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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

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

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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

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Surprise! Surprise! The war fucks up young people and their minds.

Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP, finds out that his son has gone AWOL and that there might even be a possibility of him dead. Hank then decides to take it upon himself to drive down to the Army base, and figure out just what the hell has happened to his kid and all of the fellow soldiers that were with him. The problem is, nobody’s giving him straight answers. That’s when Hank asks the help of Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective, who finds it harder and harder to not only discover the truth, but be taken seriously among the rest of her fellow, more-masculine detectives.

Most movies that deal with the war, usually aren’t the pretty ones where everybody loves the war, hangs their flags, high-fives their fighting boys, and ends by chanting, “U.S.A!! U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!”, altogether at once. Nope, Hollywood is a bit too liberal for that crap and instead, decides to usually stick it’s nosy head in, peek around a bit, and have a thing or two to say. And usually, it’s not a pat on the back, or a simple “thank you”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, nine times out of ten, you’ll usually find me talking shit against the war, some of the people that take part in it, and just what the hell is the reason behind all of it, but still, Hollywood never seems to have anything nice to say about it at all, and even when they do, it usually turns into over-patriotic shite like this.

Still, though, you have to give credit to movies like these that are able to tell us some obvious and well-known ideas about the war, but still make it feel honest and raw, rather than blatant and preachy. Some of it does feel like that, but not all of it, and that’s a sigh-of-relief, based on the fact that this movie is written and directed by the same dude who gave us this scene. Yeah, if you’re with me on this, Paul Haggis is the notorious writer/director behind Crash, everybody’s favorite-hated Best Picture winner of the past decade and tries to bring that same heavy-handedness to this story. Thankfully he doesn’t get too far because he always has a sense of human depth and emotion that keeps it surprisingly grounded in reality most of the time. Not all of the time, but most and that’s great to see in a flick where it could have easily been a train wreck of non-stop patriotism, from start-to-finish, but ends being something honest.

"Here, take it. It's called "The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker."

“Here, take it. It’s called “The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker.”

But what this flick is more concerned with, is its characters, and showing how they deal with their daily hardships they encounter day to day, and how they get through grief, sadness, and the war our country is currently fighting in. Seeing how most of these characters can relate and act with one anothe, is a beautiful thing to watch because it feels natural. Some scenes are coated in sugar, and some don’t go down quite as well as Haggis may have imagined in his head, but to see these characters realize more about their lives by just relating life-experiences and stories with one another, really touched me in a way that was hard to explain when it happened, and especially after too.

I was actually really surprised how the movie depicted not just the war in Iraq itself, but it’s soldiers and how much we can still trust them with our country and our lives, but may not think the same when they get back. The most prime example of this is the fact that Hank’s son isn’t really a nice guy, and in fact, turns out to be more of an asshole as we find more out about him, what he was up to, and how he caught himself going AWOL. This movie could have definitely gone down that wrong path of making him seem like everybody’s, true American hero that fights for The Red, The White, and The Blue, sings John Mellencamp all day, and does it all for our safety, so we may live, breath, sleep, eat, and die in peace, like we were meant to be. If this sound’s lengthy and over-exposed, then you get my point: This flick could have easily gone down that path, but decided to show him as a human, rather than a figure we all like to imagine each and every one of our soldiers as. They all have problems, they all get sad, and most of all, they are pretty fucked-up once they get off the battlefield, and back at the dinner table with ma and pa.

It’s sad, but it’s reality, baby.

However, the movie isn’t focusing on it’s characters, it’s themes, or it’s harsh-realities, it’s focusing on it’s police-procedural that feels more like a cheap-version of NCIS that I didn’t need to be bothered with seeing in the first place. Usually, I don’t mind when movies keep this element in because it entertains, excites, and keeps the mystery afloat, but after awhile, there was no mystery nor was there any case. It came pretty clear to me that the kid was not going to be okay, and that somebody did do something bad to him. No real gray area to be found whatsoever. And before people get on my ass, I’m not trying to give anything away, but you’ll start to see that the movie isn’t trying to reveal more details and clues about what happened, it’s just trying to show it’s characters. We already know, they don’t. And that’s what felt unnecessary and stupid to have, even if it was worth it for the first 45 minutes or so.

Thankfully, Tommy Lee Jones was the one to keep this whole movie going and always rose above the material, even when it seemed to sink, lower and lower as it went along. Jones surprised the hell out of everybody when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Hank, as it not only came out of nowhere, but little to no one even heard about this movie nor that Jones was even in it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still rarely ever hear this movie mentioned, which is a shame, because Jones’ performance is a great one that could have only came from this man who may always be known to be cranky and quick-whipped, but can play it subtle like nobody’s business. Jones shows real heart and emotion with this character and as time goes on and we see more about his kid, we start to see more him layer-out, especially in ways that I didn’t think were possible from Jones and Haggis. Jones’ character began to bother me a bit when he started to show unbelievable ways in how much smarter he was than the police, but after awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoyed the show that Jones was giving me to see. Maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word to describe this movie or this performance, but I think you get my drift.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She's like barely here.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She’s like barely here.

Charlize Theron doesn’t back down from Jones’ acting either though and actually makes her character more than just another run-of-the-mill, strong female that we need in a flick like this, to show that she can not only hang with the big boys but learn a little something in life as well. Yep, her character is pretty conventional with the whole single-mommy thing, but yet, still works because Theron is not only a strong actress, but one that is able to adapt to any environment she is placed in and that’s a skill that most actresses haven’t been able to master just yet.

Susan Sarandon also got top-billing in this movie, and is pretty solid (as usual) as Hank’s equally-grieving wife, but doesn’t get much screen-time to develop her character. Then again, it’s Susan Sarandon and the girl can act alongside a piece of wood, and make it work. She’s that damn good. Also, James Franco is randomly here trying to look tough, buff, and cool, but seems like he’s really trying to hold in the fact that he just wants to smoke and eat some munchies. It’s so painfully obvious.

Consensus: Paul Haggis isn’t known for being all that subtle when it comes to his themes and messages about life, liberty, and war, but In the Valley of Elah still benefits from a wonderful cast, especially Jones, and characters that give us a darker look at the boys in uniform who are over there, fighting for us, protecting us, and yet, are just as equally as messed-up as we are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sir, yes sir?

Sir, yes sir?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)

Sorry, Jen. But together, these two are really hot.

After having a chance meeting in a foreign country some odd years ago (five or six, neither ever knows), John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie) Smith live a comfortable life where either one talks to one another, yet, still live under the same roof and go to couples-counseling in hopes that things will get better between them two. However, when both find out that they are not only living separate, secret lives as super-duper spies, but that they are also part of feuding spy-agencies, then things got a whole lot more tense between the two; not to mention deadly. Oddly enough though, this newfound information ignites a spark between them both and for the first time in a long time, John and Jane both find themselves happily in love with one another, banging and eating all over the floor. Problem is, it may just be too late as the spy-agencies soon find out that these two are actually married in real-life and decide that it’s best to take them both out because it’s, “bad for business”. Whatever that means, right?

Herein lies the film that started it all; the famous, highly-attractive Hollywood couple that will be synonymous with Generation-Y’ers till the end of time; and definitely the duo that J-Aniston still wants to get back at all of these years later. Ladies and gentleman, here is the beginning of what we know to be known as Brangelina. Heck, it’s even got its own WikiPedia page! If that doesn’t just scream “culturally significant”, I can’t tell you what will!

Oh stop!

Oh stop!

