Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

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!”

The Salvation (2015)

When you kill someone, make sure they aren’t the roughest, toughest outlaw’s baby bro.

After being separated from them for a very long time, Danish immigrant Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) is finally reunited with his wife and son. Now feeling as if he can start his life anew, the trio set out for new land, but getting there is only the first hurdle they have to overcome. Though they didn’t expect it, they end up taking a carriage ride with a boozed-up, slick-tongued cowboy (Michael James-Raymond) who messes around and even threatens Jon and his family. Jon clearly doesn’t take too kindly to this, but before he knows it, his son and wife are killed. Jon takes matters into his own hands and kills this baddie, but little does he know that the baddie just so happens to have an older brother; one that won’t take too kindly to random people killing his family members. That man, gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), makes it his life’s mission to find out who killed his brother and do whatever the hell he, or his mute sister-in-law (Eva Green), wants done to this justified killer.

It’s very hard to add much of anything new to the western genre. Sure, people try it and sometimes, come up big, but more often than not, they end up just treading the same water that’s been tread since the days of the John Ford westerns. That isn’t to say somebody can’t make a fun, even mildly interesting western, it’s just hard to do so and make sure people actually see your movie and take it in for what it is: A game-changer. Clint Eastwood had the luck of being Clint Eastwood when he made Unforgiven, and Kevin Costner, although the movie itself wasn’t such a hit with most, at least had the luck of being Kevin Costner when he made Open Range.

Oh, I get it now! "A dirt nap"!

Oh, I get it now! “A dirt nap”!

Both are westerns that have put a neat spin on the western genre we’ve all seen so much of, which brings into question just how many really great westerns are left out there for us, the rest of the world, to discover?

I honestly can’t answer that question, but I can say that the Salvation comes pretty damn close. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, because while the Salvation may not be the end-all, be-all game-changer that the western genre so desperately needs, it still offers up a fun, exciting and sometimes fresh look inside the genre, without ever trying to make any grand statements about humanity, life, or death. It’s just a good, old-fashioned, revenge-tale, that also just so happens to take place in the wild, wild West.

So what’s so wrong with that?

Nothing really, especially since Danish director Kristian Levring seems to have a deep love for these kinds of movies, and doesn’t have a problem presenting them as simple as humanly possible – man’s family gets killed, man takes revenge, man gets hunted because of said revenge. It’s all so damn simple and old-fashioned, but it actually works in the movie’s favor. There’s not much time for characters to take a seat, chat about their own mortality, or even pass-off some general idea about life that we don’t already have in our heads as is; there’s just an awful lot of shooting, screwing, boozing, robbing, and killing. Basically, the way all westerns should be, with some heart and humanity thrown in there for good measure, although that’s not to say that a movie lives or dies by that. Sometimes, being entertaining is all you need to be, in order to get a pass from most audience members.

But thankfully, the Salvation has a little bit of both. Sure, it maybe has a whole lot more violence going on and around, but there’s still something of a heart that’s seen to be intact that makes the proceedings all the more compelling, rather than just having people shoot one another, and not even giving us a chance to care. Because this lead protagonist, Jon, was thrown into a desperate situation, and acted out in a desperate, totally understandable way, we wholly understand him as a character, as well as a human being. That’s why, when push comes to shove and he’s forced to commit some downright dirty acts, it’s hard to have a problem with him; he’s just trying to survive, as well as he should, considering he didn’t do anything wrong to begin with.

The FBI's of their time.

The FBI’s of their time.

Which is to say, mostly thanks to Mads Mikkelsen and his skillful way of expressing any sort of emotion, without muttering even a single world of dialogue, Jon gets a lot of mileage. Mikkelsen’s been a favorite of mine for quite some time now (a love that’s only been heightened by my most recent binge of Hannibal), but here, he does what he needs to do: Make Jon seem as simplistic as possible, but never dull. He’s just a normal person like your or I, except that he’s been thrown into a not-so normal situation, and has to get out of it anyway possible. He does both good, as well as bad things, but Mikkelsen always makes it seem believable and have us even wonder whether or not he’s exactly as of a law abiding citizen as he may have initially given off.

That said, it’s not Mikkelsen’s show we’re dealing with here. Everybody gets a chance to play and roll around in the sand for as long as Levring sees fit. Eva Green, another favorite of mine, gets a chance to show her range as an actress, by not being able to say anything at all in this movie, and instead, show us everything we need to know about her at any given moment, based solely on her emotions. It works, and also shows that female characters don’t need to say macho, hammy bullshit dialogue that’s better suited for dudes to come off as bad-ass; sometimes, all it takes is a simple act of violence, and a shotgun in their hands. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s another one who gets to play around a bit, but honestly, by now, I think everybody knows that the dude loves playing a-holes.

Just not as much of a funny one, is all.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel for many westerns to come, the Salvation, thanks to the no-nonsense direction from Levring and its lovely assemblage of performances, still comes off like a solid enough watch that doesn’t need to try too hard.

7 / 10 

A man on a mission. That most likely doesn't involve eating people.

A man on a mission. That most likely doesn’t involve eating people.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Last Five Years (2015)

Well, if you’re a better singer than her, things might not work out.

Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) meet for the first time and it seems like love at first sight. They kiss, make love, yell, scream, shout, holler, sing, dance and generally just act like fools who have finally found that one and only special someone that they have been waiting to find their whole lives. However, like with most relationships that start off as lovely, as promising, and and as loving as this, things begin to get a bit complicated. Cathy is an actress that’s struggling to make it big, and instead, more or less takes a backseat to Jamie’s life as an acclaimed, best-selling author. Jamie, on the other hand, has problems with fully committing himself to this relationship, especially due to the fact that he cannot stop checking out other woman and wanting to possibly sleep with them, if only for one night. Both of their heads clash, although, at the end of the day, they’re love is what keeps them coming back to the same sides of the beds, night in and night out, for at least five years.

Oh, and by the way, it’s all sung.

So spiffy.....

Quite the spiffy gentleman…..

Okay, that’s a bit of a fib. There is maybe 8% of this movie that features some sort of spoken-dialogue, but the rest of that 92% is all singing, all dancing, all tapping, and all music, baby! To some, more macho viewers out there who can’t be bothered with two younglings constantly frolicking all over the screen, professing their love to one another, as well as to the rest of the audience sitting back and watching, it may not seem like the most ideal flick to catch. But for people who appreciate a fine musical, done well enough to where they stop caring about all of the singing, dancing, and professing of love, then sure, it’s okay.

That’s if you only pay attention to Anna Kendrick and Anna Kendrick only.

Because, I’m afraid to say, she’s the only real reason to see this movie. Sure, the movie’s song and dance numbers bring some fun and froth to the proceedings, but what it really comes down to the most, is Kendrick; she’s absolutely letting it all out on each and every song, not once forgetting about the central message of them, and sure as hell not forgetting about that lovely little charm of hers that makes her so damn watchable to begin with. She just about owns this movie and allows for Cathy to come off like a small, scared girl that wants to hit it big, but also doesn’t want to stay in the shadow of her man for too long – she wants to branch out as soon as possible, but she doesn’t want to lose what she beholds the most, her man and his love.

And speaking of her man, Jeremy Jordan is fine, if only because the dude can actually sing. Though I didn’t believe him as the kind of girl that sweeps women off of their feet and is a record-breaking author in today’s day and age, he still sang well and I guess that was sort of the point. I wasn’t supposed to buy him as a character, as much as I was supposed to buy him as a guy who sings an awful lot about being in love, treating that love with kindness and respect, and never forgetting about what makes him live and breath, each and everyday.

It all sounds so beautiful and heartfelt, however, the movie doesn’t always come off that way. It’s more cloying than anything, which probably suits people who are more used to seeing this on the stage, rather than adapted for the screen, where instead of an audience out in front of them, they are literally playing for themselves and whoever is behind the camera. Though this may be have been incredibly uncomfortable to film, not just for Kendrick or Jordan, but everyone involved with it, it hardly shows. Instead, they all seem to really be giving it their all with every ounce of heart and humanity that they’ve got.

Problem is, it’s sort of wasted on a stale premise that doesn’t really say (or, I guess, in this case, “sing”) much of anything new that we haven’t already seen, or heard in most romantic-dramas.

Except that this time, of course, everybody’s singing and dancing. That wouldn’t have been so bad, had the songs been memorable and fun, but in the end, they just come off like listening to your favorite easy-listening station: Sure, a lot’s being sung about, but is any of it really grabbing you? It may holler and belt out lyrics about love, heartbreak, and the pain it causes all of those involved with it, but is it really changing your view on the world of romance, or better yet, what happens after that all goes away and you have to put up with being content with a person you don’t really care much for anymore?

...but honestly, no man deserves A-Kens.

…but honestly, no man deserves A-Kens. No one!

It’s all nice to hear, but you’re not really listening to it unless you’ve fully taken it in, you know? And because of that, the Last Five Years falls flat. It’s a musical that boasts on and on about how its central love story is as rich and pure as you can get, but it ends up coming and going like the several conventional plot-threads that weave in and out of this story to make the emotions seem all the more heightened.

Could Jamie really hook up with that hot, young intern at his place? Will he ever learn to let his writing-career be put on the back-burner so that he can focus more attention on Cathy’s possible life on the stage? Will Jamie just learn to stop being such a wuss and commit already? Or better yet, will Cathy? Oh my gosh! I just don’t know!

It all sounds so very soapy, which is because, it is; except that it’s a soap opera where the later part is actually taken literally and jacked all the way up to 100 so that even the deafest dog can hear what’s being sung about, or by whom. Once again, not saying that the songs are bad, but when all you can really come down to is saying, “You know, love stinks sometimes”, you’re no better than the J. Geils Band.

