Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

The Overnight (2015)

Always break-in the new neighbors.

Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) have recently moved to Los Angeles with their young son and have no idea what to do next. While Emily’s got a job, Alex is sort of just left at home with the kid, where he hardly knows anyone and doesn’t know how to go about actually acquiring any friends. Emily tries to push him more and more, but constantly, Alex doesn’t bother; he misses home just a little too much. One day, however, when watching their son in the park, Alex and Emily encounter another couple by the name of Kurt and Charlotte (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche), who not only take a serious liking to them, but even go so far as to invite them over to their house for a good time. Alex and Emily are nervous, obviously, but they decide to take the bait and wouldn’t you know it? They show up at the house and they’re having something of a fun time. There’s wine, pizza, good tunes, and a great overall mood. Then, Kurt brings out the bong and all of a sudden, things get very weird, very quickly.

It’s hard to not spoil a movie like the Overnight, due to the fact that it’s so simple in its shape, size and premise, that even go so far as to saying, “crazy stuff happens”, already feels a bit like a spoiler. There is truth to that statement, however, but the degrees to how far that crazy stuff is willing to go, what it reveals about these characters, and what it’s supposed to make us think about our own lives in general, all seem to not be as predictable. While it’s easy to think that this is just going to turn into another, old-fashioned sex-comedy romp in the same vein as something like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the Overnight tries to be a bit more.

Mah gawd. Toates awkward.

Mah gawd. Like, toates awkward.

Problem is, occasionally, the chances it has to be something more often feel like missed opportunities.

For instance, the movie actually has something very interesting to say about what it’s like for grown-ups, or, most importantly, parents, to go out there, make friends, and socialize as if they’re a bunch of freshmen getting started and situated on their first day of junior high. Very early on, the character of Alex states that “it’s weird” for him to actually go out there and try make friends with people when he’s a lot older than he was some many years ago. Sure, he wants to make friends and have more people to spend his time with, but at the same time, he doesn’t know how to go about it without being incredibly awkward because, well, he’s grown-up.

From here on, the Overnight works with an odd, but effective sense of humor where every discussion between these two couples can get pretty awkward; however, it’s not a crutch that the movie falls back on when it needs to. Instead, these awkward sighs, chuckles, small-talk, grins, etc., all bring out a certain level of honesty from within these characters and is eventually what leads to the later portion of the film. Now, this isn’t to get past the fact that the Overnight can be awfully funny, however, it isn’t always for the reasons you expect and most of that has to do with the fact that the cast do solid jobs in nailing down even the slightest hints of subtlety that make their characters more human and believable – even if some of the choices they make don’t always add-up.

But more on that in a little while.

Now, on with the awesome foursome here.

Adam Scott, as per usual with him, plays up his slightly nerdy shtick, but also allows for it come from a deeper place than him just relying on something we’ve seen him do before. As Alex, he gets a chance to reveal some insecurities that aren’t always well-written, but because Scott seems so into it, it’s okay to sit by and watch. And for Taylor Schilling, as Emily, she finally gets a chance to show the movie world, not only her comedic chops, but her dramatic ones as well. While she’s definitely the voice of reason in this whole thing, there’s still a feeling that even she wants to break out a bit and not be tied-down by the fact that she’s a mother, a worker, and a wife – sometimes, she just wants to have a little fun.

All lookie, but no touchie. Story of my life right there, folks.

All lookie, but no touchie. Story of my life right there, folks.

And with Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche’s characters, they definitely get this; however, it’s bit stupid at times. Sure, Schwartzman is great at seeming like he’s totally in on some sort of joke we aren’t too knowing about, and Godrèche gives off the idea that she’s a lot sweeter than her icy demeanor may have you think, but eventually, their characters begin to get a bit idiotic. For example, without saying too much, there’s a certain insecurity that Adam Scott’s character has, that Schwartzman’s doesn’t, and after this, it becomes all too clear that the movie seems like it wants to discuss real life, actual problems that adults have, and try to hide them underneath raunchy sex jokes about dicks, boobs, and butts.

In other words, it becomes a Judd Apatow movie.

However, whereas with Apatow movies, it’s clear that he’s trying to make a point and doesn’t quite know how to cut it all down to where we understand the point in a quicker, more efficient manner, writer/director Patrick Brice seems like he can’t help himself from throwing a sex joke whenever he sees fit. And then, sometimes, they’re not even jokes; in some cases, the whole idea is that this plot is going to lead to some very strange places in the bedroom and it seems oddly-placed, not to mention, not all too believable. It’s as if Brice knows what he wants to say, but still wants to appease those who were looking for a raunchy piece of sex-comedy.

And that’s what the audience will definitely get here with the Overnight – sometimes, it’s funny, other times, it’s not. However, there’s no denying that Brice, given the chance to maybe polish his script once or twice more, we probably would have had an even tighter movie than something that clocks in at 81 minutes or so.

Yep, believe it or not, could have been shorter.

Consensus: The Overnight is the type of sex-comedy that deals with real human issues that most of us all suffer, but still feels the need to point and giggle at penises and breasts, especially when it doesn’t need to.

6.5 / 10

Somehow, the dude wearing a cowboy hat in a children's park isn't the creep in this situation.

Somehow, the dude wearing a cowboy hat in a children’s park isn’t the creep in this situation.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Manglehorn (2015)

ManglehornposterWhen you’re sad and lonely, get a cat. Those little a-holes seem to help out.

A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) lives a very quiet, care-free life. He lives with his cat that he loves so much, owns a key shop somewhere around town, goes out to eat when he feels like it, goes to the bank to flirt with one of the tellers (Holly Hunter), and will occasionally head on over to the local casino. Though he has a son (Chris Messina), the relationship the two have isn’t great to where they constantly keep in touch – except for only when the other needs money. But for some reason, Manglehorn is starting to think a tad differently about his life and realizes that maybe it’s time for some things to change. This pushes him to finally ask that bank teller out on a date, reconnect with his son, and above all, try and have something of a relationship with his grand-daughter. For some reason, however, there’s something in Manglehorn’s past that’s constantly keeping him away from doing that. Nobody really knows but him, so what is it exactly?

Last year, with Joe, David Gordon Green finally seemed to have gone back to his roots, and while he was at it, find the perfect suitor for his unique sense of style with the likes of Nicolas Cage. Sure, the movie may have depended a lot on the performance of Cage, but as a whole, it brought Green back to the good old days of when he made smaller, more indie-based flicks that seemed so strange oddly put-together, that they seemed like nothing more than crappy student films. However, for better or worse, they weren’t; they were David Gordon Green’s babies that he wanted to display for the whole world to see. What the world decided to do with them, was totally their choice.

First dates don't get anymore exciting than this!

First dates don’t get anymore exciting than this!

As it will be with Manglehorn – another flick that finds Green back to his old indie-world.

And just like with Joe, Green’s been able to find another talented star who is able to gel with his unique style with the likes of Al Pacino, surprisingly. Over the past year or so, Pacino has really stepped away from the big, mainstream lime-light and stick it straight with the indies, and while they may have not all worked out perfectly as a whole, there’s no denying that Pacino’s very good in them. Now, at this point in his career, Pacino is less concerned with making money and pleasing others, and more or less concerned with just challenging himself and showing the rest of the world that it doesn’t matter how old you get, you can still season and hone your craft.

With this character of Manglehorn, Pacino gets a chance to do so and it surprisingly works for the rest of the movie. Even though a lot of the lines that Pacino mutters are nothing more than a faint whisper, at times, there’s still a sense that there’s something more to this guy than he’s letting on. Pacino has the great ability to make it seem like he’s improving his ass off, even if the script is written exactly as how it’s coming out, and here, as Manglehorn, there are many instances in which it seems like Pacino’s just making it all up as he rolls on along. But somehow, once again, it works – it makes you see that this character may be a bit out-of-touch with the world around him and when push comes to shove, can be as charming as you or I.

That’s if, you know, you or I were Al Pacino, of course.

No, Harmony Korine. Just leave.

No, Harmony Korine. Just leave.

But anyway, what Pacino’s performance in the key role shows about the rest of the movie, is that when Green just allows for the camera to sit down and just observe whatever Pacino’s doing, or saying, or acting with, the movie’s something of a little delight. The scenes Pacino has with Holly Hunter and her character are at times sweet, and at other times, odd, but there’s no denying that there’s an engaging simplicity to them all that puts us all one step closer to these characters, rather than making it feel like Green’s style is getting in the way too much. Even the few scenes Pacino has with Chris Messina’s character run with the same kind of energy, although in a different manner, of course.

However, the problem that this movie runs into is that it feels like it’s a little excessive in certain details. Now, even though Green didn’t write this (Paul Logan did such), the movie still has his certain trademark for letting the weirdest little details sink in, but whereas his movies end with that and just allow for them to be a thing, Logan seems like he wants this tale to be about so much more. For instance, it’s never clear where exactly this movie is going, all of a sudden until the last half-hour and we realize that, oh wait, something’s troubling this character that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Honestly, I just presumed he was just an old crank and left it at that; anything else seemed to not exist, until it was coincidentally brought up later on.

Then, there’s the odd subplot of Manglehorn’s past life coming into the forefront of the plot, which never seemed to really go anywhere. Throughout the movie, we constantly get to hear little glimpses of a conversation some characters are having with one another about a past recollection of Manglehorn and something he did. Sometimes they’re heroic tales, sometimes they’re weird, but either way, they feel a tad unnecessary. It’s almost as if Green and Logan felt like having someone as talented as Pacino in the lead role wasn’t enough to make him interesting as is, so to add-on all of this supposed backstory would just help him out. Problem is, it didn’t happen and just goes to show you that sometimes, you shouldn’t get in the way of an artist and his art.

Especially when that artist is Al Pacino.

Consensus: Due to Pacino’s great performance, Manglehorn moves in certain areas that you don’t expect it to, to much surprise, that is sometimes both good, as well as bad.

6.5 / 10

I'd trust that grizzle with opening up my car.

I’d trust that scruff with opening up my car.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hungry Hearts (2015)

hungry_hearts_poster-620x842Know who you’re impregnating, before you impregnate them.

Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) randomly get stuck in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant, and from then on, their lives are changed. The two fall in love, get a place together, get pregnant, and, well, wouldn’t you know it? They end up getting married! It’s great for these two young kids, and for awhile, they seem to be getting along quite fine. They have a child, and while Mina and Jude originally seem to be on the same page of how to raise it, what to give it to eat, etc., eventually, that all begins to change. Once Jude finds out from a doctor that all of the vegetables and non-protein foods that Mina is feeding their baby isn’t allowing for it to grow at the right pace it should be, he decides to take matters into his own hands where he feeds the kid all sorts of delicious treats like ham, turkey, and sugars – all of which Mina is totally against. This leads to a battle of wits and actual displays of violence that pit Jude and Mina against one another, all with their precious little baby in the middle of it.

Yay!

Yay!

Don’t be fooled by the Bruce Springsteen title here, people: Hungry Hearts is no picnic to get through. But somehow, I think that’s the point. Writer/director Saverio Costanzo takes a premise that would give off all sorts of insights that were so prevalent in Blue Valentine, and yet, take it a step further, in trying to talk less about messed-up relationships that don’t fit together well, and focus more on the fact that the people in the relationships themselves are messed-up to begin with, hence the reason as to why the relationship isn’t quite working out in the first place.

Like I said, happy stuff.

What’s initially interesting about Hearts, is that it doesn’t ever seem like it’s trying to make full sense of this romance and show how these two lovebirds are absolutely, positively made for one another. Instead, the movie goes on to show that while they may be pleasant together, the circumstances in which they met and eventually came together to get married, weren’t at all ideal. Then again, not everybody’s relationship is ideal if you think about it, but here, with Mina and Jude’s, it especially so in a way that helps the movie’s style in which nothing is glamorized in any sort of fashion. What you see on the screen, is literally what you get, warts and all.

That said, there’s something odd about Hearts from where it starts off as an insightful romantic-drama, to something in the same vein as Rosemary’s Baby. What starts to come into play in the later-half of this movie is literally a constant game of cat-and-mouse between Mina and Jude, which I will admit, does grab attention to itself, but at the same time, feels like something from a whole, entirely different movie. Though it’s hardly ever mentioned, there’s a slight idea going around in this film that Mina’s family has a long history of mental illness and because of this, she acts out in ways that could literally be classified as “insane”.

