Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 2000s

Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Probably the tamest movie I’ve ever seen that says “coke” about 15 times. And I’m not referring to the soda, although if it were the late 1800’s, I would be referring to both I guess, right?

Detective David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is all about following the rules, getting the job, and having the law come out on-top, at any means necessary; Detective Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is far different in the way that he’s so cool, calm, relaxed, and mellowed-out, that he doesn’t really care if he gets the job done or not, he just wants to look cool and smokin’. They’re polar-opposites, but they get strung together somehow and have to solve a drug-ring of coke on the streets, lead by millionaire Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn). Together, they have their fair-share of problems, but together, through the insistence on getting along and the help of their ears and eyes of the street, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), they finally realize that the law always prevails. Or something of that nature.

It’s strange to think that a man who has been known for his fair share of R-rated, raunch-fests, Todd Phillips, would ever stoop so low as to go for a PG-13. But somehow, with this, he did and his struggle with actually trying to keep to that rating without over-stepping it at all. As I said up-top, there’s plenty uses of the word “coke” and nothing but; girls make-out with other girls; the F-bomb is dropped once (and randomly); partial-nudity is seen (sort of); and the word “shit” gets dropped about 5 or 6 times. It’s just strange because we know that when Phillips turns on the dirty-jets, he has a fun time and lets loose like no other, but what we mostly know is that when he does get down and dirty: he’s a lot funnier as well.

Whatta fun time!

Whatta fun time!

And trust me, it’s not that this flick isn’t funny, because it sure as hell does have it’s moments of comedic-inspiration that are more than likely going to win you over; it’s just that the tone itself is a bit uneven. What I mean by that is that the flick tries to go for a satire of an episode of the original Starsky & Hutch, and at other times, seems like it’s trying to be a straight-forward comedy that makes up it’s own jokes, is in it’s own little universe, and doesn’t even know about the other show. Hell, it even plays out like a failed-pilot of the original, except with more knowing-humor and a switch-up of the lead characters.

Since the movie never seems like it knows what it wants to be, or how for that matter, some comedy hits and some of it misses. More of it hits than actually misses, but knowing what Stiller, Wilson, Vaughn, Ferrell, and even Phillips are capable of, it comes as a bit of a disappointment. The jokes they use get a bit stale after awhile, especially the part where Starsky is high on cocaine and gets into a dance-battle, even though he doesn’t know he’s high, and become the same old, “70’s-fashion-was-so-corny”-type of humor. Nothing as witty or as smart as Zoolander or even Old School here, just a bunch of repetitive jokes made towards the decade it’s apparently supposed to take place in, even if it feels like we’re just watching a bunch of current-Hollywood stars play dress-up and act like their in the 70’s. I don’t know if being a tad bit anachronistic was the movie’s point or not, but if it was; it probably would have been a lot smarter and funnier in that case.

But in all honesty, I can’t discredit this movie too much cause the cast seems to be having fun and is mostly the reasons why we find ourselves laughing at times, despite it seeming a bit desperate at times. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are seemingly playing Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. They both seem to be enjoying themselves, not having to stretch their acting-muscles all that much, and getting a chance to dress in some fine, sexy 70’s digs. Together, they’re a bunch of fun and keep this movie cracking, but after awhile, you start to think how much of this movie was made because they really wanted to make a Starsky & Hutch movie, or how much of it was made as an excuse for the two to pal-around with one another? One has to wonder, and sometimes, it feels like the latter-aspect. It’s fun to watch them, but it feels like their having a bit more fun than we are and that poses a problem, especially when they’re trying to steal the laughs out of you.

Come on! Gimme more!

Come on! Gimme more!

On paper, having Vince Vaughn do his spastic, fast-speech act and Jason Bateman do his dead-pan act, team together, and play the smart, but slightly off-kilter baddies in a movie would seem like comedic-brilliance, but it never musters up any of the courage to really keep them funny or relevant all that much. Vaughn seems like he’s bored being serious and conning, whereas Bateman actually seems like he’s bored, and isn’t just using that to his and his character’s advantage. He actually seems like he’s bored and wants to get his check, so he could get the hell home and get ready to film another season of Arrested Development. Also, any movie that has thew chance to showcase Juliette Lewis and her comedic-talents as the dumb, trashy-chick in the movie, but squander that potential, has seemingly all but lost points from yours truly. The girl is not only a foxy mama, but she’s pretty damn funny, especially when she’s given the chance to be.

Others in this cast that show up do what they can like Snoop Dogg, who actually has some of the funnier-moments in the whole flick of funny people; Carmen Electra and Amy Smart show up to only make-out and provide some sex-appeal for a movie that didn’t need any, and when it finally got it’s chance to showcase it, made it seem more misogynistic than titillating; and actual cameos from the original guys, David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser, who made it funny just being there, but once I got to thinking about it, made it almost seem like the film was making fun of them and how hell-bent-out-of-shape they seem to have gotten. Poor guys. Oh well, they probably got a nice, healthy paycheck from this. Just like Bateman. Although, needless to say, he probably made that paycheck last.

Consensus: Bits and pieces of Starsky & Hutch seem inspired enough to transpire plenty of inspired moments of comedy, but not too many as the flick struggles to make up it’s mind of what type of comedy it wants to be, or even make us laugh at all.

6 / 10

"1, 2, 3 and to tha 4, Huggy Bear is at tha doe."

“One, two, three and to tha foe, Huggy Bear is at tha doe.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

American Splendor (2003)

Believe it or not, Stan Lee isn’t the only guy who writes comics.

Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) works a dead-end job as a file clerk, his second wife leaves him, and he has a debilitating vocal impediment. The two things that keep him going are his collections of jazz records and comic books. After becoming friends with animator Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), Harvey finds himself inspired enough to write his own type of comic book, which turn out to be just the depressing, yet amusing accounts of his everyday life.

Whenever people hear of a comic book movie being made, they automatically shoot their minds to Marvel and think of names like Iron Man, or the Hulk, or Captain America, or whoever gets the next big-screen adaptation. But hardly do we ever get to see the sort of comic book movies that are made for people who could care less about superheros and all of those wonderful tales of fantasy. Sometimes, comic books have the opportunity to hit closer to home and it’s this fact, this reality that American Splendor hits hard each and every second it gets.

He's perfect.

He’s perfect.

Of course, in a bit more depressed manner, but still. It’s a little more refreshing than watching another Marvel flick.

Co-writers and directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini know that they’re working with simple material here, so it makes sense that they’d add a little comic book touch to the look and make it feel as if we are looking at an actual comic book on the screen. It doesn’t happen all of the time, because that would just get gimmicky after awhile, but the way they do use it when needed, works and puts you in the mind-set of how this guy looked at the world through his own eyes.

But the style isn’t just what works, as there’s a whole lot of interesting scenes where we actually see the real Harvey Pekar early on, through interviews, and even see all of the other real people in his life as well, show up every once and awhile. It’s a bit surreal at first, considering we are essentially watching a movie about the real life story of these people, they know it, and are standing there just giving their input when needed. It’s definitely weird, but after awhile, seems pretty cool as it looks like Berman and Pulcini both wanted to keep this story as close to the real thing as possible, so what better way than having the real people themselves, you know?

Honestly though, American Splendor is as interesting as it is, all because of the subject at the center: Harvey Pekar. There’s no way of dancing around that fact.

What’s interesting about Pekar is that, other than the fact that he’s a pretty miserable dude, there’s a lot more to him than just that. Does he know it? Not really, but that’s where the intrigue is; while everybody looks at him as a lovable, self-loathsome loner, he doesn’t even know it, think about it, or better yet, give a hoot. This is especially evident in how he describes his comic book creations, the stories he writes about, and how he allows them to approach life, the way in which he sees it. To him, it’s just his own thoughts and opinions getting scribbled onto a piece of paper – whether hundreds of people see it or not, is totally their call.

But then, what makes Pekar even more of engaging figure here is that he’s played by the one and only Paul Giamatti himself. Once again, Giamatti seems to be playing his “kvetching, neurotic Jewish guy”-role as we usually see in his films, but there’s more to that than just being a miserable sad-sack. Pekar seems like the perfect role for Giamatti cause not only does the guy have a general distaste for a lot of what happens throughout his day, but when he starts to realize the happiness that’s out there, it’s very nice to see and Giamatti handles it so well. In fact, when Pekar himself shows up on-screen, it’s almost hard to tell them totally apart. Whatever Giamatti himself had to do to prepare for this role, clearly paid-off as he got down every mannerism that Pekar has, wonderfully.

She's perfect.

She’s perfect.

Though, there is more going on here than just Giamatti’s great portrayal of Pekar, as Hope Davis does a charming job as Pekar’s third wife, Joyce Brabner. Because the real-life couple of Joyce and Harvey is so odd and unique in its smallest details, Davis and Giamatti must have really had to be hard-at-work to ensure that they got everything down perfectly between the two; not just when they’re together on-screen, but how their own respective characters grow throughout the movie. Cause obviously, they are their own person, but together, they feel oh so perfectly united, that it’s hard to imagine either one of their miserable selves being with anybody else.

Basically, they were stuck together, forever. Till death did them part and I couldn’t had been any happier for them.

So if anything, American Splendor not only serves a fine send-up of all the superhero/comic book movies that seem to flood the airwaves everywhere you look nowadays, but a touching tribute to the legend of Harvey Pekar. While some may have a problem with the fact he was so ticked-off and angry for no apparent reasons whatsoever, there’s still some hope and humanity to be found in that. Cause as hard as it may be to stay happy all throughout your life, it must be even more incredibly difficult to stay as mad, either.

So here’s to you, Harvey. Rest well. And smile for a damn change!

Consensus: Though it has style to boot, what makes American Splendor so lovely is how it approaches life the same way as Harvey Pekar himself did: Not quite sure what to make of it, but couldn’t wait to find out, even if the results didn’t always make him the happiest bee in the hive.

8.5 / 10

Together, match made in heaven.

Together, match made in heaven.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Snatch (2001)

SnatchposterDoes anybody even know what a “pikey” is in the first place?

Set in the London criminal underworld, two stories are unfolding that, more often than not, just so happen to connect or intervene with one another. One plot deals with the search for a stolen diamond, whereas the other with a small-time boxing promoter named Turkish (Jason Statham) who finds himself under the thumb of a ruthless gangster known as Brick Top (Alan Ford). Of course, there is more than just meets the eye with this premise as many happenings and characters find themselves in-and-out of the story.