Although, the J. Geils Band sure as hell didn’t have Anna Kendrick in them, so they were already at a supreme disadvantage to begin with.

Consensus: While boasting an impressive two-hander from Jordan and, especially, the ever-radiant Kendrick, the Last Five Years doesn’t quite go anywhere we haven’t heard, seen, or been sung about before.

5 / 10 

So yeah, soak it up, buddy! I'm right behind ya!

So yeah, soak it up, buddy! I’m right behind ya!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Conspirator (2011)

Where have I heard this story before? Well, nowhere actually, but see what I’m trying to get across in a not-so subtle way?

Mid-April 1865, stage actor John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) assassinates President Abraham Lincoln during a production of Our American Cousin. We all know this, who the hell doesn’t, but what most people don’t know is the story surrounding the other conspirators in this assassination, one of which was a woman wrongfully accused all because her son was one of those conspirators. That gal’s name was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), her son was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), and she ran a boarding house in Washington that Booth, along with the other conspirators in this assassination frequently stayed in, and where the plan was most likely hatched. Whether or not Surratt really did conspire to kill the President isn’t quite known yet, but Union war hero and attorney Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is assigned the task to defend her to the best of his ability, by any means necessary. At first, Aiken doesn’t think it matters because she’s guilty in his eyes, but after awhile, he starts to see that there is more brewing beneath the surface here with this case, and he will not stop until justice is so rightfully served.

In case you don’t know by now, Robert Redford is a pretty political guy, and he takes his liberal-stance very seriously. So seriously, that most of his flicks seem to come off more as history lessons, rather than actual movies, with real, interesting, and compelling narratives driving them along. That said, the guy’s got plenty of power in Hollywood to do whatever he wants, when he wants, with whomever he wants, and how he wants to, which makes total sense why a real life story like this would get such a star-studded cast, with such a preachy message, that it’s no wonder why it got past almost every producer out there in the world.

It’s Robert Redford, are you going to deny his movie?

Did a woman who's being wrongfully convicted for a crime she didn't necessarily commit really need to be dressed in all-black throughout the whole movie?

Did a woman who was being wrongfully convicted for a crime she didn’t necessarily commit really need to be dressed in all-black throughout the whole movie?

That’s why, as intriguing as this story is, you know exactly where he’s getting at with every part of this movie. For instance, Redford is obviously making a lot of points about the similarity between this case and the ones of post-9/11 hysteria that was more about finding anybody who was even close to being guilty, and make sure they pay the price so that the rest of the country can begin to feel like a safe and peaceful place like it was meant to be. Honestly, it’s a nice analogy that Redford uses, the only problem is that we get it every step of the way. So instead of being a movie that’s filled with a compelling story, characters, and emotions, it just feels like a history lesson where we’re being talked down to, as if we don’t know all about the problems our world of politics is facing today.

And it should come as no surprise that this was Redford’s first movie since doing Lions for Lambs, which was more of a thesis, than an actual movie, so I at least have to give the guy credit for cobbling up something of a story together and making something out of it. While I don’t want to get into discussing that movie anymore than I already need to, I will say that this movie does show Redford improving more as a film-maker who has a point behind his movies, even if they are extremely heavy-handed and as blatant as you can get. While that does seem weird to say about a guy who has a Best Director Oscar to his name, as well as plenty of other great movies he’s written and directed under his belt, it seems like something that needs to be said considering how damn preachy the guy gets, both in real life and with his movies.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s better than Lions for Lambs.

There, happy? I rest my case!

The only way that this movie survives throughout it’s near-two-hour-running-time is because its cast is so stacked to the brim, that you can’t help but want to watch and see what they’re able to pull out of this. James McAvoy was a great choice as Frederick Aiken, the type of guy you feel like would make it big as a lawyer-type in today’s society, but just didn’t have much leeway to get past all of the head-honchos back in those days. McAvoy is good at handling the determined, passionate character that Redford doesn’t bother to cut any deeper with, but I still think that’s better than nothing consider he can get-by in scenes against heavy-hitters like Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, and most of all, Robin Wright.

"Attica!!! Oh, shit. Wrong history class."

“Attica!!! Oh, crap. Wrong history class.”

However, it should be said that it couldn’t have been too hard for McAvoy to get by in his scenes with Wright because she doesn’t do much talking really. Instead, her performance is strictly consisting of cold stares, a lot of frowning, and just looking like she’s about to lose it at any given second – which isn’t such a bad thing because the gal handles it very well. I’ve always liked Wright in all that she’s done and I feel like she gets a great chance to give it all she’s got, even in a way that didn’t need to be over-the-top or totally blown out-of-proportion. This is a especially surprising given the fact that this character could have easily gone that way, and to even worse results being that this is a Redford flick, and he usually seems to sympathize quite heavily with wrongfully convicted.

And since I’m on the subject of the cast, I have to say that the rest of this ensemble do pretty good jobs with their roles as well, even if some do feel a bit off here and there. Those two in particular are Justin Long and Evan Rachel Wood who both feel as if they’re a bit too modern for this type of material, and don’t really fit in well. Maybe for Wood’s character, that’s probably done on purpose, but for Long, whenever it is that he shows up with his fake mustache that looked like it was ripped right off the face of Burt Reynolds, it feels like a total curse on him, whoever is around him the scene, and the movie itself. Not saying that he ruins the movie just by the pure simple fact of his presence being noted, but just because it feels like a piece of stunt-casting that back-fired on Redford, as well as Long himself; a very underrated actor that has yet to be given the full-on pleasure of taking a complex role and making it his own. Maybe one of these days. Just maybe.

Just hopefully not in a Robert Redford flick, is all.

Consensus: The true story that the Conspirator is telling is a very interesting, compelling tale that may stand the test of time, but as for the preachy, history lesson disguised as a full-length feature-flick? Not so much.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Okay, what I want you to do in this next scene is point to the camera and say that, "You are innocent, until proven guilty.""

“Okay, what I want you to do in this next scene is point to the camera and say that, “You are innocent, until proven guilty.'”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Gunman (2015)

If you kill, you will be killed. So just don’t kill. There’s really no point.

After sniping a well-known figure in a foreign country, international operative Jim (Sean Penn) is forced to change his life so that the organization he works for doesn’t have to worry about him getting caught, turning the other cheek, and possibly uncover all sorts of skeletons in their closet. This is a big moment in Jim’s life because he’s now not allowed to stay with his one and only love Annie (Jasmine Trinca), who is now spending time with a co-worker of Jim’s (Javier Bardem). Many years go by and out of nowhere, dangerous people start looking for Jim, declaring that they want revenge for what he did all of those years ago. Thinking that the job he completed was confidential in every which way, Jim is shocked and wants to find out the truth, even if that means going back to his checkered-past and following up with some familiar faces. Some are happy to see him, whereas others aren’t. But for Jim, he doesn’t care; he’s in a race against time where he has to find out who is responsible for all of these problems, get rid of them, and possibly clear his name in the process.

It’s odd to see Sean Penn in something like this. Not because it’s a commercialized, mainstream flick that he too often seems to be against doing too often, but because it’s the kind of commercialized, mainstream flick that seems so done to death by now: The aging-killers subgenre.

"Blimey lad! Heve a drink, will ye?"

“Blimey lad! Heve a drink, will ye?”

No matter how much time passes, Liam Neeson will always be remembered for starting this odd trend, but he sure as hell won’t be the last. Keanu Reeves, Kevin Costner, and heck, even Salma Hayek are all older acts that seem to have gotten all fed-up with pleasing certain people that think they should just move out of the way for the younger-crowd and continue to play mom or dad roles. For the most part, these movies can be hit-or-miss, but there’s no denying that they add some more appeal to the usual action-thriller that seems to be constantly plagued with the Jason Statham’s and Gerard Butler’s of the world. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with those two lads, but one can only see the same person shoot and kill so many people and not really have that formula shaken up one bit.

Which is why, like I was saying before, it’s interesting to see a class-act like Penn, do something like this.

But the real question remains: Does it actually work? Meaning, is he actually any good in the role? Or, is it simply a case of an actor trying something new because he has all of the money no shits given to do so and not worry about losing a little bit as a result? It’s a bit of a two-hander actually – while Penn isn’t bad in the movie, per se, the movie itself leaves a lot to be desired and it makes you wonder just why the hell someone as choosy and picky as Penn would bother with this in the first place.

Granted, he gets a lot to do that calls on him for the large, dramatic-moments. But he also gets to flex his ripped-body that can definitely not be what a nearly 55-year-old naturally looks like, but whatever. Color me impressed, if a little suspicious. Anyway, like I was saying, Penn does a fine job here and allows for this thinly-written character like Jim come off as someone who is easy to root for, even if we aren’t fully sure about his past actions, or how morally correct they were.

But the movie sort of throws Penn into the kind of movie where all he really has to do is deliver exposition, look upset, act frantic, and shoot the eff out of baddies. All of these things Penn does a fine enough job at to where it doesn’t seem like he’s just milking it for the cameras so that he can collect that hefty paycheck of his; it’s more that the movie leaves a lot to be desired for him to do. All of the exposition, tension, and sometimes gory violence, all lead up to a very subpar thriller that I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was all about other than that, “People chased after Sean Penn because he did a bad thing like some eight years ago.”

Other than that, I’m sort of drawing a blank.

Sunglasses: Protectors of sun, better protectors of possible CIA agents.

Sunglasses: Protectors of sun, better protectors of possible CIA agents.

Which brings me to the fact that, even though a more recent example of this same subgenre, Run All Night, was a movie more about its action, rather than anything resembling a story (although it definitely had that), it still didn’t grip me quite as well as the Gunman did when it worked. When it doesn’t work, it’s an overly-edited, wordy mess that seems to confuse exposition for “something meaningful”. However, when it does work, it’s kind of fun, but in a slimy, bloody way. Everybody’s sweating; everybody’s cursing; and everybody’s life is at-risk, and that allowed me to just join in on whatever thrill-ride the movie was able to take me on.

