Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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The Upside of Anger (2005)

Always depend on the neighborhood drunk to come in and save an upper-class, tense family-unit from falling apart.

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) can be considered a “housewife”, however, she doesn’t act like one. She doesn’t work outside of the house and spends most of her day cleaning, getting ready to make dinner, talking to her daughters, and planning out their futures, but she has an icy-cool demeanor that’s very stand-offish, and doesn’t allow her to take any crap from anyone. Good for her, but not good for her husband who has apparently left her and the family to gallivant with his young secretary in Sweden. Terry, as hard of a lady as she is, starts to breakdown, liquor-bottle-by-liquor-bottle, and finds it hard to adjust to this new life of responsibility and action. But once former Major League Baseball star, now turned radio DJ, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) shows up at the house looking to get drunk with her, Terry doesn’t find it all that hard, yet, she still has to accept the fact that her husband may be gone, and may never, ever come back.

While family-dramas don’t really do much for me unless they’re totally satirical or as dark as night (American Beauty), I do appreciate watching a family-dynamic on screen every once and awhile. My family, for instance, is a bit weird considering we all do our own thing, don’t eat dinner together at the table, and just go about our day but still talk, get along (relatively), and enjoy one another’s company when granted. That’s why most movies about your regular, suburban-family don’t do much for me in terms of emotional-connection, but I’m always open for the simple things in life; hence why I liked this flick as much as I did. Much to my surprise actually.

All women eventually succumb to the "Costner-charm".

All women eventually succumb to the “Costner-charm”.

Where I feel like writer/director Mike Binder’s script worked so well is in the ways he avoids all of the types of conventions we expect from family-dramas of this nature, and continues to just evolve its characters. Some are more interesting than others, yes, but most of the characters here are people worth watching, caring about and worrying to see if they’re ever going to reach their final-peak of happiness or not. You know that they can be happy, and have ways of being happy, but to see most of them go through this little raft in their lives makes you a bit uneasy to see and only hope for the best. Binder may not be the greatest writer out there when it comes to giving all of his characters dimensions and personalities, but the ones that he does get it right is with making you feel apart of the family.

For better, as well as for worse.

But like I was saying about the way he avoids all of those types of conventions, Binder doesn’t force-feed us characters that we should like and need to like, we just do, even if there are some reservations involved. For instance, try Denny: The dude’s not only a bit of a schmuck, but he’s bumbling one as well. Yes, his heart is in the right place, but it’s so obvious that he wants to bang Terry as soon as her hubby leaves her, it’s almost too much so to really be true. How the girls don’t kick his ass as soon as he walks through that door, day in and day out, was totally surprising. I knew I would have, but that’s just me. I’m a dick.

Like I was mentioning, though, Denny may have these problems that are more than noticeable to us, however, we don’t necessarily hate him, nor do we feel like he’s a reprehensible person that one could not believe Terry being attracted to in the least bit. He’s got a charm, he’s got a sweet-aura about him, and he likes to do good things, for people that deserve it the most. Sure, he doesn’t speak his mind when he should and how he should do it, but there’s still something sweet and endearing to this dude that makes him more than just that the wacky neighbor next-door that likes to do himself a little bit of drinking; although it is obvious that Binder likes to use that side to his character for yuks and chuckles, most of which fail.

However, I could also say that most of the charm and likability that comes out of Denny’s character, is mainly channeled through Kevin Costner who gives probably his best performance, post-Dances with Wolves (which isn’t saying much, but still). Costner’s got the shaggy-look, feel, and act down pat, and makes you feel for this bum, knowing that he could turn his own, as well as this family’s life around at any given moment. He just needs to put the bottle down for a second. And while Costner is great, no doubt about that, the one who really walks away with the show the most is Joan Allen, giving one of her best performances ever, among which there are many. How she did not get an Oscar nomination for this, I may never understand!

That Joan Allen: Takin' a drag and just lookin' spicy!

That Joan Allen – takin’ a drag and just lookin’ spicy!

Anyway, Joan Allen’s great as Terry for the sole reason that she’s not afraid to be a bitch, while also embracing her age. By the time this movie came out, Allen was pushing 50 and while she still shows that she’s hot in a fiery, “I’ll kick your ass” way, there’s no hiding behind prosthetics or a wig with this character. She’s 50, she looks it, she feels it, and quite frankly, she’s downright pissed-off about it. And how could you blame her? Not only is she getting older by the days that go by, but her hubby of 20 years just left her for a younger gal, and most of her kids can’t stand to be around her, nor have a conversation with her because she’s so mean and nasty at times about the decisions they make and the ideas that they have, that they just don’t even bother. I don’t blame them, but once again – Terry is a human being, and you know that there’s something nice and sweet about her. Allen is great at playing-up Terry’s mean, cold, vindictive side that comes out more often than it probably should, but allows us to see who she really is underneath all of that anger, and make us realize that she was once a happy lady at one time, and can still be again. It will just take some time, that’s all.

The gals playing her daughters are also very good, even though it’s obvious which ones Binder cares about the most, by giving some more interesting plot-lines and more screen-time. Alicia Witt plays the oldest, Hadley, and doesn’t have much to do her, mainly because most of her time in the film is spent-away at college where she soon falls in love and gets pregnant, giving us some of Allen’s best moments in the whole film due solely to her reaction this bomb being dropped; Keri Russell is good and sweet as Emily, the one who blows off college for a life in ballerina-dancing, and while Russell’s good in the role, she was about 30 when it was filmed, making it a bit hard to believe her as a young, 20-something college drop-out; Erika Christensen plays Andy, another daughter who doesn’t want to go to college, but has more of a promising future ahead of her because of the job she gets at Denny’s radio-station, where she begins a relationship with a much-older dude (Mike Binder himself, in a surprisingly touching role), and gets a chance to stretch her wings as well, giving us the most interesting gal out of the four; and Evan Rachel Wood is once again playing the young, angry, and rebellious teen we’ve all seen her play, but this time, to sure boredom and angst as the youngest, Popeye (yup, you heard me right), even though the “love-interest” that they set-up for her gives it a bit of interest every time she’s on-screen.

Consensus: While a lot of the melodrama that plays during the last half-hour does kill some of the momentum the Upside of Anger had going for itself, for quite some time, there’s still plenty of heartfelt, emotional moments between these characters to be seen, especially because most of them are written so well and in a way that isn’t just ordinary, or casual. There’s meaning to the way they are, and it works.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Cake (2014)

It’s an easy joke, but no seriously, real cake would have been better.

After an automotive accident, Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston) is suffering from all sorts of pain – chronic, emotional, physical, and most of all, personal. But to help her get by, Claire continuously pops pills and drinks cocktails, even though she’s also going to physical therapy and group-meetings to help her with any sort of problems she might be having. However, it seems that the only problem Claire even seems to be bothered with is that she doesn’t understand why everybody is so concerned with a former-member of the group sessions (Anna Kendrick)’s suicide; she’s too mean and nasty for anybody to understand, so of course, they kick her out and hope that she eventually starts to sing a different tune. That sort of happens for Claire, however, maybe not the way some would have wanted it to happen. For instance, she starts an actual, budding relationship with he nanny (Adrianna Barraza), if only as a way to coax her into buying more illegal drugs across the border. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, she even starts to visit the deceased girl’s widower (Sam Worthington), in what seems to be more than just a normal chit-chat, and something more serious and possibly sexual.

Literally his only scene.

Literally his only scene.

Right off the bat, I feel like it is worth noting that yes, Jennifer Aniston gives a performance unlike any others we seen from her, ever. She’s nasty, foul, cursing, doing drugs, having anal sex, and, what every person has been calling an act of “absolute bravery”, is make-up free. To say that we’ve never seen Aniston like this before, is obvious, because while she’s definitely done movies that have challenged her a bit as an actress and haven’t been the typical, mainstream rom-coms that have plagued her career for as long as the pilot of Friends was aired. But, to say that this is a great performance, isn’t quite right. In fact, not at all.

Though I would definitely like to give Aniston some credit for trying something new in her rather predictable career, she doesn’t seem to have quite the chops as a dramatic-actress that would make a character as vile as her, seem any bit of sympathetic or compelling. Mostly, Aniston spends the whole movie just making miserable, life-is-meaningless wisecracks to all those around her, but rather than seeming like a funny gal, who could actually have something more interesting and hurtful to all of the pain she’s causing to those around her, there’s just nothing. This is maybe more of a criticism of the actual writing for Aniston’s character, but had she’d been a better, more-talented actress, I feel as though she would have been able to somehow pull this kind of character off. She would have still been an annoying, unlikable witch, but there would have at least been more to her act than just, “Oh, she’s mad about life”.

So no, J-Aniston did not deserve an Academy Award nomination for her work here. So nice job, Academy.

For once.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can finally get to the rest of the movie. But honestly, there’s not much to talk about, because it’s pretty terrible. It’s obvious that this movie was made as a possible Lifetime movie-of-the-week that may, or may not have some sort of crossover-appeal, but because so many big stars got involved with it, it all of a sudden shot-up to being the hot ticket come awards season. That it isn’t exactly that, is the least of its problems.

Where the problems with this movie lies is that it has hardly anything interesting to say about depression at all. This may be because the character we’re forced to stick with is so unbearably arrogant, but it may also be because the movie is so stale, it makes you wonder who was trying behind the cameras. Director Daniel Barnz seems like he wants to make some sort of powerful message about how suicide is just a sign that we do have something to live for in life, and that’s precisely it, life itself. However, that’s just all me grasping at straws. What the film seems more interested in developing is how many times and different ways Aniston can groan, moan, or tell somebody to piss-off.

And I know that I continue to wrap-around back to her, but honestly, she is the main problem of this movie. Maybe less so of Aniston’s performance, and more of just the fact that this character isn’t at all worth spending our desired time and/or money on; she’s another one of those rich, stuck-up, self-entitled women who feel as though life is misery and the only way to get by it, is to just let yourself feel like shit, day in and day out. That may be a philosophy that works for some, and if that’s the case, then good for them. I hope that they live lovely, valuable lives. However, I do not want to see someone spend nearly two-hours acting like this. Not only does it become tiresome, but it makes me want to tune away from the movie even more, continue to check my watch, and hope that I can get out soon enough to maybe get home and go on a jog, or something.

So yeah, I guess the movie did its job in that it made me appreciate life in all of its possible glory. However, probably not at all in the way it had originally imagined.

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I've never done that because I'm actually a nice human being!

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I’ve never done that because I’m actually a nice human being!

But I promise I’ll stop crapping on Aniston’s parade, because there’s actually a lot more people in this cast worthy of talking about. Problem is, they aren’t given anything worthy of their talents, nor to even discuss further than a, “Hey, look! It’s that person, from that thing!”. Like, for instance, we have Sam Worthington, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch, Anna Kendrick, Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy all here, in what seem to be extended cameos that barely go anywhere to drive the point of this movie home, or to even make their presences known as to why we like seeing their familiar-faces in the first place. Which is a shame, too, because the movie’s been advertising the whole ensemble quite effectively, but it seems like none of them were ever around to film a majority of the movie, so instead, Barnz opted to just have them film for a couple of days and leave it at that. It’s not a problem because there’s a dire need of wanting to see more of them (although, that is definitely a feeling), but more of one because their characters’ inclusions only make the structure a bit more flustered and messy.

The only one who gets more attention than the rest, and deservedly so, is Adrianna Barraza as Claire’s caretaker/nanny, who is constantly being taken advantage of for her car, her money, and her nationality, while Claire just soaks it all in and barely even gives her a simple “thank you”. Already it’s easy to feel for this character that Barraza is playing, but there’s a certain sweetness to her performance that made me wonder why the movie wasn’t about her, and Claire wasn’t just a self-agonizing side-character that we saw Barraza’s character have to constantly put up with and try to hold back from murdering in cold blood. Because clearly there’s a few scenes here that seem to be hinting of more explanation of her character and the way she gets about in her poverty-stricken life, but it never materializes to much. It’s simply Claire’s story and guess what?

We don’t care.

Consensus: Truth be told, Jennifer Aniston is trying quite hard to be taken seriously in Cake, but it never delivers because the character she’s playing, as well as the movie itself, is just a thin as the kind of pieces of actual cake you get at a cheap wedding.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!!

Don't strain yourself, Jen. There's always Horrible Bosses 20.

Don’t strain yourself, Jen. There’s always Horrible Bosses 20.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Most Violent Year (2014)

It’s rough out there for a oil salesman.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an honest man, trying to make an honest living, with an honest wife (Jessica Chastain), and an honest family. However, during the winter of 1981 in New York City, that’s a lot easier said then done. Because once Abel makes a deal with a local money-launderer, everybody around Abel who either loathes or envies him, don’t want him to pay any of that money back. Instead, they want Abel to go broke, get found out by the cops, and possibly even dead. Though, the problem for Abel isn’t that it seems like everybody’s coming after him, and only him, it’s that he doesn’t who it is, nor does he want to stoop to their levels of violence, murder, and corruption. He believes he is better and doesn’t want to dirty-up his business one bit. But now that the cops are hot on his tail, Abel believes that it may be time to step up and defend his business, or become what everybody around him wants him to become – a goner.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly easy to classify a movie as what it seems to be, or better yet, actually sounds like. For instance, A Most Violent Year is the kind of movie that looks and sounds like that it would be another violent gangster-pic in the same vein as a Scorsese flick. Heck, it even has the word “violent” in its title, so how could it not have people whacking one another?

"Ya heard?"

“Ya heard?”

Well, sometimes, looks can be deceiving, kids. While that usually means something bad for movies that look good and end up turning out to be junk, here, we’ve got something different – a movie that may seem like it’s chock full of bloody violence and action, actually isn’t. Sure, there’s the occasional gun-fight, or chase through the streets, but they don’t feel thrown in there for the sake of livening up the proceedings; instead, what writer/director J.C. Chandor does best is that he allows them to flow smoothly into the story, and make it seem pertinent. That this is a story of a man who’s trying to keep him, his family, and his business strictly clean and legal, makes it all the more understanding that, when push comes to shove, he can’t help but loose control a bit and take all sorts of drastic decisions.

And that’s mostly where Chandor’s flick stays to talk about; it’s not whether one can stay afloat with their business, it’s that they can do so without having to become one with the rest of the wild and rowdy pack you are sometimes grouped-in together with. It’s an interesting dilemma that Chandor poses with his protagonist and for the story as a whole, but it never actually loses steam. Instead, it keeps us guessing as to whether or not this lead character is going to lose his cool, and if so, how so and at one costs. We don’t want to see him have to be forced to kill anybody, but if he has to, we hope that he does so at a reasonable level that doesn’t put him, or anybody that he loves in harm’s way.

