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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2008

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Take that Wall-E! This is real animation!

Writer/director/producer Ari Folman was 19 when he served in the Lebanon War in the 80’s. He did his job, his duty, and did it all for his country. However, after all of these years, Folman seems to have forgotten all that has happened, with the exception of a dream that he and two buddies of his have had where they emerge from the water, naked. Seems rather strange, but again, he doesn’t know if that’s real or just a dream. That’s where his former-soldiers help him out to tell him what happened, what they did, and what exactly went on in the Lebanon War. The results not only shock us while we sit and listen, but even them as well.

This is one of those hard flicks to categorize because not only is it a documentary, but it’s also an animated movie. When I first started watching this, I was terribly confused as to what the hell I was seeing. I knew I was seeing a bunch of cartoon-figures chat about the war and whatnot, but I didn’t know if the voices were going through the motions or if they were actual interviews. As you could probably tell, I wasn’t used to seeing my documentaries changedup like this but thankfully, I got used to it after awhile and that’s when things really started to set in.

First of all, let me just go right out by saying that the idea of shooting this movie in an animated-form was sure brilliance on Folman’s behalf. Not only does it allow these stories to hit the imagination that most of them are told in, but it allows you to sink into the material even more. These are real people, talking about real happenings that they either witnessed, or heard of during their time in the Lebanon War, and after awhile you just forget that it’s all told to you in an animated-form. Not only does this allow Folman to film stuff that would have been a bit too costly for him, had it been shot in a live-action way, but you just feel as if you are right there.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war-time.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war time.

On top of that, the animation is pretty damn good as well! Some characters look goofy, some animation seems cheap compared to others, and not everything works, but there is still always something to gaze at with this flick and with this animation. It’s also great to see a flick that uses it’s animation as a tool for telling a more compelling story, rather than to just get away with being dirty and grotesque. Some moments here are downright disturbing and seem like they would have been slapped with the NC-17 had it been done with real actors and real film, but nonetheless, it all feels suitable to the harrowing and disturbing tales these guys are all talking about. Seriously, some of this stuff here will mess you up.

This is one of those movies that totally took me by surprise because within the first ten minutes; I was already bored. I didn’t get what this movie was trying to talk about, the style of filming it was using, and whether or not everything I was hearing was real, or just stories that this dude wrote. But as time went on and I started to gain more and more knowledge of my surroundings here, then it all started to make sense. What’s so unique about my slow, but moving-knowledge of what was going down in the grander scheme of things, was sort of like what our main protagonist was going through as well.

Not only do we not have any clue what the hell happened or what we are about to hear, but neither does Folman. That’s why it’s so intriguing to see a flick not only put us in the same spot as the lead character (or whatever you’d call him), but have us grip on to reality just as he does. The whole idea behind this movie is that after the war, some men come to terms with the harsh-realities of what they just witnessed, or they just throw it to the back, forget about it all, and have it placed as dreams. That’s exactly what this movie touches on, in a way that I never expected to not only affect me, but show so strongly in animation.

And even with the animation, nothing of what you see here is going to be watered-down. You’re going to see some pretty disturbing stuff that will not only have you shadow your eyes away, but may also piss you off, as it did to me. Just knowing that these types of travesties actually occurred and, in some ways, still is to this day, really upset me to the high heavens because it made me feel as if there was no need for any of this violence or war. Now, some peeps may disagree with me and say it’s all about religious conflicts and that they need to settle their differences as soon as possible, but is this really the answer? Killing un-armed people in the streets? Destroying farms and live-stocks so people starve? Using a gun and a rank as a power-method;  getting rid of religions in hopes that they will one day, fade away into obscurity? Really?

Are these really the answers we all search for when we need to settle any conflict?

"Hey, how's the ki...AAAAHHH!!"

“Hey, how are the ki…AAAAHHH!!”

For me and my thoughts, this is just wrong. But to see it displayed in a way like this, really hit me even harder. Hell, I could probably type in some war-footage and find tons and tons of actual deaths and murders caught on-camera, but somehow this hurts me on the inside more. Something just didn’t sit well with me and had me feel as if this world, not only has it’s beauty, but it’s ugliness as well. It made me angry, it made me upset, but most of all, it made me happy to live ithe life I live, where I live it. Not saying America’s better or anything like that (because clearly, that isn’t the whole truth), but it does make me realize that the life I’ve been granted is one that I should be thankful for, each and everyday I wake up.

Sorry if this is beginning to sound like I just smoke a bowl, but that’s what happens to me when I see a movie that really has an effect on me; it has me thinking, talking and hoping that other people feel the same way as I do. And if not, then oh well. Still see this though.

Consensus: Depending on what your view of the Lebanon War is, Waltz with Bashir may, or it may not, connect with you, but if you have a heart, and a thirst for human-righteousness, it should still hit you hard and where it hurts the most inside.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Can't say that it's not an AIRport.

Technically, it’s still an airport.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Eventually, we all get old and die. Tell me, what else is new?

After New York theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hits it big with his “version” of Death of a Salesman, the question on everybody’s mind is: What’s next? However, he’s the only one who doesn’t have that question anywhere near his mind at the moment, mainly because he’s got a lot of crap going on that he can’t escape from. His artist wife (Catherine Keener) just left to Berlin with his 4-year-old daughter; his box-office worker Hazel (Samantha Morton) is flirting up a storm with him; he just got hit in the head by a pipe and found out that it may be a deadly sign of things to come (meaning death); and he just received a grant to make his next big play inside of an area the size of a football stadium. Caden’s brain is so wracked and sad, however, that he does eventually come up with an idea that may take some by surprise, but makes total sense when you take his whole life into perspective: Caden plans on making the play about his whole life, including the most eventful moments, and all of the people he meets and greets. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass it is!

Going into this movie and knowing that Charlie Kaufman is not only just writing this movie, but directing it as well, should already get you in the right frame-of-mind, and make you expect the unexpected, even if the unexpected is totally, and utterly random and pretentious. But such is the case with Kaufman, who’s the type of writer whose style should not work at all, but somehow does, mainly because he’s had such talented directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry being able to pick up the pieces and frame them in a somewhat comprehensible way, where not only do the heavy-set ideas hit our brains at maximum-speed, but the story itself just works, regardless of if we get it or not. Those two are just obvious examples, as I’m sure they are many more directors out there who “get” enough of what Kaufman does with his writing, and what he’s trying to say. However, when it’s just him running the show, and no outside interference or inspiration, then things get very, very shaky as a result.

Aside from PSH, let's see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Aside from PSH, let’s see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Then again though, like I said before: It’s Charlie Kaufman, and you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. So that means that there’s no need to fear, this won’t be one of those reviews where I get on the movie’s case for being non-stop pretentious, self-indulgent and preachy, because I expect that from him. Instead, it’s going to be more of a review on how easy Kaufman’s writing seems to be. See, the movie is less about a guy making a play of his life, as much as it’s more about how life itself is a play, and we are all just characters within it, going about our emotions, our action, and our decisions in a way that were pretty much spoon-fed to us from birth; they’re just starting to show now. And with that idea in mind, I have to give Kaufman plenty of credit. Not only can the dude look at the human-existence, but the reason we have to live, with a sour-puss attitude and grin on his face, but he can also show us that life is pretty damn sad, no matter how times we try to avoid that sadness with the simple things in life.

Very depressing, I know, but there’s just something about Kaufman’s writing that makes it so wonderful and honest that you can’t help but be entranced, nor not be interested in hearing what he has to say. You just listen, watch and learn gracefully, as if you’re watching a fellow human-life happen right in front of your own, very eyes. Which, in a way, you pretty much, and that’s where I hit my problems with this movie and where it was trying to get at.

The problem with this movie isn’t that it’s depressing or it makes you look at your own life, as well as the other’s around you, with a dour-look, but how it just seems to only reach for that idea as a point to be made. We always know where Kaufman’s getting at with this material; he feels that life is a sad, miserable experience that we live through, but we live through it nonetheless, so why harp over the meaningless things like break-ups, divorces, and lost-loves, just live life! And yes, it is very sad and cynical in it’s own way, but Kaufman never seems to be bringing anything much else to it other than that. There are shiny and bright rays of hope and happiness to be found somewhere in the finer-lines of this story, but anytime they get a chance to pop-up and show themselves, Kaufman comes right back down with his swiping-hand of negativity, showing us that we shouldn’t be happy with what we see, we should cry, pout and kick cans all day because of it. Maybe he’s not that much of a dick about it, but he comes pretty close at times, and it just shows you why this is the type of writer that can do some major business when he has a helping-hand with the direction; but when it comes to his own shot at glory, and giving it his all, he sort of stutters into his way of balancing out the happy, as well as the sad times in life.

Surely there’s plenty of both elements in everybody’s life, but it sure as hell isn’t always sad, Charlie. Get a grip, man!

"Why yes, I am reading "Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It." Have you heard of it before?"

“Why yes, I am reading “Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It.” Have you heard of it before?”

And while it’s disappointing that things didn’t turn out better for Kaufman’s direction, it’s even more disappointing to see the awesome cast he was working with here, and how little most of them, minus the few exceptions, are given. One of those said few exceptions, Philip Seymour Hoffman as our main, mid-life crisis man for the next 2 hours: Caden Cotad. Hoffman is great at playing these sad-sack, miserable characters that don’t care much about the life they live, nor the little things that make it worth living, but he feels like he’s channeling the same emotions every once and a little while. He seems never crack a smile, no matter what the occasion may bring. However, he seems to be able to lure every women he meets into bed with him, make her the happiest gal alive, show her her own faults, make her sad, push her away, lose her, and then never see her again. That’s a non-stop cycle that continues to revolve around every so often, and it got as annoying to watch, as much as it did to see Hoffman put on the same saddened, depressed-look on his mug. It works when the humor within Kaufman’s script comes to show, but not when we’re supposed to care for this guy, as well as the fellow women he falls in love with.

Many of which, may I add, are played by extremely talented, and great actresses, who are given material that could have easily benefited them more, had Kaufman himself seemed to actually give a crap about them, or life. Catherine Keener does her usual, “I’m old and artsy, but I’m also bored and impulsive, therefore, I’m a bitch”-act, and does it well; Samantha Morton is a bit of a sweetie-pie as one of Cadence’s first loves, one who lives in a burning house, that constantly burns throughout the whole movie (whatever sort of metaphor that’s supposed to be, I still can’t wrack my brain around); Michelle Williams acts like a bit of a bitch as well, but shows some compassion for the way she feels towards Cadence and their relationship that isn’t so present with the other gals in this flick; and Emily Watson has moments of fun and spirit, but doesn’t get much more time to really allow for her character to breathe or shed any meaning as to why she’s even shown. The only one who really seems to be livening up this material is Hope Davis, as Caden’s therapist who shows up from time-to-time, does something weird or goofy, tells him to read her expendable, self-help books and leaves him on his way, hitting all of the right tones you need from an odd, Charlie Kaufman movie. Problem is, she isn’t in it enough and doesn’t get the chance to really let loose on material that could have easily used it from her, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and even Dianne Wiest. Seriously, how do you misuse Dianne Wiest!!?!? She’s so precious!

Consensus: The sad points of our weak, pathetic lives that Kaufman obviously makes in Synecdoche, New York don’t make the movie too depressing to get-through, they just don’t add much flavor or energy to a flick that could have really benefited from some, had it had the director to really make it pop-off the screen, and into our minds and laps to chew on for a long, long time.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

In Bruges (2008)

Who knew Bruges was such a happenin’ place! Full of fun, murder and all!

After a job goes terribly wrong, hitmen Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are sent away to Bruges to let the heat die down. This also allows for their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to think of their next move, so that while they’re in Bruges, not only can they enjoy the various sights, but they can wait on his call for further instructions of what to do next. In the meantime, the two hitmen go sight-seeing, although against most of Ray’s wishes; instead, he would much rather like to drink, do drugs, find some pretty ladies and have as much fun as one possibly could while vacationing in a place like Bruges. Luckily for Ray, there’s a local film crew around town filming something with a dwarf and a pretty gal (Clémence Poésy) that he automatically takes a liking to. However, the aftermath of his one job still continues to mess with his mind and threatens to ruin any possibility of being sane he may have. To make matters even worse, when the two guys eventually do get their call from the boss, it isn’t a pleasing one and may actually pit the two seemingly good friends up against one another.

But hey, that’s business, mate.

It’s a very rare occasion in which a movie that I have seen more than a handful of times, can not only just make me laugh nearly as much as I did the first time around, but can also keep me on edge as to where the story is going next. And with In Bruges, it’s an even rarer-occasion, because, generally, the film leans on its constant plot twists that take over the last-act of this movie; plot twists that I have seen many times before. So for a movie to excite me all over again, as if I was just watching it for the first time in my life, truly is a work of magic.

I think we all know she's in for a wild night ahead of her.

I think we all know she’s in for a wild night ahead of her.

Because, the fact remains, In Bruges is one of the better dark-comedies of the past decade, and not too many people know about it. Even if they should, they don’t. But while that may seem like a meaningless “idea that I think is actually a fact”, there’s something endearing about that aspect that works wonders for this movie.

For instance, the movie prides itself in being contained to this one, rather small part of Bruges; a place you didn’t think was a perfect setting for a film, but somehow, totally is. It’s a place that the movie mocks on more than one occasion, but also shows that there’s some beauty in the land these guys are vacationing at. I don’t mean in just the numerous museums or churches these two guys see, I mean in the people they meet and the things that happen to them, both good and bad. What I’m basically trying to say is that Bruges itself, becomes something of a character in a movie that’s named after it and it creates a small vortex of a world that, as they say in the movie, “Seems like you’re in a dream.”

All that philosophical shite aside (working on my Irish over here), this movie is still entertaining-as-hell no matter how many times it’s watched. You so rarely get that with any movie, but when you see as many movies as I do on a regular basis (more than any normal human being should ever have to), certain movies just fade in your mind and you lose the ability to love them all over again. However, with In Bruges, that ability isn’t anywhere to be found; in fact, I think I may love the movie even more now, then I did way back when I saw it in the early days of ’09.

Certain jokes I can catch up on quicker now, the story makes a whole lot more sense, and the performances from the trio of lead veers quite closely into being “perfect”; especially from Colin Farrell, the actor I’ve always had faith in, and here is exactly the reason why.

As Ray, Farrell is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode and destroy everything around him. You get the sense that he’s a young, brash asshole that doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, nor knows how to act like an adult, but that’s sort of the point of the character and makes Farrell act even better than before. He’s a bit of a punk that does and says bad things throughout the majority of this movie (as hilarious as they sometimes may be), but knows that they are bad, wrong, they should not be done, and at least wants to move on from those mistakes and see if he can turn his life around.

