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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

The Babadook (2014)

Even more reasons to stop reading books and to pick up a screen instead.

Middle-aged, single Amelia (Essie Davis) is the mother to six-year-old Sam (Noah Wiseman) and let’s just say that they don’t necessarily have the best relationship together. Sam is a strange kid who communicates with an imaginary ghost that he swears is going to kill him one day, so in order to prep, he builds weapons to fend him off. Also, to add insult to injury, Sam acts out at school and practically every other public-function, which as a result, makes Amelia look bad in hindsight. She understands this and doesn’t like it, but she’s Sam’s mother and wouldn’t you know it, still loves and supports him; even if he is a bit of a weirdo. But everything gets weirder, and a whole scarier, for the mother-son combo when they open up and read a pop-up children’s book called, “the Babadook”. Apparently, once opened, this mysterious, deadly creature takes over whoever reads it and terrorizes every aspect of their life. This scares Amelia and Sam, but they might be able to stand up to the ‘dook, so long so as they still love one another and have each other’s back.

Horror movies, for the most part, aren’t my cup-of-tea. That is, when they aren’t done right. When they’re done right, they’re the most terrific piece of fun that I could ever have and gives me plenty of hope for the rest of the horror movie world, and wish that plenty of other horror creators see this and eventually follow suit.

No Damien, but he'll do.

No Damien, but he’ll do.

And in the case of the Babadook, this is exactly the same case. While it may not entirely be the most original, game-changing horror flick since the days of the Blair Witch, it still does something right in that it gives us a compelling premise, with even more compelling characters to make all the scares hit harder than they probably should. Sometimes with horror movies, the scares may be there and make you jump out of your cushion-seat, but they aren’t because you’re actually fearful for anybody in the film; you’re more or less just scared of getting spooked yourself. Sure, the characters in the movie may be the ones who are supposed to be the scared the most, but who they really are, are just stand-ins for you, the audience-member who shelled out nearly eleven dollars for this piece of fine entertainment.

What I’m trying to get across by saying this is that while most horror movies understand what it takes to be considered “scary”, they don’t know what it takes to be considered “terrifying”, and dare I say it, “emotionally-draining”. The ones that are considered the former, give us characters that are just there to service something that resembles a plot and the numerous pop-up scares, whereas with the former options, we get movies that have actually real, true-to-life, compelling characters that we not only care for in this time of need, but want to see live and defeat whatever mysterious presence they may be facing off against. The Babadook understands this and are able to actually combine the two elements of being scary and having rich, well-written characters, to wondrous results.

The movie may not be perfect, but hey, this is the horror-genre we’re talking about here! You take what you can get!

Anyway, like I was saying, a lot of the credit for this movie working as well as it does has to go to first-time writer/director Jennifer Kent, who seems like she definitely has a fine eye for scary detail, and an even better head-space for what it takes to make certain characters understandable and interesting. In the case of the mother-son combo that is Amelia and Sam, there’s something intriguing in that we can tell Amelia is clearly and utterly depressed with all that life has given her, and that’s mostly due to Sam and his habit for constantly driving her up the wall and back again. Every person that has ever raised a child will tell ya, being a parent is hard, and it’s even more challenging when you’re doing it all by yourself (which is what Amelia is doing here because of her husband’s death which, ironically enough, was at the same time Sam was being born), but this case, seems even more excruciating.

Sam, the way he’s written at least, is a every parent’s worst nightmare: He’s needy, over-bearing, loud, full of piss and vinegar, and doesn’t seem to know how to act or behave when he’s around others that aren’t his mother. Other people see this and automatically, it’s Amelia who’s the blame which not only has he grow deeper and deeper into her fit of depression, but have her hold a grudge against Sam. It’s not that she hates her son, she’s just downright had it up to here with the way he acts and would probably be a lot happier if it all went away. Once again, not saying that she hates her son and would want him killed, but to be taken off of her hands for maybe a week, or two, or maybe a month, would probably do her some good.

And this is the exact idea that Kent plays into and it allows for the tension to rack-up beyond belief. We don’t really know if the ‘dook is a real monster/ghost, or if Amelia is just imagining all of this because of her bout with depression that borderlines on insanity, but whatever it may be, it’s terrifying. Not because of the jump-scares that Kent sometimes manipulatively utilizes, but because we actually grow to like and care for both Sam and Amelia, and for anything bad to happen to either of them would be incredibly upsetting. Even worse though, is if something bad happened to the one because of the other.

I think we've all seen scarier images in actual, real life books.

I think we’ve all seen scarier images in actual, real life books.

Not only would that be beyond the limits of disturbing, but even more terrifying because travesties like that happens in real life.

But most of the credit for why Sam and Amelia are so worthy of our attention-span in the first place is because of both Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis. Davis is exceptionally great here as the sad-sack Amelia who seems to have some amount of charm in her personality, but hasn’t been able to utilize it for so long, that she’s just a mute to the rest of the world around her. It seems like a one-note performance, but Davis finds certain shadings to Amelia to make her seem like a woman who, at one point in her life, was happy, hopeful and free. While that may seem to be gone for now, it’s clear to us that she may be able to get back to that point in her life, and still be a mother to Sam. It’s just a matter of how and whether or not somebody has to get hurt in the process.

However, the most impressive one of the two here is Wiseman, who plays the typical “annoying-kid” role, but is so good at it, that you’ll believe he’s genuinely like this. But what both Wiseman and, to a further extant, Kent do with this character is show him as exactly he is: A six-year-old boy who clearly has some growing-up problems, but is doing just that, growing up and trying to make sense of this insane, crazy world that’s around him. Once again, his character’s existence is a downtrodden one, but Wiseman allows us to see him certain lights that makes it seem like, if all turns out well for the both of them, that he could one day be considered, you know, “normal”.

Whatever the hell that means anyway.

Consensus: Not as scary as much as its just upsetting, the Babadook presents a generic monster, but gives us two characters that are compelling, interesting, and sympathetic in their own rights, even without all of the terror happening around them.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Yeah, that's smart.

Yeah, that’s smart.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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Annie (2014)

I hear the Jay-Z beat, yet, I hear no Jay-Z. What gives, Hov?

Ten-year-old Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a foster child living in Harlem who has to deal with the mean treatment of her caretaker, Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), and always looks towards the bright side that her parents may, one day, come back to get her. That’s a dream for sure, but it’s one that Annie doesn’t ever give up on; just like she doesn’t really give up running everywhere she goes, all because she states, “it gets her places quicker”. However, all that running comes back to almost harm little orphan Annie, until the rich, famous and mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), saves her from a possible car accident. This moment finds an audience and gives Stacks the kind of lead in the election that he so desperately needed. Therefore, he is forced to, by his oily campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale), that it’s best for him to keep relations between he and Annie constant and always in front of the public to see. Even if Stacks doesn’t really care for kids as is, he has to do this in order to seem like a relatively likable guy. But then, something changes: Stacks begins to care, but it may be too late.

Oh, and yeah, it’s a musical, too. That’s if you didn’t already know that.

Oh, I get it. You apparently can teach an old dog new tricks.

Oh, I get it. You apparently can teach an old dog new tricks.

Anyway, a lot of people have been raining down on Annie‘s parade as of late and it’s disappointed me. Sure, I get that we didn’t really need a remake/updated-version of the 1982 classic, but then again, you could say that for many other movies out there in today’s day and age that are made for the screen, for no other reason than just money, money, and more money. To me, the fact that critics have been trashing this movie, not only proves that some people aren’t willing to change and go along with the times, but anytime that anybody touches something near, dear and sacred to their hearts, and changes it up a teeny, tiny little bit, there’s automatically resentment. I can’t say that I haven’t acted like this before, but for the most part, when seeing something that’s been remade or updated for a modern-day audience, I sit back and wonder how it could all turn out to be.

Because either way, if the movie’s a train-wreck or not, it’s still something interesting to watch and ponder about. Like, for instance, why was this remade? And the simple answer to that question is simple, “No reason really”. Maybe Jay-Z saw some money in the name-product that is Annie and decided that he might try to cash in on some of that money, even if it did mean making a movie for the whole family, and around the holidays no less.

But I’m definitely beating around the bush with this one. What I’m trying to say about this latest version of Annie, is that the reason for its existence isn’t known and it sure as hell isn’t perfect. That said, I found myself enjoying a lot more of this movie than I maybe wanted to. Most of that has to do with the fact that director Will Gluck makes this out to be the kind of movie that not only doesn’t take itself too seriously, but isn’t afraid to throw some jokes here and there for the older ones in the crowd that may have gotten sucked into seeing this because of a young one at home, begging and pleading to be taken out. Or, they could have just been older, creepier people and saw it by themselves.

You know, like me.

Anyway, moving on!

Like I said though, Gluck’s film isn’t perfect and more often than not, feels like it’s being almost too adorable and cutesy for its own good. There’s a certain sense one can get with a family-film that even though the audience who wants to see it may not think deeper or further than the ones who get roped into seeing it, the charm has to be turned up to eleven and annoy the hell out of everyone who is watching it that may be above the age of twelve. This is exactly in the case of Annie; while it’s charming at times, other times, it feels cloying and like it wants you to not just laugh at it, but pet it, adore it, and take it in as your own.

Sort of like an orphan, really.

And for the longest time, this absolutely bothered me. It made me feel like I was watching a film that didn’t know whether it wanted to be too smart for it’s own good, or just downright earnest that it’s practically asking for a hand-out. To me, Annie seemed a little more like the later, but there’s was always that feeling in the back of my head that maybe I was being a tad too harsh on this. After all, it’s an Annie movie, made for the whole family to see, enjoy and not think too much about, not a piece of awards-bait that asks the hard questions about humanity and demands that you think/discuss them after you’ve just witnessed it. In a time like late-December, where nearly everything I see now is about to bludgeon me to death with their intellectualism, it’s quite refreshing to see a movie which, on paper, is simple and plays out exactly like that. Sure, it’s a tad too earnest for its own good, but once you’re willing to get past that, then it actually works.

If anything though, Annie deserves to be seen for a reminder that Quvenzhané Wallis isn’t just a simple, one-and-done flash-in-the-pan that we’ve seen so many child actors like her become. With Wallis though, there’s an inherent charm and likability to her that not only makes her Annie seem like a real, actual kid, but one that appreciates life more than you’ve ever appreciated anything in your life. Some of this is because of the way she’s written, but most of it is because Wallis seems like she’s having the time of her life on the set of this movie and it helps a lot of her scenes.

Turn away kiddies! Not safe!

Turn away kiddies! Not safe!

And of course, because it is a musical, what matters most is that Wallis is able to belt out some tunes, and she is more than able to. Her voice is sweet and tender, and adds a nice amount of emotion to some of the more cornier-tracks in this movie that could have easily been taken out and we would have already gotten the idea it was trying to get across. She’s an orphan! She’s sad! We get it! Move it on over!

One of the problems with Wallis being so good here, is that she takes away from the rest of the cast, all of whom are big, respectable names in the biz. Thankfully though, since Gluck’s direction is so over-the-top and goofy, everybody here seems like they’re either hopped-up on too much Pop Rocks, or are just simply happy to get a paycheck that they want to express it for everybody else in the movie. Either way, it works in favor of the performances and allows for some of the more badly-placed jokes, to land. Even if they weren’t intentional to begin with.

Jamie Foxx gets to display his key sense for comedy as Stacks and seems like a nice fit alongside Wallis, as they build a nice, but realistic chemistry together; Rose Byrne doesn’t get much to do here as Stacks’ assistant/possible love-interest, although she’s charming enough to get by; Bobby Cannavale is, as you guessed it, a dick and doesn’t hide any of that back whatsoever; and Cameron Diaz is campin’ it up, big time, as Miss Hannigan, but seems to be at least having some fun with the material for once in a long while, so I can’t have too much of a problem with that.

Just like I can’t with the rest of the movie. Even if everybody and their mothers, at the time, seem to despise its guts.

Consensus: Sweet, simple, and overall, pleasant, Annie is the kind of musical that doesn’t try to pummel you over the head with thought-provoking questions about humanity, but much rather, entertain the whole family, with a simple song, a dance, and a huge grin on its earnest-as-hell face.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

So this is why I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours? Thanks. Next time, harmonize and dance somewhere else!

So this is why I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours? Thanks. Next time, harmonize and dance somewhere else!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)

It’s over. So pipe down, nerds!

After having left his precious castle, Smaug roams free and is killed. This leaves many happy and feeling safe for once. This also leaves Thorin (Richard Armitage) to go back and take back what was rightfully his in the first place: His throne. Problem is, word spreads pretty quickly that he’s sitting in his high chair and this does not make Thranduil (Lee Pace). So, like any good elf would do, he wages war against Thorin, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), and the rest of their band of trusted misfits; a war which Thorin and co. could definitely lose, but they don’t seem to be turning away from. However though, the war takes a turn for the worse once the Orc’s get involved in the shenanigans, making it harder for this war to be won, but decide who is on who’s side, and why. It’s all so wild and crazy, but at the center of it all is Bilbo, who just wants to get that precious ring of his back to his comfortable, lovely little life in the shire.

So far, the Hobbit trilogy has been an okay one. Maybe that’s just from my standpoint, but for the most part, I haven’t seen myself incredibly upset about there being three Hobbit movies released over a three-year period. Sure, it’s a bit obvious and manipulative of Peter Jackson to stretch a 300-page book, into nearly eight hours of footage, but for me, the movie’s never got so offensively made that they were just downright terrible. They were fine for what they were, and that’s how they’re supposed to be viewed as, I feel. Even if, yes, the Lord of the Rings franchise is a whole lot better in hindsight.

"Aw damn."

“Aw damn.”

With that being said, it was nice to see Jackson finally end this trilogy on a note that was not only effective, but seemed like it was a return-to-form for his own true-self. The past two movies have been fun, adventurous and chock full of all the medieval exposition nonsense we expect from a movie such as this, but they haven’t really been too exciting to where you could tell Jackson was really just letting loose and having a ball with this material. In a way, one could almost view it as another lame attempt at Jackson just trying to hold onto this name-brand he loves and adores so much.

But regardless whatever the reasons may have been, Jackson brings back all of the excitement he showed in the early part of his ambitious career and it’s what makes the Battle of the Five Armies a good time. Because there’s so much action firing around on all cylinders, with numerous characters coming in and out of perspective, you get the general sense that Jackson is literally taking all the pieces of his puzzle, shuffling them around, and just letting them stick and stay there, for them to do their own thing and see how we respond. And, well, for the most part, it works well; it brings a certain level of tension to a franchise that, quite frankly, needed plenty of it.

