Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)

Video-games should just stay as such.

When he was recruited at an early age, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) was forced to become a ruthless, emotionless and unforgiving killer. For whatever shady reasons they may have been, he was basically trained to be an assasin, and through plenty of genetic defects given to him over the years, the powers that be have ensured that there’d be no distractions for Agent 47, so that he could keep his eyes on the prize and the job, no matter what may have gotten in his way. Now though, many years into the program and out into the field, he’s assigned a mission where he must use his skills to team with a mysterious young woman (Hannah Ware) to take down the evil Syndicate. For some reason, the said Syndicate wants this mysterious woman and Agent 47, but at the same time, they also want to use the technology used in Agent’s program to build their own army of enemy ruthless, highly-trained killers. Now, being forced with a dilemma, Agent 47 has to think of what’s best for him, this mysterious woman, as well as the rest of the world, considering it’s not just him who will be affected, but the rest of society and if the evil Syndicate has it their way, then the rest of the planet will be bowing down to them.

He can run.

He can run.

Honestly, we probably didn’t need Hitman movie in the first place and we sure as hell didn’t need a reboot made some eight years later, but here we are now. Not only do we have one lame Hitman movie, but we have another one that wastes another talented cast, on material that could be somewhat promising for a movie, but once again, like most other video-game movie adaptations, still suffers from the problems that there’s just no way certain material from a video-game, no matter how good or fun it may be, can translate to the big screen. Sure, you could make the argument that Prince of Persia was at least serviceable, but if that’s the bar, then it’s not a very big one.

And Hitman: Agent 47 doesn’t reach that same bar, but it still shows signs of trying to.

For one, the action-sequences of the movie are very good and feel very much in place with the actual video-game itself. They’re fun, exciting and silly, just as a movie based on a video-game should be. Same goes for the rest of the movie, that not only looks slick and pretty, but also feels like it exists in this imaginary world where people are downright evil and/or plain and simply good; though this is completely over-the-top, weird and unbelievable, the movie is, like I’ve said, based on a video-game, so it makes sense that the world it depicts would not be the same one you or I live in nowadays.

That’s why, for the longest time, all plot-issues aside, I was willing to give Hitman: Agent 47 the benefit of the doubt; it may not be the best movie, but as a late-summer blockbuster, it’s got some fun to it. But really, after awhile, it all goes away once we realize that there’s actually no story to this thing, nor is there actually any characters worth caring about or getting invested in. You could make the clear argument that in some video-games, like in Hitman, you don’t actually care about the characters, their development, or plot progressions, like as you would with a movie, and are more concerned with just getting to the next level and looking cool and skilled in front of your fellow pals, but I’d have to disagree with that. Certain legendary games like Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Max Payne, and yes, even Hitman, all have certain qualities to them that make it clear that, if anybody wanted to, they’d have enough material for a well-done, interesting and compelling movie, but for some reason, the promise has been lost in the jumble.

Of course, Assassin’s Creed won’t be coming out until later this year so we don’t know how it’ll turn out, Max Payne‘s movie was pretty lame (if a bit of a guilty pleasure for yours truly), and there will probably never, ever be a Grand Theft Auto movie if those within Rockstar Games are still alive and breathing, but the two movies of Hitman, although containing some fine and fun action, still don’t have the right story or character-development to help the movies work fully. And even though there is quite a few action-sequences here in Hitman that do the trick, there’s still not enough to ensure that the fans of the video-game will be able to get by and be happy with; there’s a lot of down time that’s focused on the backstory of Agent 47, his childhood, and just exactly what this shady agency is all up to, but really, it’s all quite boring and just seems placed in here for some perspective. Had these elements been done with at least a little more effort, there wouldn’t have been such a problem, but sadly, it’s just kind of boring and uninteresting.

He can pull out duel-pistols.

He can pull out duel-pistols.

Not at all like the game.

Which is a shame because, given the cast involved, there should be more material here to help make things better. Rupert Friend plays a cold-blooded assassin here, like he does on Homeland, but because this one is far more closed-off from the rest of the world, as well as to himself, he does a lot of brooding and staring – none of which are actually ever compelling. Friend tries, don’t get me wrong, but he’s clearly working with material that’s limited him to just doing certain emotions and leaving it at that. Hannah Ware is pretty, but really, her character is here just to keep the plot moving and that’s about it.

The one I’m most definitely surprised to see here is Zachary Quinto. Quinto’s actually a pretty interesting actor who will, of course, take the occasional mainstream role in something like Star Trek or What’s Your Number, but also has a pretty solid work in lower-key films like Margin Call, or in TV shows like the surprisingly great the Slap, Hannibal, and most especially, Girls. So that’s why, to see him in something as lazy and uninspired as this, you have to wonder: Just how much of a financial bind was he in? Did he think there was something inherently interesting about his villainous character that just ticked his fancy way too much to turn away? Or, was he just so desperate for any sort of money he could scrounge up for the summer? Whatever the answer may be, I’m not sure, but it’s a shame to see him here, even though he is giving it his all.

Something that I wish those behind the actual movie decided to try and do, too.

Consensus: Another video-game, another lame film adaptation, Hitman: Agent 47 works well when it’s kicking butt, taking names and not bothering asking any questions, but when it tries to focus on other aspects that make movies good, like plot, or characters, or emotions, it breaks and reminds us why the video-game itself is so entertaining to play in the first place.

3.5 / 10 

He can even beat up Spock. Hell, Agent 47 can do just about anything.

He can even beat up Spock. Hell, Agent 47 can do just about anything.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

No Escape (2015)

White people should just stay home, apparently.

After disappointing in the states, Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) takes his family on a business trip to a foreign country where he hopes to not only impress his wife (Lake Bell), but also get out of this work-slump that he’s been in since the recession of 2008. However, little does Jack know that the native residents of this foreign land don’t take kindly to people like Jack, nor do they take kindly to the water company that Jack represents. So, without him really knowing, Jack and his family is being targeted for representing America and its selfish, rude ways of sticking their nose into other countries’ business that they don’t need to be bothered with in the first place. While Jack, nor his wife really have any experience in kicking ass, or taking names, what they do have with them is the will to live, as well as the inspiration in making sure that their two daughters survive this hell-zone. Because even though they don’t know where to go, or even how this is all going to end, they are, most definitely, going to try and get out of this situation with a fight.

Owen Wilson. aka, All-American Daddy.

Owen Wilson. aka, All-American Daddy.

Even if it comes close to killing them.

For a good portion of its running-time, No Escape is actually a damn solid thriller. Director John Erick Dowdle starts things off nice and slowly by introducing us to these characters, the gritty, but odd scenery they’re thrown into, and lets all of the craziness happen, but doesn’t over-do it. Once Owen Wilson’s character goes out for the morning newspaper, there’s a slight chill of discomfort in the air; it’s almost as if we, yes, know that something bad is going to happen, but because Wilson’s character is such a middle-class boob and clearly has no idea what to do in the face of violence, we’re already in-suspense and waiting to see what goes down. Then, the movie focuses on what’s going on with Lake Bell’s character, her two daughters, and the hotel that they’re staying at, and instead of just being tense and somewhat fun, it’s now absolutely terrifying.

Because really, what No Escape wants to be, is a real-life thriller that makes you feel like, if you were given the same misfortune as these characters to be stuck in the same situation, that you’d have no clue what to do either. Rather than having a bunch of pre-calculated, James Bond-like ways of thinking and gadgets to save yourself from an angry hoard of killers, you’re just a simpleton who may have no actual prior experience with violence or tense situations such as these. So therefore, you have to act on intuition, as well as your gut-feeling and this can sometimes lead to the dumbest, perhaps most risky decisions you could make, but because you want to live, and want those that you love to live, too, you’re willing to do whatever it takes, no matter what.

This is perhaps the biggest fear that No Escape taps into and it’s why, for at least the first 45 minutes, it’s a solid action-thriller that puts you directly in the shoes of its protagonists and makes you actually believe that, well, this could actually happen to you.

Of course, a lot of the movie is completely far-fetched and a bit silly, but at the same time, it’s interesting to see how the movie switches the idea around of racism being against white people, and no other race or color. A lot of people have called No Escape “racist” and “ignorant” for not naming its supposed “villains”, or being more descriptive in just who it is that they represent (are they Cambodians?), but really, it’s doing something that not many other blockbusters in the same vein do and that’s focusing on white people being targeted for the color of their skin and how, no matter how hard they try, they can never be taken in as innocent.

Sound familiar?

James Bond is probably the right guy you want on your side in a situation like this.

James Bond is probably the right guy you want on your side in a situation like this.

Well, that’s because it definitely should and it makes me wonder why so much of No Escape, while occasionally smart, if anything, intriguing, also seems to fall apart. For example, the movie really wants to throw the grisly, heinous violence in our faces, which is fine, but by the same token, also wants us to see this movie as something of a cheery flick about sticking together as a unit, regardless of what trepidations stand in your way. While there’s no problem with this message to begin with, in a movie as dirty and disgusting as No Escape, it almost feels like a cheat – kind of like Dowdle himself couldn’t come up with the right tone to tie everything together.

That’s why, after a solid hour or so, No Escape starts to get, not just very silly, but very messy, trying to make sense of its violence, add some context, and most importantly, act as if it’s “important”, when in reality, it’s not. If anything, No Escape is just another shoot-em-up action-thriller, that also happens to take a ripped-from-the-headlines circumstance and give it a realistic treatment – anything added, honestly, feels unnecessary and silly. After all, this is the same movie that features Owen Wilson chucking his two daughters from one fifteen-story building to another, and hardly encountering any strength problems or injuries in the process.

Then again, it’s pretty interesting to see Owen Wilson in this kind of role and it also calls into question just how much thought may have actually gone into No Escape. While the movie could have easily cast a Jason Statham, or a Tom Cruise, or hell, even a Matt Damon in the role and act as if they’re just the everyday man pushed to the brink, the movie actually goes so far as to cast somebody as plain, ordinary, and dorky as Wilson, which works in helping it make it seem like this character has no clue what he’s getting himself into, or how to get out of it. Same goes for Lake Bell, who does get a tad annoying with her constantly pushing and bothering Wilson, but doesn’t get in the way as much.

If anything, however, the one character I’d probably like to see get his own movie is Pierce Brosnan’s Hammond, a variation on James Bond, that’s perhaps more realistic. Not only is the man wiser beyond his years, but he’s also a nice guy who can strike up a conversation about anything and generally seems to know what he’s talking about, regardless of what the topic may be. At the same time, however, there’s this idea that the guy can’t be messed with and what this does, whenever his presence is felt, makes you feel all warm, cozy and safe inside, even if you know full well, that it may not even matter.

Something we want to feel with James Bond, but come on – the guy’s too busy getting laid half of the time!

 

Consensus: One-half a surprisingly effective, if ugly-looking thriller, No Escape starts off strong, but soon dives into trying to take on a bit more than it can chew and lose itself in unexpectedness hokiness.

6 / 10

You can run, you can hide, but no matter what, there's no escape!

You can run, you can hide, but no matter what, there’s no escape!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Lady in the Van (2015)

More people need to listen to Matt Foley.

During the 70’s and 80’s of London, playwright and occasional actor Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) was in desperate need of some sort of inspiration in his life. And not just for writing either – also, he was looking for a reason to love another person and not just have wild one night stands with all sorts of usual suspects from in and around the area. His inspiration comes, however, it’s in the form of a homeless woman named Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith); a smart, but quick-witted lady who, unsurprisingly, lives in her van. While Miss Shepherd starts off by living in the street of Bennett’s neighborhood, after some time, and plenty of ordinances and tickets from local law enforcement, she moves into Bennett’s driveway where she also starts to use his toilet and poke her nose into his business. This eventually leads Bennett himself to start looking into Miss Shepherd’s life, her past, and the exact reasoning for why she decided to live all by herself in a van for all of these years. Because obviously, no person in their right mind would want to live in a dirty, smelly and disgusting van for the later-part of their life, so what’s the reason? Well, Bennett looks to find out and is surprised to hear the answers when they come around.

She's smart...

She’s smart…

Despite what the title may have you believe, the Lady in the Van isn’t really actually about “the lady in the van”; in fact, it’s more about the person who wrote the book and had to experience the titled-character, author Alan Bennett. And to prove this, the movie doesn’t just who the story being told from Bennett’s perspective, but also uses this awkward, unneeded plot-mechanism where instead of getting one Bennett telling the story, we get another. The reason director Nicholas Hytner uses this is to show us the two combating sides of Bennett; one of the sides, is “the writer” who constantly thinks and toggles with the idea of what to write about what happened or didn’t happen, and then, there’s “the human”, who actually does a lot of the actions he’s thinking about doing to begin with.