In other words, he’s a bastard with a conscience, and every single second of watching Farrell play him is a total pleasure.

Even more of a pleasure to watch is Brendan Gleeson as the older, much more experience hitman that’s something of a father-figure to Ray, although the movie doesn’t hit us over the head with that idea. Instead, it just allows us to see Ray and Ken as two guys, who have the same job, and are mates, yet, they are in a bit of a sticky situation that can go either way. They don’t know, and they don’t necessarily care. They just want to take each day as they come and both characters express that feeling in two very different ways. For Ray, spending his day is all about getting drunk, having a shag or two with a lady, and just overall, having a grand old time. Whereas for Ken, he’s much more simpler in that he likes to read a book or two, explore the land around him a bit, and at the end of the day, go to bed while watching the tube.

They’re both opposites, yet, they are very good friends that understand each other and at least try to make sense of where the other one comes from. Watching them speak to each other about such stuff like either Belgium art, guys who sell lollipops, kung-fu, is constantly fun and entertaining, while very interesting because we see certain shades of their characters come out that we didn’t expect to ever see, all throughout their conversations. It also helps that Gleeson and Farrell have a lovely chemistry that never feels false. Not even for a single second.

Look out, Oskar!

Look out, Oskar!

And to make matters even better, we have Ralph Fiennes here as the foul-mouthed, constantly pissed-off boss of theirs that isn’t around a lot, but when he does show up, is around to only take care of business his way. We hardly ever see Fiennes do a performance as nasty or as eccentric as this, which is what exactly makes it such a pleasant, if totally unexpected surprise. But what Fiennes is able to find in this character is some ounce of humanity that makes him more than just a dirty, cold-blooded killer; the dude has a code/conscience, and all he’s doing is following through with it. He’s a mean old son-of-a-bitch, but he’s at least a human one, and the fact that we get to see that aspect of the character is truly a testament to the kind of actor that Fiennes is.

But honestly, I’m going on and on about the cast, without mentioning the one who is really responsible for this whole thing coming together so perfectly: Writer/director Martin McDonagh. Sure, McDonagh’s style of blending dark comedy with humane-drama, and bloody violence, has all been done numerous times before, but there’s something oh so refreshing about McDonagh here that makes me wonder not only why he doesn’t do more movies, but also why many more writers and directors haven’t followed suit? Because what McDonagh does so amazingly well here, is that he finds out what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, and what keeps us on the edge of our seats when watching movies, and combine them all together to make a movie accessible enough for anyone to see.

I mean, I’m not saying that In Bruges is the perfect pint of Guinness for either mom, dad, or your younger sibling, but what I am saying is that if you and your pals are hanging around late one night, need something to watch that will not only interest you, but have you downright laughing and enjoying yourselves, then you could do worse. Far, far worse.

Moral to the story: Watch this movie and thank me later.

Now go!

Consensus: Hilarious, fun, superbly-acted, exciting, surprising, and sweet in spots you don’t expect it to be, In Bruges is a near-perfect dark-comedy/thriller more people need to see in order to realize just how much crap is truly out there in the world that everybody knows, and why little gems like this go so unnoticed, for so very long.

9.5 / 10 = Full Price!!

Something in that image doesn't fit with the rest of it....

Something in that image doesn’t fit with the rest of it….

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

What’s a VHS?

In a downbeat area of New Jersey, there lies what seems to be one of the last ever mom-and-pop-run video-shops that actually still sells VHS tapes. The place is called “Be Kind Rewind” and it’s run by the old and a bit out-of-touch Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). However, in order to see what’s wrong with his video-store and how he can fix all of its problems, he decides to take a bit of a vay-cay and do some thinking on his own. This leaves his most trusted, dedicated employee, Mike (Mos Def), the responsibility of watching over the whole shop and making sure nothing bad at all happens. Somehow though, it totally does, because once the buffoon of the neighborhood, Jerry (Jack Black), gets electrocuted and comes into the shop, he wipes all of the tapes clean with nothing but static on them. Scared to have his boss find this out and be ultimately disappointed in him, Mike decides to pick up a camera, get Jerry and start filming their own versions of these movies. It’s called “Sweded”, and somehow, the town catches on and, in a way, like these versions a lot more than the actual movies themselves. This gets the store all sorts of attention – both wanted and unwanted.

So yeah, while that premise may sound strange and all, just let me tell you that this is a film written and directed by Michel Gondry; somebody who is definitely one for not always being the most “normal” film-maker out there. However, that’s the reason why this movie actually works – Gondry has a vision that may alienate some, but to others, there’s a certain joy in seeing what he sees through those artistic eyes of his. And while I couldn’t necessarily call something like this “artistic”, there’s still something joyous about it that makes it all worth watching.

"So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures?"

“So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures we have in store?”

Gondry’s weird-isms aside and all.

Although, I do have to say that for the first half-hour of this movie, nothing seemed to be happening at all. I get that there was supposed to be some sort of reason behind why these tapes were all erased and therefore, drive these guys to actually have to make these Swedes, but it seemed way too slow and messy. Almost as if Gondry himself was searching everywhere he could for anything that resembled a plot and didn’t know where to start, or end; he was just searching and searching, while annoying us at the same time.

But eventually, once the plot gets going and the Swede-ing starts happening, then the movie gets to be a bunch of fun. Which is mostly due to the fact that I think Gondry shows exactly what it’s like to have the creative adrenaline run through your body; the same kind of adrenaline that makes you want to get up from what you are doing and just have the world see what it is that you see, or are able to create. A part of me likes to think that Gondry uses this angle, only to express his own knack for creating low-budget remakes of popular films, but another part of me likes to think that whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. He’s clearly happy making these small, really cheesy remakes, and as a result, I was too.

And basically, that’s the whole gist of this movie. For a good portion of it, at least, the movie is all about what it’s like to have the need to make a movie right from where you are, with whatever you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you have a budget, a whole lot of talent, or even all of the right equipment to get going from the ground-up. All you need is some inspiration and that drive to make you keep on shooting whatever it is that you want to shoot. If it’s a video of you just ranting about whatever it is that’s on your mind in that point in time – then go for it! If it’s a video of some Charlie kid biting somebody – then sure, totally go for it!

Whatever the idea in your head may be, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you’re able to get up off your rump and film something! That’s what movies are all about in the first place, and while this movie may not be the most perfect piece of cinema to exemplify that fact, it’s still a noble effort from someone who clearly knows a thing or two about what it is that he’s talking about/filming.

How I imagine he acts every time he steps out of the shower.

How I imagine he looks every time he steps out of the shower.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s all pretty fine, especially in the casting-department. Though Jack Black’s shtick is the same here, as it’s been in, I don’t know, say, every single one of his damn movies, it’s still pretty entertaining and makes sense once this Jerry character gets a little bit too big for his britches and acts like he’s some big-time star of some sort. Sure, he has plenty of haters, but Black’s shtick, when used well, is entertaining and fun to watch. Same goes for Mos Def who, despite being on a short list of rappers-turned-actors, is one of the better ones because he’s able to go from role-to-role, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard for one thing or another. He’s just being an actor, although there still has yet to be that one role that distinguishes him from the rest of the group.

Still though, I hold out hope. Not just for Def, but for the future of movies as a whole. Because even though certain people don’t believe the movie-business will be the same twenty-thirty years from now, there’s still hope out there that people will feel the need to want to express themselves in a fun, creative manner. Especially with a camera in their hand; something in front of them; and a chock full of ideas inside their noggins.

I still hold out hope, people. And you should too.

Consensus: While inherently messy, Be Kind Rewind still gets itself together in time for it to be a fun, creative, and rather passionate-look at what it takes for a person to create something, whether it be a film, a book, a song, or any piece of work that expresses themselves for being who they are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Now they're all working at FYE. Damn, DVD's.

Now they’re all working at FYE. Damn, DVD’s.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Choke (2008)

I never thought that a movie about a sex-addict, would have such a small amount of actual sex in it.

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex-addicted med-school drop-out that works as an 18th century tour guide, and on the side, decides to fake as if he’s having an actual choke-attack, in public restaurants. Why? Well for one, it makes those people feel as if they have to give him money for a speedy-recovery, and for two, the money for that goes straight to his cooky-mom (Anjelica Huston), who seems to be going through the latter-stages of dementia. Which just adds more problems to Victor and his life, while also allowing him to possibly see that there’s maybe more to life than just screwing people. And yes, the use of that word has many meanings.

Movies about sex-addicts usually make you feel as if your body can’t get enough sex on-screen for the whole run-time, yet, your mind is telling you otherwise. Most films such as that get you right in the mind of a person who can’t go a second without popping a B and feeling the need to get relieve themselves in the next room. Take for instance something like Shame. That movie, no matter what anybody says, was a full-on depiction of a sex-addict. It had sex, boobs, anal, bum, dick, balls, and even ass-licking. It had a little something something for every sexual maniac who wanted to see it, and because of not holding back for a single second (hence the NC-17 rating it was slapped with) it got it’s point across. Comparing that flick, to this one, is sort of a joke, considering that this is an adaptation of a novel from Chuck Palahniuk. If that name doesn’t ring a bell to you, let me lay it down like this: it’s the writer of Fight Club.

See! Now all the hands go up in the air!

Secretly, they both have hard-ons.

Secretly, they both have hard-ons.

But comparing this to a movie like Shame, is a bit misguided. Because see, while they may feature the same subject-material, they’re both different movies in terms of tone and message. Not to mention the fact that one is definitely a whole lot better and memorable than the other.

I think one of the main problems with this movie is that it never seems to go far enough with its plot, its message, or even its characters. I’m not some crazy sex feign, who needs to watch movies where two people get it on, so I can go and rub one out, but when a movie presents itself as a story about a struggling sex-addict just trying to get by in the real world without having to stick it in some hole; then I wanna see a lot of that so I can get a full look and feel. Now, I don’t mean to say that this film is “sexless” per se, but compared to what it could have been: It was rather tame. And come to think of it, that’s just how the whole film is.

Clark Gregg is the writer/director here and seems like he has a general idea of what Palahniuk was trying to say, but getting down the message ain’t anything special, that is unless you don’t have the material to back it up. The humor is funny, but pretty obvious in the way that doesn’t seem like that writer’s style. It’s more about the jokes where people can’t seem to get it up, or cum too quickly, or anything dirty of that nature. It isn’t witty, it isn’t thoughtful, and it sure as hell isn’t as dark as the advertising may make it be; it’s more sophomoric, as if Clark Gregg felt like some guy having an orgasm while imagining himself playing baseball was as hilarious as an Elephant wearing a polo. Sure, a movie about a guy who cons people into giving him money by faking a choke-attack is a pretty dark aspect to take into a story like this, but it’s maybe shown once or twice, and then it’s gone from all existence.

Seeing as I already talked about what Gregg was able to do with this message, it may seem like I’m tracing back my steps, but let me say this: Gregg seems to only be going through the motions, with little love or feeling. The movie starts off kindly as it shows how this one guy, who is seemingly a bad person, can start to change his ways somehow, but as time goes on, we realize that it’s a lot easier said than done? Predictable? Yes, but it seems like this story could have had more to it. However, Gregg doesn’t even add that “more” to it. Instead, everything plays out exactly as you’d expect it to, with little to no surprises, except for maybe one character coming out of nowhere with a random, philosophical speech about God and what certain passages in the Bible mean. The whole religious theme in this movie was very whatever for me, but as soon as that one moment I speak of came and went, I was really getting ready to slap someone. So obvious, so predictable, and so nothing at all like Fight Club, that got by being more than just a flick where people beat the shit out of one another and didn’t talk about the club where they went to go do this. That’s what made that movie a downright classic, whereas this movie is just instantly forgettable.

Blonde-strokes - milf

Blonde-strokes – milf

The only saving-grace to this flick is the performances, and that’s not saying much once you start to find the bigger picture that lies beneath. Sam Rockwell is great, as usual as Victor, a sex-addict that’s starting to open his eyes a little bit more but just can’t. Rockwell always does an awesome job in roles like these, mostly because he loves playing the bad guy, even if he does have a conscience. He’s sleazy, he’s dirty, he’s sexy, and he’s mean, but he’s also got a nice side to him as well, which shines through every chance it gets. The problem with his character is that by the end, the guy seems to turn around so much, that it’s almost unbelievable. I get that he wants to fall in love and stop humping every person he walks by on the street, but it’s a total-180 for a character that didn’t really seem as if he had much problems being himself in the first place.

Anjelica Huston plays his mommy and is also great, as usual, but her character falls through the same hole. She obviously seems like a nice woman, but by the end, our image of her just gets skewered because Gregg felt as if he needed to add more of a an extra dimension to these people, and make it seem like they haven’t been total and complete dicks for the last hour and a half. Kelly Macdonald is as cute as ever as the doctor that tries to help out Victor’s mommy, but she’s hiding her accent a little too much, and a lot of her line-readings come off as more awkward than earnest.

Consensus: Choke has an interesting premise, a well-stacked cast, and even a smart bunch of characters that promise to do so much, yet, somehow, director Clark Gregg loses his way and barely does anything at all with the material, except offer us little to absolutely no surprises.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

"So...uhh, ya wanna take my heartbeat somewhere more private?"

“So…uhh, ya wanna take my heartbeat somewhere more private?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Man’s best friend can also be a lady’s best friend, too!

Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish Cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy. When her car breaks down in Oregon, however, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, which also leaves Lucy in a very vulnerable position.

Back in 2008, Marley & Me was considered the go-to dog movie, that had every doggie-lover out there pulling out a box of Kleenex by that tear-dropped soaked-ending. When I saw it, to be honest, it kind of got to me as well since I do love dogs but little did I know that there was a smaller, more effective doggie-loving movie out there around the same time. Then again, back in 2008 I wasn’t a movie critic so maybe that’s why I never caught much wind of it.

Damn me and my younger-self!

This is the third film from co-writer/director Kelly Reichardt who seems to have a certain style to her work that may be hard for some to get into, but works for those who have enough time and patience on their hands. What Reichardt does is she takes a plot, doesn’t do anything with it, and just let’s the camera keep rolling as you watching events play-out in front of you;  you know, as if it was almost like real life. She did the same exact thing with Meek’s Cutoff, and even though I didn’t appreciate that one as much as this, it still had it’s moments where I felt involved. This whole film, I felt involved mainly because of what Reichardt is able to do with this story, or lack thereof.