However, like with the other films, Jackson still seems to get bogged down in not knowing where to go with his stories, or whom exactly to focus on the most.

What I mean by this is that while this is clearly Bilbo’s story first and foremost, Jackson pays plenty of attention to nearly everyone else around him. Thorin, Gandalf, Legolas, Tauriel, Thranduil, Bard, and even Saruman, all get plenty of development in the first hour or so of this, whereas we don’t really get much of a simple glance or two at Bilbo and just what the hell he’s up to. Sure, I get that Jackson doesn’t want to keep his scope limited and much rather focus on the ensemble at hand, but when you’re film is literally named after the main character and you give him maybe two or three paragraphs for the first hour, it makes me wonder just who the hell you really care about when all is said and done.

That’s not to say when Martin Freeman is given the chance, he isn’t willing to work his arse off whenever Bilbo’s on-screen, because he totally does in that lovably charming, yet sly way of his that always seems to work no matter where he’s at. It’s just that a part of me thinks Jackson didn’t seem to care about any more development for him and instead, just lingered towards the rest of the cast of characters who aren’t nearly as interesting, nor as fun to watch as Bilbo. Everybody’s fine in their roles, but seeing as how this is Bilbo’s own story, it seems only right that we focus on him the most, and allow Freeman to just work his magic. Almost as if he’s in whole other different universe completely, but it doesn’t matter because he’s so much fun to begin with.

"For freedom! I guess?"

“For freedom! I guess?”

Just wish there was more Martin Freeman to go around. I guess you can never get too much of that tiny fella.

But despite all of my moaning and complaining, the movie still entertained the shorts off of me (not literally, sadly). Once again, we see Jackson in a state of mind that shows, despite his story-telling elements being a bit off, he still packs enough punch to make his action excite nearly anyone watching it. It doesn’t matter if you’re invested in the characters or not, if you have a clear idea of who the good guy is, and who is the bad one, then all you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy as the fist-a-cuffs come out and everyone starts duking it out. A part of me wishes the other two movies were like this, but I’ll take what I can get, whenever I get it. Even if, you know, it is a bit pleasing to see this franchise done once and for all. Hopefully it will allow for Jackson to go back to his old school roots and try something smaller, and possibly even go back to doing horror.

Let’s just hope he stays the hell away from another Lovely Bones. Please, anything but that.

Consensus: With enough action-packed sequences of swords, sorcery, and stones, the Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies is the kind of Middle Earth movie we wanted from Peter Jackson, except not nearly as epic as the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

I would say, "don't do it", but we already know he's far too gone. Wait? Was "the Ring" a metaphor for drug-addiction? All this time and nobody's informed me on this? What the hell?!?!?

I would say, “don’t do it”, but we already know he’s far too gone. Wait? Was “the Ring” a metaphor for drug-addiction? All this time and nobody’s informed me on this? What the hell?!?!?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Top Five (2014)

Man, sometimes I wish that more people other than my mom thought I was funny.

Mega-superstar Andre Allen (Chris Rock) has a lot going on in his life right now. For one thing, he’s got a new movie coming out that may, or may not, signal his change from being in/apart of “comedies”, and doing more dramatic, emotional pieces that show him in a serious-manner. He’s also supposed to be getting married to his rich and famous fiancee, Erica (Gabrielle Union), even though some of it seems like it’s all being made up for the reality show they have on Bravo. And, to make matters slightly a bit worse, Andre’s now got to promote his new movie in this one weekend, where he’s going to be interviewed and accompanied by New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Though the two don’t get along at first, they eventually start to hit it off where they learn more and more about one another, and eventually, try to help each other with their own respective careers. Even if both of them feel like they don’t need much help to begin with, whether they realize it or not.

If Charlie Rose thinks you're funny, then hell, you must be!

If Charlie Rose thinks you’re funny, then hell, you must be!

I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again for any of you out there keeping score at home: Chris Rock is by far one of the funniest comedians we have working today. Sure, the man has had his flops and has definitely gotten a bit too comfy and cozy with the likes of Adam Sandler as of late, but for the most part, when Rock brings his A-game, the laughs just never end. Take for instance, his relatively recent SNL hosting gig where, during his opening monologue, he went on and on about such controversial topics as 9/11, the Boston Marathon,the Freedom Tower, and guns. While some cried foul and felt as if it was in poor taste from SNL to let somebody like Rock not just go on about this, but to do so with his own writing.

For me though, it was a hilarious monologue that yeah, may have definitely been a tad bit uncomfortable to sit through at times, but that’s sometimes where the best bits of comedy comes from. If somebody says something you’ve been thinking your whole life, but had never mustered up the courage to actually get out and say yourself, it’s automatically hilarious. Not because what the person said is actually funny, but because they’re bringing out something within you that you’ve been keeping bottled-up inside for so very, very long, and it was about time that it got out there for the whole world to see.

However, that was nearly a month ago and now, we have Rock’s new movie, Top Five, which, once again, proves my point to the rest of the world out there: Chris Rock is one of the funniest comedians working today.

And because this is Rock’s baby right here (he wrote, directed, starred, and made love to this movie), this is a huge aspect in judging how much one person can enjoy this movie. Because while, on paper, it seems like what Rock is doing is trying to make bygones for all of the silly decisions he’s made over his storied-career, it’s more of a piece that shows us why he still deserves to be taken in by the current mainstream audience and not just forgotten about. Rock wants us to remember the simple fact that he’s still got the funny in him, and he spends nearly the whole movie showing us this.

Thankfully, too, it all works. Without ever seeming desperate or as if he doesn’t have his own laugh-track, Rock allows his Andre Allen character to be a perfect example of what Rock does best; the guy riffs on everything around him, and seems to never ever take anything around him seriously. However, he still wants to be taken seriously – not just as an actor, but as a person. While this could have definitely been another one of those “oh great, here we go” moments we normally see in these kinds of movies, Rock steers clear of this and actually seems genuine when he’s being dramatic. He doesn’t try too hard, but more or less, allows himself to just be seen by the audience, picked apart as much as they choose to do so, and looked at in a different light. This doesn’t mean that Rock spends the whole movie just moping around, begging people to love him like it was New Jack City all over again, but he’s more or less utilizing some of those dramatic-skills of his that may have been there his whole life, and we’re just finding out about now.

But I don’t want to make it seem like Rock makes it all about him, his specialties, or even what he wants to get across, because this here movie is a joint-effort and it’s nice to see Rock sit aside and let the rest of his star-studded cast just take matters into their own hands and see what magic can happen. It’s a sign that not only is Rock a lenient director, but that he’s also a nice guy who is willing to let his fellow friends and confidantes take over his show. Even if it is for only slightly a bit.

Rosario Dawson gets the biggest role out of the whole supporting cast and does a great job as Chelsea Brown – the kind of journalist that makes some people, such as myself, who are in that line of profession a bit sick, but is still charming enough, that it’s okay to get past many of the unethical journalistic moves she makes throughout. What’s so interesting about the way in how Brown is written, is that, on paper, she seems conventional; she’s the simple, easygoing gal that’s going to save the big time Hollywood actor from all of the spotlight, glitz and glamour. But while she may seem like this, at first, Dawson builds her to be something of a genuine character with hopes, feelings, and emotions that wants nearly as more from life as Andre does. The movie never tries to look down upon her, or even the sort of effect she’s having on Andre, as much as it just looks at them two together, smiles, and lets them do their thing.

The perfect Hollywood romance. Somewhere, I know there lies a sex tape.

The perfect Hollywood romance. Somewhere, I know there lies a sex tape.

Which already means that yes, Dawson and Rock are great together and seem like they’re actually good pals off the screen. Whatever the inspiration may have been behind Dawson’s casting for Rock is definitely interesting, because she fits into this role perfectly and it becomes abundantly clear whenever the two are walking around the streets of New York City, talking about life, romance, kids, sex, parties, and yes, their top five favorite rappers. But, like I said before, it isn’t just Dawson and Rock’s show, as they’re more than willing to share the spotlight and let the rest of the cast do their thing, shine a little bit, and continue to allow the movie to move on as it so pleases to do so.

J.B. Smoove plays Rock’s bodyguard/assistant and is great in a role that has him being the guy who hits on every woman he sees, in the most casual, innocent way possible; Gabrielle Union plays a character that seems very shallow and one-dimensional at the beginning, but actually has one scene where we see her for the person she truly is and it’s not only a surprisingly effective dramatic scene here, but puts her whole character into perspective and allows us, the audience, to gain just a smidgen of sympathy for her; Cedric the Entertainer also shows up here and reminds everybody that he’s still funny, especially now that he’s away from that strange Who Wants to be a Millionaire? gig; current SNL cast-members, Leslie Jones, Michael Che and Jay Pharoah all make it clear why they should get better material to work with every time we turn on the tube to see them; and last, but certainly not least, Tracy Morgan’s here in a very comedic-role that shows him being the big, lovable goof that he was, making it all the more of a travesty that we may never get to see him acting like this again.

But while I may have only touched upon a few or so people here from this cast, I can assure you, there’s plenty more where these ones came from (especially an amazing cameo from a personal hero of mine). Which is hard for me to not go into further detail about, because everybody who shows up here is, in one way, shape or form, funny. Some of it seems like they’re funny because of what Rock has wrote for them to be funny with, but some of it also seems like they’re all just riffing with reckless abandon. While this would seem pretentious and almost too self-important to be considered “entertainment”; it’s not only just that, but assures us that Rock, along with his very funny friends, are here to stay.

Thank heavens.

Consensus: As ambitious as it is thought-provoking, Top Five finds Chris Rock not just back in his comfort-zone as a comedian, but as a guy who is willing to remind people of the very hilarious talents that are out there, just waiting to be discovered, or at least found again.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Subway romance: So cute, but please, shut up so that I can rock out to my RATM before work.

Subway romance: Cute and all, but please, shut up so that I can rock out to my RATM before work.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Hellion (2014)

Growing up problems? Crank up the Slayer!!!

13-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is an angsty troublemaker that loves to start fires, run from cops, and teach his little brother (Deke Garner) how to be just like him. This mostly has to do with the fact that they’re mother just passed away, but it also has to do with the fact that the two boys’ father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), is hardly ever around. And even when he is, it’s usually with a beer in his hand and a slurred-speech. Needless to say, they’re a pretty messed-up family that’s just barely getting by. But that all changes when child services come around and takes Jacob’s little brother away from him and puts him with their Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). This pisses Jacob off to no end and he starts to act out a whole lot more, although he now also focuses more of his attentions onto his passion: Motor-crossing. Also, Hollis starts to undergo a little transformation of his own by not just putting down the bottle, but also when it comes to getting his kids all back in one house together.

"Betch."

“Betch.”

Most coming-of-agers that mean well, tend to do well for me. Not because I was once a kid, but because it seems so hard to write childhood, and to do so in a non-judgmental way, that it always earns a pass from yours truly. Problem is though, there is such a thing as seeing the same type of coming-of-age flick, being told to me, time and time again. Though it might be dressed up with a different cast, title and narrative, the story still remains the same: Growing up is hard to do.

This is obviously nothing new to express in the world of film, but where I think writer/director Kat Candler slips up at times is by not really delivering anything new or intriguing about this idea. Sure, we get that growing up, especially when done inside a broken home, is downright difficult and can either make or break a person into being who they are for the rest of their lives, but is that it?

To me, it’s not that Candler’s film isn’t well-done, it’s just so typical.

You can’t tell me that as soon as we saw Aaron Paul’s character leaving his home with a six-pack of booze, flowers, and going straight to the side of a random street, that he wouldn’t be going to visit his obviously-deceased wife’s burial-spot? Or, better yet, that when our lead character starts to get involved with what seems to be his passion, that he’ll do so with anger and hate, only to then not really do well with it all? And, honestly, how easy was it to pin-point the moment that the tubby kid of the group would start to become the overly excessive and vulgar one?

It’s all here and it’s all been done before. That’s not to say that movies like this can’t bring something neat or enjoyable to the mix of others in its same genre, but Hellion feels like it’s treading familiar-waters that don’t really feel like they need to be touched in the first place. Though, where Hellion works the most is with the performances and how each and everyone of the cast-members dig deep into their characters, giving off a very raw feel that kept me watching, even when the story seemed to just disappoint me and go into predictable spots.

By now, I think everybody knows Aaron Paul’s a quality actor and is able to bring any type of fiery energy to whatever he does and as Hollis, he’s very good. But it’s not because he’s constantly excited or yelling “betch” all over the place, it’s because he actually dials it down. Hollis is the kind of deadbeat dad character we get in these kinds of movies, except that he’s written a bit better as not being an asshole, as much as just a troubled dude who needs to pay a bit more attention to his kids. Because of this small detail, Hollis seems more like a little lost puppy who, for better and for worse, is doing the best with this “fatherhood” thing that he can. It may not always work for the guy, but the effort is there and that’s what matters the most.

Anyway, what Paul does so well here is that he channels all of the sadness this character clearly has, and keeps it all in. He never really breaks away and loses his total mind, so much so as that you can tell he’s about to crack open at any moment. The same goes for Josh Wiggins as Jacob, who has more of a showier-role here, but is still believable enough that it makes me wonder just how much of what he was doing is actually acting, or is just him being a kid, plain and simple. Regardless of whether or not he’s actually reading a script, Wiggins still gives off this tense feel to a character who, honestly, was already brimming with it early on. Wiggins, right here and now, is a young talent that I’m interested in seeing what he has next on his small plate.

Suck on that, Maleficent!

Suck on that, Maleficent!

But the one I really was impressed by here was Juliette Lewis as Pam, the well-meaning, but incredibly hated sister of the deceased mother. See, what Lewis does so well here, that she doesn’t quite do in many other movies, is that she dials most of her expressiveness back. She’s like Paul in that, whenever you see one of them show up in something, you know that you can expect them to be jumping up and down with nonstop energy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as much as it’s just a thing I’ve noticed after having watched these two in many movies.

