Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 5-5.5/10

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

Wild Card (2015)

At least this one isn’t an English professor.

Nick Wild (Jason Statham) has a problem. It isn’t that he helps his friends too much, it isn’t that he takes odd-jobs that sometimes put his own life in danger, and it sure as hell isn’t that he likes to flirt with ladies – his problem is that he likes to gamble. A tad too much. And living in Las Vegas, that’s a bit of a problem. But now, Nick seems to have much bigger problems that concern an old lady-pal of his (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who was recently beaten-up, bruised, raped, and left for dead by some scummy, yet dangerous crime-lord, Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia). DeMarco packs a lot of heat and has a lot sway within the Las Vegas crime-syndicate, but he knows that he has to do the right thing and because of that, he decides to help out his old friend. Though, things go South and eventually, Nick finds himself running for his life and wondering where Danny’s going to turn up to get him next, or whether or not Nick’s going to be able to pull it altogether himself, either. Nick doesn’t know, but what he does now, is that he loves to play a simple game of Blackjack.

See, that's the eye I'm talking about!

See? That’s the eye I’m talking about!

The plot I decided to write there, may seem a bit jumbled-up and odd, but that’s my intention. See, for some reason, Wild Card has at least two or three different subplots going on within itself; none of which are really all that interesting to begin with, but they’re all given the same amount of attention that it makes it hard for me to get past not even talking about them at all. There’s a subplot concerning a young, wealthy dude, played by Michael Angarano, who Nick runs into business with, even though Nick knows full well that this kid won’t be able to handle the heat that comes from the mean streets of Las Vegas; there’s the gambling-addiction that I alluded to earlier; and there’s a whole slew of familiar-faces that pop-up here every so often, to give us the impression that they’re going to serve some real purpose to this story, except, don’t.

Instead, they shutter away and sink into the darkness that is this movie’s background. And it made me wonder, why? Why would one try to hide more scenes from the likes of Sofia Vergara? Or Anne Heche? Or Hope Davis? Or hell, even Jason Alexander? Stanley Tucci shows up here in what seems to be nothing more than an extended, yet totally glorified cameo, so I didn’t include him for that reason, and that reason alone, but as for the others, my head needs scratching.

It would make sense if someone like Sofia Vergara could only film a scene or two for the whole film, but if that is the case, then why give her something so useless and forgettable as what she has to do here? Vergara’s in the first five minutes of this and all she spends her time doing is looking scared, fighting with her boyfriend, giving Jason Statham “the eye“, and then, when all is said and done, gets in a car and drives off. That’s it. One of the biggest, most recognizable faces working in entertainment today, and you give her is a role that could have literally had zero dialogue and none of us would have ever known the difference.

But not using it’s ensemble to the best of its ability, isn’t Wild Card‘s biggest problem.

More or less, the movie felt like it was spliced and edited together by somebody who had a major dead-line and didn’t know whether he/she could get it done well enough in time, so they just put anything together, in hopes their bosses wouldn’t notice and the movie would make millions and millions of dollars, giving everybody everlasting happiness. That doesn’t happen here, but there are parts of this movie that work – if only because they actually feel more focused than the rest of it.

For instance, the movie tries to make it apparent to us that Nick Wild has a gambling addiction. He makes several allusions to that throughout, so that when he does eventually get on a table and start spitting out “stays” and “hits”, it makes sense for his character and makes the movie move a bit more. Then, you add on that with the whole subplot concerning Ventimiglia’s crime-lord character, and you have a solid crime-thriller on your hands. Not because this aspect of the film offers people getting sliced with cards and throat-punches, but because it actually felt right for this story, as well as the character who was given to us.

Enough with this mushy stuff!

Enough with this mushy stuff!

But then, for some odd reason, the movie does try to have its cake and eat it, too, which doesn’t wholly work. It gets over-packed for no reason, and feels like there’s a reel or two missing. For some people, the fact that it’s hardly even an-hour-and-a-half may be lovely, but for some, such as me, it feels like an under-cooked meal coming straight from your aunt’s house. Maybe there’s bits and pieces of Wild Card lying on the floor of some editing-room in the deepest, darkest movie-studios of the Earth, but without them, the movie feels incomplete.

That doesn’t make it bad, because with what it does have, it’s quite fun.

As I said before, whenever Jason Statham’s mouthing-off to people, or kicking their rear-ends, it’s always a good time. The guy’s incredibly charming and to see him lay waste to a bunch of baddies, is just a pleasureful sight. And heck, even when he’s gambling, the scenes are shot in a smart way that actually shows the cards being laid-out on the table, what Statham’s character does with them, and the end-result; whereas a movie like the Gambler, continued to jump away from actually giving us a glimpse at what was on these tables. For all we know, they could have been playing a game of Go Fish! Though neither movie is better than the other (and also, they’re quite different), there’s still something to be said for a movie that works at what it originally set-out to be.

Even if it continued to get further and further away from that end result.

Consensus: Messy and too short, Wild Card feels incomplete, but given that the movie offers more than a few solid action scenes that don’t just concern fists being thrown, then it still deserves credit for working well with one thing, while not fully excelling at the many other one’s it tries to go for.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

And more of this! Yeah!

And more of this! Yeah!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Boy Next Door (2015)

Naughty, naughty cougars. Mee-ow.

English lit professor Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is going through a bit of a rough patch in her personal life. Not only has she recently broke-up with her philandering husband (John Corbett), but she can’t seem to get a grip on her young son (Ian Nelson), or what it is that he wants to do with his life. Not to mention that she isn’t quite attuned to the dating-world, seeing as how she’s been out of the game for quite some time. But that may all change now that 19-year-old Noah (Ryan Guzman) has moved in next door, although, it’s maybe not for the reasons she might have wanted. After feeling vulnerable and drunk, Claire has a hot, steamy and sweaty one night stand with Noah that she instantly regrets the next day. However, Noah can’t handle this kind of rejection, so, for some reason or another, he constantly torments Claire, her family and her job. But what starts off as a few minuscule threats, soon start to become quite serious, and almost life-altering, which leads Claire to take a gander into Noah’s mysterious past and realize that maybe she had sex with the wrong neighbor, let alone, the wrong person altogether.

