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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

The Zero Theorem (2014)

We live in a world full of nothing. Now, go get some pizza!

Q (Christoph Waltz) is a programmer in the near-future, where everybody dresses like drag queens from the 80’s, interact to one another through computer-screens, and mostly don’t understand the world around them. Not Q, though, as he makes it abundantly clear on a few occasions that he does in fact believe that our lives, this world we live in, and the universe as a whole, leads up to nothing. Regardless of if he’s correct or not, he knows he has to prove this with a computer-program, but he finds himself getting more and more sidetracked as he continues to get closer to completing his assignment. For one, he meets a lovely, incredibly smokin’ hot girl by the name of Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), who he starts to fall in love with, even though he knows she’s a stripper and gets paid for a living to sweep guys like him off their feet. Also, to make matters a bit worse, he’s forced to work with Bob (Lucas Hodges), a young whippersnapper who has a lot to say and is trying to help Q out with solving this problem, but eventually finds himself trying to solve most of Q’s problems in real life. Which, at this current place in time, just so happens to be his affections for Bainsley.

"But I thought this was just a check-up?"

“But I thought this was just a check-up?”

Though I’m not a huge fan of Terry Gilliam and most of the work he puts out, I have to give him credit for at least trying to give his audience something more, something creative, and most of all, something ambitious that most movie-going audiences wouldn’t normally have the chance to see. Some say that about Christopher Nolan (I’m one of them), but it’s obvious that they’re both two different film-makers; they may seem to be working for the same movie-going audience, but when it comes to see who actually sees their movies and why, it’s a bit different. Nolan’s crowd is the accessible, more mainstream crowd, whereas Gilliam’s audience is a tad more limited, meaning that it’s definitely the stranger type of crowd who swarm to see his movies.

However, that’s neither here nor there. The only problem I seem to have with Gilliam’s movies is that, most of the time, his ambitions seem to lose themselves and go over our heads. Much rather than seeming smart or interesting, they just seem random and relatively insane. And though one could make the argument that maybe this is exactly what Gilliam is going for, a part of me knows this not to be true and instead, knows that Gilliam’s going for something with his movies – they just don’t always work.

That said, a movie like the Zero Theorem is one that I’m able to give a pass. Because while it’s goofy, over-the-top, campy, and seemingly crazy, it never lost my interest and seemed to beg questions that deserved to begged about in the first place.

For instance, is this world we live in now (or the near-future), more comfortable with interacting with a computer-screen, disguised as another human being, much rather than actually going out there and communicating with others, face to face? This is an honest question that deserves to be brought up and while it may be nothing new, Gilliam still brings it up in a way that’s relevant, but seems pertinent to the story. The fact that Q is a computer-programmer of some sorts (his job title is never fully made clear to us), makes it easier to understand why he’d not only be so infatuated with someone through the wonderful, lovely world that is the internet, but actually go so far as to get distracted about the beautiful, pleasureful things it can bring to one’s life.

And though this may all seem preachy, Gilliam keeps it away from being as such and it’s a smart move on his part. It’s not the only one, but it’s the one I found most noticeable.

Another person worth mentioning here is Christoph Waltz as Q who, in one of his first roles that isn’t in a Quentin Tarantino movie, actually impressed me with what he was able to bring to the script and his character as a whole. While it’s easy to fall for Waltz in most movies where he’s constantly speaking, and using that silver-tongue of his, here, Waltz is simply made to react to everything and everyone around him. This not only brings a lot of comedy to the film, but makes us sympathize a bit more with this character who, in any other movie, could have been made out to be some sort of sad sack, miserable a-hole that nobody would want to be around. But because he’s in this world wherein he knows that everything means nothing, you sort of feel bad for the dude and want him to cheer up, smile a bit, and possibly forget all about the meaning of life. Just living it is enough, honestly.

I'll let her check my heartbeat any time.

I’ll let her give me some medicine for that cough of mine any time.

And because it’s easy to feel for Q, it’s also easier to feel for the other characters in this movie, as strange as they sometimes may be. As Bainsley, the webcam hooker/stripper, Mélanie Thierry not only fits the role of being incredibly gorgeous, but also is quite charming, which makes it easy to understand why she’d fall for such a nut-job like Q. Same goes for the characters played by Lucas Hodges and David Thewils; though they don’t necessarily “fall” for Q in the same way that Bainsley does (that would have been a whole different movie entirely), they still feel for the guy and be present in his company. Some of it’s because they like to laugh at his expense, but some of it is also because they want to help the guy and make the world seem a bit brighter and better for him, even if they know that the task is almost impossible to complete. But nonetheless, they’re mostly all sympathetic characters.

Most of this is, yes, because the cast is very good at helping us understand who these characters are a bit more, but also because Gilliam gives them enough detail here and there, that not only shows us that he cares for them, but wants them to be happy in the end as well. Being the storyteller he is, he knows that he has to stick to how he wants his story to end first and foremost, but at the end of it all, he remains hopeful and cheerful that they’ll get the life they oh so desire. Even if, like Q, he still can’t help but scoff at what it all means.

If anything at all.

Consensus: Weird and over-the-top, the Zero Theorem finds Terry Gilliam in his comfort-zone, but still allows himself to breathe a bit more with detailed characters, ideas about the way our society is headed, and why, if at all, any of it matters.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Not Halloween, mind you. Just a normal Friday in the world of Gilliam-land.

Not Halloween, mind you. Just a normal Friday in the world of Gilliam-land.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Good thing I don’t have a twin. Too much trouble as is with one me.

Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) haven’t spoken to one another in ten years, yet, they both attempt suicide on what seems to be the same day, within a few hours or so from one another. Though, Milo is the one who seems to be at least the most successful with his attempt and lands himself in a hospital, where Maggie comes to see him and urge him to come back to her small place in New York, with her husband (Luke Wilson) and, hopefully-soon-to-be, children. While there though, Milo begins to realize that Maggie and her hubby aren’t having the best of marriage and he believes that most of this might stem from the problems they suffered as kids, with their hapless mother and deceased father. Either way though, they count on one another to get each other through the thick and thin, even if one likes to think they have a better life than the other, as untrue as that may actually be.

My same reaction to whenever anybody catches me in drag.

My same reaction to whenever anybody catches me in drag.

There’s something rather nerve-wracking about watching a movie in which, the people involved are most known for their comedic-sensibilities, and spend a good majority of the movie doing the exact opposite of that. That’s the feeling one can get with the Skeleton Twins, because although we know Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as two of the latest members of the SNL cast to leave onto bigger and (hopefully), better things, most of the screen-time here is dedicated to them being downright serious. Sure, they goof around at times, and make jokes at others, but for the most part, what Hader and Wiig do here is keep it dramatic, sad, and most of all, serious. Not all of the time, of course, but a good part of it.

However, while I may make this sound like a problem, that couldn’t be further and further away from the truth.

With the Skeleton Twins, and through Hader’s and Wiig’s performances, we get an inside glimpse into the lives of two very sad people who are, for lack of a better term, fed-up with the lives they have. One is upset about a recent love of his breaking his heart, whereas the other is tired of living a life that she doesn’t even know she can continue on with any longer, and while this could all be labeled down to “white people problems”, co-writer/director Craig Johnson does a very fine job at keeping clichés to a minimum of maybe five or so. But even when he does seem to be travelling down the used far too often road of “Cliché Land”, Johnson finds a way to spin it on its head and not just surprise us, but himself as well.

Take, for instance, the scene in which Hader lip-synchs “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” to Wiig; a scene which, in most movies, is so corny and tired, it had me wondering whether or Johnson himself even realized this, but was going to stick with the scene anyway. Well, thankfully, he does because it gets better and better as it goes on, and pretty damn funny, too. So much so that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear that lovely track by Starship ever the same again.

No joke, either.

But that’s why there’s something so charming and surprising about what Johnson does here – though he sets every scene up the way you’d expect him to (there’s even a scene in which Maggie and Milo get stoned and speak their true feelings), he changes it up at the last second and takes a surprising left turn. Though his swerves in the road don’t always work, for the most part, they’re effective enough to where they at least deserve credit for trying, rather than falling flat on their faces and having Johnson look silly. But you can’t even hate on a director for being ambitious, if even in the slightest, teeniest ways.

Same could be said for both Hader and Wiig who, like I mentioned before, aren’t really being all that funny in this movie. Okay, that’s kind of a lie because yes, in this movie, Wiig and Hader are very funny, but not all of the time. Then again though, they aren’t trying so hard to make you realize that they’re actually acting, and more or less, just become their characters. Maybe this is less of a challenge for Wiig because, ever since she left SNL, we’ve seen her wade through heavily dramatic characters, one after another, and there’s always something surprising about how well she’s able to pull it off.

But I guess the one who gets called into question the most about his actual abilities as an actor is Bill Hader who, much like Wiig, has done some dramatic-fare in the past, but never as deep or as dark as he plunges into here. As Milo, an openly-gay character, Hader doesn’t over-do it with the gay eccentrics, like as if it were done for jokes, but more so, as we’re supposed to see the type of person he is and feel bad for him as a result. Hader excels in this role and it has me excited to see what he could possibly due next, not just because he seems to have finally get that role which will have him be taken more seriously as an actor, but because he doesn’t have to worry about being around and free on Lorne Michaels’ schedule and can do what he wants, whenever he wants.

Look at that face! How could you hate it?!?

Look at that face! How could you hate it?!?

Same goes for Wiig, but having seen her in many others movie, I’ve known this for quite some time. The real beauty here though, is that her and Hader are so believable as a brother-sister combo that it actually feels like how they were written – they were close for so very long, only to then fall out of touch with one another. But, what the real beauty behind their relationship is that, whenever they get the chances to do so, the inherent spark that’s usually there in any family, still shows and it allows these two to play-off of each other so perfectly. And I don’t mean in that they get to be funny, but more so in the way that they’re able to reveal small, tender insights into the people they are, solely by their interaction.

It’s the kind of performances most movies would kill for, and it’s made all the better by the fact that these aren’t the types of roles we expect these two stars to have.

Away from those two though, it was also lovely to see Luke Wilson in here; not just because he’s good, but because he’s actually working again and showing off that likability of his that hardly ever goes away, no matter what he’s in. Most of this has to do with the character and the way he’s written – Lance is a guy who is quite eager about the life he’s lived and the life that may be in front of him and though that sometimes may be off-putting to those around him in the movie, the movie never plays it up for laughs, or seems to be making fun of him for the way he is. He’s just an all around, simply put, nice guy who, sadly, seemed to marry the wrong woman. May have been for the right reasons, but there’s still a bit of sadness that we know it may end well between Lance and Maggie, but the chance that it may not, is incredibly sad.

Although, at the end of the day, all he has to do is laugh it off, smile, and get on with his day. Much like everybody else on this planet.

Consensus: Anchored by two wonderful performances from Hader, Wiig and Wilson, the Skeleton Twins gets by because it presents conventions, but hardly ever falls for them, no matter how tempting they may be.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The separation I have with everyone around me at family reunions.

The separation I have with everyone around me at family reunions.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbizGoggle Images

Stretch (2014)

Just drive. And do other crazy stuff, too.

Stretch (Patrick Wilson) is a limo driver who is a bit down-on-his-luck. Not only did his incredibly smokin’ hot girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker) just recently break up with him, but his $6,000 debt is starting to catch up with him and now the dangerous people he owes money to, want it back and by 12 tonight. Though Stretch knows this is an impossible feat with his salary and his self-esteem issues, he gets a chance to possibly change that when he picks up known millionaire Karos (Chris Pine) who is a bit crazy in his own ways, but always gives his driver’s a hefty tip. The only problem is that his drivers have to do some very daring, challenging tasks for him; one of which Stretch gets called onto do. The mission: Get a briefcase from a French gangster (James Badge Dale), bring it back to him by a certain time, and get all the money he wants. But while the night starts off simple and pain-free, it’s everything but and Stretch soon realizes that in order to get what he wants, he’s going to have to play a little dirty.

If you’ve never heard of this film, despite the cast and crew involved with it, don’t worry, because you’re not alone. Apparently, the powers that be at Universal felt as if this movie was a little too much for a major-audience to go out and see, so rather than allowing for it to play in theaters across the country like it was originally supposed to, it gets the shaft. Well, maybe not a total shaft, but for a movie with this much known-names, it’s a pretty big surprise to see it not only get a straight-to-VOD release, but get thrown onto Netflix Instant less than a month later. Usually for any movie, regardless of who is involved, this proves to be troubling and can only mean one thing – it’s got to be bad.

James T. who?

James T. who?

Well, in the case of Stretch, we finally have one rule to the exception and thank heavens for that.

For one, writer/director Joe Carnahan is the type of guy who, you either love, or you hate his movies. Most of them aren’t smart, well-written pieces of film that inspire countless thought-pieces, or even provoking conversations at the local diner, but are just fun, entertaining, and sometimes, incredibly crazy features. Though the Grey was a different side to Carnahan than we we’re used to seeing, it still packed a hard punch that made it feel like a Carnahan film, just without all of the wild jokes on the side.

Here though, with Stretch, Carnahan seems to be back in full-on form and it’s one of the main reasons why it works so well. It’s clear early on that Carnahan is making this film as if it were another one of those, “one, wild night” movies from the 80’s and it plays off early as that. Almost like a tribute you could say, with the cheesy synth-score, the use of hot-as-heck L.A., and David Hasselhoff, but eventually, it stops becoming a tribute that’s desperately pleading to be loved by its inspirations, and actually becomes one of them.

This is where Carnahan’s creativity really shows, because while movies like Smokin’ Aces or the A-Team may not be all that perfect, they still both do great jobs at entertaining the hell out of its audience when Carnahan throws all of his cards on the table and just allows for everything to run wild. He does that many of times here, but not just in terms of the action; the story literally goes certain places that you don’t expect it to. And while this would normally be a problem for some movies that seem like they’re just making it up on-the-fly, Carnahan hardly ever runs into that problem because he keeps his story moving and most of all, exciting. Even if the first 30 minutes or so of this movie are a bit slow, they’re still effective because they are used to just build characters, their situations, and why they might be worth keeping an eye on once the actual story gets going on.

