Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

Poltergeist (2015)

It’s been over 30 years and electricity is still the root of all evil.

Looking for a fresh, new start, Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy Bowen (Rosemarie DeWitt) finally get a new home that they think can suit them and their three children. Though the money situation they’re currently dealing with isn’t ideal, they figure out that they can make it work long enough to sustain a comfort level of happiness. However, little do they know that the house was built upon a cemetery many years ago; something that’s a bit freaky, but terrifying once the angry spirits start acting-out and attacking the Bowen clan. In fact, the pissed-off spirits go so far as to kidnap the youngest, Maddi (Kennedi Clements), leading the family to turn to the only people that they feasibly can without having any sort of legal action brought in: Paranormal experts. While they initially enlist a professional in this sort of field to help out, Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), eventually, they figure out that the spirits are too deadly and powerful, so that they need to get someone more famous and understanding with this kind of freaky stuff – cue in known haunted house TV personality Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris).

Let’s be honest here, people, the original, 1982 version of Poltergeist wasn’t perfect, nor was it that much of a classic. Sure, it had its freaky moments and a smart social commentary on television and how it is corrupting our minds and souls, whether we’d like to admit or not. Whenever a remake of an older movie comes out, people like to spew on and on about how the original can, and will, never be beat, and for some reason, they make it out to be as if it’s this masterpiece that should never be touched, or toyed with in any matter.

I'm already picturing the new Poltergeist ride.

I’m already picturing the new Poltergeist theme park ride.

However, in the case of Poltergeist, it does deserved to be fooled around with, especially since the remake isn’t all that bad to begin with.

Does that mean it’s a great movie? Hell to the no! However, what it does mean is that while people may go on and and on and on about the original being practically the be all, end all to horror films, they’ll be blind to the fact that the remake actually isn’t all that bad. Mostly, that’s due to the fact that Gil Kenan doesn’t waste anytime getting to where he needs to get with this story: The spooks and scares.

Whereas most horror movies take their good old grand time developing characters, their history together and what exactly the mythology is behind all of the scary stuff that will soon be happening, Kenan gets right to it with reckless abandon. Already, in maybe the first ten minutes, we’re already introduced to a few scares that may seem like small child’s play, but are still effective, and no less than ten minutes later, we get the iconic, “They’re here” scene, that everybody says, quite like the original movie itself, is legendary. Once again, not sure if this is all that true, but who cares?

The fact is that after these initial twenty minutes, Kenan dives in deep to the story and doesn’t hold back on any of the fun that these scares may have in them. People are grabbed and thrown around; lights go on, off, and even float around; and parts of the house break or blow up. It’s all so crazy, but Kenan doesn’t forget that these elements can make the movie a whole lot of fun. In today’s day and age of horror film, it actually helps if your movie is more fun, than actually scary; sure, it helps if your movie is both, but if you can’t get the scary right, at least try to make some of it fun to watch and be apart of. We may not fear for some of these character’s lives, but we can still enjoy them trying their hardest to escape out of the poor situations they’ve been thrown into.

It’s an element that works in such movies like the Conjuring, Insidious, and hell, even Paranormal Activity, and I guess you can add this new Poltergeist to the list.

That Rosemarie DeWitt - she's so touchy feely.

That Rosemarie DeWitt – she’s so touchy feely.

Now, that’s not to say that this movie is perfect. There’s a certain element here that makes me feel like Kenan could have definitely helped himself in a way to develop these characters a tad more, rather than just relying on the audience’s previously-known knowledge, or actor’s performances to help out. Sure, some who have already seen the original will know who each of these characters are and what’s the deal with all of them are, but there’s a feeling that when shit hits the fan, we don’t really know these people. Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but for the most part, it does, and that’s one of the problems here.

Then again, there is something to be said for the fact that the character’s we’re supposed to care about are played by Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams (somewhere, Todd Solondz must be smiling), and the almighty Sam Rockwell, among others – which is probably the most interesting aspect surrounding this movie. A part of me knows that these indie-ish names are attached in the first place for the sake of this being a paycheck gig, but it’s still neat to see mostly all of them play their type and still maintain a certain level of personality while doing so, rather than just letting the movie run all over them and take their lives.

DeWitt, as usual, is loving, caring, and smart as a woman who needs to be in a crappy situation like this; Harris is unusually charismatic; Jane Adams plays up her weirdness, but still maintains a certain level of intelligence; and Rockwell, well, is Rockwell. He’s funny, sarcastic, energetic, fun, and all around, an engaging presence. Hardly does the opposite ever happen to Rockwell where he isn’t a blast to watch, but there’s something to be recognized where he still seems to be interested, even if the material he’s working with isn’t all that heavy, or weighty to begin with. So maybe even if these characters aren’t all that multidimensional or interesting to begin with, at least they’re portrayed by people who are capable of making this happen anyway.

Now, I’ll ask again: What about the original being all that amazing?

Consensus: This new Poltergeist may not be perfect, but it’s still a fun, relatively effective, and compelling enough horror remake to sit back, watch, enjoy, and be mildly spooked by.

6.5 / 10

Don't stand too close to the screen! Didn't your parents teach you anything!?!?

Don’t stand too close to the screen! Didn’t your parents teach you anything!?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Tomorrowland (2015)

On second thought, It’s a Small World is definitely a lot cooler.

After teenage science enthusiast Casey (Britt Robertson) receives a mysterious pin, she does what any normal person would do in the same situation: She picks it up. However, once she picks it up, she all of a sudden gets taken to a bright, beautiful and mysterious, new world that takes her somewhere in the future. However, she has no clue how this is, what else the pin can do, or above all, what does it all mean. Eventually, Casey gets the news in the form of an eleven-year-old robot named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who tells her that she was chosen to have the pin and has to make sure that it doesn’t get taken away from her once all of these mysterious robots begin to attack her. Now, Casey and Athena have to travel to parts unknown to find a reclusive inventor by the name of Frank (George Clooney) who may, or may not have all the answers to what Casey can do to ensure that these evil robots stop chasing her, and also save the human race from possible extinction.

Brad Bird’s been wanting to film Tomorrowland for quite some time. You can see this from the way he’s built this beautiful world, to how giddy he is while moving along the plot, and especially to when he tells the audience that no matter what they do in their lives, that anything is possible. Tomorrowland is the movie that Brad Bird has been dreaming of making for so very, very long and now that his dream has finally come true, he can’t help but be extremely ecstatic to share this dream with anyone who is willing to see it for themselves.

Problem is, the dream isn’t as exciting for others as it may be for him.

New cult.

New cult.

Part of this problem comes from the fact that Tomorrowland‘s story is so muddled and confusing, that taking time out of your day to pick it apart, piece by piece, still may not help you understand it any more. The general gist is that something bad is going to happen to planet Earth (as they’re usually is), and somewhere down the line, robots get involved. Honestly, that’s all I can tell you that I was able to gather because while Brad Bird clearly loves telling this story, the way in how he explains it, doesn’t quite register as well.

Don’t get me wrong, Bird still puts effort into this thing. When it comes to the action and adventure side of the story, all of the thrills are here and are to be enjoyed by any member of the family. Bird clearly hasn’t lost a single step of his creative skill for effective action sequences that started in the Incredibles, and only heightened with Mission: Impossible 4, and it does the movie some justice. Because even while things in the plot department may not always click, whenever the action shows up, it livens everything up and all of a sudden, everything gets better. Things are quick, fun, and exciting, all without seeming too difficult to understand.

However, once the movie gets right back to the story, it goes back into being an odd mess of exposition that doesn’t matter, sci-fi mumbo jumbo that doesn’t make sense, and characters that aren’t more than what they present on the thinly-veiled surface.

And this isn’t me just going on and on about how a movie like Tomorrowland, something so mainstream, ambitious and made for Disney families, should be as simple and easy-to-decipher as possible, but when you’re devoting a lot of time to building a world and a circumstance for visiting this world, there needs to be more time in certain plot-details. To simply scratch the surface and just say, “Hey, it’s science fiction,” doesn’t work; in fact, it feels like a cop-out. Rather than just keeping it simple, from the story, to the world, or even to what was at-stake to begin with, Bird tries to take it one step further by digging in deep to the mythology and it only seems like a waste of time. While he and Damon Lindelof may have thought what they were doing and/or writing about was smart, it only proves to be a problem for anybody expecting something that’s light, fun and fine for the whole family.

Also, not to mention that the movie ends on such a melodramatic note, that it makes it feel like a whole other movie entirely. Whereas a good portion of it feels like it wants to be a sci-fi flick akin to something Spielberg would create, another portion of this turns into being an inspirational, message movie about staying creative and constantly challenging one’s self to push themselves further in a creative manner. It’s a noble message, for sure, but feels like it comes out of nowhere and is just tossed in there so Bird didn’t feel so guilty for not being able to do much else.

House is in the........ehrm...house.

House is in the……..ehrm…house.

And of course, this isn’t to say that because Tomorrowland is a disappointing misfire, means that the cast is to be blamed, too, because that isn’t the case. In fact, some of them make the ride all the more pleasant and easy-to-watch, aside from all of the head-scratchers the plot throws at us.

George Clooney doesn’t normally take big-budget, mainstream extravaganzas like this too often, so for that reason alone, it’s interesting to see him here as Frank. But as always, Clooney’s in his element: he’s funny, charming and suave when he needs to be, but also feels like the only one keeping the heart and soul of this movie alive whenever Bird seems concerned with everything else. Hugh Laurie, another one who doesn’t take up these kinds of movies, either, shows up every now and then to be “the baddie” and that’s basically it. He’s fine with it, but the material he’s given is where the movie really starts to get preachy, so it’s a shame.

And Britt Robertson, despite me having never seen much of her before in other stuff, does a solid job as Casey. While her character is the typical “movie nerd” who is quirky, yells a lot, and generally knows a lot of stuff without being too mature, Robertson makes her likable and enjoyable, rather than annoying and over-the-top. Her character could have easily gone this way, but Robertson keeps her head up above the water and doesn’t allow that to happen.

Wish I could have said the same thing for Bird, but I’ll leave him alone for now.

Consensus: With a confusing story-line, sentimental message that’s random, and a cast that isn’t pushed far enough, Tomorrowland is a disappointing mess that shows Bird is solid at action, but in terms of telling a coherent, effective story, he still needs some polishing done.

5.5 / 10

Take it down a notch, George! It's a family film!

Take it down a notch, George! It’s a family film!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Good Kill (2015)

Trust me, those aren’t ants you’re shooting at.

Former Air Force pilot Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) now operates flying drones that literally spy on enemies and, when needed, can drop missiles on whoever the pilot deems as necessary, all from the comfortable confines of some place far from the actual battlefield. While Egan gets a chance to go back home to his wife (January Jones), kids, and lovely little suburban home in Nevada, he still feels the pain from being ordered to kill so many faceless, almost random people for reasons he doesn’t understand. And in a way to numb his pain, his drinking only increases on and on. With a new soldier working in his unit (Zoe Kravitz), Egan now has to wonder whether or not he wants to keep at it with the job he has. While it’s safe and cozy for all those involved, he still doesn’t like to be safe and tucked-away when he’s supposed to be in an actual plane, or on the battlefield, actually fighting the good fight. Eventually though, all of this anger and confusion begins to not only take a toll on his marriage, but his allegiance to the United States Army.

Drone warfare has been highly controversial since the early days of its inception. While some people think it’s an easy and much safer way to keep our troops alive and well, some people also feel that it’s a cowardly way of fighting a war and just leads to more and more people, sometimes innocent, sometimes not, being killed for reasons that aren’t fully realized. Because honestly, how could you ever know if that little person you see walking around on a screen be a terrorist, or at least affiliated with some sort of terrorist organization? You wouldn’t unless you were told they were by some higher-ups, and even then, do they really know for sure?

Just don't cheat on her, Ethan. Just please don't.

Just don’t cheat on her, Ethan. Just please don’t.

Honestly, not really and that’s the idea that writer, director, and hell, even producer Andrew Niccol taps into.

It’s interesting to see someone like Niccol, a film maker who is most known for sci-fi explorations like Gattaca, In Time, and the Host, tap into something that is as low-key and subdued as this. While he is still dealing with technology, the movie is more about one person’s own struggle with getting along with the times and realizing that, no matter how hard he may try to have it be otherwise, this is his current job and if he wants to keep on protecting his country, then he’ll have to stick with it. So, in a way, it’s like most of Niccol’s other movies, but the fact that it takes place in the actual United States of America in 2010, to be exact, and is very passionate about its message, makes it feel like something a tad bit different.

And with that being said, Niccol actually does a fine job here with Good Kill. While his writing of actual conversations between people may need some help, the ideas and themes that he presents here are still effective and disturbing in a way that was done in another war flick that caused much more stir than this, American Sniper. While it’s definitely not fair to compare Chris Kyle’s real-life actions to a Thomas Egan’s fictional ones, but the messages that both movies seem to get across through their “heroes”, seem quite similar; while they are committing what some may seem as “heroic acts”, they themselves don’t see it as such.

Because of that, they are, simply put, screwed up in the head.

