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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2000s

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

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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

Mysterious Skin (2004)

“Alien life-forms” are usually my safe words as well.

Brian (Brady Corbet) is a shy introvert, obsessed by his own possible UFO abduction, while Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a cruel and icy beauty who sexualises his every encounter. As each of them follows their own very different journey, they seek to come to terms with the incident that has scarred their current lives and, to their surprise, unites them, even when they least expect it.

With material like this, there’s a part of me that knows how disturbing it is and wants to say what it’s all about to warn those out there, but there’s also a part of me that knows that’s wrong. See, I’m a critic, but also a lover of movies and I know that the one key element to enjoying a movie is being automatically surprised, just as soon as you walk into something. That’s why I’m going to tip-toe around the big surprise this movie has to offer as much, and as well as I can.

So, for those who haven’t seen this movie yet, don’t worry, consider yourself free from spoiler-harm.

As for those who have seen the movie and are reading this, see how close I come to spilling the beans. I sure hope not.

My type of crowd. Except with more earrings.

My type of crowd. Except with more piercings.

Anyway, what really got to me the most about this flick, wasn’t just how director Gregg Araki handled this material, but how he filmed the whole thing. I’ve never seen anything else that this dude has done in his whole career, but he doesn’t seem like a guy I would like by just how unprofessional everything looks. The first 20 minutes where we are introduced to our character’s first 15 years of living is pretty neat and filmed with a very fast-paced direction that not only made me feel like I was in for something different, but also in for something that was going to be taking risks, as it should. Problem is, the fast-paced direction starts to leave the film and all of the quick-editing little tricks Araki utilizes here and there, soon starts to become a bit choppy where some scenes feel like they’re too rushed, and others just feel like they haven’t gone on long enough. Sometimes it’s better to actually focus on a plot-structure and let certain scenes just play out like they’re supposed to.

Now, to where this story effed up and oh, did it eff up alright. Usually when you have a tough subject like the one they deal with here, you, the director, have to show it in a way that doesn’t seem grotesque, but also doesn’t sugarcoat anything either. You just have to get it right slap dab in the middle and the problem is that Araki can’t seem to get there. Instead, it seems like this guy was trying to have his cake and eat it too, where he would show many dirty scenes with a people sexually mortifying one another, and then, in the next scene, change it all up by trying to tug at our heart-strings with a story that doesn’t feel so fully-developed. Basically, any type of movie where you have two men performing in a sexual act, people will feel uncomfortable, but it’s up to you as a director to not try and throw it in our eyes and make us feel like we need to leave the theater. Araki seems like he just wanted to shove a whole bunch of explicit sex scenes that would capture the people’s eyes, but then also give them something that may make them cry. For me, it didn’t work and it’s just another reason why I feel like this film really needed to be checked out before it went off and gotten released.

Also, where the hell was the message of this movie? In the first ten minutes or so of the movie, I got what this film was trying to say and even though the characters didn’t, it just seemed unneeded like all of the hour and 40 minutes was wasted. Though there’s a lot of frank-talk about sexuality and how the smallest change in a person’s cycle can have the biggest affect on them when they’re older, without them ever knowing it, I didn’t really feel like Araki got to that point. Instead, it was almost as if he got lost in all of the teens performing in naughty acts of sex, drugs, and violence. Almost as if he was trying to pull-off a Larry Clarke movie, but a bit tamer.

Notice how I used the term “a bit”.

This kid's supposed to be a geek? You don't say?

This kid’s supposed to be a geek? You don’t say?

Despite the problems I had with Gregg Araki’s student film-like direction, the performances of this film are what really saved me. Brady Corbet is solid as this young nerd Brian who believes that he was abducted by aliens when he was a little kid, but sooner or later, in a predictable fashion, we start to find out that it’s all one big cover-up in his head for something far more serious and disturbing. This story may not play-out as interesting as I may make it sound, but it still kept me glued to the screen because Corbet seems to play that innocent, dorky role very well, even though it’s obvious that this kid is a whole lot younger than the film makes him out to be.

But the real performance to watch for in this movie, and actually the only real reason to see this movie in the first place is the performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil McCormick. JGL has been, for a very long time now, a big up-and-comer in film and has proved role-after-role that he can do whatever he pleases and make the best of it. This was one of those early performances that showed he had the guts to tackle a role as emotionally-daring as this one where he pretty much goes around, bangin’ dudes for money, and showing no remorse over it whatsoever. JGL makes this whole character work just by being the risk-taker his character seems to be and a couple of scenes show that he’s more than just a kid who gets paid for getting frisky with dudes; in the end, he’s a kid that still has problems deep down inside of his mind all because of a childhood happening that scarred his life forever. It was great to watch JGL here and even though it’s by far, not his best performance ever, it’s one of the first ones that showed he had what it took to be a dramatic heavy-weight. Even if the rest of the film can’t really seem to keep up with him.

Shame on you, Gregg Araki. Shame on you.

Consensus: Disturbing and hard-to-watch as it may be, Mysterious Skin still feels like it’s not saying much about these ugly happenings, to justify exactly why we have to see so much of them in the first place, although it does give us plenty of reason to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet.

5 /10 =Rental!!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Amores Perros (2000)

Life sucks, now go play with your dog.

Octavio (Gaël García Bernal) loves his brother’s pregnant wife, and saves up money for her in the worst way; a rich couple, Valeria Maya (Goya Toledo) and Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), both are in love but have to find it out the hard way; and an ex-guerrilla, El Chico (Emilio Echevarría), whose discovery of a lost dog inspires him to reunite with his own long-lost daughter. All three stories come together in a very tragic automobile accident and affects them all in different, shocking ways.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu doesn’t seem like very happy and light guy. Most of his films concern death, sadness, pain, and agony, which are all displayed in the worst imaginable ways. That’s why I went into his debut expecting just the same type of misery displayed in all of his other flicks, but this time, with dogs!

This movie, my friends, is not an easy watch and that’s one of the first things I have to discuss here. First of all, if you are a dog-lover, like I am, you will find yourself covering your eyes for a good part of the movie as a lot of it concerns dog’s fighting, being dead, or just bleeding all over the place. Now granted, these are not real dogs actually dead on film and the actual fight scenes themselves are just of them playing, but it looks very realistic here and makes you wonder just how they got away with all of this stuff, without being brutally attacked by the RSPCA.

That's man's best friend right there, so be nice to it!

That’s man’s best friend right there, so be nice to it!

But with that said, if you can get past the doggy violence and deaths, you will probably find yourself gripped for a good amount of these two-and-a-half-hours. Notice how I didn’t say “find yourself entertained”, because that is not something you will do with this movie and honestly, that’s actually fine. What I mean by this is by the fact that a lot of sad and miserable stuff happens to these characters and as bad as it is, we care about them. That’s why the gritty-camerawork works so well as it displays a type of realism that makes us feel as if we are watching real people, go through some real, messed-up problems with other human beings, and their doggies. There’s a lot of zooming in, zooming out, moving around, and jumping back-and-forth that this camera does which may bother some people, but for me, just put me one step closer into the lives of these people and made me feel as if I was along for the wild, and terrible rides that they were about to be on.

The hyperlink cinema-aspect also works as it keeps us on the edge of our seats wondering what’s going to happen to these characters, and just exactly when are we going to hop into another one. For the most part, Iñárritu doesn’t really screw up the whole linking of three lives aspect to this flick and gives us glimpses into the lives of these different characters, while one story is still going on. My only problem with his approach is that I feel like his transitions were sometimes random and it seemed like it made no sense for him to just keep on showing us these little snippets of other stories that seem to make no sense at first. He does this throughout the whole film and it’s more random than it is confusing but once the actual stories themselves start to play-oy, then it all comes full circle and it surprised me.

Since the film is essentially three stories all packed into one, you have to expect each of them to be as compelling as the one before it and in some ways, that’s the case. However, in other ways, it isn’t. The most powerful stories in this whole flick were the first and last as they showed two characters, who were thrown into bad situations and did whatever they could to make the best of it. But then, there is that second story which did not do anything for me other than put me to sleep which I don’t know is my fault or the film’s fault but seriously, it’s boring.

I think the biggest problem with the second story is that it follows the first, which is entertaining, fast-paced, and very quick on it’s feet with what it wants to get across. A lot of this film has been compared to Pulp Fiction and while I don’t necessarily think that it’s a fair one, the first story here is the only one that I can really see where they get that from. The opening story is exciting and interesting, while hardly ever seeming like it’s hitting a dull note, but once that second story comes through, it takes the whole mood down. Instead of getting a kid who enters his own dog through the underground dog-fighting ring, we get a story about some spoiled supermodel gal who can’t stop whining about her dog, and the adulterous boy-toy who starts to wonder why exactly he left his wife and kids in the first place. I get that maybe we were supposed to be annoyed and bothered by the way she carried herself throughout the whole story, but I didn’t really care all that much for her and once her story was over and done with, I was sort of happy. And if you know how the story ends, I can assure you, feeling relieved is not a feeling one should feel.

I think Michael Vick is somewhere in the background.

Surprised Michael Vick didn’t take advantage of the open casting-call.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it sort of sticks out like a sore thumb.

The other problem that I ran into with this flick was that I couldn’t help but wish we actually got an ending to these stories. There is probably one story where we get a definitive ending that makes sense, but the other two are sort of left open-handed. Usually, this works as I like ambiguous endings and having to wonder and guess what happened to the characters once the camera stopped rolling (I’m weird like that), but here, it bothered me because I actually felt like we deserved to see what ended up happening to the people that we spent over two-and-a-half-hours with. It doesn’t seem that long but once it’s over, you’ll realize that maybe some of it should have been cut out in the editing-room, especially since we weren’t going to get any sort of resolution at the end.

Despite these problems though, the performances never seem to be fully harmed as everybody does a great job with what they are given to do, which is a whole lot. Gaël García Bernal, who hardly ever puts in a bad performance, really captures that type of young and unrequited love and as weird as it may be to see him go for his sister-in-law, you can’t help but stand behind the kid because he has passion and he has the ability to love. Also, his brother is a huge dick so that’s another reason. Goya Toledo was annoying as the supermodel who constantly yells throughout her whole story, but in a good way too as her character seems like the type of one that can’t help but hate everything that’s happening to her at this point in time. Didn’t make me like her character more, but at least she was fine.

The one real stand-out here though is Emilio Echevarría, who goes through the biggest transformation of all in this film where he plays a very cold, heartless old man that somehow switches everything up once he realizes it’s time to see his estranged daughter. Echevarría has a very easy-to-like character because of the way he cares for these homeless dogs, but also has a bit of a mean-streak to him as well mainly because the guy is essentially a hit man that kills people for money, but then cries about it when it’s over. It’s a very weird character that we deal with here but Echevarría is up to the challenge and his last monologue brings a lot of tears, because it pretty much makes up the whole point that this movie was trying to get across. But done so in a way that wasn’t manipulative or preachy, but just just right.

Consensus: Amores Perros is dark, sad, miserable, and very depressing, but also a fairly gripping piece of hyperlink cinema that puts us into a very upsetting world and doesn’t fully let us go, even if it is a bit disjointed.

7.5 /10 = Rental!!

Oh yeah, and dogs are a metaphor for life. Or something.

Oh yeah, and dogs are a metaphor for life. Or something.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

United 93 (2006)

Staying right here on the ground and not moving.

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked by terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests. Three of them reached their targets. This is the story of the fourth that didn’t and the people that made that possible.

It’s been just a bit over a decade since that fateful day where more civilians were killed than any other day in history, ever. It’s something that we Americans are still hurting from but is also something that has made us stronger as a country. I know that I don’t usually get all this patriotic and loving like I am right here, but I’ll be damned if this film didn’t make me feel a little bit sentimental towards the country I live in!

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Anyway, enough of that, because while I do realize that this movie is definitely centered towards those who can remember that day, where they were at, and exactly how they were affected, I have to make a note that it is still a move nonetheless. Meaning, it can be viewed by many, regardless of what country they lie in. I bring this fact up because it’s so strange to see a director like Paul Greengrass (somebody who resides from England) tackle such a controversial subject/event such as this. And don’t forget people, this movie came out nearly five years after the attacks and if anybody who lived during the year 2006 will tell you: We as a country still weren’t willing to get over it. Add that to the fact that Greengrass’ track-record up to that point was good, but mind you, this was when people already got a helping of what he could do with the Bourne Supremacy, where people already knew he loved to shake that camera all over the place.

Hey, look! It's that dude who sings on Broadway!

Hey, look! It’s that dude who sings on Broadway!

So yeah, you could say that it was a pretty daring move on everybody’s parts involved to not only make this movie when they did, but to make it in general, with the lad behind it all.

