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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

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Halloween (2007)

What a tragic figure that Michael Myers was.

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

Bad stuff happens on that date!

That's how it starts. Usually.

That’s how it starts. Usually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, still gives me the creeps.

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

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Eh. Lame.

Eh. Lame.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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The Snowtown Murders (2012)

Single-mothers: Beware of the next person you take home to your children.

16 year-old Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is introduced to his mother’s new boy-toy, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), and looks up to him as a father-figure of sorts. And honestly, how could he not? The guy is charming, funny, cool, nice, always ready to make food for anybody. He also takes time out of his day to go around and kill people that he believes to be homosexuals, or just general wastes of life. Oh yeah, forgot about that little detail.

As you can see, all of this sounds like your ordinary, serial-killer thriller that shows violence at its most gruesome and doesn’t care whether or not you want to look at it. In a way, that is what we get here, but what makes it more than just another thriller, is the fact that it’s all real. Yep, that’s right, two evil son-of-a-bitches like James Vlassakis and John Bunting are actually real-life people, who did kill over eleven people, and are still serving life-sentences for their wrongdoings. Most of you may be happy to hear about that, considering a story about two serial-killers that are still on the loose will have you scared out of your mind, but don’t forget people: They killed 11 innocent people and made no apologies for it. If you go in with this mind-set you’ll know exactly what to expect from this excruciating Debby-downer.

Director Justin Kurzel has a couple of nice touches with this subject by giving it a deliberate-pace that makes you feel like you are in for one big, wild depression-ride that probably won’t ever feature a light at the end of the tunnel. Nor should it. It’s a brutal, hard-hitting tale about two very messed-up individuals. There were moments where I wish Kurzel did pan the camera away from some of the horrific torture situations, but it wasn’t like he was channeling Eli Roth and showing his fascination/love with all of this human-inflicted pain; he was just simply showing just how sick and twisted these guys were. This approach really did a number on me as there were plenty of moments I felt were hard as hell to watch.

Just another young boy.....

Just another young boy…..

Then again, it’s all done on purpose.

Though you already get the gist of what this movie is going for and trying to portray, there’s a lot of other moments to this story that hit hard and make me realize what was really brewing underneath all of these terrible acts of murder. What I mean by that, is how this kid Jamie never seemed like ever got the right shot in life to actually get away from this new way of living. Granted, the kid could have easily said “no”, and then walked away as soon as he saw good old Johnny boy hangin’ over a dead body with a hammer, but for him, it almost seems like he had no other choice.

This is where the film may get really tough for some to watch because you feel for this kid; you realize his life is as terrible as he realizes it, and you see how he desperately wants to be away from John and all of this killing, but can never muster up the gall to actually do so. Just to see this kid Jamie, go back-and-forth in his mind about whether or not he wants to kill this next person, is as tense as you’re going to get with the rest of this flick and it really hit me in the stomach every time this kid decided to go through with it. I can’t really say that I was on this kid’s side the whole entire time, because he really did help kill half of the people, but there’s something about him that just made me feel sad for him and just knew he could do the right thing. In a way, he does when it’s all said and done, but in another way, not really and that’s probably the hardest pill to swallow of this whole flick.

But as close as this movie comes to making a point about the mind of a serial-killer and what exactly goes through it, the movie mostly falls apart. Not saying that it gets messy or anything, but it doesn’t seem to bring much to the table, or even allow us to chew on something more than what we see. Which, to some, may be fine, but when all you’re watching for two hours is innocent people being murdered, in heinous, sadistic ways, it’s a little hard to not want something more. It could have been a small piece of character insight here, or another piece there – anything would have helped.

...and another younish man.

…and another younish man.

Despite this problem, the cast is very good and at least helps us get past some of the harsh, disturbing acts portrayed on the screen. Notice how I said “some”. Lucas Pittaway plays our main character Jamie, and gets to do a lot, without saying much at all. But what’s most impressive about his performance is that he’s willing to show us darker aspects to his character, without ever making it seem too obvious. A certain way in how he walks, talks, or even looks at a person, can mean so much in that he’s losing more and more of his sanity as he speaks. It’s quite frightening and especially impressive since he gets called on to do a whole lot.

Daniel Henshall is creepy as can be as John Bunting, the sterling, cold-stone killer he was known to be. What surprised me the most about Bunting and his character was how the guy didn’t really seem like he was going to make much of a difference in the story at all, but after awhile, starts to get more and more involved with what’s happening in Jamie’s life and you start to see a darker side come out of him then you generally expect. Then, once Bunting’s darker aspects come out for the world to see, it’s incredibly scary, because this guy seems genuinely crazy. He’s a killer, who just wants to do that, and not much else. Henshall portrays this deep, dark descent into madness very well and shows that it doesn’t matter how charming, nice, or suave a person can be when they’re around people – there’s always a small layer of darkness lying somewhere underneath.

Always something to smile about, folks.

Consensus: Maybe not for everyone, the Snowtown Murders is grueling, disturbing, and most of all, effective in portraying the lives of two infamous serial-killers, while hardly ever pulling back from showing us full-on displays of what these two men did to their victims.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, how much I have mislead you all.

Oh, how much I have mislead you all.

Photos Courtesy of: CTCMR.com

Manhunter (1986)

No eating of fava beans or Chianti’s here.

A sicko family-killer nicknamed “The Toothfairy” (Tom Noonan) is running wild and loose, and it’s up to retired-cop, Graham (William Petersen), to find out who this guy is exactly is, where he’s at, cuff him, and lock the son of a bitch away for good. The problem is that this killer is a lot smarter and trickier to find than he’s usually used to, which is saying a lot for the guy who locked away Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox) for good.

Okay, here’s the thing: Everybody knows the story of Hannibal Lecter because of the 1991 flick, but, believe it or not, this one came before and actually let the world know of the flesh-eating intellectual that is Dr. Lecter. This movie is rarely ever mentioned in today’s day and age of thrillers, especially ones with the character of Lecter involved, but it was one of the first and best examples of how you can put a serial-killer and cop-procedural together, and make them mesh so well.

And it’s all thanks to Michael Mann, who practically ushered in a wave of thousands-upon-thousands of shows that remind us that, yes, DNA is everywhere.

If you know Michael Mann, or have at least ever seen a Michael Mann flick, then you definitely the guy ain’t one bit of shy when it comes to showing how stylish he can be and how much he doesn’t care what you think. For some (such as myself), the style can get a bit over-bearing at times, but for a flick like this that seemed like it needed it to spice things up, then I was all aboard and not a tad bit pissed-off. Okay, that’s a lie. Some parts had me instantly pissed because of the corny, 80’s-synth, over-dramatic line-delivery, and foreshadowing of colors in the background or somewhere in each shot, but that just comes with the package when you put Michael Mann and the 80’s together. You gotta get used to it after awhile, which is what I did, much against my initial taste test.

There's a metaphor in here somewhere.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere. Just look for the color blue, if you can spot it.

Mann’s direction is one of the key aspects to making this movie so great because he continually builds up tension and suspense, yet, never makes it seem like the story/case is ever going to be fully solved. He puts the detectives in the running-spot for completion, but somehow, the killer always seems one step ahead no matter what. You also actually get to feel for these cops because they aren’t dirty a-holes that can’t help but screw things over for others because they’ve got nothing else better to do. Nope, instead, they are just regular, everyday people, who have a job to do, families back at home, and will stop at nothing to complete their tasks and make the world a whole lot nicer, safer place to be in. In today’s day and age where we get some sort of crooked cop in almost every crime movie we see, it’s quite refreshing to see what it was like when we loved our men with badges, and didn’t think of them as scum who love donuts and pulling you over after curfew. Doesn’t mean I still don’t have beef with some of them, but hey, at least my gratitude was with these guys for the longest time, in all hopes that they would get this killer.

However, it’s a pretty hard decision to make, especially when you have a villain that is this cool, this smart, this sinister, and this creepy.

That’s all thanks to Tom Noonan who is not only insanely freaky as the Red Dragon, but intimidating as well. The guy’s got that lanky-build to him where he’s a towering-figure, but skinny to the point of where he looks like a living, breathing, and walking straw. And his looks? Well, let’s just say that Tom Noonan is the sexiest person in the planet, but that’s not a bad thing at all, because it works in his favor by making us more scared by the dude. Not only does he seem like he knows what he’s doing, but also knows how to send a message that he’s not be screwed around with either. Need an example? Try that scene where finds the reporter and tells him a little bit about himself; a scene I’m not going to go on about anymore, because it’s tense, heavy, and shocking, all at once and perfect at declaring the kind of individual we’re working with here.

Also, a lot of the credit for such a bad-ass villain has to go back to Mann, because the guy never over-exposes our villain at all. It isn’t almost until the half-way mark that we get our first glimpse at the guy, and even that’s not saying much since it’s only five minutes of him being a creep-o and getting involved in weird shenanigans. It’s an effective five minutes though, and actually makes you feel like this guy is never going to be found, no matter how hard these cops may try. You actually start to give up hope at one point, depending on the type of person you are, and almost come to the reality that the Red Dragon is going to get away with it all, and evil laugh his way into more murderous-pleasures.

Does that count as wearing women's clothing?

Does that count as wearing women’s clothing?

However, when you stand in the way of William Petersen – not everything’s going to be so easy. Peterson is a nice fit as our main detective here, because the guy has a lot going for him to where we understand the problems that may occur in his personal life, as well as his work life when he has to do such a thing as get in the minds of the serial-killers he’s chasing after. But the guy never seems like he’s losing it to the point of where we question him, his skills, or his determination catch this killer and put all of the murders to rest. Petersen does over-act at times and it seems like just another case of bad writing, equals bad performance, but overall, the guy had me cheering for him in the end, even if it was a hard choice between him and Noonan. Both are great, even if they aren’t together on-screen for very long. Still, got to love when the film just builds up to the meeting between two, opposite forces, and absolutely delivers like this flick does.

The best of the rest is definitely Brian Cox as everybody’s favorite charmer, Hannibal Lecter. Cox isn’t playing the role we all know Anthony Hopkins for, but is giving us his own impression of him, with a few tinkers here and there. With just the short-amount of screen-time, we see how he operates, how he thinks, how smart he is, and how he’s not to be trusted no matter what he may say or do to you that could be considered nice or humane. Cox owns every scene he has and keeps this presence throughout the whole movie, even when he isn’t around. Having a double-threat like Noonan and Cox together was awesome, and just gave me more faith in the baddies, rather than the goodies.

Consensus: As with most films from the ultra-cool decade of the 80’s, Manhunter suffers from some cheese-tastic moments, but ultimately kicks some fine ass when it comes to building up an air of mystery, tension, suspense, and a feeling that you don’t know who’s going to come out of this alive, dead, or barely scratched.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"I want to eat you."

“I’m building up an appetite already.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Crow (1994)

Just wait till Kurt wakes up from his sleep. There’s gonna be some hell to pay.

Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) was a young, hip, cool, and happy dude that lived his life to the fullest with his fiancée and the local kid that they would watch over from time to time. However one night changes all that when a band of thugs stroll in, kill him, and rape and murder his girl. Fast forward to a year later, on the same night, Eric resurrects from the dead only to get revenge on the people who caused his death in the first place, as well as the powerful kingpin who may have been behind it all along (Michael Wincott).

I don’t think I’m sharing any shocking news to anybody out there reading this, but as you know, the leading star of The Crow, Brandon Lee, son of Bruce, tragically died on the morning of March 31, 1993, because of a gunshot wound that was supposed to be a dummy bullet, but was instead a very, very real one. It’s news that I don’t think is necessarily “new”, but it’s something you should definitely know about before seeing this flick as it puts a darker spin on a movie that, hell, was already pretty dark to begin with. But being a film-viewer and one that acknowledges tragedy and what could have been, I will admit that it’s very sad to see something as upsetting as a wrongful death happen to a star that seemed to have so much promise going for him.

What’s even sadder however, is how damn ironic this flick is, especially when you know that Brandon Lee is dead and is in fact, playing a dead guy who comes back alive, only to ponder the questions of living life, being dead, and the after-life.

"Hahahaha! I laugh at you soft, PG-rated superhero movies!"

“Hahahaha! I laugh at you soft, PG-rated superhero movies!”