That, and well, because the later-half of the movie is so damn fun.

Which is, yes, definitely thanks to Carnahan for just stepping back and watching as his roller-coaster gets moving, but it’s also for the cast, and how each and everyone here, no matter how large or small their roles may be, give it their all and add another twisted-layer onto this already strange flick. Patrick Wilson has always been a favorite of mine and here, as our titled-character for the next hour-and-a-half, he finally gets a chance to just have a heck of a time with the material he’s working with. Usually, whenever I see Wilson in something, the dude’s given a role that asks on him for mainly one thing and one thing only: Be charming. And it’s definitely not hard for a handsome fella like him, but we hardly ever get to see him really slum himself up to where we care less about his looks and more about what he’s actually putting into his role.

Jessica Alba in a role that didn't make me want to turn off the TV every time she showed up. Which is definitely something worth congratulating.

Jessica Alba in a role that didn’t make me want to turn off the TV every time she showed up. Which is definitely something worth congratulating.

But that’s all different here with Stretch, where he not only gets a chance to just be a wild and crazy guy, but use his comedic-timing to perfect effect. It’s a sign that no matter how many times you think you have a certain actor shoehorned into the kind of role you think they should be playing, they’ll turn around, give you the finger, and try something different. Whether or not it works, is totally up in the air, but the effort is all that matters and here, for Wilson, it’s more than worth the effort.

Same goes for another actor attractive guy who happens to be slumming himself up for the cameras, Chris Pine who, oddly enough, isn’t credited as being in this film. Either way, Pine’s solid in this movie as the wildly unpredictable and nearly-insane Karos, and gives us a chance to see more of his skills as an actor. Though I see him do sort of the same kind of role in Horrible Bosses 2, it was still nice to see how well Pine would perform in a Carnahan’s wacky vision and needless to say, the guy doesn’t disappoint.

And of course, Ed Helms is funny, but did you really expect anything else?

Consensus: Over-the-top, but ultimately, a fun, wild ride, Stretch finds Joe Carnahan back into his comfort-zone of just letting loose on everything in front of him, not apologizing for it, and definitely not trying to coax into being anything more than what it already is: Madness and pure destruction.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

My nickname, all of the time.

My nickname, all of the time.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Legally Blonde (2001)

Is it really that easy to get into Harvard? Then, what the heck am I doing with my lame-o journalism degree!?!

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) has it all. She’s the president of her sorority, a Hawaiian Tropic girl, Miss June in her campus calendar, and, above all, a natural blonde, but has one problem: No boyfriend. Why though? Well, because, according to him, she was “too blonde” for his liking. This automatically steers her career towards a different path where Elle decides that it’s time for her to study at Harvard Law, become a lawyer and, as a result of all this, win her man back. However, things are a lot harder than they may be this time around for Elle, especially when things aren’t handed-down to her right away, or even on a silver platter like she’s been so used to for all these years.

I gotta say, it’s been a long, long time since I last saw this flick and probably with good reason – it’s a total chick-flick that mostly deserves to be watched with gals around you (yes, Grand-moms count). But somehow, someway, I found myself chilling in my house all by my lonesome, one fine afternoon and decided to pop this in my “old school” DVD player and see how it does all of these years later. Thankfully, it still holds up, even though I still go by that golden-rule of needing a female next to me.

How most of my first dates go. Usually then followed by screaming, shouting, and wine thrown in my face.

How most of my first dates go. Usually then followed by excessive screaming, shouting, and wine thrown in my face.

God, I need to start going out more.

Anyway, Legally Blonde is one of those films that doesn’t really do anything new, original, or special with its premise, but doesn’t really need to because the fun of it is kind of in its simplicity. You get the plot you need, with the right amount of character-development on the side, and most of all, a nice array of laughs that can either totally blindside you by how actually funny they are, or are just worthy of a simple chuckle or two. Either way, it’s funny flick, that mostly gets by on its charm, as well as its characters who, although may be a bit one-note at first, do actually develop over time and we get to sort of care about as time goes on. Not too much, but just enough to where it’s okay to be interested in where this plot goes, for what reasons, and how it affects those involved.

I am definitely thinking a lot harder and deeper than this film than I should be, but so be it. Sometimes, it just happens and feels necessary, rather than just laying out why a movie works by simply saying, “Yeah, it’s funny and entertaining”. I mean, yeah, it is, but sometimes, there’s a little bit more reasoning as to why that is and here, I think it mostly has to do with the fact that these characters are a bit better-written then you’d expect them to be.

Take, for instance, the character of Elle Woods, in a star-making role from none other than Reese Witherspoon herself. Woods, the character, is your typical rich-girl cliche that every film pokes fun at – rich, stuck-up, always needs her hair to be done, always needs a pedicure, wants shiny things, has a keen eye for fashion, and constantly has a little pooch by her side. But surprisingly, the film doesn’t really poke too much fun at her for this and instead, has us sympathize with her and believe in her as she practically goes against everybody’s belief that the girl just didn’t have what it took to be a major lawyer, coming from the university of Harvard. Yes, it sounds pretty damn unbelievable, and in a way, still is, but this film definitely has you think otherwise for a good hour-and-a-half.

But the main reason why Woods works as well as she does, as a character, isn’t just because the movie treats her so gently, but it’s also because Witherspoon displays a great amount of charm and likability to her, that it’s almost way too hard to ignore. In today’s day and age, Witherspoon has definitely been a lot more miss, than hit as of late, which is why flicks like these are always nice little reminders that the girl is entertaining as hell to watch when she’s given good material, and isn’t trying too hard to play-up her klutzy, ditsy girl roles that seem to plague her in every rom-com she shows up in nowadays. She’s got great comedic-timing, looks quite gorgeous in the type of stuff she wears, and always seems like there’s a lot more to her than just beautiful blue eyes and long, blonde hair. That’s what everybody loved about Witherspoon in the first place and it makes me wish that she would just go back to that and give it a try once more.

Next week on, "Attorneys at Law"!

Tune in next week to see what happens next on, “Attorneys at Law“!

Just as long as that keeps herself away from pieces of junk like This Means War. Seriously, her, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy will never, ever be able to live that down from my point-of-view. I would also include McG in that list but who the hell cares about that dude.

Co-starring as her “love-interest of sorts” is Luke Wilson who really feels like he stumbled up on the set randomly and they just decided to let him go. Wilson is a good actor that has a great level of charm when he feels like showing it and is given the right script, but here, the guy feels terribly misused and sometimes come out of nowhere with some of his lines. It’s almost like he’s playing in the background the whole movie, only deciding to show up once they movie decided that they needed a romantic-interest for Witherspoon because you know, all girls need a guy when they’re searching for the right career-path that not only makes themselves happy, but gives them a bit of self-respect as well.

Oh, how some ancient social norms never seem to go away.

Consensus: Unoriginal, obvious, and sometimes, so cliche that you’ll wonder if the writers are even trying, but somehow, Legally Blonde gets by on its inherent charm, which has to do with some of the likable script, as well as Reese Witherspoon’s lovely portrayal of Elle Woods.

7 / 10 =Rental!!

Werk it, ladies!

Werk it, ladies!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Maps to the Stars (2014)

Burn, Hollywood, burn! 

Hollywood is full of all sorts of people. You either got rich and famous celebrities, normal people trying to live their lives, or normal people trying to make it big so that they can become rich and famous like the people they look up to so much. Of these many people, we focus on a few who are either trying to keep themselves relevant, or at least trying even harder to become relevant in any way at all possible. We have Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) a mysterious girl who shows up one day looking for a job and finds one as the secretary of aging actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who seems to be all sorts of screwed up from the abuse she suffered from her mother as a child. There’s also the story of Havan’s limo driver (Robert Patinson) who is also an up-and-coming actor, just desperately waiting for his big break, although he might seem more interested in starting a relationship with Agatha. Then, there’s TV psychologist Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who, along with his wife (Olivia Williams) are raising their child-star son, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), who is pretty mean to everybody around him, yet also, doesn’t quite know whether or not he wants to keep going with this famous life he’s been living. It’s all so very messed-up and sad, but don’t forget to drink the champagne and party like it’s Studio 54!

"You're my son. But you're also pretty rich, so don't fuck it up."

“You’re my son. But you’re also pretty rich, so don’t fuck it up.”

David Cronenberg seems to be the kind of director that just doesn’t cut for me, although it seems that, for everybody else in the world, he does just that. It’s not that his movies are bad, it’s just that they seem to be slow and meandering after awhile, that once he begins to throw in these abruptly gruesome scenes of violence, it comes almost out of nowhere; almost in a way that seems like even he’s dozing off a bit and needs to blow-up somebody’s head to excite even his own-self.

But here, with Maps to the Stars, Cronenberg seems to really nail down what he wants to do – not just with the story, but with his pace. Rather than being a slow-as-molasses piece that doesn’t go anywhere interesting, Cronenberg seems to really move quickly between scenes. He doesn’t focus on one subplot more than the other, but much rather, continue to shed some small light on them and the characters that inhabit them, and move on. This not only worked for my eyes and brain, but also as a satire, because what Cronenberg seems to getting at here is really that Hollywood’s full of privileged fakes and phonies, who not only believe that everything they ever want should be handed to them on a silver platter, but that they shouldn’t have to actually do a hard day’s work for it either.

By reading any Bret Easton Ellis novel or simply, just by typing in “Hollywood satire” on Netflix and watching whatever results come your way, you’ll know that Hollywood is an easy target to pick on. Though there are quite a few people who seem to be just normal, everyday human beings like you or I who just so happen to have the talent of emoting well for the cameras, the vast majority of Hollywood is filled with overly rich, famous, and snobby bastards. So it only makes sense that these people, and Hollywood in whole, would be the first ones to make fun of and poke at, even if you do do it in a dark way.

With Cronenberg’s brand of humor here, it’s less about making fun of the people in Hollywood, but more of the ideals that Hollywood spreads around. For example, a person’s need to feel culturally relevant and important is brought up many times here, which is funny, but it gets increasingly darker once you realize the lows some of these people will stoop to, only so that they can stay famous, if only for about 15 minutes or so. It’s funny how Cronenberg expresses this ideal in his movie, and it’s only made better by the fact that there’s hardly a likable character to be found in this.

Which is, yes, sometimes a little troubling to watch, but for the most part, it’s entertaining and fun, something I feel like Cronenberg’s forgot about in his past few movies. Here, he seems to be reveling in digging into these celebrities’ lives and figuring out what makes them tick, think the way they do, and have the need to be famous. Sure, sometimes these characters are a bit cartoonish, but that doesn’t bother Cronenberg or take him away from giving more depth to them and their stories; in fact, it’s probably best that we don’t find anything to relate to with these characters, because that in and of itself would be pretty horrifying.

If there was a few problems I had with this movie, it was whenever Cronenberg decided that he absolutely needed to throw in the “ghost” angle of this story. Not only did it feel unneeded, but it got real old, real quick. Seeing somebody getting spooked out by a ghost-like figure, especially when you know it’s just that, a ghost, is not at all scary. It’s just boring, monotonous, and cheap, especially considering how much good stuff Cronenberg had going for his movie as was. To add anything else would just be too much, or too tiresome to us, the audience. It’s best if we just take a closer look at these characters in a way to make ourselves feel a bit happier about the lives we live.

Now, with that being said, the characters in this movie aren’t very deep or thought-provoking, but it works because that’s sort of the point. These people in Hollywood are vain, egotistical a-holes that don’t give two shits about regular folk like you or I – they just want to get the big bucks, to have the lights constantly flashing in their faces, and to have sex with the hottest people they can find. Anything else is either of no interest to them, or simply put, just nothing they want to pursue in life.

And most of the reason why these characters work as well as they do, even though they aren’t fully supposed to, is because the cast is so capable of just going that extra mile and doing some neat, interesting things with them that, even with the slightest bit of detail, helps flesh them out a bit more.

Julianne Moore is probably the highlight of this movie because she’s doing some interesting, neat stuff here that we haven’t seen her do many times before. It’s pretty much known common knowledge now that if you put Julianne Moore in your movie, she’s going to do a fine job and give it her all. I have nothing wrong with that, or even her performances, but there is a part of me that feels as if her performances range from being “very dramatic” to “light dramatic”. She’s not unengaging by any means, but to put it nice, she’s a bit boring with some her choices, even if she finds ways to make them the slightest bit interesting.

Here though, we finally get to see Moore play around with this Lindsay Lohan-like character, Havana Segrand, who may be a total stuck-up bitch, but is also an actress that’s trying her damn near hardest to stay alive and well in this terrible place called Hollywood. It doesn’t make her wholly sympathetic, but it at least does a little something for her, so that when we see the gratuitous, high-living life she’s living, it makes us wish she’d just get her act together and do the right thing, even if we already know that’s not quite possible. It’s also fun to see Moore tackle a character that’s pretty stupid and doesn’t always know what she’s going to say next, and it makes me wish we’d see more of that from her.

When in doubt, meditate.

When in doubt, meditate.

Once again, not saying Moore’s a bad actress, but just not a totally versatile one. But I hope that begins to change more and more, even as she gets older and older (though honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to even tell how old she is by the way she looks).

Another one here in this cast that’s doing a little something different from what we’ve seen him do in quite some time is John Cusack as this weird TV psychiatrist that gets by solely on giving people fake advice from his fake degree. Cusack’s an odd choice for this kind of role, but he does well enough with it, that I didn’t really care his character didn’t get much development. In fact, I’d say it’s his wife, played by Olivia Williams, who gets the most development and actually ends up being one of the more sympathetic characters of this piece by showing her as a woman who cares for her son’s own well-being, yet, still can’t seem to get away from the fact that she wants money. And a whole lot of it, too.

