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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

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The Equalizer (2014)

By now, everybody should know not to mess with Denzel. Like, come on!

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a quiet man who lives a simple, yet mysterious life. Nobody knows quite exactly what he’s done in the past, but know him now, in the present day, as a man who works at the Home Depot, lives alone, reads a lot, and goes to his local diner whenever he can’t sleep. That’s all really, but when Robert meets a very young hooker by the name of Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), there are certain shades of his past that begin to show. For instance, when Robert sees that Teri’s employers have been beating up on her pretty bad, he decides to take matters into his own hands to ensure that something bad won’t ever happen to her again. He gets a chance to do so, but as a result, ends up pissing off most of the Russian-mafia that is now looking for this mysterious man and won’t stop until they do so. Little do they know of who they’re messing with. Then again, neither do we!

We’ve all seen this kind of movie before. Hell, we even seen it with Denzel in the lead role! Which can only mean one thing: Hollywood is surely running out of ideas. Surely this can’t be much of a surprise to anyone out there who has been paying attention to the movie-business for quite some time and are able to realize that fresh, original and innovative ideas in mainstream movies are quite hard to come by.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it's Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it's all fine, baby.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it’s Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it’s all fine, baby.

But that said, there is something to be said for a movie that can take a traditional story we’ve seen (especially an original one that was made for a TV show), and give it something of a “boost”, if you want to say that. See, while I’m not too sold on Antoine Fuqua’s total abilities as a director I can trust with my life, I can say that he can make some very entertaining movies, even if they aren’t for people with an IQ level higher than 48. And that’s pretty much what the Equalizer is – a fun, slightly silly movie that doesn’t always set out to be more than just the typical revenge-tale we see a middle-aged star like Denzel Washington take.

Although, that’s where this movie actually surprised me a bit more than I expected it to, because while there’s plenty of action, blood, guts, revenge, crime, explosions, and murder, there’s also some drama that Fuqua is able to throw in here.

Take for instance, the first-half of this movie that actually sees Fuqua playing around with the idea of being a subtle director. Rather than focusing on the action and violence that is soon to come of this story and its characters, Fuqua takes his near and dear time to build this lead character, the way he lives and just exactly how he gets by in life. Sure, there’s a total essence of mystery surrounding this character, and it should probably come as no surprise to anyone that what we do end up finding out about him, is quite scary, but we, the audience at least, are thrown into this guy’s life and it’s one that’s easy to get compelled by.

But even when the action does get thrown in there (as expected), it’s still effective. While it may be a bit gratuitous at times, it’s still neat to see the violence coming from the view-point of a character we are interested by, and also exactly how he punches, or kicks, or stabs a person, and in what particular order. Also, to add another layer to this character, we get certain hints that he’s OCD in certain ways and it’s cool angle on a story/character that could have easily been, “He likes to beat the shit out/kill baddies.”

That could have been the whole story in a nutshell. And although some may argue and say that’s all there is to this story, it felt like there was a bit more meat to the tale than just that and I was definitely happy for it. Not just because it was another crime-tale that was a tiny bit more than just all about showing violence to bad people, but because it showed me Antoine Fuqua is actually capable of bringing some tender drama to a scene. Not going to say he’s a “subtle” director, because we all know that he isn’t, but he proved himself this time and I for one, was quite pleased with that.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you're supposed to be.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you’re supposed to be.

I was even pleased with Denzel Washington in this lead role, because while he too isn’t really doing anything different from what we’ve seen before, he technically doesn’t need to; he’s just Denzel, being Denzel. Meaning that he gets a chance to be charming-as-all-hell, kind to others, menacing when he wants, and even a chance to lay down on some mofo’s who seem to be asking for it the whole movie. If that’s what you want from Denzel in your movies, then this is all fine and dandy for you. I like to see Denzel in these types of movies, and although a part of me wishes there was just a tad more for him to do here, I’ll take a solid performance from Denzel, in a solid movie any day, much rather than a shitty performance, in an even crappier movie.

But even when the film does get pretty wild and insane, as we usually expect from Fuqua’s movies, it’s mostly by the end and by then, we’re already sort of realizing that this story has taken a turn for the worse. Not to say that it gets bad, per se, but more of that it’s just goofy and almost like a Home Alone finale that will surely be a crowd-pleaser to most that are expecting Denzel to whoop some bad guy-butt, but is also rather disappointing to those who thought that there’d be a bit more than just that. And by “those”, I mean just mostly me.

But what can I say?!? I’m just a guy who appreciates a movie that’s more than just what it presents on the surface!

Consensus: Though it gets silly by the end, what the Equalizer does well is build a suspenseful story, around a compelling character, while also allowing Denzel Washington to just put in some fine work.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Good evenin', Clarice."

“Good evenin’, Clarice.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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The Two Faces of January (2014)

Stop fibbing, already!

Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a low-time swindler who, while vacationing and, assumingly, ripping people off in Greece, meets a very wealthy couple, Chester MacFarland and Colette (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst). Though he doesn’t know much about them, where they came from, who the hell they are, and how they both got so damn rich, he is still somehow intrigued by them and decides to join them on a dinner late one night. It goes off splendidly, with the two parties leaving one another and hoping that each of their lives entangle once again. Well, sometimes, what you wish for, isn’t exactly what you want to get. After the two parties separate, Rydal realizes that he has to give Colette her wedding ring back, but while doing so, he discovers Chester getting rid of a body of a man that he presumed to be an FBI agent. What the agent was doing in Greece and tracking down Chester, is totally beyond Rydal’s knowledge, but now they’re in this together. Meaning, all three of them are on the run and have to find whichever ways they can figure out to escape the police who, seemingly, should be hot on their tails as more and more information comes out about who these people are, their past and why they are running and hiding in the first place.

If you’ve ever seen the Talented Mr. Ripley, then you’ve kind of seen the Two Faces of January. It’s probably no accident either, because both are adaptations of Patricia Highsmith novels, and both concern the same kind of themes and ideas constantly thrown around: People not appearing to be who they say they are, crime, lies, murder, beautiful locations, etc. And while the former film, is definitely better than the later, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had here; it’s just that there’s all you really need here, fun.

"What you say?"

“What you say?”

See, though this movie definitely flirts with the idea of being about how we all, as a society and just basic, pure human beings, lie to protect ourselves from the real truth of the world and those around us, it’s mostly just a suspense-thriller that features a bunch of people on the run. Whether or not they’re who they actually say they are, is totally left up to us, the audience, to make our own conclusions.

And yes, people, that’s where most of the fun to be had in the Two Faces of January can be found: Constantly guessing. Not just who these people are and why they actually lie as much as they do, but where exactly this story is going to take place next. Because honestly, there’s only so many lovely locations a movie can take place in, but better yet, there’s also only so many actual places these characters can escape and constantly be on the run towards. That doesn’t mean the film is over-the-top or too crazy to handle, but there is something to be said for a movie in which we are repeatedly being shown certain areas of Greece that not even the most dedicated tour-guide could.

Which basically means that if you’re seeing this movie now, in the fall, where the weather outside is more than likely going to get a bit chillier, you’re going to be incredibly bummed-out and want to hop on that next plane to Greece as soon as humanly possible! Trust me, I did and I saw this nearly two days ago!

Damn, I’m already missing summer.

Anyway, like I was saying before, this movie really isn’t much more than “cons play mind games on other cons”, which is yes, very fun, but also, made it a bit better that the three actors playing these cons are very good with what they’re given. Oscar Isaac plays Rydal like he seems to play every character of his: Smart, charming and handsome, yet, always seems to have a sinister side to him that he isn’t afraid to utilize to his advantage. The guy’s made a killing off of these sort of roles and while we want to think of him as “the bad guy”, because of the way he looks and how we’re introduced to his character (he’s taking money from very naive, very foreign girls), we soon find out that he really isn’t. He’s just a human being is all, and sometimes, humans have to make certain choices that don’t always benefit the others around them.

The same could be said for Viggo Mortensen’s Chester; we’re supposed to think he’s a low-level con that has hardly any soul, or moral compass, but we soon realize that he too, is just another misguided guy trying to make a living, as well as the woman he loves, happy. Mortensen is another actor like Isaac who can sometimes seem like a bad guy, only because of the menacing look he constantly has on his face, but there’s shades of his character being a genuinely good guy that just wants to save his ass, regardless of anybody else’s. Sure, he’s a selfish-fellow, but given the circumstances of some of the situations he’s thrown into, I can’t help but assume that plenty others would be acting the same way, too.

Oh yeah, old guy, don't mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He's just going to be in the next Star Wars for god's sakes!!

Oh yeah, old guy, don’t mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He’s just going to be in the next Star Wars for god’s sakes!!

Just saying, people. Just saying.

The only one I have yet to really mention is Kirsten Dunst, which is actually on purpose because her character isn’t all that well-written. Sure, she’s definitely charming, sweet and honest, whereas nobody else around her seems to be, but there’s just a dull-presence about her that kept making me wish the creative-team involved gave her more than just being the damsel in distress. Also, say what you want about her, but Kirsten Dunst, when given the right material to work with, can really do wonders. It’s just such a shame she isn’t allowed to really show her fellow male co-stars off, like I totally know she’s capable of doing.

Damn men and their penises. Damn them to hell!

Consensus: Nothing more than a simple game of cat-and-mouse between a trio of talented leads, the Two Faces of January never really transcends its narrow plot, but doesn’t quite need to, considering it’s fun to watch these characters mess with one another.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Ah, this seems like a good place to continue on running and hiding from the law."

“Ah, this here land seems like the perfect place to continue on running and hiding from the law.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Starred Up (2014)

When in jail, make sure to start as many fights, with as many inmates as possible. Heard that always works right away.

Young, feisty and chock full of piss-and-vinegar Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) heads to the slammer with a bang: Not only does he trash his cell, but even comes close to killing a security-guard. He does this not to just show dominance and that he isn’t afraid of anyone stationed in the various cells around him, but to remind people that he’s not a lad to be messed with. However, due to his constant angry-bursts, he has to cut a deal with the warden to keep himself closer to his father (Ben Mendelsohn) who also is, believe it or not, incarcerated at the same prison and taking on something of a new life, in the vaguest sense I can explain it as. The deal: Frequently go to and behave at a few meetings with the prison counselor (Rupert Friend), while also maintaining to stay out of trouble outside of the sessions as well. Though he’s clearly not going to back down from a fight without throwing a few elbows or two, Eric finds himself actually adjusting to new life in prison quite well, but sometimes, what happens in prison, stays in prison and with the enemies that he’s already made, he may have to look twice behind his back to stay alive and well.

Prison-dramas are usually effective, if only because they’re quite simple to make: One setting, a few characters, and only a few more situations/dilemmas that a certain amount of prison-dramas can actually explore. Though that may make the prison-drama genre as a whole, seem somewhat boring and unoriginal, there still seems to be enough life left in them to where something as small as Starred Up can make a noise, as measly as that may be.

"Stop being such a silly twat!"

“Stop being such a silly twat!”

See, with this movie here, rather than taking itself out of the prison itself and focusing on these characters, how they got to be in the slammer in the first place, and why, underneath it all, they’re tragic characters, the movie just stays pit. We hardly ever leave the prison itself, nor do we ever really get to hear much of a back-story as to why certain characters are where they are in the first place; we just assume that the outside world is there, moving on naturally, and that anybody in this prison, who also happens to be behind bars, did something bad to get them there in the first place.

Sounds simple, right? Well, that’s because it is and yet, somehow, director David Mackenzie is able to dig a bit deeper and make this movie more than just a standard prison-drama; it’s a movie about life, love, the pursuit of happiness and how we all, no matter how troubled our lives may be, want to just make us, as well as the ones we love, happy. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too sappy for a movie which, in the first five minutes, already features the use of the words “cunt” and “fuck” more times than I’ve heard my British grand-mother use (I don’t have one, but you get the drift), but there’s something to be said for a movie that shows itself as being so hard-edged, violent and mean, yet on the inside, beneath the surface and all, is actually quite heartfelt and sweet.

Okay, now I know I’m really losing you, as well as myself, but bear with me here! Please! Because even though this movie definitely battles with some issues and themes that may make the inner-man that all of us have, tighten-up a bit and demand muscle milk, there’s still plenty that most of the usual, testosterone-fueled viewers can enjoy when they decide to take time out of their day and watch a prison drama. Meaning, yes, there’s a lot of blood-shed, knives, fighting, tossing, kicking, hitting, swearing, and all that good stuff we can expect to see from just watching a single episode of Oz.

And it’s all pretty effective; though some of it is gratuitous, that’s sort of the point. Prison is a harsh place and if you can hang around in it, then you’re better off dead (and surely, you will be soon). But like I’ve said before, the movie gets down to the nitty gritty of who these inmates truly are and why most of them stick together, especially when they sure as hell shouldn’t. Most of these inmates are genuinely angry, distasteful people that deserved to be exactly where they are, but some of them, are just troubled and confused individuals that may have made a stupid decision in their life and paying for it as peacefully as they can.