Yup, it gets pretty shaky at times when you look at this movie in hindsight, but there’s something about this movie that still stays cool and fun. That’s all thanks to director Alex Proyas who, as you could probably tell from the first shot of this movie, had a background in music videos prior to this. Proyas gives us a style that’s as unrelenting and seedy as the underworld it takes place in and around, while also speeding things up when we need it to. There’s a certain sense of energy and quickness in the tone of this movie, but it’s also very somber and it never lets you forget that, no matter how crazy the story may turn out to be with it’s ghosts and all.

That’s why a movie like this would usually scare the hell out of audiences by having them think it’s “uncool” to see something as goth and evil as this, but the movie walks a fine line between being strictly for the geeks, as well as for the action-audience as well. It’s a fine line that they cross a couple of times when it decides to get a bit in too over it’s head with all the questions and thoughts about remorse, death, and how we all approach grief, but still kept me intrigued. I’ve probably watched this movie about three or four times by now, and it’s only gotten better for me once I realized that there was more to this direction than I’ve ever noticed before. Proyas is a flashy guy, but he never loses his sense of wonder and allowing people to join in on that wonder and look around for a bit if they like. I looked around, and I liked what I saw, for the most part.

What I didn’t like when I looked around is the story itself which, if you take into consideration what it’s really about, is pretty weak in trying to convey emotions. Without sounding too harsh, if it wasn’t for the real life fact that Lee died, the story probably wouldn’t have been as emotional and hit harder, because it’s pretty standard stuff. Dude wakes up from death; dude wants revenge; and dude his revenge in the bloodiest, most unabashed ways possible. So standard, that when the movie tries to get us to feel anything, anything at all, it loses complete control of what it’s really about and brings into question whether or not this movie had a second-agenda to itself, or is it really just trying to be a darker, R-rated version of a superhero movie that gets the baddies, exactly where it hurts? The answers never really come, because the movie never knows what it wants to be, but at least stayed interesting because Proyas gives us so much eye candy to taste on.

And also the real-life fact that Lee died.

Okay! I’m just saying!

While I’m on the subject of Lee, the dude does fine as Eric Draven, but it’s honestly not something I’ll remember for the rest of my days and wonder “what could have been?” It’s more or less a performance that is amazing when it comes to the physical attributes of it and what he had to do in order to kick ass and make it look realistic, but when it comes to giving this character a heart or a soul (I’m guessing that’s a pun), Lee doesn’t really seem to hit his mark. He shows joy and wonder in messing with the dudes he’s set out to get, but everything else, whether it be to emote or show some sort of heartfelt feeling in the pit of his head, he seems like he’s trying a bit too hard, or isn’t trying at all. It’s a shame too, because I feel like Lee would have gotten better and better as time went along and he had more roles come his way, but for what he left us on, I can’t say I was colored impress. I was saddened to not see more of him, but life will go on and I’ll probably think about him, his life, or what could have happened to his career, less and less as the days go by. That’s not me being mean, that’s just me telling it like it is.

Since it's the dirty and dark streets of Detroit, I guess hair-trimming is out of the question?

Since it’s the dirty and dark streets of Detroit, I guess hair-trimming is out of the question?

Despite Lee not being the electrifying-presence the movie may have needed to really tune itself up, the supporters are energetic and fun to watch, even if the movie seems more concerned with Lee and Proyas’ style. Michael Wincott is a bunch of fun to watch as the main baddie of them all who shows that he always has the upper-hand on everybody, whether it be because of his control of the city, or because of the skills he has to kill people in most unexpected ways. Whatever it may be, the dude provides an equal-villain against the Crow and doesn’t allow himself to get out-shined once him and Lee share the same screen together. Other detestable character actors like Jon Polito, Bai Ling, and David Patrick Kelly show their fine faces and give us the type of baddies we want and desire from a movie like this, and keep it fun and over-the-top, just like it needed to be, in order to be taken seriously.

Strange to say, but “over-the-top”, seemed like the right way to go for this movie to ever be taken in as a smart meditation on life and death, even for those 15-year-old kids who probably went out, saw it with their parents’ money, went home, and told them both how much he/she hated them and couldn’t wait to live out on their own after high school.

And then they didn’t, and felt like a bunch of a-holes; like we all do at age 15.

Consensus: The personal, on-set tragedy of what happened to the Crow, may overshadow some of the movie’s obvious faults, but taken in as a movie and a swan song for Brandon Lee, it shows that there was talent here and there, it just never got a chance to shine away like it did for his daddy.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Best solo of his life, now he's done. Forever. RIP Brandon Lee.

Best solo of his life, now he’s done. Forever. RIP Brandon Lee.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

Being a teenager sucks! And lame-o parents just make it worse, man!

17-year-old Kat (Shailene Woodley) is coming into her own – not just as a woman, but as a free, smart, independent-thinking person. She’s tired of being bossed around and depressed by her parents, that is, until her mother (Eva Green) goes missing. But while this freaks Kat out a bit at first, she gets over it and just focuses most of her attention on her boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) and going away to college. Her dad (Christopher Meloni) is all torn-up about it, but eventually he’ll get over it as, you never know, she may show up one day. But she doesn’t and Kat gets a bit more curious about just what the hell happened to her mother. Though all of the fingers point towards her father, she’s definitely positive about it not being him and instead, focuses her attention on that same boyfriend of hers and has to wonder whether there was something going on between her mom and him, or is it just apart of her imagination.

"Yeah. Life sucks. Yo."

“Yeah. Life sucks. Yo.”

It’s a neat trick that writer/director Gregg Araki utilizes here in combining the crime-mystery part of this movie, with the coming-of-age other part and making it seem like this is just another simple tale of middle-class suburbia; people get sad, people disappear, people stop caring, people move on. And this is an idea I think Araki plays with more than on a few occasions by not just presenting his main protagonist, Kat, as the kind of free-spirited teen who does what she wants, when she wants, and how she wants to do it, all because she’s becoming her own person and doesn’t give an itch about if anybody tells her not to do so, but also with Kat’s mother, Eve.

See, with the character of Eve, and also, with Eva Green’s performance to thank, we see a woman who, at one time, was chock full of promise, spirit, and hope for the future of her life. Then, slowly but surely, and through flashbacks, we start to see all of that get sucked out of her and Eve become a totally different person than before. Why is this? Better yet, what caused it?

Well, Araki’s not in the mood for giving us the answers, but he definitely plays around with the idea of making us feel like we know what they are, only to then not focus on them and just keep his attention glued onto Kat and her story of growing up. And this, to me, was the most refreshing aspect of the movie; not only does Araki write smart, believable dialogue in which I actually felt like teens in the late-1980’s, early-1990’s would speak like, but he gets believable teen actors to play them. Such young wonders like Shiloh Fernandez, Mark Indelicato, and an especially hilarious Gabourey Sidibe all show us glimpses into the lives of a bunch of teenagers that literally have nothing else better to do with their lives than just sit around, get drunk, smile, listen to good music, sex it up with whoever is willing, and just overall, have a good time. It’s this youthful spirit of just not giving a fuck that so many movies try to aim for in a believable manner, yet, so rarely succeed with; almost making the creator(s) seem like they’ve never lived a day as simple teen.

But where this movie really shines, is whenever it focuses on Kat and her whole struggle with becoming an adult, making decisions for herself, and not constantly whining all of the time when things don’t always go her way. Which yes, considering this is a character played by Shailene Woodley, you could argue that it’s an unoriginal casting-decision on the film’s part, but Woodley is so good at playing this kind of role, she makes it seem effortless and almost fresh. She’s still sassy, back-talking her peers, and not holding back whatever it is she has to say next (although, she does get nude quite a few times, which is different for her, I guess), but it’s hardly ever non-interesting or boring to watch her do. Woodley may forever grow to be one of the world’s best actresses working today, but to me, she’ll always be that brash teenager, who could practically play the role in her sleep and get away with it.

Wish more moms looked like this in my neighborhood.

Wish more moms looked like this in my neighborhood.

Which is to say that when the movie doesn’t focus on Woodley’s Kat, the movie starts to get less interesting. And it’s not that the mystery-angle of this story isn’t actually a mystery, because it surprisingly is, it just doesn’t feel like it quite carries the same amount of emotional weight that watching Kat go through adult-ish problems does. Sure, we get a couple of scenes where we just witness Eva Green being over-the-top and constantly upset, but does it really make us feel like we know Kat as a character better? Are we really supposed to believe that who Kat is, now, or how she’ll turn out to be in the future, will be solely based on her experiences with her mother?

Maybe, maybe not, but at the end of the day, the movie doesn’t care too much about that angle to the story, and nor should it. We learn more about Kat, who she is, the reasons why she is the way she is, and who she wants to be, solely by watching how she goes about her day-to-day activities. Whether it’s having sex with the cop who’s investigating her mother’s disappearance (a hilarious turn from Thomas Jane); trying to make sense of her graphic nightmares with her therapist (a small, subtle Angela Bassett); or, simply put, just hanging around and trying to keep things simple with her daddy (Christopher Meloni in a creepy role), we get to understand Kat perfectly.

Everything else, well, is just filler. The kind of filler movies like these don’t need, especially when they realize that they already have something strong to deal with as is.

Consensus: As uneven as it can be, White Bird in a Blizzard still gets by with an engaging performance from Shaliene Woodley, and enough interesting, yet totally relateable tidbits to get across about being young, growing up, and eventually accepting your life as an adult, even if you don’t fully want to go through with it all the way.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Brr. Shay-shay be cold.

Brr. Shay-shay be cold.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pride (2014)

Just be yourself, drag and all.

It’s 1984 and in the UK, a lot of people are angry. Most importantly though, the miners. They feel as if they are not being paid enough, or represented like they should be, so therefore, they decide to start up a strike and get their voices heard. Another group who demand the same are a bunch of prideful and accepting homosexuals who, much rather than being spit on, mocked and ignored, decide that if they’re going to get what they want, they have to go out and join another group who wants the same thing as they do. This is when the young leader of the group, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), coins the name for the campaign, “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” (LGSM). Though, of course, once the miners themselves find out who the group is, they deny them and want nothing to do with them. But thinking on their feet, the LGSM decide to travel out to another group of on-strike miners in a small village in Wales where, at first, they get all sorts of strange looks and stares. Eventually though, most of the town begins to warm up to the group and they all become a family of sorts. But like with most families, there’s always going to be problems and it just so happens that the LGSM may not be ready for all the ones standing in the way of getting what they want: To be heard and understood.

The general idea surrounding most movies that concern a certain group of people/persons, usually is, if you aren’t in the same demographic as the people being depicted on the screen, then you have nothing to relate to. “Because you aren’t black, means that you can’t relate or at least sympathize with a slave,” is something I casually hear in angry, shout-filled arguments about movies that I try to stay away from, and it ticks me off. Not only is it wrong, but I even have a solution to that idea, in a way to shut all the naysayers up for the rest of their days: I’m a human being, isn’t that enough?

McNulty's back! And now he's pretending to be Omar!

McNulty’s back! And now he’s pretending to be Omar!

And that’s exactly the kind of idea I had in my head while watching Pride – sure, I myself am not a gay man, but I know what it feels like to want to be heard and understood, even if it was just through a simple disagreement I’ve had with a family-member or co-worker. Maybe that’s wrong of me to compare the exchange of words I may have with someone in a day in my life, to the plight of all gay and lesbian people out there across the globe, but to me, it feels necessary. Not only did it have me sympathize with just about everyone here, but it also made me realize that this is how I’m supposed to feel.

Another general idea to go along with the one I presented up about two paragraphs ago, is that it’s hard for one to enjoy a movie that’s so limited in its audience-appeal; being a film-goer/lover, I know this to be especially false. As long as the material is presented to me in a way that I can enjoy, or at least find somewhat interesting, I don’t care if you have a story about stomping possums for an-hour-and-a-half; just give me something good, and I’ll roll with it. And that’s why a movie like Pride worked for me – I didn’t need to enjoy it only by being gay, but by appreciating a good, well put-together movie when I see one.

And in case you couldn’t tell by now, Pride is a good, well put-together movie. Which surprised me because, after seeing the trailer, I expected this to be nothing more than a manipulative, feel-goody tale about a group of outspoken people that stood up and got their voices heard that we usually see hit the cinema screens, but thankfully, that’s not how it was. Well, at least not totally, anyway. The problem with Pride is that it can get a bit sappy at times and rather than trying to be subtle with what it’s trying to get across about every man, woman, and being on this planet just sticking together and loving one another, regardless of gender, race, or sexual-preference, it hits you right over-the-head. Especially on more than a few occasions.

