Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Slow West (2015)

Slow and steady doesn’t always win ya races, people.

16-year-old Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is currently stranded 19th Century frontier America. For some odd, inexplicable reasons, the woman that he grew up to know, learn from, and love (Caren Pistorius), has vanished. Because of this heartbreak, Silas figures that the only way to fix it all would to actually set out on a journey to find her, once and for all. Little does Jay know, the West can be a pretty rough and ragged place to travel through, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself in some very tense, life-or-death situations. That’s why when Jay runs into the company of Silas (Michael Fassbender), a charming and smart outlaw that seems to collect bounties anywhere he goes, he wants to stick with him in hopes that his life will be protected. The only problem know is that Jay eventually finds out that his old love is know wanted dead or alive for a murder she may not have even committed in the first place, and now, nearly every dirty, mean cowboy in the West is gunning after her. It’s up to Jay to make sure that he finds her before it’s too late, whereas it’s up to Silas to make sure that the boy does, but that he also gets his money, as well.

Slow is exactly right. With a movie like Slow West, it’s hard to be mad at it for what it is: A slow, melancholic Western that doesn’t over-stay its welcome too long, nor does it ever really seem to find its own footing. With first-time writer and director John M. Maclean, it’s clear that there’s a certain look and feel to this film that’s supposed to matter to the story, to these characters, and especially to our own general feeling to the film as a whole. While it’s easy for me to say that Maclean clearly has an eye for visuals, it doesn’t translate as well to the rest of the flick.

Even if he hasn't taken a shower for what seems like a couple of weeks, M-Fass still rules the land.

Even if he hasn’t taken a shower for what seems like a couple of weeks, M-Fass still charms socks off.

But, then again, it’s hard to get on a movie that features not only Michael Fassbender, but Ben Mendelsohn as well.

Two for the price of one, people!

With Fassbender’s Silas character, we get the sort of soft-spoken, but charming-as-all-hell outlaw character that we so often see in these kinds of Westerns, however, they mostly feel like parodies of themselves. While they’re supposed to be taken seriously, these kinds of characters have been practically done to death by now, that no matter how cool, calm and collected you are, the character you’re playing may still come off as corny. However, this is not a problem that gets in the way of Fassbender, one of today’s most talented actors.

As Silas, Fassbender proves that it’s sometimes best to say two words, rather than to say 15 or so, and yet, still get your point across. Sure, it’s safe to say that this Silas character seems like he knows it all, been there, done that, and has seen whatever the world threw in front of his eyes, but Fassbender plays it in such a manner, that it almost didn’t matter to making this character work; Fassbender just finds his own ways in doing so. He could either be shooting people, calming gunslingers down, or smokin’ a stogie in the middle of a gun-battle and no matter what, Silas would still be cool, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard.

And of course, having Ben Mendelsohn just show up and do his thing is great, and that’s how he is here. Not much different from before, except to say that there’s still an unsettling feel surrounding him where you don’t know whether or not he’s actually a cold-hearted killer, or just a guy looking for a quick money-grab. Either way, there’s something interesting to his menace, and that never seemed to go away here for him.

Problem is, Maclean doesn’t really find a way to make sure that the plot services both of these guys’ talents, as well as Smit-McPhee’s.

The fur just adds more creepiness, surprisingly.

The fur just adds more creepiness, surprisingly.

For one, the plot is simple at best, meandering at its worst. Whereas some will be pleased to see that Maclean sort of just lets his movie move along at its own pace, find its own direction, and even figure out what story it wants to work with, to me, it didn’t quite gel well. Constantly, it felt like Maclean didn’t know where he wanted to go with this story and didn’t have much of anything mapped-out to work with. So, instead of writing something down in concrete, he just let the movie go on and on, without much of a rhyme, reason, or direction.

Sometimes, this works if the movie itself seems to be a fun piece of random, but Slow West isn’t that kind of movie. Sure, it has some moments that are tense, including a gun-packed finale that’s surely the highlight of the whole movie, but overall, it’d be hard to make sense of just what’s going on and why. I’ve seen some people refer to this movie as “a dream”, and while I agree with some of those statements, I still don’t think it works in the movie’s favor; it never seemed like it deserved to be seen as a dream, no matter how many random characters popped in and out.

Then again, it all comes back to the fact that this is a Western that ends on a high note, with guns a blazin’, bullets a flyin’, and people a droppin’. To me, that’s always a fine time to watch, whether it’s a Western, a regular, old action movie, or a family drama. And if that shows anything, it’s that Maclean, while not fully ready for more and more pictures, definitely has a future in just filming action sequences, no matter where they’re taking place.

Because lord knows I’ll watch them. With or without a lame story.

Consensus: Slow West takes its good old time to get where it needs to get going, and because of that, feels meandering and random, but still doesn’t take away from solid performances and bits of action.

7 / 10

 

Trust the barber, kid. For your own sake.

Trust the barber, kid. You’ll never regret it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Joneses (2010)

If they came into my neighborhood, they’d be “outed” in a week. Nobody’s cars are that nice.

The Joneses are the stereotypical, suburban family that has it all, and then some. Steve (David Duchovny) plays golf very well, wears nice clothes, and even hangs out with the dudes as much as he can; Kate (Demi Moore) is sort of like the same person, except she’s more about her looks; and the two kids, Jenn and Mick (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth), are living the lives of your simple teens that have it all and show it all off to their friends. They’re goods and resources are so pricey and good-looking, that almost everybody in their neighborhood has to latch onto them as well and buy it for themselves. But where did all of these valuables come from? Something’s up with the Joneses and nobody knows, except for the Jones family themselves.

