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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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Dear White People (2014)

White people are whack. Trust me. I should know.

At any Ivy League school, racial tensions are somewhat high, yet, by the same token, aren’t totally through the roof where you’d expect there to be a riot every weekend or so. White people hang with white people; black people hang with black people; and sometimes, every so often, there’s a little mixture of the two. But that may all change when a very opinionated student, Sam White (Tessa Thompson), becomes a leader of a house and decides to take charge against the institution’s very white-privileged mind-set. Of course though, this causes plenty of more problems among the student-body and even threatens to rob the Dean (Dennis Haysbert) of his position, if he can’t get everything all fine and settled. But even worse, some students could lose what makes them who they really are, which isn’t just the color of their skin, but their heritage and just exactly who they represent. They lose that, there’s nothing else for them to stand for.

I have to give it to a movie like Dear White People – though it’s one that has a message I can’t particularly agree with, I like how bold it is in actually trying to discuss certain ideas and themes about race, equality, and class warfare, that so many movies step away from, in the hopes of not seeming “too controversial”. Most of this is in part due to the general idea from Hollywood that you can’t make a smart movie about race, that actually challenges the notions us citizens have about it, for the sole purpose that it’ll scare the money away. People won’t want to see it; advertisers will keep their name-brands very far away from it; and people will just bad-mouth it, solely because it’s too touchy about a subject, which in today’s general-sphere, is already as touchy as is.

I'm hoping these looks are all for the guy standing directly behind me.

I’m hoping these looks are all for the guy standing directly behind me.

With that said, most of the credit here goes to writer/director Justin Simien who, with his first feature, already shows plenty of promise with the messages he wants to bring to people’s minds. See, because with today’s day and age, everything is race-related. Race is a topic that not only influences in the way people speak, but in how they act. You can see it everywhere from what’s on TV, what’s in your video-games, what’s on your iPod, and hell, it’s even outside your door, you just have to step outside and look around a bit. Simien knows this and he makes most of the movie about this general topic, but goes one step further and tries to shuttle it all in with an ensemble story that doesn’t always work.

But to his defense, when it does work, Simien hits plenty of the right notes that not only got me thinking, but even talking with my fellow confidantes after the movie and wondering just whether or not we all whole heartedly agree with what Simien brings to the forefront here. And for me, it was quite simple: I didn’t agree with it, but then again, I don’t know if I was either.

See, where Simien lands with this movie is simply this: Race is a powerful force in our world and it affects every person’s everyday life, regardless of what color their skin, or heritage, may or may not be. I see this just about everyday and it’s nothing new to me. So, Simien shows this in a way that makes sense – every side of the race debate has their own story. Whites, blacks, mixed, Hispanics, gays, straights, all people have a certain viewpoint that they feel/share about the idea of race and equality; all of which are brought up reasonably and don’t seem to be pandering to one side in particularly.

That is, until it does.

Being that I am a young, white male, there is a part of me that understands that there is such a mechanism as white privilege out there in the world, and it doesn’t matter how hard somebody may, or may not try to avoid it, it will constantly plague our society. It follows me everywhere I go and as much as I don’t like it, it’s something that I’m being told I have to live with, whether or not I like it. Dear White People, and even Simien himself, tells me this same exact fact, but at the same time, does so in a way that feels slightly offensive to me. Like, for instance, because I am a white person, I will have everything I ever want in the palms of my hands, all because of my color, regardless of my financial-standings or general knowledge of the real world. Technically speaking, I could be as dumb as a door-knob, but because I am white, therefore, I will get any and everything that I could ever hope and dream for.

Not only does this message totally rub me the wrong way as is, but it’s presented as such in a way that makes me feel like Simien has it out for me, in particular, let alone the whole race that I represent. And no, I do not mean to stand in for every white person out there in the world who plans on seeing this – I am solely speaking from my point-of-view and, therefore, my reactions to this movie. Many other people, regardless of race, may have the same feelings as me, and many other people, once again, regardless of race, may definitely not have the same feelings as me. I know this, but where I’m speaking from here, is my viewpoint and if it offended me, then dammit, I’m going to let it be known!

Anyway, like I was saying before, where I felt angry with this movie was in how Simien had most of the white characters in this movie portrayed. The head dean of the school is portrayed as a money-grubbing, racist prick who, when confronted with the idea that his actions are racist, says that he knew that’s exactly what a black person would say. Okay, I can deal with this one character being a racist bigot, but it gets worse. Take his son, who is, honestly, portrayed as nothing more than another racist bigot who, because he’s young, wild, free, rich and allowed to do whatever he wants because his daddy practically runs the school, gets away with everything/anything he says or does. He makes some good points early on in the movie about race, but for the most part, has them all chucked out of the window once we see his true colors, and realize he’s just another one of those heartless, mean, and nasty frat bros who just wants to party, get drunk, laid, have a good time, and bully the weakest one he sees.

Add on the fact that he’s racist and you have a character that is definitely unlikable.

"You're from State Darm!?!"

“You’re from State Darm!?!”

But when you put these two up against the black characters in this movie, it feels like there’s obviously a hell of a lot more attention and detailed paid to them. Sure, some of them have their faults, but mostly, it’s in due part because they want to be respected and accepted into a world which, frankly speaking, is white. The co-dean of the institution knows that he’ll never be the head dean because of race issues, but still tries to fit in by charming the white crowd at cocktails party and tells his son to wise up. The guy’s not a relatively likable guy, but whereas he’s technically considered to be “flawed”, the head dean is considered “villainous”.

Honestly though, this is just the surface – there’s plenty more instances in which the white characters in this film are portrayed/written in such a way that’s not only mean-spirited, but downright offensive. Not all white people act like this and neither do all black people, but Simien makes it clear that he favors one side over the other. Had this been a documentary, I’d been a little bit more forgiving, considering that we would have seen most of his manipulations come out in a positive way, but considering this is a narrative-feature, one which he wrote, directed, and practically built from the ground-up, I can’t help but look at it a lot more harshly.

But then again, that’s just my thoughts. Take them, or leave them. Do what you must.

Consensus: Bold and smart, Dear White People definitely has a lot on its mind, and though it lets it be known in thought-provoking, interesting ways, it still can’t help but seem to show its bias that may definitely offend some, while not be a problem for others. I’m more of in the former’s camp, though.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh! A white person! And guess what? He's a dick.

Oh! A white person! And guess what? He’s a dick.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

After awhile, you just have to start working for yourself and out of your basement.

After succesfully getting rid of their bosses in a meaningful fashion a couple years ago, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) seem to be back on the right track; not only is their latest creation the Showbuddy hitting stores soon and gaining plenty of traction, but they’ve also found out that wealthy businessmen, Burt and Rex Hanson (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine), want to go into business with them. So yeah, everything seems great for these guys, that is, until the Hanson’s decide to pull out of their deal and rob the three for all that they have. This gets them thinking once again – time to call up Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) and see what can be done. Together, they all concoct a plan where they’ll kidnap Rex, hold him for ransom, to ensure that Burt pays them back all the money they had. It seems perfect and everything, especially once they actually go through with the kidnapping of Rex, but the guys soon realize that not only is Rex a little crazy, but he’s totally in on the plan to rob his old man for all he’s worth. It’s surely a twist the guys weren’t expecting, but one they’re ready to roll with and hope that everything goes according to plan with. Until it sort of doesn’t.

The first Horrible Bosses, while not the laugh-out-loud comedy classic many around the time of its release assured me it was, was still a very funny movie and allowed for three capable comedians like Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis to just make everything up as they went along. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but most of the times, it was fun to watch. Their camaraderie together, as well as the crazy plot, definitely made the original a bit more than just your average, relatively funny comedy; it had a neat story to work with and it rolled with it for as long as it could.

Business meeting while golfing? Yup, total dick move.

Business meeting while golfing? Total dick move.

Now that we have the sequel, it seems like the original’s freshness isn’t just lost, but a bit boring.

See, it’s hard to do a sequel that has practically the same exact plot as the first movie, without there being any sort of wink, nod, tongue-in-cheek reference made to the audience. Not just to ensure them that yes, the movie itself is pretty smart and knows it’s a cash-cow, but that the audience can expect wittier humor that wasn’t just thrown in there to make sure there’s a sequel to do. The problem with this sequel isn’t that it never lets us know what we’re seeing, is almost the same thing, done again in slightly different ways, but that it relies too much on these three leads and nothing else.

I don’t think I’m standing alone when I say that Bateman, Sudiekis and Day are some of the funniest people working in Hollywood today. Not only do they seem to make an impression in just about everything they show up in, whether together or on their own terms, but they seem to be in this brand of comedy that isn’t necessarily smart, but isn’t dumb either. They’re sort of middlebrow comedy folks and I think that’s why, whenever I see them in something, I can’t help but laugh along with whatever they’re doing. They have that sort of effect on me and, from what it seems, on most others too, considering that they still get plenty of roles.

And although I liked how fun they made their off-the-wall improv from the first movie seem humorous, if incredibly random at times, the movie still didn’t always fall back on it in a way to make up for the lack of fun with its plot. Here, with Horrible Bosses 2, you can sort of tell that there’s not too much of an exciting, fun plot here, so therefore, the movie just keeps on relying harder and harder on its three leads as the movie goes on. Which is, once again, fine and all, mostly because these guys are funny with nearly everything they do, but after awhile, it makes you wonder whether or not there was even a script for this to begin with, or just several pieces of blank paper that just read, “Guys improv about walkie-talkies and Charlie yells. A LOT.”

Once again, the guys are still funny with this much trust in them, but it begins to get a bit tiresome after awhile to just see them take what would could be literally a two-minute heist scene, pan out to be nearly 15 minutes, all because the guys decided to get on each other’s asses about gloves, or something.

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

Now even more reasons to talk about Tarantino!

