Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Appropriate Behavior (2015)

Still reeling from a break-up? Have as much sex as humanly possible. (Not something that DTMMR actually condones.)

Being a closeted bisexual person living in Brooklyn is hard enough for one person to come to terms with, but being a closeted, Persian bisexual person living in Brooklyn must be even harder. That’s what Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) is starting to come to terms with, especially after the recent breakup with her ex Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). Now, with a new job (teaching filmmaking to five-year-old’s who are a lot more concerned with playing with toys than learning how to work a steady-cam shot), a new place (whom he she shares with two free-spirited, bohemian types), and a lot more time on her hands (which she spends hooking up with randoms she either meets at bars, online, or by pure coincidence), Shirin feels that this is the time in her life that she’s supposed to love and take full advantage of. So why is she so damn depressed all of the time? Well, it’s going to take an awful lot of self-reflection for Shirin to fully figure that out, which may be easier said, then done.

Painful first dates. Ammiright?!?!?

Painful first dates. Ammiright?!?!?

The similarities between Appropriate Behavior and Girls is almost so insane, that I totally forgot that writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan was actually in last week’s episode. Though I bet that many young, creative women in the film world credit Lena Dunham with bringing their passions to the screen once and for all, there’s something to be said for when movies become their own original pieces of work, and not just “slight imitators”. Though Akhavan’s film sometimes borders on crossing over to the dark side and seeming as if it could easily be something Dunham herself created in her off-time away from Girls, for the most part, this is Akhavan’s story, through and through.

What’s impressive here about Akhavan’s film here is that while she frames all of her characters, as well as the one she’s playing, who may or may not be exactly herself, as doing sometimes terrible, reprehensible things, she never once judges them for a second.

For instance, while it would be easy to automatically write-off Shirin as another winy, self-important, and entitled millennial that we’ve all seen too much of by now, Akhavan draws certain layers and dimensions of her that makes it seem like there’s a reasoning for the way she acts. Sure, a lot of what she does and says to certain people, may come off as incredibly selfish, but once you get to thinking of the situations she’s in (i.e. just recently being broken-up with), it all makes sense. For when somebody’s going through a tragic breakup, no matter what the circumstances may be, their actions are entirely out of their own self-interest; if somebody gets in the way of your happiness, then screw them. It’s your life. You want to live it and also, if so, make yourself as happy as you can possibly be.

In a way, there’s something inherently sad about Shirin’s life that we see here, but Akhavan doesn’t shy away from showing some of the funnier-aspects of one’s own life when a little chuckle or two, can practically save a day of loathing. Though Shirin sometimes takes herself a tad too seriously, the people she surrounds herself with are usually the ones we spend our time laughing at – though Akhavan is smart enough to not allow them to become caricatures. Scott Adsit plays a dope that gets Shirin a job, who seems like he’s a bum, but is one that means well enough that it’s easy to see Shirin striking-up a friendship with; Halley Feiffer is Shirin’s best friend who hardly ever judges Shirin on what she does and, more or less, shows her that there’s more to life than just moping around over a loss of a spouse, as there’s plenty more fish in the sea; and Rebecca Henderson, despite maybe not being the best actress in the world, still shows us that Maxine, despite slightly being made-out to be something of a villain in this story is, more or less, a woman who Shirin had a relationship with and ran into too many problems with. She’s neither a great person, or a bad one – she’s just a person with her own thoughts, ideas and reasons for living.

That's how it starts - drunk-talk on New Year's Eve.

That’s how it starts – drunk-talk on New Year’s Eve.

But through it all, Akhavan never forgets that there’s more meat to this story, which means that the tone does shape, shift and turn in certain ways that you won’t expect it to. Sometimes, it works, but other times, it seems like Akhavan is a little uncomfortable with just allowing for a scene to play without any certain piece of comedy playing through in uncomfortable, awkward ways.

The one scene where that doesn’t happen, and instead, the awkwardness plays out perfectly, is the most memorable scene of the whole movie, and not for the reasons that it may seem like. It all starts when Shirin gets invited to a threesome with a random couple she meets at a bar – though it starts off quite hot, steamy and erotic, slowly but surely, the wheels begin to turn, and it begins to change. The scene actually becomes funny, in awkward-sense I mentioned before, but then, ends on something of a sad note that makes us understand this character of Shirin better than ever before. She wants to be accepted, loved and seen as an equal, and not just a sad, little pup, even though she can sometimes be perceived as such.

It’s easily the best scene of the whole movie. It shows that maybe while pieces of Akhavan’s film don’t fully add up, there’s at least smaller ones that make this personal trip of hers, less exclusive to her or any other bisexuals out there, but to anyone who has ever gone through a rough patch. Not just with relationships, but with life in general.

Consensus: Sometimes funny, other times, sad, but as a whole, Appropriate Behavior ushers in a new, slightly fresh-voice within Desiree Akhavan that deserves to be heard and understood, regardless of if you’re bisexual or not.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Perfect thinking-spot.

Perfect thinking-spot. Take your time, hon.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Upside of Anger (2005)

Always depend on the neighborhood drunk to come in and save an upper-class, tense family-unit from falling apart.

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) can be considered a “housewife”, however, she doesn’t act like one. She doesn’t work outside of the house and spends most of her day cleaning, getting ready to make dinner, talking to her daughters, and planning out their futures, but she has an icy-cool demeanor that’s very stand-offish, and doesn’t allow her to take any crap from anyone. Good for her, but not good for her husband who has apparently left her and the family to gallivant with his young secretary in Sweden. Terry, as hard of a lady as she is, starts to breakdown, liquor-bottle-by-liquor-bottle, and finds it hard to adjust to this new life of responsibility and action. But once former Major League Baseball star, now turned radio DJ, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) shows up at the house looking to get drunk with her, Terry doesn’t find it all that hard, yet, she still has to accept the fact that her husband may be gone, and may never, ever come back.

While family-dramas don’t really do much for me unless they’re totally satirical or as dark as night (American Beauty), I do appreciate watching a family-dynamic on screen every once and awhile. My family, for instance, is a bit weird considering we all do our own thing, don’t eat dinner together at the table, and just go about our day but still talk, get along (relatively), and enjoy one another’s company when granted. That’s why most movies about your regular, suburban-family don’t do much for me in terms of emotional-connection, but I’m always open for the simple things in life; hence why I liked this flick as much as I did. Much to my surprise actually.