Somehow though, I couldn’t imagine anyone else directing this. There’s something about Greengrass’ down-to-Earth direction that really gives you the impression that not only is this happening in real time, but that it’s literally happening right in front of your own very eyes. It feels, looks, and sounds exactly like a documentary, and because of that, it just looks, feels, and sounds real. Which is basically saying that it’s a terrifying experience to watch, because even though you know what’s going to happen in the end, you can’t help but get swept up in it all and root for the passengers, yet, at the same time, still can’t lose that sense of dread that sooner or later, it’s all going to end and these passengers are going to perish.

As morbid as it may sound to write or read, it’s the truth and that’s why this movie hit me so hard. Because rather than trying to go for some sort of political-agenda and say who was in the right, the wrong, or indifferent when it came to this situation, on this very day, Greengrass just stands behind the camera and films how it probably would have happened. He’s not offering any “rah-rah” patriotism about how these passengers all acted on the plane when they found out what was really happening, but rather, showing us what can happen when a band of practically strangers get together, figure out what predicament they’re in, and how they can get out of it. Which yes, sounds totally different when you think in the grand scheme of things, what was going on outside of this one aircraft, but when you’re watching this movie, you’re not really thinking about everything else that’s going on in the Big Apple and how the rest of the world is reacting to it – you’re simply thinking about how these passengers are going to get off of this plane and survive, if that’s at all possible.

Which, yet again, is a strange feeling to have, especially when you consider that you know how it ends. If you don’t, then I suggest you read more.

And that’s why, despite him having some bad-press surrounding his name and his “crack-cam”, Greengrass truly was the perfect choice to direct a movie such as this. He not only knows how to ramp-up the tension so well, that you practically forget about the actual, real-life ending itself, but he also reminds us that even the smallest gesture of humanity and bravery can matter. Like I said before, he’s not necessarily commending everybody involved and their actions, but he’s just shining a camera-light on what may, or may not, have happened and how certain people reacted to this specific situation they were tragically thrown into.

That’s what brings me to my next point and how this daring this film truly was. See, it’s one thing to portray an event in the history of the world that happened to, and was felt by numerous people from all over the globe. However, it’s another thing to portray an event in history that has a few specific amount of people involved, and to portray them, their stories leading up to, and during this event, is definitely a ballsy move. Not just because you have to worry about who you offend, or who you don’t, but because this movie right here is their legacy; if you’re bad-mouthing them and people know about it, then you, my sir, may have something of a lawsuit on your hands, not to mention many, many years of angry fan-mail pouring in by the thousands.

Guess the fact they were sweating buckets didn't set anybody off.

Guess the fact they were sweating buckets didn’t set anybody off.

But once again, Greengrass proved me wrong and showed that he can take any drastic steps he wants, he always comes out on top. In the case of the characters here in this movie, nobody’s really all that famous or well-known to the point of where one could say, “Oh, that guy was in that episode of Seinfeld!” And even if you could, it probably wouldn’t get in the way of being able to accept this “character” for who they are and what they resemble. Greengrass clearly did the bit of casting in which he got a whole slew of unfamiliar faces and names, just so that it would be so much easier for us, the audience, to not get distracted by seeing a famous person, play a character; especially not a character who is supposed to be based on someone who actually existed.

Nobody here is really outstanding in terms of acting and to be honest, even after all of these years, nobody’s really all that recognizable either (with the exception of Cheyenne Jackson and a blank-a-few-times-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance from Olivia Thirlby), which is good. In fact, it totally works in the movie’s favor. It makes you see each and everyone of these “characters” as who they’re supposed to be: Real-life, actual people that, sadly, were thrown into such a tragic situation as this. It makes you wonder about what they had to go through and how, even when it all ended, their families were affected. But no matter what, the movie reminds us that it’s because of these people and their bravery, that some lives were changed. For both better and for worse. But most of all, they changed history and had us remember that regular, everyday human beings, just like you or I, can change history by just getting up and not taking something we don’t believe in. Even if the end game doesn’t look so pretty.

But hey, that’s just what being humans all about: Making decisions, regardless of if they end well or not. You just want to help and save others, if that’s at all possible.

Consensus: Though it had everything to lose by simply just being made in the first place, United 93 turns out to be not just an effective piece of film-making, but a compelling and emotional look inside the lives of those who were on this one specific airplane, on this one fateful day.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Never forget, people. No matter where you are in this world, just never forget.

Never forget, people. No matter where you are in this world, just never forget.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Ali (2001)

Float like a butterfly and sting like a, uhm, something. I forget.

Meet Cassius Clay, Jr. (Will Smith), a twenty-something boxer who is fresh, young and chock full of fight. He’s also got a bit of a mouth on him that doesn’t make him the most popular boxer among his fellow confidantes, but definitely makes him popular in the eyes of the media that wants to hear/see everything he says/does. But like it is with most celebrities in the public limelight, there usually comes controversy and Clay’s was filled with plenty of it. First came his name change; then, his alliance with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles); his numerous marriages and affairs; his defiance against joining the U.S. Army due to “religious reasons”; his relationship with known sports-commentator Howard Cosell (Jon Voight); and plenty more where that came from. All of this eventually leads up to the infamous fight he had with a boxer by the name of George Foreman, in which most people dubbed, “the Rumble in the Jungle”.

Some of you die hards out there may already take notice to the fact that I’ve reviewed this one before, but honestly, that was so far back when, I can hardly remember what I gave it. All I do remember is that I watched it, wrote a terrible review on it and hardly remembered anything after seeing it. That’s what happened to me with most movies back in those early, immature days of my life, but nowadays, when I see something, I give it my full, undivided attention.

So yeah, I decided to give this a re-watch because I knew there was something about I needed to see once again and decide what about it drew me back to it. And after having seen it, for a second time mind you, I can’t really come up with an answer. That’s not because I didn’t pay attention again this time; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I fueled up on so much coffee, I was about to jump right out of the window before seeing this. Meaning, that I was so ready to see this and be able to give it the response it’s worth and not something I put out those many years ago.

"West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!"

“West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!”

But nope. Somehow, nothing seemed to change. Sure, I remembered the movie a lot better now than I did before, but there’s just something odd about this movie and I think that all comes down to Michael Mann himself being the director. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Michael Mann as a director; in fact, I think he’s one of the better ones out there nowadays and I can’t wait to see what he’s got cooking next with this new film starring Chris Hemsworth. However, the problem with him is that when he’s feeling extra “artsy”, it gets in the way of his story – or, in this movie’s case, the lack thereof.

Which, for a biopic about one of sport’s most influential icons ever, means something. Not only do you get in the way of actually connecting to a character that some can deem “misunderstood”, but you don’t really allow there to be anything remotely interesting driving this character, or their story along for us to say. Throw on a two-and-a-half-hour run-time and you’re asking way too much of an audience, especially when you’re not giving them anything to really hold onto.

And that’s not to say everything Mann does here is bad – the look, sound and overall feel of this movie is, predictably, wonderful. You can tell that Mann didn’t take this as some sort of “paycheck gig” and throw in the towel (excuse the pun); he actually puts a spin on the look of this movie when re-creating the environment the United States in the 60’s. Even the boxing sequences themselves are pretty neat, but not in the way you’d expect them to be; rather than having the boxing bouts be full of hooks, jabs, punches, punches and hugs every single second, Mann focuses on what most boxing matches can be: Boring. Now, I’m not saying that boxing in and of itself is boring, but there can be the occasional lull in the action and Mann focuses on that quite well, almost to the point of where it’s too realistic.

Still though, I’ll take realism over any goofy, over-the-top boxing match (which is pretty much what the Rocky films ended up being).

But, like I said before, those bold moves don’t really work unless you can find a way to make the story work as well and that’s just what the problem is here. Mann literally places us right slap dab in the middle of Ali’s life without much rhyme, reason, or even a background on who this person is, why he is the way he is, and exactly who/what made him this way. A part of me feels like Mann was just assuming that all of us know this, or simply don’t care, which isn’t true; getting to know somebody famous and iconic from where they came from is probably the most compelling aspect behind getting a full picture of a person really is and why they’re so worth studying in the first place.

Here though, we just get Ali, who talks a lot, bangs a lot, fights a lot, and changes his mind about whatever it is that he believes in with the drop of a hat. Which, yet again, is another interesting spin Mann takes on this story, but it hardly ever goes anywhere. Instead, we just see Ali act this way and hardly ever get anymore development on it. And that’s pretty much how the rest of this movie plays out: Stuff happens, you never really get a reasoning behind it and it’s off to the next sequence of stuff happening. But while for most movies, from some directors out there (namely Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.), this would work because of how exciting and compelling this stuff is, Mann goes at such a slow-pace, it’s downright dreadful to sit through at times.

For instance, did we really need a seven-minute concert performance by Sam Cooke to start the movie off? Better yet, did we need to see a whole, nearly ten-minute sequence in which Ali jogs through the streets of Africa? Sure, all of it looks and sounds pretty, but when it doesn’t really add much to the final product, what’s the point? By then, you’re just taking up space and precious time, so don’t bother with it!

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I'm sure.

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I’m sure.

Another problem that most seem to have with this movie that I can somewhat attest to is how Will Smith is doing more of a full-fledged impersonation of Ali, rather than an actual performance in and of itself. And while I don’t necessarily think Will Smith does a bad job in the role (he tries so very hard, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch at times because you never know if he’s going to sprain an acting-muscle), I can’t say that I think this performance is “Oscar-worthy” or even the best he’s given, ever. Regardless of what some may say, Will Smith is a very good actor when he wants to be and when he’s given the right material, and here, he just doesn’t have it. He’s supposed to sound, look, and act like Ali and he does a fine job at that, but really getting to the core of somebody the media usually portrays as a “misunderstood, yet incredibly influential icon”, is just not something he’s able to do.

Once again, most of that blame is put onto those who gave him this thin-material to work with, as well as Mann for not really pushing Smith harder than he’d ever been pushed before.

The same can sort of be said for the supporting cast as well, which has plenty of recognizable names and faces, yet, aren’t given much to do except just act like other famous people. Jon Voight, for no other reason than that he’s Jon Voight, was nominated for an Oscar here as Howard Cosell which, like in the case of Smith’s Ali, is nothing more than an impersonation aided by very well-done hair and make-up; Giancarlo Esposito shows up as Ali’s daddy and gets a few scenes to work, but seems like a lot of his stuff was cut-out; Mario Van Peebles has some impressive scenes as Malcolm X, but, yet again, is just doing an impersonation; and Mykelti Williamson, despite being quite hilarious as Don King, feels more like a caricature than an actual boxing promoter (much like the real Don King, I guess, but that’s not the point). The only one who really steps away unscathed is Jamie Foxx who, before this movie, was mostly known for his comedy, but at least shows that he had some dramatic-chops in his system as one of Ali’s trainers.

Makes total sense now why Mann would later cast Foxx in the much-better Collateral, but that’s another review, for another day, folks.

Consensus: While it’s clear that mostly everybody involved tries, Ali comes off more like an uninvolved highlight-reel of the famous boxer’s most famous and controversial moments, that would probably be more compelling to actually read in a biography, than everything here.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid's an intellectual!:

“You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid’s an intellectual!:

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Take that Wall-E! This is real animation!

Writer/director/producer Ari Folman was 19 when he served in the Lebanon War in the 80’s. He did his job, his duty, and did it all for his country. However, after all of these years, Folman seems to have forgotten all that has happened, with the exception of a dream that he and two buddies of his have had where they emerge from the water, naked. Seems rather strange, but again, he doesn’t know if that’s real or just a dream. That’s where his former-soldiers help him out to tell him what happened, what they did, and what exactly went on in the Lebanon War. The results not only shock us while we sit and listen, but even them as well.

This is one of those hard flicks to categorize because not only is it a documentary, but it’s also an animated movie. When I first started watching this, I was terribly confused as to what the hell I was seeing. I knew I was seeing a bunch of cartoon-figures chat about the war and whatnot, but I didn’t know if the voices were going through the motions or if they were actual interviews. As you could probably tell, I wasn’t used to seeing my documentaries changedup like this but thankfully, I got used to it after awhile and that’s when things really started to set in.

First of all, let me just go right out by saying that the idea of shooting this movie in an animated-form was sure brilliance on Folman’s behalf. Not only does it allow these stories to hit the imagination that most of them are told in, but it allows you to sink into the material even more. These are real people, talking about real happenings that they either witnessed, or heard of during their time in the Lebanon War, and after awhile you just forget that it’s all told to you in an animated-form. Not only does this allow Folman to film stuff that would have been a bit too costly for him, had it been shot in a live-action way, but you just feel as if you are right there.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war-time.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war time.

