Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Unfriended (2015)

Always use Trojan. Not that Trojan, but yeah, that’s always a safe option, too!

On the one-year anniversary of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), a fellow classmates, suicide, Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) chats with her boyfriend and friends about all sorts of high school stuff that doesn’t really seem all that important. That all begins to change when Blaire’s boyfriend, Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm), gets a strange message from a online user claiming to have all sorts of dirty secrets on them. Nobody has any clue who this person is, or even what it is, and even though they try so very hard to get it away from them and their chat, it never seems to leave. Eventually though, the user gets more and more deadly, which leaves these kids spooked and having no clue what to expect next. Not to mention that this mysterious user seems to be having quite a ball in getting these kids to participate in humiliating games of “Never Have I Ever”, where their dirty laundry fully comes out in spades.

Oh, to be young again.

In a cheap knock-off the already cheap found-footage horror subgenre, Unfriended takes place solely on a laptop computer-screen. While this is absolutely a gimmick, it calls into question whether or not it’s one that deserves to exist for the sole purpose of selling the story? Or, if it’s just there to help sell tickets and make people say, “Wow. Neat.” In all honesty, it seems like a bit of both, but there’s something smart about what the movie is able to do with so little.

"Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!"

“Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!”

That we’re literally watching some sort of mystic virus constantly mess around with these young, seemingly stereotypical teens is actually a bit of fun. While none of them are despicable enough that we want to see them all perish in a lovely blaze of glory, there’s still something inherently enjoyable when there’s a loud-mouth teen getting his comeuppance because he picked-on somebody way back when. Though the movie mistakes this for being “important”, there’s still some fun to be had in watching how a normal night, goes drastically crazy in a matter of less than an-hour-and-a-half.

But, like I said, Unfriended is trying to say something here about technology, cyber-bullying, and how, while we may not think about it, the negative things we write about someone or something on the web, do have an effect on those we are speaking out against. There’s no problem with voicing your opinion in the first place, but there’s always a risk that you may, or may not negatively affect someone in a way you didn’t expect to do so. That’s just the way the world works and with technology being as sufficiently smart and accessible as it is, the chances are only heightened.

Then again, though, this doesn’t matter and serves no real purpose in a horror-thriller such as this. Maybe in a Lifetime, made-for-cable movie, but here, it seems like it’s trying a tad too hard.

However, a movie that’s definitely being sold to teens, and actually gives a fair shot at trying to teach those said young, impressionable teens about how their actions do have consequences, is pretty admirable. The movie mistakes itself for being a message movie than it probably should have, but rather than just making the whole story go down to just, “Ghosts are bad, yo.”, it becomes more of, “Ghosts are bad, yo. But causing someone to kill themselves because of a bad decision you made is even worse. Yo.” It’s a corny sentiment for sure, but it’s one that puts Unfriended one step above most of the horror flicks we see come out around the year.

Doesn’t make it perfect, but hey, at least it’s worth something.

Meaning that there is a lot to be scared by in this movie. Somehow, the movie’s able to make such elements like a Facebook chat, or a trip to the infamous Chat Roulette, or even a phone-call, very tense. Not because it’s smart filming, but because this story doesn’t make itself clear as to where the hell it will go and why. Sure, we know that there’s a mysterious presence spooking these kids, but just how much power does it contain? And with those powers, what is it able to do? The movie keeps these questions coming and even though not all of them add up to a reasonable answer, the ride to the end is still exciting enough that it’s not a pain in the arse whenever the movie leaves the question-marks hanging on at the end.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Which is to say that the characters in this movie, as thinly-written as they may be, still hold enough truth to the way they are portrayed with what they’re given that they’re at least believable and compelling enough to watch. Even though it’s painfully obvious that she’s well-above an 17-to-18-year-old virgin, Shelley Hennig still does a solid enough job as Blaire, where we don’t know if she’s a good person, a bad one, or simply put, just a person nonetheless. We don’t get much background on her here, as is the case for most of the other characters, but throughout this whole conversation these peeps have, we get to learn little more details that are sometimes clever, and sometimes there just to create drama for the sake of doing so.

Sounds like high school, for sure.

The only other one in this cast that’s worth talking about, and less for what he does here and more of how great he’s been in past flicks, is Jacob Wysocki as Ken Smith. Wysocki’s given the role of the comedic sidekick who comes in every so often to make a smart-ass remark, sex joke, or smoke a bowl to break the tension and while he’s fine in the role, it’s nice to see more of this guy that isn’t in roles that are just made to talk about his weight. Terri and Fat Kid Rules the World are both examples of this, and while the fact that they point out his weight isn’t a bad thing, it’s made obvious that he was chosen for those roles because of that and hardly much else. Here though, Wysocki shows us that not only does he have more material to show us he’s able to do, but it doesn’t matter what he looks like.

You keep it going, kid.

Consensus: Maybe not as important as it thinks it is, Unfriended takes its message a tad too seriously, but still delivers on the fun thrills, chills and excitement, in a way that’s heightened by the gimmick of taking place on one computer-screen, practically the whole time.

7 / 10

Everybody's always got that one friend.

Everybody’s always got that one friend.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

True Story (2015)

Got to look out for those charming serial killers; they’re the hardest ones to loathe.

After being publicly shamed and fired for fibbing about a story he did on child-slavery in Africa, ex-New York Times journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is left jobless, depressed and desperate to find any sort of work that may possibly come his way. Eventually though, work does eventually find its way to him – however, just not in the ways he had intended. After being on the run from the feds for the alleged murder of his wife and two kids, Christian Longo (James Franco) fled to Mexico, where he went under a false identity; who also just so happen to be Mike Finkel. Though Longo didn’t get away with this, the real Mike Finkel still finds plenty of interest in this and, seeing a book-deal in the horizon somewhere, decides to jump on the opportunity right away to interview Longo, get to know him better, and eventually, figure out the truth about just what the hell happened and whether or not Longo even committed the crime to begin with. Eventually though, Mike’s obsession with Longo’s life begins to grow almost too serious, which is when Mike’s fiancee (Felicity Jones) sees that it’s time to step in and check out what this Christian Longo guy is all about, if anything at all.

What we have on our hands here, folks, is the classic case where the real, true-to-life story the movie’s discussing and adapting, is way more interesting than the movie itself ever turns out to be. That’s not to say that there aren’t bits and pieces of True Story that don’t sizzle, pop and crackle, as reading this story straight from its Wikipedia page would, but there’s something to say about a movie where it’s constantly made clear that you’ll probably want to read the actual details on what really happened, rather than taking this movie’s word for it.

Pack your bags up, Jonah! You've got more movies with Marty Scorsese to do!

Pack your bags up, Jonah! You’ve got more movies with Marty Scorsese to do!

Because hey, Hollywood lies and they can’t always be trusted.

However, in True Story‘s case, there seems to be too many creative-licenses taken at times that makes this feel like a jumbled-up mess, when it sure as hell didn’t need to be. For instance, the inclusion of Felicity Jones’ character never makes sense here and, on more than a few occasions, takes away from what could have been a thoughtful, intriguing piece about the mental cat-and-mouse games we sometimes play on those who we feel are equal enough to us to play back. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Felicity Jones and considering that she’s red hot right after her Oscar-nominated performance in the Theory of Everything, I’m especially happy to see her be able to take center-stage against the likes of Franco and Hill, but when her scenes with them are supposed to bring some heartfelt emotions, they can’t help but ring false.

And most of this can be attributed to the fact that this is director Rupert Goold’s first time behind the camera, and it damn well shows. According to what I’ve read (because people do that, you know?), Goold comes from a long history of theater and directing plays, which makes total sense; some of the best parts of this film are when it’s simply just two or more people, sitting in a room, talking to one another, and seeing what shoe drops next. Most of these scenes include both Hill and Franco talking to one another, but it works so well because not only are these two actors solid here, but their characters have genuine tension together that you don’t know whether they’re going to take out weapons and start brawling, or rip-off each other’s clothes, shut the lights off, and start making some sweet, hot and sexy love.

Either turnout seems interesting and more than likely, especially considering that these two seem so incredibly comfortable with one another, that even when they aren’t supposed to be laugh-out-loud stoners making us laugh, they’re die hard thespians that try to one-up the other, in any way that they can. In some ways, it’s less of a mind game between these two characters, and more of a mind game between these two actors, who definitely make the movie all the better by showing up, ready to work.

Goes to show you that it’s not such a problem to change things up every once and awhile and get downright serious with your work.

Franco, so smug right now.

Franco, so smug right now.

But Franco and Hill, as hard as they try, aren’t fully capable of keeping this movie above the water for long enough to where the problems within aren’t noticeable. Like I mentioned before, Goold comes from a theater background, and because of this, when he gets right down to making this story about something, rather than just about two guys talking to one another and constantly lying about what may have, or may not have happened on some fateful date in their lives, he stumbles a whole heck of a lot. There’s a point here to be made about the state of modern-day journalism, and how some people are so willing to stay successful and famous for as long as they can, that no matter what, they’ll cover whatever comes their way, but even that feels oddly-placed in a movie that doesn’t know who it wants to judge, or what it wants to say about these people.

Judging from this movie, Mike Finkel isn’t the best journalist who lied about his story to get it past the editing process and hopefully make him a huge star. That didn’t happen, and because of that, we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, even if the movie makes it seem clear that what he does after losing his job, is all the more humiliating. Then, at the same time, it still can’t help but to judge him for jumping on something as odd as Longo’s case, which is where the movie got odd. Is it against Finkel as a person? As a journalist? Or, as somebody who wanted to hold onto any sort of fame he could grasp a hold of?

Whatever the point to it all may have been, it’s hard to put a finger on. Even if Hill and Franco, yes, do seem to be trying here. And, most importantly, don’t seem all that stoned.

Okay, maybe a little.

Consensus: True Story gets most of its mileage out of the solid performances from Hill and Franco, but everything else about is messy, ill-formed and almost too over-dramatic to be considered “the truth”, even if the movie loves spouting that fact many times throughout.

6 / 10

PDA?

PDA?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Maybe Jenna Jameson truly does have an Oscar-winning performance in her somewhere.

Set in the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election, we are thrown into  five days in the life of Chelsea (Sasha Grey), an ultra high-end Manhattan call girl who offers more than sex to her clients, but companionship and conversation. Aka, “the girlfriend experience.”

Steven Soderbergh, god bless him, because he’s one of the last few original voices we have left in cinema who is absolutely willing to do whatever he wants, experiment as much as he can, and constantly challenge himself to even his own furthest limits. Not only does he make many jealous by the sort of skill he has, but also shows that all you really have to do when making movies, is to constantly be changing yourself up – not just to keep your fans guessing, but you as well.

However, even the lovely greats like Steven Soderbergh can sometimes fall flat on their faces with no one else to blame, but themselves.

Oh well.

Range.

Range.

The Girlfriend Experience is the exact kind of film you expect Soderbergh to create just in a way to test himself more and more. It honestly seems like he just picked up an HD camera, went out onto the streets. got some cash here and there, found some little-to-unknown actors to play roles, and started shooting a movie that he made up just in his head. This may seem like an exaggeration, but I really do think that’s exactly what Soderbergh did here and it’s pretty cool since a lot of what we see here in this film is pretty interesting, from a visual stand-point. The HD camera definitely gives New York City a certain gritty but polished, textured vibe to it, and I liked how Soderbergh didn’t feel the need to just move the camera around all that much. He just kept the camera there and let the story tell itself.

But style can only go so far when, you get right down to the brass tacks and realize that there’s hardly any story to work with. Which wouldn’t have been so bad for something that runs a lean, mean hour-and-a-half, but when you’re film hardly even comes close to 77 minutes, it feels like a waste of time; which is almost, if not worse, than an over-long, two-hour slog.

The problems mostly show in these characters, but most importantly, Chelsea. There’s a non-linear approach to the narrative that Soderbergh uses in a way that I can only imagine was on purpose so that he could distract us from the other problems lying within this story. But it also hurts Chelsea and the very few other characters here because we have very little time to actually get to know any of them, but we also have to endure seeing them in only little snippets here and there; most of which, don’t make any sense whatsoever until the final five minutes when things somehow come together. The approach is not used poorly, it just doesn’t help this story when it came to making us care for these characters and it ends up hurting the one character the most, Chelsea herself.

Actually, if there was anything in this movie that I didn’t believe in the most or even care for at all was the relationship she had with her actual boyfriend in this movie.

Even more range.

Even more range.

First and foremost, it’s downright unbelievable that a dude would actually allow his girlfriend to take a job where all she does is get treated to dinner by countless rich dudes, only to have sex with them moments later and complete the night. Maybe some dudes don’t mind this, but it seems pretty ridiculous here especially considering that this seems to be the only problem this character seems to be having with his girlfriend. He had to know what she was all about before, right? And if not, why stick with her when you finally figure out who all of those checks came from in the first place? Whatever the reasons here may have been, they didn’t make much sense to me and only allowed for the scope of this flick to seem all the more silly.

Still though, in true Soderbergh fashion, the guy does treat us to an actress who, believe it or not, for being a highly-qualified actress; I would have said she’s not widely known for “acting”, but type her name into any search database, and you’re more than likely going to find that out to be false and realize that, yes, Sasha Grey has indeed acted many times before the Girlfriend Experience. But instead, much rather than doing a lot of dirty, gratuitous sex for the sole pleasure of, well, pleasuring on-lookers, she’s actually thrown into a story, where she has to make us believe in her character, her motivations, and just exactly what kind of person we’re dealing with here. Soderbergh did the same thing with MMA fighter Gina Carano in Haywire and while that movie was definitely a bit different than this one, it’s still a trick on Soderbergh’s part that had to work, right?

