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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

What If (2014)

At least I now know that there’s another meaning behind the term “fool’s gold”, other than just some shitty Kate Hudson rom-com.

Medical school drop-out Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is still trying to get over a break-up that left him nearly destroyed over a year ago. And everything looks like it’s going back to being smooth when he meets the lovely and vivacious Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, where it seems quite clear that they’ll be spending the night together and will bring Wallace out of this funk. Problem is, Chantry lets it be known that she does indeed have a boyfriend (Rafe Spall) and that things between them are still quite serious. However, she still wants to be friends with Wallace, which he can’t resist because he knows that there is a certain connection between them both that makes the two happy. So, they decide to try and be friends for as long as they can; that is, until one decides that maybe it’s time to take things to the next level, if that’s even possible. But as we all know: It’s easier said, then actually done.

So yeah, the whole “Can men and women be friends?” thing has been practically hammered to death in the rom-com genre since the early days of When Harry Met Sally…, and then all the way to where we had two rom-coms in the same year talking about it (Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached). And while, yes, that does seem awfully terrible that somebody has produced, yet again, another rom-com in which it seems like everything happens and occurs right on-cue as it’s supposed to, there’s still some delight to be had in a rom-com that takes itself a bit more seriously.

How I imagine most of the ragers at Hogwarts ended up turning out to be.

How I imagine most of the ragers at Hogwarts ended up turning out to be.

For instance, What If (formerly titled the much better the F Word) takes the conventional rom-com plot of having a guy, be a friend with a girl, even though he may/may not have feelings for her in the first place. We’ve all heard, and seen it done a hundred times before and usually, it sucks. There’s no way of getting around it, except if the rom-com called into question is a tad bit “different” from the bunch.

This is that kind of rom-com, although, you wouldn’t know right away. Because, with time, the movie does grow on you and, wouldn’t you know it, there actually begins to be something of a believable, rather sweet friendship between these Wallace and Chantry characters that not only makes you root them on to be together by the end, but to actually wish more rom-coms followed suit. Honestly, it’s not that hard: Write stock characters as much as you want, but give them at least some element resembling a personality, or heart and it’s all good. Once you are able to do that with your rom-com’s characters, then the movie itself gets sufficiently better.

Which, in case you couldn’t already tell, is exactly the case here.

Not only do we get two well-written characters that feel, talk, breathe and act like real human beings in a committed, yet, full-of-boundaries friendship, but they also have two actors in the roles that build a pretty neat chemistry between one another. For those of you who have not yet been able to get over the fact that yes, Harry Potter is over and yes, Daniel Radcliffe has aged, then allow this movie/role to be something of a wake-up call. Radcliffe does something well here in that he plays Wallace as an everyday, straight-man that you could probably meet on the street and have a conversation with on just about anything that came across your mind. He just has that certain vibe about him and it hardly ever makes him unlikable, nor even annoying; he’s just a simple dude, looking for love and any sort of connection. And because we too have, at one point, had that need in our lives, it’s easy to sympathize with him and hope that by the end, all works out well for him, girl or no girl.

That said, Zoe Kazan definitely gets the harder role as Chantry – a tied-down, twenty-something gal that has a boyfriend, yet, casually flirts and leads on her “bestie”. In most movies, this character is written off as something of a villain, but here, Chantry has to be somewhat likable and relatable in her non-stop attempts at making Wallace want to rip his hair out, and Kazan’s charm allows her to get away with that. Kazan’s another talent that most people don’t know is actually out there, yet, time and time again, the gal continues to put in great work in these small indies that reveal here to be more than just a carbon-copy of Zoeey Deschanel; she’s more down-to-Earth and isn’t all about the quirks of her personality, or her mandolin. She wants to be loved and, if given the chance to, return the favor to those who deserve it the most.

The Halt and Catch Fire and Girls team-up nobody asked for.

The Girls and Halt and Catch Fire team-up nobody asked for.

And their chemistry together is what mostly carries this movie. Their constant conversations revolve around such topics feces, fried foods, Elvis and Cool Whip, and while in most movies, this would seem so earnest you’d want to punch everybody in the face (and there are certain occasions in which I had that feeling with this feeling), but here, it feels like actual conversations between two people who feel and have a spark between them both. It’s nice to see play out on screen, but it’s even better to see what happens when these two eventually do start to question whether they can be friends, or if they can “be more”.

Now, obviously, you know where this is heading, so I won’t say too much more other than to expect from this movie, what you expect from most rom-coms: Conventional occurrence, after conventional occurrence. However, while that would destroy most movies, here, it’s fine. The movie never makes it clear that it sets out to be the different kind of rom-com that will forever change the world; it just wants to tell a sweet, rather lovely story about a boy and a girl, and how they end up being friends.

That’s all there is to it and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Consensus: By not setting out to change the game of the ordinary rom-com, What If ends up being an enjoyable, sweet and well-acted tale of romance, that’s also a fine piece of filler entertainment.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

If she jumps under your umbrella like that, bro, she wants it!

If she jumps under your umbrella like that, bro, she wants it!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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The Trip (2011)

Good food and My Cocaine impersonations: All you need in life.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are two British actors and comedians that have worked together many times before and, for some odd reason, the two decide to go on a trip together. Though it was initially planned to be just Coogan and his girlfriend on the trip, she left to go back to America, leaving him to bring somebody he can’t necessarily consider “a friend”, but not somebody he “dislikes”; basically, just a “confidante”, if you will. Anyway, the two embark on a journey of Northern England where they eat all of the finest food, drink some of the most splendid wine, chat it up with the most delightful people, and even go for a bit of sight-seeing as well. However, the two mostly just spend their days battling each other in constant games of wits, career-choices, and most importantly, various impersonations that one thinks is better than the other.

A simple a premise, as well as a simple movie. Usually that works for me, but sometimes, it can feel like a crutch that the makers of the movie can’t help but fall back on, anytime that it tries to get darker, or more serious than it had originally promised. Thankfully though, director Michael Winterbottom and co-writers Brydon and Coogan themselves, make the Trip something just a tad bit more than what it could have easily been, with no consequences whatsoever: A fine, timely and splendid good time with two hilarious people.

However, rather than just focusing on how funny each of these guys are together and in their own respective, little worlds, the movie actually goes deep into who they are, and what makes them sometimes at odds with one another. For instance, we all know that Coogan fancies himself being a miserable prick, and here, basically playing himself, that’s all he ever is. He constantly gets down on those around him, criticizes everything he sees and never seems fully fulfilled with his life or his career. Then, take the bright, smiley, optimistic and relatively pleasant Rob Brydon who is nearly the opposite of Coogan. The only glue really keeping them together and on speaking-terms is their love of comedy and making people laugh; whether it be themselves, or a huge, paying crowd.

Don't know if selfie, or trying to get service.

Don’t know if selfie, or trying to get service….

Pitting these two together, and sometimes, against one another, is interesting because Winterbottom never really has these two go head-to-head in a way that would make it seem like they could beat the shit out of one another after the other messes up a Roger Moore impersonation. Nope, none of that unrealistic shite here! Instead, they more or less just get at each other’s necks every so often, making fun of their personalities, and saying whatever comes to their mind first, without ever having a filter of what not to say in order to not offend the other too much. But even after they trade barbs, they’re back on the road, in a restaurant, or in a park, walking, talking, eating, joking around, and impersonation people as if nothing had ever happened.

They’re the typical friends that aren’t the best of friends, but are good enough together that they relatively enjoy each other’s company. And because so much of it resembles a real, actual friendship between both Brydon and Coogan, it’s hard to ever forget which is true about their relationship together, or better yet, when exactly are they done “acting”. See, because they wrote this together, it’s difficult to draw the line between “fictionalized”, and “real”. The line between the two is blurred many times here and it’s nice to see that not only can these two bounce jokes off of one another like it’s nobody’s business, but that, at the end of the day, they seemingly don’t really have a problem with the other.

Even if they do, it’s probably a small problem that’s best not to even elaborate on, mostly because that would just entitle there to being more and more countless celebrity impersonations.

That said, because Brydon and Coogan are so good together, the movie’s very funny. Although, it’s not constantly funny. There’s a part of me that was enjoying this, but wasn’t necessarily laughing as much as I thought I should have. Their constant impersonations were funny and definitely got me laughing-out-loud more than a few times, but when it came to tossing and turning, in a non-stop fashion – eh, not so much. But I thought about it long and hard and I realized that’s fine; like life, when two people engage in conversation, it’s not always snippy, snappy and crackling dialogue between them both. It does drag and it does get quiet at times, and that’s how life is. Even if the two people are as extremely funny as both Brydon and Coogan; they’re human beings after all and no human being can be hilarious, all of the time.

Occasionally funny is good enough.

How I assume we all look while trying to pull of the perfect Bond villain.

How I assume we all look while trying to pull of the perfect Bond villain.

And I used the word “drag” earlier because the same could be said for the movie itself. There are moments in this movie where I felt like, despite it moving at a fine, sometimes languid pace, the movie never really gets off to where it wants to go that, by the end, it felt like just a nice time spent with two very funny people and that was it. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when the two screen-presences are as funny as the two fellas here, but there is a feeling that it could have been cut-down by size, just by a bit. If they did so, it wouldn’t have felt like such a slog at times that, once it was all said and done, it felt more like a trip that we were getting ready to go home for, rather than one we never wanted to end.

But I do have to give the benefit of the doubt to Winterbottom who, essentially, made a near two-hour movie of three hours of footage. Surely, it couldn’t have been an easy task, but it’s one that Winterbottom mostly succeeds at. Maybe it would have worked on TV like it had originally done, but it still feels suitable enough to not totally notice the various cracks and folds hiding underneath the editing. Sometimes, they’re noticeable and sometimes, they’re not. But most of the time, you just don’t care. You laugh, check out some sweet sights, get incredibly hungry and just have a relatively good time with two very funny Brits.

Damn. Wish my friends were as funny, or could do a killer Anthony Hopkins.

Consensus: While the Trip isn’t consistent in terms of its hilarity, or its interest-factor, it still proves Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan to a lovable pair that work so well together, we can’t wait to see it again.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Aw. What besties!

Aw. What besties!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Expendables 3 (2014)

They’re old. Get used to it.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and the gang are back and older than ever! Which means that with age, comes a lot more violence and harm in their way. And possibly, with their latest target, their lives could all be in actual danger. The baddie this time around goes by the name of Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) and he’s had a bit of a history with Barney. However, he takes mercy on him and instead, decides to injure the ‘eff out of Caesar (Terry Crews), leaving the rest of the Expendables wanting all sorts of revenge that they can practically taste it in their thyroids. And Barney knows this, which is why he decides to give his old crew a much needed rest, and start up with a new crew of youngin’s just waiting to throw their lives on the line for some under-paid mercenary job they know hardly anything about. Eventually though, the mission ends up getting a whole lot more complicated for Barney and his new rag-tag, which means he may have to bring in all the friends he can think of. Or, better yet, the ones who would agree to work in this for chump change.

It should be no surprise to anyone out there who has gotten to know me through the years that I’m a huge fan of the older action movies of the 80’s/90’s. They always hold a very nice place in my heart and will continue to do so, so long as I still maintain a sense of immaturity. Which is exactly why the Expendables movies, despite being an obvious ploy to get nostalgic-mother-humpers like me in the theater, have always worked for me. No, they aren’t perfect and no, they sure as hell aren’t nearly as good as the twelve-year-old inside of me would have thought it been, but they’re still fun movies that deliver on exactly what you want: Your favorite action stars from yesteryear, kicking ass and blowing shit up all over again.

"Grrrr."

“Grrrr.”

And here, with the third movie in this rather surprising franchise, that’s exactly what you get. But then again though, it’s what we should expect, so it’s hard to really judge a movie on what it’s supposed to be and clearly is. A movie should be followed and dissected on what it does with those expectations, and here, it’s something that isn’t nearly as fun and exciting as the second movie, yet, not nearly as lazy as the first. Somehow, this movie is stuck right in the middle and I think that’s fine.

Sure, would I have liked that there’d been less corny chit-chat between some of these strange duos on-screen? Of course. And while I’m at it, wouldn’t have I at least liked to seen more action scenes that didn’t just contain guns being shot, without ever really seeing what they do in the first place? Most definitely yes! But that’s just me being greedy and picky and all that bad stuff. And while I’m like that with most movies I see, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for any of that chicanery here.

So yeah, back to what I was originally saying – this movie’s pretty fun. And considering that were all stepping into what I know to be the “dog days of summer”, that means a whole heck of a lot. It means a whole heck of a lot that we’re getting a fun, action summer blockbuster, but it also means a whole heck of a lot that we’re getting it courtesy of some people we haven’t seen do stuff like this in quite some time.

I mean, well for Sly, Arnie, Statham, Crews, Couture, Lundgren, and whoever else shows up here that’s shown up in the past two, but as for the other “new breeds”, as I like to call ‘em as I sees ‘em, it’s great to just see actually working in something again. Even if the material that they are working with is pretty timid, run-of-the-mill stuff, it still makes my heart feel all warm and tingly knowing that, yes, Wesley Snipes may finally be in full comeback mode. Don’t worry, I won’t get my hopes up too high, cause you never know with him, but I will keep my fingers crossed because seeing him here, throwing knives, doing karate and whatnot, made me think of the good old days in which I’d sneak downstairs and watch Blade while everybody else in my house was asleep. The nightmares were terrible, but man, it was oh so worth it!

Come on, Wesley! Just pay your taxes for your gosh sakes!