With most movies that have more talk about what’s going on behind the scenes usually means that the final-product itself isn’t anything worth chatting about it either. It just serves as a platform for a conversation to get started on about; although today, one could just mention either Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie respectively and end up finding themselves still talking about their togetherness, and less about the actual movie that brought them all together.

And as you can tell, I’m doing the same exact thing I’m going on about, because it’s sort of the truth: The movie that brought these two superstars together, really isn’t all that memorable.

“But surely something must have been well-done enough to where it would actually attract such picky A-listers as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Dan? So what is the problem?”, you might respond with, and honestly, my answer might be a general, “I don’t know”. Maybe these two were attracted to the idea of starring in a movie together, or better yet, maybe they just saw plenty of big bucks in the idea as is. It doesn’t really matter because either way, the movie is still very “meh”.

Most of that has to do with the premise itself which, on paper, seems very promising, fun and witty, and for the most part, is. However, the movie knows this a little too much and can’t help but remind us each and every chance it gets that, “Our premise is so goofy and our co-stars are so in love with one another, that we can’t help but be pleased!” These are the types of movies that linger on being “smug”, and there are more than a few occasions in which Mr. and Mrs. Smith finds itself creeping over to that side.

What keeps it away from doing so on most occasions? Well, it’s the main selling-point this movie had to roll with in the first place: It’s lovely co-stars.

And yes, it’s also said that usually actors who hook-up in real life, have terrible chemistry in the movies they’re starring in together, but here, with Jolie and Pitt, that isn’t necessarily the case. They’re good together and you can really tell that the two have a little twinkle in there eye whenever the other is in the same scene with them, however, they don’t get to show it off too many times. Because the premise is sort of a joke in and of itself about this married-couple hiding their real selves from the other and not really doing much of anything together as a unit, Pitt and Jolie aren’t really given too many opportunities to do a whole lot of on-screen flirting. More or less, they’re spending scenes together in awkward silence, which yes, is the point, but after awhile, does seem like a waste of some incredibly talented-individuals, who just so also happened to be shaken’ the high hoots behind closed doors at the time.

Yet, the moment in which these two come alive, is when they both find out that their secret spies, which yes again, is the point; they’re bored with their simple, carefree home lives and just want to live a little. In a way, Pitt and Jolie, at the time of filming this movie, were probably the same kind of people – Pitt wanted an escape from his faltering-marriage with America’s Sweetheart, whereas Jolie herself was looking to settle-down a bit and get serious with somebody who didn’t wear her blood across their neck, and/or wasn’t her brother. Maybe I’m looking way too deep into this than I should (actually no, I totally am), however, I can’t help myself. Not just because I’m obsessed with these two and their career’s in general, but because there’s not much else to talk about with this movie.

No, seriously! Cut it out!

No, seriously! Cut it out!

Personally, they’re the only reason to see this. Any reason why you’d laugh during this would be because both Pitt and Jolie are charming enough to make even the dumbest line/moment work. Everything else is sort of a mess. Like, for instance, the whole action-sequences themselves aren’t filmed right; Doug Liman is a fine director that clearly knew what he was doing with the Bourne Identity, but doesn’t seem to realize that action scenes work best when we care about everything that’s going on and is at least given to us in a fun, exciting way. Here, bullets fly; grenades explode; punches are thrown; and upper-class, suburban homes burst into flames. And yet, I didn’t give a single hoot about any of it.

Except for Jolie and Pitt themselves, who are clearly doing fine without hearing anything I have to say.

Love ya Brangie. Sort of made that up, sort of didn’t. Whatever.

Consensus: Most of the talk surrounding Mr. & Mrs. Smith has to do with what happened in real life between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and basically, are the only real reason this movie deserves to be seen – a time-capsule for what everybody was talking about in the mid-21st Century.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

No! Damn you adorable freaks!

No! Damn you adorable freaks!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

Choke (2008)

I never thought that a movie about a sex-addict, would have such a small amount of actual sex in it.

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex-addicted med-school drop-out that works as an 18th century tour guide, and on the side, decides to fake as if he’s having an actual choke-attack, in public restaurants. Why? Well for one, it makes those people feel as if they have to give him money for a speedy-recovery, and for two, the money for that goes straight to his cooky-mom (Anjelica Huston), who seems to be going through the latter-stages of dementia. Which just adds more problems to Victor and his life, while also allowing him to possibly see that there’s maybe more to life than just screwing people. And yes, the use of that word has many meanings.

Movies about sex-addicts usually make you feel as if your body can’t get enough sex on-screen for the whole run-time, yet, your mind is telling you otherwise. Most films such as that get you right in the mind of a person who can’t go a second without popping a B and feeling the need to get relieve themselves in the next room. Take for instance something like Shame. That movie, no matter what anybody says, was a full-on depiction of a sex-addict. It had sex, boobs, anal, bum, dick, balls, and even ass-licking. It had a little something something for every sexual maniac who wanted to see it, and because of not holding back for a single second (hence the NC-17 rating it was slapped with) it got it’s point across. Comparing that flick, to this one, is sort of a joke, considering that this is an adaptation of a novel from Chuck Palahniuk. If that name doesn’t ring a bell to you, let me lay it down like this: it’s the writer of Fight Club.

See! Now all the hands go up in the air!

Secretly, they both have hard-ons.

Secretly, they both have hard-ons.

But comparing this to a movie like Shame, is a bit misguided. Because see, while they may feature the same subject-material, they’re both different movies in terms of tone and message. Not to mention the fact that one is definitely a whole lot better and memorable than the other.

I think one of the main problems with this movie is that it never seems to go far enough with its plot, its message, or even its characters. I’m not some crazy sex feign, who needs to watch movies where two people get it on, so I can go and rub one out, but when a movie presents itself as a story about a struggling sex-addict just trying to get by in the real world without having to stick it in some hole; then I wanna see a lot of that so I can get a full look and feel. Now, I don’t mean to say that this film is “sexless” per se, but compared to what it could have been: It was rather tame. And come to think of it, that’s just how the whole film is.

Clark Gregg is the writer/director here and seems like he has a general idea of what Palahniuk was trying to say, but getting down the message ain’t anything special, that is unless you don’t have the material to back it up. The humor is funny, but pretty obvious in the way that doesn’t seem like that writer’s style. It’s more about the jokes where people can’t seem to get it up, or cum too quickly, or anything dirty of that nature. It isn’t witty, it isn’t thoughtful, and it sure as hell isn’t as dark as the advertising may make it be; it’s more sophomoric, as if Clark Gregg felt like some guy having an orgasm while imagining himself playing baseball was as hilarious as an Elephant wearing a polo. Sure, a movie about a guy who cons people into giving him money by faking a choke-attack is a pretty dark aspect to take into a story like this, but it’s maybe shown once or twice, and then it’s gone from all existence.

Seeing as I already talked about what Gregg was able to do with this message, it may seem like I’m tracing back my steps, but let me say this: Gregg seems to only be going through the motions, with little love or feeling. The movie starts off kindly as it shows how this one guy, who is seemingly a bad person, can start to change his ways somehow, but as time goes on, we realize that it’s a lot easier said than done? Predictable? Yes, but it seems like this story could have had more to it. However, Gregg doesn’t even add that “more” to it. Instead, everything plays out exactly as you’d expect it to, with little to no surprises, except for maybe one character coming out of nowhere with a random, philosophical speech about God and what certain passages in the Bible mean. The whole religious theme in this movie was very whatever for me, but as soon as that one moment I speak of came and went, I was really getting ready to slap someone. So obvious, so predictable, and so nothing at all like Fight Club, that got by being more than just a flick where people beat the shit out of one another and didn’t talk about the club where they went to go do this. That’s what made that movie a downright classic, whereas this movie is just instantly forgettable.