A simple smile, that's how it all starts. And don't act like you don't know what I'm speaking of, ladies!

A simple smile, that’s how it all starts. And don’t act like you don’t know what I’m speaking of, ladies!

Not long after Russell Crowe opened his dumb-ass mouth, many people wondered why exactly women don’t get the same kinds of roles as men. Is Hollywood misogynistic? Are there actually no good roles out there for women because they’re acting way younger than they actually are? Or, plain and simple, are there just no good roles for women?

Well, there’s no real answer to that, except that it is nice to see an actress like Jennifer Lopez not only playing up her age, but also doing so in a way that shows she’s willing to use it to her advantage. J’Lo has never been the world’s best actress that the world has to offer, but there’s something about the way she plays each and every role of hers where she has this sweet, calm and mild personality on the outside, but on the inside, something deep, dark and heavy is boiling from within her. Sure, you could say that a lot of this is pure convention from J’Lo and it’s what we’ve all come to expect from her, but it’s still fun to see, especially since she does it so well.

But that’s only getting away from the point that the Boy Next Door only barely allows for J’Lo to give in a great, meaningful performance, as much as it allows for the plot itself to get so wrapped-up in its own craziness that it’s hard to not want to join in on the fun that it’s clearly having with itself. Because yes, not only is it January, where the weather outside is, in most areas, chilly and filled with snow, but it’s also the time where most of the movies you’ll decide to see at the multiplexes with your friends and possibly even, family members, should not at all be taken seriously. This is something I’ve been preaching for the longest time, but that’s only because it’s true: January movies typically blow.

However, when you do get that rare occasion when the movie’s actually quite bad, but also at least enjoyable, then there’s something to talk about. Because with the Boy Next Door, sure, it’s corny, over-the-top, goofy, and rather balls-out bizarre-o in certain instances, but it seems like it knows it is. Well, for the most part. On some occasions, it feel as though director Rob Cohen knows what he’s been assigned to bring to the big screen, and rather than trying to show the everyday subtleties in human’s interactions with one another, mostly decides to bask in the pure imperfection of this material; he knows it’s junk that he’s working with, but it can be fun junk, if filmed in the right frame of mind.

Though, there’s a part of me that wants to believe that maybe Cohen himself called-out sick some days. Because while some of this, like I mentioned before, seems like it’s just going balls to the walls and enjoying it all, the rest of it does try desperately hard to be taken seriously, as if actual women from all over the world and going to stop banging their hot, younger neighbor, in the hopes that he won’t turn out to be a total whack job and terrorize them and their whole family. That the movie presents this in a negative light doesn’t matter, so much as it seems to take one stand on the situation so much that it doesn’t ever draw-out any sort of depth within the story, or the characters themselves.

Which, I’m not saying is what I wanted from this movie here, but it’s obvious that whoever was behind this thing, definitely wanted some bit of that, so if they’re going to expect me to expect it, then I might as well expect it, right? Kind of lost? Okay.

"I want my autograph, NOW!"

“I want my autograph, NOW!”

It goes like this – once Noah becomes a raging, hormonal-teenager over the fact that Claire doesn’t want to sleep with him any longer, this is the only reason made clear to us is why he’s freaking out so much in the first place. That, I was fine with. Kids are weird as is, but once you throw sex and rejection into there, then they get so out of whack, you’ll wonder just how the hell they managed to get through the first 18 or so years of their lives to begin with. However, the movie tops it all off with going into his checkered, clearly sketchy past that involves the death of his parents and some random hacking-jobs that are so out-of-this-world, that even in today’s society, where hacking seems to be an everyday occurrence, it’s a bit far-fetched. It’s not that I was pissed that they decided to dig deeper into this character, it’s that they didn’t do so in a way that seemed understandable, even by the movie’s standards.

Everything should have just been kept and made simple, crazy and wildly over-the-top. Which is to say, because of J’Lo and Ryan Guzman, this is what happens. Especially with Guzman, who not only seems like he walked right out of a Vanity Fair spread and onto the screen, but has this off-kilter presence about him that’s just plain weird. I don’t know if it works for the movie, or not, but all I can is that he seems to be relishing in this role handed to him and for me, a person who has never seen him before in my life, made me happy. I may never see him in another film again, but color me slightly impressed Ryan Guzman.

I guess.

Consensus: Sometimes over-the-top and clearly loving it, and sometimes not, the Boy Next Door juggles around with its multiple identities, but can be so wild and wacky at times, that it’s hard to hold much of a serious problem against this movie that can’t be washed away with some fine liquor before watching it.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Peek-a-boo."

“Peek-a-boo.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

For better, or worse.

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

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

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

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, just give me "Purple Haze" already!

Oh, just give me “Purple Haze” already!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

KRussians love the cold, so what the heck could a little radiation do to them?

During 1961, when the Cold War was running hot and wild all over, the Russians needed a way to really hurt their enemy: the U.S. So, what they got all packed together was a newly-made submarine that packed nukes in hopes to add more blow and potentially come close to winning the war. They had a stubborn, but inspired captain (Harrison Ford), they had a co-captain that was just as inspired, but also more friendlier (Liam Neeson), and a butt-load of other fella’s that knew their way or two around a submarine, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, let’s just say that radiation could start to leak out, infect the whole ship, and get just about everybody aboard sick or near-dying, that’s what.

I don’t know how they did it, but somehow Kathryn Bigelow and everybody else involved with the production of this flick got made, which is probably more of a sin for them, than it was a victory, since it had no chance of ever being able to connect with the mainstream, American audience. Why? Well, that’s because the story is focusing on a bunch of Russians during the Cold War, who were practically carrying weapons that were destined to hit us and us alone, while also trying to make us feel sympathy for them as each and every one started to die from the spilled radiation on-board. It does sound very strange once you get to thinking about it, but despite the cast, the crew, and the obvious, but hokey message behind it all, the movie was made, widely-released, and then got back the numbers that were apparently $35 million domestically, on a $80 million dollar budget.