But I digress, because this movie isn’t just about Wesley Snipes and his much needed return to the big screen; this is about everyone who is involved with the Expendables franchise as a whole. It doesn’t matter if they pop up just to wreck some mofo’s up like Chuck Norris infamously did in the second movie, or if they’re just around to be weird and wear other outfits, from other famous summer blockbusters, much like what Mickey Rourke did in the first movie. See, it’s the little pieces of this cast that make it all worth the while and even though the script is cheesy and at times, god-awful to listen to, it’s fun and it’s hacky for a reason, and it’s only made better because the cast totally seems in on the joke.

I would have dedicated a whole paragraph to him, but I think we all know that wouldn't have gone over quite as well.

I could have dedicated a whole paragraph to him, but I think we all know that wouldn’t have gone over quite as well.

Sure, I could totally do without Arnie self-deprecatingly yelling at people, “GET TO THA CHOPPAA!!”, but it’s something I take with me when I’m watching something like this. Sly and the rest of the clan have finally realized that instead of taking themselves so damn seriously all of the time, that they should just lighten up, crack a few jokes at themselves and move on. There’s no need for a super-duper heavy, melodramatic story about how we all need to get along and maybe even highlight some of the problems over in the Ukraine.

Nope, not here. Because here, it’s all about the guns, the blood, the violence, the shooting, the wise-cracks, the half-naked men, the sweating, the yelling, the constant “bro-ing”, the running, the helicopters, the tanks, the explosions, the bikes, the knives, the guts, the, well, everything that has to do with an action movie of this nature.

And Kelsey Grammar for some odd reason. But I guess we can just leave that as is. A little Frasier here and there never hurt anyone too bad.

Consensus: Everything you’d expect from an Expendables movie, yet, not nearly as good as the second, nor nearly as mellowed-out as the first. In other words, it’s just right if you’re hankering for some serious fun and nostalgia.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

More than half of who's pictured here could be dead in the next year, so they better get on the next movie quick!

More than half of who’s pictured here could be dead in the next year, so they better get on the next movie quick!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Salt (2010)

What about Pepa?

CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) has served and protected her country for many years, so when she’s accused of being a Russian spy, she’s absolutely baffled. Not just by the claim itself, but the fact that people who know and have worked with her for so many years, would actually start to believe this claim to be a fact and hunt her down as if she was some sort of Splinter Cell. But Salt knows that she can’t just sit around while she’s being thought about, so instead, she decides to take matters into her own hands by going on the run. This puts the CIA on a heavy, electrifying chase of sorts, where they find out more about Salt’s history/background and also see if they can get in contact with her husband (August Diehl). However, what’s strange is that he’s nowhere to be found, but what’s even stranger is that Salt’s past does seem a bit sketchy. Almost as if she could be some sort of spy who, for all these years, has been feeding off countless bits of info to her homeland of Russia. Then again though, nobody knows for sure and that’s how Salt plans on keeping it.

While this seems like a general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller, that would more than likely star either Matt Damon or Tom Cruise in the lead roles, all of a sudden becomes something of a different beast when you get rid of those two, manly-men and replace them with none other than a woman. Better yet, a woman by the name of Angelina Jolie who, despite what you may think about her questionable choices in her personal life, is a movie star in every sense of the word.

Yup. Toates Russian.

Yup. Toates Russian.

She’s not only proven herself, time and time again, that she can in fact act with the best of them, but is also able to kick some fine ass and even have us believe that a skinny little thing like her would be capable of doing so, too. Sure, most of her action-movies are the typical fodder for dudes who are just begging to see her naked to love and adore, but what she does well is that she can turn her “action-mode” off, as well as on, and have us believe her every second. She may not have many fans out there, but for me, Angelina Jolie is the exact kind of Hollywood star I want head-lining my major blockbuster; not just for the major dough involved with having her name attached to something, but because she always seems to put in the best that she can.

That, and the fact that she’s a woman who reminds us why girls can be tough, too.

All that said, this movie isn’t really trying to go out on a limb and make some sort of grand, feminist-statement – much rather, it just wants to be exactly what it sets out to be in the first place: A general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller. However, what’s so different here, is that something feels slightly “old school” about it all. Most of that can be chalked up to the fact that the writing is something of pure 80’s cheese, in which the CIA is running rampant all over the globe and Russians are still the bad guys, but another part of that can be chalked up to director Phillip Noyce, the kind of director that is able to bring us back to the good old days of action-thrillers.

You know, before Bourne had to come around and shake things up a notch. I mean that literally, and figuratively.

But what’s so interesting here that Noyce does, that not many action-thrillers do, or just seemingly forget about because they just want explosions and bullets, is that there’s more to this movie than just a bunch of simple, yet exciting action-sequences; it’s actually a mystery of sorts and adds more to the final product. Sure, the action-sequences are great and all, and more often than not feel as if they are riding the thin line between “absolutely absurd” and “somewhat believable”, but it’s the mystery as to who the hell this character is that really keeps it moving. It also keeps the movie interesting, because even when they do call it a lunch on all the action and decide to explore more and more about this main’s character life, it’s still compelling to figure out. Not that the writing for these flashbacks are great at all, but what they are able to get away with is being placed in at the right times, for the right reasons.

They're still holding a grudge over who's getting paid the most here.

They’re still holding a grudge over who’s getting paid the most.

That said, Salt herself is a bit of a bland character. I get the fact that since she’s a woman and she can kick more than a few asses on a good day is supposed to make her “different” from the rest of the other ass-kickers out there in a genre filled to the brim with them, but here, she does begin to feel less and less human as the movie goes on. And I don’t mean that because of the fact that she jumps on moving, speeding cars while on the highway and hardly ever gets a scratch; I mean that just because the writing never allows us to get to know as much as we should about her, in order to have us fully care for her journey into clearing her own name. Yeah, it kind of blows that everybody around her would all of a sudden go gung-ho after hearing that she may possibly be a Russian spy, but is that it? I needed a bit more, and maybe that’s asking too much as is.

That’s not to say Jolie isn’t bad here, because it’s quite the opposite – she’s good, meaning that she’s capable of having us believe her as both an ass-kicker, as well as a woman thrown into a disaster of a dilemma. The rest of the cast is pretty fine too, with the likes of Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Corey Stoll showing their faces and letting everybody know that they can hang with Jolie, too. However, most of the time, especially for the first two names I mentioned, they’re just spent staring at monitors and spitting in each other’s faces when everything starts to go haywire for them and this mission of tracking down Salt. It’s fun to watch these guys scream and yell, like most of us imagine CIA officials do on a daily basis, but the fact that they’re both technically fighting and hollering over a woman, makes it even funnier.

Better yet, make that woman Angelina Jolie and you’ve got yourself a comedy. Except one with a lot more running, jumping, killing, explosions, shooting, bleeding and death. Does that still qualify as a “comedy”?

Consensus: Exceptionally well-made as an action-thriller of yesteryear, Salt feels like it’s constantly keeping us, as well as itself moving, and while that may not make it more than just a standard action flick, it’s still a good time regardless.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"That'll take care of that fly."

“That’ll take care of that fly.”

 

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.AuGoggle Images

Calvary (2014)

Catholicism is still “a thing”? Could have swore Kabbalah was going to take the world by storm.

Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is the priest of a small town in Ireland. He’s a stand-up guy who gets a joke quickly, has a daughter (Kelly Reilly) that he loves and cares for so very much, has a past that’s none too pretty, and is always there to try and make those around him happy. So when he hears somebody utter in confession that they’re going to give him a week, until they take him out to the beach and kill him, it’s a bit of a shock. However, that’s sort of the point as the killer states that they want to kill a “good priest”, rather than a bad one who did bad stuff like rape, or any sort of sexual abuse. Though Father knows who this person is, he doesn’t spill the beans and instead, lives this whole next week of his life, as if it was his last. Because, hell, it might as very well be.

And if you want to have some fun with that plot-synopsis up above, you can include the term “drinking beer”, at the end of every sentence because it totally fits. It’s a movie that takes place in Ireland, a very poor part of Ireland to be exact, and well, features a whole lot of drinking, smoking and dancing, like all Irish men and women are known to be doing. Take it from one, will ya?

"Say your forgiveness, one more time."

“Say your forgiveness, one more time.”

Anyway, what’s so interesting about this movie isn’t the premise (although it comes pretty close), it’s more in watching how each and everyone of these characters in this small town, interact with one another; particularly Father Lavelle. And because he is our center-of-command for the movie, we spend time with him and see everything he sees, encounter who he encounters, and goes through whatever he is going through at that particular time. It’s a necessary move writer/director John Michael McDonagh needed to pull off, because in order to get where this character is coming from, we’d need to see what it is about him that makes him such a likable guy.

Well, for starters, it’s the fact that it’s Brendan Gleeson playing him. I don’t know if any of you know this by now, but Brendan Gleeson is a big, lovely guy, no matter what the movie it is that he shows up in. Here, as Father, he gets to show that warm charm we all know and love him for, although, this time, it may be a bit darker. This character is a very broken and troubled guy, but what he does best is that he never throws his problems onto those around him. He’s the one there for the listening, so he’s going to keep on doing that, no matter how many church-goers it has him lose.

So yeah, Gleeson’s great as Father Levelle, but it’s also the rest of the cast that’s pretty phenomenal as well; which mostly has to do with the fact that, in the way they are written, they have a sort of one-note personality, but use it so well that it hardly ever seems to be poorly-written or lazy. Most of them just seem like real people you’d meet in a small, Irish town like this. Presumably getting absolutely wasted at the local bar, but hey, that’s what one expects in Ireland, right?

Playing Father’s confused, near-suicidal daughter is Kelly Reilly and she’s a lovely little gal, showing that there’s more to her than just a possible basket case; Chris O’Dowd plays a joking-butcher whose wife sleeps around on him; Isaach de Bankolé plays the man who she’s sleeping with; M. Emmet Walsh plays a very old, nearly-senile old man; and Aidan Gillen plays a doctor that doesn’t believe in God, and even if he does, he doesn’t think he’s not all as nice as he’s been made out to be in other pieces. The whole supporting cast is great and show up every so often, work with this script, make it funny and liven the tone up, because once it gets down and out, there’s hardly ever a moment for it to come back up and alive, and waiting for us to smile and jump for joy because of it.

Which is to say that it’s bleakness is what actually bothered me. And I’m not saying that in the way that it made me want to stopped being so depressed, but I’m saying that because, after awhile, the movie only seems to go one way. Early on, there was a nice juggle between comedy and drama, but later on in the movie, the drama took over and it got darker and darker with each and every second.

"No more killing, son."

“No more killing, son.”

But I didn’t know why? I understand that John Michael McDonagh wanted to present a portrait of a better, more friendlier-version of the Church and the fathers who work their butts off everyday just to make sure we’re happy with who won American Idol. And he keeps at this for quite awhile, but eventually, it makes you wonder, why so bleak to begin with? Better yet, why did the ending have to be such a drag to where it felt like it deserved the constant clock-checking. Not to say the later portions of this movie are even bad, it’s just that when this movie has a clear idea on its head, it goes for it and doesn’t really change things up.

Which is a bit of a shame, because the first-thirds of this movie is pretty funny. Even if the situations they were thrown into, or talk about, that may have seem dark, the movie still found a way to rub its comedic-bone off of all of us. It’s what you’d expect from a movie by the brother of the writer/director of In Bruges, but it’s something I’d also totally expect from a group of Irishmen.

By the way, the drinks are on me.

Consensus: As it gets deeper and deeper into its own mystery, Calvary loses its meaning, but for the most part, because of the well-written characters and wonderful performances from the ensemble, it mostly works.

 7 / 10 = Rental!!

The redder the hair, the more related they have got to be.

The redder the hair, the more related they have got to be.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Eventually, we all get old and die. Tell me, what else is new?

After New York theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hits it big with his “version” of Death of a Salesman, the question on everybody’s mind is: What’s next? However, he’s the only one who doesn’t have that question anywhere near his mind at the moment, mainly because he’s got a lot of crap going on that he can’t escape from. His artist wife (Catherine Keener) just left to Berlin with his 4-year-old daughter; his box-office worker Hazel (Samantha Morton) is flirting up a storm with him; he just got hit in the head by a pipe and found out that it may be a deadly sign of things to come (meaning death); and he just received a grant to make his next big play inside of an area the size of a football stadium. Caden’s brain is so wracked and sad, however, that he does eventually come up with an idea that may take some by surprise, but makes total sense when you take his whole life into perspective: Caden plans on making the play about his whole life, including the most eventful moments, and all of the people he meets and greets. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass it is!

Going into this movie and knowing that Charlie Kaufman is not only just writing this movie, but directing it as well, should already get you in the right frame-of-mind, and make you expect the unexpected, even if the unexpected is totally, and utterly random and pretentious. But such is the case with Kaufman, who’s the type of writer whose style should not work at all, but somehow does, mainly because he’s had such talented directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry being able to pick up the pieces and frame them in a somewhat comprehensible way, where not only do the heavy-set ideas hit our brains at maximum-speed, but the story itself just works, regardless of if we get it or not. Those two are just obvious examples, as I’m sure they are many more directors out there who “get” enough of what Kaufman does with his writing, and what he’s trying to say. However, when it’s just him running the show, and no outside interference or inspiration, then things get very, very shaky as a result.