All women eventually succumb to the "Costner-charm".

All women eventually succumb to the “Costner-charm”.

Where I feel like writer/director Mike Binder’s script worked so well is in the ways he avoids all of the types of conventions we expect from family-dramas of this nature, and continues to just evolve its characters. Some are more interesting than others, yes, but most of the characters here are people worth watching, caring about and worrying to see if they’re ever going to reach their final-peak of happiness or not. You know that they can be happy, and have ways of being happy, but to see most of them go through this little raft in their lives makes you a bit uneasy to see and only hope for the best. Binder may not be the greatest writer out there when it comes to giving all of his characters dimensions and personalities, but the ones that he does get it right is with making you feel apart of the family.

For better, as well as for worse.

But like I was saying about the way he avoids all of those types of conventions, Binder doesn’t force-feed us characters that we should like and need to like, we just do, even if there are some reservations involved. For instance, try Denny: The dude’s not only a bit of a schmuck, but he’s bumbling one as well. Yes, his heart is in the right place, but it’s so obvious that he wants to bang Terry as soon as her hubby leaves her, it’s almost too much so to really be true. How the girls don’t kick his ass as soon as he walks through that door, day in and day out, was totally surprising. I knew I would have, but that’s just me. I’m a dick.

Like I was mentioning, though, Denny may have these problems that are more than noticeable to us, however, we don’t necessarily hate him, nor do we feel like he’s a reprehensible person that one could not believe Terry being attracted to in the least bit. He’s got a charm, he’s got a sweet-aura about him, and he likes to do good things, for people that deserve it the most. Sure, he doesn’t speak his mind when he should and how he should do it, but there’s still something sweet and endearing to this dude that makes him more than just that the wacky neighbor next-door that likes to do himself a little bit of drinking; although it is obvious that Binder likes to use that side to his character for yuks and chuckles, most of which fail.

However, I could also say that most of the charm and likability that comes out of Denny’s character, is mainly channeled through Kevin Costner who gives probably his best performance, post-Dances with Wolves (which isn’t saying much, but still). Costner’s got the shaggy-look, feel, and act down pat, and makes you feel for this bum, knowing that he could turn his own, as well as this family’s life around at any given moment. He just needs to put the bottle down for a second. And while Costner is great, no doubt about that, the one who really walks away with the show the most is Joan Allen, giving one of her best performances ever, among which there are many. How she did not get an Oscar nomination for this, I may never understand!

That Joan Allen: Takin' a drag and just lookin' spicy!

That Joan Allen – takin’ a drag and just lookin’ spicy!

Anyway, Joan Allen’s great as Terry for the sole reason that she’s not afraid to be a bitch, while also embracing her age. By the time this movie came out, Allen was pushing 50 and while she still shows that she’s hot in a fiery, “I’ll kick your ass” way, there’s no hiding behind prosthetics or a wig with this character. She’s 50, she looks it, she feels it, and quite frankly, she’s downright pissed-off about it. And how could you blame her? Not only is she getting older by the days that go by, but her hubby of 20 years just left her for a younger gal, and most of her kids can’t stand to be around her, nor have a conversation with her because she’s so mean and nasty at times about the decisions they make and the ideas that they have, that they just don’t even bother. I don’t blame them, but once again – Terry is a human being, and you know that there’s something nice and sweet about her. Allen is great at playing-up Terry’s mean, cold, vindictive side that comes out more often than it probably should, but allows us to see who she really is underneath all of that anger, and make us realize that she was once a happy lady at one time, and can still be again. It will just take some time, that’s all.

The gals playing her daughters are also very good, even though it’s obvious which ones Binder cares about the most, by giving some more interesting plot-lines and more screen-time. Alicia Witt plays the oldest, Hadley, and doesn’t have much to do her, mainly because most of her time in the film is spent-away at college where she soon falls in love and gets pregnant, giving us some of Allen’s best moments in the whole film due solely to her reaction this bomb being dropped; Keri Russell is good and sweet as Emily, the one who blows off college for a life in ballerina-dancing, and while Russell’s good in the role, she was about 30 when it was filmed, making it a bit hard to believe her as a young, 20-something college drop-out; Erika Christensen plays Andy, another daughter who doesn’t want to go to college, but has more of a promising future ahead of her because of the job she gets at Denny’s radio-station, where she begins a relationship with a much-older dude (Mike Binder himself, in a surprisingly touching role), and gets a chance to stretch her wings as well, giving us the most interesting gal out of the four; and Evan Rachel Wood is once again playing the young, angry, and rebellious teen we’ve all seen her play, but this time, to sure boredom and angst as the youngest, Popeye (yup, you heard me right), even though the “love-interest” that they set-up for her gives it a bit of interest every time she’s on-screen.

Consensus: While a lot of the melodrama that plays during the last half-hour does kill some of the momentum the Upside of Anger had going for itself, for quite some time, there’s still plenty of heartfelt, emotional moments between these characters to be seen, especially because most of them are written so well and in a way that isn’t just ordinary, or casual. There’s meaning to the way they are, and it works.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

God Help the Girl (2014)

Those little twee singers and dancers. No future!

Eve (Emily Browning) is an anorexic, sometimes suicidal young girl who, one night, decides to escape her psychiatric hospital and see what’s happening around town. While searching far and wide, she finds a small concert-venue, where she discovers this whole world full of fun, excitement, and people singing and dancing. This is when she runs into James (Olly Alexander) a young, up-and-coming musician who just wants to make it big. Eve wants to do the same, too, and soon, the two start up a musical duo that could either make them big, rich and famous, or it could just be a neat little experiment that goes hardly anywhere, although it definitely took up some time. But to show that their serious, Eve and James then decide to recruit Cassie (Hannah Murray), to then make themselves a hip trio. But now that they’ve got everybody together and set firmly in place, now comes the hard part: Actually writing songs! And, to make matters worse, something of a romantic-spark between Eve and James begins to ignite to where they don’t know whether they should be together for the sake of the band, or for the sake of each other’s health.

FEEEEEL IT!

FEEEEEL IT!

Oh, and did I forget to mention? It’s a musical!

That little piece of info I just spliced into there can either make, or break a movie, depending on the viewer. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind when the characters you’re currently watching start dancing and breaking-out into song, then this may be your cup of Joe. However, if not, and you hate all things music and just wish that the separation between music and movies would stay put as they are, then this, my kind friend, is not your bag, baby. That’s where most of the appeal of God Help the Girl comes from and it also calls into question the fact that the film is also written/directed by none other than Stuart Murdoch, of Belle & Sebastian.

