Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

Cinderella (2015)

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

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

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

"Mwahahaha!"

“Mwahahaha!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, bro. You're no Chris Pine.

Sorry, bro. You’re no Chris Pine.

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

I have no soul.

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

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

No wonder why she won an Oscar two years ago!

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

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

’71 (2015)

Behind Enemy Lines, but with more pints of Guinness.

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

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

Lots of running.

Lots of running.

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

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

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

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

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

But, at least he gets a breather.

But, at least he gets a breather.

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Then, he's back to more running.

Then, he’s back to more running.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Maze Runner (2014)

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

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

Another year, another handful or so young adult adaptations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hey, we dare to dream, folks.

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

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Inside lies something bad and dangerous. Right, guys?

Ehh. Seems pretty easy.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Lolz

#Lolz

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!"

“Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Leviathan (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, I’m not sure it deserves it.

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

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

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

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

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

When in doubt, drink up boys.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

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

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

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

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

Oh well. Time to go shopping at Target.

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

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Blackhat (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Venus in Fur (2014)

When it’s closing time, always make sure to lock your doors.

Adapting Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs is a pretty tough task and nobody knows this more than theater director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric). For practically the whole day, Thomas has been a witness to many women auditioning for the lead female role and hardly any of them have left an impression on him. Disappointed, Thomas then decides to pack everything up and head home, however, there’s one last actress to come in; one that, well, isn’t on the schedule. This is when Vanda (Emmnuelle Seigner) walks through the door and constantly pesters him to not only give her an audition, but even play opposite the role of her. Thomas agrees and he even comes to realize that Vanda’s quite the talent, but he doesn’t know whether or not he can let his lustful feelings go away and be professional. Because, to be honest, Vanda makes it quite hard for a guy to be stern, serious and calm whenever her and her flirty personality is around.

You know the look. And you also know the bra. Is that lingerie?

You know the look. And you also know the bra. Is that lingerie?

Love him or hate him, Roman Polanski is an artist and a very talented one at that. Although one could definitely make the argument that he’s lost a step or two since the Pianist, there’s no denying that the talent within Polanski is still there. While he may not be tackling such ambitious projects like Chinatown, or Rosemary’s Baby, or even the Ghost Writer, Polanski still thrives in grabbing his audience’s attention and never letting loose of them. Even if, you know, with Carnage and this, he seems to only be adapting plays.

For now, though, because you never know when Polanski’s going to come from out of nowhere and surprise us all once again.

Anyway, with Venus in Fur, Polanski seems in his element, for better and for worse. From the beginning of the flick, we have no clue as to why we’re stuck in this theater, with these characters, and just what exactly is surrounding them, and we’re, more or less, just plopped down right as soon as this interaction begins. We don’t know why, but it’s still unsettling because as with most Polanski movies, not everything is going to work out fine for the people involved with his story.

And that’s where most of the magic of this movie comes from – watching these two interact. It’s interesting to see how while these two discuss and argue about gender-dynamics, that they are too playing around with them. Thomas and Vanda both seem to play a game of cat-and-mouse where one feels as if they are in more control of the other, and vice versa, and to see it actually play out is quite fun. Not just because it’s entertaining to see two French people get all sleek, silk and sexy with one another in a raunchy game of fore-play, but because it actually seems like it’s trying to say something without hitting us over-the-head. Can a woman play in a role that’s originally written out for a man? And better yet, can a man play in a role that’s originally written out for a woman?

Polanski himself seems actually interested in these questions and while he doesn’t get to answering them fully or completely, they’re still interesting to toggle around with your in mind and add a little bit more development to this story as a whole. Because yes, even though it is a stage-play adaptation that plays around with certain ideas about gender, sex, and the world of literature, it is still nonetheless, a stage-play adaptation and it’s one that I feel like can run a little dry at times. Since these two have to consistently talk to one another in hopes of keeping things up and about, Polanski sometimes runs into the problem of having his characters commit verbal diarrhea, where it seems like they’re talking in such a metaphoric way, that nobody in their right minds would ever speak the same.

Unless they were, you know, the most pretentious a-holes on the planet. And I get that because it’s a stage-play, where one character is actually so embroiled in literature that he can’t help but live his life’s philosophies by them and their teachings, we’re supposed to believe them in the manner in which they speak. However, for me, sometimes, it rang on a little too phony and made it seem like the kind of stage-play adaptation that I usually get annoyed of real quick. You know, the one’s where they don’t want you to think that it’s a stage-play adaptation, although, by the way it’s made, it can’t help but feel like it.

