Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

Legend (2015)

Evil twin brothers aren’t just horror cliches, but actual, real life things?

Reggie and Ronald Kray (Tom Hardy) are literally identical twins who couldn’t be anymore different. Well, actually, that’s a lie. While they both handle themselves in certain public, as well as business situations differently, they both share the same love and need for violence, money and power. However, despite this shared interest, Reggie and Ronald don’t always see eye-to-eye. Reggie is the more calm, understated one of the two, whereas Ronald is clearly mentally-challenged, awkward and a nervous-wreck. While Reggie knows that his brother is a dangerous nut case to have around, he’s still, after all, his brother. That means that, no matter what idiotic, downright evil mistakes Ronald makes, Reggie always sticks to his brother’s side. Even though by doing so, it not only costs him respect, his marriage to his sweetheart Frances (Emily Browning), and his sanity, Reggie continues to stay at his brother’s side. Eventually though, all of this gets to be a bit overbearing for Reggie and it soon starts to ruin just about every aspect of his life; which isn’t something that’s happening to Ronald because, quite frankly, he’s not all that there to begin with.

That's Ronnie.

That’s Ronnie.

There truly is an interesting movie to be made about the notorious Kray Twins, and some of it can be found in Legend. While the movie runs 131 minutes, there’s at least an hour and five minutes of a movie that realizes it’s dealing with two ultra-violent, twisted gangsters who, believe it or not, just so happened to be identical twins. The other half of the movie, well, thinks it’s something a whole lot more serious and melodramatic which, really, it doesn’t need to be.

But before I go any further it should be noted that no matter where Legend goes, or what it tries to do, Tom Hardy is nothing short of amazing.

This may come as no surprise to anyone who has been seeing the evolution of Tom Hardy’s career as he’s went from small, British character actor, to huge, charismatic, fun and lively leading-man who’s not only great-looking, but also can command the screen. And as both of the Kray twins, Hardy is given the rough task of having to play two different characters, while simultaneously making us believe that we’re not just watching Tom Hardy act as twins and get past some of the camera-trickery that director Brian Helgeland pulls off. This is all made harder by the fact that, personalities aside, the only discernible physical traits that separate the two from one another is that Ronald wears glasses, and Reggie doesn’t.

But still, Hardy’s more than up to the challenge and making these characters feel entirely separate from one another. Though, perhaps what helps Hardy out the most is that Ronald is a whole lot more sadistic and over-the-top than Reggie, which means that Hardy has an absolute blast with this role. Every time Ronald’s in the movie, he’s constantly saying weird stuff, making everybody around him generally uncomfortable, and always making it seem like if someone were to say something that ticked him off ever so slightly, it would just set him off into a rage where anyone and everyone were in danger of losing their lives, or a limb with a hammer. Hardy makes this character, although fun and entertaining to watch, genuinely scary as you never know when the light in his head is going to set off.

This is also to say that Ronald, the character, is also all the more interesting and probably the best part of the movie.

Not only was he a gangster who was, in a day and age when this was never even talked about, openly gay, clearly mentally challenged, but at the same time, still sophisticated enough that he could handle on a conversation with just about anyone. Sure, those conversations tended to get weird and awkward, but they still shed some insight into just how this man thought and what he brought to the gangster world. Honestly, I wouldn’t have much rather seen a film about him, rather than been bothered so much with Reggie’s life, but sadly, this isn’t really the movie we get.

That's Reggie.

That’s Reggie.

Instead, we see Reggie’s life play out, as he not only meets the love of his life, gets married, and continues to try and stay alive and prosperous in the gangster world. It’s a pretty conventional story-line that most gangster flicks in the same vein and while it can sometimes work because Browning and Hardy are good together, here, considering the interest and excitement level there is Ronald, it tends to just bring the rest of the film down. Not to mention that we didn’t really even need a voice-over from Browning’s character practically the whole time, especially since she just tends to spell everything out that we can clearly see on the screen, happening in front of us.

But still, there are bits and pieces of Legend that are fun and show that Helgeland did set-out to make an entertaining gangster flick.

However, they’re mostly concerning Ronald, which makes just about everything that doesn’t concern him, uninteresting and seem like a waste of time. Not to mention that, like I said before, the movie is over two hours and starts to feel like it when the movie loses focus and instead, just wants to give us more scenes to sit, gaze and wonder how and why there is someone as talented as Tom Hardy in the movie world.

Which definitely is a good question to ask because, yes, Tom Hardy is a great actor and so is everyone else who pops up here. Paul Bettany, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccelston, David Thewlis, and Chazz Palminteri all show up to do their actorly things and make Legend appear to be more than just a huge showcase for the talents of Hardy. Once again, that’s fine and all, but why isn’t the movie better?

Consensus: There’s no denying that Tom Hardy is great and a force to be reckoned with in Legend, but there’s also no denying that the movie he’s in is a bit messy, boring, and most of all, uninterested in probably what would have made the movie more of a compelling watch.

6 / 10

And that's somebody that we don't really care about.

And that’s somebody that we don’t really care about.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

Does anybody in law enforcement love, or trust one another?

13 years ago, Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was an FBI agent who had to work a very tough case. His partner at the time, Jess (Julia Roberts), had a daughter that went missing and wound-up dead. Automatically, everyone and their mothers started looking for suspects and while Ray knew he had the guy, locked and loaded, for some reason, said suspect was freed. The reasons behind this are a bit shady, but it left Ray, as well as his partner, and a confidante/possible flame of his, Claire (Nicole Kidman), in some tough situations. Now, in the present day, Ray believes he knows where this suspect is, what he does and just how he can get him back into the slammer, where he’ll hopefully live out the rest of his days in a jail cell. However, because Ray isn’t a cop anymore, he has to go through some legal hoops and curves to ensure that he’s not only doing everything by-the-books as humanly possible, but also to keep this suspect in jail and for good this time. Searching for this suspect also allows for Ray to get back in touch with former confidantes of his and remind himself of what it was that he left all those years ago.

Shades of gray = present. None = past. Got it?

Shades of grey = present. None = past. Got it?

Despite the original, 2009 Argentinian film having won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film all those years, for some reason, I just never got around to seeing it. Though I knew an English-language, big, bright and shiny, American remake is in the works and was more than likely going to tarnish the legacy of the original, I still couldn’t sit myself down in front of a screen and actually watch the movie. Call it bad timing, call it me being lazy, call it what you will – sometimes, stuff just happens.

But regardless of all that nonsense, having now seen the English-language, big, bright and shiny American remake, I’ve still got that feeling of not only wanting to watch the original, but also see how good it actually was to win the Oscar all those years ago.

See, for one, Secret in Their Eyes isn’t an awards-caliber movie; despite there being a nice amount of solid performances from just about everybody on-board here, the movie never once seems like it’s trying to reach for that infamous gold statue once. And in a way, there’s something refreshing about that, especially in a time like now, where it seems like each and every film was created for the sole purpose of being remembered and touted during the early winter of next year. Sometimes, it’s best to just have a solid, well-acted, and relatively fine crime-thriller and leave it at that.

And that’s exactly what Secret in Their Eyes is. It’s not setting out to light the movie world on fire, nor is it trying to have you remember by the year’s end and everybody’s trying to remember their favorite movies of the past year; it’s just trying to tell its story, give you a jump or two, make you think, and have you go home, feeling as if you spent a solid time at the movie. Though there is definitely a feeling that, considering the talented cast and crew involved, there could have been a bit more added to the proceedings, there’s also the feeling that it’s also not a remake made for purely cynical purposes.

That Secret in Their Eyes is targeted towards a much more mature, older audience, already sets it apart from most movies out there playing right now.

What’s interesting about the film is that we actually get a sense of who these characters are, amidst all of the troubles and turmoils this case may be bringing. Though it is a tad difficult to figure out which year we’re in (Ejiofor’s beard’s color is usually the clue), we still get a sense, through the relationships and personalities these characters have, of who they were both before, as well as after this horrendous murder. The movie doesn’t try to dig too deep, but because these actors are so good at what they do, they’re given that extra push that probably wouldn’t have happened, had some lesser-actors been cast.

Of course I’m not going to name any names, but you get the picture.

And of course, with the story, there’s a lot going on that can, in some ways, be interesting, and sometimes, not so much. There’s a chase-sequence that happens in and around Dodgers stadium that is absolutely breath-taking and exciting to watch. There’s also, now that I think about it, a very neat interrogating scene both Ejiofor’s and Kidman’s characters that have them stretching out the whole “good cop/bad cop” cliche and doing something intriguing with it. And while I’m at it, there’s a few other scenes that are pretty cool to watch, but really, that’s about it.

Which is to say that a solid hour or so of this movie is really solid – problem is, it hits nearly two hours. That means there’s another hour of this movie that’s not quite up-to-par as the other half. Therefore, while watching the flick, I couldn’t help but tune-out. The mystery at the center, although a bit simple and obvious from the very start, doesn’t take as many times as you’d expect it to, all up about until the final act and there’s two twists that seemed a little silly for a movie like this that was, already, way too serious and stern with itself. Granted, had there been a third twist, I probably wouldn’t have gotten up and left the theater, but thankfully, they just left it at two – as odd as they may have been.

Oh no, Julia! A gun? So against-type!

Oh no, Julia! A gun? So against-type!

But really, the main reason Secret in Their Eyes works, is because the cast is so good. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Chiwetel Ejiofor does give, once again, a fine performance here, but there’s also something troubling about his character that I didn’t particularly buy. For example, there’s an arch surrounding his character which concerns his character, in something of a relationship with Kidman’s character; while we’re never too sure or not on whether they actually did anything intimate that would make them more than just office pals, the movie continues to hammer it into our brains that, you know, something could have happened.

Why? Because their attraction for one another is strong!

Well, the problem with Ejiofor and Kidman is that they don’t really have a chemistry together. If anything, throughout the majority of the flick, they feel like two people who just started working together at the same time and are just getting to know one another, slowly but also, steadily. This would have been a fine feeling in the “past” portion of the flick, but they still act like this together in the “present” part of the story and it’s weird.

Separated from Ejiofor, Kidman does a great job in a role that gives her plenty to do. While her chemistry with Ejiofor is, like I stated before, lacking, she still finds time and space to make sure that her own characters get built enough so that we have a feeling of just who the hell she is. And also, there’s Julia Roberts really dirtying herself up for a role that, although may seem like pure Oscar-bait, actually isn’t. In a way, it just feels like Roberts wanting to try something new and have the audience see her as this character, and not the beautiful celebrity that she is.

And considering that her husband is the one behind the camera, it makes sense that she looks every bit as anti-celebrity as she sees fit.

Consensus: While Secret in Their Eyes is, one-half a fine movie, and the other half is a bit mediocre, it still adds up to a solid crime-thriller that benefits largely from a talented cast.

6.5 / 10

What a love-triangle Chiwetel may hope he's involved with.

What a love-triangle Chiwetel may hope he’s involved with.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Night Before (2015)

Screw the eggnog! Roll up a fatty!

Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been best friends since high school. For the past ten years, in a way to keep in touch or what have you, they’ve decided to spend Christmas Eve performing all sorts of tasks and activities that, at one time, they thought were “fun” and “exciting”. Now though, they just seem tireless. Most of this has to do with the fact that both Isaac and Chris have, in ways, grown-up and moved on with their lives – for some reason, Ethan has not. Isaac is a soon-to-be-father and Chris is a famous athlete, whereas Ethan is still trying to make ends meet as a musician. This year, however, the tradition seems as if it’s getting a bit tired, Isaac, Chris and Ethan all plan to go harder than ever before. For one, they’ve got a crazy, Red Bull Hummer, not to mention that they’ve also received three tickets to a special party they’ve been wanting to get invitations to since forever. Now that they finally have them in their hand, they hang around and wait to see where this party is actually at, which then can also lead to them having at it with one another and revealing some truths about one another that, between besties, can always hurt.



One of the main issues surrounding the Night Before stems solely from the fact that it features not one, not two, not three and sure as hell, not four, but five writers working on it. In addition to writer/director Jonathan Levine and star Seth Rogen, there’s Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, are also here to work out the kinks in the screenplay and see what they can have work as “funny” or as “heartfelt”. Now, if this seems like maybe too many writers on such a small-scale flick, that’s because it is.

The Night Before is the classic case of a movie that, had it played it smaller and not really tried to incorporate so much else, could have really succeeded. Normally, it’s made up to the reviewer/critic to judge based solely on what’s presented on the screen, not what we wanted or expected, but with the Night Before, I can’t help but feel like there’s a missed-opportunity to be found here. While I was all on-board for a comedy-drama about these three pals getting together to enjoy Christmas Eve one last time, for some reason, the rest of the movie didn’t want to agree with me.

In fact, the strongest parts of this movie actually do come around once these childhood friends, start to get in each other’s faces, and let them know just exactly how they feel for the other person. Here is where the Night Before‘s writing is the strongest; rather than making us have to choose a side that we must agree with at all times, the movie just lets it all play out and not get in the way of the characters or their own, respective stories.