And speaking of that son, the real stand-out here is him, played by Evan Bird. Though I don’t know Bird’s actual age, I’m still impressed by how good he was in this movie. Though there’s a few awkward line-deliveries here and there, overall, Bird gets by on making this Benjie character a total and complete dick, yet, still shows us that he’s a little kid who wants to live a normal life. The kid’s still a little prick to just about everyone around him, and they are quite easily the best scenes in the whole movie, but there’s that feeling that he still has the chance to live his life the way he wants to that makes his character a tad bit more sympathetic. Even though it’s so obvious who he’s being written as.

Then again though, that’s Hollywood, people.

Consensus: Like with most of Cronenberg’s flicks, Maps to the Stars is a very dark tale about some unlikable individuals, but with a slight twist in that’s entertaining to watch and actually funny.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Kid with gun. How could this turn out bad?

Kid with gun. How could this turn out bad?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Rosewater (2014)

Can’t trust that Jon Stewart. Now, that Stephen Colbert is a whole lot more reliable.

In 2009, London-based Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) took to the streets of Iraq to cover the 2009–10 Iranian election and, as a result, the riots that soon occurred afterwards as well. It was a simple task that was going to gain him and his pregnant wife some more money, and also opened his eyes to what the hell was really out there happening on the streets that he didn’t usually get a chance to see in most Western media-outlets. But after Bahari does a tongue-in-cheek interview with the Daily Show, the Iraq government gets a little suspicious and detains Bahari to question him about his stay on their home turf. Basically, they believe Bahari to be an American spy, and although Bahari obviously isn’t, his captors still have a job to do and need to get any confession out of him that they possibly can. This means that Bahari goes through plenty of psychological trauma, both mental and physical torture, solitary confinement, time spent with blind-folds on, and also, time spent alone, literally talking to no one except for his own-self, or even the imaginary-friends he makes up in his own head. But still, Bahari feels the need and desire to stay alive and sure as hell won’t let somebody stop him from doing so, even if he does run a little too close to risking his own life in the process.

That footage better not turn out shaky!

That footage better not turn out shaky!

It’s pretty interesting that such a well-known comedian/celebrity such as Jon Stewart would not only abandon his post on the Daily Show for nearly a whole summer, just to make a movie, but to make a movie that isn’t what we tend to expect from most actors who decide to get behind the screen for the first times in their careers. See, with most directorial debuts from actors who are already well-established, they don’t always get the big budget they want, or think they deserve, so therefore, their scope is a bit limited. Meaning, they usually like to keep things as small, simple, and as pain-free as possible, with the hopes of, if everything goes by smoothly on the first try, then their sophomore go-ahead will be what it is that they want to do, with nearly as much money as they need to make their wildest, most ambitious dreams possible.

But the strange thing with Rosewater, isn’t that Stewart seems very ambitious with the material he chooses direct, but that he’s sort of the main reason for why this story was even made possible to begin with. Many people always ask when they certain movies, “Why was this story even told to us? And better yet, why was it adapted to the big screen?” And to be honest, there usually isn’t any other answer except for, “Well, just because. duh,” but for Stewart, it’s obvious what his motivations were behind bringing this story to the big screen and why he felt it was necessary to tell it to begin with: He feels a slightly bit guilty about it all.

Sure, you could also say that he wants to focus on what’s really going on everyday on the wild streets of Iran, but that aspect of the film’s story isn’t nearly as established as Bahari’s time inside solitary confinement is, which actually brings a huge problem to this movie: It’s quite boring.

And yes, I know that this may sound like a stupid complaint for a movie that clearly doesn’t hid behind the fact that it’s about a dude who nearly spent 118 days in solitary confinement and getting constantly hammered with useless questions about whether or not he’s a special informant for the U.S., but Stewart makes the bad choice of showing us that he can spice this story up in any way possible. We get flashbacks, imaginary-friends, a small view of what’s happening outside of Bahari’s captivity, and even tiny bits of development for Bahari’s main interrogator; but hardly any of it’s actually interesting, or better yet, brings any excitement to this tale to begin with. I can definitely give Stewart credit for trying, but when your main objective is to tell a story, and to do so in the most exciting, most entertaining way possible, and you can’t appear to do that, unless it being incredibly manipulative, then I’m a bit sorry, you’ve disappointed me.

But still, Stewart makes some interesting choices here and there and allows for the movie to, at certain points at least, be funny. There’s a moment in this flick in which we get to see Bahari actually stand up for himself and turn the tables on his captors in, not only a funny manner, but an effective way, too. Bahari begins to dress up his lies as truth, and therefore, the captors can’t help but feel uncomfortable, while also slightly interested in everything Bahari tells them. This sequence, as small as it may be, is one of the key instances in which it’s clear that Stewart utilizes some of his comedic-talent to allow this material to pop-off the screen and really grab a hold of our minds, but it’s also another instance in which this movie held so much promise, yet, fell by the waist side of not really having a clear focus at all.

If anything, I also have to give a lot of credit to Gael García Bernal who, despite being Mexican, actually does a nice job as the Iranian, Maziar Bahari. Though, when you put him against fellow Iranian characters who are in fact played by Iranian actors, he does look a little bit out of place, Bernal is still a capable enough actor to have us see past this obvious problem and just remember that this is a guy we’re supposed to keep on rooting for, even if we don’t know exactly why. He’s just another guy who gets thrown into a shitty situation that so many others get thrown into as well, but the difference here is that he’s got a wife, and a baby on the way. It’s corny, but it works, if only because Bernal digs deep into who this guy is, and why at all he matters to us.

"I said, 'no blinking'!"

“I said, ‘no blinking’!”

We know why he matters to Stewart, but to us, the audience, it’s key that we at least feel some sympathy for the guy.

And although Bernal’s Bahari is the one we’re supposed to obviously be interested by the most, it’s still hard to not want to know more about his captor, either. Kim Bodnia, another non-Iranian actor playing an Iranian, does a fine a job as Bahari’s main captor (his nickname was the movie’s title, all because Bahari couldn’t identify him by anything else, other than the smell of his fresh-to-death cologne), and gives us a glimpse into the soul of a guy who may be more than what he appears to be. Sure, he has a pretty brutal job that he goes through with, day in and day out, without hardly any objections, but there’s a slight idea we get to see in which we realize that maybe he doesn’t like his savage job as much as he appears to be, and is only being a brutal d-bag, because that’s what his boss from up top tells him to be. It’s all very interesting and, had there been a better movie to work with here, I feel like Bodnia would have absolutely ran wild with this character and gave us plenty to talk about, but thus, we don’t.

Just another instance of disappointment. Interesting disappointment, but disappointment nonetheless.

Consensus: Though Jon Stewart shows plenty of promise behind the camera with Rosewater, it’s still a messy movie that doesn’t always hit the marks that it should, but gets by on a few interesting notes, if only mildly so.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

I hate being late for class, too.

I hate being late for class, too.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Science isn’t cool, but you make lots of money. So there is that.

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a 13-year-old engineering prodigy who gets by solely on making money fighting in illegal, robot-fighting leagues. Though this is obviously a total waste of his talents, he doesn’t care because he’s a kid. Meaning, he’s lazy, stubborn, and does whatever the hell he wants; that’s even if those around him, including his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) knows it so and tries to urge him to change his ways before it’s too late. Eventually though, the older-bro knocks some sense into him and wouldn’t you know it, Hiro creates a robot that’s able to build itself into anything you tell it to. Hiro plans to unveil this master project at a local science-fair which, if he wins, gives him free admission into the university that his older brother went to and excelled at. However, that all changes when an evil, nefarious baddie blows up the fair, solely to just take Hiro’s invention and use it for his own good. But during the process of the explosion, Tadashi also perishes, leaving Hiro with plenty of grief in his life and no inspiration to carry him any further with his project.

Where's this at whenever I'm drunk?!?

Where’s this at whenever I’m drunk?!?

That’s all until he meets his Tadashi’s creation that he left behind: A large, rather tubby inflatable robot by the name Baymax (Scott Adsit), who’s sole purpose is to heal those around him. And trust me, though he may not seem like much, Baymax deserves his own paragraph because he single-handedly makes this movie worth watching. That’s not to say there’s nothing else to see with this movie, but whenever Baymax is around, taking everything every character says literally, and just being an all around lovable tub of balloon, Big Hero 6 really hits the marks it sets out to knock on in the first half-hour.

But, when he isn’t around, the movie slightly falters. Then again, though, it doesn’t totally take away from the movie because, once again, Disney has created itself a wonderful little piece of animation that is, in every sense of the word, beautiful. It’s light, colorful, and most of all, fun to look at. Though the movie is set in the fictional, futuristic-city of San Fransokyo, it feels and looks like it could have taken place on the actual streets of San Fransisco, but in the China Town part that is. While saying a Disney animated flick is pretty, isn’t necessarily anything new or groundbreaking, it still deserves to be said because so many animated pieces out there don’t have nearly as big of an imaginative mind as this movie does with its vision, and it’s absolute pleasure to watch.

That said, however, the rest of the movie isn’t nearly as up-to-par. Most of this has to do with the fact that, yes, us, the audience, have been so spoiled by such Disney classics as Up, Toy Story 3, Wreck-it Ralph, and even last year’s Monsters University, that whenever something doesn’t quite hit the emotional-mark that those set out to hit and succeeded at actually nailing, it feels like a bit of a disappointment. Not to say that Big Hero 6 is the lesser of these animated movies, but it’s quite obvious that it does have to grasp at some straws to really create lumps in our throats, whereas with those movies, it seemed somewhat effortless; almost as if they knew the legions of audience members would be entering them, for the sole sake of crying their eyes out.

Once again though, it all comes down to this simple question: Is Big Hero 6 enjoyable?

Well, yes it is. So long so as you’re not expecting it to break any new ground with the animated-form. It’s just bright, chirpy, fun, and heartfelt enough to win over any audience-member who goes in, already expecting to hate it because it’s either, a) not like the old days of animation where people actually drew their cartoons, or b) because it’s made for kids. And while I definitely agree with that later sentiment, not all of Big Hero 6 is meant to just appeal to kids and everybody else be damned; it’s meant to be watched and entertained by all, which is exactly what it works as.

Can’t say nothing more, and I can’t say nothing less.

So, I’ll just continue on talking about Baymax and how great of a character he is, because honestly, there’s something special here about this character that I wasn’t expecting. For instance, just look at how simple his design is – he’s nothing more than a bug chunk of white, with two black circles connected by a black line, and yet, he’s the most emotive character of the whole piece. In fact, his design is so simplistic, it’s practically a downright crime because of how much time and effort these other animation creators put into their characters, in hopes of giving them a chance to jump off the screen, be seen as iconic, and loved for years and years to come.

Like Mega-man, except huge and a lot more cuddly.

Like Mega-man, except huge and a lot more cuddly.

However, with the creators of Big Hero 6, they set out to make Baymax as simple as humanly possible, and it totally works. Not just for the character, but for the movie itself, although I definitely want to sent out much respect to Scott Adsit who channels Baymax’s kindly sweet voice so well, that when he does start to feel some sort of emotion, you can tell by the certain pitch in his voice. In fact, if there was ever a moment I came close to crying, it was during a few scenes with Baymax and his way of showing love and admiration for those around him.

If only there were more robots like him. And I’m not just talking about in movies, I’m talking about in real life, folks.

As for the rest of the voice cast, everybody’s fine and pretty much all do what they are told to do: Add some life to these already animated characters. Ryan Potter is chock full of spunk as the angst-fueled Hiro; Daniel Henney seems like a sweet guy as Tadashi, although I was a bit skeptical of him speaking in some broken form of English, whereas his little bro, Hiro, was speaking it perfectly as like you or I; and of course, T.J. Miller is here as Fred, a stoner who just hangs around the science geeks all day, everyday, and is practically the comedic-relief of the movie.

That is, whenever Baymax isn’t around to steal the show from him. Because nobody does such a thing.

Consensus: In terms of what we’ve seen recently from the world of animation, Big Hero 6 doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t need to either, considering it’s fun, light, sweet, and overall, worthy of letting the whole family see.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

This is all I need. Seriously.

This is all I need. Seriously.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Homesman (2014)

The old west was kind of creepy.

Single, middle-aged women living all by her lonesome, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), is looking to make something of a name for herself, so when she hears about the opportunity to take three town’s crazy women all the way to Iowa, for something of a rehabilitation, she jumps right on it, even though most people don’t think it’s a job most suited for a woman. But that doesn’t faze Mary Bee, so she decides to travel to Iowa anyway! While on the trip though, she encounters a man by the name of George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), who was tied-up, hung, and left for dead by a group of men. She doesn’t know whether or not to trust him, but rather than just leaving him there, she decides to take him in under her wing and the two kind of work together. However, as the trip continues on, there begins to become more and more problems for the both of them, some that are near-deadly and life-changing.

Westerns can sometimes be incredibly hit-or-miss. Sometimes, they can be fun, exciting, bloody, brutal, and altogether, a meaningful tale that could have literally been in any other genre of film, yet, isn’t, which makes it all the more important of a film to watch. Then again though, they can sometimes be incredibly slow, boring, and not at all interesting, except if you like horses a lot. There’s hardly any in between with the genre; either you’re very good, or you’re just a downright snoozer.

"It's alright, honey. Nobody's gonna mess with the girl from Million Dollar Baby."

“It’s alright, honey. Nobody’s gonna mess with the girl from Million Dollar Baby.”

But that changes a bit with the Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’ second time behind the director’s chair, who does something neat with the genre that I haven’t seen in a long while.

For example, take the story itself, the fact that it’s main protagonist is a woman, is definitely shocking and new, but the fact that she isn’t one of these rough and rugged women who want to be just like the rest of the men, is all the more refreshing. But to make matters even better, she’s one of these strong, independent women who doesn’t want to be looked at in a judgmental, or demeaning way; she just wants to be treated like your or I. With that said, she also has the same feelings as you or I, and doesn’t want to be looked down upon for that reason, either.

