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Creed (2015)

And yet, Rocky’s statue isn’t at the top of the steps anymore.

Shortly before he died at the savage hands of Ivan Drago, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) had an affair with a woman that led to the birth of a son, Adonis. While many years later, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) doesn’t keep the “Creed” name and instead, decides to go with his biological mother’s last name, “Johnson”. However, no matter how much Adonis may want to make it seem like he’s not like his father, he’s still following the same path; not only does he want to become a professional boxer, but he also wants to do so in a matter that gains him respect and gratitude from those around him. Though Adonis is quite wealthy and doesn’t have to be fighting, he still feels like he owes it to himself, as well as his daddy’s legacy, which is why he decides to take a trip to Philadelphia and track down his late father’s old buddy/trainer/opponent, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). While Rocky is reluctant to train Adonis at first, eventually, he gives in and decides to teach the young man a thing or two about not only controlling his mind in the ring, but out of it, as well. This leads to Adonis trying to make a name for himself in the world of professional boxing, where the conversation always seems to lead more towards who his father is, and less about what sort of talents he actually has as a boxer.

Fedora or no fedora, Sly will still throw down.

Fedora or no fedora, Sly will still throw down.

A lot of people are worried about Creed. The reason for this has solely to do with the fact that the Rocky movies, minus the first, are all pretty silly and, dare I say it, bad. While Rocky will forever and always be considered a classic (as well as it should be), the other various sequels feel as if they do nothing more than just hurt that movie’s great legacy, rather than assist it. Don’t get me wrong, the sequels are all still fine and entertaining, but each and everyone has taken on a different sort of following that has less to do with the underdog, likable spirit of the first movie and more with how over-the-top and cheesy everything in the late-70’s-to-early-90’s were. Therefore, because of these movies not being quite as up-to-par as the iconic original, Creed is looked at as, yet again, another cash-cow for the Rocky franchise.

But have no fear, everybody: Despite it being the seventh installment in said franchise, Creed is possibly the best Rocky movie since the first.

Granted, it’s not saying much, but still, pretty much is.

The main reason as to why Creed works so well and isn’t just another heartless, soulless piece of franchise cinema, is because the talent involved with it, really do seem to genuinely care about where they take this story next. It’s actually quite surprising that no one has yet to even try and create a movie focusing in on Apollo’s family, but regardless of how long it took, it’s great to see that it attracted director Ryan Coogler, who, with Fruitvale Station a few years ago, showed a fresh, young and energetic voice that was desperately wanting to be heard. While Creed is maybe less preachy and topical as that movie, Coogler still does a nice enough job in adding just enough heart and emotion that makes this seem like more than just a traditional boxing movie – it’s got plenty more heart than that.

And of course, most of this can all be chalked up to the fact that Adonis Creed/Johnson, is a pretty well-written character to have your movie revolve around. While there’s no denying that the character of Rocky Balboa will forever and always remain legendary, there’s something sad and heartfelt about Adonis’ road to boxing that makes his journey all the more engaging. Though most fighters are simply fighting because it’s all that they are able to do and make money with, Adonis is doing it more to figure out just where he comes from and exactly who his father was. He doesn’t specifically say this from the very beginning, but it’s clear that, from the very beginning, he’s boxing for a reason and he’ll continue to search for it until he finds it.

It also deserves to be said that Michael B. Jordan, as usual, is stellar as Adonis. Jordan, as he’s done with his past few performances, has shown a genuine sincerity to each and everyone of his characters who, may not always make the smartest decisions out there, but have nice enough hearts that you want to see where they go and what happens to them next. That Adonis is already made to be a superstar like his late, great father, makes him coming to terms with what that all means, quite touching and honest – something that a Rocky movie hasn’t been in quite some time.

Oh, and yeah, while I’m at it, I guess I might as well talk about Rocky, the character, considering that, after all, this movie is sort of about him, too.

There’s no denying the fact that Sylvester Stallone is a good actor; while he definitely has certain limitations to his range, the guy has a few handful of key, interesting performances that shows he’s capable of taking a character and doing wonders with him. Granted, he needs the right guidance to do so, or he just ends up looking and sounding like a blubbering mess, but nonetheless, Sly Stallone is a fine actor. His only problem is that when he’s not appearing in bad flicks, he’s directing himself, and that doesn’t always tend to get the best performance out of him.

However, with Coogler’s direction, Sly digs deeper into Rocky than ever before; rather than just seeing the funny, charismatic and simple Italian Stallion from Philadelphia, we see someone who is coming to terms with the fact of his own existence. There’s plenty talk in this movie about how Rocky is old and may be joining the likes of Paulie and Adrian quite soon, which is not only hard-to-watch, but even harder to fully accept – this is Rocky, dammit! He’s the one and only underdog!

Is anybody else struck by the uncanny resemblance this scene has to this scene in Magic Mike? Just throwing that out there.

Is anybody else struck by the uncanny resemblance this scene has to this scene in Magic Mike? Just throwing that out there.

How can he lose! Better yet, how can he die!

Well, as the movie, as well as Sly’s powerful performance, shows, it’s quite simple: He just can. He’s older now and his bones don’t quite work as well as they used to. That’s why, when we get scenes of Rocky and Adonis training together, whether it be through soft-boxing, punching the bag, jumping rope, jogging, or walking up those infamous steps, it’s hard not to get a twinkle in your eye, a smile on your face, and a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. In a way, it almost seems like Sly himself, is genuinely happy portraying this role all over again, but like I said, it isn’t just another one of those performances we’ve seen from him before. He’s more raw, understated and interesting than he’s ever been before and it shows just the kind of talent Sly was and, in ways, still is.

He just needs the right people to guide him along every so often.

And because there’s plenty of emotion concerning these characters, the fights themselves pack on an extra punch as well. That we know Adonis needs these fights more than anything, makes it especially hard to watch as he continuously gets beaten to a near-bloody pulp, just to prove that he has what it takes. In a way, it’s almost self-abusive, but it’s still compelling to watch because we care for Adonis and the reason for why it is that he’s fighting. Not to mention that Coogler, too, does a great job at filming these boxing-sequences that make them still feel fresh and exciting.

On a side note, though, Creed also works best, just like the original Rocky, as a nice little postcard of Philadelphia. Being from and currently living in Philadelphia, it was great to see my city not just get a whole lot of attention, but also be discussed and portrayed in a way that makes it seem like a lovely city where anyone can come, find themselves, and achieve all sorts of greatness. For some people living in Philly, they may not believe this all to be true, but still, it’s great to see my city get a much-deserved spotlight, as well as also give me something to point at when talking to my friends about what location, was shown when.

Basically, I’ll just be a tour-guide from here on out.

Consensus: Like it’s well-known predecessors, Creed is a conventional boxing flick, but still features enough heart, emotion and good performances that make this seventh installment still an interesting, if also, fun watch.

8 / 10

Looks like he's got his, "Yo Adrian!" yell down perfectly.

Looks like he’s got his, “Yo Adrian!” yell down perfectly.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ratatouille (2007)

Some French people are so pretentious, that they’d actually think a rat who cooks food is “neat” and “ground-breaking”.

Though Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat stuck living the countryside, where he has to search for and steal whatever sort of grub he can find, he still dreams of doing something better with his life. In this better life of his, not only is he appreciating his food more, but also making it himself and dedicates plenty of his time to reading a cookbook from the late, but well-known Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett). One day, however, Remy is forced to take up a different path than he normally does and, much to his surprise, finds himself in Gusteau’s restaurant’s kitchen. Here, Remy feels as if he can let his talents run wild, but how can he? For one, he’s a rat, and as most people know, rats and kitchens don’t quite go well. Then, there’s also the fact that he’s a rat and can’t be understood by humans. So yeah, the odds are stacked-up against Remy, but once a new chef named Linguini (Lou Romano). Despite Linguini’s awkward persona and general lack of prior experience in the kitchen, Linguini happens to be Gusteau’s kid, which gets him the job in the first place. But because Linguini is so desperate and willing to keep his job and make sure that he doesn’t disappoint his supposed father, he actually decides to take lessons from Remy and learn how to not just be a better cook, but in the process, become a better person, as well.

Take that dairy!

Take that dairy!

It’s still surprises, even until this very day, how an idea like this worked? I know it sounds so simple, but really, a movie about a rat making food? It’s so stupid and silly, in fact, that somehow, it made perfect sense why it would all work out. Because Ratatouille is, of course, a Pixar picture, there’s going to be a whole lot more effort, heart and emotion put into play; not to mention that because Brad Bird works on it, there’s going to be a chock full of inspiration, as well.

Which is exactly what Ratatouille is.

Pixar movies, from the very beginning, have always followed a sort of pattern that they so rarely stray away from. Granted, there are certain variations on the structure but, for the most part, there’s always this general sense that every Pixar movie is made out to be the very same as the last one, given the obvious differences in terms of plot, characters and general location. But it’s hard to get on Pixar’s case because they’ve always been known to kick some fine ass; though they definitely had a rough streak of three years-in-a-row with Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University, they still bounced back with Inside Out, showing that not only were they able to get back their creative-genius, but remind people why they fell so hard and deep in love with their movies to begin with.

It’s honestly a manipulative system, but it’s one that I will always continue to fall for, so long as Pixar continues to churn out actual, good movies that don’t feel like they exist to sell a whole bunch of T-shirts and toys.

Even though, yes, that’s exactly what they’re made for.

But despite all of this, Ratatouille is the kind of Pixar movie that makes you wonder just how they do it all. Because, for one, Ratatouille is a funny movie in that it’s not only just cute, but quite witty; there’s certain jokes that are clearly written in a smart-enough way that only an adult paying attention would be able to understand. Of course there are definitely jokes made for the younger-ones out there, but they mostly have to do with obvious slapstick – the adults are the ones who get treated to jokes about French people, food, and critics.

Speaking of which, Ratatouille isn’t just a movie based on the pure humor and fun of its gimmick. Sure, watching Remy and Linguini get together, work in tandem, and create all of these fancy dishes for even fancier people, is more than enough to make you want to step into the kitchen and whip up your own concoction, whatever it may be. Though we’re all talking about CGI food and whatnot here, it’s still hard not to get wrapped-up in everything and start to feel the adrenaline and fun one gets while creating something and absolutely loving every second of it.

Once again, this is an animated flick I’m talking about here, people.

But then again, it’s Pixar, so we all know what I’m talking about.

Like I was saying before, the heart of Ratatouille is what really helps it out in the end. What’s perhaps most interesting about Ratatouille is that there’s no real one, key moment where the water-works are demanded to start working. In other Pixar movies, this is very much the case; the first Toy Story has Buzz realizing that he’s an actual toy and not a real astronaut from Star Command, Monsters, Inc. has that tearful goodbye with Boo, and, as everybody knows, Up has the first ten minutes. Of course, there’s plenty more of these moments in other Pixar movies and I promise you, they don’t sound as obvious as I may make them out to be – you just know to expect one when you’re watching a Pixar movie.

That’s why it’s so strange that Ratatouille, despite featuring some nice moments of heart and kindness, doesn’t really have one of those moments. Then again, it doesn’t need one, because it’s already as sweet and as endearing as can be. Bird, despite working with animated characters who look like over-the-top caricatures, is able to give each and everyone their own bit of back-story/personality that makes them feel like actual characters with personalities that we can identify with.

Rats are cute and all, but they shouldn't be allowed in kitchens. No matter if they sound like Patton Oswalt.

Rats are cute and all, but they shouldn’t be allowed in kitchens. Regardless of if they sound like Patton Oswalt.

The most perfect example of this is the prestigious food critic, Anton Ego, as voiced by the late Peter O’Toole. As most people know, critics don’t always get the soft side of the blade in movies – that’s why, whenever a movie comes out that portrays critics as being something other than miserable, cruel sad-sacks that hate their own lives so much, that they have to project their negative feelings onto other people’s hard work and dedication, it’s quite a lovely surprise. Here, we get the feeling that Anton is, yes, a very intimidating and picky figure, but, just like he states in the movie, it’s all for a reason. He loves food so much, that when he gets food that he doesn’t like or think is actually “good”, he spits it back out.

He loves his trade and he will do anything to ensure that the best players in said trade, continue to get the praise they deserve.

That said, Ego isn’t the only one who gets the lovely treatment here. Remy, as voiced by the lovable Patton Oswalt, goes through an awful lot of transformations here that help this character develop, despite being just a talking-rat; Linguini may have that nerdy shtick, but also seems to have it all come from a soft place in his heart, which helps make his growth, as a character, seem all the more believable; and Ian Holm, as the constantly paranoid and crazy Chef Skinner, also seems like he loves cooking so much, that he will do anything to make sure that his legacy stays alive and running, by any means. There’s plenty of other recognizable voices and nice characters here, both of which, go hand-in-hand oh so perfectly.

And you know what? Despite there being no big moment in Ratatouille, I still teared-up and awful lot!

Damn you, Pixar!

Consensus: Ratatouille is another addition to the long list of Pixar flicks that are not only funny, entertaining and heartfelt, but also have an endearing, rather inspirational message about always doing the right thing and being your best self. It’s typical Pixar, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

9.5 / 10

Paris. Still a beautiful place to see. So do it.

Paris. Still a beautiful place to see. So do it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Push (2009)

X-Men clearly did it better. They always do.

Due to a government experiment gone wrong, Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is what some call “a mover”. Meaning that, well, he’s able to move things with his mind. However, he’s been on the run at an early age and in a way to stay even further off the grid, he’s been holding up shop in Hong Kong. But due to a couple of bad decisions made on Nick’s part, he ends up getting found out by these sinister powers-that-be who want to kidnap Nick and take away his powers. Or something like that. Along with Nick is 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) who is what people call “a watcher” – someone who can see the future and certain tragic events before they happen. So yeah, Nick and Cassie are on the run from bad and evil people, meanwhile, they’re trying to meet up and find Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle), who may have all the answers to the questions that they need answering so that they can defeat these villains and get back on with their lives. But as time rolls and Nick and Cassie start to talk with her more, they realize that Kira may not be who she is and better yet, actually may be playing on the same side of those people they’re on the run from to begin with.