Here’s something that seemed like nothing more than a cheap scam to make a rom-com, but with a tad bit of an intriguing plot going for it. And yes, even in the dead heat of 2010, a plot where a bunch of sales-persons are put together in order to lure consumers towards their products that they are “showing off”, was pretty intriguing and probably hit a lot harder to home for some. I mean, it was what, only two years since the recession hit so why not remind everybody that paying for all of these fancy, shiny things isn’t worth the hassle and hustle because at the end of the day, all that money you once had is now lost on something made to make you look better and a lot better-off than you actually are?

"Can you believe this isn't the 90's anymore?"

“Can you believe this isn’t the 90’s anymore?”

Come to think of it, I’m pretty surprised that this movie was even made in the first place, but I guess that’s why they call them “surprises”.

What took me so by surprise with this movie was that it actually had me thinking and wondering what would happen if something were to ever happen like this around me. Yes, any type of human being gets a little bit interested when they see somebody with something nice-looking, or pretty, but rarely do they ever shell out the money to copy-cat the same way. However, that’s just my view and apparently I’m wrong. The idea that this movie touches on is the simple fact that people will go for anything that’s considered “cool”, if you throw it front of their faces and promise them happiness, even if it’s not everlasting. Because if you think about it: Yes, you may have that shiny, new Convertible, but what about the housing, the electric, the heating, and the phone bills you have to pay, each and every month? The movie taps into this idea that human beings, as a whole, will more than likely take the bait if they are thrown a little meat, and that’s more of a condemnation, then it is a point of life.

That’s why this flick may take some by surprise with it’s cynical view of the way the world works, and the people that inhabit it. It’s not easy straying away from the rest of the crowd, especially when the rest of the crowd is drawing the most attention because of the way they dress, look, or act in public. Those are the types of people that the Joneses are made out to be and I wouldn’t be surprised if some sales-companies out there actually thought of pulling off a stunt like this. It may work, you never know. I guess you just have to worry if the family’s around this “fake one”, are as easily persuaded by the jewels and the pretty things in life, rather than the things that actually matter like love, happiness, and just living in general.

By the end of the movie, it starts to tap into this idea that you don’t need all the clothes, the money, and all of the riches in the world to be happy, you just need a little bit of life and you’re all fine and dandy. However, by this point, the movie does start to get a little conventional and drop away from the smart plot-line it was working on before. Of course it feels like a total missed-opportunity once the flick goes back on it’s word and hits the low road of being soapy, but it was still enjoyable nonetheless and not anything that I couldn’t believe in. The movie gives us enough attention to these characters and their relationships, so that when they actually do start to show a little bit more emotion that may have been easily calculated from the beginning, it feels reasonable, and not meant as an attempt for the creators of the flick to make everybody leave with a smile on their faces, and a happiness in their heart. Even if it does seem like the intentions right from the start.

Now they all understand why Ashton was so smitten. You know, until he wasn't.

Now they all understand why Ashton was so smitten. You know, until he wasn’t.

Even if.

With that said, the characters work more than they should because David Duchovny and Demi Moore in the leading-roles as both Steve and Kate Jones. Together, they seem like two people that get along and work well when they have to, but also have a bit of under-lining sexual-attraction going on between one other, and it’s obvious to a fault that they’re eventually going to shack up in the end. However, watching them as they continue to play little mind games here and there, was always a treat; not just because they work well together, but because they also feel like the types of people that would get stuck in this sort of dead-line of work, even if they didn’t go to sleep knowing it was the right thing to do. But still, they’re characters that are fleshed-out just enough that they’re worth caring about, just as soon as things go for the obvious.

The only people in this cast who really don’t get much time to shine or show off their skills are Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth as the two kiddies of the fam-squad, Jenn and Mick. Heard is hot, as always, and will leave plenty of the dudes who watch in many hot sweats just by being on the screen, but leaves a lot to be desired with her titillating character, especially by the end once we’re supposed to feel glued to her character and what’s going on with her, but instead, feels slightly random and melodramatic. Same goes for Hollingsworth, who shows off some charm, but isn’t given enough time for us to care about him or remember he’s even part of the family for a little while. Nope, it’s all Steve and Kate, which I was fine with because Moore and Duchovny can put in solid work when they want, but a little more roundness of the rest of the family would have went a long, long way.

Consensus: The Joneses is conventional, but it deals with some honest issues about corporations, selling-out, and being one with the crowd, even if you don’t feel like wanting to anymore, that makes it feel like a step above most rom-coms.

7 / 10

Way too attractive to be a real family. I'm sorry.

Way too attractive to be a real family. I’m sorry.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Good Kill (2015)

Trust me, those aren’t ants you’re shooting at.

Former Air Force pilot Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) now operates flying drones that literally spy on enemies and, when needed, can drop missiles on whoever the pilot deems as necessary, all from the comfortable confines of some place far from the actual battlefield. While Egan gets a chance to go back home to his wife (January Jones), kids, and lovely little suburban home in Nevada, he still feels the pain from being ordered to kill so many faceless, almost random people for reasons he doesn’t understand. And in a way to numb his pain, his drinking only increases on and on. With a new soldier working in his unit (Zoe Kravitz), Egan now has to wonder whether or not he wants to keep at it with the job he has. While it’s safe and cozy for all those involved, he still doesn’t like to be safe and tucked-away when he’s supposed to be in an actual plane, or on the battlefield, actually fighting the good fight. Eventually though, all of this anger and confusion begins to not only take a toll on his marriage, but his allegiance to the United States Army.