But, then again, there is something to be said for a movie that presents a lot of these moments in an over-the-top, preachy-way, yet, still somehow works and is able to put a smile on your face.

Take, for instance, a scene in which Dominic West’s character, Jonathan Blake, decides to break the ice at a benefit for the group by dancing all over the dance floor, flaunting it like nobody’s bizz, and letting pretty much everybody in the venue know, yep, he’s gay. This burst of dance obviously gets everybody else involved and all hyped-up, but it’s not just the gays and lesbians who join in on the fun – there’s actually two very straight, very masculine miner-boys who, throughout the whole movie prior to this, kept their distance from the homosexuals, but now, realizes that looking flamboyant and, overall, being a good dancer, attracts a whole bunch of horny, hot woman, who are just looking to grope the next best dancer they can find who isn’t named Usher (mind you, this was before Yeah!, but you catch my drift). So obviously, they decide to be actual friends with the group that’s supporting them, in hopes that they’ll get all the dancing-lessons they oh so desire.

Is this corny? You betcha! But is it also slightly lovely to see two different sides of society, come together, all in the name of dance? Oh, definitely and that’s how mostly all of Pride is. It’s corny, but sometimes, so corny that you can’t help but fall in love with its inherent corniness and even mistaken it for “having charm”. Which was fine to me, because the movie presents us with enough rich and tender dramatic moments that tell us how hard it truly was for each of these people to get disrespected because of who they were, to go along with the happy-go-lucky ones where everybody’s smiling, drinking, sexxing, and just overall, having a grand time.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, and they’re dancing, too, but I think I’ve made that clear enough by now.

And though the movie can get deep a couple of times, especially when it talks about the oncoming scare of HIV and how nobody’s really doing anything to stop it from wiping out just about everybody it infects, it still doesn’t want to take us away from the fact that this is a sweet, simple story, that hardly ever rings a false note. Sure, there’s a couple of villainous-homophobes that were literally a mustache-twirl away from going full Bond, but even they seemed like they had reasons for being so against same-sex relationships, as misguided as they may have been. Same even goes for the townspeople who eventually grow to like the gays and lesbians; they have clear, understandable intentions for wanting to help their cause, yet, still not totally be thrown for a loop in terms of what they want in life. All they really want to do is lend a helping hand to people who seem like they need it the most, which, to me, isn’t just the real beauty and crowd-cheering praise I can give this movie, but to humanity as a whole.

Okay, now I’m getting sappy.

Consensus: By not trying to be anything it’s not, Pride feels like the sort of feel-good, pick-me-upper that deserves to be seen by anybody who wants to laugh, tear-up a bit, and at the end of the day, feel good about living in the world that we do, where humans inherently feel the need to do the right thing.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Not 80's enough.

Not 80’s enough. Needs more colored mo-hawks.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

St. Vincent (2014)

Are we calling Bill Murray a saint? I think so.

Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) isn’t the type of guy you want to be around when he’s in a bad mood; or generally, any mood. He’s a hard-drinking, gambling, and womanizing scuzz-bucket that’s hardly nice to anyone he’s around and likes it that way. It keeps him further away from being annoyed by people and just makes his life a whole lot simpler. However, that all changes once a mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), move next door. Because they’re all by themselves, the mommy has to constantly work long and hard, which leaves the son alone and without anyone to watch over him. This is where Vincent gets roped into being the baby-sitter of sorts, but only because he’s getting paid $11 an hour, mind you! But even though Vincent’s crass and teaches Oliver the ways of the world that his mother wouldn’t be too happy with, Oliver still sees some goodness in Vinny and wants to keep on hanging around him, even if there seem to be problems in Vincent’s personal-life just constantly tallying-up.

By now, the legend of Bill Murray is a great one. He’s the kind of out-spoken guy in Hollywood that has a few friends, as well as many enemies, but still finds himself charming the hell out of everyone. Not to mention the fact that whenever he shows up at a random house-party, the internet practically breaks wide open, showing us just how cool and down-to-Earth somebody of Murray’s star-status actually is.

Out of the way, kid!

Out of the way, kid!

Another alleged claim that adds more appeal to Murray’s legend is the fact that he supposedly doesn’t have an agent. Meaning, if there’s anybody out there who wants to work with Murray in any way whatsoever, they have to get a hold of a special phone-number of his, where they can leave their number for him to get back to them on. Now, of course some of this may not be all true, but it sort of shows; Murray is known to be quite the selective actor and is practically the only movie star who can get away with doing whatever he wants to, with whomever he wants to. Not because he’s Bill Murray, but because the dude’s a solid worker and has shown on more than a few occasions that he’s not just hilarious, but emotionally-involving, whenever the material needs him to be so.

I say all of this, because it’s a real surprise how bad St. Vincent can sometimes be.

Sure, not all of it is bad and mostly, Murray’s not to blame for it, but here’s my question: How can somebody who is as selective and, well, usually consistent in what he chooses like Murray is, get drawn to something as conventional as this? Is it the fact that it’s a coming-of-ager that has Bill Murray being his usual dick-head-ish self one second, and then lovable the next? Or, is it simply that these are the only right offers that Bill Murray gets nowadays?

Whatever the answer may be, it doesn’t totally matter because the fact is that this movie is definitely a mess. Although, it’s not a terrible mess. Most of this is because the cast, especially Murray, seem like they’re really giving it their all here. Even if they don’t fully end up working for the film as a whole, at least they added something. Like, for instance, take Naomi Watts as the pregnant stripper/hooker Vincent constantly hangs around/bangs – the role is terribly-written, not funny, and makes Watts herself, a highly respectable actress in her own right, have to use this wretched Russian-accent that isn’t the least bit believable. However though, while it may not work, you still have to give it to Watts for trying, even if it doesn’t fully work out all that well in the end.

Which is kind of weird, considering that we have Chris O’Dowd here playing Oliver’s priest/school teacher who isn’t really hiding his Irish-accent and is, instead, sort of just rolling with it and finds a way to make us laugh and totally believe in the fact that he would be in this school, and in this story. And heck, even the same could be said about Melissa McCarthy, because while this is a role for her in a comedy, she isn’t necessarily always doing something funny. But even when she does, it doesn’t consist of her knocking things over or randomly flipping people off; she’s subtle and restrained in the way she allows for her comedy to fly and hit us, and it works. More importantly though, it shows us that Hollywood needs to get their shit together and realize that McCarthy has a real talent that isn’t just in her slap-stick, but in just finding ways to make any situation she falls into funny.

And no, I do not mean the practical “fall”, either.

But, at the end of the day, this movie is really all about Bill Murray as our title-character and what’s there to say that hasn’t already been said? Yes, Murray’s fine, funny, dead-pan, and smart, even when you least expect his character to have such features. Yet, there’s a feeling here that had this movie been better, or, had this character been written less about, that Murray would have a real winner on his hands here. Not just with the movie itself, but this character.

"Sorry, youngster. Adults at talk here discussing the possibility of a female-led Ghostbusters reboot that Hollywood may not ever produce because we can't have good things."

“Sorry, youngster. Adults at talk here discussing the possibility of a female-led Ghostbusters reboot that Hollywood may not ever produce because we can’t have good things.”

Because yes, while Vincent is Murray’s typical a-hole character that he loves to play and can practically do in his sleep, the script gets in the way too many times in trying to get us to like Vincent more. Vincent, the character, being nice to this kid was enough for me to gain my sympathy, but then they felt the need to throw in the whole angle with his wife being in a nursing-home that really just felt manipulative and way too sentimental. But then, I was proven wrong, when the story itself goes on longer than it totally needed to and continuously forces Vincent’s personal problems down our throats, especially once Terrence Howard’s bookie character shows up and makes nefarious promises.

It all gets so very conventional, corny, and overly sentimental that, by the end, I just thought to myself, “Why couldn’t they just let the story tell itself?” Better yet, why couldn’t they just shed off about an half-hour of this, let Bill Murray and all the actors do their things, tell a simple story, and leave it at that? “But it doesn’t make for an emotionally-powerful story, man”, one might say to me, or, “Dude, like it’s all dramatic and stuff, bro”, another may preach. Well, I understand that but sometimes, all a story needs to do in order to pack that wallop every writer hopes to deliver on is to just be simple and see how it impacts those watching.

That’s all this movie needed to be and do, but instead, it took away from the legend that is Bill Murray.

Damn them.

Consensus: The cast, especially Bill Murray in his full-on form as the title character, all do fine with what they’re given, but St. Vincent feels the constant need to over-complicate its story and add on more layers than it needs to, while also ending up being overly sappy and sentimental.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

It's hard to be king.

It’s hard to be king.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Mysterious Skin (2004)

“Alien life-forms” are usually my safe words as well.

Brian (Brady Corbet) is a shy introvert, obsessed by his own possible UFO abduction, while Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a cruel and icy beauty who sexualises his every encounter. As each of them follows their own very different journey, they seek to come to terms with the incident that has scarred their current lives and, to their surprise, unites them, even when they least expect it.

With material like this, there’s a part of me that knows how disturbing it is and wants to say what it’s all about to warn those out there, but there’s also a part of me that knows that’s wrong. See, I’m a critic, but also a lover of movies and I know that the one key element to enjoying a movie is being automatically surprised, just as soon as you walk into something. That’s why I’m going to tip-toe around the big surprise this movie has to offer as much, and as well as I can.

So, for those who haven’t seen this movie yet, don’t worry, consider yourself free from spoiler-harm.

As for those who have seen the movie and are reading this, see how close I come to spilling the beans. I sure hope not.

My type of crowd. Except with more earrings.

My type of crowd. Except with more piercings.

Anyway, what really got to me the most about this flick, wasn’t just how director Gregg Araki handled this material, but how he filmed the whole thing. I’ve never seen anything else that this dude has done in his whole career, but he doesn’t seem like a guy I would like by just how unprofessional everything looks. The first 20 minutes where we are introduced to our character’s first 15 years of living is pretty neat and filmed with a very fast-paced direction that not only made me feel like I was in for something different, but also in for something that was going to be taking risks, as it should. Problem is, the fast-paced direction starts to leave the film and all of the quick-editing little tricks Araki utilizes here and there, soon starts to become a bit choppy where some scenes feel like they’re too rushed, and others just feel like they haven’t gone on long enough. Sometimes it’s better to actually focus on a plot-structure and let certain scenes just play out like they’re supposed to.

Now, to where this story effed up and oh, did it eff up alright. Usually when you have a tough subject like the one they deal with here, you, the director, have to show it in a way that doesn’t seem grotesque, but also doesn’t sugarcoat anything either. You just have to get it right slap dab in the middle and the problem is that Araki can’t seem to get there. Instead, it seems like this guy was trying to have his cake and eat it too, where he would show many dirty scenes with a people sexually mortifying one another, and then, in the next scene, change it all up by trying to tug at our heart-strings with a story that doesn’t feel so fully-developed. Basically, any type of movie where you have two men performing in a sexual act, people will feel uncomfortable, but it’s up to you as a director to not try and throw it in our eyes and make us feel like we need to leave the theater. Araki seems like he just wanted to shove a whole bunch of explicit sex scenes that would capture the people’s eyes, but then also give them something that may make them cry. For me, it didn’t work and it’s just another reason why I feel like this film really needed to be checked out before it went off and gotten released.

Also, where the hell was the message of this movie? In the first ten minutes or so of the movie, I got what this film was trying to say and even though the characters didn’t, it just seemed unneeded like all of the hour and 40 minutes was wasted. Though there’s a lot of frank-talk about sexuality and how the smallest change in a person’s cycle can have the biggest affect on them when they’re older, without them ever knowing it, I didn’t really feel like Araki got to that point. Instead, it was almost as if he got lost in all of the teens performing in naughty acts of sex, drugs, and violence. Almost as if he was trying to pull-off a Larry Clarke movie, but a bit tamer.

Notice how I used the term “a bit”.

This kid's supposed to be a geek? You don't say?

This kid’s supposed to be a geek? You don’t say?

