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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

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Under the Skin (2014)

Yes, there is such a thing as “sexy aliens”.

An alien (Scarlett Johansson) takes over the body of a sexy, young-ish looking thing and carries out a cryptic message from the powers that be up above. Although the message is not made clear, it seems like she is to find random, lonely men on the streets of Scotland, take them back to an isolated place, and tease them with sex, yet, at the same time, have these poor guys sucked into whatever gelatin-like substance that turns them into something that’s clearly not human. The alien is also followed by a dude on a motorcycle who keeps track of the things she does, as well as to whom, but begins to grow suspicious when she gets something of a conscious. That, or the fact that she’s noticed what the real world is like and doesn’t just want to be an alien anymore, but more human than human. If that’s even possible, that is.

If you’re confused by that synopsis right there, don’t worry, because I am too and I wrote the damn thing! However, I think that’s the first element that needs to be said about this movie: Don’t expect to know much of anything that’s going on. If you can do that and are fine with that, then this movie will be something of a strange, yet delightful treat; if you can’t, however, it may be a bit of stretch. Not just for you to stay awake and continue to give this a chance, but for your mind because this thing will surely do a number on it, as it did to mine.

I guess it’s worth noting that director Jonathan Glazer has been trying to get this movie made for a total of nine years, and whatever those reasons may have been behind the constant delays in filming, seem somewhat reasonable. This movie is definitely not an easy one to get involved with, let alone fund in hopes of more money coming back, but it gets away with being just what it is. Which is, essentially, Glazer’s insane, but beautiful mind at work.

At least we know she enjoys long walks on the beach. That's one thing we know about her.

At least we know one thing about her: She likes long walks on the beach.

Some of the things he does in this movie are incredibly stunning to look at, but not because it’s anything weird, per se; it’s more because you can never tell what sort of style Glazer himself is incorporating into this film. The story sort of comes second to whatever visual imagery Glazer wants to create and because of that, we have a movie that’s not only gorgeous, but rather large in scope of what it wants to talk about, or where it wants to go. Once again, the movie never makes itself clear about what it’s showing us and why, but that’s not the point; the point is to see what Glazer can bring to the screen and how he’s able to entrance us.

Now, that’s not to say the story doesn’t exist, nor is it not a very compelling one; in fact, it’s downright terrifying at times, but for the whole sake that it’s confusing and never wholly clear. But it is to say that Glazer wants to give us a feeling that even though the film takes place on planet Earth (in Scotland to be exact), it isn’t necessarily easily understandable, nor is it a movie that wants to connect with us. It wants to freak us out, get under our skin, and continuously shock us by bringing whatever sort of crazy imagery Glazer himself has to bring to our eyes. Some of it’s pretty, and some of it’s downright disturbing – but it’s all shocking, in the best ways possible.

That last sentence could actually apply to Scarlett Johansson as well who, for most of the movie, seems like she herself is transfixed in some sort of daze that when she wakes up, snaps out of it and has to be charming, it’s impressive-as-hell and makes you want to slap all of the nay-sayers who have been questioning her talents as an actress since day one. Now, if you don’t already know something about this movie, it’s that ScarJo actually drove a truck around Scotland, picked up random strangers off the street, drove them around, talked to them and had it all filmed, with her character’s persona totally in tact. It’s a odd element of Borat that this movie has, but it works so well because it makes you question just how far Glazer and co. were willing to go with this device, and just what each and every person they talked to was going to bring to the table.

But the one who really comes out on top of it all is Johansson herself, as she’s able to not only have us all hot, sweaty and bothered by being in her presence, but also be absolutely petrified of what she is going to do next and to whom. Her character goes unnamed and because of that, she stays a complete mysterious to us the whole entire time. And I definitely like to think that Glazer preferred it this way, rather than giving us the impression that we know this character and can easily spell her out from the very beginning.

In fact, you could even say that about the whole movie, really. To see a something that doesn’t really give a crap about keeping up with story or any certain agenda for that matter, is quite refreshing for someone like me. Sure, I would have definitely loved this movie more if the third-act didn’t topple over itself once it decided that it wanted to take its character seriously and have her seem more like a “human”, but that didn’t bother me as much as it just made me think more about this movie and what message Glazer was trying to convey with it. Is he trying to show us that “being human”, isn’t just about looking like so and being a normal, everyday citizen? Or, is it about what’s really on the inside of a person that counts and makes us an actual living, breathing, and sexxing human being?

Yep, don't even ask.

Yep, don’t even ask.

Both questions deserve to be brought up, especially when watching something as unique and mind-boggling as this, but a part of me feels like I’m just looking into something a lot deeper than I should be. That’s not to say if I went up to Glazer in real life and started having a discussion with him about this movie and my thoughts/ideas about it, that he wouldn’t welcome them because this is the kind of movie that invites analysis from various view-points. However, another part of me just believes that I want to dig deeper and deeper into this movie so that I can feel “smarter” than the rest of the bunch that may have seen this and left utterly confused. Not just with the movies, but with their own lives in general.

But anyway, I digress before I get completely off-track: This movie’s something else, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s surprising in the certain places it goes and how Glazer makes his story seem like anything could happen, and there’d be no problem with that whatsoever. When you’re a film maker that’s made it clear your story could take place in any universe, then the whole landscape is your playing field and it was an absolute treat to see Glazer constantly play with whatever tools he had at his disposal. I may make the movie seem more “fun”, than what it would present itself as being through its advertising, but there’s a certain element of that to be felt in here; you don’t fully know what to expect next from anything here and there’s something entertaining about that.

If only more movies were like that, we’d probably be in a much better place altogether.

Consensus: While sometimes bordering on being incoherent, Under the Skin isn’t about its story, or whatever message it’s trying to get across, it’s about how far Jonathan Glazer is able to go with the look, the feel and the pulse of his movie, while we just sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it for as much, or for as long as we can.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Alien or not, I'll follow her anywhere.

Alien or not, I’d follow her anywhere.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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Keep the Lights On (2012)

If your soul mate is from a phone dating-service, they aren’t your soul mate.

Late one night while cruising for sex on the phone, documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) meets a closeted lawyer by the name of Paul (Zachary Booth). While they both exchange in some pretty hot sex, they also seem to want a bit more, even though Paul is already in a relationship with a woman. Erik doesn’t mind this and actually finds himself falling for Paul; so much so that it actually scares him. But it’s love and you can’t fight that feeling, no matter how bad things may get. And here, they get pretty damn terrible. Over the next ten years of their up-and-down relationship, Erik begins to realize that not only does Paul have a drug problem, but that he needs to get it fixed out before it’s too late for the both of them. But even if Erik can “cure” Paul of his addiction, what does that mean for the both of them together? Can they work it out? Or, simply put, will they just dissolve into the thin air of nothingness like most relationships end up being?

From what I’ve read, it seems that most of this is based on writer/director Ira Sachs’ own experience in love, but more importantly, a relationship he had himself. With that information taken into consideration, the film becomes a whole lot more personal and intimate than it already appears so as being, which is saying a whole lot, because this movie is so closed-off from the rest of the world around it, that it almost becomes suffocating. But that’s somewhat of a good thing here, especially since it keeps mostly all of our focus on these two men, their relationship and just exactly what makes them so compatible in the first place.

Usually how most of my relationships begin....

Usually how most of my relationships begin….

However, that’s where Sachs’ movie frustrated me: We never get a full sense as to why these two fall so madly in love together in the first place. I can totally understand and accept a movie that’s presenting a romance doomed from the very beginning, and just continuing to show it as it gets worse and worse for the individuals involved, but I can’t wholly accept a movie when that’s all it has to show. We hardly get to know these characters, except that one’s a whole a lot immature than the other; which is saying something because the other spends most of the movie running away without telling anybody where he’s going, having sex with random strangers, and doing a whole lot of crack.

And like I said before, I’m fine with a movie presenting me a complicated situation, with complicated people involved with them, but here, it feels like nothing’s all that complicated, or at least it shouldn’t be: One should clearly dump the other, but can’t because he’s just too needy and sexually-charged. It’s understandable that these aren’t characters we’re supposed to fall in love with; much rather, we’re supposed to understand them as who they are and why they want this relationship to work in the first place, but it sort of seems like Sachs keeps most of that away from us.

Well, at least in the case of Paul, who mostly just ends up turning out to be an unsympathetic dick that yes, may have a very serious drug problem, but doesn’t really feel like he’s worthy of having a connection with anyone, let alone somebody as caring and as loving as Erik. And because of this problem with Paul, Erik ends up being a whole lot more likable, even though he isn’t without his own fair share of problems, either.

For starters, Erik’s a little boy, trapped in an older dude’s body; meaning, he thinks and has feelings as if he’s still an adolescence, yet is clearly older and has to take on more responsibilities. He’s also our main focus of this movie and it’s hard to not want to give him a hug after he’s been thrown around, tossed, and kicked by this feeling of love he gets, even if it does feel way too much, for such a very short amount of time. However, it isn’t unbelievable in the way it’s presented to us in the film because of how Sachs has made Erik a sad, lonely guy who seems like he’s in desperate need of someone to hold and cherish.

...how they meander....

…how they meander….

That said, Erik’s mostly a compelling character because of how good Thure Lindhardt is at playing him. Rather than over-doing his character’s acts of immaturity to give you the impression that he’s a middle-schooler experiencing love and sex for the first time in his life, Lindhardt shows/tells us all we need to know by the way he carries himself from place to place, and the people he talks to in these places. And in these countless interactions with others, we get to understand and know a little more about who Erik is, as small as those pieces of info may be.

Still, it’s not enough to fully have us understand just why it is that we’re watching this story play out. Sure, Erik is a character that’s easy to care for, even when it seems like he’s the one who is bringing most of this pain and agony onto himself, but as for Paul and their relationship as a whole: I just wanted to see it over and done with. Most of that was to see Erik and Paul eventually released from whatever hurt they’ve been holding onto for all these years, but because it would actually bring something more compelling to the movie as a whole. It’s clear that this is a very personal story for Sachs and because of that being so, it does end up telling some hard-earned truths about love, commitment and how low one will stoop to keep a relationship afloat, but it ends up being almost too personal. Meaning that while it may mean a whole lot to him, the creator of transporting his own, real-life experiences to film, it doesn’t really hold nearly as much importance to the audience that’s watching his story practically play out in front of their own very eyes.

And, I mean, come on! Isn’t it the audience we make these movies for in the first place?

Consensus: Sachs’ writing and directing usually presents some interesting points about his character’s, as well as the situation they’re going through, but for most of Keep the Lights On‘s run-time, it just walks a very slow, uninteresting line.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

...and then of course, how they end. (That''s usually me on the right)

…and then of course, how they end. (That”s usually me on the right)

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Hey, if torture can work for Jack Bauer, it can work for anyone! Right, guys? Guys?…….

Late one fateful night, an Afghan taxi driver by the name of Dilawar picks up a passenger and isn’t ever seen again by his friends or his family. Reason being? He killed himself while being imprisoned inside the Parwan Detention Facility where he was questioned by American soldiers. However, did these soldiers do more than just questioning Dilawar? Did they rough him up a bit to ensure that they’d get the answer they wanted? Or, did they do a whole lot more than just “roughing up a bit”? And even if they did do that, would they even be in trouble? Documentarian Alex Gibney examines the story of Dilawar, those who were charged in his brutal treatment at the detention center and how so many other Afghan prisoners were taken in on a daily basis, with little to no reason other than they may have information regarding Osama Bin Laden, or other known terrorists at the time.

