Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

Cake (2014)

It’s an easy joke, but no seriously, real cake would have been better.

After an automotive accident, Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston) is suffering from all sorts of pain – chronic, emotional, physical, and most of all, personal. But to help her get by, Claire continuously pops pills and drinks cocktails, even though she’s also going to physical therapy and group-meetings to help her with any sort of problems she might be having. However, it seems that the only problem Claire even seems to be bothered with is that she doesn’t understand why everybody is so concerned with a former-member of the group sessions (Anna Kendrick)’s suicide; she’s too mean and nasty for anybody to understand, so of course, they kick her out and hope that she eventually starts to sing a different tune. That sort of happens for Claire, however, maybe not the way some would have wanted it to happen. For instance, she starts an actual, budding relationship with he nanny (Adrianna Barraza), if only as a way to coax her into buying more illegal drugs across the border. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, she even starts to visit the deceased girl’s widower (Sam Worthington), in what seems to be more than just a normal chit-chat, and something more serious and possibly sexual.

Literally his only scene.

Literally his only scene.

Right off the bat, I feel like it is worth noting that yes, Jennifer Aniston gives a performance unlike any others we seen from her, ever. She’s nasty, foul, cursing, doing drugs, having anal sex, and, what every person has been calling an act of “absolute bravery”, is make-up free. To say that we’ve never seen Aniston like this before, is obvious, because while she’s definitely done movies that have challenged her a bit as an actress and haven’t been the typical, mainstream rom-coms that have plagued her career for as long as the pilot of Friends was aired. But, to say that this is a great performance, isn’t quite right. In fact, not at all.

Though I would definitely like to give Aniston some credit for trying something new in her rather predictable career, she doesn’t seem to have quite the chops as a dramatic-actress that would make a character as vile as her, seem any bit of sympathetic or compelling. Mostly, Aniston spends the whole movie just making miserable, life-is-meaningless wisecracks to all those around her, but rather than seeming like a funny gal, who could actually have something more interesting and hurtful to all of the pain she’s causing to those around her, there’s just nothing. This is maybe more of a criticism of the actual writing for Aniston’s character, but had she’d been a better, more-talented actress, I feel as though she would have been able to somehow pull this kind of character off. She would have still been an annoying, unlikable witch, but there would have at least been more to her act than just, “Oh, she’s mad about life”.

So no, J-Aniston did not deserve an Academy Award nomination for her work here. So nice job, Academy.

For once.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can finally get to the rest of the movie. But honestly, there’s not much to talk about, because it’s pretty terrible. It’s obvious that this movie was made as a possible Lifetime movie-of-the-week that may, or may not have some sort of crossover-appeal, but because so many big stars got involved with it, it all of a sudden shot-up to being the hot ticket come awards season. That it isn’t exactly that, is the least of its problems.

Where the problems with this movie lies is that it has hardly anything interesting to say about depression at all. This may be because the character we’re forced to stick with is so unbearably arrogant, but it may also be because the movie is so stale, it makes you wonder who was trying behind the cameras. Director Daniel Barnz seems like he wants to make some sort of powerful message about how suicide is just a sign that we do have something to live for in life, and that’s precisely it, life itself. However, that’s just all me grasping at straws. What the film seems more interested in developing is how many times and different ways Aniston can groan, moan, or tell somebody to piss-off.

And I know that I continue to wrap-around back to her, but honestly, she is the main problem of this movie. Maybe less so of Aniston’s performance, and more of just the fact that this character isn’t at all worth spending our desired time and/or money on; she’s another one of those rich, stuck-up, self-entitled women who feel as though life is misery and the only way to get by it, is to just let yourself feel like shit, day in and day out. That may be a philosophy that works for some, and if that’s the case, then good for them. I hope that they live lovely, valuable lives. However, I do not want to see someone spend nearly two-hours acting like this. Not only does it become tiresome, but it makes me want to tune away from the movie even more, continue to check my watch, and hope that I can get out soon enough to maybe get home and go on a jog, or something.

So yeah, I guess the movie did its job in that it made me appreciate life in all of its possible glory. However, probably not at all in the way it had originally imagined.

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I've never done that because I'm actually a nice human being!

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I’ve never done that because I’m actually a nice human being!

But I promise I’ll stop crapping on Aniston’s parade, because there’s actually a lot more people in this cast worthy of talking about. Problem is, they aren’t given anything worthy of their talents, nor to even discuss further than a, “Hey, look! It’s that person, from that thing!”. Like, for instance, we have Sam Worthington, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch, Anna Kendrick, Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy all here, in what seem to be extended cameos that barely go anywhere to drive the point of this movie home, or to even make their presences known as to why we like seeing their familiar-faces in the first place. Which is a shame, too, because the movie’s been advertising the whole ensemble quite effectively, but it seems like none of them were ever around to film a majority of the movie, so instead, Barnz opted to just have them film for a couple of days and leave it at that. It’s not a problem because there’s a dire need of wanting to see more of them (although, that is definitely a feeling), but more of one because their characters’ inclusions only make the structure a bit more flustered and messy.

The only one who gets more attention than the rest, and deservedly so, is Adrianna Barraza as Claire’s caretaker/nanny, who is constantly being taken advantage of for her car, her money, and her nationality, while Claire just soaks it all in and barely even gives her a simple “thank you”. Already it’s easy to feel for this character that Barraza is playing, but there’s a certain sweetness to her performance that made me wonder why the movie wasn’t about her, and Claire wasn’t just a self-agonizing side-character that we saw Barraza’s character have to constantly put up with and try to hold back from murdering in cold blood. Because clearly there’s a few scenes here that seem to be hinting of more explanation of her character and the way she gets about in her poverty-stricken life, but it never materializes to much. It’s simply Claire’s story and guess what?

We don’t care.

Consensus: Truth be told, Jennifer Aniston is trying quite hard to be taken seriously in Cake, but it never delivers because the character she’s playing, as well as the movie itself, is just a thin as the kind of pieces of actual cake you get at a cheap wedding.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!!

Don't strain yourself, Jen. There's always Horrible Bosses 20.

Don’t strain yourself, Jen. There’s always Horrible Bosses 20.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Most Violent Year (2014)

It’s rough out there for a oil salesman.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an honest man, trying to make an honest living, with an honest wife (Jessica Chastain), and an honest family. However, during the winter of 1981 in New York City, that’s a lot easier said then done. Because once Abel makes a deal with a local money-launderer, everybody around Abel who either loathes or envies him, don’t want him to pay any of that money back. Instead, they want Abel to go broke, get found out by the cops, and possibly even dead. Though, the problem for Abel isn’t that it seems like everybody’s coming after him, and only him, it’s that he doesn’t who it is, nor does he want to stoop to their levels of violence, murder, and corruption. He believes he is better and doesn’t want to dirty-up his business one bit. But now that the cops are hot on his tail, Abel believes that it may be time to step up and defend his business, or become what everybody around him wants him to become – a goner.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly easy to classify a movie as what it seems to be, or better yet, actually sounds like. For instance, A Most Violent Year is the kind of movie that looks and sounds like that it would be another violent gangster-pic in the same vein as a Scorsese flick. Heck, it even has the word “violent” in its title, so how could it not have people whacking one another?

"Ya heard?"

“Ya heard?”

Well, sometimes, looks can be deceiving, kids. While that usually means something bad for movies that look good and end up turning out to be junk, here, we’ve got something different – a movie that may seem like it’s chock full of bloody violence and action, actually isn’t. Sure, there’s the occasional gun-fight, or chase through the streets, but they don’t feel thrown in there for the sake of livening up the proceedings; instead, what writer/director J.C. Chandor does best is that he allows them to flow smoothly into the story, and make it seem pertinent. That this is a story of a man who’s trying to keep him, his family, and his business strictly clean and legal, makes it all the more understanding that, when push comes to shove, he can’t help but loose control a bit and take all sorts of drastic decisions.

And that’s mostly where Chandor’s flick stays to talk about; it’s not whether one can stay afloat with their business, it’s that they can do so without having to become one with the rest of the wild and rowdy pack you are sometimes grouped-in together with. It’s an interesting dilemma that Chandor poses with his protagonist and for the story as a whole, but it never actually loses steam. Instead, it keeps us guessing as to whether or not this lead character is going to lose his cool, and if so, how so and at one costs. We don’t want to see him have to be forced to kill anybody, but if he has to, we hope that he does so at a reasonable level that doesn’t put him, or anybody that he loves in harm’s way.

As you can tell, it’s not just an interesting dilemma for the lead character, but for us, the audience, as well.

The parts where I do feel that Chandor as the story lose a bit of steam, is when it seems like he’s being as vague as humanly possible, only to throw us for more curveballs, but to also remind us that his movie isn’t like other crime-thrillers out there. A good portion of that is true, but when it comes to making a gripping, interesting-to-listen-to thriller, you have to give the audience enough details and bits of info to allow for them to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to spell everything out in big, bold letters and practically hold the audiences hand, but when it seems like you’re not going further into detail about a certain aspect of the story, it seems like you’re cheating the audience out of what could be an even more engaging tale.

That said, Chandor, in my humble opinion, is a director who is three-for-three. Which is even more of an impressive feat considering that the two other movies he’s created (Margin Call, All is Lost) are all completely different from one another. Call was talky and almost Mamet-like; Lost was a Cast Away-ish tale of one character, and one character only; and this one here, is a moral, crime tale, that seems like something Sidney Lumet would have made and been quite proud of. If there is one similarity between all three of these movies, however, it’s that they all feature desperate people, in some very tragic situations, who are trying their hardest to survive by any means necessary. They may not always make the smartest decisions, but they are at least trying to save their own head.

And that’s the exact case with Abel Morales, played to perfection by the always powerful Oscar Isaac. With Morales, we get a character that we like, if only because of what he stands for; he’s an immigrant who came over to this land, to create his own business, and get what each and everyone of us want, “the American Dream”. So already, he’s winning points with us, but once we see him starting to get all sorts of pushed and pulled by these local gangsters that are practically suffocating him, then it’s obvious to see that we may be losing him a tad bit. He’s not just losing his sense of morality, but he also might lose the dream he set-out for himself and it’s hard to fully root for him with the actions he commits. Then again, there’s also the sense that it’s all for a good cause and it puts this character into perspective as to whether he’s a good guy, or a bad one.

Mostly though, it comes down to him just being a guy, trying to make a living for himself, and those that he loves. That’s it.

"Mhmmmmmmmmm."

“Mhmmmmmmmmm.”

Isaac is wonderful in this role and has you totally believe in the constant struggle he goes through with this character. Isaac plays both sides of this character very well in that we never quite know whether he wants to be apart of this bloody, violent underground, or not. All we do know is that his intentions are good enough that makes it easy for us to root for him, even when we don’t know if we’re not supposed to. Once again, Isaac is great at showing these dueling-sides to this character and always has you on-edge, wondering when he’s going to turn the other cheek and how.

Another great performance here is from Jessica Chastain as Abel’s mob-daughter wife, Anna. As great of an actress as Chastain may be, for some reason, I just didn’t know if I could fully believe in her as an Italian, New York-housewife; this isn’t to say that I’m doubting her talents, I just don’t know if she’d been able to pull it of well enough to where we’d see more to her than just the act of what a stereotypical, Italian-woman looks, acts, and sounds like. Thankfully though, I was proven wrong as Chastain absolutely owns this role and allows us to see her as less of an accessory in Abel’s life, and more of a factor in the reason as to why he is as successful as he is. She constantly pushes him further than he could ever imagine and when he needs her the most, she’s there, sometimes, with nearly as much fire-power as he. I don’t want to call her a Lady Macbeth-like character, but she pretty much is; just not nearly as corny as that kind of role was for Laura Linney in Mystic River.

Ugh. So bad.

Anyway, while these two are incredibly solid in these roles, there’s plenty more where they came from, with each and every character still seeming as interesting, and as thought-provoking as they could be. For instance, the character of Lawrence, the detective who is constantly behind every corner Abel and his business turns down, may seem like he’ll be just as dirty and as corrupt as the people he’s going after, but more or less, stays true to himself or any kind of code that he may have set out for himself as a cop. Sure, David Oyelowo is quite solid in this role, but he’s also helped-out quite a bunch by the writing for this role, that doesn’t have him act like the standard-version of a cop we see in these kinds of movies; he goes by-the-badge, but also doesn’t forget about certain aspects of the job that may need to be looked at a bit differently. He’s not a bad, or immoral person; he’s just a person. With his own needs, hopes and desires.

As we all are.

Consensus: Exciting without ever over-exploding, thought-provoking without being too obvious, and well-acted without a weak-link, A Most Violent Year is a solid crime-thriller that asks hard questions of both its characters, as well as its audience.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Let’s Be Cops (2014)

After this, and especially this, becoming a cop is definitely the last “to-do” on my list.

Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Ryan (Jake Johnson) are best-friends, who both need a little more to do with their lives, because right now, what they’ve got just ain’t cutting it. So, on the night that they head to their high school reunion, they realize that they want to set a good impression that makes their former-classmates think they’ve got it all under control in terms of their lives and futures; meaning, they decide to dress-up as a cops. But as these phony cops, both Justin and Ryan realize all of the love, gratitude and respect they gain, so they decide to take it out on the road, into the actual real world, and see what happens. And for the most part, the usual, wacky hijinx occur and the guys realize that acting like cops, when fellow, actual cops don’t know about it, is actually quite a treat. Eventually though, the friends end up actually finding out about a real crime occurring, with some real mobsters being the cause for it. Though neither of them want to get hurt, or possibly even killed, they both also know that they’re in too deep now and can’t get out.

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

So yeah, in the past couple of months since this movie’s been out, cops haven’t been getting the best press as of late. And honestly, I’m not going to bore you on my thoughts, beliefs, or politically incorrect opinions about everything that’s happened as of late. Although, I must admit, I am quite tempted; tempted because they’re thoughts I’ve been wanting to get known for awhile, but also, thoughts that I feel would just distract you all further and further away from the utter-garbage that this flick is.

