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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

After awhile, you just have to start working for yourself and out of your basement.

After succesfully getting rid of their bosses in a meaningful fashion a couple years ago, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) seem to be back on the right track; not only is their latest creation the Showbuddy hitting stores soon and gaining plenty of traction, but they’ve also found out that wealthy businessmen, Burt and Rex Hanson (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine), want to go into business with them. So yeah, everything seems great for these guys, that is, until the Hanson’s decide to pull out of their deal and rob the three for all that they have. This gets them thinking once again – time to call up Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) and see what can be done. Together, they all concoct a plan where they’ll kidnap Rex, hold him for ransom, to ensure that Burt pays them back all the money they had. It seems perfect and everything, especially once they actually go through with the kidnapping of Rex, but the guys soon realize that not only is Rex a little crazy, but he’s totally in on the plan to rob his old man for all he’s worth. It’s surely a twist the guys weren’t expecting, but one they’re ready to roll with and hope that everything goes according to plan with. Until it sort of doesn’t.

The first Horrible Bosses, while not the laugh-out-loud comedy classic many around the time of its release assured me it was, was still a very funny movie and allowed for three capable comedians like Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis to just make everything up as they went along. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but most of the times, it was fun to watch. Their camaraderie together, as well as the crazy plot, definitely made the original a bit more than just your average, relatively funny comedy; it had a neat story to work with and it rolled with it for as long as it could.

Business meeting while golfing? Yup, total dick move.

Business meeting while golfing? Total dick move.

Now that we have the sequel, it seems like the original’s freshness isn’t just lost, but a bit boring.

See, it’s hard to do a sequel that has practically the same exact plot as the first movie, without there being any sort of wink, nod, tongue-in-cheek reference made to the audience. Not just to ensure them that yes, the movie itself is pretty smart and knows it’s a cash-cow, but that the audience can expect wittier humor that wasn’t just thrown in there to make sure there’s a sequel to do. The problem with this sequel isn’t that it never lets us know what we’re seeing, is almost the same thing, done again in slightly different ways, but that it relies too much on these three leads and nothing else.

I don’t think I’m standing alone when I say that Bateman, Sudiekis and Day are some of the funniest people working in Hollywood today. Not only do they seem to make an impression in just about everything they show up in, whether together or on their own terms, but they seem to be in this brand of comedy that isn’t necessarily smart, but isn’t dumb either. They’re sort of middlebrow comedy folks and I think that’s why, whenever I see them in something, I can’t help but laugh along with whatever they’re doing. They have that sort of effect on me and, from what it seems, on most others too, considering that they still get plenty of roles.

And although I liked how fun they made their off-the-wall improv from the first movie seem humorous, if incredibly random at times, the movie still didn’t always fall back on it in a way to make up for the lack of fun with its plot. Here, with Horrible Bosses 2, you can sort of tell that there’s not too much of an exciting, fun plot here, so therefore, the movie just keeps on relying harder and harder on its three leads as the movie goes on. Which is, once again, fine and all, mostly because these guys are funny with nearly everything they do, but after awhile, it makes you wonder whether or not there was even a script for this to begin with, or just several pieces of blank paper that just read, “Guys improv about walkie-talkies and Charlie yells. A LOT.”

Once again, the guys are still funny with this much trust in them, but it begins to get a bit tiresome after awhile to just see them take what would could be literally a two-minute heist scene, pan out to be nearly 15 minutes, all because the guys decided to get on each other’s asses about gloves, or something.

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

But most of where the laughs come from, not just in this movie, but comedies in general, is in seeing certain big, respectable names sort of go out there, try something new, edgy and absolutely shock the hell out of the audience that may already have them envisioned in another light. With the first movie, we got to see Jennifer Aniston as a dirty, sex-crazed woman, and here, we get to see Chris Pine play against type as a guy who is, well a rich dick-head, but one that actually seems like he’s a little crazy. I’ve always been a fan of Pine and felt like it’s getting closer and closer to where he’s able to finally branch-out of the Captain Kirk light that seems to be shadowing over most of the career decisions he currently makes, and here, as Rex, I think he gets a chance to show that he has a fun side. It’s refreshing, funny, and sometimes, interesting, especially when we see him get along well with the rest of the guys.

Problem is though, Christoph Waltz plays his daddy and is hardly ever around to join in on any of the fun. It’s actually quite surprising really, because we know Waltz is more than capable at being funny with dialogue that isn’t from crazy Quentin, which makes me wonder if he just wasn’t around to film any scenes that the creators may have initially planned for him to create, or that the role itself was just so tiny to begin with, that it didn’t bother Waltz much. Either way, I wish we got to see more of him and, honestly, less of Aniston, because while she still got a few laughs, her act gets a bit tired and stale, as if the movie still needed her so sex could happen in some way, shape, or form.

But Jamie Foxx is still awesome as Motherfucker Jones. So yeah, he’s fine.

Consensus: Mostly because of its over-reliance on its talented cast, Horrible Bosses 2 gets by, but isn’t nearly as funny, or as inspired as the original movie which, in and of itself, wasn’t really all that amazing to begin with.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Yup. Still the best part.

Yup. Still the best part.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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Beyond the Lights (2014)

If only Britney answered my calls, then this could have been my story.

Ever since she was a little girl, Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) knew she had a talent. She didn’t know quite where to go with that talent, but she didn’t have any fear, because her mother (Minnie Driver) always did. Many years later, Noni is the new, hot, young thing that graces screens with her sexy looks, rapper-boyfriend, and highly glamorous life. However though, while it all looks perfect for Noni on the outside, underneath it all, therein lies a hurt, pained woman that just wants the world to look at her for what she is, not what she appears to be. Knowing that this isn’t a possibility, she decides to hell with it, looks over her hotel room’s ledge and thinks about taking the leap, but her assigned bodyguard for the night, Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), rescues her and remind her that he sees her for what she is. This brings all sorts of publicity and though the two don’t quite know what to do with it, a relationship between them blossoms. But when you’re life is constantly under scrutiny, like most celebrity’s lives are, it’s hard to get the truth from someone you think you’ve really grown connected to.

When it comes to me and romance movies, there’s a deal between two parties that has to be made: If you are able to give me a believable enough romance between two human specimens that feels real, then you can do all that you want. The meet-cute; the blossoming of the relationship; the witty, yet supportive best friends; the first usages of the “L word”; the eventual conflict that comes between the two; the argument that separates the two from one another; the possibility of moving on; and, of course, the getting back together, where everybody, especially the couple at the center, live happily together and forever. These are the types of cliches I’ve come to know and expect from these types of romance films, which, for the most part, hardly ever do anything to me.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

It’s not that I’ve never been in a loving relationship with another human being, and it’s not that I don’t have the capability of loving anybody in this world, it’s more that I find it incredibly difficult to buy into whatever conventions a movie will throw at me, concerning the ideas of why a romance starts in the first place. Some movies have come by my eyes and surprised the hell out of me; not because they’ve actually used these ideas in a refreshing way, but because they’ve actually made it feel relatable, even to those who haven’t yet had a love in their life. Then again though, these movies are the same kinds that hardly ever get made and, for the most part, fall by the waist side, only to be seen by a few of those “cool, hip kids” that think love is too mainstream, man.

But this what surprised me the most about Beyond the Lights – it’s a movie based in all of these corny, manipulative cliches and conventions I’ve seen nearly a hundred times before, the romance at the center is still rich enough to win me over at the end of the day. One could definitely compare this to the Bodyguard, or A Star is Born, or any other movie that concerns a superstar celebrity hooking up with a normal, everyday person and realizing how perfect the simple life is, but there’s a feeling to this film that not only knows these comparisons will be made, but also doesn’t care because it has a story to tell. It’s a very by-the-numbers story, at that, but one that’s easy to get behind, solely because of the solid chemistry between co-stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker; two young talents that are clearly on the verge of breaking out and really making a dent in the film world.

When these two aren’t together, they still do very good jobs in portraying their characters in an honest, understandable manner that makes it easy to point out the identifiable character-troupes, but still fall for regardless. Mbatha-Raw plays Noni as who she appears to be: A Rihanna-like pop star that’s slowly, but surely making that transition from being the one artist that’s constantly featured on big name’s tracks, to being the one who people want to get featured on her songs. She’s sort of like how Nicki Minaj started out – constantly being featured on these records and making an impression with whatever she does or says, and eventually, getting her own chance to break out on her own.

With less booty, but still, a pop star nonetheless.

Anyway, with Noni, Mbatha-Raw channels a hurt, tendered soul who, in all honesty, just wants to stop feeling the pressure from all those around her and live a simple, drama-free life. It’s easy for us, the audience, to scoff at this kind of character, and tell her to shut up and just enjoy her millions and millions of dollars, never-ending bottles of crystal, and opportunities to bang some of the hottest stars in the mainstream media, but because Mbatha-Raw looks so innocent, we sympathize with Noni and it’s not hard to. We know that there’s possibly more to her than what’s presented in all the glitz and glamour, and because of this, we want to see her at least succeed in getting out of it, if only it’s for a little while.

Same goes for Parker’s Kaz; though he’s a simple guy, living a simple life, who has a simple job as a cop, he still feels the pressure from his dad and constituents who want him to run for mayor and succeed at that to. This part of the story is a little tacked-on, I felt, but it still brought out some depth within this Kaz character that I don’t think we would have gotten otherwise, so it was okay enough. But Parker’s the main reason why this character works as well as he does; he seems like a nice guy, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t want him to get taken advantage of, just so that this Noni gal could a little bit of an escape away.

I can assure you, he's not a stripper. Wouldn't be surprised though.

I can assure you, ladies, he’s not a stripper. Wouldn’t be surprised though.

Together though, the two bring out so much within the opposite performer, that their relationship together feels honest, down-to-Earth, and a hell of a lot more raw than I was expecting it to. There’s this lovely 20-minute sequence where both of these characters decide to take a trip out to Mexico and you can tell that it’s meant to be peaceful, sweet, and altogether, a very romantic time together, and that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t hit us over the head or anything, but much rather, tell us that these characters deserve to be together, and forever, so long so as that they don’t get bogged down by all of the gossip publications out there.

That said, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite keep up with them. There’s about four different endings here, and hardly any of them were satisfying. Rather than allowing the movie to end on a tender, small note, writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood constantly feels the need to have to end this story on a huge, over-dramatized note, that we see most Hollywood films use. It gets tiresome real quick and after awhile, you’ll begin to wish that the movie continued to fall back on its leads, especially considering they were so watchable and interesting to begin with.

Consensus: Sometimes manipulative, sometimes not, Beyond the Lights mostly gets by on its co-star’s honest chemistry together, but too many times, feels like it’s trying too hard to give everybody in the audience what they want, and actually forgetting about its main characters in the first place.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

Bows and arrows are the ultimate weapons for rebellion. Guns are better, but hey, you work with what you’ve got.

After the tragic events of the second Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is, once again, left in total and complete shock. However, she’s not alone, as she was soon taken in by the rebellious District 13 and given the task to fight back against the malicious Capital, and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). And although Katniss is more than happy to fight back and get whatever revenge she can get on Snow and his legions of soldiers, there’s a couple problems holding her back. For one, District 13’s president, Coin (Julianne Moore), and her trusted lackey, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), not only want her to stand high and tall with District 13, but even be seen as the face of the new rebellion that will hopefully inspire many others to stand up against Snow and his regime. Also, after the last Hunger Games, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) was kidnapped and taken in by the Capitol, who seems to be using him as a way to coax Katniss into just putting down her bows and giving up. Katniss wants to, so as to not hurt Peeta even more, but the problem is that she’s not the one fully in control – others are and it begins to show.

It’s safe to say that, by now, the Hunger Games film franchise has been pretty successful. Not just in terms of its box-office success, but also with those pretentious, unhappy human specimens we know as critics. Meaning, that it was only just a matter of time until one of these films, as it only takes one, had to screw it up for the rest.

And it’s quite fitting that it just so happens to be the first part of a movie that didn’t need to even have a first part to begin with.

Is this a symbolic passing of the torch?

Is this a symbolic passing of the torch? Say it ain’t so, J-Moore!

Trust me, too, this is coming from a guy who has never read a single page of one of these books; Hollywood thinks that since they have a cash-cow on their hands, that they should try their hardest and pan the movies out for as long as they can, as only a way to reel in more and more dough. They did it with the Harry Potter franchise, they did with those terrible Twilight movies, and heck, they were even thinking about doing it for the Hobbit movies, that is until somebody actually wised up and realized that it’s probably not the best decision to push that franchise any longer than it needed to be, especially considering that it’s all made from one single book. Just one, people! So why the hell did there need to be three, freakin’ movies at all?!?!

Anyway, like I was saying, here with Mockingjay – Part 1, it’s obvious that the powers that be behind it, wanted it to just go on for as long as it could, so long so as it all built-up to what would hopefully be the ultimate finale for this franchise next year, and it shows. That’s not to say all of the movie is bad, but when you have a film that goes on for so long which is, quite frankly, is pretty solid up to a point, and it just ends, it not only feels abrupt, but pretty disappointing. You can tell that, if they really wanted to with these movies, they could have made just one, three-hour epic that would, hopefully, put the bow-tie on the franchise once and for all. But nope, when big-wig, hot-shot Hollywood executives see dollar-signs, they can’t help themselves one bit.

Sort of like how I am in Dunkin’ Donuts. Only one, I promise myself, and then, a dozen doughnuts later, I’m wondering just what the hell happened to me and my thought-process. It’s a bad analogy, I know, but it’s all I got to work with, people, so bare with me please.