Despite the problems I had with Gregg Araki’s student film-like direction, the performances of this film are what really saved me. Brady Corbet is solid as this young nerd Brian who believes that he was abducted by aliens when he was a little kid, but sooner or later, in a predictable fashion, we start to find out that it’s all one big cover-up in his head for something far more serious and disturbing. This story may not play-out as interesting as I may make it sound, but it still kept me glued to the screen because Corbet seems to play that innocent, dorky role very well, even though it’s obvious that this kid is a whole lot younger than the film makes him out to be.

But the real performance to watch for in this movie, and actually the only real reason to see this movie in the first place is the performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil McCormick. JGL has been, for a very long time now, a big up-and-comer in film and has proved role-after-role that he can do whatever he pleases and make the best of it. This was one of those early performances that showed he had the guts to tackle a role as emotionally-daring as this one where he pretty much goes around, bangin’ dudes for money, and showing no remorse over it whatsoever. JGL makes this whole character work just by being the risk-taker his character seems to be and a couple of scenes show that he’s more than just a kid who gets paid for getting frisky with dudes; in the end, he’s a kid that still has problems deep down inside of his mind all because of a childhood happening that scarred his life forever. It was great to watch JGL here and even though it’s by far, not his best performance ever, it’s one of the first ones that showed he had what it took to be a dramatic heavy-weight. Even if the rest of the film can’t really seem to keep up with him.

Shame on you, Gregg Araki. Shame on you.

Consensus: Disturbing and hard-to-watch as it may be, Mysterious Skin still feels like it’s not saying much about these ugly happenings, to justify exactly why we have to see so much of them in the first place, although it does give us plenty of reason to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet.

5 /10 =Rental!!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Supposed to be his mom, folks! His mom!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Best of Me (2014)

Funny how true love always seems to come around while on the verge of dying.

After an explosion on a rig that nearly kills him, Dawson Cole (James Marsden) catches wind of news that his mentor of sorts (Gerald McRaney) has tragically passed away. With this, Dawson decides it’s time to head back home and see what needs to be taken care in the estate. While he’s doing this, an old-love of his, Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), is doing the same. Which would be great if they wanted to catch up and be cool with one another, however, considering where they last left things, that can’t seem to happen. But because the recently-deceased wishes was for them to see if they can be friends again, they decide to give it a try and with this, we get to see, through flashbacks, how they got so acquainted with one another in the first place and where exactly they went wrong in the process. Which begs the question: Are they too damaged to get back together one last time for all? Or, are they just beginning on another romance of theirs that they can make into something serious? Oh, the melodrama!

Here we go again, people – another year, another Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. And as most of you may know, I for one do not take kindly to these movies; they’re poorly-done and yet, still make so much money because young teenage girls can’t seem to get the fact that hardly any of these movies are good. Sure, the Notebook was serviceable at best, but other than that rarest-of-rare example, there’s not much else to write home about.

In fact, the only times that these movies are at least watchable, at that, is when they’re absolutely crazy and over-the-top that it doesn’t matter how manipulative and corny the final-product turns out to be. As long as you’re having fun with it, that’s all that matters. Safe Haven showed small signs of this, as well as the Lucky One, but regardless, those movies are still terrible. Like I said before, there’s some fun to be had in how ridiculous they can get, but for the most part, they’re just a bunch of overly-sappy, rather boring romantic-melodramas that not even some housewives can get through.

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

And trust me, I live with one and she hates these pieces of garbage!

Which is what brings me to the Best of Me, yet again, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but with a slight twist: the two lovers here are actually a bit older than we’re used to seeing with these adaptations. Usually, Sparks’ adaptations like to appeal to a young-ish crowd, so therefore, they include two hot, young, in-the-moment stars to ring in the dough, but here, the story is a bit different in that the two stars this movie is being advertised with having, are older and definitely not huge stars to begin with. No offense to either James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan (who actually receives top-billing, thankfully), but they’re not the sorts of movie stars that I could see ranking #1 at the box-office, with or without the Nicholas Sparks name attached.

All that said, it’s sad to see them in something like this because, unsurprisingly, they do both try and do succeed in making this material seem genuine. They have a nice chemistry together that is challenging and believable, which is probably a testament to how talented these two pros are. But, as one could imagine happening, even they eventually succumb to the beast of this movie’s script and just how terrible it is.

But most of what makes this movie so bad isn’t the script and how horrendous it is (although it’s definitely a key-factor), it’s the non-stop flashbacks that this movie uses to enhance the emotions of this story, and just constantly annoyed me everytime it showed up. Some of that has to do with how hackneyed the dialogue is between all of these teens, but most of it has to do with the fact that they cast someone who looks like Luke Bracey, in a role that’s supposed to be a younger-version of a James Marsden character. Seriously, look at the two and tell me if you can see one bit of a similarity in how they look.

Not one?

Well, don’t worry, because you’re totally not alone. See, rather than actually searching the landscape and finding a person that looks somewhat like a young-ish James Marsden, the creators here make it seem like they had enough money and time to get a young-stud like Luke Bracey and just decided to cast him in the role, regardless of if he shared any similarities in terms of look or personality with Marsden. This isn’t just a glaring problem with the movie, but it’s constantly distracting because you never for one second believe that one would eventually grow up to be the other. It’s like they’re two different characters, who just so happen to share the same name.

Nicholas Sparks' view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Nicholas Sparks’ view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Which is to say that had Bracey not been playing the same character as Marsden’s, the performance probably would have been viewed better, but sadly, that is not the case. Even though he tries to make us believe in him as this Dawson character, he can’t help but seem like just another one of those bumble, redneck-like characters. But you know, this time, has a heart of gold. Haven’t seen that before, I’ll tell ya!

Thankfully though, Monaghan and the one playing a younger-version of her character, Liana Liberato, are better-off; not because they actually look the least bit alike, but because the personalities of the two characters match and make you believe that one could actually grow up to be the other. That said, Liberato is probably the most memorable part of this movie because she makes a young gal like Amanda, not just seem like she could fall in love with somebody as troubled as Dawson, but because she actually seems like a young kid. She’s reckless, spirited, and lets her emotions get the best of her – a true-to-form, high school girl.

But it’s just a shame that it all had to get wasted in something that doesn’t once feel “honest”, or even “believable”.

Consensus: Like most of Sparks’ other adaptations, the Best of Me is sap-tastic in every which way, meaning that those who usually love this kind of stuff, will continue to do so, whereas everybody else, just cringes and laughs away.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!"

“James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Fury (2014)

I guess something that weighs over 30 tons isn’t all that safe after all.

It’s April 1945 in Nazi Germany, towards the end of WWII and the Allies seem to be kicking all sorts of ass and taking names. So much so, that Adolf Hitler himself has been ordering just about every man, women, and/or child, to get out there on the front lines and fight the good fight. And during all of this, therein lies a tank crew who maintain and work in a big mofo they call “Fury”. The tank sergeant is a man that goes by the name of Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) and just recently, finds himself all torn up over the fact that his second-in-command has just been blown away in the middle of combat. He still has the rest of his crew intact, but this proves to be such a hard hit, that he doesn’t know necessarily how to move on. Well, except all that he and his crew have to do is fight, fight, and fight some more. This time though, they’ll be along for the ride with a newbie by the name of Cobb (Logan Lerman) who nobody really takes a liking to and with good reason: He’s never been on the battlefield before and doesn’t know if he can handle killing other people that haven’t done anything specifically to him. Throughout the next week or so, that may change and Wardaddy will be more than happy to show him why.

There’s something of a plot to be found here in Fury, but honestly, what it all comes down to is “Brad Pitt and a bunch of his fellas go around Germany, shooting and killing people.” While that sounds somewhat repetitive and ultimately, boring, there’s a feeling here that writer/director David Ayer is using it for a whole other reason in particular.

For instance, it’s never made clear to us what exactly the objective here of this story is; usually for a war movie, we understand who is searching for what, why, how they’re going to go about it, and what is going to be accomplished at the end of the day. However, here, the only objective of the plot-line is to fight the war, continue killing the enemy, and try to do so without getting you, or your fellow soldier killed in the process.

Looking that good, can sometimes be so tiring.

Looking that good, can sometimes be so tiring.

In all honesty, that’s more of how the war probably is. there’s no need to save any Private Ryan’s, or even any plan to capture top-level Mogadishu-officials. Here, it’s all about trying to stay alive and killing as many Germans as they possibly can, which is probably just how being in a bloody war is like – hardly ever stopping and always fighting. This is a bold move on Ayer’s part to take, but it’s one that I think needed to be taking, because so rarely is it that we get a war movie that shows us just how screwed up and unforgiving the battlefield truly is, without trying to force a message down our throats. Here, you could say that the moral of the story is, “the war is terrible, and people die.” That’s all Ayer seems to be saying here and I think that’s all that needed to be said.

But of course Ayer takes it a bit of another step forward and actually get to discussing the certain soldiers in the war, by showing us just the type of disturbing affect the war has on them, regardless of how messed-up in the head the individual may be. This is where I think Ayer’s writing is at its best, because rather than glamorizing these soldiers and having them come off as the Nation’s biggest heroes, Ayer has them portrayed as a bunch of guys who had nothing else better to give to society back in the States, other than just sitting around and taking up space. On the battlefield, they have a purpose, they have a cause, and most of all, they have a reason to live. Though we never actually hear a character state this throughout the film, they don’t really have to for us to get the point; in fact, them just stating every so often that being in the war was, “the best job they ever had”, gives us the impression that this is all they have to live for and they’re more than proud to die if they have to. They may be scared, but they’ll at least feel proud to perish because it’s for a reason, even if that reason is for their own well-being.

And though I may make this movie come off as a bit of a melodrama, I can assure you that it’s not; there are moments of pure drama where characters break down, shout their hearts out, and let us know how they feel. However, at the end of the day, it’s a war movie, and because of this, we get plenty of action-sequences with tanks going toe-to-toe with another, people getting shot, stabbed in the face, lit on fire, and most of all, dying. But while these scenes are effective in the most gruesome ways possible, there’s still a feeling that the movie doesn’t know what it wants to say about them – are we supposed to feel bad that countless soldiers on both sides are getting killed? Or are we just supposed to care that way for the American side?

The best example to highlight this problem the movie seems to have with itself is when Cobb, the new blood of this tank group, is ordered by Wardaddy to shoot a German prisoner. Though the German prisoner has surrendered (thus, making it illegal to kill him), Cobb is physically and emotionally manipulated into doing it, even though it is a horrifying act he does not want to partake in. We know it’s not right, he knows it’s not right, but every other character around him (as well as the movie), doesn’t and that’s one of the sole problems with this movie. It doesn’t have enough to say to be an anti-war movie, yet, it doesn’t have enough self-control to not glamorize the violent, sometimes inhumane, acts that occur during the war itself.

Basically, you could write it all down to Ayer not being the best director out there. Sure, as a writer, he’s pretty fine and has shown that he has a knack for writing gritty, raw, and bare human beings who are conscience enough to be considered “realistic”, but as a director, his movies don’t always translate so well. End of Watch was a fine piece that showed he was able to turn the found-footage genre on its head a bit, but that’s about all the praise Ayer gets as a director (his other film released earlier this year, Sabotage, is currently running the gauntlet for being one of my least favorite of the year). That said, while this is probably Ayer’s most accomplished film as director, there’s still signs that what comes out of the pen, doesn’t always translate so well onto the screen, even if the one writing, also happens to be the same individual filming.

Thankfully though, for Ayer at least, he can fall back on the amazing ensemble he has here to ensure that his material will be more than just what’s presented on the surface, and can at least be dissected and looked at a bit more. Brad Pitt, playing a WWII soldier that isn’t collecting Nazi scalps, does a lot as Wardaddy, although it seems like he’s just being his usual-self: Cool, smart, collective, and most of all, masculine as hell. However, there’s more to this character and we get the idea that even though he’s all about defending his country to the very end and do whatever he has to do to protect those around him, at any costs, he still fears the idea of dying, or even worse, a close-one of his meeting the same fate. He’s an emotionally-battered man that disguises it all with orders, commands, and death, but if you look closely, you can see exactly what kind of person he is, and it’s not all that different from you or I.

That's the look of someone who has maybe gone too method.

That’s the look of someone who has maybe gone “too method”.

Except that he looks like this, a sad reality I live with everyday I look in the mirror.