If you’ve seen one movie of Guy Ritchie’s, you’ve mostly seen them all. In ways, that’s a good thing, but often times, it can feel as if it’s a tad bit repetitive and over-done. But that’s not me talking, as I’ve come to appreciate the kind of style the dude’s worked with over the years and how it’s single-handedly help save some of his movies from being bore-fests.

Except for Swept Away. There was no way of saving that movie.

Who needs Apollo Creed, when you've got two drunk Irish morons.

Who needs Apollo Creed, when you’ve got two drunk Irish morons.

What Ritchie does so well, is style; it’s the same type of hip, kinetic, and goofy style that we saw in his earlier flicks but who cares? If it works, it works. Ritchie keeps the plot moving in an entertaining fashion, but at the same time, still keeps these plot-lines interesting. This makes it all the more with it when they all seem to converge with one another and make Ritchie’s writing a whole heck of a lot smarter.

Most of that smartness comes from the whole idea of this flick is just to be a big goofy take on the crime-noir genre by substituting all of those hard, mean characters, with lovable, colorful ones that we all actually care about. However, don’t have you think that Ritchie softens up because of this. Instead he lets all of the violence happen as if it normally would in any other film of this genre and it’s just a whole bunch of fun to watch, even if you do know what’s going to happen next.

Also, subtitles may definitely help at certain times, too.

I don’t know what it is about Ritchie piss so many people off because this guy really seems like he’s having a ball when it comes to him making movies. Does he have an energetic style that can sometimes be straight in your face? Yeah, but does that neccessarily make him a bad director? I guess it all depends on how you feel about watching movies. Either you want a slow human-drama about life and love in the world we live in, or you want a fast-paced, suspenseful, and wild gangster flick that takes no prisoners and makes no apologies for calling each other that dreaded “c-word”.

Yup. Totally not crazy.

Yup. Totally not crazy.

My problem with this film just lies within the fact that I think Ritchie does not stray far away from what he did with his debut and that’s sort of annoying, considering it seems a bit cheap once you think about it. Take for instance, Vinnie Jones’ character. Jones, as we all know and love, is basically type-cast as this wild, insane, and freakishly scary a-hole that would be able to rip your heart out with his teeth. Those are the types of roles the guy gets nowadays and without Ritchie, he wouldn’t have ever been known far-beyond his Rugby days. Therefore, it seems like Ritchie felt the need to not only place a same type of character as that in this movie, but also give Jones the same exact role that sort of comes off as lazy and a bit unoriginal in terms of casting. There’s a couple of other actors and characters here that seem like carbon-copies of the ones from Lock, but Jones was the one who really stood-out for me as the laziest of all, even though he kicked plenty of arse, as usual.

But even besides that, Jones is still good here. And the same goes with everybody else who shows up, utilizing their talents as actors for what would be ultimate challenging of handling Ritchie’s sense of dialogue. Though they may seem like odd choices at first, the likes of Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, and Rade Serbedzija, all do perfectly fine here and show that they’re charming enough to carry along the movie, even if Ritchie’s dialogue may sometimes get in the way of his actors.

However, their not prepared for the most inspired casting decision of this whole flick.

Brad Pitt as the illiterate “pikey” Micky O’Neill, may have seemed crazy, but eventually, you wonder why anybody would have ever thought that. Pitt’s whole act in this flick is to not make any sense no matter what he mumbles, but still be able to get what he’s saying across by the look on his face and the body language he displays. Maybe that’s a bit too much of a detailed study for a character that is first shown taking a dump right in front of his home, but Pitt nails it and makes every piece of dialogue he mutters out hilarious. So hilarious in fact, that the Netflix subtitles couldn’t even decipher what the hell he was saying but that was the point! It was funny, it made me laugh, and made me see what types of roles Pitt can do, and still take total control over even if he isn’t the main star of the show. Everybody else here, kicks some fine-piece of arse that’s worth mentioning but to be honest, just go out and see the ensemble for yourself. They are all so perfect together and you wonder how Ritchie was able to get them all to be in the same freakin’ movie in the first place.

Consensus: Though we’ve seen this style done before, Snatch still utilizes a lot of Ritchie’s strengths as both a writer, as well as a director.

8.5 / 10

Morgan?

Morgan?

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Room Reviews

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Run, Denzel, run!

Denzel Washington plays Army Major Bennett Marco, a career soldier who grows suspicious about his experience in Desert Storm after Squad Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), son of the powerful Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), becomes a candidate for Vice President. Something feels very eerie about Marco, and both of the Shaw’s and that’s why Marco is going to go out and settle the truth.

Jonathan Demme is a very skilled director that can go from making movies about Neil Young, to making one about a pilled-up Anne Hathaway that loves crashing weddings, and make it all work out in his own way. Of course, like with most directors, the guy has had his fair share of blow-outs (The Truth About Charlie, anyone?), but I think it’s safe to say that he’s definitely had more hits than misses and this flick is one of those rare hits, that somehow misses a mark it could have hit a littler harder.

What makes this flick work is that Demme puts us in the same state-of-mind as it’s main character is in, and has us disheveled and confused as he is, and never lets us know exactly just what the hell is going on. We get a lot of dreams, flashbacks, hallucinations, ideas, drug-trips, and plenty more devices that are used to mess with our minds, just like our main character’s as well, and that’s what Demme succeeds at the most. He keeps us in the dark with what we think we know, and what we expect to happen next in a flick like this.

And yes, it most definitely works.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

There are certain places that this movie goes, really will surprise you, in terms of twists and material. The twists are good and kept on flying when I thought they would end, but still added more and more layers of tension and mystery to a story that didn’t need it, but didn’t suffer from too much of it either. But in terms of material and where this flick goes with it, it can be pretty damn surprising. Certain things happen that you don’t expect to considering this is a mainstream thriller with A-list names and Hollywood producers, and you also don’t expect certain characters to get killed-off when they do. Basically, with a filmmaker and story-teller like Demme, nothing is as what it seems and you can’t seem to trust anyone. Once again, that’s the same sort of mind-frame that our main character takes and it’s a real delight to see that work so well by the inspired hands of Jonathan Demme.

Although, something just wasn’t clicking for me in the right ways that I was expecting it to. What I mean by that, is that the movie has all of these ideas, all of these mysteries, and all of these conspiracies to it, that enhance the plot as well as our confusion of what we think is actually happening, but never seems to get off-the-ground. The reason for that being is because it feels like Demme is so considered with laying down the groundwork of this story and telling us what he feels like we should know, that he never kicks the story into full-gear and having us feel like we are on a ride that’s never going to end, and shows no signs of it either.

Maybe the problem I had with this movie and this pace, was that I think I was expecting something more of a slam-bang, action-thriller, and that’s exactly what I did not get. This is more along the lines of a psychological thriller that takes it’s good old time to get where it needs to go, and doesn’t really worry about the people watching it, squirming in their seats and just waiting for the tides to change, and start having people beat the shit out of one-another and run away. That never happens and even when it does show signs of that actually occurring and speeding everything up: it still disappoints. If it wasn’t for this snail-like pace, Demme would have really been onto something here, but the guy just never lets his material move at a speed that cannot only gain our attention, but have us more intrigued in seeing where it all goes and ends-up.

Thankfully, we have an A-list cast like this to save the day and thank the heavens for them. When you see a movie that Denzel Washington stars in, you automatically assume that he’s going to be the downright lovable, cool-as-shit Denzel Washington that we see him play, and master in just about every one of his movies. However, he’s a little different and shows that the guy can play crazy, pretty damn well, mind you. The guy’s still got some charm to where you feel like he’s a good-guy underneath all of the lost-marbles, but you still don’t know what to make of where he’s going, in terms of character and his motivations. No matter where this character ends up, Denzel is always compelling and always makes it easy for us to root him on, as if it’s him vs. the world, and we are on red corner’s side, just hoping he comes out of this alive and without a single-scratch on that voluptuous forehead of his. Yeah, I went there and I make no apologies for it either, bitches.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

The one in this cast that I was really surprised by was Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, because not only does the guy portray his character’s smugness in such a way that really had me want to punch him in his corrupt-face, but he has the most challenging-role of all. For instance, Shaw is the type of character that is typically a bad guy because he looks bad, is on the bad guy’s side, and is rich, powerful, and smart. Pretty much any person that has those qualities in a movie, or life for that matter, fit the bill of being a total and complete villain that we just don’t like and want to see dead as soon as possible. I’m talking about in the movies, not real-life. Although I do think you could arrange that if you needed to.

But I digress.

What makes this character of Raymond Shaw so complex is that yes, he does fit the role of the type of guy you would normally hate and root-against in a movie like this, but there’s more to him than just that. You sort of feel bad for him because you can tell that he doesn’t really have the brightest-clue as to knowing what the hell is going on, and feels bad that he’s being played-with as a result of all of this confusion. Therefore, he has to take the higher, and sometimes more difficult road of taking everything he sees, hears, and thinks in stride and going about his business, but still having wonders in his head as to what the hell is right and what is wrong with his life. Schreiber plays this moral-dilemma so very, very well and shows the type of dimensions you can get with a character like this, no matter how one-sided he may seem on-paper. Schreiber is always a solid actor that continues to turn in good-work-after-good-work, and his role as Raymond Shaw, is one of the glaring examples of this.

Perhaps the one who really knocks this out-of-the-park, but didn’t surprise me as much was Meryl Streep as Raymond’s “mother”, Eleanor. I think it goes without saying that we all know and love Streep for being the powerhouse-force of in almost everything she does, but her performance as Eleanor shows a darker, meaner-side to the things that she can accomplish and show-off as an actress. She doesn’t necessarily chew the scenery, as much as she takes a look at it, contemplates whether or not to take a bite, and then, decides to eat the whole freakin’ thing and spit it right back out. Streep is the type of actress that can pull-off this hard-hitting woman role like gangbusters, and it was so glorious to see her play a character that isn’t all wholesome and happy; she’s actually pretty terrible.

Consensus: Demme doesn’t allow The Manchurian Candidate to fully pick itself up off-the-ground with fun and electricity in the air, but instead allows the eerie, and mysterious atmosphere kick in and mess with your minds as much as it’s messing with the lead character’s, and many other’s as well.