But most of where the laughs come from, not just in this movie, but comedies in general, is in seeing certain big, respectable names sort of go out there, try something new, edgy and absolutely shock the hell out of the audience that may already have them envisioned in another light. With the first movie, we got to see Jennifer Aniston as a dirty, sex-crazed woman, and here, we get to see Chris Pine play against type as a guy who is, well a rich dick-head, but one that actually seems like he’s a little crazy. I’ve always been a fan of Pine and felt like it’s getting closer and closer to where he’s able to finally branch-out of the Captain Kirk light that seems to be shadowing over most of the career decisions he currently makes, and here, as Rex, I think he gets a chance to show that he has a fun side. It’s refreshing, funny, and sometimes, interesting, especially when we see him get along well with the rest of the guys.

Problem is though, Christoph Waltz plays his daddy and is hardly ever around to join in on any of the fun. It’s actually quite surprising really, because we know Waltz is more than capable at being funny with dialogue that isn’t from crazy Quentin, which makes me wonder if he just wasn’t around to film any scenes that the creators may have initially planned for him to create, or that the role itself was just so tiny to begin with, that it didn’t bother Waltz much. Either way, I wish we got to see more of him and, honestly, less of Aniston, because while she still got a few laughs, her act gets a bit tired and stale, as if the movie still needed her so sex could happen in some way, shape, or form.

But Jamie Foxx is still awesome as Motherfucker Jones. So yeah, he’s fine.

Consensus: Mostly because of its over-reliance on its talented cast, Horrible Bosses 2 gets by, but isn’t nearly as funny, or as inspired as the original movie which, in and of itself, wasn’t really all that amazing to begin with.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Yup. Still the best part.

Yup. Still the best part.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Beyond the Lights (2014)

If only Britney answered my calls, then this could have been my story.

Ever since she was a little girl, Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) knew she had a talent. She didn’t know quite where to go with that talent, but she didn’t have any fear, because her mother (Minnie Driver) always did. Many years later, Noni is the new, hot, young thing that graces screens with her sexy looks, rapper-boyfriend, and highly glamorous life. However though, while it all looks perfect for Noni on the outside, underneath it all, therein lies a hurt, pained woman that just wants the world to look at her for what she is, not what she appears to be. Knowing that this isn’t a possibility, she decides to hell with it, looks over her hotel room’s ledge and thinks about taking the leap, but her assigned bodyguard for the night, Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), rescues her and remind her that he sees her for what she is. This brings all sorts of publicity and though the two don’t quite know what to do with it, a relationship between them blossoms. But when you’re life is constantly under scrutiny, like most celebrity’s lives are, it’s hard to get the truth from someone you think you’ve really grown connected to.

When it comes to me and romance movies, there’s a deal between two parties that has to be made: If you are able to give me a believable enough romance between two human specimens that feels real, then you can do all that you want. The meet-cute; the blossoming of the relationship; the witty, yet supportive best friends; the first usages of the “L word”; the eventual conflict that comes between the two; the argument that separates the two from one another; the possibility of moving on; and, of course, the getting back together, where everybody, especially the couple at the center, live happily together and forever. These are the types of cliches I’ve come to know and expect from these types of romance films, which, for the most part, hardly ever do anything to me.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

Cause what every up-and-coming, black, female artist needs, is a white rapper-boyfriend by their side.

It’s not that I’ve never been in a loving relationship with another human being, and it’s not that I don’t have the capability of loving anybody in this world, it’s more that I find it incredibly difficult to buy into whatever conventions a movie will throw at me, concerning the ideas of why a romance starts in the first place. Some movies have come by my eyes and surprised the hell out of me; not because they’ve actually used these ideas in a refreshing way, but because they’ve actually made it feel relatable, even to those who haven’t yet had a love in their life. Then again though, these movies are the same kinds that hardly ever get made and, for the most part, fall by the waist side, only to be seen by a few of those “cool, hip kids” that think love is too mainstream, man.

But this what surprised me the most about Beyond the Lights – it’s a movie based in all of these corny, manipulative cliches and conventions I’ve seen nearly a hundred times before, the romance at the center is still rich enough to win me over at the end of the day. One could definitely compare this to the Bodyguard, or A Star is Born, or any other movie that concerns a superstar celebrity hooking up with a normal, everyday person and realizing how perfect the simple life is, but there’s a feeling to this film that not only knows these comparisons will be made, but also doesn’t care because it has a story to tell. It’s a very by-the-numbers story, at that, but one that’s easy to get behind, solely because of the solid chemistry between co-stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker; two young talents that are clearly on the verge of breaking out and really making a dent in the film world.

When these two aren’t together, they still do very good jobs in portraying their characters in an honest, understandable manner that makes it easy to point out the identifiable character-troupes, but still fall for regardless. Mbatha-Raw plays Noni as who she appears to be: A Rihanna-like pop star that’s slowly, but surely making that transition from being the one artist that’s constantly featured on big name’s tracks, to being the one who people want to get featured on her songs. She’s sort of like how Nicki Minaj started out – constantly being featured on these records and making an impression with whatever she does or says, and eventually, getting her own chance to break out on her own.

With less booty, but still, a pop star nonetheless.

Anyway, with Noni, Mbatha-Raw channels a hurt, tendered soul who, in all honesty, just wants to stop feeling the pressure from all those around her and live a simple, drama-free life. It’s easy for us, the audience, to scoff at this kind of character, and tell her to shut up and just enjoy her millions and millions of dollars, never-ending bottles of crystal, and opportunities to bang some of the hottest stars in the mainstream media, but because Mbatha-Raw looks so innocent, we sympathize with Noni and it’s not hard to. We know that there’s possibly more to her than what’s presented in all the glitz and glamour, and because of this, we want to see her at least succeed in getting out of it, if only it’s for a little while.

Same goes for Parker’s Kaz; though he’s a simple guy, living a simple life, who has a simple job as a cop, he still feels the pressure from his dad and constituents who want him to run for mayor and succeed at that to. This part of the story is a little tacked-on, I felt, but it still brought out some depth within this Kaz character that I don’t think we would have gotten otherwise, so it was okay enough. But Parker’s the main reason why this character works as well as he does; he seems like a nice guy, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t want him to get taken advantage of, just so that this Noni gal could a little bit of an escape away.

I can assure you, he's not a stripper. Wouldn't be surprised though.

I can assure you, ladies, he’s not a stripper. Wouldn’t be surprised though.

Together though, the two bring out so much within the opposite performer, that their relationship together feels honest, down-to-Earth, and a hell of a lot more raw than I was expecting it to. There’s this lovely 20-minute sequence where both of these characters decide to take a trip out to Mexico and you can tell that it’s meant to be peaceful, sweet, and altogether, a very romantic time together, and that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t hit us over the head or anything, but much rather, tell us that these characters deserve to be together, and forever, so long so as that they don’t get bogged down by all of the gossip publications out there.

That said, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite keep up with them. There’s about four different endings here, and hardly any of them were satisfying. Rather than allowing the movie to end on a tender, small note, writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood constantly feels the need to have to end this story on a huge, over-dramatized note, that we see most Hollywood films use. It gets tiresome real quick and after awhile, you’ll begin to wish that the movie continued to fall back on its leads, especially considering they were so watchable and interesting to begin with.

Consensus: Sometimes manipulative, sometimes not, Beyond the Lights mostly gets by on its co-star’s honest chemistry together, but too many times, feels like it’s trying too hard to give everybody in the audience what they want, and actually forgetting about its main characters in the first place.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

A match made in TMZ-heaven.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Rosewater (2014)

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

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

That footage better not turn out shaky!

That footage better not turn out shaky!

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I said, 'no blinking'!"

“I said, ‘no blinking’!”

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

I hate being late for class, too.

I hate being late for class, too.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

Bows and arrows are the ultimate weapons for rebellion. Guns are better, but hey, you work with what you’ve got.

After the tragic events of the second Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is, once again, left in total and complete shock. However, she’s not alone, as she was soon taken in by the rebellious District 13 and given the task to fight back against the malicious Capital, and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). And although Katniss is more than happy to fight back and get whatever revenge she can get on Snow and his legions of soldiers, there’s a couple problems holding her back. For one, District 13’s president, Coin (Julianne Moore), and her trusted lackey, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), not only want her to stand high and tall with District 13, but even be seen as the face of the new rebellion that will hopefully inspire many others to stand up against Snow and his regime. Also, after the last Hunger Games, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) was kidnapped and taken in by the Capitol, who seems to be using him as a way to coax Katniss into just putting down her bows and giving up. Katniss wants to, so as to not hurt Peeta even more, but the problem is that she’s not the one fully in control – others are and it begins to show.

It’s safe to say that, by now, the Hunger Games film franchise has been pretty successful. Not just in terms of its box-office success, but also with those pretentious, unhappy human specimens we know as critics. Meaning, that it was only just a matter of time until one of these films, as it only takes one, had to screw it up for the rest.

And it’s quite fitting that it just so happens to be the first part of a movie that didn’t need to even have a first part to begin with.

Is this a symbolic passing of the torch?

Is this a symbolic passing of the torch? Say it ain’t so, J-Moore!

Trust me, too, this is coming from a guy who has never read a single page of one of these books; Hollywood thinks that since they have a cash-cow on their hands, that they should try their hardest and pan the movies out for as long as they can, as only a way to reel in more and more dough. They did it with the Harry Potter franchise, they did with those terrible Twilight movies, and heck, they were even thinking about doing it for the Hobbit movies, that is until somebody actually wised up and realized that it’s probably not the best decision to push that franchise any longer than it needed to be, especially considering that it’s all made from one single book. Just one, people! So why the hell did there need to be three, freakin’ movies at all?!?!

Anyway, like I was saying, here with Mockingjay – Part 1, it’s obvious that the powers that be behind it, wanted it to just go on for as long as it could, so long so as it all built-up to what would hopefully be the ultimate finale for this franchise next year, and it shows. That’s not to say all of the movie is bad, but when you have a film that goes on for so long which is, quite frankly, is pretty solid up to a point, and it just ends, it not only feels abrupt, but pretty disappointing. You can tell that, if they really wanted to with these movies, they could have made just one, three-hour epic that would, hopefully, put the bow-tie on the franchise once and for all. But nope, when big-wig, hot-shot Hollywood executives see dollar-signs, they can’t help themselves one bit.

