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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

Pride (2014)

Just be yourself, drag and all.

It’s 1984 and in the UK, a lot of people are angry. Most importantly though, the miners. They feel as if they are not being paid enough, or represented like they should be, so therefore, they decide to start up a strike and get their voices heard. Another group who demand the same are a bunch of prideful and accepting homosexuals who, much rather than being spit on, mocked and ignored, decide that if they’re going to get what they want, they have to go out and join another group who wants the same thing as they do. This is when the young leader of the group, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), coins the name for the campaign, “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” (LGSM). Though, of course, once the miners themselves find out who the group is, they deny them and want nothing to do with them. But thinking on their feet, the LGSM decide to travel out to another group of on-strike miners in a small village in Wales where, at first, they get all sorts of strange looks and stares. Eventually though, most of the town begins to warm up to the group and they all become a family of sorts. But like with most families, there’s always going to be problems and it just so happens that the LGSM may not be ready for all the ones standing in the way of getting what they want: To be heard and understood.

The general idea surrounding most movies that concern a certain group of people/persons, usually is, if you aren’t in the same demographic as the people being depicted on the screen, then you have nothing to relate to. “Because you aren’t black, means that you can’t relate or at least sympathize with a slave,” is something I casually hear in angry, shout-filled arguments about movies that I try to stay away from, and it ticks me off. Not only is it wrong, but I even have a solution to that idea, in a way to shut all the naysayers up for the rest of their days: I’m a human being, isn’t that enough?

McNulty's back! And now he's pretending to be Omar!

McNulty’s back! And now he’s pretending to be Omar!

And that’s exactly the kind of idea I had in my head while watching Pride – sure, I myself am not a gay man, but I know what it feels like to want to be heard and understood, even if it was just through a simple disagreement I’ve had with a family-member or co-worker. Maybe that’s wrong of me to compare the exchange of words I may have with someone in a day in my life, to the plight of all gay and lesbian people out there across the globe, but to me, it feels necessary. Not only did it have me sympathize with just about everyone here, but it also made me realize that this is how I’m supposed to feel.

Another general idea to go along with the one I presented up about two paragraphs ago, is that it’s hard for one to enjoy a movie that’s so limited in its audience-appeal; being a film-goer/lover, I know this to be especially false. As long as the material is presented to me in a way that I can enjoy, or at least find somewhat interesting, I don’t care if you have a story about stomping possums for an-hour-and-a-half; just give me something good, and I’ll roll with it. And that’s why a movie like Pride worked for me – I didn’t need to enjoy it only by being gay, but by appreciating a good, well put-together movie when I see one.

And in case you couldn’t tell by now, Pride is a good, well put-together movie. Which surprised me because, after seeing the trailer, I expected this to be nothing more than a manipulative, feel-goody tale about a group of outspoken people that stood up and got their voices heard that we usually see hit the cinema screens, but thankfully, that’s not how it was. Well, at least not totally, anyway. The problem with Pride is that it can get a bit sappy at times and rather than trying to be subtle with what it’s trying to get across about every man, woman, and being on this planet just sticking together and loving one another, regardless of gender, race, or sexual-preference, it hits you right over-the-head. Especially on more than a few occasions.

But, then again, there is something to be said for a movie that presents a lot of these moments in an over-the-top, preachy-way, yet, still somehow works and is able to put a smile on your face.

Take, for instance, a scene in which Dominic West’s character, Jonathan Blake, decides to break the ice at a benefit for the group by dancing all over the dance floor, flaunting it like nobody’s bizz, and letting pretty much everybody in the venue know, yep, he’s gay. This burst of dance obviously gets everybody else involved and all hyped-up, but it’s not just the gays and lesbians who join in on the fun – there’s actually two very straight, very masculine miner-boys who, throughout the whole movie prior to this, kept their distance from the homosexuals, but now, realizes that looking flamboyant and, overall, being a good dancer, attracts a whole bunch of horny, hot woman, who are just looking to grope the next best dancer they can find who isn’t named Usher (mind you, this was before Yeah!, but you catch my drift). So obviously, they decide to be actual friends with the group that’s supporting them, in hopes that they’ll get all the dancing-lessons they oh so desire.

Is this corny? You betcha! But is it also slightly lovely to see two different sides of society, come together, all in the name of dance? Oh, definitely and that’s how mostly all of Pride is. It’s corny, but sometimes, so corny that you can’t help but fall in love with its inherent corniness and even mistaken it for “having charm”. Which was fine to me, because the movie presents us with enough rich and tender dramatic moments that tell us how hard it truly was for each of these people to get disrespected because of who they were, to go along with the happy-go-lucky ones where everybody’s smiling, drinking, sexxing, and just overall, having a grand time.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, and they’re dancing, too, but I think I’ve made that clear enough by now.

And though the movie can get deep a couple of times, especially when it talks about the oncoming scare of HIV and how nobody’s really doing anything to stop it from wiping out just about everybody it infects, it still doesn’t want to take us away from the fact that this is a sweet, simple story, that hardly ever rings a false note. Sure, there’s a couple of villainous-homophobes that were literally a mustache-twirl away from going full Bond, but even they seemed like they had reasons for being so against same-sex relationships, as misguided as they may have been. Same even goes for the townspeople who eventually grow to like the gays and lesbians; they have clear, understandable intentions for wanting to help their cause, yet, still not totally be thrown for a loop in terms of what they want in life. All they really want to do is lend a helping hand to people who seem like they need it the most, which, to me, isn’t just the real beauty and crowd-cheering praise I can give this movie, but to humanity as a whole.

Okay, now I’m getting sappy.

Consensus: By not trying to be anything it’s not, Pride feels like the sort of feel-good, pick-me-upper that deserves to be seen by anybody who wants to laugh, tear-up a bit, and at the end of the day, feel good about living in the world that we do, where humans inherently feel the need to do the right thing.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Not 80's enough.

Not 80’s enough. Needs more colored mo-hawks.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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St. Vincent (2014)

Are we calling Bill Murray a saint? I think so.

Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) isn’t the type of guy you want to be around when he’s in a bad mood; or generally, any mood. He’s a hard-drinking, gambling, and womanizing scuzz-bucket that’s hardly nice to anyone he’s around and likes it that way. It keeps him further away from being annoyed by people and just makes his life a whole lot simpler. However, that all changes once a mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), move next door. Because they’re all by themselves, the mommy has to constantly work long and hard, which leaves the son alone and without anyone to watch over him. This is where Vincent gets roped into being the baby-sitter of sorts, but only because he’s getting paid $11 an hour, mind you! But even though Vincent’s crass and teaches Oliver the ways of the world that his mother wouldn’t be too happy with, Oliver still sees some goodness in Vinny and wants to keep on hanging around him, even if there seem to be problems in Vincent’s personal-life just constantly tallying-up.

By now, the legend of Bill Murray is a great one. He’s the kind of out-spoken guy in Hollywood that has a few friends, as well as many enemies, but still finds himself charming the hell out of everyone. Not to mention the fact that whenever he shows up at a random house-party, the internet practically breaks wide open, showing us just how cool and down-to-Earth somebody of Murray’s star-status actually is.

Out of the way, kid!

Out of the way, kid!

Another alleged claim that adds more appeal to Murray’s legend is the fact that he supposedly doesn’t have an agent. Meaning, if there’s anybody out there who wants to work with Murray in any way whatsoever, they have to get a hold of a special phone-number of his, where they can leave their number for him to get back to them on. Now, of course some of this may not be all true, but it sort of shows; Murray is known to be quite the selective actor and is practically the only movie star who can get away with doing whatever he wants to, with whomever he wants to. Not because he’s Bill Murray, but because the dude’s a solid worker and has shown on more than a few occasions that he’s not just hilarious, but emotionally-involving, whenever the material needs him to be so.

I say all of this, because it’s a real surprise how bad St. Vincent can sometimes be.

Sure, not all of it is bad and mostly, Murray’s not to blame for it, but here’s my question: How can somebody who is as selective and, well, usually consistent in what he chooses like Murray is, get drawn to something as conventional as this? Is it the fact that it’s a coming-of-ager that has Bill Murray being his usual dick-head-ish self one second, and then lovable the next? Or, is it simply that these are the only right offers that Bill Murray gets nowadays?

Whatever the answer may be, it doesn’t totally matter because the fact is that this movie is definitely a mess. Although, it’s not a terrible mess. Most of this is because the cast, especially Murray, seem like they’re really giving it their all here. Even if they don’t fully end up working for the film as a whole, at least they added something. Like, for instance, take Naomi Watts as the pregnant stripper/hooker Vincent constantly hangs around/bangs – the role is terribly-written, not funny, and makes Watts herself, a highly respectable actress in her own right, have to use this wretched Russian-accent that isn’t the least bit believable. However though, while it may not work, you still have to give it to Watts for trying, even if it doesn’t fully work out all that well in the end.

Which is kind of weird, considering that we have Chris O’Dowd here playing Oliver’s priest/school teacher who isn’t really hiding his Irish-accent and is, instead, sort of just rolling with it and finds a way to make us laugh and totally believe in the fact that he would be in this school, and in this story. And heck, even the same could be said about Melissa McCarthy, because while this is a role for her in a comedy, she isn’t necessarily always doing something funny. But even when she does, it doesn’t consist of her knocking things over or randomly flipping people off; she’s subtle and restrained in the way she allows for her comedy to fly and hit us, and it works. More importantly though, it shows us that Hollywood needs to get their shit together and realize that McCarthy has a real talent that isn’t just in her slap-stick, but in just finding ways to make any situation she falls into funny.

And no, I do not mean the practical “fall”, either.

But, at the end of the day, this movie is really all about Bill Murray as our title-character and what’s there to say that hasn’t already been said? Yes, Murray’s fine, funny, dead-pan, and smart, even when you least expect his character to have such features. Yet, there’s a feeling here that had this movie been better, or, had this character been written less about, that Murray would have a real winner on his hands here. Not just with the movie itself, but this character.

"Sorry, youngster. Adults at talk here discussing the possibility of a female-led Ghostbusters reboot that Hollywood may not ever produce because we can't have good things."

“Sorry, youngster. Adults at talk here discussing the possibility of a female-led Ghostbusters reboot that Hollywood may not ever produce because we can’t have good things.”

Because yes, while Vincent is Murray’s typical a-hole character that he loves to play and can practically do in his sleep, the script gets in the way too many times in trying to get us to like Vincent more. Vincent, the character, being nice to this kid was enough for me to gain my sympathy, but then they felt the need to throw in the whole angle with his wife being in a nursing-home that really just felt manipulative and way too sentimental. But then, I was proven wrong, when the story itself goes on longer than it totally needed to and continuously forces Vincent’s personal problems down our throats, especially once Terrence Howard’s bookie character shows up and makes nefarious promises.

It all gets so very conventional, corny, and overly sentimental that, by the end, I just thought to myself, “Why couldn’t they just let the story tell itself?” Better yet, why couldn’t they just shed off about an half-hour of this, let Bill Murray and all the actors do their things, tell a simple story, and leave it at that? “But it doesn’t make for an emotionally-powerful story, man”, one might say to me, or, “Dude, like it’s all dramatic and stuff, bro”, another may preach. Well, I understand that but sometimes, all a story needs to do in order to pack that wallop every writer hopes to deliver on is to just be simple and see how it impacts those watching.

That’s all this movie needed to be and do, but instead, it took away from the legend that is Bill Murray.

Damn them.

Consensus: The cast, especially Bill Murray in his full-on form as the title character, all do fine with what they’re given, but St. Vincent feels the constant need to over-complicate its story and add on more layers than it needs to, while also ending up being overly sappy and sentimental.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

It's hard to be king.

It’s hard to be king.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Best of Me (2014)

Funny how true love always seems to come around while on the verge of dying.

After an explosion on a rig that nearly kills him, Dawson Cole (James Marsden) catches wind of news that his mentor of sorts (Gerald McRaney) has tragically passed away. With this, Dawson decides it’s time to head back home and see what needs to be taken care in the estate. While he’s doing this, an old-love of his, Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), is doing the same. Which would be great if they wanted to catch up and be cool with one another, however, considering where they last left things, that can’t seem to happen. But because the recently-deceased wishes was for them to see if they can be friends again, they decide to give it a try and with this, we get to see, through flashbacks, how they got so acquainted with one another in the first place and where exactly they went wrong in the process. Which begs the question: Are they too damaged to get back together one last time for all? Or, are they just beginning on another romance of theirs that they can make into something serious? Oh, the melodrama!

Here we go again, people – another year, another Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. And as most of you may know, I for one do not take kindly to these movies; they’re poorly-done and yet, still make so much money because young teenage girls can’t seem to get the fact that hardly any of these movies are good. Sure, the Notebook was serviceable at best, but other than that rarest-of-rare example, there’s not much else to write home about.

In fact, the only times that these movies are at least watchable, at that, is when they’re absolutely crazy and over-the-top that it doesn’t matter how manipulative and corny the final-product turns out to be. As long as you’re having fun with it, that’s all that matters. Safe Haven showed small signs of this, as well as the Lucky One, but regardless, those movies are still terrible. Like I said before, there’s some fun to be had in how ridiculous they can get, but for the most part, they’re just a bunch of overly-sappy, rather boring romantic-melodramas that not even some housewives can get through.

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

And trust me, I live with one and she hates these pieces of garbage!

Which is what brings me to the Best of Me, yet again, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but with a slight twist: the two lovers here are actually a bit older than we’re used to seeing with these adaptations. Usually, Sparks’ adaptations like to appeal to a young-ish crowd, so therefore, they include two hot, young, in-the-moment stars to ring in the dough, but here, the story is a bit different in that the two stars this movie is being advertised with having, are older and definitely not huge stars to begin with. No offense to either James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan (who actually receives top-billing, thankfully), but they’re not the sorts of movie stars that I could see ranking #1 at the box-office, with or without the Nicholas Sparks name attached.

All that said, it’s sad to see them in something like this because, unsurprisingly, they do both try and do succeed in making this material seem genuine. They have a nice chemistry together that is challenging and believable, which is probably a testament to how talented these two pros are. But, as one could imagine happening, even they eventually succumb to the beast of this movie’s script and just how terrible it is.

But most of what makes this movie so bad isn’t the script and how horrendous it is (although it’s definitely a key-factor), it’s the non-stop flashbacks that this movie uses to enhance the emotions of this story, and just constantly annoyed me everytime it showed up. Some of that has to do with how hackneyed the dialogue is between all of these teens, but most of it has to do with the fact that they cast someone who looks like Luke Bracey, in a role that’s supposed to be a younger-version of a James Marsden character. Seriously, look at the two and tell me if you can see one bit of a similarity in how they look.