Once again, if they aren’t the kind of band you can find yourself enjoying for nearly up to two hours, then I assure you, this may not be your cup of tea.

For somebody like me, however, who normally likes musicals and doesn’t really have a problem whenever people start jumping around, dancing and singing all over the place, then this is definitely my type of thing. But it has to be done right, in that the songs are not only lovely, well-written and somewhat catchy, but that there’s actually a story holding them altogether and it wasn’t just a person jotting down neat lyrics and hoping for a cohesive hit. In fact, it’s like actually creating a song – in order to make it work for most people out there, you need to have solid lyrics, but in order to make sure that those lyrics hit hard for those tuning in, you need to give them a believable platform to stay with. You can’t have a song about depression and suicide, placed into something that sounds as if Ariana Grande herself just recorded.

Sure, sometimes it can work, but more often times than not, it doesn’t and that’s where most of God Help the Girl works. It not only has a sweet, somewhat compelling story to follow through, but also backs it all up with catchy, well-done songs that are all placed in there for good reason. And if you’ve ever listened to a Belle & Sebastian track before, this should probably come as no surprise, but to anybody out there who hasn’t ever heard of them, then they may still work. The songs are bubbly, joyful and will probably have you humming them for days and days to come. Which, for anybody who has ever seen a musical before, knows that’s always the sign of an effective musical that’s able to do its job.

Where the movie doesn’t really seem to do its job as well is when the story begins to take precedence, and it becomes fully clear that maybe Murdoch didn’t fully think his whole script through. That’s not to say that the story smells of BS, like most movies concerning starting a band of any sort usually seem to do, but because it goes on for so long, without ever seeming like it’s going anywhere. To say that God Help the Girl is a long movie, is like saying not everyone of Belle & Sebastian’s albums are nearly-perfect – sure, some may not believe it, but while you’re being a witness to it, there’s just a feeling you get.

Here, with the story, I felt as if Murdoch needed a bit of a tighter editor who was able to cut down on some of the many aimless, rather meandering conversations his characters drop into. There’s a feeling that while these may be actual teens actually speaking about their problems, wants, needs and overall desires, they also seem to stumble and only take away further from what could have been a much more tighter, quick and easy musical. But with all of the non-stop blabber from these characters, it seems to go on for much too long.

#HipsterSelfie

#HipsterSelfie

However, there is something to be said for a movie that still has interesting enough characters to make most of this awkward talking at least somewhat engaging. Because with Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, and most importantly, Emily Browning, Murdoch has found a nice trio of likable, cute-as-buttons leads who all seem to bring something fun to the picture.

Although, the one I really walked away from feeling most impressed was by Emily Browning, an actress I’ve seen many times in pieces of junk like Sucker Punch, Pompeii, and the Uninvited, and never understood what the appeal to her really was. Sure, she’s pretty, but I’ve never walked away from a movie she’s been in, wanting to see more of her, nor have I really thought much about her performance in the slightest bit. In other words, Emily Browning has never had much of a screen-presence to her and I felt like that would fog this whole movie up.

Thankfully though, Browning stays very far, far away from doing that and instead, makes the movie a whole lot better. There’s this certain feeling to her screen-presence that makes every scene she’s involved with divert all of its attention towards her. She has this innocent look to her that you know she clearly cares for those around her, yet, at the same time, could also deceive them and make a dumb decision as well. It’s the kind of performance that has me feeling like I fully know what she’s all about now and I hope that this spells out good things for her future.

Consensus: The energetic song and dance numbers allow for God Help the Girl to become a sweet, endearing look at a few individuals starting a band, even if it does run on a tad too long.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Look at that camera! It's so old!

Look at that camera! It’s so old and tiny! I must have it.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Space Station 76 (2014)

Being up in space can make a lot of people upset. And horny too, apparently.

Somewhere all the way up in space, lies Space Station 76 a refueling outpost that is being currently used in the 70’s. Aboard the 76 are a bunch of sad and lonely people, most of whom don’t really seem to understand that there’s more to life than just what’s given to them. Like, for instance, try the ship’s mechanic (Matt Bomer), who can’t seem to get a grip on his emotions, or even his philandering, constantly pill-popping wife (Marisa Coughlan). Then, there’s also Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson) who, because of a secret he’s holding near and dear to his heart, is slowly dying inside and is contemplating whether or not this life that he has is worth living after all. But, soon, both of these men’s lives are changed once Jessica (Liv Tyler), a new second-in-command to Glenn, shakes things up. Not to mention, she comes around during the most joyful, happiest time of the year: the Holidays! What’s so sad about that?

"What did I tell you about singing, "Walk this Way" in my presence?"

“What did I tell you about singing, “Walk this Way” in my presence?”

On the surface, Space Station 76 seems like an over-the-top, campy-farce that wants to make fun of 70’s fashion, ideas, and conventions that they can’t even contain themselves on the very retro-looking poster. And pretty much, for the first thirty minutes or so, that’s exactly how it all plays out. It’s definitely over-the-top and campy as one would expect, but also incredibly weird, with random, almost shocking scenes of sex and masturbation, and an overall tone that was so bizarre, I couldn’t help but feeling like I stumbled upon a late-night special from Adult Swim. That’s not to say any of what I’m saying is actually a bad thing, as much as it was just a thing that I was enjoying, but wasn’t too sure about how well it would still hold-up for the next hour and ten minutes.

Then, things got weird. But again, in a good way.

See, where Space Station 76 really pulls the rug from underneath its audience, is in the way that it slowly, very tenderly-like, reveals itself to be something of a dark, intimate drama about some very sad, emotionally-troubled people. It still has an odd sense of humor placed in throughout, but for the most part, once the second-half rolls on by, it becomes clear that we’re not dealing with a sci-fi camp-fest – in fact, we’re dealing with a rather interesting dramedy. But it’s not that because the movie plays with its audience’s expectations is the reason why this is interesting, it’s mostly because the characters put into it, as much as they seem caricatures, are mostly all well thought-out, three-dimensional human beings. Sure, they have some weird stuff going on with them, but tell me, what person doesn’t?