Blonde-strokes - milf

Blonde-strokes – milf

The only saving-grace to this flick is the performances, and that’s not saying much once you start to find the bigger picture that lies beneath. Sam Rockwell is great, as usual as Victor, a sex-addict that’s starting to open his eyes a little bit more but just can’t. Rockwell always does an awesome job in roles like these, mostly because he loves playing the bad guy, even if he does have a conscience. He’s sleazy, he’s dirty, he’s sexy, and he’s mean, but he’s also got a nice side to him as well, which shines through every chance it gets. The problem with his character is that by the end, the guy seems to turn around so much, that it’s almost unbelievable. I get that he wants to fall in love and stop humping every person he walks by on the street, but it’s a total-180 for a character that didn’t really seem as if he had much problems being himself in the first place.

Anjelica Huston plays his mommy and is also great, as usual, but her character falls through the same hole. She obviously seems like a nice woman, but by the end, our image of her just gets skewered because Gregg felt as if he needed to add more of a an extra dimension to these people, and make it seem like they haven’t been total and complete dicks for the last hour and a half. Kelly Macdonald is as cute as ever as the doctor that tries to help out Victor’s mommy, but she’s hiding her accent a little too much, and a lot of her line-readings come off as more awkward than earnest.

Consensus: Choke has an interesting premise, a well-stacked cast, and even a smart bunch of characters that promise to do so much, yet, somehow, director Clark Gregg loses his way and barely does anything at all with the material, except offer us little to absolutely no surprises.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

"So...uhh, ya wanna take my heartbeat somewhere more private?"

“So…uhh, ya wanna take my heartbeat somewhere more private?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Man’s best friend can also be a lady’s best friend, too!

Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish Cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy. When her car breaks down in Oregon, however, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, which also leaves Lucy in a very vulnerable position.

Back in 2008, Marley & Me was considered the go-to dog movie, that had every doggie-lover out there pulling out a box of Kleenex by that tear-dropped soaked-ending. When I saw it, to be honest, it kind of got to me as well since I do love dogs but little did I know that there was a smaller, more effective doggie-loving movie out there around the same time. Then again, back in 2008 I wasn’t a movie critic so maybe that’s why I never caught much wind of it.

Damn me and my younger-self!

This is the third film from co-writer/director Kelly Reichardt who seems to have a certain style to her work that may be hard for some to get into, but works for those who have enough time and patience on their hands. What Reichardt does is she takes a plot, doesn’t do anything with it, and just let’s the camera keep rolling as you watching events play-out in front of you;  you know, as if it was almost like real life. She did the same exact thing with Meek’s Cutoff, and even though I didn’t appreciate that one as much as this, it still had it’s moments where I felt involved. This whole film, I felt involved mainly because of what Reichardt is able to do with this story, or lack thereof.

Lucy: A dog going through an existential crisis.

Lucy: A dog going through an existential crisis.

Some people will probably be pissed about this film and how it seems like nothing is even going on for the first 30 minutes or so, but Reichardt’s film isn’t all about what’s physically happening; it’s all about what’s going on when you look deeper into certain actions. Maybe I’m giving the film more credit than it desires but there is something here that makes this film compelling just about the whole way through. We see this whole story through the eyes of this gal and we see her for all of her faults and positives. She’s broke and is on the streets now and we have no idea why, but we don’t really need to know that to be invested in her story. All we do know is that she’s struggling big time and will do anything in her power to get where she needs to go, but also make sure that she finds her dog beforehand.

But once the final ten minutes of this thing happens, be ready, cause it will get you; much like it got me. Because the whole film is one big bleak-fest, that never seems to have any ray of sunny hope in it whatsoever, it feels like that’s how it’s all going to be, so it’s best to just leave the emotions alone and not even bother with them. Then out of nowhere comes this emotional wallop that the film apparently has been packing the whole time and once it does come through, it doesn’t at all feel calculated or phony, unlike Marley & Me. You probably won’t think that this film will get you, but trust me, it will and it does. Not saying that it made me cry, but it got me feeling just a bit more than I originally expected.

My only problem with this flick was that I feel like it takes so much of it’s time going absolutely nowhere sometimes that it doesn’t really matter what happens next. Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t remember any huge emotional or memorable scene that occurred in the middle act. They all came in the beginning and last act and it wasn’t that the rest of the film other than that was boring, it just seemed like Reichardt didn’t feel the need to move her story, so instead just let it move on itself without any real direction or idea. Not saying that this is a bad direction to take when you have a small indie like this, but sometimes you need to spice things up every once and awhile just to keep our eyes glued on the screen. Just my opinion though, man.

And let me also not forget to mention the most random scene in this whole film that seems to come completely out of nowhere: The infamous forest scene. Without giving too many weird details away, Wendy ends up sleeping in the woods one night only to be awoken by some freakishly creepy man that starts talking and cussin’ all of this gibberish that made no sense whatsoever. It goes on and on to where it seems like we should be scared for her and for this story, but it just seemed very obvious that a story would go for this trick of scaring us into believing that anything could go wrong with this gal. Once again, can’t give too much away but it’s a weird-ass scene that stuck in my head for all of the wrong reasons.

"Ruff ruff. Okay, Lucy?"

“Ruff ruff. Okay, Lucy?”

But the only damn reason we even care about Wendy’s homeless-self to begin with, is because she’s played by none other than Michelle Williams. Williams, as we all know, is a knockout when it comes to the acting department as she proves, time and time again, that she can always amaze us with the talent she brings to the big-screen and never lets us down with a role she daringly chooses. This is a very soft, slow, and quiet role for Williams, but she masters it perfectly with just the right look and attitude to every obstacle that comes in her way and it’s a very delicate portrait of a flawed character that, believe it or not, we actually care about and want to see be happy after all of the shit she’s been through so far. It’s the type of character that Williams excels, and the fact that she’s allowed to use her facial-expressions, just makes it all the better to watch.

Somehow though, Williams almost gets over-shadowed from somebody else: An unknown actor by the name of Wally Dalton. Dalton plays a store security guard that offers her help in any way that he can and tries to be there for her when everything in her life seems like it’s total crap. I’ve never seen this Dalton dude before but he’s very likable and nice, to the point of where I wanted to see her hang-out with him more because of the sweet things he does for her, whenever he coucl. This relationship between them doesn’t go where you expect and at the end of it all, they share a nice little connection that doesn’t end perfectly, but also couldn’t have ended any other way either.

Much like real life.

Consensus: Wendy and Lucy may tick some people off for its slow-pace, but it still packs a powerful punch of emotion mainly because of Michelle Williams’ layered, but subtle performance. Doggie-lovers, bring your Kleenex to this one too.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Definitely not the best kiss she's ever had, but pretty damn close.

Nothing like a slobbery, wet embrace. Much like my ex-wife’s.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

The Painted Veil (2006)

Women just never give the man the lovin’ they deserve. Tsk tsk.

Rich, spoiled, and bored English gal Kitty (Naomi Watts) thinks she’s met the man that will sweep her off of her feet, or at least, sweep her away from her mother, in the form of Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton). The two are clearly opposites and don’t seem to have much in common with one another, except for the fact that they want to be married and get away from their past lives. However, Kitty soon starts to get bored of Walter, and finds herself gravitating more towards his confidante, Dr. Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), in which the two participate in a sordid affair of sorts. Walter isn’t dumb though and knows what’s going on when he isn’t around, so he makes Kitty a deal: Come with him to a cholera-infested village in China, or, get a divorce from him and see if her lover will want to get married too. Seeing as how Charlie doesn’t want to leave his own wife, Kitty has no other choice but to go with Walter where they both taste the dirt and do what they can to make time past, and maybe, just possibly even fall in love with one another. You know, like they originally thought that they did. But this time, for real.