Once again, the movie utters maybe a line or two about this idea and that’s about it.

Which is definitely weird, not because it seems to come out of nowhere, but because the movie seems to lose all hope in saying anything interesting with its plot. Jude is passionate about saving his baby’s life and will do anything to keep that so, whereas Mina is just a crazy lady who wants to constantly feed her baby nothing but veggies, regardless of whether or not it’s killing it. That’s basically it and while it’s tense to see how Jude reacts to Mina in certain situations, at the same time, it feels like a disappointment considering the places this movie could have gone and definitely seemed to promise on and on about.

No!

No!

But if there is something that made this last-half, if somewhat believable to watch when it was easy to get through all of the crazy nonsense, are the two performances from Driver and Rohrwacher, both of whom seem very committed to this material, even if they are a bit too good for it. Driver, like usual, finds ways to challenge himself and step outside the boundaries made for him by Girls, and with Jude, he does a great job. While Jude is, at times, a very frustrating character by how much of a pushover he can be when it comes to how to raise his own child, there’s still a feeling of honest love that’s felt whenever he’s on-screen, and it helps his character be more likable throughout, even if you do want to ring his neck at certain points.

Something I’m pretty sure many people feel while watching him on Girls, but it’s still slightly different.

Believe it or not, though, it’s Rohrwacher who actually steals the show a bit from Driver, as she really seems to giving it her absolute all, even if the script doesn’t seem to be too bothered with her doing that. What I mean by this is that the movie seems to categorize her as nothing more than “a villain”, and while this isn’t a false idea to have when looking at her and her actions, it still seems like too harsh of a judgement. Rather than being well-rounded and making Mina’s convictions seem somewhat justified in her own nutty way, the movie instead just goes right ahead and points the finger at her. Not saying that she doesn’t deserve it, but after awhile, it became abundantly clear that the movie wasn’t looking for much more insight into this character.

However, that’s why Rohrwacher’s performance is so good, because we get to see certain shades to this character that the script may not have even had at first. Whereas Mina’s a nervous wreck just about every second of every day, Rohrwacher shows that it’s literally a battle she is having with herself, rather than her just lashing out and loving every bit of it. Even when she starts committing terrible actions to her baby, it comes out of a soft spot of love and compassion that, while you may not at all agree with, is understandable. Once again, not condoning any of this woman’s actions, but when put into perspective, it make sense why she acts the way she does.

Simply put, she’s crazy. That’s it.

Consensus: Despite a drastic tonal-shift about half-way through, Hungry Hearts benefits from two solid performances that make the movie hit harder than it probably should have.

6 / 10

Oh, what promise the future holds.

Oh, what promise the future holds.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Duke of Burgundy (2015)

Science can get pretty kinky.

Two lepidopterists, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudson) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), spend a lot of time together. While they both practice bugs and all of that fine stuff, they’re more interested in the BDSM that they practice and who, or who doesn’t, get the chance to take command of the relationship. While Cynthia demands for Evelyn to do stuff, she responds in a way that’s calculated, and leads her to, sometimes, getting punished. On the other hand, however, Evelyn isn’t really upset with this; she, like Cynthia finds this fun, hot and something new to play around with, until it gets to be too much for both involved. However, what ultimately ends up happening is that, over time, Evelyn and Cynthia start to grow jealous of one another and clash heads a bit. While Cynthia is fine with taking absolute control in the bed and in the relationship, Evelyn is now starting to lean more towards something of a natural relationship where woman hold and love another, rather than sitting on each other’s faces and doing all sorts of other odd stuff.

Something as odd and bizarre as the Duke of Burgundy should be a whole lot more exciting than what it actually turns out to be. For one, writer/director Peter Strickland seems to be taking a very serious, very intimate look at two women participating in a BDSM relationship that can sometimes test them to their limitations. But then again, it’s very hard to do that with what eventually happens here, and yet, try to make sure that no people start cracking up.

Gotta always get prepared and dollied up for the night's wild proceedings.

Gotta always get prepared and dollied up for the night’s wild proceedings.

Because, honestly, when you have a movie where one character pees into another character’s mouth as a source of punishment for not cleaning out one’s panties, it’s pretty hard not to crack up.

But that’s what’s sort of strange about Strickland – he is so drop dead serious, that you almost have to go along with it. While it’s easy to be the most immature kid watching at home, there’s also a time and place for when one has to grow up a bit and realize that bodily fluids and sexual desires are just another part of daily human lives. Strickland knows this, sees this, and understands this, and because of that, he wants us to pay attention, as well.

And it’s very hard not to pay attention to what’s going on, if only because of all the sorts of fun role-playing that occurs here. However, whereas a movie like Fifty Shades of Grey gives the audience a plethora of scenes where its two characters are just having a bunch of fun, wacky and wild sex with one another, and leaving it at that, Strickland takes it one step further. In a way, Strickland actually wants us to get to know these characters and exactly what this BDSM relationship does to them as a whole.

While one person may have the most control on what happens, and doesn’t happen while in between the sheets, they may not have the same power or control when it comes to the actual relationship itself. That’s what happens here with Cynthia and Evelyn here, and while I won’t give whom it is in which position, I will say that it’s an interesting look at how quickly and drastically control can shift in a relationship, no matter how loving or miserable it is. If one person wants something better, and the other person knows that, it’ll most definitely take a toll; not just on one person, but the both of them.

And as Evelyn and Cynthia, both Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudson put in good work here, showing that both characters have complex needs, wants and pleasures that make them more compelling to watch, no matter what they’re doing. While it’s easy for some to get wrapped up in all of the sex games that they play with one another, the smaller, more subdued moments are what seem the most telling as we truly get to see what it is that they feel at that exact moment.

But, then again, there’s this problem that I continue to have with this movie where it feels like Strickland drops the ball a bit, especially in the last-half.

Somehow, somewhere, Strickland got a bit too ahead of himself. Even after having a solid first-two halves, Strickland loses a lot of focus and starts to get really strange, but in ways that aren’t very appealing. Not because, once again, they feature these two female characters doing odd things, but because the movie forgets that in order to make a lot of what happens, the focus has to be on the characters. They don’t have to be the most likable human specimens on the face of the planet, but they just need to have some sort of compelling aspects to their personalities that make them so worth getting invested in in the first place.

Here, Strickland loses that idea in his head and instead, starts throwing sheer craziness at us like an imaginative dream into one character’s vagina. You heard me right, people. No typo whatsoever. There is literally a sequence in which Strickland constantly puts his zoom in on a character’s vagina and we continue to go in and in, until, for some odd reason, bugs start flying all over the place. Have no clue what it means, really, but neither do I think Strickland does either; he’s just going along with the wacky flow and seeing who he can keep interested next.

And, well, job relatively accomplished.

Consensus: Without a sharp focus, the Duke of Burgundy isn’t as compelling it should be, despite the two solid performances and shocking scenes that occur through the run-time.

6 / 10

"Madam. Please be ready. I need somewhere to sit."

“Madam. Please be ready. I need somewhere to sit.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

San Andreas (2015)

Can’t help but wonder how another Johnson may have survived.

Los Angeles Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) makes a living off of saving people’s lives. Not only is it his calling in life, but it’s what he loves to do. However, because of this love in his life, he’s sort of forgotten about other loves in his life that may mean a lot more, such as his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), and wife (Carla Gugino), who has now just handed Ray divorce papers, even while she’s spending time with new boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). While this is all happening though, an a monstrous earthquake is forming right underneath everyone and throws all of California into an insane frenzy. While Ray has a job to do, his first and most important priority is finding his daughter and his wife, which he will try and complete using all of the smarts and skills that he has at his disposal. However, as local seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) soon figures out: There may not be enough time to save yourself.

Believe it or not, San Andreas was not directed by Roland Emmerich. And honestly, I’m so happy for that. It’s not because director Brad Peyton does such a stellar job that he should be praised for days-on-end, but it’s because Emmerich’s kind of disaster movies seem to get so tired, old, and repetitive, that by the time all of the destruction and mayhem is over, it hardly even matters. While the same situation could have easily happened with San Andreas, Peyton finds a smart way to keep that from happening, solely by just keeping all of the destruction and mayhem as fun, exciting and insane as possible, therefore, hardly ever allowing for it to lose its muster.

"Come with me if you want to Rock."

“Come with me if you want to Rock.”

Something that, once again, Roland Emmerich wouldn’t be able to contain himself away from.

But that isn’t to say that Peyton gets away from this movie clean and free, without any problems to be found whatsoever, because that just isn’t the truth. In fact, there’s a lot about San Andreas that doesn’t feel right; like, for instance, the fact that one moment, we could be cheering because of a heroic action that a character just made, and then, moments later, see digital human beings be utterly destroyed by whatever carnage just so happened to find them. In a way, it’s almost like, rather than focusing on this one, small story, we should be focusing on the whole grand spectrum, and how basically each and every person in California is being wiped out beyond belief.

Also, there’s an odd feeling that even though we’re told and shown that Ray’s main job is to help save people from any sorts of disasters, we sort of see him abandon this job once all of the earthquakes begin. This is understandable, because obviously, family comes first, but what about the few ten or fifteen people you see along the way of finding your family that may or may not need some saving? Are they not good enough? Or significant? Or did the budget not allow for anymore actors to be hired?

Whatever the reason may have been, it’s a bit odd.

Then again, though, San Andreas is just another silly blockbuster, that also happens to be a disaster movie and doesn’t let up on that later element. And thankfully so, because this is actually what begins to save the fact that a lot of what happens is nutty, but it hardly ever becomes numbing. Though earthquakes occur quite often in the near-two hour time-limit, they never bummed me out. Part of that has to do with the fact that it took us away from more moments where the movie tried to make itself into a touching, heartfelt message movie about fathers, daughters, and marriage, but also, because Peyton find some new, impressive ways to make sure that all of the odds were stacked-up against our protagonists.

Does that mean they weren’t able to defeat them? No, but hey! It’s hard to care for all of that when you’re just having a good time.

Once they both realize she's the girl from True Detective, things will get a whole lot more interesting.

Once they both realize she’s the girl from True Detective, things will get a whole lot more interesting.

And with Dwayne Johnson, how could you not? Honestly, if you weren’t already convinced that Johnson is one of the most unabashedly charming fellas on the face of the planet by now, check out San Andreas and come back to me. This doesn’t mean that Johnson himself is doing anything ground-breaking with his work here, but it’s hard to not break a smile on your face whenever he’s around. Sometimes, he says something witty and makes you laugh, other times, he’s actually showing that there’s something of a heart and soul underneath all of that muscle and testosterone.

But Johnson helps make a lot of this movie work because he at least adds some legitimacy and fun to what happens here. Whereas the movie could have easily been a boring, uneventful slug of one disaster sequence, after another, Johnson finds ways to pop up, remind you that he’s around, and that, no matter how much destruction occurs, he’s always around to save the day. Also, surprisingly, he and Carla Gugino share a solid chemistry together that works even when they’re fighting, or when they’re coming back together as a couple; something that made the movie a little bit more interesting.

Then, of course, there’s Paul Giamatti who, like Johnson, is just here to remind everybody that he’s able to make whatever he does, better just by showing up. Giamatti doesn’t have much to do here other than yell, warn people about upcoming Earthquakes, and hide underneath desks, but he does so well with it, that it never gets old. And despite playing a character nearly nine years younger than her own self, Alexandra Daddario does a solid job as Blake, showing that she isn’t the damsel in distress who always needs somebody to save her life; she can figure situations out and more often than not, outsmart those around her.

The perfect woman, basically.

Consensus: As silly as it may be, San Andreas is a lot like other disaster movies in that it doesn’t hold back on all of the insane destruction or mayhem, but also benefits from the always engaging presence of Dwayne Johnson.

6.5 / 10

Prepare for plenty of Rock Bottoms, Earth's core.

Prepare for plenty of Rock Bottoms, Earth’s core.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Poltergeist (2015)

It’s been over 30 years and electricity is still the root of all evil.