Round 1, eh, who cares!

Round 1, eh, who cares!

I think.

The whole thing about Push is that it’s incredibly convoluted. Certain powers of these characters, when they’re able to use them, what keeps them from using them, is hardly ever explained; all we’re supposed to make up our minds about is that they do have powers and they want to use them for the greater good. This makes it all sound like an over-extended episode of Heroes which, quite frankly, I would have been totally fine with.

But nope.

Instead, what we get with Push, is an overlong, overly complicated, very silly sci-fi flick that doesn’t know where it wants to go, or even what it wants to be. While the movie does stage some flashy action-sequences, they come so few and far between, that they become an afterthought. Instead, the movie wants to focus on the inner-workings of these characters, what makes them tick and just how it is that they get by in a world that, honestly, doesn’t quite accept them for who they are or what skills they possess. Obviously, I’ve seen this all done way better in X-Men and it just goes to show you just how easy it is to make a tale like that.

But for some reason, no one on-board with Push seems like they want to give anything an honest effort. Director Paul McGuigan tries his hardest to give this movie a cool, slick feel, but overall, can’t overcome all of the issues that the script has going on. While he gets a lot of play out having his movie shot on location in Hong Kong, the shame about this all is that he hardly gets a chance to use it to its fullest extent. Sure, there’s a few chase scenes through fish markets and narrow, over-crowded streets, but really, these scenes aren’t ever around as much to make an impression.

In all honesty, we just have to sit around and watch as these characters piss and mope about whatever problems they have and, you know, it’s nothing to ever care much about.

Which is to say that yes, despite the script thrown at them, everyone in the cast seems to be trying. Chris Evans, pre-Cap, was still trying to find his feet in Hollywood and not be type-cast as “a poor man’s Ryan Reynolds” and though he tries to inject his character that winning personality and charm of his, it doesn’t help. That’s nothing against him, though – it’s more that Nick Gant, the character, is way too bland and boring to ever register as a strong protagonist that we get behind and cheer on until the very end. We just sort of watch him move things every so often, then cry, and that’s it.

Oh well. Chris Evans is doing better things now, thankfully.

Together, they're not scary. Like at all.

Together, they’re not scary. Like at all.

Dakota Fanning gets to play an against-type role as a cranky smart-ass who can see the future and despite her seeming like she’s having a good time with it, it’s a terribly annoying role that just goes on and on without ever ceasing. She’s not funny, over-bearing and if anything, ruins just about ever scene she’s in; which, in something already as dreary as this, is definitely saying a whole lot. None of this is against Fanning, because she’s clearly on-board with this character, but the movie itself thinks she’s so hilarious, that they keep her going with the wisecracks and none of them ever conjur up a chuckle or two. Instead, it’s just sighs. And then, the always bland Camilla Belle shows up, hardly do anything; Djimon Hounsou shows up and tries to be scary, but never does; and Ming-Na Wen is, yet again, another worker who can feel happy that she’s apart of the Marvel universe.

But regardless of these performances, the true problem of Push lies with its screenplay. Writer David Bourla never seems to make sense of anything that’s happening and doesn’t even seem interested; he’d much rather try to distract us with random scenes of action and mutant-like things that, because we’re never fully explained on where they came from or what they’re capable of, are random. Bourla also tries to dive in deep into what all of the mytholgy surrounding these characters mean, and really, it never goes anywhere. All we know is that the government was up to some shady dealings and now, they want their product back. 

Or something.

Seriously, I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell this movie meant and why it went, where it went. But instead of focusing on it even more than I need to and wasting more of my precious time, I’m just going to say that, yeah, Push blows.

That’s it.

Consensus: Despite some fun and flash to be found, Push is a mostly dull affair, without much understanding of what’s happening, nor anything happening of actual interest.

2.5 / 10

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what's best for you!

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what’s best for you!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Gangster No. 1 (2000)

All gangsters are cool. Even the crazy ones.

Malcolm McDowell plays an unnamed Gangster who, through him, we’re being told this story. He finds out that his mentor, Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) is finally getting released from prison. This is when we’re brought back to the year, 1969, where he tells us the story of when he was a young gangster (Paul Bettany) and practically climbed through the ranks of the British mafia.

It seems like whenever a gangster flick comes out, they’re always unnecessarily compared to other, sometimes better gangster flicks that came before them. For instance, if one has a bit of humor in it, it’s often considered a rip-off of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Or, if one is quick-as-lightning, it can be sometimes looked as a carbon copy of Goodfellas; and if there’s a flick that’s takes its time, and prefers more of the slow-burn approach, it’s then compared to the Godfather, no matter what. Basically, gangster flicks have it tough and it’s only made worse by the fact that it’s getting a whole lot harder to tell these kinds of stories in fun and fresh ways.

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

But what about a gangster flick that’s more like American Psycho?

Now, that’s something new, which is why Gangster No. 1 is a pleasant surprise.

Director Paul McGuigan deserves credit here because he doesn’t try to be like any other types of gangster flicks out there, nor does he over-do anything, either. There’s no hip soundtrack, nor are there any bits of wit to break-up the tension when things get too serious; it’s very straight-forward gangster movie. However, it is, in no way, a boring or conventional one; it’s a surprisingly ruthless piece that, once it gets going, starts spinning faster and faster, only until that wheel eventually breaks loose and becomes a wild ride where you have no idea where it’s going to end up and how. The story may not be as unpredictable as I may make it sound, but what really makes this film tick is the style (or lack thereof) of the violence in this film that no matter how gruesome or tense it got, it keeps you glued.

One scene in particular that stays clear in my mind is the one where “the Gangster”, finds a rival mob-boss, and slowly tortures him. Heard it done before? Of course, but there’s a surprising twist with it: It’s told in the victim’s view-point. It may sound gimmicky, but surprisingly it’s effective as every little piece of pain that gets inflicted onto him, almost feels like it’s getting inflicted onto us. The blood for that scene just shoots out everywhere, the camera is constantly moving rapidly, but yet, still stays on the violence happening, and there’s even a nice little pop tune playing in the back to remind us just how more sinister this piece of torture truly is. Anytime you have pop song in your violent movie, always make sure to play it during the most violent scene.

Always ironic. Always awesome.

And while that was just one scene in particular, the rest of the movie works because McGuigan doesn’t seem to try too hard to make this separate itself from the plenty other gangster flicks out there.

But if there was something here that bothered me, it was the narration from Malcolm McDowell, that honestly, was heard one too many times. At first, it didn’t seem like much of a problem because it placed us in the story and setting, but after awhile, it just became over-bearing and pointless to where it just seemed like half of the stuff he said was profanity. He even goes as far as to describe one scene while it was happening and it just seemed like over-kill and probably could have been done a lot better without really having to explain the needless things. Then again, they were probably just trying to put us in the mind of a psycho killer, which honestly, we kind of get the drift of after the first ten or so minutes.

Gangsters? Or Wanksters?

Gangsters? Or Wankers?

And before I forget to mention it, why the hell did everybody look the same with some nice make-up on after the 30 years, but Paul Bettany completely changes into McDowell. Everybody in this cast gets some fake, gray hair, a couple of wrinkles in their skin, and a very fragile voice, but the main Gangster is the only guy that gets fatter, has a bigger head, has a terrible five-o’-clock shadow, and is still yelling, pissing, and screamin’ all of these years later. Maybe people don’t change after 30 years and still stay their same old, crazy selves, but it seemed a bit unbelievable to me that after 30 years, these people would all still look and act the same, as well as holding the same, old grudges they held before.

Maybe I’m just not a true gangster.

Though it may not sound like I was happy with him doing anything here, McDowell is still quite solid in this role as the aging, but still vicious gangster. It’s obvious that they placed him in the role of an older, and much more crazier psycho (*cough cough* A Clockwork Orange *cough cough*), but he kicks ass with the role still and made me laugh whenever he seemed like he just felt like dropping the C-word for no good reason at all.

But it’s Paul Bettany, playing the younger version of him, who steals the whole show. Bettany has a lot to work with here because he gets to show a lot of evil and dark aspects to this guy, while also showing a lot what makes us love him so much in the first place. However, a lot of that lovely shite he usually has in those other flicks, isn’t as showy here and we get to see what he can do whenever he gets angry and just feels like gutting somebody up into little pieces. We’re never made to feel sympathy for this cat, which works; he’s not asking for that and that’s what makes him so much more bad-ass. Now, will somebody please give Paul Bettany one more leading role and just act like Priest doesn’t even exist.

Consensus: Without trying to be too flashy or shiny, Gangster No. 1 is still an effective, surprisingly fun gangster flick that puts us inside the mind of a psycho killer, and allows for Paul Bettany to work wonders with the meaty role as said psycho killer.

7.5 / 10 

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Photos Courtesy of: Nick Tentis, Film4, Mubi 

Brooklyn (2015)

If Jay-Z raps about it, you know it’s a pretty cool place.

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl from Ireland who’s getting a bit tired of the mundane life she’s currently living. She has a nice job, and gets along with her sister and mother just fine, but doesn’t know what’s really keeping her. That’s why, when she hears about a boat leaving for the U.S., Eilis gets hops aboard, and heads for Brooklyn, New York. While she’s initially homesick and scared, Eilis begins to get used to the way New York is and all of the promise it holds for her. Not only does she have a cashier job at a fancy store, she’s also caught the eye of a local Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). Though Eilis isn’t quite experienced with boys, she decides to give Tony a chance anyway and eventually, the two start to hit it off; despite their two very different backgrounds, they still find ways to connect and make each other happy. However, a situation at home forces Eilis to come back to Ireland, which then makes her reconsider what she’s been doing with her life and leave her to wonder whether or not she wants to stay home, or go back to Brooklyn, where anything and everything is possible?

Is this love?

Is this love?

Nick Hornby is one of my favorite writers of all time. Most of his stories are humorous takes on life, but never do they ever feel as if they’re getting too ahead of themselves, or bordering on “parody”. If anything, they feel like honest-to-God, understandable tales told from the perspectives of people who, quite frankly, are a lot like you or I. They’re not these extremely lovable, likable, or attractive people in these larger-than-life predicaments – most of the time, they’re just average people living life as well as they can.

It sounds so damn ordinary, but that’s actually the kind of beauty behind Hornby’s writing.

That’s why Brooklyn, another piece written by Hornby, feels like it couldn’t have been written by anybody else; it’s funny, poignant, relateable, and most of all, sweet. Hornby has, and probably always will, continue to keep on telling coming-of-agers till the day he can’t write anymore, which is fine with me; none of them ever show signs of slowing down, nor do they show a writer who has clearly lost track of time. Which is why it’s quite shocking to realize just how good Brooklyn is, and just how much it feels like a Nick Hornby movie.

For better, as well as, maybe, for worse, no character here is presented as a terrible specimen, nor are they treated as later-day saints. Mostly everybody in this flick are normal, everyday folk that you’d probably meet on the street, have a talk or two with, and leave, not quite remembering anything special about them, but at least remembering that a conversation did in fact take place. Once again, I know that all of this sounds incredibly mundane, but for some reason, in the hands of Hornby, it feels like so much more. And most of that, of course, has to do with the fact that we’ve got, yet again, another very strong protagonist from Hornby who, like all the rest, feels like a real person and not just a made-up type Hollywood execs like to think are real.

What’s perhaps the most interesting element about Eilis, as well as Saoirse Ronan’s performance, is how that, no matter how many twists, turns and absolute surprises her life takes, she always stays believable. Because this is a female character in the lead role, it would be easy to have the film be all about her just trying to choose between what mate she wants in her life, which one she doesn’t, and leaving it all at that. However, Hornby and director John Crowley are smarter people than that and know that Eilis doesn’t just need men in her life to make herself happy or survive; they’re certainly a nice acquirement, but they are, in no way, shape, or fashion, the reasons for living.

All Eilis needs, is her own smarts, independence, and most of all, need to want to make those in her life happy.

But the movie never tries to lionize her, or anybody else surrounding her. There’s quite a few characters, like Emory Cohen’s Tony, who feel like they could have easily been one-dimensional caricatures, but instead, go a bit deeper than that. As Tony, Cohen gets to blend both sides of this character’s persona; there’s the strong, meat-head Brando-type, while on the other side, there’s the sweeter, more romantic type that’s all about getting married and starting a family with whoever catches his heart first. Cohen’s great in this role and the chemistry he and Ronan share, despite the romance itself may coming on a bit too quick, still feels genuine enough that it gives us something to wish and hope for by the end.

Or, is this?

Or, is this?

And not to mention that, yes, Ronan’s great in this role. Ever since she’s grown-up a bit more, Ronan hasn’t quite had the best movies to work with; though she’s had plenty of roles to stretch herself and make us forget that she was that little girl from Atonement, the movies themselves have always, well, underwhelmed. However, as Eilis, Ronan gets the perfect opportunity to not only make us adore the hell out of her, but also view her as a full-on, smart-thinking, and understanding grown-up who has an idea of what she wants in life and is going about figuring that all out for the time being. Ronan’s got this bright beauty to her that makes it hard for the camera to turn away, and even harder for us to not pay attention to her.

Basically, I can’t wait to see what else is coming up for Ronan in the near-future.

But like I said about Brooklyn – it’s everything you expect from a movie penned by Nick Hornby. It’s not just, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious, but also quite insightful about certain aspects of life like family, love, marriage, and perhaps, most importantly, finding yourself in one location. With recent events, it’s nice to see a flick that not only shows the type of inspirational promise that America, at one point, promised for the whole outside world, but in ways, still does to this very day. People who wanted to start anew, or find themselves, were able to, just by hopping on a boat, train, or plane, and come straight to America. In all honesty, that’s what this country was made from and it’s lovely to get a little reminder that, regardless of what one may read, there’s still plenty of promise within America.

