Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 5-5.5/10

Mojave (2016)

Chances are, random dudes you meet in the desert, aren’t going to be the ones to trust in actual society.

Famous Hollywood writer Thomas (Garrett Hedlund), is conflicted about his life so, one day, he decides to get up and leave his mansion, French girlfriend, and money behind, to venture out into the desert for some peace and solidarity. However, while in the desert, Thomas realizes that he may not actually be alone in this huge desert – in fact, he may actually be being followed. This is when Thomas meets Jack (Oscar Isaac), a drifter who says that he’s a director, but at the same time, doesn’t really seem all that convincing when he says that. He and Thomas, despite the obvious awkwardness of the whole situation, have a solid conversation about life, death, Jesus Christ and the devil, but it becomes all too clear that there’s something off about Jack that Thomas doesn’t want to be around. So, that’s why Thomas decides to leave the desert, as well as Jack behind; which, as a result, makes Jack very angry and forced to follow Thomas all the way to his glitzy and glamorous home life, leading to some very bloody, very violent results.

He's brooding.

He’s brooding.

William Monahan, nearly a decade ago, wrote the script for the Departed and he could have stopped right there. Already, he had given each and every person on the face of the planet something that they wanted, loved and adored, and right then and there, Monahan could have packed his things up, got all of his money together, and head for the hills, never to be heard from or bothered again, but knowing that he did something right for society. But seeing as how Monahan is, first and foremost, a creator, he decided to make Mojave which is, most definitely, a whole heck of a lot different from the Departed in many ways.

Of course, though, what Mojave does have similarly to the Departed, is that both movies feature big, rough, and tough guys being, well, big, rough, and tough.

And honestly, for the longest time of Mojave, there’s a lot to enjoy in just watching that happen, especially when the two said guys in question are Oscar Isaac and Garrett Hedlund, two young talents that are so well-deserving of every role they’re given. Seeing as how both are actual friends in real life (as well as co-starred in Inside Llewyn Davis), it makes sense that they feature wonderful chemistry together, just playing off of one another and testing each other to their limits; the same is definitely said for their characters who are, randomly, at odds with one another for reasons we never fully know or understand. However, there’s still a feeling you can get watching these two pals act alongside one another, and just knowing that they’re having a great time watching as the other works the field, so they say.

Which is why, had Mojave just been a two-hander of these two talking about whatever the hell they wanted to talk and swinging their dicks around, it probably would have been a whole lot better, tighter and enjoyable. However, because Monahan adds on so much more than just these two going to battle with one another and leaving it at that, it becomes messy and we forget what makes the movie so strong in the first place: Isaac and Hedlund. While neither loses any sense of charm or presence in the proceedings, they still get pushed too far to the back so that Monahan can run wild, say whatever he wants, and do weird things that nobody expected, but nobody really needed to see, either. Monahan gets mixed-up in his own ideas where, one side of him wants to make this mono-e-mono thriller between these two colorful characters, but on the other side, wants to talk about Hollywood and everybody in it is a terrible, mean-spirited and disgusting place that nobody should ever get caught up in.

Wow, where have I heard this before?

He's weird.

He’s weird.

Clearly, Monahan’s not working with any life-changing, ground-breaking themes or ideas and it sometimes calls into question just how odd this movie can be. Mark Wahlberg randomly shows up a coked-up, over-the-top and wild Hollywood agent who is, definitely fun, but still doesn’t add much to the whole movie; Walton Goggins shows up as a Hollywood executive who is about as dead-spirited as they come; and yeah, then there’s a whole murder investigation that never seems to escalate, but still bring these two guys closer. Monahan brings up a whole lot of stuff here, but because he’s both the writer, as well as the director, there’s no holding back in just where Mojave can, and will, go.

Still though, it’s Hedlund and Isaac who make this movie work the most and it makes sense why they’re given the most to work, for better as well as for worse. Hedlund is, once again, playing up that whole brooding-angle he always shows and does fine with it. While Thomas, the character, may be limited in how much we actually care or get to know about him, Hedlund shows that there’s something of a soul underneath it all and it makes us sympathize with him just a tad bit more, even if we don’t really care either way where the story goes, or who ends up getting the ax.

But Isaac is perhaps the one having the most fun here and it’s great to see him just live every bit of this material up. In a way, as Jack, Isaac livens this material up a whole lot more than it probably should have been, as he’s not just funny, but more thoughtful than the movie may have called for. He’s got a lot to say about faith and Hollywood, or whatever, but he’s also got something to say about Hedlund’s Thomas, and it’s these revelations that I found most telling. While Monahan has a bone to pick with Hollywood, he still has a point in saying what he says, which makes me wonder why he’s making movies as conflicted as Mojave, and isn’t giving it his all again like he did with the Departed all those years ago?

The world may never know, but we wait and wonder.

Consensus: Hedlund and Isaac are great, however, Mojave‘s odd plotting and themes don’t always come together in a cohesive manner, that gives them the movie they wholly deserve.

5.5 / 10

Together, they're the perfect couple.

Together, they’re the perfect couple.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Dirty Grandpa (2016)

These younglings don’t know how old-heads get down.

With less than a week to go before his wedding, Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) has good knowledge of how he wants the rest of his life to go down. And even though he’s definitely looking forward to getting hitched to his high-class, but very pretty fiancee (Julianne Hough), all of those happy feelings and thoughts are put to the side once he learns that his grand-mother has died. Heart-broken and sad is Jason’s grandpa, Dick (Robert De Niro), who Jason reluctantly volunteers to drive to wherever he wants. Problem is, Jason gets duped into taking his grandpa to Daytona Beach, for Spring Break of all times. Turns out, grandpa has been in desperate need of some fun as of late and now, with his late wife being gone, he now finally has the chance to do so. While Jason isn’t all about allowing his grandpa go around, smoking, drinking, and bangin’ whatever, he also doesn’t want to keep his grandpa away from having some fun on his own time as well. This also gets Jason to thinking of his own life and how, at one point in his life, he wasn’t so uptight and by-the-books and, believe it or not, really fun and exciting to be around – something his grandpa reminds him of all the time.

Why are Grandpa's always doing this?

Why are grandpa’s always doing this?

Movies like Dirty Grandpa are the kinds I, for one reason or another, want to stick up for. The main reason being is that it’s an R-rated raunch-fest that does, says, or acts whatever way it wants to, regardless of what others may think, say, or be offended by. In other words, Dirty Grandpa is exactly like the aging-grandfather you invite to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner – you know he’s going to say a lot of inappropriate, borderline racist stuff, but you just let him go because, well, he’s old and doesn’t really know that he’s doing or saying anything wrong. You could totally make the argument that those behind Dirty Grandpa know exactly what they’re doing and saying is, by far, wrong, but you could also make the argument that absolutely none of them care.

And that, to me, takes a lot of gut to actually create and deliver on.

Cause in today’s day and age where political correctness is shoved aside as a means to not offend a certain demographic, Dirty Grandpa pulls down its pants, flips the bird, and says, “screw you”, to each and everyone of those people who may be offended by what the movie’s making cracks about. Granted, it’s not hard to get offended by Dirty Grandpa; whether you’re white, black, male, female, obese, skinny, attractive, ugly, gay, young, old, or whatever, you’re going to get made fun of and be somewhat offended. Sure, some may call this “crass”, “mean”, or just downright “despicable”, but is there always a problem with that? Can, sometimes at least, that same crassness, that same meanness, and hell, that same despicability, be at least somewhat funny?

In Dirty Grandpa‘s case, it can sometimes be, but at other times, not really.

But really, the parts of Dirty Grandpa that are in fact, funny, worked for me enough to get past the other issues with the movie like say, I don’t know, the fact that it has no general regard for anyone person’s feelings or emotions. Basically, what Dirty Grandpa sets out to do is make fun of those they decide to because, well, they can, so why not? It’s not hard to hate a comedy who’s general position is to make fun of everyone around them, but it’s also not that much harder to hate one when it isn’t actually being funny – Dirty Grandpa, though, in some cases, was at least funny enough that I didn’t care and let all of those sensitivity issues fall by the wayside.

That said, if you’re offended by Dirty Grandpa, you definitely should be pissed-off and upset. There’s no denying that the movie does and says a lot that can definitely land itself in hot-water that’s hard to swim out of and honestly, for the most part, there are jokes that are so painfully stupid and obvious, you’ll want to leave the theater for about five seconds, just so that you can wash away the agony from said terrible joke. Then again, there will be another joke or two that comes by that is, surprisingly, actually funny and delivers on the mark it sets out to hit, which is why I stuck through and decided to give this thing the benefit of the doubt.

From one hunk, to another.

From one hunk, to another.

Which is all to say that, thanks to De Niro and Efron, Dirty Grandpa works better than it probably ever should.

Efron’s been desperately trying to get away from his teen-idol image and carve-out a more serious, mature look for him which, seems to be working. In Dirty Grandpa, he does more of a job of making fun of himself than anything else, and it’s actually quite fun to watch. Clearly, he knows that he’s the sexiest, hunkiest person in the room, so he doesn’t mind getting naked, or poking jokes at his ridiculously-ripped and chiseled body at his own expense. After all, he’s the butt of the joke, but really, he’s the one that all the ladies still want to be with so it’s fine, I guess.

But as much as Efron may try, it’s De Niro who actually gives it his all and seems to really make this thing work. Granted, Dirty Grandpa probably shouldn’t work at all, but because De Niro seems to be enjoying his time so incredibly much, it’s hard not to crack a smile or laugh whenever he’s on the screen. He’s dirty, raunchy, disgusting, and a bit annoying, but most of all, he’s De Niro having fun and being spirited at the same time which, if any of you have seen what he’s put out in the past couple of years, means a lot. The movie may not be fully up-to-par but hey, seeing De Niro have some fun, allows me to have some fun, as well.

Just don’t tell anybody I said that.

Consensus: Not at all politically correct by any means and definitely a mixed-affair, Dirty Grandpa sets out for the shock laughs than anything else and can, for the most part, make them work, if only because De Niro and Efron seem to be having fun.

5 / 10

Whatta party.

Whatta party.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)

Is there such a thing as “a job going exactly according to plan”?

Two kidnappers, Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston) have a secret, super duper shady plan of holding the daughter of a rich businessman hostage. Why? Well it’s a known-fact that she’s got a lot of money attached to her name and that her daddy would be more than willing to throw down any hefty sum of money to get her back into his arms and make sure that everything’s okay and fine. And for the longest time, the plan goes together perfectly. The daughter, Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton), is found, kidnapped and put away silently in this bed and tied-up. She’s given food to eat, a pot to piss and/or do other stuff in, and a bed to sleep in, even though she doesn’t have much else choice to do much else. And hell, her father seems to not have contacted the cops and willing to meet-up to exchange the money. So yeah, it seems like everything’s going perfectly according to plan, until, well, it doesn’t and all of a sudden, everybody starts to turn on one another and question the other’s motives.

When your hostage is this pretty, it's hard to not get your emotions wrapped-up in a bunch.

When your hostage is this pretty, it’s hard to not get your emotions wrapped-up in a bunch.

The first thirty or so minutes of Alice Creed is actually quite interesting. We see a lot of planning going into setting the room and stage-up for where the abductee will be taken, but we don’t hear these guys utter a single word. We know that they’re setting up for a kidnapping, due to the title, but because everything so perfectly and meticulously planned-out, it’s actually quite chilling, while also intriguing because, well, this is how one would want to create a hostage situation. Granted, I hope to never be involved with one, but if I were to all of a sudden be in a huge pinch for money, I’d probably use this movie’s first half-hour as a guideline on what to do.

And even when Alice Creed, the character, does end-up getting kidnapped, it’s still interesting. We have no clue why this character is getting kidnapped in the first placed, how it all happened, and what kind of relationship these characters have with one another, if any at all. We don’t ever see the actual kidnapping itself, so yeah, the mystery’s always up in the air, but what do these characters mean to one another? Are they all pals doing these secret things to one another? Or are they all just strangers, set-up to ensure that no problems ensue with said kidnapping?

