Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

The Age of Adaline (2015)

What a shame it would be to look like Blake Lively for the rest of eternity.

At age 29, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) was involved in a tragic car crash just off the side of the road. However, because of a strong lightning bolt strikes her, she, for one reason or another, lives. There’s only one catch: She will forever be 29. She won’t age a day, while everyone around her that she either knows or loves, will die away, while she stays the same age, with the same look, and same memories of everything has come and gone in her long, momentous life. This also makes Adaline’s life a bit of a lonely one – with the exception of the times she spends with her daughter (Ellen Burstyn). That’s why when a young, handsome dude named Ellis (Michael Huisman) clearly becomes smitten with her, she’s initially against it. She knows that nobody will be able to handle her condition, let alone even believe it. But against her free will, Adaline decides to give it a go and wouldn’t you know it? The two end up getting very serious together; so serious that Ellis introduces Adaline to his parents (Kathy Baker and Harrison Ford), one of whom, just so happens to have had a relationship with Adaline back in the 60’s.

Family drama is soon to follow.

Yet again, another movie released in the past few months where Ellen Burstyn plays a character who is literally older than the actor playing the role of their parent.

Yet again, another movie released in the past few months where Ellen Burstyn plays a character who is literally older than the actor playing the role of their parent.

Is this a dopey-as-hell premise? It sure it. But didn’t the Curious Case of Benjamin Button have one too that was relatively similar to this? And didn’t that movie actually turn out to be “alright”, in at least most people’s minds? Pretty much, yeah. So what could ever be wrong with the Age of Adaline?

Well, for starters, not much. In all honesty, it’s easy to have something against this movie already before even seeing it. It’s premise is wild; it deals with sappiness; involves a love story of two people who can’t be together; and it stars Blake Lively, who hasn’t been in much lately, because she’s so busy with writing thought-pieces about god knows what. However, somehow, through some way, it mostly all comes together, and heck, even Lively’s not all that bad.

Who woulda thunk it?

Indie director Lee Toland Krieger probably did because after making two very impressive, very low-key indie flicks in the past couple years (the Vicious Kind, Celeste and Jesse Forever; check them out now if you haven’t done so already), he decided to make this is his big, mainstream break-out and given the scope of the film, you’d think he’d mess-up an awful lot. Surprisingly though, he doesn’t and that’s because he doesn’t really have too much to handle. The movie steps away from making this a Forrest Gump-clone in which Adaline goes throughout her long, storied-life, touches certain people’s life along the way and continues to make herself feel better, while, at the same time, still coming to terms with her existence.

This is the same sort of path Benjamin Button went down and it’s familiar by now; so to play around with that formula is really something incredible. However, not to bother with that formula to begin with, is all the more interesting, especially because it makes sense when you get to think of this story and the themes it’s trying to convey. Because Adaline lives with such an extreme condition, she’s forced to practically separate herself from the rest of the world; she does this not just because she doesn’t want to freak those out around her and possibly hurt them, but because she will forever and always be chased after by the feds, where she’ll no doubt be some sort of human lab-rat that’s constantly prodded with and practiced on. It would have been nice to see more of the sorts of shenanigans that Adaline got into throughout her long life alive, rather than just learning that she’s really good at trivia and history, but that said, we don’t get overkill on the back-story. So yeah, it makes sense as to why the story doesn’t expand so much – Adaline needs solitude, and while it’s a sad existence for her to live, it’s the only one she can live with in order to feel safe, sound and happy.

Also, this does a solid job in making us feel more for Adaline, the character.

While Adaline may not be the most engagingly complex character, the life she’s been living makes her interesting enough that you want to see where her story goes. She can either fall in love, fall out of love, or just end up without any sort of love in her life – whatever it is, there’s something to be invested in. She’s simply just living; if she changes somebody’s life in the process of doing so, then so be it.

Sorry, horned-up seniors. Not a freshman.

Sorry, horned-up seniors. Not a freshman.

Another aspect as to why Adaline works as well as a character is because Lively is actually very good in this role. While watching this movie, there was a weird thought that went through my head: Why did I ever think Blake Lively was a bad actor to begin with? Truly, there’s been one performance where I’ve been impressed by her, right? Well, actually, there was one and that was in the Town, where she not only dressed herself down to absolute, grimy perfection, but made herself unlikable and sympathetic at the same time. It worked for her character and showed that Lively was a solid worker, if only for maybe a supporting role.

Now, here, as Adaline, Lively is put into the spotlight and gets a whole lot more to do. It’s a challenge for someone who hasn’t been in a movie for nearly three years (Savages was released in the summer of ’12 if my memory serves me correct), but it’s a challenge that Lively is more than willing to stand up to. There’s a sympathetic route to this character that works well because you feel bad for her, and also realize that she’s not necessarily asking for your sympathy either. She sticks up for what she wants and believes in and Lively does a solid enough job showing her strong-armed emotions in a way that isn’t obvious, nor is too subtle to ever get a sense of. It’s just the right amount of showy-but-not-so-showy either, if that makes any sense.

Basically, Blake Lively is good here and from now on, I’ll make sure to not doubt her, or her skills as an actress.

As for the rest of the cast, everybody’s fine, but the one who really surprised me the most with how far and willing he was able to dig into this character was Harrison Ford as one of Adaline’s past loves. Ford hasn’t been this good since 42, but whereas that was a showier role, this one’s more subtle and touching in a way that touches a raw nerve with anyone who has ever felt that sense of love come back into their life, full-on and with absolute brute force. The scene where he initially stumbles upon realizing that Adaline is his son’s new girlfriend is tender, sweet and emotional in a way that’s bound to make some tear up.

Not saying that I did, but whatever. I’m a softy.

Consensus: The Age of Adaline may appear as a sappy piece of romantic-drama, with a Benjamin Button-ish gimmick, but dig deeper, and there’s some genuine heart and emotion to be found, in both the material, as well as the performances.

7.5 / 10

A 100-year-old-plus cougar on the prowl. Rawr.

A 100-year-old-plus cougar on the prowl. Rawr.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Alex of Venice (2015)

#SelfDiscoveryProbelms.

After feeling like a prisoner in his own marriage, George (Chris Messina) decides to leave his wife, Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and kid, Dakota (Skylar Gaertner), alone to fend for themselves. Alex is taken aback by this at first, but eventually, realizes that some alone time is exactly what she needed. Though she’s a lawyer who is working on this big time case against a spa-opener (Derek Luke), she realizes that sometimes, you need to put work on the back-burner and just live life to its fullest. That means, yes, partying a lot more, and definitely, having sex. But problems begin to arise when her dad (Don Johnson) starts to struggle with a play he has currently been cast in and, even worse, is acting out in strange ways that she, as well as her sister (Katie Nehra) take notice of. Also, Alex runs into a bit of a problem with her son in that he’s spending too much time with his aunt and is learning certain things about life, love and all of that fun stuff, when Alex doesn’t want him to. Sooner than later, Alex realizes that maybe doing this whole life thing all by her lonesome self wasn’t all that fun to begin with.

Chris Messina’s the kind of character actor I love to see in anything. It doesn’t matter what it is that he’s showing up in, or for how long – as long as he’s in it and has something to do, then consider me pleased. That’s why it’s a huge shock to see him actually put himself on the back-burner and let the rest of the story, the actors and everything tell itself. Surely he has that control, seeing as how he’s the writer and director of Alex of Venice after all, but it does make me wonder: Would this movie have been a lot better with more Messina?

Yeah, Alex! You get 'em, girl!

Yeah, Alex! You get ’em, girl!

Should “more Messina” be an actual complaint sent-out to movies that are seriously lacking in the casting of Chris Messina-department?

Maybe. Maybe not. Basically, I’m trying to avoid having to discuss Alex of Venice and how disappointing of a film it is. This isn’t because Messina isn’t in it as much (although, there’s no harm in that, really), but because the premise calls on for what I’ve come to realize can be labeled as “later-in-life re-awakenings” sub-genre of indie dramedies. In these kinds of movies, we see an adult literally come to a crossroad in their life where they don’t know what to do, where to go, or what to make sense of; all they know is that they want to be happy and do what they want for a change, rather than appeasing those around them and giving in.

These movies are around more than one may think, and for the most part, they’re getting tired by now. Alex of Venice proves this because it shows that it doesn’t matter if you have a strong actor, a strong character, or even a strong message in the middle of it all – if you don’t find certain ways to change or dilute from the formula a bit, there’s not much to really watch or care for. Any movie that goes through the motions in a bland, rather boring manner, always bores me. However, when you’re an indie and are able to break away from the norm of what’s been set-out before one’s sight, it makes me even more upset.

The only saving grace to anything Alex of Venice has to offer is that Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as usual, is solid. She’s the kind of actress we can all depend on now to give heavy, emotionally-draining performances in small indies that may not be remembered in a few months, but are at least worth watching, if only because of the work she’s putting into it all. And as the titled-character, Alex, Winstead gets plenty to do – some good, some bad. But no matter what, we feel bad for this character and want her to reach her everlasting goal: Internal happiness.

Now, while this may be easy to feel for Alex, it’s not so easy for the rest of the characters. Which, yet again, is a bit of a shame considering the top-tier talent Messina was able to assemble here to help him fill-out these roles.

Don Johnson has a meaty role as Alex’s dad who is bordering on Alzheimer’s by the forgetful way he’s been acting, and while watching him go through the process of auditioning for a theater role, is surely unique in the way that it’s from the perspective of an older person, it still doesn’t do much for the overall message of the movie. Then, there’s Katie Nehra’s sister character, Lily, who has this look of the popular/party girl from high school who never grew up and doesn’t plan on doing so, either. Though the movie makes a hint of there being something more to this character than just that, it sort of goes nowhere once Messina realizes that he has to fill-out Alex’s story in full detail. And poor Dakota’s story-line – it’s dead before it even hits the water.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

This is all disappointing, but it makes sense when you take into the equation that this is indeed Chris Messina’s directorial debut.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making up for the fact that Alex of Venice is messy, due to my love for Messina as an actor, but there is something to be said for someone literally making their first movie for the whole world to see. Sometimes, it works and shows that the person behind the camera was born for commanding the camera, rather than standing in front of it and acting. But other times, it shows that maybe while they shouldn’t give up on trying to commandeer the camera on another outing, to still take some time, mull things over, and realize what you want to do next, how you want to present it, and whether or not it’s going to be worthy of people’s view.

Until then, keep on doing what you do Chris Messina. Just make sure it’s in front of the camera. For now, at least.

Consensus: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is as solid as ever in the lead role, but Alex of Venice still hardly goes anywhere unexpected or even emotional, all because it’s clearly calculated from the beginning and held-down from too many subplots in such a short movie.

5.5 / 10

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Joblo.com, Youtube

Beyond the Reach (2015)

Greed is good. Especially when you have a sniper-rifle at your disposal.

Young, brash and blissfully in love Ben (Jeremy Irvine) gets the offer of his lifetime when a older, rich and slightly off-kilter billionaire named Madec (Michael Douglas) comes stumbling on in wanting someone to go bighorn sheep hunting with. Ben is certified to do so and is told by his commanding-officer to take Madec out into the wide-open vastness that is the Mojave desert, and that’s what Ben does. However, Ben soon realizes that this Madec guy may not only be not who he originally says he is, but isn’t up to any good, either. Slowly but surely, Ben starts to grow more and more suspicious about Madec’s behavior, all until it finally reaches its point: When a simple hunt goes terribly, terribly wrong. Madec knows that his ass is on the line if anything is ever said about what’s transpired on this trip, so he feels that the best way to get rid of any problems whatsoever, is to remove the problem – in this case, it’s Ben. But Ben isn’t going to go down too easily and instead decides that it’s time to fight against Madec and show him what surviving is all about.

Even as he’s grown older, there’s a part of me that wants to believe that Michael Douglas still oozes that slimy-charm that’s he’s always been so famous for, but even as he gets older, there’s something about him now that seems more sympathetic. Sure, he’s not as cuddly as, I don’t know, say your own grand-parents, but having seen all that Douglas is able to do with that creepiness of his that has guided his career for so long, you can’t help but just accept his presence for all that it is. He may not be putting out as great of movies anymore, but hey, a movie with Michael Douglas in it, is better than a movie with no Michael Douglas in it, right?

"I've got Charlie Sheen, clear in my sight."

“I’ve got Shia LeBeouf, clear in my sight.”

Maybe. And if so, Beyond the Reach may be the perfect example.

Not only does Douglas make it all the better by doing what he does best here, but simply, he doesn’t let the terrible script get a hold of his honed-skills. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a lie, because while the script is incredibly goofy and silly, Douglas still finds himself getting lost in it a bit where you don’t really know if he’s in on the joke, or if there’s even a joke to begin with. For all we know, this movie could have literally featured hardly any comedy whatsoever, and everything just played out as is, unintentionally hilarious or not.

That said, Douglas tries and because of that effort on his part, the movie’s made a bit better to watch. As for Jeremy Irvine, while I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far from him, the dude’s got plenty of time to go before he’s single handedly carrying B-movie pics like this on his own shoulders. Still though, he comes ready to play in Douglas’ house, when he could have easily just been up-stagged nearly the whole time and left looking like a total, amateurish fool; instead, he goes head-to-head with Douglas and shows he’s willing to hang.

For how long that will all be, is totally up in the air. But for now, Irvine’s a solid presence on-screen.

