You've probably seen a film before.  You've probably seen a film you've really liked and a film you've really disliked.  Due to that, you've probably developed a film bias - so have we.  Our team of reviewers present to you short, relevant, bite-sized film reviews not written from memory but from a recent viewing.  We're not here to be taken as professional film snobs, although this is a format of a professional nature.  If you don't agree with us, that's great, that's not the point.  Remember, we're not film critics.  Do you have a film bias?  Then join us!
 

Film Bias Reviews Breakdown

Reviews at Film Bias are considered "micro reviews" that quickly give information and opinion about a film in less than than five minutes.  The goal here is to provide a quick reference guide if you're looking for something to watch tonight.  In addition to each micro review, Film Bias uses a three grade scoring system.

Green: This film is great, well worth a watch.  It doesn't mean a film is perfect but it is certainly worth viewing and is recommended.
Yellow: Most films receive this grade.  Nothing spectacular but a decent flick.  An average movie that provides good entertainment.
Red: A waste of your time and money.  Films we don't like or find unentertaining receive this grade.

Film Bias scoring grades will be provided at the beginning of each review.  Remember, the review is more detailed and important than a simple score.  Don't agree with a film's bias? Then join us and review it yourself!
 

Quick Link to the Five Most Recent Reviews

Furious 7 (2015)
Fisher King, The (1991)
Apollo 18 (2011)
Rampart (2011)
Lone Ranger, The (2013)
 

Meet the Biased

     
David Lundin, Jr.
insanedavid@classicplastic.net
     

 

Reviews Alphabetized by Film Title
 

Apollo 18 (2011)
-David Lundin, Jr. 01/04/2014

Although the Apollo 18 moon landing was scrapped and never occurred, Apollo 18 presents the mission that never was as a found-footage documentary.  Initially I was intrigued and excited at the prospect of this film as I'm a space junkie and it had been a long time since a science fiction heavy film has been released, since audiences seem to gravitate more toward science fantasy right now - which is why we had those two messy Star Trek films recently but that's another review.  Apollo 18 begins with archival home videos of the three Apollo 18 astronauts, which all look like something right out of a NASA documentary.  Their mission, taking place in 1974, is to land on the lunar surface and install a radar array as part of a nuclear attack advance warning system.  Disguised from the public as a simple satellite launch, everything goes according to mission specifications until things begin to go awry during their second moon walk.  A Soviet LK lander is discovered, a craft that was never thought to have been operational, along with the remains of its crew.  As subsequent extra-vehicular activities are performed it becomes more and more apparent that it's not only the public that is being deceived about the true objective of this Department of Defense sponsored mission.  I really like this film due to how hard it tries to make everything look like old NASA footage.  If you've watched enough moon walks and space exploration videos from around this era and found that interesting then you'll have a good time with Apollo 18.  Unfortunately this film was critically panned, unfairly panned to be honest, as it delivers exactly what it promises: an old-fashioned science fiction thriller that plays up the isolation of space travel.  Very much recommended if you're up for turning the lights down, the sound up and watching science fiction presented as science fact.
 

Barton Fink (1991)
-David Lundin, Jr. 06/22/2013

It's 1941 and playwright Barton Fink is the toast of Broadway.  Capitol Pictures sends word that they would like to hire him as a screenwriter and offers him one thousand dollars a week to come to Hollywood and write for them.  Reluctantly Barton agrees and takes up temporary residence at the run-down Hotel Earle, trying in some small part to remain away from the glitz of Hollywood and close to the common man, who he cites as his inspiration.  There he first encounters his neighbor Charlie Meadows.  A giant of a man, intimidating at first although strangely welcoming and relaxed, Charlie ends up becoming Barton's only real friend in Hollywood.  Barton is set up to write a wrestling picture, something he knows nothing about, leading to a long spat of writer's block.  It's hard to say much more than that without giving away details as a big part of Barton Fink is how you perceive what you experience.  The Coen brothers rarely serve it up straight and Barton Fink is no exception although this is a lot less zany and a little more abstract than some of their other, more well-known work.  I enjoyed Barton Fink since to me this movie is about being a writer and the concessions writer's make when they think they know more about their audience than their audience knows about themselves.  This rarely comes to any sort of fruition and due to that I can relate in some small part to the things that Barton Fink is subjected to.  Does anyone really know the common man more than anyone else?  Does one person know their audience more than anyone else does?  As crazy as things get there are parts in this film that really made me stop and think and continue to think after the film was over; that's saying a lot.
 