"A captain always go down with his ship. Make sure somebody tells Chewwy that."

“On this mission, can I bring my trustworthy friend named Chewwy along?”

All of this number-throwing and speculation does eventually lead somewhere, and that’s to say that this is a movie that was destined for death right away. Nobody, not even the most hardcore hippie in the world wants to lay down their rights, views, or themes inside of their heads, and take some time and effort out of their days to watch a story about REAL Russians, who went through REAL problems, and actually, REALLY died. It’s asking a lot of Americans, and it came as no surprise to anyone that this movie bombed it’s ass out of the water, which should also bring up the question as to whether or not this flick was even really worth all of the hate/bombing?

Kind of, but not really.

The idea behind this movie that really keeps it moving and interesting is knowing that what you see really happened, no matter how much speculation there may or may not be. Granted, that usually comes with the material, but it’s something that is easy to forgive here since Bigelow actually seems to take a tender love and care with this material, and more or less expresses each and every one of these crew members as humans. They’re corny and one-dimensional ones, but knowing that these characters are in fact based off of real-life people, makes you feel a little bit more closer and more sympathetic to the material, even if you know that what they are dying from, most likely could have killed us, had they actually succeeded in getting to their destination. I guess that’s a spoiler but since I’m typing on this computer about this movie and you’re reading this, wherever you may be, that it isn’t totally a spoiler, as much as it’s a little tidbit that you may or may not know going on.

Okay, it’s not a spoiler! We didn’t get nuked, dammit!

Anyway, Bigelow has an assured direction and I’m surprised that despite her having an actual vagina, that her movies more or less are aimed towards men, and men alone. I mean hell, I think we only get one scene of some actual, female tail here and that’s probably for about a good two minutes or so. Everything else after those two minutes is practically dude, dude, dude and whether or not you’re the straightest dude out there in the world, then you may not want to bother with this, however, gay men will be in heaven right here, especially if they have a fetish for dudes with a Russian accent. Regardless, Bigelow’s choices for what material she wants to bring to the big-screen next is always surprising and usually impressive, considering what she does with that material once its up on the screen.

But something here tells me that I wish there was more effort along the way to make this more than just a standard flick about a bunch of dudes in a submarine that are arguing, yelling, and acting angry at one another, as they come closer and closer to death. The feeling of remorse and death is in the cold air throughout this whole movie, but it never swamped me as much as it swamped the characters in the actual flick. It just felt like I was watching people die, without barely any feeling whatsoever as to what was happening, or to whom. It just tallied-up it’s death-toll and continued to make it’s moves; almost sort of like a horror movie, but you can’t kill the slasher. He just continues to kill and kill away, no matter how hard you try to stop him or keep him away. Oh wait, that is actually a horror movie!

And it’s not like the reason I didn’t care was because I’m some political a-hole that can’t at least feel some sort of sympathy for the other side in any way, shape, or form; it’s just that the movie cares more about the submarine jargon and what these people have to do next, rather than the people themselves. That can create tension and suspense in the air, but that still doesn’t give us a lick of sympathy for these guys and in the end, it just felt like the film lost all of our hearts and minds, because it wanted to continue to rattle down what’s happening to the submarine and why, but never actually explaining it.

For instance, I don’t think I stand alone for when I say that I’m not very submarine-savvy, so, when I have a flick that’s telling me that this thing blew up in this part of the submarine, which also blew up this rod and so on and so forth, I’m practically left with my tongue half-way down my throat. I don’t know what half of these characters were saying, what it meant for them or the ship, and how they could get around the problem. I just sat there listening in, trying to understand, get a grip of what was going on, but ultimately come to the conclusion that everything everybody said was bad, bad, bad and would most likely lead to death, death, death, if they don’t get up off their asses, kick out their egos, and get to work right away. That’s what it came down to me understanding with this movie after awhile, and by “after awhile”, I mean a good hour-and-a-half. Then, I realized I had all but 40 minutes left of the movie, and I felt like I was missing out on something, somewhere around here.

But anyway, back to what I was talking about before, was the fact that this movie still got made, produced, and green-lit, despite featuring a premise that was surprisingly unheard of, especially from an American-made production. Well, one of the key reasons behind all that is mostly that Bigelow was able to rope in big star, Hollywood actors like Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, who are, oddly enough, playing the two, main Russians-in-command here. It’s weird seeing both of these highly-recognizable stars don a Russian accent, but it’s even odder to see Ford because not only does the guy not do very well with the accent, but his whole act is just so polarizing to begin with.

For once, Peter Sarsgaard plays a character that wants to save humans, rather than kill them and dance over their corpses.

For once, Peter Sarsgaard plays a character that wants to save humans, rather than kill them and dance over their corpses.

Think about it for a second, he’s Indiana Jones; he’s Han Solo; and hell, for God sake, he was even the President of the United States, so where the hell did the idea for this “American-hero” to be portraying a Russian that not only protected his country til the day he died, but also to any cost?!? Never made much sense to me and never seemed to work for Ford, or the character he was portraying. It seemed like a parody after awhile, as if Ford was payed a huge chunk of money just to goof-around and work with a spotty accent. Problem is, it wasn’t a parody and there was no joke here. It was mega-serious, all of the damn time.

Poor Liam Neeson too, because the guy actually does a serviceable-job here as the second-in-command (despite not even bothering with an accent), but has a character that’s so prideful and in-the-right all the time, that there never seems to be a moral dilemma for this dude as if he knows what he should do next, whether it would be the most moral move or not, or if he’s going to be able to pat his friends on the back. I got it from the first couple of minutes, the guy was a nice dude that obviously cared for his crew mates and wanted what was best for them, as well as his country, but it’s an act that got stale after awhile, as if he would have never made a bad call ever. Peter Sarsgaard remains the only other crew-member that’s the most recognizable, even today, and is okay, but really obvious as he plays the wussy that eventually stands up for himself and is forced to come up big when they need him the most. Corny.

Consensus: Bigelow’s intentions are surprisingly heartfelt and well-mannered, even if the rest of the movie that’s supposed to make K-19: The Widowmaker pop, lock, and drop it as if we are on-board with these guys, doesn’t do either of the three and just hangs there.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Even they know they deserve a better movie. Then they died.

