Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2000s

Ratatouille (2007)

Some French people are so pretentious, that they’d actually think a rat who cooks food is “neat” and “ground-breaking”.

Though Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat stuck living the countryside, where he has to search for and steal whatever sort of grub he can find, he still dreams of doing something better with his life. In this better life of his, not only is he appreciating his food more, but also making it himself and dedicates plenty of his time to reading a cookbook from the late, but well-known Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett). One day, however, Remy is forced to take up a different path than he normally does and, much to his surprise, finds himself in Gusteau’s restaurant’s kitchen. Here, Remy feels as if he can let his talents run wild, but how can he? For one, he’s a rat, and as most people know, rats and kitchens don’t quite go well. Then, there’s also the fact that he’s a rat and can’t be understood by humans. So yeah, the odds are stacked-up against Remy, but once a new chef named Linguini (Lou Romano). Despite Linguini’s awkward persona and general lack of prior experience in the kitchen, Linguini happens to be Gusteau’s kid, which gets him the job in the first place. But because Linguini is so desperate and willing to keep his job and make sure that he doesn’t disappoint his supposed father, he actually decides to take lessons from Remy and learn how to not just be a better cook, but in the process, become a better person, as well.

Take that dairy!

Take that dairy!

It’s still surprises, even until this very day, how an idea like this worked? I know it sounds so simple, but really, a movie about a rat making food? It’s so stupid and silly, in fact, that somehow, it made perfect sense why it would all work out. Because Ratatouille is, of course, a Pixar picture, there’s going to be a whole lot more effort, heart and emotion put into play; not to mention that because Brad Bird works on it, there’s going to be a chock full of inspiration, as well.

Which is exactly what Ratatouille is.

Pixar movies, from the very beginning, have always followed a sort of pattern that they so rarely stray away from. Granted, there are certain variations on the structure but, for the most part, there’s always this general sense that every Pixar movie is made out to be the very same as the last one, given the obvious differences in terms of plot, characters and general location. But it’s hard to get on Pixar’s case because they’ve always been known to kick some fine ass; though they definitely had a rough streak of three years-in-a-row with Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University, they still bounced back with Inside Out, showing that not only were they able to get back their creative-genius, but remind people why they fell so hard and deep in love with their movies to begin with.

It’s honestly a manipulative system, but it’s one that I will always continue to fall for, so long as Pixar continues to churn out actual, good movies that don’t feel like they exist to sell a whole bunch of T-shirts and toys.

Even though, yes, that’s exactly what they’re made for.

But despite all of this, Ratatouille is the kind of Pixar movie that makes you wonder just how they do it all. Because, for one, Ratatouille is a funny movie in that it’s not only just cute, but quite witty; there’s certain jokes that are clearly written in a smart-enough way that only an adult paying attention would be able to understand. Of course there are definitely jokes made for the younger-ones out there, but they mostly have to do with obvious slapstick – the adults are the ones who get treated to jokes about French people, food, and critics.

Speaking of which, Ratatouille isn’t just a movie based on the pure humor and fun of its gimmick. Sure, watching Remy and Linguini get together, work in tandem, and create all of these fancy dishes for even fancier people, is more than enough to make you want to step into the kitchen and whip up your own concoction, whatever it may be. Though we’re all talking about CGI food and whatnot here, it’s still hard not to get wrapped-up in everything and start to feel the adrenaline and fun one gets while creating something and absolutely loving every second of it.

Once again, this is an animated flick I’m talking about here, people.

But then again, it’s Pixar, so we all know what I’m talking about.

Like I was saying before, the heart of Ratatouille is what really helps it out in the end. What’s perhaps most interesting about Ratatouille is that there’s no real one, key moment where the water-works are demanded to start working. In other Pixar movies, this is very much the case; the first Toy Story has Buzz realizing that he’s an actual toy and not a real astronaut from Star Command, Monsters, Inc. has that tearful goodbye with Boo, and, as everybody knows, Up has the first ten minutes. Of course, there’s plenty more of these moments in other Pixar movies and I promise you, they don’t sound as obvious as I may make them out to be – you just know to expect one when you’re watching a Pixar movie.

That’s why it’s so strange that Ratatouille, despite featuring some nice moments of heart and kindness, doesn’t really have one of those moments. Then again, it doesn’t need one, because it’s already as sweet and as endearing as can be. Bird, despite working with animated characters who look like over-the-top caricatures, is able to give each and everyone their own bit of back-story/personality that makes them feel like actual characters with personalities that we can identify with.

Rats are cute and all, but they shouldn't be allowed in kitchens. No matter if they sound like Patton Oswalt.

Rats are cute and all, but they shouldn’t be allowed in kitchens. Regardless of if they sound like Patton Oswalt.

The most perfect example of this is the prestigious food critic, Anton Ego, as voiced by the late Peter O’Toole. As most people know, critics don’t always get the soft side of the blade in movies – that’s why, whenever a movie comes out that portrays critics as being something other than miserable, cruel sad-sacks that hate their own lives so much, that they have to project their negative feelings onto other people’s hard work and dedication, it’s quite a lovely surprise. Here, we get the feeling that Anton is, yes, a very intimidating and picky figure, but, just like he states in the movie, it’s all for a reason. He loves food so much, that when he gets food that he doesn’t like or think is actually “good”, he spits it back out.

He loves his trade and he will do anything to ensure that the best players in said trade, continue to get the praise they deserve.

That said, Ego isn’t the only one who gets the lovely treatment here. Remy, as voiced by the lovable Patton Oswalt, goes through an awful lot of transformations here that help this character develop, despite being just a talking-rat; Linguini may have that nerdy shtick, but also seems to have it all come from a soft place in his heart, which helps make his growth, as a character, seem all the more believable; and Ian Holm, as the constantly paranoid and crazy Chef Skinner, also seems like he loves cooking so much, that he will do anything to make sure that his legacy stays alive and running, by any means. There’s plenty of other recognizable voices and nice characters here, both of which, go hand-in-hand oh so perfectly.

And you know what? Despite there being no big moment in Ratatouille, I still teared-up and awful lot!

Damn you, Pixar!

Consensus: Ratatouille is another addition to the long list of Pixar flicks that are not only funny, entertaining and heartfelt, but also have an endearing, rather inspirational message about always doing the right thing and being your best self. It’s typical Pixar, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

9.5 / 10

Paris. Still a beautiful place to see. So do it.

Paris. Still a beautiful place to see. So do it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Push (2009)

X-Men clearly did it better. They always do.

Due to a government experiment gone wrong, Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is what some call “a mover”. Meaning that, well, he’s able to move things with his mind. However, he’s been on the run at an early age and in a way to stay even further off the grid, he’s been holding up shop in Hong Kong. But due to a couple of bad decisions made on Nick’s part, he ends up getting found out by these sinister powers-that-be who want to kidnap Nick and take away his powers. Or something like that. Along with Nick is 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) who is what people call “a watcher” – someone who can see the future and certain tragic events before they happen. So yeah, Nick and Cassie are on the run from bad and evil people, meanwhile, they’re trying to meet up and find Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle), who may have all the answers to the questions that they need answering so that they can defeat these villains and get back on with their lives. But as time rolls and Nick and Cassie start to talk with her more, they realize that Kira may not be who she is and better yet, actually may be playing on the same side of those people they’re on the run from to begin with.

Round 1, eh, who cares!

Round 1, eh, who cares!

I think.

The whole thing about Push is that it’s incredibly convoluted. Certain powers of these characters, when they’re able to use them, what keeps them from using them, is hardly ever explained; all we’re supposed to make up our minds about is that they do have powers and they want to use them for the greater good. This makes it all sound like an over-extended episode of Heroes which, quite frankly, I would have been totally fine with.

But nope.

Instead, what we get with Push, is an overlong, overly complicated, very silly sci-fi flick that doesn’t know where it wants to go, or even what it wants to be. While the movie does stage some flashy action-sequences, they come so few and far between, that they become an afterthought. Instead, the movie wants to focus on the inner-workings of these characters, what makes them tick and just how it is that they get by in a world that, honestly, doesn’t quite accept them for who they are or what skills they possess. Obviously, I’ve seen this all done way better in X-Men and it just goes to show you just how easy it is to make a tale like that.

But for some reason, no one on-board with Push seems like they want to give anything an honest effort. Director Paul McGuigan tries his hardest to give this movie a cool, slick feel, but overall, can’t overcome all of the issues that the script has going on. While he gets a lot of play out having his movie shot on location in Hong Kong, the shame about this all is that he hardly gets a chance to use it to its fullest extent. Sure, there’s a few chase scenes through fish markets and narrow, over-crowded streets, but really, these scenes aren’t ever around as much to make an impression.

In all honesty, we just have to sit around and watch as these characters piss and mope about whatever problems they have and, you know, it’s nothing to ever care much about.

Which is to say that yes, despite the script thrown at them, everyone in the cast seems to be trying. Chris Evans, pre-Cap, was still trying to find his feet in Hollywood and not be type-cast as “a poor man’s Ryan Reynolds” and though he tries to inject his character that winning personality and charm of his, it doesn’t help. That’s nothing against him, though – it’s more that Nick Gant, the character, is way too bland and boring to ever register as a strong protagonist that we get behind and cheer on until the very end. We just sort of watch him move things every so often, then cry, and that’s it.

Oh well. Chris Evans is doing better things now, thankfully.

Together, they're not scary. Like at all.

Together, they’re not scary. Like at all.

Dakota Fanning gets to play an against-type role as a cranky smart-ass who can see the future and despite her seeming like she’s having a good time with it, it’s a terribly annoying role that just goes on and on without ever ceasing. She’s not funny, over-bearing and if anything, ruins just about ever scene she’s in; which, in something already as dreary as this, is definitely saying a whole lot. None of this is against Fanning, because she’s clearly on-board with this character, but the movie itself thinks she’s so hilarious, that they keep her going with the wisecracks and none of them ever conjur up a chuckle or two. Instead, it’s just sighs. And then, the always bland Camilla Belle shows up, hardly do anything; Djimon Hounsou shows up and tries to be scary, but never does; and Ming-Na Wen is, yet again, another worker who can feel happy that she’s apart of the Marvel universe.

But regardless of these performances, the true problem of Push lies with its screenplay. Writer David Bourla never seems to make sense of anything that’s happening and doesn’t even seem interested; he’d much rather try to distract us with random scenes of action and mutant-like things that, because we’re never fully explained on where they came from or what they’re capable of, are random. Bourla also tries to dive in deep into what all of the mytholgy surrounding these characters mean, and really, it never goes anywhere. All we know is that the government was up to some shady dealings and now, they want their product back. 

Or something.

Seriously, I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell this movie meant and why it went, where it went. But instead of focusing on it even more than I need to and wasting more of my precious time, I’m just going to say that, yeah, Push blows.

That’s it.

Consensus: Despite some fun and flash to be found, Push is a mostly dull affair, without much understanding of what’s happening, nor anything happening of actual interest.

2.5 / 10

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what's best for you!

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what’s best for you!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Gangster No. 1 (2000)

All gangsters are cool. Even the crazy ones.

Malcolm McDowell plays an unnamed Gangster who, through him, we’re being told this story. He finds out that his mentor, Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) is finally getting released from prison. This is when we’re brought back to the year, 1969, where he tells us the story of when he was a young gangster (Paul Bettany) and practically climbed through the ranks of the British mafia.

It seems like whenever a gangster flick comes out, they’re always unnecessarily compared to other, sometimes better gangster flicks that came before them. For instance, if one has a bit of humor in it, it’s often considered a rip-off of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Or, if one is quick-as-lightning, it can be sometimes looked as a carbon copy of Goodfellas; and if there’s a flick that’s takes its time, and prefers more of the slow-burn approach, it’s then compared to the Godfather, no matter what. Basically, gangster flicks have it tough and it’s only made worse by the fact that it’s getting a whole lot harder to tell these kinds of stories in fun and fresh ways.

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

But what about a gangster flick that’s more like American Psycho?

Now, that’s something new, which is why Gangster No. 1 is a pleasant surprise.

Director Paul McGuigan deserves credit here because he doesn’t try to be like any other types of gangster flicks out there, nor does he over-do anything, either. There’s no hip soundtrack, nor are there any bits of wit to break-up the tension when things get too serious; it’s very straight-forward gangster movie. However, it is, in no way, a boring or conventional one; it’s a surprisingly ruthless piece that, once it gets going, starts spinning faster and faster, only until that wheel eventually breaks loose and becomes a wild ride where you have no idea where it’s going to end up and how. The story may not be as unpredictable as I may make it sound, but what really makes this film tick is the style (or lack thereof) of the violence in this film that no matter how gruesome or tense it got, it keeps you glued.

One scene in particular that stays clear in my mind is the one where “the Gangster”, finds a rival mob-boss, and slowly tortures him. Heard it done before? Of course, but there’s a surprising twist with it: It’s told in the victim’s view-point. It may sound gimmicky, but surprisingly it’s effective as every little piece of pain that gets inflicted onto him, almost feels like it’s getting inflicted onto us. The blood for that scene just shoots out everywhere, the camera is constantly moving rapidly, but yet, still stays on the violence happening, and there’s even a nice little pop tune playing in the back to remind us just how more sinister this piece of torture truly is. Anytime you have pop song in your violent movie, always make sure to play it during the most violent scene.

Always ironic. Always awesome.