What’s interesting about this movie, isn’t by the way it looks or sounds, it’s more about what it is. In one way, it’s a love story about a married-couple, but at the same time, it’s not a love story about a married-couple. These two may be married, but they sure as hell don’t love one another, and it was intriguing to see that play out, in a period-piece during the 20’s no less.

"Girl? Whatchu say?"

“Girl? Whatchu say?”

However, as interesting as that may have been, it didn’t really do wonders for me while I was watching it. See, even though I’m a young lad that’s chock full of hormones and energy, I truly don’t mind a slow-burner; in fact, sometimes, I more than welcome it. There’s nothing better to me than a movie in which all of the cards are laid-out on the table, shown to me in a comprehensible way, and made so that I can get a hold of everything I’m being told and just exactly what it is that I’m seeing. That’s usually what works so well about slow movies such as these, however, in order to make them fully work, there has to be something deep, hard, and meaningful burning deep down inside, and I just could not find that here.

Well, for the most part, I could at least decipher everything that was going on here, because not everything’s subtle. These two not-so lovebirds make it very clear to one another on many occasions that they do not love the other, and I have to say, everytime that happened, I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s played with the utmost sincerity, as if we’re supposed to be utterly shocked by these two characters not only fighting, but wanting nothing to do with the other. Also not to mention, the fact that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for either of these characters.

First of all, this Walter Crane guy is a bit of a geek – that’s pretty evident early on. Not only is he practicing in the medical-field, but he lets Kitty know, early on, that he’s a “bit clumsy”. Yeah, we get that. So, when they share one day together of doing Lord only knows what, he professes to her that he loves her, wants to get married, and needs an answer ASAP. Personally, I feel like maybe one or two dates is a bit too soon, but I guess if you feel it, then you feel it, and in the case of Walter Crane, it was instantly.

I guess I was supposed to feel sympathy for this nerdy guy because it’s clear that he doesn’t have a way with women (despite looking like Edward Norton whose dated gals like her and her) and maybe doesn’t have the best track-record, but it’s hard to care for him when he finds out that maybe he isn’t her type and then forces her to come on this life-changing trip of his. It’s clear he’s upset and confused, but still, come on, man, who was the one that practically threw it on her to get married. He even says at one point, “I knew why you married me in the first place”, or something along those lines. Then what the fuck!

It’s as if you brought a grizzly bear into your home and gave it honey. Then, moments later, you find out it still wants to claw the shit out of you, chomp your head off, and you still being like, “But hey! I brought you into my house and fed you!” Most bears are just wired that way, they can’t be fixed or helped in any way to think differently, so for you to bring it into your home, with your resources, and treat it your certain and expect the same in return, is just a bit dumb; bears are just wired differently. Maybe that’s a dumb metaphor, but I think its slightly understandable: It’s hard to feel bad for someone who gets a bunch of problems brought onto them, when anybody could have seen it coming from a mile away.

Now that I’m done with Crane, it’s time for Ms. Kitty who, despite being the cheater of the two, I actually felt a little bit more sympathy towards, if only because she didn’t try to be anything that she wasn’t. Sure, she was a total brat that only wanted to get out of her boring house and her annoying mom, but at least when her and Walt have their arguments, she doesn’t try to hide the fact that she was somebody else he didn’t already know about. Yes, I get that she is the one who decided to take the sanctity of marriage and shove it right down the sinkhole, but at least she wasn’t imposing upon anybody that she was anything else. If she was my wife, I’d be pretty pissed too, but that’s only because my wife would be somebody I know I’d feel safe and comfortable with loving and marrying; unlike how this Walter guy was with his wifey-poo.

God, what an idiot.

"Ah. Love that smell of cholera in the morning."

“Ah. Love that smell of cholera in the morning.”

Anyway, while neither character really put me in their sympathy-corners, I must say, the performances from Norton and Watts are, as expected, pretty good. Norton, despite his character being such a dunce, actually gives this Walt guy a real compassionate heart which, for what it’s worth, makes him seem like a genuinely nice guy who actually goes out of his own way to save these people all dying of cholera. He doesn’t have to, but he chooses to, and you can feel his compassion through Norton’s performance; it’s just such a shame that he wasn’t as compassionate or as smart when it came to choosing his women.

As for Naomi Watts, she gets to do a lot of pouting and staring, but she does very well with it. Though she’s the one character we’re supposed to clearly not like the most out of the two, Watts still makes us believe that there is some room for change in her personality and when that does happen, it seems understandable and barely ever tacked-on. It may be a bit corny in the way that it is presented to us, but that’s not any of Watts’ fault. Hell, it hardly ever is in her case.

Together, the two fix themselves together a nice chemistry that makes you feel like they truly do detest the absolute guts out of the other when they’re fighting; falling head-over-heels for one another when they are, well, you get it; and just happy to be in each other’s company. The movie never really throws any of this on us – it’s more about what these performers can do with the characters and material given to them, and you can hardly ever ask for a better pair than Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. All their character’s problems aside, they do what they can and most of the time, it’s good. Not great, but good enough to be seen.

Consensus: Though the Painted Veil includes the hard task of making its audience like, sympathize and understand its two relatively unlikable characters, it mostly gets by because Norton and Watts are so good at doing what it is they do: Act.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Shit. Did you remember to lock the side-door?"

Shit. Did you remember to lock the side-door?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Valkyrie (2008)

But I thought Hitler died in a movie theater explosion? Stupid Hollywood and their tricks for making up history as they go!

After permanently losing his right eye and arm, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is forced to come back to Nazi Germany, with a newfound respect from those around him, as well as a new mission on that he sets his sights on the most: Assassinating Hitler and making Germany a peaceful country once again. The problem isn’t that Hitler’s the most powerful man in Germany, whom almost nobody can double-cross and succeed at doing, but getting each and every person on the same page, so that the plot goes perfectly according to plan. There are people in high places involved, too, it’s just that they are so nervous, that they second-guess themselves so many times, that they either kill themselves, spill the beans to others, or screw up the plan while it’s going on. However, for those who are inspired to take down Hitler, they don’t back down, not even when the slightest misstep rears its ugly head. Which, during this plan, occurs many times – maybe moreso than anybody involved would have wanted. But such is the case when you’re trying to take down the powerful, almighty Führer.

First thing to mention, that is more than likely going to screw people over while watching this movie (if one decides to do so), is that every actor here, whether they be English, French, American, or, obviously, German, has to play a German character. There’s nothing different about that – heck, if an actor is called upon to do some sort of accent that isn’t of their own native-tongue, then there’s no doubt in their mind that they shouldn’t take it. However, what’s so strange here is that almost nobody in this cast, not even the German actors (as hard as they are to come by), even flirts with doing a German accent.

"So, the one Jew says to other Je-...... Oh, I mean, hey, fuck that Hitler guy, right?"

“So, the one Jew says to other Je-…… Oh, I mean, hey, fuck that Hitler guy, right?”

Perhaps the biggest criminal of this is Tom Cruise who, in the first few minutes, does a bit of German to show that he’s got the chops to be on-par with Liam Neeson in every which way; but a mere seconds later, he’s back to his original, American-dude accent that almost everybody is able to recognize right away and is distracting practically the whole way through. It makes sense if you English lads like Tom Wilkinson, or Kenneth Branagh, or even Bill Nighy in these German roles, cause at least they have an accent as is to work with, but Cruise, he has nothing. It’s just him talking, and acting like he’s Jerry Maguire all over again.

