Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 5-5.5/10

A Deadly Adoption (2015)

Wait, what’s so wrong with Lifetime movies?

Robert and Sarah Benson (Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig) are a very happy couple. He’s a self-help novelist, she’s an organic food saleswoman, and together, they have a daughter by the name of Sully. Though they’ve tried to have more children, due to an accident some many years ago concerning a dock, Sarah is unable to. So therefore, the Benson’s have turned to one of the only options they have left: Adoption agency. Through the agency, they meet a much-very pregnant young girl named Bridgette (Jessica Lowndes). At first, Bridgette is so sweet, likable and pleasant to be around, that the Benson’s both decide to let her stay in their place for a little while, only until the baby comes out and they are able to adopt it as their own. However, as time goes on, more and more weird things start happening around the house; most of which seem to be pointing to Bridgette and her mysterious past. Eventually, the Benson’s begin to realize that there’s something very dangerous about Bridgette that they best figure out soon, all before it’s too late.

Is this love?

Is this love?

So yeah, basically, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig teamed-up together to make a Lifetime movie that is everything you’d expect it to be. It’s an obvious, corny, and melodramatic soap opera that most middle-aged women will stay at home, watch, love, and adore because it plays to everything they’ve already loved and seen before with this network. However, the fact that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are in this movie, makes it all the more intriguing to watch, because it’s all a joke.

Or, at least, that’s what it was supposed to be anyway.

Something odd happens with A Deadly Adoption to where you think it’s going to be one thing, and totally turns out to be another. That’s not saying that I expected it at all to be a serious piece of drama that’s supposed to impact me for days-on-end or change my life in any way, shape or form; I mean in the fact that it was supposed to be a lot funnier than what it turns out to be. Some of that has to do with the fact that I expect so much more from the likes of Wiig and Ferrell, where rather than just seeing them play it so downright straight, I’d see them fool-around and over-act, as they are usually known to do in movies such as this. But that’s not what happens.

Instead, it’s a very straight-forward, almost too ordinary flick to even be called something of a “parody”; in fact, it’s more of an “homage”, which is all the more frightening. Because the movie should be as ridiculous as possible, but never quite gets there, makes it feel like the movie may have been a waste of effort, especially considering this is almost a first for TV. Wiig and Ferrell are two immensely talented and popular figures in entertainment, so why wouldn’t they, now that they have the chance to do so, be as crazy as humanly imaginable? Is the joke that they’re playing it all on the straight and narrow? Because if so, it’s not a very funny one.

However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t at least some pieces of fun to be found throughout. Obviously every supposed twist and turn that this plot takes is funny, if mostly due to the fact that we see it all coming from a mile away and because the movie’s playing it all up so seriously. And then, of course, there’s the performances from the cast that, due to the fact that they’re playing everything so damn sternly, can bring out plenty of laughs, whether they were meant to or not. Even though this is clearly Wiig and Ferrell’s movie, Jessica Lowndes does a solid job of playing up her character’s oddness in a way that, while may not be believable, is fun to imagine as if it were any other Lifetime movie. She goes from being such a little sweetheart, to all of a sudden, a biker, beat-up, bad-ass chick and it’s actually quite humorous. That may sound like it has less to do with Lowndes’ performance, but I assure you, it’s not; she’s perfectly capable of handling this material in a serious manner, even with a slight twinkle in her eye.

Or, is this?

Or, is this?

Then, of course, there’s Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig who are both, like I’ve mentioned before, playing it all so very straight.

Though, there is some joy in seeing Ferrell and Wiig act like kind-hearted, small-town simpletons that don’t have a bother in the world and never seem to be upset with anything that comes their way. Wiig’s character may not get much attention in the department of character development, whereas Ferrel’s does in that his character has a bit of a dark side. Once again, it’s not supposed to be taken seriously at all, and it’s why certain elements of this movie do work. Even if, altogether, the movie still feels like it’s missing something.

Whatever that “something” is, I fully can’t put my finger on. However, whereas movies like Sharknado and Birdemic all seem to be praised and held on some peddle-stool for the fact that they’ve taken these ridiculous premises and run wild with them, maybe there’s something to be said for A Deadly Adoption that could put into the same conversation? While it may not be as crazy as those movies, in terms of its excess and/or schlock, it still takes everything you expect from these types of movies, give them to you on a silver platter and not have you forget what it is that you’re sitting back to watch. Because surely, if you like it, then they must be doing something right; whether you’re supposed to like it or not, may be up to you, the viewer.

Either way, it doesn’t wholly matter because Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig got paid somehow.

Consensus: The one-joke in A Deadly Adoption is clear enough that it makes the hour-and-a-half go by quick, however, even by Lifetime’s standards, it should be a little more memorable, if only for the wrong reasons.

5 / 10

Cue the dramatic squirrel!

Cue the dramatic squirrel!

Photos Courtesy of: Common Sense Media

Ted 2 (2015)

Teddy bears are people, too!

Three years after we last left them, Thunder Buddies Ted (Seth MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) are back together and hanging out more than ever! Ted is now married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and is looking forward to the future and starting a family, but for John, things aren’t so pretty. Recently, he and Lori (Mila Kunis) got a divorce because she wanted him to change for the worst and John just wasn’t allowing that. However, now that he’s single, he’s a bit depressed and can’t stop checking out porn. But now, for Ted’s sake, he’ll have to put all of that on the back-burner so that he can help Ted and Tami-Lynn have the family that they want. Problem is, after much legal looking into, the U.S. government suddenly declares that Ted isn’t fit to be married, raise a child, or be considered a “person” because he is, in essence, a “thing”. Though Ted can think, read, act, and feel, the government doesn’t believe so – which means that it’s up to him, Johnny, and their young lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) to take on the government and, once and for all, prove that Ted is more than just a thing.

Be careful, Amanda!

Be careful, Amanda!

Seeing as how I’m not a huge fan of Family Guy, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the original Ted actually worked for me. While it was nowhere near a masterpiece, it was still funny and entertaining enough to where it felt like MacFarlane was giving us all of his greatest hits, without trying to remind us too much that he’s the same dude who created Family Guy. Surely, he’s got his audience out there, but not everybody likes Family Guy and for the matter, not everybody likes Seth MacFarlane, so for him to be able to have people forget what it is that they’re watching come from him, is relatively impressive.

And then, there was A Million Ways to Die in the West. I won’t harp on that movie’s failure too much, especially considering that this is a review for Ted 2 and not the sequel to that dreadful garbage, but I will say that it reminded me so much of what I don’t like about MacFarlane, his certain brand of humor, and his over-excessive tendencies to think that he’s way too clever for his own good. Once again, some laughs were there to be found, but for the most part, they consisted of the weirder moments that MacFarlane was able to cobble-up from a pretty standard plot-line that seemed to have aspirations to go elsewhere, but just didn’t.

And now, there’s Ted 2, which is pretty much a mixture of both.

One of the main problems that seems to be plaguing MacFarlane and his first three movies, is that he doesn’t know when to take a chill pill; too much of this movie is him just pushing a scene deeper and deeper into places that it probably didn’t need to go. There’s a scene where Amanda Seyfried’s character gets a guitar and starts singing, that starts off simple and straight-forward, but soon turns to the odd and bizarre. Which, once again, wasn’t so bad because it actually had me laughing, but too much of it felt like it was thrown in there for good measure, regardless of it had to do with the plot or not.

Which is to say that yes, Ted 2 is a mess, but it’s one that’s at least somewhat entertaining to watch, if only because there are nice moments of comedic inspiration from MacFarlane. There’s another similar sequence to the Seyfried one that I mentioned earlier, that concerns Liam Neeson and it’s so odd, so random, and so strange, that it works well enough to get past the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with the over-sized plot. There are many moments like this, most of which are so nonsensical, that they actually elicit some chuckles; then again though, there’s those many other moments where the movie doesn’t seem to go anywhere with itself, except just use the same stupid gag, over and over again.

And that’s a problem, especially when the gag to begin with isn’t all that funny.

Oh, so that makes us the "catcher".

Yeah, that’s not mayonnaise.

This becomes a big problem too, considering that that Ted 2 comes very close to two-hours; which, for any comedy, is already a problem, but one that uses three courtroom scenes to get its point across about accepting all “persons”, by using a walking, talking, and smoking teddy bear as symbolism, is a major disaster. Because MacFarlane doesn’t seem to know where he wants to go, except for the bottom of the barrel, it becomes distracting that he can’t find anything to do to keep the plot moving. But instead, it just rolls and rolls along, as if there is no end game.

Once again, I’m not saying that I despised Ted 2 – it’s just clear that this movie has plenty of problems that could have probably been fixed, had there been maybe one or two more editors by MacFarlane’s side, letting him know what can stay, what can go, and what can never see the light of day. While there’s maybe not a whole lot of scenes that could be placed in that later category, there’s some that come pretty close and/or probably didn’t need to be thrown into this already mish-mash of a movie. Of course MacFarlane is fine at voicing Ted, but are you honestly surprised? It’s his character for gosh sakes!

