Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Wild Card (2015)

At least this one isn’t an English professor.

Nick Wild (Jason Statham) has a problem. It isn’t that he helps his friends too much, it isn’t that he takes odd-jobs that sometimes put his own life in danger, and it sure as hell isn’t that he likes to flirt with ladies – his problem is that he likes to gamble. A tad too much. And living in Las Vegas, that’s a bit of a problem. But now, Nick seems to have much bigger problems that concern an old lady-pal of his (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who was recently beaten-up, bruised, raped, and left for dead by some scummy, yet dangerous crime-lord, Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia). DeMarco packs a lot of heat and has a lot sway within the Las Vegas crime-syndicate, but he knows that he has to do the right thing and because of that, he decides to help out his old friend. Though, things go South and eventually, Nick finds himself running for his life and wondering where Danny’s going to turn up to get him next, or whether or not Nick’s going to be able to pull it altogether himself, either. Nick doesn’t know, but what he does now, is that he loves to play a simple game of Blackjack.

See, that's the eye I'm talking about!

See? That’s the eye I’m talking about!

The plot I decided to write there, may seem a bit jumbled-up and odd, but that’s my intention. See, for some reason, Wild Card has at least two or three different subplots going on within itself; none of which are really all that interesting to begin with, but they’re all given the same amount of attention that it makes it hard for me to get past not even talking about them at all. There’s a subplot concerning a young, wealthy dude, played by Michael Angarano, who Nick runs into business with, even though Nick knows full well that this kid won’t be able to handle the heat that comes from the mean streets of Las Vegas; there’s the gambling-addiction that I alluded to earlier; and there’s a whole slew of familiar-faces that pop-up here every so often, to give us the impression that they’re going to serve some real purpose to this story, except, don’t.

Instead, they shutter away and sink into the darkness that is this movie’s background. And it made me wonder, why? Why would one try to hide more scenes from the likes of Sofia Vergara? Or Anne Heche? Or Hope Davis? Or hell, even Jason Alexander? Stanley Tucci shows up here in what seems to be nothing more than an extended, yet totally glorified cameo, so I didn’t include him for that reason, and that reason alone, but as for the others, my head needs scratching.

It would make sense if someone like Sofia Vergara could only film a scene or two for the whole film, but if that is the case, then why give her something so useless and forgettable as what she has to do here? Vergara’s in the first five minutes of this and all she spends her time doing is looking scared, fighting with her boyfriend, giving Jason Statham “the eye“, and then, when all is said and done, gets in a car and drives off. That’s it. One of the biggest, most recognizable faces working in entertainment today, and you give her is a role that could have literally had zero dialogue and none of us would have ever known the difference.

But not using it’s ensemble to the best of its ability, isn’t Wild Card‘s biggest problem.

More or less, the movie felt like it was spliced and edited together by somebody who had a major dead-line and didn’t know whether he/she could get it done well enough in time, so they just put anything together, in hopes their bosses wouldn’t notice and the movie would make millions and millions of dollars, giving everybody everlasting happiness. That doesn’t happen here, but there are parts of this movie that work – if only because they actually feel more focused than the rest of it.

For instance, the movie tries to make it apparent to us that Nick Wild has a gambling addiction. He makes several allusions to that throughout, so that when he does eventually get on a table and start spitting out “stays” and “hits”, it makes sense for his character and makes the movie move a bit more. Then, you add on that with the whole subplot concerning Ventimiglia’s crime-lord character, and you have a solid crime-thriller on your hands. Not because this aspect of the film offers people getting sliced with cards and throat-punches, but because it actually felt right for this story, as well as the character who was given to us.

Enough with this mushy stuff!

Enough with this mushy stuff!

But then, for some odd reason, the movie does try to have its cake and eat it, too, which doesn’t wholly work. It gets over-packed for no reason, and feels like there’s a reel or two missing. For some people, the fact that it’s hardly even an-hour-and-a-half may be lovely, but for some, such as me, it feels like an under-cooked meal coming straight from your aunt’s house. Maybe there’s bits and pieces of Wild Card lying on the floor of some editing-room in the deepest, darkest movie-studios of the Earth, but without them, the movie feels incomplete.

That doesn’t make it bad, because with what it does have, it’s quite fun.

As I said before, whenever Jason Statham’s mouthing-off to people, or kicking their rear-ends, it’s always a good time. The guy’s incredibly charming and to see him lay waste to a bunch of baddies, is just a pleasureful sight. And heck, even when he’s gambling, the scenes are shot in a smart way that actually shows the cards being laid-out on the table, what Statham’s character does with them, and the end-result; whereas a movie like the Gambler, continued to jump away from actually giving us a glimpse at what was on these tables. For all we know, they could have been playing a game of Go Fish! Though neither movie is better than the other (and also, they’re quite different), there’s still something to be said for a movie that works at what it originally set-out to be.

Even if it continued to get further and further away from that end result.

Consensus: Messy and too short, Wild Card feels incomplete, but given that the movie offers more than a few solid action scenes that don’t just concern fists being thrown, then it still deserves credit for working well with one thing, while not fully excelling at the many other one’s it tries to go for.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

And more of this! Yeah!

And more of this! Yeah!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

Next time, when you’re making a film geared towards kids, go for a smaller, more comprehensible title.

On the eve of his 12th birthday, Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould), nothing seems to be going right for him. The most popular kid in his school seems to be planning on having his birthday party, the same day as he’s having his; his dad (Steve Carell) is out of a job and currently staying at-home to watch the young baby, who also won’t stop crying; his mom (Jennifer Garner) has a new book that’s about to hit the shelves and possibly break records; his older brother (Dylan Minnette) has prom and his driver’s test the next day, so of course, he’s being a jerk; and his older sister (Kerris Dorsey) is currently getting ready to take the stage for her school’s rendition of Peter Pan. Everybody’s getting on Alexander’s case and it seems like his days are just getting more and more bad as they go on. It’s getting so bad that, before he goes to bed, Alexander makes a wish that all of this bad luck for him would just go away. Well, the next day, guess what happens? It does! But somehow, it’s spawned-off to the rest of the family and it just continuously gets worse for all involved, in the worst possible ways imaginable.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

It’s difficult to make a family movie, that’s literally made for the whole family. Meaning, that while you don’t necessarily have to be catering towards the kiddies of the clan with fart, poop, and pee jokes, you also don’t have to make your humor so subversive for the grown-ups of the group, to where it’s almost inappropriate for anybody to watch, let alone, for family movie night. But also, in making sure that you’re both funny enough to appeal to all parties of the illustrious fam-squad, you also run the risk of actually being a mess of a movie that hardly anybody would be able to see or enjoy.

Somehow though, Alexander and… (I’m not going to list the whole thing, sorry), runs through that slippery-slope and lands somewhere in the middle. That’s to say that it doesn’t necessarily offend anybody, as much as it just offers little, short splices of adult-humor, amongst all of the crazy, wacky hijinx the non-stop barrage of slap-stick offers. This would usually bother the hell out of me, but considering the time-limit (just under 80 minutes), the family-feel nature of it, and the willing cast, I found myself more entertained and pleased than I would have wanted. Doesn’t mean the movies perfect, or without any types of flaws because it’s serviceable and nothing more, but that doesn’t also mean I should get on the movie’s case much either.

It’s simply not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings, so therefore, I’ll try not to do the same; even though, yes, I’ll probably fail.

Though it’s mostly filled with the same old “whatevers” you’d see in these kinds of family-friendly films, the one interesting element of this movie to note, was that Miguel Arteta directed this and, judging by his past-work, you would never know it. Arteta, if you’re a hip, fly and cool movie-watcher, is known for directing such comedy-based indies like the Good Girl, Youth in Revolt, and Cedar Rapids, and while I’d never call any of them masterpieces in their own rights, they’re still different than what I’d expect from him here. They’re all funny movies, but they’re also a tad darker and heavier on the drama than this movie here. Not to mention they’re also all rated-R, but that’s beside the point.

What I’m trying to say, is simply this: Miguel Arteta doesn’t make movies like this and that’s why it surprised me to discover he was the one behind this movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s interesting to see, because Arteta handles the material well; it’s quick, fast, and punchy enough to where the visual, slapstick-gags do their thing and while they may not always hit the mark, there’s not much time spent to think about or dell on them, so you just sort of just take them as they are. Slap-stick, when done right, can be downright hilarious and make me squeal like a 10-year-old girl, but if it’s done wrong, or better yet, too much, then it can sometimes be grating.

#Lolz

#Lolz

Here, the slap-stick continues to get piled on so much, in so many extreme ways because it’s ridiculous as is written – that’s the point. So, because sometimes the slips, slides, prat-falls, and embarrassing moments are so random, they’re actually kind of funny; they don’t need any rhyme or reason, and that’s where some of the fun lies. Of course, the movie tries to barrow itself down and hit some sort of message by the end, but by that point, I didn’t care how sappy it was. The first two-halves of it had entertained me enough to where the movie could have literally ended with them curing world hunger, and so long as they had at least a gag or two dedicated to Steve Carell making funny faces, then I’d have been totally cool with it.

Gosh, now that I think about it, why didn’t they do that? So many missed opportunities here, people!

And speaking of Carell, the dude is so earnest here, that even though the character he’s playing is a bit of a dork, there’s something so incredibly sweet and charming, that it hardly ever matters; Jennifer Garner isn’t my favorite actress, but she’s so down to do whatever the movie throws at her (sometimes, literally), I couldn’t help but respect her just a tad more than usual; Ed Oxenbould is in the typical “smart kid”-role, but the movie doesn’t constantly focus on him, so I was okay with that; and the rest of the cast, with what they’re given to do, all put in some funny moments that may have otherwise been forgettable, stupid and the exactly what this seems to be: A paycheck gig.

Albeit, a fun one where everybody involved seemed to actually be pleased to do.

Consensus: Typical family-fare, but Alexander the… is still charming, fast-paced, and funny enough to where it’s fun for the whole family, as well as for 21-year-old anti-social d-bags. You know, like yours truly.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!"

“Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Leviathan (2014)

In with the new, out with the old. Or something like that.

Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov) is a simple, care-free Russian citizen who is currently going through a problem right now in his life that he can’t seem to handle. A house that he built and has been living in since an early age, is now being threatened to be taken down by mayor Vadim (Madyanov), a crooked political-figure who wants the property so that he can set-up shop when he eventually becomes a bigger hot-shot in the world of politics. To ensure that Koila doesn’t lose his land, he calls upon an old army friend of his, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who is now a practicing lawyer and good one at that, seeing as how he believes that they have enough information to put Vadim away for a very long time. However, personal problems arise for both Koila and Dmitri that not only put their defense into jeopardy, but possibly even their friendship together. Especially considering that neither of them have seen each other in quite some time; who knows who’s changed? You know?

At the end of every year, there always seems to be a foreign film that, for some reason or another, is hardly ever heard from in the preceding 12 or so months, only to then pop-up out of nowhere on everybody’s radar and become the top nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. That’s not to say that these movies are bad, it’s just odd that there’s hardly ever been a foreign language film that’s been known to be so great and amazing throughout the whole entire year, only to then show up once again when the year’s over and become, what everybody assumes, the clear-winner for the Oscar. Maybe I’m stepping a bit too far beyond my reach, but whatever the case, Leviathan is not a movie I heard of at all, until mid-January, when it was all of a sudden on everybody’s radar to win the Oscar.