And while that was just one scene in particular, the rest of the movie works because McGuigan doesn’t seem to try too hard to make this separate itself from the plenty other gangster flicks out there.

But if there was something here that bothered me, it was the narration from Malcolm McDowell, that honestly, was heard one too many times. At first, it didn’t seem like much of a problem because it placed us in the story and setting, but after awhile, it just became over-bearing and pointless to where it just seemed like half of the stuff he said was profanity. He even goes as far as to describe one scene while it was happening and it just seemed like over-kill and probably could have been done a lot better without really having to explain the needless things. Then again, they were probably just trying to put us in the mind of a psycho killer, which honestly, we kind of get the drift of after the first ten or so minutes.

Gangsters? Or Wanksters?

Gangsters? Or Wankers?

And before I forget to mention it, why the hell did everybody look the same with some nice make-up on after the 30 years, but Paul Bettany completely changes into McDowell. Everybody in this cast gets some fake, gray hair, a couple of wrinkles in their skin, and a very fragile voice, but the main Gangster is the only guy that gets fatter, has a bigger head, has a terrible five-o’-clock shadow, and is still yelling, pissing, and screamin’ all of these years later. Maybe people don’t change after 30 years and still stay their same old, crazy selves, but it seemed a bit unbelievable to me that after 30 years, these people would all still look and act the same, as well as holding the same, old grudges they held before.

Maybe I’m just not a true gangster.

Though it may not sound like I was happy with him doing anything here, McDowell is still quite solid in this role as the aging, but still vicious gangster. It’s obvious that they placed him in the role of an older, and much more crazier psycho (*cough cough* A Clockwork Orange *cough cough*), but he kicks ass with the role still and made me laugh whenever he seemed like he just felt like dropping the C-word for no good reason at all.

But it’s Paul Bettany, playing the younger version of him, who steals the whole show. Bettany has a lot to work with here because he gets to show a lot of evil and dark aspects to this guy, while also showing a lot what makes us love him so much in the first place. However, a lot of that lovely shite he usually has in those other flicks, isn’t as showy here and we get to see what he can do whenever he gets angry and just feels like gutting somebody up into little pieces. We’re never made to feel sympathy for this cat, which works; he’s not asking for that and that’s what makes him so much more bad-ass. Now, will somebody please give Paul Bettany one more leading role and just act like Priest doesn’t even exist.

Consensus: Without trying to be too flashy or shiny, Gangster No. 1 is still an effective, surprisingly fun gangster flick that puts us inside the mind of a psycho killer, and allows for Paul Bettany to work wonders with the meaty role as said psycho killer.

7.5 / 10 

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Photos Courtesy of: Nick Tentis, Film4, Mubi 

I’m Not There (2007)

Wow. Bob Dylan did more than just go electric.

I’m Not There is, basically, a movie about the many exciting, weird and crazy lives that Bob Dylan has lived throughout his lifetime. However, rather than following the traditional, biopic-structure of keeping it with one actor, all the time, the movie switches things up in having these characters take on different life-forms, with different actors, even though they’re all, you know, playing Bob Dylan. There’s a boy who roams the streets, with his guitar and playing anywhere they’ll allow him to, while all going under the name of Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) even though, he clearly isn’t who he says he is. There’s folk-singer Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) who was, at one point, the hip, new thing in music but has a spiritual awakening one day and realizes that he wants to do more with his life than just rock out. There’s Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), another hip, young star in the world of entertainment who has a loving marriage to a French gal (Charlotte Gainsbourg), that soon starts to go sour once he begins to flirt with other ladies. There’s Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), yet again, another hip, young musician who decides to get rid of his old ways and “go electric”, which leads all of her friends, family and fans to go crazy and reconsider their love for her. There’s Billy McCarty (Richard Gere), someone who may or may not have a rocky past to hide.

Not Dylan.

Not Dylan.

And through it all, there’s Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) – a dude who’s here to just say weird, cryptic things

It’s noble what Haynes is trying to do here with the story of Bob Dylan; rather than keeping things on a simple, narrow-path that we’ve all seen a hundred times in plenty of other rock biopics, he decides to have it be a whole bunch of different story-lines, at one time, with different actors, but seemingly still playing the same character. It may sound confusing on paper, but surprisingly, it’s relatively easy-to-follow when watching the movie. Right away, the movie makes it a point to remind you that you’re watching actors all play Bob Dylan, and while they may not necessarily actually be named “Bob Dylan”, they’re still different times in the life of Bob Dylan.

Once again, it’s easy to get once you see it all play out, regardless of how weird I may be making it sound.

That doesn’t make it anymore interesting, but hey, at least it’s a noble effort on Haynes’ part for trying to shake things up a bit with a genre that seems too comfortable.

One of the main issues that surrounds I’m Not There, is that nobody’s story is ever really all that interesting to watch or see play-out. While, once again, we know they’re all different versions of snippets of Dylan’s life, none of whom ever really stand-out as taking over the movie and making us want to see them the most. Usually, that’s the kind of issues these large ensemble pieces have – while some stories may be okay, there tends to be the one that takes over everything else and leave you excited for whenever that comes around again. Here though, nobody ever makes you feel that.

Instead, you’re watching a bunch of surprisingly boring characters, mope around, deal with issues that we don’t care about and quite frankly, have all seen before, biopic or no biopic. There are certain bits of style that Haynes tries to work with here to cover up some of the rough patches, but mostly, it seems like what he has to work with here doesn’t really go anywhere all that surprising, or at all interesting. Granted, most of us already know about the life of Bob Dylan, and whether you don’t or not, it doesn’t matter, because the movie doesn’t seem all that interested in telling you much about him, either.

All it really cares about is the music he made, which granted, is fine.

Not Guthrie.

Not Guthrie.

Bob Dylan is one of the greatest musicians of all-time. His music will forever continue to stand the test of time and while some of those out there may have issue with his voice, and the fact that, well he can’t actually sing anything at all, it almost doesn’t matter. The fact is, the man has created some great music and it’s on full-blast in I’m Not There. Which honestly, helps the movie out a whole lot more; it’s surprising just how well any song Bob Dylan goes with a montage, regardless of what may be in the montage or not.

So if Haynes was trying to make this as some sort of tribute to Bob Dylan, the musician, then he did a solid job. At the same time though, he doesn’t really go anywhere else with it, other than that. This isn’t to say that nobody in the cast seems to be trying, either, because they all do. But, for the most part, they all seem like they’re really trying to dig harder and deeper into these characters and give us more than just what’s being presented on the surface.

One in particular, of course, is Cate Blanchett’s nearly unrecognizable performance as Jude Quinn. While it’s easy to assume that it’s just Blanchett doing an impersonation of the young and brash Dylan (what with the iconic wig, sunglasses, jacket, and all), she actually goes a bit further and show that there truly was a tortured soul at the middle of it all. Though it was easy to just assume that he had it all coming to him, there’s still a nice bit of sympathy that’s easy to feel for this character. It’s less of a gimmick role, and much more of, yet again, another chance for Blanchett to run circles around everyone else in the movie.

Which honestly, I’ll watch any day of the week.

In fact, give me that whole subplot/movie with just Blanchett. I’m fine.

Consensus: Todd Haynes deserves credit for trying something different with I’m Not There, but overall, seems to not have the right idea of what to say about the life of Bob Dylan, or at least, present it in a manner that’s intriguing to those who may not already know enough about him to begin with. But hey, good thing they paid for them royalties!

5 / 10

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Comingsoon.net

Boy A (2007)

Boyposter“Let the past, be the past”, is something nobody actually does.

After spending many years in the slammer for a crime he and his lad committed when they were boys, Jack (Andrew Garfield) is finally now out and ready for the real world. That’s why he decides to take up this new name, identity, and start somewhere he hasn’t before. This leaves him to take up a job as a deliveryman, where he not only makes friends, but also possible love-mates. While his social skills are definitely not as up-to-par as they should be, Jack still gets by on trying to fit in, regardless of the social situation. When he’s out at clubs, he drinks a lot and does crazy drugs, when he’s with his girlfriend (Katie Lyons), he’s awkward, but also kind of horny, too. But as much as Jack wants to leave everything he did in the past, exactly there, it still finds its way of coming back to bite him in the rear-end and ruin the great life that he’s been having thus far. This is something that Jack isn’t just afraid may actually happen, but also has him terrified of what he may actually do, once the information of his past becomes known to his newly-made friends.

Does he even age?

Does he even age?

Boy A is the kind of movie that, despite its small scale, still works with the big emotions that can either make, or totally break, dramas such as these. However, what works so well for Boy A, is that it takes its relatively familiar-premise and gives it some fresh new life by just having us interested in this guy’s life, right from the very start. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe both do a brilliant job of giving us just enough information of this Jack guy, to get a clear picture of him; while we know that he did something heinous and nearly unforgivable when he was younger, we’re never outright told right away. Instead, we’re left to watch him as he tries to live his life and, in the meantime, experience everything grand that life has to offer, for the first time.

And this is all interesting because Jack himself, is an compelling fellow that’s never too easy to pin-down; we get the sense that he’s a genuinely nice kid, but due to his checkered-past, as well as his incarceration and need for it to stay under-wraps, there’s still an odd feeling about him. We see Jack live life, have fun, make friends, and be as happy as one can be when life is as simple as this, but by the same token, we also see him struggle with trying to make amends for what he did when he was younger, as well as trying to make sure that fact never, ever gets out. Of course, there’s a great deal of mystery surrounding what Jack does – there are countless flashbacks to his childhood – but they never feel unnecessary and just a way to take up more time.

In fact, they tell us more about Jack himself.

But really, what element makes Jack work the most is Andrew Garfield who, in a very early role of his, shows us the type of promise he showed before he got stuck playing Spidey. As Jack, Garfield plays these two sides quite well; he’s sweet and earnest as all hell, but he’s also quite scary to watch whenever it seems like he seems like he may be losing his cool. Through it all though, we feel for Jack and want him to actually be happy. Sure, his crime is almost unforgivable, but that’s why this performance, as well as the movie is so well-done.

There’s actually a case to be made here for getting past what someone did many, many years ago. As Jack, Garfield shows that while those scars may never ever heal, they’ll still be covered-up just enough so that one can move on with their life and remember the better things that make people happy to be alive. That’s why, although it is funny to watch as Jack does such things as initiate sex with his girlfriend, as well as get totally wasted at a club, it’s also quite endearing as well. He’s like a little kid, seeing the bright and beautiful things the world can offer.

Which is why when the harsh realities of the world come crashing down on him, it’s heartbreakingly tragic.

"Don't play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope."

“Don’t play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope.”

While I won’t get into too much of what occurs during the final-act, I’ll just say that the movie becomes very dark, serious and upsetting, which sometimes, and other times, doesn’t. For one, Boy A gets awfully melodramatic, which isn’t something I thought it could get. While the first two-halves of this are, for the most part, like a thoughtful, but precise character-study, the last half is, as much as it pains me to say, almost like a soap opera. Not to mention that, sadly, it ends on a cliff-hanger that feels completely random and a bit of a cheat. This is why, despite all the greatness within Boy A, it’s hard for me to run to the highest mountain, praising my love and adoration for it.

But still though, I always come back to the performance. Not just Garfield’s, though, as Peter Mullan, who plays Jack’s mentor, as well as his sort-of parole officer, is especially great to watch. There’s a certain degree of heart and pleasantness to this character that, honestly, Mullan doesn’t always get to play with. Don’t get me wrong, nobody does slime quite like Mullan, but it’s also neat to see him play somebody that not only has a conscience, but a very nice one, at that.

Like I said before, though, it’s Garfield’s show the whole way through. That’s why, with 99 Homes already out and about, and with upcoming Martin Scorsese’s Silence, it’s exciting to see Garfield back to his more dramatic-roots, giving us more and more showings of just what kind of talent he actually is. While it’s always been there throughout his whole career, he’s finally going back to it, But if people ever feel like they want to know what the hell I’m going on about, just watch Boy A.

You’ll be surprised, as well as happy.

Consensus: Boy A may have a bit of an odd ending, but features an amazing performance from Andrew Garfield, as well as an interesting look at the life of someone we may not always understand, but see live his life. Heartbreak, happiness and all.

8 / 10

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Photos Courtesy of: Vagabond’s Movie Screenshots, Indiewire, Masculinity Movies

A Knight’s Tale (2001)

KnightposterSir Lancelot always did prefer AC/DC.

Ever since he was a little boy, William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) has always wanted to be a knight and make something of his life. That’s why, when his master dies, William steps up to the plate and takes over his command; while this is obviously illegal to do, he’s going to get by on a phony name, as well as a certain type of skill in jousting. And after his first few matches, William, along with his fellow squire buddies (Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk), get the idea that maybe it’s time to take this career a little more serious. After all, they’re gaining so much fame and fortune, that why should they even bother to stop? And now it seems like William has caught the eye of a princess (Shannyn Sossamon) who shares quite the chemistry with him. However, in the eyes of the man she’s supposed to get married to (Rufus Sewell), this is clearly not something good, which means that he will take whatever steps necessary into not just defeating William on the jousting-field, but off it, too. This is where William’s past comes to light and has him wondering whether or not his father would be proud of what he’s become.

Don't mess with these folks. I guess.

Don’t mess with these folks. I guess.

