Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Unfriended (2015)

Always use Trojan. Not that Trojan, but yeah, that’s always a safe option, too!

On the one-year anniversary of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), a fellow classmates, suicide, Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) chats with her boyfriend and friends about all sorts of high school stuff that doesn’t really seem all that important. That all begins to change when Blaire’s boyfriend, Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm), gets a strange message from a online user claiming to have all sorts of dirty secrets on them. Nobody has any clue who this person is, or even what it is, and even though they try so very hard to get it away from them and their chat, it never seems to leave. Eventually though, the user gets more and more deadly, which leaves these kids spooked and having no clue what to expect next. Not to mention that this mysterious user seems to be having quite a ball in getting these kids to participate in humiliating games of “Never Have I Ever”, where their dirty laundry fully comes out in spades.

Oh, to be young again.

In a cheap knock-off the already cheap found-footage horror subgenre, Unfriended takes place solely on a laptop computer-screen. While this is absolutely a gimmick, it calls into question whether or not it’s one that deserves to exist for the sole purpose of selling the story? Or, if it’s just there to help sell tickets and make people say, “Wow. Neat.” In all honesty, it seems like a bit of both, but there’s something smart about what the movie is able to do with so little.

"Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!"

“Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!”

That we’re literally watching some sort of mystic virus constantly mess around with these young, seemingly stereotypical teens is actually a bit of fun. While none of them are despicable enough that we want to see them all perish in a lovely blaze of glory, there’s still something inherently enjoyable when there’s a loud-mouth teen getting his comeuppance because he picked-on somebody way back when. Though the movie mistakes this for being “important”, there’s still some fun to be had in watching how a normal night, goes drastically crazy in a matter of less than an-hour-and-a-half.

But, like I said, Unfriended is trying to say something here about technology, cyber-bullying, and how, while we may not think about it, the negative things we write about someone or something on the web, do have an effect on those we are speaking out against. There’s no problem with voicing your opinion in the first place, but there’s always a risk that you may, or may not negatively affect someone in a way you didn’t expect to do so. That’s just the way the world works and with technology being as sufficiently smart and accessible as it is, the chances are only heightened.

Then again, though, this doesn’t matter and serves no real purpose in a horror-thriller such as this. Maybe in a Lifetime, made-for-cable movie, but here, it seems like it’s trying a tad too hard.

However, a movie that’s definitely being sold to teens, and actually gives a fair shot at trying to teach those said young, impressionable teens about how their actions do have consequences, is pretty admirable. The movie mistakes itself for being a message movie than it probably should have, but rather than just making the whole story go down to just, “Ghosts are bad, yo.”, it becomes more of, “Ghosts are bad, yo. But causing someone to kill themselves because of a bad decision you made is even worse. Yo.” It’s a corny sentiment for sure, but it’s one that puts Unfriended one step above most of the horror flicks we see come out around the year.

Doesn’t make it perfect, but hey, at least it’s worth something.

Meaning that there is a lot to be scared by in this movie. Somehow, the movie’s able to make such elements like a Facebook chat, or a trip to the infamous Chat Roulette, or even a phone-call, very tense. Not because it’s smart filming, but because this story doesn’t make itself clear as to where the hell it will go and why. Sure, we know that there’s a mysterious presence spooking these kids, but just how much power does it contain? And with those powers, what is it able to do? The movie keeps these questions coming and even though not all of them add up to a reasonable answer, the ride to the end is still exciting enough that it’s not a pain in the arse whenever the movie leaves the question-marks hanging on at the end.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Which is to say that the characters in this movie, as thinly-written as they may be, still hold enough truth to the way they are portrayed with what they’re given that they’re at least believable and compelling enough to watch. Even though it’s painfully obvious that she’s well-above an 17-to-18-year-old virgin, Shelley Hennig still does a solid enough job as Blaire, where we don’t know if she’s a good person, a bad one, or simply put, just a person nonetheless. We don’t get much background on her here, as is the case for most of the other characters, but throughout this whole conversation these peeps have, we get to learn little more details that are sometimes clever, and sometimes there just to create drama for the sake of doing so.

Sounds like high school, for sure.

The only other one in this cast that’s worth talking about, and less for what he does here and more of how great he’s been in past flicks, is Jacob Wysocki as Ken Smith. Wysocki’s given the role of the comedic sidekick who comes in every so often to make a smart-ass remark, sex joke, or smoke a bowl to break the tension and while he’s fine in the role, it’s nice to see more of this guy that isn’t in roles that are just made to talk about his weight. Terri and Fat Kid Rules the World are both examples of this, and while the fact that they point out his weight isn’t a bad thing, it’s made obvious that he was chosen for those roles because of that and hardly much else. Here though, Wysocki shows us that not only does he have more material to show us he’s able to do, but it doesn’t matter what he looks like.

You keep it going, kid.

Consensus: Maybe not as important as it thinks it is, Unfriended takes its message a tad too seriously, but still delivers on the fun thrills, chills and excitement, in a way that’s heightened by the gimmick of taking place on one computer-screen, practically the whole time.

7 / 10

Everybody's always got that one friend.

Everybody’s always got that one friend.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

While We’re Young (2015)

Growing up is hard to do.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless couple pushing forward and are at a bit of a stand-still in their lives. She’s bored and wondering if she should have a child, whereas he still has yet to complete a documentary that he got started on nearly a decade ago. They’re best friends (Adam Horowitz and Maria Dizzia) are married and have a baby, which makes both Josh and Cornelia feel all the more alienated from the people they used to hang around with and call “pals”. Now, they just rely on one another. That all changes, however, when an adoring fan of Josh’s, Jamie (Adam Driver), approaches him and wants him to help with his documentary that he himself is trying to get off the ground. Josh is fine with this because it feels like a way to connect with the younger-crowd – which is how Cornelia feels when she meets Jamie’s wife, Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Altogether, the four connect to create a documentary, while along the way, forging a friendship that finds both couples happy and excited. Eventually though, Josh begins to wake up and realize that Jamie may not be all that he appears to be, especially when matters involved with the documentary may not be all that they appear to be.

Noah Baumbach is a very hit-or-miss director for me. While I loved the Squid and the Whale, I despised Margot at the Wedding; though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Greenberg, he still surprised me with Frances Ha. Most of what Baumbach includes in these films are challenging, sometimes detestable characters that don’t ask for your forgiveness, nor are we really willing to give it to them. Sometimes, this works in Baumbach’s favor where it seems like he really wants the audience to make up their own minds, but other times, works against him where he isn’t so much as giving the audience anything valuable, except for just a bunch of unlikable, mean-spirited people that you wouldn’t want to spend a dinner-date with, let alone a whole hour-and-a-half with.

Children! Children everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don't look back!

Babies! Babies everywhere! Run, Naomi! And don’t look back!

While We’re Young falls somewhere in between and I’m fine with that; there’s something rather pleasing and simple about that notion that makes me feel like people who don’t normally like Baumbach’s films can find something to enjoy out of this, and his die-hards won’t fall back from, either.

Basically, everyone wins here. Including you, the viewer.

Most of this has to do with the fact that While We’re Young is, for the most part, very funny. Baumbach’s movies hardly ever seem like they’re trying too hard to make people laugh, so they rarely register as “comedies” to me, but here, you can actually tell Baumbach’s trying to be funny and it works. Though the majority of this film is filled with these sad characters, who can sometimes borderline on being “types”, Baumbach finds a way to not make fun of them, as much as to just make fun of the all-too-realistic situations they all get into. For instance, when Stiller’s character gains arthritis, Baumbach isn’t make fun of Josh for being old, but more or less, making fun of the fact that Josh himself can’t believe that he really is old enough to have to worry about his body the way he never had to think about before. It’s that kind of small, narrative-choice that shows us that not only is Baumbach growing a bit more positive as even he ages, but that he’s realizing there’s more to life than people making a constant stream of bad situations.

And yet, Baumbach still strikes a raw nerve here in the way that he approaches the connection two different age groups can create. Though it’s painfully obvious and clear that Jamie and Darby are hipsters, the movie never utters this word; instead, it judges them solely on who they are. Sure, they’d prefer to watch VHS tapes then buy a Netflix account; or own a chicken and raise it, much rather than a dog or a cat; or wear fedoras around everywhere they go, rather than a standard baseball cap. That doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them who they are and for that, Baumbach doesn’t judge them.

The only time that he does begin to judge these characters is when you can start to see the tides change in this movie, where the tone goes from playful, earnest comedy about life and love, to an angry, hate-spewing drama about learning lessons. This is where While We’re Young begins to lose its focus and become a whole other movie altogether; one that I don’t even know could have worked on its own. It seems like Baumbach has something to say to the many generations to come and while it all may hold some truth, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t work for a movie that seemed like it had an honest point, yet, still didn’t forget to draw on the comedic opportunities, either. Not to say that all comedies have to be constantly funny, no matter where it is that they go, but they can’t go from 1, to 10 on the drama-meter whenever it sees fit; there has to be some sort of cohesive change in the middle and I don’t know if that happens here.

Look out, grand-pa!

“Don’t fall, grand-pa!” – some young whippersnapper

But, no matter what happens in the later-half of this movie, there is no denying that the cast works well this material and, more often than not, finds ways to make their characters more than just what they appear to be on the surface. A perfect example of this is Adam Driver’s Jamie – he’s the type of kiss-ass, wise youngling that seems like he means well and wants to make those around him happy, but there’s something troubling about him underneath it all. We know this early-on because it’s a movie, and for there to be no conflict whatsoever, there’d hardly be a movie, if you think about it, but when everything does eventually come to a head and we realize Jamie’s true intentions, we see the true colors in this characters and it works as well as it should because Driver keeps us guessing about this character. Are his intentions to feed-off of Josh and the connections he has in the film world? Or, is he genuine in saying that he loves, praises and adores Josh, and just wants nothing more than to learn every trick of the trade there is to learn in the documentary-making world?

These are questions that are barely answered and for that, the mystery works.