F/X (1986)
-David Lundin, Jr. 06/26/2013

It's the great action film with the possibly poorly chosen title.  Rollie Tyler is a special effects artist for low budget hack and slash films.  The Department of Justice contacts Rollie with an offer he simply cannot refuse: $30,000 to assist them in staging a mock assassination.  A mafia hitman is preparing to testify against his organization but fears he will be assassinated before the trial so the plan is to make the mob assume that he has already been killed.  Rollie is considered the best in his field and everything seems to be rolling along fine, at first.  At the last minute Rollie is tasked with performing the staged hit himself, which ends up going spectacularly wrong, at least for Rollie.  Now with both the police and the mob after him, Rollie must go on the run, using his knowledge of special effects techniques to keep him one step ahead of his assailants.  He finds an ally in a down on his luck police detective and the two of them must work together to bring the conspiracy to a close.  There are a lot of 1980's action thrillers that really don't deliver but F/X is an exception.  So much of this film is centered around the small cast of characters and they are what power the movie, rather than having the movie drag them along.  Seek this one out if you haven't seen it as it's quite rare to find an excellent action movie from around this time that not many have heard of.  F/X was, however, successful enough to warrant a sequel and an excellent television series that ran for two seasons.
 

Cleanflix (2009)
-David Lundin, Jr. 01/27/2013

The MPAA rates films for a reason, or at least it did until a specific Mel Gibson film made the R rating worthless but that's another story.  Clean Flicks was a company founded to edit content inappropriate for children out of a litany of popular films.  They found their greatest success in Utah with films edited "clean" of sexual scenes, nudity, profanity and some minor violence.  As is expected, chopping up, reduplicating and distributing Hollywood films isn't the best idea from a legal standpoint.  This documentary covers the rise and fall of Clean Flicks as well as the rise, fall, rise and fall again of copycat companies.  More than anything, this documentary shows the flat out absurdity of some peoples beliefs.  You can let your kids see people get blown up and shot all they want but how dare you let them see a bare ass - or hear someone say "damn."  However the most ironic thing about this entire film is how patrons of the Clean Flicks type stores feel the creators and distributors of said media are fighting some wholesome good fight.  In reality it seems the founders of Clean Flicks bow down to nothing but the the unassailable might of money.  As for one of the copycats, well, his interests in life are even more disturbing.  Of all the people in the film the only one I didn't think any ill of was an independent video store owner that closed shop when distribution was found illegal.  He was just a regular guy with a video store that listened to his customers and provided them what they wanted.  Things run a little long toward the end as final details of the companies and personalities are put to bed but the whole documentary serves as a reminder of why you shouldn't try to profit off other's work.  Oh, and why I'll never go to Utah.
 

Fisher King, The (1991)
-David Lundin, Jr. 04/11/2014

Jeff Bridges plays radio shock-jock Jack Lucas whom on the eve of the zenith of his career inadvertently causes a listener of his radio program to go on a shooting spree at an upscale New York bar.  The event prompts him to spiral downhill, ultimately attempting to take his own life years later.  However he is interrupted not once but twice, the first time by neighborhood thugs whom aim to kill him themselves, and later by a homeless man played by Robin Williams who saves his life.  It is revealed that Williams' character, Parry, was once an educator of prominence who lost his wife in the bar shooting, causing him to recede into a deep mental depression.  Once awakened Parry becomes obsessed with the tale of The Fisher King, the last keeper of the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend.  Feeling remorse for the damage he inadvertently caused to Parry's life, Jack attempts to break Parry free of his mental state and reclaim the life he once had.  A lot of people I talk with tend to really like this movie and enjoy the films of Terry Gilliam.  Although I continue to give his films the chances they deserve, I have yet to come back with a film I can recommend and at best maybe enjoy a bit.  The Fisher King comes up short yet again, mainly because of just how poorly it is shot and paced.  Jeff Bridges gives the best performance possible with the material he is given to work with.  Robin Williams is more inconsistent but there are some truly genuine moments where he really shines.  However the film around them seems to be at constant odds with where it wants to go, how fast it wants to move, and the mood it wants to set.  It's not even randomly consistent enough to be called schizophrenic.  The biggest problem I have with The Fisher King is it just goes on too long.  Perry's delusions play out for far longer than they have to and ultimately detract from what the film it supposed to be about - a man redeeming himself in the course of finding redemption for someone he wronged.  The direction here seems to forget that and instead we have ten minutes of chasing a flaming horseman through a park or a large scale spontanious waltz in the middle of Grand Central Terminal.  I know these are the things that make a Terry Gilliam film just that, however they are the same things that make me tend not to like Terry Gilliam films.  I really wanted to like this one but it's a ten-minute story with two hours of fluff tacked onto it.
 