Pretty much like Carnage.

Has no idea what he just walked into.

Has no idea what he just walked into.

But that’s neither here nor there because, believe it or not, the acting’s just good enough to allow me to get past some of the initial problems I might have had with this. As Thomas, Mathieu Amalric is very good and slightly creepy as the kind of theater director who is all about what he does in his life and how he lives it, that he never actually lives it quite to its fullest extent. You could say he’s maybe a bit too smart for his own good, but it’s actually endearing to see him fall for a woman like Vanda, once he begins to realize that there may be something more to her than just a nice body and flirtation; she might, believe it or not, be a talented actress and to watch him as he waits to see more of that talent shine, is rather pleasing and sweet. Well, at least as sweet as you can probably get in a Roman Polanski film.

However, Amalric is good here, but the one who really shines the brightest is Emmnuelle Seigner, which should probably come as to no surprise to anyone considering she’s Polanski’s real-life wife. But being married to the director doesn’t matter too much for Seigner because she’s very good in this role that allows her to be quick-witted, smart, sexy, sassy, and altogether, the kind of woman you’d expect to meet on the street or at some bar, but never be able to take seriously. That’s probably why this role works so well for her – while she may look like a the kind of woman you’d much rather buy a drink, than sit down with and discuss von Sacher-Masoch, who she really is may definitely surprise you. And the character of Vanda plays with this surprise very well and it’s Seigner who allows for her to really come out in full-form as the kind of woman that can steal a man’s heart, take a bite out of it, and give it back to him, leaving an impression that seems like it’ll last forever.

And ever.

Consensus: Though Venus in Fur is, essentially, two people talking the whole time, both Seigner’s and Amalric’s performances are quite excellent that they make it easy to get past some of the heavy and hard dialogue that passes.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Don't fall for it, bro! Just don't!

Don’t fall for it, bro! Just don’t!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Predestination (2015)

First film from 2015 reviewed and so far, this year’s looking very “meh”.

A Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) who is constantly travelling through time in hopes to stop certain tragedies from happening, may have finally met his final case. There is a new terrorist going around Boston by the name of “the Fizzle Bomber” and it’s up to the agent to find out who it is, for what reasons, and whether or not he’s even able to stop it in the first place. Somehow though, he ends up tending bar at some random dive place located all the way in New York City. Whatever the reasons may be, he doesn’t know, but he’s just going to try and get on with the night. That’s when a strange customer (Sarah Snook) comes walking through the door, orders a whole bottle of Scotch, and starts chatting it up with the barkeep. As they get talking, the conversation gets deeper and deeper, with one side telling their whole life’s story up until this point, whereas the other is just sitting by, taking notes on what that other person is saying. It all means something, but what, is the real question at hand here; the same question these two are getting ready to figure out on their own.

You know he's cool, once he has the 'stache.

You know he’s cool, once he has the ‘stache.

Notice how by the end of that plot-synopsis, things got a little shaky for me? Well, that’s because a lot of Predestination is up to be seen by the viewer, because giving anything at all away would be a bit of a disservice to the film itself. That said, there is something to this movie that makes me wonder if I was supposed to like it, or just absolutely despise the ever-lovin’ crap out of it.

See, while I was one to automatically think that Predestination would be a time-travel thriller and nothing more, something in the movie actually switched gears and it had me totally blind-sided. While the first ten minutes or so is chock full of people shooting one another, getting showered in some sort of acid, and grabbing onto guitar-cases to actually complete the action of time travel (I know, please bear with me here), suddenly, after a little bit of exposition between characters we’re not to familiar with, it all changes. Somehow, somewhere, it becomes something of a drama, and a very interesting one at that.

But once again, this is something that I do not want to give away a bit too much to ruin other viewer’s chances of possibly enjoying this, so I’ll try to stay as vague as possible.

Anyway, co-writers/directors Peter and Michael Spierig do really well with this story is introduce something that comes almost completely out of nowhere, but somehow, still very much works in its own right. A certain character comes into this piece and begins to delve into their back-story – where they were born, how they were brought up, what they did in life, how they got to this one point in time, etc. And it actually becomes something of a compelling drama, one with a central character we can care for, yet, also one that still leaves plenty up to the viewer’s and their minds. We’re told that this whole story is going to eventually have an end game that’s going to wrap the whole picture up with a neat, tidy little bow, yet, it’s easy to forget about that and just focus on this story that we’re being told; one that, according to the person who is telling this story will “knock us out”.