The only reason I discuss this and show this off, is because it’s not only annoying every time it shows up, but completely silly. Sure, we get that Bennett is a writer and is in desperate need of some great, big story to carry him through the next few years of his life, but do we really need to hear or be shown his every single, little thought that goes through his head? Can’t we just see it all play-out? Or better yet, make up our own conclusions of what’s going through his mind at said point in the story?

Of course we can, but the Lady in the Van, the movie itself, doesn’t really hold that much subtlety.

Which isn’t to say that Maggie Smith, perhaps the best thing about the Lady in the Van, truly is lovely and adorable playing said lady who lives in the van. As usual, Smith always has some sort of smart-remark to make at the expense of someone else, and allows for her keen observations to run wild, but there’s more to this character that does in fact make her interesting. We get to hear more about her past life and while none of it is as developed as it probably should have been, the movie still gives Smith plenty of chances to pick up most of the slack and do something magical with this character.

Then again, though, the movie isn’t totally about her – it’s about Bennett, his life, and his experience with this lady living in the van.

...sassy...

…sassy…

Which really, isn’t such a bad thing, because Bennett himself, as well as his relationship with the lady living in the van, is actually quite interesting. For one, the movie never makes Bennett out to be some sort of latter-day saint who took this old lady into his home, washed her, fed her, and gave her the kind of sympathy and shelter she oh so desired – instead, the movie shows him as kind of a closed-off dick who, yes, may be a bit sympathetic to her cause, but is in no way opening his arms anytime soon. But for some reason, that doesn’t sympathetic or unsympathetic, just human and it’s frustrating to see the movie constantly confuse itself with the two factors and not know what to do or say about the character.

It should also be noted that Alex Jennings is actually good in the role of Bennett, someone who may deserve a better movie than the one he’s been given here. Because even when it isn’t focusing on Bennett’s, or Miss Shepherd’s life, the movie tries hard to be cute and sweet, but also loses itself in thinking it’s too much of that, and forget to actually develop the story itself. As I said before, there’s some form of mystery surrounding Miss Shepherd and her shady, unknown past, but the movie doesn’t really go too far in detailing that anymore than just a few clues here and there; not that I minded watching Maggie Smith be grumpy to those around her, but after the eighth or ninth scene in a row of seeing that happen, it got to be a bit tiring and all of a sudden, I remembered that there was a story to be told here that, believe it or not, wasn’t actually being told.

Then again, maybe the actual story of the Lady in the Van wasn’t all that eventful to begin with. That this is a true story, it already calls into question the authenticity of what’s being presented, as well as how much actually holds up when in the court of all. After all, the true story of this whole thing could have just been that Miss Shepherd was a grumpy, old homeless woman who was, of course, smelly, but also, was mean to a lot of those around her. Whether any of them deserved it or not, the movie never really gets into, but it makes you think just if there was anything more to this woman, or her story, than where’s it at?

Or is this just it? Probably is, but oh well.

Consensus: The Lady in the Van definitely receives assistance from the fine performances of Jennings and Smith, but really, it’s messy narrative-structure and plot-devices don’t come together well enough to give them a movie worthy of their talent.

5.5 / 10

...and yes, an old woman. So of course she's like some fun. Who doesn't?!?!

…and yes, an old woman. So of course she’s like some fun. Who doesn’t?!?!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Anesthesia (2016)

AnesthesiaposterLife sucks on so many fronts.

Professor Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston) is coming up on his last day of teaching after nearly 40 years and now, he’s starting to put a lot of his life into perspective. His son, Adam (Tim Blake Nelson), is going through an issue of his own when he finds out that his wife has cancer and needs to have surgery immediately. Meanwhile, a student of Walter’s (Kristen Stewart), is dealing with and trying to come to terms with her depression, that can sometimes lead her to deadly and dangerous thoughts. While this is happening, Sarah (Gretchen Mol), a suburban housewife is getting tired of her husband running around on her and leaving her with the kids, which is when she starts to think long and hard about what it is that she wants to do with her life, or if she even wants to stay married in the first place. Then, there’s Joe (K. Todd Freeman), an acclaimed writer who is now suffering from an addiction to heroin; one that his brother (Michael K. Williams) wants to resolve and fix as soon as possible. And then there’s Sam (Corey Stoll) and Nicole (Mickey Sumner) a couple who, for some odd reason, are out on a trip where they talk about life, love and what their current situation is.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

So yeah, as you can tell, there’s a lot going on in Anesthesia, and while it may seem like none of the stories have anything to do with the other, once time begins to roll on, it’s easy to piece together the pieces of familial-tree in which we can see why this story is being told and what their overall significance is to the story. Does it really work? Not really, but writer/director Tim Blake Nelson, gives it all that he’s got, offering us a handful of stories that can occasionally spark interest and life into a pretty depressed tone, but still sometimes feel like there’s a whole lot missing.

For instance, the main story here is Waterston’s Walter character who, having seen plenty of the world and done a lot for the young, impressionable youth out there, has finally come to terms with the fact that his career is coming to an end. Waterston, as well as the rest of the ensemble, is great here and clearly gives this character his all, but he’s really the only fully-developed character here as we get to see everything about this guy, without any questions left up in the air as to why he is, the way he is. Everybody else, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky and it’s a bit of a shame because, once again, Nelson’s got a lot going on here that’s, on the surface, intriguing, but is all put together and cobbled-up in an-hour-and-a-half movie, that no plot seems to get as much attention as they should.

Even the ones that are, perhaps, the most compelling of all, still have to side the bench for some stories that are far more dull and boring.

One of the later stories in question is Kristen Stewart’s in which she doesn’t do much except look sad, act a bit crazy and question life’s meaning. That’s about it. Considering that Stewart has been showing more and more promise as an actress in the past year or so, it’s a bit of a shame that she’s given such a limited-role to work with here, but once again, it’s less of her fault, as much as it’s Nelson’s for giving it to her and not getting rid of it all completely. And this would have definitely been a smart idea, so long as it meant that there was more room for such stories like Stoll’s and Sumner’s – both of whom are fantastic here and, quite frankly, I’d love to see in their own movie, removed from all of the other sadness going on around here.

And really, the only reason I’m focusing so much on these subplots, is because that’s all the movie is made-up of, without much rhyme or reason. Nelson, from what it seems, is only trying to tell us, with Anesthesia, that life is connected in some sad, utterly depressing ways.

And yeah, that’s about it.

You too, Glen!

You too, Glen!

We get this and understand this clearly from the very beginning and while it’s still interesting to see how some of these small stories play-out in their own, mini ways, there’s still a feeling that a lot is being left out. Of course, having to deal with such a huge cast, Nelson himself probably ran into scheduling issues and couldn’t get each and every actor in the movie together for one scene, but that wasn’t as much of my problem, as much as it was that some weak stories, got in the way of the more engaging, stronger ones, leaving a good portion of Anesthesia to feel as if it’s constantly starting and stopping back up. While it’s admirable that Nelson doesn’t shine a judgmental light on any of these characters, at the same time, there’s only so much we can handle when watching certain characters not do anything of interest, just sit there, argue and talk about things we don’t really have any prior knowledge about.

In ways, the movie can sometimes feel like we’re walking into a party late, only to then realize that either everybody’s been acquainted, too drunk, or already friends with one another, to the point where you almost don’t want to bother introducing yourself or joining in on the fun. You’ve already shown up later than everyone else, they’re now looking at you and they don’t really care because, honestly, they’re getting on fine just without you. Of course, the actual viewing-experience of Anesthesia isn’t as harsh as I may write it out to be, but it is still, in no way, a party you want to be apart of or fully invested in.

Maybe eavesdropping or scoping out from across the room is fine, but that’s about it.

Consensus: Given the cast and crew involved, Anesthesia should hit harder than it does, but instead, focuses on a slew of subplots that can occasionally engage, but never fully-developed.

5 / 10

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

Michael Bay: A true American.

On the evening of the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2012, a huge group of Islamic militants were angry and upset for obvious reasons and decided to attack the American diplomatic compound, that was, at the time, holding U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. However, they didn’t just top there, they soon went onto target a nearby CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya, which was supposed to be super, duper top secret, but for some reason, got leaked out because of some lookie-loos. And even though they weren’t supposed to get involved in the first place, and told constantly to “stay-put and not leave their post” a bunch of CIA security contractors decide that it’s their time to shine and end this brutality and violence before it gets too late and crazy for anyone to stop it. Issue is, it already is too late and now it’s not only up to these CIA security contractors to risk their lives, but to also ensure that they save the U.S. Ambassador.

He's a hero.

He’s a hero.

And yeah, the rest as they say, is well-known history.

Michael Bay loves the absolute hell out of America. So, it makes sense that he would actually take time out of his busy schedule of robots beating the hell out of one another, oiled-up dudes, and general misogyny, and give us, as he probably likes people calling it, “a heartfelt tribute to the soldiers of Benghazi, as well as those who put their lives on the line for the greater-good of society.” And don’t worry, this isn’t me taking a stance on who is to blame for what happened at Benghazi, nor what could have been done better to prevent anything of that nature from happening at all, because really, the true story is about the soldiers who decided to take-up arms and protect their fellow friends and allies, even if it was absolutely clear that they were out-numbered and most likely, not going to make it out alive.

Which, yes, means that this subject calls for some very overly-patriotic, preachy moments where America’s soldiers look like true heroes, in the midst of all the blood, carnage and chaos – which is what Bay absolutely delivers on. And while this is something we expect from him in an cringe-inducing way, here, it actually works because well, these were real people and they do deserve to have the spotlight shined on them for what it is that they did, regardless of what your political affiliation may be. Even though Bay does make each and everyone of them seem like perfect human beings who have lovely wives, kids, dogs, and personalities, it’s still easy to get past because you remember that, once again, this is a true story and these people were in fact, and still are, real.

At the same time though, being a well-deserved tribute doesn’t mean that your movie is at all “good” – just more thoughtful than usual.

Especially when your name is in fact, Michael Bay.

This is all to say that 13 Hours, despite Bay trying his hardest to put some thought and senselessness into the proceedings, is still a gory, crazy and hyper-violent shoot-em-up, where instead of getting the usual Bay caricatures, we have actual soldiers and Libyans, going toe-to-toe, in a literal battle of whose grenade-launcher is bigger and more effective. In other words, it’s exactly like every other Michael Bay movie, which can tend to mean that there’s a lot of explosions, gun shots, and people dying – none of which we actually get to see in a manner that’s effective or, especially, coherent. However, it isn’t always like this, as the setting-up of what initially went down in Benghazi, although a bit dramatic, is still compelling and, most importantly terrifying.

Hell, he's a hero.

Hell, he’s a hero.

But then, it all goes away once Bay starts letting stuff explode and be loud for the hell of it. There’s no problem with this, in terms of factual accuracy, as I’m pretty sure this is exactly what happened in Benghazi, but after awhile, it becomes deafening, repetitive, and tiring – none of which Bay probably intended to actually happen, but such is the case when you’re delving out way too much action/violence and not really offering us anything much else. That Bay seems more interested and taken away with the sheer violence of the events, he focuses less on the meaning of it all; this is alright, as we never know whether he’s trying to make a point or not about war being the right means for ending a conflict, but still, it’s not like he’s even trying, either.

Once again, nobody expects substance from Bay, but given the source material he’s working with, you’d expect a tad bit more.

Nothing too much, but just a slight bit.

Still though, it’s not a terrible movie – just a very misguided one that clearly finds Bay wondering which side of him he wants to show. Maybe there’s a more thoughtful, smarter side to Bay that we don’t ever get to see in the loud, bombastic blockbusters he usually puts out, or maybe, he’s just that over-grown man-child who likes to watch things hit one another, go “brash“, then look at boobs, make sexist jokes, and waste the talents of each and every talented actor who was in desperate need of paying the bills in some way, or fashion. Honestly, the later side of Bay is probably the only side of Bay, but after seeing 13 Hours, it’s not hard to imagine that quite possibly, there’s a bit more underneath the surface that’s worth getting somewhat invested, hell, interested in.

Then again, maybe not.

Consensus: While 13 Hours may show Bay trying a bit harder than ever to give this material the right amount of heart and sentiment it deserves, he still falls into the same motions of constant over-the-top and hectic violence, that’s never as compelling or exciting as Bay may want it to be.

4.5 / 10

But you know what? They're all heroes. If just for one day.

But you know what? They’re all heroes. If just for one day.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Island (2005)

Everyone’s afraid of dying. Or looking ugly, too, apparently.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) seems to be living the full and complete life that every person on the face of planet should be. Not only does he have a nice job, but keeps a steady diet, has a good amount of friends, a rather exciting night-life, and seems to be getting closer and closer to his goal of reaching “the Island”. “The Island”, for those who don’t know, is a vacation resort of sorts for those workers who show the best performance and are definitely deserving of being given some sort of gift. Issue is, “the Island” isn’t actually what it appears to be – cause, for one, there actually isn’t an Island. Instead, it’s just a lie that’s just told to Lincoln, as well as all of his other fellow friends and confidantes who live with him in this community of sorts. And once Lincoln becomes wiser to what’s actually going, he grabs his best, perhaps closest, friend from the community, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), and sets out to discover the truth of what’s really going on and figure out why so many people are after him and trying to kill him. The answers to his questions aren’t what he wants, or expects, but still, questions he has to live with and make something of.