With each and every character here, we get a few that we know we’re supposed to like and actually care for, even if we don’t really know them fully well; all we do know is that they’re sad and want more out of life. Because of that, the movie works best as a way to figure out which characters deserve our attentions the most, but here’s the real kicker – even the characters who initially seem to be just plain old, immoral a-holes, they actually turn out to be more human than you’d expect. It’s a wonder that a movie can make us sympathize with Marisa Coughlan’s wife, considering that she constantly cheats on her dedicated, honorable husband (with a character portrayed by Jerry O’Connell no less), then comes home, only to bitch at him for not doing something she wanted, or whatever, but that’s what co-writer/director Jack Plotnick is able to do and it works for every other character here.

Matt Bomer’s lonely hubby character, not only makes you’d want to give him a hug, but hope that whoever does give him said hug, is a person he can spend the rest of his life with. I didn’t expect Bomer to work for me here as the down-and-out mechanic, but he works well in creating a character wants our sympathy, but doesn’t demand it; he’s just wholesome enough that you appreciate his nice tendencies, but isn’t a perfect human being either. So when Liv Tyler’s character walks in and changes thing around for Bomer’s character, not only does he feel happiness and hope for his future, but it also makes you, the viewer, feel the same as well. What I said about Bomer is the same thing for Liv Tyler, the kind of actress who has left me quite cold in the past. She’s fine here in that she’s allowed to be a bit of a sweetheart, albeit, one who may not be exactly who she presents herself as being from the first appearance of her in this flick.

Tee-hee. 70's clothes are funny.

Tee-hee. 70’s clothes are funny.

But the one character who really kept my interest the most was Patrick Wilson as Captain Glenn, a character who’s secret dilemma I called from a mile away, but still didn’t affect him, the character. Because, as he’s written, Glenn too is a very sad individual, but Wilson does something neat with him in that he makes him rather insufferable in certain spots of this movie. Whereas the movie wants us to be a bit creeped-out by his appearance and actions towards those around him on the spaceship, Wilson still can’t help himself to make him the least bit likable, although he’s still not fully as trustworthy as Wilson’s characters have been before. Still, as it is, there’s something inherently sympathetic to this character that makes him worth standing by and, ultimately, rooting for. For lack of a better term.

While mostly all of these characters are strong in their ways, there’s still a feeling this movie could had been a lot better, placed as just an ordinary drama as was. Sure, the spaceship-setting probably was done so on purpose to divert its attention away from the other dramedies of the same nature, but it still seems unnecessary at times, especially considering it’s the 70’s and there are a little too many jokes made at the expense of the fashion, the look and the feel of those days and ages. Don’t get me wrong, I always have a little chuckle whenever I see somebody spotting a silly, 70’s-era porn-stache, but for something as smart and well-done this, I felt like it was a little too cheap for its own good.

Oh well, guess you have to please everybody.

Consensus: Though it pulls a bit too many lame jokes, Space Station 76 surprisingly works best as a drama, and one that pays plenty of attention to its well-written characters.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Coherence (2014)

Dinner parties are sketchy enough as is.

A group of friends gather for a dinner party and the usual occurs- eating, smoking, drinking, and gossiping. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that, on this night in particular, a comet is orbiting over them as they continue to speak. While this doesn’t necessarily freak them out at first, it definitely makes them a bit weary once weird stuff around the house begins to happen. Like, for instance, certain people’s iPhone screens start inexplicably cracking. And then, to make matters a bit worse, some party-goers start acting a bit, how to say it, off. They start to forget certain people’s faces and they begin to reveal deep, dark secrets that they wouldn’t have otherwise gone through with revealing, to a huge party no less. But it’s when the power goes off that everybody in the house decides that it’s time to figure out what the hell is going on, so they all walk outside to a neighbor’s house who actually seems to be the only people on the street with any electricity. This leads to a shocking discovery, one that can’t be spoiled; just teased around with.

When you know somebody's had a bit too much to drink.

When you know somebody’s had a bit too much to drink.

Yes, everybody. It’s going to be one of those reviews. I apologize, but trust me, I’m doing it for you all out there who have yet to see Coherence, because honestly, it’s a little piece that deserves to be seen, probably knowing as little as possible about before going into. It isn’t just because the major plot-twist that occurs half-way into it is so shocking that you need to save yourselves from having it spoiled, but because little, micro-budget films like these hardly ever get made nowadays.

Or, should I say, when they do get made, they aren’t nearly as entertaining or as inspired as this.

Because, yes, for such small, meager-budgeted films like Coherence, it’s easy for a director to keep their film cheap by having the setting be one location and one location only. That’s what writer/director James Ward Byrkit does here, but rather than doing this as some sort of a crutch that he can fall back on, it actually works for the movie. And it’s not like because the movie is small and contained, means that what Byrkit is aiming at with this plot’s destination is exactly that; in fact, for a movie of this size, it’s relatively ambitious. Parallel universes are introduced, comets are seen flying overhead, and the overall meaning of one’s life is discussed on more than a few occasions.

But where this film goes and at what space it’s willing to go doesn’t matter, because what Byrkit does well with this premise is that he focuses his attention solely on these few dozen characters and allows us to see the way they act when thrown into a situation that just begs for the highest amount of paranoia. Some characters want to get down to the root of what’s causing this never ending sense of madness, whereas others are more or less content with just sitting around, drinking the night away, and basically just waiting for whatever craziness that is occurring, to end so they can get back on with their lives. No character here is really seen as “the baddie”, or “the goodie”, as much as they’re just seen as a bunch of individuals trying to get themselves out of the weird situation they’ve been sprung into.

Which is to say that this is a sign of a good cast, when each and every person involved, for the most part, seems believable and have you believe in this story, these characters, and their dilemma a whole lot more. But this is even more of astounding feet, especially when you get to thinking about the way in how Byrkit directed this movie and the actors in it. Rather than having them all set-up with their lines, knowing what to do, how to do it, and when, Byrkit literally just placed them in a spot, with bits and pieces of info, and toyed around with them as much as he could. Not only does this create a genuine feel of torment and suspense amongst the group, but it also shows us that some of these actors may literally be terrified for their live. Sometimes, especially in the case of this movie, the line between what’s real, and what isn’t, gets blurred and that helps this movie a whole lot more.

"Always travel in packs", my Cub Scout leader always said.

“Always travel in packs”, my Cub Scout leader always said.

See, it’s actually more of a human-drama than it would have you think, although there is still plenty of sci-fi shenanigans to be seen.