Even they knew they deserved a better movie. Then they died.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Life After Beth (2014)

Every guy likes a little biting here and there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That bastard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Boxtrolls (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A match made in Laika-heaven.

A match made in Laika-heaven.

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

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

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

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

5 / 10 = Rental!! 

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Gambler (2014)

Albert Camus and gambling. How could I have not seen the similarities before?

Literary professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) doesn’t seem like he’s happy about his life. For one, his grand-father just died and has practically left him little-to-no money. Bennett also happens to have a gambling problem, that gets him into all sorts of trouble with powerful kingpins of the underground poker world. And, to make matters slightly worse, he has a job that he absolutely hates, where all he does is practically yell at each and everyone of his students, telling them that not only are they “not great”, but they’re also wasting his precious time. So yeah, Bennett doesn’t necessarily have the best life in the world of all person’s lives, but he does have a possible-girlfriend (Brie Larson), a very rich mom (Jessica Lange), and nearly seven days to settle all of his debts before it’s too late. But a week isn’t so bad if all you have to do is cobble up a couple hundred thousand dollars, right? Well, wrong.

One of the main problems with the Gambler lies solely within the lead character himself, Jim Bennett. For starters, he’s not a very likable, nor sympathetic one to say the least, but he also is quite repetitive without hardly any rhyme or reason. And then, there’s the fact that Mark Wahlberg, of all people, was cast in this role as a literary professor at what seems to be a very prodigious university somewhere in California. Both go hand-in-hand with what makes the Gambler a poor movie, but they’re both hard to describe to a person who hasn’t seen the movie. It just feels, while watching it, very mis-matched and awkward. Almost like a blind date you set up between two mutual friends; you know that they may have similarities and be a nice match, but you’re not sure how they’re going to approach one another.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

It’s a bad simile, I know, but it’s all I got to work with since this is a very frustrating movie.

First off, the lead protagonist of Jim Bennett isn’t a very likable one, which is fine and all if a movie at least shows us that there is something to him that’s not only interesting, but turns him into something of a tragic-figure. However, the writing for Bennett is too repetitious and simple to make him as anything but; Jim Bennett is, simply put, a dick. But he’s the worst kind of a dick – he’s that kind of rich, self-entitled, whiny dick that you see at a dinner-party, who everybody crowds around and listens to all because he seems like a smart, know-it-all dude, when in reality, he’s just a bone-head who pisses, moans, and cries about everything in life, when he doesn’t really need to. Everything’s been practically handed to him on a silver spoon and the only problems that he ever faces in life, are ones that are completely made because of him and nobody else.

Yet, the movie makes him out to be some sort of martyr that we’re not only supposed to feel bad for because he’s so pissed off and angry about life, but also because he apparently has a gambling problem; one that’s never really brought out well enough to be classified as such. What I mean is that while you see certain movies about people with addictions, mainly gambling addictions, you know that they are, the way they are, is because they love the trill of winning whatever big con it is. In the case of gambler’s, they love the excitement of winning a bet and absolutely chase that for as long as they can. Here though, with Bennett, we never see his utter joy and/or pleasure for winning; we just see him bet a lot of stupid hands in the game of Blackjack, lose, and then continue to dig himself in a deeper-hole for no other reason other than, well, he can.

To me, this not only makes him an unlikable, nearly insufferable character to watch and have to stick with for two hours. Not to mention, it also wastes the talents of Mark Wahlberg, an actor who, when given the right material to work with, is strong and impressive, but seems like he is way out of his depth here as, get ready for it, a literary professor who may have reached his mid-life crisis already. I know it sounds like a joke, but judging by how this movie portrays Bennett, as well as the rest of its story, it isn’t. It’s pure, unabashed drama, and it’s hard to take in as fact or compelling.

You’d think that casting-directors would think twice about putting Marky Mark in roles of teachers, but oh well.

Though, to be fair, I have to hold back on the hate of Marky Mark’s performance, because he’s not all bad; you can tell by the fact that he lost about 60 pounds, that he truly is trying with this role. But the problem remains that he’s just not believable enough in this role as a professor who just preaches about the monotony and shit-heap reality that is life. There are some instances in which we see the good, old school Marky Mark come out (mostly in scenes where he’s acting smarter than the person he’s talking to and/or ready to brawl), but overall, it’s a mixed-bag of a performance, that could have easily been avoided, had Wahlberg not been cast in a role that clearly doesn’t suit him well.

Then again though, it all comes back to this character of Jim Bennett; he’s not nice, not interesting, and sure as hell isn’t compelling enough to make this movie work. He’s just a blank-slate, that’s made even worse by the dumb, idiotic decisions he makes in life that not only impact his own life – one that he’s already made pretty clear he doesn’t care for. But, even worse, he impacts those around him who love him, care for him, and actually care about their own, relatively pleasant lives as human beings. He doesn’t care, so therefore, we’re supposed to care.

And because we don’t care about him, or the actions he makes, there’s hardly any tension to be found in the Gambler. Sure, some of the scenes where Bennett’s betting his life away on what seem to be ordinary games of Blackjack, do have some real suspense to them, but it’s only because of the way they’re filmed. It’s not that we’re held in suspense because Bennett may actually die if he loses whatever hand he’s playing with, but because director Rupert Wyatt actually seems to care for how this film looks and feels. Even if his lead character is terribly-written, he’s still trying and that, for the most part, at least made it watchable.

"The King stay the King." Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

“The King stay the King.” Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

Although, Wyatt isn’t the only one trying here. It’s the rest of the supporting cast that show up every so often to not only make things a little bit brighter, but make a lot of these self-important speeches the script frequently lapses into actually interesting. John Goodman has the brightest end of the stick as a bald loan shark that Bennett meets with on a few occasions, and talks about how America is build on “fuck you”. It’s a lovely bit that adds some flair to this film, but also counts as one of the rare speeches here that actually works and doesn’t seem like the writer behind it is just trying his hardest to sound smart.