Trust me, it didn’t always last, but when it did, I was happy to be along for it all.

And with a movie like this, that’s all it really comes down to – the action is solid and gripping. Sure, you could argue that the movie doesn’t give much of anything to do for Javier Bardem, whose character, when he isn’t trying to bang Penn’s character girlfriend (and not at all being subtle about it), is absolutely, shit-faced drunk, and it sure as hell doesn’t allow for Idris Elba to be more than just a Christopher Walken cameo (even though all of the advertisements would have you think he practically made this movie with his own bare hands), but what’s the point in all of that? The movie tries its hand at being serious a tad too many times, but when it knows that it’s failing at that, it backs off and just lets Sean Penn hoot, holler, and shoot people.

What’s so wrong about enjoying that, people?

Consensus: As a melodramatic thought-piece about what’s really happening on foreign soils, the Gunman trips, falls and embarrasses itself, but eventually realizes this and just gets back to the moments where it’s Sean Penn surfing, smoking and killing people.

5 / 10

"Better look out next time, paparazzo."

“Better look out next time, paparazzo.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Faults (2015)

Can’t cult, the cultee. Or something.

Famed author Ansel (Leland Orser) made a living off of knowing all about cults and their mentality. He was so well-known at one point, that he actually had a TV show of his own. Nowadays, he spends most of his time trying to get free meals from hotel diners, evading people he owes money to, and holding Q&A’s where he constantly gets criticized for some shady practices he performed back in the day. However though, Ansel gets a second chance at not just his job, but at life when an older couple come up to him with a proposition: Kidnap their daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and brainwash her out of the brainwashing that she apparently was subject to while in a cult. Given the right amount of time, resources, and most of all, money, Ansel believe that he can make this work and have their daughter be normal again, but problems arise. Not only does Ansel realize that his brainwashing skills may be rusty, but he’s getting more and more threats from those he’s indebted to, which puts him in a tight spot: Walk out on this procedure that he was practically hired to do, or see to it that it’s completed and the family walks away with their daughter, happy and reunited after all of this time?

Someone's got a long night ahead of them.

Someone’s got a long night ahead of them.

A lot of people I know out there, in the real world and on the worldwide inter-web, have a gripe with me not appreciating a movie trying to be more than just what’s presented on the surface. It’s a complaint that I can see some understanding in, but I wholeheartedly disagree with. While I know that many movies out there should be simple and left grey enough for the viewer to decide and make up their own minds about on, I’m not opposed to watching a movie that tries to dig deeper than what may have already been written. I just have a problem when these movies get a bit too big for their britches and lose all sight of what could have been an impactful, yet small story.

However, Faults is one of those rare movies where the simplicity came to bite both of us on our asses.

See, one of the problems with Faults is that it prides itself in being about this one man, who tries to sneak and connive his way back into some sort of fame and fortune, but by doing so, has to remember what made him have all that in the first place. That right there, is interesting, and the movie clearly seems to take pride in this character, giving us an unlikable protagonist, but one that’s still compelling enough to want to watch and see what he does next, to whom, and for what reasons. And then, it gets all the better once it’s made abundantly clear that this movie could actually be about his relationship with this new subject of his. The possibilities here for a rich, subtle character-drama were all set in stone and ready to shined down on.

But sadly, that’s not what happens.

Instead, Faults turns into a murder-mystery that’s more concerned with the art of cults and brainwashing, that it ends up being a nonsensical piece where people just blabber on and on about stuff we don’t understand, nor do we care about. Which, oddly enough, is how I felt the movie approached the same material; there’s an odd comedic-streak in this movie that comes and goes as it pleases, yet is still effective enough that it breaks up some moments that would have been too self-serious and dramatic for its own good. Writer/director Riley Stearns uses a lot of these humorous moments to shine a light on some of the more extreme aspects of cults and it made me wonder just where the hell it all went in the later-half.

Because, eventually, Stearns loses all sight of what was already an compelling premise about a small group of interesting folks, and throws them into a sub-par Coen Bros. flick. There’s twists, turns, murder, money, cults, black henchman, and even a gay loan shark! It has all the makings of a fun, thoughtful character drama, yet, never gets to be that because Stearns is a tad too concerned with hearing all of the random stuff these characters rant about. None of it is ever decipherable, but then again, I don’t think it’s supposed to be.

So why the hell are we focusing on it so much?!?!

Complementary breakfasts are the best kinds of breakfasts.

Complementary breakfasts are the best kinds of breakfasts.

However, the only reason why Faults gets something of a pass from me is because of its small, but amble cast that puts a lot of faces in some key roles, that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen them in, had this been a bigger, more mainstream flick. And the one member of the cast I’m really talking about is Leland Orser as Ansel, an interesting creation of a character who I felt would have done wonders with a better movie. Orser already has a bit of a creepy-presence in everything he shows up in, so that’s why when I saw him here playing something of a shady fellow, I knew he was perfect for the role. There’s something sort of off-putting to this character that knows he cannot be trusted, but by the same token, we get the impression that he’s not such a bad guy to where he would purposefully do something wrong to hurt this family, their daughter, or anybody else involved.

He’s a weasel, but he’s got a heart and it’s noticeable, too.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Stearn’s wife in real life) is also another actress that’s been so good in just about everything she’s done and still has yet to be given that career-defining performance that puts her from being “indie darling” to being “the next big thing in acting”. And regardless of when that time comes or not, Winstead’s still fine here, playing a character that we’re never too sure is as crazy as she makes herself be. We know that she’s been apart of a cult for very long, but we don’t know how long, so therefore, it’s hard to come up with an idea of how far gone her mind is and whether or not she’s a sensible thinker. There’s a lot of mystery to this character and Winstead constantly keeps us guessing, even when it seems like we’ve got her all figured out.

If only the movie would have realized this and kept the focus on these two. Oh, and gotten rid of all the cult-talk, too.

Cause honestly, who the hell cares?

Consensus: By depending on its cast, Faults is interesting, but continues to add on more and more elements to this story that just feel unnecessary and stuffy.

5.5 / 10

He just can't get enough of the Winstead.

He just can’t get enough of the Winstead.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Cobbler (2015)

Soles and souls. Get it?

Small-time cobbler Max Simkin (Adam Sandler) lives a simple life to where he goes about everyday the same. He goes to work; fixes shoes; has coffee; talks to a neighbor of his (Steve Buscemi); and continues the same pattern, the next day and so on and so forth. It’s not great, but Max is a very relaxed dude, so he doesn’t fret about it too much. That’s why, when suddenly, he puts on his father’s old pea-coat and jumps in somebody else’s shoes and realizes that he can look, sound and be somebody that’s not him, but the shoe’s owner, then he can’t help but give this newfound trick a whirl and have some fun with it. However, what starts out as a little bit of fun to get him out of his somewhat boring, uneventful life, Max then finds himself way in over his head when he gets involved with some shady gangsters, and even shadier real estate agents who might be looking to destroy his old neighborhood. This then leads Max to spring into action and use his talents for the greater good of not just those around him, but society as a whole.

It’s understandable why a lot of people despise Adam Sandler and what he’s become. At one point, he was the brightest, best thing to hit the comedy world, but slowly but surely, he began to take on vanity projects that literally just became humorless paid-vacations for him and his buddies, that people, for some reason or another, would still throw shackles of money at, just so that they could see what variation Sandler and co. would make on the fart joke next. However, with last year’s Blended box-office receipts not being exactly what he maybe originally had hoped for, Sandler seems to be, ever so slightly, heading back to his old ways, taking up smaller-projects that not only challenge his audience to see him in a new light, but also challenge him as an actor.

You've been caught, Crawley!

You’ve been caught, Crawley!

And I, for one, am all down for this. Punch Drunk Love is not just one of the better rom-coms of the past decade or so, but also shows that Sandler isn’t just a good actor, but one that can really take over a film, while also showing us darker, more frightening sides to his persona that may have not been there before. Of course, in the years since, Sandler’s hands at drama haven’t always paid-off, but more often than not, he finds his own ways back to the genre, reminding us all that Sandler, first and foremost, is an actor. Even if Men, Women, and Children wasn’t everybody’s favorite, but you can’t discredit Sandler for that, as he was fine in it.

So, with all that being said, I think it’s obvious to know that I was definitely looking forward to the Cobbler. Not because it featured a premise that didn’t seem something out of Sandler’s wheelhouse, but because it was directed and co-written by none other than Thomas McCarthy himself; the kind of film maker that doesn’t just take a paid-gig for the hell of it. He takes time with his movies, which is why a huge part of me had high hopes for this movie and seeing where it took Adam Sandler, the actor, next.

Sadly, it all blew back in my face.

See, the Cobbler may seem like it has promise on the surface – it’s a whimsical take on the old saying that your mom, dad, grand-parent, teacher, inspirational-figure has said to you in the past, “Walk in another person’s shoes and then judge them.” Well, the premise here is that saying, but told literally. Adam Sandler gets in people’s shoes, turns into them, and goes around all of New York City causing all sorts of shenanigans. Sometimes, this leads to him just walking around with a shit-eating grin on his face and dining and dashing out of fancy restaurants, but for awhile, it’s entertaining.

Then, things get real weird, real quick. There’s a possible murder that may or may not happen in the middle of this movie and as soon as it occurs, the tone totally changes from being light and lovely, to dark, disturbing, and even mean. Without saying too much, the murder that occurs is bloody and in-your-face, which then hints at there being a more dangerous story to be told underneath all of this goofiness, but soon, the movie abandons that. Instead, it keeps itself going with the humor and wacky hijinx, that have all but lost their favor; in fact, they feel like a cop-out to get past the fact that we literally just witnessed some character’s murder on the screen. Now, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to laugh it off as just a simple whatever?!?