Not one?

Well, don’t worry, because you’re totally not alone. See, rather than actually searching the landscape and finding a person that looks somewhat like a young-ish James Marsden, the creators here make it seem like they had enough money and time to get a young-stud like Luke Bracey and just decided to cast him in the role, regardless of if he shared any similarities in terms of look or personality with Marsden. This isn’t just a glaring problem with the movie, but it’s constantly distracting because you never for one second believe that one would eventually grow up to be the other. It’s like they’re two different characters, who just so happen to share the same name.

Nicholas Sparks' view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Nicholas Sparks’ view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Which is to say that had Bracey not been playing the same character as Marsden’s, the performance probably would have been viewed better, but sadly, that is not the case. Even though he tries to make us believe in him as this Dawson character, he can’t help but seem like just another one of those bumble, redneck-like characters. But you know, this time, has a heart of gold. Haven’t seen that before, I’ll tell ya!

Thankfully though, Monaghan and the one playing a younger-version of her character, Liana Liberato, are better-off; not because they actually look the least bit alike, but because the personalities of the two characters match and make you believe that one could actually grow up to be the other. That said, Liberato is probably the most memorable part of this movie because she makes a young gal like Amanda, not just seem like she could fall in love with somebody as troubled as Dawson, but because she actually seems like a young kid. She’s reckless, spirited, and lets her emotions get the best of her – a true-to-form, high school girl.

But it’s just a shame that it all had to get wasted in something that doesn’t once feel “honest”, or even “believable”.

Consensus: Like most of Sparks’ other adaptations, the Best of Me is sap-tastic in every which way, meaning that those who usually love this kind of stuff, will continue to do so, whereas everybody else, just cringes and laughs away.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!"

“James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Fury (2014)

I guess something that weighs over 30 tons isn’t all that safe after all.

It’s April 1945 in Nazi Germany, towards the end of WWII and the Allies seem to be kicking all sorts of ass and taking names. So much so, that Adolf Hitler himself has been ordering just about every man, women, and/or child, to get out there on the front lines and fight the good fight. And during all of this, therein lies a tank crew who maintain and work in a big mofo they call “Fury”. The tank sergeant is a man that goes by the name of Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) and just recently, finds himself all torn up over the fact that his second-in-command has just been blown away in the middle of combat. He still has the rest of his crew intact, but this proves to be such a hard hit, that he doesn’t know necessarily how to move on. Well, except all that he and his crew have to do is fight, fight, and fight some more. This time though, they’ll be along for the ride with a newbie by the name of Cobb (Logan Lerman) who nobody really takes a liking to and with good reason: He’s never been on the battlefield before and doesn’t know if he can handle killing other people that haven’t done anything specifically to him. Throughout the next week or so, that may change and Wardaddy will be more than happy to show him why.

There’s something of a plot to be found here in Fury, but honestly, what it all comes down to is “Brad Pitt and a bunch of his fellas go around Germany, shooting and killing people.” While that sounds somewhat repetitive and ultimately, boring, there’s a feeling here that writer/director David Ayer is using it for a whole other reason in particular.

For instance, it’s never made clear to us what exactly the objective here of this story is; usually for a war movie, we understand who is searching for what, why, how they’re going to go about it, and what is going to be accomplished at the end of the day. However, here, the only objective of the plot-line is to fight the war, continue killing the enemy, and try to do so without getting you, or your fellow soldier killed in the process.

Looking that good, can sometimes be so tiring.

Looking that good, can sometimes be so tiring.

In all honesty, that’s more of how the war probably is. there’s no need to save any Private Ryan’s, or even any plan to capture top-level Mogadishu-officials. Here, it’s all about trying to stay alive and killing as many Germans as they possibly can, which is probably just how being in a bloody war is like – hardly ever stopping and always fighting. This is a bold move on Ayer’s part to take, but it’s one that I think needed to be taking, because so rarely is it that we get a war movie that shows us just how screwed up and unforgiving the battlefield truly is, without trying to force a message down our throats. Here, you could say that the moral of the story is, “the war is terrible, and people die.” That’s all Ayer seems to be saying here and I think that’s all that needed to be said.

But of course Ayer takes it a bit of another step forward and actually get to discussing the certain soldiers in the war, by showing us just the type of disturbing affect the war has on them, regardless of how messed-up in the head the individual may be. This is where I think Ayer’s writing is at its best, because rather than glamorizing these soldiers and having them come off as the Nation’s biggest heroes, Ayer has them portrayed as a bunch of guys who had nothing else better to give to society back in the States, other than just sitting around and taking up space. On the battlefield, they have a purpose, they have a cause, and most of all, they have a reason to live. Though we never actually hear a character state this throughout the film, they don’t really have to for us to get the point; in fact, them just stating every so often that being in the war was, “the best job they ever had”, gives us the impression that this is all they have to live for and they’re more than proud to die if they have to. They may be scared, but they’ll at least feel proud to perish because it’s for a reason, even if that reason is for their own well-being.

And though I may make this movie come off as a bit of a melodrama, I can assure you that it’s not; there are moments of pure drama where characters break down, shout their hearts out, and let us know how they feel. However, at the end of the day, it’s a war movie, and because of this, we get plenty of action-sequences with tanks going toe-to-toe with another, people getting shot, stabbed in the face, lit on fire, and most of all, dying. But while these scenes are effective in the most gruesome ways possible, there’s still a feeling that the movie doesn’t know what it wants to say about them – are we supposed to feel bad that countless soldiers on both sides are getting killed? Or are we just supposed to care that way for the American side?

The best example to highlight this problem the movie seems to have with itself is when Cobb, the new blood of this tank group, is ordered by Wardaddy to shoot a German prisoner. Though the German prisoner has surrendered (thus, making it illegal to kill him), Cobb is physically and emotionally manipulated into doing it, even though it is a horrifying act he does not want to partake in. We know it’s not right, he knows it’s not right, but every other character around him (as well as the movie), doesn’t and that’s one of the sole problems with this movie. It doesn’t have enough to say to be an anti-war movie, yet, it doesn’t have enough self-control to not glamorize the violent, sometimes inhumane, acts that occur during the war itself.

Basically, you could write it all down to Ayer not being the best director out there. Sure, as a writer, he’s pretty fine and has shown that he has a knack for writing gritty, raw, and bare human beings who are conscience enough to be considered “realistic”, but as a director, his movies don’t always translate so well. End of Watch was a fine piece that showed he was able to turn the found-footage genre on its head a bit, but that’s about all the praise Ayer gets as a director (his other film released earlier this year, Sabotage, is currently running the gauntlet for being one of my least favorite of the year). That said, while this is probably Ayer’s most accomplished film as director, there’s still signs that what comes out of the pen, doesn’t always translate so well onto the screen, even if the one writing, also happens to be the same individual filming.

Thankfully though, for Ayer at least, he can fall back on the amazing ensemble he has here to ensure that his material will be more than just what’s presented on the surface, and can at least be dissected and looked at a bit more. Brad Pitt, playing a WWII soldier that isn’t collecting Nazi scalps, does a lot as Wardaddy, although it seems like he’s just being his usual-self: Cool, smart, collective, and most of all, masculine as hell. However, there’s more to this character and we get the idea that even though he’s all about defending his country to the very end and do whatever he has to do to protect those around him, at any costs, he still fears the idea of dying, or even worse, a close-one of his meeting the same fate. He’s an emotionally-battered man that disguises it all with orders, commands, and death, but if you look closely, you can see exactly what kind of person he is, and it’s not all that different from you or I.

That's the look of someone who has maybe gone too method.

That’s the look of someone who has maybe gone “too method”.

Except that he looks like this, a sad reality I live with everyday I look in the mirror.

But as good as Pitt is in the lead role, I really have to give a lot of kudos to Logan Lerman, a young talent who is really rising through the ranks and showing us he has what it takes to hang with the big boys. Though Lerman’s character can be classified as “scared, wimp-ish rookie”, Lerman presents us with shades to this character that makes it easy to see why someone as sheepish and kind as he is, would actually totally change into a ruthless, unforgiving killer. It’s actually pretty horrifying if you think about it, and that is why Lerman’s performance is so good: He’s a normal person like you or me, but now it’s time for him to grow up, face the terrible realities of the war, and start shooting that rifle of his.

Though, as good as Lerman and Pitt are, there is a glaring difference between them two, and the attention they get from Ayer, as opposed to the characters played by Michael Peña, Shia LaBeouf and Jon Bernthal, who all seem like types that want to be more than just that, but never get a chance to cause the writing prohibits them from doing so. However, because these three are all good performers, we get a deeper, more effective camaraderie between the whole group that seems to go further than just “war buddies”; they could actually be something of brothers, that just so happen to be connected by the reality of war.

One instance of this is a scene that, for some reason or another, takes place all in real-time and runs for about twenty-five minutes. It starts with Wardaddy and Cobb going into a random German woman’s home, having dinner and sex, but turns into something darker and tense once the rest of the group shows up. This is a great scene because it not only shows the restraint in Ayer’s sometimes confused direction, but actually allows all of these guys to just act with one another, in one scene, one location, and uninterrupted. In this scene, we get to understand who all of these fellas are, why they stick up for one another when they have to, and why they all love each other, in the most non-sexual way possible. It’s probably the most memorable scene of the movie, which is probably a testament to the cast, especially when you consider how much blood, guts, bullets and steel are flying around.

Consensus: Maybe not the deepest war movie ever made, Fury doesn’t know where it stands on certain ideas, but is still well-acted by its highly-capable cast and displays a growing talent in David Ayer as a director, even if there is some room for improvement to be made.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

#2MasculineForYou

#2MasculineForYou

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Kill the Messenger (2014)

What’s a newspaper?

Middle-aged journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) isn’t necessarily the type of writer who searches for a big story, but if it ever comes his way, he’ll more than likely take the opportunity to jump on it right away. That’s why when Webb stumbles upon a lead that may take him all the way to uncovering that the CIA channeled drugs through the U.S., he gets on top of it right away, interviewing possible sources, even if that includes him taking trips out to to the villages of Nicaragua and putting his life on the line. However, Webb is a true journalist and will do anything to make his story the best possible one out there and for all of the world to see, which is exactly what happens. It gets his name known, story re-published in larger, much more respected news outlets, face on TV, and even an award for “Year’s Best Journalist”. Everything looks wonderful for Webb’s life and career, that is, until the government actually gets involved and starts putting pressure on him, as well as his news publication to stop pursuing the story any further, or else. This leaves Webb at a stand-still: Continue following the story his career was made for and lose everything he has, or, listen to what the government demands so that he can live a normal, comfortable life, like everything was before all this press? Decisions, decisions.

There’s certain movies that, to me, may speak volumes, while to others, may not at all. I understand this because while most critics out there like to say that they “have no bias” when it comes to reviewing a certain movie, from a certain creator, on a certain subject, the fact is, we are all biased. Which isn’t a problem, it’s just a fact of life that every human being has deep down inside themselves, regardless of if they want to admit or not.

A notorious drug kingpin who plays golf? Hmm...

A notorious drug kingpin who plays golf? Hmm…

The reason why I say this, is because a movie like Kill the Messenger is made exactly for me: A movie about an respectable journalist, taking place in a time when journalists truly did matter to the mainstream media, and doing what most journalists do, day in and day out. I too, am an aspiring journalist and while I do realize that the world is starting to need fewer and fewer of them, it’s still a profession I love and will continue to pursue until the day I die, regardless of if I have a job in the field or not. So yeah, as you could probably tell by my statement, that this is the movie for me.

That said, I do realize that not every movie out there that works for me, won’t work for others and while I do want to jump into this movie head-on and talk about Webb, his practice, and how he, the real-life figure, makes me happy to be an aspiring journalist, I have to judge the movie on its merits. Merits which, mind you, may be a bit fuzzy to me and my inner-bias.

Sorry, people. I’m only human, after all.

But as I was saying, Kill the Messenger is a pretty typical biopic; while it definitely tries to shy away from being by-the-notes, it hardly ever flies away from this convention and just tells its story like how it was presented to us. Which isn’t a bad thing, because if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it, and such is the case here. Webb’s story, as is, is an interesting one that doesn’t need to go through any interesting, yet shocking, twists to liven things up – all it needs to do is be told to us as it was, with every bit of information known about who he was and the controversy that surrounded a good portion of his life. Sort of like an article as is, but I won’t go on any further about that!

Anyway, director Michael Cuesta, while not necessarily the most flashy director in the world, doesn’t need to be so because the strength of the movie is in the real-life story itself. Of course with most of these biopics, there’s always the wonder of how much we are seeing presented on screen is actually how it happened, or how much is just made for the sake of making the movie entertaining, but for the most part, I couldn’t find any punches pulled by Cuesta. Even if there were any, they were so thinly-done, that it was hard for me to notice and hardly ever took me away from the real strength of this movie, which was the character of Gary Webb himself. But most of all, the actor portraying him: Jeremy Renner.

By now, within in the past five years of seeing the Hurt Locker, I think the world has come to realize that Jeremy Renner is a wonderful actor that’s more than capable of handling a movie on his own (for some of us, it may have been earlier, but you know, I’m talking about the mainstream audience here, you hipsters). So for him to be involved with a biopic such as this, it made me interested in seeing just how far he could go into making us see him as somebody, and not just him playing somebody. And honestly, it’s impressive how well-suited for this role Renner is; though we don’t know all that much about Webb, the real-life person, what we see from how Renner plays him, we get the idea that he was a sweet and lovable, yet also troubled, family man. Because Renner has such a charming screen-presence, there’s an idea that he gets along with practically anybody he’s around and doesn’t hold anything back when it comes to telling it like he sees it. Which is, once again, all thanks to Renner’s wonderful performance that may not get a lot of press, but definitely should, because it’s probably his strongest since the previously-mentioned Locker.

The guy who played Omar Little, as a drug-dealer? Really?

The guy who played Omar Little, as a drug-dealer? Didn’t see that coming!

But what Renner, as well as the movie, tells us about Webb is that he was a hard-worker, who stuck to his journalistic guns, even when it seemed like, for the well-being of everyone around him, he shouldn’t have. However, that’s what brings us to the main dilemma that the movie discusses: How far should a journalist go to pursue a story? Should they go in so deep that they practically abandon those who love and count on him/her for support? Or, should they create their story and jump off of it right before the story itself gets all sort of unwanted press?  This, to some, may seem like an obvious point made by many other movies concerning the world of journalism, but to me, a fellow journalist, is a problem I struggle with everyday. Not because I myself am throwing myself right into these highly controversial stories that could put my life on the line, but more because that could definitely happen some day. A person could easily read a story of mine that they don’t like and could decide to take matters into their own hands, which, I know, sounds barbaric, but crazier things have happened, people.