As you can tell, it’s not just an interesting dilemma for the lead character, but for us, the audience, as well.

The parts where I do feel that Chandor as the story lose a bit of steam, is when it seems like he’s being as vague as humanly possible, only to throw us for more curveballs, but to also remind us that his movie isn’t like other crime-thrillers out there. A good portion of that is true, but when it comes to making a gripping, interesting-to-listen-to thriller, you have to give the audience enough details and bits of info to allow for them to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to spell everything out in big, bold letters and practically hold the audiences hand, but when it seems like you’re not going further into detail about a certain aspect of the story, it seems like you’re cheating the audience out of what could be an even more engaging tale.

That said, Chandor, in my humble opinion, is a director who is three-for-three. Which is even more of an impressive feat considering that the two other movies he’s created (Margin Call, All is Lost) are all completely different from one another. Call was talky and almost Mamet-like; Lost was a Cast Away-ish tale of one character, and one character only; and this one here, is a moral, crime tale, that seems like something Sidney Lumet would have made and been quite proud of. If there is one similarity between all three of these movies, however, it’s that they all feature desperate people, in some very tragic situations, who are trying their hardest to survive by any means necessary. They may not always make the smartest decisions, but they are at least trying to save their own head.

And that’s the exact case with Abel Morales, played to perfection by the always powerful Oscar Isaac. With Morales, we get a character that we like, if only because of what he stands for; he’s an immigrant who came over to this land, to create his own business, and get what each and everyone of us want, “the American Dream”. So already, he’s winning points with us, but once we see him starting to get all sorts of pushed and pulled by these local gangsters that are practically suffocating him, then it’s obvious to see that we may be losing him a tad bit. He’s not just losing his sense of morality, but he also might lose the dream he set-out for himself and it’s hard to fully root for him with the actions he commits. Then again, there’s also the sense that it’s all for a good cause and it puts this character into perspective as to whether he’s a good guy, or a bad one.

Mostly though, it comes down to him just being a guy, trying to make a living for himself, and those that he loves. That’s it.

"Mhmmmmmmmmm."

“Mhmmmmmmmmm.”

Isaac is wonderful in this role and has you totally believe in the constant struggle he goes through with this character. Isaac plays both sides of this character very well in that we never quite know whether he wants to be apart of this bloody, violent underground, or not. All we do know is that his intentions are good enough that makes it easy for us to root for him, even when we don’t know if we’re not supposed to. Once again, Isaac is great at showing these dueling-sides to this character and always has you on-edge, wondering when he’s going to turn the other cheek and how.

Another great performance here is from Jessica Chastain as Abel’s mob-daughter wife, Anna. As great of an actress as Chastain may be, for some reason, I just didn’t know if I could fully believe in her as an Italian, New York-housewife; this isn’t to say that I’m doubting her talents, I just don’t know if she’d been able to pull it of well enough to where we’d see more to her than just the act of what a stereotypical, Italian-woman looks, acts, and sounds like. Thankfully though, I was proven wrong as Chastain absolutely owns this role and allows us to see her as less of an accessory in Abel’s life, and more of a factor in the reason as to why he is as successful as he is. She constantly pushes him further than he could ever imagine and when he needs her the most, she’s there, sometimes, with nearly as much fire-power as he. I don’t want to call her a Lady Macbeth-like character, but she pretty much is; just not nearly as corny as that kind of role was for Laura Linney in Mystic River.

Ugh. So bad.

Anyway, while these two are incredibly solid in these roles, there’s plenty more where they came from, with each and every character still seeming as interesting, and as thought-provoking as they could be. For instance, the character of Lawrence, the detective who is constantly behind every corner Abel and his business turns down, may seem like he’ll be just as dirty and as corrupt as the people he’s going after, but more or less, stays true to himself or any kind of code that he may have set out for himself as a cop. Sure, David Oyelowo is quite solid in this role, but he’s also helped-out quite a bunch by the writing for this role, that doesn’t have him act like the standard-version of a cop we see in these kinds of movies; he goes by-the-badge, but also doesn’t forget about certain aspects of the job that may need to be looked at a bit differently. He’s not a bad, or immoral person; he’s just a person. With his own needs, hopes and desires.

As we all are.

Consensus: Exciting without ever over-exploding, thought-provoking without being too obvious, and well-acted without a weak-link, A Most Violent Year is a solid crime-thriller that asks hard questions of both its characters, as well as its audience.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Let’s Be Cops (2014)

After this, and especially this, becoming a cop is definitely the last “to-do” on my list.

Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Ryan (Jake Johnson) are best-friends, who both need a little more to do with their lives, because right now, what they’ve got just ain’t cutting it. So, on the night that they head to their high school reunion, they realize that they want to set a good impression that makes their former-classmates think they’ve got it all under control in terms of their lives and futures; meaning, they decide to dress-up as a cops. But as these phony cops, both Justin and Ryan realize all of the love, gratitude and respect they gain, so they decide to take it out on the road, into the actual real world, and see what happens. And for the most part, the usual, wacky hijinx occur and the guys realize that acting like cops, when fellow, actual cops don’t know about it, is actually quite a treat. Eventually though, the friends end up actually finding out about a real crime occurring, with some real mobsters being the cause for it. Though neither of them want to get hurt, or possibly even killed, they both also know that they’re in too deep now and can’t get out.

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

So yeah, in the past couple of months since this movie’s been out, cops haven’t been getting the best press as of late. And honestly, I’m not going to bore you on my thoughts, beliefs, or politically incorrect opinions about everything that’s happened as of late. Although, I must admit, I am quite tempted; tempted because they’re thoughts I’ve been wanting to get known for awhile, but also, thoughts that I feel would just distract you all further and further away from the utter-garbage that this flick is.

But the problem with this movie isn’t just that it’s not funny (which it isn’t), it’s more that it had a pretty neat premise, and decided not to do a single neat, funny, or original thing with it. The movie literally starts out with these two schmoes being normal dudes, then deciding to don the cop uniforms, and literally, all they do is party, take hits of weed, drink alcohol, crash random keggers, and do a whole bunch of other random, idiotic things that no other cop would ever do in their right mind, nor would any person trying to make others believe that they are ones. I know there’s a certain level of disbelief I’m supposed to uphold with these types of movies, but I would, had the movie actually been funny. However, it is not and the fact that it takes a pretty interesting concept that seems absolutely ripe with laughs and social-commentary, makes it all the more disappointing.

Oh, and yeah, the movie is not at all funny. Take aside from maybe a few bits from the likes of Keegan-Michael Key and Rob Riggle (two exceptionally talented dudes who deserve way, way better), most of the movie can be spent just sitting around aimlessly, wondering when it’s going to end, and whether or not that a joke is even going to hit its mark. But hardly a single one does, which makes the premise all the more of a bore to sit through, because while you know that they’re trying to give us a whole story here with action, crime, and cops, the story barely even goes anywhere.

In fact, had this movie just been about these two fellas just driving around and messing around with people, while pretending to be cops, then everything may have been all fine and dandy. Now, of course, that would entitle the movie to actually having a better script to work with, but at least it would get us all away from watching this movie as it consistently tries to remind itself (as well as us) that it is in fact an action-comedy, and one that needs to have bullets and car-chases, next to all of the dick, sex, and drug jokes. Had the movie not even bothered with any sort of life-or-death situation involving dangerous underground criminals, I may have given this something of a better-grade, but I don’t care, honestly.

Crime subplot or not, this movie still blows.

It's alright, buddy. At least you've still got your show.

It’s alright, buddy. At least you’ve still got your show.

Which brings me to the cast, whom all feel like they’ve seen many better days before. While Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson have lovely chemistry on New Girl, here, the chemistry boils down to Johnson being the obnoxious one, and Wayans Jr. having to be the guy who constantly cringes in embarrassment at his friend and the wild things he makes them do. And honestly, I’d have to say that’s mostly all of Wayans Jr.’s performance – constantly sighing, shrugging, and Shia LeBeouf-ing every time his buddy wants to do something fun for a change. I’m not saying that wanting to be a cop is an action that deserves to be looked on as positive, but the movie could have given this character more motivation to be strongly against it all of the time, and not just have bitched, moaned and complained about it all, yet, still deciding to go through with putting on the blue uniform and acting like a fellow cop. Never made sense to me and just made the characters feel all the more thin.

Then, the cast gets pretty worse from here. And I don’t mean in terms of talent, neither; I mean that the talent that they’ve cobbled-up together here is solid, it’s just that they’re not given much of anything to work with. James D’Arcy is, normally, a solid actor in most that I see him in, but here, I felt like he had lost a bet to play the main villain in this mainstream mess; Nina Dobrev seems like her character was a sweet gal with enough humanity to shed, but she doesn’t go anywhere other than being just “female love-interest”; and Andy Garcia, for one reason or another, probably get a huge paycheck here for literally showing up for three-and-a-half scenes and that was about it. Hey, I’m glad he was able to get a new house in Malibu, but come on, Andy! You’re better than this!

You all are!

Consensus: Uninspired, boring, and just plainly put, unfunny, Let’s Be Cops isn’t just ill-timed in terms of the year it was released, but doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Like, at all.

1.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too real?

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too topical?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

God Help the Girl (2014)

Those little twee singers and dancers. No future!

Eve (Emily Browning) is an anorexic, sometimes suicidal young girl who, one night, decides to escape her psychiatric hospital and see what’s happening around town. While searching far and wide, she finds a small concert-venue, where she discovers this whole world full of fun, excitement, and people singing and dancing. This is when she runs into James (Olly Alexander) a young, up-and-coming musician who just wants to make it big. Eve wants to do the same, too, and soon, the two start up a musical duo that could either make them big, rich and famous, or it could just be a neat little experiment that goes hardly anywhere, although it definitely took up some time. But to show that their serious, Eve and James then decide to recruit Cassie (Hannah Murray), to then make themselves a hip trio. But now that they’ve got everybody together and set firmly in place, now comes the hard part: Actually writing songs! And, to make matters worse, something of a romantic-spark between Eve and James begins to ignite to where they don’t know whether they should be together for the sake of the band, or for the sake of each other’s health.

FEEEEEL IT!

FEEEEEL IT!

Oh, and did I forget to mention? It’s a musical!

That little piece of info I just spliced into there can either make, or break a movie, depending on the viewer. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind when the characters you’re currently watching start dancing and breaking-out into song, then this may be your cup of Joe. However, if not, and you hate all things music and just wish that the separation between music and movies would stay put as they are, then this, my kind friend, is not your bag, baby. That’s where most of the appeal of God Help the Girl comes from and it also calls into question the fact that the film is also written/directed by none other than Stuart Murdoch, of Belle & Sebastian.

Once again, if they aren’t the kind of band you can find yourself enjoying for nearly up to two hours, then I assure you, this may not be your cup of tea.

For somebody like me, however, who normally likes musicals and doesn’t really have a problem whenever people start jumping around, dancing and singing all over the place, then this is definitely my type of thing. But it has to be done right, in that the songs are not only lovely, well-written and somewhat catchy, but that there’s actually a story holding them altogether and it wasn’t just a person jotting down neat lyrics and hoping for a cohesive hit. In fact, it’s like actually creating a song – in order to make it work for most people out there, you need to have solid lyrics, but in order to make sure that those lyrics hit hard for those tuning in, you need to give them a believable platform to stay with. You can’t have a song about depression and suicide, placed into something that sounds as if Ariana Grande herself just recorded.

Sure, sometimes it can work, but more often times than not, it doesn’t and that’s where most of God Help the Girl works. It not only has a sweet, somewhat compelling story to follow through, but also backs it all up with catchy, well-done songs that are all placed in there for good reason. And if you’ve ever listened to a Belle & Sebastian track before, this should probably come as no surprise, but to anybody out there who hasn’t ever heard of them, then they may still work. The songs are bubbly, joyful and will probably have you humming them for days and days to come. Which, for anybody who has ever seen a musical before, knows that’s always the sign of an effective musical that’s able to do its job.

Where the movie doesn’t really seem to do its job as well is when the story begins to take precedence, and it becomes fully clear that maybe Murdoch didn’t fully think his whole script through. That’s not to say that the story smells of BS, like most movies concerning starting a band of any sort usually seem to do, but because it goes on for so long, without ever seeming like it’s going anywhere. To say that God Help the Girl is a long movie, is like saying not everyone of Belle & Sebastian’s albums are nearly-perfect – sure, some may not believe it, but while you’re being a witness to it, there’s just a feeling you get.

Here, with the story, I felt as if Murdoch needed a bit of a tighter editor who was able to cut down on some of the many aimless, rather meandering conversations his characters drop into. There’s a feeling that while these may be actual teens actually speaking about their problems, wants, needs and overall desires, they also seem to stumble and only take away further from what could have been a much more tighter, quick and easy musical. But with all of the non-stop blabber from these characters, it seems to go on for much too long.

#HipsterSelfie

#HipsterSelfie

However, there is something to be said for a movie that still has interesting enough characters to make most of this awkward talking at least somewhat engaging. Because with Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, and most importantly, Emily Browning, Murdoch has found a nice trio of likable, cute-as-buttons leads who all seem to bring something fun to the picture.

Although, the one I really walked away from feeling most impressed was by Emily Browning, an actress I’ve seen many times in pieces of junk like Sucker Punch, Pompeii, and the Uninvited, and never understood what the appeal to her really was. Sure, she’s pretty, but I’ve never walked away from a movie she’s been in, wanting to see more of her, nor have I really thought much about her performance in the slightest bit. In other words, Emily Browning has never had much of a screen-presence to her and I felt like that would fog this whole movie up.

Thankfully though, Browning stays very far, far away from doing that and instead, makes the movie a whole lot better. There’s this certain feeling to her screen-presence that makes every scene she’s involved with divert all of its attention towards her. She has this innocent look to her that you know she clearly cares for those around her, yet, at the same time, could also deceive them and make a dumb decision as well. It’s the kind of performance that has me feeling like I fully know what she’s all about now and I hope that this spells out good things for her future.

Consensus: The energetic song and dance numbers allow for God Help the Girl to become a sweet, endearing look at a few individuals starting a band, even if it does run on a tad too long.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Look at that camera! It's so old!

Look at that camera! It’s so old and tiny! I must have it.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014)

I think we’re all in agreement here that Jimi Hendrix was a talent-less hack, and that Yngwie Malmsteen is the greatest guitarist to ever touch a six-string.