And as usual, Wahlberg is up to the task of goofing-off as Johnny, even if this time around, he’s saddled with a more boring story-line. Whereas with the first movie, we were getting to see more revealed to us about this character, here, we just sort of see Johnny mope around, look sad and make it seem at all believable that someone who looks like Mark Wahlberg would have a problem getting laid. Either way, Wahlberg seems like he’s trying here and, for the most part, pulls it off, but at the same time, it made me feel like maybe he wasn’t all that there for this one.

Maybe someone was missing…

Consensus: Nowhere near a tragedy, yet not as good as the original, Ted 2 is just funny enough to be worth checking out, if only for the crass moments we all know and, sometimes, love MacFarlane for.

5.5 / 10

The buddies that have a thunder song together, go scuba-diving together. For some odd reason.

The buddies that have a thunder song together, go scuba-diving together. For some odd reason.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Madame Bovary (2015)

When being rich just isn’t quite cutting it for you.

Young American Emma (Mia Wasikowska) is finally able to leave the convent, although, it’s only so that she can get married to a country doctor by the name of Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). It was arranged by her father, of course, but there’s no real problems with Charles to begin with; however, he’s so boring and dull, Emma begins to grow tired and look for something more meaningful. She thinks she finds that with the dashing Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green), a man who appreciates hunting and fine art, and then she thinks she finds it with local law clerk Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller). Eventually though, this excess in love and sex, leads to a much greater excess in fashion and luxuries; both of which Emma, nor Charles are able to pay for, although the dry-goods dealer Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys Ifans) has no problem extending her as much credit as she wants. This all starts to catch up to Emma, where she’s not only in constant fear of her husband finding out about her philandering ways, but also of losing everything that was handed to her when she got married in the first place.

Normally, these kinds of fluffy, British period pieces don’t do it for me, but with recent releases like Belle and Far From the Madding Crowd entertaining me, my tune has changed a bit. Now, I’ve come to realize that these period pieces can work if they’re made for more people than just their target-audience. Sure, you can say, “It works for who it’s made for”, but to me, that’s another way of saying, “Oh well, you know, a good majority of people will hate this movie, but they aren’t the target audience who it’s made for.” If that’s so abundantly the case, then whom exactly are these period pieces made for?

Sad.

Sad.

Older people? Intellectuals? People that aren’t below the age of 50? Either way, I’ve come to realize that the more these kinds of period pieces start to try and reach out a little to other possible target audiences, the more I’ve come to enjoy them and understand the appeal.

And then, there’s Madame Bovary, which kind of reminds me exactly why these kinds of period pieces don’t work for me, as well as many others like me, in the first place.

Adapting the story of Madame Bovary must be a pretty hard task, but you’d think that with a female director on-hand to direct a story about a female, straight from the female’s perspective, that there’d be a little bit more of an impact, right? Well, that’s the problem here – there isn’t. Instead, director Sophie Barthes just shows Emma’s actions, over and over again, without much of any tension or narrative driving it. Rather than understand full-well why it is that Emma wants to screw around so much on her husband and spend all of his money in places she shouldn’t be, making us at least understand her, and somewhat stand behind her back, the movie mostly portrays Emma as being a bit of mopey, unlikable, and needy brat.

Which wouldn’t be so bad had the movie been maybe an hour-and-a-half where we didn’t have to see Emma constantly make the same mistakes, over and over again, but that’s not the case. The movie goes on for at least two hours, to where we see the mistakes being made, she hardly ever learns, and it’s hard to care. Not to mention the fact that the movie actually starts off with Emma’s death early-on, so much rather than actually building to that shocking climax, the movie already shoots its gun too early and makes it easy for us to all connect the dots.

This isn’t to say that Mia Wasikowska doesn’t do a fine job as the title character, because she does, it’s just a role that sees her sort of going through the motions. Of course, she may not have been challenged all that much to begin with, but there’s a lot of Wasikowska just looking drab, bored and sad, which makes sense at certain points with this character, but at the same time, feels repetitive. Also, the fact that Wasikowska absolutely killed it in another period piece not too long ago (“Jane Eyre“), makes this performance sort of seem like an after-thought and shows that maybe Wasikowska doesn’t need to bother with them anymore.

And then, there’s her suitors, who all try just as much as Wasikowska does, but they too seem to fall on dead ears. It may seem like a weird role for somebody as modern as Ezra Miller to play a character in a period piece, but surprisingly, he works well with it. There’s no sense of irony to anything he does or says, and more often than not, seems like a reasonable enough guy to fall in love with Bovary, although he mostly falls into the background of a character people lose interest in. Ditto for Logan Marshall-Green who seems to be ready to charm the socks off of Emma Bovery, but instead, just looks at her and all of a sudden, she’s absolutely smitten.

Handsome.

Handsome.

If only it was that easy in real life.

But the real performance I want to talk about from this whole movie that’s probably the most interesting anecdote it had to offer was Rhys Ifans’ Monsieur Lheureux. Even though Lheureux initially seems like a sweet, likable and honest businessman who actually is looking out for Emma and her expenses, he eventually starts to edge on over the other way. He’s very easy to extend her as much credit as she oh so desires, he doesn’t care how much time or effort it takes for him to get the goods that she wants, and he doesn’t even bother his head as to when he will get the money back; he just knows that he one day will.

Ifans is so good at oozing charm, that it makes it all the more scary when he turns the other cheek and shows ulterior motives. People who have read the book will know what happens with this character, but for those who don’t, it will come as an absolute and complete shock, all thanks to Ifans’ work here. Even though, yes, Paul Giamatti is around too, he doesn’t get nearly as much as Ifans and it’s quite surprising what he’s able to do with so very little.

Consensus: Occasionally engaging, if only due to the performances, Madame Bovary suffers from the fact that it’s too repetitive and bland to really get over that hurdle that so many period pieces as of late seem to get over.

5 / 10

EVIL.

EVIL.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire03

Cold Souls (2009)

Just take my soul already!

Paul Giamatti stars as a fictionalized version of himself, who is an anxious, overwhelmed actor who decides to enlist the service of a company to deep freeze his soul. Complications ensue when he wants his soul back, but mysteriously, his soul gets lost in a soul trafficking scheme which has taken his soul to St. Petersburg, making Paul have to venture all the way out there to see just what the hell is even going on in the first place.

What you see in the title, is exactly what you get in the movie’s tone. Seriously, don’t come expecting some minor laughs here and there, because the film really just doesn’t seem all that concerned with that aspect at all. It’s more about being dark, moody, bleak, and overall, pretty frigid in its portrayal of where our society may be turning towards. Actually, it’s a pretty far-fetched idea, but I could definitely imagine, just waking up one day, and wanting to be and have Brad Pitt’s soul.

Damn, now that I think about it, I hope this future does come to existence!

Here's a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

Here’s a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

This is the debut flick of Sophie Barthes who not only directs, but writes this flick as well and the information I was looking up for this said that apparently she had this idea in her dream. Now, I could only wish that any of my dreams had anything as ambitious lingering around in them, as apparently the ideas she has swimming in her brain when it’s sleepy-time, but considering that she’s working off of an idea that was probably no less than two minutes, I have to give the gal some credit because it’s pretty intriguing what she comes up with here. Even if the results don’t fully match the ambitions, you have to at least give her credit where credit’s due, because it’s sure as hell not easy to make a movie in today’s day and age – let alone one with as kooky of an idea as Cold Souls.

Barthes doesn’t paint a portrait of a future that’s groomed for doom, where people are in desperate need to be others, have different lives, and basically just erase or escape any type of life they have and don’t like. It’s sort of like the same ideas that went through mind-benders like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, and although this one doesn’t really stack up anywhere near those masterpieces, Barthes at least tries to capture that Charlie Kaufman-esque nature of her material without really going overboard. There’s a lot of weird, sci-fi stuff going on here that’s definitely thoughtful, but it’s also grounded in a reality to where you feel like something could happen like this, had somebody gotten a more well thought-out plan. Barthes definitely deserves style-points on this one in terms of his screenplay, but damn, did we really need to be so sad the whole time?

The answer is no, but most people will probably disagree with me.

Even though the premise definitely promises a bunch of weird, wacky fun in the same light as a Kaufman flick, that promise never gets fulfilled. Instead, Barthes seems like she’s content with just focusing on the sad aspect of this story with long, gloomy shots of a snowy Russia, and an even more horrid-looking New York City that looks as if it hasn’t seen the sun in a decade. All of the colors in this movie feel like a mixture of soft blues and muddle grays, and as much as that may make this flick seem more depressing and sad, do we really want to feel like we, as well as the characters were watching, should just go kill themselves and get it all over with? I don’t think so, because even while you may have an interesting premise to work with, to just constantly hammer us over the head with your inherent seriousness about it can get pretty old.

And another, even despite the fact he's in the same bed as Emily Watson.

And another, even despite the fact he’s in the same bed as Emily Watson.