Looking for a fresh, new start, Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy Bowen (Rosemarie DeWitt) finally get a new home that they think can suit them and their three children. Though the money situation they’re currently dealing with isn’t ideal, they figure out that they can make it work long enough to sustain a comfort level of happiness. However, little do they know that the house was built upon a cemetery many years ago; something that’s a bit freaky, but terrifying once the angry spirits start acting-out and attacking the Bowen clan. In fact, the pissed-off spirits go so far as to kidnap the youngest, Maddi (Kennedi Clements), leading the family to turn to the only people that they feasibly can without having any sort of legal action brought in: Paranormal experts. While they initially enlist a professional in this sort of field to help out, Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), eventually, they figure out that the spirits are too deadly and powerful, so that they need to get someone more famous and understanding with this kind of freaky stuff – cue in known haunted house TV personality Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris).

Let’s be honest here, people, the original, 1982 version of Poltergeist wasn’t perfect, nor was it that much of a classic. Sure, it had its freaky moments and a smart social commentary on television and how it is corrupting our minds and souls, whether we’d like to admit or not. Whenever a remake of an older movie comes out, people like to spew on and on about how the original can, and will, never be beat, and for some reason, they make it out to be as if it’s this masterpiece that should never be touched, or toyed with in any matter.

I'm already picturing the new Poltergeist ride.

I’m already picturing the new Poltergeist theme park ride.

However, in the case of Poltergeist, it does deserved to be fooled around with, especially since the remake isn’t all that bad to begin with.

Does that mean it’s a great movie? Hell to the no! However, what it does mean is that while people may go on and and on and on about the original being practically the be all, end all to horror films, they’ll be blind to the fact that the remake actually isn’t all that bad. Mostly, that’s due to the fact that Gil Kenan doesn’t waste anytime getting to where he needs to get with this story: The spooks and scares.

Whereas most horror movies take their good old grand time developing characters, their history together and what exactly the mythology is behind all of the scary stuff that will soon be happening, Kenan gets right to it with reckless abandon. Already, in maybe the first ten minutes, we’re already introduced to a few scares that may seem like small child’s play, but are still effective, and no less than ten minutes later, we get the iconic, “They’re here” scene, that everybody says, quite like the original movie itself, is legendary. Once again, not sure if this is all that true, but who cares?

The fact is that after these initial twenty minutes, Kenan dives in deep to the story and doesn’t hold back on any of the fun that these scares may have in them. People are grabbed and thrown around; lights go on, off, and even float around; and parts of the house break or blow up. It’s all so crazy, but Kenan doesn’t forget that these elements can make the movie a whole lot of fun. In today’s day and age of horror film, it actually helps if your movie is more fun, than actually scary; sure, it helps if your movie is both, but if you can’t get the scary right, at least try to make some of it fun to watch and be apart of. We may not fear for some of these character’s lives, but we can still enjoy them trying their hardest to escape out of the poor situations they’ve been thrown into.

It’s an element that works in such movies like the Conjuring, Insidious, and hell, even Paranormal Activity, and I guess you can add this new Poltergeist to the list.

That Rosemarie DeWitt - she's so touchy feely.

That Rosemarie DeWitt – she’s so touchy feely.

Now, that’s not to say that this movie is perfect. There’s a certain element here that makes me feel like Kenan could have definitely helped himself in a way to develop these characters a tad more, rather than just relying on the audience’s previously-known knowledge, or actor’s performances to help out. Sure, some who have already seen the original will know who each of these characters are and what’s the deal with all of them are, but there’s a feeling that when shit hits the fan, we don’t really know these people. Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but for the most part, it does, and that’s one of the problems here.

Then again, there is something to be said for the fact that the character’s we’re supposed to care about are played by Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams (somewhere, Todd Solondz must be smiling), and the almighty Sam Rockwell, among others – which is probably the most interesting aspect surrounding this movie. A part of me knows that these indie-ish names are attached in the first place for the sake of this being a paycheck gig, but it’s still neat to see mostly all of them play their type and still maintain a certain level of personality while doing so, rather than just letting the movie run all over them and take their lives.

DeWitt, as usual, is loving, caring, and smart as a woman who needs to be in a crappy situation like this; Harris is unusually charismatic; Jane Adams plays up her weirdness, but still maintains a certain level of intelligence; and Rockwell, well, is Rockwell. He’s funny, sarcastic, energetic, fun, and all around, an engaging presence. Hardly does the opposite ever happen to Rockwell where he isn’t a blast to watch, but there’s something to be recognized where he still seems to be interested, even if the material he’s working with isn’t all that heavy, or weighty to begin with. So maybe even if these characters aren’t all that multidimensional or interesting to begin with, at least they’re portrayed by people who are capable of making this happen anyway.

Now, I’ll ask again: What about the original being all that amazing?

Consensus: This new Poltergeist may not be perfect, but it’s still a fun, relatively effective, and compelling enough horror remake to sit back, watch, enjoy, and be mildly spooked by.

6.5 / 10

Don't stand too close to the screen! Didn't your parents teach you anything!?!?

Don’t stand too close to the screen! Didn’t your parents teach you anything!?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Maggie (2015)

Poor zombies. Their craving for human flesh can be so sad sometimes.

After being infected with some sort of virus that’s turned her into some sort of walking, talking, flesh-craving zombie, Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is left with what to make of her life. Or better yet, what’s left of it. While her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) holds out hope that she’ll get better, with the right medicine and work ethic, Maggie still feels as if she’s not getting any better and is only a few days or so closer to going full-on zombie and eating whatever human is standing in her way. Though her father realizes this, he still stays optimistic. But then again, he also realizes that if the time ever comes around to Maggie become a deadly zombie, then he will be the one who has the duty of killing Maggie once and for all, even if it will probably kill him on the inside to do so to his only daughter and the only lasting memory of his late wife. But killing Maggie in a quick, painless fashion is probably best, especially considering all of the literal horror stories he hears about the government doing to those who may or may not actually be infected with the virus.

So what’s literally the premise to one episode of the Walking Dead, somehow becomes an-hour-and-a-half-long movie in Maggie. And the fact this premise probably didn’t need to be expanded to what it is, definitely shows as there are definite moments where hardly anything happens, for a very long time. Sure, people are sad in these very grim and morbid times, yet, just seeing somebody wallow in their own misery and accept the impending doom that’s coming down their way, doesn’t really do much to keep a movie together.

Sadness.

Sadness.

Which isn’t to say that every movie needs to have some sort of action that’s keeping it moving along, where something is always happening, or being learned, no matter what. I don’t mind that, especially in a movie like with Maggie, where although we expect it to be filled with all sorts of blood, guts, gore, and head-splitting moments that push the R-rating beyond its measures in the way that AMC won’t even allow, we get something much smaller and subdued. In fact, I appreciate that. We do see a zombie or two get chopped in the head with an ax, but the way in how it’s done doesn’t feel like it’s trying to liven things up, as much as it’s just trying to drive the point on home about how in the world in where Maggie lives, friends and neighbors are all killing one another, in a way to survive.

So yes, it’s sort of like an episode of the Walking Dead, but there’s something a tad different about that here.

Speaking of something that’s a tad different here than we’ve ever seen before, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s actually really stretching his acting-gills out in ways that we haven’t seen before and it’s surprisingly effective, although not perfect. As Wade, we get to see Arnold in a role that’s less about how much ass he can kick, and more about how much sadness he would actually feel from kicking all of that ass and harming whoever’s ass he was to kick. Arnold does an alright job in this role as he doesn’t get called on to do much, except just look sad and cry a few times, which he does fine with. In a way, it sort of makes me wonder if there’s more heart and humanity to what Arnold presents on the screen than what we’ve seen in the past few years with his resurgence into the mainstream.

More sadness.

More sadness.

And while Arnold’s good here, he still can’t help but get over-shadowed by Abigail Breslin, a very talented actress who has grown-up just fine. As Maggie, Breslin gets a chance to show us what one person would go through, emotionally and physically, if they were to realize that, slowly but surely, their mind, body, and soul, was all deteriorating into being a walking, hungry, menacing corpse. There’s a few scenes in which we get to see Breslin show some of that charisma we saw from her when she was just a kid and it lets me know that, no matter what roles she takes up in the future, she’ll be just fine.

Problem is, for Arnold and Breslin, they aren’t given a whole lot to work with, if only because Maggie itself is so repetitive and dark, that when it’s all over, you’ll sort of feel happy.

That isn’t to say that the topic of a father losing his young daughter should be filled with laughs, rays of sunshine and happiness, but that also isn’t to say that it has to constantly be as morbid and bleak as it’s presented as here. Here, director Henry Hobson makes it seem like he ran out of anything interesting to say after the first 25 minutes, so instead of just wrapping-up filming altogether, making this an extended-short and calling it a day, he needed to fill-out whatever extra 60 minutes he could work with. At times, Hobson’s able to bring up some very interesting points about coming to grips with one’s own death, but in the end, also feels like it’s just taking it’s time to get there on purpose. Which is to say that, yes, if all you do with your movie is present sadness, despair, and loss, you need certain ways of showing that, that not only feels fresh and somewhat enlightening, but also effective.

But when it goes on for as long as Maggie does, then there’s a problem.

Consensus: Solid performances from Arnold and Abigail Breslin make Maggie into being something more than just a standard zombie flick, but at the same time, still meanders along for no good reason.

6 / 10

And, oh yes, plenty more sadness.

And, oh yes, plenty more sadness.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Is it cool if dudes call each other “pitches”? If not, I’ll make it happen.

After embarrassing themselves in front of a huge, national audience, especially including President Obama himself, the Barden Bellas now find themselves hit with the reality that they may not be allowed to participate in anymore professional acapella competitions. However, by finding a loophole, they realize that they continue to work and perform together, it’s just that they’ll have to compete in the global tournament in order to do so. Which doesn’t sound so bad considering that they are a very talented team, but with them going up against the rest of the world, and the fact that now everybody in the group is dealing with problems of their own, they’re also dealing with the idea of not wanting to sing anymore. Becca (Anna Kendrick) now sees her music career popping-off in a way that she’s always wanted it to; Chloe (Brittany Snow) doesn’t know if she wants to leave school yet and, as a result, be leaving the Bellas behind as well; and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), well, who knows with her?

The first Pitch Perfect was fine. So many people, over the past couple of years at least, have made it out to be some sort of comedy classic that went straight from being a beloved by cults, and straight into the mainstreams with it’s lovely songs, therefore, altering the fact that the movie itself wasn’t anything special. Sure, it was funny, had snappy musical-numbers, and featured the awe-inspiring moment that will forever change the way how people use red solo cups, but get past all of that, you’ve just got a middling movie that’s better than a lot of what we see nowadays.

So much tension.

So much tension.

So with that said, the idea of there being a second one wasn’t exactly jumping at me as an amazing idea, but then again, this movie isn’t really made for cranky wankers like me. It’s made for the adoring fans who hold the first movie so near and dear to their hearts, so much so that they actually went out of their ways to start their own acapella groups. Which is to say that when they do see Pitch Perfect 2, they’ll be more than pleased. There’s a lot of singing, dancing, and jokes made at the expense of Rebel Wilson’s rotund physique.

Does that make the movie bad? Not really, but like so many other sequels out there where the same things seem to be happening, and there’s hardly any differentiation between the two movies to be found.

But with this sequel, if there’s one attribute that makes it mildly interesting at best, is the fact that Elizabeth Banks is making her full-fledged directorial debut with it, and it’s not as bad as some actor’s first movies can be. That may sound like a lame thing to say, but it’s the truth – because Banks was taking so much on her plate as was, it’s impressive to see her handle it all with ease. She isn’t necessarily doing much else that’s different from the first movie, but that doesn’t matter so much because there are quite a few moments that are genuinely funny.

Having worked with Judd Apatow and co. many times in the past, it makes sense that Banks would understand what it takes to make people laugh, and what can be seen as funny. In the spirit of the first flick, some jokes are mean-spirited and seem to come completely out of nowhere. Other times, they’re the same gags that either go nowhere. There’s an Asian character here called Lilly Onakurama, who is from the first and, just like in that movie, speaks with a very quiet and tender whisper which, if you listen close enough to, will be able to realize that all she’s saying is weird, almost psychotic things. There’s also another character from the first one here named Stacie Conrad, and because she’s a butch lesbian, everything she does or says is overtly sexual and masculine.