A good portion of this credit deserves to go to the Spierig Brothers for actually throwing a curveball at us, and so very early on in the movie, but another good portion of the credit also has to go to Sarah Snook. Snook is an actress I haven’t seen too much of, actually, but I feel like, if this movie plays in front of the right eyes, that may all change and with good reason, too. Not only is Snook a compelling presence on the screen, but the way she plays her character in so many different shades and personalities is something to be admired. Not all of her performance works, which is mostly due to the fact that some of the make-up and hair she’s forced to wear is a bit goofy, but altogether, it’s a performance that begs for a better movie.

60's fashion. Hararar.

60’s fashion. Hararar!

Because, as good as Snook’s part may be for this movie, there’s still a feeling that the Spierig’s can’t help themselves enough from steering away from some of the more confusing, albeit predictable twists and turns that most sci-fi flicks of this nature linger more towards. This is where Ethan Hawke’s character comes into play and it never made full sense. That’s not to say Hawke isn’t good in this role, because he definitely is; it’s just that, when compared to Snook’s character, he seems poorly-written and with hardly any motivations at all. He’s a cool dude, like most of the characters Hawke loves to play, but he also seems like the kind of hip, sarcastic hitman-character we’re supposed to root for and it’s just never made clear enough to us as to why.

You can also tell that while the Spierig’s had a fun time concocting up this whole subplot, but that they also have a way better time with the sci-fi shenanigans that eventually take place in these sorts of movies and it doesn’t quite work. That’s not to say some of it isn’t fun, it’s just all too confusing and forced on. Where one part of this movie was a drama, focusing on one person’s sad, and very tragic life, the next part ends up becoming a totally wild, loose, and bonkers sci-fi thriller that jumps through travel a bit too many times for it’s own good.

Once again, wasn’t like it wasn’t fun, it was just unneeded is all. Especially when you’ve already introduced a story that yes, knocked me out. All until the next story came back to me into place and make me upset.

Consensus: There are two movies battling one another in Predestination, and while one totally works, the other one keeps it away from being as fun, or as effective as it could have been.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Still bearing with me?

Still bearing with me?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

The Germans are the good guys now?

In the wake of 9/11, every country seemed to be hot on the heels of any person/organization that may, or may not, have been affiliated with terrorists and nobody else is feeling this worse than German Intel agent, Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). While Günther knows that there are bigger fish in the sea, just waiting to be caught, he also knows that he’s getting a lot of pressure from those higher in the food-chain. That’s why, when he finds out about the case of a Chechen, who may possibly be planning a terrorist attack, he jumps on it right away and starts to negotiate deals with people who may be possibly linked to this suspected terrorist. One is Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) a small-time lawyer who makes a living out of giving benefits to possible refugees, and a shady banker, Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), who may be funding most of these terrorists. Either way, Günther knows that he has to come up with a result, by any means possible. Because if not, somebody else will. And in this case, it’s U.S. embassy ambassador Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright).

I'd be scared to even go to sleep.

I’d be scared to even go to sleep.

With Philip Seymour Hoffman gone from ever appearing on our screens again (except for the second part of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay due later next year), it’s always bittersweet to check out some of his past projects. Also though, by doing this, it’s inevitable to compare his latest works to what some would consider “his best” and sometimes, “most inspiring”. And in the case of Seymour Hoffman, and the legacy he leaves behind, there’s plenty to compare and contrast with.

However, with A Most Wanted Man, it’s a bit difficult – while the movie itself may not be all that on-par with what we most know him to have done, he’s still pretty good in the movie. That said, the movie itself is still lackluster and feels like a mediocre piece that Seymour Hoffman himself, as well as the rest of the cast, elevates to being something worth watching, if only ever so slightly. But that’s why we can rely on actors such as Seymour Hoffman; they make whatever they show up in, interesting and exciting.

As Günther Bachmann, Seymour Hoffman gets plenty of opportunities to show us what’s really brewing inside this man. While it may not always be pretty, there’s still a feeling that we can trust this character to get past his problematic ways and complete this mission of his, as troubled as it may sometimes be. And like with most of his other performances, Seymour Hoffman does quite a few subtle things with his performance to give us an impression of who this guy is; a certain way he takes off of his tie, or orders a drink at a restaurant, there’s always something for Seymour Hoffman to do where he can continue to build and build this character into being someone worth identifying with. Even though, you know, it may be hard for some simpletons to identify with a German Intel Agent in the first place.