Aside from PSH, let's see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Aside from PSH, let’s see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Then again though, like I said before: It’s Charlie Kaufman, and you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. So that means that there’s no need to fear, this won’t be one of those reviews where I get on the movie’s case for being non-stop pretentious, self-indulgent and preachy, because I expect that from him. Instead, it’s going to be more of a review on how easy Kaufman’s writing seems to be. See, the movie is less about a guy making a play of his life, as much as it’s more about how life itself is a play, and we are all just characters within it, going about our emotions, our action, and our decisions in a way that were pretty much spoon-fed to us from birth; they’re just starting to show now. And with that idea in mind, I have to give Kaufman plenty of credit. Not only can the dude look at the human-existence, but the reason we have to live, with a sour-puss attitude and grin on his face, but he can also show us that life is pretty damn sad, no matter how times we try to avoid that sadness with the simple things in life.

Very depressing, I know, but there’s just something about Kaufman’s writing that makes it so wonderful and honest that you can’t help but be entranced, nor not be interested in hearing what he has to say. You just listen, watch and learn gracefully, as if you’re watching a fellow human-life happen right in front of your own, very eyes. Which, in a way, you pretty much, and that’s where I hit my problems with this movie and where it was trying to get at.

The problem with this movie isn’t that it’s depressing or it makes you look at your own life, as well as the other’s around you, with a dour-look, but how it just seems to only reach for that idea as a point to be made. We always know where Kaufman’s getting at with this material; he feels that life is a sad, miserable experience that we live through, but we live through it nonetheless, so why harp over the meaningless things like break-ups, divorces, and lost-loves, just live life! And yes, it is very sad and cynical in it’s own way, but Kaufman never seems to be bringing anything much else to it other than that. There are shiny and bright rays of hope and happiness to be found somewhere in the finer-lines of this story, but anytime they get a chance to pop-up and show themselves, Kaufman comes right back down with his swiping-hand of negativity, showing us that we shouldn’t be happy with what we see, we should cry, pout and kick cans all day because of it. Maybe he’s not that much of a dick about it, but he comes pretty close at times, and it just shows you why this is the type of writer that can do some major business when he has a helping-hand with the direction; but when it comes to his own shot at glory, and giving it his all, he sort of stutters into his way of balancing out the happy, as well as the sad times in life.

Surely there’s plenty of both elements in everybody’s life, but it sure as hell isn’t always sad, Charlie. Get a grip, man!

"Why yes, I am reading "Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It." Have you heard of it before?"

“Why yes, I am reading “Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It.” Have you heard of it before?”

And while it’s disappointing that things didn’t turn out better for Kaufman’s direction, it’s even more disappointing to see the awesome cast he was working with here, and how little most of them, minus the few exceptions, are given. One of those said few exceptions, Philip Seymour Hoffman as our main, mid-life crisis man for the next 2 hours: Caden Cotad. Hoffman is great at playing these sad-sack, miserable characters that don’t care much about the life they live, nor the little things that make it worth living, but he feels like he’s channeling the same emotions every once and a little while. He seems never crack a smile, no matter what the occasion may bring. However, he seems to be able to lure every women he meets into bed with him, make her the happiest gal alive, show her her own faults, make her sad, push her away, lose her, and then never see her again. That’s a non-stop cycle that continues to revolve around every so often, and it got as annoying to watch, as much as it did to see Hoffman put on the same saddened, depressed-look on his mug. It works when the humor within Kaufman’s script comes to show, but not when we’re supposed to care for this guy, as well as the fellow women he falls in love with.

Many of which, may I add, are played by extremely talented, and great actresses, who are given material that could have easily benefited them more, had Kaufman himself seemed to actually give a crap about them, or life. Catherine Keener does her usual, “I’m old and artsy, but I’m also bored and impulsive, therefore, I’m a bitch”-act, and does it well; Samantha Morton is a bit of a sweetie-pie as one of Cadence’s first loves, one who lives in a burning house, that constantly burns throughout the whole movie (whatever sort of metaphor that’s supposed to be, I still can’t wrack my brain around); Michelle Williams acts like a bit of a bitch as well, but shows some compassion for the way she feels towards Cadence and their relationship that isn’t so present with the other gals in this flick; and Emily Watson has moments of fun and spirit, but doesn’t get much more time to really allow for her character to breathe or shed any meaning as to why she’s even shown. The only one who really seems to be livening up this material is Hope Davis, as Caden’s therapist who shows up from time-to-time, does something weird or goofy, tells him to read her expendable, self-help books and leaves him on his way, hitting all of the right tones you need from an odd, Charlie Kaufman movie. Problem is, she isn’t in it enough and doesn’t get the chance to really let loose on material that could have easily used it from her, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and even Dianne Wiest. Seriously, how do you misuse Dianne Wiest!!?!? She’s so precious!

Consensus: The sad points of our weak, pathetic lives that Kaufman obviously makes in Synecdoche, New York don’t make the movie too depressing to get-through, they just don’t add much flavor or energy to a flick that could have really benefited from some, had it had the director to really make it pop-off the screen, and into our minds and laps to chew on for a long, long time.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Get On Up (2014)

Use your own bathroom next time.

Anybody with half-a-brain knows who James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) is. He’s one of the most known figures in all of music and his legacy continues to live on today. However, there’s more to all of the dance moves, the funky jams, and high-speed car-chases that we all hear about when his name comes up in a conversation;  see, he too, like everyone else, was a young boy who had dreams of making a difference in this world, that all stemmed from the fact that his mom (Viola Davis) left him at an early age. Left with not much else to do from there, James decided to start living in a local whorehouse, where he would do whatever was necessary for a little boy of his age to be doing in order to have a place to sleep, and food to eat. Then, when he was a teenager, he got arrested and sent to jail for stealing a suit. While in prison, he meets a guy by the name of Bobby (Nelsan Ellis) who sees an actual talent in him and wants to be around it, and see what they can do with it. Eventually, he gets James out of prison and they start a musical-group that goes through many different incarnations, with James Brown being the only constant member.

Because in James Brown’s world, all you need is James Brown.

Musical biopics can usually go absolutely one way, or they can go another way. One way is that they can be total conventional pieces of junk that do more harm to the subject than any slanderous article may have ever done; or, they can show us that the subjects we’re watching here truly are talented, yet troubled individuals indeed. However, sometimes, that just ends up playing out like a VH1 Behind the Music special, but with a bigger-budget and stars. So yeah, musical biopics, for the most part, regardless of how interesting the person/persons may be, aren’t always well-done.

"Alright whitey. Off the stage and let me show you to shake and jive them hips like you "allegedly" know how to do."

“Alright whitey. Off the stage and let me show you to shake and jive them hips like you “allegedly” know how to do.”

But is there ever enough space in this world for there to be a biopic that’s just considered “okay”? Well, maybe. And if there is, I think that Get On Up would be located somewhere in there; which isn’t necessarily to say that it’s a bad biopic that does harm to James Brown and the type of man who he was, it more or less shows his both his faults, and his positives. Most of it lingers on the later, than the former, but hey, this is a biopic about James Brown! It can’t constantly hate on him, or else there’d be no inspiration for a movie to begin with.

And director Tate Taylor definitely seems to be inspired by the life of James Brown, if only maybe more so by his professional life, than his personal one, but there’s still interest all around and it shows throughout a good portion of this movie. Most who know James Brown as “that guy who could dance real good and say that he feels good”, will be surprised to know that there was a little more to his life than just some fine moves both on, as well as on the stage. Taylor uses a non-linear narrative to show us various moments in Brown’s life that either impacted him, or those around him, which, for most movies it would utterly confuse the hell out of anyone watching, but here, somehow doesn’t.

That’s mostly because James Brown himself went through many phases/incarnations throughout his whole storied-career and it’s easy for us to identify what was happening to him when, where, and just exactly who he was in good graces with at which time. Because, James Brown being James Brown, who he was actually friends with to begin with, made a whole hell of a lot of a difference. He wasn’t a very likable guy and didn’t always do the right things, at the right time, with/to the right people, but he at least always put on an exciting show and never gave the crowd something that they didn’t want to see him do.

Which is to say that playing such an high-wired, electric character, in a biopic about him and his life no less, would be a hard task for any actor to accomplish – let alone an actor who literally just had his first, leading-role of his career playing another famous figure in American-culture – but somehow, relative-newcomer Chadwick Boseman absolutely gets the job done perfectly. Right when we see Boseman on-screen, piled on with pounds of make-up to make it look like he’s the older-version of James Brown, it looks goofy, so of course, it’s a bit hard to believe. But, as soon as we hear Boseman talk, that all changes.

Not only does Boseman become James Brown, but has us forget that it’s a standard, conventional biopic about somebody’s life we already know plenty about. There’s a certain unpredictability to where he’ll go with this performance, which, in and of itself, becomes more than just an “impersonation”; he channels what it’s like to be such a lively performer almost non-stop. He hardly ever slows down, nor does he ever want to; James Brown, as I’d like to imagine him as being in the real world, was the sort of guy who always wanted to have a ball, while also be exactly who he was, without ever seeming like a joke in anybody’s eyes. He’s got the dance moves, the swagger he carried wherever he went, and even that raspy voice of his. Even if he doesn’t actually sing the songs themselves, there’s still something impressive and exciting to watch about him just moving all over the stage as if he is Brown, calculating his every move, but without calculating too much to where it doesn’t seem as if it was all coming off the top of his head.

A Radiohead concert, this is not.

A Radiohead concert, this is not.

Because James Brown, was never a fella you could pin-point from point A, to point B.

Once again though, like I mentioned before, that’s not to say that this movie wholly glamorizes the life of James Brown; it sort of just lays his story out there for us to take in, piece by piece. Sure, you could say that it likes more about his story, than it doesn’t, but at least there’s something about this figure that’s imperfect, and not constantly making him out to be some sort of savior. Because even though some people out there in the world probably view him as just that, it’s not true; James Brown, like all of us, was a human being. He had feelings, wants, needs, and pleasures that he sometimes let get a little too into his head, but he at least stuck to who he was and went out there, night after night, performance after performance, and gave the crowd exactly what they wanted: A fun show that they would remember till the end of their days.

Now, that said about the actual person himself, does that make this movie memorable?

Well, not really.

Cause like I was saying earlier about Taylor’s direction, although he does jump around rather sporadically through Brown’s life, for a whole two-and-a-half-hours, it’s not always interesting. Some bits and pieces of his story are left out (mostly his drug-use), and even the parts that are hinted at, still feel forced into so that Taylor didn’t have to worry about not portraying the man as a whole person; warts and all. And although this isn’t a kind of raw biopic, you still get a sense that some of this guy was bad, whereas most of him wasn’t. It’s weird how they do this, but I guess Taylor really did respect James Brown for all that he has given to the world.

Not just the music world, mind you, but the whole world in general.

Keep up the funk, people.

Consensus: Without Chadwick Boseman stealing the screen every second he gets, Get On Up would be another moderate, yet ultimately forgettable biopic about one of the world’s most famous musicians of all time, but has enough excitement and fun to go along with the more dramatic-moments to make it all gel out well enough to be forgiven.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Dan Aykyroyd wishes he had a poof as good as that.

Dan Aykroyd wishes he had a poof as good as that.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Guard (2011)

Why can’t more cops be this cool?

An unorthodox Irish policeman named Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) with a confrontational personality is teamed up with an uptight FBI agent (Don Cheadle) to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring. As you could imagine, things don’t gel so well between the two as one’s kind of a dirty, lazy drunk that likes to sit around on his romp while everybody else solves crime, whereas the other one wants to get on the case right away, no frills attached. Not to mention that there’s a bit of a race problem between the two, seeing as how Irish, when they get drunk, well, tend to say some stuff that aren’t always nice.

While I was watching this movie, something really strange happened to me. While watching this movie and found a lot of similarities between this and In Bruges because right from the start, it’s pretty obvious. You get a bunch of lovely accents, Brendan Gleeson acting like a charming fool, dark situations, blood, violence, and they’re all done for laughs.

Another strange happening that occurred to me was the other day before I saw this movie, I was actually checking out the drug-induced trip that was Spun, and thought to myself, “Wow, this director seems like he’s making a music-video. I wonder if he was one of those before this movie? Hmm?” Sure enough, it turned out that the director of that one was, and better yet, that the writer/director of this movie, not only was trying to make a movie like In Bruges, but was also the freakin’ brother of that same writer/director! Goes to show you what I know and it made me feel like I was on-top of the world of with my movie knowledge, that will probably all get thrown-back in my face once I go to the next local Quizzo and fail miserably at the “Movie Round”.

Ladies, eat your hearts out. Or, I guess in this case, drink 'em out.

Ladies, eat your hearts out. Or, I guess in this case, drink ‘em out.

Yeah, that’s reality for me, folks, and it’s not something I, nor my parents are too fond of being true.

Damn. What a disappointment I am.

Anyway, similarities aside, the writer/director of THIS movie, John Michael McDonagh still does a great job in his own right and starts us off perfectly with what we’re to expect from the rest of his movie. There’s definitely a very goofy side to this movie that isn’t afraid to show itself, poke a little fun at the whole buddy-cop aspect, and also make a lot of the more serious cliches of a crime movie, seem totally stupid and ridiculous. Like his brother, John Michael seems to be playing around a bit with the conventions we are all so used to seeing from movies of this nature and it kept me on edge wondering where he was going to go next with this story, and what exactly he was going to throw at me next. While making me laugh, I presumed.

That’s why this film’s humor, is so rich in the way it’s delivered. We’ve all seen dark comedy used in crime movies, especially from the likes of Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino, and countless others, but this movie really uses the dark comedy aspect to its strength and doesn’t seem forced in the least bit. Rather than giving us an act of violence and trying to make it all light by adding a cheeky line in there, John Michael still uses the same exact formula, but instead, makes it feel deserved and pretty goddamn funny if you ask me. I liked this film’s sense of humor, and it mostly just all felt very Irish to me as everybody is mean, cruel, and pretty damn depressed. That is, until they get a couple of Guinness’ in your systems, and then they’re a bunch of partyin’, happenin’, drunken fools.