Though, this isn’t to say Driver’s the only one worth mentioning here, as everybody else is solid. Stiller shows off that lovely comedic-timing of his that’s worked so well in many other pieces of his, but comes from a heartfelt place this time that makes you feel for this aging, relatively sad guy; Naomi Watts gets to be funny, too, but also show us a woman that wants to be apart of “something”, but because she doesn’t have a child to love, to hold, or to care for, she’s pushed-off to the side and seen as something of an “outsider”; Amanda Seyfried may be given a thinly-written role in the form of Darby, but she works well with it, showing that there’s more to her than just being stuck in her hubby’s shadow; Charles Grodin, for the limited amount of time we get to see him on-screen, is funny and brutally honest, and there’s a part of me that wanted more from him; and Adam Horovitz, believe it or not, is the one who ends up leaving the most lasting impression as the voice of reason. He’s the character that tells Josh and Cornelia to wake up, realize that they are indeed, old, and should stop pretending to be somebody they aren’t. He isn’t telling them to have kids, he’s just telling them to accept the fact that they’re old and to be done with it already.

Holy crap. Is Ad-Rock almost 50? Where did time go?

Consensus: Honest, smart, and surprisingly funny in spots, While We’re Young hits certain notes about growing old and accepting that fact in life in an effective manner, even if the final-half does get a tad bit preachy.

7.5 / 10 

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Manic Pixie Dream kids for all generations to come.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Score (2001)

Never trust a guy that is half your age. Especially if he has already done better movies than you.

Career-thief Nick Wells (Robert De Niro) is about to mastermind a nearly impossible theft that will require his joining forces with a clever, young accomplice named Jackie Teller (Edward Norton). The unlikely alliance, arranged by Nick’s long-time confidante Maximillian Beard (Marlon Brando), interrupts Nick’s plan to retire from crime and leads Nick to wonder whether or not this last job of his, will be the one to ruin them all.

When you got three acting powerhouses in one movie, you would expect there to be nothing else other than pure greatness. But sometimes, that doesn’t quite happen. Instead, you just get mediocrity, whether you’re willing to accept it or not. Even if the movie in question does star not just Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, but also Marlon Brando.

Seriously! Why isn’t this thing as spectacular as it sounds?

You wouldn’t think that the guy who voices Miss Piggy and Yoda would be helming a feature flick like this, but I guess Frank Oz is just chock full of surprises. Oz doesn’t do necessarily do anything new, neat, or flashy with his direction here, but did bring some well-earned moments of suspense and keeps the heist as involving as he can, without showing his cards too early-on. The heist, when it does happen, doesn’t take up the whole movie. The rest is actually dedicated to a lot of scenes with Norton and De Niro, who are butting heads and ego’s together on-screen. Which honestly, is a way better movie, because when you give two stars like these ones here free reign to just work with one another, only good can come from it.

"Now remember kid, don't try and upstage my ass."

“Now remember kid, don’t try and upstage my ass.”

However, though, it all comes back down to the plot of this movie, which services these talents, but also doesn’t do much of anything interesting either. All of the caper/heist conventions are here – guy tries to get away from his life of crime by pulling off one last job; guy doesn’t work well with others; partner isn’t all who he seems to be, etc. Basically it’s got all of the clichés that you don’t want to see in a crime thriller, especially this one, but you sadly get.

If anything, that’s what disappointed me the most here is that nothing was all that surprising with this plot and how it all eventually played out. We get a couple of tense moments where we don’t know where this film is going to go and we get a nice twist at the end that’s a bit surprising, but nothing else to really have me going, “Oh crap! You gotta see this movie with Bickle, Vineyard, and Don Corleone! Not only are do they kick-ass when it comes to the acting, but the plot is actually pretty neat-o too! Right on!”. Maybe the average movie-goer would say that, let alone, anybody else in the whole world, but the point is, this film should have offered plenty of more surprises than it actually gave.

But people, let’s not fool ourselves here, this film probably would have never gotten made and given a wide theatrical release had it not been for these three names: De Niro, Norton, and Brando. All of whom don’t disappoint, even if the movie sort of does. Robert De Niro gives a pretty solid performance here as the Nick, the old-timer just looking to get out of the “business”. De Niro doesn’t do anything special with this performance that he hasn’t already done in his long career, but it’s nice to see him actually give a commendable performance considering that seems to be very hard to come by with the crap he chooses today. Angela Bassett plays his girlyfriend, and as good as she may be, her character still comes off a bit random and unneeded, even if it does give De Niro’s character some reason for wanting to leave and star anew.

"Hey, didn't I play you once?"

“Hey, didn’t I play you once?”

Let’s face it, Bassett is black, beautiful, and rocks a sweet ‘fro whenever she wants. Why wouldn’t you want to retreat with her?

Marlon Brando isn’t in this film a whole lot, but whenever he is, he makes his presence be known. Brando plays an aging and severely over-weight crime lord that seems desperate to make sure that this last job works and it’s a role/character that seems superfluous if it wasn’t being played by anybody else. The difference here, is that it’s none other than Brando in the role and he makes it all work perfectly giving him plenty of great lines, tension, and water-drinking. This is his last film he was ever in and it’s a shame since it’s not exactly the perfect swan song that anybody with his type of career could have asked for, but at least it’s better than doing the Freshman 2.

The one who actually runs away with this flick is Edward Norton as the hormone-fueled kid that Nick is forced to work with, Jackie. Norton is always great to watch no matter who he’s playing and what I liked most about him here is that you know there’s something about this character that you can’t really trust, but you don’t know what it is because Norton is so good at playing those types of confusing characters. Norton is always a powerhouse in every film he does and could almost be considered a younger Marlon Brando himself, but in this film, he actually shows that he may be one-step ahead of the master and continue to give compelling performance after compelling performance.

Now, what about the movie?

Consensus: Though it may not offer many surprises, the Score mostly gets by on the power and strength of its leads, even if the movie itself does seem to be relying on them a tad too heavily to begin with.

7 / 10

Look out, aging actors. Eddy Norton's a comin'!

Look out, aging actors. Eddy Norton’s a comin’!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Salvation (2015)

When you kill someone, make sure they aren’t the roughest, toughest outlaw’s baby bro.

After being separated from them for a very long time, Danish immigrant Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) is finally reunited with his wife and son. Now feeling as if he can start his life anew, the trio set out for new land, but getting there is only the first hurdle they have to overcome. Though they didn’t expect it, they end up taking a carriage ride with a boozed-up, slick-tongued cowboy (Michael James-Raymond) who messes around and even threatens Jon and his family. Jon clearly doesn’t take too kindly to this, but before he knows it, his son and wife are killed. Jon takes matters into his own hands and kills this baddie, but little does he know that the baddie just so happens to have an older brother; one that won’t take too kindly to random people killing his family members. That man, gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), makes it his life’s mission to find out who killed his brother and do whatever the hell he, or his mute sister-in-law (Eva Green), wants done to this justified killer.

It’s very hard to add much of anything new to the western genre. Sure, people try it and sometimes, come up big, but more often than not, they end up just treading the same water that’s been tread since the days of the John Ford westerns. That isn’t to say somebody can’t make a fun, even mildly interesting western, it’s just hard to do so and make sure people actually see your movie and take it in for what it is: A game-changer. Clint Eastwood had the luck of being Clint Eastwood when he made Unforgiven, and Kevin Costner, although the movie itself wasn’t such a hit with most, at least had the luck of being Kevin Costner when he made Open Range.

Oh, I get it now! "A dirt nap"!

Oh, I get it now! “A dirt nap”!

Both are westerns that have put a neat spin on the western genre we’ve all seen so much of, which brings into question just how many really great westerns are left out there for us, the rest of the world, to discover?

I honestly can’t answer that question, but I can say that the Salvation comes pretty damn close. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, because while the Salvation may not be the end-all, be-all game-changer that the western genre so desperately needs, it still offers up a fun, exciting and sometimes fresh look inside the genre, without ever trying to make any grand statements about humanity, life, or death. It’s just a good, old-fashioned, revenge-tale, that also just so happens to take place in the wild, wild West.

So what’s so wrong with that?

Nothing really, especially since Danish director Kristian Levring seems to have a deep love for these kinds of movies, and doesn’t have a problem presenting them as simple as humanly possible – man’s family gets killed, man takes revenge, man gets hunted because of said revenge. It’s all so damn simple and old-fashioned, but it actually works in the movie’s favor. There’s not much time for characters to take a seat, chat about their own mortality, or even pass-off some general idea about life that we don’t already have in our heads as is; there’s just an awful lot of shooting, screwing, boozing, robbing, and killing. Basically, the way all westerns should be, with some heart and humanity thrown in there for good measure, although that’s not to say that a movie lives or dies by that. Sometimes, being entertaining is all you need to be, in order to get a pass from most audience members.

But thankfully, the Salvation has a little bit of both. Sure, it maybe has a whole lot more violence going on and around, but there’s still something of a heart that’s seen to be intact that makes the proceedings all the more compelling, rather than just having people shoot one another, and not even giving us a chance to care. Because this lead protagonist, Jon, was thrown into a desperate situation, and acted out in a desperate, totally understandable way, we wholly understand him as a character, as well as a human being. That’s why, when push comes to shove and he’s forced to commit some downright dirty acts, it’s hard to have a problem with him; he’s just trying to survive, as well as he should, considering he didn’t do anything wrong to begin with.

The FBI's of their time.

The FBI’s of their time.

Which is to say, mostly thanks to Mads Mikkelsen and his skillful way of expressing any sort of emotion, without muttering even a single world of dialogue, Jon gets a lot of mileage. Mikkelsen’s been a favorite of mine for quite some time now (a love that’s only been heightened by my most recent binge of Hannibal), but here, he does what he needs to do: Make Jon seem as simplistic as possible, but never dull. He’s just a normal person like your or I, except that he’s been thrown into a not-so normal situation, and has to get out of it anyway possible. He does both good, as well as bad things, but Mikkelsen always makes it seem believable and have us even wonder whether or not he’s exactly as of a law abiding citizen as he may have initially given off.

That said, it’s not Mikkelsen’s show we’re dealing with here. Everybody gets a chance to play and roll around in the sand for as long as Levring sees fit. Eva Green, another favorite of mine, gets a chance to show her range as an actress, by not being able to say anything at all in this movie, and instead, show us everything we need to know about her at any given moment, based solely on her emotions. It works, and also shows that female characters don’t need to say macho, hammy bullshit dialogue that’s better suited for dudes to come off as bad-ass; sometimes, all it takes is a simple act of violence, and a shotgun in their hands. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s another one who gets to play around a bit, but honestly, by now, I think everybody knows that the dude loves playing a-holes.

