Tag Archives: cinema

‘Mighty Oak’ collapses under its own weight


Mighty Oak

Directed by: Sean McNamara

Starring: Janel Parrish, Carlos PenaVega, Tommy Ragen, Alexa PenaVega, Levi Dylan, Raven-Symoné

Rated: PG-13 for thematic content involving substance abuse, language, some accident images and brief suggestive language

Available July 7 on: Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Sony PlayStation Video, Fandango NOW and more

Critical rating: 1½ stars out of 4

By Forrest Hartman

There’s nothing like a good music movie. The truly great ones – think “A Star Is Born,” “La La Land,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Almost Famous” and “Whiplash” – reinforce the importance of art. They can be inspiring, tragic, even funny; and they are always moving. But when a music movie stumbles, the result is often a forced, schlocky experience. 

With “Mighty Oak,” director Sean McNamara (“Soul Surfer”) and writer Matt Allen (“Four Christmases,” “Soul Surfer”) attempt a spiritual journey aimed at demonstrating the healing power of music. They instead deliver a melodramatic hodgepodge that’s light on authenticity and heavy on melodrama. 

The movie centers on Gina (Janel Parrish), the beautiful young manager of an up-and-coming rock band named Army of Love. The group is driven by the vocals and songwriting prowess of Gina’s brother, Vaughn (Levi Dylan). The remaining members — guitarist Pedro (Carlos PenaVega), drummer Alex (Nana Ghana) and bassist DB (Rodney Hicks) — are also extremely close. In fact, Gina has an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Pedro. Just when it seems that the band is about to explode, the entire crew is involved in a devastating auto accident that leaves Vaughn dead and Gina unable to move on. 

Gina emerges from her depression, however, when she meets Oak Scoggins (Tommy Ragen), a 4th grade prodigy who expresses a willingness to reunite Army of Love. The youngster reminds her so much of Vaughn that she can’t say, “No.” 

The setup is sweet, but it feels as forced as it sounds … especially when Gina and company begin to view Oak as a new version of Vaughn. Ragen is a real-life musician, and he is extremely talented for an 11-year-old. That said, he is 11, and his age is obvious each time he sings. That makes every sequence with him leading the band play like a novelty act on “America’s Got Talent.” It’s hard to believe Gina – or anyone else – would see Oak as a legitimate savior of the group. Since the entire movie is built on the premise that he is an apt replacement for Vaughn, it’s problematic. 

To their credit, Allen and McNamara have bigger ideas on their minds. They are clearly hoping viewers will ponder worthwhile topics ranging from mortality to mental illness. They also want us thinking about the connections that define human beings. These are worthwhile ideas, but they are presented so awkwardly that it’s tough to buy in, as many viewers will be busy analyzing the maudlin plot contrivances instead. 

Ragen, Parrish, PenaVega and the rest of the cast are charming enough, but some elements of the story are underdeveloped while others batter the audience like a sledgehammer. One doesn’t watch “Mighty Oak” so much as he/she is manipulated by it. Some filmmakers – Steven Spielberg chief amongst them – can get away with this type of manipulation. But Spielberg is nuanced. With “Mighty Oak,” one can feel McNamara and Allen tugging at the heartstrings, and it’s more uncomfortable than effective. 

Since Ragen is a charismatic presence and a talented musician, it feels curmudgeonly to critique his coming-out party. But the cruel fact is, “Mighty Oak” isn’t the best stage for his gifts. It’s easy to imagine him maturing into a formidable artist. When that happens, this film may be remembered as his big break, but it will not be remembered as his seminal work … nor that of anyone else involved.       

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Snapshot Review: ‘A Walk in the Woods’


Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star in

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star in “A Walk in the Woods.”

Photo courtesy of epk.tv

Critical rating: 3 stars out of four

Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“Big Miracle,” “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants”)

Starring: Robert Redford and Nick Nolte

Rated: R for language and some sexual references

The story: Screen adaptation of writer Bill Bryson’s bestselling, 1998 memoir, “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.” The film, like the book, focuses on Bryson’s attempt to walk the 2,200-mile trail with his friend Stephen Katz.