Drone warfare has been highly controversial since the early days of its inception. While some people think it’s an easy and much safer way to keep our troops alive and well, some people also feel that it’s a cowardly way of fighting a war and just leads to more and more people, sometimes innocent, sometimes not, being killed for reasons that aren’t fully realized. Because honestly, how could you ever know if that little person you see walking around on a screen be a terrorist, or at least affiliated with some sort of terrorist organization? You wouldn’t unless you were told they were by some higher-ups, and even then, do they really know for sure?

Just don't cheat on her, Ethan. Just please don't.

Just don’t cheat on her, Ethan. Just please don’t.

Honestly, not really and that’s the idea that writer, director, and hell, even producer Andrew Niccol taps into.

It’s interesting to see someone like Niccol, a film maker who is most known for sci-fi explorations like Gattaca, In Time, and the Host, tap into something that is as low-key and subdued as this. While he is still dealing with technology, the movie is more about one person’s own struggle with getting along with the times and realizing that, no matter how hard he may try to have it be otherwise, this is his current job and if he wants to keep on protecting his country, then he’ll have to stick with it. So, in a way, it’s like most of Niccol’s other movies, but the fact that it takes place in the actual United States of America in 2010, to be exact, and is very passionate about its message, makes it feel like something a tad bit different.

And with that being said, Niccol actually does a fine job here with Good Kill. While his writing of actual conversations between people may need some help, the ideas and themes that he presents here are still effective and disturbing in a way that was done in another war flick that caused much more stir than this, American Sniper. While it’s definitely not fair to compare Chris Kyle’s real-life actions to a Thomas Egan’s fictional ones, but the messages that both movies seem to get across through their “heroes”, seem quite similar; while they are committing what some may seem as “heroic acts”, they themselves don’t see it as such.

Because of that, they are, simply put, screwed up in the head.

Whereas with Kyle, he could hardly function in day-to-day activities, so much so that even a fellow soldier thanking him for saving his own life, doesn’t even register with him, Egan has a more negative problem. Kyle may have been mentally messed-up, but he still passed it off as nothing and continued on throughout his day – with Egan, he drinks, smokes, listens to hard rock music, and doesn’t know how to even talk to anyone he surrounds himself with, whether it be his wife, kids, or neighbors that just want to have a simple chat. And through Egan, Niccol shows that even though the soldier’s who are designated to handling drones, still don’t get off too easy, because they have no clue who it is that they are dropping missiles on, other than from what they’re told.

And this is where the movie gets a bit messy, because Niccol keeps his objectivity at bay for as long as he can, he starts to lose it a little bit and point the finger a tad too much. For instance, the drone sequences themselves are tense and compelling, but at the same time, whenever the government figures step into them, also feel incredibly preachy. Egan is told to kill dozens and dozens of people that he doesn’t know, or never will know, and because the voice telling them to do so is Peter Coyote, already, it feels like Niccol’s making a movie where the government are the big and bad guys.

Once again, Bruce Greenwood's playing a character that's pissed off for some unknown reasons.

Once again, Bruce Greenwood’s playing a character that’s pissed off for some unknown reasons.

Surely this taps into some of what Niccol has made a point in his past movies, but here, it feels manipulative. It’s almost as if having Egan clearly screwed up from everything that he has to do while driving a drone wasn’t enough, Niccol had to make some villains out of the situation. Even Bruce Greenwood’s Colonel character starts out as someone who understands what it is that he has to do and that’s only to take orders, but eventually, turns into this Army “who-rah” stereotype that seems like it would be better placed in a Michael Bay movie, rather than something as thoughtful as this.

But even so, Greenwood’s fantastic in the role and shows some even darker, more messed-up shadings to that character, than Egan even shows. And for that matter, Ethan Hawke is pretty solid in that role, too, because he never goes over-the-top with the role, even though the script clearly seems to be begging for it. Rather than yelling, screaming and punching things to show his frustration with the job that he has to do, Hawke simply downplays Egan’s problems and struggles, and therefore, is all the more effective.

The only who doesn’t seem to be taking a page out of Hawke’s book is January Jones as Egan’s wife. While Jones tries with this character, far too often does she come off as naggy and annoying. It’s easy to understand that she’d be upset with the fact that Egan’s away from home a lot, sometimes because he’s partaking in all-nighter drink binges, it’s also another for her to be complaining and whining about who it is that makes it easy for you to live, where you live. That said, Jones tries and seems like she’s at least trying to fill this thinly-written character with some Betty flavor.

Way too soon. I know.

Consensus: With a thoughtful approach from Niccol, Good Kill brings up some interesting ideas about drone warfare, but also seems lazy in actually doing anything else with those ideas other than just presenting them and leaving it at that.

7 / 10

As I imagine everybody's faces looking while playing COD.

As I imagine everybody’s faces looking while playing COD.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Far From the Maddening Crowd (2015)

Look out, Marcus Mumford. You’ve got lots of competition coming your way.