Granted, this doesn’t always happen, but when it does, there’s something engaging and smart about the Night Before that makes it seem like so much more than its publicity.

But the movie isn’t always like this, and it’s where the film bites off a bit more than it can chew, is where it began to lose me. For one, there’s literally a subplot concerning Anthony Mackie’s character searching for and chasing around a simple lay he had in a bar bathroom one night and now believes that she stole his weed. The movie plays this all out as some sort of joke and as much as I’d like to say that there were a few belly-laughs to be found here, none of which ever seemed to have much of an impact on me. Instead, I just wanted to hear and watch as these guys talked more and more about where they see their lives next and then start bickering just for the hell of it.

Apparently, they're not as happy at the lack of feelings being said, like I am. But still.

Apparently, they’re not as happy at the lack of feelings being said, like I am. But still.

There’s another subplot of sorts concerns Rogen’s Isaac who finally gets a time to break free from his pregnant wife and therefore, is allowed to do what he wants. This means that he gets high-as-hell on shrooms and always seems to imagine the people around him as some sort of mystical figure. It’s a silly subplot, but then there’s some more. Michael Shannon shows up as the guys’ go-to drug dealer and, though he’s actually quite hilarious, still feels like he’s in there just to take up more time or what have you.

Regardless, the cast all seems to be willing and able to try.

JGL has a perfect balance between sadness and charm that works on just about every gal and it’s great to see him give it his all, despite not liking her very much to begin with. As for Rogen, he’s funny and seems like he has to get home all of the time. And Anthony Mackie, being the stand-up guy that he is, gives his relatively conventional character a small bit of heart and personality that makes it easy for us to sympathize when it seems like all else is going South.

There’s plenty more, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Night Before wants to do so many things that, on paper, seem like they’re so exciting, and that they might possibly rip the rest of the world apart. The ending itself may be sweet and hint at the idea of sticking close to your friends until the end of time, there wasn’t nearly as many scenes dedicated to that. Instead, it’s worried about where Seth Rogen is accidentally going to puke next.

Consensus: Despite fine performances and a few bits of insight, the Night Before doesn’t feel fully-realized enough to make it all to work.

6.5 / 10

Ugly Christmas sweater party or not, who gives?

Ugly Christmas sweater party or not, who gives?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

A Knight’s Tale (2001)

KnightposterSir Lancelot always did prefer AC/DC.

Ever since he was a little boy, William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) has always wanted to be a knight and make something of his life. That’s why, when his master dies, William steps up to the plate and takes over his command; while this is obviously illegal to do, he’s going to get by on a phony name, as well as a certain type of skill in jousting. And after his first few matches, William, along with his fellow squire buddies (Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk), get the idea that maybe it’s time to take this career a little more serious. After all, they’re gaining so much fame and fortune, that why should they even bother to stop? And now it seems like William has caught the eye of a princess (Shannyn Sossamon) who shares quite the chemistry with him. However, in the eyes of the man she’s supposed to get married to (Rufus Sewell), this is clearly not something good, which means that he will take whatever steps necessary into not just defeating William on the jousting-field, but off it, too. This is where William’s past comes to light and has him wondering whether or not his father would be proud of what he’s become.

Don't mess with these folks. I guess.

Don’t mess with these folks. I guess.

The whole gimmick surrounding A Knight’s Tale is that, yes, it’s a medieval story taking place in the 1400s, which also happens to feature characters speaking in modern dialects, references to modern-day culture, and, perhaps most infamously, a whole ton of rock music. In fact, if one were to go into this movie, not knowing absolutely anything at all, they’d probably be shocked to all hell; once these medieval characters start suiting up and, randomly, War’s “Low Rider” begins to play, it seems so random and completely out of nowhere, that you can’t believe it’s actually happening. Is it a bad idea?

Well, given the context of this movie – not really.

What works best about A Knight’s Tale isn’t just that it features rock music to push itself further away from the rest of the medieval action sub-genre, but also seems to exist in its own goofy universe. Writer/director Brian Helgeland has a nice understanding of what sort of humor works in a movie like this, and it was a nice change of pace to get a medieval action movie that wasn’t always so serious, all of the time. Instead, it had humor, cookiness, and above all else, rock music!

And honestly, the first hour or so of A Knight’s Tale is where it’s probably where it’s most promising. The movie takes its time with its story, allows us to get a fine understanding of these sometimes silly characters, and for the most part, doesn’t take itself all that seriously. While Helgeland doesn’t ask the audience of too much, he still does a nice job in giving plenty of joy to the two types of audience members out there who would see this movie – there’s, of course, the popcorn-friendly members who care about lots and lots action, while on the other hand, there’s also those more sophisticated types who appreciate when a fine joke or two is worked into a scene. In a way, there’s a little something for everyone here and it was nice to see a blending as odd as this, actually work out well.

But then, about half-way through, A Knight’s Tale changes up its tune.

For one, it loses any sort of focus on what made it so exciting and enjoyable to watch in the first place: Its keen sense of humor. Are there still some funny jokes placed in throughout the rest of the flick? Sure, but they come so very few and far between, that it almost seems like Helgeland ran out of funny material to work with. So, much rather, instead, he decided to focus more on our protagonist’s childhood and his soon-to-be-love-life; neither of which are actually interesting, but I guess because, after all, this is his movie, we’re forced to sit through and watch his life unfold before our very eyes.

One element that helps, though, is that William Thatcher, our main protagonist, is played the late, but definitely great Heath Ledger who, even after all of these years, had that certain aura about him that’s hard to really deliver back on. For one, he was a great-looking guy that clearly got the ladies’ and gay men’s butts in the seat, but there was more to him than just the good looks. Ledger also wasn’t afraid to make himself seem like the butt of the joke in certain scenes, nor was he afraid to show off his fun and adventurous side, even if that meant he didn’t always get the chance to look as manly and as tough as some producers probably would have liked for him to be. Either way, it’s still a fine performance from Ledger and reminds us all why he was so great to begin with, but even looking back at it now, it does feel like a bit of a mediocre role to work with.

Then again, Ledger, as always, makes it work.

Alright. Going back to closing my eyes again.

Alright. Going back to closing my eyes again.

Gosh. How I miss him so.

And as for the rest of the cast, they’re all lovely and enjoyable to watch, but like I said, the movie starts to fall for convention and lose focus about half-way through, and it leaves most of these members with much to fully work with. Shannyn Sossamon’s princess character is a bit different from the rest, in that she’s actually equipped with something of a personality and seems to share actual, loving chemistry with Ledger; Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk do that Abbott & Costello act quite well here; Paul Bettany is charming here, as usual, playing the author who knows how to make anything mundane, sound terribly exciting; Rufus Sewell is, once again, playing the baddie; and there’s also an early performance from Bérénice Bejo, as the princess’ right-hand girl. Even though she doesn’t have a whole lot to do, it’s still nice to see where her career got started. And in some ways, a whole lot more interesting, too, considering that she’s been nominated for an Oscar in the subsequent years and most of the members of this cast haven’t at all.

Except for Heath. Of course.

Consensus: Though the anachronisms are fun and add a bit of sizzle to a relatively lifeless subgenre, A Knight’s Tale begins to fall into the same old trappings of a sports movie plot. Except, this time, it’s jousting we’re talking about here.

6 / 10

What a man.

What a man.

Photos Courtesy of: Upside Down MoviesAntonia Tejeda Barros, Mettel Ray

Enter the Void (2010)

People in rehab, don’t check this out.

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a young American currently living in Japan. We join him in his apartment just as he takes a hit of DMT, which provokes a long, hallucinogenic trip sequence. However, within the next few minutes, he is shot by police during a raid and his soul is left to roam about in the after-life as it goes from past, present, and future forms of Oscar’s life.

Gaspar Noe is not one of those directors whose pieces of work are meant to entertain you and/or make you happy. They are more or less the types of films you watch, by yourself, while sitting in deep and dark misery, by yourself, and are ultimately left to think about for days on end, by yourself. That’s why this movie, just like with the case of Irreversible, attracted me right from the start as I had no idea what to expect, what I was in-store for, and whether or not me or my insides would be able to handle all of this material. Thankfully, everywhere from my head, to my toes were able to handle Enter the Void.

But still, there were some close-calls.

The groundwork for a sweet and simple story is all here and ready to be completed, but there just isn’t any deliverance it seems like on Noe’s part. Instead, the guy seems more concerned with the style; it’s a smart decision on the guy’s part if not the wisest one. No matter how groggy or stupid this story may get (and trust me, it definitely gets that way, but more on that later), Noe’s direction always kept me alive, awake, interested, and constantly watching as to where it was going to end up next. Just like with Irreversible, Noe films this all in one-shot, or, at least that’s how he makes it seem with the invisible cuts that take place every now and then. It’s a gimmick, but ultimately, it’s a gimmick that works and makes this flick hard to turn away from.

Why the hell would I want to watch my sister getting boned in the after-life?!? There's gotta be a way to find Eva Mendez somehow.

Why the hell would I want to watch my sister getting boned in the after-life? There’s gotta be a way to find Eva Mendez somehow.

But yeah, it’s a beautiful flick and Tokyo couldn’t have been a better spot for Noe to film this deep, dark tale in. People who feel as if they got the real, inside scoop on the underground world of Tokyo just by watching Bill Murray and Scar-Jo roam about in their crisis-phases, haven’t seen anything yet until they see this movie. Every shot is filled with color, whether they be bright or dark and it’s the way that Noe is able to manipulate certain color schemes or patterns in a scene is where this flick will really mesmerize you as you feel like you know what each color in the flick means, but yet, you don’t care too much to think about it too deeply because it’s just so astounding to look at. It does look very CGI-ish, but it’s also the right kind of CGI that feels necessary to the story and isn’t just up on the screen to be flashy and/or showy.

As you can probably tell by my constant rambling and ranting, Noe’s problem isn’t that he isn’t an inspired-director – actually, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Noe seems to understand the type of vision and look he wants to give to every single scene in his movie and never steps away from showing us the gritty, disturbing aspects of it that would most likely turn movie viewers away from, right away. However, by the end of the movie, you’re going to feel like that’s all he has to offer.

The first hour of this film is probably where it’s at it’s best where we see this guy’s life, literally from his POV and we get a sense of who he is, where he’s come from, and how he’s become, who he is now; which, in this case, is just another druggie at the bottom of the sewage pipe-line. It’s fun, vibrant, exciting, and actually heartfelt considering we see and know everything there is to know about this guy in order for us to care about him and the setting he surrounds himself with. But by the time that first-hour clocks in and we are introduced to his soul and the adventure it takes, then things begin to shake up a tad bit.

And not in the good way, either.

There’s a part of me that thinks Noe had every notion to make a compelling and complete story about the afterlife, but that story just got lost in a vision that’s almost too much, for so little. The last 30 minutes of this film just continued to constantly beat me over-the-head with everything in it’s will-power and as much as I was game for that first hour where things were electric and wild, I was feeling like it was game over, long before the movie was ever actually over. There’s plenty of sex, drugs, nudity, and money-laundering that goes down in the first hour, but it felt necessary to the story; whereas the last hour or so, just felt like Noe went on over-drive and couldn’t stop himself.

Take for instance, the whole sequence where we get a long glimpse inside the infamous Love Motel the movie makes several references to throughout. We see people boning in some very graphic ways, as well as doing drugs and being naked, but yet, it doesn’t serve a purpose and just continues to go-on-and-on-and-on, until Noe finally woke up from his deep slumber of style and realized, “Oh crud! I have a story to tell!”. I highly doubt those were the words that went through his head, but still, it’s so damn obvious that the guy just lost himself in his own style, without even remembering why he was there in the first place. Enter the Void could have ended at any second and it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Heck, even when the guy did end the movie, not only is it disappointing, but it also makes no real sense.

Nowhere in the U.S. looks like. Only Tokyo, especially when you're on drugs.

Nowhere in the U.S. looks like this. Only in Tokyo, especially when you’re on drugs.

The idea of seeing the world you lived with and are leaving behind, definitely seems like the type of material that would have any person tearing-up and reflecting on their own choices, but that isn’t this film. Which is fine, of course, as it’s much more about the way that we look at death through the microscope of our own lives. With Irreversible, Noe at least got the style down, but the substance was what helped it work more. Here, we’re just given the style that makes you never want to take drugs ever again, nor make you want to have sex with more than one person at a time. Highly doubt that the flick was going for that at all, but it’s the type of effect I could see this movie having on the squares of society.

But if there’s anything else that Enter the Void gets across, it’s that, once again, Paz de la Huerta truly does love not wearing clothes.

Like, at all.

Even though it does make sense as to why she’s constantly in her birthday suit the whole time, it does get a tad ridiculous and annoying. I mean, hell, the she’s cooking breakfast with her lady-parts, basically! Throw some slacks on and step the hell away from the eggs! Huerta doesn’t really get much acting to perform, but she has a nice body and, if anything, I guess that’s got to count for something.