The scoop: A comedy for mature audiences that value strong acting and subtle humor over car crashes and a barrage of crass gags. “A Walk in the Woods” is consistently funny, but it’s also a reminder that older folks needn’t act as though their best days are behind them. The movie is a likable mix of comedy and drama made better by the wonderful performances of Nolte and Redford. Like a hiker on a long journey, director Ken Kwapis takes an easygoing pace, covering a lot of territory but taking time to breathe and enjoy the scenery.

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Winners of the 87th Academy Awards

The movie awards season has come to a close with the 87th Academy Awards ceremony. Following is a full list of winner.

Best Picture

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Best Actor

Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Best Actress

Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

Best Foreign Language Film


Best Animated Movie

“Big Hero Six”

Best Documentary Feature


Original Screenplay 

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game”

Best Original Song

“Glory” by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Achievement in Cinematography

Emannuel Lubezki, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Achievement in Visual Effects

Ian Hunter, Scott Fisher, Andrew Lockley and Paul Franklin, “Interstellar”

Achievement in Costume Design

Milena Canonero, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling 

Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Achievement in Production Design

Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Achievement in Sound Mixing

Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley, “Whiplash”

Achievement in Sound Editing

Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman, “American Sniper”

Achievement in Film Editing

Tom Cross, “Whiplash”

Best Live Action Short Film

“The Phone Call”

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”

Best Animated Short



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RiffTrax names the worst movies of the 1990s

The funny folks at RiffTrax have announced results of their fan poll for the worst movies of the 1990s. Among the 20 films that made the cut are “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “Spice World,” “Bio-Dome” and “Battlefield Earth.” Check out the FULL LIST.

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RiffTrax names worst films of 2014

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made RiffTrax's worst films of 2014 list."  Photo courtesy of Sony

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made RiffTrax’s worst films of 2014 list.”
Photo courtesy of Sony

The votes are in, and the good folks at RiffTrax have unveiled results for their worst films of 2014 poll.

I agree that most of these movies are lousy, although I did like two. That just shows that I’m an independent thinker, right?

Following is the RiffTrax List. You can visit their site for the full commentary. Also, be sure to vote in the current “Worst Movies of the ’90s” poll.



10) “300: Rise of an Empire”

9) “Noah”

8) “Sex Tape”

7) “Quija”

6) “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” 

5) “Left Behind”

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Forrest and Gary Freeman chat about ‘The Hobbit’ on KGAB 650-AM

Listen to Forrest and Gary Freeman dissect the weekend box office results for Dec. 22, 2014. Forrest also offers a full review of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” Be sure to click through!

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Nevada film critics name ‘Birdman’ best film

The Las Vegas Film Critics Society named "Birdman" best movie of 2014.  Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

The Las Vegas Film Critics Society named “Birdman” best movie of 2014.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

For many years, I was a voting member of the Las Vegas Film Critics Society. Since I no longer contribute to any media outlets in Nevada, I have stopped voting with the group, but I still feel a kinship with the members, many of whom are personal friends. Because of that — and because the Las Vegas Critics always make interesting picks — I think its important for me to report on their 2014 Sierra Award winners.

This year, “Birdman” was the big movie, taking the group’s best picture award and ranking No. 1 on its annual top 10.

Following is the full list of winners.


Best Picture
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Best Actor
Michael Keaton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Best Actress
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Best Supporting Actor
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Supporting Actress
Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”

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Critics’ Choice Movie Awards nominees announced

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" received 11 nominations for the 20th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” received 11 nominations for the 20th annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards.

As a longtime member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, I am pleased to announce the nominees for the organization’s 20th annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. I cast my nomination ballot Friday, as did the other 300 or so members of the group, so the nominees represent something of a critical consensus of the best of 2014 cinema.

Now, we get to digest the nomination list for about a month before voting for the winners, which will be announced during a live TV broadcast Jan. 15 on A&E. The show will air at 6 p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET), and it’s always a lot of fun.

“Birdman” leads all contenders with 13 nominations, but “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Boyhood” aren’t far behind, with 11 and eight nods respectively.

Following is the complete nomination list …





Gone Girl

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game



The Theory of Everything



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Video Verdict: New DVDs for March 17

Doug Hutchison, rear, and Ray Stevenson in a scene from "Punisher: War Zone."

Doug Hutchison, rear, and Ray Stevenson in a scene from "Punisher: War Zone."

Both of this week’s major video releases are built on fantasy, but the titles are nothing alike in tone or presentation.

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