The whole gimmick surrounding A Knight’s Tale is that, yes, it’s a medieval story taking place in the 1400s, which also happens to feature characters speaking in modern dialects, references to modern-day culture, and, perhaps most infamously, a whole ton of rock music. In fact, if one were to go into this movie, not knowing absolutely anything at all, they’d probably be shocked to all hell; once these medieval characters start suiting up and, randomly, War’s “Low Rider” begins to play, it seems so random and completely out of nowhere, that you can’t believe it’s actually happening. Is it a bad idea?

Well, given the context of this movie – not really.

What works best about A Knight’s Tale isn’t just that it features rock music to push itself further away from the rest of the medieval action sub-genre, but also seems to exist in its own goofy universe. Writer/director Brian Helgeland has a nice understanding of what sort of humor works in a movie like this, and it was a nice change of pace to get a medieval action movie that wasn’t always so serious, all of the time. Instead, it had humor, cookiness, and above all else, rock music!

And honestly, the first hour or so of A Knight’s Tale is where it’s probably where it’s most promising. The movie takes its time with its story, allows us to get a fine understanding of these sometimes silly characters, and for the most part, doesn’t take itself all that seriously. While Helgeland doesn’t ask the audience of too much, he still does a nice job in giving plenty of joy to the two types of audience members out there who would see this movie – there’s, of course, the popcorn-friendly members who care about lots and lots action, while on the other hand, there’s also those more sophisticated types who appreciate when a fine joke or two is worked into a scene. In a way, there’s a little something for everyone here and it was nice to see a blending as odd as this, actually work out well.

But then, about half-way through, A Knight’s Tale changes up its tune.

For one, it loses any sort of focus on what made it so exciting and enjoyable to watch in the first place: Its keen sense of humor. Are there still some funny jokes placed in throughout the rest of the flick? Sure, but they come so very few and far between, that it almost seems like Helgeland ran out of funny material to work with. So, much rather, instead, he decided to focus more on our protagonist’s childhood and his soon-to-be-love-life; neither of which are actually interesting, but I guess because, after all, this is his movie, we’re forced to sit through and watch his life unfold before our very eyes.

One element that helps, though, is that William Thatcher, our main protagonist, is played the late, but definitely great Heath Ledger who, even after all of these years, had that certain aura about him that’s hard to really deliver back on. For one, he was a great-looking guy that clearly got the ladies’ and gay men’s butts in the seat, but there was more to him than just the good looks. Ledger also wasn’t afraid to make himself seem like the butt of the joke in certain scenes, nor was he afraid to show off his fun and adventurous side, even if that meant he didn’t always get the chance to look as manly and as tough as some producers probably would have liked for him to be. Either way, it’s still a fine performance from Ledger and reminds us all why he was so great to begin with, but even looking back at it now, it does feel like a bit of a mediocre role to work with.

Then again, Ledger, as always, makes it work.

Alright. Going back to closing my eyes again.

Alright. Going back to closing my eyes again.

Gosh. How I miss him so.

And as for the rest of the cast, they’re all lovely and enjoyable to watch, but like I said, the movie starts to fall for convention and lose focus about half-way through, and it leaves most of these members with much to fully work with. Shannyn Sossamon’s princess character is a bit different from the rest, in that she’s actually equipped with something of a personality and seems to share actual, loving chemistry with Ledger; Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk do that Abbott & Costello act quite well here; Paul Bettany is charming here, as usual, playing the author who knows how to make anything mundane, sound terribly exciting; Rufus Sewell is, once again, playing the baddie; and there’s also an early performance from Bérénice Bejo, as the princess’ right-hand girl. Even though she doesn’t have a whole lot to do, it’s still nice to see where her career got started. And in some ways, a whole lot more interesting, too, considering that she’s been nominated for an Oscar in the subsequent years and most of the members of this cast haven’t at all.

Except for Heath. Of course.

Consensus: Though the anachronisms are fun and add a bit of sizzle to a relatively lifeless subgenre, A Knight’s Tale begins to fall into the same old trappings of a sports movie plot. Except, this time, it’s jousting we’re talking about here.

6 / 10

What a man.

What a man.

Photos Courtesy of: Upside Down MoviesAntonia Tejeda Barros, Mettel Ray

Road to Perdition (2002)

perditionposterAlways trust daddy. Especially if that daddy just so happens to be Tom Hanks.

Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) lives a comfortable, easy-going life with his family in a little house in the countryside of Rock Island, IL. Sullivan works for John Rooney (Paul Newman), an old school mobster who found him at a young age and practically raised him, as if he were one of his own. And what Sullivan does for Rooney, is such a mystery to his sons that one night, his oldest, Mike Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), decides to sneak into his daddy’s car late one night and see what it is that he does. What Mike finds out is that his dad’s a hired-assassin and kills people! But, as if that wasn’t bad as is, Rooney’s actual, biological son, Connor (Daniel Craig), finds this out and decides to take matters into his own hand. This means that there’s a hit out on Sullivan and the rest of his family, which leads Sullivan to hit the road with Mike and set out on the run, hopefully trying to stay safe and find out how this sort of situation can be mended. But just to ensure that this never happens, Connor hires a weird-looking hitman (Jude Law), who has a certain penchant for taking pictures of the dead, just as they’re nearing the light.

Tom Hanks with scruff is scary Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks with scruff is scary Tom Hanks.

Coming off something as magnificent and ground-breaking as American Beauty, the odds were clearly stacked-up against director Sam Mendes to make another great, awards-caliber movie. Which is why Road to Perdition‘s a bit of an interesting choice for him to decide to follow-up with; not only is it a gangster-thriller of sorts, but it’s also one that’s based on a graphic novel of the same name. Surely, this is not something anybody expected Mendes to try, but thankfully, it all worked out for the best. Even if, you know, the movie in and of itself may not be the perfect Oscar pic that people would have liked.

But does that matter? No!

Not every movie ever made has to be perfect or absolutely shoot to get every single award known to man. While producers and studios may want that (because with more awards-buzz, comes more cash money), the films themselves don’t necessarily have to be catering towards that specific kind of audience who likes when their movies are classier and more prestige. Though there’s nothing wrong with a movie trying to be more than just your everyday fodder, as long as it’s interesting and somewhat stimulating, then it doesn’t matter what it gets nominated, what it doesn’t get nominated for, or what it wins, and what it doesn’t win.

All of the rest is just a bunch of unnecessary junk and that’s why Road to Perdition probably works best. It doesn’t set-out to achieve greatness, but it just goes out there and tries to tell a fine story that may, or may not, impact your life till the day you die. You may even forget that you see it a few months after the fact, but still, it isn’t trying to win each and every person over (much like every Oscar movie tends to do).

But anyway, I digress.

So yeah, Sam Mendes definitely had a lot working against him here, but the man, being the talented director that he is, did a splendid job here. Mendes is clearly more interested in the characters and the relationships they share with one another, which is why when the guns do start going off, the bullets start flying, and the bodies start dropping, it’s a lot more effective. This isn’t to say that Mendes doesn’t at all care about the violence to begin with, because honestly, many of these scenes can be as bloody and as disturbing as you’d expect them to be, but it isn’t his main focus and it’s probably why the movie works a lot better than most gangster movies.

Not to mention, too, it’s actually a rather sweet and tender tale about the relationships between fathers and sons, how complicated they can be, and most importantly, how important they are in helping to develop someone as they are growing up and trying to make sense of the world around them. That Mike Jr. is so young and is already thrown into this crazy, incredibly messed-up world of guns, violence, drugs, money, death and gangsters, is already enough for us to sympathize with him and hope everything goes smoothly from here on out – but also, the fact that the kid isn’t precocious, also helps. It’d be one thing if we had a smarty-pants kid acting as if he knew everything that the world had to offer him, but it’s a whole other one completely when the kid is actually a kid, who knows little to nothing, and can’t make sense of a single thing happening to, or around him.

Oh no, Tommy! Look out! A gun!

A Tom holding a tommy-gun. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.

It’s quite sad, really, but the movie focuses on how his father is there for him to help him through.

Which also causes a bit of a problem for Road to Perdition – while on the one hand, it’s this sensitive, emotional drama between a father and a son, on the other, it’s also this dark, violent and sometimes sinister tale about gangsters each other over and the great lengths some of them will go to to protect their pride, fortune, and reputation. Both movies, in their own rights, are fine, but together, they do have the film feeling a bit languid and off-center at times. Not to say that I wasn’t always interested in where it was going to go next, but it also isn’t to say that I didn’t want to see one movie over the other.

This became especially true whenever Jude Law’s hitman character came into the foray. Law is great here and seems to really be enjoying himself with this dastardly, snidely character, but because he’s so campy and over-the-top, he feels out-of-place from the rest of the overly serious, melodramatic flick he’s supposed to be apart of. There’s almost this feeling that he comes straight out of the graphic novel and onto the screen, and the transition isn’t all that pretty, no matter how hard Law and Mendes try to cover it all up. Still, it’s another good performance from Law that, once again, shows he’s more than just a pretty face and hot body.

Which probably isn’t something people had problems with the likes of Tom Hanks or Paul Newman, because not only are they good-looking guys, but hell, they’re fine actors, too.

That’s why when we do get a chance to see them share the screen together, it’s actually quite exciting. Here’s two legends of the silver screen, finally, after all this time, pairing-up together and getting to work with one another, and while the movie doesn’t feature them together a whole lot, the scenes that they do have, still work well enough that they make it last. Respectively, both are solid; Newman’s an endearing father-figure with a bit too much love for his son, and Hanks, playing against type, is actually quite menacing as the charmless hitman who won’t hesitate to shoot or kill someone, but also doesn’t want to do it out of cold blood either.

They’re both excellent here and help Road to Perdition become a great movie, even if, you know, the Oscar-voters didn’t go as nuts as everybody would have liked.

Because, quite frankly, who gives a hoot about them anyway?

Consensus: With a solid cast and directing job from Sam Mendes, Road to Perdition is a fine gangster film, that also works as an endearing tribute to the relationship that a father and son duo have with one another.

8 / 10

I'd have a drink or two with these fellas.

I’d have a drink or two with these fellas.

Photos Courtesy of: Collider, Indiewire

Thirteen (2003)

Just when sending your daughter to the convent seemed like cruel punishment.

Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is about to begin her first year in junior high and in order to do it right, she’s got to get rid of her past life. That means no more studying, no more nerdy friends, no more playing with Barbies, and sure as hell no more being lame! And in order to be seen as “cool”, or “hip”, or whatever the kids are calling it nowadays, Tracy latches right onto the most popular girl in school, Evie (Nikki Reed). This also means, that to ensure that she stays cool, Tracy will have to do all sorts of scandalous stuff that the old Tracy would never even dream of doing. Meaning, there’s a lot of sex, drugs, booze, and stealing, all of which, Evie and Tracy seem to absolutely love doing together. However, the one person who isn’t quite the biggest fan of what Tracy’s up to, or Evie either, is Tracy’s mom, Melanie (Holly Hunter). Although Melanie and Tracy did, at one time, have a very strong relationship, she sees that dangerously slipping away now and will do anything to get that love back. That is, before it’s too late and she’s lost Tracy to the deep, dark world of rebellious 13-year-old girls!

Don't do that.

Don’t do that.

Thirteen is, and also isn’t, is an after school special. If you’re going to place it in a specific sort of subgenre to make it appeal more towards a target audience, then yeah, Thirteen can definitely be considered an after school special. Kids are acting up in all sorts of mischievous ways here and ultimately, get lessons learned, and it all feels like something you’d see tuning into either on Lifetime, or TLC.

The difference between Thirteen and those other movies is that, well, it doesn’t hold back.

Thirteen is the kind of coming-of-ager that Larry Clarke would soon one day love to make, but can’t help himself to actually create because he’s too concerned with pubic-hair and unsimulated sex scenes; there’s so many scenes where barely legal (or, not at all) kids are participating in sexual activities, drug-use, cutting, hitting, and drinking, that it’s more than enough to make you want to turn away. And sure, while we know that everything these kids are doing are, in fact, fake and put-on for the camera, co-writer and director Catherine Hardwicke shoots it in such a realistic manner, that it can sometimes feel like a documentary. Which definitely works in the movie’s favor because it helps make it seem like this is a tale that any person can, has, or will, experience.

Being thirteen and going through all the sorts of problems that 13-year-old goes through, isn’t just limited to one gender, race, or belief; everybody goes through teenage angst at least once during their life. Sure, some bouts with angst are a lot more serious and vicious than others, but still, the fact remains, most people, when growing up, usually tend to face a lot of problems and commit acts that they won’t be looking back on in ten or so years, with any sorts of smiles whatsoever. But, in a way, that’s fine, because that’s just how life goes sometimes. What matters most, though, is how you bounce back from all that that makes you, well, who you are.

That’s why Thirteen doesn’t ever, not for a single second, ever judge its characters for what they’re doing, even though it would have definitely been easy to do.

That Tracy falls hook, line and sinker for Evie as soon as she sees her make fun of her, and wants to start talking, dressing and acting like her, only makes sense because when we’re young, that’s all most of us want to do. While we may not want to be the most popular kids in school, we still want to have that feeling of being accepted, or part of some clique that we can hang around with when life can get us down. That’s why when Tracy starts doing all of the things that Evie’s doing and without ever hardly putting up a fight for what she believes to be right, either, it’s hard to be really mad at her. She may be a bit of an a-hole to the rest of her family, but when were any of us ever nice to those who loved and cared for us at that age, huh?