Lucy: A dog going through an existential crisis.

Lucy: A dog going through an existential crisis.

Some people will probably be pissed about this film and how it seems like nothing is even going on for the first 30 minutes or so, but Reichardt’s film isn’t all about what’s physically happening; it’s all about what’s going on when you look deeper into certain actions. Maybe I’m giving the film more credit than it desires but there is something here that makes this film compelling just about the whole way through. We see this whole story through the eyes of this gal and we see her for all of her faults and positives. She’s broke and is on the streets now and we have no idea why, but we don’t really need to know that to be invested in her story. All we do know is that she’s struggling big time and will do anything in her power to get where she needs to go, but also make sure that she finds her dog beforehand.

But once the final ten minutes of this thing happens, be ready, cause it will get you; much like it got me. Because the whole film is one big bleak-fest, that never seems to have any ray of sunny hope in it whatsoever, it feels like that’s how it’s all going to be, so it’s best to just leave the emotions alone and not even bother with them. Then out of nowhere comes this emotional wallop that the film apparently has been packing the whole time and once it does come through, it doesn’t at all feel calculated or phony, unlike Marley & Me. You probably won’t think that this film will get you, but trust me, it will and it does. Not saying that it made me cry, but it got me feeling just a bit more than I originally expected.

My only problem with this flick was that I feel like it takes so much of it’s time going absolutely nowhere sometimes that it doesn’t really matter what happens next. Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t remember any huge emotional or memorable scene that occurred in the middle act. They all came in the beginning and last act and it wasn’t that the rest of the film other than that was boring, it just seemed like Reichardt didn’t feel the need to move her story, so instead just let it move on itself without any real direction or idea. Not saying that this is a bad direction to take when you have a small indie like this, but sometimes you need to spice things up every once and awhile just to keep our eyes glued on the screen. Just my opinion though, man.

And let me also not forget to mention the most random scene in this whole film that seems to come completely out of nowhere: The infamous forest scene. Without giving too many weird details away, Wendy ends up sleeping in the woods one night only to be awoken by some freakishly creepy man that starts talking and cussin’ all of this gibberish that made no sense whatsoever. It goes on and on to where it seems like we should be scared for her and for this story, but it just seemed very obvious that a story would go for this trick of scaring us into believing that anything could go wrong with this gal. Once again, can’t give too much away but it’s a weird-ass scene that stuck in my head for all of the wrong reasons.

"Ruff ruff. Okay, Lucy?"

“Ruff ruff. Okay, Lucy?”

But the only damn reason we even care about Wendy’s homeless-self to begin with, is because she’s played by none other than Michelle Williams. Williams, as we all know, is a knockout when it comes to the acting department as she proves, time and time again, that she can always amaze us with the talent she brings to the big-screen and never lets us down with a role she daringly chooses. This is a very soft, slow, and quiet role for Williams, but she masters it perfectly with just the right look and attitude to every obstacle that comes in her way and it’s a very delicate portrait of a flawed character that, believe it or not, we actually care about and want to see be happy after all of the shit she’s been through so far. It’s the type of character that Williams excels, and the fact that she’s allowed to use her facial-expressions, just makes it all the better to watch.

Somehow though, Williams almost gets over-shadowed from somebody else: An unknown actor by the name of Wally Dalton. Dalton plays a store security guard that offers her help in any way that he can and tries to be there for her when everything in her life seems like it’s total crap. I’ve never seen this Dalton dude before but he’s very likable and nice, to the point of where I wanted to see her hang-out with him more because of the sweet things he does for her, whenever he coucl. This relationship between them doesn’t go where you expect and at the end of it all, they share a nice little connection that doesn’t end perfectly, but also couldn’t have ended any other way either.

Much like real life.

Consensus: Wendy and Lucy may tick some people off for its slow-pace, but it still packs a powerful punch of emotion mainly because of Michelle Williams’ layered, but subtle performance. Doggie-lovers, bring your Kleenex to this one too.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Definitely not the best kiss she's ever had, but pretty damn close.

Nothing like a slobbery, wet embrace. Much like my ex-wife’s.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

Valkyrie (2008)

But I thought Hitler died in a movie theater explosion? Stupid Hollywood and their tricks for making up history as they go!

After permanently losing his right eye and arm, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is forced to come back to Nazi Germany, with a newfound respect from those around him, as well as a new mission on that he sets his sights on the most: Assassinating Hitler and making Germany a peaceful country once again. The problem isn’t that Hitler’s the most powerful man in Germany, whom almost nobody can double-cross and succeed at doing, but getting each and every person on the same page, so that the plot goes perfectly according to plan. There are people in high places involved, too, it’s just that they are so nervous, that they second-guess themselves so many times, that they either kill themselves, spill the beans to others, or screw up the plan while it’s going on. However, for those who are inspired to take down Hitler, they don’t back down, not even when the slightest misstep rears its ugly head. Which, during this plan, occurs many times – maybe moreso than anybody involved would have wanted. But such is the case when you’re trying to take down the powerful, almighty Führer.

First thing to mention, that is more than likely going to screw people over while watching this movie (if one decides to do so), is that every actor here, whether they be English, French, American, or, obviously, German, has to play a German character. There’s nothing different about that – heck, if an actor is called upon to do some sort of accent that isn’t of their own native-tongue, then there’s no doubt in their mind that they shouldn’t take it. However, what’s so strange here is that almost nobody in this cast, not even the German actors (as hard as they are to come by), even flirts with doing a German accent.

"So, the one Jew says to other Je-...... Oh, I mean, hey, fuck that Hitler guy, right?"

“So, the one Jew says to other Je-…… Oh, I mean, hey, fuck that Hitler guy, right?”

Perhaps the biggest criminal of this is Tom Cruise who, in the first few minutes, does a bit of German to show that he’s got the chops to be on-par with Liam Neeson in every which way; but a mere seconds later, he’s back to his original, American-dude accent that almost everybody is able to recognize right away and is distracting practically the whole way through. It makes sense if you English lads like Tom Wilkinson, or Kenneth Branagh, or even Bill Nighy in these German roles, cause at least they have an accent as is to work with, but Cruise, he has nothing. It’s just him talking, and acting like he’s Jerry Maguire all over again.

Except this time, instead of, “Show me the monaaaaay!”, it’s, “Heil Hitler!” Which, while we’re talking about it, he only does once, so relax over there ya Scientologists!

And it’s not that Cruise is bad really, it’s just that he’s playing Tom Cruise, which is neither good or bad, it’s just Tom Cruise. Especially so here, considering he doesn’t seem like he’s really trying to go for anything else other than the heroic, determined-type we’ve seen him throw himself into role, after role, after role. Nothing wrong with that, because the dude’s a pro at those types of roles, but it does get old after awhile when it seems like all you’re seeing is the same guy, play the same role, in the same kind of movie, except with different scenery around him. In this case, it’s Nazis, but honestly, throw in a scene of Cruise on the hood of a car, with that iconic track playing somewhere in the background, and you’ve practically got another Mission: Impossible movie.

Except, once again, their being Nazis and all.

The rest of the cast is fine, too, mostly because they’re easier to not be distracted by when they’re trying to sound a lick at all like German-folk, but there’s nobody here in particular that’s spectacular. Everybody’s fine and serviceable with what it is they have to do; which, most of the time, just consists of them clicking their heels, staring into space very intently, and sweating bullets, which was probably because Bryan Singer decided to douse all of them with Aquafina bottles before shooting. So yeah, that last part doesn’t count.

And speaking of Bryan Singer (all “under-aged boys parties”-jokes aside), the guy does what he can here with this material. He clearly wants to make this move, sizzle and spice like a Hitchock thriller, while at the same time, still harp on the fact that an evil man like Hitler actually existed and had immense power over thousands and thousands of people. However, what takes away from most of what Singer does here, is that it’s a story we all know the ending to. Okay, maybe not all of the little, itty, bitty, gritty details, but what we know is that the plan failed, Hitler lived, and all of those who were involved with the conspiracy theory in the first place, we’re all eventually killed anyway. So yeah, it sort of ends on a dim note, but that’s the kind of note we can expect from a movie like this, because that’s exactly what happened.

"Stop hanging out with the pirates!"

“Stop hanging out with pirates!”

It’s not like I’m saying that movies that have an ending we already know about, can’t be fun or exciting anyway possible, because they totally can. However, in order to do so, there needs to be a drive, or a certain feeling of emotion involved with the proceedings that makes us feel, even for a split-second, like this story’s outcome could happen differently than what we already know. It’s highly unlikely, but so are plots to plenty of movies; that’s why we need movies to go for the gold whenever they can, having us believe in the unbelievable, and throw all of our cards out on the table, as if we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

The problem is, we know what’s going to happen next, and Singer never gives it that drive. Nor does he do much else to keep the proceedings exciting. Just by-the-numbers, by-the-books, and that’s it.

Yawn.

So in a way, I guess I have to give Singer some credit for at least sticking to history as much as he could for the film’s sake, without ever allowing it to get too boring or preachy, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder what the point was about this whole movie. We know that it wants to show us that Hitler was a bad man and that nearly everyone close to him wanted to stab him right in the back, but it doesn’t seem like anything new; person gets on top of their throne and now all of a sudden, everybody wants to take the throne away from said person. It’s a traditional story-route we’ve seen done a hundred times before, but I guess the only real aspect of this movie that separates it from the rest is that the person in that throne is, well, Adolf Hitler.

Oh, and also Nazis.

Consensus: Both Tom Cruise’s and Bryan Singer’s intentions are noble and make Valkyrie, for the most part, interesting to watch as the plot unfolds, but the problem is that we get what happens what happens at the end, and we can’t help but not really care for these generic characters more than we need to.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"What are you talking about? These are our TPS Reports. Nothing else."

“Huh? What are you talking about? These are our TPS Reports. Nothing else.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBComingSoon.net

Elite Squad (2008)

Never thought I’d say this, but those poor drug dealers.

Rio de Janeiro is not a very nice place to live. It’s filled with drugs, sweat, crime, murder, more crime, sex, corruption, and a whole lot more crime. No matter how hard the local police-force try either, it seems like it’ll never be fixed, if mainly because most of the force is as corrupt as those committing the crimes in the first place. However, there is a certain certain force that takes matters into their own hands and makes sure that crime doesn’t begin to escalate, and more and more innocents are injured or killed. Their name – BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion. The captain, Nascimento (Wagner Moura), is the head honcho in charge here and always makes sure things go according to plan, even if he does have the occasional “snap-out” every once and awhile; but he’s getting treated for it and has a baby coming on the way, so maybe it’s not best for him to be around so much violence, death and crime, right? That’s why he decides to start training, brain-washing and beating-down several possible recruits to fill-in for his job, and he thinks he’s found it in both Neto (Caio Junqueira) and Andre Matias (Andre Ramiro). Both are good buddies, but are different in their ways, except for one key similarity: They want to enforce the law and take those down who go against them.

"What? All I said was, "What's up?""

“What? All I said was, “What’s up?””

We’ve all seen the Brazilian, gangster-thriller done before, right? Well, in case you haven’t, trust me, all you have to do is watch City of God and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of what these types of movies are like – violent, dirty, gritty, raw, unflinching, bloody, and usually filled with all sorts of coke, weed, heroin and other drug paraphernalia that I’m even afraid to admit to knowing, in hopes that the CIA isn’t spying on me. I may make it sound like any other ordinary crime-thriller involving gangsters out there, but that movie in and of itself is just about perfect and shows you exactly what one can do with the a tired genre like the crime one, and find a way to spin it on its head in an energetic, creative and original way.

But, as you know by actually visiting my blog, this isn’t a review on City of God, this is a review on Elite Squad, and what a damn shame that is, because this movie doesn’t really deserve your time of the day to be viewed, nor does it really deserve my precious time and effort to be reviewed. Although, since I am a dedicated film-nerd/blogger, I have to stick to my guns and try my very hardest to inform you people on any movie out there, good or bad.

And this is one of those latter ones, which is a shame because just reading that premise up above made this seem like something that would kick all sorts of fine-ass. Somehow though, it does, but not in the right ways. I’ll give director José Padilha credit for one thing, and that’s for at least making me feel like I was on the dirty, disgusting and corrupt streets of Rio de Janeiro, where anything could go wrong at any second, to any person, for any reason. In ways, with the hand-held camera-style Padilha so clearly loves and embraces, I felt as if I was watching a documentary where I was seeing a lot of these crimes being committed, on both sides. For that, Padilha deserves some admiration for sticking it to the streets and at least having me believe that I was watching something that could actually, believably happen on the real streets of Rio de Janeiro

However, that’s where the compliment begins and ends, because the rest of this flick is a mess, and it’s solely on Padilha’s part, and nobody else’s. The main problem Padilha runs into with this flick is that it’s so abundantly clear who he is siding with in this story, and that’s the police-force themselves. Sure, he shows them in some unflattering ways where police-chiefs are all about corruption, keeping your mouth shut and earning some dirty money on the side, but most of the time, he’s usually backing up these men-in-uniform, their actions and what they stand for. And it’s not like there’s a problem when you show your appreciation for the heroes who get stuff done and keep the crimes from happening more and more, but when you have those heroes putting plastic-bags over any possible criminal’s head, just to get bits and pieces of information out of them, the line between “glamorizing” and “being frank” gets blurry.

Here, Padilha seems to start off with the latter, where he shows that even though these guys do get their jobs done in an efficient manner, they’re still very messed-up in the head and not always honest people. But that all begins to change where we soon see that these officers are now carrying-out very violent, very disturbing actions in order to make their job a bit easier. Once again, I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t support and show our love for our local police-forces who are out there and risking their lives, so that our lives a bit easier, simpler and safer, but this movie really tests our patience with how far we’ll go to stand behind these men and root them on as they practically shoot, kill and violently torture anybody who slightly gets in their way. No, I am not a hippie, but I am a person who knows when “enough” is “enough”, and there came a certain point during this movie where I didn’t give a shit about any of these guys, what they were doing or who they were trying to find, capture and kill. All I wanted them to do was stop beating the ever loving shit out of everybody that they suspected to be a drug-dealer, even if that person was holding the slightest ounce of pot.

Poor old Johnny forget about those unpaid parking tickets.

Poor old Johnny forget about those unpaid parking tickets.

I mean honestly, sometimes you just have to say, “Leave me be, man.” And I felt like that many of times during this movie.