And honestly, that’s where most of my problems with this movie lies. It’s not that I’m not a fan of sci-fi, I normally am, but it has to be done right and in a creative way. Rather than just making-up stuff and saying “that it’s all science, bro”, not only makes me believe less in you as a writer, but not really know what to expect next from whatever you’re creating. Normally, yes, this would be my cup of tea, but for most sci-fi movies, it feels like, a lot of the time, some people just prefer to make stuff up as they go along, all because they’re thrown under the genre of “sci-fi”, which in and of itself is used as a crutch.

It’s sort of like how I feel about the Mission: Impossible films, or any other flicks featuring spies and their handy, dandy, trusty gadgets – they have all sorts of gizmo’s and gadgets that can literally get themselves out of any situation all because, well, “they work for the CIA”. To me, it feels like a cheap cop-out, when it’s done wrong. When it’s done right, like in the latest two M:I movies, it works because it adds to the excitement and isn’t done to a certain extent to where it would seem excessive.

With Coherence, it’s not that it necessarily feels excessive, as much as it just feels unneeded. Byrkit could have been as vague as he wanted to be with what his plot-twist meant, or how it all came to be, but because he starts to explain it later on, it only confuses the situation a bit more. And then, apparently, some characters start breaking out into speeches about space and time-travel that not only feels a bit random, but completely unbelievable. It’s almost as if Byrkit didn’t trust his audience enough to allow them to come to their own conclusions about what it all meant and, altogether, because of the way Byrkit loves to fall back on the fact that there’s a comet hovering up above this whole story, is rather meaningless.

Consensus: As small as the budget for Coherence may be, that still doesn’t stop it from being an interesting sci-fi thriller, that sometimes trips over its own feet every so often, but still remains intriguing.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Usually it's me who's on the receiving-end of all these stares.

Usually it’s me who’s on the receiving-end of all these stares, just after I pronounced that I have a blog.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Willow Creek (2014)

Some myths are just best left alone. Including ones about huge bear-like creatures.

Ever since he saw the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film from the late-‘60’s of a supposed creature by the name of “Bigfoot” roaming the woods, Jim (Bryce Johnson) has been counting down the days till when he gets his chance to have his own encounter with the large beast. The problem is, his girlfriend who he’s with, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), doesn’t totally believe in this myth as being real. However, she likes Jim and wants to support him in whatever endeavors he partakes in, even if they are a little strange and kid-ish. While on the trip, Jim films just about everything they do, who they talk to, and where they go. Some people are better to talk to than others, but from what it seems like Jim wants to create here, is his own documentary of sorts. But as both Jim and Kelly dive deeper and deeper into the woods, they start to realize that some strange things may be happening. Whether or not they have to do with the actual fact that Bigfoot exists is totally up in the air.

So young, pretty and ambitious. Kind of remind of you someone else thrown into the same situation?

So young, pretty, and full-of-life. Kind of remind of you someone else thrown into the same situation?

Found-footage movies, for the most part, have become over-done. Though I used to champion for them quite a lot back in the day, recently, I’ve come to realize that it’s a format that needs to go away, and do so real quick. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few exceptions to the rule that mostly consists of found-footage movies being carbon-copies of the ones that came before them, it’s just that they are so very few and far in between now, that most of them get lost in the shuffle. Most especially if their names aren’t associated with the Paranormal Activity franchise.

But that’s why something like Willow Creek is so special.

While it’s a simple premise, done in a simple, sometimes lazy style, writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait still gives the movie an extra kick in the rear that it not only needed to make the whole sub-genre seem like new life can be breathed into it, but constantly surprise its audience and not falling for the same tropes we’ve all seen many times before. But, what’s weird about Goldthwait’s direction here is that most of those conventional notes and tones are done here, they just aren’t hit in the ways that we usually have come to expect with lesser-films of the same breed. Where one movie may give you scripted, unnatural interviews with people who seem as if they’re over-doing it with the whole goofy, folky townspeople act, this movie actually has its character interview and talk to real people and make it seem like the people are actually talking to a genuine documentary-crew, giving it more of a natural feel.

And also, it should be noted that while the movie does some neat things along the way with its story and how it progresses, the characters are who really makes this movie watchable. Though I’ve seen both Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson in certain stuff before, here, their familiarity didn’t really bother me; I took them in as a real life couple who, although they may have true feelings for each other, still bicker and banter like any other couple. They’re supportive of how the other one feels about something, or whatever it is that they want to do, but they don’t have the most perfect relationship ever witnessed on-camera and, once again, it adds a note of realism to a movie that definitely needed it in order to not just work, but push itself away from the rest of the pack of found-footage films.

Though the real one I found myself most impressed with out of these two was Gilmore, the actress I recognized before I recognized Johnson, which was strange because she was the one I felt as if I was going to have the most problems with believing in. Sure, the fact that I’ve seen her in countless other pieces over the years may have initially gotten in the way of my judgement of her performance, I eventually got away from that problem and began to believe in what Gilmore was doing here. This is maybe more of a testament to her abilities as an actress, than to how I’m able to tell myself to stop thinking one way and just keep an open-mind, but whatever.

The fact is, she’s very believable in a role as a normal, simpleton of a gal who loves her boyfriend dearly, but sort of wants him to grow up a bit and not act like such a nerd.

More life-threatening than Bigfoot? Taking selfies while behind the wheel!

More life-threatening than Bigfoot? Taking selfies while behind the wheel!

That said, her best piece of acting in this whole movie, is also, coincidentally, the best part of the movie and maybe even worth the price of admission alone. Slap dab in the middle of this movie, we get the obligatory scene where, in the middle of the night, the couple hears strange noises coming from all around their tent and they have no idea what it is, what they’re doing, or whom exactly is all behind it. All that they know is that they are scared shit-less and are not taking any chances in possibly dying. It’s the kind of scene we’ve seen in all of these found-footage films, but here, it’s done a whole lot differently that it makes it one of the more memorable sequences in a horror movie that I can remember. For instance, the whole sequence is shot in one camera-angle, for a straight 20-minutes and it’s hardly ever boring. It’s a scene that starts off tense, continues as such, and ends on such a terrifying-note, that if you’re not on the edge of your seat by the end of it, I’d definitely question your ability to have fun. Or, better yet, just appreciate when something good has been handed to you.