Just not as much of a funny one, is all.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel for many westerns to come, the Salvation, thanks to the no-nonsense direction from Levring and its lovely assemblage of performances, still comes off like a solid enough watch that doesn’t need to try too hard.

7 / 10 

A man on a mission. That most likely doesn't involve eating people.

A man on a mission. That most likely doesn’t involve eating people.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Chappie (2015)

Being raised by Die Antwoord would have definitely been different, to say the least.

It’s the year 2016 in Johannesburg, an area of the world that is largely populated with crime, violence, and all sorts of dirty drug-lords creating all sorts of havoc, which is also one of the first police-forces to use humanoid-like robots to do all of the dirty work, rather than risk the fragile lives of actual humans. This is successful as it makes people rich; baddies to get taken into jail; and altogether, for society to be a whole lot safer. However, designer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) believes that he can take it one step further: Allowing for these robots to use their subconscious as if they were actual humans, too. Deon tries this on one robot and is successful, but gets ambushed by a pack of thugs (Die Antwoord and Jose Pablo Cantillo) who are in need of a robot for themselves, so that they can teach him to commit heists and make them lots and lots of money. It’s a smart idea, and Deon is more than willing to comply with it, so long so as that he gets to help the robot learn more about the world around itself. Well, for lack of a better term, the robot does, and then some.

But most of all, he gets a name: Chappie.

So, yeah. Is the premise to Chappie incredibly goofy? Better yet, is it a mash-up with pieces of Robocop, Short Circuit, and even Neill Blomkamp’s own District 9? Well, yeah. But I’ll be damned if Blomkamp doesn’t go to hell and back with it and leave hardly any stone un-turned!

Being gangster, like we all know how to be.

Being gangster, like we all know how to be.

To say that Blomkamp is going for it all here, isn’t to say that he’s actually made a good film, however. It’s an interesting one, but one you can clearly tell he’s having some problems with in wondering where to go, what to say, and how he wants us all to feel when we’re walking away from it. Gone are the days where everyone felt like Blomkamp was the next big thing to come to sci-fi since James Cameron, but that doesn’t need to be such a bad thing.

A lot of people got on Blomkamp’s case for losing all sorts of subtlety with Elysium, and while I can see where some of the nay-sayers are coming from with that movie’s case, there was a part of me that had a problem hating that movie. Sure, it was messy, over-the-top, and not one bit as thoughtful as District 9, but it was fun, action-packed, gritty and not afraid of offending any sort of person who didn’t like what he was doing, or trying to say. Now, I don’t know about any of you out there, but I feel as if the sci-fi genre was built on the foundation of not giving a single piece of shit of what others say about your story, or it’s ambitions – all that matters is what you, the creator of the story, have to think about it. Basically, what it all comes down to is saying, “screw the haters!”, and being back onto your business.

And that’s what I felt like Blomkamp was, at least for the most part, doing with Chappie.

Because, even while the movie itself has the subtlety of a rock, Blomkamp seems to be playing around and having all sorts of fun with where his story goes and what it does once it gets to its destination. Like I’ve noted before, it’s mix-and-match of all sorts of different sci-fi movies, and while none of them are particularly original or ground-breaking, they still add a nice dash of creative energy to the proceedings that makes Chappie a lot different and more complex than most of the sci-fi schlock we see out there in the world.

While some movies try to be different, and in the process, fall on their knees when trying to say something smart or mind-blowing, Chappie doesn’t seem like it’s trying that. At points, Blomkamp is giving us a fun, sci-fi action-romp that seems to be digging at something deeper with its story and the characters it gives us to think about. It may seem off-putting to some that the most intriguing character in all of Chappie is that of the title-character itself, but it still works to the movie’s advantage in that we are dealing with a protagonist worth paying attention to, getting behind, and hoping that all things work out for, even if it doesn’t always make the right choices throughout the majority of the film.

Hell, you can’t even get that feeling with some humans in movies like these!

Speaking of Chappie, whatever they did to make Sharlto Copley become something of the next Andy Serkis, it totally worked. According to what I’ve read on the inter-web, Copley not only voiced Chappie, but did the motion-capture for him as well, which not only helps the animation seem more life-like, but does the same for Chappie, the character. In fact, it’s almost seamless sometimes; if you really wanted to study the movie’s animation, you could probably find all of the nooks and crannies that make this character an obvious piece of computer-animation, but there’s no need to. The CGI for this character is top-notch and if that’s all the movie was able to give me, then I’d be somewhat fine.

But that’s what’s nice, as Blomkamp takes this character one step further than just making it a pretty distraction to stare at. There’s more to the character of Chappie, which, as a result, makes it interesting to see where it goes from being literally a baby-bot, who has no idea of the world it’s been placed into, to a fully-grown, angry, gangster-bot that doesn’t take no shit from nobody. There’s obvious reasons for why Chappie turns out to be the way it is, but the movie never seems like it’s taking any cheap-shots in giving us those bits and pieces of info; Blomkamp takes his time in developing this character and those who are close to it most. Therefore, we feel and like Chappie, the character a whole lot more, which makes it hard to sometimes sit by and watch whenever it’s put into danger and the possibility of imminent death becomes even more and more of a reality.

That said, whenever Blomkamp seems to jump away from the story of Chappie, his movie gets a bit jumbled-up. For instance, the whole subplot concerning what’s going on between Deon, his boss (Sigourney Weaver), and a co-worker (Hugh Jackman), and the problems they seem to all with one another’s vision of the robots, gets a bit too goofy for its own good. Mostly though, it gets this way with Jackman, who I’m glad to see is reveling in the moment to play a baddie for once, but also feels like a half-baked villain with something of a plan, yet, loses all sorts of humanity once push comes to shove and he has to start killing any and all things. Jackman’s funny in this role and cheeky here more than ever, but it feels weird that he’d be given this villainous role and not given much of a chance to bring out any semblance of convection within him. Surely, there’s something more to him than just shooting, yelling and killing?

"What did I tell you about making cracks about the mullet, mate?"

“What did I tell you about making cracks about the mullet, mate?”

Or maybe I’m just too damn naive. Whatever.

Another subplot of this film that, even though it ties into Chappie’s story, still feels like its own story, and heck, maybe even its own movie. Of course, I’m talking about the fact that Die Antwoord are not only close to being the main stars of this movie, but are virtually playing versions of themselves. See, if anybody knows who the hell Die Antwoord are, they’ll know that they’re this married, South African rap group that are a bit on the strange side, and definitely aren’t the ones who you’d expect to anchor your big-budgeted, mainstream, talking-robot flick on, but for some reason, Blomkamp saw something in these two odd individuals and in some way, it kind of works for the movie.

But at the same time, doesn’t. Let me explain.

See, what’s so odd about having Die Antwoord here, isn’t that they’re actually cast in the movie and given a lot to do – it’s that they aren’t playing actual characters. Both of the characters in the movie are named “Ninja” and “Yo-landi” which, believe it or not, are actually the same names that the members of Die Antwoord go by. Even stranger, you can tell that half of the time, they didn’t even bother to show up and get dressed by the make-up and creative department; sometimes, you can even spot their band’s logos on their cars, or even on Chappie’s steel-body. It’s all weird and it made me wonder whether or not Blomkamp was fine with this, or didn’t want to get anymore involved with it, so instead, just decided to keep their crazy mannerisms in there and whatnot.

And judging by what real-life accounts have been saying, this seems more than likely the exact option.

But here’s the real kicker about Die Antwoord’s presence here – they actually work for the movie. In an odd, out-of-this-world, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it-way, they make most of Chappie’s scenes compelling to watch. It’s never clear whether or not Ninja and Yo-landi are acting what was given to them, or are just saying whatever gangster things they can think of on the spot, but whatever the case may be, it made most of their scenes with Chappie interesting, in that the movie sort of just lets them roll on and on, without ever getting into whether or not the movie likes, or despises these characters. Clearly we’re supposed to like them, but one is possibly more mean and evil than the other, which makes me wonder just what the overall atmosphere was like for the making behind this film.

Whatever it may have been, don’t forget, Die Antwoord are weird. But Chappie, the movie, may be even weirder.

Truly a feat in and of itself.

Consensus: In its weird ways, Chappie is a fun, riveting, and sometimes heartfelt piece of sci-fi action that doesn’t seem to care what others say and just goes for it every chance it gets, which may or may not put off some viewers. The choice is up to you!

7 / 10 = Rental!!

You go Chappie. Don't let anybody stop you and your shiny, metal ass.

You go Chappie. Don’t let anybody stop you and your shiny, metal ass.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Focus (2015)

All it takes is a few really good-looking people to make you forget about your Rolex.

Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a seasoned vet at the art of conning people. He’s been in it for so long, however, that he feels like maybe it’s about time that he starts to settle down and focus on the bigger picture: Actual life. But such is the problem with the life of a con man – you can’t be trusted, which, as a result, means you can’t trust anyone else. It’s pretty sad, but at least you have a lot of money. This all begins to change for Nicky when he meets young, bright, bubbly and downright beautiful grifter, Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), who wants Nicky to teach her the tricks and the trade of pulling off the perfect con. Nicky has no problem with this, because he believes Jess is smart enough and more than capable, but has one major problem: He may be in love with her. Which isn’t just bad for business, but bad for him, as a person. And Jess may feel the same way, but the two never fully know until it’s all too late.

Movies about con men, women, people, etc., all suffer the same problems: They’re fun, flashy and twisty, but sometimes, they get a bit too over-the-heads and can end up becoming a convoluted mess that doesn’t fully add up. One of the rare exceptions to this rule is the classic-caper, the Sting, which definitely helped get through some of its slower-patches with its attention to detail and character, but still had enough twists and turns to fuel us up when we needed it the most, but never overdid it either. It wasn’t the large bed, nor was it the small one – it was the one, slap-dab in the middle that was just right.

How could say "no" to that face? Hot damn!

How could say “no” to that face? Hot damn!

Focus is not one of these movies, and yet, I have a hard time complaining about it much.