Make-out already and make Mikey happy!

Make-out already and make Mikey happy!

For awhile, the Island is actually a pretty solid sci-fi flick. Sure, you could definitely make the case that it’s just ripping-off almost every sci-fi flick to have come out in the past few decades that also have to do with clones ( mainly Logan’s Run), but really, it’s hard to hate the movie for actually setting something interesting up. Even though to us, the audience, we know that each and everyone of these characters are just literal clones in this huge machine that doesn’t care one lick about them, seeing how they figure it all out, react to it, and find themselves getting out of and away from said machine is, believe it or not, compelling and exciting. There’s still a few plot-holes and silly moments here and there, but overall, the Island‘s first-half finds Michael Bay taking a backseat to his idiosyncratic tendencies and just allowing for the story to tell itself.

But then, as expected, it all goes to hell once Bay realizes that he’s making this movie and can do whatever he wants.

This means that, yes, there’s a whole lot of explosions, gunshots, cars flipping over for no reason, people yelling, carnage, and most of all, product placement. None of which are actually ever exciting, fun, interesting, compelling, or feel pertinent to the story; instead, they just feel like Michael Bay taking over the wheel and going crazy because, well, he can and who is going to stop him. After all, he’s the commander of his own ship, so why should he have to listen to others when they tell him that he may want to tone it down a bit on the general havoc his movies seem to wreak?

They wouldn’t because they’d be out of a job, that’s why!

Two Obi-Wan's? Look out, Ani!

Two Obi-Wan’s? Look out, Ani!

However, it should be noted that there is at least something of a thoughtful movie tucked deep down inside of the Island, which makes it slightly better than some of Bay’s worst, but not really. The idea of these clones having hardly any life or humanity for that matter, but yet, still feeling and expressing as if they were just like humans, is a neat anecdote that, once again, has already been touched on before in sci-fi, but here, still feels like it could make the story more than just another sci-fi blow-em-up, courtesy of Michael Bay. This especially comes into play during the later-act, when Lincoln wonders what it is about his existence that he wants to save, nor why it is that he cares so much about anything at all; somewhere, the movie’s crying out desperately to be hear and understood, but it’s not getting the right guidance from Bay and it creates a jumble of a movie that wants to be two different things, but ultimately, ends up becoming one thing – which is another hectic piece of action that only Bay can produce.

And like is the case with most of Bay’s movies, the Island features some very talented people, doing some not-so very good things with their time. However, if anything, it shows that Ewan McGregor is still a very good leading-man in an action film, even if the material isn’t always there for him. Sure, he’s charming and slightly cool, but he’s also likable and seems like a genuinely smart creation that, may not have the fullest idea of what’s going on, but is at least going to take some sort of initiative to figure something out and not just stand around all day, being dirty, yet, still looking pretty. As his romantic love-interest, Scarlett Johansson does what she can here with such a limited-role, but because she’s in a Michael Bay movie, she’s mostly used to look hot, run around, and get kissed by the sexy male lead.

Obviously, Johansson has more to do with her time nowadays, but still, it’s a tad disappointing knowing what we all know about what she’s capable of doing.

And yeah, the rest of the cast, like Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Djimon Hounsou all show up and try to add a little something more to the proceedings, but really, they’re just around to deliver corny lines and that’s it. Bay doesn’t really care about them, nor does he really want to give any of them enough efficient things to do with their time – he just wants to see stuff blow up and people kiss.

Which is basically Michael Bay’s career in a nutshell.

Consensus: Despite a strong start, the Island soon turns into another one of Michael Bay’s crazy, overstuffed action pics that, once again, wastes the talent of everyone involved, most importantly, a smarter script that may be lying somewhere out there.

3.5 / 10

Just die already so we know it's the end of the movie.

Just die already so we know it’s the end of the movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The End of the Tour (2015)

Writers hate writers. So don’t be one.

In 1996, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) was a writer for Rolling Stone and was in desperate need of a story to make his mark on, or better yet, get his name out there with. He found this in the form of novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) who, through his novel Infinite Jest, was receiving all sorts of praise and attention. And to promote this book even more than it needed to be, Wallace is forced to go out on a book-tour, which he invites Lipsky to the final day of. Initially, Lipsky and Wallace don’t seem to really know how to talk to one another or get around the fact that they’re both writers, and one is writing a story on the other. There’s a lot of awkward sighs and pauses between the two, which may be mostly due to the fact that Lipsky can’t help but be enamored by Wallace’s presence he holds both on the page, as well as off of it. But once personal issues of Wallace’s past, family and themes get brought up, it brings out a whole other side that Lipsky doesn’t want to believe is true or see, but also can’t deny is there and be scared of.

Lipsky likes Wallace.

Lipsky likes Wallace.

I’ll admit it, I’ve never read or purchased Infinite Jest and honestly, I don’t know if I have any intentions on doing so. It’s not that the length of the book scares me (after all, I sat through all 500-plus pages of Glamorama and didn’t complain), but it’s more of the dedication it takes to not just get through all of the pages, but also to appreciate the genius of David Foster Wallace for all that he was, or, from what I’m told he was. Basically, one day, when I’m older, a tad bit wiser, and don’t have much going on in my life other than just sitting around and wondering, waiting for the next show to binge-watch, then yeah, I’ll find a copy, sit down, and read all of Infinite Jest in its entirety. But, like I said, for now, all I have to base any respect on is what people say about Wallace and the book itself.

And that’s kind of the beauty of the End of the Tour: You don’t really have to know anything about Foster Wallace or Lipsky to become enamored with either personas or what they’re saying – they’re interesting enough as is that it doesn’t matter what it is they may be discussing or be delving into, all we want to do is hear them talk more and more.

This is why writer/director James Ponsoldt really does deserve a lot of credit – not only is he tacking subject-material and a story that may be very limited to a certain kind of audience, but he’s also trying to find a way to make these subjects themselves accessible and compelling enough to watch, even if we don’t already know anything about them to begin with. Right from the very beginning, there’s this feeling that Ponsoldt has a good idea of who each of these two guys are that, when they get together to conduct this so-called “interview”, they’re really just chewin’ the fat and enjoying every second, which is why we sort of do the same. It’s the kind of movie where smart, talented people, talk to one another, but instead of sounding like total and complete pretentious a-holes when discussing the meaning of life and Sternheim, they sound like interesting, sometimes funny fellas who may have some actual insight into the way the world works, as well as movies like Die Hard or Broken Arrow.

But what always keeps the End of the Tour moving, when it isn’t just focusing on these two chatting about their lives and careers, is that this is all happening because of an “interview” – one of which makes both of these guys pretty damn awkward. That Lipsky is already jealous of Foster Wallace for all of the fame and fortune he has seemingly gotten because of the book’s success, already not only draws him to the person, but also to the legend of who this guy really is. At the same time, however, he still has to do this interview with the guy, which tends to lead to the tense moments where he has to put away his hat of admiration, put back on his journalist one, and try to get the deepest, darkest secrets out of this guy, while at the same time, still not trying to offend him enough to where the interview is over and Lipsky has lost someone he could actually call “a friend”.

Wallace likes Lipsky.

Wallace likes Lipsky.

Same goes for Foster Wallace who, yes, is the one being interviewed, but also finds it quite comforting to actually be able to sit down and talk to someone who is actually interested in what he has to say, as well as understand all that he’s talking about. Still, because Foster Wallace was a very odd person and was reportedly on anti-depressants, he didn’t know what to say, or not to say to Lipsky and that tends to lead him to the same area where he doesn’t know if saying a lot is too much, or if saying nothing at all is fine, even if a bit rude.

Still though, despite this obvious issue between the two, they still clearly want to be great friends and adversaries, even if they’re only together for three or so days, due to this “interview”.

And it should be said that yes, Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, other than being great in their own rights, share a wonderful bit of chemistry here that makes us cherish these two moments together all the more. Even though there’s always that discomforting sense of distrust between the two, there’s also the same feeling that, had they met under different circumstances, they would have been the very best of friends. Sure, they talk about everything in their lives, but also seem to be able to relate to one another in nice, funny ways that surprise even themselves. That’s why, it’s sometimes sad to see whenever the one gets uncomfortable and clearly not happy about something the other said or did; after all, the possibility of a meaningful friendship lies and it’s one that we actually want to see happen, even if we know, yes, it never did.

It’s sad, but oh so true.

Consensus: With two great performances from Eisenberg and especially, Segel, the End of the Tour gives both literary figures enough chemistry and persona to make their trip together not just an enjoyable one, but an interesting, if at times, weird one that ended way too soon and would, sadly, never happen again.

8.5 / 10

They both like one another, however, they're both writers, so it's not meant to be.

They both like one another, however, they’re both writers, so it’s not meant to be.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

Can’t give anyone authority. Especially college bros.

In the 1970’s, Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) conducted a psychological experiment that would forever have his name, as well as the study, remain in infamy and controversy. In the study, a handful of paid volunteers were picked to play “prisoners”, whereas another handful of paid volunteers were picked to play “guards”. Both groups were to simulate a prison in which the guards would treat the prisoners, just as guards would treat prisoners in any real life, day-to-day situation; they would pick-on, torment, toy, tease and punish the prisoners for doing whatever it is that they did, or basically, didn’t do. Because the guards are encouraged to go as far as they can without physically beating the hell out of any of the prisoners, most of the prisoners would tend to act-out and rebel a bit, even if they knew, in all honesty, it wasn’t going to do them any good. Watching all of this transpire, Zimbardo looks to find out why it is that people, when given the position of power, use it to their advantage and act the way they do, and why it is that the prisoners who are being powered-over, don’t fight back or ever question, “why?”.

"Lookin' at something, fellow former-child star?"

“Lookin’ at something, fellow former-child star?”

Movies like the Stanford Prison Experiment are very lucky that everything that they depict, are basically what happened. While the movie states that it is, “based on a true events”, for the most part, it actually is; there’s a few bits of dramatic licensing taken here, most of which, are incredibly obvious and a bit unnecessary. However, everything that seems to be shown in the film, actually appears to have happened and is one of the main reasons why such a study as this still stays in people’s discussions, even after 44 years of it actually being performed. But the main reason why people like us, you know, millenials and hipsters and whatnot, are still talking about this social experiment is because, well, it will always stay relevant, no matter what happens to the world around us.

For instance, what the social experiment, as well as the movie itself, brings up about humans is how, when we’re given just a little bit of power or control in our grubby paws, we will, mostly, run wild with it and take absolute advantage of every second we’re granted security of that strength. Others, of course, will say to themselves, “Ah, who cares. Everybody’s equal, so why should it matter who is considered ‘better’ than others?”, but really, it’s the opposite side of the coin that’s perhaps the most disturbing and thought-about position that really makes a social experiment like this ring so true.

And yeah, the experiment itself, is also basically why the Stanford Prison Experiment works as well as it does.

Because it’s focused solely on the actual study itself – one that was already tense, unpredictable and compelling to begin with – it would only serve it justice to give the movie based off of its events, the same treatment. That a solid portion of the movie takes place in one, narrow hallway, already puts director Kyle Patrick Alvarez in a bit of a tough position where he needs to keep things exciting, but at the same time, not go too overboard with it. Rather than trying to make sense of some of these character’s decisions or choices, no matter how questionable they may get, he just shines a light up to them and lets them tell their own stories. Obviously, there are certain situations and predicaments that occur here that are a bit over-the-top, but still, there’s a ringing sense of truth throughout that works and keeps the movie engaging, even when it seems to be just the same thing happening, over and over again.

But like I said before, the reason why this experiment is still so talked about, is because it puts you, yourself, in the position of these people and make you wonder one thing: What would you do? Had you been put into the position of the guard, would you have just not cared, gone through the motions, and just be around to accept your money when all was said and done? Or, would you savor this moment, piss the “prisoners” off, basically torture them every step you get, and constantly remind them of who is in-charge, while at the same time, driving them slowly, but surely, crazy?

Those are the looks of some very guilty people.

Those are the looks of some very guilty people.

And hell, while we’re at it, what would you do as a prisoner? Would you just take it all, keep it all to yourself, and constantly remind yourself that “this is just an experiment”? Or, would you go crazy and try your absolute hardest to get the hell out of said “prison”, as soon as possible, by any means necessary? The movie, just like the experiment itself, brings these questions up, doesn’t know whether to answer the questions or not, but instead, just let them make a point for themselves.