But as good as Pitt is in the lead role, I really have to give a lot of kudos to Logan Lerman, a young talent who is really rising through the ranks and showing us he has what it takes to hang with the big boys. Though Lerman’s character can be classified as “scared, wimp-ish rookie”, Lerman presents us with shades to this character that makes it easy to see why someone as sheepish and kind as he is, would actually totally change into a ruthless, unforgiving killer. It’s actually pretty horrifying if you think about it, and that is why Lerman’s performance is so good: He’s a normal person like you or me, but now it’s time for him to grow up, face the terrible realities of the war, and start shooting that rifle of his.

Though, as good as Lerman and Pitt are, there is a glaring difference between them two, and the attention they get from Ayer, as opposed to the characters played by Michael Peña, Shia LaBeouf and Jon Bernthal, who all seem like types that want to be more than just that, but never get a chance to cause the writing prohibits them from doing so. However, because these three are all good performers, we get a deeper, more effective camaraderie between the whole group that seems to go further than just “war buddies”; they could actually be something of brothers, that just so happen to be connected by the reality of war.

One instance of this is a scene that, for some reason or another, takes place all in real-time and runs for about twenty-five minutes. It starts with Wardaddy and Cobb going into a random German woman’s home, having dinner and sex, but turns into something darker and tense once the rest of the group shows up. This is a great scene because it not only shows the restraint in Ayer’s sometimes confused direction, but actually allows all of these guys to just act with one another, in one scene, one location, and uninterrupted. In this scene, we get to understand who all of these fellas are, why they stick up for one another when they have to, and why they all love each other, in the most non-sexual way possible. It’s probably the most memorable scene of the movie, which is probably a testament to the cast, especially when you consider how much blood, guts, bullets and steel are flying around.

Consensus: Maybe not the deepest war movie ever made, Fury doesn’t know where it stands on certain ideas, but is still well-acted by its highly-capable cast and displays a growing talent in David Ayer as a director, even if there is some room for improvement to be made.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

#2MasculineForYou

#2MasculineForYou

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

eXistenZ (1999)

You know what’s so lame about GTA? It’s not real!!

Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a famous video-game maker who has made a video-game where people can transport themselves into other lives, as well as gives them the chance to constantly guess whether or not they are in real life, or just living a pure fantasy where they can do anything that they want. This inventive, yet, incomprehensible game is called eXistenZ, and it soon takes over her mind, as well as her bodyguard (Jude Law)’s.

Video-games have become so crazy now, that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised one bit if somebody came from out of nowhere, made this type of game, and watched it as it sky-rocketed to the charts of the highest-sellers come the Holidays. That person would also have to watch as the suicide-rates would be sky-rocketing off the charts as well, because with a dangerous mind-fuck of a game like this, you know people are just going to go crazy. I’m telling ya, it’s a surprise that this hasn’t happened yet and I’m just waiting for more video-game designers to think of the next “Million Dollar Idea”.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

However, if they do come up with this idea, they do have to give some of that change they earn straight to writer/director David Cronenberg, because he’s the main guy who came up with the idea in the first place and milks it to the brim with this movie. I have to give Cronenberg a lot of credit here because the guy definitely starts this flick out on the right foot with any eerie feel, a lot of mystery in the air, and a whole bunch of suspense as to what the hell is going to happen next to these characters once they finally suit up (I guess that’s what you could call it), and whether or not they’ll make it out of the game alive. When Cronenberg gets crazy ideas like these, they usually don’t pan-out so well for me, but here, he actually kept me involved and kept my mind on the film at hand, considering the whole game these two are playing, is just one, big twist after twist without any real type of explanation as to what’s going on and what it isn’t.

Which normally isn’t fine for me with most of his movies, but here, was surprisingly so.

As much as Cronenberg may toy around with the idea of us not knowing whether or not this is a game, or real life, he still allows himself to get real nutty on all of us and uses some of the trademarks we all know him for. The gore here is downright disgusting as we go through a couple of different spots where blood comes shooting, guts fall out, and people’s faces just come flying straight-off, landing on the floor below them. And on top of that, there’s also a lot of gooey, slimy sounds that make you squirm even more and add just another level to Cronenberg’s already, ‘effed-up mind that he obviously wants us to play around with him in. But while this would usually tick me off with some of his movies, here, I decided to just go along for the ride and enjoy myself, even if I had no idea what exactly was happening, or even what it meant.

But that was the problem I eventually ran into with this movie: I knew everything about anything Cronenberg was trying to discuss. See, while this movie, on the surface, is about this insane, balls-out game that allows its players to do whatever they want, in a world that they have no idea about as is, when you dig a bit deeper, it ends up becoming something darker and more upsetting. In a way, Cronenberg is trying to get across what your mom has been saying for the past two decades to get you off you Laz-E Boy and in the classroom: Video games are bad and they make you do bad things.

Now, while I don’t necessarily agree wholly with that statement, I still understand that many people see an evil in the art of video games and how it may drive certain people to lose their minds. We’ve seen certain cases regarding this in the past and while I don’t feel its appropriate to voice my opinions out on those here and now, I’ll just say that whatever Cronenberg is trying to get across here, is practically the same message and it’s kind of annoying. We get that video games mess with certain people’s minds and allow them to not be able to differentiate the difference between “reality” and “fiction”, but do we really need to be reminded of this every five-to-ten-minutes? Maybe because of the time this was released (nobody in 1999 had ever heard of an XBOX), but the message, in today’s world, seems relatively preachy and dated. Granted, back in the day, these ideas may have been revolutionary and eye-opening, but to us humanoids from the 21st Century, we realize that everything being said here, is why we moved out of parent’s place in the first place.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

So take that, older-generation!

Another problem that most Cronenberg movies, not just this one in particular, is that usually he’ll cast an interesting bunch in his movies, but since his material is sometimes so weighty and dense in the way that it’s delivered, you can tell which actors are more suited to it than others. For a total surprise, Jude Law actually ends up doing well in a rather restrained role as this body-guard. Sure, Law’s using some of his charm to get us to like him and his character here, but most of it is actually just him trying to be weird and mysterious, and it works well and to his advantage. Same goes for the likes of Sarah Polley, Willem Dafoe, and Ian Holm who don’t show up too long or often to leave an impression, but show that they are capable of fitting into Cronenberg’s world, where everyone speaks like he imagines them as speaking.

The only one who feels totally off in this movie is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is supposed to play this geeky, downright off-kilter video game nerd, but just ends up coming off as she’s bored. In fact, a part of me felt as if she was in her own movie altogether; one where she was allowed to deliver her lines like she’s been doing for the past three decades, but instead, actually worked. Here, it seems like Cronenberg cast her, without really knowing full well if she’d be able to handle his “speak”, quite as well as the others. Don’t get me wrong, Leigh’s still a top-notch actress in most of the stuff she does, but here, she feels awkward stilted.

Maybe that’s how Cronenberg wanted her to be? Then again, maybe not. Who the hell knows what goes on inside that dude’s head!

Consensus: David Cronenberg loves to play with his audience and in eXistenZ, he gets a chance to do so, but too many times does it feel like he stops the wild fun, just so that he can prop us down for a lesson or two about the world of video-games that, trust me, we already know full well about.

6 /10 = Rental!!

Even in so-called "virtual-reality video-games", the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Even in so-called “virtual-reality video-games”, the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Amores Perros (2000)

Life sucks, now go play with your dog.

Octavio (Gaël García Bernal) loves his brother’s pregnant wife, and saves up money for her in the worst way; a rich couple, Valeria Maya (Goya Toledo) and Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), both are in love but have to find it out the hard way; and an ex-guerrilla, El Chico (Emilio Echevarría), whose discovery of a lost dog inspires him to reunite with his own long-lost daughter. All three stories come together in a very tragic automobile accident and affects them all in different, shocking ways.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu doesn’t seem like very happy and light guy. Most of his films concern death, sadness, pain, and agony, which are all displayed in the worst imaginable ways. That’s why I went into his debut expecting just the same type of misery displayed in all of his other flicks, but this time, with dogs!

This movie, my friends, is not an easy watch and that’s one of the first things I have to discuss here. First of all, if you are a dog-lover, like I am, you will find yourself covering your eyes for a good part of the movie as a lot of it concerns dog’s fighting, being dead, or just bleeding all over the place. Now granted, these are not real dogs actually dead on film and the actual fight scenes themselves are just of them playing, but it looks very realistic here and makes you wonder just how they got away with all of this stuff, without being brutally attacked by the RSPCA.

That's man's best friend right there, so be nice to it!

That’s man’s best friend right there, so be nice to it!

But with that said, if you can get past the doggy violence and deaths, you will probably find yourself gripped for a good amount of these two-and-a-half-hours. Notice how I didn’t say “find yourself entertained”, because that is not something you will do with this movie and honestly, that’s actually fine. What I mean by this is by the fact that a lot of sad and miserable stuff happens to these characters and as bad as it is, we care about them. That’s why the gritty-camerawork works so well as it displays a type of realism that makes us feel as if we are watching real people, go through some real, messed-up problems with other human beings, and their doggies. There’s a lot of zooming in, zooming out, moving around, and jumping back-and-forth that this camera does which may bother some people, but for me, just put me one step closer into the lives of these people and made me feel as if I was along for the wild, and terrible rides that they were about to be on.

The hyperlink cinema-aspect also works as it keeps us on the edge of our seats wondering what’s going to happen to these characters, and just exactly when are we going to hop into another one. For the most part, Iñárritu doesn’t really screw up the whole linking of three lives aspect to this flick and gives us glimpses into the lives of these different characters, while one story is still going on. My only problem with his approach is that I feel like his transitions were sometimes random and it seemed like it made no sense for him to just keep on showing us these little snippets of other stories that seem to make no sense at first. He does this throughout the whole film and it’s more random than it is confusing but once the actual stories themselves start to play-oy, then it all comes full circle and it surprised me.

Since the film is essentially three stories all packed into one, you have to expect each of them to be as compelling as the one before it and in some ways, that’s the case. However, in other ways, it isn’t. The most powerful stories in this whole flick were the first and last as they showed two characters, who were thrown into bad situations and did whatever they could to make the best of it. But then, there is that second story which did not do anything for me other than put me to sleep which I don’t know is my fault or the film’s fault but seriously, it’s boring.

I think the biggest problem with the second story is that it follows the first, which is entertaining, fast-paced, and very quick on it’s feet with what it wants to get across. A lot of this film has been compared to Pulp Fiction and while I don’t necessarily think that it’s a fair one, the first story here is the only one that I can really see where they get that from. The opening story is exciting and interesting, while hardly ever seeming like it’s hitting a dull note, but once that second story comes through, it takes the whole mood down. Instead of getting a kid who enters his own dog through the underground dog-fighting ring, we get a story about some spoiled supermodel gal who can’t stop whining about her dog, and the adulterous boy-toy who starts to wonder why exactly he left his wife and kids in the first place. I get that maybe we were supposed to be annoyed and bothered by the way she carried herself throughout the whole story, but I didn’t really care all that much for her and once her story was over and done with, I was sort of happy. And if you know how the story ends, I can assure you, feeling relieved is not a feeling one should feel.

I think Michael Vick is somewhere in the background.

Surprised Michael Vick didn’t take advantage of the open casting-call.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it sort of sticks out like a sore thumb.

The other problem that I ran into with this flick was that I couldn’t help but wish we actually got an ending to these stories. There is probably one story where we get a definitive ending that makes sense, but the other two are sort of left open-handed. Usually, this works as I like ambiguous endings and having to wonder and guess what happened to the characters once the camera stopped rolling (I’m weird like that), but here, it bothered me because I actually felt like we deserved to see what ended up happening to the people that we spent over two-and-a-half-hours with. It doesn’t seem that long but once it’s over, you’ll realize that maybe some of it should have been cut out in the editing-room, especially since we weren’t going to get any sort of resolution at the end.

Despite these problems though, the performances never seem to be fully harmed as everybody does a great job with what they are given to do, which is a whole lot. Gaël García Bernal, who hardly ever puts in a bad performance, really captures that type of young and unrequited love and as weird as it may be to see him go for his sister-in-law, you can’t help but stand behind the kid because he has passion and he has the ability to love. Also, his brother is a huge dick so that’s another reason. Goya Toledo was annoying as the supermodel who constantly yells throughout her whole story, but in a good way too as her character seems like the type of one that can’t help but hate everything that’s happening to her at this point in time. Didn’t make me like her character more, but at least she was fine.