Even the fine performances from the cast couldn’t survive this movie’s mucky moral-siding. All of the officers that this movie focuses on and actually gives two shits about, are relatively compelling to watch and can be interesting at times, but later on, they just turn out to be a bunch of sick, twisted and sadistic nut-jobs that you’d neither want to help you out of a burning car, patrolling your neighborhood, or anywhere near your friends or family for that matter. Now, I don’t know how they do things in Rio de Janeiro, but in the U.S. of A, or practically anywhere at all in the world that isn’t Brazil, we don’t want these kind of crazies coming around, enforcing the law, and making sure all is well and doesn’t go bump in the night. We already got our hands full, you know?

Consensus: Those who want to take a life in the police-force will probably find Elite Squad to be somewhat “inspirational” to them, but even then, I don’t know if any person’s morality can stoop so low as to applaud these men for what they do in order to get their job done, all in the name of “the law”.

3.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

I guess this is the part where you say, "Freeze with your hands up!". But it's cool, just fire away!

I guess this is the part where you say, “Freeze with your hands up!”. But it’s cool, just fire away!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Leatherheads (2008)

Total fiction. George would never do anything that would harm that beautiful, majestic face of his.

Believe it or not, back in the mid-20’s, football was not as big of a thing as it is now. Or, should I say that it was “big”, but it sure as hell wasn’t considered as a professional type of sport that you could play, be respected for, and actually making a living off of. Hell, some fans and players probably still wish the sport was still like that today, but hey, whattya gonna do? Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) was one of the aging-stars in this time and era who finds out that his team is folding under because of budget-restrictions and lack of money coming in and out. However, along with a sneaky reporter (Renée Zellweger), he hatches up a plan to get a very popular college player, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), on his team so that the team can get back to playing and that he may get some money in his pocket. But once love is thrown into the situation, then nothing ever goes as planned.

George Clooney obviously loves old movies because, well, let’s face it: everybody still considers him, to this day, “the next Cary Grant.” So, when you have a comparison like that, you have to at least take pride in it, especially when you’re as talented and powerful as Clooney is in Hollywood. Literally, the dude could say that he wanted to a movie about him and another dude taking reading the phone-book for two hours, and with a snap of his finger, everybody would be on-board, already having a release-date ready. That’s just the type of person Clooney is, and even though he never lets you forget about it, I can’t say I hate it because the guy makes good movies, stars in good movies and never seems like he’s just phoning it in for the sake of doing so. 110% is what Clooney always puts in, and even though it may not always work, at least he tries, right?

"Ladies and gentleman, I think we have just been spotted planning a three-some."

“Ladies and gentleman, I think we have just been spotted planning a three-some.”

Being that this is his third outing as director, Clooney had a lot to live up to and making a movie about football back in the 20’s seemed a bit odd. But hey, it’s George Clooney, so what the hell can go wrong? Well, to be honest, not much, but what does go wrong, hits you straight in the face and makes you wonder why he made something like this in the first place. It’s not like it was a terrible move on Clooney’s part to make an old-fashioned movie, about the early days of pro-football, but the question remains: Why?

The areas of this movie that Clooney’s skill works very well is in the first hour or so of this movie, which is when we are being introduced to our characters, our story, and our setting, all of which are finely detailed in their own rights. But obviously, Clooney’s strong-suit here is in starting this movie on the right foot by allowing the comedy and goofiness of this all to just keep us entertained and not really take itself too seriously. It’s funny, quick, witty and very screwball-ish that it doesn’t seem disingenuous to the plot or it’s characters. Hell, it takes in 1920’s, so why not just make a movie that could have been seen or made during the time of flappers and Prohibition?

You know, the good old days.

Nonetheless, most of this is pretty damn entertaining because Clooney never settles for anything less when it comes to capturing the right tone and feel of a screwball comedy that could have easily been made by Billy Wilder, had he been alive in ’08. The problem with this movie is that when he does begin to get further and further away from the screwball elements of this movie, a into more darker and dramatic-territory, then things get a little hectic.

And this occurs around the hour-mark, because this is when the tone really gets lost in the shuffle of trying to be frothy and playful, while also focusing on these characters and the harsh-realities they have no chance of escaping. I know that the movie is supposed to be all about how the game of football changed from being a small hobby on the side that a bunch of guys who loved doing it, to a sport that almost everybody and anybody aspired to be apart of, all for the riches and expenses, rather than the fun of the game, but that point came and went as it pleased. Clooney didn’t seem to bother to focus on that aspect of the story as much as he wanted to with the love-triangle; the same love-triangle that started off fine, but just got nonsensical. I can handle it when characters act like idiots because a little tail is thrown their way, but after awhile, I kept on wondering, “Why are these guys still fighting for this chick, when it’s clear who she wants to fully be with?” I don’t know, maybe it was just me.

But even though the dude does screw up being a director this time around, at least he’s good as the leading man and shows that he still has the wit, the charm and the perseverance to make any role of his work. Dodge Connelly is a bit of a strange role for Clooney, but not as obvious because you can still tell the guy loves the sport that he plays, loves what he has to do, and really wants the money. He’s the type of fast-talker you don’t want to see at a Christmas party because he’s too busy talking your ear off about how you and him should get together some time, look over the paper-work, and see just where they could go next with this idea of his. However, he’s still a guy we like, which is solely due to the fact that Clooney just has that “thing” about him that makes him so cool to begin with.

Even with all of the mud and gook, George still finds a way to be the sexiest mofo on the planet.

Even with all of the mud, George still finds a way to be the sexiest mofo on the planet.

Renée Zellweger is also a blast to watch and listen to as Lexie Littleton, an untrustworthy reporter for the Tribune, who shows all of the fiery sass and sexiness that we’ve always seen from her in past rom-com roles, but never really got to see placed in a period where all ladies acted and talked like this. Okay, maybe Chicago, but to me, that doesn’t count because half of her lines were sung, rather than spoken. Nonetheless though, the gal’s great here in the way that she’s able to hold her own against the dudes, show-off some of that brassiness to her act that we haven’t seen in awhile, and also make us feel a bit more for her than we should. Even though I don’t like it, most journalists seem to get a bad-rap in movies and for once, it was nice to see a movie that portrays a journalist as a person that loves their job, and does whatever they can to get the right facts, by any means necessary.

John Krasinski is also here as the happy-go-lucky, always positive-thinker, Carter Rutherford. I’ve always had an admiration for Krasinski because the dude is able to make us like him, even when his character is a bit off of his rocker. It’s also nice to see him not play a character that’s practically Jim, and seeing him just shine it up as Carter, make us fall in love with him almost as much as everybody else in this movie does, reminds me why I go to bat for the guy every chance I get. Then again, it’s a role that’s seemingly there so that everybody else can work around it, respond to it, and do a lot better than, so maybe it’s not the role-of-a-life-time for the guy like many, including himself, may have hoped. It’s still good though and makes me hope he’ll challenge himself a bit more in the future.

Consensus: Being that Leatherheads doesn’t just star Clooney, but also has him directing as well, you should already know it’s a good movie, while definitely still not as good as we’ve seen the dude do in the past. Namely, three years ago with Good Night, And Good Luck.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Stop being so happy!!

Just trying to make the moments he has next to George last forever. Don’t blame him.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Body of Lies (2008)

Leo’s gone rogue! And Russell’s eating too much! What’s going on with the world?!?!?

CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan. When Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate his network, he must first win the backing of cunning CIA veteran Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) and the collegian, but perhaps suspect, head of Jordanian intelligence. Problem is, Hoffman isn’t quite exactly who he says he is and turns more heads than one man should be doing. Which will not get past Ferris’ head since he’s Mr. Smarty Pants over there.

I remember back in October 2008 when this film was being advertised, all my buddies and I made a promise to go out and see it. Sounded like a reasonable plan for a Friday night when girls or booze weren’t around. The one problem was that our ages from somewhere around 14-15, which meant we couldn’t see this unless we wanted to try the risky, but totally worth it sneak-in maneuver. We tried, but it didn’t succeed and we were bummed to say the least. After seeing it all of these years later, I wonder why the hell we cared so much in the first place.

Guess I wouldn't be sweating in 100+ degree weather if I was making over a million a movie too.

Guess I wouldn’t be sweating in 100+ degree weather if I was making over a million a movie, either.

There’s one thing you have got to say about Ridley Scott: The dude never half-asses a movie of his. From a technical standpoint, he does his job by making this film look as gritty and as dirty as he can get it, much like he did with Black Hawk Down. Since the film takes place in the Middle East, it makes sense that the camera look a lot grainier and sandier as if Scott just picked one up off the ground, dusted it off, and started filming. But it isn’t as amateurish as I may make it sound, because it actually adds a darker look onto the flick and it gets even better once the action actually starts to kick in. The action, as you could probably tell by now, is filmed in the trademark, crazy and kinetic way that we all know and sometimes love Scott for (less so for his late brother), but it brings a lot of energy to scenes that otherwise could have come off as generic and a bit unneeded. Still, they were thrilling, fun, and got the job done.

Needless to say, for the first hour or so, I was really digging this film. I thought that Scott really had his ass on the right track here with setting the story and making it appeal to anybody who isn’t necessarily a CIA-expert, while also making the movie itself quite suspenseful and feeling as if it could go, at any second, anywhere it wanted to. Somehow though, Scott seemed to lose himself along the way, which cause a problem the movie itself never seemed to recuperate from.

Right after Leo’s character gets bitten by a dog and has to go to the hospital for a series of rabies shots, the film takes a wild turn into a somewhat romantic-territory as Leo starts to fall for the nurse that treats him. Not only did it practically come out of left-field and add nothing to the story, but it seemed like such a tacked-on way of getting us to care more and more about Leo’s character, when I think that having Leo in the movie itself, playing that character is already sympathetic enough since the guy is able to win anybody over (even when he is playing a 19th century slave owner). All we needed to know about him was that the guy could do his job and get it done just in time to get screwed over by the head-honchos he works for. Not much else needed to be added, but Scott thought otherwise and ended up screwing his own movie over as a result.

It gets to so strange at one point, that you begin to feel like you’re dealing with two separate films: One, a dumb romantic flick based on a character’s smarts and another’s dullness, and the other one, a spy thriller that started off strong and fresh, but got very convoluted once too many characters started showing up and throwing their ulterior-motives around. Eventually, the romantic angle does go away for a bit and we are once again involved with the whole angle of this film that made it so fun in the first place, but by this time, it seems to have already lost a lot of its momentum. It’s weird too, because as they were building this story up and up, I felt like I should have really been along for the ride and wonder just what the hell is going to happen next to all of these characters but instead, I didn’t really seem to care all that much. Even when they hit the climax they’ve been itching for the whole time, it still feels undeserved and a bit anti-climactic.

Totally not his type. But apparently Ridley thinks differently.

Totally not his type: Born in the 80’s.

With that being said, the film does rely on its performances to make everything better and for the most part, they are worth depending on for quite some time until it becomes apparent that nobody can save this plot. Leonardo DiCaprio does a fine job as Ferris by giving this character more of a reasoning to be upset when it’s practically him versus the rest of the world. Come to think of it, that sounds like the same character he played in Blood Diamond, Inception, Shutter Island, and so many more. So yeah, it’s nothing new that Leo hasn’t already touched before, but at least he tries and show tons of effort in making this character, and ultimately the movie he’s in, work. Same goes for Russell Crowe who seemed like he was having fun, even if all he did was talk on the phone. I don’t know if eating cheeseburgers everyday for two weeks was the way to feel like you’re in the role but hey, I guess it worked for him and worked for us too, I guess.

Even as good as these two are, they aren’t the most interesting ones out of the bunch. The one who probably stole the most scenes for me was Mark Strong as Hani Salaam. The whole thing with Strong is that no matter what film his name pops up in, you always know he’s going to be the villain. Does he play the villain well? Yes, but could he actually spread his wings out and try something else other than that? Yes to that rhetorical question as well. That’s what he does here but this time, he plays around the idea of whether or not you know he’s the bad guy or not. He also adds a whole bunch of suave and relaxed coolness to him that makes him steal every scene, as well as not make him seem the slightest bit of gay whenever he calls another dude, “my dear”. Lately though, it’s cool to see him start to loosen up a bit and play around with other roles, even though it is a shame that Low Winter Sun seems like a bust. Poor guy. He deserves so much better, he’s just got to smile more so Hollywood producers know that he has the ability to.

Consensus: Though it wasn’t the most fresh or original-take on the thriller genre, Body of Lies was still working well in its first hour or so, but then began to lose its head once too many subplots were thrown in there, especially a cheesy one featuring Leo and some nurse he thought was cute. Lame!

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"No, I did not get you 20 Spicy McChickens! You need to stop this whole "method thing"!"

“No, I did not get you 20 Spicy McChickens! You need to stop this whole “method thing”!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Nights and Weekends (2008)

Just move in already!

James (Joe Swanberg) and Mattie (Greta Gerwig) are happy and in love. So happy and in love in fact, that when we first see them together, they close the door, get right on the ground, take each other’s clothes off, prepare for some love-makin’, and do the deed. Now if that’s not a true sign of two people in love, I don’t know what is! But as we begin to learn more and more about James and Mattie’s relationship, it isn’t necessarily a normal one as much as it’s one that has to be spent together when one is in town or around and ready for a little hang-out. What I mean by that is that they have a long-distance relationship that seems lovely and going very well at first, but as we see once we get a fast-forward to one year later, things are a bit different between these two as we may have never suspected judging from the first shot of this flick.

The term “mumblecore” is usually referred to in a negative way, however, like with most films of any genre, I don’t find that a negative term per se. The movies that can be associated with this term are usually easy-to-make, as if you or I could get up right now, grab a camera, and start filming anything you want, and usually feature real, down-to-Earth scripts, or sometimes, not even a script at all. The point of a “mumblecore” movie, really, is to show us how real and frank something is, whether it be a simple story or one that provides plenty of thinking. These types of movies are usually my favorite kind, but yet, I still haven’t latched onto the movement as a whole.

"The Plastic Lion Gift": We've all been there before, right men?

“The Plastic Lion Gift”: We’ve all been there before, right men?

Then again, I’m just a 19-year-old dip-shit from the suburbs, so what do I know about real life?

Anyway, where I’m getting at with this flick is that despite the movie being as cheaply-made as possible, there are still some god-to-honest truths that come out here that are more than just “long-distance relationships blow”. No, believe it or not, there’s more of a thought-process needed to be had here when watching because, as co-writer/director Swanberg continues to remind us, everything we are seeing, hearing, and feeling is all real. Maybe almost too real. So real, to the point of where you feel like you can almost connect with their relationship in a way that makes their’s more inferior to yours. We all think about it, especially when we watch movies about relationships and for me at least, it usually doesn’t work because most of my relationships have started off perfect and prosperous, then turned into total miserable affairs, mixed with some pleasures here and there.