Uhm, sorry. Last time I checked, when a character suddenly gets killed in a movie, it should be treated as drama, and not just as a passing-joke amongst pals.

So, after this, the movie then decides it needs to have baddies for Max to defeat and by this point, the comedy is so far gone that it’s not at all funny, even if it tried to be. The one-joke premise of this character walking in other people’s shoes and turning into them, turns stale and gets old by about the third time he tries to steal somebody’s bundles of money. But then, the movie gets darker when we’re introduced to violent street gangs and Ellen Barkin’s character; who are both connected in a convoluted manner that I didn’t even bother to think about the second it was introduced to me. All I knew is that both sides owed each other money somehow and we’re both looking to do bad things, to seemingly innocent people.

Better than Cheese? Maybe.

Better than Cheese? Maybe.

But, like I said before, by this time, the movie had already lost me. Which makes me wonder: Just what the hell was Thomas McCarthy doing being stuck with this junk? Better yet, why did he write this to begin with? It would make sense if he was just enlisted to be the director solely for money purposes (although I generally think this was considered “an indie”), but the fact that he actually co-wrote with this with somebody else, already shows that he had some hope in these uneven, uninteresting material to begin with. Whatever the reasons behind McCarthy’s decision to take this movie and make it his own, is totally left up in the air, but all I have to say is that I’m really looking forward to Spotlight later this year.

Which brings me to the next aspect of this movie worth discussing, and that’s Adam Sandler himself. It’d be hard to hate on Sandler here, because he’s literally doing what it seems like the director’s calling on for him to do: Act bored. That’s the way his character is written and I guess that’s exactly how Sandler plays it. Not to mention, it’s a tad hard to really judge Sandler’s performance here, considering that the majority of this movie features his character playing other character, which means that Sandler’s presence gets thrown to the sidelines in favor of some recognizable character actors.

Oh, and Method Man.

Yes, Method Man is in fact a key supporting player in the Cobbler, which actually works against and for the movie. It works for the movie because Method Man’s actually a solid actor, but least when you expect him to be here. Sure, he’s good at playing an a-hole gangster that constantly seems like he’s about to beat the crap out of someone if he doesn’t get his way, but when his character’s soul gets taken over by Max, it’s actually where most of the humor of this movie comes from. Method Man has to play a sweet, more nerdier-version of his character, which is both interesting and odd, but still worth watching because he does well with it.

Then, on the other hand, the movie doesn’t know whether they want to make this character a good guy, or a bad one. He’s a dick that beats his wife, robs people, and threatens lonely, little cobbler’s like Max, but at the same time, there’s still not enough backing-information to make it okay for us to see him get treated the way he does in the later-half of this movie. And even though there’s many more supporting players in this movie (among them are the likes of Dan Stevens, Melonie Diaz, and even Dustin Hoffman), when Method Man ends up becoming your most memorable one, you’ve got something of a problem.

But you’ve got a bigger one when Method Man actually becomes the best part of your said movie.

Consensus: Promising in its premise, the Cobbler wants to be light, funny, and whimsical, yet, goes through so many tonal-transformations, that it makes it very hard to get involved with what happens, let alone actually laugh.

2.5 / 10 

Laugh it off, Sandler. You rich prick, you.

Laugh it off, Sandler. You rich mofo, you.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

From Paris with Love (2010)

Paris really should start advertising the Royale with Cheese more.

A personal aide to the US Ambassador in France, James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has an enviable life in Paris and a beautiful French girlfriend, but his real passion is his side job as a low-level operative for the CIA. So when he’s offered his first senior-level assignment, he can’t believe his good luck – until he meets his new partner, Special Agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta).

After striking gold with his semi-Europa thriller Taken, director Pierre Morel teamed up with producer Luc Besson to give us exactly what we would want from these two dudes: Loud action, loud guns, loud people, and a story that makes no sense whatsoever, but was still loud enough to where we think there was something going on that resembled a story.

Then again though, with these two dudes, it’s all you need.

The whole film makes it seem like Morel and Besson just had so many wild and insane ideas for action sequences, that rather than just trying to fit them into a cohesive story, they just went the other way and allowed the action scenes to go first and have the story come second. This would have been terrible for most movies out there, however, From Paris with Love has this great sense of fun and excitement in it, that it’s hard to be too mad at it for forgetting about something of a story. Basically, the story is just there to service the action and help speed things along. It doesn’t get in the way too much, which makes the run-time go on by a whole lot smoother, and even allows for the action sequences to hit a lot harder.

Of course he has a smokin' hot, European girlfriend! It's Johnathan Rhys Meyers!

Of course he has a smokin’ hot, European girlfriend! It’s Johnathan Rhys Meyers!

One scene in particular where the action really kicks ass is when Travolta’s character goes into a Chinese restaurant, asking where coke is, and eventually getting so sick and tired that nobody will admit it to him, he decides to blow-up the whole place with a machine-gun of his, taking out Chinese drug-dealers left and right. It’s a pretty memorable action sequence and there are plenty of other ones that may not be as memorable as this one, but definitely some that add a whole level of “fun” to this film. Just exactly what you need.

However, the main problem with this film is that when the action isn’t going on, the story does eventually take over and can be a bit of a snoozer. Because the movie’s action scenes are so rad, and the fact that both Besson and Morel know this, the story comes off as total second-nature to this movie, which means that a lot of the scenes spaced-out for character and plot development, all come and go with a whimper. It’s understandable that movies like this need something of a story to help measure things out and make sure it’s not a constant barrage of guns, explosions, and death, but to me, this movie could have probably cut-out at least twenty minutes of scenes where people are just talking, left everything else, and it would have been fine. I know that certain movies need that breather or two, but From Paris with Love isn’t that terrific of a movie to get away with any downtime.

It needs to keep going and going, no matter what!

But, where some of the scenes involving people talking get something of a slide is because they feature what can be seen as a return-to-effin’ form from John Travolta as the loose-cannon, Charlie Wax. Travolta hasn’t had the best career in the past decade or so years, but he shows that with roles like these, he still has some of the best delivery when it comes to one-liners, can still come off as a pretty intimidating dude, and has a way of making himself so likable, that it doesn’t matter what sort of violence he’s causing; as long as he’s got that winning-smile of his, all is well.

"Give me Idina Menzel. Or whatever the hell her name is."

“Give me Idina Menzel. Or whatever the hell her name is.”

Though, there is something to be said for Travolta’s electricity in this movie, and that’s that he actually sort of ends up working against the movie. Sure, he’s over-the-top and clearly having the greatest time of his life chewing into this role, but he turns out to be the film’s double-edge sword – because we can’t wait to see when he’ll pop up next, or what he’ll do when he does show up, he steals the movie from mostly everybody else around him. In this example though, I guess the one person he mostly steals it from is Jonathan Rhys Meyers who is, sadly, saddled with the straight-man role that I don’t know if he’s quite up to handle.

Rhys Meyers is fine because he’s handling the material exactly as it was probably presented to him, however, he’s a tad dull, in a role that was probably written that way to begin with. So I guess that maybe some of the discredit here should go against the writers who decided to give this character barely any personality to be found whatsoever (except for “boring”), but it also brings up the key fact that maybe they could have given Rhys Meyers’ character more moments that were his, and his alone. The majority of the movie is spent with him playing second-fiddle to Travolta and whatever the hell his character’s doing at that given point in time, so we rarely get to see him really branch out and show anything resembling an attribute the movie. Maybe playing it stiff and straight was all that Rhys Meyers needed to do, but here, there’s still a feeling that there needed to be a bit more, just to help us identify with him slightly more.

Then again, things do blow up here, so I guess it’s not all that bad.

Consensus: Though it has a weak story, From Paris with Love mostly gets by on its insane, balls-to-wall action that helps give John Travolta’s lively performance a perfect suitor in his wrath of absolute mayhem.

6 / 10

A Mexican stand-off, but with no Mexicans. Ironic?

A Mexican stand-off, but with no Mexicans. Ironic?

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Run All Night (2015)

No kidnappings. Just running. For a whole night, too. In case you couldn’t tell.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is an aging hitman that doesn’t really have much to live for. He’s a drunk, lazy and an overall embarrassment to himself, as well as to those around him. However, he’s a good childhood friend of the boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), so nobody messes with him; they just let him go about his day to where he mostly ends up in a pool of his own piss and vomit. But, the one aspect of his life that keeps Jimmy alive is his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman); someone who wants nothing to do with Jimmy. That’s why, when Mike is thrown into a situation where Maguire’s son (Boyd Hollbrook) shoots and kills somebody in front of him, he goes right to his dad. Jimmy knows that he needs to hash these things out with Shawn before they get way too out of hand and everybody involved ends up dead, but what starts off as a promising compromise, soon goes awry once Maguire’s son is shot and killed by Jimmy, because he was going after Mike. Now, both Mike and Jimmy aren’t only the run from Shawn and his people, but every cop within the New York City police department. It’s gonna be a long night for these two, which means that they might have to let bygones, be bygones.

Say what you will about Liam Neeson and the direction he’s career has been heading in since Taken: The dude’s making more than enough money for most 60+ actors out there, not to mention that the movie’s he participates in, aren’t all that bad. Sure, take away Unknown and especially the recent Taken movie, and you’ve got a pretty solid track-record, for somebody who’s screen-presence was practically dead in the ground no less than a decade ago.

"Just saying, mine's a lot bigger. And I'm not just talking about the lobster we just had."

“Just saying, mine’s a lot bigger. And I’m not just talking about the lobster we just had.”