What’s so interesting about what Gibney does here, is that while he does go all over the place, focusing on the whole picture of what’s really going on here, from the beginning of the war, to Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush themselves, he never loses sight of what really made this story possible in the first place: Dilawar and what happened to him. Because deep inside of all of the numerous threads explored here, no matter how distasteful some of these truths unearthed may have you feel, no matter how enraged you may be by the end, there’s something completely and utterly depressing about Dilawar, his story and how he met the end of his life.

At least he's got a fresh-ass shirt on him now...

At least he’s got a fresh-ass shirt on him now…

See, with Dilawar’s story, we realize that he, along with so many other detainees in these detention centers, is just a normal, everyday citizen, as if he were you or I. However, the only thing separating him from us is that he was an Afghan citizen and at that point in time, the U.S. Army wasn’t taking any chances one bit and was just picking up each and every person they found to be even the slightest suspicious of being a possible terrorist. Didn’t matter if it was true or not, the Army needed to bring people in, torture the hell out of them, and see if they could get any possible answers out of them whatsoever.

Dilawar just so happened to be one of those people and he met his end in such a sad, brutal way because of so.

His story is the launching-off point for what Gibney wants to talk about and explore, and it’s deserving. Not because everything about Dilawar’s story is what helps Gibney come back to some sort of human-connection when all is said and done and he gets off of his soap box, but because it shows us that Dilawar was like every other captive inside one of these detention centers. Sure, there were definitely a few whose suspicions turned out to be actually true, but you have to think of how few that number is, compared to all of those who were taken in, brutally tortured, humiliated, made out to be “less than human”,  and even died in the custody of the U.S. Army.

And trust me, this isn’t just going to be a whole post of me attacking the U.S. Army for all their immoral-doings in the war; in fact, I’ll give most of them the benefit of the doubt. They’re all doing a job that I would never be able to bring myself to in my life and because of that, I give them a salute. However, there is something to be said for when those soldiers take advantage of the certain amount/level of power they have. It’s like what was discussed in the Invisible War (a documentary you must see, if you haven’t already done so) – does being a soldier for the Army and protecting your country mean that you can practically get away with anything that would be deemed “illegal” if you were still living in your country and not on the battlefield?

The answer to that is clearly no and Gibney knows this. However, he doesn’t give us any easy answers to make it clear exactly what he’s thinking, or even what he’s trying to say at any given moment. He easily could have made this a whole two hours of just him getting on everything that has to do with the Army; those who enlisted into it, as well as those powerful politicians who back it up with all their might, but he doesn’t. He keeps everything away at a relatively minor distance that’s hardly ever over-stepped, even though it could have easily been.

Tsk tsk.

Tsk tsk.

But like I was saying before, with this movie, Gibney reminds us what it’s like to be and stay human, even in the times of war. It made sense for most of the country to go absolutely and completely gung-ho about violence right as soon as the World Trade Center was attacked, but does that really mean we as a country are justified in acting the way we did, or hell, still do act? We’re paranoid for a reason, but does that really mean that we have to unreasonably make others pay for our thoughts and perceptions, regardless of if they turn out to be wrong?

Like every other question posed here in this movie, Gibney never gives a clear answer. Sometimes that’s a bit frustrating; other times, it’s comforting because so many documentarians feel the need to take a stance on a certain topic, without ever giving us a full, rounded-out story of everything we are being told. Here, we get to listen and learn from just about everybody who was involved with these detention centers and, after awhile, begin to realize that they too are just like you or I – normal, everyday human citizens. However, the only problem was that they were the ones with all the guns, the power, and the control to do anything that they wanted, when they wanted.

And Dilawar was the one who had to pay for it all. Although there are still plenty more where he came from and there shouldn’t be.

Consensus: Presenting as much facts as possible without over-cramming his movie, or our brains, Alex Gibney allows for Taxi to the Dark Side to be a thoughtful, mostly upsetting documentary about all those involved with the war and how all societies are affected by it.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

At least they held the sign up for him.

At least they held the sign up for him.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

What Richard Did (2013)

This Richard fella sure does like to do a lot of “things”.

Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is the golden boy athlete who seems to have it all. Good looks, good parents, plenty of money, actual talent in rugby, and a very bright future ahead of him. However, there’s some quite dark lying inside of Richard that he doesn’t let everybody know about, but instead, just bottles it up all in. For some, that can work, but for others, it can’t – consider Richard in that later group. But the good thing for Richard is that he meets an out-of-towner named Lara (Róisín Murphy) who he ends up falling in love with. Problem with it though, is that he eventually begins to grow jealous of her and the numerous looks she’s getting from various men around her. Richard takes notice of this and one drunken night, it all comes to ahead when something very tragic occurs and he, as well as his lads, are left without any idea of knowing what to do next. Because, after all, they’re just teenagers and teenagers don’t always make the right decisions, especially when their futures are held in the balance.

So yeah, obviously from just reading that title, seeing that poster and reading that synopsis, we know that Richard does something that’s not too kind. However, in order to avoid from totally spoiling it all for you out there, I’ll just beat around the bush and not say what he does; even though it doesn’t really matter. Sure, there is an element of surprise here as to finding out what Richard does in fact do, but that’s not the main aspect this movie pays attention to the most.

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend.....

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend…..

See, what director Lenny Abrahamson does so well here is that he doesn’t just focus on what it is that Richard does to others around him, he pays more attention to the person of Richard, what makes him who he is and why he does the things he does to those around. His actions make him who he is, but there’s also a certain layer we get to watch and study delicately that not only gives us a glimpse into what he is thinking, at any given moment, but how he feels about what he’s thinking. Because, to be honest, Richard doesn’t always do/say the right thing, and rather than making him a detestable human being for doing such, the movie keeps us a couple of steps away from him so that we don’t judge him too harshly.

One could say that Abrahamson’s trying to have us sympathize for somebody who, for lack of a better term, is a bit of a dick, but you could also say that there isn’t really a stance Abrahamson takes with this character, or this whole movie for that matter. We just sit back and view Richard for what he is – questionable morals and all. And since Richard is such a challenging character to not only like, but watch, it makes the task all the more challenging for somebody like Jack Reynor, a relative new-comer at the time, to really pull it all off without over-doing it.

And somehow too, he’s a revelation to watch on screen. But it’s not that Reynor over-does it here with his acting; he’s actually quite subtle. Sure, the script and the direction calls on him to be so, but there are so many times that the camera just stays still straight on his face, as he watches those around him, or staring into space, and we’re left thinking, “What the hell is going on inside his damn head?” He always looks pissed and, in a way, slightly disappointed; disappointed with his life at the present, with his future, the fact that he doesn’t have the dream girl he oh so desires, his mates, we don’t know. It’s all pretty much a mystery to figure it out and that’s why Reynor’s performance is so great here – he keeps us guessing the whole entire time.

Which, for a young, sterling cat like Reynor, may not have been an easy job on his part. Without saying much at all, he’s given the task of just letting his facial-expressions do the talking at any given moment, but the guy handles it effortlessly, as if he’s been doing this his whole life. It’s nice to see that the U.S. has finally picked up on this kid’s talent and actually throw him in some movies. However, it’s such a shame that some of those movies happen to include pieces of junk like Delivery Man and, probably far more-known, Transformers: Age of Extinction.

That damn Michael Bay, man. He snatches up the talent as soon as they’re hot and ready and ruins them for the rest of us.

Bastard.

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy....

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy….

Anyway, like I was saying earlier about this character of Richard – while Reynor is superb as him, it’s really Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell who deserve the credit here. Like I said before, they give us an unsympathetic character, and don’t necessarily judge him; they simply present his story to us and allow us to make up our own minds about what decision of his is a good one, and a bad one. Better yet, it allows us to draw conclusions as to what really makes this guy, the guy we see at parties, just glaring blankly at the scenery at him. Is he sad? And if so, why? What’s he going to do about it? Hell, who is he going to do it to? So many questions are left up to us to figure out on our own and it can sometimes be enraging, but mostly, it’s just a challenge we ourselves have to think about long and hard.

That’s why the movie doesn’t always work, because while it doesn’t want to give away every answer, to every question it brings up, it still wants to keep on adding more and more fuel to the fire, almost to the point of where it seems like overkill. Sure, that’s not so bad if you have a rather large, ambitious movie, filled to the brim with numerous story-lines, going around all over the place, but when you have a small, hour-and-twenty-minute character-study, it does seem to be a bit of a selfish move. A selfish move not to give us a little more tokens for paying attention to certain things, but also because it just keeps on bring more to everything it wants to do. Maybe I’m just nit-picking and making problems that aren’t even there in the first place, but for me, I wanted just a bit more. A bit more of Richard, his back-story and just why he was such an angry bloke pretty much all of the time. I guess it’s something I’ll have to live with never fully finding out about.

Oh well.

That damn Michael Bay, though.

Consensus: Featuring an amazing performance from Jack Reynor in the lead titled-role, What Richard Did proves to be both a thought-provoking, as well as a sometimes enraging drama and exploration into the mind of a challenging character.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That's what Richard does.

…but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That’s what Richard does.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Trip (2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occasionally funny is good enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Aw. What besties!

Aw. What besties!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Giver (2014)

He can see clearly now, the grey is gone.

16-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in a seemingly perfect world; there’s no crime, racism, hate, anger, or any type of feelings whatsoever. Everybody, essentially, gets along with one another and that’s how they like it. Society is peaceful, calm and relaxed, but now that Jonas is at that age where he gets “chosen” for what he will do next with his life, that may all change. Eventually, Jonas is picked to be the Receiver of Memory, where he’ll learn from the almighty Giver (Jeff Bridges) – a silent, grizzled old man that has seen, felt and heard just about everything one has to in order to live a full life. Jonas and the Giver, initially, hit it off and sooner than later, Jonas’ view of the world around him begins to change as he realizes there’s more beauty and color out there that he needs. However, those higher-ups in charge don’t like that Jonas is starting to think for himself and so differently from the rest of society and decide that they have to take matters into their own hands, before it’s too late for everyone and Jonas has practically spoiled each and every person’s mind.

I think I speak for mostly everybody out there who has ever had to go through grade school, when I say that yes, I have read the Giver, and yes, it was a good book. Now, it’s been nearly seven years for me since I have read it, but I can say that, for the most part, it had a good impact on me as a young lad and made me realize all of the beauty and wonder that can come with reading something. Especially a book, no less!

Anyway, that said, a movie-adaptation seemed pretty ideal, however, what surprised me the most is that it took them so long to actually get a movie for this off the ground. A part of me felt like the name itself may have been enough to gain some recognition, but for some reason, Hollywood just didn’t agree with me.

Look at that hair! It's never that white, nor is it ever normally that long! Evil!

Look at that hair! It’s never that white, nor is it ever normally that long! Evil!

And now, I can totally see why.

It isn’t that this movie doesn’t seem to try and recreate some of the magic of the book, because it sort of does. There’s an interesting visual-contrast here that director Phillip Noyce uses in which we get a glimpse of this world in a grey font, and slowly but surely, we start to see glimmers and shadings of actual color work its way in. It’s neat to watch and see play out, especially considering that a good portion of this movie is filmed in black and white, but when that’s the only thing you’ve got good going for yourself, you’ve got a problem.

Because, yes, this movie is a total mess. Though I get that not every novel adaptation has to follow its source material literally word-for-word, page-by-page, letter-by-letter, there are certain times where I wish they spent more time was spent on actually getting to understand what the original story was all about. Here, we have an-hour-and-40-minute movie which, to some, may seem like a lot, but considering how quickly they speed by each and every major plot-point, makes you wonder just how much time they had to film this thing in the first place.

Cause, the way it turns out here, we get introduced to Jonas, this world in which he lives in and the job he has been given so dramatically, and for about 30 or so minutes, that’s all we get. Not much development for this character, the predicament he is thrown into, this world, how it could change and what’s really at stake. It’s sort of just highlighted for a near-second and then it’s off to the next major plot-point! And this goes on for the whole movie; Noyce not only doesn’t seem confident in the material itself, but also that it can’t hold any dramatic-weight, so he thinks that speeding by everything will have us ignore the movie’s many, many problems.