Are any of these gags funny? Not really, but once again, the crowd whom this was made for, clearly do.

So smug, Banks.

So smug, Banks.

The only instances in which this movie can actually be funny is whenever Rebel Wilson takes the stage. While Wilson may have been a tad too overexposed after the success of both the first movie, as well as Bridesmaids, which lead to the ultimately disappointing Super Fun Night, there’s no denying that she has a comedic-talent that strays away from being just all about her physical presence. Sure, she enjoys making a fat joke about herself every once and awhile, but it’s used in a snarky, condescending tone that makes it actually funny, as well as smart; therefore, helping her character’s humor hit all the more harder whenever she’s thrown into situations where she’s called upon to be, well, funny.

Banks finds ways to use Wilson here that work for the later, as well as the movie itself. There’s a rather extended sequence in which Fat Amy sings to her love-interest and while it goes on and on, it’s awkward, weird and presented in such a way that it works, much like most of Apatow’s movies do. Though with Wilson getting most of the attention here, it takes away a bit from the likes of Kendrick and Snow, who try to make their presences known, but ultimately, slip a bit through the cracks; especially Snow, whose character I didn’t even know had a subplot going on until the final strand of the flick.

With Kendrick, we get to see Hannah record and possibly get into the music business, which also introduces another new character by the name of Emily Junk-Hardon (yep), played by the very talented and cheery Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld is growing into becoming more and more of a likable presence on-screen, which is why I wasn’t too disappointed seeing her character get a lot more screen-time than Kendrick’s; not only can she sing, but she also knows how to be funny, without overdoing it. Which, in the world that Pitch Perfect presents, means a whole heck of a lot.

Just don’t tell its core audience that. Don’t even dare, actually.

Consensus: Much like the original, Pitch Perfect 2 features snappy dialogue, impressive musical numbers, and an okay sense of humor, although it hardly does much else to be different.

6.5 / 10

You go, pitches!

You go, pitches!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Welcome to Me (2015)

As long as you’ve got money, you can film whatever you want.

After winning the lottery, Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), who has borderline personality disorder, decides that she wants to spend it on exactly what her life’s dream has been: Have her own talk show. It doesn’t sound too harmful, except for the fact that it’s going to feature nobody else but her own-self, in which she will air her own feelings out about life to the live audience, as well as the rest of the world watching home, with also offering glimpses into her past and how it’s made her who she is today. While it’s mostly all inappropriate, Alice is willing to throw as much money as she wants at the network’s producer (James Marsden), and considering that they need the money, there’s not too many problems. However, eventually fame and fortune go to Alice’s head where she soon forgets about those who helped her get such a firm grasp on reality in the first place, like her best friend (Linda Cardellini), her possible boyfriend (Wes Bentley), and especially, her therapist (Tim Robbins); all of whom want to help Alice, yet, don’t know how to communicate with her in an effective manner that gets her to stop thinking of her own-self for once.

"Hey, Alice? Maybe don't say 'fuck' on the air?"

“Hey, Alice? Maybe don’t say ‘fuck’ on the air?”

I’ve got to hand it to Kristen Wiig. Even after the huge success of Bridesmaids, she could have easily taken any money-making, big-budget, mainstream comedy pic and become something of the female equivalent of Will Ferrell: It doesn’t matter if the movies you make are any good, as long as people are seeing them and making money, then that’s fine. With Wiig, though, she’s proven herself to be more interested in these very challenging, relatively low-key indies that not only challenge her as an actress, but to allow us, the audience, to see her in this new light. While the results can sometimes range from bad (Girl Most Likely), to fine (Hateship Loveship), to good (the Skeleton Twins), there’s no denying the fact that Wiig isn’t afraid to step up to a challenge and see what she can do with herself as an actress.

Even if, like I said before, they aren’t quite spectacular to begin with.

That’s the case with Welcome to Me, however, it’s hardly Wiig’s fault. Wiig is fearless in every sense here with her portrayal of Alice Klieg – since her character is a little loopy, Wiig gets a chance to try out her dry sense of comedy, but in a more bizarre, slightly disturbing way. But also, because her character is mentally messed-up, we’re treated to Wiig giving her certain layers and shadings that writer/director Shira Piven’s screenplay may not have had in the first place. With Wiig, it’s easy top say that this character works because while Alice may not be a sympathetic character, there’s still something compelling about watching her profess her feelings to whomever will listen to her and it makes you feel a tad bit more sad for this character. Even though she does some pretty terrible things throughout the majority of the film (and for no reasons whatsoever), there’s still a feeling of care for this character, and I think a lot of that credit can be given to Wiig’s talents as an actress.

Then again though, her performance would have been a lot better off, had Piven herself been able to make up her own mind about this character, seeing as how it’s sort of a mess how she’s handled. For one, there’s something very deeply upsetting about Alice Klieg’s life that’s portrayed to us in a manner that’s either too dark that it can’t be funny, or too funny, so therefore, it can’t be dark or dramatic. In a way, Alice’s life is presented to us that gives us insight into why she acts the way she does, what’s affected her over the years, and how exactly she’s trying to cope with it in the present day – all of which, are very revealing, but for some reason, Piven doesn’t know what to do with all of these insights.

In most cases, Piven focuses on Alice’s life as it’s some sort of a joke that, yeah, may have featured some traumatic occurrences here and there, but oh look how silly and awkward she is! In a way, it’s like Piven’s constantly wrestling with two different movies, and rather than making up her mind and sticking straight to one, she constantly flirts with both.

One has a beard, the other doesn't. Which one do you think is less pissed-off?

One has a beard, and the other doesn’t. Which one do you think is less pissed-off?

One movie is a dark comedy about a messed-up individual, getting the chance to say whatever she wants to the mass-media audiences, all because she has enough money to do so. As you can probably tell, this is a little satirical bite on the way our mainstream media has turned into nowadays with the likes of Dr. Phil and Oprah, who may not actually have any wise pieces of info to send-off to its audience, but have just the right amount of dollars to make people listen to whatever they have to say. While this idea may be a bit dated in the world we live in now, it still works in the context that Piven presents because the TV executives portrayed here know that what Alice is doing is outlandish, ridiculous and everything wrong with the modern state of television, and yet, can’t do anything about it.

Everybody’s making money, so what’s the big deal?!?

Then, on the flip-side of the equation, there’s another movie that discusses Alice’s life and how her current personality reflects all that she’s gone through. While there are certain bits and pieces of this that shine through in the final product that’s still interesting, it’s still not nearly as well-rounded as what Piven does with the satirical edge. While Piven wants to discuss Alice’s problems to their fullest extent, she still can’t help but laugh and point at whenever there’s a scene in which she has sex with some random stranger, blurts out obscenities, and seem to not be able to grasp anything in her life. Piven doesn’t seem like she’s fully capable of handling this character and it’s a bummer, because not only does Alice seem like she’s a well-done character, but because Wiig is, once again, more than willing to go as far and deep as she can.

Poor Wiig. You’ll get ’em next time!

Consensus: Wiig and the rest of the ensemble do fine in Welcome to Me, but due to the uneven tone and messy direction, it never looks as fully polished as it should be, no matter how many lovely names it has attached to it.

6 / 10

Life.

Life.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hyena (2015)

If you’re a cop, and you’re corrupt, chances are, it’s not going to work out for you.

London cop Michael (Peter Ferdinando) seems to be living the high life. While he may be a police officer, he’s corrupt as they come, meaning that he’s able to do as many drugs, hookers, and crime as he wants. So long as he doesn’t get found out by the higher-ups in the police organization, then all is fine. However, that’s exactly what happens and he’s the one that has to talk to the fellow officer doing the looking (Stephen Graham), because he knows him from the old days. But if that didn’t suck already, the fact that he is now in huge debt to Albanian mobster for losing 100k in a drug deal gone wrong, only makes Michael’s life all the more miserable and tense. How does he get by it all though? Is it by his own smarts and intuition? Or, does he simply just let things happen as they come by, without much effort thrown in on his part at all? Well, after that line of blow, he’ll let you know.

It’s hard to do a bad gritty cop drama. Because the story’s mostly concern dirty/corrupt cops not doing what’s asked of them as a civic duty, for the most part, their movies often come out as ragged and raw as they sound. If a film maker screws up in not allowing for the mugginess of it all to translate onto the screen, and not make a member of the audience want to take a shower when it’s all over, then they have not done their job.

Sweet 'stache, not-70's-cop, cop.

Sweet ‘stache, not-70’s-cop, cop.

That’s not to say that Hyena is a bad gritty cop drama, but that isn’t to say it’s a great one, either.

For starters, Hyena seems like it tries a tad too hard with what already seems to be a pretty easy story to understand. Cop is bad; cop does bad things; bad things eventually start to happen to bad cop. That’s all you really need to know going into these sorts of movies, and Hyena‘s story isn’t at all different. As to why the cop is bad in the first place, is never made clear, except that maybe he just likes to live dangerously a lot and feel like he’s the king of his own castle; not that there’s anything wrong with no reasoning being shown to us, but it also calls into question the rest of the movie’s intentions.

Because while we know the cop is bad and is going to have a lot of bad things done to him, the movie never seems to make this clear enough to us. Maybe I’m over-stepping a bit, because even though we see plenty of people shot, stabbed, and tortured to death, the whole time, I wasn’t wondering how the cop is going to get out a situation, or even how he’s going to use his tactful skills as a police officer for many years to help himself – instead, I was wondering what the hell was going on. We know that the Albanians are involved somehow, but it’s never made clear when or what they’re going to do about it. A side-passing threat here and there doesn’t do much, especially when you’re trying to get your audience as invested as humanly possible.

Then again, there are definitely bits and pieces of Hyena that are tense, but it has less to do with the actual plotting or action that takes place, it’s mostly with the characters and the solid performances put in from everyone involved.

Most importantly though, I’m talking about Peter Ferdinando as Michael, our corrupt cop for the next two hours. While we never learn too much about Michael, other than that he was once an honest cop and is now, from what we see, a boozing, whoring, and drug-doing bum with a badge and a gun, it doesn’t feel needed. Just seeing him all hopped-up on whatever he’s had up his nostrils to wake himself up and trying to come to grips with just what the hell is currently going on in his life, was more than enough to work for me. Ferdinando gives a lot of shades to this character of Michael, and while I didn’t feel like I knew this person, inside and out, by the end of it, I didn’t care too much; the dude was always freakin’ intense whenever he was on-screen and definitely proved to be a worthy protagonist to watch over. Even if it’s hard to wholly care for him, there’s still something interesting about him that’s compelling to watch.

Al Capone took a chill pill for once.

Al Capone took a chill pill for once.

Ditto for Stephen Graham as Michael’s ex-cop buddy/government agent who is now looking into him and his squad. Then again, if you’ve ever watched a single episode of Boardwalk Empire, or any British gangster movie from the past decade or so, you’d know this. But what Graham does so well here that he doesn’t often get a chance to do in other movies, is that he down-plays everything and shows a real human side to whomever he is playing. No longer is he angry, pissed-off and ready to cause trouble anywhere he goes – now, he seems more relaxed and settled in his life. This was interesting to see from Graham and it has me look forward to seeing him play this side more, especially considering so many people know him for how high-wired he can sometimes be in everything he does.

Once again though, these are simple characters that work because they don’t seem to be trying too hard to really throw us for a loop or thinking. Not saying that Hyena should have just been a stupid, thinly-written cop drama with guns, action, boobs, drugs, and booze and left it at that, but when constant threads are thrown over one another, it begins to feel like overkill. Especially when it seems to be taking away from what could have otherwise been a very effective thriller.

Instead, it’s just fine.

Consensus: While it tries a bit too hard for its own good, Hyena still works because of a gritty atmosphere it creates, made all the better by its compelling performances.

6.5 / 10

Well, that's what happens when you don't just give speeding tickets.

Well, that’s what happens when you don’t just give speeding tickets.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The D Train (2015)

High school reunions are a joke and sometimes, so are the people who you see there.

