Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Run, Denzel, run!

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

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

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

And yes, it most definitely works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

6.5 / 10



Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Pixels (2015)

Nerds will save the world from ultimate destruction. Not Adam Sandler.

In 1982, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) thought he was the ultimate champ at arcade games. Turns out, however, he was wrong when he lost in the final round to the likes of Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage). Now, over 30 years later, Sam’s life is a bit depressing – he’s middle-aged, single, and works a job as a electronics repairman. His best friend, on the other hand, Will Cooper (Kevin James), just so happens to be the President of the United States, so at least he has that going for him. Everything in their lives change one day when, out of the blue, old-school video games start attacking them; nobody really knows why, but all anybody can make up is the fact that these attacks are serious and that cautionary action should be taken right away. But because beating these arcade games takes a certain type of skill and persistence, the U.S. Army can’t defeat them, which brings President Cooper to ask the aid of Sam, Eddie, Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), and a fellow gamer from the past named Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad). The fate of the world, now rests solely in their finger-tips.

All of the kiddies will love Q'Bert, until they realize that little 'effer curses up a storm.

All of the kiddies will love Q*bert, until they realize that little ‘effer curses up a storm.

Movies like Pixels make me wonder what’s wrong with me. Not just a movie-viewer, however, but as a person. See, while I am all for despising the likes of Adam Sandler and all of the pieces of utter feces he’s been putting out lately, there’s something about Pixels that I couldn’t help but like. Sure, I know there’s clearly a huge hatred for this movie already and more or less, I’m definitely in the minority of this thing, but for some reason, I enjoyed myself during Pixels.

If any of you readers want to write me off right here and now, I will not be offended. In fact, I would welcome you as smart, conscious human beings, who clearly know who they do and don’t want to read. However, for those of you who are at least slightly interested in where I’m going with this, then I say, thank you and please bear with me for as long as you possibly can.

Still here?

Good! Let’s get going!

As is, Pixels is better than most Adam Sandler movies we’ve been seeing in the past decade. I realize that’s like saying it’s better to get shot in the head, then to jump on a live grenade, but still, it’s something that needs to be said. Because while Pixels could have easily been another case where Sandler gets all of his pals together, both in front of and behind the camera, to just goof around and hurl whatever they want on the screen, for no other reason other than to take up people’s time, it actually doesn’t turn out that way. It’s still produced by Happy Madison, but rather than getting the most generic-of-generic directors around that Sandler usually aligns himself with, Chris Columbus steps up to the plate and does a relatively fine job at keeping the pace constantly moving.

Columbus, having directed the first two Harry Potter‘s and many other blockbusters, is already used to these kind of big-budget, wild extravaganzas. And though some people may already be fuming with anger that I even dropped the name Harry Potter in a review about an Adam Sandler movie, it’s not like this is so incredibly distasteful that it should never be watched. Believe it or not, there is a plot here that moves, there is some humor to be found that isn’t just Sandler’s same old brand of making fun of easy targets, and when you get right down to it, there are some fun performances from those involved.

Is that to say the movie is perfect? Hell to the no!

But like I’ve stated before, Pixels is in no way, shape, or form, quite like Sandler’s recent disasters. That’s not saying much at all, but when you go to an Adam Sandler movie and don’t have the feeling of wanting to rip out your ears, eyes and brain, then it’s definitely something that’s more positive than bad. Whatever that may mean for some of you, I do not know, but for me, it means that at least Sandler was able to get some help this time around and not make this into another Grown Ups, produced by Nintendo.

Just imagine Pac Man as the general public and this scene's a whole lot funnier.

Just imagine Pac Man as the general public and this scene’s a whole lot funnier.

Like I alluded to earlier in my first paragraph, Pixels makes me wonder what’s so wrong with me? See, even though everybody on the face of the planet seems to be despising this one literally as soon as they walk out of the theater, for me, I couldn’t help but feel a little pleased. Don’t get me wrong, I realized that there were certain problems in the comedy-department as some jokes worked, whereas others totally failed, or that solid actors like Jane Krakowski, Sean Bean, Dan Aykroyd, and Brian Cox are here to just practically do nothing, but to me, the overall fun feel of this movie was enough to let all of those issues slide-on by.

Because, once again, this movie could have been a whole lot worse, but thankfully, it wasn’t.