In Victorian England, single, independent and smart farm-owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) lives a comfortable life where men are always asking for her hand in marriage. After she inherits her uncle’s farm, and all the riches that come along with it, plenty more men come her way, but mostly, in the forms of three, very different men. Suitor one is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer who asked for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage early on before she got rich, and still clearly has the hots for her, as she does for him. Suitor two is Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), an army Sergeant who, after being stood-up at the altar by his ex (Juno Temple) is currently pissed-off and always drunk, although he catches Bathsheba’s eyes many of times; and suitor three is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a rich, much older man who constantly stalks Bathsheba no matter where she goes, and always seems to be infatuated with her it borderlines on the verge of being creepy. All three suitors have their own pros and cons for Bathsheba, but it’s fully up to her to make her own decision and come to the conclusion as to who she wants in her life as a mate, if she even wants one at all.

Every year, especially around this time, it seems like we’re all treated to British, Victorian-era period pieces that are clearly targeted to whomever isn’t interested in seeing Avengers for the third of fourth time. While this is a smart marketing plan by whoever makes these kinds of decisions, it leaves one to wonder if these movies are any good in the first place? Surely, not every movie has to feature robots, things blowing up, and CGI, but by the same token, do we really need to get so many period pieces around the same time of the year where only a fine majority will actually go out to see and enjoy them?

Meh. Uhm, no.

Meh. Uhm, no.

Maybe these are questions best suited elsewhere, but anyway, that’s one of the main reasons why Far From the Maddening Crowd worked for me, as opposed to so many other prestige, British dramas of the same vein.

While it’s all very luscious to look at, serious, professional, and color-codded in a way to make older people gasp and gaze at a time when things were a lot simpler, it’s still also a very modern story that doesn’t take too much time or effort to think about. Sure, Far From the Maddening Crowd is still a complex tale with plenty of layers to decipher, but basically, what it really is, is a story of one woman deciding who she wants to be with in her life. Some of that may not seem like it comes at any cost, but the movie makes the good point that, in at least Bathsheba’s case, there totally is.

Bathsheba is an independent free-thinker that doesn’t need a man to define who she is, what she does, or what she can do for those around her, but at the same time, she wants that never ending feeling of love and happiness that mostly comes with having a mate in one’s life. She doesn’t need it, but she wants it, and that’s what makes her tail all the more complex, as it’s a smart one that doesn’t try to tell all women out there that, “All you need to make yourself happy is a man, and that’s it. Everything else is poppycock.”

And it’s also a perfect piece of casting to have Carey Mulligan in the role that, from what I’m supposed to believe, is the one female character to inspire many generations of ones to come. Mulligan doesn’t have a great amount of range (or at least, none of which that I’ve totally seen yet), but she’s good here as Bathsheba Everdene because she’s not only gorgeous, but doesn’t seem stupid. Sure, she makes the silly mistake of falling for the wrong guy and marrying him at one point, but she isn’t a dope that could be easily swayed one way; with her, it would take a lot of time and effort on one’s behalf to really impress her, which makes Bathsheba all the more compelling to watch.

No! Definitely not!

No! Definitely not!

Not to mention that it helps make her three suitors entertaining, even if one does get a tad too over-the-top for his own good.

Though Tom Sturridge is a fine actor and does what he can here, his Frank Troy here is just too one-note. Sure, we feel bad for the dude because he gets stood-up at the altar for all of the wrong reasons, but once we realize that he’s the main antagonist that the movie is going to rely on, the role gets a bit more bland. He’s there to basically stir the shit when the shit needs stirring and it just comes off as lazy and manipulative on the part of director Thomas Vinterberg. Maybe this was how he was written, I’m not sure, but all I know is that it doesn’t wholly work.

That said, Sturridge doesn’t blur the fact that both Michael Sheen and especially, Matthias Schoenaerts, are great here and allow for these two characters to seem more deep than they may actually be written as being. Sure, Sheen’s character may be a total and complete creep, that can’t help but find Bathsheba whenever she’s in a dark, confined hallway, but also seems like a genuinely nice guy who is willing to do whatever he can to get the love of his life. Once again, not saying I fully condone his actions, but the dude’s inspired by something, so I’ll give him that.

The one who obviously seems like the perfect fit for Bathsheba is Schoenaerts’ Gabriel Oak – a character who seems so hokey, that he sort of works. He’s the quiet, stern and silent type, but he’s also incredibly handsome, hot and capable of fixing anything and everything that needs fixing. Clearly, he seems like the perfect fit for Bathsheba, but because she doesn’t go for him right off the bat, were left waiting and wondering when that may happen, if at all. I’ve only seen Schoenaerts in a few films or so, and I have to say, the dude has impressed me tons. Not only does he find ways to further challenge himself, but doesn’t seem pigeon-holed as being the Brando-clone that he was made out to be so early in his career.

Can’t wait to see what he’s got next, but let’s just hope that it isn’t another British period-piece. I can only handle so many of these a year.

Consensus: Like most period pieces, it’ll appeal to some, and not to others, but Far From the Maddening Crowd features a top-notch ensemble, with a romantic story that goes certain places that are interesting, believable, and fun to watch, all at the same time.

7.5 / 10

Yes! Get it, girl!

Yes! Get it, girl!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Arlington Road (1999)

That guy who walks his dog around at 4 a.m.? Yeah, I’m going to stay away from him from now on.