Like love. Like work. And basically, just life itself.

Consensus: Funny, honest, and best of all, heartfelt, Brooklyn is a tremendous coming-of-ager that gives a glimpse into one young woman’s life, without ever trying too hard to get in the way of it and instead, just allow for her to tell her own story, the way it was meant to be told.

8.5 / 10


Aw, who cares! You just do your thing, Saoirse!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

Another YA adaptation down, plenty more to go.

After she was attacked by a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katnis Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is fed up and ready to take action against President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Meaning, that it’s time for war to get going and it’s going to be Katnis the one spearheading it. And once again, it becomes clear that a lot of what Katnis does or says, is all planned out from the beginning with Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) constantly working behind the scenes, testing and working with every maneuver Katnis takes. Regardless though, there is a war to be fought, which leads Katnis, as well as the rest of her trusted soldiers for the cause, to head straight to District 2 and then the Capitol itself for one last fight to take down Snow and his tyrannical reign. However, as expected, Snow is more than up to the task of taking on this band of soldiers, while also proving that he may be the more powerful force after all. But there’s also something else that’s a bit fishy about this situation and it has less to do with Snow, as much as it may have to do with those that Katnis aligns herself with in the first place.

Will miss him.

Will miss him.

Finally, after three years, four movies, and plenty of money, the Hunger Games film franchise is coming to an end. In ways, it’s kind of bittersweet; while none of the films have ever astounded me, they’ve been plenty better than all those other young adult novel adaptations that come out every few months or so. Granted, considering the company that’s kept in that genre, that may not be saying much, but still, it’s worth noting that each and everyone of these movies have all done some neat, interesting things with a plot and source material that could have easily been the most melodramatic, boring piece of crud since Bella and Edward started hookin’ up in the forest.

Still, what makes the Hunger Games, the franchise, so special, is that it’s the kind of YA adaptation that plenty of people can actually enjoy. Of course, the target audience for this will continue to devour and adore it until the day they die, but so many other people, who may not think that this is “their thing”, may find something to be interested by here. There’s the romance for all the screaming fan-girls in the crowd; there’s the violence for the boyfriends who get dragged to them; there’s the high-production values for the film-fanatics; and most importantly, there’s political messages and ideas for those who still believe that we’re being spied on by the government, at this very second.

They’re not wrong, but still.

And with Mockingjay – Part 2, it really does feel like, not just the end, but the greatest hits of what this story had to offer, but seemed to lose sight of over the past two movies. All of the elements that have made the past films work, are still here, but now, there’s so much more emotion, so much more power, and most of all, so much more feeling that has you realize, “Holy hell. This truly is the last time we may ever see these characters on the screen again.” It’s definitely the same feeling everyone had watching Deathly Hallows – Part 2, as well as most other finales, but here, it feels done just right.

There’s a greater deal of suspense and tension in the air, which definitely helps this movie out. Though I haven’t read any of the books (I actually tried and then I picked up a copy of the Corrections and the rest is, as they say, history), it’s pretty simple and easy to predict just who’s going to survive by the end of the movies, and who is going to bite the dust. Here, however, because this is the last movie, there’s a sense in the air that we don’t know who’s going to live, who’s going to die, and just who’s life is going to be completely ruined forever.

Even way after the credits end.

This is all some incredibly grim and bleak stuff that the movie’s dealing with, but it all surprisingly works with the rest of the tone. Everything before Katnis and her fellow soldiers get out onto the war-field, everything’s slow, meandering and plodding, to say the least; in fact, it had me worried that we were just getting left-over scenes from Part 1, which, in and of itself, was already a pretty lame movie, so why would I want to be reminded of it? But after all of the emotions are exchanged, the guns start coming out, explosions start happening, and characters, well-developed or not, believe it or not, start dropping like flies. There’s characters you may expect to perish, whereas there may be some you don’t – either way, it’s hard not to watch when these characters are all getting themselves into more and more dangerous situations as they parade along to find and kill Snow.

Will kind of, sort of, maybe miss him.

Will kind of, sort of, maybe miss him.

It’s all action-packed, of course, but it’s also incredibly compelling that makes you feel something for these characters probably more so than before. Katnis is, as usual, a bad-ass, but here, we really do get a chance to see her true personality, heart and soul shine; so much has been made in the past two movies where Katnis is, basically, just an image and nothing else. However, with her fourth-outing as Katnis, Jennifer Lawrence shows that she’s still able to find some new ways to breath fresh life into this character. Does she seem a bit bored? Yeah.

But I guess that’s what happens when you’re the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.

And everybody else is fine, too. The ensemble here is so stacked by now that, honestly, it feels like a shame they aren’t all given monologues to deliver and run rampant with, but so be it. In any other film, this cast would have absolutely made any movie a near-masterpiece, but because this is a Hunger Games movie, it’s less about them, and more about the spectacle.

Which, like I’ve said before, isn’t a bad thing. These movies, especially this one, have all done great jobs at balancing-out all the different aspects it takes to make this story interesting to watch and think about. The last-half of this movie definitely deals with that in a smart, but nearly shocking way that’s sure to surprise a whole lot of people who don’t know what to expect. But still, it works because the world that this movie has created, right from the very get-go, is one that may look all bright and shiny from the outside, but once you dig a bit deeper, is downright sadistic and disturbing. Such is the case with the real world, too, I guess.

But hey, we’ll miss you Katnis.

*Whistle-salute sound*

Consensus: Surprisingly grim, exciting and most of all, emotional, Mockingjay – Part 2 isn’t just the final installment of the franchise, but also the best one, proving just what sorts of wonders it was able to work, despite the target audience and what’s generally expected of stories such as these.

8 / 10

And, oh yeah. Will totes miss her.

And, oh yeah. Will totes miss her.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

I’m Not There (2007)

Wow. Bob Dylan did more than just go electric.

I’m Not There is, basically, a movie about the many exciting, weird and crazy lives that Bob Dylan has lived throughout his lifetime. However, rather than following the traditional, biopic-structure of keeping it with one actor, all the time, the movie switches things up in having these characters take on different life-forms, with different actors, even though they’re all, you know, playing Bob Dylan. There’s a boy who roams the streets, with his guitar and playing anywhere they’ll allow him to, while all going under the name of Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) even though, he clearly isn’t who he says he is. There’s folk-singer Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) who was, at one point, the hip, new thing in music but has a spiritual awakening one day and realizes that he wants to do more with his life than just rock out. There’s Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), another hip, young star in the world of entertainment who has a loving marriage to a French gal (Charlotte Gainsbourg), that soon starts to go sour once he begins to flirt with other ladies. There’s Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), yet again, another hip, young musician who decides to get rid of his old ways and “go electric”, which leads all of her friends, family and fans to go crazy and reconsider their love for her. There’s Billy McCarty (Richard Gere), someone who may or may not have a rocky past to hide.

Not Dylan.

Not Dylan.

And through it all, there’s Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) – a dude who’s here to just say weird, cryptic things

It’s noble what Haynes is trying to do here with the story of Bob Dylan; rather than keeping things on a simple, narrow-path that we’ve all seen a hundred times in plenty of other rock biopics, he decides to have it be a whole bunch of different story-lines, at one time, with different actors, but seemingly still playing the same character. It may sound confusing on paper, but surprisingly, it’s relatively easy-to-follow when watching the movie. Right away, the movie makes it a point to remind you that you’re watching actors all play Bob Dylan, and while they may not necessarily actually be named “Bob Dylan”, they’re still different times in the life of Bob Dylan.

Once again, it’s easy to get once you see it all play out, regardless of how weird I may be making it sound.

That doesn’t make it anymore interesting, but hey, at least it’s a noble effort on Haynes’ part for trying to shake things up a bit with a genre that seems too comfortable.

One of the main issues that surrounds I’m Not There, is that nobody’s story is ever really all that interesting to watch or see play-out. While, once again, we know they’re all different versions of snippets of Dylan’s life, none of whom ever really stand-out as taking over the movie and making us want to see them the most. Usually, that’s the kind of issues these large ensemble pieces have – while some stories may be okay, there tends to be the one that takes over everything else and leave you excited for whenever that comes around again. Here though, nobody ever makes you feel that.

Instead, you’re watching a bunch of surprisingly boring characters, mope around, deal with issues that we don’t care about and quite frankly, have all seen before, biopic or no biopic. There are certain bits of style that Haynes tries to work with here to cover up some of the rough patches, but mostly, it seems like what he has to work with here doesn’t really go anywhere all that surprising, or at all interesting. Granted, most of us already know about the life of Bob Dylan, and whether you don’t or not, it doesn’t matter, because the movie doesn’t seem all that interested in telling you much about him, either.

All it really cares about is the music he made, which granted, is fine.

Not Guthrie.

Not Guthrie.

Bob Dylan is one of the greatest musicians of all-time. His music will forever continue to stand the test of time and while some of those out there may have issue with his voice, and the fact that, well he can’t actually sing anything at all, it almost doesn’t matter. The fact is, the man has created some great music and it’s on full-blast in I’m Not There. Which honestly, helps the movie out a whole lot more; it’s surprising just how well any song Bob Dylan goes with a montage, regardless of what may be in the montage or not.

So if Haynes was trying to make this as some sort of tribute to Bob Dylan, the musician, then he did a solid job. At the same time though, he doesn’t really go anywhere else with it, other than that. This isn’t to say that nobody in the cast seems to be trying, either, because they all do. But, for the most part, they all seem like they’re really trying to dig harder and deeper into these characters and give us more than just what’s being presented on the surface.

One in particular, of course, is Cate Blanchett’s nearly unrecognizable performance as Jude Quinn. While it’s easy to assume that it’s just Blanchett doing an impersonation of the young and brash Dylan (what with the iconic wig, sunglasses, jacket, and all), she actually goes a bit further and show that there truly was a tortured soul at the middle of it all. Though it was easy to just assume that he had it all coming to him, there’s still a nice bit of sympathy that’s easy to feel for this character. It’s less of a gimmick role, and much more of, yet again, another chance for Blanchett to run circles around everyone else in the movie.

Which honestly, I’ll watch any day of the week.

In fact, give me that whole subplot/movie with just Blanchett. I’m fine.

Consensus: Todd Haynes deserves credit for trying something different with I’m Not There, but overall, seems to not have the right idea of what to say about the life of Bob Dylan, or at least, present it in a manner that’s intriguing to those who may not already know enough about him to begin with. But hey, good thing they paid for them royalties!

5 / 10

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Comingsoon.net

Safe (1995)

It’s like Bubble Boy. Without a bubble. Or a boy.

Carol White (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty carefree, unexciting life in California with her husband (Xander Berkeley) and stepson. The solid majority of her days consist of finding out which couches’ colors work best with living rooms and figuring out which diet to go on. So, yeah, basically, Carol has nothing to worry about. That all changes one day, however, when she starts to wheeze uncontrollably; though she goes to the doctor to get everything checked out, it turns out that there’s nothing really wrong with her. However, Carol isn’t fully convinced of this, so she looks into the matter herself, and the result she finds out is a bit unexpected, if random. For one, it seems that Carol is allergic to the 20th Century; meaning, there are certain chemicals, gases and irritants that get into her system, make her sick and have her lose control of her breathing. While everyone around Carol thinks that she’s losing her mind and/or is just looking for attention, she herself still knows that her condition is real and wants to find anything that can help her get better and possibly be cured. But where she goes to find these solutions, don’t always pan-out so well.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Todd Haynes doesn’t necessarily direct Safe, as much as he just guides it on along. There’s a very simple story here that, in Haynes’ own, no-frills way, doesn’t ever try to dig too deep into; instead, he just allows for it to be told as straight-forward as possible. However, by doing so, there’s something off about Safe that makes it a movie worth thinking a whole lot about; while it would be easy to classify it as a boring, incredibly slow disease-of-the-week flick, there’s so much more going on in between the folds and lines that make it seem like so much more.

In a way, you could classify Safe as “a thriller”, but at the same time, you couldn’t – while the movie definitely has all of the tension and unpredictability of a thriller, Haynes isn’t really depending on that to tell his story. Sure, the synth-inspired score is eerie to a fault, but despite it, the rest of the movie seems to just be focusing on what happens to Carol next – whether or not it excites you, is generally just up to you and what gets you going. For me, watching this story unfold, before my very own eyes, and to know that Haynes wasn’t trying to be at all pretentious with his style, kept me wide awake and watching.

Granted, I had no clue where the story was going, but that wasn’t the point.

The point of Safe, from what I can gather, is to depict the alienation one woman can feel when she is on the brink of extreme madness and everyone around her knows it. While Carol is, initially, a pretty dull character who doesn’t really have much of a personality, through this disease that she “catches”, we begin to see her develop more and more. We witness and understand the sadness, as well as the shock that she goes through her when she starts to realize that, due to all of these excessive bouts of sickness, she’s starting to lose those around her that she considers loved-ones and friends. What’s perhaps most interesting about Haynes’ direction here, is that he not only doesn’t give us much about Carol, but also doesn’t give us anymore to know about these fellow characters surrounding her, either – they are, in retrospect, just as much of a mystery to us, as they may be to Carol.

And as Carol, it’s definitely worth stating that, as expected, Julianne Moore is great, but it’s a relatively different role for her. For one, it’s not very showy; rather than getting a plethora of scenes dedicated to where she just constantly yells, rants and raves about her disease and the issues she’s having with it, Carol is much more subdued and written-down, which probably works best for her, in all honesty. It’s best that Carol, the character, doesn’t need to spell everything out for us to get the clear picture that yes, she’s feeling terrible and most of all, not doing so well in life.