But to get a bit away from the whole problem with this movie being unnecessary in the first place, I think it’s best to just dive right into what made it so good to begin with and, therefore, made the abrupt ending all the more enraging. See, what’s interesting about this flick, is that while it’s clear that it has the biggest budget in the world and can practically do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, and with whomever it wants to, for some reason, Mockingjay – Part 1 has a very limited-scope which, dare I say it, makes it feel almost claustrophobic. Hardly do we ever get to see what’s going on/around the world of Panem and in these other districts, outside of maybe a TV monitor or through of what somebody says.

A perfect example of this is a very terrifying sequence in which District 13 gets attacked by the Capitol, leaving everybody inside scrambling, running, and trying to find any shelter that they can. While this is all going on, we hear the explosions hitting District 13 and we see the effect it has on the base from the inside, but we never see what’s exactly going on outside; what we see and hear, are just enough to scare us into an oblivion and have us expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. It’s a well-done sequence that I kept on thinking about the most after I saw the movie, because it pretty much puts the rest of the movie into perspective: We are thrown into this tiny, nearly suffocating world and we can’t get out of it. We’re along for the ride with Katniss, even if that does, or doesn’t take her anywhere special.

Speaking of Katniss, once again, Jennifer Lawrence is great in this role and allows Katniss to be strong, smart, and also, humane. She hardly does something for her own self-interest and it makes us sympathize with her a lot more, even if she is playing with both Gale and Peeta’s hearts like a person putting a carrot in front of a rabbit on a treadmill. Still, she’s good to watch and brings a lot of development to a character that could have easily been just another little, whiny teenager who can’t decide if he loves me, or loves me not.

I'll take a nice, little Boogie Nights reunion any day.

I’ll take a nice, little Boogie Nights reunion any day.

Another interesting aspect to this story is that it plays around with the ideas of propaganda and how the use of it, if effective, can really drive people to do something, whether it be fighting for a cause, or just changing a certain lifestyle of theirs. Here, we get to see Katniss be constantly taken to all of these different Districts, where everybody is either dead, dying, or just bones underneath pieces of rubble. The way we’re supposed to feel about these tragic occurrences is supposed to be sadness, but because we know Katniss is being taken to these certain spots, only so that they can film her and show the rest of the world why her cause is worth standing behind, puts a slight comedic-twist on it. A dark one, but a comedic-twist nonetheless in a movie which totally needed a lot more.

This is where the likes of new recruits Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, pleasant returners Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman all bring their own level of depth to a story that deserves it. It’ll be interesting to see where the next film takes these certain characters, because while it’s easy to fall for Peeta, Katniss, and Gale, the older, much more established presences in these films are mostly what keeps the heart of these movies running. Not to hate on what Lawrence, Hutcherson, or Hemsworth do with their own respective characters, but if I had to, I’d watch a scene containing just Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, and Jeffrey Wright, all sitting around in a room, talking about whatever was on their mind next.

Obviously that’s virtually impossible now, but what a treasure it would be.

But, like I said, while the ideas and themes this movie toggles around with may be interesting, and a hell of a lot more thought-provoking than we all get with half of the YA adaptations out there, there’s still that feeling that this movie is build-up, and hardly anything more. Director Francis Lawrence gives this movie a tone that’s dark, creepy, and slightly sinister, but the way in how the movie ends, just puts everything into perspective: This is all leading up to something a lot bigger and more epic.

See you next year, folks. Let’s hope that this is actually the end.

Consensus: Thought-provoking without being ham-fisted, exciting without being manipulative, and well-acted without ever focusing on one character more than the other, the Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 works for so long, all up until it abruptly ends, leaving us maybe ready for the next, but also disappointed that there had to be two parts in the first place.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Basically, everybody loves J-Law. Fin.

Basically, everybody loves J-Law. Fin.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Theory of Everything (2014)

You can still be a nerd and get hot chicks. I’m still not buying it.

Before he was known as the world’s smartest human being and talking through a computer, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was just another college student looking for inspiration in his life. He knew he wanted to pursue physics, but didn’t really seem to care much about it enough to really put his mind to the test. That is all until a woman by the name of Jane (Felicity Jones) walks into his life, has him practically head-over-heels, and changes him for the better. But she comes at such a drastic part of his life when Stephen begins to finally realize that he has ALS; an untreatable disease that practically turns him into vegetable. Jane knows this though, and yet, still decides to marry Stephen because she feels as if she’ll be able to make it through no matter what. Because, really, as long as the two love each other, then that’s all that really matters, right? Well, yes and no. And this is what the two are about to find out.

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard, him.

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard him.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds our planet has ever had the pleasure of gracing with his good presence, which makes it all the more a shame that he’s been struck with this incurable disease such as ALS (yes, that disease everybody was doing those annoying-ass Ice Bucket challenge videos for). So, in Hollywood terms that is, it only makes sense that there’d be a biopic made about him, his condition, and most of all, the women he ended up marrying, even though she knew full well what she was getting herself into right from the very start. Which yes, may make it easy for some of us to find it difficult to sympathize with her and her plight, but the fact is, she married Stephen for who he was, not what he was about to become.

That last sentence stated and everything, the movie hardly ever makes this a point to dig deeper into. Instead, it’s more concerned with how much Jane wants to bang random dudes from church, which may have been true, but when that’s all you’ve got to bring some development to Jane’s plight, then there’s not much else you can make us draw from. If what you give us on the table is thin, don’t expect us to make something huge – every once and awhile, you need to help us out a little, give us some depth here and there, and allow us to the thinking on our own. You can trust us, the audience that much. But it’s a game of give and take.

What I’m blabbering on about here is the fact that the Theory of Everything doesn’t seem all that interested in digging any deeper into this real-life story it has to work with. The fact remains, while Stephen Hawking is a genius, he was incredibly hard to live with and not just because of his condition; he was always causing people problems because of his ego and his ever-changing stances on religion, God, or existence as a whole. But once again, this was something I had to draw myself from just watching this movie and reading a whole heck of a lot about him.

Everything else about him, I’m afraid, is only slightly touched in this movie and it’s a shame because we expect more from director James Marsh. Though it would have been easy to make this as simple, run-of-the-mill Oscar-bait, Marsh tries to go one step further and focus in on Hawking’s relationship with his wife and the rest of his family, only to then, fall right back into the firm clutches of the dreaded Oscar-bait movie that we know and see way too often. And given Hawking’s brilliant mind and life as a whole, you’d think that there’d be more than just another biography meant to grab a dozen or so awards, but sadly, that’s the kind of movie we get.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t at least some joys and pleasures to be found in this whole movie – it’s just that they are so very few, far, and in between from one another that you forget about them when they hit the emotional-mark they’re supposed to.

For instance, the first half-hour of this movie is very well-done. Not only does it set up Hawking well, but also the relationship between him and Jane. It’s small, sweet, heartfelt, and tender in the way that so many other films tackling the idea of young love try to go for, but fail to nail on more than a few occasions. Here though, it works so well and had me feeling as if there was going to be more development to this relationship, but then of course everything fell apart when Stephen couldn’t walk anymore and I lost all hope. But for the longest moment in time, I stayed and remained hopeful that this romance would spill out into something a whole heck of a lot more meaningful, only to then just be, “Oh yeah, marriage kind of sucks. Especially when you’re with a paraplegic.”

Heart's already broken over here, guys. Need help.

Heart’s already broken over here, guys. Need help.

All jokes aside though, Eddie Redmayne does a pretty fine job as Hawking, which is all the more impressive considering what he has to do is express whatever he’s thinking/feeling, through his eyes or any sort of head-tilt/movement he can muster up. You get a sense, through Redmayne’s portrayal, that while Hawking is struck with this awful disease, he still holds out some sort of hope in the pit of his stomach and still just wants to live on with his life. Even if, you know, that means pissing everybody off around him. It’s a job well-done and shows that Redmayne’s more than just another pretty face in the crowd of many, the guy has actual talent and I look forward to seeing him take on more roles that challenge his good looks, and make him appear a lot different and unflattering.

Same goes for Felicity Jones who, for the past few years or so, has been doing quite well in so many roles as of late, that I think it’s about time the rest of the world finally got a glance of who she is. However, a part of me wishes the role was a lot better-written for her, because Jane is a meaty-role for Jones to sink her teeth into and show how much she can break people’s souls with those pouty eyes of hers, how Jane’s made out to be in this movie isn’t wholly flattering. Maybe this was done so on purpose, but seriously, as time went on, I realized that I liked Jane less and less and just wanted the movie to give her a better shot than what it was initially giving her. It’s a shame, too, because while Jones does well with she has here, I could only imagine what would have happened had there been a lot more on her plate to chew on.

Okay, I’m done with the dinner references for now.

Consensus: Redmayne and Jones may do well, but the Theory of Everything runs into the problem that it’s too thin to really be a quintessential biopic about Hawking’s life, and much rather, feels like obvious Oscar-bait.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

The perfect British couple. Until they weren't. Oh well.

The perfect British couple. Until they weren’t. Oh well.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Camp X-Ray (2014)

Come on, guys! Let’s just all get along!

Shy and silent Army private first class Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) is sent to duty at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where she has to do the everyday chores a soldier stationed there has to do – cleaning, washing, and making sure that most of the prisoners are doing what they are told to do. At first, this is pretty easy job for Cole, seeing as how she doesn’t really have to act brutal or mean to any of these prisoners, so long as they don’t give her a reason to do so, but once she runs into a prisoner by the name of Ali Amir (Peyman Moaadi), things do change for her. Because Amir has been cooped-up for so long, and for reasons never made known to him, he decides to take must of his anger and frustration out on Cole, constantly hassling her about books, his treatment, and just life in general. At first, it puts Cole into a position she doesn’t want to be in and finds her continuously declining any chance for a conversation between the two, but after awhile, she warms up to him and realizes that the two have a bit in common. Which, as a result, makes her wonder exactly what the hell she’s doing at a place like Camp X-Ray.

I think I’ve made it clear enough on this blog that I like a lot of movies that are simple and relatively-easy-to-follow, but that also pack a hard, emotional punch that goes deeper than just what’s presented on the surface. Some movies, I wish would take this route, rather than having to make everything so convoluted and jam-packed, whereas other movies, are so easy in nature, that I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a real life story play out in front of my own very eyes. Not only does it give me something to relate to a bit easier, but it also allows me to think of whatever’s happening on the screen, as something that could actually happen out there in the real world.

Basically me every time I was forced to go see another Twilight movie with my lady at the time.

Basically me every time I was forced to go see another Twilight movie with my lady at the time.

That said, sometimes there’s those movies that I wish weren’t so simple and at least kicked things up a notch or two. That’s my one problem with the terribly-titled Camp X-Ray – it doesn’t really try to be about anything else except for “prison guard and prisoner bond”, and it definitely should have. Not because there needs to be something more thought-provoking done with this premise, but because the premise has been so over-done and used before, that it seems like convention.

For example, when the Amir starts hassling Cole, it’s understandable that she’d be pissed-off right away and just want to do her job, without any problems getting in the way of that. And she does act like this, but then after awhile, we start to see her turn the other cheek, all because of, uhm, I don’t know. We’re supposed to believe that she’s not like the other soldiers at the detention center because she’s homesick, knows a lot about Harry Potter books, and doesn’t like it when dudes forcefully hook-up with her, so therefore, it would make total sense as to why she’d all of a sudden decide this prisoner isn’t such a bad guy and just start chatting it back up with him? Maybe there’s more to this character that makes her just a nice person in general, but we never really get to see that side to her, so therefore, it’s hard to fully believe in her and the prisoner’s friendship of sorts.

However, what does make this friendship work and seem somewhat believable, are the performances from both Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi. What’s so interesting about these two, is that even though they are the two main characters in this film and are supposed to be something of friends, they are hardly ever in the same shot. Most of the scenes are shot in their own perspectives, meaning that we get a lot of glimpses of Moaadi’s face, with Stewart’s back towards us, and/or vice versa. Not only does this allow us to view these performances a little bit more than just you average, splice-and-edit convo-scene, but it even makes the movie seem all the more claustrophobic; which is especially effective, considering this movie is taking place at/around Guantanamo Bay.

But, like I was saying before, Stewart and Moaadi are very good in their roles, and help a lot of their long-winding conversations move on by, without ever seeming uninteresting or poorly-written (even if that’s what they are).

For Stewart, it’s nice to see her back into taking roles that not only challenge her as an actress, but show that she can be as likable as you or me. Sure, she still seems a bit awkward in certain scenes where she has to look and/or sound tough, but that’s sort of the point; she’s not the type of soldier who wants to be a hard-ass, but simply has to, in order to keep her job and make sure her fellow soldiers don’t get killed. So, when taking that idea into consideration, Stewart’s performance is all the more impressive, although there’s a part of me that wish the writing was better, because she could have done real wonders with the role, like she used to do way back when, before the dark days of Bella took over her.

Every rapper has at least had this same shot once as an album cover.

Every rapper has at least had this same shot once as an album cover.

But thankfully, it seems like she’s back on the right track and I can only hope it stays that way.

Anyway, starring across from her is Peyman Moaadi, who is also quite good in a role that, on paper, is actually quite annoying and over-bearing, but soon begins to be quite sympathetic and upsetting. Not because you can tell Mooadi truly is messed-up by being cooped-up in this prison for so long, but because he has no idea as to what the reasons even were in the beginning; then again, nor do we. We get an glimpse at the beginning of the movie that he had a slew of burner cell-phones, then kidnapped and taken into this prison, but that’s it. Nothing more. And honestly, it works in the character’s favor – we never know if he’s a prisoner trying to con his way out of the prison, or if he’s simply too weak to even try anymore, so is just trying to have the time go by. Whatever the reasons behind his actions may be, it’s definitely true that Mooadi is good in this role and makes perfect use of his time, giving us a look at an all too true reality.

But that’s another story, for another post, folks.

Consensus: Maybe too simple for the message it’s trying to convey, Camp X-Ray still benefits largely from two great performances by Peyman Moaadi and Kristen Stewart, who seems to be back in her old-form of taking challenging roles, no matter how much she gets paid.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Bella! I want an autograph! Now!!"