6.5 / 10

Rawr!

Rawr!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Fall (2006)

Wish my daddy told me stories like these.

Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is a very successful stuntman in Hollywood during the 1920’s. He’s been in plenty of movies but has found himself in a hospital, after a suicide attempt, where he rots his life away wondering just when he’s going to die, how he’s going to die, and where exactly that damn morphine is. He may have found all of the answers in a young girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who not only hangs out with him, but listens to him as he tells fantasy stories about pirates, gypsies, swords, guns, and all sorts of wild and adventurous things. But there’s more than just fantasy in the stories he tells, and together, they both find the solutions to all of their problems, no matter how different each one’s may be from the other.

Everybody knows that Tarsem Singh is one of those guys who knows what’s beautiful and what isn’t. Every one of his flicks (yes, even Mirror Mirror) all feel like fully-realized portraits that could have been painted by either Dali or Van Gogh, and inspired more and more people to take a brush, a can of paint, and a clear surface and start getting down to business, art style. However, the same can’t be said for his stories and even though I feel like we haven’t seen all that this guy has been able to do when somebody gives him a script, a story, and a huge budget, he’s still not there yet. Give him some time, and he will be but as for right now, the guy’s got some homework.

No matter what type of bad stuff I say about Singh’s writing, I cannot deny that this movie isn’t a piece of art, given to us on a silver platter for over two hours. Then again, almost any film nowadays is considered “beautiful” or “artful” because of what every person on the face of the universe can do with a keyboard, a screen, and a couple of clicks. But not Singh. Nope, this guy knows what actual-beauty looks like in a world like ours and not only is it great to see somebody embrace that fact, but show it off in the best way possible. Can some of it be considered showwy and too much?

Yes and no.

 

Looks like Lee Pace to me. Great job hiding yourself!

Looks like Lee Pace to me. Great job hiding yourself!

Yes, because, let’s face it, the only reason this story is told the way it is, is just so Singh can show everybody how huge his imagination is, and how much pretty colors his eyes can see. Directors like Terrence Malick and Ang Lee have the same eyes and same ideas when it comes to letting their visuals tell a story, but they aren’t as obvious as Singh is here. The guy wants everybody to see what he sees, and as nice as that may sound, it does seem rather indulgent at points, considering the story didn’t need to be told this way. Some may agree with me on that aspect, and some may not, but regardless, Singh does show off a bit too much.

Then again, it’s no for the sole reason that this movie is incredibly beautiful in every sense of the word. You get plenty of colors showing up when you least expect them to; visual tricks that you didn’t think were even possible; and a couple of large landscape shots that make me feel pissed I didn’t at least check them out on a big screen or anything else that’s larger than my 1999 Sony television. Or at least I think it’s Sony. Anyway, the movie is eye-candy for everybody who cares to seek their eyes on this thing and I have to give credit to Singh for showing us what you can do when you’re inspired, have some money to burn, and at least feel passionate about what you show on the screen. Once again, it doesn’t all work and seems a tad like over kill at some points, but if anything, Sing knows how to come up with a pretty shot.

Visuals aside, the movie doesn’t have a compelling story but at least it tries to.

Though the story at the center of the movie is very straight-forward and simple, Singh tries to go one step further with these wildly imaginative, over-the-top stories of fantasy and whimsy, and they more or less feel like manipulative opportunities for Singh to just break loose with what he’s got at his disposal. Which isn’t to say I didn’t mind these stories, they just to be a bit old, is all. It all started off perfectly by giving us a great deal of imagination, fantasy, fun, and humor to play with, and had me terribly excited as if the rest of the flick was going to be like this just about the whole way through, but it starts to lose its edge.

Somewhere along the lines, it seemed as if Singh, just like his main-narrator, had a strong start with the story he wanted to tell, then just lost all sorts of originality and decided to improvise his way through a story that could have touched almost everybody who ever heard it or saw it. The improv-idea of story telling actually doesn’t work and seems like a cheap excuse for Singh not to be able to come up with any spectacular ideas that may have kept us more glued to what was going to happen to this “story” and this “real-life story.”

Somewhere, imprinted in the sand, it says: "Lawrence was here".

Somewhere, imprinted in the sand, it says, “Lawrence was here”.

Although they’re saddled with something of a lame story, Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru are very good in each of their roles, whether they’re together or not, but too many of their scenes are dedicated to them just goofing-around with one another, getting along just fine, having fun, telling stories, and occasionally, getting a tad serious so one person can get a bit high for the hell of it. These scenes are sometimes good, and sometimes stupid because they go on and on without any point or message at the end of the road. There’s just a bunch of metaphors and foreshadowing between these two and whether or not Singh actually thinks this how people talk and tell stories in real life, is all up to him. However, it’s also up to me to tell him that this isn’t really how people tell stories and if you have a script that’s along the line of works like Aaron Sorkin, or Quentin Tarantino, or David Mamet, and can get away with i- then, good for you. But Tarsem, my friend, you just can’t.

Stick with making pretty images.

Consensus: Tarsem Singh definitely shows his imagination in beautiful shadings with the Fall, it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t hook quite as effectively as these said images do.

6 / 10

Hey, it's my backyard!

Hey, it’s my backyard!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Cold Souls (2009)

Just take my soul already!

Paul Giamatti stars as a fictionalized version of himself, who is an anxious, overwhelmed actor who decides to enlist the service of a company to deep freeze his soul. Complications ensue when he wants his soul back, but mysteriously, his soul gets lost in a soul trafficking scheme which has taken his soul to St. Petersburg, making Paul have to venture all the way out there to see just what the hell is even going on in the first place.

What you see in the title, is exactly what you get in the movie’s tone. Seriously, don’t come expecting some minor laughs here and there, because the film really just doesn’t seem all that concerned with that aspect at all. It’s more about being dark, moody, bleak, and overall, pretty frigid in its portrayal of where our society may be turning towards. Actually, it’s a pretty far-fetched idea, but I could definitely imagine, just waking up one day, and wanting to be and have Brad Pitt’s soul.

Damn, now that I think about it, I hope this future does come to existence!

Here's a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

Here’s a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

This is the debut flick of Sophie Barthes who not only directs, but writes this flick as well and the information I was looking up for this said that apparently she had this idea in her dream. Now, I could only wish that any of my dreams had anything as ambitious lingering around in them, as apparently the ideas she has swimming in her brain when it’s sleepy-time, but considering that she’s working off of an idea that was probably no less than two minutes, I have to give the gal some credit because it’s pretty intriguing what she comes up with here. Even if the results don’t fully match the ambitions, you have to at least give her credit where credit’s due, because it’s sure as hell not easy to make a movie in today’s day and age – let alone one with as kooky of an idea as Cold Souls.

Barthes doesn’t paint a portrait of a future that’s groomed for doom, where people are in desperate need to be others, have different lives, and basically just erase or escape any type of life they have and don’t like. It’s sort of like the same ideas that went through mind-benders like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, and although this one doesn’t really stack up anywhere near those masterpieces, Barthes at least tries to capture that Charlie Kaufman-esque nature of her material without really going overboard. There’s a lot of weird, sci-fi stuff going on here that’s definitely thoughtful, but it’s also grounded in a reality to where you feel like something could happen like this, had somebody gotten a more well thought-out plan. Barthes definitely deserves style-points on this one in terms of his screenplay, but damn, did we really need to be so sad the whole time?

The answer is no, but most people will probably disagree with me.

Even though the premise definitely promises a bunch of weird, wacky fun in the same light as a Kaufman flick, that promise never gets fulfilled. Instead, Barthes seems like she’s content with just focusing on the sad aspect of this story with long, gloomy shots of a snowy Russia, and an even more horrid-looking New York City that looks as if it hasn’t seen the sun in a decade. All of the colors in this movie feel like a mixture of soft blues and muddle grays, and as much as that may make this flick seem more depressing and sad, do we really want to feel like we, as well as the characters were watching, should just go kill themselves and get it all over with? I don’t think so, because even while you may have an interesting premise to work with, to just constantly hammer us over the head with your inherent seriousness about it can get pretty old.

And another, even despite the fact he's in the same bed as Emily Watson.

And another, even despite the fact he’s in the same bed as Emily Watson.

But even despite the actual lack of fun in this movie, probably the most disappointing aspect of this whole flick is that it brings up all of these questions, ideas, and messages about life and exactly where we are headed as a society, but loses them about half-way through once the last act kicks into high-gear; and then, it ends, just leaving everything up in the air. Listen, I’m totally game for any type of film that wants to bring up a lot of food-for-thought, have me doing thinking about what’s it trying to say, and eventually allowing me to go out with some people afterwards and talk it up, but this movie doesn’t even seem like it wants to give me that privilege. Even when that last act comes around and the movie oddly changes from this existential drama, into this mystery/romance/off-kilter comedy that now all of a sudden wants to please us, rather than having us contemplate jumping off the San Francisco bridge. It was a change in tone that not only felt phony, but showed that Barthes maybe backed-out on an ending, that could have answered a whole lot, and even left some more up for thought and discussion.

But nope, she didn’t even give us that.

What’s even more surprising than this change in tone, was how Paul Giamatti seemed to be a bit boring to watch as well. Granted, the guy isn’t given all that much to work with, other than a slew of shots of him just staring off into the space, looking all mopey and sad all of the time, but when the guy does need to liven things up, he does with that charm and wit we all know and love the guy for. His character (which is pretty much him, just not nearly as famous), is a downer and that’s why it’s pretty fun to see what happens to him when he switches souls, gets a little bit more energetic, and a bit more inspiration with how he lives his life and it’s one of the very rare moments in this flick where not only he comes alive, but the movie as well. Sadly, Barthes knocks his character back down to reality, and he becomes the same old, sad sap we started out with in the first place and it’s a bummer, because Giamatti’s always good and entertaining to watch. You just got to give him the right material that allows him to have some fun every once and awhile.

Consensus: Cold Souls deals with a very interesting idea about the current landscape of our society, but is too dour to really bring anybody into the world it’s trying to portray, nor does it really follow through on any of the rules it sets up to begin with.

5.5 / 10

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Core (2003)

CoreWhen the world is about to end, trust cellular-devices. Oh, and Hollywood.