But because Moore is such a good actress, she channels all of these emotions of sadness and despair in such a way that, despite us not really knowing much about Carol apart from her disease she’s been struck with, it’s hard not to feel a little heartbroken because of it. Moore lost a bunch of weight for this role and because of that, you get the sense that Carol could literally pass-out or fly away at any second; she’s clearly not in the right head-space to enjoy anything about life, so why would she actually continue to keep up with her original diet? But gimmicks aside and all, Moore is superb here and it’s no surprise why she decided to work with Haynes again on Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, as the two seem to bring out the best within one another.

While I’m on the subject of Carol, though, I do think that now is the best opportunity to discuss a problem I found with Safe that kept me away from actually loving it a whole lot more than I should have, and it was its discussion of the disease itself.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do. Except Netflix, of course.

You know, the one where you’re literally allergic to everything surrounding you.

Believe it or not, it’s actually a real disease, which is why it’s so interesting to see someone, let alone, a person like Carol, go through it all and come to grips with all of the side effects of the said disease. What’s perhaps most interesting about is the discussion that Haynes seems to bring up with the disease: Is Carol really sick? Or, is she just another lonely housewife looking for attention? And also, even if the disease is real, does it take physical-form that carries on from one body to another? Or, does it all exist in somebody’s head and the only way for a person to get rid of the disease is to make themselves feel better and more sane?

I’m honestly still battling with myself just what party Haynes sticks with and it’s actually a bit disappointing. In the later-half of the movie, Haynes dives in deep into the idea of therapy as rehabilitation and it’s not only interesting, but also quite smart. However, he seems to just leave it there for us, the audience, to pick up on and it feels like a bit of a cheat. It’s almost as if Haynes himself seemed like he had something to say about this disease, but knew that he’d piss some people off by doing so, so instead, just allowed for it all to play-out as normal as humanly possible. Once again, have no problem with this, but I would have definitely liked to seen more about the disease and what it actually is.

Especially considering that, you know, when’s the next time someone’s going to make a movie about a person with MCS.

Consensus: Anchored by an amazing performance, but never over-done performance from Julianne Moore, Safe feels like the kind of real-life thriller that’s intriguing to watch and dissect, even if there are certain style-contrivances holding it back from reaching that pure level of excellence.

8 / 10

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Boy A (2007)

Boyposter“Let the past, be the past”, is something nobody actually does.

After spending many years in the slammer for a crime he and his lad committed when they were boys, Jack (Andrew Garfield) is finally now out and ready for the real world. That’s why he decides to take up this new name, identity, and start somewhere he hasn’t before. This leaves him to take up a job as a deliveryman, where he not only makes friends, but also possible love-mates. While his social skills are definitely not as up-to-par as they should be, Jack still gets by on trying to fit in, regardless of the social situation. When he’s out at clubs, he drinks a lot and does crazy drugs, when he’s with his girlfriend (Katie Lyons), he’s awkward, but also kind of horny, too. But as much as Jack wants to leave everything he did in the past, exactly there, it still finds its way of coming back to bite him in the rear-end and ruin the great life that he’s been having thus far. This is something that Jack isn’t just afraid may actually happen, but also has him terrified of what he may actually do, once the information of his past becomes known to his newly-made friends.

Does he even age?

Does he even age?

Boy A is the kind of movie that, despite its small scale, still works with the big emotions that can either make, or totally break, dramas such as these. However, what works so well for Boy A, is that it takes its relatively familiar-premise and gives it some fresh new life by just having us interested in this guy’s life, right from the very start. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe both do a brilliant job of giving us just enough information of this Jack guy, to get a clear picture of him; while we know that he did something heinous and nearly unforgivable when he was younger, we’re never outright told right away. Instead, we’re left to watch him as he tries to live his life and, in the meantime, experience everything grand that life has to offer, for the first time.

And this is all interesting because Jack himself, is an compelling fellow that’s never too easy to pin-down; we get the sense that he’s a genuinely nice kid, but due to his checkered-past, as well as his incarceration and need for it to stay under-wraps, there’s still an odd feeling about him. We see Jack live life, have fun, make friends, and be as happy as one can be when life is as simple as this, but by the same token, we also see him struggle with trying to make amends for what he did when he was younger, as well as trying to make sure that fact never, ever gets out. Of course, there’s a great deal of mystery surrounding what Jack does – there are countless flashbacks to his childhood – but they never feel unnecessary and just a way to take up more time.

In fact, they tell us more about Jack himself.

But really, what element makes Jack work the most is Andrew Garfield who, in a very early role of his, shows us the type of promise he showed before he got stuck playing Spidey. As Jack, Garfield plays these two sides quite well; he’s sweet and earnest as all hell, but he’s also quite scary to watch whenever it seems like he seems like he may be losing his cool. Through it all though, we feel for Jack and want him to actually be happy. Sure, his crime is almost unforgivable, but that’s why this performance, as well as the movie is so well-done.

There’s actually a case to be made here for getting past what someone did many, many years ago. As Jack, Garfield shows that while those scars may never ever heal, they’ll still be covered-up just enough so that one can move on with their life and remember the better things that make people happy to be alive. That’s why, although it is funny to watch as Jack does such things as initiate sex with his girlfriend, as well as get totally wasted at a club, it’s also quite endearing as well. He’s like a little kid, seeing the bright and beautiful things the world can offer.

Which is why when the harsh realities of the world come crashing down on him, it’s heartbreakingly tragic.

"Don't play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope."

“Don’t play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope.”

While I won’t get into too much of what occurs during the final-act, I’ll just say that the movie becomes very dark, serious and upsetting, which sometimes, and other times, doesn’t. For one, Boy A gets awfully melodramatic, which isn’t something I thought it could get. While the first two-halves of this are, for the most part, like a thoughtful, but precise character-study, the last half is, as much as it pains me to say, almost like a soap opera. Not to mention that, sadly, it ends on a cliff-hanger that feels completely random and a bit of a cheat. This is why, despite all the greatness within Boy A, it’s hard for me to run to the highest mountain, praising my love and adoration for it.

But still though, I always come back to the performance. Not just Garfield’s, though, as Peter Mullan, who plays Jack’s mentor, as well as his sort-of parole officer, is especially great to watch. There’s a certain degree of heart and pleasantness to this character that, honestly, Mullan doesn’t always get to play with. Don’t get me wrong, nobody does slime quite like Mullan, but it’s also neat to see him play somebody that not only has a conscience, but a very nice one, at that.

Like I said before, though, it’s Garfield’s show the whole way through. That’s why, with 99 Homes already out and about, and with upcoming Martin Scorsese’s Silence, it’s exciting to see Garfield back to his more dramatic-roots, giving us more and more showings of just what kind of talent he actually is. While it’s always been there throughout his whole career, he’s finally going back to it, But if people ever feel like they want to know what the hell I’m going on about, just watch Boy A.

You’ll be surprised, as well as happy.

Consensus: Boy A may have a bit of an odd ending, but features an amazing performance from Andrew Garfield, as well as an interesting look at the life of someone we may not always understand, but see live his life. Heartbreak, happiness and all.

8 / 10

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Photos Courtesy of: Vagabond’s Movie Screenshots, Indiewire, Masculinity Movies

A Knight’s Tale (2001)

KnightposterSir Lancelot always did prefer AC/DC.

Ever since he was a little boy, William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) has always wanted to be a knight and make something of his life. That’s why, when his master dies, William steps up to the plate and takes over his command; while this is obviously illegal to do, he’s going to get by on a phony name, as well as a certain type of skill in jousting. And after his first few matches, William, along with his fellow squire buddies (Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk), get the idea that maybe it’s time to take this career a little more serious. After all, they’re gaining so much fame and fortune, that why should they even bother to stop? And now it seems like William has caught the eye of a princess (Shannyn Sossamon) who shares quite the chemistry with him. However, in the eyes of the man she’s supposed to get married to (Rufus Sewell), this is clearly not something good, which means that he will take whatever steps necessary into not just defeating William on the jousting-field, but off it, too. This is where William’s past comes to light and has him wondering whether or not his father would be proud of what he’s become.

Don't mess with these folks. I guess.

Don’t mess with these folks. I guess.

The whole gimmick surrounding A Knight’s Tale is that, yes, it’s a medieval story taking place in the 1400s, which also happens to feature characters speaking in modern dialects, references to modern-day culture, and, perhaps most infamously, a whole ton of rock music. In fact, if one were to go into this movie, not knowing absolutely anything at all, they’d probably be shocked to all hell; once these medieval characters start suiting up and, randomly, War’s “Low Rider” begins to play, it seems so random and completely out of nowhere, that you can’t believe it’s actually happening. Is it a bad idea?

Well, given the context of this movie – not really.

What works best about A Knight’s Tale isn’t just that it features rock music to push itself further away from the rest of the medieval action sub-genre, but also seems to exist in its own goofy universe. Writer/director Brian Helgeland has a nice understanding of what sort of humor works in a movie like this, and it was a nice change of pace to get a medieval action movie that wasn’t always so serious, all of the time. Instead, it had humor, cookiness, and above all else, rock music!

And honestly, the first hour or so of A Knight’s Tale is where it’s probably where it’s most promising. The movie takes its time with its story, allows us to get a fine understanding of these sometimes silly characters, and for the most part, doesn’t take itself all that seriously. While Helgeland doesn’t ask the audience of too much, he still does a nice job in giving plenty of joy to the two types of audience members out there who would see this movie – there’s, of course, the popcorn-friendly members who care about lots and lots action, while on the other hand, there’s also those more sophisticated types who appreciate when a fine joke or two is worked into a scene. In a way, there’s a little something for everyone here and it was nice to see a blending as odd as this, actually work out well.

But then, about half-way through, A Knight’s Tale changes up its tune.

For one, it loses any sort of focus on what made it so exciting and enjoyable to watch in the first place: Its keen sense of humor. Are there still some funny jokes placed in throughout the rest of the flick? Sure, but they come so very few and far between, that it almost seems like Helgeland ran out of funny material to work with. So, much rather, instead, he decided to focus more on our protagonist’s childhood and his soon-to-be-love-life; neither of which are actually interesting, but I guess because, after all, this is his movie, we’re forced to sit through and watch his life unfold before our very eyes.

One element that helps, though, is that William Thatcher, our main protagonist, is played the late, but definitely great Heath Ledger who, even after all of these years, had that certain aura about him that’s hard to really deliver back on. For one, he was a great-looking guy that clearly got the ladies’ and gay men’s butts in the seat, but there was more to him than just the good looks. Ledger also wasn’t afraid to make himself seem like the butt of the joke in certain scenes, nor was he afraid to show off his fun and adventurous side, even if that meant he didn’t always get the chance to look as manly and as tough as some producers probably would have liked for him to be. Either way, it’s still a fine performance from Ledger and reminds us all why he was so great to begin with, but even looking back at it now, it does feel like a bit of a mediocre role to work with.

Then again, Ledger, as always, makes it work.

Alright. Going back to closing my eyes again.

Alright. Going back to closing my eyes again.

Gosh. How I miss him so.

And as for the rest of the cast, they’re all lovely and enjoyable to watch, but like I said, the movie starts to fall for convention and lose focus about half-way through, and it leaves most of these members with much to fully work with. Shannyn Sossamon’s princess character is a bit different from the rest, in that she’s actually equipped with something of a personality and seems to share actual, loving chemistry with Ledger; Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk do that Abbott & Costello act quite well here; Paul Bettany is charming here, as usual, playing the author who knows how to make anything mundane, sound terribly exciting; Rufus Sewell is, once again, playing the baddie; and there’s also an early performance from Bérénice Bejo, as the princess’ right-hand girl. Even though she doesn’t have a whole lot to do, it’s still nice to see where her career got started. And in some ways, a whole lot more interesting, too, considering that she’s been nominated for an Oscar in the subsequent years and most of the members of this cast haven’t at all.

Except for Heath. Of course.

Consensus: Though the anachronisms are fun and add a bit of sizzle to a relatively lifeless subgenre, A Knight’s Tale begins to fall into the same old trappings of a sports movie plot. Except, this time, it’s jousting we’re talking about here.

6 / 10

What a man.

What a man.

Photos Courtesy of: Upside Down MoviesAntonia Tejeda Barros, Mettel Ray

The 33 (2015)

Above ground is cool with me.

In August 2010, 33 Chilean miners, most of whom, were down-on-their-luck and needed the money the job provided, began work in the San José mine. Despite there being warning signs that the mine may not be all that stable and may, sooner than later, come toppling down, the owner of the mine turns his head the other and demands that work be done. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The mine ends up collapsing, leaving all 33 miners trapped and without any contact with the outside, or all that much food and/or water to keep them alive, well, and for the most part, sane. The miners’ families are all grief-stricken and want answers immediately; the same kind of answers that the shady mining company, aren’t willing to provide. Instead, everyone has to rely on the power, strength, and influence of the government who, through Minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), decide to get the ball rolling on having a drill blast through the mine, to get the miners out and back with their families. However, while all of this is going on, the miners are starting to lose all sorts of hope and sanity, which, as expected, tends to lead to some very tense, albeit dangerous situations.

Never too late to turn back around, fellas.

Never too late to turn back around, fellas.

It’s very difficult to dislike a movie like the 33 because, like so many other flicks, has its heart in the right place. It seems to be telling this true tale as a dedication to those brave souls who stand up against all the odds stacked against them and persevere. In this case, the 2010 Chilean mining disaster is the true tale recreated for sentimental value and honestly, if you have no clue what happened, to whom or anything about it all, then you may walk away from the 33 learning something new about life and feeling fine with your day.

However, if you, like myself, were there watching the news to see everything play out then honestly, it’s all going to be a pretty tepid recreation of events that were a whole lot more emotional to watch on actual, live television.

Except this time, everyone’s speaking in English.