Consensus: Enter the Void is as crazy and wild as you’d expect from an auspicious auteur like Gaspar Noe, which can, for the most part, mean that the story is left on the back-burner for pretty-looking visuals and gimmicks.

6.5 / 10

Reminds me of myself after New Years. Minus the drugs, the gunshot, and the death.

Reminds me of myself after New Years. Minus the drugs, the gunshot, and the death.

Photos Courtesy of: CTCMR.com

Suffragette (2015)

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like much good has come of this.

During the early 20th Century, women in Britain were able to do a lot of things. They could work, get married, breed children, cook, clean, smoke, drink, and a whole bunch of other things that are most associated with living. However, the one, and perhaps, most important task that they could not, hell, were not allowed to do, was vote. Because of this, many women stood-up and let their voices be heard, spearheading the suffrage movement; it’s also the same movement that one woman named Maude (Carey Mulligan) doesn’t quite care for to begin with. For one, she knows that her job is valuable, her husband (Ben Whishaw) loves her, and that she doesn’t want to lose her, so she decides to just keep her mouth shut and move on. That changes one day, however, when she’s recruited by Edith New (Helena Bonham Carter) and brought to an appearance by the suffrage movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Now, Maude understands what the fight is all for, and although she risks not just her family, but her own life as well, she’s still very inspired to do the right thing and make sure that women are granted their given right.

"I wish I were a gal, too."

“I wish I were a lass, too.”

Like most other civil rights movies, Suffragette likes to point out just how ridiculous it was that a certain group of people couldn’t do something, because of an even more ridiculous ideology that, in hindsight, doesn’t seem to ever make much sense. In this movie’s case, the certain group is women, and the ideology is the right to vote; why women weren’t allowed to vote for so very long is based on pure sexism, but that’s about it. While it would have been one thing for the movie to dive deeper into exactly why so many British men/politicians thought that this idea was right, the movie doesn’t ever go for that.

Instead, it just focuses on a few stories of a few women who may, or may have not existed during this movement, but hey, that’s what movies are all for.

And honestly, the best parts of Suffragette are when it’s focusing on all the backlash these women received for making their voices heard. There’s something incredibly disturbing about watching a group of women getting beaten and clubbed by a group of policemen because they, “were felt as a threat”. There’s also the not-so violence backlash these women faced – whether it be through losing their jobs, their families, or being tossed aside from the rest of society as “trouble-makers” – it’s all sad, but serves a greater purpose to make the movie’s message go down a lot less smoothly.

But the problem with Suffragette is that it also deals with these women’s lives which aren’t all that interesting, if I’m being frank. Not to say that I had a problem with the movie trying to focus in on these character’s lives and show how they were affected by each and everything, but at the same time, it was still hard for me to wholly care when everything was laid out in such a conventional manner. Take, for instance, our lead protagonist, Maud, and her story; though I’m sure she shares her story along with many other women, hers, above all the rest, is given the most focus and attention because she doesn’t actually start out as a suffragist.

In fact, she was actually recruited into it all, and the hows and whys of that all, are probably a little more interesting than the character herself. Which isn’t to say that Carey Mulligan doesn’t do a solid job in this role, because she does, but still, it’s very much the same kind of Carey Mulligan performance we’ve seen her do a hundred times before, but in far more prettier clothes and wigs. She’s emotional, sad, and supposedly dirty and ragged, but somehow, her hair still finds a way to be in the right place at that right picture perfect time. Don’t worry, I’m not ragging on Mulligan for being beautiful, however, most of the movies that she does, can’t seem to help but pay as much attention to this aspect of her, and sort of put the rest of her versatility on the back-burner.

No matter how much pain or strife she goes through, that Carey Mulligan is always ready to make sadness, beautiful.

No matter how much pain or strife she goes through, that Carey Mulligan is always ready to make sadness, beautiful.

The only exception to the rule is, of course, Shame, for obvious reasons.

And everybody else here is fine, too, if a tad underused. Helena Bonham Carter seems like she had a more fun and fiery performance here, but is mostly just called on for some witty one-liners to deliver when the movie needs a joke to clear the air; Anne-Marie Duff is also fine, but it seems like her backstory and what her character goes through during the duration of the film, is actually more interesting than Maude’s, but hey, that’s just me; Ben Whishaw plays Maude’s husband and, as expected, is sort of there to just serve as a needed window-dressing; Brendan Gleeson gets a meaty role as a police inspector who may, or may not be pleased with these suffragists, and to see how he constantly fights with himself over what the next best move to make, is very engaging; and Meryl Streep, despite being advertised heavily in the promotion for this movie, is hear for maybe five or ten minutes, and that’s about.

But, in true Meryl Streep fashion, she’ll probably win an Oscar for it. Just you wait.

In case you couldn’t tell, though, there’s a lot of interesting subplots going on here, but sadly, none of them get nearly as much attention as Maude’s does and that’s a bit of a problem. It isn’t a problem that Maude’s was actually given some attention to begin with, but because she’s the main one, and it’s not all that compelling, it does feel like she’s taking a bit away from the rest. Once again, she doesn’t ruin the movie, but she does keep it away from being as smart and as powerful as it could have definitely been, considering the message and all.

Consensus: Though the message is strong and the cast is fine, Suffragette still suffers from a less-than-engaging main story, that doesn’t always blend in well with the rest of the proceedings.

6 / 10

You go, girls!

You go, girls!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

Sadly, this is the closest thing we’ll get to Saturday morning cartoons nowadays.

Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang is back and, for the most part, everything’s still pretty much the same. Lucy still has a bone to pick with Charlie; Sally still annoys Charlie; Peppermint Patty still has a crush on Charlie, or Chuck, but tends to spend most of her time playing hockey; and well, you get the picture. And while Charlie’s life is still pretty casual and normal, it’s about to get turned inside out when a new, red-haired girl moves in across the street. While it’s obvious that from the very start, Charlie Brown has no idea on how to talk to her or get her attention, he still tries his hardest by changing certain aspects to his life that will, well, make him more attractive to this unknown, rather mysterious girl. Meanwhile, Snoopy and Woodstock are having their own adventure of sorts, where they find themselves in a tense, exciting bout with the Red Baron that also finds them bothering getting in the way of everybody else’s lives.

And of course, there’s still no parents anywhere to be found!

Everybody loves Charlie Brown. Not like me and my friends at all.

Everybody loves Charlie Brown. Not like me and my friends at all.

A lot of people will and most likely have already, taken one look at the Peanuts Movie and say, “Childhood-ruiner!” And while I am definitely not all for classic cartoons getting film-feature reboots, I’m not totally against one that actually seems to have the fan’s best intentions at heart. Because yeah, even while the movie may definitely be made for the sole sake of money and nostalgia, that doesn’t always mean that the heart and soul of what made the original cartoon so great, has to be gone, right?

Well, that’s why the Peanuts Movie is a nice little surprise.

For one, it’s a movie that’s a lot like the cartoons, in that it never seems to slow itself down. That the movie is nearly an-hour-and-a-half, this gives the film-makers free reign to be as wacky and as crazy in this universe as they see fit. This means that there’s at least a joke a second, and though maybe not all of them work or deliver, they still seem to be thrown in there for the sole sake of keeping everyone entertained. From the adults who are reliving those glory days of waking up way, way early on Saturday mornings, to their kids who may have no clue who the hell Charlie Brown or Snoopy even are to begin with – everyone has a chance to enjoy this movie and it’s what keeps it, at best, entertaining.

And because the movie is aiming for all parties here, that means that a lot of what the older folks in the crowd remember and adore most from the original cartoons, they will get and probably have a ball with. There’s plenty of call-backs and references that some of the only most dedicated fans will understand, but that isn’t all that there is to this movie. It does realize that there’s more people to entertain and because of that, more often than not, there’s plenty of slapstick. But the cartoon was like that, too, so I can’t hate on it too much for that fact.

The only thing that I can get on its case for is not knowing what to do with itself after the first hour hits.

The running gambit that most animated flicks roll with these days is that, while they can be funny, exciting and pleasant, they also have to keep themselves at a fair pace so that they don’t over-do it all too early on in the proceedings and lose the audience about half-way through. Well, the problem with the Peanuts Movie isn’t that they necessarily lose all the sense of fun or excitement in the air – it’s more that they lose what to do with the plot they have. Considering how simple and easy it seems to make a movie that just solely features Charlie Brown trying to capture the eyes of this red-haired girl, it’s a bit of a surprise that, even at only an-hour-and-a-half, the movie may still be a bit too long.

Which isn’t to say that a plot as narrow and straight as this, has to be as short as humanly possible, but there does come a point in this movie that it seems like the creative talent behind it forgot what they were shooting for. At one point, it seems like they were all determined to make a story about Charlie Brown’s affections, and then, all of a sudden, the tide changes and we’re now focusing in on Charlie Brown’s low self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with the movie trying to focus on both of these plot-lines, but by the half-way mark, it shows that the people behind this movie may have lost a little steam.

Poor girl has no clue what she's getting herself into.

Poor girl has no clue what she’s getting herself into.

Instead, the majority of the movie just begins to focus in on Snoopy and his imaginary rivalry with the Red Baron. This is, of course, fun, but also takes away a bit from the rest of the movie and what it was trying to do. And yes, while I’m most definitely sure I’m thinking way too hard about an animated movie about the freakin’ Peanuts, I still can’t help myself. I’m definitely a sucker for any sort of animated movie and considering what Inside Out was able to do early this year, it goes without saying that the bar has been raised pretty high, regardless what kind of animated flick you actually are.

But still, I’ll take a fun piece of animation that, while may be trying to cash-in on nostalgia, also, takes advantage of the fact that it’s got a colorful universe and bits of characters to work around and play with. While the jury is still out on whether or not we’ll get another one of these movies in the near-future, it remains to be said that, well, for now, they’re just fine.

Now, where’s my Hong Kong Phooey reboot!

Consensus: Despite not being a very ambitious piece of animation, the Peanuts Movie is still a nice flash of nostalgia for the older ones in the crowd, as well as a eye-opening for the younger ones who will now, hopefully, look further and further into this product.

6.5 / 10

Nobody gets in between the love of a man and a dog.

Nobody gets in between the love of a man and a dog.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Burnt (2015)

Chefs don’t have to be hot. But it certainly helps.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a respected chef among his peers and confidantes, however, his personal life has begun to take a toll on his work. Excessive use of drugs, booze, and women, have led Adam to go straight and sober, where all he has to focus on now is his kitchen and the food he produces. In an attempt to rebuild his career to where it was once before and gain those three Michelin stars he’s been so desperately fighting for, Adam’s old friend, Tony (Daniel Brühl), sets him up in his hotel’s kitchen, where all sorts of people come by and languish in the food that he and his kitchen have made. And with an all-star staff including the fiery, but ambitious Helene (Sienna Miller), Adam thinks that his lifelong goal my finally be on the horizon. Problem is, Adam’s past life with drugs still haunt him until this very day, which tend to make him more tense and angry to those who least deserve it; something that may ultimately cause Adam of gaining those three Michelin stars and also send him back to the bottomless pit of life that he tried so hard to get out of.

He's tense.

He’s tense.

Burnt hasn’t had a very easy trip to the theaters and honestly, it’s a bit of a shame, too. For one, it suffers the problem of coming out within a year of Jon Favreau’s Chef movie, as well as featuring the two co-stars from the biggest of 2014 (American Sniper). You’d think that with the latter problem, the studio would find a way to make that work to their advantage, but for some odd reason, there hasn’t been much of a focus on the fact that this is, yet again, another pairing of Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Except, this time, instead of being in the battlefield, they’re in the kitchen.

Which, isn’t all that different, from what Burnt shows.

And honestly, the best parts of Burnt are when they are in that kitchen, prepping-up the food, getting in formation, scoping out what sort of crowd they have to work with, and most of all, fighting and bickering at one another. Though director John Wells may get a bit carried away with his constant chopping and cutting of certain shots, it did help add a certain bit of excitement to scenes that, quite frankly, could have just been nothing more than food-porn at its worst. Instead, we get to see how these people work and maneuver around in the kitchen, seemingly doing what they love to do. They may not get paid much and not have all that much time to spend at home with their families, but what they’re doing with their lives (which is making grub for rich snobs), is honestly all that they need in their lives to make themselves go home happy and feel as if something was accomplished in said day.

Which is to say that everything else that takes place outside of the kitchen in Burnt is, honestly, not as exciting, fun, or interesting to watch. Instead, it’s just predictable and boring, as most redemption tales can tend to be if their lead protagonists aren’t all that intriguing to watch or dissect.