Self-proclaimed chairman of his high school’s reunion committee, Dan Landsman (Jack Black), wants to be the exact opposite of what he was many years ago in the 9th-12th grade: Cool. He hasn’t ever had that feeling, because after high school ended, he got his pregnant (Kathryn Hahn), took the first job he could find, and basically, never let home in the first place. That’s why when he sees a former classmate of his, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), in a commercial for Banana Boat sunscreen, Dan gets the brilliant idea: Get Oliver to come to the reunion and have the reunion itself be a fun, memorable time, all due to Dan himself. However, what that takes is a lot of planning and maneuvering around to get Oliver from L.A., all the way back to home; although Dan is totally up for it too, he may have some problems in the way of his boss (Jeffrey Tambor). Not to mention, Oliver himself may not want to even come at all – something that Dan is able to change, but it all comes at a cost.

While this seems like a very sparse premise, the fact is that there’s something that occurs about half-way through the flick that makes up what’s to become the rest of the movie after it. It’s something I can’t discuss as it will simply spoil the rest of the movie, but do know this: What may seem like a small plot-point, something that could definitely be traded-in as a passing-gag, eventually turns the movie into something very serious and dramatic. Almost too much, would one say?

How I spend every reunion I've ever had to attend.

How I spend every reunion I’ve ever had to attend.

I’m not sure, but there’s something about this drastic step that the D Train that makes it smarter than most comedies. But in hindsight, does it work?

Well, not really. The reason being, too, is that it seems like where co-writers and directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel get mixed up is that they have a neat premise and know what they want to do and say about it, but instead of going anywhere interesting, or better yet, intelligent with it, they just use the most broad example they could find and figure out ways to make the jokes just string off of that. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes that both Paul and Mogel are able to cobble up work and definitely shed some light on the whole bromance subgenre of movies that I’d never see Apatow’s crew bothering to touch.

However, what it ultimately turns out to be is something of a disappoint. See, while Paul and Mogel make it seem like they’re going to discuss the whole idea about growing up, getting out of high school and doing something for yourself, the D Train instead goes somewhere else that feels lazy. It’s as if Paul and Mogel didn’t want to make its audience think too much while laughing, so instead, they just decided the best way to cure all that was to just go for the easiest jokes possible. Once again, the jokes do work and I’d be lying if the movie stopped being serious after this half-way point, but after it all, it made me wonder why there wasn’t more attention given to what seemed like the original intentions Paul and Mogel had.

Though, there is something to be said for a comedy where we get to see plenty of range come from the likes of Jack Black, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, and most especially, James Marsden, that doesn’t just include them mucking it up. Because, for the most part, everybody here is funny and clearly shows they have a great sense of humor to work well within the confines of this script, but they also dig deep into these characters and make them seem like something more than just caricatures. They’re actual humans, albeit, ones with plenty of problems that they may not be able to ever get past.

Such is especially evident in the case of Black’s Landsman, who not only borders on the verge of being incredibly creepy, but may definitely have some self-esteem issues of his own that may not bode well for the rest of his family. I won’t divulge what it is exactly that I am discussing, but Landsman’s obsessive nature is odd and off-putting at times; however, he never becomes a terribly unsympathetic character. There’s a reason for why he acts so insufferably cruel and manipulating to those around him and it’s what keeps most of the moments where he’s just acting like a dick, therefore digging himself deeper into holes he can’t get out of, not only fun, but interesting in what it does to develop this character.

Same goes for Hahn’s character, Stacey. Not only does she love and support her man until the end of their days, but also realizes what it is about him that she loves so very much, even if he can be a bit of a sad sack. She’s not just there as window-dressing to give Landsman a reason to come back home every so often, but she’s actually a genuinely sweet person. And even though most of the easy, softball jokes constantly rely on Tambor’s boss character being present, you can’t help but enjoy what’s happening to his character, as well as sympathize with the dude.

Trust me, sit closer to the soul patch. It works well.

Trust me, sit closer to the soul patch. It works well.

Then, of course, there’s James Marsden.

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been a huge lover of James Marsden; it’s not because he gets the women that I can only dream of having, it’s not because he’s incredibly handsome as hell, and it’s not because he got to do kissy-face with Famke Janssen back in the day, it’s just that I’ve never been fully impressed with his capabilites as an actor. Sure, the dude’s charming and, more often than not, is able to make me laugh, but I’ve never walked from something he’s been involved with and have gone, “Wow. That James Marsden sure is something.”

That may change now. Not just because Marsden’s hilarious here (which he definitely is), but literally gets to the bottom of the heart and soul of this character, without ever making it seem like he’s trying too hard at all. Oliver Lawless stands in the place of every high school jock who peaked in the 11th grade: Was the life of the party, everybody wanted to be friends with, and had high aspirations for, but when the time came around to actually moving on and doing something with their life, totally fell apart. Marsden’s Lawless may be cool, handsome-as-eff, and suave with the ladies, but is also pretty sad with what he’s become and how he can hardly even get Dermot Mulroney to talk to him. Marsden shows layers to this character that I don’t even know were there to begin with, and because of that, I will forever look forward to seeing what Mr. James Marsden has for me next.

Whether the movie be good, bad, or just, middling. Kind of like this.

Consensus: The D Train flirts with interesting ideas that challenge R-rated comedy standards, but doesn’t do enough justice to them and instead, relies heavily on the charming and likable cast to pick up the pieces.

6.5 / 10

How I imagine everybody feels standing next to James Marsden anywhere.

How I imagine everybody feels standing next to James Marsden anywhere.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)

Being rich, famous and having to remember just a few lines your whole life sucks, you know?

Aging actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is most known for her role in an adaptation of Wilhelm Melchior’s Maloja Snake. Many years have past, however, and Maria is already starting to feel insecure and irrelevant in today’s day and age where people are made up to celebrities for simply just doing “stuff”; they don’t have to actually have any sort of talent. Maria doesn’t like this side to movie-making that’s been plaguing society for the past couple decades or so, but she doesn’t hide away from it, either. That’s why when she hears news that Maria’s career-making role is now going to be played by young, brash and fairly controversial American actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), she’s none too happy about it, but yet, still accepts the offer, if mostly for the money. While Maria may not have her old role, she still has a new one and starts to prep for it with her loyal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart); who seems to admire a lot about Maria, but also realize what’s come of today’s movies and accepted them for what they are.

I’ve sat on this review for awhile. It’s not because I didn’t think my opinions on it were so popular that they had to be thrown out there for everybody else to read while it was being praised beyond all belief; it’s mostly due to the fact that I needed some time for myself to rack my brain about how I actually felt about it. By the way everybody’s been going on and on about it, surely there was supposed to be something here that I wasn’t supposed to just like, but love, praise and shout about to the high heavens.

Past.

Past.

However, after watching Clouds of Sils Maria, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t do that no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise.

A part of me, however, does like to praise this movie for giving a no-bullshit, low-key take on current day Hollywood and film-making. Olivier Assayas is a smart writer, as well as director, who clearly seems to be getting to a point about how far movies have fallen from being about the art or even the craft, and much more about making money, getting notoriety, and making sure that a public persona is made out to be all good, clean and kind, so that no skepticism comes around. In a way, Assayas takes a very cynical look at this idea and while he could have just attacked Hollywood and left it at that, he takes it a slight step forward in criticizing the whole grand spectrum of film. From the directors, to the writers, to the actors, to the assistants, and sure as hell to the PR departments, too, everybody gets a scathing mention fro Assayas and it’s interesting to see what he has to say about them.

But then again, when you take into consideration the actual deliverance of these thoughts and ideas, the movie does’t fully work. The reason being is because all of what Assayas does here, doesn’t really hit hard at all. What he’s saying is interesting and definitely deserves to be heard, but the way in how he actually frames them all isn’t – not to mention, none-too-subtle whatsoever.

For instance, there’s a brief sequence in which we see Maria check out what this Jo-Ann Ellis girl is all about and decides to type her name into Google and see what wonderful things pop-up. Needless to say, because Ellis is made out to be a mixture of Lindsay Lohan and, well, Kristen Stewart actually, we are treated to various footage of Ellis acting like an ass, hitting paparazzi with her high-heels, sleeping around, not making any sense in public interviews, and generally seeming like a terrible person to work with, let alone be around. Once again, it’s an interesting and almost genius way for Assayas to make us seem like we know everything we need to know about this character, but it goes on for so long without ever trying to show us anything new, that it feels like Assayas can’t let go; he’s so angry at whom this character represents, that he doesn’t know when to take a chill pill, let it all simmer down, and have her tell herself to us.

This isn’t to say that Moretz isn’t fine in this role, because she totally is. She nails down what it’s like to be young and curious about the world you’re thrown into, yet, at the same time, still have no idea how to handle it all, either. The only problem is that she’s treated to a character who feels so surface-material that the only semblance of sympathy we get from her is that she feels slightly bad for her boyfriend’s wife finding out about them two shacking up.

Wow. Such a lovely little lady she is.

And what happens to Moretz here, sadly, happens to both Binoche and Stewart as well. Although both are a lot better off because they not only take up the main-frame of this movie, but seem to generally be willing to go as far and as deep into these characters as humanly possible. Especially in the case with Binoche, who may be playing a little too close to who she really is in real life, but given that she’s able to make Maria seem like someone who generally cares about her career and the movie world itself, she gets a pass.

Regardless though, Binoche is great in this role; like with Michael Keaton’s portrayal of (basically) himself in Birdman, we get to see an actor who seems in on the joke of what this movie is trying to pass-off, yet, still give a heartfelt, complex into the mind of somebody who is trying so hard to stay relevant in current day media, but also doesn’t want to stoop too low, either. Maria wants people to respect and adore her like they once did some years ago, but also realizes that in order for people to recognize her again, she may have to take some high-paying gigs that’ll make her look like a fool, but will still also allow for her name to be passed-around. While Binoche herself may not have hit the deep-bottom like the character she is portraying, it’s still compelling to watch as she, sort of, imitates life through art.

Present.

Present.

Same goes for Stewart who, after all these years, finally seems happy to be settled-in a world of film where she doesn’t have to please dozens and dozens of screaming teenagers. And because she’s the first American actress to ever win the César Award, there’s already a lot of talk surrounding the work she does here, so there’s that. While the performance may not be as ground-breaking as I expected it to be, it still finds Stewart in an interesting role that shows her to be both cool, charming and a likable presence.

The only problem with this however, is that the performance is wasted on a barrage of scenes that not only push the limitations of one’s patience, but seem to be the same thing, told over and over again.

There are literally, a handful of scenes where both Maria and Valentine are looking over the script and working on it, but at the same time, also seeming like they’re constantly making subtle hints surrounding what they’re relationship together may or may not be. Are they just work-partners? Or friends? Or hell, lovers? The questions are up in the air throughout all of the times these two practice the script that Maria has to perform, but Assayas constantly seems to go back to these scenes, as if he had no other way of portraying this challenging relationship.

At one point, the movie jumps into to talk about how that some of the mainstream pieces of junk we see nowadays are ruining most of our minds and nothing but wastes of time. However, on the flipside of the coin, the movie boldly brings up the fact of how some of these mind-numingly silly and stupid action flicks can sometimes take chances with their stories and themes that smaller, more independent flicks do. This is an interesting complex that the movie creates, but it seems wasted on the fact that Assayas doesn’t know where to go with this idea, except just present it, and allow for his very talented actresses to take the cake home to the baker with it. For the most part, it’s an experiment that sometimes can work, and other times, can’t.

However, that’s just me. Take it or leave it.

Consensus: With the acting pedigree of Binoche, Stewart and Moretz, Clouds of Sils Maria gets away with its less-than-subtle messages about Hollywood, the current day movie-making process, and how some actors have to lose a bit of self-respect to be remembered at all.

6 / 10

Future.

Future.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

True Story (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franco, so smug right now.

Franco, so smug right now.

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

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

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

Okay, maybe a little.

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

6 / 10

PDA?

PDA?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

From Paris with Love (2010)

Paris really should start advertising the Royale with Cheese more.

A personal aide to the US Ambassador in France, James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has an enviable life in Paris and a beautiful French girlfriend, but his real passion is his side job as a low-level operative for the CIA. So when he’s offered his first senior-level assignment, he can’t believe his good luck – until he meets his new partner, Special Agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta).