Human-terrorist professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) saves a little boy from an incident that practically burned off most of his hand. The boy’s parents, Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack), are ever more than grateful for this and want nothing more than to repay him any way they can. They are always there for him when he needs help, some food, some company, a friend in need, or any sort of need in the world. However, Faraday is a pretty damaged guy who lost his wife after a botched FBI investigation so maybe he can’t handle all of this love and smothering just yet. Or maybe, he’s just a little too suspicious by the way these two neighbors of him have been acting. They’re friendly, but are they too friendly? And if they are “too friendly”, then why is that and just what do they have up their sleeves?

Believe it or not, as much as this flick continues to get forgotten about in today’s day and age, it was pretty ahead of it’s time being released in the summer of ’99. See, this was a time before 9/11, where films could actually talk openly and discuss the art of terrorism, how to find it right away, and where it can be most discovered, something that no film could do nowadays. Or if they could, they have to water it down to the point of where it offends almost nobody who may be caught watching it. That doesn’t make the film any more memorable or significant to the world of films, but it does bring up some suspicions about how we as a society acted around this time, when the thought of terrorists attacking us and some of our most secured destinations would be simply implausible.

"The neighbors, they're putting their trash cans on the side-walk. What the hell?"

“The neighbors, they’re putting their trash cans on the side-walk. What the hell?”

In fact, that’s what some of the reviews for this movie called it: “Implausible”. It seems that people couldn’t quite believe that a family who seems like your ordinary, type-of-folk would actually be suspected of terrorism to such a harsh extent that even the most easy-going neighbor would be going nutso in his nutshell about it. Back in ’99, this probably wasn’t something you heard about all too often or even thought about for that matter, but in the 21st Century, after all that we’ve been through as a country and society; it feels all too much of a common-place. But as I said, that doesn’t make the flick any more memorable or perfect, it just brings up a lot of questions and thoughts about our country back in the days of when this came out.

So with all of that gibber-jabber out of the way, back to the movie.

I have to say, right from the beginning of this flick I wasn’t expecting much other than another, run-of-the-mill thriller that would have me tense and on the edge of my seat, but only for a little bit once I began to know that everything was going to turn out exactly as I suspected. However, that’s not at all what happened. Instead, the movie started off going through the motions like I expected, but then totally changed itself up once a big reveal about half-way through came to prominence, and the premise itself picked right up to the point of where I had no clue where this thing could have gone. It feels like a Hitchcock type of thriller, but it’s a lot more paranoid in the sense that we have know idea what the hell these neighbors are up to, just like Michael doesn’t either. We see everything over his shoulder and through his eyes, and nobody else’s.

That means that every piece of information that he gathers, we gather as well and whatever doesn’t seem right and a little sticky in the mind, we feel as well. These types of thrillers can work because they place you inside the mind of a person who isn’t too sure that he sees everything that’s going on, but just enough to make up his own conclusions. That also brings up the idea is whether or not everything he’s coming up with is actually true. Who knows if these neighbors are terrorists, planning another attack somewhere, or if they were terrorists at all to begin with and Michael just needs a release from his on-going days of paranoia and tension about his wife’s death, and the anger he still feels against those who caused it. You don’t quite know what to believe, just like Michael doesn’t either, which makes it all the more scarier when you take into consideration that anything could happen, at any second.

With that said, it gives us more pleasure to watch a fine actor like Jeff Bridges really work his ass off with this script, especially because the guy has to go through some pretty strange areas with it, but like the class-act that he is, pulls it off perfectly. His character is a bit of a nut-job, who still can’t get over the death of his wife after three years and goes on terrifying rants about terrorists and about being against the federal government, but Bridges gives him more sympathy and more dimensions than just that, which makes it easier for us to actually care for him when it seems like him versus the world. Or, in this case: Versus the “alleged” terrorist neighbors. Hope Davis plays a former-college grad of his that somehow winds up in his bed after his wife’s death which may raise some eyebrows for some, but she plays it off very well and seems like the voice of reason, even when everything else seems to go on a little bit too cuckoo for Coco Puffs.

"FBI? Yeah, I got two friendly neighbors here that just made me cookies, should I take a bite or not?

“FBI? Yeah, I got two friendly neighbors here that just made me cookies, should I take a bite or not?

On the opposite end of the weirdness is Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack as Oliver and Cheryl Lang. Robbins is good as this weirdo that’s able to turn on the charm, but also show something sinister about his act the very next second, but play it off so cool and calm that you don’t know which persona is the real him. Is he naturally crazy? Or, is he just a good guy that’s pushed to the brink of insanity and is continuing to try and snap back to reality? You never know with the guy, and that’s because Robbins is so good with this role, that we never do know or find out. Cusack doesn’t fair so well as his wifey-poo, but that’s mainly because she isn’t given much else to do with this script other than look all nice, sweet, and wholesome, almost to the point of where it’s a little too much for one’s own good.

Still though, I can’t end this review without at least giving some credit to the way that this movie ended, which is uncommon for even the grimmest, Hollywood productions. I won’t give too much away, but just expect to leave with a bit of a sour taste in your mouth, whether you want to or not. It’s going to happen, as it’s still happening to me. Something that will never, ever happen again in today’s world, and wouldn’t even get past the Board of Directors. Now that’s something at least worth remembering.

Consensus: Arlington Road is a weird movie, filled with cook-balls, nuts, and random occurrences, but is also very tense, suspenseful, and mysterious, up to the final shot where most of you may leave satisfied or unhappy by what the hell just happened.