Why? Well, because it’s clear that the people behind the 33 knew beforehand that people weren’t going to head to see the movie, had it all been in Spanish. So instead of actually sticking to the natural dialect that mostly all of these people here would be speaking, the movie calls on all of its actors, some of which aren’t one bit Chilean, to do accents that start as being distracting and continue on as being such.

And this isn’t to say that the cast here don’t do solid jobs, despite the accents, because they all do. Everyone seems as if they’re putting their 100% effort into making this hackneyed script, despite all of its inherent problems, work, as well as trying to get our minds past the fact that such actors like Bob Gunton, Juliette Binoche, and Gabriel Byrne, are trying to do Chilean-accents. None of which ever actually work or are believable, but the movie’s insistence on hoping that audiences come out to see the flick, can get quite annoying, especially when it seems to get in the way of what should have been a very powerful tale told on the screen.

But one of the main problems with the 33 is that with the true story being so recent, hardly anything here is a surprise. That’s why when you’re watching as these Chilean miners are losing their hard-hats and trying to get out of the mountain, there’s hardly any tension. We know how it all ends, and really, it’s kind of hard to care; the movie itself also doesn’t help itself out by not really delving deeper into these characters and making their personalities jump off the screen so that we’re rooting for them more and more.

The only member of the cast who at least gets some time to shine as one of the miners is Antonio Banderas as Mario Sepúlveda. Because Mario in real life was so electric and fun, it’s no surprise that Banderas himself seems to have fun with the role and is therefore, able to allow for himself to break away from the rest of the group. Everyone of the other miners, in all honesty, I wasn’t able to tell apart, except for a few character-traits or just what they looked like.

He's also "Super" apparently, too.

He’s also “Super” apparently, too.

The only exception to this was some dude named “the Bolivian”, and it was only because everybody else hated him.

For example, there’s an old guy, there’s a junkie who hates talking to his sister, there’s a guy who is going to be a father soon, there’s Lou Diamond Phillips playing some guy, there’s Oscar from the Office playing a guy with two wives, and last, but not least, there’s some dude who dresses up and sings like Elvis. There’s at least ten or more characters here that I haven’t even touched upon, but you get the picture; it’s hard to ever get a clear picture of who is who in the cave. And not just because it’s all dark and gloomy, but because none of them seem to have any actual personality-traits other than what’s on the surface.

Don’t get me wrong, the 33 is still a perfectly serviceable movie that you could most definitely take your grand-mom to. It’s inoffensive and despite a few sex jokes aimed at women, the movie doesn’t do much to really be playing for the more mature, adult crowd. What it wants to do is tell this story and leave it at that. While I wouldn’t say they did a perfect job at doing, there’s also the feeling that perhaps the movie wasn’t trying to achieve any sort of greatness. Maybe with it being Oscar season and all, I’m expecting so, so much more, but oh well.

Consensus: The 33 has plenty of distracting elements working in it (the miscast actors, the poor script), but is just okay enough that you’d watch it, not hate yourself, and then forget about it as soon as you left the theater. Taken into consideration, of course, that you didn’t already know the real story of the Chilean miners going in.

5 / 10

"Don't lose hope, man. We've still got another hour of this movie to fill."

“Don’t lose hope, man. We’ve still got another hour of this movie to fill.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Love the Coopers (2015)

CoopersposterNobody does Christmas quite like the Coopers. Or the Kranks, either.

Christmas time is one of the greatest times of the year. It’s the time where everyone gets together, kicks back, drinks some egg nog, and allow for the good times to roll. And that is exactly what the Coopers want, however, it’s a lot easier said, then actually done. Sam and Charlotte Cooper (John Goodman and Diane Keaton) are planning on having everyone over their house for one last Christmas dinner, due to the fact that their marriage has been so hot as of late and they’re thinking about calling it quits. Meanwhile, grand-pop Bucky (Alan Arkin) has found himself smitten with a much-younger waitress (Amanda Seyfried). Also, Sam and Charlotte’s daughter, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) meets Joe (Jake Lacy) at the airport and decides that she wants him to pretend be her boyfriend, just so that her parents won’t get on her case for not having a steady-man. At the same time this is happening, Hank (Ed Helms), Sam and Charlotte’s son, is going through his own rough patch, as well, where he’s not only in desperate need of a job, but lost all of the respect from his kids and ex-wife (Alex Borstein). Then, there’s Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), who got nabbed in the mall for stealing stuff, and is now spending most of her time in the back of a cop car, trying to find out more about the officer (Anthony Mackie).

They're bored.

They’re bored.

And need I not forget to mention that Steve Martin, of all people, is narrating this?

So, yeah. As you can tell, there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in Love the Coopers (which is a weird title as is, because there clearly seems to be a comma missing somewhere, but hey, that’s neither here, nor there), none of which is ever one bit interesting, smart, well-done, funny, or enjoyable to watch. Which is a damn shame, because seriously, look at that freakin’ cast!

No, I’m serious. Look at it!

Why are there so many great and talented names attached to this? I find it hard to believe that the script could have attracted any of these people because, quite frankly, it’s pretty crummy and hardly ever flirts with being something that names like these would want to work with because of its intrigue. Steven Rogers’ seems to want to be this lovely, bubbly family-holiday flick that deals with dysfunctional families in a fun, light-hearted way, but by the same token, also doesn’t. Instead, the movie wants to focus on failed-marriages, infidelities, homosexuality, puberty, divorce, loneliness, unemployment, missed opportunities, and most of all, death.

Now, let me ask you this: Does this sound like the lovely, little holiday comedy that you’d throw on the tube with your family every December 25?

Hell to the no!

And trust me, this isn’t me saying, “Oh, no. You can’t have a holiday flick about sad issues. No siree! Happiness all day, every day!”. In fact, there’s a certain part of me that wants to applaud this movie for actually trying to do something a little darker and deeper with this overly-familiar tale, but really, it falls on its face. There are so many instances in which the movie makes it seem like it wants to break down the walls and be as dramatic as it can possibly be, but at the same time, still end the scene on a fart or dog joke. The balance between wacky family comedy, and sad, emotional drama, never seems to come together in a way that makes it easy to not just enjoy this movie, but actually understand just what it’s getting at.

The movie, for the most part, seems like it wants to simply say, “Families are what’s most important in life. So love each and every member of your family, especially around the holidays”. Once again, it’s a fine notion that I have absolutely no qualms wit, but the movie itself doesn’t really seem to back any of that up. For one, everybody here in this film is basically terrible to one another, whether they be in the same family, or not; mostly all of them dread going to this family-dinner which, mind you, doesn’t happen until an hour in. Before this, we’re left watching each of these characters go on about their days, bitching and moaning about how they are not at all looking forward to this dinner that, honestly, nobody dragged them to be apart of in the first place.

Then, once the dinner actually gets going, it feels so random. People are all of a sudden nasty to one another, revelations drop out of nowhere, and above all else, none of it feels real. It’s almost as if director Jessie Nelson needed to have some sort of tension to keep the film moving along, so instead of actually building everything up in a smart, understandable manner, it all just feels thrown in as a way to make sure that there’s a crazy outcome with the dinner.

They're especially bored.

They’re especially bored.

Well, the outcome does happen, and although it is indeed crazy, it doesn’t at all work.

But really, the most mind-boggling fact about Love the Coopers is the ensemble it was able to attract and just how many of them are clearly wasted here. It’s hard for me to go into great deal about this cast and spend more time on this movie than it already deserves, but let me just put it like this: Everybody here clearly seems bored. Nobody’s at all giving it their 100% and is, instead, just phoning it in so that they can collect their paychecks and be on with the rest of their famed-careers. However much money they were promised to do this thing, honestly, I don’t know; what I do know is that they all seem like they’re clearly in it for the cash and want to be gone from it all as soon as possible.

The only exception to this is June Squibb who, as usual, gives a lovely, spirited performance as Aunt Fishy. Why exactly they call her that? Well, we don’t know. And although that same question is brought up, the movie never decides to answer it, which not only feels like a cheat, but also feels like an act of revenge that the movie’s taking out on Squibb for being the only one who actually gave a hoot about being in this movie.

Everybody else? Eh, not so much. And I can’t really blame them.

Consensus: Love the Coopers is another film in the long line of Christmas ensemble flicks, but wastes its great cast on a poor script that doesn’t know whether it wants to be a light-hearted comedy, or a sad drama about family. Neither of which, are actually ever interesting to watch.

1.5 / 10

Hell, everyone's bored! So just go home already!

Hell, everyone’s bored! So just go home already!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Spotlight (2015)

Of course Thomas McCarthy would know a thing or two about journalism.

In 2001, with the internet slowly rising to become the top source for news and information, the Boston Globe felt as if they had struck gold. Through their investigative unit known as “Spotlight”, the Globe came upon a bunch of sources and stories about Massachusetts priests molesting children and then covering it all up with fancy lawyers and lingo that made it seem like a crime wasn’t committed. While the Spotlight team realizes that they’ve got something really strong and ground-breaking to work with here, they’ve got to do more uncovering and following to get the full story. And, well, due to the fact that Boston is a primarily Catholic-based city, it makes sense that just about everyone and their mothers are pleading with the Globe not to release this story. However, these journalists know better than to let such issues get in their way of telling the full story and uncovering what the truth about these priests are, what they did to these kids, who are mostly all now adults, and try to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Somebody definitely does not fit in here. Hint: It's the dude with the tie.

Somebody definitely does not fit in here. Hint: It’s the dude with the tie and facial-hair.

As most of you can probably tell, Spotlight is the kind of movie that’s made exactly for me. Not only do I love journalism movies that feature journalists, doing journalism-y things, but I also love it when the journalists in the journalism movies use their job, their smarts, and their skills, to take down big institutions. Whether it be the government, hospitals, or the Catholic church – any huge institution that gets a much deserved dressing-down, then you can count me in.

Which is to say that, yes, Spotlight is not only a great movie, but possibly, for now at least, my favorite flick of the year.

One of the main reasons why Spotlight works as well as it does can all be traced back to writer/director Thomas McCarthy, who is hot of the heels of the disaster that was the Cobbler. What’s so interesting about McCarthy’s previous films (even including the Cobbler, sadly), is that they’ve mostly all been small, simple, and understated human stories that deal with the big emotions, but in a very subtle kind of way. While much of the style is still the same, with Spotlight, McCarthy is now dealing with a bigger story, that takes on a whole lot more fronts and ends than he’s ever worked with before. Still though, despite what troubles this may have caused any director in the same shoes as he, McCarthy handles it all perfectly, making sure that the story that needs to be told, is done so in an efficient, understandable and most importantly, compelling manner.

That the way Spotlight‘s story begins to unravel once more revelations come to fruition, as well as the way it begins to blend-in together, makes all the more reason why this movie is a true testament to the art of journalism, as well as those who work within it. Just like the best parts of a movie like Truth, Spotlight loves that feel and utter rush someone can has when they feel as if they’re walking upon something that could make their story, as well as the certain heartbreak and utter disappointment they can feel once they walk upon something that could feasibly break their story. There’s a certain bit of joy and pleasure one gets from watching people, who are not only great at their job, do everything in their absolute power to make sure that they keep doing their job to the best of their abilities, while also not forgetting the true reason for it all.

And while a good portion of this movie is a dedicated to the world of journalism, it’s also a dedication to those who are passionate and inspired to uncover the truth.

But, trust me, it’s not as hokey as I may make it sound; while McCarthy’s movie definitely flirts with certain ideas of self-importance, he never falls for the fact that the story he’s telling is BIG, EMOTIONAL and IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO SEE. There’s an argument that Mark Ruffalo’s and Michael Keaton’s characters have where they’re combatting between the two different oppositions of this story; whether it be to tell it to sell some copies, or to expose the problems that have been going on for so long. It’s not only riveting, but also very smart, as it definitely reminds us why this story matters, but does so in a way that gets us back on-track for what needs to be told – which is, that the Catholic church covers all their wrong-doings up, and it’s time that somebody called them out on it.

Once again, though, this may sound all incredibly melodramatic and corny, but trust me, it isn’t. McCarthy doesn’t let the story get out-of-hand with overt cliches, but also, makes sure that the characters in this story stay true, realistic and above all else, actually humane. Nobody in this movie is ever made out to be a superhero for what it is that they’re doing; most of them, quite frankly, are just doing their job. While they definitely feel the need to tell this story and make it so that their points are seen, they also understand the utmost importance of faith and Catholicism, which, all being residents of Boston, means a whole lot.

No! Don't go on the computer! It's the devil!

No! Don’t go on the computer! It’s the devil!

And though the movie may not dig as deep into these characters as possible, it still does a fine enough job of making us realize just who these characters are, what their part of the story is, and just why exactly they matter. Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes is always jumping around and running to the next piece of information that, despite the sometimes pushy Boston-accent, is quite entertaining to watch, but at the same time, we still get the idea that this guy loves his job so much and will do anything to keep himself alive and well.

Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer is the sweeter one of the ensemble, who is there with the abuse victims when they’re airing their disturbing stories out in the most matter-of-fact way imaginable; Liev Schreiber’s Marty Baron doesn’t have much of any personality whatsoever, but still feels like the voice of reason for this story, when it all seems to get a bit haywire; John Slattery’s Ben Bradlee Jr. also feels like the voice of reason, but at the same time, still very much like Roger Sterling (which is a compliment); Brian d’Arcy James’ Matt Carroll has a neat little subplot about finding out one of the accused priests live in his neighbor and how he goes about finding that out is well-done; and Stanley Tucci, is very energized here, but also seems like the most understandable character in the whole flick, showing a person who not only cares about the cause he’s fighting for, but also knows that he has a civic duty.

However, as great as everyone is, it’s Michael Keaton who steals the show, with just one look.