Well, eventually, we begin to get the answers to these puzzling questions and sadly, that’s about the same time when Alice Creed, the movie, gets to be a bit of a bore.

After a certain moment, it becomes clear that writer/director J Blakeson is perfect at setting the stage up for what could be a very interesting, if sometimes exciting thriller, but doesn’t really know where to go after all the said setting up. There’s plenty of twists here, which is fine, but after about the ninth or tenth, it becomes to be a bit of overkill. Which wouldn’t be such a problem if the actual twists and turns were the least bit believable or interesting, but most of them feel placed-in as a desperate way of spicing things up, or just ripped from other movies that are, in some cases, many times better than this one.

The only interesting aspect of the movie that stays as such probably throughout, is the actual cast themselves. Considering that there’s literally nobody else in this movie, other than three ones we get in the first half-hour, it goes without saying that they should probably all be solid actors, doing exceptional work, in a movie that’s in desperate need of it. And with Alice Creed‘s case, that’s definitely the case, even if the script itself doesn’t offer them much room to breath or stretch their limbs out.

But to be honest, it’s hard to talk about all of these characters without spoiling just exactly who, or what they mean to the overall story.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Gemma Arterton’s Alice Creed is a bit of a whiny, stuck-up rich girl who clearly isn’t used to being put into a situation like this, but then again, how could she be? Eddie Marsan’s Vic is a tough-as-nails, quiet, and brooding baddie who doesn’t have anytime for jokes or games, and just wants to get this all over and done with, as well as he should. And Martin Compston’s Danny is, well, the softer and sweeter of the two baddies, even though it becomes awfully clear why he is and ultimately, ends up showing something of a softer side throughout the rest of the movie.

Each one here is fine and do exactly what they should in a movie that doesn’t seem to be all that well-equipped to help them out, but it’s a bit disappointing, because this movie could have been a very interesting, character-driven thriller. However, because it’s all about where the plot is moving, what can happen to keep things fun, and what sort of twists and turns can come out of nowhere, it never gets the chance to be anything. Maybe, just maybe, the movie’s a bit too big for its own good and doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of “downplaying”, but really, that’s expecting a tad bit too much. After all, Alice Creed is just another low-key thriller; it may not be wanting to be a smart, intriguing character-piece about what people do in situations like kidnappings, but it certainly could have been and it’s a bit disappointing that it didn’t take itself any further.

Especially since, well, the groundwork was already laid-out quite well.

Consensus: Given the solid cast on-hand, the Disappearance of Alice Creed feels more disappointing than it should, given that after the first half-hour, it loses all direction and sense of what keeps a plot interesting, and that’s believability.

5.5 / 10

Kidnappers take lunch breaks?

Kidnappers take lunch breaks?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, B Movies

The Lady in the Van (2015)

More people need to listen to Matt Foley.

During the 70’s and 80’s of London, playwright and occasional actor Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) was in desperate need of some sort of inspiration in his life. And not just for writing either – also, he was looking for a reason to love another person and not just have wild one night stands with all sorts of usual suspects from in and around the area. His inspiration comes, however, it’s in the form of a homeless woman named Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith); a smart, but quick-witted lady who, unsurprisingly, lives in her van. While Miss Shepherd starts off by living in the street of Bennett’s neighborhood, after some time, and plenty of ordinances and tickets from local law enforcement, she moves into Bennett’s driveway where she also starts to use his toilet and poke her nose into his business. This eventually leads Bennett himself to start looking into Miss Shepherd’s life, her past, and the exact reasoning for why she decided to live all by herself in a van for all of these years. Because obviously, no person in their right mind would want to live in a dirty, smelly and disgusting van for the later-part of their life, so what’s the reason? Well, Bennett looks to find out and is surprised to hear the answers when they come around.

She's smart...

She’s smart…

Despite what the title may have you believe, the Lady in the Van isn’t really actually about “the lady in the van”; in fact, it’s more about the person who wrote the book and had to experience the titled-character, author Alan Bennett. And to prove this, the movie doesn’t just who the story being told from Bennett’s perspective, but also uses this awkward, unneeded plot-mechanism where instead of getting one Bennett telling the story, we get another. The reason director Nicholas Hytner uses this is to show us the two combating sides of Bennett; one of the sides, is “the writer” who constantly thinks and toggles with the idea of what to write about what happened or didn’t happen, and then, there’s “the human”, who actually does a lot of the actions he’s thinking about doing to begin with.

The only reason I discuss this and show this off, is because it’s not only annoying every time it shows up, but completely silly. Sure, we get that Bennett is a writer and is in desperate need of some great, big story to carry him through the next few years of his life, but do we really need to hear or be shown his every single, little thought that goes through his head? Can’t we just see it all play-out? Or better yet, make up our own conclusions of what’s going through his mind at said point in the story?

Of course we can, but the Lady in the Van, the movie itself, doesn’t really hold that much subtlety.

Which isn’t to say that Maggie Smith, perhaps the best thing about the Lady in the Van, truly is lovely and adorable playing said lady who lives in the van. As usual, Smith always has some sort of smart-remark to make at the expense of someone else, and allows for her keen observations to run wild, but there’s more to this character that does in fact make her interesting. We get to hear more about her past life and while none of it is as developed as it probably should have been, the movie still gives Smith plenty of chances to pick up most of the slack and do something magical with this character.

Then again, though, the movie isn’t totally about her – it’s about Bennett, his life, and his experience with this lady living in the van.

...sassy...

…sassy…

Which really, isn’t such a bad thing, because Bennett himself, as well as his relationship with the lady living in the van, is actually quite interesting. For one, the movie never makes Bennett out to be some sort of latter-day saint who took this old lady into his home, washed her, fed her, and gave her the kind of sympathy and shelter she oh so desired – instead, the movie shows him as kind of a closed-off dick who, yes, may be a bit sympathetic to her cause, but is in no way opening his arms anytime soon. But for some reason, that doesn’t sympathetic or unsympathetic, just human and it’s frustrating to see the movie constantly confuse itself with the two factors and not know what to do or say about the character.

It should also be noted that Alex Jennings is actually good in the role of Bennett, someone who may deserve a better movie than the one he’s been given here. Because even when it isn’t focusing on Bennett’s, or Miss Shepherd’s life, the movie tries hard to be cute and sweet, but also loses itself in thinking it’s too much of that, and forget to actually develop the story itself. As I said before, there’s some form of mystery surrounding Miss Shepherd and her shady, unknown past, but the movie doesn’t really go too far in detailing that anymore than just a few clues here and there; not that I minded watching Maggie Smith be grumpy to those around her, but after the eighth or ninth scene in a row of seeing that happen, it got to be a bit tiring and all of a sudden, I remembered that there was a story to be told here that, believe it or not, wasn’t actually being told.

Then again, maybe the actual story of the Lady in the Van wasn’t all that eventful to begin with. That this is a true story, it already calls into question the authenticity of what’s being presented, as well as how much actually holds up when in the court of all. After all, the true story of this whole thing could have just been that Miss Shepherd was a grumpy, old homeless woman who was, of course, smelly, but also, was mean to a lot of those around her. Whether any of them deserved it or not, the movie never really gets into, but it makes you think just if there was anything more to this woman, or her story, than where’s it at?

Or is this just it? Probably is, but oh well.

Consensus: The Lady in the Van definitely receives assistance from the fine performances of Jennings and Smith, but really, it’s messy narrative-structure and plot-devices don’t come together well enough to give them a movie worthy of their talent.

5.5 / 10

...and yes, an old woman. So of course she's like some fun. Who doesn't?!?!

…and yes, an old woman. So of course she’s like some fun. Who doesn’t?!?!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Anesthesia (2016)

AnesthesiaposterLife sucks on so many fronts.

Professor Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston) is coming up on his last day of teaching after nearly 40 years and now, he’s starting to put a lot of his life into perspective. His son, Adam (Tim Blake Nelson), is going through an issue of his own when he finds out that his wife has cancer and needs to have surgery immediately. Meanwhile, a student of Walter’s (Kristen Stewart), is dealing with and trying to come to terms with her depression, that can sometimes lead her to deadly and dangerous thoughts. While this is happening, Sarah (Gretchen Mol), a suburban housewife is getting tired of her husband running around on her and leaving her with the kids, which is when she starts to think long and hard about what it is that she wants to do with her life, or if she even wants to stay married in the first place. Then, there’s Joe (K. Todd Freeman), an acclaimed writer who is now suffering from an addiction to heroin; one that his brother (Michael K. Williams) wants to resolve and fix as soon as possible. And then there’s Sam (Corey Stoll) and Nicole (Mickey Sumner) a couple who, for some odd reason, are out on a trip where they talk about life, love and what their current situation is.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

So yeah, as you can tell, there’s a lot going on in Anesthesia, and while it may seem like none of the stories have anything to do with the other, once time begins to roll on, it’s easy to piece together the pieces of familial-tree in which we can see why this story is being told and what their overall significance is to the story. Does it really work? Not really, but writer/director Tim Blake Nelson, gives it all that he’s got, offering us a handful of stories that can occasionally spark interest and life into a pretty depressed tone, but still sometimes feel like there’s a whole lot missing.

For instance, the main story here is Waterston’s Walter character who, having seen plenty of the world and done a lot for the young, impressionable youth out there, has finally come to terms with the fact that his career is coming to an end. Waterston, as well as the rest of the ensemble, is great here and clearly gives this character his all, but he’s really the only fully-developed character here as we get to see everything about this guy, without any questions left up in the air as to why he is, the way he is. Everybody else, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky and it’s a bit of a shame because, once again, Nelson’s got a lot going on here that’s, on the surface, intriguing, but is all put together and cobbled-up in an-hour-and-a-half movie, that no plot seems to get as much attention as they should.

Even the ones that are, perhaps, the most compelling of all, still have to side the bench for some stories that are far more dull and boring.

One of the later stories in question is Kristen Stewart’s in which she doesn’t do much except look sad, act a bit crazy and question life’s meaning. That’s about it. Considering that Stewart has been showing more and more promise as an actress in the past year or so, it’s a bit of a shame that she’s given such a limited-role to work with here, but once again, it’s less of her fault, as much as it’s Nelson’s for giving it to her and not getting rid of it all completely. And this would have definitely been a smart idea, so long as it meant that there was more room for such stories like Stoll’s and Sumner’s – both of whom are fantastic here and, quite frankly, I’d love to see in their own movie, removed from all of the other sadness going on around here.

And really, the only reason I’m focusing so much on these subplots, is because that’s all the movie is made-up of, without much rhyme or reason. Nelson, from what it seems, is only trying to tell us, with Anesthesia, that life is connected in some sad, utterly depressing ways.

And yeah, that’s about it.

You too, Glen!

You too, Glen!

We get this and understand this clearly from the very beginning and while it’s still interesting to see how some of these small stories play-out in their own, mini ways, there’s still a feeling that a lot is being left out. Of course, having to deal with such a huge cast, Nelson himself probably ran into scheduling issues and couldn’t get each and every actor in the movie together for one scene, but that wasn’t as much of my problem, as much as it was that some weak stories, got in the way of the more engaging, stronger ones, leaving a good portion of Anesthesia to feel as if it’s constantly starting and stopping back up. While it’s admirable that Nelson doesn’t shine a judgmental light on any of these characters, at the same time, there’s only so much we can handle when watching certain characters not do anything of interest, just sit there, argue and talk about things we don’t really have any prior knowledge about.

In ways, the movie can sometimes feel like we’re walking into a party late, only to then realize that either everybody’s been acquainted, too drunk, or already friends with one another, to the point where you almost don’t want to bother introducing yourself or joining in on the fun. You’ve already shown up later than everyone else, they’re now looking at you and they don’t really care because, honestly, they’re getting on fine just without you. Of course, the actual viewing-experience of Anesthesia isn’t as harsh as I may write it out to be, but it is still, in no way, a party you want to be apart of or fully invested in.

Maybe eavesdropping or scoping out from across the room is fine, but that’s about it.

Consensus: Given the cast and crew involved, Anesthesia should hit harder than it does, but instead, focuses on a slew of subplots that can occasionally engage, but never fully-developed.

5 / 10

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

As long as your dad is fun, who cares if he’s a little crazy?