But even despite the actual lack of fun in this movie, probably the most disappointing aspect of this whole flick is that it brings up all of these questions, ideas, and messages about life and exactly where we are headed as a society, but loses them about half-way through once the last act kicks into high-gear; and then, it ends, just leaving everything up in the air. Listen, I’m totally game for any type of film that wants to bring up a lot of food-for-thought, have me doing thinking about what’s it trying to say, and eventually allowing me to go out with some people afterwards and talk it up, but this movie doesn’t even seem like it wants to give me that privilege. Even when that last act comes around and the movie oddly changes from this existential drama, into this mystery/romance/off-kilter comedy that now all of a sudden wants to please us, rather than having us contemplate jumping off the San Francisco bridge. It was a change in tone that not only felt phony, but showed that Barthes maybe backed-out on an ending, that could have answered a whole lot, and even left some more up for thought and discussion.

But nope, she didn’t even give us that.

What’s even more surprising than this change in tone, was how Paul Giamatti seemed to be a bit boring to watch as well. Granted, the guy isn’t given all that much to work with, other than a slew of shots of him just staring off into the space, looking all mopey and sad all of the time, but when the guy does need to liven things up, he does with that charm and wit we all know and love the guy for. His character (which is pretty much him, just not nearly as famous), is a downer and that’s why it’s pretty fun to see what happens to him when he switches souls, gets a little bit more energetic, and a bit more inspiration with how he lives his life and it’s one of the very rare moments in this flick where not only he comes alive, but the movie as well. Sadly, Barthes knocks his character back down to reality, and he becomes the same old, sad sap we started out with in the first place and it’s a bummer, because Giamatti’s always good and entertaining to watch. You just got to give him the right material that allows him to have some fun every once and awhile.

Consensus: Cold Souls deals with a very interesting idea about the current landscape of our society, but is too dour to really bring anybody into the world it’s trying to portray, nor does it really follow through on any of the rules it sets up to begin with.

5.5 / 10

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Duff (2015)

Dang teenagers and their technology.

High school teenager Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is smart, quick-witted, is sure of herself, and also has a bunch of friends that love and support her. However, she soon realizes that maybe her social life isn’t all that great to begin with; sure, she has friends, but is she really as successful or as popular as them? Better yet, is she really all that pretty, either? Eventually, Bianca stumbles upon the realization that she is, sadly, a DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). This shakes Bianca to her core, so much so that she realizes it’s about time that she realizes it’s finally time for a change of pace where she can have more men look her way, more people talk about her with positive connotations, and more friends, as a result. This is when she enlists the help of her neighbor Wes (Robbie Amell) who is also using her as a way to ensure that he gets good enough grades in class so that he can pass, get those scholarships to the colleges he wants, and live his life, happily forever after. But somehow, through all of the hanging out they’re doing, Wes and Bianca soon realize that maybe what it is that they need, isn’t just to look pretty and be popular – maybe, just maybe, it’s to have someone special in your life?

Selfie, with her?

Selfie, with her?

Basically, take the premise to Not Another Teen Movie, make it serious, and wouldn’t you know it? You sort of have what the Duff is; while it is, at one point, insightful in exposing the true nature of young, impressionable, high school kids and their sometimes evil, maniacal ways of pushing people into stereotypes, regardless of whether they accept it or not. Then, on the other point, it’s also a movie that feels incredibly content with keeping things as simple and conventional as possible, without ever trying to change, or shake up the genre it seems to be playing around in.

To be honest, the Duff is a little bit of both, but it’s at least ten times better than a mega-serious Not Another Teen Movie.

What works in the Duff‘s favor is that it has a fresh voice to tell us all that we need to know about the current state of high school’s social life today, to ensure that everybody’s on the same page. While it’s only been a few years or so since I last stepped in a high school classroom, there’s still a certain feeling that even though most may stay the same about high school and all of the social politics that go into, the landscape may alter a bit to where there are more cliques than ever before. Through Bianca, we see, hear, and understand what it is that’s around her and it helps us to create a bubble around each one of these character’s lives and how they’ll affect her.

And this also helps out the fact that Bianca, the character herself, is actually pretty smart and funny. Some of that has to do with the fact that Mae Whitman (yes, her?) is charming in her own ways, but some of it also has to do with the fact that she’s actually an interesting character that feels lived-in and not just an archetype of what some writer’s would deem as “hip” or “cool”. Sure, she’s both of which, but she isn’t bragging about it, either; that’s just not her style. She’s much more subdued than that and it helps her character come off as more realistic than anything else.

Not to mention that, despite seeming like he’s way too old for high school, Robbie Amell and Whitman have something of a sexy bit of chemistry together. Though the pairing is, I must admit, odd to say the least, these two make it work somehow by showing that these two need one another. Sure, the ways we are shown this are hackneyed, corny and wildly predictable, at best, but there’s still some shed of truth to be found in these scenes.

Oh yeah, totally what high school jocks looked like in high school. Grey hair and all.

Oh yeah, totally what high school jocks looked like in high school. Grey hair and all.

Not too much, but just enough to keep me away from barfing out my lunch by all of the sappy teen romance.

Like I said, however, the Duff does feel like it gets a tad too predictable for its own tastes and while it can sometimes get away with its sarcastic smirk, it doesn’t always save the day. For instance, take the character of Bella Thorne, who plays the stereotypical bitch of the school who’s only concern is whom her boyfriend is of the week, whether or not she’s having a party later in the day, and if there are enough cameras around her following her every move. Despite Thorne trying here, it still seems like the kind of lame role that’s written for a sitcom; whereas instead of getting to see the deep shades beneath her exterior, we just see an annoying, villain of a girl. It’s quite bothersome actually and doesn’t do much to help the movie, except just ad needless conflict.

Then, of course, there’s the message of this movie, whatever it is that may be. See, a part of me wants to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and say that, in the end, the movie’s all about the triumph and the will of one woman’s journey to make herself feel better for who it is that she is, rather than what others see, there’s still another part of me that thinks the opposite. See, without saying much, Bianca changes herself up in a manner that makes her seem more appealing to those around and even though Whitman is already plenty fine to look at, the movie tries to make it seem like she needs to look and fit a certain way to get the guy, to get the friends, and ultimately, get the life they oh so crave and desire.

To me, that doesn’t sit well. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking to young high schoolers or senior citizens, it just feels oddly-placed is all, especially in a movie that seems so against selling out and being along with the crowd in the first place.

Then again, that’s high school for ya.

Consensus: The Duff‘s familiar premise and feel waters it down from being like other high school comedies released in the past few years, but still offers up enough charm and wit to make up for some of those problems.

5.5 / 10

Yup. Totally ugly and fat.......

Yup. Totally ugly and fat…….

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

Ghosts are such a pain, you know?

Before the infamous haunting of the Lambert family, there was a young girl by the name of Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) who went through a lot of the same problems. Her, her brother, and her dad (Dermot Mulroney) all live together in a small and cramped apartment, where the recent death of the matriarch of the family still holds a bit of weight around them all. Since Quinn misses her so much, she tries to contact her dead mother by going to local ghost whisperer, Elise (Lin Shaye), who has now turned her back on this business as she has now lost her own husband. However, she makes an exception thinking there will be no harm, nor any foul from this decision. She was dead wrong about that! Instead, Elise has now turned the angry spirits onto her and Quinn, where they have now taken over Quinn’s room and promises to never leave her alone, all until she is theirs forever. Elise will make sure that this happens, but by doing so, that also means she’ll have to go back to her old ways, which was, from what we know, pretty dangerous to begin with.

The Insidious franchise, as a whole, kind of pisses me off. While I understand the appeal in all three of these movies, I never fully understand why so many people give them a pass. The first one was a fun piece of low-budget horror that most definitely benefited from the fact that it was a 21st century horror movie that didn’t have a gimmick attached to it, and was actually good. Then, the second one came around and felt like it was trying to capture that same fun feel of the first, but at the same time, couldn’t avoid tripping over itself in trying to enhance the story and keeping it moving.

Don't go down there!

Don’t go down that hallway!

Now, with this third one, it just seems like everybody involved may have gotten as tired of it as me.

That isn’t to say that Insidious: Chapter 3 is a bad movie, because it isn’t; at least, not for the first hour or so. Unlike the past two movies, this flick takes its good old time to get to the action, where instead of offering a whole bunch of spooks and scares to get the ball rolling, it mostly focuses on developing characters. Initially, this may seem like a waste, but as time goes on, it eventually pays off as it gives the audience a better view of these characters, their personalities, and why exactly they should matter to us.

Heck, even the scares work relatively well. Rather than throwing one scary object at us, after another, writer/director Leigh Whannell takes it easy, relaxes a bit, and lets it all play out in a slow, melodic fashion. Once again, many may be bothered by this approach to a genre of film that should be blasting at the seams with frenetic energy, but as time rolls on (which it will definitely do), it ends up working in the movie’s favor. I always say that more horror movies should take the slow-burn approach to delivering their scares as it definitely keeps on racking up the tension, without ever seeming like it’s losing its audience.

And that’s what this movie is for the first half, and then it just drops the ball; much like the other movies.