After a couple of freak accidents all around the globe, scientists come to the mind-boggling conclusion that the Earth’s core will stop rotating, allowing for the world to all go to shit. So in order to continue the spinning, a group lead by Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) and astronaut Rebecca “Beck” Childs (Hilary Swank) go down there to stop the disaster. However, like with most of the times when people try to prevent natural-disasters from occurring, mother nature fights back, and she fights with vengeance. Or, something like that.

I’m not a huge science-buff, but I passed a couple of those classes back in school and I even learned a little bit. Nothing too much, but just enough to know that the Earth revolves around the sun and that there is a crap-ton of water on our planet. You know, the simple and easy things. That’s why when I see a flick and people get on it’s case about not being smart or “correct” about the science it uses, I don’t really care nor do I ever notice. That sort of stuff just doesn’t bother me as much, especially when the flick’s dumb and stupid, such as is this one.

God's finally had it!

God’s finally had it!

But that’s where the problem of this movie lies: It’s so stupid, so dumb, and so innate, that the terribly thought-out science that it uses as it’s axle, is so noticeable and distracting, that it’s almost too hard to even enjoy. To think that the Earth’s core can suddenly stop rotating, for no explanation other than “we did it” or some failed earthquake machine, really made me laugh and wonder just what these writers were thinking when they even bothered jotting down words on a page. Hey, they know more science terms and jargon than I do, but that being said, at least I know what actually can and cannot happen with them. That’s why this movie’s so hard to get through, because everything you see, hear, or even feel, is just of the lowest common-denominator of dumb.

However, there are many movies out there that can be considered “so bad it’s good”, which is why I could recommend the movie just for that fact alone, but nothing else. You can’t expect much from a movie that gets it’s science so wrong, that almost every star in it’s ensemble strains themselves to explain certain things about it, why something’s happening, and how they can fix it, or stop it. For that matter, we’re straining ourselves in return, just to get through this damn thing because even though we know it’s been on for awhile, we still have to face back to reality and realize that the flick is over 2 hours and 4 minutes. Did not need to be at all, considering they jump right into the actual “mission”, about 30 minutes in, leaving any type of character-development or background on the ground, never to be picked up, and only used when the movie needs it to justify certain characters dumb-ass actions.

By “actions”, what I mean is that once one character dies (who I will not spoil, even if you can probably tell a minute or two before it actually happens), it becomes almost like a slasher-flick, where instead of their being a masked-killer or psychopath going around and hacking people up, it’s the Earth’s core itself. This can provide some bits of fun and excitement for people who probably have never seen a disaster flick or know what happens to a certain character, right after they say “I’ll be right back”, but for a d-bag critic like me; it doesn’t fly so well and only twists the knife in harder and harder as each and every character meets their doom. Even the actors themselves feel like they may be just slumming it up for a paycheck, which once again: Makes it even more disappointing to watch.

Obviously back in the early ’00’s is the only time a movie could be lead by Aaron Eckhart and that’s a shame too because the guy’s a quality actor who’s been kicking some fine ass for years, but in smaller indies, and is only seen by a larger-crowd when he does big, loud, and stupid blockbusters (with the exception of this one). Here, it’s apparently clear that Eckhart’s doing whatever he can to make this character/material work more than it should, but he just falls prey to it’s utter crapness, that he comes out the most laughable of all. Best example, a character that’s very close to his, perishes and leaves him yelling, while crying, and demanding his character to come alive. It’s all so laughable to watch, that it’s almost painful, especially because Eckhart, as I said, is a quality actor that knows how to make anything work. However, he can’t help himself or the film that he’s in here.

Alien?

Alien?

Hilary Swank on the other hand, well, she does the same thing except isn’t given that much to work with so it’s not as bad to watch as Eckhart. Still, it feels like a conventional-role for a gal that deserved better things, and still does to this day. Others in this cast fare a bit better, mainly because they aren’t given much development and actually seem to “enjoy” the crap they’re working with. However, it’s weird to watch everybody here act because they all seem to be in a different movie, where apparently lines are a lot easier to read, without it all coming out as total gibberish.

For instance, Stanley Tucci plays a scientist who is something of a celebrity in his field, and plays it up like the star that he is. Tucci’s funny, a bit mean, and very mawkish, but it all works because that’s who the character is, and Tucci gives him a soul that continues to show. I can’t say the same thing about Richard Jenkins’ role as General Purcell, but man does that guy love to deadpan. Every scene he’s in is hilarious and it’s just because of his lovely-presence being felt or around the screen. Nobody else in this movie fares any better than him. No not the uncharismatic DJ Qualls; no, not the highly underrated Delroy Lindo; and no, sure as hell not one of the world’s strongest female-presences working today, Alfre Woodard. Richard Jenkins is the one who steals the movie and kept me laughing and entertained every time he was on the screen. As for the rest of the movie, eh, not so much. Sorry, B-movie lovers.

Consensus: You could deem it as such “a terrible movie that it’s almost watchable”, but the Core suffers from a terrible scripting, sad-sack acting from a heavy-stacked cast, and poor science, that it’s almost too much of a strain to even be bothered with, regardless of if you’re bored, drunk or high one night or not.

4 / 10

"Coming up ahead we have some sort of blue stuff here that needs to be looked at or explained as to what the hell it is."

“Coming up ahead we have some sort of blue stuff here that needs to be looked at or explained as to what the hell it is.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

Range.

Range.

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

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

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

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

Even more range.

Even more range.

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

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

Well, surprisingly, it kind of did.

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

Now, if only she can keep her clothes on.

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

4 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: League of Dead Films

The Score (2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, didn’t I play you once?”

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

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

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

Now, what about the movie?

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

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

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

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

State of Play (2009)

Bloggers can’t pull off stunts like this. Not even me. And I’m Dan the Man, dammit!

Washington D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the type of guy you want telling the news. He gets his facts straight, no bias-stance whatsoever, and he always seems to find an impressive hook on how to make it worth reading or caring about. The latest story that comes his way, puts him in a bit of a rough position because not only is one of his close friends involved with it, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), but because it’s surprisingly a life-or-death situation that escalated to that level quite quickly. With young, hot-and-ready reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), he’ll figure out who exactly was Collin’s mistress, whether her death was a suicide or a murder, why somebody would want her dead, and whether or not it’s even worth risking their life for. Then again though, he works at a newspaper, and I think any story, is a story worth telling, so he’ll go with what he can get.

"Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he's upset."

Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he’s upset.

Surely a movie about a newspaper industry seems already dated, way before conception and release, but that’s where this flick works so well. It is a modern-day thriller, where computers, the internet, smart phones, and texting reigns supreme; however, director Kevin MacDonald also frames this movie in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching one of those old-school, classy, and cool thrillers from the 70’s, where conspiracies ran high, and it was all up to the dedicated reporter to get the truth out. Nowadays, it seems like you go anywhere for any bits of news information, everybody knows about it and has reasoning/sources, but that makes it so sweet to get a flick that reminds us that the old methods of information-sharing still exists, even if it isn’t used quite as often as it once was. Then again, maybe being the fact that I’m a Journalism Major makes me more sympathetic to the issue.

Actually, that’s most likely the reason, but so be it!

Anyway, the film. What works well here is that even though it does seem to be very dense in every piece of detail, every clue, and every hint it throws at us, it never feels confusing. Practically, we are strung along on a trip of finding out anything we can about what’s going on, and are left in the dark about other stuff as well. We think we get the full picture more than a couple of times, and then, we are thrown right for a loop when a slight piece of info comes out and proves us wrong. It messes with our minds and has us curious by how it’s all going to pan-out; but it never feels manipulative.

Where most thrillers would make have conceit becomes over-used and overstay its welcome, MacDonald uses it more to his advantage, in a way to almost coax us into believing all that we hear and see as fact, and nothing but it. With most thrillers like these, we can’t always expect to take in all that’s thrown at us as pure fact, but we do have to believe in it, and I never felt like I was seeing a movie that went maybe a bit too over-zealous with its twists. Mainly, I always felt like MacDonald always knew what he was doing, what he wanted to show us, what he didn’t want to show us, what he wanted us to think at certain moments, and how he wanted us to feel when certain conclusions were made. Many times you’ll be surprised with where one twist will take you, but such is the skill of a thriller, when it’s a thriller done right. And to add on the fact that it’s a movie about the dedication and hardships that reporters take when it comes to getting their stories right, while also making sure to get them out there first; it’s almost like adding a cherry on top. Especially for me.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for these types of movies. Twisty-thrillers and movies about journalists!

But while the movie does work in keeping us on an unpredictable, turny path, it does show some weaknesses as well, ones that became more apparent to me once I got to thinking of them. First of all, I think that having the friendship-clash between Collins and McAffrey works as its own thing, so therefore, to throw in Collins’ wife to the mix, as to set-up some sort of love-triangle, feels manipulative and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, Robin Wright is solid as Collins’ wife, as she plays around with the feeling of being betrayed by her own husband, but also curious enough to get him right back. She’s the perfect form of snidely, evil, and sexy that I’ve ever seen from her, but her character doesn’t need to be used in this light, or even at all. She definitely brings on more guilt to the Collins character, but other than that: Not much else.

While I’m on the subject of the cast, let me just say that all-around, this is a very solid ensemble that feels as if they were hand-picked, for good reasons: 1.) they can all act, and 2.) they actually get a chance to show the mainstream world what they can do when they aren’t slumming themselves down for Hollywood. Russell Crowe seems like he’s a bit too brutish and tough to be taken seriously as this meek and soft, but determined reporter, but somehow, the guy pulls it off very believably. There’s an essence to his character where you know you can trust him to do the right thing, but you don’t quite know if he’s going to get coaxed into doing it, or not. Actually, that’s a pretty interesting point about his personality that movie brings up, but never really develops further, is the fact that not only does he have a job to do, which indicates responsibility, but he has a friend that he obviously cares for and wants to protect. So, basically: What does he do? Turn on his friend, and give the world the spicy story, no details left aside, or, does he stay true to his friend, and give the public a story that has him come out unscathed? The movie sheds this light a couple of times, but by the end, totally loses all sense of it and just stops worrying about it after awhile. Could have really done wonders for itself, but sadly, just does not.

Batman getting rough with Kal-El's daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Batman getting rough with Kal-El’s daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Boo.