Cheer up, man. You're Russian and you're not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

Cheer up, man. You’re Russian and you’re not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

So yeah, if you’re a gambling man or woman, then yeah, I’d say that Leviathan is possibly a wise bet to take a chance on. That doesn’t mean it’s neither good or bad, as much as it’s just something that too often happens in the Oscar-race; some movies get submitted by their own, respective countries, whereas others don’t. Whatever the reasons for this problem may be, it doesn’t seem to matter right now; Leviathan is clearly the front-runner and so be it.

However, I’m not sure it deserves it.

What deserves to win in its place is totally up in the air, for now, but regardless, the fact is that I feel Leviathan does a lot of things right, but is ultimately, another down-beat, depressing and morbid tale that most Oscar-votes tend to lean towards because it focuses on the real, painful struggles that can be felt around the world. While the light, sometimes lovely comedies of the foreign-world get ignored because they’re simply “too optimistic”, downright sad dramas see all sorts of the light of the day. The past three winners were fine (A Separation, Amour, the Great Beauty) were fine, but once again, except for the later, most of them are another pair of upsetting movies made to shock audiences who don’t normally set-out to see foreign flicks on a regular-basis.

Anyway, I realize that most of my discussion is getting further and further away from the movie, but it’s just something I felt I needed to address. Because honestly, Leviathan is not a bad movie per se – it’s just a movie that clearly has faults that may definitely get overlooked in the following weeks to come. For reasons I’ve explained already and won’t bore you with anymore.

Where its strengths are in though, is maybe the first hour or so of itself. For instance, it starts off strong in introducing us to these characters, the situation they’re thrown into and what the main focus of this story is going to be. Though you could say the story isn’t necessarily limited in its scope, there’s definitely an idea that we’re going to focus solely on the rivalry between the mayor of this town, and this man who he has come into conflict. I was sold, hook, line and sinker with this plot-line and was definitely looking forward to where it all went next.

Most of this was probably because the characters were so strongly-written and performed, that I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. Because with these characters, you get real life human beings, chock full of their faults and all; but the movie hardly ever judges them for what they do, which is astounding considering what some of these characters do in the later-parts of this film. Take, for instance, Kolia, our main protagonist you could kind of say he is.

For starters, we get the impression that there’s something definitely deeply troubling this man. He can’t seem to hold himself together when it comes to his emotions, nor when he’s tossing vodka down his throat. Heck, one of the first glimpses we get of him is him whacking the back of the head of his son with hardly even a sense of remorse; it’s not just an element of parenthood he was probably raised on, but absolutely condones, seeing as how it’s made him out to be the man he is today, even if he doesn’t fully realize the error of his ways. But though he’s got his fair share of problems, there’s still an element of sympathy that’s felt for this guy because he is trying to keep his home, as well as his family-tradition, alive and well.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

In fact, much of this film is made to point out the problems between tradition, versus the modern-way of doing things. Whereas Kolia would probably partition for the local mom-n-pop store to stay open, the despicable mayor would constantly push and push for that Wal-Mart lurking down a couple of blocks to come in, sweep all of the smaller stores away, regardless of if they were up before, or for how long. The movie discusses this in a smart, intelligent-manner that can sometimes be a tad obvious, but feels important enough that it didn’t matter.

However, that all changes after awhile and it’s where the film seems to lose its step.

Because, without saying too much, the movie sort of switches gears to being less about this feud between the mayor and Kolia, and more about each and every character’s own problems with life. Some are happy; some aren’t; and some are just content to keep on going and going until they can’t any longer. Though this would normally interest me, had this been the original plan to focus on in the first place, it just doesn’t here. Not to mention that the movie seems to go on for another hour or so, with nearly three different endings, none of which seemed to fully satisfy the point it was trying to across in the first place.

So yes, the movie definitely gets muddled by the end and it’s a shame. Maybe it’s just me, but I was all for a lean, mean film about the battle between the small-time, local folk, against the large, rather powerful politician that was ready for a change, by any means necessary. Though I’m fine with a movie changing itself up to keep the story’s focus ever-changing, here, it felt more like a missed-opportunity. Sure, people are sad in their own little lives. So what? Do you have anything more to say than that? With Leviathan, it’s never clear. And maybe that’s the point.

Oh well. Time to go shopping at Target.

Consensus: Despite a compelling first-half that sets plenty of promise for what’s next to come, Leviathan sort of collapses on itself once it tries to handle too much, all at one time, further losing sight of what it was originally trying to say in the first place.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Black or White (2015)

Better title – Drunk or Drug-Addict.

After the recent, tragic death of his wife, Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner) is left grieving, with nothing more than a bunch of booze and a grand-daughter named Eloise (Jillian Estell) that he has to take care of all on his own. That wouldn’t be such a rough task, if Elliot could just put down the bottle for a second, but wouldn’t you know it? Elliot not only has a problem that he can’t fix himself, but is incapable of allowing anybody else to fix it for him. But still, he treats Eloise with kindness, love and respect – like all pop-pops should. There should be no problem with that, except for the fact that Eloise’s other grand-mother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), wants her to spend more time at her place; something Elliot is not quite a fan of due to the “economic environment” that they surround themselves with. Not to mention that Elliot isn’t on good terms with Eloise’s father, aka, Rowena’s son (Andre Holland). Rowena wants to be around her grand-daughter more and decides that it’s time to take the situation to court, where her lawyer brother (Anthony Mackie) will try and push the case more towards Elliot’s racist-tactics, even if they aren’t there to begin with.

She's happy with him.

She’s happy with him.

It would seem a little risky for someone like writer/director Mike Binder (meaning, someone who is white), to tackle a film that deals with racial injustices and the certain stereotypes each race sets out for the other. That’s not to say Binder himself shouldn’t make a movie that deals with these issues, but considering the type of tension going around our society currently, to say anything bad about any race whatsoever, let alone African Americans, it would almost seem like a death-warrant. Sometimes, these movies need to be made, and other times, they don’t.

In this case, Black or White did not need to be made. Which isn’t to say because it criticizes certain aspects to black people’s culture (because it definitely criticizes white people as well), but it’s because it so clearly is trying not to offend anyone, of any particular race, gender, or belief, that it tip-toes its way back to the starting line and feels like it’s playing it all way too safe. Now, I didn’t need a totally scathing-outlook on white, or black cultures; however, what I did need was a compelling story that was willing to take charge with the points it wanted to make and actually saw them through. More or less, Binder presents them, alludes to them on certain occasions, but hardly ever takes that extra mile to actually address them in a way that would bring forth some discussion or any bit of controversy to what he’s saying.

There’s an elephant in the room throughout all of Black or White (which is racial-relations and who is right, and who is wrong), and Binder seems to constantly avoid going further and further in-depth about it.

But that’s not to say all of Black or White is poorly-done, because it seems like whenever Binder focuses on the actual story itself, he has a clear head of what he wants to say and how. Normally, this means that Binder’s trying to say Kevin Costner’s character, Elliot, while not perfect or fully-equipped to be the father that this little girl need or deserves, he’s still trying and that’s all that matters. And because of that certain element to his character, Costner is allowed to dig deep into what makes this character tick, and just get by in this world. It’s a shame that the movie constantly wants to have Costner’s character drinking some sort of alcoholic beverage in nearly every scene, because when he doesn’t seem to be too tuned-up on the hair of the dog that bit him, Elliot seems like a genuinely sweet, kind man.

However, too often than not, Binder uses Elliot as the butt of his own joke; the same joke where everybody says he looks, acts, and talks like a drunk, which is true, because he is. It’s hardly ever funny, and not because alcoholism is something not to be joked around about, but because the way it’s done here feels so obvious and tacked-on. In fact, there’s many moments where Binder’s film never makes a clear decision of whether it wants to be a comedy, or a drama. Certain lines a character says, while may speak some heartfelt truth, sort of comes off as a joke that Binder is using to lighten-up the mood when everything else here seems to be getting too hot, heavy and dramatic for the crowd watching in their seats.

Most of these moments come from Octavia Spencer’s Rowena, who I not only found incredibly grating to listen to, but came off as something of a caricature after awhile of what Binder imagines most black men and women’s momma’s to be. Rowena is constantly hootin’, hollerin’, and forgetting to hold her tongue when she knows she should and is always sticking up for her boy, even though she knows he’s not the right fit to be a father in the first place. The film actually references this and shows that Rowena does not in fact want to take Eloise away from Elliot in the first place, but much rather perform a dual-custody type of situation, however, she still treats him like she can’t trust him at all with her baby-girl and wants nothing more than to win this case, and kick the dirt right up in his face. It’s actually quite strange how she acts towards him, both before, during, and after the case, and it’s a shame that Spencer is thrown through such a haywire-of-a-role.

She's happy with her.

She’s happy with her.

She clearly deserves better. As does everybody else in here.

But what it all comes down to with this movie, meaning, the only reason to see this movie for any reason whatsoever, is Costner’s performance. He reveals certain shades, dimensions and aspects to this character that maybe weren’t at all even alluded to in the original-script, but Costner is somehow able to bring to the table. If you want a better example of this, check out one of his final scenes in the courtroom by the end, where he makes it clear that every action he made, for himself and for Eloise, was specifically out of love and adoration, and not out of spite. The movie wants us to see this character as something of a troubled human-being that deserves to at least give up his reigns as Eloise’s sole-provider, but for me, what I saw was, yes, a troubled-man, but one who clearly had the best intentions with everything he did, and everything that he planned on doing. He’s like many men I know in my life, most importantly, my own father.

Such a shame he didn’t get a better movie. Sorry, dad. I mean, Kev. Yeah, Kevin Costner’s not my dad.

Just disregard all that.

Consensus: Writer/director Mike Binder is dealing with some interesting issues in Black or White, but never seems to express them in a thought-provoking way that doesn’t feel preachy, or over-the-top, even if it does get by a tad bit on a great performance from Kevin Costner.

4.5 / 10 = Rental!!

So why can't we all just get along, folks?!?!

So why can’t we all just get along, folks?!?!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Black Sea (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The face you just can't trust.

The face you just can’t trust.

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Marcellus Wallace's dirty laundry?

Marsellus Wallace’s dirty laundry?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Boy Next Door (2015)

Naughty, naughty cougars. Mee-ow.

English lit professor Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is going through a bit of a rough patch in her personal life. Not only has she recently broke-up with her philandering husband (John Corbett), but she can’t seem to get a grip on her young son (Ian Nelson), or what it is that he wants to do with his life. Not to mention that she isn’t quite attuned to the dating-world, seeing as how she’s been out of the game for quite some time. But that may all change now that 19-year-old Noah (Ryan Guzman) has moved in next door, although, it’s maybe not for the reasons she might have wanted. After feeling vulnerable and drunk, Claire has a hot, steamy and sweaty one night stand with Noah that she instantly regrets the next day. However, Noah can’t handle this kind of rejection, so, for some reason or another, he constantly torments Claire, her family and her job. But what starts off as a few minuscule threats, soon start to become quite serious, and almost life-altering, which leads Claire to take a gander into Noah’s mysterious past and realize that maybe she had sex with the wrong neighbor, let alone, the wrong person altogether.

A simple smile, that's how it all starts. And don't act like you don't know what I'm speaking of, ladies!

A simple smile, that’s how it all starts. And don’t act like you don’t know what I’m speaking of, ladies!

Not long after Russell Crowe opened his dumb-ass mouth, many people wondered why exactly women don’t get the same kinds of roles as men. Is Hollywood misogynistic? Are there actually no good roles out there for women because they’re acting way younger than they actually are? Or, plain and simple, are there just no good roles for women?