There’s a scene towards the very end of Spotlight where it becomes very clear just what this story means and the sort of effect it’s going to have – and it’s all on Keaton’s face. Though I won’t get into the nitty, gritty details of what occurs during the end, but after everything that has come along with the story – from the facts, to the sources, to the edits, to the fragments, to the re-writes, to the push-backs, and to everything else that has to do with it – the movie makes us understand what it was that these journalists were fighting for. Keaton, who is superb, as expected, throughout the whole movie, doesn’t fully want to believe that the Catholic church would have been involved with something so dastardly and maniacal as the evidence proves. However, though, he eventually does come to believe that evil can be real, not to mention that it can take all forms, shapes, and sizes. But rather than pissing and moaning about it, late night at the bar, he, as well as his fellow co-workers, are doing something about it. There’s a look in Keaton’s eyes as he sees this all happen and then, he accepts it, metaphorically pats himself on the back, and moves on with his job.

That’s what journalism is all about and that’s why Spotlight is one of the best flicks of the year.

There. I’m done.

Consensus: Gripping, intelligent, and above all, important, Spotlight takes on its subject without ever editorializing or leaning one way, but instead, telling its story as it was ought to be told, with some of the best actors in the game today.

9.5 / 10

Bad priests, bad priests, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when the Boston Globe comes for you?

Bad priests, bad priests, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when the Boston Globe comes for you?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Room (2015)

Give me a free Netflix account and I’ll stay in a room for as long as you want.

Being held captive for five years, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), have come to terms with the situation that they’re living in. For the past five-to-seven years, they’ve been living in this warehouse that they call “Room”, and find interesting ways to make life for themselves in there as vibrant and as lovely as humanly possible. But now that Jack is getting older and, as Joy hopes, wiser, he’s going to have to start coming to terms with what’s “real” and what’s “make believe”. For instance, Jack doesn’t know that there’s actual life beyond Room, and this is something that Joy tries to hammer into his brain so that he too, will get the urge to want to get out of this place and back into the real world. And since Joy thinks he’s ready, she gives Jack a few tasks and it’s up to him, to see whether or not they get out of Room alive and well, or if they fail, yet again, left to rot away in this little little prison cell that they’ve been sadly thrown into.

It's so hard....

It’s so hard….

Movies like Room, are the type that I love to talk about, but at the same time, ones that I hate to review. For one, it’s the kind of movie that deserves to be seen, hardly knowing anything about going in. While so many of the ads and trailers for this movie have done everything but keep it subtle and unknown to the general audience just what happens with the plot and where it goes once it gets past the half-way mark, I, to those of you who may be reading wherever you are in the world, will do everything in my strength not to say just what happens in Room. Cause, from what mostly everybody knows, is that Room has something to do with a mother and son being locked-up and kept in this square-box.

That’s basically it.

Anything else about this movie, it’s probably best to steer clear of knowing about, because it not only ruins any chances of knowing what to expect from this movie, but by the same token, being able to suck it all in. Because in all honesty, Room snuck up on me and most likely, it will on you, too. You think you’ll have a general idea of where the story is going, see the wheels turning, and then, all of a sudden, you’ll have no clue and feel like possibly the dumbest person in the room. However, rather than feeling terrible and depressed about this fact, you’ll soon change your tune once you realize that it doesn’t matter, because Room, the movie, is so amazing.

It’s the kind of movie that plays with so many raw, gritty emotions, but handles them in such an effective, smart way, that it not only makes you want to praise director Lenny Abrahmson for not allowing this material to get as sappy and as melodramatic as it could have been, but also want to cry your eyes out. And honestly, the latter is what I did – on many occasions. While it’s not necessarily difficult to make me tear-up at a movie, it’s also not an easy feat, either; there has to be a certain feel of emotional connection and believeability to start the water-works.

Which is why they started so many times throughout Room. There’s these small, individual moments of absolute human-to-human emotion and heart that, quite frankly, I found incredibly hard to handle. But the movie never plays any of this up, ever; instead, it plays everything so low and matter-of-factly, that you’ll hardly notice that it’s working its magic on you.

That’s just the kind of movie Room is: You won’t expect it to work as well as it does, but honestly, that’s the real beauty of it, as well as many other smaller movies like it.

Which is why it’s so great to see Brie Larson get so much love and acclaim for it, as I feel like she’s literally on the verge of breaking-out and taking the whole world by storm. As Joy, Larson gets plenty of hard and heavy acting to do, but it never feels overwrought, or even obvious, as if she’s got the Oscar voters watching on-deck; instead, she feels exactly like a woman in her position would feel. While she wants to love and protect her son from every cruel thing that the world has to offer, she also doesn’t want him to forget that the world can actually be cruel and is, in ways, not as fair as it’s made out to be on TV.

And speaking of her son, Jacob Tremblay, despite being hardly eight when this flick was being made, gives a superb performance as Jack. What’s so smart about the character of Jack is that, well, he actually isn’t smart. Nor, for that matter, is he the kind of smart-ass, precocious child character we’re used to seeing in movies; rather, he’s just a kid who has no idea what sort of situation he’s into, except only to know what he wants to know or has been made to believe through TV, or certain things his mommy has told him. What makes this performance so spectacular, isn’t that he plays up this naivete with the wonderful sense of child-like wonder we so rarely see from actual child actors, but how he acts when he’s told that this world he lives and believes in, is nothing more than just pure fantasy. He’s upset, heart-broken and above all, confused. Which is exactly what any kid is like when they find out something they’ve been made to believe as true, actually isn’t.

...to find pictures that don't spoil Room.

…to find pictures that don’t spoil Room.

*cough cough* Santa Claus *cough cough* Easter Bunny *cough cough* any other mystical figure who comes to give you treats or gifts *cough cough*

And while I know that I’m being ridiculously vague with this whole review, but really, it’s for your own good. Just know that Room, is a near-masterpiece. There are certain bits of the story that felt maybe a tad too unexplained, but really, they’re basically just moments and ways for me to complain about stuff that doesn’t matter.

Just, please, pretty please, do yourself a favor and see Room.


Consensus: Smart, effective, well-acted, and most of all, emotional, Room plays with a lot of big, heavy feelings, yet, never over-does any of them and instead, feels like a human story everyone can connect to and take something out of, regardless of if they’ve ever been in the same situation as the characters, or not.

9 / 10

So I'm just gonna keep it like this.

So I’m just gonna keep it like this.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mystery, Alaska (1999)

The New York Rangers clearly have better things to do. Like watch paint dry.

In the small town of Mystery, Alaska, hockey is king. It’s everywhere you look and, quite frankly, it’s all anyone cares about. That’s why, when it turns out that the New York Rangers actually want to fly out there for a total publicity stunt, not only does the town take it as serious as a heart-attack, but the hockey team themselves are as prepped-up and as excited as anybody else in the town. Problem is, they now have to sort through their own personal problems to get their heads in-check for the big game. There’s John Biebe (Russell Crowe), the town sheriff who, at one point, was the captain of the hockey team, but due to his slowness, was given the boot; there’s Charlie (Hank Azaria), a hot-shot producer from New York who once went out John’s wife (Mary McCormack) and now seems to miss his lovely, little hometown; there’s Stevie Weeks (Ryan Northcott), who wants to have sex with his girlfriend, but can’t actually seem to get the act done; there’s Skank Marden (Ron Eldard), who has sex with practically every woman in town, including the mayor (Colm Feore)’s wife (Lolita Davidovich); and then, there’s Judge Walter Burns (Burt Reynolds), who doesn’t really care for hockey, but just might once this game gets going.

No. I am not entertained.

No. I am not entertained.

There’s a lot going on in Mystery, Alaska, however, none of it ever seems to involve the actual playing of hockey. Which, for some people, will be a huge deal-breaker. For those expecting a sports flick with plenty of swearing, fighting, heart, humor and hockey in the same vein as Slap Shot, well, go the other way. Instead of actually getting a movie that’s as dedicated to the sport as it states it is, we get more of a inside look into the lives of these various characters, as they not only try to wade through their problems, but also try to find ways to make themselves the best hockey players that they can be for the big game.

The big game, which, mind you, is highly unlikely to ever occur in the real world, regardless of how many reasons you try to toss in.

But honestly, the fact that this plot is unbelievable to a fault, is the least of its problem. That it wants to be a melodramatic character-study, but is in no way, dramatic, or ever interesting, already proves to the point that maybe more scenes of hockey being played would have helped out. But director Jay Roach and writers David E. Kelley and Sean O’Byrne, never seem to be all that interested in ever portraying the sport; more or less, it wants to see just what the dudes who play the sport are up to. And truly, I’m all for this – however, the writing is neither strong, nor compelling enough to make me see why we needed a movie so dedicated to finding more out about these characters.

Not to mention that the characters, for the most part, spend the majority of the movie going on and on about the loads of amounts of sex they had, and that’s about it. Ron Eldard’s character is made out to be the biggest horn-dog in the whole town and while his subplot is supposed to pack some sort of dramatic-weight, it never actually does because we don’t care about him, the people he’s banging, or the kind of effect it has when those said people he’s banging, get caught by their significant other. Same goes for whatever Russell Crowe’s character is going through; we’re made to think it’s some sort of mid-life crisis, but all of a sudden, turns into a possible extramarital love affair, or whatever.

After awhile, it gets to a point where you’ll wonder: Where’s all the damn hockey!

And then, eventually, the hockey does come up. Problem is, it’s towards the end, which means that you have to wade through the meandering and plodding initial 90 minutes, just to get there. Even then, though, it’s already too late to where we don’t care which team wins or loses, we just want it to be over so we can go home and play NHL 16 or whatever the cool hockey game the kids play nowadays.

Eh. Hope they lose.

Eh. Hope they lose.

Which is to say that Mystery, Alaska, despite the solid cast on-hand, doesn’t do any of them justice. 1999 was a pretty weird time for Russell Crowe’s career, as the Insider had yet to come out and Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with him. Therefore, we get a pretty dull performance from him as this small-town sheriff who can’t seem to turn that frown of his upside down. Not to mention that once Hank Azaria’s character comes into town, now we have to listen to numerous spousal disputes between he and Mary McCormack’s character; neither of whom, are actually ever interesting to hear, because we don’t know who these characters are, nor do we really give a hoot if they’re together or not by the end.

And everybody else pretty much suffers the same fate as Crowe, McCormack and Azaria. Burt Reynolds, even after coming hot off from an Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights, seems like he’s just going through the motions as the older, yet wiser man of the town who likes to dispose of his knowledge whenever the moment seems necessary. It’s a boring role for Reynolds and quite frankly, he doesn’t do a nice job of hiding his own snoozes. Same goes for Colm Meaney and Lolita Davidovich who, like McCormack’s and Crowe’s characters, are left to just have marital problems and honestly, it’s hard to care at all.

All we want to see is more hockey, the actual New York Rangers (who never actually show up, because they were obviously smart enough), and somebody getting the absolute crap beaten out of them. Just like an actual hockey game.

Except with those, we don’t really care about what their personal lives are like.

Consensus: Even though there’s a great cast on the bench for Mystery, Alaska, none of them are given anything credible to work with, nor do they ever actually get to play as much hockey as everything about this movie may suggest.

2 / 10

And yeah, this is totally not forced.

And yeah, this happens, too.

Photos Courtesy of: A Movie A Day, Every Day, Sorry, Never Heard of It!

Enter the Void (2010)

People in rehab, don’t check this out.

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a young American currently living in Japan. We join him in his apartment just as he takes a hit of DMT, which provokes a long, hallucinogenic trip sequence. However, within the next few minutes, he is shot by police during a raid and his soul is left to roam about in the after-life as it goes from past, present, and future forms of Oscar’s life.

Gaspar Noe is not one of those directors whose pieces of work are meant to entertain you and/or make you happy. They are more or less the types of films you watch, by yourself, while sitting in deep and dark misery, by yourself, and are ultimately left to think about for days on end, by yourself. That’s why this movie, just like with the case of Irreversible, attracted me right from the start as I had no idea what to expect, what I was in-store for, and whether or not me or my insides would be able to handle all of this material. Thankfully, everywhere from my head, to my toes were able to handle Enter the Void.

But still, there were some close-calls.

The groundwork for a sweet and simple story is all here and ready to be completed, but there just isn’t any deliverance it seems like on Noe’s part. Instead, the guy seems more concerned with the style; it’s a smart decision on the guy’s part if not the wisest one. No matter how groggy or stupid this story may get (and trust me, it definitely gets that way, but more on that later), Noe’s direction always kept me alive, awake, interested, and constantly watching as to where it was going to end up next. Just like with Irreversible, Noe films this all in one-shot, or, at least that’s how he makes it seem with the invisible cuts that take place every now and then. It’s a gimmick, but ultimately, it’s a gimmick that works and makes this flick hard to turn away from.

Why the hell would I want to watch my sister getting boned in the after-life?!? There's gotta be a way to find Eva Mendez somehow.

Why the hell would I want to watch my sister getting boned in the after-life? There’s gotta be a way to find Eva Mendez somehow.

But yeah, it’s a beautiful flick and Tokyo couldn’t have been a better spot for Noe to film this deep, dark tale in. People who feel as if they got the real, inside scoop on the underground world of Tokyo just by watching Bill Murray and Scar-Jo roam about in their crisis-phases, haven’t seen anything yet until they see this movie. Every shot is filled with color, whether they be bright or dark and it’s the way that Noe is able to manipulate certain color schemes or patterns in a scene is where this flick will really mesmerize you as you feel like you know what each color in the flick means, but yet, you don’t care too much to think about it too deeply because it’s just so astounding to look at. It does look very CGI-ish, but it’s also the right kind of CGI that feels necessary to the story and isn’t just up on the screen to be flashy and/or showy.

As you can probably tell by my constant rambling and ranting, Noe’s problem isn’t that he isn’t an inspired-director – actually, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Noe seems to understand the type of vision and look he wants to give to every single scene in his movie and never steps away from showing us the gritty, disturbing aspects of it that would most likely turn movie viewers away from, right away. However, by the end of the movie, you’re going to feel like that’s all he has to offer.