Sort of like how I am in Dunkin’ Donuts. Only one, I promise myself, and then, a dozen doughnuts later, I’m wondering just what the hell happened to me and my thought-process. It’s a bad analogy, I know, but it’s all I got to work with, people, so bare with me please.

But to get a bit away from the whole problem with this movie being unnecessary in the first place, I think it’s best to just dive right into what made it so good to begin with and, therefore, made the abrupt ending all the more enraging. See, what’s interesting about this flick, is that while it’s clear that it has the biggest budget in the world and can practically do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, and with whomever it wants to, for some reason, Mockingjay – Part 1 has a very limited-scope which, dare I say it, makes it feel almost claustrophobic. Hardly do we ever get to see what’s going on/around the world of Panem and in these other districts, outside of maybe a TV monitor or through of what somebody says.

A perfect example of this is a very terrifying sequence in which District 13 gets attacked by the Capitol, leaving everybody inside scrambling, running, and trying to find any shelter that they can. While this is all going on, we hear the explosions hitting District 13 and we see the effect it has on the base from the inside, but we never see what’s exactly going on outside; what we see and hear, are just enough to scare us into an oblivion and have us expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. It’s a well-done sequence that I kept on thinking about the most after I saw the movie, because it pretty much puts the rest of the movie into perspective: We are thrown into this tiny, nearly suffocating world and we can’t get out of it. We’re along for the ride with Katniss, even if that does, or doesn’t take her anywhere special.

Speaking of Katniss, once again, Jennifer Lawrence is great in this role and allows Katniss to be strong, smart, and also, humane. She hardly does something for her own self-interest and it makes us sympathize with her a lot more, even if she is playing with both Gale and Peeta’s hearts like a person putting a carrot in front of a rabbit on a treadmill. Still, she’s good to watch and brings a lot of development to a character that could have easily been just another little, whiny teenager who can’t decide if he loves me, or loves me not.

I'll take a nice, little Boogie Nights reunion any day.

I’ll take a nice, little Boogie Nights reunion any day.

Another interesting aspect to this story is that it plays around with the ideas of propaganda and how the use of it, if effective, can really drive people to do something, whether it be fighting for a cause, or just changing a certain lifestyle of theirs. Here, we get to see Katniss be constantly taken to all of these different Districts, where everybody is either dead, dying, or just bones underneath pieces of rubble. The way we’re supposed to feel about these tragic occurrences is supposed to be sadness, but because we know Katniss is being taken to these certain spots, only so that they can film her and show the rest of the world why her cause is worth standing behind, puts a slight comedic-twist on it. A dark one, but a comedic-twist nonetheless in a movie which totally needed a lot more.

This is where the likes of new recruits Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, pleasant returners Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman all bring their own level of depth to a story that deserves it. It’ll be interesting to see where the next film takes these certain characters, because while it’s easy to fall for Peeta, Katniss, and Gale, the older, much more established presences in these films are mostly what keeps the heart of these movies running. Not to hate on what Lawrence, Hutcherson, or Hemsworth do with their own respective characters, but if I had to, I’d watch a scene containing just Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, and Jeffrey Wright, all sitting around in a room, talking about whatever was on their mind next.

Obviously that’s virtually impossible now, but what a treasure it would be.

But, like I said, while the ideas and themes this movie toggles around with may be interesting, and a hell of a lot more thought-provoking than we all get with half of the YA adaptations out there, there’s still that feeling that this movie is build-up, and hardly anything more. Director Francis Lawrence gives this movie a tone that’s dark, creepy, and slightly sinister, but the way in how the movie ends, just puts everything into perspective: This is all leading up to something a lot bigger and more epic.

See you next year, folks. Let’s hope that this is actually the end.

Consensus: Thought-provoking without being ham-fisted, exciting without being manipulative, and well-acted without ever focusing on one character more than the other, the Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 works for so long, all up until it abruptly ends, leaving us maybe ready for the next, but also disappointed that there had to be two parts in the first place.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Basically, everybody loves J-Law. Fin.

Basically, everybody loves J-Law. Fin.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Foxcatcher (2014)

If this is about wrestling, where are all the tables, ladders, and chairs?

After winning gold at the 1984 Olympic Games, pro wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) doesn’t seem to have much going on in his life. He sort of just lugs around his house, eats Ramen like a barbarian, and continuously trains with his older, much more well-known brother, David (Mark Ruffalo). That all changes though once Mark gets a call from a very wealthy man by the name of John du Pont (Steve Carell) who would not only like to meet Mark, but go so far as to train with him and a few others in preparation for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Mark finally feels like he’s wanted and appreciated for his talents, so therefore, he and du Pont strike up something of a friendship, which often times, sometimes dives into seriously dark places. That’s fine though, so long so as Mark and John are together and happy. But it all changes once again when David comes around to help coach the team and this is when things start to get a bit tense for all parties involved. All up until, of course, they reach their tragic breaking point.

So, if none of you out there have ever heard of any of these real-life people, then have no fear, I won’t spoil the outcome or the intricacies of this story. Instead, I’ll just beat around the bush as much as possible, but I can assure, it doesn’t matter either way. I’ve researched this story long and hard many times throughout my life that even though I knew exactly what happened to each person by the end of this story, I still didn’t care and was constantly on-edge just about the whole time. And also, I just stopped caring and decided to pay attention to what’s on the screen in front of me because, quite frankly, nearly everything about this movie deserves your time and undivided attention.

That nose though.

That nose though.

Most of that’s because the cast is so damn stellar (more on that in a little while), but it’s also because director Bennette Miller knows how to choreograph his movie in such a perfect way, that every scene, every lingering shot, every piece of info that’s slightly thrown at us for us to catch, is worth thinking about and adding up to what the whole final product means. Because honestly, when you’re watching Foxcatcher, you’re not watching a director tell you what his movie’s about; rather, a director who is laying bits and pieces of it out on a large table, gives you a fork and a knife, and lets you just pick up whatever it is you want from it. These are the kind of subtle pieces that hardly ever get made nowadays, and even if they do, they’re hardly seen by more than a few hundred or so people that aren’t cool, got-there-first hipsters, which is why for about the whole two hours of it, I couldn’t stop paying attention.

Once again, this is mostly because of Miller’s direction. Some may say it’s slow, but from my perspective, it seemed deliberate in a way as to get us in the right mood for what was to eventually come of these characters, and the resolution of their times together. It’s not a pretty story here, folks, and if you can’t handle that, then go check out Frozen or something!

But, like I originally promised, I won’t dive into what this story ends up being about, or even how it ends; mostly, I’ll just talk about what makes it work and that’s pretty much everybody involved. I’ve talked plenty about Miller here and I still don’t think I’ve fully hit the nail on the head with it: It’s a very subdued, but artfully crafted direction. Miller doesn’t tell us everything we need to know up front and hardly ever over-does it with the development; he just gives us glimpses of these people, their interactions together, and how it makes them who they are. Would I have liked a little bit more clarification on a few ideas presented in this movie? Of course, but I mostly feel like the reason Miller held back a bit from diving deeper and deeper into these character’s relationships with one another, is not to just offend the main producer of this movie (who also happens to be Mark Schultz), but because it would have nearly been too much to show us, the audience. Keeping it hidden in whispers and emotional stares was perfect enough for Miller to do, and it’s what I found most satisfying.

And if any of you out there are reading this, I think you’ll have a clear idea of what I’m speaking about and won’t go into any more detail about. Because, honestly, what’s suggested is pretty creepy, but then again, so is the rest of this movie.

Which also brings up another point made about so many movies, which is, “Is it enjoyable?”.

Well, my answer to that fine, fine question would be, “No, not really. But it doesn’t really need to be either.” Grim, chilly character-dramas such as this don’t need to throw us a bone here and there to excite things – all it needs to do, and do well, is present us with enough meat in its story and its characters to keep us gripped from the beginning, all the way to the end. If it can do that, then I’m fine with there being no explosions, car-chases, or warfare. Would I like it? Sure, why not. But this isn’t that type of movie and it’s why I think I loved it so much, and haven’t been able to get it out my noggin since the last time I saw it, some few weeks ago.

Anyway though, I know I’ve been avoiding them for quite some time, but I might as well get it out of the way now and say that I hope the trio of leads in this movie get at least a nomination for each of their own, respective pieces of work they put in here. If they win, that’s even better, but honestly, judging by how rigged the Academy is, a nomination would suffice, especially considering how strange these casting-choices are.

First of all, I know having Mark Ruffalo play the honest, earnest, and down-to-Earth dude isn’t a huge surprise to see in a movie, but he’s not the one I’m speaking of. It’s actually Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in two very dark, dramatic, and nearly humorless roles that really shocked the hell out of me. Not just by how effective they were in the roles, but because I hardly saw them as their celebrity, and more of just them as who they were playing. Which, yes, I know may not be saying much, but when you have somebody as recognizable as Tatum is, hardly ever cracking a smile and keeping a straight-face for nearly the whole duration of a film, it’s hard to see it is a “true, bonafide piece of acting”, and more of “an actor trying way too hard to be taken seriously”.

That could have easily been the case here, but because both Tatum and Carell are amazing here, they sink into their roles and hardly ever make it apparent to your mind that these two are most known for their abilities to make a crowd laugh or happy, rather than scared and miserable. Though it’s definitely easier for Carell to disappear into his role as du Pont, what with the stellar nose-job the make-up department’s given him, it still doesn’t matter much because the guy is downright terrifying in this role. We’ve definitely seen Carell do dramatic before, but never as dark and as eerie as it is done so here, and he absolutely commands your attention every time, but without ever begging or pleading for it. The camera just simply lingers on his eyes, the way he tilts his head, sinks into his chairs, and even by the way he awkwardly carries himself from room-to-room, seeming like he’s trying to fit in with the rest of the macho-group around him, but is actually so ill-equipped in doing so, that he’s practically another fish-out-of-water. If anything, this is where Carell gets most of his laughs from, but only because he’s so good in this role that the creepiest things du Pont does over the course of the movie, somehow takes on a ridiculous-view and you can’t help but laugh.