Which is a huge shame considering that there’s plenty of material here that could have worked, had they decided to take their time on this movie and what it was trying to say. But in today’s day and age of other, far better young adult novel adaptations, most of it seems to be material we’ve already discussed and went into before. That’s not to say there can’t be a movie that takes familiar tropes or ideas of other films, and do something with them, but in order to do so in an effective, smart way, they have to be spun in a way that’s at least interesting. Here, nothing’s interesting, nor does it really hold much weight at all.

It’s just a very dull, poorly put-together movie, which makes you wonder: How did so many talented people even get involved with it in the first place?

Well, the answer to that question is pretty simple. In fact, it’s so simple that all you have to do is look at who helped distribute it.

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you, the distributors for the Giver, The Weinstein Company.

Yes, it’s pretty crazy to see that the Weinstein’s would even bother with something like this, but I guess everybody makes mistakes every once and awhile. Here though, it’s very obvious that their influence over everything that they do, is here, because somehow, they were able to get not just Jeff Bridges to act in this movie, but Meryl Streep as well. Now, of course, that’s not to say neither both Bridges or Streep haven’t had a few bombs in there day and age, but here, it’s obvious that they’re far better than what they’re given.

Though he seems like a perfect fit for a tired, old man like the Giver, Bridges just mumbles and growls his way through the role and never really seems like someone who, at one point, was a real person, who is also capable of feeling all sorts of emotions. Streep is a bit better-off as the sly, vindictive and society-controlling Chief Elder, but looks too goofy with that long, grey hair of hers. She’s Meryl Streep, so of course she’s good in this role, but her character is so poorly-developed, you just hope that she at least got a good paycheck out of this. Which, she most likely did, so good for her.

Like Rooster Cogburn, except with more feelings. Aka, lame.

Like Rooster Cogburn, except with more feelings. Aka, lame.

As for the younger, far more smaller-names of the cast, they’re worse off than these two seasoned-pros. Because, while Bridges and Streep can get by on just doing what they do best, the younger ones in this cast seem like they were put in this only because they’re attractive and will attract that hip, new and young crowd this movie is clearly going for. Though he impressed me very much so in the smaller, much better sci-fi flick, the Signal, Brenton Thwaites is hopeless as Jonas; a character who, on paper, was read as a very interesting, smart character, yet here, seems like another boring teen who wants to live life, man. He’s annoying and it’s made even worse by the fact that Thwaites just isn’t all that there as a good actor. Not yet, at least.

And then there’s the quintessential young, bright and pretty love-interest a movie like this always needs to have, this time, in the form of Odeya Rush as Fiona. Rush certainly has a nice face that the camera loves, but the gal cannot act and, for most of the movie, struggles with her lines. I felt bad for her while watching, but that’s what happens when you see a bad movie: You feel bad for everybody involved. It doesn’t matter how talented, or untalented they may actually be; they’re workers, clearly trying their best and not really getting a chance to have it all work out for them.

But what makes a bad movie even worse, is knowing that the book it got everything from, was a whole lot better.

Consensus: Like every other young adult novel adaptation, the Giver prides itself on being about something, yet, is so extremely dull, painful-to-watch and boring, it’s terribly uninteresting.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

It don't matter if they're black or white!

It don’t matter if they’re black or white!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Expendables 3 (2014)

They’re old. Get used to it.

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

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

"Grrrr."

“Grrrr.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Salt (2010)

What about Pepa?

CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) has served and protected her country for many years, so when she’s accused of being a Russian spy, she’s absolutely baffled. Not just by the claim itself, but the fact that people who know and have worked with her for so many years, would actually start to believe this claim to be a fact and hunt her down as if she was some sort of Splinter Cell. But Salt knows that she can’t just sit around while she’s being thought about, so instead, she decides to take matters into her own hands by going on the run. This puts the CIA on a heavy, electrifying chase of sorts, where they find out more about Salt’s history/background and also see if they can get in contact with her husband (August Diehl). However, what’s strange is that he’s nowhere to be found, but what’s even stranger is that Salt’s past does seem a bit sketchy. Almost as if she could be some sort of spy who, for all these years, has been feeding off countless bits of info to her homeland of Russia. Then again though, nobody knows for sure and that’s how Salt plans on keeping it.

While this seems like a general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller, that would more than likely star either Matt Damon or Tom Cruise in the lead roles, all of a sudden becomes something of a different beast when you get rid of those two, manly-men and replace them with none other than a woman. Better yet, a woman by the name of Angelina Jolie who, despite what you may think about her questionable choices in her personal life, is a movie star in every sense of the word.

Yup. Toates Russian.

Yup. Toates Russian.

She’s not only proven herself, time and time again, that she can in fact act with the best of them, but is also able to kick some fine ass and even have us believe that a skinny little thing like her would be capable of doing so, too. Sure, most of her action-movies are the typical fodder for dudes who are just begging to see her naked to love and adore, but what she does well is that she can turn her “action-mode” off, as well as on, and have us believe her every second. She may not have many fans out there, but for me, Angelina Jolie is the exact kind of Hollywood star I want head-lining my major blockbuster; not just for the major dough involved with having her name attached to something, but because she always seems to put in the best that she can.

That, and the fact that she’s a woman who reminds us why girls can be tough, too.

All that said, this movie isn’t really trying to go out on a limb and make some sort of grand, feminist-statement – much rather, it just wants to be exactly what it sets out to be in the first place: A general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller. However, what’s so different here, is that something feels slightly “old school” about it all. Most of that can be chalked up to the fact that the writing is something of pure 80’s cheese, in which the CIA is running rampant all over the globe and Russians are still the bad guys, but another part of that can be chalked up to director Phillip Noyce, the kind of director that is able to bring us back to the good old days of action-thrillers.

You know, before Bourne had to come around and shake things up a notch. I mean that literally, and figuratively.

But what’s so interesting here that Noyce does, that not many action-thrillers do, or just seemingly forget about because they just want explosions and bullets, is that there’s more to this movie than just a bunch of simple, yet exciting action-sequences; it’s actually a mystery of sorts and adds more to the final product. Sure, the action-sequences are great and all, and more often than not feel as if they are riding the thin line between “absolutely absurd” and “somewhat believable”, but it’s the mystery as to who the hell this character is that really keeps it moving. It also keeps the movie interesting, because even when they do call it a lunch on all the action and decide to explore more and more about this main’s character life, it’s still compelling to figure out. Not that the writing for these flashbacks are great at all, but what they are able to get away with is being placed in at the right times, for the right reasons.

They're still holding a grudge over who's getting paid the most here.

They’re still holding a grudge over who’s getting paid the most.

That said, Salt herself is a bit of a bland character. I get the fact that since she’s a woman and she can kick more than a few asses on a good day is supposed to make her “different” from the rest of the other ass-kickers out there in a genre filled to the brim with them, but here, she does begin to feel less and less human as the movie goes on. And I don’t mean that because of the fact that she jumps on moving, speeding cars while on the highway and hardly ever gets a scratch; I mean that just because the writing never allows us to get to know as much as we should about her, in order to have us fully care for her journey into clearing her own name. Yeah, it kind of blows that everybody around her would all of a sudden go gung-ho after hearing that she may possibly be a Russian spy, but is that it? I needed a bit more, and maybe that’s asking too much as is.

That’s not to say Jolie isn’t bad here, because it’s quite the opposite – she’s good, meaning that she’s capable of having us believe her as both an ass-kicker, as well as a woman thrown into a disaster of a dilemma. The rest of the cast is pretty fine too, with the likes of Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Corey Stoll showing their faces and letting everybody know that they can hang with Jolie, too. However, most of the time, especially for the first two names I mentioned, they’re just spent staring at monitors and spitting in each other’s faces when everything starts to go haywire for them and this mission of tracking down Salt. It’s fun to watch these guys scream and yell, like most of us imagine CIA officials do on a daily basis, but the fact that they’re both technically fighting and hollering over a woman, makes it even funnier.

Better yet, make that woman Angelina Jolie and you’ve got yourself a comedy. Except one with a lot more running, jumping, killing, explosions, shooting, bleeding and death. Does that still qualify as a “comedy”?

Consensus: Exceptionally well-made as an action-thriller of yesteryear, Salt feels like it’s constantly keeping us, as well as itself moving, and while that may not make it more than just a standard action flick, it’s still a good time regardless.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"That'll take care of that fly."

“That’ll take care of that fly.”

 

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.AuGoggle Images

The Fisher King (1991)

Have to look out for them homeless. They can improv with the best of ‘em.

Shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is at the top of his game; rich, famous, loved by almost everyone, has a few possible TV-deals in the pipeline and does whatever he wants, because he, quite frankly, thinks he’s the man. However, after he incidentally spurs on a caller to commit a killing spree, Jack is absolutely shocked and retreats from the spotlight. Three years later, he isn’t doing so well and is spending most of his time drinking, working in some low-rent, rental video store (it’s the 90’s), and, occasionally, pleases his loving, yet annoyed girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl). That all changes when, late one night in a drunken stooper, Jack is almost killed by a bunch of punk kids who have nothing better to do than pick on homeless people. That is, until he’s saved by a lively, eccentric homeless man with a big imagination who goes by the name Parry (Robin Williams). Though Jack initially doesn’t want anything to do with Parry, he soon realizes that the two may be connected moreso than he could have ever originally imagined and Jack decides to stick with Parry and see if he can turn both of their lives around.

I must say one thing off the bat: This isn’t my first time seeing the Fisher King. It may be the first time seeing it and actually liking it, but overall, it’s maybe my second or third, and from what I can recollect, this movie and I don’t have the best relationship. However though, due to the recent tragic news of the passing of Robin Williams I decided, “What the heck?!? It’s on Netflix for Chrissakes!”

And while I’m not the least bit happy Williams is gone from our screens, as well as our lives, I am happy to see a film of his that reminds us all why he was such a lovable presence to watch in the first place.

"You don't know who I am? I'm the, aw, forget it, man!"

“You don’t know who I am? I’m the, aw, forget it, man!”

That said, Williams isn’t the only good thing here; he’s only one piece to a very large, very strange, and very manic puzzle. The one putting all of those pieces together? Director Terry Gilliam who, if you don’t know already, is a guy who has a rather strange style. Mostly all of his movies, in one way or another, take place in some sort of fantasy-world, however, it’s how he spins those stories to make them not only touch your everyday movie-goer, but even those who don’t really care for his fantasy films, or fantasy films as a whole in general.

That sad-sack person would normally be me, but somehow, that all changed here. Gilliam’s style didn’t bother me here, mostly due to the fact that I was happy to see him take an honest, down-to-Earth story about two people helping one another out, and only using the fantasy-sequences to express what it is that’s going on in one of those particular character’s minds. Therefore, they feel less showwy, as if Gilliam himself can’t wait to show you what a big, brave and creative mind he has in that big ol’ head of his, and more in-tune to what it is that this story is trying to get at here – which is how everybody blocks certain things out of their heads, just so that they can make more room for the happy, pleasing stuff that we don’t harp on as much as we should.

Sounds quite sappy and movie-of-the-week-ish, but taken in the context of this movie and the way Gilliam allows his character’s to speak for themselves, it feels as honest and as raw as any drama out there. Of course, this isn’t just a “drama” through and through; there are plenty of elements of comedy, fantasy, and a psychological thriller tricking on through and while it doesn’t always work, it’s at least a bold move on Gilliam’s part to at least try with it and come out on top, more times than not. Gilliam’s full of plenty of bold moves here, but where he really nails it is in just giving us a simple tale of two people trying to help one another out, and by doing so, helping those out around them as well.