But the problem with this movie isn’t just that it’s not funny (which it isn’t), it’s more that it had a pretty neat premise, and decided not to do a single neat, funny, or original thing with it. The movie literally starts out with these two schmoes being normal dudes, then deciding to don the cop uniforms, and literally, all they do is party, take hits of weed, drink alcohol, crash random keggers, and do a whole bunch of other random, idiotic things that no other cop would ever do in their right mind, nor would any person trying to make others believe that they are ones. I know there’s a certain level of disbelief I’m supposed to uphold with these types of movies, but I would, had the movie actually been funny. However, it is not and the fact that it takes a pretty interesting concept that seems absolutely ripe with laughs and social-commentary, makes it all the more disappointing.

Oh, and yeah, the movie is not at all funny. Take aside from maybe a few bits from the likes of Keegan-Michael Key and Rob Riggle (two exceptionally talented dudes who deserve way, way better), most of the movie can be spent just sitting around aimlessly, wondering when it’s going to end, and whether or not that a joke is even going to hit its mark. But hardly a single one does, which makes the premise all the more of a bore to sit through, because while you know that they’re trying to give us a whole story here with action, crime, and cops, the story barely even goes anywhere.

In fact, had this movie just been about these two fellas just driving around and messing around with people, while pretending to be cops, then everything may have been all fine and dandy. Now, of course, that would entitle the movie to actually having a better script to work with, but at least it would get us all away from watching this movie as it consistently tries to remind itself (as well as us) that it is in fact an action-comedy, and one that needs to have bullets and car-chases, next to all of the dick, sex, and drug jokes. Had the movie not even bothered with any sort of life-or-death situation involving dangerous underground criminals, I may have given this something of a better-grade, but I don’t care, honestly.

Crime subplot or not, this movie still blows.

It's alright, buddy. At least you've still got your show.

It’s alright, buddy. At least you’ve still got your show.

Which brings me to the cast, whom all feel like they’ve seen many better days before. While Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson have lovely chemistry on New Girl, here, the chemistry boils down to Johnson being the obnoxious one, and Wayans Jr. having to be the guy who constantly cringes in embarrassment at his friend and the wild things he makes them do. And honestly, I’d have to say that’s mostly all of Wayans Jr.’s performance – constantly sighing, shrugging, and Shia LeBeouf-ing every time his buddy wants to do something fun for a change. I’m not saying that wanting to be a cop is an action that deserves to be looked on as positive, but the movie could have given this character more motivation to be strongly against it all of the time, and not just have bitched, moaned and complained about it all, yet, still deciding to go through with putting on the blue uniform and acting like a fellow cop. Never made sense to me and just made the characters feel all the more thin.

Then, the cast gets pretty worse from here. And I don’t mean in terms of talent, neither; I mean that the talent that they’ve cobbled-up together here is solid, it’s just that they’re not given much of anything to work with. James D’Arcy is, normally, a solid actor in most that I see him in, but here, I felt like he had lost a bet to play the main villain in this mainstream mess; Nina Dobrev seems like her character was a sweet gal with enough humanity to shed, but she doesn’t go anywhere other than being just “female love-interest”; and Andy Garcia, for one reason or another, probably get a huge paycheck here for literally showing up for three-and-a-half scenes and that was about it. Hey, I’m glad he was able to get a new house in Malibu, but come on, Andy! You’re better than this!

You all are!

Consensus: Uninspired, boring, and just plainly put, unfunny, Let’s Be Cops isn’t just ill-timed in terms of the year it was released, but doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Like, at all.

1.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too real?

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too topical?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

God Help the Girl (2014)

Those little twee singers and dancers. No future!

Eve (Emily Browning) is an anorexic, sometimes suicidal young girl who, one night, decides to escape her psychiatric hospital and see what’s happening around town. While searching far and wide, she finds a small concert-venue, where she discovers this whole world full of fun, excitement, and people singing and dancing. This is when she runs into James (Olly Alexander) a young, up-and-coming musician who just wants to make it big. Eve wants to do the same, too, and soon, the two start up a musical duo that could either make them big, rich and famous, or it could just be a neat little experiment that goes hardly anywhere, although it definitely took up some time. But to show that their serious, Eve and James then decide to recruit Cassie (Hannah Murray), to then make themselves a hip trio. But now that they’ve got everybody together and set firmly in place, now comes the hard part: Actually writing songs! And, to make matters worse, something of a romantic-spark between Eve and James begins to ignite to where they don’t know whether they should be together for the sake of the band, or for the sake of each other’s health.

FEEEEEL IT!

FEEEEEL IT!

Oh, and did I forget to mention? It’s a musical!

That little piece of info I just spliced into there can either make, or break a movie, depending on the viewer. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind when the characters you’re currently watching start dancing and breaking-out into song, then this may be your cup of Joe. However, if not, and you hate all things music and just wish that the separation between music and movies would stay put as they are, then this, my kind friend, is not your bag, baby. That’s where most of the appeal of God Help the Girl comes from and it also calls into question the fact that the film is also written/directed by none other than Stuart Murdoch, of Belle & Sebastian.

Once again, if they aren’t the kind of band you can find yourself enjoying for nearly up to two hours, then I assure you, this may not be your cup of tea.

For somebody like me, however, who normally likes musicals and doesn’t really have a problem whenever people start jumping around, dancing and singing all over the place, then this is definitely my type of thing. But it has to be done right, in that the songs are not only lovely, well-written and somewhat catchy, but that there’s actually a story holding them altogether and it wasn’t just a person jotting down neat lyrics and hoping for a cohesive hit. In fact, it’s like actually creating a song – in order to make it work for most people out there, you need to have solid lyrics, but in order to make sure that those lyrics hit hard for those tuning in, you need to give them a believable platform to stay with. You can’t have a song about depression and suicide, placed into something that sounds as if Ariana Grande herself just recorded.

Sure, sometimes it can work, but more often times than not, it doesn’t and that’s where most of God Help the Girl works. It not only has a sweet, somewhat compelling story to follow through, but also backs it all up with catchy, well-done songs that are all placed in there for good reason. And if you’ve ever listened to a Belle & Sebastian track before, this should probably come as no surprise, but to anybody out there who hasn’t ever heard of them, then they may still work. The songs are bubbly, joyful and will probably have you humming them for days and days to come. Which, for anybody who has ever seen a musical before, knows that’s always the sign of an effective musical that’s able to do its job.

Where the movie doesn’t really seem to do its job as well is when the story begins to take precedence, and it becomes fully clear that maybe Murdoch didn’t fully think his whole script through. That’s not to say that the story smells of BS, like most movies concerning starting a band of any sort usually seem to do, but because it goes on for so long, without ever seeming like it’s going anywhere. To say that God Help the Girl is a long movie, is like saying not everyone of Belle & Sebastian’s albums are nearly-perfect – sure, some may not believe it, but while you’re being a witness to it, there’s just a feeling you get.

Here, with the story, I felt as if Murdoch needed a bit of a tighter editor who was able to cut down on some of the many aimless, rather meandering conversations his characters drop into. There’s a feeling that while these may be actual teens actually speaking about their problems, wants, needs and overall desires, they also seem to stumble and only take away further from what could have been a much more tighter, quick and easy musical. But with all of the non-stop blabber from these characters, it seems to go on for much too long.

#HipsterSelfie

#HipsterSelfie

However, there is something to be said for a movie that still has interesting enough characters to make most of this awkward talking at least somewhat engaging. Because with Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, and most importantly, Emily Browning, Murdoch has found a nice trio of likable, cute-as-buttons leads who all seem to bring something fun to the picture.

Although, the one I really walked away from feeling most impressed was by Emily Browning, an actress I’ve seen many times in pieces of junk like Sucker Punch, Pompeii, and the Uninvited, and never understood what the appeal to her really was. Sure, she’s pretty, but I’ve never walked away from a movie she’s been in, wanting to see more of her, nor have I really thought much about her performance in the slightest bit. In other words, Emily Browning has never had much of a screen-presence to her and I felt like that would fog this whole movie up.

Thankfully though, Browning stays very far, far away from doing that and instead, makes the movie a whole lot better. There’s this certain feeling to her screen-presence that makes every scene she’s involved with divert all of its attention towards her. She has this innocent look to her that you know she clearly cares for those around her, yet, at the same time, could also deceive them and make a dumb decision as well. It’s the kind of performance that has me feeling like I fully know what she’s all about now and I hope that this spells out good things for her future.

Consensus: The energetic song and dance numbers allow for God Help the Girl to become a sweet, endearing look at a few individuals starting a band, even if it does run on a tad too long.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Look at that camera! It's so old!

Look at that camera! It’s so old and tiny! I must have it.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014)

I think we’re all in agreement here that Jimi Hendrix was a talent-less hack, and that Yngwie Malmsteen is the greatest guitarist to ever touch a six-string.

Back before he was setting his guitar on fire, doing solos with his teeth, or playing the Star Spangled Banner on one instrument and one instrument only, Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) was just another, up-and-comer in the music world who was trying to make it big in any way that he could. However though, in the music-biz, it’s normally about who you know, much rather than how exceptional of a talent you may be. In Jimi’s case, this is good because he’s not only a solid guitar-player, to say the least, but he is also quite close friends with the likes of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) who, at the time, was pretty close with the Rolling Stones. She sees something special in Jimi and decides to get him hooked-up with a manager and a bunch of promising gigs. Things eventually turn sour between the two once Jimi is introduced to the native-Brit, Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), who he strikes up a relationship with. Linda is pretty jealous of this, but she’s also afraid of what this may mean for the rest of Jimi’s career to come.

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

There’s an interesting note about the production of Jimi: All is by My Side that actually puts the whole film into perspective. Because the film itself wasn’t allowed to use any of Hendrix’s actual, recorded-songs due to copyright issues, writer/director John Ridley is pretty much left to fend for himself and build off of a part of Jimi’s life that doesn’t have any of his original classics we all mostly know and love. Then again, by the same token, it doesn’t seem like much of that problem affects Ridley’s movie as he more or less is just focusing on Jimi Hendrix before he got big and even had the opportunity to record something like, “the Wind Cries Mary“, or “Little Wing“; instead, we see a Hendrix before all of the fame and fortune hit him like a ton of bricks and he became, as what some would call him, “the greatest guitar player of all-time”.

For better, or worse.

However, where Ridley makes the big problem with this small biopic of his, is that he doesn’t do much to help the heart and soul of this movie to begin with, Hendrix himself. See, here, Jimi Hendrix is something of a shy, soft-spoken musician who definitely has a talent worth paying attention to, but he hardly ever makes a single decision for himself to further himself, and also his career. He mostly takes a back-seat to those around him who constantly push, pull, and struggle to put him into places that will not only make him more famous, but them also a lot richer.

You could say that this is just how the music-business just is and to that, I’d say, sure, you may be correct in most cases. However, when you’re movie is supposed to be focusing on the kind of complex, interesting person Hendrix truly was off the stage, it doesn’t quite help. Not because it makes him seem like a pawn in his own chess-game, but because it doesn’t do much to make him even seem like has anything to bring to the story at all. This movie could have literally been all about the people who talked to and interacted with Jimi Hendrix during his early days, and without even having him show up, you could have had a very intriguing movie. But once you put Jimi Hendrix, the main subject of this piece, then all I’m left to do is take what’s given to me and what’s given to me here is that Jimi Hendrix was not only a bit of a dope, but a not-so interesting one, either. He’s just dull enough in this movie to make it easy to understand why so many of his songs are in fact, covers, and not just original pieces of his own.

But that’s a different discussion for a different day, as what we have here, is simply a movie that deserves a better main protagonist. Because, as hard as Benjamin tries with Hendrix, he just really goes nowhere. Even though his character does go through some personal and emotional transformations over the course of the near-two hours, hardly any of it rings true, nor does it really seem to go anywhere. It’s also not very subtle, either, seeing as how once Hendrix gets the tiniest bit of popularity to his name, he automatically starts beating the crap out of his loving, adoring girlfriend – which wouldn’t haven’t been such a problem, had these not been scenes made-up of total fiction.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

And speaking of said girlfriend who gets the crap beat out of her, Hayley Atwell is actually very good here as the kind of character we’d see in this type of movie and not want to like, let alone, sympathize with. But because Hendrix is supposed to be a charismatic figure, albeit a flawed one, we feel more for her, than we ever do for him and it puts Atwell’s performance into perspective. She makes Kathy Etchingham seem less like a whoring-around groupie who wants to sleep with the next big act, and more of just a woman who falls for a certain guy, who just so happens to be famous, and actually wants to make it work with him. Even despite, you know, the odds totally stacked-up against them both.

Imogen Poots also plays another one of Hendrix’s female acquaintances who doesn’t quite get a chance to take their relationship as much to the next level as Etchingham does, but still feels the want and need to. And we actually want her to, too, because not only is Poots likable and sweet as Linda Keith, but she’s also a realist who seems like she could slap Jimi, wake him up, and have him smell the cauliflower. Because, honestly, who knows what would have happened to him had he not broke it off with both of these lovely ladies. Maybe he’d still be alive, jamming out for all the world to see. Or maybe, rather than burn-out, he’d just fade away.

Oh shit. Wrong member of “the 27 Club”!

Consensus: Despite compelling performances from Hayley Atwell and Imogen Poots, Jimi: All is by My Side mostly suffers from the fact that it never offers any sort of interesting insight into its lead character, and mostly falls back on tired, old rock movie cliches.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, just give me "Purple Haze" already!

Oh, just give me “Purple Haze” already!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

American Sniper (2014)

Seems like sniping somebody in real-life is a lot harder than it is on COD.

Texas-born and bred Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) knew that he had a calling in life, but until 9/11, he didn’t know what. Once he realized that his country was going to war, he enlisted himself and not only became a Navy SEAL, but also became one of the most decorated, most lethal snipers in war history – averaging roughly around 160 kills over four tours. Surely that deserves a lot of hoo-rah praise and love, right? Well, yes, of course it does. However, at what cost? Kyle doesn’t understand this question until he comes back home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, only to find himself suffering from massive bouts of PTSD, but having no clue how to handle it, or whom to talk to. Basically, he’s left to fend for himself and figure out just what all of the killing meant for him. Was it nothing? Or simply put, was it just to give his life some purpose and stand up for the country that he so heartily loved and adored.