The one’s who don’t really come away as nicely as Goodman does with his speeches, are Michael K. Williams, Alvin Ing, and Anthony Kelley; with the former two playing actual mob bosses who Bennett runs into conflict with, and the later just being a student of his, who is constantly on the discouraging end of Bennett’s many rants about paying attention in class and not trying to get by in the academic-world because of athletics. None of these characters really seem believable, and it’s even more evident once they open up their mouths and start going on about stuff we either don’t care for, or have much of a foundation to really build our own feelings on. We’re just sort of sitting there, wondering what it all means, and end up not caring at all.

The only impressive part about this supporting cast is that the two female roles, played by Jessica Lange and Brie Larson, actually feel pertinent to the story and add some dramatic-heft to a piece that definitely needed it. Lange plays Bennett’s mother and has maybe two dramatic scenes where you can definitely tell she loves and cares for her dastardly son, but wants to be rid of his problems and hopes that he does to. And Larson, who I’m glad was cast here, at least makes some sense of her character’s motivations, especially when we’re supposed to believe somebody as lovely and chirpy as hers would fall for someone as downtrodden and inexplicably depressed as Bennett. They are two fine performances in their own rights, that go a long way.

Especially for something as disappointing as this.

Consensus: Occasionally entertaining and interesting, but mostly, where the Gambler loses points in is because its lead character is terribly-written, and suffers even more from a miscast Mark Wahlberg playing it.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Ladies, don't act like you aren't impressed.

Ladies, don’t act like you aren’t impressed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hellion (2014)

Growing up problems? Crank up the Slayer!!!

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

"Betch."

“Betch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suck on that, Maleficent!

Suck on that, Maleficent!

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

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

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

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

5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Captive (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I don’t know how I’d feel if Nic Cage’s mug was the last one I saw before I died.

Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) is a EMS paramedic working in New York City and has to put up with some pretty crazy stuff on a regular-basis, but now that he’s pulling in three nights on the job, it’s getting even worse. Not only does Frank seem to be losing his damn mind over the stuff that he sees, but he’s not really sure if he can handle his job, or even his life any longer. That sort of changes though once a grieving woman (Patricia Arquette) comes into his life and puts everything into perspective. Well, sort of.

I’m pretty sure that within the past-decade, people have pretty much accepted the fact that Martin Scorsese is a guy you can trust with any movie he does. When I first heard about Hugo, I’ll be honest, I was incredibly skeptical of him diving right into a PG-rated, 3D-movie. However, all my reservations went out the window once I realized that it was the Scorsese charm that eventually took over me. But yet, stories about kids finding a movie-legend aren’t what we associate Scorsese with. We more or less associate him with the violent, bloody, gritty tales of the crime-world and that’s why I was really looking forward to this flick, even though it seemed like it was one of his least-known pieces of work to have ever come out.

"Nic Cage to the rescue", is something, I assume, that no person on the verge of death wants to hear.

“Nic Cage to the rescue”, is something, I assume, that no person on the verge of death wants to hear.

However, this just made me want to watch Hugo all over again.

And maybe even check out Leaving Las Vegas one more time for old, good times sake. Although, I don’t think “good times” can be associated with that movie.

Anyway, right from the start of Bringing Out the Dead, I could tell taht this was going to be a very strange, dark movie-experience and it only seemed right that I compare this to a Scorsese classic, meaning Taxi Driver. Not only do both stories feature guys on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but they even feature two guys who just act-out in violence and pure craziness to get over it. It’s pretty obvious how the two stories are alike in many ways, but, in other ways, they aren’t and I think that’s where the problem for this film really lied.

See, in Taxi Driver, you actually care about the cause which Bickle is fighting for, despite it being based on a huge sense of lunacy. He’s an anti-hero in the fullest-form – he’s not the greatest guy out there in the world, but it’s easy to sympathize with him because of how many times he’s been pushed and shoved to the ground, even though he himself felt as if he was doing the right thing. Here, with this guy Frank Pierce, it’s hard to really feel a connection to this guy, considering that he’s more manic-depressive than anything else. Yeah, everybody’s had a crappy job that they don’t want to stay up for, or even go to in the first place, but that doesn’t mean everybody feels the need to go off, crash cars, break windows, or beat the ever lovin’ crap out of some homeless people because of their misery. Maybe some people do, but I’m pretty sure those people aren’t psychologically-cleared to do any type of work in the first place.

And this hurts the movie. Rather than being interesting in the slightest, the story just feels like a drag and almost like it didn’t really matter to anybody involved, not even, dare I say it, Scorsese himself. There is definitely an cool, even compelling story here of a guy that can’t cope with the work that he has to do and has to find an escape from it all, but all of that feels used for a bunch of hyperactive, insane moments that come out of nowhere, just because it’s the seedy underworld of New York City. Showing me scenes of an EMT trying to save failing patients is something that grips me, but if you just continue to throw gratuitous shots of drugs, sex, violence, and blood at us, then I don’t really care and can sort of tell that you don’t either. I mean, I get it, downtown NYC is a very, very messed-up place, but constantly reminding us of this by showing a homeless person, a hooker, or even a drug addict every five seconds or so, makes it feel less gritty, and more lazy than anything.

Also, the fact that this movie is nearly two-hours long really kills it, as well as any type of momentum it wanted to build up.

But, for what it’s worth, there is some joys to be had with Bringing Out the Dead, even if they don’t solely come from Scorsese’s direction or Paul Schrader’s script – it mostly comes from the wild fire cast who, with what they’re given, are called upon to just be crazy and do just that. And this is clearly some good news for the king of crazy himself, Nicolas Cage, but for some reason, it’s not quite his most memorable performance. Not even in the slightest, actually.

It's alright, Nic. You two would only be together for two more years anyway.

It’s alright, Nic. You two would only be together for two more years anyway.