On top of that, the animation is pretty damn good as well! Some characters look goofy, some animation seems cheap compared to others, and not everything works, but there is still always something to gaze at with this flick and with this animation. It’s also great to see a flick that uses it’s animation as a tool for telling a more compelling story, rather than to just get away with being dirty and grotesque. Some moments here are downright disturbing and seem like they would have been slapped with the NC-17 had it been done with real actors and real film, but nonetheless, it all feels suitable to the harrowing and disturbing tales these guys are all talking about. Seriously, some of this stuff here will mess you up.

This is one of those movies that totally took me by surprise because within the first ten minutes; I was already bored. I didn’t get what this movie was trying to talk about, the style of filming it was using, and whether or not everything I was hearing was real, or just stories that this dude wrote. But as time went on and I started to gain more and more knowledge of my surroundings here, then it all started to make sense. What’s so unique about my slow, but moving-knowledge of what was going down in the grander scheme of things, was sort of like what our main protagonist was going through as well.

Not only do we not have any clue what the hell happened or what we are about to hear, but neither does Folman. That’s why it’s so intriguing to see a flick not only put us in the same spot as the lead character (or whatever you’d call him), but have us grip on to reality just as he does. The whole idea behind this movie is that after the war, some men come to terms with the harsh-realities of what they just witnessed, or they just throw it to the back, forget about it all, and have it placed as dreams. That’s exactly what this movie touches on, in a way that I never expected to not only affect me, but show so strongly in animation.

And even with the animation, nothing of what you see here is going to be watered-down. You’re going to see some pretty disturbing stuff that will not only have you shadow your eyes away, but may also piss you off, as it did to me. Just knowing that these types of travesties actually occurred and, in some ways, still is to this day, really upset me to the high heavens because it made me feel as if there was no need for any of this violence or war. Now, some peeps may disagree with me and say it’s all about religious conflicts and that they need to settle their differences as soon as possible, but is this really the answer? Killing un-armed people in the streets? Destroying farms and live-stocks so people starve? Using a gun and a rank as a power-method;  getting rid of religions in hopes that they will one day, fade away into obscurity? Really?

Are these really the answers we all search for when we need to settle any conflict?

"Hey, how's the ki...AAAAHHH!!"

“Hey, how are the ki…AAAAHHH!!”

For me and my thoughts, this is just wrong. But to see it displayed in a way like this, really hit me even harder. Hell, I could probably type in some war-footage and find tons and tons of actual deaths and murders caught on-camera, but somehow this hurts me on the inside more. Something just didn’t sit well with me and had me feel as if this world, not only has it’s beauty, but it’s ugliness as well. It made me angry, it made me upset, but most of all, it made me happy to live ithe life I live, where I live it. Not saying America’s better or anything like that (because clearly, that isn’t the whole truth), but it does make me realize that the life I’ve been granted is one that I should be thankful for, each and everyday I wake up.

Sorry if this is beginning to sound like I just smoke a bowl, but that’s what happens to me when I see a movie that really has an effect on me; it has me thinking, talking and hoping that other people feel the same way as I do. And if not, then oh well. Still see this though.

Consensus: Depending on what your view of the Lebanon War is, Waltz with Bashir may, or it may not, connect with you, but if you have a heart, and a thirst for human-righteousness, it should still hit you hard and where it hurts the most inside.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Can't say that it's not an AIRport.

Technically, it’s still an airport.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Hey, if torture can work for Jack Bauer, it can work for anyone! Right, guys? Guys?…….

Late one fateful night, an Afghan taxi driver by the name of Dilawar picks up a passenger and isn’t ever seen again by his friends or his family. Reason being? He killed himself while being imprisoned inside the Parwan Detention Facility where he was questioned by American soldiers. However, did these soldiers do more than just questioning Dilawar? Did they rough him up a bit to ensure that they’d get the answer they wanted? Or, did they do a whole lot more than just “roughing up a bit”? And even if they did do that, would they even be in trouble? Documentarian Alex Gibney examines the story of Dilawar, those who were charged in his brutal treatment at the detention center and how so many other Afghan prisoners were taken in on a daily basis, with little to no reason other than they may have information regarding Osama Bin Laden, or other known terrorists at the time.

What’s so interesting about what Gibney does here, is that while he does go all over the place, focusing on the whole picture of what’s really going on here, from the beginning of the war, to Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush themselves, he never loses sight of what really made this story possible in the first place: Dilawar and what happened to him. Because deep inside of all of the numerous threads explored here, no matter how distasteful some of these truths unearthed may have you feel, no matter how enraged you may be by the end, there’s something completely and utterly depressing about Dilawar, his story and how he met the end of his life.

At least he's got a fresh-ass shirt on him now...

At least he’s got a fresh-ass shirt on him now…

See, with Dilawar’s story, we realize that he, along with so many other detainees in these detention centers, is just a normal, everyday citizen, as if he were you or I. However, the only thing separating him from us is that he was an Afghan citizen and at that point in time, the U.S. Army wasn’t taking any chances one bit and was just picking up each and every person they found to be even the slightest suspicious of being a possible terrorist. Didn’t matter if it was true or not, the Army needed to bring people in, torture the hell out of them, and see if they could get any possible answers out of them whatsoever.

Dilawar just so happened to be one of those people and he met his end in such a sad, brutal way because of so.

His story is the launching-off point for what Gibney wants to talk about and explore, and it’s deserving. Not because everything about Dilawar’s story is what helps Gibney come back to some sort of human-connection when all is said and done and he gets off of his soap box, but because it shows us that Dilawar was like every other captive inside one of these detention centers. Sure, there were definitely a few whose suspicions turned out to be actually true, but you have to think of how few that number is, compared to all of those who were taken in, brutally tortured, humiliated, made out to be “less than human”,  and even died in the custody of the U.S. Army.

And trust me, this isn’t just going to be a whole post of me attacking the U.S. Army for all their immoral-doings in the war; in fact, I’ll give most of them the benefit of the doubt. They’re all doing a job that I would never be able to bring myself to in my life and because of that, I give them a salute. However, there is something to be said for when those soldiers take advantage of the certain amount/level of power they have. It’s like what was discussed in the Invisible War (a documentary you must see, if you haven’t already done so) – does being a soldier for the Army and protecting your country mean that you can practically get away with anything that would be deemed “illegal” if you were still living in your country and not on the battlefield?

The answer to that is clearly no and Gibney knows this. However, he doesn’t give us any easy answers to make it clear exactly what he’s thinking, or even what he’s trying to say at any given moment. He easily could have made this a whole two hours of just him getting on everything that has to do with the Army; those who enlisted into it, as well as those powerful politicians who back it up with all their might, but he doesn’t. He keeps everything away at a relatively minor distance that’s hardly ever over-stepped, even though it could have easily been.

Tsk tsk.

Tsk tsk.

But like I was saying before, with this movie, Gibney reminds us what it’s like to be and stay human, even in the times of war. It made sense for most of the country to go absolutely and completely gung-ho about violence right as soon as the World Trade Center was attacked, but does that really mean we as a country are justified in acting the way we did, or hell, still do act? We’re paranoid for a reason, but does that really mean that we have to unreasonably make others pay for our thoughts and perceptions, regardless of if they turn out to be wrong?

Like every other question posed here in this movie, Gibney never gives a clear answer. Sometimes that’s a bit frustrating; other times, it’s comforting because so many documentarians feel the need to take a stance on a certain topic, without ever giving us a full, rounded-out story of everything we are being told. Here, we get to listen and learn from just about everybody who was involved with these detention centers and, after awhile, begin to realize that they too are just like you or I – normal, everyday human citizens. However, the only problem was that they were the ones with all the guns, the power, and the control to do anything that they wanted, when they wanted.

And Dilawar was the one who had to pay for it all. Although there are still plenty more where he came from and there shouldn’t be.

Consensus: Presenting as much facts as possible without over-cramming his movie, or our brains, Alex Gibney allows for Taxi to the Dark Side to be a thoughtful, mostly upsetting documentary about all those involved with the war and how all societies are affected by it.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

At least they held the sign up for him.

At least they held the sign up for him.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Girl Next Door (2004)

Still convinced the girl I brought to prom was a porn star. Slept with everybody else, but me!

Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is a high-school senior who has high aspirations for his life in college and, hopefully, at Georgetown. But right now, at this moment in time, all he wants to do is remember something special about his life that he can talk on and on about for the rest of his days. Then Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door and suddenly, it all changes. Not only does Matthew come to understand his sexual innocence by gazing at Danielle’s perfect bodily-shape, but he also strikes up a friendship/relationship-of-sorts with her. Although, there’s just one problem that Matthew doesn’t find out about until it’s practically too late: She’s a porn star. And although Matthew eventually comes to accept this as a part of her life, he still brushes up shoulders with her ex-boyfriend/producer (Timothy Olyphant), who not only threatens to ruin the relationship he has created with Danielle, but Matthew’s whole future life and career as well. This is when Matthew decides that it’s time to nut up, or shut up, and depending on how you take that pun, you can pretty much guess where his next source of inspiration goes towards.

So yeah, basically, this is just Risky Business, but for the Gen-Y age where computers, cell-phones, and heavy-R ratings do exist. However, whereas that movie, despite being a sometimes crass and overly-sexualized film, at least had something to say about one coming to terms with their age, as well as their sexuality. Here, with the Girl Next Door, all we get are a bunch of nerds who crave sex and, despite never having had it before, still do whatever it is that they can to ensure that they lose their “V cards” before heading off to that next stage of their lives. Nothing wrong with that at all; in fact, it’s just a way of life which most people (mainly dudes) go through.

Being in a pool with a girl you're trying to get it on with doesn't end well. Trust me.

Being in a pool with a girl you’re trying to get it on with doesn’t end well. Especially if you’re trying ti “impress” her. Trust me.

However, there’s something not really all that there about this movie that makes it feel like it’s just about sex and porn, and that’s it. Sure, it’s a rom-com of sorts that likes to deal with young people trying to approach their sexuality in a certain manner that will get them laid, but there’s not much more beneath the surface. It’s exactly what it sets out to be and if that’s what you’re looking for, then yeah, you’ll probably enjoy this flick.

But that’s the problem with this movie: There feels like there could have been so much more here, had everybody involved just decided to put more time and effort into it.

For instance, the movie explores the pornography business in an almost complete and full matter; heck, the movie even pushes its attention towards a porn convention in Las Vegas. But rather than actually saying something remotely interesting about the state of pornography, where it’s heading and how those involved with such an distasteful business, are just like you and me, too. Instead, the movie decides to take the easy, relatively safe way out and just show us boobs, ass and girls hooking up with one another. For a frat bro that has a boner at just about the very second he wakes up, to the moment he decides to hit the hay, then yeah, this will probably be a near-masterpiece that absolutely speaks to their soul. However though, for somebody who wants a little bit more to their comedy, then there’s just hardly anything to firmly grasp.

And even worse, the movie’s not even all that funny. A few throwaway gags here and there, but honestly, the movie just isn’t very funny. It clearly likes to think it is – in the Van Wilder-sense where the sight of t’s and a’s are automatically followed by LOL’ing – but nothing really works in that regard. It’s just a stale comedy, reusing plot-devices and jokes we’ve seen before, yet never really spins them in a way that could make it seem like the story/movie itself could have only taken place in the new millennium. Then again though, to those who would probably want to see this, that doesn’t matter because as long as there’s naked chicks and a whole lot of sex-talk, then what else is there?

No seriously, what else is there?

Anyway, the only aspect of this film that seems even remotely interesting is its cast, and even then, mostly everybody feels wasted on material that just couldn’t be less concerned with them showing up and putting in all that they have in their might and power. Emile Hirsch shows that he was ready to step out of that childhood acting shell of his at this point in his career, and although it was a smart move on his part, the movie doesn’t seem concerned with giving him much to do except just be a nerd and react in slightly shocked manners. He does get one sequence of some finely-timed comedy where he’s high on ecstasy in a public event, but even that feels put-on, old, and tired, as if we had seen it a hundred times before. Because, most likely, we already have.

"Nobody fucks with the Olyphant."

“Nobody fucks with the Olyphant.”

And though I have to give it to the casting-directors for allowing Elisha Cuthbert to be like the absolute sex-pot that she appears to be, I have to wish that they’d given her so much more to do. Because sure, what she’s called on to do is act and look sexy and she does that quite well. But her character is just poorly-written in the way that we never find out anything about her past, why it is that she decided to take up the career as a porn star, why she wants out and why it is that she takes an interest in such a normal, typical dweeb like Matt. Cuthbert herself definitely seems like she wants to explore these character-traits, but sadly, it just doesn’t work in her favor.

The only person who really seems to come away unscathed from this is Timothy Olyphant, playing Danielle’s dangerous, slightly unpredictable bad boy of a producer that sees cash whenever he looks at her. Olyphant is always perfect at playing these types of slightly off-kilter, weirdo roles and while it’s a character we’ve seen him do before, it’s still a refresher in a movie that, quite frankly, isn’t filled with many. Except for showing us guys the occasional boob and butt, but honestly, that’s right at our finger-tips, every second, of everyday, so do we really need to watch a near two-hour comedy filled with some shots of it?