Whereas with Kyle, he could hardly function in day-to-day activities, so much so that even a fellow soldier thanking him for saving his own life, doesn’t even register with him, Egan has a more negative problem. Kyle may have been mentally messed-up, but he still passed it off as nothing and continued on throughout his day – with Egan, he drinks, smokes, listens to hard rock music, and doesn’t know how to even talk to anyone he surrounds himself with, whether it be his wife, kids, or neighbors that just want to have a simple chat. And through Egan, Niccol shows that even though the soldier’s who are designated to handling drones, still don’t get off too easy, because they have no clue who it is that they are dropping missiles on, other than from what they’re told.

And this is where the movie gets a bit messy, because Niccol keeps his objectivity at bay for as long as he can, he starts to lose it a little bit and point the finger a tad too much. For instance, the drone sequences themselves are tense and compelling, but at the same time, whenever the government figures step into them, also feel incredibly preachy. Egan is told to kill dozens and dozens of people that he doesn’t know, or never will know, and because the voice telling them to do so is Peter Coyote, already, it feels like Niccol’s making a movie where the government are the big and bad guys.

Once again, Bruce Greenwood's playing a character that's pissed off for some unknown reasons.

Once again, Bruce Greenwood’s playing a character that’s pissed off for some unknown reasons.

Surely this taps into some of what Niccol has made a point in his past movies, but here, it feels manipulative. It’s almost as if having Egan clearly screwed up from everything that he has to do while driving a drone wasn’t enough, Niccol had to make some villains out of the situation. Even Bruce Greenwood’s Colonel character starts out as someone who understands what it is that he has to do and that’s only to take orders, but eventually, turns into this Army “who-rah” stereotype that seems like it would be better placed in a Michael Bay movie, rather than something as thoughtful as this.

But even so, Greenwood’s fantastic in the role and shows some even darker, more messed-up shadings to that character, than Egan even shows. And for that matter, Ethan Hawke is pretty solid in that role, too, because he never goes over-the-top with the role, even though the script clearly seems to be begging for it. Rather than yelling, screaming and punching things to show his frustration with the job that he has to do, Hawke simply downplays Egan’s problems and struggles, and therefore, is all the more effective.

The only who doesn’t seem to be taking a page out of Hawke’s book is January Jones as Egan’s wife. While Jones tries with this character, far too often does she come off as naggy and annoying. It’s easy to understand that she’d be upset with the fact that Egan’s away from home a lot, sometimes because he’s partaking in all-nighter drink binges, it’s also another for her to be complaining and whining about who it is that makes it easy for you to live, where you live. That said, Jones tries and seems like she’s at least trying to fill this thinly-written character with some Betty flavor.

Way too soon. I know.

Consensus: With a thoughtful approach from Niccol, Good Kill brings up some interesting ideas about drone warfare, but also seems lazy in actually doing anything else with those ideas other than just presenting them and leaving it at that.

7 / 10

As I imagine everybody's faces looking while playing COD.

As I imagine everybody’s faces looking while playing COD.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Maggie (2015)

Poor zombies. Their craving for human flesh can be so sad sometimes.

After being infected with some sort of virus that’s turned her into some sort of walking, talking, flesh-craving zombie, Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is left with what to make of her life. Or better yet, what’s left of it. While her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) holds out hope that she’ll get better, with the right medicine and work ethic, Maggie still feels as if she’s not getting any better and is only a few days or so closer to going full-on zombie and eating whatever human is standing in her way. Though her father realizes this, he still stays optimistic. But then again, he also realizes that if the time ever comes around to Maggie become a deadly zombie, then he will be the one who has the duty of killing Maggie once and for all, even if it will probably kill him on the inside to do so to his only daughter and the only lasting memory of his late wife. But killing Maggie in a quick, painless fashion is probably best, especially considering all of the literal horror stories he hears about the government doing to those who may or may not actually be infected with the virus.

So what’s literally the premise to one episode of the Walking Dead, somehow becomes an-hour-and-a-half-long movie in Maggie. And the fact this premise probably didn’t need to be expanded to what it is, definitely shows as there are definite moments where hardly anything happens, for a very long time. Sure, people are sad in these very grim and morbid times, yet, just seeing somebody wallow in their own misery and accept the impending doom that’s coming down their way, doesn’t really do much to keep a movie together.

Sadness.

Sadness.

Which isn’t to say that every movie needs to have some sort of action that’s keeping it moving along, where something is always happening, or being learned, no matter what. I don’t mind that, especially in a movie like with Maggie, where although we expect it to be filled with all sorts of blood, guts, gore, and head-splitting moments that push the R-rating beyond its measures in the way that AMC won’t even allow, we get something much smaller and subdued. In fact, I appreciate that. We do see a zombie or two get chopped in the head with an ax, but the way in how it’s done doesn’t feel like it’s trying to liven things up, as much as it’s just trying to drive the point on home about how in the world in where Maggie lives, friends and neighbors are all killing one another, in a way to survive.

So yes, it’s sort of like an episode of the Walking Dead, but there’s something a tad different about that here.

Speaking of something that’s a tad different here than we’ve ever seen before, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s actually really stretching his acting-gills out in ways that we haven’t seen before and it’s surprisingly effective, although not perfect. As Wade, we get to see Arnold in a role that’s less about how much ass he can kick, and more about how much sadness he would actually feel from kicking all of that ass and harming whoever’s ass he was to kick. Arnold does an alright job in this role as he doesn’t get called on to do much, except just look sad and cry a few times, which he does fine with. In a way, it sort of makes me wonder if there’s more heart and humanity to what Arnold presents on the screen than what we’ve seen in the past few years with his resurgence into the mainstream.

More sadness.

More sadness.

And while Arnold’s good here, he still can’t help but get over-shadowed by Abigail Breslin, a very talented actress who has grown-up just fine. As Maggie, Breslin gets a chance to show us what one person would go through, emotionally and physically, if they were to realize that, slowly but surely, their mind, body, and soul, was all deteriorating into being a walking, hungry, menacing corpse. There’s a few scenes in which we get to see Breslin show some of that charisma we saw from her when she was just a kid and it lets me know that, no matter what roles she takes up in the future, she’ll be just fine.

Problem is, for Arnold and Breslin, they aren’t given a whole lot to work with, if only because Maggie itself is so repetitive and dark, that when it’s all over, you’ll sort of feel happy.

That isn’t to say that the topic of a father losing his young daughter should be filled with laughs, rays of sunshine and happiness, but that also isn’t to say that it has to constantly be as morbid and bleak as it’s presented as here. Here, director Henry Hobson makes it seem like he ran out of anything interesting to say after the first 25 minutes, so instead of just wrapping-up filming altogether, making this an extended-short and calling it a day, he needed to fill-out whatever extra 60 minutes he could work with. At times, Hobson’s able to bring up some very interesting points about coming to grips with one’s own death, but in the end, also feels like it’s just taking it’s time to get there on purpose. Which is to say that, yes, if all you do with your movie is present sadness, despair, and loss, you need certain ways of showing that, that not only feels fresh and somewhat enlightening, but also effective.

But when it goes on for as long as Maggie does, then there’s a problem.

Consensus: Solid performances from Arnold and Abigail Breslin make Maggie into being something more than just a standard zombie flick, but at the same time, still meanders along for no good reason.

6 / 10

And, oh yes, plenty more sadness.

And, oh yes, plenty more sadness.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

5 Flights Up (2015)

House hunting’s a pain. But hey, at least you’ve still got a ten-year-old dog by your side!

After being together for nearly 40 years and living in the same old, New York City apartment, Ruth (Diane Keaton) and Alex (Morgan Freeman) feel that it’s maybe time to start fresh and anew. And with the help of Ruth’s niece (Cynthia Nixon), they’ll definitely try to get the best deal possible, however, things don’t seem to be working quite in their favor right now. For one, their ten-year-old dog, Dorothy, has to be sent to the vet for a very expensive surgery that may, or may not, save the dog’s life. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s now a supposed bomb scare going all around New York City that’s causing all sorts of traffic and keeping more and more people away from Alex and Ruth’s apartment. And now that they are both getting older, Alex and Ruth also have to come to terms with the kinds of people they are, whether it be when they’re together, or their own separate entity; something that may not be too easy for mild-tempered Alex to do.

Glad you're all happy and whatnot, Ruth and Alex, because I know someone who isn't having the time of her life......

Glad you’re all happy and whatnot, Ruth and Alex, because I know someone who isn’t having the time of her life……

There’s something to be said for a movie that stars two of the most engaging, lovely presences ever to grace the big screen, give them characters that we’re supposed to see as wholly sympathetic, and have them be anything but. Surely director Richard Loncraine had different intentions in mind when he was creating 5 Flights Up (originally titled Alex & Ruth, for obvious reasons); a movie where, basically, we spend nearly an-hour-and-a-half watching Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton walk around NYC, going house-hunting. While this doesn’t sound like such a bad time considering that it’s Freeman and Keaton, two seasoned pros who it’s great to see sharing the screen for what I think is the first time, it’s actually a pretty miserable experience, if only because the characters are so grating.

Don’t get me wrong, both Freeman and Keaton are good as Alex and Ruth, respectively. Together, they share a nice chemistry that makes it seem like they’ve been working together for so many years, and that this was only a little practice round for shits and gigs. But separate, they’re both still good, even despite the writing for their characters. As usual, Keaton is warm and bubbly, whereas Freeman spouts wisdom in a class-A fashion that makes you believe he’s been through it all. Which is to say, yes, Keaton and Freeman are both playing their “types” up and not worrying about it, but once again, that’s all fine, because they’re good at what they do and they don’t need to really change it up.

But it all comes down to these characters, man.

See, with Ruth and Alex, though they seem like harmless elderly folk, the movie eventually starts to unravel them as sort of mean-spirited, cranky codgers that don’t like the direction that their neighborhood has been going, and rather than just accepting the fact for what it is, they can’t help but let everybody know that they’re pissed-off about it. This is more so in the case of Alex, as he’s honestly just a mean, sometimes detestable character who gets irritated at practically anything or anybody he stumbles upon in life; people who are simply trying to have a conversation with him, he can’t help but be rude to and shoo them off as if they were actually asking Morgan Freeman for an autograph. While Ruth may not be as irritatingly angry as Alex, the fact that she still sticks up for him, even when he’s being a total and complete ass, still makes me think that she’s not only apart of the problem, she may actually be the problem.

Maybe I’m thinking a bit too hard about these characters and focusing less and less on the mechanics of the plot, but when something is as subdued and small as this, it’s kind of hard not to just talk about them. Although, if there is a reason as to why I didn’t mind this movie as much, was because it offered a sometimes insightful glimpse into the world of real estate – most importantly, the state in which it’s in in New York City. The way in how a house-for-sale is represented to possible customers, to the many deals happening behind closed doors between agents and buyers, writer Charlie Peters definitely seems like he knows a thing or two about buying an apartment, all that comes with it, and how it can be so challenging to find that one special place.

Yup, poor girl.

Yup, poor girl.

And honestly, with that said, I think the pro of this movie is really Cynthia Nixon, as the niece whose helping Ruth and Alex out. Nixon’s always charmed me whenever she shows up in something, and as this untitled character, she helps make what would otherwise be an annoying character, sort of fun, sort of enjoyable, and actually, pretty sweet. Not only is she laying it all on the line to make sure that Ruth and Alex have their own special forever home that they can cherish for their final years together, she’s also making sure that she does so without losing her hair or punching a hole through the wall. There’s something heartfelt about this character that she’s not really trying to find these two a house so she can make more money on the commission, or get in the good graces of fellow real estate agents, but so that she can actually help out two family members she loves.

Then again though, it all comes back to Ruth and Alex.

For some odd reason, while Ruth is sort of okay with the way the niece acts, Alex is so adamant towards her that every sentence he utters in her general direction, has the feeling actual hatred. It honestly seems to come from nowhere and makes Alex seem more like a miserable a-hole that, while probably doesn’t deserve to live on the streets per se, definitely doesn’t deserve all of the time and effort the niece is putting into finding him as well as his long-lasting girlfriend a home. And while the movie may not be all about them house-hunting and also has something to do with Ruth and Alex’s relationship from the early days, to over the years, it still didn’t register with me well enough, nor understand why somebody would be so mean to somebody who, simply, is just trying to help them.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the whole terrorist subplot. Seriously, it’s not worth it.

Consensus: Despite a great performance from Nixon and a neat, rather tense look into the housing market, 5 Flights Up is held down by the fact that it’s two central characters are quite unlikable, even despite the fact that they’re played by Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton.

5 / 10

Well, at least they love the dog. I think.

Well, at least they love the dog. I think.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Kurt Cobain was depressed? No. Not this guy.

In case you’ve never heard of the name before, Kurt Cobain was a guy who played music. Really, really loud music, that is. In a band called Nirvana, too. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Other than that though, there was a whole lot more to Kurt Cobain that was less about the music he played and the legions of fans it inspired, and more about what was really going on inside his actual head, even throughout all of his life. From his early days as a young kid growing up in 70’s Seattle, without any stable home, to his high school days where he was made a mockery for slacking off and not really fitting fully in. Then, of course, we track the time from when he first started out in Nirvana with his best buddy Krist Novoselic, to when he first met his long-time girlfriend, soon-to-be-wife, Courtney Love. And lastly, after the birth of his daughter, Kurt’s life all came to an end.