Back before he was setting his guitar on fire, doing solos with his teeth, or playing the Star Spangled Banner on one instrument and one instrument only, Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) was just another, up-and-comer in the music world who was trying to make it big in any way that he could. However though, in the music-biz, it’s normally about who you know, much rather than how exceptional of a talent you may be. In Jimi’s case, this is good because he’s not only a solid guitar-player, to say the least, but he is also quite close friends with the likes of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) who, at the time, was pretty close with the Rolling Stones. She sees something special in Jimi and decides to get him hooked-up with a manager and a bunch of promising gigs. Things eventually turn sour between the two once Jimi is introduced to the native-Brit, Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), who he strikes up a relationship with. Linda is pretty jealous of this, but she’s also afraid of what this may mean for the rest of Jimi’s career to come.

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

There’s an interesting note about the production of Jimi: All is by My Side that actually puts the whole film into perspective. Because the film itself wasn’t allowed to use any of Hendrix’s actual, recorded-songs due to copyright issues, writer/director John Ridley is pretty much left to fend for himself and build off of a part of Jimi’s life that doesn’t have any of his original classics we all mostly know and love. Then again, by the same token, it doesn’t seem like much of that problem affects Ridley’s movie as he more or less is just focusing on Jimi Hendrix before he got big and even had the opportunity to record something like, “the Wind Cries Mary“, or “Little Wing“; instead, we see a Hendrix before all of the fame and fortune hit him like a ton of bricks and he became, as what some would call him, “the greatest guitar player of all-time”.

For better, or worse.

However, where Ridley makes the big problem with this small biopic of his, is that he doesn’t do much to help the heart and soul of this movie to begin with, Hendrix himself. See, here, Jimi Hendrix is something of a shy, soft-spoken musician who definitely has a talent worth paying attention to, but he hardly ever makes a single decision for himself to further himself, and also his career. He mostly takes a back-seat to those around him who constantly push, pull, and struggle to put him into places that will not only make him more famous, but them also a lot richer.

You could say that this is just how the music-business just is and to that, I’d say, sure, you may be correct in most cases. However, when you’re movie is supposed to be focusing on the kind of complex, interesting person Hendrix truly was off the stage, it doesn’t quite help. Not because it makes him seem like a pawn in his own chess-game, but because it doesn’t do much to make him even seem like has anything to bring to the story at all. This movie could have literally been all about the people who talked to and interacted with Jimi Hendrix during his early days, and without even having him show up, you could have had a very intriguing movie. But once you put Jimi Hendrix, the main subject of this piece, then all I’m left to do is take what’s given to me and what’s given to me here is that Jimi Hendrix was not only a bit of a dope, but a not-so interesting one, either. He’s just dull enough in this movie to make it easy to understand why so many of his songs are in fact, covers, and not just original pieces of his own.

But that’s a different discussion for a different day, as what we have here, is simply a movie that deserves a better main protagonist. Because, as hard as Benjamin tries with Hendrix, he just really goes nowhere. Even though his character does go through some personal and emotional transformations over the course of the near-two hours, hardly any of it rings true, nor does it really seem to go anywhere. It’s also not very subtle, either, seeing as how once Hendrix gets the tiniest bit of popularity to his name, he automatically starts beating the crap out of his loving, adoring girlfriend – which wouldn’t haven’t been such a problem, had these not been scenes made-up of total fiction.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

And speaking of said girlfriend who gets the crap beat out of her, Hayley Atwell is actually very good here as the kind of character we’d see in this type of movie and not want to like, let alone, sympathize with. But because Hendrix is supposed to be a charismatic figure, albeit a flawed one, we feel more for her, than we ever do for him and it puts Atwell’s performance into perspective. She makes Kathy Etchingham seem less like a whoring-around groupie who wants to sleep with the next big act, and more of just a woman who falls for a certain guy, who just so happens to be famous, and actually wants to make it work with him. Even despite, you know, the odds totally stacked-up against them both.

Imogen Poots also plays another one of Hendrix’s female acquaintances who doesn’t quite get a chance to take their relationship as much to the next level as Etchingham does, but still feels the want and need to. And we actually want her to, too, because not only is Poots likable and sweet as Linda Keith, but she’s also a realist who seems like she could slap Jimi, wake him up, and have him smell the cauliflower. Because, honestly, who knows what would have happened to him had he not broke it off with both of these lovely ladies. Maybe he’d still be alive, jamming out for all the world to see. Or maybe, rather than burn-out, he’d just fade away.

Oh shit. Wrong member of “the 27 Club”!

Consensus: Despite compelling performances from Hayley Atwell and Imogen Poots, Jimi: All is by My Side mostly suffers from the fact that it never offers any sort of interesting insight into its lead character, and mostly falls back on tired, old rock movie cliches.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, just give me "Purple Haze" already!

Oh, just give me “Purple Haze” already!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

American Sniper (2014)

Seems like sniping somebody in real-life is a lot harder than it is on COD.

Texas-born and bred Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) knew that he had a calling in life, but until 9/11, he didn’t know what. Once he realized that his country was going to war, he enlisted himself and not only became a Navy SEAL, but also became one of the most decorated, most lethal snipers in war history – averaging roughly around 160 kills over four tours. Surely that deserves a lot of hoo-rah praise and love, right? Well, yes, of course it does. However, at what cost? Kyle doesn’t understand this question until he comes back home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, only to find himself suffering from massive bouts of PTSD, but having no clue how to handle it, or whom to talk to. Basically, he’s left to fend for himself and figure out just what all of the killing meant for him. Was it nothing? Or simply put, was it just to give his life some purpose and stand up for the country that he so heartily loved and adored.

Many war movies are made today. That much is a fact. However, there’s always a problem with figuring out which war movies can be placed into which category. For instance, there’s the kind of war movie that loves to glamorize and pat each and everyone of its soldiers on their backs, without ever going deeper and deeper into those soldiers minds, or even hinting at something being messed-up in their minds (like, say, the Kingdom). But then there’s also the kind of war movie that shows all of the heroic actions its subjects take, yet, still explores the possibility of getting into the minds of them and discovering if any of the fighting, killing and blood was worth it all (like, say, the Hurt Locker).

Well, we're all going to die someday. That much is true.

Well, we’re all going to die someday. That much is true.

Somehow though, American Sniper finds itself placed firmly in the middle. And while that would seem like quite a problem, tonally-wise, Clint Eastwood shows that he’s willing to shed light on both aspects, without ever favoring one over the other. While a lesser-director would have appreciated all of Kyle’s killing of the baddies and shown him as the hero sometimes people would hail him as, Eastwood’s smarter and knows that while Kyle does deserve to be praised for his actions, he also still wants to show that there were definitely problems with the many heinous, sometimes disturbing acts of violence that not only spelled-out trouble for Kyle’s life, but many other veterans of any kind of war.

Although, if there is a problem to be had with Eastwood’s direction and the way he seems to handle the material given to him, it’s that he doesn’t fully come down to any sort of thesis, or point on war itself. Sure, he knows that warfare itself isn’t great and it sure as hell doesn’t have the best affect on those who are involved with it, but by the same token, he never comes right out and voices any of his disapproval with it, either. Which isn’t to say that every movie made about the war has to come up with stance, let it be known to the audience, and stick with it throughout the remainder of the flick, but in the 21st Century, there is a sense that if you’re going to discuss the war, you have to land on one side of the boat and not just be neutral.

You’re going to offend somebody either way, so you might as well go for it while you can.

However, this is getting more and more away from the fact that this is Chris Kyle’s story and it’s one that deserves to be told. Not because Kyle killed plenty of Iraqi soldiers during his four tours, but because he’s the kind of war-figure more should pay attention to; while he had plenty to be pleased with and proud of in his life, he was still clearly screwed-up in his own head-space, and found it incredibly hard to get on with ordinary life. The movie highlights this, and actually seems to be saying that whatever happened to Kyle’s mind when he came back from the war, wasn’t fully worth it. Sure, he killed more enemies than most soldiers could ever dream of, but the fact that when he comes home, he goes straight to a bar and can’t even go see his family, is very strange. It’s also quite sad and it wakes you up to realize that Kyle’s story is among many other soldier’s stories out there as well.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don't know how appropriate that is for now.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don’t know how appropriate that is for now.

And where Chris Kyle, the person, really comes into focus is whenever Bradley Cooper’s on the screen which, thankfully, is nearly ever frame of this film. Cooper has now come to the point in his career where he’s not just a well-known actor, but a very respected one and can get most of the projects he backs, off the ground and ready for the world to see. American Sniper was one of these pieces that he really wanted to adapt and show the world, and it makes sense as to why – not because Cooper gave himself a meaty-role that highlights all of the acting-strengths in his tool-box, but because it allows him to humanize a person we maybe would have characterized as being another “redneck who likes to shoot guns, chew dip, drink beer, and do it all in the name of ‘murica”.

Both Eastwood and Cooper are smarter than just allowing for this cliche to stick. But it’s mostly Cooper who shines the brightest with Kyle’s portrayal, but he doesn’t over-do it. Most of what Kyle seems to be going through is through himself and nowhere else. Sure, you can tell by the looks on his face that he is clearly struggling to grapple with the reality of his actions and the disastrous events that he witnessed, but there always feels like there’s more to what Kyle is really feeling and it makes this character a whole lot more interesting. He’s not happy that he killed so many people over in Iraqi, but at the same time, he isn’t sad, either. He’s just numb. And every chance Cooper gets, he shows this in such a powerful way. So powerful that it’ll be quite the task not to get choked-up a bit during the end-credits. I know I did.

And if I can, so can you.

Consensus: Whenever not focusing on its main subject, American Sniper can’t come to terms with what it wants to say, but as a powerful, albeit disturbing look at the mental-anguish most war veterans go through, both on and off the battlefield, it hits harder than most war movies have in the past few years.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Top 10 of 2014

Well, ladies and germs, it’s that time of the year again! When we say “hello” to one year, we also have to say “goodbye” to another, as sad and as tears-inducing as it may be.

But 2014, in a nutshell, was a pretty solid year for movies.

Although I’m sure I broke more than a few hearts awhile back by announcing a rather tiny hiatus from this blog, for the most part, I tried my hardest to keep at it with all of the movies that were constantly being flung at me. And quite frankly, I’m happy for that. Not only was I treated to many fine pieces of film, but also, I got to focus more so on what was out there in some of the smaller, less-known theaters out there and shed some light on a few unknown indies that maybe only a handful of people actually knew of. Either way, it was a good year to be a fan of movies, and it made me feel like all my laziness paid-off in the end, as is often the case at the end of every year.

Now, with all that jabber out of the way, onto the real show:

10. Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER

While it may not have been the most uplifting, enjoyable flick from the whole year, it definitely had some its best performances by far. Steve Carell and Channing Tatum were absolutely creepy and terrifying in every which way, showing us that there was more to their sometimes light, comedic-personas that we’d so often seen them utilize in the past. Mark Ruffalo was quite solid, too, but it was these two whom I walked away from feeling like there was a new, exciting chapter to be discovered next in their already respectable careers. Can’t wait to see how it all goes down.

9. Joe

Joe1

Sure, maybe I’m the only person to actually person to put this in their top ten, let alone remember by year’s end, but still, there’s a reason for that and it goes by two words: Nic fuckin’ Cage. Okay, three, but whatever! What I’m trying to say here is that having been a dedicated and unabashed fan of Cage for as long as I have, it was nice to finally see him get something worthy of his talents and to make matters even better, see him roll so well with it. The movie as a whole was very emotional and disturbing to the highest-level, but if anything, Joe stood as a solid reminder as to why, when he wants to, Nic Cage can be one of the most compelling screen-presences around. He just doesn’t do it as often as he should. Hopefully, that changes and we get more of this, and less of this. Although both options do serve some level of entertainment.

8. The Raid 2: Berandal

Raid2

After watching the first Raid, I thought it was downright impossible for it to be topped. Turns out, I was dead wrong! Not only is the Raid 2 a better action movie than the first, but it may be one of the best action movies of the past couple years or so. It delivers on every bit of action, blood, gore, and weaponry it seems to promise, and even seems to be one-upping itself constantly as it goes on. Truly a feat for any action movie, let alone one that had as good of a predecessor as the Raid: Redemption.

7. Like Father, Like Son

Father3

Here’s one that totally took me by surprise and wasn’t quite as easy to get through as I would have hoped for it to have been, however, the greatness of it is actually in that. Sometimes, there comes a movie where a character is so downright detestable, that you wonder why the hell there’s a movie revolving around them in the first place, if all they’re going to do is just make constant bad decisions and continue to piss the audience off. There’s that kind of character at the forefront in Like Father, Like Son, but it all feels honest, raw and realistic, so that when the plot does come full circle, it hits you like a ton of bricks and may even make you want to hug your nearest family-member. Most movies set out to do that, however, very few actually deliver on doing so. This is not one of those movies.

6. Inherent Vice

Inherent2

Sure, it’s maybe not everybody’s favorite movie of the year – better yet, it’s nowhere near being anybody’s favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie. However, all that said, it’s still a wild ride from beginning-to-end and always brings something interesting, compelling, and fun to the table. Whatever they all mean or add up to is sometimes left up in the air, but the adventure that Inherent Vice sets out to create, doesn’t need a clear resolution. All it needed was to allow everybody watching it to join in on the fun and see what the hell happens next.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

Galaxy3

Not just the best summer blockbuster of the year, but the best Marvel stand-alone since the first Iron Man. While it was hilarious at times, what made GOTG so unique and spectacular was that it had a handful of strange, totally out-of-this-world characters and made them as interesting as Tony Stark or Captain Rodgers ever were. You couldn’t even make the argument that having two mega-stars such as Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper voice characters and allowing for Batista, of all people, to play a character we actually see in life-like form was something of a gimmick, but man, it was one that worked like gangbusters whenever they were in the same room, talking, or blowing stuff up. Here’s to hoping that Marvel realizes that they’ve struck gold and stray away from making every other movie seem like the same.

4. Obvious Child

One of the “biggest-little surprises” I had the pleasure to see this year. While the plot may read like a terrible TV-sitcom that wouldn’t have even made it to pilot, the movie treats it as if it were like real-life, awkward warts and all. Because though it starts off like any other kind of comedy, a funny one at that, it surprisingly then turns into a lovely, emotional journey for a character who isn’t perfect, but still deserves some sort of love in her life, no matter what form it comes in. Speaking of said character, Jenny Slate is quite perfect in this role and totally shocked me as I had only known her as Jean Ralphio’s sister (or as “the girl who dropped the f-bomb on her first SNL skit“, but we like to forget about that). She nails every shade that this character has to offer and then some, making this whole film, as short as it may be, totally worth checking out and falling in love with.