That said, there’s something about Run All Night that I’m just not too sure about yet. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it mediocre? Is it so trashy that it’s supposed to be bad on purpose? Or, is it just so self-serious that eventually, after much male-posturing and dick-measuring between the characters and yourself, you learn to accept it for what it is and run along with what it does?

Sure, I guess you could. But to be honest, I’m still racking my head over this movie.

So, with that said, this review’s going to be a tad bit weird. Because though Run All Night can be fun and rather intense at times, there’s still a muskiness to it all that makes me feel like it’s the kind of movie made strictly for guys who love it when bad dudes, do bad things to one another, and talk bad to each other about how they’re going to eventually do all of these bad things to one another when they actually shut the hell up and get on with. But then it gets all serious with its heartfelt story about dads, sons, the old times vs. the new times, and how the golden-age of the mob is all gone by now.

So, whatever this movie was going for here, I’m not too sure. All that I know is that it wants to have its cake, eat it, too, but if nobody’s watching, possibly go the bakery and get another cake, in which they would consume that as well. At times, it’s a thrilling piece where the action sequences actually seem like they could go anywhere, literally at any second, but then at others, it tries to water it all down by being about family, and love, and sons, and brothers, and mothers, and fathers, and all that sappy crap that, quite frankly, is made for a whole other movie. Not the kind of one that features a stealthy, overly-athletic hitman (played by Common), who goes around literally killing anybody who walks in his way of his target, without ever worry about racking up too much of a kill-count that would have him easily identified as public enemy #1.

But hey, it’s a Liam Neeson! So ‘eff all logic!

Which, yes, I am perfectly fine with in a movie like, I don’t know, say Non-Stop (another movie that just so happened to star Neeson and be directed by Jaume Collet-Serra). That movie wasn’t perfect and it sure as hell had plot-holes that needed some more tending to in the writer’s room, but it didn’t take itself too seriously, nor did it try to be something that it wasn’t; it was just another goofy, over-the-top, Liam Neeson-starer that was going to take its story wherever it pleased. Here, Run All Night wants to be fun, unpredictable and wild, which it sometimes is, but when it focuses on its story and its deeper-meanings, it feels odd.

Not that a story like this can’t have anything deeper or more meaningful to say, but when most of that just revolves solely around the fact that one guy was a crummy dad his whole life and only just decided to change his ways once his son’s life was in the balance, it doesn’t seem worthy. It seems tacked-on, so the directors didn’t feel guilty about all of the bloodshed. They want to make these lives have some sort of meaning, but by doing so, they’re taking away the electricity of what makes these kinds of movies so fun in the first place.

Holder playing Holder. And no Linden. Boo.

Holder playing Holder. And no Linden. Boo.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just a heartless person with no soul.

Though, no matter how lame these movies can sometimes get, there’s no denying that Liam Neeson does a fine job in them and here, there’s no difference. Jimmy Conlon is a sad excuse for a human being, but as the movie goes on and his character develops, we see a smart, wise man who has come to a crossroads in his life and genuinely wants to make good. The character is written this way, so of course I had to believe it, but had the movie just left this idea up to us, the viewer, it still would have worked because of Neeson’s portrayal of a man who wants to do good, yet, doesn’t know how to make up for his sketchy past well enough to where all can be forgiven.

Also, giving Neeson some seasoned-pros like Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Nick Nolte (who is in it for maybe two minutes), brings a certain amount of dramatic-heft to the proceedings, although some of it can be a bit cheesy after awhile. Harris is a solid actor at playing these mean, sometimes despicable crime-bosses, but here, he seems like he’s doing a parody of those characters he’s so well-known for, which makes the scenes with him and Neeson entertaining, but also slightly teetering on over-the-top. Which, yet again, wouldn’t have been such a problem had the movie realized that it didn’t need to be so serious all of the time and should have just embraced its hardcore, overtly-violent goofiness. And yet, we have a movie where people are killed, blood is shed, and tears run down cheeks.

Wait, this is a Liam Neeson movie I’m talking about here, right?

Consensus: The grimy action is fun and intense, but for the most part, Run All Night also wants to be a heartfelt story about broken relationships and even more broken people, and tries to mistaken itself for something that isn’t another Liam Neeson action flick.

4.5 / 10 

"Time to run."

“Come on son, time to run………………all night.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Lives of Others (2006)

Spy gadgets – just another thing the Germans got us beat on!

Party-loyalist Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) hopes to boost his career when assigned the task of collecting evidence against the playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, celebrated theater actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Wiesler’s bosses believe that they are up to no good and in order to fully indict them on all of the wrong-doings, he must find some crucial evidence in where they seem to be participating in acts that go directly against the country. But what he finds out about both of them, doesn’t just change their lives, but his own as well.

You see it in almost every film that ever takes place in Germany, during the 80’s: People were constantly being watched by a “Big Brother” government. We’ve all seen it done before, but there’s something about Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s approach to this story that gives this one a little extra twist, and also something to really hold onto, even if you still hate the Germans for all of those terrible years. We all knew they had their evil ways, but let’s just try and get past it all for the better of movies!

Shall we?

Those eyes, though.

Just another day at the office; where everybody’s pissed-off all of the time.

Anyway, what was solid about von Donnersmarck’s direction here is that he’s given the rough task of taking all these different stories, and finding a way to mesh them all together to create one, cohesive whole. He takes on the love-triangle perfectly and shows us why one lady would get stuck up in such a situation such as this; then he takes on the spy story where we see this one man doing his job, sometimes to the fullest extent; and then, underneath it all, is a taut, suspenseful thriller that comes around in a big way during the last-half or so. What starts off as a neat, little character drama, soon turns into a full-out thrill-ride, but isn’t a drastic change of pace that seems forced. Because von Donnersmarck treats everything lightly and takes his time going through all of the details that we need to, or should at least know to make ourselves more familiar with what’s going on, the movie can be followed easier and therefore, creates more tension.

Some people believe that in order for a movie to be tense and suspenseful, that the director behind it has to keep the audience in the dark as much as possible, without lending a helping hand at any time. A part of me wants to believe that, but the other part of me believes that there needs to be at least some hand-holding to make sure that both the audience, and the movie itself, are on the same page. Movies such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are going to great lengths to make sure that the audience doesn’t fully know everything that’s going down, just so that it can pull more and more tricks once the actual-reveal comes up at the end, and it’s annoying. It’s deceitful for no reason. Here, however, von Donnersmarck gives us just enough to understand and take in for ourselves, all before he throws us for a loop.

He cares for the audience. He wants us to know just what the hell is actually happening, rather than just throwing us into something and saying, “good luck”. Not saying that there is anything wrong with movies that are a tad vague on details for the betterment of the mystery that’s possibly at the center, but to just make sure that the audience doesn’t know what’s going, because it’s fun, isn’t that; it’s bothersome. Which is why when you get a movie that gives its audience plenty to take in and make their own assumptions about, it’s quite a treat.

If only more and more thrillers were like this. Even if the movie does have a bit of a languid pace, there’s still something to hold onto here and it works in the movie’s favor.

Krauts! Hit the deck!

Krauts! Hit the deck!

Where the movie works though, too, is in the performances and how they actually bring a human-element to a story that, quite frankly, needed one to make it come around full circle. As the sneaky playwright Sebastian Koch does a solid enough job to where he seems innocent enough. At times, he is a little bland since we never understand what he wants to do with his life, other than just talk a whole bunch of crap on East Germany, but overall, he seems like a human, rather than just a character this movie needed to enhance the plot. As his girlfriend, Martina Gedeck gets a bit more to do as we see her back-story come out in certain spots that is, at times, disturbing. But because of this, we feel more for her and the situations that she’s sadly been thrown into.

However, the one that really steals this movie and gains our attention the most, is also the most tragic figure of this whole movie. Late actor, Ulrich Mühe, plays Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, a government spy who has basically took on this assignment to look a lot more skilled with his job. Even though he starts off as a total d-bag, who seems like he just wants to do his job and make anybody pay who gets in his way, he actually becomes more sympathetic as time goes on and you realize that he’s doing more for this couple, then any of them would have ever expected. It’s pretty impressive what this guy can do with a character that just seems like your stereotypical a-hole right from the start, but totally change up our minds on him very quickly, just by a few good deeds here and there. They all have reasons behind them, too, and aren’t just done because the guy wants to be a good Samaritan, but they’re reasons I won’t divulge into here for the sake of spoilers.

Overall though, it’s a downright shame that Mühe died so soon after this because after this hit the states, the roles would have just come pouring in for him.

Consensus: With its languid pace, the Lives of Others may run on a tad longer than it maybe should have, but given the cast’s performances and the story itself, there’s a lot to enjoy here, as well as be effected by.

8.5 / 10 

The perfect German couple. Gosh, they are so screwed.

The perfect German couple. Gosh, they are so screwed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Hits (2015)

YouTube: The root of all evil.

Municipal worker Dave (Matt Walsh) is pissed-off about the fact that his local government won’t listen to him when he bitches, pleads and moans about the pot-hole that is out in front of his and is clearly throwing him into violent fits of rage. He gets so angry during one meeting, in fact, that he gets taken into custody and thrown into the slammer; which is also when he becomes something of a viral-video sensation. All of a sudden, a huge array of government-hating, skinny-jeans wearing hipsters want Dave to be their image and it’s the kind of fame that he doesn’t care for. Well, at least not as much as his daughter (Meredith Hagner) does, who, in her own world, wants to become the world’s next best singer and possibly get a spot on the Voice. Though she doesn’t fully understand the behind-the-scenes politics controlling certain shows like that, she’s still inspired enough to go through with her demo, by any means possible. Even if that means possibly losing her own sense of dignity in the process.