For Lewis though, she’s already given the hard task of making a character like Pam seem sympathetic in nature, even though every character in the movie is clearly against her from the start. She’s made out to be like some sort of stuck-up, prude-ish woman that just wants to ruin this family’s little unit, but in reality, she’s trying to keep them together and in it for the long haul, even if that means some line of separation has to be made for the time being. You feel bad for Pam because you know she’s doing the right thing, it’s just that everyone around her is so hell bent on getting back to normal, that she’s made out to be the villain. It’s not hard to feel bad for Pam, the character, and that’s not just to do with the situation her character is written into, as much as it’s Lewis’ need to back-off and play it straight-laced, rather than as a woman who so desperately wants a child of her own and will do anything to make that dream a reality.

She’s the real revelation of this movie. It’s just a shame that she wasn’t thrown in a better one.

Consensus: If you’ve seen a Southern coming-of-age drama in the past five or six years, most likely, you’ve seen Hellion already, except with a few very good performances worth checking out.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

That poor bike. We all know what's next for it with that kid at the helm.

That poor bike. We all know what’s next for it with that kid at the helm.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Captive (2014)

Hide yo wife, hide yo husband, and most of all, hide yo kids.

Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) leaves his young daughter inside the back of his car to go and pick up some pies for dessert later, and moments later, he comes back to find out that she’s not there and is nowhere to be found anywhere in sight. How could this happen? Better yet, why? Well, that’s when two detectives (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman) jump onto the scene and investigate every inch of this case that they can, even if they end up rubbing Matthew the wrong way quite a few times. Still though, they remain dedicated to finding this little girl, even if literally means exploring certain avenues that they wouldn’t normally go down. But now there’s a problem: One of the detectives has gone missing, which not only hinders the effectiveness of this case, but now puts another one at the top of the pile. Meaning that Matthew may never get to see his little girl again. This is when he decides to spring into action and take matters into his own hands, even if that means risking his own life.

I don’t get why people still constantly want to work with Atom Egoyan. Sure, I understand that the guy has made some top-notch films back in his day, but from what I’ve been seeing of him recently, they aren’t well-done. Most importantly though, they contain top-dollar ensembles who, in better movies, would make any film nerd want to get out their cushioned-seats, hop onto their bikes, and get to the nearest movie theater that’s actually playing one of his movies. But sadly, they do nothing but just disappoint. That’s why when I went into the Captive, I expected it to be bad, regardless of how bright and shiny that cast-list may seem.

The beautiful babies I'd imagine these two as having.

The beautiful babies I’d imagine these two as having.

But here’s the real kicker, everyone: I actually enjoyed the Captive.

Although, yes, most of the times, I know I wasn’t supposed to. See, there’s something strange going on with this movie and the way Egoyfan frames it, in that we literally get to see who the villain is in the first five minutes, whether or not the girl is actually alive, and which detective has gone missing. Over time though, the narrative jumps all over its time-line to where the actual abduction is actually somewhere around the half-hour mark, which is, for some odd reason, just after we’ve been introduced to one of the detectives and their job-meeting. This continues on for a good part of the movie to where we’re told to put the pieces of this puzzle together in our own ways, which isn’t necessarily a hard task to complete, it’s just an unnecessary one.

Why Egoyan felt the need to tell this story using a nonlinear method, is totally beyond me. In fact, it makes no sense at all, considering that we’re supposed to have some sense of tension with this case, who did it, why, and when they’re going to get caught. Other than the last aspect, we already know everything and it seems random that Egoyan would choose to use this device.

However, that said, when the film gets going and starts to tell its story in a conventional manner, it surprisingly gets better. But, once again, it got better for me in the way that it wasn’t supposed to. Because, for starters, this movie is quite over-the-top. Sometimes, certain lines that are supposed to hold a great deal of emotional heft, come off as too melodramatic, and we’re watching an episode of One Life to Live. Which isn’t really because of the cast, it’s mostly because the material they’re given is sometimes so goofy, that they can’t help but over-act and dial it up to nearly eleven. Though being unintentionally hilarious is bad thing for any movie to have, it worked for me here with the Captive and at least gave me plenty of chances to laugh-out-loud, even though I knew full well I wasn’t supposed to.

It isn’t like this all of the time, but when it is, I found myself enjoying myself. For better, and for worse.

But then something even stranger began to happen with me and this movie – it got better. And no, this does not mean that the laughs stopped, but more so that the tension that was supposed to be there throughout the whole piece, surprisingly showed itself and made me wonder where the story was going to go next. There’s a neat sequence in which Reynolds’ character may have possibly found his kid’s nappers and decides to sternly confront them, mono-e-mono. Not only is it a nice bit of acting on his part, but it’s then followed by a fun, relatively exciting car-chase that goes all over the snowy streets of Canada, where apparently nobody else seems to be driving. But that’s neither here nor there.

And I guess now would be the part to discuss the cast here and to say that while mostly everybody’s good, they’re stuck with material that’s clearly beneath them. Case in point, Ryan Reynolds. See, as of late, Reynolds has been making a huge effort to break away from the big bucks and the mainstream flicks, and just test himself as an actor, by taking smaller, more indie-based flicks. It’s not only interesting to see his choices, but to see what he does with them and how he’s able to still be his own, charming-self, yet, blend in well with a director’s certain sense of style.

"Yes, ma'am. It's what the kids are currently calling it 'memes'."

“Yes, ma’am. It’s what the kids are currently calling it ‘memes’.”

Here, in Egoyan’s film, Reynolds gets a chance to be funny at certain times, but is still incredibly believable as the grieving father who will literally do anything to find his kid. He’s not necessarily trying anything new that he hasn’t tried before, but he’s still exceptional in a film which, quite frankly, didn’t deserve him or all the effort he seemed to put into this performance. Same goes for Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson who try their hardest as the two detectives assigned the case, although their characters feel a bit underdeveloped, even though Egoyan focuses his main sights on them and what it is that they’re up to.

Sadly though, not everybody fares as well-off as these three. Like I said before about the script being cheesy and mostly over-the-top, this usually entails certain cast-members to read their lines either by yelling so dramatically, you wonder if they’re making fun of the script, or if they’re just confused about why Egoyan is even bothering with it in the first place.

The perfect example of this is Mireille Enos as Matthew’s wife who has a few break-down scenes where she’s yelling at and beating Matthew because she believes it’s all his fault their daughter is lost. Enos is a great actress and is one I always love to see because of how much she challenges herself, but here, she’s so wacky, I couldn’t hold back my laughter during a scene which, obviously, seemed like it didn’t ask for that. Kevin Durand and Bruce Greenwood are two other victims of Enos’ same problem, except that they have it worse seeing as how they’re the baddies and all, and one of them even has a mustache.

Come on, now! That’s like the oldest trick in the book!

Consensus: Poorly-written, unintentionally hilarious, and a waste of a very talented cast, the Captive may be ridiculous, but it’s fun to laugh at, enjoy for as long as it’s on the screen, and most likely forget that you ever saw.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

The local truck stop. That's usually where all the bad shenanigans go down.

The local truck stop. That’s usually where all the bad shenanigans go down.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Still Alice (2014)

Everybody’s a little forgetful. Especially my ex-girlfriend. I mean, it was my birthday for gosh sakes!

50-year-old Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty good life. She has a loving husband (Alec Baldwin), lives in a comfy home, teaches at Columbia, has three, grown-up kids that constantly stay in touch with her, and she seems to have it all figured out. However, that all changes one day when she begins to realize that she’s forgetting certain things. Not just any certain things, but things that she used to know or at least, should know. Though it’s only tiny pieces of forgotten knowledge, Alice still doesn’t take any chances and decides to go to the doctor to take a test. She gets the results a week later and finds out that she’s been diagnosed with a rare case early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She, as well as the rest of her family, is absolutely devastated. But they all soon realize that they have to take advantage of the time they have with their mother now, before it’s all too late and Alice has forgotten just about everything in her life.

It’s a shame that certain movies such as Still Alice, are generally regarded as “made-for-TV specials”, only because of their plot, or what it is that they decide to talk about. Usually, movies about people with certain dramatic, life-altering diseases, are thrown onto Lifetime to be seen by housewives from all over the globe, where they’ll go “ooh” and “ahh”, and think it is maybe the greatest piece of film they have ever seen. This assumption of mine may not be right, but for the most part, movies about diseases, usually get tossed to the TV-screens, so that the heavy-hitters can play where the big boys play, and that’s the cinema’s.

Look out, paparazzo, Alec Baldwin 'a comin'.

Look out, paparazzo, Alec Baldwin ‘a comin’.

But with Still Alice, there’s finally an exception to the rule that proves it doesn’t matter what disease-of-the-week your movie seems to be discussing or highlighting, if it is good, then people will see it, regardless of what form they decide to do so. In this case though, it’s on the big screen, with noticeable, big-hitter names like “Julianne Moore”, “Alec Baldwin”, “Kristen Stewart”, and yes, even “Kate Bosworth”, and still seems like it could be played on TV.

The main reason of that has less to do with the material and more of just the way it’s cheaply-shot by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, but regardless, it’s still a movie that discusses a real life, actual disease and does so in an efficient, thought-provoking way. It hardly ever gets over-dramatic and it doesn’t really even seem to paint its main character, Alice, as any kind of miracle woman, that so tragically gets hit with this disease. Sure, it’s very sad and I wouldn’t wish this disease upon anyone (or any disease, for the record), but Alice, as portrayed in this movie, isn’t a wonderful lady. She’s a nice one, but she’s like you or I – she makes mistakes, she acts selfish and, especially when finding out about this disease of hers, starts to take advantage of the situation to get whatever it is that she wants, from whomever she wants.

This may give the impression that Alice is a terrible woman who nobody would ever want to see a whole movie dedicated to, let alone one including her struggle with getting past a life-changing disease such as Alzheimer’s, but the movie doesn’t try to push that off on us. She’s a normal, everyday woman that you’d meet on the street, but the sad reality of her life is that she has this disease and it’s making her life, as well as those around her, a living hell.

So yeah, it’s pretty sad material that we’re working with here, but Westmoreland and Glatzer don’t ever seem to let this go too far to where it’s downright depressing and preachy. They both show the problems one faces with Alzheimer’s, how they can try to overcome it, and/or what others can do to help that person who is currently struggling. They take their sweet time with this character and her disease, and it never seems “Hollywood-ized”, nor does it ever seem like it’s pandering to anyone, at any time.

Especially not when Westmoreland and Glatzer begin to discuss the darker layers of this story and what the disease can do to those afflicted with it. For instance, there’s a surprising amount of detail that goes into Alice’s plans for her suicide, when she’s going to do it, how she’s going to do it, and just whether or not she’ll even remember. Had this been shown strictly on television first, I can assure you, we probably wouldn’t have seen this aspect developed, or better yet, even brought up in the first place. But considering that this is a feature film, Westmoreland and Glatzer are given a hell of a lot more free reign to dig deep into the problems one person may definitely have if they’re ever diagnosed with this same problem.

It’s not only eye-opening to a dense idiot such as myself, but also helps us appreciate Alice, the character here, a whole lot more.

Because, see, like I said before about Alice and the way she’s written in this movie, she’s not perfect, but she’s real and that’s what matters the most. Some of this has to do with the way Alice is developed, but most of it is because of Julianne Moore and the way she searches long and hard to get to the center of this woman, and how it’s hard to ever take your eyes off of her. However, don’t be fooled by the marketing of this movie, this isn’t a very showy performance from Moore; it’s just a near-perfect showing of what she does best, when given the right material to do so with: Act her rump off.

A couple of weeks ago, in my Maps to the Stars review, I discussed how Moore, to me at least, felt like the type of actress who is usually solid in anything she does, but she’s hardly surprising. She’s always good, but when was the last time you walked away from a movie going, “Wow. That Julianne Moore performance really took me out of my seat”? I can’t think of the last time either, so don’t feel ashamed, my little friend, but I will say that her performance in Still Alice may just be so, which is hugely surprising considering there’s hardly ever a moment here that makes it seem like she wants to grab a hold of the audience’s throats and remind everybody that she’s an actress dammit, and a great one at that. Instead, Moore down-plays just about everything that happens to Alice here and because her condition is one that works its way, slowly but surely, it’s extremely effective and reminds you of good acting, when it isn’t trying to tell you so.

Now, of course there’s been a lot of buzz going on surrounding Moore’s work here and how it might finally, after all of these years, gain her an Oscar, but all that aside, it’s still a very good performance. Moore’s ability to be subtle and show us the pain deep down inside of Alice, each and every time she gets confused about something she doesn’t know, is heart-breaking. She makes us understand that this condition is downright terrifying for the person who has it, and that they can literally forget where the bathroom is in their own home that they’ve had for over two decades. It’s incredibly sad to watch, but Moore gives a raw feel that’s not entirely begging for our attention, but more or less, daring you to take your eyes away from her, no matter what scene she’s in.

"Okay, mom. I swear I'll stop doing YA adaptations."

“Okay, mom. I swear I’ll stop doing YA adaptations.”

And though this is obviously Moore’s show from beginning to end, the rest of the cast is pretty good, too, even if some don’t get as much to do as others. Alec Baldwin, believe it or not, actually gets the chance to play a loving, adoring, and dedicated husband who, sadly, has been thrown into a situation he himself does not know if he can handle. In fact, I’d say one of the more interesting insights this movie delves into is how the person with the disease isn’t just the only one who’s hurt, but much rather, those who love and support that person as well. Sometimes, even worse because the others are at least conscious of what’s going on and realizing that they’re losing someone that they love; whereas, in some cases, the person with the disease understands what is happening to them, at least accepts it, moves on, and appreciates all that they have left on this planet.

With Alice’s family, it’s interesting to see who is actually able to handle this transformation in her life, and who exactly isn’t. A perfect example of this are the two sisters, played by Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart (who is pretty great in this movie and makes me want to see more of her, of course, but on a smaller-scale); the former’s character is a neat, classy and professional lawyer who is, for the most part, the up-tight one of the two, whereas the later’s character is more of the family wild child who does what she wants, when she wants to, regardless of how much influence her parents try to throw into her future. Oh, and even worse, she’s living in L.A. as a part-time actor. If that doesn’t get parents’ blood boiling, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, you’d think that because Bosworth’s character has already has such success with her life as is, that she’d be the one to step right up, know what to do with her mother, and exactly how to handle it in an efficient way. However, that’s the exact opposite of what happens here, as it’s more of Stewart’s somewhat-reckless character that takes the reigns as her mother’s most dedicated and understanding caretaker, all the more proving that it doesn’t matter who you think a person may, or may not be from the way they generally are, see how they are when they react in a moment of crisis and then you’ll know exactly who they are.