3. Birdman

Birdman1

Not only does it feature possibly the best ensemble of the year, but also had one of the neatest, most compelling gimmicks of the whole entire year: It’s all one-shot. Or, that’s what it’s made out to seem like. Regardless, Birdman as a whole was incredibly well-done and continued to surprise its audience, whether it be through the aforementioned shooting-device, certain performances from people we don’t expect to see put in exceptional-work, or just the fact that someone like Alejandro González Iñárritu actually had a sense of humor. All of Birdman was chock full of surprises, but what mattered most, is that it constantly found new, original ways to tell its story and kept the ball rolling, no matter how many times a character’s life seemed to be too depressing. Because, honestly, that’s just Hollywood for ya.

2. Gone Girl

Gone3

Though I wasn’t initially expecting to put this one so high on the list, time served me right, and I realized that this was probably one of the more fun times I had at the movie theater this year. And without feeling guilty about being happy afterwards, either! So yeah, it was a win all around. Though many folks out there want to write this down as either a “pro-feminist” tale, or a “anti-woman” one, the fact remains – David Fincher owns just about every second of this movie. Not only is this a return to his old glory days where he seemed to have a good time directing whatever piece was in front of him, but he utilizes everybody at his disposal. Both Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are perfectly cast here, but it’s the odd, rather bizarre supporting cast that really won me over. Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Fugit, Kim Dickens, Casey Wilson (yes, girl from Happy Endings), Emily Ratajkowski (yes, girl from Blurred Lines video), Carrie Coon, and even Tyler Perry, are among the supporters who excel so well in this movie and leave their stamp. And if you can make Tyler Perry not insufferable and seem like he’s actually talented, then you sir, always deserve gratitude in my book.

1. Boyhood

Boyhood1

I know it’s an obvious choice for the number one spot, but honestly, how could I not choose this? It’s literally been 12-years-in-the-making, meaning that I too, have been waiting nearly 12 years for this to come out. And even better is the fact that it not only lived up to all of the hype its risky decision brought up, but it was the kind of movie after my own heart. Some people I know have complained to me about how it doesn’t seem like much is even happening in this movie, but that’s where they’re wrong; it’s life that’s happening. Sometimes you never know that it’s occurring because honestly, you’re too busy living it. Richard Linklater, for the second year in a row, has wowed me to where I can’t believe he hasn’t won any sort of Oscar yet. Depending on how this year’s Oscar race seems to be looking, it looks like his time may finally come. But even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have Boyhood – a beautiful, honest and wondrous tale of just growing up, and all of the perks that come along with it. Gosh. I wish I wasn’t an old-head.

So yeah, folks, that’s pretty much it! Thanks a lot for sticking with me in this past year (I know it wasn’t easy), and here’s to hoping that 2015 brings us all much joy and happiness!

Oh, and some good movies, too.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Wedding Ringer (2015)

When “Shout” just doesn’t get them out of their seats, always depend on tiny, black men.

Jimmy (Kevin Hart) provides best man services to those who need ones the most. In this case, it’s groom-to-be Doug (Josh Gad) who is not only in serious need of a best man, but also needs a whole group of other groomsmen to help give his fiancee (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) the impression that he actually has friends. Jimmy agrees, although he doesn’t typically do what some people in the biz call, “the Golden Tux”. Meaning that rather than just being there for his wedding day, Jimmy will now have to show his face off to the whole family and be there for nearly a week with Doug as he goes through all sorts of pre-wedding shenanigans. Though this is supposed to be on a strictly professional-basis, Jimmy begins to realize that maybe Doug actually deserves a good buddy like Jimmy after all, even if that totally goes against his codes and ethics. However, there may be bigger problems on both of their hands as it seems like Doug’s all-too-perfect wedding may not actually go according to plan, due to certain disputes he and his bride-to-be have been having so frequently as of late.

Of course they're all best-friends.

Of course they’re all best-friends.

For the second year in-a-row, on MLK weekend, Kevin Hart has a movie opening and that’s neither a good, or bad thing. More or less, it’s just a thing that allows one of the funnier talents working in Hollywood today, to constantly take up junk scripts and movies that don’t serve any other purpose to him other than to just allow for him to star in it, act like his lovable, goofy-self, and just reel in the dough. It worked with Ride Along, and from what it seems like, it’ll most likely work with the Wedding Ringer.

But for all the crap it gets thrown at it, Ride Along was a tad bit of a better movie, if only because it actually had a few big laughs to remember. Everything else about it was rubbish, or at least quite close to it, but when I got to revieiwing it and I thought long and hard, I remembered that there were a few moments where I actually laughed quite heartily. Less of that had to do with the script, and more of just Hart’s seemingly improvised antics, but theyu were laughs nonetheless. When a comedy is able to make me do that, then it definitely deserves some consideration from me – especially with a January one, no less.

However, that kind of movie isn’t the Wedding Ringer, although it tries very, very hard.

And honestly, that’s a damn shame because, on paper, everything about this movie should work. Kevin Hart’s normally funny with anything he touches; Josh Gad, when given the chance to do so, can be occasionally funny; Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is great-looking, but is also actually quite funny, even if she is still being apart of that grating show I will not speak of here and now; and the premise, as crazy as it may seem, does have some appeal to it in that it contains both a wedding. and partying. So yeah, seriously, what’s not to like?

For one, the movie just isn’t all that funny. There were maybe a few moments I maybe chuckled or at least thought I did, but overall, they came and went as they pleased and I didn’t think about them long after. Heck, even if I wanted to, I probably wouldn’t have remembered them in the first place; I just would have remembered that I chuckled and that was about it.

Secondly, the movie wastes its talented-cast. Hart, as expected, does get a few moments off the ground by just adding a huge amount of energy that may not have been needed, but is at least worth the effort because it has people laughing. However, that’s the extent of his appeal in here. The character he’s playing is already thinly-done as is, and then, once we’re introduced to his back-story and why he does what he does, in this case, act like a groom’s best-friend, it doesn’t really do much for him, or the movie as a whole. Sure, it’s nice to see that the movie’s at least trying on some level, but it doesn’t add anything special – it’s just uninteresting depth that hardly goes anywhere.

Notice how I didn't include Whitney Cummings at all in this review because NO.

Notice how I didn’t include Whitney Cummings at all in this review because NO.

Same goes for Gad’s character who has a bit more of sustainable depth surrounding him and his character, but is ultimately, just the kind of geek you see in these types of comedies, who they then try to shape, shift and change in so many which ways, that he becomes a whoring, blowing, and unabashed dick. Which would have been fine had the movie already introduced him as such, but as it turns out, the guy was actually quite sweet and lovable.

Actually, Gad and Hart both try here, more often than they probably ought to. Their chemistry may sometimes seem awkward and off-putting, but actually works when the movie focuses on how them two may, or may not, eventually end up become something of friends outside of this whole predicament. But honestly, this is just me grasping at straws here, because while the movie likes to think it’s really developing these characters and giving some heft to their interactions together, it’s just giving them even more painful-to-watch scenarios as they fall down, get hit with something, and come close to almost dying, only to then get right back up and continue to party on.

If only real life was actually like that.

But while Gad and Hart aren’t given much to do here, which is a shame, it’s even more of a shame that highly-talented supporting cast that they have on-display here aren’t really given much of a substance to do either. Cuoco-Sweeting (hate calling her that, but whatever) is initially sympathetic as the eventual-bride, but then, out of nowhere, we start to see her become more and more of an ego-maniacal a-hole and it not only seems like a manipulative way at creating some sort of conflict for the movie to then have a resolution for, but doesn’t really make sense for the way her and her character’s been acting for the past hour or so. And trust me, don’t even get me started on the fact that the likes of Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rodgers, Affion Crockett, Ken Howard (who actually has some funny moments as an old school racist and bigot), Jorge Garcia (yes, Hurley), and even, of all people, Olivia Thirlby. Why Thirlby would even bother taking up this kind of script is beyond me, but the fact that she doesn’t get anything more interesting to do than just sit around and be initially cautious of Jimmy and his whole act, just makes me think there may have been more going on behind-the-scenes with her.

Probably money. Poor girl.

Consensus: Despite the effort by mostly everyone, the Wedding Ringer just doesn’t give them enough to do, or even enough to make the audience actually laugh more than a handful of times.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

The B&W connection, baby. How it so deserves something better; something not in January.

The B&W connection, baby. How it so deserves something better; something not in January.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Blackhat (2015)

Can 2014’s “World Sexiest Man really be a hacker?

After both America and China are taken by surprise by a ruthless, controlling hacker whom decides to rob the banks of all their worth, both sides agree to work together. However, in order to work together peacefully and hopefully find whoever the hacker is and stop him at once, they might have to make a bit of a compromise: Allow for notorious network-hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to join in. While the U.S. is initially skeptical of doing this, because doing so, would also grant Nicholas furlough, as a result, they realize that the reward is greater than the risk, so they decide to allow Nicholas in on the investigation. And while, at first, it seems to be going according to plan, with them finding out who the hacker is and their location, they soon begin to realize that discovering the identity was the easy part; actually nabbing this person(s) once and for all, is still left to do. Which yes, means there’s going to be a lot of blood-shed and, quite possibly, many of lives lost. Still, it’s Nicholas who wants to stick to his intense hacking-skills to hopefully save the day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

It’s odd that Michael Mann hasn’t made a movie in nearly six years. But what’s even weirder is that, after all of this time, the movie that will ultimately make-up for his hiatus from the big screen, gets placed in the most deadly months of all movie month’s: January! While this doesn’t mean that every movie released in January, you know, without having already had an “awards-consideration” buzz beforehand, is downright rubbish, it just means that most of the time, the movies aren’t always the best of quality. Most of the time, it’s just the kind of movies that the major-studios want to get off their hands once and for all, in hopes that they’ll make some sort of profit in the meantime, although they aren’t really keeping the fingers crossed.

And while, since we’re being honest here Blackhat may not be the total exception to that rule, it’s still an alright crime-thriller that deserves to be seen if you need a little hope and sanity in a month like this. Or also, if you’ve just missed Michael Mann so nearly and dearly that you have to see what he’s been up to that’s had you waiting for the past five years since Public Enemies. Which, for me at least, made the wait seem a whole lot longer.

But I digress.

Since this is a Michael Mann production, it’s obvious to expect most of the trademarks that come along with that neat style of his; of course there’s going to be much use of the hand-held, digital-camera, an strange, retro-ish blend of colors, and a score that recalls the glory days of the Human League and Gary Numan, among many other of those New Wave-ish bands that I’m not too in love with, but are at least suitable for two hours or so. And while that style of his can be a tad too over-done at times, it still added a nice flair and pizzazz to a story that, quite frankly, needed plenty of it. Not just to help keep things alive and energetic for some of the viewers who might be dozing off, but to at least help keep things as simple as humanly possible, as hard of a task as that may have been.

Because, though Mann seems to be getting at somewhere with technology in the modern-age, which is, if you’ve left the cave you’ve been living under for the past few years, will understand that it’s an idea that’s as relevant as you’re going to get. Mann, by bringing up such tragedies like 9/11 and nuclear crisis’, seems like he’s trying to make a point about how technology has impacted our world more than we know it, and it’ll sometimes draw people into deep, dark and sadistic worlds that they don’t already expect themselves to be in. These deep, dark and sadistic worlds that I speak of, are the same kinds that Mann normally loves to explore, but here, it feels like he’s maybe trying a bit too hard to make this more than just a silly, sometimes over-the-top crime-thriller that has Thor banging on the keyboards a lot.

In fact, while I’m on the subject, I might as well begin to speak about Chris Hemsworth and just say, despite his obvious effort in the matter, he isn’t the right fit for this role as a slick, sly and cool technology-hacker. Sure, he gets the slick, sly, and cool aspect down perfectly, as you’d expect him to, but he just seems too hunky enough to really be taken seriously as a guy who apparently knows all sorts of network’s codes and maps by heart. Also, not to mention the fact that since his character is American, he’s forced to use this accent that is so odd, I wonder where Mann would have said he was from, had the character’s place-of-origin really been that important to know about. This isn’t me hating on Hemsworth for being everything that I could ever want in my life (it is true), because I’ve actually come close to loving him in plenty of other movies, it’s just that here, he isn’t right.

Yeah! That's what I'm talking about, baby!

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about, baby! More! More! More!

That’s less of his fault and more of Mann’s, but so be it.

Anyway, that aside, the movie’s still fun and seems like, when it gets the intensity going, it’s as exciting as you’ll get with a Michael Mann movie – bullets are flying every which way but loose, people are getting shot, blood is being drawn, and most of all, it’s all done so in Mann’s trademark slo-mo. Once again, a lot of this movie gets style-points for whenever Mann just does his thing, but it’s when he decides to go a bit deeper with this story, it’s meaning, and how all the mechanics get worked out in the end, he more than often stumbles. Which isn’t to say a movie that uses hacking so often is automatically going to get points off from me, because I’m too stupid and clearly don’t get anything that have to do with computers or internet-connections (I still use dial-up, people). No, it’s more so when you throw so many random curveballs at your audience, without ever explaining how they are done, and are only used to keep the story moving, then I have a bit of a problem. I’ll get on any movie’s case for it. However, it just so happens that the one movie’s case I’m getting on is Michael Mann’s first in a long time.

Welcome back, Michael. Hope you stay around some more and at least make some better movies.

Consensus: Though it thinks it’s smarter than it ought to, Blackhat still works best whenever Michael Mann is allowing for all sorts of violence to blow-up and hopefully get past a poorly-cast, but trying, Chris Hemsworth.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Swear I wasn't looking. Okay, fine, maybe.....

Swear I wasn’t looking. Okay, fine, maybe…..

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Insider (1999)

Just another reason why cigarettes are not good for you.

The true story of how the commentator of 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), and his producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) were black-balled into dumping a segment on tobacco industry defector Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), because CBS execs were in the midst of a multi-billion dollar merger with the corporation that owned Wigand.

Anybody who hears the name “Michael Mann”, automatically thinks of a high-tech, energized-up mofo that did epic-thrillers such as Collateral and Heat. In fact, I’m one of those people considering I think those are the only two films he truly kicks ass with. However, my mind has officially been blown by what he’s able to do with a straight-forward story where I don’t think a single shot is fired. Except for when it’s people actually getting fired themselves.