Like true and tried Irishmen.

Where I think John Michael screws up a bit with this movie and the tone he’s going for is whenever he decides to get a tad bit more serious on us, and sadly, it doesn’t work. Most writers/directors are able to make the transition from goofy, lighthearted comedy, to straight-up, serious drama, but I don’t think he is one of them. For instance, any time the movie focused on Boyle and the meetings he would have with his, equally-as-cheeky mother who was slowly dying, the film got very dry, very serious, and very boring for me to actually keep my interest. Some people can make this transition work, but if you can’t, it’s just all the more glaring in the end as we never really catch on to any of the actual drama John Michael has in store for us. Instead, we just want the guy to keep on throwing more and more comedy at the wall, without worrying who it does, and doesn’t offend.

You have to ask yourself: Does he play the villain?

You have to ask yourself: Does he play the villain?

However, when it comes right down to it, I cannot, for a second go wrong with an all around solid performance from Mr. Brendan Gleeson himself, who is just a whole bunch of fun to watch as Sgt. Gerry Boyle. Gleeson has always been a guy that’s known for his dramatic-power in big-budget dramas where he usually plays a supporting character, but when it comes to comedies, he’s just as good, if not better just because of this undeniable amount of likability to him that shines through every scene he has here. Right from the start, you know that this cop isn’t going to be your usual, heavy-duty copper that takes everything so seriously. He’s more of a reasonable dude that doesn’t take everything so damn seriously, likes to make sarcastic jokes, and most of all, just likes to have a wee bit of fun for the hell of it. Now why couldn’t someone like him pull me over on the Freeway, Thanksgiving Eve?

Bastards.

And while it does seem weird to see Don Cheadle, of all people, in a very Irish-flick, the point is sort of in that description; he’s meant to be out-of-place and therefore, we draw jokes at him. It’s also a joke that hardly gets old, which mostly has to do with the fact that Cheadle and Gleeson work so well together, they seem like two guys you could really see connect together, given under circumstances of course. But watching as they build some sort of a friendship/connection, is interesting enough and gives more substance to a movie that could have been a down-and-out comedy, with bits and pieces of violence and action sprinkled in.

Consensus: Though the tone can be a bit all-over-the-place at times, the Guard still works because of its goofy sense of humor that, never gets annoying, nor takes away from giving us a lovely chemistry between the unlikely pair that is Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

A black guy and an Irish dude walk into a bar, and they drink. That's it.

A black guy and an Irish dude walk into a bar, and they drink…… That’s it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Lucy (2014)

Screw marijuana! Can these drugs be legal?!?

After being fooled by her one-week boyfriend, American tourist Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is somehow made to be a drug mule of sorts by the mob. The drug she’s given to stay in the pit of her stomach accidentally leaks out into her nervous-system and allows her to use more than the normal 10% of her brain. Meaning that Lucy now has superhuman strength and can control just about anything with her mind. And for the most part, she uses it to her advantage; she extracts revenge on those who had done wrong to her, she gets free rides, she kills whomever gives her a hard time, and she takes down all of the drug-dealers that are also involved in this drug-circle. However, the dosage continues to grow for Lucy and, slowly but surely, she starts to lose control and forgets to remember how to decipher what’s considered “real”, or, what’s “just because of the drugs”. Eventually though, Lucy realizes that she needs to chill out and get rid of all this stuff from her body, which is exactly where biology Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) steps in and sees whatever the hell it is that he can do for her, before it’s too late and her mind is totally lost forever.

There’s been a lot of talk about this here film and how it’s pretty much just another version of Limitless, except with a bigger-budget, and also, instead of the dashing, scruffy-look of Bradley Cooper, we get the luscious, natural beauty that is Scarlett Johansson. And while some of that may be true, I can’t help but think the two movies are different. Most of that has to do with the way in which the drug itself is used and how dark things can truly get, but most of that also has to do with the fact that Luc Besson is a better director than Neil Burger; problem is, you’d just never know it.

"Uhm...this is out of my level of expertise. I'm just the narrator, hon'."

“Uhm…this is out of my level of expertise. I’m just the narrator, hon’.”

See, though Luc Besson struck the iron while it was hot back in the day from ’90-’97, the dude hasn’t really been in his element since. It seems like, ever since the Fifth Element, everything that was fun, exciting and wildly original about Luc Besson and the movies he created, had all but disappeared and thus, we were stuck with watching him try his daft hand at comedy late last year with the Family, which, for the most part, failed. That wasn’t the only bad movie Besson has done in the past decade or so, but it’s definitely the main one that made me wonder what the hell happened to the dude and whether or not we were going to get all of that magic back once again.

Thankfully though, with Lucy, it seems like Besson is back in his comfort-zone, but with a whole lot more craziness ensuing. We get to see him use a hell of a lot of special-effects, and while they don’t always look good, it’s still nice to see Besson at least trying harder and harder at new things to incorporate into his movies, rather than just depending on blood, bullets, and action to save the day. Because, sure, while we all love that from him, there needs to be a bit more to that. Like, I don’t know, say a story, or better yet, an interesting protagonist.

And, believe it or not, Lucy has both of them! Although neither the protagonist, nor the premise may be as smart or as well-handled as Besson has done with ones in the past, it was still refreshing to see him give us something more. But to be honest, story doesn’t really matter here because when Besson wants to get nuts, he allows himself to do so and it’s a joy to see. The movie clearly doesn’t want to be taken seriously and more often than not, is capable of using its black comedy to its advantage. While some of it feels random and a bit strange, it was still something I liked to see in a movie that could have easily been as serious as a human-drama with its B-movie premise, but instead, do quite the opposite.

Sure, there’s plenty of moments where this movie dies down and focuses a tad too much on its characters and their plight; mostly the parts with Morgan Freeman’s character talking about life, humanity, animals, and only God knows what else – but they’re very few and far between to where it doesn’t really bring down the movie a whole lot. And for a movie that runs just barely underneath the hour-and-a-half-mark, that’s something to be happy about. So rarely do we actually get a movie, let alone, a summer blockbuster, in which we are in, and we are out in a matter of reasonable time and pace. I get that most movies like to take their time and expand on their story, hence the longer run-time, but most of the time, these movies do not need to run the risk of being longer than two-and-a-half-hours and therefore, running the risk of losing its audience. However, the pleasure of watching Lucy is that it’s simple and doesn’t take much time at all. It’s quick, punchy and absolutely wild, all under the painless hour-and-a-half-mark.

Hey, it's like Oldboy! Except not really.

Hey, it’s like Oldboy! Except not really.

Only wish other movies this summer would have learned that lesson early on. Looking straight at you, Michael Bay.

And as our titled-character, Scarlett Johansson is fine as Lucy, showing us that despite her small frame and raspy voice, she’s still able to be a bit of a bad-ass chick. Just give her a couple of machine-guns, a blonde-poof, a blood-stained tank-top and woolah, you have a female character that cannot only kick ass and take names, but is smart enough to take maters into her own hands when the going gets going. She doesn’t just hang around and hope that the nearest dude can save her from her problem; she gets up off her lovely romp and starts to get stuff done, her own way.

Don’t know about you, but if there’s a female action-hero I’d look up to the most – it’s Lucy. And that’s all you need to know about her, Jack. Or, whatever masculine dude it is that wants to know why he should see a movie about a gal who has super powers and starts tearing shit up.

Consensus: Whereas it may not be the smartest piece of action you’re likely to see the rest of this summer, Lucy is still a return-to-form of sorts for Luc Besson who seems like, for once in a long while, he’s having a great time with what he’s filming.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Coming for you, motherhood."

“Coming for you, motherhood.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

What’s a VHS?

In a downbeat area of New Jersey, there lies what seems to be one of the last ever mom-and-pop-run video-shops that actually still sells VHS tapes. The place is called “Be Kind Rewind” and it’s run by the old and a bit out-of-touch Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). However, in order to see what’s wrong with his video-store and how he can fix all of its problems, he decides to take a bit of a vay-cay and do some thinking on his own. This leaves his most trusted, dedicated employee, Mike (Mos Def), the responsibility of watching over the whole shop and making sure nothing bad at all happens. Somehow though, it totally does, because once the buffoon of the neighborhood, Jerry (Jack Black), gets electrocuted and comes into the shop, he wipes all of the tapes clean with nothing but static on them. Scared to have his boss find this out and be ultimately disappointed in him, Mike decides to pick up a camera, get Jerry and start filming their own versions of these movies. It’s called “Sweded”, and somehow, the town catches on and, in a way, like these versions a lot more than the actual movies themselves. This gets the store all sorts of attention – both wanted and unwanted.

So yeah, while that premise may sound strange and all, just let me tell you that this is a film written and directed by Michel Gondry; somebody who is definitely one for not always being the most “normal” film-maker out there. However, that’s the reason why this movie actually works – Gondry has a vision that may alienate some, but to others, there’s a certain joy in seeing what he sees through those artistic eyes of his. And while I couldn’t necessarily call something like this “artistic”, there’s still something joyous about it that makes it all worth watching.

"So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures?"

“So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures we have in store?”

Gondry’s weird-isms aside and all.

Although, I do have to say that for the first half-hour of this movie, nothing seemed to be happening at all. I get that there was supposed to be some sort of reason behind why these tapes were all erased and therefore, drive these guys to actually have to make these Swedes, but it seemed way too slow and messy. Almost as if Gondry himself was searching everywhere he could for anything that resembled a plot and didn’t know where to start, or end; he was just searching and searching, while annoying us at the same time.

But eventually, once the plot gets going and the Swede-ing starts happening, then the movie gets to be a bunch of fun. Which is mostly due to the fact that I think Gondry shows exactly what it’s like to have the creative adrenaline run through your body; the same kind of adrenaline that makes you want to get up from what you are doing and just have the world see what it is that you see, or are able to create. A part of me likes to think that Gondry uses this angle, only to express his own knack for creating low-budget remakes of popular films, but another part of me likes to think that whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. He’s clearly happy making these small, really cheesy remakes, and as a result, I was too.

And basically, that’s the whole gist of this movie. For a good portion of it, at least, the movie is all about what it’s like to have the need to make a movie right from where you are, with whatever you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you have a budget, a whole lot of talent, or even all of the right equipment to get going from the ground-up. All you need is some inspiration and that drive to make you keep on shooting whatever it is that you want to shoot. If it’s a video of you just ranting about whatever it is that’s on your mind in that point in time – then go for it! If it’s a video of some Charlie kid biting somebody – then sure, totally go for it!

Whatever the idea in your head may be, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you’re able to get up off your rump and film something! That’s what movies are all about in the first place, and while this movie may not be the most perfect piece of cinema to exemplify that fact, it’s still a noble effort from someone who clearly knows a thing or two about what it is that he’s talking about/filming.

How I imagine he acts every time he steps out of the shower.

How I imagine he looks every time he steps out of the shower.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s all pretty fine, especially in the casting-department. Though Jack Black’s shtick is the same here, as it’s been in, I don’t know, say, every single one of his damn movies, it’s still pretty entertaining and makes sense once this Jerry character gets a little bit too big for his britches and acts like he’s some big-time star of some sort. Sure, he has plenty of haters, but Black’s shtick, when used well, is entertaining and fun to watch. Same goes for Mos Def who, despite being on a short list of rappers-turned-actors, is one of the better ones because he’s able to go from role-to-role, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard for one thing or another. He’s just being an actor, although there still has yet to be that one role that distinguishes him from the rest of the group.

Still though, I hold out hope. Not just for Def, but for the future of movies as a whole. Because even though certain people don’t believe the movie-business will be the same twenty-thirty years from now, there’s still hope out there that people will feel the need to want to express themselves in a fun, creative manner. Especially with a camera in their hand; something in front of them; and a chock full of ideas inside their noggins.

I still hold out hope, people. And you should too.

Consensus: While inherently messy, Be Kind Rewind still gets itself together in time for it to be a fun, creative, and rather passionate-look at what it takes for a person to create something, whether it be a film, a book, a song, or any piece of work that expresses themselves for being who they are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Now they're all working at FYE. Damn, DVD's.

Now they’re all working at FYE. Damn, DVD’s.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Zero Effect (1998)

We all knew there was more to Bill Pullman than just delivering kick-ass speeches.

Bill Pullman is Daryl Zero, the self-titled world’s greatest detective and Ben Stiller is his reluctant assistant. Together, they begin to investigate a blackmail case that turns out to be much more than they had originally expected. So much so that Daryl Zero himself, realizes he may be a bit too over his head for the first time in his life and may have to cool his jets before he makes this the last case he ever does.

Son of famed writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, Jake Kasdan finally got the chance to make a name for himself with a little flick he did back in ’98 that I can’t believe I found anywhere. I hear about it from time-to-time and I even saw it at a yard sale not too long ago, but other than that, nothing else for this little-known flick has ever popped-up.

Thankfully, On Demand always has me covered so that I can discover little gems such as these.

What I liked most about what Kasdan does with this flick here is how he starts it off in a goofy, off-kilter type of way but then soon changes up the whole pace to where it’s actually more about the mystery case than you would think. The opening credits and first 15 minutes may have you think in you’re in-store for a type of nutty, Coen Brothers-like dark comedy/thriller, but somehow that changes up about half-way through; without feeling too sudden or random. It’s just right, because these characters are given such time and care through Kasdan’s direction.

