greatness is not easy.  Greatness is tested and greatness must persevere.  In this case we are talking about the “greatest of all time,” Muhammad Ali.  With The Trials of Muhammad Ali, documentary film maker Bill Siegel delivers a heavyweight look into the literal and figurative trials that helped define Ali’s life and career.

Siegel eases us into the story by showing us 18 year old Cassius Marcellus Clay winning the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics.  Through clips of interviews with Clay himself and his family we see he was a good young man who loved to box.  Clay would turn pro and set his sights on becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.

In 1964, Clay accomplished his goal.  Clay had been courted by the Nation of Islam (NOI) for a few years but had not been granted membership.  Clay had met Malcom X (in Detroit) and was also inspired by the song “A White Man’s Heaven is a Black Man’s Hell” by Louis Farrakhan.  He became increasingly enthralled with the NOI’s message of segregation and the importance of ending the white man’s power over the black man. 

Why did the Nation’s message take such a hold of the young Clay?  The movie doesn’t really address it and that is a shame because it would be fascinating to know.  Not providing that info did not diminish the quality of the narrative but the inclusion of it would only have made it better.  The movie made it quite clear though that neither Clay’s parents nor the members of his management team (11 white businessmen from his home town of Louisville) had the champ’s ear any longer.

Clay was officially admitted into the NOI and initially had his name initially changed to Cassius X.  Soon after that the leader of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad announced that Clay’s new name would be Muhammad Ali.  This is when his first trial would begin, his trial of public opinion.

His name change really riled up a lot of feathers.  Many reporters and announcers didn’t use his new name and some outright refused to call him Muhammad Ali.  Ali made it worse by adopting a “white man is the devil” approach.  There is a powerful clip of Ali appearing on the David Frost Show and calling Frost the devil to his face. 

There were a lot of clips of former NOI members talking about their memories of Ali and their role in his life.  The documentary gives the impression that although Ali did believe in what he was doing, he sure seemed like he was being led by the NOI and that they were using him, being such a public figure, to promote their agenda.

The fact is, this first trial of his, the trial in the court of public opinion will go on for as long as he is alive, probably even after.  He evoked such strong emotions and opinions from people, both for and against, that it will be a topic discussed for years to come.  The fact is though, the man changed his name so who among us has the right to tell the man no?  You may not like his in your face style but at the end of the day, isn’t it up to him what he wants to be called?

In 1966 Ali’s second trial began, this one literal.  Ali was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Vietnam War.  Ali refused to go, claiming “no Vietcong ever called me nigger.”  Ali, through interviews stated clearly he would not fight in the “white man’s war.” 

He requested to be considered a conscientious objector, claiming that the Qur’an prohibits a Muslim from fighting in a war that is not declared by Allah.  The court felt that he was objecting to the war based on racial grounds and not religious and therefore denied his request and ordered him to report for service.  He refused and was sentenced to 5 years in Jail and a $10,000 fine.  Coincidentally, this would have been the same punishment served as his spiritual mentor Elijah Muhammad.  Ali’s case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

This trial really infuriated people.  Jackie Robinson said,” He made American money but he won’t fight for America?”  Boxing legend Joe Louis said,” He doesn’t deserve the honor to be called champion.”  Ali was not only stripped of his title but his boxing licenses were revoked. 

Ali goes on the lecture circuit where he really refines his public speaking ability. He always had a natural charisma and larger than life personality but the movie seems to indicate that this is where he polished those skills and is where he really learned how to truly captivate people with not only what he said but HOW he said it.

One of the things this film does really well, which is very important for documentaries, is that it presents the information to you and allows you to formulate your own opinion.  The truth is that this film does leave a little on the plate so to speak, it leaves you wanting to know more.  You have to remind yourself that this is NOT a full biopic on Ali, merely a focus on his trials.

The fact is, as Ali’s daughter Hana put it, Muhammad Ali should be considered the 8th Wonder of the World.  He is larger than life and in fact his legacy will live much many generations past him.  There is no way any film could satiate on such a hearty subject but for the narrow focus of The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Bill Siegel delivers a complete gem.

I would give this film 4 out of 5 stars.  It entertains, educates and promotes discussion, everything you could ask for in a documentary.

You can check out a shnazzier version of this review, along with other reviews, give-a-ways and free movie passes at

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Who should play Wonder Woman? did a piece on who could/should play the iconic role of Wonder Woman in the upcoming (2017) Justice League movie.  I'm going to share my thoughts on their strongest choices and then offer one of my own. The thing about Wonder Woman is that she is intelligent, strong and beautiful so clearly an actress would have to be all three things as well.

Their List:
1)  Morena Baccarin who is known for her role as Inara the companion from Firefly.  There she excelled at displaying exotic beauty and intelligence and was a strong female character.  She is also quite beautiful and strong in her current role on the hugely successful Homeland.  She is a very good choice and has many positive qualities that she would bring to the character but I think the biggest drawback is that she is not so physically imposing and I am not sure how believable she would be as a butt kicking super hero.  Also, she might be too big of a name and people might see too much of her and not enough of Wonder Woman.