What Mann does so perfectly here with this story is that he take his time with it. Everything starts off rather mysterious if you aren’t already familiar with the true story this movie is based on, but it’s also very thrilling where we don’t know where this story’s going to go, how it’s going to go, and what’s going to set it off. Thankfully, after about the first 15 minutes, we realize what type of story we’ve stumbled upon and that’s when everything starts to become clearer and more understandable to take in, but by the same token, still mysterious. We know that the walls are going to drop eventually, but as a matter of when and where is what’s really interesting.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter because the characters were given to watch are already interesting enough as is.

Most of the Insider is concerning a bunch of evil people, talking about evil things, and actually doing most of those evil things that they discuss. Granted, this may not sound like the most exciting thing in the whole world, but Mann makes it so. The whole film is one tense ride from start-to-finish where twists come absolutely out of nowhere, but they make sense and keep the story moving on and on until it reaches it’s breaking-point. Every single shot/scene in this flick seems like it actually means something and furthers the story, rather than just being placed in there for a time-killer and to add more exposition to a story that was filled with it already in the first place. It’s over two-and-a-half hours, and while that would normally kill me, this time, it doesn’t. Hell, I don’t even know how this could have been shorter! Nearly two-hours and forty-minutes seems like the perfect amount of time for Mann to give us a story, where almost nobody does the right thing, and still be able to keep our attention glued onto the screen.

Bravo, Mr. Mann. Bravo.

As entertaining and tense as this story may be, the emotional-level of this film didn’t fully connect with me, and I think that has something to do with some of the characters here. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to really feel bad for anybody in this flick as they all do bad things that better themselves and nobody else, but there was a certain amount of disconnect that I was feeling with everybody that came off as a bit too dreary. The only person that could be considered remotely sympathetic and actually good, is Wigand, and even he comes off as a bit of a jerk that sort of screwed the pooch on himself this time and should have just done the right thing, rather than put himself, and everybody else around him in jeopardy. Then again, the guy had a story to tell and it just goes to show you that not everything in this movie, let alone life, is as cut-and-dry as some people make it out to be.

Going along with that last point, I feel as if the whole story behind the actual story, lacked any type of real feeling. This is, as I put it up above, a story about how 60 Minutes got sued and was almost bought out for millions and millions of dollars by a huge corporation, but even that said corporation has an interesting story to tell; one that never fully grows to get you as excited as when 60 Minutes begins to get hit hard in their pockets. This could have really twisted everything up and got us, the audience, rooting for the home team the whole time, but just had us sitting there, and watching it with barely any feelings or emotions left still intact. Maybe this is just a weird problem I had and nobody else, but so be it.

A lot of people that see this flick will probably not only be surprised by how freakin’ tense this movie is, but by also how Al Pacino doesn’t really get into his infamous “insane-o mode” that we all know, and sometimes, love him for. Instead, his character, Lowell Bergman, is more of a straight-man to everything else that’s going on around him; keeping his cool, and not really having much to talk about or keep at-stake, other than what he gives everybody else around him, his “word”. It’s a character who doesn’t seem all that interesting right from the start, as he’s mostly content with just sitting around and letting the wheels turn as they go, but eventually begins to build more of an arch as the film continues. This makes it even better to see Pacino actually playing it subtle for once, and still be able to garner the same emotions he would if he was all coked-up and shooting the shit out of people. But don’t let that fool you, he still has a freak-out here or two, and they’re both pretty awesome.

"You talkin' to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to."

“You talkin’ to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to.”

God, why did this guy have to do freakin’ Jack and Jill?

Playing opposite of him, Russell Crowe gives one of his finer performances as the strange, but compelling technician that starts this whole shit-storm in the first place, Jeffrey Wigand. Crowe is great here as Wigand because the guy has to go through a lot in terms of emotions and feelings, and Crowe pulls it all off with ease. The guy does seem very sympathetic as he’s the only person who seemingly does the right thing and the whole time we are left sitting there, watching as his whole life comes crashing down, without him ever being able to recuperate. It’s pretty sad to watch at times, and makes you wonder just how the hell this Wigand guy kept his cool and didn’t end up taking a leap off the Brooklyn Bridge for good measure. My only complaint about Crowe here isn’t really a bad thing about the movie, it’s just more that he plays this role, almost the same in every movie where he stars as a middle-class, American man. Not a huge complaint, but still something that’s obvious when you look at any other Crowe film where he practically plays a regular guy, with a more than less-than-regular problem brewing up inside of him.

The other performance that really took me by surprise was Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace. Plummer plays Wallace as your stereotypical, high-class dick that demands respect and wants everything done his own way, even though he doesn’t really contribute much except for asking a person a bunch of dumb, meaningless questions most of the time. Still, the character comes full-circle by the end of it all and shows that Plummer was, and still is able to, convey all types of heartfelt emotions out of any character he plays and it’s another reminder as to why this guy was long over-due an Oscar win. Everybody else in this film do superb jobs, as well, but these are three that continue to come to mind when I think of the exact stand-outs.

Consensus: Though it is, essentially, a two-hour-and-40-minute flick dedicated to a bunch of unsympathetic people, talking about doing unsympathetic things, the Insider is still one hell of a thrill-ride that asks the right questions, portrays them the right way, and still has us thinking about what was right, and what was wrong even after it’s all done.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

After these comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

After certain comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Thief (1981)

That “one last job”, never quite is.

Frank (James Caan) is your typical crook in the early 80’s, who’s just trying to make right with his life. He owns a used-car shop, has a girl (Tuesday Weld) that he’s trying to settle down with, and on the side, does a little bit of jewel-thievery. However, he’s an honest guy and doesn’t hurt anybody, so there can’t be much of a problem with taking another job from a head honcho in the Chicago mob (Robert Prosky), right? Well, Frank doesn’t believe so but he’s about to find out that you don’t just take the mob’s money and expect to go on about your day and act as if it never happened. You have commitments and you’re practically “part of the gang”, something that Frank does not run too well with.

Michael Mann hasn’t made a flick quite in some time and it makes you wonder one thing, why? I mean, granted, Public Enemies was no work of art to end-off with and Miami Vice was even worse, but everything else before is what most of us call close to being “a masterpiece” or at least something along those lines. I’ve seen most of Mann’s flicks and each and every one has done something for me in a positive way, even if they don’t always work when you take into consideration the decades that they were made in, but still, the guy had a style, the guy had a feel, the guy had a look, and the guy sure as hell knew how to tell a story, especially if that story consisted of dudes pulling off crimes, shooting one another, and cursing a shit-ton.

That Michael Mann, man.

"Oh no! I ain't getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!"

“Oh no! I ain’t getting shot in a hail of gun-fire this time!”

To be honest though, as much as I’ve heard overly positive things about this flick, I’ve never really brought myself to even bother with it. It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested, it’s just because 80’s movies don’t usually work for me like they do with some peeps. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Miami Vice (the TV show), I’m not a huge fan of New Wave, and I’m sorry, but the synths have to go! Probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to liking the 80’s, was GTA: Miami Vice which will always go down as one of the crowning moments in my life where not only did I realize I was a geek, but a geek that knew who A Flock of Seagulls were. Aw yeah. Times were good for 11-year-old Dan the Pre-Man, and then I grew up and realized that the 80’s blew. Then again, the 21st Century that I’m growing up in ain’t much better, so what the hell do I know, right?

Anyway, personal problems aside, I decided to see what Mann was up to with one of his first theatrical-releases and needless to say, it lived up to all of the expectations I’ve gathered from all of the other reviews of this movie I’ve been seeing, and then some. I won’t go so far as to call this “a masterpiece” like some peeps have, but I will go so far as to say that if you love crime movies, this is the movie you need to see right away, especially if you like your crime movies with an extra-dosage of style, color, and Tangerine Dream. Don’t worry, they’re on my shit-list, too.

And yes, you could say that some parts of Mann’s flick is dated, considering that the 80’s were lame, despite them thinking they were cool-as-hell. The score does become a bit over-bearing at times; people say certain pieces of lingo that feels put-on, rather than actually genuine; and the violence could have been a little less used with the slo-mo, but overall, this flick still kicks ass after all of these years. That’s mostly because Mann knows the type of story he wants to make, which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from most crime films located in the same vein. Rather than going for convention and making this a story about one dude pulling-off his last job and the problems with the mobsters he has to deal with, it’s actually more about the problem he has with facing himself and what he has to do for a living. Frank is the type of character that knows he can do so much better with his life, whether it be by settling down, raising a family, and being a loyal husband, but knows that the only way for him to be successful and prosperous in America is to make money at what you do best, even if that does mean robbing and stealing jewelry from high-class vaults. Hey, do what you’re good at, and leave it at that!

It’s more of an inner-battle that Frank with his own set of skills and the human being he can be, rather than the outer-battle with these bastards from the mob. That later-conflict does come into the flick, but comes in later once all of Frank’s stones have been set and we’ve gotten a clearer picture of who this guy is and how he functions as a human specimen. Mann goes for the humane-aspect of this character, but the approach wouldn’t have worked as perfectly had it not been for Caan in the lead role, pulling off one of his best of all-time.

Yep, that’s saying something for the same dude who played Sonny and even Walter Hobbs, if you really want to get all “commercial” with it.

Caan’s always been that actor who’s been putting out great pieces of work across-the-board for decades now, but never really gets the time to shine like he used to. You could say that has something to do with age or the fact that he’s apparently been considered “difficult” to work with, but I just say it’s a damn shame because the man shows us that he can work with any role, whether it be an generally nice guy, or a sympathetic crook who knows what he is and is trying to make something good come out of it. Caan plays Frank perfectly because you always know that there’s more to this guy and that you can always count on him to do the right thing, even if it is just for himself and not for the others around him. Hey, I didn’t say the guy was perfect, just human; that’s all.

But I think people out there reading this will think it’s nothing more than a character-study, with some guns and bullets thrown into the mix. And if you do think that, then you’re not entirely wrong; just know that the flick is pretty damn tense and gets very bloody, very quick, especially once everything starts to hit the fan, big time. Mann is the type of director that can make any plot begin to sizzle and boil just by giving us enough time to let all of the details and feelings settle in, and once that happens here, it’s balls to the walls with him, these characters, this story, and Mann’s sense of style. It’s an 80’s-style, but Mann was the king at it, so watching the king do his work ain’t half-bad if you don’t mind me saying so.

He's straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball'd it up.

He’s straining so hard to actually act. Should have just done speedball’d it up.

The rest of the cast all let Cann do his show and pull it off with flying colors, but they all get to show their skills as well and not get thrown in the background for too long. Tuesday Weld is great as Jessie, Frank’s gal, because she gives us an understandable reason as to why she would want to be with and stay with someone like Frank, and even makes us believe that she could stand up for herself if push came to shove as well. The final scene between her and Frank is a very emotional one, one that took me by surprise because it’s so unexpected, yet, so heartfelt in the sense that it connects two people that we know love each other and are together throughout the whole film, and still shows their dedication and love to one another. Hell, I’m tearing up now just typing it.

The late, great Robert Prosky is very good as Leo, the main mobster that gets Frank’s the jobs and everything and seems like he’s a bit too nice and modest to be such a powerful-figure in the crime world, but once you see his true colors, you begin to realize that the guy is a mean, sick son-of-a-bitch who’s toes you should not step on. Also, he’s a Philly boy and I always have to give out love for that! You’ll also have to be on the look-out from smaller, younger roles from the likes of Denis Farina, Jim Belushi, and William Petersen, who all do fine, but also let Caan do his show, as promised and deserved.

Consensus: Some of it may be dated, but overall, Thief still works as not just an exciting crime-thriller, but an interesting character-study of a person we don’t know if we should root for, all because of how greatly Caan portrays him.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"You got the weed, or what?"

“You got the weed, or what?”

Space Station 76 (2014)

Being up in space can make a lot of people upset. And horny too, apparently.

Somewhere all the way up in space, lies Space Station 76 a refueling outpost that is being currently used in the 70’s. Aboard the 76 are a bunch of sad and lonely people, most of whom don’t really seem to understand that there’s more to life than just what’s given to them. Like, for instance, try the ship’s mechanic (Matt Bomer), who can’t seem to get a grip on his emotions, or even his philandering, constantly pill-popping wife (Marisa Coughlan). Then, there’s also Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson) who, because of a secret he’s holding near and dear to his heart, is slowly dying inside and is contemplating whether or not this life that he has is worth living after all. But, soon, both of these men’s lives are changed once Jessica (Liv Tyler), a new second-in-command to Glenn, shakes things up. Not to mention, she comes around during the most joyful, happiest time of the year: the Holidays! What’s so sad about that?

"What did I tell you about singing, "Walk this Way" in my presence?"

“What did I tell you about singing, “Walk this Way” in my presence?”

On the surface, Space Station 76 seems like an over-the-top, campy-farce that wants to make fun of 70’s fashion, ideas, and conventions that they can’t even contain themselves on the very retro-looking poster. And pretty much, for the first thirty minutes or so, that’s exactly how it all plays out. It’s definitely over-the-top and campy as one would expect, but also incredibly weird, with random, almost shocking scenes of sex and masturbation, and an overall tone that was so bizarre, I couldn’t help but feeling like I stumbled upon a late-night special from Adult Swim. That’s not to say any of what I’m saying is actually a bad thing, as much as it was just a thing that I was enjoying, but wasn’t too sure about how well it would still hold-up for the next hour and ten minutes.

Then, things got weird. But again, in a good way.

See, where Space Station 76 really pulls the rug from underneath its audience, is in the way that it slowly, very tenderly-like, reveals itself to be something of a dark, intimate drama about some very sad, emotionally-troubled people. It still has an odd sense of humor placed in throughout, but for the most part, once the second-half rolls on by, it becomes clear that we’re not dealing with a sci-fi camp-fest – in fact, we’re dealing with a rather interesting dramedy. But it’s not that because the movie plays with its audience’s expectations is the reason why this is interesting, it’s mostly because the characters put into it, as much as they seem caricatures, are mostly all well thought-out, three-dimensional human beings. Sure, they have some weird stuff going on with them, but tell me, what person doesn’t?