Maybe that’s a judge of my character, and less about others, but still, if there’s something wrong with me to where I enjoy certain movies like Pixels, and despise the absolute hell out of a movie like Paper Towns, then so be it. Everybody has their guilty pleasures, as well as their own minority picks; one person does not think the same about one thing as another person does, nor do most people conform to what others are sticking with because it’s, for lack of a better term, the majority to roll with. I, for one, have never been like that and don’t plan on doing so anytime soon.

So if a silly movie starring Adam Sandler has to remind me of that, then so be it. I’ll keep being me, ya’ll can keep being yourselves.

So, have I lost all of my followers yet?

Consensus: Despite obvious problems in certain departments, Pixels is still entertaining enough to be one of Sandler’s better movies in recent memory, even if, once again, that’s not saying much to begin with.

6.5 / 10

I'll only trust the girl from True Detective, Tyrionne, and Olaf to save the world. That other person there? Yeah, not so much.

I’ll only trust the girl from True Detective, Tyrion, and Olaf to save the world. That other person there? Yeah, not so much.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz


Boy Meets Girl (2015)

Love-squares get so much steamier when you throw a transgender person in them.

Ricky (Michelle Hendley) is a young woman from Kentucky who wants to go to college in New York so that she can pursue a possible fashion career. Ricky was also born a female in every which way, except physically, and it’s taken her many of years for her, as well as many others around her, to accept that fact for what it is. Her best friend Robby (Michael Welch) absolutely does and sees Ricky as the friend of his he’s known since he was a kid; everybody else in the town knows Ricky, too, except one girl by the name of Francesca (Alexandra Turschen), who is, predictably, interested in Ricky and her “situation”. However, the interest soon turns into attraction, which leads Ricky and Francesca to contemplate having something of a relationship with one another and see if it could work. Because the only reason why it wouldn’t work isn’t because Ricky still has a penis, or that Francesca is going “through a phase”, but because the latter’s actually engaged to David (Michael Galante), a soldier who is currently station in Afghanistan.

Oh, what a lovely little surprise he’ll stumble upon when he gets back!

It's alright to appreciate the bangs.

It’s alright to appreciate the bangs.

Believe it or not, despite the terrible title, Boy Meets Girl is anything but. Though it may read like a melodramatic and predictable-as-all-hell rom-com, the fact that it has a transgender-angle to it isn’t the only element that makes it seem “different” – it’s also because the movie actually takes time with its characters and just what it is that they bring to this story. That Boy Meets Girl features a transgender lead in a role made for a transgender woman, only makes the movie more interesting and insightful, even when it seems like writer/director Eric Schaeffer seems to lose his way a bit.

But more on that bad stuff later! On with the goods, because there are plenty of them to be found here!

What Schaeffer does well with Boy Meets Girl is that he gives each and everyone of these characters a living, breathing, and distinct soul that allows them to be seen more as “types”. For instance, the smart-ass, find-a-joke-to-make-anywhere role of Ricky would gotten annoying real quick, but we soon start to see that there’s a reason why she’s like that in the first place and makes her react in the sarcastic manner that she so often does. The way in how Schaeffer continues to go back to this may be troubled, but it still helps stretch this character out a bit more and shows that there’s more to her that’s laying under her very soft skin.

The same goes for all of these other characters, too. Welch’s Robby seems like a nice dude who genuinely doesn’t care if Ricky is a boy, a girl, or somewhere in between, he just wants her to stay her, and that’s it; Turschen’s Francesca, while a bit naive, by the same token, also feels like she may actually like Ricky as a person, regardless of it’s as a friend or not, she just wants her in her life; and Galante’s David, despite coming into play late in the movie, comes off as the most interesting character of the bunch as his initial anti-homosexual bashing, eventually starts to show glimpses of humanity that makes us understand why he is the way he is.

All of these characters and actors are great and all, but it’s really Michelle Hendley’s movie from beginning to end, as it totally should have been. Most of the credit that goes to Schaeffer right away, is the fact that he chose to actually cast a transgender woman in the role of a transgender woman. Whenever there’s a show or movie about transgender persons, it’s mostly used as a way to highlight just how “deep” and “far” a straight actor is willing to go dressing in the other sexes clothes and being seen in a different way that they aren’t used to being seen in (Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent, or Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, among others). That’s not saying that there’s anything wrong with getting well-known actors in your roles for transgender peoples – it’s just that it can often times ring false if the actor or creator isn’t lucky enough.

With Hendley, Schaeffer is more than lucky.