In a way, Mary Bee Cuddy is the type of strong, free-thinking woman that the western genre has been waiting for all its life, and it’s only made better by the fact that Hilary Swank is quite good in the role, too. It’s been a long time since the last time we see Swank in something worth watching (or simply, something in general), and her performance here makes me wonder why that is. She’s always been a talented gal and one that’s made sure people know she’s willing to test her limitations as an actress. And even though this may not be the most demanding role of her career, it’s still a strong one that allows her to dig deeper and deeper into the psychosis of this Mary Bee Cuddy girl and show us that, underneath all of the brooding and tough love she presents on the outer-surface, she’s just a woman who wants to be loved, have a family, and be happy for the rest of her days.

On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones plays something of a down-and-out bastard with George Briggs, and it’s not just a funny role, but a rich one that Jones works well with. Jones has played slime balls before, but this one’s different in that he feels like he’s a genuinely good guy when he’s given the right amount of inspiration to do so. Jones digs deep with this character, too, but it’s the chemistry between him and Swank that’s really the heart and soul of this movie and keeps it moving, even when everything around it seems to sort of slow down and just take its good old time.

Speaking of which, the movie may get a tad slow at times, but it was hardly ever boring for me. Super insane, for sure, but boring? Definitely not. Most of that is thanks to Jones’ insistence on never allowing this material to get as strange as you could imagine it getting. I’d sit back here and spoil every instance of weird occurrence, but to do so would be a total crime on my part and probably rob most of you of a movie that definitely deserves to be seen, wanting the best, but expecting the worst.

Round 1! FIGHT!

Round 1! FIGHT!

Because seriously, random characters will pop up, act strange, and then something even more wild will happen moments later. But the movie never over-does it in a way that feels gratuitous or over-the-top. Okay, maybe definitely the later, but the former, totally not. The weird stuff that happens here, actually feels like it would happen in this part of the West and allows us to get a glimpse of a certain place in time, we don’t see too many movies about. Makes sense why, but the more westerns we get like this, I can assure you, the better.

However, at the end of the day, the movie is still disappointing, especially when it comes to Jones and his way of figuring out what to make of this story. Though he seems to take some sort of pleasure in exploring the craziest, darkest depths of this strange world he’s created, he never knows what to make of it. Though some may say that there doesn’t need to be a message here, the fact remains that there should be and it was a bad decision on Jones’ part not to make that clear enough to us.

Then again, he did offer plenty good, so I guess I can’t rain on his parade all that much, either. I’ll just take it for what it is, and that’s a weird fuckin’ movie.

Consensus: Strange and eerie, yet constantly interesting, the Homesman is a refreshing change-of-pace for the western genre, without ever trying too hard to be seen as such.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

In today's market, this would not be allowed.

In today’s market, this would not be allowed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

V/H/S: Viral (2014)

Does anybody ever put down a camera?!?

The third installment in the V/H/S franchise, but still same as the first, we find ourselves peering into a random bunch of stories shot in hand-held cameras. Some are cool, some are interesting, and some are just plain weird, but the fact remains, they are all shot as if they were found in a locked-cellar, for some unlucky individual to pick up and be a witness to. In this case, we, the audience, are those unlucky individuals.

While I know that’s a very small premise for me to give, there’s a reason behind it. For starters, there isn’t much of a plot here, except for some connecting story-line about a random dude on a bike chasing an ambulance that also just so happens to be causing all sorts of havoc and destruction around Los Angeles. But considering this is an anthology piece of sorts, I’ve decided to review it as I would like the other two: Paragraph-by-paragraph form, yo!

Most unoriginal Halloween costume, ever. What an idiot!

Most unoriginal Halloween costume, ever. What an idiot!

1. The leading story - While this is the main story we’re supposed to make sense of the most, considering that we’re seeing all of these strange videos for a reason, it’s pretty surprising how much of this story doesn’t make sense. For one, the gimmick of the video-footage itself being so damaged and choppy gets old real quick, especially when you haven’t got a single clue why it’s happening so damn much, and to make matters worse, there’s never a single clue given to us as to what the hell is exactly happening. We’re supposed to believe that this random dude on a bike is chasing after this ambulance so that he can save his girlfriend from something, but it’s never made understandable as to what sort of danger she’s being thrown into. It’s all so confusing and made worse by the fact that it begins and ends the same way: Puzzling.

2. Evil Magician story - Though this piece definitely offers some more bright and shiny moments, there’s still nothing here to really write home about. Apparently this famous magician gets a mysterious cloak one day to enhance his magician skills, and somehow, it has these evil powers attached to it, that inhabits the mind of whoever dares put it on. It’s a neat concept, sure, but the execution is just very meh. It feels almost like a copy of what Chronicle did, but less interesting and with way scattered-images, which makes it pretty mediocre. It has a solid finish, though, which only leads on for better things to come for the rest of the movie, so yeah, I guess there’s some sort of silver-lining to be found.

3. “Time Machine” story - By far, this may be the most memorable, best piece of the whole movie. What starts out as a simple tale of a guy using a time-machine, turns into something totally wacky, wild, crazy, and, well, fun. See, with some of these V/H/S segments, it’s always surprised me how little of them actually try to go out there and be just plain and simple fun. You’d think with the many horror movies out there that solely get by on this attribute, that so many others would follow, but for some reason, that doesn’t seem to happen, especially not in these movies. But thankfully, not only is this piece a pretty fun one, but it goes to a whole bunch of different places that you least expect it to, which is also another element these segments from this franchise had, but yet again, it’s hardly ever here. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a good scare here and there with these segments, but if you can’t deliver on that punch, then at least give me something else to hold onto.

Anyway, like I said before, it’s definitely the best piece of the whole movie and the less I say about it, probably the better. Not just for my own good as a respectful critic, but for your own viewing-pleasures, people!

4. Skater story - While this may not be the best piece of the whole movie, it’s still pretty damn fun, while also a bit freaky at certain points. Once again though, here’s another one I can’t talk too much about except for saying this: A bunch of teenage skater-bros go out to the middle of Mexico for the best skating spots, only to realize that some spooky stuff is going on right where they’re grinding, yo. Like the previous segment I just wrote about, this is another one that starts off relatively simple, if terribly annoying because these skater characters feel like they’ve jumped right out of a Larry Clark film, which is, I guess, effective enough, but soon turns for the stranger and it’s quite a fun ride. There’s plenty of blood, gore, beheadings, scares, and even a possible sign of a demon.

Great Scott!

Great Scott!

If that doesn’t tell you that these are all supposed to be horror movies, I don’t know what will.

But there you have it, folks, not all of the segments may be great, but as a whole, they make the latest installment of V/H/S into something worth checking out. However, for this franchise to get better, I think they need to really just allow for far more exciting, crazier segments. I’m all down and happy when it just wants to simply scare us, but if there aren’t any jolts to be had, just let things run wild. There’s no shame, nor foul in going completely over-the-top, because either way, it’s going to be interesting.

Then again, nobody’s reading this to begin with, so I guess it doesn’t matter what I say. Maybe I’ll just film myself next time…

Consensus: Fun, exciting, and unpredictable in certain spots, boring and unoriginal in others, V/H/S: Viral is another fine installment into this young franchise that shows it has room to grow and get better, but also still has plenty of life left in it, too.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Shut up, kid. No one cares.

Shut up, kid. No one cares.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Listen Up Philip (2014)

New York writers seem so much more hot-headed than Philly ones. Thanks heavens.

After his first novel got published, hit the shelves, and was read by millions upon millions of people, Philip (Jason Schwartzman) seemed to on top of his own little world; a world in which he was the greatest, most smartest person alive. However, years later, he’s struggling. Not just to get his second novel out there and avoid “the sophomore slump”, but with his personal life. See, Philip lives with his girlfriend of two years, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), who is supportive of his career and what he wants to do, although she can tell that he’s slipping away further and further into his own pretentious mind. This is when he meets the aging, once-hot writer by the name of Ike (Jonathan Pryce), and the two strike up something of a friendship; a friendship which the two don’t really expect to go as far as it does, but ultimately, self-serving in the way they treat their own respective egos. That proves to not just be a problem for Ashley, but also Ike’s daughter, Melanie (Krysten Ritter), who wants nearly as much, if not more, adoration from her father than Philip does.

Honestly, movies about the rich, slightly famous, and ever-pretentious lives of novelists’, just aren’t for me. Usually, it takes me about two minutes before I already want to break my TV, get on Twitter, and talk about how I hate people like the ones I just watched, and always promise to never turn into one day. It’s a promise I not only hope to keep to those around me, but myself as well.

Currently in the process of thinking of what negative comment about the meaning of life to say next.

Currently in the process of thinking of what negative comment about the meaning of life to say next.

But that’s exactly why Listen Up Philip works; though it portrays the lives of these artsy farsty, New York individuals exactly as you’d expect them to be, the movie also takes the piss out of those conventions as well.

For instance, take the main character of this film, Philip. See, while he’s insufferable, mean, cruel, and nasty to just about everyone he ever meets, the movie never really tries to make it abundantly clear that there lies a decent human being underneath. Sure, he may have the ability to love and make people happy, but mostly, it comes at his own expense and it only furthers the idea that Philip, though our main protagonist, as well as the one we’re supposed to be paying the most attention to, just isn’t a nice person and shouldn’t be viewed as such. Therefore, he also can’t really change, either. We’d like to think he can, but honestly, there’s only so far one can go until they are just viewed as annoying a-holes and they stay as such.

That said, the movie doesn’t apologize for Philip’s, or anybody else’s actions, either. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the real strength behind Listen Up Philip is that writer/director Alex Ross Perry doesn’t hold any punches back when it comes to showing us its characters, and allowing us to see them for all that they are. Like I said before in the case of Philip – while he may be a total pain in the ass, there’s still something inherently believable about him that it’s easy to find one’s self actually meeting this same kind of person on the streets of Manhattan. You’d probably regret meeting him in the first place, but the fact that you met someone like him, with the way he dresses, acts, or carries himself in casual conversations, makes the experience all the more raw and understandable.

Most of that has to do with the fact that Jason Schwartzman’s performance as Philip is very good, but it’s also because the writing is well-done, too. But it’s not just Philip who gets most of the love here, as most of this movie is a group-effort on every side of the spectrum. For instance, a bold move Perry decides to take is rather than just keeping his focus solely on Philip and Philip alone, we actually get to take some little adventures into these individual character’s lives. We not only get to see how their lives are possibly affected by Philip, but just exactly what they do to get by in this little existence that they call their lives.

Now, of course this means that some of these viewpoints are more interesting than others, but altogether, taken as a whole, they still do well for a film that could have easily fell on its affected face.

Woman with cat? Single.

Woman with cat? Single.

Probably the best subplot of the few we get, and possibly the best part of this movie, is Elizabeth Moss’ Ashley. If any of you’ve ever seen Moss as Peggy Olson, you’d know one thing is for sure: The girl can act. And while Moss isn’t doing anything quite different here as Ashley, except for the fact that she’s playing a character in modern-day America, she still knocks it out of the park as a gal who genuinely loves her boyfriend, but just doesn’t know how to handle her emotions well enough for him, so that when he does decide to get up and leave, she doesn’t get as destroyed as she expects to. There’s about 20 minutes of this movie solely dedicated to Moss and it’s compelling to watch. Not only did it make me wish we got more of her character and her side of the story, but maybe that we could have gotten a whole movie dedicated to her in general.

But while Moss’ Ashley is definitely the highlight of this movie, the downside is that the other two subplots in this movie don’t really hold up as well. For example, while Jonathan Pryce’s Ike character may be interesting on paper, doesn’t really bring much to the movie as a whole and only brings the energy away from a story that could literally go anywhere, at any given moment. Even worse is that while we do get plenty of scenes with her, Krysten Ritter’s Melanie is hardly featured nearly as much as everybody else and it’s a bit of a shame. Not just because Ritter’s a good actress (which she is), but because you can tell that maybe the movie would have been able to draw something interesting out of her character, but just didn’t give her the right time of day to do so.

In a way, when judging how it treats Ritter’s character, you could think of Listen Up Philip as Walter White. But that’s enough AMC original series’ references for now.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t always hit its mark, Listen Up Philip is still a funny, fresh, and sometimes realistic look inside the lives of a couple characters nobody would ever expect to like spending time with, yet, are somehow able to, when given the right amount of detail and development.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

One insufferable prick to the next. It's all in the facial-hair, people.

One insufferable prick to the next. It’s all in the facial-hair, people.

 

Laggies (2014)

I don’t wanna be told to grow up! Or get a job! Or get married! Or hate my life! Or, okay, it’s not all that bad, dammit!

28-year-old Megan (Keira Knightley) has come to realize that her life isn’t really going anywhere, but nor does she want it to. She’s happy staying with her high school sweetheart (Mark Webber), even if that means that they never get married; she doesn’t care about not really having her own job and just holding up signs for her dad (Jeff Garlin); and she especially doesn’t care about getting hitched and settling down like her best-friend (Ellie Kemper) has just done. But that all hits her head-on when she gets proposed to, finds her dad cheating on her mom, and has a few verbal-spars with her bestie. So, like what any other responsible, full-grown adult would do, Megan decides to run away and ends up hiding out with 17-year-old Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) who says it’s cool for her to chill out at her place, so long as so as her divorced dad (Sam Rockwell) doesn’t get in the way of the fun. But, sooner or later, he does, but here’s the strange thing: It doesn’t bother Megan. Which makes it easy for them to hit it off, which also causes a lot of problems for Megan and the life she’s trying to escape from, yet, has to confront sooner or later.