The one real stand-out here though is Emilio Echevarría, who goes through the biggest transformation of all in this film where he plays a very cold, heartless old man that somehow switches everything up once he realizes it’s time to see his estranged daughter. Echevarría has a very easy-to-like character because of the way he cares for these homeless dogs, but also has a bit of a mean-streak to him as well mainly because the guy is essentially a hit man that kills people for money, but then cries about it when it’s over. It’s a very weird character that we deal with here but Echevarría is up to the challenge and his last monologue brings a lot of tears, because it pretty much makes up the whole point that this movie was trying to get across. But done so in a way that wasn’t manipulative or preachy, but just just right.

Consensus: Amores Perros is dark, sad, miserable, and very depressing, but also a fairly gripping piece of hyperlink cinema that puts us into a very upsetting world and doesn’t fully let us go, even if it is a bit disjointed.

7.5 /10 = Rental!!

Oh yeah, and dogs are a metaphor for life. Or something.

Oh yeah, and dogs are a metaphor for life. Or something.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Kill the Messenger (2014)

What’s a newspaper?

Middle-aged journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) isn’t necessarily the type of writer who searches for a big story, but if it ever comes his way, he’ll more than likely take the opportunity to jump on it right away. That’s why when Webb stumbles upon a lead that may take him all the way to uncovering that the CIA channeled drugs through the U.S., he gets on top of it right away, interviewing possible sources, even if that includes him taking trips out to to the villages of Nicaragua and putting his life on the line. However, Webb is a true journalist and will do anything to make his story the best possible one out there and for all of the world to see, which is exactly what happens. It gets his name known, story re-published in larger, much more respected news outlets, face on TV, and even an award for “Year’s Best Journalist”. Everything looks wonderful for Webb’s life and career, that is, until the government actually gets involved and starts putting pressure on him, as well as his news publication to stop pursuing the story any further, or else. This leaves Webb at a stand-still: Continue following the story his career was made for and lose everything he has, or, listen to what the government demands so that he can live a normal, comfortable life, like everything was before all this press? Decisions, decisions.

There’s certain movies that, to me, may speak volumes, while to others, may not at all. I understand this because while most critics out there like to say that they “have no bias” when it comes to reviewing a certain movie, from a certain creator, on a certain subject, the fact is, we are all biased. Which isn’t a problem, it’s just a fact of life that every human being has deep down inside themselves, regardless of if they want to admit or not.

A notorious drug kingpin who plays golf? Hmm...

A notorious drug kingpin who plays golf? Hmm…

The reason why I say this, is because a movie like Kill the Messenger is made exactly for me: A movie about an respectable journalist, taking place in a time when journalists truly did matter to the mainstream media, and doing what most journalists do, day in and day out. I too, am an aspiring journalist and while I do realize that the world is starting to need fewer and fewer of them, it’s still a profession I love and will continue to pursue until the day I die, regardless of if I have a job in the field or not. So yeah, as you could probably tell by my statement, that this is the movie for me.

That said, I do realize that not every movie out there that works for me, won’t work for others and while I do want to jump into this movie head-on and talk about Webb, his practice, and how he, the real-life figure, makes me happy to be an aspiring journalist, I have to judge the movie on its merits. Merits which, mind you, may be a bit fuzzy to me and my inner-bias.

Sorry, people. I’m only human, after all.

But as I was saying, Kill the Messenger is a pretty typical biopic; while it definitely tries to shy away from being by-the-notes, it hardly ever flies away from this convention and just tells its story like how it was presented to us. Which isn’t a bad thing, because if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it, and such is the case here. Webb’s story, as is, is an interesting one that doesn’t need to go through any interesting, yet shocking, twists to liven things up – all it needs to do is be told to us as it was, with every bit of information known about who he was and the controversy that surrounded a good portion of his life. Sort of like an article as is, but I won’t go on any further about that!

Anyway, director Michael Cuesta, while not necessarily the most flashy director in the world, doesn’t need to be so because the strength of the movie is in the real-life story itself. Of course with most of these biopics, there’s always the wonder of how much we are seeing presented on screen is actually how it happened, or how much is just made for the sake of making the movie entertaining, but for the most part, I couldn’t find any punches pulled by Cuesta. Even if there were any, they were so thinly-done, that it was hard for me to notice and hardly ever took me away from the real strength of this movie, which was the character of Gary Webb himself. But most of all, the actor portraying him: Jeremy Renner.

By now, within in the past five years of seeing the Hurt Locker, I think the world has come to realize that Jeremy Renner is a wonderful actor that’s more than capable of handling a movie on his own (for some of us, it may have been earlier, but you know, I’m talking about the mainstream audience here, you hipsters). So for him to be involved with a biopic such as this, it made me interested in seeing just how far he could go into making us see him as somebody, and not just him playing somebody. And honestly, it’s impressive how well-suited for this role Renner is; though we don’t know all that much about Webb, the real-life person, what we see from how Renner plays him, we get the idea that he was a sweet and lovable, yet also troubled, family man. Because Renner has such a charming screen-presence, there’s an idea that he gets along with practically anybody he’s around and doesn’t hold anything back when it comes to telling it like he sees it. Which is, once again, all thanks to Renner’s wonderful performance that may not get a lot of press, but definitely should, because it’s probably his strongest since the previously-mentioned Locker.

The guy who played Omar Little, as a drug-dealer? Really?

The guy who played Omar Little, as a drug-dealer? Didn’t see that coming!

But what Renner, as well as the movie, tells us about Webb is that he was a hard-worker, who stuck to his journalistic guns, even when it seemed like, for the well-being of everyone around him, he shouldn’t have. However, that’s what brings us to the main dilemma that the movie discusses: How far should a journalist go to pursue a story? Should they go in so deep that they practically abandon those who love and count on him/her for support? Or, should they create their story and jump off of it right before the story itself gets all sort of unwanted press?  This, to some, may seem like an obvious point made by many other movies concerning the world of journalism, but to me, a fellow journalist, is a problem I struggle with everyday. Not because I myself am throwing myself right into these highly controversial stories that could put my life on the line, but more because that could definitely happen some day. A person could easily read a story of mine that they don’t like and could decide to take matters into their own hands, which, I know, sounds barbaric, but crazier things have happened, people.

But enough about me, because while I found a way to connect to this movie with my own journalist-mind intact, I think the real wonder of this movie that makes it easy for almost anybody to appreciate is that it gives a glimpse into the life of a man not many people discuss or even know about much anymore. Webb, while seeming like a slightly troubled-fella, really did love his job, but most of all, loved discovering and unraveling the truth about those in power and all of the wrong-doings they were committed. Which is why it’s sad to see not just his family begin to bail on him once this story gets too hot, but also his publication that doesn’t want to be involved with a journalist who may, or may not be, good for their image.

It says something about journalism as a whole, but also says something about how this man, Gary Webb, truly did want people to know that he was telling the truth just about every step of the way. But that it only takes a few of those in power, to be angry, and make sure that whatever skeletons they have in their closet, stays put. It sucks, but it’s a reality and it was inspiring to see someone like Webb stand up for himself, even when it was the riskiest choice he could make.

Even if I was the only one who felt it.

Consensus: Kill the Messenger isn’t just a testament to the legend of Gary Webb and his journalistic pursuit to discovering the truth, but also to journalism as a whole, and presents plenty of strong questions, with hardly any answers. The way it’s supposed to be told.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Once he starts throwing pieces of the puzzle on the wall, we all know its downhill from there.

Once he starts throwing pieces of the puzzle on the wall, we all know its downhill from there.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Third Person (2014)

Always heard Rome was the most romantic place to be on Earth. Turns out, eh, not so much.

A bunch of stories that, despite taking place in different places, are inter-connected through the power of love, children, and forgiveness. Or something like that. In one story, a middle-aged writer (Liam Neeson) has just left his wife (Kim Basinger) for a much-younger confidante of his (Olivia Wilde), and the two converge in a wild vacation in Paris. Another story, there’s a mysterious businessman (Adrien Brody) who meets a random woman (Moran Atias) in a bar in Rome and ends up getting thrown into her very dramatic life that leaves him wondering if he wants to continue on this adventure with her or not, or go back to his boring, subdued life in the States. And lastly, there’s a story of a young woman (Mila Kunis) who is finding it hard to get over a supposed crime she committed to a kid and is currently in the midst of a rough custody-battle with her ex (James Franco) over their child.

In case you couldn’t tell by now, Paul Haggis definitely likes to make his movies about “something”. Now the answer to what that “something” may be is a whole different question altogether,  but there’s always a feeling one gets when watching a Paul Haggis movie that all of what you’re seeing, is supposed to have a big, ultimate meaning at the end. And though people may have a problem with that, I for one have to credit someone like him for at least stepping out and trying to make his pieces more than just conventional-fare that doesn’t have much to think about when you get down to it. It’s risky for a film-maker, especially nowadays, to test the boundaries of cinema and see what can come out as the end result, even if said end result isn’t as perfect as the creator may have originally intended for it to be.

Oh, James. So serious. So "artsy".

Oh, James. So serious. So “artsy”.

That said, there’s something odd going on with Third Person that I feel like even Haggis himself loses a bit of control over.

For instance, all of the different subplots Haggis has going on here, there’s hardly an interesting one to be found. Sure, some of the themes he’s dealing with like adultery, love, forgiveness, and heartbreak may all be relateable, but they hardly add up to much other than being “about that kind of stuff”. Also, you can discuss these ideas and show how it all connects to your story, but if you’re not really doing anything to grab our attention in the first place, then what’s the point? Is it entertainment? Is it to tell people you like to think a lot about big, important stuff? Or, do you simply just need a format in which you can stand on your soapbox and preach for the whole world to hear?

Well, I’d say that in the case of Haggis, the later two options are definitely possibilities. Which is a shame because Haggis, as usual, has assembled a pretty solid cast on his hands here, it’s just that none of them are given much of anything interesting to do and also, it becomes very clear early on that their performances don’t mean diddly-squat to what it is that Haggis wants to say. In a movie like Crash, it was easier for the cast to shine and show that they could get in the way of Haggis’ moralizing, but here, with Third Person, mostly everybody’s trapped, can’t get out and eventually, just have to give in to the fact that they’re in Haggis’ control. And with that, it’s going to be quite difficult to break away from the rest of the movie and leave a lasting impression on the viewer.

The only one who I think does such a thing is Olivia Wilde and obviously, for all the wrong reasons. Yes, Wilde does get quite naked in this movie and definitely shows us that she’s got a wonderful body to go along with that wonderful face of hers, but her character becomes so unlikable and cloying, that you feel bad for Wilde, because you know she wants to win over the audience like she usually does in anything she’s in. But here, considering she’s playing a gold digger that goes for older, married-men, there’s already a feeling that she’s not a character we’re supposed to care for much and Haggis doesn’t stop trying to make that clear to us.

It’s just such a shame that Olivia Wilde had to be on the opposite end of that lesson. What a lovely, lovely woman she is.

We are a long time away from the Pianist, folks. A long, long time away, indeed.

We are a long time away from the Pianist, folks. A long, long time away, indeed.

And as for the rest of the cast, everybody else is pretty much the same – nobody’s spectacular, yet, nobody’s bad either. Liam Neeson is the adulterating older man that decides to start sleeping with Wilde’s character and is okay, but his whole shtick of writing a book and not being able to complete it/get it published, gets old quick and shows that maybe Neeson wasn’t the best choice for this role; Adrien Brody makes a nice choice at choosing who he works with for once in a long while, but sadly, plays this role of a mysterious businessman with as much emotion as a cardboard box; Mila Kunis spends a lot of time yelling, looking befuddled, and constantly running around; James Franco does quite the opposite in that he stares, whispers certain sayings and acts his usual cool-self; and Kim Basinger’s hardly around enough to leave an impression to where we feel bad for her and the situation she’s left to deal with.

But at the end of all this, Third Person ends up being a trick movie, in that, everything we see, may or may not be how it actually happens. And somehow, all of these stories are connected, more so than we originally thought. It’s a neat trick that I applaud Haggis for trying here, but sadly, it doesn’t work and makes it clear that this director had a goal here, and it wasn’t to give us compelling characters or stories; just to lead us on a non-meaningful story, only to then pull the rug from underneath us at the last second.