Hardwicke is smart though in giving us every single little gritty detail about Tracy’s transformation, without ever trying to turn its head. There’s plenty of moments that she could have definitely done so and we wouldn’t have at all blamed her (like the cutting scenes, for instance), but she doesn’t, and that, above everything else, she deserves credit for. Not to mention that Nikki Reed, who also wrote the screenplay with her, deserves even more credit for not just turning in a great performance as Evie, but for also making a great script that feels smart and nonjudgmental – something that may have not been easy to do as a 15 or 16-year-old girl, which she was at the time.

But really, it’s the two performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter that I continue to come back to.

Or that.

Or that.

In the case of the former’s, Wood’s great here because she feels like a real teen, actually diving as deep as a girl like her would dive into being accepted. There’s never a moment where she seems like she’s over-acting, or demanding all eyes to be on her; and even if she does, it’s intentional, because that’s probably what her character wants people to do at that same very moment. It’s no surprise that Wood’s a great actress, but after seeing her work here, it makes me wish that she’d be making more wonders in adult-hood. She’s clearly got the talent, all she needs is another juicy role to make people remember what she’s been able to do since she was, hell, 13.

As for the later, there’s no denying that Holly Hunter is a class-act in whatever she does, but here, she’s especially so. With Hunter’s Melanie, we get the real heart and soul of the movie; while a solid majority of the movie is centered around useless acts of sex, drugs, and small-time crime, the heartbeat at the center that keeps it pulsing, is actually Hunter’s Melanie, who never turns her daughter away or down for whatever it is that she demands. While she may give her too much freedom at times, she’s only doing it because she genuinely wants her daughter to be happy, no matter what. She’s the kind of mom that every person probably wishes they had (minus the ex-drug use, of course), which makes it all the more painful to watch it when, time after time, Melanie reaches out to Tracy and, time and time again, she continues to get denied and have everything shoved back into her face.

But that’s just what growing up is all about. Be prepared.

Consensus: Despite it seeming like something you’d see after school, Thirteen is a more believable and honest coming-of-ager that doesn’t pull any punches, but is better off for that, too.

8 / 10

But yeah, do that. Hug mom till you can't hug her no more.

But yeah, do that. Hug mom till you can’t hug her no more.

Photos Courtesy of: Tumblr

The Room (2003)

When in doubt, toss the old pigskin around.

Uhm. Well, the story goes, Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a successful businessman who plans on getting married soon to his lovely fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Though they are more than in love and, most times, share hot, steamy, passionate, and sweat-inducing sex, there’s still something missing – well, at least from Lisa’s point-of-view anyway. For reasons unknown, Lisa goes behind Johnny’s back when he isn’t around, to sleep with his best buddy, Mark (Greg Sestero). Though Mark and Johnny are good pals and often throw the football around for fun, this love for the same woman is what ultimately keeps them from embracing one another, and always fighting. There’s also another subplot going on here about an orphaned kid named Denny (Philip Haldiman), who is neck-deep into the world of drugs and has debts that he needs to pay. Eventually, these issues among this small group of friends, lovers and confidantes all come together when Lisa decides that she wants to throw Johnny a b-day party.

And yeah, that’s about it. I think.

Best friends always play ball together.

Best friends always play ball together.

Honestly, who the hell am I kidding? The Room, literally and figuratively, has no plot. Sure, you could make the argument that it’s really about the love-triangle between Mark, Lisa and Johnny, but if you do make said argument, you’re a tool. Just know that the movie does have a central plot, but everything else that happens around it, are sometimes so random and abrupt, that they really don’t make much of a different to a movie that, quite frankly, is a whole jumble of nothing.

And you know what? I love every second of it.

So yeah, everything you’ve either heard, read or been made to understand about the Room by now is most definitely true. It’s a nonsensical, poorly-made, over-the-top, and unintentionally hilarious drama that, somehow, some way, was able to raise $6 million. Also, let me not forget to mention that, with all the midnight showings and infamy it’s created, has most likely made back all of said $6 million dollars, if not more. If there is a perfect example of the injustices society has created, look no further than this movie.

But honestly, that’s the true beauty of this. That somebody actually looked at this final-product, thought, “Hmm. Yeah.”, and actually released the damn thing, is absolutely astounding. And the person we have to thank most for that is in fact, the man, the myth, the odd legend known simply as Tommy Wiseau. Since the Room’s premiere, Wiseau has become something of a 21st Century Ed Wood; while his pieces of work are terrible, he still loves them enough to not just create more, but to also make it out like they’re pieces of art that need their prizes immediately. Whatever goes through Wiseau’s head on a everyday basis is beyond me, but from what I’ve seen with the Room, I know that I want to know more and more about him.

Wiseau is, yes, a terrible actor, but there’s something so odd about his presence and the way he speaks, that you wonder if he ever could be considered a “good actor”. Something tells me that if the likes of either Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese saw him, picked him up, took him under their wing, and worked with him, that he’d become a scene-stealer who, after hearing he was in something, we’d look forward to getting a glimpse of from right as soon as the movie started. Of course, though, that hasn’t and probably will not happen, so what we’re left with is a dude who is, yes, a terrible actor with a weird accent, who also seems to be sleep-walking through his own movie. That said, you can’t take your eyes off of him, or wait to see what he does, expresses, or yells out next.

Denny and Johnny were truly like, father-and-son.

Denny and Johnny were truly like, father-and-son.

Honestly, I haven’t been this taken with an actor’s presence in quite some time.

But what’s perhaps the most interesting aspect surrounding the Room, is the fact that it’s a movie where everything seems to be happening, yet ultimately, nothing ever really does happen. People sit down and have over-long, aimless conversations with one another; emotions are cried-out on top of ceilings; footballs are passed-around; pizza is eaten; people are screwed (both literally and figuratively); and fists are exchanged. But really, there’s nothing to any of it here; if anything, the Room is just a whole big pile of nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable, funny big pile of nothing, but a pile of nothing, nonetheless. Which, in actuality, is a bit of a shame. For one, it’s a shame that Wiseau, through whatever wizard trickery (aka, blackmail) he was able to commit, actually got over a million dollars for this movie to be made, whereas well-known, immensely talented directors like Steven Spielberg, Spike Jonze, and, yes, Scorsese, still have to battle their ways to get full-financing for whatever projects they want to get off the ground. I’m all for a movie that’s made for people to enjoy and laugh at, but I’m also for a movie that sets out to do that from the beginning, which the Room, despite what Wiseau himself may claim, does not set out to do.

Still, it’s a shame that everybody else in the Room, other than Wiseau, actually do seem to be trying with the wacky material given to them. Though none of them, judging by what I’ve seen on their respective IMDB’s are ever going to get past the shame and humility that this movie caused them, it’s still interesting to see what careers any of these people would have had, had they never said “yes” to Wiseau in the first place. For instance, Greg Sestero actually seems like a competent actor who, not only has good-looks to help him out when it comes to getting roles, but also seems like he could be called on for snarky one-liners, when need be. However, this is all just taking place in an imaginary, never-going-to-be-real world that I’m currently creating in my head, and not the one where the real life Sestero hasn’t worked since steadily since 2003, but is still in the spotlight for writing a book about this movie and everything else surrounding it.

So yeah, I guess you could say he’s doing alright in the real world. But still, you have to imagine! The possibilities!

Consensus: Unbelievable, in terms of how bad it gets, as well as how many people thought it was fine to be released, the Room is every bit of the midnight legend it’s been made out to be, for better, as well as for worse.

10 / 10

but really…..

0 / 10

That damn football again!

That damn football again!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sahara (2005)

Being in the desert is hot enough, but having Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz together might make things melt.

Master explorer Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his goofy sidekick, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), are two dudes that have known, explored, and been through everything else in the world together. However, this next mission they’ve come upon, may be their hardest one yet, and it gets even worse once a doctor, Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz), climbs aboard for the ride to find a fabled coin linked to a historical legend, as well as stop the African waters from being poisoned by corrupt government-officers. But for Pitt and Giordino, it’s all fun and games, and just another chance for a wild adventure.

Here’s one of those movies that will always remain in infamy, but not for the reason those behind it may have wished for. The movie debuted nearly a decade ago and did pretty well. It debuted at #1, got an audience, and had McConaughey and Cruz back on top of the action-adventure world like they wished, but here’s the strange kicker: It still lost money. In fact, it lost a crazy ton of movie.

See, even though it was leading the box office, it grossed only a bit over $16 million, which is fine for most movies. Then again, most movies don’t cost around $160 million to make, meaning that this movie was a total bomb in every sense of the word. Hell, even to this day, it still hasn’t made all of it’s budget back and whenever you have a movie like that, you have to wonder: Did it really deserve all of those problems?

Well, in this movie’s case, I’d say, “maybe”.

Then again, that’s not to say that the movie is all that bad to begin with, it just tries so damn hard to be something else, without ever being anything at all. A bit confused? Well, let me sort of explain it. Despite never reading the novels that this movie is adapting, from what it seems, there’s a fine mixture of James Bond’s tricks and gadgets, with the wit and swash-buckling adventure of Indiana Jones. That sounds like a pretty damn awesome combination, especially when you have a cast like this, but somehow, it all got lost somewhere in the fold. It wasn’t that the movie totally got rid of this cool combination, but instead, didn’t know which one to side with the most.

Instead of having all of the non-stop fun and action, the movie decides to focus in on a plot that not only makes barely any sense once it goes on and on, but also preaches a bit too much. Yes, polluted water in poor countries like Africa is no joke, and not something that should be batted-away as if it doesn’t happen, however, the movie focuses on it too much, to the point of where the fun of the movie seems to go away. Then, you get to the humor of the movie, which has some fun jokes here and there, but in all, seemed strange and oddly-placed. It wasn’t like the humor wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, it just did not come at the right times and moments.

Put those two elements together, you have a movie that doesn’t really know what to do with itself, so instead, just focuses in on the action and the hot bodies and looks of Cruz and McConaughey. And yes, the action is fun, and yes, the bods are hot and sexy (much like the desert they spend most of their time causing havoc in), but it doesn’t amount to much more other than a movie that aspires so hard to be something, that it’s too noticeable to take in as a piece of legitimacy. I know I may sound a bit too serious for a movie like this, but if I wanted to see Indiana Jones, I would just watch all three (except that last one) in one day. I don’t really care to see a carbon-copy of it, which not only tries to capture the same charm and humor that made those movies such a joy to watch, but also the action scenes that feel like nothing more than a way to get our minds off of the preposterous plot in our hands here.

I could only imagine how hot those babies would be.

I could only imagine how hot those babies would be.

Although, I must say that watching McConaughey and Cruz give off some dull performances was not all that enjoyable, especially since both of these stars are sometimes the best parts of other movies that they show up in. McConaughey’s charm seems to weave in and out of a character that has plenty of wise-cracks, but not much of a heart, which makes him less of a human, and more of a superhero with a pretty body and face. Cruz is also a tad dull, which is a shame, because when she’s enjoying her work, it’s always a blast to watch. However, since her character is a nice, sweet doctor that cares for other people, we don’t get to see much of it. She’s much more reserved here, and even she seemed bored by it. She was just waiting for THAT moment to start yelling out in Spanish, and throw everybody else around her into a deep frenzy of unknowings.

Now, that would have been fun to see.

Thankfully though, there’s one person to save this movie and that’s none other than one of the most underrated actors of our generation, Steve Zahn. Zahn gets all of the sarcastic remarks down perfectly, but also seems like a smart cat that knows what needs to be done next, and will stop at nothing to see it actually happen. He acts like a stoner and listens to classic rock, but he isn’t that brain-dead, which comes off as a surprise, since the whole movie tries to make him seem like that. However, Zahn knows better than that and makes the material so much better than what he was given. Poor guy. Still waiting for that one, big break.

One of these days, I assure you, it will happen, Stevey.

Consensus: Despite its infamous legend, Sahara is an okay watch portrays hot people, doing hot things, in even hotter locations, even if none of it really adds up to a spectacular movie.

5 / 10

Saving the movie; one baseball-cap at a time.

Saving the movie, one baseball cap at a time.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Kids can have some pretty messed-up imaginations.

Set after the Spanish Civil War, a time where Spanish rebels were being fished-out in the woods and left to be gunned-down by the nation’s soldiers, a 12 year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) gets thrown into a new world that she never expected to be in. In the real world, her pregnant mother is stuck with a powerful, but incredibly violent captain, Fascist Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who not only wants to get rid of every rebel there is to get rid of, but to also make sure that his baby-son is born so that he has something to prove to his dead daddy. In the not-so real world, Ofelia enters an imaginary land in which she meets creatures who attempt to convince her that she used to be a princess. But to ensure that everything goes all fine and dandy for her, as well as her family, she has to complete some tasks for these creatures, and follow them, rule-by-rule. If she screws up and decides to improvise, the scary monsters of this fantasy-land will know and she’ll have to pay the price. So Ofelia best ought to be careful not to mess any of these instructions up, nor get caught in the act of by Vidal.

Sort of scary.

Sort of scary.

Many people love Guillermo del Toro and it’s understandable why, too. For one, he seems to be one of the very few directors left around, still making big-budget flicks that allow for his imaginary to run more wild than an eight-year-old boy. He loves all things ghosts, goblins, ghouls, demons, and everything else that goes bump in the night. In a way, del Toro is like the kid who never grew up and instead, gets a chance to make whichever movie he sees fit; he’s living the dream, some might say, and they’re definitely not wrong.