That’s why Eric Love is such an intriguing protagonist to have – he’s a small, rather skinny lad, yet, has so much anger bent deep down inside of him, that when he has time to actually allow for it to vent out onto those around him, we’re absolutely terrified and see why he got himself into this place in the first place. But then, something strange happens, as the movie goes on, we realize that Love is actually the kind of character we expected him to be: Tiny, scared, self-conscious and would much rather use his fists to end an argument, rather than actual words of reasonable wisdom. And though we don’t get too much pretense as to who this guy really is underneath all of the body-tattoos, we know enough by how he reacts to those around him in prison and the various situations he is thrown into.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don't quite together so well.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don’t quite together so well.

Which is to say, that I think it goes without saying, that Jack O’Connell is downright breathtaking in this role here as Eric Love. From the very few seconds we meet him, to where we end, O’Connell seems to be on another planet of “Crazy”. Throughout the flick, O’Connell gets scream, holler, beat his chest, take off his shirt, run, throw fists, choke people out and do all sorts of other bad things, yet, he’s constantly compelling to watch the whole time. We get the feeling that there’s still a heartbroken and upset little boy trapped down inside of him, and rather than write him off as a “dick”, we see him as a character that can, yes, be nurtured and maimed, given the right supervision and guidance in his life.

Which is why it was also a great idea on behalf of the casting-department to go through with giving the role of Love’s daddy to none other than Ben Mendelsohn himself. If you’ve ever seen Mendelsohn in anything before, you’ll know that a role in which he plays a ruthless, tough-love prison-inmate is pretty much perfect, but Mendelsohn even takes that a bit further. See, rather than making his character a tough-as-nails guy in prison trying to teach his son how to survive in the hell-hole that is prison, Mendelsohn gives off a certain level of vulnerability and sweetness that makes you see this man, not just as a father-figure, but a man who is genuinely upset that he never got to be with his son during his formative years. Though he has a hard time of showing it, Mendelsohn’s character is really one who cares and just wants what’s best for his son, even if that means having to take down a couple of inmates in the process.

And that’s why, my friends, prison is not a place you never, ever want to be in. But the film doesn’t end on that corny note; instead, it focuses on the fact that, it doesn’t matter where we are in this world or what sort of situations we are thrown into, it’s never too late to be involved with the ones you love and their lives. Though the film doesn’t openly preach this out to the choir, it’s obvious that it wants to be about what it means to be a human being, and to love, feel, and emote, even when the environment surrounding you tells you to do the exact obvious.

Okay, now that’s very sappy, but so what!??! Prison is harsh, man! We all need a hug every so often!

Consensus: Simple, yet as incredibly detailed as possible, Starred Up may be another harsh, unflinching portrayal of life in prison, but it also doesn’t shy away from getting to the heart of the place, as well the various people who just so happen to be stuck there.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

How I usually look while waiting for the pregnancy test results to get back to me.

How I usually look while waiting to hear of the pregnancy’s test results.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Stay away from graveyards, people. They’re creepy enough as is.

Former NYC cop Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) used to be a total alcoholic. He’d wake up, go to his local bar, have a coffee, and then down two shots of liquor. However, one fateful day, that all changes and eight years later, he’s regularly attending AA meetings, living alone, eating at diners, and also turning in some work as a non-official private eye. One night he gets an offer and decides to seek it out: Find a group of serial killers that are kidnapping rich drug-dealer’s wives/loved-ones, ransoming money off of them, and yet, still taking the liberty of hacking these women up to little pieces. To them, it’s all fun and games, so when an actual drug-dealer (Dan Stevens) calls on Scudder to do this job for him, he doesn’t back away from it. After all, getting rid of a few serial killers in this world is a job well done, no matter how you do it. But Scudder eventually realizes that this job is going to be a bit more difficult and nerve-wracking than he would have liked, which is why he, whether he likes it or not, gets some assistance from a local homeless kid by the name of TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

And yet again, here we are, people, another “Liam Neeson kicks ass” kind of movie where he, yes, is a certain man, with a certain level of skills, takes it upon himself to go about utilizing those skills, shows that he’s a nice guy underneath the sometimes questionable-decisions he makes and, well, of course, tells the villains to, for lack of a better term, “fuck off”. Yes, these are the kinds of movies we can all expect from Liam Neeson right about now and while some can say that they’re bored by this and want him to go back to making Oscar-caliber films with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorsese, the fact is, nope, Liam ain’t too bothered with any of them.

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin' nuts?!?!

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin’ nuts?!?!

He is, as they say in the biz, striking while the iron is hot and rather than trying something daring to make sure his “arthouse”-ish crowd is pleased with him, Liam is just going to stay and continue to make these typical, run-of-the-mill action-thrillers where he, yes, kicks plenty of ass.

However, that’s not to say any of them are bad and because most of them aren’t, I’m quite happy for Neeson. He’s the type of actor who, with his tall-frame and soft, yet still intimidating Scottish-accent, deserves many movies to be made where he’s, typically, the center of attention. Which is why he seems to be a perfect choice for Matthew Scudder; the type of troubled, somewhat crooked-cop that isn’t the nicest, nor the most moral of guys, but wants to see that he gets the job done, in the most efficient way possible. Meaning, that he wants to ensure no innocent people are killed while he is completing his various shady tasks.

But Scudder isn’t just a well-written character in the way that he’s well-rounded, he’s funny and shows a charming side to his sometimes grim personality that we know Neeson is capable of high-lighting every so often. To say that Neeson is great here, would almost be too obvious for me to even state, but here I am, stating that Neeson is great here and practically carries the movie on his own two, long, lanky shoulders.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t all that bad, because while Neeson helps it get through some rough patches (whenever the serial-killers pop-up, they’re pretty conventional and spend most of their scenes just being strange, in almost too-serious way to be not kidding), it’s writer/director Scott Frank who really makes this movie work. Something about this flick’s tone, the way it’s so hush-hush most of the time and how it doesn’t seem to glorify it’s over-the-top, grisly violence, yet still shows it in a derogatory light that he makes it seem like more than just “movie violence”, is what really made me think that Frank should make more movies. The dude’s already written my favorite Steven Soderbergh movie (Out of Sight) and actually had a pretty stellar directorial-debut of his own not too long ago (the Lookout), so why wait any longer, Scott? Let’s keep this a train a-goin’, man!

Anyway, like I was saying, Frank’s direction here is really genius and it brings a smile to my face knowing that there are certain film makers out there who still care about giving us genuinely tense, sometimes unpredictable thrillers. Thrillers that, mind you, don’t necessarily rely on how many times a gun is shot, or even how many bones are broken in a particular brawl – much rather, thrillers that take time to not only build the story it is trying to tell, but also give us some context in how we’re supposed to think of these characters as. Not all of these characters are great people here (most of them, drug dealers), but the movie doesn’t simply judge them on who they are, much more than on what it is that they do.

"I'm used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you'll do."

“I’m used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you’ll do.”

For instance, take the character of TJ who, in a lesser-movie, would have been the stereotypical smart-aleck-y, rather adorable kid that Liam Neeson’s character not only stumbles upon by pure chance, but even takes under his wing and make his new sidekick. Add on the fact that TJ is in fact black, and you’ve got yourself a walking, talking, breathing cliché just waiting to ruin your goddamn movie, not to mention your time! But somehow, TJ, nor anything surrounding him, seems to be written that way; he’s a simple orphan kid that is a bit punk-ish, but is still curious enough about how this world Scudder surrounds himself with, not just works, but how he can be apart of it without getting him, or anybody else killed. Not to mention the fact that this young guy, Brian “Astro Bradley, is very good in the role, making you feel sorry that he’s sort of left all by his lonesome, but also happy that he may, or may not, have a future hangin’ around this tall, New Yorker, with an Irish-accent.

I know I’m getting into this a bit more than I maybe should, but there was just a feeling I got with this movie that I haven’t gotten with a thriller in quite some time. Okay, that’s actually a lie, because a little bit of time ago, when I saw the Drop, I felt sort of the same way: A crime-thriller that takes its time to build momentum, as well as character-development. While those movies seem sort of neck-and-neck in my eyes, they’re both clear-as-day examples of what can happen when you take a simple story revolving around thugs, doing thuggish-like things, and make it as detailed as humanly possible, without ever overly-boring the audience, nor giving them enough to where they can expect everything to happen as clearly as they may have predicted it as being straight from seeing the advertisements for it.

So, once again I say this: Scott Frank, continue to make movies. You’ll make me a very happy man and most of all, a very happy movie-goer.

Consensus: With extra-attention paid to the look, feel, and characters that inhabit its slightly unnerving story, A Walk Among the Tombstones is, yet again, another winner for Liam Neeson and his seemingly unfazed streak right now, except a lot smarter and wiser this time around.

8 / 10 = Matinee!! 

"Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see."

“Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

I’m Catholic, but if Jason Bateman and Adam Driver want me to sit Shiva with them, then yeah, I’m totally Jewish.

After the patriarch of the family passes away, the Altman siblings all decide to honor his final wish and sit Shiva for the next week. Although none of them really want to, they decide to anyway, not to just honor their dad’s wishes, but to ensure that their mother (Jane Fonda) doesn’t have a total hissy-fit. The problem is though, none of the siblings really get along. The eldest, Paul (Corey Stoll), is always so very serious and is having a problem impregnating his needy wife (Kathryn Hahn); Wendy (Tina Fey) is sort of having the same problem of her own with her kids and husband, although she’s finding some peace with her ex-boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) who happens to still be living in town; Judd (Jason Bateman) is in the midst of divorcing his cheating wife (Abigail Spencer), but finds some solace when he reconnects with a long lost of his own, Penny (Rose Byrne); and lastly, the youngest, Phillip (Adam Driver) is a bit of a wild child that not only brings his much-older girlfriend with him (Connie Britton), but finds it hard to ever really think about why he misses so much of his dad to begin with. Then again, none of them really do, which is how most of their fights pop-up in the first place.

Though I have never read the original-text from which this movie is an adaptation of, I assume that it’s a great piece of work because of how much critics seem to be trashing this movie. Sure, there are some good reviews to be found here and there, but overall, This Is Where I Leave You seems to be a real disappointment. And while I can’t say that I particularly agree, or disagree with the general consensus of this film, I can at least attest to the fact that I’m one of those reviewers who didn’t hate it that much.

There's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

There’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

Is this, as most note in their reviews, something of a “letdown”? Of course! You’d think that with this premise and this cast heavily-stacked cast involved that not only would we have something of a classic on our hands, but a near-Oscar contender. Maybe that’s going a tad far, but seriously, just look at that IMDB page and try to tell me you’re not at least somewhat impressed with how many great talents decided to work on this. It’s almost as if director Shawn Levy himself had a piece of evidence that was detrimental to each and everyone of these star’s personal and professional lives, that he was able to bribe all of them into not just working with him on this movie, but actually putting in some fine work.

That said, the movie is not a very good one. You can clearly tell that Levy (the same guy who has directed all of the Night at the Museums‘) doesn’t really have much of a background in directing actual moving, compelling scenes of drama and instead, more or less opts for melodrama that sometimes wants to be about “adult things”, happening with “adult people”, but in the end, just turns out to be not all that important/heavy at all. That it wants to be both a comedy with various poop and sex gags, as well as a heavy-handed drama dealing with infidelity, fertility, family, depression, and other such themes, makes it feel confused and messy.

However though, there is something to be said for when you can get an ensemble this good, to really try their hardest with material that, quite frankly, doesn’t really deserve them. Once again, never read the book so all I can assume is that it was pretty great, but whatever they did with this script here is disappointing.

But that’s why we have movie stars – they’re able to not only make us happy, pleased and be entertained, but also there to remind us each and everyday why they still deserve to work, and why exactly it is that we should continue to see them in whatever they decide to do. And this is exactly why I can’t get too mad at this movie, or what Levy does as a director. Sure, it’s a hack job from someone I didn’t expect to otherwise create, but when he allows for his cast to just do what they do best and interact with one another, the movie hits some highs and makes most of the trip worth taking.

For instance, Jason Bateman is doing what he always does: Dead-pan the crap out every line he has to deliver. It’s definitely an act of his that we’ve seen for a very long time and honestly, it never seems to get old. Not there as Michael Bluth, and definitely not here as Judd Altman; which is definitely effective because he’s the sibling who gets the most attention. He’s a sad sack, but he’s the funny one of the group that also happens to be the voice-of-reason, despite him being severely depressed. Though the romance between he and Rose Byrne’s character does feel a bit tacked-on, the two at least try to create some sort of honesty that doesn’t really show much throughout the rest of the film.

