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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Rosewater (2014)

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

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

That footage better not turn out shaky!

That footage better not turn out shaky!

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I said, 'no blinking'!"

“I said, ‘no blinking’!”

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

I hate being late for class, too.

I hate being late for class, too.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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Big Hero 6 (2014)

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

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

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

Where’s this at whenever I’m drunk?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

This is all I need. Seriously.

This is all I need. Seriously.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Homesman (2014)

The old west was kind of creepy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round 1! FIGHT!

Round 1! FIGHT!

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

V/H/S: Viral (2014)

Does anybody ever put down a camera?!?

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

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

Most unoriginal Halloween costume, ever. What an idiot!

Most unoriginal Halloween costume, ever. What an idiot!

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

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

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

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

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

Great Scott!

Great Scott!

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Shut up, kid. No one cares.

Shut up, kid. No one cares.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Listen Up Philip (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman with cat? Single.

Woman with cat? Single.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

 

Laggies (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swag doe.

Swag doe.

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!! 

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Good Lie (2014)

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

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

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

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

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

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

But anyways, I digress.

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

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

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

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

Wipe those grins off your face, whites!

Wipe those grins off your faces, whites!

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

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

If only more people had that opportunity in their lives.

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

John Wick (2014)

This is what happens when you take the blue pill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, presumably, sadness would ensue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move on.

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?"

“Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Snowtown Murders (2012)

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

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

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

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

Just another young boy.....

Just another young boy…..

Then again, it’s all done on purpose.

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

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

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

...and another younish man.

…and another younish man.

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

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

Always something to smile about, folks.

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, how much I have mislead you all.

Oh, how much I have mislead you all.

Photos Courtesy of: CTCMR.com

The Crow (1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And also the real-life fact that Lee died.

Okay! I’m just saying!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

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

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

"Yeah. Life sucks. Yo."

“Yeah. Life sucks. Yo.”

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

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

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

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

Wish more moms looked like this in my neighborhood.

Wish more moms looked like this in my neighborhood.

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Brr. Shay-shay be cold.

Brr. Shay-shay be cold.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Amores Perros (2000)

Life sucks, now go play with your dog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think Michael Vick is somewhere in the background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 /10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Men, Women & Children (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right, guys?

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Equalizer (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Good evenin', Clarice."

“Good evenin’, Clarice.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Two Faces of January (2014)

Stop fibbing, already!

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

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

"What you say?"

“What you say?”

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

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

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

Damn, I’m already missing summer.

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

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

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

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

Just saying, people. Just saying.

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

Damn men and their penises. Damn them to hell!

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Whoever thought that the scariest lady on television could ever be so damn funny?

This film makes an attempt to peel away the mask we usually see with comedian, actor, writer, director, and pop-culture sensation known as Joan Rivers. We follow her for 14 months, mostly during the 76th year of her life and find out how hard it is to get work no matter how funny you are. We also get to hear her side of the stories on such events in her life like when her husband died, or how everybody on the face of the planet attacks her numerous dates with plastic surgery.

For the longest time, I was never quite a big fan of Joan Rivers. I don’t really think I’m alone on the boat with that statement right there but she’s just always been one of these gals that bothers me with her screechy, Brooklyn accent, scary surgery that seemed like it got worse and worse over the years, and some questionable decisions she’s made in the past, most notably the one she did behind Johnny Carson’s back, aka the guy that basically gave her a start. Then, after seeing her on Louie, I realized that there was a whole lot more to this lady than just making wise cracks on celebrities outfits on the red carpet.

What surprised me is how damn hilarious dirty Rivers still was in her later years. At the time of this documentary, I think she was around 76 or so and she still did stand-up work that would make Sam Kinison and Bob Saget both run for the doors. The stand-up stuff she does is so funny and even though it all depends on what you think is actually humorous or not, Rivers still delivers in her politically-incorrect way that has seemed to get her so far throughout all of these years. And because of that, not only was I able to give this movie a shot, but even her herself and see what her side of the story was all about.

Take a wild guess as to who that is....

Take a wild guess as to who that is….

This film also paints a picture of Joan Rivers, not just in a way that makes her seem like one of the funniest gals in comedy (right next to Kathy Griffin, in my opinion), but also shows that she’s a bit scared and insecure deep down inside. Rivers has the status of celebrity (well…sort of), but isn’t afraid to take any show that comes her way just in order to stay out there, get money, and keep her name up in the clouds. This shows that she has some real dedication when it comes to what she’s been put on this world to do but we also see a side of her that’s unlike anything else we see in most docs about certain high-profile stars such as this one we have here: She’s worried.