Well, surprisingly, it kind of did.

That’s not to say that Grey’s amazing here; there are some small glimpses that she was heavily coached on how to emote and act for the camera, that she does fine with, but when it comes down to allowing us see any sort of subtlety in her character, her acting sort of comes undone. But considering that Grey has never been called on to do this much acting before, it’s interesting to see that she can handle this script and whatever Soderbergh calls on her to do. Sure, there’s still plenty of nudity, banging, and talking seductively – all things she’s used to doing in countless other flicks – but there’s something more to latch onto here that impressed me. Sasha Grey may not be an amazing actress just yet, but there’s still plenty of time for her to grow and believe it or not, I look forward to it.

Now, if only she can keep her clothes on.

Consensus: Though he seems to be trying his hardest to make it work in any way imaginable, the Girlfriend Experience still can’t help but feel like a misfire from Steven Soderbergh, albeit a very interesting and inspired one that at least benefits a bit from Sasha Grey’s stunt-casting.

4 / 10

Okay! Maybe she doesn't have the best range here, but she's not terrible, okay!

Okay! Maybe she doesn’t have the best range here, but she’s not terrible, okay?!?

Photos Courtesy of: League of Dead Films

Wild Things (1998)

Drunk, alone, and horny? Turn this one on and you’ll have a new best friend.

Two high-school girls (Denise Richards and Neve Campbell) accuse their teacher (Matt Dillon) of raping them on two separate occasions. The guy tries his hardest to defend himself against this terrible case, but it’s not quite as it seems as we see from detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon). Even if Duquette himself may be up to no good, either.

To be honest, the only real reason this film is as popular as it once was (and maybe still is), was all because of the infamous threesome and a rare dong-shot all being placed in a big, Hollywood production. Not that there’s necessarily anything daring about two girls and a guy engaging some hot, steamy sex, or even a slight shot of some male genitalia, but being that this was a pretty big movie, it created quite the stir. But is there more here to at least enjoy other than that threesome?

Yeah, but not too much.

Former Bond girl there, folks!

Former Bond girl there, folks!

It’s been awhile since the last time I saw a whodunit and Wild Things is a classic example of a whodunit that’s made to just keep on getting more and more ridiculous as it runs along. The script, for one, is probably not the best out there and can seem really lazy at points. You would expect a sexy little thriller like this to have some ultra-sexxed up dialogue that ladies would be quoting to dudes everywhere, but instead, it just comes off like a corny B-movie flick that goes through the motions with all of it’s dialogue. So, basically everything you’d expect from your ordinary B-movie, you get here and it’s sometimes hard to watch and enjoy because it’s so damn laughable at points. Now, there is a certain thing to be said about that and that’s how I actually found myself having fun with it but still, when everybody is serious and you are pretty much the only one laughing, you have to feel like something was missing here or that these people just weren’t in on the joke. I think I choose both.

As for the little plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere, they’re okay and actually make this story a bit interesting. Since there are so many plot twists to be had here, you can’t help but think that the film sort of loses itself with being a bit too over-exaggerated with itself, but it at least creates a tense mood to surround everything. Some of the twists took me by surprise, and some of them still took me by surprise, but after awhile I started to think about them and realize that they made absolutely no sense to the story at all and may have just been thrown in there for shits and gigs after all. Hey, I’m all down for a couple of neat plot twists here and there to spice up the story, but don’t make it overkill!

Then, there is, of course, the infamous threesome which will probably go down as the film’s biggest claim to fame and I will cut it some slack on, because it’s pretty freakin’ hot.

Usually when I watch films when some raunchy sex scenes are happening right in front of me, I don’t really feel anything since I know that they’re all fake and they aren’t really engaging in any sorts of sex with each other. But for some odd reason, with Wild Things, it all felt too real and it was just as hot and sexy as I remembered it being all those years ago around the first time I watched it. I won’t comment on the infamous dong scene but for all of the ladies out there, you got your six degrees of Bacon, alright!

"What did you say about the Following possibly getting cancelled?"

“What did you say about the Following possibly getting cancelled?”

Speaking of Kevin Bacon (and getting away from his actual Bacon!), he’s actually the best out of the whole main cast because the guy can sell any role no matter what he has to do and you can almost feel like this guy was just laughing at everybody else’s acting in the film by how laughable they can all be. Those ones I’m talking about are Matt Dillon and Denise Richards who could be placed in the “so bad, they’re good” category for the respective performances they give off here. Dillon plays up that macho, hammy bullshit dude that nobody likes and the whole film, just seems like he’s phoning it in from start-to-finish where you don’t really see this guy being an evil genius, you just see him being a total schmuck. Then, you got Denise Richards who is terrible in this role as the main high school girl who starts all of this drama and deliver every line of dialogue as if it were a self-serious soap opera, but without any slight wink to the audience. Dillon has barely any of that, but at least some, as opposed to Richards being such a dull presence to begin with, the fun sort of get sucked-out.

Though these two are pretty bad at what they do here, they don’t fully bring the ship down and leave everybody else to dry. Neve Campbell at least has some nice touches with her sympathetic character that got the best treatment out of everybody here, but still somehow seems like she gets the short end of the stick at the end. But as good as she is, she stands nowhere near to how great Bill Murray is as Dillon’s ambulance-chasing attorney that absolutely takes the film’s script, wipes his greasy hands all over it, and leaves some sort of particles that make the film a whole lot more entertaining whenever he’s up on-screen. I’ve said it many, many times before, but Bill Murray is the freakin’ man and whenever the guy isn’t out chillin’ with RZA, or playing a zombie, the guy can still take small roles like these and make them the most memorable due to that perfect comedic-timing.

Makes me wish he was in the film more, but hey, I guess that’s why we all love Bill Murray in the first place.

Consensus: While it’s hot and steamy for sure, Wild Things does get a bit too bogged-down by its own plot-twists, to make this campy-ride feel like one that’s a bit too rampant and wild for its own good.

5.5 / 10

Keep being you, Bill.

Keep being you, Bill.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDB, Premiere.Fr

Project Nim (2011)

Despite the poo-throwing, chimpanzees are still like us.

Meet Nim – he’s a little chimp that was taken from his mommy when he was just under two weeks, given to a family full of people, and all for the sake of a science-experiment, done by Herbert S. Terrace, professor of psychology at Columbia University during the 1970’s. What Terrace was trying to experiment with Nim was to figure out whether or not a chimp could figure out how to speak full sentences, by adapting and being brought up into a human world. And so far with Nim, things are good, but after awhile, they start to go South. Both literally and figuratively.

Whenever you see a little chimp on TV, the zoo, or anywhere else for that matter, you see how they interact with you, one another, and to the rest of the environment that surrounds them. It’s crazy to think that our species somehow adapted from them and became big, old, and dirty things, just like them. However, at the same time, it’s pretty simple to see why we could have adapted from them to be what we are because of how similar we are in certain ways. This movie doesn’t just show that, but it makes us wonder whether or not people should actually even go through with seeing that for themselves. Yes, no matter how tempting it may be to dress a little chimp up in your tighty-wighties, it may not be right in the long run.

Just a tad bit of food for thought.

The fact that chimps are so similar to us in many ways, is only barely touched on as director James Marsh doesn’t seem all that concerned with figuring out whether or not they are us, but more as to whether or not they can be us. You think that raising something, anything to be like you, to live by your rules and standards, with no matter how hard you try, will work, but that’s the problem: It usually doesn’t. That’s what happens here with Nim and his life, but it isn’t the way you’d expect it to all play out.

Hey, come on! It was the 70's.

I’ll just have you all know that she is not a teacher assigned to teaching Nim; she was just so stoned during the 70’s that she’s actually trying to talk to him.

Many questions are brought up in the way to make you think for yourself, rather than having Marsh and all of the subjects point to you and tell you what you should have planted in your mind about this real life situation. For instance, one of the big questions goes right back to the beginning: Was it right for Nim to be brought up as a human in the first place? Obviously the chimp was there for medical research, so maybe, yeah it was right in the name of science, but what about humanity? Well, that’s where things start to get a little fishy and complicated.

See, taking any living thing out of their element/space, will most likely not be met with positive reception. Yes, that living thing may learn how to use the bathroom, speak, and get things done the way they need to, but it surely may not be fully happy with where it is, had it been in its original spot in the first place. I sound all vague for the sole reason that I’m not just talking about Nim and what they did to him in the first place, because Nim is only the clearest, most popular example. I’m talking about everyone, everything, and hell, anything, for that matter. If you take anything outside of this world, whether it be a human or an animal, you are most likely going to run into some problems down the road with that living thing coming back to it’s original-self. Which, in the case of chimps, is a pretty scary thing because those mofo’s can do some damage.

Real damage, too.

That’s what brings me onto my next question that this movie brings up and that’s whether or not the way Nim acted in his later-years was because of the fact that he was constantly shipped from person-to-person without any sole figure to care for him long enough to leave a lasting impact? Or simply, if because the actual teaching itself was bad. Seeing Nim go from a new person, almost as each and every year goes by is heartbreaking to watch in many ways, but mainly for the fact that we know that the chimp is only going to act out a bit more and be even more confused, especially when you put him in a spot that he isn’t used to, and is trying to shake the cobwebs off the from the old place he use to stay and be accustom to. It’s sad because we know if we were Nim, we would have no clue as to what the hell to do with our lives and probably be just as confused as him, but considering it’s a chimp and he’s supposed to be watched over by “professionals”, it does make you wonder about the people involved, more than the actual experiment itself.

Like all pre-teens, Nim just wants to get behind the wheel and show all the ladies his new caddy.

Like all pre-teens, Nim just wants to get behind the wheel and show all the ladies his new Caddy.

Every person that was a ever a substantial part of Nim’s life, all get to share a bit of the spotlight here in a way I wasn’t expecting. The family that was there first for him, to the professor that monitored his whole experiment, to the people that were trying to run experiments on him by using needles filled with HIV and hepatitis – they all get a chance to tell their side of the story and it’s well-done too. As I said before, Marsh never gets in our face and tells us what we need to think about each and every person. He just hands out these people to us on a silver platter, gives them a chance to tell their story, and allows us to make up our own minds about what the hell we should think about them.

This device also allows for us to see who the people really, truly were that cared for Nim, who cared enough to just get their names in the papers and record-books, and what people just did not give a single crap at all about a sign-language speaking chimp. I won’t give away the people that you see as bastards and what people you see as latter-day saints of the animal world, but you will see just how wrong it is for some people to treat an animal, regardless of the importance behind the poor thing. Sure, it’s an animal, but that doesn’t mean that they are any lesser than us. Every person in this movie knows that simple fact, but they just don’t care too much about. They don’t care too much about Nim, they don’t care too much about the research, and they sure as hell don’t care too much about actual animals, either.

That’s why when we see Nim get all pissed-off and angry at the people that pushed and tugged at him all of his life, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the furry dude. It’s downright scary sometimes, but we know where it’s all coming from and you don’t point the finger at him, as much as you do to the fellow ding-bats that didn’t really bother too much with him. But, when Nim is happy and when things begin to look up for him, you feel a certain sense of joyfulness and pleasure in the simple things in life. Simple things like playing, hugging, kissing, eating, climbing, sharing, talking, communicating, etc. All of those things in life are as simple as you can get, and it reminds you just how beautiful the world can be, if you can look at them through innocent, little eyes like Nim’s. Sure, he was a chimp that was experimented on to see if they could get him to form full-on, grammatical sentences, but he was also a chimp that showed everybody what it was like to live the life of somebody that just wanted to be happy, to understand the world around him, and pretty much, get everything that he wanted.

Hmm.

Now, who does that sound like?

Consensus: What you think is just a simple movie about a chimp-experiment gone somewhat wrong, turns out to be a thought-provoking tale of what makes us living, who is to blame for it, and whether or not all things deserve to live life in the shoes of others, all packaged into Project Nim, one of the most heart-wrenching documentaries about animals, that you don’t need to see on the Discovery Channel.

9 / 10

Now why can't I do that and not be slapped in the face?!?!?

Now why can’t I do that without being slapped in the face?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Lost River (2015)

Working with Nicolas Winding Refn can do quite a number on a person.

Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother who has no job, no money, and hardly even a house, decides that it’s time for her to get employed so that she can support her and her boys, before the big, bad Bully (Matt Smith) comes around and does some seriously bad things to all of them. She takes up a job in a sleazy, nightmarish night club, where people simulate murdering one another for the love and cheers of the crowd. Think stripping, but instead of a pole, you have blood-squibs. While Billy is off getting fit into her new job, her oldest son (Iain De Caestecker) is left to fend for himself and his little brother, which isn’t easy, considering where they live is practically in shambles, where every native seems to be hitting the high road as soon as humanly possible. Eventually though, he finds much solace with a local girl named Rat (Saoirse Ronan) who looks after her grandmother, but is also being sought out by Bully, and might have to stop him, using any force necessary.

A part of me that wants to think Ryan Gosling meant to make this movie. Somehow, I feel as if Gosling is so smart and charismatic that he knew he wanted to make a total mind-fuck of a movie that, while may not be perfectly accessible to the mainstream crowd who usually ushers out to see his movies, would please him and his own creative tendencies. Maybe this is the movie he’s been clamoring to make for the past couple years or so, but just didn’t have the time, nor the resources to do so. But now that he does, he’s throwing it all out on the line, seeing what sticks, what doesn’t, and not giving a single crap because, at the end of the day, he’s the one who feels creatively wasted and also, gets to go to home to this.

Wait, why is she in this?

Wait, why is she in this……?