Well, there’s no real answer to that, except that it is nice to see an actress like Jennifer Lopez not only playing up her age, but also doing so in a way that shows she’s willing to use it to her advantage. J’Lo has never been the world’s best actress that the world has to offer, but there’s something about the way she plays each and every role of hers where she has this sweet, calm and mild personality on the outside, but on the inside, something deep, dark and heavy is boiling from within her. Sure, you could say that a lot of this is pure convention from J’Lo and it’s what we’ve all come to expect from her, but it’s still fun to see, especially since she does it so well.

But that’s only getting away from the point that the Boy Next Door only barely allows for J’Lo to give in a great, meaningful performance, as much as it allows for the plot itself to get so wrapped-up in its own craziness that it’s hard to not want to join in on the fun that it’s clearly having with itself. Because yes, not only is it January, where the weather outside is, in most areas, chilly and filled with snow, but it’s also the time where most of the movies you’ll decide to see at the multiplexes with your friends and possibly even, family members, should not at all be taken seriously. This is something I’ve been preaching for the longest time, but that’s only because it’s true: January movies typically blow.

However, when you do get that rare occasion when the movie’s actually quite bad, but also at least enjoyable, then there’s something to talk about. Because with the Boy Next Door, sure, it’s corny, over-the-top, goofy, and rather balls-out bizarre-o in certain instances, but it seems like it knows it is. Well, for the most part. On some occasions, it feel as though director Rob Cohen knows what he’s been assigned to bring to the big screen, and rather than trying to show the everyday subtleties in human’s interactions with one another, mostly decides to bask in the pure imperfection of this material; he knows it’s junk that he’s working with, but it can be fun junk, if filmed in the right frame of mind.

Though, there’s a part of me that wants to believe that maybe Cohen himself called-out sick some days. Because while some of this, like I mentioned before, seems like it’s just going balls to the walls and enjoying it all, the rest of it does try desperately hard to be taken seriously, as if actual women from all over the world and going to stop banging their hot, younger neighbor, in the hopes that he won’t turn out to be a total whack job and terrorize them and their whole family. That the movie presents this in a negative light doesn’t matter, so much as it seems to take one stand on the situation so much that it doesn’t ever draw-out any sort of depth within the story, or the characters themselves.

Which, I’m not saying is what I wanted from this movie here, but it’s obvious that whoever was behind this thing, definitely wanted some bit of that, so if they’re going to expect me to expect it, then I might as well expect it, right? Kind of lost? Okay.

"I want my autograph, NOW!"

“I want my autograph, NOW!”

It goes like this – once Noah becomes a raging, hormonal-teenager over the fact that Claire doesn’t want to sleep with him any longer, this is the only reason made clear to us is why he’s freaking out so much in the first place. That, I was fine with. Kids are weird as is, but once you throw sex and rejection into there, then they get so out of whack, you’ll wonder just how the hell they managed to get through the first 18 or so years of their lives to begin with. However, the movie tops it all off with going into his checkered, clearly sketchy past that involves the death of his parents and some random hacking-jobs that are so out-of-this-world, that even in today’s society, where hacking seems to be an everyday occurrence, it’s a bit far-fetched. It’s not that I was pissed that they decided to dig deeper into this character, it’s that they didn’t do so in a way that seemed understandable, even by the movie’s standards.

Everything should have just been kept and made simple, crazy and wildly over-the-top. Which is to say, because of J’Lo and Ryan Guzman, this is what happens. Especially with Guzman, who not only seems like he walked right out of a Vanity Fair spread and onto the screen, but has this off-kilter presence about him that’s just plain weird. I don’t know if it works for the movie, or not, but all I can is that he seems to be relishing in this role handed to him and for me, a person who has never seen him before in my life, made me happy. I may never see him in another film again, but color me slightly impressed Ryan Guzman.

I guess.

Consensus: Sometimes over-the-top and clearly loving it, and sometimes not, the Boy Next Door juggles around with its multiple identities, but can be so wild and wacky at times, that it’s hard to hold much of a serious problem against this movie that can’t be washed away with some fine liquor before watching it.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Peek-a-boo."

“Peek-a-boo.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Mortdecai (2015)

Funny ‘staches, get it?

Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is an eccentric British chap who likes fine women, fine drinks, fine food, fine cars, and most importantly, fine art. So much so, that it’s actually gotten him and his luscious wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) into a bit of debt; $8 million dollars in debt, to be exact, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s most important now is that Charlie and his trustee, self-proclaimed “man servant”, Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), track down a piece of stolen art, so that they don’t get nabbed by the MI5 agent (Ewan McGregor) for any wrongdoings that they may, or may not have been up to. However, what turns out as a simple case, gets so convoluted that nearly all of the enemies in Charlie’s life, which are many, start showing up out of nowhere – not to just gather a debt from Charlie, but possibly extract some vicious revenge for any wrongdoings he may have brought their way. It may seem all bad for Charlie, but because of ever-dashing wit and charm, he seems to look on the bright side of things, or something.

The joke here is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The joke here is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

It’s interesting to note that at one point, believe it or not, Johnny Depp was actually targeted for the role of Monsieur Gustave H. in the Grand Budapest Hotel; the same role that would eventually be taken up by Ralph Fiennes. Looking back, it’s easy to see why Depp was considered for this lead role, as Depp’s certain exuberance with most roles that he tackles, seems to fit in with Wes Anderson’s world, for better and for worse. Though it’s hard to say whether or not Depp would have actually made Hotel better, the fact remains that it still would have been an interesting choice for him to take, especially considering all of the random, and sometimes inexplicably poorly-directed, dribble he’s been appearing in as of late. Save for maybe a slight cameo here and there, overall, Depp’s film choices as of late have not been anything spectacular.

And Mortdecai, as you may have already seen, is no exception.

But it’s rather strange that most of Mortdecai feels as if it is trying oh so very hard to be such a Wes Anderson movie, that it’s easy to believe that this could possibly had been Depp’s chance to take one under his belt and give it a go; although, to be fair, this would have to be a Wes Anderson movie that Anderson himself did not want to make and more or less was asleep through half of the proceedings. Director David Koepp shoots this with as much color, whimsy and slap-dash as you’d expect Wes Anderson to have created, however, there’s something missing here that most of Anderson’s movies seems to contain: Some kind of heart. Oh, and laughs, too. That’s a very, VERY big factor.

It makes sense why Koepp is going for here with this movie – in a way, he’s trying to create a silly, screwball-ish comedy ripped-out directly from the 60’s, and into the modern day and age for a new audience that may be able to appreciate what his parents were appreciating way back when. It doesn’t work, but for the first 15 minutes or so, it’s quite effective that it only took until I saw a modern-day, pro wrestling match between WWE wrestlers Sheamus and the Big Show, that I fully realized that this was not only taking place in a certain time period, but that the time period was actually the 21st century. Hiding when exactly this story’s taking place isn’t a neat conceit, as much as it’s just a lazy way of trying to throw your audience for a loop, seemingly because it’s all you’ve got.

And in the case of Depp and Koepp, in what’s their second team-up since Secret Window, there’s really not much for the audience to get a firm grip on, so any distractions that they can throw our way necessary is all that they want to do. Maybe less so in the case of Koepp, because while his film doesn’t have its funny bone working at all, nor does it seem to realize that there’s more to life than just testicle-gags, he seems to at least dress this movie nice and handsomely enough that it’s fine to look at. It’s even enjoyable to listen to, so long as nobody’s speaking or trying to make us laugh, because it never works.

But nope, I have to say that most of the problems to be found within this movie, and the one who seems to be trying so utterly and desperately hard to distract us is Johnny Depp – an actor who, I think we can all agree on, was one of the most talented, exciting talents working in mainstream Hollywood. Nowadays, it seems as though Depp has become nothing more than just a parody of his own-self, where he produces certain films that give him the leading-role, while also allowing for him to stretch his funny-wings as far as he can, even if th

The joke here is boobs.

The joke here is boobs.

ey are beyond their initial-reach. That’s not to say that Depp isn’t funny; the man definitely has a talent for making many normal circumstances seem all the more zany because of what he brings to the table, but here, as Charlie Mortdecai, it’s so obvious that’s he really going for it here, that it makes you uncomfortable.

Sort of like that uncle you don’t see too often, who constantly tells the story about how you peed yourself when you were over his house and rather than understanding it’s a story nobody wants to hear repeated when they’re 35-years-old, married, and with kids, he still persists on going through with it because, well, what the hell, it gets a few giggles out of the surrounding crowd. The difference between the sad and lonely uncle I’ve just described and Johnny Depp, is that maybe, in the off-chance that the uncle has bribed somebody beforehand, people are actually laughing along with said uncle. As for Depp, he’s the only one laughing. And giggling. And sneezing. And cavorting. And whizzing. And, well, you get it.

Depp’s doing a lot here, and while I give him kudos for at least trying his damn-near hardest, it gets to become downright annoying after awhile. The only ones who actually make some way for comedy are the ones surrounding him, and even they have hardly anything to work with. Paul Bettany plays Mortdecai’s “man-servant” (get it, cause it’s kind of referencing gay-stuff), who has a running-gag that he can’t keep it in his pants and is constantly banging random girls, that is, whenever Mortdecai himself is not accidentally injuring him; Gwyneth Paltrow, despite being absolutely despised by practically everybody with a computer and/or Twitter, is actually quite charming in movies still and it’s nice to see her bring some life to an otherwise forgettable character; same goes for Ewan McGregor who, with his character’s gimmick that he fawns after Mortdecai’s wife’s every move, brings some much-needed wit and spark; and Jeff Goldblum, god bless his heart, shows up for maybe five minutes and does nothing. Absolutely nothing.

God, now I really want to watch a Wes Anderson movie.

Consensus: Not only is Mortdecai unfunny, but it also highlights something of a career-low in Johnny Depp’s filmography where he’s taken it upon himself to be the center of attention and never let us forget that he wants to make us laugh, or happy, by any degrading means possible.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

The joke here is mustache, because well of course.

The joke here is mustache, because well of course.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Appropriate Behavior (2015)

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

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

Painful first dates. Ammiright?!?!?

Painful first dates. Ammiright?!?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Perfect thinking-spot.

Perfect thinking-spot. Take your time, hon.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Upside of Anger (2005)

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

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

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

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

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

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

For better, as well as for worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Cake (2014)

It’s an easy joke, but no seriously, real cake would have been better.

After an automotive accident, Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston) is suffering from all sorts of pain – chronic, emotional, physical, and most of all, personal. But to help her get by, Claire continuously pops pills and drinks cocktails, even though she’s also going to physical therapy and group-meetings to help her with any sort of problems she might be having. However, it seems that the only problem Claire even seems to be bothered with is that she doesn’t understand why everybody is so concerned with a former-member of the group sessions (Anna Kendrick)’s suicide; she’s too mean and nasty for anybody to understand, so of course, they kick her out and hope that she eventually starts to sing a different tune. That sort of happens for Claire, however, maybe not the way some would have wanted it to happen. For instance, she starts an actual, budding relationship with he nanny (Adrianna Barraza), if only as a way to coax her into buying more illegal drugs across the border. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, she even starts to visit the deceased girl’s widower (Sam Worthington), in what seems to be more than just a normal chit-chat, and something more serious and possibly sexual.

Literally his only scene.

Literally his only scene.