Growing up, Amelia Stuart (Imogene Wolodarsky) had a lot to put up with. For one, her father, Cam (Mark Ruffalo), had a bipolar disorder that tended to make him awfully erratic, even though, deep down inside, he meant well. Though she, her father, her mother (Zoe Saldana), and her little sister (Ashley Aufderheide), were never poor, per se, they never quite had a lot of money either and always seemed to be living from paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s why, when her mother gets the grand idea of chasing her dream to become a lawyer so that she can take care of her family once and for all, she’s worried. They have no money, but mostly, that means that all of the family duties will be given to Cam – someone who can’t be trusted with a jar of peanut butter, let alone, two kids, a mortgage, a job, and a whole butt-load of other responsibilities. But still, with this knowledge, Amelia’s mom heads out to study anyway, leaving Cam to take over the role as a family-leader, which, of course, can have both its “good”, as well as its “bad”. But no matter what, through it all, the family tries to love each other and get past their issues, regardless of how big they may be.

Dad's can be so cool with their mid-life crisis polos.

Dad’s can be so cool with their mid-life crisis polos.

Thank heavens for Mark Ruffalo being in Infinitely Polar Bear. Without him, the movie would probably just be another one of those feel-good, earnest after school specials about families facing adversity, families taking on all sorts of challenges along the way of their journey to something, and at the end of it all, still coming out on top, happy, united and more in love than ever. That’s basically all of Infinitely Polar Bear in a nutshell and if anything, it sounds like it deserves a spot somewhere on the 4 o’clock block on Lifetime, rather than on the big screen, or whichever screen one decides to watch movies on nowadays.

Then again, there’s Mark Ruffalo who, basically, saves the day and then some.

As Cam Stuart, Ruffalo is clearly having a great time, but he doesn’t forget that there’s actually a heart and soul to this character that makes him work so well. Because Cam’s personality can border between “outrageous” to “chill”, it’s interesting to see Ruffalo play between both sides, but at the same time, still seem like the same person. Cam is clearly an intelligent character who has seen life, been through life and knows what to expect from it all, so it’s not hard to listen closely by and take note. Still, he’s not the old wise man in the room and instead, also likes to have a bit of fun and can sometimes be more spirited and exciting than his own daughters, both of whom can’t be any older than 13.

Even though the movie itself sort of gets mixed up in what exactly is causing Cam to act-out so much irrationally in the first place, Ruffalo stays honest, hilarious and most of all, heartfelt. He seems like the kind of dad we get in these types of movies where we know he’s a bit of an unintentional screw-up and can never change, but also means so well that it’s hard to hold anything against him. Some of this has to do with the writing for Cam, but most of it is definitely towards Ruffalo and his genuine likability that floats off the screen.

"Baby #3?

“Baby #3?

No wonder why he’s been nominated for a Golden Globe and is basically the only thing worth remembering here.

Okay, maybe that’s not totally true and just another case of me being utterly harsh on a movie that doesn’t fully deserve it. Zoë Saldaña plays the mother here and while she’s not around a whole lot to begin with, you still get the idea that she’s just waiting, watching in the background, ready for whenever her time is up to be called to the line of duty that is motherhood and raising a family. Her and Ruffalo have nice enough chemistry together too, that makes you believe they actually would get together, have sex a bunch of times, raise two kids together, and love one another enough not to get in the way of each other’s own, singular happiness. In a way, that’s how all people want their relationships to be, but so rarely get.

But other than these two performances, everything else about Infinitely Polar Bear is just frustratingly mediocre and light beyond belief. Writer/director Maya Forbes is clearly telling an autobiographical tale here and while it all seems realistic enough to be believed in, none of it ever really connects. For instance, we know that since Cam could go nuts at literally any second, we’re waiting for that moment to come, but for some reason, it never actually seems to. Instead, we just watch a bunch of scenes where Cam acts like a 12-year-old throwing a tantrum, where all he wants to do is hang out with kids his daughter’s ages and treat them to hot chocolate. In a way, yes, it sounds a bit weird, which it may have intended to be, but Forbes seems like she’s having a total ball telling this material again and it shows the whole way through.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Forbes wanting to tell her story of childhood in a lovely way, but still, it does take away a bit from the story when there’s no real dramatic-arc or any sort of conflict pushing it along. The only conflict here seems to be that Cam may, or may not snap, and is a bit weird – that’s about it. Everything else seems pretty cut-and-dry, which may not be something Forbes actually wants to hear about her own childhood, but how it plays out here, that’s exactly what it is.

Simple and relatively easygoing. Sorry.

Consensus: Ruffalo saves Infinitely Polar Bear from being a slightly sappy, overly-sweet tale about one family’s test of power and love, although neither of which actually get tested in any way, shape, or form.

5 / 10

Happiness exists in all families. So what makes yours so special?!?!

Happiness exists in all families. So what makes yours so special?!?!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

Apparently, we needed more fluffy creatures.

After he lost his hand and found out just exactly who his daddy is, Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewie (Peter Mayhew), and of course, the rest of the gang get together in hopes of saving the now-frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the lair of notorious crime boss Jabba the Hutt, who now has him set-up as a set decoration of sorts. Mostly though, what the gang is looking to achieve here is that they’re able to get the Rebel Alliance all back together so that they can make one final push to take down the Empire once and for all. Issue is, the Sith is stronger than ever and, for the moment, seems as if they’re not afraid of a challenge. However, because Luke feels as if the force is strongest with him than ever before, he’s extra determined to take on the Sith, even if that does also mean he’ll have to take down his own father – someone he’s trying to connect with and change back to the bright side, but also knows that it may be a lost cause.

Meanwhile, Ewoks show up.

A goner, he is.

A goner, he is.

One of the main issues with finales in a series, is that they tend not to live up to everybody’s expectations. This is especially true in the case of Return of the Jedi, which, not only had the huge expectation of being a Star Wars movie, but also had to follow up both A New Hope, as well as the Empire Strikes Back. If anything, the odds were totally stacked against Return of the Jedi and well, needless to say, the wall sort of came tumbling down on it.

For one, Lucas’ writing, if anything, seems lazy here. Perhaps for the first half-hour or so, we spend watching what happens in Jabba’s little club of sorts and instead of feeling like a necessary bit of scenery that’s interesting to see, it just feels over-done, drawn-out, and most importantly, an excuse for Lucas to give us more odd-looking creatures that kiddies can soon buy the toys of not too long after watching. Of course, Jabba is a terribly disgusting and vile creature, but Lucas only seems interested in just how dirty he is, and that’s about it. The first sequence of this flick could have easily been chopped-down to at least 15 minutes, but instead, Lucas continues to go on and on with this and it seems to suck out a good portion of the movie’s energy.

Then, in come the Ewoks.

Granted, when I was younger, watching the Ewoks waddle around, speak in their funny gibberish, and be so fluffy and hairy that you wonder how they look on your wall, that I couldn’t help but love them. Nowadays, I still feel the same, but at the same time, realize that they’re what does in Return of the Jedi. If anything, the Ewoks are, tonally, out-of-place; they’re cute, goofy, and perfect for little kids to point at and adore. However, the rest of the movie, as it seems to be, is actually pretty dark and epic, therefore, the movie as a whole feels like a bit of a mess. One second, we’ll be watching the Ewoks tie clones up in the house-sized nets, the next, we’ll be watching as Luke and Vader battle one another.

Clearly, Lucas was solely trying to sell merchandise here, and while there’s no problem with that in the long run of things, it helps to make people wonder just where his head was for this final flick? Was he trying to close everything up in a neat, little bow-tie? Or, was he just trying to wait around and see when the paycheck comes in? Whatever the truth may be, either way, something still doesn’t sit right for about a good portion of this movie and it’s all the more disappointing that, for mostly everybody at the time, this was the ultimate flick to end the original franchise.

Fathers: Can't trust 'em for anything.

Fathers: Can’t trust ’em for anything.

After this, there was supposed to be nothing else. So why go out on such a tame note?

Either way, Return of the Jedi isn’t as bad as people make it out to be – but at the same time, it still doesn’t feel like a whole lot of effort on Lucas’ part was given. The final battle between Luke and Vader is pretty awesome, the speeder chase scene still works, and yeah, watching as Han takes out baddies, is more than welcome by this point, but still, there’s something missing here that made it all work to begin with. There’s not enough heart and soul with this story, these characters, or just what this universe means. We know that the Death Star is bad, but really, that’s all we need to know and/or get to know.

And of course, everyone in Return of the Jedi feels as if they’re going through the motions again, but also don’t really benefit from a worthwhile script make them work harder and harder. Hamill’s Luke is a bit too serious now; Leia is nothing more than a sexy, objectified object for everyone to point and stare at; Solo doesn’t have much of anything witty or fun to say, so he just sort of coasts around this movie; and yeah, of course Vader is still freaky and evil.

But really, when was he not?

If anything, what Return of the Jedi proves perhaps best about Lucas is that, when push doesn’t come to shove, he could really care less. He’s happy to write anything down, give it a try and wait till the movie’s themselves all hit number 1. Not bad for a businessman, but this is the same guy most people trust with their childhood.

And how dare he let them down.

Consensus: By far the weakest of the original franchise, Return of the Jedi finds Lucas in too much of a comfort-zone and keeps the final installment, from being the most epic, memorable and exciting.

5.5 / 10

The gang's back together and clearly more bored than ever!

The gang’s back together and clearly more bored than ever!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Angels & Demons (2009)

Always blame the Church. They’re pretty easy targets.

A few years after the events of the Da Vinci Code, it appears that Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back to all sorts of dangerous adventure! However, rather than being called to the scene of a crime and getting falsely accused of it again, this time, Langdon is helping out with a case that may be a whole lot more complicated and serious than he had ever expected it to be. Surprisingly, four cardinals have been snatched from the Vatican and are now mysteriously hidden all over Vatican City; one of them will be killed each hour until midnight, which will then allow for a supposed bomb to go off and take out Vatican City. Over the course of this one evening, it is up to Langdon to figure out just who is committing all of these crimes and for what reasons. Is it just a bunch of angry, disillusioned people who want to raise some hell for good chuckles? Or, are these members of a religion that, in some way, shape, or form, feel betrayed by the Catholic church and believe that it is finally their time to step up and have their voices be heard, regardless of who they may kill in the process? Well, the questions are, apparently, all in the symbols.

Imagine this, for nearly two-and-a-half hours, and you've got the first flick.

Imagine this, for nearly two-and-a-half hours, and you’ve got the first flick.

Angels & Demons is an improvement over the Da Vinci Code, however, that isn’t saying too much. For one, it’s shorter. Another, it movies a lot quicker. These two factors come into play quite well because, when you think about it, you don’t really have much time to think about why or how hardly any of this matters; the movie itself isn’t harping on those facts, so why the hell should you?

With the Da Vinci Code, it was obvious that Ron Howard and co. set out to make a very serious piece of drama that definitely didn’t spell itself out as such. Here, Howard still seems to be playing in an ultra serious playing field, but also loosens up a bit; there’s a slight bit of self-awareness to the fact that none of what’s going on actually makes sense or matters, which helped the movie seem like actual fun. Rather than just trying to make sure that the audience members at home aren’t too tired just yet, Howard kickstarts this movie’s premise and gets going right away.

Which yes, was definitely the saving grace here.

Still, by the same token, I still can’t help but feel the same problems are around this time around. For one, the plot really makes no sense and it isn’t until the very end that you begin to wonder, “Huh?”. Granted, the movie isn’t totally relying on whether or not everything gets spelled-out in a perfectly clear manner or way, but it also wants us to follow along and think that it’s clever by doing whatever it’s doing. But whenever Langdon gets into a room, stares at stuff and starts speaking about its significance, I couldn’t help but not feel interested.

There were some interesting tidbits that Langdon made about the Illuminati here that most definitely worth the listen, but everything else, not only felt/sounded like bullshit, but didn’t do much to keep the plot going. Instead, it just slowed things down a bit so that characters could drop into unnecessary exposition. Like I said before, not much of that here, when compared to the first movie, but at the same time, still a whole lot more than there should be.