Paul Haggis, you bastard. Brokeback Mountain should have totally won.

Consensus: Every minute of Third Person, it’s clear that Paul Haggis is running the show and not only does it get in the way of the cast, but gets in the way of creating an actual compelling narrative, that people could actually be affected by.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

"And so I told him 'I will find you, and I will kill you.' Hahahaha!"

“And so I told him ‘I will find you, and I will kill you.’ Hahahaha!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Men, Women & Children (2014)

“Technology’s the devil”, in case you haven’t heard that from your grand-parents enough already.

The world in which we live in is changing everyday and technology’s a big reason for that. However, the big question remains: Is it good that we have technology around us, affecting our lives so much? Or, simply put, is it bad and making us disconnect from those around us? Well, the answers don’t come easily, especially for a handful of people living in a Texas suburb. Take for instance, there’s the married-couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who hasn’t felt that love or passion for one another in quite some time; the photographer mother (Judy Greer) who so clearly loves her daughter and the passion she has for acting, but can’t help but lead her the wrong way; another mother (Jennifer Garner) who may be a bit too over-protective of her daughter and how she uses her forms of technology; a high school sophomore (Ansel Elgort) that quits the football team to focus more on his personal life, which leads him to falling for an outcast (Kaitlyn Dever); and lastly, a young teenage girl (Elena Kampouris) who is curious about sex for the first time in her life and will do anything to experience it, even if that means risking her own life. Oh yeah, and it’s all narrated by Emma Thompson, for some odd reason.

There hardly ever comes a time when I find myself following the rest of the status quo and agreeing with just about everything others have said. That’s not how I roll with movies, music, TV, video-games, and just life in general. I have opinions that I’ll make up for myself and stick to them until I wake up one day and think differently.

Now, with that being said, when I found out that everybody has been practically trashing on this movie here, I was surprised. Not because it seemed like it was a return-to-form for a favorite of mine, Jason Reitman, but because it featured an ensemble cast so good, that it was almost too hard for me to believe that any of them would agree to do something that’d be considered “utter shite” (well, except for Adam Sandler, but hey, he’s trying to get better!). But such is the case here with Men, Women & Children and rather than going into it and expecting it to hate with all my might because of what plenty others have been saying, I decided to stick to my guns, go in with a clear mind, and see how me, myself, and I felt walking out.

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds' heads!

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds’ heads!

And well, wouldn’t ya know it? I quite liked it. In fact, I came close to loving it on a few occasions. And then I didn’t. But the moral behind this story here, folks, is always make sure to not get bogged down by what others may, or may not, be saying. It only gets you further and further away from what matters most: Your own feelings regarding anything.

But like I was saying, there’s definitely something fishy about this movie. For instance, I find it rather strange that Reitman would go for a story that, yes, could be considered timely because of how much it uses technology as a moral stand-point for its story, but in all honesty, actually feels somewhat dated. These types of movies that try to warn us about the dangers of technology seem like they were running wild all over Lifetime or Oxygen way back when. That’s not to say that these types of stories don’t matter nowadays, because no matter what, technology will always be relevant in each and everyone of our lives, but I could have definitely done without a another “technology is evil” movie that just disregards its own message when it’s telling us, the audience, to actually engage in conversations on social-media networks to continue the conversation about the movie we just saw.

A tad ironic, but hey, whatever. The world’s not perfect, and the same thing goes for this movie. Because see, since this is an ensemble-piece, that means one thing: Not every story will be interesting. Though I’d like to hope for that in every movie I see in which different stories take place over the course of one film, the fact of the matter is that it usually doesn’t happen. And such is the case here, because out of the, well, I don’t know, say nine or so subplots, at least four-and-a-half of them are actually somewhat compelling. The others are sort of just there to take up space and allow us to see actors do, well, just that. Which isn’t such a bad thing, especially when you have a cast this good, but every so often, the movie makes you wonder what could have happened, had there been a lot more attention given to the development of these characters and their stories, much rather than the whole obvious message surrounding them and hitting us in the face.

For instance, try the story of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt’s subplot; in movie terms, their characters are the quintessential aging married-couple: Bored, unfulfilled and always horny, yet somehow, not for one another. There are brief instances in which this story could take a couple of really dark, shocking turns, but since it has to rely on the story’s gimmick of making it all about technology, the movie then jumps into the whole “dating services” aspect of the internet that so many movies have touched on, and also more effectively. Now, that’s not to say that neither Sandler or DeWitt put in bad performances (Sandler does pretty well at playing subtle here, although I was a bit upset by there being hardly any shopping-aisle dances), but you can tell that, had they been given much more to work with, they could have come close to stealing this movie away from the rest of the group and have us actually twisting our heads and thinking.

Well, more to work with, and probably if there hadn’t been any technology used in the first place.

Cause honestly, the aspect of technology placing itself into these stories doesn’t always work and, quite frankly, doesn’t feel wholly necessary. Now, I get that this is an adaptation of a novel that deals with the same problems and what have you, so I understand why Reitman didn’t want to totally take out the aspect of the idea that made it so “unique” in the first place, but really, at the end of the day, it’s just a cautionary tale of how most of us don’t talk to one another and, occasionally, do bad things. Does that mean that technology is always involved with these problems in life? Hell to the no! So, to make every person’s problem in this movie in some way or another, have something to do with technology and its usage, just felt pointless and really took away from the emotional impact that so many of these stories had initially promised.

That’s not to say that these stories don’t deserve to be told, but they don’t deserve to be done so in such an off-putting, slightly over-bearing way either, in which technology always has to rear its ugly head in, somehow, or someway.

Hey, at least they're sleeping in the same bed, right?!?!?!

Young lovers of the world, look close, this will be you one day. Don’t argue, just accept.

And it should be noted that Sandler and DeWitt’s story aren’t just the only ones that get, pardon my French, get the shit end of the stick; a few others show plenty of promise early on, only to have all of that go the way of the Dodo about half-way through. Elena Kampouris’ subplot about a teenage girl with image and sexual issues is alarming, but gets a bit insane by the end that it starts to feel like Reitman’s driving right back into the melodrama he loved so much with Labor Day. The same could sort of be said for a subplot involving a young teenage kid who literally can’t get an erection or perform the act of sex, if it isn’t at all like how he views it as in the various pornos out there on the web. Once again, it’s another honest, true-to-life story, but just feels corny by the end, especially when we see how crazy it pans out to be. And the Jennifer Garner subplot concerning the over-protective mother was just stupid from the very beginning, and only made worse by the fact that Garner’s nerdy-mom shtick gets real old, real quick.

Though the stories that do hit, actually hit pretty hard, if not for the reasons that Reitman had probably intended. Probably the best, most interesting, most compelling, and most lovely subplot of this jumbled-up movie is the one between Ansel Elgort’s ex-football player and Kaitlyn Dever’s social outcast who both, through pure chance, just end up falling for one another. Not only is this the one true story that’s the closest to my heart (high school romance hardly ever disappoints this sentimental soul), but it’s the one story that feels like it’s the closest to Reitman’s heart, too. Both Elgort and Dever’s characters, with as few scenes we get with them together, feel like they would be attracted to each other and not just for the sole reason of having sex, getting it out of the way, and moving on. They’re both lonely, sad, and tormented young souls that need somebody, or someone to talk to, regardless of how it’s done. It also helps that Elgort and Dever have great chemistry and feel like fully fleshed-out teenagers in a film that, honestly, didn’t seem too concerned about in the first place (Elgort is especially amazing and wins me back from his over-the-top nature in the Fault of Our Stars).

But even then, this story seems to get a bit wacky by the end when it relies too much on the idea its presented itself with and takes a bit of steam away from the real heart of the best story it had to offer.

But since I’m going on so much about what Reitman does wrong here, I do have to say that I’m happy to see him at least slightly back in his usual-form. Granted, this isn’t a typical comedy like we’re so used to seeing him do like before, but it’s at least a minor step in the right direction to where he’ll hopefully be able to blend comedy and drama so well, that you have a hard time being able to discern one from the other. That’s the old Jason Reitman we all loved and awaited to see what he had up his sleeve next and it’s the Jason Reitman we all want back, in full-fledged form.

Right, guys?

Consensus: At times, Men, Women & Children can feel like a typical, over-exaggerated after school special about the horrors of technology, but thanks to a solid cast and a few interesting subplots, it is able to get through its various plot-hoops and holes.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Judge (2014)

Usually it’s the dad bailing the son out of jail, not the other way around. But hey, I’m not from the South, so whatever!

Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hotshot lawyer who always defends the obviously-guilty, and somehow, always ends up winning. However, his shattered personal life is starting to catch up with his successful professional-career, when he hears news of his mother’s passing. This puts him on a journey to go back to where he started from; which, in this case, would be the small town of Carlinville, Indiana where, unsurprisingly, his estranged father (Robert Duvall) is still the town’s respected judge. But see, even his personal life begins to catch up with him when, on one fateful night, the Judge supposedly runs over and kills the town degenerate. And normally, nobody would care, because the guy was a total prick, but the family does and they’re taking the Judge to court! Not to mention, they’ve equipped themselves with one of the meanest, cruelest lawyers in the world, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). This seems like the perfect opportunity for Hank to stand up and defend his father, but since their relationship isn’t the most ideal, he hesitates. That is, until he realizes that maybe his father needs him, and now, more than ever before for reasons that will shock and shape his life, whether he wants to accept it or not.

So while this movie seems like total Oscar-bait from the plot, to the cast, and even to the subject-matter itself (courtroom genres are usually a big plus in the eyes of the 80-90-year-old Academy voters), there’s just one big element keeping it away from making that a reality: Director David Dobkin. Sure, to some, the name may not mean much. Well, let me put it in terms to make you understand: Dobkin is the director of such hits as Wedding Crashers, the Change-UpShanghai Knights, and Fred Claus.

Judge1

“Vera Farmiga with arm-tat” is totally “slumming it”.

Yes. Fred freakin’ Claus, everybody! The movie still finds a way to pop-up in everybody’s head, even if it’s as relevant as a box of Chia Pets.

And while at least more than half of those movies are fine, entertaining-pieces of cinema, they’re mostly all, immature, R-rated comedies that make people stand up, laugh, hit themselves silly, go home, and continue on with their everyday lives, but now continuously quote “that hilarious movie they saw with their buddies last weekend”. Those are the same kinds of people that, mind you, don’t really seem like they’d be all that enthused by the Judge, even if it does have a few of those “hee hee” moments.

But then again, I can’t hate on a director who wants to actually branch-out and try something new for once. Sometimes, the most unique movies come from those creators who were pigeon-holed as being a director of one certain genre and sticking to it, and decided to tell the world to “kiss off” and do something different, regardless of how much it would set people back. Though I’m drawing blanks on a few examples, I know they’re out there! But sadly, David Dobkin’s the Judge won’t be joining that list because this is a mess, and understandably so. Dobkin is a director that’s too inclined to just throw in a poop or fart gag, so that when he has to deliver on these strong, compelling moments of drama, they don’t quite mesh so well with the many scenes we get in which we think Downey’s character has possibly hooked up with his own biological daughter.

Not only does this create a jumble between tones, but it makes you wonder what could have happened, had the Judge been given a director that’s more comfortable with both sides of the table. Because, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, there are a few scenes of drama that are well-done and make some of this material, as well as the characters, slightly interesting. But then, moments later, after this touching scene has occurred, Dobkin will make a kind-of-a-joke about how Duvall’s character is incapable of controlling his bowels. And no, I am not kidding you, some of that is actually played up for a joke and it feels oddly-placed.

And that’s pretty much how the whole film is: Sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Most of this is because Dobkin isn’t all that capable of handling drama and comedy together, and also, because his movie just gets more and more conventional as it runs on along. Which was fine because I knew it was going to turn into that after a certain while, but nearly two-and-a-half-hours of waiting till a conclusion that we can already pin-point from a mile away, is a bit too much. Especially when one has to deal with all of the rough patches Dobkin goes through in order to build up to the predictable climax.