The first hour of this film is probably where it’s at it’s best where we see this guy’s life, literally from his POV and we get a sense of who he is, where he’s come from, and how he’s become, who he is now; which, in this case, is just another druggie at the bottom of the sewage pipe-line. It’s fun, vibrant, exciting, and actually heartfelt considering we see and know everything there is to know about this guy in order for us to care about him and the setting he surrounds himself with. But by the time that first-hour clocks in and we are introduced to his soul and the adventure it takes, then things begin to shake up a tad bit.

And not in the good way, either.

There’s a part of me that thinks Noe had every notion to make a compelling and complete story about the afterlife, but that story just got lost in a vision that’s almost too much, for so little. The last 30 minutes of this film just continued to constantly beat me over-the-head with everything in it’s will-power and as much as I was game for that first hour where things were electric and wild, I was feeling like it was game over, long before the movie was ever actually over. There’s plenty of sex, drugs, nudity, and money-laundering that goes down in the first hour, but it felt necessary to the story; whereas the last hour or so, just felt like Noe went on over-drive and couldn’t stop himself.

Take for instance, the whole sequence where we get a long glimpse inside the infamous Love Motel the movie makes several references to throughout. We see people boning in some very graphic ways, as well as doing drugs and being naked, but yet, it doesn’t serve a purpose and just continues to go-on-and-on-and-on, until Noe finally woke up from his deep slumber of style and realized, “Oh crud! I have a story to tell!”. I highly doubt those were the words that went through his head, but still, it’s so damn obvious that the guy just lost himself in his own style, without even remembering why he was there in the first place. Enter the Void could have ended at any second and it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Heck, even when the guy did end the movie, not only is it disappointing, but it also makes no real sense.

Nowhere in the U.S. looks like. Only Tokyo, especially when you're on drugs.

Nowhere in the U.S. looks like this. Only in Tokyo, especially when you’re on drugs.

The idea of seeing the world you lived with and are leaving behind, definitely seems like the type of material that would have any person tearing-up and reflecting on their own choices, but that isn’t this film. Which is fine, of course, as it’s much more about the way that we look at death through the microscope of our own lives. With Irreversible, Noe at least got the style down, but the substance was what helped it work more. Here, we’re just given the style that makes you never want to take drugs ever again, nor make you want to have sex with more than one person at a time. Highly doubt that the flick was going for that at all, but it’s the type of effect I could see this movie having on the squares of society.

But if there’s anything else that Enter the Void gets across, it’s that, once again, Paz de la Huerta truly does love not wearing clothes.

Like, at all.

Even though it does make sense as to why she’s constantly in her birthday suit the whole time, it does get a tad ridiculous and annoying. I mean, hell, the she’s cooking breakfast with her lady-parts, basically! Throw some slacks on and step the hell away from the eggs! Huerta doesn’t really get much acting to perform, but she has a nice body and, if anything, I guess that’s got to count for something.

Consensus: Enter the Void is as crazy and wild as you’d expect from an auspicious auteur like Gaspar Noe, which can, for the most part, mean that the story is left on the back-burner for pretty-looking visuals and gimmicks.

6.5 / 10

Reminds me of myself after New Years. Minus the drugs, the gunshot, and the death.

Reminds me of myself after New Years. Minus the drugs, the gunshot, and the death.

Photos Courtesy of: CTCMR.com

Miss You Already (2015)

MissposterHug your bestie and never let go.

Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends for as long as they can remember. They were both there for each one’s first kiss, first bout with sex, and basically, everything else. So it would make sense that Jess is there for Milly when she gets diagnosed with breast-cancer, right? Well, yes, definitely. Problem is, Jess has a bit of a problem in her own life and it features getting pregnant with her husband (Paddy Considine) before heads-off for a few months to an oil rig. Still though, as hard as she might, she tries to be there for Milly, even while she’s going through this painful, and obviously scary time in her life. Because together, even though they may both be sad, they’re never lonely and find ways to make the other feel better; not just about themselves, but about life in general. That’s why when Milly starts acting-out in un-Milly-like ways, Jess is surprised and, at the same time, angry and doesn’t know what to do. Not to mention that, after many times of trying, she’s now pregnant and doesn’t want to tell Milly because she feel as if it might make her feel worse than she already does.

They were together for what appears to be a birthday.

They were together for what appears to be a birthday.

It’s obvious that Miss You Already’s intentions are good. Everything from the message, to the characters, to the plot-line, and hell, especially to the humor, everything about Miss You Already is so clearly not trying to offend anyone who has either had cancer, known someone else who has, or lost someone to it. Therefore, a lot of the promotion for Miss You Already, as well as many other “cancer comedies” (I hate using that phrase, but somehow, it’s become a thing), has been hiding the fact that the key character in this movie, does in fact have cancer. This isn’t because the producers and creators behind this flick are embarrassed because of it – but because they know that it’s very hard to sell a movie about cancer as is, let alone, a light-hearted one.

As I said though, Miss You Already has good intentions flying right out of itself, but at the end of the day, those good intentions aren’t used on anything except a bunch of a lame-gags that try to cover up the fact that this subject material is downright depressing.

And it’s not like the comedy aspect of telling cancer stories doesn’t work. Take 50/50 for instance – what that movie does so brilliantly is that it not only goes deep and dark with the terrible realities cancer provides, but also show that there’s some fun and humor to be had in the situation as well. However, that movie’s humor was more based on the actual characters themselves, their reactions and, in general, they’re day-to-day livings. Miss You Already is less subtle than this and instead, feels the need to endlessly barrage us with half-baked jokes because, well, they don’t want everything to be so serious.

Once again, I’m not saying that movies about cancer, should not at all feature comedy, but it does have to be done in the right way to where it feels necessary to telling the story; to just have it around as a way to break-up the tension, isn’t suitable. And the main problem with Miss You Already, is that it never actually realizes that it not only can get by on not having any comedy in it whatsoever, but actually isn’t all that funny, either. But because nobody ever finds this out, the movie feels more obnoxious, than actually heartfelt; for every sad character revelation, we get a scene or two dedicated to the characters yelling and shouting gibberish because, uhm, comedy?

I’m still not sure, but either way, it wasn’t working.

Which is to say that Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette’s on-screen chemistry, doesn’t work much, either. Collette, as usual, is clearly down for every journey this movie takes her and it works well in helping to develop this character. While it seems that early-on, the movie may try to hide away any fact that the person with cancer may actually be not the most perfect human being on the face of the planet, surprisingly, it doesn’t and much rather, shows just how selfish and sometimes manipulative Milly can be. This is where Collette’s performance works best, as we’re supposed to know that we should care and sympathize for her, but because she’s acting like a bit of an a-hole, it’s actually pretty hard.

As well as for a wedding.

As well as for a wedding.

Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, doesn’t quite fare as well on her own. For one, she seems oddly miscast; while the character she’s called onto play is supposed to be a sweet, sincere gal that cares for Milly and all those around her, for some reason, her own personality seems lost in the shuffle. I’m not saying that Barrymore can’t play this kind of role, but because it’s so limited to her just being “Milly’s friend”, it sort of feels like all of her development was left by the wayside because, well, one has cancer and she deserves the most attention. Nothing wrong with this, either, but considering that most of the flick is being told from Jess’ perspective, it’s rather difficult to ever care for her, or what she’s up to.

Due to this, Barrymore and Collette’s chemistry doesn’t work so well. It seems as if Miss You Already was literally the first time these two had met and rather than doing any sort of cooling-down, or ice-breaker for the two, director Catherine Hardwicke just decided to have them meet for the first time, on the set and act as if they were lifelong besties. Had these characters been the actual opposite, then that method probably would have worked, but whatever the method used here was, it doesn’t show any signs of helping because they never seem like best friends, nor do they actually seem as if they do any time relating to one another, or better yet, making us realize why they’re considered “best friends” to begin with. Most of the time they spend together, consists of Jess taking care of Milly and, occasionally, passing off an in-joke that nobody in the audience is ever supposed to understand.

Meaning, what’s the point of ever telling the joke to begin with? If we’re never going to get a chance to understand what the in-joke actually means, or where it comes from, then why the hell should we care?

Consensus: Miss You Already has its subject material’s best intentions at heart, but overall, seems like it’s trying so hard to be both, funny, as well as dramatic, that it loses any charm in the process that would have been vital to making the story hit harder.

5.5 / 10

Oh, and how could I forget that they were together for this unexplained, but seemingly happy moment together! What pals!

Oh, and how could I forget that they were together for this unexplained, but seemingly happy moment together! What pals!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

Sadly, this is the closest thing we’ll get to Saturday morning cartoons nowadays.

Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang is back and, for the most part, everything’s still pretty much the same. Lucy still has a bone to pick with Charlie; Sally still annoys Charlie; Peppermint Patty still has a crush on Charlie, or Chuck, but tends to spend most of her time playing hockey; and well, you get the picture. And while Charlie’s life is still pretty casual and normal, it’s about to get turned inside out when a new, red-haired girl moves in across the street. While it’s obvious that from the very start, Charlie Brown has no idea on how to talk to her or get her attention, he still tries his hardest by changing certain aspects to his life that will, well, make him more attractive to this unknown, rather mysterious girl. Meanwhile, Snoopy and Woodstock are having their own adventure of sorts, where they find themselves in a tense, exciting bout with the Red Baron that also finds them bothering getting in the way of everybody else’s lives.

And of course, there’s still no parents anywhere to be found!

Everybody loves Charlie Brown. Not like me and my friends at all.

Everybody loves Charlie Brown. Not like me and my friends at all.

A lot of people will and most likely have already, taken one look at the Peanuts Movie and say, “Childhood-ruiner!” And while I am definitely not all for classic cartoons getting film-feature reboots, I’m not totally against one that actually seems to have the fan’s best intentions at heart. Because yeah, even while the movie may definitely be made for the sole sake of money and nostalgia, that doesn’t always mean that the heart and soul of what made the original cartoon so great, has to be gone, right?

Well, that’s why the Peanuts Movie is a nice little surprise.

For one, it’s a movie that’s a lot like the cartoons, in that it never seems to slow itself down. That the movie is nearly an-hour-and-a-half, this gives the film-makers free reign to be as wacky and as crazy in this universe as they see fit. This means that there’s at least a joke a second, and though maybe not all of them work or deliver, they still seem to be thrown in there for the sole sake of keeping everyone entertained. From the adults who are reliving those glory days of waking up way, way early on Saturday mornings, to their kids who may have no clue who the hell Charlie Brown or Snoopy even are to begin with – everyone has a chance to enjoy this movie and it’s what keeps it, at best, entertaining.

And because the movie is aiming for all parties here, that means that a lot of what the older folks in the crowd remember and adore most from the original cartoons, they will get and probably have a ball with. There’s plenty of call-backs and references that some of the only most dedicated fans will understand, but that isn’t all that there is to this movie. It does realize that there’s more people to entertain and because of that, more often than not, there’s plenty of slapstick. But the cartoon was like that, too, so I can’t hate on it too much for that fact.

The only thing that I can get on its case for is not knowing what to do with itself after the first hour hits.

The running gambit that most animated flicks roll with these days is that, while they can be funny, exciting and pleasant, they also have to keep themselves at a fair pace so that they don’t over-do it all too early on in the proceedings and lose the audience about half-way through. Well, the problem with the Peanuts Movie isn’t that they necessarily lose all the sense of fun or excitement in the air – it’s more that they lose what to do with the plot they have. Considering how simple and easy it seems to make a movie that just solely features Charlie Brown trying to capture the eyes of this red-haired girl, it’s a bit of a surprise that, even at only an-hour-and-a-half, the movie may still be a bit too long.

Which isn’t to say that a plot as narrow and straight as this, has to be as short as humanly possible, but there does come a point in this movie that it seems like the creative talent behind it forgot what they were shooting for. At one point, it seems like they were all determined to make a story about Charlie Brown’s affections, and then, all of a sudden, the tide changes and we’re now focusing in on Charlie Brown’s low self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with the movie trying to focus on both of these plot-lines, but by the half-way mark, it shows that the people behind this movie may have lost a little steam.

Poor girl has no clue what she's getting herself into.

Poor girl has no clue what she’s getting herself into.

Instead, the majority of the movie just begins to focus in on Snoopy and his imaginary rivalry with the Red Baron. This is, of course, fun, but also takes away a bit from the rest of the movie and what it was trying to do. And yes, while I’m most definitely sure I’m thinking way too hard about an animated movie about the freakin’ Peanuts, I still can’t help myself. I’m definitely a sucker for any sort of animated movie and considering what Inside Out was able to do early this year, it goes without saying that the bar has been raised pretty high, regardless what kind of animated flick you actually are.

But still, I’ll take a fun piece of animation that, while may be trying to cash-in on nostalgia, also, takes advantage of the fact that it’s got a colorful universe and bits of characters to work around and play with. While the jury is still out on whether or not we’ll get another one of these movies in the near-future, it remains to be said that, well, for now, they’re just fine.

Now, where’s my Hong Kong Phooey reboot!

Consensus: Despite not being a very ambitious piece of animation, the Peanuts Movie is still a nice flash of nostalgia for the older ones in the crowd, as well as a eye-opening for the younger ones who will now, hopefully, look further and further into this product.

6.5 / 10

Nobody gets in between the love of a man and a dog.

Nobody gets in between the love of a man and a dog.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Spectre (2015)

Hey, at least it’s not another remake of Home Alone.