However, watching these two made me very happy to not only have those relationships in my life, but also to still be single. Actually, it’s probably more of the latter in this situation, but it still got me thinking about the former. Probably too much actually. Damn you, Swanberg! Now I want a girlfriend back in my life!

But I think what Swanberg is trying to get at here with this honest look into the relationship of a couple that doesn’t seem to really know what they want with one another just yet, is that all humans feel and need love in our lives. It’s just a statement of fact. We will always and forever continue, no matter how hard or painful the outcome may be, to look for that special someone, even if it takes us a hundred years to do so. That’s just how we are functioned as a society to automatically think: If you don’t find that special person that you want to spend the rest of your life with, don’t worry, he/she’ll come around eventually. That idea pisses me off, but as I get older, more hair starts to fall out, names are forgotten, and the vision gets blurrier, somehow, it can’t help but be all too true.

That’s why when I had somebody like Swanberg practically pointing his finger at me, telling me that I should listen up to what he has to say, turned me off right away. The style of this is one that will tee most people off, mainly because it is all about improv, as if everything these people came up with on the top of their heads were moments of pure genuineness, almost like you or I could have the same moment as well. However, it feels more forced than it actually does natural, and that’s not a hit against the two performers here. Both are amazing, but I’ll get to that in a little bit. Basically, it’s almost like the movie knew it had to touch a sensitive spot in our hearts, so rather than just giving us some bits and pieces of character-development that would have us understand these character’s a tad more, it just gives a bunch of pretentious conversations that these two constantly have, whenever they aren’t boning or fighting. Come to think of it, that’s all relationships are: Boning and fighting.

However, that’s not the point of this movie and sure as hell not what Swanberg was trying to get across. What he is trying to get across is that most relationships will die-out, but you have to feel some real truth and passion in them, and if not, if there’s one crack to be found in that persona of you or that other person, then all hope is lost for the relationship. Once again, a very sad fact. but a very honest one that needs to be said more, especially in the slew of mainstream rom-coms that seem to get churned out each and every year. It’s not like Swanberg is telling us that this happens to every relationship, albeit long-distance ones, but just this relationship in particular; a relationship where we the two involved seem like they honestly love one another, but begin to find more and more about each other as time goes on, and don’t really like what they see.

For instance, Mattie tells it like it is, what she’s feeling at a certain moment, and rarely ever holds anything back. Makes her a pretty cool chick to hang out with I think, but that’s just me. But sooner or later, once we get to see Mattie in all of her full-on form (and I’m not talking about the nudity, although there’s plenty of that), we realize that she’s probably the most-invested one in this relationship, constantly crying whenever her boyf isn’t around to keep her company, or put on a “real” smile when she wants to have fun. But it’s weird too, because when she’s not crying and being all emotional for no reason, she’s then talking about how she feels that “love shouldn’t be so precious”, as if she’s just that ice-cold bitch that every man should steer away from. She’s an odd duckling, and an inconsistent one at that, but she still feels like a real person for that reason alone. There’s an under-lining honesty to her, that comes out more and more once the flick continues on and gets further into it’s own emotional crossroads.

Cue the Marvin Gaye. Or not music at all either. Just heavy-breathing and moans is fine too.

Cue the Marvin Gaye. Or, no music at all. Just heavy-breathing and moaning is fine too.

This is of course, made to happen because of the amazing performance from Gerwig who’s been churning out great-performance-after-great-performance ever since this movie came out, but yet, it’s still nice to get a small-glimpse at her career when she was getting bigger by the mumblecore flick. Same goes for Swanberg, who probably isn’t as big of a name as Gerwig is, but still shows us enough dramatic chops as an actor to where I feel like he could be a welcome-presence, had I have to get used to seeing him all of the time on the big screen. Together, they forge a wonderful relationship that’s filled with plenty of ups and downs. I could also tell that these two were legitimately two friends who got together, realized that they wanted to make a movie, not have it cost all that much, and just let it all hang loose (literally and figuratively). They actually have a nice bond together, where instead of telling each other how they feel through simple words, they convey most of their emotions usually through eye-contact or a certain physical-trait the other one has, allowing them to latch onto one another. Pretty beautiful thing, if you don’t mind me saying so myself. It’s something you can tell between two people who honestly know and love each other, which only makes it more accessible to understand that these two really are besties in real life and better yet, are ones that love to make movies. But not just any sort of movies, movies with messages about two people that feel they have it all, but don’t know half of what’s about to happen to their relationship and their lives.

However, such is life. Suck it up. Move on. Find that special someone. I guess.

Consensus: Though Nights and Weekends strategy of getting it’s point across feels a bit self-indulgent, we still get the point, and it hits us in a spot that we like to keep clear any bad vibes from hitting: Our hearts.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Ehh, whatever they're fighting about, they'll forget about it in T-minus 10 years.

Ehh, whatever they’re fighting about, they’ll forget about it in T-minus 10 years.

Photos Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

21 (2008)

Poker nights with the boys are lame now. Vegas is where it’s at, baby!

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) seems like your typical young adult: Senior at MIT, has a respectable source of income, is a bit of a geek, nice to his mommy, cares for his friends, does well in class, and is trying his hardest to get his ass into Harvard’s Med School. Okay, maybe he’s not the “typical young adult” we all associate ourselves with, but he is poor and he does have a dream so at least he has that going for him. Problem is, the dream he has is practically unattainable due to a lack of funds and a very small shot at getting the perfect scholarship that would make all of his problems go away. However, when Campbell catches the eyes of his professor (Kevin Spacey), he soon finds himself involved with his school’s late-night, underground world of card-counting and unofficial “gambling”, where all of a sudden, all of the money in the world that Ben could possibly want is right here in his hands. How’s he going to handle it all though?

Many out there would probably dismiss this as nothing more than another one of “Hollywood’s, glamorized fantasies” where unrealistic, young, aspiring people have a chance to live their dreams, get rich, party it up, have a good time, and live like they’re going to die tomorrow, And to be honest with you, you wouldn’t be that far off here, had the actual story behind this movie not just been true, but actually written into a book that this movie adapted itself from.

Totally considered "professional".

Totally considered “professional”.

That’s right, believe it or not: A story about a bunch of MIT students who, in the mid-90’s went out to the Vegas casinos, using their skills of counting cards to benefit from the rewards of steep cash, who were lead by a man named Jeff Ma. Despite being, as they say, “based on a true story”, the flick has every working of what could be counted as a total and complete ball of unrealistic glitz and glamour, that gives any kid hope that they too can not only just run tables by learning code names behind certain cards, but also “act out” in a way that changes their image up and has people fooled because they decided to throw a mustache on their face, or a wig on their head. Obviously, it’s all very stupid and hard to fully believe in, but I don’t think that’s really the point behind this flick, especially coming from an inartistic director like Robert Luketic. It’s meant to be a fun, thrilling, and shiny-looking movie that’s more of a love letter to Sin City, than actually being about a heartfelt tale of a kid who chased his dreams, had them in the palm of his hands, and came very, very close to losing them due to sure stupidity, but that’s fine.

Well, fine as long as you can keep me interested; something Luketic forgot to do and in a lazy way as well.

It isn’t even that the movie lost me because everything happened the way I expected it to; in fact, I knew that was going to happen, so I didn’t get myself all wrapped up in the rampant clichés and decided to enjoy what was on screen anyway. However, Luketic tested my patience a bit too much here because he never seems invested in the material, nor does he ever really add an stamp-mark on it, as if you could see him, and only him directing it. This movie could have literally been directed by anybody: You, me, the homeless guy right by the 7-11, anybody. It feels like the type of movie that Luketic made just so he could score some extra cash on the side and with the type of track-record he has; I wouldn’t throw that possibility out at all.

Even as boring as his style (or lack thereof) may be, the writing for his flick is even worse. One of the first rules that these younglings bring up right away before they get out to the town and started making some moolah, is that they play it low-key, so nobody knows just what the hell they are up to, or who they are. For the first couple of trips, they’re calm, collective, and cool, while still making plenty of money on the side. However, once a little bit more cash-flow starts coming their way, they’re acting like total and complete a-holes, as if they were the Rolling Stones during their hey-day. They got the strippers; the drinks; the money; the drugs (didn’t see any, but it’s assumed); and the vanity behind it all. All that’s left was a rockin’ soundtrack of 80’s glam rock collection of Mötley Crüe and Poison. Maybe it was to show that they were young, naive, and a way too in over their heads, but even the professor that’s aiding them on this trip is allowing it, even joining in on the fun as well. Just stupid, stupid, stupid stuff, man.

"If white guys in Marty Scorsese movies can run a casino, hell, I can too!"

“If white, Italian guys in Marty Scorsese movies can run a casino, hell, I can too!”

Anyway, they totally betray their finest rule of their scheming and not only did it take me out of the movie, but it didn’t allow me to see anybody or anything as believable in any sense. Jim Sturgess shares not a single resemblance to the real-life Jeff Ma at all, but he gets by on being a welcome-presence that’s nice and rather sweet, even if if his accent does go in and out almost as much as customers in a whore plantation. Once his story goes on and gets more convoluted, you begin to care less about him, and more about the people around him, who actually feel some sort of emotions for the dude, despite him being a bit of a prick. I guess you could throw Kate Bosworth’s character in that group, even if she too feels like she’s a bit dull and bored with the material. However, Luketic probably didn’t worry himself too much with them in the first place, so why should they even bother, right?

The only two in this cast that are worth watching and giving a shit about are the screen-vets that wipe their asses with this material: Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Spacey. Both take a bit of a back-burner to these younger stars, but eagerly wait in the background, just to have their moment to shine and show the rest of the movie world that they still “got it”. Fishburne is fun to watch as the strong, powerful black man that takes controls of his casinos and will not, not for a single bit, fall victim to another fraud that left him kicking cans in the street last time something like that happened; and Spacey is, well, Spacey. He’s sarcastic; he’s an ass; he’s funny; he’s vindictive; he’s manipulative; and he’s a blast to watch. What else is there left to say? Without these two, the movie definitely would have suffered a whole lot more, but just them showing up and letting us know that they actually care about this material as much as they didn’t need to; really made me want to give it a chance. Even if that chance came crashing down and burning once I realized that it’s nothing new I haven’t seen done a hundred times before, and mostly better as well. That’s Hollywood for ya, though. Nothing new, nothing funny. Just shiny, pretty surfaces to gaze at.

Consensus: Even if 21 is based on a true story, you wouldn’t fully believe in it due to it’s empty feeling and boring characters, despite it being okay to watch, if only you have nothing else to do with your life than spend 2-hours in front of a screen that isn’t your phone or the computer.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

By the end of the year, at least two of them will over-dose on coke or heroin. Because that's the life of a millionaire, card-counter, babay!

By the end of the year, at least two of them will over-dose on coke or heroin. Because that’s the life of a millionaire, card-counter, babay!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

It’s like Halloween, but in the summer time, where your constantly sweating your ass off underneath a 10 lb costume.

Last time when we left Hellboy (Ron Perlman), he was sucking face with his fellow “freak”, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and it’s nice to see that 4 years later, not much has changed. They argue, they love, they kiss, they battle, they bitter, and they continue to go through the steps that most couples do, except that they’re “different” in the sense that one can do all sorts of bad-assery, while the other one can light herself on fire and cause explosions for miles. However, they put their relationship to the side this time once an ancient prince named Nuada (Luke Goss) tries to destroy the human-population with his Golden Army, aka, a bunch of mechanical robots that are a lot bigger than Hellboy, or anything else for that matter.

As you probably saw yesterday, Hellboy was a flick that I hadn’t seen in awhile and wanted to re-watch, especially for this whole “Guillermo del Toro thing” I’ve been doing. Needless to say, I liked it again and even though I noticed some itsy, bitsy problems I may have not noticed when I was 10 and first saw it, it still held-up very well and showed me what del Toro could do if he got a big enough budget, and enough creative-control to do whatever the hell he wanted to do. In the hands of del Toro, I trust nobody else, which may make sense that after Pan’s Labyrinth got nominated for a slew of Oscars and such, it seemed only right that not only would the dude be able to get another Hellboy movie, but one that would be all his, and nobody else’s.

If they ever break up, she's going to be single forever. That shit is TORN UP.

If they ever break up, she’s going to be single forever. That shit is TORN UP.

That selfish mentality where he gets whatever he wants, when he wants, and how he wants it, is the same type of mentality that kills most directors and gives them a terrible rep that you don’t even want to bother being around, but not del Toro. No, no, no. He’s more of a stand-up guy than that and yes, even though I don’t know him personally (still hasn’t returned any of my phone calls), it still seems like the guy knows what’s best for his movie, and what makes them best for everybody else to see. Because let’s face it: The man’s making a superhero movie that most likely, many, many people are going to see. So if you want to throw in a bunch of dark-trademarks that has the art-house crowd soon over your style, then go for it, just know that it’s not going to appeal to a wider-audience.

However, like with the first one, del Toro hits that perfect mark where it’s not only the type of flick that could go to please even the die-hardest fan of del Toro, but any regular movie-goer who just wants to go to the movies and have a good time. All of the beautiful creature-creations are here on full-display which, thankfully, are more practical-effects, than just cheap and lazy CGI, even though there is some used here to even the odds out. That’s why every shot in this movie, no matter what the hell may be going on with the story, there’s always something cool or inventive to see, and it shows you that del Toro never got bored while filming. So, therefore, you never really get bored of this movie either.

There’s plenty of action, ass-kicking, witty quips, guns being shot off, and explosions, but there’s also an under-lying beauty to it all that just works because it’s del Toro, and you can tell that he not only cares for these characters and the way they look, but the actual movie as well. Wish I could say the same about the story, which goes off the deep-end, fairly quickly, but I don’t know if that aspect of the movie was where del Toro’s aspirations lied the most. Obviously he needed a story to back all of his crazy, cartoon shit up, but whether or not it’s worth paying attention to doesn’t seem to matter. All that does seem to matter is that you love the eye-candy he throws in front of your eyes, and have a good time while doing so. Sometimes that’s easier said then done, but not in this case.

Like I said, and like you’ve probably seen these past couple of days: Del Toro is that director who can do anything he wants, and it will most likely be an inspired-decision on his part. Very, very talented man, I must say so myself.