Here we have the directorial debut of David Cross who, in case you’ve never watched anything, like ever, is a pretty funny guy. He constantly takes projects that allow him to use his sometimes odd comedic-timing to his advantage, and his stand-up, believe it or not, is sometimes even better and more hilarious. So the idea of him getting his own movie, where he’s able to say, do and try whatever the hell he wants, made me feel as if the funniest movie of the year had arrived – as early as it is, no less.

"You're out of order!"

“You’re out of order!”

Problem is, it’s far from being that. In fact, it’s quite far from even being funny.

Sure, some bits of Cross’ movie is funny, especially the bits where he really digs deep and dirty into the self-entitled, wannabe-lives of these hipsters that jump onto to the next hot-button issue like a pack of leeches, but other than that, there’s not much here to bust a gut over. This is, essentially, Cross’ hour-and-a-half soap-box, where instead of a mic and stage, he’s assembled a whole group of actors, to make the points for him. Which isn’t so bad when you have a cast as funny and charming as this, but you expect so much more. Not just from them, either – mainly him!

Mostly, what Hits is, is a chance for Cross to complain and look down on today’s generation; the kind of generation that is more willing to stare into whatever screen for hours-on-end, rather than open up a book or two and learn something about the world. While I don’t particularly disagree with the points Cross is making here, a lot of it is hard to get behind when all he seems to be doing is ranting to nobody else, but us. Sure, there’s something of a story and characters here, but does it really matter when they’re just sitting in for what it is that you want to say, and about whom? From the looks of Hits, nope, it really doesn’t.

And if you can’t already tell by now, I’m a bit winded of having new, important things to say about this movie, for a reason – about half-way nearly through its run-time, Hits has the same problem. It loses all sense of character-development, focus, or even direction. Most of it is just scene, after scene, where a character acts like an idiot for the sake of the movie, so that Cross can get right back up and say, “Hey, you youngsters really tick me off.” That’s it. Had there been anything more, there would probably be a whole heck of a lot more to write about, but such is the problem here.

A movie that loses focus about half-way through itself, has a review of it that loses focus about half-way through, as well.

But, just because I’m a nice guy, I’ll continue to go on and at least highlight an aspect of this movie that does deserve some gratitude and that’s the ensemble. I’ll give credit to Cross for assembling such a talented list of acts here, because he does allow for some people to break through all of the rubble. The one I’m talking about the most is Matt Walsh as Dave, our very unlikely lead character. What’s so neat about Walsh here is that him basically being a one-dimensional caricature, albeit with some sweetness thrown in there for good measure, is that it allows for him to run rampant for as long as he wants to. It’s fun because Walsh hardly ever gets these leading roles and it showed me that, given the right script and character to work with, he could practically do some solid stuff. It’s all just a matter of time, I guess.

Sorry, Jason Ritter. You're too good-looking to pull off "metal bro".

Sorry, Jason Ritter. You’re too good-looking to pull off “metal bro”.

As for his daughter, played by Meredit Hagner, I’m afraid that even though she’s very good-looking and clearly down to get down and dirty with this material, her character is just so one-dimensional that we eventually lose any sight of her being an actual person. Same goes for James Adomian, as one of the main hipsters that first discovers Dave and his rage-filled tensions. Though Adomian is funny, there are some instances where the character seems to be hinting at something far more emotional, but the script never fully allows for that to come out. His wife, played by Erinn Hayes, is just constantly upset and having nervous breakdowns over the fact that she can’t have any children, and even though she only gets maybe five or six minutes of screen-time, she makes it work well enough to where we get an idea of her as a person, rather than just a cartoon.

Problem is, when there’s only one actual human being, in a sea of caricatures, and they’re given the least amount of screen-time, then there’s nobody to really attach yourselves to. You’re just left all alone, without anyone to connect to or care about. Probably how David Cross would want it to be.

Grumpy old bastard.

Consensus: Without much of a direction, Hits hardly goes anywhere, except getting David Cross’ point across a bit too bluntly.

4 / 10 

"Ugh. Like that was so two months ago, guys."

“Ugh. Like that was so two months ago, guys.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Cinderella (2015)

The rags-to-riches story to end all rags-to-riches stories.

Ella (Lily James) was always a special child who was loved and adored by her father (Ben Chaplin). However, that all begins to change when one day, her father dies, which then leaves her in the custody of her evil, mean, cruel and nasty stepmother (Cate Blanchett). Once her stepmother takes over, Ella’s life takes an even more dramatic change when she’s kicked out of her room, thrown into the attic, and made to wait on her hands and her knees so that her stepmother, as well as her two stepsisters will be happy and pleased. Though it’s a situation that would seem to beg for it, Ella never gets down on herself or upset; instead, she uses her kindness and good-will towards those around her to get by, which is actually what catches the attention of a certain Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Although Charming knows that he wants this girl, he doesn’t know exactly who she is, where she comes from, or whether or not she’s actually rich to begin with. All he has is a glass slipper and he’ll use every strength in his body to find the right foot for it, in order to find that long, lasting love of his.

Did I really need to actually write out a synopsis for this movie? Probably not, but then again, it is the principal! Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s a story we all know by heart, which makes the idea of another movie tackling it, seem boring. Which, in hindsight, it is. These kinds of Disney, live-action films have gotten very old since Tim Burton ever decided to take over the story of Alice in Wonderland, and it seems like an obvious, if uneventful way fro Disney execs to laugh themselves into the bank more and more.

"Mwahahaha!"

“Mwahahaha!”

It’s hard to hate on them for doing that, because it’s been working for them for the past couple of years. But there is something to be said for the creativity behind it all, and calls into question whether or not people actually care enough to tell these stories anymore. Cause honestly, do we really need another Cinderella movie told to us? Let alone, one that features recognizable faces and an unironic tone?

Not really. However, there’s no shame in having it, either, especially if the movies are as pleasant as this recent adaptation.

Then again, that’s to say that as long as we have smart, creative minds behind them like Kenneth Branagh, then we’ll be in fine shape, because even though this story clearly should be collecting up all sorts of dust by now, Branagh still finds interesting ways to brush it all off. But at the same time, he’s not necessarily changing the whole layout to where fans of the original story can’t still see it all over again; it’s just a tad bit different and glossier. Because even though most of the recent Disney, live-action adaptations of these old tales have been known to throw out the occasional adult-piece of humor there to appeal to the audiences, or at least deprecate itself, hardly any of that is to be found in Cinderella.

In fact, if anything, it just uses straight-laced comedy to get by and get the audience laughing, and it actually works. So rarely do these movies feel like that even though they were made for kids, they still appeal to adults more because of the occasional spout of grown-up humor, or nod to the audience, but here, we get just what we see: Another take on the Cinderella story. I know this all sounds so very obvious, but it’s actually quite a refresher to just get the story told to us, as it was. Sure, it looks prettier and is definitely shown to us on a much larger-scale than before, but the heart and soul of the original story is still there to be found and if anything, that’s worth noting and appreciating.

Although, there is something to be said for the familiarity of all this and the way in how Branagh approaches this material.

Sure, Branagh doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong in terms of getting the story told correctly down to the finest detail, and he sure as hell hasn’t lost an eye for beauty in the way everything looks here, it’s just that his story is so simple, so straight-and-narrow, and almost too surface-level, that it feels like it’s taking away from any real depth that there could be had with this character of Cinderella. I mean, come on: It’s the year 2015, where we’ve already had certain Disney characters like Maleficent, Oz and even the Wicked Witch get some sort of substance added to their backgrounds, that still ended up being somewhat fresh and new, so why not with Cinderella? Is there already nothing left to say about her other than that she’s pretty, nice to all those around her, and puts up with too many other people’s crap?

Sorry, bro. You're no Chris Pine.

Sorry, bro. You’re no Chris Pine.

I guess so. And because of that, it sort of takes away from the movie. I know that this is supposed to be a review on the movie itself, and not the movie that it could have been, but a part of me feels as if they could have gone that extra mile here and more than just the target-audience would have been pleased. Then again, this is all just me, people.

I have no soul.

As Cinderella, however, Lily James is quite a beauty, but she isn’t just good looks with this role, as she does get by on some lovingly sweet and simple charm that makes her come off as more innocent. Though I’ve said this already, we may not get much about Cinderella in terms of anything new that can be said about her, or her story, but James finds small, subtle ways of giving us more of a human side to this character and allowing for us to realize that she is just a girl who wants to make those around her happy, even if she isn’t always happy in return. There’s something sad to that fact, but it’s what ultimately makes her character a whole lot more endearing and lovely to watch, even when others are just constantly trampling on her.

Speaking of those who constantly trample on our title-character, Cate Blanchett is quite solid, as usual, as Cinderella’s evil stepmother who literally walks into the movie, wanting all of the fame, fortune and fun that she can handle. Because the movie never makes her out to be anything more than just an angry, cackling shackle of a woman, it’s hard to fully understand how, or better yet, why she got to become the way that she is, but Blanchett’s performance does make up for that at times. In fact, I’d say that Blanchett is maybe a tad too good for this material handed to her, but like a pro, she handles it with careless ease.

No wonder why she won an Oscar two years ago!

Consensus: Everything presented on the surface of Cinderella, is exactly what you get, however, there is still plenty of joy and pleasure to be had with Kenneth Branagh’s latest adaptation, from the performances, all the way to the dazzlingly beautiful visuals.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

You go girl! Go get yo man! (But don't forget, you don't need him to grant you everlasting happiness..)

You go girl! Go get yo man! (But don’t forget, you don’t need him to grant you everlasting happiness..)

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Young Guns (1988)

Apparently, all you have to do to make the Brat Pack look tough, is give them guns.

In 1878, six rebellious young men are roaming around the West, kicking ass, taking names, all to avenge the death of their ranch owner. Their names? The Regulators. But most people know them by their leader, Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez), the toughest gunslinger in all the land.