And in the case of Adam Jones, this is sort of true. While the character may be poorly-written, you can tell that Bradley Cooper, being the grade-A talent that he is, truly is trying to make this character pop-off the screen and be more than just your average, ignorant, misogynistic and mean dick-head. There’s a few scenes where it’s actually entertaining to watch as he berates each and everyone of his co-workers for not stepping up their games, but in the end, all it really adds up to is him just showing us more and more reasons why we shouldn’t like him, nor ever actually root for him when we’re supposed to.

Once again, though, none of this is Cooper’s fault; he’s so talented at what he does, that being a huge prick, in his own way, can come off as being slightly “charming”. It’s just that so much of the movie is about his personal life and the issues he seems to be having, that it feels like it isn’t really giving him much to work with. Sure, we get that he’s sad that he was once a total and complete junkie who couldn’t make a dish, but really, is he that great of a guy to begin with? Favreau’s Chef showed that, through cooking and creating food, he was making himself, as well as those that he loved, better because of it; Burnt just shows that cooking is Adam Jones’ way of coping with all of the problems he used to have in his life, but at the same time, doesn’t seem to actually be treating any of those around him, who may genuinely care for his sorry-ass, any better.

He’s still a prick and that’s about it.

She's tense.

She’s tense.

Still, those surrounding Cooper do fine jobs, too. Sienna Miller and Cooper have such great chemistry together that it’s absolutely no surprise that they work well here, sometimes playing-off of one another’s personalities; Daniel Brühl gives a heartfelt performance as Jones’ childhood friend, even if a revelation about this character does settle in to the story awkwardly and seemingly out-of-nowhere; Omar Sy is fine as Jones’ trusted confidante who, like Brühl’s Tony, has a revelation about him that’s a bit odd; and Matthew Rhys does a great job as one of Jones’ arch-rivals who is not only as much of a vindictive dick as Jones, but is also a bit more humane, and it shows quite well.

The whole cast here is fine and in no way do I blame them for any of the movie’s short-comings. But to be honest, I don’t even find that many short-comings to be had with Burnt; sure, it’s a bit messy and definitely feels as if it’s taken more than a few trips to the cutting-board, but honestly, it still works because it constantly keep its story moving. Even if Adam Jones is, like I said, not a very strong character, everything surrounding him can be, which helps make it go down like nice bowl of rice pudding.

Had to throw in a food metaphor.

Consensus: Burnt may not be perfect, but is at least entertaining and well-acted enough to where it feels like a better movie about cooking, rather than its central character.

6.5 / 10

But together, they're oh so in love.

But together, they’re oh so in love.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Green Inferno (2015)

Can’t change the world, unless we change each other. And stay away from cannibals, too.

Young, impressionable Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is currently a freshman at some fancy college in New York City. She enjoys the life she has, but at the same time, still feels like she could be doing a little something more. That’s why when she meets a group of environmentalists who are traveling out to the Amazon to help save the trees there, she decides to go and join them, despite her father’s, as well as her best friend’s trepidations. And while the trip looks to be going perfectly and successful for the group, suddenly, they’re plan goes all haywire in the sky, leaving them to crash-land somewhere in the deepest, darkest and under-seen parts of the jungle. Which definitely spells out trouble for the group when they encounter a bunch of cannibals who want nothing more than to dismember them, fry them up, and have them for lunch, dinner, breakfast, and possibly a midnight snack. Though every member of the crew is in danger of losing their lives, it’s Justine who somehow catches the eye of the cannibals’ leader and who they prep-up for possibly even more sinister tasks.

What's the problem? She's just got pretty hair is all.

What’s the problem? She’s just got pretty hair is all.

To be honest, Eli Roth is a bit of an overblown talent. Sure, he’s made an entertaining horror movie in the form of Cabin Fever, but everything else, including only the two Hostels, aren’t anything to really write home about. Yeah, they’re every bit as bloody, gory and gruesome as movies in the horror genre, but do they really do anything other than just splatter a bunch of ketchup at the screen? Not really. That’s why whenever I would hear some people call Roth “a horror genius”, I can’t help but wonder what it about him, or the movies that he’s made, something of genius?

And while the Green Inferno doesn’t really push me closer to that answer, it still helps me understand why so many people love the dude to begin with.

For one, it’s as disgusting as you’d expect it to be which, depending on who you are, may or may not be a good thing. In most cases, I don’t mind movies being disgusting, so long as they have a reason for being so; that the Green Inferno takes place in roughly the same place as Cannibal Holocaust did, helps make it easy to sink-in the fact that, yes, dismemberment does tend to happen on a daily basis and yes, people do get eaten like fried chicken, as well. Nothing in this jungle that the movie’s taking place in is pretty, so therefore, why would anything that they do to each other, or to generally considered “outsiders”, be as such? There is no reason, which is why it’s actually fine that Roth splits and splats as many body-parts as he wants. After all, it’s his movie and he can choose to do with it, whatever he oh so pleases.

With that said, Roth doesn’t really have anything more to say other than, well, “Cannibals are scary, yo. Avoid at all costs.” While I don’t necessarily have a problem, or disagree with this sentiment, there’s a part of me that feels as if Roth could have gone one step further, especially due to the fact that he had plenty of ingredients to do so with. Take, for instance, the characters in the environmentalist group – most of whom seem to be genuinely nice kids who want to help out the world around them, rather than just sitting around, with their fingers on their laptops, and American privilege coming out of their rear-ends. But the movie also shows that they’re all, no matter how nice or nasty they may seem to be, very naive about the world that they want to help and think that all is fine as long as there’s love and care.

Never too late to turn around, everyone.

Never too late to turn around, you know.

This is actually a very interesting idea that Roth brings up and seems to want to go somewhere with, but also chicken-out of by the end. Though he’s not saying that these types of lefties are inherently “bad”, or “stupid”, he’s also not painting them in any sort of favorable light, either. In fact, the one who appears to be the leader of the group, is actually one of the more despicable characters of the movie as he’s always thinking and acting for his own self-interest, regardless of if it saves those around him, or not. He’s a total dick and the fact that he’s the leader of this group of people who aren’t supposed to be, is an interesting piece of story-telling.

But it ultimately falls on deaf ears once Roth realizes that he enjoys breaking-off body-parts more.

And I honestly can’t blame him because the type of carnage and violence that Roth depicts here is, disturbing and in-your-face, however, he never seems to be glamorizing it in some kind of way. He may see that the violence can look pretty gory and get those types of gore-hounds of their seats to cheer, but he also notices that it’s also pretty screwed-up and doesn’t let us forget about that, especially when we live in a world where radical extremists like ISIS are doing the same, if not worse, things in real life, as these unnamed cannibals do here. This is probably another case of unnecessary speculation from yours truly, but regardless, it helped me think of this movie as more than just another one of those ordinary, stupid and overly-grimy horror movies that we get hit with every other month or so.

I still don’t think Roth is a genius of any sorts, but who knows? He may be getting there soon enough.

Consensus: Regardless of if you’re a huge fan of Eli Roth in the first place, the Green Inferno is still a dirty, disgusting and ultimately disturbing horror movie that flings all sorts of limbs at the screen, yet, doesn’t forget the sort of chills that they bring, as well.

6 / 10

Check out the latest issue of Vogue.

Check out the latest issue of Vogue.

Sleepers (1996)

Never mess with a hot-dog stand, kiddies.

Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra (Jason Patric), Thomas “Tommy” Marcano (Billy Crudup), Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt), and John Reilly (Ron Eldard), are all childhood friends from Hell’s Kitchen who, after many years, haven’t really kept in close contact. Most of this has to do with the fact that, when they were younger, they were all sent to a juvenile delinquent center, where they were both physically, as well as sexually abused by the wardens there. Many years later, one of those wardens (Kevin Bacon), gets shot and killed in a bar late one night and guess who the shooters allegedly are? Yup, John and Tommy. Seeing as how they’re buddies are in the right to have shot and killed the warden, Shakes and Michael concoct a plan: Get Michael to defend the dead warden and have their old local mafia gangster, pay-off a lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) who will do the job that needs to be done, where both John and Tommy shine in a positive light and aren’t convicted. However, moral dilemmas eventually sink in and make everybody rethink their decisions – not just in this one particular moment, however, but through their whole life in general.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he's doing.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he’s doing.

There was a constant feeling I had while watching Sleepers that made me think it was just so “movie-ish”. Like clearly, a case like this couldn’t ever be true – and if it was, it sure as heck didn’t deserve the oddly-sentimental tone that Barry Levinson gives it. Despite there being a chock full of talent both behind, as well as in front of the camera, Sleepers just never resonates, mostly due to the fact that it all feels too sensational and over-wrought – something I would expect material of this nature to be.

However, that isn’t to say that Sleepers is a bad movie, because it isn’t. For at least an hour or so, Sleepers is actually a smart, disturbing, and interesting coming-of-ager that doesn’t necessarily try to reinvent the wheel of the kinds of movies that have come before it, but at least put you in the same position of these characters, so that when they do all eventually get back together some odd years later, we’re already invested in them enough as is. When the kids are transported to the juvenile delinquent center, it’s made obvious that the movie’s going to get a whole lot more heavy and mean, and it still worked.

Though maybe the big reveal of having these kids sexually abused was a bit campy, it still worked because it added a certain sizzle to a story that, quite frankly, needed one. Whenever you put young kids and pedophiles in the same story, most often, the stories tend to get quite interesting and thankfully, that’s happening with Sleepers. While I sound terrible for typing what I just did there, it’s the absolute truth; in hindsight, Sleepers is two meh movies crammed into one, with one being a lot more gripping to watch, then the other. That’s not to say that the courtroom stuff of the later-half doesn’t bring about some form of excitement, but because it all feels so phony, it never quite works.

Now pedophiles being in-charge at juvenile delinquent centers? That’s something I can definitely believe in!

Still though, the later-half of the movie brings Sleepers down a whole bunch. For one, it’s hard to ever believe, not in a million years, or even in places like Syria, that there would be a case as blatantly perjured and/or one-sided as this. Sure, the movie tries to make it understandable that a public-defender could get away with doing something like this, so long as he kept-up appearances, but I don’t believe I heard Brad Pitt’s character stand-up and yell “Objection!” once. For the most part, he’s just sitting there, looking determined, tense and most of all, pretty. That’s what we expect from Brad Pitt, of course, but it doesn’t help make the case seem at all legit, even though the movie seems to be depending on that.

"I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore."

“I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore.”

Then, there’s Levinson’s direction that, honestly, is pretty odd. Though Levinson makes it clear that the boys killed a person that raped them when they were kids, the fact remains that they still killed plenty of other, probably innocent people. So, to just stand by them and say, “Well, that guy had it comin’ to him”, seems a bit weird; the guy whose death is being contested over was a bad person, but what about all of the others? What if these two guys are just, regardless of what happened to them when they were younger, bad apples that need to cause some sort of ruckus by killing others? Does that make them worthy of being stood-up for?

The movie never seems to make that decision and it’s a bit of a problem.

But, like I said, the cast on-deck is fine. It’s just unfortunate that most of them don’t have a great deal of heavy material to work with. Jason Patric and Brad Pitt both seem like they’re trying hard to make everybody take them seriously, but sadly, it just ends up with them being a bit dull. Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup, on the other hand, also don’t have much to do except just look mean, mad and ready to pull out a pistol at any second.

The more seasoned-pros of the cast do what they can, too, but as I said, they get lost a bit. Kevin Bacon is in full-on sicko mode that’s fun to see him playing around with, even though his character is quite the despicable human specimen; Dustin Hoffman gets some chances to shine as the inept lawyer of the case, which works because of how laid-back his persona is; and Robert De Niro, with the few scenes he gets, seems to inject some heart into this story that’s definitely needed. He doesn’t help push the movie over that cliff it so desperately seemed to be searching for, but he does the ticket just enough.

And that’s all any of us want from Bobby D, right?

Consensus: Sleepers is, essentially, two movies into a two-and-a-half-hour long one that is occasionally interesting, but ultimately, ends up seeming to silly to be believed in or compelled by.

6 / 10

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

War of the Worlds (2005)

“Stop using your technology now!”, he types on his laptop.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), an ordinary, blue-collar man doesn’t have the greatest life a man like he should have. His ex-wife (Miranda Otto) doesn’t really trust him and is currently pregnant with her new husband; his kids (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), he doesn’t really see, so therefore, they don’t really connect with him all that much and usually end conversations with angry shouting; and his house itself, is dirty, unorganized, and a mish-mash of stuff he has no use for anymore. His life can be so miserable at times, that if an alien attack were to randomly occur, he’d probably be better off. Well, wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly what happens! The aliens do invade Earth and although their motivations aren’t known just yet, they’ve taken extra precautions and have deactivated every piece of technology on the planet, leaving each and every human to be scrambling all over, without any idea of what to do. This leaves Ray, along with his kids, to run around like chickens with their heads cut-off, too, but he’s inspired enough to try and find shelter, as soon as possible. Problem is, he’s still facing problems with his family and it might just linger in to the mission of getting to safety.

Tom Cruise running.

Tom Cruise is scared.