Because Hendley most likely had to go through a lot of what her character is currently going through, the performance comes off as more raw and believable; every ounce of hurt, or pain, or even happiness that’s found in herself, seems realistic in a way that isn’t made to keep the plot moving. Hendley’s definitely well-equipped as an actress and even though her character gets thrown into some awkward situations here and there, it’s definitely not her fault – she’s as strong-willed and as personable as you can get with a lead like this. Here’s to hoping that we see more of her in stuff, regardless of if the roles call out for transgender workers or not.

Because honestly, does it really matter?

Two very different women, I have to say.

Two very different women, I have to say.

But now that I’ve gotten through all of the happy, most definitely positive stuff, it’s about time to highlight some of the problems to be had that keep Boy Meets Girl from really shaking up the rom-com genre. For one, I don’t feel as if Schaeffer is as skilled of a director as he may be a writer. Though this movie would have definitely had a smaller budget than most movie’s of its kind, there’s still something amateurish about the way Schaeffer seems to position his story and camera; sometimes, dialogue-heavy scenes run on for days-on-end, without ever seeming like they have an end in sight, nor do they really have much of a rhythm for the whole film.

This may sound like absolute gibberish coming from my finger-tips, but honestly, while watching Boy Meets Girl, I couldn’t help but feel as if the movie would start up, only to slow back down again, therefore, killing any sort of momentum it may have had going for itself. Surely the equipment couldn’t have been as stellar as the bigger productions out there, but there’s sometimes no excuse for a movie that feels as if it’s been chopped-down and edited in a frenetic way. Then again, I see many mainstream movies with way bigger budgets have this same problem, so maybe it doesn’t matter too much what it is that I say.

Where Schaeffer really screws up though, is that it runs on way too long; which is definitely saying something considering the movie isn’t over an-hour-and-40-minutes.

For example, there’s an ending to this movie at around the 80-minute mark that makes it seem like all is over and said with, but miraculously, there’s more. Schaeffer doesn’t forget that there are two other people’s story-lines to wrap up and it’s not only a smart move on his part, but works out well for the movie, too. Problem is, it adds on a lot more than it probably should, not to mention, it actually rings a lot more true than the main story-line’s wrap-up. Don’t want to get into any spoilers here, but once certain characters start professing their loves for one another, without it ever seeming to make sense, there was a part of me that felt as if I maybe missed a scene or two while I was checking my watch.

Then, after this, the movie goes on and on, with way moire than a few endings – most of which, mind you, don’t quite work. To me, it felt like Schaeffer wanted to wrap this whole movie up so neat and tidy, that he forget just how many endings it took to get to that neat and tidy ending. And honestly, did the movie ever need one? Probably not, because life is not at all neat or tidy.

Trust me. Hell, trust us all.

Consensus: All pacing and writing issues aside, Boy Meets Girl is equipped with a smart bunch of cast and characters that makes it feel like more than just your average rom-com, that also happens to star a transgender woman playing a transgender woman.

6.5 / 10

Someone always needs to keep the pig-tails alive and well.

Someone always needs to keep the pig-tails alive and well.

Photos Courtesy of: Consequence of Sound

Ant-Man (2015)

Never be afraid to dream a little bigger. Unless Kevin Feige says otherwise.

After being released from prison for a robbery he committed on some company he worked for many years ago, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finally gets a shot to take back his life and make amends for the pain he’s put his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and daughter through. Problem is, Scott’s past is so shoddy, that he’s finding it harder and harder to get a job, start anew and move on from what he once was. That’s why when one of his buddies (Michael Peña) brings up the idea of pulling off a vault-heist on some old dude’s house, he’s initially hesitant, but also realizes that cat-burglarizing is what he’s best at – whether he likes to admit it or not. Little does he know that the old man’s house he’s robbing is Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who once worked for Stark Enterprises and left when he realized that one of his inventions were getting used for all the wrong reasons. But now, with Scott, Hank has found his perfect guinea pig for his pet-project: Ant-Man.

Puns intended.

Sort of like how I watch my next-door neighbor....

Sort of like how I watch my next-door neighbor….

Already going into Ant-Man, there was a feeling of disdain from yours truly. Most of that has to do with the fact that, not only does it seem like the Marvel machine is growing to be more and more of the same entertaining, but generic thing, time and time again, but that there’s hardly a chance for anyone to come in and try to shake that formula up. Case in point, Edgar Wright – someone who is able to make many movie-nerds foam at the mouth at the possibility of him both writing and directing something. And heck, put his own sense of zany style in a Marvel movie, where a bigger cast and budget would be at his free reign, you bet your bottom dollar that the hype-train just gets more and more packed.

But sadly, and predictably, I guess, things didn’t pan out so well.