Then again though, that’s how it usually is with family. You never know what you’re going to get, but you can always depend on love being there.

Consensus: Without overdoing the melodrama, Still Alice (which is a terrible title, I must say) is an effective, thought-provoking piece about early onset Alzheimer’s disease that not only gives us one of Julianne Moore’s best performances, but also proves to be an insightful look into how family-dynamics change, especially once one member seems to have lost it all. Literally speaking, in this case.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Have been in your situation many times, honey. Don't feel bad.

Have been in your situation many times, honey. Don’t feel too bad.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Wild (2014)

I just walked from my living-room to the kitchen, so why am I still addicted to heroin?

One day, 30-ish-year-old Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decides to do a 1,000 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, all by her lonesome-self. Why is this? Well, after years of drug abuse, random sex with strangers, the loss of her mother (Laura Dern), a few pregnancy scares, and her recent divorce, Cheryl has about had it up to here with life and finally realizes that in order for her to finally change it all, she has to get away from it all and focus her attention on another part of her life: Survival. This means, for Cheryl, she has to eat a lot of cold oatmeal, stay hydrated, stay warm, not die, and sure as hell not get raped by any of the huge creep-o’s that may, or may not be out there in the wilderness, just waiting for a little thing like her to come around into their little wooden-hut. Mostly though, Cheryl just wants to change her life and along her journey, she meets people that are sometimes in the same situation as her, or are just simply hiking for the hell of it.

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going....

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going….

You know, like we all do.

On the outside looking into a movie like Wild, I cannot help myself one bit to not just scoff at a piece that includes someone played by Reese Witherspoon hiking on an Eat Pray Love-style journey of self-discovery, all because she shot up heroin, had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s, and got a divorce, because she had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s. To me, not only does it sound like not “my type of thing”, but it seems like pure Oscar-bait for Witherspoon to show her “range”, and also to see her as a bad-ass kind of gal. Call me harsh, call me what you will, but I know when a movie intrigues me and this was not one of them.

But, from the inside of this movie looking out, I can easily say that not only did it turn out to be “my type of thing”, but Witherspoon more than proved herself capable of being hot, sassy little mama who screws, shoots up, and divorces, whatever she wants, when she wants, and how she chooses to do so.

I never thought I’d ever be typing that in my life, but such is the case when you have a little surprise like this on your hands.

And most of that is due to director Jean-Marc Vallée’s handling of this material and not just letting it tell itself; Vallée gets us inside the mind of this Cheryl Strayed character, shows us what she’s thinking, when she’s thinking, why, and how it affects her current journey in life. Though it gets a bit over-the-top with all of the constant smarmy-narration from Strayed, Vallée still does a nice enough job of putting us slap dab in the middle of this woman’s life and the journey she’s embarking on, and making us actually care for her. Sure, he may utilize more flashbacks than two whole episodes of Lost, but they’re flashbacks that work and allow us to grow closer to this character, the more and more that we know about her.

And trust me, that’s not an easy feet, especially when you have Reese Witherspoon playing the main character, but there’s something about her here that really shocked me and actually puts her whole career into perspective, as a matter of fact. See, it’s not that I dislike Witherspoon as an actress – I think she’s immensely talented and, in the past, has proven to be quite versatile in what she’s chosen, and for how much cash. But lately, it seems that the Reese we all once knew and loved as Elle Woods (or as Tracy Flick, for all you cool 90’s kids out there), has gone the way of the Dodo and would much rather take a huge pay-cut to star in movies where dashing, handsome-as-hell men fight to the death for her and leave her going, “Oh, golly!”

Well, my friends, you no longer have to be scared because it seems like the Reese Witherspoon we all loved is back and this time, she’s rawer than ever! Meaning, that yes, Witherspoon does get quite naked in here and shows us elements to her abilities as an actress that none of us have ever seen before, and it all works. She’s compelling, smart and gives much insight into the type of damaged woman you can still like and care for, even if she’s made some pretty dumb mistakes in the past, and especially to people who don’t at all deserve it. The role could have easily been another large check for Witherspoon, but she puts so much effort into it that it actually pays off and has me so excited to see what she has next. Because, quite frankly, with all of the hits on her hands, by now, she can do whatever she damn well pleases with her career.

....and going......

….and going……

Quite like Cheryl Strayed.

Anyway, all that aside, Wild isn’t perfect. There are moments where it seems to fall back on “are they, or aren’t they rapists” aspect of its story and while it may bring tension to the story, it feels constantly thrown in there, if only to just keep peoples eyes open and watching the screen. But that isn’t to say Cheryl Strayed’s adventure isn’t, as is, already intriguing, or even, ever so slightly, inspirational, because, yes, it is. Though Vallée doesn’t hit us over-the-head too many times with making us feel like we should love this person more and more as she goes on with our journey, it’s still easy to do so. Not because she’s been through a whole hell of a lot to begin with, but because she actually wants to make amends for it all.

The real reason as to why she actually gets up one day and decides to say, “Aw, fuck it! Time for a 1,000 mile hike”, is a question that the movie brings up, never explicitly answers, and leaves hanging like a sad flower that’s been without water for too long. But it doesn’t need to. With giving us many insights into Strayed’s past-life, we get the impression that she needs this more than anything. However, rather than being a total baby and seeming like she’s running away from her problems, it seems more like she’s walking towards a new life, that will probably have its fair share of problems. However, she’s constantly learning and understanding that life will always get better. Sometimes though, you just have to take advantage of it, get up, and see what’s out there in this huge canvas we call “Earth”.

Okay, now I’m definitely getting sappy here. Damn you, Reese!

Consensus: With a compelling lead performance from a very dedicated Reese Witherspoon, Wild gets past any of the problems it may have with its narrative and reminds its audience about the small pleasures in life, even if they don’t always come right away.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...and, yup, you guessed it, still going......

…and, yup, you guessed it, still going……

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Exactly why you never mess with guys named Moses. Especially when you’re near the beach.

If you don’t know the story of Moses by now, you probably should. But anyway, here’s what this movie’s all about. In 1300 B.C, Moses (Christian Bale) is a general and a member of the Royal family, which makes him a brother to  Prince Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). However, he is not blood-related, so therefore, when Seti I (John Turturro) passes away, it’s Ramesses who is next to claim the throne. While this doesn’t upset Moses, he knows that this won’t be good because Ramesses doesn’t take responsibility well and lets his emotions get the best of him. Ramesses knows that Moses thinks this and therefore, he banishes from the land and forces him to survive on his own. While in exile though, Moses finds out that not only does God want him to continue out his plan, but that he needs Moses to take control of whatever the hell crazy stuff Ramesses is doing to his land. Obviously Ramesses isn’t going to fall for all of this mumbo jumbo, which makes God very angry and nature so drastically turns on humanity.

And the rest is, I guess, history.

"Guy-liner is cool!"

“Guy-liner is cool!”

A lot of has been said about Exodus: Gods and Kings, and most of it isn’t about whether or not it’s actually good and worth your time at all. Most of it is, and reasonably so, is about the casting of the white actors in roles that were made especially for Hebrews and Egyptians. It was a small bit of controversy that held some ground, but it was made all the worse by the fact that Ridley Scott couldn’t quite shut his trap and therefore, seemed to have kick-started a huge list of people boycotting his film.

Is it reasonable? Yeah, I guess so. But that isn’t really the point of this movie, or even this review. The point of this movie is to inform and possibly entertain the audience about the story of Moses. However, the point of this review is to tell you that while it does the former, the later is hardly anywhere to be found.

Most of this has to do with the fact that Scott doesn’t really do much of anything entertaining, interesting, or even enlightening about this story. It’s all as plain as day. It may all look incredibly pretty, but honestly, there’s only so much one viewer can do with really pretty visuals. Eventually, you need an interesting story, to be told in an incredibly compelling way. If you can’t do this, then there’s something wrong with your film, all problems with casting aside.

And no, I’m not making the argument that Scott’s movie somewhat fails because we all know the story of Moses, it’s mostly because he doesn’t know where to go with it. He shows us that, yes, Moses was a person who spoke to God, set out to do what he was called on to do, and when it didn’t, all hell (literally) broke loose. This aspect of the film is, at least, exciting, fun, and interesting, something you don’t get from the rest of the movie. It shows us that not only does Scott still appreciate a nice monologue when he wants to use one, but that his exquisite eye to detail still pays off.

That said, I’m talking about what’s maybe 15 or so minutes in a movie that runs on almost two-and-a-half hours. Which wouldn’t have been a huge cause for concern, had the rest of the movie been at least somewhat worthy of watching, but it’s so slow and meandering, you’ll wonder if Scott fell asleep while making it, or was already in the midst of planning and filming his next picture, that he totally forgot about what was already on his plate. Either way, it’s a bit of a snoozer of a film and it’s made worse by the fact that some signs of Scott’s genius shows, teasing us more and more about what this film could have been, had it not decided to get bogged down in whatever it was blabbering on and on about.

And the same could also be said for the cast who, despite all being pretty big, respectable names, don’t really offer much to a movie that desperately needed something to liven it up.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Though Christian Bale is one of the best actors we have working today, it seems that whenever he is in a major blockbuster picture, he never quite gets the chance to show everyone those skills he’s known to have. Here, as Moses, he gives a pretty wooden performance that, at times, can seem inspired, but for the most part, just makes it seem like he’s reading from a Gideon Bible and doesn’t really care whether or not he’s putting any effort into anything. It’s not a terrible performance, but definitely one of Bale’s high-points, I have to say.

Same could be said for the rest of the cast. The likes of John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and María Valverde all show up here, but hardly any of them leave a lasting impression on us. They’re just here to service a script that doesn’t know what it wants to say or do about itself, nor does it really know how to treats its characters, so it just has them talk a lot about seemingly nothing and see if they can draw up any sort of emotion whatsoever.

It seems like that was the same guideline given to Joel Egerton, although he’s a lot better off with his role as Ramesses because he’s call on one thing and performs it well: Be campy. Egerton seems like he’s not only having a fun time with this role, but is at least more interested in diving deep into who this person may have been and why he was inspired to make the actions that he did. Though most of this gets lost in a muddled film that could really care less about any sense of humanity there may be in these characters, the effort is still noticeable and it’s worth commending Egerton for. Even if, you know, the character was written as a guy who yells a lot, forces people to die, and eats a lot grapes.

Consensus: Everybody in Exodus: Gods and Kings seems to be trying, except for Ridley Scott himself and it proves to be a major problem for a two-and-a-half-hour epic that moves slow, doesn’t say anything interesting, and hardly ever seems to know what it wants to do with itself, other than just try and inform people about the story of Moses that they may already have known since kindergarten.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Gotta give it to those Egyptians - they sure did have style.

Gotta give it to those Egyptians – they sure did have style.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Zero Theorem (2014)

We live in a world full of nothing. Now, go get some pizza!

Q (Christoph Waltz) is a programmer in the near-future, where everybody dresses like drag queens from the 80’s, interact to one another through computer-screens, and mostly don’t understand the world around them. Not Q, though, as he makes it abundantly clear on a few occasions that he does in fact believe that our lives, this world we live in, and the universe as a whole, leads up to nothing. Regardless of if he’s correct or not, he knows he has to prove this with a computer-program, but he finds himself getting more and more sidetracked as he continues to get closer to completing his assignment. For one, he meets a lovely, incredibly smokin’ hot girl by the name of Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), who he starts to fall in love with, even though he knows she’s a stripper and gets paid for a living to sweep guys like him off their feet. Also, to make matters a bit worse, he’s forced to work with Bob (Lucas Hodges), a young whippersnapper who has a lot to say and is trying to help Q out with solving this problem, but eventually finds himself trying to solve most of Q’s problems in real life. Which, at this current place in time, just so happens to be his affections for Bainsley.

"But I thought this was just a check-up?"

“But I thought this was just a check-up?”

Though I’m not a huge fan of Terry Gilliam and most of the work he puts out, I have to give him credit for at least trying to give his audience something more, something creative, and most of all, something ambitious that most movie-going audiences wouldn’t normally have the chance to see. Some say that about Christopher Nolan (I’m one of them), but it’s obvious that they’re both two different film-makers; they may seem to be working for the same movie-going audience, but when it comes to see who actually sees their movies and why, it’s a bit different. Nolan’s crowd is the accessible, more mainstream crowd, whereas Gilliam’s audience is a tad more limited, meaning that it’s definitely the stranger type of crowd who swarm to see his movies.

However, that’s neither here nor there. The only problem I seem to have with Gilliam’s movies is that, most of the time, his ambitions seem to lose themselves and go over our heads. Much rather than seeming smart or interesting, they just seem random and relatively insane. And though one could make the argument that maybe this is exactly what Gilliam is going for, a part of me knows this not to be true and instead, knows that Gilliam’s going for something with his movies – they just don’t always work.

That said, a movie like the Zero Theorem is one that I’m able to give a pass. Because while it’s goofy, over-the-top, campy, and seemingly crazy, it never lost my interest and seemed to beg questions that deserved to begged about in the first place.

For instance, is this world we live in now (or the near-future), more comfortable with interacting with a computer-screen, disguised as another human being, much rather than actually going out there and communicating with others, face to face? This is an honest question that deserves to be brought up and while it may be nothing new, Gilliam still brings it up in a way that’s relevant, but seems pertinent to the story. The fact that Q is a computer-programmer of some sorts (his job title is never fully made clear to us), makes it easier to understand why he’d not only be so infatuated with someone through the wonderful, lovely world that is the internet, but actually go so far as to get distracted about the beautiful, pleasureful things it can bring to one’s life.

And though this may all seem preachy, Gilliam keeps it away from being as such and it’s a smart move on his part. It’s not the only one, but it’s the one I found most noticeable.

Another person worth mentioning here is Christoph Waltz as Q who, in one of his first roles that isn’t in a Quentin Tarantino movie, actually impressed me with what he was able to bring to the script and his character as a whole. While it’s easy to fall for Waltz in most movies where he’s constantly speaking, and using that silver-tongue of his, here, Waltz is simply made to react to everything and everyone around him. This not only brings a lot of comedy to the film, but makes us sympathize a bit more with this character who, in any other movie, could have been made out to be some sort of sad sack, miserable a-hole that nobody would want to be around. But because he’s in this world wherein he knows that everything means nothing, you sort of feel bad for the dude and want him to cheer up, smile a bit, and possibly forget all about the meaning of life. Just living it is enough, honestly.