Except this time, instead of, “Show me the monaaaaay!”, it’s, “Heil Hitler!” Which, while we’re talking about it, he only does once, so relax over there ya Scientologists!

And it’s not that Cruise is bad really, it’s just that he’s playing Tom Cruise, which is neither good or bad, it’s just Tom Cruise. Especially so here, considering he doesn’t seem like he’s really trying to go for anything else other than the heroic, determined-type we’ve seen him throw himself into role, after role, after role. Nothing wrong with that, because the dude’s a pro at those types of roles, but it does get old after awhile when it seems like all you’re seeing is the same guy, play the same role, in the same kind of movie, except with different scenery around him. In this case, it’s Nazis, but honestly, throw in a scene of Cruise on the hood of a car, with that iconic track playing somewhere in the background, and you’ve practically got another Mission: Impossible movie.

Except, once again, their being Nazis and all.

The rest of the cast is fine, too, mostly because they’re easier to not be distracted by when they’re trying to sound a lick at all like German-folk, but there’s nobody here in particular that’s spectacular. Everybody’s fine and serviceable with what it is they have to do; which, most of the time, just consists of them clicking their heels, staring into space very intently, and sweating bullets, which was probably because Bryan Singer decided to douse all of them with Aquafina bottles before shooting. So yeah, that last part doesn’t count.

And speaking of Bryan Singer (all “under-aged boys parties”-jokes aside), the guy does what he can here with this material. He clearly wants to make this move, sizzle and spice like a Hitchock thriller, while at the same time, still harp on the fact that an evil man like Hitler actually existed and had immense power over thousands and thousands of people. However, what takes away from most of what Singer does here, is that it’s a story we all know the ending to. Okay, maybe not all of the little, itty, bitty, gritty details, but what we know is that the plan failed, Hitler lived, and all of those who were involved with the conspiracy theory in the first place, we’re all eventually killed anyway. So yeah, it sort of ends on a dim note, but that’s the kind of note we can expect from a movie like this, because that’s exactly what happened.

"Stop hanging out with the pirates!"

“Stop hanging out with pirates!”

It’s not like I’m saying that movies that have an ending we already know about, can’t be fun or exciting anyway possible, because they totally can. However, in order to do so, there needs to be a drive, or a certain feeling of emotion involved with the proceedings that makes us feel, even for a split-second, like this story’s outcome could happen differently than what we already know. It’s highly unlikely, but so are plots to plenty of movies; that’s why we need movies to go for the gold whenever they can, having us believe in the unbelievable, and throw all of our cards out on the table, as if we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

The problem is, we know what’s going to happen next, and Singer never gives it that drive. Nor does he do much else to keep the proceedings exciting. Just by-the-numbers, by-the-books, and that’s it.

Yawn.

So in a way, I guess I have to give Singer some credit for at least sticking to history as much as he could for the film’s sake, without ever allowing it to get too boring or preachy, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder what the point was about this whole movie. We know that it wants to show us that Hitler was a bad man and that nearly everyone close to him wanted to stab him right in the back, but it doesn’t seem like anything new; person gets on top of their throne and now all of a sudden, everybody wants to take the throne away from said person. It’s a traditional story-route we’ve seen done a hundred times before, but I guess the only real aspect of this movie that separates it from the rest is that the person in that throne is, well, Adolf Hitler.

Oh, and also Nazis.

Consensus: Both Tom Cruise’s and Bryan Singer’s intentions are noble and make Valkyrie, for the most part, interesting to watch as the plot unfolds, but the problem is that we get what happens what happens at the end, and we can’t help but not really care for these generic characters more than we need to.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"What are you talking about? These are our TPS Reports. Nothing else."

“Huh? What are you talking about? These are our TPS Reports. Nothing else.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBComingSoon.net

Wolf Creek (2004)

This summer, kids, just stay home.

Three college graduates are finally ready to embark on their summer and all of the fun times that they could have. So, they decide that what better way to get started than to go back-packing in the mountains of Australia? Better yet, how about the infamous Wolf Creek, where the hike itself is apparently three-hours long and is practically in the middle of a desert! Yep, that sounds pretty great! And for awhile, it is – the three drink, party, kiss, sleep, camp, sit by a fire, play guitar, tell goofy stories, and look forward to what’s next lying ahead of them – however, things go a bit South once their car breaks down in the middle of this said desert. But, thankfully, there’s a local outback man by the name of Mick (John Jarratt) that assists them in their time of need. And for the longest time, that’s what it seems like is actually happening, despite the culture-clash between these young rascals and this older, stranger redneck-like man. Something weird happens though when the three wake up the next day, only to find themselves tied-up, trapped, and kidnapped by Mick, who isn’t exactly as kind and as helpful as he once seemed. Instead, he’s more of a murderer that loves himself a bit of torture. You know, for the fun of it.

Anytime a horror movie opens with “based on true events.”, you know you’re in trouble. Not because the movie is just making that up to give it some sort of significance (which it sort of is), but because you know that the real facts of whatever true story it’s talking about, will be lost in the shuffle of crazy, loose ideas that some director wants to throw onto the screen. Which is fine and all, if you’re doing a movie that isn’t based on some real, grisly killings that “allegedly” happened, despite their being little-to-no evidence found, or even witnesses, then you have to realize that your juggling fire.

Not a piece of obvious symbolism at all.

Not at all obvious symbolism.

By that, I mean that you can do what you want with a story, but once you throw that subtitle up there, you have a certain image to protect. You can get dirty and dark with the details of the story, but to mess around with it so much to the point of where it seems like a director is just using it to shock more and more people, feels wrong. And worst of all, almost reprehensible.

For instance, there’s a scene somewhere by the end that I won’t spoil too much, except only to say that it involves a knife and a spine. Maybe you’ve already heard of/seen it before, but either way, it’s a pretty graphic scene that shocked the hell out of me when I saw it originally. That’s the way most horror movies should be: Dark, disturbing, and as bloody as you want it to be, where you can get the viewer actually cringing. However, the more and more that I thought about this display of graphic violence, I began to feel like it was totally unnecessary, especially given, once again, the fact that this is “based on true events.”.

Sure, if that scene happened in a Eli Roth or Saw movie, people would have easily been going nutso for the rest of time (I guess they still are), but since this is supposed to be based on real-life, actual murders of young people, it seems gratuitous and takes on an even darker meaning than ever before. Which, I guess for a horror movie, is a good thing. But here, I didn’t see it that way. I saw a director, Greg McLean to be exact, using a “supposed” real-life tragedy to frame all of the bloody, gory images he’s had in his head for quite some time and was only waiting for that moment to shine and show everybody in the world what he has.

For the most part too, I can’t really get on McLean’s case too much, because it really does seem like he has the look of this movie down. Like with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (an obvious comparison, I know, but it’s all I got to work with right now), a lot of the action in this happens during the day, which somehow, gives it a creepier feeling. When it’s dark, you have no idea what to expect next, which is totally scary. However, with the day-time, you totally know what to expect next, and for some shocking reason, that works even more. McLean clearly has an eye for the long and moody outbacks of Australia, and paints them as how they should look: Lifeless, mean and unforgiving.

With that McLean definitely redeems himself as a horror director that knows what it is that he’s doing with the style of this movie, it’s just a shame that his material didn’t quite pop-off like it should have.

"Scope's are for wimps."

“Scope’s are for wimps.”