But sadly, another part of me, feels as if Lost River is just a jumbled-up, over-the-top, Lynchian-wannabe that makes no sense, doesn’t want to make any sense and isn’t really worth bothering to see, even despite the talent it features both in front of, as well as behind the camera.

Which is to say that there’s something inherently intriguing about Lost River – it’s the kind of movie that has no real point, yet, still features something resembling a plot and a whole bunch of crazy, off-putting happenings that can hardly be explained other than with a confused-expression on one’s face. If there’s one thing you have to give Gosling credit for, above all else, is that he didn’t settle for the easy project to make for his directorial debut. Instead, the movie is challenging, unique, and chock full of all sorts of beautiful camera-work that gets by being any one thing in particular, but also, is hardly about anything to begin with.

Instead, Gosling seems more interested in just allowing for certain scenes to take us off-guard and get more and more increasingly stranger by the minute. It’s sort of like Lynch, but whereas Lynch draws on real aspects of life that most people can relate to, even if doing so is a complicated task in and of itself, Gosling seems like he’s just showing us weird stuff because, well, he can. That may help stimulate himself, as well as our eyes, but when it comes down to doing something for the story, it doesn’t work.

So, in that case, it’s obvious that this is Gosling’s first rodeo as a director. He doesn’t yet have the creative skills to make a film like this work, nor does he know how to get a point across, if there is even one to begin with. That isn’t to say that every movie made needs to have a message at the end of it, telling us all that we’re supposed to think about and leave with in our heads, but to have some reason for telling a story is better than nothing at all; if you have nothing at all to say, then what’s the point? To have some fun?

Sure. I guess. But Lost River isn’t fun.

It's like a metaphor for like loss of innocence, or something.

It’s like a metaphor for like loss of innocence, or something.

In fact, it’s actually kind of boring. Once you realize that it doesn’t really have a direction and is sort of just making itself up as it goes along, then any sort of anticipation or excitement goes away. Say what you will about Lynch, Winding Refn, or even Lars von Trier for that matter – while they aren’t everybody’s cup-of-tea and sure as hell don’t always make sense with every decision that they make, they at least try to give us a plot that keeps things speeding along at a rapid pace, even while they’re continuously messing with their audiences’ minds. This is more like a Terence Malick film in that there’s no plot, no character-development, and barely any discernible dialogue; it’s just a lot of pretty, swooping images that may be pretty to look at, don’t make a movie, well, good.

Is this to say that Ryan Gosling doesn’t have a good film to be found in his handsomely-detailed body? Absolutely not. In fact, something as unpredictable as this, only has me look forward more to what’s next on the horizon for this guy. While I do hope that he gets some more skill behind the camera and the typewriter before he decides to take up another project, I can still see Baby Goose making a good movie, hell, maybe even a great movie. When that time will come, is totally up in the air. But for now, we’ll just lean on Lost River to be our example of what R-Gos has to bring to the table in terms of being a director.

And while that may not sound promising, for someone who is able to go from this, to this, in the span of maybe a decade or so, it’s to show that nearly anything is possible.

Both good, as well as bad.

Consensus: Incomprehensible, weird, wild, and random, Lost River shows signs that Ryan Gosling may make for a smart, inspired director in the future, but for right now, that will remain to be seen.

4 / 10

I don't know. Don't ask.

I don’t know. Don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire, GeekTyrant

While We’re Young (2015)

Growing up is hard to do.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless couple pushing forward and are at a bit of a stand-still in their lives. She’s bored and wondering if she should have a child, whereas he still has yet to complete a documentary that he got started on nearly a decade ago. They’re best friends (Adam Horowitz and Maria Dizzia) are married and have a baby, which makes both Josh and Cornelia feel all the more alienated from the people they used to hang around with and call “pals”. Now, they just rely on one another. That all changes, however, when an adoring fan of Josh’s, Jamie (Adam Driver), approaches him and wants him to help with his documentary that he himself is trying to get off the ground. Josh is fine with this because it feels like a way to connect with the younger-crowd – which is how Cornelia feels when she meets Jamie’s wife, Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Altogether, the four connect to create a documentary, while along the way, forging a friendship that finds both couples happy and excited. Eventually though, Josh begins to wake up and realize that Jamie may not be all that he appears to be, especially when matters involved with the documentary may not be all that they appear to be.

Noah Baumbach is a very hit-or-miss director for me. While I loved the Squid and the Whale, I despised Margot at the Wedding; though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Greenberg, he still surprised me with Frances Ha. Most of what Baumbach includes in these films are challenging, sometimes detestable characters that don’t ask for your forgiveness, nor are we really willing to give it to them. Sometimes, this works in Baumbach’s favor where it seems like he really wants the audience to make up their own minds, but other times, works against him where he isn’t so much as giving the audience anything valuable, except for just a bunch of unlikable, mean-spirited people that you wouldn’t want to spend a dinner-date with, let alone a whole hour-and-a-half with.

Children! Children everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don't look back!

Babies! Babies everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don’t look back!

While We’re Young falls somewhere in between and I’m fine with that; there’s something rather pleasing and simple about that notion that makes me feel like people who don’t normally like Baumbach’s films can find something to enjoy out of this, and his die-hards won’t fall back from, either.

Basically, everyone wins here. Including you, the viewer.

Most of this has to do with the fact that While We’re Young is, for the most part, very funny. Baumbach’s movies hardly ever seem like they’re trying too hard to make people laugh, so they rarely register as “comedies” to me, but here, you can actually tell Baumbach’s trying to be funny and it works. Though the majority of this film is filled with these sad characters, who can sometimes borderline on being “types”, Baumbach finds a way to not make fun of them, as much as to just make fun of the all-too-realistic situations they all get into. For instance, when Stiller’s character gains arthritis, Baumbach isn’t make fun of Josh for being old, but more or less, making fun of the fact that Josh himself can’t believe that he really is old enough to have to worry about his body the way he never had to think about before. It’s that kind of small, narrative-choice that shows us that not only is Baumbach growing a bit more positive as even he ages, but that he’s realizing there’s more to life than people making a constant stream of bad situations.

And yet, Baumbach still strikes a raw nerve here in the way that he approaches the connection two different age groups can create. Though it’s painfully obvious and clear that Jamie and Darby are hipsters, the movie never utters this word; instead, it judges them solely on who they are. Sure, they’d prefer to watch VHS tapes then buy a Netflix account; or own a chicken and raise it, much rather than a dog or a cat; or wear fedoras around everywhere they go, rather than a standard baseball cap. That doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them who they are and for that, Baumbach doesn’t judge them.

The only time that he does begin to judge these characters is when you can start to see the tides change in this movie, where the tone goes from playful, earnest comedy about life and love, to an angry, hate-spewing drama about learning lessons. This is where While We’re Young begins to lose its focus and become a whole other movie altogether; one that I don’t even know could have worked on its own. It seems like Baumbach has something to say to the many generations to come and while it all may hold some truth, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t work for a movie that seemed like it had an honest point, yet, still didn’t forget to draw on the comedic opportunities, either. Not to say that all comedies have to be constantly funny, no matter where it is that they go, but they can’t go from 1, to 10 on the drama-meter whenever it sees fit; there has to be some sort of cohesive change in the middle and I don’t know if that happens here.

Look out, grand-pa!

“Don’t fall, grand-pa!” – some young whippersnapper

But, no matter what happens in the later-half of this movie, there is no denying that the cast works well this material and, more often than not, finds ways to make their characters more than just what they appear to be on the surface. A perfect example of this is Adam Driver’s Jamie – he’s the type of kiss-ass, wise youngling that seems like he means well and wants to make those around him happy, but there’s something troubling about him underneath it all. We know this early-on because it’s a movie, and for there to be no conflict whatsoever, there’d hardly be a movie, if you think about it, but when everything does eventually come to a head and we realize Jamie’s true intentions, we see the true colors in this characters and it works as well as it should because Driver keeps us guessing about this character. Are his intentions to feed-off of Josh and the connections he has in the film world? Or, is he genuine in saying that he loves, praises and adores Josh, and just wants nothing more than to learn every trick of the trade there is to learn in the documentary-making world?

These are questions that are barely answered and for that, the mystery works.

Though, this isn’t to say Driver’s the only one worth mentioning here, as everybody else is solid. Stiller shows off that lovely comedic-timing of his that’s worked so well in many other pieces of his, but comes from a heartfelt place this time that makes you feel for this aging, relatively sad guy; Naomi Watts gets to be funny, too, but also show us a woman that wants to be apart of “something”, but because she doesn’t have a child to love, to hold, or to care for, she’s pushed-off to the side and seen as something of an “outsider”; Amanda Seyfried may be given a thinly-written role in the form of Darby, but she works well with it, showing that there’s more to her than just being stuck in her hubby’s shadow; Charles Grodin, for the limited amount of time we get to see him on-screen, is funny and brutally honest, and there’s a part of me that wanted more from him; and Adam Horovitz, believe it or not, is the one who ends up leaving the most lasting impression as the voice of reason. He’s the character that tells Josh and Cornelia to wake up, realize that they are indeed, old, and should stop pretending to be somebody they aren’t. He isn’t telling them to have kids, he’s just telling them to accept the fact that they’re old and to be done with it already.

Holy crap. Is Ad-Rock almost 50? Where did time go?

Consensus: Honest, smart, and surprisingly funny in spots, While We’re Young hits certain notes about growing old and accepting that fact in life in an effective manner, even if the final-half does get a tad bit preachy.

7.5 / 10 

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

But if Tom Cruise can fly, how can Scientology not be magical?

Scientology has been around for as long as most people can remember and it doesn’t seem like it’ll ever go away. In the early days, when it was advertised as a “religion” by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, people flocked to find out what all of this hype was about. People’s lives were changing in ways they never quite expected and because of this, more and more people joined the church. But to ensure that they’d be let in, members would have to donate loads of money before ever setting one foot in the church, which is where most of the problems within first arose. Now, nearly 50 years after its conception, Scientology is running wild with controversy, even though it apparently has loyal followers in such celebrities as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Even despite the fact that numerous celebrities have left it and that there are reports of abuse that occurs both when you’re apart of it, and when you leave it, Scientology still has many loyal followers and only seems to be growing more and more each year. But will that ever end?

Alex Gibney is the kind of director our world needs nowadays. While he isn’t necessarily changing the world, he’s still shooting out at least two or three documentaries a year, opening our eyes to certain subjects we thought were already set-in stone and never seems to set his sights on one basic story-format that’s of interest to him. Surely, he likes controversy, but who can blame him? Especially when you have the chance to finally, once and for all, unveil what’s behind the curtain of Scientology, who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity?

Yeah, totally not the guy who Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed in the Master?

Yeah, totally not the guy who Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed in the Master?

And honestly, what else is there to be said about Scientology that hasn’t already been said? Sure, people boast on and on about its weird, cult-ish like tendencies, where people are literally brain-washed into thinking and acting certain ways, possibly all against their control, but do we really know Scientology in all its fullest-form? We can read a whole bunch about it, but does that really make everything said real, or better yet, justified?

This isn’t me trying to stand behind the Church of Scientology, this is me just bringing up a point that Gibney, unlike many directors before him, has finally been given the opportunity to pull back the covers and show us what Scientology is all about. But it isn’t just all skepticism, either – what we have here, on more than a few occasions, is first-hand accounts from people who were, at one time, Scientologists. Through them, we get to see, hear, and understand just what was going through their minds every step of the way. This helps allow for the material to give off a bit of authenticity that something like this so desperately needed to survive and compel the audience.

But while it would be easier to make fun of these people for even bothering to join such a shady religion to begin with, the movie never judges them for what they did. In fact, more often than not, it’s the people speaking who pass the most judgement on themselves, after they realize just what they were involved in and how they’re lives may forever be troubled because of the union they made. Such is the case with Jason Beghe, a solid character actor in his own right, who comes on the screen and seems like he’s not going to hide anything of what he actually feels or has to say about Scientology; he seems legitimately pissed-off and upset, and he has no one else to blame other than himself.

He knows this. He understands this. And he’s ready to move on.

As are most of the people shown here, discussing their time with Scientology and the aftermath of it all. But this is all just one aspect to the movie – an effective one, for sure, but one that doesn’t get one’s blood boiling quite as much as when Gibney starts to unravel some of the dirty, deep and dark secrets that Scientology has lying behind its huge, blue building. For instance, without saying too much, the fact that Scientology is able to get a tax-break for what it deems itself as “a religion”, is all the more despicable once you realize that the religious teachings they give, seem to hardly ever come. The only time somebody eventually figures out what Scientology is all about, is when they’ve literally been involved with the church for nearly a decade, and by then, they’re already a million dollars in-debt because of how many hand-outs the church demands you pay up-front, before any teachings are given.

This man is 25. Look at what Scientology does to you!

This man is 25. Look at what Scientology does to you!

This is especially strange, but nothing new we haven’t quite heard or read about before. Where the film really starts to turn things around is whenever it focuses on those two huge names who have been associated with Scientology since the early days of its fame: Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Travolta and Cruise, for the past few decades or so, have, essentially, become known as the poster boys of Scientology – they stand for everything Scientology has to offer and whenever somebody has something negative to say about it, they are the ones who step right up the front-lines to defend it like a bunch of desperate, but loyal soldiers. Most people are weirded-out by this, and while I’m not one to judge somebody based solely on what they hold near and dear to them as their “beliefs”, seeing what Gibney is able to uncover about their time spent with the church and what that means for those around them, puts a lot of things into perspective.