I'll let her check my heartbeat any time.

I’ll let her give me some medicine for that cough of mine any time.

And because it’s easy to feel for Q, it’s also easier to feel for the other characters in this movie, as strange as they sometimes may be. As Bainsley, the webcam hooker/stripper, Mélanie Thierry not only fits the role of being incredibly gorgeous, but also is quite charming, which makes it easy to understand why she’d fall for such a nut-job like Q. Same goes for the characters played by Lucas Hodges and David Thewils; though they don’t necessarily “fall” for Q in the same way that Bainsley does (that would have been a whole different movie entirely), they still feel for the guy and be present in his company. Some of it’s because they like to laugh at his expense, but some of it is also because they want to help the guy and make the world seem a bit brighter and better for him, even if they know that the task is almost impossible to complete. But nonetheless, they’re mostly all sympathetic characters.

Most of this is, yes, because the cast is very good at helping us understand who these characters are a bit more, but also because Gilliam gives them enough detail here and there, that not only shows us that he cares for them, but wants them to be happy in the end as well. Being the storyteller he is, he knows that he has to stick to how he wants his story to end first and foremost, but at the end of it all, he remains hopeful and cheerful that they’ll get the life they oh so desire. Even if, like Q, he still can’t help but scoff at what it all means.

If anything at all.

Consensus: Weird and over-the-top, the Zero Theorem finds Terry Gilliam in his comfort-zone, but still allows himself to breathe a bit more with detailed characters, ideas about the way our society is headed, and why, if at all, any of it matters.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Not Halloween, mind you. Just a normal Friday in the world of Gilliam-land.

Not Halloween, mind you. Just a normal Friday in the world of Gilliam-land.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Good thing I don’t have a twin. Too much trouble as is with one me.

Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) haven’t spoken to one another in ten years, yet, they both attempt suicide on what seems to be the same day, within a few hours or so from one another. Though, Milo is the one who seems to be at least the most successful with his attempt and lands himself in a hospital, where Maggie comes to see him and urge him to come back to her small place in New York, with her husband (Luke Wilson) and, hopefully-soon-to-be, children. While there though, Milo begins to realize that Maggie and her hubby aren’t having the best of marriage and he believes that most of this might stem from the problems they suffered as kids, with their hapless mother and deceased father. Either way though, they count on one another to get each other through the thick and thin, even if one likes to think they have a better life than the other, as untrue as that may actually be.

My same reaction to whenever anybody catches me in drag.

My same reaction to whenever anybody catches me in drag.

There’s something rather nerve-wracking about watching a movie in which, the people involved are most known for their comedic-sensibilities, and spend a good majority of the movie doing the exact opposite of that. That’s the feeling one can get with the Skeleton Twins, because although we know Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as two of the latest members of the SNL cast to leave onto bigger and (hopefully), better things, most of the screen-time here is dedicated to them being downright serious. Sure, they goof around at times, and make jokes at others, but for the most part, what Hader and Wiig do here is keep it dramatic, sad, and most of all, serious. Not all of the time, of course, but a good part of it.

However, while I may make this sound like a problem, that couldn’t be further and further away from the truth.

With the Skeleton Twins, and through Hader’s and Wiig’s performances, we get an inside glimpse into the lives of two very sad people who are, for lack of a better term, fed-up with the lives they have. One is upset about a recent love of his breaking his heart, whereas the other is tired of living a life that she doesn’t even know she can continue on with any longer, and while this could all be labeled down to “white people problems”, co-writer/director Craig Johnson does a very fine job at keeping clichés to a minimum of maybe five or so. But even when he does seem to be travelling down the used far too often road of “Cliché Land”, Johnson finds a way to spin it on its head and not just surprise us, but himself as well.

Take, for instance, the scene in which Hader lip-synchs “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” to Wiig; a scene which, in most movies, is so corny and tired, it had me wondering whether or Johnson himself even realized this, but was going to stick with the scene anyway. Well, thankfully, he does because it gets better and better as it goes on, and pretty damn funny, too. So much so that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear that lovely track by Starship ever the same again.

No joke, either.

But that’s why there’s something so charming and surprising about what Johnson does here – though he sets every scene up the way you’d expect him to (there’s even a scene in which Maggie and Milo get stoned and speak their true feelings), he changes it up at the last second and takes a surprising left turn. Though his swerves in the road don’t always work, for the most part, they’re effective enough to where they at least deserve credit for trying, rather than falling flat on their faces and having Johnson look silly. But you can’t even hate on a director for being ambitious, if even in the slightest, teeniest ways.

Same could be said for both Hader and Wiig who, like I mentioned before, aren’t really being all that funny in this movie. Okay, that’s kind of a lie because yes, in this movie, Wiig and Hader are very funny, but not all of the time. Then again though, they aren’t trying so hard to make you realize that they’re actually acting, and more or less, just become their characters. Maybe this is less of a challenge for Wiig because, ever since she left SNL, we’ve seen her wade through heavily dramatic characters, one after another, and there’s always something surprising about how well she’s able to pull it off.

But I guess the one who gets called into question the most about his actual abilities as an actor is Bill Hader who, much like Wiig, has done some dramatic-fare in the past, but never as deep or as dark as he plunges into here. As Milo, an openly-gay character, Hader doesn’t over-do it with the gay eccentrics, like as if it were done for jokes, but more so, as we’re supposed to see the type of person he is and feel bad for him as a result. Hader excels in this role and it has me excited to see what he could possibly due next, not just because he seems to have finally get that role which will have him be taken more seriously as an actor, but because he doesn’t have to worry about being around and free on Lorne Michaels’ schedule and can do what he wants, whenever he wants.

Look at that face! How could you hate it?!?

Look at that face! How could you hate it?!?

Same goes for Wiig, but having seen her in many others movie, I’ve known this for quite some time. The real beauty here though, is that her and Hader are so believable as a brother-sister combo that it actually feels like how they were written – they were close for so very long, only to then fall out of touch with one another. But, what the real beauty behind their relationship is that, whenever they get the chances to do so, the inherent spark that’s usually there in any family, still shows and it allows these two to play-off of each other so perfectly. And I don’t mean in that they get to be funny, but more so in the way that they’re able to reveal small, tender insights into the people they are, solely by their interaction.

It’s the kind of performances most movies would kill for, and it’s made all the better by the fact that these aren’t the types of roles we expect these two stars to have.

Away from those two though, it was also lovely to see Luke Wilson in here; not just because he’s good, but because he’s actually working again and showing off that likability of his that hardly ever goes away, no matter what he’s in. Most of this has to do with the character and the way he’s written – Lance is a guy who is quite eager about the life he’s lived and the life that may be in front of him and though that sometimes may be off-putting to those around him in the movie, the movie never plays it up for laughs, or seems to be making fun of him for the way he is. He’s just an all around, simply put, nice guy who, sadly, seemed to marry the wrong woman. May have been for the right reasons, but there’s still a bit of sadness that we know it may end well between Lance and Maggie, but the chance that it may not, is incredibly sad.

Although, at the end of the day, all he has to do is laugh it off, smile, and get on with his day. Much like everybody else on this planet.

Consensus: Anchored by two wonderful performances from Hader, Wiig and Wilson, the Skeleton Twins gets by because it presents conventions, but hardly ever falls for them, no matter how tempting they may be.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The separation I have with everyone around me at family reunions.

The separation I have with everyone around me at family reunions.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbizGoggle Images

We Are the Best! (2014)

Punk musicians who can’t play their instruments? Join the club!

In 1980’s Stockholm, 13-year-old’s Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are tired of being pissed off, and pissed on by the world around them. That’s when they decide it’s time to start a band, although neither one knows how to play an actual instrument. Still, they are angry enough to just whack whatever instruments they’re given, write naughty lyrics about hating gym class, and yell as loud as they want. But eventually, the two realize that maybe it’s time to add another member to their duo and make it a threesome. In walks Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a very-Christian gal that plays acoustic guitar and is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Bobo and Klara. However, the three all eventually get along well once they realize that they hate the same things and want to find an outlet to voice their hatred for all things in life. That said, they still have their issues, and find ways to not only clash with those around them, but even each other and it might break up the band for good.

"1, 2, 3, 4!"

“1-2-3-4!”

Being a kid, for the most part, can kind of suck. Sure, there’s the lovely joys one can go through when growing up where you can practically do anything you want, no consequences whatsoever, but there’s also the feeling that you are hardly getting as much respect or consideration as you should. Because, when you’re young, say around 12-14-years-old, all you want to do is be respected as an adult, be taken seriously, and speak your mind freely, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s not just disappointing, but quite infuriating as well.

That happened to me, sort of, but this post isn’t all about me. Rather, it’s about these three young girls in We Are the Best! – Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig. All of whom, not only seem like they’re actually the age they’re playing (which may not sound like much, but trust me, totally is), but seem like real life, actual young girls you’d see on the street. But not just any ordinary young girls, but more or less, young girls that aren’t afraid to speak out and show the world that they’re tired, pissed off and definitely not going to take it anymore.

This aspect to these characters, not only made them more than just another bunch of girls coming into their own-selves as women, but as human beings as a whole. And to me, that was the most interesting aspect surrounding this movie.

For instance, Klara is exactly the kind of girl I knew growing up and still run into from now and again; she’s young, blissful, chock full of energy and is always around to tell you that she doesn’t like what you’re doing and doesn’t care what you think about her. She’s just being who she is, get used to it and sod off. But what’s so interesting about Klara, the character, isn’t that she’s a teeny, tiny little rebel of a gal, but that she doesn’t always seem to be like this and, instead, is like you or I, even though she definitely wouldn’t want to admit that. She wants to be loved, feels love, and most of all, can get very sad when her feelings are hurt.

Though this may seem like nothing special, when you take into perspective the kind of person she is (a rebel without much of a cause and without an even lesser of a care about anything), this makes you see her for who she really is: A little girl just starting to make sense of the world. The difference with Klara is that she’s willing to tell the world to fuck off, if need be. Not only does this make her the most interesting character, but definitely the highlight of a film which has many.

This isn’t to exclude the other two gals though, because Bobo and Hedvig are both very well-written, three-dimensional girls that go through some transformations over time and make it seem all so realistic. And a movie like this, had it taken the wrong step or false note, it probably would have destroyed the whole picture. However, somehow, writer/director Lukas Moodysson finds neat, interesting ways to make these characters feel even rawer than before and even make the situations that they run into, not just revelatory to anybody who has ever been a kid before and gone through the growing up angst portrayed here, but for anybody who has ever imagined themselves as staying the same person forever and forever.

Fact is, you won’t. So, get up, shut up, stop crying, and move on with your lives.

Uh oh. Whenever the boys come around, trouble's lingering right behind.

Uh oh. Whenever the boys come around, trouble’s lingering right behind.

Better yet, go out there and make something of yourself. Even if you think you may not work out or if others don’t like what you’re doing, then screw them! As long as you’re happy with yourself, and the people who support you, then that’s all that matters. Anything else is just poppycock and shouldn’t be thought about even more.

And yes, I realize that I’m getting a whole lot further and further away from this movie, but I can’t help myself. Little movies like this, that feel and act so real, are the kinds that make me so happy. Not because it seems like somebody finally understands what it was like to be a kid, but what it was like to be a kid, while you’re in the process of officially growing up. However, what Moodysson does so well here is that he doesn’t try to sugarcoat all of these little girls’ everyday adventures in some sort of cheesy, yet very manipulative nostalgia; he just presents these kids as being kids, and as a result, makes us feel like kids all over again. It isn’t that we’re being told, “Hey remember when we did that thing when we were kids?”, it’s more like, “Hey, being a kid kind of rocks. So come along with me and lets get into some mischief.”

I can assure you that I didn’t actually like this as a kid. I was too busy getting my head thrown into lockers. Damn bullies.

I’ll show them one day.

Consensus: Smart, heartfelt, and most of all, realistic in the way it presents childhood, We Are the Best! is less about the actual idea of punk music, and more of about branching out and doing something, to not only prove to others that you can do it, but to prove it to yourself as well.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Fuck the free world!! Or, you know. Something like that.

Fuck the free world!! Or, you know. Something like that.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

In Fear (2014)

Pretty sure I’ve recommended this before, but that’s why you always stay at a Motel 6. They keep the lights on for ya.

Tom (Iain De Caestecker) decides that he wants to impress his new girlfriend, Lucy (Alice Englert). So, in order to do this, he books them a hotel for the night, before they go off to some hip, cool folk festival the next day. Problem is, on the way to the hotel, they run into quite a few problems. For one, Tom gets into a bit of a scuffle with some lads at the local pub and doesn’t really know if they’re following him or not. And secondly, he can’t find out where the hell he’s going to get to this damn hotel he made reservations for. Because even though the signs say to go one way, the roads are telling him another way. Eventually, day becomes night and both Lucy and Tom begin to get more freaked out than ever before and wonder if they’re ever going to leave this damn path and find the hotel. And then they come to the scary realization, they might have been followed and even worse, are being toyed with at the expense of some sick, twisted individual.

So while In Fear totally reads out like the most ordinary, by-the-numbers piece of horror, here’s a real shocker for you – it actually isn’t. In fact, I’d say it comes pretty close to being one of the best horror movies I’ve seen this year and I’m not totally sure if it’s even supposed to be placed into that genre.

Slowly coming to the realization that he is not getting laid tonight.

Slowly coming to the realization that he is not getting laid tonight.

Okay, that’s a lie, because it totally is. There’s something inherently chilly and spooky about this movie that will definitely give you the creeps, regardless of if you watch it on Halloween night, or on Christmas Day. Basically, it’s a horror movie, through-and-through, but there’s something else about it that constantly keeps on hitting me in the head and has me thinking differently of where to classify this movie; while the movie may be created for shocks, jumps, and scares, the premise itself is almost way too real.

What I mean by this is that In Fear seems like the type of movie that could literally happen to anyone of us out there. You, or I, or somebody one of us knows, could decide to rent a hotel room for a night in a place that they aren’t already too knowledgeable about in the first place, get lost, get played with by some messed-up person, and even possibly, murdered under mysterious circumstances. And no, I am not giving away the plot to this movie too much and spoiling it for you folks out there, but more or less, speaking in hypothetical terms, as a movie like this begs us to ask this question to ourselves while watching it.

Could this actually happen in real life? Well, yes. Is it highly likely? Possibly. I don’t know. I haven’t heard of too many cases about it, but then again, I’m not looking for any of them either.