With each and every character here, we get a few that we know we’re supposed to like and actually care for, even if we don’t really know them fully well; all we do know is that they’re sad and want more out of life. Because of that, the movie works best as a way to figure out which characters deserve our attentions the most, but here’s the real kicker – even the characters who initially seem to be just plain old, immoral a-holes, they actually turn out to be more human than you’d expect. It’s a wonder that a movie can make us sympathize with Marisa Coughlan’s wife, considering that she constantly cheats on her dedicated, honorable husband (with a character portrayed by Jerry O’Connell no less), then comes home, only to bitch at him for not doing something she wanted, or whatever, but that’s what co-writer/director Jack Plotnick is able to do and it works for every other character here.

Matt Bomer’s lonely hubby character, not only makes you’d want to give him a hug, but hope that whoever does give him said hug, is a person he can spend the rest of his life with. I didn’t expect Bomer to work for me here as the down-and-out mechanic, but he works well in creating a character wants our sympathy, but doesn’t demand it; he’s just wholesome enough that you appreciate his nice tendencies, but isn’t a perfect human being either. So when Liv Tyler’s character walks in and changes thing around for Bomer’s character, not only does he feel happiness and hope for his future, but it also makes you, the viewer, feel the same as well. What I said about Bomer is the same thing for Liv Tyler, the kind of actress who has left me quite cold in the past. She’s fine here in that she’s allowed to be a bit of a sweetheart, albeit, one who may not be exactly who she presents herself as being from the first appearance of her in this flick.

Tee-hee. 70's clothes are funny.

Tee-hee. 70’s clothes are funny.

But the one character who really kept my interest the most was Patrick Wilson as Captain Glenn, a character who’s secret dilemma I called from a mile away, but still didn’t affect him, the character. Because, as he’s written, Glenn too is a very sad individual, but Wilson does something neat with him in that he makes him rather insufferable in certain spots of this movie. Whereas the movie wants us to be a bit creeped-out by his appearance and actions towards those around him on the spaceship, Wilson still can’t help himself to make him the least bit likable, although he’s still not fully as trustworthy as Wilson’s characters have been before. Still, as it is, there’s something inherently sympathetic to this character that makes him worth standing by and, ultimately, rooting for. For lack of a better term.

While mostly all of these characters are strong in their ways, there’s still a feeling this movie could had been a lot better, placed as just an ordinary drama as was. Sure, the spaceship-setting probably was done so on purpose to divert its attention away from the other dramedies of the same nature, but it still seems unnecessary at times, especially considering it’s the 70’s and there are a little too many jokes made at the expense of the fashion, the look and the feel of those days and ages. Don’t get me wrong, I always have a little chuckle whenever I see somebody spotting a silly, 70’s-era porn-stache, but for something as smart and well-done this, I felt like it was a little too cheap for its own good.

Oh well, guess you have to please everybody.

Consensus: Though it pulls a bit too many lame jokes, Space Station 76 surprisingly works best as a drama, and one that pays plenty of attention to its well-written characters.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Okay, this little guy was kind of funny.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Venus in Fur (2014)

When it’s closing time, always make sure to lock your doors.

Adapting Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs is a pretty tough task and nobody knows this more than theater director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric). For practically the whole day, Thomas has been a witness to many women auditioning for the lead female role and hardly any of them have left an impression on him. Disappointed, Thomas then decides to pack everything up and head home, however, there’s one last actress to come in; one that, well, isn’t on the schedule. This is when Vanda (Emmnuelle Seigner) walks through the door and constantly pesters him to not only give her an audition, but even play opposite the role of her. Thomas agrees and he even comes to realize that Vanda’s quite the talent, but he doesn’t know whether or not he can let his lustful feelings go away and be professional. Because, to be honest, Vanda makes it quite hard for a guy to be stern, serious and calm whenever her and her flirty personality is around.

You know the look. And you also know the bra. Is that lingerie?

You know the look. And you also know the bra. Is that lingerie?

Love him or hate him, Roman Polanski is an artist and a very talented one at that. Although one could definitely make the argument that he’s lost a step or two since the Pianist, there’s no denying that the talent within Polanski is still there. While he may not be tackling such ambitious projects like Chinatown, or Rosemary’s Baby, or even the Ghost Writer, Polanski still thrives in grabbing his audience’s attention and never letting loose of them. Even if, you know, with Carnage and this, he seems to only be adapting plays.

For now, though, because you never know when Polanski’s going to come from out of nowhere and surprise us all once again.

Anyway, with Venus in Fur, Polanski seems in his element, for better and for worse. From the beginning of the flick, we have no clue as to why we’re stuck in this theater, with these characters, and just what exactly is surrounding them, and we’re, more or less, just plopped down right as soon as this interaction begins. We don’t know why, but it’s still unsettling because as with most Polanski movies, not everything is going to work out fine for the people involved with his story.

And that’s where most of the magic of this movie comes from – watching these two interact. It’s interesting to see how while these two discuss and argue about gender-dynamics, that they are too playing around with them. Thomas and Vanda both seem to play a game of cat-and-mouse where one feels as if they are in more control of the other, and vice versa, and to see it actually play out is quite fun. Not just because it’s entertaining to see two French people get all sleek, silk and sexy with one another in a raunchy game of fore-play, but because it actually seems like it’s trying to say something without hitting us over-the-head. Can a woman play in a role that’s originally written out for a man? And better yet, can a man play in a role that’s originally written out for a woman?

Polanski himself seems actually interested in these questions and while he doesn’t get to answering them fully or completely, they’re still interesting to toggle around with your in mind and add a little bit more development to this story as a whole. Because yes, even though it is a stage-play adaptation that plays around with certain ideas about gender, sex, and the world of literature, it is still nonetheless, a stage-play adaptation and it’s one that I feel like can run a little dry at times. Since these two have to consistently talk to one another in hopes of keeping things up and about, Polanski sometimes runs into the problem of having his characters commit verbal diarrhea, where it seems like they’re talking in such a metaphoric way, that nobody in their right minds would ever speak the same.

Unless they were, you know, the most pretentious a-holes on the planet. And I get that because it’s a stage-play, where one character is actually so embroiled in literature that he can’t help but live his life’s philosophies by them and their teachings, we’re supposed to believe them in the manner in which they speak. However, for me, sometimes, it rang on a little too phony and made it seem like the kind of stage-play adaptation that I usually get annoyed of real quick. You know, the one’s where they don’t want you to think that it’s a stage-play adaptation, although, by the way it’s made, it can’t help but feel like it.

Pretty much like Carnage.

Has no idea what he just walked into.

Has no idea what he just walked into.

But that’s neither here nor there because, believe it or not, the acting’s just good enough to allow me to get past some of the initial problems I might have had with this. As Thomas, Mathieu Amalric is very good and slightly creepy as the kind of theater director who is all about what he does in his life and how he lives it, that he never actually lives it quite to its fullest extent. You could say he’s maybe a bit too smart for his own good, but it’s actually endearing to see him fall for a woman like Vanda, once he begins to realize that there may be something more to her than just a nice body and flirtation; she might, believe it or not, be a talented actress and to watch him as he waits to see more of that talent shine, is rather pleasing and sweet. Well, at least as sweet as you can probably get in a Roman Polanski film.

However, Amalric is good here, but the one who really shines the brightest is Emmnuelle Seigner, which should probably come as to no surprise to anyone considering she’s Polanski’s real-life wife. But being married to the director doesn’t matter too much for Seigner because she’s very good in this role that allows her to be quick-witted, smart, sexy, sassy, and altogether, the kind of woman you’d expect to meet on the street or at some bar, but never be able to take seriously. That’s probably why this role works so well for her – while she may look like a the kind of woman you’d much rather buy a drink, than sit down with and discuss von Sacher-Masoch, who she really is may definitely surprise you. And the character of Vanda plays with this surprise very well and it’s Seigner who allows for her to really come out in full-form as the kind of woman that can steal a man’s heart, take a bite out of it, and give it back to him, leaving an impression that seems like it’ll last forever.

And ever.

Consensus: Though Venus in Fur is, essentially, two people talking the whole time, both Seigner’s and Amalric’s performances are quite excellent that they make it easy to get past some of the heavy and hard dialogue that passes.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Don't fall for it, bro! Just don't!

Don’t fall for it, bro! Just don’t!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Selma (2014)

Believe it or not, there’s actually more words after, “I have a dream“.

In 1965, racial tensions in the United States were very high, most importantly though, in the South. A region of the country in which, even though blacks were legally allowed to vote, they still had to jump through all sorts of law abiding rules and regulations that was obviously set out to make sure that their race, and only theirs, wouldn’t be allowed to vote and therefore, not have their voices be heard like any other citizen. This is when Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) decided that it was time to step in and allow for his voice to not only be heard, but acted on as well. Most importantly though, MLK travels Selma, Alabama of all places to arrange a march that would not only get the attention of everybody’s eyes and ears, but also President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson)’s, and would hopefully drive him to make some severe changes to the voting-process. Although, as one could expect, LBJ wasn’t always down to change certain voting restrictions, especially with the looming pressure of possible voters and fellow confidantes like George Wallace (Tim Roth), J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), and Lee C. White (Giovanni Ribisi), among many others.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Contrary to what some may believe, Selma isn’t necessarily a biopic about MLK, his life, his achievements, and everything else that transpired when he was alive, and what soon followed afterwards. Instead, it’s much more of a film in which a good portion of MLK’s life is documented, yet, never fully chronicled to make it just his, and his own; there’s plenty more people apart of this story, helping out to create a larger, more thought-out picture than just being standard. The same could actually be said for the civil rights movement(s) that Selma seems to portray – it wasn’t just one person who is single-handedly credited with all of the accomplishments, it’s everybody who was there to help that one person out and make sure that his dreams were fulfilled, as risky as they sometimes may have been.

And in the world that we live in now, honestly, Selma couldn’t be anymore relevant. And to be honest, director Ava DuVernay fully knows this, which is why this movie hits as hard as it does, but without ever seeming like it’s pandering in any sort of way. Surely DuVernay sees and understands the civil rights movement as a significant time in our history (as well as she should), but rather than making it a simple and easy history lesson that any fifth-grader could teach to a class of hundred or more, she strives for something more difficult and ambitious. While DuVernay portrays the civil rights movement, and those behind it all, as smart and inspiring, she also shows that the tactics that would eventually land most of these participants in hot water, not just with the government, but with fellow members of their own race.

For white people who got involved with the civil rights movement, they suffered threats, day-in and day-out from fellow Caucasians who believed that it wasn’t their right to get involved. The black people suffered this, too, and definitely a lot more worse, but as the movie portrays it, it wasn’t just the white people that blacks had to deal with on a regular basis, it was actually some people of their own race. DuVernay shows this with the inclusion of Malcolm X, and as small as it may have been, it’s a smart move on her part to show that some people preferred to side with X’s way of violence solving any and all problems, whereas some others preferred to stick with MLK’s way of not fighting back and instead, using peace as the best medicine to ridicule those who use violence to their benefit. In a lesser film, each and every person of the same race would have gathered, hand-in-hand, and marched happily together, but in DuVernay’s much smarter film, sometimes, they’re at-war with themselves.

But this is just me getting further and further away from what Selma really does here, and that’s portray a brutal, yet significant time in our society’s history, without ever shying away from some of the more dark and dirty aspects that would push certain people away from seeing this. We’ve seen white cops beating on black people in movies (and sadly, in real-life, too) done before, but the way in how DuVernay shows the sheer terror and madness is not only disturbing, but downright terrifying. It not only opens our eyes a little more to what this film is setting out to do, but also puts into perspective what is really being fought for here, rather than just telling us and trusting that bit of info as is.

Like I mentioned before, though, there’s a good portion of this movie that likes to argue against what most of us may know, or think we know, about the civil rights movement and how all those apart of it acted. For instance, not every person in this film is a clear-cut good guy, or a bad guy; they’re, simply put, just people that had a foot in history and all had their own goals, whether they may, or may not be desirable to us watching at home. This is especially clear in the case of LBJ who yes, definitely seems like a racist, but is also a politician, meaning, that he knows he has a lot at stake here in terms of his voting numbers come re-election time. While it’s made clear to us that maybe LBJ’s morals aren’t in the right places, he is still trying to give MLK what he wants, just in his own way. They may not be perfect and they may not always get the job done, but they’re still efforts on his part and that’s more than he can say for many other white politicians during that time.

The same said for LBJ, could definitely be said for MLK, which is definitely surprising considering that you’d expect a piece praising the figure for everything that he did while he was alive, and the influence that still holds precedence in our society today. DuVernay instead dives a bit deeper into the man of MLK, what made him who he was, and how exactly he got through this tough time in his life. And with this, we see that he wasn’t always the perfect man; he was a shitty husband who fooled-around a bit too much, didn’t always step to the front-line like he had initially promised, and got a little big-headed for his own good. But nonetheless, MLK was MLK, a man who accomplished more than what anybody expected of him when he was alive, and it’s a true testament to the person he was, rather than the person people want us to see and believe in.

Round 2. Fight!!

Round 2. Fight!!

Doesn’t make him any less of a good person, it just makes him a person, first and foremost.

And as MLK, David Oyelowo is pretty outstanding. This isn’t too surprising considering Oyelowo has been churning out amazing performances for the past couple years or so, but it truly is great to see him tackle a role that so many people think we already all think we know of, and do something different with it. Because MLK isn’t made out to be the most perfect human specimen ever created in this movie, we see certain shades to his persona that we don’t get to see in his speeches; sure, the speeches are here and they are downright compelling to watch and listen to, but they aren’t what make this person. What makes this person is that he stood up for what he believed in and, at any cost, tried to make his dream a reality. He had many of bumps in the road, but ultimately, he prevailed in getting what he wanted, even if he definitely did gain some enemies in the meantime. Then again, who doesn’t?

Though there’s more to the cast where that came from and rightfully so, too. The previously mentioned LBJ is done well by Tom Wilkinson who fits perfectly into the role and constantly makes it seem like this man is going to explode at any second; Carmen Ejogo has a few strong scenes as MLK’s wife, Corette, and shows the painful side to being the one who is constantly left-at-home, when your significant other is off, fighting the good fight, and constantly allowing you and the rest of your family to be threatened; Tim Roth is pretty damn campy as the overtly-racist man that was George Wallace, although he does with it just enough scenery-chewing that there’s no need for the mustache-twirl; and honestly, plenty more where that came from.

In fact, so many more to talk about that to put one over the other would just be an absolute disservice to each and every performer who shows up here, ready to perform and give it their all with their roles, no matter how small or large they may be. But above all though, it’s DuVernay who deserves the most credit for handling this large ensemble and giving just about every member something substantial to do and add another layer onto a story that, quite frankly, is already very engaging to begin with. Although there are plenty of hiccups to be found on the road leading to the final-act here, DuVernay still brings us a solid depiction of the Selma marches, how they affected us as a society then, and how they do it to us now. Because seriously, the years may change, but the stories remain the same.