Along with del Toro’s artistry, another aspect of this sequel that carries over well from the first one is Ron Perlman as Hellboy, who honestly seems to be on his game here. In the first movie, he was still great and showed that he was having a hell of a time with a role he rarely ever saw back in those days, but time was kind to Perlman between ’04-’08, and it shows because he’s now got more of a naturalistic look and feel to this character, that makes it seem like he’s not even acting at times. The witty one-liners come off as if Perlman himself was just ad-libbing his ass off, and knowing how Perlman acts; I wouldn’t be all that surprised.

The subplot that Hellboy and Liz have between each other is awkward at times and takes away from the some of the originality in the look of del Toro’s movie, but Blair and Perlman work well together enough that you could believe these two as actually being together, and going through the same problems, had they been around in real-life. But only with the make-up. Without it, something tells me that they wouldn’t last longer than a simple bang and a handy, just as long as Ron wore a paper-bag. Hate to speak like that, but hey, it’s the truth, Ruth.

Hollywood's tax dollars at work.

Hollywood’s tax dollars at work.

And just like with Perlman, Blair is still very good as Liz because she’s less doped-up now and more of a gal with problems. It’s a clichéd role, but it’s one that she handles well because she’s so used to being subtle in the various indies she does. Doug Jones fully takes over the role of Abe Sapien (rather than just acting as him while David Hyde Pierce voiced) and does a perfect job because he has that slender look to him that works so well with Abe, as well as that sly wit that may even catch you off-guard at spots. As usual, Jeffrey Tambor is here as Tom Manning, the government employee who’s constantly covering for these “freaks” and over-does it a bit, but something tells me that’s what the script wanted just so it could be more humorous, and light than most of the superhero flicks that were coming out around that time.

Hell, that’s why we need another one of these movies because I can’t handle the freakin’, self-loathing superhero anymore. I just can’t! Bring back Hellboy!!! Please?

Consensus: Even though the first was a bit better because of the element of surprise and tighter-plot, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is still a whole bunch of fun because of del Toro’s style that, no matter what’s happening on-screen, always finds a way to throw in his eye for beauty and color in there somewhere, and his knack for allowing for a film to be fun, goofy, silly, and a bit heartfelt as well. Just like he did with the first one.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Hell3

Okay, maybe del Toro’s creations aren’t always so original when you’re practically just making a knock-off of Boy George.

The Happening (2008)

Pretty, pretty deadly flowers.

In the middle of a peaceful New York City-day, a bunch of people are walking through the park when all of a sudden, everybody stops what it is that they are doing, walks backwards a few steps, and each commit suicide. There is no reason whatsoever for this mess, but whatever it is, it has traveled by air all the way to Philadelphia where a couple (Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel) runs away, trying to find safety wherever it might possibly be. Problem is, nobody knows what it is, what caused it all, how to stay away from it, and what is the cure. It’s just something in the air, and you must run away and find shelter, as soon as possible. Or something like that.

Fuck it, I’m just going to come right out and say it that this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life-time. Which means, yes, I have seen this movie more than once. Once, when it came out in theaters because I was young and stupid, and twice, because I had to do it all for you loyal readers out there waiting to see me complete my posts on M. Night’s career.

The things that I’ll do just to please your asses.

Anyway, away from all that crap, let me just say that this movie is still god-awful after all of these years, and hell, probably a lot worse now that I’ve gotten used to what makes a movie good, entertaining, bad, or just shit. This is that latter category that nobody should ever bother with. Yes, not even movie critics who have been dared by their friends because they apparently “watch any movie that’s put in front of them.” Trust me, friends: I’ve said it all before and it’s not worth it. IT’S JUST NOT!!

We all know that M. Night’s career has been one shit-show-after-another, but at the time of this movie coming out, everybody thought it was his big return to making movies the way he did before. It was rated-R, it was coming out during the summer, and hell, it even had Marky Mark in the lead role, what could possibly not make a comeback occur?!?!? Well, let’s just say a whole lot did, but let’s start off fresh and just go by hitting the buttons with M. Night.

The problems they're running through all goes back to the fact that he won't become a vegan.

The problems they’re running through all goes back to the fact that he won’t become a vegan.

M. Night is a dude that loves his plots, his premises, and his twists, but one thing he does not seem to love so much is what gets him to his passion in the first-place: dialogue. No matter what flick you want to attack, you can’t help but notice that almost all of M. Night’s flicks have a problem with the dialogue, whether it be because nobody sounds like real human-beings, or that the people do sound like real human-beings, but just idiotic ones. Either way, take your pick and you’ll most likely find a little something to make fun of. However, here, you can find almost everything wrong with the dialogue.

Every piece of spoken-line dialogue in this movie is just god-awful, because M. Night does not have a single clue where to pin-point this movie towards. Sometimes it seems like he’s going for a drama; sometimes a comedy; sometimes a dark comedy; sometimes a horror movie; sometimes a thriller; and heck, sometimes even a “it’s so bad, it’s good” type of movie that you would have probably seen in the 50’s, had it been done by Ed Wood or someone of that nature. The guy loses himself, just as much as he loses these “characters”, and during it all; we’re lost and left without a clue as to what to think of this movie. Is it supposed to be serious? Or, just or, is it supposed to be a slightly off-kilter movie that likes to throw in some laughs, along with the terror and dread? We never find those answers, and after awhile; you’ll probably just give up looking for them. They aren’t worth it, especially when you have so much promise like this just thrown to the ground, in hopes that someone will pick it back up.

Problem is, nobody does. Not the actors, nor M. Night himself. Even he seems at a bit of a loss for what to make of this material. The explanation he comes up with for this whole movie/epidemic inside of it, is that it was all caused by the plants. But why did the plants release some sort of toxin into the sky? Oh well, because we, as humans, are threatening our world and make the plants/trees/nature/etc. feel as if they are constantly at a fight so rather than just giving up and dying as we celebrate with our Cadillacs and light-bulbs, they decided to fight back and show us a bit of a warning to fuck our lives up. Yep, that’s right, in case you couldn’t tell where that idea was going, it was actually M. Night himself trying to go for it all by giving us some food-for-thought about our environment, and give us a spin on the whole global warming aspect of today’s economy. A bit risky you might say? Yes, but does it work at all? Fuck no! It’s actually really stupid, and as much as I may agree with what M. Night has to say on some level, I’ll still can’t say I support his decision to be as preachy, as obvious, and as idiotic with his points as he was here.

But no need to fear, Mark Wahlberg’s in this movie and that dude barely ever touches a screenplay that’s shit, right? Well, back in 2008, along with this other “masterpiece”: that was all a bunch of cons and lies. Wahlberg plays Elliott, a high-school science teacher, which, in a way; sort of is a joke in and out of itself. Wahlberg does whatever the hell he can with this character, but the same old mannerisms that the dude has with all of his characters (and sometimes make them so memorable), are what kills him and his character.The guy rambles, talks to trees, acts scared, has a bunch of close-ups on him looking scared, and does nothing else but use that usual, high-pitched voice we all know and maybe, just maybe, love him for. I love him for all that he does, but here, I felt like the dude was really falling-apart and couldn’t help but go along with whatever the hell M. Night threw at him. Sometimes, I don’t think even he knew what the hell to expect, but hey: that’s him, not me. If only I was Marky Mark, though. If only.

"And remember, once you get home and all, make sure to say hello to ya motha's for me."

“And remember, once you get home and all, make sure to say hi to ya motha’s for me.”

However, Marky Mark looks like he’s about to win an Oscar for his work, compared to what Zooey Deschanel brought to the table. Deschanel plays his wife, who’s obviously a bit weird, unhappy, and confused about what she wants, but rather than being Summer, she’s trying to be like Jessica Tandy in a way. That shouldn’t quite matter if the actress who’s channeling that side of her skills, is supremely talented, but Zooey just isn’t. And if she is, well she didn’t show too much of that talent here because every line that came out of her mouth, felt forced and bored, as if Zooey only did this for the money, in hopes that she will one day have that one, big show that’s dedicated to just her, and her hipster-ways.

Oh wait, I think it has happened already. Shit.

Consensus: M. Night fans (I’m joking, right?) might appreciate the promise and the eeriness that stands behind most of the Happening, but for peeps who don’t much care for the guy, and want good stories, with reasonable acting, writing, and direction, will most likely be at a loss for words just by how shitty this movie truly is. Don’t even bother getting drunk or high for this neither, just don’t even bother.

0.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"Shit. This is really bad."

“Shit, I thought M. said this was going to be a dark, domestic drama that teaches us the importance of family values and honor.”

Australia (2008)

Apparently, Steve Irwin’s death wasn’t the worst moment in Australia’s history. Too soon?

Northern Australia during the breakout of WWII was a bit of a mess, but at the center of all the craziness, pain, anger, and agony, there were two people (Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman), who came from two opposite sides, to somehow meet together in the middle and find a love that was greater than any other force in the entire world. She, Lady Sarah Ashley, was a richy-rich, stuck-up lady from England who came overseas to help her husband out with his cattle-business, whereas he, Drover, was just a man who just took the cattle, and helped them across the acres so he got his money and went on his way. In the middle of them both, there is a small, Aboriginal child by the name of Nullah (Brandon Walters).

Baz Luhrmann is sort of like a poor man’s version of Terrence Malick. All skills aside, the guy makes a film every once and awhile, hypes it up forever, and they usually meet all of the hype. Over a career that spans 30 years, the man has only made four movies (five, if you include The Great Gatsby coming out this Friday), and each of them have been pretty good. However, whatever your tastes-buds are, you can’t lie about the fact that the guy loves the material he puts on screen, and always give it his 110% full devotion and time. Hence why his films take awhile to come out. However, maybe the guy went a little too far this time. Just a bit, I’d say.

It’s obvious that before the idea of this movie even came about, Luhrmann watched and studied the old-school MGM movies of the 30’s, 40’s, and early 50’s. Why is it obvious? Well, if you take away the beautiful visuals, the color, the action, the blood, the murder, and some other disturbing images that would have been pretty taboo back in the day, then you have your typical, feel-good epic that would have been made back in the day with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, and probably took the whole world by storm. However, those were simpler and more modest times, nowadays, our more-current viewers don’t really have the steam and time for all of the melodramatic moments that Luhrmann seems to embrace, but not really think through.

The Australian-version of Run Lola Run: Run Tall-ass White Girl Run.

The Australian-version of Run Lola Run: Run Tall-Ass White Girl Run.

For instance, there are plenty of scenes in this movie where everything is so happy-wappy, so joyful with glee, and so damn smiley, that it’s near-laughable. That’s not to say that the actors involved with these moments don’t try their hardest to get past the obvious-corniness of the material, but they can’t help but fall prey either. It’s almost inescapable with corn-ballish material such as this. But then some weird things would start to happen with this movie, and I found myself getting more and more lost out of nowhere.

The idea that this flick tackles two subjects, both gripping in their own ways, at the same time really makes it seem a tad uneven, as well as up-and-down with it’s transition. On one end of the arena, we have the love story between Jackman and Kidman, which is probably the best element of this whole flick. Both are great workers in their own right, but the way they’re characters were playing-off of one another at first, had me worried that it was going to be too light and rompy to be taken seriously. But somehow, they made it work because they legitimately do seem like they have sexual-chemistry that can’t wait to get you all hot, sweaty, and ready for the lovin’ to take ahold. If I was Keith Urban, I’d be a little ready to put the fist-a-cuffs up next time I saw Wolverine. Then again, I’m not Keith Urban. Which altogether means that I’m not a million dollar-selling, country artist that is married to Nicole Kidman. Nope, I’m Dan O’Neill, who blogs and watches movie. Wow. Life sucks.

Anyway, those two whether they are together or not, make this movie work and keep it moving at a pace that draws your attention in, but it didn’t seem to draw Luhrmann’s attention all that much, considering he’s more concerned with the other aspect of the movie it wants to cover: the Aborigines. The Aborigines were a very important part of Australia’s history, which makes total sense as to why Luhrmann would make them a key-focus in this story of times that are changing, and the love story in-between it all, but it doesn’t fit well as it seems to not be Luhrmann’s strong-suit.

The strong-suit that I’m talking about is how the man can’t seem to really get his point across, without being as obvious as an albino, dressed in all white, playing hide-n-go seek. Yeah, that obvious. Scenes where they are merely showing the types of racism the Aborigines would face are somewhat disturbing, but also don’t fit well in the context of this movie when you have a bunch of people palling-around with one another and believing in the spirits from up-above. Obviously Luhrmann does not like the treatment that the Aborigines faced during this period, but he doesn’t show his feelings in a strong-enough way to really impact you and instead; sort of makes you wish that he didn’t try to explore it anymore than he already did. Shame too, because it’s a piece of Australian-history that is one of the most important, and should never be forgotten. However, you can’t help but want to forget about it, especially when it’s getting in the way of the sexy-time between Jackman and Kidman.

Hypothermia rules!!!

Hypothermia rules!!!

Seriously, they were about to make me faint!

But this review would not at all be complete if I didn’t talk about Luhrmann’s inspired-attention to detail, that never ceases to amaze me, no matter how melodramatic the material may be. Every scene in this movie feels as if Luhrmann not only paid close attention to it, but wouldn’t go asleep for days until he nailed exactly what he wanted to see. Sure, some of the scenes seem choppy due to lame-o special-effects and green-screens galore, however, it’s still something to see and marvel at, considering you know the type of film maker Luhrmann is. I disliked the hell out of his rendition of Romeo & Juliet, but the man always gave me something to go googely-eyes at, which made the movie slightly-better. That’s the same exact formula here, except there’s more to this story than just an age-old love story that we’ve heard, countless-upon-countless of times. This is a story that does have a heart, does have a vision, and does have inspiration, it just gets lost somewhere in the muddle of it all. Thankfully, Baz keeps his head above it, and keeps us watching. How the man does it: I will never know.

Consensus: Modest and old-fashioned to a fault, Australia may not be the type of movie you watch time and time again due to the unevenness of the material, and cloying-parts of the story that seem to pokes it’s ugly head out every so often, but is one of those movies you watch to enjoy, marvel at with the flair for visual and colors, and get ready to sweat, especially once you see Jackman and Kidman lock bodies, and prepare to make love. Oh yeah, baby.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Strike a pose. Make it look sexy. Now why can't it be that easy for me?!?!?

“Yup. We know you’re going to whack it to this picture when you get home.”

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Who’s being punished here: us or the criminals?