Many war movies are made today. That much is a fact. However, there’s always a problem with figuring out which war movies can be placed into which category. For instance, there’s the kind of war movie that loves to glamorize and pat each and everyone of its soldiers on their backs, without ever going deeper and deeper into those soldiers minds, or even hinting at something being messed-up in their minds (like, say, the Kingdom). But then there’s also the kind of war movie that shows all of the heroic actions its subjects take, yet, still explores the possibility of getting into the minds of them and discovering if any of the fighting, killing and blood was worth it all (like, say, the Hurt Locker).

Well, we're all going to die someday. That much is true.

Well, we’re all going to die someday. That much is true.

Somehow though, American Sniper finds itself placed firmly in the middle. And while that would seem like quite a problem, tonally-wise, Clint Eastwood shows that he’s willing to shed light on both aspects, without ever favoring one over the other. While a lesser-director would have appreciated all of Kyle’s killing of the baddies and shown him as the hero sometimes people would hail him as, Eastwood’s smarter and knows that while Kyle does deserve to be praised for his actions, he also still wants to show that there were definitely problems with the many heinous, sometimes disturbing acts of violence that not only spelled-out trouble for Kyle’s life, but many other veterans of any kind of war.

Although, if there is a problem to be had with Eastwood’s direction and the way he seems to handle the material given to him, it’s that he doesn’t fully come down to any sort of thesis, or point on war itself. Sure, he knows that warfare itself isn’t great and it sure as hell doesn’t have the best affect on those who are involved with it, but by the same token, he never comes right out and voices any of his disapproval with it, either. Which isn’t to say that every movie made about the war has to come up with stance, let it be known to the audience, and stick with it throughout the remainder of the flick, but in the 21st Century, there is a sense that if you’re going to discuss the war, you have to land on one side of the boat and not just be neutral.

You’re going to offend somebody either way, so you might as well go for it while you can.

However, this is getting more and more away from the fact that this is Chris Kyle’s story and it’s one that deserves to be told. Not because Kyle killed plenty of Iraqi soldiers during his four tours, but because he’s the kind of war-figure more should pay attention to; while he had plenty to be pleased with and proud of in his life, he was still clearly screwed-up in his own head-space, and found it incredibly hard to get on with ordinary life. The movie highlights this, and actually seems to be saying that whatever happened to Kyle’s mind when he came back from the war, wasn’t fully worth it. Sure, he killed more enemies than most soldiers could ever dream of, but the fact that when he comes home, he goes straight to a bar and can’t even go see his family, is very strange. It’s also quite sad and it wakes you up to realize that Kyle’s story is among many other soldier’s stories out there as well.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don't know how appropriate that is for now.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don’t know how appropriate that is for now.

And where Chris Kyle, the person, really comes into focus is whenever Bradley Cooper’s on the screen which, thankfully, is nearly ever frame of this film. Cooper has now come to the point in his career where he’s not just a well-known actor, but a very respected one and can get most of the projects he backs, off the ground and ready for the world to see. American Sniper was one of these pieces that he really wanted to adapt and show the world, and it makes sense as to why – not because Cooper gave himself a meaty-role that highlights all of the acting-strengths in his tool-box, but because it allows him to humanize a person we maybe would have characterized as being another “redneck who likes to shoot guns, chew dip, drink beer, and do it all in the name of ‘murica”.

Both Eastwood and Cooper are smarter than just allowing for this cliche to stick. But it’s mostly Cooper who shines the brightest with Kyle’s portrayal, but he doesn’t over-do it. Most of what Kyle seems to be going through is through himself and nowhere else. Sure, you can tell by the looks on his face that he is clearly struggling to grapple with the reality of his actions and the disastrous events that he witnessed, but there always feels like there’s more to what Kyle is really feeling and it makes this character a whole lot more interesting. He’s not happy that he killed so many people over in Iraqi, but at the same time, he isn’t sad, either. He’s just numb. And every chance Cooper gets, he shows this in such a powerful way. So powerful that it’ll be quite the task not to get choked-up a bit during the end-credits. I know I did.

And if I can, so can you.

Consensus: Whenever not focusing on its main subject, American Sniper can’t come to terms with what it wants to say, but as a powerful, albeit disturbing look at the mental-anguish most war veterans go through, both on and off the battlefield, it hits harder than most war movies have in the past few years.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Wedding Ringer (2015)

When “Shout” just doesn’t get them out of their seats, always depend on tiny, black men.

Jimmy (Kevin Hart) provides best man services to those who need ones the most. In this case, it’s groom-to-be Doug (Josh Gad) who is not only in serious need of a best man, but also needs a whole group of other groomsmen to help give his fiancee (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) the impression that he actually has friends. Jimmy agrees, although he doesn’t typically do what some people in the biz call, “the Golden Tux”. Meaning that rather than just being there for his wedding day, Jimmy will now have to show his face off to the whole family and be there for nearly a week with Doug as he goes through all sorts of pre-wedding shenanigans. Though this is supposed to be on a strictly professional-basis, Jimmy begins to realize that maybe Doug actually deserves a good buddy like Jimmy after all, even if that totally goes against his codes and ethics. However, there may be bigger problems on both of their hands as it seems like Doug’s all-too-perfect wedding may not actually go according to plan, due to certain disputes he and his bride-to-be have been having so frequently as of late.

Of course they're all best-friends.

Of course they’re all best-friends.

For the second year in-a-row, on MLK weekend, Kevin Hart has a movie opening and that’s neither a good, or bad thing. More or less, it’s just a thing that allows one of the funnier talents working in Hollywood today, to constantly take up junk scripts and movies that don’t serve any other purpose to him other than to just allow for him to star in it, act like his lovable, goofy-self, and just reel in the dough. It worked with Ride Along, and from what it seems like, it’ll most likely work with the Wedding Ringer.

But for all the crap it gets thrown at it, Ride Along was a tad bit of a better movie, if only because it actually had a few big laughs to remember. Everything else about it was rubbish, or at least quite close to it, but when I got to revieiwing it and I thought long and hard, I remembered that there were a few moments where I actually laughed quite heartily. Less of that had to do with the script, and more of just Hart’s seemingly improvised antics, but theyu were laughs nonetheless. When a comedy is able to make me do that, then it definitely deserves some consideration from me – especially with a January one, no less.

However, that kind of movie isn’t the Wedding Ringer, although it tries very, very hard.

And honestly, that’s a damn shame because, on paper, everything about this movie should work. Kevin Hart’s normally funny with anything he touches; Josh Gad, when given the chance to do so, can be occasionally funny; Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is great-looking, but is also actually quite funny, even if she is still being apart of that grating show I will not speak of here and now; and the premise, as crazy as it may seem, does have some appeal to it in that it contains both a wedding. and partying. So yeah, seriously, what’s not to like?

For one, the movie just isn’t all that funny. There were maybe a few moments I maybe chuckled or at least thought I did, but overall, they came and went as they pleased and I didn’t think about them long after. Heck, even if I wanted to, I probably wouldn’t have remembered them in the first place; I just would have remembered that I chuckled and that was about it.

Secondly, the movie wastes its talented-cast. Hart, as expected, does get a few moments off the ground by just adding a huge amount of energy that may not have been needed, but is at least worth the effort because it has people laughing. However, that’s the extent of his appeal in here. The character he’s playing is already thinly-done as is, and then, once we’re introduced to his back-story and why he does what he does, in this case, act like a groom’s best-friend, it doesn’t really do much for him, or the movie as a whole. Sure, it’s nice to see that the movie’s at least trying on some level, but it doesn’t add anything special – it’s just uninteresting depth that hardly goes anywhere.

Notice how I didn't include Whitney Cummings at all in this review because NO.

Notice how I didn’t include Whitney Cummings at all in this review because NO.

Same goes for Gad’s character who has a bit more of sustainable depth surrounding him and his character, but is ultimately, just the kind of geek you see in these types of comedies, who they then try to shape, shift and change in so many which ways, that he becomes a whoring, blowing, and unabashed dick. Which would have been fine had the movie already introduced him as such, but as it turns out, the guy was actually quite sweet and lovable.

Actually, Gad and Hart both try here, more often than they probably ought to. Their chemistry may sometimes seem awkward and off-putting, but actually works when the movie focuses on how them two may, or may not, eventually end up become something of friends outside of this whole predicament. But honestly, this is just me grasping at straws here, because while the movie likes to think it’s really developing these characters and giving some heft to their interactions together, it’s just giving them even more painful-to-watch scenarios as they fall down, get hit with something, and come close to almost dying, only to then get right back up and continue to party on.

If only real life was actually like that.

But while Gad and Hart aren’t given much to do here, which is a shame, it’s even more of a shame that highly-talented supporting cast that they have on-display here aren’t really given much of a substance to do either. Cuoco-Sweeting (hate calling her that, but whatever) is initially sympathetic as the eventual-bride, but then, out of nowhere, we start to see her become more and more of an ego-maniacal a-hole and it not only seems like a manipulative way at creating some sort of conflict for the movie to then have a resolution for, but doesn’t really make sense for the way her and her character’s been acting for the past hour or so. And trust me, don’t even get me started on the fact that the likes of Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rodgers, Affion Crockett, Ken Howard (who actually has some funny moments as an old school racist and bigot), Jorge Garcia (yes, Hurley), and even, of all people, Olivia Thirlby. Why Thirlby would even bother taking up this kind of script is beyond me, but the fact that she doesn’t get anything more interesting to do than just sit around and be initially cautious of Jimmy and his whole act, just makes me think there may have been more going on behind-the-scenes with her.

Probably money. Poor girl.

Consensus: Despite the effort by mostly everyone, the Wedding Ringer just doesn’t give them enough to do, or even enough to make the audience actually laugh more than a handful of times.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

The B&W connection, baby. How it so deserves something better; something not in January.

The B&W connection, baby. How it so deserves something better; something not in January.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Blackhat (2015)

Can 2014’s “World Sexiest Man really be a hacker?

After both America and China are taken by surprise by a ruthless, controlling hacker whom decides to rob the banks of all their worth, both sides agree to work together. However, in order to work together peacefully and hopefully find whoever the hacker is and stop him at once, they might have to make a bit of a compromise: Allow for notorious network-hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to join in. While the U.S. is initially skeptical of doing this, because doing so, would also grant Nicholas furlough, as a result, they realize that the reward is greater than the risk, so they decide to allow Nicholas in on the investigation. And while, at first, it seems to be going according to plan, with them finding out who the hacker is and their location, they soon begin to realize that discovering the identity was the easy part; actually nabbing this person(s) once and for all, is still left to do. Which yes, means there’s going to be a lot of blood-shed and, quite possibly, many of lives lost. Still, it’s Nicholas who wants to stick to his intense hacking-skills to hopefully save the day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

It’s odd that Michael Mann hasn’t made a movie in nearly six years. But what’s even weirder is that, after all of this time, the movie that will ultimately make-up for his hiatus from the big screen, gets placed in the most deadly months of all movie month’s: January! While this doesn’t mean that every movie released in January, you know, without having already had an “awards-consideration” buzz beforehand, is downright rubbish, it just means that most of the time, the movies aren’t always the best of quality. Most of the time, it’s just the kind of movies that the major-studios want to get off their hands once and for all, in hopes that they’ll make some sort of profit in the meantime, although they aren’t really keeping the fingers crossed.

And while, since we’re being honest here Blackhat may not be the total exception to that rule, it’s still an alright crime-thriller that deserves to be seen if you need a little hope and sanity in a month like this. Or also, if you’ve just missed Michael Mann so nearly and dearly that you have to see what he’s been up to that’s had you waiting for the past five years since Public Enemies. Which, for me at least, made the wait seem a whole lot longer.

But I digress.

Since this is a Michael Mann production, it’s obvious to expect most of the trademarks that come along with that neat style of his; of course there’s going to be much use of the hand-held, digital-camera, an strange, retro-ish blend of colors, and a score that recalls the glory days of the Human League and Gary Numan, among many other of those New Wave-ish bands that I’m not too in love with, but are at least suitable for two hours or so. And while that style of his can be a tad too over-done at times, it still added a nice flair and pizzazz to a story that, quite frankly, needed plenty of it. Not just to help keep things alive and energetic for some of the viewers who might be dozing off, but to at least help keep things as simple as humanly possible, as hard of a task as that may have been.

Because, though Mann seems to be getting at somewhere with technology in the modern-age, which is, if you’ve left the cave you’ve been living under for the past few years, will understand that it’s an idea that’s as relevant as you’re going to get. Mann, by bringing up such tragedies like 9/11 and nuclear crisis’, seems like he’s trying to make a point about how technology has impacted our world more than we know it, and it’ll sometimes draw people into deep, dark and sadistic worlds that they don’t already expect themselves to be in. These deep, dark and sadistic worlds that I speak of, are the same kinds that Mann normally loves to explore, but here, it feels like he’s maybe trying a bit too hard to make this more than just a silly, sometimes over-the-top crime-thriller that has Thor banging on the keyboards a lot.

In fact, while I’m on the subject, I might as well begin to speak about Chris Hemsworth and just say, despite his obvious effort in the matter, he isn’t the right fit for this role as a slick, sly and cool technology-hacker. Sure, he gets the slick, sly, and cool aspect down perfectly, as you’d expect him to, but he just seems too hunky enough to really be taken seriously as a guy who apparently knows all sorts of network’s codes and maps by heart. Also, not to mention the fact that since his character is American, he’s forced to use this accent that is so odd, I wonder where Mann would have said he was from, had the character’s place-of-origin really been that important to know about. This isn’t me hating on Hemsworth for being everything that I could ever want in my life (it is true), because I’ve actually come close to loving him in plenty of other movies, it’s just that here, he isn’t right.

Yeah! That's what I'm talking about, baby!

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about, baby! More! More! More!

That’s less of his fault and more of Mann’s, but so be it.