But, like I said before, that’s why we can always rely on talents such as Seymour Hoffman to make that idea, an actual reality.

Though, Seymour Hoffman isn’t alone in putting in a good performance, as the rest of the cast all get their own, respective chances to build their characters and, as a result, the plot as well. Rachel McAdams’ character may be flawed and thinly-written, but she still tries hard enough to make it seem like she’s just another well-intentioned woman, who sadly, doesn’t seem to know the reality of the world going on around her and just how serious certain circumstances can be. Also, Willem Dafoe puts in a sneaky performance as the shady banker who may, or may not be, a total bad-guy behind some dastardly plans, or just a guy, trying to get by in the modern-day economy, even if his own morals are a bit questionable.

While these performances may be good, there’s still a feeling in the pit of my stomach that feels like they deserved a better movie. See, what’s so disappointing about A Most Wanted Man is that it comes from director Anton Corbijn, a director who is most-known for his various, stylized photos, but doesn’t really do much for this movie, except pack it with so much information that it can sometimes be way too overbearing. Especially for even the smartest, most determined-viewer out there.

Be jealous, Sean Penn.

Be jealous, Sean Penn.

But while there may be all of this information tossed at us, in hopes that things get intriguing and tense, the problem is that hardly any of that actually happens. Much rather, the movie just ends up becoming a slog and a meandering one at that. That’s not to say all of Corbijn’s choices are bad, but when you’re movie is this based on a possible case, and hardly delivers any suspense or excitement in the air, it’s quite hard to get involved with the proceedings, let alone care for those involved with them.

The only interesting aspect I can think of that Corbijn brings to the forefront of this film is that he discusses the behind-the-scenes, sometimes back-handed politics between the German and American Intel Agencies, and how both were so desperate to get results, that they didn’t care about who they got or how, they just knew they wanted them right away. This is probably where Corbijn breathes some life into this material, because it not only shows us that Günther may not be as powerful as we’d wish he was, but also gives us a chance to see him develop a nice bit of chemistry with Robin Wright’s Martha Sullivan. The two seem like they enjoy working with one another and amidst all of the political exposition – this means a lot. It actually gives a hint that there may be something deeper, and far more involved between these two characters and it brought plenty of promise to the rest of the film.

But, as fate would have it, all of that promise goes out the window as soon as the case ends and we realize that there are bigger hands at play here. While this may seem like a huge wake-up call to the characters involved – to us, the audience, it feels like the sign of a movie ending, way later than it should have. At least it gives us more time to share and adore with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A true talent meant to be missed forever.

Consensus: Unexciting and sometimes meandering, A Most Wanted Man deals with certain meaningful political ideas and well-done performances, but doesn’t really get the audience involved as much as it nearly should.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

That look. Oh, how I will miss it so.

That look. Oh, how I will miss it so.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Annie (2014)

I hear the Jay-Z beat, yet, I hear no Jay-Z. What gives, Hov?

Ten-year-old Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a foster child living in Harlem who has to deal with the mean treatment of her caretaker, Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), and always looks towards the bright side that her parents may, one day, come back to get her. That’s a dream for sure, but it’s one that Annie doesn’t ever give up on; just like she doesn’t really give up running everywhere she goes, all because she states, “it gets her places quicker”. However, all that running comes back to almost harm little orphan Annie, until the rich, famous and mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), saves her from a possible car accident. This moment finds an audience and gives Stacks the kind of lead in the election that he so desperately needed. Therefore, he is forced to, by his oily campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale), that it’s best for him to keep relations between he and Annie constant and always in front of the public to see. Even if Stacks doesn’t really care for kids as is, he has to do this in order to seem like a relatively likable guy. But then, something changes: Stacks begins to care, but it may be too late.

Oh, and yeah, it’s a musical, too. That’s if you didn’t already know that.

Oh, I get it. You apparently can teach an old dog new tricks.

Oh, I get it. You apparently can teach an old dog new tricks.