So rarely do we get to see Steven Spielberg lash-out any form of anger that may be within him. However, for the first hour of War of the Worlds, we get to see Spielberg at his angriest and, above all else, most playful. People are zipped to ashes; cars are flipped; buildings are destroyed; and everybody’s running around like chickens with their heads cut-off. On the other side of the camera, though, is Spielberg who, it’s not hard to imagine, may have had a huge, cheek-to-cheek grin while filming all of this.

Not only does he have the dough to play with whatever he wants to play with, but he’s doing so in a style that feels as if it’s also giving a big old “F**k you” to every other director out there who specializes in these kinds of summer, blow-everything-up blockbusters (basically, Roland Emmerich). While the carnage and destruction is fun and exciting to watch, Spielberg also doesn’t forget to show the impact of this, where he understands that people are, yes, dying right in front of our eyes. At the same time, though, he still can’t get past the sense of wonder of just how great everything looks, sounds and feels; while the alien spaceship special-effects feel a little weak, all of the terror that they do cause, doesn’t and helps make it capable of getting past those problems.

And honestly, the main reason why I’m focusing solely so much on the first hour or so of this, is because after it’s over, everything slows down, and we now have to focus on these characters a bit more, the movie gets pretty lame.

It’s almost as if Spielberg signed onto this in the first place, because all he wanted to do was chuck things around and see stuff blow up, but then, remembered that there had to be some form of a human story here, with actual, human-like characters, and instantly got disinterested in what he was doing. This makes the rest of the film, not only feel like a bore, but feel like Spielberg himself is just going through the motions, already too tired and strained from all of the effort he put into the first hour of this movie. Because with Spielberg, you can’t forget that when worse comes to worse, he’s always got to focus on that family-drama.

Which, in some cases, isn’t all that bad. Though it’s a plot-trope he tosses in more than he should, he does get these occasional bursts of smart energy where it seems pertinent to helping flesh the story out a bit more, and therefore, have the movie impact its audience a whole lot harder.

In the case of War of the Worlds and Tom Cruise’s on-screen family, it feels as lazy as Spielberg’s done before.

Tom Cruise is still scared.

Tom Cruise is still scared.

For one, there’s nothing really interesting to this family that makes it easy for us to want to get behind them the whole way through and see if they end up surviving the whole disaster by the end. Cruise’s Ray character is so average, that it doesn’t really matter, because all he’s really doing, once you think about it, is just running around and ducking under and behind certain surfaces; Dakota Fanning’s daughter character yells and screams the whole time and it used as an obvious crutch for Ray to have to make tough decisions; and Justin Chatwin’s son character is such a pain-in-the-ass and annoying, that when it came around for the time to, possibly, leave the movie for good, I could care less. In fact, I wanted him to get the boot earlier!

Because these characters are so poorly-written as is, watching them as they try to survive this disastrous situation, really does not prove to be a fun time. There’s nothing to be compelled by, nor is there any real interesting bits of character-drama to be found; everybody’s just sort of feuding with one another because, well, they’re family and that’s what family’s seem to do. However, due to the fact that Tom Cruise is in the role of the patriarch and it’s his family we’re talking about, then of course you know how it’s all going to go.

I won’t say much more, but I think you get my meaning if you’ve ever seen a movie with Tom Cruise in the past decade.

Hell, even longer!

Then, as the plot progresses, Tim Robbins shows up in the movie as a weird, violent and overly dramatic dude who camps out in the middle of the woods, strapped-to-his-boots with guns and whatnot. Because Robbins’ character is all about having guns protect himself from whatever dangers may be out there, the movie paints him in such a crude-light, that it’s downright distracting. Robbins doesn’t help matters either, as he genuinely seems to be just over-acting as much as he can. And shame on Spielberg for not telling him when to tone it down, take it easy, or call for lunch.

Basically, he stopped giving a hoot and it’s not the kind of Steven Spielberg that I don’t think anybody wants to see.

Consensus: Despite a very strong first-half, War of the Worlds soon runs out of ideas, looses track of itself, and rely too heavily on familiar family-drama that’s shoe-horned in to just have us root and cheer on Tom Cruise, once again.

6 / 10

Tom Cruise is always scared!

Tom Cruise is always scared!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Freeheld (2015)

Love one another. Also, stop being dicks.

Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) was a loyal, dedicated and passionate cop in Ocean County, New Jersey. She was respected and adored by her peers, was best-friends with her partner (Michael Shannon), and when it came down to getting the job done, she did everything she could to make that happen. However, the one fact about her life that she had to hide and, ultimately, caused her to lose a lot of respect from those said peers, was the fact that she was gay. Nobody knew about this little tidbit in her personal life until she was diagnosed with cancer and wanted to pass off her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Problem was, board of chosen freeholders didn’t see that as “right”, due to the fact that Hester was gay, so instead, decided to shut it down. Devastated by this news, Laurel knows that there’s nowhere else to go with her voice then to the court again, but this time, with more and more people by her side, voicing their opinions on her, and showing how she is granted this god-given right, no matter who she holds up a home or romantic relationship with.

Awkward first encounters between two very attractive people. So sad.

Awkward first encounters between two very attractive people. So sad.

It’s a shame that, no matter how kind, or smart, or meaningful the message they’re trying to get across may be, message movies, generally, suck. Actually, that’s not correct; they’re just not all that good. Most of the time, message movies come off like after school specials that you’re more likely to see on Lifetime or TLC, than actually anywhere on the big screen, where your money, attention and time is absolutely needed.

And Freeheld, like other message movies, feels just like that. However, that’t not to say that the movie, to use a word I used earlier, sucks, it’s just that, considering its good intentions, its solid cast, and an interesting director (Raising Victor Vargas‘ Peter Sollett), it’s disappointing. That doesn’t mean that they’re message isn’t worn across their sleeves, or that they don’t get it out clear enough, it’s just that it feels lacking in an actual story, with genuine, relateable characters.

Everybody here, from Laurel, to Stacie, to Laurel’s partner, and especially to the freeholders, all feel as if they’re stand-ins for a message. Laurel, of course, is the hero of this story who, after all of these years of putting her life on the line for the greater good of Ocean County; Stacie is the misunderstood little girl who is in desperate need of love, comfort and a hug; Laurel’s partner, Dane, is the gold-hearted friend of Laurel who stands by her no matter what; and the freeholders are, as expected, mostly just a bunch of ignorant dicks, with the exception of Josh Charles’ character, who feels a little more conflicted than the rest, but also begins to break into speeches that people probably think how conservatives actually talk. This isn’t to say that the cast doesn’t at least try with these types, but by the same token, it’s just a shame to see them all having to perform within these compounds where, maybe, just maybe, they’re allowed to branch out and make something new or interesting of these characters.

But sadly, they’re mostly all one-note.

Moore’s Laurel has hardly a bad bone in her body; Stacie doesn’t get as much attention as she should, but seems like she means no harm to anyone; and Dane is just a nice guy. Moore’s fine, as well as is Page and they share a nice bit of chemistry together, but Shannon is really the only one who seems like he’s really giving it his all here and coming out just fine. Well, it was especially nice to see Shannon play, once again, a normal, everyday dude, but to also see him shed some of his more sensitive angles that we don’t usually get a chance to see him dance with. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when he’s yelling and giving people those crazy eyes of his, but it’s always nice to see it when he plays a guy who seems like he wouldn’t hurt a fly because he wanted to.

No, this is not some unsold CBS pilot.

Not an unsold CBS pilot.

And for some reason, even though Freeheld‘s been hiding him in all of the ads, but Steve Carell is actually here as Steven Goldstein, the founder of the well-known advocacy group, Garden State Equality. Carell is funny here and constantly makes every scene he’s in, exciting and entertaining, but still feels like he’s just playing more of a caricature you’d see in a parody of Goldstein on SNL, rather than an actual person himself. Still, he made me laugh and his constant use of “sweetheart” and “honey” makes some of the most masculine-of-masculine men in the movie shiver, which is always fun to watch.

Homophobia. Fun? Who knew!

Anyway, other than the cast who clearly seem to be on their A-game here to make something work, Freeheld is all too concerned with passing its message along, that it just feels like a conventional bore. There are more types here than just the ones I mentioned up-top; there’s the overly-homophobic, downright rude cop who disowns Laurel from the very beginning, there’s the angry people who come to intimidate Laurel and Stacie for causing such a ruckus, there’s the closeted cop who begins to find courage once Laurel pleads her case, and yeah, there’s probably more that I forgot to mention.

But you get the point – this movie is as cliché as you can get. It has a nice heart and I more than agree with the point it’s making, but it does so in such an ordinary, run-of-the-mill way, that it makes me wonder why they even bothered making this movie to begin with? Because surely, they wanted to bring some interesting points up about humanity and the way of life, right? Or did they just want to make a movie about a lesbian woman’s final years and how she fought for equality, without any grey areas thrown in whatsoever?

I’m thinking more of the latter in Freeheld’s case, sadly.

Consensus: Not without its heart in the right place, Freeheld brings an emotional story to the big screen, but doesn’t seem to do much with it that’s interesting, challenging, or anything that we haven’t already seen before many, many times before, in many other message movies in the same vein.

6 / 10

Pictured: Good vs. Evil

Pictured: Good vs. Evil

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pan (2015)

I’ve always felt like Peter Pan needed a little more Nirvana.

Everybody knows the story, but you know what? Imma tell it anyway! When he was just a baby, Peter (Levi Miller) was left on the front-stoop of an orphanage by his mother (Amanda Seyfried) who obviously couldn’t take care of him. Fast forward 12 or so years later, and Peter has grown-up a little bit, trying to make ends meet in England during WWII. One fateful night, however, he’s kidnapped by a mysterious group of pirates and taken away to this strange fantasy world known as Neverland. Here, Peter finds out that he can fly and has all sorts of mystical powers, but is currently on the run from Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who, for one reason or another, just wants to get ahold of Peter because he has some sort of magic powers and is, for lack of a better term, “the chosen one”. Along with a newfound friend named Hook (Garret Hedlund), Peter will venture all across Neverland to escape Blackbeard and, hopefully, be able to find his mom, whom he believes to still be alive and setting up shop somewhere in this magical world of Neverland, where practically anything is possible. So long as you put your mind to it.

I guess "Polly" was off the table?

I guess Polly was off the table?

There’s a line early on in Pan that perfectly summarizes what it is that this movie thinks of itself. Garrett Hedlund’s Hook character says something, in his awfully mouthy and odd Southern accent, along the lines of, “You came here in a floating ship, I think the idea of what’s real has all but flown out the window.” Once again, I highly doubt that those are the actual words he said, but you get the point; this is basically a case of the writers and director getting together and saying, “Hey, guys. Let’s make a fun movie here. No bull. No crap. No nothing. Just fun”. And that’s what Pan actually is.

For awhile, that is.

Eventually, what happens to Pan, is that it forgets about its cheekiness and instead, delves way too deep into its own mythology where mermaids, pirates, floating boys, and white women playing Native Americans. Which, on paper, sounds so incredibly fun, and it is for a good amount of the film, but once it loses its silly edge, it gets extremely dull and boring. All of a sudden, we’re being told the story of Peter Pan once again, which is fine and all for new viewers who may have not previously known about this story already, but to the countless others who already know each and everything about it, it’ll prove to be a bit of a bore.

Which is a shame because I like what Joe Wright seems to be doing here. He knows that because the tale of Peter Pan is, essentially, a fairy tale, that he should approach it as such. There’s a whole lot of self-aware jokes here that are winking so much at the audience, that it practically breaks a bone or two in doing so. Which, honestly, is fine with me; some of the best kids movies, are those that work as well for the parents, just as they do for the kids. Sure, some of the jokes may go over the little kiddies’ heads, but honestly, they’ll be fine anyway!

After all, it’s a Joe Wright film, which means that everything’s pretty, gaudy, over-the-top, and as colorful as a Gay Pride parade, which means that for the kids, they’ll have plenty more to focus on than just the subtlety within the jokes, or the fact that the pirates in this movie endlessly chant Blitzkrieg Bop and Smells Like Teen Spirit together. Is it all weird? Kind of. But I’ll take that in my kids movies, rather than watching some same old, recycled story that just caters to the younglings and not give a single hoot about who else may be coming out to watch this movie.

Because, without us older-people, how would these kids be able to get to the movies in the first place?

But, like I said, this all begins to go down the tubes once the second-half of the movie comes into play. In fact, if I was to be even more specific as to when the movie begins to turn the other cheek, get all mega-serious and lose its sense of wacky fun, is when we’re introduced to Rooney Mara’s whitewashed Tiger Lily. That’s not to say that the casting of her to begin with is more than enough to take you out of the film (although it is quite ridiculous), but it’s the part where I realized that the movie didn’t really have anywhere else to go, or anything else fun to do. It was just going through the same old motions. Rinse. Recycle. Repeat.

Yep. Totally not white or anything.

Yep. Totally not white or anything.