Anyway, that aside, the movie’s still fun and seems like, when it gets the intensity going, it’s as exciting as you’ll get with a Michael Mann movie – bullets are flying every which way but loose, people are getting shot, blood is being drawn, and most of all, it’s all done so in Mann’s trademark slo-mo. Once again, a lot of this movie gets style-points for whenever Mann just does his thing, but it’s when he decides to go a bit deeper with this story, it’s meaning, and how all the mechanics get worked out in the end, he more than often stumbles. Which isn’t to say a movie that uses hacking so often is automatically going to get points off from me, because I’m too stupid and clearly don’t get anything that have to do with computers or internet-connections (I still use dial-up, people). No, it’s more so when you throw so many random curveballs at your audience, without ever explaining how they are done, and are only used to keep the story moving, then I have a bit of a problem. I’ll get on any movie’s case for it. However, it just so happens that the one movie’s case I’m getting on is Michael Mann’s first in a long time.

Welcome back, Michael. Hope you stay around some more and at least make some better movies.

Consensus: Though it thinks it’s smarter than it ought to, Blackhat still works best whenever Michael Mann is allowing for all sorts of violence to blow-up and hopefully get past a poorly-cast, but trying, Chris Hemsworth.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Swear I wasn't looking. Okay, fine, maybe.....

Swear I wasn’t looking. Okay, fine, maybe…..

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Space Station 76 (2014)

Being up in space can make a lot of people upset. And horny too, apparently.

Somewhere all the way up in space, lies Space Station 76 a refueling outpost that is being currently used in the 70’s. Aboard the 76 are a bunch of sad and lonely people, most of whom don’t really seem to understand that there’s more to life than just what’s given to them. Like, for instance, try the ship’s mechanic (Matt Bomer), who can’t seem to get a grip on his emotions, or even his philandering, constantly pill-popping wife (Marisa Coughlan). Then, there’s also Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson) who, because of a secret he’s holding near and dear to his heart, is slowly dying inside and is contemplating whether or not this life that he has is worth living after all. But, soon, both of these men’s lives are changed once Jessica (Liv Tyler), a new second-in-command to Glenn, shakes things up. Not to mention, she comes around during the most joyful, happiest time of the year: the Holidays! What’s so sad about that?

"What did I tell you about singing, "Walk this Way" in my presence?"

“What did I tell you about singing, “Walk this Way” in my presence?”

On the surface, Space Station 76 seems like an over-the-top, campy-farce that wants to make fun of 70’s fashion, ideas, and conventions that they can’t even contain themselves on the very retro-looking poster. And pretty much, for the first thirty minutes or so, that’s exactly how it all plays out. It’s definitely over-the-top and campy as one would expect, but also incredibly weird, with random, almost shocking scenes of sex and masturbation, and an overall tone that was so bizarre, I couldn’t help but feeling like I stumbled upon a late-night special from Adult Swim. That’s not to say any of what I’m saying is actually a bad thing, as much as it was just a thing that I was enjoying, but wasn’t too sure about how well it would still hold-up for the next hour and ten minutes.

Then, things got weird. But again, in a good way.

See, where Space Station 76 really pulls the rug from underneath its audience, is in the way that it slowly, very tenderly-like, reveals itself to be something of a dark, intimate drama about some very sad, emotionally-troubled people. It still has an odd sense of humor placed in throughout, but for the most part, once the second-half rolls on by, it becomes clear that we’re not dealing with a sci-fi camp-fest – in fact, we’re dealing with a rather interesting dramedy. But it’s not that because the movie plays with its audience’s expectations is the reason why this is interesting, it’s mostly because the characters put into it, as much as they seem caricatures, are mostly all well thought-out, three-dimensional human beings. Sure, they have some weird stuff going on with them, but tell me, what person doesn’t?

With each and every character here, we get a few that we know we’re supposed to like and actually care for, even if we don’t really know them fully well; all we do know is that they’re sad and want more out of life. Because of that, the movie works best as a way to figure out which characters deserve our attentions the most, but here’s the real kicker – even the characters who initially seem to be just plain old, immoral a-holes, they actually turn out to be more human than you’d expect. It’s a wonder that a movie can make us sympathize with Marisa Coughlan’s wife, considering that she constantly cheats on her dedicated, honorable husband (with a character portrayed by Jerry O’Connell no less), then comes home, only to bitch at him for not doing something she wanted, or whatever, but that’s what co-writer/director Jack Plotnick is able to do and it works for every other character here.

Matt Bomer’s lonely hubby character, not only makes you’d want to give him a hug, but hope that whoever does give him said hug, is a person he can spend the rest of his life with. I didn’t expect Bomer to work for me here as the down-and-out mechanic, but he works well in creating a character wants our sympathy, but doesn’t demand it; he’s just wholesome enough that you appreciate his nice tendencies, but isn’t a perfect human being either. So when Liv Tyler’s character walks in and changes thing around for Bomer’s character, not only does he feel happiness and hope for his future, but it also makes you, the viewer, feel the same as well. What I said about Bomer is the same thing for Liv Tyler, the kind of actress who has left me quite cold in the past. She’s fine here in that she’s allowed to be a bit of a sweetheart, albeit, one who may not be exactly who she presents herself as being from the first appearance of her in this flick.

Tee-hee. 70's clothes are funny.

Tee-hee. 70’s clothes are funny.

But the one character who really kept my interest the most was Patrick Wilson as Captain Glenn, a character who’s secret dilemma I called from a mile away, but still didn’t affect him, the character. Because, as he’s written, Glenn too is a very sad individual, but Wilson does something neat with him in that he makes him rather insufferable in certain spots of this movie. Whereas the movie wants us to be a bit creeped-out by his appearance and actions towards those around him on the spaceship, Wilson still can’t help himself to make him the least bit likable, although he’s still not fully as trustworthy as Wilson’s characters have been before. Still, as it is, there’s something inherently sympathetic to this character that makes him worth standing by and, ultimately, rooting for. For lack of a better term.

While mostly all of these characters are strong in their ways, there’s still a feeling this movie could had been a lot better, placed as just an ordinary drama as was. Sure, the spaceship-setting probably was done so on purpose to divert its attention away from the other dramedies of the same nature, but it still seems unnecessary at times, especially considering it’s the 70’s and there are a little too many jokes made at the expense of the fashion, the look and the feel of those days and ages. Don’t get me wrong, I always have a little chuckle whenever I see somebody spotting a silly, 70’s-era porn-stache, but for something as smart and well-done this, I felt like it was a little too cheap for its own good.

Oh well, guess you have to please everybody.

Consensus: Though it pulls a bit too many lame jokes, Space Station 76 surprisingly works best as a drama, and one that pays plenty of attention to its well-written characters.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Venus in Fur (2014)

When it’s closing time, always make sure to lock your doors.

Adapting Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs is a pretty tough task and nobody knows this more than theater director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric). For practically the whole day, Thomas has been a witness to many women auditioning for the lead female role and hardly any of them have left an impression on him. Disappointed, Thomas then decides to pack everything up and head home, however, there’s one last actress to come in; one that, well, isn’t on the schedule. This is when Vanda (Emmnuelle Seigner) walks through the door and constantly pesters him to not only give her an audition, but even play opposite the role of her. Thomas agrees and he even comes to realize that Vanda’s quite the talent, but he doesn’t know whether or not he can let his lustful feelings go away and be professional. Because, to be honest, Vanda makes it quite hard for a guy to be stern, serious and calm whenever her and her flirty personality is around.

You know the look. And you also know the bra. Is that lingerie?

You know the look. And you also know the bra. Is that lingerie?

Love him or hate him, Roman Polanski is an artist and a very talented one at that. Although one could definitely make the argument that he’s lost a step or two since the Pianist, there’s no denying that the talent within Polanski is still there. While he may not be tackling such ambitious projects like Chinatown, or Rosemary’s Baby, or even the Ghost Writer, Polanski still thrives in grabbing his audience’s attention and never letting loose of them. Even if, you know, with Carnage and this, he seems to only be adapting plays.

For now, though, because you never know when Polanski’s going to come from out of nowhere and surprise us all once again.

Anyway, with Venus in Fur, Polanski seems in his element, for better and for worse. From the beginning of the flick, we have no clue as to why we’re stuck in this theater, with these characters, and just what exactly is surrounding them, and we’re, more or less, just plopped down right as soon as this interaction begins. We don’t know why, but it’s still unsettling because as with most Polanski movies, not everything is going to work out fine for the people involved with his story.

And that’s where most of the magic of this movie comes from – watching these two interact. It’s interesting to see how while these two discuss and argue about gender-dynamics, that they are too playing around with them. Thomas and Vanda both seem to play a game of cat-and-mouse where one feels as if they are in more control of the other, and vice versa, and to see it actually play out is quite fun. Not just because it’s entertaining to see two French people get all sleek, silk and sexy with one another in a raunchy game of fore-play, but because it actually seems like it’s trying to say something without hitting us over-the-head. Can a woman play in a role that’s originally written out for a man? And better yet, can a man play in a role that’s originally written out for a woman?

Polanski himself seems actually interested in these questions and while he doesn’t get to answering them fully or completely, they’re still interesting to toggle around with your in mind and add a little bit more development to this story as a whole. Because yes, even though it is a stage-play adaptation that plays around with certain ideas about gender, sex, and the world of literature, it is still nonetheless, a stage-play adaptation and it’s one that I feel like can run a little dry at times. Since these two have to consistently talk to one another in hopes of keeping things up and about, Polanski sometimes runs into the problem of having his characters commit verbal diarrhea, where it seems like they’re talking in such a metaphoric way, that nobody in their right minds would ever speak the same.

Unless they were, you know, the most pretentious a-holes on the planet. And I get that because it’s a stage-play, where one character is actually so embroiled in literature that he can’t help but live his life’s philosophies by them and their teachings, we’re supposed to believe them in the manner in which they speak. However, for me, sometimes, it rang on a little too phony and made it seem like the kind of stage-play adaptation that I usually get annoyed of real quick. You know, the one’s where they don’t want you to think that it’s a stage-play adaptation, although, by the way it’s made, it can’t help but feel like it.

Pretty much like Carnage.

Has no idea what he just walked into.

Has no idea what he just walked into.

But that’s neither here nor there because, believe it or not, the acting’s just good enough to allow me to get past some of the initial problems I might have had with this. As Thomas, Mathieu Amalric is very good and slightly creepy as the kind of theater director who is all about what he does in his life and how he lives it, that he never actually lives it quite to its fullest extent. You could say he’s maybe a bit too smart for his own good, but it’s actually endearing to see him fall for a woman like Vanda, once he begins to realize that there may be something more to her than just a nice body and flirtation; she might, believe it or not, be a talented actress and to watch him as he waits to see more of that talent shine, is rather pleasing and sweet. Well, at least as sweet as you can probably get in a Roman Polanski film.

However, Amalric is good here, but the one who really shines the brightest is Emmnuelle Seigner, which should probably come as to no surprise to anyone considering she’s Polanski’s real-life wife. But being married to the director doesn’t matter too much for Seigner because she’s very good in this role that allows her to be quick-witted, smart, sexy, sassy, and altogether, the kind of woman you’d expect to meet on the street or at some bar, but never be able to take seriously. That’s probably why this role works so well for her – while she may look like a the kind of woman you’d much rather buy a drink, than sit down with and discuss von Sacher-Masoch, who she really is may definitely surprise you. And the character of Vanda plays with this surprise very well and it’s Seigner who allows for her to really come out in full-form as the kind of woman that can steal a man’s heart, take a bite out of it, and give it back to him, leaving an impression that seems like it’ll last forever.

And ever.

Consensus: Though Venus in Fur is, essentially, two people talking the whole time, both Seigner’s and Amalric’s performances are quite excellent that they make it easy to get past some of the heavy and hard dialogue that passes.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Don't fall for it, bro! Just don't!

Don’t fall for it, bro! Just don’t!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Selma (2014)

Believe it or not, there’s actually more words after, “I have a dream“.

In 1965, racial tensions in the United States were very high, most importantly though, in the South. A region of the country in which, even though blacks were legally allowed to vote, they still had to jump through all sorts of law abiding rules and regulations that was obviously set out to make sure that their race, and only theirs, wouldn’t be allowed to vote and therefore, not have their voices be heard like any other citizen. This is when Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) decided that it was time to step in and allow for his voice to not only be heard, but acted on as well. Most importantly though, MLK travels Selma, Alabama of all places to arrange a march that would not only get the attention of everybody’s eyes and ears, but also President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson)’s, and would hopefully drive him to make some severe changes to the voting-process. Although, as one could expect, LBJ wasn’t always down to change certain voting restrictions, especially with the looming pressure of possible voters and fellow confidantes like George Wallace (Tim Roth), J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), and Lee C. White (Giovanni Ribisi), among many others.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Contrary to what some may believe, Selma isn’t necessarily a biopic about MLK, his life, his achievements, and everything else that transpired when he was alive, and what soon followed afterwards. Instead, it’s much more of a film in which a good portion of MLK’s life is documented, yet, never fully chronicled to make it just his, and his own; there’s plenty more people apart of this story, helping out to create a larger, more thought-out picture than just being standard. The same could actually be said for the civil rights movement(s) that Selma seems to portray – it wasn’t just one person who is single-handedly credited with all of the accomplishments, it’s everybody who was there to help that one person out and make sure that his dreams were fulfilled, as risky as they sometimes may have been.

And in the world that we live in now, honestly, Selma couldn’t be anymore relevant. And to be honest, director Ava DuVernay fully knows this, which is why this movie hits as hard as it does, but without ever seeming like it’s pandering in any sort of way. Surely DuVernay sees and understands the civil rights movement as a significant time in our history (as well as she should), but rather than making it a simple and easy history lesson that any fifth-grader could teach to a class of hundred or more, she strives for something more difficult and ambitious. While DuVernay portrays the civil rights movement, and those behind it all, as smart and inspiring, she also shows that the tactics that would eventually land most of these participants in hot water, not just with the government, but with fellow members of their own race.

For white people who got involved with the civil rights movement, they suffered threats, day-in and day-out from fellow Caucasians who believed that it wasn’t their right to get involved. The black people suffered this, too, and definitely a lot more worse, but as the movie portrays it, it wasn’t just the white people that blacks had to deal with on a regular basis, it was actually some people of their own race. DuVernay shows this with the inclusion of Malcolm X, and as small as it may have been, it’s a smart move on her part to show that some people preferred to side with X’s way of violence solving any and all problems, whereas some others preferred to stick with MLK’s way of not fighting back and instead, using peace as the best medicine to ridicule those who use violence to their benefit. In a lesser film, each and every person of the same race would have gathered, hand-in-hand, and marched happily together, but in DuVernay’s much smarter film, sometimes, they’re at-war with themselves.