Some Gilliam die-hards may consider this “too weak” or “ordinary”, even by his standards, but I feel like it’s the kind of movie he had to make, just to show us that yes, he has an ounce of humanity inside of his soul and yes, he does know what it’s like to just pay attention to his characters. Sure, the moments where we see mystical creatures roaming the streets of Manhattan may be a tad cool to look at, but they don’t add to much; what does add up to a whole lot are the characters and how we see each and everyone of them grow and continue to do so over the time we spend with them. Time which, mind you, is two-hours-and-20-minutes, yet, breezes by so quickly, you’ll hardly ever notice.

Jeff Bridges has been one of those actors who, it doesn’t seem to matter how many great movies a year he does, he just never gets the love, adoration and notice he wholeheartedly deserves. Sure, he won the Oscar for Crazy Heart some odd years back, but that isn’t anything compared to the kind of work he was putting in some, odd ten/twenty years before. And one of those great performances of his is here as Jack Lucas; a shock jock made in the same vein of Howard Stern, yet, has some level of a conscience that makes him worth being invested in. Because lord knows, if we didn’t at least feel like this Lucas guy had some level of sympathy located in the pit of his stomach, then there’d be no reason for us to really care about his character, his plight, or even what he aspires to do.

It would have just been watching a dick head, try not to be a dick head, even though we know whole well that he’s just that: A dick head.

The perfect date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

The perfect double-date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

And even if that is the case, Bridges plays him so well that we do begin to see little shades of who he really is start to come out and it’s hardly ever tacked-on or unbelievable. There’s a belief in the way Lucas really wants to help out those around him who deserve it the most, which makes it all the more sad to see what happens to him when he realizes that, sometimes, you just have to give up and let others do their own thing and live their own lives. You can go your whole entire existence, trying your near and dear hardest to make those around you feel better as good about themselves as you do about you, but in reality, not everybody wants that. Sometimes, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing and live their own lives, without having to swat a helping hand every second, of everyday.

Which is why, at first, Williams’ Parry seems a whole lot like a bunch of crap that a screenwriter would just cobble up together to make some of us love him automatically, but as time goes on and we start to see and understand more about Parry, who he is, who he was, and why he’s in the state that he’s in now, there’s a certain connection we build with this guy. He’s happy just being him and even though that does mean he constantly smells like garbage and having change thrown at him and his little coffee cup, he doesn’t care. He’s just a guy who wants to keep on living the life and being happy about all of it.

He’s the perfect character for Robin Williams to play and it’s no shock to anyone to find out that he’s great in the role. Say what you will about his whole, joke-a-second-act, when the man was on fire, there was nobody better. Here, as Parry, he gets a chance to not only be his own, manic-self, but even reveal more beneath the facade as well that, believe it or not, does resemble something of a human being. By now, we all know that Williams was capable of acting like a real person, and much less of a wacky and wild wildebeest who could never switch the “off” button, well, on, but to get a chance to see him juggle both aspects of his acting is a testament to the kind of performer he truly was.

And that’s not to discredit anybody else in this film; especially not the ladies of the cast. Amanda Plummer is suitably weird and quirky as the object of Parry’s affection, and Mercedes Ruehl absolutely deserved the Oscar she got for her work here as Anne, Jack’s no-nonsense, yet, incredibly lovely girlfriend – but it’s Williams and the show he’s able to give us that ends up striking the final note, making it the hardest and most felt one.

Exactly how he would have wanted it, too.

Consensus: Gilliam’s direction doesn’t always work, but when he’s paying attention to the cast and the humane story in the middle of the Fisher King, it’s an emotionally satisfying piece.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Go get 'em, tiger."

“Go get ‘em, tiger.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Girl Next Door (2004)

Still convinced the girl I brought to prom was a porn star. Slept with everybody else, but me!

Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is a high-school senior who has high aspirations for his life in college and, hopefully, at Georgetown. But right now, at this moment in time, all he wants to do is remember something special about his life that he can talk on and on about for the rest of his days. Then Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door and suddenly, it all changes. Not only does Matthew come to understand his sexual innocence by gazing at Danielle’s perfect bodily-shape, but he also strikes up a friendship/relationship-of-sorts with her. Although, there’s just one problem that Matthew doesn’t find out about until it’s practically too late: She’s a porn star. And although Matthew eventually comes to accept this as a part of her life, he still brushes up shoulders with her ex-boyfriend/producer (Timothy Olyphant), who not only threatens to ruin the relationship he has created with Danielle, but Matthew’s whole future life and career as well. This is when Matthew decides that it’s time to nut up, or shut up, and depending on how you take that pun, you can pretty much guess where his next source of inspiration goes towards.

So yeah, basically, this is just Risky Business, but for the Gen-Y age where computers, cell-phones, and heavy-R ratings do exist. However, whereas that movie, despite being a sometimes crass and overly-sexualized film, at least had something to say about one coming to terms with their age, as well as their sexuality. Here, with the Girl Next Door, all we get are a bunch of nerds who crave sex and, despite never having had it before, still do whatever it is that they can to ensure that they lose their “V cards” before heading off to that next stage of their lives. Nothing wrong with that at all; in fact, it’s just a way of life which most people (mainly dudes) go through.

Being in a pool with a girl you're trying to get it on with doesn't end well. Trust me.

Being in a pool with a girl you’re trying to get it on with doesn’t end well. Especially if you’re trying ti “impress” her. Trust me.

However, there’s something not really all that there about this movie that makes it feel like it’s just about sex and porn, and that’s it. Sure, it’s a rom-com of sorts that likes to deal with young people trying to approach their sexuality in a certain manner that will get them laid, but there’s not much more beneath the surface. It’s exactly what it sets out to be and if that’s what you’re looking for, then yeah, you’ll probably enjoy this flick.

But that’s the problem with this movie: There feels like there could have been so much more here, had everybody involved just decided to put more time and effort into it.

For instance, the movie explores the pornography business in an almost complete and full matter; heck, the movie even pushes its attention towards a porn convention in Las Vegas. But rather than actually saying something remotely interesting about the state of pornography, where it’s heading and how those involved with such an distasteful business, are just like you and me, too. Instead, the movie decides to take the easy, relatively safe way out and just show us boobs, ass and girls hooking up with one another. For a frat bro that has a boner at just about the very second he wakes up, to the moment he decides to hit the hay, then yeah, this will probably be a near-masterpiece that absolutely speaks to their soul. However though, for somebody who wants a little bit more to their comedy, then there’s just hardly anything to firmly grasp.

And even worse, the movie’s not even all that funny. A few throwaway gags here and there, but honestly, the movie just isn’t very funny. It clearly likes to think it is – in the Van Wilder-sense where the sight of t’s and a’s are automatically followed by LOL’ing – but nothing really works in that regard. It’s just a stale comedy, reusing plot-devices and jokes we’ve seen before, yet never really spins them in a way that could make it seem like the story/movie itself could have only taken place in the new millennium. Then again though, to those who would probably want to see this, that doesn’t matter because as long as there’s naked chicks and a whole lot of sex-talk, then what else is there?

No seriously, what else is there?

Anyway, the only aspect of this film that seems even remotely interesting is its cast, and even then, mostly everybody feels wasted on material that just couldn’t be less concerned with them showing up and putting in all that they have in their might and power. Emile Hirsch shows that he was ready to step out of that childhood acting shell of his at this point in his career, and although it was a smart move on his part, the movie doesn’t seem concerned with giving him much to do except just be a nerd and react in slightly shocked manners. He does get one sequence of some finely-timed comedy where he’s high on ecstasy in a public event, but even that feels put-on, old, and tired, as if we had seen it a hundred times before. Because, most likely, we already have.

"Nobody fucks with the Olyphant."

“Nobody fucks with the Olyphant.”

And though I have to give it to the casting-directors for allowing Elisha Cuthbert to be like the absolute sex-pot that she appears to be, I have to wish that they’d given her so much more to do. Because sure, what she’s called on to do is act and look sexy and she does that quite well. But her character is just poorly-written in the way that we never find out anything about her past, why it is that she decided to take up the career as a porn star, why she wants out and why it is that she takes an interest in such a normal, typical dweeb like Matt. Cuthbert herself definitely seems like she wants to explore these character-traits, but sadly, it just doesn’t work in her favor.

The only person who really seems to come away unscathed from this is Timothy Olyphant, playing Danielle’s dangerous, slightly unpredictable bad boy of a producer that sees cash whenever he looks at her. Olyphant is always perfect at playing these types of slightly off-kilter, weirdo roles and while it’s a character we’ve seen him do before, it’s still a refresher in a movie that, quite frankly, isn’t filled with many. Except for showing us guys the occasional boob and butt, but honestly, that’s right at our finger-tips, every second, of everyday, so do we really need to watch a near two-hour comedy filled with some shots of it?

I say nope, but that’s just me. I’m a weirdo. I’d much rather watch a movie, than actual porn itself.

Consensus: Nothing more than a shameless remake of the far-better Risky Business, the Girl Next Door likes to think it explores more about the man’s psyche when it comes to sexuality, but in reality, it’s just another raunchy, unfunny teen-comedy.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Usually the kind of girls I bring home to my folks. Except not really.

Usually the kind of girls I bring home to my folks. Except not really.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

No Vanilla Ice, no dice.

News reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) aspires to be more than just a soft-core journalist that has to cover stories about “staying in shape”, or “doing pilates”; she wants to make a difference, even if that said difference goes exactly against everything her editor (Whoopi Goldberg) stands for. That’s why, during her night of casually strolling around, she stumbles upon a possible story about a band of trusty superheroes saving the day from the almighty powerful and evil Shredder, April jumps right on it. Probably more so than she originally wanted to, because what she eventually finds out is that these so-called “superheroes” happen to be four life-sized, walking, talking, HGH-fueled, pizza-lovin’, witty, ass-kickin’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They take orders from their rat father (Master Splinter) and set out to save NYC from total mass destruction. This is when April and her level of expertise come into play when she finds out that wealthy businessman, and her deceased father’s old lab-partner, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) is setting out to wipe out the Turtles, sell their blood, make lots of money, take over the world, and something else, too. Either way, it’s something bad that he wants and the Turtles won’t stand for it. Not as long as they’re still happenin’ and cool.

90’s nostalgia, man: It gets me every time.

That said, I was in no way looking forward to another re-boot of the TMNT franchise, especially one that’s come out twenty years after the fact. Sure, there was that 2007 animated-flick, but to a true Turtles fan like myself, it doesn’t count. What does count, however, are the life-sized, dudes-in-costumes Turtles that kicked ass, ate pizza, danced with Vanilla Ice (see link up top), and befriended Elias Koteas.

Aaaah!

Aaaah!

These new, and I guess, slightly improved, CGI-versions? Eh, not so much! But hey, I’m a guy who loves film and most of all, I like to be entertained. So yeah, it doesn’t really matter if somebody’s defecating on my childhood or not, as long as you’re fun, then I’m pleased! I may not be totally ecstatic beyond belief that you’re somewhat destroying any sense of childhood I may still hold onto, but I will at least take your hand, come off to never, never land and yes, maybe even crack a smile or two.

And even if Michael Bay does just so happen to have his greedy, numbly paws in it, I’ll still stay along for the ride. Because in the summer, that’s all you need: Fun. If you can add a certain layer of nostalgia, then yeah, it’s definitely a little bit better than something like, well, I don’t know, say the Transformers franchise.