Where Whannell seems to lose a bit of sense here is that he mistakes pulling back curtains and giving us three second glimpses of weird-looking figures as being terrifying, and doesn’t realize that they may just be goofy to look and point at. Whereas most horror directors realize that they’re working with campy, B-movie material and hardly ever shy away from that fact, Insidious does’t know whether or not it wants to explore these silly moments more, or take them as serious as heart-attack. The same issue happened with the other two, where it seemed to be so odd and outrageous, that it was surprising when the movie itself didn’t seem to take it as some sort of a joke.

And this is a problem because for the last-half or so, this is exactly how the movie plays out. Elise ends up taking a trip into “the Further”; Elise starts seeing some weird images; Elise fights with demons; and eventually, Elise gets the demons away (or so she thinks!). It’s not that the formula is broken, so therefore, it should be fixed, it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be much life left in them to where they’re fun to see toyed around with every so often. Recent horror movies like the Conjuring, Paranormal Activity, and my favorite of the year so far, It Follows, all take notice of this idea and decide to do something about their sometimes familiar story-lines.

Don't look under that bed!

Don’t look under that bed!

Insidious now feels like it’s a bit behind the curve and it needs to get along with the times.

However, considering that this is a prequel, some have been considering it the last of the series. Which, isn’t a total shame, because it’s definitely overstayed its welcome now, but will definitely leave behind a solid legacy for Lin Shaye, an underrated character actress that seems to finally be getting her due now. It’s odd that someone like Shaye would be the main draw and practically, the poster girl for this franchise, but somehow, she has and the movies are better for it. Shaye’s the only one who seems like she’s fully into the material that she’s working with and while the movie makes the mistake of taking her a tad too seriously, she’s still good enough to where it works for her and her character. In fact, it makes her seem all the more bad-ass.

And because we get more time with her this time around, we’re taken away from the rest of the characters. Though Dermot Mulroney and Stefanie Scott seem to be trying, their characters don’t have much more depth other than just, “normal, everyday human beings who are scared of ghosts”. Mulroney tries to breathe some life into this boring dad role, but eventually, has to sit on the side lines and watch as Lin Shaye cleans house.

Which isn’t that much of a problem, because she does it all so well.

Consensus: If Chapter 3 is indeed the finale to the Insidious franchise, it won’t be a tearful goodbye, but it will leave behind a legacy of being an mediocre movie that could have been so much scarier and fun, much like the other two.

5 / 10

Don't follow her!

Don’t follow her!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Aloha (2015)

This time, it means goodbye.

After being away for many years, defense contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) returns to Hawaii where he sees people from the past that haven’t been in contact with him for nearly 13 years. People such as a former flame of his (Rachel McAdams), former co-worker (Danny McBride), and person who used to employ him and now, may need him more than ever, business tycoon Carson Welch (Bill Murray). However, Brian is now setting his sights on the future when he’s partnered-up with Air Force pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who is supposed to take him all around Hawaii, guide him through certain places, and overall, get to make his stay a whole lot more comfortable. The reason being is because Brian’s in Hawaii to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite that comes strictly from Carson Welch’s own pocket. While Brian realizes that this is illegal, he still has to go through with it considering that he has nowhere else to go, or nothing else to do; Allison, on the other hand, knows this is wrong and despite her feelings for Brian, can’t find it in her to stand by such a decision.

Or, you know, something like that.

Fly. Fly far away from here.

Fly. Fly far away from here.

Honestly, the plot synopsis I just wrote is a bit of a stretch, because I’m still not sure what exactly this movie was all about. None of that has to do with the fact that I didn’t have my cup of coffee beforehand, or was constantly on my phone – it’s all due to the fact that whichever studio heads decided to chop Aloha up, chopped it up real good. Meaning, that any sign of what may have been Cameron Crowe’s original idea for a movie, gets totally lost in something so messy, so incoherent, and something so odd, that it made me feel bad for just about everybody involved.

However, regardless of what you may hear or see, it’s not terrible. The reason for that being is because the cast actually seems to be trying and although a lot of what they do here doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole, it’s hard to be angry at everybody here and blame them. Especially since, in most instances, they’re the main reasons the movie’s worth being watched.

Like, for instance, take Emma Stone as Allison Ng, a character who is actually supposed to be Asian, but we’ll leave that alone for now. Stone, as usual, is fun, light, perky, and charming as hell. It’s seemingly impossible to despise her presence in anything she shows up in, and although Allison is a lot like Kirsten Dunst’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Crowe’s Elizabethtown, I found her a lot more believable, if only because Stone made her so. Even when she starts to have feelings for Bradley Cooper’s character, it comes from a place of adoration and respect, and isn’t just because she wants to bang the hottest the guy who just so happens to step into Hawaii.

Because if that were the case, clearly she’d be gunning for Bill Murray. Like, come on. No competition whatsoever.

And of course, Bradley Cooper’s fine, too. Brian Gilcrest seems like the same kind of challenging, incomplete, and imperfect protagonist that Crowe loves to write about and while he may not get the movie that say, someone like Tom Cruise deserved with Jerry Maguire, Cooper still tries, time and time again. Same goes for the likes of Danny McBride, John Krasinski, Bill Camp, Alec Baldwin, Rachel McAdams, and most of all, Bill Murray, who, oddly enough, is saddled with a villainous role that never seems to actually step over the line from being “bad”, but instead, just stays like the Bill Murray we all know and love.

But most of the problem with an ensemble this so finely stacked, is that they don’t get much to do in Aloha. Perhaps in the original cut that featured a lot more character moments, as well as explanation of just what the hell Brian Gilcrest is doing in Hawaii in the first place, but not here. Instead, what we’re stuck with here is an odd movie that wants to be so many things at the same time, and while it slightly succeeds at one of them, the rest feel useless and just thrown in there for the sake of taking up time.

Which is especially odd, considering that the movie’s hardly even two hours.

Please hook up. Make this some bit of interesting.

Please hook up. Make this some bit of interesting.

In a way, you could say that Aloha would have probably benefited from another half-hour or so, just so that we could have gotten more of whatever Crowe had initially written-out. The elements with Stone and Cooper were fine as is, so no tampering needed to be done with them, but what about the whole love-angle between Cooper and McAdams? That was probably the juiciest part of this whole movie, where our protagonist has to deal with the missed-opportunities he has to face in his life now, and instead, it’s treated as a minor subplot in the grander scheme of things. Instead of learning more about this character’s past through the way he interacts with those around him, we get to see him constantly battle with whatever demons are taking over his mind during this “mission”.

Once again, the movie never makes clear of what said mission actually is, up until it’s actually happening and even then, it’s still never clear. This is just another example of a studio not liking a final product, getting scared, and instead of working with the creator on it and seeing what could work best, they decided to mish and mash it up anyway that they saw fit. That isn’t to say that Crowe doesn’t at least deserve a partial amount of the blame, because he does, but it’s also to point out the fact that sometimes, movie studios really can rip apart anything that they want.

However, Crowe can be blamed, too. With Crowe’s movies, his dialogue usually feels heightened in the sense that we know that the dialogue his characters use, aren’t actually how real people talk. But for some reason, you sort of wish real people did and for that reason, it’s interesting to hear what they have to say next and how they say it. Some of Crowe’s earlier films are great examples of this, but lately, he’s gotten a bit ahead of himself and now, it’s starting to seem like he’s trying to recreate that piece of magic he had with “You Complete Me“.

Either way, it’s a dragon that Crowe should stop chasing, because it’s not helping himself out, or the actors that are forced to utter his stupid lines.

Consensus: Aloha isn’t a total and complete, unwatchable misfire, but it does feel as if it’s been tampered with too much to the point of where it takes away from the story, the message, and the talented cast that deserve better.

5 / 10

The love triangle that deserved a better movie.

The love triangle that deserved a better movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Tomorrowland (2015)

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

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

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

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

New cult.

New cult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

House is in the……..ehrm…house.

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

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

5 Flights Up (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it all comes down to these characters, man.

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

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

Yup, poor girl.

Yup, poor girl.

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ride (2015)

Mom’s are so hip!

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Water Diviner (2015)

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

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

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

Bonding over something cultural, I assume.

Bonding over something cultural, I assume.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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

5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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

Wild Things (1998)

Drunk, alone, and horny? Turn this one on and you’ll have a new best friend.

Two high-school girls (Denise Richards and Neve Campbell) accuse their teacher (Matt Dillon) of raping them on two separate occasions. The guy tries his hardest to defend himself against this terrible case, but it’s not quite as it seems as we see from detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon). Even if Duquette himself may be up to no good, either.

To be honest, the only real reason this film is as popular as it once was (and maybe still is), was all because of the infamous threesome and a rare dong-shot all being placed in a big, Hollywood production. Not that there’s necessarily anything daring about two girls and a guy engaging some hot, steamy sex, or even a slight shot of some male genitalia, but being that this was a pretty big movie, it created quite the stir. But is there more here to at least enjoy other than that threesome?

Yeah, but not too much.

Former Bond girl there, folks!

Former Bond girl there, folks!