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

But what I’ve said about Bateman, his character Judd, and what he does with him, is pretty much the same thing that could be said about the rest of the cast: They’re all putting in good work, although it’s not much different from what we’ve seen them do before. Tina Fey is funny as the jokey and wiser older sister, although it does seem like her dramatic-acting needs a bit of work; Adam Driver is his usual goofy, eccentric-self and steals mostly all of the scenes he’s in; Corey Stoll is the serious one of the family and does fine with that; Kathryn Hahn plays his wife and seems like she wants to be another one of Hahn’s crazy characters, but just ends up being a repressed wifey-poo; and Jane Fonda plays the matriarch of the Altman family, does what she needs to do, is funny, inappropriate and a bit smug, but she’s a pro and handles this material so well, as one could expect her to do.

And honestly, the rest of the supporting cast is fine, too. Some recognizable faces show up and remind you that they can still put in great work and make something of an impact, regardless of how small their screen-time is (Abigail Spencer makes her conventional-character of the cheating-wife seem somewhat sympathetic). Should this have been a better movie? Oh, totally! It not only should have been an Oscar-contender and definitely something people will keep on turning back to every couple of months or so. But given what it is, most likely, it’ll just be the kind of movie you find while searching through your cable. Not saying that’s a bad thing, really, but it’s definitely not supposed to make you fully pleased either.

Consensus: Given the cast involved, This Is Where I Leave You should have definitely hit harder, but everybody’s so fine that it’s at least worth watching, if only for a single-viewing and leaving it at that.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Never get together with someone named after a Beatles song. That especially means stay away from any “Jude'”s, too.

Connor Ludlow (James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) are two young, happy people living in New York City who seem to be clearly in love. So much so, that they run throughout the streets of lower Manhattan, holding hand-in-hand, making-out in public parks, and looking at fireflies. If that’s love, then I don’t know what is! But somehow, for mysterious reasons, the love has seem to fade away and after Eleanor has a bit of an “accident” of sorts, her and Connor move out of their house and into their own respective families’ houses. They use this as a method to grieve over their lost love and to also figure out just what the hell to do next; he continues trying to keep his failing-restaurant alive, whereas she continues to get her degree and ends up bonding with her professor (Viola Davis). Although Connor does try to sneak around and see Eleanor whenever is possible, nothing seems to ever work out or be solved. Can they continue on as a married-couple and hopefully get past their problems? Or, are they completely finished with one another and forced to move on? What about the fireflies?

If anybody knows a thing or two concerning the production history of this here movie, then let me just re-iterate for yous once again to get everybody up to speed about this movie, because I feel as if it’s a very important point to bring up when talking about this movie.

It's a public-park! People walk freely in a public-park! Hello!!?!?

It’s a public-park! People walk freely in a public-park! Hello!!?!?

See, originally, writer/director Ned Benson created two parts to this story, where we’d get to see the story play-out, but in two of these character’s different perspectives. One would be titled Him, whereas the other one would be titled Her. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, yes, but you also have to take into consideration that each part was nearly two hours long, meaning that a combined run-time of both movies would roughly be around four or so hours. Now, I don’t know about you, but as long as the material’s good and riveting enough for me, then I’m totally cool with a four-hour-plus romantic-dramedy.

However, that’s why I’m the one watching the movies, and not behind-the-scenes, actually creating the movies. Because see, once the Weinsteins got their grubby-paws on this film, they knew that they had to find a way to cut it all down to where people could see one whole, two-hour-ish movie that sums up the whole story in one fell swoop, no intermission included. From a business stand-point, it’s smart and knowing the Weinsteins, I can’t say I’m all surprised they decided to go down this path.

But the problem is that while it may look better on paper for those searching for a night out on the town where they’ll be able to spend time with a quick movie, it doesn’t quite work well for the movie itself. See, the problem is that Benson had to find a way to combine both of the two-hour-plus sections, into one, whole, cohesive two-hour product. And sure, two-hours is a pretty good run-time if you want to get your romantic-dramedy hitting people the right way, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work out well for Benson, or even the material itself.

While I definitely pat Benson on the back for still being up to the task and cutting down his four-hour opus, into a meager, two-hours, there’s still a part of me that feels like this unfinished work. For instance, there’s a lot of scenes here, that feel like they’re placed with hardly any preface at all, as if we’re supposed to have an idea of what these characters are talking about and how it affects them. We hear small inklings of a character who has died and why it makes these characters sad, but we never really feel the same emotions. Not saying that you need to make a movie in which we know anything and everything about the characters who are present, and the ones who aren’t, but when most of your movie is centered around the dissolution of a marriage, it’s kind of hard to find a way to care for anybody involved (mostly the couple), if we have no idea what it was about them that made them so special together in the first place.

That’s not to say we don’t get maybe two or three scenes showing this (which is definitely a testament to the great chemistry Chastain and McAvoy have together), but they’re relatively short, sweet and conventional. We never see where things got so sour for them and though we hear about it, it doesn’t really draw many emotions out of us. It’s as if you walked into an argument right in the middle of it happening, and rather than getting a status update on what was said, how, or why, you’re just sort of sitting there and waiting for the argument to explain itself and then you can eventually draw your own conclusions.

A dumb analogy, I know, but think about it like this: It’s hard to make a movie effective, when it wants to be about the past of this couple, while also about the future. Blue Valentine (a movie that this one’s being constantly advertised and explained as being like) did an expert-job at showing us this couple, and how they met, how they fell in love, and where exactly where they went wrong. Sure, that movie did rely on flash-backs to tell us the story here and there, but they were done so well and thrown into the story so cohesively, that it was never seen as a cheating-method. It felt pertinent to the story being told, because it made us feel more for the characters and the situation they have unfortunately been thrown into.

This is the same place they met. Surprised to see them not end up being "perfect for one another".

This is the same place they met. Surprised to see them not end up being “perfect for one another”.

And while this movie sometimes shows it’s capable of having the same sort of insights as that beautifully heart-breaking tale, it never really becomes much than just “hey, love can suck sometimes”. Which is fine for me. I don’t mind if a romance-dramedy doesn’t want to be an all around “pick-me-upper”, because the fact is, love does suck and most of the time, it’s downright painful. But whereas Valentine felt like it wanted us to remember the inherent beauty that can come with love, Disappearance is just about how much it sucks to not be with the one you love and the desperation one feels in trying to get that “magic” back. Although I do have to say that it’s not as interesting as I may make it sound.

Which is to kind of say that the characters aren’t really compelling to begin with; he’s a bit of a tool, whereas she’s just moping around constantly and treating her current-husband as the biggest pile of shit in the world. Whether or not he deserves that in the first place, is totally up to our imaginations considering we hardly hear or see anything regarding him treating her terribly while they were together, but it doesn’t do any justice to these characters. It also makes the two-hours we spend with them a little draining, emotionally and physically, because we see them in such pain and sadness, but without us really caring about it, or them at all. Though this isn’t to discredit neither Jessica Chastain or James McAvoy, because while both definitely try, the material just doesn’t wholly work in their favor. Chastain’s Eleanor can be sometimes too one-dimensional, and McAvoy’s Connor seems like a sad-sack that needs to either get up, smile a bit and stop talking in such a terribly-mouthy American-accent.

The supporting cast is pretty good, too and while some of their characters are a bit more fully-rounded, there’s still a feeling that there’s more to them than just what we see in this movie. Maybe we’ll come to see that when Him and Her get released later this year in a very, VERY limited-release, but honestly, I would have just liked to get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. Then again though, with the Weinstens involved, you hardly get what it is you want.

Damn them.

Consensus: Occasionally boasting an compelling anecdote about love and loss, the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby gets by on its performances, but doesn’t really go any further than just being a standard romance, with two under-written characters.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Get a damn room already! Or better yet, just any closed-off space with a door!

Get a damn room already! Or better yet, just any closed-off space with a door!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Frank (2014)

Indie musicians have it worse.

Wannabe musician and overall simpleton, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) stumbles upon the opportunity of a lifetime: Fill in as a keyboardist for a band that’s coming to town. Seems simple enough and will definitely allow Jon to show others his love and passion for music, but he soon finds out that this isn’t necessarily the band to show that off with. First of all, nobody in the band really cares for him. The manager (Scoot McNairy) is constantly on the verge of losing his total mind and doesn’t really know what to do with this band. And to make matters worse, the lead singer is a guy by the name of Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a paper-mache head. Is it to hide who he really is? Is it some form of artistic expression? Or, is it just a gimmick that the band rolls with in order to gain any sort of publicity? Nobody really knows, but Jon’s willing to find that all out when he joins the band in the woods where they’ll stay at a cabin and record what’s supposed to be their next album. However, the process is a lot harder than he, or anybody else involved with the band had originally imagined.

So yeah, basically, this is just Almost Famous, but with a smaller-budget and an odd gimmick. Which isn’t to say that’s such a bad thing to begin with, but it turns out that the gimmick after all is really just that this dude wears a paper-mache head practically the whole entire time this film is on for. And to make the gimmick even more unique, well, we have none other than Michael Fassbender himself underneath that head.

Didn't feel like shaving your face in a normal way, now did ya?

Didn’t feel like shaving your face in a normal way, now did ya?

Which is, yes, a total shame for any ladies/men out there who wanted to get their fine helping of some M-Fass, only to come in and realize that you just hear him use this really poor American-accent. And hey, if that’s how you like your M-Fass movies, then this will definitely be a treat for you. However, if you’re at all like me and actually like to see M-Fass put his talents to good use by using that demanding face of his, or just his overall, physical-prowess that seems to command any movie he’s apart of, then you’ll probably want to steer clear of this and watch something like Shame or Hunger.

Because you’ll most likely get more than a small helping of M-Fass watching those two.

Anywho, I guess what I’m trying to say is that while it’s definitely interesting to see someone as notable and as talented as Michael Fassbender to hide his face from us and act in a movie where we hardly see him at all, it doesn’t quite work. Which isn’t to say that he’s bad, it’s just that the rest of the film surrounding him doesn’t really know what to do, or where to go with his character, or even the plot as a whole.F

For instance, the aspect of this movie where it could have really excelled was in the recording-process and how these band-members all came together to create something wonderfully unique. That would have been neat to see, but as time goes on, it becomes quite clear that director Lenny Abrahamson isn’t at all interested in doing something like that; instead, he focuses most of his attention on these characters, their quirky “isms”, and how all of them are incapable of just being normal for a single second. They all seem likes satirical jokes of the kind of hipster, lo-fi indie band you’d see from music festivals like Firefly, or Lollapalooza, or Coachella, but instead, they’re here and rather than humanizing them or making them anything more than just a butt of their own jokes, Abrahamson just explores their quirky-personalities even more.

Which would have been fine in the first place, had any of these personalities been funny in the slightest bit, but they’re not. They’re just strange people, acting strange and doing strange things, without much rhyme or reason. People out there who enjoy smoking weed or can at least identify slightly with these struggling, rather pretentious musicians, will probably find a whole to laugh and love about these characters and how they are, but for anybody wanting a reason for their actions or what it is exactly that they can bring to the table in terms of plot/character-development, then they’ll be utterly disappointed.

And if I had to label this whole movie down to one word, it would probably be just that: Disappointed. I myself am a musician and enjoy watching how certain music is made or comes to fruition in the first place, regardless of if it’s in a documentary or a scripted-piece. Either way, I just like to see how music is made and how people can put their minds to the test when it comes to creating something. Here though, I didn’t get that; instead, I just saw a bunch of wacky characters, be just that. Problem was, I didn’t really care for them, the music the ended up creating (if they ever even got to in the first place), and really, there ended up being nothing interesting said here at all.

Add in some drum-loops and you've got yourself a catchy single.

Add in some drum-loops and you’ve got yourself a catchy single.

Abrahamson seems like he sort of gets to doing that with the character of Frank himself, but it never really pans out to much other than just, “this guy’s a bit cooky, but he’s somehow a musical genius”. Firstly, we never see him actually being a musical genius; he just says and does weird things, and when he doesn’t have the right inspiration for whatever piece he wants to create, he loses his mind and runs around like a crazed-lune. The movie is clearly in love with this character, but it spends so much time just focusing on his odd personality, it hardly leaves us any room to make up our own minds on him. We’re just supposed to love him too, but the “why” is never made clear enough.

Same goes for our main protagonist, Jon. While Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly cast in, yet again, another “normal guy” role, his character’s just boring. Maybe that’s the point, to show the differences he has with the rest of the members in the band, but it doesn’t do anything to help him, or even this movie considering he’s the only character we could connect with amongst all of the hustle and bustle. But that’s not what happens. So instead, we’re supposed to wait around for this band to eventually come together, create some sort of wonderful music, and see if they can all survive as one. But like with music as a whole, everybody likes something different.

Consensus: By appearing so helplessly in love with its title-character, Frank turns out to be nothing more than a fluff-piece for somebody who doesn’t really deserve one, nor any of the other characters either.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

Sort of like how my band's shows look like. But with ACTUAL PEOPLE THERE.