After striking gold with his semi-Europa thriller Taken, director Pierre Morel teamed up with producer Luc Besson to give us exactly what we would want from these two dudes: Loud action, loud guns, loud people, and a story that makes no sense whatsoever, but was still loud enough to where we think there was something going on that resembled a story.

Then again though, with these two dudes, it’s all you need.

The whole film makes it seem like Morel and Besson just had so many wild and insane ideas for action sequences, that rather than just trying to fit them into a cohesive story, they just went the other way and allowed the action scenes to go first and have the story come second. This would have been terrible for most movies out there, however, From Paris with Love has this great sense of fun and excitement in it, that it’s hard to be too mad at it for forgetting about something of a story. Basically, the story is just there to service the action and help speed things along. It doesn’t get in the way too much, which makes the run-time go on by a whole lot smoother, and even allows for the action sequences to hit a lot harder.

Of course he has a smokin' hot, European girlfriend! It's Johnathan Rhys Meyers!

Of course he has a smokin’ hot, European girlfriend! It’s Johnathan Rhys Meyers!

One scene in particular where the action really kicks ass is when Travolta’s character goes into a Chinese restaurant, asking where coke is, and eventually getting so sick and tired that nobody will admit it to him, he decides to blow-up the whole place with a machine-gun of his, taking out Chinese drug-dealers left and right. It’s a pretty memorable action sequence and there are plenty of other ones that may not be as memorable as this one, but definitely some that add a whole level of “fun” to this film. Just exactly what you need.

However, the main problem with this film is that when the action isn’t going on, the story does eventually take over and can be a bit of a snoozer. Because the movie’s action scenes are so rad, and the fact that both Besson and Morel know this, the story comes off as total second-nature to this movie, which means that a lot of the scenes spaced-out for character and plot development, all come and go with a whimper. It’s understandable that movies like this need something of a story to help measure things out and make sure it’s not a constant barrage of guns, explosions, and death, but to me, this movie could have probably cut-out at least twenty minutes of scenes where people are just talking, left everything else, and it would have been fine. I know that certain movies need that breather or two, but From Paris with Love isn’t that terrific of a movie to get away with any downtime.

It needs to keep going and going, no matter what!

But, where some of the scenes involving people talking get something of a slide is because they feature what can be seen as a return-to-effin’ form from John Travolta as the loose-cannon, Charlie Wax. Travolta hasn’t had the best career in the past decade or so years, but he shows that with roles like these, he still has some of the best delivery when it comes to one-liners, can still come off as a pretty intimidating dude, and has a way of making himself so likable, that it doesn’t matter what sort of violence he’s causing; as long as he’s got that winning-smile of his, all is well.

"Give me Idina Menzel. Or whatever the hell her name is."

“Give me Idina Menzel. Or whatever the hell her name is.”

Though, there is something to be said for Travolta’s electricity in this movie, and that’s that he actually sort of ends up working against the movie. Sure, he’s over-the-top and clearly having the greatest time of his life chewing into this role, but he turns out to be the film’s double-edge sword – because we can’t wait to see when he’ll pop up next, or what he’ll do when he does show up, he steals the movie from mostly everybody else around him. In this example though, I guess the one person he mostly steals it from is Jonathan Rhys Meyers who is, sadly, saddled with the straight-man role that I don’t know if he’s quite up to handle.

Rhys Meyers is fine because he’s handling the material exactly as it was probably presented to him, however, he’s a tad dull, in a role that was probably written that way to begin with. So I guess that maybe some of the discredit here should go against the writers who decided to give this character barely any personality to be found whatsoever (except for “boring”), but it also brings up the key fact that maybe they could have given Rhys Meyers’ character more moments that were his, and his alone. The majority of the movie is spent with him playing second-fiddle to Travolta and whatever the hell his character’s doing at that given point in time, so we rarely get to see him really branch out and show anything resembling an attribute the movie. Maybe playing it stiff and straight was all that Rhys Meyers needed to do, but here, there’s still a feeling that there needed to be a bit more, just to help us identify with him slightly more.

Then again, things do blow up here, so I guess it’s not all that bad.

Consensus: Though it has a weak story, From Paris with Love mostly gets by on its insane, balls-to-wall action that helps give John Travolta’s lively performance a perfect suitor in his wrath of absolute mayhem.

6 / 10

A Mexican stand-off, but with no Mexicans. Ironic?

A Mexican stand-off, but with no Mexicans. Ironic?

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Cinderella (2015)

The rags-to-riches story to end all rags-to-riches stories.

Ella (Lily James) was always a special child who was loved and adored by her father (Ben Chaplin). However, that all begins to change when one day, her father dies, which then leaves her in the custody of her evil, mean, cruel and nasty stepmother (Cate Blanchett). Once her stepmother takes over, Ella’s life takes an even more dramatic change when she’s kicked out of her room, thrown into the attic, and made to wait on her hands and her knees so that her stepmother, as well as her two stepsisters will be happy and pleased. Though it’s a situation that would seem to beg for it, Ella never gets down on herself or upset; instead, she uses her kindness and good-will towards those around her to get by, which is actually what catches the attention of a certain Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Although Charming knows that he wants this girl, he doesn’t know exactly who she is, where she comes from, or whether or not she’s actually rich to begin with. All he has is a glass slipper and he’ll use every strength in his body to find the right foot for it, in order to find that long, lasting love of his.

Did I really need to actually write out a synopsis for this movie? Probably not, but then again, it is the principal! Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s a story we all know by heart, which makes the idea of another movie tackling it, seem boring. Which, in hindsight, it is. These kinds of Disney, live-action films have gotten very old since Tim Burton ever decided to take over the story of Alice in Wonderland, and it seems like an obvious, if uneventful way fro Disney execs to laugh themselves into the bank more and more.

"Mwahahaha!"

“Mwahahaha!”

It’s hard to hate on them for doing that, because it’s been working for them for the past couple of years. But there is something to be said for the creativity behind it all, and calls into question whether or not people actually care enough to tell these stories anymore. Cause honestly, do we really need another Cinderella movie told to us? Let alone, one that features recognizable faces and an unironic tone?

Not really. However, there’s no shame in having it, either, especially if the movies are as pleasant as this recent adaptation.

Then again, that’s to say that as long as we have smart, creative minds behind them like Kenneth Branagh, then we’ll be in fine shape, because even though this story clearly should be collecting up all sorts of dust by now, Branagh still finds interesting ways to brush it all off. But at the same time, he’s not necessarily changing the whole layout to where fans of the original story can’t still see it all over again; it’s just a tad bit different and glossier. Because even though most of the recent Disney, live-action adaptations of these old tales have been known to throw out the occasional adult-piece of humor there to appeal to the audiences, or at least deprecate itself, hardly any of that is to be found in Cinderella.

In fact, if anything, it just uses straight-laced comedy to get by and get the audience laughing, and it actually works. So rarely do these movies feel like that even though they were made for kids, they still appeal to adults more because of the occasional spout of grown-up humor, or nod to the audience, but here, we get just what we see: Another take on the Cinderella story. I know this all sounds so very obvious, but it’s actually quite a refresher to just get the story told to us, as it was. Sure, it looks prettier and is definitely shown to us on a much larger-scale than before, but the heart and soul of the original story is still there to be found and if anything, that’s worth noting and appreciating.

Although, there is something to be said for the familiarity of all this and the way in how Branagh approaches this material.

Sure, Branagh doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong in terms of getting the story told correctly down to the finest detail, and he sure as hell hasn’t lost an eye for beauty in the way everything looks here, it’s just that his story is so simple, so straight-and-narrow, and almost too surface-level, that it feels like it’s taking away from any real depth that there could be had with this character of Cinderella. I mean, come on: It’s the year 2015, where we’ve already had certain Disney characters like Maleficent, Oz and even the Wicked Witch get some sort of substance added to their backgrounds, that still ended up being somewhat fresh and new, so why not with Cinderella? Is there already nothing left to say about her other than that she’s pretty, nice to all those around her, and puts up with too many other people’s crap?

Sorry, bro. You're no Chris Pine.

Sorry, bro. You’re no Chris Pine.

I guess so. And because of that, it sort of takes away from the movie. I know that this is supposed to be a review on the movie itself, and not the movie that it could have been, but a part of me feels as if they could have gone that extra mile here and more than just the target-audience would have been pleased. Then again, this is all just me, people.

I have no soul.

As Cinderella, however, Lily James is quite a beauty, but she isn’t just good looks with this role, as she does get by on some lovingly sweet and simple charm that makes her come off as more innocent. Though I’ve said this already, we may not get much about Cinderella in terms of anything new that can be said about her, or her story, but James finds small, subtle ways of giving us more of a human side to this character and allowing for us to realize that she is just a girl who wants to make those around her happy, even if she isn’t always happy in return. There’s something sad to that fact, but it’s what ultimately makes her character a whole lot more endearing and lovely to watch, even when others are just constantly trampling on her.

Speaking of those who constantly trample on our title-character, Cate Blanchett is quite solid, as usual, as Cinderella’s evil stepmother who literally walks into the movie, wanting all of the fame, fortune and fun that she can handle. Because the movie never makes her out to be anything more than just an angry, cackling shackle of a woman, it’s hard to fully understand how, or better yet, why she got to become the way that she is, but Blanchett’s performance does make up for that at times. In fact, I’d say that Blanchett is maybe a tad too good for this material handed to her, but like a pro, she handles it with careless ease.

No wonder why she won an Oscar two years ago!

Consensus: Everything presented on the surface of Cinderella, is exactly what you get, however, there is still plenty of joy and pleasure to be had with Kenneth Branagh’s latest adaptation, from the performances, all the way to the dazzlingly beautiful visuals.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

You go girl! Go get yo man! (But don't forget, you don't need him to grant you everlasting happiness..)

You go girl! Go get yo man! (But don’t forget, you don’t need him to grant you everlasting happiness..)

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

’71 (2015)

Behind Enemy Lines, but with more pints of Guinness.

Young British solider Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) gets called away from his basic training to set up shop in Belfast where he, as well as his fellow soldiers, will help “maintain peace”. During this time, however, the exact opposite was happening with there being fights and riots breaking out all over the place between Protestants and Catholics, and once Hook arrives on the scene, he realizes this. While trying to settle down an angry mob that’s pissed off with the Army coming in and trying to take away their weapons, Hook gets separated from his fellow soldiers and is practically a walking, breathing and scared shitless target for anyone who doesn’t agree with the Army, or their tactics – which, in Belfast during this time, was practically everyone. More importantly though, Hook has to be on the lookout for loyalists and the IRA, as they feel getting a British soldier in their captivity would be absolutely what they need to help their cause a bit more over the other side. Either way, it’s just not a good position for Hook to be in and he’ll have to depend on his instincts to survive the night, and possibly get out of this terrible situation alive.

You can tell right away that it’s a very simple story. Sure, the political context to be set for this film is that it’s during the Troubles period, in which practically everybody was out to get the other side. There’s a lot more to it than that, but if you want it to be put in as simple terms as one can possibly get – all hell was practically breaking loose during this time and if a person was stuck somewhere that they shouldn’t have been, then needless to say, they were in some deep trouble.

Lots of running.

Lots of running.

And that’s exactly what ’71 tries to talk about for at least an hour-and-a-half. For most movies, this is a daunting task – finding a way to make even the most simple, non-complex situation, just the opposite. However, it’s a task that ’71 is more than willing to try and take on, even if it doesn’t always come out on top as the victor and is instead, more or less, the one that seems like it’s trying to go deeper than it probably should have.

For instance, there’s this whole idea that no matter what danger may be lurking at every street corner for Gary Hook, there might be somebody who appears to be on his side, looking to do the same sort of damage that his enemies want to do to him. We see this in a few characters, within a few subplots that seem to spell out the problems of corruption within the IRA, the British government, and just about anybody who had any sort of power during this time and place, and I’m not sure they all needed to be placed here, given the context of this movie. It showed us that the odds were constantly stacking up against our protagonist, but we didn’t really need to be told this with all of these different characters and their objectives.