For one, Wright left and the powers that be within Disney were left scrambling far and wide for the next possible replacement to pick up the slack and see if they could make water out of ice. With Peyton Reed, most people involved with Marvel and Disney felt as if they found the most suitable replacement available and honestly, I can’t hold many qualms with that decision. Even despite the fact that Reed’s previous directorial efforts include the horrendous Yes Man and Break-Up, clearly they were working against a deadline and came up with whomever they felt was more than willing and capable of handling the job.

Sure, Reed’s no Wright, but then again, who the hell is? Though Reed’s directing-style may borderline on “generic”, he still handles a few action set-pieces well enough to where we get the same sort of imagination and frivolous fun that we would come to expect with Wright. If anything, Reed’s style is so mediocre, that it helps not get in the way of what could have been a very pushy and needy movie. Sort of like a pet who wants you to pet it, so it just cozies up to you, never leaves you alone, and stares deep into your eyes until you give in and give it what it wants.

Pretty sure you can’t pet ants, but you get my drift.

So, with that all said, it’s worth mentioning that Ant-Man turns out to actually be a bit of a better movie than I expected from all the controversy surrounding it in the pre-production stage. One of the main reasons that Ant-Man works well, is because it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to get out there in this huge, Marvel universe, and tell a bunch of other stories that it doesn’t need to bother with; instead, it’s focus is solely on Scott Lang and whomever else is around him. Some may be annoyed at the fact that other Marvel superheros don’t get the time of day like they do in other flicks, but somehow, it works in this movie’s favor; it helps keep things simple, contained and most of all, entertaining, without ever trying to be more complicated than it needs to be.

With hair like that, you bet she can kick your ass.

With hair like that, you bet she can kick your ass.

Still though, that’s not to say that this movie doesn’t feel as if, considering what Marvel’s been up to in the past couple or so years, a bit of a disappointment. And this most definitely has to do with the fact that there were so many hiccups before filming even got started, because something does feel a bit “off” about Ant-Man while watching it. Maybe the fact that there were literally four writers on this thing has something to do with it, but also due to the fact that the movie itself doesn’t always set out to blow our minds.

Sometimes, there’s no problem with that; in most cases, all you need is a good time to get you through everything. But something feels odd in this movie where the humor can sometimes feel tacked-on and random, as if it were just thrown in there so Marvel could keep up with the formula that their movies hold so dear to their hearts – exposition, action scene, character development, witticism, rinse and repeat. The jokes themselves are a bit hit-or-miss, but whether or not they’re funny isn’t really the point – what is, is whether or not they feel like they deserved to be tossed in there when they are, and they sort of don’t. I’m glad at least one of the four writers made an attempt, but sometimes, it’s best to just take a back-seat and let things move for a little while.

But when things go wrong in movies such as these, it’s always best to depend on the cast to save the day, which is what they do.

Well, sort of.

Paul Rudd, as usual, is charming, funny and cool as Scott Lang, even if it feels like he’s never quite given that opportunity to shine, break out from his comfort-shell and prove exactly why he deserves to be taken seriously as this superhero. None of that has to do with Rudd himself, though, as it’s most definitely the script’s fault for not spending more time in fleshing him, or anybody else at. Because where it stands, mostly everybody here is fine at playing these characters on a superficial, surface-area level and that’s about it.

Such talented folks like Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Martin Donovan, Michael Peña, and Michael Douglas, all play their characters in such a way that makes it seem like they just came ready to play around for awhile and that’s it. Once again, not their fault, it’s just a bummer considering that with these names, you’d expect something so much better. Way better, actually.

If only Edgar Wright stayed on.

Consensus: Without trying too hard, Ant-Man is a perfectly serviceable piece of superhero blockbuster, but considering the company it keeps, it can’t help but feel like a small step down.

6.5 / 10

Until next year, bro.

Until next year, bro.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Minions (2015)

At least Hollywood’s not discriminating against the minions. Just yet.

Many, many years before these little yellow guys got shacked-up with Gru, they were left to fend for themselves from the beginning of time. However, the one aspect of the minion’s lives is that they’ve always had a boss to tell them what to do and to basically keep them in line whenever their hijinx proved to get out of hand a bit too much. That’s why three of the minions, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (Pierre Coffin), all set out for an adventure to see if they can find a boss that they can stick with and not be so lost. They eventually stumble upon New York City during the late-60’s, where all sorts of hustle and bustle is occurring; eventually too, the minions see an ad for a villains convention lead by the most notorious and sexiest villain of them all, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock). Now, all the minions have to do is get into contact with Scarlet, impress her enough so that she takes them all on as trusted servants, and do as she says. But the minions soon realize that there’s a difference between helping out evil people, and those who are just considered “villains” – a lesson they would come to learn more and more about as the years would go by.