Anyway, I’m getting further and further away from the movie and more towards my own, nonsensical philosophical questions about life, and art imitating it. So, I’ll shut up for now, but do realize that one of the main reasons why this movie works so well, is because it seems almost too real to be considered an exciting piece of horror.

But like I was saying before, this is a pretty tense movie that, for the longest time, literally feels like it could go anywhere. This wasn’t just total happiness for a fella like me that expects this anytime I go out to see whatever piece of predictable, conventional garbage the horror genre decides to throw at me next, but total happiness for the inner-film maker in me that made me realize something this simple and easy, could actually be a hell of a time to watch, regardless of budget or names attached to your project. So long so as you have a compelling story idea, along with a group of many others, and decide to go with it in any way you decide to do so, then that’s all you need in order to make for a good film.

Always put your seat-belt on, kids. Or else.

Always put your seat-belt on, kids. Or else.

Well, that, and at least a few developed-characters that are worth our time and effort to get invested in. And here, with Tom and Lucy, we have just that. Though we hardly get to know anything about them other than they are two young people, who like one another and are planning on having something of a romantic getaway together, it’s all we really need. It’s so simple and carefree that we don’t really need much else to identify with them and the peril they eventually are going to go through, but also, it’s so compact in its details that it doesn’t ask us to think anymore about them than we already need to. Sure, they’re young kids, who may not always use their heads when making certain decisions, but there’s something ever so endearing about that that not only made me want to jump into the movie and help them get to some sort of a hotel, but do so as one couple, together, who eventually live happily ever after.

That’s what I wanted the most, and even though the movie presents me with the idea that this may not even happen, there was still that small sense of hope in the pit of my stomach.

And for a movie like this, that matters the most. Whether you want it to or not.

So yeah. That’s about all I can say about this movie without spoiling it for the rest of yous. Just go ahead, check it out, and see what the heck happens next. Because I can totally assure you – you will be hooked and you’ll never want to book a reservation at another shady motel ever again. Unless you didn’t already have this rule beforehand. Then, in that case, good job. You smart specimen, you.

Consensus: Though it may be simple in its frame, In Fear is still compelling enough to not just be a thrilling piece of horror, but also a thought-provoking piece about what you would do if ever caught in the same situation because, well, you never know what could happen next. Just saying.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Next time, don't trust the signs.

Next time, don’t trust the signs.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Stretch (2014)

Just drive. And do other crazy stuff, too.

Stretch (Patrick Wilson) is a limo driver who is a bit down-on-his-luck. Not only did his incredibly smokin’ hot girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker) just recently break up with him, but his $6,000 debt is starting to catch up with him and now the dangerous people he owes money to, want it back and by 12 tonight. Though Stretch knows this is an impossible feat with his salary and his self-esteem issues, he gets a chance to possibly change that when he picks up known millionaire Karos (Chris Pine) who is a bit crazy in his own ways, but always gives his driver’s a hefty tip. The only problem is that his drivers have to do some very daring, challenging tasks for him; one of which Stretch gets called onto do. The mission: Get a briefcase from a French gangster (James Badge Dale), bring it back to him by a certain time, and get all the money he wants. But while the night starts off simple and pain-free, it’s everything but and Stretch soon realizes that in order to get what he wants, he’s going to have to play a little dirty.

If you’ve never heard of this film, despite the cast and crew involved with it, don’t worry, because you’re not alone. Apparently, the powers that be at Universal felt as if this movie was a little too much for a major-audience to go out and see, so rather than allowing for it to play in theaters across the country like it was originally supposed to, it gets the shaft. Well, maybe not a total shaft, but for a movie with this much known-names, it’s a pretty big surprise to see it not only get a straight-to-VOD release, but get thrown onto Netflix Instant less than a month later. Usually for any movie, regardless of who is involved, this proves to be troubling and can only mean one thing – it’s got to be bad.

James T. who?

James T. who?

Well, in the case of Stretch, we finally have one rule to the exception and thank heavens for that.

For one, writer/director Joe Carnahan is the type of guy who, you either love, or you hate his movies. Most of them aren’t smart, well-written pieces of film that inspire countless thought-pieces, or even provoking conversations at the local diner, but are just fun, entertaining, and sometimes, incredibly crazy features. Though the Grey was a different side to Carnahan than we we’re used to seeing, it still packed a hard punch that made it feel like a Carnahan film, just without all of the wild jokes on the side.

Here though, with Stretch, Carnahan seems to be back in full-on form and it’s one of the main reasons why it works so well. It’s clear early on that Carnahan is making this film as if it were another one of those, “one, wild night” movies from the 80’s and it plays off early as that. Almost like a tribute you could say, with the cheesy synth-score, the use of hot-as-heck L.A., and David Hasselhoff, but eventually, it stops becoming a tribute that’s desperately pleading to be loved by its inspirations, and actually becomes one of them.

This is where Carnahan’s creativity really shows, because while movies like Smokin’ Aces or the A-Team may not be all that perfect, they still both do great jobs at entertaining the hell out of its audience when Carnahan throws all of his cards on the table and just allows for everything to run wild. He does that many of times here, but not just in terms of the action; the story literally goes certain places that you don’t expect it to. And while this would normally be a problem for some movies that seem like they’re just making it up on-the-fly, Carnahan hardly ever runs into that problem because he keeps his story moving and most of all, exciting. Even if the first 30 minutes or so of this movie are a bit slow, they’re still effective because they are used to just build characters, their situations, and why they might be worth keeping an eye on once the actual story gets going on.

That, and well, because the later-half of the movie is so damn fun.

Which is, yes, definitely thanks to Carnahan for just stepping back and watching as his roller-coaster gets moving, but it’s also for the cast, and how each and everyone here, no matter how large or small their roles may be, give it their all and add another twisted-layer onto this already strange flick. Patrick Wilson has always been a favorite of mine and here, as our titled-character for the next hour-and-a-half, he finally gets a chance to just have a heck of a time with the material he’s working with. Usually, whenever I see Wilson in something, the dude’s given a role that asks on him for mainly one thing and one thing only: Be charming. And it’s definitely not hard for a handsome fella like him, but we hardly ever get to see him really slum himself up to where we care less about his looks and more about what he’s actually putting into his role.

Jessica Alba in a role that didn't make me want to turn off the TV every time she showed up. Which is definitely something worth congratulating.

Jessica Alba in a role that didn’t make me want to turn off the TV every time she showed up. Which is definitely something worth congratulating.

But that’s all different here with Stretch, where he not only gets a chance to just be a wild and crazy guy, but use his comedic-timing to perfect effect. It’s a sign that no matter how many times you think you have a certain actor shoehorned into the kind of role you think they should be playing, they’ll turn around, give you the finger, and try something different. Whether or not it works, is totally up in the air, but the effort is all that matters and here, for Wilson, it’s more than worth the effort.

Same goes for another actor attractive guy who happens to be slumming himself up for the cameras, Chris Pine who, oddly enough, isn’t credited as being in this film. Either way, Pine’s solid in this movie as the wildly unpredictable and nearly-insane Karos, and gives us a chance to see more of his skills as an actor. Though I see him do sort of the same kind of role in Horrible Bosses 2, it was still nice to see how well Pine would perform in a Carnahan’s wacky vision and needless to say, the guy doesn’t disappoint.

And of course, Ed Helms is funny, but did you really expect anything else?

Consensus: Over-the-top, but ultimately, a fun, wild ride, Stretch finds Joe Carnahan back into his comfort-zone of just letting loose on everything in front of him, not apologizing for it, and definitely not trying to coax into being anything more than what it already is: Madness and pure destruction.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

My nickname, all of the time.

My nickname, all of the time.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Maps to the Stars (2014)

Burn, Hollywood, burn! 

Hollywood is full of all sorts of people. You either got rich and famous celebrities, normal people trying to live their lives, or normal people trying to make it big so that they can become rich and famous like the people they look up to so much. Of these many people, we focus on a few who are either trying to keep themselves relevant, or at least trying even harder to become relevant in any way at all possible. We have Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) a mysterious girl who shows up one day looking for a job and finds one as the secretary of aging actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who seems to be all sorts of screwed up from the abuse she suffered from her mother as a child. There’s also the story of Havan’s limo driver (Robert Patinson) who is also an up-and-coming actor, just desperately waiting for his big break, although he might seem more interested in starting a relationship with Agatha. Then, there’s TV psychologist Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who, along with his wife (Olivia Williams) are raising their child-star son, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), who is pretty mean to everybody around him, yet also, doesn’t quite know whether or not he wants to keep going with this famous life he’s been living. It’s all so very messed-up and sad, but don’t forget to drink the champagne and party like it’s Studio 54!

"You're my son. But you're also pretty rich, so don't fuck it up."

“You’re my son. But you’re also pretty rich, so don’t fuck it up.”

David Cronenberg seems to be the kind of director that just doesn’t cut for me, although it seems that, for everybody else in the world, he does just that. It’s not that his movies are bad, it’s just that they seem to be slow and meandering after awhile, that once he begins to throw in these abruptly gruesome scenes of violence, it comes almost out of nowhere; almost in a way that seems like even he’s dozing off a bit and needs to blow-up somebody’s head to excite even his own-self.

But here, with Maps to the Stars, Cronenberg seems to really nail down what he wants to do – not just with the story, but with his pace. Rather than being a slow-as-molasses piece that doesn’t go anywhere interesting, Cronenberg seems to really move quickly between scenes. He doesn’t focus on one subplot more than the other, but much rather, continue to shed some small light on them and the characters that inhabit them, and move on. This not only worked for my eyes and brain, but also as a satire, because what Cronenberg seems to getting at here is really that Hollywood’s full of privileged fakes and phonies, who not only believe that everything they ever want should be handed to them on a silver platter, but that they shouldn’t have to actually do a hard day’s work for it either.

By reading any Bret Easton Ellis novel or simply, just by typing in “Hollywood satire” on Netflix and watching whatever results come your way, you’ll know that Hollywood is an easy target to pick on. Though there are quite a few people who seem to be just normal, everyday human beings like you or I who just so happen to have the talent of emoting well for the cameras, the vast majority of Hollywood is filled with overly rich, famous, and snobby bastards. So it only makes sense that these people, and Hollywood in whole, would be the first ones to make fun of and poke at, even if you do do it in a dark way.

With Cronenberg’s brand of humor here, it’s less about making fun of the people in Hollywood, but more of the ideals that Hollywood spreads around. For example, a person’s need to feel culturally relevant and important is brought up many times here, which is funny, but it gets increasingly darker once you realize the lows some of these people will stoop to, only so that they can stay famous, if only for about 15 minutes or so. It’s funny how Cronenberg expresses this ideal in his movie, and it’s only made better by the fact that there’s hardly a likable character to be found in this.

Which is, yes, sometimes a little troubling to watch, but for the most part, it’s entertaining and fun, something I feel like Cronenberg’s forgot about in his past few movies. Here, he seems to be reveling in digging into these celebrities’ lives and figuring out what makes them tick, think the way they do, and have the need to be famous. Sure, sometimes these characters are a bit cartoonish, but that doesn’t bother Cronenberg or take him away from giving more depth to them and their stories; in fact, it’s probably best that we don’t find anything to relate to with these characters, because that in and of itself would be pretty horrifying.

If there was a few problems I had with this movie, it was whenever Cronenberg decided that he absolutely needed to throw in the “ghost” angle of this story. Not only did it feel unneeded, but it got real old, real quick. Seeing somebody getting spooked out by a ghost-like figure, especially when you know it’s just that, a ghost, is not at all scary. It’s just boring, monotonous, and cheap, especially considering how much good stuff Cronenberg had going for his movie as was. To add anything else would just be too much, or too tiresome to us, the audience. It’s best if we just take a closer look at these characters in a way to make ourselves feel a bit happier about the lives we live.

Now, with that being said, the characters in this movie aren’t very deep or thought-provoking, but it works because that’s sort of the point. These people in Hollywood are vain, egotistical a-holes that don’t give two shits about regular folk like you or I – they just want to get the big bucks, to have the lights constantly flashing in their faces, and to have sex with the hottest people they can find. Anything else is either of no interest to them, or simply put, just nothing they want to pursue in life.

And most of the reason why these characters work as well as they do, even though they aren’t fully supposed to, is because the cast is so capable of just going that extra mile and doing some neat, interesting things with them that, even with the slightest bit of detail, helps flesh them out a bit more.

Julianne Moore is probably the highlight of this movie because she’s doing some interesting, neat stuff here that we haven’t seen her do many times before. It’s pretty much known common knowledge now that if you put Julianne Moore in your movie, she’s going to do a fine job and give it her all. I have nothing wrong with that, or even her performances, but there is a part of me that feels as if her performances range from being “very dramatic” to “light dramatic”. She’s not unengaging by any means, but to put it nice, she’s a bit boring with some her choices, even if she finds ways to make them the slightest bit interesting.

Here though, we finally get to see Moore play around with this Lindsay Lohan-like character, Havana Segrand, who may be a total stuck-up bitch, but is also an actress that’s trying her damn near hardest to stay alive and well in this terrible place called Hollywood. It doesn’t make her wholly sympathetic, but it at least does a little something for her, so that when we see the gratuitous, high-living life she’s living, it makes us wish she’d just get her act together and do the right thing, even if we already know that’s not quite possible. It’s also fun to see Moore tackle a character that’s pretty stupid and doesn’t always know what she’s going to say next, and it makes me wish we’d see more of that from her.

When in doubt, meditate.

When in doubt, meditate.

Once again, not saying Moore’s a bad actress, but just not a totally versatile one. But I hope that begins to change more and more, even as she gets older and older (though honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to even tell how old she is by the way she looks).

Another one here in this cast that’s doing a little something different from what we’ve seen him do in quite some time is John Cusack as this weird TV psychiatrist that gets by solely on giving people fake advice from his fake degree. Cusack’s an odd choice for this kind of role, but he does well enough with it, that I didn’t really care his character didn’t get much development. In fact, I’d say it’s his wife, played by Olivia Williams, who gets the most development and actually ends up being one of the more sympathetic characters of this piece by showing her as a woman who cares for her son’s own well-being, yet, still can’t seem to get away from the fact that she wants money. And a whole lot of it, too.