Practically everybody bad-talks Cage for the types of movies he takes, or just by simply phoning it in one too many times, and yes, I do sometimes agree with these criticisms. Cage is one of my favorite actors working today, and always finds ways to make even the most dreadful material, the slightest bit interesting, but here, he’s sort of just going through the motions, although he has a couple of bright spots here and there to show. The character of Frank Pierce is a bit of a strange and not one that I find fully believable since he’s such a freakin’ nut with his up-and-down personality. But, like I expected, Cage found a few ways to make me laugh here and there and just fall in line with his nuttiness. The character gets a bit boring by the end, but Cage tries and tries again, only to then, I guess, give up and realize that maybe this is just not going to be his highest moment.

It’s fine, though, because the dude had plenty more to come after this.

The rest of the cast is pretty fun, too, with a few familiar faces bringing a lot more excitement to a movie that seemed to desperately need it. John Goodman doesn’t really show his face all that much as a fellow EMT of Pierce’s, but is still pretty funny and cooky to watch as the one dude who always wants to bail on a bunch of sick/dying people, and instead, eat Chinese food and sleep. Hey, it’s not such a bad motive to have in life, but when you have to save people’s lives, it’s not the best way to go about your life. Tom Sizemore plays one of Nic’s more loonier, off-the-wall EMT’s and does what he always did before he got sent-off for doing too much blow: Play gritty, asshole characters that you can’t help but hate, and actually like. Ving Rhames is surprisingly the stand-out of this whole cast as the one EMT who seems to always have God on his back and mind throughout the whole job, yet, is still most dangerous EMT of them all that had me cracking up so damn much. Watching him and Cage just play-off of one another was a delight to watch. In a way, too, it made me wish the movie was just about them two driving around, picking up sick/injured people, having random conversations, and just living another day on the job. If only.

Consensus: Martin Scorsese finds slight ways to keep Bringing Out the Dead interesting, if only through visuals, but also can’t seem to get past the fact that the script is way too uneven for it’s own good, and doesn’t really ever generate any emotional-spark, or even give us enough to feel compelled by.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Probably thinking about stealing the Declaration of Independence.

Probably already thinking about stealing the Declaration of Independence.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

St. Vincent (2014)

Are we calling Bill Murray a saint? I think so.

Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) isn’t the type of guy you want to be around when he’s in a bad mood; or generally, any mood. He’s a hard-drinking, gambling, and womanizing scuzz-bucket that’s hardly nice to anyone he’s around and likes it that way. It keeps him further away from being annoyed by people and just makes his life a whole lot simpler. However, that all changes once a mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), move next door. Because they’re all by themselves, the mommy has to constantly work long and hard, which leaves the son alone and without anyone to watch over him. This is where Vincent gets roped into being the baby-sitter of sorts, but only because he’s getting paid $11 an hour, mind you! But even though Vincent’s crass and teaches Oliver the ways of the world that his mother wouldn’t be too happy with, Oliver still sees some goodness in Vinny and wants to keep on hanging around him, even if there seem to be problems in Vincent’s personal-life just constantly tallying-up.

By now, the legend of Bill Murray is a great one. He’s the kind of out-spoken guy in Hollywood that has a few friends, as well as many enemies, but still finds himself charming the hell out of everyone. Not to mention the fact that whenever he shows up at a random house-party, the internet practically breaks wide open, showing us just how cool and down-to-Earth somebody of Murray’s star-status actually is.

Out of the way, kid!

Out of the way, kid!

Another alleged claim that adds more appeal to Murray’s legend is the fact that he supposedly doesn’t have an agent. Meaning, if there’s anybody out there who wants to work with Murray in any way whatsoever, they have to get a hold of a special phone-number of his, where they can leave their number for him to get back to them on. Now, of course some of this may not be all true, but it sort of shows; Murray is known to be quite the selective actor and is practically the only movie star who can get away with doing whatever he wants to, with whomever he wants to. Not because he’s Bill Murray, but because the dude’s a solid worker and has shown on more than a few occasions that he’s not just hilarious, but emotionally-involving, whenever the material needs him to be so.

I say all of this, because it’s a real surprise how bad St. Vincent can sometimes be.

Sure, not all of it is bad and mostly, Murray’s not to blame for it, but here’s my question: How can somebody who is as selective and, well, usually consistent in what he chooses like Murray is, get drawn to something as conventional as this? Is it the fact that it’s a coming-of-ager that has Bill Murray being his usual dick-head-ish self one second, and then lovable the next? Or, is it simply that these are the only right offers that Bill Murray gets nowadays?

Whatever the answer may be, it doesn’t totally matter because the fact is that this movie is definitely a mess. Although, it’s not a terrible mess. Most of this is because the cast, especially Murray, seem like they’re really giving it their all here. Even if they don’t fully end up working for the film as a whole, at least they added something. Like, for instance, take Naomi Watts as the pregnant stripper/hooker Vincent constantly hangs around/bangs – the role is terribly-written, not funny, and makes Watts herself, a highly respectable actress in her own right, have to use this wretched Russian-accent that isn’t the least bit believable. However though, while it may not work, you still have to give it to Watts for trying, even if it doesn’t fully work out all that well in the end.

Which is kind of weird, considering that we have Chris O’Dowd here playing Oliver’s priest/school teacher who isn’t really hiding his Irish-accent and is, instead, sort of just rolling with it and finds a way to make us laugh and totally believe in the fact that he would be in this school, and in this story. And heck, even the same could be said about Melissa McCarthy, because while this is a role for her in a comedy, she isn’t necessarily always doing something funny. But even when she does, it doesn’t consist of her knocking things over or randomly flipping people off; she’s subtle and restrained in the way she allows for her comedy to fly and hit us, and it works. More importantly though, it shows us that Hollywood needs to get their shit together and realize that McCarthy has a real talent that isn’t just in her slap-stick, but in just finding ways to make any situation she falls into funny.

And no, I do not mean the practical “fall”, either.

But, at the end of the day, this movie is really all about Bill Murray as our title-character and what’s there to say that hasn’t already been said? Yes, Murray’s fine, funny, dead-pan, and smart, even when you least expect his character to have such features. Yet, there’s a feeling here that had this movie been better, or, had this character been written less about, that Murray would have a real winner on his hands here. Not just with the movie itself, but this character.

"Sorry, youngster. Adults at talk here discussing the possibility of a female-led Ghostbusters reboot that Hollywood may not ever produce because we can't have good things."