While I’m at it, though, I guess I should point out that I’m not just pissed at the movie for casting a white actress in the role of an obvious and rather iconic Native American character, but because they cast Rooney Mara in the role, a talented actress who deserves a whole lot more than just this. Yes, it’s ridiculously cynical that the studios felt like they couldn’t have cast a Native American in a role that was most definitely made for one, but it’s also a waste of a supreme talent that deserves to be elsewhere and more often than not, actually shows it. Most shots of Mara here are of her just sleep-walking through her lines, occasionally letting something resembling a smile or a chuckle crack through and it just makes you want to hope that she got a solid paycheck here, so that she doesn’t have to bother with these kinds of big-budget, mainstream pieces again.

Let’s hope that she just stays in the beloved indie world, like she always has.

Aside from Mara, everybody else seems to be having fun, although nobody’s ever given that one, big push they needed to make them stand-out from the rest of the film. Hugh Jackman is clearly enjoying his time playing Blackbeard, but doesn’t get enough opportunities to seem sinister and instead, just comes off like a running-joke. I know this is a kids movie and we don’t necessarily want our villain beheading innocents to prove his menace, but at the same time, we don’t want him to just become a gag that the movie can point and laugh at, especially when we know he’s going to have to have that final showdown at the end. Garrett Hedlund is also having fun too as Hook, even though he’s merely just a sidekick that falls down, gets beaten up, and looks silly.

And Amanda Seyfried is hardly even here. Poor girl.

Consensus: Joe Wright is throwing everything at the wall with Pan and seeing what sticks, which can sometimes be fun and exciting, but at other times, can get a bit tiring and odd, even when it seems like the cast are having the times of their lives.

6 / 10

See Amanda Seyfried? Good, cause after this, you won't any longer.

See Amanda Seyfried? Good, cause after this, you won’t any longer.

Shallow Grave (1995)

ShallowposterThere’s more to life than friends. Like money, baby!

Three ordinary, middle-class friends (Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, Ewan McGregor) all share a flat together and, generally, seem to be having a good time. However, they’re are in search for a flat-mate who they can hopefully sponge off of when the time comes around. They search through some – most of whom, they make fun of and tease for being lame – until they eventually settle on a person that they feel safe enough to have around in the house. This silent man (Keith Allen) eventually settles in and, wouldn’t you know it? Within a day of his residency, the dude’s already OD’ed on a bunch drugs, leaving behind his naked-body, his belongings, and most importantly, a briefcase full of cold hard cash. Seeing as how they don’t want to lose the money, the three pals decide to get rid of the man by dismembering him and burying what’s left of the body. Surely, they think this is a smart idea that will leave them alone with nobody else, but themselves and all of the money they get a chance to spend, right? Well, time begins to roll on and it becomes clear that the money’s starting to change these friends for the worst, and will continue to do so, until it’s probably too late.

"Can't a man get a little privacy every once and awhile!"

“Can’t a man get a little privacy every once and awhile!”

It’s difficult to judge a director’s debut after having seen everything else they’ve had to bring to the table. Especially when that director’s Danny Boyle. Because obviously, in the past two decades or so, Boyle has turned out to be one of the most vibrant, exciting and interesting directors on this planet. Not only does he find new stories to work with, he also never seems to make the same movie twice. While most may seem like they’re going to be one thing, all of a sudden, about half-way through, Boyle himself decides that he’s bored and switches up genres.

This is the Danny Boyle us movie-fanatics have all come to know and love, which is why it’s a bit of a shame to look at his first film and realize that, well, he wasn’t always this great?

Sure, the Beach is a perfect example of Boyle-gone-wrong, but Shallow Grave still stands as his first film. So, with that said, yeah, it’s pretty messy. Like I mentioned before about Boyle liking to change genres up about half-way through his flicks, he does so here, but it’s not all that effective, nor is it really believable. That these three characters are as normal, plain and simple as you can get, the fact that they start to turn into wild, crazy and downright evil loonies, doesn’t make all that much sense. It would make sense if the movie ever made a mention of any of these character’s having something of a dark history or past, but because Boyle doesn’t seem all that interested in actually giving us a chance to know who these characters are, it just seems random and as if Boyle had a premise he needed to fulfill.

This isn’t to say that Boyle doesn’t make Shallow Grave worth watching, or better yet, fun, but after awhile, the style can run a bit deep. The camera, as expected from Boyle by now, zooms, runs, flies, and jumps all around scenes, and also gives plenty of beautiful moments that only the eyes of Boyle could have found. There’s a certain creepiness to the way the outside world is shown in such brooding darkness, that when we do eventually find ourselves in these people’s bright, shiny and lovely-looking apartment, it’s effective. It does drive home the point that Boyle wants to make with this story about how rich, fame and fortune can make anybody sell their souls and turn evil, but that falls on deaf-ears once all of the blood and gore comes around in the final-act.

Nobody in the cast is really to be blamed for that much, either.

Imagine those kids living on top of you.

Imagine those kids living on top of you.

It’s nice to see Eccleston, Fox and McGregor in such early, fresh-faced roles, but they do seem as if they’re trying to compensate for some of the script’s problems. Though these characters are mostly obnoxious, self-centered and unlikable, doesn’t mean that the movie itself has to be bad; there are loads of movies that focus in on/revolve around mean, nasty characters and yet, still work. However, the difference between these characters is that we never get to see anymore light shine through them than just what Boyle’s presenting. We have an idea of who these characters are early on, but eventually, the alliances start to change, revelations are made clear, and people start getting hurt. When this all begins to happen, too, there’s supposed to be a feeling of some sort of emotional or remorse for what’s about to happen, but because we don’t really get a chance to find out who it is that these characters actually are, makes all of the bloodshed feel empty.

And once again, this isn’t to say that Shallow Grave is a bad film by any chance; that it’s a movie made by the hands of Danny Boyle already puts it higher on the list of most other films. But, having seen what he’s been able to do with such solid flicks like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine (or at least half of it, anyway), 127 Hours, Trance, and hell, even the Olympics’ opening-ceremony, it makes this movie pale a lot more in comparison. He was a first-time director trying to hone his craft, work his own sense of style and make sense of it, which definitely makes the movie an interesting one to watch, but by the same token, also makes you happy that Boyle eventually got his act together not too long after this.

Although, yeah, the Beach is a terrible movie.

That’s something I will always stand by.

Consensus: Seeing as how it was his directorial-debut, Shallow Grave remains an interesting, albeit mildly interesting picture in Danny Boyle’s filmography, although it’s clear that he had to brush up on his skills quite a bit.

6 / 10

"The more champagne, the merrier", somebody has had to say.

“The more champagne, the merrier”, somebody has had to say.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Mistress America (2015)

Freshmen are so immature anyway! Just hang out with the older-crowd!

Tracy (Lola Kirke) has just started her freshman year of college and already, she’s not a huge fan of it. For one, she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life; she wants to be a writer, but in order to so, she needs to join up with the school’s writer’s group, who aren’t as welcoming as she’d like. Also, Tracy doesn’t have many friends that she can continuously hang out with. Even though she considers Tony (Matthew Shear), a fellow aspiring novelist, a solid friend of hers, he soon starts taking up with a girl that she’s a bit jealous of and doesn’t really care for. So one night, out of pure boredom and desperation, Tracy decides to call up her soon-to-be-step-sister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who is a lot different from what she’d expected. Because Brooke’s a lot more eccentric and fun than a lot of the other people Tracy knows, they start to hang out more and more, where Tracy starts to mooch off of Brooke more and more, even though Brooke doesn’t even care to notice because she’s currently too occupied with plans of having her own restaurant. But eventually, the truth about Brooke’s past comes into play and it isn’t before long that Tracy realizes Brooke isn’t all that she’s made-out to be.

One hipster...

One hipster…

For better, as well as for worse.

I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Noah Baumbach. Somehow, he was able to film a whole, 85-minute narrative-flick, starring both Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke, in secret, without anyone knowing, and have it still feel like a well thought-out movie. Though it definitely seems like a lot of it was made-up on the fly, for the most part, Baumbach knows the story he wants to tell and even though it’s not going to tear down the walls like he did with Frances Ha, he’s still going to give the world a little piece of indie-cinema.

Doesn’t make it a great movie or anything, but the intentions are good and sometimes, that’s what matters.

Problem is, though, Mistress America feels like it’s trying too hard. But not in the way you’d expect Baumbach’s movies to be. In most of his other flicks, Baumbach seems so intent and keen on making his characters so unlikable and grating, that he sometimes forgot how to tell a story and make it some bit of compelling. Here, however, he loves his character’s so much and wants the audience to feel the same way, that he, once again, forgets how to tell a story and make it compelling.

Which isn’t to say that the first-half or so of this movie isn’t. Baumbach’s biggest strength here is that he portrays what it’s like to be a college freshman and have not a single clue what the hell to do with your life. Not too long ago, you were a clear-headed person with enough inspiration for what you wanted to do, but then, literally out of nowhere, you’re thrown into this great, big, and new world where you’re the tiniest fish in the sea and left without anyone to latch onto or follow. Everybody else seems to be going somewhere, but you, on the other hand, don’t, and it’s, at times, both frustrating and miserable.

This is how Tracy feels and Lola Kirke does a great job with the role, as a whole. For one, Tracy’s naive enough that when she eventually meets a person who wants to be her friend and hang around with her, she can’t help but follow that person’s each and every move. At the same time though, she’s also smart enough to use this for her personal-gain where she is, in ways, using Brooke. Sometimes, it’s to help create her story, other times, it’s to get a free meal and night out on the town. But overall, Kirke feels like a fully-realized and understandable young adult.

Something that Brooke never quite feels like.

...meets another.

…meets another.

However, because she’s played by Greta Gerwig, there’s a certain amount of likability to her that makes it easy to get past the fact that this character is nothing more than just a type. She’s the kind of character you’d find in an episode of Girls that Lena Dunham would use as a soap-box moment to make a point about the type of self-involved young women that she loathes (even if she herself may be one). Which is fine for a half-hour long show, but for a near-hour-and-a-half movie that depends on this character for a sense of morality, it doesn’t quite work.

Because the main protagonist is so in love with Gerwig’s character, it only makes all the more sense that the movie would act the same way and while it’s sometimes funny to hear what ridiculous things this character has to say, after awhile, it becomes clear that it’s a crutch the movie falls back on. Soon, the last-half comes in and while it’s quick, random, and constantly moving, it also feels randomly thrown in there. It’s clear that Baumbach wants this to be his “screwball comedy”-try, but it makes a lot of these characters sound cloying and irritating.

It’s a nice effort, though. It’s just a little too late.

To be fair though, it should be noted that these characters do eventually get their comeuppances. While they may not be as serious or as life-changing as they probably would be in the real life, they still feel like a nice treat from Baumbach showing that the real world does exist. Even though half of the movie seems like it took place in some ultra-witty land where everyone has a snappy comeback to anything ever said to them, there’s still a glimmer of harsh truths to be found; the truths where people have to learn to grow up, stop depending on others, and see what they can make of themselves while they’re at it.

Basically, what Baumbach’s always been talking about since he got started.

Consensus: Despite some charm, Mistress America loves itself a bit too much to really be all that hilarious and ends up taking away from the more insightful aspects.

6 / 10

And they're now hipsters together!

And they’re now hipsters together!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Time Out of Mind (2015)

You may be jobless, dirty and smelly, but hey, at least you look like Richard Gere!

George (Richard Gere) is a homeless man and, from what we can tell, has been for quite some time. He literally wakes up in somebody’s bath-tub, only to be kicked out by the landlord (Steve Buscemi) and thrown back out on the streets. On the streets is where George occasionally lives and breathes; other times, he gets into a local homeless shelter that may be a permanent place for him, if he can get past the psyche evaluation and plays nice in general. In this homeless shelter is where he meets Dixon (Ben Vereen), a fellow homeless man who talks his ear off about anything and everything. George, however, doesn’t really care because he’s sometimes too tired, too drunk, or to “out of it” to really care. Mostly though, George cares about his daughter (Jena Malone), who basically wants nothing to do with him, even though he constantly persists in trying to get into contact with her. Because even though George doesn’t have much hope in his life, the only one around is his own flesh and blood – someone who doesn’t even want to see him.

Is this really the same guy who was named "World's Sexiest Man" in 1999?

Is this really the same guy who was named “World’s Sexiest Man Alive” in 1999?

Basically, Time Out of Mind is plot-less. It’s literally two hours of watching as Richard Gere wanders around the streets of what is, presumably, New York City, doing what most homeless people do. Beg for change; sleep; drink; eat scraps from the garbage; and sleep some more. So, if you can handle all that for, like I said, two hours, then you might find something to take away.

If not, well, you may have a more rewarding time doing something else. Like, I don’t know, actually giving money to actual homeless people on the street.