Anyway, a lot of people have been raining down on Annie‘s parade as of late and it’s disappointed me. Sure, I get that we didn’t really need a remake/updated-version of the 1982 classic, but then again, you could say that for many other movies out there in today’s day and age that are made for the screen, for no other reason than just money, money, and more money. To me, the fact that critics have been trashing this movie, not only proves that some people aren’t willing to change and go along with the times, but anytime that anybody touches something near, dear and sacred to their hearts, and changes it up a teeny, tiny little bit, there’s automatically resentment. I can’t say that I haven’t acted like this before, but for the most part, when seeing something that’s been remade or updated for a modern-day audience, I sit back and wonder how it could all turn out to be.

Because either way, if the movie’s a train-wreck or not, it’s still something interesting to watch and ponder about. Like, for instance, why was this remade? And the simple answer to that question is simple, “No reason really”. Maybe Jay-Z saw some money in the name-product that is Annie and decided that he might try to cash in on some of that money, even if it did mean making a movie for the whole family, and around the holidays no less.

But I’m definitely beating around the bush with this one. What I’m trying to say about this latest version of Annie, is that the reason for its existence isn’t known and it sure as hell isn’t perfect. That said, I found myself enjoying a lot more of this movie than I maybe wanted to. Most of that has to do with the fact that director Will Gluck makes this out to be the kind of movie that not only doesn’t take itself too seriously, but isn’t afraid to throw some jokes here and there for the older ones in the crowd that may have gotten sucked into seeing this because of a young one at home, begging and pleading to be taken out. Or, they could have just been older, creepier people and saw it by themselves.

You know, like me.

Anyway, moving on!

Like I said though, Gluck’s film isn’t perfect and more often than not, feels like it’s being almost too adorable and cutesy for its own good. There’s a certain sense one can get with a family-film that even though the audience who wants to see it may not think deeper or further than the ones who get roped into seeing it, the charm has to be turned up to eleven and annoy the hell out of everyone who is watching it that may be above the age of twelve. This is exactly in the case of Annie; while it’s charming at times, other times, it feels cloying and like it wants you to not just laugh at it, but pet it, adore it, and take it in as your own.

Sort of like an orphan, really.

And for the longest time, this absolutely bothered me. It made me feel like I was watching a film that didn’t know whether it wanted to be too smart for it’s own good, or just downright earnest that it’s practically asking for a hand-out. To me, Annie seemed a little more like the later, but there’s was always that feeling in the back of my head that maybe I was being a tad too harsh on this. After all, it’s an Annie movie, made for the whole family to see, enjoy and not think too much about, not a piece of awards-bait that asks the hard questions about humanity and demands that you think/discuss them after you’ve just witnessed it. In a time like late-December, where nearly everything I see now is about to bludgeon me to death with their intellectualism, it’s quite refreshing to see a movie which, on paper, is simple and plays out exactly like that. Sure, it’s a tad too earnest for its own good, but once you’re willing to get past that, then it actually works.

If anything though, Annie deserves to be seen for a reminder that Quvenzhané Wallis isn’t just a simple, one-and-done flash-in-the-pan that we’ve seen so many child actors like her become. With Wallis though, there’s an inherent charm and likability to her that not only makes her Annie seem like a real, actual kid, but one that appreciates life more than you’ve ever appreciated anything in your life. Some of this is because of the way she’s written, but most of it is because Wallis seems like she’s having the time of her life on the set of this movie and it helps a lot of her scenes.

Turn away kiddies! Not safe!

Turn away kiddies! Not safe!

And of course, because it is a musical, what matters most is that Wallis is able to belt out some tunes, and she is more than able to. Her voice is sweet and tender, and adds a nice amount of emotion to some of the more cornier-tracks in this movie that could have easily been taken out and we would have already gotten the idea it was trying to get across. She’s an orphan! She’s sad! We get it! Move it on over!

One of the problems with Wallis being so good here, is that she takes away from the rest of the cast, all of whom are big, respectable names in the biz. Thankfully though, since Gluck’s direction is so over-the-top and goofy, everybody here seems like they’re either hopped-up on too much Pop Rocks, or are just simply happy to get a paycheck that they want to express it for everybody else in the movie. Either way, it works in favor of the performances and allows for some of the more badly-placed jokes, to land. Even if they weren’t intentional to begin with.

Jamie Foxx gets to display his key sense for comedy as Stacks and seems like a nice fit alongside Wallis, as they build a nice, but realistic chemistry together; Rose Byrne doesn’t get much to do here as Stacks’ assistant/possible love-interest, although she’s charming enough to get by; Bobby Cannavale is, as you guessed it, a dick and doesn’t hide any of that back whatsoever; and Cameron Diaz is campin’ it up, big time, as Miss Hannigan, but seems to be at least having some fun with the material for once in a long while, so I can’t have too much of a problem with that.