The only problem is that he and Douglas are given absolutely nothing of substance to work with here. And sure, that may not seem like something you’d look for in a movie that literally features a character drinking brewing coffee out of his $500,000 Mercedes G-63 six-wheel truck in the middle of the Mojave desert, but it’s not nearly as fun as it should have been in order to get fully past all of the terrible, corny stuff that happens later on throughout this flick.

What happens to someone after their horse is killed........in war.

What happens to someone after their horse is killed……..in war.

For instance, the movie, early on, flirts with the idea of this being a survival thriller in the same vein of a Wolf Creek or something of a sorts, and instead, just leads to the majority of it featuring Irvine’s character constantly running, tripping and hiding from Douglas’ character’s bullets. At first, it’s slightly tense, only because you never know which one’s going to land, or even where, but eventually, it grows tiresome. It’s understandable that a movie like this may have not had a huge budget to work with like most other thrillers of its own nature, but there’s only so many times one can watch a truck run into a pile of rocks, without feeling any bit of excitement or intensity that one is normally supposed to feel.

And then, of course, the story just loses all sorts of focus that really throws in wrenches wherever they can find them. There’s some idea surrounding the fact that Douglas’ character is in some sort of do-or-die deal and it’s never made clear as to why that’s pertinent to this situation now; there’s also this other subplot concerning Irvine’s character’s girlfriend that’s ham-fisted in every way; and for some reason, there’s a cat-and-mouse game that’s less about actually being smart and tricky, but more about just trying to being out of somebody’s sight. That’s less of a game of cat-and-mouse, and more of a deadly game of tag; the one where you’re supposed to have some fun watching, but just don’t. Made all the worse is that this deadly game of tag includes Jeremy Irvine and none other than Michael Douglas, and what a weird pairing to play that game, let alone, actually hang out in the first place.

Oh, the power of movies.

Consensus: Inherently silly and preposterous to a fault, Beyond the Reach wants to be intentionally bad-it’s-so-good material, but can’t help but feel slow, boring, and a total waste of the talents of both Douglas and Irvine.

3 / 10 

These two going camping? Sure, why not.

These two going camping? Sure, why not.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Harvest (2015)

Think your kid’s sick? Think again!

After the death of her parents, young Maryann (Natasha Calis) is in desperate need of someone that she can play with. Her grandparents are there and trying to make her feel at home, but honestly, for someone as spunky and as energetic as Maryann is, there needs to be more. Initially, that’s what Maryann thinks she finds in Andy (Charlie Tahan), a boy who is around her age and has been bedridden for most of his life, for reasons unknown. Maryann and Andy do the normal things most young kids do – play baseball, play video-games, and, generally, enjoy one another’s company. That all changes, however, when Andy’s mom, Katherine (Samantha Morton), steps in and lets Maryann know that she is not welcome; Andy’s father, Richard (Michael Shannon), on the other hand, isn’t too bothered by Maryann’s presence, but clearly has no say in the matter. Maryann is shocked and upset, but being the little persistent gal that she is, she decides to see what’s fully going on with this family she lives next door to. What she discovers, not only shocks her, but may also shock Andy and may finally make sense of everything that’s going on with this family.

Somebody's literally on the verge of exploding.

Somebody’s literally on the verge of exploding.

The past few months have been pretty awesome for low-key, indie film makers looking to make a name in the horror genre. It Follows and the Babadook were, seemingly, two underground sleeper hits that showed you didn’t need to be associated with some sort of popular name-brand, or even have a gimmick that makes your material seem cooler; all you needed was to have chills, thrills and plenty of surprises for the audience to fully get invested in. Both films were not only solid pieces of work, but reminded me, a non-horror lover, that when done right, horror movies can still be as terrifying and as exciting as they were way back when in the days of the Michael Meyers’ and Freddy Krueger’s.

The Harvest may not be a full-on, full-out horror flick in the sense of the name, but it is a solid piece of work that reminds us, once again, horror movies can be fun, even without having a large budget to work with. Sometimes, all you need is enough shocks and spills to keep things moving and interesting for all to pay attention to, and you’re good. Anything else added on is just cheap, meaningless garbage that deserves to be placed in something like Paranormal Activity or Saw, where, even though they make plenty of money at the box-office from people who don’t know much better, still don’t add anything new or fun to the genre whose sandbox they’re playing in.

Once again, the Harvest is not necessarily a horror movie, but there is something inherently creepy and odd about this movie and that’s where the real strength of John McNaughton’s direction comes into frame.

For instance, the Harvest‘s tone is wild and over-the-top, but that’s kind of the point; rather than trying to explain why someone, or somebody is acting in an insane way, the movie just sort of hints at the fact that they’re might be something deeper, darker and more disturbing going on that we have to stay glued into finding out. This journey in and of itself is what keeps the Harvest unpredictable, even when it seems to just be all about having scenes where Samantha Morton acts out in outrageous manners. That’s not to say that these scenes are boring, but after awhile, you can tell that McNaughton is sort of just letting Morton get as crazy as she wants as he sits back, reels us in and allows for that final, big reveal to come and hit us all in the face.

Don’t worry, the surprise does work, however, getting there is a bit of a pain, if only because it seems like there’s not much heart or humanity to these characters, or even the situation we’re seeing them involved with. Once again, this may be the whole point to begin with, but it seems like, with these actors, more could have been done.

Like I said though, most of the movie does contain just Samantha Morton continuously getting mad, yelling, screaming, and causing harm to those around her, for reasons that don’t make sense right away. It’s interesting to see Morton take on an unlikable, sometimes maniacal character that is literally all-over-the-place in terms of mood and actual physical presence at times, because it’s so hard to see her in some movies and not fall in love with her charms. But here, she seems to be playing against all of that in a way that’s both shocking, as well as fun; she not only seems to be reveling in the fact that she doesn’t have to please anyone, but also, still seems like she’s interested in getting down to this character’s inner-core. It sort of works and sort of doesn’t, but the effort that Morton gives is credible.

Assuming they just watched Murderball.

Let’s hope they didn’t just watch Murderball.

The reason this is all the more surprising is by the fact that with Morton acting like such a whack-job here, we get to see a more dialed-down, cool, calm and collective performance from Michael Shannon as her husband. Shannon, like Morton, seems to be playing against type as the kind of guy who seems like a nice person, but also seems like he’s got something strange going on behind those dark circles underneath his eyes. Whatever it is, though, it’s cool to see Shannon at least try his hardest to find more emotion within this character, even if it sometimes goes nowhere special.

But, then again, I’ll take some effort over none.

As for the young workers here, they’re both fine in that they’re characters are written in such a way that they’re not annoying, nor are they boring – they’re just kids. Tahan and Calis share a nice chemistry that makes it clear early-on that this movie clearly isn’t going to be heading for any sort of romance anytime soon and because of that, we are spared. Instead, we get more shouting from Samantha Morton and honestly, it’s something I wish I continue to always see in movies.

Whether she’s in them or not.

Consensus: While not necessarily a horror flick, the Harvest still delivers on some disturbing, oddly-placed moments where you don’t know whether to laugh, be terrified, or a little bit of both, which makes it actually pretty exciting.

7 / 10

"Please. Stop. Yelling."

“Please. Stop. Shouting.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Unfriended (2015)

Always use Trojan. Not that Trojan, but yeah, that’s always a safe option, too!

On the one-year anniversary of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), a fellow classmates, suicide, Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) chats with her boyfriend and friends about all sorts of high school stuff that doesn’t really seem all that important. That all begins to change when Blaire’s boyfriend, Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm), gets a strange message from a online user claiming to have all sorts of dirty secrets on them. Nobody has any clue who this person is, or even what it is, and even though they try so very hard to get it away from them and their chat, it never seems to leave. Eventually though, the user gets more and more deadly, which leaves these kids spooked and having no clue what to expect next. Not to mention that this mysterious user seems to be having quite a ball in getting these kids to participate in humiliating games of “Never Have I Ever”, where their dirty laundry fully comes out in spades.

Oh, to be young again.

In a cheap knock-off the already cheap found-footage horror subgenre, Unfriended takes place solely on a laptop computer-screen. While this is absolutely a gimmick, it calls into question whether or not it’s one that deserves to exist for the sole purpose of selling the story? Or, if it’s just there to help sell tickets and make people say, “Wow. Neat.” In all honesty, it seems like a bit of both, but there’s something smart about what the movie is able to do with so little.

"Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!"

“Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!”

That we’re literally watching some sort of mystic virus constantly mess around with these young, seemingly stereotypical teens is actually a bit of fun. While none of them are despicable enough that we want to see them all perish in a lovely blaze of glory, there’s still something inherently enjoyable when there’s a loud-mouth teen getting his comeuppance because he picked-on somebody way back when. Though the movie mistakes this for being “important”, there’s still some fun to be had in watching how a normal night, goes drastically crazy in a matter of less than an-hour-and-a-half.

But, like I said, Unfriended is trying to say something here about technology, cyber-bullying, and how, while we may not think about it, the negative things we write about someone or something on the web, do have an effect on those we are speaking out against. There’s no problem with voicing your opinion in the first place, but there’s always a risk that you may, or may not negatively affect someone in a way you didn’t expect to do so. That’s just the way the world works and with technology being as sufficiently smart and accessible as it is, the chances are only heightened.

Then again, though, this doesn’t matter and serves no real purpose in a horror-thriller such as this. Maybe in a Lifetime, made-for-cable movie, but here, it seems like it’s trying a tad too hard.

However, a movie that’s definitely being sold to teens, and actually gives a fair shot at trying to teach those said young, impressionable teens about how their actions do have consequences, is pretty admirable. The movie mistakes itself for being a message movie than it probably should have, but rather than just making the whole story go down to just, “Ghosts are bad, yo.”, it becomes more of, “Ghosts are bad, yo. But causing someone to kill themselves because of a bad decision you made is even worse. Yo.” It’s a corny sentiment for sure, but it’s one that puts Unfriended one step above most of the horror flicks we see come out around the year.

Doesn’t make it perfect, but hey, at least it’s worth something.

Meaning that there is a lot to be scared by in this movie. Somehow, the movie’s able to make such elements like a Facebook chat, or a trip to the infamous Chat Roulette, or even a phone-call, very tense. Not because it’s smart filming, but because this story doesn’t make itself clear as to where the hell it will go and why. Sure, we know that there’s a mysterious presence spooking these kids, but just how much power does it contain? And with those powers, what is it able to do? The movie keeps these questions coming and even though not all of them add up to a reasonable answer, the ride to the end is still exciting enough that it’s not a pain in the arse whenever the movie leaves the question-marks hanging on at the end.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Which is to say that the characters in this movie, as thinly-written as they may be, still hold enough truth to the way they are portrayed with what they’re given that they’re at least believable and compelling enough to watch. Even though it’s painfully obvious that she’s well-above an 17-to-18-year-old virgin, Shelley Hennig still does a solid enough job as Blaire, where we don’t know if she’s a good person, a bad one, or simply put, just a person nonetheless. We don’t get much background on her here, as is the case for most of the other characters, but throughout this whole conversation these peeps have, we get to learn little more details that are sometimes clever, and sometimes there just to create drama for the sake of doing so.

Sounds like high school, for sure.

The only other one in this cast that’s worth talking about, and less for what he does here and more of how great he’s been in past flicks, is Jacob Wysocki as Ken Smith. Wysocki’s given the role of the comedic sidekick who comes in every so often to make a smart-ass remark, sex joke, or smoke a bowl to break the tension and while he’s fine in the role, it’s nice to see more of this guy that isn’t in roles that are just made to talk about his weight. Terri and Fat Kid Rules the World are both examples of this, and while the fact that they point out his weight isn’t a bad thing, it’s made obvious that he was chosen for those roles because of that and hardly much else. Here though, Wysocki shows us that not only does he have more material to show us he’s able to do, but it doesn’t matter what he looks like.

You keep it going, kid.

Consensus: Maybe not as important as it thinks it is, Unfriended takes its message a tad too seriously, but still delivers on the fun thrills, chills and excitement, in a way that’s heightened by the gimmick of taking place on one computer-screen, practically the whole time.

7 / 10

Everybody's always got that one friend.

Everybody’s always got that one friend.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

True Story (2015)

Got to look out for those charming serial killers; they’re the hardest ones to loathe.

After being publicly shamed and fired for fibbing about a story he did on child-slavery in Africa, ex-New York Times journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is left jobless, depressed and desperate to find any sort of work that may possibly come his way. Eventually though, work does eventually find its way to him – however, just not in the ways he had intended. After being on the run from the feds for the alleged murder of his wife and two kids, Christian Longo (James Franco) fled to Mexico, where he went under a false identity; who also just so happen to be Mike Finkel. Though Longo didn’t get away with this, the real Mike Finkel still finds plenty of interest in this and, seeing a book-deal in the horizon somewhere, decides to jump on the opportunity right away to interview Longo, get to know him better, and eventually, figure out the truth about just what the hell happened and whether or not Longo even committed the crime to begin with. Eventually though, Mike’s obsession with Longo’s life begins to grow almost too serious, which is when Mike’s fiancee (Felicity Jones) sees that it’s time to step in and check out what this Christian Longo guy is all about, if anything at all.