But that said, this movie is not perfect in the least bit. For the most part, it can be kind of a mess that doesn’t know whether it wants to take its story, its characters, or even its whole universe seriously, or if it just wants to be one, long, running-gag about how these turtles cannot only just say goofy things, but can also drop new millennium references every so often, too. Most of that stems from the fact that Johnathan Liebesman isn’t a very good director, and more or less, seems like he’s just copying each and every trademark we’ve come to expect from a Michael Bay movie. That’s not to say that the humor borders on racist or downright misogynistic (okay, maybe more of the later), but it is to say that you have to wonder just where exactly they were trying to go with this tone at certain points.

Cause sometimes, it’s a light, fun and frothy movie that seems to be tailor-made for the next generation of kiddies who may not have a single clue what a Vanilla Ice is; but other times, it seems like the movie wants to be exactly like the Transformers franchise, except without any robots or side-boobage. Instead, we have humans, Asians and turtles, constantly kickin’ the crap out of one another, without any blood shown. Meaning, it’s an extremely violent PG-13 movie, which is strange considering that this mostly seems to be advertised towards the younger ones who will want to rope their adoring, yet miserable parents into going to see it.

Does that make it a bad movie? Nope, not at all. But does it make it a confused movie that doesn’t quite know where it wants to go, who it wants to be for, or where exactly it wants to land? Most definitely. And although I’m glad to see that Bay didn’t produce a movie that borders being downright offensive, I still wish that he got a more than credible enough director to carry-out a job that could have just been laid down to “impersonate me and my directorial-style”. Because, when you get right down to it, that’s exactly what this movie is: A Michael Bay movie.

For better, and also for worse. Take with that what you will, parents.

And considering that Bay does have more than a few fingers involved with this movie, it may seem totally strange that Megan Fox would even bother to be apart of another project of his (of course, with all things considering), but whatever the stipulations behind her appearance here may have been, I have to say, the gal’s fine as O’Neil. Sure, she’s a lot foxier (pun intended) than you’d expect an April O’Neil-type to look like, but Fox does fine with just delivering her lines in a charming manner, that lets us know that she’s not only in on the joke, but doesn’t want to be just laughed at and pointed at either. She’s a woman, dammit!

Putting the silverware to good use.

Putting the silverware to good use.

Same goes for Will Arnett, too (except for the woman part), who easily steals the show as her cameraman/side-kick/creepy-dude-who-constantly-wants-to-get-in-her-pants, Vernon Fenwick. He’s funny, sarcastic and seems perfectly-suitable for Bay’s strange sense of humor. And I think it’s pretty easy to know exactly what kind of character William Fichtner’s is going to turn out to be when he shows up, but, as usual with him, he’s fine at just playing him. He’s a dick, he knows it and he has some fun with it. Well, at least as much fun as one can have in a Michael Bay-ish movie.

Now, of course, I’ve saved the best aspect for the last, meaning that the main attraction most people are going to want to see and know all about are our titled-characters themselves: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And like you’ve probably fondly remembered them as being way back when in your childhood, each one has their own respective personality, to decipher which one is which – Michelangelo (or “Mikey”), is the stoner that says stuff like “brah” and other witty stuff; Leonardo, the leader, who takes control of the group when everybody and everything seems to get a bit too out-of-hand; Donatello, the nerd, who wears large bifocals over his head/face to remind you every so often; and Raphael, the team’s bad boy who always promises that whatever mission he’s on, is his “last one”, before he branches off on his own, presumably to become the owner of a major trust-fund for roided-out turtles or something.

Anyway, all of them, with the inclusion of everybody’s favorite, metaphor-dropping rodent, Master Splinter, are fine and as charming as you expect them to be. They’re one-note throughout the whole movie, sure, but for what they are (which is, a bunch of turtles who can talk and do stuff like you or I), they’re nice. They’re not insulting to anybody out there and they sure as hell can’t be categorized on which race they may, or may not be.

And yes, coming from a Michael Bay-ish movie, that means a whole heck of a lot.

Consensus: Inoffensive, short, fun and somewhat charming for the time its on screen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles won’t have you remembering the good old days of the cartoons or previous movies, but it will have you entertained for a short time.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

BAG has got some major competition on his hands now.

BAG has got some major competition on his hands now.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbizGoggle Images

Fading Gigolo (2014)

Always count on a neurotic Jew to score you some major poon.

Fioravante (John Turturro) is an aging man living in New York City who has come to a bit of a stand-still in his life; his bookshop has just recently closed down and now his flower shop may be in trouble as well. However, his best buddy, Murray (Woody Allen), comes up with a plan that may be a bit ridiculous, but ultimately, may work out for both of them in the end: Become a male prostitute. Murray believes this is a good idea because he knows a couple of lonely women that are in need of some male lovin’ – especially a Jewish widower by the name of Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who, despite being all about her faith, and the strict guidelines that come along with it, is willing to give Fiorvante a shot and see what all of the fuss is about. However, problems ensue for all three of them once a local policeman (Liev Schreiber) discovers what’s going on, and wants to take them all down. Which won’t just ruin the business Fioravante and Murray have going on, but the relationship they’ve built with Avigal herself.

You’ve got to hand it to John Turturro – the dude isn’t just writing and directing here, but he’s doing so in a movie that has him being portrayed as a total ladies man, that each and every girl he meets is willing to pay nearly $1,000 to bang. Not saying that Turturro isn’t a charmer by any means, but what I am saying is that since he’s the one who is all behind this piece, it does seem like he’s giving himself so much credit, that it becomes nearly “a fantasy”. Then again, you could say the same thing about more-than-a-half of Woody Allen’s movies, so I guess it all evens out.

"Love truly isn't something another person can understand. You know?"

“Love truly isn’t something another person can understand. You know?”

And speaking of Allen, his inclusion here in the cast seems very reasonable, although quite distracting to the final product: The movie itself seems like something Allen would write and direct in his own spare time, yet, isn’t. Instead, as mentioned before, this is a John Turturro movie and, needless to say, not everything’s as lovely as we’ve come to expect from a Woody Allen movie, no matter how mediocre one may be. Most of that has to do with the fact that Turturro just doesn’t seem like all that much of a charismatic director. Sure, he has a neat story on his hands, but surprisingly, it’s a rather dull, unexciting one that doesn’t take full advantage of the “fun” premise concocted here.

Some of that could be attributed to Turturro’s rather bland writing and directing, but some of it could also be pointed right towards he himself, the actor. See, Turturro, despite being one of my favorites, was surprisingly boring here. Not only does it seem like he’s sleep-walking through the role, but has intentionally written himself out as being so, just so that he can use that as a tool to allow the supporting cast to shine on and on, like most of them do on more than a few occasions. But, there’s a problem with that, because although Turturro allows the others to do their thing, his character constantly stays in the spotlight and when you have somebody as uninteresting as Fioravante, it’s hard to really want to see what happens to his character next. This is all bizarre too, because Turturro, in almost everything I’ve seen him in, is as charming as he could possibly be. But here, he’s just dull and painfully so as well.

And like I said before, this allows the supporting cast to do whatever it is that they want to do and have a good time doing so. Out of everybody, Woody Allen is the one who really seems like he’s having a blast, by just playing his typical, neurotic self. It’s an act that never ceases to get old or tiring, regardless of whose script it is that he’s reading. And although Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara bring some much needed sex-appeal to this story, their characters seem more like the stereotypical rich, horny and bored housewives that need more sexy-time than what they get from their own spouses. While it’s fun to see this unlikely duo play friends and be a little sexy, they don’t seem real, just two characters cobbled up from Turturro’s own imagination.

"So, uh, is that a Picasso or something?"

“So, uh, is that a Picasso or something?”

The only character who really seems to be devolved from any bit of reality is Vanessa Paradis’ Avigal, who plays this sad, lonely and slightly scared Jewish widow. Though she is fine in this role and she and Turturro create some nice bit of chemistry, the whole idea that the Jewish community would be going absolutely insane over such a unity is downright extreme. Maybe I’m wrong and this is what happens in those small, intimate Jewish communities, but something tells me the portrait Turturro has created here isn’t just unrealistic, but somewhat insulting. That these highly respected Jewish men would capture a person and take them in for countless lines of questioning relating to their business-dealings seems so goofy, that it’s not even funny – it’s just stupid and seemed like a lame way for Turturro to bring out any bit of comedy that he could.

That’s not to say that the whole movie is bad, it’s just that you can tell that, in the right hands, it could have been so much better. Maybe had this been in the hands of a more capable creator like, well, I don’t know, say Woody Allen, then this movie probably would have been better off and been able to actually be more than just a ludicrous “sex comedy”. Instead, it’s a ludicrous sex comedy that doesn’t have much of anything interesting to say, nor does it really seem to know what it’s about. It just goes through the motions and depends on its charming cast to win everybody over.

Which, in a way, it does, but only because of that damn Woody Allen.

Consensus: While it gets by mostly on its charming cast, Fading Gigolo doesn’t really have any point or direction in which it wants to go in, so instead, just relies on cheap gags and unbelievable plot-points that border on being “fantasy”.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Exactly what I want to come home to every day. But sadly, don't ever get.

Exactly what I want to come home to every day. But sadly, don’t ever get.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

I Am Love (2010)

Rich people sure do love their fine cuisines.

After a tight-knit, upper-class family all get together for a reunion of sorts, Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), the wife of a very wealthy businessman, finds herself in a bit of a rut. She’s confused about where she wants to go with her life, what does she want with it, and most of all, who does she love and who loves her in return? She juggles these questions around all of the time in her head, you can just tell, and they all get more complicated when her son’s associate (Edoardo Gabbriellini) catches her lustful eye. Now Emma has to take two things into consideration: Either stay with her husband and keep with the lavish life-style that she obviously enjoys being surrounded by, or go off, bang this young dude, stay with him, and risk losing it all. What’s a lady to do when she’s got young man-meat around her, huh?

It’s a pretty simple premise for a not-so simple movie, but that’s the joy of watching movies that are hard to read like this. Not only do they challenge you to understand what’s going on, but it doesn’t hold your hand or smash you over the head with what it thinks you should know about its story. You just sort of have to put the pieces of the puzzle together, look closer, and realize that there’s more brewing beneath the surface here, and that’s exactly what I felt watching this flick for a good hour. Everything just seemed to be working well, and I think that’s mainly a credited to writer/director Luca Guadagnino, who really has me interested with what he’s got coming out on his next.

"What? Am I not young and nimble enough for you? I could get eXtense ya know?"

“What? Am I not young and nimble enough for you? I could get eXtense, ya know?”

Main reason being, is that this dude knows how to make any image, whether it be plates of liquid-soup, the Tuscan Sun, or the narrow streets of Italy, just simply and utterly beautiful. The camera-work is astonishing with how he just follows the action and keeps up with it, but also keep’s an arms-length with it as well to where we aren’t up in everybody’s grill, nor do we lose track of the beauty in the visuals here. It’s all so pretty and it’s all so gorgeous to just stare and gaze at, and gets even better when you throw in the orchestra score as well. Even though it does seem to get bloated by the end, the score still keeps things very interesting and may even have your heart racing out of nowhere. It did it to me, and it totally surprised the hell out of me.

So basically, when it comes to the look, the sound, and the feel of this material Guadagnino’s using, the man’s got it all down to a T. It’s definitely slow and it obviously wants you to settle in and be ready for something crazy to happen in the last Act, but it works because of his fine eyes and ears for beauty and detail. However, the problem the dude runs into is that he can’t quite keep a full head of steam going once that last Act hits, where everything begins to get somewhat “loco”.

The script by Guadagnino obviously works and doesn’t bring us in too much to where we feel like we know where it’s going, how it’s going to end, and what’s going to happen to who, and so on and so forth, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s working up too much either. All of these family members have something going on in their lives that’s definitely shown and made a great deal of, but never to the full extent where we continue to get more and more development about it. The only development for these sub-plots that we get is the one with Emma, which seems pretty obvious why hers is because its Tilda Swinton, and the chick is obviously the lead character out of the rest of these material family-members. That’s why when the end does come around, most of you will be left scratching your head what the point behind all of this was, and mainly, why the hell did it have to end this way, among many other, countless ways?