That is, once again, if you haven’t heard about any of this so far. If you haven’t, I’d say get out right from underneath that rock as soon as you can, because seriously, you should know more.

Don't lie, you all bought that same sweater.

Don’t lie, you all bought that same sweater.

Anyway, rockumentaries are mostly a dime-a-dozen nowadays. For one, they hardly ever seem to get down to the solid matter of a band/artist, or better yet, the artist/band called into question isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Sometimes, you’re much better off just checking out a Wikipedia page, taking it all with a grain of salt, but also still realizing that it may help you get a clearer picture of whomever the documentary’s actually about and not feel as if your time was wasted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the rockumentary doesn’t work (A Band Called Death is one of the best, most recent examples that come to mind), it’s just that they so rarely capture an audience’s attention, that isn’t done in the same way on an episode of Behind the Music.

And with that said, there hasn’t really been a good Kurt Cobain documentary made. A part of me knows that there’s reason for that (Courtney Love is definitely afraid of certain things that we already assume about her and Kurt’s relationship, leaking out), but another part of me feels like Cobain’s mind was so challenging, screwed-up, and frustrating, that it’s nearly impossible to make a full-fledged, wholly informative documentary about him, his life, and his everyday thoughts and ideas, without still not getting to the core of what may have been bugging this guy all along. A Nirvana biopic is easy enough, but a Kurt Cobain that goes deep into the heart, mind, and soul of who he was when he was alive, is truly something difficult.

And while I don’t know if Brett Morgen fully captures it all, he comes pretty damn close; which is definitely better than not doing so at all.

Because Morgen was given, by both Frances Bean and Love, privilege to all sorts of Cobain’s personal belongings like diaries, home videos, audio recordings, etc., he’s able to wave his way through Cobain’s mind. However, what may seem like a simple task from just reading a few words/pictures on a piece of paper, Morgen had to probably realize right away that Cobain’s mind, whether you love it or hate it, was surely something that deserved to be examined. All of his personal feelings, doubts, angers, pleasures, experiences, etc. are shown to us and they all paint a very depressing, almost disturbing portrait of a person who really didn’t have a firm grip on his own life. While some people may feel as if Morgen is sort of holding the glass up to Cobain and pointing a finger at him, there’s a good portion of the movie that’s literally featuring Cobain saying everything we’re already supposed to feel/think about him; it’s not even like Morgen’s trying to make up stuff for the fun of it, either.

By going as far as he could into seeing everything that Kurt saw, Morgen definitely deserves some credit. There’s a lot of showwy moments that feels like Morgen’s trying to overcompensate for the fact that most of his movie is just scribbles on a piece of paper and rare video footage, but they only help us get another glimpse into what could have definitely been going on in Kurt’s mind in the first place. This movie wasn’t made to talk about Nirvana, or even point a middle-finger directly at Courtney Love – it’s literally Kurt’s time to shine where, hopefully, his whole story can be aired out to anybody who is still interested in hearing it and, most of all, making sense of it.

Because surely, neither are an easy task to do, let alone, complete.

The couple from absolute hell. Second to Sid and Nancy, of course.

The couple from absolute hell. Second to Sid and Nancy, of course.

Where Montage of Heck, like most other documentaries already made about Cobain, seems to frustrate me, is that when Kurt kills himself, the movie’s over. There’s nothing more. We get a small epilogue that already, literally, spells everything out that most of us know beforehand and then the end credits roll-up. While I do see this as an effective piece of editing from Morgen’s side of the boat, seeing as how he wasn’t trying to make this some sort of fluff-piece about how great and legendary Cobain was, I still felt like there was something more missing. Especially given the fact that Morgen, from what it seems, had a lot more that he wanted to use, yet, was hiding away for some odd reason.

For instance, while the movie doesn’t heavily rely on interviews, there’s still plenty of them to be seen here and, believe it or not, offer much insight into Kurt’s life. Both of his parents show up to discuss his up-bringing in a way that’s both interesting, as well as odd, but then a few other interviews, like an ex-girlfriend, or even Krist Novoselic, don’t seem to do much. The ex-girlfriend just rambled on about how great of a girlfriend she was, and Novoselic just sort of chats about him and Kurt being in the band – insights that I’ve heard him share many of times before. Of course Courtney Love comes to air her words, but honestly, I won’t bother diving into what she says, or better yet, was even trying to say in the first place.

Either way, Morgen had the opportunity to unleash more about Cobain’s life that, for some odd reason, I feel like he was holding out on. When the movie ended, it didn’t feel like it; oddly enough, there felt like there was more to it than just Kurt dying and that being it. Maybe there’s a point to be made in that – even though a person is dead, are they ever really gone? They may not be around in the physical form, but they are still in the hearts and minds of each and every person whom they’ve affected, and Kurt Cobain, believe it or not, was like any other human being. Sure, he may have been messed-up in the head, played guitar really well, been famous, influenced a plethora of adoring fans, and spent a good part of his life in the spotlight, but, like you or I, he touched people and made them think about him, even way after he was gone.

It’s still frustrating, but hey, maybe that’s the point.

Consensus: With plenty of material to dig into, Brett Morgen does justice to Kurt Cobain’s life and story in Montage of Heck, yet, at the same time, still gives off the feeling that there’s still more, believe it or not, to be developed about this interesting figure.

8 / 10

Kurt Cobain, male model? Oh, the opportunities!

Kurt Cobain, male model? Oh, the opportunities!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Is it cool if dudes call each other “pitches”? If not, I’ll make it happen.

After embarrassing themselves in front of a huge, national audience, especially including President Obama himself, the Barden Bellas now find themselves hit with the reality that they may not be allowed to participate in anymore professional acapella competitions. However, by finding a loophole, they realize that they continue to work and perform together, it’s just that they’ll have to compete in the global tournament in order to do so. Which doesn’t sound so bad considering that they are a very talented team, but with them going up against the rest of the world, and the fact that now everybody in the group is dealing with problems of their own, they’re also dealing with the idea of not wanting to sing anymore. Becca (Anna Kendrick) now sees her music career popping-off in a way that she’s always wanted it to; Chloe (Brittany Snow) doesn’t know if she wants to leave school yet and, as a result, be leaving the Bellas behind as well; and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), well, who knows with her?

The first Pitch Perfect was fine. So many people, over the past couple of years at least, have made it out to be some sort of comedy classic that went straight from being a beloved by cults, and straight into the mainstreams with it’s lovely songs, therefore, altering the fact that the movie itself wasn’t anything special. Sure, it was funny, had snappy musical-numbers, and featured the awe-inspiring moment that will forever change the way how people use red solo cups, but get past all of that, you’ve just got a middling movie that’s better than a lot of what we see nowadays.

So much tension.

So much tension.

So with that said, the idea of there being a second one wasn’t exactly jumping at me as an amazing idea, but then again, this movie isn’t really made for cranky wankers like me. It’s made for the adoring fans who hold the first movie so near and dear to their hearts, so much so that they actually went out of their ways to start their own acapella groups. Which is to say that when they do see Pitch Perfect 2, they’ll be more than pleased. There’s a lot of singing, dancing, and jokes made at the expense of Rebel Wilson’s rotund physique.

Does that make the movie bad? Not really, but like so many other sequels out there where the same things seem to be happening, and there’s hardly any differentiation between the two movies to be found.

But with this sequel, if there’s one attribute that makes it mildly interesting at best, is the fact that Elizabeth Banks is making her full-fledged directorial debut with it, and it’s not as bad as some actor’s first movies can be. That may sound like a lame thing to say, but it’s the truth – because Banks was taking so much on her plate as was, it’s impressive to see her handle it all with ease. She isn’t necessarily doing much else that’s different from the first movie, but that doesn’t matter so much because there are quite a few moments that are genuinely funny.

Having worked with Judd Apatow and co. many times in the past, it makes sense that Banks would understand what it takes to make people laugh, and what can be seen as funny. In the spirit of the first flick, some jokes are mean-spirited and seem to come completely out of nowhere. Other times, they’re the same gags that either go nowhere. There’s an Asian character here called Lilly Onakurama, who is from the first and, just like in that movie, speaks with a very quiet and tender whisper which, if you listen close enough to, will be able to realize that all she’s saying is weird, almost psychotic things. There’s also another character from the first one here named Stacie Conrad, and because she’s a butch lesbian, everything she does or says is overtly sexual and masculine.

Are any of these gags funny? Not really, but once again, the crowd whom this was made for, clearly do.

So smug, Banks.

So smug, Banks.

The only instances in which this movie can actually be funny is whenever Rebel Wilson takes the stage. While Wilson may have been a tad too overexposed after the success of both the first movie, as well as Bridesmaids, which lead to the ultimately disappointing Super Fun Night, there’s no denying that she has a comedic-talent that strays away from being just all about her physical presence. Sure, she enjoys making a fat joke about herself every once and awhile, but it’s used in a snarky, condescending tone that makes it actually funny, as well as smart; therefore, helping her character’s humor hit all the more harder whenever she’s thrown into situations where she’s called upon to be, well, funny.

Banks finds ways to use Wilson here that work for the later, as well as the movie itself. There’s a rather extended sequence in which Fat Amy sings to her love-interest and while it goes on and on, it’s awkward, weird and presented in such a way that it works, much like most of Apatow’s movies do. Though with Wilson getting most of the attention here, it takes away a bit from the likes of Kendrick and Snow, who try to make their presences known, but ultimately, slip a bit through the cracks; especially Snow, whose character I didn’t even know had a subplot going on until the final strand of the flick.

With Kendrick, we get to see Hannah record and possibly get into the music business, which also introduces another new character by the name of Emily Junk-Hardon (yep), played by the very talented and cheery Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld is growing into becoming more and more of a likable presence on-screen, which is why I wasn’t too disappointed seeing her character get a lot more screen-time than Kendrick’s; not only can she sing, but she also knows how to be funny, without overdoing it. Which, in the world that Pitch Perfect presents, means a whole heck of a lot.

Just don’t tell its core audience that. Don’t even dare, actually.

Consensus: Much like the original, Pitch Perfect 2 features snappy dialogue, impressive musical numbers, and an okay sense of humor, although it hardly does much else to be different.

6.5 / 10

You go, pitches!

You go, pitches!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Let’s hope the real Earth doesn’t actually run out of water.

In the distant, post-apocalyptic future, where mostly all resources have dried-up, a tyrannical cult leader named King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) practically runs a whole region of the desert. People obey his each and every order, even when he seems to be robbing them of such goods like water or oil. Though mostly everybody follows Joe, there’s at least one outsider by the name of Max (Tom Hardy); an ex-cop who follows his own sets of rules and guidelines, even though it eventually gets him kidnapped by one of Joe’s trusted minions (Nicholas Hoult). But for Joe to keep his legacy running, he’s kept a good amount of “wives” – one of whom is actually carrying his child. To transport these wives to a safer, better place, Joe has called upon his most trusted worker, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who decides that she’s about had it with Joe’s ways and sets out on an adventure to take the wives elsewhere, where they won’t be treated as property, and can live on in perfect peace and harmony – something that doesn’t seem to be found too often in this world. Somehow though, the plans go awry and Max ends up tagging along with the group, and, needless to say, shit gets crazy.

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the original Mad Max movies. While that’s not to say that I don’t find them at all enjoyable, which I do, it’s more that I feel like they’re a bunch of good ideas wasted on an smaller, 80’s-era budget. Sure, it’s a sign of the times, but considering George Miller could have made way more insane, over-the-top movies, had he been given a relatively meatier budget/resources to work with, then there’d be more to rant on and rave about with those movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I despise those movies in any fashion, it’s just that they could have been so much more.

What? He's not handsome-as-'eff or anything.....

What? He’s not handsome-as-‘eff or anything…..

Something that Mad Max: Fury Road is, and then some.

With this reboot of sorts, George Miller finally gets his chance to play with any toys he so desires. Whereas in the past, he was limited by what he can spend excess amounts of money and time on, Fury Road feels like Miller was finally given the opportunity of his life time; have a great time, do it with as much money and freedom as possible, and also, most surprisingly, get a chance to tell the same story over again. Given that technology has advanced over the past few decades, there’s a lot more neat things that Miller is able to do – now certain ideas that were deemed “insane” from the earlier movies, he now gets to do, but even more so.

What I’m trying to get across here is that Fury Road, for all it’s worth, is the kind of summer blockbuster any person could ask for. Not only is it fun, but it’s the kind of movie that’s so strange, so out-of-this-world, and so barbaric in every sense, that it’s actually kind of “cool”. No longer does the Mad Max franchise feel like it’s something that can only be enjoyed by a legion of cultees that are willing to admit that they’re fans in public – now, everybody gets a chance to enjoy Mad Max, the character, the world he’s placed into, and all of the crazy shit that surrounds it, and not feel weird. One could say that this is a disappointing sign of something that was so beloved and held sacred by a select few, going “mainstream”, and they may be true. However, another one could say that this is just a sign of something being made for a select few, being made for everyone and if that means we get more movies after this Mad Max, where creativity and oddness is embraced, rather than looked down upon from the masses, then I myself am totally for that.

I as much as the next person like to be weird and have my weird things for my own-self, but if that selfishness comes at a cost of not getting more of that, then I’m totally cool with it being passed onto others. So much so as the makers stay true to the original personality that made me love its weirdness so much in the first place. And even though I’ve already made it abundantly clear that I wasn’t quite “in love” with the Mad Max franchise before this, I still knew that it held much promise, had it been made in today’s day and age of film making.