For one, it’s a very exciting movie. It’s quick, light-on-its-feet and hardly ever slows down, even when the characters do get to talking about their emotions and so on and so forth. Even then, though, these moments are still neat to watch and pay attention to, because you never quite know whether one is actually being themselves because they want to actually be genuine for once, or if they’re just putting up an act so that they can get what it is that they want. This actually happens during a couple of instances in this film, and it helps speed things along smoothly enough to where we’re not nit-picking every single mistake, or contrivance this movie makes up. Because, trust me, there are plenty to be had here.

There’s one sequence that takes place during the Super Bowl that’s not only the most memorable of the whole movie, but features some of the more tense sequences I’ve seen in something that doesn’t include much gun-play, car-chases, or violence, for that matter. What happens is that we see Smith’s character, Nicky, constantly throw down bets just to have a ball at the game, because he’s with Robbie’s character and, like most women (apparently), she doesn’t give a lick about the sport of football. The bets start off nice, sweet, and playful, like any good two pals would do, but then, once another party walks in on the betting-pool and realizes that they can have some fun while spending plenty of dimes, then the bets get more extreme, the money gets larger, and eventually, we’re left having no clue where the hell this is going to go, why, and who is going to be on the receiving-end of this bet.

I won’t say much more about it, except that it’s the most excitement I’ve had during a movie in quite some time and that’s because it’s unpredictable. Most movies of this nature definitely strive for that, but instead, seem so tailor-made to make sure that everybody has a big, happy smile leaving, so therefore, they’re going to get the pleasing solution to whatever problem may come into the protagonist’s way. Here, it’s never fully clear whether we’re going to get the happy ending, or the sad, dark, and depressing one.

And because of that, Focus hardly loses an ounce of steam. Even if, you know, there’s plenty that goes on here in it that seems to be wildly unbelievable and over-the-top, that it ever happening, or being as intricately planned-out as it is made out to be, hardly ever rings true. But that just shows you what can happen when you make your movie as fun and as exciting as this: You can have some of the biggest, widest, most gaping plot-holes ever seen on the face of the planet, and if you allow us, the audience, to laugh, enjoy ourselves, and come close to even crying, then don’t worry, all is well.

For the most part, that is.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith…….

But where the movie really racks up the points in winning us over is with the pitch perfect casting of both Will Smith and soon-to-be-star Margot Robbie, in the leading roles. Though the age-gap between the two is nearly 22 years, that didn’t bother me as much here, as it does with some of Woody Allen’s movies, because the two have surefire chemistry that barely hits a false note. Sure, you could make the argument that even when the age-difference between the two spouses in Woody Allen’s movie hit almost 30, they can still seem believable and understandable because of good chemistry between the two, but here, it didn’t seem as creepy. Or, at least, the movie didn’t have it written-out to be that way.

For instance, once we see these two together, automatically, you can tell that there’s some sort of spark between the two. It could be all made-up for the con; it could be genuine attraction; or, it could be love. Whatever it is, Robbie and Smith seemed like they really enjoyed working with one another both in front of, as well as behind the camera, because every opportunity they have to make some bit of this feel heartfelt, they go for it. Even if you know Smith’s character is just messing around with Robbie’s to get her to do what he wants for a con, or whatever, there’s still a small feeling that he actually wants to be with her. As unlikely as that may be.

Which is to say, yes, Will Smith does wonders with a role that, quite frankly, could have been so corny and forgettable, had it been played by most other movie stars. But Smith, giving it all he’s got, fits into this role so perfectly that you believe him both as the calm, cool and confident smooth-talker that’s able to get through any con with the use of his fast-working brain, as well as a guy who sincerely wants to settle down in life and possibly even get out of the conning business, just for that reason alone. There’s a heart to this character that makes him worth watching, and it’s where Smith’s performance really takes hold.

But the one who really walks away with this one, is the fiery, the hot, and the engaging woman who is Margot Robbie. Most may know Robbie from the Wolf of Wall Street and while that’s a solid highlight of what she can do, here, as Jess Barrett, she is constantly taking this movie over. Not only does she use her unbelievably lovely good-looks to her advantage to get what she wants, but she too, just like Smith’s character, feels like an actual person that wants everything there is to offer in life. Sure, she wants to con people and make some money in the process of living that life of hers, but at the end of the day, she still wants to have a husband, a family, and even possibly, a life that she can feel safe and comfortable with living.

See, con men – they’re like you or I. Just with a lot more cash lying around.

Consensus: The twists and turns can sometimes border on ridiculous, but Focus always keeps its cool by depending on the engagingly fun and frothy chemistry between Smith and Robbie, while also giving them a fun movie to work all their sly moves in.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

Hey, someone’s gotta pay the rent.

Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are all vampires who live and share a flat together, and like how most people get when living together for so very long, there’s always problems to be had. They don’t always get along and they mostly don’t know how to each hold their weight equally in a place that needs for them to be at their utmost attention. But there is one thing that they have in common, and that’s sucking other people’s blood. And for the most part, they’ve been doing just fine for so long, that it seems almost insane that somebody would swoop in and screw it all up. That’s when Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a random civilian that they all planned on killing, accidentally comes back to life and realizes that he too is a vampire, with all sorts of neat tricks to show off to those around him. This obviously causes a problem for the rest of the group, who would much rather like to be left in the dark where nobody knows who they are and makes them wonder they can stick it with Nick, or not.

Also, werewolves show up.

Jemaine Clement and sex is apparently the go-to for comedy, nowadays.

Jemaine Clement and sex is apparently the go-to for comedy, nowadays.

While this would all seem incredibly boring to hear a movie about werewolves, vampires, and some other infamous ghouls, the fact that this is done by the same crew who brought us Flight of the Concords, makes it a better watch than expected. In fact, way better. Because not only is the movie funny, but proves that you can use the found-footage, faux-documentary style to still enhance your story, even if the story itself does seem to be winking at the audience.

Now, it should be noted that What We Do in the Shadows isn’t necessarily trying to re-invent the wheel of horror-comedies, but is more or less, just trying to make its audience laugh, while also aspiring to create a new kind of tale where vampires can be considered “likable” – hell, maybe even “cool”. Even if the movie doesn’t intend to make these characters pop-out at us as ones we’ll be remembering till the end of our days, they still create a nice landscape for a bunch of funny bits between characters that we want to see more interactions of. Basically, when you put an old-school, follow-the-leader type of rule-maker, you generally want to see them clash heads with the hot-shot, rebel-with-a-cause bad-ass. Even if they do seem a bit cartoonish, it’s still exciting to watch and can even add to more laughs than expected.

Which is one of the harder problems with reviewing comedies. Well, let me rephrase that: reviewing comedies that are actually good.

See, it’s very easy for me to go on and on and on about a comedy that not only kept me laughing much, if at all, but was offensive and left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Those movies are, generally, fun and easy to review because they actually bring a lot of thought to the table as to why something didn’t work out the way it was intended to, and what could have been the main cause for it. If there’s any example, check out my review for Let’s Be Cops; one of the more terrible comedies I’ve seen in recent time, and even though it’s incredibly thin on its surface, I still found many ways to talk more about it and dig deeper than just simply saying, “Movie not funny”.

With What We Do in the Shadows, a good comedy, it’s a difficult task for me to go on about it without digging deeper than I need to. The movie isn’t trying to make a point, it doesn’t have any sort of secret agenda, and it sure as hell isn’t trying to rile-up the more sappy parts of our emotions – it’s just a comedy, being just that. It’s a funny one, at that, but a comedy that works nonetheless and is mostly helped by the fact that it hardly ever steps away from its story and just continues to deliver the jokes, visual-gags, and crazy non sequiter’s, with reckless abandon.

Maybe it’s not as hilarious as I have made it out as being, but it’s still worthy of a watch, especially if you’re already a fan of Concords to begin with.

#VampireSeflie

#VampireSeflie

But, believe it or not, there is some surface to be looked at underneath all of the gags and laughs, which is to say that the movie actually does go for the gut in looking at its characters’ lives and why they’re worthy of us spending time with them in the first place. The fact that they’re vampires may put us in the spot of not wanting to like, or even sympathize with them, solely due to the fact that they kill people and suck their blood for a living. It’s easy to dismiss them automatically after that, but the movie pulls back the curtain at times and shows that there’s something sad and miserable to these characters’ lives and the existences they’re forced to lead.

Sure, some of that is put on-hold to make room for a funny-clothes gag, but for the most part, we get an idea of who these characters are and why they even matter. Which is to say that, surprisingly, the one who stands-out among the rest of the group is a human by the name of Stu, played so plainly-to-perfection by Stu Rutherford. Stu, the character, is the one sole human that these groups of vampires have no problem of being around, and not killing; they treat him with kindness and respect, as you would to any friend. Because of this, Stu easily becomes the most likable and lovable character that when it seems like his life may be in danger by the end, we automatically stand behind our vampire-friends and hope that nobody even lays a paw on Stu. It also creates for some very funny moments where we see that these vampires, despite what they’re forced to live and breath on, actually have emotions, thoughts, and feelings. They just kill people and suck their blood is all.

Shit. Maybe there was some complexity to this after all.

Consensus: While not aspiring to break any new ground, What We Do in the Shadows still works as a solid blend of horror, comedy, and faux-documentary that doesn’t forget about its characters, or the hilarious set-pieces they create to explore more and more.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Happy family. Consumed blood and all.

Happy family. Consumed blood and all.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

McFarland, USA (2015)

When Kevin Costner tells you to run, you run!

After being fired for accidentally hitting a kid on his football team, Jim White (Kevin Costner) has to move away for his new job, teaching physical fitness at a high school in the dead-end city of McFarland, California. But as soon as he arrives, he and his family already seem to have problems with the predominately Latino-area, where they don’t know if they can fit in with the locals, or if they’ll even be safe. Not to mention too, Jim himself is already clashing heads with some members of the department at work. But what seems to be an option that was dead-on-arrival, Jim realizes something about his students that nobody else has noticed before: They can run. Like, really fast. Jim then gets the bright idea to start a cross country team, even though the school doesn’t really have the money for it. And also, the kids that he wants to put on the cross country team, may not be able to dedicate themselves fully it, only because they have to get up early every morning, then go to school, then go back to work, come home and continue with the same pattern the next day.