Playing Congressman Stephen Collins is Ben Affleck, and I have to say, the guy does quite a swell job here. No, he’s not perfect and he isn’t as enthralling as you’d expect a conflicted-figure like his to be, but he does what the roles asks upon him to do: Show enough feeling to where you could be viewed upon as “sympathetic”, but not too weak to where you don’t seem like you couldn’t be a bit of a rat-bastard as well. With that idea, Affleck does wonders and shows the rest of the world that he can still act (even though by ’09, people already knew that).

Rachel McAdams is also a fiery-sword as the young and brass blogger that hops aboard this story, and seems to be really enjoying herself, whether it’s when she has her time on her own, or if she’s around fellow co-stars and gets a chance to strut her stuff. Either way, she holds her own and doesn’t come off as annoying, or way-too-in-over-her-head or anything along those lines. She’s just Rachel McAdams, and that’s perfect as is.

The rest of the stacked-cast is pretty awesome too, with some getting more notice than the others: I wish there was more of Helen Mirren, but then again, I feel like that could be a criticism for any movie, so I’ll leave it be with that; pre-Newsroom Jeff Daniels shows that he has the acting chops to, one minute, be playing a sophisticated charmer, and then the next minute, be as corrupt and evil as the same politicians he talks out against; Viola Davis gets a short, but sweet cameo as a morgue-employee; and Jason Bateman shows up all coked-up, high-living, and fun as one of Collins’ known-associates, and almost steals the movie all by himself. Almost.

Consensus: Sure, State of Play is nothing more than a classic-piece of deception, cheating, lying, and suspense, all placed around the idea of a newspaper, but for that reason, it’s still entertaining and compelling to watch.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Speed Racer (2008)

Go. No, seriously, go! Get the hell outta here!

A young, brass, and quick-fire driver Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is, as they say, “a demon on wheels.” He races because of a love he’s had since a little tike, doesn’t want to slow up for anything, whether it be off or on the track, and knows that it’s what he wants to do with the rest of his life. That’s great because he’s good at it, and his parents (John Goodman and Susan Sarandon) approve of it as well. However, now that Speed’s skills are getting more and more noticed by the races, he’s starting to gain more attention on his tale which means that more big-corporate sponsors want him to be apart of their “fixed” races, and what him, to make them, money. It’s a cheap scam that Speed may fall for, if he doesn’t listen to a special someone named Racer X (Matthew Fox); his arch-nemesis who may have a secret agenda on his hands.

If you’ve ever watched a single episode of the original, 1960’s TV-anime show, you’ll know that Speed Racer was bananas. And I don’t say that because there’s a monkey in both the show and the movie – I mean it was literally crazy. It was wild, fast-paced, sped-up (pun intended, I’m assuming), always jumpy, and rarely ever slowed down for a single bit. Because of that, it was one of my favorite cartoons to watch as a little kiddie, since anything that featured a down-to-earth, slow-as-molasses story meant I would either die of boredom or fall asleep. That means obviously any person taking the reigns of directing a Speed Racer movie had to know what they were doing and getting themselves into, which is why the Wachowski’s seemed like the perfect fit for this material.

He's tough. Or something.

He’s tough. Or something.

And trust me, for awhile, it seemed like my dreams were coming true. Not only was the opening racing-sequence fun and pulse-pounding, but it was downright beautiful to look at in the type of way that made me feel as if I was watching a video-game, albeit one that I wanted to play myself, but didn’t feel like nudging the other person too much for. It was just catching my eye I’d expect a movie from this type of source material to be and look like, and then some. Some may give the movie crap for having it essentially be a bunch of actors, standing in front of a green-screen, as they act their asses off, with no background whatsoever, but it worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it definitely worked because it’s a Speed Racer movie, not Schindler’s List or anything of the sort.

Then again, you could have had the Wachowskis fooled since about half of their film is dedicated to just car-racing, whereas the rest of the two hours is dedicated to a bunch of needless, nonsensical drama that’s as standard and as boring as you can get, yet, we’re supposed to care for because it’s Speed Racer and his lovable family. Not going to argue whether or not Racer’s cast of friends and family aren’t as lovable here, as they were in the show, but there seems to be too much time on them, their problems, their sadness, and what gets them waking up in the morning. I love these characters for talking fast and being nothing else other than cartoons, but I can’t take them seriously as fully, rounded-out human-beings, as much as the actors in the roles may try to make me think otherwise.

Then of course, you take into consideration how completely bonkers some parts of the movie can be, as if were exactly ripped from the television show. Actually, I’d say the best, most memorable part of the whole movie didn’t come from anything that had to do with racing or cars, but people kicking the crap out of each other. Not only does Speed, Trixie, Spritle, and Chim Chim get in on a little bit out of ass-kicking action that’s as goofy and campy as you’re ever going to get, but so does Pops, who was actually a Greco-Roman wrestler in the TV show, a fact that they thankfully touched on here in this movie. It’s obvious that the Wachowski’s put some heart and emotion into this flick with its look and these key scenes where all hell breaks loose, and the movie just gets wild and crazy for the sake of it, but it’s not enough. Not enough to satisfy any average movie-goer, and sure as hell not enough to satisfy a Speed Racer fanatic, like myself.

Very disappointed here. That’s if you already couldn’t tell by now.

"Falcon pun-what?"

“Falcon pun-what?”

But at least the cast is awesome, right? Ehh, well, I wouldn’t go that far, even if they do seem to all be trying hard. I like Emile Hirsch. I don’t know why so many people get on this dude’s case, but he’s a solid actor and one of the rare, younger guys in the biz today who’s been taking some interesting indie-projects, as well as the mainstream ones. His pick to play the one and only Speed Racer may have been interesting to some eyes, including mine, but the guy doesn’t really do much, nor does he have much to do. He sort of just stands there, broods a bit, tries to look tough and hip, and lets out corny lines that feel like they would be so much better if they were done in a mile-a-minute way they were used in the show. Then again, that’s just coming from a real fan. Most may not care or worry about it too much, but to me, it made Speed Racer feel like a dull character, one that Hirsch couldn’t quite save himself.

What character they really got wrong here, and what pissed me off the most about this movie, was Racer X, played by Matthew Fox. Fox is good as X, and definitely has the presence to make this character work, but rather than having him be subtle in any sort of way about his “real intentions” the movie spoon-feeds us it right away. Then it also begins to make this character seem a bit soft, as if Fox wasn’t able to make him sympathetic in the least bit, which totally defeats the purpose of having a character-foil like X around. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Everybody else is okay, even if nobody lights up the screen and I think that’s how the Wachowski’s want it and like it. They want the color-palette to take over our minds and eyes, and it works; it’s just a problem that it’s the only thing about this movie that does seem to work.

Consensus: The Speed Racer movie any fan-boy or junkie would want, they sadly won’t get here because this adaptation is filled with way too many dry spots, all made for character-development and drama. Basically, the types of things we don’t want, or better yet, need in a Speed Racer flick.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Well, at least we don't need Mario Kart to be adapted for the big screen anymore.

Well, at least we don’t need Mario Kart to be adapted for the big screen anymore.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Upside of Anger (2005)

Always depend on the neighborhood drunk to come in and save an upper-class, tense family-unit from falling apart.

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) can be considered a “housewife”, however, she doesn’t act like one. She doesn’t work outside of the house and spends most of her day cleaning, getting ready to make dinner, talking to her daughters, and planning out their futures, but she has an icy-cool demeanor that’s very stand-offish, and doesn’t allow her to take any crap from anyone. Good for her, but not good for her husband who has apparently left her and the family to gallivant with his young secretary in Sweden. Terry, as hard of a lady as she is, starts to breakdown, liquor-bottle-by-liquor-bottle, and finds it hard to adjust to this new life of responsibility and action. But once former Major League Baseball star, now turned radio DJ, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) shows up at the house looking to get drunk with her, Terry doesn’t find it all that hard, yet, she still has to accept the fact that her husband may be gone, and may never, ever come back.

While family-dramas don’t really do much for me unless they’re totally satirical or as dark as night (American Beauty), I do appreciate watching a family-dynamic on screen every once and awhile. My family, for instance, is a bit weird considering we all do our own thing, don’t eat dinner together at the table, and just go about our day but still talk, get along (relatively), and enjoy one another’s company when granted. That’s why most movies about your regular, suburban-family don’t do much for me in terms of emotional-connection, but I’m always open for the simple things in life; hence why I liked this flick as much as I did. Much to my surprise actually.

All women eventually succumb to the "Costner-charm".

All women eventually succumb to the “Costner-charm”.

Where I feel like writer/director Mike Binder’s script worked so well is in the ways he avoids all of the types of conventions we expect from family-dramas of this nature, and continues to just evolve its characters. Some are more interesting than others, yes, but most of the characters here are people worth watching, caring about and worrying to see if they’re ever going to reach their final-peak of happiness or not. You know that they can be happy, and have ways of being happy, but to see most of them go through this little raft in their lives makes you a bit uneasy to see and only hope for the best. Binder may not be the greatest writer out there when it comes to giving all of his characters dimensions and personalities, but the ones that he does get it right is with making you feel apart of the family.

For better, as well as for worse.

But like I was saying about the way he avoids all of those types of conventions, Binder doesn’t force-feed us characters that we should like and need to like, we just do, even if there are some reservations involved. For instance, try Denny: The dude’s not only a bit of a schmuck, but he’s bumbling one as well. Yes, his heart is in the right place, but it’s so obvious that he wants to bang Terry as soon as her hubby leaves her, it’s almost too much so to really be true. How the girls don’t kick his ass as soon as he walks through that door, day in and day out, was totally surprising. I knew I would have, but that’s just me. I’m a dick.

Like I was mentioning, though, Denny may have these problems that are more than noticeable to us, however, we don’t necessarily hate him, nor do we feel like he’s a reprehensible person that one could not believe Terry being attracted to in the least bit. He’s got a charm, he’s got a sweet-aura about him, and he likes to do good things, for people that deserve it the most. Sure, he doesn’t speak his mind when he should and how he should do it, but there’s still something sweet and endearing to this dude that makes him more than just that the wacky neighbor next-door that likes to do himself a little bit of drinking; although it is obvious that Binder likes to use that side to his character for yuks and chuckles, most of which fail.