A promise that, thankfully, was kept and acted upon.

Though I am definitely fine with saying that this movie’s a fun time and that you should definitely believe all of the overwhelming hype surrounding it, there is still a part of me that feels like certain parts of it could have been given a second look. Certain elements about the plot that aren’t ever made fully clear to us, that definitely should have to give the audience a better understanding of what’s at-stake and what’s next to come, would have definitely helped. It’s understandable that these women are all getting taken away from bad leader Joe, but where exactly are they going? Better yet, why are they going? We see how Joe acts towards most of the residents who live in his paradise of sorts, but we hardly see how he acts towards his wives, nor is it easy to make sense of why they so desperately need to get away from him and the world they are surrounded by.

Be careful who you break up with, Sean Penn.

Be careful who you break up with, Sean Penn.

Whereas this would have made any other action movie feel like a total waste of time, with Mad Max, from what I’ve been gathering reading about it from so many other people, it’s being glossed over. Why? Well, that’s because Fury Road is exceptionally wild, nuts and fun, where it takes so much time and effort to pay attention to what’s it doing to have you entertained, rather than paying attention to the details. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to get on a movie’s case for giving me an incomprehensible plot that, in hindsight, doesn’t make much sense, or even seems like it wants to, but there’s just something I wanted to address.

Once again though, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Fury Road is a very fun movie, nor does it take away from the fact that the characters are really well-done, despite them being as thin as the plot they’re working with.

Some people may be disappointed with the fact that Tom Hardy doesn’t speak too much here as the titular Max, but that works so well for him here – not because Max himself doesn’t need much explanation as to why he is the way he is, but because Hardy is such a compelling presence, that he doesn’t even need to speak to get people on-edge. He just needs to stand there, stare into space, and already, you’re hooked. Hardy has that certain aura about him that makes every scene he’s in, all the better and more thrilling, and here, he gets to portray plenty of that.

However, the one who may have one-upped him here is Charlize Theron as the absolute bad-ass, take-no-names, but also humane heroine Furiosa. A lot has been said about how Fury Road represents a very feminist-stance on the action genre, and while I don’t think that this is something that necessarily holds true, I still can’t get past the fact that the strongest character written here, both literally and figuratively, is a women. Granted, it helps that Furiosa is played by the very tall, slender and demanding presence of Theron, but it also helps that Furiosa has a reason for acting the way she does and it’s not made to be a certain point that Miller has been holding close to his heart and has been wanting to express for so long. That Furiosa wants to help these women because she wants them to be happy and not made an item of some maniacal leader, gives the character some semblance of complexity.

And well, also the fact that Charlize Theron can kick anybody’s ass, man, woman, or thing, it doesn’t matter.

Consensus: Wacky, wild, over-the-top, campy, but most of all, exciting and fun-as-hell, Mad Max: Fury Road represents everything that should be great with summer blockbusters, but so rarely do they actually become.

8.5 / 10

Dirty Aussies! Take a shower will ya!

Dirty Aussies! Take a shower, will ya!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Welcome to Me (2015)

As long as you’ve got money, you can film whatever you want.

After winning the lottery, Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), who has borderline personality disorder, decides that she wants to spend it on exactly what her life’s dream has been: Have her own talk show. It doesn’t sound too harmful, except for the fact that it’s going to feature nobody else but her own-self, in which she will air her own feelings out about life to the live audience, as well as the rest of the world watching home, with also offering glimpses into her past and how it’s made her who she is today. While it’s mostly all inappropriate, Alice is willing to throw as much money as she wants at the network’s producer (James Marsden), and considering that they need the money, there’s not too many problems. However, eventually fame and fortune go to Alice’s head where she soon forgets about those who helped her get such a firm grasp on reality in the first place, like her best friend (Linda Cardellini), her possible boyfriend (Wes Bentley), and especially, her therapist (Tim Robbins); all of whom want to help Alice, yet, don’t know how to communicate with her in an effective manner that gets her to stop thinking of her own-self for once.

"Hey, Alice? Maybe don't say 'fuck' on the air?"

“Hey, Alice? Maybe don’t say ‘fuck’ on the air?”

I’ve got to hand it to Kristen Wiig. Even after the huge success of Bridesmaids, she could have easily taken any money-making, big-budget, mainstream comedy pic and become something of the female equivalent of Will Ferrell: It doesn’t matter if the movies you make are any good, as long as people are seeing them and making money, then that’s fine. With Wiig, though, she’s proven herself to be more interested in these very challenging, relatively low-key indies that not only challenge her as an actress, but to allow us, the audience, to see her in this new light. While the results can sometimes range from bad (Girl Most Likely), to fine (Hateship Loveship), to good (the Skeleton Twins), there’s no denying the fact that Wiig isn’t afraid to step up to a challenge and see what she can do with herself as an actress.

Even if, like I said before, they aren’t quite spectacular to begin with.

That’s the case with Welcome to Me, however, it’s hardly Wiig’s fault. Wiig is fearless in every sense here with her portrayal of Alice Klieg – since her character is a little loopy, Wiig gets a chance to try out her dry sense of comedy, but in a more bizarre, slightly disturbing way. But also, because her character is mentally messed-up, we’re treated to Wiig giving her certain layers and shadings that writer/director Shira Piven’s screenplay may not have had in the first place. With Wiig, it’s easy top say that this character works because while Alice may not be a sympathetic character, there’s still something compelling about watching her profess her feelings to whomever will listen to her and it makes you feel a tad bit more sad for this character. Even though she does some pretty terrible things throughout the majority of the film (and for no reasons whatsoever), there’s still a feeling of care for this character, and I think a lot of that credit can be given to Wiig’s talents as an actress.

Then again though, her performance would have been a lot better off, had Piven herself been able to make up her own mind about this character, seeing as how it’s sort of a mess how she’s handled. For one, there’s something very deeply upsetting about Alice Klieg’s life that’s portrayed to us in a manner that’s either too dark that it can’t be funny, or too funny, so therefore, it can’t be dark or dramatic. In a way, Alice’s life is presented to us that gives us insight into why she acts the way she does, what’s affected her over the years, and how exactly she’s trying to cope with it in the present day – all of which, are very revealing, but for some reason, Piven doesn’t know what to do with all of these insights.

In most cases, Piven focuses on Alice’s life as it’s some sort of a joke that, yeah, may have featured some traumatic occurrences here and there, but oh look how silly and awkward she is! In a way, it’s like Piven’s constantly wrestling with two different movies, and rather than making up her mind and sticking straight to one, she constantly flirts with both.

One has a beard, the other doesn't. Which one do you think is less pissed-off?

One has a beard, and the other doesn’t. Which one do you think is less pissed-off?

One movie is a dark comedy about a messed-up individual, getting the chance to say whatever she wants to the mass-media audiences, all because she has enough money to do so. As you can probably tell, this is a little satirical bite on the way our mainstream media has turned into nowadays with the likes of Dr. Phil and Oprah, who may not actually have any wise pieces of info to send-off to its audience, but have just the right amount of dollars to make people listen to whatever they have to say. While this idea may be a bit dated in the world we live in now, it still works in the context that Piven presents because the TV executives portrayed here know that what Alice is doing is outlandish, ridiculous and everything wrong with the modern state of television, and yet, can’t do anything about it.

Everybody’s making money, so what’s the big deal?!?

Then, on the flip-side of the equation, there’s another movie that discusses Alice’s life and how her current personality reflects all that she’s gone through. While there are certain bits and pieces of this that shine through in the final product that’s still interesting, it’s still not nearly as well-rounded as what Piven does with the satirical edge. While Piven wants to discuss Alice’s problems to their fullest extent, she still can’t help but laugh and point at whenever there’s a scene in which she has sex with some random stranger, blurts out obscenities, and seem to not be able to grasp anything in her life. Piven doesn’t seem like she’s fully capable of handling this character and it’s a bummer, because not only does Alice seem like she’s a well-done character, but because Wiig is, once again, more than willing to go as far and deep as she can.

Poor Wiig. You’ll get ’em next time!

Consensus: Wiig and the rest of the ensemble do fine in Welcome to Me, but due to the uneven tone and messy direction, it never looks as fully polished as it should be, no matter how many lovely names it has attached to it.

6 / 10

Life.

Life.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hyena (2015)

If you’re a cop, and you’re corrupt, chances are, it’s not going to work out for you.

London cop Michael (Peter Ferdinando) seems to be living the high life. While he may be a police officer, he’s corrupt as they come, meaning that he’s able to do as many drugs, hookers, and crime as he wants. So long as he doesn’t get found out by the higher-ups in the police organization, then all is fine. However, that’s exactly what happens and he’s the one that has to talk to the fellow officer doing the looking (Stephen Graham), because he knows him from the old days. But if that didn’t suck already, the fact that he is now in huge debt to Albanian mobster for losing 100k in a drug deal gone wrong, only makes Michael’s life all the more miserable and tense. How does he get by it all though? Is it by his own smarts and intuition? Or, does he simply just let things happen as they come by, without much effort thrown in on his part at all? Well, after that line of blow, he’ll let you know.

It’s hard to do a bad gritty cop drama. Because the story’s mostly concern dirty/corrupt cops not doing what’s asked of them as a civic duty, for the most part, their movies often come out as ragged and raw as they sound. If a film maker screws up in not allowing for the mugginess of it all to translate onto the screen, and not make a member of the audience want to take a shower when it’s all over, then they have not done their job.

Sweet 'stache, not-70's-cop, cop.

Sweet ‘stache, not-70’s-cop, cop.

That’s not to say that Hyena is a bad gritty cop drama, but that isn’t to say it’s a great one, either.

For starters, Hyena seems like it tries a tad too hard with what already seems to be a pretty easy story to understand. Cop is bad; cop does bad things; bad things eventually start to happen to bad cop. That’s all you really need to know going into these sorts of movies, and Hyena‘s story isn’t at all different. As to why the cop is bad in the first place, is never made clear, except that maybe he just likes to live dangerously a lot and feel like he’s the king of his own castle; not that there’s anything wrong with no reasoning being shown to us, but it also calls into question the rest of the movie’s intentions.

Because while we know the cop is bad and is going to have a lot of bad things done to him, the movie never seems to make this clear enough to us. Maybe I’m over-stepping a bit, because even though we see plenty of people shot, stabbed, and tortured to death, the whole time, I wasn’t wondering how the cop is going to get out a situation, or even how he’s going to use his tactful skills as a police officer for many years to help himself – instead, I was wondering what the hell was going on. We know that the Albanians are involved somehow, but it’s never made clear when or what they’re going to do about it. A side-passing threat here and there doesn’t do much, especially when you’re trying to get your audience as invested as humanly possible.

Then again, there are definitely bits and pieces of Hyena that are tense, but it has less to do with the actual plotting or action that takes place, it’s mostly with the characters and the solid performances put in from everyone involved.

Most importantly though, I’m talking about Peter Ferdinando as Michael, our corrupt cop for the next two hours. While we never learn too much about Michael, other than that he was once an honest cop and is now, from what we see, a boozing, whoring, and drug-doing bum with a badge and a gun, it doesn’t feel needed. Just seeing him all hopped-up on whatever he’s had up his nostrils to wake himself up and trying to come to grips with just what the hell is currently going on in his life, was more than enough to work for me. Ferdinando gives a lot of shades to this character of Michael, and while I didn’t feel like I knew this person, inside and out, by the end of it, I didn’t care too much; the dude was always freakin’ intense whenever he was on-screen and definitely proved to be a worthy protagonist to watch over. Even if it’s hard to wholly care for him, there’s still something interesting about him that’s compelling to watch.

Al Capone took a chill pill for once.

Al Capone took a chill pill for once.

Ditto for Stephen Graham as Michael’s ex-cop buddy/government agent who is now looking into him and his squad. Then again, if you’ve ever watched a single episode of Boardwalk Empire, or any British gangster movie from the past decade or so, you’d know this. But what Graham does so well here that he doesn’t often get a chance to do in other movies, is that he down-plays everything and shows a real human side to whomever he is playing. No longer is he angry, pissed-off and ready to cause trouble anywhere he goes – now, he seems more relaxed and settled in his life. This was interesting to see from Graham and it has me look forward to seeing him play this side more, especially considering so many people know him for how high-wired he can sometimes be in everything he does.

Once again though, these are simple characters that work because they don’t seem to be trying too hard to really throw us for a loop or thinking. Not saying that Hyena should have just been a stupid, thinly-written cop drama with guns, action, boobs, drugs, and booze and left it at that, but when constant threads are thrown over one another, it begins to feel like overkill. Especially when it seems to be taking away from what could have otherwise been a very effective thriller.

Instead, it’s just fine.

Consensus: While it tries a bit too hard for its own good, Hyena still works because of a gritty atmosphere it creates, made all the better by its compelling performances.

6.5 / 10

Well, that's what happens when you don't just give speeding tickets.

Well, that’s what happens when you don’t just give speeding tickets.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Far From the Maddening Crowd (2015)

Look out, Marcus Mumford. You’ve got lots of competition coming your way.