Basically, this whole premise could be simplified down to being, “growing up is hard to do”, and there’d be nothing wrong with that. Which yes, I know may bother some of those far more thought-provoking, complex individuals out there who want a little bit more meat on their one, but for someone such as myself who just goes to the movies to have a good time, be interested in what I see, believe it all, and most of all, learn a lesson or two in the process, it’s time well-spent.

"Just make sure that you don't get stuck doing pirate movies. Especially not the ones where the lead pretends to be Keith Richards!"

“Just make sure that you don’t get stuck doing pirate movies. Especially not the ones where the lead pretends to be Keith Richards!”

And that’s exactly what Laggies is: Well-time spent. Don’t expect anything else, and you won’t get anything less.

That said, being that this is in fact a film from Lynn Shelton (she’s directing a script from Andrea Seigel), who, in recent years, we’ve all come to know as a very interesting indie director who takes something which looks, on paper, obvious, simple and almost too contrived for its own good, and turns it on its head and makes you expect the absolute unexpected, I can’t help but feel a tad disappointed that this isn’t as deep as I feel it could have gone. Not saying I would have wanted something as deliberately as cloying as Touchy Feely, but maybe something refreshing and breezy along the lines of Your Sister’s Sister, would have been a bit better. But the fact remains, we have a Lynn Shelton movie here on our hands and it’s a lot more polished than we’ve seen her do before.

So, with that, she’s dropped the hand-held cameras, hidden away the natural-lighting, and even let somebody else take over script-writing duties for her, which gives us a slightly mainstream-ish movie. But not mainstream in that it’s going to sell-out loads and loads of crowds, but moreso in the way that Shelton’s name will probably be heard of and/or discussed more because of the larger-amount of people seeing this. Which I’m happy for and hopeful actually happens; Shelton’s been a favorite of mine for quite some time and if this is the movie that gets her name out there out there to some who aren’t already familiar with her enough, then yeah, I’m all down for her “selling out”.

I just hope that she doesn’t make a habit of it.

Anyway, Shelton’s film may not be as deep as some may want it to be, but that’s okay; it’s still pleasant, funny, and smart in the ways that it presents these as-old-as-time coming-of-age themes, and spins them in a way to make them slightly refreshing. Not saying that I didn’t expect our main protagonist to learn some valuable life-lessons about being responsible, growing up, or keeping one’s promises, but the way in which the film presents these small moments, are well-done and surprised me on a few occasions. It’s totally predictable and conventional-as-hell, but if anything, Laggies proves that you can get by those problems by just putting a smile on, wearing your heart on your sleeve, and just trying to laugh it all off.

In fact, that’s exactly how I felt Keira Knightley’s character Megan was: Funny, ditsy, and immature to a fault, while also not caring about what happens to her life next, so long as she doesn’t have to grow up. And while, to some, this may not seem like the kind of character Knightley excels in (with an American accent, no less), it’s a role that actually works for her and her bright, bubbly screen-persona that sometimes shows in movies, yet, has never been utilized as perfectly as it is here. Because while it may have been easy for us to dislike a character as irresponsible and as narrow-minded as Megan, there’s still a feeling that we want to be like her; not care about getting old, or having to conform to certain ideas about being an adult. Yet, the movie never fully sympathizes with her, her actions, or how she can sometimes do certain things that hurt others around her. For that, we care more about her, and whether or not she does actually “grow up” at the end.

Swag doe.

Swag doe.

Same goes for Chloe Grace Moretz’s character, although she’s a bit more standard in that she’s another one of those wild child teenagers that’s sassy, rebellious, and chock full of angst. Not saying Moretz doesn’t do well in this role, because she totally does, it’s just not as rich as I think it could have been (with the exception of an angle the movie throws on us about the character’s not-present mother). But thankfully, to pick up all the pieces is Sam Rockwell who, as usual, is playing his cocky, fast-witted, and constantly lovable-self. Except this time, there’s a bit of a twist on this kind of character: He’s a daddy, with responsibilities. Still though, it’s a role that sees Rockwell using his lovely screen-presence to brighten the mood of any scene and, in ways, even add another heft of dramatic-weight to a scene that’s already full of it. He’s just that talented of an actor that no matter what he does or shows up in, he always makes better.

Please don’t stop doing what you’re doing, Sam. You’re too good at it.

Consensus: Predictable and obvious to a fault, Laggies mostly gets by on its lovely cast, pleasant feel, and relateable themes about growing up, making the right choices when you’re called on to do so, and sometimes, making sure you put somebody else before yourself.

7 / 10 = Rental!! 

Don't worry, Keira. You look great in no matter what you wear.

Don’t worry, Keira. You look great in no matter what you wear.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Good Lie (2014)

Guess what, white people? Not everybody needs your help!

Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) are four Sudanese refugees who, after having left their homes in 1988 and spent 13 years living in a refugee camp together and bonding. But now, it’s the year 2001 and they are finally ready to come to America, “the Land of Opportunity”. Upon arrival though, they already have some issues in which Mamere gets misplaced with another family, from another town, leaving the rest of the three to feel slightly disjointed. However, they know that it is their time to make up and do what they can to survive in America’s society and common day workplace. This is why they believe Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), an American employment counselor, is their own version of an angel, even though she doesn’t want to ever think of herself in that way, ever. But once the fellas get acquainted their living-quarters, their jobs, and just how everything works in America, they start to realize that maybe this isn’t all that they wanted in life. Or maybe it is, they just don’t know how to get by the problems they faced when they were younger.

Yes, while everything about this movie shouts “GLAMORIZED, HOLLYWOOD-VERSION OF REAL-LIFE TRAGEDIES”, there’s something surprising here in that it’s not fully what you expect. While it may be a PG-13 movie that, most of the time, glosses over certain, painful hardships that its subjects were victims of, something here about the Good Lie still hit harder than I expected to. Better yet, more than I wanted it to.

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

And I think this is because Philippe Falardeau spends most of his time focusing on our three main protagonists: Jeremiah, Paul, and Abital. See, it would have been totally easy for this movie to just make it all about the rich, better-off white people coming in to save the day whenever these fellas ran into a little bit of trouble, but it’s usually not like that. Now, that’s not to say that the movie doesn’t try to hit us over the head just a bit with the white guilt idea that there’s always Caucasian right around the corner to help out any black individual in need, but it’s not over-done.

More or less, it’s done in a way that makes it seem reasonable; these three characters are coming into America, so obviously, they would need at least some assistance in getting their feet on the ground. Meaning, they’d need jobs, a place to live, some guidance in how different the cultures are, and just how exactly to survive in the wacky and wild place that is America, the land of opportunity. So yeah, though we get plenty of instances in which we spend more time getting to know about Reese Witherspoon’s, or Corey Stoll’s service-worker characters, it’s not done in a way to take the spotlight off of those who matter the most.

But anyways, I digress.

Back to what I was saying about the three main characters here, they are the ones who deserve the most attention here, seeing as how this is not only their story, but they are also the real reasons why this movie works. In terms of how much this movie glosses over these character’s tragic, rather disturbing upbringing in Sudan, when the movie transports them to America and we see how they interact with everything and everyone around them, it’s interesting and rings a lot of truth. Sure, there’s plenty of silly fish-out-of-water scenarios in which these guys don’t know what a telephone is, or how it’s used, and there’s even a nice bit of product-placement for Pizza Hut, which are all played up for cheap laughs. Sometimes effective, but mostly cheap.

But when the movie steps away from this and focuses on how hard it is for these guys to maintain a hard-working, paying-job, whole also still holding on dearly to the morals they were brought up with and continue to believe in, no matter where they go. Because honestly, when you’re working and making money, it’s quite easy to lose a sense of who you really are; one second, you’re giving any bit of your nickels and dimes to homeless men/women on the street, but the next second, you could be trying your hardest to avoid them. It’s all a matter of the type of person you are and I think that’s what this movie addresses the most. Sure, it’s hard to keep a job in America as is, but keeping a job in America that clearly doesn’t always gel with what you fully believe in, now that is especially difficult.

However, like I’ve made a mention to before, the movie doesn’t continuously whack us over the noggin’, trying to get these thoughts into our heads – it just serves them up on a silver platter, asks us to gaze at them, and make up our own minds about what we want to do with them. We, the audience, can toss this off to being, yet again, another hokey piece of melodrama that’s profiting off of real-life tragedies. Or, we, the audience, can choose to see this movie for what it is and try our hardest to connect to what it’s saying, and who it’s speaking out for.

The choice is up to us, the audience. Not just in this case, but always.

Wipe those grins off your face, whites!

Wipe those grins off your faces, whites!

Anyway, I know I’m doing it again where I get further and further away from the review of this movie and more to my own wild ramblings, so I’ll just try to wrap things up. Before doing so, however, I’d like to speak about these three main characters once more, as they truly are the reasons why this movie works so well. Not just in the way they are written though, it’s mostly in due part to the acting by the trio of leads, most of whom don’t seem like they’ve ever had any prior-training to this. However, it totally works for the movie because it makes us seem like we’re watching real-life African guys come over to the U.S. and learning the steps as they go along.

That said, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal are all good in their roles, respectively, and you can tell that they have a nice bit of chemistry between the three of them that makes you believe in them; not just as their own respective characters, but as life-long friends who consider themselves “brothers”, especially after all that they’ve been through together. And though they don’t get much character-development other than “they are all kind-hearted spirits”, the movie doesn’t try to make them look perfect, either; one character especially goes down a dark path and while you can see it coming a mile away down the plot-line’s path, it still rings true enough that it works well enough to make you not just feel bad for these characters in particular, but for anybody who has ever had to cross over into America, just for a better life and opportunity.

If only more people had that opportunity in their lives.

Consensus: While most plot-archs are conventional, the Good Lie still doesn’t wholly give into the usual, Hollywood-ized version of events that are supposed to make all us white folk feel happy, and/or safe. There’s some sadness and heartbreak here, but most of all, there’s hope, and that’s what matters the most.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Pretty much how I look every time I visit Universal Studios.

Pretty much how I look every time I visit Universal Studios.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

John Wick (2014)

This is what happens when you take the blue pill.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is, seemingly, a simple man who lives a simple life. He has a wife (Bridget Moynahan); lives in a rather large, exquisite house, and always seems to have something to smile about. That is, until his wife tragically passes away and he’s left with nothing but a new life, a big house, a fine-ass car, and basically, nobody to spend time with. But, have no fear, because even though she’s long and gone by now, Mrs. Wick still finds ways to contact her hubby from the dead – but this time, it’s in the form of a small puppy. And Wick can’t say “no” to it and decides to just let the thing roam all around the house and be happy, just as his late wife would have wanted. That all changes though when a group of thugs break into Wick’s house, beat him to a bloody-pulp, steal his ride, and worst of all, kill that lovable pooch. As one would expect, Wick is pissed and starts on his path for revenge.

However, this time around, there’s a bit of a twist: John Wick’s a total and complete bad-ass who, for the past couple of years or so, has just settled down and tried to find a way from that old life of his.

And thus, folks, you have the movie’s synopsis, in a nutshell, no questions asked, no answers guaranteed. Now, with that all said, does it sound like the most conventional, run-of-the-mill action-thriller you’ve ever seen since the first Taken? Oh, you betcha! But sometimes, there’s a certain level of joy to be had in just knowing to expect right from the first glimpse of a trailer, or poster, or photo still, and being totally blind-sided by the fact that, yes, sometimes, movies can surprise the hell out of you by being more than just what they present.

Nature vs. nurture? Aw, who cares! Just kill 'em already, Wick!

Nature vs. nurture? Aw, who cares! Just kill ‘em already, Wick!

But that’s not necessarily the case with John Wick, nor is that much of a problem; though the story doesn’t really try to reach deep, or far down into its themes about grief, revenge, or the soulless killing of others, it doesn’t necessarily need to because everything else is working so well. By this, I mean mostly the action-sequences, most of which are exciting, brutal, stylized, and sometimes, so simply put together, that it’s almost refreshing to watch. Because even in the days of the crack-cam, even us the audience can get a bit annoyed by not knowing who is doing what to whom, where at, and what the hell else is going on around them. So many directors of action out there make this mistake (looking at you, Mr. Bay), but neither co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are one of them.

Which is not just great for us, the audience watching in our seats, eating our X-Large-sized popcorns, but also great for the rest of the movie because it constantly stays simple, easy, and most of all, fun. Yet, it never forgets that in order for it to fully work, not just as an action film, but as a gritty crime-thriller, it also has to add some tension to the proceedings, which is what happens here. A sequence that takes place all over a nightclub comes to my mind the most apparent; not just for being exciting and stylized, but because it literally felt like it could have gone anywhere, at any second. Though we know John Wick won’t die so early in the film (which is when this sequence takes place), there’s still a feeling going around that he could slip, fall, or not do something properly, and lose his life, therefore, allowing the baddies to prevail.

And then, presumably, sadness would ensue.

But nope, that doesn’t happen and for the rest of the movie, it’s still the same thrill-ride.

Although, I do hesitate to call this movie “great” (as so many critics have been quick to call it), only because I definitely do think there’s some problems with the movie, especially with its plot. There’s maybe, I don’t know, two, possibly three, different endings to this movie that were all satisfying in their own rights, yet, splashed together, feels off. It was almost as if Leitch and Stahelski weren’t confident in the numerous decisions they wrote out, so they decided to pick the best three, film them all, and then decide which one’s the best to go at the end of the film, and what other two will be left for the special features. Except, they decided to keep them all and see what happens.

And, predictably so, it doesn’t work and makes a rather lean, mean hour-and-a-half-movie, seem/feel a lot longer than it should.

However, the fact remains mighty high and clear: The movie’s fun. It’s hard to really have a problem against that when all you ever set out to do with your movie, is exactly the kind of result you get. So, in that aspect, yes, I’m willing to give the movie’s various endings a pass, but I will still not go so far as to call it, the movie John Wick, “great”. It’s still a great time at theaters, but please, don’t get so wrapped up in all the insanely positive press out there.