But this is just me getting further and further away from what Selma really does here, and that’s portray a brutal, yet significant time in our society’s history, without ever shying away from some of the more dark and dirty aspects that would push certain people away from seeing this. We’ve seen white cops beating on black people in movies (and sadly, in real-life, too) done before, but the way in how DuVernay shows the sheer terror and madness is not only disturbing, but downright terrifying. It not only opens our eyes a little more to what this film is setting out to do, but also puts into perspective what is really being fought for here, rather than just telling us and trusting that bit of info as is.

Like I mentioned before, though, there’s a good portion of this movie that likes to argue against what most of us may know, or think we know, about the civil rights movement and how all those apart of it acted. For instance, not every person in this film is a clear-cut good guy, or a bad guy; they’re, simply put, just people that had a foot in history and all had their own goals, whether they may, or may not be desirable to us watching at home. This is especially clear in the case of LBJ who yes, definitely seems like a racist, but is also a politician, meaning, that he knows he has a lot at stake here in terms of his voting numbers come re-election time. While it’s made clear to us that maybe LBJ’s morals aren’t in the right places, he is still trying to give MLK what he wants, just in his own way. They may not be perfect and they may not always get the job done, but they’re still efforts on his part and that’s more than he can say for many other white politicians during that time.

The same said for LBJ, could definitely be said for MLK, which is definitely surprising considering that you’d expect a piece praising the figure for everything that he did while he was alive, and the influence that still holds precedence in our society today. DuVernay instead dives a bit deeper into the man of MLK, what made him who he was, and how exactly he got through this tough time in his life. And with this, we see that he wasn’t always the perfect man; he was a shitty husband who fooled-around a bit too much, didn’t always step to the front-line like he had initially promised, and got a little big-headed for his own good. But nonetheless, MLK was MLK, a man who accomplished more than what anybody expected of him when he was alive, and it’s a true testament to the person he was, rather than the person people want us to see and believe in.

Round 2. Fight!!

Round 2. Fight!!

Doesn’t make him any less of a good person, it just makes him a person, first and foremost.

And as MLK, David Oyelowo is pretty outstanding. This isn’t too surprising considering Oyelowo has been churning out amazing performances for the past couple years or so, but it truly is great to see him tackle a role that so many people think we already all think we know of, and do something different with it. Because MLK isn’t made out to be the most perfect human specimen ever created in this movie, we see certain shades to his persona that we don’t get to see in his speeches; sure, the speeches are here and they are downright compelling to watch and listen to, but they aren’t what make this person. What makes this person is that he stood up for what he believed in and, at any cost, tried to make his dream a reality. He had many of bumps in the road, but ultimately, he prevailed in getting what he wanted, even if he definitely did gain some enemies in the meantime. Then again, who doesn’t?

Though there’s more to the cast where that came from and rightfully so, too. The previously mentioned LBJ is done well by Tom Wilkinson who fits perfectly into the role and constantly makes it seem like this man is going to explode at any second; Carmen Ejogo has a few strong scenes as MLK’s wife, Corette, and shows the painful side to being the one who is constantly left-at-home, when your significant other is off, fighting the good fight, and constantly allowing you and the rest of your family to be threatened; Tim Roth is pretty damn campy as the overtly-racist man that was George Wallace, although he does with it just enough scenery-chewing that there’s no need for the mustache-twirl; and honestly, plenty more where that came from.

In fact, so many more to talk about that to put one over the other would just be an absolute disservice to each and every performer who shows up here, ready to perform and give it their all with their roles, no matter how small or large they may be. But above all though, it’s DuVernay who deserves the most credit for handling this large ensemble and giving just about every member something substantial to do and add another layer onto a story that, quite frankly, is already very engaging to begin with. Although there are plenty of hiccups to be found on the road leading to the final-act here, DuVernay still brings us a solid depiction of the Selma marches, how they affected us as a society then, and how they do it to us now. Because seriously, the years may change, but the stories remain the same.

Who knows when the change will come. Let’s just hope it’s soon.

Consensus: Smart, powerful, and well-acted by just about everybody involved, Selma is a complex, detailed-look into the civil rights movement that knows it’s important, but never shoves it down its viewer’s throats.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

When they mean "strength in numbers"? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

When they mean “strength in numbers”? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Whiplash (2014)

Isn’t playing music supposed to be fun?

19-year-old Shaffer Conservatory student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) has a dream, and it’s a pretty ambitious one: Become the best jazz drummer since Buddy Rich. Though this isn’t what you’d expect every normal young adult to dream of aspiring to one day, Andrew is different and decides that if he’s going to take his drumming-career seriously, he needs to get rid of any and all distractions in his life. That means he has to spend less time with his failed-author dad (Paul Reiser), break things off with his lonely girlfriend (Melissa Benoist), and most of all, practice, practice, practice! Because standing in Andrew’s way of becoming the world’s greatest is none other than conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a hard-ass who takes much pride in breaking down his student’s spirits by telling them that “they suck”, and finding any colorful, derogatory term he can call them next. This fazes Andrew at first, but he soon thinks he’s got the hang of what Fletcher wants. That’s until Andrew goes a bit too far into his training, and this is where he and Fletcher come to terms on what it means to be the greatest, and how the both of them can possibly work together. If at all.

I hope that isn't his "actual face". If you know what I mean......?

I hope that isn’t his “actual face”. If you know what I mean……?

Being a drummer myself, I’m more inclined to look at this movie’s premise, its beliefs, and scoff at it. The reason being is because ever since I was a young fellow, I’ve always prided myself in teaching myself how to play drums and haven’t really cared too much for the whole idea of jazz-drumming, or any type of orchestra-playing for that matter, either. It’s just not my bag, baby, and while I know it’s plenty of other people’s bags, I still can’t bring myself to get too hype for a movie where a fellow drummer wants to be the biggest, the most talented, and overall, the best drummer of all-time.

Does it make me a bit jealous? Sure. But that’s another story, for another day.

This story here is about one Andrew Neiman and it’s one that’s like any other underdog tale – underdog has a dream; underdog has a talent; underdog has a set-back; underdog has an obstacle; etc. It’s a pretty simple formula, and it’s one that Whiplash doesn’t really try to shy away from, except for that it’s not really an underdog story, as much as it’s just a story about one’s addiction. Sure, our main protagonist Andrew definitely meets all the key elements to what would make him an underdog in the first place, but it’s not that we are necessarily worried about his talent (because he totally has it), it’s more that we’re worried how his talent is going to shine in the eyes of his professor/drill-instructor. If anything, it’s more of a battle within himself, than with any other person, although the character of Fletcher is definitely a suitable stand-in for whom would ultimately be considered “the villain”.

However, Fletcher isn’t a villain, and Andrew isn’t a hero; they’re both people who absolutely love and adore music. Music is their addiction and because they are dug so deep into it, they can’t help but lose whole parts of themselves and forget exactly what makes them tick and tock like a human in the first place. Especially in the case of Andrew, who actually seems like he loves drumming, but gets so enthralled with becoming the best and impressing the shorts off of his superior, that it starts to seem like the drums end up becoming his enemy, less than it being the other way around. What’s smart about Damien Chazelle’s writing, and I guess, his direction as well, is that he never makes it clear whether or not we should side with all of the pain, agony, and torment that Andrew is putting himself through.

Sure, a good portion of all that pain, agony, and torment is being put onto him through Fletcher’s non-stop abusive tactics, but for the most part, it’s all Andrew himself who could just walk away from all this, move on, get a degree, continue playing the drums, and see if he can get with a bunch of guys to become the next Everclear, or somebody else as awesome as them (seriously though, once you become “the next Everclear”, it’s a little hard to go any higher, you know). But Andrew doesn’t seem to want to do this and because of these sometimes poor, almost unsympathetic decisions he decides to take, we never know whether or not we should root for Andrew to achieve his dream, by any means necessary, or just do whatever he can, without harming himself in the meantime. Chazelle makes the smart decision of not really nailing-down his views to one side over the other, and it makes us, the viewers, make up our own minds for once and not have our hands held on every aspect.

Chazelle also does the same thing for the character of Fletcher, although it’s not nearly as successful as it is for Andrew. Most of this has to do with the way the character’s written though, and not at all with J.K. Simmons’ performance, because the guy is very solid, as usual. Actually, what’s so interesting about all of the praise surrounding Simmons here is that he isn’t really doing anything different from what we have seen him do before, like in Oz, or Spider-Man, or Juno, among many others. He yells, curses, and is abusive a lot, but he also shows that there’s a slight sign of humanity in this guy, which helps make him to come off as some sort of a human being, which is where Simmons does the most magic with this performance. Once again, it’s not like we haven’t seen him act like this before, it’s just that he’s become the main focal-point because of his constant yelling, cursing and abusing that leads me to believe that he’ll not only get nominated for an Oscar, but actually win it.

Once again though, another story, for another day.

"PARKER!!"

“PARKER!!”

However, where I feel the character of Fletcher is problematic, is in that he seems more like a cartoon, and one that his creator fully loves and adores. It makes sense that Fletcher would be this different kind of music professor that wouldn’t allow for any weaklings to stay in his orchestra unless they got through his heinous acts of hazing, but it doesn’t really make sense that he would go on for so long, with so many people still wanting to work with/be around him. Later on in the movie, we get a detail about Fletcher’s teaching-process and the sort of negative affect it’s had on his students, both present and past, but the way it’s thrown in there, makes me feel as if Chazelle doesn’t really care for it as much, and more or less, just loves the character of Fletcher himself.

Makes sense since this character is Chazelle’s brain-child, but it puts into perspective who Chazelle seems to side with a bit more and for what reasons. Why he wants to show us that Fletcher may go a tad too far, he still can’t help but seem to giggle at himself, or Simmons for that matter, whenever Fletcher calls somebody “a fag” and then hurls certain items at whoever he is talking to. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to shed some positive light onto the character that you’ve created for the world to see, but whenever you’re throwing the idea of your character’s questionable ethics into the air, it makes for a bit of a sketchy discussion.

Which, yes, brings us all back to the age old question of Whiplash: How far should one go to achieve his/her dire need for greatness? Should they drive themselves into a manic state of constant anger and turmoil? Or, simply put, should one try their best, with as much effort as humanly possible, and try not to get themselves killed while doing so?

You be the judge on that, folks. I’m here to just review the damn flick.

Consensus: Whiplash may run into some muddy waters with its own judgment, but is still an effective piece of two people’s addictions, both very well-done by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!"

“Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Predestination (2015)

First film from 2015 reviewed and so far, this year’s looking very “meh”.

A Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) who is constantly travelling through time in hopes to stop certain tragedies from happening, may have finally met his final case. There is a new terrorist going around Boston by the name of “the Fizzle Bomber” and it’s up to the agent to find out who it is, for what reasons, and whether or not he’s even able to stop it in the first place. Somehow though, he ends up tending bar at some random dive place located all the way in New York City. Whatever the reasons may be, he doesn’t know, but he’s just going to try and get on with the night. That’s when a strange customer (Sarah Snook) comes walking through the door, orders a whole bottle of Scotch, and starts chatting it up with the barkeep. As they get talking, the conversation gets deeper and deeper, with one side telling their whole life’s story up until this point, whereas the other is just sitting by, taking notes on what that other person is saying. It all means something, but what, is the real question at hand here; the same question these two are getting ready to figure out on their own.

You know he's cool, once he has the 'stache.

You know he’s cool, once he has the ‘stache.

Notice how by the end of that plot-synopsis, things got a little shaky for me? Well, that’s because a lot of Predestination is up to be seen by the viewer, because giving anything at all away would be a bit of a disservice to the film itself. That said, there is something to this movie that makes me wonder if I was supposed to like it, or just absolutely despise the ever-lovin’ crap out of it.

See, while I was one to automatically think that Predestination would be a time-travel thriller and nothing more, something in the movie actually switched gears and it had me totally blind-sided. While the first ten minutes or so is chock full of people shooting one another, getting showered in some sort of acid, and grabbing onto guitar-cases to actually complete the action of time travel (I know, please bear with me here), suddenly, after a little bit of exposition between characters we’re not to familiar with, it all changes. Somehow, somewhere, it becomes something of a drama, and a very interesting one at that.

But once again, this is something that I do not want to give away a bit too much to ruin other viewer’s chances of possibly enjoying this, so I’ll try to stay as vague as possible.

Anyway, co-writers/directors Peter and Michael Spierig do really well with this story is introduce something that comes almost completely out of nowhere, but somehow, still very much works in its own right. A certain character comes into this piece and begins to delve into their back-story – where they were born, how they were brought up, what they did in life, how they got to this one point in time, etc. And it actually becomes something of a compelling drama, one with a central character we can care for, yet, also one that still leaves plenty up to the viewer’s and their minds. We’re told that this whole story is going to eventually have an end game that’s going to wrap the whole picture up with a neat, tidy little bow, yet, it’s easy to forget about that and just focus on this story that we’re being told; one that, according to the person who is telling this story will “knock us out”.

A good portion of this credit deserves to go to the Spierig Brothers for actually throwing a curveball at us, and so very early on in the movie, but another good portion of the credit also has to go to Sarah Snook. Snook is an actress I haven’t seen too much of, actually, but I feel like, if this movie plays in front of the right eyes, that may all change and with good reason, too. Not only is Snook a compelling presence on the screen, but the way she plays her character in so many different shades and personalities is something to be admired. Not all of her performance works, which is mostly due to the fact that some of the make-up and hair she’s forced to wear is a bit goofy, but altogether, it’s a performance that begs for a better movie.

60's fashion. Hararar.

60’s fashion. Hararar!

Because, as good as Snook’s part may be for this movie, there’s still a feeling that the Spierig’s can’t help themselves enough from steering away from some of the more confusing, albeit predictable twists and turns that most sci-fi flicks of this nature linger more towards. This is where Ethan Hawke’s character comes into play and it never made full sense. That’s not to say Hawke isn’t good in this role, because he definitely is; it’s just that, when compared to Snook’s character, he seems poorly-written and with hardly any motivations at all. He’s a cool dude, like most of the characters Hawke loves to play, but he also seems like the kind of hip, sarcastic hitman-character we’re supposed to root for and it’s just never made clear enough to us as to why.