Westerns are cool, right? But what about Westerns from the 80’s, that feature stars from The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

Uhm, never mind. Westerns aren’t so cool anymore.

Although, as much as I may crap on this movie in the next few minutes or so, there is no denying that this movie can sometimes actually be fun, if only when it’s paying attention to the actual action and nothing but. Director Christopher Cain obviously knows what he wants to do with this material, as cheesy as it may be, but takes chances here because he’s not all that afraid to be a little bloody, a dirty, and in-your-face at the same time. There’s a great amount of energy that’s brought to this flick every time the action pops up, which also gives more credit to the powers that be who were behind this not backing down and slapping it with the PG-13 rating. Westerns aren’t supposed to be pretty, or even lovely – they’re supposed to be ugly, dirty creations where even uglier, dirtier creations inhabit it and there’s something worth commending on the part of Cain for at least noticing this, even if it is for only when the guns are shooting, bullets are flying, and people are dropping like flies all over the place.

Eh. Take it easy, not-Martin Sheen.

Eh. Take it easy, not-Martin Sheen.

Problem is, once the action ceases, the movie’s true problems begin to show.

Right from the start of the flick, you know that it’s going to be corny (it’s an 80’s flick), but the movie really delivers on the cheese, and then some. The script is made out to where these guys think their all tough by waving around guns and talking like rough, ragged grown-ass men, when in reality, they look a little too pretty and handsome to even be considered a bunch of dirty gun-slingers, making them all unbelievable as protagonists. Let alone, ones that are supposed to be some of the most terrifying shooters in all the land. Even if they called up Clint Eastwood, it still would have been hard to see these guys as anything but stars of high school 80’s classics, as most of them were by this point.

What’s even worse about these characters though, is that we never ever really get the chance to care about them. Which is of course to say that the writing for them is terrible, but at a certain point, it doesn’t even seem like the movie’s even trying. Instead, it seems like the creators behind it thought that just by casting these well-known, likable stars in these roles was enough to make them at least somewhat sympathetic, but that’s not what happens here. In order for us to root for these characters, you have to give us more than just a pretty, recognizable face; they need to have something of personalities, and not just any kinds, but ones that are worth getting behind.

Because, for the most part, the scenes with them are just dedicated to constant talking about their lives, women, and shootin’ folks, but it’s written in such a goofy way, it’s hard to ever take any of it seriously, let alone even care. The movie deserves some credit for at least trying to hash these characters out into being more than just stereotypes, but because the script doesn’t work, they seem exactly like that – just a bunch of hammy, macho d-bags who have too much time on their hands.

Not even Jack Palance could save this. Shame.

Not even Jack Palance could save this. Shame.

Speaking of these a-holes, the cast tries and tries again with these poorly-written characters, but just can’t seem to overcome the inherent problems plaguing this movie at nearly every turn. Of course, Emilio Estevez probably has the best performance out of the bunch as Billy the Kid, but even he got on my nerves after awhile. In most folklore that you read about the Kid, we’re always told that he was a cocky, arrogant prick, which may or may not be true to begin with, but that doesn’t make for a compelling lead protagonist. It just leaves us with someone not worth caring about one bit. Though Esteves may have the most charisma out of the whole ensemble, but that’s not really saying much when you take a look at the rest of the buffoons backing him up.

As for the rest, nobody really does much. But then again, they aren’t given much to do, so I guess they could only do what they were told. Kiefer Sutherland spends the majority of this movie either moping, yelling, dreaming over some random Asian gal that he meets for three minutes and falls in love with, and it gets real old, real quick; Lou Diamond Phillips plays the stereotypical Native American character that instead of shooting, throws knives, and goes on and on about his heritage and what his people had to go through, which, yet again, gets real old, real quick; Charlie Sheen has some nice moments, because he’s Charlie Sheen for gosh sakes, but they are very few and far between and doesn’t take away from the fact that he doesn’t have much in him to make this movie a whole lot better; Dermot Mulroney barely does anything here other than look dirty and chew a lot of tobacco; and Casey Siemaszko is just here and doesn’t really do much, which is pretty much a perfect summation of his career as a whole.

Poor guy. I hope he still gets some cash from this to get him through the day.

Consensus: There’s a gritty, raw and sometimes incredibly violent Western tucked inside of Young Guns, but it hardly ever comes out in a full-on, effective form, mostly due to the fact that the ensemble aren’t given anything to do.

3 /10 

Come on, boys! Real men don't cry! You pansies!

Come on, boys! Real men don’t cry! You pansies!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Citizen Kane (1941)

In the end, being rich and powerful never quite works out.

Rosebud“, for one reason or another, was the final, dying word of a rich and powerful man. But what does it mean? The life of tycoon and publishing powerhouse Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) is a documented legend. But his last word remains a mystery – one that intrepid reporter Thompson (William Alland) intends to solve.

Anytime you ever hear anybody mention the best movie of their desired genre, you always hear that it’s the “Citizen Kane of *insert genre here*”, which pretty much means that this movie is considered one of the best of all-time and deserves to be watched by all, movie buffs and non-movie buffs. I can definitely see why, but I still wouldn’t go as far as to call it a “masterpiece”.

Unpopular opinion, I know, but bear with me, folks.

Let me just put it like this: Orson Welles kicks ass in everything he does and shows that he has such an original and inspired mind whenever it comes to taking over your own film. The dude not only stars in this flick, but he also directs, produces, co-writes, films himself, and even made sure that no studio exec tinkered with his final product. You can call Orson Welles a control-freak, but when the final-product ends up turning out as good as this, all unpopularity can be brushed aside.

Not that Kane, you sillies.

Not that Kane, although, how awesome would that be?

Which brings me to the way the story is told to us and why Welles was such a master at his craft. The film starts off with the death of Kane (not a spoiler because it happens in the first two minutes), then we get a very sharp newsreel that tells the life of Kane in almost three minutes, and then goes on to show you that the whole film will be about this one reporter, learning about the story and life of Kane, just through flashbacks and discussions with other people that knew and loved him very well. I know, I know, I know, you’re probably sitting there right now wondering what’s so damn special about some plot-device that seems to happen all of the time, but the fact that Welles first gives us the big picture, only to go to the smaller details and trust us our minds to know what’s going to happen next, is something of genius, especially back in 1941. It was damn inventive for its time and it’s still a plot-device that works now, especially considering well it’s done.

Another inventive aspect behind this film was the camera itself and how everything is filmed in it’s noir/art style. There’s a lot of neat shots that that hold themselves here throughout and it’s very inspiring to see because it adds a mood to a lot of these scenes and shows you that Welles wasn’t afraid to move the camera around just a bit, you know, to convey emotions and keep this story going at a very smooth, but relatively rapid pace. The music also enters the film perfectly and adds a dark feel to this whole product and it sticks with you every time you hear it because it usually sounds so bleak and freaky. Those two words right there may not go perfectly well together, but you get the gist of what I’m talking about.

But what really separates this film, from all of the others that were coming out around this time is that it can still be easily enjoyed all these years later. I have never seen this flick ever before in my life, (kill me now, I know) so the first time I ever got to see this flick, I was surprised by how brisk of a pace it had and just how much it kept me glued to its story. Welles takes a great deal in making a story that’s compelling, but also very truthful in how it speaks about human nature. This movie is all about how absolute power corrupts even the best of men, regardless of what it is that they do for a living, or want to do in their lives. The more you get, the more you start waste away the things that mean the most to you and even though this is no shocking revelation in the year 2015, it’s still great to see and hear it all from a flick like this. Welles was only 26 when he made this and it only shows me that I got about four more years left until I come out of my cave and make the next best thing for Hollywood.

Wow, bro.

Wow, bro.

Yeah, no pressure at all.

However, as much of a masterpiece that this film may be regarded as, I still do think there are problems that this film does have here and there. The main problem with most films from these days are that there are parts that are more dated than others, and here, I didn’t find much of that and barely anything that annoyed me either. Except, there was one big problem I had with this film and that was Dorothy Comingore’s performance as Kane’s second little honey-bunny of a wife, Susan Alexander. At first, seems like a very nice and sweet girl who makes it obvious as to why Kane would fall for her in the first place, but once she starts to get bigger and bigger with her Opera career, she predictably starts to get more and more needy, whiny, and annoying. This was an obvious character arch that Welles went for here, but her performance annoyed me more just because all she did was yell and scream, but it wasn’t realistic or understandable; it was just hammy. It almost seemed like she was in her own movie altogether, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the movie.

But, where there is one bad performance, there is one that’s amazing and rises above the rest. I’m talking about Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane, and gives one of those brilliant performances where we see little snippets of a man, but due to Welles’ powerful acting, we feel like we know this character for everything that he was, as well as what he wasn’t. Welles has this strong delivery with his lines that makes it seem like he’s always talking with a purpose and every single line that comes from Kane’s mouth is just another powerful piece or artistry, whether or not Welles had intended for it to be heard as so or not. Though, there are small shadings of this character that, if you’re paying enough attention, you’ll be able to find and relate to, even if by the end, Kane does become something of a dick. Albeit, a very rich one. Which is to say, with money and fame, comes sadness.

Wah.

Consensus: Though not all of it holds up, Citizen Kane is still a wonderful piece of film-making for what it introduced to the film world, the themes that still hold up well today, and the fact that Welles, even at such a young age, was able to make this baby his own and threw himself into the history books because of it.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

"Anticlimactic."

“Anticlimactic.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Visitor (2008)

Live life by the drum.

Widower Professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) lives a mundane existence as a college economics professor. He gives fails students who don’t deserve to fail; he’s only doing piano because of his long, lost wife’s talent; and generally, he’s just a dick to everyone and anyone around him. However, when going off into the city where he hopes to relax and possibly wallow in his own misery, he stumbles upon two illegal immigrants who have taken up shop in his place. At first, he’s upset, but as time goes on, he befriends them and even goes so far as to help them with all of his might when they’re discovered by U.S. immigration authorities.