However, I could also say that most of the charm and likability that comes out of Denny’s character, is mainly channeled through Kevin Costner who gives probably his best performance, post-Dances with Wolves (which isn’t saying much, but still). Costner’s got the shaggy-look, feel, and act down pat, and makes you feel for this bum, knowing that he could turn his own, as well as this family’s life around at any given moment. He just needs to put the bottle down for a second. And while Costner is great, no doubt about that, the one who really walks away with the show the most is Joan Allen, giving one of her best performances ever, among which there are many. How she did not get an Oscar nomination for this, I may never understand!

That Joan Allen: Takin' a drag and just lookin' spicy!

That Joan Allen – takin’ a drag and just lookin’ spicy!

Anyway, Joan Allen’s great as Terry for the sole reason that she’s not afraid to be a bitch, while also embracing her age. By the time this movie came out, Allen was pushing 50 and while she still shows that she’s hot in a fiery, “I’ll kick your ass” way, there’s no hiding behind prosthetics or a wig with this character. She’s 50, she looks it, she feels it, and quite frankly, she’s downright pissed-off about it. And how could you blame her? Not only is she getting older by the days that go by, but her hubby of 20 years just left her for a younger gal, and most of her kids can’t stand to be around her, nor have a conversation with her because she’s so mean and nasty at times about the decisions they make and the ideas that they have, that they just don’t even bother. I don’t blame them, but once again – Terry is a human being, and you know that there’s something nice and sweet about her. Allen is great at playing-up Terry’s mean, cold, vindictive side that comes out more often than it probably should, but allows us to see who she really is underneath all of that anger, and make us realize that she was once a happy lady at one time, and can still be again. It will just take some time, that’s all.

The gals playing her daughters are also very good, even though it’s obvious which ones Binder cares about the most, by giving some more interesting plot-lines and more screen-time. Alicia Witt plays the oldest, Hadley, and doesn’t have much to do her, mainly because most of her time in the film is spent-away at college where she soon falls in love and gets pregnant, giving us some of Allen’s best moments in the whole film due solely to her reaction this bomb being dropped; Keri Russell is good and sweet as Emily, the one who blows off college for a life in ballerina-dancing, and while Russell’s good in the role, she was about 30 when it was filmed, making it a bit hard to believe her as a young, 20-something college drop-out; Erika Christensen plays Andy, another daughter who doesn’t want to go to college, but has more of a promising future ahead of her because of the job she gets at Denny’s radio-station, where she begins a relationship with a much-older dude (Mike Binder himself, in a surprisingly touching role), and gets a chance to stretch her wings as well, giving us the most interesting gal out of the four; and Evan Rachel Wood is once again playing the young, angry, and rebellious teen we’ve all seen her play, but this time, to sure boredom and angst as the youngest, Popeye (yup, you heard me right), even though the “love-interest” that they set-up for her gives it a bit of interest every time she’s on-screen.

Consensus: While a lot of the melodrama that plays during the last half-hour does kill some of the momentum the Upside of Anger had going for itself, for quite some time, there’s still plenty of heartfelt, emotional moments between these characters to be seen, especially because most of them are written so well and in a way that isn’t just ordinary, or casual. There’s meaning to the way they are, and it works.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

KRussians love the cold, so what the heck could a little radiation do to them?

During 1961, when the Cold War was running hot and wild all over, the Russians needed a way to really hurt their enemy: the U.S. So, what they got all packed together was a newly-made submarine that packed nukes in hopes to add more blow and potentially come close to winning the war. They had a stubborn, but inspired captain (Harrison Ford), they had a co-captain that was just as inspired, but also more friendlier (Liam Neeson), and a butt-load of other fella’s that knew their way or two around a submarine, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, let’s just say that radiation could start to leak out, infect the whole ship, and get just about everybody aboard sick or near-dying, that’s what.

I don’t know how they did it, but somehow Kathryn Bigelow and everybody else involved with the production of this flick got made, which is probably more of a sin for them, than it was a victory, since it had no chance of ever being able to connect with the mainstream, American audience. Why? Well, that’s because the story is focusing on a bunch of Russians during the Cold War, who were practically carrying weapons that were destined to hit us and us alone, while also trying to make us feel sympathy for them as each and every one started to die from the spilled radiation on-board. It does sound very strange once you get to thinking about it, but despite the cast, the crew, and the obvious, but hokey message behind it all, the movie was made, widely-released, and then got back the numbers that were apparently $35 million domestically, on a $80 million dollar budget.

"A captain always go down with his ship. Make sure somebody tells Chewwy that."

“On this mission, can I bring my trustworthy friend named Chewwy along?”

All of this number-throwing and speculation does eventually lead somewhere, and that’s to say that this is a movie that was destined for death right away. Nobody, not even the most hardcore hippie in the world wants to lay down their rights, views, or themes inside of their heads, and take some time and effort out of their days to watch a story about REAL Russians, who went through REAL problems, and actually, REALLY died. It’s asking a lot of Americans, and it came as no surprise to anyone that this movie bombed it’s ass out of the water, which should also bring up the question as to whether or not this flick was even really worth all of the hate/bombing?

Kind of, but not really.

The idea behind this movie that really keeps it moving and interesting is knowing that what you see really happened, no matter how much speculation there may or may not be. Granted, that usually comes with the material, but it’s something that is easy to forgive here since Bigelow actually seems to take a tender love and care with this material, and more or less expresses each and every one of these crew members as humans. They’re corny and one-dimensional ones, but knowing that these characters are in fact based off of real-life people, makes you feel a little bit more closer and more sympathetic to the material, even if you know that what they are dying from, most likely could have killed us, had they actually succeeded in getting to their destination. I guess that’s a spoiler but since I’m typing on this computer about this movie and you’re reading this, wherever you may be, that it isn’t totally a spoiler, as much as it’s a little tidbit that you may or may not know going on.

Okay, it’s not a spoiler! We didn’t get nuked, dammit!

Anyway, Bigelow has an assured direction and I’m surprised that despite her having an actual vagina, that her movies more or less are aimed towards men, and men alone. I mean hell, I think we only get one scene of some actual, female tail here and that’s probably for about a good two minutes or so. Everything else after those two minutes is practically dude, dude, dude and whether or not you’re the straightest dude out there in the world, then you may not want to bother with this, however, gay men will be in heaven right here, especially if they have a fetish for dudes with a Russian accent. Regardless, Bigelow’s choices for what material she wants to bring to the big-screen next is always surprising and usually impressive, considering what she does with that material once its up on the screen.

But something here tells me that I wish there was more effort along the way to make this more than just a standard flick about a bunch of dudes in a submarine that are arguing, yelling, and acting angry at one another, as they come closer and closer to death. The feeling of remorse and death is in the cold air throughout this whole movie, but it never swamped me as much as it swamped the characters in the actual flick. It just felt like I was watching people die, without barely any feeling whatsoever as to what was happening, or to whom. It just tallied-up it’s death-toll and continued to make it’s moves; almost sort of like a horror movie, but you can’t kill the slasher. He just continues to kill and kill away, no matter how hard you try to stop him or keep him away. Oh wait, that is actually a horror movie!

And it’s not like the reason I didn’t care was because I’m some political a-hole that can’t at least feel some sort of sympathy for the other side in any way, shape, or form; it’s just that the movie cares more about the submarine jargon and what these people have to do next, rather than the people themselves. That can create tension and suspense in the air, but that still doesn’t give us a lick of sympathy for these guys and in the end, it just felt like the film lost all of our hearts and minds, because it wanted to continue to rattle down what’s happening to the submarine and why, but never actually explaining it.

For instance, I don’t think I stand alone for when I say that I’m not very submarine-savvy, so, when I have a flick that’s telling me that this thing blew up in this part of the submarine, which also blew up this rod and so on and so forth, I’m practically left with my tongue half-way down my throat. I don’t know what half of these characters were saying, what it meant for them or the ship, and how they could get around the problem. I just sat there listening in, trying to understand, get a grip of what was going on, but ultimately come to the conclusion that everything everybody said was bad, bad, bad and would most likely lead to death, death, death, if they don’t get up off their asses, kick out their egos, and get to work right away. That’s what it came down to me understanding with this movie after awhile, and by “after awhile”, I mean a good hour-and-a-half. Then, I realized I had all but 40 minutes left of the movie, and I felt like I was missing out on something, somewhere around here.

But anyway, back to what I was talking about before, was the fact that this movie still got made, produced, and green-lit, despite featuring a premise that was surprisingly unheard of, especially from an American-made production. Well, one of the key reasons behind all that is mostly that Bigelow was able to rope in big star, Hollywood actors like Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, who are, oddly enough, playing the two, main Russians-in-command here. It’s weird seeing both of these highly-recognizable stars don a Russian accent, but it’s even odder to see Ford because not only does the guy not do very well with the accent, but his whole act is just so polarizing to begin with.

For once, Peter Sarsgaard plays a character that wants to save humans, rather than kill them and dance over their corpses.

For once, Peter Sarsgaard plays a character that wants to save humans, rather than kill them and dance over their corpses.

Think about it for a second, he’s Indiana Jones; he’s Han Solo; and hell, for God sake, he was even the President of the United States, so where the hell did the idea for this “American-hero” to be portraying a Russian that not only protected his country til the day he died, but also to any cost?!? Never made much sense to me and never seemed to work for Ford, or the character he was portraying. It seemed like a parody after awhile, as if Ford was payed a huge chunk of money just to goof-around and work with a spotty accent. Problem is, it wasn’t a parody and there was no joke here. It was mega-serious, all of the damn time.

Poor Liam Neeson too, because the guy actually does a serviceable-job here as the second-in-command (despite not even bothering with an accent), but has a character that’s so prideful and in-the-right all the time, that there never seems to be a moral dilemma for this dude as if he knows what he should do next, whether it would be the most moral move or not, or if he’s going to be able to pat his friends on the back. I got it from the first couple of minutes, the guy was a nice dude that obviously cared for his crew mates and wanted what was best for them, as well as his country, but it’s an act that got stale after awhile, as if he would have never made a bad call ever. Peter Sarsgaard remains the only other crew-member that’s the most recognizable, even today, and is okay, but really obvious as he plays the wussy that eventually stands up for himself and is forced to come up big when they need him the most. Corny.