In Victorian England, single, independent and smart farm-owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) lives a comfortable life where men are always asking for her hand in marriage. After she inherits her uncle’s farm, and all the riches that come along with it, plenty more men come her way, but mostly, in the forms of three, very different men. Suitor one is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer who asked for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage early on before she got rich, and still clearly has the hots for her, as she does for him. Suitor two is Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), an army Sergeant who, after being stood-up at the altar by his ex (Juno Temple) is currently pissed-off and always drunk, although he catches Bathsheba’s eyes many of times; and suitor three is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a rich, much older man who constantly stalks Bathsheba no matter where she goes, and always seems to be infatuated with her it borderlines on the verge of being creepy. All three suitors have their own pros and cons for Bathsheba, but it’s fully up to her to make her own decision and come to the conclusion as to who she wants in her life as a mate, if she even wants one at all.

Every year, especially around this time, it seems like we’re all treated to British, Victorian-era period pieces that are clearly targeted to whomever isn’t interested in seeing Avengers for the third of fourth time. While this is a smart marketing plan by whoever makes these kinds of decisions, it leaves one to wonder if these movies are any good in the first place? Surely, not every movie has to feature robots, things blowing up, and CGI, but by the same token, do we really need to get so many period pieces around the same time of the year where only a fine majority will actually go out to see and enjoy them?

Meh. Uhm, no.

Meh. Uhm, no.

Maybe these are questions best suited elsewhere, but anyway, that’s one of the main reasons why Far From the Maddening Crowd worked for me, as opposed to so many other prestige, British dramas of the same vein.

While it’s all very luscious to look at, serious, professional, and color-codded in a way to make older people gasp and gaze at a time when things were a lot simpler, it’s still also a very modern story that doesn’t take too much time or effort to think about. Sure, Far From the Maddening Crowd is still a complex tale with plenty of layers to decipher, but basically, what it really is, is a story of one woman deciding who she wants to be with in her life. Some of that may not seem like it comes at any cost, but the movie makes the good point that, in at least Bathsheba’s case, there totally is.

Bathsheba is an independent free-thinker that doesn’t need a man to define who she is, what she does, or what she can do for those around her, but at the same time, she wants that never ending feeling of love and happiness that mostly comes with having a mate in one’s life. She doesn’t need it, but she wants it, and that’s what makes her tail all the more complex, as it’s a smart one that doesn’t try to tell all women out there that, “All you need to make yourself happy is a man, and that’s it. Everything else is poppycock.”

And it’s also a perfect piece of casting to have Carey Mulligan in the role that, from what I’m supposed to believe, is the one female character to inspire many generations of ones to come. Mulligan doesn’t have a great amount of range (or at least, none of which that I’ve totally seen yet), but she’s good here as Bathsheba Everdene because she’s not only gorgeous, but doesn’t seem stupid. Sure, she makes the silly mistake of falling for the wrong guy and marrying him at one point, but she isn’t a dope that could be easily swayed one way; with her, it would take a lot of time and effort on one’s behalf to really impress her, which makes Bathsheba all the more compelling to watch.

No! Definitely not!

No! Definitely not!

Not to mention that it helps make her three suitors entertaining, even if one does get a tad too over-the-top for his own good.

Though Tom Sturridge is a fine actor and does what he can here, his Frank Troy here is just too one-note. Sure, we feel bad for the dude because he gets stood-up at the altar for all of the wrong reasons, but once we realize that he’s the main antagonist that the movie is going to rely on, the role gets a bit more bland. He’s there to basically stir the shit when the shit needs stirring and it just comes off as lazy and manipulative on the part of director Thomas Vinterberg. Maybe this was how he was written, I’m not sure, but all I know is that it doesn’t wholly work.

That said, Sturridge doesn’t blur the fact that both Michael Sheen and especially, Matthias Schoenaerts, are great here and allow for these two characters to seem more deep than they may actually be written as being. Sure, Sheen’s character may be a total and complete creep, that can’t help but find Bathsheba whenever she’s in a dark, confined hallway, but also seems like a genuinely nice guy who is willing to do whatever he can to get the love of his life. Once again, not saying I fully condone his actions, but the dude’s inspired by something, so I’ll give him that.

The one who obviously seems like the perfect fit for Bathsheba is Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak – a character who seems so hokey, that he sort of works. He’s the quiet, stern and silent type, but he’s also incredibly handsome, hot and capable of fixing anything and everything that needs fixing. Clearly, he seems like the perfect fit for Bathsheba, but because she doesn’t go for him right off the bat, were left waiting and wondering when that may happen, if at all. I’ve only seen Schoenaerts in a few films or so, and I have to say, the dude has impressed me tons. Not only does he find ways to further challenge himself, but doesn’t seem pigeon-holed as being the Brando-clone that he was made out to be so early in his career.

Can’t wait to see what he’s got next, but let’s just hope that it isn’t another British period-piece. I can only handle so many of these a year.

Consensus: Like most period pieces, it’ll appeal to some, and not to others, but Far From the Maddening Crowd features a top-notch ensemble, with a romantic story that goes certain places that are interesting, believable, and fun to watch, all at the same time.

7.5 / 10

Yes! Get it, girl!

Yes! Get it, girl!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The D Train (2015)

High school reunions are a joke and sometimes, so are the people who you see there.

Self-proclaimed chairman of his high school’s reunion committee, Dan Landsman (Jack Black), wants to be the exact opposite of what he was many years ago in the 9th-12th grade: Cool. He hasn’t ever had that feeling, because after high school ended, he got his pregnant (Kathryn Hahn), took the first job he could find, and basically, never let home in the first place. That’s why when he sees a former classmate of his, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), in a commercial for Banana Boat sunscreen, Dan gets the brilliant idea: Get Oliver to come to the reunion and have the reunion itself be a fun, memorable time, all due to Dan himself. However, what that takes is a lot of planning and maneuvering around to get Oliver from L.A., all the way back to home; although Dan is totally up for it too, he may have some problems in the way of his boss (Jeffrey Tambor). Not to mention, Oliver himself may not want to even come at all – something that Dan is able to change, but it all comes at a cost.

While this seems like a very sparse premise, the fact is that there’s something that occurs about half-way through the flick that makes up what’s to become the rest of the movie after it. It’s something I can’t discuss as it will simply spoil the rest of the movie, but do know this: What may seem like a small plot-point, something that could definitely be traded-in as a passing-gag, eventually turns the movie into something very serious and dramatic. Almost too much, would one say?

How I spend every reunion I've ever had to attend.

How I spend every reunion I’ve ever had to attend.

I’m not sure, but there’s something about this drastic step that the D Train that makes it smarter than most comedies. But in hindsight, does it work?

Well, not really. The reason being, too, is that it seems like where co-writers and directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel get mixed up is that they have a neat premise and know what they want to do and say about it, but instead of going anywhere interesting, or better yet, intelligent with it, they just use the most broad example they could find and figure out ways to make the jokes just string off of that. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes that both Paul and Mogel are able to cobble up work and definitely shed some light on the whole bromance subgenre of movies that I’d never see Apatow’s crew bothering to touch.

However, what it ultimately turns out to be is something of a disappoint. See, while Paul and Mogel make it seem like they’re going to discuss the whole idea about growing up, getting out of high school and doing something for yourself, the D Train instead goes somewhere else that feels lazy. It’s as if Paul and Mogel didn’t want to make its audience think too much while laughing, so instead, they just decided the best way to cure all that was to just go for the easiest jokes possible. Once again, the jokes do work and I’d be lying if the movie stopped being serious after this half-way point, but after it all, it made me wonder why there wasn’t more attention given to what seemed like the original intentions Paul and Mogel had.

Though, there is something to be said for a comedy where we get to see plenty of range come from the likes of Jack Black, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, and most especially, James Marsden, that doesn’t just include them mucking it up. Because, for the most part, everybody here is funny and clearly shows they have a great sense of humor to work well within the confines of this script, but they also dig deep into these characters and make them seem like something more than just caricatures. They’re actual humans, albeit, ones with plenty of problems that they may not be able to ever get past.

Such is especially evident in the case of Black’s Landsman, who not only borders on the verge of being incredibly creepy, but may definitely have some self-esteem issues of his own that may not bode well for the rest of his family. I won’t divulge what it is exactly that I am discussing, but Landsman’s obsessive nature is odd and off-putting at times; however, he never becomes a terribly unsympathetic character. There’s a reason for why he acts so insufferably cruel and manipulating to those around him and it’s what keeps most of the moments where he’s just acting like a dick, therefore digging himself deeper into holes he can’t get out of, not only fun, but interesting in what it does to develop this character.

Same goes for Hahn’s character, Stacey. Not only does she love and support her man until the end of their days, but also realizes what it is about him that she loves so very much, even if he can be a bit of a sad sack. She’s not just there as window-dressing to give Landsman a reason to come back home every so often, but she’s actually a genuinely sweet person. And even though most of the easy, softball jokes constantly rely on Tambor’s boss character being present, you can’t help but enjoy what’s happening to his character, as well as sympathize with the dude.

Trust me, sit closer to the soul patch. It works well.

Trust me, sit closer to the soul patch. It works well.

Then, of course, there’s James Marsden.

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been a huge lover of James Marsden; it’s not because he gets the women that I can only dream of having, it’s not because he’s incredibly handsome as hell, and it’s not because he got to do kissy-face with Famke Janssen back in the day, it’s just that I’ve never been fully impressed with his capabilites as an actor. Sure, the dude’s charming and, more often than not, is able to make me laugh, but I’ve never walked from something he’s been involved with and have gone, “Wow. That James Marsden sure is something.”

That may change now. Not just because Marsden’s hilarious here (which he definitely is), but literally gets to the bottom of the heart and soul of this character, without ever making it seem like he’s trying too hard at all. Oliver Lawless stands in the place of every high school jock who peaked in the 11th grade: Was the life of the party, everybody wanted to be friends with, and had high aspirations for, but when the time came around to actually moving on and doing something with their life, totally fell apart. Marsden’s Lawless may be cool, handsome-as-eff, and suave with the ladies, but is also pretty sad with what he’s become and how he can hardly even get Dermot Mulroney to talk to him. Marsden shows layers to this character that I don’t even know were there to begin with, and because of that, I will forever look forward to seeing what Mr. James Marsden has for me next.

Whether the movie be good, bad, or just, middling. Kind of like this.

Consensus: The D Train flirts with interesting ideas that challenge R-rated comedy standards, but doesn’t do enough justice to them and instead, relies heavily on the charming and likable cast to pick up the pieces.

6.5 / 10

How I imagine everybody feels standing next to James Marsden anywhere.

How I imagine everybody feels standing next to James Marsden anywhere.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hot Pursuit (2015)

Thelma and Louise definitely had more fun. And they *SPOILER ALERT* died!

Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) has been a by-the-books police officer for as long as she can remember. However, after a infamous mishap, she’s found herself away from field duty and put behind the desk where, hopefully, she won’t hurt anybody or screw things up. Cooper isn’t about this, but it’s all that she’s got to work with now. That’s why, when she’s given the duty to transport the wife of a drug cartel leader, Daniella (Sofia Vergara), to witness protection in Dallas, she is more than willing to oblige. But on the way over, things get a bit iffy, where fellow officers are killed and sooner than later, Cooper realizes that she’s being made out to be the baddie. This is when she decides to take Daniella to witness protection on hero own, in hopes that not only does Daniella get to where she needs to be, but her name gets cleared and all. However, during their little road trip, as expected, wacky hijinx and heartfelt conversations about life, love and unity ensue.

There’s a part of me that appreciates what Hot Pursuit is doing, but at the same time, also despises it. See, Hot Pursuit can list itself among the very small subcategory of road-trip movies that feature not one, but two female leads; the Heat may be apart of that group as well, but that was nearly two years ago. Movies like this where we are treated to two female leads doing and acting in roles that could have easily been filled-out by their male counterparts, hardly ever see the light of day and that’s why Hot Pursuit can be appreciated.

Boobs, get it?

Boobs, get it?

However, by the same token, it’s also a pretty terrible movie that shouldn’t be seen no matter what it represents.

Basically, this movie is not funny. While that’s as simple and as short as I can possibly be, it’s the absolute truth. As with most comedies, there’s maybe one or two times that I myself chuckle and while there is definitely two or maybe even three instances of that here, I can’t remember where they came from, what was funny about them, or even when they happened during the duration of this hour-and-a-half film.

But the long answer is that Hot Pursuit is, ultimately, a very sexist, unfunny comedy that seems to appreciate the fact that it’s about two female characters, but also gratifies them to make jokes about their bodies, their sexual activities (or in some cases, lack thereof), their age, and, how could I forget, their menstrual cycles. Yes, every joke ever made about a member of the female gender is touched upon here as if it were a Three Stooges short from the 20’s, but whereas those are actually funny in their offensive, slightly inappropriate sign-of-the-times ways, Hot Pursuit is just using them all for cheap, dirty laughs.

Which wouldn’t have been such a problem, had the jokes actually delivered, but they hardly ever do. They don’t land and more often than not, just continue on a very mean-streak this movie seems to lead early on and hardly ever stray away from.