Former FBI agent Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) still has not been able to get over the murders of his family. Therefore, he takes his anger and revenge out onto the streets where he continues to tally-up a vigilante record that makes every cop in the state of New York, jealous and on the look-out for any suspicious activity. The latest leader in suspicious activity occurring in NYC is Jigsaw (Dominic West), who used to have a pretty face that all the ladies used to love, but is now ruined, all thanks to THE PUNISHER!!

After 3 movies, and no success whatsoever with the box office or the critics, it seems that the Punisher character may have to be put to rest and left in the comics. Why? Well it’s simple: the guy’s just too goofy of a comic book hero. Actually, scratch that. He isn’t even a “hero”. He’s just a dude that goes around, killing people, in the name of what he believes is right. Oh, and it’s always bloody, gory, and not for the faint of heart. That means that these types of movies, are usually made for the older, R-rated crowd, so fuck the little kiddies who want to see shizz like this and that. This is the real shit, men! If you don’t like it, then back off and take your snobbery elsewhere!

Some of you may be a bit confused as to where the hell I was going with those last couple of sentences right there, but don’t be alarmed: I am too. What I’m trying to say is that this character is hard to adapt to the screen successfully for the sole-reason that the character itself has such a fan base that is so divided, it’s hard to really get the name or product out there. That’s why when a film like this comes around, it isn’t made for the New York Film Society or any other group as prestigious as that; it’s made for the bumbling idiots that like when people get their heads smashed in just for the sake of it. No, not psychos. But people who like to see it played out on film where nobody is harmed. I hope at least.

Where all the lovin' goes down...

Where all the lovin’ goes down…

That’s why seeing a movie like this is so hard because being a critic that has a standard built-up after all of these years, it’s so damn hard to just drop it all down, and let a completely dumb movie like this take over. After awhile, I got used to it and it did, but that’s REALLY saying something. To say that this movie is stupid, would be the equivalent to patting it on the back and giving it a cookie for being a good boy. THIS MOVIE IS FREAKIN’ IDIOTIC! I kid you not!

If you don’t know this within the first five minutes, you might just be screwed for the rest of the hour and a half because this is as low on the totem-pole as you are going to get. The script is almost non-existent by how utterly dunce-like this is and makes every piece of dialogue seem like each one of these actors (talented ones, mind you) are just stretching their inner-souls to make something useful come out. Whoever wrote this movie, I feel bad for you and your career because this is like an IQ level of 48 and lower. I kid you not. It’s freakin’ stupid. That’s if you haven’t been able to tell by now.

However, you don’t see a movie about a vigilante that goes around, “punishing” people for the sake of revenge for a well-written script, with perfectly-rounded characters, and an emotional-arch. You want to see blood, guts, guns, bullets, violence, necks snapped, explosions, heads smashed in (like I said before), and campy-as-hell people getting their insides taken out. That’s the type of stuff you want to see and if that’s it: you’re gonna have a field day with this one. Can’t say that I didn’t have fun either, it’s just that this is one of those flicks that is sometimes so hard to get by with all of the terrible qualities, that the positive qualities that make it fun and exciting, really seem to fade away.

But taking this type of movie in as it is, you could do worse. Actually, A LOT WORSE. With a movie like this, you can’t expect much and expect to get much out of it. You just go in, get ready to see some people shot, stabbed, hacked-up, or murdered in any type of way, and expect to smile or go “oooooooohhhhh” by the end of it. Those are the types of people that this movie is made for, and even though I can’t say I’m one of them, I still do appreciate a nice, mass-slaying every once and awhile. Not always, but when it’s done in a fun, unadulterated-way, then I’m rarely ever disappointed.

Even though I’m a huge fan of Thomas Jane as the Punisher and in general, I still have to give some kudos to Ray Stevenson for at least giving Castle some snarl and edge to him that you didn’t really see quite as well last time. Granted, that movie was more concerned with painting Castle as a human-being that still struggled with the reality that everybody he practically knew has been massacred, but that’s not what this movie, or this version of Castle is about. Even when the movie does try to tackle themes and ideas like that, it fails miserably. Thankfully, Stevenson keeps his head above the water and it’s a shame that this guy doesn’t get more leading-roles his way.

Actually, on second thought, I saw somebody who looked exactly like this the other day.

Actually, on second thought, I saw somebody who looked exactly like this the other day. I also just so happened to be in Skid Row that “other day”.

Then, on the other side of the coin, you have Dominic West as Jigsaw, and god is this guy chewing the scenery! I mean, every single second he is on-screen, he sounds so ridiculous with his over-the-top, New Yarrrrk accent, and has the goofiest-look that I couldn’t even take seriously after awhile. I get why the guy looks the way he does and I understand why the comics made him that way, but for everybody in this movie to just sit-around him, and act normal as if he doesn’t look like a freakin’ cheap-o, Halloween mask I’d get if I was in a total rush for one before I got sloshed at my dorm room party. West is okay, but this material for him just blows and makes me wonder if he lost a bet, or was just trying to stretch his wings out a bit and get some mainstream exposure. Whatever the predicament was, I feel bad for him and everybody else in this flick that actually took the bait to work with this screenplay. Screenplay, in the sense that it’s just a bunch of words, thrown-together on a page with a bunch of scenes labeled; “Bam! Boom! Bop! Crash! Bang!”

Consensus: If you want a movie that’s going to satisfy your dramatic, and emotionally-powerful needs; then Punisher: War Zone is nowhere close to doing that. But if you want action, blood, gore, and cheesy one-liners, then you’ll be in-store for a bat-shit crazy time.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

With facial hair: not Newman. Without facial hair: Newman.

With chin hair: not Newman. Without chin hair: Newman.

The Spirit (2008)

White blood is not cool! Give me red!

Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) was a murdered cop who is mysteriously reborn as the masked crime fighter called the Spirit. The Spirit roams throughout the streets of what he calls, “his city”, loves it’s women, and fights crime whenever it rears it’s ugly head. The only problem is that his arch-enemy, Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), is a bit more than he can handle and as his past continues to come right back at him, he finds it harder and harder to get past what might just be his final battle. Everybody else, except for him, hope it truly is.

In a time before Dan the Man was the esteemed critic he is today, he was just a young lad going to the movies, seeing what he could find, and making up his mind on what he thought. That’s right, it was all in my head before I ever started typing down crazy crap! But during that time, the Christmas season of 2008 was where I single-handedly, self-financed AMC for the sole reason that I was there almost every other day. This was the days before I was able to get into screenings so in ways, I had to pay and in other ways, I just snuck in. I was a bad, bad cat, but not as bad of a cat as I thought I was until I saw this movie. Then, maybe I thought it would just be best to live off of Netflix for awhile.

Even after the 4 or 5 years since I’ve seen this; little of this movie has changed. I still remembering it sucking, even until this day, except now I have a clearer-view on what does and what doesn’t work in a movie. Especially shitty ones like these, where almost nothing works. Sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. The only positive-element of this movie that was worth watching and waiting around for this second-go around was Gabriel Macht as the Spirit and the cat that followed him around.

So obviously Gabriel Macht...

So obviously Gabriel Macht…

Macht has never been the type of actor to really knock it out of the park in a role, mostly because he’s never really gotten the spotlight. He’s usually been known as “that guy” in big-budgeted, shit-boxes like Bad Company, Whiteout, Because I Said So, and many, many more that I’m almost too ashamed to admit that I’ve seen him in, let alone actually viewed (the shit I do as a critic). So, this is why his performance as the Spirit is actually pretty good because he gets a chance to take over the film, do his thing, show some wit, have his charm, and be done with it. Is the guy anywhere near spectacular? Hell to the no! But in a movie like this, you need something that keeps you going, and he was exactly that for me in this movie. No wonder why the guy hasn’t really been given center field ever since this, but it’s a damn shame because the guy handled the pressure well. It’s everybody else who screwed him over.

No matter what crap he shows up in, Samuel L. Jackson is always the best part of it all. He’s always loud, crazy, yelling, and finding ways to have fun, even if he is the only one but even his performance here as the Octopus felt like he was parodying himself in a Funny or Die video. Not only is the Octopus a shitty villain to begin with, but this guy is literally all-over-the-place in terms of if he’s trying to be goofy, scary, intimidating, or even worth the fight at all. One second, he’s beating the crap out of the Spirit with a toilet, then the next second, he’s dressed-up as a Nazi talking about lord only knows what. It’s strange to see Jackson in such a role like this and have it not work, considering that he is usually the most entertaining aspect of any movie. ANY MOVIE.

But enough of the man meat, what about the ladies?!? Well, they are probably even worse and that’s not a rift against of their acting-abilities at all, it’s just the hands that they were dealt. Eva Mendes plays the Spirit’s old-squeeze who shows up looking all hot, sexy, and bad-ass, and does nothing with it at all. I mean, she shows her back-side once but if that’s all you got going for you in a role, then you’ve got major problemos. Scarlett Johansson seems like she should have been having the time of her life as the Octopus’ side-kick, Silken Floss, and she might have very well been, but we would have never known since she dead-pans to the point of near-boredom. And I’m talking on her part, not mine, even though, once again, she could have easily been having a ball with this role. Then, sadly, there’s Sarah Paulson as the Spirit’s current gal-pal, Ellen Dolan, the nurse with a heart of gold and the leniency of a nun, and does nothing at all with this character. Sad to say, too, because I love this girl in almost all she pops up in.

The reason why I’m paying so much attention to the cast, right off the bat, is because the main problem with this movie lies solely with them. Not their performances (even if they do suck), it’s more that the script has nothing go for it. It’s not fun, it’s not entertaining, and terribly disjointed. I never knew if whether or not this movie was trying to be funny, tongue-in-cheek, or just a serious, superhero movie with action. Very, small amounts of action. I never knew what the hell Frank Miller was trying to do and from the looks of it: neither did he.

Is it purrty as hell? Damn straight, but it only goes so far as to seem like a distraction to people who care about more meaningful things like plot, character-development, and action. None of that is here and even when it attempts at tackling anything like that; Miller and Co. miss terribly. It was a boring as hell experience that I remember so fondly for boring me to near-tears when I saw it all those years ago as a young guy, and still sucks all of these years later. Whether or not this review will make you want to see it yourself and take out of it what you can, is totally up to you, yourself, and you (I know: close, but no cigar). However, if I am going to advise anything: stay away from this movie. If one of your hardcore, nerdy friends say it was rad, kick them in the ass, slap them ion the face, or do something that has them wake up, smell the roses, and realize that their asses are wrong. DEAD WRONG!!!

Consensus: The Spirit is one of those movies that seems like on-paper, it would have been bucket-loads of fun, but is nowhere near that with a dry-personality, performances from a talented cast that seems as if they are lost in the whirlwind of a storm of confusion, and nothing really fun, exciting, or remotely interesting to stick around for. Just see it for the kitty and let that’d be it.

1 / 10 = Crapola!!

Pictured: the editing room.

Pictured: the editing room.

Redbelt (2008)

You can only say so much about a sport where the objective is to beat the absolute crap out of the other person.

When respected jujitsu master Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) eschews a lucrative prize fighting career in favour of opening a self-defence dojo, it appears that he has chosen a peaceful path in life. The dedicated martial artist’s fate takes an unanticipated turn, however, when he is manipulated into participating in ultimate fighting championships by a group of unscrupulous actors and fight promoters. Mike is way in over his head and tries to find whatever it is that he can do to bring back his old life that he knew and loved before it all went to shite.

It may sound pretty strange, but this martial arts film is written and directed by David Mamet. Yes, Glengarry Glen Ross-David Mamet. It may seem like a weird-fit to try on and get used to, but much to my surprise, as I’m pretty sure everybody else’s as well, but Mamet actually practices jiujitsu in real-life and considers it a nice hobby of his, when he isn’t writing out characters that say “fuck” a lot. But don’t worry, people, this more of a Mamet film than it is a carbon-copy of Never Back Down, but don’t be surprised if you can’t tell a total difference between the two.

Mamet’s dialogue in this flick is, once again, very well-written. This time, instead of being just another pile of snappy one-liners that Mamet just continues to toss at the audience, the dialogue here is more natural than you would expect from this dude and it works in it’s approach to this story. This isn’t your non-stop, kick-ass martial arts movie. Instead, it’s actually more character-based and has a story that may draw you in a lot more than the actual fight sequences themselves. And although that may turn people off expecting a bunch of karate chops and take-downs left and right, for me, I wasn’t bothered at all. In fact, it kept me more involved with what was going on because there should always be more back-story to any extreme sport, especially one like martial arts.

One of the instances where this isn't responded with a police call, lawsuit, and a person going to jail.

One of the rare-instances where this isn’t responded with a police call, lawsuit, and/or a person going to jail.

But even when the fight scenes do come onto the screen, they actually work and bring a lot of energy to this film mainly because Mamet is able to get so up-front and personal with each tussle. There’s not many fights (maybe about 3 or 4 in this hour, 34-minute movie) but whenever they came on, I liked it and I think it’s obvious that Mamet just enjoys the art of ultimate fighting. This really isn’t the type of film you just got forced to do and it’s apparent that Mamet wanted to do this film and his curiosity and attention to detail, pays off here. People do say “fuck”, a lot too, but not like you’d expect them to and it’s not all about the cursing that makes this movie work which is what I actually liked for a nice change-of-pace.

However, as good as the script was, I couldn’t help but think he tacked on way too much here with this simple story. The main story itself is pretty much about this guy who can kick anybody’s ass, gets into some major debt, and is trying to find a way out of it the hard way. This in and of itself is a pretty simple story and even though it may not be the most original ever in the whole, widest world, you would think Mamet’s skills as a writer would be definitely more than enough to save it from the same old shit we usually see. But Mamet doesn’t stop there and continues to go on and on and on with this story, almost to the point of where it’s random. He tries a little too hard  with such a simple story about the underdog coming out on top, but adding so many characters, so many random twists, and so many consequences that could either happen this way, or not, and show how it effects the rest of the story. Seemed like way, way too much for a story like this and actually lost me a couple of times.

All of this wasn’t as terrible as I thought, until I got to the final act and that’s where I noticed that everything came full-circle for me. In a bad way, of course. The final act comes on pretty strong with the right bit of tension but Mamet pulls the rug from underneath us, gives us something to think about, and adds yet another twist to the already-confusing plot developments. But what I noticed about this ending is that I wasn’t as glued to the screen because Mamet had so much going on, that the central story itself just sort of gets lost in the muddle of it all. Surely, there must have been an easier way to get our main character back in the square-circle, without having to go through all of these life hurdles and surely, there must have been an less predictable and ludicrous ending like the one they have here. It could have just been simple, plaid, and usual, but that’s not how David Mamet rolls and whether or not you like that about this dude, is all up to what you prefer in life.