RIP payphones

RIP payphones.

I think that’s where most of the kudos to this script has to go to is with Kasdan’s handle of these characters and their stories. As soon as we meet these two guys, they seem like your typical bunch of dorks that we have to watch for the next two hours, just walking around and bumbling on and on about some case that has no suspense or surprises. However, that’s the difference between this film and those other flicks: This one actually has some surprises and characters we care about. The mystery did get me involved and kept me wondering what was going to happen next, but I also felt a bit worried for what was actually going to happen to these characters in the first place, since Kasdan made me care for them so much in the beginning. It’s remarkable how Kasdan was able to balance out the human side of this story, along with the mystery one so well to the point of where the transition doesn’t even seem noticeable. Really takes you by surprise even more when you realize that this is by the same cat who did raunchy-comedies like Bad Teacher and Orange County.

Where this film lost me a bit was by the end and how it seems like they really, really lost any sign of their funny-bone that seemed attached so well in the first couple acts. I will admit, I was going into this film expecting some laughs and even though I got that for a good amount of the picture, they seem to have taken a trip elsewhere once the middle act comes strolling right through. That bothered me because the off-kilter humor had a certain type of charm and energy to it that made this flick pop out a bit more and I could have only wished that Kasdan decided to stick with this side of the film just a bit more. You know, just so I was able to get entertained from all areas of the film.

But despite this, the film still works because of what I mentioned earlier: It’s characters and their development. And when I’m talking about “character development”, I’m mainly talking about Bill Pullman and what Kasdan gives him to play around with as Daryl Zero. What’s so fun to watch about Pullman in the first place is that the guy seems like he’s really having a fun time right from the start with this role as this goofy detective, and it only seems like it’s going to get better with him along the ride. This is exactly what happens, but not in the way that you would expect, nor in the way that I actually expected.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love 'em.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love ‘em.

Zero begins to find out more about himself through this one gal he becomes involved with and as corny as it may seem to some, to me, it seemed believable and deserved since this character was a mystery to me and I wanted to know more about him. Pullman’s great when it comes to displaying all of the goofy antics and ways of this guy, but when it comes down to getting underneath his skin and realizing what makes him tick the way he does, he’s even better and it makes you think more about Pullman’s acting chops. The guy has never been perfect, but he’s always been good and that’s definitely what’s on-display here.

The other character in this flick is played by Ben Stiller and as good as Stiller is with handling these types of yuppie-like roles, he sort of gets a bit annoying after a bit and you can’t help but be less interested in his story, compared to Zero’s. Now granted, this flick is mainly about Zero and his realization of himself through this one case, but Stiller’s character never really seems to get that chance to fully flesh-out and show us more about him. The guy wants to get out of the life that Zero has put him in, get married, have a family and eventually settle into retirement, but it’s a story I, for some odd reason, didn’t see myself caring about too much when all was said and done.

Because, when it comes right down to it, you can’t mess with Bill Pullman, people. That’s just a fact.

Consensus: It may not stay consistently funny throughout the whole duration of its two-hour time-limit, but Zero Effect at least keeps its story interesting, fun, fresh and surprising in ways that may take some for a bit of a different turn.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

This Is Not a Film (2012)

It actually isn’t.

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian film-maker who is quite known for his movies pushing the boundaries and challenging the way that country’s government is run. So much so that he eventually lands himself under some serious hot water, when he is placed under house-arrest. Even worse though, he is given a 20-year ban on making, writing, or even producing a movie. Also to add insult to injury, he can’t leave the country either. Basically Panahi is supposed to just sit around all day, watch movies, go on the computer, feed his pet lizard, stay with his family, and wait around as a possible rebuttal is being drawn-up. But Panahi isn’t going to wait any longer; not just because he feels like pissing off the government anymore than he already has, but because he has ideas, dammit! And you know what? He’s going to try and film them to the best that he can. That’s when he decides to give his good buddy, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, a call to come over and help him film everything that he’s doing. Which, for the most part, consists of him talking about this idea for his next movie, his frustration with the situation he’s being thrown into, and the life he’s had, up until this point.

So yeah, this is a pretty tricky film in the sense that it’s a documentary, but not really; it’s about this guy’s life, but it’s also just about this one day in his life, as opposed to it being a biography of his life until this point. Any way that we’re supposed to know about Panahi’s childhood or his introduction into the filming-world is all up to us to find out for ourselves. Which yes, can be quite frustrating if you’re used to ordinary documentaries just telling you everything you need to know about its subject, but then again, this isn’t an ordinary documentary.

Still surprised I didn't see any FYC ad's going around town for that lizard. He practically steals the show.

Still surprised I didn’t see any FYC ad’s going around town for that lizard. He practically steals the show. Or whatever this is that they’re filming.

As if you haven’t been able to already tell so far.

But regardless of if we get any background info on Panahi or not in this movie, it doesn’t matter, because what it does so well is that it places us in a day in the life of this guy as he’s under this peculiar situation. And by “a day in the life”, I mean exactly that – we start the movie with this guy in his kitchen, eating some sort of bread, talking on the phone, and ending it all with him outside as the night crowd rages on. We start the film seeing him, and end it, seeing what he sees it. And that’s pretty much how the whole film rolls for the most part.

May sound like a drag to some, and for a good portion of it, it totally is, but there’s still something quite invigorating about spending a whole day with someone you just literally met, and seeing everything that they are seeing. Which is to say that there’s not much camera-trickery to be found here; we get a couple of glimpses into a flick of his past and even his iPhone’s video-camera, but other than that, everything we see is solely from the view-point of Panahi and whatever it is that his camera films. It can either be him mapping-out set-designs for his next “possible” movie, or him just sitting on the computer, browsing as his lizard crawls up on him and scratches him with its sharp nails.

Sounds monotonous and somewhat boring, but I think that may be the point. And because that’s the point, it’s not boring to watch. We get a sense early on that this is a man who is genuinely upset about the position that he is thrown into and rather than pissing, moaning and ranting on and on for days about it, he thinks of ways that he could get any sort of creativity out of his system that may at all be possible. Sure, it sucks for him to be stuck inside his house all day during one of the craziest days of the year, while his family is all out and about, but he makes the best of it and there’s something nice and rather endearing in seeing that.

However, that isn’t to say it’s just Panahi the whole damn time; right around the middle of the flick, we get a visitor in Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, who doesn’t do much talking, but at least takes the camera for awhile and just films Panahi as he does whatever he wants (except go outside or make movies, that is). Because of him, this movie is possible and it makes us see the troubled, upset man that Panahi is. Yet again though, that isn’t to say he’s constantly whining about where he’s at and why he’s there; he understands why he’s being punished, by whom and is just trying to make it through it all. For that, it’s a bit of an inspirational tale, though it’s not hokey.

As I imagine Lars von Trier literally plans most of his movies out.

As I imagine Lars von Trier literally maps his movies out.

Once again, it’s just this guy’s life; more specifically, a day in his life. Not much happens, then again, not much needs to happen. Just seeing him let loose with all of the smart, creative ideas he has in his head and watching as he lets that spill out onto the floor around him, is really something of a sight; something I imagine almost each and every film-maker does with an inspired idea of theirs. Of course there are some brief detours (one in particular, a lady who knocks on his door trying to have him take her dog for her), but nothing to the point of where we lose our focus: Jafar Panahi. But then again though, there isn’t really much of a focus to begin with. We’re just watching him, his day, and occasionally hearing what he has to say, or seeing what he has to do.

As I said before too, some may find that utterly the most boring thing on the face of the planet, and I can’t necessarily disagree with that. Parts of it seem stale and uneventful, but that’s just how life is. Most importantly, that’s just how life is for this man, Jafar Panahi. He’s a creative-mind that wants to be able to use his talents, but can’t and because of that, he’s suffering and finding anyway he can possibly let all of his creativity out. Even if it does get him in some trouble.

And I don’t know about you, but that’s quite admirable.

Consensus: Though not an ordinary, conventional documentary by any means, This Is Not a Film still is unique in the way that it presents this man’s life, not through background info that reads like a WikiPedia page, but through this one day in his life where he has nowhere else to be except for his house, with his camera and with his creative-mind.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sort of like the Blair Witch Project, except 21st century technology. And more accessible portable-devices.

Sort of like that scene from the Blair Witch Project, except 21st century technology. And more accessible portable-devices.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Cold Weather (2011)

Detectives are so mainstream, man.

A forensics-science major named Doug (Chris Lankenau) returns to his hometown of Portland and shares an apartment with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Doug doesn’t really have much ambition with his life, so he takes what he can get, even if that is getting a job at a local ice factory, where he meets a dude named Carlos (Raúl Castillo). Together, they form a nice friendship that kind of hits a rough-patch when Carlos starts trying to aim his sights on Doug’s ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), but not as much of a rough-patch as when the gal goes missing. In search of Rachel and a sense of life itself, the three all go running around like crazy, as if they were younger, smaller-budget versions of Sherlock Holmes themselves, which makes it even more ironic since they read him on a regular-basis.

The whole idea behind this flick is obvious, but also smart in a way as well. It’s a mumblecore movie, which means we get a whole bunch of scenes featuring young, twentysomethings just sitting around, drinking and/or smoking, talking about how much life blows, how much their parents blow, and when they aren’t doing that, they’re mostly just staring into space, contemplating what to do next with their lives. Most mumblecore movies seem to be like that, which gets it down for us on a real level, one that we can connect with a lot easier than most of these big-budget, shallow, mainstream flicks. However, this mumblecore is slightly different from the rest because not only does it play with the conventions of the same genre it’s to be considered apart of, but actually ends up being a mystery-thriller. But hold up, because the joke isn’t quite done yet. Rather than it being a movie about an actual mystery, with actual reasons for a bunch of thrilling moments, the movie features zip of that aspect.

"Wow. This pipe has given me the most excitement I've had ever since I turned 22."

“Wow. This pipe has given me the most excitement I’ve had ever since I turned 22.”

That’s right, the whole 96-minutes of this flick is basically about nothing. However, that’s the whole point of this flick: Nothing. Right when we meet these characters, we realize that most of them live empty, boring lives where the most excitement they have is either playing poker with two or three friends, getting drunk, or going to Star Trek conventions that feature some of the lamest characters of the whole franchise. It does take place in Portland, so it should come as a surprise to almost no one that these people are so bored and tired with their lives, which makes it all the more reason for them to get all hyped-up over the possibility of a crime that needs to be solved. I almost feel guilty calling it “a crime”, because once we actually find out what’s happening behind this mystery and all, it comes off as a bit of a disappointment by how uneventful and smart it actually is.

Then again though, that’s sort of the point of this movie.

Writer/director Aaron Katz seems to have a good grasp on what makes any movie, no matter how big or small, interesting. Yes, there are plenty of scenes where these characters are seemingly doing nothing, talking about nothing, and planning on doing nothing the next day and so on and so forth, but it feels honest and realistic. Also, Katz never shines a bad light on these characters either. So what if they’re uninspired and constantly dry? They’re actual people, you know? They have feelings, want to do human things, and also want to have fun every once and awhile as well. Showing these characters in that type of light is what saves this flick from being uninteresting and also gets it out of the genre of mumblecore, since most flicks associated with that genre either give every one who watches it a bad vibe right after.

However, that could just be me.

All of that can especially be said for our main protagonist, Doug, played very well by Chris Lankenau. I’ve never seen Lankenau in anything ever before in my life and I don’t think I will again anytime soon, however, the guy does well with a character that could have easily been a totally unlikable person from the start. Doug seems like he has all of the promise in the world to make something of his life, but is a bit of a loser in the way he just sits around, mopes all day, and gets lame-ass jobs that don’t pay much or give him much to do anyway. Then again though, that’s life so you got to take what you can get. But there’s a nice naturalism to Lankenau that made me feel like I was watching a dude practically play himself, without any strings attached. I don’t want to say he has much charisma going for himself to carry this movie, but he does have enough moments where you wonder if he ever acted before-hand, or just tried something out as a hobby. Wouldn’t be surprised by either decision of his.

Life is catching up with you, indie-boy. Better start running for the suburbs!

Life is catching up with you, indie-boy. Better start running for the suburbs!

The same type of naturalism that Lankenau has going for himself can be said about the two other actors in this movie, Trieste Kelly Dunn and Raúl Castillo. Dunn is great as Doug’s sister because there’s something about her that makes you not want to like her, but you still do because she’s just as bored with life as Doug is, she just has more to show of it. The scenes with them together are great and probably connected with me a bit more than the usual, average person because of the relationship my own sissy and I have. Sometimes we get pissed at one another and can’t believe how ridiculous the other one’s being, but we love each other, are always there to talk to, and like to have a good time with as well. That touched me, not just because of my own relationship with my sister, but because the writing between them two are the best moments, and Dunn and Lankenau feel like an actual brother-sister combo.

Castillo is also very good as the buddy that Doug makes at work, and actually has you believe that these two random people would spark-up a friendship, despite it occurring practically overnight. Castillo has a certain sense of naturalism and likability to his act and character that makes him seem like the only dude from this movie that could break out and make something of his career, just as long as he continues to get more juicy roles. Fingers crossed on that one. The one person of this cast that I didn’t mention is not mentioned for a reason and that’s Robyn Rikoon as the gal who goes missing. Despite having a name that sounds like she was a long, lost member of the Loony Tunes, Rikoon’s able to be taken seriously for a good chunk of the movie, until shit gets a bit serious and her acting goes a bit overboard. I don’t want to say how or why, but just to let you know that out of everybody else in this cast, she’s the only one seems to actually be “acting”, which is a problem for a movie that’s trying to be so real, and came close to pulling it off so well.