Furious 7 (2015)
-David Lundin, Jr. 05/02/2015

For many years I have been a defender of the Fast and Furious series as the last remaining facet of the action films of the 1980's and early 1990's.  The fast cars, quick chases, gratuitous explosions, fights with minimal injuries and cheesy one-liners were all but gone from movies by the turn of the century.  However when The Fast and The Furious was released in 2001 it filled that void.  The Furious movies were where you went when you wanted to have fun.  Over the years the series as reinvented itself every now and then in a very welcome attempt to keep its formula fresh.  There have been some misses, I generally didn't care for Furious 6, however this latest installment moves more into the territory of a spy thriller and does so far more successfully than the previous outing.  Jason Statham is in the role of the villain this time around, playing Deckard Shaw, the older brother of Furious 6's main baddie.  In a classic story of revenge Deckard is out to settle the score with Dominic Toretto's team for leaving his brother on the edge of death.  As opposed to Fast Five's heist-centric plot and Furious 6's constant betrayals, Furious 7 cuts right to the chase and presents the audience with a straight up "find the bad guy, kill the bad guy." story.  Of course there are diversions here and there that set up great action scenes that have more punch than the previous film and feel more realistic within the bounds of an over-the-top action movie.  All the remaining cast post Tokyo Drift (third in the shooting sequence, sixth in the film chronology) are back including a nice throwback to the original movie.  I admire this installment for stepping away from the obligatory street race scene as by now there have been more than enough of them in the franchise.  Instead, Furious 7 concentrates on what we truly care about at this point, the characters and their relationships with one another.  These movies are fun, often dramatic at times, but fun first and foremost.  It is in that fun that I find these movies extremely entertaining and I have to say that Furious 7 has replaced 2 Fast 2 Furious as my favorite of the series due to that sense of fun and entertainment.

Of course something must be said about the tragic and sudden death of Paul Walker during a break from filming half way through Furious 7.  Filming for Walker's scenes was completed using a combination of careful camera angles with body doubles, including Walker's brothers, as well as computer-generated techniques to replicate his face and voice.  All of this is carried out perfectly and it is as if Paul Walker is portraying Brian O'Conner throughout the entire film.  The ending scene is the most tasteful and bittersweet tribute I have ever witnessed to an actor taken from us far too early.  I cannot think of a moment when I have felt so somber in a theater, so reflective, or so choked up as the closing moments in Furious 7.  Vin Diesel gives a eulogy both as himself and as Dominic Toretto all in the same breath and I have never felt so at peace with the passing of someone whose departure honestly tore me up inside.  Those who know me know that I have always regarded Paul Walker as my favorite actor of my filmgoing era and also that I have always felt he was never given the praise that he deserved for his performances.  Brian O'Conner was easily the most well-known of his roles and both Brian and Paul leave us in Furious 7 looking out the window with a smile and driving off into the sunset on an open road, in a white Supra MK4 that Walker actually owned.  There couldn't have been a more fitting tribute and that's the way I'll always remember the late Paul Walker.
 

Game, The (1997)
-David Lundin, Jr. 06/29/2013

What do you get for the man that has everything?  Nicholas Van Orton is an incredibly successful investment banker but he's successful at the expense of those around him.  His life is one of wealth and privilege but at the same time isolation and strangeness.  His cold demeanor and harsh attitude tend to shutter personal relationships, including those involving his estranged brother and ex-wife.  The only thread of humanity he has left seems to be the memory of his father committing suicide on his 48th birthday, an occasion for Nicholas in which the film begins on.  During the uncomfortable yearly routine of a birthday dinner with his brother, he is presented with a gift certificate for a special game of sorts from a company called Consumer Recreation Services, or CRS.  No other details are given and eventually Nicholas is gently pushed to the offices of CRS and submits to the profile tests and physical examinations that will eventually begin his game, although exactly what the game is and what it entails is never explained.  A short while later he receives a call from CRS stating that he failed to pass their screening and his application has been rejected.  It doesn't take Nicholas long to realize that this was in fact the first part of the game and things are already well underway.  The game itself involves all aspects of the real world, where anyone on the street, any chance encounter, could effect the outcome.  Even worse it seems that things aren't exactly on the up and up with CRS and Nicholas' life and lifestyle may very well become unraveled before his eyes.

The Game is one of those rare thrillers that never lets up long enough for the audience to fully predict the next move.  It lets you take a breather every now and again and start to get settled in, only to briskly dash away once more.  What is real and what is part of the game itself?  This is a question that you will constantly be asking yourself and because of that it becomes rather easy to identify with Nicholas although he begins in such a different life situation than the majority of the audience.  It's also refreshing to see a film like this shot in San Francisco and I believe it adds an additional level of unfamiliarity to the suspense thriller as so many of them tend to take place in either Los Angeles or New York.  It's not often that a thriller comes along that remains both fast paced and unpredictable but The Game holds up in both these factors and does so until the end - and I do mean right until the end, as up until the credits roll it still feels like the movie might turn everything upside down just one more time.  Check this one out, it's a great time.
 