Just like I can’t with the rest of the movie. Even if everybody and their mothers, at the time, seem to despise its guts.

Consensus: Sweet, simple, and overall, pleasant, Annie is the kind of musical that doesn’t try to pummel you over the head with thought-provoking questions about humanity, but much rather, entertain the whole family, with a simple song, a dance, and a huge grin on its earnest-as-hell face.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

So this is why I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours? Thanks. Next time, harmonize and dance somewhere else!

So this is why I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours? Thanks. Next time, harmonize and dance somewhere else!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

I Am Ali (2014)

No Will Smith, no worries.

He floats like a butterfly. He stings like a bee. And guess what? Nobody is quite as beautiful or powerful as he. This is all according to him, mind you, which makes you wonder what all those around the notorious boxing legend Muhammad Ali have to say about him. And this is exactly what we get to see from his early days as Cassius Clay, where his brother remembers the times they’d spend together and goof around like little bros do. to when his first boxing-trainer that realized there was something special to this kid that needed to be worked with. Then, we get to see the various women he’s had in his life, whether they be his wives, his numerous girlfriends, or even his loving daughters. But it doesn’t stop there, as we also get to hear from the numerous Ali faced in his life, whether they be people he fought with in the ring, as well as outside. Either way, we get to hear everybody’s side of the many stories they have about Muhammad Ali, whether they be good, bad, or plain and simply, memorable.

Somebody definitely influenced Sean Penn's early days.

Somebody definitely influenced Sean Penn’s early days.

With these types of documentaries, you have to realize that while the subject in question may be respected, or adored, or hailed by many people out there, they’re still human beings. Meaning, that while they may have done some wonderful, sometimes beautiful things for certain others around them out there in the world, there’s still always a few faults they may have which, ultimately, prove to be their downfall or just add more to the character of who they are. In a way, having a fault doesn’t make these heroes any less great, it just makes them more human and can sometimes make them seem more human than ever before.

Problem is, writer/director Clare Lewins doesn’t seem all that interested in getting deeper and deeper into that subject’s side and would much rather just focus on the kind of miracle-worker he’d want to appear as being. Which, honestly, isn’t bad because there’s plenty of heartfelt, down-to-earth stories about the lovely things Ali did for these people speaking, but it all feels like this is more of a tribute to a person, rather than an actual biography of the person he was. And only making it worse is the fact that the movie sometimes flirts with this idea of digging further into this aspect of Ali, but then, once it realizes that it may get too serious or risky for the producers, it backs away, so as to not offend anyone involved with helping to make this movie a possibility.

It makes sense – it really does. But, when you make your movie out to be a biography about a man, from anyone but the man, there’s a feeling that everybody’s just a little too happy and cheery to talk about him, rather than actually discussing the person he was, or better yet, still is to this day. I’m not talking about giving Muhammad Ali a total hatchet job that makes him into something of a descendant of Satan, but much rather, a man who had his fair share of flaws, but ultimately, when he had to, he was the man he wanted to be. He treated mostly everybody around him with the same type of love and respect as he would wish upon himself, and hardly ever favorited one person over another.

He was a fair guy, who just had his problems is all. Meaning, he liked to bed a lot of women, regardless of his marriage-license at the current stage in time; he talked a little too much smack on his opponents; and better yet, he didn’t know when to just tune-out of smiling for the cameras and just be real for a second. These problems of Muhammad Ali, the person, are hinted at here in this piece, but very rarely do they get developed more than just a few lines from somebody, until it’s time to forget about them and move on. Not to say that I had it out for Ali in the first place, but when you have a biography of a person’s life, disguised as a documentary, you definitely want to make sure all sides of your stories are treated fairly and with a nearly-equal amount of detail.

I know it’s easier said then done, but trust me, folks, it can happen and I just wish it did here.

But, aside from the problems I had with this movie, I Am Ali still does a lot of things right and that’s mostly due to the fact that the interviews Lewins was able to get from all those involved, aren’t just well-done, but give us an almost complete picture of who this man was. We get to hear from his brother, his trainer, his numerous girlfriends/wives, his kids, his friends/confidantes his fans, and even some of the men he faced over the years. Most of these interviews bring out a lot about Ali that we most of us probably didn’t already know before and it’s nice to see and hear.