What we have on our hands here, folks, is the classic case where the real, true-to-life story the movie’s discussing and adapting, is way more interesting than the movie itself ever turns out to be. That’s not to say that there aren’t bits and pieces of True Story that don’t sizzle, pop and crackle, as reading this story straight from its Wikipedia page would, but there’s something to say about a movie where it’s constantly made clear that you’ll probably want to read the actual details on what really happened, rather than taking this movie’s word for it.

Pack your bags up, Jonah! You've got more movies with Marty Scorsese to do!

Pack your bags up, Jonah! You’ve got more movies with Marty Scorsese to do!

Because hey, Hollywood lies and they can’t always be trusted.

However, in True Story‘s case, there seems to be too many creative-licenses taken at times that makes this feel like a jumbled-up mess, when it sure as hell didn’t need to be. For instance, the inclusion of Felicity Jones’ character never makes sense here and, on more than a few occasions, takes away from what could have been a thoughtful, intriguing piece about the mental cat-and-mouse games we sometimes play on those who we feel are equal enough to us to play back. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Felicity Jones and considering that she’s red hot right after her Oscar-nominated performance in the Theory of Everything, I’m especially happy to see her be able to take center-stage against the likes of Franco and Hill, but when her scenes with them are supposed to bring some heartfelt emotions, they can’t help but ring false.

And most of this can be attributed to the fact that this is director Rupert Goold’s first time behind the camera, and it damn well shows. According to what I’ve read (because people do that, you know?), Goold comes from a long history of theater and directing plays, which makes total sense; some of the best parts of this film are when it’s simply just two or more people, sitting in a room, talking to one another, and seeing what shoe drops next. Most of these scenes include both Hill and Franco talking to one another, but it works so well because not only are these two actors solid here, but their characters have genuine tension together that you don’t know whether they’re going to take out weapons and start brawling, or rip-off each other’s clothes, shut the lights off, and start making some sweet, hot and sexy love.

Either turnout seems interesting and more than likely, especially considering that these two seem so incredibly comfortable with one another, that even when they aren’t supposed to be laugh-out-loud stoners making us laugh, they’re die hard thespians that try to one-up the other, in any way that they can. In some ways, it’s less of a mind game between these two characters, and more of a mind game between these two actors, who definitely make the movie all the better by showing up, ready to work.

Goes to show you that it’s not such a problem to change things up every once and awhile and get downright serious with your work.

Franco, so smug right now.

Franco, so smug right now.

But Franco and Hill, as hard as they try, aren’t fully capable of keeping this movie above the water for long enough to where the problems within aren’t noticeable. Like I mentioned before, Goold comes from a theater background, and because of this, when he gets right down to making this story about something, rather than just about two guys talking to one another and constantly lying about what may have, or may not have happened on some fateful date in their lives, he stumbles a whole heck of a lot. There’s a point here to be made about the state of modern-day journalism, and how some people are so willing to stay successful and famous for as long as they can, that no matter what, they’ll cover whatever comes their way, but even that feels oddly-placed in a movie that doesn’t know who it wants to judge, or what it wants to say about these people.

Judging from this movie, Mike Finkel isn’t the best journalist who lied about his story to get it past the editing process and hopefully make him a huge star. That didn’t happen, and because of that, we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, even if the movie makes it seem clear that what he does after losing his job, is all the more humiliating. Then, at the same time, it still can’t help but to judge him for jumping on something as odd as Longo’s case, which is where the movie got odd. Is it against Finkel as a person? As a journalist? Or, as somebody who wanted to hold onto any sort of fame he could grasp a hold of?

Whatever the point to it all may have been, it’s hard to put a finger on. Even if Hill and Franco, yes, do seem to be trying here. And, most importantly, don’t seem all that stoned.

Okay, maybe a little.

Consensus: True Story gets most of its mileage out of the solid performances from Hill and Franco, but everything else about is messy, ill-formed and almost too over-dramatic to be considered “the truth”, even if the movie loves spouting that fact many times throughout.

6 / 10

PDA?

PDA?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Project Nim (2011)

Despite the poo-throwing, chimpanzees are still like us.

Meet Nim – he’s a little chimp that was taken from his mommy when he was just under two weeks, given to a family full of people, and all for the sake of a science-experiment, done by Herbert S. Terrace, professor of psychology at Columbia University during the 1970’s. What Terrace was trying to experiment with Nim was to figure out whether or not a chimp could figure out how to speak full sentences, by adapting and being brought up into a human world. And so far with Nim, things are good, but after awhile, they start to go South. Both literally and figuratively.

Whenever you see a little chimp on TV, the zoo, or anywhere else for that matter, you see how they interact with you, one another, and to the rest of the environment that surrounds them. It’s crazy to think that our species somehow adapted from them and became big, old, and dirty things, just like them. However, at the same time, it’s pretty simple to see why we could have adapted from them to be what we are because of how similar we are in certain ways. This movie doesn’t just show that, but it makes us wonder whether or not people should actually even go through with seeing that for themselves. Yes, no matter how tempting it may be to dress a little chimp up in your tighty-wighties, it may not be right in the long run.

Just a tad bit of food for thought.

The fact that chimps are so similar to us in many ways, is only barely touched on as director James Marsh doesn’t seem all that concerned with figuring out whether or not they are us, but more as to whether or not they can be us. You think that raising something, anything to be like you, to live by your rules and standards, with no matter how hard you try, will work, but that’s the problem: It usually doesn’t. That’s what happens here with Nim and his life, but it isn’t the way you’d expect it to all play out.

Hey, come on! It was the 70's.

I’ll just have you all know that she is not a teacher assigned to teaching Nim; she was just so stoned during the 70’s that she’s actually trying to talk to him.

Many questions are brought up in the way to make you think for yourself, rather than having Marsh and all of the subjects point to you and tell you what you should have planted in your mind about this real life situation. For instance, one of the big questions goes right back to the beginning: Was it right for Nim to be brought up as a human in the first place? Obviously the chimp was there for medical research, so maybe, yeah it was right in the name of science, but what about humanity? Well, that’s where things start to get a little fishy and complicated.

See, taking any living thing out of their element/space, will most likely not be met with positive reception. Yes, that living thing may learn how to use the bathroom, speak, and get things done the way they need to, but it surely may not be fully happy with where it is, had it been in its original spot in the first place. I sound all vague for the sole reason that I’m not just talking about Nim and what they did to him in the first place, because Nim is only the clearest, most popular example. I’m talking about everyone, everything, and hell, anything, for that matter. If you take anything outside of this world, whether it be a human or an animal, you are most likely going to run into some problems down the road with that living thing coming back to it’s original-self. Which, in the case of chimps, is a pretty scary thing because those mofo’s can do some damage.

Real damage, too.

That’s what brings me onto my next question that this movie brings up and that’s whether or not the way Nim acted in his later-years was because of the fact that he was constantly shipped from person-to-person without any sole figure to care for him long enough to leave a lasting impact? Or simply, if because the actual teaching itself was bad. Seeing Nim go from a new person, almost as each and every year goes by is heartbreaking to watch in many ways, but mainly for the fact that we know that the chimp is only going to act out a bit more and be even more confused, especially when you put him in a spot that he isn’t used to, and is trying to shake the cobwebs off the from the old place he use to stay and be accustom to. It’s sad because we know if we were Nim, we would have no clue as to what the hell to do with our lives and probably be just as confused as him, but considering it’s a chimp and he’s supposed to be watched over by “professionals”, it does make you wonder about the people involved, more than the actual experiment itself.

Like all pre-teens, Nim just wants to get behind the wheel and show all the ladies his new caddy.

Like all pre-teens, Nim just wants to get behind the wheel and show all the ladies his new Caddy.

Every person that was a ever a substantial part of Nim’s life, all get to share a bit of the spotlight here in a way I wasn’t expecting. The family that was there first for him, to the professor that monitored his whole experiment, to the people that were trying to run experiments on him by using needles filled with HIV and hepatitis – they all get a chance to tell their side of the story and it’s well-done too. As I said before, Marsh never gets in our face and tells us what we need to think about each and every person. He just hands out these people to us on a silver platter, gives them a chance to tell their story, and allows us to make up our own minds about what the hell we should think about them.

This device also allows for us to see who the people really, truly were that cared for Nim, who cared enough to just get their names in the papers and record-books, and what people just did not give a single crap at all about a sign-language speaking chimp. I won’t give away the people that you see as bastards and what people you see as latter-day saints of the animal world, but you will see just how wrong it is for some people to treat an animal, regardless of the importance behind the poor thing. Sure, it’s an animal, but that doesn’t mean that they are any lesser than us. Every person in this movie knows that simple fact, but they just don’t care too much about. They don’t care too much about Nim, they don’t care too much about the research, and they sure as hell don’t care too much about actual animals, either.

That’s why when we see Nim get all pissed-off and angry at the people that pushed and tugged at him all of his life, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the furry dude. It’s downright scary sometimes, but we know where it’s all coming from and you don’t point the finger at him, as much as you do to the fellow ding-bats that didn’t really bother too much with him. But, when Nim is happy and when things begin to look up for him, you feel a certain sense of joyfulness and pleasure in the simple things in life. Simple things like playing, hugging, kissing, eating, climbing, sharing, talking, communicating, etc. All of those things in life are as simple as you can get, and it reminds you just how beautiful the world can be, if you can look at them through innocent, little eyes like Nim’s. Sure, he was a chimp that was experimented on to see if they could get him to form full-on, grammatical sentences, but he was also a chimp that showed everybody what it was like to live the life of somebody that just wanted to be happy, to understand the world around him, and pretty much, get everything that he wanted.

Hmm.

Now, who does that sound like?

Consensus: What you think is just a simple movie about a chimp-experiment gone somewhat wrong, turns out to be a thought-provoking tale of what makes us living, who is to blame for it, and whether or not all things deserve to live life in the shoes of others, all packaged into Project Nim, one of the most heart-wrenching documentaries about animals, that you don’t need to see on the Discovery Channel.

9 / 10

Now why can't I do that and not be slapped in the face?!?!?

Now why can’t I do that without being slapped in the face?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Lost River (2015)

Working with Nicolas Winding Refn can do quite a number on a person.

Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother who has no job, no money, and hardly even a house, decides that it’s time for her to get employed so that she can support her and her boys, before the big, bad Bully (Matt Smith) comes around and does some seriously bad things to all of them. She takes up a job in a sleazy, nightmarish night club, where people simulate murdering one another for the love and cheers of the crowd. Think stripping, but instead of a pole, you have blood-squibs. While Billy is off getting fit into her new job, her oldest son (Iain De Caestecker) is left to fend for himself and his little brother, which isn’t easy, considering where they live is practically in shambles, where every native seems to be hitting the high road as soon as humanly possible. Eventually though, he finds much solace with a local girl named Rat (Saoirse Ronan) who looks after her grandmother, but is also being sought out by Bully, and might have to stop him, using any force necessary.

A part of me that wants to think Ryan Gosling meant to make this movie. Somehow, I feel as if Gosling is so smart and charismatic that he knew he wanted to make a total mind-fuck of a movie that, while may not be perfectly accessible to the mainstream crowd who usually ushers out to see his movies, would please him and his own creative tendencies. Maybe this is the movie he’s been clamoring to make for the past couple years or so, but just didn’t have the time, nor the resources to do so. But now that he does, he’s throwing it all out on the line, seeing what sticks, what doesn’t, and not giving a single crap because, at the end of the day, he’s the one who feels creatively wasted and also, gets to go to home to this.

Wait, why is she in this?

Wait, why is she in this……?

But sadly, another part of me, feels as if Lost River is just a jumbled-up, over-the-top, Lynchian-wannabe that makes no sense, doesn’t want to make any sense and isn’t really worth bothering to see, even despite the talent it features both in front of, as well as behind the camera.

Which is to say that there’s something inherently intriguing about Lost River – it’s the kind of movie that has no real point, yet, still features something resembling a plot and a whole bunch of crazy, off-putting happenings that can hardly be explained other than with a confused-expression on one’s face. If there’s one thing you have to give Gosling credit for, above all else, is that he didn’t settle for the easy project to make for his directorial debut. Instead, the movie is challenging, unique, and chock full of all sorts of beautiful camera-work that gets by being any one thing in particular, but also, is hardly about anything to begin with.

Instead, Gosling seems more interested in just allowing for certain scenes to take us off-guard and get more and more increasingly stranger by the minute. It’s sort of like Lynch, but whereas Lynch draws on real aspects of life that most people can relate to, even if doing so is a complicated task in and of itself, Gosling seems like he’s just showing us weird stuff because, well, he can. That may help stimulate himself, as well as our eyes, but when it comes down to doing something for the story, it doesn’t work.

So, in that case, it’s obvious that this is Gosling’s first rodeo as a director. He doesn’t yet have the creative skills to make a film like this work, nor does he know how to get a point across, if there is even one to begin with. That isn’t to say that every movie made needs to have a message at the end of it, telling us all that we’re supposed to think about and leave with in our heads, but to have some reason for telling a story is better than nothing at all; if you have nothing at all to say, then what’s the point? To have some fun?

Sure. I guess. But Lost River isn’t fun.

It's like a metaphor for like loss of innocence, or something.

It’s like a metaphor for like loss of innocence, or something.