However, I am not one of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not raining down on del Toro – the guy has made many good movies in his career and will probably continue to do so until he grows ancient and decides that maybe he did get old (even then, though, it still probably won’t happen). But there’s always this feeling I get with his movies that they can’t help but feel as if they’re constantly searching for the right shot, at the right moment, with the right music, all to then give off the right feeling for the audience to take home with them. Sure, you could say he’s a perfectionist and he’s not unlike any other directors out there who take absolute, almost crazy pride and dedication with their movies, but, for me at least, it always feels like this takes me out of del Toro’s movies and the stories he’s trying to tell.

Take, for instance, this story of 12-year-old Ofelia. Obviously, for anybody who has ever seen it, the fact that she’s a little girl having imaginary, spooky friends, surrounded by a setting that’s been ravaged by war, will definitely draw comparisons to del Toro’s the Devil’s Backbone. Apparently that is intentional and this movie is, in some ways, supposed to be considered a spiritual sequel. I can roll with that, however, that movie was a bit better in combining the two separate stories together, in order to make them seem like one, cohesive whole. The story of Ofelia and her wild, fantastical adventures, going alongside the story of Vidal’s bloody, gruesome tactics in taking down rebels, doesn’t quite work.

Which isn’t much of a problem because, for a good majority of this flick, del Toro doesn’t seem at all interested in making the two into one. Then, all of a sudden, he changes his mind and realizes that maybe they do need to and it doesn’t quite work as well. In a way, it actually takes more away from Vidal’s story which can be the most interesting one in the movie; while I’m not knocking on the character of Ofelia because she’s a young girl, at the same time, everything that she was going through didn’t really register for me. Yeah, I get it: She’s a kid who talks to a lot of creepy-looking, awfully-descriptive monsters, what else does she have to offer?

Kind of scary.

Kind of scary.

Not much, honestly.

Of course though, the good part of her subplot is that it allows for del Toro to show-off all of his wonderful and wild creatures, and none of them really disappoint. This is obvious from del Toro, but it should be definitely said that someone who aligns himself so much with the designs he makes for all of these monsters and whatnot, still seem to surprise and interest. There’s a couple of odd-looking, but cool-looking monsters that pop-up here, but perhaps the best, most memorable one is the Pale Man. By now, almost every person on the face of the planet has shown a picture of it and said, “Aww, look! How rad, yo!”, so I won’t bother getting into too many of the details, but I will say one thing, it’s still an freakishly scary sight.

Did I go to bed, normal and fine as usual? Yeah, of course. But it was still pretty freaky.

And while I know it may seem like I’m getting totally on del Toro’s case here, I really don’t want it to be. Pan’s Labyrinth, despite my problems with the plotting, is still an engaging movie, solely due to the fact that del Toro brings his audience into this little universe of his, but never does he allow for it to get over-the-top or serious. There’s always a certain degree of seriousness or menace in what’s happening here that makes it feel like it’s a horror movie, definitely, but not one all the way through. It’s still got something for people who just want a good, effective movie, that has something of a political message, but also not. It’s just another opportunity del Toro gets to create and design all sorts of wild-looking creatures, and he’s clearly enjoying every second of it.

So yeah, we should probably do the same, too.

Consensus: Though it’s plotting is a bit clunky, Pan’s Labyrinth is still, no matter what, a fine film from the likes of del Toro who can’t help but gush over everything he’s done here, even if the story sometimes feels like it’s taking a back seat.

7.5 / 10

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Photos Courtesy of: Villains Wiki, Pan’s Labyrinth Wiki

Munich (2005)

When you need a job to be done, always call up the Hulk and James Bond.

During the 1972 Summer Olympics, nine Israeli Olympic athletes were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists, in front of the whole world to see. In retaliation to this, the Israeli government decided to launch a unofficial mission to take out those who were deemed “responsible” for the massacre, by any means necessary. Given the leadership role of the group is Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), an Israeli Mossad agent, who leaves his pregnant wife (Ayelet Zurer), knowing that he is doing something that he can be proud of, even if the details are a bit shoddy. Joining him are the likes of Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds), Hans (Hanns Zischler), and a former toy-maker-now-turned-bomb-creator, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz). Together, the men will unite and band together to take out those whom they are ordered to take out and while things start off promising, eventually, the hits begin to get a bit messy and leave these five men fearing for their own lives. Not to mention that Avner is starting to get in bed with some shady fellas who he uses as sources, but may also not be able to trust them full-well.

Can't get any closer fellas?

Can’t get any closer fellas?

For most of you dedicated DTMMR readers out there (all two of you), you’ll probably realize that I have already done a review of Munich a few years back. And nothing against that review or whatever, but I’ve definitely done some growing in the past few years. Not to mention that I’ve grown a fonder appreciation for Spielberg and all that he puts into his films; no longer is he just “the guy who makes good movies”, he’s now, “the guy who makes good movies and has some incredibly interesting ones, too”. Therefore, it made perfect sense to me to give this movie another shot and see how it is that I felt about it, all these years down the road.

And thankfully, my feelings have gotten better. Even if not everything’s changed.

Munich is, probably, Spielberg’s riskiest movie. Sure, some may say A.I. was, or the real hardcore fans will say 1941 may have been, but I’m afraid that they are wrong, because Munich most definitely is. With Munich, Spielberg was reported to have been given a budget of nearly $70 million, which is fine and not surprising at all considering that it’s Spielberg, but at the same time, when you take into consideration the factors at-play here, it totally is a shocker.

For one, Spielberg cast a largely international cast, with cast-members who weren’t well-known by large audiences (even Eric Bana himself wasn’t a huge box-office draw). Also, he focuses most of his movie on a bloody, violent and downright disturbing mission that does have to deal with the Munich massacre, but is in no way a re-telling of those events (which is something that most studios are looking for when they’re funding a movie). And lastly, if not the most important of all, it has no real end-point. Meaning, the Palestinians and Israelites, even until this very day, are still continuing on to battle and feud with one another, leaving the movie to feel, in a way, incomplete.

But, Spielberg being Spielberg, he makes it work.

A good hour or so of this movie feels like Spielberg getting a chance to make that gritty, dirty and overly-violent Bond movie he’s never been offered and the man takes every opportunity he can to make the feeling last. While this is a two-hour-and-44-minute-long movie, it doesn’t really take us all that long to get to the action of the plot and realize that people are going to be killed in some heinous ways and Spielberg’s not going to shy away from it a single bit. Though it should definitely be noted that the countless killings and murders in this movie are portrayed as horrifying and as shocking as they should be, Spielberg also doesn’t forget about the certain rush, or excitement one can feel when a plan is going into action. There’s a few scenes that highlight this, but they’re all tense to watch and remind us all what it is about Spielberg’s fun side that we miss so much of.

Still though, there’s a lot to this movie that’s very harsh and sad, which works well with Spielberg trying to get his message across and whatnot. From what it seems like with Munich, Spielberg does not think too fondly of the violent-relations that Palestine and Israel have with one another, nor should he; Spielberg knows that religion will continue to separate people till the end of time, but at the same time, he doesn’t believe that any of it should lead to senseless violence or deaths. In a way, Spielberg is basically using Munich as a way to get across his age old message of “everybody, let’s just get along”, but because this message is mostly specific to the never-ending issues between Palestine and Israel, it feels fresh and fully-realized.

Believe it or not, these guys could still kill you. Just let them finish their dinner first.

Believe it or not, these guys could still kill you. Just let them finish their dinner first.

No longer is Spielberg preaching! He’s actually got something worth while to say!

Of course though, what usually plagues Spielberg in most other movies, still follows him with Munich, in that he still hasn’t figured out a way to end a strong story, with a strong ending. There’s many endings within Munich, and while none of them are really bad per se, they mostly feel unnecessary and mundane; it’s almost as if Spielberg was like, “Hey, maybe the audience didn’t see my parallels to 9/11 the first time I brought them up. Let me throw another one in there!” Of course, if there’s a director to make any sort of 9/11 parallels to Israeli-Palestine conflict, then it’s Spielberg, but here, it feels over-done and too self-fulfilling – as if Spielberg realized how smart and nifty he was for connecting the literary dots, that he wanted the whole world to see.

But still, Spielberg makes more good decisions with Munich, than he does bad, and while that sounds like faint praise, I can assure you that it’s not supposed to. This is most evident with the cast and whom Spielberg decided fit which sort of roles perfectly, as minor and standard as they may have been. Daniel Craig, despite not being Bond just quite yet, still felt the pugnacious-feel of Steve so well that it would make sense if those in charge of who chooses the next Bond, saw this and decided to give the hunk a shot; Ciarán Hinds brings a certain warmness to Carl, even despite the mean things he has to do; same goes for Hanns Zischler as, well, Hans, another older-man who feels as if he’s being thrown into a situation he never asked for, but is happy to accept the challenge anyway; Mathieu Kassovitz’s Robert is perfectly nerdy that it makes it all the more disorienting to see what it is that he’s actually creating; and Geoffrey Rush, despite his accent really going in and out, still works well with the role as the government official you’re never too sure to trust or not.

Of course though, it’s Eric Bana who the movie depends on the most and he deserves it. Bana is, in other words, an underrated actor, I feel; while he’s never lit the screen on fire quite like he did with Chopper, the guy always shows up in movies, giving it his all, and continuing to show that he can blend in well with any director’s style. Bana’s done it all and it’s about time that he was given his own, dramatic-powerhouse to work wonders with! And that’s what he does as Avner; while the character isn’t necessarily made out to be as “heroic” as some of Bana’s other characters can sometimes be written as, there’s still a lot to this guy that makes you feel as if he’s got everybody’s best intentions at heart and doesn’t want anything bad to happen. Cause, after all, he’s just taking orders.

And also, allowing for Jews everywhere to get laid again.

Consensus: Despite a lackluster ending, Munich is a fact-based spy-thriller with emotion, a well-acted cast, and the usual dose of interesting anecdotes that Spielberg is able to orchestrate effectively.

8 / 10

Don't question Eric Bana. You won't like Eric Bana when you question him.

Don’t question Eric Bana. You won’t like Eric Bana when you question him.

Photos Courtesy of: Having Said That, One Shot, Amazon Web Services

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

AIposterIf this is the future, I don’t want anything to do with it.

In the near, not-too-distant future, global warming has caused massive flooding and heavily reduced the human population. Also during this time, a scientist by the name of Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt) has started creating robots known as Mecha who walk, talk, and feel just as humans do. One robot in particular is David (Haley Joel Osment) ends up getting adopted by Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor), who are still reeling from a injury their son, Martin (Jake Thomas), had and left him in a coma. Through David, Henry and Monica get the chance to help raise another child; one that, due to the technology embedded in him, no matter what, David will always and forever love them both. And for awhile, it seems to be going great, but once Martin wakes up, then all hell breaks loose for David and the rest of the Swinton family. This leaves David navigating through the rest of the world where robots are either left to slave their ways through raunchy jobs, or get destroyed for the public’s amusement. But no matter what, David wants to become a real boy and along with Joe (Jude Law), a robot gigolo, he believes that can happen.

Like with most families, the good times don't always last.

Like with most families, the good times don’t always last.

A lot of people have gotten on Spielberg’s case for A.I. and unreasonably so. For one, all of the odds were stacked against him as is with Kubrick wanting to make this movie, dying, and then having his estate pass off the rights to him. Another, is that Spielberg really had to make this appeal to a broad-audience so that he could not only make a “good” movie, but one that would also make rich people, even more rich (something that, due to the source material he was stuck to work with, was no easy task). And lastly, well, because he’s Steven Spielberg; while he can do whatever he wants, he still always loves to end things on a happy, if not overly-positive note.

Which, considering the bulk of A.I., is surprising.

What’s perhaps most interesting about A.I. is that it finds Spielberg in pure-creative form. While we start the movie off at a suburban household, we eventually get thrown into this huge, futuristic world, and this is where Spielberg really shines. This isn’t to say that the first-half of the movie doesn’t work as its own, because it does, but it also seems manipulative in that Spielberg needed a reason for David to be thrown out into this great big world, so therefore, had to create tension among characters who, quite frankly, are pretty stupid.

No seriously, take the Henry character, as played by Sam Robards, for instance. At the beginning of the movie, we see that he’s suddenly all about having a robot-boy come into their lives and fill the void that their unconscious son can’t for the time being. Monica, on the other hand, but soon turns the other cheek. Around the same time, however, Henry begins, for no reason or another, to despise the very idea of David and clearly wants nothing to do with the thing, so therefore, scolds it and refers to it in passing, as if it’s something they have to deal with, rather than embrace.

Uhm, excuse me, bro? But weren’t you the one who bought it in the first place?

Anyway, then the Martin kid wakes up, gets pissed-off that David is trying to be too much like him, and then, we’re treated (which, in this case, probably isn’t the right word, but whatever), to one of the more disturbing scenes Spielberg’s ever made. David is abandoned in a grassy, mostly deserted area of the woods by Monica, who does nothing but push and shove him away from her, professing that she wished she “taught him more about the world”. Considering that she never discussed this when David and her were spending so much time together, this seems random, but still, the fact that David – something manufactured to love unconditionally – is yelling, screaming, and clearly, “feeling” distraught, makes this scene hit harder than it probably should. After all, David is now lonely in this world and while he may not know what to expect, he’s still a young thing, and it’s hard to not feel an ounce of sympathy for him.