For instance, when we hear that Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman was apparently broken-up due to the fact that Scientology didn’t like how her father was this huge religious nut overseas, it seems like nothing more than People magazine hearsay. But when we actually see the people who would have actually been involved with a decision like that, saying that it happened, how it happened, and why it needed to happen, it feels all too real to dismiss. Same goes for Travolta – while his situation may be a tad more sketchy concerning that most of what he has to defend about Scientology comes down to his own escapades, there’s still something creepy about seeing him literally as a prisoner with nowhere else to go, except just continue on and on with the rouse that he has so publicly kept-up for the longest time.

Though this comes off more as me just throwing my own two cents about what happens in this movie, rather than saying how I felt about it, there’s actually kind of a point behind that. Everything that’s revealed to us is as shocking as can be, but Gibney never forgets that there are actual people involved with this religion that need to possibly wake up, smell the cauliflower, and get out while they still can. Because if they don’t, not only will they be “disconnected” from the rest of their family, but they may never get any sort of life back.

Now, what kind of legal, law-abiding religion literally makes people feel that way?

Consensus: Shocking, effective, and always compelling, Going Clear reveals certain secrets about Scientology that need to be seen and heard to be believed, and will hopefully create a change. If not now, at least sometime in the future.

8.5 / 10 

Inside those walls, are things I am almost too frightened to think about.

Inside those walls, are things I am almost too frightened to picture.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Floodmagazine.com, Rolling Stone

Furious 7 (2015)

People can be violent, but cars are nearly worse.

The gang’s all back, but this time, it’s personal! Soon after their buddy is killed by a notorious thug by the name of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) – a brother of one of their former foes – Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) realize that it’s time to get vengeance in the only way they know best. But before doing so, they get a proposition from a special agent (Kurt Russell): Help him retrieve a piece of spy software from a terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) and he will more than make sure that Dom, Brian and the rest of the crew get that sweet taste of revenge that they’ve been clamoring for after all of this time has passed. However, there are other problems going on from within the group where Dom can’t seem to get Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) to remember their past together for what it was, nor can Brian seem to tear himself away from the wacky, wild life of crime that’s always attracted him for so long, even if he’s know settled-down with a wife (Jordana Brewster) and kid. Will the crew stay fast? Furious? Or neither?

So yeah, already going into this installment, there’s plenty to be discussed. With the tragic passing of Paul Walker nearly a-year-and-a-half ago, everything that was initially planned for Furious 7, from the release date, to the plot, were all scrapped and made anew. Which makes total sense. Walker wasn’t some sort of bit player in this franchise that showed up every so often to utter some witty line that would get the whole crowd laughing at how likable he is; he was, literally, the heart and soul of this franchise. Without him, it probably wouldn’t have gone on for as long as it has, which is both a blessing and a curse.

And they're not beating the hell out of each other, because.......?

And they’re not beating the hell out of each other, because…….?

A curse because the movie’s are dumb, over-the-top, ridiculous, and represent everything that is wrong with American’s society of masculinity. On the flip-side, though, it’s also a blessing because these movies, at least in the case for the last three installments, are so much fun, seem to never lose sight of just how illogical they are, and hardly ever apologize for it. Fast & Furious movies aren’t supposed to be taken seriously, and that’s where the real charm lies.

Hence why Paul Walker, all of his acting talents aside, was perfectly-suited for this franchise, no matter what it threw at him, or where it threw him.

With that being said, Furious 7 is a pretty raucous time. While I may not be saying anything new that hasn’t already been uttered by millions and millions of people from around the world, there’s still something interesting to note about a franchise in which the movies seem to constantly get better and one-up the one that came before it. Fast Five started this trend of the franchise going towards more action-fare, rather than just making it all about hot cars, hot men, hot women, and hot bodies, and the sixth film absolutely went for it all and, for the most part, came out on top.

While Furious 7 may not be better than the sixth movie, it’s still pretty damn close because it never forgets what it is: A mindless piece of action-fare that audiences will pay dozens of dollars for. Though this sounds easy (because, quite frankly, Michael Bay’s been doing it for the past two decades now), looking at some films, it’s actually not. Last year’s utterly forgettable and boring Need for Speed tried so desperately to pull-off the same sort of magic that the Fast franchise has been pulling off for quite some time and it failed miserably. That movie wanted to be silly, insane and ludicrous beyond belief, whereas the Fast movies are exactly that, but they don’t ever seem to be trying.

Not to mention that they actually do feature a dude a named Ludacris.

But because Furious 7 knows what it’s all about, it doesn’t try to pretend it’s something it isn’t. Though there are a chock-full of scenes dedicated to these thinly-written, one-dimensional characters breaking down all sorts of barriers and getting dramatic with one another, these scenes are quickly dismissed as soon as they show up. Also, too, it makes sense that we need at least some sort of character-development to help make things seem fully rounded-out and not just *crash*, *bang*, *boom* all of the darn time. While this would have been fun, let’s be realistic here: No movie franchise with its seventh-installment is going to totally shelve its characters for their beyond-nuts action sequences.

Just get used to it and move on. That’s what I did and it worked well.

It worked well because, once I realized that every problem these characters had didn’t really matter much in the grander scheme of things, the action just got a whole lot better and more exciting. Though you’d think these movies would have already run-out of ideas on how to set-up action sequences and still, somehow, be able to utilize automobiles in some sort of fashion, director James Wan proves you damn wrong. With scenes depicting cars flying through the sky with parachutes and even scenes where cars go flying through three buildings, this franchise continues to give us something new and fun to feast our eyes and ears onto.

Not a Rock Bottom, but it'll do.

No Rock Bottom, but it’ll do.

And honestly, the sky is the limit from here on out. No matter how many times this movie tries to break actual science, it won’t lose any bit of respect because the rules have already been set-in place: There are no rules. Cars can literally fly through the sky; people can literally shoot their guns till the cows come home and never run out of ammunition; jets can literally glide around downtown LA without there being hardly any interference from the Army of any sort. Literally, anything can happen in these movies and because of that, they never lose an ounce of momentum; they just continue to build up and up on it some more until it feels like, you know, we may have had enough adrenaline for one day.

And really, the same rules apply to the characters, as well. Like I said before, none of these characters here are inherently interesting or well-written, but they exist in a universe that loves them all so very much, that it’s hard to look down upon them for being “types”. Like the movies they exist in, you just accept them for what they are, let them do their thing and move on.

It’s quite easy, really.

Meaning, when you accept them, you have to accept Vin Diesel’s garbled growling; Michelle Rodriguez’s resting bitch face; Dwayne Johnson to be wearing Under Amour every time he is on-screen and trying so hard not to break kayfabe; Jordana Brewster just being “there”; Ludacris and Tyrese to be the goofy sidekicks that everyone can rely on for comedy and not really anything serious to contribute to the plot; and, most of all, Paul Walker’s ability to just be the “everyman” in every scene he’s in. Because even though newcomers to this franchise like Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Russell, and especially, a deliciously evil Jason Statham all acquit themselves perfectly into this movie, strut their stuff and show us what they’re more than able to bring to the creative table, it’s Walker who still leaves the most lasting impression. He isn’t trying to, either – he just is.

And somehow, there’s a small bit of beauty in that.

Consensus: Like every other installment of the franchise, Furious 7 is as ridiculous and nonsensical as you can get, but still a whole bunch of fun, treating fans to everything that they could ever want with one of these movies, and then some, especially with the emotional tribute to Paul Walker – the one true face of this franchise.

8 / 10

Ride on, brotha.

Ride on, brotha.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Score (2001)

Never trust a guy that is half your age. Especially if he has already done better movies than you.

Career-thief Nick Wells (Robert De Niro) is about to mastermind a nearly impossible theft that will require his joining forces with a clever, young accomplice named Jackie Teller (Edward Norton). The unlikely alliance, arranged by Nick’s long-time confidante Maximillian Beard (Marlon Brando), interrupts Nick’s plan to retire from crime and leads Nick to wonder whether or not this last job of his, will be the one to ruin them all.

When you got three acting powerhouses in one movie, you would expect there to be nothing else other than pure greatness. But sometimes, that doesn’t quite happen. Instead, you just get mediocrity, whether you’re willing to accept it or not. Even if the movie in question does star not just Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, but also Marlon Brando.

Seriously! Why isn’t this thing as spectacular as it sounds?

You wouldn’t think that the guy who voices Miss Piggy and Yoda would be helming a feature flick like this, but I guess Frank Oz is just chock full of surprises. Oz doesn’t do necessarily do anything new, neat, or flashy with his direction here, but did bring some well-earned moments of suspense and keeps the heist as involving as he can, without showing his cards too early-on. The heist, when it does happen, doesn’t take up the whole movie. The rest is actually dedicated to a lot of scenes with Norton and De Niro, who are butting heads and ego’s together on-screen. Which honestly, is a way better movie, because when you give two stars like these ones here free reign to just work with one another, only good can come from it.

"Now remember kid, don't try and upstage my ass."

“Now remember kid, don’t try and upstage my ass.”

However, though, it all comes back down to the plot of this movie, which services these talents, but also doesn’t do much of anything interesting either. All of the caper/heist conventions are here – guy tries to get away from his life of crime by pulling off one last job; guy doesn’t work well with others; partner isn’t all who he seems to be, etc. Basically it’s got all of the clichés that you don’t want to see in a crime thriller, especially this one, but you sadly get.

If anything, that’s what disappointed me the most here is that nothing was all that surprising with this plot and how it all eventually played out. We get a couple of tense moments where we don’t know where this film is going to go and we get a nice twist at the end that’s a bit surprising, but nothing else to really have me going, “Oh crap! You gotta see this movie with Bickle, Vineyard, and Don Corleone! Not only are do they kick-ass when it comes to the acting, but the plot is actually pretty neat-o too! Right on!”. Maybe the average movie-goer would say that, let alone, anybody else in the whole world, but the point is, this film should have offered plenty of more surprises than it actually gave.

But people, let’s not fool ourselves here, this film probably would have never gotten made and given a wide theatrical release had it not been for these three names: De Niro, Norton, and Brando. All of whom don’t disappoint, even if the movie sort of does. Robert De Niro gives a pretty solid performance here as the Nick, the old-timer just looking to get out of the “business”. De Niro doesn’t do anything special with this performance that he hasn’t already done in his long career, but it’s nice to see him actually give a commendable performance considering that seems to be very hard to come by with the crap he chooses today. Angela Bassett plays his girlyfriend, and as good as she may be, her character still comes off a bit random and unneeded, even if it does give De Niro’s character some reason for wanting to leave and star anew.

"Hey, didn't I play you once?"

“Hey, didn’t I play you once?”

Let’s face it, Bassett is black, beautiful, and rocks a sweet ‘fro whenever she wants. Why wouldn’t you want to retreat with her?

Marlon Brando isn’t in this film a whole lot, but whenever he is, he makes his presence be known. Brando plays an aging and severely over-weight crime lord that seems desperate to make sure that this last job works and it’s a role/character that seems superfluous if it wasn’t being played by anybody else. The difference here, is that it’s none other than Brando in the role and he makes it all work perfectly giving him plenty of great lines, tension, and water-drinking. This is his last film he was ever in and it’s a shame since it’s not exactly the perfect swan song that anybody with his type of career could have asked for, but at least it’s better than doing the Freshman 2.

The one who actually runs away with this flick is Edward Norton as the hormone-fueled kid that Nick is forced to work with, Jackie. Norton is always great to watch no matter who he’s playing and what I liked most about him here is that you know there’s something about this character that you can’t really trust, but you don’t know what it is because Norton is so good at playing those types of confusing characters. Norton is always a powerhouse in every film he does and could almost be considered a younger Marlon Brando himself, but in this film, he actually shows that he may be one-step ahead of the master and continue to give compelling performance after compelling performance.

Now, what about the movie?

Consensus: Though it may not offer many surprises, the Score mostly gets by on the power and strength of its leads, even if the movie itself does seem to be relying on them a tad too heavily to begin with.

7 / 10

Look out, aging actors. Eddy Norton's a comin'!

Look out, aging actors. Eddy Norton’s a comin’!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Forget about it?

New York mobster Lefty (Al Pacino) walks into his usual diner, starts talking up a storm with some guy named “Don the Jeweler” (Johnny Depp), figures out that the ring he just bought his girlfriend was a Fugazi, takes him out to find the guy, gets his money back, and badda-bing, badda-boom, the deal is done. However, Lefty doesn’t want to just say “bye” to Don and be done with him forever – he wants him to be apart of his mob, walk him through the ranks so that one day, Donnie will be the new crime boss that everybody obeys and looks up to. Donnie has those aspirations too, but the problem is that his real name is Joseph Pistone and he’s not all that he seems to be. Rather, he’s an FBI informant that’s been working the streets for about two years now, and he’s getting more and more tied into this underground life, and leaving his other life, the one with his wife (Anne Heche) and kids, on the back-burner as if it almost doesn’t exist.

I honestly could not tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie. I want to say the perfect, rounded-up amount is probably ten-and-a-half times, but I can’t be too sure because it’s probably a whole lot more than what I can remember. Hell, probably a couple of drunken-views may have happened in there as well. Either way, whatever the total amount is, doesn’t matter, because each and every time I’ve watched this flick, not only have I liked it even more, but I get to see more and more about it, especially since, as a film fanatic, my eyes have been opened a bit wider to what makes a movie work, and what doesn’t.

"Ew, fugetaboutit!"

“Ew, fugetaboutit!”

However, I still have yet to call this movie a “favorite” of mine, and here’s exactly why: The problem I have with this movie is that, after all of the times I’ve seen this and plenty other movies of the same nature, I’ve come to realize that the “FBI-informant” story has all been dead by now. We get it; whenever you take a regular, FBI agent, throw him into a world where he has to have that one identity and nothing else, then most likely, that dude’s going to get thrown in there too deep. It’s what we see with every undercover-cop flick, and it doesn’t make it all the better or more original. It’s just there.