Who knows when the change will come. Let’s just hope it’s soon.

Consensus: Smart, powerful, and well-acted by just about everybody involved, Selma is a complex, detailed-look into the civil rights movement that knows it’s important, but never shoves it down its viewer’s throats.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

When they mean "strength in numbers"? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

When they mean “strength in numbers”? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Whiplash (2014)

Isn’t playing music supposed to be fun?

19-year-old Shaffer Conservatory student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) has a dream, and it’s a pretty ambitious one: Become the best jazz drummer since Buddy Rich. Though this isn’t what you’d expect every normal young adult to dream of aspiring to one day, Andrew is different and decides that if he’s going to take his drumming-career seriously, he needs to get rid of any and all distractions in his life. That means he has to spend less time with his failed-author dad (Paul Reiser), break things off with his lonely girlfriend (Melissa Benoist), and most of all, practice, practice, practice! Because standing in Andrew’s way of becoming the world’s greatest is none other than conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a hard-ass who takes much pride in breaking down his student’s spirits by telling them that “they suck”, and finding any colorful, derogatory term he can call them next. This fazes Andrew at first, but he soon thinks he’s got the hang of what Fletcher wants. That’s until Andrew goes a bit too far into his training, and this is where he and Fletcher come to terms on what it means to be the greatest, and how the both of them can possibly work together. If at all.

I hope that isn't his "actual face". If you know what I mean......?

I hope that isn’t his “actual face”. If you know what I mean……?

Being a drummer myself, I’m more inclined to look at this movie’s premise, its beliefs, and scoff at it. The reason being is because ever since I was a young fellow, I’ve always prided myself in teaching myself how to play drums and haven’t really cared too much for the whole idea of jazz-drumming, or any type of orchestra-playing for that matter, either. It’s just not my bag, baby, and while I know it’s plenty of other people’s bags, I still can’t bring myself to get too hype for a movie where a fellow drummer wants to be the biggest, the most talented, and overall, the best drummer of all-time.

Does it make me a bit jealous? Sure. But that’s another story, for another day.

This story here is about one Andrew Neiman and it’s one that’s like any other underdog tale – underdog has a dream; underdog has a talent; underdog has a set-back; underdog has an obstacle; etc. It’s a pretty simple formula, and it’s one that Whiplash doesn’t really try to shy away from, except for that it’s not really an underdog story, as much as it’s just a story about one’s addiction. Sure, our main protagonist Andrew definitely meets all the key elements to what would make him an underdog in the first place, but it’s not that we are necessarily worried about his talent (because he totally has it), it’s more that we’re worried how his talent is going to shine in the eyes of his professor/drill-instructor. If anything, it’s more of a battle within himself, than with any other person, although the character of Fletcher is definitely a suitable stand-in for whom would ultimately be considered “the villain”.

However, Fletcher isn’t a villain, and Andrew isn’t a hero; they’re both people who absolutely love and adore music. Music is their addiction and because they are dug so deep into it, they can’t help but lose whole parts of themselves and forget exactly what makes them tick and tock like a human in the first place. Especially in the case of Andrew, who actually seems like he loves drumming, but gets so enthralled with becoming the best and impressing the shorts off of his superior, that it starts to seem like the drums end up becoming his enemy, less than it being the other way around. What’s smart about Damien Chazelle’s writing, and I guess, his direction as well, is that he never makes it clear whether or not we should side with all of the pain, agony, and torment that Andrew is putting himself through.

Sure, a good portion of all that pain, agony, and torment is being put onto him through Fletcher’s non-stop abusive tactics, but for the most part, it’s all Andrew himself who could just walk away from all this, move on, get a degree, continue playing the drums, and see if he can get with a bunch of guys to become the next Everclear, or somebody else as awesome as them (seriously though, once you become “the next Everclear”, it’s a little hard to go any higher, you know). But Andrew doesn’t seem to want to do this and because of these sometimes poor, almost unsympathetic decisions he decides to take, we never know whether or not we should root for Andrew to achieve his dream, by any means necessary, or just do whatever he can, without harming himself in the meantime. Chazelle makes the smart decision of not really nailing-down his views to one side over the other, and it makes us, the viewers, make up our own minds for once and not have our hands held on every aspect.

Chazelle also does the same thing for the character of Fletcher, although it’s not nearly as successful as it is for Andrew. Most of this has to do with the way the character’s written though, and not at all with J.K. Simmons’ performance, because the guy is very solid, as usual. Actually, what’s so interesting about all of the praise surrounding Simmons here is that he isn’t really doing anything different from what we have seen him do before, like in Oz, or Spider-Man, or Juno, among many others. He yells, curses, and is abusive a lot, but he also shows that there’s a slight sign of humanity in this guy, which helps make him to come off as some sort of a human being, which is where Simmons does the most magic with this performance. Once again, it’s not like we haven’t seen him act like this before, it’s just that he’s become the main focal-point because of his constant yelling, cursing and abusing that leads me to believe that he’ll not only get nominated for an Oscar, but actually win it.

Once again though, another story, for another day.

"PARKER!!"

“PARKER!!”

However, where I feel the character of Fletcher is problematic, is in that he seems more like a cartoon, and one that his creator fully loves and adores. It makes sense that Fletcher would be this different kind of music professor that wouldn’t allow for any weaklings to stay in his orchestra unless they got through his heinous acts of hazing, but it doesn’t really make sense that he would go on for so long, with so many people still wanting to work with/be around him. Later on in the movie, we get a detail about Fletcher’s teaching-process and the sort of negative affect it’s had on his students, both present and past, but the way it’s thrown in there, makes me feel as if Chazelle doesn’t really care for it as much, and more or less, just loves the character of Fletcher himself.

Makes sense since this character is Chazelle’s brain-child, but it puts into perspective who Chazelle seems to side with a bit more and for what reasons. Why he wants to show us that Fletcher may go a tad too far, he still can’t help but seem to giggle at himself, or Simmons for that matter, whenever Fletcher calls somebody “a fag” and then hurls certain items at whoever he is talking to. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to shed some positive light onto the character that you’ve created for the world to see, but whenever you’re throwing the idea of your character’s questionable ethics into the air, it makes for a bit of a sketchy discussion.

Which, yes, brings us all back to the age old question of Whiplash: How far should one go to achieve his/her dire need for greatness? Should they drive themselves into a manic state of constant anger and turmoil? Or, simply put, should one try their best, with as much effort as humanly possible, and try not to get themselves killed while doing so?

You be the judge on that, folks. I’m here to just review the damn flick.

Consensus: Whiplash may run into some muddy waters with its own judgment, but is still an effective piece of two people’s addictions, both very well-done by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!"

“Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Predestination (2015)

First film from 2015 reviewed and so far, this year’s looking very “meh”.

A Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) who is constantly travelling through time in hopes to stop certain tragedies from happening, may have finally met his final case. There is a new terrorist going around Boston by the name of “the Fizzle Bomber” and it’s up to the agent to find out who it is, for what reasons, and whether or not he’s even able to stop it in the first place. Somehow though, he ends up tending bar at some random dive place located all the way in New York City. Whatever the reasons may be, he doesn’t know, but he’s just going to try and get on with the night. That’s when a strange customer (Sarah Snook) comes walking through the door, orders a whole bottle of Scotch, and starts chatting it up with the barkeep. As they get talking, the conversation gets deeper and deeper, with one side telling their whole life’s story up until this point, whereas the other is just sitting by, taking notes on what that other person is saying. It all means something, but what, is the real question at hand here; the same question these two are getting ready to figure out on their own.

You know he's cool, once he has the 'stache.

You know he’s cool, once he has the ‘stache.

Notice how by the end of that plot-synopsis, things got a little shaky for me? Well, that’s because a lot of Predestination is up to be seen by the viewer, because giving anything at all away would be a bit of a disservice to the film itself. That said, there is something to this movie that makes me wonder if I was supposed to like it, or just absolutely despise the ever-lovin’ crap out of it.

See, while I was one to automatically think that Predestination would be a time-travel thriller and nothing more, something in the movie actually switched gears and it had me totally blind-sided. While the first ten minutes or so is chock full of people shooting one another, getting showered in some sort of acid, and grabbing onto guitar-cases to actually complete the action of time travel (I know, please bear with me here), suddenly, after a little bit of exposition between characters we’re not to familiar with, it all changes. Somehow, somewhere, it becomes something of a drama, and a very interesting one at that.

But once again, this is something that I do not want to give away a bit too much to ruin other viewer’s chances of possibly enjoying this, so I’ll try to stay as vague as possible.

Anyway, co-writers/directors Peter and Michael Spierig do really well with this story is introduce something that comes almost completely out of nowhere, but somehow, still very much works in its own right. A certain character comes into this piece and begins to delve into their back-story – where they were born, how they were brought up, what they did in life, how they got to this one point in time, etc. And it actually becomes something of a compelling drama, one with a central character we can care for, yet, also one that still leaves plenty up to the viewer’s and their minds. We’re told that this whole story is going to eventually have an end game that’s going to wrap the whole picture up with a neat, tidy little bow, yet, it’s easy to forget about that and just focus on this story that we’re being told; one that, according to the person who is telling this story will “knock us out”.

A good portion of this credit deserves to go to the Spierig Brothers for actually throwing a curveball at us, and so very early on in the movie, but another good portion of the credit also has to go to Sarah Snook. Snook is an actress I haven’t seen too much of, actually, but I feel like, if this movie plays in front of the right eyes, that may all change and with good reason, too. Not only is Snook a compelling presence on the screen, but the way she plays her character in so many different shades and personalities is something to be admired. Not all of her performance works, which is mostly due to the fact that some of the make-up and hair she’s forced to wear is a bit goofy, but altogether, it’s a performance that begs for a better movie.

60's fashion. Hararar.

60’s fashion. Hararar!

Because, as good as Snook’s part may be for this movie, there’s still a feeling that the Spierig’s can’t help themselves enough from steering away from some of the more confusing, albeit predictable twists and turns that most sci-fi flicks of this nature linger more towards. This is where Ethan Hawke’s character comes into play and it never made full sense. That’s not to say Hawke isn’t good in this role, because he definitely is; it’s just that, when compared to Snook’s character, he seems poorly-written and with hardly any motivations at all. He’s a cool dude, like most of the characters Hawke loves to play, but he also seems like the kind of hip, sarcastic hitman-character we’re supposed to root for and it’s just never made clear enough to us as to why.

You can also tell that while the Spierig’s had a fun time concocting up this whole subplot, but that they also have a way better time with the sci-fi shenanigans that eventually take place in these sorts of movies and it doesn’t quite work. That’s not to say some of it isn’t fun, it’s just all too confusing and forced on. Where one part of this movie was a drama, focusing on one person’s sad, and very tragic life, the next part ends up becoming a totally wild, loose, and bonkers sci-fi thriller that jumps through travel a bit too many times for it’s own good.

Once again, wasn’t like it wasn’t fun, it was just unneeded is all. Especially when you’ve already introduced a story that yes, knocked me out. All until the next story came back to me into place and make me upset.

Consensus: There are two movies battling one another in Predestination, and while one totally works, the other one keeps it away from being as fun, or as effective as it could have been.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Still bearing with me?

Still bearing with me?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Coherence (2014)

Dinner parties are sketchy enough as is.

A group of friends gather for a dinner party and the usual occurs- eating, smoking, drinking, and gossiping. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that, on this night in particular, a comet is orbiting over them as they continue to speak. While this doesn’t necessarily freak them out at first, it definitely makes them a bit weary once weird stuff around the house begins to happen. Like, for instance, certain people’s iPhone screens start inexplicably cracking. And then, to make matters a bit worse, some party-goers start acting a bit, how to say it, off. They start to forget certain people’s faces and they begin to reveal deep, dark secrets that they wouldn’t have otherwise gone through with revealing, to a huge party no less. But it’s when the power goes off that everybody in the house decides that it’s time to figure out what the hell is going on, so they all walk outside to a neighbor’s house who actually seems to be the only people on the street with any electricity. This leads to a shocking discovery, one that can’t be spoiled; just teased around with.

When you know somebody's had a bit too much to drink.

When you know somebody’s had a bit too much to drink.

Yes, everybody. It’s going to be one of those reviews. I apologize, but trust me, I’m doing it for you all out there who have yet to see Coherence, because honestly, it’s a little piece that deserves to be seen, probably knowing as little as possible about before going into. It isn’t just because the major plot-twist that occurs half-way into it is so shocking that you need to save yourselves from having it spoiled, but because little, micro-budget films like these hardly ever get made nowadays.

Or, should I say, when they do get made, they aren’t nearly as entertaining or as inspired as this.

Because, yes, for such small, meager-budgeted films like Coherence, it’s easy for a director to keep their film cheap by having the setting be one location and one location only. That’s what writer/director James Ward Byrkit does here, but rather than doing this as some sort of a crutch that he can fall back on, it actually works for the movie. And it’s not like because the movie is small and contained, means that what Byrkit is aiming at with this plot’s destination is exactly that; in fact, for a movie of this size, it’s relatively ambitious. Parallel universes are introduced, comets are seen flying overhead, and the overall meaning of one’s life is discussed on more than a few occasions.

But where this film goes and at what space it’s willing to go doesn’t matter, because what Byrkit does well with this premise is that he focuses his attention solely on these few dozen characters and allows us to see the way they act when thrown into a situation that just begs for the highest amount of paranoia. Some characters want to get down to the root of what’s causing this never ending sense of madness, whereas others are more or less content with just sitting around, drinking the night away, and basically just waiting for whatever craziness that is occurring, to end so they can get back on with their lives. No character here is really seen as “the baddie”, or “the goodie”, as much as they’re just seen as a bunch of individuals trying to get themselves out of the weird situation they’ve been sprung into.

Which is to say that this is a sign of a good cast, when each and every person involved, for the most part, seems believable and have you believe in this story, these characters, and their dilemma a whole lot more. But this is even more of astounding feet, especially when you get to thinking about the way in how Byrkit directed this movie and the actors in it. Rather than having them all set-up with their lines, knowing what to do, how to do it, and when, Byrkit literally just placed them in a spot, with bits and pieces of info, and toyed around with them as much as he could. Not only does this create a genuine feel of torment and suspense amongst the group, but it also shows us that some of these actors may literally be terrified for their live. Sometimes, especially in the case of this movie, the line between what’s real, and what isn’t, gets blurred and that helps this movie a whole lot more.