For instance, take Ewan McGregor’s earnest priest character. We have an idea of what he’s about and then, all of a sudden, the other cheek possibly turns and we’re left to think of whether or not he’s someone who can be trusted. The movie never makes a clear case of why this came to be, if only to say that they’re needed to be a baddie or back-stabber found somewhere – so what better person than Ewan McGregor? McGregor, here, is fine and does what he can with a role that seems like it was written for anyone who was willing to take a pay cut, but really, everything gets bogged down to so much speaking and yammering on about lord knows what, that it almost doesn’t matter if he’s in the role or not.

Obi-Wan went to Sunday school.

Obi-Wan went to Sunday school.

You could have put me in and it still may have not mattered.

As Langdon, Hanks gets to have a bit more fun this go around, as he’s not sitting around quite as much as he was before. Instead, a good portion of the movie finds himself running around all over Vatican City, looking for clues and, occasionally, giving us a small history lesson along the way. Truly, I wouldn’t mind having this around everyday of my life, but so be it. Tom Hanks doesn’t want to hang with me, no matter how hard I try.

And as for the controversial material that so plagued the first movie? Yeah, not much here, which is actually fine. The movie doesn’t really need to harp too much on what it’s trying to say or mean with its material. It’s more concerned with just being a bit of a goofy thriller that, yeah, may or may not make much sense at the end of the day, but at least has a bit more of a grin to work with this time around and doesn’t want to be too stern and serious for the older crowd out there.

Consensus: Angels & Demons is a slight improvement over its predecessor, which may not sound like much, but also means that it’s less serious and a little bit more in-touch with its crazy side.

5.5 / 10

A lot of popes, but no Francis.

A lot of popes, but no Francis.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Art is just pretty colors. Nothing more. So let’s take it easy.

Famous and notorious symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is used to facing all sorts of controversies in issue throughout his life. However, he’s now facing the biggest surprise of his life when, as it turns out, he becomes the leading suspect in a murder of a Louvre curator that he met some odd years ago. Why is this, though? Well, Robert doesn’t really know. But what he does know is that the murder all means something and has to do with a bunch of symbols, shapes and colors, all of which, somehow connect. So, in order to figure out just what the hell it all means, to find the actual killer, and above all else, clear his name, Robert, along with police cryptographer (Audrey Tautou), will have to run from the police and go through every piece of art that they believe to solve the puzzle of this guy’s murder. While all of this is going on, an albino assassin (Paul Bettany), who apparently works for the Church, is going around and killing people for shady reasons. But will Robert be the next one on this assassin’s list? After all, the stuff he has to say about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Catholicism, aren’t too popular and most definitely make him a key target for the Catholic Church to take out and shut up, for good.

Can't trust the French.

Can’t trust the French.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the Da Vinci Code back before it even came out. Most of that had to do with the tricky subject-material the book seemed to deal with in discussing how Jesus may, or may not, have had relations with Mary Magdalene, as well as how Catholicism wasn’t originally set out to be monothestic, but rather, goddess-centered. Surely, the ideas are interesting and make one think quite a bit, but honestly, they’re hardly ever touched at in the movie; there’s a nice sequence involving Sir Ian McKellen’s character who goes on about the Last Supper painting in ways that’s intriguing and fun, but really, that’s about it.

And you know what? That scene is probably the best one here.

Everything else about the Da Vinci Code, despite what the subject-material may have promised initially, just feels, looks, and seems safe. That mostly has to do with the fact that Ron Howard’s the director here and more or less, appears to be making a movie for the kind of large crowd that would want to go see this and not have to worry about being offended or thinking too hard. I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool to see Robert Langdon go through some of these historical documents and use his brain to think things through and connect the dots, but really, the movie doesn’t always seem too concerned with that. Most of the time, it just wants to keep itself moving without ever focusing on one key plot-element in particular.

Which isn’t to say that Howard does a bad job here; the movie looks as slick and as professional as can possibly be. But an action director, Ron Howard is not, and it shows quite often here. For one, the majority of the movie features Langdon running away – whether it be in cars, or on his own feet, Langdon always seem to be sprinting to the next location. Rather than to allow for the tension to pick up and grab ahold of us, Howard seems to use the manipulative device of just shaking the camera like he was trying to wake it up (or us, for that matter), and it just gets distracting. The movie, as was, already doesn’t do too much to grab ahold of you, but to see Howard try so incredibly hard to make you forget about that fact, can get a bit sad.

But perhaps Howard’s biggest wrong-doing with the Da Vinci Code isn’t his action-sequences, but the fact that the movie’s awfully way too self-serious and melodramatic, and it surely didn’t need to be. Had this been a crazy, wacky, and over-the-top piece of campy fun (which is definitely how it appears to be when you read what the movie’s about), I wouldn’t have minded some of the sillier moments that seemed to come completely out of nowhere and make very little, to almost no sense whatsoever. But because the movie hardly ever cracks a smile, or a joke, it all just seems like it’s taking itself way too seriously and doesn’t really just what kind of nuttiness lies within this material.

Can't trust albinos.

Can’t trust albinos.

If only.

Thankfully though, Tom Hanks, as usual, seems to be trying. Even as a character like Robert Langdon who, honestly, feels pretty boring, Hanks finds ways to make him somewhat charming and cool, even if all he does is stare at stuff all day, think way too hard about whatever it is, and come to crazy, almost random conclusions that nobody will ever believe. Hanks’ sort-of mullet is definitely annoying, but eventually, it’s easy to get by and just appreciate the fact that, yes, Hanks is here, trying to make this movie better, and do just whatever the hell he can to make this material come off as at least slightly legitimate.

Joining Hanks is a pretty solid international cast that we don’t get to see too much of in movies nowadays. Tautou does what she can to be more than just “the girl”; Bettany is just, plain and simply, creepy, but works well as it; McKellen adds the only bit of sizzle and spice to a movie that, quite frankly, needed a whole lot more of it; Alfred Molina shows up to chew the scenery as a member of the Catholic church; Jean Reno is the cop on Langdon’s tail and just wants to know what the hell happened; and yeah, there’s some more to be found, too. But still, none of them are ever given the full chance to spread their wings and fly as much, and as high as they want to – instead, they have a key demographic to appeal to and it’s just boring.

Consensus: Largely inoffensive, the Da Vinci Code barely touches on any of the controversial issues that made it such a hot-button many years ago and instead, suits itself for a more generic, run-of-the-mill, and occasionally interesting thriller. Lame.

5 / 10

But hey, don't worry, you can trust the British.

But hey, don’t worry, you can trust the British.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

By the Sea (2015)

Attractive people can fight, too!

In the mid-70’s, Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Angelina Jolie) are a married couple who are in desperate need of some loving and alone time. That’s why they set out to vacation in France, where hopefully Vanessa will not only be healed of whatever pain she’s feeling, whereas Roland where also get a chance to write his next book and make more of a name for himself. However, because they’re so broken and screwed-up, for reasons unknown, the trip has become nothing more than just another opportunity for them to bet on each other’s nerves. Though Roland seems to be trying to reconcile more than Vanessa, neither are able to fully come together in a way that reminds them both why they love each other so much in the first place, let alone, why they should stay married. Then, surprisingly, a young couple gets the room right next door to them which, coincidentally, has a hole through the wall that can be seen through Roland and Vanessa’s room. Through this young couple, both Roland and Vanessa will connect with each other in ways they haven’t do so in quite some time, but by the same token, will also still bring out old skeletons.

He's good-looking.

He’s good-looking.

It’s hard not to watch By the Sea as a total vanity-piece from Angelina Jolie Pitt (and yes, that is now her name). Not only is the film written and directed by her, but it also stars her working opposite from her famous husband, in which they play a married couple who are, at times, loving, but at the same time, also fighting and pissing one another off a whole lot, too. So, in a way, you could definitely look at this film as some sort of statement that Jolie wants to not just make about marriage in general, but her own, pretty infamous marriage.

Does it work as such? Not really. But hey, at least she’s getting somewhere.

I think.

Perhaps what works best about By the Sea is how pretty it looks. Despite Jolie actually having set the film in the 70’s, it’s still clear to see that Jolie herself is taking a lot of inspiration from the look and feel of the same kinds of Paris expressionist films of the day. And because of that, there’s plenty of shots here that are not only glossy, but quite eye-catching; while the characters themselves may be a bit boring and tepid, the landscapes they’re walking around, aren’t and it’s hard to look away whenever the movie takes place outside, in some lush room, or focusing in on the fancy clothes that just about every character here seems to be wearing. Basically, it’s a very pretty movie.

But that said, beauty is perhaps the only thing that By the Sea has working for it. With Unbroken last year, Jolie showed that she was a fine director, however, not a very deep or meaningful one; while she knows how to frame a shot here and there, what’s going on within or underneath said shot, she doesn’t seem to quite have a grip on just yet. Here, it seems like that same problem still persists, although she’s definitely helped out by the fact that her, as well as Pitt, both seem like they’re more than willing to dig hard into these characters, even if, on the surface, there’s not much to them.

But even once you go further into these characters, there’s still not much else to them.

The general idea of Roland and Vanessa is that, you guessed it, some sort of travesty hit their lives and they haven’t been the same since. While it’s easy to predict what it is from the very start, Jolie likes to give off the idea that she’s throwing us all off by giving us small, brief hints every now and then – issue is, it’s obvious. I won’t say what it is, but yeah, just take a wild guess and you’ll probably hit the nail on the head.

However, while other films concerning the same kinds of characters would like to develop them beyond just what happened to them, Jolie only seems interested in that and not going anywhere else. Sure, it’s interesting to watch when Pitt and Jolie, who are generally considered to be a loving, passionate and happy couple, fight and bicker with one another; sometimes, you don’t know how far it’s going to go, or where it’s going to end-up. Their own performances are fine, but when they’re together, it’s nice to not only see them share some chemistry when they’re happy together, but also when they are at each other’s necks.

She's good-looking.

She’s good-looking.

You know, like real couples.

Still though, Jolie’s direction is so languid that it feels like every scene depicting these two arguing, or screwing, or kissing, or consoling one another, isn’t just a repeat, but is lacking any sort of emotion that’s supposed to make a film like this, with these kinds of actors, crackle and pop right off the screen. It also doesn’t help that By the Sea is close to being two hours which, in all honesty, it does not need to be; something tells me that there was probably an ideal hour-and-a-half-version set to be made, but because the studio will never say “no” to her, Jolie got her way anyway and was able to make the movie as long as she oh so pleased. Which isn’t to say that I’m able to push Jolie’s personal persona, away from her film one, but like I stated before, it’s very difficult to not look at this film and think, “Well guys, this is what Angelina thinks about marriage, or lust, or whatever.”

And honestly, I don’t want it to seem like By the Sea is an awful movie. What works best about it is that Pitt and Jolie are such talented actors, that they make just about every scene work. Jolie’s script is clunky and filled with quite a few eye-rolling moments, but the two genuinely seem interested and compelled to work with one another, which definitely plays-out onto the screen. It may have not played out onto the rest of the film, but hey, at least they’re hot, sexy, in love, and not caring who knows it!

You go, kids!

Consensus: In By the Sea, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt fight, argue, kiss, screw, smoke, drink, wear fancy clothes, eat nice dinners, speak French, creep on their neighbors, and get naked, but for some reason, none of it ever cracks as much as it should, despite Jolie’s best intentions to try and do so.

5 / 10

Together, believe it or not, they're both good-looking.

Together, believe it or not, they’re both good-looking. That’s it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

I’m Not There (2007)

Wow. Bob Dylan did more than just go electric.

I’m Not There is, basically, a movie about the many exciting, weird and crazy lives that Bob Dylan has lived throughout his lifetime. However, rather than following the traditional, biopic-structure of keeping it with one actor, all the time, the movie switches things up in having these characters take on different life-forms, with different actors, even though they’re all, you know, playing Bob Dylan. There’s a boy who roams the streets, with his guitar and playing anywhere they’ll allow him to, while all going under the name of Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) even though, he clearly isn’t who he says he is. There’s folk-singer Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) who was, at one point, the hip, new thing in music but has a spiritual awakening one day and realizes that he wants to do more with his life than just rock out. There’s Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), another hip, young star in the world of entertainment who has a loving marriage to a French gal (Charlotte Gainsbourg), that soon starts to go sour once he begins to flirt with other ladies. There’s Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), yet again, another hip, young musician who decides to get rid of his old ways and “go electric”, which leads all of her friends, family and fans to go crazy and reconsider their love for her. There’s Billy McCarty (Richard Gere), someone who may or may not have a rocky past to hide.