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
-David Lundin, Jr. 06/30/2013

The dark edge of the world of high stress real estate takes center stage in this spectacular film with an equally incredible cast.  At its core the film is about two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen but things aren't that simple.  Working out of a small office in Chicago, the men are given leads on potential investors for the titular Glengarry Highlands development.  Although all four of them have had long careers with many high points over their tenures, things aren't going all that great as their office manager tends to only distribute leads that have next to no chance of yielding any investments.  At the start of the film a corporate shill arrives to harshly notify the staff that only the two top sellers at the end of the month will retain their jobs while the other two will be cut loose.  What follows is a story of desperation and futility among a group of men with whom being underhanded, dishonest, immoral, and conniving come as a way of business and also in some regard, a way of life.  Glengarry Glen Ross is what is usually referred to as an actor's movie.  The cast is spectacular with Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin and Alan Arkin - always a favorite of mine.  The dialogue alone would make this film better than almost anything else you may have seen but it is also shot in such a way that one really does feel as if they're right there in this seedy underworld of men in suits.  There is a real level of suspense and uncertainty throughout the film and it never lets up until the credits roll; a very refreshing suspenseful film that doesn't pull any punches.  It is films like this that really show how intense and fulfilling the movegoing experience can be when you have great writing combined with great performances.  There is no other film I have ever had the great pleasure and privilege of watching that grabs you and pulls you along through a story, rather than simply laying it out in front of you to fill in a couple hours, better than Glengarry Glen Ross.  The story doesn't simply go through the motions, it yanks you right into events and occurrences and makes you feel as if you are witnessing a real point and time in the character's lives.  I cannot recommend Glengarry Glen Ross enough.
 

Good Day To Die Hard, A (2013)
-David Lundin, Jr. 04/04/2013

John McClane takes a fifth crack at saving the world in this fourth sequel to the action fan favorite Die Hard.  John's son is arrested in Russia prompting his father, who hasn't spoken with him in years, to fly half way across the globe to see if he can help.  Once arriving John discovers that his son is actually a CIA operative under deep cover and John's visit leads to his son's mission being compromised, leaving them both out in the cold.  I'll be blunt, this is the most hokey set up for an action film I have ever heard, especially for a franchise as long running as Die Hard.  This sounds more like the opening for an episode of MacGyver than a feature length film.  In fact the plot never really goes anywhere coherently and dissolves into the double cross, triple cross, quadruple cross rhetoric that reeks of bad script writing.  John's son seems more like 24's Jack Bauer than a McClane and there was even early speculation that this film was to be a Die Hard and 24 crossover movie.  Honestly I think the speculation was correct as this film feels less like a Die Hard movie and more like John McClane guest starring on an episode of 24.  Even John's son goes by the name Jack, his middle name, for the majority of the film.  This really is a 24 feature film with John McClane thrown haphazardly into the narrative and 24 is a program I've never really been a fan of.

However the paper thin story and poor character development, even when we've had decades to get to know John McClane, are nothing compared to how poorly this movie is filmed.  The majority of the film was shot using handheld cameras.  The idea was to film the action on foot to better convey the feeling of John being outside his element.  That's fine and good but the problem here is John McClane is never outside of his element, that's why he's John McClane.  Now for the on foot segments, when moving around, I can understand shooting those on the fly with handheld cameras.  However car chases, scenes with no movement and just dialogue, framing shots to introduce locations - all of it is shot with handheld cameras.  Imagine a scene of three people standing in a room and talking.  Now imagine that scene filmed by someone walking around back and forth with the camera, bobbing it up and down and moving for no reason.  That's the first two thirds of A Good Day To Die Hard.  Now to me that feels like how the TV show 24 was shot but that's on a television screen, this is a feature film.  I don't tend to get vertigo in theaters but to be honest I was feeling pretty sick about forty minutes into this film from the camera work, or lack there of.  Heck, I ended up having to look at the floor of the theater a few times to regain my bearings.  It's not even the dreaded "shaky cam" with this one, more like a deliberate drive to move the camera around as much as possible even when at rest.  Really this is a shame since a cool movie was there with all the hallmarks of an action flick, especially that of a Die Hard movie: crazy chases, big explosions, interesting set pieces, great one-liners and a frenzied pace.  They really did make a great looking film, you just don't get a chance to see it since that's not what the cameras were recording.  Things get much better during the last third when the cameras finally pull back and calm down but it just makes the earlier scenes an even bigger disappointment.  As it stands it could have been far worse but A Good Day To Die Hard is a definite step backward from the previous film, Live Free Or Die Hard, regardless of its mixed opinion.  At least with that movie you could see what was going on.
 