Sort of like how my band’s shows look like. But with ACTUAL PEOPLE THERE. Yeah! Take that, hipsters!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Drop (2014)

Never trust a silent bartender. Don’t even bother tipping them, either.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a bit of a lone wolf in that, he mostly keeps to himself, goes to work at the bar his cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini), run, and goes to Church every Sunday. Also, occasionally he drops some money to fellow gangsters who own his bar. So yeah, life is good for Bob, that is, until he discovers a beaten-up and bruised puppy in a trashcan. Which yeah, doesn’t seem all that bad considering that he takes it in as his own and even names it, but he starts to develop a relationship with the woman who found it with him (Noomi Rapace), which brings around her ex-boyfriend, the near-psychotic Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts). Also, to make matters worse, he and Marv’s place ends up getting robbed, which means that they have to find a way to pay the owners back, or else they’ll be sleeping with the fishes. And if things couldn’t get even worse for these two fellas, a local detective (John Ortiz) starts sticking his nose in certain places that comes a little too close to comfort for both of them.

What we have here is another one of those simple crime-thriller dramas that, on paper, don’t really seem like much: Quiet dude finds dog, quiet takes dog in, quiet dude falls in love with dog, quiet dude’s life suddenly becomes a whole lot of hell. That sounds boring and, like I noted before, on paper, it probably would be. However, that’s what happens when you’re able to transport something to the silver screen, where you not only having somebody direct others about how certain scenes are supposed to sound or look, but also those “others” being some very talented actors and actresses that can jump into any role, without ever making us second-guess their casting decision.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

I’m rambling on so much like this because it’s so very often I get a small, intimate movie such as this, that doesn’t feel like it’s being that way due to budget-constraints. There are so many movies out there (aka, indies), that feel like they have a small scope because they can’t go anywhere else. Here however, director Michaël R. Roskam keeps his story tiny, because that’s what it exactly is: A small crime-tale of a bunch of thugs, low-life’s and simple do-gooders that just can’t help but be taken down by the world they live in.

And that’s why most of the Drop works; whenever it pays close attention to these characters, their connections to one another and what makes them who they are, the movie stays interesting. They’re not the best-written characters in the whole world, but they’re done well enough to where you can find a little something to sympathize with in each and everyone of them. Then again though, it’s also easy to be able to distrust some of them too and realize that while on the surface, they may be fine, simple-minded people, deep down inside, underneath all of the tucks and turns, they can be really mean, almost savage-like people. They can easily do the wrong thing, to the wrong person, and continue to move on with their lives as is, even if it does beat them up inside. They’re just trying to survive in a world that, for the most part, could live on without them.

Sounds like some pretty sad, mopey stuff to deal with here, but I can assure you, the movie’s not nearly as dark as I present it to be. There is some humor to be found and when the actual crime-angle of this story starts to develop, there can be some fun to be found. However, the double-edged sword here is that while it may be fun to watch a bunch of gangsters go around, shooting, killing and yelling obscenities at one another, it doesn’t really add up to much like the character-based drama does. Still though, I can’t complain too much because while there is plenty of moments just simply dedicated to people doing bad things, there are still more than a few scenes where it’s just two characters getting to know one another better and for me, that was always something to watch and listen to. Even if, sometimes, it didn’t pan-out to much in the end other than being “bad guy”, “good guy”.

And a lot of that credit deserves to go towards Roskam, who got a very good cast together and allowed them to just sink their teeth into some small, bare-bones material we don’t see too often from these actors. Tom Hardy is doing that silent-yet-demanding thing he does in most of his movies, and while he has to do it this time with a New York-accent, the guy handles it very well. We get the feeling right away that this character is a good guy, but we also understand that there may be some darkness lying underneath it all and Hardy’s to thank for making us think that each and everytime this character’s morals get called into question.

I don't know who's scarier.

I don’t know who’s scarier.

Even Noomi Rapace does a fine job playing something of New York white trash, even if she has to do the accent, too. She’s nice enough to where you could see why some normal, everyday dude would want to take a run at her, but you can also tell that she’s been through a whole heck of a lot in her life as is, so she won’t put up with it anymore. Her and Hardy develop a nice bit of chemistry that definitely seems like it’s going to lead some heavy foreplay, and to just watch as they both wonder how to go about it is neat, especially since these characters both seem to know what they want, they just don’t know to go about getting it from the other.

You know, much like how most of my relationships with the opposite-sex are!

Anyway, most of the spotlight is being put on this film because it just so happens to feature the final performance from one James Gandolfini and honestly, it’s a great swan song for him to go out on. It’s not the most perfect performance he’s ever done and it sure as hell isn’t much different from his days as Tony Soprano, but it’s the kind of role that makes us look at Gandolfini and realize what a talent he truly was. He was mean and nasty when he wanted to scare a room full of children, but he could also lighten any mood of a scene with that big grin of his. But no matter what, you always knew that there was more to his character than what he was presenting, which is why it was always a pleasure of watching him just act; something he definitely seemed perfectly suited to do right from the very start.

Consensus: The crime-thriller aspects of the Drop may not always mesh very well with the character-based ones, but nonetheless, it’s still an interesting watch, especially if you want to see some great actors put in some wonderful work. And most of all, if you want to see James Gandolfini’s final role ever on film.

8 /10 = Matinee!!

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

United 93 (2006)

Staying right here on the ground and not moving.

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked by terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests. Three of them reached their targets. This is the story of the fourth that didn’t and the people that made that possible.

It’s been just a bit over a decade since that fateful day where more civilians were killed than any other day in history, ever. It’s something that we Americans are still hurting from but is also something that has made us stronger as a country. I know that I don’t usually get all this patriotic and loving like I am right here, but I’ll be damned if this film didn’t make me feel a little bit sentimental towards the country I live in!

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Anyway, enough of that, because while I do realize that this movie is definitely centered towards those who can remember that day, where they were at, and exactly how they were affected, I have to make a note that it is still a move nonetheless. Meaning, it can be viewed by many, regardless of what country they lie in. I bring this fact up because it’s so strange to see a director like Paul Greengrass (somebody who resides from England) tackle such a controversial subject/event such as this. And don’t forget people, this movie came out nearly five years after the attacks and if anybody who lived during the year 2006 will tell you: We as a country still weren’t willing to get over it. Add that to the fact that Greengrass’ track-record up to that point was good, but mind you, this was when people already got a helping of what he could do with the Bourne Supremacy, where people already knew he loved to shake that camera all over the place.

Hey, look! It's that dude who sings on Broadway!

Hey, look! It’s that dude who sings on Broadway!

So yeah, you could say that it was a pretty daring move on everybody’s parts involved to not only make this movie when they did, but to make it in general, with the lad behind it all.

Somehow though, I couldn’t imagine anyone else directing this. There’s something about Greengrass’ down-to-Earth direction that really gives you the impression that not only is this happening in real time, but that it’s literally happening right in front of your own very eyes. It feels, looks, and sounds exactly like a documentary, and because of that, it just looks, feels, and sounds real. Which is basically saying that it’s a terrifying experience to watch, because even though you know what’s going to happen in the end, you can’t help but get swept up in it all and root for the passengers, yet, at the same time, still can’t lose that sense of dread that sooner or later, it’s all going to end and these passengers are going to perish.

As morbid as it may sound to write or read, it’s the truth and that’s why this movie hit me so hard. Because rather than trying to go for some sort of political-agenda and say who was in the right, the wrong, or indifferent when it came to this situation, on this very day, Greengrass just stands behind the camera and films how it probably would have happened. He’s not offering any “rah-rah” patriotism about how these passengers all acted on the plane when they found out what was really happening, but rather, showing us what can happen when a band of practically strangers get together, figure out what predicament they’re in, and how they can get out of it. Which yes, sounds totally different when you think in the grand scheme of things, what was going on outside of this one aircraft, but when you’re watching this movie, you’re not really thinking about everything else that’s going on in the Big Apple and how the rest of the world is reacting to it – you’re simply thinking about how these passengers are going to get off of this plane and survive, if that’s at all possible.

Which, yet again, is a strange feeling to have, especially when you consider that you know how it ends. If you don’t, then I suggest you read more.

And that’s why, despite him having some bad-press surrounding his name and his “crack-cam”, Greengrass truly was the perfect choice to direct a movie such as this. He not only knows how to ramp-up the tension so well, that you practically forget about the actual, real-life ending itself, but he also reminds us that even the smallest gesture of humanity and bravery can matter. Like I said before, he’s not necessarily commending everybody involved and their actions, but he’s just shining a camera-light on what may, or may not, have happened and how certain people reacted to this specific situation they were tragically thrown into.

That’s what brings me to my next point and how this daring this film truly was. See, it’s one thing to portray an event in the history of the world that happened to, and was felt by numerous people from all over the globe. However, it’s another thing to portray an event in history that has a few specific amount of people involved, and to portray them, their stories leading up to, and during this event, is definitely a ballsy move. Not just because you have to worry about who you offend, or who you don’t, but because this movie right here is their legacy; if you’re bad-mouthing them and people know about it, then you, my sir, may have something of a lawsuit on your hands, not to mention many, many years of angry fan-mail pouring in by the thousands.

Guess the fact they were sweating buckets didn't set anybody off.

Guess the fact they were sweating buckets didn’t set anybody off.

But once again, Greengrass proved me wrong and showed that he can take any drastic steps he wants, he always comes out on top. In the case of the characters here in this movie, nobody’s really all that famous or well-known to the point of where one could say, “Oh, that guy was in that episode of Seinfeld!” And even if you could, it probably wouldn’t get in the way of being able to accept this “character” for who they are and what they resemble. Greengrass clearly did the bit of casting in which he got a whole slew of unfamiliar faces and names, just so that it would be so much easier for us, the audience, to not get distracted by seeing a famous person, play a character; especially not a character who is supposed to be based on someone who actually existed.

Nobody here is really outstanding in terms of acting and to be honest, even after all of these years, nobody’s really all that recognizable either (with the exception of Cheyenne Jackson and a blank-a-few-times-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance from Olivia Thirlby), which is good. In fact, it totally works in the movie’s favor. It makes you see each and everyone of these “characters” as who they’re supposed to be: Real-life, actual people that, sadly, were thrown into such a tragic situation as this. It makes you wonder about what they had to go through and how, even when it all ended, their families were affected. But no matter what, the movie reminds us that it’s because of these people and their bravery, that some lives were changed. For both better and for worse. But most of all, they changed history and had us remember that regular, everyday human beings, just like you or I, can change history by just getting up and not taking something we don’t believe in. Even if the end game doesn’t look so pretty.

But hey, that’s just what being humans all about: Making decisions, regardless of if they end well or not. You just want to help and save others, if that’s at all possible.

Consensus: Though it had everything to lose by simply just being made in the first place, United 93 turns out to be not just an effective piece of film-making, but a compelling and emotional look inside the lives of those who were on this one specific airplane, on this one fateful day.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Never forget, people. No matter where you are in this world, just never forget.

Never forget, people. No matter where you are in this world, just never forget.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Bullhead (2011)

Guess there’s an underground mob out there for everyone. What a world we live in.

The underground meat market in Belgium is full of all sorts of trouble and corruption, which, for some, makes lives total hell. One such life is Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts); although most of the problems he has in the present day, stems from an tragic incident that occurred early in his life. While hopped-up on all sorts of drugs, pills, steroids and whatever else can help him get through the day, Jacky realizes that the world he knows as the cattle-trade business, is going to be shaken up a bit now that a supposed “meat inspector” has been killed. Although the rest of his associates around him go nutso and find out any way they can get past the fuzz, totally unscathed and unharmed, Jacky couldn’t be too concerned as he’s more or less trying to move on with his messed-up life. And this usually involves him pining after a girl he’s known since he was little that he wants to be with, but doesn’t know if he can push through this travesty of a life that he has.

In case you don’t already know this by now and are wondering if I acted like a dummy and left anything out, well, surprise, surprise! I did! See, while most of Bullhead is centered around this Jacky character, the life he has had and the one he lives now, there’s a good portion that’s also dedicated to this on-going police-investigation that concerns a childhood friend of Jacky’s. And the reason why I chose not to include this synopsis up above is all because, honestly, it’s not what really gets this flick moving.

Cheer up! Stop feeling so blue...

Cheer up! Stop feeling so blue…

In fact, if there was anything that really took me away from loving this movie more than I probably should have, it was the fact that this subplot constantly reared its ugly head. And that’s not to say it wasn’t pertinent to the story; it definitely was and showed that this meat-trafficking business was as brutal and as unrelenting as any other shady business. However, whenever the movie really seemed to be paying attention to Jacky, his plight, who he is and how he gets through life on a day-to-day basis, it felt emotional, powerful and consistent, especially in terms of how interesting it could get by just being as simple as the sky. But whenever writer/director Michaël R. Roskam decided that it was time to throw in this gangster-lite tale, it just seemed to get in the way of a good thing.