Though I’ve never been quite a fan of the Despicable Me franchise so far, there’s no denying that the minions themselves have mostly been the best parts of those movies. That’s not to say that the likes of Gru or any other aspects to the movies have charmed me, it’s just that when I look back at it, I mostly remember the minions as the ones who made me laugh and enjoy myself the most. Everything else was just sort of, meh. So with that said, you’d think that a full-length movie dedicated to just them would be right up my alley, correct?

Love at first drought.

Love at first drought.

Well, not really. However, I’m not too surprised by that.

See, when you have characters such as the minions, it’s best to use them in smaller doses on the side of the main-plot, rather than making them the center of the attention, all of the time. That’s how it is for most sidekicks in any major franchise/story/idea/anything, and even if you could try to pull an Avengers 2 and give the minions some extraneous subplot that makes them more substantial to the story at-hand, I don’t know if it would totally work for these characters. These minions are best when they’re around to show up for a little while, speak in some gibberish, hit one another, and just generally act like goof-balls. It’s what they’re known for and, for all the kiddies at least, they’re loved for, too.

Problem is, the act does run a bit dry after awhile and it gets to a point where one can only handle so much of the nonsensical gibber-jabber these characters partake in, or the constant slapstick that seems to shove itself into the plot whenever the director thinks that maybe there’s one too many jokes for adults. And honestly, that shouldn’t be a problem, because there aren’t many of those jokes to begin with. Then again though, there’s nothing wrong with that because these sorts of movies have never prided themselves on equally being for every member of the family; the folks at Pixar, as was evident from Inside Out, definitely do. However, those behind the Despicable Me franchise never did, and so therefore, there’s nothing totally wrong with that.

It’s just something that will make an older-person watching this make the time go on a bit longer, even as the youngsters are yucking it up and loving just about every second of it.

And you know what? They totally should! Minions, just like Despicable Me, is harmless in the best sense of the word – nobody’s going to have to worry about a joke being done in poor-taste, nor will they have to worry about kids going around and beating one another. All the minions set out to do, much like the movie itself, is to shine another small spotlight on those little yellow people you always see in the other movies, but never get the full attention quite like you may or may not want them to.

Did Sandra do green-screen for this? Or does Andy Serkis just take that over from now on?

Did Sandra do green-screen for this? Or does Andy Serkis just take that over from now on?

For me, maybe I didn’t need a whole movie dedicated to them, but considering that the movie hardly even runs 70 minutes, and doesn’t seem to be promising anymore sequels to this story in particular, I was willing to roll with it. Even if they aren’t the most engaging screen-presences for the whole time, the movie still throws in some energetic and colorful “human” characters to brighten things up in a comprehensible way that makes the plot all the more zany. The likes of Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush, and Sandra Bullock show up here to lend their voices and they all work well. Even if a recent animated flick like the Spongebob Squarepants movie proved that you don’t always need big-time names to lend their voices to your project to be any bit as successful as the last one to come before, it’s still nice to see at least some of these characters be more lively because of the personality behind them.

Even if, once again, they could have gotten any trained voice-actor and everything would have probably been a-okay. But hey, I guess you’ve got to worry about who will see your movie and who won’t.

And honestly, about the movie, despite what I may make some think, did make me laugh on occasion and enjoy some of the stylistic choices the directors took with the 1960’s setting. This already makes it seem like it’s actually putting in more of an effort than other animated movies that try to just cash in on a brand-name or fancy idea. Sure, they’re already using a previous idea from their other movies, but at least Minions didn’t feel like the total cash-cow that it could have been, where it’s so obvious that they want your money, that nobody seems enthused to even be showing up for work, making movies for all the world to see and enjoy.

So yeah, at least they’ve got that going for them; if anybody cares about that at all.

Consensus: The title characters themselves may grow a bit tired after awhile, but Minions, the movie, actually provides some laughs and fun along its short and sweet adventure that’s already setting up the many more Despicable Me movies to come.

6.5 / 10

Bananas with eyes aren't usually my first snack of the day, but if it's all I got, I mean, might as well.

Bananas with eyes aren’t usually my first snack of the day, but if it’s all I got, I mean, might as well.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Fall (2006)

Wish my daddy told me stories like these.

Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is a very successful stuntman in Hollywood during the 1920’s. He’s been in plenty of movies but has found himself in a hospital, after a suicide attempt, where he rots his life away wondering just when he’s going to die, how he’s going to die, and where exactly that damn morphine is. He may have found all of the answers in a young girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who not only hangs out with him, but listens to him as he tells fantasy stories about pirates, gypsies, swords, guns, and all sorts of wild and adventurous things. But there’s more than just fantasy in the stories he tells, and together, they both find the solutions to all of their problems, no matter how different each one’s may be from the other.

Everybody knows that Tarsem Singh is one of those guys who knows what’s beautiful and what isn’t. Every one of his flicks (yes, even Mirror Mirror) all feel like fully-realized portraits that could have been painted by either Dali or Van Gogh, and inspired more and more people to take a brush, a can of paint, and a clear surface and start getting down to business, art style. However, the same can’t be said for his stories and even though I feel like we haven’t seen all that this guy has been able to do when somebody gives him a script, a story, and a huge budget, he’s still not there yet. Give him some time, and he will be but as for right now, the guy’s got some homework.

No matter what type of bad stuff I say about Singh’s writing, I cannot deny that this movie isn’t a piece of art, given to us on a silver platter for over two hours. Then again, almost any film nowadays is considered “beautiful” or “artful” because of what every person on the face of the universe can do with a keyboard, a screen, and a couple of clicks. But not Singh. Nope, this guy knows what actual-beauty looks like in a world like ours and not only is it great to see somebody embrace that fact, but show it off in the best way possible. Can some of it be considered showwy and too much?

Yes and no.


Looks like Lee Pace to me. Great job hiding yourself!

Looks like Lee Pace to me. Great job hiding yourself!

Yes, because, let’s face it, the only reason this story is told the way it is, is just so Singh can show everybody how huge his imagination is, and how much pretty colors his eyes can see. Directors like Terrence Malick and Ang Lee have the same eyes and same ideas when it comes to letting their visuals tell a story, but they aren’t as obvious as Singh is here. The guy wants everybody to see what he sees, and as nice as that may sound, it does seem rather indulgent at points, considering the story didn’t need to be told this way. Some may agree with me on that aspect, and some may not, but regardless, Singh does show off a bit too much.

Then again, it’s no for the sole reason that this movie is incredibly beautiful in every sense of the word. You get plenty of colors showing up when you least expect them to; visual tricks that you didn’t think were even possible; and a couple of large landscape shots that make me feel pissed I didn’t at least check them out on a big screen or anything else that’s larger than my 1999 Sony television. Or at least I think it’s Sony. Anyway, the movie is eye-candy for everybody who cares to seek their eyes on this thing and I have to give credit to Singh for showing us what you can do when you’re inspired, have some money to burn, and at least feel passionate about what you show on the screen. Once again, it doesn’t all work and seems a tad like over kill at some points, but if anything, Sing knows how to come up with a pretty shot.

Visuals aside, the movie doesn’t have a compelling story but at least it tries to.

Though the story at the center of the movie is very straight-forward and simple, Singh tries to go one step further with these wildly imaginative, over-the-top stories of fantasy and whimsy, and they more or less feel like manipulative opportunities for Singh to just break loose with what he’s got at his disposal. Which isn’t to say I didn’t mind these stories, they just to be a bit old, is all. It all started off perfectly by giving us a great deal of imagination, fantasy, fun, and humor to play with, and had me terribly excited as if the rest of the flick was going to be like this just about the whole way through, but it starts to lose its edge.

Somewhere along the lines, it seemed as if Singh, just like his main-narrator, had a strong start with the story he wanted to tell, then just lost all sorts of originality and decided to improvise his way through a story that could have touched almost everybody who ever heard it or saw it. The improv-idea of story telling actually doesn’t work and seems like a cheap excuse for Singh not to be able to come up with any spectacular ideas that may have kept us more glued to what was going to happen to this “story” and this “real-life story.”

Somewhere, imprinted in the sand, it says: "Lawrence was here".

Somewhere, imprinted in the sand, it says, “Lawrence was here”.