In fact, it’s actually kind of boring. Once you realize that it doesn’t really have a direction and is sort of just making itself up as it goes along, then any sort of anticipation or excitement goes away. Say what you will about Lynch, Winding Refn, or even Lars von Trier for that matter – while they aren’t everybody’s cup-of-tea and sure as hell don’t always make sense with every decision that they make, they at least try to give us a plot that keeps things speeding along at a rapid pace, even while they’re continuously messing with their audiences’ minds. This is more like a Terence Malick film in that there’s no plot, no character-development, and barely any discernible dialogue; it’s just a lot of pretty, swooping images that may be pretty to look at, don’t make a movie, well, good.

Is this to say that Ryan Gosling doesn’t have a good film to be found in his handsomely-detailed body? Absolutely not. In fact, something as unpredictable as this, only has me look forward more to what’s next on the horizon for this guy. While I do hope that he gets some more skill behind the camera and the typewriter before he decides to take up another project, I can still see Baby Goose making a good movie, hell, maybe even a great movie. When that time will come, is totally up in the air. But for now, we’ll just lean on Lost River to be our example of what R-Gos has to bring to the table in terms of being a director.

And while that may not sound promising, for someone who is able to go from this, to this, in the span of maybe a decade or so, it’s to show that nearly anything is possible.

Both good, as well as bad.

Consensus: Incomprehensible, weird, wild, and random, Lost River shows signs that Ryan Gosling may make for a smart, inspired director in the future, but for right now, that will remain to be seen.

4 / 10

I don't know. Don't ask.

I don’t know. Don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire, GeekTyrant

While We’re Young (2015)

Growing up is hard to do.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless couple pushing forward and are at a bit of a stand-still in their lives. She’s bored and wondering if she should have a child, whereas he still has yet to complete a documentary that he got started on nearly a decade ago. They’re best friends (Adam Horowitz and Maria Dizzia) are married and have a baby, which makes both Josh and Cornelia feel all the more alienated from the people they used to hang around with and call “pals”. Now, they just rely on one another. That all changes, however, when an adoring fan of Josh’s, Jamie (Adam Driver), approaches him and wants him to help with his documentary that he himself is trying to get off the ground. Josh is fine with this because it feels like a way to connect with the younger-crowd – which is how Cornelia feels when she meets Jamie’s wife, Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Altogether, the four connect to create a documentary, while along the way, forging a friendship that finds both couples happy and excited. Eventually though, Josh begins to wake up and realize that Jamie may not be all that he appears to be, especially when matters involved with the documentary may not be all that they appear to be.

Noah Baumbach is a very hit-or-miss director for me. While I loved the Squid and the Whale, I despised Margot at the Wedding; though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Greenberg, he still surprised me with Frances Ha. Most of what Baumbach includes in these films are challenging, sometimes detestable characters that don’t ask for your forgiveness, nor are we really willing to give it to them. Sometimes, this works in Baumbach’s favor where it seems like he really wants the audience to make up their own minds, but other times, works against him where he isn’t so much as giving the audience anything valuable, except for just a bunch of unlikable, mean-spirited people that you wouldn’t want to spend a dinner-date with, let alone a whole hour-and-a-half with.

Children! Children everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don't look back!

Babies! Babies everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don’t look back!

While We’re Young falls somewhere in between and I’m fine with that; there’s something rather pleasing and simple about that notion that makes me feel like people who don’t normally like Baumbach’s films can find something to enjoy out of this, and his die-hards won’t fall back from, either.

Basically, everyone wins here. Including you, the viewer.

Most of this has to do with the fact that While We’re Young is, for the most part, very funny. Baumbach’s movies hardly ever seem like they’re trying too hard to make people laugh, so they rarely register as “comedies” to me, but here, you can actually tell Baumbach’s trying to be funny and it works. Though the majority of this film is filled with these sad characters, who can sometimes borderline on being “types”, Baumbach finds a way to not make fun of them, as much as to just make fun of the all-too-realistic situations they all get into. For instance, when Stiller’s character gains arthritis, Baumbach isn’t make fun of Josh for being old, but more or less, making fun of the fact that Josh himself can’t believe that he really is old enough to have to worry about his body the way he never had to think about before. It’s that kind of small, narrative-choice that shows us that not only is Baumbach growing a bit more positive as even he ages, but that he’s realizing there’s more to life than people making a constant stream of bad situations.

And yet, Baumbach still strikes a raw nerve here in the way that he approaches the connection two different age groups can create. Though it’s painfully obvious and clear that Jamie and Darby are hipsters, the movie never utters this word; instead, it judges them solely on who they are. Sure, they’d prefer to watch VHS tapes then buy a Netflix account; or own a chicken and raise it, much rather than a dog or a cat; or wear fedoras around everywhere they go, rather than a standard baseball cap. That doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them who they are and for that, Baumbach doesn’t judge them.

The only time that he does begin to judge these characters is when you can start to see the tides change in this movie, where the tone goes from playful, earnest comedy about life and love, to an angry, hate-spewing drama about learning lessons. This is where While We’re Young begins to lose its focus and become a whole other movie altogether; one that I don’t even know could have worked on its own. It seems like Baumbach has something to say to the many generations to come and while it all may hold some truth, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t work for a movie that seemed like it had an honest point, yet, still didn’t forget to draw on the comedic opportunities, either. Not to say that all comedies have to be constantly funny, no matter where it is that they go, but they can’t go from 1, to 10 on the drama-meter whenever it sees fit; there has to be some sort of cohesive change in the middle and I don’t know if that happens here.

Look out, grand-pa!

“Don’t fall, grand-pa!” – some young whippersnapper

But, no matter what happens in the later-half of this movie, there is no denying that the cast works well this material and, more often than not, finds ways to make their characters more than just what they appear to be on the surface. A perfect example of this is Adam Driver’s Jamie – he’s the type of kiss-ass, wise youngling that seems like he means well and wants to make those around him happy, but there’s something troubling about him underneath it all. We know this early-on because it’s a movie, and for there to be no conflict whatsoever, there’d hardly be a movie, if you think about it, but when everything does eventually come to a head and we realize Jamie’s true intentions, we see the true colors in this characters and it works as well as it should because Driver keeps us guessing about this character. Are his intentions to feed-off of Josh and the connections he has in the film world? Or, is he genuine in saying that he loves, praises and adores Josh, and just wants nothing more than to learn every trick of the trade there is to learn in the documentary-making world?

These are questions that are barely answered and for that, the mystery works.

Though, this isn’t to say Driver’s the only one worth mentioning here, as everybody else is solid. Stiller shows off that lovely comedic-timing of his that’s worked so well in many other pieces of his, but comes from a heartfelt place this time that makes you feel for this aging, relatively sad guy; Naomi Watts gets to be funny, too, but also show us a woman that wants to be apart of “something”, but because she doesn’t have a child to love, to hold, or to care for, she’s pushed-off to the side and seen as something of an “outsider”; Amanda Seyfried may be given a thinly-written role in the form of Darby, but she works well with it, showing that there’s more to her than just being stuck in her hubby’s shadow; Charles Grodin, for the limited amount of time we get to see him on-screen, is funny and brutally honest, and there’s a part of me that wanted more from him; and Adam Horovitz, believe it or not, is the one who ends up leaving the most lasting impression as the voice of reason. He’s the character that tells Josh and Cornelia to wake up, realize that they are indeed, old, and should stop pretending to be somebody they aren’t. He isn’t telling them to have kids, he’s just telling them to accept the fact that they’re old and to be done with it already.

Holy crap. Is Ad-Rock almost 50? Where did time go?

Consensus: Honest, smart, and surprisingly funny in spots, While We’re Young hits certain notes about growing old and accepting that fact in life in an effective manner, even if the final-half does get a tad bit preachy.

7.5 / 10 

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

But if Tom Cruise can fly, how can Scientology not be magical?

Scientology has been around for as long as most people can remember and it doesn’t seem like it’ll ever go away. In the early days, when it was advertised as a “religion” by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, people flocked to find out what all of this hype was about. People’s lives were changing in ways they never quite expected and because of this, more and more people joined the church. But to ensure that they’d be let in, members would have to donate loads of money before ever setting one foot in the church, which is where most of the problems within first arose. Now, nearly 50 years after its conception, Scientology is running wild with controversy, even though it apparently has loyal followers in such celebrities as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Even despite the fact that numerous celebrities have left it and that there are reports of abuse that occurs both when you’re apart of it, and when you leave it, Scientology still has many loyal followers and only seems to be growing more and more each year. But will that ever end?

Alex Gibney is the kind of director our world needs nowadays. While he isn’t necessarily changing the world, he’s still shooting out at least two or three documentaries a year, opening our eyes to certain subjects we thought were already set-in stone and never seems to set his sights on one basic story-format that’s of interest to him. Surely, he likes controversy, but who can blame him? Especially when you have the chance to finally, once and for all, unveil what’s behind the curtain of Scientology, who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity?

Yeah, totally not the guy who Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed in the Master?

Yeah, totally not the guy who Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed in the Master?

And honestly, what else is there to be said about Scientology that hasn’t already been said? Sure, people boast on and on about its weird, cult-ish like tendencies, where people are literally brain-washed into thinking and acting certain ways, possibly all against their control, but do we really know Scientology in all its fullest-form? We can read a whole bunch about it, but does that really make everything said real, or better yet, justified?

This isn’t me trying to stand behind the Church of Scientology, this is me just bringing up a point that Gibney, unlike many directors before him, has finally been given the opportunity to pull back the covers and show us what Scientology is all about. But it isn’t just all skepticism, either – what we have here, on more than a few occasions, is first-hand accounts from people who were, at one time, Scientologists. Through them, we get to see, hear, and understand just what was going through their minds every step of the way. This helps allow for the material to give off a bit of authenticity that something like this so desperately needed to survive and compel the audience.

But while it would be easier to make fun of these people for even bothering to join such a shady religion to begin with, the movie never judges them for what they did. In fact, more often than not, it’s the people speaking who pass the most judgement on themselves, after they realize just what they were involved in and how they’re lives may forever be troubled because of the union they made. Such is the case with Jason Beghe, a solid character actor in his own right, who comes on the screen and seems like he’s not going to hide anything of what he actually feels or has to say about Scientology; he seems legitimately pissed-off and upset, and he has no one else to blame other than himself.

He knows this. He understands this. And he’s ready to move on.

As are most of the people shown here, discussing their time with Scientology and the aftermath of it all. But this is all just one aspect to the movie – an effective one, for sure, but one that doesn’t get one’s blood boiling quite as much as when Gibney starts to unravel some of the dirty, deep and dark secrets that Scientology has lying behind its huge, blue building. For instance, without saying too much, the fact that Scientology is able to get a tax-break for what it deems itself as “a religion”, is all the more despicable once you realize that the religious teachings they give, seem to hardly ever come. The only time somebody eventually figures out what Scientology is all about, is when they’ve literally been involved with the church for nearly a decade, and by then, they’re already a million dollars in-debt because of how many hand-outs the church demands you pay up-front, before any teachings are given.

This man is 25. Look at what Scientology does to you!

This man is 25. Look at what Scientology does to you!

This is especially strange, but nothing new we haven’t quite heard or read about before. Where the film really starts to turn things around is whenever it focuses on those two huge names who have been associated with Scientology since the early days of its fame: Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Travolta and Cruise, for the past few decades or so, have, essentially, become known as the poster boys of Scientology – they stand for everything Scientology has to offer and whenever somebody has something negative to say about it, they are the ones who step right up the front-lines to defend it like a bunch of desperate, but loyal soldiers. Most people are weirded-out by this, and while I’m not one to judge somebody based solely on what they hold near and dear to them as their “beliefs”, seeing what Gibney is able to uncover about their time spent with the church and what that means for those around them, puts a lot of things into perspective.

For instance, when we hear that Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman was apparently broken-up due to the fact that Scientology didn’t like how her father was this huge religious nut overseas, it seems like nothing more than People magazine hearsay. But when we actually see the people who would have actually been involved with a decision like that, saying that it happened, how it happened, and why it needed to happen, it feels all too real to dismiss. Same goes for Travolta – while his situation may be a tad more sketchy concerning that most of what he has to defend about Scientology comes down to his own escapades, there’s still something creepy about seeing him literally as a prisoner with nowhere else to go, except just continue on and on with the rouse that he has so publicly kept-up for the longest time.

Though this comes off more as me just throwing my own two cents about what happens in this movie, rather than saying how I felt about it, there’s actually kind of a point behind that. Everything that’s revealed to us is as shocking as can be, but Gibney never forgets that there are actual people involved with this religion that need to possibly wake up, smell the cauliflower, and get out while they still can. Because if they don’t, not only will they be “disconnected” from the rest of their family, but they may never get any sort of life back.

Now, what kind of legal, law-abiding religion literally makes people feel that way?

Consensus: Shocking, effective, and always compelling, Going Clear reveals certain secrets about Scientology that need to be seen and heard to be believed, and will hopefully create a change. If not now, at least sometime in the future.

8.5 / 10 

Inside those walls, are things I am almost too frightened to think about.

Inside those walls, are things I am almost too frightened to picture.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Floodmagazine.com, Rolling Stone

Furious 7 (2015)

People can be violent, but cars are nearly worse.