Same goes for Tatum playing the big, muscular lug that is Mark Schultz. In fact, it’s quite a fun role for Tatum, considering that we know he can practically do no wrong now, but him playing a full-and-out meathead, who sometimes borders on the verge of being autistic, is something different and even strange. However, he makes it work so well by just using his physical-prowess and allowing us to feel sorry for this person; we know that he’s clearly vulnerable and wanting to make a name for himself, so it’s obvious that the first guy who comes his way with arms wide open, he’ll fall right into with and hail as his best friend. It’s actually quite sad, really, but what makes it all the more disturbing is how good Carell and Tatum are together.

"Schultz brothers, unite!!"

“Schultz brothers, unite!!”

Sometimes, the friendship gets so strange, you wonder just what the hell exactly this movie is trying to get across about it, but for the most part, the movie’s just basically showing us two actors at the top of their games, and absolutely getting into their character’s mind-set, without any frills attached. It’s wonderful to see these two act together on-screen, but it’s even better to see both of them constantly growing as acting powerhouses in their own rights and it keeps me excited and optimistic for what’s next to come of them in the future.

As for Ruffalo, like I said before, he’s perfect at what he does as David Schultz – he’s told to play this really normal, mellowed-out guy and it’s effective. Which isn’t just because Ruffalo’s great in the role (though he totally is), but because he’s the only sense of normalcy we actually get in this whole piece. With Mark Schultz, you get this battered, awkward, and self-conscious muscle-bound freak that doesn’t really know what to do or say in any situation that comes his way that doesn’t involve wrestling, and with John du Pont, you get this grown up, spoiled, rich kid who just wants to prove to his disapproving mom that he can do something with his life and make her proud. Those two combined are as wacky as you can get, so to get some sort of voice of reason at all, is an absolute blessing. To get it from none other than Mark Ruffalo himself, one of our finest actors working today, it’s a treasure to behold.

Put them altogether, you got three amazing performances in a movie that deserved them all.

Consensus: Dark, chilly, atmospheric, and downright disturbing, Foxcatcher may not quite be the pick-me-up one might expect to see during the holidays, but if you want to witness some of the best performances of the year, then it’s definitely worth a watch and plenty of thinking-space.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"I told you, stop dancing already and wrestle!"

“I told you, stop dancing already, and wrestle!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Big Hero 6 (2014)

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

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

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

Where’s this at whenever I’m drunk?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

This is all I need. Seriously.

This is all I need. Seriously.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Homesman (2014)

The old west was kind of creepy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round 1! FIGHT!

Round 1! FIGHT!

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

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Theory of Everything (2014)

You can still be a nerd and get hot chicks. I’m still not buying it.

Before he was known as the world’s smartest human being and talking through a computer, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was just another college student looking for inspiration in his life. He knew he wanted to pursue physics, but didn’t really seem to care much about it enough to really put his mind to the test. That is all until a woman by the name of Jane (Felicity Jones) walks into his life, has him practically head-over-heels, and changes him for the better. But she comes at such a drastic part of his life when Stephen begins to finally realize that he has ALS; an untreatable disease that practically turns him into vegetable. Jane knows this though, and yet, still decides to marry Stephen because she feels as if she’ll be able to make it through no matter what. Because, really, as long as the two love each other, then that’s all that really matters, right? Well, yes and no. And this is what the two are about to find out.

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard, him.

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard him.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds our planet has ever had the pleasure of gracing with his good presence, which makes it all the more a shame that he’s been struck with this incurable disease such as ALS (yes, that disease everybody was doing those annoying-ass Ice Bucket challenge videos for). So, in Hollywood terms that is, it only makes sense that there’d be a biopic made about him, his condition, and most of all, the women he ended up marrying, even though she knew full well what she was getting herself into right from the very start. Which yes, may make it easy for some of us to find it difficult to sympathize with her and her plight, but the fact is, she married Stephen for who he was, not what he was about to become.

That last sentence stated and everything, the movie hardly ever makes this a point to dig deeper into. Instead, it’s more concerned with how much Jane wants to bang random dudes from church, which may have been true, but when that’s all you’ve got to bring some development to Jane’s plight, then there’s not much else you can make us draw from. If what you give us on the table is thin, don’t expect us to make something huge – every once and awhile, you need to help us out a little, give us some depth here and there, and allow us to the thinking on our own. You can trust us, the audience that much. But it’s a game of give and take.

What I’m blabbering on about here is the fact that the Theory of Everything doesn’t seem all that interested in digging any deeper into this real-life story it has to work with. The fact remains, while Stephen Hawking is a genius, he was incredibly hard to live with and not just because of his condition; he was always causing people problems because of his ego and his ever-changing stances on religion, God, or existence as a whole. But once again, this was something I had to draw myself from just watching this movie and reading a whole heck of a lot about him.

Everything else about him, I’m afraid, is only slightly touched in this movie and it’s a shame because we expect more from director James Marsh. Though it would have been easy to make this as simple, run-of-the-mill Oscar-bait, Marsh tries to go one step further and focus in on Hawking’s relationship with his wife and the rest of his family, only to then, fall right back into the firm clutches of the dreaded Oscar-bait movie that we know and see way too often. And given Hawking’s brilliant mind and life as a whole, you’d think that there’d be more than just another biography meant to grab a dozen or so awards, but sadly, that’s the kind of movie we get.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t at least some joys and pleasures to be found in this whole movie – it’s just that they are so very few, far, and in between from one another that you forget about them when they hit the emotional-mark they’re supposed to.

For instance, the first half-hour of this movie is very well-done. Not only does it set up Hawking well, but also the relationship between him and Jane. It’s small, sweet, heartfelt, and tender in the way that so many other films tackling the idea of young love try to go for, but fail to nail on more than a few occasions. Here though, it works so well and had me feeling as if there was going to be more development to this relationship, but then of course everything fell apart when Stephen couldn’t walk anymore and I lost all hope. But for the longest moment in time, I stayed and remained hopeful that this romance would spill out into something a whole heck of a lot more meaningful, only to then just be, “Oh yeah, marriage kind of sucks. Especially when you’re with a paraplegic.”

Heart's already broken over here, guys. Need help.

Heart’s already broken over here, guys. Need help.

All jokes aside though, Eddie Redmayne does a pretty fine job as Hawking, which is all the more impressive considering what he has to do is express whatever he’s thinking/feeling, through his eyes or any sort of head-tilt/movement he can muster up. You get a sense, through Redmayne’s portrayal, that while Hawking is struck with this awful disease, he still holds out some sort of hope in the pit of his stomach and still just wants to live on with his life. Even if, you know, that means pissing everybody off around him. It’s a job well-done and shows that Redmayne’s more than just another pretty face in the crowd of many, the guy has actual talent and I look forward to seeing him take on more roles that challenge his good looks, and make him appear a lot different and unflattering.

Same goes for Felicity Jones who, for the past few years or so, has been doing quite well in so many roles as of late, that I think it’s about time the rest of the world finally got a glance of who she is. However, a part of me wishes the role was a lot better-written for her, because Jane is a meaty-role for Jones to sink her teeth into and show how much she can break people’s souls with those pouty eyes of hers, how Jane’s made out to be in this movie isn’t wholly flattering. Maybe this was done so on purpose, but seriously, as time went on, I realized that I liked Jane less and less and just wanted the movie to give her a better shot than what it was initially giving her. It’s a shame, too, because while Jones does well with she has here, I could only imagine what would have happened had there been a lot more on her plate to chew on.

Okay, I’m done with the dinner references for now.

Consensus: Redmayne and Jones may do well, but the Theory of Everything runs into the problem that it’s too thin to really be a quintessential biopic about Hawking’s life, and much rather, feels like obvious Oscar-bait.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

The perfect British couple. Until they weren't. Oh well.

The perfect British couple. Until they weren’t. Oh well.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Dumb and Dumber To (2014)

It’s supposed to be “two”, you know?

It’s been nearly twenty years since the last time we got to watch bestfriends, Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey), and all their wacky hi-jinx, but it’s also been nearly twenty years since the last time either of them two have had a meaningful, cohesive conversation between the other. That’s because after feeling rejected and all out of sorts from the love of his life, Lloyd had apparently lapsed into a mental state of depression, leaving him to be practically a vegetable. That is, until he reveals to Harry that he was goofing the whole time; as in a way to return the favor, though, Harry reveals that he has to get a kidney transplant, or else he’ll die. But, have no fear, because it just so happens that Harry has a daughter somewhere out there in the world and you know what? Him and Lloyd are going to travel the country to find her! Even if that means putting themselves, and others around them, in constant fear of their lives.

So yeah, did we really need a Dumb and Dumber sequel, especially one that takes place twenty years after the original? Hell no! And guess what? It shows.

Classic.

Classic.

Because see, while it’s nice to see Carrey and Daniels back in the iconic roles, there’s still something missing here that made the original film so lovely and hilarious, even after all of these years, and that’s just being funny. I can’t really describe it any simpler, folks. This movie just is not funny and if it were, then it would be forgiven for taking too long to get made, or seeming totally unnecessary now. But nope, it’s just not funny and therefore, it’s looked upon harsher and in a more critical way.

That’s what brings me to the actual film itself and how it’s not really funny, compared to the original that still has me dying in my seat, even when I see its constant re-runs on TV every now and then. Mostly, what I think it is, is that the Farrelly brother’s brand of humor in which slapstick and idiotic wit stand side-by-side one another, just isn’t hitting its mark nowadays like it used to. Sure, it can still get a chuckle here and there, but for the most part, it seems oddly dated and just weird when you put into perspective the fact that this film is supposed to be taking place in modern day U.S.A.