Although they’re saddled with something of a lame story, Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru are very good in each of their roles, whether they’re together or not, but too many of their scenes are dedicated to them just goofing-around with one another, getting along just fine, having fun, telling stories, and occasionally, getting a tad serious so one person can get a bit high for the hell of it. These scenes are sometimes good, and sometimes stupid because they go on and on without any point or message at the end of the road. There’s just a bunch of metaphors and foreshadowing between these two and whether or not Singh actually thinks this how people talk and tell stories in real life, is all up to him. However, it’s also up to me to tell him that this isn’t really how people tell stories and if you have a script that’s along the line of works like Aaron Sorkin, or Quentin Tarantino, or David Mamet, and can get away with i- then, good for you. But Tarsem, my friend, you just can’t.

Stick with making pretty images.

Consensus: Tarsem Singh definitely shows his imagination in beautiful shadings with the Fall, it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t hook quite as effectively as these said images do.

6 / 10

Hey, it's my backyard!

Hey, it’s my backyard!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Terminator: Genisys (2015)

In Khaleesi, we trust. And the Governator, too. I guess.

After finally defeating Skynet once and for all, John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends fellow soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to save his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), from imminent death, courtesy of terminators sent from the future. However, when Reese arrives in 1984, he realizes that things have gone a bit awry; not only is Sarah totally understanding of why it is that Reese is here to find her, but she’s even brought around another terminator that’s supposedly on her side, a T-800 she refers to as “Pops” (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Now, the three must band together to ensure that they are able to stop Judgment Day of 2017 from happening, however, in order to do so, they’ll have to go through all sorts of crazy shifts and time-changes. While this may be an efficient way to stop the apocalypse from ever occurring, there’s also the fear that in the process, they’ll be running into all sorts of problems with local law enforcement, fellow T-800’s who want each and everyone dead, and another deadly terminator (Matt Smith) who sets his sights clear on screwing up each and everyone of Reese and Connor’s plans; something that Pops won’t let happen if he can help it.

Basically, there’s a whole lot of time-travelling going on in Genisys (misspelled, I know), but it’s surprisingly done so for a smart reason, even if the reason is a bit obvious. To get past the fact that T3 and Salvation were both pieces of garbage, the creators behind Genisys have made sure that their movie goes back in time to where the first began, change a few things around with that, and then jump all the way to the somewhat present day and woolah, it’s almost as if the third or fourth movie ever happened. We hardly ever get to go back to 1991 (when the second movie took place), but we don’t really need to because we already know that movie rules. Case closed.

Not naked? Boo.

Not naked? Boo.

Sadly, Genisys does not, in fact, “rule”, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the third and fourth combined.

Granted, that’s not saying much, but in a day and age where every sequel/remake/reboot seems like it’s so obviously just aiming for audience’s pockets with absolutely no shame whatsoever, it’s quite refreshing to get a blockbuster where there seems to be some sort of effort put into play. Sure, the movie definitely tries a bit too hard to make sense of itself, while at the same time, continuously shooting off more and more exposition, but it at least seems to be trying. Not to mention the fact that the movie sort of knows how goofy it’s premise can definitely get; many scenes here end with a character or two scoffing, “Oh, that totally makes sense”, in a sarcastic manner to give you the impression that the movie doesn’t want to take itself all that seriously.

A little seriously, definitely, but not too much so to where it’s turning people off by how unwilling it’s able to crack a smile and grin at itself. The jokes that these characters don’t always fly, and more often than not, feel like recycled gags that are thrown in to make a serious moment feel less of so, for no reason or another, but like I said before, at least there is some humor to be found. It’s all corny, mind you, but sometimes, there’s no problem with a little starch added to your meal. And speaking of the full meal, Genisys offers plenty of fun moments with its action-sequences.

After all, it is a summer blockbuster, so how could it not deliver on that front?

But like the two other movies before it, a lot of what bogs down a lot of the fun and excitement that can usually come from the action, is the endless need this movie feels to constantly hammer on and on about Skynet, what they’re capable of, what they’re up to, and just whom it is that’s working for them and calling all of the shots. Some of this is of course needed to create a villainous figure to identify with and root against, but the movie seems so hell-bent on just discussing the history of them and what they’ve got in-store, rather than doing a whole lot about it. Though they do eventually step up to the plate and fight the big baddies at Skynet, it’s after so much meaningless babble that it feels a little too late at times.

As with the first two movies of this franchise, everything worked best when James Cameron just kept his focus solely on the action between robots and humans. Anytime those movies focused on anything else, it was to help build characters and/or discuss what needed to be done next to keep the plot moving forward. It was hardly ever more difficult than that, however, Genisys makes it clear that they want to explain all that there is to explain about the mythology of this franchise and all of the players involved with it. Is this used as a way to inform new viewers? Or, is it a way to set-up more movies to come?

Talk about a face....lift.....