It’s been awhile since the last time I saw a whodunit and Wild Things is a classic example of a whodunit that’s made to just keep on getting more and more ridiculous as it runs along. The script, for one, is probably not the best out there and can seem really lazy at points. You would expect a sexy little thriller like this to have some ultra-sexxed up dialogue that ladies would be quoting to dudes everywhere, but instead, it just comes off like a corny B-movie flick that goes through the motions with all of it’s dialogue. So, basically everything you’d expect from your ordinary B-movie, you get here and it’s sometimes hard to watch and enjoy because it’s so damn laughable at points. Now, there is a certain thing to be said about that and that’s how I actually found myself having fun with it but still, when everybody is serious and you are pretty much the only one laughing, you have to feel like something was missing here or that these people just weren’t in on the joke. I think I choose both.

As for the little plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere, they’re okay and actually make this story a bit interesting. Since there are so many plot twists to be had here, you can’t help but think that the film sort of loses itself with being a bit too over-exaggerated with itself, but it at least creates a tense mood to surround everything. Some of the twists took me by surprise, and some of them still took me by surprise, but after awhile I started to think about them and realize that they made absolutely no sense to the story at all and may have just been thrown in there for shits and gigs after all. Hey, I’m all down for a couple of neat plot twists here and there to spice up the story, but don’t make it overkill!

Then, there is, of course, the infamous threesome which will probably go down as the film’s biggest claim to fame and I will cut it some slack on, because it’s pretty freakin’ hot.

Usually when I watch films when some raunchy sex scenes are happening right in front of me, I don’t really feel anything since I know that they’re all fake and they aren’t really engaging in any sorts of sex with each other. But for some odd reason, with Wild Things, it all felt too real and it was just as hot and sexy as I remembered it being all those years ago around the first time I watched it. I won’t comment on the infamous dong scene but for all of the ladies out there, you got your six degrees of Bacon, alright!

"What did you say about the Following possibly getting cancelled?"

“What did you say about the Following possibly getting cancelled?”

Speaking of Kevin Bacon (and getting away from his actual Bacon!), he’s actually the best out of the whole main cast because the guy can sell any role no matter what he has to do and you can almost feel like this guy was just laughing at everybody else’s acting in the film by how laughable they can all be. Those ones I’m talking about are Matt Dillon and Denise Richards who could be placed in the “so bad, they’re good” category for the respective performances they give off here. Dillon plays up that macho, hammy bullshit dude that nobody likes and the whole film, just seems like he’s phoning it in from start-to-finish where you don’t really see this guy being an evil genius, you just see him being a total schmuck. Then, you got Denise Richards who is terrible in this role as the main high school girl who starts all of this drama and deliver every line of dialogue as if it were a self-serious soap opera, but without any slight wink to the audience. Dillon has barely any of that, but at least some, as opposed to Richards being such a dull presence to begin with, the fun sort of get sucked-out.

Though these two are pretty bad at what they do here, they don’t fully bring the ship down and leave everybody else to dry. Neve Campbell at least has some nice touches with her sympathetic character that got the best treatment out of everybody here, but still somehow seems like she gets the short end of the stick at the end. But as good as she is, she stands nowhere near to how great Bill Murray is as Dillon’s ambulance-chasing attorney that absolutely takes the film’s script, wipes his greasy hands all over it, and leaves some sort of particles that make the film a whole lot more entertaining whenever he’s up on-screen. I’ve said it many, many times before, but Bill Murray is the freakin’ man and whenever the guy isn’t out chillin’ with RZA, or playing a zombie, the guy can still take small roles like these and make them the most memorable due to that perfect comedic-timing.

Makes me wish he was in the film more, but hey, I guess that’s why we all love Bill Murray in the first place.

Consensus: While it’s hot and steamy for sure, Wild Things does get a bit too bogged-down by its own plot-twists, to make this campy-ride feel like one that’s a bit too rampant and wild for its own good.

5.5 / 10

Keep being you, Bill.

Keep being you, Bill.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDB, Premiere.Fr

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

The Conspirator (2011)

Where have I heard this story before? Well, nowhere actually, but see what I’m trying to get across in a not-so subtle way?

Mid-April 1865, stage actor John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) assassinates President Abraham Lincoln during a production of Our American Cousin. We all know this, who the hell doesn’t, but what most people don’t know is the story surrounding the other conspirators in this assassination, one of which was a woman wrongfully accused all because her son was one of those conspirators. That gal’s name was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), her son was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), and she ran a boarding house in Washington that Booth, along with the other conspirators in this assassination frequently stayed in, and where the plan was most likely hatched. Whether or not Surratt really did conspire to kill the President isn’t quite known yet, but Union war hero and attorney Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is assigned the task to defend her to the best of his ability, by any means necessary. At first, Aiken doesn’t think it matters because she’s guilty in his eyes, but after awhile, he starts to see that there is more brewing beneath the surface here with this case, and he will not stop until justice is so rightfully served.

In case you don’t know by now, Robert Redford is a pretty political guy, and he takes his liberal-stance very seriously. So seriously, that most of his flicks seem to come off more as history lessons, rather than actual movies, with real, interesting, and compelling narratives driving them along. That said, the guy’s got plenty of power in Hollywood to do whatever he wants, when he wants, with whomever he wants, and how he wants to, which makes total sense why a real life story like this would get such a star-studded cast, with such a preachy message, that it’s no wonder why it got past almost every producer out there in the world.

It’s Robert Redford, are you going to deny his movie?

Did a woman who's being wrongfully convicted for a crime she didn't necessarily commit really need to be dressed in all-black throughout the whole movie?

Did a woman who was being wrongfully convicted for a crime she didn’t necessarily commit really need to be dressed in all-black throughout the whole movie?

That’s why, as intriguing as this story is, you know exactly where he’s getting at with every part of this movie. For instance, Redford is obviously making a lot of points about the similarity between this case and the ones of post-9/11 hysteria that was more about finding anybody who was even close to being guilty, and make sure they pay the price so that the rest of the country can begin to feel like a safe and peaceful place like it was meant to be. Honestly, it’s a nice analogy that Redford uses, the only problem is that we get it every step of the way. So instead of being a movie that’s filled with a compelling story, characters, and emotions, it just feels like a history lesson where we’re being talked down to, as if we don’t know all about the problems our world of politics is facing today.

And it should come as no surprise that this was Redford’s first movie since doing Lions for Lambs, which was more of a thesis, than an actual movie, so I at least have to give the guy credit for cobbling up something of a story together and making something out of it. While I don’t want to get into discussing that movie anymore than I already need to, I will say that this movie does show Redford improving more as a film-maker who has a point behind his movies, even if they are extremely heavy-handed and as blatant as you can get. While that does seem weird to say about a guy who has a Best Director Oscar to his name, as well as plenty of other great movies he’s written and directed under his belt, it seems like something that needs to be said considering how damn preachy the guy gets, both in real life and with his movies.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s better than Lions for Lambs.

There, happy? I rest my case!

The only way that this movie survives throughout it’s near-two-hour-running-time is because its cast is so stacked to the brim, that you can’t help but want to watch and see what they’re able to pull out of this. James McAvoy was a great choice as Frederick Aiken, the type of guy you feel like would make it big as a lawyer-type in today’s society, but just didn’t have much leeway to get past all of the head-honchos back in those days. McAvoy is good at handling the determined, passionate character that Redford doesn’t bother to cut any deeper with, but I still think that’s better than nothing consider he can get-by in scenes against heavy-hitters like Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, and most of all, Robin Wright.

"Attica!!! Oh, shit. Wrong history class."

“Attica!!! Oh, crap. Wrong history class.”

However, it should be said that it couldn’t have been too hard for McAvoy to get by in his scenes with Wright because she doesn’t do much talking really. Instead, her performance is strictly consisting of cold stares, a lot of frowning, and just looking like she’s about to lose it at any given second – which isn’t such a bad thing because the gal handles it very well. I’ve always liked Wright in all that she’s done and I feel like she gets a great chance to give it all she’s got, even in a way that didn’t need to be over-the-top or totally blown out-of-proportion. This is a especially surprising given the fact that this character could have easily gone that way, and to even worse results being that this is a Redford flick, and he usually seems to sympathize quite heavily with wrongfully convicted.

And since I’m on the subject of the cast, I have to say that the rest of this ensemble do pretty good jobs with their roles as well, even if some do feel a bit off here and there. Those two in particular are Justin Long and Evan Rachel Wood who both feel as if they’re a bit too modern for this type of material, and don’t really fit in well. Maybe for Wood’s character, that’s probably done on purpose, but for Long, whenever it is that he shows up with his fake mustache that looked like it was ripped right off the face of Burt Reynolds, it feels like a total curse on him, whoever is around him the scene, and the movie itself. Not saying that he ruins the movie just by the pure simple fact of his presence being noted, but just because it feels like a piece of stunt-casting that back-fired on Redford, as well as Long himself; a very underrated actor that has yet to be given the full-on pleasure of taking a complex role and making it his own. Maybe one of these days. Just maybe.

Just hopefully not in a Robert Redford flick, is all.

Consensus: The true story that the Conspirator is telling is a very interesting, compelling tale that may stand the test of time, but as for the preachy, history lesson disguised as a full-length feature-flick? Not so much.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Okay, what I want you to do in this next scene is point to the camera and say that, "You are innocent, until proven guilty.""