But, if there is anything to get wrapped up in, concerning the press that this movie’s getting, it’s that Keanu Reeves is back, baby! And this time, he doesn’t care whether he’s old, considered to be “past his prime”, eating all by himself on benches, or that nobody really calls him up anymore – he’s Keanu Reeves dammit, and the dude’s allowed to do what he wants. All that said, Reeves is fine here as Wick. Though people get on Reeeves’ case for his acting-skills (or, lack thereof), the guy has that inherent likability to the way he carries himself that’s hard to have a problem against, let alone despise. He’s just Keanu Reeves, plain and simple. Throw a gun on him, give him some kick-ass moves to perform, and a few cheesy one-liners here and there, and your movie’s fine. Meaning, I’m totally fine with Reeves staging a comeback, so long so as he realizes that his main strengths are in goofy action films such as these.

I'd murder 50 thugs for that little face. I mean, come on, just look at him!

I’d murder 50 thugs for that little face. I mean, come on, just look at him!

Anything more, may be pushing it a tad too much (looking at you, 47 Ronin).

Though Reeves definitely anchors this movie in his own way, the supporting cast definitely deserves some love and praise, mostly because they allow this movie’s sometimes strange script, just totally do the trick and play with its own universe. For instance, there’s an interesting little angle this movie’s story takes in that it gives us a glimpse into this underground world/society of criminals, where they all go to the same places to hang out, drink, sleep, eat, and basically, stand by each other’s rules to not conduct any sort of “business”. Though it’s weird, the movie plays it up so nicely that it’s easy to just fall in line with and accept, rather than be freaked-out by.

Another reason why it’s so easy to accept this angle for what it is, is because the cast of characters this movie has inhabit this little, under-seen world, is chock full of “you name it’s” – Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Michael Nyqvist, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick, Kevin Nash (yes, Big Daddy Diesel), Clarke Peters, David Patrick Kelly, and an always welcome Ian McShane, all show up, do their thing for as long as they are allowed to, leave their impressions on us, and move on. Probably how it’s best to approach the movie itself; expect to have fun and nothing but.

Move on.

Consensus: By sticking to its gun (literally and figuratively), John Wick is nothing more than what it presents to be seen as – a fun, exciting, if conventional crime-thriller, with a cast full of wild supporting characters, and of course, the always likable, Keanu Reeves.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?"

“Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Snowtown Murders (2012)

Single-mothers: Beware of the next person you take home to your children.

16 year-old Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is introduced to his mother’s new boy-toy, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), and looks up to him as a father-figure of sorts. And honestly, how could he not? The guy is charming, funny, cool, nice, always ready to make food for anybody. He also takes time out of his day to go around and kill people that he believes to be homosexuals, or just general wastes of life. Oh yeah, forgot about that little detail.

As you can see, all of this sounds like your ordinary, serial-killer thriller that shows violence at its most gruesome and doesn’t care whether or not you want to look at it. In a way, that is what we get here, but what makes it more than just another thriller, is the fact that it’s all real. Yep, that’s right, two evil son-of-a-bitches like James Vlassakis and John Bunting are actually real-life people, who did kill over eleven people, and are still serving life-sentences for their wrongdoings. Most of you may be happy to hear about that, considering a story about two serial-killers that are still on the loose will have you scared out of your mind, but don’t forget people: They killed 11 innocent people and made no apologies for it. If you go in with this mind-set you’ll know exactly what to expect from this excruciating Debby-downer.

Director Justin Kurzel has a couple of nice touches with this subject by giving it a deliberate-pace that makes you feel like you are in for one big, wild depression-ride that probably won’t ever feature a light at the end of the tunnel. Nor should it. It’s a brutal, hard-hitting tale about two very messed-up individuals. There were moments where I wish Kurzel did pan the camera away from some of the horrific torture situations, but it wasn’t like he was channeling Eli Roth and showing his fascination/love with all of this human-inflicted pain; he was just simply showing just how sick and twisted these guys were. This approach really did a number on me as there were plenty of moments I felt were hard as hell to watch.

Just another young boy.....

Just another young boy…..

Then again, it’s all done on purpose.

Though you already get the gist of what this movie is going for and trying to portray, there’s a lot of other moments to this story that hit hard and make me realize what was really brewing underneath all of these terrible acts of murder. What I mean by that, is how this kid Jamie never seemed like ever got the right shot in life to actually get away from this new way of living. Granted, the kid could have easily said “no”, and then walked away as soon as he saw good old Johnny boy hangin’ over a dead body with a hammer, but for him, it almost seems like he had no other choice.

This is where the film may get really tough for some to watch because you feel for this kid; you realize his life is as terrible as he realizes it, and you see how he desperately wants to be away from John and all of this killing, but can never muster up the gall to actually do so. Just to see this kid Jamie, go back-and-forth in his mind about whether or not he wants to kill this next person, is as tense as you’re going to get with the rest of this flick and it really hit me in the stomach every time this kid decided to go through with it. I can’t really say that I was on this kid’s side the whole entire time, because he really did help kill half of the people, but there’s something about him that just made me feel sad for him and just knew he could do the right thing. In a way, he does when it’s all said and done, but in another way, not really and that’s probably the hardest pill to swallow of this whole flick.

But as close as this movie comes to making a point about the mind of a serial-killer and what exactly goes through it, the movie mostly falls apart. Not saying that it gets messy or anything, but it doesn’t seem to bring much to the table, or even allow us to chew on something more than what we see. Which, to some, may be fine, but when all you’re watching for two hours is innocent people being murdered, in heinous, sadistic ways, it’s a little hard to not want something more. It could have been a small piece of character insight here, or another piece there – anything would have helped.

...and another younish man.

…and another younish man.

Despite this problem, the cast is very good and at least helps us get past some of the harsh, disturbing acts portrayed on the screen. Notice how I said “some”. Lucas Pittaway plays our main character Jamie, and gets to do a lot, without saying much at all. But what’s most impressive about his performance is that he’s willing to show us darker aspects to his character, without ever making it seem too obvious. A certain way in how he walks, talks, or even looks at a person, can mean so much in that he’s losing more and more of his sanity as he speaks. It’s quite frightening and especially impressive since he gets called on to do a whole lot.

Daniel Henshall is creepy as can be as John Bunting, the sterling, cold-stone killer he was known to be. What surprised me the most about Bunting and his character was how the guy didn’t really seem like he was going to make much of a difference in the story at all, but after awhile, starts to get more and more involved with what’s happening in Jamie’s life and you start to see a darker side come out of him then you generally expect. Then, once Bunting’s darker aspects come out for the world to see, it’s incredibly scary, because this guy seems genuinely crazy. He’s a killer, who just wants to do that, and not much else. Henshall portrays this deep, dark descent into madness very well and shows that it doesn’t matter how charming, nice, or suave a person can be when they’re around people – there’s always a small layer of darkness lying somewhere underneath.

Always something to smile about, folks.

Consensus: Maybe not for everyone, the Snowtown Murders is grueling, disturbing, and most of all, effective in portraying the lives of two infamous serial-killers, while hardly ever pulling back from showing us full-on displays of what these two men did to their victims.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, how much I have mislead you all.

Oh, how much I have mislead you all.

Photos Courtesy of: CTCMR.com

The Crow (1994)

Just wait till Kurt wakes up from his sleep. There’s gonna be some hell to pay.

Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) was a young, hip, cool, and happy dude that lived his life to the fullest with his fiancée and the local kid that they would watch over from time to time. However one night changes all that when a band of thugs stroll in, kill him, and rape and murder his girl. Fast forward to a year later, on the same night, Eric resurrects from the dead only to get revenge on the people who caused his death in the first place, as well as the powerful kingpin who may have been behind it all along (Michael Wincott).

I don’t think I’m sharing any shocking news to anybody out there reading this, but as you know, the leading star of The Crow, Brandon Lee, son of Bruce, tragically died on the morning of March 31, 1993, because of a gunshot wound that was supposed to be a dummy bullet, but was instead a very, very real one. It’s news that I don’t think is necessarily “new”, but it’s something you should definitely know about before seeing this flick as it puts a darker spin on a movie that, hell, was already pretty dark to begin with. But being a film-viewer and one that acknowledges tragedy and what could have been, I will admit that it’s very sad to see something as upsetting as a wrongful death happen to a star that seemed to have so much promise going for him.

What’s even sadder however, is how damn ironic this flick is, especially when you know that Brandon Lee is dead and is in fact, playing a dead guy who comes back alive, only to ponder the questions of living life, being dead, and the after-life.

"Hahahaha! I laugh at you soft, PG-rated superhero movies!"

“Hahahaha! I laugh at you soft, PG-rated superhero movies!”

Yup, it gets pretty shaky at times when you look at this movie in hindsight, but there’s something about this movie that still stays cool and fun. That’s all thanks to director Alex Proyas who, as you could probably tell from the first shot of this movie, had a background in music videos prior to this. Proyas gives us a style that’s as unrelenting and seedy as the underworld it takes place in and around, while also speeding things up when we need it to. There’s a certain sense of energy and quickness in the tone of this movie, but it’s also very somber and it never lets you forget that, no matter how crazy the story may turn out to be with it’s ghosts and all.

That’s why a movie like this would usually scare the hell out of audiences by having them think it’s “uncool” to see something as goth and evil as this, but the movie walks a fine line between being strictly for the geeks, as well as for the action-audience as well. It’s a fine line that they cross a couple of times when it decides to get a bit in too over it’s head with all the questions and thoughts about remorse, death, and how we all approach grief, but still kept me intrigued. I’ve probably watched this movie about three or four times by now, and it’s only gotten better for me once I realized that there was more to this direction than I’ve ever noticed before. Proyas is a flashy guy, but he never loses his sense of wonder and allowing people to join in on that wonder and look around for a bit if they like. I looked around, and I liked what I saw, for the most part.

What I didn’t like when I looked around is the story itself which, if you take into consideration what it’s really about, is pretty weak in trying to convey emotions. Without sounding too harsh, if it wasn’t for the real life fact that Lee died, the story probably wouldn’t have been as emotional and hit harder, because it’s pretty standard stuff. Dude wakes up from death; dude wants revenge; and dude his revenge in the bloodiest, most unabashed ways possible. So standard, that when the movie tries to get us to feel anything, anything at all, it loses complete control of what it’s really about and brings into question whether or not this movie had a second-agenda to itself, or is it really just trying to be a darker, R-rated version of a superhero movie that gets the baddies, exactly where it hurts? The answers never really come, because the movie never knows what it wants to be, but at least stayed interesting because Proyas gives us so much eye candy to taste on.

And also the real-life fact that Lee died.

Okay! I’m just saying!

While I’m on the subject of Lee, the dude does fine as Eric Draven, but it’s honestly not something I’ll remember for the rest of my days and wonder “what could have been?” It’s more or less a performance that is amazing when it comes to the physical attributes of it and what he had to do in order to kick ass and make it look realistic, but when it comes to giving this character a heart or a soul (I’m guessing that’s a pun), Lee doesn’t really seem to hit his mark. He shows joy and wonder in messing with the dudes he’s set out to get, but everything else, whether it be to emote or show some sort of heartfelt feeling in the pit of his head, he seems like he’s trying a bit too hard, or isn’t trying at all. It’s a shame too, because I feel like Lee would have gotten better and better as time went along and he had more roles come his way, but for what he left us on, I can’t say I was colored impress. I was saddened to not see more of him, but life will go on and I’ll probably think about him, his life, or what could have happened to his career, less and less as the days go by. That’s not me being mean, that’s just me telling it like it is.

Since it's the dirty and dark streets of Detroit, I guess hair-trimming is out of the question?

Since it’s the dirty and dark streets of Detroit, I guess hair-trimming is out of the question?

Despite Lee not being the electrifying-presence the movie may have needed to really tune itself up, the supporters are energetic and fun to watch, even if the movie seems more concerned with Lee and Proyas’ style. Michael Wincott is a bunch of fun to watch as the main baddie of them all who shows that he always has the upper-hand on everybody, whether it be because of his control of the city, or because of the skills he has to kill people in most unexpected ways. Whatever it may be, the dude provides an equal-villain against the Crow and doesn’t allow himself to get out-shined once him and Lee share the same screen together. Other detestable character actors like Jon Polito, Bai Ling, and David Patrick Kelly show their fine faces and give us the type of baddies we want and desire from a movie like this, and keep it fun and over-the-top, just like it needed to be, in order to be taken seriously.

Strange to say, but “over-the-top”, seemed like the right way to go for this movie to ever be taken in as a smart meditation on life and death, even for those 15-year-old kids who probably went out, saw it with their parents’ money, went home, and told them both how much he/she hated them and couldn’t wait to live out on their own after high school.

And then they didn’t, and felt like a bunch of a-holes; like we all do at age 15.

Consensus: The personal, on-set tragedy of what happened to the Crow, may overshadow some of the movie’s obvious faults, but taken in as a movie and a swan song for Brandon Lee, it shows that there was talent here and there, it just never got a chance to shine away like it did for his daddy.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Best solo of his life, now he's done. Forever. RIP Brandon Lee.

Best solo of his life, now he’s done. Forever. RIP Brandon Lee.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

Being a teenager sucks! And lame-o parents just make it worse, man!

17-year-old Kat (Shailene Woodley) is coming into her own – not just as a woman, but as a free, smart, independent-thinking person. She’s tired of being bossed around and depressed by her parents, that is, until her mother (Eva Green) goes missing. But while this freaks Kat out a bit at first, she gets over it and just focuses most of her attention on her boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) and going away to college. Her dad (Christopher Meloni) is all torn-up about it, but eventually he’ll get over it as, you never know, she may show up one day. But she doesn’t and Kat gets a bit more curious about just what the hell happened to her mother. Though all of the fingers point towards her father, she’s definitely positive about it not being him and instead, focuses her attention on that same boyfriend of hers and has to wonder whether there was something going on between her mom and him, or is it just apart of her imagination.