You can also tell that while the Spierig’s had a fun time concocting up this whole subplot, but that they also have a way better time with the sci-fi shenanigans that eventually take place in these sorts of movies and it doesn’t quite work. That’s not to say some of it isn’t fun, it’s just all too confusing and forced on. Where one part of this movie was a drama, focusing on one person’s sad, and very tragic life, the next part ends up becoming a totally wild, loose, and bonkers sci-fi thriller that jumps through travel a bit too many times for it’s own good.

Once again, wasn’t like it wasn’t fun, it was just unneeded is all. Especially when you’ve already introduced a story that yes, knocked me out. All until the next story came back to me into place and make me upset.

Consensus: There are two movies battling one another in Predestination, and while one totally works, the other one keeps it away from being as fun, or as effective as it could have been.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Still bearing with me?

Still bearing with me?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Coherence (2014)

Dinner parties are sketchy enough as is.

A group of friends gather for a dinner party and the usual occurs- eating, smoking, drinking, and gossiping. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that, on this night in particular, a comet is orbiting over them as they continue to speak. While this doesn’t necessarily freak them out at first, it definitely makes them a bit weary once weird stuff around the house begins to happen. Like, for instance, certain people’s iPhone screens start inexplicably cracking. And then, to make matters a bit worse, some party-goers start acting a bit, how to say it, off. They start to forget certain people’s faces and they begin to reveal deep, dark secrets that they wouldn’t have otherwise gone through with revealing, to a huge party no less. But it’s when the power goes off that everybody in the house decides that it’s time to figure out what the hell is going on, so they all walk outside to a neighbor’s house who actually seems to be the only people on the street with any electricity. This leads to a shocking discovery, one that can’t be spoiled; just teased around with.

When you know somebody's had a bit too much to drink.

When you know somebody’s had a bit too much to drink.

Yes, everybody. It’s going to be one of those reviews. I apologize, but trust me, I’m doing it for you all out there who have yet to see Coherence, because honestly, it’s a little piece that deserves to be seen, probably knowing as little as possible about before going into. It isn’t just because the major plot-twist that occurs half-way into it is so shocking that you need to save yourselves from having it spoiled, but because little, micro-budget films like these hardly ever get made nowadays.

Or, should I say, when they do get made, they aren’t nearly as entertaining or as inspired as this.

Because, yes, for such small, meager-budgeted films like Coherence, it’s easy for a director to keep their film cheap by having the setting be one location and one location only. That’s what writer/director James Ward Byrkit does here, but rather than doing this as some sort of a crutch that he can fall back on, it actually works for the movie. And it’s not like because the movie is small and contained, means that what Byrkit is aiming at with this plot’s destination is exactly that; in fact, for a movie of this size, it’s relatively ambitious. Parallel universes are introduced, comets are seen flying overhead, and the overall meaning of one’s life is discussed on more than a few occasions.

But where this film goes and at what space it’s willing to go doesn’t matter, because what Byrkit does well with this premise is that he focuses his attention solely on these few dozen characters and allows us to see the way they act when thrown into a situation that just begs for the highest amount of paranoia. Some characters want to get down to the root of what’s causing this never ending sense of madness, whereas others are more or less content with just sitting around, drinking the night away, and basically just waiting for whatever craziness that is occurring, to end so they can get back on with their lives. No character here is really seen as “the baddie”, or “the goodie”, as much as they’re just seen as a bunch of individuals trying to get themselves out of the weird situation they’ve been sprung into.

Which is to say that this is a sign of a good cast, when each and every person involved, for the most part, seems believable and have you believe in this story, these characters, and their dilemma a whole lot more. But this is even more of astounding feet, especially when you get to thinking about the way in how Byrkit directed this movie and the actors in it. Rather than having them all set-up with their lines, knowing what to do, how to do it, and when, Byrkit literally just placed them in a spot, with bits and pieces of info, and toyed around with them as much as he could. Not only does this create a genuine feel of torment and suspense amongst the group, but it also shows us that some of these actors may literally be terrified for their live. Sometimes, especially in the case of this movie, the line between what’s real, and what isn’t, gets blurred and that helps this movie a whole lot more.

"Always travel in packs", my Cub Scout leader always said.

“Always travel in packs”, my Cub Scout leader always said.

See, it’s actually more of a human-drama than it would have you think, although there is still plenty of sci-fi shenanigans to be seen.

And honestly, that’s where most of my problems with this movie lies. It’s not that I’m not a fan of sci-fi, I normally am, but it has to be done right and in a creative way. Rather than just making-up stuff and saying “that it’s all science, bro”, not only makes me believe less in you as a writer, but not really know what to expect next from whatever you’re creating. Normally, yes, this would be my cup of tea, but for most sci-fi movies, it feels like, a lot of the time, some people just prefer to make stuff up as they go along, all because they’re thrown under the genre of “sci-fi”, which in and of itself is used as a crutch.

It’s sort of like how I feel about the Mission: Impossible films, or any other flicks featuring spies and their handy, dandy, trusty gadgets – they have all sorts of gizmo’s and gadgets that can literally get themselves out of any situation all because, well, “they work for the CIA”. To me, it feels like a cheap cop-out, when it’s done wrong. When it’s done right, like in the latest two M:I movies, it works because it adds to the excitement and isn’t done to a certain extent to where it would seem excessive.

With Coherence, it’s not that it necessarily feels excessive, as much as it just feels unneeded. Byrkit could have been as vague as he wanted to be with what his plot-twist meant, or how it all came to be, but because he starts to explain it later on, it only confuses the situation a bit more. And then, apparently, some characters start breaking out into speeches about space and time-travel that not only feels a bit random, but completely unbelievable. It’s almost as if Byrkit didn’t trust his audience enough to allow them to come to their own conclusions about what it all meant and, altogether, because of the way Byrkit loves to fall back on the fact that there’s a comet hovering up above this whole story, is rather meaningless.

Consensus: As small as the budget for Coherence may be, that still doesn’t stop it from being an interesting sci-fi thriller, that sometimes trips over its own feet every so often, but still remains intriguing.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Usually it's me who's on the receiving-end of all these stares.

Usually it’s me who’s on the receiving-end of all these stares, just after I pronounced that I have a blog.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Life After Beth (2014)

Every guy likes a little biting here and there.

After the death of his beloved girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza), Zach (Dane DeHaan) is left something of a mess. But it’s fine because he can at least sit around and confide in Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), which he does to the point of where he’s on a first-name basis with them and even tokes up a bit. This makes Zach more than happy, however, something strange happens the next day: Beth’s parents don’t answer any of his calls or door-knocks. They’re ignoring him to the point of where it’s like the past 24 hours had never existed. But that strangeness doesn’t even begin to measure up to the next bit of shock that hits Zach: Beth’s alive. And though it’s weird that she’s alive, this means that Zach can finally spend all of the time in the world with Beth, as if she had never gone away before in the first place. Forget the fact that she’s super-excited about everything, or that her breath smells like garbage, or even that she gets a little too rough when her and Zach are getting intimate, Beth is back, baby! Better than ever, though, she is not and Zach is about to find out possibly what’s going on. Not just with Beth though, but many other countless deceased person’s who all somehow come back to life at approximately the same time.

Holding hands in a pool. Gosh, it must be love.

Holding hands in a pool. Gosh, it must be love.

So, without getting smacked in the comments section, I’ll just say this: If you don’t know where I’m heading with this premise, you might be a little dense. I’m not calling you dumb or totally idiotic to the point of no return, but come on, it’s quite obvious where this story’s headed. And sadly, that’s probably the biggest problem with Life After Beth – while it’s obvious what the main twist/”reasoning” behind Beth’s re-arrival into the story actually is, the movie hardly does anything entertaining or funny with it.

Actually, that’s a bit of a fib because for all that he tries here, writer/director Jeff Baena does add a few neat tricks to the formula of what this story turns out to be, what with the inclusion of jazz music and attic-sex and all. However, it’s simply not enough to fully keep the movie hilarious, or even slightly interesting. Which, for a movie that runs right underneath the 90-minute time-limit, can be a bit of a problem; though it shouldn’t at all feel like a long slog, the fact that its story doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t already expect it to, or at least do so in a refreshing, fun kind of way, the movie feels at least an hour longer. If that.

Though this is mostly because Baena’s fault as a writer and director who doesn’t seem to really know how to make a one-joke premise constantly thrive with energy, the cast still tries with all that they can. Aubrey Plaza has been a joy to watch in practically everything she’s appeared in since people actually realized her talents in Funny People and how she plays the exciting, constantly moving-around Beth is no different. Her dead-pan style may not be used quite as often, but there’s still a joyful feeling to watching Plaza just let loose with material that shouldn’t suit her, but certainly does when you see her actually act it out. It’s no wonder why her and Baena are dating in real-life.

That bastard.

Anyway, I digress, because the rest of the cast is actually fine, too. Dane DeHaan may be running all over the place, Shia LaBeouf-ing his rear-end off, but it still works for him because the guy’s quite charming, even when all he’s really doing is just whining and moping around that things in life are a little weird for the time being. Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly are wonderfully odd as Beth’s parents who seem like alright people, but are a little strange in their own ways and how the movie plays into that is one of the smarter decisions Baena’s able to go through with. Especially with Reilly who, like with most of his roles, shows that he can be a cool, chilled-out fella, but is also a dad, and a responsible one at that. Though there’s not much more depth to his character than that, it’s still a worthy-try on Reilly’s part and it made me wish that there’d been more focus on him, rather than what the hell begins to happen with this plot.

Okay, mom and dad! You're cool, so stop!

Okay, mom and dad! You’re cool, so stop!

Because had there actually been more detail given to all of the characters here, not just Reilly’s, then there’d be a way better movie. The jokes would hit harder; the characters would feel more “sympathetic”, than “cartoonish” as they often do; and what ends up happening to the plot would actually be compelling and have some sort of emotion. Beth and Zach seem like the sort of cute, happily-in-love high school couple that we often see in movies such as these, but their relationship doesn’t get any deeper or more-involved than that; they’re in love because Zach is sad that she’s initially dead and that’s it. We never see it, understand it, or better yet, just don’t even seem to care.

But there is a part of me that wonders whether or not this would work a whole lot better as a short. Sure, all of the nitty gritty details of what happens in the later-half of this movie would definitely have to be taken out, but as a short, Life After Beth probably works best. All Baena would have to do is give us some amount of character-development, throw in the conflict, then the twist, and eventually, the final resolution that they have here in this film. Because everything else, as sometimes entertaining as it can sometimes be, doesn’t really add up to much other than being a cool idea, or one that’s fit for a better movie.

However, this is just a suggestion from a stay-at-home blogger. Take with that what you will, Jeff Baena.

Consensus: Occasionally entertaining in spots, Life After Beth seems like it wants to do something different with the subgenre it tackles, but eventually, just gives way to filler that doesn’t go anywhere, or do anything for its audience. Except, well, bore them.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Okay. Do you finally get what I was alluding to before?!?

Okay. Do you finally get what I was alluding to before?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Boxtrolls (2014)

Had this movie just been about actual “trolls“, it probably would have been a lot scarier. Missed opportunities.

Underneath the town of Cheesebridge, a small population of trolls live and oddly enough, they have adopted a young boy (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) as their own. The name he’s given is “Eggs”, which mostly has to do with the fact that the box he is dressed up, was previously one used for containing eggs. Another box contained fish, so the troll now filling that is called “Fish”. So on and so forth, you get it. Anyway, Eggs and the rest of the trolls all run into a problem when a nasty, mean and cruel pest exterminator by the name of Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) who plans on getting rid of every Boxtroll there is to be found. He also hopes that this will make him look like a hero to the rest of the townspeople and therefore, give him a shot at becoming mayor, or at least, a man of higher-power. So obviously this puts the Boxtrolls into some real, major danger of being extinct, but once Eggs joins the real world and meets the quirky, spunky daughter of the main mayor (Elle Fanning) things change and he might just find a way to save his lovable friends and so-called family once and for all.

Pictured from left to right: Generic Boxtroll #1, Generic Boxtroll #2, Generic Boxtroll #3, Generic Boxtroll #4, Generic Boxtroll #5.

Pictured from left to right: Generic Boxtroll #1, Generic Boxtroll #2, Generic Boxtroll #3, Generic Boxtroll #4, Generic Boxtroll #5.

Laika, as they had done with both Coraline and Paranorman, have proven that they’re able to deliver on both the visual-department of their movies, while also with the story as well. Sometimes, their stories get a little too dark for even the target-audience these movie seem so keen on attracting in the first place, but for what it’s worth, they’re one of the very few animation-companies that strive on giving every demographic a little something to chew on and appreciate. I don’t want to say they’re one of the few ones left, but considering the slide Pixar has recently plummeted down, I can’t help but put most of my hope and faith into another group of animators out there.

And with that said, it should be noted that the Boxtrolls is as pretty-looking as any of the other Laika movies. The combination of hand-made creations and thinly-done CGI works, especially so here. Everything and everyone inside this small town of Cheesebridge seem as if they either need a shower, or live in a place as screwed up as everybody around them thinks. Sure, you don’t get too many points for looking strange, but you do get credit for making the strange actually look nice and well-done. Here, that’s what Laika does and it’s totally a compliment to the types of talents that they have working in their studios.

But, when all is said and done here, there’s just not much of a story and ultimately, that ends up tearing the whole piece apart.