And most of this comes from the fact that these characters are so thinly-written, that they almost become caricatures. Cooper is small and very strict about her day-to-day life, so most of the jokes surrounding her are about her height, her non-existent sex life, and the fact that she talks so professionally and nerd-like. With Daniella, because she has a lovely body and is Colombian, many jokes are made about her breasts, her accent, and oh, I almost forgot, her age. In fact, there’s maybe two or three jokes that are about Daniella’s age that don’t make any sense; not just because the character’s age has never been discussed before, but because Sofia Vergara is way too good-looking to be mistaken for a 50-year-old, even though she is slowly approaching that age.

But honestly, I can’t hold much of this movie’s problems against Vergara, Witherspoon, or the rest of the ensemble. Everyone here seems to be trying, it’s just that they’re saddled with material that would be better suited for a low-rent sitcom that would maybe last a week or two, until the network eventually realized that it’s offending way too many people and is already suffering from low ratings. Except that with Hot Pursuit, it’s a movie that people will pay to go and see, so even though I hope people want to see it for the fact that it’s a marketable movie featuring two female leads, I hope that it doesn’t lead to there being anything of a sequel.

Physical comedy, get it?

Physical comedy, get it?

Like, seriously, that would be terrible.

However, if there is someone to be partially blamed here, it’s Witherspoon herself. See, even after her infamous 2013 arrest, or, better yet, even the numerous pieces of trash she’s starred-in over the years, Witherspoon is still an incredibly talented actress who, even nearing 40, seems like she’s got plenty left in her system to go for another 20 years or so. Heck, she even just got nominated for an Oscar not more than three months ago! So what the heck gives?

Well, that’s because Witherspoon, in what seems like a very smart move on her part, produces a lot of what she stars in. Granted, she produced Gone Girl and didn’t star in that, but she produced Wild, which was a critical, as well as a financial success, but then again, she’s doing the same here for Hot Pursuit. Whether it was a move to ensure that the role she plays would stay straight for a woman, or if it was just money getting in the way of things, is totally unknown. However, if there is one thing that I do know, is that Witherspoon needs to steer clear of what sort of movies she backs up, let alone, star in. Because while Hot Pursuit may be a movie starring women, made for a general, wide audience, it still feels like the kind of flick that everybody will love it, except for women and that’s a huge problem.

So, please Reese, be careful.

Consensus: Though Witherspoon, Vergara, and everyone else in Hot Pursuit seem to be trying, there’s just no helping the fact that it’s jokes are lazy and sometimes insulting, leading to an overall, very unfunny comedy.

2 / 10

Yelling, get it?

Yelling, get it?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Far From Men (2015)

If budget-cuts weren’t enough, now teachers have to worry about transporting murderers.

Middle-aged schoolteacher Daru (Viggo Mortensen) leads a peaceful life 1950’s-Algeria. That all changes, however, when he is called upon to transport a prisoner by the name of Mohamed (Reda Kateb). Though Mohamed has been charged with killing his cousin, the reasons behind it make the crime seem justified in Daru’s eyes, so he tries to get him to escape to take them both out of trouble. The problem is that Mohamed doesn’t want to escape and instead, insists that Daru take him to the French, where he will either be imprisoned for the rest of his days, or killed instantly. Either option isn’t ideal, but then again, living in Algeria around this time period isn’t, so these two have to take whatever hand life deals them. Along the journey, the two get to learn more and more about one another, where they see that even though they are from two different societies, they are still alike in many ways; so much so that they eventually save each other from some very life-or-death situations.

I’ve said it before, and you know what? I’ll say it once again: Simple movies are sometime the best ones. While they don’t always need to challenge the viewer so much with numerous over-written, complicated, and contrived subplots, they also don’t need to forget to bring some complexity to their proceedings as well. In fact, there’s something of a line between being complicated and too much, against being too easy and skimping out on any details. Some may call me “stupid” for having such a love, or taste for movies that play it as simple and easy as most of life is, but so be it.

"Sadly, I did that."

“Sadly, I did that.”

And that’s one of the main reasons as to why Far From Men does it for me.

Granted, there’s a portion of this movie where I do wish that writer/director David Oelhoffen dug a tad bit deeper and tried to go for the heavy, complicated answers to even more complicated questions, but overall, there’s a lot here beneath the surface; sometimes, you just have to look closely enough to find it.

With this plot-line, too, there is some understanding that the audience watching will have to know an awful lot about the Algerian rebellion against the French, but honestly, one Goggle search will get you all caught up. Because, after awhile, it becomes clear that the movie is just using that setting as a backdrop for a story that, despite seeming like a rip-off of the same plot from the Last Detail, goes deeper to discuss what it takes to be a person who not only has faith and hope in one’s country, but in humanity as well. Some people believe that the two go hand-in-hand, but as this movie continues to go on and go on, the answer becomes very clear that that isn’t the case; sometimes, it’s much more complicated than that.

For instance, take the character of Mohamed – someone who would be so easy to classify as “bad” and almost “villainous”, because of what we are made to believe of him. Sure, he’s a murderer, but at the same time, the reason as to why he did kill somebody, and the fact that he isn’t trying to hide away from that fact, either, is quite telling. It’s obvious that most of this movie is going to concern itself with Daru and Mohamed talking to one another and bonding over whatever comes their way, but it’s less hokey and corny than you’d expect; rather than making things up and making it seem like these two are the same person, in and out, but separated by location, the movie actually embraces the fact that these are two different men. They may be sort of, kind of, maybe thrown into the same position against their will, with their hands literally and figuratively tied, but as is, they aren’t the same person, and because of this, it’s interesting to see how and where they bond.

Don't worry, he ain't so bad.

Don’t worry, he ain’t so bad.

With Mohamed, we learn that he’s more of a sympathetic character despite the fact that he killed someone; we realize that he’s a family man who, against his will, had to kill for his family’s freedom. But with Daru, we get a realy glimpse into the life and soul of a person who literally wants to do the right thing no matter what sort of situation he’s thrown into, but somehow, can’t seem to get past the fact that not everybody thinks or acts like he does. While he is in Algeria to teach young kids French and enlighten them in ways that they’ve never had the opportunity to be before, he’s also held down by the fact that he’s a former soldier who had to kill in order to survive. It’s also because of this, he is called on to act in his nation’s line of duty, whether he believes in the cause or not.

This character’s inner-fight is complex and believable, if not because of the way he’s written, but because of how great Mortensen is with him. It’s neat to see someone like Mortensen, an actor who seems so clearly comfortable with starring in big-budget, mainstream extravaganzas like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Hidalgo, go for roles in much smaller, almost obscure movies that not even a quarter of the fans of those movies will see, but that’s why we have actors like him in the world. Mortensen, who is very good at speaking French mind you, gives Daru plenty to be compelling, but also shows that he isn’t a perfect human being and, for the most part, has to make some very desperate actions to keep himself, as well as Mohamed, alive and well, so that they continue on to their destination; wherever that may be. Don’t get me wrong, Daru isn’t happy about these decisions that he makes, but he feels like he has to and that’s already what makes him a challenging character to work with.

But then you remember he’s being played by Aragorn and all of a sudden, all negativity about that character goes away.

Consensus: While it may seem simple on the surface, Far From Men digs deep into these characters, as well as the terrain surrounding them, to create a fully-realized, understanding, and complex world where men are made to do whatever they possibly can to survive and continue on.

8 / 10

"No worries, I'm Viggo Mortensen and I've got a gun. Nothing can go wrong."

“No worries, I’m Viggo Mortensen and I’ve got a gun. Nothing can go wrong.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ride (2015)

Mom’s are so hip!

Middle-aged New Yorker Jackie (Helen Hunt) isn’t ready to let her son, Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) go away to college. Even if it is NYU, she’s still worried that he might lose himself and even lose the skills he has gained as a writer over the years as well. That’s why when Angelo decides to skip NYU altogether and move right out to California to become a surfer, Jackie is thrown into an insane panic. All of a sudden, her one and only child is now very far away from her, where he may, or may not, lose all sight of his talents – all for the fun of surfboarding, mind you! Acting on total instinct, Jackie decides to go out and visit Angelo without him knowing; until he does find out and Jackie’s left to figure out whether she can go back to her life in NYC, or just have to get used to things in California so that she can spend more and more time with her son. Well, Jackie decides to go with the later option, but only for a short while, so that she can learn how to surfboard and finally try to understand all of the joy that it gives her son.

There’s hardly anything wrong with Ride. It’s peaceful, sweet, earnest, entertaining, simple and as safe as you can possibly get with a movie, let alone an indie. Being a critic like I am, I normally look far and wide to discover something wrong with any movie that I see, but such is the dilemma with Ride: There isn’t anything wrong with it, and that’s sort of the problem.

Don't know the "x" that she's signaling about, but whatever.

Don’t know the “x” that she’s signaling about, but whatever.

See, with Ride, Helen Hunt takes over as not only writer and director here, but also as the star of her own movie, where she’s able to be held up against scrutiny for being the slightest bit vain. While I have much hope in Hunt to know that she wouldn’t allow for a project such as this just toot her own horn, there’s still something here that didn’t do much of anything for me. Once again, it’s a pleasant movie that doesn’t try to offend anybody, or even change people’s lives; it’s, simply put, a safe and earnest crowd-pleaser that’s meant to tell a heartfelt story, give us comedy, heart and, hopefully, at the end of the day, teach us some lessons about life, love, and the most important aspect to all of life, family.

Sweet, right?

Well, that’s because it is and Ride isn’t the kind of movie that sets out to do much of anything ground-breaking or life-altering to those who see it. Whether or not this was Hunt’s sole intention in the first place or not, is totally unknown, as she never seems to want to go deeper than what’s presented on the easy-going surface that is this movie and the themes it represents.

As I’ve said before, however, there’s nothing wrong with that, but then again, there sort of is. While Ride can be enjoyed, as soon as it’s over, you may totally forget that you had ever seen it. Sure, you may remember there was a movie where Helen Hunt surfed and bonded with her kid, but that’s about it, right? Oh, and I guess you’d maybe remember that Luke Wilson was in it too, right? Or, also that it included Angel from Dexter? Or, don’t forget, maybe even T-Bag from Prison Break?

Yeah, you’ll probably remember who was in it and what role they may have had in it, but that’s pretty much it, right? Everything else from the plot, to the twists (or in this movie’s case, lack thereof), to the jokes, to the conclusion of it all may go right over your head and be totally forgotten about. However, you’ll remember that you’ve seen the movie and I guess, for better or worse, there’s something inherently wrong with that; however, I just can’t seem to put my finger on it.

That's love right there. And not in that kind of way, you sickos.

That’s love right there. And not in that kind of way, you sickos.

And that’s where most of the problem with Ride waves in – while I want to have so many problems with it being so incredibly forgettable, I still can’t bring myself to do so for a movie that is so unabashedly not doing anything out-of-the-ordinary. Helen Hunt is a very charming and likable presence in just about everything she shows up in, and there’s no difference with her performance here as Jackie. While she may be an upper-class smarty-pants of a character, her whole persona seems to come from a soft place in her heart and because of that, everything that she does in the next hour-and-a-half or so, whether it be ridiculous or believable, at least has some semblance of sympathy. The fact that she follows her son all over the country like a crazed and psychotic ex-girlfriend may seem strange on paper, but considering the relationship she has with him, it isn’t all that creepy.

Okay, maybe a little bit. But come on, people! It’s Helen Hunt for gosh sakes!

She was, at one time, America’s sweetheart!

Anyway, the rest of the cast is just like Helen Hunt: Charming, likable and fine. Nobody’s really setting out for an Oscar of any sorts and because of that, nobody really stands out. Luke Wilson is playing a cool, relaxed “bro”; Brenton Thwaites is there to go “aw shucks” whenever his mom does something silly; David Zayas is there as a comedic sidekick; and Robert Knepper is hardly even around. Everybody clearly shows up to make Helen Hunt happy as can be, and because of that, we can get a bit happy in return. It’s just a bit of a shame that they’re not given much more to do, as we all know that they’re more than capable of it.

Oh well.

Consensus: There’s nothing really wrong with Ride as it’s pleasant and easy-going, however, it’s incredibly forgettable and wholesome in nature that it feels like a fine movie to watch when you’re not at all paying attention to what’s going on.

5 / 10

You go, Hel! Show Johnny Utah who's boss!

You go, Hel! Show Johnny Utah who’s boss!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gerontophilia (2015)

There’s nothing wrong with sugar daddies, but there’s gotta come a cut-off in age difference.

Young and sexually confused Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) may have a girlfriend, Desiree (Katie Boland), but doesn’t feel totally comfortable. Which isn’t to say because he’s gay (which he sort of is), but because he appreciates his lovers to be a little more older and wiser. That’s why when he takes up a job at a nursing home, he’s actually pretty happy. However, he practically becomes smitten when he meets Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden); a patient who may be getting older, but still provides plenty of fun and happiness for Lake. Peabody, while initially against trying any sort of thing with Lake, initially grows fond of the young boy and starts to embrace the fact that he’s an older man, who is able to take up with a much, much younger fella. Although having any sort of sexual relations with a patient is strictly prohibited, Lake still goes for it with Mr. Peabody anyway – even going so far as to take him out on a road trip that has them spending all sorts of time together, making love and finding out more and more about one another, even despite the huge age-gap.

Just another grand-father and grand-son walking through the park...