Consensus: Most will wonder why Cold Weather is so aimless and pondering with its premise, but soon will actually begin to realize that’s the point once the tension, the mystery, and the actual story begins to kick in.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yup, I'm bored already."

“Yup, I’m bored already.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

They Came Together (2014)

So if I don’t profess my love to a girl in the pouring rain, she won’t fall in love with me? Damn rom-coms!

Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) are practically perfect for one another. They’re both two kind, gentle and easy-going people who just got out of relationships and need somewhere to start fresh and anew. That’s why it’s so weird that when they finally meet up, there’s so much distaste between them both. It’s strange really, and nobody knows how or why it is the way it is, but that’s just the fact. However, late one night, when Joel has some time to think to himself and even talk to his “baby brother” (Max Greenfield), he realizes that it’s time to nut up, or shut up. So, he asks Molly out on a date and they both realize they’re perfect for one another in every which way. They compliment each other; they have wonderful sex; and Joel is even something of a father-figure to Molly’s son. However, there is problem in that Joel works at a Candy Research Factory that preys on knocking out all of the smaller, mom-and-pop chain candy stores; one in particular they are looking at is one owned by Molly herself and it just may possibly ruin their relationship forever.

If you just read that synopsis up above and felt like everything I just said was quite familiar, that’s because, it is! Or, better yet, it’s supposed to be!

See, They Came Together, is exactly like every romantic-comedy ever made; it has all of the troupes, the formula, and heck, even has the same characters that you’d find in any rom-com, had you just been scrolling through the channels or on your Netflix queue. And as a whole, the rom-com genre sort of deserves this much of a thrashing; it’s a genre that hardly ever seems to learn from its mistakes, and instead, just continues to force-feed us the same bullshit stories and resolutions that happen in only said types of movies. Not at all in real life, and anybody who believes otherwise, don’t deserve to be reasoned with.

Aw!

Aw!

Anyway, that’s why watching something as obvious and goofy as They Came Together is something refreshing, regardless of how much it actually does, or doesn’t work. Sure, it’s definitely funny in spots, but there’s something to a movie that understands it’s a joke and doesn’t really try to make itself anything else. Some may complain that this movie doesn’t have much substance, nor even a real, actual story-line to follow along and get involved with, but I don’t think it needs one to be considered a fine movie. If you just want spend a near-hour-and-a-half watching as somebody riffs on the rom-com genre, then this is more than fine for you.

Better yet, if you’re already a fan of the type of humor David Wain brings to any project of his, then it’s even more of a treat for you. Because, for one, he doesn’t hold back on really letting this movie expose the same old and tired troupes we’ve all seen practically done to death. Maybe he’s a bit too obvious about what it is that he’s trying to say or get across, but I didn’t mind that because most of the time, he had me howling like a wildebeest that couldn’t get a firm grip on his own self-control.

That said, if you’ve seen any David Wain production ever, you’ll know that, for one thing, he doesn’t really take himself away from getting really weird. And here, there are many occasions where Wain lets his weirdness really take over and even confuse the hell out of the viewer who may be watching it.

For instance, there’s a scene in which somebody is sad and lonely, sitting at the bar after they’ve just had a pretty shitty night (after a bad date, presumably), and, as expected, the bartender asks the person who’s drinking, “Bad night”, in which the character drinking responds, “Tell me about it”. And I swear to you, for the next five-to-seven minutes, this whole scene is played-on repeat, almost giving you the impression that something is wrong with the actual movie you’re watching. Sounds a whole lot like the kind of stunt that Andy Kaufman would pull, and for some odd reason, it works here. It’s just that strange and random, that it actually works.

Need another example of weirdness taking over Wain’s flick? Well, try the idea of incest between a grandmother and her grandson, that, surprisingly, gets even weirder than you could originally imagine.

AW!

AW!

So yeah, if that tells you something about this movie, it’s that it’s constantly up to no good, making fun of rom-coms, and even itself at points. And although it is a relatively short movie, I did find it running a bit out of steam by the end. Then again though, that’s the case with most parody-movies; there’s only so much surprises they can throw at us for the first two-halves that once things have to settle down, get resolved and eventually end, you can feel it and in a way, you sort of want it as well. That’s not to say the last-half of this movie isn’t funny, it just feels long-winded, even if, like I said before, it’s only an-hour-and-20-minutes (which is like three episodes of Breaking Bad, kind of, sort of, maybe).

And of course no parody movie would work if its cast weren’t up to the task of absolutely just letting loose and looking like total goobers and I think Wain’s assembled a great one here. It’s nice to see Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler work together again (especially after something as classic as this), because their chemistry together is pretty great. Although it’s a bit hard to tell because you can never take them seriously for a single second, it helps that they at least feel comfortable enough with one another to just be all sorts of crazy and weird, just exactly like they know how to. Now, that’s not to say that I kind of wished this was a straight-forward rom-com, both starring Poehler and Rudd in the lead roles, with Wain writing and directing, but for something as funny as this, I guess I’ll just shut up and take what I can get.

Consensus: Those who want a somewhat serious, standard rom-com will be utterly shocked and displeased to find out that They Came Together is neither, and instead, a crazy, funny, wacky, and sometimes incredibly weird, parody that doesn’t always work, but at least tells enough truth in what it’s making fun of.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Huh?

Uhm….huh?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

The Signal (2014)

Don’t ever trust hackers. Not that you ever could anyway, but just saying.

Three MIT students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Jonah (Beau Knapp), and Haley (Olivia Cooke) are on the road to Haley’s new place, where it’s presumed that her and Nic will eventually break-off, because a long-distance relationship just isn’t something that two 20-year-old’s can handle together. Anyway, on the road, Jonah and Nic discover that an anonymous hacker they’ve been talking to and playing around with wants to take them to a destination, where they’ll meet up for the first time ever. When the three do get to the destination, it just so happens to be a worn-down house in the middle of the desert that they go into and hear some weird stuff. Moments later, they are mysteriously knocked unconscious, and several moments later, wake up in a padded-up testing center where they are asked a series of strange questions by Damon (Laurence Fishburne), someone who seems like he knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about. However, Nic is tired of all this crap that he’s been force-fed and decides to take it upon himself to discover the truth about the place that he is at, and find out whether or not he can be reunited with his friends, once again.

I must say, while that may not sound like all that much of an intriguing premise, there’s something interesting about what this movie does with said premise that makes it worth watching. It’s strange, because for the first 20 or so minutes of this movie, it’s pretty much like any other indie coming-of-ager – there’s shots of young college kids in a packed-car driving down a highways, looking out from upon a mountain, discussing what the future holds for them, and trying to grasp adult-hood, while somewhere in the background M83 plays. It’s no surprise to me that this movie screened at Sundance, because honestly, it seems like the kind of movie that that sort of crowd would go bananas over.

I too, hate it when the milk man misses the front-door.

I too, hate it when the milk man misses the front-door.

Not me, however. And it wasn’t that I was bored, it was because the movie just moved too slow without anything interesting to be happening at all. Sure, the idea that this hacker wanted to meet up with them was something that kept me wondering, but the characters were boring, the soundtrack was so moody and saddening, that it made me want to chug a whole bottle of Merlot, and there was no Laurence Fishburne. Sounds dumb, I know, but when you expect Laurence Fishburne to show up in a movie, because you know he’s in it, it’s a bit hard to get past the fact that his lovable mug isn’t present within the first half-hour of whatever movie is in question.

Thankfully though, that all changed once the movie reveals to us that “twist”. I use parentheses, because the movie never makes it clear to us what’s going on with these three kids, or what these people in padded-up, astronaut-like suits are actually up to; the movie just plops us down into the middle of a situation that we have no clue about and are left to fend for ourselves. Whenever that happens to me in a movie, I’m always grateful, because it’s so easy for a movie/director to just force-feed us everything we’re supposed to know or understand, in order for our eyes to stay glued to the screen at all times. Not every movie has to be so obvious with what it wants us to know to add tension or a whole understanding of everything, but not many directors out there are fine with just playing it subtle.

But director William Eubank totally is and that’s what really kept me alive and awake during the second-half of this movie. It was still slow like the first-half, but this time, there was something actually charging it and keeping it alive and interesting. The story itself could have turned out to be 1,000 different things, and as ridiculous as most of them could have been, they still worked because it was a movie that didn’t show, nor tell us everything.

Instead, we come to our own conclusions about certain characters, their motivations, and just what the hell is going on behind the sealed-doors. Because we’re thrown into the mind of our lead protagonist, Nic, we never have a totally clear clue what those in charge are absolutely up to; all we do know is that they want to extract info and play some strange mind games with Nic himself. It’s supposed to make us pissed that they aren’t telling him anything at all and practically messing with his head every chance they get, and because we’re thrown into his head, his mind, it sort of works.

There was a certain part of me that wanted to see this Nic kid to find his friends, break out of this “prison”, and find any sort of peace or safety that’s at all possible, while also exposing these mofo’s for all that they are worth. In a way, I got a rebellious spirit in the pit of my stomach and though I didn’t want to see Nic go full-Pacino and start screaming “Attica!” from the top of his lungs, I still wanted him to get out of this strange situation alive, well, happy, and at least safe from these creepy, vague a-holes.

"Whadup? It's me, Laurence Fishburne. Just hanging out."

“Whadup? It’s me, Laurence Fishburne. Just hanging out.”

However, there’s a problem with all this because once the movie becomes all about Nic on the run from these mofo’s, it gets repetitive, albeit, conventional. Don’t get me wrong, the reason this is an original sci-fi movie, is because of how much it keeps us away from knowing the truth; everything else, from the gadgets, to the vernacular, and even to the post-apocalyptic-ish landscape is just feels like ground covered before. But it’s how the story tells itself is what works so well and makes it seem like something of its own beast. That’s why once the final-act comes into play, it seems like an ordinary-thriller that loses its way about two plot-twists right off the bat.

It was a bummer that it happened so late in the movie, but it was an even bigger bummer that the plot-twist that it ended on was so bizarre, it reminded of David Lynch. And no, not the good David Lynch either – the bad!!

That said, the cast is serviceable, if not entirely memorable. The three younglings who play these college-grads don’t have much to work with, and as a result, feel underdeveloped despite how hard they try. Though, the one who gets away with this problem is Laurence Fishburne, which more or less has to do with the fact that his character leaves so much to be desired, it’s intriguing to watch. Not to mention that Laurence Fishburne can read any line, humorous or not, and make it seem like he’s thinking of 30,000 different things at the same time. He’s just that good and watching him ask a kid if he’s agitated or not, was surely some fun. And lord knows there needed to be more added to this.

Consensus: While its an interesting premise that goes into some very strange places, perhaps the Signal‘s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know when to stop with these strange places, and just let the story tell itself in a regular way, without any added excitement or craziness.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Whaaaaaa?

Whaaaaaa?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Surprise! Surprise! The war fucks up young people and their minds.

Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP, finds out that his son has gone AWOL and that there might even be a possibility of him dead. Hank then decides to take it upon himself to drive down to the Army base, and figure out just what the hell has happened to his kid and all of the fellow soldiers that were with him. The problem is, nobody’s giving him straight answers. That’s when Hank asks the help of Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective, who finds it harder and harder to not only discover the truth, but be taken seriously among the rest of her fellow, more-masculine detectives.

Most movies that deal with the war, usually aren’t the pretty ones where everybody loves the war, hangs their flags, high-fives their fighting boys, and ends by chanting, “U.S.A!! U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!”, altogether at once. Nope, Hollywood is a bit too liberal for that crap and instead, decides to usually stick it’s nosy head in, peek around a bit, and have a thing or two to say. And usually, it’s not a pat on the back, or a simple “thank you”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, nine times out of ten, you’ll usually find me talking shit against the war, some of the people that take part in it, and just what the hell is the reason behind all of it, but still, Hollywood never seems to have anything nice to say about it at all, and even when they do, it usually turns into over-patriotic shite like this.

Still, though, you have to give credit to movies like these that are able to tell us some obvious and well-known ideas about the war, but still make it feel honest and raw, rather than blatant and preachy. Some of it does feel like that, but not all of it, and that’s a sigh-of-relief, based on the fact that this movie is written and directed by the same dude who gave us this scene. Yeah, if you’re with me on this, Paul Haggis is the notorious writer/director behind Crash, everybody’s favorite-hated Best Picture winner of the past decade and tries to bring that same heavy-handedness to this story. Thankfully he doesn’t get too far because he always has a sense of human depth and emotion that keeps it surprisingly grounded in reality most of the time. Not all of the time, but most and that’s great to see in a flick where it could have easily been a train wreck of non-stop patriotism, from start-to-finish, but ends being something honest.

"Here, take it. It's called "The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker."

“Here, take it. It’s called “The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker.”

But what this flick is more concerned with, is its characters, and showing how they deal with their daily hardships they encounter day to day, and how they get through grief, sadness, and the war our country is currently fighting in. Seeing how most of these characters can relate and act with one anothe, is a beautiful thing to watch because it feels natural. Some scenes are coated in sugar, and some don’t go down quite as well as Haggis may have imagined in his head, but to see these characters realize more about their lives by just relating life-experiences and stories with one another, really touched me in a way that was hard to explain when it happened, and especially after too.