"Always travel in packs", my Cub Scout leader always said.

“Always travel in packs”, my Cub Scout leader always said.

See, it’s actually more of a human-drama than it would have you think, although there is still plenty of sci-fi shenanigans to be seen.

And honestly, that’s where most of my problems with this movie lies. It’s not that I’m not a fan of sci-fi, I normally am, but it has to be done right and in a creative way. Rather than just making-up stuff and saying “that it’s all science, bro”, not only makes me believe less in you as a writer, but not really know what to expect next from whatever you’re creating. Normally, yes, this would be my cup of tea, but for most sci-fi movies, it feels like, a lot of the time, some people just prefer to make stuff up as they go along, all because they’re thrown under the genre of “sci-fi”, which in and of itself is used as a crutch.

It’s sort of like how I feel about the Mission: Impossible films, or any other flicks featuring spies and their handy, dandy, trusty gadgets – they have all sorts of gizmo’s and gadgets that can literally get themselves out of any situation all because, well, “they work for the CIA”. To me, it feels like a cheap cop-out, when it’s done wrong. When it’s done right, like in the latest two M:I movies, it works because it adds to the excitement and isn’t done to a certain extent to where it would seem excessive.

With Coherence, it’s not that it necessarily feels excessive, as much as it just feels unneeded. Byrkit could have been as vague as he wanted to be with what his plot-twist meant, or how it all came to be, but because he starts to explain it later on, it only confuses the situation a bit more. And then, apparently, some characters start breaking out into speeches about space and time-travel that not only feels a bit random, but completely unbelievable. It’s almost as if Byrkit didn’t trust his audience enough to allow them to come to their own conclusions about what it all meant and, altogether, because of the way Byrkit loves to fall back on the fact that there’s a comet hovering up above this whole story, is rather meaningless.

Consensus: As small as the budget for Coherence may be, that still doesn’t stop it from being an interesting sci-fi thriller, that sometimes trips over its own feet every so often, but still remains intriguing.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Usually it's me who's on the receiving-end of all these stares.

Usually it’s me who’s on the receiving-end of all these stares, just after I pronounced that I have a blog.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

KRussians love the cold, so what the heck could a little radiation do to them?

During 1961, when the Cold War was running hot and wild all over, the Russians needed a way to really hurt their enemy: the U.S. So, what they got all packed together was a newly-made submarine that packed nukes in hopes to add more blow and potentially come close to winning the war. They had a stubborn, but inspired captain (Harrison Ford), they had a co-captain that was just as inspired, but also more friendlier (Liam Neeson), and a butt-load of other fella’s that knew their way or two around a submarine, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, let’s just say that radiation could start to leak out, infect the whole ship, and get just about everybody aboard sick or near-dying, that’s what.

I don’t know how they did it, but somehow Kathryn Bigelow and everybody else involved with the production of this flick got made, which is probably more of a sin for them, than it was a victory, since it had no chance of ever being able to connect with the mainstream, American audience. Why? Well, that’s because the story is focusing on a bunch of Russians during the Cold War, who were practically carrying weapons that were destined to hit us and us alone, while also trying to make us feel sympathy for them as each and every one started to die from the spilled radiation on-board. It does sound very strange once you get to thinking about it, but despite the cast, the crew, and the obvious, but hokey message behind it all, the movie was made, widely-released, and then got back the numbers that were apparently $35 million domestically, on a $80 million dollar budget.

"A captain always go down with his ship. Make sure somebody tells Chewwy that."

“On this mission, can I bring my trustworthy friend named Chewwy along?”

All of this number-throwing and speculation does eventually lead somewhere, and that’s to say that this is a movie that was destined for death right away. Nobody, not even the most hardcore hippie in the world wants to lay down their rights, views, or themes inside of their heads, and take some time and effort out of their days to watch a story about REAL Russians, who went through REAL problems, and actually, REALLY died. It’s asking a lot of Americans, and it came as no surprise to anyone that this movie bombed it’s ass out of the water, which should also bring up the question as to whether or not this flick was even really worth all of the hate/bombing?

Kind of, but not really.

The idea behind this movie that really keeps it moving and interesting is knowing that what you see really happened, no matter how much speculation there may or may not be. Granted, that usually comes with the material, but it’s something that is easy to forgive here since Bigelow actually seems to take a tender love and care with this material, and more or less expresses each and every one of these crew members as humans. They’re corny and one-dimensional ones, but knowing that these characters are in fact based off of real-life people, makes you feel a little bit more closer and more sympathetic to the material, even if you know that what they are dying from, most likely could have killed us, had they actually succeeded in getting to their destination. I guess that’s a spoiler but since I’m typing on this computer about this movie and you’re reading this, wherever you may be, that it isn’t totally a spoiler, as much as it’s a little tidbit that you may or may not know going on.

Okay, it’s not a spoiler! We didn’t get nuked, dammit!

Anyway, Bigelow has an assured direction and I’m surprised that despite her having an actual vagina, that her movies more or less are aimed towards men, and men alone. I mean hell, I think we only get one scene of some actual, female tail here and that’s probably for about a good two minutes or so. Everything else after those two minutes is practically dude, dude, dude and whether or not you’re the straightest dude out there in the world, then you may not want to bother with this, however, gay men will be in heaven right here, especially if they have a fetish for dudes with a Russian accent. Regardless, Bigelow’s choices for what material she wants to bring to the big-screen next is always surprising and usually impressive, considering what she does with that material once its up on the screen.

But something here tells me that I wish there was more effort along the way to make this more than just a standard flick about a bunch of dudes in a submarine that are arguing, yelling, and acting angry at one another, as they come closer and closer to death. The feeling of remorse and death is in the cold air throughout this whole movie, but it never swamped me as much as it swamped the characters in the actual flick. It just felt like I was watching people die, without barely any feeling whatsoever as to what was happening, or to whom. It just tallied-up it’s death-toll and continued to make it’s moves; almost sort of like a horror movie, but you can’t kill the slasher. He just continues to kill and kill away, no matter how hard you try to stop him or keep him away. Oh wait, that is actually a horror movie!

And it’s not like the reason I didn’t care was because I’m some political a-hole that can’t at least feel some sort of sympathy for the other side in any way, shape, or form; it’s just that the movie cares more about the submarine jargon and what these people have to do next, rather than the people themselves. That can create tension and suspense in the air, but that still doesn’t give us a lick of sympathy for these guys and in the end, it just felt like the film lost all of our hearts and minds, because it wanted to continue to rattle down what’s happening to the submarine and why, but never actually explaining it.

For instance, I don’t think I stand alone for when I say that I’m not very submarine-savvy, so, when I have a flick that’s telling me that this thing blew up in this part of the submarine, which also blew up this rod and so on and so forth, I’m practically left with my tongue half-way down my throat. I don’t know what half of these characters were saying, what it meant for them or the ship, and how they could get around the problem. I just sat there listening in, trying to understand, get a grip of what was going on, but ultimately come to the conclusion that everything everybody said was bad, bad, bad and would most likely lead to death, death, death, if they don’t get up off their asses, kick out their egos, and get to work right away. That’s what it came down to me understanding with this movie after awhile, and by “after awhile”, I mean a good hour-and-a-half. Then, I realized I had all but 40 minutes left of the movie, and I felt like I was missing out on something, somewhere around here.

But anyway, back to what I was talking about before, was the fact that this movie still got made, produced, and green-lit, despite featuring a premise that was surprisingly unheard of, especially from an American-made production. Well, one of the key reasons behind all that is mostly that Bigelow was able to rope in big star, Hollywood actors like Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, who are, oddly enough, playing the two, main Russians-in-command here. It’s weird seeing both of these highly-recognizable stars don a Russian accent, but it’s even odder to see Ford because not only does the guy not do very well with the accent, but his whole act is just so polarizing to begin with.

For once, Peter Sarsgaard plays a character that wants to save humans, rather than kill them and dance over their corpses.

For once, Peter Sarsgaard plays a character that wants to save humans, rather than kill them and dance over their corpses.

Think about it for a second, he’s Indiana Jones; he’s Han Solo; and hell, for God sake, he was even the President of the United States, so where the hell did the idea for this “American-hero” to be portraying a Russian that not only protected his country til the day he died, but also to any cost?!? Never made much sense to me and never seemed to work for Ford, or the character he was portraying. It seemed like a parody after awhile, as if Ford was payed a huge chunk of money just to goof-around and work with a spotty accent. Problem is, it wasn’t a parody and there was no joke here. It was mega-serious, all of the damn time.

Poor Liam Neeson too, because the guy actually does a serviceable-job here as the second-in-command (despite not even bothering with an accent), but has a character that’s so prideful and in-the-right all the time, that there never seems to be a moral dilemma for this dude as if he knows what he should do next, whether it would be the most moral move or not, or if he’s going to be able to pat his friends on the back. I got it from the first couple of minutes, the guy was a nice dude that obviously cared for his crew mates and wanted what was best for them, as well as his country, but it’s an act that got stale after awhile, as if he would have never made a bad call ever. Peter Sarsgaard remains the only other crew-member that’s the most recognizable, even today, and is okay, but really obvious as he plays the wussy that eventually stands up for himself and is forced to come up big when they need him the most. Corny.

Consensus: Bigelow’s intentions are surprisingly heartfelt and well-mannered, even if the rest of the movie that’s supposed to make K-19: The Widowmaker pop, lock, and drop it as if we are on-board with these guys, doesn’t do either of the three and just hangs there.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Even they know they deserve a better movie. Then they died.

Even they knew they deserved a better movie. Then they died.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Life After Beth (2014)

Every guy likes a little biting here and there.

After the death of his beloved girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza), Zach (Dane DeHaan) is left something of a mess. But it’s fine because he can at least sit around and confide in Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), which he does to the point of where he’s on a first-name basis with them and even tokes up a bit. This makes Zach more than happy, however, something strange happens the next day: Beth’s parents don’t answer any of his calls or door-knocks. They’re ignoring him to the point of where it’s like the past 24 hours had never existed. But that strangeness doesn’t even begin to measure up to the next bit of shock that hits Zach: Beth’s alive. And though it’s weird that she’s alive, this means that Zach can finally spend all of the time in the world with Beth, as if she had never gone away before in the first place. Forget the fact that she’s super-excited about everything, or that her breath smells like garbage, or even that she gets a little too rough when her and Zach are getting intimate, Beth is back, baby! Better than ever, though, she is not and Zach is about to find out possibly what’s going on. Not just with Beth though, but many other countless deceased person’s who all somehow come back to life at approximately the same time.

Holding hands in a pool. Gosh, it must be love.

Holding hands in a pool. Gosh, it must be love.

So, without getting smacked in the comments section, I’ll just say this: If you don’t know where I’m heading with this premise, you might be a little dense. I’m not calling you dumb or totally idiotic to the point of no return, but come on, it’s quite obvious where this story’s headed. And sadly, that’s probably the biggest problem with Life After Beth – while it’s obvious what the main twist/”reasoning” behind Beth’s re-arrival into the story actually is, the movie hardly does anything entertaining or funny with it.

Actually, that’s a bit of a fib because for all that he tries here, writer/director Jeff Baena does add a few neat tricks to the formula of what this story turns out to be, what with the inclusion of jazz music and attic-sex and all. However, it’s simply not enough to fully keep the movie hilarious, or even slightly interesting. Which, for a movie that runs right underneath the 90-minute time-limit, can be a bit of a problem; though it shouldn’t at all feel like a long slog, the fact that its story doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t already expect it to, or at least do so in a refreshing, fun kind of way, the movie feels at least an hour longer. If that.

Though this is mostly because Baena’s fault as a writer and director who doesn’t seem to really know how to make a one-joke premise constantly thrive with energy, the cast still tries with all that they can. Aubrey Plaza has been a joy to watch in practically everything she’s appeared in since people actually realized her talents in Funny People and how she plays the exciting, constantly moving-around Beth is no different. Her dead-pan style may not be used quite as often, but there’s still a joyful feeling to watching Plaza just let loose with material that shouldn’t suit her, but certainly does when you see her actually act it out. It’s no wonder why her and Baena are dating in real-life.

That bastard.

Anyway, I digress, because the rest of the cast is actually fine, too. Dane DeHaan may be running all over the place, Shia LaBeouf-ing his rear-end off, but it still works for him because the guy’s quite charming, even when all he’s really doing is just whining and moping around that things in life are a little weird for the time being. Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly are wonderfully odd as Beth’s parents who seem like alright people, but are a little strange in their own ways and how the movie plays into that is one of the smarter decisions Baena’s able to go through with. Especially with Reilly who, like with most of his roles, shows that he can be a cool, chilled-out fella, but is also a dad, and a responsible one at that. Though there’s not much more depth to his character than that, it’s still a worthy-try on Reilly’s part and it made me wish that there’d been more focus on him, rather than what the hell begins to happen with this plot.

Okay, mom and dad! You're cool, so stop!

Okay, mom and dad! You’re cool, so stop!

Because had there actually been more detail given to all of the characters here, not just Reilly’s, then there’d be a way better movie. The jokes would hit harder; the characters would feel more “sympathetic”, than “cartoonish” as they often do; and what ends up happening to the plot would actually be compelling and have some sort of emotion. Beth and Zach seem like the sort of cute, happily-in-love high school couple that we often see in movies such as these, but their relationship doesn’t get any deeper or more-involved than that; they’re in love because Zach is sad that she’s initially dead and that’s it. We never see it, understand it, or better yet, just don’t even seem to care.

But there is a part of me that wonders whether or not this would work a whole lot better as a short. Sure, all of the nitty gritty details of what happens in the later-half of this movie would definitely have to be taken out, but as a short, Life After Beth probably works best. All Baena would have to do is give us some amount of character-development, throw in the conflict, then the twist, and eventually, the final resolution that they have here in this film. Because everything else, as sometimes entertaining as it can sometimes be, doesn’t really add up to much other than being a cool idea, or one that’s fit for a better movie.

However, this is just a suggestion from a stay-at-home blogger. Take with that what you will, Jeff Baena.

Consensus: Occasionally entertaining in spots, Life After Beth seems like it wants to do something different with the subgenre it tackles, but eventually, just gives way to filler that doesn’t go anywhere, or do anything for its audience. Except, well, bore them.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Okay. Do you finally get what I was alluding to before?!?

Okay. Do you finally get what I was alluding to before?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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