7.5 / 10

"You like bats? Well, keep on calling me a "terrorist", you'll be one. Intimidating enough?"

“You like bats? Well, keep on calling me a “terrorist”, you’ll be one. Intimidating enough?”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Adult Beginners (2015)

Big sisters both rule and suck at the same time.

After his tech startup ultimately fails and not only puts him, as well as the many investors he was involved with, in debt, Jake (Nick Kroll) decides that it’s time to take a break on everything for awhile and retreat to the one place he can depend on: His childhood home. However, when he walls into to surprise his sister, Justine (Rose Byrne), of his visit, he realizes that maybe he’s only complicating things a bit more. For instance, Justine is a few weeks pregnant, having issues with money, with her work, and even with her husband (Bobby Cannavale). Jake sees this, but he doesn’t really care and just needs a place to stay for a few months or so, which he does, but at a price: Watch Justine’s youngest son, Teddy, each and every day while she and her husband are off at work. Jake isn’t too happy about this, but decides to do it and finds out that having any sort of responsibility is hard and takes a whole lot of effort. Not just from his part, but everybody else’s, too.

A few days ago, I reviewed the little-seen indie Alex of Venice, and while I appreciated the cast apart of it, I felt the plot and direction to be the same old tale of “someone trying to reinvent themselves and get their lives back on-track”. While there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories in the first place, as anybody will tell you, there are many instances in real life where people need to change things up, it’s just that, sometimes, these stories can get so conventional and middling that it doesn’t feel like anything is being taught or learned in the process. Mostly, it’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad, and at the end of the day, making themselves happy in some way, or fashion.

Wonder who he's calling? Hm....

Wonder who he’s calling? Hm….

Once again, not saying that these stories don’t happen in real life, but I don’t really want to see an hour-and-a-half movie about it where I feel the wheels are turning, but that there’s no driver.

Adult Beginners is that type of movie. But instead of being a boring mess like Alex of Venice, Adult Beginners gets by because, for the most part, it’s funny, and it should be. It’s got some very funny people in it, doing and/or saying funny things, but also deals with real life, grown-up issues about maturity, gaining independence, and marriage. A lot of the same ground was covered in Venice, however here, because it’s given a slight comedic-switch to it all, the pill goes down a lot easier and isn’t as rough to swallow; in fact, there came a point where I wanted to see more of where these characters went and just how exactly they were going to get by whatever situation they were thrown into.

Director Ross Katz makes many nice decisions in not giving us, the audience, the easy answers, but it still works in giving the impression that we’re dealing with characters here. Even if a good majority of the time they spend talking, joking around, bitching, moaning and just walking around, there’s still something interesting to all of that here that worked and kept me engaged. Some of the subplots that come in and out don’t quite work, but rather than taking the movie down with their mediocrity, they just sort of feel like leftover strands that can be forgotten about.

Unlike in Venice where every subplot took away from the main story and made it feel longer than it should have been.

But another reason why this movie works as well as it does, given that it’s like so many other movies, is that it has a fine and charming cast to make the material come off a bit more weighty. Lately, we’ve seen the evolution of Rose Byrne, the charming and hilarious screen-presence that is more than willing to hang with the guys when it comes to delivering any sort of gag, and here, as Justine, there’s no exception to the rule. Byrne is funny, sweet, endearing, and challenging as Justine where she makes some bad decisions, as well as some definite good ones, but no matter what, she’s watchable beyond belief and reminded me a bit of my own big sister in the way that she carried herself from day-to-day activities and with her little bro.

Bobby C. just can't right now.

Bobby C. just can’t right now.

Speaking of her little bro, Nick Kroll gets a chance to finally show the world that he may, or may not be capable of weighty, dramatic material, and the results are, well, uhm, fine. I guess. See, the thing with Kroll is that while he’s definitely fine with all of that snarky, obnoxious humor of his, when it comes down to creating a character and becoming this Jake guy, he leaves much to be desired. It isn’t that Kroll isn’t bad, but by the end of the movie, it sort of feels like we don’t really get this character, nor do we ever understand where the transition from him being a “prick” to a “nice dude” ever occurred, or how it happened. Kroll mostly gets by though because the company he keeps.

Which is to say that, yes, Bobby Cannavale is great here, too, but in a way, I found his subplot to be the most frustrating. Early on in the movie, there’s a slight hint at the fact that Cannavale’s character may be screwing around and while Jake’s character approaches this subject as well as a brother-in-law can do, the way it’s resolved left me wondering, “What happened between point-A and point-C?” See, we get a few scenes where words are exchanged and dicks are measured, but then, that’s pretty much it. Cannavale’s character is wonderful and honest, but the situation he’s thrown into never gets explained well enough to where it makes all the sense for him, or his character.

However, you win some, and you lose some. Whatever.

Consensus: Like many others of its kind, Adult Beginners is funny, heartfelt and benefits from solid performances from a cast who are all willing to make material seem a bit deeper.

7 / 10

All convincing smileys.

All convincing smileys.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Age of Adaline (2015)

What a shame it would be to look like Blake Lively for the rest of eternity.