I say nope, but that’s just me. I’m a weirdo. I’d much rather watch a movie, than actual porn itself.

Consensus: Nothing more than a shameless remake of the far-better Risky Business, the Girl Next Door likes to think it explores more about the man’s psyche when it comes to sexuality, but in reality, it’s just another raunchy, unfunny teen-comedy.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Usually the kind of girls I bring home to my folks. Except not really.

Usually the kind of girls I bring home to my folks. Except not really.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Eventually, we all get old and die. Tell me, what else is new?

After New York theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hits it big with his “version” of Death of a Salesman, the question on everybody’s mind is: What’s next? However, he’s the only one who doesn’t have that question anywhere near his mind at the moment, mainly because he’s got a lot of crap going on that he can’t escape from. His artist wife (Catherine Keener) just left to Berlin with his 4-year-old daughter; his box-office worker Hazel (Samantha Morton) is flirting up a storm with him; he just got hit in the head by a pipe and found out that it may be a deadly sign of things to come (meaning death); and he just received a grant to make his next big play inside of an area the size of a football stadium. Caden’s brain is so wracked and sad, however, that he does eventually come up with an idea that may take some by surprise, but makes total sense when you take his whole life into perspective: Caden plans on making the play about his whole life, including the most eventful moments, and all of the people he meets and greets. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass it is!

Going into this movie and knowing that Charlie Kaufman is not only just writing this movie, but directing it as well, should already get you in the right frame-of-mind, and make you expect the unexpected, even if the unexpected is totally, and utterly random and pretentious. But such is the case with Kaufman, who’s the type of writer whose style should not work at all, but somehow does, mainly because he’s had such talented directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry being able to pick up the pieces and frame them in a somewhat comprehensible way, where not only do the heavy-set ideas hit our brains at maximum-speed, but the story itself just works, regardless of if we get it or not. Those two are just obvious examples, as I’m sure they are many more directors out there who “get” enough of what Kaufman does with his writing, and what he’s trying to say. However, when it’s just him running the show, and no outside interference or inspiration, then things get very, very shaky as a result.

Aside from PSH, let's see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Aside from PSH, let’s see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Then again though, like I said before: It’s Charlie Kaufman, and you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. So that means that there’s no need to fear, this won’t be one of those reviews where I get on the movie’s case for being non-stop pretentious, self-indulgent and preachy, because I expect that from him. Instead, it’s going to be more of a review on how easy Kaufman’s writing seems to be. See, the movie is less about a guy making a play of his life, as much as it’s more about how life itself is a play, and we are all just characters within it, going about our emotions, our action, and our decisions in a way that were pretty much spoon-fed to us from birth; they’re just starting to show now. And with that idea in mind, I have to give Kaufman plenty of credit. Not only can the dude look at the human-existence, but the reason we have to live, with a sour-puss attitude and grin on his face, but he can also show us that life is pretty damn sad, no matter how times we try to avoid that sadness with the simple things in life.

Very depressing, I know, but there’s just something about Kaufman’s writing that makes it so wonderful and honest that you can’t help but be entranced, nor not be interested in hearing what he has to say. You just listen, watch and learn gracefully, as if you’re watching a fellow human-life happen right in front of your own, very eyes. Which, in a way, you pretty much, and that’s where I hit my problems with this movie and where it was trying to get at.

The problem with this movie isn’t that it’s depressing or it makes you look at your own life, as well as the other’s around you, with a dour-look, but how it just seems to only reach for that idea as a point to be made. We always know where Kaufman’s getting at with this material; he feels that life is a sad, miserable experience that we live through, but we live through it nonetheless, so why harp over the meaningless things like break-ups, divorces, and lost-loves, just live life! And yes, it is very sad and cynical in it’s own way, but Kaufman never seems to be bringing anything much else to it other than that. There are shiny and bright rays of hope and happiness to be found somewhere in the finer-lines of this story, but anytime they get a chance to pop-up and show themselves, Kaufman comes right back down with his swiping-hand of negativity, showing us that we shouldn’t be happy with what we see, we should cry, pout and kick cans all day because of it. Maybe he’s not that much of a dick about it, but he comes pretty close at times, and it just shows you why this is the type of writer that can do some major business when he has a helping-hand with the direction; but when it comes to his own shot at glory, and giving it his all, he sort of stutters into his way of balancing out the happy, as well as the sad times in life.

Surely there’s plenty of both elements in everybody’s life, but it sure as hell isn’t always sad, Charlie. Get a grip, man!

"Why yes, I am reading "Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It." Have you heard of it before?"

“Why yes, I am reading “Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It.” Have you heard of it before?”

And while it’s disappointing that things didn’t turn out better for Kaufman’s direction, it’s even more disappointing to see the awesome cast he was working with here, and how little most of them, minus the few exceptions, are given. One of those said few exceptions, Philip Seymour Hoffman as our main, mid-life crisis man for the next 2 hours: Caden Cotad. Hoffman is great at playing these sad-sack, miserable characters that don’t care much about the life they live, nor the little things that make it worth living, but he feels like he’s channeling the same emotions every once and a little while. He seems never crack a smile, no matter what the occasion may bring. However, he seems to be able to lure every women he meets into bed with him, make her the happiest gal alive, show her her own faults, make her sad, push her away, lose her, and then never see her again. That’s a non-stop cycle that continues to revolve around every so often, and it got as annoying to watch, as much as it did to see Hoffman put on the same saddened, depressed-look on his mug. It works when the humor within Kaufman’s script comes to show, but not when we’re supposed to care for this guy, as well as the fellow women he falls in love with.

Many of which, may I add, are played by extremely talented, and great actresses, who are given material that could have easily benefited them more, had Kaufman himself seemed to actually give a crap about them, or life. Catherine Keener does her usual, “I’m old and artsy, but I’m also bored and impulsive, therefore, I’m a bitch”-act, and does it well; Samantha Morton is a bit of a sweetie-pie as one of Cadence’s first loves, one who lives in a burning house, that constantly burns throughout the whole movie (whatever sort of metaphor that’s supposed to be, I still can’t wrack my brain around); Michelle Williams acts like a bit of a bitch as well, but shows some compassion for the way she feels towards Cadence and their relationship that isn’t so present with the other gals in this flick; and Emily Watson has moments of fun and spirit, but doesn’t get much more time to really allow for her character to breathe or shed any meaning as to why she’s even shown. The only one who really seems to be livening up this material is Hope Davis, as Caden’s therapist who shows up from time-to-time, does something weird or goofy, tells him to read her expendable, self-help books and leaves him on his way, hitting all of the right tones you need from an odd, Charlie Kaufman movie. Problem is, she isn’t in it enough and doesn’t get the chance to really let loose on material that could have easily used it from her, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and even Dianne Wiest. Seriously, how do you misuse Dianne Wiest!!?!? She’s so precious!

Consensus: The sad points of our weak, pathetic lives that Kaufman obviously makes in Synecdoche, New York don’t make the movie too depressing to get-through, they just don’t add much flavor or energy to a flick that could have really benefited from some, had it had the director to really make it pop-off the screen, and into our minds and laps to chew on for a long, long time.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

In Bruges (2008)

Who knew Bruges was such a happenin’ place! Full of fun, murder and all!

After a job goes terribly wrong, hitmen Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are sent away to Bruges to let the heat die down. This also allows for their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to think of their next move, so that while they’re in Bruges, not only can they enjoy the various sights, but they can wait on his call for further instructions of what to do next. In the meantime, the two hitmen go sight-seeing, although against most of Ray’s wishes; instead, he would much rather like to drink, do drugs, find some pretty ladies and have as much fun as one possibly could while vacationing in a place like Bruges. Luckily for Ray, there’s a local film crew around town filming something with a dwarf and a pretty gal (Clémence Poésy) that he automatically takes a liking to. However, the aftermath of his one job still continues to mess with his mind and threatens to ruin any possibility of being sane he may have. To make matters even worse, when the two guys eventually do get their call from the boss, it isn’t a pleasing one and may actually pit the two seemingly good friends up against one another.

But hey, that’s business, mate.

It’s a very rare occasion in which a movie that I have seen more than a handful of times, can not only just make me laugh nearly as much as I did the first time around, but can also keep me on edge as to where the story is going next. And with In Bruges, it’s an even rarer-occasion, because, generally, the film leans on its constant plot twists that take over the last-act of this movie; plot twists that I have seen many times before. So for a movie to excite me all over again, as if I was just watching it for the first time in my life, truly is a work of magic.

I think we all know she's in for a wild night ahead of her.

I think we all know she’s in for a wild night ahead of her.

Because, the fact remains, In Bruges is one of the better dark-comedies of the past decade, and not too many people know about it. Even if they should, they don’t. But while that may seem like a meaningless “idea that I think is actually a fact”, there’s something endearing about that aspect that works wonders for this movie.

For instance, the movie prides itself in being contained to this one, rather small part of Bruges; a place you didn’t think was a perfect setting for a film, but somehow, totally is. It’s a place that the movie mocks on more than one occasion, but also shows that there’s some beauty in the land these guys are vacationing at. I don’t mean in just the numerous museums or churches these two guys see, I mean in the people they meet and the things that happen to them, both good and bad. What I’m basically trying to say is that Bruges itself, becomes something of a character in a movie that’s named after it and it creates a small vortex of a world that, as they say in the movie, “Seems like you’re in a dream.”

All that philosophical shite aside (working on my Irish over here), this movie is still entertaining-as-hell no matter how many times it’s watched. You so rarely get that with any movie, but when you see as many movies as I do on a regular basis (more than any normal human being should ever have to), certain movies just fade in your mind and you lose the ability to love them all over again. However, with In Bruges, that ability isn’t anywhere to be found; in fact, I think I may love the movie even more now, then I did way back when I saw it in the early days of ’09.

Certain jokes I can catch up on quicker now, the story makes a whole lot more sense, and the performances from the trio of lead veers quite closely into being “perfect”; especially from Colin Farrell, the actor I’ve always had faith in, and here is exactly the reason why.

As Ray, Farrell is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode and destroy everything around him. You get the sense that he’s a young, brash asshole that doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, nor knows how to act like an adult, but that’s sort of the point of the character and makes Farrell act even better than before. He’s a bit of a punk that does and says bad things throughout the majority of this movie (as hilarious as they sometimes may be), but knows that they are bad, wrong, they should not be done, and at least wants to move on from those mistakes and see if he can turn his life around.

In other words, he’s a bastard with a conscience, and every single second of watching Farrell play him is a total pleasure.

Even more of a pleasure to watch is Brendan Gleeson as the older, much more experience hitman that’s something of a father-figure to Ray, although the movie doesn’t hit us over the head with that idea. Instead, it just allows us to see Ray and Ken as two guys, who have the same job, and are mates, yet, they are in a bit of a sticky situation that can go either way. They don’t know, and they don’t necessarily care. They just want to take each day as they come and both characters express that feeling in two very different ways. For Ray, spending his day is all about getting drunk, having a shag or two with a lady, and just overall, having a grand old time. Whereas for Ken, he’s much more simpler in that he likes to read a book or two, explore the land around him a bit, and at the end of the day, go to bed while watching the tube.

They’re both opposites, yet, they are very good friends that understand each other and at least try to make sense of where the other one comes from. Watching them speak to each other about such stuff like either Belgium art, guys who sell lollipops, kung-fu, is constantly fun and entertaining, while very interesting because we see certain shades of their characters come out that we didn’t expect to ever see, all throughout their conversations. It also helps that Gleeson and Farrell have a lovely chemistry that never feels false. Not even for a single second.

Look out, Oskar!

Look out, Oskar!

And to make matters even better, we have Ralph Fiennes here as the foul-mouthed, constantly pissed-off boss of theirs that isn’t around a lot, but when he does show up, is around to only take care of business his way. We hardly ever see Fiennes do a performance as nasty or as eccentric as this, which is what exactly makes it such a pleasant, if totally unexpected surprise. But what Fiennes is able to find in this character is some ounce of humanity that makes him more than just a dirty, cold-blooded killer; the dude has a code/conscience, and all he’s doing is following through with it. He’s a mean old son-of-a-bitch, but he’s at least a human one, and the fact that we get to see that aspect of the character is truly a testament to the kind of actor that Fiennes is.

But honestly, I’m going on and on about the cast, without mentioning the one who is really responsible for this whole thing coming together so perfectly: Writer/director Martin McDonagh. Sure, McDonagh’s style of blending dark comedy with humane-drama, and bloody violence, has all been done numerous times before, but there’s something oh so refreshing about McDonagh here that makes me wonder not only why he doesn’t do more movies, but also why many more writers and directors haven’t followed suit? Because what McDonagh does so amazingly well here, is that he finds out what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, and what keeps us on the edge of our seats when watching movies, and combine them all together to make a movie accessible enough for anyone to see.