“Sorry, youngster. Adults at talk here discussing the possibility of a female-led Ghostbusters reboot that Hollywood may not ever produce because we can’t have good things.”

Because yes, while Vincent is Murray’s typical a-hole character that he loves to play and can practically do in his sleep, the script gets in the way too many times in trying to get us to like Vincent more. Vincent, the character, being nice to this kid was enough for me to gain my sympathy, but then they felt the need to throw in the whole angle with his wife being in a nursing-home that really just felt manipulative and way too sentimental. But then, I was proven wrong, when the story itself goes on longer than it totally needed to and continuously forces Vincent’s personal problems down our throats, especially once Terrence Howard’s bookie character shows up and makes nefarious promises.

It all gets so very conventional, corny, and overly sentimental that, by the end, I just thought to myself, “Why couldn’t they just let the story tell itself?” Better yet, why couldn’t they just shed off about an half-hour of this, let Bill Murray and all the actors do their things, tell a simple story, and leave it at that? “But it doesn’t make for an emotionally-powerful story, man”, one might say to me, or, “Dude, like it’s all dramatic and stuff, bro”, another may preach. Well, I understand that but sometimes, all a story needs to do in order to pack that wallop every writer hopes to deliver on is to just be simple and see how it impacts those watching.

That’s all this movie needed to be and do, but instead, it took away from the legend that is Bill Murray.

Damn them.

Consensus: The cast, especially Bill Murray in his full-on form as the title character, all do fine with what they’re given, but St. Vincent feels the constant need to over-complicate its story and add on more layers than it needs to, while also ending up being overly sappy and sentimental.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

It's hard to be king.

It’s hard to be king.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Mysterious Skin (2004)

“Alien life-forms” are usually my safe words as well.

Brian (Brady Corbet) is a shy introvert, obsessed by his own possible UFO abduction, while Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a cruel and icy beauty who sexualises his every encounter. As each of them follows their own very different journey, they seek to come to terms with the incident that has scarred their current lives and, to their surprise, unites them, even when they least expect it.

With material like this, there’s a part of me that knows how disturbing it is and wants to say what it’s all about to warn those out there, but there’s also a part of me that knows that’s wrong. See, I’m a critic, but also a lover of movies and I know that the one key element to enjoying a movie is being automatically surprised, just as soon as you walk into something. That’s why I’m going to tip-toe around the big surprise this movie has to offer as much, and as well as I can.

So, for those who haven’t seen this movie yet, don’t worry, consider yourself free from spoiler-harm.

As for those who have seen the movie and are reading this, see how close I come to spilling the beans. I sure hope not.

My type of crowd. Except with more earrings.

My type of crowd. Except with more piercings.

Anyway, what really got to me the most about this flick, wasn’t just how director Gregg Araki handled this material, but how he filmed the whole thing. I’ve never seen anything else that this dude has done in his whole career, but he doesn’t seem like a guy I would like by just how unprofessional everything looks. The first 20 minutes where we are introduced to our character’s first 15 years of living is pretty neat and filmed with a very fast-paced direction that not only made me feel like I was in for something different, but also in for something that was going to be taking risks, as it should. Problem is, the fast-paced direction starts to leave the film and all of the quick-editing little tricks Araki utilizes here and there, soon starts to become a bit choppy where some scenes feel like they’re too rushed, and others just feel like they haven’t gone on long enough. Sometimes it’s better to actually focus on a plot-structure and let certain scenes just play out like they’re supposed to.

Now, to where this story effed up and oh, did it eff up alright. Usually when you have a tough subject like the one they deal with here, you, the director, have to show it in a way that doesn’t seem grotesque, but also doesn’t sugarcoat anything either. You just have to get it right slap dab in the middle and the problem is that Araki can’t seem to get there. Instead, it seems like this guy was trying to have his cake and eat it too, where he would show many dirty scenes with a people sexually mortifying one another, and then, in the next scene, change it all up by trying to tug at our heart-strings with a story that doesn’t feel so fully-developed. Basically, any type of movie where you have two men performing in a sexual act, people will feel uncomfortable, but it’s up to you as a director to not try and throw it in our eyes and make us feel like we need to leave the theater. Araki seems like he just wanted to shove a whole bunch of explicit sex scenes that would capture the people’s eyes, but then also give them something that may make them cry. For me, it didn’t work and it’s just another reason why I feel like this film really needed to be checked out before it went off and gotten released.

Also, where the hell was the message of this movie? In the first ten minutes or so of the movie, I got what this film was trying to say and even though the characters didn’t, it just seemed unneeded like all of the hour and 40 minutes was wasted. Though there’s a lot of frank-talk about sexuality and how the smallest change in a person’s cycle can have the biggest affect on them when they’re older, without them ever knowing it, I didn’t really feel like Araki got to that point. Instead, it was almost as if he got lost in all of the teens performing in naughty acts of sex, drugs, and violence. Almost as if he was trying to pull-off a Larry Clarke movie, but a bit tamer.

Notice how I used the term “a bit”.

This kid's supposed to be a geek? You don't say?

This kid’s supposed to be a geek? You don’t say?

Despite the problems I had with Gregg Araki’s student film-like direction, the performances of this film are what really saved me. Brady Corbet is solid as this young nerd Brian who believes that he was abducted by aliens when he was a little kid, but sooner or later, in a predictable fashion, we start to find out that it’s all one big cover-up in his head for something far more serious and disturbing. This story may not play-out as interesting as I may make it sound, but it still kept me glued to the screen because Corbet seems to play that innocent, dorky role very well, even though it’s obvious that this kid is a whole lot younger than the film makes him out to be.