Maybe had this story been all by itself, in its own movie, its own run-time and its own general basis to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted and how it wanted, then maybe we’d have a way better movie on our hands. But being a person who is supposed to judge a movie on the merits presented to me, and not what it could have been in my mind, I guess I have to take into consideration that this movie isn’t perfect. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about. Sure as hell doesn’t mean I have to not mention it whenever I bring it up into conversation with my peeps. But what it does mean is that this movie could have been so much better, had they just decided to cut out a good portion of this movie that was, well, for lack of a better word, “conventional”.

But, like I was saying, the movie itself here, people!

And like I was saying about this movie here, while it seems like two stories converging into something of a relatively uneven movie, the one story is so compelling and powerful, that it’s hard for me to really walk away from this film and not say that it deserves to be seen. The reason for this to, is all because of this character, Jacky, and how the movie paints him as. Yes, because while he may be involved with this underground meat-market trading business where he jacks up his cattle on constant steroids and HGH hormones (though, to be fair, not nearly as much as he seems to do to himself), there’s still something about him and his complexities that draw us to him just about every second he’s on screen.

Some of that has to do with what happened to him as a child (which we do eventually find out and is easily the most disturbing scene in a movie that I’ve seen in quite some time), but some of that also has to do with the fact that he just wants to live his life, and a full one at that. Even if that does mean creepily shackin’ up with a girl he hasn’t seen since he was nearly 12 or so. Or, hell, even if that means using steroids to have that perfect, muscular-build to look and feel “masculine” – it doesn’t matter because to him, this is his way of living. He makes money illegally, yet somehow, it’s hard for us to really put that on the side and just realize that this is a very sad person who we can not only help but feel bad for, but even come close to rooting for whenever it seems like he’s getting close to hitting his personal goal of “being a normal person”.

Metaphor, I guess.

Metaphor, I guess.

It’s the way Jacky’s written that makes us think this; he’s not always the most moral guy, making the right decisions, but when he gets a chance to do somewhat of the right thing, he does and moves on with his life. However, most of the reason why Jacky is such an interesting, wholly complex character, is because Matthias Schoenaerts is so great as him, feeling, looking and basically, just being a person that you’d imagine who would live a life as sad and as painful as he has. Schoenaerts has become something of a bigger name since this movie came out, and it’s easy to see why – there’s something cold, dark and mysterious about his presence with Jacky that makes us feel like we must get to know him each and every second he’s around.

Some people get this way with Tom Hardy, but mostly everybody was like this with one Marlon Brando. And trust me, I know those two comparisons are pretty ballsy ones to make, but seriously, I feel like Schoenaerts and the work he puts in here is actually deserving of it. If only somewhat, that is. He practically carries this movie on his own, busted-up back and shows you that it’s not what you say with your words, it’s more of how you carry yourself from scene-to-scene, with your own body-language. Schoenaerts is great at showing us somebody who literally feels awkward and unknowing of the world around him, so much so that when it comes to having conversations with those not within his underground meat-market circle, he’s a blabbering, nervous mess. But rather than having these scenes play out like an intentional, hella-awkward comedy, Schoenaerts and Roskam make these moments hard to watch and listen to; you know he’s trying to make things right and it’s just not at all working out for him.

But, then again, that’s why we have such a thing as “heroes”, “villains”, and a little word called “anti-heroes”. Those we don’t want to like, sympathize, or even care for, but we as normal, everyday human beings can’t help but do so. It’s just in our nature.

Consensus: In Bullhead, there are two opposing stories ramming against one another, and while one is clearly not interesting, the main one featuring Matthias Schoenaerts in a stellar performance is what keeps this movie interesting, emotional and worth watching, if only for when he himself is around.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Silly, Mathais! That's not potty!

Silly, Matthias! That’s not potty!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Life Of Crime (2014)

Of course they had to kidnap the one housewife who looks like Jennifer Aniston!

Repressed and angry housewife Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) doesn’t like the life she’s practically married into; her husband (Tim Robbins) is a philandering drunk, her son doesn’t really talk to her anymore, and she sees there almost no chance of being able to escape. That is all until she ends up being kidnapped in a get-rich-quick-scheme set up by two cons, Ordell (Yasiin Bey) and Louis (John Hawkes). While the plan seems simple at first (kidnap the wife, demand money from the hubbie, run off and have no problems), it suddenly all goes South once the husband’s mistress (Isla Fisher) gets involved. Also not to mention the fact that Louis and Mickey actually begin to develop something of a friendship that makes it a lot harder for Mickey to really be scared in a situation such as this, when she really should be. But she shouldn’t worry any longer because coming to he aide is a friend (Will Forte) who wants more than to just be a dude she casually talks to – he wants to be with her and won’t stop until he finds her and uncovers this plan.

There’s a strange fact that connects me more to this movie than I would like to; see, way back when in high school, I decided to give Elmore Leonard’s the Switch a read. I had already read a few of his books beforehand and considering that the film-adaptations of his books that I had already seen were great, I thought to my young, restless-self, “Why the ‘eff not?” Well, funny thing is that while I’m reading the book, I just so happen to stumble upon a news story that this same book I’m reading, is the latest Leonard piece to be adapted into a film and was going to feature none other than a favorite of mine, Mr. Dennis Quaid himself.

Thought I smelled a rat, too.....

Thought I smelled a rat, too…..

Fast forward a couple years later, Quaid’s out, replaced and the whole movie has come together in something that I didn’t expect. Now trust me, I won’t try to make this a review of the book vs. the movie; although I certainly can’t promise I’ll stay fully away from it either. However, all that said, it’s easy to see why they’d want to adapt this story, of all the other promising pieces of Leonard’s works – it’s quicker, funnier and features more character-development than most of his other works and it made total sense as to why such a high-caliber cast would get involved in the first place.

Even if, you know, my main man D-Quaid wasn’t involved anymore.

Anyway, though the source material holds out a lot of promise, there’s just something totally and completely “off” about this movie to where I feel like writer/director Daniel Schechter didn’t fully understand what it was that he was reading, and as a result, writing down. There are some genuine moments of suspense, even for somebody who has already read the book and knows what happens, but that’s pretty much it when it comes to getting Leonard’s style down perfectly and put onto film.

That’s why certain directors like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino have done so well with his pieces: They get Leonard, the way his characters talk and how the plots progress on and on. Schechter, on the other hand, doesn’t really seem like he’s capable of bringing Leonard’s fun, vivid mind to the big screen and because of that, the movie feels incredibly uneven. There are moments when it’s supposed to be quippy and funny, almost to where we can believe these characters saying these certain lines of wit at these specific moments, but it feels very tacked-on; which isn’t to discredit the cast, it’s just that they’re given such lame material to work with, that even their charming presences can’t make it any better.

For instance, try John Hawkes, an actor who, no matter what he shows up in, is always doing something interesting, yet always stays believable in that character’s skin. He can play a good guy, and literally be the nicest human being alive; he could be a bad guy, and possibly be the most despicable person you’ve ever seen. He just has that certain way about him that allows him to blend into whatever character he’s playing. And honestly, that’s why Louis (the same character played by one Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown) seems like such a perfect character for him to play: He’s not necessarily a moral person, but he has a kind heart. Given the right script, too, Hawkes could have ran wild with this character but instead, he comes off as poorly-written and is hardly ever considered somebody “bad”. There are small instances of his rage, but whenever he’s on the same screen as Jennifer Aniston’s character, he automatically softens up and seems like it’s coming completely out of nowhere.

It was the 70's, so it's okay.

It was the 70’s, so give him a break.

Not to mention that this is hardly ever mentioned/alluded to in the book, but like I said, staying with the movie here, people!

And the same sort of goes for Aniston – while I’ve never been absolutely stunned by the work she puts into certain movies, she’s always likable in her own way. Here, she just seems like she’s on auto-pilot and doesn’t really get much to do that’s neither believable, nor even fun to watch her do. She just sort of yells, screams, runs away and occasionally, tries to act smarter than the criminals who have in fact kidnapped her.

But the same I say for Aniston, is pretty much the same way for everybody else in this cast and it’s absolute waste of some real fine talent assembled here. Yasiin Bey (aka, Mos Def) does his best impersonation of Samuel L. Jackson without totally over-doing it and he gets a few laughs, but all in all, seems like he’s just there to be the token black character who makes stereotypical jokes about race, food and women; Tim Robbins plays the husband as a total dick (mostly how he was written) and is fine, but after awhile, you wonder just what the hell there was about this guy in the first place that actually attracted her to him; Will Forte is goofy and that’s about it; and Isla Fisher, despite being a lot older than I expected her character to be, is smoky, sexy and that’s all she needed to be for this character to work, although it never makes full sense as to why she gets involved with these cast of characters either.

Consensus: Despite boasting an impressive cast who are all clearly trying with all their force and might, Life of Crime can’t help but just feel like a dull, aimless, uneven and rather boring crime-thriller that doesn’t do its source-material justice whatsoever.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"Yeah, this is NOT Mos Def calling. It's my real, actual name."

“Yeah, this is NOT Mos Def calling. It’s my real, actual name.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Whoever thought that the scariest lady on television could ever be so damn funny?

This film makes an attempt to peel away the mask we usually see with comedian, actor, writer, director, and pop-culture sensation known as Joan Rivers. We follow her for 14 months, mostly during the 76th year of her life and find out how hard it is to get work no matter how funny you are. We also get to hear her side of the stories on such events in her life like when her husband died, or how everybody on the face of the planet attacks her numerous dates with plastic surgery.

For the longest time, I was never quite a big fan of Joan Rivers. I don’t really think I’m alone on the boat with that statement right there but she’s just always been one of these gals that bothers me with her screechy, Brooklyn accent, scary surgery that seemed like it got worse and worse over the years, and some questionable decisions she’s made in the past, most notably the one she did behind Johnny Carson’s back, aka the guy that basically gave her a start. Then, after seeing her on Louie, I realized that there was a whole lot more to this lady than just making wise cracks on celebrities outfits on the red carpet.

What surprised me is how damn hilarious dirty Rivers still was in her later years. At the time of this documentary, I think she was around 76 or so and she still did stand-up work that would make Sam Kinison and Bob Saget both run for the doors. The stand-up stuff she does is so funny and even though it all depends on what you think is actually humorous or not, Rivers still delivers in her politically-incorrect way that has seemed to get her so far throughout all of these years. And because of that, not only was I able to give this movie a shot, but even her herself and see what her side of the story was all about.

Take a wild guess as to who that is....

Take a wild guess as to who that is….

This film also paints a picture of Joan Rivers, not just in a way that makes her seem like one of the funniest gals in comedy (right next to Kathy Griffin, in my opinion), but also shows that she’s a bit scared and insecure deep down inside. Rivers has the status of celebrity (well…sort of), but isn’t afraid to take any show that comes her way just in order to stay out there, get money, and keep her name up in the clouds. This shows that she has some real dedication when it comes to what she’s been put on this world to do but we also see a side of her that’s unlike anything else we see in most docs about certain high-profile stars such as this one we have here: She’s worried.

It’s sucks that Rivers went through all of the crap she went through where she hit a bump in the middle of her career, had her husband commit suicide, and spend the next 30 years of your life trying to regain that stardom and respect in the biz, but always end up having an empty calendar for the next month. She’s always scared about hearing crickets out in the crowd and tries her hardest to entertain even the hardest crowds, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way and it’s a shame of a reality once you think about it. I’m not saying that I totally pity this chick beyond belief, but it makes you realize that she has a lot more going behind the scenes than we might have ever expected and she doesn’t take any of what she’s given for granted. She’s a very talented comedian that obviously knows what she’s doing, but there still some stuff to her that still remains a mystery to her, even after all of these years.

Problem I met with this documentary is that it doesn’t keep you as fully entertained the whole time considering it constantly shoves in-and-out of this comedy and dramatic junk. One second we’re getting Joan talking about how her daughter didn’t pose for Playboy, then the next second we’re getting here crying about her late husband that killed himself. One second we’re getting a scene of Joan doing stand-up, absolutely taking the balls right out of this heckler, then the next second we get her crying about how she’s scared of rejection. Both worlds are great ones to discover and dig deep into, but when you have them in the same film going around and about, it comes off more as uneven, rather than actually engaging.

That's you, Joan. Butter believe it.

That’s you, Joan. Butter believe it.

The other problem I had with this documentary was the story about Melissa Rivers getting voted off the Celebrity Apprentice. I don’t care what anyone says, those shows are crap, they always have been, and do nothing else but allow the Trumpenator to say his famous catchphrase every episode. Everybody knows this, but it seems like both of the Rivers’ don’t and that’s a little bit too funny to watch considering how serious they take it. I actually started laughing when Joan started to tear up once Melissa gets booted off the show and states that, “It just wasn’t fair! It just wasn’t!”. Really Joan? Does it matter that much whether or not Donald says “you’re hired”? Now that I think about it, maybe it would be pretty cool.

Either way though, this documentary is really all about Joan Rivers and those lives she’s been able to touch. Sometimes, it wasn’t in the best ways like she had originally intended, but most of the time, if she got a laugh or two, she was content. And when you’re somebody who aspires to do that, day in, day out and most of all, for a living, then that’s all you need. Even if you are Joan Rivers; a woman who never let up, even when she was being told to do so.