In ways, you don’t know how people would act when thrown into these positions, which is what makes the Stanford Prison Experiment all the more shocking.

Though, there is something to be said for the later-part of the movie where it becomes clear that this experiment may have gone a tad too long, and all we’re doing is waiting around and watching as a bunch of young adults, torture and play around with other young adults. While we know that a fine amount of what’s depicted here in the film, actually did happen, by this point, when the two-hour mark has been well hit, it starts to become like overkill where we understand what the movie is trying to say, but can’t help itself from going further and further. This is less of a problem with the actual experiment itself, and more of on the movie, but still, it goes without saying that there’s only so much pain one can consume over a certain amount of time.

Which is, once again, probably something to be said about humans and makes me trust everybody a whole lot less.

Consensus: Thought-provoking, tense and somewhat enraging, the Stanford Prison Experiment takes an infamous study, gives it the nonjudgmental light it deserves, and allows for us, the audience, to think about what they’d all do in the same situation.

8 / 10 

It's like fraternity hazing, but instead, everybody's getting paid and losing their minds a whole lot more.

It’s like fraternity hazing, but instead, everybody’s getting paid and losing their minds a whole lot more.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Experimenter (2015)

Doesn’t matter how many volts it is, being shocked freakin’ hurts!

In 1961, famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) concocted a psychological experiment that, on the surface, seemed simple and easy, but once looked at deep enough, turned out to be quite disturbingly complex. What Milgram would do in this research study, was have one person be on one side of a glass door, get them strapped-up to a machine that delivered electric shocks and have the other person involved with the study ask them to reiterate phrases that they say. If the person on the other side of the door got it wrong, the person in control of the electrical volts were supposed to deliver as high of a shock as they were instructed to do so, no matter how much pain or anguish the person on the other side of the door sounded, or better yet, appeared to be in. Obviously, people question what to do next and whether or not to deliver the shock because, what they think at least, is that the other person is being shocked, nearly to death – little do they know is that said person being shocked-to-death, isn’t actually being shocked at all and is just testing to see how far and willing these subjects are able to go with the shocks.

Never trust Peter Sarsgaard with a box like that.

Never trust Peter Sarsgaard with a box like that. Or in general.

And that, my friends, is what we call in the psychology biz, “the Milgram Experiment“.

Everything about the whole Milgram Experiment and the ideas about humans that it brings up is actually pretty interesting. Milgram, as he tells us quite often throughout, is trying to test the limits of just how far humans will go when they are given, as plainly defined, an assignment; while nobody apart of the experiment may actually be bad people who enjoy inflicting cruel and unusual punishment onto random strangers, at the same time, they’re given this assignment to do and have to keep with it, no matter what. So of course, they trudge on along and continue to zap, and zap, and zap away at the other subject, without wholly fighting the system that is telling them to do so.

If this sounds a whole lot like the Nazis well then, you hit the nail right on the head. Milgram himself, as he tells us constantly throughout the movie, tells us that his parents were apart of the concentration camps before they came to America and it’s interesting to see how this needle-and-thread narrative constantly gets weaved-in throughout, even while we’re learning of just what kind of person Milgram actually was. While writer/director Michael Almereyda has a lot to work with here, in terms of handling the biopic-form of this person’s life, as well as throwing that person’s own ideas into the narrative, he doesn’t lose himself on the material, either.

At the same time, however, it’s hard not to watch Experimenter as two different movies into one, with one being definitely far more interesting and better than the other.

But still, even the one that is off worse, isn’t terrible. The only issue with the part of the movie focusing on Milgram’s personal life, is that Milgram himself, isn’t all that intriguing of a person to begin with. Sure, the studies he concocts are, but overall, him as a person, is quite dry and uneventful, which calls into question why we needed such a film dedicated to telling his whole story, and less about the study itself. Of course, Almereyda does fine with showing us plenty of the study happening, but it’s sometimes so effective and compelling to watch, that it’s not hard to wish that it was just the whole film, with Milgram occasionally looking towards the camera to talk to us.

See? Winona doesn't even trust him.

See? Winona doesn’t even trust him.

Still though, Almereyda does some neat things with the biopic-form, in that he definitely understands that the material he’s working with isn’t all that exciting or eye-popping, so instead, he finds ways to make it so. There’s a random scene about half-way through where Milgram and his wife are driving in front of what’s clearly a walled-in background, but for some reason, it’s done on purpose. It’s meant to campy, odd, dated, and over-the-top, but so is the rest of the film, which doesn’t totally work, but is still interesting to think about and wonder why, among everything else, why Almereyda decided to do such a thing?

Is he trying to say something about people’s perceptions? Or, is he just trying to keep our minds off of material that’s not really all that strong to begin with?

Either way, it doesn’t matter because it makes Experimenter a bit more watchable than it probably could have been had it just focused in on Milgram, his life, and leaving it at that. This isn’t to say that Sarsgaard doesn’t do a fine job in the role of Milgram, as he has that perfect blend for dull weirdness, but at the same time, it’s hard not to imagine what could have happened to this character, had there been maybe more to him. We see him act around his family and such, just as he does at the office and none of it’s really intriguing; his studies may be, but he himself, isn’t really something to speak about, let alone see a whole movie about.

Again though, Experimenter isn’t a very long movie. At nearly an-hour-and-a-half, it moves on by, showing us all the study, making us wonder what we’d do in the same position, and providing plenty of food-for-thought about the whole human race. Will it have you not trusting people for the rest of your days? Maybe, not maybe not. But either way, it’s worth checking out, if only because it will bring some energy to your brain during the dead of winter that is January.

Consensus: Though it’s two movies into one, Experimenter brings up enough interesting questions and ideas about the human condition that makes it worthwhile to look past some of the flaws in its narrative.

6 / 10

Although they still have plenty time to meet-cute, when they're not ruining perceptions of the human race.

Although they still have plenty time to meet-cute, when they’re not ruining perceptions of the human race.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Don’t tell me, but they die at the end. Right?

Imagine a world where the dinosaurs didn’t die and instead, continue to roam the planet as if nothing ever happened. Humans are other species exist, but for the most part, the dinosaurs are the dominant ones. And in this alternative timeline, lives an Apatosaurus named Arlo (voice of Raymond Ochoa), who isn’t nearly as a strong-willed or smart as his older brother and sister. His parents knew this at an early age, which is why they’ve always tried to push him into taking more care of himself and being there to help the family when help is needed. However, for the most part, Arlo’s father (Jeffrey Wright), has always been there to save the day and pick up Arlo’s slack. After a tragic event that leaves Arlo forced to have to pick up his own slack, as well as more responsibilities, he meets a small human who he doesn’t know if he can or can’t trust. But regardless of this, he gets lost and taken away from the rest of his family, which leaves him no other choice than to trust this little human to get him back home, where he can be safe, sound and help his family finish stocking food and shelter for the winter. Issue is, the trip home is going to be a brutal and scary one, which is why Arlo and this human may need to trust each other more, even if they don’t like it.

Oooooh.

Oooooh.

With Inside Out, you could say that Pixar has been on something of a roll, as since the release of Cars 2, they haven’t done so well. Which is to say that any Pixar movie from now, until the end of time, that’s considered to be “good”, will be fine enough; the bar isn’t raised as high anymore and for now, we’re just hoping that they continue to make good movies and not get caught up in their own system again. Sure, even though Inside Out was an amazing movie, it still came after a time where we don’t fully know just yet what to expect from Pixar.

But now we know that the Good Dinosaur is, well, good Pixar.

And that’s all it needs to be, really.

As usual with Pixar, everything about the Good Dinosaur is beautiful to look at. Because the movie is dealing with large landscapes, with hardly anything in them but trees, mountains and water, it’s surprising to see just how much the movie actually brings to the table in terms of what it wants to pop-out at us and have us gasping, wondering just how they made it all look so great. But then again, that’s the beauty of the animation team at Pixar – they make the kinds of movies they want and they don’t give a damn, all they want to do is make sure that they’re something worth looking at.

But honestly, this should come as no surprise to anyone knowing Pixar, but it deserves to be said because the story here isn’t nearly as surprising, or breath-taking as the visuals. If you take a gander at it, the Good Dinosaur is another re-working of the Lion King, where instead of having lions, we have dinosaurs, and instead of it just being Simba all by his lonesome for awhile, it’s now Arlo, accompanied by a cave boy human named Spot. It’s obvious from the very start just what’s going to happen with the story, where it’s going to go, and what sort of messages it’s going to push along, but surprisingly enough, it still kind of works. It’s not all that original and can, in some ways, appear to be “the Lion King for the new age”, but overall, it’s still a heartfelt story told with power and emotion that made that movie so damn great to begin with.

There’s no dancing, singing, or Nathan Lane, but hey, it’s got dinosaurs and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Still though, despite the story not winning points for originality, there were still plenty of moments where, like usual, Pixar found a way to have me reaching for the box of Kleenex and making sure nobody was looking at me. But what’s so surprising about this is how it seems like they’re not trying at all. One scene in particular has Arlo and Spot communicating with one another about their own family-units, but because neither speak in a language the other can understand, they just use the ground and a few sticks. It’s the one scene in this movie where it was obvious that the people in Pixar were reaching for my tears, but I didn’t care – it worked, it was effective, and it didn’t seem like they were trying to show off anything at all.

Aaaah.

Aaaah.

The only issue that seems to persist in the Good Dinosaur is that because they’re dealing with so many deeply heavy emotions and feelings, that whenever they try to throw comedy in to lighten things up, it doesn’t always feel pertinent to the story. Of course, it’s understandable why some of the comedy is here, what with this being Pixar and their a family-oriented company, but still, the comedy tries a bit too hard and if anything, comes in at unnecessary moments. When we see Spot and Arlo getting along with one another and building something of a friendship, it’s light, goofy and playful, just like we expect from Pixar, but other times, like with the characters Sam Elliott and Anna Paquin voice, it just seems obvious that Pixar wants people to laugh and forget that so much death has already occurred in such a story as this.

But no matter what, it’s the lovely friendship between Arlo and Spot that makes it worth watching. The heart is still plenty in-tact for a story like this, but it’s really them who make us wonder just where they’re going to go together. If anything, if there’s to be a Good Dinosaur 2, I’d be fine to see, if only because this one leaves plenty room open for new, inspiring things to happen.

Or, Pixar could just give us a Cars 3 and ruin everything they’ve been trying so desperately build back up. It’s their choice, I guess.

Consensus: Gorgeous-looking, but also heartfelt and sweet, the Good Dinosaur may not be a slam-dunk for Pixar like Inside Out, but still features plenty positive attributes that make us understand why they’re so trustworthy to begin with.

7 / 10

Oh, human? Nah.

Oh, human? Get out of here!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Love (2015)

Who doesn’t like a little sex?

Murphy (Karl Glusman) is a film fanatic/student living in Paris for the time being, which he hopes to find him some sort of artistic inspiration to actually go out there, make movies, and do what he has always dreamed of. But obviously, he gets a little side-tracked by said plans when he meets the luscious and lovely Electra (Aomi Muyock). Though it takes some time, and plenty of sex, the two eventually fall in love and realize what can happen when two people fall desperately, hopelessly and madly in love with one another. Obviously, they have their highs, and they have their lows, but after awhile, it becomes clear that they may be having too many more lows than highs. In the meantime, though, we also focus on Murphy and his relationship with a fellow French gal, Omi (Klara Kristin), who is his neighbor and also happens to catch his eye when she gets invited to a threesome. Predictably, what starts off as just a simple moment of sexual, fiery fun, soon turns out to be something much more serious, where words, emotions and bodily-fluids are exchanged more than just once and it puts all three of their lives in a tailspin where they don’t know where to go, what to do, and just how to function if they don’t have a love in their life.

That's how every relationship starts and, mostly, is doomed.

That’s how every relationship starts and, mostly, is doomed.

By now, it’s kind of hard to get shocked or surprised by Gaspar Noé. His movies, while bordering on excess, turn out to be the most outright in-your-face, dirty and naked things ever graced on the silver-screen that isn’t also called “porn”. Sure, could you say that a few of his movies could classify as such? Oh, definitely. But Noé himself feels as if he’s far different and in ways, better than that and instead, gives his various moments of sex and nudity, a story to work with and emotion. Regardless of whether actually work or are, for lack of a better term, effective, doesn’t matter because Noé clearly thinks there’s a distinction between his films, and pornography.

Although with Love, there really isn’t much of one.

What’s odd about Love is how personal it feels to Noé; with his past flicks, it seems as if Noé was just setting right out to shock audiences, without really caring about how hard of an impact his stories made. All he cared about doing was giving people plenty of nudity, sex and dirtiness to soak up in and wonder just how he put it all together. But here, it’s obvious that Noé has a story that’s close to his heart to tell and it’s a surprise, considering how little of the movie actually focuses on the emotion of that story, and much more on, once again, the sex, the nudity and the dirtiness of everything else.