Back in 2008, I remember actually hearing little things about this movie here and there, but nothing that was worth jumping up and down for. Then the 2009 Academy Awards came around and everybody was wondering, “Just who the hell is Richard Jenkins and what the hell is this movie he’s been nominated for?”. I’ll admit it, I was one of those people and needless to say, I can totally see why the Academy chose to give this guy and this film some notice. It’s actually a nice, little indie.

It would be hopelessly romantic, however, it's an indie, so go away heartfelt emotions!!

It would be hopelessly romantic, however, it’s an indie, so go away heartfelt emotions!

Which, honestly, is no surprise considering it comes from writer/director Thomas McCarthy, a guy who, time and time again, proves that he can be a master at making very subtle, heart-warming indies. After seeing his two other flicks (The Station Agent, Win Win), I’ve begun to realize that this guy has a style, without ever really having a style at all. He shoots all of his films like natural stories of a human-being; doesn’t try to do anything fancy or flashy with his camera; and much rather instead, allows for the story tell itself. This usually works for him because his stories are usually so rich that you can’t help but feel as involved with them as the character’s in it themselves. Overall though, it’s lovely to see a director not only let the story tell itself, but never really delude from that story either and keep it on that subject so we know how they feel, what they feel, and all of the other little things about them in between.

This is also a film where McCarthy seems to be tackling bigger issues here than just the levels of love, friendship, and trains. Here, he actually seems to be making some very valid points about the post-9/11 America that we all live in and it kind of made me think a little bit about how I sort of looked at people from other races, heritages, and countries. Whenever we see a person that’s not from this country, and is from an Arabic one, we look at them, and without a single second to think, all of a sudden get absolutely paranoid.

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

Fact is though, we don’t know these people as well as we think we do, as we mostly forget that they too, like us, are human beings. Ones who are ripe with feelings, emotions, and all of that nonsensical baloney that us humans can’t ever seem to get a grip on, no matter how hard we try. McCarthy doesn’t just shove these ideas or thoughts down our throats, however, much rather, he just allows for us to pick up on them as the movie goes on along. McCarthy trusts us and it’s very noble, on his part.

But if there was a problem to be found here in this movie, it’s that his direction could sometimes get a tad bit too subtle for his own good. In fact, I’d say that it sometimes seems like he’s cheating the audience out of something, all because he wants to take the higher road. Which, dealing with a simple story such as this, is understandable, but when you want your story to deliver on the emotional-cues, hook, line, and sinker, you sort of have to give us a little piece of that sentimental moment to fully put us over the hill. McCarthy, once again, strays away from doing that and instead, is relying on us to make the emotions work, but it sometimes takes away from even more of an emotional wallop.

Visitor2

Michonne?!? In love?!? No zombies?!?

Regardless of all that though, if there’s one thing that the Visitor should always and forever be remembered for, it’s that it showed the bigger, brighter world out there just who the hell Richard Jenkins actually is. However, that’s not saying that before the Visitor, nobody knew who the hell Jenkins was in the first place, because he was constantly everywhere. He was the go-to character actor that you could always rely on to make a movie better, and it was a nice change-of-pace to see him here, actually getting the chance to revel in the spotlight a bit.

That aside, Jenkins’ performance is quite great and was definitely deserving of the Oscar nomination, as we really see this man for what he is – a sad, lonely and relatively depressed old man who has given up on life, basically, but hasn’t given up on it so much so that he’s willing to let himself go. He still wants to try on and live on, even if it is for the sake of allowing for his wife’s legacy to live on vicariously through him. At the beginning, we’re practically told that he’s a mean, grumpy old dude, but as time progresses on and we get to see him interact with those around him, we realize that there is something sweet, lovely and charming to Walter Vale. While he isn’t a perfect person, he’s still one that you could meet on the street, have a chat with, and go on about your day. You don’t need to think about him all that much, but you’ll remember that you at least had the conversation with him in the first place.

Much like Richard Jenkins himself: Always present and lovely to be around, although, you’ll still be asking, “Where the hell did he go?”

Consensus: The Visitor gets by solely on the power and complexity of Jenkins’ lead performance, which helps to allow Thomas McCarthy’s script to reach new, emotional-heights, even if he does cheat the audience out of them quite a bit too many times.

8 / 10

Slappin' da drum, man.

Slappin’ da drum.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

’71 (2015)

Behind Enemy Lines, but with more pints of Guinness.

Young British solider Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) gets called away from his basic training to set up shop in Belfast where he, as well as his fellow soldiers, will help “maintain peace”. During this time, however, the exact opposite was happening with there being fights and riots breaking out all over the place between Protestants and Catholics, and once Hook arrives on the scene, he realizes this. While trying to settle down an angry mob that’s pissed off with the Army coming in and trying to take away their weapons, Hook gets separated from his fellow soldiers and is practically a walking, breathing and scared shitless target for anyone who doesn’t agree with the Army, or their tactics – which, in Belfast during this time, was practically everyone. More importantly though, Hook has to be on the lookout for loyalists and the IRA, as they feel getting a British soldier in their captivity would be absolutely what they need to help their cause a bit more over the other side. Either way, it’s just not a good position for Hook to be in and he’ll have to depend on his instincts to survive the night, and possibly get out of this terrible situation alive.

You can tell right away that it’s a very simple story. Sure, the political context to be set for this film is that it’s during the Troubles period, in which practically everybody was out to get the other side. There’s a lot more to it than that, but if you want it to be put in as simple terms as one can possibly get – all hell was practically breaking loose during this time and if a person was stuck somewhere that they shouldn’t have been, then needless to say, they were in some deep trouble.

Lots of running.

Lots of running.

And that’s exactly what ’71 tries to talk about for at least an hour-and-a-half. For most movies, this is a daunting task – finding a way to make even the most simple, non-complex situation, just the opposite. However, it’s a task that ’71 is more than willing to try and take on, even if it doesn’t always come out on top as the victor and is instead, more or less, the one that seems like it’s trying to go deeper than it probably should have.

For instance, there’s this whole idea that no matter what danger may be lurking at every street corner for Gary Hook, there might be somebody who appears to be on his side, looking to do the same sort of damage that his enemies want to do to him. We see this in a few characters, within a few subplots that seem to spell out the problems of corruption within the IRA, the British government, and just about anybody who had any sort of power during this time and place, and I’m not sure they all needed to be placed here, given the context of this movie. It showed us that the odds were constantly stacking up against our protagonist, but we didn’t really need to be told this with all of these different characters and their objectives.

In fact, just having Hook getting chased on the street and shot at (which does happen fairly early in the film and is downright breathtaking) was enough to make me feel like this dude could literally die at any second and the movie would be all over. His story wouldn’t be eventful, except that he was just a poor cog in the machine who had to, sadly, face the consequence of being caught in the wrong place, at especially the wrong time. That, as is, is already compelling and complex to me, but the movie felt otherwise.

Instead, it wanted to constantly get deeper, and more complex for its own good, but instead, just seemed to get more convoluted and twisty. Because it’s never made clear to us who the ones on Hook’s side are, and who aren’t, the movie runs into the problem of even confusing the audience who might want to sit by and see just what happens to this character next, what he runs into, and how he tries to get alive out of it, if at all. Maybe that’s sort of the point of this movie, which makes sense, but didn’t make the movie that much easier to sit through and understand.

That said, a good portion of this movie is thrilling, and sometimes, it doesn’t even seem to be trying.

But, at least he gets a breather.

But, at least he gets a breather.

Whether or not director Yann Demange had some help on the side from certain others involved, remains to be known, but to me, it seems like he had certain elements to this film down perfectly. Whenever Demange plays it quiet and allows for certain scenes to play out, as they would in real life, they are riveting; they don’t demand our attention, but, more or less, just calmly ask us to watch them as they go on. These scenes make the bulk of ’71 thrilling, even when it doesn’t seem to be going for that sort of Bourne-like look or feel. It just does it, which makes me wonder what the hell happened to the rest of Demange’s direction that made him pack on the pounds to this story and have it go off-the-rails, so randomly, too.

But Demange is smart in allowing for us to get behind a character like Gary Hook, even if it’s never fully clear what sort of guy this is, or better yet, why we’re being told his story. The movie gives us a few scenes with him and his son, and gives us the impression that he’s a typically okay guy, but that’s about it. I’m not complaining. I’m just pointing out something that’s interesting as it works in the film’s favor and just proves my main problem with this movie even further – simplicity rules. By not diving in deep and digging around in Gary Hook’s life, we are given somebody who seems as plain and ordinary as they may come, but somehow, still works for us. Once we see that his life is in absolute peril and he is, more or less, innocent of any wrong-doings that may eventually come to him, than we’re already placed on his side for the majority of the flick that is spent watching him running, hiding, and trying to get out of this shitty situation alive and in one piece.

That said, Jack O’Connell, now a big name because of Unbroken, doesn’t really have much to do here, except pretty much the same that he did in that movie. He gets beat up a lot, stays quiet, keeps to himself, and occasionally, acts out in fright. That’s about it. It’s not that I’m not sold on the fact that O’Connell can actually act – it’s more that I feel like he hasn’t been given the right role for him yet to where he can show the whole world that he is a star, just waiting to break out at any point. Starred Up had a solid performance of his, but that’s about it, and I’ve seen maybe three other films that he’s involved in and I have yet to be fully impressed.

Oh well. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Consensus: As an unpredictable, survival-story, ’71 is exciting and dangerous. But as a political-thriller, it drops the ball and feels as if it’s trying too hard to not just eat its cake, but possibly even get some seconds afterwards.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Then, he's back to more running.

Then, he’s back to more running.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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