"Yeah. Life sucks. Yo."

“Yeah. Life sucks. Yo.”

It’s a neat trick that writer/director Gregg Araki utilizes here in combining the crime-mystery part of this movie, with the coming-of-age other part and making it seem like this is just another simple tale of middle-class suburbia; people get sad, people disappear, people stop caring, people move on. And this is an idea I think Araki plays with more than on a few occasions by not just presenting his main protagonist, Kat, as the kind of free-spirited teen who does what she wants, when she wants, and how she wants to do it, all because she’s becoming her own person and doesn’t give an itch about if anybody tells her not to do so, but also with Kat’s mother, Eve.

See, with the character of Eve, and also, with Eva Green’s performance to thank, we see a woman who, at one time, was chock full of promise, spirit, and hope for the future of her life. Then, slowly but surely, and through flashbacks, we start to see all of that get sucked out of her and Eve become a totally different person than before. Why is this? Better yet, what caused it?

Well, Araki’s not in the mood for giving us the answers, but he definitely plays around with the idea of making us feel like we know what they are, only to then not focus on them and just keep his attention glued onto Kat and her story of growing up. And this, to me, was the most refreshing aspect of the movie; not only does Araki write smart, believable dialogue in which I actually felt like teens in the late-1980’s, early-1990’s would speak like, but he gets believable teen actors to play them. Such young wonders like Shiloh Fernandez, Mark Indelicato, and an especially hilarious Gabourey Sidibe all show us glimpses into the lives of a bunch of teenagers that literally have nothing else better to do with their lives than just sit around, get drunk, smile, listen to good music, sex it up with whoever is willing, and just overall, have a good time. It’s this youthful spirit of just not giving a fuck that so many movies try to aim for in a believable manner, yet, so rarely succeed with; almost making the creator(s) seem like they’ve never lived a day as simple teen.

But where this movie really shines, is whenever it focuses on Kat and her whole struggle with becoming an adult, making decisions for herself, and not constantly whining all of the time when things don’t always go her way. Which yes, considering this is a character played by Shailene Woodley, you could argue that it’s an unoriginal casting-decision on the film’s part, but Woodley is so good at playing this kind of role, she makes it seem effortless and almost fresh. She’s still sassy, back-talking her peers, and not holding back whatever it is she has to say next (although, she does get nude quite a few times, which is different for her, I guess), but it’s hardly ever non-interesting or boring to watch her do. Woodley may forever grow to be one of the world’s best actresses working today, but to me, she’ll always be that brash teenager, who could practically play the role in her sleep and get away with it.

Wish more moms looked like this in my neighborhood.

Wish more moms looked like this in my neighborhood.

Which is to say that when the movie doesn’t focus on Woodley’s Kat, the movie starts to get less interesting. And it’s not that the mystery-angle of this story isn’t actually a mystery, because it surprisingly is, it just doesn’t feel like it quite carries the same amount of emotional weight that watching Kat go through adult-ish problems does. Sure, we get a couple of scenes where we just witness Eva Green being over-the-top and constantly upset, but does it really make us feel like we know Kat as a character better? Are we really supposed to believe that who Kat is, now, or how she’ll turn out to be in the future, will be solely based on her experiences with her mother?

Maybe, maybe not, but at the end of the day, the movie doesn’t care too much about that angle to the story, and nor should it. We learn more about Kat, who she is, the reasons why she is the way she is, and who she wants to be, solely by watching how she goes about her day-to-day activities. Whether it’s having sex with the cop who’s investigating her mother’s disappearance (a hilarious turn from Thomas Jane); trying to make sense of her graphic nightmares with her therapist (a small, subtle Angela Bassett); or, simply put, just hanging around and trying to keep things simple with her daddy (Christopher Meloni in a creepy role), we get to understand Kat perfectly.

Everything else, well, is just filler. The kind of filler movies like these don’t need, especially when they realize that they already have something strong to deal with as is.

Consensus: As uneven as it can be, White Bird in a Blizzard still gets by with an engaging performance from Shaliene Woodley, and enough interesting, yet totally relateable tidbits to get across about being young, growing up, and eventually accepting your life as an adult, even if you don’t fully want to go through with it all the way.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Brr. Shay-shay be cold.

Brr. Shay-shay be cold.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Amores Perros (2000)

Life sucks, now go play with your dog.

Octavio (Gaël García Bernal) loves his brother’s pregnant wife, and saves up money for her in the worst way; a rich couple, Valeria Maya (Goya Toledo) and Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), both are in love but have to find it out the hard way; and an ex-guerrilla, El Chico (Emilio Echevarría), whose discovery of a lost dog inspires him to reunite with his own long-lost daughter. All three stories come together in a very tragic automobile accident and affects them all in different, shocking ways.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu doesn’t seem like very happy and light guy. Most of his films concern death, sadness, pain, and agony, which are all displayed in the worst imaginable ways. That’s why I went into his debut expecting just the same type of misery displayed in all of his other flicks, but this time, with dogs!

This movie, my friends, is not an easy watch and that’s one of the first things I have to discuss here. First of all, if you are a dog-lover, like I am, you will find yourself covering your eyes for a good part of the movie as a lot of it concerns dog’s fighting, being dead, or just bleeding all over the place. Now granted, these are not real dogs actually dead on film and the actual fight scenes themselves are just of them playing, but it looks very realistic here and makes you wonder just how they got away with all of this stuff, without being brutally attacked by the RSPCA.

That's man's best friend right there, so be nice to it!

That’s man’s best friend right there, so be nice to it!

But with that said, if you can get past the doggy violence and deaths, you will probably find yourself gripped for a good amount of these two-and-a-half-hours. Notice how I didn’t say “find yourself entertained”, because that is not something you will do with this movie and honestly, that’s actually fine. What I mean by this is by the fact that a lot of sad and miserable stuff happens to these characters and as bad as it is, we care about them. That’s why the gritty-camerawork works so well as it displays a type of realism that makes us feel as if we are watching real people, go through some real, messed-up problems with other human beings, and their doggies. There’s a lot of zooming in, zooming out, moving around, and jumping back-and-forth that this camera does which may bother some people, but for me, just put me one step closer into the lives of these people and made me feel as if I was along for the wild, and terrible rides that they were about to be on.

The hyperlink cinema-aspect also works as it keeps us on the edge of our seats wondering what’s going to happen to these characters, and just exactly when are we going to hop into another one. For the most part, Iñárritu doesn’t really screw up the whole linking of three lives aspect to this flick and gives us glimpses into the lives of these different characters, while one story is still going on. My only problem with his approach is that I feel like his transitions were sometimes random and it seemed like it made no sense for him to just keep on showing us these little snippets of other stories that seem to make no sense at first. He does this throughout the whole film and it’s more random than it is confusing but once the actual stories themselves start to play-oy, then it all comes full circle and it surprised me.

Since the film is essentially three stories all packed into one, you have to expect each of them to be as compelling as the one before it and in some ways, that’s the case. However, in other ways, it isn’t. The most powerful stories in this whole flick were the first and last as they showed two characters, who were thrown into bad situations and did whatever they could to make the best of it. But then, there is that second story which did not do anything for me other than put me to sleep which I don’t know is my fault or the film’s fault but seriously, it’s boring.

I think the biggest problem with the second story is that it follows the first, which is entertaining, fast-paced, and very quick on it’s feet with what it wants to get across. A lot of this film has been compared to Pulp Fiction and while I don’t necessarily think that it’s a fair one, the first story here is the only one that I can really see where they get that from. The opening story is exciting and interesting, while hardly ever seeming like it’s hitting a dull note, but once that second story comes through, it takes the whole mood down. Instead of getting a kid who enters his own dog through the underground dog-fighting ring, we get a story about some spoiled supermodel gal who can’t stop whining about her dog, and the adulterous boy-toy who starts to wonder why exactly he left his wife and kids in the first place. I get that maybe we were supposed to be annoyed and bothered by the way she carried herself throughout the whole story, but I didn’t really care all that much for her and once her story was over and done with, I was sort of happy. And if you know how the story ends, I can assure you, feeling relieved is not a feeling one should feel.

I think Michael Vick is somewhere in the background.

Surprised Michael Vick didn’t take advantage of the open casting-call.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it sort of sticks out like a sore thumb.

The other problem that I ran into with this flick was that I couldn’t help but wish we actually got an ending to these stories. There is probably one story where we get a definitive ending that makes sense, but the other two are sort of left open-handed. Usually, this works as I like ambiguous endings and having to wonder and guess what happened to the characters once the camera stopped rolling (I’m weird like that), but here, it bothered me because I actually felt like we deserved to see what ended up happening to the people that we spent over two-and-a-half-hours with. It doesn’t seem that long but once it’s over, you’ll realize that maybe some of it should have been cut out in the editing-room, especially since we weren’t going to get any sort of resolution at the end.

Despite these problems though, the performances never seem to be fully harmed as everybody does a great job with what they are given to do, which is a whole lot. Gaël García Bernal, who hardly ever puts in a bad performance, really captures that type of young and unrequited love and as weird as it may be to see him go for his sister-in-law, you can’t help but stand behind the kid because he has passion and he has the ability to love. Also, his brother is a huge dick so that’s another reason. Goya Toledo was annoying as the supermodel who constantly yells throughout her whole story, but in a good way too as her character seems like the type of one that can’t help but hate everything that’s happening to her at this point in time. Didn’t make me like her character more, but at least she was fine.

The one real stand-out here though is Emilio Echevarría, who goes through the biggest transformation of all in this film where he plays a very cold, heartless old man that somehow switches everything up once he realizes it’s time to see his estranged daughter. Echevarría has a very easy-to-like character because of the way he cares for these homeless dogs, but also has a bit of a mean-streak to him as well mainly because the guy is essentially a hit man that kills people for money, but then cries about it when it’s over. It’s a very weird character that we deal with here but Echevarría is up to the challenge and his last monologue brings a lot of tears, because it pretty much makes up the whole point that this movie was trying to get across. But done so in a way that wasn’t manipulative or preachy, but just just right.

Consensus: Amores Perros is dark, sad, miserable, and very depressing, but also a fairly gripping piece of hyperlink cinema that puts us into a very upsetting world and doesn’t fully let us go, even if it is a bit disjointed.

7.5 /10 = Rental!!

Oh yeah, and dogs are a metaphor for life. Or something.

Oh yeah, and dogs are a metaphor for life. Or something.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Men, Women & Children (2014)

“Technology’s the devil”, in case you haven’t heard that from your grand-parents enough already.

The world in which we live in is changing everyday and technology’s a big reason for that. However, the big question remains: Is it good that we have technology around us, affecting our lives so much? Or, simply put, is it bad and making us disconnect from those around us? Well, the answers don’t come easily, especially for a handful of people living in a Texas suburb. Take for instance, there’s the married-couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who hasn’t felt that love or passion for one another in quite some time; the photographer mother (Judy Greer) who so clearly loves her daughter and the passion she has for acting, but can’t help but lead her the wrong way; another mother (Jennifer Garner) who may be a bit too over-protective of her daughter and how she uses her forms of technology; a high school sophomore (Ansel Elgort) that quits the football team to focus more on his personal life, which leads him to falling for an outcast (Kaitlyn Dever); and lastly, a young teenage girl (Elena Kampouris) who is curious about sex for the first time in her life and will do anything to experience it, even if that means risking her own life. Oh yeah, and it’s all narrated by Emma Thompson, for some odd reason.

There hardly ever comes a time when I find myself following the rest of the status quo and agreeing with just about everything others have said. That’s not how I roll with movies, music, TV, video-games, and just life in general. I have opinions that I’ll make up for myself and stick to them until I wake up one day and think differently.

Now, with that being said, when I found out that everybody has been practically trashing on this movie here, I was surprised. Not because it seemed like it was a return-to-form for a favorite of mine, Jason Reitman, but because it featured an ensemble cast so good, that it was almost too hard for me to believe that any of them would agree to do something that’d be considered “utter shite” (well, except for Adam Sandler, but hey, he’s trying to get better!). But such is the case here with Men, Women & Children and rather than going into it and expecting it to hate with all my might because of what plenty others have been saying, I decided to stick to my guns, go in with a clear mind, and see how me, myself, and I felt walking out.

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds' heads!

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds’ heads!

And well, wouldn’t ya know it? I quite liked it. In fact, I came close to loving it on a few occasions. And then I didn’t. But the moral behind this story here, folks, is always make sure to not get bogged down by what others may, or may not, be saying. It only gets you further and further away from what matters most: Your own feelings regarding anything.

But like I was saying, there’s definitely something fishy about this movie. For instance, I find it rather strange that Reitman would go for a story that, yes, could be considered timely because of how much it uses technology as a moral stand-point for its story, but in all honesty, actually feels somewhat dated. These types of movies that try to warn us about the dangers of technology seem like they were running wild all over Lifetime or Oxygen way back when. That’s not to say that these types of stories don’t matter nowadays, because no matter what, technology will always be relevant in each and everyone of our lives, but I could have definitely done without a another “technology is evil” movie that just disregards its own message when it’s telling us, the audience, to actually engage in conversations on social-media networks to continue the conversation about the movie we just saw.

A tad ironic, but hey, whatever. The world’s not perfect, and the same thing goes for this movie. Because see, since this is an ensemble-piece, that means one thing: Not every story will be interesting. Though I’d like to hope for that in every movie I see in which different stories take place over the course of one film, the fact of the matter is that it usually doesn’t happen. And such is the case here, because out of the, well, I don’t know, say nine or so subplots, at least four-and-a-half of them are actually somewhat compelling. The others are sort of just there to take up space and allow us to see actors do, well, just that. Which isn’t such a bad thing, especially when you have a cast this good, but every so often, the movie makes you wonder what could have happened, had there been a lot more attention given to the development of these characters and their stories, much rather than the whole obvious message surrounding them and hitting us in the face.