I was actually really surprised how the movie depicted not just the war in Iraq itself, but it’s soldiers and how much we can still trust them with our country and our lives, but may not think the same when they get back. The most prime example of this is the fact that Hank’s son isn’t really a nice guy, and in fact, turns out to be more of an asshole as we find more out about him, what he was up to, and how he caught himself going AWOL. This movie could have definitely gone down that wrong path of making him seem like everybody’s, true American hero that fights for The Red, The White, and The Blue, sings John Mellencamp all day, and does it all for our safety, so we may live, breath, sleep, eat, and die in peace, like we were meant to be. If this sound’s lengthy and over-exposed, then you get my point: This flick could have easily gone down that path, but decided to show him as a human, rather than a figure we all like to imagine each and every one of our soldiers as. They all have problems, they all get sad, and most of all, they are pretty fucked-up once they get off the battlefield, and back at the dinner table with ma and pa.

It’s sad, but it’s reality, baby.

However, the movie isn’t focusing on it’s characters, it’s themes, or it’s harsh-realities, it’s focusing on it’s police-procedural that feels more like a cheap-version of NCIS that I didn’t need to be bothered with seeing in the first place. Usually, I don’t mind when movies keep this element in because it entertains, excites, and keeps the mystery afloat, but after awhile, there was no mystery nor was there any case. It came pretty clear to me that the kid was not going to be okay, and that somebody did do something bad to him. No real gray area to be found whatsoever. And before people get on my ass, I’m not trying to give anything away, but you’ll start to see that the movie isn’t trying to reveal more details and clues about what happened, it’s just trying to show it’s characters. We already know, they don’t. And that’s what felt unnecessary and stupid to have, even if it was worth it for the first 45 minutes or so.

Thankfully, Tommy Lee Jones was the one to keep this whole movie going and always rose above the material, even when it seemed to sink, lower and lower as it went along. Jones surprised the hell out of everybody when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Hank, as it not only came out of nowhere, but little to no one even heard about this movie nor that Jones was even in it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still rarely ever hear this movie mentioned, which is a shame, because Jones’ performance is a great one that could have only came from this man who may always be known to be cranky and quick-whipped, but can play it subtle like nobody’s business. Jones shows real heart and emotion with this character and as time goes on and we see more about his kid, we start to see more him layer-out, especially in ways that I didn’t think were possible from Jones and Haggis. Jones’ character began to bother me a bit when he started to show unbelievable ways in how much smarter he was than the police, but after awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoyed the show that Jones was giving me to see. Maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word to describe this movie or this performance, but I think you get my drift.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She's like barely here.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She’s like barely here.

Charlize Theron doesn’t back down from Jones’ acting either though and actually makes her character more than just another run-of-the-mill, strong female that we need in a flick like this, to show that she can not only hang with the big boys but learn a little something in life as well. Yep, her character is pretty conventional with the whole single-mommy thing, but yet, still works because Theron is not only a strong actress, but one that is able to adapt to any environment she is placed in and that’s a skill that most actresses haven’t been able to master just yet.

Susan Sarandon also got top-billing in this movie, and is pretty solid (as usual) as Hank’s equally-grieving wife, but doesn’t get much screen-time to develop her character. Then again, it’s Susan Sarandon and the girl can act alongside a piece of wood, and make it work. She’s that damn good. Also, James Franco is randomly here trying to look tough, buff, and cool, but seems like he’s really trying to hold in the fact that he just wants to smoke and eat some munchies. It’s so painfully obvious.

Consensus: Paul Haggis isn’t known for being all that subtle when it comes to his themes and messages about life, liberty, and war, but In the Valley of Elah still benefits from a wonderful cast, especially Jones, and characters that give us a darker look at the boys in uniform who are over there, fighting for us, protecting us, and yet, are just as equally as messed-up as we are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sir, yes sir?

Sir, yes sir?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Borgman (2014)

Don’t let bearded-men into your home. Ever.

Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) is a man who, along with his two associates, live out in the middle of the woods, alone, peaceful and presumably, up to something weird. That is until a priest and his fellow henchman come along one day and dig up their holes, leaving Camiel and his gang to run away; with the former getting separated from the rest. Camiel eventually runs into a wealthy suburb and targets a house where he acts as if he knows the wife of the house (Hadewych Minis), even if the husband (Jeroen Perceval) doesn’t believe it for a single second and kicks his ass out. However, there’s something strange going on between the wife and Borgman – she doesn’t know him at all, yet, she feels the need to help him and make sure that he has a place to stay and be safe. But in order for him to do so, he must clean-up his look and take over their job as gardener, even if it is already taken by somebody else. That doesn’t phase Camiel though because, along with his band of trustees, he’s able to take out the gardener and secure his position as the family’s new and improved gardener that’s doing some real business on the backyard, as well as the family itself.

So basically, the whole idea of this story is that our title character, Borgman, has a certain way, or aura if you will, about him that conjures up all of the weirdest, darkest and most sinister thoughts of those around him. It doesn’t matter if he’s around the most clean-cut, respectable, moral human beings on the face of the planet, whenever Borgman stands right next to them, all of a sudden, they’re thrown into a trance that they can’t control or explain. Instead, they just stay drawn to Borgman and never, ever want him to leave their sides. Doesn’t matter if he’s dangerous for their own well-being or not, there’s just something about him that tempts people to do and say things they wouldn’t normally do or say in their own, normal states of minds.

Missed a spot, bud. Like, I don't know, say your whole head!

Missed a spot, bud. Like, I don’t know, say your whole head!

Like as if he’s like the Devil himself, except in a human-like form, you know?

Well, that’s exactly the idea that I think writer/director Alex Van Warmerdam is going for, because, on numerous occasions, Borgman himself makes reference to God, several biblical stories and, a weird tale about “the White Child”. In all honesty, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I understood everything that this movie was serving to me, however, I will tell you that there’s something strange about this movie that just kept me watching. Sort of like it’s titled-character, I know, but there’s something interesting about watching an upper-class, normal family of five just get possess because of one man.

And to be honest, it sort of happens for no reason; in fact, there’s some hilarity to that whole situation in that this one man can take down a whole family, without anybody really objecting to any of it or even taking notice. They too are stuck under the spell of Borgman and while that may sound too goofy and aloof to actually work, for some reason, Van Warmerdam’s takes his material just seriously enough that it does work. In a terribly freaky, unsettling way, of course, but also in the kind of way that makes it seem like this is the type of movie that’s skewering the general perception one has about the perfect, settled and common family.

Which is to say that there’s some delight to be had in watching a character constantly screw it up, time and time again, while doing all sorts of strange things every so often as well. Not saying that any of these characters in this family deserve to have their lives messed-up (okay, maybe except for one), but it’s just interesting, and sort of funny as well. However, that’s exactly the kind of emotions/feelings Van Warmerdam seems to embrace, which is why his story can go through as many strange hoops as it wants, it’s hard to lose its audience.

Yet, no matter how many times this movie took pride in “being vague” and trying to confuse the hell out of us, it still somehow works. Like I said, it’s all about seeing somebody screw a family up, without any of them ever noticing, but it’s also the idea in which a movie that plays by its own rules, never settles for anything else but its own self, as well as its own personality.

That said, most of the time, it doesn’t work and that’s because a lot of it seems to be going to a point in which we already expect from the second Borgman walks into that house and practically takes over the whole family’s mind. It’s almost as if we, the audience, get exactly where this movie’s going to go and wants to go, and it takes quite some time to get to there. The movie throws enough hoops here and there to screw us over along the way, but it felt like the movie was just spinning its wheels for the sake of doing so, even if it was totally clear where it was trying to go with itself.

Did that make any sense? I don’t know. But either way, what I’m trying to say is that at an-hour-and-45-minutes, the movie feels a tad too much longer than it wholly needs to be. Maybe a quick, lean and mean hour-and-a-half would have done more justice?

Must be that new performance art all the cool kids are talking about or something.

Must be that new performance art all the cool kids are talking about or something.

I don’t know. Most likely, it’s just me.

But thankfully, Jan Bijvoet is so darn good in this role that it’s easy to get lost in just about everything he does, even if it isn’t totally clear what that is, or why. We know for certain that he’s not up to any good, but we also know that he may have a bit of a conscience, if only slightly. The only times we see that conscience shine any bit whatsoever is whenever he and Hadewych Minis are together on screen; who is also another performer here that does very, very well with what she’s given. What Minis does well as Marina, is that she gives us the impression that even though she’s sad, repressed and feeling a bit trapped, she would never leave her husband, her kids, or her lavish luxury behind. She’s happy being the mommy, the wife, as well as the artist, even if theyt do come with their hardships at times.

However, once Borgman walks into her life, things go haywire for this lady really quick and its fascinating to watch. She doesn’t do a total 180 and just fall right into Borgman’s arms – much rather, she throws him small, playful hints that she wants him, the excitement and the possibility of leaving this life behind. Slowly but surely, we start to see her change her personality and begin to, somewhat, lose her mind. It’s interesting to watch this character dissolve into somebody totally, unmistakably different than who she originally was before, but it’s also a tad disturbing because you know that it’s not going to end well for her, no matter which way you put it.

All I can is don’t ever get yourself mixed up with the Devil. Or, in this case, Borgman. But what’s the difference, really?

Consensus: Though Borgman is a strange beast of its own kind, it’s nevertheless an interesting, albeit disturbing watch of what happens when one good person flirts around with the idea of evil, and how it seemingly effects all those around them.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Hey, who hasn't been awoken in the middle of the night because of a bad dream and needed to sleep in the same bed as mommy and daddy when they were 40?

Hey, who hasn’t been awoken in the middle of the night because of a bad dream and needed to sleep in the same bed as mommy and daddy when they were 40?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Fair Game (2010)

Does anybody in the CIA ever smile? Better yet, do anything pleasant whatsoever?

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) live a relatively comfy-life together in Washington with their two kids. She works for the CIA and is currently in the middle of an important mission that would allow for her to receive info on possible terrorists’, whereas he’s a former United States diplomat who takes pride in making sure that he gets his point across in any way possible, regardless of how unpopular it may be amongst the post-9/11 society. But their lives change in a drastic way when Plame allows for her husband to get sent on a mission to Niger, where he would inspect certain yellowcake uranium to see if it was being made for the construction of nuclear weapons. Wilson does not think so and lets his voice be known, however, his strong-willed opinion is practically ignored when the President of the United States himself decides to go after Africa anyway. This drives Wilson into a bout of late-night madness where he writes an op-ed for the New York Times, uncovering what it is that he saw and he believed. The White House catches wind of this and to say the least, they are not happy. Therefore, they decide to take matters into their own hands and drop their almighty power and weight on Wilson, as well as Plame, even going so far as to uncover her as an “CIA Agent”. That’s something that should never be unveiled to the public, but when you’re the United States government, you can practically do whatever you damn well please.

Though most of those may think otherwise, I do keep up modern-day politics and all sorts of happenings. But even for me, I had no clue of this story about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, and I can bet you donuts to dollars that not many others do either. Which is definitely an element you have to take into consideration while making a movie about it, whether it be a documentary or full-on narrative-flick: It must be as interesting and feel just as important as the film-makers behind the camera think so.

She blends in real nice.

She blends in real nice.

Here, director Doug Liman clearly feels a passion and an anger with this injustice done to Plame and Wilson, and because he feels it’s important, that feelings brought out onto us. However, it isn’t done so in a needy, obvious way that has Liman practically grabbing you by the head and saying, “Pay attention to how important this is!” Many movies of the same nature can and will do that, but thankfully, Liman doesn’t fall for that trick and instead, allows us to follow through the story in the easiest way possible that not only makes it understandable to any regular citizen, but also to anybody who has heard a bit about this story, but didn’t know all the nitty, gritty details of it.

And in making sure we follow along with the story and actually give a hoot about it, Liman focuses most of his attention on the core of this story: Plame and Wilson themselves.

See, it’s easy for a movie like this to get all sorts out-of-whack when there’s as much CIA-talk/espionage/back-stabbing/bullshit that goes on here, and while that does distract from the main reason why this movie’s worth seeing in the first place, it’s not terribly distracting. We still get an idea and feel for who these two people were before all of this havoc came into their lives, and just exactly why it did in the first place.

It would have been real easy for us to hold plenty of judgement against Joe Wilson for speaking his mind and landing his whole family in hot water, when he was assuredly guided to do otherwise, but the movie makes it seem like he needed to. Joe Wilson was the type of man who didn’t want to stand by all of these wrong-doings occurring around him and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stand by while it happened to him and those that he loved. It should be noted that Sean Penn is great as Joe Wilson, although there is one key problem with this casting and that’s because Joe Wilson himself does seem a lot like Sean Penn, the guy in real life. Especially towards the end, when Liman decides to hell with subtlety and starts really preaching to the choir, and gives us many scenes where it’s just Penn ranting, yelling and raving about how we all, as a society, should stand up for what we believe in and not get knocked down by the power of the metaphorical “man”.

"So I said to her, "FuckyoufuckingbitchI'llkillyou." Funny, right?"

“So I said to her, “FuckyoufuckingbitchI’llkillyou.” Funny, right?”

There’s nothing wrong with these scenes or what it is that they are trying to get across, per se, it’s just hard to separate a character Sean Penn is playing, from the person Sean Penn is in real life. Heck, there’s also another scene in which Wilson himself comes pretty close to beating the shit out of a reporter/paparazzi! Art imitating life? Maybe, maybe not. But what I do know is that Sean Penn was a wonderful choice for the part of Joe Wilson, for better or worse.