“Bella! I want an autograph! Now!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Horns (2014)

The Devil works in mysterious ways.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young dude who had planned to live a full and complete life with his loving, adoring, and ultimately, sweet girlfriend (Juno Temple), until she was mysteriously murdered. Though all of the fingers are pointing towards him, Ig knows full well that he’d never kill the love of his life; an idea that his defense attorney (Max Minghella) is trying his best to argue in the court. But nobody wants to fully believe Ig and just about everybody around him hardly wants anything to do with him, or even hear him plea his case. That all changes though when Ig, for some odd reason, starts to grow Devil horns, which, for another odd reason, makes every person around him want to unearth their deepest, darkest secrets. Initially, Ig is freaked-out by this, but eventually, he starts to smarten-up and realize that he can use this skill to his advantage. Now, he’s set out on a course to find out the real killer behind his loves’ death and, hopefully, clear his name of any evil wrongdoings.

But those horns just won’t go away.

You're never fully in love unless you're both sprawled out on the floor together in perfect, sappy harmony.

You’re never fully in love unless you’re both sprawled out on the floor together in perfect, sappy harmony.

So yeah, by reading that synopsis, you can that there’s something odd going on with this movie and seeing as this is directed by splatter-lover Alexandre Aja, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that a lot of messed-up stuff happens here. In fact, that’s exactly what I expected to. Watch any of Aja’s movies and you’ll be able to know full well that the man loves throwing as much ketchup as he can, wherever he pleases, and however he likes to. That’s why something as dumb, over-the-top, and somewhat boring as Piranha 3D was made slightly more enjoyable, if only because Aja couldn’t take the hiding anymore and just had to let loose somehow.

But that’s also why a movie like Horns surprised me, and in a nice way, too. See, this isn’t necessarily a horror movie in the sense that we get a butt-load of scares and frightening things happening; it’s more of that we have a very dark, eerie premise, based around an idea that in and of itself, could be even more dark and eerie, yet, is played-out as a dark comedy of sorts.

For instance, try the angle the plot takes with these horns growing on Ig’s head – while in most movies, this would be downright terrifying and lead to sinister occurrences that only Damien himself would be equipped to handle, Aja plays it up for laughs and makes Ig’s horns a source of comedy. This surprised me, not just because the humor was actually effective in certain ways, but because Aja found a way to still add a sense of creepiness by allowing these characters to speak their minds openly, and in such an over-the-top manner, as well.

And while the movie isn’t always funny when it wants to be, Aja still does plenty else here to make sure that our minds are kept busy. Which yes, does come off as manipulative and purposeful, but it shows us that Aja is growing. Not just as a person, but as a film maker that’s willing to take on more than just horror. For example, he doesn’t just show scenes of heads getting demolished, or people getting doused in flames, but also has a relatively sweet love story at the center, and, for as long as it can sustain to do so, has an unpredictable mystery that seems like it could go anywhere, with anybody to be blamed at fault.

That said, it doesn’t always work and you can, for the most part, understand why it’s sometimes best for Aja to just stick with scenes of relentless, gory violence. And yet, he doesn’t do just that and because of that being so, I give him credit. The movie itself may not be perfection, but when you show the world there’s more to you than just people losing limbs in disgusting ways, then I, the movie-goer, will always have your back. Even if, you know, it doesn’t always work out the best way you maybe have hoped for.

So yes, Alexandre Aja, take this is as a way of me saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

"Bro, it's just devil horns. Take a chill pill, man."

“Bro, it’s just devil horns. Take a chill pill, man.”

Even though I highly doubt you’re even reading this.

Anyway, the same that I’m saying to Aja, could just as easily be said to Daniel Radcliffe who, in the past three-to-four years, has definitely taken advantage of his time away from Hogwarts by appearing in both, money-making mainstream projects, while also, trying his hand in some interesting indie-pieces as well. All around though, with this time away from one of the biggest movie franchises of all-time, Radcliffe has shown us that he’s a versatile actor and isn’t afraid to make himself look ugly, especially if he has to. Here, as Ig, the dude definitely gets to look rugged and mean, as if he had finally gotten tired, once and for all, of being known as Harry Potter and has wanted everybody to know that he’s ready to get rid of those good looks of his, especially if he has to. And with that being said, yes, Radcliffe is good in this role as Ig; not because he’s willing to go to some weird places most actors wouldn’t feel comfortable with dropping down to, but because he shows us that he can actually be funny, in a type of dead-pan way. A way which I hope to see more of in the near-future with whatever he decides to take up next.

The rest of the cast does pretty fine, too, especially since most of them have to just play a bunch of crazy, wild, caricatures that sometimes verge on “cartoonish”. But, I couldn’t help but be entertained by them nonetheless. Juno Temple plays Ig’s dead girlfriend who, despite getting naked quite a few times, feels like an honest little girl in a small town; Max Minghella plays something of a dick that you’re not too sure about right from the very start; David Morse plays the grieving dad and at least adds some emotional gravitas to a movie that, quite frankly, doesn’t seem to be too bothered with it in the first place; and lastly, Heather Graham shows up as an insanely self-centered waitress and seems like she showed up to the set either totally high, or having no idea if her mic was on or not, so she just decided to scream each line she had as loud as possible.

Either way, it works for her and ultimately, for the movie as well.

Consensus: Tonally jumbled and not always effective, Horns is still a fun film, if only because it seems like everybody set out to make something strange and, altogether, not worth taking fully serious, until it tries to be.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Take that, Snape."

“Take that, Snape.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

eXistenZ (1999)

You know what’s so lame about GTA? It’s not real!!

Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a famous video-game maker who has made a video-game where people can transport themselves into other lives, as well as gives them the chance to constantly guess whether or not they are in real life, or just living a pure fantasy where they can do anything that they want. This inventive, yet, incomprehensible game is called eXistenZ, and it soon takes over her mind, as well as her bodyguard (Jude Law)’s.

Video-games have become so crazy now, that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised one bit if somebody came from out of nowhere, made this type of game, and watched it as it sky-rocketed to the charts of the highest-sellers come the Holidays. That person would also have to watch as the suicide-rates would be sky-rocketing off the charts as well, because with a dangerous mind-fuck of a game like this, you know people are just going to go crazy. I’m telling ya, it’s a surprise that this hasn’t happened yet and I’m just waiting for more video-game designers to think of the next “Million Dollar Idea”.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

However, if they do come up with this idea, they do have to give some of that change they earn straight to writer/director David Cronenberg, because he’s the main guy who came up with the idea in the first place and milks it to the brim with this movie. I have to give Cronenberg a lot of credit here because the guy definitely starts this flick out on the right foot with any eerie feel, a lot of mystery in the air, and a whole bunch of suspense as to what the hell is going to happen next to these characters once they finally suit up (I guess that’s what you could call it), and whether or not they’ll make it out of the game alive. When Cronenberg gets crazy ideas like these, they usually don’t pan-out so well for me, but here, he actually kept me involved and kept my mind on the film at hand, considering the whole game these two are playing, is just one, big twist after twist without any real type of explanation as to what’s going on and what it isn’t.

Which normally isn’t fine for me with most of his movies, but here, was surprisingly so.

As much as Cronenberg may toy around with the idea of us not knowing whether or not this is a game, or real life, he still allows himself to get real nutty on all of us and uses some of the trademarks we all know him for. The gore here is downright disgusting as we go through a couple of different spots where blood comes shooting, guts fall out, and people’s faces just come flying straight-off, landing on the floor below them. And on top of that, there’s also a lot of gooey, slimy sounds that make you squirm even more and add just another level to Cronenberg’s already, ‘effed-up mind that he obviously wants us to play around with him in. But while this would usually tick me off with some of his movies, here, I decided to just go along for the ride and enjoy myself, even if I had no idea what exactly was happening, or even what it meant.

But that was the problem I eventually ran into with this movie: I knew everything about anything Cronenberg was trying to discuss. See, while this movie, on the surface, is about this insane, balls-out game that allows its players to do whatever they want, in a world that they have no idea about as is, when you dig a bit deeper, it ends up becoming something darker and more upsetting. In a way, Cronenberg is trying to get across what your mom has been saying for the past two decades to get you off you Laz-E Boy and in the classroom: Video games are bad and they make you do bad things.

Now, while I don’t necessarily agree wholly with that statement, I still understand that many people see an evil in the art of video games and how it may drive certain people to lose their minds. We’ve seen certain cases regarding this in the past and while I don’t feel its appropriate to voice my opinions out on those here and now, I’ll just say that whatever Cronenberg is trying to get across here, is practically the same message and it’s kind of annoying. We get that video games mess with certain people’s minds and allow them to not be able to differentiate the difference between “reality” and “fiction”, but do we really need to be reminded of this every five-to-ten-minutes? Maybe because of the time this was released (nobody in 1999 had ever heard of an XBOX), but the message, in today’s world, seems relatively preachy and dated. Granted, back in the day, these ideas may have been revolutionary and eye-opening, but to us humanoids from the 21st Century, we realize that everything being said here, is why we moved out of parent’s place in the first place.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

So take that, older-generation!

Another problem that most Cronenberg movies, not just this one in particular, is that usually he’ll cast an interesting bunch in his movies, but since his material is sometimes so weighty and dense in the way that it’s delivered, you can tell which actors are more suited to it than others. For a total surprise, Jude Law actually ends up doing well in a rather restrained role as this body-guard. Sure, Law’s using some of his charm to get us to like him and his character here, but most of it is actually just him trying to be weird and mysterious, and it works well and to his advantage. Same goes for the likes of Sarah Polley, Willem Dafoe, and Ian Holm who don’t show up too long or often to leave an impression, but show that they are capable of fitting into Cronenberg’s world, where everyone speaks like he imagines them as speaking.

The only one who feels totally off in this movie is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is supposed to play this geeky, downright off-kilter video game nerd, but just ends up coming off as she’s bored. In fact, a part of me felt as if she was in her own movie altogether; one where she was allowed to deliver her lines like she’s been doing for the past three decades, but instead, actually worked. Here, it seems like Cronenberg cast her, without really knowing full well if she’d be able to handle his “speak”, quite as well as the others. Don’t get me wrong, Leigh’s still a top-notch actress in most of the stuff she does, but here, she feels awkward stilted.

Maybe that’s how Cronenberg wanted her to be? Then again, maybe not. Who the hell knows what goes on inside that dude’s head!

Consensus: David Cronenberg loves to play with his audience and in eXistenZ, he gets a chance to do so, but too many times does it feel like he stops the wild fun, just so that he can prop us down for a lesson or two about the world of video-games that, trust me, we already know full well about.

6 /10 = Rental!!

Even in so-called "virtual-reality video-games", the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Even in so-called “virtual-reality video-games”, the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

I’m Catholic, but if Jason Bateman and Adam Driver want me to sit Shiva with them, then yeah, I’m totally Jewish.

After the patriarch of the family passes away, the Altman siblings all decide to honor his final wish and sit Shiva for the next week. Although none of them really want to, they decide to anyway, not to just honor their dad’s wishes, but to ensure that their mother (Jane Fonda) doesn’t have a total hissy-fit. The problem is though, none of the siblings really get along. The eldest, Paul (Corey Stoll), is always so very serious and is having a problem impregnating his needy wife (Kathryn Hahn); Wendy (Tina Fey) is sort of having the same problem of her own with her kids and husband, although she’s finding some peace with her ex-boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) who happens to still be living in town; Judd (Jason Bateman) is in the midst of divorcing his cheating wife (Abigail Spencer), but finds some solace when he reconnects with a long lost of his own, Penny (Rose Byrne); and lastly, the youngest, Phillip (Adam Driver) is a bit of a wild child that not only brings his much-older girlfriend with him (Connie Britton), but finds it hard to ever really think about why he misses so much of his dad to begin with. Then again, none of them really do, which is how most of their fights pop-up in the first place.

Though I have never read the original-text from which this movie is an adaptation of, I assume that it’s a great piece of work because of how much critics seem to be trashing this movie. Sure, there are some good reviews to be found here and there, but overall, This Is Where I Leave You seems to be a real disappointment. And while I can’t say that I particularly agree, or disagree with the general consensus of this film, I can at least attest to the fact that I’m one of those reviewers who didn’t hate it that much.

There's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

There’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

Is this, as most note in their reviews, something of a “letdown”? Of course! You’d think that with this premise and this cast heavily-stacked cast involved that not only would we have something of a classic on our hands, but a near-Oscar contender. Maybe that’s going a tad far, but seriously, just look at that IMDB page and try to tell me you’re not at least somewhat impressed with how many great talents decided to work on this. It’s almost as if director Shawn Levy himself had a piece of evidence that was detrimental to each and everyone of these star’s personal and professional lives, that he was able to bribe all of them into not just working with him on this movie, but actually putting in some fine work.

That said, the movie is not a very good one. You can clearly tell that Levy (the same guy who has directed all of the Night at the Museums‘) doesn’t really have much of a background in directing actual moving, compelling scenes of drama and instead, more or less opts for melodrama that sometimes wants to be about “adult things”, happening with “adult people”, but in the end, just turns out to be not all that important/heavy at all. That it wants to be both a comedy with various poop and sex gags, as well as a heavy-handed drama dealing with infidelity, fertility, family, depression, and other such themes, makes it feel confused and messy.

However though, there is something to be said for when you can get an ensemble this good, to really try their hardest with material that, quite frankly, doesn’t really deserve them. Once again, never read the book so all I can assume is that it was pretty great, but whatever they did with this script here is disappointing.