But like I said, once the movie gets into discovering this world more, Spielberg clearly starts to work his smart wonders in not only exploring its creepiness, but its downright bleakness. While Kubrick would have definitely envisioned a much darker, more disturbing future, Spielberg’s future is still pretty damn bleak; a future where huge crowds of hooting, hollering, beer-swigging crowds cheer over the destruction of malfunctioning robots for entertainment. Once again, the picture that Spielberg paints isn’t nice, or sweet, but because it’s Spielberg, it’s slightly a bit lighter than what Kubrick would have done and because of that, it’s always going to be held up to scrutiny.

However, it shouldn’t and that’s the problem.

One of the key themes within A.I. is loneliness. David being on his own for a solid majority of this flick (although, he does have the adorable Teddy by his side), this is especially clear. He has a quest for becoming a real boy, but because we know that this dream of his will never come true and the adventure will lead to almost nothing, it’s very sad to watch as he constantly tries to make himself, as well as those around him, believe in it. Though he’s a robot, he’s still a kid-like robot, whose wonder and amazement of the world around him can never be matched by any cynic old-head, like you or I.

"You can do anything you put your mind to, David. Except pee. Or eat. Okay, not 'anything', but you get my point, kid."

“You can do anything you put your mind to, David. Except pee. Or eat. Okay, not ‘anything’, but you get my point, kid.”

Once again, this is all sad and it’s supposed to be. Even Joe’s story, although random and not especially necessary, still seems to revolve around him making all sorts of sweet love to women, yet, still not have any true connections in the world and mostly just glide-on by. That he has nothing else more to make of his life other than that he was “a great lover”, already makes it clear that Joe is a robot, with nothing else to him but just that. Together, David and Joe find one another and seem to set out on a world that, quite frankly, doesn’t care about whether or not exist.

I’m getting depressed just writing about this. But I’m not mad, because that’s the point.

By the same token, though, Spielberg still screws the movie up by losing this idea about half-way through. Though the movie is nearly two-and-a-half-hours, it takes a long while to get where it needs to get going and once it eventually does reach its drive, it feels like something of a cop-out. Spielberg decides to take us to the source of David’s creation and what’s supposed to be scary, shocking, and disturbing, just seems like an odd twist thrown at the end to create a drama, as if this were some sort of futuristic soap opera.

And then, there is, as we all know, the ending. Yes, this is the same ending that Spielberg still catches flak for, as well as he should. To be honest, it feels like something of a cop-out; the idea of having this story relate to Pinocchio’s already feels like that, but when Spielberg jumps into the future, many, many years later, and describes practically everything to us, it’s as if he doesn’t trust his audience anymore. Now, the same audience who sat by, watched and were disturbed by the sci-fi future he had to present, is now the same audience who is listening to Ben Kingsley rant on about exposition that doesn’t make any sense and would have probably been left better off not included.

Then, it just ends. David is treated to a dream that he always wanted, and even though the movie has reached almost two-and-a-half hours by this point, it still feels as if there’s something more to be explored. The outside world surrounding David, maybe, but still, there’s a certain incomplete feeling to A.I. that makes me not only want to watch it again, but possibly think harder and longer of where it could have gone.

But the movie, as it stands, still works – it’s just not nearly as great as it could have been had Kubrick been alive to have it made and see the light of day. Rather than fall for all of the sympathetic, melodramatic sap that hits the later-half, Kubrick would have found a certain path to go with that would have made it stuck around longer. But because he wasn’t around, the movie feels like it wants to tell a sweet ending, to a pretty bitter story.

The only way Spielberg insists on doing.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t reach the magnifying heights it could have with Kubrick alive to make it, A.I. is still bleak, dark and interesting enough to make up for the fact that Spielberg sort of drops the ball with the last-act.

8 / 10

A robot, a teddy bear, and a male gigolo walk into a bar...

A robot, a teddy bear, and a male gigolo walk into a bar…

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

War of the Worlds (2005)

“Stop using your technology now!”, he types on his laptop.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), an ordinary, blue-collar man doesn’t have the greatest life a man like he should have. His ex-wife (Miranda Otto) doesn’t really trust him and is currently pregnant with her new husband; his kids (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), he doesn’t really see, so therefore, they don’t really connect with him all that much and usually end conversations with angry shouting; and his house itself, is dirty, unorganized, and a mish-mash of stuff he has no use for anymore. His life can be so miserable at times, that if an alien attack were to randomly occur, he’d probably be better off. Well, wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly what happens! The aliens do invade Earth and although their motivations aren’t known just yet, they’ve taken extra precautions and have deactivated every piece of technology on the planet, leaving each and every human to be scrambling all over, without any idea of what to do. This leaves Ray, along with his kids, to run around like chickens with their heads cut-off, too, but he’s inspired enough to try and find shelter, as soon as possible. Problem is, he’s still facing problems with his family and it might just linger in to the mission of getting to safety.

Tom Cruise running.

Tom Cruise is scared.

So rarely do we get to see Steven Spielberg lash-out any form of anger that may be within him. However, for the first hour of War of the Worlds, we get to see Spielberg at his angriest and, above all else, most playful. People are zipped to ashes; cars are flipped; buildings are destroyed; and everybody’s running around like chickens with their heads cut-off. On the other side of the camera, though, is Spielberg who, it’s not hard to imagine, may have had a huge, cheek-to-cheek grin while filming all of this.

Not only does he have the dough to play with whatever he wants to play with, but he’s doing so in a style that feels as if it’s also giving a big old “F**k you” to every other director out there who specializes in these kinds of summer, blow-everything-up blockbusters (basically, Roland Emmerich). While the carnage and destruction is fun and exciting to watch, Spielberg also doesn’t forget to show the impact of this, where he understands that people are, yes, dying right in front of our eyes. At the same time, though, he still can’t get past the sense of wonder of just how great everything looks, sounds and feels; while the alien spaceship special-effects feel a little weak, all of the terror that they do cause, doesn’t and helps make it capable of getting past those problems.

And honestly, the main reason why I’m focusing solely so much on the first hour or so of this, is because after it’s over, everything slows down, and we now have to focus on these characters a bit more, the movie gets pretty lame.

It’s almost as if Spielberg signed onto this in the first place, because all he wanted to do was chuck things around and see stuff blow up, but then, remembered that there had to be some form of a human story here, with actual, human-like characters, and instantly got disinterested in what he was doing. This makes the rest of the film, not only feel like a bore, but feel like Spielberg himself is just going through the motions, already too tired and strained from all of the effort he put into the first hour of this movie. Because with Spielberg, you can’t forget that when worse comes to worse, he’s always got to focus on that family-drama.

Which, in some cases, isn’t all that bad. Though it’s a plot-trope he tosses in more than he should, he does get these occasional bursts of smart energy where it seems pertinent to helping flesh the story out a bit more, and therefore, have the movie impact its audience a whole lot harder.

In the case of War of the Worlds and Tom Cruise’s on-screen family, it feels as lazy as Spielberg’s done before.

Tom Cruise is still scared.

Tom Cruise is still scared.

For one, there’s nothing really interesting to this family that makes it easy for us to want to get behind them the whole way through and see if they end up surviving the whole disaster by the end. Cruise’s Ray character is so average, that it doesn’t really matter, because all he’s really doing, once you think about it, is just running around and ducking under and behind certain surfaces; Dakota Fanning’s daughter character yells and screams the whole time and it used as an obvious crutch for Ray to have to make tough decisions; and Justin Chatwin’s son character is such a pain-in-the-ass and annoying, that when it came around for the time to, possibly, leave the movie for good, I could care less. In fact, I wanted him to get the boot earlier!

Because these characters are so poorly-written as is, watching them as they try to survive this disastrous situation, really does not prove to be a fun time. There’s nothing to be compelled by, nor is there any real interesting bits of character-drama to be found; everybody’s just sort of feuding with one another because, well, they’re family and that’s what family’s seem to do. However, due to the fact that Tom Cruise is in the role of the patriarch and it’s his family we’re talking about, then of course you know how it’s all going to go.

I won’t say much more, but I think you get my meaning if you’ve ever seen a movie with Tom Cruise in the past decade.

Hell, even longer!

Then, as the plot progresses, Tim Robbins shows up in the movie as a weird, violent and overly dramatic dude who camps out in the middle of the woods, strapped-to-his-boots with guns and whatnot. Because Robbins’ character is all about having guns protect himself from whatever dangers may be out there, the movie paints him in such a crude-light, that it’s downright distracting. Robbins doesn’t help matters either, as he genuinely seems to be just over-acting as much as he can. And shame on Spielberg for not telling him when to tone it down, take it easy, or call for lunch.

Basically, he stopped giving a hoot and it’s not the kind of Steven Spielberg that I don’t think anybody wants to see.

Consensus: Despite a very strong first-half, War of the Worlds soon runs out of ideas, looses track of itself, and rely too heavily on familiar family-drama that’s shoe-horned in to just have us root and cheer on Tom Cruise, once again.

6 / 10

Tom Cruise is always scared!

Tom Cruise is always scared!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Reader (2008)

Even the Nazis had to get a little freaky from time-to-time.

When Michael Berg (David Kross) was younger, he fell for a woman, Hanna (Kate Winslet), who was nearly twice his age. She taught him everything that he needed to know about life, cooking, books, family, women, and most importantly, sex. But because he was so young and hardly knew anything that he wanted with the world, let alone who he was going to spend it with, the years went by and Michael began to get more and more interested elsewhere. For one, he took up with a new girlfriend of his own and started focusing on his career. Because of this, Hanna inexplicably got up, left and disappeared from Michael’s life, without a note or anything. Saddened by this, Michael does eventually move on with his life and grow up to be a dashing, handsome, but sadly, flawed middle-aged man (Ralph Fiennes). But Michael is brought back to Hanna through hearing of a trail she’s being put through for war crimes she committed under the Nazis. While Michael never knew about this secret past of Hanna’s, he knows that it doesn’t make her a bad person. At the same time, however, Michael doesn’t know if he can bring himself to relive his very lustful younger years.

I know of many men who would do anything to be in that same bathtub. Just get that other dude out, though!

I know of many men who would do anything to be in that same bathtub. Just get that other dude out, though!

The Reader is the kind of movie that makes you want to punch somebody in the face. Because, for as long as it is up on the screen, you assume that it’s going to be these sweet, saucy, sexy and lurid fantasies that came true for this one dude, all those years ago when he was hardly even 15. But what works about these scenes isn’t that they are just chock full of butt, boob, penis and vagina, but that there is a small layer of fine sensuality felt within it. Most people would have a problem watching a movie that makes the case for a boy who has just hit puberty, hanging around and having all sorts of steamy sex with this much-older women, but Stephen Daldry doesn’t.

And that, to me, makes me want to give the dude credit. Not to mention a solid bro-five, but that’s for later when were singing dicks out at the bar, joshing around and laughing about all the good times.

But yeah, anyway, the movie.

So yeah, what Daldry does best is that he shows that this relationship, while definitely controversial and frowned-upon for sure (and also illegal, but hey, who cares!), is just that – a relationship. In between all of the humping, the pelvic-thrusting, the orgasms, and smoldering hot baths, these two actually strike-up something of a nice chemistry between one another. While she teaches him in how to make love to a woman so that he’s not the only one who enjoys it (which always happens, sorry ladies), he, unbeknownst to him for awhile, teaches her how to read. Sure, you could make the argument that she’s teaching him more about the ways of life than he is to her, but still, the fact that this movie shows that there’s more going on than just bodily-fluids being swapped, helps us connect to these characters.

And then, it all changes up.

About half-way through, the movie goes from being a very explicit coming-of-ager, to being another Holocaust/WWII drama that likes to prey on the fears of those who are easily vulnerable to these types of movies and love to tear up. In a way, this makes the movie feel less interesting and lose its sense of focus, but there is an interesting spin put on that whole sub-genre of film. Rather than focusing on the plight of those affected by the Holocaust (like, for instance, the Jews that Hitler killed), the Reader asks us the age old question that we don’t see too often explored in movies: Can we have sympathy for those who were on the other side of the Holocaust?

It’s easy to have sympathy for those who were personally being persecuted and discriminated against, but is it that easy to have the same kind for those who were apart of the SS? Cause, after all, sometimes, those people were the same ones who were just taking orders from the higher-ups, in hopes that they’d be done with the war as soon as possible, so that they too could go back to their normal lives. And hell, had they decided not to go through any order handed down to them, then they too may have followed the same fate as their prisoners.

But that’s why there’s a boldness to the Reader that I enjoyed and couldn’t stop wrapping my head around.

For one, we never know quite for sure that Hanna was apart of the SS, until we do, and it makes us wonder as to whether or not we can push certain truths to the side, no matter how harsh they may be. After all, she’s a woman who was just doing what she was told to, by those much more powerful than her. And it’s not like she still acts or thinks the way she does today, right?

Still can't stop thinking of K-Wins. Nor should he.

Still can’t stop thinking of K-Wins. Nor should he.