And while I’m talking about it, I think I should mention that while most of this movie was a little too much, it still worked when it needed to. It was a clever little game of cat-and-mouse that had some surprising twists here and there, even if the characters still made the same old, dumb mistakes like they usually do in these types of movies. For instance, at one point during the movie, a baddie is knocked-down, on the ground and clearly unconscious, so one of the victims decides to end him right then and there, you’d think, right? Well, yeah, you would definitely think it, but rather than finishing the baddie off, the person just runs away and hopes to god that the villain doesn’t wake up. Felt dumb to me and made it seem like this movie needed a story, just to justify its run-time and the ending it would eventually get to.

And when it does, needless to say, it’s what you’d expect – a whole lot more of that “true story” bullshit that doesn’t make much sense and almost makes this whole thing seem like a waste of time. It isn’t, but it sure as hell does come close.

Consensus: The fact that Wolf Creek takes most of its story away from what are supposed to be “real events”, makes all of its brutal, grisly scenes of torture and murder seem almost gratuitous, although it may still provide to be thrilling for some other viewers more-attuned to that type of stuff.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Crocodile Dundee, who?

Tourists better think twice now.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Maria Full of Grace (2003)

The drug dealing business and kidney beans apparently don’t mix together well.

17-year-old Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) isn’t quite like normal, 17-year-old gals her age, especially ones living in Columbia. For starters, she likes to adventure and live every moment as if it were her last, whereas the other peeps around her just waste life because they can. She’s pregnant, and in a place where it’s common-courtesy to marry the person you’ve been impregnated by, she doesn’t really want to since the guy in question is such a slug and doesn’t really love her. Also, she hates her job and will actually stand up for herself when she’s being mistreated by her boss, unlike the rest of her fellow coworkers that just take the abuse all because it’s the only thing they can do to keep a roof over their heads and survive. Maria doesn’t care about that, she just wants to live. That’s why when she’s propositioned with the job of being a drug mule for a local kingpin (it is Columbia don’t forget), she can’t turn it down, even though she does feel a bit hesitant at first taking so many chances of being arrested, getting hurt, or even worse, possibly getting others in her family hurt as well. But it’s a free ride to NYC, just as long as she can swallow and hold in not one, not two, not three, and hell, not even 10 drug pellets, but 65-70 drug pellets for a long, long time.

If I was in the same situation, I'd probably be shittin' bricks. Oh wait, no I wouldn't. At least not on purpose.

If I was in the same situation, I’d probably be shittin’ bricks. Oh wait, no I wouldn’t. At least not on purpose.

I don’t know about any of you, but waking up for the morning commute and working my nine-to-five desk job is all fine and dandy for me, just as long as I don’t have to control my bowels for over nine hours. If it ever gets to the point of where I have to do that, then just consider me unemployed. Plain and simple.

Anyway, the point behind that random snippet into my mind is that the idea of a drug mule is one that’s frowned upon, and with somewhat of a good reason. Drugs are bad, and drug smuggling is even badder. Case closed. However, what most people don’t realize about being a drug mule is that the people who sometimes partake in this line of business (the “mules” themselves), don’t necessarily have a choice, especially since they’re from Columbia where almost everything, and anything is fueled by drugs in one way or another.

That’s why when you look at writer/director Joshua Marston’s approach to the material, you gain a better idea of what it’s like for these numerous men and women who have had to swallow numerous amounts of drug balloons, keep them in their stomach, hold them for as long as they are told to, make sure they don’t pop-open in their stomach, and most likely the biggest obstacle of all, not getting caught by the feds that are just waiting for someone such as them to walk right next to them and get caught red-handed.

Some of you may see that as a poor career-choice for those people, so why the hell should we care, and the fact is you don’t have to. However, realizing that smuggling drugs across country-lines is probably all that those citizens got going for themselves which makes it easy to open your eyes and think a little bit about the last time you’ve been in a budge for money. Remember some of the nutty things you had to do? Well, maybe it wasn’t to the certain extent of smuggling drugs, but you get my idea: Don’t be judging. And that corny motto is exactly what Marston goes about doing not just with Maria, but everybody else in this story, whether they be involved with the drug world or not.

Marston presents us with the character of Maria who, from the looks of it, seems like your average, ordinary teen: Rebellious, pleasant, thoughtful, and willing to give anybody a piece of her mind when she thinks something that’s done to her isn’t right. Not only does this make us connect with her more on a common level, but it also makes us feel like she’s a real person, who has to make real, hard, life-changing decisions, especially as the film goes on. I don’t want to give away some of the questionable, and otherwise, dumb decisions that Maria makes, but you know that every one she makes is coming out of the mind of a human-being that’s not only trying to survive in this world, but live in it as well. She doesn’t take anything for granted, which is why when it starts to seem like her life may be in jeopardy due to this newly found career-options she’s starting to pursue, you feel bad for her and just hope that everything ends up alright for her in the end. Even when it does look too bleak at times, you know that Maria is a good person and, whatever the outcome of her action may be, you know that she means well.

Sort of like all of us: We make decisions, some good ones, some not so good, but we always mean well in the end. Most of the time anyway. Can’t say I speak on behalf of O.J. or Charlie Manson, but you get my drift.

You really want to be doing for the rest of your days? Reaaaally?!?!?

See what I’m saying?!?! You really want to be doing this for the rest of your days?

But what I think another factor into what makes Maria a character worth giving a flying hoot about is the fact that, other than Marston’s nonjudgmental-approach, is the fact that  Catalina Sandino Moreno really nails this role and totally deserved the Oscar nomination she got for this, mainly because she never really has to say much to get her character’s point across. For one, she has these very expressive eyes that make you understand whatever it is that she’s thinking, at any given second, and secondly, she always shows what her next motivation will be, especially when everything else going on around her is so unpredictable and crazy.

An example I think about so clearly in my head is the one key scene where authorities pull Maria over, question her, and try and get her to admit to smuggling drugs, which for any human-being thrown into that same situation, would be an ultimate crisis of emotions. However, Maria opts the other way out and decides to keep her cool, stay calm, and act as if she has no idea what any of these folks are talking about. In any other movie, one would automatically think that Maria a lying, selfish, and undeniably sneaky character you can’t trust because she doesn’t tell the truth about her drug smuggling, but somehow, in this movie, with this direction, and this amazing performance by Moreno, you feel sorry for her and know why it is that she chooses to do what it is that she’s doing. Doesn’t make you want to root for her, nor give the drug smuggling business a shot on your own time, but it does make you care more for her, the ones around her, and her own story. One filled with the same type of adventure and excitement that she so desperately wanted. And she definitely got it, for damn sure.

Consensus: May be bleak, may be depressing, and may be a very sad snap-shot of the world we live in, but Maria Full of Grace still reaches out to those that commit such criminal acts as drug smuggling, gives them a time to shine and tell their story, and allow for us, the judgmental viewer, not to be so and actually think of things from their point-of-view, as challenging as that initially may be to do.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

So many drug pellets to swallow, such a small bladder.

So many drug pellets to swallow, such a small bladder.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBComingSoon.net

Where the Truth Lies (2005)

The partners that travel, do everything else together. Even murder groupies.