After the events of Skyfall left him depressed and battered, 007 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is now back on the hunt, except this go-around, it’s on his own time. Because while things back at MI6 headquarters may not be going as swimmingly as he’d like, Bond is still going to make sure that he gets his job done, so that he can feel a whole lot better about himself. Or something. This time around, Bond, is going after a shadowy criminal organization who may, or may not, have had something to do with the death of M, and/or also may be connected to some of his past adversaries. But in order to follow the bread-crumbs, Bond will have to go through and meet all sorts of colorful characters. One, is Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) a psychologist he comes to have a relationship with, whereas another is a jacked-up, bulking henchman (Dave Bautista), who wants nothing more to do than just beat the hell out of Bond. There’s also Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man believed to be dead but for some reason, is actually alive and hunting Bond because, well, he’s evil and he can do that sort of thing.

Do you really need that gun to be menacing?

Do you really need that gun to be scary?

The Bond franchise has been around for such a long time that it’s no wonder that, every once and awhile, we get a crummy movie. While they don’t come every year and are, in ways, considered to be “events”, Bond movies can sometimes range from being “awesomely rad”, to just being “fine”. Though most people want to put Bond up on a peddle-stool that refrains from it ever being compared to any other thriller released, ever (because it’s Bond, dammit!), the fact remains: Bond movies, too, can also be mediocre.

Which is exactly what Spectre is.

But for the longest time, it isn’t. In fact, it’s actually a pretty solid Bond flick that reminds me of some of the best parts of Skyfall, which makes sense because Sam Mendes is thankfully back for another go-around. The best element that Mendes brings to these Bond movies is that he not only allows for the stories to be more dramatic and emotional, but also puts an over-emphasis on the “gritty” aspect of these movies that separates them from the rest of the pack. While there’s plenty of gorgeous-looking women, cars, martinis, dudes, guns, locations, and buildings, there’s still an inherent darkness to it all that makes it seem less like a glamorized version of being a high-class, smart and talented spy, but also more humane.

Sure, the glitz and the glamour is what Bond fans come to expect with these movies, but Mendes and the rest of the crew he’s with do nice jobs of keeping the stakes relatively high, while also building more complex relationships between these characters. This is also to say that the story, while a tad confusing at certain times, also stays compelling. While we’re never sure of where the story is going to end-up, we’re still glued to the screen enough that it doesn’t matter how much exposition they’re throwing at us – we’re just trying to see how and where all the cards fall. We know that there’s bad people involved with doing bad things, and that’s pretty much all there is to it which, given the complexity of most of the Bond story-lines, is fine.

But then, the movie gets a bit ahead of itself.

For one, Spectre is nearly two-and-a-half hours and after a long while, totally begins to feel like that. One of the main reasons for this is that the story takes a nosedive into being “slightly confusing”, to just plain and simply, “huh?”. Though it’s never made fully clear just where the story is going, and effectively so, too, the movie then decides that it wants to totally and completely throw the audience in the dark by giving us a villain in the form of Christoph Waltz who, literally, shows up outta nowhere, starts going on and on about Bond’s past troubles, and decides that he wants to do bad things to Bond because, well, it’s a Bond movie and there needs to be some sort of threat posed to Bond.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with a Bond villain being as bad and as distasteful as he can be, but there has to be a reason. To just simply have some evil, cackling baddie show-up and start throat-punching every one in sight because the box for “bad villain dude” needed to be checked-off, isn’t a good enough reason – in fact, it’s what every Michael Bay movie has ever done. You could even make the argument that, even while Javier Bardem’s villain in Skyfall didn’t have much of a rhyme or reason for being around, he still at least served a greater-purpose in pushing Bond to his deepest and darkest limitations; in a way, he was baiting-and-switching him, which not only allowed for us to see Bond in a different light, but also give us a glimmer of hope that, hey, maybe the bad guy, for once, has a point.

That said, despite Waltz being a talented scene-chewer, he doesn’t have much to do with this villain and instead, is left to just rant and rave about Bond, all the bad things he’ll do to him, and other stuff that, quite frankly, I don’t care enough about. His only purpose here is to be some sort of obstacle for Bond to hurdle over, which seems kind of unnecessary, because Dave Batista’s henchman character definitely filled that requirement perfectly. He’s big, scary, menacing and totally bad-ass, and does this all without barely even speaking a word!

She's cold, mysterious and sexy. Never seen a Bond girl be that, ever!

She’s cold, mysterious and sexy. Never seen a Bond girl be that, ever!

He’s Bond’s rival because of his brawn, not his brawn, which in Spectre‘s case, would have probably been a better road to go down.

And because the movie is so fixated on what Waltz’s baddie is up to and concocting, the rest of the ensemble and story sort of gets thrown-off to the side and feels more like filler. Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Ben Whishaw, and new-blood to the franchise, Andrew Scott (Moriarty!), all seem like they’re here because it’s a Bond movie, and well, Bond needs to have his adversaries on the side, just in case he needs a cool gadget or two. Same goes for Léa Seydoux who, despite being a charming, fiery-presence on-screen, also seems like she’s around because Bond needs a hot lady to bang and randomly, fall head-over-heels for. I won’t really go into too much detail about Monica Bellucci here, other than to say for a 51-year-old, the gal still looks great.

Now, why wasn’t she the Bond girl?

And for his fourth go as Bond, Daniel Craig still does a fine job at portraying both sides of this character. There is, of course, his exterior (the stiff upper-lip, the charm, the nice way with words, etc.), as well as his interior (the fact that he’s been through so much violence, disturbance and loss, that it’s beginning to take its toll on him). Even though Craig himself has been coy about whether or not this will be his final time donning the Bond penguin suit (personally, I think he’s got one more in him, but that’s just me), it still remains to be said that he’s still got some juice left in his system to be going through the motions, but at the same time, be able to show that there’s more to this character we deserve to know and understand.

Hopefully, we’ll get that.

Sooner than later, maybe.

Consensus: At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Spectre is overlong and jumbled, but still provides plenty of fun, exciting and tense, spy-oriented action that still makes it worth a watch.

7 / 10

Ain't nobody can rock the turtleneck quite like Bond.

Ain’t nobody can rock the turtleneck quite like Bond. Except Jason Statham, of course.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

American Beauty (1999)

Once the white picket fence goes up, consider your life over.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is going through a bit of a midlife crisis. He’s 42, in a marriage to his wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), that hasn’t been passionate or loving in many years; works at a magazine that he despises has a daughter named Jane (Thora Birch) who, despite living with and seeing everyday, doesn’t actually know; and her wannabe-model friend, Angela (Mena Suvari) catches his eye and all of a sudden, he can’t stop himself from having fantasies about her. Eventually, all of this tension and turmoil in his life leaves him to just say to hell with it all and do whatever the hell he feels like doing! That means, not only does he quit his job, but he gets back onto smoking pot, drinking, talking dirty to his wife, and most importantly, lifting and getting back into shape. Meanwhile, everyone else around him is trying to work with their own lives, and some definitely succeed more than others. Carolyn’s trying to make her real estate agent career work, whereas Jane has taken up with the new neighbor, Ricky (Wes Bentley), who films stuff he finds “interesting”, sells pot to Lester, and has to deal with an overly-oppressive father (Chris Cooper). And through all of their troubles, they try their hardest to achieve happiness and realize the beauty in life, underneath all the material and glamour.

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

There’s been so much said about American Beauty that, by now, that’s it hard to say anything really new, or better yet, ground-breaking about it. For one, it’s a great movie – there’s no denying that fact. Secondly, it’s one that helped spear-head the careers of director Sam Mendes, as well as writer Alan Ball, both who have gone on to do great, amazing things with their careers. And also, I can’t forget to mention that, you know, it’s one of those rare, small, indie-based flicks that won a whole lot of Oscars, earned plenty of respect, and also, changed the game of indie cinema and how these big award shows look at them.

Oh yeah, and it’s one of my favorites of all time. However, that’s neither here, nor there.

But even after all these years (15, to be exact), there’s still something that stays relevant in today’s day and age. Back before ’99, it wasn’t out-of-this-world to have a movie satirize the suburbs, the people who lived in them, and the general mind-set that came with being apart of a little world like that. Not much has changed on that front since, either, but still, what American Beauty was setting out to do, or say, wasn’t really revolutionary; it was more in how the movie actually went a bit deeper and further into its subjects that sets it apart from the rest of “suburban malaise” subgenre of film that, quite frankly, got pretty old once people realized they all had the same message: The suburbs suck.

Move on, already!

But like I said, Ball’s screenplay shoots for something much more meaningful than just saying, “People in the suburbs aren’t really happy, no matter how hard they try to make themselves think that”, and leaving it at that. Nope, Ball, as well as Mendes, are both a lot smarter than that and find interesting ways to tell these characters, as well as their stories, in fun, fresh ways that they’re not only hilarious, but at times, pretty heartfelt. While at one moment, we may sneer at a character for being so wrapped-up in materialistic crap that doesn’t at all matter, the next moment, we’ll see a character reveal a fact about their life that not only makes you a bit misty, but also gives you something to take in about those characters.

This is all to say that while, for the longest time, it may appear as such, American Beauty isn’t filled with a bunch of soulless, comical caricatures that are just there for us to point at and make fun of. On the surface, they may appear as such, but once you look a little bit closer (I know I’m sort of referencing the tag-line, but trust me, it isn’t on purpose), you realize that they are actual human beings; ones who breath, think, talk, and act like you or I. They may live in a different situation, or have more experience in one walk of life or another, but they’re still humans none the less that deserve to be seen as such, and it’s here that Ball’s writing really wins points.

While Ball is opening up this world and dissecting it, he’s also showing us that there’s more to it, as well as life. Lester is the perfect example of this fact because, despite living a grudgingly boring, monotonous life, he’s finally woken-up, smelled the daises, and realized that over-priced couches are what matter most in life – it’s the people you love and the time you spend with them that do! That’s why, despite Lester seemingly doing a lot of downhill things, he’s still the heart and soul of this story who, no matter what decisions he may make throughout, we still support and sympathize with him because, quite frankly, we too want him to feel happier and embrace life more to its fullest.

And honestly, there isn’t a more perfect bit of casting for Lester Burnham than Kevin Spacey.

Spacey, even before American Beauty and definitely after, has always seemed like the smartest guy in every scene he’s in. There always seems to be something on his mind that he wants to blurt out, but he chooses not to, so as a way to keep to himself for his own personal enjoyment. That’s why Lester, before and after his transformation, always feels like a real person that we could actually meet; he understands that the world he’s been surrounded by isn’t “real” and isn’t worth getting sucked-up into. So, he goes against the tide and it’s hard to not be satisfied with everything he does.

Lester throws a plate against the wall; tries to have sex with his wife in the middle of the day; gets caught masturbating in the bed; quits his relatively fine paying-job, only to then take up as a fry-cook at a fast-food joint; buys off of and smokes pot with his neighbor; and above the rest, can’t help but have really hard feelings for his daughter’s friend. Once again, these may seem like choices an unlikable person would make, but because of the way Lester’s written, and the way Spacey portrays him so wonderfully, we’re constantly rooting for him.

So yeah, in a nutshell, Kevin Spacey definitely deserved the Oscar he won that year.

However, he isn’t the only one who puts stellar work in here.

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

Annette Bening may get a more of an over-the-top role to play, but because she’s so talented, is able to find certain shadings of humanity that makes us feel bad for her, even if we don’t whole heartedly wish her to be quite as happy as Lester. Thora Birch, despite playing a misanthropic teen a whole lot better a few years later in Ghost World, is still great here as Jane, Lester and Carolyn’s kid who just wants nothing more than for them to stop embarrassing the hell out of her and leave her be. While some of her line-reads are a bit awkward, it works for her character because, like most teens her age, they’re socially awkward as hell. Mena Suvari’s Angela is also a very interesting character because while she is, in ways, a preppy, popular girl, she still hangs around with Jane. Sure, some of this may to make herself feel better, but whatever it is, it doesn’t feel wholly fake or unbelievable, which is why when the character does get a nice dose of reality, it feels deserved and helps allow us to understand this character a bit more.

And yeah, there’s also Wes Bentley as the weird kid next door who, in all honesty, may not be all that weird, Ricky. Bentley has that perfect blend between being both incredibly off-kilter, but also, like Spacey, seem like the smartest dude in the room who is just waiting for that mic to drop down from the sky, so he can just air out all of his thoughts. He and Birch have a nice little chemistry between one another that’s a big part of the movie, but also doesn’t take it over too much to where it’s just a romance about teenagers and that’s it. Though I can’t say the same for Birch, it’s nice to see Bentley back to doing movies and showing the world just the type of talent that he still is, even all these many years later.

Also, worth mentioning here is Chris Cooper who gets one of the more creepier roles in the flick as Ricky’s dad, Col. Frank Fitts. While Fitts is insanely strict dad, there’s also something about him that’s inherently interesting to sit by and watch; though he may over-do it, in no way does he feel like he’s being a bad dad, just over-protective. We come to understand more about this character and his history, but through it all, Cooper remains chilling and scary just about every second. Which makes us wonder more about Allison Janney’s wife character who, honestly, we still have no clue about these years later.

And there’s more to talk about, but honestly, the core cast here is excellent and worth chatting about.

But at the end of the day, what American Beauty represents about being alive is that it’s easy to follow the rules and do what everybody else is doing; in fact, there’s nothing really wrong with this. However, American Beauty also presents the idea of not just being a joyless, emotionless cog in the machine and instead, embracing life for the small things. The plastic-bag floating in the air may be a bit of a silly metaphor, but it’s one that’s still incredibly effective and iconic as well; while some may choose to follow life by a standard set of guidelines and rules, others choose to float freely and see where life takes them next. Whichever person you are, only you and you alone would know. So soak it all in and never take anything for granted.

And also, jam out to some of the Guess Who while you’re at it.

Consensus: For what it’s worth, American Beauty is a smart, often times, hilarious and insightful look into the lives of people we, initially, despise, but after awhile, learn to love, embrace, and sympathize with, much like life itself.

10 / 10

That's the future right there, everyone. Get used to it.

That’s the future right there, everyone. Get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins


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