Not Dylan.

Not Dylan.

And through it all, there’s Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) – a dude who’s here to just say weird, cryptic things

It’s noble what Haynes is trying to do here with the story of Bob Dylan; rather than keeping things on a simple, narrow-path that we’ve all seen a hundred times in plenty of other rock biopics, he decides to have it be a whole bunch of different story-lines, at one time, with different actors, but seemingly still playing the same character. It may sound confusing on paper, but surprisingly, it’s relatively easy-to-follow when watching the movie. Right away, the movie makes it a point to remind you that you’re watching actors all play Bob Dylan, and while they may not necessarily actually be named “Bob Dylan”, they’re still different times in the life of Bob Dylan.

Once again, it’s easy to get once you see it all play out, regardless of how weird I may be making it sound.

That doesn’t make it anymore interesting, but hey, at least it’s a noble effort on Haynes’ part for trying to shake things up a bit with a genre that seems too comfortable.

One of the main issues that surrounds I’m Not There, is that nobody’s story is ever really all that interesting to watch or see play-out. While, once again, we know they’re all different versions of snippets of Dylan’s life, none of whom ever really stand-out as taking over the movie and making us want to see them the most. Usually, that’s the kind of issues these large ensemble pieces have – while some stories may be okay, there tends to be the one that takes over everything else and leave you excited for whenever that comes around again. Here though, nobody ever makes you feel that.

Instead, you’re watching a bunch of surprisingly boring characters, mope around, deal with issues that we don’t care about and quite frankly, have all seen before, biopic or no biopic. There are certain bits of style that Haynes tries to work with here to cover up some of the rough patches, but mostly, it seems like what he has to work with here doesn’t really go anywhere all that surprising, or at all interesting. Granted, most of us already know about the life of Bob Dylan, and whether you don’t or not, it doesn’t matter, because the movie doesn’t seem all that interested in telling you much about him, either.

All it really cares about is the music he made, which granted, is fine.

Not Guthrie.

Not Guthrie.

Bob Dylan is one of the greatest musicians of all-time. His music will forever continue to stand the test of time and while some of those out there may have issue with his voice, and the fact that, well he can’t actually sing anything at all, it almost doesn’t matter. The fact is, the man has created some great music and it’s on full-blast in I’m Not There. Which honestly, helps the movie out a whole lot more; it’s surprising just how well any song Bob Dylan goes with a montage, regardless of what may be in the montage or not.

So if Haynes was trying to make this as some sort of tribute to Bob Dylan, the musician, then he did a solid job. At the same time though, he doesn’t really go anywhere else with it, other than that. This isn’t to say that nobody in the cast seems to be trying, either, because they all do. But, for the most part, they all seem like they’re really trying to dig harder and deeper into these characters and give us more than just what’s being presented on the surface.

One in particular, of course, is Cate Blanchett’s nearly unrecognizable performance as Jude Quinn. While it’s easy to assume that it’s just Blanchett doing an impersonation of the young and brash Dylan (what with the iconic wig, sunglasses, jacket, and all), she actually goes a bit further and show that there truly was a tortured soul at the middle of it all. Though it was easy to just assume that he had it all coming to him, there’s still a nice bit of sympathy that’s easy to feel for this character. It’s less of a gimmick role, and much more of, yet again, another chance for Blanchett to run circles around everyone else in the movie.

Which honestly, I’ll watch any day of the week.

In fact, give me that whole subplot/movie with just Blanchett. I’m fine.

Consensus: Todd Haynes deserves credit for trying something different with I’m Not There, but overall, seems to not have the right idea of what to say about the life of Bob Dylan, or at least, present it in a manner that’s intriguing to those who may not already know enough about him to begin with. But hey, good thing they paid for them royalties!

5 / 10

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Comingsoon.net

The 33 (2015)

Above ground is cool with me.

In August 2010, 33 Chilean miners, most of whom, were down-on-their-luck and needed the money the job provided, began work in the San José mine. Despite there being warning signs that the mine may not be all that stable and may, sooner than later, come toppling down, the owner of the mine turns his head the other and demands that work be done. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The mine ends up collapsing, leaving all 33 miners trapped and without any contact with the outside, or all that much food and/or water to keep them alive, well, and for the most part, sane. The miners’ families are all grief-stricken and want answers immediately; the same kind of answers that the shady mining company, aren’t willing to provide. Instead, everyone has to rely on the power, strength, and influence of the government who, through Minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), decide to get the ball rolling on having a drill blast through the mine, to get the miners out and back with their families. However, while all of this is going on, the miners are starting to lose all sorts of hope and sanity, which, as expected, tends to lead to some very tense, albeit dangerous situations.

Never too late to turn back around, fellas.

Never too late to turn back around, fellas.

It’s very difficult to dislike a movie like the 33 because, like so many other flicks, has its heart in the right place. It seems to be telling this true tale as a dedication to those brave souls who stand up against all the odds stacked against them and persevere. In this case, the 2010 Chilean mining disaster is the true tale recreated for sentimental value and honestly, if you have no clue what happened, to whom or anything about it all, then you may walk away from the 33 learning something new about life and feeling fine with your day.

However, if you, like myself, were there watching the news to see everything play out then honestly, it’s all going to be a pretty tepid recreation of events that were a whole lot more emotional to watch on actual, live television.

Except this time, everyone’s speaking in English.

Why? Well, because it’s clear that the people behind the 33 knew beforehand that people weren’t going to head to see the movie, had it all been in Spanish. So instead of actually sticking to the natural dialect that mostly all of these people here would be speaking, the movie calls on all of its actors, some of which aren’t one bit Chilean, to do accents that start as being distracting and continue on as being such.

And this isn’t to say that the cast here don’t do solid jobs, despite the accents, because they all do. Everyone seems as if they’re putting their 100% effort into making this hackneyed script, despite all of its inherent problems, work, as well as trying to get our minds past the fact that such actors like Bob Gunton, Juliette Binoche, and Gabriel Byrne, are trying to do Chilean-accents. None of which ever actually work or are believable, but the movie’s insistence on hoping that audiences come out to see the flick, can get quite annoying, especially when it seems to get in the way of what should have been a very powerful tale told on the screen.

But one of the main problems with the 33 is that with the true story being so recent, hardly anything here is a surprise. That’s why when you’re watching as these Chilean miners are losing their hard-hats and trying to get out of the mountain, there’s hardly any tension. We know how it all ends, and really, it’s kind of hard to care; the movie itself also doesn’t help itself out by not really delving deeper into these characters and making their personalities jump off the screen so that we’re rooting for them more and more.

The only member of the cast who at least gets some time to shine as one of the miners is Antonio Banderas as Mario Sepúlveda. Because Mario in real life was so electric and fun, it’s no surprise that Banderas himself seems to have fun with the role and is therefore, able to allow for himself to break away from the rest of the group. Everyone of the other miners, in all honesty, I wasn’t able to tell apart, except for a few character-traits or just what they looked like.

He's also "Super" apparently, too.

He’s also “Super” apparently, too.

The only exception to this was some dude named “the Bolivian”, and it was only because everybody else hated him.

For example, there’s an old guy, there’s a junkie who hates talking to his sister, there’s a guy who is going to be a father soon, there’s Lou Diamond Phillips playing some guy, there’s Oscar from the Office playing a guy with two wives, and last, but not least, there’s some dude who dresses up and sings like Elvis. There’s at least ten or more characters here that I haven’t even touched upon, but you get the picture; it’s hard to ever get a clear picture of who is who in the cave. And not just because it’s all dark and gloomy, but because none of them seem to have any actual personality-traits other than what’s on the surface.

Don’t get me wrong, the 33 is still a perfectly serviceable movie that you could most definitely take your grand-mom to. It’s inoffensive and despite a few sex jokes aimed at women, the movie doesn’t do much to really be playing for the more mature, adult crowd. What it wants to do is tell this story and leave it at that. While I wouldn’t say they did a perfect job at doing, there’s also the feeling that perhaps the movie wasn’t trying to achieve any sort of greatness. Maybe with it being Oscar season and all, I’m expecting so, so much more, but oh well.

Consensus: The 33 has plenty of distracting elements working in it (the miscast actors, the poor script), but is just okay enough that you’d watch it, not hate yourself, and then forget about it as soon as you left the theater. Taken into consideration, of course, that you didn’t already know the real story of the Chilean miners going in.

5 / 10

"Don't lose hope, man. We've still got another hour of this movie to fill."

“Don’t lose hope, man. We’ve still got another hour of this movie to fill.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Miss You Already (2015)

MissposterHug your bestie and never let go.

Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends for as long as they can remember. They were both there for each one’s first kiss, first bout with sex, and basically, everything else. So it would make sense that Jess is there for Milly when she gets diagnosed with breast-cancer, right? Well, yes, definitely. Problem is, Jess has a bit of a problem in her own life and it features getting pregnant with her husband (Paddy Considine) before heads-off for a few months to an oil rig. Still though, as hard as she might, she tries to be there for Milly, even while she’s going through this painful, and obviously scary time in her life. Because together, even though they may both be sad, they’re never lonely and find ways to make the other feel better; not just about themselves, but about life in general. That’s why when Milly starts acting-out in un-Milly-like ways, Jess is surprised and, at the same time, angry and doesn’t know what to do. Not to mention that, after many times of trying, she’s now pregnant and doesn’t want to tell Milly because she feel as if it might make her feel worse than she already does.

They were together for what appears to be a birthday.

They were together for what appears to be a birthday.

It’s obvious that Miss You Already’s intentions are good. Everything from the message, to the characters, to the plot-line, and hell, especially to the humor, everything about Miss You Already is so clearly not trying to offend anyone who has either had cancer, known someone else who has, or lost someone to it. Therefore, a lot of the promotion for Miss You Already, as well as many other “cancer comedies” (I hate using that phrase, but somehow, it’s become a thing), has been hiding the fact that the key character in this movie, does in fact have cancer. This isn’t because the producers and creators behind this flick are embarrassed because of it – but because they know that it’s very hard to sell a movie about cancer as is, let alone, a light-hearted one.

As I said though, Miss You Already has good intentions flying right out of itself, but at the end of the day, those good intentions aren’t used on anything except a bunch of a lame-gags that try to cover up the fact that this subject material is downright depressing.

And it’s not like the comedy aspect of telling cancer stories doesn’t work. Take 50/50 for instance – what that movie does so brilliantly is that it not only goes deep and dark with the terrible realities cancer provides, but also show that there’s some fun and humor to be had in the situation as well. However, that movie’s humor was more based on the actual characters themselves, their reactions and, in general, they’re day-to-day livings. Miss You Already is less subtle than this and instead, feels the need to endlessly barrage us with half-baked jokes because, well, they don’t want everything to be so serious.

Once again, I’m not saying that movies about cancer, should not at all feature comedy, but it does have to be done in the right way to where it feels necessary to telling the story; to just have it around as a way to break-up the tension, isn’t suitable. And the main problem with Miss You Already, is that it never actually realizes that it not only can get by on not having any comedy in it whatsoever, but actually isn’t all that funny, either. But because nobody ever finds this out, the movie feels more obnoxious, than actually heartfelt; for every sad character revelation, we get a scene or two dedicated to the characters yelling and shouting gibberish because, uhm, comedy?

I’m still not sure, but either way, it wasn’t working.

Which is to say that Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette’s on-screen chemistry, doesn’t work much, either. Collette, as usual, is clearly down for every journey this movie takes her and it works well in helping to develop this character. While it seems that early-on, the movie may try to hide away any fact that the person with cancer may actually be not the most perfect human being on the face of the planet, surprisingly, it doesn’t and much rather, shows just how selfish and sometimes manipulative Milly can be. This is where Collette’s performance works best, as we’re supposed to know that we should care and sympathize for her, but because she’s acting like a bit of an a-hole, it’s actually pretty hard.