But enough about me, because while I found a way to connect to this movie with my own journalist-mind intact, I think the real wonder of this movie that makes it easy for almost anybody to appreciate is that it gives a glimpse into the life of a man not many people discuss or even know about much anymore. Webb, while seeming like a slightly troubled-fella, really did love his job, but most of all, loved discovering and unraveling the truth about those in power and all of the wrong-doings they were committed. Which is why it’s sad to see not just his family begin to bail on him once this story gets too hot, but also his publication that doesn’t want to be involved with a journalist who may, or may not be, good for their image.

It says something about journalism as a whole, but also says something about how this man, Gary Webb, truly did want people to know that he was telling the truth just about every step of the way. But that it only takes a few of those in power, to be angry, and make sure that whatever skeletons they have in their closet, stays put. It sucks, but it’s a reality and it was inspiring to see someone like Webb stand up for himself, even when it was the riskiest choice he could make.

Even if I was the only one who felt it.

Consensus: Kill the Messenger isn’t just a testament to the legend of Gary Webb and his journalistic pursuit to discovering the truth, but also to journalism as a whole, and presents plenty of strong questions, with hardly any answers. The way it’s supposed to be told.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Once he starts throwing pieces of the puzzle on the wall, we all know its downhill from there.

Once he starts throwing pieces of the puzzle on the wall, we all know its downhill from there.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Third Person (2014)

Always heard Rome was the most romantic place to be on Earth. Turns out, eh, not so much.

A bunch of stories that, despite taking place in different places, are inter-connected through the power of love, children, and forgiveness. Or something like that. In one story, a middle-aged writer (Liam Neeson) has just left his wife (Kim Basinger) for a much-younger confidante of his (Olivia Wilde), and the two converge in a wild vacation in Paris. Another story, there’s a mysterious businessman (Adrien Brody) who meets a random woman (Moran Atias) in a bar in Rome and ends up getting thrown into her very dramatic life that leaves him wondering if he wants to continue on this adventure with her or not, or go back to his boring, subdued life in the States. And lastly, there’s a story of a young woman (Mila Kunis) who is finding it hard to get over a supposed crime she committed to a kid and is currently in the midst of a rough custody-battle with her ex (James Franco) over their child.

In case you couldn’t tell by now, Paul Haggis definitely likes to make his movies about “something”. Now the answer to what that “something” may be is a whole different question altogether,  but there’s always a feeling one gets when watching a Paul Haggis movie that all of what you’re seeing, is supposed to have a big, ultimate meaning at the end. And though people may have a problem with that, I for one have to credit someone like him for at least stepping out and trying to make his pieces more than just conventional-fare that doesn’t have much to think about when you get down to it. It’s risky for a film-maker, especially nowadays, to test the boundaries of cinema and see what can come out as the end result, even if said end result isn’t as perfect as the creator may have originally intended for it to be.

Oh, James. So serious. So "artsy".

Oh, James. So serious. So “artsy”.

That said, there’s something odd going on with Third Person that I feel like even Haggis himself loses a bit of control over.

For instance, all of the different subplots Haggis has going on here, there’s hardly an interesting one to be found. Sure, some of the themes he’s dealing with like adultery, love, forgiveness, and heartbreak may all be relateable, but they hardly add up to much other than being “about that kind of stuff”. Also, you can discuss these ideas and show how it all connects to your story, but if you’re not really doing anything to grab our attention in the first place, then what’s the point? Is it entertainment? Is it to tell people you like to think a lot about big, important stuff? Or, do you simply just need a format in which you can stand on your soapbox and preach for the whole world to hear?

Well, I’d say that in the case of Haggis, the later two options are definitely possibilities. Which is a shame because Haggis, as usual, has assembled a pretty solid cast on his hands here, it’s just that none of them are given much of anything interesting to do and also, it becomes very clear early on that their performances don’t mean diddly-squat to what it is that Haggis wants to say. In a movie like Crash, it was easier for the cast to shine and show that they could get in the way of Haggis’ moralizing, but here, with Third Person, mostly everybody’s trapped, can’t get out and eventually, just have to give in to the fact that they’re in Haggis’ control. And with that, it’s going to be quite difficult to break away from the rest of the movie and leave a lasting impression on the viewer.

The only one who I think does such a thing is Olivia Wilde and obviously, for all the wrong reasons. Yes, Wilde does get quite naked in this movie and definitely shows us that she’s got a wonderful body to go along with that wonderful face of hers, but her character becomes so unlikable and cloying, that you feel bad for Wilde, because you know she wants to win over the audience like she usually does in anything she’s in. But here, considering she’s playing a gold digger that goes for older, married-men, there’s already a feeling that she’s not a character we’re supposed to care for much and Haggis doesn’t stop trying to make that clear to us.

It’s just such a shame that Olivia Wilde had to be on the opposite end of that lesson. What a lovely, lovely woman she is.

We are a long time away from the Pianist, folks. A long, long time away, indeed.

We are a long time away from the Pianist, folks. A long, long time away, indeed.

And as for the rest of the cast, everybody else is pretty much the same – nobody’s spectacular, yet, nobody’s bad either. Liam Neeson is the adulterating older man that decides to start sleeping with Wilde’s character and is okay, but his whole shtick of writing a book and not being able to complete it/get it published, gets old quick and shows that maybe Neeson wasn’t the best choice for this role; Adrien Brody makes a nice choice at choosing who he works with for once in a long while, but sadly, plays this role of a mysterious businessman with as much emotion as a cardboard box; Mila Kunis spends a lot of time yelling, looking befuddled, and constantly running around; James Franco does quite the opposite in that he stares, whispers certain sayings and acts his usual cool-self; and Kim Basinger’s hardly around enough to leave an impression to where we feel bad for her and the situation she’s left to deal with.

But at the end of all this, Third Person ends up being a trick movie, in that, everything we see, may or may not be how it actually happens. And somehow, all of these stories are connected, more so than we originally thought. It’s a neat trick that I applaud Haggis for trying here, but sadly, it doesn’t work and makes it clear that this director had a goal here, and it wasn’t to give us compelling characters or stories; just to lead us on a non-meaningful story, only to then pull the rug from underneath us at the last second.

Paul Haggis, you bastard. Brokeback Mountain should have totally won.

Consensus: Every minute of Third Person, it’s clear that Paul Haggis is running the show and not only does it get in the way of the cast, but gets in the way of creating an actual compelling narrative, that people could actually be affected by.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

"And so I told him 'I will find you, and I will kill you.' Hahahaha!"

“And so I told him ‘I will find you, and I will kill you.’ Hahahaha!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Men, Women & Children (2014)

“Technology’s the devil”, in case you haven’t heard that from your grand-parents enough already.

The world in which we live in is changing everyday and technology’s a big reason for that. However, the big question remains: Is it good that we have technology around us, affecting our lives so much? Or, simply put, is it bad and making us disconnect from those around us? Well, the answers don’t come easily, especially for a handful of people living in a Texas suburb. Take for instance, there’s the married-couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who hasn’t felt that love or passion for one another in quite some time; the photographer mother (Judy Greer) who so clearly loves her daughter and the passion she has for acting, but can’t help but lead her the wrong way; another mother (Jennifer Garner) who may be a bit too over-protective of her daughter and how she uses her forms of technology; a high school sophomore (Ansel Elgort) that quits the football team to focus more on his personal life, which leads him to falling for an outcast (Kaitlyn Dever); and lastly, a young teenage girl (Elena Kampouris) who is curious about sex for the first time in her life and will do anything to experience it, even if that means risking her own life. Oh yeah, and it’s all narrated by Emma Thompson, for some odd reason.

There hardly ever comes a time when I find myself following the rest of the status quo and agreeing with just about everything others have said. That’s not how I roll with movies, music, TV, video-games, and just life in general. I have opinions that I’ll make up for myself and stick to them until I wake up one day and think differently.

Now, with that being said, when I found out that everybody has been practically trashing on this movie here, I was surprised. Not because it seemed like it was a return-to-form for a favorite of mine, Jason Reitman, but because it featured an ensemble cast so good, that it was almost too hard for me to believe that any of them would agree to do something that’d be considered “utter shite” (well, except for Adam Sandler, but hey, he’s trying to get better!). But such is the case here with Men, Women & Children and rather than going into it and expecting it to hate with all my might because of what plenty others have been saying, I decided to stick to my guns, go in with a clear mind, and see how me, myself, and I felt walking out.

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds' heads!

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds’ heads!

And well, wouldn’t ya know it? I quite liked it. In fact, I came close to loving it on a few occasions. And then I didn’t. But the moral behind this story here, folks, is always make sure to not get bogged down by what others may, or may not, be saying. It only gets you further and further away from what matters most: Your own feelings regarding anything.

But like I was saying, there’s definitely something fishy about this movie. For instance, I find it rather strange that Reitman would go for a story that, yes, could be considered timely because of how much it uses technology as a moral stand-point for its story, but in all honesty, actually feels somewhat dated. These types of movies that try to warn us about the dangers of technology seem like they were running wild all over Lifetime or Oxygen way back when. That’s not to say that these types of stories don’t matter nowadays, because no matter what, technology will always be relevant in each and everyone of our lives, but I could have definitely done without a another “technology is evil” movie that just disregards its own message when it’s telling us, the audience, to actually engage in conversations on social-media networks to continue the conversation about the movie we just saw.

A tad ironic, but hey, whatever. The world’s not perfect, and the same thing goes for this movie. Because see, since this is an ensemble-piece, that means one thing: Not every story will be interesting. Though I’d like to hope for that in every movie I see in which different stories take place over the course of one film, the fact of the matter is that it usually doesn’t happen. And such is the case here, because out of the, well, I don’t know, say nine or so subplots, at least four-and-a-half of them are actually somewhat compelling. The others are sort of just there to take up space and allow us to see actors do, well, just that. Which isn’t such a bad thing, especially when you have a cast this good, but every so often, the movie makes you wonder what could have happened, had there been a lot more attention given to the development of these characters and their stories, much rather than the whole obvious message surrounding them and hitting us in the face.

For instance, try the story of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt’s subplot; in movie terms, their characters are the quintessential aging married-couple: Bored, unfulfilled and always horny, yet somehow, not for one another. There are brief instances in which this story could take a couple of really dark, shocking turns, but since it has to rely on the story’s gimmick of making it all about technology, the movie then jumps into the whole “dating services” aspect of the internet that so many movies have touched on, and also more effectively. Now, that’s not to say that neither Sandler or DeWitt put in bad performances (Sandler does pretty well at playing subtle here, although I was a bit upset by there being hardly any shopping-aisle dances), but you can tell that, had they been given much more to work with, they could have come close to stealing this movie away from the rest of the group and have us actually twisting our heads and thinking.

Well, more to work with, and probably if there hadn’t been any technology used in the first place.

Cause honestly, the aspect of technology placing itself into these stories doesn’t always work and, quite frankly, doesn’t feel wholly necessary. Now, I get that this is an adaptation of a novel that deals with the same problems and what have you, so I understand why Reitman didn’t want to totally take out the aspect of the idea that made it so “unique” in the first place, but really, at the end of the day, it’s just a cautionary tale of how most of us don’t talk to one another and, occasionally, do bad things. Does that mean that technology is always involved with these problems in life? Hell to the no! So, to make every person’s problem in this movie in some way or another, have something to do with technology and its usage, just felt pointless and really took away from the emotional impact that so many of these stories had initially promised.

That’s not to say that these stories don’t deserve to be told, but they don’t deserve to be done so in such an off-putting, slightly over-bearing way either, in which technology always has to rear its ugly head in, somehow, or someway.

Hey, at least they're sleeping in the same bed, right?!?!?!

Young lovers of the world, look close, this will be you one day. Don’t argue, just accept.

And it should be noted that Sandler and DeWitt’s story aren’t just the only ones that get, pardon my French, get the shit end of the stick; a few others show plenty of promise early on, only to have all of that go the way of the Dodo about half-way through. Elena Kampouris’ subplot about a teenage girl with image and sexual issues is alarming, but gets a bit insane by the end that it starts to feel like Reitman’s driving right back into the melodrama he loved so much with Labor Day. The same could sort of be said for a subplot involving a young teenage kid who literally can’t get an erection or perform the act of sex, if it isn’t at all like how he views it as in the various pornos out there on the web. Once again, it’s another honest, true-to-life story, but just feels corny by the end, especially when we see how crazy it pans out to be. And the Jennifer Garner subplot concerning the over-protective mother was just stupid from the very beginning, and only made worse by the fact that Garner’s nerdy-mom shtick gets real old, real quick.

Though the stories that do hit, actually hit pretty hard, if not for the reasons that Reitman had probably intended. Probably the best, most interesting, most compelling, and most lovely subplot of this jumbled-up movie is the one between Ansel Elgort’s ex-football player and Kaitlyn Dever’s social outcast who both, through pure chance, just end up falling for one another. Not only is this the one true story that’s the closest to my heart (high school romance hardly ever disappoints this sentimental soul), but it’s the one story that feels like it’s the closest to Reitman’s heart, too. Both Elgort and Dever’s characters, with as few scenes we get with them together, feel like they would be attracted to each other and not just for the sole reason of having sex, getting it out of the way, and moving on. They’re both lonely, sad, and tormented young souls that need somebody, or someone to talk to, regardless of how it’s done. It also helps that Elgort and Dever have great chemistry and feel like fully fleshed-out teenagers in a film that, honestly, didn’t seem too concerned about in the first place (Elgort is especially amazing and wins me back from his over-the-top nature in the Fault of Our Stars).

But even then, this story seems to get a bit wacky by the end when it relies too much on the idea its presented itself with and takes a bit of steam away from the real heart of the best story it had to offer.

But since I’m going on so much about what Reitman does wrong here, I do have to say that I’m happy to see him at least slightly back in his usual-form. Granted, this isn’t a typical comedy like we’re so used to seeing him do like before, but it’s at least a minor step in the right direction to where he’ll hopefully be able to blend comedy and drama so well, that you have a hard time being able to discern one from the other. That’s the old Jason Reitman we all loved and awaited to see what he had up his sleeve next and it’s the Jason Reitman we all want back, in full-fledged form.

Right, guys?

Consensus: At times, Men, Women & Children can feel like a typical, over-exaggerated after school special about the horrors of technology, but thanks to a solid cast and a few interesting subplots, it is able to get through its various plot-hoops and holes.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Judge (2014)

Usually it’s the dad bailing the son out of jail, not the other way around. But hey, I’m not from the South, so whatever!

Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hotshot lawyer who always defends the obviously-guilty, and somehow, always ends up winning. However, his shattered personal life is starting to catch up with his successful professional-career, when he hears news of his mother’s passing. This puts him on a journey to go back to where he started from; which, in this case, would be the small town of Carlinville, Indiana where, unsurprisingly, his estranged father (Robert Duvall) is still the town’s respected judge. But see, even his personal life begins to catch up with him when, on one fateful night, the Judge supposedly runs over and kills the town degenerate. And normally, nobody would care, because the guy was a total prick, but the family does and they’re taking the Judge to court! Not to mention, they’ve equipped themselves with one of the meanest, cruelest lawyers in the world, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). This seems like the perfect opportunity for Hank to stand up and defend his father, but since their relationship isn’t the most ideal, he hesitates. That is, until he realizes that maybe his father needs him, and now, more than ever before for reasons that will shock and shape his life, whether he wants to accept it or not.

So while this movie seems like total Oscar-bait from the plot, to the cast, and even to the subject-matter itself (courtroom genres are usually a big plus in the eyes of the 80-90-year-old Academy voters), there’s just one big element keeping it away from making that a reality: Director David Dobkin. Sure, to some, the name may not mean much. Well, let me put it in terms to make you understand: Dobkin is the director of such hits as Wedding Crashers, the Change-UpShanghai Knights, and Fred Claus.

Judge1

“Vera Farmiga with arm-tat” is totally “slumming it”.

Yes. Fred freakin’ Claus, everybody! The movie still finds a way to pop-up in everybody’s head, even if it’s as relevant as a box of Chia Pets.

And while at least more than half of those movies are fine, entertaining-pieces of cinema, they’re mostly all, immature, R-rated comedies that make people stand up, laugh, hit themselves silly, go home, and continue on with their everyday lives, but now continuously quote “that hilarious movie they saw with their buddies last weekend”. Those are the same kinds of people that, mind you, don’t really seem like they’d be all that enthused by the Judge, even if it does have a few of those “hee hee” moments.

But then again, I can’t hate on a director who wants to actually branch-out and try something new for once. Sometimes, the most unique movies come from those creators who were pigeon-holed as being a director of one certain genre and sticking to it, and decided to tell the world to “kiss off” and do something different, regardless of how much it would set people back. Though I’m drawing blanks on a few examples, I know they’re out there! But sadly, David Dobkin’s the Judge won’t be joining that list because this is a mess, and understandably so. Dobkin is a director that’s too inclined to just throw in a poop or fart gag, so that when he has to deliver on these strong, compelling moments of drama, they don’t quite mesh so well with the many scenes we get in which we think Downey’s character has possibly hooked up with his own biological daughter.

Not only does this create a jumble between tones, but it makes you wonder what could have happened, had the Judge been given a director that’s more comfortable with both sides of the table. Because, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, there are a few scenes of drama that are well-done and make some of this material, as well as the characters, slightly interesting. But then, moments later, after this touching scene has occurred, Dobkin will make a kind-of-a-joke about how Duvall’s character is incapable of controlling his bowels. And no, I am not kidding you, some of that is actually played up for a joke and it feels oddly-placed.

And that’s pretty much how the whole film is: Sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Most of this is because Dobkin isn’t all that capable of handling drama and comedy together, and also, because his movie just gets more and more conventional as it runs on along. Which was fine because I knew it was going to turn into that after a certain while, but nearly two-and-a-half-hours of waiting till a conclusion that we can already pin-point from a mile away, is a bit too much. Especially when one has to deal with all of the rough patches Dobkin goes through in order to build up to the predictable climax.

But if anything, the Judge makes you wish this kind of high-caliber cast had been given a better movie, because mostly everybody here is good, and sometimes, trying way harder than they need to. Though Robert Downey Jr. is, essentially, playing the same snarky character we’ve seen him do since the beginning of his career, there’s something slightly refreshing in seeing it done now, as an actual person, rather than as Tony Stark, or Sherlock Holmes. Not saying that either one of those characters are bad, but if it came down to RDJ having to play human beings for the rest of his life, as opposed to multi-million-dollar franchise “names”, I’d be happy with him just being Charlie Chaplin again.

RDJ just can't handle this right now. Like OMG.

RDJ just can’t handle this right now. Like OMG.

As long as he stays away from the drugs, that is.

Same goes for Robert Duvall, an actor who, because I haven’t seen him in quite some time, totally left my mind as being a capable actor. But here he is, pushing 83 and giving a good performance as the grumpy curmudgeon that is our titled-character. Though most of the movie is Duvall growling and looking pissed, the scenes he has with Downey Jr. feel like they come from a soft spot in both of their hearts, and to me, really struck a chord. Even if the rest of the movie was manipulative, over-stuffed, over-long, jumbled, and messy, these two being on screen together and just acting their behinds off was more than enough for me.

That said, David Dobkin should just stick to hand job-gags. Those seem to work out best for him in the end.

Consensus: Despite a strong cast trying with everything each and everyone of them have got, the Judge turns out being a jumbled-up mess of comedy, drama, family-dynamics, courtroom arguments, and ill-placed jokes, all coming to a predictable end.

 5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Grrrrrrrr!"

“Grrrrrrrr!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The November Man (2014)

But it’s not even his month yet! What an arse!

Veteran CIA officer Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is lured back into the profession when an old confidante of his turns up dead. This leads Devereaux next in line for the killing, so he goes on the run, which also, unsurprisingly, pits him against his protégé (Luke Bracey) in a violent game of cat-and-mouse. But there’s a bigger story here than just these two guys trying to kill one another; apparently a big member of the Russian government is involved with a prostitute-scandal that he wants to keep silent. However, that’s not going to fly with Devereaux and this is when he stumbles upon a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who may have all the information he needs in order to have all the dogs called-off and allow for him and his rival to chill out and sip on a few cold ones. That is, if they don’t kill the other first.

So, why on Earth did I decide to review this? Better yet, why did I even bother watching this in the first place? It had crap ratings, a crap release-date, crap box-office returns (okay, they’re not as bad), and honestly, will most likely be forgotten by the end of the year, rather than nominated for a Razzie or two (which, believe it or not, isn’t as bad as being “totally forgotten”).

Well, the short answer? Because I don’t know. Maybe a part of me just wanted to get away from the drama-heavy usual pieces I sit around watching and just enjoy myself, even if it was for only an hour two. Okay, maybe that answer was a bit longer than I had wanted, but honestly, I feel like that response puts into perspective of what I’m trying to get across here about the November Man: It’s nothing special, but eh, you could do worse.

Tryin' to catch Pierce ridin' dirty....

Tryin’ to catch Pierce ridin’ dirty….

Actually, you could do a whole lot worse with a piece of R-rated action-thriller such as this, but somehow, director Roger Donaldson finds a way to class this up ever so slightly, that it makes the final-product more than just a bunch of blood, guts, bullets, and, ahem, octane. It’s a sort of spy-tale in that we get a bunch of international men of mystery, end up colliding with one another in a game full of twists, turns, hoops, and holes, but also has a bit of an aggressive edge to it that made some of the violence a bit shocking.

In fact, if there was a problem I had with the movie, it was that the gruesome violence seemed to happen so abruptly, it almost seemed like the movie didn’t want to make it any more than just what they presented themselves as being: Bloody bits of violence and action. Which, yes, is fine if that’s exactly what you’re going for in your movie, but I feel like Donaldson was aiming for something a little bit deeper than that, and he doesn’t fully achieve it.

He tries to make us care for these characters, understand their plight, and cheer that whatever situation they’re in, they get out of them alive. Most action movies use this aspect, and use it well, but the November Man feels slightly odd in that we never really get to the point of where we can feel anything for any of these characters. Not because because they’re written poorly (which they are), but because the actions they make, don’t always allow them to shine in the right light. Which is a problem considering that almost every action these characters make, is a bad one that can either rub us the wrong way, or make us wonder who in the hell we’re supposed to cheer for.

It’s obvious that the movie wants us to mainly be on the side of Peter Devereaux, its hero of sorts, but he only comes off more like the idea of “a hero”, and more of just, simply put, “a dick”. See, even though Pierce Brosnan is playing Devereaux as another side of James Bond, there’s not much charm or likability to this guy that makes us want to reach out to him like we do with Bond. Sure, the character of Bond himself has some problems, mostly with the boozing and the women, but when it comes down to getting his mission done, in an efficient way, where hardly any innocents are hurt, Bond is there to save the day, for lack of a better term.

A Bond actor and a Bond girl, but not a Bond movie? Da 'eff?

A Bond actor and a Bond girl, but not a Bond movie? Da ‘eff?

However, that’s not Peter Devereaux and while I like Brosnan playing up his “good-guy” image of Bond, this time would have been more effective, had he already not done so in a much better, much more entertaining movie, the Matador. That said, Peter Devereaux is a ruthless bad-ass that definitely shoots first, and takes names later, so if you’re into that sort of sociopathic thing, then yeah, he’s definitely your hero. However, if you’re like me and appreciated it when the people you’re supposed to be rooting for have at least a few good qualities to their personalities, then you may be a bit out of luck here with Peter Devereaux. Brosnan definitely tries with this character and more often than not, comes out on top, but sadly, it’s not the kind of performance he can be happy with, years after the fact when he’s looking at his career in hindsight.

But I’ve realized that I’ve gotten further and further away from my original point about the November Man: It’s quite fun. Though it may be gritty, full of senseless acts of violence, somewhat mean-spirited, and confusing whenever it focuses on its convoluted, unnecessary political-subplot, there is some excitement to be had here, especially when people are shooting one another and do whatever they can to kill the other. Sounds a bit scary, I know, but that’s how most action movies are.

For better, as well as for worse. All depends on who it is you’re talking to.

Consensus: With numerous acts of bloody, disheartening violence, the November Man may rub some the wrong way, while entertain the hell out of others. Basically, it all comes down to what kind of person you are and what it is you like to do with in your spare time.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Cool guys still apparently walk from explosions.

Cool guys apparently still don’t look at explosions.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

God’s Pocket (2014)

Philadelphia is full of scum. Take that from a person who lives there and yet, loves it so!

Philadelphia, circa the 1970’s where the mob has practically taken over all business. And a fella by the name of Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of those mobsters who does his business, moves on, and goes back to his wife, Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), to make sure she’s happy and pleased with the life he’s made possible for her. However tragedy strikes for them both when Jeannie’s kid ends up dying in a surprising “freak accident” at work. Though there’s a lot of speculation concerning that “accident” and whether or not it was actually a cover-up, Mickey has to find enough cash to make sure that his wife’s kid gets the best funeral possible and also, that he’s able to do so without having to split any heads in the process. Problem is though, he’s owed money by a lot of people, and there comes a point where you have to stop being nice, and start taking action in order to get what you want.

Or you know, something like that.

Honestly, though there seems to be a plot on the surface here, the truth is, there really isn’t. I mean yeah, this Mickey fella has to find a way to squander up a certain amount of cash so that his wifey-poo’s kid can get the funeral she wants him to have, but you can sort of tell about half-way through that the movie doesn’t really know if it wants to pay much attention to that, or anything else in this movie for that matter.

Most of that has to do with the fact that this is the directorial-debut by one John Slattery who, if you don’t know by now, so charmingly plays Roger Sterling on Mad Men. And that’s why it’s really hard for me to trash on this movie because you can tell that Slattery wants to make a good movie and definitely has the potential to make one in the near-future if he decides to continue to go down this road of being behind the camera, but this sadly, is not that film.

5 o'clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

5 o’clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

Because honestly, it’s just that Slattery doesn’t quite know how to make the blend between comedy, drama, and bits of violence, seem all put together in a cohesive manner. To say this thing is messy, is to say you get wet when you step out in the rain without an umbrella; it’s pretty obvious. But what makes this movie worse than just something of a mess, is that it’s too dull to ever be considered “an interesting mess”. And this is where, as much as it pains me to do so, where I get a tad mean on Slattery because it just seems like he doesn’t really know where to go with this material, nor does he know of what to actually say about any of it, or the characters that inhabit it; he’s sort of just a pedestrian to all that’s happening.

And honestly, that’s not so bad for some movies out there, considering they have a great cast on their hands. Which is why this is an even bigger surprise to me, considering the ensemble Slattery’s been able to cobble up together here. Of course we all know that John Turturro is good at playing the sneaky, gangster-type, but rather than doing anything interesting with that role here, it’s more of a case in where you can sort of see him going through the motions without much heart or inspiration. Same goes for the always lovely Richard Jenkins who plays a journalist with a bit of a drinking problem. Though it’s a pleasure to see Jenkins on screen and acting like his usual smarmy-self, his subplot really doesn’t add much to this movie and feels unnecessary, especially when you consider how much time it’s actually taking away from the real story at-hand here, which is Mickey getting all of that money for this funeral.

And yes, while that plot seems ripe with all sorts of excitement and fun, Slattery’s direction doesn’t really get to portray any of that. Instead, it’s just a slow, uninteresting bore that you can tell wants to say something about these low-life characters, but in the end, isn’t really saying anything at all. In fact, if I had to really dig deep underneath this story, I’d say that Slattery actually glamorizes these characters a bit as being constantly funny, cool, and able to use violence whenever they want. Now that’s fine and all when you have well-written characters, but here, there’s nobody to really care for, nor even really pay much attention to.

Well, at least she's still like Joanie in THAT sense.

Well, at least she’s still like Joanie in THAT sense. Heh heh.

Same goes for the character of Jeannie who we’re supposed to care for the most, but instead, don’t really care for, because we don’t get much of her to begin with. We just see that she’s devastated with the news of her son’s passing and we’re supposed to build our opinions about her around that idea. It didn’t quite work and although you can tell Christina Hendricks is clearly trying to break away from her Joan Harris-image, it more or less feels like she’s not trying hard enough. Or that she doesn’t have much to really work with in the first place.

That could definitely be the sole reason and it’s an even bigger shame, too, because this movie will also go down as one of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s films. And, above everything else, is the true disappointment of this movie – giving one of the most compelling presences of the past decade or so, and hardly giving him anything to work with. Though Hoffman is totally trying his hardest with this Mickey character, in the end, he’s just a weak-character that’s like any other, low-time, two-bit gangster: He’s a nice guy, but also has some dark shadings as well. That in and of itself is a total convention of the mob-tale and it’s made even worse by the fact that a person who could do something with that convention and spin it in an interesting way, doesn’t get a chance to do so.

Not his fault of course, just bad material that he didn’t deserve.