Talk about a face….lift…..

Because, oh yes, their definitely are more movies to come and honestly, I won’t be too upset when they come around. Don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t terrific, but it still feels much like a Terminator movie, rather than just a dark, gritty and lifeless cash-grab, something that the last two movies before this did. Because from here on out, there’s so many paths this franchise can take and it’s something to look forward.

The only aspect that has me a little worried with this franchise continuing on to be a possible juggernaut, is the cast. Surprisingly, Jai Courtney, somebody who hasn’t wholly impressed me just yet, is the one who comes off as the most engaged as Kyle Reese. While he’s definitely the most human character of the bunch, there are still small moments where Courtney gets a chance to show off some of his charm. He’s still a little stiff, here and there, but for the most part, feels like he’s actually interested in giving this character something of a personality that isn’t laced with 80’s cheese, courtesy of Michael Biehn.

Everybody else, as much as I hate to admit it, is sort of going through the motions. A part of me wants to believe that this is because the script seems less interested in building any compelling personalities for these characters, and is more concerned with who is doing what where and at what time, but another part of me believes that maybe these actors didn’t all come fully ready to play. Okay, by now, it’s clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger is definitely just going through his same old moves again, and though he’s fine at it, it does seem to get a bit tiring now that he’s getting older. The CG is starting to show and the stunt-doubles are getting all the more recognizable; maybe it’s time to hang-up the leather jacket Arnold.

Just maybe.

Then, of course, there’s Emilia Clarke as the latest portrayal of Sarah Connor and she doesn’t fully fit in to the role quite well. Clarke has definitely proven that she can be a bit of a small-tempered bad-ass elsewhere, but here, she feels oddly-placed, as if she’s too young to play this sort of role, or too innocent. Which is especially weird to say, having seen her in all of Game of Thrones. And with Jason Clarke, as I’m sure you may know by now due to the incredibly idiotic trailers, his role as John Connor starts off simple, but then turns into something else completely and it’s a bit of a shame that Clarke isn’t given a chance to highlight any sort of emotion underneath it all.

But hey, at least J.K. Simmons is here and is funny. That’s all that counts, right?

Consensus: Neither terrific, nor a disaster, Terminator: Genisys works well with its action, and less with its nonsensical exposition.

6 / 10

"Something something, destroy Skynet, something something."

“Something something, destroy Skynet, something something.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Overnight (2015)

Always break-in the new neighbors.

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

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

Mah gawd. Toates awkward.

Mah gawd. Like, toates awkward.

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

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

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

But more on that in a little while.

Now, on with the awesome foursome here.

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

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

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

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

In other words, it becomes a Judd Apatow movie.

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Manglehorn (2015)

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

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

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

First dates don't get anymore exciting than this!

First dates don’t get anymore exciting than this!

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

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

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

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

No, Harmony Korine. Just leave.

No, Harmony Korine. Just leave.

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

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

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

Especially when that artist is Al Pacino.

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hungry Hearts (2015)

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

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



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

Like I said, happy stuff.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Simply put, she’s crazy. That’s it.

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

6 / 10

Oh, what promise the future holds.

Oh, what promise the future holds.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Duke of Burgundy (2015)

Science can get pretty kinky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, well, job relatively accomplished.

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

6 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

San Andreas (2015)

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

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

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

"Come with me if you want to Rock."

“Come with me if you want to Rock.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The perfect woman, basically.

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Poltergeist (2015)

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

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

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

I'm already picturing the new Poltergeist ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Rosemarie DeWitt - she's so touchy feely.

That Rosemarie DeWitt – she’s so touchy feely.

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Maggie (2015)

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

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

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



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

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

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

More sadness.

More sadness.

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10

And, oh yes, plenty more sadness.

And, oh yes, plenty more sadness.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

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

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

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

So much tension.

So much tension.

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

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

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

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

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

So smug, Banks.

So smug, Banks.

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

You go, pitches!

You go, pitches!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Welcome to Me (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor Wiig. You’ll get ’em next time!

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

6 / 10



Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hyena (2015)

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

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

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

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

Sweet ‘stache, not-70’s-cop, cop.

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

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

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

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

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

Al Capone took a chill pill for once.

Al Capone took a chill pill for once.

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

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

Instead, it’s just fine.

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The D Train (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, of course, there’s James Marsden.

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Wow. Such a lovely little lady she is.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10



Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

True Story (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franco, so smug right now.

Franco, so smug right now.

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

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

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

Okay, maybe a little.

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

6 / 10



Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz


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