Consensus: Bigelow’s intentions are surprisingly heartfelt and well-mannered, even if the rest of the movie that’s supposed to make K-19: The Widowmaker pop, lock, and drop it as if we are on-board with these guys, doesn’t do either of the three and just hangs there.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Even they know they deserve a better movie. Then they died.

Even they knew they deserved a better movie. Then they died.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

A Prophet (2009)

Initiation in jail is just the same as initiation in frats. Except, in jail, you have to kill somebody. Then again, who knows about some frats.

Condemned to six years in prison, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), part Arab, part Corsican, cannot read or write. Cornered by the leader of the Corsican gang currently ruling the prison, he is given a number of “missions” to carry out, toughening him up and gaining the gang leader’s confidence in the process, which also leads him to make his own way of business. And eventually, little Malik becomes big, bad Malik and before he knows it, ends up becoming the top dog in the prison. But, as usual, when one becomes the top dog, you always got to check every corner you turn down.

Prison movies – we’ve seen ’em all, we know what they do, and yet, they hardly ever get boring. That is exactly the way I felt going into this movie because I know that there is only so much one person can do with the whole prison movie subgenre, but somehow, co-writer/director Jacques Audiard found a way to do so.

"Pretty birds...."

“Pretty birds….”

And also make me want to really re-watch some Oz.

What’s so great about this film is how it draws you in right from the start. We don’t get any back-story, no flash-backs, or any type of reasons given for why this kid is in jail, and we don’t really need to; all we know is that he’s in jail, he’s a bad kid, and he’s going to have to survive for the next six years of being locked up. This whole introduction brings you right into the world/setting that you’re going to stuck with for the next two-and-a-half-hours and no matter how dirty, no matter how disgusting, and no matter how vile it may get, you just cannot look away. This is just one of those gritty tales that starts off strong, brings you into it’s atmosphere, and never lets go of you, even if it does try to stretch out its ambitions every once and awhile. However, in the end, this is your typical prison movie, just with an extra addition of grit.

The best way to sum this film up would be to call it a combination of Goodfellas and The Shawshank Redemption. The whole story revolves around this one kid who does anything that he can to just survive and live out his six-year sentence, but soon realizes that he has to be apart of a bunch of mobsters in order to do so. Meaning, he has yo do whatever he can to survive, which usually entails climbing the mobster-ladder, trying to make more money, trying to gain more respect, and most of all, trying to just stay alive in a prison that feels like hell on Earth. It all sounds so predictable, but it’s surprisingly not and features a character that we sympathize with early on and keep with, even if he does make some nasty, brutal decisions here and there.

But he feels real, and that’s mostly why he works and can mostly keep us in his corner practically the whole time. As soon as he’s thrown into prison, we see a young punk who is very scared of his surroundings and has no idea what to do, but then musters up the courage to start doing all of these monstrous actions to gain some respect in prison. He’s not the nicest kid actually; he’s greedy, he’s selfish, he’s a cold-blooded killer, and he doesn’t really think about others before himself, but for some odd reason, we always root for him and just want him to live on. That is probably the biggest strength of this movie and Audiard’s direction, it’s that we always feel sympathy for a kid that doesn’t seem like he even deserves it in the first place. This movie probably would have cracked and been less interesting, had it not been for the development done to him and for that, I gotta say, “Well-done, Frenchies!”

"Dammit! Sat on the ketchup packets again!"

“Dammit! Sat on the ketchup packets again!”

And of course, I also have to give plenty of credit to Tahar Rahim, who does quite an awesome job as Malik because the guy is called out to do a lot of things with this character, and he somehow makes it all work in a believable way. He goes from being this scared, sheltered little kid in a very big and mean place, to becoming a dirty, slimy, and brutal bastard that takes over the prison in a way that would seem unbelievable, had it been any other story and any other character. There’s also a lot of personality to this guy to where you can actually see why the film is mainly focused on him, and the whole story surrounds everything he does, whether it be good or bad.

As good as Rahim is though, the real scene-stealer of the whole movie just so happens to be Niels Arestrup as the prison-mafia kingpin, César Luciani, who takes Malik under his wing from the start. What surprised me so much about Arestrup is that this guy does not look any bit of intimidating; he’s stoutly, he’s in desperate need of a shave/shape-up, walks around like he’s got something in his pants, and in all honesty, looks like my pop-pop, if my pop-pop was homeless and an alcoholic. So basically, if you saw this guy walking down the street, you would not fear for your life one bit but somehow, Arestrup makes us feel that with his character in every scene he’s in. The guy obviously shows you that he has power and control in this prison and lets you know, early on, that he’s not messing around when he orders you to go kill some guy, and he makes sure you don’t forget who the boss of this prison is and if you double-cross him, you better hope to the heavens that you get the hole, and even that won’t save your life. It’s really strange to see Arestrup play such a manic-like role here, whereas in something like War Horse, he played this sympathetic, grand-pappy figure that seemed to cry a little too much the whole film. Even though this movie came out before that one, it’s still nice to see a change of pace for an actor that obviously seems like he could have a big career just playing any type of role he wanted.

Consensus: It’s a long one, but if you stick with it, A Prophet is not only worth your time and effort for the small spin it puts on the prison genre, but also because of the performances for these fully-detailed characters.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Not the line for the soup kitchen, fellas. Move it along.

Not the line for the soup kitchen, fellas. Move it along.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Legally Blonde (2001)

Is it really that easy to get into Harvard? Then, what the heck am I doing with my lame-o journalism degree!?!

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) has it all. She’s the president of her sorority, a Hawaiian Tropic girl, Miss June in her campus calendar, and, above all, a natural blonde, but has one problem: No boyfriend. Why though? Well, because, according to him, she was “too blonde” for his liking. This automatically steers her career towards a different path where Elle decides that it’s time for her to study at Harvard Law, become a lawyer and, as a result of all this, win her man back. However, things are a lot harder than they may be this time around for Elle, especially when things aren’t handed-down to her right away, or even on a silver platter like she’s been so used to for all these years.

I gotta say, it’s been a long, long time since I last saw this flick and probably with good reason – it’s a total chick-flick that mostly deserves to be watched with gals around you (yes, Grand-moms count). But somehow, someway, I found myself chilling in my house all by my lonesome, one fine afternoon and decided to pop this in my “old school” DVD player and see how it does all of these years later. Thankfully, it still holds up, even though I still go by that golden-rule of needing a female next to me.

How most of my first dates go. Usually then followed by screaming, shouting, and wine thrown in my face.

How most of my first dates go. Usually then followed by excessive screaming, shouting, and wine thrown in my face.

God, I need to start going out more.

Anyway, Legally Blonde is one of those films that doesn’t really do anything new, original, or special with its premise, but doesn’t really need to because the fun of it is kind of in its simplicity. You get the plot you need, with the right amount of character-development on the side, and most of all, a nice array of laughs that can either totally blindside you by how actually funny they are, or are just worthy of a simple chuckle or two. Either way, it’s funny flick, that mostly gets by on its charm, as well as its characters who, although may be a bit one-note at first, do actually develop over time and we get to sort of care about as time goes on. Not too much, but just enough to where it’s okay to be interested in where this plot goes, for what reasons, and how it affects those involved.

I am definitely thinking a lot harder and deeper than this film than I should be, but so be it. Sometimes, it just happens and feels necessary, rather than just laying out why a movie works by simply saying, “Yeah, it’s funny and entertaining”. I mean, yeah, it is, but sometimes, there’s a little bit more reasoning as to why that is and here, I think it mostly has to do with the fact that these characters are a bit better-written then you’d expect them to be.

Take, for instance, the character of Elle Woods, in a star-making role from none other than Reese Witherspoon herself. Woods, the character, is your typical rich-girl cliche that every film pokes fun at – rich, stuck-up, always needs her hair to be done, always needs a pedicure, wants shiny things, has a keen eye for fashion, and constantly has a little pooch by her side. But surprisingly, the film doesn’t really poke too much fun at her for this and instead, has us sympathize with her and believe in her as she practically goes against everybody’s belief that the girl just didn’t have what it took to be a major lawyer, coming from the university of Harvard. Yes, it sounds pretty damn unbelievable, and in a way, still is, but this film definitely has you think otherwise for a good hour-and-a-half.

But the main reason why Woods works as well as she does, as a character, isn’t just because the movie treats her so gently, but it’s also because Witherspoon displays a great amount of charm and likability to her, that it’s almost way too hard to ignore. In today’s day and age, Witherspoon has definitely been a lot more miss, than hit as of late, which is why flicks like these are always nice little reminders that the girl is entertaining as hell to watch when she’s given good material, and isn’t trying too hard to play-up her klutzy, ditsy girl roles that seem to plague her in every rom-com she shows up in nowadays. She’s got great comedic-timing, looks quite gorgeous in the type of stuff she wears, and always seems like there’s a lot more to her than just beautiful blue eyes and long, blonde hair. That’s what everybody loved about Witherspoon in the first place and it makes me wish that she would just go back to that and give it a try once more.

Next week on, "Attorneys at Law"!

Tune in next week to see what happens next on, “Attorneys at Law“!

Just as long as that keeps herself away from pieces of junk like This Means War. Seriously, her, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy will never, ever be able to live that down from my point-of-view. I would also include McG in that list but who the hell cares about that dude.

Co-starring as her “love-interest of sorts” is Luke Wilson who really feels like he stumbled up on the set randomly and they just decided to let him go. Wilson is a good actor that has a great level of charm when he feels like showing it and is given the right script, but here, the guy feels terribly misused and sometimes come out of nowhere with some of his lines. It’s almost like he’s playing in the background the whole movie, only deciding to show up once they movie decided that they needed a romantic-interest for Witherspoon because you know, all girls need a guy when they’re searching for the right career-path that not only makes themselves happy, but gives them a bit of self-respect as well.

Oh, how some ancient social norms never seem to go away.

Consensus: Unoriginal, obvious, and sometimes, so cliche that you’ll wonder if the writers are even trying, but somehow, Legally Blonde gets by on its inherent charm, which has to do with some of the likable script, as well as Reese Witherspoon’s lovely portrayal of Elle Woods.

7 / 10 =Rental!!

Werk it, ladies!

Werk it, ladies!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Halloween (2007)

What a tragic figure that Michael Myers was.