Cause after all, what we do see from Hanna, is that she’s a loving and caring woman. Sure, she can be a bit grumpy at times, but she’s got a reason to be. It should be noted that Winslet is great in this role as Hanna, even though I don’t believe it’s the role she should have won the Oscar for (Revolutionary Road would have been my one and only choice). But all that aside, Winslet is great in this role because she allows for us to see the sometimes broken-hearted woman that lies inside this rather rough and tough exterior that Hanna presents to the world around her. The role itself may have been written-out to be incredibly over-the-top and hammy (what with the over-extended German accents and all), but Winslet finds certain narrow paths to make it much more subtle and it works, especially when we get to the end of the movie and wonder whether or not this woman actually does deserve to be persecuted for these war crimes she’s being called upon.

Cause, honestly, does she?

Well, the movie brings these questions up, yet, doesn’t seem too interested on answering them. That’s fine, too, because it seems like they’re the kind of questions that deserved to be brought up in a manner that has people hitting themselves in the face, over and over again, trying to figure out what conclusion they can settle on. However, it does allow for the movie to end on a sour note that feels more interested in pushing its message across and lose the main focus of this story: Michael himself. Without him, we’d have no reason for this story to exist, but as soon as Ralph Fiennes shows up, it’s almost as if the character gets pushed to the side and all of a sudden, Lena Olin shows up, gets pissed-off and we’re left thinking, “What was the point?”

Sure, some kid got boned a lot, but other than that, did we really need that extra half-hour tacked-on at the end to remind us that, hey, the Holocaust was bad, guys? Probably not, but for some reason, Daldry included it anyway and makes me wonder just where the main focus was here. Did they use Michael’s sexual awakening as a manipulative path into talking about the Holocaust? Or, did Daldry legitimately want to talk about the Holocaust?

Eh, whatever. Too much questions.

Consensus: For awhile, the Reader is alluring, smart, and interesting coming-of-ager anchored by a wonderful performance from Winslet, but loses focus in the later-half and feels like it wants to tell a different story than it set out to do.

7 / 10

Is that a smile I see?

Is that a smile I see? Eh? Maybe? Nah, never mind!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Billy Elliot (2000)

True men dance. So take that, daddy!

Young, British boy Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) wants to be a dancer. Although he goes to the local gym for prepaid boxing-lessons, he has no passion behind hitting people just for the heck of it. Instead, he prefers to learn a thing or two about swiveling his hips, jumping up and down, clapping his hands, and moving around rooms as if he was the second-coming of Fred Astaire. However, due to the fact that he lives in a very conservative British coal mining town and also because he lives with his relatively masculine father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven), Billy’s not allowed to really tell anybody about his life long dream. That’s why he and the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), decide that it’s best that they keep it their little secret; one that may or may not get out and when it does, will affect everyone. Most importantly, Billy himself who is trying his hardest to be the best dancer he can be and get accepted into a very high-class, prestigious dance academy.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Like most inspirational tales, Billy Elliot follows a familiar pattern. Protagonist has talent, protagonist faces adversity from someone or something surrounding them, protagonist trains harder and harder (of course, cue the montage), and eventually, it all leads up to the protagonist having to prove themselves in an epic climax that can only be a single event. You see this with just about every sports movie; basketball, football, soccer, baseball, tennis, cross country, track-and-field, fencing, bad-mitten, and etc.

And now, you can add dancing to the list, all because of Billy Elliot.

Because, like I said, Billy Elliot is a lot like these other movies in that it follows the same sort of line and hardly diverts away from it. While some of you may be utterly displeased with the fact that I may have given something away about the movie, I assure you that I have not. Because obviously, all I did was layout where the movie goes, not where it ends up, nor how it gets there. And believe it or not, those later aspects matter most and they’re what help Billy Elliot be something a bit more than just a traditional tale of a boy conquering his fears and living out his dreams.

For one, it’s a movie that has a heart, something I’m not sure many of Stephen Daldry’s other movies have been known to have. But unsurprisingly, there’s something about Billy and those around him that keep this movie surprisingly sweet, when it could have easily gone sour. A solid example of this is when one of Billy’s friends turns out to be gay and harmlessly kisses him on the cheek. Rather than Billy criticizing him for it, Billy instead embraces this fact about his buddy, even if he has to turn down the offer because, well, he’s not gay. He may enjoy dancing quite a lot, but that doesn’t make him gay, nor does it make him any less of a man than those that surround him.

While I’m not particularly sure that a kid as young as the one portrayed by Billy’s friend would actually be so sure and out with himself as he is here, the movie still drives home the point that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, or what social/ethnic background you come from – if there is something you love to do, then do it, dammit! Billy is constantly being bombarded by the masculine men that live in his home and because of the society they’re living in, it’s considered not “right” for him to be out on a stage, prancing around in tight-clothing and shaking his rump like no tomorrow. There’s something wrong with this, we understand, within the movie, but it also carries a universal theme that no matter how many years we think we advance, there’s still that idea that men, aren’t men, unless they’re eating, killing, or screwing something.

Sometimes, men can dance and be masculine. Think of all those ladies’ tushes they touch while they’re on the stage.

I guess she's Ginger Rodgers, too.

I guess she’s Ginger Rodgers, too.

But anyway, I realize that I’m not doing this movie any favors by making it sound as preachy and as annoying as possible, but I can assure you, it’s very far from. Daldry keeps the message only alive through the song and dance numbers, most of which, are as joyful and exciting as they should be. Though there’s maybe one or two more montages than there should be (we get it, he likes to dance to glam-rock!), the movie still moves at a fine pace to where it feels like we understand what it is about dancing that Billy loves, while also wanting to see him succeed at his dream of becoming a respectable dancer. However, that word “respectable” has many meanings and it’s engaging to watch as he constantly has to battle with each and everyone, trying to figure out just who the hell he actually is in the process.

And as Billy, Jamie Bell does a fine job in a very young role of his. Obviously, this is the one that put him on the map and has led to a pretty respectable career thus far, but it’s better if you don’t think about it as a time capsule performance, and more as one that shows how lucky Daldry was to get him when he did. Because honestly, getting a kid actor who can, well, act and do so in a way that’s not obvious or cloying, is especially impressive. Not to mention the fact that, from what the movie seems to show, Bell did a lot of his own dancing and it impresses me all the more.

Why Bell doesn’t dance more in movies nowadays is beyond me, but hey, maybe in the next Fantastic Four movie, eh?

But the one who steals the show is Julie Walters, playing Billy’s foul-mouthed, but fun teacher/inspirational-figure. Walters is hilarious in this role and shows that even while she may have a funny quip to end every sentence on, she still does have a heart, a soul, and genuinely care about what happens to Billy and his career with dancing. Though the movie drives home the point that Billy is looking for a mother-figure in his life to reach out to, it doesn’t over-do its hand and allows for the scenes these two have together to have a quiet bit of resonance in them. That Billy wants somebody to love, adore and teach him is sweet, but the fact that a woman who seems as uninspired as Mrs. Wilkinson is actually that person and wants to continue to be that person, makes it all the more sweeter.

Okay, yeah. This thing’s pretty corny.

Consensus: Despite a familiar layout, Billy Elliot still features another heart, humor and fine performances to make it worth a watch, especially since it’s Stephen Daldry’s most pleasant movie to-date.

8 / 10

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Beach (2000)

Give a hippie too much freedom, and peace does not conquer.

Having grown reckless and tired with his American life, Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) decides to run away on a road trip of sorts that, for one reason or another, land him in Bangkok. Though Richard plans on spending most of his time navigating around Thailand, he stumbles upon a mysterious map that, from what he can read, takes him out into the middle of the ocean, where a random island pops up. Richard has no clue what is on that island or even what it means – all he knows is that he wants to go out there and find out for himself. Even if he does along the way, then so be it! At least he died by trying! Well, Richard does reach the island and finds out that it’s everything he wanted it to be: Peaceful, fun, and chock full of hippies that love to live life to their fullest. As time rolls on though, Richard begins to realize that there’s something wrong with this island, as well as some of the people on it and it isn’t before long that Richard starts getting that ache to head back home in the U.S., where life’s a lot more simple and cleaner.

Just think of the horrid stench they must carry as one unit. Yuck!

Just think of the horrid stench they must carry as one unit. Yuck!

The saying around those associated with critiquing media is, “Review what’s there, not anything else.” Meaning, basically, just review what it is that’s in front of you and not a product that you wish happened, or better yet, wanted. You may have wanted for all the Transformers films to be heartfelt, eye-opening dramas about the state of technology versus today’s society, but the creator behind those movies, may have saw billion-dollar, explosion-fests with the depth of a pebble. And honestly, whose movie is going to be created? Yours, or somebody like Michael Bay?

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at here is that it’s hard to review a movie like the Beach, without thinking of what could have been. Cause, for one, I’ve read the book and needless to say: It’s a near-masterpiece. It’s fun, exciting, energetic, lively, interesting, hilarious, insightful, and most of all, smart about its themes that deal with nature and how humans, in ways, ruin it. Alexander Garland is a talented-as-all-hell writer who, quite frankly, deserves to create more in his life. I’d rather take a movie a year from Alexander Garland, rather than seeing another one of Woody Allen’s latest, where it seems like he’s got some time left in his year, so he just oughta make something.

But I digress.

Everything that the novel is, the movie-version of the Beach is not. And that’s not just a shame because the source-material is so ripe, raw, and perfectly-ready to be made for the big screen, but because there’s plenty of talented people here working this. Danny Boyle, in case none of you know this already, is an immensely talented director who makes anything more interesting just by doing what he always does: Add techno to the background, keep that camera moving, and always finding the most disturbing aspects of humans. This isn’t to say that Boyle’s style doesn’t help the Beach out, because it most certainly does; however, most of the time, it’s obvious that around the half-way mark, he gave up in the editing-room and just let the studio-hacks take over and make their own movie, creativity be damned!

Not that Boyle had a perfect film to begin with, but yeah, this is possibly his worst movie to date.

Once again, too, you’d be surprised to hear this, not just because it’s a Danny Boyle film, but because it’s one that stars the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Paterson Joseph and Guillaume Canet, but they’re left without a paddle to float around on. The movie itself is such a jumbled-up mess, that even when it seems like there’s an effort being put in to give these actors interesting material to revel in, sadly, it seems to go to the next subplot and just totally forget about whatever it was that it was trying to develop mere seconds ago.

Sure, she's cute and all, but just about the last time she bathed.

Sure, she’s cute and all, but just about the last time she bathed.

But most of all, it’s just disappointing to see DiCaprio, an amazing talent, give what is, essentially, a terrible performance. For one, it seems like Leo is trying way too hard at everything; he’s always yelling, wailing-about, and trying to make scenes a lot funnier than they may have to be, which make it seem like he’s straining himself more than he needed to. Also, despite Leo probably being around 25 to 26 around the time of this movie, he still seems so boy-ish to really work in this role and makes it appear like he’s a bit out of his league. Leo tries, time and time again here, but ultimately, it adds up to him just turning in, most likely, his worst performance to date.

It all worked out though once Catch Me If You Can came around and Hollywood finally realized what to do with him.

Thank heavens for that.

But to go back to my earlier point about not disowning a movie for what I would have liked for it to have been, and more of what it actually is, the Beach is possibly my most personal choice with that. There are certain plot-points and ideas that the novel touches on that help round this story, this character and the impact it has on the reader, more effective. Those same points and ideas are merely touched on here, only to then be tossed away once Boyle remembers that he’s got to get a whole 400-plus page book, into a near two-hour movie. Granted, it must have not been an easy task, even for somebody as incredibly talented as Boyle and his associates, but still, it’s hard not to deny the fact that this movie never has a clue what it wants to do, be, or even say about anyone, or anything depicted in it.

The book did all of this and so much more. Just saying.

Consensus: Messy, silly, uninteresting and poorly-acted, the Beach tries because of Danny Boyle behind the camera, but is a missed-opportunity on capitalizing with some very promising source material. So basically, just go and head to a Barns and Nobles, if they even still exist.

2 / 10

Jack survived the sinking after all and is now a wannabe hippie.

Jack survived the sinking after all and is now a wannabe hippie.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Hannibal (2001)

Should have just let him eat whoever he wanted to eat.

Ten years after getting away from practically everybody involved with law enforcement, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is enjoying his time, relaxing, looking at fine art, and walking through the breezy, lovely streets of Florence, Italy. Meanwhile, back in the states, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is stuck in a bit of a pickle in which a drug-bust went incredibly wrong and violent – leaving the FBI to have to clean up the mess. But because Lecter can’t keep his appetite for Clarice down, he decides to send her a letter, which then leads her to start her own investigation into finding exactly where Lecter is. However, Clarice isn’t the only one. Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) is also on his own search for an art scholar who goes missing, which may lead him to stumbling upon Lecter and having to decide whether he wants to arrest the man, or bring him in for a healthy reward granted by deformed billionaire, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). The reason for Verger’s reward, is because he is one of Lecter’s last survivors around, and has the face, body, and voice to prove it.



So yeah. The Silence of the Lambs is, was, and will forever be, a great movie. There’s no way of getting around that. And as is usually the case when you’re trying to recreate some of the same magic from a precursor that’s as legendary and iconic as that movie was, the odds are not in your favor.

Such is the case with Hannibal, the sequel to the Silence of the Lambs, that came out nearly ten years later, starred someone new as Clarice, and had a different director.

Granted, Anthony Hopkins is still around and if you’re replacing the likes of Jodie Foster and Jonathan Demme, with Julianne Moore and Ridley Scott, then not everything’s so bad. But honestly, if there was ever a reason for a sequel to not exist, it’s shown here. That is, after the first ten minutes in which some of the creepiest, most disturbing opening-sequences ever created, transpire and bring you right down to the level of knowing what to expect from the rest of the movie.