In fact, just having Hook getting chased on the street and shot at (which does happen fairly early in the film and is downright breathtaking) was enough to make me feel like this dude could literally die at any second and the movie would be all over. His story wouldn’t be eventful, except that he was just a poor cog in the machine who had to, sadly, face the consequence of being caught in the wrong place, at especially the wrong time. That, as is, is already compelling and complex to me, but the movie felt otherwise.

Instead, it wanted to constantly get deeper, and more complex for its own good, but instead, just seemed to get more convoluted and twisty. Because it’s never made clear to us who the ones on Hook’s side are, and who aren’t, the movie runs into the problem of even confusing the audience who might want to sit by and see just what happens to this character next, what he runs into, and how he tries to get alive out of it, if at all. Maybe that’s sort of the point of this movie, which makes sense, but didn’t make the movie that much easier to sit through and understand.

That said, a good portion of this movie is thrilling, and sometimes, it doesn’t even seem to be trying.

But, at least he gets a breather.

But, at least he gets a breather.

Whether or not director Yann Demange had some help on the side from certain others involved, remains to be known, but to me, it seems like he had certain elements to this film down perfectly. Whenever Demange plays it quiet and allows for certain scenes to play out, as they would in real life, they are riveting; they don’t demand our attention, but, more or less, just calmly ask us to watch them as they go on. These scenes make the bulk of ’71 thrilling, even when it doesn’t seem to be going for that sort of Bourne-like look or feel. It just does it, which makes me wonder what the hell happened to the rest of Demange’s direction that made him pack on the pounds to this story and have it go off-the-rails, so randomly, too.

But Demange is smart in allowing for us to get behind a character like Gary Hook, even if it’s never fully clear what sort of guy this is, or better yet, why we’re being told his story. The movie gives us a few scenes with him and his son, and gives us the impression that he’s a typically okay guy, but that’s about it. I’m not complaining. I’m just pointing out something that’s interesting as it works in the film’s favor and just proves my main problem with this movie even further – simplicity rules. By not diving in deep and digging around in Gary Hook’s life, we are given somebody who seems as plain and ordinary as they may come, but somehow, still works for us. Once we see that his life is in absolute peril and he is, more or less, innocent of any wrong-doings that may eventually come to him, than we’re already placed on his side for the majority of the flick that is spent watching him running, hiding, and trying to get out of this shitty situation alive and in one piece.

That said, Jack O’Connell, now a big name because of Unbroken, doesn’t really have much to do here, except pretty much the same that he did in that movie. He gets beat up a lot, stays quiet, keeps to himself, and occasionally, acts out in fright. That’s about it. It’s not that I’m not sold on the fact that O’Connell can actually act – it’s more that I feel like he hasn’t been given the right role for him yet to where he can show the whole world that he is a star, just waiting to break out at any point. Starred Up had a solid performance of his, but that’s about it, and I’ve seen maybe three other films that he’s involved in and I have yet to be fully impressed.

Oh well. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Consensus: As an unpredictable, survival-story, ’71 is exciting and dangerous. But as a political-thriller, it drops the ball and feels as if it’s trying too hard to not just eat its cake, but possibly even get some seconds afterwards.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Then, he's back to more running.

Then, he’s back to more running.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Maze Runner (2014)

Mazes usually aren’t this complicated. Just ask Jack. Oh wait, don’t bother.

For no reason whatsoever, 16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is woken up by a loud bang and finds himself on an elevator that leads to a place he has no idea about. He’s in total and complete confusion, but the people that he meets when he gets to the top (all young males) have a good idea of who he is, what he’s doing here, and just what sort of environment they’re in. According to some of the “villagers”, after society broke down, they were all knocked out, had most of their memories erased, and left to complete a gigantic, seemingly never-ending maze that whoever in charge, created for them to complete. Problem is, the maze is incredibly deadly and almost nobody who has gone into it, has came back out alive. And even if they have, they have no idea of just how the hell to get to the end of it. Basically, it’s task to difficult to accomplish; a reality that some of the villagers have accepted and are absolutely fine with. Thomas isn’t and he decides to take it upon himself to try whatever he can to finish the maze, even if he has to risk his own life.

Another year, another handful or so young adult adaptations.

Not Katniss.  Hell, he's not even Tris. Just a boring bro.

Not Katniss. Hell, he’s not even Tris. Just a boring bro.

Typically, this is a remark made by older folks such as myself and with good reason – ever since Twilight ruled the box-office and ushered in a new kind of audience that could not be messed with, there’s been an endless supply of similar movies that cater to practically the same audience, old heads be damned. While these films can sometimes be great and reach more than just their target-audience (the Hunger Games), and sometimes, can just seem like carbon copies of better-told stories to come before them (Divergent and the upcoming sequel, Insurgent), there’s no denying that we are on YA-overload and eventually, the tower will come tumbling down, destroying just about everything and everyone in it’s path.

But until then, we’re still subject to movies like the Maze Runner which, believe it or not, isn’t as bad as the rest of the batch of YA adaptations have been. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect, but given that the story seems to be basically the Hunger Games, with a tad bit of an indie-twist, there’s both things to credit, as well as discredit.

Let’s start off nice with the giving of credit where credit’s due, and that’s to director Wes Ball who, surprisingly, was given this as his directorial-debut. It would seem almost too risky for a large company such as 20th Century Fox to put all of their hopes, dreams and aspirations on a first-timer like Ball, but the risk is actually greater than the reward, because without trying to do much at all, Ball does everything that a story like this needs. Rather than giving us every bit of detail and information we need to know about this world that we’re thrown into, Ball keeps us in the dark as much as possible. Which is, yes, only fitting considering that the protagonist has the same thing done to him, but there’s something to be said for a director who’s not just making his mainstream debut, but his actual film debut.

Also, what seems to help, too, is that the world we’re set in and forced to believe in, seems pretty interesting. Because there’s no clear idea of what the hell is really going on outside the huge walls surrounding these characters, the ideas and possibilities seem endless. Sure, they could all eventually lead to being, yet again, another world where the evil grown-ups have taken over the world and are making the young whippersnappers something of their own guinea pigs, but for the time being, before that big reveal does, or does not get shown to us, what’s going on around these characters and this movie is totally up in the air. It’s mysterious, but cool. And Ball seems to really relish in screwing with us.

That is, until he isn’t allowed to do that anymore.

See, around the half-way mark, we are of course then thrown into the actual maze itself and while I won’t spend my time spoiling each and every bit of it, let me just say that it’s pretty uneventful. All of the mystery that was surrounding this movie so effectively, totally fades into the air once we’re treated to the sight of spider robots.

You heard me right, people. Spider fuckin’ Robots.

"Men! Let the battles for loss of our virginity begin!"

“Men! Let the battles for loss of our virginity begin!”

I have yet to read the Maze Runner novels (and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever get to reading them, if we’re being honest here), but regardless of whether or not these spider robots are actually in the source material, it calls into question whether anybody involved with thinking of worthy enough antagonists were even trying. Sure, they may be huge, tactical and deadly, but what purpose do they serve, other than to just stand in the way of our protagonists and their ultimate goal of freedom, or whatever? It just seemed goofy to me and ultimately, had me lose interest, just when it seemed like the movie should have grabbed me by the throat and forced me to stick with it every turn it made and every dead-end it hit.

And of course, the half-way point is also when the plot’s cracks begin to show, especially once an actual female jumps in and messes with all of these masculine dude’s heads. Right? I mean, you’d think that with all of these adolescent boys being forced to hanging around members of the same sex, day in, day out and with no promises made about ever a female ever again, that when one would practically fall into their lap, they’d go a little wild over here? Better yet, you’d assume that there would be extreme battles-to-the-death where the last man standing, got the girl and got to repopulate the rest of society (as creepy as it may ultimately have been when a sister and a brother were forced to do the same thing)? Well, honestly, that’s a bit risky and I don’t blame 20th Century Fox for not going with that angle. Heck, even I wouldn’t go with that angle if I was making that sort of movie, for a different crowd, with a lot less money handed to me.

But hey, we dare to dream, folks.

Consensus: A certain air of mystery that surrounds the Maze Runner‘s universe is what makes it so interesting to watch and keep track of, all until the actual maze comes into play and things get pretty dull, predictable and similar to so many other movies released in the past few years.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Inside lies something bad and dangerous. Right, guys?

Ehh. Seems pretty easy.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

Next time, when you’re making a film geared towards kids, go for a smaller, more comprehensible title.

On the eve of his 12th birthday, Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould), nothing seems to be going right for him. The most popular kid in his school seems to be planning on having his birthday party, the same day as he’s having his; his dad (Steve Carell) is out of a job and currently staying at-home to watch the young baby, who also won’t stop crying; his mom (Jennifer Garner) has a new book that’s about to hit the shelves and possibly break records; his older brother (Dylan Minnette) has prom and his driver’s test the next day, so of course, he’s being a jerk; and his older sister (Kerris Dorsey) is currently getting ready to take the stage for her school’s rendition of Peter Pan. Everybody’s getting on Alexander’s case and it seems like his days are just getting more and more bad as they go on. It’s getting so bad that, before he goes to bed, Alexander makes a wish that all of this bad luck for him would just go away. Well, the next day, guess what happens? It does! But somehow, it’s spawned-off to the rest of the family and it just continuously gets worse for all involved, in the worst possible ways imaginable.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

It’s difficult to make a family movie, that’s literally made for the whole family. Meaning, that while you don’t necessarily have to be catering towards the kiddies of the clan with fart, poop, and pee jokes, you also don’t have to make your humor so subversive for the grown-ups of the group, to where it’s almost inappropriate for anybody to watch, let alone, for family movie night. But also, in making sure that you’re both funny enough to appeal to all parties of the illustrious fam-squad, you also run the risk of actually being a mess of a movie that hardly anybody would be able to see or enjoy.

Somehow though, Alexander and… (I’m not going to list the whole thing, sorry), runs through that slippery-slope and lands somewhere in the middle. That’s to say that it doesn’t necessarily offend anybody, as much as it just offers little, short splices of adult-humor, amongst all of the crazy, wacky hijinx the non-stop barrage of slap-stick offers. This would usually bother the hell out of me, but considering the time-limit (just under 80 minutes), the family-feel nature of it, and the willing cast, I found myself more entertained and pleased than I would have wanted. Doesn’t mean the movies perfect, or without any types of flaws because it’s serviceable and nothing more, but that doesn’t also mean I should get on the movie’s case much either.

It’s simply not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings, so therefore, I’ll try not to do the same; even though, yes, I’ll probably fail.

Though it’s mostly filled with the same old “whatevers” you’d see in these kinds of family-friendly films, the one interesting element of this movie to note, was that Miguel Arteta directed this and, judging by his past-work, you would never know it. Arteta, if you’re a hip, fly and cool movie-watcher, is known for directing such comedy-based indies like the Good Girl, Youth in Revolt, and Cedar Rapids, and while I’d never call any of them masterpieces in their own rights, they’re still different than what I’d expect from him here. They’re all funny movies, but they’re also a tad darker and heavier on the drama than this movie here. Not to mention they’re also all rated-R, but that’s beside the point.

What I’m trying to say, is simply this: Miguel Arteta doesn’t make movies like this and that’s why it surprised me to discover he was the one behind this movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s interesting to see, because Arteta handles the material well; it’s quick, fast, and punchy enough to where the visual, slapstick-gags do their thing and while they may not always hit the mark, there’s not much time spent to think about or dell on them, so you just sort of just take them as they are. Slap-stick, when done right, can be downright hilarious and make me squeal like a 10-year-old girl, but if it’s done wrong, or better yet, too much, then it can sometimes be grating.

#Lolz

#Lolz

Here, the slap-stick continues to get piled on so much, in so many extreme ways because it’s ridiculous as is written – that’s the point. So, because sometimes the slips, slides, prat-falls, and embarrassing moments are so random, they’re actually kind of funny; they don’t need any rhyme or reason, and that’s where some of the fun lies. Of course, the movie tries to barrow itself down and hit some sort of message by the end, but by that point, I didn’t care how sappy it was. The first two-halves of it had entertained me enough to where the movie could have literally ended with them curing world hunger, and so long as they had at least a gag or two dedicated to Steve Carell making funny faces, then I’d have been totally cool with it.