This isn’t to say that Love finds Noé forgetting about his artistic side, as the movie is still quite pretty to look at and interesting, if only on a visual level, but there’s no real story here to work with. All it seems to be is a simple tale of one, dull American guy, getting wrapped up, literally and figuratively, in two French woman, acting like a general jack-ass, getting addicted to drugs, having sex, and that’s basically it. But because Noé frames it in such an unconventional way, with a non-linear structure that seems to jump one times too many, it’s supposed to shake things up and keep us on-edge as to where the story is going to go next, who’s heart is going to be broken, and just who is going to give us the next scene of full-frontal nudity. Of course, none of it’s ever actually interesting or compelling to sit by – it’s just boring.

And that is, perhaps, the biggest sin Noé commits here.

Bath-tubs are supposed to relaxing and chill. but apparently not in a Gaspar Noé movie!

Bathtubs are supposed to relaxing and chill. but apparently not in a Gaspar Noé movie!

Say what you will about Irreversible or Enter the Void, though they’re both gritty and often times, disgusting, there’s at least something of a story tiding them along that makes all of the camera-trickery and general ugliness bearable – Love isn’t that kind of movie. Instead, we watch as characters we don’t care about or identify with, have sex, speak to one another about subjects like film, sex, love, relationships, art, drugs, and spend a good portion of the movie acting as if they’re reading every single line of the script, off the script itself. This isn’t to say that each and every actor here is a bad one, but considering that Noé actually met the two leads in a club, it goes to show you just what kind of issues your movie can have, if you don’t have the script, nor the actors to deliver ’em.

In Irreversible, the script was fine, if a bit obvious. But the reason why it worked as well as it did, or at least, held something of an impact, was because the cast was so great and clearly ready to dig themselves deep into this story, and all that it had to offer them. The actors in Love, are obviously not at all trained, which is fine, but the movie relies too heavily on them to carry certain scenes that are supposed to be engaging, smart and powerful. Karl Glusman gets a bit better as the movie goes along, if only because his character becomes more and more of a dick, that it’s actually entertaining to hear him rant and rave about such things like why America rules, even though he’s living in Paris and making friends with all sorts of French people, but other than him, there’s nobody else.

Nope, in fact, it’s just Noé himself who is the star here. It’s clear that he is from the very start and while he sure does love his nudity, his sex, and the way his characters yell and fight with one another about the meaning of life, love and God, at the end of the day, it’s Noé himself who gets the final word in on everything.

For better, but most definitely, in Love‘s case, for worse.

Consensus: Despite a deeply personal story from Noé, Love is nothing more than just another one of his excessive trips into random people’s bedrooms that we don’t really care about, or actually want to see get it on in the first place.

3 / 10

Three's a company, so why not have sex with said company?

Three’s a company, so why not have sex with said company?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Anomalisa (2015)

Life sucks. But hey, at least you have groupies.

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) in all honesty, doesn’t live a very grand life. Though he’s famous in some circles, it’s only because he’s written a few books that just so happen to be on the exciting and exciting subject of customer service. Also, he doesn’t really know how to connect with the world around him, which means that strangers, friends and even if his own family, he has an issue of connecting with. In other words, Michael is clinically depressed, but he just doesn’t know it quite yet. He’s getting older, fatter and starting to regret decisions that he’s made in the past, which mostly all come down to past girlfriends he dumped or had to let go. However, one fateful night, he runs into a lonely woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who changes his view of the world and opens his eyes to the beauty that exists with the smaller things in life. Because through Lisa, Michael is capable of figuring out just what it is that he wants to do with his life, while, at the same time, realizing that he needs to work on his issues and make himself better.

He sees the light. And the light shows that people will continue to disappoint him.

He sees the light. And the light shows that people will continue to disappoint him.

Or then again, maybe not. After all, this is a Charlie Kaufman movie and Charlie Kaufman protagonists tend to not really give a crap about their lives.

A lot of people don’t like Charlie Kaufman movies and I’m somewhere in the middle. I absolutely, positively love the hell out of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, whereas, on the other hand, I still don’t fully understand Synecdoche, New York, and it downright infuriates me. However, a lot of people (read: “fancy”) not just love it, but feel as if it’s an absolute life-changer that made them want to get up out of their seats, look at the sky and want to do something with their lives. As for me?

Well, I thought it was interesting, but when it was all done, that was about it. An interesting premise and interesting thoughts, sadly, does not make your movie a good one.

That’s why with Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman finds himself back to his old ways where it seems like he’s trying to say something deep and meaningful for each and every person to hear and understand, but isn’t trying too hard to disguise it in some over-bearing cloak of pretentiousness. Instead, Kaufman wants people to see his point for what it is, which is that life, in other words, kind of sucks. However, rather than just taking a stance and getting on his soap-box for the hell of it, Kaufman allows for Michael Stone (the most average-sounding name ever that makes me wonder if “John Smith” was already taken), to stand-in for him and shout everything out.

But what’s perhaps most interesting about the character of Michael Stone is that he isn’t really much of a loner, or anti-social weirdo – if anything, he’s just clinically depressed and continues to make frequent efforts to get out of that depression. However, because he finds even the smallest details in people to get pissed-off about, he decides to give up all hope and fall back into that depression. Does that make him a bad person? Nope, not really. Just an impatient one is all, which is why Kaufman doesn’t try his hardest to really have us sympathize or glorify this character, his actions, or the thoughts that seem to constantly run throughout his mind while he’s going about his day.

Oh and yeah, before I forget to mention it, Anomalisa is all in stop-motion animation where, instead of actual humans appearing on the screen, speaking and interacting with one another, it’s all puppets. And hell, instead of having a whole huge list of actors and stars, Anomalisa features only three actors’ voices, which may be a bit strange at first. Most of this is due to the fact that, well, there’s more than just three characters here – however, with the exception of Michael Stone and Lisa, everyone is voiced by Tom Noonan.

Confused yet?

The best puppet couple since Kermit and Miss Piggy.

The best puppet couple since Kermit and Miss Piggy.

Well, don’t worry, because I was, too. However, after awhile, like with most of Kaufman’s other movies, I decided to roll with it, give it a chance and see where it all went, which was a great decision on my part, because it truly allowed for me to just soak in how smart and crafty Kaufman can be, even when it seems like he’s not really trying to do anything at all. You could ultimately write Anomalisa up to being another movie where nothing happens, but that would be rather stupid; Kaufman takes ordinary, natural acts people commit in their everyday lives and with the help of the impressive animation, and makes them not just seem unique, but relatable.

For instance, the movie isn’t just about how Michael Stone hates everyone, so we should, too – it’s more about how this one person, one very depressed person, can’t seem to get out of the funk that he calls life. But rather than having us wish were spending time with someone else, in a much better situation, we sit down, watch and wonder what Stone is going to do next. Obviously, this doesn’t lead to many momentous actions (Stone drinks, showers, pees, talks on the phone, etc.), but there’s still something compelling about that all that makes it all worth while, even if it’s not fully well-known just where Kaufman is taking us.

And yes, this is to say that Kaufman handles the heart, the humor, and the absolute sadness of this script very well. The only instance in where I feel like Kaufman really loses his cool is by the very end where it becomes clear that he’s making a point with this story, but doesn’t really feel like holding back anymore, or even being subtle about it. In a way, Michael Stone is just like every other Kaufman protagonist (like I alluded to before), and he eventually starts to lose a bit of his marbles; this doesn’t ruin the movie, but it’s obvious from the very start and when it does eventually happen, it feels as if Kaufman himself knew that it was about time someone in his movie had something of a public melt-down. Either way, Kaufman continues to remind us that this isn’t a problem with life in general, but more or less, Michael Stone’s problem.

And quite frankly, it’s one that I would have been happy to see and hear more of.

Consensus: Thanks to a smart, sweet, and sometimes hilarious script from Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa works both as a dramedy, as well as an animated flick that feels the need to give us a small story that’s easy to relate to, as well as think about for days.

8.5 / 10

Oh, cheer-up, Mikey. Life will get better once Charlie Kaufman's done writing about you.

Oh, cheer-up, Mikey. Life will get better once Charlie Kaufman’s done writing about you.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Tangerine (2015)

The streets are hard for a girl out there.

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is a Trans who just finished her short stay in prison and automatically, wants to find out just what her boyfriend/pimp (James Ransome) has been up to and who he’s been up to it with. Issue is, she doesn’t have a working-phone to call him with, nor does she have any clear way of finding him on the gritty, but bright streets of Los Angeles. That’s why she enlists the help of her best friend, fellow prostitute, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who doesn’t want to be apart of any of this drama, but clearly, doesn’t have much else to do except jerk dudes off in the front seats of cars for a couple of bucks. While this adventure is taking place, another one is occurring with local cab-driver Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), who, despite being married with a wife, actually prefers the company of trans prostitutes, something his mother-in-law is suspicious about and wants to catch him in the act of doing. This is all, of course, happening on Christmas Eve, where joys may be merry, but for the most part, everybody’s just trying to live and survive another holiday season.

See plenty of this walking around Philadelphia. Trust me.

L.A. New York. Philadelphia. It don’t matter. Every city has the same people. 

Co-writer/director Sean Baker likes to focus on the smaller parts of the Earth that we don’t necessarily pay attention to. With Starlet, his last feature flick, Baker shined his lens on a relationship between an 80-year-old woman and a small-time, young porn star. With Tangerine, Baker is focusing on the lives of two trans prostitutes – both of whom, honestly, we’d never see in a mainstream, big-budgeted flick because, well, producers get scared of that and would much rather focus on white people, doing white things, so that other white people can go out and watch these white people do these white things. However, as snobby as I may sound, Baker actually isn’t; instead of making it seem like he’s trying to get a point across about the people he focuses on in his movies, he actually seems invested in where these character’s lives go and just how easy they are to relate to, regardless of what gender, race, or sexual preference you are.

And that’s one of the main reasons why Tangerine works as well as it should.

Not only does Baker keep things moving with this story at a fine pace to where we get to know everything about these characters from the very beginning, so that the reasons for why they act the way they do throughout the movie makes sense, but also gets us wrapped up in the excitement of this adventure they’re having as well. Baker infamously filmed all of Tangerine on an iPhone and while it may seem like a unnecessary gimmick, sooner or later, you totally forget about it and, if anything, realize that it’s perfect for capturing L.A. and these characters as they roam about the streets of it. There’s a certain tone that an iPhone catches, that most other digital cameras can’t, which allows for us to feel as if we’re not only right there with Sin-Dee and Alexandra, but feeling and smelling everything, too.

If anything, Baker’s success with filming Tangerine the way he wanted to, shows that up-and-coming film makers can probably do the same and make their own film. Who says they need a fancy, schmancy camera to do it with?

They can just reach in their pockets, after all!

But speaking of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, both Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are quite solid here, which probably has to due with the fact that they’re actual trans actors, playing trans characters. This may not seem like much, but considering that every movie nowadays that seems to tackle the subject of trans-sexuality and what it actually means to be “trans”, they cast a well-known, straight celebrity in the role and act as if said celebrity is really gritting their teeth by getting deep, down and dirty with such a role like that. Here though, Baker wisely makes the decision of having Rodriguez and Taylor portray these characters and it helps add another sense of realism to a movie that’s already sweating in it.

James Ransome playing a bad person? You don't say?

James Ransone playing a bad person? You don’t say?

Also, too, both have great chemistry that clearly seems to transcend well onto their characters, as both even each other out in surprising, but sweet ways. Sin-Dee is a bit reckless, dramatic and over-the-top with her emotions, whereas Alexandra is more reserved and about keeping her reckless feelings to herself. Watching these two pal around and walk throughout the grimy streets of L.A. is entertaining, especially since both actually seem like best pals in real life and not just two people forced to work together because they filled a certain look or image.

The only issue that I have with Tangerine has nothing to do with either Rodriguez or Taylor, but instead, with the supporting character who constantly jumps in every so often – Mickey O’Hagan’s Dinah.

Nothing against O’Hagan as I think he’s quite solid in a role that seems like it wants to be much more than just a subplot, but his role could have easily been taken out of this completely and Tangerine would have probably worked fine. It’s understandable what Baker is trying to do with this Dinah character from the very start, but after awhile, once he breaks apart some real exciting moments that push the story forward, it becomes clear that he’s just getting in the way of what could be a much more intimate story. But because Dinah exists in this story and is given so much focus, he ruins a lot of the swiftness and fast-pace that both Sin-Dee and Mya seem to really bring here. Once again, not saying that O’Hagan is bad here, or even that his character is given bad treatment – it’s just that maybe he doesn’t need to be here at all.