Meaning, yes, much has changed since ’94, some good, some bad. But for the most part, the art of humor, what makes people laugh effectively, and what doesn’t, has changed as well, if ever so slightly. It’s not that the jokes in the original weren’t funny or well-written (because they were), it’s just that they were mostly a sign of the times – a day and age when comedies were a lot simpler and branded for a smarter audience.

That’s not to hate on those film makers out there who try to make comedies for all audiences out there, but simply, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Move on.

And that’s exactly the case here with Dumb and Dumber To – while it tries to be funny, time and time again, it simply just doesn’t hit its mark. Even when it does, that’s mostly only thanks to the efforts put in by both Daniels and Carrey; to vets who can’t help but do whatever they can for a simple, hearty laugh. While it’s admirable that these guys would be so dedicated to this material that they’d practically be willing to risk life and limb to get a crack from the crowd, after awhile, once you realize that it’s not really working, it gets to be more sad. Sad to watch these older men try to reclaim their glory days and work with twenty-year-old gags, and also sad to just realize that these characters probably don’t need to be touched ever again.

Which, like I said, isn’t to discredit either Daniels or Carrey, it’s just sad to see them put in so much, and hardly get anything in return. Maybe the two should just go back to challenging themselves with daring, dramatic-roles that not only challenges the mainstream movie-audience to look at them in a different light, but also accept them as actors in the first place, not just two dudes who have to do whatever people want to see them in, because it’s safe, it’s fun, and, well, it works. More so in the case of Carrey, then with Daniels, because while the later has proved himself time and time again that he’s capable of handling drama, Carrey just doesn’t seem all that interested in giving it as many tries as he should. While he’s amazing in these types of dramatic-roles we see him in, Carrey doesn’t try them as often as he should and instead, more or less, jumps right at the next silly, goofball comedy that can come his way.

Even more classic.

Even more classic.

A part of me likes this about him, but another part of me just wants him to realize that he has enough money to where he can do whatever he wants, when he wants, and with whomever he wants. So why sit back, collect the checks, and lose credibility, Jim? Spice things up and show the world that you’re as good of an actor as the others out there!

Anyway, I’ve realized that this has gotten further and further away from what was supposed to be my review of Dumb and Dumber To, but I think the fact is this: There’s not much to talk about, other than it’s not funny. It’s not terribly unfunny to where you can’t sit through the whole thing, it’s just that most of the jokes don’t land. And even the ones that do, they do so in such a surprising way, that they’re embraced, laughed about, and gone in a split of a second, to where they’ll never be remember ever again, except for, “Yeah, that one funny joke in Dumb and Dumber To.”

It’s a shame, man. A big one indeed.

Consensus: Though Carrey and Daniels work their guts out here, Dumb and Dumber To still feels like the long-awaited comedy that should have waited longer, or should have just never happened, had everyone known it was going to be this bad.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Wait...wha?

Wait…wha?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Interstellar (2014)

Huh?

It’s the near-future and the Earth is slowly dying. There appears to be huge gusts of dusty winds about every couple hours or so, but rather than surrendering and calling it quits, people on Earth have learned to just accept it and make it a daily occurrence. Astronaut-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), also happens to be one of these people, yet, still finds enough time out of his day to teach his kids the simple ways of life that he wants them to live by, no matter how crazy things get for this world. That’s when the bombshell gets totally dropped on him from a former confidante of his (Michael Caine), and is given a task: Take a ship and a crew, and find if there is anywhere out there that the human-population can live on. The catch is that time is a lot different in space, so while Cooper may be traveling to the Milky Way for five or six years, on Earth, it’ll be nearly twenty years. So yeah, while it’s a big sacrifice for Cooper, it’s one that he’s willing to take and does so. But, as one can expect, when you’re out there in the vast, open area that is space, you never know what can happen, or how.

"Alright, alright, alright. What the hell's this?"

“Alright, alright, alright. What the hell’s this?”

If any person out there didn’t think Christopher Nolan was ambitious enough, well then, my friend, think again. Because while Nolan may be something of a household name by now, he still doesn’t adhere totally by the mainstream rules and regulations that so many other films out there follow hook, line, and sinker. Whereas some movies like to make their conclusions clear to us right from the very start and still ask us to just enjoy the ride while it lasts, Nolan appreciates throwing us curve-balls that we never totally expect to see coming, nor do we ever think of while we’re watching any movie, not just his. In other words, Christopher Nolan is the type of film-maker who likes to think outside the box, and in a day and age like this, where wonderful film makers seem to by falling by the waist-side, there’s something to behold and honor, rather than spit on and scoff at.

Then again though, not everybody’s perfect. Meaning, neither is Christopher Nolan.

Yes, I know, say it ain’t so! But sorry, it is. Christopher Nolan, while an ambitious film maker that loves to reach for the stars (and literally so on this occasion) with nearly everything he touches with his creative paws, every once and a blue moon (more space puns), hits a brick wall and can’t help but fumble over his own words. Sort of like how I am with cute girls at bars, but that’s a different story, for a different day, people; this is Christopher Nolan’s story here, and for that, it’s really hard to review. Not because the plot can be easily spoiled with even the slightest, teeniest piece of info/detail, but because my thoughts are still in a bit of a jumble, nearly five days after having already seen it.

FIVE DAYS, PEOPLE!!

Anyway, like I was saying before, there’s something to be said for a fella like Nolan who, while not always make perfect sense with everything he does in his movies, especially his later ones, still finds a way to enthrall his audience with enough pretty stuff on screen to keep people’s minds off of some of the more troubling-aspects of his stories. Like, for instance, how in the hell would NASA be capable of building all of these maintainable, trustworthy space ships to not just transport mostly all of the Earth’s population to a different planet, but to do so in an efficient way that doesn’t make everybody jump from being a young, rowdy, and crazy 21-year-old, to being an old, saggy, and beaten-down 88-year-old?

“Who cares though, Dan? Just look at how wonderfully exquisite deep outer-space is?”, I could imagine one of Nolan’s ultra fanboys pleading to me; to which I’d respond with a swift slap to the face and a big, “Well, yeah, you’re right. I guess,” and then I’d hate them forever for making me accept the fact. Because yes, Interstellar’s production design is beautiful in just about every instance. Although I didn’t see this in IMAX or 70mm like I would have wished, there was still plenty to gaze at and just grab a hold of. Because if there’s anything that Nolan cares about the most, it’s the way his movies look, sound, and overall, feel. If they are able to do this in a lovely manner, this his job, for the most part, is done.

"If we can't have corn, then nobody will!"

“If we can’t have corn, then nobody will!”

But that’s not to say that the rest of this movie is bad, it’s just very disappointing. For instance, the first 2/3’s of this movie are well-done, like I usually expect from a Nolan movie. He sets up the characters nice enough to where we get an understandable feel to them; he creates this futuristic world that isn’t too cheesy on the set-designs, but is more or less, just what the Earth looked like in the 1890’s, before all of this damn electricity began running our lives; and hell, though the explanation behind the main conflict is a bit fumbled, I still rolled with it because it seemed simple enough to get invested in. Simply, this is supposed to be a story about a group of astronauts going out into the deep depths of outer-space, hopping from planet to planet, and as usual, running into the occasional problem here and there.

For me, that’s dumbed-down and easy enough that I don’t care about the extraneous amount of sci-fi exposition Nolan decides to throw at me – I just want to be entertained, bedazzled, and feel as if I am apart of something. This is how the first hour or so felt, and that’s why I was totally on-board with this. In a way, I felt as if this was going to be Nolan’s most ambitious yet, but was totally going to pay-off. Maybe, just maybe, it could have been my favorite of his? The same kind of movie that I desperately plead to my fellow friends and confidantes to give another shot and look deeper into it? That’s what it was going to be, I thought.

Sadly, that’s not how it turned out to be.

See, without me saying too much and ruining the experience for all ya’ll out there, I’ll simply state this: Nolan, more often than not, in the later-part of this movie, decides that he doesn’t know how to keep this movie moving long and hard enough to sustain its nearly three-hour run-time. So, to make sure that none of our minds leave the screen, he constantly throws random plot-points, where certain character’s motivations are hardly ever explained, and we’re left to feel some sort of emotional connection to what is happening. Without saying much, certain characters do some pretty mean, distasteful, and downright idiotic things, but rather than feeling as if it’s a genuine mistake for these fully fleshed-out characters, it feels like Nolan’s just throwing whatever he can at the wall, seeing what sticks, and hoping that he hasn’t lost us just yet.

But that’s exactly what happens. He not only loses us, but seems to dig himself deeper and deeper into the conventional hole of storytelling, where not only can the audience see what’s happening from a mile away, but can also say why. To me, this is an absolute disappointment coming from Nolan, the same kind of director who prides himself in being more than just your average, dime-a-dozen director; he’s the imaginative, relatively original imaginary that dares you to second-guess his directorial choices. Here though, it’s all too clear that whatever Nolan’s been doing for his whole career up to now, there’s a slight disconnect. He wants to be the cool, artsy director that challenges the mainstream into using their brains a little bit more, but still falls for the typical cliche that Hollywood has practically mapped-out for every movie to follow.

Honestly, I could harp on this aspect of the movie until the cows come home, but it wouldn’t do neither you, nor me any good; it would only confuse us more. What I do want to say though, that while the movie may get predictable for its last hour-and-a-half, there’s still always something to watch. Whether it’s in the way in how the camera glides so peacefully over a certain landscape of Nolan’s own creation, listening to that pulse-pounding score that isn’t quite over-bearing, but isn’t subtle either, or paying attention the performances from this well-stacked cast who, with what they’re given try their damn near hardest to make it resonate with anybody watching at home.

Speaking of them, I think it’s best for me to remind people that while Nolan’s movie may misfire plenty by the end, the cast always stays decent and hardly ever strays away from being as such. Matthew McConaughey is in his comfort-zone as Cooper, but it’s a comfort-zone that I almost never get tired of, especially when he’s able to make his character a complicated individual that, given what we know about the task he has, we are told to like and root for. It’s easy because McConaughey is such a charming presence and is able to make every line in which his character spouts science gibberish, seem believable.