But through it all, it’s Gilmore who keeps it mostly interesting. The fact that she’s not already a believer in Bigfoot is what makes this sequence all the more interesting as you see her go from a slightly creeped-out gal who is happily cozying up next to her boyfriend, but then, once everything gets all way too freaky, has her crying and shouting in hysterics to where she really finds herself in absolute and total danger. She doesn’t quite know what to believe what’s out there, tormenting her and the tent she feels all safe and sound in, but she knows that it’s not good and to see he go from one extreme transition to the other is an absolute joy. But also, it’s a testament to the solid piece of acting she puts on here.

Not to say that Bryce Johnson isn’t fine in this role, because he is, it’s just that, in this situation, he’s given the less-meatier role of the two and it’s actually a delight.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t try too hard to re-invent the wheel of found-footage horror flicks, Willow Creek still does a solid enough job at being fun, interesting, and overall, suspenseful in where it’s going to go next, and how the characters adapt to their surroundings, even if they aren’t able to make perfect understandings of them.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

A couple happily-in-love - what bad could happen?

A couple happily-in-love – what bad could happen?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Imitation Game (2014)

Being liked by others is so overrated.

During WWII, when Britain needed him the most, number-crunching genius Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) stepped up to the plate. However, it wasn’t easy for a fella like him. In Bletchley Park, Turing became involved of a top-secret program where he, as well as a few select others would try to decipher the German’s Enigma Code. Not only would it help them understand what the Nazi’s were going to do next, where and when, but it would also give the British an upper-hand in the war and possibly even allow them to win it. But problems arise with Turing’s personal life, as he’s definitely not well-liked by those he works with and, mostly due to his secretive homosexuality, hardly ever opened-up to those around him. The one exception to his rule was fellow number-cruncher Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who Turing develops something of a friendship with, even as hard as it may have been for him. But the fact of the mater remains: There is a war that needs to be fought and won, and Turing was not going to stop one bit in finishing it once and for all. Even if his own life and reputation depended on it.

"Quick! I need a three-letter word for 'being twee'!"

“Quick! I need a three-letter word for ‘being twee’!”

Everything about the Imitation Game screams “Oscar-bait”, and reasonably so. It’s not just produced by the incredibly sneaky and conniving Weinstein’s, but looks and feels just exactly like the King’s Speech. It’s handsomely-made with its production-values matching every single bit of detail it’s mean to portray; features a lead character that has many personal problems that may, or may not, hinder his effectiveness at the job he’s called on to do; and there’s even a female love-interest thrown in the mix as well. Overall, the movie has a very old-fashioned feel to it, that makes me feel like it’s the kind of movie I could see with my grand-mom and pop-pop, rather than seeing all by myself, or with my buddies, after we’ve had a few at the local bar.

But that doesn’t necessarily always mean a bad thing – it just means a thing. A movie can absolutely, positively hit every beat you expect to hit, yet, still not be bad. It’s just conventional and easy to predict a mile away. Once again, nothing wrong with that, especially when it’s done in the right way it should be.

And that’s where the Imitation Game works most of its magic – it has an old-time look and feel, but feels like it actually moves along at a fine pace, building both its plot, as well as its characters. Mostly though, it works with the former, in that it develops this lead character, Alan Turing, in a way that’s respectful enough to the history that he holds behind him (and reasonably so), but also shows us that well, yeah, the dude wasn’t perfect and more or less, had many problems that ended up getting in the way of his day-to-day human connections. Didn’t make him a terrible person, but just a person who possibly you, nor I would ever want to get stuck with talking to at a dinner-party.

If it was Benedict Cumberbatch playing any other character, then yeah, I’d totally want to hang out with him all day and night. But as Alan Turning? Sorry, Ben!

But, anyway, like I was saying about Turing here – the way he’s written and developed over time is well-done. We see him in all sorts of shades, and while they all may not be effective in their own ways, they still at least give us a bigger-impression of who this person was and why he matters to any of us, whether we be from Britain, the United States, Germany, or Niagara Falls. The movie definitely spells itself out as being important in nearly every frame, but it never became bothersome to the rest of it; it’s just a story about a person who deserves to be appreciated.

Though, there is something to be said for a movie that clearly wants us to sympathize and even identify with its lead character, yet, have him act in such ways that don’t seem believable, even by today’s society standards. For instance, back in the old days of England, being gay was considered “a crime”. It didn’t matter if you were a nice citizen who paid your taxes, lived a comfortable life and hadn’t done anything bad to anybody, ever; if you were gay, you were considered a bad person who needed to be locked away, or ticked, tooled, and played around with, as a way to hope that the government would be able to “get the gay out of you”. In case you couldn’t tell by my writing, it sounds all so very ridiculous and crazy, but that’s just the way the world was back then and it’s the way we, as a society, have to live with in knowing and understand as fact. Doesn’t mean we can’t move on from it and grow as a better, more well-adjusted society, but it also doesn’t mean that we have to forget about it neither and act as if it never existed in the first place.

What bothers me though about the way Turing’s written here, is that they make him out to be a guy who not only seemed like he had relatively serious case of Aspergers, but was openly letting people know that he was a homosexual, if push ever came to shove. My problem with this wasn’t that he told people and they were mostly fine with it, but it was more that he was telling people about it in the first place, even if it meant he would be locked away and possibly drugged-up for the rest of his entire life. This isn’t mean throwing out my own personal opinion, because it feels and reads-off as phony, especially given that the rest of the movie wants to be seen as something of a history-lesson.

I could only imagine the total of men and women who auditioned for the roles as the soliders in this scene.

I could only imagine the total of men and women who auditioned for the roles as the soldiers in this scene.

The bits and pieces about Turing actually cracking the code, what he and the rest of his crew had to do with that code, and for how long, were very interesting and seem like they’re trying more to actually inform the audience about history, much rather than actually give them an interesting, compelling story. It works as being such, to be honest, but for the most part, it feels and reads-off as being pretty legitimate and interesting. However, while the other bits and pieces about Turing’s personal life and how those around him approached it, while interesting at first, slowly dissolved into seeming unreasonable and almost like a liberal’s apology for all of the bad things the past had done to certain people of a certain group/demographic. It didn’t fit right with me and made the movie as a whole, feel like it was just taking a lot of liberties with its story.