“Okay, what I want you to do in this next scene is point to the camera and say that, “You are innocent, until proven guilty.'”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Gunman (2015)

If you kill, you will be killed. So just don’t kill. There’s really no point.

After sniping a well-known figure in a foreign country, international operative Jim (Sean Penn) is forced to change his life so that the organization he works for doesn’t have to worry about him getting caught, turning the other cheek, and possibly uncover all sorts of skeletons in their closet. This is a big moment in Jim’s life because he’s now not allowed to stay with his one and only love Annie (Jasmine Trinca), who is now spending time with a co-worker of Jim’s (Javier Bardem). Many years go by and out of nowhere, dangerous people start looking for Jim, declaring that they want revenge for what he did all of those years ago. Thinking that the job he completed was confidential in every which way, Jim is shocked and wants to find out the truth, even if that means going back to his checkered-past and following up with some familiar faces. Some are happy to see him, whereas others aren’t. But for Jim, he doesn’t care; he’s in a race against time where he has to find out who is responsible for all of these problems, get rid of them, and possibly clear his name in the process.

It’s odd to see Sean Penn in something like this. Not because it’s a commercialized, mainstream flick that he too often seems to be against doing too often, but because it’s the kind of commercialized, mainstream flick that seems so done to death by now: The aging-killers subgenre.

"Blimey lad! Heve a drink, will ye?"

“Blimey lad! Heve a drink, will ye?”

No matter how much time passes, Liam Neeson will always be remembered for starting this odd trend, but he sure as hell won’t be the last. Keanu Reeves, Kevin Costner, and heck, even Salma Hayek are all older acts that seem to have gotten all fed-up with pleasing certain people that think they should just move out of the way for the younger-crowd and continue to play mom or dad roles. For the most part, these movies can be hit-or-miss, but there’s no denying that they add some more appeal to the usual action-thriller that seems to be constantly plagued with the Jason Statham’s and Gerard Butler’s of the world. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with those two lads, but one can only see the same person shoot and kill so many people and not really have that formula shaken up one bit.

Which is why, like I was saying before, it’s interesting to see a class-act like Penn, do something like this.

But the real question remains: Does it actually work? Meaning, is he actually any good in the role? Or, is it simply a case of an actor trying something new because he has all of the money no shits given to do so and not worry about losing a little bit as a result? It’s a bit of a two-hander actually – while Penn isn’t bad in the movie, per se, the movie itself leaves a lot to be desired and it makes you wonder just why the hell someone as choosy and picky as Penn would bother with this in the first place.

Granted, he gets a lot to do that calls on him for the large, dramatic-moments. But he also gets to flex his ripped-body that can definitely not be what a nearly 55-year-old naturally looks like, but whatever. Color me impressed, if a little suspicious. Anyway, like I was saying, Penn does a fine job here and allows for this thinly-written character like Jim come off as someone who is easy to root for, even if we aren’t fully sure about his past actions, or how morally correct they were.

But the movie sort of throws Penn into the kind of movie where all he really has to do is deliver exposition, look upset, act frantic, and shoot the eff out of baddies. All of these things Penn does a fine enough job at to where it doesn’t seem like he’s just milking it for the cameras so that he can collect that hefty paycheck of his; it’s more that the movie leaves a lot to be desired for him to do. All of the exposition, tension, and sometimes gory violence, all lead up to a very subpar thriller that I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was all about other than that, “People chased after Sean Penn because he did a bad thing like some eight years ago.”

Other than that, I’m sort of drawing a blank.

Sunglasses: Protectors of sun, better protectors of possible CIA agents.

Sunglasses: Protectors of sun, better protectors of possible CIA agents.

Which brings me to the fact that, even though a more recent example of this same subgenre, Run All Night, was a movie more about its action, rather than anything resembling a story (although it definitely had that), it still didn’t grip me quite as well as the Gunman did when it worked. When it doesn’t work, it’s an overly-edited, wordy mess that seems to confuse exposition for “something meaningful”. However, when it does work, it’s kind of fun, but in a slimy, bloody way. Everybody’s sweating; everybody’s cursing; and everybody’s life is at-risk, and that allowed me to just join in on whatever thrill-ride the movie was able to take me on.

Trust me, it didn’t always last, but when it did, I was happy to be along for it all.

And with a movie like this, that’s all it really comes down to – the action is solid and gripping. Sure, you could argue that the movie doesn’t give much of anything to do for Javier Bardem, whose character, when he isn’t trying to bang Penn’s character girlfriend (and not at all being subtle about it), is absolutely, shit-faced drunk, and it sure as hell doesn’t allow for Idris Elba to be more than just a Christopher Walken cameo (even though all of the advertisements would have you think he practically made this movie with his own bare hands), but what’s the point in all of that? The movie tries its hand at being serious a tad too many times, but when it knows that it’s failing at that, it backs off and just lets Sean Penn hoot, holler, and shoot people.

What’s so wrong about enjoying that, people?

Consensus: As a melodramatic thought-piece about what’s really happening on foreign soils, the Gunman trips, falls and embarrasses itself, but eventually realizes this and just gets back to the moments where it’s Sean Penn surfing, smoking and killing people.

5 / 10

"Better look out next time, paparazzo."

“Better look out next time, paparazzo.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Faults (2015)

Can’t cult, the cultee. Or something.

Famed author Ansel (Leland Orser) made a living off of knowing all about cults and their mentality. He was so well-known at one point, that he actually had a TV show of his own. Nowadays, he spends most of his time trying to get free meals from hotel diners, evading people he owes money to, and holding Q&A’s where he constantly gets criticized for some shady practices he performed back in the day. However though, Ansel gets a second chance at not just his job, but at life when an older couple come up to him with a proposition: Kidnap their daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and brainwash her out of the brainwashing that she apparently was subject to while in a cult. Given the right amount of time, resources, and most of all, money, Ansel believe that he can make this work and have their daughter be normal again, but problems arise. Not only does Ansel realize that his brainwashing skills may be rusty, but he’s getting more and more threats from those he’s indebted to, which puts him in a tight spot: Walk out on this procedure that he was practically hired to do, or see to it that it’s completed and the family walks away with their daughter, happy and reunited after all of this time?

Someone's got a long night ahead of them.

Someone’s got a long night ahead of them.

A lot of people I know out there, in the real world and on the worldwide inter-web, have a gripe with me not appreciating a movie trying to be more than just what’s presented on the surface. It’s a complaint that I can see some understanding in, but I wholeheartedly disagree with. While I know that many movies out there should be simple and left grey enough for the viewer to decide and make up their own minds about on, I’m not opposed to watching a movie that tries to dig deeper than what may have already been written. I just have a problem when these movies get a bit too big for their britches and lose all sight of what could have been an impactful, yet small story.

However, Faults is one of those rare movies where the simplicity came to bite both of us on our asses.

See, one of the problems with Faults is that it prides itself in being about this one man, who tries to sneak and connive his way back into some sort of fame and fortune, but by doing so, has to remember what made him have all that in the first place. That right there, is interesting, and the movie clearly seems to take pride in this character, giving us an unlikable protagonist, but one that’s still compelling enough to want to watch and see what he does next, to whom, and for what reasons. And then, it gets all the better once it’s made abundantly clear that this movie could actually be about his relationship with this new subject of his. The possibilities here for a rich, subtle character-drama were all set in stone and ready to shined down on.

But sadly, that’s not what happens.

Instead, Faults turns into a murder-mystery that’s more concerned with the art of cults and brainwashing, that it ends up being a nonsensical piece where people just blabber on and on about stuff we don’t understand, nor do we care about. Which, oddly enough, is how I felt the movie approached the same material; there’s an odd comedic-streak in this movie that comes and goes as it pleases, yet is still effective enough that it breaks up some moments that would have been too self-serious and dramatic for its own good. Writer/director Riley Stearns uses a lot of these humorous moments to shine a light on some of the more extreme aspects of cults and it made me wonder just where the hell it all went in the later-half.

Because, eventually, Stearns loses all sight of what was already an compelling premise about a small group of interesting folks, and throws them into a sub-par Coen Bros. flick. There’s twists, turns, murder, money, cults, black henchman, and even a gay loan shark! It has all the makings of a fun, thoughtful character drama, yet, never gets to be that because Stearns is a tad too concerned with hearing all of the random stuff these characters rant about. None of it is ever decipherable, but then again, I don’t think it’s supposed to be.

So why the hell are we focusing on it so much?!?!

Complementary breakfasts are the best kinds of breakfasts.

Complementary breakfasts are the best kinds of breakfasts.

However, the only reason why Faults gets something of a pass from me is because of its small, but amble cast that puts a lot of faces in some key roles, that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen them in, had this been a bigger, more mainstream flick. And the one member of the cast I’m really talking about is Leland Orser as Ansel, an interesting creation of a character who I felt would have done wonders with a better movie. Orser already has a bit of a creepy-presence in everything he shows up in, so that’s why when I saw him here playing something of a shady fellow, I knew he was perfect for the role. There’s something sort of off-putting to this character that knows he cannot be trusted, but by the same token, we get the impression that he’s not such a bad guy to where he would purposefully do something wrong to hurt this family, their daughter, or anybody else involved.