Which is a shame because really, Tangerine is all about Sin-Dee and Mya, as well as it should be.

Consensus: Despite an odd bit of plotting from Sean Baker, Tangerine still works as an entertaining, quick romp of a ride with two characters who, quite frankly, we don’t get to see a whole lot of focus on in movies.

7 / 10

So, anybody gonna finish that doughnut?

So, anybody gonna finish that doughnut?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Amy (2015)

Go to rehab. Don’t say “no, no, no”.

Even at an early age, everyone around Amy Winehouse knew that she was destined for some sort of greatness. Mostly though, everybody had the feeling that said greatness would be seen through her singing and performing, live, in front of crowds, for the whole world to see. And all of those friends, well, for the most part, were tragically right. When she first got her start in the biz, Amy was considered to be the young, fresh jazz voice for a generation that, quite frankly, didn’t quite seem to know what jazz was. Her first album, “Frank”, brought her all sorts of accolades and praise, but at the same time, it also brought on a whole lot more attention and popularity that Amy may have ever wanted in the first place. Once her album started selling in huge numbers and her album started winning her awards, more and more of her personal life was being focused on, which lead a lot of the public media to speculate about what else she did when she wasn’t on the stage. Most of this had to do with her frequent battles with drug and alcohol abuse, both of which were main factors in the taking her life at the very ripe and young age of 27 in the summer of 2011.

Amy in her awkward, teenage phase.

Amy in her awkward, teenage phase.

Just like he did with Senna a few years back, director Asif Kapadia takes the whole formula of what a documentary should look, act and feel like, and turns it slightly on its head. For instance, there’s not a single talking head or person seen speaking directly to the camera for the purposes of this documentary. Of course, we can hear all of the subject’s voices and whatnot, but we never actually see them speaking to us; instead, we get a bunch of archival footage that actually does Amy the real benefit of putting us there in the scene, at the time that something was happening, and having us feel a few steps closer to Amy Winehouse herself.

And that sense of intimacy is what helps Amy move right along and feel as if there’s something to feel bad for and pity with this Winehouse figure. A lot of people, those mostly involved with the media, have probably looked at Winehouse in the past and saw her for nothing more than just another piece of grade-A talent, who was too spoiled and drugged-up beyond her days to appreciate just what sort of skill and beauty she had. In a way, you could make that same argument about almost every artist, no matter what the field may be, but it doesn’t really make it true. Sure, artists are much more talented than us, but if they’re struggling with a personal/drug problem of any kind, that doesn’t make it phony or unimportant – it just makes it, well, perhaps a bit more dramatic and focused-on.

But with Amy, Kapadia sets out to show us that deep down inside of all the hard booze, drugs, partyin’, and singin’, lied a very sweet, sincere and troubled young woman who had a wonderful voice, but ultimately, just got eaten up in her own demons.

Most people, such as myself, will initially find it hard to really gain all that much sympathy for Winehouse, but as the tale grows larger and her life gets more exciting, it becomes all too clear that her life was quite messed-up to begin with. Winehouse, despite being told she was destined for greatness, always had a problem with her appearance, and a result, was bulimic for almost all of her life. While mostly everyone around her knew about this, nobody ever seemed to do anything about it, except just pat her on the back, tell her “it’s going to be okay”, and have her record another track. Everybody around Winehouse, as the movie will have us believe, was in it solely for the movie and everything else, whether they be her own, actual issues, be pushed to the side.

Which is yes, very cliche of an artists’ life, but it’s still a very true happening that makes Amy hurt just a bit more.

Amy in her Back to Black days.

Amy in her Back to Black days.

However, if there was an issue found with Amy, it was that it seems like Kapadia misses a few notes here and there that would have definitely helped make better sense of certain aspects of Amy’s life. For example, we’re told that her father left her and her mother for another woman, when Amy was only nine years old. So why, when Amy’s name is starting to get more and more popular, does he all of a sudden show up and act as if he cares? Better yet, why does she let him into her life and not act as if he wasn’t around for her upbringing?

For some reason, Kapadia seems to bring these questions up, but never get anywhere close to actually answering them. The same goes for Amy and her on-and-off-again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a wild boy in his own right, but one that I still don’t hate as much as I probably should. Together, the movie makes it clear that while Fielder-Civil may have been ultimately bad for Winehouse’s own good, there’s no denying that the two loved each other beyond belief and that Amy was stuck on him since day one. In fact, this aspect of the movie, as well as Amy’s life, is perhaps the most interesting, as well emotional; so rarely do we see a tale in which a famous celebrity actually sticks by their previous love, or surprisingly, get tossed and turned around by them.

If anything, it makes you feel bad for Amy a whole lot more, but also for Fielder-Civil, which isn’t something the movie may have been going for, but either way, it kept me constantly watching.

Above it all though, what Amy shows the most is how there’s so many factors at-play as to why Winehouse died the way she did, and without anyone really there to make sense of it. Of course, there are plenty of fingers pointed in certain directions, but nobody here is the outright one to be blamed. Instead, you can just sort of push it on everyone in the world, because even though Amy had a talent beyond our wildest imagination, we may never get to see it and it’s truly a shame.

Consensus: Without any frills or cheap shots taken, Amy turns out to be a surprisingly heartfelt, if sad look inside the life of a late, great artist who could have definitely done far much better for the music world, but tragically, was stopped short. At 27, no less.

7.5 / 10

And Amy, from a day that's obviously, not very recent.

And Amy, from a day that’s obviously, not very recent.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

As long as your dad is fun, who cares if he’s a little crazy?

Growing up, Amelia Stuart (Imogene Wolodarsky) had a lot to put up with. For one, her father, Cam (Mark Ruffalo), had a bipolar disorder that tended to make him awfully erratic, even though, deep down inside, he meant well. Though she, her father, her mother (Zoe Saldana), and her little sister (Ashley Aufderheide), were never poor, per se, they never quite had a lot of money either and always seemed to be living from paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s why, when her mother gets the grand idea of chasing her dream to become a lawyer so that she can take care of her family once and for all, she’s worried. They have no money, but mostly, that means that all of the family duties will be given to Cam – someone who can’t be trusted with a jar of peanut butter, let alone, two kids, a mortgage, a job, and a whole butt-load of other responsibilities. But still, with this knowledge, Amelia’s mom heads out to study anyway, leaving Cam to take over the role as a family-leader, which, of course, can have both its “good”, as well as its “bad”. But no matter what, through it all, the family tries to love each other and get past their issues, regardless of how big they may be.

Dad's can be so cool with their mid-life crisis polos.

Dad’s can be so cool with their mid-life crisis polos.

Thank heavens for Mark Ruffalo being in Infinitely Polar Bear. Without him, the movie would probably just be another one of those feel-good, earnest after school specials about families facing adversity, families taking on all sorts of challenges along the way of their journey to something, and at the end of it all, still coming out on top, happy, united and more in love than ever. That’s basically all of Infinitely Polar Bear in a nutshell and if anything, it sounds like it deserves a spot somewhere on the 4 o’clock block on Lifetime, rather than on the big screen, or whichever screen one decides to watch movies on nowadays.

Then again, there’s Mark Ruffalo who, basically, saves the day and then some.

As Cam Stuart, Ruffalo is clearly having a great time, but he doesn’t forget that there’s actually a heart and soul to this character that makes him work so well. Because Cam’s personality can border between “outrageous” to “chill”, it’s interesting to see Ruffalo play between both sides, but at the same time, still seem like the same person. Cam is clearly an intelligent character who has seen life, been through life and knows what to expect from it all, so it’s not hard to listen closely by and take note. Still, he’s not the old wise man in the room and instead, also likes to have a bit of fun and can sometimes be more spirited and exciting than his own daughters, both of whom can’t be any older than 13.

Even though the movie itself sort of gets mixed up in what exactly is causing Cam to act-out so much irrationally in the first place, Ruffalo stays honest, hilarious and most of all, heartfelt. He seems like the kind of dad we get in these types of movies where we know he’s a bit of an unintentional screw-up and can never change, but also means so well that it’s hard to hold anything against him. Some of this has to do with the writing for Cam, but most of it is definitely towards Ruffalo and his genuine likability that floats off the screen.

"Baby #3?

“Baby #3?

No wonder why he’s been nominated for a Golden Globe and is basically the only thing worth remembering here.

Okay, maybe that’s not totally true and just another case of me being utterly harsh on a movie that doesn’t fully deserve it. Zoë Saldaña plays the mother here and while she’s not around a whole lot to begin with, you still get the idea that she’s just waiting, watching in the background, ready for whenever her time is up to be called to the line of duty that is motherhood and raising a family. Her and Ruffalo have nice enough chemistry together too, that makes you believe they actually would get together, have sex a bunch of times, raise two kids together, and love one another enough not to get in the way of each other’s own, singular happiness. In a way, that’s how all people want their relationships to be, but so rarely get.

But other than these two performances, everything else about Infinitely Polar Bear is just frustratingly mediocre and light beyond belief. Writer/director Maya Forbes is clearly telling an autobiographical tale here and while it all seems realistic enough to be believed in, none of it ever really connects. For instance, we know that since Cam could go nuts at literally any second, we’re waiting for that moment to come, but for some reason, it never actually seems to. Instead, we just watch a bunch of scenes where Cam acts like a 12-year-old throwing a tantrum, where all he wants to do is hang out with kids his daughter’s ages and treat them to hot chocolate. In a way, yes, it sounds a bit weird, which it may have intended to be, but Forbes seems like she’s having a total ball telling this material again and it shows the whole way through.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Forbes wanting to tell her story of childhood in a lovely way, but still, it does take away a bit from the story when there’s no real dramatic-arc or any sort of conflict pushing it along. The only conflict here seems to be that Cam may, or may not snap, and is a bit weird – that’s about it. Everything else seems pretty cut-and-dry, which may not be something Forbes actually wants to hear about her own childhood, but how it plays out here, that’s exactly what it is.

Simple and relatively easygoing. Sorry.

Consensus: Ruffalo saves Infinitely Polar Bear from being a slightly sappy, overly-sweet tale about one family’s test of power and love, although neither of which actually get tested in any way, shape, or form.

5 / 10

Happiness exists in all families. So what makes yours so special?!?!

Happiness exists in all families. So what makes yours so special?!?!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Mr. Holmes (2015)

Eat your heart out, Benedict.

Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has seen, done and been through it all. That’s why, at age 93 and after being long retired, he’s finally ready to just settle down, take care of his bees, and let life continue on a peaceful, easy-going manner. But for some reason, he just can’t seem to get past that final case of his, which he didn’t get a chance to solve, or make perfect sense of. No matter that, though, he’s got the company of his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker), who not only try to help him remember certain events and details of that case, but also remind him that life is still a bit grand worth living, even if he can seem to be a bit on the grumpy side. Through this all though, Holmes just wants to feel better about his life and look back on his legacy with a smile and pleased heart, even if he doesn’t feel like the media or Watson has portrayed him as true-to-nature; something that continues to follow him, even until this very day.

There’s so much of Sherlock Holmes nowadays that, honestly, it’s a bit suffocating. Robert Downey Jr.’s brought him back to his old-school roots where he kicked ass, got sexy women, and always seemed to solve the cases no matter what. Benedict Cumberbatch’s borders on being autistic, while also maintaining something of a love story with his fellow friend/partner, Watson. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s who is, for the most part, the generic one who solves crimes, says witty things, has a solid banter with Watson, and mostly, just does what we tend to expect from Sherlock Holmes nowadays. But these are mostly all young fellows playing the famed detective – what about the older ones out there?

Well, that’s where Sir Ian McKellen steps in and well, it’s just as you expected: Wise, funny, and most importantly, cranky.

And it should go with saying that no matter how much I jump down the throat of Mr. Holmes, it is in no way because of McKellen or the performance he gives. Because, unsurprisingly to some, he’s actually a perfect fit as the older, much more reserved Holmes who has seen almost all of life pass him by, isn’t fully willing to accept it and still has a feeling that he can make a difference in the world. That McKellen’s Holmes is getting older and on the verge of death, it’s already enough to tug at the heart-strings, but McKellen doesn’t beg or plead for your sympathy; in his own way, his Holmes is still pretty bad-ass and cool, even if we don’t see him karate-chop someone, or actually solve any crimes perfectly.

In a way, we just see him acting and being an old man, which is more than enough to give McKellen plenty to work with and show different sides of this Holmes character that we think we already know so much about.

Issue is, Mr. Holmes doesn’t always have the best idea of what to do with itself. Director Bill Condon is a solid enough director to know how to make his picture look as handsome as an episode of Downton Abbey, but he loses himself a bit here with there being so many strands of a story here, that it’s hard to pick between which ones are more interesting than others, or better yet, actually meaningful in the long-run. Of course, we all know that Holmes is trying to test his memory and remind himself of this final case that he never got a chance to solve, but then, there’s a few other subplots concerning Japanese people and the housemaid, as well as her son. Condon seems to have a lot on his plate here, which shouldn’t have been such a difficult job to handle in the first place, but it seems like even he gets a bit confused of which story deserves the most focus and attention to make the best impact.