Right off the bat, I feel like it is worth noting that yes, Jennifer Aniston gives a performance unlike any others we seen from her, ever. She’s nasty, foul, cursing, doing drugs, having anal sex, and, what every person has been calling an act of “absolute bravery”, is make-up free. To say that we’ve never seen Aniston like this before, is obvious, because while she’s definitely done movies that have challenged her a bit as an actress and haven’t been the typical, mainstream rom-coms that have plagued her career for as long as the pilot of Friends was aired. But, to say that this is a great performance, isn’t quite right. In fact, not at all.

Though I would definitely like to give Aniston some credit for trying something new in her rather predictable career, she doesn’t seem to have quite the chops as a dramatic-actress that would make a character as vile as her, seem any bit of sympathetic or compelling. Mostly, Aniston spends the whole movie just making miserable, life-is-meaningless wisecracks to all those around her, but rather than seeming like a funny gal, who could actually have something more interesting and hurtful to all of the pain she’s causing to those around her, there’s just nothing. This is maybe more of a criticism of the actual writing for Aniston’s character, but had she’d been a better, more-talented actress, I feel as though she would have been able to somehow pull this kind of character off. She would have still been an annoying, unlikable witch, but there would have at least been more to her act than just, “Oh, she’s mad about life”.

So no, J-Aniston did not deserve an Academy Award nomination for her work here. So nice job, Academy.

For once.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can finally get to the rest of the movie. But honestly, there’s not much to talk about, because it’s pretty terrible. It’s obvious that this movie was made as a possible Lifetime movie-of-the-week that may, or may not have some sort of crossover-appeal, but because so many big stars got involved with it, it all of a sudden shot-up to being the hot ticket come awards season. That it isn’t exactly that, is the least of its problems.

Where the problems with this movie lies is that it has hardly anything interesting to say about depression at all. This may be because the character we’re forced to stick with is so unbearably arrogant, but it may also be because the movie is so stale, it makes you wonder who was trying behind the cameras. Director Daniel Barnz seems like he wants to make some sort of powerful message about how suicide is just a sign that we do have something to live for in life, and that’s precisely it, life itself. However, that’s just all me grasping at straws. What the film seems more interested in developing is how many times and different ways Aniston can groan, moan, or tell somebody to piss-off.

And I know that I continue to wrap-around back to her, but honestly, she is the main problem of this movie. Maybe less so of Aniston’s performance, and more of just the fact that this character isn’t at all worth spending our desired time and/or money on; she’s another one of those rich, stuck-up, self-entitled women who feel as though life is misery and the only way to get by it, is to just let yourself feel like shit, day in and day out. That may be a philosophy that works for some, and if that’s the case, then good for them. I hope that they live lovely, valuable lives. However, I do not want to see someone spend nearly two-hours acting like this. Not only does it become tiresome, but it makes me want to tune away from the movie even more, continue to check my watch, and hope that I can get out soon enough to maybe get home and go on a jog, or something.

So yeah, I guess the movie did its job in that it made me appreciate life in all of its possible glory. However, probably not at all in the way it had originally imagined.

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I've never done that because I'm actually a nice human being!

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I’ve never done that because I’m actually a nice human being!

But I promise I’ll stop crapping on Aniston’s parade, because there’s actually a lot more people in this cast worthy of talking about. Problem is, they aren’t given anything worthy of their talents, nor to even discuss further than a, “Hey, look! It’s that person, from that thing!”. Like, for instance, we have Sam Worthington, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch, Anna Kendrick, Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy all here, in what seem to be extended cameos that barely go anywhere to drive the point of this movie home, or to even make their presences known as to why we like seeing their familiar-faces in the first place. Which is a shame, too, because the movie’s been advertising the whole ensemble quite effectively, but it seems like none of them were ever around to film a majority of the movie, so instead, Barnz opted to just have them film for a couple of days and leave it at that. It’s not a problem because there’s a dire need of wanting to see more of them (although, that is definitely a feeling), but more of one because their characters’ inclusions only make the structure a bit more flustered and messy.

The only one who gets more attention than the rest, and deservedly so, is Adrianna Barraza as Claire’s caretaker/nanny, who is constantly being taken advantage of for her car, her money, and her nationality, while Claire just soaks it all in and barely even gives her a simple “thank you”. Already it’s easy to feel for this character that Barraza is playing, but there’s a certain sweetness to her performance that made me wonder why the movie wasn’t about her, and Claire wasn’t just a self-agonizing side-character that we saw Barraza’s character have to constantly put up with and try to hold back from murdering in cold blood. Because clearly there’s a few scenes here that seem to be hinting of more explanation of her character and the way she gets about in her poverty-stricken life, but it never materializes to much. It’s simply Claire’s story and guess what?

We don’t care.

Consensus: Truth be told, Jennifer Aniston is trying quite hard to be taken seriously in Cake, but it never delivers because the character she’s playing, as well as the movie itself, is just a thin as the kind of pieces of actual cake you get at a cheap wedding.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!!

Don't strain yourself, Jen. There's always Horrible Bosses 20.

Don’t strain yourself, Jen. There’s always Horrible Bosses 20.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Most Violent Year (2014)

It’s rough out there for a oil salesman.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an honest man, trying to make an honest living, with an honest wife (Jessica Chastain), and an honest family. However, during the winter of 1981 in New York City, that’s a lot easier said then done. Because once Abel makes a deal with a local money-launderer, everybody around Abel who either loathes or envies him, don’t want him to pay any of that money back. Instead, they want Abel to go broke, get found out by the cops, and possibly even dead. Though, the problem for Abel isn’t that it seems like everybody’s coming after him, and only him, it’s that he doesn’t who it is, nor does he want to stoop to their levels of violence, murder, and corruption. He believes he is better and doesn’t want to dirty-up his business one bit. But now that the cops are hot on his tail, Abel believes that it may be time to step up and defend his business, or become what everybody around him wants him to become – a goner.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly easy to classify a movie as what it seems to be, or better yet, actually sounds like. For instance, A Most Violent Year is the kind of movie that looks and sounds like that it would be another violent gangster-pic in the same vein as a Scorsese flick. Heck, it even has the word “violent” in its title, so how could it not have people whacking one another?

"Ya heard?"

“Ya heard?”

Well, sometimes, looks can be deceiving, kids. While that usually means something bad for movies that look good and end up turning out to be junk, here, we’ve got something different – a movie that may seem like it’s chock full of bloody violence and action, actually isn’t. Sure, there’s the occasional gun-fight, or chase through the streets, but they don’t feel thrown in there for the sake of livening up the proceedings; instead, what writer/director J.C. Chandor does best is that he allows them to flow smoothly into the story, and make it seem pertinent. That this is a story of a man who’s trying to keep him, his family, and his business strictly clean and legal, makes it all the more understanding that, when push comes to shove, he can’t help but loose control a bit and take all sorts of drastic decisions.

And that’s mostly where Chandor’s flick stays to talk about; it’s not whether one can stay afloat with their business, it’s that they can do so without having to become one with the rest of the wild and rowdy pack you are sometimes grouped-in together with. It’s an interesting dilemma that Chandor poses with his protagonist and for the story as a whole, but it never actually loses steam. Instead, it keeps us guessing as to whether or not this lead character is going to lose his cool, and if so, how so and at one costs. We don’t want to see him have to be forced to kill anybody, but if he has to, we hope that he does so at a reasonable level that doesn’t put him, or anybody that he loves in harm’s way.

As you can tell, it’s not just an interesting dilemma for the lead character, but for us, the audience, as well.

The parts where I do feel that Chandor as the story lose a bit of steam, is when it seems like he’s being as vague as humanly possible, only to throw us for more curveballs, but to also remind us that his movie isn’t like other crime-thrillers out there. A good portion of that is true, but when it comes to making a gripping, interesting-to-listen-to thriller, you have to give the audience enough details and bits of info to allow for them to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to spell everything out in big, bold letters and practically hold the audiences hand, but when it seems like you’re not going further into detail about a certain aspect of the story, it seems like you’re cheating the audience out of what could be an even more engaging tale.

That said, Chandor, in my humble opinion, is a director who is three-for-three. Which is even more of an impressive feat considering that the two other movies he’s created (Margin Call, All is Lost) are all completely different from one another. Call was talky and almost Mamet-like; Lost was a Cast Away-ish tale of one character, and one character only; and this one here, is a moral, crime tale, that seems like something Sidney Lumet would have made and been quite proud of. If there is one similarity between all three of these movies, however, it’s that they all feature desperate people, in some very tragic situations, who are trying their hardest to survive by any means necessary. They may not always make the smartest decisions, but they are at least trying to save their own head.

And that’s the exact case with Abel Morales, played to perfection by the always powerful Oscar Isaac. With Morales, we get a character that we like, if only because of what he stands for; he’s an immigrant who came over to this land, to create his own business, and get what each and everyone of us want, “the American Dream”. So already, he’s winning points with us, but once we see him starting to get all sorts of pushed and pulled by these local gangsters that are practically suffocating him, then it’s obvious to see that we may be losing him a tad bit. He’s not just losing his sense of morality, but he also might lose the dream he set-out for himself and it’s hard to fully root for him with the actions he commits. Then again, there’s also the sense that it’s all for a good cause and it puts this character into perspective as to whether he’s a good guy, or a bad one.

Mostly though, it comes down to him just being a guy, trying to make a living for himself, and those that he loves. That’s it.

"Mhmmmmmmmmm."

“Mhmmmmmmmmm.”

Isaac is wonderful in this role and has you totally believe in the constant struggle he goes through with this character. Isaac plays both sides of this character very well in that we never quite know whether he wants to be apart of this bloody, violent underground, or not. All we do know is that his intentions are good enough that makes it easy for us to root for him, even when we don’t know if we’re not supposed to. Once again, Isaac is great at showing these dueling-sides to this character and always has you on-edge, wondering when he’s going to turn the other cheek and how.

Another great performance here is from Jessica Chastain as Abel’s mob-daughter wife, Anna. As great of an actress as Chastain may be, for some reason, I just didn’t know if I could fully believe in her as an Italian, New York-housewife; this isn’t to say that I’m doubting her talents, I just don’t know if she’d been able to pull it of well enough to where we’d see more to her than just the act of what a stereotypical, Italian-woman looks, acts, and sounds like. Thankfully though, I was proven wrong as Chastain absolutely owns this role and allows us to see her as less of an accessory in Abel’s life, and more of a factor in the reason as to why he is as successful as he is. She constantly pushes him further than he could ever imagine and when he needs her the most, she’s there, sometimes, with nearly as much fire-power as he. I don’t want to call her a Lady Macbeth-like character, but she pretty much is; just not nearly as corny as that kind of role was for Laura Linney in Mystic River.

Ugh. So bad.

Anyway, while these two are incredibly solid in these roles, there’s plenty more where they came from, with each and every character still seeming as interesting, and as thought-provoking as they could be. For instance, the character of Lawrence, the detective who is constantly behind every corner Abel and his business turns down, may seem like he’ll be just as dirty and as corrupt as the people he’s going after, but more or less, stays true to himself or any kind of code that he may have set out for himself as a cop. Sure, David Oyelowo is quite solid in this role, but he’s also helped-out quite a bunch by the writing for this role, that doesn’t have him act like the standard-version of a cop we see in these kinds of movies; he goes by-the-badge, but also doesn’t forget about certain aspects of the job that may need to be looked at a bit differently. He’s not a bad, or immoral person; he’s just a person. With his own needs, hopes and desires.

As we all are.

Consensus: Exciting without ever over-exploding, thought-provoking without being too obvious, and well-acted without a weak-link, A Most Violent Year is a solid crime-thriller that asks hard questions of both its characters, as well as its audience.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Let’s Be Cops (2014)

After this, and especially this, becoming a cop is definitely the last “to-do” on my list.

Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Ryan (Jake Johnson) are best-friends, who both need a little more to do with their lives, because right now, what they’ve got just ain’t cutting it. So, on the night that they head to their high school reunion, they realize that they want to set a good impression that makes their former-classmates think they’ve got it all under control in terms of their lives and futures; meaning, they decide to dress-up as a cops. But as these phony cops, both Justin and Ryan realize all of the love, gratitude and respect they gain, so they decide to take it out on the road, into the actual real world, and see what happens. And for the most part, the usual, wacky hijinx occur and the guys realize that acting like cops, when fellow, actual cops don’t know about it, is actually quite a treat. Eventually though, the friends end up actually finding out about a real crime occurring, with some real mobsters being the cause for it. Though neither of them want to get hurt, or possibly even killed, they both also know that they’re in too deep now and can’t get out.

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

So yeah, in the past couple of months since this movie’s been out, cops haven’t been getting the best press as of late. And honestly, I’m not going to bore you on my thoughts, beliefs, or politically incorrect opinions about everything that’s happened as of late. Although, I must admit, I am quite tempted; tempted because they’re thoughts I’ve been wanting to get known for awhile, but also, thoughts that I feel would just distract you all further and further away from the utter-garbage that this flick is.

But the problem with this movie isn’t just that it’s not funny (which it isn’t), it’s more that it had a pretty neat premise, and decided not to do a single neat, funny, or original thing with it. The movie literally starts out with these two schmoes being normal dudes, then deciding to don the cop uniforms, and literally, all they do is party, take hits of weed, drink alcohol, crash random keggers, and do a whole bunch of other random, idiotic things that no other cop would ever do in their right mind, nor would any person trying to make others believe that they are ones. I know there’s a certain level of disbelief I’m supposed to uphold with these types of movies, but I would, had the movie actually been funny. However, it is not and the fact that it takes a pretty interesting concept that seems absolutely ripe with laughs and social-commentary, makes it all the more disappointing.

Oh, and yeah, the movie is not at all funny. Take aside from maybe a few bits from the likes of Keegan-Michael Key and Rob Riggle (two exceptionally talented dudes who deserve way, way better), most of the movie can be spent just sitting around aimlessly, wondering when it’s going to end, and whether or not that a joke is even going to hit its mark. But hardly a single one does, which makes the premise all the more of a bore to sit through, because while you know that they’re trying to give us a whole story here with action, crime, and cops, the story barely even goes anywhere.

In fact, had this movie just been about these two fellas just driving around and messing around with people, while pretending to be cops, then everything may have been all fine and dandy. Now, of course, that would entitle the movie to actually having a better script to work with, but at least it would get us all away from watching this movie as it consistently tries to remind itself (as well as us) that it is in fact an action-comedy, and one that needs to have bullets and car-chases, next to all of the dick, sex, and drug jokes. Had the movie not even bothered with any sort of life-or-death situation involving dangerous underground criminals, I may have given this something of a better-grade, but I don’t care, honestly.

Crime subplot or not, this movie still blows.

It's alright, buddy. At least you've still got your show.

It’s alright, buddy. At least you’ve still got your show.

Which brings me to the cast, whom all feel like they’ve seen many better days before. While Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson have lovely chemistry on New Girl, here, the chemistry boils down to Johnson being the obnoxious one, and Wayans Jr. having to be the guy who constantly cringes in embarrassment at his friend and the wild things he makes them do. And honestly, I’d have to say that’s mostly all of Wayans Jr.’s performance – constantly sighing, shrugging, and Shia LeBeouf-ing every time his buddy wants to do something fun for a change. I’m not saying that wanting to be a cop is an action that deserves to be looked on as positive, but the movie could have given this character more motivation to be strongly against it all of the time, and not just have bitched, moaned and complained about it all, yet, still deciding to go through with putting on the blue uniform and acting like a fellow cop. Never made sense to me and just made the characters feel all the more thin.

Then, the cast gets pretty worse from here. And I don’t mean in terms of talent, neither; I mean that the talent that they’ve cobbled-up together here is solid, it’s just that they’re not given much of anything to work with. James D’Arcy is, normally, a solid actor in most that I see him in, but here, I felt like he had lost a bet to play the main villain in this mainstream mess; Nina Dobrev seems like her character was a sweet gal with enough humanity to shed, but she doesn’t go anywhere other than being just “female love-interest”; and Andy Garcia, for one reason or another, probably get a huge paycheck here for literally showing up for three-and-a-half scenes and that was about it. Hey, I’m glad he was able to get a new house in Malibu, but come on, Andy! You’re better than this!

You all are!

Consensus: Uninspired, boring, and just plainly put, unfunny, Let’s Be Cops isn’t just ill-timed in terms of the year it was released, but doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Like, at all.

1.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too real?

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too topical?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

God Help the Girl (2014)

Those little twee singers and dancers. No future!

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

FEEEEEL IT!

FEEEEEL IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#HipsterSelfie

#HipsterSelfie

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Look at that camera! It's so old!

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014)

I think we’re all in agreement here that Jimi Hendrix was a talent-less hack, and that Yngwie Malmsteen is the greatest guitarist to ever touch a six-string.

Back before he was setting his guitar on fire, doing solos with his teeth, or playing the Star Spangled Banner on one instrument and one instrument only, Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) was just another, up-and-comer in the music world who was trying to make it big in any way that he could. However though, in the music-biz, it’s normally about who you know, much rather than how exceptional of a talent you may be. In Jimi’s case, this is good because he’s not only a solid guitar-player, to say the least, but he is also quite close friends with the likes of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) who, at the time, was pretty close with the Rolling Stones. She sees something special in Jimi and decides to get him hooked-up with a manager and a bunch of promising gigs. Things eventually turn sour between the two once Jimi is introduced to the native-Brit, Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), who he strikes up a relationship with. Linda is pretty jealous of this, but she’s also afraid of what this may mean for the rest of Jimi’s career to come.

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

There’s an interesting note about the production of Jimi: All is by My Side that actually puts the whole film into perspective. Because the film itself wasn’t allowed to use any of Hendrix’s actual, recorded-songs due to copyright issues, writer/director John Ridley is pretty much left to fend for himself and build off of a part of Jimi’s life that doesn’t have any of his original classics we all mostly know and love. Then again, by the same token, it doesn’t seem like much of that problem affects Ridley’s movie as he more or less is just focusing on Jimi Hendrix before he got big and even had the opportunity to record something like, “the Wind Cries Mary“, or “Little Wing“; instead, we see a Hendrix before all of the fame and fortune hit him like a ton of bricks and he became, as what some would call him, “the greatest guitar player of all-time”.

For better, or worse.

However, where Ridley makes the big problem with this small biopic of his, is that he doesn’t do much to help the heart and soul of this movie to begin with, Hendrix himself. See, here, Jimi Hendrix is something of a shy, soft-spoken musician who definitely has a talent worth paying attention to, but he hardly ever makes a single decision for himself to further himself, and also his career. He mostly takes a back-seat to those around him who constantly push, pull, and struggle to put him into places that will not only make him more famous, but them also a lot richer.

You could say that this is just how the music-business just is and to that, I’d say, sure, you may be correct in most cases. However, when you’re movie is supposed to be focusing on the kind of complex, interesting person Hendrix truly was off the stage, it doesn’t quite help. Not because it makes him seem like a pawn in his own chess-game, but because it doesn’t do much to make him even seem like has anything to bring to the story at all. This movie could have literally been all about the people who talked to and interacted with Jimi Hendrix during his early days, and without even having him show up, you could have had a very intriguing movie. But once you put Jimi Hendrix, the main subject of this piece, then all I’m left to do is take what’s given to me and what’s given to me here is that Jimi Hendrix was not only a bit of a dope, but a not-so interesting one, either. He’s just dull enough in this movie to make it easy to understand why so many of his songs are in fact, covers, and not just original pieces of his own.

But that’s a different discussion for a different day, as what we have here, is simply a movie that deserves a better main protagonist. Because, as hard as Benjamin tries with Hendrix, he just really goes nowhere. Even though his character does go through some personal and emotional transformations over the course of the near-two hours, hardly any of it rings true, nor does it really seem to go anywhere. It’s also not very subtle, either, seeing as how once Hendrix gets the tiniest bit of popularity to his name, he automatically starts beating the crap out of his loving, adoring girlfriend – which wouldn’t haven’t been such a problem, had these not been scenes made-up of total fiction.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

And speaking of said girlfriend who gets the crap beat out of her, Hayley Atwell is actually very good here as the kind of character we’d see in this type of movie and not want to like, let alone, sympathize with. But because Hendrix is supposed to be a charismatic figure, albeit a flawed one, we feel more for her, than we ever do for him and it puts Atwell’s performance into perspective. She makes Kathy Etchingham seem less like a whoring-around groupie who wants to sleep with the next big act, and more of just a woman who falls for a certain guy, who just so happens to be famous, and actually wants to make it work with him. Even despite, you know, the odds totally stacked-up against them both.

Imogen Poots also plays another one of Hendrix’s female acquaintances who doesn’t quite get a chance to take their relationship as much to the next level as Etchingham does, but still feels the want and need to. And we actually want her to, too, because not only is Poots likable and sweet as Linda Keith, but she’s also a realist who seems like she could slap Jimi, wake him up, and have him smell the cauliflower. Because, honestly, who knows what would have happened to him had he not broke it off with both of these lovely ladies. Maybe he’d still be alive, jamming out for all the world to see. Or maybe, rather than burn-out, he’d just fade away.

Oh shit. Wrong member of “the 27 Club”!

Consensus: Despite compelling performances from Hayley Atwell and Imogen Poots, Jimi: All is by My Side mostly suffers from the fact that it never offers any sort of interesting insight into its lead character, and mostly falls back on tired, old rock movie cliches.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, just give me "Purple Haze" already!

Oh, just give me “Purple Haze” already!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

American Sniper (2014)

Seems like sniping somebody in real-life is a lot harder than it is on COD.

Texas-born and bred Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) knew that he had a calling in life, but until 9/11, he didn’t know what. Once he realized that his country was going to war, he enlisted himself and not only became a Navy SEAL, but also became one of the most decorated, most lethal snipers in war history – averaging roughly around 160 kills over four tours. Surely that deserves a lot of hoo-rah praise and love, right? Well, yes, of course it does. However, at what cost? Kyle doesn’t understand this question until he comes back home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, only to find himself suffering from massive bouts of PTSD, but having no clue how to handle it, or whom to talk to. Basically, he’s left to fend for himself and figure out just what all of the killing meant for him. Was it nothing? Or simply put, was it just to give his life some purpose and stand up for the country that he so heartily loved and adored.

Many war movies are made today. That much is a fact. However, there’s always a problem with figuring out which war movies can be placed into which category. For instance, there’s the kind of war movie that loves to glamorize and pat each and everyone of its soldiers on their backs, without ever going deeper and deeper into those soldiers minds, or even hinting at something being messed-up in their minds (like, say, the Kingdom). But then there’s also the kind of war movie that shows all of the heroic actions its subjects take, yet, still explores the possibility of getting into the minds of them and discovering if any of the fighting, killing and blood was worth it all (like, say, the Hurt Locker).

Well, we're all going to die someday. That much is true.

Well, we’re all going to die someday. That much is true.