Something that, ten years ago, probably would have never happened. But thus, we live in a world where the McConaissance is alive and well.

My feelings exactly.

My feelings exactly.

And thank heavens for that, too.

Another one to chat about is Anne Hathaway who is good in her role as another astronaut that Cooper ends up bonding with a bit, but soon begins to get annoying to watch when we realize that Nolan doesn’t have much confidence in this character to make her a reasonable, thoughtful human. Her character not only makes a few life-changing, dumb mistakes, but even has the gull to say that they happened because of “L-O-V-E”. I won’t say who she says this about, or why, but it’s absolutely ludicrous to think that Nolan would ever throw this into a film and it’s just another sign that he needed some sort of help to keep this movie’s train a movin’.

Though, as poorly-written as Hathaway’s character may be, at least she’s given something to do, whereas the rest of the cast is sort of left in the dust. Talented peeps such as Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, Jessica Chastain, David Gyasi, and yes, even Topher Grace, are mostly left in the background for the majority of the movie. And while it’s nice to see their bright and shining faces in such a wonderfully-looking movie, it feels like a waste of some genuine talents that deserve so much more to work with, all credibility aside.

But, at the end of the day, this is a Christopher Nolan movie and what it all really comes down to is this: Do you want to see it in theaters, or not? Personally, I think it’s worth the trip to the theaters, because even while it gets silly by the end, there’s still something stunningly beautiful about this movie that not only compels you enough to pay attention to what’s going on, and even think about what exactly is happening. Even if it doesn’t fully make sense, it’s still making you latch open your brain and do something with it that you maybe haven’t been able to do with many other movies.

And that, my friends, is how Christopher Nolan rolls. For better, and definitely, for worse.

Consensus: Ambitious to a certain fault, Interstellar finds Christopher Nolan grabbing for whatever he can think of next, and while it occasionally works, he falls on his face a bit too many times to make this still feel like something of a disappointment, albeit, a very interesting one that’s worth at least checking out. In the biggest, loudest, and best theaters possible. Trust me.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Uhm. Yeah.

Uhm. Yeah. This happens.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbizGoggle Images

Listen Up Philip (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman with cat? Single.

Woman with cat? Single.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

 

Are You Here (2014)

Isn’t there supposed to be, uhm, I don’t know, a question-mark or something?

Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) is the weatherman at a local news station and doesn’t really seem to take much initiative with his life. Sure, he wants to have money, and as much sex as he can possibly stomach, but for the most part, he’s just sitting around, smoking pot, and hanging with his childhood buddy, Ben (Zach Galifianakis). That begins to all change, however, when Ben’s dad dies and leaves him the large farmland they grew up on; whereas his sister, Terry (Amy Poehler) isn’t left with much, except a little store they own in town. This leaves her a bit pissed-off and a bit vengeful, but for Ben, this leaves him wondering what he’s going to do with his life, or whether he’s actually up to the task of handling this much responsibility. But while this is all happening, Steve’s still just doing his thing, but this time, he finds his eyes looking at Terry and Ben’s much-younger stepmother, Angela (Laura Ramsey), who, if he shacks up with, might be able to change his life for the better. That’s if he can put down the joint.

Though I know many people are head-over-heels with the show, I’m not particularly as much of a fan of Mad Men. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched pretty much all of it (or as much as Netflix allows me to) to make up my mind concerning and honestly, I still like it very much, but it’s not one of those shows I’d consider a favorite of mine. It’s well-written, acted, and performed, but as a whole, the show just isn’t one I crave to watch, day in and day out.

Happy meals like this hardly ever occur in my household.

Happy meals like this hardly ever occur in my household.

However, comparing Mad Men as a whole, to everything in Are You Here, is downright wrong. Not because the themes of both works are different, but because the former is so much more well-done and thought-out than the former, that the two don’t even deserve to be talked about in the same conversation. But that’s what’s so strange here, because how somebody like Matthew Weiner can go from creating a smart, well-detailed show like Mad Men, to writing/directing a jumbled-up piece of junk such as this is totally beyond me.

Mostly though, it’s less about how Weiner went from the highest of highs, to then stoop all the way down to the lowest of lows, and more just about what’s going on with this movie.

For instance, Weiner never seems capable once of landing on a tone and sticking with it. One part of this movie is supposed to be something of a “bro comedy”, where we see two dudes slumming around, smoking pot, and talking about the environment, but then the next part of this movie is trying to be a wholesome family-drama about going back to your roots and being in a time and place that’s much simpler. It doesn’t gel quite well, and it gets incredibly worse once we’re introduced to the possible love-angle between Wilson’s character and Ramsay’s; not because it isn’t believable at all (it isn’t), but because the age-difference is so huge between the two, that it’s not even romantic. In fact, it’s totally creepy and makes you wonder if Wilson just likes taking these roles for the sole reason that he gets to hook up with a bunch of pretty, young things. I don’t blame him if that is the reason, but come on, man, make the movies better, at least.

Speaking of Wilson, his character, Steve Dallas, is totally all-over-the-place. We’re supposed to get the idea that this guys’a stoner-bro that is a bit of a cheap-skate and rips people off whenever he gets the first chance to do so, but we never find out why. His credit card hardly works, but why? What’s gotten him into so much debt that he’s so quick to take any hand-out thrown at him? This is never known to us and it gets even worse when we’re told to believe in the friendship between him and Galifianakis’ character.

The exact number of people who actually shelled out cash to see this.

The exact number of people who actually shelled out cash to see this.

Once again, we’re told that Dallas is a close friend of the family, but we never see that. Instead, we just see Dallas bicker and banter with the members of the family and act like a total dick. Same goes for Galifianakis’s Ben who, like all Galifianakis character’s, is weird, manic, and always on the verge of a nervous-breakdown. Why this is? Well, we never really find out and it’s made worse by the fact that the character of Ben (a environmental-activist who has to start living and accepting in the real world) isn’t a particularly interesting one, or even well-written. He’s just dull and stale, yet for some reason, we’re supposed to think of him as the heart and soul of this project – an idea that’s never actually felt to us, but just told.

And honestly, it’s a shame because you can tell that none of this is really the cast’s fault; everybody here is clearly trying, but Weiner’s script is so poorly-written and scatter-shot, it takes away from what could have been a very sweet, relateable dramedy. Instead, it’s just something that has no idea what it wants to be about, what it wants to say, or what it even wants to do with any of its characters. It almost makes you wonder: What did Weiner try to accomplish with this movie? Was he trying to get across the idea of “if you’re true to yourself, then those around you will follow suit”? Or, is he trying to send a tribute to those who go back to their childhood homes and reclaim what’s rightfully theirs? Personally, I don’t know and I don’t even think Weiner himself knows.

What I do know is that when Mad Men ends next year, we better hope that Weiner has a better jump to features than this. Because if not, we’re all going to be wanting a whole lot more of this.

Consensus: Off, not just in terms of tone, but what it’s even trying to accomplish, Are You Here is literally all over the place, which makes it hard for the talented cast and crew involved to do anything interesting, or worth merit. They’re probably just as confused as we are.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Drink up, boys. You'll need it.

Drink up, boys. You’ll need it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbizGoggle Images

Camp X-Ray (2014)

Come on, guys! Let’s just all get along!

Shy and silent Army private first class Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) is sent to duty at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where she has to do the everyday chores a soldier stationed there has to do – cleaning, washing, and making sure that most of the prisoners are doing what they are told to do. At first, this is pretty easy job for Cole, seeing as how she doesn’t really have to act brutal or mean to any of these prisoners, so long as they don’t give her a reason to do so, but once she runs into a prisoner by the name of Ali Amir (Peyman Moaadi), things do change for her. Because Amir has been cooped-up for so long, and for reasons never made known to him, he decides to take must of his anger and frustration out on Cole, constantly hassling her about books, his treatment, and just life in general. At first, it puts Cole into a position she doesn’t want to be in and finds her continuously declining any chance for a conversation between the two, but after awhile, she warms up to him and realizes that the two have a bit in common. Which, as a result, makes her wonder exactly what the hell she’s doing at a place like Camp X-Ray.

I think I’ve made it clear enough on this blog that I like a lot of movies that are simple and relatively-easy-to-follow, but that also pack a hard, emotional punch that goes deeper than just what’s presented on the surface. Some movies, I wish would take this route, rather than having to make everything so convoluted and jam-packed, whereas other movies, are so easy in nature, that I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a real life story play out in front of my own very eyes. Not only does it give me something to relate to a bit easier, but it also allows me to think of whatever’s happening on the screen, as something that could actually happen out there in the real world.

Basically me every time I was forced to go see another Twilight movie with my lady at the time.

Basically me every time I was forced to go see another Twilight movie with my lady at the time.

That said, sometimes there’s those movies that I wish weren’t so simple and at least kicked things up a notch or two. That’s my one problem with the terribly-titled Camp X-Ray – it doesn’t really try to be about anything else except for “prison guard and prisoner bond”, and it definitely should have. Not because there needs to be something more thought-provoking done with this premise, but because the premise has been so over-done and used before, that it seems like convention.

For example, when the Amir starts hassling Cole, it’s understandable that she’d be pissed-off right away and just want to do her job, without any problems getting in the way of that. And she does act like this, but then after awhile, we start to see her turn the other cheek, all because of, uhm, I don’t know. We’re supposed to believe that she’s not like the other soldiers at the detention center because she’s homesick, knows a lot about Harry Potter books, and doesn’t like it when dudes forcefully hook-up with her, so therefore, it would make total sense as to why she’d all of a sudden decide this prisoner isn’t such a bad guy and just start chatting it back up with him? Maybe there’s more to this character that makes her just a nice person in general, but we never really get to see that side to her, so therefore, it’s hard to fully believe in her and the prisoner’s friendship of sorts.