The gang’s all back, but this time, it’s personal! Soon after their buddy is killed by a notorious thug by the name of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) – a brother of one of their former foes – Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) realize that it’s time to get vengeance in the only way they know best. But before doing so, they get a proposition from a special agent (Kurt Russell): Help him retrieve a piece of spy software from a terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) and he will more than make sure that Dom, Brian and the rest of the crew get that sweet taste of revenge that they’ve been clamoring for after all of this time has passed. However, there are other problems going on from within the group where Dom can’t seem to get Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) to remember their past together for what it was, nor can Brian seem to tear himself away from the wacky, wild life of crime that’s always attracted him for so long, even if he’s know settled-down with a wife (Jordana Brewster) and kid. Will the crew stay fast? Furious? Or neither?

So yeah, already going into this installment, there’s plenty to be discussed. With the tragic passing of Paul Walker nearly a-year-and-a-half ago, everything that was initially planned for Furious 7, from the release date, to the plot, were all scrapped and made anew. Which makes total sense. Walker wasn’t some sort of bit player in this franchise that showed up every so often to utter some witty line that would get the whole crowd laughing at how likable he is; he was, literally, the heart and soul of this franchise. Without him, it probably wouldn’t have gone on for as long as it has, which is both a blessing and a curse.

And they're not beating the hell out of each other, because.......?

And they’re not beating the hell out of each other, because…….?

A curse because the movie’s are dumb, over-the-top, ridiculous, and represent everything that is wrong with American’s society of masculinity. On the flip-side, though, it’s also a blessing because these movies, at least in the case for the last three installments, are so much fun, seem to never lose sight of just how illogical they are, and hardly ever apologize for it. Fast & Furious movies aren’t supposed to be taken seriously, and that’s where the real charm lies.

Hence why Paul Walker, all of his acting talents aside, was perfectly-suited for this franchise, no matter what it threw at him, or where it threw him.

With that being said, Furious 7 is a pretty raucous time. While I may not be saying anything new that hasn’t already been uttered by millions and millions of people from around the world, there’s still something interesting to note about a franchise in which the movies seem to constantly get better and one-up the one that came before it. Fast Five started this trend of the franchise going towards more action-fare, rather than just making it all about hot cars, hot men, hot women, and hot bodies, and the sixth film absolutely went for it all and, for the most part, came out on top.

While Furious 7 may not be better than the sixth movie, it’s still pretty damn close because it never forgets what it is: A mindless piece of action-fare that audiences will pay dozens of dollars for. Though this sounds easy (because, quite frankly, Michael Bay’s been doing it for the past two decades now), looking at some films, it’s actually not. Last year’s utterly forgettable and boring Need for Speed tried so desperately to pull-off the same sort of magic that the Fast franchise has been pulling off for quite some time and it failed miserably. That movie wanted to be silly, insane and ludicrous beyond belief, whereas the Fast movies are exactly that, but they don’t ever seem to be trying.

Not to mention that they actually do feature a dude a named Ludacris.

But because Furious 7 knows what it’s all about, it doesn’t try to pretend it’s something it isn’t. Though there are a chock-full of scenes dedicated to these thinly-written, one-dimensional characters breaking down all sorts of barriers and getting dramatic with one another, these scenes are quickly dismissed as soon as they show up. Also, too, it makes sense that we need at least some sort of character-development to help make things seem fully rounded-out and not just *crash*, *bang*, *boom* all of the darn time. While this would have been fun, let’s be realistic here: No movie franchise with its seventh-installment is going to totally shelve its characters for their beyond-nuts action sequences.

Just get used to it and move on. That’s what I did and it worked well.

It worked well because, once I realized that every problem these characters had didn’t really matter much in the grander scheme of things, the action just got a whole lot better and more exciting. Though you’d think these movies would have already run-out of ideas on how to set-up action sequences and still, somehow, be able to utilize automobiles in some sort of fashion, director James Wan proves you damn wrong. With scenes depicting cars flying through the sky with parachutes and even scenes where cars go flying through three buildings, this franchise continues to give us something new and fun to feast our eyes and ears onto.

Not a Rock Bottom, but it'll do.

No Rock Bottom, but it’ll do.

And honestly, the sky is the limit from here on out. No matter how many times this movie tries to break actual science, it won’t lose any bit of respect because the rules have already been set-in place: There are no rules. Cars can literally fly through the sky; people can literally shoot their guns till the cows come home and never run out of ammunition; jets can literally glide around downtown LA without there being hardly any interference from the Army of any sort. Literally, anything can happen in these movies and because of that, they never lose an ounce of momentum; they just continue to build up and up on it some more until it feels like, you know, we may have had enough adrenaline for one day.

And really, the same rules apply to the characters, as well. Like I said before, none of these characters here are inherently interesting or well-written, but they exist in a universe that loves them all so very much, that it’s hard to look down upon them for being “types”. Like the movies they exist in, you just accept them for what they are, let them do their thing and move on.

It’s quite easy, really.

Meaning, when you accept them, you have to accept Vin Diesel’s garbled growling; Michelle Rodriguez’s resting bitch face; Dwayne Johnson to be wearing Under Amour every time he is on-screen and trying so hard not to break kayfabe; Jordana Brewster just being “there”; Ludacris and Tyrese to be the goofy sidekicks that everyone can rely on for comedy and not really anything serious to contribute to the plot; and, most of all, Paul Walker’s ability to just be the “everyman” in every scene he’s in. Because even though newcomers to this franchise like Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Russell, and especially, a deliciously evil Jason Statham all acquit themselves perfectly into this movie, strut their stuff and show us what they’re more than able to bring to the creative table, it’s Walker who still leaves the most lasting impression. He isn’t trying to, either – he just is.

And somehow, there’s a small bit of beauty in that.

Consensus: Like every other installment of the franchise, Furious 7 is as ridiculous and nonsensical as you can get, but still a whole bunch of fun, treating fans to everything that they could ever want with one of these movies, and then some, especially with the emotional tribute to Paul Walker – the one true face of this franchise.

8 / 10

Ride on, brotha.

Ride on, brotha.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Serena (2015)

Pretty much a remake of Silver Linings Playbook. Except not everybody’s supposed to be nuts.

In Depression-era North Carolina, timber baron George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is dealing with most problems people have to deal with when they run any sort of business. Dealing with panthers and such in the wilderness that surrounds him and his workers, George realizes that he needs to figure something out in his life to give it more meaning. Which is why when he meets the young, beautiful and wistful Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), he instantly falls head-over-heels. Soon, they have sex, get married, and decide that it’s time to start a family. Problem is, Serena starts to take her husband’s business a little too seriously and get in the way of matters that don’t concern her. However, George loves Serena and doesn’t want to upset her, so when he impregnates her, he feels like they’re going to be getting back on-track into that happy, lovely couple they once were. Once again though, troubles arise when Serena suddenly finds out that she cannot bear children, which leads to horrifying, disastrous results that finds almost everyone involved with the Pemberton clan acting out in insane ways.

Serena1

Uh oh. One bad movie and B-Coops is making someone pay!

Oh, gosh. What went wrong? Sure, I’ve heard about Serena for a long while now, from when it was completed and then put on the shelf for nearly two years, to when it premiered at some festivals last year to ultimately disastrous reviews, but man, I sure as hell didn’t expect it to be this bad.

Seriously.

And while it’s hard for me to not just start and end this review by simply stating it’s crappy, there’s something that needs to be said here about movies that seem like they’d be alright, all because of who is involved with them. When you see names like “Bradley Cooper” and “Jennifer Lawrence”, you’d automatically expect that whatever they were involved with, to be something worth checking out, regardless of what it’s about. Heck, if you put J-Law and B-Coops in a room and film them for an-hour-and-a-half, chances are, we’re all going to watch it. They’ve made smart enough choices in the past to give us the idea that they know what they’re doing with their careers, and they’re more than talented enough to remind us why they get as much material thrown their way as they do.

But somehow, Serena just is not the kind of movie where all of this seems clear. Cooper and Lawrence seem like they are trying here with what’s given to them, but what’s given to them is absolute garbage and so far from any help, that even their more than reliable skills as actors can’t save the day. Even Susanne Bier, a solid director when she’s given enough inspiration, seems like she has no idea what to make of this tale, or even seem like she gives a damn. Then again, this could be just that the material is so thin and poorly-done, that even she couldn’t help it from being something better.

Either way, Serena is a mess. There’s no two ways of getting around it. Some of that is Bier’s fault, other times, it’s Cooper, Lawrence and the rest of the cast, but overall, it’s a group effort that seemed doomed from the beginning; regardless of how much effort may have been put into it.

Or in this case, I guess none.

See, what’s odd about Cooper and Lawrence here, is that while they’re usually spectacular in all else that they do, here, they seem incredibly awkward. Even they’re chemistry together that’s blossomed so well in the past seems like an after-thought in a movie that wants to have you believe in these two as long, lost loves who, after five seconds of meeting one another and boning, instantly fall in love and get married. It feels rushed and put-on, and to be honest, neither one’s performances help matters.

Somehow, female J-Law on a white horse isn't as awesome as it sounds.

Somehow, female J-Law on a white horse isn’t as awesome as it sounds.

Cooper has some odd Southern-twang in his voice that makes everything that comes out of his mouth, indecipherable, whereas with Lawrence, I don’t even know what to say. Her character is supposed to be this enchanting, yet demanding piece of work that seems to always get her way, no matter what; and when she doesn’t, it’s literally the end of the world for her, as well as all those surrounding her. Whereas Lawrence’s high-strung charm has worked for her in the past, because this character is so poorly-written and crazy, it all comes off as over-the-top and the decisions her character makes by the tail-end of this movie, are downright laughable. It makes you feel bad enough for Lawrence, until you realize that the gal already has an Oscar to her name and probably plenty more to come.

So any bit of sadness goes away once reality strikes.

And honestly, it’s hard to really think that this movie could have been good in some universe; it’s just not that type of movie. A part of me wants to feel that, even before Silver Linings hit the big screen and made both of these acts downright superstars, that Lawrence and Cooper took it, without knowing one another, and saw what could happen next. Maybe they got some nice pay out of their ordeal, or maybe they didn’t, but either way, this will slide right by them. They’ll go on to make bigger, way better movies (probably with David O. Russell) and seem to forget that this movie ever existed and eventually, will make it a blip in their memories.

The only ones who will remember are us, the normal, everyday citizens who will still be pondering that deadly question:

Just what the hell happened here?

Consensus: Sometimes, it doesn’t matter who’s involved, if you’re project is bad, it’ll probably stay that way. And that is exactly what happens to the poorly-written, terribly-acted, and so-bad-its-hilarious piece that is Serena; a movie you’ve heard is terrible and guess what? It is!

2 / 10 

"Go back to sleep, baby. It was all just a dream. A horrendous, terrifying, and downright disturbing dream."

“Go back to sleep, baby. It was all just a dream. A horrendous, terrifying, and downright disturbing dream.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Woman in Gold (2015)

The Nazis just can’t help themselves when they see a lovely portrait, apparently.

Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, has stood the test of time and will forever be known as one of the art world’s finest paintings ever created. However, during the Nazis raid on Vienna before WWII, it was confiscated and hidden for many years, all until Austria decided to start showcasing it in is museums. An elderly Holocaust survivor living in Los Angeles by the name of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), notices this and is ashamed. Why? Well, because the subject of that painting was her aunt and she rightfully believes that the painting belongs to her, in the name of her family and late, great aunt. But for some reason, the Austrian government isn’t budging and doesn’t want to give it back, so this is when Maria calls into a son of one of her friends, E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), who doesn’t seem all that involved with the proceedings to really give all the juice that a high-level case like this would need. However, Maria is inspired enough to try and get him to change his mind so that he will see this is not only her battle, but all of Jewish people’s.

Without the eye-brows, one can only assume she's astonished by whatever is in front of her.

Without the eye-brows, one can only assume she’s astonished by whatever is in front of her.

With last year’s the Monuments Men, we got to see the art world portrayed as it almost had never been before: On the gritty and war-torn landscapes of WWII, where people were constantly killing each other left and right, yet, to ensure that a sense of culture would stay alive and well in the years to come, a group of inspired art enthusiasts set out to retrieve pieces of art work that they believed were to be burned away by the Nazis. It was an interesting premise, for sure, and while the movie may have not done it all justice, there was still this intriguing aspect surrounding WWII that isn’t just discussing the obvious; even though everybody is acting in heinous, sadistic ways, that does not mean we have to lose sight of what makes us who we are. And somehow, art is exactly what represents that.

However, this is all just me talking and not at all what this movie discusses. Instead, it has more to do with Maria Altmann, the person, rather than the whole idea that the Nazis stole and most likely destroyed more than half of these foreign countries pieces of art. And for what? Just to prove how mean and grotesque they are? Or was it just to ensure that they would be the tale-tellers of history for generations to come, understand and listen to?

Maybe, maybe not. But hey, look how witty that Maria Altmann was!

Or, at least, that’s what I imagined was going through this movie’s mind as it seems to be more concerned with the lovely, little witticisms Altmann, the character, has to offer. Which is to say that Helen Mirren, for what it’s worth, does a solid job in this role in that she shows us the never ending sadness behind this character that hardly ever seemed to left, even when she did get a chance to escape Vienna and save herself from impending doom. But even with that brave act on her part, still comes the realization that everybody she came to know, love and spend most of her time around in her younger years, are all gone; maybe if they weren’t killed during the Nazis reign, maybe they are now. Maria Altmann is a lonely woman who is literally trying to hold on to whatever source of family or love she has left in her life.