Hot Coffee (2011)
-David Lundin, Jr. 06/30/2013

I think we all have heard the story about the elderly woman who spilled a cup of McDonald's coffee on her lap, got burned, sued McDonald's for millions of dollars and won.  At least that's the story we've all heard.  That incident and the media circus that moved the blame away from the accused and pushed it all off on the victim begins this documentary on big business, the civil justice system and how we as citizens and consumers are forced to sign away our constitutional rights in the modern world.  Frivolous lawsuits became a buzzword for a few years shortly after the spill heard 'round the world but really how many of the lawsuits deemed as such really go to court?  Hot Coffee examines the civil justice system and how it exists as a liaison to protect the every day person from private and corporate entities when they have been wronged.  It provides in simple, clear and honest detail how said businesses have warped our rights to that protection.  The hot, no pun intended, issue for me here was mandatory arbitration.  Mandatory arbitration is something that has become prevalent in nearly every form of business and service in this country and prevents you as a consumer from getting your day in a public court.  Instead you are sent to a behind closed doors court appointed by the entity that wronged you, essentially leading to a backroom trial.  If anything Hot Coffee shows how little the regular citizen knows about how frequently they sign away their rights.  I almost took a point down for a tinge of anti-Republican sentiment near the midpoint but the documentary got back to splitting right down the middle and concentrating on the facts, leading to my recommendation.  This film made me remember why I wanted to be a congressman so many years ago, to be able to stand up for the regular guy when they are wronged.  If anything, this documentary will make you think more about the fine print, thinking for yourself, and seeking out facts in the face of media blitzes and assumed government organizations.
 

Lone Ranger, The (2013)
-David Lundin, Jr. 11/11/2013

After escaping development hell due to budgetary concerns, Armie Hammer was finally able to don the mask of the last Texas ranger and lead the fight for law and order in the early West.  When the film was announced I was initially very interested until I learned that it would be headed up by Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer, the force behind the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.  As loved as those films are, by nearly everyone it seems, I have never cared for them even as popcorn swashbuckling affairs.  When it was announced Johnny Depp would indeed be starring as Tonto, with top billing none the less, I became even less enthusiastic.  However the trailers looked interesting and upon finally getting to a screening of the film I have to say this is not only one of the most entertaining films of this year but one of the best modern westerns ever put to film.  The film's story and narration are told by an elderly Tonto to a young boy already familiar with the legend of The Lone Ranger.  This is interesting as it allows the film to be not only an origin story but also to turn preconceptions about our hero on their head and allow the narrative to shift around as it is being told by an aging man.  There aren't many films that utilize an unreliable storyteller but it works here wonderfully, going one step further to also present the tale from the distinct perspective of a character.

Finding the audience for this film, however, is understandably difficult.  Unlike the Pirates films, The Lone Ranger doesn't attempt pull you along for a good time as part of an exciting ride from one spectacle to the next.  This is a classic, sometimes slow moving and very gritty, western that truly skews for an older audience.  This comes from the comedy in the film not being used used to simply jump from one joke to the next but rather to break up the serious nature and mood of the events that are taking place.  Honestly this movie is pretty dark and fairly graphic, it really pulls no punches in that when people die, they die terribly and those around them truly morn and feel lost.  Comic relief isn't shoved down the viewer's throat immediately after a dramatic scene.  Time is given to mourn, to be serious, and then after pondering those feelings the comedy pulls you back out of it.  Without the slapstick action and the sprinkling of comedic exchanges, this film would simply be a depressing tale of murder and exploitation in the Old West.  As for the action scenes, they are simply superb and don't stand out from the rest of the film as much as one would think they should.  That's one of the biggest reasons I like The Lone Ranger, it never feels as if it's going through the paces or knocking you around from one set piece of the next.  No matter how big a contrast the individual parts of this film may be on paper they are woven together in such a way that they create a seamless, complete package.  As for Johnny Depp, I was simply blown away by his portrayal of Tonto at two different points in life and Armie Hammer is incredible as John Reid / The Lone Ranger.  Hans Zimmer's respectful treatment of Gioachino Rossini's "William Tell Overture" in the over the top closing sequence is one of the grandest arrangements of music in film in the past decade.  This is the dramatic yet comedic and entertaining western that I had been waiting for.  This is the film that not only pays homage to the traditions and roots of The Lone Ranger as a character but to the action and entertainment of the classic television series "The Wild, Wild West."  Most critics swept this one under the rug but that must have been where their heads were when they should have been watching this movie.  The Lone Ranger gets my highest recommendation - this is what the sequel to The Mast of Zorro should have been.
 