That said, where the movie got very interesting was whenever it portrayed the relationship between Turing and his possible love-interest, Joan Clark. Though the movie has a bit of a hard time portraying someone as beautiful and charming as Keira Knightley as “plain”, it still gets by on showing how these two interact with one another, why there’s something of an attraction between the two, and why it’s a total shame that they can’t be together in an acceptable way. They both clearly have an attraction to one another, even if it isn’t simply by attraction. Knightley also does a solid job with a character who feels like she’s trying so very hard to be accepted from her male counter-parts, but ends up being a sweet, somewhat sad girl who just wants to be loved, even if it isn’t in the most ideal way imaginable.

Just anything would suffice for her and because she’s such a bundle of joy, it would suffice for us, too.

Problem with Knightley being so good here, with such a small-role, it makes Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing seem a bit one-note, although that’s maybe not fully his fault. The way Turing is written here is to be made out like some sort of weirdo, who doesn’t communicate with those he’s supposed to be communicating with, and even when he does, doesn’t know how to do so in an normal manner. Sometimes, it seems like he has Aspergers, other times, it seems like he as Autism. And while the movie never fully says what Turing’s problem was when it came to socializing, it still feels like the kind of character we’re supposed to be rooting wholeheartedly for, yet, we never get the chance to understand well enough to do so. That doesn’t mean Cumberbatch isn’t good in this role, it’s just a shame that he wasn’t given a whole lot more meat to chew on.

All in all though, what the Imitation Game is, is a tribute to the legend of Alan Turing. A man who deserves to be known by many more people and here’s to hoping that maybe this movie will give everybody a chance to. Even if, you know, a Wikipedia read will probably do some a lot more justice.

Consensus: While ordinary and by-the-numbers, the Imitation Game still presents an interesting enough view into the life of a man people should know more about, regardless of whether or not he’s portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Pretty much Sherlock. Except with more computer-devices.

Pretty much Sherlock. Except with more shirts and ties.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Interview (2014)

This is what we almost got nuked for?

Dave Skylark (James Franco) is the idiotic, but very energetic host of the incredibly popular talk-show Skylark Tonight. On it, Skylark gets famous people to reveal troubling secrets about themselves that they may have never been able to get out before. However, Skylark wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for his talented producer/best buddy in the whole wide world, Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen). But eventually, Rapoport gets tired of doing the same old stupid, meandering things with the talk show and instead, wants to be taken more seriously. That’s why when he finds out that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a huge fan of the show, both he and Skylark decide that it’s time to set an interview up and watch as the media surrounds them with love, respect, and adoration. Once the interview is set up, though, the CIA decides to get involved and set up a plan where both Skylark and Rapoport will assassinate Un, as a way to ensure that North Korea won’t attack the U.S. with their nukes. It’s a plan that may work, but with two bone-heads like Rapoport and Skylark at the helm, it probably won’t.

If every CIA member looked like Lizzy Caplan, I'd be looking for applications automatically.

If every CIA agent looked like Lizzy Caplan, I’d be looking for applications automatically.

So yeah, there’s been a lot of talk about this movie in the past few weeks. Clearly I don’t need to dive into it too much, seeing as how the rest of the world has been keeping their own tabs on what’s been shaking and baking with the Interview, it’s release-date, and how. But, what I find the most interesting aspect of this whole debate as to whether or not Sony should have cancelled the movie in the first place, is that the movie’s quality itself is hardly ever brought up. Surely a movie that’s threatening to have the U.S. under terrorist attacks, be something of a modern-masterpiece, right?

Well, not really. But then again, it didn’t need to be, either.

All in all, what the Interview actually is, is another Seth Rogen movie; one where dudes act sort of/kind of/maybe gay with one another, marijuana is smoked, and there’s plenty of dick jokes to go around for every man, woman, and child. It’s a formula that most of us can identify as coming a mile away now, and it’s one that I don’t necessarily have a problem with. So much so as that it’s constantly funny and always able to keep me entertained. Once it stops being that, then it’s time for the formula to change altogether, or maybe spice things up a bit.

And from the forefront, this movie seemed to be exactly that. Not only is the premise an ambitious one for such a fellow like Seth Rogen (as well as his co-director Evan Goldberg) to tackle, but one that could even have something smart or thought-provoking about the current state of U.S. affairs, North Korea, Nuclear war, and even the idea of what modern-day journalism actually is. While most of these ideas are brought up, they aren’t fully touched on and only feel like a slight taste of what could have been, had Rogen and Goldberg been more concerned with actually making a point with their comedy, rather than just telling a bunch of sex and butt jokes.

However, when those sex and butt jokes are funny, sometimes, it doesn’t always matter. Sure, it’s definitely lovely to have a comedy that’s not only funny, but smart, interesting, and even important to see and listen to, but that is not the Interview. It’s just another one of Seth Rogen’s many raunch-fests where he makes dirty jokes – some land, some don’t. But all in all, they’re funny and you have to give credit to somebody who seems so ordinary as Rogen to actually go out of his way and create something like this.

Even despite all of the hullabaloo surrounding it.

That’s why, to be honest, it doesn’t matter if the Interview is a great movie to begin with. It is what it is, nothing more, nothing less. Generally speaking, there is a part of me that wished Rogen and Goldberg went a bit deeper into what it was that they were trying to say, on any of the broad topics presented. For instance, the movie brings up the fact that Un is starving his people, while also bringing up points about U.S.’s hypocritical ways when it comes to nuclear weapons and when they seem pertinent to use, and when not to. It’s an interesting idea that the movie shows itself of having, but it doesn’t go anywhere further with it. In Rogen and Goldberg’s minds, it seems like simply bringing it up is enough; doing any more leg-work wouldn’t seem ideal. Though they have many ways to go before they’re the premier comedy writers and directors of our time, I’m still interested in seeing what they’ve got on their plates next.

I just hope that they add a bit more substance to their flicks and develop it further than just surface-material. That’s all.

#NotaBoss

#NotaBoss

And speaking of Rogen, here as Aaron Rapoport, he’s very much in his comfort-zone. He’s nerdy, goofy, and the voice of reason at times, and it’s all so very charming. Once again, it’s the kind of formula that I could never see myself getting bored with, no matter how many times he decides to use it. Same goes for James Franco who, here as Dave Skylark, seems like all he did between scenes was snort a lot of coke. While it can sometimes make it seem like his character isn’t anything more than a caricature, it’s still pleasing to see Franco not only try in a movie, but still get me laughing.