And, if you couldn’t by now, don’t worry, it’s all based on a true story. But whereas that would actually destroy a movie and make it all feel like a bunch of schmaltzy, family-oriented sap, it actually works in McFarland, USA‘s favor, because it puts everything into perspective. Everything we’re seeing – the people, the notable events, the where, the when, the how – all of that seems to be spawned from sort of truth. Sure, most of the nitty, gritty details we’re probably changed up to give the final-product some sort of illustrious appeal, but for the most part, the movie feels like it’s actually telling a true story and isn’t trying to pull any punches.

Wait! Where's Jason Sudeikis?

Wait! Where’s Jason Sudeikis?

At least, not all of the time.

For the most part, the movie is trying its hardest to make you cry, cheer and run along with it everywhere it goes, which can be a bit obvious at times. You know where this story is going, what it’s going to try to say, and the movie doesn’t care that you know this – they’re too busy trying to make you sob in your seats like a little baby who just got their pacifier taken away. There’s no problem with that, so long as the movie that’s trying to do that in the first place isn’t evil, manipulative, and maniacal, like my ex-girlfriend was when it came to choosing between her, or “my family” (obviously we all know which one I chose, because, well, I’m a dude. Yo.).

But that’s where McFarland, USA shines, whereas other movies would most likely show their cards early on in the game, lose hope from its audience, and just become an overlong-slog of every sports movie cliché you’ve ever seen done. Which is maybe all the more impressive, due to the fact that the sport this movie just so has to be portraying is cross country and I don’t know about any of you out there, it’s a bit hard to make cross country entertaining or exciting. Well, except for maybe the final minute or so of a run when it becomes clear that it’s neck-and-neck between two opponents, but other than that, it’s just a lot of jogging. And jogging. And jogging. And jogging.

And, well, you get my point.

Somehow though, with Niki Caro’s direction, the movie pays more attention to the characters, who they are and why exactly they’re worth our time, our attention, and our hoots and hollers for when it seems like all is on the line, even if, at the end of the day, it is just another race. But to these folks in this movie, it’s so much more and because we can see this, it starts to become the same way for us; most of these characters don’t ask for our pity, but we’re able to give it to them anyway because they all seem so likable, innocent and honest with themselves, as well as the others around them. The movie still brings up certain aspects concerning these characters and how they’ll ultimately clash heads for the third-act, but when it does eventually come around, it feels more deserved than often not.

This is definitely credit to Caro and how she doesn’t look away from these characters and what makes them worth caring about in the first place. And for anybody that feels like this is, yet again, another tale of how the older, wiser white man comes in and saves the day for all of the not-so well-off foreigners, they’ll be sadly mistaken. Sure, we get plenty of attention paid to Costner’s character and how he comes into this town to give mostly everybody there some shed of light in their eyes, but he changes as well. Jim White, as we see early on in the movie, has a problem with his anger and gets fed-up quite easily, which is where he begins to totally lose it; however, once he realizes that he may have to spend more time with these kids to make them the best runners on the face of the planet, then he’s willing to settle down and even see the side of the equation from their point-of-view.

Wow! Settle down you two! It's a family film, after all!

Wow! Settle down you two! It’s a family film, after all!

Trust me, I know this sounds incredibly corny and formulaic, but I’ll be damned if Costner didn’t sell me on this character and his transformation, as mild as it may seem.

And like I said, there’s more characters to focus on here whose names literally aren’t “white”. For the most part, we get a peak into all of these kids’ lives – how they get up for work, how they get to work, how they get to school, how they trot on back to work, and how they ultimately end back at home to do the same thing the next day – but the one who we get to learn the most about, and with good reason, is Danny Diaz, played very well by Ramiro Rodriguez. Though I don’t know much about the Diaz in real life, except from what I’ve just recently read after the fact, the movie paints him out to generally be a nice kid, albeit, one with a rough life that was dedicated to work, school and his family. The movie doesn’t shy away from the fact that most of these younger Hispanic kids literally had to make a living, day in and day out, on just picking whatever they were told to pick on that excruciatingly hot day, whether it be fruits, vegetables, or plant-roots.

With Diaz, we get to see his motivations play out in front of our very own eyes and it’s quite delightful to watch, nearly tear-jerking. Then, once we see Diaz connect with White, his family, and how he’s able to orchestrate the rest of the city to do so, almost did me in. I can promise you, people, I didn’t cry during this movie. But I will admit to having to fight some tears away with the subscripts we get before the end credits and I dare you not to feel the same way.

That damn Danny Diaz, man.

Consensus: Though it’s sappy, earnest, wholesome, and conventional to a fault, McFarland, USA is still a solid example of what can happen when you take the uplifting sports-story, add heart, add emotion, and add characters we can care for, and end up making mostly everybody happy.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Kevin Costner and his clique. Don't mess with it.

Kevin Costner and his clique. Don’t mess with it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

State of Play (2009)

Bloggers can’t pull off stunts like this. Not even me. And I’m Dan the Man, dammit!

Washington D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the type of guy you want telling the news. He gets his facts straight, no bias-stance whatsoever, and he always seems to find an impressive hook on how to make it worth reading or caring about. The latest story that comes his way, puts him in a bit of a rough position because not only is one of his close friends involved with it, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), but because it’s surprisingly a life-or-death situation that escalated to that level quite quickly. With young, hot-and-ready reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), he’ll figure out who exactly was Collin’s mistress, whether her death was a suicide or a murder, why somebody would want her dead, and whether or not it’s even worth risking their life for. Then again though, he works at a newspaper, and I think any story, is a story worth telling, so he’ll go with what he can get.

"Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he's upset."

Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he’s upset.

Surely a movie about a newspaper industry seems already dated, way before conception and release, but that’s where this flick works so well. It is a modern-day thriller, where computers, the internet, smart phones, and texting reigns supreme; however, director Kevin MacDonald also frames this movie in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching one of those old-school, classy, and cool thrillers from the 70’s, where conspiracies ran high, and it was all up to the dedicated reporter to get the truth out. Nowadays, it seems like you go anywhere for any bits of news information, everybody knows about it and has reasoning/sources, but that makes it so sweet to get a flick that reminds us that the old methods of information-sharing still exists, even if it isn’t used quite as often as it once was. Then again, maybe being the fact that I’m a Journalism Major makes me more sympathetic to the issue.

Actually, that’s most likely the reason, but so be it!

Anyway, the film. What works well here is that even though it does seem to be very dense in every piece of detail, every clue, and every hint it throws at us, it never feels confusing. Practically, we are strung along on a trip of finding out anything we can about what’s going on, and are left in the dark about other stuff as well. We think we get the full picture more than a couple of times, and then, we are thrown right for a loop when a slight piece of info comes out and proves us wrong. It messes with our minds and has us curious by how it’s all going to pan-out; but it never feels manipulative.

Where most thrillers would make have conceit becomes over-used and overstay its welcome, MacDonald uses it more to his advantage, in a way to almost coax us into believing all that we hear and see as fact, and nothing but it. With most thrillers like these, we can’t always expect to take in all that’s thrown at us as pure fact, but we do have to believe in it, and I never felt like I was seeing a movie that went maybe a bit too over-zealous with its twists. Mainly, I always felt like MacDonald always knew what he was doing, what he wanted to show us, what he didn’t want to show us, what he wanted us to think at certain moments, and how he wanted us to feel when certain conclusions were made. Many times you’ll be surprised with where one twist will take you, but such is the skill of a thriller, when it’s a thriller done right. And to add on the fact that it’s a movie about the dedication and hardships that reporters take when it comes to getting their stories right, while also making sure to get them out there first; it’s almost like adding a cherry on top. Especially for me.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for these types of movies. Twisty-thrillers and movies about journalists!

But while the movie does work in keeping us on an unpredictable, turny path, it does show some weaknesses as well, ones that became more apparent to me once I got to thinking of them. First of all, I think that having the friendship-clash between Collins and McAffrey works as its own thing, so therefore, to throw in Collins’ wife to the mix, as to set-up some sort of love-triangle, feels manipulative and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, Robin Wright is solid as Collins’ wife, as she plays around with the feeling of being betrayed by her own husband, but also curious enough to get him right back. She’s the perfect form of snidely, evil, and sexy that I’ve ever seen from her, but her character doesn’t need to be used in this light, or even at all. She definitely brings on more guilt to the Collins character, but other than that: Not much else.

While I’m on the subject of the cast, let me just say that all-around, this is a very solid ensemble that feels as if they were hand-picked, for good reasons: 1.) they can all act, and 2.) they actually get a chance to show the mainstream world what they can do when they aren’t slumming themselves down for Hollywood. Russell Crowe seems like he’s a bit too brutish and tough to be taken seriously as this meek and soft, but determined reporter, but somehow, the guy pulls it off very believably. There’s an essence to his character where you know you can trust him to do the right thing, but you don’t quite know if he’s going to get coaxed into doing it, or not. Actually, that’s a pretty interesting point about his personality that movie brings up, but never really develops further, is the fact that not only does he have a job to do, which indicates responsibility, but he has a friend that he obviously cares for and wants to protect. So, basically: What does he do? Turn on his friend, and give the world the spicy story, no details left aside, or, does he stay true to his friend, and give the public a story that has him come out unscathed? The movie sheds this light a couple of times, but by the end, totally loses all sense of it and just stops worrying about it after awhile. Could have really done wonders for itself, but sadly, just does not.

Batman getting rough with Kal-El's daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Batman getting rough with Kal-El’s daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Boo.

Playing Congressman Stephen Collins is Ben Affleck, and I have to say, the guy does quite a swell job here. No, he’s not perfect and he isn’t as enthralling as you’d expect a conflicted-figure like his to be, but he does what the roles asks upon him to do: Show enough feeling to where you could be viewed upon as “sympathetic”, but not too weak to where you don’t seem like you couldn’t be a bit of a rat-bastard as well. With that idea, Affleck does wonders and shows the rest of the world that he can still act (even though by ’09, people already knew that).

Rachel McAdams is also a fiery-sword as the young and brass blogger that hops aboard this story, and seems to be really enjoying herself, whether it’s when she has her time on her own, or if she’s around fellow co-stars and gets a chance to strut her stuff. Either way, she holds her own and doesn’t come off as annoying, or way-too-in-over-her-head or anything along those lines. She’s just Rachel McAdams, and that’s perfect as is.