I mean, I’m not saying that In Bruges is the perfect pint of Guinness for either mom, dad, or your younger sibling, but what I am saying is that if you and your pals are hanging around late one night, need something to watch that will not only interest you, but have you downright laughing and enjoying yourselves, then you could do worse. Far, far worse.

Moral to the story: Watch this movie and thank me later.

Now go!

Consensus: Hilarious, fun, superbly-acted, exciting, surprising, and sweet in spots you don’t expect it to be, In Bruges is a near-perfect dark-comedy/thriller more people need to see in order to realize just how much crap is truly out there in the world that everybody knows, and why little gems like this go so unnoticed, for so very long.

9.5 / 10 = Full Price!!

Something in that image doesn't fit with the rest of it....

Something in that image doesn’t fit with the rest of it….

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Scoop (2006)

People love their magic, like they love their murder. That’s something people say, right?

Up-and-coming American journalist Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) gets the story of a lifetime when deceased journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) somehow contacts her from the afterlife. The story goes like this: He knows that this wealthy, very powerful man Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is the man behind all of these brutal murders that have been occurring around England and granting him the nick-name, “the Tarot Card Killer”. Though Sondra is slightly hesitant at first to believe in this, she takes the bait anyway and gets a local magician (Woody Allen) to join her. Together, they’ll pretend to be a father-daughter combo and try to win over the heart of Peter Lyman, while simultaneously looking for any clues, hints, or pieces of evidence they can find to make this story big and at least somewhat “legitimate”. But as time goes on, and the rouse gets to be a bit tiring, Sondra begins to fall for Peter, and even entertain the idea that he may in fact be the killer. This is not an idea the magician wants to put to rest, but it may be too late.

It’s kind of a known fact that despite Woody Allen being able to release a movie, just about every year, they’re not always amazing. And now that the guy’s getting way up there in age, the moments where he strikes gold are becoming more and more rare. Therefore, it’s up to us as an audience to appreciate all of the work that he does, because even though Woody Allen may not make great movies all of the time, a not-so good Woody Allen movie, is still way better than your usual, average bad movie.

Aussies: They sure do clean up nice.

Aussies: They sure do clean up nice.

But somehow, this is the one that’s right on the verge of being considered “crap”, to being just “meh”.

And that’s not to say that this is Woody’s worst flick I’ve seen of his (Cassandra’s Dream was pretty god-awful), but it’s his most recent that I’ve seen of his that’s left me wondering just where all of his creativity and energy went. Surely he could have come up with something more than just a normal story about a journalist falling in love with her subject, while a murder-mystery occurs on the side? Maybe he was trying to hint at the idea of irony and how sometimes, things we don’t expect to happen, or better yet, people we don’t expect to act a certain way, do happen/act that way? Or maybe, he was trying to harmonize on the importance of life and how we all should savor it while we still can?

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m giving the guy a bit too much credit here. Because yes, even though this movie is not terrible, it still seems like Woody’s retreading on familiar waters. We’ve already seen Woody Allen make fun of the rather snobbish upper-class in Small Time Crooks, so whenever Woody takes it upon himself to make a few wisecracks towards them as a whole, it not only feels like he’s just yucking it up for no good reason, but also that he’s running out of ideas to write about or even explore. Even the lead Sondra Pransky, is basically just the female version of him and how he acts.

That’s not to say that ScarJo isn’t fine with this impersonation of sorts, it’s just that she’s just sort of there to take up a role that could have easily been done by Woody himself; although, to be honest, it would have been strange to see him constantly flirting and making out with the buff and macho Hugh Jackman. Then again though, it’s never too late to try something new out every so often!

And although I do kid around here and get on Woody’s case a bit, he’s sort of the best part about it. He’s quintessential Woody Allen and that’s always a pleasure to watch on the big screen, especially since all he does is act like a cynical, miserable bastard, yet, still be able to show some compassion towards those around him that treat him well. He had me laughing on more than a few occasions and it’s just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter how old Woody may get, the guy’s a charming little fella that seems to always play to his strengths and have himself coming out on top.

Now, that’s not to say that he’s selfish or anything, because Woody is more than welcome to giving the rest of his cast their own opportunities to shine, but none of them really leave as much of an impact as he does. Like I mentioned before, ScarJo is fine at playing a lovely-looking nerd that not only gets up swept up in the idea of love and romance, but even gets to forget who she is at one point. This was, of course, before Johansson became a dependable, respectable name in the business, so there are a few rough patches here and there, but most of that, I think, has more to do with some of the awkward-phrasing of the script and the lines she’s given, where she’s made to sound like Woody Allen, but just can’t pull that off perfectly.

I'm sorry. You were saying?

I’m sorry. You were saying?

Then again, nobody really can. That’s why we have Woody Allen in the first place.

Also, it was nice to see Hugh Jackman be the dashing man that he is and show us that even though there’s a lot mystery surrounding who he really is, you yourself can’t help but be charmed by his lovely ways. Makes it a lot easier to sympathize with our lead once she gets swept up in his life, but also makes you forget that he could be the prime suspect in this murder case after all. Ian McShane is also given a relatively major role as the deceased journalist who gives Pransky the story hints in the first place and is fine with what he has to do, but it’s pretty disappointing just to see him show up every once and awhile, say something vague and literally then disappear into thin air, because, well, he’s dead and the Grim Reaper doesn’t like it when dead people come back and talk to those who are living.

Honestly, now that I think about it, I would have much rather liked to seen a movie where the Grim Reaper himself and Ian McShane squared-off, mono-e-mono. Written and directed by Woody Allen, of course. The one and only.

Consensus: Not Woody Allen’s best, nor his worst, Scoop is rather pleasing because of its cast, but feels like a tired and tried piece of material that we’ve seen Allen himself do much too often in far better films of his own.

5 / 10 =  Rental!!

"I hate the media. All they do is get on people's cases. Like, I don't know, say if a guy starts going out with his adopted-daughter."

“I hate the media. All they do is get on people’s cases. Like, I don’t know, say if a guy starts going out with his adopted-daughter.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)

Write this down men: Twenty-something blondes who play the trumpet are bad news.

Recent college-grad Hannah (Greta Gerwig) is working as an intern at a production company and realizes that she needs to make a big change in her life if she wants to be happy at all. Therefore, she decides to break-up with her boyfriend Mike (Mark Duplass) and set her sights possibly on other men; even if those other men just so happen to be her co-workers, Matt (Kent Osborne) and Paul (Andrew Bujalski). Hannah begins one with the later, while the former sort of just sits around, does his work like he’s supposed to be doing and basically be all upset that he’s being left out of the mix. But Hannah’s the type of girl who can’t seem to stick to one thing, regardless of if her life depends on it or not, so you can never tell exactly what she’s going to do next, or with whom either.

It’s a short premise, but at an-hour-and-23-minutes, it’s a short movie, and there’s something inherently charming about all of that. See, writer/director Joe Swanberg likes these small, intimate and rather raw stories about people just living their lives, on a day-to-day basis without all of the schmaltzy, over-dramatic bullshit that we usually see in much-larger, more mainstream movies. Does he do this to save some money and actually be able to make his movies? Sure, you could definitely make that argument. However, there’s something nice and refreshing about a writer/director who likes to create real stories, about real people, doing, well, real things.

Even if one of those “real things” does consist of constantly being shacked-up with whomever is around you.

Oh, Gret.

Oh, Gret.

And yes, that is exactly what Hannah does here. To be honest, the hardest aspect to like about this movie is Hannah herself; she’s self-involved, yet, not overbearingly so. She clearly has a nice conscience and wants to do the right thing for herself and those around her, but when it comes right down to it most of the time, she takes matters into her own hands and doesn’t always fully think things through. Does that make her flawed? Of course it does! But does it also make her somewhat human? Oh, totally!

So with that said, it may be hard to at least accept Hannah as a person you want to watch a movie about, but this isn’t necessarily a movie that’s trying to test your patience. It’s trying to give you a story of a young, sometimes brash and difficult lady that doesn’t know what she wants with life, except just to be happy and feel like she’s working for, or towards, something. Hannah herself doesn’t want to be left behind by the wind and forgotten about – she wants to be remembered, loved, and most of all, happy. Though her ways of making sure that happens are a bit questionable, it’s still interesting to watch because there’s a feeling that this is a real woman we’re watching on screen, and not just figment of a dude’s imagination.

And if she was, she’d be a pretty depressing one, considering that there’s a lot of heartbreak and sadness here, all as a result of her own doing, mind you.

Also, another reason why Hannah is so enthralling to watch is because Greta Gerwig’s an on-screen presence worth paying attention to every second her lovely face is on screen. Which, in the case of this movie, is the whole, damn time. So, if you’re annoyed of Greta Gerwig’s bubbly, warm mug, then this is definitely not something you should bother with. Especially since Swanberg seems to really love focusing in on that mug and watching as each and every emotion she feels, is spelled out on her face. In a way, it can sometimes be annoying by how much zooming-in Swanberg does on not just Gerwig, but on everything else, but I felt like it was something you have to sort of expect with a mumblecore movie, and it’s easy to accept after awhile. Is it uncomfortable to sit around and watch sometimes? Yes, but it’s something that’s easy to get used to once the story actually gets going.

Gerwig does something quite exceptional here in how she’s able to make us see Hannah as a female, rather than a contrivance that Swanberg would have created. She’s more than just a gal who likes to kiss boys and try them out as if they were a new pair of shoes; she’s trying to work towards something. Of course Gerwig’s a lovely presence, but it’s in these spare, raw moments of emotional truth where you really get a sense for who she is, and you sort of feel sympathy for her. Even if she is making a lot of problems for herself, rather than solving them, but that’s who she is. She’s a complicated, confused gal and Gerwig’s great at displaying both sides of Hannah’s personality.

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

That’s not to say that the whole movie just ends up being Gerwig’s show from beginning to end – in fact, quite the opposite. Because this is a story about Hannah and the sorts of men she interacts with in this short time-span in her life, we get to view a different side to her, all depending on the guy she’s gunning for at the point in time. Though he’s displayed quite apparently on the poster, Mark Duplass isn’t in this film as much as you’d like to think and it’s a bit of a shame. The dude’s always a charming presence in anything he shows up in and here, he’s no different. But because the story needs him to be kaput early on, it’s only necessary that we get a small dosage of his charm, and get a chance to see it head-to-head with these two other dudes, Matt and Paul.

Both are pretty charming dudes, but in a nerdy kind of way. But they’re not totally nerdy in that they can’t ever hold a conversation with any normal human being; they’re just sort of the type of guys who have their own set of interests, in their own little circles. Bujalski and Osborne both display enough likability and realism to make it easy to see why they’d be both perfect, and not-so perfect for Hannah’s wants, needs and desires, and it makes you wonder who she’s going to end up with in the end.

Which, like it is in life, is incredibly unpredictable.

Consensus: The constraints in budget and scope may make Hannah Takes the Stairs feel a bit claustrophobic, but for those who can get past that, will realize it’s a heartfelt, emotional and sometimes funny drama about a gal just being herself, while trying to figure out who it is she wants as a mate in her life.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Me. Everyday of my life.

Me. Everyday of my life.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

What’s a VHS?

In a downbeat area of New Jersey, there lies what seems to be one of the last ever mom-and-pop-run video-shops that actually still sells VHS tapes. The place is called “Be Kind Rewind” and it’s run by the old and a bit out-of-touch Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). However, in order to see what’s wrong with his video-store and how he can fix all of its problems, he decides to take a bit of a vay-cay and do some thinking on his own. This leaves his most trusted, dedicated employee, Mike (Mos Def), the responsibility of watching over the whole shop and making sure nothing bad at all happens. Somehow though, it totally does, because once the buffoon of the neighborhood, Jerry (Jack Black), gets electrocuted and comes into the shop, he wipes all of the tapes clean with nothing but static on them. Scared to have his boss find this out and be ultimately disappointed in him, Mike decides to pick up a camera, get Jerry and start filming their own versions of these movies. It’s called “Sweded”, and somehow, the town catches on and, in a way, like these versions a lot more than the actual movies themselves. This gets the store all sorts of attention – both wanted and unwanted.

So yeah, while that premise may sound strange and all, just let me tell you that this is a film written and directed by Michel Gondry; somebody who is definitely one for not always being the most “normal” film-maker out there. However, that’s the reason why this movie actually works – Gondry has a vision that may alienate some, but to others, there’s a certain joy in seeing what he sees through those artistic eyes of his. And while I couldn’t necessarily call something like this “artistic”, there’s still something joyous about it that makes it all worth watching.