As well as for a wedding.

As well as for a wedding.

Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, doesn’t quite fare as well on her own. For one, she seems oddly miscast; while the character she’s called onto play is supposed to be a sweet, sincere gal that cares for Milly and all those around her, for some reason, her own personality seems lost in the shuffle. I’m not saying that Barrymore can’t play this kind of role, but because it’s so limited to her just being “Milly’s friend”, it sort of feels like all of her development was left by the wayside because, well, one has cancer and she deserves the most attention. Nothing wrong with this, either, but considering that most of the flick is being told from Jess’ perspective, it’s rather difficult to ever care for her, or what she’s up to.

Due to this, Barrymore and Collette’s chemistry doesn’t work so well. It seems as if Miss You Already was literally the first time these two had met and rather than doing any sort of cooling-down, or ice-breaker for the two, director Catherine Hardwicke just decided to have them meet for the first time, on the set and act as if they were lifelong besties. Had these characters been the actual opposite, then that method probably would have worked, but whatever the method used here was, it doesn’t show any signs of helping because they never seem like best friends, nor do they actually seem as if they do any time relating to one another, or better yet, making us realize why they’re considered “best friends” to begin with. Most of the time they spend together, consists of Jess taking care of Milly and, occasionally, passing off an in-joke that nobody in the audience is ever supposed to understand.

Meaning, what’s the point of ever telling the joke to begin with? If we’re never going to get a chance to understand what the in-joke actually means, or where it comes from, then why the hell should we care?

Consensus: Miss You Already has its subject material’s best intentions at heart, but overall, seems like it’s trying so hard to be both, funny, as well as dramatic, that it loses any charm in the process that would have been vital to making the story hit harder.

5.5 / 10

Oh, and how could I forget that they were together for this unexplained, but seemingly happy moment together! What pals!

Oh, and how could I forget that they were together for this unexplained, but seemingly happy moment together! What pals!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Bugsy (1991)

BugsyposterBig-time gangsters need a little lovin’ too, people!

Benjamin “Don’t-Call-Me-Bugsy” Siegel was notorious for being one of the more profitable and powerful gangsters of his time. However, no matter how shady dealings he got involved with, no matter how many women he slept with, no matter how many people he killed, and no matter how much money he was able to gain, he still wanted to settle for a normal life, where he’d be able to come home to a loving, relaxing home where his kids, his wife, and their many nannies would be around, all having a great time. But it was a lot easier said then done, because of who Bugsy got in bed with – both literally and figuratively. On one hand, Bugsy was in business with the likes of Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), two notorious figures in the mob world, and on the other hand, had a lady that he could not stop falling head-over-heels for in Virginia (Annette Bening). Eventually though, Bugsy decides that he wants to open up a casino in Las Vegas, but because of the mess that is his personal life, it starts to leak into his professional one, which ends up impacting his life and putting his name in the history books.

"I ain't cryin'!"

“I ain’t cryin’!”

Ever since Goodfellas came around and hit the big screens, the gangster film sub genre shook up quite a bit. No longer did we have these slow-burning, dramatic stories about gangsters’ plight and emotional problems that they constantly have to get through. Now, the stories were quick-as-a-button, fast, and always compelling, even if the characters themselves weren’t the most morally responsible people around. That’s not to say that in the time from the Godfather, to 1990, that there weren’t any solid gangster flicks being produced – it’s just that most of them seemed to be rolling the same way, without any one’s in particular identity being singled-out from the rest of the group.

Bugsy is, despite coming out nearly a year after Goodfellas, feels like that same step back.

Which, I guess, is sort of the point. Director Barry Levinson and writer James Toback seem to want to adapt Bugsy Siegel’s story in the same vein as a film would have been made back in the 1920’s. That is to say, everything looks great, sounds great, and feels great, but really, at the center of it all, isn’t all that much to really get involved with. It’s as if Levinson and Toback set out to make a party-of-a-flick and just like an actual party, when the alcohol dries up, the band ceases, and everybody leaves to get on with their real lives, there’s nothing really worth holding onto other than the good time everyone just had.

Bugsy, the movie, feels like the party ended awhile back and now we have some dude moping around and whining about he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because, well, he’s a gangster. However, he’s not just any gangster; he’s the violent one who goes around, shooting and killing people for supposedly robbing him, in front of dozens of others. And this isn’t a problem; that Bugsy is a bad guy who goes around, making shady dealings with all the more shady people, killing whoever he needs to kill, screwing whatever dames he sees fit, and earning as much money as humanly possible, makes the film something of an enjoyable watch.

But the fact that the movie tries to make Bugsy out as some sort of sympathetic figure, doesn’t really work. Not because it’s a disservice to this character in the first place, but because it never feels right or genuine. It’s as if Levinson and Toback were so entranced with the legend of Busgy, that they forgot that maybe all of those people he killed, probably didn’t always deserve it. Still though, we hardly ever see the movie trying to make an actual flawed human being out of Bugsy – he’s still just a dude who makes a lot of money, cheats on his wife, and kills whoever gets in his way of more money.

You know, what we always want with our nice guys.

This is all to say that because Bugsy himself is so unlikable and morally reprehensible, no matter how hard he tries to go “legit”, makes the movie feel like a bit of a slog. We get countless scenes where Bugsy seems to be doing certain things that only benefit himself and honestly, it’s hard to ever care; though we know how the story ends, there’s still no tension or anticipation in how he makes these deals come to fruition. We’re just sitting around in our underwear and Cheetos-covered t-shirts, watching as some handsome ladies-man make more money than we can ever dream of.

Just pull the trigger already! Make things interesting!

Just pull the trigger already! Make things interesting!

Is it ever fun to watch? No.

Should it be? Well, as Scorsese showed us, it sure as hell can be.

And even despite the cast’s many attempts, Bugsy never materializes to being much other than just a biopic with limited heart and humanity. Warren Beatty fits perfectly as Bugsy, but also seems like he’s doing the same kind of role he’s inhabited before, except this time, just as a notorious figure in mob history. Annette Bening seems to be having fun as Virginia, Bugsy’s lover, and actually steals a few scenes away from the rest of the dudes around her. It’s probably no surprise that Beatty and Bening share wonderful chemistry here, but really, they’re what saves this movie; you believe every second that they have together. Whether it’s fighting, banging, loving, and/or talking, you believe that these two would fine one another, fall in love and try to make ends meet for the rest of their days together.

Though I think Bening and Beatty’s real life love story will have a better ending than it does here.

Consensus: Despite it looking, sounding and featuring pretty people, Bugsy never makes a strong enough case for giving its subject a two-hour-long biopic with the heart and compassion of a rock.

5.5 / 10

Nice car. Nice guy. Nice, aw who cares.

Nice car. Nice guy. Nice, aw who cares.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Sahara (2005)

Being in the desert is hot enough, but having Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz together might make things melt.

Master explorer Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his goofy sidekick, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), are two dudes that have known, explored, and been through everything else in the world together. However, this next mission they’ve come upon, may be their hardest one yet, and it gets even worse once a doctor, Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz), climbs aboard for the ride to find a fabled coin linked to a historical legend, as well as stop the African waters from being poisoned by corrupt government-officers. But for Pitt and Giordino, it’s all fun and games, and just another chance for a wild adventure.

Here’s one of those movies that will always remain in infamy, but not for the reason those behind it may have wished for. The movie debuted nearly a decade ago and did pretty well. It debuted at #1, got an audience, and had McConaughey and Cruz back on top of the action-adventure world like they wished, but here’s the strange kicker: It still lost money. In fact, it lost a crazy ton of movie.

See, even though it was leading the box office, it grossed only a bit over $16 million, which is fine for most movies. Then again, most movies don’t cost around $160 million to make, meaning that this movie was a total bomb in every sense of the word. Hell, even to this day, it still hasn’t made all of it’s budget back and whenever you have a movie like that, you have to wonder: Did it really deserve all of those problems?

Well, in this movie’s case, I’d say, “maybe”.

Then again, that’s not to say that the movie is all that bad to begin with, it just tries so damn hard to be something else, without ever being anything at all. A bit confused? Well, let me sort of explain it. Despite never reading the novels that this movie is adapting, from what it seems, there’s a fine mixture of James Bond’s tricks and gadgets, with the wit and swash-buckling adventure of Indiana Jones. That sounds like a pretty damn awesome combination, especially when you have a cast like this, but somehow, it all got lost somewhere in the fold. It wasn’t that the movie totally got rid of this cool combination, but instead, didn’t know which one to side with the most.

Instead of having all of the non-stop fun and action, the movie decides to focus in on a plot that not only makes barely any sense once it goes on and on, but also preaches a bit too much. Yes, polluted water in poor countries like Africa is no joke, and not something that should be batted-away as if it doesn’t happen, however, the movie focuses on it too much, to the point of where the fun of the movie seems to go away. Then, you get to the humor of the movie, which has some fun jokes here and there, but in all, seemed strange and oddly-placed. It wasn’t like the humor wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, it just did not come at the right times and moments.

Put those two elements together, you have a movie that doesn’t really know what to do with itself, so instead, just focuses in on the action and the hot bodies and looks of Cruz and McConaughey. And yes, the action is fun, and yes, the bods are hot and sexy (much like the desert they spend most of their time causing havoc in), but it doesn’t amount to much more other than a movie that aspires so hard to be something, that it’s too noticeable to take in as a piece of legitimacy. I know I may sound a bit too serious for a movie like this, but if I wanted to see Indiana Jones, I would just watch all three (except that last one) in one day. I don’t really care to see a carbon-copy of it, which not only tries to capture the same charm and humor that made those movies such a joy to watch, but also the action scenes that feel like nothing more than a way to get our minds off of the preposterous plot in our hands here.

I could only imagine how hot those babies would be.

I could only imagine how hot those babies would be.

Although, I must say that watching McConaughey and Cruz give off some dull performances was not all that enjoyable, especially since both of these stars are sometimes the best parts of other movies that they show up in. McConaughey’s charm seems to weave in and out of a character that has plenty of wise-cracks, but not much of a heart, which makes him less of a human, and more of a superhero with a pretty body and face. Cruz is also a tad dull, which is a shame, because when she’s enjoying her work, it’s always a blast to watch. However, since her character is a nice, sweet doctor that cares for other people, we don’t get to see much of it. She’s much more reserved here, and even she seemed bored by it. She was just waiting for THAT moment to start yelling out in Spanish, and throw everybody else around her into a deep frenzy of unknowings.

Now, that would have been fun to see.

Thankfully though, there’s one person to save this movie and that’s none other than one of the most underrated actors of our generation, Steve Zahn. Zahn gets all of the sarcastic remarks down perfectly, but also seems like a smart cat that knows what needs to be done next, and will stop at nothing to see it actually happen. He acts like a stoner and listens to classic rock, but he isn’t that brain-dead, which comes off as a surprise, since the whole movie tries to make him seem like that. However, Zahn knows better than that and makes the material so much better than what he was given. Poor guy. Still waiting for that one, big break.

One of these days, I assure you, it will happen, Stevey.

Consensus: Despite its infamous legend, Sahara is an okay watch portrays hot people, doing hot things, in even hotter locations, even if none of it really adds up to a spectacular movie.

5 / 10

Saving the movie; one baseball-cap at a time.

Saving the movie, one baseball cap at a time.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Crimson Peak (2015)

Sisters always know best.

Young author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is destroyed by the news of her father’s death. So much so, that she’s left without anyone to really care for her and take over her day-to-day doings. That’s when the strapping young lad from England known as Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), comes around and sweeps her off of her feet. While Edith is initially hesitant to hook up with Sharpe, she eventually gives in and starts to see him for all that he is. While he is maybe too tied and dedicated to his older sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), she soon realizes that it’s just because they have an inseparable bond that cannot be tied or broken. But Edith begins to get more curious about the history that the Sharpe relatives have and, in ways she least expected to, finds out certain things that are quite shady and surprising. Add on the fact that she seems to be constantly followed around by a creepy-looking witch, Edith has a lot to be worried about. But it’s ultimately up to her to figure out whether or not she’s going to make it out this situation, knowing everything she needs to in order to stay alive.