Laura Linney? Irish? Why not!

Laura Linney? Irish? Why not!

The housemaid story, with Laura Linney and Milo Parker playing her son, seems exactly as if it was ripped directly out from McKellen and Condon’s last team-up, Gods and Monsters, and it feels a tad lazy, not to mention, obvious. There are some moments of tender sweetness, which is mostly due to the fact that McKellen can’t help but look adorable in his “old man” make-up, but overall, it comes and goes as you expect it to happen. Kid will be interested by Holmes; Holmes will be stand-off-ish towards kid; kid and Holmes will find a way to connect; Holmes fully trusts kid; and yeah, you get the picture after this. It’s predictable and doesn’t feel as fully-developed as it probably could have been to help keep this story interesting.

And then, there’s the case itself which, quite frankly, didn’t really deserve the treatment it gets here.

Most of this is due to the fact that Condon starts the film off by making it so abundantly clear that this final case is what seems to be itching and screwing with Holmes, even until this very day. Because of this, the expectations for this case are already through the roof and once we eventually do find out what really happened with the case, why it didn’t get solved, and what sort of revelations came about after it, it can’t help but disappoint. It seems as if it was also an easy road for Condon himself to take, had he not really wanted to go as deep and dark into Holmes’ past as he may have wanted to; instead, we just focus on a possible love of his life and leave it at that.

Do we learn anymore about Holmes than we already know from the countless other media outlets?

No, not really. But hey, at least we do know that he is capable of getting old!

Consensus: Despite McKellen’s sweet and tender performance as the aging, title character, Mr. Holmes doesn’t really know what to make of its many stories, how they connect, or why they matter so much in the first place.

3.5 / 10

More saggy-skin = older.

More saggy-skin = older.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ricki and the Flash (2015)

Cover bands are what capture the heart and soul of families.

Ricki Randazzo (Meryl Streep) is the lead singer/writer in her tacky cover band hailing from Tarzana. While it’s not a huge, big-time paying-gig by any means necessary, it’s one that makes Ricki happy enough to where she feels like she’s doing something with her life, living the dream, and at the same time, still having fun, as well. But one day, Ricki gets the call that her estranged daughter (Mamie Gummer) is going a bit coo-coo. Because her husband left her for another gal, she’s been left a hot mess, which is why Ricki gets the call to sort of save the day and talk her back down to reality. However, while all of this is occurring, she’s also getting back in-synch with the rest of her family that includes her stuck-up ex-husband (Kevin Kline), her one son Joshua (Sebastian Stan) who is actually set out to get married, and another son named Adam (Nick Westrate), who just so happens to be gay, something that cool, hip, and with-it Ricki, surprisingly isn’t all that about. While on this trip, Ricki realizes the family she left behind to make something of her music career, but also focus on those who mean a lot to her as well.

Like real life mother, like actual, real life daughter.

Like real life mother, like actual, real life daughter.

But still, no matter how heavy or serious things get, Ricki always finds a way to rock out with her side-braid out.

There’s something about the Ricki and the Flash that I want to hate, but for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to actually do said hating. Everything about it screams “wacky, quirky, but overly earnest family dramedy”, and the fact that it’s written by Diablo Cody is more than enough reason to make me shudder even more. Granted, I really enjoyed Juno and Young Adult, but a lot of her other material can tend to feel as if she’s just going through the motions of introducing cloying, almost annoying characters, giving us something small to relate to them with, and at the end, even despite all the dead-pan and one-liners, everybody still loves one another and wants to give each other hugs.

Yuck.

And a lot of Ricki and the Flash is like that, however, it’s the kind of big, gooey, warm hugs that may turn you off at first, but once you realize that the hug is fine and well-intentioned, then you decide to give in. And guess what? When you give in, all of a sudden, the hug becomes one of the coziest, most lovely feelings in the world that you almost never want to let go.

Ricki and the Flash is said hug and it’s why I’m shocked as to why so many people seem to be against it. For one, it seems like a lot of people have an issue with it being conventional and cliche, but really, there’s something more to this movie than that. Cody and director Jonathan Demme know and understand that a story like this is more than enough reason to despise white people till the end of time, but they also realize that there can be some actual heart and humanity within these white characters and their first world problems. Even though everybody may be upset and ticked-off that their not getting enough hugs and kisses before they go to bed, there’s still a feeling that said hugs and kisses mean a lot to them and for that reason, it’s hard to hate on them for that.

After all, what Cody does best with these characters is give us a reason to genuinely care about them and their said happiness.

At the beginning, Ricki seems like the type of washed-out, hip, older-women that may think she’s along with the times, but in actuality, really isn’t. Early on in the movie after we hear her rockin’ out to “American Girl” (which is pretty ironic, considering that this is a Jonathan Demme movie), she takes a few awkward jabs at Obama, then leads right into Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, saying something along the lines of, “we’re told that we have to play something new for the younger folks out there”, and seeming as if she, along with the rest of the band, don’t want to play it and are absolutely bored out of their minds that they have to, in some form, conform to this teener-bopper pop that they call “art”. Though this may be quite early on and seem like a small detail, this means a lot in showing us just who this character is; the time’s are flyin’ by here, and while Ricki may not be willing or able to accept that, she’s still trying her hardest to get with it.

Oh, Rick. Still aching after Jessie's girl!

Oh, Rick. Still aching after Jessie’s girl!

Every other character has this same sort of small detail that makes them stand-out among the millions of other similar characters (in Diablo Cody films no less).

Kline’s ex-husband character may seem like a boring square who loves his money, his mansion, and his perfectly-knotted ties, but really, also likes to have a good time and is just trying to keep everything civil and sweet for this small, but meaningful family engagement; Mamie Gummer’s Julie may be depressed and despise her mom for walking out on her some time ago, but also still really loves her and knows that all of this heartbreak and pain is just temporary and it will, eventually, get better; Stan’s Joshua may be the typical “son who doesn’t want his mother to know he’s getting married”-character, but eventually, shows his true colors in that he does want her to know and come, he just doesn’t want to feel that sadness when she doesn’t show up because of, well, a gig or something; Westrate’s Adam may also hate his mom because of the abandonment he felt and her opposition to his liberal views, but really, seems to only be made at her because she hasn’t been there to sit down and chat with him about who he is and why; Audra McDonald’s Maureen (Kline’s character’s new wife), may initially come-off like an intimidating hell of a woman, but also, after a bit of backstory, we realize that she was, always and forever, there for children who weren’t hers to begin with and will continue to be there, no matter what; and Rick Springfield, believe it or not, is actually the true MVP of this film as Ricki’s main co-band-leader who has been with her through the thick and thin, genuinely loves and cares for her, and if anything, just wants her to wake up, smell the coffee, and realize that he’s the one she needs in her life at this point in time.

Sure, most of you may be wondering why I’ve put so much thought and attention to describing the characters of Ricki and the Flash, but I feel like that’s the only way you can go about making sense of why this movie works so well. Cody and Demme both set up each and every character as predictable as can be, but eventually, once the wheel start to turn and you see where it’s going, we realize that they’re doing more and flipping the script every so often. It may not be the big shocks that get you, but it’s the small ones that, surprisingly, work the most effective and stick with you long after the final note has been ripped.

Consensus: Despite the obvious and predictable story-line, there’s a lot about Ricki and the Flash that may initially seem like convention, but due to the heart and love Cody and Demme have for these characters, it gets turned on its side and becomes both affecting, as well as sweet.

8 / 10

Meryl Streep's probably going to win a thousand Oscars for this and she's like, "Long hair, don't care".

Meryl Streep’s probably going to win a thousand Oscars for this and she’s like, “Long hair, don’t care”.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Carol (2015)

Once you work in retail, you’ll fall right out of love with everyone.

In New York City, during the 1950s, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works as a sales-clerk for a department store that excels during the holiday season. While she does aspire to be a photographer, most of her life surrounds this job, and the possibility that she and her boyfriend (Jake Lacy), may be heading out for Europe some time soon. However, Therese’s life gets turned upside down when she meets an older woman by the name of Carol (Cate Blanchett). Though Carol is currently going through a divorce with her husband (Kyle Chandler), she’s still tied to her child and doesn’t want to lose her in the proceedings, due to claims of affairs she had with other women. Despite this, Carol is still drawn to Therese and vice versa, so because of that, the two decide to see if they can make something of this relationship, despite it being the 50’s and time hasn’t quite caught on yet. But no matter what, Therese and Carol decide to leave their former lives behind for a little while, head out on a road trip, and eventually, see if they should be together and make this thing work, if it’s just another sordid fling for Carol that she wants to try out with a younger woman.

She's faking it.

She’s faking it.

Given the relationship, as well as the nature of it, Carol could have easily just been one crazy sex ride from beginning to end. Wistful glances from afar? Slight breezing of hands? Curious smell of perfume? Oh man! Already sweating just typing it all!

But surprisingly, but at the same time, unsurprisingly, writer/director Todd Haynes handles it all with ease, care, and above all else, delicacy.

See, for one, Carol concerns itself with a romance tale that most people, new and old, may already feel square-ish about – not due to the fact that it concerns two women, but one who is much older than the other and clearly looking for some hot, young meat to sink her teeth into. And from the very start, that’s exactly what Carol seems like; while our titular character definitely has enough reason for wanting to experience something younger and much more lustful, there’s also a good enough reason why she may just be after Therese in the first place and that’s just for a little bit of fun sex. No shame in that, however, Haynes makes it perfectly clear that to Therese, this is no game.

In fact, if anything, it might be love.

And from here on out, Carol takes a wide turn away from being infatuation, to deep, dark and heavy romance that, despite being seen as constant HLA, is actually very far from. In fact, if anything, it’s plenty more subdued that, despite one key scene that’s not just beautiful, but perfect in describing how it is to make love to someone you actually love for the first time, the whole movie’s just a lot of shared-looks and beating around the bush (pun intended, I’m sorry). Nobody in Carol outright declares their love for one another, nor do they ever make it clear just what they’re full intentions are; all that they do know is that they’re feeling something and going wherever it takes them next.

Which is to say that yes, the two people I’m talking about the most is indeed Carol and Therese, as portrayed both perfectly by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, respectively. Much has already been made about who is the lead character here and who isn’t; no matter how you put it, both characters are given just as much as attention, detail and focus as the other, so regardless, they’re both fully-developed, well-rounded characters who you get a sense of from the very start and gradually continue to know more about, as the story progresses. Haynes could have easily left these characters at just the surface-level, but instead, takes more steps into showing us how they are together, as well as when they aren’t together, which is perhaps what matters most.

And by the same token, allows each actress to dig deeper and deeper into who these characters exactly.

As the titular Carol, Blanchett finally feels as if she’s really building a character here and not just “acting”, with a capital A. Don’t get me wrong, Blanchett is an amazing actress who can never not be good, but lately, it seems like most of her roles have just been about placing her in a spot and letting her do her thing. Nothing wrong with that, but after awhile, it starts to get tiring and, in a way, boring for the actor themselves. That’s why, as Carol develops, we get to see Blanchett go down certain avenues with this character that we don’t expect and get to witness for the first time, which not only makes her seem fresh to us, but also real and believable. While we want to be upset with her and judge her for leaving her family and giving into temptation, to see how truly happy she is in her own skin, when she doesn’t have to hide or shelter herself, is a perfect reason to think otherwise and that’s why Blanchett’s performance truly is amazing.

As is she.

As is she.

As for Mara playing Therese, she’s even better. Therese, on-paper, seems like a meek, mild-mannered girl who doesn’t have much to say or do with her life, and generally seems to be just floating about. However, as we start to understand more and more about Therese as the movie progresses, we see that she’s just a sad, little confused girl who has no road to lead her on, nor a person to fully lean on; she’s just going with the flow, but desperately in need of a plan that it’s making her depressed. Mara’s great in making us feel the sympathy for this character, but never overdoing it, and it’s why her performance, while maybe not as showy, is perhaps the most effective.

Together, the two have great chemistry, from the beginning to the very end.

Because Carol is a movie that deals with a relationship, as its developing, its interesting to see it from the initial, building stages, to what it eventually becomes, if anything at all. There’s no real form of chemistry; there’s just a lot of awkward pauses, phrasing and stutters that don’t really go anywhere, except to show that you’re just as flustered as the other person. You’re getting a feel for the other and you’re just seeing to where it all could go. That’s why, when Carol and Therese first meet, get together and see what they can do about the spark between one another, it feels honest and believable – not like a “meet-cute” scenario where they hit it off right the bat.