However, this is all me looking deeper and deeper into what is, essentially, a buddy-cop dramedy with Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren; which, trust me, isn’t as fun as I may make it sound. Sure, they fight the baddies (in this case, the Austrian government), they bicker, they solve problems, and along the way, get to know more about each other through revealing conversations about their past or their feelings. All that’s missing is any bit of emotion.

Actually, that’s a lie. Because the only time that there is any emotion at all to be found, is whenever we flashback to Altmann’s life in Vienne, both before, as well as during the time where the Nazis came around and started terrorizing everything and everyone they ran into. There’s a sequence that runs for at least ten to 15 minutes where the younger-Altmann (Tatiana Maslany) and her hubby (Jack Irons) are on the run from the Gestapo, which is thrilling and exciting, even if you don’t expect it to be. Because we know that Altmann ultimately survived escaping from Vienna before the Nazis got to her first, this shouldn’t work one bit, but somehow, it totally does and felt like a solid diversion from whatever the hell Riggs and Murtagh were doing or talking about.

Presumably, after they were just involved with a high-speed car-chase with some crooks.

Presumably, after they were just involved with a high-speed car-chase with some crooks.

And I guess there is something to be said by the fact that Reynolds, like Mirren, at least tries with this character, but he isn’t given much of anything else to do except whine a lot and then, seemingly out of nowhere, gain the courage to fight against the Austrian government once and for all. Even Katie Holmes’ performance as his character’s wife, feels like she’s there just to pump him up and give him inspirational pull-quotes that will ultimately do everything for him, but nothing for us. Which is all a problem, especially when you’re begging and pleading with us to be involved with Altmann’s tale of tribulations.

Although Simon Curtis does genuinely seem to care for this story and the outcome of it all, it never seems like he’s putting absolutely all of his heart into it. Instead, he’s just sort of going through the motions of how we’re supposed to feel somewhat compelled by this type of story, until we realize that Curtis himself is using it as material to talk about the fact that there are plenty more paintings out there, either hidden or in plain-view, that were taken away from their rightful owners during the time of war. Once again, this is probably the most interesting notion that the movie seems to highlight, yet, never actually seems to care about.

Instead, he just wants us all to laugh at the cheeky woman that was Maria Altmann, who is about as funny as my alcoholic uncle on New Year’s Eve.

Consensus: Going through all of the motions you expect it to go through, the Woman in Gold seems to suffer from the lack of any sort of emotion, even if both Mirren and Reynolds seem to be digging deep and far to find any of it.

4 / 10

Why have a painting? When you can have the real thing?

Why have a painting? When you can have the real thing?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

It Follows (2015)

Remember kids: Don’t be silly, wrap your willy. OR DIE!

Taking place in the bored suburbs of Detroit, a deadly sexually-transmitted disease is being passed around amongst horny, free-willed teenagers who don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. Which is exactly what happens to Jay (Maika Monroe) when, after a night of fun, dinner, and sex, her date informs her of the tragic news: She has been infected with a disease that will take many forms of people that only she can see and follow her around, until it gets its grip on her, and kills her in graphic, disturbing ways. Apparently, the only way that Jay can stop the disease from doing this to her, is to have sex with somebody and pass it onto them; though it’s not entirely proven that this will get rid of the disease, or even the threat, it’s still something that makes those who infect others, feel better about themselves and free. Jay wants to get rid of the disease, but she doesn’t want to really infect anybody, so instead of dropping her drawers and having sex with some sucker, she decides to fight against the disease. It may, or may not work, but Jay is willing to fight till the end of her days to ensure that she is clear of all disease.

Remember when you were younger and your parents gave you those words of wisdom, “Don’t have sex. And if you do, be smart about it and use protection.” Well, that’s sort of the idea that It Follows is tapping into, except it’s not really trying to say anything smart, ground-breaking, or revolutionary; it’s literally just a story about a deadly STD that gets passed around to a bunch of horny, sex-crazed teenagers who are just exploring their inner-most desires. The movie never tries to judge any of these characters for partaking in these many sexual activities, nor does it seem like it wants to make a note about any sort of real STD’s that are out there today (*cough cough* HIV *cough cough*), and there’s no problem with that.

How I imagine every girl feels after sex with me: Happy, pleased and not-too disappointed. At least that's what I hope.

How I imagine every girl feels after sex with me: Happy, pleased and not-too disappointed. At least that’s what I hope.

Why? Because this movie’s freaking scary! That’s why!

And if you’re a horror movie, especially one being released in the year 2015, and still find a way to be scary, then you, my friend, are allowed to do whatever you want. Have sex with my girlfriend; kill my dog; steal my car; rob me; etc. Whatever you please to do to me, it doesn’t matter – as long as you’re effectively scary, then you are basically given free reign and that’s what I am giving it writer/director David Robert Mitchell. Not that he cares if he gets it either way from me, but still, it’s the idea of it.

Anyway, what Mitchell does oh so perfectly well here is that yes, he gives us the scary, but he does so in a way that’s surprisingly inventive, despite not being particularly original. There’s a lot of neat tricks and trades that Mitchell does with his camera that puts us in the same spot as the protagonists and allows for us to see what they see; doesn’t sound like much, I know, but when your general premise is that they’re being creeped-on by a deadly, unknown force that only they themselves can see, it does a lot of damage. Not only does it totally feel like the “it” is coming straight after us, but it puts us right in the driver’s seat of that rush that makes us want to run away with the protagonists to somewhere safe for the time being, in hopes that we’ll be ready for the next time this threat comes creeping up on us.

And what’s so odd about It Follows is that the threat, despite being as clear as day and only able to walk until it comes and kills you, is still effectively terrifying in its own way. Some of this has to do with the fact that Mitchell makes up the rule early on that the “it” is allowed to take any sort of form it wants, which usually leads to it looking like old ladies, or fully naked, menstruating zombies, but also because Mitchell’s score is so odd and screechy, that whenever it comes into play, you can’t help but get involved. Sure, the score feels like it’s borrowing a whole heck of a lot from John Carpenter’s Halloween piece, but it still works because it comes in at the right times and only seems to add more fuel to the fire of what is this movie’s scare-factor. Had the movie not already been as scary as it is, then the score would have come-off as loud, over-bearing and manipulative – but because the movie is already hella scary, the score serves as a nice companion to help making those scares even more compelling and worth while.

Speaking of those scares, Mitchell is a smart enough writer to understand that we don’t need the constant jump-scares to have us jumping in our seats. Like I mentioned before, he utilizes the idea that we know “it” is coming for us, and rather than trying to pull any cheap editing-tricks, he literally just films it so matter-of-factly that it’s subtlety in the fear that we’re supposed to be feeling, is almost so slight, it actually works for the movie, rather than against it. Mitchell doesn’t even go so far as to explain where this disease came from and what exactly happens to you when “it” finally gets its firm grasps on you – all Mitchell tells you is that it will come after you, never leave you alone, and when it finally does get you, will do horrendous, barbaric things to you and your body.

Young, brash, and horny teenagers. Oh, how I fear for them so!

Young, brash, and horny teenagers. Oh, how I fear for them so!

So basically, just don’t get caught by it as all.

I know I’m writing a lot about It Follows, but that in and of itself is a bit delight for me. It’s so very rare that I see a horror movie that not only scares the hell out of me, but actually seems like it’s trying to build something of a story altogether, too. Sure, the characters are a bit weak and underdeveloped, but then again, they don’t necessarily have to be in order to service this movie; all they have to do is have that want and dire need for sex, and they’re just fine. And because the movie doesn’t judge any single one of these characters for having sex, or even deciding to pass the disease around, mostly everyone here comes off sympathetic and relatable.

Cause honestly, who can ever forget a time when they weren’t sexually-charged in some way, or fashion? We were all teenagers once and when you’re at that time in your life, all your thinking about is sex. No matter where you at, or what you’re doing – sex is constantly on your mind. If people try to tell you otherwise, then they’re gosh darn liars that just never got that chance to have sex after Junior Prom with their hot date. It Follows knows that each and everyone of these characters are, for the most part, thinking about sex just about everywhere they go and because of that, the danger lurks everywhere.

How long before this STD grows larger and larger? In fact, how many more people does it have to kill before people get the hint to either use protection, keep a better watch over yourself, or just cut out sex altogether? Also, when will people stop spreading it onto others so that when they don’t have to deal with it, they get to feel better about themselves and their day-to-day happiness, where the other person feels like absolute crap because of the one instance of physical action had to happen?

Hey, wait a minute? I thought this wasn’t an HIV allegory!

Consensus: Without trying too hard at all, It Follows is one of the more effective, terrifying and, believe it or not, thoughtful horror movies to come out in recent time that doesn’t rely on a gimmick, or a conceit – just unabashed, unadulterated scares to remind you of the possible dangers of sex.

9 / 10 

How I imagine AIDS looks. Doctors?

How I imagine AIDS looks. Doctors?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Mommy (2014)

Say what you will about Freud, the dude was definitely getting at something.

After her son gets expelled from his school for starting a fire and injuring another student, Diane “Die” Després (Anne Dorval) is forced to take him out and raise him on her own. The only problem is that young Steven (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a bit of a hot head, who not only battles with ADHD, but is also going through the most challenging transition period of any guy’s life: Going from being a boy, to becoming a man. Because of this, Steven usually lashes out uncontrollably at those around him, is unpredictable as to when his mood will change, and generally doesn’t know how to love his mother and treat her with the respect she deserves. That looks like it may all change, however, once their neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), shows up and begins tutoring Steven on such subjects as math, English, and, according to Steven at least, sex. But even she has a dark side that may get in the way of the relationship between Die and Steven, or may even help them reinvigorate it. It’s all sort of up in the air.

Xavier Dolan makes me mad. Not because his movies are incredibly pretentious, or because they seem to all deal with this idea of self-entitlement, but because he’s literally three years older than me, already has five movies to his name, and has been granted all sorts of critical acclaim since day one. If there’s somebody out there in this world who I loathe more, honestly, I don’t know if I’d be able to find them – Xavier Dolan is my arch-nemesis, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know this, nor even care.

The face of the future, folks. Meaning, we're all boned.

The face of the future, folks. Meaning, we’re all boned.

Then again though, he does make some good movies, so I can’t be too upset with him.

And that’s what he has here with Mommy; a film that has garnered so much love and praise already, that I feel like me writing a review about it nearly six months after the fact won’t do much, but it’s been a movie on my mind since the day I first saw it, so why not? Because with Mommy, sure, it’s a great movie, but is it as perfect as everybody has been praising it as being? Definitely not, but there’s something interesting to that negativity. People haven’t really been upset with Mommy because it throws in there certain ideas about incest, sexual abuse, and even mental illness, it’s more that people have been upset with the movie for not having anything more to really say about it.

Which is, yes, definitely true. For the longest time, it seems like Dolan has something neat, or interesting to say about all of these themes and while it starts off as such, it ends up circling around saying the same thing, again and again. That these people are all inherently messed-up from all sorts of various problems, Dolan uses them as a way to show us that all you need is love, heart and humanity to get you through any sort of situation. It’s definitely a sweet idea, but it’s one that doesn’t necessarily break down the walls of what we’ve already seen or heard before – it’s basically just Dolan letting us know that people are people, and that’s it.

But even while Mommy doesn’t have anything new to say, it’s still engaging and incredibly watchable. My better-part is containing myself from the uttering the word “entertaining”, because it’s painstakingly clear that Dolan doesn’t want this piece to perceived in that way, but that’s sort of what happens when you put all of the right ingredients together and just let them do your thing. When you have wacky, unpredictable characters, thrown into a story that deals with their relationships together, have great performers, and toss in the Oedipus complex for good measure, then needless to say, there’s going to be some fun to be had.

Not just because it’s funny to see how wacky, unpredictable people interact with one another, but because Dolan never judges them or puts them on a peddle-stool. He literally sees them for who they are – troubled, messed-up, emotionally-repressed human beings who are just about ready to explode with anger and tension. That’s what really keeps the heart of this film at level with all of the other crazy shenanigans it portrays these characters of getting into; rather than showing them off as crazy loonies that can’t handle any bit of their emotions, Dolan instead shows us that what they’re going through, together as well as separate, is what you or I could be going through, too.

The only difference here is that they’re a bit nuttier.

The girl next door, except that she ain't no girl! She a woman! Look out, younger boys!

The girl next door, except that she ain’t no girl! She’s a full-grown woman! Look out, younger boys!

And with that said, mostly everybody here is played up to a certain level of nuttiness that actually works for the movie, rather than being so incredibly over-the-top and working against it. As Die, Anne Dorval gives a ruthless performance of a woman who clearly loves her son, but also knows that he can be a total animal and needs to control him more and more. They have a sweet relationship, that sometimes does borderline almost too sweet, but it’s also one that’s believable and doesn’t make you think that there aren’t real life mother-son duos like this in real life. Dorval shows us that this Die woman clearly wants her son to be safe, normal, and even slightly sane, but also knows that it all comes with a price and is sometimes willing to let go of her morals because of that. This transition should make her detestable, but it doesn’t, and actually works for helping to keep her character humane, rather than a caricature of what Dolan wants to show us as “the evil mom”.