However, what does make this friendship work and seem somewhat believable, are the performances from both Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi. What’s so interesting about these two, is that even though they are the two main characters in this film and are supposed to be something of friends, they are hardly ever in the same shot. Most of the scenes are shot in their own perspectives, meaning that we get a lot of glimpses of Moaadi’s face, with Stewart’s back towards us, and/or vice versa. Not only does this allow us to view these performances a little bit more than just you average, splice-and-edit convo-scene, but it even makes the movie seem all the more claustrophobic; which is especially effective, considering this movie is taking place at/around Guantanamo Bay.

But, like I was saying before, Stewart and Moaadi are very good in their roles, and help a lot of their long-winding conversations move on by, without ever seeming uninteresting or poorly-written (even if that’s what they are).

For Stewart, it’s nice to see her back into taking roles that not only challenge her as an actress, but show that she can be as likable as you or me. Sure, she still seems a bit awkward in certain scenes where she has to look and/or sound tough, but that’s sort of the point; she’s not the type of soldier who wants to be a hard-ass, but simply has to, in order to keep her job and make sure her fellow soldiers don’t get killed. So, when taking that idea into consideration, Stewart’s performance is all the more impressive, although there’s a part of me that wish the writing was better, because she could have done real wonders with the role, like she used to do way back when, before the dark days of Bella took over her.

Every rapper has at least had this same shot once as an album cover.

Every rapper has at least had this same shot once as an album cover.

But thankfully, it seems like she’s back on the right track and I can only hope it stays that way.

Anyway, starring across from her is Peyman Moaadi, who is also quite good in a role that, on paper, is actually quite annoying and over-bearing, but soon begins to be quite sympathetic and upsetting. Not because you can tell Mooadi truly is messed-up by being cooped-up in this prison for so long, but because he has no idea as to what the reasons even were in the beginning; then again, nor do we. We get an glimpse at the beginning of the movie that he had a slew of burner cell-phones, then kidnapped and taken into this prison, but that’s it. Nothing more. And honestly, it works in the character’s favor – we never know if he’s a prisoner trying to con his way out of the prison, or if he’s simply too weak to even try anymore, so is just trying to have the time go by. Whatever the reasons behind his actions may be, it’s definitely true that Mooadi is good in this role and makes perfect use of his time, giving us a look at an all too true reality.

But that’s another story, for another post, folks.

Consensus: Maybe too simple for the message it’s trying to convey, Camp X-Ray still benefits largely from two great performances by Peyman Moaadi and Kristen Stewart, who seems to be back in her old-form of taking challenging roles, no matter how much she gets paid.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Bella! I want an autograph! Now!!"

“Bella! I want an autograph! Now!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Laggies (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swag doe.

Swag doe.

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

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

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

7 / 10 = Rental!! 

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Good Lie (2014)

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

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

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

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

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

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

But anyways, I digress.

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

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

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

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

Wipe those grins off your face, whites!

Wipe those grins off your faces, whites!

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

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

If only more people had that opportunity in their lives.

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Nightcrawler (2014)

Who says journalism’s dead?!?!

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a strange, rather mysterious man who is just trying to get by in modern-day L.A. Not only does he steal random resources from construction sites, but even has the gall to try and sell them back. However, late one night, when perusing the streets, he stumbles a upon a car-accident, when, moments later, a guy holding a camera (Bill Paxton) shows up and takes Lou’s mind by storm. He tells Lou that there’s actually some money to be made in filming certain accidents/crime scenes and selling them to news agencies, all for a pretty penny. This gets Lou thinking that not only does he need himself some video-equipment, but he also needs a partner to assist him all this, which is when a somewhat homeless guy, Rick (Riz Ahmed), takes the opportunity, although he doesn’t know what to expect next from this job. And thus, begins the process in which Lou captures some important footage, in very sketchy, dangerous ways and selling it to a local TV station, where he actually begins to strike up something of a relationship with the morning news director, Nina (Rene Russo). However, with Lou, not everything seen in the camera, is exactly how it appears to be and in ways, begins to land him in some hot water; not just with the local police, but everybody around him.

In the post-recession world in which we all live in, it seems like anybody’s ready to make a quick buck, by any costs. Meaning that, if you have to lose your morals for a short amount of time, only so that you can get a healthy paycheck, go home, and get something to eat for once, then all is well. No questions will be asked, and surely, none will be given.

Yep. Totally concerned if anybody's alive or not.

Yep. Totally concerned if anybody’s alive or not.

However, in the case of the media, the line is hardly ever blurred. “If it bleeds, it leads”, is a commonly-heard phrase in the world of journalism (also used once in this film, as well), and it certainly is true; if there’s something downright controversial or sick happening, people want to know about it, so long so as it’s not happening to them. Also though, if one can create a story that would, in some form, shape, or nature, illicit fear in the audience’s mind, then all the better. Basically, the world of journalism is a sick and twisted place, and it’s only going to continue to be so.

Take it from one, small-time journalist to tell ya.

But points about the state of journalism isn’t totally what writer/director Dan Gilroy is all about exploring – sure, he shows us that news agencies mostly what the richest, juiciest story, by any means necessary, but there’s no stance Gilroy takes and seems to run wild with practically with the whole time. Instead, we get a glimpse into the mind of a person who, quite frankly, is just trying to make a name for himself in a world that, quite frankly, is willing to make anybody “famous”.

And this here, is where the strengths of Nightcrawler really shows, folks. Gilroy gives us as much as we need to know about this character of Lou Bloom, but not just by telling us through background info, or constant flash-backs; much rather, we just view how this guy acts in day-to-day life. There’s something odd and definitely off about this Lou Bloom fella, but the way in how he approaches every business conversation is, at the very least, perfectly professional. Sometimes though, it’s so obvious he’s just saying what he read in some cheesy, self-help pamphlet that you wonder if he’s actually kidding around with whomever he’s reading these lines, too.

But that’s what’s so eerie about Lou Bloom – he isn’t. In fact, the guy’s dead serious about everything he says, does, or wants to happen, so that he can not only get more money, but have as much power as he can possibly imagine. Which, trust me, from the first glimpse we get of this guy in a construction-field, is totally surprising. You never, not in a million years, would expect someone who looks or acts like Lou Bloom to have such a dedicated, passionate mind when it comes to getting a certain job done, and reaping of all the possible benefits, but he totally is.

Not only is it believable because of the world Lou Bloom associates himself with (i.e. video-journalism), but because Jake Gyllenhaal is so magnificent in this role, it’s damn near impossible to take your eyes off of him whenever he’s on-screen.

Which is, yes, basically, the entire movie.

It’s a pretty common-known fact by now that, despite a few hiccups in his long-fledged movie-career, Gyllenhaal is a solid, dependable actor who, when you need him to, can deliver on just about anything you ask of him. Now, I’m not so sure Gilroy totally needed Gyllenhaal to lose 20 pounds for this role, but it works for the character in every way imaginable. It not only makes him look like a small, weaselly character that you can’t trust to be around, but allows for Gyllenhaal’s bugged-out eyes to constantly pop-out and make it seem as if they’re carrying most of his body-weight.

But lbs.-loss aside, Gyllenhaal is great here because he always demands our attention, without ever going full out and exclaiming it. Despite one corny scene in which we see him yell and break a mirror, Lou Bloom is a subdued character that definitely has emotions, but doesn’t express them as you or I. He keeps to himself and whenever he’s upset, happy, or simply trying to get his way, he tells you, but without hardly ever changing the look on his face. Gyllenhaal’s creepy in the kind of way that he feels like you wouldn’t just meet him on the street, but even possibly at a family-engagement – calm, cool, collective, and full of all sorts of chatter when you look at him, but dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find a truly cruel, dark individual who, simply put, just doesn’t care what you think about him, or the decisions he makes. As long as he gets what he wants by the end of the day, then all is fine in his world.

The future faces of L.A. Except, let's hope not, because it would be an even scarier place to live in.

The future faces of L.A. Except, let’s hope not, because it would be an even scarier place to live in.

To me, that’s more terrifying than any Patrick Bateman or Travis Bickle. Although, to their defenses, they’re still both incredibly creepy individuals.

And though Gyllenhaal is amazing here in a role I hope earns him a nomination come early next year, he’s not the only one in this film worth chatting about. Rene Russo (Gilroy’s real-life wife) is great in a role that I wasn’t expecting her to be so great in. She plays this aging news producer by the name of Nina and seems like she’s been in the biz long enough, that she’s not only had to deal with it all, but seen it all, too. Therefore, you think she’d be safe enough to cozy up in her job and just wait till retirement – until you realize that that’s very far from the truth. In fact, Nina’s the kind of woman who, even with her experience, still feels like her job is constantly on the line, making her feel as if she needs the best break for her to get out of that slump and be looked at as “needed” once again.

It’s a very meaty role for Russo, the kind of role I haven’t seen her do in quite some time and it’s one that I hope she makes a habit of constantly trying to play with. Because even though you want to despise her for constantly pushing Bloom on and on to get deeper and deeper into these crime-based stories, you still know that, if you were in her position, you’d do the same. So, it’s kind of hard to judge, especially considering that it doesn’t matter how experienced you may think you are in the current position you hold – you’re always expendable.

And that, my friends, is some advice to live by for the rest of your days.

Goodnight. And most of all, good fuckin’ luck.

Consensus: Anchored by two phenomenal performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, Nightcrawler isn’t just exciting in its portrayal of the underground, seedy world of journalism, but also a reminder that any person, when given the chance to make a name for themselves, will do so, by any means necessary.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

The face of a champion, folks. You best believe it.

The face of a champion, folks. You best believe it.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

John Wick (2014)

This is what happens when you take the blue pill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, presumably, sadness would ensue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move on.

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

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?"

“Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Horns (2014)

The Devil works in mysterious ways.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young dude who had planned to live a full and complete life with his loving, adoring, and ultimately, sweet girlfriend (Juno Temple), until she was mysteriously murdered. Though all of the fingers are pointing towards him, Ig knows full well that he’d never kill the love of his life; an idea that his defense attorney (Max Minghella) is trying his best to argue in the court. But nobody wants to fully believe Ig and just about everybody around him hardly wants anything to do with him, or even hear him plea his case. That all changes though when Ig, for some odd reason, starts to grow Devil horns, which, for another odd reason, makes every person around him want to unearth their deepest, darkest secrets. Initially, Ig is freaked-out by this, but eventually, he starts to smarten-up and realize that he can use this skill to his advantage. Now, he’s set out on a course to find out the real killer behind his loves’ death and, hopefully, clear his name of any evil wrongdoings.