Consensus: Everybody involved with God’s Pocket seems to be trying, but in the end, is just a disappointing mess that makes the mortal sin of not bringing anything interesting to the audience’s heads while on screen.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin'.

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin’.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Night Moves (2014)

Hug a tree next time, kid.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Deena (Dakota Fanning) are two environmentalists who want to make something of a difference. So, they decide, as one does when an environmentalist has radical beliefs, to blow up a dam. However, they know very little about actually lighting explosives big enough to blow up an actual, life-sized dam, which is why they decide to hit up ex-Marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard); somebody who has been long-time friends with Josh and may have his eye on Deena. Anyway, after much planning, speculation, and talking, the three decide to go through with the plan of blowing up the dam and on the way, they run into problems here and there. But since this is what they believe in the most, they’re going to stick to their initial plans, no matter how many odds are stacked-up against them. That is, until they realize that they may be doing the wrong thing to begin with.

In all honesty, that plot-synopsis is a bit of a cheat. Though I definitely want to inform you all of what this movie’s actually about, it’s hard for me to really actually go into all of it because most of what happens in this movie (and basically, all you need to know) occurs in the first half-hour. And mind you, this is a near two-hour film, so for all of the action and whatnot to happen in the first act, isn’t just surprising, it’s downright unbelievable.

But that is exactly what we have here with Night Moves and honestly, I wouldn’t expect much different from writer/director Kelly Reichardt, somebody who, if you don’t already know of by now, doesn’t totally like to play by the rules/conventions of what the rest of the movie world sets out for others to follow suit.

"So...uhm...you in the mood for breakfast or anything?"

“So…uhm…you in the mood for breakfast or anything?”

However, it’s not just about how Reichardt places what is, essentially, the climax at the beginning of the film that makes it so unique to watch, it’s more of how she allows her characters to speak like natural human-beings. Which any person who has ever tried their hand or two at writing a script will tell you: Writing how typical people actually talk, is nearly impossible. Actually, that’s a lie, because there are a few writers out there who are able to do so (early Kevin Smith films come to my delinquent mind), but it’s a difficult task and more often than not, the characters can come off as if they’re trying so hard to be real and raw like actual humans, that it’s phony.

But for someone like Kelly Reichardt, it seems and feels so effortless. Not only does she write her characters in a slightly vague way that we have to search beneath each and everything that they say, to just get an understanding of who they are as people, but she also allows them to tell us something about themselves in the way they carry on their bits of silence. Sure, some people may call this a form of “laziness”, or just a director relying on a trick that’s been used for years and years to show us the inner-feelings of character, but when I look at it, especially in the way that Reichardt uses silence, I feel as if this is how real life would play out.

So very often do we get movies where characters just sit down, in silence, and hardly utter a peep. And hell, even if they do utter a peep or two, they don’t constantly sound like the wittiest human beings god has ever put on this Earth. Sometimes, they’re just like us and when they don’t have anything smart to say, they don’t say anything – and even if they do, they know when to shut up right away. This how I like to view each and everyone of Reichardt’s movies: Typical interactions between human beings that you yourself could actually stumble upon in the vast landscape out there that is Earth.

Sure, the people she may present in her films are a bit more attractive than say your or I, but somehow, through the way in which Reichardt’s script is written, they seem almost too real.

Take for instance the character of Josh, played so wonderfully sternly by Jesse Eisenberg. Though we don’t know too much about Josh early on (then again, we don’t much about anyone here), Eisenberg brings out certain layers to this character that’s more than brooding and seeming as if he’s about to lose his freakin’ mind. See, with this character of Josh, we get the idea that this is just another guy, who cares so much for a cause, that he’s willing to go as far, as wide, and as deep as he can, to make that cause a possibility, rather than just something he pisses and moans about at rugged get-togethers. There’s a feeling in this movie that we’re not supposed to really like Josh because of the way in how he goes about making sure his cause actually is heard, but then again, we’re never told to not like him either.

In a way, you can get that feeling that Reichardt herself doesn’t really have the faintest clue of what to think of Josh, other than that he’s just another young guy who, like every other young person out there in the world, believes in something that they hold so near and dear to their heart, that they lose sight of who they actually are. Not just as spokes-persons, but as human beings. That, to me at least, is downright terrifying. Not because of the way it’s presented in this film, but because of how true this really is about certain people out there in this world.

Don't do it, Jessie! You've still got Lex Luthor to portray!

Don’t do it, Jessie! You’ve still got Lex Luthor to portray!

Same can be said for the characters that both Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard play; both aren’t made clear to us early on as to who they are, or why they are, the way they are, but through time and attention, we understand that their goals, though may seem like the same on the surface, aren’t really exactly what either one would want when things really get down to it. Especially for Fanning’s character who, at first, seems like the typical young, wise and brash know-it-all that wants you to show everyone around her how smart she is about the environment and stuff, man, but at the end of the day, is just another little girl who has no clue about how ugly the world can get. I’d explore that same option with Sarsgaard’s character but, considering it’s a character played by Peter Sarsgaard, you could probably already bet that he’s a bit of a sick and twisted dude as is. Which isn’t to say that either performances are bad (Fanning is actually quite good in a role that shows she is in fact GROWING UP IN FRONT OF OUR OWN VERY EYES), but the characters they play make you think and wonder just about who they truly are, when nobody else is around them, staring.

But honestly, now I’m just getting further and further away from the point and avoiding the fact that this movie is fantastic, but not in a very pick-me-up kind of way. Once again, without saying too much, the movie definitely gets quite dark and terrifying at points, but it’s never used in a way to jolt us like so many manipulative thrillers out there do. Instead, Reichardt uses these quietly tense moments to play out what would happen in real life, without all of the glitz, the glamour and the spotlight. And even though I know so many writers and directors out there try to achieve this, Kelly Reichardt really seems to nail that mood.

Which is, yes, pretty weird, especially if you know Reichardt’s filmography. She’s mostly known for these small, naturalistic, and character-driven dramas that can’t necessarily be classified as “thrillers”, but somehow still are, because the tension and the suspense is within the characters interactions between one another. But more so the case here, especially in a scene where one character has to buy fertilizer and I kid you not, had my palms sweating so hard, I needed a towel just to dry them off. And that to me is what really makes this film one of Reichardt’s better pieces: Not only is she showing growth as a writer/director, but she’s also showing the audience that it doesn’t matter how many plot twists you throw around, if you have well-written characters and plot-archs, then you don’t need much else to really excite your audience.

A special note to all you up-and-coming writers out there looking to make a break in the biz, ya’ll.

Consensus: With a naturalistic tone and feel, Night Moves feels like real life, except this time, a whole lot darker and with more questions than answers. Actually, kind of like real life.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"What? We're just eating a PB&J. THAT'S ALL!!"

“What? We’re just eating a PB&J. THAT’S ALL!!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Left Behind (2014)

When the world’s in panic, trust in Nic Cage. Just make sure there’s no bees around.

It’s like any other normal day in the sweet lives of these few humans. A daughter (Cassi Thomson) oh so desperately wants the attention and love from her father that she hasn’t gotten since she was a little girl; the father, Rayford Steele (Nic Cage), is a bit of a dirt-bag in that he takes his wedding-ring off before every flight, only so that he can fool around and tell terrible jokes to young, blonde and busty stewardesses; and his wife (Lea Thompson), on the other hand, is at home, thumping the Bible and speaking the good Lord’s word. But this one day is all of a sudden turned right around for the worst when, unexpectedly, loved ones begin vanishing. Kids, adults, male, females, transvestites, everyone! It’s like some sort of “Rapture” that nobody has any explanation for, except that the Gods must be angry, or something. But the speculation can wait because Rayford Steele has a plane to land, and plenty of passengers to get on the ground safely and in one piece. That is, if they don’t already start killing one another off with their paranoid minds in the first place.

So, if you didn’t already know by now, this movie is a faith-based one, in the sense that it’s centered towards the kind of crowd who goes to these types of movies where they can go to hear and see about all sorts of God-like things that they can’t consume all at once on Sunday morning. That, or they just want to see Nic Cage doing a movie, that’s already a remake of something starring the almighty Kirk Cameron.

"Nice! Wait till HuffPo gets a load of this!"

“Nice! Wait till HuffPo gets a load of this!”

And yes, you heard me right on that people: Nic Cage is starring in a movie that was originally written with Kirk Cameron in mind. It’s kind of a shame really, but seeing where Cage’s career has been as of late, I can’t say that I’m too surprised. Actually, that’s a lie, cause I’m totally shocked and I honestly have no idea why the hell Nic himself would get involved with such propaganda like this! Let alone, a movie that’s really terrible.

However, with most of the movies he does, Cage finds a way to make the most terrible-aspects, the least bit entertaining, or somewhat interesting, in his own, Cage-y way. He yells, breaths heavily, smiles oddly, makes weird faces and just all around, over-acts like the king that he is. The problem is that this isn’t really the kind of movie where he can get away with that, because not only does the material hardly ever call on him to be all crazy and such, but even he himself seems tired and lifeless, as if he’s just totally in this for the paycheck and nothing but. That could rightly be the case, but when I see my movies with Nic Cage, paycheck-gigs or not, I want to see some effort, man!

Here though, Nic himself is sort of sleep-walking through a role that could have been played by anybody and quite frankly, doesn’t really need him. Or anybody for that matter. In fact, if I really had to go down deep into this movie, I’d say that it was a piece of garbage. And no, that’s not because I’m some sort of atheist that hates anything having to do with God, his word, or his holy followers – I just am not a fan of bad movies. And this here, my friends, is a bad movie.

But it’s not the kind of bad movie you and your buddies should sneak out to late one night, drunk/high, and expect to have a great time with. Because yes, even though there are plenty of laugh-out-loud scenes here where the typically insane occurrence will show up on screen, only to go away a second later without hardly any rhyme or reason, the movie’s messiness just ends up ruining any bit of fun that could have been had here. Not saying that the movie had to be a joke from beginning to end, but there’s a point in which your film ends up being more than just silly, and just bad. And such is the case here: It’s bad, and sometimes laughably so, but not enough to where I’d say go out there and see this one with glassy-eyes.

In fact, just don’t bother seeing this. Sure, to its audience, it may have the right message and it honestly may make them feel all warm and gooey on the inside, but for the others that may actually want to pay a couple of bucks to see the next Nic Cage-starrer and seemingly have no idea of what they are getting into, they’ll be pissed. They’ll be bored and though they’ll get plenty of chances to just point and laugh at the screen, it’s not enough to justify seeing this.

Even the whole angle of this being a faith-based movie doesn’t even come into play; there are mentions of God and faith in heavy-handed ways, but honestly, you could look at this as another, run-of-the-mill disaster story that has the ill-chance of taking place on a plane practically the whole time. Add on the fact that every character is terribly-written and the performances from some of the actors playing them are, honestly, even worse. I’ve already talked enough about Nic Cage, but the rest are just pitiful, almost to the point of where it makes sense why they were cast in this movie in the first place: They probably didn’t cost much to begin with, and it pretty much shows.

"Ah! Please don't crush me, New Testament-quote!"

“Ah! Please don’t crush me, New Testament-quote!”

Though I wasn’t expecting much out of him to begin with, Chad Michael Murray is god-awful as the “investigative journalist” that, for one reason or another, every spectator treats him as something of a celebrity. I’m assuming he’s being made out to be the next Anderson Cooper or something, but to me, it seemed hard to believe that ladies panties would be dropping just for some dude who stepped on foreign soil and covered a story. That stuff, my friends, are stories of the past, I’m afraid to say.

But Murray isn’t the only whose bad, Cassi Thomson is awkward and her one scene with Cage is probably the best, only because most of his manner-isms come out and make the scene better. And that’s pretty much it for the whole film really: Cage makes it better. But even then though, he’s sort of there just to service a script that doesn’t deserve him. It’s all bad, from beginning to end, and it makes you wonder just why exactly did Cage sign up for this in the first place. Especially after doing something as wonderful as Joe.

Oh, Nic. Your mind truly is a mysterious one.

Consensus: Irate, laughable, and over-the-top with what it’s trying to get across, Left Behind is another faith-based drama that wants to be about something important and meaningful, without ever really allowing us to be entertained in the first place.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Only one man to save humanity....

Only one man to save humanity….

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Gone Girl (2014)

Anybody down to get married?

On the wee early hours of July 4th, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home to a bit of a shocker: His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has mysteriously disappeared. Seeing as how this could possibly be a kidnapping, Nick decides to call the local authorities, in which two detectives (Kim Gordon and Patrick Fugit) get called onto the scene to investigate. While they do initially believe that Nick doesn’t have the faintest clue of what happened to his wife, the way everything is laid out just points towards him. However, they continue on with their investigation and keep themselves as subjective as possible. Problem is, the same couldn’t be said for the media who, upon hearing of this mysterious case, jump on it right away and focus most of their attention on Nick, his efforts to help find Amy, and just whether or not he actually has anything to do with it in the first place. This leads Nick to hire an attorney (Tyler Perry) that will not only help with his public persona, but also may help skewer the investigation away from him. But the truth is out there, just waiting to be exposed, and it’s up to everybody to discover what really happened to Amy.

Alright. Alright. Alright. No, I am not channeling my inner-McConaughey. Nope, instead I’m trying to prep myself for this review here because this baby won’t be easy to talk about. Not because I have so much love and praise for it that putting them all into cohesive, understandable sentences and phrases would be a challenge in and of itself, but because this movie is chock full of surprises.

Which also means something else….SPOILERS!!

Picking up girls in a library. So Affleck.

Picking up girls in a library. So Affleck.

Yes, everybody. It’s that dreaded “s-word” that just about every person on the face of the planet hates to hear, but such is the case with movies like these: The more mysterious they are, the more easier it is for bloggers/writers/critics to spoil the fun for everybody and anybody else out there who may actually be looking forward to seeing this. Because honestly, most of the fun in Gone Girl is from not knowing what to expect next, how, why, where, and from whom. In that sense, it’s your typical David Fincher flick, however, there’s something more fun about this piece in particular.

See, while I have never read the novel of which this movie is adapted from, therefore, I don’t have much knowledge of how it is actually written, seeing this was a total treat for me. I had no idea what to expect, except a possible kidnapping, an investigation into this kidnapping, and a whole lot of mystery. And this, my friends, is what I always look forward to when I see Fincher’s flicks; I expect to be thrown about, tussled around, and taken in all these different directions, until I can’t handle it anymore and want to give up, yet, the ride itself is so much fun, that I just can’t help but keep on with the ride.