"Pick on somebody your own size, and gender." (Hint: if you don't get my joke, look up at the 1st picture I have.)

“Pick on somebody your own size, and gender.” (Hint: if you don’t get this joke, look up at the 1st picture I have.)

Mamet’s plot may get lost, but at least his characters stay true and that’s because of the performances from the stars involved. Mike Terry is an awesome role for Chiwetel Ejiofor because the guy, once again, gets to prove that he has what it takes to be a leading man and turn in a convincing performance, no matter what the movie or role may be. Not only can the guy spout-out Mamet-dialogue like it’s his job (technically, it was) but he also shows that he has a lot of great physical skills and it surprised me to hear that this dude didn’t have any previous martial arts training because he looked like a pro at what he was doing. Good thing that Mamet focused the film mostly on him, too.

The two females in Terry’s life are played by Alice Braga and Emily Mortimer, who are both good but aren’t given much to work with. Braga is Terry’s bitchy, money-hungry wife that would leave him in a heartbeat for some extra moolah, and Mortimer is Terry’s newly-found friend/student that is going through a rough time but her story never fully gets developed enough for us to care about her. Shame too, because both can give off some awesome work when they can. As for everybody else, you have the villains like Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, Rodrigo Santoro, and surprisingly, Tim Allen who all turn in some good work as a bunch of shady baddies, but are just all over-the-place that it’s hard to declare which one was the “baddest”. My money is on Buzz Lightyear. That guy seems like a total dick behind closed doors.

Consensus: David Mamet definitely brings a lot of fun to this curious, passion-project of sorts but Redbelt features way too many ideas, twists, and characters going on at the same time, to do nothing else but add confusion and take away from the final-product. It’s not a thrill-ride, but a more-sophisticated look at marital arts, with the occasional beat-down here and there.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Life's been hard since Home Improvement ended. Almost 2 decades ago."

“Life’s been hard since Home Improvement ended. Almost 2 decades ago.”

Changeling (2008)

Maybe this should be a sign to you, Angie, that it’s time to stop adopting so many damn kids!

Christine Collins’ (Angelina Jolie) prayers are met when her kidnapped son is returned. But amidst the frenzy of the photo-op reunion, she realizes this child is not hers. Facing corrupt police and a skeptical public, she desperately hunts for answers, only to be confronted by a truth that will change her forever.

That plot-synopsis up there that this movie is based on, apparently is all true and surprisingly happened during the 20’s/30’s. But what I find so funny about that idea, is that the movie writes it as “A True Story”, rather than playing it safe and going with “based on a true story”, or “inspired by true events”. You can get away with so much more if you with the two former-options, but nooooo, Clint Eastwood is taking a stand and believes in what he sees. Sadly, it is Clint Eastwood were talking about here, and nothing is as realistic or as simple as it may look on paper.

The problem that Eastwood runs into with most of his films (this one especially), is that he never seems to really focus on one aspect of the whole story. Instead, the guy goes for everything that’s involved and feels the need to load his film up with exposition, random details, unheard of hints, and unnecessary subplots, just in hope that it will spice things up and keep the audiences attention up on-screen. This just becomes a total jumble of randomness that could have really worked, had it been taken-down a notch by about 3 or 4 story-lines. That’s why when he does dial it down, it works perfectly and helps the story guide a simpler-path than it had before. However, the times when he doesn’t and just feels the need to add and add some more layers to a story that’s already as simple as it can be, then it can be a bit bothersome and that’s the problem with this movie here. Too much, too little needed.

If this was France, he'd be the villain.

If this was France, he’d be the villain.

However, it isn’t always like this. For the first 30 minutes or so, the movie focuses on Collins as she looks for her son, finds him, realizes he’s a fake, and then decides to take matters into her own hands and bother the hell out of everybody involved with the investigation. Right here in the beginning is actually  compelling and kept me interested into where I could see it going, and especially when you realize that the way all of these cops are in this movie, are pretty much they were in real-life. It’s a shame that it’s a true-story but hey, I guess it had to happen. Now, after Collins runs into a big problem with the police department, then things go south for her real quick and ultimately, is where things go south for the movie as well. Instead of sticking to Collins’ story, we get a story about the corruption of the L.A. police department that ran rampant during the 20’s/30’s, then we get a story that’s about this serial killer that seems reasonable but also takes away from Collins’ own story, a story about the psychiatric ward and how all women who ‘effed with the cops got shipped off to there, and then another story about how Collins needs to move on. All of these stories seem like they serve a purpose to the big idea at-hand here, but still never mesh well together and only keep us further and further away from the actual story we started off with: Collins finding her son.

All of this piling-up of ideas and story-lines just creates a very long, drawn-out piece of work that never, ever needed to be 2 hours and 24-minutes long. I mean, I guess Eastwood didn’t want to leave out any details, but Christ man! At least give me the Spark Note version of everything that’s happening, rather than the College Textbook! I can’t rag on Clint’s case too much because the guy does have some nice-moments here and some important things to say, but he needed to buckle-down on that time-limit. Without this long-ass time-limit, I may not have been as bothered as I truly was.

However, where the story seems to fly-around wherever it sees fit, the one person keeping it all glued together is Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins. When Jolie isn’t off with her hubby Brad, taking care of 7 kids, or shooting at people in her latest, action blockbuster, she’s actually out there giving some understated, grounded performances that may shock some people considering she hasn’t really been known for doing that as of late. Jolie does an awesome job as Christine because she allows that sympathy and love we feel for her, shine through every-frame of the movie and you can really feel the utter sadness and depression coming from this problem in her life. Obviously losing a kid is no happy-thang, but instead of making it a non-stop problem that gets old, real quick, Jolie keeps us watching and having us wait to see more layers of her come pouring right out. It’s great to see Jolie like this and I can only hope that she continues to do more of it. You know, when she isn’t off with her hubby Brad, taking care of 7 kids, or shooting at people in her latest, action blockbuster

Changeling2

Even in the 20’s, the paparazzi still can’t get enough of Gina-feva.

Her main co-star, John Malkovich, is practically given a top-billing next to her name but yet, still isn’t in it as much as you would expect from a big-name like his. Malkovich plays Reverend Gustav Brigleb, one of the guys who first sticks up for Christine, and plays him very well but not as spirited or as energetic as we’ve seen this guy act before. It’s a nice performance, no doubt about that, but a bit of a disappointment considering we all know what he can bring to a movie. Maybe more time could have been given to him, his character, his emotions, and his motivations for helping-out Christine, rather than the 500 other stories Clint had on his plate.

The other people in this cast try their hardest, but all sort of fall by the waste-side once you see how they are all portrayed, especially the men of the police unit. The problem with how Eastwood portrays these police officers/detectives is as if they have no remorse, no souls, or no idea of being a good person at all. It seems as if they are all concerned with saving their own butts and don’t want to hear a single word about what it is that they’re doing, is wrong. Each and every one was portrayed as the stereotypical villain we usually see in one-sided movies like these. It’s not even that they’re just bad-guys either, they’re laughably bad. The dialogue for them is so obvious, so predictable, and so cliche, that you have to wonder just how the hell they let idiots like these actually have the authority to carry a gun and a badge. The one I remember the most was probably Jeffrey Donovan as the main police captain, who has a dated and forced accent that comes off as if he has a stick up his ass, or just can’t read his lines. Either way, the guy sucks and I don’t know how the hell he has a hit TV show on USA. Don’t even know what it’s called, but it’s been on there forever and with him as the lead, I don’t know.

Consensus: Though Changeling features a strong, central performance from Jolie and a sometimes-interesting “true story”, Clint Eastwood’s direction still gets in the way with his constant use of constantly adding on layers to a story, losing his central focus, and never really being able to make it all come together for an eventful and memorable ending. It just flops like a fish, and leaves your mind as soon as soon as the credits begin to roll.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Brad, Clint won't stop grunting. What do I do?"

“Brad, Clint won’t stop grunting. What do I do?”

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Now I know what the ‘B’ in Barcelona stands for now. Yeah, I’m a dirty boy.

Two American women named Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) spend a summer in Barcelona to re-connect with the lives they think they have, and hopefully be able to find inspiration in terms of love and life. When vacationing and trying to discover themselves in Barcelona, they meet an artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who is attracted to the both of them while still enamored of his mentally and emotionally unstable ex-wife María Elena (Penélope Cruz). Somehow, everybody starts boning one-another and it’s all deserved. Why? Because it’s Barcelona, that’s why!

Regardless of whomever the hell he prefers to go to bed with at night, Woody Allen is a film maker that knows his shit and knows how to do it right. He always has a knack for writing these stories that are so simple, so down-to-Earth, and so plain, that they make you feel as if you could have written the general-premise of half-of them when you were still drawing circles with your big crayons. That’s not to discredit Mr. Allen in any way, shape, or form, it just shows you that if you have the talent to make you writing witty and always fun, then you can do no wrong. Sadly, this is not the one movie where he exhibits his best work. Sorry, Midnight in Paris. Maybe we’ll get another like you, sooner or later.

The problem I think that Allen runs into with this flick, is that he’s more concerned with the look and feel of the whole movie, rather than what makes it so important in the first-place: the characters. This may come-off as a shock to you readers out there, but surprisingly, the characters in this movie aren’t as electric or thought-provoking as you’d think. The two female leads that this story practically breathes and dies by, Vicky and Cristina (hence the title), aren’t anything more than just a bunch of confused, American college students that just seem to be the types of people who think too much about the little shit in life, and don’t ever decide to wake-up, smell the cauliflower, and get the hell on with what’s in front of you at the time-being. There’s even this one scene where we see how much of “feeler” Vicky truly is by the way she listens to a Spanish dude play guitar, and practically cries about it once it’s over. Why? I don’t know, maybe because Woody Allen likes these types of characters that make more meaning to stuff than their really is in the first-place.

Looks like Scarlett's wearing the same hair my sister's barbies used to have.

Did Scarlett kill a Barbie doll for that hair?

It may sound weird since I am talking about a Woody Allen movie, where the characters are mostly neurotic to the point of where they have to bring a freakin’ tranquilizer with them everywhere, but it just doesn’t work here as well as it does in other films. You could even go so far as to argue that maybe the same case with the characters being too neurotic and quirky are evident in mostly all of Allen’s work, but what separates the best, from the worst, is the way he’s able to cover it all up with witty and hilarious-dialogue that keeps you interested in seeing/hearing what these characters have to do or say next. I never really felt that with these characters and I sort of just wanted them to stop their damn talking, and get back to the whole love-makin’ idea. But without Javier Bardem in the mix. If you know what I mean?

If there is anything that Woody Allen can fall back on in this movie it’s that he is so determined and inspired to show Barcelona in it’s finest, and most extravagant form, that it actually works. Barcelona is a place I would always love to venture out to, but being 19, with no job, no wife (not that I know of, no kids (not that I know of), and no relation whatsoever to a billionaire, may never get the shot to. And if that is the depressing, but true case, then this is probably the closes I’ll ever get to that trip and I have to say it’s better than nothing because you really feel as if you are there in this setting, where the pharimones between these fellow-residents are just running-wild. Seriously, if this movie doesn’t get you hot at all, I don’t know what will. And I’m not just referring to watching this during the Summer-time, neither. If you know what I mean?

The other key-factor to making this movie work is the cast that, as usual with most of Allen’s flicks, is star-studded but shows everybody doing their best to make it all work out. For the most part, they succeed. Javier Bardem was just coming off of his Oscar-win as the bad-ass Anton from No Country for Old Men, and took a pretty risky, but big-move in his career gunning for a role that’s as suave and sexy as this. Thankfully, Bardem pulls it off like crazy and shows that the guy can play charming and cool, but also have you totally revved-up to go out there and tell babes to get in their plane for Barcelona in an hour. Thank you, Javier Bardem. You give hope to all men out there in the world, in the hopes that they will one day, find woman that are as desperate for sex as themselves. It’s sad, but true.

However much you want baby, I'll pay. I swear.

However much you want baby, I’ll pay. I swear.

People get on Scarlett Johansson’s case for not being the greatest actress since the glory days of Elizabeth Taylor (or some royal beotches like that), but the girl’s got a look and style to her that works and have you feel something for her character, even if you can’t put your finger on what it is. She’s got this real sense of vulnerability and confusion within her act that makes you feel bad for her character when she gets a tad screwed-over from time-to-time, and makes you just want to give her a hug and possible smooch on-the-side. However, we all know that will never, ever happen unless you’re Ryan Reynolds or Sean Penn (present-day, mind you), so it’s all hopes and dreams from here. Rebecca Hall is always showing-up in heavy-duty dramas where she plays the straight-laced, serious gal that does her own thang and likes it, and her performance as Cristina is pretty much the same old song and dance for her, but with a bit of a lighter-feel this time. Hall is good at playing up-tight and shows how one girl can practically go from despising everything, to just wanting more out of her life of living, and life of lust. Hall is always great in what she does, but here, I saw that the girl could really handle comedy and make it work. Let’s just hope Hollywood takes notice of this and stop making her co-star as the female love-interest all movies seem to need.

The most-popular and noted aspect of this movie was probably Penélope Cruz, with her Oscar-winning role as the psycho, ex-girlfriend. It’s a role that suits our usually high-strung actress like a glove, but also doesn’t do much for the story or it’s meaning. The whole movie, you are constantly just waiting for Cruz to show up and light everything on fire and have her presence be known, but she shows up to the party a bit too late, and doesn’t really liven things up like I expected her too. It’s sort of like me that one time at my own Sweet 18th. All I wanted to do was get my ladies, my money, and my food, and I had to wait 3 hours for that crap! What the hell?!? Anyway, back to Cruz. As she usually is with anything she gets thrown at her (even you, Tom Cruise), she’s great with this role and definitely brought out the most laughs from the cast. Everybody was pretty damn serious up until she reared her beautiful self in, but still didn’t keep me as awake as I would have wished for and being that this was an Oscar-winning role: I was expecting a shit-load more from her. But then again, who doesn’t just love when Cruz breaks-out her native tongue? Huh? Huh? Am I right or what, fellas? Okay, I guess I’m the only perv around these parks. Thanks everybody!

Consensus: Allen’s writing in Vicky Cristina Barcelona isn’t as sharp or as entertaining as it has been in the past, but still, with a cast and setting like Barcelona, you could do a hell of a lot worse with a hell of a less expectations.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Despite the beautiful scenery in the background, I think we all know where I'm staring.

Despite the beautiful scenery in the background, I think we all know where I’m staring.

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