Somehow though, American Sniper finds itself placed firmly in the middle. And while that would seem like quite a problem, tonally-wise, Clint Eastwood shows that he’s willing to shed light on both aspects, without ever favoring one over the other. While a lesser-director would have appreciated all of Kyle’s killing of the baddies and shown him as the hero sometimes people would hail him as, Eastwood’s smarter and knows that while Kyle does deserve to be praised for his actions, he also still wants to show that there were definitely problems with the many heinous, sometimes disturbing acts of violence that not only spelled-out trouble for Kyle’s life, but many other veterans of any kind of war.

Although, if there is a problem to be had with Eastwood’s direction and the way he seems to handle the material given to him, it’s that he doesn’t fully come down to any sort of thesis, or point on war itself. Sure, he knows that warfare itself isn’t great and it sure as hell doesn’t have the best affect on those who are involved with it, but by the same token, he never comes right out and voices any of his disapproval with it, either. Which isn’t to say that every movie made about the war has to come up with stance, let it be known to the audience, and stick with it throughout the remainder of the flick, but in the 21st Century, there is a sense that if you’re going to discuss the war, you have to land on one side of the boat and not just be neutral.

You’re going to offend somebody either way, so you might as well go for it while you can.

However, this is getting more and more away from the fact that this is Chris Kyle’s story and it’s one that deserves to be told. Not because Kyle killed plenty of Iraqi soldiers during his four tours, but because he’s the kind of war-figure more should pay attention to; while he had plenty to be pleased with and proud of in his life, he was still clearly screwed-up in his own head-space, and found it incredibly hard to get on with ordinary life. The movie highlights this, and actually seems to be saying that whatever happened to Kyle’s mind when he came back from the war, wasn’t fully worth it. Sure, he killed more enemies than most soldiers could ever dream of, but the fact that when he comes home, he goes straight to a bar and can’t even go see his family, is very strange. It’s also quite sad and it wakes you up to realize that Kyle’s story is among many other soldier’s stories out there as well.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don't know how appropriate that is for now.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don’t know how appropriate that is for now.

And where Chris Kyle, the person, really comes into focus is whenever Bradley Cooper’s on the screen which, thankfully, is nearly ever frame of this film. Cooper has now come to the point in his career where he’s not just a well-known actor, but a very respected one and can get most of the projects he backs, off the ground and ready for the world to see. American Sniper was one of these pieces that he really wanted to adapt and show the world, and it makes sense as to why – not because Cooper gave himself a meaty-role that highlights all of the acting-strengths in his tool-box, but because it allows him to humanize a person we maybe would have characterized as being another “redneck who likes to shoot guns, chew dip, drink beer, and do it all in the name of ‘murica”.

Both Eastwood and Cooper are smarter than just allowing for this cliche to stick. But it’s mostly Cooper who shines the brightest with Kyle’s portrayal, but he doesn’t over-do it. Most of what Kyle seems to be going through is through himself and nowhere else. Sure, you can tell by the looks on his face that he is clearly struggling to grapple with the reality of his actions and the disastrous events that he witnessed, but there always feels like there’s more to what Kyle is really feeling and it makes this character a whole lot more interesting. He’s not happy that he killed so many people over in Iraqi, but at the same time, he isn’t sad, either. He’s just numb. And every chance Cooper gets, he shows this in such a powerful way. So powerful that it’ll be quite the task not to get choked-up a bit during the end-credits. I know I did.

And if I can, so can you.

Consensus: Whenever not focusing on its main subject, American Sniper can’t come to terms with what it wants to say, but as a powerful, albeit disturbing look at the mental-anguish most war veterans go through, both on and off the battlefield, it hits harder than most war movies have in the past few years.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Top 10 of 2014

Well, ladies and germs, it’s that time of the year again! When we say “hello” to one year, we also have to say “goodbye” to another, as sad and as tears-inducing as it may be.

But 2014, in a nutshell, was a pretty solid year for movies.

Although I’m sure I broke more than a few hearts awhile back by announcing a rather tiny hiatus from this blog, for the most part, I tried my hardest to keep at it with all of the movies that were constantly being flung at me. And quite frankly, I’m happy for that. Not only was I treated to many fine pieces of film, but also, I got to focus more so on what was out there in some of the smaller, less-known theaters out there and shed some light on a few unknown indies that maybe only a handful of people actually knew of. Either way, it was a good year to be a fan of movies, and it made me feel like all my laziness paid-off in the end, as is often the case at the end of every year.

Now, with all that jabber out of the way, onto the real show:

10. Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER

While it may not have been the most uplifting, enjoyable flick from the whole year, it definitely had some its best performances by far. Steve Carell and Channing Tatum were absolutely creepy and terrifying in every which way, showing us that there was more to their sometimes light, comedic-personas that we’d so often seen them utilize in the past. Mark Ruffalo was quite solid, too, but it was these two whom I walked away from feeling like there was a new, exciting chapter to be discovered next in their already respectable careers. Can’t wait to see how it all goes down.

9. Joe

Joe1

Sure, maybe I’m the only person to actually person to put this in their top ten, let alone remember by year’s end, but still, there’s a reason for that and it goes by two words: Nic fuckin’ Cage. Okay, three, but whatever! What I’m trying to say here is that having been a dedicated and unabashed fan of Cage for as long as I have, it was nice to finally see him get something worthy of his talents and to make matters even better, see him roll so well with it. The movie as a whole was very emotional and disturbing to the highest-level, but if anything, Joe stood as a solid reminder as to why, when he wants to, Nic Cage can be one of the most compelling screen-presences around. He just doesn’t do it as often as he should. Hopefully, that changes and we get more of this, and less of this. Although both options do serve some level of entertainment.

8. The Raid 2: Berandal

Raid2

After watching the first Raid, I thought it was downright impossible for it to be topped. Turns out, I was dead wrong! Not only is the Raid 2 a better action movie than the first, but it may be one of the best action movies of the past couple years or so. It delivers on every bit of action, blood, gore, and weaponry it seems to promise, and even seems to be one-upping itself constantly as it goes on. Truly a feat for any action movie, let alone one that had as good of a predecessor as the Raid: Redemption.

7. Like Father, Like Son

Father3

Here’s one that totally took me by surprise and wasn’t quite as easy to get through as I would have hoped for it to have been, however, the greatness of it is actually in that. Sometimes, there comes a movie where a character is so downright detestable, that you wonder why the hell there’s a movie revolving around them in the first place, if all they’re going to do is just make constant bad decisions and continue to piss the audience off. There’s that kind of character at the forefront in Like Father, Like Son, but it all feels honest, raw and realistic, so that when the plot does come full circle, it hits you like a ton of bricks and may even make you want to hug your nearest family-member. Most movies set out to do that, however, very few actually deliver on doing so. This is not one of those movies.

6. Inherent Vice

Inherent2

Sure, it’s maybe not everybody’s favorite movie of the year – better yet, it’s nowhere near being anybody’s favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie. However, all that said, it’s still a wild ride from beginning-to-end and always brings something interesting, compelling, and fun to the table. Whatever they all mean or add up to is sometimes left up in the air, but the adventure that Inherent Vice sets out to create, doesn’t need a clear resolution. All it needed was to allow everybody watching it to join in on the fun and see what the hell happens next.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

Galaxy3

Not just the best summer blockbuster of the year, but the best Marvel stand-alone since the first Iron Man. While it was hilarious at times, what made GOTG so unique and spectacular was that it had a handful of strange, totally out-of-this-world characters and made them as interesting as Tony Stark or Captain Rodgers ever were. You couldn’t even make the argument that having two mega-stars such as Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper voice characters and allowing for Batista, of all people, to play a character we actually see in life-like form was something of a gimmick, but man, it was one that worked like gangbusters whenever they were in the same room, talking, or blowing stuff up. Here’s to hoping that Marvel realizes that they’ve struck gold and stray away from making every other movie seem like the same.

4. Obvious Child

One of the “biggest-little surprises” I had the pleasure to see this year. While the plot may read like a terrible TV-sitcom that wouldn’t have even made it to pilot, the movie treats it as if it were like real-life, awkward warts and all. Because though it starts off like any other kind of comedy, a funny one at that, it surprisingly then turns into a lovely, emotional journey for a character who isn’t perfect, but still deserves some sort of love in her life, no matter what form it comes in. Speaking of said character, Jenny Slate is quite perfect in this role and totally shocked me as I had only known her as Jean Ralphio’s sister (or as “the girl who dropped the f-bomb on her first SNL skit“, but we like to forget about that). She nails every shade that this character has to offer and then some, making this whole film, as short as it may be, totally worth checking out and falling in love with.

3. Birdman

Birdman1

Not only does it feature possibly the best ensemble of the year, but also had one of the neatest, most compelling gimmicks of the whole entire year: It’s all one-shot. Or, that’s what it’s made out to seem like. Regardless, Birdman as a whole was incredibly well-done and continued to surprise its audience, whether it be through the aforementioned shooting-device, certain performances from people we don’t expect to see put in exceptional-work, or just the fact that someone like Alejandro González Iñárritu actually had a sense of humor. All of Birdman was chock full of surprises, but what mattered most, is that it constantly found new, original ways to tell its story and kept the ball rolling, no matter how many times a character’s life seemed to be too depressing. Because, honestly, that’s just Hollywood for ya.

2. Gone Girl

Gone3

Though I wasn’t initially expecting to put this one so high on the list, time served me right, and I realized that this was probably one of the more fun times I had at the movie theater this year. And without feeling guilty about being happy afterwards, either! So yeah, it was a win all around. Though many folks out there want to write this down as either a “pro-feminist” tale, or a “anti-woman” one, the fact remains – David Fincher owns just about every second of this movie. Not only is this a return to his old glory days where he seemed to have a good time directing whatever piece was in front of him, but he utilizes everybody at his disposal. Both Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are perfectly cast here, but it’s the odd, rather bizarre supporting cast that really won me over. Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Fugit, Kim Dickens, Casey Wilson (yes, girl from Happy Endings), Emily Ratajkowski (yes, girl from Blurred Lines video), Carrie Coon, and even Tyler Perry, are among the supporters who excel so well in this movie and leave their stamp. And if you can make Tyler Perry not insufferable and seem like he’s actually talented, then you sir, always deserve gratitude in my book.

1. Boyhood

Boyhood1

I know it’s an obvious choice for the number one spot, but honestly, how could I not choose this? It’s literally been 12-years-in-the-making, meaning that I too, have been waiting nearly 12 years for this to come out. And even better is the fact that it not only lived up to all of the hype its risky decision brought up, but it was the kind of movie after my own heart. Some people I know have complained to me about how it doesn’t seem like much is even happening in this movie, but that’s where they’re wrong; it’s life that’s happening. Sometimes you never know that it’s occurring because honestly, you’re too busy living it. Richard Linklater, for the second year in a row, has wowed me to where I can’t believe he hasn’t won any sort of Oscar yet. Depending on how this year’s Oscar race seems to be looking, it looks like his time may finally come. But even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have Boyhood – a beautiful, honest and wondrous tale of just growing up, and all of the perks that come along with it. Gosh. I wish I wasn’t an old-head.

So yeah, folks, that’s pretty much it! Thanks a lot for sticking with me in this past year (I know it wasn’t easy), and here’s to hoping that 2015 brings us all much joy and happiness!

Oh, and some good movies, too.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Wedding Ringer (2015)

When “Shout” just doesn’t get them out of their seats, always depend on tiny, black men.