"Yo, uhhh, could you like not bang my mom?"

“Yo, uhhh, could you like NOT bang my mom?”

I’m not going to give too much away and spoil the “fun” for the rest of you out there, gang, but I will caution you that the last 20 minutes are some pretty funny stuff, and they don’t mean to be. Hell, what happens at the end of the movie, I wouldn’t even call a “twist” per se, I’d more or less say it’s just a random occurrence that happens to a character, that’s relatively tragic, and puts everybody else in the flick in a bit of a rut, which bothered me because it seemed totally unnecessary and almost like it was slapping the rest of the flick that came before it in the face. Very melodramatic, very random, and very over-the-top in the type of way that you’d expect to see from an episode of All My Children; not a movie about a mother falling for her son’s much-younger friend.

Speaking of the said mother who fails for her son’s much-younger friend, Tilda Swinton is pretty damn great as Emma, despite not being a native of Milan and still being able to sound fluent in Italian. Swinton has always been a knock-out, drag-out actress who’s always scared me with the way she looks, but all of that crap aside, she’s pretty damn good here because she’s able to give Emma a bit of a breathing-compass that’s easy to feel something for, especially when she starts getting all hot and heavy with her little boy-toy. The basic problem is that even though she’s very good showing emotions within this character, we never really do get a full understanding of why it is that she feels so tempted by the act of infidelity, and why it has to be this dude? Granted, he’s young, Italian, a chef, and wears an apron many times they stumble upon one another, but what makes him so freakin’ awesome that she has to totally throw away all of her years of marriage? Nothing really, but the movie never touches on that aspect of his and her character, so therefore, were just left to make up our own minds and wonder what’s up with this older-gal.

Consensus: For a good hour or so, I Am Love is very compelling, but moreso in a way that’s about its visuals, way of story-telling, and overall mood, but then dives right into the category of melodrama, and gets very laughable, very quick.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Tilda: So majestic, so not Italian.

Tilda: So majestic, so not Italian.

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Imagine the film-version of Coldplay’s “Magic”, except less depressing and no Gwyneth Paltrow. Thankfully.

Stanley (Colin Firth) is a British illusionist who disguises himself as Wei Ling Soo, but when it comes to being off the stage and believing in anything like “magic”, or “tricks”, he can’t help but scoff at the idea of them actually being real. That’s why when an old confidante of his (Simon McBurney) asks him to come out to a friend’s land to expose a certain kind of “fortune teller”, he doesn’t hesitate to make his move. That’s why when Stanley shows up and realizes that this fortune teller of sorts is a young, bright little thing by the name of Sophie (Emma Stone) he chooses to not be swayed by his attraction to her, and keep his eyes on the prize: Showing the world that Sophie is indeed a phony. However, exactly what Stanley didn’t want to happen, happens when he finds himself not only falling for Sophie as a person, but also believing that she could be in contact with these dead spirits she goes on and on about/with. But, is Stanley not paying attention to what really lies in front of him because of the idea of love being present, or is Sophie really who she says she is?

“Another year, another Woody Allen movie” seems to be a constant statement whenever we come around to this time of the year and for the past decade or so, it’s a statement that’s usually been said with a slight groan following. That’s not to say that every Woody Allen movie lately has been considered “bad”, it’s just obvious that when a creator begins to lose his craft just a tad bit. But then one also has to think: If you’re constantly putting out a movie once, or in some cases, twice a year, does it really matter how amazing each one is in their own right? Or, can an auteur just be commended for his ability to constantly have something new cooking up, each and every year, no matter how old that person may be getting?

"I sense that sometime, quite possibly in the nearest future of all, I'll be working with the same guy standing behind that camera."

“I sense that sometime, quite possibly in the nearest future of all, I’ll be working with the same guy standing behind that camera.”

Personally, I believe that it’s all about the craft and if Woody Allen wants to keep making movies every year for the rest of his life, then I’m fine with that. Just as long as they are more like this and nowhere near being that piece of crap known as To Rome with Love. Or Cassandra’s Dream. Or You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Or Whatever Works. Or Anything Else. Or Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

But okay! I think you get where I’m going with this now – not every Woody Allen movie is going to be perfect. But that doesn’t mean they have to be crap either; they can just be extremely mediocre. Which is exactly what Magic in the Moonlight is, except a hell of a lot more breezy. Most of that has to do with the fact that this takes place in a lovely countryside of France, as well as kind of having something to do with the late summer release-date this has, but most of it, I’d like to think, can be attributed to the fact that Woody Allen has found himself a lovely pair of leads in the forms of Colin Firth and Emma Stone.

Yeah, I myself would have never ever thought that I’d see the day where Mr. Darcy was paired with Gwen Stacy, in a film directed by Woody Allen nonetheless, but such is the case we have here and it’s very interesting in that aspect. Not because Allen plays to both of their strengths very well (even though he does), but because these two actually have a nice bit of chemistry that is able to get us out of thinking that he’s way too much older than her to begin with. In fact, the 28-year age-gap sort of makes sense in a movie like this; Sophie’s rather mature and honest for her age, whereas Stanley himself is such a down-beat nonbeliever in anything happy, he borderlines on “immaturity”. And somehow, with these differences in character-description, the two are able to craft a lovely, yet believable chemistry that sometimes pushes its way into being “too cutesy” at times. But not enough to where it gave me that sick taste in my mouth, nor that creepy feeling in my head of him being way older than she is.

Then again though, it is a Woody Allen movie and with Woody Allen movies you have to expect an older guy to be foaming at the mouth for them younger ladies. Such is a fact in both his movies, as well as his own personal life.

But anyway, I digress. Stone and Firth are lovely together and in their own rights, show that they are more than capable of creating interesting, compelling characters for the time being. That’s why it’s such a shame that the rest of the cast are either, second-thoughts, or thinly-written. The only real member of this cast that I can think about who gets to do a little something more is Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s Aunt; everybody else is sort of just there in the background, occasionally given a chance to say or do something that doesn’t make it seem like a total waste of their talents. Like, I don’t know, say when all you have for Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden to do is stand around her character’s daughter and be a tad feisty, there is a shred of disappointment that can’t help but be felt.

Oh yeah, total resemblance.

Oh yeah, total resemblance.

That said though, Woody himself is fine with just moving the story along at a sweet, pleasant pace. There’s plenty of darkness to be found here, as there is with most of his movies, and most of that comes from the fact that Stanley just doesn’t believe in real magic ever being a thing in our world. He believes that people want to believe what makes them feel a whole lot happier and safer about their lives, much rather than the actual, sometimes stinging truth itself. That’s pretty much exactly how every Woody Allen-character, Woody Allen has ever played, is, except with Colin Firth around, it feels more genuine, if that was even possible in the first place. However, it’s still Woody Allen himself talking, which is where this movie gets a bit more interesting in how Woody explores the idea of love and how, it doesn’t matter what else bad stuff is happening to you, that if you have love in your life, it all mostly goes away and can sometimes, blur-up ones judgment. That’s not to say that love is bad, really, but it’s just a fact of life that one needs to have. Regardless of how painful it may be at certain points.

Now where have I heard that before?

Consensus: While not being anything deeper than just a late-summer rom-com, Magic in the Moonlight is another charmingly breezy hour-and-a-half that can sweet and soundly be added to Woody Allen’s list of mediocre movies.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"You mean to tell me that while I was performing Shakespeare to sell-out crowds, you were just a cell?"

“You mean to tell me that while I was performing Shakespeare to sell-out crowds, you were just a cell?”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

I Origins (2014)

Should have been re-titled Eye See You. Already taken, you say? Damn.

Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a man that feels slightly alone, as well as he should. He’s a scientist who takes up most of his day, not by hangin’ out, listening to rad music, sippin’ on brews and chillin’ with his boys, but instead, by testing to see if he can create a real life, fully-functioning eye, therefore, disproving God and all of the wonders of the world. Also, he takes pictures of eyes as a hobby. Does it sound like much fun? Nope, which is why when he has a chance encounter with a random spectator at a Halloween dress-up with a mysterious gal named Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), he can’t help but feel like it’s his one chance at love and therefore, his opportunity to make something more out of his life than just eyes. Eventually, the two start a relationship, but their conflicting-views on what life is really all about, get in the way and cause friction. Not to mention that it makes Gray want to find out more and more about his studying. And then, tragedy strikes.

Clearly there’s more to this premise than what I just laid-out, but let me just put it like this: You won’t want to hear what else I’ve got to say. Because, one of the key aspects about I Origins is in not knowing what to expect next. Which, of course, seems like something you look for in any movie, but there’s something much more interesting at work here. See, not only does writer/director Mike Cahill frame this story without us having any idea of what to expect from the studying of eyes, but he also gives us just enough to keep us satisfied on all fronts.

Does it really need to be said that you shouldn't listen to those ads?

Does it really need to be said that you shouldn’t listen to those ads?

For instance, the movie never limits itself to one genre in particular. One part is a romance about two strangers who meet, hook up, connect and eventually fall in love; another part is a sci-fi drama about figuring out the mystery behind these eyes; another is a deep, dark and twisty psychological thriller that doesn’t always clue us in on what to expect next; and lastly, we have a discussion about whether or not we can fully trust science to determine the rest of our society. All of it put together is very interesting to watch, but it’s also quite messy and you can tell exactly when the film sort of stumbles over itself.

Which isn’t to say that this is a deeply-flawed film, it’s just that it takes so many falls here and there, that you wonder how much ground Cahill was wondering of covering, and how much of it actually made it into the final-product. Sure, he gets the romance right in that, despite them being the quintessential couple that first met and, seven minutes later, were already banging in a dirty bathroom, but the sci-fi stuff itself? Well, not so much.

And that doesn’t mean I have to be a science-major of any sorts to get what it is that they’re talking about here; in fact, nobody has to be. Cahill does a well enough job at laying down all that we need to know about the science of this movie, its meaning and why it is that it’s so important to the characters (they’re scientists, duh!). That’s done well, but when he starts to do a little bit of preaching, it ends up being something more than just a romance-tale centered around a whole bunch of science-y stuff – it ends up being a movie that’s used just so that the director can present problems he feels is current in today’s society. Which is fine, however, he never really follows through on them.

And though directors like PT Anderson, Martin Scorsese and even David Lynch to an extant, have all presented ideas and never really followed through perfectly on them, they’re at least skilled enough to get by. Cahill, on the other hand, feels like he has a little way to go before he’s fully blowing our mind with whatever gibber-gabber he has to present to everyday America. We get that it’s all supposed to be deeper than the surface it’s presented on, but what is there to this whole idea that really allows us to give our attentions for the next two-hours? Well, not much. All there is, really, is just a bunch of characters talking about science and explaining that eyes are what helps one peer into another person’s soul.

Wow. Truly something mind-boggling right there, people.

Yes, I am being a bit snarky here, but that’s only because most of the movie seems so up its own rump, that it made me annoyed and want to get up out of my seat, only to firmly take its head, or hand, out of their rear-end. It was getting quite annoying and also, not to mention the fact that the later-half of the movie can get a bit ridiculous. It’s still interesting and relatively unpredictable, but when you have a movie that’s willing to throw everything and anything at you to confuse you of what’s next, regardless of it works for the movie as a whole or not, then it’s kind of disappointing. Makes you wish everything was more thought-out and not in need of such a rush job.

Gettin' her with the old "let me see your soul"-move. Oldest trick, man.

Gettin’ her with the old “let me see your soul”-move. Oldest trick, man.