But that said, there’s a lot of props given to writer/director Oren Moverman for not at all trying to shy away from the hard reality that is homelessness in the United States of America. With his last two films (the Messenger and Rampart), Moverman has taken a sad story, and found ways to make it even bleaker; probably more so with Rampart than Messenger, but as is, Moverman likes to revel in the dark and depressing details of life. And that’s a lot of what Time Out of Mind is.

However, that in and of itself works because it doesn’t try to sensationalize or turn its back towards the true issue at hand. Then again though, the movie isn’t at all a “message movie” – it’s just one tale in the midst of a whole bunch of similar tales, most of which are just as tragic as the next. In this aspect, Moverman reminds us that homelessness, as a whole problem, takes over its cities and while there are people that are willing to help out those who may need a bite to eat or some dollar bills for whatever they decide to spend them for, it’s all too slight and gets further and further away from the real issue at hand: These people need our help.

Like I said before, though, the movie isn’t one that’s important, or simply, about something more.

It’s literally about this one homeless man, trying to live and get by in a world that, like he says, “doesn’t say he exists”. And as this homeless man, Richard Gere does a fine job portraying George as humanly simplistic as he can. Normally, when you have these attractive, mostly recognizable actors playing in these roles that are supposed to be raw, gritty and down-to-Earth, it can sometimes feel phony. But surprisingly, due to the make-up and Gere’s down-playing of the role, he fits into it well.

The only reason why I’m not more on-board and in awe of this performance as others may be, because it seems like Gere himself is stuck in a movie that’s awfully repetitive. Then again, that may be the point. That homeless people themselves seem to go through the same patterns on a regular basis, helps make all the more sense as to why Gere’s George is literally going through all the same sorts of motions, day in and day out. We see him wake up, deal with hecklers, try to get whatever money he can scrounge up, use that money to buy either booze or food (sadly, it’s mostly booze), and every so often, have contact with a fellow homeless person, or aide that just wants to give him a helping hand.

And that’s basically the whole gist of this movie.

When life gets rough, you always need a pal.

When life gets rough, you always need a pal.

There are scenes where George goes to the food stamps office to apply, but even those scenes feel like they’re being replayed where he’ll come in, argue with the clerk, and then unexpectedly leave. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with a movie that gets into a sort of rhythm that puts us in the same mind-frame as its lead character, but when it’s literally two hours if the same motions, happening again and again, it gets to become a bit tiring. Especially since Overman himself, doesn’t seem to really be going anywhere with this tale, or with George, the character.

As we see of George is a broken down, beaten-up guy who, for whatever reasons, is homeless and left without anybody to care for him. It’s sad and even though we see him try to mend relationships with those he hurt, the scenes themselves never seem to go anywhere. We just see George walk into a room, piss-off his daughter, and that’s pretty much it. He leaves, goes onto beg some more, and see where life takes him next.

Once again, I get that this was probably the point Overman himself was going for, but in hindsight, it doesn’t help the movie much, or Gere’s performance.

Because even though Gere seems to be trying his hardest to inch out any sort of humanity within a character who is just as simply-written as you can get, he, and everybody else, aren’t left with much to rock and roll with. Jena Malone’s character seems one-note in that she’s always angry when her dad’s around; Buscemi’s not in it all that much to really register; Kyra Sedgwick plays a homeless woman who strikes up a little something with George and has the only bit of humor to be found at all in this movie; Ben Vereen has the best performance as Dixon, another homeless man with a heart of gold and a personality that could charm the socks off of a real estate agent.

But, like I said, to which extent does it matter?

Consensus: Gere does a fine job in the lead role, but overall, Time Out of Mind feels too much like a repetitious slog that may, or may not have a point to go along with the story it’s telling.

6 / 10

Yup. Totally not the dude from Pretty Woman.

Yup. Totally not the dude from Pretty Woman.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Visit (2015)

Grandparents are so weird.

Paula (Kathryn Hahn) is, after all of these years, finally connecting with her parents, who now want to meet the grand-kids they’ve heard so much about, but have never actually seen. Even though she’s got a trip planned with her boyfriend, Paula still allows for her kids, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) to go and head out to rural Pennsylvania, where they’ll meet their grandparents and spend a week at their house. In order to document for their mom, Rebecca brings a video-camera with her along the way, which even inspires Tyler to do the same. Once they get there, they soon realize that there’s something awfully aloof with grand-mom and grand-pa. Grand-mom (Deanna Dunagan) likes to run around in the middle of the night, in the nude, banging on doors, and, generally, creeping Tyler and Rebecca out; whereas grand-pa thinks that people are always following him and acts out in strange ways, as well. Though they’re told that all of this weird behavior has to do with their grandparent’s age, Tyler and Rebecca still want to figure out just what the hell’s going on by snooping around and trying to understand their family’s history a whole lot more.

And maybe even figure out why they aren’t allowed in the basement.

Old crazy dude with a shot-gun = not good at all.

Old crazy dude with Chekov’s shot-gun.

By now, it’s a common-known fact that M. Night Shyamalan has become something of a punch-line. While his career started off all bright, pretty and inspired, ever since the Village, it’s been plagued with nothing bad decision, after bad decision. In fact, the movies got so horrible that eventually, people started turning on the ones that actually made Shyamalan a trusted house-hold name (like the Sixth Sense and/or Unbreakable). And while it can be definitely be argued that he hasn’t made a good movie since 2004 (giving the Village a whole lot of credit here, I know), there’s still something about him that makes me feel like there’s maybe just one good movie left in him.

Is the Visit “that” movie? Kind of.

Which, yes, I know may not sound like much at all, but considering what we’ve been seeing from Shyamalan in the past decade or so, it’s actually quite the statement. While it’s nowhere near the genius of the Sixth Sense or earlier-parts of Signs, the Visit is still a fun movie that shows Shyamalan is capable of taking the found-footage format into certain areas that we least expect it to be, especially with him at the helm.

Did the movie really need to be filmed in this format? Not really, but it helps add a certain level of eeriness that can sometimes be so strange, it’s actually entertaining. However, whereas with the Happening, where we were laughing at how incredibly serious Shyamalan seemed to be taking his goofy-as-all-hell material, this time, it seems like he’s actually in on the joke and knows that what he’s presenting, is indeed silly. There are moments where it seems like Shyamalan wants to make this story a whole lot more serious than it actually appears to be, but these are the moments that he actually focuses the least on.

Most of the time is spent in the dark, where we don’t know what’s lurking in those shadows or behind those closed-doors; all we do know is that whatever we see, will be creepy and possibly, make us jump out of our seat.

Does that mean that the movie’s actually “scary”? Kind of, but not really. However, there isn’t a problem with that because Shyamalan’s intent doesn’t seem to be giving us the jeeper’s creepers; he mostly just wants to give us a fun, little “boo” moment every so often, keep our minds awake, and our eyes dead-set on whatever comes next. Whether this movie can be best classified as a comedy, or as a horror-thriller, doesn’t seem to matter because it takes away from the fact that, basically, Shyamalan is having a good time here.

And honestly, when was the last time we saw that?

That said, there are still problems to be focused on and show that, even though he’s getting better and back to his old ways, Shyamalan still has some issues to get past. For one, the final-half gets so ridiculous and so insane, that when we realize that it’s actually supposed to be a heartfelt tale of these kids’ own journey to get over the abandonment from their dead-beat dad, it feels odd. At one point, the movie was an uproarious, campy-as-crap creep-fest that features a barn full of dirty diapers, and then, randomly, becomes a super-dee-duper serious piece of melodrama. It doesn’t feel right and in all honesty, sort of makes the last-half seem like it was directed by a different person.

Don't follow. Just run!

Don’t look down that well. You never know what you’ll find.

But then again, the movie does get by on the fact that it is fun and the cast is mostly to thank for that. Though they are basically playing kid-types that movies such as this love to write snappy dialogue for, Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge are both good enough performers to get by some of the more annoyingly straining lines of dialogue. For instance, Oxenbould’s Tyler likes to rap, which occasionally leads to scenes where someone will give him a word and he’ll find a way to put in his jam; think of the “milkshake” dude from Before Sunrise, but instead of free-verse, cheap-ass poetry, it’s some kind who thinks he spits game like Tyler the Creator, but instead, is a lot more like Kid ‘N Play. It’s all so cloying and irritating, but Oxenbould is just charming enough that it’s easy to get past and just accept as a quirk.

As annoying as it may be.

DeJonge’s character fares a lot better as Rebecca, although she has a bit less of a personality to work with, other than that she wants to be a director one day (hence the reason for filming this whole trip in the first place). Hahn doesn’t show up quite enough to make me happy she was involved to begin with, but I was able to get past all of this once McRobbie and Dunagan came on the screen and took this movie by-storm. Though both of them are just supposed to be “weird” and “creepy” and hardly anything else, there’s a certain bit of humanity within them that makes us think that quite possibly, these older-peeps are just old and that explains why they act so strangely. We know it’s not, but there’s the silver-lining that that’s reasoning, which makes the movie more compelling to sit by.

And oh yeah, there is a twist here in the Visit, but it’s not the kind that Shyamalan has, sadly, made a career with. The movie doesn’t depend on it and isn’t used a crutch; it’s just a neat piece of narrative story-telling that makes the movie a bit more tense. Something that all twists should do, but has become running-gag for Shyamalan’s career.

Let’s hope this takes him out of the gutter and back onto the main streets.

Consensus: With a simple premise and approach, the Visit is a slight return-to-form for M. Night Shyamalan that still shows there’s plenty of room for improvement, but is also a reminder as to why he was such a hot-button director so early in his career.

6.5 / 10

The perfect consequence for being apart of the "Me generation".

The perfect consequence for being apart of the “Me generation”.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Probably the tamest movie I’ve ever seen that says “coke” about 15 times. And I’m not referring to the soda, although if it were the late 1800’s, I would be referring to both I guess, right?

Detective David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is all about following the rules, getting the job, and having the law come out on-top, at any means necessary; Detective Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is far different in the way that he’s so cool, calm, relaxed, and mellowed-out, that he doesn’t really care if he gets the job done or not, he just wants to look cool and smokin’. They’re polar-opposites, but they get strung together somehow and have to solve a drug-ring of coke on the streets, lead by millionaire Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn). Together, they have their fair-share of problems, but together, through the insistence on getting along and the help of their ears and eyes of the street, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), they finally realize that the law always prevails. Or something of that nature.

It’s strange to think that a man who has been known for his fair share of R-rated, raunch-fests, Todd Phillips, would ever stoop so low as to go for a PG-13. But somehow, with this, he did and his struggle with actually trying to keep to that rating without over-stepping it at all. As I said up-top, there’s plenty uses of the word “coke” and nothing but; girls make-out with other girls; the F-bomb is dropped once (and randomly); partial-nudity is seen (sort of); and the word “shit” gets dropped about 5 or 6 times. It’s just strange because we know that when Phillips turns on the dirty-jets, he has a fun time and lets loose like no other, but what we mostly know is that when he does get down and dirty: he’s a lot funnier as well.

Whatta fun time!

Whatta fun time!

And trust me, it’s not that this flick isn’t funny, because it sure as hell does have it’s moments of comedic-inspiration that are more than likely going to win you over; it’s just that the tone itself is a bit uneven. What I mean by that is that the flick tries to go for a satire of an episode of the original Starsky & Hutch, and at other times, seems like it’s trying to be a straight-forward comedy that makes up it’s own jokes, is in it’s own little universe, and doesn’t even know about the other show. Hell, it even plays out like a failed-pilot of the original, except with more knowing-humor and a switch-up of the lead characters.

Since the movie never seems like it knows what it wants to be, or how for that matter, some comedy hits and some of it misses. More of it hits than actually misses, but knowing what Stiller, Wilson, Vaughn, Ferrell, and even Phillips are capable of, it comes as a bit of a disappointment. The jokes they use get a bit stale after awhile, especially the part where Starsky is high on cocaine and gets into a dance-battle, even though he doesn’t know he’s high, and become the same old, “70’s-fashion-was-so-corny”-type of humor. Nothing as witty or as smart as Zoolander or even Old School here, just a bunch of repetitive jokes made towards the decade it’s apparently supposed to take place in, even if it feels like we’re just watching a bunch of current-Hollywood stars play dress-up and act like their in the 70’s. I don’t know if being a tad bit anachronistic was the movie’s point or not, but if it was; it probably would have been a lot smarter and funnier in that case.

But in all honesty, I can’t discredit this movie too much cause the cast seems to be having fun and is mostly the reasons why we find ourselves laughing at times, despite it seeming a bit desperate at times. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are seemingly playing Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. They both seem to be enjoying themselves, not having to stretch their acting-muscles all that much, and getting a chance to dress in some fine, sexy 70’s digs. Together, they’re a bunch of fun and keep this movie cracking, but after awhile, you start to think how much of this movie was made because they really wanted to make a Starsky & Hutch movie, or how much of it was made as an excuse for the two to pal-around with one another? One has to wonder, and sometimes, it feels like the latter-aspect. It’s fun to watch them, but it feels like their having a bit more fun than we are and that poses a problem, especially when they’re trying to steal the laughs out of you.