At age 29, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) was involved in a tragic car crash just off the side of the road. However, because of a strong lightning bolt strikes her, she, for one reason or another, lives. There’s only one catch: She will forever be 29. She won’t age a day, while everyone around her that she either knows or loves, will die away, while she stays the same age, with the same look, and same memories of everything has come and gone in her long, momentous life. This also makes Adaline’s life a bit of a lonely one – with the exception of the times she spends with her daughter (Ellen Burstyn). That’s why when a young, handsome dude named Ellis (Michael Huisman) clearly becomes smitten with her, she’s initially against it. She knows that nobody will be able to handle her condition, let alone even believe it. But against her free will, Adaline decides to give it a go and wouldn’t you know it? The two end up getting very serious together; so serious that Ellis introduces Adaline to his parents (Kathy Baker and Harrison Ford), one of whom, just so happens to have had a relationship with Adaline back in the 60’s.

Family drama is soon to follow.

Yet again, another movie released in the past few months where Ellen Burstyn plays a character who is literally older than the actor playing the role of their parent.

Yet again, another movie released in the past few months where Ellen Burstyn plays a character who is literally older than the actor playing the role of their parent.

Is this a dopey-as-hell premise? It sure it. But didn’t the Curious Case of Benjamin Button have one too that was relatively similar to this? And didn’t that movie actually turn out to be “alright”, in at least most people’s minds? Pretty much, yeah. So what could ever be wrong with the Age of Adaline?

Well, for starters, not much. In all honesty, it’s easy to have something against this movie already before even seeing it. It’s premise is wild; it deals with sappiness; involves a love story of two people who can’t be together; and it stars Blake Lively, who hasn’t been in much lately, because she’s so busy with writing thought-pieces about god knows what. However, somehow, through some way, it mostly all comes together, and heck, even Lively’s not all that bad.

Who woulda thunk it?

Indie director Lee Toland Krieger probably did because after making two very impressive, very low-key indie flicks in the past couple years (the Vicious Kind, Celeste and Jesse Forever; check them out now if you haven’t done so already), he decided to make this is his big, mainstream break-out and given the scope of the film, you’d think he’d mess-up an awful lot. Surprisingly though, he doesn’t and that’s because he doesn’t really have too much to handle. The movie steps away from making this a Forrest Gump-clone in which Adaline goes throughout her long, storied-life, touches certain people’s life along the way and continues to make herself feel better, while, at the same time, still coming to terms with her existence.

This is the same sort of path Benjamin Button went down and it’s familiar by now; so to play around with that formula is really something incredible. However, not to bother with that formula to begin with, is all the more interesting, especially because it makes sense when you get to think of this story and the themes it’s trying to convey. Because Adaline lives with such an extreme condition, she’s forced to practically separate herself from the rest of the world; she does this not just because she doesn’t want to freak those out around her and possibly hurt them, but because she will forever and always be chased after by the feds, where she’ll no doubt be some sort of human lab-rat that’s constantly prodded with and practiced on. It would have been nice to see more of the sorts of shenanigans that Adaline got into throughout her long life alive, rather than just learning that she’s really good at trivia and history, but that said, we don’t get overkill on the back-story. So yeah, it makes sense as to why the story doesn’t expand so much – Adaline needs solitude, and while it’s a sad existence for her to live, it’s the only one she can live with in order to feel safe, sound and happy.

Also, this does a solid job in making us feel more for Adaline, the character.

While Adaline may not be the most engagingly complex character, the life she’s been living makes her interesting enough that you want to see where her story goes. She can either fall in love, fall out of love, or just end up without any sort of love in her life – whatever it is, there’s something to be invested in. She’s simply just living; if she changes somebody’s life in the process of doing so, then so be it.

Sorry, horned-up seniors. Not a freshman.

Sorry, horned-up seniors. Not a freshman.

Another aspect as to why Adaline works as well as a character is because Lively is actually very good in this role. While watching this movie, there was a weird thought that went through my head: Why did I ever think Blake Lively was a bad actor to begin with? Truly, there’s been one performance where I’ve been impressed by her, right? Well, actually, there was one and that was in the Town, where she not only dressed herself down to absolute, grimy perfection, but made herself unlikable and sympathetic at the same time. It worked for her character and showed that Lively was a solid worker, if only for maybe a supporting role.

Now, here, as Adaline, Lively is put into the spotlight and gets a whole lot more to do. It’s a challenge for someone who hasn’t been in a movie for nearly three years (Savages was released in the summer of ’12 if my memory serves me correct), but it’s a challenge that Lively is more than willing to stand up to. There’s a sympathetic route to this character that works well because you feel bad for her, and also realize that she’s not necessarily asking for your sympathy either. She sticks up for what she wants and believes in and Lively does a solid enough job showing her strong-armed emotions in a way that isn’t obvious, nor is too subtle to ever get a sense of. It’s just the right amount of showy-but-not-so-showy either, if that makes any sense.

Basically, Blake Lively is good here and from now on, I’ll make sure to not doubt her, or her skills as an actress.

As for the rest of the cast, everybody’s fine, but the one who really surprised me the most with how far and willing he was able to dig into this character was Harrison Ford as one of Adaline’s past loves. Ford hasn’t been this good since 42, but whereas that was a showier role, this one’s more subtle and touching in a way that touches a raw nerve with anyone who has ever felt that sense of love come back into their life, full-on and with absolute brute force. The scene where he initially stumbles upon realizing that Adaline is his son’s new girlfriend is tender, sweet and emotional in a way that’s bound to make some tear up.

Not saying that I did, but whatever. I’m a softy.

Consensus: The Age of Adaline may appear as a sappy piece of romantic-drama, with a Benjamin Button-ish gimmick, but dig deeper, and there’s some genuine heart and emotion to be found, in both the material, as well as the performances.