Michael Myers is considered the Boogeyman of Halloween. He’s what every drunk, horny teenager fears, and is the kind of “person”, you don’t want to be stuck with in an abandoned home – especially not his own. And now, we get to see where he got his start as a serial-killer. Although, to be fair, he was only killing small rodents, rather than small people, but he was soon pushed because of his stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), drunken, dead-beat step-dad (William Forsythe), and sister Judith (Hanna R. Hall), who couldn’t give less of a crap if he lived or died. That’s probably why he decides to hack most of them up and land his little rear-end in the state penitentiary, where he gets psycho-analysis check-ups regularly from Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell); a guy who genuinely cares for him, but Michael seem to care about at all. Hence why when Michael gets the first chance to escape, he does so and sets his sights on going back home, where he’ll possibly get to see his old digs, as well as run into his estranged little sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who also just so happens to be stuck baby-sitting two brats one night. But this just isn’t any night, people. This is Halloween for gosh sakes! And guess what?

Bad stuff happens on that date!

That's how it starts. Usually.

That’s how it starts. Usually.

If any of you out there are going to watch a horror movie on a night like tonight, it’s most definitely got to be John Carpenter’s classic. I don’t care how many times you’ve seen it; tried to remake it in your Halloween-themed student film; or even, if you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who don’t like to get scared – you’ve got to watch it. Because, if nothing else, it will probably remind you why some movies, no matter how ripe they may seem for the remake treatment, sometimes, just don’t need one.

Especially when that remake is done by the likes of Rob Zombie, a director who yes, I do think is talented enough to make a movie work, but just seems like he can’t help himself from throwing all sorts of blood, gore, sex, drugs, booze, and F-bombs to save his life. However, if there’s one element to this film I can give him credit for, it’s that he at least tries to draw out some depth within this character of Michael Myers and possibly even give us all an explanation as to why he grew-up to be a screwed-up, serial-killing individual who wears William Shatner masks. But it’s also probably the laziest-attempt at doing so; we’re told to believe that the reason why Myers grew up to be the way that he is, was all because his mom was a stripper, his step-dad was an a-hole that drank all of the time, and he was bullied at school. That’s pretty much it.

And while, yes, I do believe that there are some real-life cases out there that do resemble a person with the same mind-set as Myers, for the same reasons, to watch it here, not only seems like poor-writing, but a real lame excuse for somebody who goes legitimately bat-shit crazy about half-way through. It also ushers in the problem that Zombie’s trying to make us identify with this character, even though he’s sick, twisted, and unrelenting in his murderous-spree, which, unless you too are a sick, twisted and unrelenting serial-killer, may be a bit hard to relate to.

It’s the same problem I had with Zomie’s the Devil’s Rejects – I get that he wants us to like/sympathize with them, but why? It’s not like they’re misunderstood, tragic-figures; they’re cold-blooded, unforgiving killers that need to be stopped, and at all costs. Same goes for Michael Myers, even though it is sometimes rather pleasing to watch him hack away at a totally clueless/stoned teen trying to escape his clutches. But whereas with Carpenter’s movie, we got a horror flick that took its time with its violence, in order to make it hit us even harder than originally imagined, Zombie just lets loose as soon as possible and doesn’t seem to ever stop.

Which, yes, is something one can expect and be happy with when seeing a Rob Zombie flick. But, when you’re remaking a classic like Halloween, sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

You'd trust Alex DeLarge over Michael Myers? Suit yourself honey.

You’d trust Alex DeLarge over Michael Myers? Suit yourself honey.

That said, I know it’s probably not right to constantly compare and contrast between the original and the remake, because, quite frankly, it’s not fair. Not because one movie is a whole lot better than the other (which is totally true), but because it’s clearly obvious that Zombie isn’t at all trying to remake, or simply, re-do anything Carpenter did in the original. Zombie is simply putting his own stamp on the story and therefore, deserves it to be treated as such, which means that it doesn’t work. It’s so much carnage and slasher-violence that after awhile, you’ll just grow numb to it all and wonder, “What’s the point?”. Sure, there is some fun to be had with these kinds of horror movies, but Zombie loves to make it apparent that he isn’t all about having a blast when it comes to murdering random innocents; he wants us to harp on these actions and the fact that we want to see such actions displayed for joy.

And yes, it’s a bold move on his part, but it doesn’t work for the movie. It takes away from some of the fun and at nearly two-hours, makes this feel like a never-ending trip, with hardly scares, shocks, or any bits of actual terror. It’s just death, after death, after death, after death, and after some more deaths, made with hardly any style or sense of excitement. It’s just a dull, boring time at the movies. Which is good for most of us who actually still go out trick-or-treating on a night like tonight.

The rest of us, however, can just stay home and get spooked out by this legendary track every time it plays.

Yup, still gives me the creeps.

Consensus: Rob Zombie sets out to make his own version of the Halloween story, and while he does make some rash choices here and there, they hardly ever work and contribute nothing to a movie that’s already dull, aimless, and mostly repetitive of its grisly scenes of murder.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Eh. Lame.

Eh. Lame.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Red Eye (2005)

Take the early flights. They always go by without a problem.

Lisa Reisart (Rachel McAdams) is a very busy girl who, when she’s not juggling time as the manager of very high-end hotel, is trying to keep up-to-speed with her dad and the rest of her family. However, she gets the sad news that her Grand-mom has just died and makes plans to flight out there to see her dad, as well as the funeral itself. Lisa gets on the plane without many problems, and it’s made even better by the fact that she’s met a guy (Cillian Murphy), who is quite charming in his own way. As they continue talking and the vodka gets consumed, Lisa begins to find out more and more about this mysterious man she just met at an airport and begins to realize that he met her for a reason; a reason that not only concerns her life, but a loved-one of hers as well.

More movies like Red Eye should be made nowadays. Why do I say that? It’s all pretty simple: It’s an 85-minute thriller, that is practically shot in real-time, features an understandable premise, keeps to it, and has us involved just about every step of the way. That’s why.

That said, it’s not a very sophisticated movie meant for heavy-thinkers, or for people who like to hold up each and every movie to some sort of cultural-significance of some sort; it’s the type of movie that you sit down, with or without others around you, get a bag of popcorn, watch, and just enjoy the hell out of. It’s not on the screen for a long time, so it’s almost impossible to get bored. And if you do, then I hate to say that you’re just not human.

That's how it starts: Two young, attractive people share the same attraction of being attracted to young, attractive people.

That’s how it starts: Two young, attractive people share the same attraction of being attracted to young, attractive people.

Then again though, I’ve been accused of the same thing too, so you’re not alone if that’s the case. What is the case here is that this is surprisingly directed from Wes Craven, which is “surprising” because it’s not necessarily a horror flick. Granted, Craven has dipped his pen into some “different” genre flicks before that weren’t just about Freddy Kruger or serial-rapists in the woods, but this one interested me because it had all of the conventions of what would set-up a very good horror flick, but decided to keep it at base with a thriller-approach.

For instance, the baddie here isn’t just a psycho who wants blood as the main course of his meal, or even craves human-flesh as a side-dish; instead, he’s more or less a terrorist that has a plan, is going to stick to it, and may even hold up his own end of the bargain. In that sense, Craven keeps the villain very humane, even if he is a totally evil son-of-a-bitch. Almost the type of evil son-of-a-bitch you could meet on the street, or, dare I say it, THE AIRPORT!!!

But what Craven does with this material is fun and great because he seems to really enjoy playing with the conventions of what we expect from a normal, run-of-the-mill thriller, as well as playing with us, the audience. Events in this movie that we expect to happen in our own mind-sets, sometimes don’t happen exactly the way we have as planned. And when they do, it actually feels deserved, rather than obvious or cliché. It almost feels as if Craven himself knows the ground-work that needs to be made for a good thriller, even if he doesn’t care to follow all of the steps that would make it differentiate from lesser-flicks of the same genre he’s toying with.

Basically, watching Craven do what he does best is a joyous time, no matter how you see it.

Is there anything really deeper or more thought-provoking to this material? Maybe. Much to my surprise, I found there to be a lot of post-9/11 paranoia here that made the flick seemed like it was trying to say more, but maybe it was just my imagination. It most likely was, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if Craven decided to throw some hints and clues in there as well. The guy surely is cheeky and even though this flick doesn’t play out in the type of tongue-in-cheek way most of his flicks surprisingly do, he keeps it just serious enough to be taken in as an actual thriller, with high-stakes involved, as well as just goofy and light enough to where you feel yourself thrilled by every move some character makes, whether it be a drastic or a regular one. Seriously, I was on board the whole time, and that’s really saying something for a movie as bare as this.

Swear to God, any of you a-holes run that fine specimen over, there's going to be some hell to pay.

Swear to God, any of you a-holes run that fine specimen over, there’s going to be some hell to pay.

Most of the credit does have to go to it’s two main stars here, especially considering that the whole movie is all about them, pretty much all of the time. Rachel McAdams plays pretty much two emotions the whole film (anger and fear), however, she handles both of them like a champ and gives us a character that’s smarter than she appears to be, especially when she’s thrown up in a corner at times, both literally and figuratively. She has a type of presence to her that makes her sweet and sassy, but also very knowing of her surroundings and watching her performance here makes me wish she made better decisions with her career as of late, rather than just trying to be “the next Julia Roberts” as some have touted her as being, I don’t quite see it, but hey, that’s just me. Take it or leave it.

As for Cillian Murphy, well, the dude’s been pretty much doing the same thing with his career ever since he first started out and it shows no problems whatsoever, mainly because he’s actually good at playing these slight odd, off-kilter types with an ounce of craziness in their systems. Murphy’s good here because he keeps you guessing, especially since you don’t quite have a full idea of what his plan’s going to fully be up until the final five minutes, and that’s why he’s so watchable. He’s a bad dude, that’s for sure, but he’s an interesting one and I think that’s more of a credit to Murphy’s acting skills, than the script itself, as minor as it is.

Consensus: The thriller-genre wasn’t shaken-up by Red Eye and it never will be, but it sure as hell is still worth the watch because it’s fun, quick, suspenseful, unpredictable in spots, well-acted by both McAdams and Murphy who command the screen as well as your attention, and shows one of the greats at the top of his “playful game”.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Too soon?

Ergh. Too soon, possibly?

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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