2) Gina Carano who is a former MMA fighter and american Gladiator turned actress.  She is physically imposing and a legitimate butt kicker.  She is smoking hot and looks like a believable Amazon.  Her acting leaves a little something to be desired though.  She was adequate in the 2011 film Haywire where she played an assassin.  Her delivery of lines was very monotone and dry and I question whether she could show enough emotional vulnerability that comes along with Wonder Woman as well.  Out of all the candidates she physically is the most believable Wonder Woman but her limited acting skills I think are a bit too limited.  I really hope she doesn't read this because she would kick my ass in no time flat.

3)  Jaimie alexander who played Lady Sif in Thor and will reprise that role in the upcoming sequel Thor: The Dark World.  She plays a warrior and did a great job in the first Thor film.  She is a close friend of Thor and gets instant credibility by being able to fight side by side with him.  From what I hear she will have an even bigger role in the sequel.  The problem here is that she is already associated with being another super hero and that might hinder the audiences ability to take her seriously as Wonder Woman.  Ryan Renolds struggled with the transition from Deadpool to Green Lantern.  There was even concern about Chris Evans playing Captain America since he had already played the Human Torch Johnny Storm.  Obviously it worked out well for Evans but it took Joss Whedon's writing and a great ensemble cast to solidify that.  His first role as Cap in Captain America: The First Avenger was rough.

They have 4 more candidates but you can check out the link at the end of the post to see the rest of their options.  I would like to share my choice for you now.

Drum roll please, my choice to play Wonder Woman in the upcoming Justice League movie and/or TV show if they can ever get their act together is..................Olivia Munn!  Yes, you read correctly, the current co-star of HBO's The Newsroom is my choice to play Wonder Woman.  She has the exotic beauty, she has shoulder length jet black hair and could easily grow it out to play the iconic hero and she has an amazing body and would look absolutely phenomenal in the costume.  From her time on Attack of the Show and The Daily Show we see she has the intelligence and the humor to bring to the role.  She has enough geek cred where the audience would totally accept her as Wonder Woman but she isn't so well known that she would over shadow the character.

As Sloan Sabbith on The Newsroom she shows us that she can be a physically imposing presence and psychologically intimidate people as well.  Conversely she also displays a completely credible emotionally vulnerable side which is a part of Wonder Woman as well.  The show is 10 episodes per season and are all shot at once so I'm sure she could be available for shooting a Wonder Woman project.

Well, what do you think of my choice?  do you think one of Screen Rant's choices are better?  Do you have a choice of your own that you think would be best?  Please leave a comment to let me know.

You can check out Screen Rant's other choices here:

Monday, August 5, 2013

(Wishing I were) Oblivious to Oblivion

I just watched the movie Oblivion starring Tom Cruise and it was just plain awful.  It is strange because the movie actually has a lot of elements that should have made it a very enjoyable post-apocalyptic sci-fi film but it just fell flat.  I was actively rooting for the film to be over and when it indeed was over I felt a sense of relief.  Not relief as in plot resolution rather relief from the fact that I no longer had to watch it.

The main problem with the film was the first hour.  There was wayyyyyyyyyyy too much exposition, minimum half an hour too much of it.  Also the film just didn't give us much besides Tom Cruise flying around in a really cool ship and coming home to a stepford-esque mission partner.  I was bored to tears.  Did it help that I was coming down from a really nice wine buzz?  No.  Did it create the problem?  No.  The director Joseph Kosinski is at fault for dragging out the film for so long that by the time the real action kicked in and the significant plot points were revealed I just simply didn't care anymore.  This is no surprise as Koinski's most notable work pryor to this was Tron: Legacy which also was weak in plot and in general all sizzle and no steak.

Normally the eye candy can help in a situation like this but not even a naked Andrea Riseborough swimming in a clear pool helped all that much.  I was looking forward to Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) but she added absolutely nothing to the film and didn't even come close to saving it for me.  At least Andrea got naked and made some effort!

And Seriosly Kosinski, how are you going to have the King Slayer himself, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister from HBO's Game of Thrones) and have him have such an insignificant part.  Use your resources man, you had Morgan Freeman for crying out loud and you turned him into a cheap Morpheus rip off.  I seriously though he was going to offer Tom Cruise's character a choice between a red and blue pill at any moment.

On a scale from 1 to five with 1 being catch it on cable and 5 being full price in the theaters, I give it 1.5/5 stars and that is only on the condition that you skip the first 45 minutes and catch up from there.  That's why I wish I would have been oblivious to Oblivion.

Friday, August 2, 2013

AMC Theaters: Doing It Right!

AMC Theaters aren't just good, they are good for you.  Especially if you have a special needs child. AMC has a wonderful program called Sensory Friendly Films where kids are encouraged to get up and dance,walk, shout or sing!  This program is run in conjunction with the Autism Society of America.

The program provides a special opportunity for families to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment. The auditoriums dedicated to the program have their lights up, the sound turned down so the children and their families are free to enjoy the movie as they want/need to.  

This is a nationwide program and we are fortunate to have three participating theaters in the Metro Detroit Area:  The AMC Forum 30, AMC Gratiot 21 and the AMC Livonia 20.

The program run approximately once a month.  The next showing is The Smurfs 2.  According to AMC's web site, all showings are at 10a.m. local time.  For more information on this program, please go to

There are many choices for going to the movies but I think this is a pretty good reason to give AMC Theaters a shot, especially if you have not already.