Another character who is sort of in the same field as Die, is Suzanne Clément’s Kyla, who seems like there’s something downright deep and disturbing about her, but what that is, we never really know. That mystery about her is what keeps her mostly interesting, but also the fact that she genuinely cares for Steven and Die, even when she’s abandoning her own family because, also makes her feel like someone who is easy to care about. Even if her problems with stuttering and repression continue to act up, she still seems like a person that, at the end of the day, needs a nice, cozy, and warm hug to let her know everything will end up all right in the end.

Same goes for Steven, who is played with absolute ferocity by youngin’ Antoine-Olivier Pilon. As most old people say, “That kid’s chock full of piss and vinegar”, and that is exactly the case with Steven; he’s always spirited, clearly fuming with some sort of angst, and makes it seem like he’ll hump anything that walks, so long as they return the favor (sort of like me). In all honesty, his character is probably the most stereotypical out of anyone else here, but Pilon makes it worthwhile because he is constantly all over the place, making us wonder what he’s going to say or do next, and just who the hell he’s going to make feel uncomfortable in any certain situation. Like everyone else here, he’s a ticking time bomb that’s just about ready to explode, but when and where that happens, is constantly left up in the air and it’s always compelling because of that.

But don’t worry, Dolan, I won’t say “entertaining”, even if that’s exactly what it is.

Consensus: All artistry aside, Mommy is a constantly engaging, if somewhat familiar story about challenging people, thrown into a challenging situation, who are all just trying to make it out of it alive, and with some degree of sanity left in them.

8 / 10

Mommy knows best. Trust me.

Mommy knows best. Trust me.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Riot Club (2015)

Rich kids get a bad rap. They’re just like you or I – except with lots more money, is all.

Milo Richards (Max Irons) is a first-year student at Oxford University and doesn’t really know what his place in the world, let alone at college. But he knows that he wants to start something up with fellow freshman Lauren (Holliday Grainger) who shows him that being popular and cool doesn’t matter once you’ve got someone special in your life. However, that doesn’t register with Milo, as he still finds himself drawn to certain people in and around the University that are deemed “cool”, or typically “posh”. That’s why when a group of young, rich hot-shots from other universities recruit Milo for what they call “the Riot Club”, he doesn’t go against it; in fact, he allows it. Once Milo’s apart of this group, he acts out in all sorts of ways he never quite expected himself to act out in the first place: Running, cursing, breaking things, partying, and generally causing all sorts of havoc. Eventually though, all of the good times Milo has with the club start to come to a close when he realizes that all of these fellas are up to no good and are absolute menaces to society – something Milo doesn’t want to be, nor associate himself with.

What we have here is another case of an interesting premise, and a movie that doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to go about saying what it wants to say in a smart, understood way. Instead, the Riot Club is a movie that wants to be two, completely different things: A) It wants to be the pint-sized version of the Wolf of Wall Street where young, British whippersnappers go around drinking, sexxing, and causing all sorts of chicanery for the hell of it, and B) It wants to be a cautionary tale for kids out there to not conform so easily to what all of the cool kids are doing, no matter how fun it may seem. The later element is a thoughtful one, but when it’s thrown-up against a movie that wants to praise the same assholes it’s talking out against, then there becomes something of a problem that’s hard to get by.

"To asshole d-baggery!"

“To asshole d-baggery, lads!”

This is a shame, too, because the Riot Club just so happens to come from the hands of Lone Scherfig, a director who seems to have fallen on the forgotten-path of life since One Day. Scherfig does a solid job of setting these characters up to be total and complete jackasses that, despite all of the fortune and fame that they may have, are absolute dicks that nobody wants to be around, let alone spend up to two hours with. However, Scherfig seems like she actually wants to hang out with them for two hours and because of that, the movie becomes a mess.

We want to not like these characters because of what they stand for – Scherfig knows this, too. However, she doesn’t allow for these characters, for the first two-halves that is, actually show their dark sides. They’re just young, rambunctious, and rowdy kids that like to cause mayhem wherever they go because, well, they can. They’re rich, spoiled and don’t have an absolute care in the world and while Scherfig may want us to like them, it’s very hard to.

That’s why when, all spoilers ahead, these d-bags get their comeuppance, it doesn’t feel organic. It feels thrown in there because Scherfig, realizing what sort of movie she was setting out to make, didn’t want to make it seem like she liked all of these characters to begin with. So, she shows them acting like a crazed lunatics that, when they have a little too much to drink, break down walls, throw tables, and beat the shit out of anybody that steps into their way. The way this is all shown at the end is a bit too cartoonish to take seriously, and not to mention that it’s all highly unbelievable.

Literally, these characters go from yelling, hooting and hollering about being rich and cool, but then, literally moments later, they’re acting like crazed lunatics in the midst of a prison riot. This would make sense of Scherfig ever made a hint of this throughout the whole piece, but she doesn’t; instead, we just see how these guys are dicks and that’s it. There’s no sign at all that they may be dangerously violent and possibly even lash-out on random, innocent people like they begin to do in the later-parts of this movie, for no reason whatsoever.

Professing your love on a roof? How original, mate.

Professing your love on a roof? How original, mate.

Maybe this is how these groups are in real life, I don’t know. All I know is that it takes an awful lot for people to start acting the way these characters do later on.

But honestly, all of the problems with the Riot Club would have been if Scherfig gave us someone worth reaching out towards and rooting for, but sadly, we don’t really get that. Sure, she gives us a sympathetic protagonist in Milo, but once you get down to the brass-tacks of this character, you realize that the only reason he’s written at all to be sympathetic, is because he doesn’t do nearly as much drinking, smoking or bad-assery as these fellows. He still does it when push comes to shove, but all he’s really got to live for is a girl and I guess that’s why he doesn’t partake as much in these hellacious activities.

That doesn’t really give us a character worth sympathizing with, let alone actually caring about, which is a huge problem where not only everybody seems to be unlikable, but are hard to really differentiate from one another. One character, played by Sam Reid, is the gay one who constantly hits on Milo, no matter how much he turns him down, but that’s pretty much it. Everybody else, from the likes of Sam Claflin to Douglas Booth, all are the same characters and hardly have any character-traits that make them seem more complex than the others. Not that there’s much to them to begin with, but hey, a little dimensions would’ve helped.

Consensus: Nobody in the Riot Club is likable, which is sort of the point of the movie, and sort of not, which makes it a non-interesting, repetitive mess.

2.5 / 10 

The bright, young faces of the new world. And for that, we're all screwed.

The bright, young faces of the new world. And for that, we’re all screwed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Get Hard (2015)

Just watch any season of Oz and you’ll be fully prepared for all the lovely surprises prison has for you.

When wealthy businessman James King (Will Ferrell) is wrongfully convicted of tax evasion, rather than taking the plea deal that would have him serve less time, in a far more secure institution, and also have him accept the blame, James goes down the harder-route: 10 years in San Quentin State Prison. Which, for anybody who knows anything about prisons, is pretty hardcore if you’re just a simple white fella who only knows jail through episodes of Lockup. But to make sure that he survives his whole, 10-year-sentence, James calls on his car-washer, Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), who he thinks went to jail, only because of his skin color and not because of his actual criminal-record – which, had James read it, he would’ve realized that Darnell’s record is as clean as a whistle. Still, James makes Darnell an offer that he can’t refuse: He will pay him $30,000 if he teaches him how to be rough and tough to survive in prison. Darnell agrees, but he also knows that maybe there’s something to James that may actually be innocent in the first place, regardless of what the papers may be saying.

Get it? Because Kevin Hart is tiny.

Get it? Because Kevin Hart is tiny.

Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell are two of the most talented acts we have in comedy today, although, they still have their own brand that works. Hart is like a new-age Eddie Murphy in that he makes everything around him funny, no matter what the hell piece of crap he’s actually starring in, whereas with Ferrell, his humor tends to lean more towards the wicked side of life, with his occasional outlandishness taking center-stage. There’s no problem with either of these acts, in fact, they’re quite superb. They both make whatever it is that they’re doing better, and show that, if you give the time, they will make you laugh.

You’d think that putting them together would be an absolute home-run though, right? And not just for audiences all over the world, but each other, right?

Well, that’s the problem with Get Hard right from the get-go – while it boasts these two top-tier comedic talents, the movie saddles them with hardly anything funny to do, or say. Like, at all. Instead, we get to listen to Hart constantly yell at Ferrell for being nerdy and white, which then leads Ferrell to start crying and acting scared because his character isn’t used to this sort of thing. It sounds funny, but it isn’t, not to mention that it’s downright repetitive once you realize that practically the whole movie is just going to feature them two performing all sorts of stuff that happens in prison.

While that, on paper, sounds like absolute fun and ripe with laugh-out-loud moments, there’s something strange about Get Hard that feels like it wants to make fun of the whole prison world, yet, still not say anything about it either. Though I may be looking into this thing a bit too deeply, there’s a part of me that believes somewhere deep down inside of Get Hard, lies a flick that wants to discuss racial-roles and stereotypes, as well as those that lie within the prison-system, and how ridiculous it can sometimes get, that any typical, peaceful citizen would have to drop all senses of morality and act as violent as humanly possible. Maybe that’s all just me, but I feel like there are elements to this movie that want to shed some light on that and leave it up to the audience to make up their own decisions on it. But more or less, the movie doesn’t actually do that and relies on Hart and Ferrell’s improvs to steal the spotlight from everything else going on.

Which brings me to another problem with this movie and that’s the improv-element of this movie Hart and Ferrell were clearly told to do and have absolute free reign with, no matter where the story went. Normally, I am fine when certain comedians show up in movies to just improv and make things up as they go along; sometimes, it detracts from what’s really happening in the story, but other times, it provides plenty of wacky, wild and zany laughs that you can’t really get with when somebody’s writing it all out. Sometimes, you just have to let the performers do their stuff and if it works, then you’re golden.

Who says blacks and whites can get along? Look at that!

“Dude, what are we doing here?”

However, if it doesn’t work, then you, your cast, and your whole movie, may be screwed. Which is exactly the problem with Get Hard. Too often than not, the movie allows for Hart or Ferrell to take a crazy scene, and have it go to even crazier extremes, which should all be funny, but instead, just feel repetitive and tiresome.

Take for instance, a scene in which Hart’s character is describing to Ferrell’s about the yard in prison and how it is sometimes the most dangerous area of prison. Hart gets the chance to impersonate what seems to be a black gang-banger, a Hispanic one, and a gay prisoner, which all seems like it could be really funny, but goes on way too long and leaves Hart to just say the same thing, again and again. I’ll give it to Hart throughout this scene, as well as the rest of the movie, the dude goes for it all and lets it be known to us that he clearly wants us to laugh, but he just gets too carried away here. Maybe that has less to do with Hart, and more to do with the fact that director Etan Cohen should have known when the time was to pull the curtain and call it a wrap, but either way, it doesn’t work as well as it did in something like, I don’t know, say Ride Along.

Say what you will about that movie, but at least it had a few laughs, mostly thanks to Hart. Here, however, that hardly happens.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad to begin with, had Ferrell been there to save the day and make everything funny by just simply being there, but that doesn’t even happen. More or less, we’re treated to scenes where Ferrell acts like the typical goof-ball we normally see him as in many movies, but it’s never quite funny here. Like with Hart, his improv goes hardly anywhere fun or inspiring; it’s just him saying stupid stuff, as if he was definitely making it all up on the fly, but didn’t want the actual good bits in this movie so that he could possibly save them for another, far better movie.

And a far better movie, I hope, there is past after Get Hard. Not just for Hart or Ferrell, but for us all.

Consensus: Occasionally funny due to the talents of both Hart and Ferrell, Get Hard takes a neat premise, and hardly goes anywhere with it that’s hilarious, or even interesting. It’s just silly is all.

3 / 10 

Ah, racism. Gotta love it.

Cause Ferrell’s character wants to fit in and seem “gangster”. Get it? Ah, racism.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Insurgent (2015)

See what happens when you don’t conform, people? All hell breaks loose.

After messing with the Erudite’s plans, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are on the run and in need of some sort of shelter so that the evil, diabolical head of Erudite (Kate Winslet) can’t force them to be something that they aren’t. Because of this, they find themselves in the company of many random groups – one of which includes Four’s mother (Naomi Watts) who seems to have the same mission in her head as well. The only problem is that nobody is able to fully trust Four or Tris, so they must figure out a way to retrieve this secret box that has all sorts of special powers that only certain people can attain. One of those people just so happens to be Tris, but she’ll have to get to the box, in one piece, before she loses her life and ruins all of the plans that the “Factionless” have had to conquer their society.

This is a very hard premise to write about, because honestly, there’s not much here. Not just because I don’t care about any of this (which I don’t), but because the bulk of Insurgent seems to be about getting this mysterious box and doing so without dying. Or, at least that’s what I thought it was about.

Sorry, Jai NotTaylorKitsch Courtney. You'll get 'em next time.

Sorry, Jai NotTaylorKitsch Courtney. You’ll get ’em next time.

In fact, most of the time while watching this movie, it’s never made clear just what’s really driving it, or even what the main point is; we know that Kate Winslet’s character is up to no good, but why? What does she want from all of these faction-less people that she can’t get elsewhere? And also, just what the hell is up with that box?

These are all questions that you may, or may not, find toggling around in your head. Which is probably a good thing for Insurgent, because at least that’s something to think about while all of the boring proceedings take place in front of you, without you ever feeling invested in it, or having much of a reason as to why you should care about it in the first place. It’s how I felt about Divergent, but at least that movie had enough world-building and character-development to allow for the two-and-a-half hours to go down smoothly.