He’s a weasel, but he’s got a heart and it’s noticeable, too.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Stearn’s wife in real life) is also another actress that’s been so good in just about everything she’s done and still has yet to be given that career-defining performance that puts her from being “indie darling” to being “the next big thing in acting”. And regardless of when that time comes or not, Winstead’s still fine here, playing a character that we’re never too sure is as crazy as she makes herself be. We know that she’s been apart of a cult for very long, but we don’t know how long, so therefore, it’s hard to come up with an idea of how far gone her mind is and whether or not she’s a sensible thinker. There’s a lot of mystery to this character and Winstead constantly keeps us guessing, even when it seems like we’ve got her all figured out.

If only the movie would have realized this and kept the focus on these two. Oh, and gotten rid of all the cult-talk, too.

Cause honestly, who the hell cares?

Consensus: By depending on its cast, Faults is interesting, but continues to add on more and more elements to this story that just feel unnecessary and stuffy.

5.5 / 10

He just can't get enough of the Winstead.

He just can’t get enough of the Winstead.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2015)

ff388289b27ddfa130ea3d18c29e9913_largeVampires from New York are a lot less insufferable.

After being stabbed to death by his assistant with a cursed ancient weapon, scholar Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) finds himself transformed in ways he didn’t expect to be. For one, he can’t kill himself, no matter how hard he tries. And he’s now got an addiction to blood, which would, in turn, make him into a vampire. It’s life-changing alteration that Green feels weird with at first, but sooner than later, soon realizes that he can have some fun with it. The only thing is that he needs to make sure that he gets blood, from anywhere he can find it; meaning, in some cases, he’ll have to kill people, just in order to suck out their blood. After some time, however, his assistant’s ex-wife, Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), shows up and actually begins to fall for him. Green doesn’t know whether he can let Ganja in on his little secret, because if he does, that means the both of them will turn into addicted, blood-sucking vampires. Rich ones, too.

Though he’s had plenty of missteps in the past (like any talented director has), there’s no ignoring the fact that whichever movie he does, Spike Lee always finds ways to make them interesting. Not just visually, but also by what he’s trying to say underneath the actual plot itself. Sometimes, his point is effective and can definitely hit home for some (He Got Game and Do the Right Thing are famous examples of this), but other times, they can be not one bit subtle and just seem like someone getting up on their soapbox and preaching at you for two hours (Jungle Fever and Bamboozled). Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is somewhere in the middle of these two possible options, although it’s hard to ever pin-point what sort of message Lee is trying to make in the first place.

Quite effective. Assuming that the other person doesn't have a fire-arm with them.

Quite effective weapon. Assuming that the other person doesn’t have a fire-arm with them.

Could it be that fortune makes one person lose all humanity and forget about who they once were? Could it be that society has been constructed in such a way that the only way for an African American to survive in today’s economy, is for them to eat and kill their way to the top? Or, simply put, is it that no matter how far down the deep-end one can go in life, that God, our lord and savior, is always there to save you?

Personally, I have no clue and I don’t think Spike Lee knows either.

This creates a problem with a movie that, on the surface, is a bit too plain. It’s known that Lee raised all of the movie’s finances through a Kickstarter campaign and while it is nice to see someone put all of that hard-earned money to good use (as opposed to other famous celebrities utilizing the same method for financing), there’s not much more to this story that makes it all feel deserving of being told to us. Especially when it’s our own money being dealt with here.

However, there is something to be said for someone like Lee, who is able to bring out interesting anecdotes in a film that isn’t filled with too many of them. Rather than coming right out and saying that this movie’s a vampire tale about one dude trying to get as much blood as he possibly can to survive, Lee goes a step further in exploring the actual dude who has, suddenly, been turned into a vampire. As dull on the surface as Dr. Hess Green may be, it’s his background that’s actually the most interesting element about him – he’s a smart fella, for sure, but the only reason he is as rich as he is, is because his parents left it all for him. So now that he’s been stricken with this tragic circumstance, he now has to act on his own and do what’s best for him, rather than having to follow whatever mommy or daddy may have wanted for him to follow.

This might be an instance of me stretching myself a tad too thin, but whatever the case may have been, there was something intriguing to this character that made him compelling to watch. Williams doesn’t bring much flair or excitement to this role, but then again, I don’t think the movie was calling on him to do so, either; he’s as plain as day and the fact that he’s now a blood-sucking vampire, is supposed to make him interesting. If only ever so slightly.

Not creepy at all, bro.

Not creepy at all, bro.

And speaking of the whole vampire-angle to this story, it’s kind of where you can tell Lee’s having the most problems with this film. Rather than shaking up the genre in his own, innovative way, Lee seems to just constantly hammer in the fact that vampires like blood and will do whatever they can to gain access to it. Lee hardly ever strays away from that and it’s a bit of a disappointment, considering how he’s made a career out of doing that practically his whole career. There’s maybe one instance in which we see Lee play with the formula, in which Green sucks the blood of a prostitute who may, or may not have AIDS. Automatically, this puts the whole story into perspective and made me wonder what kind of movie was next to follow. But then, as soon as he brings the idea to the table, Lee then poo-poos it and counts it off as nothing more than a false alarm.

Yet again, another instance in which Lee, someone who seemed to once love to shake things up for cinema, gets back into line like the rest of the other directors out there.

And don’t have me fooled, this isn’t me saying that everything Lee does here isn’t inspired (there’s another key scene near the end involving a church ceremony that is one of the more exciting, visually breath-taking things he’s done in awhile), it’s just that this clearly isn’t the film for him to really stretch his wings out, try something new, or better yet, even show the world why he needs us, the adoring fans, to fund his work. Kickstarter is fine and all, but when you raise a bunch of money, for something that doesn’t seem to quite go anywhere all that eventful or miraculous, then what’s the point? Vanity?

Oh, who knows.

Consensus: Occasionally interesting, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus finds Spike Lee trying to do whatever he can, with whatever limited resources he’s given, but also doesn’t allow it to result as much worth talking about.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

At least we get a dolly shot. That's all that I paid to see.

At least we get a dolly shot. That’s all that I paid Spike Lee millions to see.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Ties definitely have a lot more use than just making one look professional.

Young and ambitious English Lit. major Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) fills in for her roommate to conduct an interview with the young, brash and handsome millionaire that is Christian Grey (Jamie Dorman). The two have their interview and, believe it or not, hit it off quite well; so well, that Grey begins to start asking Anastasia out on dates that she can’t believe to be true. However, seeing as Christian’s a nice guy who means well, Ana decides that going out on a date with him wouldn’t be so bad. Then, she gets the idea to spend the night over his place and possibly even lose her virginity. That’s not so bad, either. But then, the tides begin to change when Ana realizes that there’s something creepy, even mysterious behind Christian’s persona; which, as a result, has something to do with the way they make love and whether or not Ana is willing to go through some of the more extreme prices she has to pay for Christian Grey’s price. But is it all worth it?

There’s something about Fifty Shades of Grey that seems a tad edgy, even by today’s movie’s standards. It’s an R-rated, mainstream flick that’s adapting some of the naughtiest, grimiest material that most house-wives read and fantasized about day in and day out. I’ve never read the original source material, but from what I’ve heard, I probably wouldn’t like it. Like, at all.

Hot.

Hot.

However, I’m not the target-audience for this movie, which is why it won’t just hit the top of the box-office by the end of the weekend, but might break all sorts of records in the process. Women from all over the world will be flocking to any movie theater they can find that’s playing this movie, which calls into question: Is any of it worth it? Well, like I said before about it being slightly edgy, especially so for a mainstream flick, there’s plenty of sex here. It’s an R-rated movie in that we see plenty of boobs, butt, bush, S&M, and plenty of spanking. But is it enough to warrant somebody’s undivided attention for nearly two hours? Especially when the main reason everybody is coming to see this for in the first place, only takes up about 20 minutes of screen-time?

Well, people, there’s such a thing as “hard R”, and then there’s such a thing as “soft R”.

And sadly, this adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey leans more towards the later.

However, don’t get me wrong, even though this material clearly isn’t made precisely for me, I went into it expecting anything to happen, both good and bad. Which, for the first half-hour or so, there was surprisingly more good than bad. Some of this, I feel, has to do with the fact that the powers that be behind this movie insistence on getting an unconventional choice of a director like Sam Taylor-Johnson to take over the reigns for this story.

Though Taylor-Johnson has only one film to her name (Nowhere Boy, which is pretty solid), there’s something here about what she does with this material that makes it seem like she actually cares how it looks and feels. There’s a certain airy-breath to this film that fits well with the Seattle setting and makes some of these scenes seem as hot and sweaty as they should be feeling right from the start. There’s one scene in particular where Ana and Christian are going over the paperwork for their upcoming escapades, and while this scene could have been as conventional as they come, Taylor-Johnson films it in a dark, somewhat eerie view that adds a certain layer of promiscuity to a movie that clearly is going for that as is.