7.5 / 10

A 100-year-old-plus cougar on the prowl. Rawr.

A 100-year-old-plus cougar on the prowl. Rawr.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Harvest (2015)

Think your kid’s sick? Think again!

After the death of her parents, young Maryann (Natasha Calis) is in desperate need of someone that she can play with. Her grandparents are there and trying to make her feel at home, but honestly, for someone as spunky and as energetic as Maryann is, there needs to be more. Initially, that’s what Maryann thinks she finds in Andy (Charlie Tahan), a boy who is around her age and has been bedridden for most of his life, for reasons unknown. Maryann and Andy do the normal things most young kids do – play baseball, play video-games, and, generally, enjoy one another’s company. That all changes, however, when Andy’s mom, Katherine (Samantha Morton), steps in and lets Maryann know that she is not welcome; Andy’s father, Richard (Michael Shannon), on the other hand, isn’t too bothered by Maryann’s presence, but clearly has no say in the matter. Maryann is shocked and upset, but being the little persistent gal that she is, she decides to see what’s fully going on with this family she lives next door to. What she discovers, not only shocks her, but may also shock Andy and may finally make sense of everything that’s going on with this family.

Somebody's literally on the verge of exploding.

Somebody’s literally on the verge of exploding.

The past few months have been pretty awesome for low-key, indie film makers looking to make a name in the horror genre. It Follows and the Babadook were, seemingly, two underground sleeper hits that showed you didn’t need to be associated with some sort of popular name-brand, or even have a gimmick that makes your material seem cooler; all you needed was to have chills, thrills and plenty of surprises for the audience to fully get invested in. Both films were not only solid pieces of work, but reminded me, a non-horror lover, that when done right, horror movies can still be as terrifying and as exciting as they were way back when in the days of the Michael Meyers’ and Freddy Krueger’s.

The Harvest may not be a full-on, full-out horror flick in the sense of the name, but it is a solid piece of work that reminds us, once again, horror movies can be fun, even without having a large budget to work with. Sometimes, all you need is enough shocks and spills to keep things moving and interesting for all to pay attention to, and you’re good. Anything else added on is just cheap, meaningless garbage that deserves to be placed in something like Paranormal Activity or Saw, where, even though they make plenty of money at the box-office from people who don’t know much better, still don’t add anything new or fun to the genre whose sandbox they’re playing in.

Once again, the Harvest is not necessarily a horror movie, but there is something inherently creepy and odd about this movie and that’s where the real strength of John McNaughton’s direction comes into frame.

For instance, the Harvest‘s tone is wild and over-the-top, but that’s kind of the point; rather than trying to explain why someone, or somebody is acting in an insane way, the movie just sort of hints at the fact that they’re might be something deeper, darker and more disturbing going on that we have to stay glued into finding out. This journey in and of itself is what keeps the Harvest unpredictable, even when it seems to just be all about having scenes where Samantha Morton acts out in outrageous manners. That’s not to say that these scenes are boring, but after awhile, you can tell that McNaughton is sort of just letting Morton get as crazy as she wants as he sits back, reels us in and allows for that final, big reveal to come and hit us all in the face.

Don’t worry, the surprise does work, however, getting there is a bit of a pain, if only because it seems like there’s not much heart or humanity to these characters, or even the situation we’re seeing them involved with. Once again, this may be the whole point to begin with, but it seems like, with these actors, more could have been done.

Like I said though, most of the movie does contain just Samantha Morton continuously getting mad, yelling, screaming, and causing harm to those around her, for reasons that don’t make sense right away. It’s interesting to see Morton take on an unlikable, sometimes maniacal character that is literally all-over-the-place in terms of mood and actual physical presence at times, because it’s so hard to see her in some movies and not fall in love with her charms. But here, she seems to be playing against all of that in a way that’s both shocking, as well as fun; she not only seems to be reveling in the fact that she doesn’t have to please anyone, but also, still seems like she’s interested in getting down to this character’s inner-core. It sort of works and sort of doesn’t, but the effort that Morton gives is credible.

Assuming they just watched Murderball.

Let’s hope they didn’t just watch Murderball.

The reason this is all the more surprising is by the fact that with Morton acting like such a whack-job here, we get to see a more dialed-down, cool, calm and collective performance from Michael Shannon as her husband. Shannon, like Morton, seems to be playing against type as the kind of guy who seems like a nice person, but also seems like he’s got something strange going on behind those dark circles underneath his eyes. Whatever it is, though, it’s cool to see Shannon at least try his hardest to find more emotion within this character, even if it sometimes goes nowhere special.

But, then again, I’ll take some effort over none.

As for the young workers here, they’re both fine in that they’re characters are written in such a way that they’re not annoying, nor are they boring – they’re just kids. Tahan and Calis share a nice chemistry that makes it clear early-on that this movie clearly isn’t going to be heading for any sort of romance anytime soon and because of that, we are spared. Instead, we get more shouting from Samantha Morton and honestly, it’s something I wish I continue to always see in movies.

Whether she’s in them or not.

Consensus: While not necessarily a horror flick, the Harvest still delivers on some disturbing, oddly-placed moments where you don’t know whether to laugh, be terrified, or a little bit of both, which makes it actually pretty exciting.

7 / 10

"Please. Stop. Yelling."

“Please. Stop. Shouting.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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

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