Iron Man 3 (2013)
-David Lundin, Jr. 02/03/2013

Finally a true Iron Man sequel that isn't an over two hour long advertisement and lead in for another Marvel Cinematic Universe film!  For Tony Stark's latest outing under the fabled armor, directing duties were transferred over to Shane Black, most well known to me as the screenwriter for the first two Lethal Weapon films as well as one of my favorite action movies, Last Action Hero.  While enjoyable and visually pleasing, Iron Man 2 was fairly light on being a movie primarily featuring Iron Man.  The third installment does a lot to correct this and keeps itself from feeling like a sequel to The Avengers while using the events from the end of The Avengers as a catalyst for a new character flaw in Tony Stark.  This adds a new layer of interest to a character that the film going audience has become quite familiar with over the recent years, which allowed me to remain engaged throughout the film.  Things move at a brisk pace, even when it seems like the movie is completely coming to a halt and action scenes are plentiful throughout.  One could say there's enough action here to fill in the slow parts of the previous film in addition to this movie, there's that much action to spare.  Iron Man 3 is not without its flaws, the largest being that for much of the movie Tony Stark isn't even inside an Iron Man suit, instead controlling them by means of remote for the majority of the action.  Without a character that you like being in the line of fire, triumphing over evil, and all that other action hero type stuff, a key component of what makes an action scene thrilling is missing.  It really hurt my suspension of disbelief toward the end of the film as now this was just a bunch of empty hardware flying around in the face of danger, rather then the titular character.  At the end of the day though this is still a decent action flick, well worth seeing, and keeps the franchise from getting too far out there - restoring some of the realism that was missing in the previous film.  It's a little hard to shake off some of the "Regular Man" vibe but I can give this one a slight recommendation.
 

Magic of Flight, The (1996)
-David Lundin, Jr. 02/03/2013

An IMAX oldie from the era before the IMAX experience was primarily utilized for showing the latest Hollywood CG blockbuster.  Honestly I'm guessing even when this one was originally released most viewers would rather have seen something with more substance.  At its core The Magic of Flight is a very brief documentary on the Blue Angels aerobatic demonstration squadron but only showcases the team in the era of which it was filmed.  A couple other aerobatic pilots are showcased, even more briefly, and there is a presentation on the early history of flight that is even briefer still.  Essential basics of flight control axes and principles of lift are covered for a few minutes but so little is shown and explained, that you could probably gather more information by looking at a single page of any book on aircraft.  The biggest disappointment, however, is how little of the Blue Angels performance is captured in an IMAX film primarily featuring the Blue Angels.  Even worse is that more than half the film isn't even presented in full screen, instead we are given a tiny little box with video that looks like it was shot with a camcorder.  Most of the true IMAX shots don't even have to do with the Blue Angels and are the usual stock IMAX passes recorded from light aircraft or helicopter, slowly flying over rivers and trees.  Granted these are some calming and beautiful shots but they don't fit in with the rest of the film.  With a running time of less than forty minutes one would think there would be enough, you know, Blue Angels footage to make this interesting or at least engaging.  Instead we get a film that mostly consists of below standard quality film scenes, IMAX flight footage that could be considered stock, brief historical commentaries that come across like cutting room rejects from The History Channel, lots of standard frame shots inside buildings and a very few passes and formations shot in true IMAX perspective with the Blue Angels.  For a film titled "The Magic of Flight" it's amazing how much of this film is shot from the ground - showing things on the ground.  There is absolutely no immersion in this film, which is what IMAX is supposed to be all about.
 

Ramen Girl, The (2009)
-David Lundin, Jr. 03/27/2013

The mysticism of a bowl of noodles is brought to the forefront in this often overlooked, often uncategorized, often unknown film.  After being abruptly abandoned in Tokyo by her boyfriend, a young woman stumbles upon a local ramen shop and sees it as an opportunity to turn her life around.  I'll be honest, the performances of the late Brittany Murphy were always hit or miss for me but here it really works out.  A big part of that is her character is supposed to stand out from the calm, established, old ways of the world around her.  In fact there are really only maybe six characters that speak English in this movie but don't let that turn you away as the performances are solid across the board.  Even those that check out once they realize a film has subtitles should still stick around as the dialogue only says what it needs to, which is fitting as it's how life goes for most of the people in the film.  The Ramen Girl really isn't a drama, it sure as heck isn't a comedy, I suppose it could be called a light cultural drama.  A key part of the story involves Japanese mysticism of spirit and emotion being represented in the craft of ramen making but it doesn't end up being fleshed out as much as I would like.  The true bulk of the story could have taken this and ran with it but the film often gets bogged down with side stories and additional scenarios that really only serve to slow things down.  I mean, we get some Hayao Miyazaki type peeks into a world beyond the normal but then reality abruptly sends the story elsewhere, away from the most unique and intriguing parts of the film.  What payoff the viewer is given quickly gets dashed away with an ending that feels rather rushed and doesn't fit with the feel of the film's last third.  I really shouldn't like this movie as much as I do, in all honesty I really shouldn't.  Still, I find it entertaining and consider it a "near miss" of a concept that could have been really cool and unique.  Since I first saw this film I've best described it as a live action Hayao Miyazaki film about a little ramen shop tucked away in a corner of modern Tokyo.  If that sounds interesting, The Ramen Girl is a decent way to spend a couple hours but don't expect anything spectacular.
 