And speaking of that son, the real stand-out here is him, played by Evan Bird. Though I don’t know Bird’s actual age, I’m still impressed by how good he was in this movie. Though there’s a few awkward line-deliveries here and there, overall, Bird gets by on making this Benjie character a total and complete dick, yet, still shows us that he’s a little kid who wants to live a normal life. The kid’s still a little prick to just about everyone around him, and they are quite easily the best scenes in the whole movie, but there’s that feeling that he still has the chance to live his life the way he wants to that makes his character a tad bit more sympathetic. Even though it’s so obvious who he’s being written as.

Then again though, that’s Hollywood, people.

Consensus: Like with most of Cronenberg’s flicks, Maps to the Stars is a very dark tale about some unlikable individuals, but with a slight twist in that’s entertaining to watch and actually funny.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Kid with gun. How could this turn out bad?

Kid with gun. How could this turn out bad?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

I Am Ali (2014)

No Will Smith, no worries.

He floats like a butterfly. He stings like a bee. And guess what? Nobody is quite as beautiful or powerful as he. This is all according to him, mind you, which makes you wonder what all those around the notorious boxing legend Muhammad Ali have to say about him. And this is exactly what we get to see from his early days as Cassius Clay, where his brother remembers the times they’d spend together and goof around like little bros do. to when his first boxing-trainer that realized there was something special to this kid that needed to be worked with. Then, we get to see the various women he’s had in his life, whether they be his wives, his numerous girlfriends, or even his loving daughters. But it doesn’t stop there, as we also get to hear from the numerous Ali faced in his life, whether they be people he fought with in the ring, as well as outside. Either way, we get to hear everybody’s side of the many stories they have about Muhammad Ali, whether they be good, bad, or plain and simply, memorable.

Somebody definitely influenced Sean Penn's early days.

Somebody definitely influenced Sean Penn’s early days.

With these types of documentaries, you have to realize that while the subject in question may be respected, or adored, or hailed by many people out there, they’re still human beings. Meaning, that while they may have done some wonderful, sometimes beautiful things for certain others around them out there in the world, there’s still always a few faults they may have which, ultimately, prove to be their downfall or just add more to the character of who they are. In a way, having a fault doesn’t make these heroes any less great, it just makes them more human and can sometimes make them seem more human than ever before.

Problem is, writer/director Clare Lewins doesn’t seem all that interested in getting deeper and deeper into that subject’s side and would much rather just focus on the kind of miracle-worker he’d want to appear as being. Which, honestly, isn’t bad because there’s plenty of heartfelt, down-to-earth stories about the lovely things Ali did for these people speaking, but it all feels like this is more of a tribute to a person, rather than an actual biography of the person he was. And only making it worse is the fact that the movie sometimes flirts with this idea of digging further into this aspect of Ali, but then, once it realizes that it may get too serious or risky for the producers, it backs away, so as to not offend anyone involved with helping to make this movie a possibility.

It makes sense – it really does. But, when you make your movie out to be a biography about a man, from anyone but the man, there’s a feeling that everybody’s just a little too happy and cheery to talk about him, rather than actually discussing the person he was, or better yet, still is to this day. I’m not talking about giving Muhammad Ali a total hatchet job that makes him into something of a descendant of Satan, but much rather, a man who had his fair share of flaws, but ultimately, when he had to, he was the man he wanted to be. He treated mostly everybody around him with the same type of love and respect as he would wish upon himself, and hardly ever favorited one person over another.

He was a fair guy, who just had his problems is all. Meaning, he liked to bed a lot of women, regardless of his marriage-license at the current stage in time; he talked a little too much smack on his opponents; and better yet, he didn’t know when to just tune-out of smiling for the cameras and just be real for a second. These problems of Muhammad Ali, the person, are hinted at here in this piece, but very rarely do they get developed more than just a few lines from somebody, until it’s time to forget about them and move on. Not to say that I had it out for Ali in the first place, but when you have a biography of a person’s life, disguised as a documentary, you definitely want to make sure all sides of your stories are treated fairly and with a nearly-equal amount of detail.

I know it’s easier said then done, but trust me, folks, it can happen and I just wish it did here.

But, aside from the problems I had with this movie, I Am Ali still does a lot of things right and that’s mostly due to the fact that the interviews Lewins was able to get from all those involved, aren’t just well-done, but give us an almost complete picture of who this man was. We get to hear from his brother, his trainer, his numerous girlfriends/wives, his kids, his friends/confidantes his fans, and even some of the men he faced over the years. Most of these interviews bring out a lot about Ali that we most of us probably didn’t already know before and it’s nice to see and hear.

Holding your breath underwater for a long time always proves your manliness. Just ask David Blaine.

Holding your breath underwater for a long time always proves your manliness. Just ask David Blaine.

The most emotional bits and pieces of insight we get here come from Ali’s most famous daughter, Laila, who, surprisingly, doesn’t hold much back when talking about her father, their relationship together and exactly why she decided to follow in his foot-steps. It shows us that even though Ali was one of the most known names in the world, he still had time for his family, but most importantly, for his kids. He always wanted to be there for them and focus on them while they were growing up, even if he couldn’t physically be there to do so. It’s quite sweet really and brought something of a small tear to my eye.

Then, Laila takes it almost one step further when she begins to talk about the condition Muhammad is currently in today, still alive and all, but struggling with Parkinson’s. Not only did I feel like, had the movie decided to develop this reality a bit more, probably would have been the most emotional part, but for some reason, it doesn’t. It literally just leaves Laila there, tearing-up and ready to go on more, only to then fade to black and go onto the next interviews. It made the film seem almost incomplete and made me wonder why they decided to jump over this part of the story, acting as if it’s not even a reality and just a secret problem not too many people know about.

To me, it felt like the movie wanted to go deeper, but just didn’t. And that was a real shame.

Consensus: By creating a nearly-round picture of its subject, I Am Ali shows us the kind of effect that Muhammad Ali had on practically all those around him, whether they be negative or positive. Unfortunately though, it was mostly focusing on the later.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Yeah. We've all seen this before.

Yeah. We’ve all seen this before.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Dear White People (2014)

White people are whack. Trust me. I should know.

At any Ivy League school, racial tensions are somewhat high, yet, by the same token, aren’t totally through the roof where you’d expect there to be a riot every weekend or so. White people hang with white people; black people hang with black people; and sometimes, every so often, there’s a little mixture of the two. But that may all change when a very opinionated student, Sam White (Tessa Thompson), becomes a leader of a house and decides to take charge against the institution’s very white-privileged mind-set. Of course though, this causes plenty of more problems among the student-body and even threatens to rob the Dean (Dennis Haysbert) of his position, if he can’t get everything all fine and settled. But even worse, some students could lose what makes them who they really are, which isn’t just the color of their skin, but their heritage and just exactly who they represent. They lose that, there’s nothing else for them to stand for.

I have to give it to a movie like Dear White People – though it’s one that has a message I can’t particularly agree with, I like how bold it is in actually trying to discuss certain ideas and themes about race, equality, and class warfare, that so many movies step away from, in the hopes of not seeming “too controversial”. Most of this is in part due to the general idea from Hollywood that you can’t make a smart movie about race, that actually challenges the notions us citizens have about it, for the sole purpose that it’ll scare the money away. People won’t want to see it; advertisers will keep their name-brands very far away from it; and people will just bad-mouth it, solely because it’s too touchy about a subject, which in today’s general-sphere, is already as touchy as is.

I'm hoping these looks are all for the guy standing directly behind me.

I’m hoping these looks are all for the guy standing directly behind me.

With that said, most of the credit here goes to writer/director Justin Simien who, with his first feature, already shows plenty of promise with the messages he wants to bring to people’s minds. See, because with today’s day and age, everything is race-related. Race is a topic that not only influences in the way people speak, but in how they act. You can see it everywhere from what’s on TV, what’s in your video-games, what’s on your iPod, and hell, it’s even outside your door, you just have to step outside and look around a bit. Simien knows this and he makes most of the movie about this general topic, but goes one step further and tries to shuttle it all in with an ensemble story that doesn’t always work.

But to his defense, when it does work, Simien hits plenty of the right notes that not only got me thinking, but even talking with my fellow confidantes after the movie and wondering just whether or not we all whole heartedly agree with what Simien brings to the forefront here. And for me, it was quite simple: I didn’t agree with it, but then again, I don’t know if I was either.

See, where Simien lands with this movie is simply this: Race is a powerful force in our world and it affects every person’s everyday life, regardless of what color their skin, or heritage, may or may not be. I see this just about everyday and it’s nothing new to me. So, Simien shows this in a way that makes sense – every side of the race debate has their own story. Whites, blacks, mixed, Hispanics, gays, straights, all people have a certain viewpoint that they feel/share about the idea of race and equality; all of which are brought up reasonably and don’t seem to be pandering to one side in particularly.

That is, until it does.

Being that I am a young, white male, there is a part of me that understands that there is such a mechanism as white privilege out there in the world, and it doesn’t matter how hard somebody may, or may not try to avoid it, it will constantly plague our society. It follows me everywhere I go and as much as I don’t like it, it’s something that I’m being told I have to live with, whether or not I like it. Dear White People, and even Simien himself, tells me this same exact fact, but at the same time, does so in a way that feels slightly offensive to me. Like, for instance, because I am a white person, I will have everything I ever want in the palms of my hands, all because of my color, regardless of my financial-standings or general knowledge of the real world. Technically speaking, I could be as dumb as a door-knob, but because I am white, therefore, I will get any and everything that I could ever hope and dream for.

Not only does this message totally rub me the wrong way as is, but it’s presented as such in a way that makes me feel like Simien has it out for me, in particular, let alone the whole race that I represent. And no, I do not mean to stand in for every white person out there in the world who plans on seeing this – I am solely speaking from my point-of-view and, therefore, my reactions to this movie. Many other people, regardless of race, may have the same feelings as me, and many other people, once again, regardless of race, may definitely not have the same feelings as me. I know this, but where I’m speaking from here, is my viewpoint and if it offended me, then dammit, I’m going to let it be known!

Anyway, like I was saying before, where I felt angry with this movie was in how Simien had most of the white characters in this movie portrayed. The head dean of the school is portrayed as a money-grubbing, racist prick who, when confronted with the idea that his actions are racist, says that he knew that’s exactly what a black person would say. Okay, I can deal with this one character being a racist bigot, but it gets worse. Take his son, who is, honestly, portrayed as nothing more than another racist bigot who, because he’s young, wild, free, rich and allowed to do whatever he wants because his daddy practically runs the school, gets away with everything/anything he says or does. He makes some good points early on in the movie about race, but for the most part, has them all chucked out of the window once we see his true colors, and realize he’s just another one of those heartless, mean, and nasty frat bros who just wants to party, get drunk, laid, have a good time, and bully the weakest one he sees.

Add on the fact that he’s racist and you have a character that is definitely unlikable.

"You're from State Darm!?!"

“You’re from State Darm!?!”

But when you put these two up against the black characters in this movie, it feels like there’s obviously a hell of a lot more attention and detailed paid to them. Sure, some of them have their faults, but mostly, it’s in due part because they want to be respected and accepted into a world which, frankly speaking, is white. The co-dean of the institution knows that he’ll never be the head dean because of race issues, but still tries to fit in by charming the white crowd at cocktails party and tells his son to wise up. The guy’s not a relatively likable guy, but whereas he’s technically considered to be “flawed”, the head dean is considered “villainous”.

Honestly though, this is just the surface – there’s plenty more instances in which the white characters in this film are portrayed/written in such a way that’s not only mean-spirited, but downright offensive. Not all white people act like this and neither do all black people, but Simien makes it clear that he favors one side over the other. Had this been a documentary, I’d been a little bit more forgiving, considering that we would have seen most of his manipulations come out in a positive way, but considering this is a narrative-feature, one which he wrote, directed, and practically built from the ground-up, I can’t help but look at it a lot more harshly.

But then again, that’s just my thoughts. Take them, or leave them. Do what you must.

Consensus: Bold and smart, Dear White People definitely has a lot on its mind, and though it lets it be known in thought-provoking, interesting ways, it still can’t help but seem to show its bias that may definitely offend some, while not be a problem for others. I’m more of in the former’s camp, though.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh! A white person! And guess what? He's a dick.

Oh! A white person! And guess what? He’s a dick.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

After awhile, you just have to start working for yourself and out of your basement.

After succesfully getting rid of their bosses in a meaningful fashion a couple years ago, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) seem to be back on the right track; not only is their latest creation the Showbuddy hitting stores soon and gaining plenty of traction, but they’ve also found out that wealthy businessmen, Burt and Rex Hanson (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine), want to go into business with them. So yeah, everything seems great for these guys, that is, until the Hanson’s decide to pull out of their deal and rob the three for all that they have. This gets them thinking once again – time to call up Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) and see what can be done. Together, they all concoct a plan where they’ll kidnap Rex, hold him for ransom, to ensure that Burt pays them back all the money they had. It seems perfect and everything, especially once they actually go through with the kidnapping of Rex, but the guys soon realize that not only is Rex a little crazy, but he’s totally in on the plan to rob his old man for all he’s worth. It’s surely a twist the guys weren’t expecting, but one they’re ready to roll with and hope that everything goes according to plan with. Until it sort of doesn’t.

The first Horrible Bosses, while not the laugh-out-loud comedy classic many around the time of its release assured me it was, was still a very funny movie and allowed for three capable comedians like Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis to just make everything up as they went along. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but most of the times, it was fun to watch. Their camaraderie together, as well as the crazy plot, definitely made the original a bit more than just your average, relatively funny comedy; it had a neat story to work with and it rolled with it for as long as it could.

Business meeting while golfing? Yup, total dick move.

Business meeting while golfing? Total dick move.

Now that we have the sequel, it seems like the original’s freshness isn’t just lost, but a bit boring.

See, it’s hard to do a sequel that has practically the same exact plot as the first movie, without there being any sort of wink, nod, tongue-in-cheek reference made to the audience. Not just to ensure them that yes, the movie itself is pretty smart and knows it’s a cash-cow, but that the audience can expect wittier humor that wasn’t just thrown in there to make sure there’s a sequel to do. The problem with this sequel isn’t that it never lets us know what we’re seeing, is almost the same thing, done again in slightly different ways, but that it relies too much on these three leads and nothing else.