It’s sucks that Rivers went through all of the crap she went through where she hit a bump in the middle of her career, had her husband commit suicide, and spend the next 30 years of your life trying to regain that stardom and respect in the biz, but always end up having an empty calendar for the next month. She’s always scared about hearing crickets out in the crowd and tries her hardest to entertain even the hardest crowds, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way and it’s a shame of a reality once you think about it. I’m not saying that I totally pity this chick beyond belief, but it makes you realize that she has a lot more going behind the scenes than we might have ever expected and she doesn’t take any of what she’s given for granted. She’s a very talented comedian that obviously knows what she’s doing, but there still some stuff to her that still remains a mystery to her, even after all of these years.

Problem I met with this documentary is that it doesn’t keep you as fully entertained the whole time considering it constantly shoves in-and-out of this comedy and dramatic junk. One second we’re getting Joan talking about how her daughter didn’t pose for Playboy, then the next second we’re getting here crying about her late husband that killed himself. One second we’re getting a scene of Joan doing stand-up, absolutely taking the balls right out of this heckler, then the next second we get her crying about how she’s scared of rejection. Both worlds are great ones to discover and dig deep into, but when you have them in the same film going around and about, it comes off more as uneven, rather than actually engaging.

That's you, Joan. Butter believe it.

That’s you, Joan. Butter believe it.

The other problem I had with this documentary was the story about Melissa Rivers getting voted off the Celebrity Apprentice. I don’t care what anyone says, those shows are crap, they always have been, and do nothing else but allow the Trumpenator to say his famous catchphrase every episode. Everybody knows this, but it seems like both of the Rivers’ don’t and that’s a little bit too funny to watch considering how serious they take it. I actually started laughing when Joan started to tear up once Melissa gets booted off the show and states that, “It just wasn’t fair! It just wasn’t!”. Really Joan? Does it matter that much whether or not Donald says “you’re hired”? Now that I think about it, maybe it would be pretty cool.

Either way though, this documentary is really all about Joan Rivers and those lives she’s been able to touch. Sometimes, it wasn’t in the best ways like she had originally intended, but most of the time, if she got a laugh or two, she was content. And when you’re somebody who aspires to do that, day in, day out and most of all, for a living, then that’s all you need. Even if you are Joan Rivers; a woman who never let up, even when she was being told to do so.

Once again, another legend lost. Meaning, another person we won’t soon forget.

Consensus: While uneven, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a nice, insightful look into the life of Rivers, the woman she was, who she became, and why exactly she decided to do all of those terrible, horrible things to her face.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

You tell 'em, girl!

You tell ‘em, girl!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Rover (2014)

If somebody took my precious moped, trust me, I’d travel to the ends of the Earth, too.

Set in the Outback, ten years after what is called “the collapse”, a lonely, disheveled man (Guy Pearce) parks his car by the side of the road, only to realize that, moments later, it’s stolen by a bunch of thugs who got in a car crash and needed the next best set of wheels to roll with. The man clearly doesn’t like this, so he sets out to get his car back, but not without stumbling upon one of the younger brother’s of this gang, an autistic redneck by the name of Reynolds (Robert Pattinson). Together, the two embark on a journey of sorts in which the man can get his car back and hopefully keep Reynolds with him, almost as a use of leverage. However, their two troubled pasts and the decisions they’ve made eventually come back to bite both of them in the rear-ends during this trip, and most of the times, it usually leads to disastrous results. Especially when all hope in the world, is practically lost.

In case you couldn’t already tell, there’s something strange about this premise. Like, for instance, why on Earth is this one dude going so deep and far just to get his car back? Speaking of the Earth, how did it “collapse”? Was it a virus? Did it hit everywhere on the planet, or just Australia? Better yet, why the hell does there happen to be numerous Americans roaming the Outbacks? And what the hell is up with these soldiers?

Basically, this movie has a lot of questions and has no interest in actually answering them, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, then there’s no reason you should really see this. It will only have you be more and more incredibly pissed as it trudges along, not to mention that it’s not necessarily the greatest pick-me-up, either. So just imagine the Road, but this time, without a father-son dynamic, therefore, getting rid of any sort of hope or humanity one may be able to find in a flick as grim and as brutal as this.

"Oy, mate! There's plenty of bushes around here! Why couldn't you just go in one of them?!?!"

“Oy, mate! There’s plenty of bushes around here! Why couldn’t you just go in one of them?!?!”