And with this ride in particular, it’s satisfying. Not because Fincher keeps us guessing every scene, of every second, with every character, but because, for once and awhile at least, Fincher really seems to be relishing in the material that he’s working with. Don’t get me wrong, when I watch films like Fight Club, the Game, and, to an even lesser extent, Panic Room, I continuously get the idea that not only is Fincher having a great time messing with our minds and our expectations of what to expect next, but that he’s having an even bigger blast just setting up all of these set-pieces and plot-threads. That’s not to say his other, more serious movies aren’t considered “fun”, it’s just that there’s a very dark and morbid tone to them, that where it seems like there’d be a time and place for some fun to be had, there’s nothing but sadness. Which, like I will say again, isn’t a bad thing at all, but watching something like this reminds me what it’s like to go to a David Fincher movie and just witness a master at work with his craft and having a ball with it all.

So, with that said, it goes without saying that yes, Gone Girl is a fun ride, from start to finish. And although I am quite compelled to say more about this movie and its story, I’ll stay away because the real marvel of this film is realizing just what the hell is actually happening in this story, as it is brought to our attention. There’s several twists, turns, and alley-ways this movie goes down throughout its near two-and-a-half-hours, and they’re all unexpected (that’s if you haven’t already read the book).

It should also be noted that while this film definitely takes some aim at the mass-media and, most importantly, biased news broadcasts, Gone Girl isn’t particularly a deep movie. There’s no real sense that what Fincher is creating here, is supposed to be any bit of ground-breaking, thought-provoking, or even revolutionary; instead, it’s just a simple mystery that goes through all sorts of hoops and constantly takes you for a whirl. Is it a bit disappointing? Sort of, yes, but only because we know Fincher is capable of much more than just keeping his stories as simple as they present themselves on the page.

But that said, I’d much rather have an exciting thrill-ride from Fincher, rather than a bold, ambitious piece that seems to miss its mark. Not saying that there are many of those kinds of movies out there, but those expecting this to get a whole bunch of Oscar nominations, may be in for a surprise. A pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.

Anyway, even though this is clearly Fincher’s show for the taking, from the beginning, to the end, he still doesn’t make the fatal mistake of getting in the way of his cast. Which was a smart move on his part, because he’s assembled a pretty talented bunch here. And seeming to be leading the pack is Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, the husband of the missing who everybody, with good reason, calls into question as soon as the story comes to fruition. A lot of people were pretty heated up about Affleck’s casting in the role and although I have not read the book, and therefore cannot attest to this, I will say that Affleck seems tailor-made for the part. Not only does Affleck just light the screen up with that boyish-charm of his, but he also makes us continuously wonder just whether or not he is actually as apart of his wife’s disappearance as the rest of these characters are leading us to believe. While we see that Nick Dunne is a nice guy at heart, albeit, a very troubled-one to say the least, we still know that there’s a human deep down inside of there and although it would be as easy as pie for us to write him off as “the baddie”, the movie makes it quite clear that we shouldn’t and instead, see his side of the story and make up our own conclusions. And most of this is thanks to Affleck for having us constantly question who to believe, and who exactly to root for.

"Uhm.....what's in the box?"

“Uhm…..what’s in the box?”

But although Affleck’s amazing in this role, the one who totally steals the show is Rosamund Pike as his wife, “Amazing Amy”. But see, here’s the double-edged sword of describing Pike in this role without spoiling any of the film’s real surprises: You really can’t. Much of this film is dedicated to her back-story and exactly what happened to her, and to give any of that away would be a total disservice to all parties involved here. So I’ll stay away from really getting into her character, but I will say this: Pike is downright amazing and don’t be surprised if she ends up getting a nomination come Oscar season. Maybe even possibly a win….

You never know, people.

And of course, the rest of this cast is great, if also, quite interesting concerning who Fincher casts in some of these roles. For instance, the casting-decisions of Tyler Perry as the PR-representative of Nick Dunne and Neil Patrick Harris as a slightly off-kilter ex-boyfriend of Amy’s were definitely bold choices; choices which, mind you, were willing to fail at any second. However, they both pay-off and believe it or not, give me more hope in Tyler Perry as an actor, much rather than Tyler Perry as a director (although this still has me scratching my head).

But there’s plenty more where these two came from and they’re all pretty phenomenal to watch, especially since each and everyone brings their own little flavor to this overall meal. Kim Gordon and Patrick Fugit play the two detectives that seem to be just as confused as the audience is in knowing whether or not Nick Dunne did anything to his wife and because of this, it’s interesting to see their conversations with him; Carrie Coon (a favorite of mine from the Leftovers) is great as Nick’s twin-sister and seems like she herself may be up to no good as well, although it’s clear that all she really wants to do is make sure her bro doesn’t get jailed; and Missi Pyle plays a television news-analyst by the name of Eileen Atkins who, get this, has a Southern-accent, likes to bad-mouth certain people in ongoing investigation, and does it all for “the ratings”. Now, tell me, who does that sound exactly like?

Oh, that David Fincher, man! He’s a pure-jokester!

Consensus: Maybe not as deep as Fincher’s previous-flicks, Gone Girl still serves as an exciting, enjoyable, and delightfully twisted tale of a marriage gone wrong, and even worse mystery that may, or may not be, exactly what you think it is.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Stop mugging it up for the cameras, Affleck!

Quit mugging it up for the cameras, Affleck!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Equalizer (2014)

By now, everybody should know not to mess with Denzel. Like, come on!

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a quiet man who lives a simple, yet mysterious life. Nobody knows quite exactly what he’s done in the past, but know him now, in the present day, as a man who works at the Home Depot, lives alone, reads a lot, and goes to his local diner whenever he can’t sleep. That’s all really, but when Robert meets a very young hooker by the name of Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), there are certain shades of his past that begin to show. For instance, when Robert sees that Teri’s employers have been beating up on her pretty bad, he decides to take matters into his own hands to ensure that something bad won’t ever happen to her again. He gets a chance to do so, but as a result, ends up pissing off most of the Russian-mafia that is now looking for this mysterious man and won’t stop until they do so. Little do they know of who they’re messing with. Then again, neither do we!

We’ve all seen this kind of movie before. Hell, we even seen it with Denzel in the lead role! Which can only mean one thing: Hollywood is surely running out of ideas. Surely this can’t be much of a surprise to anyone out there who has been paying attention to the movie-business for quite some time and are able to realize that fresh, original and innovative ideas in mainstream movies are quite hard to come by.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it's Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it's all fine, baby.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it’s Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it’s all fine, baby.

But that said, there is something to be said for a movie that can take a traditional story we’ve seen (especially an original one that was made for a TV show), and give it something of a “boost”, if you want to say that. See, while I’m not too sold on Antoine Fuqua’s total abilities as a director I can trust with my life, I can say that he can make some very entertaining movies, even if they aren’t for people with an IQ level higher than 48. And that’s pretty much what the Equalizer is – a fun, slightly silly movie that doesn’t always set out to be more than just the typical revenge-tale we see a middle-aged star like Denzel Washington take.

Although, that’s where this movie actually surprised me a bit more than I expected it to, because while there’s plenty of action, blood, guts, revenge, crime, explosions, and murder, there’s also some drama that Fuqua is able to throw in here.

Take for instance, the first-half of this movie that actually sees Fuqua playing around with the idea of being a subtle director. Rather than focusing on the action and violence that is soon to come of this story and its characters, Fuqua takes his near and dear time to build this lead character, the way he lives and just exactly how he gets by in life. Sure, there’s a total essence of mystery surrounding this character, and it should probably come as no surprise to anyone that what we do end up finding out about him, is quite scary, but we, the audience at least, are thrown into this guy’s life and it’s one that’s easy to get compelled by.

But even when the action does get thrown in there (as expected), it’s still effective. While it may be a bit gratuitous at times, it’s still neat to see the violence coming from the view-point of a character we are interested by, and also exactly how he punches, or kicks, or stabs a person, and in what particular order. Also, to add another layer to this character, we get certain hints that he’s OCD in certain ways and it’s cool angle on a story/character that could have easily been, “He likes to beat the shit out/kill baddies.”

That could have been the whole story in a nutshell. And although some may argue and say that’s all there is to this story, it felt like there was a bit more meat to the tale than just that and I was definitely happy for it. Not just because it was another crime-tale that was a tiny bit more than just all about showing violence to bad people, but because it showed me Antoine Fuqua is actually capable of bringing some tender drama to a scene. Not going to say he’s a “subtle” director, because we all know that he isn’t, but he proved himself this time and I for one, was quite pleased with that.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you're supposed to be.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you’re supposed to be.

I was even pleased with Denzel Washington in this lead role, because while he too isn’t really doing anything different from what we’ve seen before, he technically doesn’t need to; he’s just Denzel, being Denzel. Meaning that he gets a chance to be charming-as-all-hell, kind to others, menacing when he wants, and even a chance to lay down on some mofo’s who seem to be asking for it the whole movie. If that’s what you want from Denzel in your movies, then this is all fine and dandy for you. I like to see Denzel in these types of movies, and although a part of me wishes there was just a tad more for him to do here, I’ll take a solid performance from Denzel, in a solid movie any day, much rather than a shitty performance, in an even crappier movie.

But even when the film does get pretty wild and insane, as we usually expect from Fuqua’s movies, it’s mostly by the end and by then, we’re already sort of realizing that this story has taken a turn for the worse. Not to say that it gets bad, per se, but more of that it’s just goofy and almost like a Home Alone finale that will surely be a crowd-pleaser to most that are expecting Denzel to whoop some bad guy-butt, but is also rather disappointing to those who thought that there’d be a bit more than just that. And by “those”, I mean just mostly me.

But what can I say?!? I’m just a guy who appreciates a movie that’s more than just what it presents on the surface!

Consensus: Though it gets silly by the end, what the Equalizer does well is build a suspenseful story, around a compelling character, while also allowing Denzel Washington to just put in some fine work.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Good evenin', Clarice."

“Good evenin’, Clarice.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Two Faces of January (2014)

Stop fibbing, already!

Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a low-time swindler who, while vacationing and, assumingly, ripping people off in Greece, meets a very wealthy couple, Chester MacFarland and Colette (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst). Though he doesn’t know much about them, where they came from, who the hell they are, and how they both got so damn rich, he is still somehow intrigued by them and decides to join them on a dinner late one night. It goes off splendidly, with the two parties leaving one another and hoping that each of their lives entangle once again. Well, sometimes, what you wish for, isn’t exactly what you want to get. After the two parties separate, Rydal realizes that he has to give Colette her wedding ring back, but while doing so, he discovers Chester getting rid of a body of a man that he presumed to be an FBI agent. What the agent was doing in Greece and tracking down Chester, is totally beyond Rydal’s knowledge, but now they’re in this together. Meaning, all three of them are on the run and have to find whichever ways they can figure out to escape the police who, seemingly, should be hot on their tails as more and more information comes out about who these people are, their past and why they are running and hiding in the first place.

If you’ve ever seen the Talented Mr. Ripley, then you’ve kind of seen the Two Faces of January. It’s probably no accident either, because both are adaptations of Patricia Highsmith novels, and both concern the same kind of themes and ideas constantly thrown around: People not appearing to be who they say they are, crime, lies, murder, beautiful locations, etc. And while the former film, is definitely better than the later, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had here; it’s just that there’s all you really need here, fun.

"What you say?"

“What you say?”

See, though this movie definitely flirts with the idea of being about how we all, as a society and just basic, pure human beings, lie to protect ourselves from the real truth of the world and those around us, it’s mostly just a suspense-thriller that features a bunch of people on the run. Whether or not they’re who they actually say they are, is totally left up to us, the audience, to make our own conclusions.

And yes, people, that’s where most of the fun to be had in the Two Faces of January can be found: Constantly guessing. Not just who these people are and why they actually lie as much as they do, but where exactly this story is going to take place next. Because honestly, there’s only so many lovely locations a movie can take place in, but better yet, there’s also only so many actual places these characters can escape and constantly be on the run towards. That doesn’t mean the film is over-the-top or too crazy to handle, but there is something to be said for a movie in which we are repeatedly being shown certain areas of Greece that not even the most dedicated tour-guide could.

Which basically means that if you’re seeing this movie now, in the fall, where the weather outside is more than likely going to get a bit chillier, you’re going to be incredibly bummed-out and want to hop on that next plane to Greece as soon as humanly possible! Trust me, I did and I saw this nearly two days ago!

Damn, I’m already missing summer.

Anyway, like I was saying before, this movie really isn’t much more than “cons play mind games on other cons”, which is yes, very fun, but also, made it a bit better that the three actors playing these cons are very good with what they’re given. Oscar Isaac plays Rydal like he seems to play every character of his: Smart, charming and handsome, yet, always seems to have a sinister side to him that he isn’t afraid to utilize to his advantage. The guy’s made a killing off of these sort of roles and while we want to think of him as “the bad guy”, because of the way he looks and how we’re introduced to his character (he’s taking money from very naive, very foreign girls), we soon find out that he really isn’t. He’s just a human being is all, and sometimes, humans have to make certain choices that don’t always benefit the others around them.

The same could be said for Viggo Mortensen’s Chester; we’re supposed to think he’s a low-level con that has hardly any soul, or moral compass, but we soon realize that he too, is just another misguided guy trying to make a living, as well as the woman he loves, happy. Mortensen is another actor like Isaac who can sometimes seem like a bad guy, only because of the menacing look he constantly has on his face, but there’s shades of his character being a genuinely good guy that just wants to save his ass, regardless of anybody else’s. Sure, he’s a selfish-fellow, but given the circumstances of some of the situations he’s thrown into, I can’t help but assume that plenty others would be acting the same way, too.

Oh yeah, old guy, don't mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He's just going to be in the next Star Wars for god's sakes!!

Oh yeah, old guy, don’t mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He’s just going to be in the next Star Wars for god’s sakes!!

Just saying, people. Just saying.

The only one I have yet to really mention is Kirsten Dunst, which is actually on purpose because her character isn’t all that well-written. Sure, she’s definitely charming, sweet and honest, whereas nobody else around her seems to be, but there’s just a dull-presence about her that kept making me wish the creative-team involved gave her more than just being the damsel in distress. Also, say what you want about her, but Kirsten Dunst, when given the right material to work with, can really do wonders. It’s just such a shame she isn’t allowed to really show her fellow male co-stars off, like I totally know she’s capable of doing.

Damn men and their penises. Damn them to hell!

Consensus: Nothing more than a simple game of cat-and-mouse between a trio of talented leads, the Two Faces of January never really transcends its narrow plot, but doesn’t quite need to, considering it’s fun to watch these characters mess with one another.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Ah, this seems like a good place to continue on running and hiding from the law."