But that’s why we have movie stars – they’re able to not only make us happy, pleased and be entertained, but also there to remind us each and everyday why they still deserve to work, and why exactly it is that we should continue to see them in whatever they decide to do. And this is exactly why I can’t get too mad at this movie, or what Levy does as a director. Sure, it’s a hack job from someone I didn’t expect to otherwise create, but when he allows for his cast to just do what they do best and interact with one another, the movie hits some highs and makes most of the trip worth taking.

For instance, Jason Bateman is doing what he always does: Dead-pan the crap out every line he has to deliver. It’s definitely an act of his that we’ve seen for a very long time and honestly, it never seems to get old. Not there as Michael Bluth, and definitely not here as Judd Altman; which is definitely effective because he’s the sibling who gets the most attention. He’s a sad sack, but he’s the funny one of the group that also happens to be the voice-of-reason, despite him being severely depressed. Though the romance between he and Rose Byrne’s character does feel a bit tacked-on, the two at least try to create some sort of honesty that doesn’t really show much throughout the rest of the film.

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

But what I’ve said about Bateman, his character Judd, and what he does with him, is pretty much the same thing that could be said about the rest of the cast: They’re all putting in good work, although it’s not much different from what we’ve seen them do before. Tina Fey is funny as the jokey and wiser older sister, although it does seem like her dramatic-acting needs a bit of work; Adam Driver is his usual goofy, eccentric-self and steals mostly all of the scenes he’s in; Corey Stoll is the serious one of the family and does fine with that; Kathryn Hahn plays his wife and seems like she wants to be another one of Hahn’s crazy characters, but just ends up being a repressed wifey-poo; and Jane Fonda plays the matriarch of the Altman family, does what she needs to do, is funny, inappropriate and a bit smug, but she’s a pro and handles this material so well, as one could expect her to do.

And honestly, the rest of the supporting cast is fine, too. Some recognizable faces show up and remind you that they can still put in great work and make something of an impact, regardless of how small their screen-time is (Abigail Spencer makes her conventional-character of the cheating-wife seem somewhat sympathetic). Should this have been a better movie? Oh, totally! It not only should have been an Oscar-contender and definitely something people will keep on turning back to every couple of months or so. But given what it is, most likely, it’ll just be the kind of movie you find while searching through your cable. Not saying that’s a bad thing, really, but it’s definitely not supposed to make you fully pleased either.

Consensus: Given the cast involved, This Is Where I Leave You should have definitely hit harder, but everybody’s so fine that it’s at least worth watching, if only for a single-viewing and leaving it at that.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Never get together with someone named after a Beatles song. That especially means stay away from any “Jude'”s, too.

Connor Ludlow (James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) are two young, happy people living in New York City who seem to be clearly in love. So much so, that they run throughout the streets of lower Manhattan, holding hand-in-hand, making-out in public parks, and looking at fireflies. If that’s love, then I don’t know what is! But somehow, for mysterious reasons, the love has seem to fade away and after Eleanor has a bit of an “accident” of sorts, her and Connor move out of their house and into their own respective families’ houses. They use this as a method to grieve over their lost love and to also figure out just what the hell to do next; he continues trying to keep his failing-restaurant alive, whereas she continues to get her degree and ends up bonding with her professor (Viola Davis). Although Connor does try to sneak around and see Eleanor whenever is possible, nothing seems to ever work out or be solved. Can they continue on as a married-couple and hopefully get past their problems? Or, are they completely finished with one another and forced to move on? What about the fireflies?

If anybody knows a thing or two concerning the production history of this here movie, then let me just re-iterate for yous once again to get everybody up to speed about this movie, because I feel as if it’s a very important point to bring up when talking about this movie.

It's a public-park! People walk freely in a public-park! Hello!!?!?

It’s a public-park! People walk freely in a public-park! Hello!!?!?

See, originally, writer/director Ned Benson created two parts to this story, where we’d get to see the story play-out, but in two of these character’s different perspectives. One would be titled Him, whereas the other one would be titled Her. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, yes, but you also have to take into consideration that each part was nearly two hours long, meaning that a combined run-time of both movies would roughly be around four or so hours. Now, I don’t know about you, but as long as the material’s good and riveting enough for me, then I’m totally cool with a four-hour-plus romantic-dramedy.

However, that’s why I’m the one watching the movies, and not behind-the-scenes, actually creating the movies. Because see, once the Weinsteins got their grubby-paws on this film, they knew that they had to find a way to cut it all down to where people could see one whole, two-hour-ish movie that sums up the whole story in one fell swoop, no intermission included. From a business stand-point, it’s smart and knowing the Weinsteins, I can’t say I’m all surprised they decided to go down this path.

But the problem is that while it may look better on paper for those searching for a night out on the town where they’ll be able to spend time with a quick movie, it doesn’t quite work well for the movie itself. See, the problem is that Benson had to find a way to combine both of the two-hour-plus sections, into one, whole, cohesive two-hour product. And sure, two-hours is a pretty good run-time if you want to get your romantic-dramedy hitting people the right way, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work out well for Benson, or even the material itself.

While I definitely pat Benson on the back for still being up to the task and cutting down his four-hour opus, into a meager, two-hours, there’s still a part of me that feels like this unfinished work. For instance, there’s a lot of scenes here, that feel like they’re placed with hardly any preface at all, as if we’re supposed to have an idea of what these characters are talking about and how it affects them. We hear small inklings of a character who has died and why it makes these characters sad, but we never really feel the same emotions. Not saying that you need to make a movie in which we know anything and everything about the characters who are present, and the ones who aren’t, but when most of your movie is centered around the dissolution of a marriage, it’s kind of hard to find a way to care for anybody involved (mostly the couple), if we have no idea what it was about them that made them so special together in the first place.

That’s not to say we don’t get maybe two or three scenes showing this (which is definitely a testament to the great chemistry Chastain and McAvoy have together), but they’re relatively short, sweet and conventional. We never see where things got so sour for them and though we hear about it, it doesn’t really draw many emotions out of us. It’s as if you walked into an argument right in the middle of it happening, and rather than getting a status update on what was said, how, or why, you’re just sort of sitting there and waiting for the argument to explain itself and then you can eventually draw your own conclusions.

A dumb analogy, I know, but think about it like this: It’s hard to make a movie effective, when it wants to be about the past of this couple, while also about the future. Blue Valentine (a movie that this one’s being constantly advertised and explained as being like) did an expert-job at showing us this couple, and how they met, how they fell in love, and where exactly where they went wrong. Sure, that movie did rely on flash-backs to tell us the story here and there, but they were done so well and thrown into the story so cohesively, that it was never seen as a cheating-method. It felt pertinent to the story being told, because it made us feel more for the characters and the situation they have unfortunately been thrown into.

This is the same place they met. Surprised to see them not end up being "perfect for one another".

This is the same place they met. Surprised to see them not end up being “perfect for one another”.

And while this movie sometimes shows it’s capable of having the same sort of insights as that beautifully heart-breaking tale, it never really becomes much than just “hey, love can suck sometimes”. Which is fine for me. I don’t mind if a romance-dramedy doesn’t want to be an all around “pick-me-upper”, because the fact is, love does suck and most of the time, it’s downright painful. But whereas Valentine felt like it wanted us to remember the inherent beauty that can come with love, Disappearance is just about how much it sucks to not be with the one you love and the desperation one feels in trying to get that “magic” back. Although I do have to say that it’s not as interesting as I may make it sound.

Which is to kind of say that the characters aren’t really compelling to begin with; he’s a bit of a tool, whereas she’s just moping around constantly and treating her current-husband as the biggest pile of shit in the world. Whether or not he deserves that in the first place, is totally up to our imaginations considering we hardly hear or see anything regarding him treating her terribly while they were together, but it doesn’t do any justice to these characters. It also makes the two-hours we spend with them a little draining, emotionally and physically, because we see them in such pain and sadness, but without us really caring about it, or them at all. Though this isn’t to discredit neither Jessica Chastain or James McAvoy, because while both definitely try, the material just doesn’t wholly work in their favor. Chastain’s Eleanor can be sometimes too one-dimensional, and McAvoy’s Connor seems like a sad-sack that needs to either get up, smile a bit and stop talking in such a terribly-mouthy American-accent.

The supporting cast is pretty good, too and while some of their characters are a bit more fully-rounded, there’s still a feeling that there’s more to them than just what we see in this movie. Maybe we’ll come to see that when Him and Her get released later this year in a very, VERY limited-release, but honestly, I would have just liked to get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. Then again though, with the Weinstens involved, you hardly get what it is you want.

Damn them.

Consensus: Occasionally boasting an compelling anecdote about love and loss, the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby gets by on its performances, but doesn’t really go any further than just being a standard romance, with two under-written characters.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Get a damn room already! Or better yet, just any closed-off space with a door!

Get a damn room already! Or better yet, just any closed-off space with a door!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Love Is Strange (2014)

It sure is! But so is this damned-to-hell economy!

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a same-sex couple that, after being together for more than a few decades, decide that it’s time to finally get hitched and make it all legal. And while this is a momentous occasion that should be celebrated with the utmost optimism, even if the reality of the situation is that George will lose his job now. Which, hey, is fine and all, but now Ben and George have to move out, save some money up to get a new place and, sadly, live with others while doing so. Ben stays with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and his author wife (Marisa Tomei); whereas George stays with the young and constantly energetic Ted (Cheyenne Jackson). While neither situation is ideal, they still get by in hopes that they, eventually, will be together and finally live out that dream they’ve always had: Legally being together, in a place that they can call “their own”. The only thing standing in front of them now is the fear of being pulled-apart by this distance between the two.

While a person could take one look at this movie and automatically think, “agenda”, I’d have to say that they’d be wrong. Because, yes, while this movie is about a same-sex couple finally getting legally married once and for all, the movie could have literally been made about any couple; same-sex, opposite-sex, interracial, etc. Though a major plot-point in this movie comes up because George actually decided to get married to his boyfriend, therefore, enabling him to getting fired, this movie is less about a same-sex relationship, much as it’s just about trying to live and stay afloat in the United States of America.

"Garbage!"

“Garbage!”

More specifically, Manhattan.

And yes, while this movie is definitely appealing to a certain crowd that loves “white people problems”, that still doesn’t mean what’s being felt here doesn’t deserve to be felt. For instance, the movie shows why it’s so hard to make a living in this world, and why sometimes, all we need is a little inspiration on the side to keep us going and going, even when we get down some. It all sounds so incredibly corny, but the way it’s played-out here, it makes you think and also feel what both Ben and George are feeling.

Which is to say that, unsurprisingly, Ben and George are the best aspects of this movie. Not just the actors playing them, but the characters themselves in how both feel so perfect together, that when they aren’t actually together, the pain, the sadness and the separation is felt. They have a love, a very dedicated and passionate one at that, but since they spend a good portion of this movie not actually together and embracing each other’s love, it’s an absolute delight to just see how they interact with one another when they do contact each other. Either through a phone-call or a simple meet-up at the nearest-diner, it doesn’t matter how these two get into contact with one another; all that matters is that they do still keep in touch with one another, because it not only makes us feel better, but them as well. Actually, them most importantly (but hey, don’t forget about the audience here, people!).

And considering that these are two pros at what it is that what they do, seeing Molina and Lithgow together really is lovely. It should be noted that their chemistry together is wonderful and really does have you believe why they’d fall in love and stick together for so long in the first place, but since they aren’t together as much in this movie, what really matters is that they do swell when they aren’t together. Oh and don’t worry, they do. However, the big problem here with this movie is that while these characters stay on-track and constantly interesting, there’s something about the rest of the movie that I can’t help but feel suffocates them.

For example, since this is a tale of two guys leaving one another to go and live in two, completely different environments, we get two very different stories going on here, with all sorts of subplots interjecting every so often. In George’s new house, he’s having a problem with getting arranged into these new living conditions, keeping in touch with “the hip crowd”, and making sure that he can still get some money through piano lessons. So yeah, that’s not so bad. Actually pretty simple, right?

"Paint me like one of your French guys, big gay uncle."

“Paint me like one of your French guys, big gay uncle.”

Well, here’s the kicker: In Ben’s new house, a marriage is slightly on-the-rocks, a mother is upset with her son’s new best-friend, Ben himself can’t find any inspiration for painting, an author’s patience is being tested, and a boy is coming-of-age and doesn’t know what to make of his big, gay Uncle, nor does he know how to interact with anybody without yelling, being pissed off, or saying something deemed “shocking”. If that sounds like a whole lot, then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Also not to mention, it’s a problem with the movie because so much is going on here, to very little effect, that it all just seems like filler to a story that could have really been effective, had it been told relatively simpler.

Sure, the rest of the cast is great and more often times than not, we see why it is that Marisa Tomei is such a lovely presence on-screen, even when she’s about to be a total meanie, but their characters do feel put-on, as if writer/director Ira Sachs didn’t have enough faith in George, Ben and their plight to just have it revolve around them. I’m not saying that there isn’t more to life than just love, but in a movie where it’s clear that the central love is what keeps its heart racing, then you have to decide: How do you want to go about it? Do you want to throw subplot, upon subplot, upon subplot to make things seem more interesting than they actually are? Or, do you just want to keep things small, short, sweet and simple, by just focusing on this relationship, their positives, their negatives, and just how exactly it is that they stay together, still happy in the end?

I’d go with the second-route, but that’s just me. Hence the blog.

Consensus: With Molina and Lithgow, Love Is Strange finds an endearing heart that is continuously present throughout the whole film, even despite the numerous and sometimes pointless subplots occurring.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!!

You wish your love was as good as this. Ladies?

You wish your love was as good as this.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

When a place is called “Sin City”, it’s best not to trust anyone and just leave.