Just another grand-father and grand-son walking through the park…

Sure, many people can be freaked out by this premise and see as how it’s just nothing more than a 70-year-old hooking up with someone who can’t be anymore than 21. But change the older person’s gender from male, to female, and you’ve got the same exact premise to Harold and Maude, which provides a pretty interesting flip side to the conversation. While some may be very upset and disturbed over the fact that these two men are having sex with one another and starting something of a relationship, the fact is why people may be upset is over the fact that these are in fact two men. To me, that doesn’t bother me one bit, but anything that I’ve seen so far about this movie has been nothing more than just “creepy”.

However, another difference between Gerontophilia and the aforementioned Harold and Maude, is that one is clearly way better and will forever be remembered as something of a cult classic, whereas the other, won’t at all be remembered in ten years, let alone, by the end of the summer.

But like I said, there’s something brave about what writer/director Bruce La Bruce sets out to do here; the only problem is that it seems to fall flat. While with a plot such as this, you may expect all sorts of shocks to be had, but instead, may also find out that there’s something very plain about this material. Not saying that a premise like this had to be constantly shocking and surprising its audience with whatever act of physicality it can show, but there is something to be said for a movie where it’s premise is as “different” as this, and yet, nothing really happens.

Sure, clothes are taken off, lips lock, and people have sex, but there’s nothing else more to that portion of the movie. While we’re supposed to believe that this Lake kid has a fetish for much older men, the reason being never comes out; not saying that there needs to be an explanation for each and every person’s sexual desires, but when a bulk of your film is dedicated to said sexual desire, it sort of feels like a question-mark left unanswered. With Lake though, the fact that we’re never able to pin-point the fact as to why he has such a love and needing desire for older men, is the least of this character’s problems.

For starters, Pier-Gabriel Lajoie is not a very good actor and because of this, he drags everyone else down around him. While I’m taking it slightly easy on him because he is young, seemingly inexperienced, and forced to speak English (a language that is clearly not his first) throughout a good majority of the film, there’s still a problem had here with him where he doesn’t really feel believable in this role. Sure, the idea that this young, handsome and boy-ish guy could be the object of some older man’s affections, definitely makes perfect sense, but that’s all this Lake character becomes. Maybe there was something more written for this character to portray and delve into, but whatever it was Lajoie never fully gets to that part.

He’s just a young and naive kid, like we all once were.

Look out, grand-pops. He's a comin'.

Look out, grand-pops. He’s a comin’ for ya.

Which is fine, but once again, everybody else sort of stumbles in this film because of him. As Mr. Peabody, Walter Borden is alright here because his character seems fully-written and not just an idea, but after awhile, all there really seems to be for him to do is just act all surprised by how taken Lake is with him. Though the movie tries to fall back on it, there’s really no chemistry at all between these two, which is a shame when you take into consideration the fact that the movie wants to be all about stepping out of one’s boundaries and experiencing some sort of love that you don’t need to be told to have.

In fact, if there was something about this movie that was at least somewhat well-done, it was that it didn’t hide away, or better yet, shame its characters into thinking or feeling like they’re apart of something despicable and dirty. Simply put, they’re two men trying to experiencing some sort of love and/or connection that they can have with another person, while still not having to go through the whole thing, either. Also, too, the fact that they’re using one another makes me think that Bruce La Bruce had every intention of going deeper with these characters and the world in which they’re set in, however, it never comes out.

The only character who I can say is fully-realized and as complex as you’re going to get, is Katie Boland’s Desiree. While it’s never made clear what she is to Lake (sometimes, they hook-up even when he is with Mr. Peabody), there’s still something compelling about what her feminism beliefs represent and how, at the end of the day, she wants what either you or I want: Love. While she puts on a tough front of how she doesn’t care about all of that sappy bullshit and just wants to stand up for herself, she also wants to appreciate life and love with someone by her side. She also has this “list” that I’m still trying to figure out actually was, but even the fact that it was left open in the air, didn’t bother me. I was just happy to see a good actress, get a good role.

Wish that could be said for the rest of the movie.

Consensus: With awkward acting and ideas that never seem fully-realized enough to hit home, Gerontophilia, while never seeming fully creepy, still doesn’t go deeper than what’s presented on the surface with these characters, or their relationships together.

3 / 10

It's love, people. Deal with it!

It’s love, people. Deal with it!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)

Being rich, famous and having to remember just a few lines your whole life sucks, you know?

Aging actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is most known for her role in an adaptation of Wilhelm Melchior’s Maloja Snake. Many years have past, however, and Maria is already starting to feel insecure and irrelevant in today’s day and age where people are made up to celebrities for simply just doing “stuff”; they don’t have to actually have any sort of talent. Maria doesn’t like this side to movie-making that’s been plaguing society for the past couple decades or so, but she doesn’t hide away from it, either. That’s why when she hears news that Maria’s career-making role is now going to be played by young, brash and fairly controversial American actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), she’s none too happy about it, but yet, still accepts the offer, if mostly for the money. While Maria may not have her old role, she still has a new one and starts to prep for it with her loyal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart); who seems to admire a lot about Maria, but also realize what’s come of today’s movies and accepted them for what they are.

I’ve sat on this review for awhile. It’s not because I didn’t think my opinions on it were so popular that they had to be thrown out there for everybody else to read while it was being praised beyond all belief; it’s mostly due to the fact that I needed some time for myself to rack my brain about how I actually felt about it. By the way everybody’s been going on and on about it, surely there was supposed to be something here that I wasn’t supposed to just like, but love, praise and shout about to the high heavens.

Past.

Past.

However, after watching Clouds of Sils Maria, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t do that no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise.

A part of me, however, does like to praise this movie for giving a no-bullshit, low-key take on current day Hollywood and film-making. Olivier Assayas is a smart writer, as well as director, who clearly seems to be getting to a point about how far movies have fallen from being about the art or even the craft, and much more about making money, getting notoriety, and making sure that a public persona is made out to be all good, clean and kind, so that no skepticism comes around. In a way, Assayas takes a very cynical look at this idea and while he could have just attacked Hollywood and left it at that, he takes it a slight step forward in criticizing the whole grand spectrum of film. From the directors, to the writers, to the actors, to the assistants, and sure as hell to the PR departments, too, everybody gets a scathing mention fro Assayas and it’s interesting to see what he has to say about them.

But then again, when you take into consideration the actual deliverance of these thoughts and ideas, the movie does’t fully work. The reason being is because all of what Assayas does here, doesn’t really hit hard at all. What he’s saying is interesting and definitely deserves to be heard, but the way in how he actually frames them all isn’t – not to mention, none-too-subtle whatsoever.

For instance, there’s a brief sequence in which we see Maria check out what this Jo-Ann Ellis girl is all about and decides to type her name into Google and see what wonderful things pop-up. Needless to say, because Ellis is made out to be a mixture of Lindsay Lohan and, well, Kristen Stewart actually, we are treated to various footage of Ellis acting like an ass, hitting paparazzi with her high-heels, sleeping around, not making any sense in public interviews, and generally seeming like a terrible person to work with, let alone be around. Once again, it’s an interesting and almost genius way for Assayas to make us seem like we know everything we need to know about this character, but it goes on for so long without ever trying to show us anything new, that it feels like Assayas can’t let go; he’s so angry at whom this character represents, that he doesn’t know when to take a chill pill, let it all simmer down, and have her tell herself to us.

This isn’t to say that Moretz isn’t fine in this role, because she totally is. She nails down what it’s like to be young and curious about the world you’re thrown into, yet, at the same time, still have no idea how to handle it all, either. The only problem is that she’s treated to a character who feels so surface-material that the only semblance of sympathy we get from her is that she feels slightly bad for her boyfriend’s wife finding out about them two shacking up.

Wow. Such a lovely little lady she is.

And what happens to Moretz here, sadly, happens to both Binoche and Stewart as well. Although both are a lot better off because they not only take up the main-frame of this movie, but seem to generally be willing to go as far and as deep into these characters as humanly possible. Especially in the case with Binoche, who may be playing a little too close to who she really is in real life, but given that she’s able to make Maria seem like someone who generally cares about her career and the movie world itself, she gets a pass.

Regardless though, Binoche is great in this role; like with Michael Keaton’s portrayal of (basically) himself in Birdman, we get to see an actor who seems in on the joke of what this movie is trying to pass-off, yet, still give a heartfelt, complex into the mind of somebody who is trying so hard to stay relevant in current day media, but also doesn’t want to stoop too low, either. Maria wants people to respect and adore her like they once did some years ago, but also realizes that in order for people to recognize her again, she may have to take some high-paying gigs that’ll make her look like a fool, but will still also allow for her name to be passed-around. While Binoche herself may not have hit the deep-bottom like the character she is portraying, it’s still compelling to watch as she, sort of, imitates life through art.

Present.

Present.

Same goes for Stewart who, after all these years, finally seems happy to be settled-in a world of film where she doesn’t have to please dozens and dozens of screaming teenagers. And because she’s the first American actress to ever win the César Award, there’s already a lot of talk surrounding the work she does here, so there’s that. While the performance may not be as ground-breaking as I expected it to be, it still finds Stewart in an interesting role that shows her to be both cool, charming and a likable presence.

The only problem with this however, is that the performance is wasted on a barrage of scenes that not only push the limitations of one’s patience, but seem to be the same thing, told over and over again.

There are literally, a handful of scenes where both Maria and Valentine are looking over the script and working on it, but at the same time, also seeming like they’re constantly making subtle hints surrounding what they’re relationship together may or may not be. Are they just work-partners? Or friends? Or hell, lovers? The questions are up in the air throughout all of the times these two practice the script that Maria has to perform, but Assayas constantly seems to go back to these scenes, as if he had no other way of portraying this challenging relationship.

At one point, the movie jumps into to talk about how that some of the mainstream pieces of junk we see nowadays are ruining most of our minds and nothing but wastes of time. However, on the flipside of the coin, the movie boldly brings up the fact of how some of these mind-numingly silly and stupid action flicks can sometimes take chances with their stories and themes that smaller, more independent flicks do. This is an interesting complex that the movie creates, but it seems wasted on the fact that Assayas doesn’t know where to go with this idea, except just present it, and allow for his very talented actresses to take the cake home to the baker with it. For the most part, it’s an experiment that sometimes can work, and other times, can’t.

However, that’s just me. Take it or leave it.

Consensus: With the acting pedigree of Binoche, Stewart and Moretz, Clouds of Sils Maria gets away with its less-than-subtle messages about Hollywood, the current day movie-making process, and how some actors have to lose a bit of self-respect to be remembered at all.

6 / 10

Future.

Future.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

More robots?

Since their big battle in New York City, the Avengers crew has been up to a lot; although, more often than not, they’re separated from one another, left to fend for themselves. Now, many years after their last team-up, the gang is back together and, for the most part, everybody seems to be the same. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is still a snarky deuche; Captain America (Chris Evans) is still trying to keep everybody in line; the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is trying his hardest to control his temper and not lose all sense of control; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still kicking as much ass he possibly can; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is doing the same as Thor, except with her sheer beauty; and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is, well, still there. However, now with a new threat on their hands, inadvertently courtesy of Banner and Stark, the gang has to fight even harder than ever before, especially since they’re going up against new foes like Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elisabeth Olsen), and perhaps more dangerous than they ever expected, Ultron (James Spader), a piece of artificial intelligence that nobody seems to be ready for.

"Quit crying, bro. We've got baddies to fight."

“Quit crying, bro. We’ve got baddies to brawl.”

The first Avengers was pretty much everything anybody who had been waiting four incredibly long years could have ever wanted. It was fun, hilarious, action-packed, and featured all sorts of fan boy moments that made not just the die hards happy and not taking their disapproval straight to the message boards, but also showed that, while this may have been the pinnacle of the Marvel franchise so far, it wouldn’t at all be the last outing. In fact, if there was anything at all spectacular about what Joss Whedon did with the first movie, was that he showed that there was plenty more life to be found inside of these characters, their stories, and what could come their way next.

And now, it’s time for the eventual sequel to that near-masterpiece of everything that’s right with superhero movies and there’s a slight feeling of disappointment. It’s not because Whedon messes up here and gets everything wrong; in fact, everything that Whedon does here, for the majority of it, is that he allows for the action to be as fun, as loud, and as energetic as possible, while also still allowing for us to see everything that’s happening where, when, and to whom. However, he never loses sight of what makes them kick so hard and as well as they do, and that’s the characters.

Yes, these are the same characters that we’ve spent so much time with already, but as you’ll see here, Whedon breaths some new life into them and allows us to see them in a light that we haven’t quite seen them in before: A vulnerable one.

See, what Whedon gets right here, as Guardians of the Galaxy showed us all last summer, is that these characters probably work best when they’re just hanging around with one another, shootin’ the shit, getting on each other’s cases, and overall, learning more than they ever thought they could. Because, as they’re getting to learn more about each other, we’re doing the same; which in and of itself, is not only interesting, but fun. We think we know these characters for all that they appear to be and then we see a certain conversation they have go a way they didn’t expect it to, and all of a sudden, something new is learned. There are many moments of that here and, due to reasons that can’t be disclosed, they feel more emotional and compelling, rather than just fine bits and pieces of filler.