The rest of the stacked-cast is pretty awesome too, with some getting more notice than the others: I wish there was more of Helen Mirren, but then again, I feel like that could be a criticism for any movie, so I’ll leave it be with that; pre-Newsroom Jeff Daniels shows that he has the acting chops to, one minute, be playing a sophisticated charmer, and then the next minute, be as corrupt and evil as the same politicians he talks out against; Viola Davis gets a short, but sweet cameo as a morgue-employee; and Jason Bateman shows up all coked-up, high-living, and fun as one of Collins’ known-associates, and almost steals the movie all by himself. Almost.

Consensus: Sure, State of Play is nothing more than a classic-piece of deception, cheating, lying, and suspense, all placed around the idea of a newspaper, but for that reason, it’s still entertaining and compelling to watch.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

James Bond was never this cheeky.

After a mission ends up disastrously and leaves a fellow agent dead, secret service agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) makes a promise to the man’s family, especially to the young baby, that he will look after them and be there when they need him the most. Fast forward a couple years later, and that baby, is now a young man named Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who has problems with his mom’s trashy boyfriend, the local bullies that seem to always be on his case about everything, and most importantly, the law. After landing himself in the slammer, Eggsy meets the man he met as a baby, who then recruits him for a secret training-session where he, and many others, will be fighting for the position of being a loyal, noble Kingsman. And honestly, the world needs Kingsmen more now than ever, what with millionaire tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) setting up an evil plan that threatens society as we know it. But with a bit of tuning-up and order thrown into Eggsy’s head, he might just be the one to stop Valentine, all before it’s way too late and there’s nobody left to save.

Matthew Vaughn makes fun movies. Regardless of whether or not you like those fun movies, it can’t be argued against that no matter what stories he decides to take, Vaughn always finds his own, unique way of electrifying them any way he can. That said, there’s a lot of people out there who just don’t care for his work – especially Kick-Ass. Though I quite liked that movie and felt like it was an honest superhero movie, where it seemed like there was no such thing with Marvel and DC hanging around, constantly trying to one-up one another, there’s plenty of people who don’t feel as I do. And that’s fine. I’m used to the rest of the world not agreeing with me on everything I believe in; it helps make me a lot more popular at parties, if I’m being honest here.

"Hey, thir. Nithe to meeth youthe."

“Hi, thir. Nithe to meeth youthe.”

But those who hate Kick-Ass, have to admit that Vaughn, for all that it’s worth, at least tried to spice everything up as much as he could. You could argue that he goes a tad bit over-the-top in certain instances and doesn’t really know whether he wants us to think of a situation as seriously as it’s intended to be, or just scoffed at and not taken seriously one bit, and I wouldn’t argue against you. But for some reason, Vaughn’s movies are fun and they hardly ever bore.

Which is sort of why Kingsman is a bunch of fun to sit back, watch and enjoy, even while stuff is constantly exploding and being shot at. The problems that seem to have followed Vaughn practically everywhere he’s gone in his career, where everything he features is so ridiculous and over-the-top, that it can’t at all be taken seriously, actually work quite well here. The whole movie, for what it’s worth, is essentially one big “yeah, whatever you say, bro” – scenes that seem so over-dramatic and nutty, are made a lot better by the fact that Vaughn has placed Kingsman in this world where everything crazy, is known to be as such. Therefore, rather than trying to explain it all for the people at home, the movie just lets us know right away that it knows it’s being ridiculous and allows you to make up your own mind as to whether you’re down for the ride, or not.

If you are, I can assure you, it’s a fun ride. If not, then piss off!

And that’s mostly where all of the fun can be had with Kingsman; it never wants to take itself too seriously to the point of where it’s dismissive of all its unexplainable, highly improbable acts that occur throughout, but it’s also never too goofy to where it turns into a parody of itself, or better yet, a Bond movie. In fact, if there was some problem to be had with this movie, it was that I felt like the humor didn’t constantly click as well here, as it does for a a movie from someone like, I don’t know say, Tarantino, or an earlier-version of Robert Rodriguez.

Those two film-makers have found their inherently genius ways of combining both bloody, shocking bits of violent, with subversive humor that clearly loves itself, but is also quite funny. No offense to Vaughn, because he clearly has a solid funny-bone located in his body, but he’s no Tarantino; he may be a bit better than Rodriguez nowadays, but then again, so is my dad when he’s had about four beers in his system. What starts out as a James Bond-ish parody flick, soon turns into it’s own comedy that sometimes hit, solely due to the fact by how knowing it is of all its ridiculousness, but then when it tries to sprinkle the funny throughout all of the in-your-face action sequences, it doesn’t always connect well.

Once again, that’s not to say that this movie’s action isn’t fun, or at least worth getting smiley-faced over – because it definitely. There’s actually one scene that takes place inside of a church that goes from normal, exposition-filled scene, to absolutely balls-out, wild and crazy action scene that goes nowhere you’d expect it to actually go to. It then ends in a shocking manner, but I won’t spoil it for you any of you here. I’ll just say that the movie is fun, just not as funny as it thinks it ought to be.

I’ll leave it at that.

"Daniel Craig? Oh, what a hack!"

“Daniel Craig? Oh, what a hack!”

Another element to Kingsman‘s success with most of this wacky material is that its cast is more than willing to commit whatever sorts of heinous it needs for them to do, and still be able to make it all cool with a smile or a smirk soon following. Colin Firth, in what seems like the role he’s been waiting nearly 30 years to play, gets a chance to show the world what it’d be like if he ever got the chance to play Bond, and it’s pleasant to watch. Of course, Firth’s charming and cunning as ever, but there’s also a certain bit of anger and aggression lurking beneath this character that makes you believe he’s a ruthless, sometimes toothless killer. When he’s called upon to act like so, that is.

Same goes for Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine, another pro who seems to be relishing in a role that he’s been wanting to play for some time now. You could say that Jackson’s doing an impersonation of Mike Tyson, what with the lisp and his goofy-demeanor and all, but there’s something more to this character that made him one step above most action-movie villains we normally see. He has an evil plan to get rid of most of the humans on the face of the planet, which is so that he can save the environment from turning on society and destroying Earth itself. It’s an evil plan, no getting around that, but it’s one that has some ground set in reality and for that, it’s worth noting.

The rest of the cast is pretty fine, too, with mostly everyone having a grand time with this wild material. Taron Egerton proves as a suitable protagonist with Eggsy, and gives us the impression that bigger, better things are to come of him; Michael Caine isn’t in this nearly as much, but is still such a class-act, that he brings plenty of dramatic-weight to any scene, just by showing up and doing his thing; Mark Strong, believe it or not, isn’t actually playing a lying, conniving, sniveling baddie like we’re so used to seeing him get type-cast as and it works well because the lad’s quite charming when he isn’t twisting his mustache; and Sofia Boutella, in a movie filled to the brim with male counterparts, somehow finds a way to stand-out as Gazelle, a bad-ass villain who has a set of deadly-pegs for legs and proves to be more deadly than Samuel L. Jackson’s actual, main villain.

You go, girl!

Consensus: Its tongue falls out of its cheek a few times, but for the most part, Kingsman: The Secret Service finds ways to keep things exciting and fun, even if it is completely over-the-top in ways you may not be able to imagine.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

One of these things does not quite look like the other.

One of these things does not quite look like the other.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Voices (2015)

Cats are evil, we all know that. But dogs? Never!

Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is an upbeat, happy-going dude who lives his life with his dog, Bosco, and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. He works at a bathtub factory, is generally liked by his co-workers, although some of them feel he’s may be a tad on the off-kilter side, and normally has a chipper-look at the world around him, as morbid and dark as it may be out there sometimes. Oh, and he talks to a psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) so that he can stop talking to Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. Forgot to mention that little piece of info? Well, sorry. Because, believe it or not, Mr. Whiskers and Bosco actually talk to Jerry; Bosco is obviously very loyal to Jerry and wants him to do the right thing always, whereas Mr. Whiskers is constantly pissing and crapping everywhere, that is, when he isn’t telling Jerry to kill people, just because he can. Normally, Jerry doesn’t listen to Mr. Whiskers, but now that he’s stopped taking his pills and has recently fallen for a co-worker of his (Gemma Arterton), things may now change and Jerry may finally give in to Mr. Whiskers all along.

It’s hard to take a premise like this at all seriously, which is why, for the first hour or so, the Voices is an odd, but wacky hybrid of a movie; one that clearly doesn’t need a few big names attached to it to help it get attention from the curious ones out there, but it also doesn’t hurt much, either. And with that said, I think now is a better time than ever to jump right into one of the main reasons as to why the Voices works as well as it does: Ryan freakin’ Reynolds, people.

The look of someone who has done one too many studio movies and it's time to gut them all away. So to speak.

The look of someone who has done one too many studio movies and knows that it’s time to gut them all away. So to speak.

I’ll admit it, I gave up on Ryan Reynolds a bit back in the day. When 2013 came around and Reynolds himself not only had two box-office bombs, but had them in the same weekend, there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that no matter how charming this man can be, no matter how much promise of something deeper, far more interesting may appear in brief spots, Ryan Reynolds movie-career would be doomed. Sure, he would still have Blake Lively, his good looks, and possibly even his rockin’ bod that many women, even til this day, still fantasize over, but Ryan Reynolds, no offense to anyone else out there, isn’t getting any younger and because of that, it seemed like Ryan Reynolds, the movie star, was over and done before he could ever fully get off the ground and running.

However, as 2015 shines upon us, it seems like Reynolds’ career is singing a different tune – rather than trying to be anything like the next big movie star that this world has ever seen, Reynolds is, instead, challenging himself as an actor and less of a hot-guy-with-a-sense-of-humor. Nowadays, Reynolds wants to show the world that he’s got plenty of talent to put to use and because of that, we’re treated to one of his best performances in the longest time, as Jerry Hickfang. It’s not a role that many would expect for Reynolds to take – on paper, Hickfang is a weird guy, but seemingly harmless, all because he’s dorky in his own way.