That’s not to say Naomi Watts is chopped-liver as Valerie Plame either, it’s just that she gives the type of performance we expect to see from Naomi Watts: Strong-willed and emotional, yet, still keeps a lid of silence on all of it. Watts is always great and it’s no surprise that she and Penn have a very comfortable, relaxed chemistry together, considering that they starred together in two movies before this. Together, they build a couple that has an understanding between what’s expected of a married-couple with kids, as well as what is expected to ensure the safety of them and their said kids. They’re the quintessential couple, except that this time, they’re practically facing off against the whole United States government. And while Liman realizes that this is a challenge for them (hard to believe, I know), he still realizes that when everything in life seems to be working against you, the ones you can always fall back on are your loved ones.

Even if they just so happen to be Sean Penn.

Consensus: Fair Game clogs itself up a bit way too much with unneeded subplots, but the arch of the story, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, is done well and effectively, to where we stand behind them with every decision they make, regardless of how risky it may or may not be.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

 

"Honey, can you do me a favor and shut your mouth? Maybe just for a few minutes?"

“Honey, can you do me a favor and shut your mouth? Maybe just for a few minutes?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Filth (2014)

Still trust your local police department?

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is one twisted individual. He likes to party hard; screw just about any woman that’s capable of walking, regardless of if they’re married or not; manipulate his way into getting what he wants, from whomever he wants; do as much blow as humanly capable; and do what helps him, and forget those around him. And you know what else there is about him? He’s a detective that’s trying his hardest for a promotion that’s been spurred on by his wife’s hopes and wishes. Bruce knows that if he puts his mind to it, that promotion will be his, and life will be grand for he and his family once again. However, as time goes on, Bruce’s mind starts to get more and more warped up into things that may not even be real – they just make him go all the more ballistic than he really is. Those around him start to take notice and wonder if he’s not only right for the job in the first place, but also if he’s just right in the head in general. Bruce doesn’t care though. As long as there’s plenty of booze, blow, women, and rave music around, then he’s all fine and dandy. Fuck everything else.

I guess the best way to start this review off would be to talk about what really make this film stand-out, and that’s James McAvoy himself. See, with James McAvoy, I’ve always felt like he’s been a good actor, he just has yet to have that role where he’s really showed the world what he’s got and his range. He’s always been the confident pretty-boy in just about everything he’s showed-up in and more often than not, ended up doing a nice enough job to where I didn’t care if he was just playing the same role he’s played before; he’s just always been James McAvoy, playing James McAvoy, in a very James McAvoy-y role.

Oh dad.

Oh dad.

And to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that – so many actors (like Christopher Walken) just live their lives off of playing the same persona, time and time again, regardless of if the character is a different one or not. It’s just that they have this certain “charm” to them that makes their performance all the better and more charming, hence why they’re not changing anything up to begin with. Why fix what’s clearly not broken, right?

In McAvoy’s case, it’s not that there wasn’t anything broken in the first place, it’s just that things were looking to get a tad bit boring on his part. Thankfully, with this role as Bruce Robertson, McAvoy has finally found the role that will not only have everybody look at his pretty-face in a whole new light, but may even have some people thinking of that, with the right role, in the right movie, he could even be an Oscar-contender. I know, a pretty bold statement, but just viewing his work here, I can totally see it.

What McAvoy does well as Bruce Robertson, is that he always lets us know he’s having a good time, yet, never gets away from the fact that there’s an under-lining sadness and depression to it all. Early on, we know that something’s a little iffy with Bruce’s home-life (we hardly ever see him and his wife together, and whenever we do see her, it’s in a strange, flash-back fashion that has her talking directly to us), so it’s clear that all of the good/wild times Bruce is having, definitely seems to have a deeper meaning to it all. Is he doing all of this to get the promotion and ensure that his marriage will stay put? Or, is he just doing all of this rambunctious, crazy shite because he’s a deeply dark, upset, and messed-up dude?

It’s a little bit of both, but what McAvoy does here, and he does well, is that he’s able to turn it on, and then turn it off. He’s able to be the life of the party, that’s always the first one to bring out the coke or whip out his cock; but he’s also the last one to go home without anybody by his side, nor a shoulder to cry on. He’s a sad man, we know this and because of that, we sort of sympathize with him, even while he does do some mean, nasty, and cruel things to others that clearly just want to be a friend of some sorts to him. McAvoy uses Bruce Robertson as a tool to show everybody that he’s not only a very scary-presence to be seen, when given the right material, but that he’s able to make us see him as a bit of a good guy, as well as a bit of a bad guy.

The conclusion we end up coming to with this character at the end, is totally up to us, the viewer. But there’s no doubt in my mind that everybody can come to the same conclusion with McAvoy’s performance in saying that it’s pretty damn spectacular.

It's like Reservoir Dogs, except for the fact that everybody's talking in ways you can't ever understand.

It’s like Reservoir Dogs, except for the fact that everybody’s talking in ways you can’t ever understand.

The problem is that while McAvoy’s great, the movie itself necessarily isn’t. What works so well for the rest of Filth is that it is, for the most part, constantly moving and on its feet. Much like another Irvine Welsh adaptation, Trainspotting, we get an colorful-narration from somebody who clearly seems like their hopped-up on something fun, some sort of music in the background that keeps everything moving, and a bunch of lines that come and go so quick, you may have to either pause and rewind just to get everything clear, or just decide to move on and enjoy the ride while it’s on and running. And that’s why, for what it’s worth, Filth is a pretty good time; there’s hardly ever a moment where the film slows down the brakes to a total halt, and even if it does come close to doing that, it’s only because it wants develop characters and their relationships with others a little bit more.

Nothing wrong with that at all, except for the fact that the movie never really has anything interesting to do with its characters, except for Bruce Robertson of course. The ensemble the movie’s put together is great and really helps the characters grow and be something more than just typical cliches, but nobody can really overcome it all like McAvoy does, who clearly has the best-written part in the whole movie. Eddie Marsan gets a chance to bring some pathos to this material, as well as Imogen Poots, but for the most part, everybody’s pretty wacky and zany, as if they were in some version of a cartoon. Except with this cartoon, there’s more sex, drugs, and boozing.

Which, once again, is all fun – everybody loves a good party, and who doesn’t love them even more when attractive-people are the ones involved with it? Me! I just wish there was just more to this party than just all of the favors we’re promised at the door.

Consensus: The main attraction of Filth is clearly James McAvoy and his wild and crazy performance that sheds some emotion here and there, however, everything else is clearly not as up-to-par, nor is it really all that interesting to make you want to see more of it. You just sort of want McAvoy to keep on getting nuts and have absolutely no shame whatsoever.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Don't worry, James. You're still looking fine.

Don’t worry, James. You’re still looking fine. You lucky bastard you.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Normal Heart (2014)

AIDS are bad, m’kay.

During the early 1980’s, numerous homosexual men were being infected with a certain disease that barely anybody knew anything about, except for that it was lethal and that many more people were dying from it, each and every day. Eventually, some homosexual men, whether they be closeted or as “out” as they come, decided to start up a group called the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which would bring attention to this deadly disease that would come to be known as AIDS, or HIV. One man in particular, former-journalist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) took matters into his own hands on numerous occasions by publicly going on television, bad-mouthing the government for not paying close enough attention to this disease and doing whatever it is that they could to stop it from killing almost anyone and everyone it infects. However, as the group begins to get closer and closer to figuring out a deal with the government to increase funding for these studies/tests to be done, Ned finds himself in even more hot water with the rest of the group, as not all of them feel as if it’s their duty to be out there fighting and never giving up. Some just want to wait and see what happens next; something Ned doesn’t want to do, considering those closest to him are dying as each and every second goes by.

Though I myself am a straight-man, I have seen quite a number of AIDS-related documentaries high-lighting the troubles and tribulations that most homosexual men and women were, and still are, facing when it comes to getting what it is that they need to stay alive and beat the disease, if that’s even possible. By now, it’s almost become hammered into my head that, for those people who were apart of that movement and were in fear for their lives, it was a terrible time and one that most straight-men or women would have not a single clue knowing about. And that’s true, which is why I don’t pretend to act as if I know everything about what a homosexual goes through on a daily basis; it’s just not fair and personally, it doesn’t seem like it should matter.

Born in the U.S. and gay!

Born in the U.S. and gay!

We’re all humans, after all, regardless of who we like to go to bed with, right?

And while that’s definitely a stance that’s become more and more popular within our society as the generations change, it’s still not a notion that everybody feels comfortable with admitting to believe in, nor do they ever feel comfortable admitting just how truly scared they can be of the idea of homosexuals being all around them. For some people, it doesn’t matter whatsoever and is just another simple, walk-in-the-park; but for others, it’s absolute hell that makes people want to run away back into their safe, little hiding places where they can’t be a witness to any of those “un-Holy acts” being committed. I’m not one of those people, but there totally are plenty still out there and it should be noted that this will seemingly never go away.

Anyway, what brings me to this film is that with the Normal Heart, I felt like everything was a tad too familiar; not just that the story has been done before, but the total act of despair and loneliness that these homosexual men must have felt during this period. I’ve seen it documented in plenty of other films before, whether they be narratives or documentaries, and personally, seeing a movie in which many very-handsome, talented people had to act everything out, just seemed like it was going to be a trip down depressing-lane.

And for the most part, it was, but I think it needed to be in order to get its point across. You can’t have a story told like this that’s all bright, sunny and happy, when the idea is that thousands and thousands are dying, and nobody is doing a single thing about it. It’s a very sad story that needed to be told in the darkest way possible, without an ounce of any sentimentality; which is probably why it’s a good thing it was released on HBO and not on some channel like Lifetime or even Hallmark. For the most part, it would have all been watered-down as to not to offend anyone and it definitely wouldn’t be able to dig deep into some of its most disturbing, darkest moments when trying to get the point of its story across.

Which is definitely to pass all of that credit onto director Ryan Murphy, who definitely seems like he wants to tell this story straight from the heart, no strings attached. Sure, there’s a couple of moments that are a bit too stylized for its own good and sort of take away from the overall impact of this story, but you can clearly tell he wants to tell this tale and put all of his might into it. Better yet, it’s a way better movie than any of his past films to date (Running with Scissors, Eat Pray Love), so I have to congratulate on doing that.

However, there’s one thing about this movie that’s really keeping me away from praising it so damn highly, and that’s because a lot of it does feel like a long-winded, two-hour-plus preach after awhile. Which I guess makes sense when you consider the fact that this is adapted from a stage-play of the same name, but still made this whole thing feel a bit tacked-on whenever, say, a certain character or two would be exclaiming their feelings to others; rather than it feeling genuine and like how someone would actually speak to another person, it just seemed like a person ranting the best way possible. That makes sense too, considering that this movie is on the same side of homosexuals, but it soon made me think that there wasn’t a real story here, and instead, just a bunch of scenes in which people yelled about how they aren’t getting treated fairly and so desperately need to be.

For a better, more clearer example, I’d choose the character of Ned Weeks himself. Weeks is supposed to be this loud-mouth dude that loves to start trouble wherever he goes, because he sees it as him “fighting for what it is that he believes in”; not just pertaining to homosexual problems either, just anything with life in general. Weeks is all about fighting and never giving up, even when it seems like people are really tossing the mud in his face and screwing him over even more. This usually would make him an inspirational-figure in any movie, but here, he’s always constantly yelling, hollering and going off about how he’s fighting and nobody else doesn’t seem to.

The movie sees this as his down-fall, not just as a character, but as a person, and while it definitely gives Mark Ruffalo plenty of meat to chew on, it doesn’t really do wonders for his character. It seemed like whenever there was a time for us to learn a lesson, it was usually through Ruffalo and his lungs, without us ever having to dissect something for ourselves. Like I said before though, Ruffalo is good in the role, it’s just that he has a fairly one-note performance where all he has to do is holler at somebody and let us know that, “Guys, this AIDS stuff is some serious business.”

Got some marker on your right cheek there, bud.

Got some marker on your right cheek there, bud.

Julia Roberts’ hard-nosed, yet totally-determined doctor character goes through the same sort of motions as well, but not nearly as obvious as Ruffalo’s. Still though, it’s lovely to see her doing something different with her career that has her acting as mean as she could possibly be, but at the same time, still not letting us forget what makes her so charming in the first place. Same goes for Jim Parsons who gets to take a breath of fresh air for a bit from his Sheldon act and play everything a lot more serious than we’re so used to seeing him play. Yet, he’s also still funny and brings a lot of the more light-hearted moments to the screen, which is something this movie was clearly in desperate need of.

Matt Bomer is also great as Weeks’ boyfriend, Felix, who believably falls in love with him and sets up some very emotional-ground for the later-part of the movie when the AIDS epidemic gets even harsher; Taylor Kitsch shows us all that he’s back to actually “acting” once again and putting himself in some roles that challenge him, not only as a pretty-boy, but as an actor in general; the always great Alfred Molina plays Weeks’ brother and has to battle whether or not he considers himself an equal as his brother, or better-off because he isn’t “gay”; and Joe Mantello has a great scene that really hit me hard as one of the members of this group that just can’t help it anymore that he’s being looked at as the bad guy for continuing his day-job during the morning, and at night, still coming around to help out with the cause.

All of the performances are great and nobody here really tears down the whole ship, it’s just that with more-subtle writing, who knows what could have happened.

Consensus: While most of the Normal Heart feels like familiar-ground being covered again, the fine cast and Ryan Murphy’s stylistic-choices as director make it an emotional trip that still feels relevant in today’s society. Just wished it didn’t blatantly say the same thing, over a hundred times in a row.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Screw your male-on-female relationships! That's love right there!

Screw your male-on-female relationships! That’s love right there!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

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