But there is that one aspect to this movie that makes that problem sort of go away: The drama involved here between the characters and the situation we have on our hands here. Everybody in this flick is essentially a cliché of what it’s like to be apart of the mob. Greased, slicked-back hair? Check. A bunch of Italian, mobster slang used that makes no sense? Double check. Paying for a coffee or a drink with a wad of cash? Way too many checks. An over-the-top scene of an act of violence to prove how much you do not want to get all tangled-up in with the mob? You got it. People getting whacked? Well now, would it be a mobster movie if it didn’t at least have one or two or more scenes that include that act?

I’ll allow for that last, hypothetical question to rest in your mind.

So, with all of that said, you see where I’m going with this? If not, follow through. The aspect behind this movie that makes it work, despite all of the obvious conventions and happenings of the usual mobster movie, is that there’s actual, real-life emotion involved with this story and the characters that inhabit it. Rather than making Joe, or “Donnie”, the type of FBI informant that’s way too in over his head, is a bit of a bastard for throwing his family to the side and focusing a little bit too much attention on the task at hand, the movie shows him off as being a troubled-soul, yet, one that knows what mission he has to complete, and to do it by any means necessary. Sure, he has to get his hands dirty a couple of times and may even have to pull off some risky moves of his own, but he knows that he has to get the job done and the movie paints him more as a regular-guy, who just so happened to stick to his guns, in more ways than one. I don’t want to call him a “hero” per se, but I do want to call him an inspiration to most people who feel like they can’t go through something because the shit’s too deep or too dangerous. And I’m not just talking about FBI informants – I’m talking about anybody, dammit!

Then, something strange with this movie begins to happen: You start to feel a bit wrapped-up in this world just as much as Joe does. Once Joe realizes that not all of these mobster-figures are as bad or as dastardly as they may seem from the outside, he begins to wonder whether or not he should fully go through with it, and if he does decide to actually say, “Yeah, arrest all their asses”, he still wonders whether or not it’s the right thing to do or if he should leave a couple people out of it. It’s a problem for us, almost as much as it is a problem for Joe, and it gets you more and more involved with the material, regardless of if you know how it all turns out. Obviously no major Hollywood production is going to fund a movie where the real-life protagonist gets killed, but you still feel like any chance the dude has to lose his cover, he will, and become a victim of it so.

Don't worry, honey. Just fugettaboutit.

Don’t worry, honey. Just fugettaboutit.

Very smart writing and directing on both sides of the camera, but in front of it all is the two stars we have on our hands here, none other than Johnny Depp and Al Pacino themselves. This was the first movie where I think Johnny Depp really broke-out of his shell, showed us that he could actually “act”, and, despite what his good looks may have you believe, make it seem like he’s a real person, with real problems, marital ones and whatnot. Depp’s character may go through the usual trip of where he gets in way too deep and can barely get out without keeping his hands clean, but it’s Depp himself who keeps his head above the water, allowing us to believe in him no matter how scary certain situations may get for him. There’s a real sense of likability and regularity to Depp here, that I wish he would just go back to, at least one more time. That is, before he gets back together with Gore Verbinski and starts acting all nutty and cuckoo again. Why Johnny?!?! Why not come back to the real world?!?!

As great as Johnny is here, though, he’s definitely not the one who walks away with the flick. Leave that recognition to Al Pacino, playing, yet again, another mob boss that has a bit of anger-issues and problems on the inside, but keeps them more bottled-in than what we’re used to seeing with this type of character, or even the way Pacino usually plays them. What’s so great about Pacino playing Lefty is that, we get that this guy is not perfect and definitely has some control issues that get in the way of his better-judgement at times, but we still feel like he’s a good guy, underneath the phis-age and all. In fact, we know it, it just rarely comes out in the most obvious, hackneyed way you’d expect from a movie such as this. Pacino yells and hollers at times, but he keeps it surprisingly subdued and quiet as well, and that’s probably some of the best parts of this movie. Actually, mainly the ones with Depp and Pacino together, because you can tell that they form a bond that’s like a father-son combo, but also one that feels like it could be best friends as well. It’s sad to see them together, but you can’t help but feel something for them both, especially Lefty, who feels like an old man who will just never, ever get it right in the world that he lives in. Poor guy.

Same can sort of be said for the rest of the rag-tag mobsters that these two hang with. Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, and James Russo all play members of their mob and all do great jobs with the roles, especially Madsen who gives us his bad-boy charm that we all know and love, but also shows a bit more sympathy underneath it all, as if he too has something to prove to the people he surrounds himself with and aspires to be in the same shoes of one day. They’re all characters you’d expect to hate right off the bat, but they surprisingly have more heart and charm to them then you’d ever want to see in a flick like this. Just like the character of Joe’s stay-at-home-wife, played to perfection by Anne Heche, who not only shows us a real hard-edged woman that isn’t taking any shit from her hubby, but is also easy to sympathize with, despite her being a bit of a nag for bothering her husband about a job that not only pays the bills and gets the kids to school, but she knew about when she married him. She should be the vain of your humanity, but she’s written very realistically and performed very well by Heche herself, an actress who doesn’t get as much credit as she should.

Consensus: Though on page, Donnie Brasco should not work and be considered as conventional and predictable as they come, it surprisingly becomes a more emotional, compelling trip about what happens when a man gets too deep, can’t quite get himself out right away, but still has the screws in tight enough to get through it all. Sounds corny, but in the hands of Depp, Pacino, and the rest of the cast and crew, it’s very far from.

8.5 / 10

"I'm serious. Just forget about it."

“I’m serious. Just forget about it.”

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Serena (2015)

Pretty much a remake of Silver Linings Playbook. Except not everybody’s supposed to be nuts.

In Depression-era North Carolina, timber baron George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is dealing with most problems people have to deal with when they run any sort of business. Dealing with panthers and such in the wilderness that surrounds him and his workers, George realizes that he needs to figure something out in his life to give it more meaning. Which is why when he meets the young, beautiful and wistful Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), he instantly falls head-over-heels. Soon, they have sex, get married, and decide that it’s time to start a family. Problem is, Serena starts to take her husband’s business a little too seriously and get in the way of matters that don’t concern her. However, George loves Serena and doesn’t want to upset her, so when he impregnates her, he feels like they’re going to be getting back on-track into that happy, lovely couple they once were. Once again though, troubles arise when Serena suddenly finds out that she cannot bear children, which leads to horrifying, disastrous results that finds almost everyone involved with the Pemberton clan acting out in insane ways.

Serena1

Uh oh. One bad movie and B-Coops is making someone pay!

Oh, gosh. What went wrong? Sure, I’ve heard about Serena for a long while now, from when it was completed and then put on the shelf for nearly two years, to when it premiered at some festivals last year to ultimately disastrous reviews, but man, I sure as hell didn’t expect it to be this bad.

Seriously.

And while it’s hard for me to not just start and end this review by simply stating it’s crappy, there’s something that needs to be said here about movies that seem like they’d be alright, all because of who is involved with them. When you see names like “Bradley Cooper” and “Jennifer Lawrence”, you’d automatically expect that whatever they were involved with, to be something worth checking out, regardless of what it’s about. Heck, if you put J-Law and B-Coops in a room and film them for an-hour-and-a-half, chances are, we’re all going to watch it. They’ve made smart enough choices in the past to give us the idea that they know what they’re doing with their careers, and they’re more than talented enough to remind us why they get as much material thrown their way as they do.

But somehow, Serena just is not the kind of movie where all of this seems clear. Cooper and Lawrence seem like they are trying here with what’s given to them, but what’s given to them is absolute garbage and so far from any help, that even their more than reliable skills as actors can’t save the day. Even Susanne Bier, a solid director when she’s given enough inspiration, seems like she has no idea what to make of this tale, or even seem like she gives a damn. Then again, this could be just that the material is so thin and poorly-done, that even she couldn’t help it from being something better.

Either way, Serena is a mess. There’s no two ways of getting around it. Some of that is Bier’s fault, other times, it’s Cooper, Lawrence and the rest of the cast, but overall, it’s a group effort that seemed doomed from the beginning; regardless of how much effort may have been put into it.

Or in this case, I guess none.

See, what’s odd about Cooper and Lawrence here, is that while they’re usually spectacular in all else that they do, here, they seem incredibly awkward. Even they’re chemistry together that’s blossomed so well in the past seems like an after-thought in a movie that wants to have you believe in these two as long, lost loves who, after five seconds of meeting one another and boning, instantly fall in love and get married. It feels rushed and put-on, and to be honest, neither one’s performances help matters.

Somehow, female J-Law on a white horse isn't as awesome as it sounds.

Somehow, female J-Law on a white horse isn’t as awesome as it sounds.

Cooper has some odd Southern-twang in his voice that makes everything that comes out of his mouth, indecipherable, whereas with Lawrence, I don’t even know what to say. Her character is supposed to be this enchanting, yet demanding piece of work that seems to always get her way, no matter what; and when she doesn’t, it’s literally the end of the world for her, as well as all those surrounding her. Whereas Lawrence’s high-strung charm has worked for her in the past, because this character is so poorly-written and crazy, it all comes off as over-the-top and the decisions her character makes by the tail-end of this movie, are downright laughable. It makes you feel bad enough for Lawrence, until you realize that the gal already has an Oscar to her name and probably plenty more to come.

So any bit of sadness goes away once reality strikes.

And honestly, it’s hard to really think that this movie could have been good in some universe; it’s just not that type of movie. A part of me wants to feel that, even before Silver Linings hit the big screen and made both of these acts downright superstars, that Lawrence and Cooper took it, without knowing one another, and saw what could happen next. Maybe they got some nice pay out of their ordeal, or maybe they didn’t, but either way, this will slide right by them. They’ll go on to make bigger, way better movies (probably with David O. Russell) and seem to forget that this movie ever existed and eventually, will make it a blip in their memories.

The only ones who will remember are us, the normal, everyday citizens who will still be pondering that deadly question:

Just what the hell happened here?

Consensus: Sometimes, it doesn’t matter who’s involved, if you’re project is bad, it’ll probably stay that way. And that is exactly what happens to the poorly-written, terribly-acted, and so-bad-its-hilarious piece that is Serena; a movie you’ve heard is terrible and guess what? It is!

2 / 10 

"Go back to sleep, baby. It was all just a dream. A horrendous, terrifying, and downright disturbing dream."

“Go back to sleep, baby. It was all just a dream. A horrendous, terrifying, and downright disturbing dream.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Woman in Gold (2015)

The Nazis just can’t help themselves when they see a lovely portrait, apparently.

Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, has stood the test of time and will forever be known as one of the art world’s finest paintings ever created. However, during the Nazis raid on Vienna before WWII, it was confiscated and hidden for many years, all until Austria decided to start showcasing it in is museums. An elderly Holocaust survivor living in Los Angeles by the name of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), notices this and is ashamed. Why? Well, because the subject of that painting was her aunt and she rightfully believes that the painting belongs to her, in the name of her family and late, great aunt. But for some reason, the Austrian government isn’t budging and doesn’t want to give it back, so this is when Maria calls into a son of one of her friends, E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), who doesn’t seem all that involved with the proceedings to really give all the juice that a high-level case like this would need. However, Maria is inspired enough to try and get him to change his mind so that he will see this is not only her battle, but all of Jewish people’s.

Without the eye-brows, one can only assume she's astonished by whatever is in front of her.

Without the eye-brows, one can only assume she’s astonished by whatever is in front of her.

With last year’s the Monuments Men, we got to see the art world portrayed as it almost had never been before: On the gritty and war-torn landscapes of WWII, where people were constantly killing each other left and right, yet, to ensure that a sense of culture would stay alive and well in the years to come, a group of inspired art enthusiasts set out to retrieve pieces of art work that they believed were to be burned away by the Nazis. It was an interesting premise, for sure, and while the movie may have not done it all justice, there was still this intriguing aspect surrounding WWII that isn’t just discussing the obvious; even though everybody is acting in heinous, sadistic ways, that does not mean we have to lose sight of what makes us who we are. And somehow, art is exactly what represents that.

However, this is all just me talking and not at all what this movie discusses. Instead, it has more to do with Maria Altmann, the person, rather than the whole idea that the Nazis stole and most likely destroyed more than half of these foreign countries pieces of art. And for what? Just to prove how mean and grotesque they are? Or was it just to ensure that they would be the tale-tellers of history for generations to come, understand and listen to?

Maybe, maybe not. But hey, look how witty that Maria Altmann was!

Or, at least, that’s what I imagined was going through this movie’s mind as it seems to be more concerned with the lovely, little witticisms Altmann, the character, has to offer. Which is to say that Helen Mirren, for what it’s worth, does a solid job in this role in that she shows us the never ending sadness behind this character that hardly ever seemed to left, even when she did get a chance to escape Vienna and save herself from impending doom. But even with that brave act on her part, still comes the realization that everybody she came to know, love and spend most of her time around in her younger years, are all gone; maybe if they weren’t killed during the Nazis reign, maybe they are now. Maria Altmann is a lonely woman who is literally trying to hold on to whatever source of family or love she has left in her life.

However, this is all me looking deeper and deeper into what is, essentially, a buddy-cop dramedy with Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren; which, trust me, isn’t as fun as I may make it sound. Sure, they fight the baddies (in this case, the Austrian government), they bicker, they solve problems, and along the way, get to know more about each other through revealing conversations about their past or their feelings. All that’s missing is any bit of emotion.