Jimmy (Kevin Hart) provides best man services to those who need ones the most. In this case, it’s groom-to-be Doug (Josh Gad) who is not only in serious need of a best man, but also needs a whole group of other groomsmen to help give his fiancee (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) the impression that he actually has friends. Jimmy agrees, although he doesn’t typically do what some people in the biz call, “the Golden Tux”. Meaning that rather than just being there for his wedding day, Jimmy will now have to show his face off to the whole family and be there for nearly a week with Doug as he goes through all sorts of pre-wedding shenanigans. Though this is supposed to be on a strictly professional-basis, Jimmy begins to realize that maybe Doug actually deserves a good buddy like Jimmy after all, even if that totally goes against his codes and ethics. However, there may be bigger problems on both of their hands as it seems like Doug’s all-too-perfect wedding may not actually go according to plan, due to certain disputes he and his bride-to-be have been having so frequently as of late.

Of course they're all best-friends.

Of course they’re all best-friends.

For the second year in-a-row, on MLK weekend, Kevin Hart has a movie opening and that’s neither a good, or bad thing. More or less, it’s just a thing that allows one of the funnier talents working in Hollywood today, to constantly take up junk scripts and movies that don’t serve any other purpose to him other than to just allow for him to star in it, act like his lovable, goofy-self, and just reel in the dough. It worked with Ride Along, and from what it seems like, it’ll most likely work with the Wedding Ringer.

But for all the crap it gets thrown at it, Ride Along was a tad bit of a better movie, if only because it actually had a few big laughs to remember. Everything else about it was rubbish, or at least quite close to it, but when I got to revieiwing it and I thought long and hard, I remembered that there were a few moments where I actually laughed quite heartily. Less of that had to do with the script, and more of just Hart’s seemingly improvised antics, but theyu were laughs nonetheless. When a comedy is able to make me do that, then it definitely deserves some consideration from me – especially with a January one, no less.

However, that kind of movie isn’t the Wedding Ringer, although it tries very, very hard.

And honestly, that’s a damn shame because, on paper, everything about this movie should work. Kevin Hart’s normally funny with anything he touches; Josh Gad, when given the chance to do so, can be occasionally funny; Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is great-looking, but is also actually quite funny, even if she is still being apart of that grating show I will not speak of here and now; and the premise, as crazy as it may seem, does have some appeal to it in that it contains both a wedding. and partying. So yeah, seriously, what’s not to like?

For one, the movie just isn’t all that funny. There were maybe a few moments I maybe chuckled or at least thought I did, but overall, they came and went as they pleased and I didn’t think about them long after. Heck, even if I wanted to, I probably wouldn’t have remembered them in the first place; I just would have remembered that I chuckled and that was about it.

Secondly, the movie wastes its talented-cast. Hart, as expected, does get a few moments off the ground by just adding a huge amount of energy that may not have been needed, but is at least worth the effort because it has people laughing. However, that’s the extent of his appeal in here. The character he’s playing is already thinly-done as is, and then, once we’re introduced to his back-story and why he does what he does, in this case, act like a groom’s best-friend, it doesn’t really do much for him, or the movie as a whole. Sure, it’s nice to see that the movie’s at least trying on some level, but it doesn’t add anything special – it’s just uninteresting depth that hardly goes anywhere.

Notice how I didn't include Whitney Cummings at all in this review because NO.

Notice how I didn’t include Whitney Cummings at all in this review because NO.

Same goes for Gad’s character who has a bit more of sustainable depth surrounding him and his character, but is ultimately, just the kind of geek you see in these types of comedies, who they then try to shape, shift and change in so many which ways, that he becomes a whoring, blowing, and unabashed dick. Which would have been fine had the movie already introduced him as such, but as it turns out, the guy was actually quite sweet and lovable.

Actually, Gad and Hart both try here, more often than they probably ought to. Their chemistry may sometimes seem awkward and off-putting, but actually works when the movie focuses on how them two may, or may not, eventually end up become something of friends outside of this whole predicament. But honestly, this is just me grasping at straws here, because while the movie likes to think it’s really developing these characters and giving some heft to their interactions together, it’s just giving them even more painful-to-watch scenarios as they fall down, get hit with something, and come close to almost dying, only to then get right back up and continue to party on.

If only real life was actually like that.

But while Gad and Hart aren’t given much to do here, which is a shame, it’s even more of a shame that highly-talented supporting cast that they have on-display here aren’t really given much of a substance to do either. Cuoco-Sweeting (hate calling her that, but whatever) is initially sympathetic as the eventual-bride, but then, out of nowhere, we start to see her become more and more of an ego-maniacal a-hole and it not only seems like a manipulative way at creating some sort of conflict for the movie to then have a resolution for, but doesn’t really make sense for the way her and her character’s been acting for the past hour or so. And trust me, don’t even get me started on the fact that the likes of Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rodgers, Affion Crockett, Ken Howard (who actually has some funny moments as an old school racist and bigot), Jorge Garcia (yes, Hurley), and even, of all people, Olivia Thirlby. Why Thirlby would even bother taking up this kind of script is beyond me, but the fact that she doesn’t get anything more interesting to do than just sit around and be initially cautious of Jimmy and his whole act, just makes me think there may have been more going on behind-the-scenes with her.

Probably money. Poor girl.

Consensus: Despite the effort by mostly everyone, the Wedding Ringer just doesn’t give them enough to do, or even enough to make the audience actually laugh more than a handful of times.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

The B&W connection, baby. How it so deserves something better; something not in January.

The B&W connection, baby. How it so deserves something better; something not in January.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Blackhat (2015)

Can 2014’s “World Sexiest Man really be a hacker?

After both America and China are taken by surprise by a ruthless, controlling hacker whom decides to rob the banks of all their worth, both sides agree to work together. However, in order to work together peacefully and hopefully find whoever the hacker is and stop him at once, they might have to make a bit of a compromise: Allow for notorious network-hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to join in. While the U.S. is initially skeptical of doing this, because doing so, would also grant Nicholas furlough, as a result, they realize that the reward is greater than the risk, so they decide to allow Nicholas in on the investigation. And while, at first, it seems to be going according to plan, with them finding out who the hacker is and their location, they soon begin to realize that discovering the identity was the easy part; actually nabbing this person(s) once and for all, is still left to do. Which yes, means there’s going to be a lot of blood-shed and, quite possibly, many of lives lost. Still, it’s Nicholas who wants to stick to his intense hacking-skills to hopefully save the day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

It’s odd that Michael Mann hasn’t made a movie in nearly six years. But what’s even weirder is that, after all of this time, the movie that will ultimately make-up for his hiatus from the big screen, gets placed in the most deadly months of all movie month’s: January! While this doesn’t mean that every movie released in January, you know, without having already had an “awards-consideration” buzz beforehand, is downright rubbish, it just means that most of the time, the movies aren’t always the best of quality. Most of the time, it’s just the kind of movies that the major-studios want to get off their hands once and for all, in hopes that they’ll make some sort of profit in the meantime, although they aren’t really keeping the fingers crossed.

And while, since we’re being honest here Blackhat may not be the total exception to that rule, it’s still an alright crime-thriller that deserves to be seen if you need a little hope and sanity in a month like this. Or also, if you’ve just missed Michael Mann so nearly and dearly that you have to see what he’s been up to that’s had you waiting for the past five years since Public Enemies. Which, for me at least, made the wait seem a whole lot longer.

But I digress.

Since this is a Michael Mann production, it’s obvious to expect most of the trademarks that come along with that neat style of his; of course there’s going to be much use of the hand-held, digital-camera, an strange, retro-ish blend of colors, and a score that recalls the glory days of the Human League and Gary Numan, among many other of those New Wave-ish bands that I’m not too in love with, but are at least suitable for two hours or so. And while that style of his can be a tad too over-done at times, it still added a nice flair and pizzazz to a story that, quite frankly, needed plenty of it. Not just to help keep things alive and energetic for some of the viewers who might be dozing off, but to at least help keep things as simple as humanly possible, as hard of a task as that may have been.

Because, though Mann seems to be getting at somewhere with technology in the modern-age, which is, if you’ve left the cave you’ve been living under for the past few years, will understand that it’s an idea that’s as relevant as you’re going to get. Mann, by bringing up such tragedies like 9/11 and nuclear crisis’, seems like he’s trying to make a point about how technology has impacted our world more than we know it, and it’ll sometimes draw people into deep, dark and sadistic worlds that they don’t already expect themselves to be in. These deep, dark and sadistic worlds that I speak of, are the same kinds that Mann normally loves to explore, but here, it feels like he’s maybe trying a bit too hard to make this more than just a silly, sometimes over-the-top crime-thriller that has Thor banging on the keyboards a lot.

In fact, while I’m on the subject, I might as well begin to speak about Chris Hemsworth and just say, despite his obvious effort in the matter, he isn’t the right fit for this role as a slick, sly and cool technology-hacker. Sure, he gets the slick, sly, and cool aspect down perfectly, as you’d expect him to, but he just seems too hunky enough to really be taken seriously as a guy who apparently knows all sorts of network’s codes and maps by heart. Also, not to mention the fact that since his character is American, he’s forced to use this accent that is so odd, I wonder where Mann would have said he was from, had the character’s place-of-origin really been that important to know about. This isn’t me hating on Hemsworth for being everything that I could ever want in my life (it is true), because I’ve actually come close to loving him in plenty of other movies, it’s just that here, he isn’t right.

Yeah! That's what I'm talking about, baby!

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about, baby! More! More! More!

That’s less of his fault and more of Mann’s, but so be it.

Anyway, that aside, the movie’s still fun and seems like, when it gets the intensity going, it’s as exciting as you’ll get with a Michael Mann movie – bullets are flying every which way but loose, people are getting shot, blood is being drawn, and most of all, it’s all done so in Mann’s trademark slo-mo. Once again, a lot of this movie gets style-points for whenever Mann just does his thing, but it’s when he decides to go a bit deeper with this story, it’s meaning, and how all the mechanics get worked out in the end, he more than often stumbles. Which isn’t to say a movie that uses hacking so often is automatically going to get points off from me, because I’m too stupid and clearly don’t get anything that have to do with computers or internet-connections (I still use dial-up, people). No, it’s more so when you throw so many random curveballs at your audience, without ever explaining how they are done, and are only used to keep the story moving, then I have a bit of a problem. I’ll get on any movie’s case for it. However, it just so happens that the one movie’s case I’m getting on is Michael Mann’s first in a long time.

Welcome back, Michael. Hope you stay around some more and at least make some better movies.

Consensus: Though it thinks it’s smarter than it ought to, Blackhat still works best whenever Michael Mann is allowing for all sorts of violence to blow-up and hopefully get past a poorly-cast, but trying, Chris Hemsworth.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Swear I wasn't looking. Okay, fine, maybe.....

Swear I wasn’t looking. Okay, fine, maybe…..

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Insider (1999)

Just another reason why cigarettes are not good for you.

The true story of how the commentator of 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), and his producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) were black-balled into dumping a segment on tobacco industry defector Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), because CBS execs were in the midst of a multi-billion dollar merger with the corporation that owned Wigand.

Anybody who hears the name “Michael Mann”, automatically thinks of a high-tech, energized-up mofo that did epic-thrillers such as Collateral and Heat. In fact, I’m one of those people considering I think those are the only two films he truly kicks ass with. However, my mind has officially been blown by what he’s able to do with a straight-forward story where I don’t think a single shot is fired. Except for when it’s people actually getting fired themselves.