And the rest of the movie for that matter, is also pretty creepy. Because Scott is such a talented director, he’s able to make almost each and every shot feel as if it came right out of an art exposition itself and add a sense of eeriness, even if we’re literally watching a scene dedicated to two people just sitting around in a darkly-lit room, whispering about something, and not doing much of anything else. There’s a lot of scenes like that in Hannibal, and while it’s hard to really be excited by any of them, Scott tries his hardest to add a little more pizzazz and energy in any way that he can.

But it still doesn’t escape the fact that the movie’s still uneventful.

Sure, people are shot, killed, ripped-open, eaten alive, sliced, diced, and chewed-on, but is any of it really exciting? Not really, and that’s perhaps the movie’s biggest sin. The first flick may have been a dark, serious and chilly thriller, but there was still a bunch of excitement to the madness of tracking down Wild Bill, nabbing him, and taking him; while it took its time, there was still a feeling of tension in the air. That same tension isn’t really anywhere to be found here, even if the same feeling of general creepiness is – though it only comes in short spurts.

Most of this has to do with the fact that, despite there being maybe three-to-four subplots going on, there isn’t anyone that really grabs ahold of you and makes you want to watch it as it unfolds. Once again, Clarice is on the search for Dr. Lecter, but because there’s another story that runs along the same lines going on, it doesn’t actually seem all that important. Sure, she’ll get her arch-nemesis, but at the end of the day, does any of it really matter? The dude’s off the streets and not eating people anymore, but does that mean the killing is done once and for all?

This is a point the movie seems to bring up, but never actually go anywhere deeper with. Instead, it’s more concerned with seeing how many times Dr. Lecter can fool people into thinking that he isn’t a mean, sadistic, and brutal cannibal. In fact, hearing that, I realize that these scenes should be somewhat fun, if not, totally hilarious. But they aren’t. Instead, they’re just drop dead serious, grim, and uninteresting.

Stop saying her name!

Stop saying her name!

And that’s about it.

The cast does try their hardest, however. Hopkins, as usual, fits into the role of Lecter as if he never left it to begin with. He’s weird and off-putting, but at times, can also be incredibly suave and charming, especially when he’s speaking of disemboweled bodies. But, at the same time, we are getting a lot more of him, which means that it can seem to be a bit of overkill; whereas the first movie featured nearly 15 minutes of screen-time devoted to Lecter, Hannibal features nearly an-hour-and-a-half of him, which means that his act can get a bit old and stale as the time rolls along. Especially since, you know, he isn’t really growing as a character – he’s still killing, conning, and eating people, the way he always did.

The only difference now is that he’s a lot more laid-back than usual.

And though she tries, too, Julianne Moore really does have all the odds stacked against her playing this role that was definitely made a lot better, and more famously by Jodie Foster. Though Moore seems to be still playing into that same kind of ruthless aggression and dedication that Foster worked well with, it’s hard to get past the fact that she’s playing the same character, but it not being Foster. Ray Liotta shows up and, of course, plays a crooked cop that seems like he has nobody’s best intentions at heart and is fine, but once again, what else is new?

The best of the rest, though, is an absolutely nonidentical Gary Oldman as the disgusting and vile-looking Mason Verger. From the beginning, it’s difficult to recognize that Oldman is even in the movie (mostly do the ugly, but impressive make-up and costume job done to him), but after awhile, it’s obvious that it is him, and the performance works wonders from then on. Despite being able to only use his eyes and voice for his character, Oldman still gives off an deceitful feel that helps make it clear that, if the film was just about him and Lecter sparring-off in a duel of wit and evilness, then it would probably be better.

But sadly, that is not what we get and instead, we’re left reaching for our copies of the Silence of the Lambs.

Consensus: Despite trying its hardest, Hannibal cannot quite reach the same creepily entertaining heights as its predecessor and feels more like a waste for each of the talent involved.

5 / 10

It's okay, Jules. We feel the same way.

It’s okay, Jules. We feel the same way.

Photos Courtesy of: Screen Musings

Gossip (2000)

These 21st Century kids make millennials look like babies.

Sex, deception and rumors run wild amongst a group of university students and roommates when Derrick (James Marsden), Jones (Lena Headey) and Travis (Norman Reedus), collaborate on their new journalism class assignment: Identifying the link between news and gossip. But when their class project goes frighteningly out of control, it puts friendships, the future, and their lives, in total jeopardy.

Looking at Gossip from afar, you’d expect it to be your normal, by-the-numbers teen-beat thriller that features a good amount of stuck-up, rich, good-looking kids all running around, drinking, having sex, getting crazy, and saying all sorts of mean, ugly things behind one another’s back. And considering that the film stars many actors/actresses who were, at the time, nearing-30, this makes the movie actually seem like a whole lot of campy, unintentionally-silly fun. And it sort of does, which is why it’s weird to see this being directed by Davis Guggenheim; someone who is most known for directing important, finger-pointing documentaries (An Inconvenient TruthWaiting for Superman).

Not even Kate can take James seriously with that cut.

Not even Kate can take James seriously with that cut.

Pretty odd, right?

Well, what’s even odder is that Guggenheim seems to take this material a whole lot more serious than it probably needed to be. But, like I expected, there’s something fun about the fact that it revolves so much around bullying and gossiping, and doing so in such a straight-faced, no-jokes manner. And because everybody’s a lot older than who they’re playing, it’s a lot more entertaining to be watching 30-year-olds go on and on about rumors of who cheated on who and where at.

One would expect a film titled Gossip, to be one hard-hitting morality tale on how people lie with their words, only to extract revenge on that other person for something they may have done, or to just see that person being talked about, feel pain and hurt. While they touch on that a bit in this film, it’s never materialized into being anything more meaningful or smart. Instead of actually digging deep into how gossip affects us everywhere we go (jobs, media, relationships, etc.) the film takes a left-turn to silly land and becomes a “he said, she said” argument that’s not nearly as smart or as defined as it may think it is. You have to give points to the movie for at least trying, but for the most part, I just wanted them to go back to the screwing, drinking, partying, and gossiping.

Then again, who doesn’t want to watch teens do that for an-hour-and-a-half?

Like I said before, too, the cast is filled with all sorts of recognizable faces who, in plenty of other work, show that they’re more than willing to do great things with the material given to them. However, because everything is so cheesy here, they’re sort of limited to just having to go through the motions. Even if, you know, some do try to step apart from the rest of the group.

Still Pacey, bro.

Still Pacey, bro.

That one, key performance would probably have to be from James Marsden, playing some asshole named Derrick. Marsden is a good-looking guy; there’s no doubting that, no matter who you are, what’s your sexual orientation, or what your taste is. Where Marsden works well with here is that he plays against that fact and shows that, yes, while he may be awfully handsome, there’s not much more to him than that. He’s rude to girls, treats them like used-tissues, and will, on more than a few occasions, make himself feel better regardless of how it makes another person feel. Yes, he’s so deuchy and annoying, that it makes Marsden’s performance all the better and more enjoyable to watch because he’s not backing down from it one bit. Sure, it’s hard to imagine what sorts of wonders Marsden could have done with a better movie/character to work with by his side, but for what it’s worth, the dude gave all that he could.

And what else could you ask for?

That’s why when I look at everybody else in the cast, while I’m initially impressed, I see them in the film and it’s a bit of a disappointment. Nobody, much like with Marsden, is given all that much to do, so they’re sort of just left with being around and servicing a lackluster script. Lena Heady is most definitely pretty, but her character is flat and seems like she’s in a whole other movie completely; the incredibly talented Norman Reedus is fine as the art-weirdo that seems to be a bit too obsessed with all of this gossip-talking, but seeing what he does now on TV, really makes me think that this type of character doesn’t really suit him totally well; same goes for Joshua Jackson who, with the Affair, seems like he was primed and ready for a good role to come his way, he just wasn’t getting it just yet; Kate Hudson despite not being around nearly as much as she should is good in a rare dramatic role as the rich girl, Naomi, because the verdict is never fully out on whether this character is as good of a girl as she says she is, or is as raunchy and vindictive as others say, too; and Eric Bogosian seems so randomly-placed here that it’s actually pretty awesome. He definitely took this as a nice paycheck gig, but still: When was the last time you could say you saw Eric Bogosian in the same film as Cyclops, Daryl, Pacey, and Cersei?

Never! So yeah, see it for that, if anything else.

Consensus: Gossip wants to be, at certain points, a trashy, over-the-top and wacky teen-thriller, while at others, wants to be a melodramatic, soap-opera-y message movie about the affects of false rumors and never makes perfect sense of either, but is still occasionally entertaining to watch because of the cast involved.

5 / 10

Teenagers. Literally never get old.

Teenagers. Literally never get old.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Holiday (2006)

It’s always those attractive celebrities who need the most love during the holidays.

Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are both women who seem to be going through the same sorts of problems, even though both live in different countries. The former is from London, and had an affair with a man (Rufus Sewell) who has just recently gotten engaged; whereas the later is L.A.-bound and has a boyfriend (Edward Burns) who cheated on her. They both feel hopeless and upset, and with it being the holidays, they have no clue what to do next with their lives other than sit around, mope, and cry. However, Amanda has an idea that will also affect Iris: She wants to take a trip to London and Iris wants to take a trip to L.A. So the two concoct a plan where they’ll switch residencies for the time being and live in the other’s shoes. This all happens, but what surprises them both is how they end up meeting new people and, believe it or not, start striking up some romances of their own. Iris starts to see a film composer, Miles (Jack Black), whereas Amanda starts to hook-up with Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law). Both are happy and enjoying their time together, but the reality is that they’ll eventually have to get back to their real lives, and it’s something that may keep the relationship’s away from being anything more than just “some fun”.

She's attractive.

She’s attractive.

And honestly, that’s all there really is to this movie in terms of complications or tension. There’s no big twist thrown at the end to throw the whole plot and/or its characters into a whirl-wind of chaos, nor is there any sort of hurdle that these characters have to get over in order to make themselves feel fulfilled. It’s honestly just a bunch of hot-looking, attractive people, flirting, dating, smooching, sexxing, and then, oh wait, having to then come to terms with the fact that they’ll be living in separate parts of the world in a few days.

That’s it.

A part of me should be pleased that writer/director Nancy Meyers didn’t try too hard to make this movie anymore complicated than it needed to be. So rarely do we get movies that are literally about, what it’s about, and don’t try to stray too far away from that original-plot. So in that general aspect, Meyers does a fine job of giving the audience, exactly what they’re seeking for.

But at the same time, there still needs to be a bit more of a plot to make up for the fact that this movie is over two-hours long. However, it’s not the kind of two hours that flies on by because of the company the movie keeps; it’s every bit, every hour, every minute, and every second of two hours and 16 minutes, which is to say that it definitely needed to be trimmed-down in certain areas. The main which being the scenes that Iris has with her older neighbor (played by the late, great Eli Wallach). Don’t get me wrong, these scenes are nice, charming, and sweet, but as a whole, they don’t really add much to the final product; we just sort of see that Iris is a kind, loving and caring gal that’s nice to old men.

Once again, that’s it.

The scenes that she has with Jack Black’s Miles, tell more about her, her personality, and the kind of lover she is – the scenes she has with Wallach, thankfully, do not. However, Winslet, as usual, is as lovable as she’s ever been; it certainly helps that Iris is a strong-written character to begin with, but it also has to do a great deal with the fact that Winslet can handle both the comedy, as well as the more dramatic-aspects of the script, whenever she’s called on to do so.

He's attractive.

He’s attractive.

Diaz herself is quite fine as Amanda and also does the same as Winslet does: She balances out both the heavier, as well as the lighter material well enough to where her character stays consistent with the movie’s emotions. It’s not a huge shocker to know that I’m not a big fan of Diaz, but she’s actually quite enjoyable to watch here, because she doesn’t always over-do her act. Her character may be a bit stuck-up, but that’s the point; to see the cracks and light in her personality shine through, makes her all the more likable and sympathetic, regardless of where she comes from.

But this isn’t just a lady’s affair, because the men who do show up, also give their own, little two cents to make the Holiday work a bit more than it should. Black isn’t as grating as he usually is, and Law, the handsome devil that he awfully is, also shows certain layers deep inside of a character that could have probably been as dull as a box of hammers. Thankfully, he isn’t and it helps the relationship that his character and Diaz’s strike-up.

Problem is, though, it’s that run-time.

Also, not to mention that the movie doesn’t really make any reason for its existence. There are a few occasions where it’s funny, but for the most part, it’s just particularly nice. Nice does not mean “funny” – it just means that the movie can be seen by practically all audiences, regardless of age. Nancy Meyers always makes these sorts of movies and while they may not necessarily be lighting the world on fire, they’re just pleasant enough to help any person watching, get by. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, a kid, an adult, a senior citizen, gay, straight, bisexual, married, single, widowed, engaged, in a “it’s complicated“, or whatever. All persons from all walks of life can enjoy a Nancy Meyers movie.

That alone does not make them amazing pieces of film – it just makes them accessible.

Consensus: With a likable cast and fluffy-direction from Nancy Meyers, the Holiday is fine to watch and relax to, even despite it being way too long, and feeling as such.

5.5 / 10

Aw, bloody hell! They're all attractive!

Aw, bloody hell! They’re all attractive!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins


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