But as time progresses in this movie and we realize that there is something very dark and disturbing brewing inside of Jerry, we see Reynolds’ true charm come out in full spades. This can definitely be attributed to the script for allowing a character like Jerry to have at least some semblance of humanity, even amidst all of the nonsensical blood-shed and murder, but it can also be attributed to Reynolds for not letting us lose sight that this is a seriously messed-up individual who needs to be put somewhere safe and relaxing, where he can be cooped-up for the rest of his life without ever putting other people’s lives into harm’s way.

It is dramatic, you can say, but the tone is so strange here, that it actually works; not to mention that Reynolds is game for wherever this movie seems to take him and Jerry next. There’s more to this Jerry character than just a goofy simpleton who loves everything about life, even if he is a little crazy. And yet, it’s still hard to get past the fact that every chance Jerry gets to be endearing with his silly ways, Reynolds milks it for all that he’s got. The guy may be able to charm the socks off of Queen Elizabeth in her prime, but here, as Jerry, he’s charming in a different kind of way; one that’s a lot more sad and makes you want to give him a hug and let him know it will be alright in the end.

You know, even if it isn’t.

Who doesn't want to wake up to this for breakfast every morning?

Who doesn’t want to wake up to this for breakfast every morning?

As great as Reynolds is, though, the movie still has its fair share of problems and some of that can be seen with the final-half which, like I’ve mentioned a bit before, isn’t like the first-half all that much. Sure, there’s plenty of killing, blood and gore, but the dark comedic-tone isn’t fully there like before; which isn’t to say that there always has to be, regardless of what’s actually going on in the movie. When a movie decides to turn the other cheek and get serious with itself, it isn’t a problem, so long so as the movie doesn’t fully lose its identity in the process.

Here, with the Voices, I felt like that actually happened – the laughs come very few and far between, certain characters start acting like they wouldn’t have earlier, and we’re left to focus on more action, rather than any actual humor. The movie didn’t need to be hilarious about the whole way through to make me pleased, however, what it did need to do was stay true to itself. You know, sort of like Jerry – a messed-up individual, for sure, but one who isn’t pretending to be something he’s not.

He is, what he is. For better, and definitely for worse.

Consensus: Though it peers off into far more serious territory, with less than stellar results, the Voices still has enough joy basking in its inappropriate, but fun plot, that is made all the better by one of Ryan Reynolds’ best performances in a long while. Let’s hope this is a sign of beautiful things to come.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Listen to the cat. Always. Listen. To. The. Cat.

Listen to the cat. Always. Listen. To. The. Cat.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Sorry, aliens. But Earth is kinda lame.

Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) wakes up at 4:30 in the morning, only to then get to her job where she scrubs toilets for a living as a maid. It’s not an ideal life, but it’s the one she was handed. Which is why when she hears that she is, according to a galactic family, the powerful mother of Earth, she’s excited. Confused, but excited nonetheless. However, her excitement dies down once she relies that one of the members of the galactic family (Eddie Redmayne) wants her dead so that he can take over Earth and be the most powerful member of his family. Jupiter should have no fear, though, because a genetically-spliced ex-military member named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) comes to the rescue with his anti-gravity boots and all. So now, it becomes clear that Jupiter’s life is in danger and that Wise is there to protect her life so that she can reign supreme as Mother Earth, but there’s more political back-stabbing going on behind her back and, even if she doesn’t know it yet, her life still is in danger, no matter what.

There’s a problem with this plot that’s hard for me to fully out-line here. Not because I don’t want to give any of its juiciest secrets away, but because I myself sincerely haven’t the slightest clue as to what was really going on in this film half of the time. Sure, it can be somewhat simple to just label down the “baddies”, from the “goodies”, and work from there, but there’s a bigger problem with Jupiter Ascending that makes it feel like maybe the the Wachowskis were fighting for something a bit deeper here.

Something that yes, may definitely be relevant, but doesn’t quite work well for this movie in the long-run. Let me explain.

"Good evening, Jackie."

“Good evening, Jackie.”

We’re told to believe that Earth, as well as many other planets, are owned by a very powerful family; one that contains two brothers and a sister, none of which seem to fully get along well enough (sort of like real siblings). One sibling wants more control than the others, and because Earth is apparently the most prestigious planet to own, he goes for that one right away. Makes sense, but then the movie starts to get stranger and stranger as it runs along.

This is where I won’t spoil it for most of you out there, except to say that the Wachowskis, as much as I credit them with definitely thinking outside of the box here, as they often do, seem like they’re making most of this up as they go along. It’s hard to figure out who does what, to whom, for what reasons, and where, all inside this universe, which makes it more difficult to not only figure things out, but get invested in the story a whole lot more. There’s many scenes where the Wachowskis want the audience to get up, cheer and be absolutely shocked by whatever has just happened, but because the story is so all-over-the-place at times, it never clicks inside the audience’s head that, “Oh yeah! The good guy’s are winning! Woo-hoo!”.

I’m not saying that we need to be spoon-fed every single detail about a new universe we’re being introduced to, but it would help if there was just a bit more help in figuring certain things out about it.

That said, Jupiter Ascending is a pretty fun movie. Get past all of the problems with the plot and its mechanisms, and believe it or not, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Which is, yet again, much to the credit of the Wachowskis, because they always seem to know when the right time is to throw an action scene for good measure, wake its audience up, and keep them wanting more. Because not only does the movie look wonderful, but it also feels like its own kind of breed of sci-fi – sure, it’s confusing sci-fi, but it’s one of the rare sci-fi movies to come out in recent time where I didn’t feel like that they ripped so many other movies off, that it’s an absolute wonder how a bunch of lawyers didn’t get called-up.

The Wachowskis know better and for that, the movie moves at a steady-pace that keeps most of its plot easy-to-disregard, especially during the action-bits. One sequence that excited me the most was a high-flying chase in/and around the skies of Chicago, which apparently took six months to shoot, and with good reason. It seems like a lot of time was dedicated to this sequence looked, felt, and came off the screen, and same goes for the rest of the look of the movie.

Now, if only the Wachowskis paid as much as attention to their story, then we’d probably have a bigger winner on our hands here, but sadly we do not. Instead, Jupiter Ascending is serviceable at best. The Wachowskis have a weird, almost off-kilter sense of humor that sometimes translates well into their pieces (see Cloud Atlas), and sometimes doesn’t even show up (see Speed Racer), but here, they seem like they have the right fit for the tone; they don’t throw a joke in there for an easy-gag to liven everything up when it gets too serious. Because the world is as crazy and slap-dash as they created it to be, they’re practically given free reign to throw any wild gags at us that they want. Sometimes, it’s never clear whether the gags they present are meant to be taken seriously, but regardless, it’s always a joy to laugh, look and point at something incredibly ridiculous as this.

Seriously. Who comes up with that kind of stuff?

I am sworn to secrecy on whether or not this dude dies.

I am sworn to secrecy on whether or not this dude dies.

Speaking of such ridiculous-looking beings here, Channing Tatum is saddled with a goofy-attire as half-man, half-wolf and it actually works for him. This is probably because Tatum himself moves and jostles himself around with the same ability of a member of the wolf pack, but because his character seems like a true bad-ass. You can tell that the Wachowskis are going for some sort of Han Solo anti-hero with Caine Wise, and while he’s not nearly that interesting of a character, it’s still fun to watch as C-Tates flies through the sky on those anti-gravity boots, kicking ass, taking names, and still being able to charm even the most heterosexual man out of his boots.

But don’t be fooled, Jupiter Ascending is more of Mila Kunis’ movie than anything, and with good reason – the girl’s downright cute. Kunis’ character acts us, in that everything being taught to her, is being taught to us, as well, and she works well with that role; she’s easily relatable and feels like a normal human being, without being overly-annoying or surprised by this wacky world she’s thrown into. You could make the argument that maybe her character is a tad too comfortable with this new, crazy, and insane world she’s been thrown into, but it’s hard to have any problems with a character played by Kunis, which also made it better to see that she’s not the typical female you see in these kinds of movies. Sure, she needs the help of Caine Wise every so often, but for the most part, she makes her own decisions and, when push comes to shove, takes some matters into her own hands. Right on, girl.

The rest of the cast is an interesting ensemble, even if most of them feel as if they’re hamming it up for the rafters to hear. Oscar-nominated Eddie Redmayne gives a campy performance as Balem, the bad brother of the family that’s trying to go after Jupiter and feels like he’s been plucked right out of a drag show, and thrown right onto our screens, with perfect delight; Douglas Booth is another bro who may, or may not be a baddie, and the mystery surrounding him is a bit of fun; Sean Bean shows up as one of Wise’s old pals and confidantes, and feels like the rough and ragged dude who has seen, and done it all; and randomly enough, in what I’m sure was a role she did before her career was about to take off, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has a bit role as a kick-ass security-guard. It’s small, but man, it made me wish there was more of her to see.

Consensus: The overly-convoluted plot may be hard to get past, but as a sci-fi, action-thriller from the wicked mind of the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending is still fun and well-paced enough to make the two hours slip on by. Even if you’re still scratching your head by the end of it all.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Just imagine some Chris Brown playing in the background, and you're set, ladies.

Just imagine some Chris Brown playing in the background, and you’re set, ladies.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Guest (2014)

As long as they’re in the Army, let ’em in! Or don’t. Actually, yeah. Don’t do that.

One day, completely out of the blue, David Andersen Collins (Dan Stevens) knocks on the Peterson’s front-door and tells them that not only did he serve in the Army with their deceased family-member, but that he was also there for said family-member’s final breathing moment. All David wants to do is stop by, pay his regards, and keep on moving to wherever the hell he’s going, but Laura (Sheila Kelley), the mother of the family, would like for him to stay. She clearly misses her son and if there’s anything at all close to him that she can still get, she’ll keep it for as long as humanly possible. So for awhile, David stays in the house, doing chores, keeping an eye on what happens to the younger kids in the house when they go to school, and overall, just being there to lend a helping hand whenever he’s needed. While the youngest (Brendan Meyer) clearly doesn’t have a problem with this, the older sister, Anna (Maika Monroe), clearly does and isn’t too sure whether she can actually trust David. And then she realizes something very strange about his past, and it puts his whole existence into perspective.