But that’s why we have movies such as the Rover – not to be enjoyed, but simply, to be intrigued by. Most of the times, it’s for the worse, but sometimes, especially in the case here, it’s for the better because the movie doesn’t feel like it needs to really explain itself. Sure, it would have been totally helpful to get a bit more background info on just how Australia turned into this Mad Max-style playing field, but there’s something quite interesting in that mystery surrounding it, that it’s hard to have it ruin whatever movie-viewing experience when can have while watching this.

Which, for some, may be a bit of a change if they had already seen writer/director David Michôd’s previous flick, Animal Kingdom; which, surprisingly, was a conventional gangster tale of a family full of thugs and crooks, but was spun so many times, it hardly ever felt conventional or boring. Here though, there’s hardly any convention to be found: Basically, it’s just a road trip from one blazingly hot Australian location, to another. And while that may sound like a whole bucket of fun, it isn’t and really, it doesn’t need to be.

Because mostly, what Michôd does so well as director is that he sets a mood; it’s a very dark, brooding and ominous one, but it’s one that throws us into this post-apocalyptic world we know hardly anything about, except for that everything is screwed up beyond belief. Somehow though, Michôd is able to find these small shots of natural beauty, which is mostly to credit the landscapes in which he shot this movie, but also to credit him as having a keen eye on what pops in a movie that can be so grim at times, you’ll wonder if there’s going to be any humanity found at all.

And eventually, Michôd does find some humanity in this story, however, if there was a element that I felt like this movie needed the most help with, it was this. While Michôd clearly gets the look and feel of this movie down perfectly, there’s a certain idea about these characters that leaves plenty to be desired. Sure, we’re practically thrown into a situation, with characters we hardly know right off the bat, but the time one dedicates to driving and staying in seedy hotels, should definitely be time for us to not only get to know our characters, or understand exactly why it is that they’re in the situation they’re in. It’s understandable why Pattinson’s character is in this situation (he’s simply not all that there in the head), but as for Pearce’s character (who I’m being told is named “Eric”, although I hardly ever heard this mentioned at all), there’s never a full understanding as to why his character is setting out so passionately on this trip just to get his car back, nor do we understand why he’s doing so many barbaric things on the way as well.

Maybe that’s the point Michôd is trying to get across: In a world that is so run-down and torn to pieces, there’s hardly any room for human connection. Which, if that was his intentions to begin with, then fine job on his part. In fact, I’d say the message was totally received. However, that also means the film suffers because of that and it made me wonder just why we couldn’t at least get two or three more scenes of Reynolds and Pearce’s character talking about whatever. Even if the conversation went nowhere, at least there would have still been an effort for us, the audience, to get to know them better just by how they talk.

He still hasn't forgotten, Rupert Sanders.

He still hasn’t forgotten, Rupert Sanders.

But sadly, we don’t really get that. Instead, we get many scenes where Reynolds and “Eric” sit in a car, or fireside and, occasionally, getting involved in countless acts of violence. It should be noted that these acts of violence are quick, shocking and ultimately, brutal, however, there’s not enough emotion to go behind them. The only time there ever is any emotion involved whatsoever, is whenever Pattinson’s Reynolds is one of those in the action. Some of that has to do with the fact that it’s easy to feel sorry for this character as is, but some of that also has to be given to Pattinson for diving straight forward into this role, without hardly ever over-doing it; which any person who has ever had to play a mentally-handicapped character will tell you, can be quite hard to stay away from.

However, that’s the surprise we get from Pattinson here who, for what it’s worth, adds enough heart to a character you don’t necessarily root for, but don’t want terrible things to happen to either. Then again though, there’s this realization that this character isn’t the most moral one out there and, for the most part, has violent tendencies. Because of this, the character’s unpredictable and Pattinson is definitely capable of keeping that act up throughout the whole majority he’s on-screen for. As for Guy Pearce, though he looks perfect as this mean and nasty son-of-a-bitch “Eric”, there’s just not enough for him to do here, except just snarl, angrily stare at people around him, and hold up a gun. Which honestly doesn’t sound like such a problem when it’s Guy Pearce doing all of these things, but when he’s out-shined by Edward Cullen, there is something of a problem.

Not a huge one, but a noticeable one.

Consensus: Heavy on its unquestionably bleak atmosphere, the Rover will definitely tests those willing to go through with it, while also disappointing others who don’t get more than just another gritty, raw Australian-thriller, with some interesting ideas.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"I said, 'G'day, mate'!!"

“I said, ‘G’day, mate’!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

What If (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Trip (2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occasionally funny is good enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Aw. What besties!

Aw. What besties!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Expendables 3 (2014)

They’re old. Get used to it.

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

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

"Grrrr."

“Grrrr.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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