It’s one thing to introduce your never-done-before, relatively interesting characters and not really have them be interesting other than just socially awkward, or plain and simply weird; however, it is another whole thing entirely to have these characters and hardly ever focus on them at all. Much rather, what adds insult to injury is to spend most of your movie focusing on the human characters involved with the story. Which honestly, wouldn’t have been so bad to begin with, had the human characters here actually been the least bit interesting or believable in terms of their intentions and why they deserve to be paid attention to in the first place. However, what happens here with the characters in the Boxtrolls, is that they fall for being thinly-written at first, and hardly ever given a second, or third, or maybe even fourth glance at to see if everything adds up well enough,

Take, for instance, the villainous character of Archibald Snatcher, the one who wants to be rid of all these Boxtrolls so that he can get going with his term in office and live happily ever after, eating cheese for the rest of his days. It’s obvious that we’re not supposed to like, or even care for this character – he’s the evil son-of-a-bitch who wants to basically kill those little, cuddly characters we get introduced to early on as not just nice creatures, but ones that aren’t at all what the rumors he’s been spreading around about them say at all. You feel bad for them as a result, of course, but there’s also an idea that’s supposed to be here where we feel some sort of sympathy for our lead villain here, even if he is just being a total dick. Surely, there must be at least some sort of reasoning that would put all of his evil, immoral actions to light?

A match made in Laika-heaven.

A match made in Laika-heaven.

Nope. Not at all, actually. This dude’s just a dick, for the sake of being a dick. Which, once again, wouldn’t have been so bad to begin with, had we not been given so much time to spend with just him and only him, but we get that and it hardly ever seems to end. The scenes with him, as well as the rest of the human characters, feel like they are never-ending and only add insult to injury. Not because we, the audience, actually decided to see this for fine animation (which we get), but because we wanted to actually see the Boxtolls (you know, the titled-chaarcters), and hardly get any of them.

Sure, maybe the characters of Eggs isn’t so bad, especially considering that he’s a weird, little boy who continues to be as such, but honestly, there’s nobody here that’s really keeping it altogether. Even when the movie does focus on the infamous, but hardly-seen Boxtrolls, it’s hard to ever be able to tell any of them apart. Maybe Fish and that’s it – every other Boxtroll just feels like a carbon-copy of the one that was created before it and only add less to their appeal. They’re meant to look and seem ugly, but they’re also supposed to be charming, funny, and the types of creatures we’d actually want our kids going to sleep with plush dolls of. But not these Boxtrolls. They aren’t really fun to begin with, but they’ll probably give your kid nightmares.

And honestly, what parent wants to pay for all that therapy? Especially all for something like this, no less?

Consensus: As usual with Laika films, the Boxtrolls benefits from looking crisp and inventive, but the story is anything but and instead, lingers on certain plot-threads nobody cares about. Not even the kiddies.

5 / 10 = Rental!! 

Of course the leader of these Boxtrolls had to be white!

Of course the leader of these Boxtrolls had to be white! What? No dark-skinned men and/or women in Cheesebrigde?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Willow Creek (2014)

Some myths are just best left alone. Including ones about huge bear-like creatures.

Ever since he saw the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film from the late-‘60’s of a supposed creature by the name of “Bigfoot” roaming the woods, Jim (Bryce Johnson) has been counting down the days till when he gets his chance to have his own encounter with the large beast. The problem is, his girlfriend who he’s with, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), doesn’t totally believe in this myth as being real. However, she likes Jim and wants to support him in whatever endeavors he partakes in, even if they are a little strange and kid-ish. While on the trip, Jim films just about everything they do, who they talk to, and where they go. Some people are better to talk to than others, but from what it seems like Jim wants to create here, is his own documentary of sorts. But as both Jim and Kelly dive deeper and deeper into the woods, they start to realize that some strange things may be happening. Whether or not they have to do with the actual fact that Bigfoot exists is totally up in the air.

So young, pretty and ambitious. Kind of remind of you someone else thrown into the same situation?

So young, pretty, and full-of-life. Kind of remind of you someone else thrown into the same situation?

Found-footage movies, for the most part, have become over-done. Though I used to champion for them quite a lot back in the day, recently, I’ve come to realize that it’s a format that needs to go away, and do so real quick. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few exceptions to the rule that mostly consists of found-footage movies being carbon-copies of the ones that came before them, it’s just that they are so very few and far in between now, that most of them get lost in the shuffle. Most especially if their names aren’t associated with the Paranormal Activity franchise.

But that’s why something like Willow Creek is so special.

While it’s a simple premise, done in a simple, sometimes lazy style, writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait still gives the movie an extra kick in the rear that it not only needed to make the whole sub-genre seem like new life can be breathed into it, but constantly surprise its audience and not falling for the same tropes we’ve all seen many times before. But, what’s weird about Goldthwait’s direction here is that most of those conventional notes and tones are done here, they just aren’t hit in the ways that we usually have come to expect with lesser-films of the same breed. Where one movie may give you scripted, unnatural interviews with people who seem as if they’re over-doing it with the whole goofy, folky townspeople act, this movie actually has its character interview and talk to real people and make it seem like the people are actually talking to a genuine documentary-crew, giving it more of a natural feel.

And also, it should be noted that while the movie does some neat things along the way with its story and how it progresses, the characters are who really makes this movie watchable. Though I’ve seen both Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson in certain stuff before, here, their familiarity didn’t really bother me; I took them in as a real life couple who, although they may have true feelings for each other, still bicker and banter like any other couple. They’re supportive of how the other one feels about something, or whatever it is that they want to do, but they don’t have the most perfect relationship ever witnessed on-camera and, once again, it adds a note of realism to a movie that definitely needed it in order to not just work, but push itself away from the rest of the pack of found-footage films.

Though the real one I found myself most impressed with out of these two was Gilmore, the actress I recognized before I recognized Johnson, which was strange because she was the one I felt as if I was going to have the most problems with believing in. Sure, the fact that I’ve seen her in countless other pieces over the years may have initially gotten in the way of my judgement of her performance, I eventually got away from that problem and began to believe in what Gilmore was doing here. This is maybe more of a testament to her abilities as an actress, than to how I’m able to tell myself to stop thinking one way and just keep an open-mind, but whatever.

The fact is, she’s very believable in a role as a normal, simpleton of a gal who loves her boyfriend dearly, but sort of wants him to grow up a bit and not act like such a nerd.

More life-threatening than Bigfoot? Taking selfies while behind the wheel!

More life-threatening than Bigfoot? Taking selfies while behind the wheel!

That said, her best piece of acting in this whole movie, is also, coincidentally, the best part of the movie and maybe even worth the price of admission alone. Slap dab in the middle of this movie, we get the obligatory scene where, in the middle of the night, the couple hears strange noises coming from all around their tent and they have no idea what it is, what they’re doing, or whom exactly is all behind it. All that they know is that they are scared shit-less and are not taking any chances in possibly dying. It’s the kind of scene we’ve seen in all of these found-footage films, but here, it’s done a whole lot differently that it makes it one of the more memorable sequences in a horror movie that I can remember. For instance, the whole sequence is shot in one camera-angle, for a straight 20-minutes and it’s hardly ever boring. It’s a scene that starts off tense, continues as such, and ends on such a terrifying-note, that if you’re not on the edge of your seat by the end of it, I’d definitely question your ability to have fun. Or, better yet, just appreciate when something good has been handed to you.

But through it all, it’s Gilmore who keeps it mostly interesting. The fact that she’s not already a believer in Bigfoot is what makes this sequence all the more interesting as you see her go from a slightly creeped-out gal who is happily cozying up next to her boyfriend, but then, once everything gets all way too freaky, has her crying and shouting in hysterics to where she really finds herself in absolute and total danger. She doesn’t quite know what to believe what’s out there, tormenting her and the tent she feels all safe and sound in, but she knows that it’s not good and to see he go from one extreme transition to the other is an absolute joy. But also, it’s a testament to the solid piece of acting she puts on here.

Not to say that Bryce Johnson isn’t fine in this role, because he is, it’s just that, in this situation, he’s given the less-meatier role of the two and it’s actually a delight.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t try too hard to re-invent the wheel of found-footage horror flicks, Willow Creek still does a solid enough job at being fun, interesting, and overall, suspenseful in where it’s going to go next, and how the characters adapt to their surroundings, even if they aren’t able to make perfect understandings of them.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

A couple happily-in-love - what bad could happen?

A couple happily-in-love – what bad could happen?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Two Days, One Night (2014)

TwoDaysposterTypical office drama.

Early one Friday morning, while lying motionless in her bed and not wanting to pick up the phone, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) gets word from her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) that her job may be possibly on the line. According to her most trusted co-worker, a total of sixteen had apparently all taken a vote to receive a pay-grade, so long so as they got rid of Sandra to begin with. Whatever the reasons behind Sandra’s firing may have been, is totally unknown, but all Sandra knows now is that she has to go to each and everyone of these co-worker’s and see if she can get them to change their mind about their initial decision. Or, if anything, at least see the situation from her point-of-view. However, mostly due to the fact that Sandra may already be battling some sort of problem with depression, the weekend turns into a small adventure of sorts, where she talks to people she may not have talked to before and, for better and for worse, gets a chance to see what it is that they have to say about her, her work-performance, or why exactly it is that they want this pay-increase to begin with.

Wait till she bitch-slaps them all, Three Stooges-style.

Wait till she bitch-slaps them all, Three Stooges-style.

On the surface, Two Days, One Night seems so incredibly simple that you could practically write a short story about it. However, the way in which co-writers/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne allow for this story to play-out, it’s anything but. Meaning that while we do get a relatively straight-forward glimpse into the life of one woman’s struggle to keep her job, as well as her sanity, there are certain under-lining themes and ideas that make this story than just what’s presented to us as is. What one person may see as a clear statement on the cut-throat business-world that’s been created for our society and those who decide to get involved with it, no matter what social-class they’re apart of – another may see as a story about a woman just trying to keep her job.

I guess, what it all really comes down to is whether you’re the viewer who likes to think long and hard about what you’re watching? Or, whether you’re the viewer who likes to sit down, watch what’s in front of you, enjoy it for all that it’s worth, have it end, and simply go on with your day, as if nothing had been seen or digested in the brain? I’m not saying one viewer is better than the other, but it’s just the certain idea that went through my head while watching this.

Because, yes, while I’d like to assume I am the kind of viewer in the formerly-mentioned party, a part of me was thinking that there’s a certain bit of this movie that is all too simple to really be about anything else except just what’s presented to me. Sure, the idea that this one woman could lose her job, because of excessive greed and possible manipulation from the higher-ups is brought to the table and, in some instances, even confronted as evil, but reasonable. These are short, slight moments that made me feel as if I was watching something made for my thinking, living-self.

Then, there were a few instances in which I felt like this movie was just taking a simple premise, and keeping it as that. Normally, I don’t have a problem when a film maker settles on the option of making their own movie a piece of free-thinking, non-heavy entertainment, but in this case, I didn’t want that. I wanted more meat, skin and bones to my story, rather than just this French gal walking around town, going door-to-door and seemingly having the same conversation with people she kinda/sorta/maybe knows. You could make the argument that each and everyone of those conversations that the French gal has at least brings out something new/interesting to these supporting characters and put the final decision into a wider-perspective, but at the end of the day, that’s all it feels like.

Once again, that’s not a slight against the Dardenne Brothers for giving me something simple and at least sticking with that, because, for the most part, it’s good what they already have to be shown. The narrative is strong enough to make this woman’s interactions very compelling, and heck, even she’s a very solid character. Although, yes, it’s very hard to pin-point what it is exactly that’s going on so wrong in the head of her, there’s an idea that while Sandra may be a bit of a basket case, she is still, like you or I, a human being who is deserving of a job, and all of the perks that come along with it. Because we’re able to identify with Sandra, her interactions with those around her make a lot more sense when put into perspective as to why the hell she’s fighting for her job in the first place, and why it may matter more to those around her who love and depend on her the most.

All he wants is for his wife to keep her job, so that they can maintain their families health and stability. What a pest!

All he wants is for his wife to keep her job, so that they can maintain their families’ health and stability. What a pest!

It also helps, too, that Sandra is played quite well and effectively by Marion Cotillard, an actress who, I feel, is incapable of giving a poor performance in anything she shows her wonderfully exotic face in.

Here as Sandra, Cotillard digs deep into what may have made this woman tick so frequently and dangerously to begin with, but she also digs deep enough that we get an idea of what makes her worth rooting for, even when it seems like the ball is nowhere near her home-field. While it seems all too obvious that she may lose this opportunity to keep her job, there’s a small feeling of optimism constantly flowing throughout that makes it seem like, hell, she could pull this off by just simply having others feel sorry for her and, as a result, pity her. With those expressive eyes of Cotillard’s, there’s always the idea that whatever Sandra is going to do next, to whom, and why, it’s never calculated and never fully predictable. One second, she could be as quiet and as lovely as a bee buzzing on a hot summer day; another, she could be ready to crack her own head open for everybody to view the torment, agony and pain she seems to be going through on a regular basis.

Through it all though, Cotillard is constantly engaging and makes you feel that maybe while this woman probably wasn’t the best worker, she still doesn’t deserve to get stiffed from her job. At least not like this, that is. Then again, nobody deserves to be fired from their job without their full well-knowing, or better yet, their presence being dully noted. Maybe that’s the way our economy has turned – it’s making those who lose their jobs, lonely, sad and depressing individuals that probably had it coming to them, even if that’s not true to begin with. But, most importantly, it’s making those who keep their jobs, or at least, those who intend on keeping their jobs, to become selfish, mean, nasty, money-grubbing son-of-a-bitches that may have a moral code they want to stick with, but when it comes to sustaining the health and wealth of those that they love, they lose a bit of what makes them so human to begin with.

That’s just the world we live in, everybody. So try to make as much money as you can. Just do make sure that it is in a legal manner.

Please.

Consensus: Sometimes too simple for its own good, Two Days, One Night still compels by giving an all-too-realistic view into the life of a person who could be you or I, except she looks, acts, and is beautifully well-done by Marion Cotillard.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Sometimes, all you need is a hug. Or a minimum-wage job to keep a roof over your head, but hey, it's a work-in-progress here, people.

Sometimes, all you need is a hug. Or a minimum-wage job to keep a roof over your head, but hey, it’s a work-in-progress here, people.

Tusk (2014)

Kevin Smith: He is the walrus. Coo coo ca choo.

Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is a bit of a jerk, but he gets by on running a podcast with his good buddy (Haley Joel Osment) and banging his smokin’ hot girlfriend (Génesis Rodríguez), even though he’s a total dick to both of them. Lately though, Wallace has felt like his podcast needs a bit of a energizing-up, so he decides to venture out to Canada where he’ll interview a kid who became famous after a video of him accidentally slicing off his own leg with a samurai sword goes viral and entitles him as “Kill Bill Kid”. However, sadly for Wallace, he finds out that Kill Bill Kid has passed away, which leaves the poor pod-caster in the dumps. That is, until he sees a notice for a sit-down with a man who promises to tell interesting stories. Wallace sees no harm in it at first, even if the man (Michael Parks), seems a bit creepy. But eventually, the harm becomes all too real and wouldn’t you know it, the creepy old man actually has Wallace over for some unknown, nefarious purposes. Which, wouldn’t you know it, has him turning Wallace into a walrus.

I apologize if that spoiled the big twist for anybody but trust me, there’s no real twist to begin with as it’s been heavily talked-about since the movie’s idea had ever came to fruition.

It's a metaphor. or something.

It’s all a metaphor. or something.

Now, normally, I consider myself a huge, adoring fan of Kevin Smith’s work. Not only do I find him to be one of the funnier, smarter writers working in comedy today, but I also find him to be a very honest, realistic-thinking guy when it comes to his own career, Hollywood, and all of the bullshit that usually follows along with it. Sure, some of his escapades are a bit questionable and definitely make you wonder if he’s actually a nice guy underneath all those hockey jerseys, or if he’s just playing the role so well, that anybody who slightly “likes” the guy, ends up falling head-to-toes in love with him, all because he seems like them, a real person.

Except that, for the fact, that this real person writes, directs, and occasionally stars in movies for a living.

However, a part of me has been slowly, but surely dying inside ever since Kevin Smith has decided that he’s about had it up to here with being taken as a joke and only known for the potty-mouth characters he creates. While I have absolutely no problem with a film maker wanting to change their style up a bit so that they can eventually be looked at in a different light and possibly show the rest of the world what they have left to offer, other than just what they’ve been known for, I feel like what Smith has been doing ever since Red State has sort of been throwing him down a pipe-line that he can’t get out of. He wants to be taken as a serious director, yet, he also tries so hard to make this idea a reality, that he loses what made his movie so charming and enjoyable to watch, or better yet, listen to, in the first place.

And with Tusk, this is evident, except maybe even worse. Because while, yeah, Tusk is a sometimes serious, rather horrific-tale about a man being turned into a walrus, there’s still plenty of humor written into the script; none of it works, but it’s humor nonetheless. Mostly where this humor comes from is in Smith’s way of pointing to something weird, or off-kilter that Canadians do, and never letting it go. He’s sort of like the guy in your group who finds one flaw within your whole human existence and rather than confronting it one day, accepting it for what it is, and moving on so that each and every person around you two, including yourselves, can live in perfect harmony, he just constantly hammers it into the ground, not only making you feel more uncomfortable because they simply don’t get that the joke isn’t landing anywhere, anytime soon, but that they look like total dicks.

Here, in case you couldn’t, tell, Kevin Smith is the total dick and it’s just all the more disappointing for someone such as myself who has looked up to him as one of the better writers and directors in today’s day and age of comedy. And trust me, I’m not being all pissy and moany like this because Smith wasn’t giving me the return of characters like Jay, Silent Bob, or even Banky – those times are all said and done and I’m fine with that. It’s time to move on and I’m perfectly fine with that. However, if Smith can’t grow in an efficient manner, then I will continue to be unhappy. Better yet, if he can’t write funny jokes anymore that at least hold more merit than as if they were being told by a fifth-grader, then sure, I’m all for a career resurgence of sorts.

But for now, I will wait and wonder.

Mostly though, the huge problem with Tusk comes down to the fact that the story just doesn’t have enough steam to last its near two-hour run-time. It’s been made clear to anyone who pays attention to Smith’s podcast known as Smodcast that the idea for Tusk, originally came through a story he read on an episode. While it may work as a live-reading and better yet, maybe even as a short film, when given a larger-budget and more time to work with, the movie comes off incredibly meandering, ponderous, and overall, stale. You wonder if Smith had any intentions of making this story go on as long as it is, or if he just decided to say “‘eff it” with all of the money he was given and focus on parts of this story that didn’t matter.

For instance, we literally get a ten-to-fifteen-minute flashback with Wallace and his girlfriend where they’re not only sharing an intimate moment together (meaning blow-jobs), but are even revealing certain depths of their characters that we probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. It’s supposed to work, but because these characters are so one-dimensional as is, we don’t care for anything they’re saying, nor the scene altogether. It just feels thrown in there to add some sort of emotional-heft to an already overlong movie; one that could have ended in nearly twenty-minutes and nobody would have felt ripped-off. But you add another hour-and-thirty-minutes to that run-time, and you’ve got a whole lot of pissed off people. I’m one of them, if you couldn’t already tell by now.

If you're girl ends up getting comforted by that kid who saw dead people, you better make sure you're a damn walrus alright.

If you’re girl ends up getting comforted by that kid who saw dead people, you better make sure you’re a damn walrus alright.

And as for the cast, god bless all of their working hearts, but hardly anybody comes away unscathed from this. Justin Long is a funny guy and when, given the right material to work with, can do wonderful things. However, his role as Wallace is so one-note and prickish, you wonder if Smith thought that being a perverted, 30-something a-hole was funny, especially when you give him impressions and funny voices to do. Whatever he thinks is funny, doesn’t matter, because it’s hardly ever funny and only gets worse for Long as he then is soon made into a walrus, where we care so little for him or the situation he’s thrown into. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, because it is easy to feel bad for somebody who, for no reason other than to service an already overlong script, gets transformed into a walrus, but it’s just that we don’t care for his character to begin with that really hurts him.

Then, there’s Haley Joel Osment as his best buddy who may, or may not be up-to-no-good. While it’s nice to see that Osment’s still working, and with Kevin Smith no less, this role is so dull, it makes no sense why he’s even in it to begin with. Génesis Rodríguez is here to look hot and have the camera focus in on her curvy body, and with that, she’s fine. And Michael Parks, as gifted as he may be, doesn’t have much to do as the evil scientist who turns Wallace into a walrus, as all he has to do is yell and preach a lot, about seemingly nothing really. It’s sort of like what he did in Red State, but at least that had some reasoning to be done there; here, it’s just over-bearing and random.

But the one I feel the most bad for here is Johnny Depp who, spoiler alert once again, I guess, shows up as a local Canadian detective by the name of Guy Lapointe (it’s supposed to be word play, you see). Depp literally seems like he showed up on-set one day and decided that he didn’t mind wearing a silly hat, a large nose-piece, and acting as drunk as he usually does in most of his movies. While it’s occasionally pleasing to see Depp riff into some rather strange, often interesting areas of this story that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise with a lesser-actor who was demanded to follow the script, it still doesn’t do much good for the rest of the movie as it just uses him as one punch-line and that’s it.

Nothing more, and you know what? Johnny Depp deserves more!

Consensus: While it’s nice to see Kevin Smith trying something new, Tusk is a poorly-done, overlong, and just plain stupid movie that hardly goes anywhere funny, interesting, or even entertaining. Simply put, it’s boring, but it never knows it well enough to just cease what it is doing and get to the point already.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Poor guy. Actually, no. Who gives a hoot. Eh? #CanadianJokes

Poor guy. Actually, no. Who gives a hoot. Eh? #CanadianJokes

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Also, if any of you are at all suspicious of whether I’m not an actual fan-boy of Kevin Smith to begin with, or am just posing as one to disguise my utter disappointment with this movie, check out this link, go to 1:19:48, and listen to the question asked. You might just hear yours truly talking to a personal hero of his.

Hopefully Kevin and I can make amends in the near-future.

Big Eyes (2014)

So, wait? “Tracing” isn’t actually considered art? Bollocks!

After many years of putting up with an abusive relationship, Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) wakes her daughter up, packs their bags, gets in the car, and heads straight to the city of San Francisco, where she hopes to make a living with her odd, off-kilter paintings of children with largely-proportioned eyes. However, Margaret soon has a wake-up call when she realizes that selling paintings is not only hard if you don’t know how to sell them, or to whom, but also if you’re a woman who wants to be taken more seriously in the world of art. That’s when charming businessman, and occasional painter, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) steps into her life and practically takes her, as well as her daughter, by storm. They get married and, wouldn’t you know it? The two start actually selling their paintings and gain some notoriety in the meantime. Except, that the paintings they’re selling aren’t just Margaret’s, but that they’re Margaret’s, being passed-off as Walter’s, and by none other than Walter himself. It’s an obvious dilemma, but one that falls into some strange, crazy places along the way.

He paints.

He paints.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been impressed by a Tim Burton movie. Most of that has to do with his over-bearing style that hasn’t been fresh since Sleepy Hollow, and some of that also has to do with the fact that the guy can’t seem to get enough of that bro-mance he has with Johnny Depp. But now, for the first time since 2003, Burton has stepped away from his life with Depp and seems to be getting back to his older, Ed Wood-ish days where he not only focused on real life, actual human beings, but give us a humane, relatively normal view into their lives. While it may sound ordinary and boring, for someone like Burton, that’s sort of the point. In order to show the world that you’ve still got the story-telling talent that made you so well-liked and appreciated before, sometimes, you just have to go back to the basics of what made you famous in the first place.

That’s why, after many years of disappointment, after disappointment, it seems like Burton’s back on-track. For how long, is a whole other question entirely, but for now, let’s just suck up Big Eyes for all that it is: A solid, well-told, and overall, well-done biopic about a very strange, but very true real life story.

Without diving in too deep and getting even myself lost in what I’m trying to say, I’ll just note that Big Eyes is a pretty-looking movie. Every set-piece feels and looks exactly like how the bright, lovely days and nights of the 50’s would feel and look, but that’s not what makes this movie to begin with. What mainly does it is the fact that Burton keeps his eye on the story here, as well as its characters, and hardly ever branches away from it. While one could say he’s doing himself a slight by holding back and telling this story as by-the-numbers as one could get, for someone like Burton, that isn’t a bad thing.

In fact, Burton shows resilience here that I haven’t seen from him in quite some time, and it works for the movie as it allows for this story to tell itself, and dive in deeper to some of the more interesting aspects of itself. For instance, the movie makes it clear that while there were many female artists successfully working in the 1950’s, most of them didn’t have the type of sales-pitch to certain people to not only make them rich, but well-known by more people than just their peers, but also by people who don’t usually pay attention to art in the first place. Mostly what Margaret Keane paints are creepy-looking children that’s meant to mean something, yet, what that something means, we never know.

However, that’s sort of the point Burton’s trying to drive home here – it’s not that the art is saying or doing anything spectacular, it’s more so that it was famous and sold really well to those who liked to impress their fellow friends and confidantes at fancy, extravagant dinner-parties. In other words, the art world is based on people’s bullshit and what’s sort of interesting about what this movie does is that it actually explores the notion that maybe that bullshit is exactly what somebody like Walter Keane thrived on. He loved the spectacle of art, and didn’t really care about whatever message it was trying to get across; simply, he just wanted it to make people happy. And for some reason, that’s what Margaret’s art: Made people happy, even if they didn’t know how or why. It simply just did.

But while Burton touches the surface of this idea, there’s a slight feeling that it doesn’t go down this road as much as it should. This makes sense considering how close the still-living Margaret Keane seemed to be during the making of this movie, but it also takes away from what could have been a very thought-provoking piece about the world of art, why it’s important, and just why someone like Walter Keane was able to exploit for all that it was worth, even if he didn’t mean to intentionally do so. However, like I said before though, Burton still keeps this story fun, light, and interesting, even if it seems like he’s just going by on what the time-line presents him with. That’s not a bad thing, per se, especially because the story itself is quite fun and interesting, but it made me wish there’d been more of a push and shove into actually developing these characters, as well as their situations just a bit more.

Though, to be honest, I’ll take a pleasant Burton-piece over another Johnny Deep team-up, any day of the week.

And I do wholeheartedly mean that, too.

She paints.

She paints.

Where Keane’s lives and personalities get the most attention are from the performances by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, who are both fine in this movie, even if they both seem like they’re in two different movies altogether. Waltz is probably the clearest example of this as his Walter Keane is all over-the-place – and I do mean that in the literal-sense. Right from when we’re introduced to him, we get the sense that Walter Keane is a bit of a sneaky fella who may be using Margaret for his own well-being, or may be a simple, nice guy who actually has an attraction to Margaret that doesn’t concern him seeing dollar-signs. Either way, the guy clearly seems to be off-his-rocker every time he is around other people and you never know whether or not it’s all an act to make himself seem likable, or he really is just this nutty, energetic of a bro.

The movie never fully hits a specific landing-strip on what it wants to say about Walter Keane, except that he was clearly the bad guy in this story. That said, Waltz is usually great at playing a bad guy in any story, and also even being able to bring out some humanity within as well. And that’s exactly what he does here as Walter Keane, except that he’s incredibly hammy and over-the-top, for better, as well as for worse. For better, because he actually brings a lot of fun and excitement to the character of Walter Keane who, from what I’ve read, was pretty much that kind of person in real life. And, for worse, because he seems to be trying his hardest to steal every single scene away from Amy Adams and her incredibly subtle performance. Though it’s always intriguing to see what rabbit Waltz is able to pull out of this character’s hat next, it mostly seems to take away from what’s a very powerful performance from the always great Adams, although you wouldn’t know it.

Adams down-plays her role as Margaret and does a fine job at it, so much so, that it actually makes it understandable as to why a meek, mild woman such as herself would actually marry such a hyperactive and wild charmer like Walter Keane. They aren’t the perfect match for one another, but they’re both there for one another in a time where they seem like they need someone the most; to love, to cherish, to hold, and to also pay rent. So yeah, to me, it made sense why Margaret would actually take a sacrifice in her life and marry Walter, even if that meant she’d be sacrificing a whole lot more than her time – her art. Art which, to begin with, was already nice and pretty to look at, but anything more would just be too much.

Hey, sort of like this movie! Wow!

Consensus: Oddly enough, Big Eyes finds Tim Burton at his most restrained and simple, yet, it works wholly because the real life story he’s covering is an odd and complex one, but also fun and interesting into the certain areas it goes.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

We all paint!

We all paint!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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