Famed comedy-duo Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) were at the peak of their fame during the tail-end of the 50’s. Morris was always the wise-cracking funny-man, that always acted-out and was goofy; whereas Vince was the reserved, kind and gentle British straight-man who was always there to apologize and make nice for Morris’ behavior. They were successful  had a lot of great shows; held a weekend-long telethon for a Polio charity that became something of a staple for television at that time; messed around with plenty of women; made a chunk of money; and seemed as if they could never, ever stop being rich, famous and powerful. However, one day, that did in fact happen when a dead body was discovered in one of their hotel bathtubs. Though both claimed to have no idea who the body was and how it even got there, it didn’t matter, the rest of the world already saw them as criminals, therefore, they were. Their fame died-down, they broke-up, and less than twenty years later, they’re reliving it all over again when journalist-turned-author, as well as Morris-Collins enthusiast, Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman), comes into these guys’ lives, trying to get to the bottom of the story, but also getting mixed-up in a whole lot more than just the narrative of that night in question.

Wow!

Woah!

Back in the day, when this movie was first released, their was a lot of talk surrounding this movie and the fact in which it was rated NC-17 after the MPAA didn’t like what they saw. Writer/director Atom Egoyan, as predicted, was upset with this, so, as an act of rebellion and to also make a dignified-point, he released it without a rating at all. The scene called into question was a graphic sex scene in which Bacon’s character was indeed making some sweet lovin’ to a very-naked woman.

That doesn’t sound like much of anything different from what we usually see in movies nowadays, right? Well, here was the difference: Firth’s character comes up from behind during the scene and therefore, engages in a little bit of a threesome, although it doesn’t end like so. It’s a pretty quick scene, and given the run-time and plot itself, seems rather minor, but apparently, the MPAA didn’t like the homosexual ideas being tossed-around, therefore, they slapped it with an NC-17 rating. A rather unfair one, if you ask me, but then again, when was the last time the MPAA actually gave a movie a harsh rating and it made sense.

Okay, sure, Shame needed to be more than just NC-17, but that’s not the point!

Anyway, the reason why I highlight this aspect surrounding the film, than anything else, is because there really isn’t much else to talk about. There’s plenty more sex where that came from (even one including two women going at it), but that’s Egoyan really seems to color this film with to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack of spicy, saucy, neo-noir thrillers. If there wasn’t all that many sexual-escapades shown to us in the most straight-forward manner, then what we’d have would be just another, smoky, dark, and mean tale of celebrities doing bad things, ad there never being a clear answer as to what exactly happened when the lights went down, and who exactly was responsible.

As I’ve said before, that’s nothing new in the genre of thrillers, or even mystery-tales, and that’s why I think Egoyan threw in so much sex, drugs, nudity, lobsters, champagne, twists, turns and curve-balls (most of which, don’t even work); he doesn’t have much to work with, so he hides behind a coating-of-paint to give us the impression that we’re working with something else on a higher-level. Better yet, a different level, and it just doesn’t come off that way. Instead, it seems like a regular thriller, with too many twists by the end. Which is a bit of a disappointment, considering that the first act of this movie is actually pretty good and gives you an idea of what to expect of the rest of the movie.

It takes place both during and around 1957 and 1972, giving us the idea that this is going to be a classic-tale of mystery, intrigue, and what classified a person as a “celebrity” back in those days. Once again, it isn’t uncharted-territory, but Egoyan seems very interested in the look and feel of this movie, and for the longest time, I took the bait and followed along with him. He isn’t necessarily “basing” this story off of anybody in particular, but just any celebrity in general that may have been caught with a scandal that the mainstream media may, or may not have, heard about. Everything looks colorful, sensual, misty and as if all of the budget went into the production-design, without there ever really being a false-note to be heard or seen.

Then, sadly, it all goes downhill, especially during the 1972 story-angle that’s forced down our throats just about every ten or so minutes. The first problem with this angle is that the turns and twists continue to get thrown at us, and almost none of them make sense. They aren’t necessarily confusing that when we’re first told the explanation for something happening, we automatically scratch our heads; it’s more like once the twists actually get explained to us, then everything gets a whole lot more foggy. They also never seem to build to anything except that “celebrities lie”.

No shit! Tell me more!

WOW!

WOAH!

Another problem with this angle is that Alison Lohman is pretty bad in this movie. Usually, I think Lohman’s a sweet, heartfelt presence to have in a movie, but here, she’s given something she is not at all capable of being: Sexy. Not saying Lohman isn’t attractive (she totally is, I’d take her home in a heartbeat, heck maybe even bring up the topic of marriage), but what she has to do here is act, look, and sound like she’s a raspy, old school dame that would exist in those noirs released during the 30’s-to-the-50’s, but she’s just too small and innocent. In a way, it’s almost like she’s just a little girl thrown into this cold, dark and menacing world where grown-ups play and have no time for silly, little willy nillies like her. There are times when Lohman is okay, but her unenthusiastic-narration isn’t doing much to help her, and neither is the fact that she’s placed against two class-acts like Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth.

As usual, Bacon is great here as Lanny Morris, the wild, crazy and typical prankster in front of the camera, but more quiet and calm behind it. Bacon is great at being a lovable goofball, which is why it’s so effective once he has to turn the other cheek, be a bit of a dick and not really say much at all. It’s something we’ve seen Bacon do before and work really well with, and that’s no different here. As for Firth, he too is great at doing what he does best: Show a dark side to his collective and cool manners. Together, the two are great and seem like they could have really been a wonderful comedy-act to see in real life. In fact, if this movie really wanted to go for the gut, they could have just made it something of a biopic about these two talented guys whom worked together, traveled together, slept together, partied together and even committed crimes together, and it would have been such a better movie. However, what we have here is just a murder-mystery with a lame detective and a sex scene that hints at something more extreme, yet never materializes to much.

Like sex with me, I presume. Right, ladies? Or wait! No, that’s not right, ladies! Not at all!

Consensus: A little sexy, a little dark, a little mysterious, and a little entertaining for the first hour, Where the Truth Lies works well setting-up its story, which is why it’s such a shame once it all goes down the tubes during its last-half when unbelievable plot twists start showing up like clockwork.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh. Boo!

Oh. Boo!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider, ComingSoon.net

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Like they say, “Once you go black, you never go back.”

When we last left Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), things seemed to be going relatively fine. Not only did he save the day, once again, but he got the girl of his dreams, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst), patched things up with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), and finally told his best-friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) about the fact that he’s not only Spider-Man, but that his father tried to kill him. Sure, the relationship between those two may be strained and even have Harry himself go a bit coo-coo with vengeance, but for the most part, Pete’s life is happy, joyful and one that makes him happy to wake up in the day. However, that all changes one day when he finds out that his Uncle Ben’s killer, believe it or not, is still out there, and he’s going by the name of the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). To make matters even worse, Peter’s finding it hard to keep things going steady at work, and is finding some stiff competition in the newsroom with aspiring, fellow photo-journalist Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Also, remember the girl of his dreams that he thought he won, hook, line and sinker last time? Well, she’s starting to get second-thoughts about dating a superhero. Oh, and as if that wasn’t all bad enough for Spidey, for some reason, there’s this black, venomous acid following him around and latching onto his suit, changing up his hair-do, and making him act in a totally different way, that may make him feel great and all, but pushes those whom are close to him, further and further away.

Okay, so yeah, that’s a long premise. But it needed to be because let’s face it: This movie is a total, complete, over-stuffed mess. I knew that the second I walked out of the theater back in the early days of summer ’07, and I knew that less than three or four days ago when I found enough guts to go through with it and actually give this movie another try. Shame on me, but you know what? I gotta do it for all of you.

"Kame me, kame me...huh?"

“Kame me, kame me…huh?”

All you mofo’s better be happy with this.