Once again, another legend lost. Meaning, another person we won’t soon forget.

Consensus: While uneven, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a nice, insightful look into the life of Rivers, the woman she was, who she became, and why exactly she decided to do all of those terrible, horrible things to her face.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

You tell 'em, girl!

You tell ‘em, girl!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Rover (2014)

If somebody took my precious moped, trust me, I’d travel to the ends of the Earth, too.

Set in the Outback, ten years after what is called “the collapse”, a lonely, disheveled man (Guy Pearce) parks his car by the side of the road, only to realize that, moments later, it’s stolen by a bunch of thugs who got in a car crash and needed the next best set of wheels to roll with. The man clearly doesn’t like this, so he sets out to get his car back, but not without stumbling upon one of the younger brother’s of this gang, an autistic redneck by the name of Reynolds (Robert Pattinson). Together, the two embark on a journey of sorts in which the man can get his car back and hopefully keep Reynolds with him, almost as a use of leverage. However, their two troubled pasts and the decisions they’ve made eventually come back to bite both of them in the rear-ends during this trip, and most of the times, it usually leads to disastrous results. Especially when all hope in the world, is practically lost.

In case you couldn’t already tell, there’s something strange about this premise. Like, for instance, why on Earth is this one dude going so deep and far just to get his car back? Speaking of the Earth, how did it “collapse”? Was it a virus? Did it hit everywhere on the planet, or just Australia? Better yet, why the hell does there happen to be numerous Americans roaming the Outbacks? And what the hell is up with these soldiers?

Basically, this movie has a lot of questions and has no interest in actually answering them, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, then there’s no reason you should really see this. It will only have you be more and more incredibly pissed as it trudges along, not to mention that it’s not necessarily the greatest pick-me-up, either. So just imagine the Road, but this time, without a father-son dynamic, therefore, getting rid of any sort of hope or humanity one may be able to find in a flick as grim and as brutal as this.

"Oy, mate! There's plenty of bushes around here! Why couldn't you just go in one of them?!?!"

“Oy, mate! There’s plenty of bushes around here! Why couldn’t you just go in one of them?!?!”

But that’s why we have movies such as the Rover – not to be enjoyed, but simply, to be intrigued by. Most of the times, it’s for the worse, but sometimes, especially in the case here, it’s for the better because the movie doesn’t feel like it needs to really explain itself. Sure, it would have been totally helpful to get a bit more background info on just how Australia turned into this Mad Max-style playing field, but there’s something quite interesting in that mystery surrounding it, that it’s hard to have it ruin whatever movie-viewing experience when can have while watching this.

Which, for some, may be a bit of a change if they had already seen writer/director David Michôd’s previous flick, Animal Kingdom; which, surprisingly, was a conventional gangster tale of a family full of thugs and crooks, but was spun so many times, it hardly ever felt conventional or boring. Here though, there’s hardly any convention to be found: Basically, it’s just a road trip from one blazingly hot Australian location, to another. And while that may sound like a whole bucket of fun, it isn’t and really, it doesn’t need to be.

Because mostly, what Michôd does so well as director is that he sets a mood; it’s a very dark, brooding and ominous one, but it’s one that throws us into this post-apocalyptic world we know hardly anything about, except for that everything is screwed up beyond belief. Somehow though, Michôd is able to find these small shots of natural beauty, which is mostly to credit the landscapes in which he shot this movie, but also to credit him as having a keen eye on what pops in a movie that can be so grim at times, you’ll wonder if there’s going to be any humanity found at all.

And eventually, Michôd does find some humanity in this story, however, if there was a element that I felt like this movie needed the most help with, it was this. While Michôd clearly gets the look and feel of this movie down perfectly, there’s a certain idea about these characters that leaves plenty to be desired. Sure, we’re practically thrown into a situation, with characters we hardly know right off the bat, but the time one dedicates to driving and staying in seedy hotels, should definitely be time for us to not only get to know our characters, or understand exactly why it is that they’re in the situation they’re in. It’s understandable why Pattinson’s character is in this situation (he’s simply not all that there in the head), but as for Pearce’s character (who I’m being told is named “Eric”, although I hardly ever heard this mentioned at all), there’s never a full understanding as to why his character is setting out so passionately on this trip just to get his car back, nor do we understand why he’s doing so many barbaric things on the way as well.

Maybe that’s the point Michôd is trying to get across: In a world that is so run-down and torn to pieces, there’s hardly any room for human connection. Which, if that was his intentions to begin with, then fine job on his part. In fact, I’d say the message was totally received. However, that also means the film suffers because of that and it made me wonder just why we couldn’t at least get two or three more scenes of Reynolds and Pearce’s character talking about whatever. Even if the conversation went nowhere, at least there would have still been an effort for us, the audience, to get to know them better just by how they talk.

He still hasn't forgotten, Rupert Sanders.

He still hasn’t forgotten, Rupert Sanders.

But sadly, we don’t really get that. Instead, we get many scenes where Reynolds and “Eric” sit in a car, or fireside and, occasionally, getting involved in countless acts of violence. It should be noted that these acts of violence are quick, shocking and ultimately, brutal, however, there’s not enough emotion to go behind them. The only time there ever is any emotion involved whatsoever, is whenever Pattinson’s Reynolds is one of those in the action. Some of that has to do with the fact that it’s easy to feel sorry for this character as is, but some of that also has to be given to Pattinson for diving straight forward into this role, without hardly ever over-doing it; which any person who has ever had to play a mentally-handicapped character will tell you, can be quite hard to stay away from.

However, that’s the surprise we get from Pattinson here who, for what it’s worth, adds enough heart to a character you don’t necessarily root for, but don’t want terrible things to happen to either. Then again though, there’s this realization that this character isn’t the most moral one out there and, for the most part, has violent tendencies. Because of this, the character’s unpredictable and Pattinson is definitely capable of keeping that act up throughout the whole majority he’s on-screen for. As for Guy Pearce, though he looks perfect as this mean and nasty son-of-a-bitch “Eric”, there’s just not enough for him to do here, except just snarl, angrily stare at people around him, and hold up a gun. Which honestly doesn’t sound like such a problem when it’s Guy Pearce doing all of these things, but when he’s out-shined by Edward Cullen, there is something of a problem.

Not a huge one, but a noticeable one.

Consensus: Heavy on its unquestionably bleak atmosphere, the Rover will definitely tests those willing to go through with it, while also disappointing others who don’t get more than just another gritty, raw Australian-thriller, with some interesting ideas.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"I said, 'G'day, mate'!!"

“I said, ‘G’day, mate’!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ali (2001)

Float like a butterfly and sting like a, uhm, something. I forget.

Meet Cassius Clay, Jr. (Will Smith), a twenty-something boxer who is fresh, young and chock full of fight. He’s also got a bit of a mouth on him that doesn’t make him the most popular boxer among his fellow confidantes, but definitely makes him popular in the eyes of the media that wants to hear/see everything he says/does. But like it is with most celebrities in the public limelight, there usually comes controversy and Clay’s was filled with plenty of it. First came his name change; then, his alliance with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles); his numerous marriages and affairs; his defiance against joining the U.S. Army due to “religious reasons”; his relationship with known sports-commentator Howard Cosell (Jon Voight); and plenty more where that came from. All of this eventually leads up to the infamous fight he had with a boxer by the name of George Foreman, in which most people dubbed, “the Rumble in the Jungle”.

Some of you die hards out there may already take notice to the fact that I’ve reviewed this one before, but honestly, that was so far back when, I can hardly remember what I gave it. All I do remember is that I watched it, wrote a terrible review on it and hardly remembered anything after seeing it. That’s what happened to me with most movies back in those early, immature days of my life, but nowadays, when I see something, I give it my full, undivided attention.

So yeah, I decided to give this a re-watch because I knew there was something about I needed to see once again and decide what about it drew me back to it. And after having seen it, for a second time mind you, I can’t really come up with an answer. That’s not because I didn’t pay attention again this time; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I fueled up on so much coffee, I was about to jump right out of the window before seeing this. Meaning, that I was so ready to see this and be able to give it the response it’s worth and not something I put out those many years ago.

"West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!"

“West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!”

But nope. Somehow, nothing seemed to change. Sure, I remembered the movie a lot better now than I did before, but there’s just something odd about this movie and I think that all comes down to Michael Mann himself being the director. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Michael Mann as a director; in fact, I think he’s one of the better ones out there nowadays and I can’t wait to see what he’s got cooking next with this new film starring Chris Hemsworth. However, the problem with him is that when he’s feeling extra “artsy”, it gets in the way of his story – or, in this movie’s case, the lack thereof.

Which, for a biopic about one of sport’s most influential icons ever, means something. Not only do you get in the way of actually connecting to a character that some can deem “misunderstood”, but you don’t really allow there to be anything remotely interesting driving this character, or their story along for us to say. Throw on a two-and-a-half-hour run-time and you’re asking way too much of an audience, especially when you’re not giving them anything to really hold onto.

And that’s not to say everything Mann does here is bad – the look, sound and overall feel of this movie is, predictably, wonderful. You can tell that Mann didn’t take this as some sort of “paycheck gig” and throw in the towel (excuse the pun); he actually puts a spin on the look of this movie when re-creating the environment the United States in the 60’s. Even the boxing sequences themselves are pretty neat, but not in the way you’d expect them to be; rather than having the boxing bouts be full of hooks, jabs, punches, punches and hugs every single second, Mann focuses on what most boxing matches can be: Boring. Now, I’m not saying that boxing in and of itself is boring, but there can be the occasional lull in the action and Mann focuses on that quite well, almost to the point of where it’s too realistic.

Still though, I’ll take realism over any goofy, over-the-top boxing match (which is pretty much what the Rocky films ended up being).

But, like I said before, those bold moves don’t really work unless you can find a way to make the story work as well and that’s just what the problem is here. Mann literally places us right slap dab in the middle of Ali’s life without much rhyme, reason, or even a background on who this person is, why he is the way he is, and exactly who/what made him this way. A part of me feels like Mann was just assuming that all of us know this, or simply don’t care, which isn’t true; getting to know somebody famous and iconic from where they came from is probably the most compelling aspect behind getting a full picture of a person really is and why they’re so worth studying in the first place.

Here though, we just get Ali, who talks a lot, bangs a lot, fights a lot, and changes his mind about whatever it is that he believes in with the drop of a hat. Which, yet again, is another interesting spin Mann takes on this story, but it hardly ever goes anywhere. Instead, we just see Ali act this way and hardly ever get anymore development on it. And that’s pretty much how the rest of this movie plays out: Stuff happens, you never really get a reasoning behind it and it’s off to the next sequence of stuff happening. But while for most movies, from some directors out there (namely Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.), this would work because of how exciting and compelling this stuff is, Mann goes at such a slow-pace, it’s downright dreadful to sit through at times.

For instance, did we really need a seven-minute concert performance by Sam Cooke to start the movie off? Better yet, did we need to see a whole, nearly ten-minute sequence in which Ali jogs through the streets of Africa? Sure, all of it looks and sounds pretty, but when it doesn’t really add much to the final product, what’s the point? By then, you’re just taking up space and precious time, so don’t bother with it!

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I'm sure.

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I’m sure.

Another problem that most seem to have with this movie that I can somewhat attest to is how Will Smith is doing more of a full-fledged impersonation of Ali, rather than an actual performance in and of itself. And while I don’t necessarily think Will Smith does a bad job in the role (he tries so very hard, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch at times because you never know if he’s going to sprain an acting-muscle), I can’t say that I think this performance is “Oscar-worthy” or even the best he’s given, ever. Regardless of what some may say, Will Smith is a very good actor when he wants to be and when he’s given the right material, and here, he just doesn’t have it. He’s supposed to sound, look, and act like Ali and he does a fine job at that, but really getting to the core of somebody the media usually portrays as a “misunderstood, yet incredibly influential icon”, is just not something he’s able to do.

Once again, most of that blame is put onto those who gave him this thin-material to work with, as well as Mann for not really pushing Smith harder than he’d ever been pushed before.

The same can sort of be said for the supporting cast as well, which has plenty of recognizable names and faces, yet, aren’t given much to do except just act like other famous people. Jon Voight, for no other reason than that he’s Jon Voight, was nominated for an Oscar here as Howard Cosell which, like in the case of Smith’s Ali, is nothing more than an impersonation aided by very well-done hair and make-up; Giancarlo Esposito shows up as Ali’s daddy and gets a few scenes to work, but seems like a lot of his stuff was cut-out; Mario Van Peebles has some impressive scenes as Malcolm X, but, yet again, is just doing an impersonation; and Mykelti Williamson, despite being quite hilarious as Don King, feels more like a caricature than an actual boxing promoter (much like the real Don King, I guess, but that’s not the point). The only one who really steps away unscathed is Jamie Foxx who, before this movie, was mostly known for his comedy, but at least shows that he had some dramatic-chops in his system as one of Ali’s trainers.