Actually, that’s a lie. Because the only time that there is any emotion at all to be found, is whenever we flashback to Altmann’s life in Vienne, both before, as well as during the time where the Nazis came around and started terrorizing everything and everyone they ran into. There’s a sequence that runs for at least ten to 15 minutes where the younger-Altmann (Tatiana Maslany) and her hubby (Jack Irons) are on the run from the Gestapo, which is thrilling and exciting, even if you don’t expect it to be. Because we know that Altmann ultimately survived escaping from Vienna before the Nazis got to her first, this shouldn’t work one bit, but somehow, it totally does and felt like a solid diversion from whatever the hell Riggs and Murtagh were doing or talking about.

Presumably, after they were just involved with a high-speed car-chase with some crooks.

Presumably, after they were just involved with a high-speed car-chase with some crooks.

And I guess there is something to be said by the fact that Reynolds, like Mirren, at least tries with this character, but he isn’t given much of anything else to do except whine a lot and then, seemingly out of nowhere, gain the courage to fight against the Austrian government once and for all. Even Katie Holmes’ performance as his character’s wife, feels like she’s there just to pump him up and give him inspirational pull-quotes that will ultimately do everything for him, but nothing for us. Which is all a problem, especially when you’re begging and pleading with us to be involved with Altmann’s tale of tribulations.

Although Simon Curtis does genuinely seem to care for this story and the outcome of it all, it never seems like he’s putting absolutely all of his heart into it. Instead, he’s just sort of going through the motions of how we’re supposed to feel somewhat compelled by this type of story, until we realize that Curtis himself is using it as material to talk about the fact that there are plenty more paintings out there, either hidden or in plain-view, that were taken away from their rightful owners during the time of war. Once again, this is probably the most interesting notion that the movie seems to highlight, yet, never actually seems to care about.

Instead, he just wants us all to laugh at the cheeky woman that was Maria Altmann, who is about as funny as my alcoholic uncle on New Year’s Eve.

Consensus: Going through all of the motions you expect it to go through, the Woman in Gold seems to suffer from the lack of any sort of emotion, even if both Mirren and Reynolds seem to be digging deep and far to find any of it.

4 / 10

Why have a painting? When you can have the real thing?

Why have a painting? When you can have the real thing?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

It Follows (2015)

Remember kids: Don’t be silly, wrap your willy. OR DIE!

Taking place in the bored suburbs of Detroit, a deadly sexually-transmitted disease is being passed around amongst horny, free-willed teenagers who don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. Which is exactly what happens to Jay (Maika Monroe) when, after a night of fun, dinner, and sex, her date informs her of the tragic news: She has been infected with a disease that will take many forms of people that only she can see and follow her around, until it gets its grip on her, and kills her in graphic, disturbing ways. Apparently, the only way that Jay can stop the disease from doing this to her, is to have sex with somebody and pass it onto them; though it’s not entirely proven that this will get rid of the disease, or even the threat, it’s still something that makes those who infect others, feel better about themselves and free. Jay wants to get rid of the disease, but she doesn’t want to really infect anybody, so instead of dropping her drawers and having sex with some sucker, she decides to fight against the disease. It may, or may not work, but Jay is willing to fight till the end of her days to ensure that she is clear of all disease.

Remember when you were younger and your parents gave you those words of wisdom, “Don’t have sex. And if you do, be smart about it and use protection.” Well, that’s sort of the idea that It Follows is tapping into, except it’s not really trying to say anything smart, ground-breaking, or revolutionary; it’s literally just a story about a deadly STD that gets passed around to a bunch of horny, sex-crazed teenagers who are just exploring their inner-most desires. The movie never tries to judge any of these characters for partaking in these many sexual activities, nor does it seem like it wants to make a note about any sort of real STD’s that are out there today (*cough cough* HIV *cough cough*), and there’s no problem with that.

How I imagine every girl feels after sex with me: Happy, pleased and not-too disappointed. At least that's what I hope.

How I imagine every girl feels after sex with me: Happy, pleased and not-too disappointed. At least that’s what I hope.

Why? Because this movie’s freaking scary! That’s why!

And if you’re a horror movie, especially one being released in the year 2015, and still find a way to be scary, then you, my friend, are allowed to do whatever you want. Have sex with my girlfriend; kill my dog; steal my car; rob me; etc. Whatever you please to do to me, it doesn’t matter – as long as you’re effectively scary, then you are basically given free reign and that’s what I am giving it writer/director David Robert Mitchell. Not that he cares if he gets it either way from me, but still, it’s the idea of it.

Anyway, what Mitchell does oh so perfectly well here is that yes, he gives us the scary, but he does so in a way that’s surprisingly inventive, despite not being particularly original. There’s a lot of neat tricks and trades that Mitchell does with his camera that puts us in the same spot as the protagonists and allows for us to see what they see; doesn’t sound like much, I know, but when your general premise is that they’re being creeped-on by a deadly, unknown force that only they themselves can see, it does a lot of damage. Not only does it totally feel like the “it” is coming straight after us, but it puts us right in the driver’s seat of that rush that makes us want to run away with the protagonists to somewhere safe for the time being, in hopes that we’ll be ready for the next time this threat comes creeping up on us.

And what’s so odd about It Follows is that the threat, despite being as clear as day and only able to walk until it comes and kills you, is still effectively terrifying in its own way. Some of this has to do with the fact that Mitchell makes up the rule early on that the “it” is allowed to take any sort of form it wants, which usually leads to it looking like old ladies, or fully naked, menstruating zombies, but also because Mitchell’s score is so odd and screechy, that whenever it comes into play, you can’t help but get involved. Sure, the score feels like it’s borrowing a whole heck of a lot from John Carpenter’s Halloween piece, but it still works because it comes in at the right times and only seems to add more fuel to the fire of what is this movie’s scare-factor. Had the movie not already been as scary as it is, then the score would have come-off as loud, over-bearing and manipulative – but because the movie is already hella scary, the score serves as a nice companion to help making those scares even more compelling and worth while.

Speaking of those scares, Mitchell is a smart enough writer to understand that we don’t need the constant jump-scares to have us jumping in our seats. Like I mentioned before, he utilizes the idea that we know “it” is coming for us, and rather than trying to pull any cheap editing-tricks, he literally just films it so matter-of-factly that it’s subtlety in the fear that we’re supposed to be feeling, is almost so slight, it actually works for the movie, rather than against it. Mitchell doesn’t even go so far as to explain where this disease came from and what exactly happens to you when “it” finally gets its firm grasps on you – all Mitchell tells you is that it will come after you, never leave you alone, and when it finally does get you, will do horrendous, barbaric things to you and your body.

Young, brash, and horny teenagers. Oh, how I fear for them so!

Young, brash, and horny teenagers. Oh, how I fear for them so!

So basically, just don’t get caught by it as all.

I know I’m writing a lot about It Follows, but that in and of itself is a bit delight for me. It’s so very rare that I see a horror movie that not only scares the hell out of me, but actually seems like it’s trying to build something of a story altogether, too. Sure, the characters are a bit weak and underdeveloped, but then again, they don’t necessarily have to be in order to service this movie; all they have to do is have that want and dire need for sex, and they’re just fine. And because the movie doesn’t judge any single one of these characters for having sex, or even deciding to pass the disease around, mostly everyone here comes off sympathetic and relatable.

Cause honestly, who can ever forget a time when they weren’t sexually-charged in some way, or fashion? We were all teenagers once and when you’re at that time in your life, all your thinking about is sex. No matter where you at, or what you’re doing – sex is constantly on your mind. If people try to tell you otherwise, then they’re gosh darn liars that just never got that chance to have sex after Junior Prom with their hot date. It Follows knows that each and everyone of these characters are, for the most part, thinking about sex just about everywhere they go and because of that, the danger lurks everywhere.

How long before this STD grows larger and larger? In fact, how many more people does it have to kill before people get the hint to either use protection, keep a better watch over yourself, or just cut out sex altogether? Also, when will people stop spreading it onto others so that when they don’t have to deal with it, they get to feel better about themselves and their day-to-day happiness, where the other person feels like absolute crap because of the one instance of physical action had to happen?

Hey, wait a minute? I thought this wasn’t an HIV allegory!

Consensus: Without trying too hard at all, It Follows is one of the more effective, terrifying and, believe it or not, thoughtful horror movies to come out in recent time that doesn’t rely on a gimmick, or a conceit – just unabashed, unadulterated scares to remind you of the possible dangers of sex.

9 / 10 

How I imagine AIDS looks. Doctors?

How I imagine AIDS looks. Doctors?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Play It to the Bone (1999)

Only a movie that could have been made in the 90’s. Why? Because boxing was considered “cool and sociable”.

Former semi-famous boxers, Vince and Cesar (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas) are now buddies living in L.A. after their careers fell apart. In other words, their has-beens, but still haven’t yet come to terms with that fact, still train, still long for the golden days, and hope to get their shots at being in the “big time” once again. All their dreams come true though, once two boxers who were originally scheduled to appear in an undercard match, seemingly can’t, giving the major-promoter (Tom Sizemore) nowhere else to go except to round these two up, have them fight one another, for a hefty-sum of $50,000 and a shot at the title. Sounds pretty good for these two, but getting there might be a problem, so they call-up gal-pal Grace (Lolita Davidovich) to give them a ride, but also to enlist some moral-support in both of them, considering that she’s banged them both, and is still banging one.

Without even knowing all about this flick prior to seeing it, I have to admit that the premise itself is pretty interesting and leaves plenty of room for fascinating questions, ideas, and themes, For instance, this is the tale of two friends that have to go head-to-head against one another, and basically beat the crap out of each other, just in hopes that they get more money and recognition than the other. That, and also the fact that it will probably ruin their life-long friendship from now, until forever. That’s got to be a pretty big risk to take for a friendship, no matter who the two friends are in question and it sets up some pretty intriguing, psychological questions about the limits of friendship, how far one goes to keep it lasting, and also, how far one will go to end it to better themselves.

Oh, the days when the Caesar-cut was still in style.

Oh, the days when the Caesar-cut was still in style.

All of these are thought-provoking questions, which also are never, ever addressed a single ounce in Ron Shelton’s flick.

Instead, we are subjected to two idiots who not only can sustain a normal conversation without getting into a meaningless argument about whatever’s on their mind, but a road trip with these buffoons as well. Yay for us! Actually, not “yay” at all, since practically the whole movie consists of us watching as these two just blow smoke out of each other’s ass, try to be funny, and try to make their characters seem like real people, with real feelings and emotions, but they never go any further than just, “meat heads who have a bit of a soft-side”.

That’s all there is to them. Well, with the exception that one is a firm believer in the almighty God and will make sure to let you know every time you mutter “Jesus Christ” in a sentence – and that the other also happened to be playing for the same team (if you know what I mean) for a little over a year. Why? Well, because he was depressed that he got his ass kicked in a boxing match and thought that there was nowhere else to go except for the Johnson. Now it totally makes sense why gay people are in fact, well, gay. It’s because they’re depressed. Thanks, Ron Shelton!

The insight you feature in your films, mainly this one, is unbelievable!

But not only is this movie stupid, it’s undeniably boring as well, which is a real shame for a boxing movie. Even the actual boxing match at the end is pretty dry because apparently we’re supposed to care for these characters, the outcome of their match, who’s going to win, who’s feelings are going to end up being hurt the most, and who’s going to get a shot at the title when all is said and done. Even worse, the movie loses its whole jokey feel and tone, and decides to get serious on us, but not without giving us some shots of naked women, dudes, and a guy dressed as Jesus. It’s all supposed to be hilarious, but dramatic at the same time, but instead, just feels rather odd, as if Shelton didn’t know where he wanted to take this material, so instead decided to just throw in jokes that weren’t ever funny to begin with and just resorted to cuing-up the sad, dramatic music, all before ending on a rather conventional, obvious, and totally care-free note that should infuriate you by how lame it is, but just doesn’t because you don’t care.

At least somebody's bothering to call their agent.

At least somebody’s bothering to call their agent.

Not even a single bit.

And despite Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson being two lovable, charming fellas, they can’t really do much with this crap script or their thinly-written characters. Banderas has a bit more to work with here as Cesar, mainly because the dude’s softer and more sympathetic than Harrelson’s outlaw Vince, but can’t hit the comedic-notes as well as Shelton wants him to. Not that the comedic-notes were funny to begin with, but it does get painful after awhile to see Banderas try to be humorous, while also trying to defend his character by denying the fact that he was “a fag for a year”. That’s the type of humor we’re dealing with here, and I use that word “humor” very loosely. Harrelson seems like he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing for his whole career and does it well as Vince, it’s just that his character is random.

First of all, he’s trying to be a nice, Christian-like dude that believes in the Holy Spirit, believes in a higher-power, and will do everything to ensure his spot up there all tucked-in and cozy in heaven, but is also a bit of a slum-bag. Take for instance when Lucy Liu’s terribly annoying character comes in, starts acting like a skank, and gets his eyes moving out of nowhere. Obviously, she’s good-looking and obviously, any dude in their right mind would take a whack at that, but after all of his Holy Father preaching of self-righteousness, he’s going to be one of them? Really? Okay, I guess I’m making more of a stink of it than it deserves but so be it. It was just odd to watch after awhile and I felt bad for Harrelson because the dude seems to be trying with all of his might, it’s just not working out well for him. And as for Lolita Davidovich, as pretty and charming as she can be, her role serves no purpose here other than giving these two dudes a ride, and trying to get them to reflect on their own actions and decisions. Or something like that.

Honestly, nobody should care.