Rampart (2011)
-David Lundin, Jr. 11/12/2013

Amidst the LAPD Rampart Division scandal in the late 1990's, Officer Dave Brown is videotaped violently assaulting a citizen after a traffic accident.  The incident is just the latest in an alleged string of protocol violations that litter his more than twenty year career with the police force.  Most notably he is notorious for allegedly murdering a rape suspect in the years prior, neither confirming nor denying his involvement to anyone, including his pair of rather dysfunctional families.  However violent and controversial Dave's actions are, the assistant district attorney and his superiors seem more concerned that he has been publicly outed as committing them rather than his career long abuse of the badge.  What should be the perfect set up for a dirty cop story, set against the background of one of the most interesting real life occurrences of police corruption, doesn't even attempt to utilize what it is sitting smack dab in the middle of.  Woody Harrelson puts in a decent if not solid performance as Dave Brown but the film never seems to give him anything interesting to do.  More often than not the hour and a half just slowly passes by as we follow Officer Brown from one barely connected scene to the next.  If Dave suffers from paranoia and dissolves to be constantly on the edge of insanity, the film doesn't need to be subject to the same thing.  A little coherency would go a long way as some parts of the film are almost as unwatchably unsettled as they are boring.  Near the end of the film Ice Cube steps in as a internal police department investigator and things begin, if only ever so briefly, to take on some form and interest.  That's all short lived however and if only to further run with the theme of the movie not knowing where it's going, we get an aprupt end.  Like crime drama about police corruption based on an actual event?  Go watch a season of the television series The Shield but don't waste your time with this snoozefest.
 

Real Steel (2011)
-David Lundin, Jr. 01/26/2013

Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots take to the big screen in this reasonably family friendly action film starring Hugh Jackman.  In a future where human boxing has been deemed too slow and boring, remote controlled robotic gladiators fight in the ring to provide the ultimate spectacle.  If you were to take Robot Jox and The Running Man and mash them together you'd probably get something like this.  Charlie is a down on his luck robotic boxing fighter trying to make his way in the world with very little cash.  He has a pretty rough life, owing debts he'll never be able to cover, until he reaches an arrangement that seems to solve all his problems.  In exchange for taking care of his estranged son Max for a few months, he gets the cash he needs to buy a new robot boxer.  Of course he blows this as well and while stealing parts at a robot junkyard, Max comes upon an antique robot boxer equipped with the ability to shadow movements it sees.  Max and Charlie use the recovered boxer, named Atom, to try to carve out a life for themselves.  Charlie trying to regain what he once was and Max to realize the potential within himself and his father.

If you've ever played the video games One Must Fall or Teleroboxer then you'll know exactly what to expect here.  The visuals are surprisingly good and the robot boxers themselves look as if they're real world, tangible machines.  In fact the most surprising thing about this film was how much it restrained itself from getting too over the top but still had great action.  You can actually see what is going on during the fights as overtly dramatic camera angles are left in the locker room, quite a rarity in films like this these days.  Max and Charlie have a modern estranged child and parent relationship that comes across as being believable but not melodramatic.  The dialogue doesn't pull any punches (no pun intended) which is refreshing and while I could consider this a family film, young teens are probably the youngest group this film should be directed toward.  There were a few moments where the dialogue started to drift into The Wizard territory (kids talking like high powered lawyers and adults talking like kids) but it never quite gets there and the pace moves along quickly enough to provide entertainment start to finish.
 