But the one who really walks away with this movie and I sure hope to god doesn’t get type-casted for ever and ever because of this genius casting-choice is Randall Park as the notoriously infamous North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. Most of the reasons as to why North Korea were pissed off at this movie make sense, but other times, it doesn’t. Because not only does the movie portray Un in a sometimes charming-light, but even in a sympathetic one, too. Not fully, but when the movie does focus on Un, it’s mostly to show us that he’s a lonely guy, who not only wants to please his daddy, but even be looked at in a different way from the rest of the world.

Of course this facade eventually runs its course and we see a darker, more-known side to who Un may be, but Park is the one who keeps him away from being a snarky caricature of someone we think we know right from the first moment we meet him. But Park, as well as the rest of the movie, shows us that there may be more to Un than we initially expect there to be. He’s not a great guy and sure as hell is not a saint, but he’s still a person and a sometimes fun one at that. However though, the movie steers clear of making him out to be a totally sympathetic character, because, as we all know full well, he’s not. But as is the case with most bad human beings, we hope that there’s something more. Even if it isn’t there.

Sort of like the Interview.

Consensus: Controversy aside, the Interview is still a funny, sometimes smart comedy, although it does occasionally flirt with being about bigger, bright ideas, and then not going anywhere with them.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

The future faces of America, everybody.

The future faces of America, everybody.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Unbroken (2014)

Don’t give up. You can cry a little bit, but that’s it.

Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) was a person who faced all sorts of adversity in his life. As a young kid, he was constantly tattered and teased for being a poor, young immigrant. Then, he grew up a bit and found out that he could run pretty well, which surprisingly took him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. However, his whole life changes once he enlists in the war and faces even more problems than he could have possibly fathomed. After his faulty-plane gets struck down in the middle of the sea, Zamperini, along with two other of his fellow soldiers, are stranded for months at sea, where they are left to survive by any means possible. And I do mean, by any means possible. But then, as soon as things start looking up for Zamperini and he might be possibly rescued, turns out, is actually the Japanese army. This is when Zamperini is taken hostage in a POW camp and is tortured in every which way possible, by the sergeant who seems to have it out for him the most – an entitled, but incredibly violent guy who goes by the name of “The Bird” (Miyavi). But, through thick and thin, Zamperini relies on his inner, as well as outer, strength to get him through even the toughest times.

"You think I'm pretty, huh?"

“You think I’m pretty, huh?”

Or, you know, something like that. And the reason why I say this is because while Angelina Jolie’s film definitely flirts with the idea of being an inspirational tale of one person’s struggle with staying alive, even through all of the adversity he may have been facing, there’s never any real moment where it becomes such. Though Jolie may dress the film up in all sorts of pretty, impressive ways, the fact remains this: Unbroken isn’t a great movie.

It’s a good one, but man, it could have been so much more.

Though, this definitely isn’t to rag on Jolie as a director, because she seems incredibly confident in staging a scene and bringing the right amount of subtle-drama to it, without ever seeming like she’s trying too hard at all, but her movie as a whole just doesn’t quite go anywhere. Which is definitely a weird complaint, considering that you’d think with Zamperini’s real life story, you’d expect a widely compelling, emotional and life-changing movie-experience, but that sort of doesn’t happen. What happens instead, is that you get a well-told story about a guy who, for the lack of a better word, should have hated everything to do with his life and the way it was dealt to him, but thankfully, didn’t and actually excelled as a human being.

While this may sound interesting being typed-out, the sad reality is that, on film, it doesn’t quite translate to being as such. Some of this has to do with the fact that Jolie’s film is by-the-numbers, but also, another part of that has to do with the fact that it just slogs along for so very long, without any real tension or suspense whatsoever, that when it’s over, it doesn’t seem to last long in the memory-banks. It may have been an important story to Jolie, but to everybody else, it seems like one we could have all lived without, even if there is some interesting aspects brough here to the screen.

For instance, when Zamperini gets taken to the POW camp, he automatically falls prey to whatever sick and twisted mind games the Bird enjoys playing and while it’s hard to watch, it brings a lot of interesting questions to the table. Like, why is the Bird focusing all of his attention on this one prisoner? Is it because Zamperini’s simply just an Olympian? Or, is there something far more bizarre, even perverted going on here? That’s not to say that the Bird is gay, but why does he go about the constant torturing to Zamperini in such a way, that it makes him seem like a jealous ex-girlfriend, who is begging and pleading for any sort of attention he can get? The movie brings up the fact that the Bird comes from a rich family, which would make sense as to why he’s automatically in control of maintaining all of the already weak, beaten-down prisoners, but why exactly is he picking on Zamperini, and solely just him?

The fact that Jolie never fully answers this question makes me feel like there was a far more intriguing film to be made here, but sadly, wasn’t as developed as I would have wished. Though, with the character of the Bird, we get someone who might possibly be humane than we want to believe, however, acts so cruelly and despicable to those he has total control over that it’s easy to list him as “a baddie”, and nothing more. But, Jolie does something neat here in that the Bird is maybe the most interesting character out of the whole bunch here, whether we want to admit it or not.

"Seriously? We're working on our tans here!"

“Seriously? We’re trying to catch some rays here!”

Although, obviously, this doesn’t pan-out too well for Jack O’Connell who plays Zamperini. Because even though O’Connell seems like he’s trying his hardest to make the character of Zamperini relate to us all, there’s a sort of sameness to him that makes him seem so ordinary and simple, that it’s almost as if he never had any other traits to him than just “brave”, “courageous”, or “nice”. Jolie doesn’t paint Zamperini out to be a saint, I’ll give her that, but she doesn’t really paint him as much else either. He’s just another guy, thrown into an incredibly terrible, unfortunate situation; one that he could have definitely caved into right away and died, but thankfully, didn’t.

Once again though, this is mainly me just drawing more and more conclusions about a film that is, quite frankly, as plain as you could get. There’s nothing wrong with being considered “plain” (that is, unless you tell my ex-girlfriend that), but for a movie that wants to be about this eventful life where one overcome all sorts of adversity, to then eventually grow up, get past the past, and move on towards a better future, there is. Not that it’s a bad movie, per se, it’s just one that you can see, be interested in for the time it is on the screen, have it end, and then leave it, without thinking about it much longer afterwards.

Sounds bad, but it isn’t. Just nothing entirely special.

Consensus: Though competently-made, Unbroken suffers from hardly ever being more than just a slightly compelling tale of surviving and excelling in life, even when it seems like everything has been stacked-up against you.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Relax, bro. You've got two more laps.

Relax, bro. You’ve got two more laps.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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

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

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