Holding your breath underwater for a long time always proves your manliness. Just ask David Blaine.

Holding your breath underwater for a long time always proves your manliness. Just ask David Blaine.

The most emotional bits and pieces of insight we get here come from Ali’s most famous daughter, Laila, who, surprisingly, doesn’t hold much back when talking about her father, their relationship together and exactly why she decided to follow in his foot-steps. It shows us that even though Ali was one of the most known names in the world, he still had time for his family, but most importantly, for his kids. He always wanted to be there for them and focus on them while they were growing up, even if he couldn’t physically be there to do so. It’s quite sweet really and brought something of a small tear to my eye.

Then, Laila takes it almost one step further when she begins to talk about the condition Muhammad is currently in today, still alive and all, but struggling with Parkinson’s. Not only did I feel like, had the movie decided to develop this reality a bit more, probably would have been the most emotional part, but for some reason, it doesn’t. It literally just leaves Laila there, tearing-up and ready to go on more, only to then fade to black and go onto the next interviews. It made the film seem almost incomplete and made me wonder why they decided to jump over this part of the story, acting as if it’s not even a reality and just a secret problem not too many people know about.

To me, it felt like the movie wanted to go deeper, but just didn’t. And that was a real shame.

Consensus: By creating a nearly-round picture of its subject, I Am Ali shows us the kind of effect that Muhammad Ali had on practically all those around him, whether they be negative or positive. Unfortunately though, it was mostly focusing on the later.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Yeah. We've all seen this before.

Yeah. We’ve all seen this before.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Dear White People (2014)

White people are whack. Trust me. I should know.

At any Ivy League school, racial tensions are somewhat high, yet, by the same token, aren’t totally through the roof where you’d expect there to be a riot every weekend or so. White people hang with white people; black people hang with black people; and sometimes, every so often, there’s a little mixture of the two. But that may all change when a very opinionated student, Sam White (Tessa Thompson), becomes a leader of a house and decides to take charge against the institution’s very white-privileged mind-set. Of course though, this causes plenty of more problems among the student-body and even threatens to rob the Dean (Dennis Haysbert) of his position, if he can’t get everything all fine and settled. But even worse, some students could lose what makes them who they really are, which isn’t just the color of their skin, but their heritage and just exactly who they represent. They lose that, there’s nothing else for them to stand for.

I have to give it to a movie like Dear White People – though it’s one that has a message I can’t particularly agree with, I like how bold it is in actually trying to discuss certain ideas and themes about race, equality, and class warfare, that so many movies step away from, in the hopes of not seeming “too controversial”. Most of this is in part due to the general idea from Hollywood that you can’t make a smart movie about race, that actually challenges the notions us citizens have about it, for the sole purpose that it’ll scare the money away. People won’t want to see it; advertisers will keep their name-brands very far away from it; and people will just bad-mouth it, solely because it’s too touchy about a subject, which in today’s general-sphere, is already as touchy as is.

I'm hoping these looks are all for the guy standing directly behind me.

I’m hoping these looks are all for the guy standing directly behind me.

With that said, most of the credit here goes to writer/director Justin Simien who, with his first feature, already shows plenty of promise with the messages he wants to bring to people’s minds. See, because with today’s day and age, everything is race-related. Race is a topic that not only influences in the way people speak, but in how they act. You can see it everywhere from what’s on TV, what’s in your video-games, what’s on your iPod, and hell, it’s even outside your door, you just have to step outside and look around a bit. Simien knows this and he makes most of the movie about this general topic, but goes one step further and tries to shuttle it all in with an ensemble story that doesn’t always work.

But to his defense, when it does work, Simien hits plenty of the right notes that not only got me thinking, but even talking with my fellow confidantes after the movie and wondering just whether or not we all whole heartedly agree with what Simien brings to the forefront here. And for me, it was quite simple: I didn’t agree with it, but then again, I don’t know if I was either.

See, where Simien lands with this movie is simply this: Race is a powerful force in our world and it affects every person’s everyday life, regardless of what color their skin, or heritage, may or may not be. I see this just about everyday and it’s nothing new to me. So, Simien shows this in a way that makes sense – every side of the race debate has their own story. Whites, blacks, mixed, Hispanics, gays, straights, all people have a certain viewpoint that they feel/share about the idea of race and equality; all of which are brought up reasonably and don’t seem to be pandering to one side in particularly.