Oh, Mia. Lighten up already!

Oh, Mia. Lighten up already!

Like I’ve said before, Guillermo del Toro is not someone I love. While I do appreciate the fact that he puts a fine amount of thought into his pieces, overall, they tend to feel as if they’re so reliant on how beautiful they look, that when it comes to actually giving an effective story, he sort of chucks it all out the window. While he’s definitely interested in keeping his audiences compelled by every move he makes, he also doesn’t forget that he’s got a lot of pretty things to show-off for the whole world to see and be amazed by. While that’s worked for del Toro before in much better, well-told movies, Crimson Peak pales in comparison because there really isn’t much to the story other than just, “Yeah. Old-looking, English mansions can be spooky”.

And that about sums up the movie.

Although, to be fair, Crimson Peak isn’t without its strengths that make it a worthy affair to sit through, even when it seems to be treading water so much, that you wonder if it even had a story to begin with. As expected, it’s a very pretty, albeit scary-looking film. To say that the large, but old-timey mansion is its own character in the movie, is a total cliché; however, in this movie’s case, it’s the actual truth. As soon as Edith and the Sharpe relatives end up in this manor, the movie all of a sudden becomes more of a haunted house-feature that appreciates how dark the halls are, and how most people can’t tell what’s making that noise so late in the night. Del Toro loves to freak his audiences out and while the movie may not be all that scary, it still keeps you interested in what the mystery at the dead-center of the flick may be. Even if the actual reveal itself doesn’t deliver much on the promise, it still will keep you on-edge for a good portion.

Then again, this movie also got a huge problem in that it’s so slow and meandering, it doesn’t seem as if it’s going anywhere, anytime soon. While it’s fine that del Toro tends to take his time with his stories, so that he can develop characters, as well as their relationships with one another, so to create a more powerful effect when all goes South in the latter-portions, here, it seems like he’s taking too much time to get anywhere at all. Though it’s obvious he’s setting the movie up for a big, awfully creepy reveal at the end, the time it takes to hint at that, to when it actually gets there, is so long apart, that they almost feel like sequels to one another.

This wouldn’t be such a problem, either, had the characters been all that interesting to watch and see be fleshed-out, but they too feel stiff and boring.

Is it weird that they supposedly dated in real life?

Is it weird that they supposedly dated in real life?

Mia Wasikowska’s Edith may seems like the different kind of female protagonist we get in these kinds of movies, but after awhile, she just seems to fall back asleep and not really build this character. Tom Hiddleston is creepy as Thomas for a good portion of the movie, but because del Toro hints at something more complex and sweet about him, there’s a feeling of expecting more and we don’t really get it. And also, Charlie Hunnam shows up as one of Edith’s childhood friends from back home and feels like he just showed-up on the set, not just because he could, but almost as a favor to del Toro (they worked together in Pacific Rim).

The only one out the cast who seems to be enjoying the most of their time here is Jessica Chastain, in a surprisingly very campy, over-the-top performance. In the past few years since she’s become a big name, Chastain has been known to play these very serious, overly-dramatic characters that never seem to crack a smile, let alone know what an actual smile is; that’s not to say she isn’t a good actor in these kinds of roles, it’s just that it feels like she’s too stern and straight-faced, that it’s hard to imagine that she’s get anything resembling a personality deep in there. But as Lucille, she gets a chance to show just how wild and weird she can be, and can sometimes even elevate the movie to her standards. While it’s nice to see del Toro write a strong female character, it’s also nice to see him write one that isn’t trying too hard to be the heart and soul of the story – mostly, Lucille is the villain of the story and she’s a hard one to turn away from.

Which is, yes, a problem when she’s more interesting to watch than your protagonist.

Consensus: Crimson Peak may boast scary, gothic-y visuals, del Toro’s story never seems to take-off to the point of where it’s ultimately engaging or tense to watch play-out.

5.5 / 10

Turn away now!

Turn away now!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hannibal (2001)

Should have just let him eat whoever he wanted to eat.

Ten years after getting away from practically everybody involved with law enforcement, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is enjoying his time, relaxing, looking at fine art, and walking through the breezy, lovely streets of Florence, Italy. Meanwhile, back in the states, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is stuck in a bit of a pickle in which a drug-bust went incredibly wrong and violent – leaving the FBI to have to clean up the mess. But because Lecter can’t keep his appetite for Clarice down, he decides to send her a letter, which then leads her to start her own investigation into finding exactly where Lecter is. However, Clarice isn’t the only one. Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) is also on his own search for an art scholar who goes missing, which may lead him to stumbling upon Lecter and having to decide whether he wants to arrest the man, or bring him in for a healthy reward granted by deformed billionaire, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). The reason for Verger’s reward, is because he is one of Lecter’s last survivors around, and has the face, body, and voice to prove it.

Ew.

Ew.

So yeah. The Silence of the Lambs is, was, and will forever be, a great movie. There’s no way of getting around that. And as is usually the case when you’re trying to recreate some of the same magic from a precursor that’s as legendary and iconic as that movie was, the odds are not in your favor.

Such is the case with Hannibal, the sequel to the Silence of the Lambs, that came out nearly ten years later, starred someone new as Clarice, and had a different director.

Granted, Anthony Hopkins is still around and if you’re replacing the likes of Jodie Foster and Jonathan Demme, with Julianne Moore and Ridley Scott, then not everything’s so bad. But honestly, if there was ever a reason for a sequel to not exist, it’s shown here. That is, after the first ten minutes in which some of the creepiest, most disturbing opening-sequences ever created, transpire and bring you right down to the level of knowing what to expect from the rest of the movie.

And the rest of the movie for that matter, is also pretty creepy. Because Scott is such a talented director, he’s able to make almost each and every shot feel as if it came right out of an art exposition itself and add a sense of eeriness, even if we’re literally watching a scene dedicated to two people just sitting around in a darkly-lit room, whispering about something, and not doing much of anything else. There’s a lot of scenes like that in Hannibal, and while it’s hard to really be excited by any of them, Scott tries his hardest to add a little more pizzazz and energy in any way that he can.

But it still doesn’t escape the fact that the movie’s still uneventful.

Sure, people are shot, killed, ripped-open, eaten alive, sliced, diced, and chewed-on, but is any of it really exciting? Not really, and that’s perhaps the movie’s biggest sin. The first flick may have been a dark, serious and chilly thriller, but there was still a bunch of excitement to the madness of tracking down Wild Bill, nabbing him, and taking him; while it took its time, there was still a feeling of tension in the air. That same tension isn’t really anywhere to be found here, even if the same feeling of general creepiness is – though it only comes in short spurts.

Most of this has to do with the fact that, despite there being maybe three-to-four subplots going on, there isn’t anyone that really grabs ahold of you and makes you want to watch it as it unfolds. Once again, Clarice is on the search for Dr. Lecter, but because there’s another story that runs along the same lines going on, it doesn’t actually seem all that important. Sure, she’ll get her arch-nemesis, but at the end of the day, does any of it really matter? The dude’s off the streets and not eating people anymore, but does that mean the killing is done once and for all?

This is a point the movie seems to bring up, but never actually go anywhere deeper with. Instead, it’s more concerned with seeing how many times Dr. Lecter can fool people into thinking that he isn’t a mean, sadistic, and brutal cannibal. In fact, hearing that, I realize that these scenes should be somewhat fun, if not, totally hilarious. But they aren’t. Instead, they’re just drop dead serious, grim, and uninteresting.

Stop saying her name!

Stop saying her name!

And that’s about it.

The cast does try their hardest, however. Hopkins, as usual, fits into the role of Lecter as if he never left it to begin with. He’s weird and off-putting, but at times, can also be incredibly suave and charming, especially when he’s speaking of disemboweled bodies. But, at the same time, we are getting a lot more of him, which means that it can seem to be a bit of overkill; whereas the first movie featured nearly 15 minutes of screen-time devoted to Lecter, Hannibal features nearly an-hour-and-a-half of him, which means that his act can get a bit old and stale as the time rolls along. Especially since, you know, he isn’t really growing as a character – he’s still killing, conning, and eating people, the way he always did.

The only difference now is that he’s a lot more laid-back than usual.

And though she tries, too, Julianne Moore really does have all the odds stacked against her playing this role that was definitely made a lot better, and more famously by Jodie Foster. Though Moore seems to be still playing into that same kind of ruthless aggression and dedication that Foster worked well with, it’s hard to get past the fact that she’s playing the same character, but it not being Foster. Ray Liotta shows up and, of course, plays a crooked cop that seems like he has nobody’s best intentions at heart and is fine, but once again, what else is new?

The best of the rest, though, is an absolutely nonidentical Gary Oldman as the disgusting and vile-looking Mason Verger. From the beginning, it’s difficult to recognize that Oldman is even in the movie (mostly do the ugly, but impressive make-up and costume job done to him), but after awhile, it’s obvious that it is him, and the performance works wonders from then on. Despite being able to only use his eyes and voice for his character, Oldman still gives off an deceitful feel that helps make it clear that, if the film was just about him and Lecter sparring-off in a duel of wit and evilness, then it would probably be better.

But sadly, that is not what we get and instead, we’re left reaching for our copies of the Silence of the Lambs.

Consensus: Despite trying its hardest, Hannibal cannot quite reach the same creepily entertaining heights as its predecessor and feels more like a waste for each of the talent involved.

5 / 10

It's okay, Jules. We feel the same way.

It’s okay, Jules. We feel the same way.

Photos Courtesy of: Screen Musings

Gossip (2000)

These 21st Century kids make millennials look like babies.

Sex, deception and rumors run wild amongst a group of university students and roommates when Derrick (James Marsden), Jones (Lena Headey) and Travis (Norman Reedus), collaborate on their new journalism class assignment: Identifying the link between news and gossip. But when their class project goes frighteningly out of control, it puts friendships, the future, and their lives, in total jeopardy.

Looking at Gossip from afar, you’d expect it to be your normal, by-the-numbers teen-beat thriller that features a good amount of stuck-up, rich, good-looking kids all running around, drinking, having sex, getting crazy, and saying all sorts of mean, ugly things behind one another’s back. And considering that the film stars many actors/actresses who were, at the time, nearing-30, this makes the movie actually seem like a whole lot of campy, unintentionally-silly fun. And it sort of does, which is why it’s weird to see this being directed by Davis Guggenheim; someone who is most known for directing important, finger-pointing documentaries (An Inconvenient TruthWaiting for Superman).

Not even Kate can take James seriously with that cut.

Not even Kate can take James seriously with that cut.

Pretty odd, right?

Well, what’s even odder is that Guggenheim seems to take this material a whole lot more serious than it probably needed to be. But, like I expected, there’s something fun about the fact that it revolves so much around bullying and gossiping, and doing so in such a straight-faced, no-jokes manner. And because everybody’s a lot older than who they’re playing, it’s a lot more entertaining to be watching 30-year-olds go on and on about rumors of who cheated on who and where at.

One would expect a film titled Gossip, to be one hard-hitting morality tale on how people lie with their words, only to extract revenge on that other person for something they may have done, or to just see that person being talked about, feel pain and hurt. While they touch on that a bit in this film, it’s never materialized into being anything more meaningful or smart. Instead of actually digging deep into how gossip affects us everywhere we go (jobs, media, relationships, etc.) the film takes a left-turn to silly land and becomes a “he said, she said” argument that’s not nearly as smart or as defined as it may think it is. You have to give points to the movie for at least trying, but for the most part, I just wanted them to go back to the screwing, drinking, partying, and gossiping.

Then again, who doesn’t want to watch teens do that for an-hour-and-a-half?

Like I said before, too, the cast is filled with all sorts of recognizable faces who, in plenty of other work, show that they’re more than willing to do great things with the material given to them. However, because everything is so cheesy here, they’re sort of limited to just having to go through the motions. Even if, you know, some do try to step apart from the rest of the group.

Still Pacey, bro.

Still Pacey, bro.