But where Cahill really gets this movie right is in the cast he’s assembled here, especially Michael Pitt in a leading-role that shows us all what he’s capable of: Being quiet, yet, always interesting. Pitt doesn’t really use his boy-ish good-looks to get by on a role that’s basically made for a nerd, but he does allow us to sympathize with a guy who has a nerdy occupation, a nerdy hobby, nerdy ideas about everything he sees, and yet, is still able to pull in ladies like he does so here. It’s a bit unbelievable, considering how much of a no-nonsense deuche he can sometimes be, but I guess because he’s Michael Pitt, it doesn’t matter if he’s a scientist, a firefighter, or a trained serial-killer; he’s cute, dammit!

Anyway, he’s great and even though his love-interest’s English may be a bit rusty, Astrid Berges-Frisbey is still charming enough to make you see why they’d be such a lovely couple together and are right for each other in the end. Brit Marling’s also here as the “new” scientist Gray gets stuck with, and although it’s clear she isn’t used much at first, later on, without saying much, she becomes a central part to this story and still makes you wish there was more of her to go around. “The more Brit Marling, the merrier”, nobody said.

Except for me. Just right there.

Consensus: Boasting an interesting premise that runs down many different roads, I Origins definitely is a bold piece of fiction, yet ultimately becomes something that’s less important and deep than it thinks it is.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Just blink already!

Just blink already!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Calvary (2014)

Catholicism is still “a thing”? Could have swore Kabbalah was going to take the world by storm.

Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is the priest of a small town in Ireland. He’s a stand-up guy who gets a joke quickly, has a daughter (Kelly Reilly) that he loves and cares for so very much, has a past that’s none too pretty, and is always there to try and make those around him happy. So when he hears somebody utter in confession that they’re going to give him a week, until they take him out to the beach and kill him, it’s a bit of a shock. However, that’s sort of the point as the killer states that they want to kill a “good priest”, rather than a bad one who did bad stuff like rape, or any sort of sexual abuse. Though Father knows who this person is, he doesn’t spill the beans and instead, lives this whole next week of his life, as if it was his last. Because, hell, it might as very well be.

And if you want to have some fun with that plot-synopsis up above, you can include the term “drinking beer”, at the end of every sentence because it totally fits. It’s a movie that takes place in Ireland, a very poor part of Ireland to be exact, and well, features a whole lot of drinking, smoking and dancing, like all Irish men and women are known to be doing. Take it from one, will ya?

"Say your forgiveness, one more time."

“Say your forgiveness, one more time.”

Anyway, what’s so interesting about this movie isn’t the premise (although it comes pretty close), it’s more in watching how each and everyone of these characters in this small town, interact with one another; particularly Father Lavelle. And because he is our center-of-command for the movie, we spend time with him and see everything he sees, encounter who he encounters, and goes through whatever he is going through at that particular time. It’s a necessary move writer/director John Michael McDonagh needed to pull off, because in order to get where this character is coming from, we’d need to see what it is about him that makes him such a likable guy.

Well, for starters, it’s the fact that it’s Brendan Gleeson playing him. I don’t know if any of you know this by now, but Brendan Gleeson is a big, lovely guy, no matter what the movie it is that he shows up in. Here, as Father, he gets to show that warm charm we all know and love him for, although, this time, it may be a bit darker. This character is a very broken and troubled guy, but what he does best is that he never throws his problems onto those around him. He’s the one there for the listening, so he’s going to keep on doing that, no matter how many church-goers it has him lose.

So yeah, Gleeson’s great as Father Levelle, but it’s also the rest of the cast that’s pretty phenomenal as well; which mostly has to do with the fact that, in the way they are written, they have a sort of one-note personality, but use it so well that it hardly ever seems to be poorly-written or lazy. Most of them just seem like real people you’d meet in a small, Irish town like this. Presumably getting absolutely wasted at the local bar, but hey, that’s what one expects in Ireland, right?

Playing Father’s confused, near-suicidal daughter is Kelly Reilly and she’s a lovely little gal, showing that there’s more to her than just a possible basket case; Chris O’Dowd plays a joking-butcher whose wife sleeps around on him; Isaach de Bankolé plays the man who she’s sleeping with; M. Emmet Walsh plays a very old, nearly-senile old man; and Aidan Gillen plays a doctor that doesn’t believe in God, and even if he does, he doesn’t think he’s not all as nice as he’s been made out to be in other pieces. The whole supporting cast is great and show up every so often, work with this script, make it funny and liven the tone up, because once it gets down and out, there’s hardly ever a moment for it to come back up and alive, and waiting for us to smile and jump for joy because of it.

Which is to say that it’s bleakness is what actually bothered me. And I’m not saying that in the way that it made me want to stopped being so depressed, but I’m saying that because, after awhile, the movie only seems to go one way. Early on, there was a nice juggle between comedy and drama, but later on in the movie, the drama took over and it got darker and darker with each and every second.

"No more killing, son."

“No more killing, son.”

But I didn’t know why? I understand that John Michael McDonagh wanted to present a portrait of a better, more friendlier-version of the Church and the fathers who work their butts off everyday just to make sure we’re happy with who won American Idol. And he keeps at this for quite awhile, but eventually, it makes you wonder, why so bleak to begin with? Better yet, why did the ending have to be such a drag to where it felt like it deserved the constant clock-checking. Not to say the later portions of this movie are even bad, it’s just that when this movie has a clear idea on its head, it goes for it and doesn’t really change things up.

Which is a bit of a shame, because the first-thirds of this movie is pretty funny. Even if the situations they were thrown into, or talk about, that may have seem dark, the movie still found a way to rub its comedic-bone off of all of us. It’s what you’d expect from a movie by the brother of the writer/director of In Bruges, but it’s something I’d also totally expect from a group of Irishmen.

By the way, the drinks are on me.

Consensus: As it gets deeper and deeper into its own mystery, Calvary loses its meaning, but for the most part, because of the well-written characters and wonderful performances from the ensemble, it mostly works.

 7 / 10 = Rental!!

The redder the hair, the more related they have got to be.

The redder the hair, the more related they have got to be.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Happy Christmas (2014)

It’s ironic. I guess.

20-something Jenny (Anna Kendrick) is a bit of a wreck right now in her life. Not only did her boyfriend just break up with her, but due to emotional problems of hers beyond comprehension, she’s decide to move the ‘eff out and stay with her brother (Joe Swanberg) and his sometimes writer, sometimes stay-at-home momma, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey). Though her brother is fine with her being around and watching over his child, his wife isn’t so keen on the idea, due to the fact that she feels like Jenny is a bit too immature to really put another life ahead of herself. Some part of her is right; other parts of her isn’t. But over time, the two get to connect, talk about life, and eventually get Kelly back into her writing-process, with Jenny right by her side, feeding her idea, after idea, after idea. It’s a neat process that gets Kelly all wrapped up in something that isn’t watching over her kid and having to stay at home all day, and keeps Jenny away from her personal problems, or her feelings to a new guy she meets (Mark Webber).

Not only was I happy to see that last year’s Drinking Buddies, was actually a good movie, but that it began to bring some more exposure to the undeniable and creative talents that are Joe Swanberg. Sure, the guy’s been around for quite some time and it’s not like people haven’t ever heard of him before, but outside of the usual, movie-geek crowd, a name like “Joe Swanberg” wasn’t officially known, or on somebody’s radar. Hell, I don’t even think it is now, but at least they know a little thing or two about what this guy does behind the camera and the constant movies he churns out, once and sometimes even twice, a year.

Is "Hipsters with babies" a thing? If not, I hope it stays that way.

Is “hipsters with babies” a thing? If not, I hope it stays that way.

That said, something like Drinking Buddies, is something that Happy Christmas is not, in that they are both simple premises, but actually feel like they’re building towards something, rather than just more scenes of people talking about whatever the hell the discussion of the hour is at that given moment. Here, there’s not much of a central-conflict, and I was fine with that, however, it did make me wonder what the main problem of this whole movie was going to be. Was it going to be that either Jenny can’t seem to settle down in her life, or, is that she causes too much of a ruckus at a house where a quiet, relatively safe family lives?

It’s never made abundantly clear where this movie’s going to go, or what sort of path it’s going to take, which I commend on Swanberg’s part. He could have easily made this movie a conventional “battle of the sister-in-laws”, but he doesn’t. He ops instead for showing us real ladies, who feel real pain and have real wants and needs that aren’t just sitting at home, watching over their young ones, and cooking dinner, while their hubby gets to do everything he wants to do with his job, his money, and maybe even possibly, his own mistress. But that aside, what I’m trying to say is that Swanberg goes for actually explaining who these characters are, rather than what they could be in the face of a plot that changes.

Which, honestly, is sort of why this film just isn’t as interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good movie, but there’s just a feeling that Swanberg was a little too relaxed with his filming here and much rather just wanted to hang out with Anna Kendrick again. Can’t say I blame him too much, but when it’s at our expense and we aren’t the ones actually “hanging around with” Anna Kendrick, it can seem to be a bit of a bore. Not to mention that the movie never really seems to care about whose story it’s exploring – most of it wants to just be about Jenny and the problems she’s facing in this time of need, yet, also wants to have it another way and much rather focus on Kelly and her “problems” with motherhood and losing her inspiration for her creative-expression. It’s not that neither stories aren’t interesting, it’s just that there’s not much of a focus on either of them, nor does Swanberg really make it seem like he wants to go anywhere with them. It’s just like life, but maybe a little bit too much of so.

Me practically every Christmas morning after I discovered that he was, well, you get the drift.

Me practically every Christmas morning after I discovered that he was, well, you get the drift.

But with that said, both of these women character’s are performed very well by both Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey respectively. Lynskey herself hardly ever gets a chance to fully unveil the true talents she has hiding underneath those lovely looks of hers, and it’s nice to see a lot of that “average-lady” persona come out here. She’s good at it and it feels like she’s an actual mom who has responsibilities on her plate and doesn’t want to screw it up. Yet, at the same time, she wouldn’t mind having a little bit of “alone time” either, just so that she can gather her thoughts and feel somewhat sane for a second. Like how I imagined my mom must have acted when she was raising me.

With more downing of Scotch, of course. But that’s another story, for another day.

But the one who really makes this movie work so well is Anna Kendrick herself, and it’s hard to be surprised about that. Kendrick uses her lovable, sometimes ditsy charm the only way she knows how to and it’s absolutely lovely to watch. Also not to mention that it feels so incredibly natural, that when she has to use all of this everyday lingo like “like”, or “uhm…so…yeah”, it doesn’t feel forced or thrown upon us to make us see how real this material is. She sells it like that and if Swanberg wants to keep on making movies with her for the rest of his life, I’m totally fine with that.

Just give me something of a better movie is all and we’ll be fine.

Consensus: Feels less thought-out than past movies, Happy Christmas finds writer/director Joe Swanberg spinning around in circles, figuring out what to film about, and instead, just focuses enough on his characters and the cast to make it worth while, if only slightly.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Lena Dunham around a young child?!?! I'm pretty sure that's a crime!

Lena Dunham around a young child?!?! I’m pretty sure that’s a crime!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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

The Cider House Rules (1999)

Abortion, incest and ether – oh my!

Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is a young man who, for as long as he can remember, grew up in an orphanage. He was given to it when he was just a baby and taken in twice, but rejected and sent back both times, leaving the head of the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), to take him in and teach him everything he needs to know about being a doctor. And by “everything”, I do mean, everything. See, the orphanage is more than just a place where a bunch of kids without any family run around, live in and wait to be adopted by curious families, because Dr. Larch himself actually allows there’s certain people to come in who want an abortion, which, way back when in the 40’s, was downright illegal. One couple in particular is Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her soldier boyfriend (Paul Rudd), who interest Homer so much that he decides to leave with them and see what plan life has set for him next. Somehow though, that plan ends up being on an apple-picking farm, where he encounters all sorts of characters and even falls in love, although the happiness he feels, may not be the same for those that he left behind in the orphanage. Especially not Dr. Larch.