"So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures?"

“So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures we have in store?”

Gondry’s weird-isms aside and all.

Although, I do have to say that for the first half-hour of this movie, nothing seemed to be happening at all. I get that there was supposed to be some sort of reason behind why these tapes were all erased and therefore, drive these guys to actually have to make these Swedes, but it seemed way too slow and messy. Almost as if Gondry himself was searching everywhere he could for anything that resembled a plot and didn’t know where to start, or end; he was just searching and searching, while annoying us at the same time.

But eventually, once the plot gets going and the Swede-ing starts happening, then the movie gets to be a bunch of fun. Which is mostly due to the fact that I think Gondry shows exactly what it’s like to have the creative adrenaline run through your body; the same kind of adrenaline that makes you want to get up from what you are doing and just have the world see what it is that you see, or are able to create. A part of me likes to think that Gondry uses this angle, only to express his own knack for creating low-budget remakes of popular films, but another part of me likes to think that whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. He’s clearly happy making these small, really cheesy remakes, and as a result, I was too.

And basically, that’s the whole gist of this movie. For a good portion of it, at least, the movie is all about what it’s like to have the need to make a movie right from where you are, with whatever you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you have a budget, a whole lot of talent, or even all of the right equipment to get going from the ground-up. All you need is some inspiration and that drive to make you keep on shooting whatever it is that you want to shoot. If it’s a video of you just ranting about whatever it is that’s on your mind in that point in time – then go for it! If it’s a video of some Charlie kid biting somebody – then sure, totally go for it!

Whatever the idea in your head may be, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you’re able to get up off your rump and film something! That’s what movies are all about in the first place, and while this movie may not be the most perfect piece of cinema to exemplify that fact, it’s still a noble effort from someone who clearly knows a thing or two about what it is that he’s talking about/filming.

How I imagine he acts every time he steps out of the shower.

How I imagine he looks every time he steps out of the shower.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s all pretty fine, especially in the casting-department. Though Jack Black’s shtick is the same here, as it’s been in, I don’t know, say, every single one of his damn movies, it’s still pretty entertaining and makes sense once this Jerry character gets a little bit too big for his britches and acts like he’s some big-time star of some sort. Sure, he has plenty of haters, but Black’s shtick, when used well, is entertaining and fun to watch. Same goes for Mos Def who, despite being on a short list of rappers-turned-actors, is one of the better ones because he’s able to go from role-to-role, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard for one thing or another. He’s just being an actor, although there still has yet to be that one role that distinguishes him from the rest of the group.

Still though, I hold out hope. Not just for Def, but for the future of movies as a whole. Because even though certain people don’t believe the movie-business will be the same twenty-thirty years from now, there’s still hope out there that people will feel the need to want to express themselves in a fun, creative manner. Especially with a camera in their hand; something in front of them; and a chock full of ideas inside their noggins.

I still hold out hope, people. And you should too.

Consensus: While inherently messy, Be Kind Rewind still gets itself together in time for it to be a fun, creative, and rather passionate-look at what it takes for a person to create something, whether it be a film, a book, a song, or any piece of work that expresses themselves for being who they are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Now they're all working at FYE. Damn, DVD's.

Now they’re all working at FYE. Damn, DVD’s.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

That guy pulling you over on the freeway? Yeah, he’s totally high on coke.

Terence McDonough (Nicolas Cage) is not the type of cop you want to mess with. And I don’t mean that in the sense that he’s a dangerous dude that will practically throw the book at you if you go past a stop sign and give him lip. Nope, I mean it in the way that he’s as crooked as a squiggly-line, is always perked-up on coke, oxy, heroin, whatever the hell he can find, and never seems to be in the right state of mind. Yeah, he’s that type of cop and the one that nobody wants to be around, nor be on the opposite end of the law with, hence why most of them just stay out of his way and let him do his thing, as insane as it may be. However, all of McDonough’s wild times of drugs, sex, alcohol, hookers, and all sorts of other debauchery finally begins to catch up with him once he has to get involved with the brutal murder of local family. Almost too involved, one could say.

Yes, I know. If any of you are long time readers out there reading this now, you will most likely come to know that I have indeed reviewed this back in the day when it first came out, four years ago. However, times have changed for me and this movie since those years ago, and I’ll tell you exactly what:

1.) For starters, I’ve become more in-tune with what makes a good film, actually considered “good” and all of the other essential parts here and there.

2.) I’ve seen more and more Nicolas Cage performances that I not only like, but came so far as to loving.

3.) I’ve seen more and more Werner Herzog movies, both documentaries and narrative-films that I not only like, but also came so far as to loving.

4.) And last, but sure as hell not least is the fact that I’ve actually seen the original, Abel Ferarra’s Bad Lieutenant, and needless to say, this movie swims laps, and then some, around that one.

"Pimp My Ride sucked. Hahahaahahahah!!"

Pimp My Ride sucked. Hahahaahahahah!!”

I know that the original and this remake don’t really share so much in common, except for the general plot-line and a tad bit of the name, but overall, the two flicks seem to have some sort of connection that goes further than just same characters and plot-outlines; it’s more that the flicks show their directors, and their main stars at the peak of their game, with one combination doing better than the other. The one combination that really worked to it’s ability was this movie, and no cheap shots at the original or Harvey Keitel’s penis, but this movie is a lot better and a lot more worth watching, especially if you’re in a happy, average mood. If you’re a deep, dark, depressing, and spiritually-thoughtful mood, then give the original a shot and see how many times you never look at Harvey Keitel the same again.

Where this movie works the best in, is not through its conventional plot, or through the twists and turns it sometimes throws at us, it’s more how the movie paces itself and makes this more than just a standard, police-procedural where we see a cop who’s obviously battling some inner-demons of his own creation, also come to terms with the harsh realities of the world outside of him. Some of those ideas are scattered throughout this movie, but most importantly, it’s a movie that shows one man’s descent from hell, to total purgatory. It’s also about every step he takes closer and closer towards crime and paying-off his debts, he gets further and further away from what makes a person considered “moral” or “good”. Plenty of those discussions come up, but they never seem to be used in a heavy-handed way like we’re used to seeing. Herzog’s better than that and so is Cage.

Together, these two compliment each other a whole lot better the second time on seeing them. With Herzog, everything new, cool, or fun that he brings to this story and the screen, he runs with and never lets anybody, or anything get in the way of it. It doesn’t matter what people are used to seeing with plots like these; if Herzog has an idea in his head that he wants to use, he’s going to use it and you better be happy with it. Sometimes, the decisions he takes are a little goofy, and take away from what the movie’s whole “message” is supposed to be, but they’re never anything too far-out to the point of where I lost any idea of just what I was watching. Despite all of the P-O-V shots from iguanas, alligators, and fishes, the movie still makes sense and builds up to a cohesive, understandable story that’s not hard to follow along with, nor is it any less compelling to watch. You don’t need some slick twist or turns to juice up a story like this, all you need is an interesting enough central character to really keep your eyes glued, and with the character of Terence McDonough, and Nicolas Cage playing him, you couldn’t have asked for anyone better.

Most of you may already know this around, but I’m a Nicolas Cage fan through-and-through. No matter how many bombs the guy has made in the past; no matter how many random chicks he’s dated; and especially, no matter how many times he’s tried to be cool and just hasn’t let it work for him, the guy always gets a pass from me because of those one-in-a-million shots he gets, to where he is able to prove to us that he is indeed not just a talented actor, but one of the best working today. That’s what I love so much about the guy in everything he does, especially in this. He’s insane, nutso, bonkers-as-hell, high all of the time, and is always on the verge of a mental breakdown, whether it be the Nic Cage I’m talking about on-screen or off.

He and Herzog work well with one another because they do things together, that you’d never expect them to be able to pull-off, and do it so successfully.

Don't be so quick to judge, they were talking shit on Knowing.

Don’t be so quick to judge, they were talking shit on Knowing.

For instance, there are plenty of long, tracking-shots where it’s just Nic Cage’s face going through all sorts of emotions, and not a single one of them are here to be put in here. Even with lines like “Keep shooting! His soul’s still dancing!”, or “I’ll kill you all to the break of dawn”, where Cage’s sense of being off-kilter is almost ridiculous, you never lose respect for this character, nor for Cage and his ability as an actor either. Still, you laugh your ass off at him, but also with him as it’s made pretty clear to us that not only does Cage know what type of performance he’s giving, but so does the rest of the cast and crew involved. They are all just there to have a little bit of fun, and watch the master at work.

Once Herzog eventually gets back to filming actual movies with a narrative in force, I hope to see more of Cage get involved with them, because not only does Herzog know what to do with him, but he also allows him to run the show with total faith and trust thrown firmly in the dude’s grasps.

Even though it is totally Cage’s show from start to finish, the supporting cast actually helps him out as well. Eva Mendes is playing it surprisingly straight-laced as his coke-addled, hooker girlfriend that loves him, but also can’t stop whoring around to protect her life for the hell of it; Xzibit is surprisingly intense as the main drug-lord of New Orleans that Terence takes a liking to; Val Kilmer is fun and entertaining to watch, just because he always finds a way to bring out that pitch perfect comedic-timing of his; it’s always a joy to see Fairuza Balk back on the big-screen, especially with her supporting some pretty fine, sexy lingerie; and even Brad Dourif gets to have some fun as the exasperated bookie who just wants his freakin’ money, man!

Overall, everybody’s good, but it’s Nic Cage’s show, and you can’t ever fuck with that.

Consensus: Though it’s a very odd, very strange experience to go through, Herzog, Cage, and the rest of the cast and crew keep Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans surprisingly grounded in a sense of emotional-reality where drugs is more than just a reliance for people; it’s practically life.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Told ya life would get better after Ghost Rider."

“Told ya life would get better after Ghost Rider.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Cold Mountain (2003)

I thought the South was supposed to be a warm place full of happy, positive thinkers?

Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and her father (Donald Sutherland) move from their riches, and into a slightly slummy, lower-grade town in North Carolina and fit in very well, especially Ada who has the fortune of being stunningly gorgeous and able to catch the weary-eye of any man. However, one man in particular is the one she only cares about, and his name is Inman (Jude Law). What separates Inman from all the rest of the other slack-jaw, testosterone-fueled scuzzy-buckets around him is that he’s a sweet, soft and gentle man. The two hit it off quite well, but not as much as they would have probably liked to since less than a couple of weeks later, Inman is drafted into the Civil War, however, he doesn’t leave without giving Ada a nice smooch, and letting her know that “he’ll be back for her”. She stays there waiting for him, expecting the war to be over in a couple of weeks, but they eventually turn into years and Ada loses all hope that Inman’s coming back, let alone, alive. But Ida won’t have to fear any longer since Inman escapes the war, and makes his way back to her. Only real problem in his way: Rusty, law-enforcement imprisoning and executing war-refugees.

First of all, I know it’s hard to get past the fact that many, upon many famous non-American actors and actresses are sporting a Southern drawl and all that, but trust me, it’s not all that hard to get by once you just pay attention to the story, the visuals, and pretty much everything else that’s going on around these people when they speak, no matter how fake it may sound. And hell, it isn’t even that bad to be honest, however, there is a price you have to pay when you have Jude Law and Nicole Kidman in the lead roles of a Civil War movie, but the price isn’t that much that late, great director Anthony Minghella obviously couldn’t handle.

"Say whaaaaaaa?"

“Say whaaaaaaa?”

Minghella, as most know, had a fine eye for beauty and detail when it came to the way his movies looked, and this movie was no exception to the fact. You can tell that a lot of this was shot on-location, rather than placing a bunch of over-clothed, over-priced sets and actors in some rural town that nobody had ever heard of, and it works well in the movie’s favor, no matter where its story goes. It makes you feel as if you are right there with this story, just as it’s happening, wherever it may wound-up at. More of that could be said Inman’s story, as he’s the only one who really does any “moving around”, whereas Ada just sort of hangs out on her own, at her own ranch no-less; which also creates a bit of problems for the movie, in terms of pacing.

You see, since both stories that we have here are occurring practically simultaneously, it’s hard for us to not get more involved with one story over the other. As interesting as Ada’s story of her coming into her own and being her own gal may have been on-paper, it comes off as rather cliche and sometimes hokey on-screen, only livened up by deadly, violent acts of violence, that we see more than a few times happen in Inman’s story. Not saying that Ada’s story needed more blood, guts, and shootings to keep up the pace with Inman’s, because when it does come, it hits hard, it just feels like we were missing a part of the pie that would have made that story something we were cheerful to see getting more attention. Now, as for Inman’s story, well, that’s where the movie really works its wonders.