Come on! Gimme more!

Come on! Gimme more!

On paper, having Vince Vaughn do his spastic, fast-speech act and Jason Bateman do his dead-pan act, team together, and play the smart, but slightly off-kilter baddies in a movie would seem like comedic-brilliance, but it never musters up any of the courage to really keep them funny or relevant all that much. Vaughn seems like he’s bored being serious and conning, whereas Bateman actually seems like he’s bored, and isn’t just using that to his and his character’s advantage. He actually seems like he’s bored and wants to get his check, so he could get the hell home and get ready to film another season of Arrested Development. Also, any movie that has thew chance to showcase Juliette Lewis and her comedic-talents as the dumb, trashy-chick in the movie, but squander that potential, has seemingly all but lost points from yours truly. The girl is not only a foxy mama, but she’s pretty damn funny, especially when she’s given the chance to be.

Others in this cast that show up do what they can like Snoop Dogg, who actually has some of the funnier-moments in the whole flick of funny people; Carmen Electra and Amy Smart show up to only make-out and provide some sex-appeal for a movie that didn’t need any, and when it finally got it’s chance to showcase it, made it seem more misogynistic than titillating; and actual cameos from the original guys, David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser, who made it funny just being there, but once I got to thinking about it, made it almost seem like the film was making fun of them and how hell-bent-out-of-shape they seem to have gotten. Poor guys. Oh well, they probably got a nice, healthy paycheck from this. Just like Bateman. Although, needless to say, he probably made that paycheck last.

Consensus: Bits and pieces of Starsky & Hutch seem inspired enough to transpire plenty of inspired moments of comedy, but not too many as the flick struggles to make up it’s mind of what type of comedy it wants to be, or even make us laugh at all.

6 / 10

"1, 2, 3 and to tha 4, Huggy Bear is at tha doe."

“One, two, three and to tha foe, Huggy Bear is at tha doe.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

I Am Chris Farley (2015)

Sorry, Kevin James. But you were just a replacement.

As a chubby little kid growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, Chris Farley always knew that he wanted to entertain people for a living. Did he want to become an actor, or did he want to become a comedian? Chris himself never quite knew, that is, until he started taking stage-acting lessons at a young age and realized that his passion was most definitely making people laugh and feel happy. As Chris began to tune his craft a bit more, then came the notoriety that even landed him a job on the most coveted comedy show ever, SNL. On this platform, every Saturday night, for millions and millions of people, Chris was able to entertain the heck out of anyone who cared to watch him – sometimes, he pushed himself far beyond his own reach. As time went on though, all of this fame, fortune, fun and adoration from those around him, came at a price that Chris wasn’t able to handle and it ended up taking his life at the age of 33.

Oh god. Not the "van down by the river" thing again.

Oh god. Not the “van down by the river” thing again.

There’s a lot of people that I know and talk to that aren’t quite sure what to make of Chris Farley. Was he the comedic legend that everybody makes him out to be? Or, simply put, was he just another chunky guy that liked to yell loud, fall down, and point at his own gut with a winning-smile? Cause so often know, we see a lot more of the later be displayed and it almost seems like rather than moving beyond those sort of stale jokes, Farley himself acted on them once again and brought them back to the mainstream. Even if they never went away, Chris Farley, for better as well as for worse, made “the fat guy” jokes funny again and it’s something we’re going to be forced to live with until the end of time.

Now, like I asked before, was Chris Farley a comedic legend?

Whatever the answer may be, depending on the type of person you are, it doesn’t matter. All personal feelings aside, I Am Chris Farley seems perfectly content with approaching Farley’s own life and career as if it were one big party the whole way through, filled with all sorts of drugs, sex, booze, fun times, celebrities, and smiling faces (all looking at him, of course). And in this sense of the documentary, it’s where director Brent Hodge really excels; not only is it impressive that Hodge was able to nail such celebrities like Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, David Spade, and Lorne Michaels to talk about Farley, but he’s actually able to bring a lot more out of them than just, “Yeah, he was a funny guy,” and leaving it at that.

Instead, each one sheds light on how much they loved being around Chris and what it meant to them that he was making them happy, and busting his ass to do so each and every opportunity he got. While this may sound incredibly self-serving, it turns out it’s not; because Farley himself was such an entertainer and attention-whore, he loved it when he made those around him happy and laugh. This of course paints Farley in a positive light that makes it seem like who we got on the screen, was exactly who’d we get off the screen – another idea that the movie brings up.

That Chris Farley was, through and through, without any commercial interruptions, an entertainer, makes him all the more sympathetic. He truly cared about entertaining others and while his most-known buddies still work today and couldn’t care to do much of that anymore (aka, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and of course, Adam Sandler), it’s bittersweet to know that Farley never wanted to dumb himself down for anyone, or anywhere. The movie even makes a mention of how Black Sheep (the Spade-Farley movie that came out after Tommy Boy), may have been a forgettable piece of garbage, but was one that Farley tried his hardest in that even when it bombed, he still tried to bounce back.

Of course, he bounced back with Beverly Hills Ninja, but hey, they can’t all be winners, now can they!

I can only assume that this was taken while Joe Dirt 2 was being filmed, because there is no excuse for that look.

I can only assume that this was taken while Joe Dirt 2 was being filmed, because there is no excuse for that look.

But while all of the nostalgic stories of whimsy about Farley may be fun to listen to and all, there’s a part of this movie that feels like it’s missing. For anybody who’s familiar with Farley and his life, they’ll know that his later years were filled with all sorts of debauchery and sadness, most of which that this movie does shed a light on, however, not to the fullest extent that seems necessary. In order to paint a full portrait of a subject, a documentary should show you how screwed-up one’s life was before they passed away, rather than tell you through narration or text that pops up on the screen.

Hodge himself seems as if he was too enamored with Farley’s life when he was alive, well and making all sorts of people happy, that he forgets about the darkness that lurked within him. Now, I wasn’t expecting this to be some sort of hatchet job that makes Farley out to be like some sort of selfish d-bag, but there is something to be said for a movie that talks about the fact that Farley overdosed on drugs, yet, hardly alludes to the fact of how it makes those people feel today. To me, there feels like a necessary meat to this story that’s missing and almost makes it seem like Hodge, in a way to not push any sort of agenda too hard, didn’t decide to dig any further than what was presented to him through these tales of yesteryear with these many famous people.

Which isn’t all that bad, because even though Farley himself would have wanted the audience to be entertained, there’s still something to be said for a documentary that doesn’t paint a full-picture of its subject, especially when the subject died in such a shocking, tragic way.

But hey, there’s always the narrative biopic!

Consensus: The interviews that I Am Chris Farley is able to get, help make the documentary float on by in a pleasant, entertaining way, even if it does feel like there isn’t much room to go any further than just the happy times.

6.5 / 10

Never forget that lovely mug right there.

Never forget that lovely mug right there.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes, Consequence of Sound, WGN-TV

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Run, Denzel, run!

Denzel Washington plays Army Major Bennett Marco, a career soldier who grows suspicious about his experience in Desert Storm after Squad Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), son of the powerful Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), becomes a candidate for Vice President. Something feels very eerie about Marco, and both of the Shaw’s and that’s why Marco is going to go out and settle the truth.

Jonathan Demme is a very skilled director that can go from making movies about Neil Young, to making one about a pilled-up Anne Hathaway that loves crashing weddings, and make it all work out in his own way. Of course, like with most directors, the guy has had his fair share of blow-outs (The Truth About Charlie, anyone?), but I think it’s safe to say that he’s definitely had more hits than misses and this flick is one of those rare hits, that somehow misses a mark it could have hit a littler harder.

What makes this flick work is that Demme puts us in the same state-of-mind as it’s main character is in, and has us disheveled and confused as he is, and never lets us know exactly just what the hell is going on. We get a lot of dreams, flashbacks, hallucinations, ideas, drug-trips, and plenty more devices that are used to mess with our minds, just like our main character’s as well, and that’s what Demme succeeds at the most. He keeps us in the dark with what we think we know, and what we expect to happen next in a flick like this.

And yes, it most definitely works.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

There are certain places that this movie goes, really will surprise you, in terms of twists and material. The twists are good and kept on flying when I thought they would end, but still added more and more layers of tension and mystery to a story that didn’t need it, but didn’t suffer from too much of it either. But in terms of material and where this flick goes with it, it can be pretty damn surprising. Certain things happen that you don’t expect to considering this is a mainstream thriller with A-list names and Hollywood producers, and you also don’t expect certain characters to get killed-off when they do. Basically, with a filmmaker and story-teller like Demme, nothing is as what it seems and you can’t seem to trust anyone. Once again, that’s the same sort of mind-frame that our main character takes and it’s a real delight to see that work so well by the inspired hands of Jonathan Demme.

Although, something just wasn’t clicking for me in the right ways that I was expecting it to. What I mean by that, is that the movie has all of these ideas, all of these mysteries, and all of these conspiracies to it, that enhance the plot as well as our confusion of what we think is actually happening, but never seems to get off-the-ground. The reason for that being is because it feels like Demme is so considered with laying down the groundwork of this story and telling us what he feels like we should know, that he never kicks the story into full-gear and having us feel like we are on a ride that’s never going to end, and shows no signs of it either.

Maybe the problem I had with this movie and this pace, was that I think I was expecting something more of a slam-bang, action-thriller, and that’s exactly what I did not get. This is more along the lines of a psychological thriller that takes it’s good old time to get where it needs to go, and doesn’t really worry about the people watching it, squirming in their seats and just waiting for the tides to change, and start having people beat the shit out of one-another and run away. That never happens and even when it does show signs of that actually occurring and speeding everything up: it still disappoints. If it wasn’t for this snail-like pace, Demme would have really been onto something here, but the guy just never lets his material move at a speed that cannot only gain our attention, but have us more intrigued in seeing where it all goes and ends-up.

Thankfully, we have an A-list cast like this to save the day and thank the heavens for them. When you see a movie that Denzel Washington stars in, you automatically assume that he’s going to be the downright lovable, cool-as-shit Denzel Washington that we see him play, and master in just about every one of his movies. However, he’s a little different and shows that the guy can play crazy, pretty damn well, mind you. The guy’s still got some charm to where you feel like he’s a good-guy underneath all of the lost-marbles, but you still don’t know what to make of where he’s going, in terms of character and his motivations. No matter where this character ends up, Denzel is always compelling and always makes it easy for us to root him on, as if it’s him vs. the world, and we are on red corner’s side, just hoping he comes out of this alive and without a single-scratch on that voluptuous forehead of his. Yeah, I went there and I make no apologies for it either, bitches.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

The one in this cast that I was really surprised by was Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, because not only does the guy portray his character’s smugness in such a way that really had me want to punch him in his corrupt-face, but he has the most challenging-role of all. For instance, Shaw is the type of character that is typically a bad guy because he looks bad, is on the bad guy’s side, and is rich, powerful, and smart. Pretty much any person that has those qualities in a movie, or life for that matter, fit the bill of being a total and complete villain that we just don’t like and want to see dead as soon as possible. I’m talking about in the movies, not real-life. Although I do think you could arrange that if you needed to.

But I digress.

What makes this character of Raymond Shaw so complex is that yes, he does fit the role of the type of guy you would normally hate and root-against in a movie like this, but there’s more to him than just that. You sort of feel bad for him because you can tell that he doesn’t really have the brightest-clue as to knowing what the hell is going on, and feels bad that he’s being played-with as a result of all of this confusion. Therefore, he has to take the higher, and sometimes more difficult road of taking everything he sees, hears, and thinks in stride and going about his business, but still having wonders in his head as to what the hell is right and what is wrong with his life. Schreiber plays this moral-dilemma so very, very well and shows the type of dimensions you can get with a character like this, no matter how one-sided he may seem on-paper. Schreiber is always a solid actor that continues to turn in good-work-after-good-work, and his role as Raymond Shaw, is one of the glaring examples of this.

Perhaps the one who really knocks this out-of-the-park, but didn’t surprise me as much was Meryl Streep as Raymond’s “mother”, Eleanor. I think it goes without saying that we all know and love Streep for being the powerhouse-force of in almost everything she does, but her performance as Eleanor shows a darker, meaner-side to the things that she can accomplish and show-off as an actress. She doesn’t necessarily chew the scenery, as much as she takes a look at it, contemplates whether or not to take a bite, and then, decides to eat the whole freakin’ thing and spit it right back out. Streep is the type of actress that can pull-off this hard-hitting woman role like gangbusters, and it was so glorious to see her play a character that isn’t all wholesome and happy; she’s actually pretty terrible.

Consensus: Demme doesn’t allow The Manchurian Candidate to fully pick itself up off-the-ground with fun and electricity in the air, but instead allows the eerie, and mysterious atmosphere kick in and mess with your minds as much as it’s messing with the lead character’s, and many other’s as well.

6.5 / 10



Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au


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