Makes total sense now why Mann would later cast Foxx in the much-better Collateral, but that’s another review, for another day, folks.

Consensus: While it’s clear that mostly everybody involved tries, Ali comes off more like an uninvolved highlight-reel of the famous boxer’s most famous and controversial moments, that would probably be more compelling to actually read in a biography, than everything here.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid's an intellectual!:

“You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid’s an intellectual!:

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2010)

Jim Morrison wouldn’t have lasted a day with Mozart around, shaking things up.

Meet Glenn Gould, a child prodigy pianist who traveled over from Canada into the U.S., and made quite a name for himself in the classical music genre. He did certain things to original composings by Bach and Mozart that nobody had ever dared tried to do before and his unique style of playing the piano really made him an act that people needed to see, as soon as possible. Problem was, off the stage and away from the crowd, Gould was something of a troubled-dude. He didn’t have many friends, and for those who could consider them as such, didn’t really know him all that well. Did it stem from the fact that he was a hypochondriac? Was it because he and his family hardly ever spoke? Or, was it simply because he was just too smart for his own good? Whatever the reason may have been, is totally unknown, because just as soon as he hit the ripe of age of 50, Gould passed away, leaving a legion of adoring fans and pieces of work in the dust.

The general consensus of classical music is that, for the most part, it’s considered “pretentious”. The music itself; the people who conduct it; the people who listen to it – it doesn’t matter, it’s all pretentious. Some of that’s correct and some of it isn’t, because classical music is just like any other music out there. Sure, there usually aren’t any lyrics in any classical pieces, and there certainly aren’t any surprise guest-appearances by Lil’ Jon to be found either; but it’s music no less and it deserves to be treated as such.

That’s why, despite not having much of a background in classical music, I decided to give this documentary a shot. And I’m glad I did because I realized one key element to music that I so desperately needed to be reminded of: Every piece of music matters. And sometimes, not even just the pieces themselves, it’s those who create it, why, and the kind of impact they left on the music world for creating this one piece of music. Some may consider it “bad”, others, “a near-masterpiece”, but overall, it’s music that made a difference and I don’t see any problem with that whatsoever.

Ironic, I guess?

Ironic, I guess?

Which is why watching Glenn Gould’s story be told to us in a chronological, simple way was compelling; he’s the type of artist most comedy sketch-shows make fun of because of how strange he was, but that’s sort of the mystery behind Glenn Gould, the person, hence why Glenn Gould, the musician, was so enthralling to begin with.

And while watching this documentary, you sort of get the impression that Gould was just like every other musician out there who has ever been touted as “the next big thing”, only to have a nervous breakdown, turn away from the public eye, do whatever they want and basically, fade off into oblivion. However, in the case of Gould, there’s something slightly different – even while he was away and doing his own thing, in his own spare time, the man was still working and keeping himself busy, it just wasn’t what anybody was expecting him to be working on.

Rather than sticking straight to creating classical music, Gould traveled out into different places like the recording studio, radio, film-making, acting, writing, etc. And while he was working on these various different forms, he was finding more and more ways to make them accessible to those who wanted to work with them. He was the type of artist that was considered being perfect at his craft, yet, didn’t let that fully get to this head and just lounge out till the end of his days, while simultaneously collecting paycheck, after paycheck. Nope, not Glenn Gould and there’s something refreshing to see that in a musician of his stature.

Though it may seem like I’m just filling this review up to talk on and on about Gould himself, rather than actually focus on the movie at all, I can assure you, that is not the case. It’s just difficult to talk about a documentary when it’s main attraction is the subject itself in whom it is documenting. Because with Glenn Gould, you get a person who did something wonderful with his instrument and the world he lived in, yet, didn’t know exactly what to do with all of that notoriety. Instead, he just got away from it all and continued to live a quiet, peaceful life. But while this may all seem peachy-keen, the movie assures you it’s not. Most of this is due to the fact that Gould mostly kept to himself, but that he also didn’t always treat those around him with the utmost love and respect.

Play that funky music, white boy!

Play that funky music, white boy!

Later on by the end of the film, we get the impression that Gould was really “losing it” by the end of his life, which isn’t just sad because it’s a fragile, yet, incredible mind going to waste, but that all of those who ever supported him, were nowhere to be found. That’s not necessarily their fault, as much as it is his own, but it’s still interesting to see how this guy reacts to the fame brought onto him for his magnificent playing skills and also how he seemingly pushed any of those who ever loved him, away.

Which, once again, brings us to the mystery of just who the hell this person truly was underneath the wonderful piano-playing? Was he some sort of genius that was a lot better at playing music, then performing it in front of huge crowds and having to promote it? Or, simply, was he just another Kurt Cobain of his day? A creative genius that, sadly, was misunderstood by all of those around him. Thankfully, for Gould, there was no MTV, there was no Courtney Love and there sure as hell was no Smells Like Teen Spirit. Instead, there was just him against the world and it what proved to be his predictable, yet utterly tragic downfall.

Consensus: Regardless of your musical interests, Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould will please anybody looking for an intriguing documentary about a subject who wasn’t what we’d call “normal”, nor would we call “uninteresting”.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

How I usually sit. But in crowded rooms, mind you.

How I usually sit. But in crowded rooms, mind you.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Take that Wall-E! This is real animation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, how are the ki…AAAAHHH!!”

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

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

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

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

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

Technically, it’s still an airport.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Trip to Italy (2014)

More food; more locations; more My Cocaine impressions; more British-talk.

Two years after their initial food/sights tour of Northern England Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are back at it again! But this time, they’re going to Italy! Meaning, more food, more spicy women, more impersonations, more jokes, more one-up-manship, and definitely more conversations about their careers and where they’re headed. However, now that both of them are a bit older now, they question just whether or not has life passed them by and have a trouble accepting the fact that they are, yes, nearly 50. But Rob and Steve are jolly fellows that don’t let this get in the way of their wonderful getaway too much and instead, depend on one another for laughs and their own respective families for some sort of comfort when they get lonely, or sad at night. Still though, the two wake up the next day and woolah, they’re back on the road, doing what they do best: Just being themselves. Even if they do sometimes get on each other’s nerves than they would like to.

So yeah, the original Trip was a nice, delightful piece of British cinema; which is especially strange, considering it was originally made-for-TV and spliced together for a full-feature flick. While that was clear and abundant in the first movie, with some scenes not necessarily feeling like they’re adding up to much, it seems like, for the second time around, director Michael Winterbottom, Brydon and Coogan have at least realized that in order to make a movie work and be effective, it has to be cohesive. Therefore, not only is the editing a lot better this go around, but the movie itself is a bit tighter in terms of how it balances its comedy aspects, along with its dramatic ones.

"Eat up, ya twit!"

“Eat up, ya twit!”

And because these guys aren’t getting any younger, they’re starting to think like older-men – which always means that there’s going to be a whole lot more drama added to the mix. Because even though both Brydon and Coogan are exceptionally hilarious fellas, two guys who seem to not have a care in the world of who they offend, or what sort of jokes they make, they’re still human beings. And human beings have feelings, dammit!

That’s why, for every ten-minute straight-sequence in which we get Brydon and Coogan riffing off one another and doing their hilarious impersonations of various James Bond actors, there’s at least two dramatic-sequences in which these two guys talk about how they’re getting old and how life seems to be passing them by. Also not to mention, these guys realize that they can’t do much about it and instead, decide to discuss whether they even want to go on further with their careers, regardless of how well they’re doing at the present time. It’s actually kind of shocking to see these two get so candid about these aspects of real life, but I guess it had to happen eventually, and I’m glad it happened in this movie, with these characters (which, I guess, is something of a joke), and together.

Which is why I don’t find it at all dumb to say that the most interesting aspect of this movie are both Brydon and Coogan themselves. Because see, like with the first one, it’s clear that these guys are playing slight-versions of themselves that may not always be on-point, but at least hit the nail on the head with how they’re famously perceived in the media, or those not-so close to them. But what’s always struck me as a little fishy was that most of this isn’t just improvised by whatever comedic-genius they concoct next, but they even share the writing credits, along with Winterbottom as well. Meaning that even when they aren’t just saying what comes to their minds first, usually, the stuff they say, has to be written out for them to then say again in front of the screen.

And this makes me ponder something: “Just how much of this movie is them just talking about stuff their “characters” would talk about? Or, how much of it really is just them, the real life personas of Coogan and Brydon, just being themselves?

Honestly, it was quite easy to tell this in the first movie; obviously Coogan was being a miserable dick because that’s how everybody and their grand-mothers perceived him as being. But here, he’s hardly ever mean to anybody and, here’s the biggie, actually laughs more than a dozen times at Brydon. In fact, if I were to state who walks away with this movie, in a comedy-sense, I’d say it would be Brydon. And this should honestly be no surprise; the guy was a delight to watch in the first movie and here, he’s as charming as ever, showing the world that he’s capable of more than just being able to do some killer Al Pacino and Michael Caine impersonations. Some of it goes a bit over-board (as most sequels do), but when he’s on a roll, the guy doesn’t stop and it’s great to see, especially considering that you know most of this is just what hits his noggin first. The guy is literally just as funny, if not funnier than Steve Coogan and there’s something to be said for that, considering the Coogs has always prided himself in stealing just about every show he’s been involved with.

But, if you were to ask me who walks away with this movie, just as in the whole thing itself, it’s Coogan. In a way, you could say he gets the last laugh, but that’s what he spends most of the movie doing: Laughing. Not just as Brydon, but at life in general. See, Coogan’s always been something of a miserable, dead-pan dude. He’s never had a positive outlook on life and, for the most part, it’s worked out well for him and his career. He’s typically the go-to-guy if you need an angry, mean Brit who doesn’t give a shit what you say, or how you say it; he’s better than you, he knows it, and don’t worry, you’ll find that out soon enough. Maybe that’s just something I see, but whatever it may be, it’s carried on throughout his career long enough for me to realize that this is what I can expect from Coogan, playing a character or not.

Besties 4 Lyfe

Besties 4 Lyfe

However, because Coogan is practically playing himself, it’s downright shocking to see him smile and, for once in a long time I imagine, be happy about the life he has. Sure, he has some reservations about certain choices he’s made in the past and he definitely wishes that he hadn’t chosen some movies that may have made it look like he was in it “just for the money”, but overall, Coogan is a happy guy. He smiles, laughs, enjoys other people’s company and actually wants to have a relationship with his son. Now, once again, I’m not sure how much of this is actually true about Coogan himself, or just the version of himself he’s playing here, but it seems almost all too real for him to be fretting on about, without hardly an emotional-connection to be found inside of him.

All that said, it’s Coogan who is really the one to watch in this movie. Sure, he and Brydon are hilarious together and a certain bit about the later killing the former had me practically in stitches, but it’s when these guys drop the facade for a short while, talk about life, exchange ideas and get to know what it’s like to “be friends”, that really stuck a chord with me. They’re funny guys, but they’re still guys nonetheless and they deserved to be seen as such.

Roger Moore impressions and all.

Consensus: Funny, heartfelt, and exquisitely shot, the Trip to Italy proves that Brydon, Coogan, and Winterbottom could continue at this story for decades and it will almost never fail. Just so long as the laughs are there, and the melancholy can still be found.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Strike a pose. Be old. Make me cry.

Strike a pose. Be old. Make me laugh. Make me cry.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Love Is Strange (2014)

It sure is! But so is this damned-to-hell economy!

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a same-sex couple that, after being together for more than a few decades, decide that it’s time to finally get hitched and make it all legal. And while this is a momentous occasion that should be celebrated with the utmost optimism, even if the reality of the situation is that George will lose his job now. Which, hey, is fine and all, but now Ben and George have to move out, save some money up to get a new place and, sadly, live with others while doing so. Ben stays with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and his author wife (Marisa Tomei); whereas George stays with the young and constantly energetic Ted (Cheyenne Jackson). While neither situation is ideal, they still get by in hopes that they, eventually, will be together and finally live out that dream they’ve always had: Legally being together, in a place that they can call “their own”. The only thing standing in front of them now is the fear of being pulled-apart by this distance between the two.

While a person could take one look at this movie and automatically think, “agenda”, I’d have to say that they’d be wrong. Because, yes, while this movie is about a same-sex couple finally getting legally married once and for all, the movie could have literally been made about any couple; same-sex, opposite-sex, interracial, etc. Though a major plot-point in this movie comes up because George actually decided to get married to his boyfriend, therefore, enabling him to getting fired, this movie is less about a same-sex relationship, much as it’s just about trying to live and stay afloat in the United States of America.

"Garbage!"

“Garbage!”

More specifically, Manhattan.

And yes, while this movie is definitely appealing to a certain crowd that loves “white people problems”, that still doesn’t mean what’s being felt here doesn’t deserve to be felt. For instance, the movie shows why it’s so hard to make a living in this world, and why sometimes, all we need is a little inspiration on the side to keep us going and going, even when we get down some. It all sounds so incredibly corny, but the way it’s played-out here, it makes you think and also feel what both Ben and George are feeling.