Consensus: Peeps going in and expecting a sports movie that’s fun, entertaining, hilarious, fast-paced, quick, and witty, will probably be more than disappointed with Play It to the Bone because it’s so safe, meandering, and boring, you’ll wonder when the hell they’re just going to hit the year 2005 and all of the boxing world will practically be forgotten about because of even bigger idiots like these ones here.

2 / 10

Fight, or don't fight. I could care less.

Fight, or don’t fight. I could care less.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

After the Wedding (2007)

Never be the odd-man-out at a wedding.

Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is something of a loner that spends his time in the company of orphans at the shelter he runs in Bombay. As much as Jacob is attached to these children and tries so hard to make everything the absolute best for them all, he still can’t get past the fact that the place needs money, and needs it quick before the place is all closed up and the kids are thrown out onto the streets, where they are most likely going to be left to rot and die, or lead a life of sex, drugs, and crime. Either way, it’s a crummy situation. That all begins to change when Jacob receives a call from a very rich man from Denmark named Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), who shows a slight amount of interest in donating money to this orphanage. Reasons why? Well, Jacob, as concerned and curious as he may be, decides to venture out to Denmark to see what this fast-cat is all about and realizes that there may be a little more to this man’s deal than originally thought of before.

In all honesty, I can’t go on any further with this flick’s plot because that would just spoil the mystery behind what’s happening here. While everything seems so crystal clear and simple on the surface, there’s more shadings underneath all of this and rather than surprising us with twists to keep us interested, the movie instead shows us just how these secrets can come out in a way that tells us more about ourselves, much rather than the actual secrets themselves.

"We are supposed to be smiling in this movie, right?"

“We’re supposed to be smiling in this movie, right?”

Co-writer/director Susanne Bier knows that her audience should expect anything from her movies, and does so in a way where it doesn’t seem manipulative or random at any point in the movie. Once one big reveal is shown to us, another one comes, then another, and another, and even when we think we’re done, another huge one shows up and really blows our mind. Each and every twist to the story isn’t used as a way to keep our minds on the story at all times, as if everything else about it blew, but more as a way to show us that life is unpredictable at times, realistically so too. Once you think you have the story figured out, Bier gives us something new, and hell, more shocking to deal with. However, it’s not us who has to deal with these twists the most – it’s the characters in the flick who have to and that’s where most of the brutality of this story comes into play.

I don’t mean to say “brutality” in the way that it’s disturbing and gruesome to watch; I mean to say that sometimes, no matter how long this story goes on for, you always feel like your emotions and your heart are constantly being hammered away at. Bier does this in a way to where we feel the same exact feelings and ideas that these characters are, and doesn’t allow us to let up one bit, even when it seems like everything with this story is all fine and dandy. Also, the characters in this movie all serve a purpose for knowing one another and that’s what makes the twists all the better because instead of making the movie seem like a twisty and turny thriller of some sorts, it becomes more of a stepping-stool for these characters to get to know one another better and connect with each other more than they ever thought was possible. It’s more beautiful than it is harrowing to watch, although I do have to say that the flick itself can get pretty damn depressing at certain points.

Honestly though, I don’t mean to use the word “depressing” in a bad way neither.

Stories like this should be sad, but for the sole reason that their honest and realistic. Not used in a way where it’s like we’re watching a melodramatic soap opera, where the creators behind-the-camera just want to see how surprised we can be by the stupid roads the stories go down. Sometimes the movie’s bleakness does become unbearable to watch and grip, but it’s all the more rewarding because it feels like a story worth telling, especially since it’s about the people around us that make up our lives and round us out to who we are today, even if we don’t quite take a knowing to it just yet. With time though, like with anything in life, we get to realize what’s important and what’s bollocks. And most likely, the people that you meet in your life are more part of the former. However, there are also members of the latter as well, so don’t be fooled by my sure surprise of optimism.

For Mads Mikkelsen here, this is less of a showy role for the guy as he gets the chance to play it soft, quiet, subdued, and subtle when the movie calls on him to be, but is totally able to unleash the raw-fire emotions when he needs to as well. Any type of feeling that Mikkelsen has to convey with this sweet-natured character of Jacob, he achieves and does it so honestly, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Mads himself cried a little bit on-screen. He would never tell us, but I wouldn’t be surprised either.

If you're as rich as him, you could afford to have this mug all day too.

If you’re as rich as him, you could afford to have this mug all day. too.

However, as good as Mads is (which, trust me, he is) the one who really steals the show from him is Rolf Lassgård as the surprisingly generous billionaire with a long, extending hand: Jørgen. At first when we meet Jørgen, the dude seems like a bit of a dick. He’s rich, pompous, throws his money around, and seems to be up to same shaky business-dealings with this Jacob dude; so shaky, that you begin to wonder just what movie this is going to turn out to be. That is, until we finally get ahold of who this character is, what his intentions are, and what he’s been meaning to do all of this time, and we realize that he’s actually a humble guy, if a very messed-up one, both emotionally and physically.

Despite me never seeing him in anything else before this flick, Lassgård shocked the hell out of me with how far into this character he could go. He shows all sides to this dude that was ever humanly possible of seeing, and then some. We see him as a drunken-galoot that can’t hold his liquor in, even when it’s in the afternoon; as a con man that’s less than subtle with his manipulative ways; as the rich and inspired business man that’s able to make a room smile and cheerful in a click of his watch; as the loving and caring family man, who not only is always there for his wife, but wants nothing but the best for his kids, even if they don’t see the bleakness of life coming right at them, straight in the face; and last, but certainly not least, as the type of guy you can’t help but love, even as all of his motives for the things that he does come crashing at his feet. Lassgård is perfect in this role, lights the screen up every chance he gets, and made me cry my eyes out, just by being there.

Take for instance, the last scene with him. I won’t give it away, but I will tell you that it’s going to hit a soft spot that you can’t help but watch, but at the same time, try to hide away from as well. Seriously, he’ll get you and that’s not to take any credit away from Sidse Babett Knudsen and Stine Fischer Christensen either – it’s just that it’s so obvious where the heart, body, and soul of this film lies within.

Which is why you shouldn’t judge a person by the size of their wallet. Or something.

Consensus: Occasionally wallowing in its own sorrow a bit too much, After the Wedding still hits its emotional-marks with its upsetting story, as well as the great performances from the cast, especially Lassgård.

8.5 / 10

All the happiness in the world: Ends here.

All the happiness in the world, sadly, ends here.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Mommy (2014)

Say what you will about Freud, the dude was definitely getting at something.

After her son gets expelled from his school for starting a fire and injuring another student, Diane “Die” Després (Anne Dorval) is forced to take him out and raise him on her own. The only problem is that young Steven (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a bit of a hot head, who not only battles with ADHD, but is also going through the most challenging transition period of any guy’s life: Going from being a boy, to becoming a man. Because of this, Steven usually lashes out uncontrollably at those around him, is unpredictable as to when his mood will change, and generally doesn’t know how to love his mother and treat her with the respect she deserves. That looks like it may all change, however, once their neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), shows up and begins tutoring Steven on such subjects as math, English, and, according to Steven at least, sex. But even she has a dark side that may get in the way of the relationship between Die and Steven, or may even help them reinvigorate it. It’s all sort of up in the air.

Xavier Dolan makes me mad. Not because his movies are incredibly pretentious, or because they seem to all deal with this idea of self-entitlement, but because he’s literally three years older than me, already has five movies to his name, and has been granted all sorts of critical acclaim since day one. If there’s somebody out there in this world who I loathe more, honestly, I don’t know if I’d be able to find them – Xavier Dolan is my arch-nemesis, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know this, nor even care.

The face of the future, folks. Meaning, we're all boned.

The face of the future, folks. Meaning, we’re all boned.

Then again though, he does make some good movies, so I can’t be too upset with him.

And that’s what he has here with Mommy; a film that has garnered so much love and praise already, that I feel like me writing a review about it nearly six months after the fact won’t do much, but it’s been a movie on my mind since the day I first saw it, so why not? Because with Mommy, sure, it’s a great movie, but is it as perfect as everybody has been praising it as being? Definitely not, but there’s something interesting to that negativity. People haven’t really been upset with Mommy because it throws in there certain ideas about incest, sexual abuse, and even mental illness, it’s more that people have been upset with the movie for not having anything more to really say about it.

Which is, yes, definitely true. For the longest time, it seems like Dolan has something neat, or interesting to say about all of these themes and while it starts off as such, it ends up circling around saying the same thing, again and again. That these people are all inherently messed-up from all sorts of various problems, Dolan uses them as a way to show us that all you need is love, heart and humanity to get you through any sort of situation. It’s definitely a sweet idea, but it’s one that doesn’t necessarily break down the walls of what we’ve already seen or heard before – it’s basically just Dolan letting us know that people are people, and that’s it.

But even while Mommy doesn’t have anything new to say, it’s still engaging and incredibly watchable. My better-part is containing myself from the uttering the word “entertaining”, because it’s painstakingly clear that Dolan doesn’t want this piece to perceived in that way, but that’s sort of what happens when you put all of the right ingredients together and just let them do your thing. When you have wacky, unpredictable characters, thrown into a story that deals with their relationships together, have great performers, and toss in the Oedipus complex for good measure, then needless to say, there’s going to be some fun to be had.

Not just because it’s funny to see how wacky, unpredictable people interact with one another, but because Dolan never judges them or puts them on a peddle-stool. He literally sees them for who they are – troubled, messed-up, emotionally-repressed human beings who are just about ready to explode with anger and tension. That’s what really keeps the heart of this film at level with all of the other crazy shenanigans it portrays these characters of getting into; rather than showing them off as crazy loonies that can’t handle any bit of their emotions, Dolan instead shows us that what they’re going through, together as well as separate, is what you or I could be going through, too.

The only difference here is that they’re a bit nuttier.

The girl next door, except that she ain't no girl! She a woman! Look out, younger boys!

The girl next door, except that she ain’t no girl! She’s a full-grown woman! Look out, younger boys!

And with that said, mostly everybody here is played up to a certain level of nuttiness that actually works for the movie, rather than being so incredibly over-the-top and working against it. As Die, Anne Dorval gives a ruthless performance of a woman who clearly loves her son, but also knows that he can be a total animal and needs to control him more and more. They have a sweet relationship, that sometimes does borderline almost too sweet, but it’s also one that’s believable and doesn’t make you think that there aren’t real life mother-son duos like this in real life. Dorval shows us that this Die woman clearly wants her son to be safe, normal, and even slightly sane, but also knows that it all comes with a price and is sometimes willing to let go of her morals because of that. This transition should make her detestable, but it doesn’t, and actually works for helping to keep her character humane, rather than a caricature of what Dolan wants to show us as “the evil mom”.

Another character who is sort of in the same field as Die, is Suzanne Clément’s Kyla, who seems like there’s something downright deep and disturbing about her, but what that is, we never really know. That mystery about her is what keeps her mostly interesting, but also the fact that she genuinely cares for Steven and Die, even when she’s abandoning her own family because, also makes her feel like someone who is easy to care about. Even if her problems with stuttering and repression continue to act up, she still seems like a person that, at the end of the day, needs a nice, cozy, and warm hug to let her know everything will end up all right in the end.

Same goes for Steven, who is played with absolute ferocity by youngin’ Antoine-Olivier Pilon. As most old people say, “That kid’s chock full of piss and vinegar”, and that is exactly the case with Steven; he’s always spirited, clearly fuming with some sort of angst, and makes it seem like he’ll hump anything that walks, so long as they return the favor (sort of like me). In all honesty, his character is probably the most stereotypical out of anyone else here, but Pilon makes it worthwhile because he is constantly all over the place, making us wonder what he’s going to say or do next, and just who the hell he’s going to make feel uncomfortable in any certain situation. Like everyone else here, he’s a ticking time bomb that’s just about ready to explode, but when and where that happens, is constantly left up in the air and it’s always compelling because of that.

But don’t worry, Dolan, I won’t say “entertaining”, even if that’s exactly what it is.

Consensus: All artistry aside, Mommy is a constantly engaging, if somewhat familiar story about challenging people, thrown into a challenging situation, who are all just trying to make it out of it alive, and with some degree of sanity left in them.

8 / 10

Mommy knows best. Trust me.

Mommy knows best. Trust me.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Riot Club (2015)

Rich kids get a bad rap. They’re just like you or I – except with lots more money, is all.

Milo Richards (Max Irons) is a first-year student at Oxford University and doesn’t really know what his place in the world, let alone at college. But he knows that he wants to start something up with fellow freshman Lauren (Holliday Grainger) who shows him that being popular and cool doesn’t matter once you’ve got someone special in your life. However, that doesn’t register with Milo, as he still finds himself drawn to certain people in and around the University that are deemed “cool”, or typically “posh”. That’s why when a group of young, rich hot-shots from other universities recruit Milo for what they call “the Riot Club”, he doesn’t go against it; in fact, he allows it. Once Milo’s apart of this group, he acts out in all sorts of ways he never quite expected himself to act out in the first place: Running, cursing, breaking things, partying, and generally causing all sorts of havoc. Eventually though, all of the good times Milo has with the club start to come to a close when he realizes that all of these fellas are up to no good and are absolute menaces to society – something Milo doesn’t want to be, nor associate himself with.

What we have here is another case of an interesting premise, and a movie that doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to go about saying what it wants to say in a smart, understood way. Instead, the Riot Club is a movie that wants to be two, completely different things: A) It wants to be the pint-sized version of the Wolf of Wall Street where young, British whippersnappers go around drinking, sexxing, and causing all sorts of chicanery for the hell of it, and B) It wants to be a cautionary tale for kids out there to not conform so easily to what all of the cool kids are doing, no matter how fun it may seem. The later element is a thoughtful one, but when it’s thrown-up against a movie that wants to praise the same assholes it’s talking out against, then there becomes something of a problem that’s hard to get by.