But the real performance to watch for in this movie, and actually the only real reason to see this movie in the first place is the performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil McCormick. JGL has been, for a very long time now, a big up-and-comer in film and has proved role-after-role that he can do whatever he pleases and make the best of it. This was one of those early performances that showed he had the guts to tackle a role as emotionally-daring as this one where he pretty much goes around, bangin’ dudes for money, and showing no remorse over it whatsoever. JGL makes this whole character work just by being the risk-taker his character seems to be and a couple of scenes show that he’s more than just a kid who gets paid for getting frisky with dudes; in the end, he’s a kid that still has problems deep down inside of his mind all because of a childhood happening that scarred his life forever. It was great to watch JGL here and even though it’s by far, not his best performance ever, it’s one of the first ones that showed he had what it took to be a dramatic heavy-weight. Even if the rest of the film can’t really seem to keep up with him.

Shame on you, Gregg Araki. Shame on you.

Consensus: Disturbing and hard-to-watch as it may be, Mysterious Skin still feels like it’s not saying much about these ugly happenings, to justify exactly why we have to see so much of them in the first place, although it does give us plenty of reason to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet.

5 /10 =Rental!!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Judge (2014)

Usually it’s the dad bailing the son out of jail, not the other way around. But hey, I’m not from the South, so whatever!

Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hotshot lawyer who always defends the obviously-guilty, and somehow, always ends up winning. However, his shattered personal life is starting to catch up with his successful professional-career, when he hears news of his mother’s passing. This puts him on a journey to go back to where he started from; which, in this case, would be the small town of Carlinville, Indiana where, unsurprisingly, his estranged father (Robert Duvall) is still the town’s respected judge. But see, even his personal life begins to catch up with him when, on one fateful night, the Judge supposedly runs over and kills the town degenerate. And normally, nobody would care, because the guy was a total prick, but the family does and they’re taking the Judge to court! Not to mention, they’ve equipped themselves with one of the meanest, cruelest lawyers in the world, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). This seems like the perfect opportunity for Hank to stand up and defend his father, but since their relationship isn’t the most ideal, he hesitates. That is, until he realizes that maybe his father needs him, and now, more than ever before for reasons that will shock and shape his life, whether he wants to accept it or not.

So while this movie seems like total Oscar-bait from the plot, to the cast, and even to the subject-matter itself (courtroom genres are usually a big plus in the eyes of the 80-90-year-old Academy voters), there’s just one big element keeping it away from making that a reality: Director David Dobkin. Sure, to some, the name may not mean much. Well, let me put it in terms to make you understand: Dobkin is the director of such hits as Wedding Crashers, the Change-UpShanghai Knights, and Fred Claus.

Judge1

“Vera Farmiga with arm-tat” is totally “slumming it”.

Yes. Fred freakin’ Claus, everybody! The movie still finds a way to pop-up in everybody’s head, even if it’s as relevant as a box of Chia Pets.

And while at least more than half of those movies are fine, entertaining-pieces of cinema, they’re mostly all, immature, R-rated comedies that make people stand up, laugh, hit themselves silly, go home, and continue on with their everyday lives, but now continuously quote “that hilarious movie they saw with their buddies last weekend”. Those are the same kinds of people that, mind you, don’t really seem like they’d be all that enthused by the Judge, even if it does have a few of those “hee hee” moments.

But then again, I can’t hate on a director who wants to actually branch-out and try something new for once. Sometimes, the most unique movies come from those creators who were pigeon-holed as being a director of one certain genre and sticking to it, and decided to tell the world to “kiss off” and do something different, regardless of how much it would set people back. Though I’m drawing blanks on a few examples, I know they’re out there! But sadly, David Dobkin’s the Judge won’t be joining that list because this is a mess, and understandably so. Dobkin is a director that’s too inclined to just throw in a poop or fart gag, so that when he has to deliver on these strong, compelling moments of drama, they don’t quite mesh so well with the many scenes we get in which we think Downey’s character has possibly hooked up with his own biological daughter.

Not only does this create a jumble between tones, but it makes you wonder what could have happened, had the Judge been given a director that’s more comfortable with both sides of the table. Because, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, there are a few scenes of drama that are well-done and make some of this material, as well as the characters, slightly interesting. But then, moments later, after this touching scene has occurred, Dobkin will make a kind-of-a-joke about how Duvall’s character is incapable of controlling his bowels. And no, I am not kidding you, some of that is actually played up for a joke and it feels oddly-placed.

And that’s pretty much how the whole film is: Sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Most of this is because Dobkin isn’t all that capable of handling drama and comedy together, and also, because his movie just gets more and more conventional as it runs on along. Which was fine because I knew it was going to turn into that after a certain while, but nearly two-and-a-half-hours of waiting till a conclusion that we can already pin-point from a mile away, is a bit too much. Especially when one has to deal with all of the rough patches Dobkin goes through in order to build up to the predictable climax.

But if anything, the Judge makes you wish this kind of high-caliber cast had been given a better movie, because mostly everybody here is good, and sometimes, trying way harder than they need to. Though Robert Downey Jr. is, essentially, playing the same snarky character we’ve seen him do since the beginning of his career, there’s something slightly refreshing in seeing it done now, as an actual person, rather than as Tony Stark, or Sherlock Holmes. Not saying that either one of those characters are bad, but if it came down to RDJ having to play human beings for the rest of his life, as opposed to multi-million-dollar franchise “names”, I’d be happy with him just being Charlie Chaplin again.

RDJ just can't handle this right now. Like OMG.

RDJ just can’t handle this right now. Like OMG.

As long as he stays away from the drugs, that is.

Same goes for Robert Duvall, an actor who, because I haven’t seen him in quite some time, totally left my mind as being a capable actor. But here he is, pushing 83 and giving a good performance as the grumpy curmudgeon that is our titled-character. Though most of the movie is Duvall growling and looking pissed, the scenes he has with Downey Jr. feel like they come from a soft spot in both of their hearts, and to me, really struck a chord. Even if the rest of the movie was manipulative, over-stuffed, over-long, jumbled, and messy, these two being on screen together and just acting their behinds off was more than enough for me.

That said, David Dobkin should just stick to hand job-gags. Those seem to work out best for him in the end.

Consensus: Despite a strong cast trying with everything each and everyone of them have got, the Judge turns out being a jumbled-up mess of comedy, drama, family-dynamics, courtroom arguments, and ill-placed jokes, all coming to a predictable end.

 5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Grrrrrrrr!"

“Grrrrrrrr!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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