Which is to say that, unsurprisingly, Ben and George are the best aspects of this movie. Not just the actors playing them, but the characters themselves in how both feel so perfect together, that when they aren’t actually together, the pain, the sadness and the separation is felt. They have a love, a very dedicated and passionate one at that, but since they spend a good portion of this movie not actually together and embracing each other’s love, it’s an absolute delight to just see how they interact with one another when they do contact each other. Either through a phone-call or a simple meet-up at the nearest-diner, it doesn’t matter how these two get into contact with one another; all that matters is that they do still keep in touch with one another, because it not only makes us feel better, but them as well. Actually, them most importantly (but hey, don’t forget about the audience here, people!).

And considering that these are two pros at what it is that what they do, seeing Molina and Lithgow together really is lovely. It should be noted that their chemistry together is wonderful and really does have you believe why they’d fall in love and stick together for so long in the first place, but since they aren’t together as much in this movie, what really matters is that they do swell when they aren’t together. Oh and don’t worry, they do. However, the big problem here with this movie is that while these characters stay on-track and constantly interesting, there’s something about the rest of the movie that I can’t help but feel suffocates them.

For example, since this is a tale of two guys leaving one another to go and live in two, completely different environments, we get two very different stories going on here, with all sorts of subplots interjecting every so often. In George’s new house, he’s having a problem with getting arranged into these new living conditions, keeping in touch with “the hip crowd”, and making sure that he can still get some money through piano lessons. So yeah, that’s not so bad. Actually pretty simple, right?

"Paint me like one of your French guys, big gay uncle."

“Paint me like one of your French guys, big gay uncle.”

Well, here’s the kicker: In Ben’s new house, a marriage is slightly on-the-rocks, a mother is upset with her son’s new best-friend, Ben himself can’t find any inspiration for painting, an author’s patience is being tested, and a boy is coming-of-age and doesn’t know what to make of his big, gay Uncle, nor does he know how to interact with anybody without yelling, being pissed off, or saying something deemed “shocking”. If that sounds like a whole lot, then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Also not to mention, it’s a problem with the movie because so much is going on here, to very little effect, that it all just seems like filler to a story that could have really been effective, had it been told relatively simpler.

Sure, the rest of the cast is great and more often times than not, we see why it is that Marisa Tomei is such a lovely presence on-screen, even when she’s about to be a total meanie, but their characters do feel put-on, as if writer/director Ira Sachs didn’t have enough faith in George, Ben and their plight to just have it revolve around them. I’m not saying that there isn’t more to life than just love, but in a movie where it’s clear that the central love is what keeps its heart racing, then you have to decide: How do you want to go about it? Do you want to throw subplot, upon subplot, upon subplot to make things seem more interesting than they actually are? Or, do you just want to keep things small, short, sweet and simple, by just focusing on this relationship, their positives, their negatives, and just how exactly it is that they stay together, still happy in the end?

I’d go with the second-route, but that’s just me. Hence the blog.

Consensus: With Molina and Lithgow, Love Is Strange finds an endearing heart that is continuously present throughout the whole film, even despite the numerous and sometimes pointless subplots occurring.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!!

You wish your love was as good as this. Ladies?

You wish your love was as good as this.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

What If (2014)

At least I now know that there’s another meaning behind the term “fool’s gold”, other than just some shitty Kate Hudson rom-com.

Medical school drop-out Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is still trying to get over a break-up that left him nearly destroyed over a year ago. And everything looks like it’s going back to being smooth when he meets the lovely and vivacious Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, where it seems quite clear that they’ll be spending the night together and will bring Wallace out of this funk. Problem is, Chantry lets it be known that she does indeed have a boyfriend (Rafe Spall) and that things between them are still quite serious. However, she still wants to be friends with Wallace, which he can’t resist because he knows that there is a certain connection between them both that makes the two happy. So, they decide to try and be friends for as long as they can; that is, until one decides that maybe it’s time to take things to the next level, if that’s even possible. But as we all know: It’s easier said, then actually done.

So yeah, the whole “Can men and women be friends?” thing has been practically hammered to death in the rom-com genre since the early days of When Harry Met Sally…, and then all the way to where we had two rom-coms in the same year talking about it (Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached). And while, yes, that does seem awfully terrible that somebody has produced, yet again, another rom-com in which it seems like everything happens and occurs right on-cue as it’s supposed to, there’s still some delight to be had in a rom-com that takes itself a bit more seriously.

How I imagine most of the ragers at Hogwarts ended up turning out to be.

How I imagine most of the ragers at Hogwarts ended up turning out to be.

For instance, What If (formerly titled the much better the F Word) takes the conventional rom-com plot of having a guy, be a friend with a girl, even though he may/may not have feelings for her in the first place. We’ve all heard, and seen it done a hundred times before and usually, it sucks. There’s no way of getting around it, except if the rom-com called into question is a tad bit “different” from the bunch.

This is that kind of rom-com, although, you wouldn’t know right away. Because, with time, the movie does grow on you and, wouldn’t you know it, there actually begins to be something of a believable, rather sweet friendship between these Wallace and Chantry characters that not only makes you root them on to be together by the end, but to actually wish more rom-coms followed suit. Honestly, it’s not that hard: Write stock characters as much as you want, but give them at least some element resembling a personality, or heart and it’s all good. Once you are able to do that with your rom-com’s characters, then the movie itself gets sufficiently better.

Which, in case you couldn’t already tell, is exactly the case here.

Not only do we get two well-written characters that feel, talk, breathe and act like real human beings in a committed, yet, full-of-boundaries friendship, but they also have two actors in the roles that build a pretty neat chemistry between one another. For those of you who have not yet been able to get over the fact that yes, Harry Potter is over and yes, Daniel Radcliffe has aged, then allow this movie/role to be something of a wake-up call. Radcliffe does something well here in that he plays Wallace as an everyday, straight-man that you could probably meet on the street and have a conversation with on just about anything that came across your mind. He just has that certain vibe about him and it hardly ever makes him unlikable, nor even annoying; he’s just a simple dude, looking for love and any sort of connection. And because we too have, at one point, had that need in our lives, it’s easy to sympathize with him and hope that by the end, all works out well for him, girl or no girl.

That said, Zoe Kazan definitely gets the harder role as Chantry – a tied-down, twenty-something gal that has a boyfriend, yet, casually flirts and leads on her “bestie”. In most movies, this character is written off as something of a villain, but here, Chantry has to be somewhat likable and relatable in her non-stop attempts at making Wallace want to rip his hair out, and Kazan’s charm allows her to get away with that. Kazan’s another talent that most people don’t know is actually out there, yet, time and time again, the gal continues to put in great work in these small indies that reveal here to be more than just a carbon-copy of Zoeey Deschanel; she’s more down-to-Earth and isn’t all about the quirks of her personality, or her mandolin. She wants to be loved and, if given the chance to, return the favor to those who deserve it the most.

The Halt and Catch Fire and Girls team-up nobody asked for.

The Girls and Halt and Catch Fire team-up nobody asked for.

And their chemistry together is what mostly carries this movie. Their constant conversations revolve around such topics feces, fried foods, Elvis and Cool Whip, and while in most movies, this would seem so earnest you’d want to punch everybody in the face (and there are certain occasions in which I had that feeling with this feeling), but here, it feels like actual conversations between two people who feel and have a spark between them both. It’s nice to see play out on screen, but it’s even better to see what happens when these two eventually do start to question whether they can be friends, or if they can “be more”.

Now, obviously, you know where this is heading, so I won’t say too much more other than to expect from this movie, what you expect from most rom-coms: Conventional occurrence, after conventional occurrence. However, while that would destroy most movies, here, it’s fine. The movie never makes it clear that it sets out to be the different kind of rom-com that will forever change the world; it just wants to tell a sweet, rather lovely story about a boy and a girl, and how they end up being friends.

That’s all there is to it and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Consensus: By not setting out to change the game of the ordinary rom-com, What If ends up being an enjoyable, sweet and well-acted tale of romance, that’s also a fine piece of filler entertainment.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

If she jumps under your umbrella like that, bro, she wants it!

If she jumps under your umbrella like that, bro, she wants it!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The One I Love (2014)

Every couple needs a little bit of a spicing up here and there. Just don’t over-do it.

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are a couple who has come to a stand-still; they love each other, want to stay together and maybe even start a family, but they’re just too messy and broken right now to really feel like they can go any further. That’s why when their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends spending some time at this little retreat of his that he gives to all his patients, they can’t help but jump right right at the idea. After all, a little time alone and with nobody else is maybe all they actually need. So when they do get there and realize everything is exactly as promised, they have a whole bunch of fun: They cook, smoke pot, drink, eat, have sex, tell jokes and even get a bit sentimental towards one another. However, one day, while rummaging throughout the retreat’s guest-house, they realize that something strange is going on and it not only affects them now, at this moment in their lives, but for what could be the rest of their time as a couple. Or, at least what’s left of it, that is.

So yeah, I’m beating around the bush an awful ton with that synopsis there and that’s sort of the problem right away with reviewing, hell, even talking about this movie: You don’t want to spoil it for others. And usually, yeah, people say that and they either: 1) spoil the whole thing, all free-nilly, or 2) they spoil the most obvious plot-points of the whole movie like, it “all ends up being a dream”, or “Bruce Willis is actually a ghost”, or other stuff like that.

How I'd like to imagine Mark Duplass spends most of his days. While still being naturally charming as hell. Damn him.

How I’d like to imagine Mark Duplass spends most of his days. While still being naturally charming as hell. Damn him.

Either way, you catch my drift. But that’s why the One I Love is so different; not just in terms of the quality of the movie itself, but because you can’t really even hint at what this movie’s about, because it comes as such a shock.

Take me and my experience with this movie for instance; before hearing about this and deciding to give it a shot, I checked out the Rotten Tomatoes synopsis for this and it read something like, “A failing couple spends a week at a retreat to bring back the love into their relationship”. Again, that is not exactly word-for-word what the synopsis said and because this was quite some time ago when I checked it out/saw the movie, clearly, things have changed and more people are talking about this movie and even, as predicted, giving some small hints here and there away about what’s really up with this movie.

But to be honest, don’t even read any of those other reviews, no matter how talented or beloved the writer may be (except me of course, so stay put!); they’re only going to give you more impressions/expectations of what to expect, and it totally defeats the purpose of small, yet surprising movies such as this. We mostly hear about them through the grapevine, in which some cool, hip and rad person will say, “Hey, did you see that new indie with Mark Duplass, brah?”, presumably right after taking a swig of an ironic PBR. And while most people will probably either give a flat-out, “No.”, or just ignore this person and put them back in their corner, the fact is this: That person, as annoying as they may be in whatever normal discussions about life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, still threw that idea into your head.

This may even get you to think, “Oh shit. There’s a new Mark Duplass movie out?”, and from then on, you will know that there’s a new movie with Mark Duplass out and you’ll want to possibly check it out, if the time in your hectic schedule ever clears up. That’s how, back in the day at least, most indies survived and were actually seen by people – nowadays, anybody can talk about a certain movie, no matter how small or obscure it may be, and it can reach millions, upon millions of people that may have the same interests in Mark Duplass movies as you (and yes, the only reason I’m saying Mark Duplass instead of the far-more well-known Elisabeth Moss is because referencing Mark Duplass in an everyday conversation just gives you the impression of how “small” a movie he’s involved with actually is).

And you, Ms. Moss. I can't even start.

And you, Ms. Moss. I can’t even start…..

And honestly, I have no problem with that – all films deserved to be known about, discussed, passed onto others, etc. That’s what film was invented for in the first place (not just for money, hookers, and coke, because Hollywood), and that’s how I’d like to imagine the rest of the movie world will continue to be like. However, there are certain instances in which there comes a point you need to stop talking about a movie, if only to not just spoil the fun for everyone else. This is that type of movie and as much as I may annoyingly be harping on it, please do not read other reviews of this.

Instead, just know that Duplass and Moss are great in this movie and show that they are able to stretch their acting-abilities further and further than what we originally see of them. Just know that the movie may not be the most perfect flick to take your significant other out to see, only because it will bring out the worst kinds of discussions between you two during the ride home. Just know that while the movie does have a few neat tricks here and there up its sleeves, it is not by any means, perfect and does get a bit messy when it tries to explain what it’s really supposed to be about. And lastly, just know that it’s good and that you should see it, if only because you want curiosity to murder that cat and give you some sort of relief that yes, you had finally seen that “new indie with Mark Duplass”.

Brah.

Consensus: Tricky and imperfect, the One I Love is a rather unique take on a story we’ve seen done a hundred times before that both brings up questions about relationships, and gives Duplass and Moss plenty to do and entertain us with.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Put 'em together, they're the perfect couple. But are they.......? Tune in next week!

Put ‘em together, they’re the perfect couple! But are they…….? Tune in next week!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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