Sort of taking place before the events of the first movie, and sort of not, we follow three-four different story-lines taking place in the most violent, most brutal places of all: Sin City. First, there’s a out-of-towner gambler by the name of Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who definitely has lady luck on his side when it comes to playing a mean game of poker, but ends up realizing that maybe he’s met his match in Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Then, there’s Dwight (Josh Brolin) who, after having reconnected with a former flame of his (Eva Green), finds himself in the middle of a scandal that puts both his life, as well as his lover’s in danger. And lastly, after having the love of her life killed, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) vows for vengeance against the man who is responsible for this, although now, she’s drinking a lot more heavily than ever before. But also, lets not forget that there’s Marv (Mickey Rourke), who is basically roaming around, kicking whoever’s ass deserves a whooping next.

Though it was over-the-top, violent, gratuitous, and incredibly idiotic, there’s something about the original Sin City that still has me smile. Even to this day, if I’m running around through the channels in need of something quick, fun and easy to watch, and if it’s on, I’ll usually sit back and watch as if it’s my first time all over again. It’s also the movie I can turn on around my bros, and safely know that they’ll enjoy it.

I state this fact because I don’t necessarily think I’ll be saying/thinking the same way for this movie. Which isn’t as much of a problem, as much as it is a disappointing. Because if you think about it, we didn’t really need another Sin City; however, it doesn’t hurt to have one because the original was such a lovely surprise of dark, brooding joy. And it would have been totally fine had both Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller decided to go down the same route once again, and apart of me actually wishes they did.

Could have swore I told him not to bring that Don Jon crap around Sin City.

Could have swore I told him not to bring that Don Jon crap around Sin City.

Because yes, while this movie may not be nearly as bad as some may have been touting it as, it sure as heck isn’t what a superfan of the first movie would want to expect. Remember all of those senseless acts of over-the-top, cheesy violence in the first one that never seemed to stop showing up out of nowhere? Yeah, they’re here, but rather than being all that fun or exciting, they’re just repetitive and after awhile, just feels like a crutch for Rodriguez to fall back on when he doesn’t trust the numerous stories are keeping our attention as much.

Which, isn’t to say that the stories here aren’t at least interesting to follow, as they jump through one hoop to the next, but honestly, it becomes a bit of a drag after awhile. All of the numerous double-crosses and contrivances of the plot eventually begin to show and it makes you wonder what the real passion behind this movie being made was in the first place. It couldn’t have been to get more and more money from the die hard Frank Miller fans out there, could it have? I don’t think so, but whatever the reason may be, it doesn’t seem like Rodriguez feels all that much strive for this movie to be made and work for anybody who decides to watch it.

And I know I’m getting on Rodriguez’s case a bit too much here, and yes, I know it isn’t all that far. But however, since I saw Machete Kills and gave it some sort of “a pass”, I feel like I’m obliged to go out there and get on his case for sort of ruining another franchise that was chock full of surprise and absolute wonder. Sure, the Machete and Sin City movies aren’t the highest of art, for the most respectable movie-audiences out there, but they’re movies that, when done right, can be an absolute great time because they’re so crazy, so idiotic, and so self-knowing about their own stupidity, that anything goes, so long as the movies themselves stay as fun and as awesome of a time as they originally promise being.

With this second Sin City film, it feels like there’s not nearly as much craziness, or fun, to really make up for most of the problems with the script, its stories, or even its characters. It’s just something of a blank slate that feels like it wants to go somewhere, somewhere rather insane beyond our wildest and zaniest dreams, but for some reason, just doesn’t. This is a feeling I’ve had with most of Rodriguez’s movies and I feel like it’s time that he nuts up, or shuts up. Meaning, give me an absolute, balls-to-the-walls B-movie that doesn’t give a hoot about what people think or say about it – or, just doesn’t promise me anything like that at all in the first place, especially if you’re not going to follow through on your promises.

To be safe, just make another Spy Kids movie. Nobody seems to be complaining about them.

Or, the people that shouldn’t be, at least.

That said, the ones who mostly get out of this movie, Scott-free is the ensemble who are either as charming as one can be in a goofy noir, or downright weird that they feel perfectly suited for the material they’re given. Either way, they do a fine job, it’s just that it feels like, in the hands of a much better, more dedicated director, they could have done absolute wonders, like mostly everybody did in the first movie.

Returning as everybody’s favorite, and something of the iconic superhero for this franchise as a whole, is Mickey Rourke as Marv and shows us that, underneath that over-load of costume and make-up, lies a true talent that can still breath some dimensions into his character; even if that character is literally a cartoon. Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Jessica Alba and a few others return and show why they were picked for this material in the first place, even if there is a slight feeling that maybe Alba could have been given less to do. And it’s not to rain on her parade and talk out against her skills as an actress – it’s more that her character is so poorly-written, that the only positive aspect to her character is that she, occasionally, will talk to the spirit of Bruce Willis’ character. He’s another one that shows up every so often, but really, he doesn’t need to be here; he’s just taking up space, really.

Mean, heartless, brutal and full of weapons. My kind of women.

Mean, heartless, brutal and stocked with all sorts of toys. My kind of women.

As for the new bloods coming into this franchise, most of them are fine, although, like I said before: One can only wonder what would have happened to them, had there been a far more driven director involved. Josh Brolin plays Dwight (who has a new face, hence why no Clive Owen in the role) and is fine playing this troubled character who wants to always do the right thing, but knows that in a place like Sin City, that’s easier said, then actually done. Brolin’s good here as the gruff dude that can kick ass, but he doesn’t have as much of a personality as Owen did. Maybe it’s a British thing?

Another new addition to this franchise is a favorite of mine (so back off, ladies!), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny, a known gambler who sometimes is a little too in over his head. It’s cool to see JGL challenging himself in something this stylized and strange, but honestly, if you take his character, or even his whole story-arch, out altogether, there would probably be no notable change found whatsoever. Although there is a lovely bit featuring Christopher Lloyd as a degenerate doctor, his story lacks any real muster that makes you want to keep watching him, or this Johnny character as is. So if he was taken out, there wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that this is a JGL and the guy’s known to put in great work. So give him something better to do, dammit!

And last, but certainly not least is Eva Green as Ava, the dame people are “killing for”. Green, with what seems to be the second movie in a row this year (300: Rise of An Empire being the first), brings a certain level of camp that doesn’t necessarily make the movie better, but at least makes her scenes feel like they’re genuinely pulsing with some sort of energy. Add on top of that the fact that she’s naked practically every other scene she shows up in, then you’ve got the most memorable performance of a cast filled with huge, reliable names.

For better, and I guess, for worse.

Consensus: Without nearly as much heart or as much of the shock-factor as there was in the first, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is, for the most part, occasionally fun, but never jumps over that edge of making it total and complete, B-movie joy. Much like the original was.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

If I was on the opposing side of these two fellas, I'd need a new pair of shorts.

If I was on the opposing side of these two fellas, a new pair of shorts would totally be needed.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Keep the Lights On (2012)

If your soul mate is from a phone dating-service, they aren’t your soul mate.

Late one night while cruising for sex on the phone, documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) meets a closeted lawyer by the name of Paul (Zachary Booth). While they both exchange in some pretty hot sex, they also seem to want a bit more, even though Paul is already in a relationship with a woman. Erik doesn’t mind this and actually finds himself falling for Paul; so much so that it actually scares him. But it’s love and you can’t fight that feeling, no matter how bad things may get. And here, they get pretty damn terrible. Over the next ten years of their up-and-down relationship, Erik begins to realize that not only does Paul have a drug problem, but that he needs to get it fixed out before it’s too late for the both of them. But even if Erik can “cure” Paul of his addiction, what does that mean for the both of them together? Can they work it out? Or, simply put, will they just dissolve into the thin air of nothingness like most relationships end up being?

From what I’ve read, it seems that most of this is based on writer/director Ira Sachs’ own experience in love, but more importantly, a relationship he had himself. With that information taken into consideration, the film becomes a whole lot more personal and intimate than it already appears so as being, which is saying a whole lot, because this movie is so closed-off from the rest of the world around it, that it almost becomes suffocating. But that’s somewhat of a good thing here, especially since it keeps mostly all of our focus on these two men, their relationship and just exactly what makes them so compatible in the first place.

Usually how most of my relationships begin....

Usually how most of my relationships begin….

However, that’s where Sachs’ movie frustrated me: We never get a full sense as to why these two fall so madly in love together in the first place. I can totally understand and accept a movie that’s presenting a romance doomed from the very beginning, and just continuing to show it as it gets worse and worse for the individuals involved, but I can’t wholly accept a movie when that’s all it has to show. We hardly get to know these characters, except that one’s a whole a lot immature than the other; which is saying something because the other spends most of the movie running away without telling anybody where he’s going, having sex with random strangers, and doing a whole lot of crack.

And like I said before, I’m fine with a movie presenting me a complicated situation, with complicated people involved with them, but here, it feels like nothing’s all that complicated, or at least it shouldn’t be: One should clearly dump the other, but can’t because he’s just too needy and sexually-charged. It’s understandable that these aren’t characters we’re supposed to fall in love with; much rather, we’re supposed to understand them as who they are and why they want this relationship to work in the first place, but it sort of seems like Sachs keeps most of that away from us.

Well, at least in the case of Paul, who mostly just ends up turning out to be an unsympathetic dick that yes, may have a very serious drug problem, but doesn’t really feel like he’s worthy of having a connection with anyone, let alone somebody as caring and as loving as Erik. And because of this problem with Paul, Erik ends up being a whole lot more likable, even though he isn’t without his own fair share of problems, either.

For starters, Erik’s a little boy, trapped in an older dude’s body; meaning, he thinks and has feelings as if he’s still an adolescence, yet is clearly older and has to take on more responsibilities. He’s also our main focus of this movie and it’s hard to not want to give him a hug after he’s been thrown around, tossed, and kicked by this feeling of love he gets, even if it does feel way too much, for such a very short amount of time. However, it isn’t unbelievable in the way it’s presented to us in the film because of how Sachs has made Erik a sad, lonely guy who seems like he’s in desperate need of someone to hold and cherish.

...how they meander....

…how they meander….

That said, Erik’s mostly a compelling character because of how good Thure Lindhardt is at playing him. Rather than over-doing his character’s acts of immaturity to give you the impression that he’s a middle-schooler experiencing love and sex for the first time in his life, Lindhardt shows/tells us all we need to know by the way he carries himself from place to place, and the people he talks to in these places. And in these countless interactions with others, we get to understand and know a little more about who Erik is, as small as those pieces of info may be.

Still, it’s not enough to fully have us understand just why it is that we’re watching this story play out. Sure, Erik is a character that’s easy to care for, even when it seems like he’s the one who is bringing most of this pain and agony onto himself, but as for Paul and their relationship as a whole: I just wanted to see it over and done with. Most of that was to see Erik and Paul eventually released from whatever hurt they’ve been holding onto for all these years, but because it would actually bring something more compelling to the movie as a whole. It’s clear that this is a very personal story for Sachs and because of that being so, it does end up telling some hard-earned truths about love, commitment and how low one will stoop to keep a relationship afloat, but it ends up being almost too personal. Meaning that while it may mean a whole lot to him, the creator of transporting his own, real-life experiences to film, it doesn’t really hold nearly as much importance to the audience that’s watching his story practically play out in front of their own very eyes.

And, I mean, come on! Isn’t it the audience we make these movies for in the first place?

Consensus: Sachs’ writing and directing usually presents some interesting points about his character’s, as well as the situation they’re going through, but for most of Keep the Lights On‘s run-time, it just walks a very slow, uninteresting line.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

...and then of course, how they end. (That''s usually me on the right)

…and then of course, how they end. (That”s usually me on the right)

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

I Am Love (2010)

Rich people sure do love their fine cuisines.

After a tight-knit, upper-class family all get together for a reunion of sorts, Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), the wife of a very wealthy businessman, finds herself in a bit of a rut. She’s confused about where she wants to go with her life, what does she want with it, and most of all, who does she love and who loves her in return? She juggles these questions around all of the time in her head, you can just tell, and they all get more complicated when her son’s associate (Edoardo Gabbriellini) catches her lustful eye. Now Emma has to take two things into consideration: Either stay with her husband and keep with the lavish life-style that she obviously enjoys being surrounded by, or go off, bang this young dude, stay with him, and risk losing it all. What’s a lady to do when she’s got young man-meat around her, huh?

It’s a pretty simple premise for a not-so simple movie, but that’s the joy of watching movies that are hard to read like this. Not only do they challenge you to understand what’s going on, but it doesn’t hold your hand or smash you over the head with what it thinks you should know about its story. You just sort of have to put the pieces of the puzzle together, look closer, and realize that there’s more brewing beneath the surface here, and that’s exactly what I felt watching this flick for a good hour. Everything just seemed to be working well, and I think that’s mainly a credited to writer/director Luca Guadagnino, who really has me interested with what he’s got coming out on his next.

"What? Am I not young and nimble enough for you? I could get eXtense ya know?"

“What? Am I not young and nimble enough for you? I could get eXtense, ya know?”

Main reason being, is that this dude knows how to make any image, whether it be plates of liquid-soup, the Tuscan Sun, or the narrow streets of Italy, just simply and utterly beautiful. The camera-work is astonishing with how he just follows the action and keeps up with it, but also keep’s an arms-length with it as well to where we aren’t up in everybody’s grill, nor do we lose track of the beauty in the visuals here. It’s all so pretty and it’s all so gorgeous to just stare and gaze at, and gets even better when you throw in the orchestra score as well. Even though it does seem to get bloated by the end, the score still keeps things very interesting and may even have your heart racing out of nowhere. It did it to me, and it totally surprised the hell out of me.

So basically, when it comes to the look, the sound, and the feel of this material Guadagnino’s using, the man’s got it all down to a T. It’s definitely slow and it obviously wants you to settle in and be ready for something crazy to happen in the last Act, but it works because of his fine eyes and ears for beauty and detail. However, the problem the dude runs into is that he can’t quite keep a full head of steam going once that last Act hits, where everything begins to get somewhat “loco”.