Director Lasse Hallström really did concoct a neat little trick here with the Cider House Rules – while the movie, on the surface, may appear to be an old-timey tale about exploring the world around you and all of the other possibilities, deep down inside, it’s a dark, somewhat rather disturbing tale about being lonely in a world, not knowing where to go with it next and how decisions we make, don’t just affect us for a short time being, but for the rest of our lives. Oh, and there’s a lot of abortions, too; which, to me, was shocking for the longest time in how Hallström presents this as something “illegal”, yet, thankfully doesn’t go any further into that fact and just lets it sit there. Almost as if it’s a fact of life that some people make, and others don’t.

Like everybody's favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Like everybody’s favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this movie surprised me once I really what it was actually all about, and also, what I was to expect from the rest of where it was going to go.

But there’s a slight problem with Hallström’s direction, and it’s not in the way that he pictures this story. In fact, quite the opposite – I loved the look of this movie. Not only does it have that old-timey look and feel that we’d get from a movie that was filmed in the 40’s, but the fact that it’s set in the rural lands of Maine makes it feel like something of its own nature (pun intended). In this part of Maine, people sort of go about, do and say as they please. There isn’t much of a hustle and bustle like there is in the city, nor is there a real sense of community like there can be in the suburbs. It’s just a bunch of people, separated from one another, who continue to live on in their own, sometimes secluded lives. Not only does that make it seem like Maine is an essential setting for this kind of story, but that it also gives us an even larger feeling of the loneliness sometimes felt from these characters; a point that this movie doesn’t drive home as much as it totally should have.

That said though, Hallström doesn’t get everything right, and that has more to do with the fact that the movie can’t decide whether it wants to be a real dark and heavy drama you’d see on AMC, or maybe even HBO, or a schmaltzy, sentimental piece of melodrama that you’d probably catch on the Lifetime, or Hallmark channel, had you been flipping through the tube. And because of that, the movie feels disjointed; there are plenty of moments in which a character will reveal something nasty or cruel that they did, but the next second later, we’ll get a montage of Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron frolicking and cuddling in the woods. It makes you wonder who Hallström was trying to please here?

Was he going for the sappy, feel-good vibe that most families want to see, especially around the holidays (when this was released)? Or, does he want to have us think about our own lives and shed some light on the fact that what we think is out there, doesn’t really need to be seen at all? In a way, Hallström tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t always work. Sure, it’s an interesting piece that makes you wonder what would have happened to the final product, had Hallström and writer John Irving (original writer of the book, too) been on the same page the whole entire time (pun intended).

Because not only does it affect the tone of the movie, but it also has the cast feel slightly awkward in certain places where they shouldn’t. Michael Caine won an Oscar for his work here as the realistic-thinking, ether-inhaling Dr. Wilbur Larch, and though he is good, there’s a good portion of this movie in which he doesn’t even show up, leaving you to wonder just what the hell is he up to and why couldn’t we have had just a tad bit more time with him before we had to set off into the rest of the world. Even Tobey Maguire, despite being quite subtle in the only way he knows how to be (sometimes too much so), feels like the sort of character that lingers from place to place, doesn’t really have much of an emotional center, and is there for us to just see what he sees and experience whatever the heck it is that he experiences. Maguire has done this sort of role before and he’s fine with it here, but it still seems like there could have been more done to this character that would have made him somebody else other than just a “protected young guy who wants to see the world”.

Uh oh. Tobey's sad. I think we all know what's coming next.

Uh oh. Tobey’s sad. I think we all know what’s coming next.

The supporting players are better-off, considering that they aren’t paid attention to nearly as much, but even then, some just feel like window-dressing. Charlize Theron does a fine job as the Candy, the girl that eventually becomes the object of Homer’s affection, and while it’s easy to see why she is in fact the one he goes after, we don’t really get to know much more about her, other than that she likes a good time and a nice hump or two; Paul Rudd does some rare dramatic-work here as the boyfriend and isn’t around much to really show his chops off, but is charming enough that we feel bad for him when Homer starts banging his girl; and honestly, it was a shame to see two wonderful actresses like Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker be reduced to playing the “old, yet, sweet orphanage nurses”, whereas we all know they could have definitely done some real damage with a script that serviced them better.

But the one who really walks away with this movie and actually left something of an impression on me is a favorite of mine, Delroy Lindo. Lindo plays the head honcho of the workers from the apple-picking farm known as Mr. Rose and while, on the surface, everything seems all kosher and pleasant with this guy, deep down inside, we begin to find out that there’s something very wrong with him indeed. Which is why, when that area of his character explored, the movie really shocked me and, unsurprisingly enough, is exactly when Lindo’s powerhouse acting came in play. Because through Lindo, we see a truly damaged human being that believes what it is that he does, is regardless of if it’s right or wrong in the real, is his way, in his world and he doesn’t want anybody poking around in his business. It’s interesting to see where this character goes from when we initially meet his bright and smiling mug, to a sad and frowning one, but one could only imagine how much better it would have been for the character, as well as Lindo, had the material here been better.

Consensus: Inherently messy, the Cider House Rules had plenty of interesting ideas, as well as a finely-assembled cast to go along with it, but the script and the direction never seem to come together well enough to create a whole, cohesive story.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"And don't you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine."

“And don’t you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine.” (Now say that statement really fast)

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Get On Up (2014)

Use your own bathroom next time.

Anybody with half-a-brain knows who James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) is. He’s one of the most known figures in all of music and his legacy continues to live on today. However, there’s more to all of the dance moves, the funky jams, and high-speed car-chases that we all hear about when his name comes up in a conversation;  see, he too, like everyone else, was a young boy who had dreams of making a difference in this world, that all stemmed from the fact that his mom (Viola Davis) left him at an early age. Left with not much else to do from there, James decided to start living in a local whorehouse, where he would do whatever was necessary for a little boy of his age to be doing in order to have a place to sleep, and food to eat. Then, when he was a teenager, he got arrested and sent to jail for stealing a suit. While in prison, he meets a guy by the name of Bobby (Nelsan Ellis) who sees an actual talent in him and wants to be around it, and see what they can do with it. Eventually, he gets James out of prison and they start a musical-group that goes through many different incarnations, with James Brown being the only constant member.

Because in James Brown’s world, all you need is James Brown.

Musical biopics can usually go absolutely one way, or they can go another way. One way is that they can be total conventional pieces of junk that do more harm to the subject than any slanderous article may have ever done; or, they can show us that the subjects we’re watching here truly are talented, yet troubled individuals indeed. However, sometimes, that just ends up playing out like a VH1 Behind the Music special, but with a bigger-budget and stars. So yeah, musical biopics, for the most part, regardless of how interesting the person/persons may be, aren’t always well-done.

"Alright whitey. Off the stage and let me show you to shake and jive them hips like you "allegedly" know how to do."

“Alright whitey. Off the stage and let me show you to shake and jive them hips like you “allegedly” know how to do.”

But is there ever enough space in this world for there to be a biopic that’s just considered “okay”? Well, maybe. And if there is, I think that Get On Up would be located somewhere in there; which isn’t necessarily to say that it’s a bad biopic that does harm to James Brown and the type of man who he was, it more or less shows his both his faults, and his positives. Most of it lingers on the later, than the former, but hey, this is a biopic about James Brown! It can’t constantly hate on him, or else there’d be no inspiration for a movie to begin with.

And director Tate Taylor definitely seems to be inspired by the life of James Brown, if only maybe more so by his professional life, than his personal one, but there’s still interest all around and it shows throughout a good portion of this movie. Most who know James Brown as “that guy who could dance real good and say that he feels good”, will be surprised to know that there was a little more to his life than just some fine moves both on, as well as on the stage. Taylor uses a non-linear narrative to show us various moments in Brown’s life that either impacted him, or those around him, which, for most movies it would utterly confuse the hell out of anyone watching, but here, somehow doesn’t.

That’s mostly because James Brown himself went through many phases/incarnations throughout his whole storied-career and it’s easy for us to identify what was happening to him when, where, and just exactly who he was in good graces with at which time. Because, James Brown being James Brown, who he was actually friends with to begin with, made a whole hell of a lot of a difference. He wasn’t a very likable guy and didn’t always do the right things, at the right time, with/to the right people, but he at least always put on an exciting show and never gave the crowd something that they didn’t want to see him do.

Which is to say that playing such an high-wired, electric character, in a biopic about him and his life no less, would be a hard task for any actor to accomplish – let alone an actor who literally just had his first, leading-role of his career playing another famous figure in American-culture – but somehow, relative-newcomer Chadwick Boseman absolutely gets the job done perfectly. Right when we see Boseman on-screen, piled on with pounds of make-up to make it look like he’s the older-version of James Brown, it looks goofy, so of course, it’s a bit hard to believe. But, as soon as we hear Boseman talk, that all changes.

Not only does Boseman become James Brown, but has us forget that it’s a standard, conventional biopic about somebody’s life we already know plenty about. There’s a certain unpredictability to where he’ll go with this performance, which, in and of itself, becomes more than just an “impersonation”; he channels what it’s like to be such a lively performer almost non-stop. He hardly ever slows down, nor does he ever want to; James Brown, as I’d like to imagine him as being in the real world, was the sort of guy who always wanted to have a ball, while also be exactly who he was, without ever seeming like a joke in anybody’s eyes. He’s got the dance moves, the swagger he carried wherever he went, and even that raspy voice of his. Even if he doesn’t actually sing the songs themselves, there’s still something impressive and exciting to watch about him just moving all over the stage as if he is Brown, calculating his every move, but without calculating too much to where it doesn’t seem as if it was all coming off the top of his head.

A Radiohead concert, this is not.

A Radiohead concert, this is not.

Because James Brown, was never a fella you could pin-point from point A, to point B.

Once again though, like I mentioned before, that’s not to say that this movie wholly glamorizes the life of James Brown; it sort of just lays his story out there for us to take in, piece by piece. Sure, you could say that it likes more about his story, than it doesn’t, but at least there’s something about this figure that’s imperfect, and not constantly making him out to be some sort of savior. Because even though some people out there in the world probably view him as just that, it’s not true; James Brown, like all of us, was a human being. He had feelings, wants, needs, and pleasures that he sometimes let get a little too into his head, but he at least stuck to who he was and went out there, night after night, performance after performance, and gave the crowd exactly what they wanted: A fun show that they would remember till the end of their days.

Now, that said about the actual person himself, does that make this movie memorable?

Well, not really.

Cause like I was saying earlier about Taylor’s direction, although he does jump around rather sporadically through Brown’s life, for a whole two-and-a-half-hours, it’s not always interesting. Some bits and pieces of his story are left out (mostly his drug-use), and even the parts that are hinted at, still feel forced into so that Taylor didn’t have to worry about not portraying the man as a whole person; warts and all. And although this isn’t a kind of raw biopic, you still get a sense that some of this guy was bad, whereas most of him wasn’t. It’s weird how they do this, but I guess Taylor really did respect James Brown for all that he has given to the world.

Not just the music world, mind you, but the whole world in general.

Keep up the funk, people.

Consensus: Without Chadwick Boseman stealing the screen every second he gets, Get On Up would be another moderate, yet ultimately forgettable biopic about one of the world’s most famous musicians of all time, but has enough excitement and fun to go along with the more dramatic-moments to make it all gel out well enough to be forgiven.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Dan Aykyroyd wishes he had a poof as good as that.

Dan Aykroyd wishes he had a poof as good as that.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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