What Mann does so perfectly here with this story is that he take his time with it. Everything starts off rather mysterious if you aren’t already familiar with the true story this movie is based on, but it’s also very thrilling where we don’t know where this story’s going to go, how it’s going to go, and what’s going to set it off. Thankfully, after about the first 15 minutes, we realize what type of story we’ve stumbled upon and that’s when everything starts to become clearer and more understandable to take in, but by the same token, still mysterious. We know that the walls are going to drop eventually, but as a matter of when and where is what’s really interesting.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter because the characters were given to watch are already interesting enough as is.

Most of the Insider is concerning a bunch of evil people, talking about evil things, and actually doing most of those evil things that they discuss. Granted, this may not sound like the most exciting thing in the whole world, but Mann makes it so. The whole film is one tense ride from start-to-finish where twists come absolutely out of nowhere, but they make sense and keep the story moving on and on until it reaches it’s breaking-point. Every single shot/scene in this flick seems like it actually means something and furthers the story, rather than just being placed in there for a time-killer and to add more exposition to a story that was filled with it already in the first place. It’s over two-and-a-half hours, and while that would normally kill me, this time, it doesn’t. Hell, I don’t even know how this could have been shorter! Nearly two-hours and forty-minutes seems like the perfect amount of time for Mann to give us a story, where almost nobody does the right thing, and still be able to keep our attention glued onto the screen.

Bravo, Mr. Mann. Bravo.

As entertaining and tense as this story may be, the emotional-level of this film didn’t fully connect with me, and I think that has something to do with some of the characters here. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to really feel bad for anybody in this flick as they all do bad things that better themselves and nobody else, but there was a certain amount of disconnect that I was feeling with everybody that came off as a bit too dreary. The only person that could be considered remotely sympathetic and actually good, is Wigand, and even he comes off as a bit of a jerk that sort of screwed the pooch on himself this time and should have just done the right thing, rather than put himself, and everybody else around him in jeopardy. Then again, the guy had a story to tell and it just goes to show you that not everything in this movie, let alone life, is as cut-and-dry as some people make it out to be.

Going along with that last point, I feel as if the whole story behind the actual story, lacked any type of real feeling. This is, as I put it up above, a story about how 60 Minutes got sued and was almost bought out for millions and millions of dollars by a huge corporation, but even that said corporation has an interesting story to tell; one that never fully grows to get you as excited as when 60 Minutes begins to get hit hard in their pockets. This could have really twisted everything up and got us, the audience, rooting for the home team the whole time, but just had us sitting there, and watching it with barely any feelings or emotions left still intact. Maybe this is just a weird problem I had and nobody else, but so be it.

A lot of people that see this flick will probably not only be surprised by how freakin’ tense this movie is, but by also how Al Pacino doesn’t really get into his infamous “insane-o mode” that we all know, and sometimes, love him for. Instead, his character, Lowell Bergman, is more of a straight-man to everything else that’s going on around him; keeping his cool, and not really having much to talk about or keep at-stake, other than what he gives everybody else around him, his “word”. It’s a character who doesn’t seem all that interesting right from the start, as he’s mostly content with just sitting around and letting the wheels turn as they go, but eventually begins to build more of an arch as the film continues. This makes it even better to see Pacino actually playing it subtle for once, and still be able to garner the same emotions he would if he was all coked-up and shooting the shit out of people. But don’t let that fool you, he still has a freak-out here or two, and they’re both pretty awesome.

"You talkin' to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to."

“You talkin’ to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to.”

God, why did this guy have to do freakin’ Jack and Jill?

Playing opposite of him, Russell Crowe gives one of his finer performances as the strange, but compelling technician that starts this whole shit-storm in the first place, Jeffrey Wigand. Crowe is great here as Wigand because the guy has to go through a lot in terms of emotions and feelings, and Crowe pulls it all off with ease. The guy does seem very sympathetic as he’s the only person who seemingly does the right thing and the whole time we are left sitting there, watching as his whole life comes crashing down, without him ever being able to recuperate. It’s pretty sad to watch at times, and makes you wonder just how the hell this Wigand guy kept his cool and didn’t end up taking a leap off the Brooklyn Bridge for good measure. My only complaint about Crowe here isn’t really a bad thing about the movie, it’s just more that he plays this role, almost the same in every movie where he stars as a middle-class, American man. Not a huge complaint, but still something that’s obvious when you look at any other Crowe film where he practically plays a regular guy, with a more than less-than-regular problem brewing up inside of him.

The other performance that really took me by surprise was Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace. Plummer plays Wallace as your stereotypical, high-class dick that demands respect and wants everything done his own way, even though he doesn’t really contribute much except for asking a person a bunch of dumb, meaningless questions most of the time. Still, the character comes full-circle by the end of it all and shows that Plummer was, and still is able to, convey all types of heartfelt emotions out of any character he plays and it’s another reminder as to why this guy was long over-due an Oscar win. Everybody else in this film do superb jobs, as well, but these are three that continue to come to mind when I think of the exact stand-outs.

Consensus: Though it is, essentially, a two-hour-and-40-minute flick dedicated to a bunch of unsympathetic people, talking about doing unsympathetic things, the Insider is still one hell of a thrill-ride that asks the right questions, portrays them the right way, and still has us thinking about what was right, and what was wrong even after it’s all done.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

After these comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

After certain comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Thief (1981)

That “one last job”, never quite is.

Frank (James Caan) is your typical crook in the early 80’s, who’s just trying to make right with his life. He owns a used-car shop, has a girl (Tuesday Weld) that he’s trying to settle down with, and on the side, does a little bit of jewel-thievery. However, he’s an honest guy and doesn’t hurt anybody, so there can’t be much of a problem with taking another job from a head honcho in the Chicago mob (Robert Prosky), right? Well, Frank doesn’t believe so but he’s about to find out that you don’t just take the mob’s money and expect to go on about your day and act as if it never happened. You have commitments and you’re practically “part of the gang”, something that Frank does not run too well with.

Michael Mann hasn’t made a flick quite in some time and it makes you wonder one thing, why? I mean, granted, Public Enemies was no work of art to end-off with and Miami Vice was even worse, but everything else before is what most of us call close to being “a masterpiece” or at least something along those lines. I’ve seen most of Mann’s flicks and each and every one has done something for me in a positive way, even if they don’t always work when you take into consideration the decades that they were made in, but still, the guy had a style, the guy had a feel, the guy had a look, and the guy sure as hell knew how to tell a story, especially if that story consisted of dudes pulling off crimes, shooting one another, and cursing a shit-ton.

That Michael Mann, man.

"Oh no! I ain't getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!"

“Oh no! I ain’t getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!”

To be honest though, as much as I’ve heard overly positive things about this flick, I’ve never really brought myself to even bother with it. It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested, it’s just because 80’s movies don’t usually work for me like they do with some peeps. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Miami Vice (the TV show), I’m not a huge fan of New Wave, and I’m sorry, but the synths have to go! Probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to liking the 80’s, was GTA: Miami Vice which will always go down as one of the crowning moments in my life where not only did I realize I was a geek, but a geek that knew who A Flock of Seagulls were. Aw yeah. Times were good for 11-year-old Dan the Pre-Man, and then I grew up and realized that the 80’s blew. Then again, the 21st Century that I’m growing up in ain’t much better, so what the hell do I know, right?

Anyway, personal problems aside, I decided to see what Mann was up to with one of his first theatrical-releases and needless to say, it lived up to all of the expectations I’ve gathered from all of the other reviews of this movie I’ve been seeing, and then some. I won’t go so far as to call this “a masterpiece” like some peeps have, but I will go so far as to say that if you love crime movies, this is the movie you need to see right away, especially if you like your crime movies with an extra-dosage of style, color, and Tangerine Dream. Don’t worry, they’re on my shit-list, too.

And yes, you could say that some parts of Mann’s flick is dated, considering that the 80’s were lame, despite them thinking they were cool-as-hell. The score does become a bit over-bearing at times; people say certain pieces of lingo that feels put-on, rather than actually genuine; and the violence could have been a little less used with the slo-mo, but overall, this flick still kicks ass after all of these years. That’s mostly because Mann knows the type of story he wants to make, which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from most crime films located in the same vein. Rather than going for convention and making this a story about one dude pulling-off his last job and the problems with the mobsters he has to deal with, it’s actually more about the problem he has with facing himself and what he has to do for a living. Frank is the type of character that knows he can do so much better with his life, whether it be by settling down, raising a family, and being a loyal husband, but knows that the only way for him to be successful and prosperous in America is to make money at what you do best, even if that does mean robbing and stealing jewelry from high-class vaults. Hey, do what you’re good at, and leave it at that!

It’s more of an inner-battle that Frank with his own set of skills and the human being he can be, rather than the outer-battle with these bastards from the mob. That later-conflict does come into the flick, but comes in later once all of Frank’s stones have been set and we’ve gotten a clearer picture of who this guy is and how he functions as a human specimen. Mann goes for the humane-aspect of this character, but the approach wouldn’t have worked as perfectly had it not been for Caan in the lead role, pulling off one of his best of all-time.

Yep, that’s saying something for the same dude who played Sonny and even Walter Hobbs, if you really want to get all “commercial” with it.

Caan’s always been that actor who’s been putting out great pieces of work across-the-board for decades now, but never really gets the time to shine like he used to. You could say that has something to do with age or the fact that he’s apparently been considered “difficult” to work with, but I just say it’s a damn shame because the man shows us that he can work with any role, whether it be an generally nice guy, or a sympathetic crook who knows what he is and is trying to make something good come out of it. Caan plays Frank perfectly because you always know that there’s more to this guy and that you can always count on him to do the right thing, even if it is just for himself and not for the others around him. Hey, I didn’t say the guy was perfect, just human; that’s all.

But I think people out there reading this will think it’s nothing more than a character-study, with some guns and bullets thrown into the mix. And if you do think that, then you’re not entirely wrong; just know that the flick is pretty damn tense and gets very bloody, very quick, especially once everything starts to hit the fan, big time. Mann is the type of director that can make any plot begin to sizzle and boil just by giving us enough time to let all of the details and feelings settle in, and once that happens here, it’s balls to the walls with him, these characters, this story, and Mann’s sense of style. It’s an 80’s-style, but Mann was the king at it, so watching the king do his work ain’t half-bad if you don’t mind me saying so.

He's straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball'd it up.

He’s straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball’d it up.

The rest of the cast all let Cann do his show and pull it off with flying colors, but they all get to show their skills as well and not get thrown in the background for too long. Tuesday Weld is great as Jessie, Frank’s gal, because she gives us an understandable reason as to why she would want to be with and stay with someone like Frank, and even makes us believe that she could stand up for herself if push came to shove as well. The final scene between her and Frank is a very emotional one, one that took me by surprise because it’s so unexpected, yet, so heartfelt in the sense that it connects two people that we know love each other and are together throughout the whole film, and still shows their dedication and love to one another. Hell, I’m tearing up now just typing it.

The late, great Robert Prosky is very good as Leo, the main mobster that gets Frank’s the jobs and everything and seems like he’s a bit too nice and modest to be such a powerful-figure in the crime world, but once you see his true colors, you begin to realize that the guy is a mean, sick son-of-a-bitch who’s toes you should not step on. Also, he’s a Philly boy and I always have to give out love for that! You’ll also have to be on the look-out from smaller, younger roles from the likes of Denis Farina, Jim Belushi, and William Petersen, who all do fine, but also let Caan do his show, as promised and deserved.

Consensus: Some of it may be dated, but overall, Thief still works as not just an exciting crime-thriller, but an interesting character-study of a person we don’t know if we should root for, all because of how greatly Caan portrays him.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"You got the weed, or what?"

“You got the weed, or what?”

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