But those horns just won’t go away.

You're never fully in love unless you're both sprawled out on the floor together in perfect, sappy harmony.

You’re never fully in love unless you’re both sprawled out on the floor together in perfect, sappy harmony.

So yeah, by reading that synopsis, you can that there’s something odd going on with this movie and seeing as this is directed by splatter-lover Alexandre Aja, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that a lot of messed-up stuff happens here. In fact, that’s exactly what I expected to. Watch any of Aja’s movies and you’ll be able to know full well that the man loves throwing as much ketchup as he can, wherever he pleases, and however he likes to. That’s why something as dumb, over-the-top, and somewhat boring as Piranha 3D was made slightly more enjoyable, if only because Aja couldn’t take the hiding anymore and just had to let loose somehow.

But that’s also why a movie like Horns surprised me, and in a nice way, too. See, this isn’t necessarily a horror movie in the sense that we get a butt-load of scares and frightening things happening; it’s more of that we have a very dark, eerie premise, based around an idea that in and of itself, could be even more dark and eerie, yet, is played-out as a dark comedy of sorts.

For instance, try the angle the plot takes with these horns growing on Ig’s head – while in most movies, this would be downright terrifying and lead to sinister occurrences that only Damien himself would be equipped to handle, Aja plays it up for laughs and makes Ig’s horns a source of comedy. This surprised me, not just because the humor was actually effective in certain ways, but because Aja found a way to still add a sense of creepiness by allowing these characters to speak their minds openly, and in such an over-the-top manner, as well.

And while the movie isn’t always funny when it wants to be, Aja still does plenty else here to make sure that our minds are kept busy. Which yes, does come off as manipulative and purposeful, but it shows us that Aja is growing. Not just as a person, but as a film maker that’s willing to take on more than just horror. For example, he doesn’t just show scenes of heads getting demolished, or people getting doused in flames, but also has a relatively sweet love story at the center, and, for as long as it can sustain to do so, has an unpredictable mystery that seems like it could go anywhere, with anybody to be blamed at fault.

That said, it doesn’t always work and you can, for the most part, understand why it’s sometimes best for Aja to just stick with scenes of relentless, gory violence. And yet, he doesn’t do just that and because of that being so, I give him credit. The movie itself may not be perfection, but when you show the world there’s more to you than just people losing limbs in disgusting ways, then I, the movie-goer, will always have your back. Even if, you know, it doesn’t always work out the best way you maybe have hoped for.

So yes, Alexandre Aja, take this is as a way of me saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

"Bro, it's just devil horns. Take a chill pill, man."

“Bro, it’s just devil horns. Take a chill pill, man.”

Even though I highly doubt you’re even reading this.

Anyway, the same that I’m saying to Aja, could just as easily be said to Daniel Radcliffe who, in the past three-to-four years, has definitely taken advantage of his time away from Hogwarts by appearing in both, money-making mainstream projects, while also, trying his hand in some interesting indie-pieces as well. All around though, with this time away from one of the biggest movie franchises of all-time, Radcliffe has shown us that he’s a versatile actor and isn’t afraid to make himself look ugly, especially if he has to. Here, as Ig, the dude definitely gets to look rugged and mean, as if he had finally gotten tired, once and for all, of being known as Harry Potter and has wanted everybody to know that he’s ready to get rid of those good looks of his, especially if he has to. And with that being said, yes, Radcliffe is good in this role as Ig; not because he’s willing to go to some weird places most actors wouldn’t feel comfortable with dropping down to, but because he shows us that he can actually be funny, in a type of dead-pan way. A way which I hope to see more of in the near-future with whatever he decides to take up next.

The rest of the cast does pretty fine, too, especially since most of them have to just play a bunch of crazy, wild, caricatures that sometimes verge on “cartoonish”. But, I couldn’t help but be entertained by them nonetheless. Juno Temple plays Ig’s dead girlfriend who, despite getting naked quite a few times, feels like an honest little girl in a small town; Max Minghella plays something of a dick that you’re not too sure about right from the very start; David Morse plays the grieving dad and at least adds some emotional gravitas to a movie that, quite frankly, doesn’t seem to be too bothered with it in the first place; and lastly, Heather Graham shows up as an insanely self-centered waitress and seems like she showed up to the set either totally high, or having no idea if her mic was on or not, so she just decided to scream each line she had as loud as possible.

Either way, it works for her and ultimately, for the movie as well.

Consensus: Tonally jumbled and not always effective, Horns is still a fun film, if only because it seems like everybody set out to make something strange and, altogether, not worth taking fully serious, until it tries to be.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Take that, Snape."

“Take that, Snape.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Halloween (2007)

What a tragic figure that Michael Myers was.

Michael Myers is considered the Boogeyman of Halloween. He’s what every drunk, horny teenager fears, and is the kind of “person”, you don’t want to be stuck with in an abandoned home – especially not his own. And now, we get to see where he got his start as a serial-killer. Although, to be fair, he was only killing small rodents, rather than small people, but he was soon pushed because of his stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), drunken, dead-beat step-dad (William Forsythe), and sister Judith (Hanna R. Hall), who couldn’t give less of a crap if he lived or died. That’s probably why he decides to hack most of them up and land his little rear-end in the state penitentiary, where he gets psycho-analysis check-ups regularly from Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell); a guy who genuinely cares for him, but Michael seem to care about at all. Hence why when Michael gets the first chance to escape, he does so and sets his sights on going back home, where he’ll possibly get to see his old digs, as well as run into his estranged little sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who also just so happens to be stuck baby-sitting two brats one night. But this just isn’t any night, people. This is Halloween for gosh sakes! And guess what?

Bad stuff happens on that date!

That's how it starts. Usually.

That’s how it starts. Usually.

If any of you out there are going to watch a horror movie on a night like tonight, it’s most definitely got to be John Carpenter’s classic. I don’t care how many times you’ve seen it; tried to remake it in your Halloween-themed student film; or even, if you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who don’t like to get scared – you’ve got to watch it. Because, if nothing else, it will probably remind you why some movies, no matter how ripe they may seem for the remake treatment, sometimes, just don’t need one.

Especially when that remake is done by the likes of Rob Zombie, a director who yes, I do think is talented enough to make a movie work, but just seems like he can’t help himself from throwing all sorts of blood, gore, sex, drugs, booze, and F-bombs to save his life. However, if there’s one element to this film I can give him credit for, it’s that he at least tries to draw out some depth within this character of Michael Myers and possibly even give us all an explanation as to why he grew-up to be a screwed-up, serial-killing individual who wears William Shatner masks. But it’s also probably the laziest-attempt at doing so; we’re told to believe that the reason why Myers grew up to be the way that he is, was all because his mom was a stripper, his step-dad was an a-hole that drank all of the time, and he was bullied at school. That’s pretty much it.

And while, yes, I do believe that there are some real-life cases out there that do resemble a person with the same mind-set as Myers, for the same reasons, to watch it here, not only seems like poor-writing, but a real lame excuse for somebody who goes legitimately bat-shit crazy about half-way through. It also ushers in the problem that Zombie’s trying to make us identify with this character, even though he’s sick, twisted, and unrelenting in his murderous-spree, which, unless you too are a sick, twisted and unrelenting serial-killer, may be a bit hard to relate to.

It’s the same problem I had with Zomie’s the Devil’s Rejects – I get that he wants us to like/sympathize with them, but why? It’s not like they’re misunderstood, tragic-figures; they’re cold-blooded, unforgiving killers that need to be stopped, and at all costs. Same goes for Michael Myers, even though it is sometimes rather pleasing to watch him hack away at a totally clueless/stoned teen trying to escape his clutches. But whereas with Carpenter’s movie, we got a horror flick that took its time with its violence, in order to make it hit us even harder than originally imagined, Zombie just lets loose as soon as possible and doesn’t seem to ever stop.

Which, yes, is something one can expect and be happy with when seeing a Rob Zombie flick. But, when you’re remaking a classic like Halloween, sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

You'd trust Alex DeLarge over Michael Myers? Suit yourself honey.

You’d trust Alex DeLarge over Michael Myers? Suit yourself honey.

That said, I know it’s probably not right to constantly compare and contrast between the original and the remake, because, quite frankly, it’s not fair. Not because one movie is a whole lot better than the other (which is totally true), but because it’s clearly obvious that Zombie isn’t at all trying to remake, or simply, re-do anything Carpenter did in the original. Zombie is simply putting his own stamp on the story and therefore, deserves it to be treated as such, which means that it doesn’t work. It’s so much carnage and slasher-violence that after awhile, you’ll just grow numb to it all and wonder, “What’s the point?”. Sure, there is some fun to be had with these kinds of horror movies, but Zombie loves to make it apparent that he isn’t all about having a blast when it comes to murdering random innocents; he wants us to harp on these actions and the fact that we want to see such actions displayed for joy.

And yes, it’s a bold move on his part, but it doesn’t work for the movie. It takes away from some of the fun and at nearly two-hours, makes this feel like a never-ending trip, with hardly scares, shocks, or any bits of actual terror. It’s just death, after death, after death, after death, and after some more deaths, made with hardly any style or sense of excitement. It’s just a dull, boring time at the movies. Which is good for most of us who actually still go out trick-or-treating on a night like tonight.

The rest of us, however, can just stay home and get spooked out by this legendary track every time it plays.

Yup, still gives me the creeps.

Consensus: Rob Zombie sets out to make his own version of the Halloween story, and while he does make some rash choices here and there, they hardly ever work and contribute nothing to a movie that’s already dull, aimless, and mostly repetitive of its grisly scenes of murder.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Eh. Lame.

Eh. Lame.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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