With You’re Next, writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard gave us a movie that lived, slept, and breathed the same air as an 80’s home-invasion flick. However, at the same time, it was still eerily present and because of that, it felt like something new, exciting and relatively original. Of course a good amount of the credit for that film working as well as it did was because of the unpredictable plot that kept on surprising us every step of the way, without ever throwing us down too many random hallways, but where it mattered most, Wingard and Barrett seemed to be making a movie that they clearly wanted to use as both as a tribute to the home-invasion thrillers of yesteryear. By doing so, too, they also made a near-perfect home-invasion thriller in its own right that people, like I imagine Barrett and Wingard were once doing, will be talking about for many, many years to come.

The Guest doesn’t quite hit that peak, but it does come pretty close at times.

Relax over there, ladies.

Relax over there, ladies.

As they did with You’re Next, Wingard and Barrett seemed to highlighting their love for “mysterious stranger” movies; ones where a random person shows up from out of nowhere, has an air of oddness about themselves, and also contain more than a few deep, dark, and dirty secrets that may, or may not make them a danger to whoever’s life they’re being thrown into. These are the kinds of movies that can go one way so cheaply and by-the-numbers, but with the Guest, Wingard and Barrett find a way to keep this tale moving, without ever seeming to focus on the constant cliches that usually make these kinds of stories such eye-rollers to sit through.

For instance, David Collins, the central character here, is an odd duckling, although he’s not really a cartoon. Sure, the guy gives off a strange vibe that makes you think he’s up to no good, but because Wingard and Barrett give him so many awesome scenes that high-light him as something of an endearing bad-ass, it’s hard for us to think of him as any bit of a baddie. There may be some underlining meaning behind the things that he does for this family, but whatever they may be, don’t matter because all we want to do is see him single-handedly get rid of all this family’s problems.

Dad may not be getting his promotion because of some young, hot-shot d-bag? Don’t worry about. Son continues to get picked-on by a bunch of the jocks at school? Once again, don’t worry about it. Daughter may have a boyfriend who is a bit of a shady character? Especially, don’t worry about. David Collins takes care of all these problems in his own manner, and while we want to think of all these scenes as obvious, Barrett and Wingard give them all a certain level of fun and electricity in the air that makes these tropes seem like something new, or better yet, cool.

And as David Collins, Dan Stevens gives off the perfect essence of cool, while by the same token, also has something weird and mysterious about him that we don’t know if we can fully trust. Being as how I’ve never watched a single episode of the Downton Abbey, I can’t really say I’ve ever seen much of a Stevens before, but now, that might change. The guy’s clearly handsome, but there’s something about that handsomeness that makes him almost deadly, which is why when the movie decides to have him turn the other cheek, it’s not only believable, but it allows for Stevens’ comedic-timing to really shine.

So conceited.

So conceited.

Although, the major problem I had with this movie mostly came from the fact that I couldn’t ever tell what this movie wanted to say about Collins, or how it wanted us to feel for him. First off, he’s obviously supposed to be the earnest problem-solver for this family, so of course we’re supposed to stand behind him and root him on. But then, the movie changes its mind about him and starts to throw in a convoluted back-story about his “time” in the army, which eventually brings in the government, SWAT Teams, and DEA agents out of nowhere. It’s crazy, sure, but it’s also fun to see, because you know Wingard and Barrett know better with this story then to allow for all of its wackiness to lead up to nothing.

Then again, though, it doesn’t seem like they want us to hate David Collins, either, even despite all of the evil, devil-ish acts he commits in the later-half. Maybe I’m looking a bit too deeply into this, but a part of me just wanted to know how I was supposed to feel about this guy and whether or not he’s the one I should rooting for. Clearly I wasn’t supposed to, but the movie had me fooled on maybe more than a few occasions and that was a tad disconcerting to me. Whereas with You’re Next, it was somewhat clear who we were supposed to stand behind, and who we were supposed to despise, but with the Guest, neither Wingard and/or Barrett can figure out who we’re supposed to love, and who we’re supposed to hate.

Anything in between is just strange. But maybe that’s just my problem and nobody else’s.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t quite reach the intelligent heights of You’re Next, the Guest is still fun, exciting, and a nice tribute to the kinds of movies that Wingard and Barrett grew up loving, and want to spin-around on their heads for the modern-day audience.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Black Sea (2015)

Submariners are the new pirates. Thankfully, no Jack Sparrow.

After all of he and his buddies get laid-off from their jobs, a submarine captain named Robinson (Jude Law) catches wind of a possible way to make plenty of dough. The only problem is that it’s from a sketchy backer (Tobias Menzies), who may or may not be exactly who he says he is. However, Robinson isn’t taking any chances because what he really wants is that money so that he can get himself, as well as his lads, back to see their families. So, Robinson gets a rough, ragged and culturally diverse group together and lets them know right away that he won’t put up with any sort of shenanigans going on/around the submarine. Problem is, after he tells them this, he also lets everybody know that they’ll all get equal shares of whatever it is that they find in the sea. Which brings up the question: If people know that there share’s get bigger, once some crew-members die-off, then will they commit any sort of wrongdoings? Well, Robinson and the rest of the crew are about to find out first hand, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t at the bottom of the pitch black sea itself.

"It's either my way, or the highway! Or, erhm, wherever we stop for air next!"

“It’s either my way, or the highway! Or, erhm, wherever we stop for air next!”

Submarine thrillers, more or less, depend on one element and one element mostly to get its viewers paying attention: Claustrophobia. It works in all of the biggest and best movies in a submarine, and with good reason – normally, people don’t like enclosed spaces they can’t get out of. It doesn’t matter if they’re watching it, or simply witnessing it from a first-hand account, if you are able to create the allusion that you have to be up close and person with the walls that surround you, or else you’ll have to perish, then you’ve already done your job. People will instantly freaked-out and very tense.

This is the element that director Kevin Macdonald uses, but it’s not the only card he shows. Rather than just showing the audience these enclosed-spaces, with plenty of men sweating, Macdonald also takes time to focus on the dynamics amongst the crew that may, or may not, bring everything to ahead. That the crew is split-up between Russians and non-Russians, already gives you the impression that anybody could flip out on another person, because they may have misconstrued something in the wrong manner.

But once again, Macdonald does not stop there. And a part of me sort of wishes he did.

Because while the movie has plenty of excitement going for itself with the constantly yelling, running, crashing, shooting, and explorations into the deep blue sea, there are moments where it feels like maybe Macdonald and writer Dennis Kelly aren’t totally comfortable with just having these various characters argue and threaten one another to create tension. Instead, there’s got to be more twists added-on that maybe, just maybe, these guys are doing this all for nothing? Or maybe, these guys don’t have anything else to live for, so in a way, this job was nothing more than a swan song for all parties involved? Either way, the story gets a little too wrapped up in itself and it made me wish that Macdonald and Kelly trusted themselves enough to know that the simple they kept it, the better it was. The more that they threw on, only complicated matters much worse.

However, there is something to be said for a submarine thriller that is able to be just that, thrilling, without ever feeling like it’s re-inventing the wheel that’s been steered so firmly many times before. Macdonald doesn’t get into the mechanics of this submarine, as much as he just shows what works, why and how it can work for the group. It’s a simple understanding between the audience and the director that we don’t too often get in movies such as these; more special because Macdonald himself doesn’t seem to want to throw any of his intelligence on the audience members who may not know a single thing about submarines except that they go deep underwater and stuff. Macdonald shows an appreciation, almost an adoration for these submarines, but he never forces us to follow him and his love for them – simply, he just wants us to watch as these chums all try their hardest to pull off the greatest heist in submarine history ever.

The face you just can't trust.

The face you just can’t trust.

That said, Macdonald gets a lot of mileage out of his cast, most especially Jude Law in the kind of unattractive, challenging role we’ve been seeing him taken as of late. As Captain Robinson, Jude Law uses a Scottish-accent that may seem like no biggie at first, until you realize that it gives him this kind of hard-edge to make you think that this guy’s seen it all in the world, been through hell and back, and is just trying to make a living, regardless of if it is a simple one or not. With this role and the title-character in Dom Hemingway, Law has proven himself to be a far-better, more talented actor than most of us maybe had taken him for in the past. Sure, he’s still got his good looks, but he’s also getting up there in age and it’s finally about time that he’s at least approached this aspect of his life, and allowed for it to play-off so well in his career-choices.

In other words, I’m interested in seeing what “old-head Jude Law” has to offer.

Though Law’s definitely the one to pay most attention in this flick, he isn’t the only one who leaves a mark as there are character actors aplenty in this ensemble and all of them put in great work. Ben Mendelsohn, as you could suspect, plays something of a trouble-maker early-on, only to then slightly turn the other cheek and become something of a nice guy, even if he’s one you know to never fully trust, no matter how many times he says to grab his hand and pull-up; Konstantin Khabensky is one of the Russians here who doesn’t speak much English, but leaves you with the impression that he wants the same thing as his non-Russian counterparts want, and are just as capable of pulling-off some evil acts of vandalism as well; and Scoot McNairy, despite clearly being the odd duckling out of the whole group, fits in well as the whiny, annoying member who had to come along for the ride, but also works as the voice of reason well enough to put this whole story into perspective and remind all of these characters who they are all on this mission for in the first place – their families.

Consensus: Without trying to change the game of submarine thrillers, Black Sea is a tense, rather fun piece that focuses on all aspects of its story well enough that it makes the finale all the more effective, even if the twists do get a tad over-zealous with themselves.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Marcellus Wallace's dirty laundry?

Marsellus Wallace’s dirty laundry?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Appropriate Behavior (2015)

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

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

Painful first dates. Ammiright?!?!?

Painful first dates. Ammiright?!?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Perfect thinking-spot.

Perfect thinking-spot. Take your time, hon.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Upside of Anger (2005)

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

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

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

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

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

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

For better, as well as for worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

God Help the Girl (2014)

Those little twee singers and dancers. No future!

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

FEEEEEL IT!

FEEEEEL IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#HipsterSelfie

#HipsterSelfie

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Look at that camera! It's so old!

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Space Station 76 (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tee-hee. 70's clothes are funny.

Tee-hee. 70’s clothes are funny.

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

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

Oh well, guess you have to please everybody.

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Coherence (2014)

Dinner parties are sketchy enough as is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Willow Creek (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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