That one, key performance would probably have to be from James Marsden, playing some asshole named Derrick. Marsden is a good-looking guy; there’s no doubting that, no matter who you are, what’s your sexual orientation, or what your taste is. Where Marsden works well with here is that he plays against that fact and shows that, yes, while he may be awfully handsome, there’s not much more to him than that. He’s rude to girls, treats them like used-tissues, and will, on more than a few occasions, make himself feel better regardless of how it makes another person feel. Yes, he’s so deuchy and annoying, that it makes Marsden’s performance all the better and more enjoyable to watch because he’s not backing down from it one bit. Sure, it’s hard to imagine what sorts of wonders Marsden could have done with a better movie/character to work with by his side, but for what it’s worth, the dude gave all that he could.

And what else could you ask for?

That’s why when I look at everybody else in the cast, while I’m initially impressed, I see them in the film and it’s a bit of a disappointment. Nobody, much like with Marsden, is given all that much to do, so they’re sort of just left with being around and servicing a lackluster script. Lena Heady is most definitely pretty, but her character is flat and seems like she’s in a whole other movie completely; the incredibly talented Norman Reedus is fine as the art-weirdo that seems to be a bit too obsessed with all of this gossip-talking, but seeing what he does now on TV, really makes me think that this type of character doesn’t really suit him totally well; same goes for Joshua Jackson who, with the Affair, seems like he was primed and ready for a good role to come his way, he just wasn’t getting it just yet; Kate Hudson despite not being around nearly as much as she should is good in a rare dramatic role as the rich girl, Naomi, because the verdict is never fully out on whether this character is as good of a girl as she says she is, or is as raunchy and vindictive as others say, too; and Eric Bogosian seems so randomly-placed here that it’s actually pretty awesome. He definitely took this as a nice paycheck gig, but still: When was the last time you could say you saw Eric Bogosian in the same film as Cyclops, Daryl, Pacey, and Cersei?

Never! So yeah, see it for that, if anything else.

Consensus: Gossip wants to be, at certain points, a trashy, over-the-top and wacky teen-thriller, while at others, wants to be a melodramatic, soap-opera-y message movie about the affects of false rumors and never makes perfect sense of either, but is still occasionally entertaining to watch because of the cast involved.

5 / 10

Teenagers. Literally never get old.

Teenagers. Literally never get old.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Holiday (2006)

It’s always those attractive celebrities who need the most love during the holidays.

Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are both women who seem to be going through the same sorts of problems, even though both live in different countries. The former is from London, and had an affair with a man (Rufus Sewell) who has just recently gotten engaged; whereas the later is L.A.-bound and has a boyfriend (Edward Burns) who cheated on her. They both feel hopeless and upset, and with it being the holidays, they have no clue what to do next with their lives other than sit around, mope, and cry. However, Amanda has an idea that will also affect Iris: She wants to take a trip to London and Iris wants to take a trip to L.A. So the two concoct a plan where they’ll switch residencies for the time being and live in the other’s shoes. This all happens, but what surprises them both is how they end up meeting new people and, believe it or not, start striking up some romances of their own. Iris starts to see a film composer, Miles (Jack Black), whereas Amanda starts to hook-up with Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law). Both are happy and enjoying their time together, but the reality is that they’ll eventually have to get back to their real lives, and it’s something that may keep the relationship’s away from being anything more than just “some fun”.

She's attractive.

She’s attractive.

And honestly, that’s all there really is to this movie in terms of complications or tension. There’s no big twist thrown at the end to throw the whole plot and/or its characters into a whirl-wind of chaos, nor is there any sort of hurdle that these characters have to get over in order to make themselves feel fulfilled. It’s honestly just a bunch of hot-looking, attractive people, flirting, dating, smooching, sexxing, and then, oh wait, having to then come to terms with the fact that they’ll be living in separate parts of the world in a few days.

That’s it.

A part of me should be pleased that writer/director Nancy Meyers didn’t try too hard to make this movie anymore complicated than it needed to be. So rarely do we get movies that are literally about, what it’s about, and don’t try to stray too far away from that original-plot. So in that general aspect, Meyers does a fine job of giving the audience, exactly what they’re seeking for.

But at the same time, there still needs to be a bit more of a plot to make up for the fact that this movie is over two-hours long. However, it’s not the kind of two hours that flies on by because of the company the movie keeps; it’s every bit, every hour, every minute, and every second of two hours and 16 minutes, which is to say that it definitely needed to be trimmed-down in certain areas. The main which being the scenes that Iris has with her older neighbor (played by the late, great Eli Wallach). Don’t get me wrong, these scenes are nice, charming, and sweet, but as a whole, they don’t really add much to the final product; we just sort of see that Iris is a kind, loving and caring gal that’s nice to old men.

Once again, that’s it.

The scenes that she has with Jack Black’s Miles, tell more about her, her personality, and the kind of lover she is – the scenes she has with Wallach, thankfully, do not. However, Winslet, as usual, is as lovable as she’s ever been; it certainly helps that Iris is a strong-written character to begin with, but it also has to do a great deal with the fact that Winslet can handle both the comedy, as well as the more dramatic-aspects of the script, whenever she’s called on to do so.

He's attractive.

He’s attractive.

Diaz herself is quite fine as Amanda and also does the same as Winslet does: She balances out both the heavier, as well as the lighter material well enough to where her character stays consistent with the movie’s emotions. It’s not a huge shocker to know that I’m not a big fan of Diaz, but she’s actually quite enjoyable to watch here, because she doesn’t always over-do her act. Her character may be a bit stuck-up, but that’s the point; to see the cracks and light in her personality shine through, makes her all the more likable and sympathetic, regardless of where she comes from.

But this isn’t just a lady’s affair, because the men who do show up, also give their own, little two cents to make the Holiday work a bit more than it should. Black isn’t as grating as he usually is, and Law, the handsome devil that he awfully is, also shows certain layers deep inside of a character that could have probably been as dull as a box of hammers. Thankfully, he isn’t and it helps the relationship that his character and Diaz’s strike-up.

Problem is, though, it’s that run-time.

Also, not to mention that the movie doesn’t really make any reason for its existence. There are a few occasions where it’s funny, but for the most part, it’s just particularly nice. Nice does not mean “funny” – it just means that the movie can be seen by practically all audiences, regardless of age. Nancy Meyers always makes these sorts of movies and while they may not necessarily be lighting the world on fire, they’re just pleasant enough to help any person watching, get by. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, a kid, an adult, a senior citizen, gay, straight, bisexual, married, single, widowed, engaged, in a “it’s complicated“, or whatever. All persons from all walks of life can enjoy a Nancy Meyers movie.

That alone does not make them amazing pieces of film – it just makes them accessible.

Consensus: With a likable cast and fluffy-direction from Nancy Meyers, the Holiday is fine to watch and relax to, even despite it being way too long, and feeling as such.

5.5 / 10

Aw, bloody hell! They're all attractive!

Aw, bloody hell! They’re all attractive!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Patriot (2000)

Ah. The good old days of when people could actually trust in Mel Gibson to save the day.

During the American Revolution in 1776, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a veteran of the French and Indian War, declares that he will not fight in a war that is not his own. However, his oldest son (Heath Ledger) thinks differently and decides to enlist himself. Though Benjamin is upset with this decision, he knows that it is up to his son to make his own decisions and to be able to live with them, just as he has done with his own. But one fateful night, his son comes back, bloody, beaten-up, battered, and in need of some shelter; Benjamin, obviously, gives it to him, thinking that this will be the last time his son sets out for battle ever again. But Benjamin is proven wrong when, early the next morning, the British come looking for him and want to take his son away. Obviously, Benjamin is against this, as well as the rest of his family, which is when one of his young sons is shot and killed. This is when Benjamin decides that it’s time to quit being a pacifist and to pick up his sword, his gun, and his tomahawk, in order to extract some revenge, the good, old-fashioned way, baby!

Evil.

Evil.

Obviously, seeing as how this is a film from Roland Emmerich, I wasn’t expecting there to be any sort of complexity involved with the occasion. However, what’s different about the Patriot, apart from most of Emmerich’s other movies, is that it seems like he’s actually trying to make this an emotionally-gripping, detailed-story about how one man fought for the love and honor of his family, even when all the odds were stacked-up against him. This, on paper, all sounds heartfelt and kind of sweet, but the way in which it plays out?

It’s the furthest thing from.

For one, as soon as Gibson’s Benjamin Martin picks up his tomahawk, it’s go time right from there. People are shot, decapitated, split-open, spit-on, bled-out, and all sorts of other lovely actions involved with war. To be honest, I’m not one to back away from a movie that contains an awful lot of violence (especially when the violence is as graphic as it is in a big-budgeted blockbuster such as this), but there’s something here that feels incredibly off about the whole movie, that put a sour taste in my mouth.

Because, to be honest, it doesn’t seem like Emmerich gives much of a hoot about whether or not Benjamin actually feels fulfilled when every Redcoat is dead and gone away with; he cares more about how many people get killed, and in how many ways that make people go, “Aww yeah!”, or “Ooh!”. You can’t hate Emmerich for wanting to please his audience, but you can hate him for trying to pass all of that death and destruction with something resembling a peaceful; it’s just stupid and feels ill-written.

But, if I did have to rate this movie as a summer blockbuster, it’s an okay one.

It sure as hell did not at all need to be nearly three-hours, but considering the huge budget it has to work with, it’s nice to see that, at one time at least, Hollywood was willing to put all of their money into a history epic that featured as much gritty and raw violence as a single season of the Sopranos. Though the violence is oddly thrown in there with an inspirational message about standing up for your rights and taking down those who take what means most to you, it’s still effective; through the many war-sequences, we get a certain feel for just how dangerous and hellish the battlefield was, without any bullshit thrown in there.

It’s literally just blood being shed, lives being lost, and more disturbing memories for the generations to come. If anything, that’s as deep and as far as the Patriot is willing to go with any life-affirming message. For the most part, it is, like I said, concerned with just showing how many people can get killed, in all sorts of graphic ways that may, or may not please people.

Naive.

Naive.

Depends on who you are, I guess.

Though the movie tries to dig deep into Benjamin Martin’s psyche, eventually, it just stops and allows for Mel Gibson to do the leg-work for them. Which was obviously a smart idea, because even though Gibson seems to be, once again, playing another man on the search for getting justice and revenge for the loss of a loved-one (see Braveheart and/or Mad Max), the role still fits him like a glove that it doesn’t matter how old it seems for him to be playing. He has that perfect balance of being just vulnerable enough to make you think that the odds could topple over him, as well as being just mean and vicious enough to make you think he could kill whoever he wanted, how he wanted to, and whenever he saw fit. It’s actually quite scary, but it’s the role Gibson’s worked well for as long as he’s been acting and it’s only gotten more dramatic as he’s gotten older.

A lot of other people show up here and seem to be trying on the same level as Gibson, but they’re sadly tossed-away once the movie decides it doesn’t have time for them to stretch their wings out. The late, great Heath Ledger, Rene Auberjonois, Joely Richardson, and Chris Cooper all seem to have shown up, ready for work, but they don’t have anything worthwhile to do. After all, they’re in a Roland Emmerich movie, and when was the last time when of them was actually about the solid performances on-display?

No seriously – when was that? Cause I sure as hell don’t remember!

And the main reason why I didn’t include the likes of Tom Wilkinson and Jason Isaacs in that last paragraph, is because they are sadly given the roles as “the British” here, which means they play, either, nonsensical idiots, or blood-loving savages. It would make sense why the British would have a problem with this movie to begin with, but it’s made all the worse by the fact that two immensely talented actors like Isaacs and Wilkinson were given roles, so limited in their development and scope, that even they couldn’t save them. Sure, they went through the motions and collected the nice, meaty paychecks, but is it really all that worth it?

Consensus: As a summer blockbuster, the Patriot is more violent and bloodier than you’d expect it to be, but also happens to be a Roland Emmerich movie, which means it’s basically all of that, and hardly any depth beyond.

5 / 10

Heroic.

Heroic.

Photos Courtesy of : Super Marcey, Rob’s Movie Vault, Popcorn for Breakfast

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