It’s obvious that, despite all of his good-intentions, Minghella cares more Inman’s story than he does with Ada’s, which is fine because his story is filled with so much excitement, drama, adventure, and intrigue, that it’s a wonder why Minghella didn’t just make this all about Inman, and only showed Kidman at the end. Probably wouldn’t have worked as well, but maybe some trimming would have? Anyway, what I liked so much about Inman’s story isn’t that he goes around the world, encounters a new person each and every day, changes their lives just as much as they change his, and all of a sudden, he has a prettier outlook on life than he originally had before; nope, it’s actually the opposite. Inman goes into the war as the soft, sensitive-type that feels like he would much rather be sitting underneath a tree, jotting down a few lines of poetry that flash right into his head, rather than being the type of guy to put a bullet between the eyes of a fellow human. He’s just not functioned that way, however, he’s drafted into the war, which means he obviously has to be complete his duty as a common-day citizen, turning him into something of a savage beast that knows his ways of violence and the limitations he has bestowed upon them, and he doesn’t like it a single bit. Because don’t forget: He’s not a killer, he’s a lover, dammit!

And that’s exactly what makes initial escape and adventure so much more sympathetic and worth watching.

In fact, we somewhat applaud him for having the cojones to actually get up and leave the war when he has the right chance to, because he knows that this war is for shit, he’s seen all the ugliness about it, and he wants nothing more than to go back to his squeeze and be back in beautiful play-place he calls “North Carolina”. It’s a long and hard trip that experiences many pitfalls along the way, but he’s able to go through it all, just by the sheer shred of hope in his mind. Because of this, we want him to succeed and we care about every person he meets, regardless of if he changes their outlook on life or not. He’s just a man, going about his way, trying his damn near hardest to get back to his woman in one piece, and hopefully live the rest of his life in eternal happiness and love. Now tell me: What’s not romantic about that?!?!?

"Thank y'er darlin' fer dis tasty bevereeeerge. Southern enough?"

“Thank y’er darlin’ fer dis tasty bevereeeerge. Southern enough?”

Well, one thing that isn’t so romantic about their relationship is that the two don’t really feature much of a chemistry together. But I don’t know if that’s a hit against them, as much as it is against Minghella, considering they spend about 15 minutes of screen-time together, and are suddenly separated. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman do great work when it’s their own, respective stories where they just have to tell their story for the way it is, but you can just tell that there isn’t much glue holding them together as a couple that makes it worth fighting and daring to die for. Law gives Inman a quiet, but powerful presence that’s easy to root for, whereas Ada’s more or less going through the conventional, riches-to-rags-to-riches story that we see most movies churn out like butter. That said, both are good, despite not being able to generate any fireworks when it comes to their “love”.

However, the smart decision Minghella made with this movie was not to just have pretty, beautiful, and talented faces in the leads, but to also have them in every other character ever seen in this movie. This is one of the largest ensembles I have ever seen for a movie, but that isn’t used just to distract you from some of the story’s more problematic segues. Everybody’s great with however much screen-time they’re given, no matter how minor or large, but there are a couple of stand-outs that really left an impression on me, long after the movie was over.

Obviously Renée Zellweger was great in this movie (obviously, she won an Oscar) and really gets Ada’s story fun and interesting; Natalie Portman shows up as a widow of a Civil War soldier and shows Inman enough compassion, but also asks that he give her some in return, and then some more; Philip Seymour Hoffman has so much fun as the dirty, raunchy preacher-man that Inman runs into and stays with for most of his trip, and shows you why it’s so great to see this guy anywhere he shows up; and even Ray Winstone is somehow able to get rid of his Cockney accent and give us a nice performance as the sheriff from Inman’s town that is not only a very determined dude when it comes to nabbing these traitors, but doing what he has to do for punishment purposes. He’s a bit of a sick bastard, but Winstone gives him a nice ounce of humanity that makes it easy enough to see the world from his side. But like I said, there’s plenty more famous peeps where that came from, and it’s fun to watch, while also intriguing because everybody’s great.

Consensus: One story may be more interesting than the other in Cold Mountain, but nonetheless, they both come together to make a heart-breaking, upsetting, but also, very compelling tale of what it means to adventure for what you want, by any means possible. Corny? Yes, but it’s handled much better than I may make it sound.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Guess Jane eventually got her gun.

Guess Jane eventually got her gun. #FilmReferenceKindofSortof

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Grudge (2004)

Do all Japanese boys sound like cats?

An American nurse (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is living and working in Tokyo and somehow gets exposed to a mystery virus. What makes the virus so mysterious is that it’s one that locks a person in a powerful rage before claiming their life and spreading to another victim, but with a black, shadow-y figure there to see you before you die. Basically, it’s just weird.

Everybody knows the story of the Grudge by now: American girl tries to help out old lady, old lady sees something, mystical figure pops-up with a Howe-weird, cat noise, and all hell breaks loose. That’s the age old story that every teenage girl, and dude who was trying to take them out for a good scare so they could cuddle-up with them when they got frightened, saw.

But here’s the aspect of the story that they don’t know: It actually kind of sucks.

With that being said, the movie can be a tad scary, if only because of where it’s set. The fact that the creators of this remake decided to keep the story in its original native land and only change up certain aspects of the story so that they could throw in Americans people would be easier to connect with and whatnot, was actually a smart idea because it gives you an unsettling feeling. Nothing against Japan or its inhabitants, but there is just something eerie and strange about a bunch of Japanese people staring at you from a far, far distance and giving you that feeling that they either don’t like you, are silently judging you, or want to eat you and your family for din-din. Not saying this thought comes to mind every time a Japanese person stares at me, but in this, it kind of is.

Feast your eyes on what life after Buffy looks like.

Feast your eyes on what life after Buffy looks like.

However, when you get right down to it, that’s all the movie really has to offer. There are a couple of neat-o scares and chills to be had (that “after-work” scene was pretty damn tense), but everything else just feels like formula. The one film that this reminded me a lot of and probably for better, than worse, was the Ring. That movie, for all of it’s faults if you can find them, was creepy and something that made me feel a little bit tense when I would have to think about the next time turning off a static-y television-set. This movie, feels like a carbon-copy of it without any back-story worth mentioning, scares that don’t really get you at the right place and the right time, or any type of character that screams, hoots, and hollers like Naomi Watts could.

But then again, you have to beg the question, Can anybody? The answer to that is, I don’t think so. Heck, that’s why we have Naomi Watts in the first place.

Yes, little Japanese kids yelling in high-pitched, cat noises can be a little disorienting when you hear it the first two or three times, but after that, it’s just on-replay and never seems to end. Every time somebody would walk into the house, there would be movement upstairs, some sort of cracks and sizzles in the distance, a slight yelp from a ghost, the person would then pursue it, only to see a little boy, and have that little boy yell at them out of nowhere in that loud-ass voice I talked about earlier. It happens many ‘a times and maybe it could work on the types of people that are really, reelin’ in their chairs, scared to the high heavens, but on a person who doesn’t scared all that easily (yeah, I’m the shit) by material like this and knows what to expect next, then it doesn’t do anything nor does it serve any purpose. It’s boring, tedious, and goes to show you that the director may have decided to film all of this movie on his Lazy Sunday schedule, where everybody, including him, is still working with a hangover from the wild night before. Yeah, we all know those days and judging by the effort given by everybody in this cast and crew, I think they do as well.

Even though the characters aren’t here for anything else other than to just serve something resembling a story and serve the scares to come up, the performers do their best with what they’re given, even though it seems like a waste on this kind of material. Sarah Michelle Gellar is fine as the American nurse that gets all caught-up in this hubbubaloo that nobody needs to get involved with, not even Freddie Prinze Jr.’s wife, and she shows that disdain and annoyance on her face. But, she can also display the scared and shocked face well, too, and does that every chance she gets the opportunity to.

Honestly, just leave her. The "monster" isn't going to do shit anyway.

Honestly, just leave her. The “monster” isn’t going to do anything anyway.

Two very, very talented character actors pop up here as the kids of the crazy mother that sees things, William Mapother and Clea DuVall, and both are okay and definitely elevate this material to more than it aspires to be, but even I felt like taking them by the arm and being like, “Seriously? This is the type of crap you want to put on your resume to show that you have box-office appeal?”. Hey, good for them if it adds a couple of more bang to their buck, but for me, it just disappoints more than ever because I know they can do well with good material, but good material, this is not. The only hope I had for this movie was that they had the one, the mighty Bill Pullman here as some dude that randomly kills himself in the beginning and get’s a back-story later on, but it’s so goofy and so random, that it’s really just humorous. Pullman’s good and can do no wrong in my eyes, but even I felt like he was slumming this one down, big time.

Probably should have just stayed President of the United States and never even bothered stepping on Japanese soil.

Consensus: The Grudge isn’t quite the horror masterpiece it’s been made out to be by some, and instead, feels like a lazy retread of things we seen done many, many times before, and more effectively as well.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

"Yeah, I know I'm cool."

“Yeah, I know I’m cool.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Host (2006)

Think about it next time you decide to take a swim in a public river.

A semi-dysfunctional family reunites in the worst possible way, when one of their own, Hyun-seo (A-sung Ko), gets captured and presumably killed by a mysterious monster. The family is clearly in a bit of a crisis, constantly fighting, crying, drinking and blaming one another for this travesty, all before the government takes them in and starts doing test, after test, after test on each and everyone of them. Are they infected with anything all that serious? We don’t know. But, does it matter? Not really. The government thinks that they are infected, so therefore, they must be. However, late one night, the father of the little girl, Gang-du (Kang-ho Song), gets a call and wouldn’t you know it! It ends up being her! From there on out, Gang-du and the rest of his family holds out total hope that she’s alive and just waiting for them to rescue her. The only problem is that they have to find out where she’s at and get her, all while sneaking past the government as well. Which, as some of you may know, is not an easy task.

While this may sound all familiar to most of you beings out there who have been brought up on monster movies such as Godzilla, or King Kong, or even most recently, Pacific Rim, don’t stop there with that thought and automatically get turned-off. Because, while the Host may be, in fact, a “monster movie”, it’s not that kind of monster movie that just limits itself to shrieks, creeps, gore, scares and violence. Nope, there’s a little bit more to this one.

Yeah, don't look behind yourself if you can help it.

Yeah, don’t look behind yourself if you can help it.

See, what’s so neat about the Host is that it’s several different genres, all rolled up, and piled into one big mix of ideas, themes, and sequences that don’t always work perfectly together, but still keep you interested. And honestly, that’s all you’re going to need with any monster movie, let alone this one in particular.

Because sure, we get to see the monster wreck all sorts of havoc on large groups of people, chomp some up for a little breakfast, a little dinner, and a little midnight snack, and heck, we even get to see it chase people down, but it’s not our central focus. Sure, the monster is there and definitely an asset to why this story was made in the first place, but the real main focus here is this family that always remains fascinating. That’s definitely impressive too, because automatically, as soon as we’re introduced to each and every one of these family members, it automatically feels like we’re in for a whole slew of clichés that almost never excite.

The older brother who is a total slacker, constantly falling down everywhere he goes and dozing off whenever he feels like doing so; the younger brother who went to college and everything, but doesn’t have a job and is more interested in causing trouble, then getting his shit together; the sister, who is a professional archer, and definitely the smarter of the bunch; and the father of the three, who is clearly the sweetest, most endearing figure of all that has every bit of faith in his kids that they’ll do the best that they can do, yet, still holds his own reservations as well. If this was a stripped-down, intimate, almost play-like drama, I’d probably be gripped from beginning to end; but the fact that it’s spliced together with something that resembles an action movie, is almost even better.

Although there is the occasional slip-up in its pace, co-writer/director Joon-ho Bong definitely doesn’t lose his head on bogging us down with detail, after detail, after detail that we need to know about these family members and their history together; we get plenty of background info to understand their personalities, so that when they do split up and are on their own for this adventure of sorts, it never gets boring. Even if the dramatic scenes themselves do slow things down terribly, it’s still a nice refresher to get a movie in which the human-characters are treated on a first-grade basis, whereas the monster itself (aka, the real spectacle that most come rushing out the floodgates to see), is simply second.

It also helps that the cast is pretty fine too, with each and everyone doing their job to make the best impression. However, I think the one who runs away with this movie alone is Kang-ho Song, who is basically our main protagonist – or if you want to get really professional about it, our flawed hero for the two-hours. What’s so neat about Song and what he does is that while we’re introduced to his character in a not-so lovely way, overtime, we get to see that he’s a lot smarter and likable than he initially lets off. He’s a total and complete slacker that, at first, we see sleeping on his job while his dad does all the work, but once that all changes and shit gets real, real quick, then the strength of Song’s ability as an actor comes out and we get a character that we can root for, even if he does do some bone-headed things along the way.

Strange way to fish. It is Korea after all though!

Strange way to fish. It is South Korea after all though!

But that only makes him more human, hence why it’s so much easy to sympathize with him and just want the best for him, his family, and those that he loves when all is said and done. Case closed.