“Ah, this here land seems like the perfect place to continue on running and hiding from the law.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Starred Up (2014)

When in jail, make sure to start as many fights, with as many inmates as possible. Heard that always works right away.

Young, feisty and chock full of piss-and-vinegar Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) heads to the slammer with a bang: Not only does he trash his cell, but even comes close to killing a security-guard. He does this not to just show dominance and that he isn’t afraid of anyone stationed in the various cells around him, but to remind people that he’s not a lad to be messed with. However, due to his constant angry-bursts, he has to cut a deal with the warden to keep himself closer to his father (Ben Mendelsohn) who also is, believe it or not, incarcerated at the same prison and taking on something of a new life, in the vaguest sense I can explain it as. The deal: Frequently go to and behave at a few meetings with the prison counselor (Rupert Friend), while also maintaining to stay out of trouble outside of the sessions as well. Though he’s clearly not going to back down from a fight without throwing a few elbows or two, Eric finds himself actually adjusting to new life in prison quite well, but sometimes, what happens in prison, stays in prison and with the enemies that he’s already made, he may have to look twice behind his back to stay alive and well.

Prison-dramas are usually effective, if only because they’re quite simple to make: One setting, a few characters, and only a few more situations/dilemmas that a certain amount of prison-dramas can actually explore. Though that may make the prison-drama genre as a whole, seem somewhat boring and unoriginal, there still seems to be enough life left in them to where something as small as Starred Up can make a noise, as measly as that may be.

"Stop being such a silly twat!"

“Stop being such a silly twat!”

See, with this movie here, rather than taking itself out of the prison itself and focusing on these characters, how they got to be in the slammer in the first place, and why, underneath it all, they’re tragic characters, the movie just stays pit. We hardly ever leave the prison itself, nor do we ever really get to hear much of a back-story as to why certain characters are where they are in the first place; we just assume that the outside world is there, moving on naturally, and that anybody in this prison, who also happens to be behind bars, did something bad to get them there in the first place.

Sounds simple, right? Well, that’s because it is and yet, somehow, director David Mackenzie is able to dig a bit deeper and make this movie more than just a standard prison-drama; it’s a movie about life, love, the pursuit of happiness and how we all, no matter how troubled our lives may be, want to just make us, as well as the ones we love, happy. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too sappy for a movie which, in the first five minutes, already features the use of the words “cunt” and “fuck” more times than I’ve heard my British grand-mother use (I don’t have one, but you get the drift), but there’s something to be said for a movie that shows itself as being so hard-edged, violent and mean, yet on the inside, beneath the surface and all, is actually quite heartfelt and sweet.

Okay, now I know I’m really losing you, as well as myself, but bear with me here! Please! Because even though this movie definitely battles with some issues and themes that may make the inner-man that all of us have, tighten-up a bit and demand muscle milk, there’s still plenty that most of the usual, testosterone-fueled viewers can enjoy when they decide to take time out of their day and watch a prison drama. Meaning, yes, there’s a lot of blood-shed, knives, fighting, tossing, kicking, hitting, swearing, and all that good stuff we can expect to see from just watching a single episode of Oz.

And it’s all pretty effective; though some of it is gratuitous, that’s sort of the point. Prison is a harsh place and if you can hang around in it, then you’re better off dead (and surely, you will be soon). But like I’ve said before, the movie gets down to the nitty gritty of who these inmates truly are and why most of them stick together, especially when they sure as hell shouldn’t. Most of these inmates are genuinely angry, distasteful people that deserved to be exactly where they are, but some of them, are just troubled and confused individuals that may have made a stupid decision in their life and paying for it as peacefully as they can.

That’s why Eric Love is such an intriguing protagonist to have – he’s a small, rather skinny lad, yet, has so much anger bent deep down inside of him, that when he has time to actually allow for it to vent out onto those around him, we’re absolutely terrified and see why he got himself into this place in the first place. But then, something strange happens, as the movie goes on, we realize that Love is actually the kind of character we expected him to be: Tiny, scared, self-conscious and would much rather use his fists to end an argument, rather than actual words of reasonable wisdom. And though we don’t get too much pretense as to who this guy really is underneath all of the body-tattoos, we know enough by how he reacts to those around him in prison and the various situations he is thrown into.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don't quite together so well.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don’t quite together so well.

Which is to say, that I think it goes without saying, that Jack O’Connell is downright breathtaking in this role here as Eric Love. From the very few seconds we meet him, to where we end, O’Connell seems to be on another planet of “Crazy”. Throughout the flick, O’Connell gets scream, holler, beat his chest, take off his shirt, run, throw fists, choke people out and do all sorts of other bad things, yet, he’s constantly compelling to watch the whole time. We get the feeling that there’s still a heartbroken and upset little boy trapped down inside of him, and rather than write him off as a “dick”, we see him as a character that can, yes, be nurtured and maimed, given the right supervision and guidance in his life.

Which is why it was also a great idea on behalf of the casting-department to go through with giving the role of Love’s daddy to none other than Ben Mendelsohn himself. If you’ve ever seen Mendelsohn in anything before, you’ll know that a role in which he plays a ruthless, tough-love prison-inmate is pretty much perfect, but Mendelsohn even takes that a bit further. See, rather than making his character a tough-as-nails guy in prison trying to teach his son how to survive in the hell-hole that is prison, Mendelsohn gives off a certain level of vulnerability and sweetness that makes you see this man, not just as a father-figure, but a man who is genuinely upset that he never got to be with his son during his formative years. Though he has a hard time of showing it, Mendelsohn’s character is really one who cares and just wants what’s best for his son, even if that means having to take down a couple of inmates in the process.

And that’s why, my friends, prison is not a place you never, ever want to be in. But the film doesn’t end on that corny note; instead, it focuses on the fact that, it doesn’t matter where we are in this world or what sort of situations we are thrown into, it’s never too late to be involved with the ones you love and their lives. Though the film doesn’t openly preach this out to the choir, it’s obvious that it wants to be about what it means to be a human being, and to love, feel, and emote, even when the environment surrounding you tells you to do the exact obvious.

Okay, now that’s very sappy, but so what!??! Prison is harsh, man! We all need a hug every so often!

Consensus: Simple, yet as incredibly detailed as possible, Starred Up may be another harsh, unflinching portrayal of life in prison, but it also doesn’t shy away from getting to the heart of the place, as well the various people who just so happen to be stuck there.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

How I usually look while waiting for the pregnancy test results to get back to me.

How I usually look while waiting to hear of the pregnancy’s test results.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Stay away from graveyards, people. They’re creepy enough as is.

Former NYC cop Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) used to be a total alcoholic. He’d wake up, go to his local bar, have a coffee, and then down two shots of liquor. However, one fateful day, that all changes and eight years later, he’s regularly attending AA meetings, living alone, eating at diners, and also turning in some work as a non-official private eye. One night he gets an offer and decides to seek it out: Find a group of serial killers that are kidnapping rich drug-dealer’s wives/loved-ones, ransoming money off of them, and yet, still taking the liberty of hacking these women up to little pieces. To them, it’s all fun and games, so when an actual drug-dealer (Dan Stevens) calls on Scudder to do this job for him, he doesn’t back away from it. After all, getting rid of a few serial killers in this world is a job well done, no matter how you do it. But Scudder eventually realizes that this job is going to be a bit more difficult and nerve-wracking than he would have liked, which is why he, whether he likes it or not, gets some assistance from a local homeless kid by the name of TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

And yet again, here we are, people, another “Liam Neeson kicks ass” kind of movie where he, yes, is a certain man, with a certain level of skills, takes it upon himself to go about utilizing those skills, shows that he’s a nice guy underneath the sometimes questionable-decisions he makes and, well, of course, tells the villains to, for lack of a better term, “fuck off”. Yes, these are the kinds of movies we can all expect from Liam Neeson right about now and while some can say that they’re bored by this and want him to go back to making Oscar-caliber films with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorsese, the fact is, nope, Liam ain’t too bothered with any of them.

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin' nuts?!?!

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin’ nuts?!?!

He is, as they say in the biz, striking while the iron is hot and rather than trying something daring to make sure his “arthouse”-ish crowd is pleased with him, Liam is just going to stay and continue to make these typical, run-of-the-mill action-thrillers where he, yes, kicks plenty of ass.

However, that’s not to say any of them are bad and because most of them aren’t, I’m quite happy for Neeson. He’s the type of actor who, with his tall-frame and soft, yet still intimidating Scottish-accent, deserves many movies to be made where he’s, typically, the center of attention. Which is why he seems to be a perfect choice for Matthew Scudder; the type of troubled, somewhat crooked-cop that isn’t the nicest, nor the most moral of guys, but wants to see that he gets the job done, in the most efficient way possible. Meaning, that he wants to ensure no innocent people are killed while he is completing his various shady tasks.

But Scudder isn’t just a well-written character in the way that he’s well-rounded, he’s funny and shows a charming side to his sometimes grim personality that we know Neeson is capable of high-lighting every so often. To say that Neeson is great here, would almost be too obvious for me to even state, but here I am, stating that Neeson is great here and practically carries the movie on his own two, long, lanky shoulders.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t all that bad, because while Neeson helps it get through some rough patches (whenever the serial-killers pop-up, they’re pretty conventional and spend most of their scenes just being strange, in almost too-serious way to be not kidding), it’s writer/director Scott Frank who really makes this movie work. Something about this flick’s tone, the way it’s so hush-hush most of the time and how it doesn’t seem to glorify it’s over-the-top, grisly violence, yet still shows it in a derogatory light that he makes it seem like more than just “movie violence”, is what really made me think that Frank should make more movies. The dude’s already written my favorite Steven Soderbergh movie (Out of Sight) and actually had a pretty stellar directorial-debut of his own not too long ago (the Lookout), so why wait any longer, Scott? Let’s keep this a train a-goin’, man!

Anyway, like I was saying, Frank’s direction here is really genius and it brings a smile to my face knowing that there are certain film makers out there who still care about giving us genuinely tense, sometimes unpredictable thrillers. Thrillers that, mind you, don’t necessarily rely on how many times a gun is shot, or even how many bones are broken in a particular brawl – much rather, thrillers that take time to not only build the story it is trying to tell, but also give us some context in how we’re supposed to think of these characters as. Not all of these characters are great people here (most of them, drug dealers), but the movie doesn’t simply judge them on who they are, much more than on what it is that they do.

"I'm used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you'll do."

“I’m used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you’ll do.”

For instance, take the character of TJ who, in a lesser-movie, would have been the stereotypical smart-aleck-y, rather adorable kid that Liam Neeson’s character not only stumbles upon by pure chance, but even takes under his wing and make his new sidekick. Add on the fact that TJ is in fact black, and you’ve got yourself a walking, talking, breathing cliché just waiting to ruin your goddamn movie, not to mention your time! But somehow, TJ, nor anything surrounding him, seems to be written that way; he’s a simple orphan kid that is a bit punk-ish, but is still curious enough about how this world Scudder surrounds himself with, not just works, but how he can be apart of it without getting him, or anybody else killed. Not to mention the fact that this young guy, Brian “Astro Bradley, is very good in the role, making you feel sorry that he’s sort of left all by his lonesome, but also happy that he may, or may not, have a future hangin’ around this tall, New Yorker, with an Irish-accent.

I know I’m getting into this a bit more than I maybe should, but there was just a feeling I got with this movie that I haven’t gotten with a thriller in quite some time. Okay, that’s actually a lie, because a little bit of time ago, when I saw the Drop, I felt sort of the same way: A crime-thriller that takes its time to build momentum, as well as character-development. While those movies seem sort of neck-and-neck in my eyes, they’re both clear-as-day examples of what can happen when you take a simple story revolving around thugs, doing thuggish-like things, and make it as detailed as humanly possible, without ever overly-boring the audience, nor giving them enough to where they can expect everything to happen as clearly as they may have predicted it as being straight from seeing the advertisements for it.

So, once again I say this: Scott Frank, continue to make movies. You’ll make me a very happy man and most of all, a very happy movie-goer.

Consensus: With extra-attention paid to the look, feel, and characters that inhabit its slightly unnerving story, A Walk Among the Tombstones is, yet again, another winner for Liam Neeson and his seemingly unfazed streak right now, except a lot smarter and wiser this time around.

8 / 10 = Matinee!! 

"Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see."

“Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

I’m Catholic, but if Jason Bateman and Adam Driver want me to sit Shiva with them, then yeah, I’m totally Jewish.

After the patriarch of the family passes away, the Altman siblings all decide to honor his final wish and sit Shiva for the next week. Although none of them really want to, they decide to anyway, not to just honor their dad’s wishes, but to ensure that their mother (Jane Fonda) doesn’t have a total hissy-fit. The problem is though, none of the siblings really get along. The eldest, Paul (Corey Stoll), is always so very serious and is having a problem impregnating his needy wife (Kathryn Hahn); Wendy (Tina Fey) is sort of having the same problem of her own with her kids and husband, although she’s finding some peace with her ex-boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) who happens to still be living in town; Judd (Jason Bateman) is in the midst of divorcing his cheating wife (Abigail Spencer), but finds some solace when he reconnects with a long lost of his own, Penny (Rose Byrne); and lastly, the youngest, Phillip (Adam Driver) is a bit of a wild child that not only brings his much-older girlfriend with him (Connie Britton), but finds it hard to ever really think about why he misses so much of his dad to begin with. Then again, none of them really do, which is how most of their fights pop-up in the first place.

Though I have never read the original-text from which this movie is an adaptation of, I assume that it’s a great piece of work because of how much critics seem to be trashing this movie. Sure, there are some good reviews to be found here and there, but overall, This Is Where I Leave You seems to be a real disappointment. And while I can’t say that I particularly agree, or disagree with the general consensus of this film, I can at least attest to the fact that I’m one of those reviewers who didn’t hate it that much.

There's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

There’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

Is this, as most note in their reviews, something of a “letdown”? Of course! You’d think that with this premise and this cast heavily-stacked cast involved that not only would we have something of a classic on our hands, but a near-Oscar contender. Maybe that’s going a tad far, but seriously, just look at that IMDB page and try to tell me you’re not at least somewhat impressed with how many great talents decided to work on this. It’s almost as if director Shawn Levy himself had a piece of evidence that was detrimental to each and everyone of these star’s personal and professional lives, that he was able to bribe all of them into not just working with him on this movie, but actually putting in some fine work.