Problem is, that once the filler comes around, it feels like it’s just around to take-up space.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at a Marvel movie for offering all sorts of action it can come up with. However, I do get a tad bit ticked-off when it takes away from moments that could be spent, dedicated to more and more character development, where we feel like something is actually being accomplished, rather than just tacked-on so people don’t get bored quickly. Whedon does a fine job at putting in certain action sequences that go everywhere and anywhere that they want, with absolute reckless abandon and they’re fun to watch, it’s just that it sometimes feel like the wheels are spinning, but there’s nobody driving.

Things can blow up as much as they want, but when there’s general basis for them, then there’s a bit of a problem. Which, like I’ve said before, wouldn’t have been bad, had it been serviced by something of a plot that worked, or better yet, made some bit of sense. From what I can tell you, Ultron is bad and is capable of planting his subconscious into any robot-body it wants. This, for the most part, made sense to me, but then, for reasons I can’t understand as anything but “corporate excess”, Whedon throws a plethora of characters onto our plate where we’re wondering what they serve to the plot, what they’re all about, and whether or not they’re even worth our time.

Not saying that I have a problem adding in new characters, but when it eventually seems like too much, then you have the same sort of problem that a fellow superhero flick like Spider-Man 3 had. While that movie was definitely off a lot worse than this one, there’s something here that makes me think that all of the added-on characters and subplots, like some of the action, were all just filler; they weren’t to serve much of a purpose, other than to just distract the audience from what is a very confusing and nonsensical plot, and the fact that it could care less about developing the already-known characters a bit more.

"Me mad? But why? WAAH!"

“Me mad? But why? WAAH!”

This isn’t to say that the characters here don’t get some attention and care that they deserve. Above everyone else, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner gets the most development of the pack, where we see him not only tangle with his possible emotions for the likes of Black Widow, but his actual emotions as well. There’s been a lot said about the Hulk character in the past where he seems like too much of a supporting character that, when he’s given his own, single-picture, it doesn’t quite work as well as the others. If that is the case, then Whedon has done a true service to this character where we get enough of him to sense the danger, the sadness, and the actual thrill within this character that people always want to see.

Everybody else that isn’t the Hulk, though, sort of get the short-end of the stick.

One of the more genius aspects surrounding the newly-recruited Scarlet Witch’s character is that she’s able to dig into anybody’s deepest, darkest and most painful secrets imaginable, and with that power, comes plenty of glimpses into some of these character’s heads that are not only disturbing, but pretty sad. For example, Cap’s and Thor’s memories are all about how they miss the people they let-down and left behind, whereas with Black Widow’s, we see her horribly violent up-bringing that makes you wonder just how far she’s willing to go with these missions, where she runs the risk of losing herself. These small glances are what help make these characters all the more compelling to watch and root for, however, there comes a point where it seems to just be used as a way to make us think that the odds are fully stacked-up against the Avengers’ crew.

And while that may most certainly be true with the likes of the absolutely dangerous and intimidating Ultron, the fast, furious and cocky Quicksilver, and the previously mentioned Scarlet Witch, it seems unneeded. It’s almost as if Whedon wanted to jump inside these character’s heads, and jump out as soon as quickly before the going got too heavy. This definitely puts it a step-up above most of the summer blockbusters that are constantly thrown at us left and right, however, it also feels like a teaser for something that’s deeper than what any of us expect.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why the small hints, Joss? Give us it all!

Consensus: As far as superhero blockbusters go, Avengers: Age of Ultron is as action-packed, exciting and as fun as you’d expect it to be, however, some of it is starting to feel repetitive now, especially since there’s more to be unraveled about these characters and what we do get, works so damn well.

8 / 10

Basically a film adaptation of the Blacklist, but with no fedoras. Bummer.

Basically a film adaptation of the Blacklist, but with no fedoras. Bummer.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Adult Beginners (2015)

Big sisters both rule and suck at the same time.

After his tech startup ultimately fails and not only puts him, as well as the many investors he was involved with, in debt, Jake (Nick Kroll) decides that it’s time to take a break on everything for awhile and retreat to the one place he can depend on: His childhood home. However, when he walls into to surprise his sister, Justine (Rose Byrne), of his visit, he realizes that maybe he’s only complicating things a bit more. For instance, Justine is a few weeks pregnant, having issues with money, with her work, and even with her husband (Bobby Cannavale). Jake sees this, but he doesn’t really care and just needs a place to stay for a few months or so, which he does, but at a price: Watch Justine’s youngest son, Teddy, each and every day while she and her husband are off at work. Jake isn’t too happy about this, but decides to do it and finds out that having any sort of responsibility is hard and takes a whole lot of effort. Not just from his part, but everybody else’s, too.

A few days ago, I reviewed the little-seen indie Alex of Venice, and while I appreciated the cast apart of it, I felt the plot and direction to be the same old tale of “someone trying to reinvent themselves and get their lives back on-track”. While there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories in the first place, as anybody will tell you, there are many instances in real life where people need to change things up, it’s just that, sometimes, these stories can get so conventional and middling that it doesn’t feel like anything is being taught or learned in the process. Mostly, it’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad, and at the end of the day, making themselves happy in some way, or fashion.

Wonder who he's calling? Hm....

Wonder who he’s calling? Hm….

Once again, not saying that these stories don’t happen in real life, but I don’t really want to see an hour-and-a-half movie about it where I feel the wheels are turning, but that there’s no driver.

Adult Beginners is that type of movie. But instead of being a boring mess like Alex of Venice, Adult Beginners gets by because, for the most part, it’s funny, and it should be. It’s got some very funny people in it, doing and/or saying funny things, but also deals with real life, grown-up issues about maturity, gaining independence, and marriage. A lot of the same ground was covered in Venice, however here, because it’s given a slight comedic-switch to it all, the pill goes down a lot easier and isn’t as rough to swallow; in fact, there came a point where I wanted to see more of where these characters went and just how exactly they were going to get by whatever situation they were thrown into.

Director Ross Katz makes many nice decisions in not giving us, the audience, the easy answers, but it still works in giving the impression that we’re dealing with characters here. Even if a good majority of the time they spend talking, joking around, bitching, moaning and just walking around, there’s still something interesting to all of that here that worked and kept me engaged. Some of the subplots that come in and out don’t quite work, but rather than taking the movie down with their mediocrity, they just sort of feel like leftover strands that can be forgotten about.

Unlike in Venice where every subplot took away from the main story and made it feel longer than it should have been.

But another reason why this movie works as well as it does, given that it’s like so many other movies, is that it has a fine and charming cast to make the material come off a bit more weighty. Lately, we’ve seen the evolution of Rose Byrne, the charming and hilarious screen-presence that is more than willing to hang with the guys when it comes to delivering any sort of gag, and here, as Justine, there’s no exception to the rule. Byrne is funny, sweet, endearing, and challenging as Justine where she makes some bad decisions, as well as some definite good ones, but no matter what, she’s watchable beyond belief and reminded me a bit of my own big sister in the way that she carried herself from day-to-day activities and with her little bro.

Bobby C. just can't right now.

Bobby C. just can’t right now.

Speaking of her little bro, Nick Kroll gets a chance to finally show the world that he may, or may not be capable of weighty, dramatic material, and the results are, well, uhm, fine. I guess. See, the thing with Kroll is that while he’s definitely fine with all of that snarky, obnoxious humor of his, when it comes down to creating a character and becoming this Jake guy, he leaves much to be desired. It isn’t that Kroll isn’t bad, but by the end of the movie, it sort of feels like we don’t really get this character, nor do we ever understand where the transition from him being a “prick” to a “nice dude” ever occurred, or how it happened. Kroll mostly gets by though because the company he keeps.

Which is to say that, yes, Bobby Cannavale is great here, too, but in a way, I found his subplot to be the most frustrating. Early on in the movie, there’s a slight hint at the fact that Cannavale’s character may be screwing around and while Jake’s character approaches this subject as well as a brother-in-law can do, the way it’s resolved left me wondering, “What happened between point-A and point-C?” See, we get a few scenes where words are exchanged and dicks are measured, but then, that’s pretty much it. Cannavale’s character is wonderful and honest, but the situation he’s thrown into never gets explained well enough to where it makes all the sense for him, or his character.

However, you win some, and you lose some. Whatever.

Consensus: Like many others of its kind, Adult Beginners is funny, heartfelt and benefits from solid performances from a cast who are all willing to make material seem a bit deeper.

7 / 10

All convincing smileys.

All convincing smileys.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Water Diviner (2015)

Who ya gonna call? Russell “dude who already hates phones” Crowe!

After the presumed death of his three sons in WWI and the sudden suicide of his wife, Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) has nowhere to go but overseas and find his kids’ bodies. He’s not happy about it, but to abide by his late-wife’s wishes, he’ll do anything. So then, Joshua travels to Turkey where he hears stories of heroism and bravery about his two sons who were tragically killed on the battlefield, but then again, he also hears them from the man who had them killed in the first place (Yılmaz Erdoğan). Even though the two may not have much in common, the Major ends up assisting Joshua on his search for his sons and, believe it or not, there’s a rumor going around that one of them may actually be alive; the only problem is that no one knows where he’s at. Joshua, with all of his heart and pride, decides to set out on his own which, more or less, puts him into some very dangerous, scary situations. Also, let’s not forget to mention that Joshua begins to fall a bit head-over-heels for a lonely hotel-worker (Olga Kurylenko).

There’s a part of me that wants to give a lot of credit to Russell Crowe for stepping out of his comfort-zone, going big, going home and being as ambitious as humanly possible for his directorial debut. Most actors-turned-directors feel more inclined to just keep their projects short, sweet and simple-to-the-point where they don’t spend too much money, nor do they have to worry about having too much on their plate. I’m fine with these movies, but sometimes, it’s nice to see a larger scope of a movie coming from someone who may, or may not have any clue what they’re doing behind the camera.

Bonding over something cultural, I assume.

Bonding over something cultural, I assume.

However, in the Water Diviner‘s case, it’s a bit of a mess. And an uninteresting one at that.

Most of this comes down to the fact that Crowe, despite all of his best intentions, doesn’t quite have it down yet as to what makes a movie flow so well and smoothly. In terms of the pace, the movie seems to flirt with the idea of being a gritty, ugly and violent war picture, but then, at another second, will slow things up so suddenly to focus on some romance and it’s a huge, drastic change. It almost feels like Crowe wanted to make one movie, and then halfway through it, decided that he wanted to make another; which wouldn’t have been so bad had both movies actually been well worth the watch, but they’re kind of not.

The only reason any of them are worth getting invested in is because of Crowe’s performance that, like usual, shows off his skill for mixing tenderness with masculinity and doing it in a way that we don’t too often see from most actors. Sure, we all know that Crowe can kick some ass when need be, but we so rarely see the softer side to some of his characters and here, as Joshua Connor, Crowe gets a chance to act all of that out and show that this man, deep down inside, is truly hurting. Though the adventure he sets out on isn’t all that exciting or eventful, it’s at least somewhat compelling because of the fact that we care early on for Connor and hope that he gets what he wants; whether that be closure, or happiness, or whatever.

But once again, it’s hard to judge a movie based on the lead performance, especially that lead performer just so happens to be the one directing it all.

Throw on a 'stache and all of a sudden, Jai Courtney's a lot cooler.

Throw on a ‘stache and all of a sudden, Jai Courtney’s a lot cooler.

Which is a shame because Crowe is dealing with some hard-earned issues and feelings here; any movie involving a father searching for his own sons on the battlefield is touching, it’s just that it’s placed in a movie that’s pretty uneven. One second, it’s an anti-war flick explaining how the battlefield makes most humans into angry, malicious animals; another, it’s trying to be a thought-piece about foreign powers coming together and settling scores; and then, of course, there’s the ham-handed love story that we can see coming from a mile away. All of these ideas are toyed around with and while Crowe gives just about each and every one plenty of attention, they never add up to much except for just a jumble that could have easily been handled better.

What ultimately ends up happening though, is that it seems like Crowe just had too much on his plate to begin with. Had he settled down and at least focused on one portion of this story, everything probably would have been all fine and dandy. Though Olga Kurylenko is a solidly lovely and spicy presence on-screen, her character serves no purpose other than just “foreigner that Russell Crowe can shack up when all is said and done”. Having seen To the Wonder, I already know that Kurylenko is capable of much more than that and while she’s fine here, she’s in the middle of a movie that throws her around whenever it sees fit.

I can’t say much about Jai Courtney here, especially since he’s hardly ever around, but it is nice to see him showing up in pieces that don’t just call on him to be a bad-ass. It’s a solid casting-choice on the part of Crowe, but ultimately, it leads to nothing because it’s so clearly Crowe’s movie and nobody else’s. Which is, yet again, not such a terrible thing because Crowe is superb in the lead role, but there’s a feeling that maybe Crowe could have just been the lead here and allowed somebody else to take the reigns of director. Because honestly, Crowe just may not be ready yet. With time, though, he may.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Consensus: Uneven in terms of tone and messy in terms of handling of subplots, the Water Diviner finds Russell Crowe taking on duties as director and while he gives it his all, sadly, the results aren’t as up-to-par as his solid performance is.

5 / 10

Throw that hat full-force at somebody and more than likely, they'll die. I'm serious. Look at that thing!

Throw that hat full-force at somebody and more than likely, they’ll die. I’m serious. Look at that thing!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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