Gosh, now that I think about it, why didn’t they do that? So many missed opportunities here, people!

And speaking of Carell, the dude is so earnest here, that even though the character he’s playing is a bit of a dork, there’s something so incredibly sweet and charming, that it hardly ever matters; Jennifer Garner isn’t my favorite actress, but she’s so down to do whatever the movie throws at her (sometimes, literally), I couldn’t help but respect her just a tad more than usual; Ed Oxenbould is in the typical “smart kid”-role, but the movie doesn’t constantly focus on him, so I was okay with that; and the rest of the cast, with what they’re given to do, all put in some funny moments that may have otherwise been forgettable, stupid and the exactly what this seems to be: A paycheck gig.

Albeit, a fun one where everybody involved seemed to actually be pleased to do.

Consensus: Typical family-fare, but Alexander the… is still charming, fast-paced, and funny enough to where it’s fun for the whole family, as well as for 21-year-old anti-social d-bags. You know, like yours truly.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!"

“Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Leviathan (2014)

In with the new, out with the old. Or something like that.

Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov) is a simple, care-free Russian citizen who is currently going through a problem right now in his life that he can’t seem to handle. A house that he built and has been living in since an early age, is now being threatened to be taken down by mayor Vadim (Madyanov), a crooked political-figure who wants the property so that he can set-up shop when he eventually becomes a bigger hot-shot in the world of politics. To ensure that Koila doesn’t lose his land, he calls upon an old army friend of his, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who is now a practicing lawyer and good one at that, seeing as how he believes that they have enough information to put Vadim away for a very long time. However, personal problems arise for both Koila and Dmitri that not only put their defense into jeopardy, but possibly even their friendship together. Especially considering that neither of them have seen each other in quite some time; who knows who’s changed? You know?

At the end of every year, there always seems to be a foreign film that, for some reason or another, is hardly ever heard from in the preceding 12 or so months, only to then pop-up out of nowhere on everybody’s radar and become the top nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. That’s not to say that these movies are bad, it’s just odd that there’s hardly ever been a foreign language film that’s been known to be so great and amazing throughout the whole entire year, only to then show up once again when the year’s over and become, what everybody assumes, the clear-winner for the Oscar. Maybe I’m stepping a bit too far beyond my reach, but whatever the case, Leviathan is not a movie I heard of at all, until mid-January, when it was all of a sudden on everybody’s radar to win the Oscar.

Cheer up, man. You're Russian and you're not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

Cheer up, man. You’re Russian and you’re not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

So yeah, if you’re a gambling man or woman, then yeah, I’d say that Leviathan is possibly a wise bet to take a chance on. That doesn’t mean it’s neither good or bad, as much as it’s just something that too often happens in the Oscar-race; some movies get submitted by their own, respective countries, whereas others don’t. Whatever the reasons for this problem may be, it doesn’t seem to matter right now; Leviathan is clearly the front-runner and so be it.

However, I’m not sure it deserves it.

What deserves to win in its place is totally up in the air, for now, but regardless, the fact is that I feel Leviathan does a lot of things right, but is ultimately, another down-beat, depressing and morbid tale that most Oscar-votes tend to lean towards because it focuses on the real, painful struggles that can be felt around the world. While the light, sometimes lovely comedies of the foreign-world get ignored because they’re simply “too optimistic”, downright sad dramas see all sorts of the light of the day. The past three winners were fine (A Separation, Amour, the Great Beauty) were fine, but once again, except for the later, most of them are another pair of upsetting movies made to shock audiences who don’t normally set-out to see foreign flicks on a regular-basis.

Anyway, I realize that most of my discussion is getting further and further away from the movie, but it’s just something I felt I needed to address. Because honestly, Leviathan is not a bad movie per se – it’s just a movie that clearly has faults that may definitely get overlooked in the following weeks to come. For reasons I’ve explained already and won’t bore you with anymore.

Where its strengths are in though, is maybe the first hour or so of itself. For instance, it starts off strong in introducing us to these characters, the situation they’re thrown into and what the main focus of this story is going to be. Though you could say the story isn’t necessarily limited in its scope, there’s definitely an idea that we’re going to focus solely on the rivalry between the mayor of this town, and this man who he has come into conflict. I was sold, hook, line and sinker with this plot-line and was definitely looking forward to where it all went next.

Most of this was probably because the characters were so strongly-written and performed, that I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. Because with these characters, you get real life human beings, chock full of their faults and all; but the movie hardly ever judges them for what they do, which is astounding considering what some of these characters do in the later-parts of this film. Take, for instance, Kolia, our main protagonist you could kind of say he is.

For starters, we get the impression that there’s something definitely deeply troubling this man. He can’t seem to hold himself together when it comes to his emotions, nor when he’s tossing vodka down his throat. Heck, one of the first glimpses we get of him is him whacking the back of the head of his son with hardly even a sense of remorse; it’s not just an element of parenthood he was probably raised on, but absolutely condones, seeing as how it’s made him out to be the man he is today, even if he doesn’t fully realize the error of his ways. But though he’s got his fair share of problems, there’s still an element of sympathy that’s felt for this guy because he is trying to keep his home, as well as his family-tradition, alive and well.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

In fact, much of this film is made to point out the problems between tradition, versus the modern-way of doing things. Whereas Kolia would probably partition for the local mom-n-pop store to stay open, the despicable mayor would constantly push and push for that Wal-Mart lurking down a couple of blocks to come in, sweep all of the smaller stores away, regardless of if they were up before, or for how long. The movie discusses this in a smart, intelligent-manner that can sometimes be a tad obvious, but feels important enough that it didn’t matter.

However, that all changes after awhile and it’s where the film seems to lose its step.

Because, without saying too much, the movie sort of switches gears to being less about this feud between the mayor and Kolia, and more about each and every character’s own problems with life. Some are happy; some aren’t; and some are just content to keep on going and going until they can’t any longer. Though this would normally interest me, had this been the original plan to focus on in the first place, it just doesn’t here. Not to mention that the movie seems to go on for another hour or so, with nearly three different endings, none of which seemed to fully satisfy the point it was trying to across in the first place.

So yes, the movie definitely gets muddled by the end and it’s a shame. Maybe it’s just me, but I was all for a lean, mean film about the battle between the small-time, local folk, against the large, rather powerful politician that was ready for a change, by any means necessary. Though I’m fine with a movie changing itself up to keep the story’s focus ever-changing, here, it felt more like a missed-opportunity. Sure, people are sad in their own little lives. So what? Do you have anything more to say than that? With Leviathan, it’s never clear. And maybe that’s the point.

Oh well. Time to go shopping at Target.

Consensus: Despite a compelling first-half that sets plenty of promise for what’s next to come, Leviathan sort of collapses on itself once it tries to handle too much, all at one time, further losing sight of what it was originally trying to say in the first place.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Blackhat (2015)

Can 2014’s “World Sexiest Man really be a hacker?

After both America and China are taken by surprise by a ruthless, controlling hacker whom decides to rob the banks of all their worth, both sides agree to work together. However, in order to work together peacefully and hopefully find whoever the hacker is and stop him at once, they might have to make a bit of a compromise: Allow for notorious network-hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to join in. While the U.S. is initially skeptical of doing this, because doing so, would also grant Nicholas furlough, as a result, they realize that the reward is greater than the risk, so they decide to allow Nicholas in on the investigation. And while, at first, it seems to be going according to plan, with them finding out who the hacker is and their location, they soon begin to realize that discovering the identity was the easy part; actually nabbing this person(s) once and for all, is still left to do. Which yes, means there’s going to be a lot of blood-shed and, quite possibly, many of lives lost. Still, it’s Nicholas who wants to stick to his intense hacking-skills to hopefully save the day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

It’s odd that Michael Mann hasn’t made a movie in nearly six years. But what’s even weirder is that, after all of this time, the movie that will ultimately make-up for his hiatus from the big screen, gets placed in the most deadly months of all movie month’s: January! While this doesn’t mean that every movie released in January, you know, without having already had an “awards-consideration” buzz beforehand, is downright rubbish, it just means that most of the time, the movies aren’t always the best of quality. Most of the time, it’s just the kind of movies that the major-studios want to get off their hands once and for all, in hopes that they’ll make some sort of profit in the meantime, although they aren’t really keeping the fingers crossed.

And while, since we’re being honest here Blackhat may not be the total exception to that rule, it’s still an alright crime-thriller that deserves to be seen if you need a little hope and sanity in a month like this. Or also, if you’ve just missed Michael Mann so nearly and dearly that you have to see what he’s been up to that’s had you waiting for the past five years since Public Enemies. Which, for me at least, made the wait seem a whole lot longer.

But I digress.

Since this is a Michael Mann production, it’s obvious to expect most of the trademarks that come along with that neat style of his; of course there’s going to be much use of the hand-held, digital-camera, an strange, retro-ish blend of colors, and a score that recalls the glory days of the Human League and Gary Numan, among many other of those New Wave-ish bands that I’m not too in love with, but are at least suitable for two hours or so. And while that style of his can be a tad too over-done at times, it still added a nice flair and pizzazz to a story that, quite frankly, needed plenty of it. Not just to help keep things alive and energetic for some of the viewers who might be dozing off, but to at least help keep things as simple as humanly possible, as hard of a task as that may have been.

Because, though Mann seems to be getting at somewhere with technology in the modern-age, which is, if you’ve left the cave you’ve been living under for the past few years, will understand that it’s an idea that’s as relevant as you’re going to get. Mann, by bringing up such tragedies like 9/11 and nuclear crisis’, seems like he’s trying to make a point about how technology has impacted our world more than we know it, and it’ll sometimes draw people into deep, dark and sadistic worlds that they don’t already expect themselves to be in. These deep, dark and sadistic worlds that I speak of, are the same kinds that Mann normally loves to explore, but here, it feels like he’s maybe trying a bit too hard to make this more than just a silly, sometimes over-the-top crime-thriller that has Thor banging on the keyboards a lot.

In fact, while I’m on the subject, I might as well begin to speak about Chris Hemsworth and just say, despite his obvious effort in the matter, he isn’t the right fit for this role as a slick, sly and cool technology-hacker. Sure, he gets the slick, sly, and cool aspect down perfectly, as you’d expect him to, but he just seems too hunky enough to really be taken seriously as a guy who apparently knows all sorts of network’s codes and maps by heart. Also, not to mention the fact that since his character is American, he’s forced to use this accent that is so odd, I wonder where Mann would have said he was from, had the character’s place-of-origin really been that important to know about. This isn’t me hating on Hemsworth for being everything that I could ever want in my life (it is true), because I’ve actually come close to loving him in plenty of other movies, it’s just that here, he isn’t right.

Yeah! That's what I'm talking about, baby!

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about, baby! More! More! More!

That’s less of his fault and more of Mann’s, but so be it.

Anyway, that aside, the movie’s still fun and seems like, when it gets the intensity going, it’s as exciting as you’ll get with a Michael Mann movie – bullets are flying every which way but loose, people are getting shot, blood is being drawn, and most of all, it’s all done so in Mann’s trademark slo-mo. Once again, a lot of this movie gets style-points for whenever Mann just does his thing, but it’s when he decides to go a bit deeper with this story, it’s meaning, and how all the mechanics get worked out in the end, he more than often stumbles. Which isn’t to say a movie that uses hacking so often is automatically going to get points off from me, because I’m too stupid and clearly don’t get anything that have to do with computers or internet-connections (I still use dial-up, people). No, it’s more so when you throw so many random curveballs at your audience, without ever explaining how they are done, and are only used to keep the story moving, then I have a bit of a problem. I’ll get on any movie’s case for it. However, it just so happens that the one movie’s case I’m getting on is Michael Mann’s first in a long time.

Welcome back, Michael. Hope you stay around some more and at least make some better movies.

Consensus: Though it thinks it’s smarter than it ought to, Blackhat still works best whenever Michael Mann is allowing for all sorts of violence to blow-up and hopefully get past a poorly-cast, but trying, Chris Hemsworth.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Swear I wasn't looking. Okay, fine, maybe.....

Swear I wasn’t looking. Okay, fine, maybe…..

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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