I don’t think I’m standing alone when I say that Bateman, Sudiekis and Day are some of the funniest people working in Hollywood today. Not only do they seem to make an impression in just about everything they show up in, whether together or on their own terms, but they seem to be in this brand of comedy that isn’t necessarily smart, but isn’t dumb either. They’re sort of middlebrow comedy folks and I think that’s why, whenever I see them in something, I can’t help but laugh along with whatever they’re doing. They have that sort of effect on me and, from what it seems, on most others too, considering that they still get plenty of roles.

And although I liked how fun they made their off-the-wall improv from the first movie seem humorous, if incredibly random at times, the movie still didn’t always fall back on it in a way to make up for the lack of fun with its plot. Here, with Horrible Bosses 2, you can sort of tell that there’s not too much of an exciting, fun plot here, so therefore, the movie just keeps on relying harder and harder on its three leads as the movie goes on. Which is, once again, fine and all, mostly because these guys are funny with nearly everything they do, but after awhile, it makes you wonder whether or not there was even a script for this to begin with, or just several pieces of blank paper that just read, “Guys improv about walkie-talkies and Charlie yells. A LOT.”

Once again, the guys are still funny with this much trust in them, but it begins to get a bit tiresome after awhile to just see them take what would could be literally a two-minute heist scene, pan out to be nearly 15 minutes, all because the guys decided to get on each other’s asses about gloves, or something.

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

But most of where the laughs come from, not just in this movie, but comedies in general, is in seeing certain big, respectable names sort of go out there, try something new, edgy and absolutely shock the hell out of the audience that may already have them envisioned in another light. With the first movie, we got to see Jennifer Aniston as a dirty, sex-crazed woman, and here, we get to see Chris Pine play against type as a guy who is, well a rich dick-head, but one that actually seems like he’s a little crazy. I’ve always been a fan of Pine and felt like it’s getting closer and closer to where he’s able to finally branch-out of the Captain Kirk light that seems to be shadowing over most of the career decisions he currently makes, and here, as Rex, I think he gets a chance to show that he has a fun side. It’s refreshing, funny, and sometimes, interesting, especially when we see him get along well with the rest of the guys.

Problem is though, Christoph Waltz plays his daddy and is hardly ever around to join in on any of the fun. It’s actually quite surprising really, because we know Waltz is more than capable at being funny with dialogue that isn’t from crazy Quentin, which makes me wonder if he just wasn’t around to film any scenes that the creators may have initially planned for him to create, or that the role itself was just so tiny to begin with, that it didn’t bother Waltz much. Either way, I wish we got to see more of him and, honestly, less of Aniston, because while she still got a few laughs, her act gets a bit tired and stale, as if the movie still needed her so sex could happen in some way, shape, or form.

But Jamie Foxx is still awesome as Motherfucker Jones. So yeah, he’s fine.

Consensus: Mostly because of its over-reliance on its talented cast, Horrible Bosses 2 gets by, but isn’t nearly as funny, or as inspired as the original movie which, in and of itself, wasn’t really all that amazing to begin with.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Yup. Still the best part.

Yup. Still the best part.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Beyond the Lights (2014)

If only Britney answered my calls, then this could have been my story.

Ever since she was a little girl, Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) knew she had a talent. She didn’t know quite where to go with that talent, but she didn’t have any fear, because her mother (Minnie Driver) always did. Many years later, Noni is the new, hot, young thing that graces screens with her sexy looks, rapper-boyfriend, and highly glamorous life. However though, while it all looks perfect for Noni on the outside, underneath it all, therein lies a hurt, pained woman that just wants the world to look at her for what she is, not what she appears to be. Knowing that this isn’t a possibility, she decides to hell with it, looks over her hotel room’s ledge and thinks about taking the leap, but her assigned bodyguard for the night, Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), rescues her and remind her that he sees her for what she is. This brings all sorts of publicity and though the two don’t quite know what to do with it, a relationship between them blossoms. But when you’re life is constantly under scrutiny, like most celebrity’s lives are, it’s hard to get the truth from someone you think you’ve really grown connected to.

When it comes to me and romance movies, there’s a deal between two parties that has to be made: If you are able to give me a believable enough romance between two human specimens that feels real, then you can do all that you want. The meet-cute; the blossoming of the relationship; the witty, yet supportive best friends; the first usages of the “L word”; the eventual conflict that comes between the two; the argument that separates the two from one another; the possibility of moving on; and, of course, the getting back together, where everybody, especially the couple at the center, live happily together and forever. These are the types of cliches I’ve come to know and expect from these types of romance films, which, for the most part, hardly ever do anything to me.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

It’s not that I’ve never been in a loving relationship with another human being, and it’s not that I don’t have the capability of loving anybody in this world, it’s more that I find it incredibly difficult to buy into whatever conventions a movie will throw at me, concerning the ideas of why a romance starts in the first place. Some movies have come by my eyes and surprised the hell out of me; not because they’ve actually used these ideas in a refreshing way, but because they’ve actually made it feel relatable, even to those who haven’t yet had a love in their life. Then again though, these movies are the same kinds that hardly ever get made and, for the most part, fall by the waist side, only to be seen by a few of those “cool, hip kids” that think love is too mainstream, man.

But this what surprised me the most about Beyond the Lights – it’s a movie based in all of these corny, manipulative cliches and conventions I’ve seen nearly a hundred times before, the romance at the center is still rich enough to win me over at the end of the day. One could definitely compare this to the Bodyguard, or A Star is Born, or any other movie that concerns a superstar celebrity hooking up with a normal, everyday person and realizing how perfect the simple life is, but there’s a feeling to this film that not only knows these comparisons will be made, but also doesn’t care because it has a story to tell. It’s a very by-the-numbers story, at that, but one that’s easy to get behind, solely because of the solid chemistry between co-stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker; two young talents that are clearly on the verge of breaking out and really making a dent in the film world.

When these two aren’t together, they still do very good jobs in portraying their characters in an honest, understandable manner that makes it easy to point out the identifiable character-troupes, but still fall for regardless. Mbatha-Raw plays Noni as who she appears to be: A Rihanna-like pop star that’s slowly, but surely making that transition from being the one artist that’s constantly featured on big name’s tracks, to being the one who people want to get featured on her songs. She’s sort of like how Nicki Minaj started out – constantly being featured on these records and making an impression with whatever she does or says, and eventually, getting her own chance to break out on her own.

With less booty, but still, a pop star nonetheless.

Anyway, with Noni, Mbatha-Raw channels a hurt, tendered soul who, in all honesty, just wants to stop feeling the pressure from all those around her and live a simple, drama-free life. It’s easy for us, the audience, to scoff at this kind of character, and tell her to shut up and just enjoy her millions and millions of dollars, never-ending bottles of crystal, and opportunities to bang some of the hottest stars in the mainstream media, but because Mbatha-Raw looks so innocent, we sympathize with Noni and it’s not hard to. We know that there’s possibly more to her than what’s presented in all the glitz and glamour, and because of this, we want to see her at least succeed in getting out of it, if only it’s for a little while.

Same goes for Parker’s Kaz; though he’s a simple guy, living a simple life, who has a simple job as a cop, he still feels the pressure from his dad and constituents who want him to run for mayor and succeed at that to. This part of the story is a little tacked-on, I felt, but it still brought out some depth within this Kaz character that I don’t think we would have gotten otherwise, so it was okay enough. But Parker’s the main reason why this character works as well as he does; he seems like a nice guy, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t want him to get taken advantage of, just so that this Noni gal could a little bit of an escape away.

I can assure you, he's not a stripper. Wouldn't be surprised though.

I can assure you, ladies, he’s not a stripper. Wouldn’t be surprised though.

Together though, the two bring out so much within the opposite performer, that their relationship together feels honest, down-to-Earth, and a hell of a lot more raw than I was expecting it to. There’s this lovely 20-minute sequence where both of these characters decide to take a trip out to Mexico and you can tell that it’s meant to be peaceful, sweet, and altogether, a very romantic time together, and that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t hit us over the head or anything, but much rather, tell us that these characters deserve to be together, and forever, so long so as that they don’t get bogged down by all of the gossip publications out there.

That said, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite keep up with them. There’s about four different endings here, and hardly any of them were satisfying. Rather than allowing the movie to end on a tender, small note, writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood constantly feels the need to have to end this story on a huge, over-dramatized note, that we see most Hollywood films use. It gets tiresome real quick and after awhile, you’ll begin to wish that the movie continued to fall back on its leads, especially considering they were so watchable and interesting to begin with.

Consensus: Sometimes manipulative, sometimes not, Beyond the Lights mostly gets by on its co-star’s honest chemistry together, but too many times, feels like it’s trying too hard to give everybody in the audience what they want, and actually forgetting about its main characters in the first place.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Rosewater (2014)

Can’t trust that Jon Stewart. Now, that Stephen Colbert is a whole lot more reliable.

In 2009, London-based Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) took to the streets of Iraq to cover the 2009–10 Iranian election and, as a result, the riots that soon occurred afterwards as well. It was a simple task that was going to gain him and his pregnant wife some more money, and also opened his eyes to what the hell was really out there happening on the streets that he didn’t usually get a chance to see in most Western media-outlets. But after Bahari does a tongue-in-cheek interview with the Daily Show, the Iraq government gets a little suspicious and detains Bahari to question him about his stay on their home turf. Basically, they believe Bahari to be an American spy, and although Bahari obviously isn’t, his captors still have a job to do and need to get any confession out of him that they possibly can. This means that Bahari goes through plenty of psychological trauma, both mental and physical torture, solitary confinement, time spent with blind-folds on, and also, time spent alone, literally talking to no one except for his own-self, or even the imaginary-friends he makes up in his own head. But still, Bahari feels the need and desire to stay alive and sure as hell won’t let somebody stop him from doing so, even if he does run a little too close to risking his own life in the process.

That footage better not turn out shaky!

That footage better not turn out shaky!

It’s pretty interesting that such a well-known comedian/celebrity such as Jon Stewart would not only abandon his post on the Daily Show for nearly a whole summer, just to make a movie, but to make a movie that isn’t what we tend to expect from most actors who decide to get behind the screen for the first times in their careers. See, with most directorial debuts from actors who are already well-established, they don’t always get the big budget they want, or think they deserve, so therefore, their scope is a bit limited. Meaning, they usually like to keep things as small, simple, and as pain-free as possible, with the hopes of, if everything goes by smoothly on the first try, then their sophomore go-ahead will be what it is that they want to do, with nearly as much money as they need to make their wildest, most ambitious dreams possible.

But the strange thing with Rosewater, isn’t that Stewart seems very ambitious with the material he chooses direct, but that he’s sort of the main reason for why this story was even made possible to begin with. Many people always ask when they certain movies, “Why was this story even told to us? And better yet, why was it adapted to the big screen?” And to be honest, there usually isn’t any other answer except for, “Well, just because. duh,” but for Stewart, it’s obvious what his motivations were behind bringing this story to the big screen and why he felt it was necessary to tell it to begin with: He feels a slightly bit guilty about it all.

Sure, you could also say that he wants to focus on what’s really going on everyday on the wild streets of Iran, but that aspect of the film’s story isn’t nearly as established as Bahari’s time inside solitary confinement is, which actually brings a huge problem to this movie: It’s quite boring.

And yes, I know that this may sound like a stupid complaint for a movie that clearly doesn’t hid behind the fact that it’s about a dude who nearly spent 118 days in solitary confinement and getting constantly hammered with useless questions about whether or not he’s a special informant for the U.S., but Stewart makes the bad choice of showing us that he can spice this story up in any way possible. We get flashbacks, imaginary-friends, a small view of what’s happening outside of Bahari’s captivity, and even tiny bits of development for Bahari’s main interrogator; but hardly any of it’s actually interesting, or better yet, brings any excitement to this tale to begin with. I can definitely give Stewart credit for trying, but when your main objective is to tell a story, and to do so in the most exciting, most entertaining way possible, and you can’t appear to do that, unless it being incredibly manipulative, then I’m a bit sorry, you’ve disappointed me.

But still, Stewart makes some interesting choices here and there and allows for the movie to, at certain points at least, be funny. There’s a moment in this flick in which we get to see Bahari actually stand up for himself and turn the tables on his captors in, not only a funny manner, but an effective way, too. Bahari begins to dress up his lies as truth, and therefore, the captors can’t help but feel uncomfortable, while also slightly interested in everything Bahari tells them. This sequence, as small as it may be, is one of the key instances in which it’s clear that Stewart utilizes some of his comedic-talent to allow this material to pop-off the screen and really grab a hold of our minds, but it’s also another instance in which this movie held so much promise, yet, fell by the waist side of not really having a clear focus at all.

If anything, I also have to give a lot of credit to Gael García Bernal who, despite being Mexican, actually does a nice job as the Iranian, Maziar Bahari. Though, when you put him against fellow Iranian characters who are in fact played by Iranian actors, he does look a little bit out of place, Bernal is still a capable enough actor to have us see past this obvious problem and just remember that this is a guy we’re supposed to keep on rooting for, even if we don’t know exactly why. He’s just another guy who gets thrown into a shitty situation that so many others get thrown into as well, but the difference here is that he’s got a wife, and a baby on the way. It’s corny, but it works, if only because Bernal digs deep into who this guy is, and why at all he matters to us.

"I said, 'no blinking'!"

“I said, ‘no blinking’!”

We know why he matters to Stewart, but to us, the audience, it’s key that we at least feel some sympathy for the guy.

And although Bernal’s Bahari is the one we’re supposed to obviously be interested by the most, it’s still hard to not want to know more about his captor, either. Kim Bodnia, another non-Iranian actor playing an Iranian, does a fine a job as Bahari’s main captor (his nickname was the movie’s title, all because Bahari couldn’t identify him by anything else, other than the smell of his fresh-to-death cologne), and gives us a glimpse into the soul of a guy who may be more than what he appears to be. Sure, he has a pretty brutal job that he goes through with, day in and day out, without hardly any objections, but there’s a slight idea we get to see in which we realize that maybe he doesn’t like his savage job as much as he appears to be, and is only being a brutal d-bag, because that’s what his boss from up top tells him to be. It’s all very interesting and, had there been a better movie to work with here, I feel like Bodnia would have absolutely ran wild with this character and gave us plenty to talk about, but thus, we don’t.

Just another instance of disappointment. Interesting disappointment, but disappointment nonetheless.

Consensus: Though Jon Stewart shows plenty of promise behind the camera with Rosewater, it’s still a messy movie that doesn’t always hit the marks that it should, but gets by on a few interesting notes, if only mildly so.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

I hate being late for class, too.

I hate being late for class, too.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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