Anyway though, like I stated before though, that’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of monster action, it’s just that there’s more to this movie than just that. I appreciated that aspect, and I was also glad to see Bong go out of his way and throw a little satire into the proceedings as well. What I mean is that the story itself is about how the government is more concerned with this virus, who has it, and its chances of breaking out (even if there is one), than actually going out there and destroying the thing that’s possibly causing this virus in the first place. You can get a clear idea that Bong wants to evoke feelings of rebellion and strictly just not fully trusting your government with everything that they do (especially once those slimy Americans get involved!), which makes the movie feel more heightened with emotion that doesn’t just start and end with the family-dynamic.

Basically, what I’m trying to get across is that you can have a fun, exciting and crowd-pleasing monster movie, but if you give us a little something more, then I have no problems whatsoever. More, especially in this case, is always better.

Consensus: While at two full hours, the Host can feel exceptionally long during its more laid-back moments, there’s still a creative, energetic force behind that has it constantly pushing for being more than just a typical, by-the-numbers monster movie, even if it does settle for that at the end.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Basically my whole family during the series finale of Six Feet Under.

Basically my whole family during the series finale of Six Feet Under.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Swimming Pool (2003)

All would have been fine, had there been a lifeguard on duty.

British mystery writer Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) has hit a creative blockade where she doesn’t know what the hell to do with her next novel, and as a result, finds her life spinning out of control. That’s why when her publisher (Charles Dance) decides to let her use his French country house for solitude and inspiration, she jumps on the opportunity right away. And it’s great for her as soon as she gets there: She’s settled in, relaxed, drinking, eating, flirting with local waiters, and best of all, writing pages for her next big novel. Whatever that novel may be about, is a total mystery and that’s how she intends to keep it. So when her publisher’s daughter, the young and vibrant Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), crashes the house and decides to hang around, Sarah’s left befuddled; she’s upset that Julie is around and ruining her peace and quiet, but she still can’t kick her out because, technically, it’s her house. So basically, Sarah just decides to stick with it and be as peaceful as she can be sharing the same house with Julie, as hard as that may be. Somehow too, she also finds inspiration for writing through Sarah’s life, which has a strange way of sometimes spilling out from the page, into their real-lives.

Plenty has been made about Swimming Pool, which is all due to the twist ending. I knew this going in and needless to say, I don’t understand what all of the fuss is about. I get that it’s a vague, ambiguous ending that pulls the rug from underneath us, just as soon as we think we’re all fine, dandy and safe, but then again, so is the whole movie.

Looks like the only women I take home from the bars. Except less attractive and less French. Actually, just less of everything.

Looks like the only women I take home from the bars. Except less attractive and less French. Actually, just less of everything.

Co-writer and director Francois Ozon wants us to believe that everything we’re seeing is straight-forward, natural and actually happening in real life; however, what we don’t know is that he’s sometimes playing a trick on us. However, sometimes, he isn’t. That’s the beauty of Ozon’s direction and I like how it’s never a clear-cut solution to whatever our questions may be while watching this. Is everything we’re seeing real? Or, is it just a bunch of fantasy-sequences tied together through a story of an old lady wanting to get a new book for her publisher?

Honestly, we may never, ever know the truth. But there’s some fun in that, isn’t there?

Anyway, all that shish-gab-bob aside, the movie itself is a fine thriller, with and without all of the twists and turns. See, because Ozon’s direction is a tricky one to say the least, we’re constantly left wondering what’s happening, and whether or not it’s actually real. For awhile, that’s fun to play around with, all until it becomes a gimmick that Ozon himself latches onto a bit much. But, as soon as it seems like he’s just constantly beating a dead horse, Ozon does something neat in that he makes this more of a character-study of our main “protagonist”, Sarah Morton.

See, what’s cool about Sarah Morton is that we get to see an old, crabby woman who clearly doesn’t like talking to others, nor being disturbed. But by the same token, she wants to feel appreciated, loved and beheld. This is clearly evident early on when we are introduced to her character by a fan saying that she not only recognizes Morton, but even asks her a question about the novel itself. Morton, as shrewd as she can possibly be, denies being that writer the fan knows she is and just leaves the conversation. Moments later, she shows up to her publisher’s office, and seems like she totally needs a hug, as well as some comfort from the rest of the world.

So, there’s two ways of going about it with this character: Either she’s a total stuck-up, snobby, old witch? Or, she’s just an old lady that doesn’t have much going for her life, is pissed that she can’t write her next “masterpiece”, and is at a bit of a crossroads, per se?

What Ozon does is that he shows her off as both sides, and through this vacation-away at this French country house, we get to see certain layers of Morton in ways that I didn’t expect. Most of that has to do with the way this character is written, but most of it also has to do with the way in which Charlotte Rampling plays her. In case you don’t know by now, Rampling’s a great actress; she has that resting bitch-face going for her, yet, when she branches out and wants to have fun, you can’t help but smile and feel happy for her. That’s why when I knew Rampling was in this movie, playing Sarah Morton, I thought it was a perfect bit of casting.

However, as the story develops, and there’s more shading done to Morton, we realize that there’s more to Morton than just an old lady who can’t have fun, or have a peaceful conversation with anyone around her. She’s just an old lady who wants peace, quiet and relaxation, and when she does in fact get that, she’s as happy as she possibly can be. So through Morton, we not only get an interesting portrait of a trouble, somewhat unlikable character, but we get to see a female character, in the lead role that’s never really judged in any way. Which, considering some of the choices Morton makes throughout this movie, is saying a whole lot and is really accredited to Ozon’s direction and how he just lets the story play out, without trying too hard for much of anything.

"She's right behind me isn't she? Sheeeit."

“She’s right behind me isn’t she? Sheeeit.”

And that’s not to say that Rampling just completely owns this movie the only way she knows how to do, because Ludivine Sagnier is also very good as Julie. For some, it may help that she’s practically nude for the whole movie, but for other, less-perverted viewers, Sagnier does something well in the way that she’s able to give us the simple cliche of the young, brash, sexually-energized, and troubled-girl that we see so often, and allow her to branch out more as a girl who can take care of herself on more than a few occasions.

In a way too, as much as this may be a mystery-thriller, it’s also a bit of a psychological-thriller because of the mind games these two play on one another. Sure, Rampling and Sagnier work well together, despite their clear differences, but what makes them so interesting to watch, is that their characters have both appreciation, as well as resentment for one another. Morton is an old, somewhat miserable lady that seems like she never likes fun; whereas Julie can’t help but have fun all of the time, even if that means being constantly naked and banging any guy that takes one look at her body in a sexual-way. The two clash heads on more than a couple occasions, but it’s never over-played to where you see the strings – it’s all hinted at, and as a result, it’s something to think about and chew on for quite awhile.

Even if that ending may still piss some of you off.

Consensus: Though it’s disguised a thriller full of all sorts of twists and turns, Swimming Pool is also a fascinating thriller, pitting two completely different characters against one another in a way that some won’t expect to see happen, nor end the way it does, as ambiguous as it may be.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Old vs. new. Who ya got?

Old vs. new. Who ya got?

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Bad Boys II (2003)

Are FBI agents really THIS gangsta with their speech?

8 years after they last joked around and solved crime together, Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are still cops in Miami. While Marcus has become something of a dedicated family man, Mike still sticks to his bachelor ways and doesn’t get too caught up in much, other than work, and keeping Marcus’ mind in check. But once Marcus’ sister (Gabrielle Union) shows up, Mike can’t contain himself and just has to go for it. However, he’s got to contain himself because he and Marcus have a job to do and isn’t going to be an easy one: Take down a powerful drug kingpin (Jordi Mollà), and find a way to do it without crossing too many boundaries to where it could practically be considered “illegal”. A little easier said then done, but these two dudes know what to do when it comes to getting rid of drug dealers off the streets, so nothing can stop them.

I know I’m going to get plenty of heat for the rest of this review, so I’m just going to come out right now and say it: I enjoyed Bad Boys II. No, I did not love it, and no, I do not disagree with anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, that the critics say about this movie. It’s a bad movie, but worst of all, it’s a Michael Bay movie so obviously you can’t expect anything smart, profound, or remotely intriguing to be happening on screen. All you have to do is expect that everything he filmed, was done so while he was under the influence of some insane-o drugs, and then you’ll be good. Anything else, well, then I’m ashamed to say it, but you have the wrong movie.

Who says "Black Men Can't Jump"? Answer is: Nobody, because they know they can.

Who says “Black Men Can’t Jump”? Answer is: Nobody, because they know they can.

That said, this movie is pretty damn bad and deserves most of the hate that its been getting for the past decade or so. Basically, there is no plot here, and there is no reason for this movie to exist. You get the feeling that Michael Bay not only made this movie so he would expand his wallet a bit more, but just so that he could go back to his roots and throw up a big middle-finger to the critics after he made the out-of-his-element Pearl Harbor. And you know what, that isn’t so bad because the guy’s good at action, if you like that type of style, however, he does indulge himself just a bit too much with the usual “Bay-isms“.

For instance, there’s plenty of misogyny to take a lick at. Take for example, Gabrielle Union’s character who happens to be a DEA Agent, which is good for her character and has her come off as a bad ass, but can’t do anything right. Anytime a situation or a deal goes wrong, she utterly panics and loses all sense of just what to do. It’s normal for a person to be like that, male or female, but this happens to her on 4 different occasions, and it makes you wonder just how the hell did she get the job in the first place. Also, on top of her sad-excuse-for-a-bad-ass-female character, there’s a plenty of T & A shots, as well as one in particular where the T just so happens to be seen coming from a dead corpse. And not only does Bay’s camera linger on it for awhile, it gets us right up in there, as if the female actress probably wasn’t comfortable enough taking a role from somebody who’s been compared to Hitler before, but now she’s got to worry about a crazy-ass mofo like Martin Lawrence all up in her business.

Poor gal, wonder what the hell happened to her career after this. Probably in an insane asylum somewhere, scarred from her “one, big break”.

And trust me, there’s plenty more wrong with this flick that we all expect to see, and usually still be angry with, when it comes to a Michael Bay flick. Not to mention the utterly-dreadful time-limit of 146 minutes, that doesn’t do the material any good, and makes it just feel as bloated and as repetitive as it already was before. You can tell that a lot of this needed to be cut-down and easily should have, but Bay pretty much knew that he couldn’t; not because he considers himself an “artist” per se, but because he probably saw all of the money that he and Jerry Bruckheimer spent on this freakin’ thing, and didn’t want a single penny of it to go to waste. In that general aspect: He’s a smart man, the type of smart man my dad would be proud of. However though, my dad is not a “movie critic”, so obviously he doesn’t care about a cohesive plot, compelling story-telling, smart characters, well-written dialogue, or the understanding of the laws of physics in an action film; he just wants loud, angry, booming, and fun violence, and I think that’s where my dad and I agree on the most with this movie.

Right before Will Smith was ordered to "treat her like the bad girl she is". Being in a Michael Bay flick, Will expected this.

Right before Will Smith was ordered to “treat her like the bad girl she is”. Being in a Michael Bay flick, Will expected this.

Wait a minute! Why the hell am I talking about my old man? This is me who’s typing. not that dude! Anyway, what I came to expect from this movie was none other than a big old bag of fun from Bay, and that’s pretty much what I got. The comedy is obvious and strained, but surprisingly had me laughing when it needed to; the action is over-the-top and nuts, but is also non-stop, and never lost the attention of my eyes or my mind; and the most surprising of all, I actually really enjoyed watching Will Smith and Martin Lawrence together.

Since the first Bad Boys, both stars branched-out on their owns, with Smith becoming a bigger star than Lawrence, mainly in action flicks, whereas Lawrence became something of a crazed-nut behind-the-scenes, yet still funny and popular due to his stand-up and the occasional Big Momma’s House flick. Yet, despite both of their careers heading in different directions, they both came together pretty well here and made the best out of the crap material they were working with. The rambling is over-played and makes you wonder what’s scripted, and what’s just them talking out of their asses, but you can’t help but be amused when two stars such as these, literally seem so pleasant and happy working with one another, that they’re whole heart and soul is put into just being together and goofing-around. Maybe I’m giving them, as well as this movie, a bit more credit then it deserves, but I know when fun is fun, and this, my friends: Is fun. There I said it. Now I’m ready to lose any loyal readers I had.

Consensus: No matter what anybody tries to shove down your throat (me included), Bad Boys II is a dumb movie that shouldn’t be watched if you want the finer things in the world of cinema, but if you know what to expect from Michael Bay, Martin Lawrence, and Will Smith, then you can’t help but feel like its done its job, despite you being in some serious need of brain-cells.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"I feel like after this movie's done, one of our careers is going to down the crapper."

“I feel like after this movie’s done, one of our careers is going down the crapper.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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