Here though, Insurgent is a half-hour less than Divergent, but it feels at least ten times longer.

That’s a problem in general, but when your movie has as little plot, character-development, and/or interesting metaphors to offer as this, then you’re in huge trouble. Which is probably why YA movies such as these try so hard to latch onto the popularity of other (better) movies like the Hunger Games, or even Harry Potter. Those movies felt like they had a reason to exist; a reason to explore the universes that they created; and even better reason to give us compelling characters worth rooting for, and sometimes even despising the hell out of. The Divergent franchise has barely any of that, and it shows just about every minute of this second installment.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t some enjoyment to be had with this material. Some of the performances from this ensemble are well-done (especially from a newly-acquired Naomi Watts, who fits in well), and the crazy, over-the-top action-sequences that occur in this LARP-like world are quite neat to look at, but whenever the movie gets back to the reality of this world, it becomes all the more clear that there’s just nothing really holding this together. The world that this movie has created isn’t at all believable, but the movie doesn’t know this – instead, it constantly hits us over the head with metaphors out the wazoo about “being yourself” and “standing up to those who try to make you think or act like they do”.

It’s basically everything my high school therapist told me, except that he actually cared about my well-being. This movie, on the other hand, doesn’t. It just wants my money and my time so that I can hopefully come back around and see what’s crack-a-lackin’ with the next two installments of those already over-done franchise.

How does one actually get caught into this situation?

How does one actually get caught into this situation?

Which brings up another question: Will I actually give them, the creators of this franchise, what they want and go to see these next few movies?

You know what? Probably.

The reason being is because, despite my best intentions, I’m already in too deep. Movies like these where the franchise doesn’t need to exist, nor does it need to be as long as it is, always get me because once I’ve seen one installment, I have to practically see them all. It’s sort of like binge-watching a new TV show and already wanting to give up on it. Then, you realize that there’s maybe two more seasons left and rather than just leaving it at that, calling it a day, and moving onto the next TV show that you’ll probably want to give up on about 30 episodes in, you stick with it because already, you’ve seen too much. You can’t give up – you have to keep on watching, seeing what happens next.

And why is that? Well, because you already made the first mistake of watching the initial installments to begin with. After them, you’re screwed and practically owe your life to whoever created whatever it is you’re watching. It sounds like a painful, miserable, and downright excruciating experience, but that’s because, it is.

Insurgent is a painful movie to get through, and it shouldn’t be. With this stacked of an ensemble, there should be more than heavy-handed metaphors for them to deliver, but sadly, that’s what we get. Nobody here is a real character; they’re just serving a plot that thinks it’s a lot smarter or thought-provoking than it really is. They spout babble about “being themselves” and “not giving in”, but by saying that, the movie has already set itself up for failure. That the movie is conventional, plodding, and like anything else you’ve ever seen in the many years since Twilight hit theaters, already shows that Insurgent should have taken its own advice and branched out a bit more. Instead, it’s just like the rest of the pack.

Damn conformists.

Consensus: At two hours, Insurgent is already too long with hardly anything interesting to say, do with its thin-plot, or offer to its ensemble, who clearly have better places to be than slumming it low like this.

2.5 / 10

"We don't need no education!"

“We don’t need no education!”

The Salvation (2015)

When you kill someone, make sure they aren’t the roughest, toughest outlaw’s baby bro.

After being separated from them for a very long time, Danish immigrant Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) is finally reunited with his wife and son. Now feeling as if he can start his life anew, the trio set out for new land, but getting there is only the first hurdle they have to overcome. Though they didn’t expect it, they end up taking a carriage ride with a boozed-up, slick-tongued cowboy (Michael James-Raymond) who messes around and even threatens Jon and his family. Jon clearly doesn’t take too kindly to this, but before he knows it, his son and wife are killed. Jon takes matters into his own hands and kills this baddie, but little does he know that the baddie just so happens to have an older brother; one that won’t take too kindly to random people killing his family members. That man, gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), makes it his life’s mission to find out who killed his brother and do whatever the hell he, or his mute sister-in-law (Eva Green), wants done to this justified killer.

It’s very hard to add much of anything new to the western genre. Sure, people try it and sometimes, come up big, but more often than not, they end up just treading the same water that’s been tread since the days of the John Ford westerns. That isn’t to say somebody can’t make a fun, even mildly interesting western, it’s just hard to do so and make sure people actually see your movie and take it in for what it is: A game-changer. Clint Eastwood had the luck of being Clint Eastwood when he made Unforgiven, and Kevin Costner, although the movie itself wasn’t such a hit with most, at least had the luck of being Kevin Costner when he made Open Range.

Oh, I get it now! "A dirt nap"!

Oh, I get it now! “A dirt nap”!

Both are westerns that have put a neat spin on the western genre we’ve all seen so much of, which brings into question just how many really great westerns are left out there for us, the rest of the world, to discover?

I honestly can’t answer that question, but I can say that the Salvation comes pretty damn close. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, because while the Salvation may not be the end-all, be-all game-changer that the western genre so desperately needs, it still offers up a fun, exciting and sometimes fresh look inside the genre, without ever trying to make any grand statements about humanity, life, or death. It’s just a good, old-fashioned, revenge-tale, that also just so happens to take place in the wild, wild West.

So what’s so wrong with that?

Nothing really, especially since Danish director Kristian Levring seems to have a deep love for these kinds of movies, and doesn’t have a problem presenting them as simple as humanly possible – man’s family gets killed, man takes revenge, man gets hunted because of said revenge. It’s all so damn simple and old-fashioned, but it actually works in the movie’s favor. There’s not much time for characters to take a seat, chat about their own mortality, or even pass-off some general idea about life that we don’t already have in our heads as is; there’s just an awful lot of shooting, screwing, boozing, robbing, and killing. Basically, the way all westerns should be, with some heart and humanity thrown in there for good measure, although that’s not to say that a movie lives or dies by that. Sometimes, being entertaining is all you need to be, in order to get a pass from most audience members.

But thankfully, the Salvation has a little bit of both. Sure, it maybe has a whole lot more violence going on and around, but there’s still something of a heart that’s seen to be intact that makes the proceedings all the more compelling, rather than just having people shoot one another, and not even giving us a chance to care. Because this lead protagonist, Jon, was thrown into a desperate situation, and acted out in a desperate, totally understandable way, we wholly understand him as a character, as well as a human being. That’s why, when push comes to shove and he’s forced to commit some downright dirty acts, it’s hard to have a problem with him; he’s just trying to survive, as well as he should, considering he didn’t do anything wrong to begin with.

The FBI's of their time.

The FBI’s of their time.

Which is to say, mostly thanks to Mads Mikkelsen and his skillful way of expressing any sort of emotion, without muttering even a single world of dialogue, Jon gets a lot of mileage. Mikkelsen’s been a favorite of mine for quite some time now (a love that’s only been heightened by my most recent binge of Hannibal), but here, he does what he needs to do: Make Jon seem as simplistic as possible, but never dull. He’s just a normal person like your or I, except that he’s been thrown into a not-so normal situation, and has to get out of it anyway possible. He does both good, as well as bad things, but Mikkelsen always makes it seem believable and have us even wonder whether or not he’s exactly as of a law abiding citizen as he may have initially given off.

That said, it’s not Mikkelsen’s show we’re dealing with here. Everybody gets a chance to play and roll around in the sand for as long as Levring sees fit. Eva Green, another favorite of mine, gets a chance to show her range as an actress, by not being able to say anything at all in this movie, and instead, show us everything we need to know about her at any given moment, based solely on her emotions. It works, and also shows that female characters don’t need to say macho, hammy bullshit dialogue that’s better suited for dudes to come off as bad-ass; sometimes, all it takes is a simple act of violence, and a shotgun in their hands. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s another one who gets to play around a bit, but honestly, by now, I think everybody knows that the dude loves playing a-holes.

Just not as much of a funny one, is all.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel for many westerns to come, the Salvation, thanks to the no-nonsense direction from Levring and its lovely assemblage of performances, still comes off like a solid enough watch that doesn’t need to try too hard.

7 / 10 

A man on a mission. That most likely doesn't involve eating people.

A man on a mission. That most likely doesn’t involve eating people.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Last Five Years (2015)

Well, if you’re a better singer than her, things might not work out.

Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) meet for the first time and it seems like love at first sight. They kiss, make love, yell, scream, shout, holler, sing, dance and generally just act like fools who have finally found that one and only special someone that they have been waiting to find their whole lives. However, like with most relationships that start off as lovely, as promising, and and as loving as this, things begin to get a bit complicated. Cathy is an actress that’s struggling to make it big, and instead, more or less takes a backseat to Jamie’s life as an acclaimed, best-selling author. Jamie, on the other hand, has problems with fully committing himself to this relationship, especially due to the fact that he cannot stop checking out other woman and wanting to possibly sleep with them, if only for one night. Both of their heads clash, although, at the end of the day, they’re love is what keeps them coming back to the same sides of the beds, night in and night out, for at least five years.

Oh, and by the way, it’s all sung.

So spiffy.....

Quite the spiffy gentleman…..

Okay, that’s a bit of a fib. There is maybe 8% of this movie that features some sort of spoken-dialogue, but the rest of that 92% is all singing, all dancing, all tapping, and all music, baby! To some, more macho viewers out there who can’t be bothered with two younglings constantly frolicking all over the screen, professing their love to one another, as well as to the rest of the audience sitting back and watching, it may not seem like the most ideal flick to catch. But for people who appreciate a fine musical, done well enough to where they stop caring about all of the singing, dancing, and professing of love, then sure, it’s okay.

That’s if you only pay attention to Anna Kendrick and Anna Kendrick only.

Because, I’m afraid to say, she’s the only real reason to see this movie. Sure, the movie’s song and dance numbers bring some fun and froth to the proceedings, but what it really comes down to the most, is Kendrick; she’s absolutely letting it all out on each and every song, not once forgetting about the central message of them, and sure as hell not forgetting about that lovely little charm of hers that makes her so damn watchable to begin with. She just about owns this movie and allows for Cathy to come off like a small, scared girl that wants to hit it big, but also doesn’t want to stay in the shadow of her man for too long – she wants to branch out as soon as possible, but she doesn’t want to lose what she beholds the most, her man and his love.

And speaking of her man, Jeremy Jordan is fine, if only because the dude can actually sing. Though I didn’t believe him as the kind of girl that sweeps women off of their feet and is a record-breaking author in today’s day and age, he still sang well and I guess that was sort of the point. I wasn’t supposed to buy him as a character, as much as I was supposed to buy him as a guy who sings an awful lot about being in love, treating that love with kindness and respect, and never forgetting about what makes him live and breath, each and everyday.

It all sounds so beautiful and heartfelt, however, the movie doesn’t always come off that way. It’s more cloying than anything, which probably suits people who are more used to seeing this on the stage, rather than adapted for the screen, where instead of an audience out in front of them, they are literally playing for themselves and whoever is behind the camera. Though this may be have been incredibly uncomfortable to film, not just for Kendrick or Jordan, but everyone involved with it, it hardly shows. Instead, they all seem to really be giving it their all with every ounce of heart and humanity that they’ve got.

Problem is, it’s sort of wasted on a stale premise that doesn’t really say (or, I guess, in this case, “sing”) much of anything new that we haven’t already seen, or heard in most romantic-dramas.

Except that this time, of course, everybody’s singing and dancing. That wouldn’t have been so bad, had the songs been memorable and fun, but in the end, they just come off like listening to your favorite easy-listening station: Sure, a lot’s being sung about, but is any of it really grabbing you? It may holler and belt out lyrics about love, heartbreak, and the pain it causes all of those involved with it, but is it really changing your view on the world of romance, or better yet, what happens after that all goes away and you have to put up with being content with a person you don’t really care much for anymore?

...but honestly, no man deserves A-Kens.

…but honestly, no man deserves A-Kens. No one!

It’s all nice to hear, but you’re not really listening to it unless you’ve fully taken it in, you know? And because of that, the Last Five Years falls flat. It’s a musical that boasts on and on about how its central love story is as rich and pure as you can get, but it ends up coming and going like the several conventional plot-threads that weave in and out of this story to make the emotions seem all the more heightened.

Could Jamie really hook up with that hot, young intern at his place? Will he ever learn to let his writing-career be put on the back-burner so that he can focus more attention on Cathy’s possible life on the stage? Will Jamie just learn to stop being such a wuss and commit already? Or better yet, will Cathy? Oh my gosh! I just don’t know!

It all sounds so very soapy, which is because, it is; except that it’s a soap opera where the later part is actually taken literally and jacked all the way up to 100 so that even the deafest dog can hear what’s being sung about, or by whom. Once again, not saying that the songs are bad, but when all you can really come down to is saying, “You know, love stinks sometimes”, you’re no better than the J. Geils Band.

Although, the J. Geils Band sure as hell didn’t have Anna Kendrick in them, so they were already at a supreme disadvantage to begin with.

Consensus: While boasting an impressive two-hander from Jordan and, especially, the ever-radiant Kendrick, the Last Five Years doesn’t quite go anywhere we haven’t heard, seen, or been sung about before.

5 / 10 

So yeah, soak it up, buddy! I'm right behind ya!

So yeah, soak it up, buddy! I’m right behind ya!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,040 other followers