But, to be honest, even though I’m getting off of on the wrong foot and making it seem like I absolutely loathe the heck out of this movie, I can’t say that I really do. Because somehow, I was able to find little, itty, bitty, pleasures here and there throughout the movie. Now, whether or not these pleasures were indeed intended to be “pleasureful” is totally up to Sam Raimi and the creative-powers that be whom got behind this, but the fact remains: Spider-Man 3 isn’t all that terrible. It’s not good, that’s for certain, but it’s not shitty either.

Confused by what I’m trying to say? Don’t worry, I am too. Here, let me try to explain:

What I like to think of this movie as being is one, big, nearly-two-and-a-half-hour long “fuck you” from Sam Raimi. No, not a “fuck you” to us, the dedicated, lovely audience that spent all of our minimum-wages on seeing his past couple of Spider-Man movies, but more as a “fuck you” to those who tried to get in the way of his creative-vision way too many times before. Maybe I’m just making this all up in my head to make myself feel better, but there’s no way in hell that Sam Raimi, the creator of some of the greatest, most iconic cult films of all time, thought that this was a good idea. Or hell, even this! And oh god no, dare I even talk about this travesty!

No, no, no! I refuse to believe that the some mastermind behind Ash would ever stoop this low and give us something as painstaking as most of this movie can be! I don’t care what anybody says, I will stand by my grave if I have to! They always say that “money can’t buy happiness”, well, nor do I think that it can buy creative consciences either. It’s clear to me that Sam Raimi doesn’t know what to do with each and everyone of these subplots, so instead, he just crams them altogether in a way that’s incoherent, but wholly uneven. One second, you’ll be getting something out of a comedy-sketch in which Peter Parker is walking down the street, dancing, walking all fly, acting cool and hitting on the ladies, while some funky bass-action plays in the background; and then, all of a sudden, the next second, you’ll get a scene or two in which the Sandman talks about his dying-kid and how he does all of this crime and whatnot for her.

One second, it’s a laugh-out-lough, camp-fest; the next second, it’s a total downer that will make you want to say “party’s over”. I’m not saying that certain movies can’t be both frothy and dramatic at the same time, there’s just a specific-balance that these movies are capable of handling and maintaining, and it’s clear early on that Raimi is not able to do that. Whether or not this was him just having an off-day and deciding to hell with it all, is sort of beyond me, but there’s just so much going wrong here, that it’s almost too hard to think of it as anything else other than a ruse played on all of us, as well as the numerous Hollywood producers backing this thing.

Which is a total shame, because with all of the material and promise Raimi had at his disposal here, he could have done some wonders – given that he had a three-hour run-time and at least took away a villain or two. But what happens here is that we get just about three villains, four-to-five conflicts for Spidey (not including his own conflict with himself), three-to-four extraneous subplots that literally add nothing to the story, and a two-hour-and-twenty-minute run-time that goes by quick, but only because the movie is never comfortable enough focusing on one thing. Raimi always has to be moving from one end of the story, to another, which makes a lot of sense since he clearly has a lot on his plate to chew on, but made it seem like it didn’t really know what to do or say with its plot, or any of its characters. So instead, it just fell back on the same old, high-flying, CGI-galore action that was always there to make things better for these movies in the past.

Yup, they're totally boned from here-on-out.

Yup, they’re totally boned from here-on-out.

However, this time around, everything else is so poorly-developed, that it just feels like a cheat to get our minds out of everything else that’s going on so wrong with this movie – especially with the characters. And hell, if there’s anything about this movie that fuels me even more is how they wasted the whole potential that Eddie Brock/Venom had as a villain. Don’t get me wrong, I think Topher Grace is a fine actor that’s been trying his hardest since day one to get out of that Eric Forman-shell that’s been carved for him since, well, yeah, day one, but he’s not right for this role. I get what Raimi was trying to do with the casting of him – make him something of an over-the-top, immoral, sneaky and sly son-of-a-bitch – which yes, does work when he’s being Eddie Brock, the photojournalist for the Daily Bugle, but when he has to transform to Venom with about 15 minutes left of the movie, it feels like an after-thought. Almost as if the producers wanted Raimi to throw him in there for good measure, only to realize that the rest of the movie was stacked with so much to begin with.

And since I’m on the subject of new faces to this franchise, I have to say that I feel very bad for Thomas Haden Church here, because the dude is a great talent who just about makes everything better the minute he shows up in it. The problem with him here, as the Sandman, is that he’s given just about nothing to do. We get enough back-story to his character so that we can sort of see where he’s coming from, but it gets so convoluted once they start talking about how he apparently killed Uncle Ben in the past, that I just wanted them to stop with it all and move on. Give me the action, give me more scenes of Thomas Haden Church actually talking and showing some personality, and give me more of the core that really makes these movies tick in the first place: Pete and M.J.

It doesn’t matter what you’re own, personal opinions may be on Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as working-professionals, but it should be noted that without them and their chemistry (or in some cases, lack thereof), this franchise would have fallen flat on its face as soon as it hit theaters. There would have been no “superhero movie boom”; no Spider-Man 2; no Amazing Spider-Man; no Amazing Spider-Man 2; nobody remembering who the hell James Franco was; and sure as hell no Spider-Man 3. Maybe we could have lived peacefully with that last aspect being gone and lost forever, but you get the picture – M.J. and P.P. gave these movies an extra oomph of heart and emotion that so many superhero movies try to recreate nowadays, but just can’t seem to get down perfectly.

However, here, the whole idea is that M.J. and Pete stop loving one another and grow apart, which kind of sucks to see since we’ve invested so much of our time in them, but by the same token, needs to happen in order for us to make them just a tad bit believable in terms of character-development and rounding the two out as individual beings, rather than just a couple. If this was done right, it would have been phenomenal to see, in a big-budget, superhero movie no less, but the movie really stumbles when it’s paying dear attention to this subplot. Pete eventually becomes a bit of a dick because of this venomous, gooey thing that keeps on attaching to his suit and making him act differently; and M.J. is coming at a bit of an existential crisis where she wants the focus to be constantly on her, her failing-career as a Broadway actress, and the fact that she’s been so loyal and dedicated to Pete, despite going around and starting to sleep with Harry, once again.

Ain’t nothing like old times, right peeps?

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don't just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don’t just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Tobey Maguire, god bless him, tries his heart out but once Peter Parker gets that new, emo hairdo, it’s all downhill for him from there; Dunst looks bad because Mary Jane is so unlikable and unsympathetic in her whiniest performance yet; and James Franco, believe it if you will, probably has the best performance out of everyone here, just by getting a chance to live a little and show some of that Daniel Desario charm that was so absent from the two other movies. Which is strange considering that right as soon as this movie came out, hit theaters, broke a bunch of box-office records and basically ended the franchise that came to be known as “Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man“, Franco started popping-up in some interesting movies like Milk, Pineapple Express and In the Valley of Elah that not only stretched him a bit as an actor, but also showed the world that he wasn’t going to be doomed by his infamous past as “Harry Osborne, snobby, prick-ish son of a crazy billionaire”.

So yes, if there is anything, heck, anything at all good that you can take away from Spider-Man 3, it’s that it allowed James Franco to break-out from his cage and start trying his hand at some weird, quite frankly, goofy shit. But hey, we’re better as a society for it. Because seriously, when was the last time you actually got amped-up for something either Kirsten Dunst or Tobey Maguire were doing?

I rest my case.

Consensus: Long, overstuffed, uneventful, confusing, incoherent, and definitely disappointing, Spider-Man 3 may go down in the history books as one of the weakest superhero movies made in the past decade or so, but it isn’t without its small pleasures found along the way, if only for its most dedicated, easy, and calm viewers.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I tan."

“Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I’m trying to get that summer glow.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

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