For instance, try the story of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt’s subplot; in movie terms, their characters are the quintessential aging married-couple: Bored, unfulfilled and always horny, yet somehow, not for one another. There are brief instances in which this story could take a couple of really dark, shocking turns, but since it has to rely on the story’s gimmick of making it all about technology, the movie then jumps into the whole “dating services” aspect of the internet that so many movies have touched on, and also more effectively. Now, that’s not to say that neither Sandler or DeWitt put in bad performances (Sandler does pretty well at playing subtle here, although I was a bit upset by there being hardly any shopping-aisle dances), but you can tell that, had they been given much more to work with, they could have come close to stealing this movie away from the rest of the group and have us actually twisting our heads and thinking.

Well, more to work with, and probably if there hadn’t been any technology used in the first place.

Cause honestly, the aspect of technology placing itself into these stories doesn’t always work and, quite frankly, doesn’t feel wholly necessary. Now, I get that this is an adaptation of a novel that deals with the same problems and what have you, so I understand why Reitman didn’t want to totally take out the aspect of the idea that made it so “unique” in the first place, but really, at the end of the day, it’s just a cautionary tale of how most of us don’t talk to one another and, occasionally, do bad things. Does that mean that technology is always involved with these problems in life? Hell to the no! So, to make every person’s problem in this movie in some way or another, have something to do with technology and its usage, just felt pointless and really took away from the emotional impact that so many of these stories had initially promised.

That’s not to say that these stories don’t deserve to be told, but they don’t deserve to be done so in such an off-putting, slightly over-bearing way either, in which technology always has to rear its ugly head in, somehow, or someway.

Hey, at least they're sleeping in the same bed, right?!?!?!

Young lovers of the world, look close, this will be you one day. Don’t argue, just accept.

And it should be noted that Sandler and DeWitt’s story aren’t just the only ones that get, pardon my French, get the shit end of the stick; a few others show plenty of promise early on, only to have all of that go the way of the Dodo about half-way through. Elena Kampouris’ subplot about a teenage girl with image and sexual issues is alarming, but gets a bit insane by the end that it starts to feel like Reitman’s driving right back into the melodrama he loved so much with Labor Day. The same could sort of be said for a subplot involving a young teenage kid who literally can’t get an erection or perform the act of sex, if it isn’t at all like how he views it as in the various pornos out there on the web. Once again, it’s another honest, true-to-life story, but just feels corny by the end, especially when we see how crazy it pans out to be. And the Jennifer Garner subplot concerning the over-protective mother was just stupid from the very beginning, and only made worse by the fact that Garner’s nerdy-mom shtick gets real old, real quick.

Though the stories that do hit, actually hit pretty hard, if not for the reasons that Reitman had probably intended. Probably the best, most interesting, most compelling, and most lovely subplot of this jumbled-up movie is the one between Ansel Elgort’s ex-football player and Kaitlyn Dever’s social outcast who both, through pure chance, just end up falling for one another. Not only is this the one true story that’s the closest to my heart (high school romance hardly ever disappoints this sentimental soul), but it’s the one story that feels like it’s the closest to Reitman’s heart, too. Both Elgort and Dever’s characters, with as few scenes we get with them together, feel like they would be attracted to each other and not just for the sole reason of having sex, getting it out of the way, and moving on. They’re both lonely, sad, and tormented young souls that need somebody, or someone to talk to, regardless of how it’s done. It also helps that Elgort and Dever have great chemistry and feel like fully fleshed-out teenagers in a film that, honestly, didn’t seem too concerned about in the first place (Elgort is especially amazing and wins me back from his over-the-top nature in the Fault of Our Stars).

But even then, this story seems to get a bit wacky by the end when it relies too much on the idea its presented itself with and takes a bit of steam away from the real heart of the best story it had to offer.

But since I’m going on so much about what Reitman does wrong here, I do have to say that I’m happy to see him at least slightly back in his usual-form. Granted, this isn’t a typical comedy like we’re so used to seeing him do like before, but it’s at least a minor step in the right direction to where he’ll hopefully be able to blend comedy and drama so well, that you have a hard time being able to discern one from the other. That’s the old Jason Reitman we all loved and awaited to see what he had up his sleeve next and it’s the Jason Reitman we all want back, in full-fledged form.

Right, guys?

Consensus: At times, Men, Women & Children can feel like a typical, over-exaggerated after school special about the horrors of technology, but thanks to a solid cast and a few interesting subplots, it is able to get through its various plot-hoops and holes.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Equalizer (2014)

By now, everybody should know not to mess with Denzel. Like, come on!

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a quiet man who lives a simple, yet mysterious life. Nobody knows quite exactly what he’s done in the past, but know him now, in the present day, as a man who works at the Home Depot, lives alone, reads a lot, and goes to his local diner whenever he can’t sleep. That’s all really, but when Robert meets a very young hooker by the name of Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), there are certain shades of his past that begin to show. For instance, when Robert sees that Teri’s employers have been beating up on her pretty bad, he decides to take matters into his own hands to ensure that something bad won’t ever happen to her again. He gets a chance to do so, but as a result, ends up pissing off most of the Russian-mafia that is now looking for this mysterious man and won’t stop until they do so. Little do they know of who they’re messing with. Then again, neither do we!

We’ve all seen this kind of movie before. Hell, we even seen it with Denzel in the lead role! Which can only mean one thing: Hollywood is surely running out of ideas. Surely this can’t be much of a surprise to anyone out there who has been paying attention to the movie-business for quite some time and are able to realize that fresh, original and innovative ideas in mainstream movies are quite hard to come by.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it's Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it's all fine, baby.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it’s Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it’s all fine, baby.

But that said, there is something to be said for a movie that can take a traditional story we’ve seen (especially an original one that was made for a TV show), and give it something of a “boost”, if you want to say that. See, while I’m not too sold on Antoine Fuqua’s total abilities as a director I can trust with my life, I can say that he can make some very entertaining movies, even if they aren’t for people with an IQ level higher than 48. And that’s pretty much what the Equalizer is – a fun, slightly silly movie that doesn’t always set out to be more than just the typical revenge-tale we see a middle-aged star like Denzel Washington take.

Although, that’s where this movie actually surprised me a bit more than I expected it to, because while there’s plenty of action, blood, guts, revenge, crime, explosions, and murder, there’s also some drama that Fuqua is able to throw in here.

Take for instance, the first-half of this movie that actually sees Fuqua playing around with the idea of being a subtle director. Rather than focusing on the action and violence that is soon to come of this story and its characters, Fuqua takes his near and dear time to build this lead character, the way he lives and just exactly how he gets by in life. Sure, there’s a total essence of mystery surrounding this character, and it should probably come as no surprise to anyone that what we do end up finding out about him, is quite scary, but we, the audience at least, are thrown into this guy’s life and it’s one that’s easy to get compelled by.

But even when the action does get thrown in there (as expected), it’s still effective. While it may be a bit gratuitous at times, it’s still neat to see the violence coming from the view-point of a character we are interested by, and also exactly how he punches, or kicks, or stabs a person, and in what particular order. Also, to add another layer to this character, we get certain hints that he’s OCD in certain ways and it’s cool angle on a story/character that could have easily been, “He likes to beat the shit out/kill baddies.”

That could have been the whole story in a nutshell. And although some may argue and say that’s all there is to this story, it felt like there was a bit more meat to the tale than just that and I was definitely happy for it. Not just because it was another crime-tale that was a tiny bit more than just all about showing violence to bad people, but because it showed me Antoine Fuqua is actually capable of bringing some tender drama to a scene. Not going to say he’s a “subtle” director, because we all know that he isn’t, but he proved himself this time and I for one, was quite pleased with that.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you're supposed to be.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you’re supposed to be.

I was even pleased with Denzel Washington in this lead role, because while he too isn’t really doing anything different from what we’ve seen before, he technically doesn’t need to; he’s just Denzel, being Denzel. Meaning that he gets a chance to be charming-as-all-hell, kind to others, menacing when he wants, and even a chance to lay down on some mofo’s who seem to be asking for it the whole movie. If that’s what you want from Denzel in your movies, then this is all fine and dandy for you. I like to see Denzel in these types of movies, and although a part of me wishes there was just a tad more for him to do here, I’ll take a solid performance from Denzel, in a solid movie any day, much rather than a shitty performance, in an even crappier movie.

But even when the film does get pretty wild and insane, as we usually expect from Fuqua’s movies, it’s mostly by the end and by then, we’re already sort of realizing that this story has taken a turn for the worse. Not to say that it gets bad, per se, but more of that it’s just goofy and almost like a Home Alone finale that will surely be a crowd-pleaser to most that are expecting Denzel to whoop some bad guy-butt, but is also rather disappointing to those who thought that there’d be a bit more than just that. And by “those”, I mean just mostly me.

But what can I say?!? I’m just a guy who appreciates a movie that’s more than just what it presents on the surface!

Consensus: Though it gets silly by the end, what the Equalizer does well is build a suspenseful story, around a compelling character, while also allowing Denzel Washington to just put in some fine work.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Good evenin', Clarice."

“Good evenin’, Clarice.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Two Faces of January (2014)

Stop fibbing, already!

Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a low-time swindler who, while vacationing and, assumingly, ripping people off in Greece, meets a very wealthy couple, Chester MacFarland and Colette (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst). Though he doesn’t know much about them, where they came from, who the hell they are, and how they both got so damn rich, he is still somehow intrigued by them and decides to join them on a dinner late one night. It goes off splendidly, with the two parties leaving one another and hoping that each of their lives entangle once again. Well, sometimes, what you wish for, isn’t exactly what you want to get. After the two parties separate, Rydal realizes that he has to give Colette her wedding ring back, but while doing so, he discovers Chester getting rid of a body of a man that he presumed to be an FBI agent. What the agent was doing in Greece and tracking down Chester, is totally beyond Rydal’s knowledge, but now they’re in this together. Meaning, all three of them are on the run and have to find whichever ways they can figure out to escape the police who, seemingly, should be hot on their tails as more and more information comes out about who these people are, their past and why they are running and hiding in the first place.

If you’ve ever seen the Talented Mr. Ripley, then you’ve kind of seen the Two Faces of January. It’s probably no accident either, because both are adaptations of Patricia Highsmith novels, and both concern the same kind of themes and ideas constantly thrown around: People not appearing to be who they say they are, crime, lies, murder, beautiful locations, etc. And while the former film, is definitely better than the later, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had here; it’s just that there’s all you really need here, fun.

"What you say?"

“What you say?”

See, though this movie definitely flirts with the idea of being about how we all, as a society and just basic, pure human beings, lie to protect ourselves from the real truth of the world and those around us, it’s mostly just a suspense-thriller that features a bunch of people on the run. Whether or not they’re who they actually say they are, is totally left up to us, the audience, to make our own conclusions.

And yes, people, that’s where most of the fun to be had in the Two Faces of January can be found: Constantly guessing. Not just who these people are and why they actually lie as much as they do, but where exactly this story is going to take place next. Because honestly, there’s only so many lovely locations a movie can take place in, but better yet, there’s also only so many actual places these characters can escape and constantly be on the run towards. That doesn’t mean the film is over-the-top or too crazy to handle, but there is something to be said for a movie in which we are repeatedly being shown certain areas of Greece that not even the most dedicated tour-guide could.

Which basically means that if you’re seeing this movie now, in the fall, where the weather outside is more than likely going to get a bit chillier, you’re going to be incredibly bummed-out and want to hop on that next plane to Greece as soon as humanly possible! Trust me, I did and I saw this nearly two days ago!

Damn, I’m already missing summer.

Anyway, like I was saying before, this movie really isn’t much more than “cons play mind games on other cons”, which is yes, very fun, but also, made it a bit better that the three actors playing these cons are very good with what they’re given. Oscar Isaac plays Rydal like he seems to play every character of his: Smart, charming and handsome, yet, always seems to have a sinister side to him that he isn’t afraid to utilize to his advantage. The guy’s made a killing off of these sort of roles and while we want to think of him as “the bad guy”, because of the way he looks and how we’re introduced to his character (he’s taking money from very naive, very foreign girls), we soon find out that he really isn’t. He’s just a human being is all, and sometimes, humans have to make certain choices that don’t always benefit the others around them.

The same could be said for Viggo Mortensen’s Chester; we’re supposed to think he’s a low-level con that has hardly any soul, or moral compass, but we soon realize that he too, is just another misguided guy trying to make a living, as well as the woman he loves, happy. Mortensen is another actor like Isaac who can sometimes seem like a bad guy, only because of the menacing look he constantly has on his face, but there’s shades of his character being a genuinely good guy that just wants to save his ass, regardless of anybody else’s. Sure, he’s a selfish-fellow, but given the circumstances of some of the situations he’s thrown into, I can’t help but assume that plenty others would be acting the same way, too.

Oh yeah, old guy, don't mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He's just going to be in the next Star Wars for god's sakes!!

Oh yeah, old guy, don’t mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He’s just going to be in the next Star Wars for god’s sakes!!

Just saying, people. Just saying.

The only one I have yet to really mention is Kirsten Dunst, which is actually on purpose because her character isn’t all that well-written. Sure, she’s definitely charming, sweet and honest, whereas nobody else around her seems to be, but there’s just a dull-presence about her that kept making me wish the creative-team involved gave her more than just being the damsel in distress. Also, say what you want about her, but Kirsten Dunst, when given the right material to work with, can really do wonders. It’s just such a shame she isn’t allowed to really show her fellow male co-stars off, like I totally know she’s capable of doing.

Damn men and their penises. Damn them to hell!

Consensus: Nothing more than a simple game of cat-and-mouse between a trio of talented leads, the Two Faces of January never really transcends its narrow plot, but doesn’t quite need to, considering it’s fun to watch these characters mess with one another.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Ah, this seems like a good place to continue on running and hiding from the law."

“Ah, this here land seems like the perfect place to continue on running and hiding from the law.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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