The script by Guadagnino obviously works and doesn’t bring us in too much to where we feel like we know where it’s going, how it’s going to end, and what’s going to happen to who, and so on and so forth, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s working up too much either. All of these family members have something going on in their lives that’s definitely shown and made a great deal of, but never to the full extent where we continue to get more and more development about it. The only development for these sub-plots that we get is the one with Emma, which seems pretty obvious why hers is because its Tilda Swinton, and the chick is obviously the lead character out of the rest of these material family-members. That’s why when the end does come around, most of you will be left scratching your head what the point behind all of this was, and mainly, why the hell did it have to end this way, among many other, countless ways?

"Yo, uhhh, could you like not bang my mom?"

“Yo, uhhh, could you like NOT bang my mom?”

I’m not going to give too much away and spoil the “fun” for the rest of you out there, gang, but I will caution you that the last 20 minutes are some pretty funny stuff, and they don’t mean to be. Hell, what happens at the end of the movie, I wouldn’t even call a “twist” per se, I’d more or less say it’s just a random occurrence that happens to a character, that’s relatively tragic, and puts everybody else in the flick in a bit of a rut, which bothered me because it seemed totally unnecessary and almost like it was slapping the rest of the flick that came before it in the face. Very melodramatic, very random, and very over-the-top in the type of way that you’d expect to see from an episode of All My Children; not a movie about a mother falling for her son’s much-younger friend.

Speaking of the said mother who fails for her son’s much-younger friend, Tilda Swinton is pretty damn great as Emma, despite not being a native of Milan and still being able to sound fluent in Italian. Swinton has always been a knock-out, drag-out actress who’s always scared me with the way she looks, but all of that crap aside, she’s pretty damn good here because she’s able to give Emma a bit of a breathing-compass that’s easy to feel something for, especially when she starts getting all hot and heavy with her little boy-toy. The basic problem is that even though she’s very good showing emotions within this character, we never really do get a full understanding of why it is that she feels so tempted by the act of infidelity, and why it has to be this dude? Granted, he’s young, Italian, a chef, and wears an apron many times they stumble upon one another, but what makes him so freakin’ awesome that she has to totally throw away all of her years of marriage? Nothing really, but the movie never touches on that aspect of his and her character, so therefore, were just left to make up our own minds and wonder what’s up with this older-gal.

Consensus: For a good hour or so, I Am Love is very compelling, but moreso in a way that’s about its visuals, way of story-telling, and overall mood, but then dives right into the category of melodrama, and gets very laughable, very quick.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Tilda: So majestic, so not Italian.

Tilda: So majestic, so not Italian.

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Imagine the film-version of Coldplay’s “Magic”, except less depressing and no Gwyneth Paltrow. Thankfully.

Stanley (Colin Firth) is a British illusionist who disguises himself as Wei Ling Soo, but when it comes to being off the stage and believing in anything like “magic”, or “tricks”, he can’t help but scoff at the idea of them actually being real. That’s why when an old confidante of his (Simon McBurney) asks him to come out to a friend’s land to expose a certain kind of “fortune teller”, he doesn’t hesitate to make his move. That’s why when Stanley shows up and realizes that this fortune teller of sorts is a young, bright little thing by the name of Sophie (Emma Stone) he chooses to not be swayed by his attraction to her, and keep his eyes on the prize: Showing the world that Sophie is indeed a phony. However, exactly what Stanley didn’t want to happen, happens when he finds himself not only falling for Sophie as a person, but also believing that she could be in contact with these dead spirits she goes on and on about/with. But, is Stanley not paying attention to what really lies in front of him because of the idea of love being present, or is Sophie really who she says she is?

“Another year, another Woody Allen movie” seems to be a constant statement whenever we come around to this time of the year and for the past decade or so, it’s a statement that’s usually been said with a slight groan following. That’s not to say that every Woody Allen movie lately has been considered “bad”, it’s just obvious that when a creator begins to lose his craft just a tad bit. But then one also has to think: If you’re constantly putting out a movie once, or in some cases, twice a year, does it really matter how amazing each one is in their own right? Or, can an auteur just be commended for his ability to constantly have something new cooking up, each and every year, no matter how old that person may be getting?

"I sense that sometime, quite possibly in the nearest future of all, I'll be working with the same guy standing behind that camera."

“I sense that sometime, quite possibly in the nearest future of all, I’ll be working with the same guy standing behind that camera.”

Personally, I believe that it’s all about the craft and if Woody Allen wants to keep making movies every year for the rest of his life, then I’m fine with that. Just as long as they are more like this and nowhere near being that piece of crap known as To Rome with Love. Or Cassandra’s Dream. Or You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Or Whatever Works. Or Anything Else. Or Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

But okay! I think you get where I’m going with this now – not every Woody Allen movie is going to be perfect. But that doesn’t mean they have to be crap either; they can just be extremely mediocre. Which is exactly what Magic in the Moonlight is, except a hell of a lot more breezy. Most of that has to do with the fact that this takes place in a lovely countryside of France, as well as kind of having something to do with the late summer release-date this has, but most of it, I’d like to think, can be attributed to the fact that Woody Allen has found himself a lovely pair of leads in the forms of Colin Firth and Emma Stone.

Yeah, I myself would have never ever thought that I’d see the day where Mr. Darcy was paired with Gwen Stacy, in a film directed by Woody Allen nonetheless, but such is the case we have here and it’s very interesting in that aspect. Not because Allen plays to both of their strengths very well (even though he does), but because these two actually have a nice bit of chemistry that is able to get us out of thinking that he’s way too much older than her to begin with. In fact, the 28-year age-gap sort of makes sense in a movie like this; Sophie’s rather mature and honest for her age, whereas Stanley himself is such a down-beat nonbeliever in anything happy, he borderlines on “immaturity”. And somehow, with these differences in character-description, the two are able to craft a lovely, yet believable chemistry that sometimes pushes its way into being “too cutesy” at times. But not enough to where it gave me that sick taste in my mouth, nor that creepy feeling in my head of him being way older than she is.

Then again though, it is a Woody Allen movie and with Woody Allen movies you have to expect an older guy to be foaming at the mouth for them younger ladies. Such is a fact in both his movies, as well as his own personal life.

But anyway, I digress. Stone and Firth are lovely together and in their own rights, show that they are more than capable of creating interesting, compelling characters for the time being. That’s why it’s such a shame that the rest of the cast are either, second-thoughts, or thinly-written. The only real member of this cast that I can think about who gets to do a little something more is Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s Aunt; everybody else is sort of just there in the background, occasionally given a chance to say or do something that doesn’t make it seem like a total waste of their talents. Like, I don’t know, say when all you have for Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden to do is stand around her character’s daughter and be a tad feisty, there is a shred of disappointment that can’t help but be felt.

Oh yeah, total resemblance.

Oh yeah, total resemblance.

That said though, Woody himself is fine with just moving the story along at a sweet, pleasant pace. There’s plenty of darkness to be found here, as there is with most of his movies, and most of that comes from the fact that Stanley just doesn’t believe in real magic ever being a thing in our world. He believes that people want to believe what makes them feel a whole lot happier and safer about their lives, much rather than the actual, sometimes stinging truth itself. That’s pretty much exactly how every Woody Allen-character, Woody Allen has ever played, is, except with Colin Firth around, it feels more genuine, if that was even possible in the first place. However, it’s still Woody Allen himself talking, which is where this movie gets a bit more interesting in how Woody explores the idea of love and how, it doesn’t matter what else bad stuff is happening to you, that if you have love in your life, it all mostly goes away and can sometimes, blur-up ones judgment. That’s not to say that love is bad, really, but it’s just a fact of life that one needs to have. Regardless of how painful it may be at certain points.

Now where have I heard that before?

Consensus: While not being anything deeper than just a late-summer rom-com, Magic in the Moonlight is another charmingly breezy hour-and-a-half that can sweet and soundly be added to Woody Allen’s list of mediocre movies.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"You mean to tell me that while I was performing Shakespeare to sell-out crowds, you were just a cell?"

“You mean to tell me that while I was performing Shakespeare to sell-out crowds, you were just a cell?”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

I Origins (2014)

Should have been re-titled Eye See You. Already taken, you say? Damn.

Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a man that feels slightly alone, as well as he should. He’s a scientist who takes up most of his day, not by hangin’ out, listening to rad music, sippin’ on brews and chillin’ with his boys, but instead, by testing to see if he can create a real life, fully-functioning eye, therefore, disproving God and all of the wonders of the world. Also, he takes pictures of eyes as a hobby. Does it sound like much fun? Nope, which is why when he has a chance encounter with a random spectator at a Halloween dress-up with a mysterious gal named Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), he can’t help but feel like it’s his one chance at love and therefore, his opportunity to make something more out of his life than just eyes. Eventually, the two start a relationship, but their conflicting-views on what life is really all about, get in the way and cause friction. Not to mention that it makes Gray want to find out more and more about his studying. And then, tragedy strikes.

Clearly there’s more to this premise than what I just laid-out, but let me just put it like this: You won’t want to hear what else I’ve got to say. Because, one of the key aspects about I Origins is in not knowing what to expect next. Which, of course, seems like something you look for in any movie, but there’s something much more interesting at work here. See, not only does writer/director Mike Cahill frame this story without us having any idea of what to expect from the studying of eyes, but he also gives us just enough to keep us satisfied on all fronts.

Does it really need to be said that you shouldn't listen to those ads?

Does it really need to be said that you shouldn’t listen to those ads?

For instance, the movie never limits itself to one genre in particular. One part is a romance about two strangers who meet, hook up, connect and eventually fall in love; another part is a sci-fi drama about figuring out the mystery behind these eyes; another is a deep, dark and twisty psychological thriller that doesn’t always clue us in on what to expect next; and lastly, we have a discussion about whether or not we can fully trust science to determine the rest of our society. All of it put together is very interesting to watch, but it’s also quite messy and you can tell exactly when the film sort of stumbles over itself.

Which isn’t to say that this is a deeply-flawed film, it’s just that it takes so many falls here and there, that you wonder how much ground Cahill was wondering of covering, and how much of it actually made it into the final-product. Sure, he gets the romance right in that, despite them being the quintessential couple that first met and, seven minutes later, were already banging in a dirty bathroom, but the sci-fi stuff itself? Well, not so much.

And that doesn’t mean I have to be a science-major of any sorts to get what it is that they’re talking about here; in fact, nobody has to be. Cahill does a well enough job at laying down all that we need to know about the science of this movie, its meaning and why it is that it’s so important to the characters (they’re scientists, duh!). That’s done well, but when he starts to do a little bit of preaching, it ends up being something more than just a romance-tale centered around a whole bunch of science-y stuff – it ends up being a movie that’s used just so that the director can present problems he feels is current in today’s society. Which is fine, however, he never really follows through on them.

And though directors like PT Anderson, Martin Scorsese and even David Lynch to an extant, have all presented ideas and never really followed through perfectly on them, they’re at least skilled enough to get by. Cahill, on the other hand, feels like he has a little way to go before he’s fully blowing our mind with whatever gibber-gabber he has to present to everyday America. We get that it’s all supposed to be deeper than the surface it’s presented on, but what is there to this whole idea that really allows us to give our attentions for the next two-hours? Well, not much. All there is, really, is just a bunch of characters talking about science and explaining that eyes are what helps one peer into another person’s soul.

Wow. Truly something mind-boggling right there, people.

Yes, I am being a bit snarky here, but that’s only because most of the movie seems so up its own rump, that it made me annoyed and want to get up out of my seat, only to firmly take its head, or hand, out of their rear-end. It was getting quite annoying and also, not to mention the fact that the later-half of the movie can get a bit ridiculous. It’s still interesting and relatively unpredictable, but when you have a movie that’s willing to throw everything and anything at you to confuse you of what’s next, regardless of it works for the movie as a whole or not, then it’s kind of disappointing. Makes you wish everything was more thought-out and not in need of such a rush job.

Gettin' her with the old "let me see your soul"-move. Oldest trick, man.

Gettin’ her with the old “let me see your soul”-move. Oldest trick, man.

But where Cahill really gets this movie right is in the cast he’s assembled here, especially Michael Pitt in a leading-role that shows us all what he’s capable of: Being quiet, yet, always interesting. Pitt doesn’t really use his boy-ish good-looks to get by on a role that’s basically made for a nerd, but he does allow us to sympathize with a guy who has a nerdy occupation, a nerdy hobby, nerdy ideas about everything he sees, and yet, is still able to pull in ladies like he does so here. It’s a bit unbelievable, considering how much of a no-nonsense deuche he can sometimes be, but I guess because he’s Michael Pitt, it doesn’t matter if he’s a scientist, a firefighter, or a trained serial-killer; he’s cute, dammit!

Anyway, he’s great and even though his love-interest’s English may be a bit rusty, Astrid Berges-Frisbey is still charming enough to make you see why they’d be such a lovely couple together and are right for each other in the end. Brit Marling’s also here as the “new” scientist Gray gets stuck with, and although it’s clear she isn’t used much at first, later on, without saying much, she becomes a central part to this story and still makes you wish there was more of her to go around. “The more Brit Marling, the merrier”, nobody said.

Except for me. Just right there.

Consensus: Boasting an interesting premise that runs down many different roads, I Origins definitely is a bold piece of fiction, yet ultimately becomes something that’s less important and deep than it thinks it is.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Just blink already!

Just blink already!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Cider House Rules (1999)

Abortion, incest and ether – oh my!

Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is a young man who, for as long as he can remember, grew up in an orphanage. He was given to it when he was just a baby and taken in twice, but rejected and sent back both times, leaving the head of the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), to take him in and teach him everything he needs to know about being a doctor. And by “everything”, I do mean, everything. See, the orphanage is more than just a place where a bunch of kids without any family run around, live in and wait to be adopted by curious families, because Dr. Larch himself actually allows there’s certain people to come in who want an abortion, which, way back when in the 40’s, was downright illegal. One couple in particular is Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her soldier boyfriend (Paul Rudd), who interest Homer so much that he decides to leave with them and see what plan life has set for him next. Somehow though, that plan ends up being on an apple-picking farm, where he encounters all sorts of characters and even falls in love, although the happiness he feels, may not be the same for those that he left behind in the orphanage. Especially not Dr. Larch.

Director Lasse Hallström really did concoct a neat little trick here with the Cider House Rules – while the movie, on the surface, may appear to be an old-timey tale about exploring the world around you and all of the other possibilities, deep down inside, it’s a dark, somewhat rather disturbing tale about being lonely in a world, not knowing where to go with it next and how decisions we make, don’t just affect us for a short time being, but for the rest of our lives. Oh, and there’s a lot of abortions, too; which, to me, was shocking for the longest time in how Hallström presents this as something “illegal”, yet, thankfully doesn’t go any further into that fact and just lets it sit there. Almost as if it’s a fact of life that some people make, and others don’t.

Like everybody's favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Like everybody’s favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this movie surprised me once I really what it was actually all about, and also, what I was to expect from the rest of where it was going to go.

But there’s a slight problem with Hallström’s direction, and it’s not in the way that he pictures this story. In fact, quite the opposite – I loved the look of this movie. Not only does it have that old-timey look and feel that we’d get from a movie that was filmed in the 40’s, but the fact that it’s set in the rural lands of Maine makes it feel like something of its own nature (pun intended). In this part of Maine, people sort of go about, do and say as they please. There isn’t much of a hustle and bustle like there is in the city, nor is there a real sense of community like there can be in the suburbs. It’s just a bunch of people, separated from one another, who continue to live on in their own, sometimes secluded lives. Not only does that make it seem like Maine is an essential setting for this kind of story, but that it also gives us an even larger feeling of the loneliness sometimes felt from these characters; a point that this movie doesn’t drive home as much as it totally should have.

That said though, Hallström doesn’t get everything right, and that has more to do with the fact that the movie can’t decide whether it wants to be a real dark and heavy drama you’d see on AMC, or maybe even HBO, or a schmaltzy, sentimental piece of melodrama that you’d probably catch on the Lifetime, or Hallmark channel, had you been flipping through the tube. And because of that, the movie feels disjointed; there are plenty of moments in which a character will reveal something nasty or cruel that they did, but the next second later, we’ll get a montage of Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron frolicking and cuddling in the woods. It makes you wonder who Hallström was trying to please here?

Was he going for the sappy, feel-good vibe that most families want to see, especially around the holidays (when this was released)? Or, does he want to have us think about our own lives and shed some light on the fact that what we think is out there, doesn’t really need to be seen at all? In a way, Hallström tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t always work. Sure, it’s an interesting piece that makes you wonder what would have happened to the final product, had Hallström and writer John Irving (original writer of the book, too) been on the same page the whole entire time (pun intended).

Because not only does it affect the tone of the movie, but it also has the cast feel slightly awkward in certain places where they shouldn’t. Michael Caine won an Oscar for his work here as the realistic-thinking, ether-inhaling Dr. Wilbur Larch, and though he is good, there’s a good portion of this movie in which he doesn’t even show up, leaving you to wonder just what the hell is he up to and why couldn’t we have had just a tad bit more time with him before we had to set off into the rest of the world. Even Tobey Maguire, despite being quite subtle in the only way he knows how to be (sometimes too much so), feels like the sort of character that lingers from place to place, doesn’t really have much of an emotional center, and is there for us to just see what he sees and experience whatever the heck it is that he experiences. Maguire has done this sort of role before and he’s fine with it here, but it still seems like there could have been more done to this character that would have made him somebody else other than just a “protected young guy who wants to see the world”.

Uh oh. Tobey's sad. I think we all know what's coming next.

Uh oh. Tobey’s sad. I think we all know what’s coming next.

The supporting players are better-off, considering that they aren’t paid attention to nearly as much, but even then, some just feel like window-dressing. Charlize Theron does a fine job as the Candy, the girl that eventually becomes the object of Homer’s affection, and while it’s easy to see why she is in fact the one he goes after, we don’t really get to know much more about her, other than that she likes a good time and a nice hump or two; Paul Rudd does some rare dramatic-work here as the boyfriend and isn’t around much to really show his chops off, but is charming enough that we feel bad for him when Homer starts banging his girl; and honestly, it was a shame to see two wonderful actresses like Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker be reduced to playing the “old, yet, sweet orphanage nurses”, whereas we all know they could have definitely done some real damage with a script that serviced them better.

But the one who really walks away with this movie and actually left something of an impression on me is a favorite of mine, Delroy Lindo. Lindo plays the head honcho of the workers from the apple-picking farm known as Mr. Rose and while, on the surface, everything seems all kosher and pleasant with this guy, deep down inside, we begin to find out that there’s something very wrong with him indeed. Which is why, when that area of his character explored, the movie really shocked me and, unsurprisingly enough, is exactly when Lindo’s powerhouse acting came in play. Because through Lindo, we see a truly damaged human being that believes what it is that he does, is regardless of if it’s right or wrong in the real, is his way, in his world and he doesn’t want anybody poking around in his business. It’s interesting to see where this character goes from when we initially meet his bright and smiling mug, to a sad and frowning one, but one could only imagine how much better it would have been for the character, as well as Lindo, had the material here been better.

Consensus: Inherently messy, the Cider House Rules had plenty of interesting ideas, as well as a finely-assembled cast to go along with it, but the script and the direction never seem to come together well enough to create a whole, cohesive story.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"And don't you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine."

“And don’t you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine.” (Now say that statement really fast)

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Begin Again (2014)

Just pick up anything and play! But don’t forget to cover something from Frozen. That seems to be the “hip” thing to do nowadays.

After Dan (Mark Ruffalo) gets dropped from the music label he helped build, the man dives into a bit of a drunken-stooper. And somewhere along the night, he ends up in a bar where he hears a song being performed by a small, rather sweet British gal by the name of Greta (Keira Knightley). Though the people around him don’t really think much of her song and only use her as background music, Dan sees, hears and feels potential, which is why he doesn’t hesitate a single second to get her information right after the performance. Though she’s a bit reluctant to start diving right into recording and all that, Greta eventually gives in and Dan finds any which way he can, with anybody he can find with enough time on their hands, to help him record at least two or three songs of Greta’s own doing. But both of their troubled-pasts may come back to haunt them if they aren’t lucky enough, especially in Greta’s case where her ex-boyfriend (Adam Levine), also just so happens to be the hottest and coolest, up-and-coming talent out there in the mainstream today.

After finally seeing Once and really enjoying all that it set out to be, I must say, I was relatively excited for another movie in which John Carney would be jumping back into the world of musicals. However, where as that movie was a small, intimate musical that looked as if it had been made for a dime and a Big Mac, this one is a lot larger, broader and definitely with a bigger-budget. All that aside though, all that matters is that the songs are not only catchy, but actually good and feel like they build to something more than just a couple of neat hooks here and there. There has to be emotion, there has to be feeling, and most of all, there has to be inspiration for the songs we hear and the reason for which they exist.

You know it's true love when they start taking selfies together.

You know it’s true love when they start taking selfies together.

A sort-of musical that comes to my mind is Inside Llewyn Davis which, through the songs played by that titled-character, we got a glimpse into who he was and what it was that he felt as a person. Sure, the songs themselves were catchy and well-constructed, but there was so much more heart and soul put into them, that it felt like a person really letting us know who he was, rather than some dude who is trying to be heard on the radio. You know, not like the songs that we have here.

And yes, that is to say that most of the songs here are catchy, in that, as soon as I left the theater, I was humming the tunes to the songs, but totally forgot about them as soon as I got into my car and hooked up my iPod to the aux. But that’s also to say the songs never really feel like they’re giving you more information about these characters than we already know, or have heard alluded to before. Save for the opening-track that Greta plays about feeling lost and abandoned in the Big Apple, which actually gives us a clear view into who this character is and why it is she feels this way. Every other song, though entertaining to listen to for the time being, don’t really have much of an impact.

Which, for a movie that prides itself on its love for music and the thrill one gets when they are in the act of creating something, is definitely a disadvantage. Especially considering that with his previous-musical, Carney was able to construct something sweet and everlasting that could be connected with, even if you weren’t a musician to begin with. Here, it feels like in order to really connect with any of these characters, or what it is that they’re making, you have to at least have some foot in the door of music, or else it may not matter much to you whether or not they all end up getting a record deal at the end.

Also not to mention that Carney is extremely sentimental here with his script; it’s the conventional story of a girl, fighting all against the odds stacked up against her trying to make it big, while the man she’s investing her future in is still suffering from his divorce and the disconnect he feels with his daughter. If you’ve heard of that plot-line before, don’t worry, so have I and Carney continuously milks it for all that he’s got, even if he knows he’s soaking up in the sap. Which can be fine if there’s more sentiment added onto the sap, but here, we get some thinly-written characters who are here to just service the plot, aka, “the jams”, baby.

"Who needs that mainstream crap like producing an album in a studio?!? Fresh air is all you need, man!"

“Who needs that mainstream crap like producing an album in a studio?!? Fresh air is all you need, man!”

Which wouldn’t be such a problem with most movies, but when you have a cast this stacked, it makes you wonder just how nice that paycheck was looking. Mark Ruffalo is okay as Dan and has some nice one-liners, but feels like he’s too amped-up on coffee most of the time, which is rather strange considering he’s supposed to be playing a down-and-out bum with a drinking problem; Keira Knightley is given more to do as the meek and kind Greta, while also showing off her mighty fine pipes which service these songs for what they are; and Hailee Steinfeld for what seems like the umpteenth time I’ve seen her playing an angst-fueled, angry teenage girl that clashes with all adults around her, does a nice job and shows that she’s one of the better, brighter talents out there.

The one who actually surprised the hell out of me here was Adam Levine as Greta’s ex-boyfriend who, believe it or not, cheats on her and leaves her for a big career in music, where he loses his identity and even grows a big, hip beard. Sound like somebody you know? Anyway, what’s so good about Levine here is that while it could have been quite easy for him to just play his normal deuchy-self, the guy does well showing us a true character that not only loves his girlfriend, but actually wants to see what this whole rock ‘n roll lifestyle is about. In a way, he feels more human than anybody else here which, I imagine for most significant-others for other big-time musicians out there, may in fact be terrifying.

Consensus: Light, frothy and pleasant for its near-two hour run-time, Begin Again may not ask much of its audience except to just enjoy the numerous songs it plays, which, depending on the kind of viewer it’s speaking towards, may or may not be enough.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Hide the cone. Don't want Dairy Queen calling its lawyers up.

Hide the cone. Don’t want Dairy Queen calling its lawyers up.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Hercules (2014)

The stone age totally needed a whole lot more Rock Bottoms.

Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) was born as a demigod; meaning he was both a human, as well as powerful, immortal God. And while there have been constant stories whispered in the shadows about him and all of the numerous battles he has won, not everybody’s sure as to what the true story is. Is he a human after all, that can live and die just like us? Or, is he simply a God-like human who was put on this Earth to protect those who need him the most? He doesn’t answer that, nor does any of his long legion of trusted associates, who join him along on every mission/task he has. Their latest “adventure” of sorts, is from Cotys, King of Thrace (John Hurt) who propositions them with a hefty amount of gold, in which all they have to do is train his army to be the most ruthless, fearless army on the planet, as well as be able to help him overtake these other armies that have been ruining his various lands. Hercules doesn’t like to be considered a “mercenary”, even though he totally is, but he takes the job anyway and somehow finds himself connecting with the King’s daughter (Rebecca Ferguson) and starting to realize that something may not be all that fine with this mission. Something rather mysterious seems to be going on, actually.

Apparently, earlier in the year, there was another big-budget Hercules reboot that starred Kellan Lutz and while I heard nothing special about it, nor had any intentions of seeing it (it was January after all), it made me think about how, once again, Hollywood seemed to be running out of original/innovative ideas. Last year, it was two “secret-service-men-saves-president-from-terrorists” movie; now this year, it’s two Hercules movies. One starring a male model, the other, starring the Rock.

"Who turned the lights on?!?!?"

“Who turned the lights on?!?!?”

Which one do you think is better?

My thoughts exactly.

See, because while I do sneer at the fact that this is a movie directed by Brett Ratner, for some reason, that never bothered me during this movie. Sure, Ratner doesn’t necessarily have a certain style or trademark that allows his movies to be considered “his own” (except that most of them blow), but you know when you’re watching a movie and it happens to be bad, which as a result, also ends up being directed by Brett Ratner. So when I actually walked into this movie, I wasn’t feeling to happy. Dwayne Johnson (I guess I’ll give up and just call him that from now on) is always somebody I can smile about seeing, but Brett Ratner? No thank you very much on that!

Somehow though, the movie worked for me, which may, or may not have anything to do with the fact that Brett Ratner was the one sitting behind the camera (presumably doing cocaine off of hooker’s asses). A part of me wants to say it is, but another part of me still wants to fight it and not give into the idea that a movie coming from the sweaty, hairy palms of Brett Ratner, might actually be considered “good”. And the only reason why I highlight this fact so much, is because the movie’s a whole bunch of fun and shows that, despite his terrible reputation amongst those in the biz, Brett Ratner is capable of directing a “good” movie; better yet, he’s actually capable of a directing a “fun” movie.