That is, until it does.

Being that I am a young, white male, there is a part of me that understands that there is such a mechanism as white privilege out there in the world, and it doesn’t matter how hard somebody may, or may not try to avoid it, it will constantly plague our society. It follows me everywhere I go and as much as I don’t like it, it’s something that I’m being told I have to live with, whether or not I like it. Dear White People, and even Simien himself, tells me this same exact fact, but at the same time, does so in a way that feels slightly offensive to me. Like, for instance, because I am a white person, I will have everything I ever want in the palms of my hands, all because of my color, regardless of my financial-standings or general knowledge of the real world. Technically speaking, I could be as dumb as a door-knob, but because I am white, therefore, I will get any and everything that I could ever hope and dream for.

Not only does this message totally rub me the wrong way as is, but it’s presented as such in a way that makes me feel like Simien has it out for me, in particular, let alone the whole race that I represent. And no, I do not mean to stand in for every white person out there in the world who plans on seeing this – I am solely speaking from my point-of-view and, therefore, my reactions to this movie. Many other people, regardless of race, may have the same feelings as me, and many other people, once again, regardless of race, may definitely not have the same feelings as me. I know this, but where I’m speaking from here, is my viewpoint and if it offended me, then dammit, I’m going to let it be known!

Anyway, like I was saying before, where I felt angry with this movie was in how Simien had most of the white characters in this movie portrayed. The head dean of the school is portrayed as a money-grubbing, racist prick who, when confronted with the idea that his actions are racist, says that he knew that’s exactly what a black person would say. Okay, I can deal with this one character being a racist bigot, but it gets worse. Take his son, who is, honestly, portrayed as nothing more than another racist bigot who, because he’s young, wild, free, rich and allowed to do whatever he wants because his daddy practically runs the school, gets away with everything/anything he says or does. He makes some good points early on in the movie about race, but for the most part, has them all chucked out of the window once we see his true colors, and realize he’s just another one of those heartless, mean, and nasty frat bros who just wants to party, get drunk, laid, have a good time, and bully the weakest one he sees.

Add on the fact that he’s racist and you have a character that is definitely unlikable.

"You're from State Darm!?!"

“You’re from State Darm!?!”

But when you put these two up against the black characters in this movie, it feels like there’s obviously a hell of a lot more attention and detailed paid to them. Sure, some of them have their faults, but mostly, it’s in due part because they want to be respected and accepted into a world which, frankly speaking, is white. The co-dean of the institution knows that he’ll never be the head dean because of race issues, but still tries to fit in by charming the white crowd at cocktails party and tells his son to wise up. The guy’s not a relatively likable guy, but whereas he’s technically considered to be “flawed”, the head dean is considered “villainous”.

Honestly though, this is just the surface – there’s plenty more instances in which the white characters in this film are portrayed/written in such a way that’s not only mean-spirited, but downright offensive. Not all white people act like this and neither do all black people, but Simien makes it clear that he favors one side over the other. Had this been a documentary, I’d been a little bit more forgiving, considering that we would have seen most of his manipulations come out in a positive way, but considering this is a narrative-feature, one which he wrote, directed, and practically built from the ground-up, I can’t help but look at it a lot more harshly.

But then again, that’s just my thoughts. Take them, or leave them. Do what you must.

Consensus: Bold and smart, Dear White People definitely has a lot on its mind, and though it lets it be known in thought-provoking, interesting ways, it still can’t help but seem to show its bias that may definitely offend some, while not be a problem for others. I’m more of in the former’s camp, though.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh! A white person! And guess what? He's a dick.

Oh! A white person! And guess what? He’s a dick.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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

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

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

Business meeting while golfing? Yup, total dick move.

Business meeting while golfing? Total dick move.

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

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

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

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

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

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

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

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

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

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

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Yup. Still the best part.

Yup. Still the best part.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Beyond the Lights (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

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

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

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

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

Is this a symbolic passing of the torch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Basically, everybody loves J-Law. Fin.

Basically, everybody loves J-Law. Fin.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Theory of Everything (2014)

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

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

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard, him.

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Camp X-Ray (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

“Bella! I want an autograph! Now!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Horns (2014)

The Devil works in mysterious ways.

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

But those horns just won’t go away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Take that, Snape."

“Take that, Snape.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

eXistenZ (1999)

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

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

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

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So take that, older-generation!

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

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

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

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

6 /10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

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

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

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

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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