"To asshole d-baggery!"

“To asshole d-baggery, lads!”

This is a shame, too, because the Riot Club just so happens to come from the hands of Lone Scherfig, a director who seems to have fallen on the forgotten-path of life since One Day. Scherfig does a solid job of setting these characters up to be total and complete jackasses that, despite all of the fortune and fame that they may have, are absolute dicks that nobody wants to be around, let alone spend up to two hours with. However, Scherfig seems like she actually wants to hang out with them for two hours and because of that, the movie becomes a mess.

We want to not like these characters because of what they stand for – Scherfig knows this, too. However, she doesn’t allow for these characters, for the first two-halves that is, actually show their dark sides. They’re just young, rambunctious, and rowdy kids that like to cause mayhem wherever they go because, well, they can. They’re rich, spoiled and don’t have an absolute care in the world and while Scherfig may want us to like them, it’s very hard to.

That’s why when, all spoilers ahead, these d-bags get their comeuppance, it doesn’t feel organic. It feels thrown in there because Scherfig, realizing what sort of movie she was setting out to make, didn’t want to make it seem like she liked all of these characters to begin with. So, she shows them acting like a crazed lunatics that, when they have a little too much to drink, break down walls, throw tables, and beat the shit out of anybody that steps into their way. The way this is all shown at the end is a bit too cartoonish to take seriously, and not to mention that it’s all highly unbelievable.

Literally, these characters go from yelling, hooting and hollering about being rich and cool, but then, literally moments later, they’re acting like crazed lunatics in the midst of a prison riot. This would make sense of Scherfig ever made a hint of this throughout the whole piece, but she doesn’t; instead, we just see how these guys are dicks and that’s it. There’s no sign at all that they may be dangerously violent and possibly even lash-out on random, innocent people like they begin to do in the later-parts of this movie, for no reason whatsoever.

Professing your love on a roof? How original, mate.

Professing your love on a roof? How original, mate.

Maybe this is how these groups are in real life, I don’t know. All I know is that it takes an awful lot for people to start acting the way these characters do later on.

But honestly, all of the problems with the Riot Club would have been if Scherfig gave us someone worth reaching out towards and rooting for, but sadly, we don’t really get that. Sure, she gives us a sympathetic protagonist in Milo, but once you get down to the brass-tacks of this character, you realize that the only reason he’s written at all to be sympathetic, is because he doesn’t do nearly as much drinking, smoking or bad-assery as these fellows. He still does it when push comes to shove, but all he’s really got to live for is a girl and I guess that’s why he doesn’t partake as much in these hellacious activities.

That doesn’t really give us a character worth sympathizing with, let alone actually caring about, which is a huge problem where not only everybody seems to be unlikable, but are hard to really differentiate from one another. One character, played by Sam Reid, is the gay one who constantly hits on Milo, no matter how much he turns him down, but that’s pretty much it. Everybody else, from the likes of Sam Claflin to Douglas Booth, all are the same characters and hardly have any character-traits that make them seem more complex than the others. Not that there’s much to them to begin with, but hey, a little dimensions would’ve helped.

Consensus: Nobody in the Riot Club is likable, which is sort of the point of the movie, and sort of not, which makes it a non-interesting, repetitive mess.

2.5 / 10 

The bright, young faces of the new world. And for that, we're all screwed.

The bright, young faces of the new world. And for that, we’re all screwed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Get Hard (2015)

Just watch any season of Oz and you’ll be fully prepared for all the lovely surprises prison has for you.

When wealthy businessman James King (Will Ferrell) is wrongfully convicted of tax evasion, rather than taking the plea deal that would have him serve less time, in a far more secure institution, and also have him accept the blame, James goes down the harder-route: 10 years in San Quentin State Prison. Which, for anybody who knows anything about prisons, is pretty hardcore if you’re just a simple white fella who only knows jail through episodes of Lockup. But to make sure that he survives his whole, 10-year-sentence, James calls on his car-washer, Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), who he thinks went to jail, only because of his skin color and not because of his actual criminal-record – which, had James read it, he would’ve realized that Darnell’s record is as clean as a whistle. Still, James makes Darnell an offer that he can’t refuse: He will pay him $30,000 if he teaches him how to be rough and tough to survive in prison. Darnell agrees, but he also knows that maybe there’s something to James that may actually be innocent in the first place, regardless of what the papers may be saying.

Get it? Because Kevin Hart is tiny.

Get it? Because Kevin Hart is tiny.

Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell are two of the most talented acts we have in comedy today, although, they still have their own brand that works. Hart is like a new-age Eddie Murphy in that he makes everything around him funny, no matter what the hell piece of crap he’s actually starring in, whereas with Ferrell, his humor tends to lean more towards the wicked side of life, with his occasional outlandishness taking center-stage. There’s no problem with either of these acts, in fact, they’re quite superb. They both make whatever it is that they’re doing better, and show that, if you give the time, they will make you laugh.

You’d think that putting them together would be an absolute home-run though, right? And not just for audiences all over the world, but each other, right?

Well, that’s the problem with Get Hard right from the get-go – while it boasts these two top-tier comedic talents, the movie saddles them with hardly anything funny to do, or say. Like, at all. Instead, we get to listen to Hart constantly yell at Ferrell for being nerdy and white, which then leads Ferrell to start crying and acting scared because his character isn’t used to this sort of thing. It sounds funny, but it isn’t, not to mention that it’s downright repetitive once you realize that practically the whole movie is just going to feature them two performing all sorts of stuff that happens in prison.

While that, on paper, sounds like absolute fun and ripe with laugh-out-loud moments, there’s something strange about Get Hard that feels like it wants to make fun of the whole prison world, yet, still not say anything about it either. Though I may be looking into this thing a bit too deeply, there’s a part of me that believes somewhere deep down inside of Get Hard, lies a flick that wants to discuss racial-roles and stereotypes, as well as those that lie within the prison-system, and how ridiculous it can sometimes get, that any typical, peaceful citizen would have to drop all senses of morality and act as violent as humanly possible. Maybe that’s all just me, but I feel like there are elements to this movie that want to shed some light on that and leave it up to the audience to make up their own decisions on it. But more or less, the movie doesn’t actually do that and relies on Hart and Ferrell’s improvs to steal the spotlight from everything else going on.

Which brings me to another problem with this movie and that’s the improv-element of this movie Hart and Ferrell were clearly told to do and have absolute free reign with, no matter where the story went. Normally, I am fine when certain comedians show up in movies to just improv and make things up as they go along; sometimes, it detracts from what’s really happening in the story, but other times, it provides plenty of wacky, wild and zany laughs that you can’t really get with when somebody’s writing it all out. Sometimes, you just have to let the performers do their stuff and if it works, then you’re golden.

Who says blacks and whites can get along? Look at that!

“Dude, what are we doing here?”

However, if it doesn’t work, then you, your cast, and your whole movie, may be screwed. Which is exactly the problem with Get Hard. Too often than not, the movie allows for Hart or Ferrell to take a crazy scene, and have it go to even crazier extremes, which should all be funny, but instead, just feel repetitive and tiresome.

Take for instance, a scene in which Hart’s character is describing to Ferrell’s about the yard in prison and how it is sometimes the most dangerous area of prison. Hart gets the chance to impersonate what seems to be a black gang-banger, a Hispanic one, and a gay prisoner, which all seems like it could be really funny, but goes on way too long and leaves Hart to just say the same thing, again and again. I’ll give it to Hart throughout this scene, as well as the rest of the movie, the dude goes for it all and lets it be known to us that he clearly wants us to laugh, but he just gets too carried away here. Maybe that has less to do with Hart, and more to do with the fact that director Etan Cohen should have known when the time was to pull the curtain and call it a wrap, but either way, it doesn’t work as well as it did in something like, I don’t know, say Ride Along.

Say what you will about that movie, but at least it had a few laughs, mostly thanks to Hart. Here, however, that hardly happens.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad to begin with, had Ferrell been there to save the day and make everything funny by just simply being there, but that doesn’t even happen. More or less, we’re treated to scenes where Ferrell acts like the typical goof-ball we normally see him as in many movies, but it’s never quite funny here. Like with Hart, his improv goes hardly anywhere fun or inspiring; it’s just him saying stupid stuff, as if he was definitely making it all up on the fly, but didn’t want the actual good bits in this movie so that he could possibly save them for another, far better movie.

And a far better movie, I hope, there is past after Get Hard. Not just for Hart or Ferrell, but for us all.

Consensus: Occasionally funny due to the talents of both Hart and Ferrell, Get Hard takes a neat premise, and hardly goes anywhere with it that’s hilarious, or even interesting. It’s just silly is all.

3 / 10 

Ah, racism. Gotta love it.

Cause Ferrell’s character wants to fit in and seem “gangster”. Get it? Ah, racism.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Insurgent (2015)

See what happens when you don’t conform, people? All hell breaks loose.

After messing with the Erudite’s plans, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are on the run and in need of some sort of shelter so that the evil, diabolical head of Erudite (Kate Winslet) can’t force them to be something that they aren’t. Because of this, they find themselves in the company of many random groups – one of which includes Four’s mother (Naomi Watts) who seems to have the same mission in her head as well. The only problem is that nobody is able to fully trust Four or Tris, so they must figure out a way to retrieve this secret box that has all sorts of special powers that only certain people can attain. One of those people just so happens to be Tris, but she’ll have to get to the box, in one piece, before she loses her life and ruins all of the plans that the “Factionless” have had to conquer their society.

This is a very hard premise to write about, because honestly, there’s not much here. Not just because I don’t care about any of this (which I don’t), but because the bulk of Insurgent seems to be about getting this mysterious box and doing so without dying. Or, at least that’s what I thought it was about.

Sorry, Jai NotTaylorKitsch Courtney. You'll get 'em next time.

Sorry, Jai NotTaylorKitsch Courtney. You’ll get ’em next time.

In fact, most of the time while watching this movie, it’s never made clear just what’s really driving it, or even what the main point is; we know that Kate Winslet’s character is up to no good, but why? What does she want from all of these faction-less people that she can’t get elsewhere? And also, just what the hell is up with that box?

These are all questions that you may, or may not, find toggling around in your head. Which is probably a good thing for Insurgent, because at least that’s something to think about while all of the boring proceedings take place in front of you, without you ever feeling invested in it, or having much of a reason as to why you should care about it in the first place. It’s how I felt about Divergent, but at least that movie had enough world-building and character-development to allow for the two-and-a-half hours to go down smoothly.

Here though, Insurgent is a half-hour less than Divergent, but it feels at least ten times longer.

That’s a problem in general, but when your movie has as little plot, character-development, and/or interesting metaphors to offer as this, then you’re in huge trouble. Which is probably why YA movies such as these try so hard to latch onto the popularity of other (better) movies like the Hunger Games, or even Harry Potter. Those movies felt like they had a reason to exist; a reason to explore the universes that they created; and even better reason to give us compelling characters worth rooting for, and sometimes even despising the hell out of. The Divergent franchise has barely any of that, and it shows just about every minute of this second installment.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t some enjoyment to be had with this material. Some of the performances from this ensemble are well-done (especially from a newly-acquired Naomi Watts, who fits in well), and the crazy, over-the-top action-sequences that occur in this LARP-like world are quite neat to look at, but whenever the movie gets back to the reality of this world, it becomes all the more clear that there’s just nothing really holding this together. The world that this movie has created isn’t at all believable, but the movie doesn’t know this – instead, it constantly hits us over the head with metaphors out the wazoo about “being yourself” and “standing up to those who try to make you think or act like they do”.

It’s basically everything my high school therapist told me, except that he actually cared about my well-being. This movie, on the other hand, doesn’t. It just wants my money and my time so that I can hopefully come back around and see what’s crack-a-lackin’ with the next two installments of those already over-done franchise.

How does one actually get caught into this situation?

How does one actually get caught into this situation?

Which brings up another question: Will I actually give them, the creators of this franchise, what they want and go to see these next few movies?

You know what? Probably.

The reason being is because, despite my best intentions, I’m already in too deep. Movies like these where the franchise doesn’t need to exist, nor does it need to be as long as it is, always get me because once I’ve seen one installment, I have to practically see them all. It’s sort of like binge-watching a new TV show and already wanting to give up on it. Then, you realize that there’s maybe two more seasons left and rather than just leaving it at that, calling it a day, and moving onto the next TV show that you’ll probably want to give up on about 30 episodes in, you stick with it because already, you’ve seen too much. You can’t give up – you have to keep on watching, seeing what happens next.

And why is that? Well, because you already made the first mistake of watching the initial installments to begin with. After them, you’re screwed and practically owe your life to whoever created whatever it is you’re watching. It sounds like a painful, miserable, and downright excruciating experience, but that’s because, it is.

Insurgent is a painful movie to get through, and it shouldn’t be. With this stacked of an ensemble, there should be more than heavy-handed metaphors for them to deliver, but sadly, that’s what we get. Nobody here is a real character; they’re just serving a plot that thinks it’s a lot smarter or thought-provoking than it really is. They spout babble about “being themselves” and “not giving in”, but by saying that, the movie has already set itself up for failure. That the movie is conventional, plodding, and like anything else you’ve ever seen in the many years since Twilight hit theaters, already shows that Insurgent should have taken its own advice and branched out a bit more. Instead, it’s just like the rest of the pack.

Damn conformists.

Consensus: At two hours, Insurgent is already too long with hardly anything interesting to say, do with its thin-plot, or offer to its ensemble, who clearly have better places to be than slumming it low like this.

2.5 / 10

"We don't need no education!"

“We don’t need no education!”

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