Ronin (1998)
-David Lundin, Jr. 03/14/2013

Director John Frankenheimer delivers what I've always considered the last great action thriller in this superb film.  Let's get this out of the way since this is the first Frankenheimer film I've covered for Film Bias, John Frankenheimer is my all time favorite director and his 1966 film Grand Prix is my second favorite film of all time.  Ronin is a fast paced crime thriller that pretty much every crime thriller since has attempted to duplicate in part or whole.  A group of troubleshooters for hire are brought together, their mission is to steal a briefcase of unknown origin and unknown content.  The cast is incredible with both Robert De Niro and Jean Reno giving amazing performances, Reno in particular portrays the most likable assassin you will ever see on film.  Yeah, I know he plays an assassin a lot but never like in Ronin, this is my favorite role for the veteran actor.  Skipp Sudduth, who plays the driver Larry, also has an amazing performance and nearly steals every scene he's in.  Of course the big draw for most will be the car chases, some of the greatest ever captured on film.  No one can direct cars like the late John Frankenheimer and Ronin is absolutely no exception.  In an era of special effects, computer graphics and green screen backdrops, Frankenheimer gives the audience real, live, actual car chases and crashes.  Nothing beats reality, plain and simple, something I wish a lot of current directors and filmmakers would learn.  It's not just the action or the cast or their performances or the direction but the entire film just works together so well.  It's so rare to see a film where everything fits together this well, where it remains as interesting five minutes in, as it does an hour in, to right up until the credits roll.  Perhaps it's because this is an old style, classic, hard crime thriller.  I'm always shocked at how relatively obscure this film is with the mainstream moviegoer.  It makes no sense to me why Ronin isn't on top film lists, at the very least for the decade in which it was released.
 

Street Fighter (1994)
-David Lundin, Jr. 06/30/2013

Video game movies are often a mixed bag, especially in the 1990's and when a movie was announced based upon the huge Street Fighter franchise (okay, let's be honest, it was really just SFII for all intents and purposes at the time) it sounded... interesting to say the least.  Although it was early in the genre of video game movies, most gamers had been severely let down by Super Mario Bros. a year before so going in expectations were mixed.  When the movie was release it was universally panned but in the years since I have become a bit of defender of this film as it's really not all that bad and does a decent job of converting the source material into some form of a cohesive story.  Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Guile, commander of the Allied Nations military force, and leads a rescue mission to free hostages taken by M. Bison, played by the late Raul Julia.  Where most movies based on a video game franchise spend over an hour framing out the reworked characters and world, Street Fighter drops you right into the action.  Characters are introduced throughout the movie, with a few differences here and there over their electronic counterparts but not enough to have to completely reinvent the wheel and have lengthy introductions.  This works great as everything is continuously moving along at a brisk pace.  Sure the writing and acting are nothing amazing but both are quite appropriate.  Street Fighter is campy, corny, colorful and most of all over the top - kind of like the video games.  This makes for a film fairly light on original story but big on fun and humor.  Some lines fall flat, making them even more entertaining, and the actors and costume designs are all fine for a big screen adaptation of a fighting game.  Street Fighter is a fun, engaging, cheesy action movie.  If you know me outside of Film Bias then you know that to me games, movies, and entertainment are all about having fun - which is exactly what this movie provides if you don't take it too seriously.  Although it's nothing spectacular, I do recommend giving this one a watch.
 

Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (2010)
-David Lundin, Jr. 01/28/2013

Flipping through Netflix can sometimes cause one to find films they wouldn't otherwise seek out, as was the case with the local video store a decade ago.  This film is one that stood out and while I probably wouldn't have picked it up in a video store, this type of film is what digital streaming really showcases.  Here we have both a documentary on the history of the Monopoly board game as well as a look at the world of professional Monopoly players.  That's right, there are professional Monopoly players but that shouldn't surprise anyone as Monopoly is a game, after all, so there has to be some kind of pinnacle to achieve.  The documentary and history portions of the film moved quickly and provided clean visuals and engaging graphics that did well to explain the origins of the game.  I mean, I think everyone has played Monopoly at one time or another and this is talked up quite a bit without it becoming overly repetitive.  Throughout the history lesson interviews and insights are given by top Monopoly players but these seem to be more on the fly than what comes from the usual documentary interviews.  The general feel is more like if you went to a Monopoly convention and met up with some experts on the show floor.

The central showpiece of the film is full coverage of the 2009 Monopoly World Championships.  This could be considered a mini documentary in itself as it follows the backstory and history of the top contenders in addition to their progress at the 2009 championships.  What I found incredible was how maniacal some of the participants are, with at least one gentleman being an outright whiny dick to all those around him.  These issues don't even really come up in the final games that count, it all has to do with early qualifying rounds.  Now the majority of the people in the film are regular folks that happen to really enjoy Monopoly and thought they would try for the world championships in addition to a few known Monopoly all stars.  These people seemed genuinely pleasant and had some interesting things to say about the game.  Of course both extremes can be found in any hobby or form of entertainment.  I'd say check this one out but watch out for that pesky Luxury Tax space.
 
 







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