And with the story of Hercules and Dwayne Johnson in the lead, you really do need some element of fun to keep everything moving surely and fine. Which, here, usually consists of us watching as Johnson lurks around the screen like the huge, HGH-fueled monster that he is, occasionally making jokes, cracking a grin, patting little aspiring boys on their heads, and, every once and a blue moon, freaking out from his troubled-past. But, for the most part, this movie just consists of him kicking ass with every inch of his square body and if you’re like me and grew up on seeing that occur on a daily basis, then yeah, this movie’s going to be a total blast for you.

If you aren’t used to seeing the People’s Champion lay the smackdown on some jabronis, then you may want to watch the 1995 Disney-animated flick. That has a lot more substance than this movie, and is perfect if you’re looking for something with more of a deeper meaning. Because here, you’re not really going to find it, although the movie totally does try and ultimately, fails. In fact, the only times where I really felt like I may have lost total interest, is exactly when the characters started talking, getting all dramatic and focusing on Hercules’ problems. I get that the movies needs those elements in order to round the character out some more and not just be an non-stop barrage of violence, action, and arrows, but it could have been done slightly better. Then again, you could say that about any movie really.

"Oh mah gawd!! From the top-rope!!"

“Oh mah gawd!! From the top-rope!!”

Like I was saying about Johnson earlier though, the man is perfectly fine as Hercules – he’s never really called on to do any heavy-lifting that may result in him popping a blood vessel or pulling a groin muscle – he’s mostly just told to look tough, be his usual charming-self whenever the script calls on it, and be willing to kick anybody’s ass. He does that oh so perfectly here, which isn’t really a surprise at all, considering he’s done it for about his whole entire career. And we, as a society, are so much better for it, too. Wrestling fans, or not.

And like how it is for Johnson in the lead role, the rest of the cast isn’t really called onto do much either. Except this time, they have to be a bit more cheery and likable. Which, when you have a supporting cast that includes the likes of John Hurt, Peter Mullan, Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Sewell, and Ian McShane, do you really expect much else? No, not really. Just like you sure as hell don’t expect Brett Ratner to make something that could be considered “good”, but hey, here we are.

The world is chock full of surprises, ain’t it?

Consensus: With Brett Ratner at the helm, and Dwayne Johnson in the lead sporting a loincloth and a club by his side, Hercules is exactly what you’d expect from it to be, except maybe a tad too heavy on the drama.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

He said he beat both Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan, but I thought he was lion.....

He said he beat both Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan, but I thought he was lion…..

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Thankfully, I’d still have my Dorothy Doors. Nobody’d ever look down one of them.

It’s the year 2023 in America and it’s Purge Night. This means that the government is allowing everyone and anyone to go out there, commits all sorts of crime, for a certain amount of time, without any police authority ever taking control. Sounds ideal for those nut-balls out there in the world, but for the common-folk who don’t enjoy killing people – it’s a bit of a disaster. On this one night in particular, we follow three stories: a couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) whose car accidentally breaks down on the road, moments before the Purge actually begins; a mother (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter (Zoe Soul) who are kidnapped by a bunch of men dressed in SWAT uniforms for unknown reasons; and a lone, silent man (Frank Grillo) who has a clear mission and is planning on following that on throughout the whole night. That is, all until he ends up gaining a conscience about half-way through and decides to save the mother and daughter, making them have to come along for the ride as he continues to finish what he set out to do in the first place. But on a night like “Purge Night”, nothing is ever going to be easy.

Okay, so it’s obvious that the big question concerning this sequel is, “Is it better than the first?” Well, coming from a lad like me who actually didn’t hate the first, but though it was mildly interesting disappointment, feels like that is the case here and I can’t say I’m too surprised. I knew that there was a whole bunch of promise in the first movie, but due to the fact that it didn’t have such a big-budget or cast-members, it seemed like it was a movie that could be remade, time and time again, except with more money and characters involved. Because all that movie really did was make a home-invasion thriller, with the fact that the cops can’t be called; as a result, making it something like a Funny Games, just with more blood, violence, characters, and less self-aware thoughts.

#TrueDetectiveSeason5

#TrueDetectiveSeason5

But with this sequel here, we get a bigger budget, which also means, more ground to cover. Which, yes, as a result, does mean that we get plenty of more violence, blood, and murder in all sorts of places now that everything can be spread out all across L.A. without there being any problems whatsoever with the studios. And because of that, the movie is definitely better; the violence, without sounding like a psychopathic nut-case, is pleasing because we get to see a lot of bad things, happen to bad people; the characters actually seem to have personalities, as well as smart minds that are capable of thinking rationally; and the ideas that carry-on from the first, are explored a lot more in an effective way that makes you think that maybe this Purge thing should not be happening. It gives this premise, this rather imaginary world more of a purpose and shows that, little by little, step by step, installment by installment, this franchise could really take the world by storm.

That said, it will definitely take some time and I don’t think we’re all that there yet. Because while this movie can sometimes be a compelling piece of violent fun, there are still some bits and pieces that need to be worked on. For instance, James DeMonaco, despite this practically being his “love child”, doesn’t seem like the perfect director for this material. You’d think that with the story spilling out all over on L.A.’s streets, that there would be more havoc, carnage and overall craziness, but there isn’t much of that. Sure, we hear people yelling, screaming, getting killed and all that fun stuff, but we never really get a sense that this is happening everywhere these people turn, which I think in a place like L.A., totally would be occurring.

Maybe it’s not quite all that far to be putting the blame on DeMonaco, and more of on the studios that back him up with all their wads of cash, but there was still a feeling of disappointment, from an action stand-point. Now, I don’t want it to seem as if I was asking for there to be a death every five or six seconds in the movie, but it did feel a bit “tame”, all considering what this plot truly is about and where it goes. Not saying you won’t enjoy some bouts of violence, blood and action, but when it does show up, it’s not quite filmed perfectly and makes you wonder why we haven’t put the shaky-cam thing to rest by now.

I mean, seriously: Everybody but Paul Greengrass hates it! Just put it away and bring it out every so often, like as if it was your acoustic-guitar you had from college and are bringing out at a fancy schmancy dinner party. That would be perfect and it would definitely show all of these action movies that, in order to excite or please us, they don’t have to constantly shake the camera as if they are in the freezing cold without any mittens; just have good action-sequences that are worthy of our full, undivided attention.

If the Raid 2 can do that, why can’t anyone else?!?!

Anyway, the one neat aspect about the Purge being such a big hit amongst and attracting anybody who automatically hears that title uttered in everyday conversations, means that the casts don’t have to be filled with big names to attract more people. That would most certainly help, but I think any Purge movie, is good enough than no Purge movie at all, regardless of who it is starring. And that’s why I like this cast so much: We’ve all seen these people before in countless other things, and although some of us may be able to tell them apart better than others, it’s still nice to see them getting work in a mainstream flick.

"Warrrrriorrrrrsssss commmeee outtt toooo....ergh! I mean, hey, let's Purge, guys!"

“Warrrrriorrrrrsssss commmeee outtt toooo….ergh! I mean, hey, let’s Purge, guys!”

Mostly though, I’m just speaking about the inclusion of Frank Grillo here and his lead role as Leo, the cold, stoic, soft-spoken bad-ass that has a plan and wants to stick to it as much as he can, with keeping just enough of his morality in tact. If you’ve ever seen Grillo in any of the numerous stuff he pops up in, you’d know the guy is the real deal and always leaves you wondering, “Why isn’t that guy a bigger name yet?”. Regardless of why that is, it doesn’t matter because Grillo’s a quality actor and handles this role very well, considering all he has to do is act tough, beat the shit out of people, and still be gentle enough to be considered “a good guy”. It’s a great role for Grillo to get his name out there and it’s also one that shows everybody he’s due for a Punisher re-boot.

You know, just saying.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re pretty fine, although there are some weak-links to be found. Real-life couple Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford are fine together, although I felt like he was a bit too stiff to play the common-dude-turned-bad-ass that occurs later on in the movie, as it occurs with just about every one of these characters. Carmen Ejogo is a lovely actress I’ve always enjoyed seeing in anything, and though I wish there was more for her to do other than look scared and frantically run around, having her around is still better than not. However, the weakest-link of this cast is the one who plays her daughter, Zoe Soul. I get that the character was a mid-teen that was trying to grasp what’s up with the world around her and how she wants to make a difference in it, but man, she would not shut up. Rather than having her play a character that is, essentially, “the cute kid” role that’s given to the ages that range from five-to-twelve, here, Soul plays the “too-smart-for-her-own-damn-good teenager”, and it’s the kind of role I don’t hope to see from here on out.

Although, like with the shaky-cam, nobody in Hollywood will listen. Story of my life.

Consensus: With a bigger budget and more ground to explore, the Purge: Anarchy is better than its predecessor, although it’s still clear that there’s plenty of improvement needed for this franchise to really work wonders and be more than just “a gimmick movie”.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!! 

Oh, Cynthia. Such a silly girl.

Oh, Cynthia. Such a silly girl.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

The We and the I (2013)

Take a cab next time.

It’s the last day of school for these high school students from the Bronx and they’re already to get a start on their much-anticipated summer. However, in order to do so, all that’s standing in front of them is a very, very long bus ride from school, all the way to their each respective stops. On the bus, is obviously the bus driver and a few civilians here and there, but for the most part, it’s mostly the student-body who take over everything; being that they’re young and rowdy and all. And with practically the whole school being on the bus, that means we get all of the usual cliques and social groups one sees in high school: the bullies, the nerds, the smelly kids, the drama queens, the homosexuals the skanks, the stoners, the musicians, the tools, etc. We even get an old lady that makes to fun of kids’ penis sizes. So yeah, this bus has got everything and everybody you could imagine, which also means that there’s going to be a whole lot of drama, too. And when there’s drama, there’s always a bad fall-out, no matter what the problem may be.

Whenever Michel Gondry’s name is attached to anything, it doesn’t matter what it is, you always have to expect the unexpected. Which, in most cases anyway, means that there’s going to be a whole lot of strange things popping out, left and right, up and down, exactly when you least expect it. Some may call this “pretentious”, whereas others may just simply call it “artistic”, or even “original”; but whatever the word is, it doesn’t matter, because Gondry likes to make movies that absolutely surprise us and take us back for a moment. Sometimes those bold decisions on his behalf work exceptionally well, and other times, they don’t, but for the most part, the surprises we get from him are a hell of a lot better than those we probably get from our parents on Christmas morning.

Basically me in high school. Nope, the one in the middle. Yes, the one with the wig.

Basically me in high school. Nope, the one in the middle. Yes, the one with the wig.

Sorry, mom and dad. Love ya guys, but I’ve about had it with socks for the fourth year in a row!

Anyway, like I was saying about Gondry and the flicks he chooses to do, it’s always a surprise with him, which is why when I heard that he decided to direct a movie that took place solely on a bus, with unprofessional actors, I was sort of confused. Was the dude really that desperate to save as much money as humanly possible without pissing his studios off enough? Or simply, was this just another case of Michel Gondry pulling a fast one on us and showing us that, even if he’s been around for a little longer than a decade, he’s still capable of surprises in his rather storied-career?

For the most part, it’s a little bit of both, but more so leaning on the later. Which isn’t to say that what Gondry does here isn’t respectable – it totally is. What Gondry is able to do, is that he’s able to make one, single location seem to expand into being something more. And although there a whole bunch of flashbacks/dream-sequences in which we get inside a certain character’s head when he/she is speaking about something, the real feeling of there being a larger world outside of this bus is solely by these characters and listening to them talk. When a character here speaks, you believe them in everything they’re saying; not because they feel so real, but because they look so real as is. You automatically buy them as young kids just getting out of high school (mostly because they probably were in real life), but you also buy whatever it is that they’re are going on and on about.

Most of the time, too, what it is that they’re talking about isn’t very interesting at all – the subjects range from being about parties, drinking, smoking, hookin’ up with hotties, the usual drama crap, etc. – but since these characters look so real, you are slightly interested in hearing what they have to say. Just like you’d probably be if you met someone at a party and they just started going on about whatever comes out of their mouth next – it may not be interesting, or even remotely “cool” to listen to, but hey, if they’re talking and they’re the only thing in front of you, then that you’ll listen. Or, you could be a total dick, leave mid conversation and act as if you’ve never met that person in your life. Ever.

Then, it all comes down to a judge of your character really. So the choice is up to you on that one.

And most of the time, the script doesn’t really try to go for anything deeper here than “problems high school kids have”, but it’s still slightly nostalgic in the way that it reminds you of the early days of summer in which you didn’t know what to expect next, except just fun with friends, That’s what summer is all about in the first place, and even if you haven’t yet had that “ideal summer” in your life, then don’t worry, because it’ll come your way. And if not, just watch this movie and have that feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Basically me before high school. Yes, both of them.

Basically me before high school. Yes, both of them.

That’s not to say though, that because this film is so pleasant in its look and design, that means that it’s easily a great film, with barely any problems, because it totally is. For starters, while the idea of casting non-professionals in these roles may have been a bold one on Gondry’s behalf, not all of it works out quite well for him. Some of these actors feel as if Gondry just plopped the camera right in front of their faces and gave them some cue-cards on how to act when and where, and just let them roll with it. While that would work and feel as natural as natural can be for some great actors, here, there are some weak-links that feel like they’re trying too hard, or not trying at all. The ones that don’t seem to try at all and just be themselves are fine, but when you have maybe seven or eight cast-members who feel like natural, realistic teens talking, out of a cast that features maybe 20 or so, then you’ve got some problems.

Not a lot, but some.

Not 99, but maybe 30. Don’t know why there’s a random Jay-Z reference thrown in there, but hey! Whatever!

Consensus: In his typical, quirky-fashion, Michel Gondry takes some surprisingly bold moves with the We and the I, most of which work and show that he’s capable of a bare-bones dramedy, while some, don’t and show that maybe he went a bit too deep into his mind.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Where I'll be living once my parents kick me out when I turn 45.

Where I’ll be living once my parents kick me out when I turn 45.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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