Also, not to mention that Taylor-Johnson focuses long and hard enough on these two characters that we at least get some semblance of who they are as human beings, and exactly what they are when they are together. Maybe less so with Christian Grey (more on that guy in a minute), but it’s definitely the case for Anastasia Steele, who is probably made a lot better by the fact that she has the lovely, charming and vivacious Dakota Johnson portraying her. In case some of you out there didn’t know by now, Johnson is the daughter of both Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and while she may not totally look like her dad (thank heavens), it’s easy to see the similarities in terms of looks and the way she handles herself on screen, with her mommy.

But it should be noted that Johnson is clearly her own force of nature that seems like she could be as famous, if not more so, than her famous mom, because not only does she have the face a movie camera could love, but she’s able to make us, the audience, believe in every piece of sappy writing she’s forced to deliver here. On paper, Anastasia Steele is another boring, female character that falls for the hot, young, and rich dude that opens up her eyes to pretty houses, pretty cars, pretty parties, and most of all, pretty sex. And the fact that Anastasia is a virgin, makes it all the more nauseating to even type. But somehow, Johnson is a capable enough actress who is able to bring some semblance of humanity, or believability to this character that not only allows for us to sympathize with her every step of the way, but even wish she would just make the right decisions in life.

Once again, this role shouldn’t work, but she actually does, which probably has to do with Johnson’s well-done performance.

Hot.

Hot.

Now, as for the role in this movie that doesn’t work, it’s Jamie Dorman as Christian Grey, every girl’s favorite slap-happy millionaire. There’s a part of me that felt bad watching Dorman here; for starters, he wasn’t even the initial choice for this role, so already, my heart kind of goes out to the day. Second of all, he’s forced to work with an American-accent that he’s clearly not at all comfortable enough with. But then, the real problem is just that this role is way too dull; too much so for even someone like Dorman to take over and make better. Which, once again, makes me feel bad for the guy, because he’s definitely trying to bring out any shred of humanity to be found within this guy, but he’s as plain as a piece of plank.

Not to mention, the guy hardly gets naked. Like, at all. And while this may not be a problem for other heterosexual men out there, it is for this heterosexual man. No, it’s not because I want to see man-junk whenever the opportunity possibly arises itself, and no, it’s surely not because this past episode of Looking seemed to disappoint me. No, it’s more that when you have your female character getting spanked, licked, banged and kissed, and have her be full-on naked throughout pretty much all of it, and hardly ever dress-down her male counterpart, except to maybe show us his bum, or an ever so sudden bush shot, it goes from being hot, to downright distasteful. If one person is going to get fully naked in a movie about sex, then so should the other! Not this jeans-wearing crap!

But that’s just a little problem that only I may have, and if that’s the case, then so be it.

However, that’s not where the problems for this movie end, because as the story progresses and we’re supposed to feel all messed-up and emotional over what’s happening to our two lovers, it becomes obviously clear that maybe Taylor-Johnson herself got discouraged and just gave up altogether. The movie’s nudity isn’t necessarily safe, as much as it just becomes tiresome and boring, whereas it should be sizzling, hot and spicy, just about every time we see a body-part in all its naked-glory. The story also goes into some strange areas where it’s clear that they want to discuss what a hot-and-heavy relationship like this can do to one person who isn’t totally used to it, but all sorts of food-for-thought points the movie tried to make, go right out the window once we’re left with the same abrupt ending that Mockingjay: Part 1 gave us. And guess what? Just like that movie, we’re definitely getting a sequel, if not a few more.

Except that, this time, I’m not really looking forward to what’s coming next.

Consensus: Not as titillating, as much as it’s just boring, Fifty Shades of Grey shows early promise of being better than you’d expect it to be, but then turns for the worst once it becomes clear that this movie’s all about the thrusting, and less about the emotions. Sort of like how sex with me is.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Wow. Too hot.

Wow. Too hot.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Speed Racer (2008)

Go. No, seriously, go! Get the hell outta here!

A young, brass, and quick-fire driver Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is, as they say, “a demon on wheels.” He races because of a love he’s had since a little tike, doesn’t want to slow up for anything, whether it be off or on the track, and knows that it’s what he wants to do with the rest of his life. That’s great because he’s good at it, and his parents (John Goodman and Susan Sarandon) approve of it as well. However, now that Speed’s skills are getting more and more noticed by the races, he’s starting to gain more attention on his tale which means that more big-corporate sponsors want him to be apart of their “fixed” races, and what him, to make them, money. It’s a cheap scam that Speed may fall for, if he doesn’t listen to a special someone named Racer X (Matthew Fox); his arch-nemesis who may have a secret agenda on his hands.

If you’ve ever watched a single episode of the original, 1960’s TV-anime show, you’ll know that Speed Racer was bananas. And I don’t say that because there’s a monkey in both the show and the movie – I mean it was literally crazy. It was wild, fast-paced, sped-up (pun intended, I’m assuming), always jumpy, and rarely ever slowed down for a single bit. Because of that, it was one of my favorite cartoons to watch as a little kiddie, since anything that featured a down-to-earth, slow-as-molasses story meant I would either die of boredom or fall asleep. That means obviously any person taking the reigns of directing a Speed Racer movie had to know what they were doing and getting themselves into, which is why the Wachowski’s seemed like the perfect fit for this material.

He's tough. Or something.

He’s tough. Or something.

And trust me, for awhile, it seemed like my dreams were coming true. Not only was the opening racing-sequence fun and pulse-pounding, but it was downright beautiful to look at in the type of way that made me feel as if I was watching a video-game, albeit one that I wanted to play myself, but didn’t feel like nudging the other person too much for. It was just catching my eye I’d expect a movie from this type of source material to be and look like, and then some. Some may give the movie crap for having it essentially be a bunch of actors, standing in front of a green-screen, as they act their asses off, with no background whatsoever, but it worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it definitely worked because it’s a Speed Racer movie, not Schindler’s List or anything of the sort.

Then again, you could have had the Wachowskis fooled since about half of their film is dedicated to just car-racing, whereas the rest of the two hours is dedicated to a bunch of needless, nonsensical drama that’s as standard and as boring as you can get, yet, we’re supposed to care for because it’s Speed Racer and his lovable family. Not going to argue whether or not Racer’s cast of friends and family aren’t as lovable here, as they were in the show, but there seems to be too much time on them, their problems, their sadness, and what gets them waking up in the morning. I love these characters for talking fast and being nothing else other than cartoons, but I can’t take them seriously as fully, rounded-out human-beings, as much as the actors in the roles may try to make me think otherwise.

Then of course, you take into consideration how completely bonkers some parts of the movie can be, as if were exactly ripped from the television show. Actually, I’d say the best, most memorable part of the whole movie didn’t come from anything that had to do with racing or cars, but people kicking the crap out of each other. Not only does Speed, Trixie, Spritle, and Chim Chim get in on a little bit out of ass-kicking action that’s as goofy and campy as you’re ever going to get, but so does Pops, who was actually a Greco-Roman wrestler in the TV show, a fact that they thankfully touched on here in this movie. It’s obvious that the Wachowski’s put some heart and emotion into this flick with its look and these key scenes where all hell breaks loose, and the movie just gets wild and crazy for the sake of it, but it’s not enough. Not enough to satisfy any average movie-goer, and sure as hell not enough to satisfy a Speed Racer fanatic, like myself.

Very disappointed here. That’s if you already couldn’t tell by now.

"Falcon pun-what?"

“Falcon pun-what?”

But at least the cast is awesome, right? Ehh, well, I wouldn’t go that far, even if they do seem to all be trying hard. I like Emile Hirsch. I don’t know why so many people get on this dude’s case, but he’s a solid actor and one of the rare, younger guys in the biz today who’s been taking some interesting indie-projects, as well as the mainstream ones. His pick to play the one and only Speed Racer may have been interesting to some eyes, including mine, but the guy doesn’t really do much, nor does he have much to do. He sort of just stands there, broods a bit, tries to look tough and hip, and lets out corny lines that feel like they would be so much better if they were done in a mile-a-minute way they were used in the show. Then again, that’s just coming from a real fan. Most may not care or worry about it too much, but to me, it made Speed Racer feel like a dull character, one that Hirsch couldn’t quite save himself.

What character they really got wrong here, and what pissed me off the most about this movie, was Racer X, played by Matthew Fox. Fox is good as X, and definitely has the presence to make this character work, but rather than having him be subtle in any sort of way about his “real intentions” the movie spoon-feeds us it right away. Then it also begins to make this character seem a bit soft, as if Fox wasn’t able to make him sympathetic in the least bit, which totally defeats the purpose of having a character-foil like X around. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Everybody else is okay, even if nobody lights up the screen and I think that’s how the Wachowski’s want it and like it. They want the color-palette to take over our minds and eyes, and it works; it’s just a problem that it’s the only thing about this movie that does seem to work.

Consensus: The Speed Racer movie any fan-boy or junkie would want, they sadly won’t get here because this adaptation is filled with way too many dry spots, all made for character-development and drama. Basically, the types of things we don’t want, or better yet, need in a Speed Racer flick.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Well, at least we don't need Mario Kart to be adapted for the big screen anymore.

Well, at least we don’t need Mario Kart to be adapted for the big screen anymore.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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