This is mostly due to the fact that, yes, both Carol and Therese have issues of their own going on, which basically all just boil down to being about men. However, what Haynes does well here, is that he fleshes out these two character’s stories well enough to where they’re not just worth caring about, but sympathetic. Kyle Chandler’s Harge seems like a genuinely upset and heartbroken man who was lied to and sort of toyed around with, only to just now realize that he’s got no direction in life and basically hopeless. Same goes with Jake Lacy’s Richard, a guy who so clearly and desperately wants Therese in his life, but doesn’t want to overthrow his hand, nor get forgotten about, either – he just wants to be with her, love her, marry her, have kids with her, and do whatever else couples do.

If that doesn’t sound at all sweet or romantic, then go elsewhere and stay away from Carol, you heartless wench.

Consensus: Elegant and beautiful, in both its visuals, as well as its story, Carol features a lovely, but compelling romance, as portrayed perfectly by both Blanchett and Mara.

9 / 10

But together, neither is! It's just love, baby!

But together, neither is! It’s just love, baby!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Big Short (2015)

Now I literally have no clue what to do with my money.

The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 will always and forever be considered one of the most heart-breaking, tragic moments in recent memory. But even though it may have came as a shock to most normal, everyday working people whose lives were affected the most, a few within the financial world saw it coming from a mile away and tried to do whatever it is that they could do to fix it all and stop it from happening in the first place. There’s Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager who is definitely an odd person, but knows of the issue right away. Then, there’s Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another hedge fund manager who, along with his trusted band of confidantes, are trying to figure out what the problem is. And last, but certainly not least, Charlie Ledley (John Magaro) and Jamie Mai (Finn Wittrock), two friends and business partners who are risking all that they’ve got by going out there and making these issues open to generally anyone who will listen. But as they, as well as everyone else here finds out, it doesn’t matter how right you are about what’s set to happen, rich people won’t listen because they don’t want to think of losing their money, for whatever reasons.

Yeah. Just give up already.

Yeah. Just give up already.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the Big Short is that it’s dealing with some very challenging and dry topics. While I’m sure that everybody knows about the financial crisis of 2008 and has a general idea of what went down and why, nobody really knows for sure and that’s exactly what the Big Short sets out to do, which is already enough reason to run for cover, hold up one’s arms, wave that white flag, and give up all hope on ever being informed about anything ever again. After all, you, just like many other average citizens in this world, probably don’t have a single clue what yield curve, or synthetic CDO actually is – instead, you just know what you’re having for dinner, who the President of the United States is, and well, maybe, how many days are in a year. The housing market, banks, mortgages, and all of that other serious, financial stuff isn’t needed in everyday life, so why bother with hearing it at all?

Well, that’s why there’s something brilliant about the Big Short in that it understands all of these issues it may face with appealing to a bigger audience out there and does something totally out of the ordinary: It explains it all.

And by “explains it all”, I mean exactly that; rather than having the movie try its hardest to find a way to finagle in meanings of certain definitions through needless exposition, characters in the film will literally turn towards the camera, or use their narration, and tell you what something means, or have someone else who is perhaps more appealing to do the same. Yet, none of these people ever matter to the actual movie itself and more or less, just seem like glorified cameos, which is fine because, well, they absolutely are! That’s why, when seemingly out of nowhere, we get a scene of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, telling us about subprime mortgage lenders, it’s definitely, but necessary and much-needed, so instead of throwing it away, you just learn to accept it, learn a few things in the process, and move right on along.

By the way, random celebrities showing up in the movie to explain something happens about three times in the movie, but it works each and every time because, well, it perfectly explains what we need to know about what happens to the housing market and why the U.S. economy was hit so hard. Co-writer and director Adam McKay is very smart allowing for the bulk of the film to just be about what’s going to happen and give us a general idea of why, and then allow for us to watch once all of the cards fall into place and how all of the people who notice it first, act and try to fix it all before it’s too late. Clearly, we know the ending, so the film’s spin on “based on a true story”, is actually quite funny, but that doesn’t take away from any of the tragedy, either.

Still, at the same time, McKay being a director with a heavy background in comedy (Anchorman, Step Brothers), understands that the best way to cope with a tragedy of any kind, is still add an element of funny, sometimes hard-hitting comedy, that makes the pill go down smoother. But whereas with McKay’s other films where it seemed like a lot of the comedy was just about how far certain actors could go to ad-lib without breaking a sweat, here, each and every actor spouts colorful and fiery line of dialogue as if Aaron Sorkin had written the script after he did a few lines. So this isn’t all to say that the Big Short’s funny, but it’s also quite hilarious and smart in that it’s created this all-too-real universe where people talk fast, walk fast, are fast with their comebacks and generally prefer to be harsh to one another because well, they have a lot of money and they can.

But once these people start to realize that all of their money, as well as a lot of other people’s, is going down the drain, they realize that there’s no more playing around and it’s time to knuckle up or shut up. Sad thing is, we know how the story ends and McKay does, too.

That’s why, he never allows for us to forget about it.

Some men, just want to watch the housing market burn.

Some men, just want to watch the housing market burn.

If anything, the Big Short shows who is to blame for the financial crisis, but at the same time, still doesn’t give any closure onto why those responsible let it go on for so long, nor does it resolve the issue of whether they knew about it forever and didn’t care, or if they were just too stupid to realize? Either way, the movie definitely points its long and hard finger directly at the shooter and it helps give a sense of satisfaction even if, you know, those same said baddies are the ones who ended-up getting away with it all. Still though, when watching all of this unravel, you almost forget about that fact and just allow for the story, as well as the characters, to tell itself.

That’s why it helps that the Big Short has such a talented ensemble who, even when it seems like they’re just speaking like my Economics professor, still add enough fun and flair to the proceedings, that they make it a little more compelling. Christian Bale’s Dr. Michael Burry is perhaps the only character who hardly ever moves from one location, but because Burry’s persona is based on weird tics and traits, Bale runs wild with the role and seems to be enjoying himself. Though he’s still enraged by what he’s seeing, there’s still a sense that Bale wants to be light enough to where it helps us get through this pain and sadness.

Same goes for Steve Carell as Mark Baum, someone who seems to live a lovely life inside this financial world, but at the same time, doesn’t want to sit so idly by, that he forgets about it all, either. Carell’s really enjoying this role here and it should be noted that, even despite all of the names and characters popping-up, he’s the clear star of the show and with good reason; not only is his character given the most backstory out of everybody else here, he’s also the most humane one out of the bunch. Though the whole dead-brother angle goes on a bit too long and is an obvious arc capable of being seen from a mile away, Carell still shoulders through it to where it’s okay – we just want to see him be more pissed-off and curse because Carell’s pretty good at that.

And well, for the matter, so is Ryan Gosling.

Gosling’s character, despite not being the meatiest of the bunch, is still probably the most memorable because he’s exactly what every young, rich and vain hotshot in the financial world probably is like. Gosling not only looks the part because he’s Ryan Gosling, but he’s also got the smooth charm and tongue to make him work all the more; while we’re never too sure if he’s a good or bad guy in this equation, we know that he definitely knows a whole lot about money and is capable of being trusted. That said, every scene he’s in, he steals and just about every line he delivers, is hilarious; even the scene where he describes the housing market with a Jenga set, while smart and interesting, is still funny because Gosling’s character is so in love with himself, you just know that he thinks it’s the most simple thing to ever explain. Even though we all know, for sure, it isn’t.

Brad Pitt shows up, too, as Ben Ricket, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do, except just serve Finn Wittrock and John Magaro’s characters bits of info that they need to make this story move more. Wittrock and Magaro are both great here and definitely give us a nice, small-time view of what this financial world looks like from the ground-up; because even though they don’t know it’s all going to crash just yet, we still wait and wonder to how they’re going to react and just how exactly it’s all going to affect them.

Because we know what happens to everybody else on the face of the planet, but what about these two schmucks?

Eh, who cares? The economy’s in the crapper and that’s all worth caring about.

Consensus: For all its difficult financial babble, the Big Short is, surprisingly, easy-to-comprehend in ways, well-acted by its huge ensemble, funny, and most of all, insightful into how this world works and why it all matters to what happened over seven years ago.

8 / 10

Get it yet?

Got it?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Daddy’s Home (2015)

Some kids are lucky enough to have a dad in the first place, but to have two that are Marky Mark and Ron Burgundy?

Brad Taggart (Will Ferrell) wants to have kids of his own, but due to a mishap at a dentistry, he unfortunately can’t. That’s why, when he meets Sarah (Linda Cardellin) and finds out she has two kids of her own, he’s more than happy to take on the duty of being their stepfather. While their father, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), is sort of out of the picture, the kids still love and adore him a whole lot more than Brad, who they just see as “the guy who’s married to their mom”. Brad’s fine with this as he’ll try to do anything he can to win them over, which he does come very close to, until Dusty decides to come back home and stay around for his kids. Obviously, the kids are happy to see their daddy, which makes Brad feel as if he has to overcompensate for something. So, he and Dwight have a battle of wits, of sorts, all to decide just who isn’t the better man, but who is the better father and more equipped to handle a whole family-unit.

"And don't ever forget, always say 'hello' to ya mothers for me."

“And don’t ever forget, always say ‘hello’ to ya mothers for me.”

If anything, Daddy’s Home proves just how great of a comedy the Other Guys was. Even though it was basically just a romp on the buddy-cop genre, featuring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell playing off of one another the whole time, it was still so funny and wacky, that it didn’t mattered that it was a bit messy and if nothing more, just an enjoyable comedy. That’s why, when watching Wahlberg and Ferrell unite here together again and try to recreate some of that same magic, it’s hard not to feel like some of the spark may be missing; after all, the Other Guys came out around a time where Wahlberg was trying so desperately hard for everyone to take him ridiculously seriously and didn’t even bother to show his mug in a fun-spirited comedy that, quite frankly, made him look like a goober.

But at the same time, the issue with Daddy’s Home lies in the fact that it never quite knows what it wants to be. For instance, believe it or not, Daddy’s Home is rated a friendly PG-13, whereas, from the look of this, it seems like at least an R. Still though, the movie still flirts around with the idea of being this raucous, raunchy R-fest that likes to poke jokes at balls, fertility, and sex, whereas another good portion of this movie just wants to poke fun at kids and still be able to cuddle up with them at the end of the day. No matter which way the movie has it, it doesn’t work and seems a bit confusing.

Still though, there were parts of Daddy’s Home that had me laughing and when I looked back on it, quite enjoyed.

Most of this comes back to the fact that everybody in the cast, no matter what they’re working with, can’t help but be charming, funny and above all else, entertaining to watch. Ferrell, as usual, is overly-earnest and sweet as Brad, a role he has played many times before but this time, seems so dedicated in actually developing more and more as the flick rolls on, and Brad gets thrown into some very weird predicaments. That Brad hardly ever turns into a bad guy, makes Ferrell seem like he’s one-note, but there’s more to this character than just being a total and complete softy, which is how the movie could have presented it and left it at. Instead, the movie shows that this sweeter-side to his persona is, perhaps, what makes him the most lovely presence to have around.

The sweet babies I couldn't imagine these two making together.

The sweet babies I couldn’t imagine these two making together.

Of course, I’m definitely getting way too deep into thinking about Daddy’s Home like that, but hey, it goes a real long way when a comedy adds a bit more heart to its characters when it isn’t just embarrassing the hell out of them. And yeah, as Dusty, Wahlberg’s a fine fit; he’s both suave and cool, but at the same time, more than willing to let himself be the butt of any joke tossed at him. Together, Ferrell and Wahlberg still have great chemistry that doesn’t get used as much as it probably should have been, but for what it was worth, there were still plenty of jokes and gags to be found between the two that are, for lack of a better word, humorous.

And the cast goes on and on with the likes of Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress, Paul Scheer, Bill Burr, and Bobby Cannavale, all seem to try with their material and may not always come out on top, but still deliver enough to add a little bit of something on the top. Basically, it was just nice to see them and see the film not trying to ruin any of their personalities in the meantime; while Daddy’s Home could have easily been the movie to have them all look stupid and foolish for actually taking this gig up in the first place, it instead, rewards them for being able to play along for as much as they can. In a way, they’re all sort of like dads who know when it’s time to relax and take a chill, but because they love their family so much, continue on with whatever they’re doing to keep the smiles up.

Yeah, definitely thinking about this one too much, but so be it! I laughed, surprisingly, and well, so should you!

Consensus: Daddy’s Home isn’t perfect and definitely doesn’t allow for Wahlberg and Ferrell’s chemistry to shine on perfectly through, but is still funny enough to make it an enjoyable comedy to sit through and not be worried about who is being wasted on what jokes.

6.5 / 10

That sex would be fun to watch. Just saying.

That sex would be fun to watch. Just saying.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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