That said, the movie is not a very good one. You can clearly tell that Levy (the same guy who has directed all of the Night at the Museums‘) doesn’t really have much of a background in directing actual moving, compelling scenes of drama and instead, more or less opts for melodrama that sometimes wants to be about “adult things”, happening with “adult people”, but in the end, just turns out to be not all that important/heavy at all. That it wants to be both a comedy with various poop and sex gags, as well as a heavy-handed drama dealing with infidelity, fertility, family, depression, and other such themes, makes it feel confused and messy.

However though, there is something to be said for when you can get an ensemble this good, to really try their hardest with material that, quite frankly, doesn’t really deserve them. Once again, never read the book so all I can assume is that it was pretty great, but whatever they did with this script here is disappointing.

But that’s why we have movie stars – they’re able to not only make us happy, pleased and be entertained, but also there to remind us each and everyday why they still deserve to work, and why exactly it is that we should continue to see them in whatever they decide to do. And this is exactly why I can’t get too mad at this movie, or what Levy does as a director. Sure, it’s a hack job from someone I didn’t expect to otherwise create, but when he allows for his cast to just do what they do best and interact with one another, the movie hits some highs and makes most of the trip worth taking.

For instance, Jason Bateman is doing what he always does: Dead-pan the crap out every line he has to deliver. It’s definitely an act of his that we’ve seen for a very long time and honestly, it never seems to get old. Not there as Michael Bluth, and definitely not here as Judd Altman; which is definitely effective because he’s the sibling who gets the most attention. He’s a sad sack, but he’s the funny one of the group that also happens to be the voice-of-reason, despite him being severely depressed. Though the romance between he and Rose Byrne’s character does feel a bit tacked-on, the two at least try to create some sort of honesty that doesn’t really show much throughout the rest of the film.

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

But what I’ve said about Bateman, his character Judd, and what he does with him, is pretty much the same thing that could be said about the rest of the cast: They’re all putting in good work, although it’s not much different from what we’ve seen them do before. Tina Fey is funny as the jokey and wiser older sister, although it does seem like her dramatic-acting needs a bit of work; Adam Driver is his usual goofy, eccentric-self and steals mostly all of the scenes he’s in; Corey Stoll is the serious one of the family and does fine with that; Kathryn Hahn plays his wife and seems like she wants to be another one of Hahn’s crazy characters, but just ends up being a repressed wifey-poo; and Jane Fonda plays the matriarch of the Altman family, does what she needs to do, is funny, inappropriate and a bit smug, but she’s a pro and handles this material so well, as one could expect her to do.

And honestly, the rest of the supporting cast is fine, too. Some recognizable faces show up and remind you that they can still put in great work and make something of an impact, regardless of how small their screen-time is (Abigail Spencer makes her conventional-character of the cheating-wife seem somewhat sympathetic). Should this have been a better movie? Oh, totally! It not only should have been an Oscar-contender and definitely something people will keep on turning back to every couple of months or so. But given what it is, most likely, it’ll just be the kind of movie you find while searching through your cable. Not saying that’s a bad thing, really, but it’s definitely not supposed to make you fully pleased either.

Consensus: Given the cast involved, This Is Where I Leave You should have definitely hit harder, but everybody’s so fine that it’s at least worth watching, if only for a single-viewing and leaving it at that.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Never get together with someone named after a Beatles song. That especially means stay away from any “Jude'”s, too.

Connor Ludlow (James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) are two young, happy people living in New York City who seem to be clearly in love. So much so, that they run throughout the streets of lower Manhattan, holding hand-in-hand, making-out in public parks, and looking at fireflies. If that’s love, then I don’t know what is! But somehow, for mysterious reasons, the love has seem to fade away and after Eleanor has a bit of an “accident” of sorts, her and Connor move out of their house and into their own respective families’ houses. They use this as a method to grieve over their lost love and to also figure out just what the hell to do next; he continues trying to keep his failing-restaurant alive, whereas she continues to get her degree and ends up bonding with her professor (Viola Davis). Although Connor does try to sneak around and see Eleanor whenever is possible, nothing seems to ever work out or be solved. Can they continue on as a married-couple and hopefully get past their problems? Or, are they completely finished with one another and forced to move on? What about the fireflies?

If anybody knows a thing or two concerning the production history of this here movie, then let me just re-iterate for yous once again to get everybody up to speed about this movie, because I feel as if it’s a very important point to bring up when talking about this movie.

It's a public-park! People walk freely in a public-park! Hello!!?!?

It’s a public-park! People walk freely in a public-park! Hello!!?!?

See, originally, writer/director Ned Benson created two parts to this story, where we’d get to see the story play-out, but in two of these character’s different perspectives. One would be titled Him, whereas the other one would be titled Her. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, yes, but you also have to take into consideration that each part was nearly two hours long, meaning that a combined run-time of both movies would roughly be around four or so hours. Now, I don’t know about you, but as long as the material’s good and riveting enough for me, then I’m totally cool with a four-hour-plus romantic-dramedy.

However, that’s why I’m the one watching the movies, and not behind-the-scenes, actually creating the movies. Because see, once the Weinsteins got their grubby-paws on this film, they knew that they had to find a way to cut it all down to where people could see one whole, two-hour-ish movie that sums up the whole story in one fell swoop, no intermission included. From a business stand-point, it’s smart and knowing the Weinsteins, I can’t say I’m all surprised they decided to go down this path.

But the problem is that while it may look better on paper for those searching for a night out on the town where they’ll be able to spend time with a quick movie, it doesn’t quite work well for the movie itself. See, the problem is that Benson had to find a way to combine both of the two-hour-plus sections, into one, whole, cohesive two-hour product. And sure, two-hours is a pretty good run-time if you want to get your romantic-dramedy hitting people the right way, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work out well for Benson, or even the material itself.

While I definitely pat Benson on the back for still being up to the task and cutting down his four-hour opus, into a meager, two-hours, there’s still a part of me that feels like this unfinished work. For instance, there’s a lot of scenes here, that feel like they’re placed with hardly any preface at all, as if we’re supposed to have an idea of what these characters are talking about and how it affects them. We hear small inklings of a character who has died and why it makes these characters sad, but we never really feel the same emotions. Not saying that you need to make a movie in which we know anything and everything about the characters who are present, and the ones who aren’t, but when most of your movie is centered around the dissolution of a marriage, it’s kind of hard to find a way to care for anybody involved (mostly the couple), if we have no idea what it was about them that made them so special together in the first place.

That’s not to say we don’t get maybe two or three scenes showing this (which is definitely a testament to the great chemistry Chastain and McAvoy have together), but they’re relatively short, sweet and conventional. We never see where things got so sour for them and though we hear about it, it doesn’t really draw many emotions out of us. It’s as if you walked into an argument right in the middle of it happening, and rather than getting a status update on what was said, how, or why, you’re just sort of sitting there and waiting for the argument to explain itself and then you can eventually draw your own conclusions.

A dumb analogy, I know, but think about it like this: It’s hard to make a movie effective, when it wants to be about the past of this couple, while also about the future. Blue Valentine (a movie that this one’s being constantly advertised and explained as being like) did an expert-job at showing us this couple, and how they met, how they fell in love, and where exactly where they went wrong. Sure, that movie did rely on flash-backs to tell us the story here and there, but they were done so well and thrown into the story so cohesively, that it was never seen as a cheating-method. It felt pertinent to the story being told, because it made us feel more for the characters and the situation they have unfortunately been thrown into.

This is the same place they met. Surprised to see them not end up being "perfect for one another".

This is the same place they met. Surprised to see them not end up being “perfect for one another”.

And while this movie sometimes shows it’s capable of having the same sort of insights as that beautifully heart-breaking tale, it never really becomes much than just “hey, love can suck sometimes”. Which is fine for me. I don’t mind if a romance-dramedy doesn’t want to be an all around “pick-me-upper”, because the fact is, love does suck and most of the time, it’s downright painful. But whereas Valentine felt like it wanted us to remember the inherent beauty that can come with love, Disappearance is just about how much it sucks to not be with the one you love and the desperation one feels in trying to get that “magic” back. Although I do have to say that it’s not as interesting as I may make it sound.

Which is to kind of say that the characters aren’t really compelling to begin with; he’s a bit of a tool, whereas she’s just moping around constantly and treating her current-husband as the biggest pile of shit in the world. Whether or not he deserves that in the first place, is totally up to our imaginations considering we hardly hear or see anything regarding him treating her terribly while they were together, but it doesn’t do any justice to these characters. It also makes the two-hours we spend with them a little draining, emotionally and physically, because we see them in such pain and sadness, but without us really caring about it, or them at all. Though this isn’t to discredit neither Jessica Chastain or James McAvoy, because while both definitely try, the material just doesn’t wholly work in their favor. Chastain’s Eleanor can be sometimes too one-dimensional, and McAvoy’s Connor seems like a sad-sack that needs to either get up, smile a bit and stop talking in such a terribly-mouthy American-accent.

The supporting cast is pretty good, too and while some of their characters are a bit more fully-rounded, there’s still a feeling that there’s more to them than just what we see in this movie. Maybe we’ll come to see that when Him and Her get released later this year in a very, VERY limited-release, but honestly, I would have just liked to get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. Then again though, with the Weinstens involved, you hardly get what it is you want.

Damn them.

Consensus: Occasionally boasting an compelling anecdote about love and loss, the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby gets by on its performances, but doesn’t really go any further than just being a standard romance, with two under-written characters.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Get a damn room already! Or better yet, just any closed-off space with a door!

Get a damn room already! Or better yet, just any closed-off space with a door!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Frank (2014)

Indie musicians have it worse.

Wannabe musician and overall simpleton, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) stumbles upon the opportunity of a lifetime: Fill in as a keyboardist for a band that’s coming to town. Seems simple enough and will definitely allow Jon to show others his love and passion for music, but he soon finds out that this isn’t necessarily the band to show that off with. First of all, nobody in the band really cares for him. The manager (Scoot McNairy) is constantly on the verge of losing his total mind and doesn’t really know what to do with this band. And to make matters worse, the lead singer is a guy by the name of Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a paper-mache head. Is it to hide who he really is? Is it some form of artistic expression? Or, is it just a gimmick that the band rolls with in order to gain any sort of publicity? Nobody really knows, but Jon’s willing to find that all out when he joins the band in the woods where they’ll stay at a cabin and record what’s supposed to be their next album. However, the process is a lot harder than he, or anybody else involved with the band had originally imagined.

So yeah, basically, this is just Almost Famous, but with a smaller-budget and an odd gimmick. Which isn’t to say that’s such a bad thing to begin with, but it turns out that the gimmick after all is really just that this dude wears a paper-mache head practically the whole entire time this film is on for. And to make the gimmick even more unique, well, we have none other than Michael Fassbender himself underneath that head.

Didn't feel like shaving your face in a normal way, now did ya?

Didn’t feel like shaving your face in a normal way, now did ya?

Which is, yes, a total shame for any ladies/men out there who wanted to get their fine helping of some M-Fass, only to come in and realize that you just hear him use this really poor American-accent. And hey, if that’s how you like your M-Fass movies, then this will definitely be a treat for you. However, if you’re at all like me and actually like to see M-Fass put his talents to good use by using that demanding face of his, or just his overall, physical-prowess that seems to command any movie he’s apart of, then you’ll probably want to steer clear of this and watch something like Shame or Hunger.

Because you’ll most likely get more than a small helping of M-Fass watching those two.

Anywho, I guess what I’m trying to say is that while it’s definitely interesting to see someone as notable and as talented as Michael Fassbender to hide his face from us and act in a movie where we hardly see him at all, it doesn’t quite work. Which isn’t to say that he’s bad, it’s just that the rest of the film surrounding him doesn’t really know what to do, or where to go with his character, or even the plot as a whole.F

For instance, the aspect of this movie where it could have really excelled was in the recording-process and how these band-members all came together to create something wonderfully unique. That would have been neat to see, but as time goes on, it becomes quite clear that director Lenny Abrahamson isn’t at all interested in doing something like that; instead, he focuses most of his attention on these characters, their quirky “isms”, and how all of them are incapable of just being normal for a single second. They all seem likes satirical jokes of the kind of hipster, lo-fi indie band you’d see from music festivals like Firefly, or Lollapalooza, or Coachella, but instead, they’re here and rather than humanizing them or making them anything more than just a butt of their own jokes, Abrahamson just explores their quirky-personalities even more.

Which would have been fine in the first place, had any of these personalities been funny in the slightest bit, but they’re not. They’re just strange people, acting strange and doing strange things, without much rhyme or reason. People out there who enjoy smoking weed or can at least identify slightly with these struggling, rather pretentious musicians, will probably find a whole to laugh and love about these characters and how they are, but for anybody wanting a reason for their actions or what it is exactly that they can bring to the table in terms of plot/character-development, then they’ll be utterly disappointed.

And if I had to label this whole movie down to one word, it would probably be just that: Disappointed. I myself am a musician and enjoy watching how certain music is made or comes to fruition in the first place, regardless of if it’s in a documentary or a scripted-piece. Either way, I just like to see how music is made and how people can put their minds to the test when it comes to creating something. Here though, I didn’t get that; instead, I just saw a bunch of wacky characters, be just that. Problem was, I didn’t really care for them, the music the ended up creating (if they ever even got to in the first place), and really, there ended up being nothing interesting said here at all.

Add in some drum-loops and you've got yourself a catchy single.

Add in some drum-loops and you’ve got yourself a catchy single.

Abrahamson seems like he sort of gets to doing that with the character of Frank himself, but it never really pans out to much other than just, “this guy’s a bit cooky, but he’s somehow a musical genius”. Firstly, we never see him actually being a musical genius; he just says and does weird things, and when he doesn’t have the right inspiration for whatever piece he wants to create, he loses his mind and runs around like a crazed-lune. The movie is clearly in love with this character, but it spends so much time just focusing on his odd personality, it hardly leaves us any room to make up our own minds on him. We’re just supposed to love him too, but the “why” is never made clear enough.

Same goes for our main protagonist, Jon. While Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly cast in, yet again, another “normal guy” role, his character’s just boring. Maybe that’s the point, to show the differences he has with the rest of the members in the band, but it doesn’t do anything to help him, or even this movie considering he’s the only character we could connect with amongst all of the hustle and bustle. But that’s not what happens. So instead, we’re supposed to wait around for this band to eventually come together, create some sort of wonderful music, and see if they can all survive as one. But like with music as a whole, everybody likes something different.

Consensus: By appearing so helplessly in love with its title-character, Frank turns out to be nothing more than a fluff-piece for somebody who doesn’t really deserve one, nor any of the other characters either.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

Sort of like how my band's shows look like. But with ACTUAL PEOPLE THERE.

Sort of like how my band’s shows look like. But with ACTUAL PEOPLE THERE. Yeah! Take that, hipsters!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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