But if anything, the Judge makes you wish this kind of high-caliber cast had been given a better movie, because mostly everybody here is good, and sometimes, trying way harder than they need to. Though Robert Downey Jr. is, essentially, playing the same snarky character we’ve seen him do since the beginning of his career, there’s something slightly refreshing in seeing it done now, as an actual person, rather than as Tony Stark, or Sherlock Holmes. Not saying that either one of those characters are bad, but if it came down to RDJ having to play human beings for the rest of his life, as opposed to multi-million-dollar franchise “names”, I’d be happy with him just being Charlie Chaplin again.

RDJ just can't handle this right now. Like OMG.

RDJ just can’t handle this right now. Like OMG.

As long as he stays away from the drugs, that is.

Same goes for Robert Duvall, an actor who, because I haven’t seen him in quite some time, totally left my mind as being a capable actor. But here he is, pushing 83 and giving a good performance as the grumpy curmudgeon that is our titled-character. Though most of the movie is Duvall growling and looking pissed, the scenes he has with Downey Jr. feel like they come from a soft spot in both of their hearts, and to me, really struck a chord. Even if the rest of the movie was manipulative, over-stuffed, over-long, jumbled, and messy, these two being on screen together and just acting their behinds off was more than enough for me.

That said, David Dobkin should just stick to hand job-gags. Those seem to work out best for him in the end.

Consensus: Despite a strong cast trying with everything each and everyone of them have got, the Judge turns out being a jumbled-up mess of comedy, drama, family-dynamics, courtroom arguments, and ill-placed jokes, all coming to a predictable end.

 5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Grrrrrrrr!"

“Grrrrrrrr!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The November Man (2014)

But it’s not even his month yet! What an arse!

Veteran CIA officer Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is lured back into the profession when an old confidante of his turns up dead. This leads Devereaux next in line for the killing, so he goes on the run, which also, unsurprisingly, pits him against his protégé (Luke Bracey) in a violent game of cat-and-mouse. But there’s a bigger story here than just these two guys trying to kill one another; apparently a big member of the Russian government is involved with a prostitute-scandal that he wants to keep silent. However, that’s not going to fly with Devereaux and this is when he stumbles upon a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who may have all the information he needs in order to have all the dogs called-off and allow for him and his rival to chill out and sip on a few cold ones. That is, if they don’t kill the other first.

So, why on Earth did I decide to review this? Better yet, why did I even bother watching this in the first place? It had crap ratings, a crap release-date, crap box-office returns (okay, they’re not as bad), and honestly, will most likely be forgotten by the end of the year, rather than nominated for a Razzie or two (which, believe it or not, isn’t as bad as being “totally forgotten”).

Well, the short answer? Because I don’t know. Maybe a part of me just wanted to get away from the drama-heavy usual pieces I sit around watching and just enjoy myself, even if it was for only an hour two. Okay, maybe that answer was a bit longer than I had wanted, but honestly, I feel like that response puts into perspective of what I’m trying to get across here about the November Man: It’s nothing special, but eh, you could do worse.

Tryin' to catch Pierce ridin' dirty....

Tryin’ to catch Pierce ridin’ dirty….

Actually, you could do a whole lot worse with a piece of R-rated action-thriller such as this, but somehow, director Roger Donaldson finds a way to class this up ever so slightly, that it makes the final-product more than just a bunch of blood, guts, bullets, and, ahem, octane. It’s a sort of spy-tale in that we get a bunch of international men of mystery, end up colliding with one another in a game full of twists, turns, hoops, and holes, but also has a bit of an aggressive edge to it that made some of the violence a bit shocking.

In fact, if there was a problem I had with the movie, it was that the gruesome violence seemed to happen so abruptly, it almost seemed like the movie didn’t want to make it any more than just what they presented themselves as being: Bloody bits of violence and action. Which, yes, is fine if that’s exactly what you’re going for in your movie, but I feel like Donaldson was aiming for something a little bit deeper than that, and he doesn’t fully achieve it.

He tries to make us care for these characters, understand their plight, and cheer that whatever situation they’re in, they get out of them alive. Most action movies use this aspect, and use it well, but the November Man feels slightly odd in that we never really get to the point of where we can feel anything for any of these characters. Not because because they’re written poorly (which they are), but because the actions they make, don’t always allow them to shine in the right light. Which is a problem considering that almost every action these characters make, is a bad one that can either rub us the wrong way, or make us wonder who in the hell we’re supposed to cheer for.

It’s obvious that the movie wants us to mainly be on the side of Peter Devereaux, its hero of sorts, but he only comes off more like the idea of “a hero”, and more of just, simply put, “a dick”. See, even though Pierce Brosnan is playing Devereaux as another side of James Bond, there’s not much charm or likability to this guy that makes us want to reach out to him like we do with Bond. Sure, the character of Bond himself has some problems, mostly with the boozing and the women, but when it comes down to getting his mission done, in an efficient way, where hardly any innocents are hurt, Bond is there to save the day, for lack of a better term.

A Bond actor and a Bond girl, but not a Bond movie? Da 'eff?

A Bond actor and a Bond girl, but not a Bond movie? Da ‘eff?

However, that’s not Peter Devereaux and while I like Brosnan playing up his “good-guy” image of Bond, this time would have been more effective, had he already not done so in a much better, much more entertaining movie, the Matador. That said, Peter Devereaux is a ruthless bad-ass that definitely shoots first, and takes names later, so if you’re into that sort of sociopathic thing, then yeah, he’s definitely your hero. However, if you’re like me and appreciated it when the people you’re supposed to be rooting for have at least a few good qualities to their personalities, then you may be a bit out of luck here with Peter Devereaux. Brosnan definitely tries with this character and more often than not, comes out on top, but sadly, it’s not the kind of performance he can be happy with, years after the fact when he’s looking at his career in hindsight.

But I’ve realized that I’ve gotten further and further away from my original point about the November Man: It’s quite fun. Though it may be gritty, full of senseless acts of violence, somewhat mean-spirited, and confusing whenever it focuses on its convoluted, unnecessary political-subplot, there is some excitement to be had here, especially when people are shooting one another and do whatever they can to kill the other. Sounds a bit scary, I know, but that’s how most action movies are.

For better, as well as for worse. All depends on who it is you’re talking to.

Consensus: With numerous acts of bloody, disheartening violence, the November Man may rub some the wrong way, while entertain the hell out of others. Basically, it all comes down to what kind of person you are and what it is you like to do with in your spare time.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Cool guys still apparently walk from explosions.

Cool guys apparently still don’t look at explosions.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

God’s Pocket (2014)

Philadelphia is full of scum. Take that from a person who lives there and yet, loves it so!

Philadelphia, circa the 1970’s where the mob has practically taken over all business. And a fella by the name of Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of those mobsters who does his business, moves on, and goes back to his wife, Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), to make sure she’s happy and pleased with the life he’s made possible for her. However tragedy strikes for them both when Jeannie’s kid ends up dying in a surprising “freak accident” at work. Though there’s a lot of speculation concerning that “accident” and whether or not it was actually a cover-up, Mickey has to find enough cash to make sure that his wife’s kid gets the best funeral possible and also, that he’s able to do so without having to split any heads in the process. Problem is though, he’s owed money by a lot of people, and there comes a point where you have to stop being nice, and start taking action in order to get what you want.

Or you know, something like that.

Honestly, though there seems to be a plot on the surface here, the truth is, there really isn’t. I mean yeah, this Mickey fella has to find a way to squander up a certain amount of cash so that his wifey-poo’s kid can get the funeral she wants him to have, but you can sort of tell about half-way through that the movie doesn’t really know if it wants to pay much attention to that, or anything else in this movie for that matter.

Most of that has to do with the fact that this is the directorial-debut by one John Slattery who, if you don’t know by now, so charmingly plays Roger Sterling on Mad Men. And that’s why it’s really hard for me to trash on this movie because you can tell that Slattery wants to make a good movie and definitely has the potential to make one in the near-future if he decides to continue to go down this road of being behind the camera, but this sadly, is not that film.

5 o'clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

5 o’clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

Because honestly, it’s just that Slattery doesn’t quite know how to make the blend between comedy, drama, and bits of violence, seem all put together in a cohesive manner. To say this thing is messy, is to say you get wet when you step out in the rain without an umbrella; it’s pretty obvious. But what makes this movie worse than just something of a mess, is that it’s too dull to ever be considered “an interesting mess”. And this is where, as much as it pains me to do so, where I get a tad mean on Slattery because it just seems like he doesn’t really know where to go with this material, nor does he know of what to actually say about any of it, or the characters that inhabit it; he’s sort of just a pedestrian to all that’s happening.

And honestly, that’s not so bad for some movies out there, considering they have a great cast on their hands. Which is why this is an even bigger surprise to me, considering the ensemble Slattery’s been able to cobble up together here. Of course we all know that John Turturro is good at playing the sneaky, gangster-type, but rather than doing anything interesting with that role here, it’s more of a case in where you can sort of see him going through the motions without much heart or inspiration. Same goes for the always lovely Richard Jenkins who plays a journalist with a bit of a drinking problem. Though it’s a pleasure to see Jenkins on screen and acting like his usual smarmy-self, his subplot really doesn’t add much to this movie and feels unnecessary, especially when you consider how much time it’s actually taking away from the real story at-hand here, which is Mickey getting all of that money for this funeral.

And yes, while that plot seems ripe with all sorts of excitement and fun, Slattery’s direction doesn’t really get to portray any of that. Instead, it’s just a slow, uninteresting bore that you can tell wants to say something about these low-life characters, but in the end, isn’t really saying anything at all. In fact, if I had to really dig deep underneath this story, I’d say that Slattery actually glamorizes these characters a bit as being constantly funny, cool, and able to use violence whenever they want. Now that’s fine and all when you have well-written characters, but here, there’s nobody to really care for, nor even really pay much attention to.

Well, at least she's still like Joanie in THAT sense.

Well, at least she’s still like Joanie in THAT sense. Heh heh.

Same goes for the character of Jeannie who we’re supposed to care for the most, but instead, don’t really care for, because we don’t get much of her to begin with. We just see that she’s devastated with the news of her son’s passing and we’re supposed to build our opinions about her around that idea. It didn’t quite work and although you can tell Christina Hendricks is clearly trying to break away from her Joan Harris-image, it more or less feels like she’s not trying hard enough. Or that she doesn’t have much to really work with in the first place.

That could definitely be the sole reason and it’s an even bigger shame, too, because this movie will also go down as one of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s films. And, above everything else, is the true disappointment of this movie – giving one of the most compelling presences of the past decade or so, and hardly giving him anything to work with. Though Hoffman is totally trying his hardest with this Mickey character, in the end, he’s just a weak-character that’s like any other, low-time, two-bit gangster: He’s a nice guy, but also has some dark shadings as well. That in and of itself is a total convention of the mob-tale and it’s made even worse by the fact that a person who could do something with that convention and spin it in an interesting way, doesn’t get a chance to do so.

Not his fault of course, just bad material that he didn’t deserve.

Consensus: Everybody involved with God’s Pocket seems to be trying, but in the end, is just a disappointing mess that makes the mortal sin of not bringing anything interesting to the audience’s heads while on screen.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin'.

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin’.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Night Moves (2014)

Hug a tree next time, kid.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Deena (Dakota Fanning) are two environmentalists who want to make something of a difference. So, they decide, as one does when an environmentalist has radical beliefs, to blow up a dam. However, they know very little about actually lighting explosives big enough to blow up an actual, life-sized dam, which is why they decide to hit up ex-Marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard); somebody who has been long-time friends with Josh and may have his eye on Deena. Anyway, after much planning, speculation, and talking, the three decide to go through with the plan of blowing up the dam and on the way, they run into problems here and there. But since this is what they believe in the most, they’re going to stick to their initial plans, no matter how many odds are stacked-up against them. That is, until they realize that they may be doing the wrong thing to begin with.

In all honesty, that plot-synopsis is a bit of a cheat. Though I definitely want to inform you all of what this movie’s actually about, it’s hard for me to really actually go into all of it because most of what happens in this movie (and basically, all you need to know) occurs in the first half-hour. And mind you, this is a near two-hour film, so for all of the action and whatnot to happen in the first act, isn’t just surprising, it’s downright unbelievable.

But that is exactly what we have here with Night Moves and honestly, I wouldn’t expect much different from writer/director Kelly Reichardt, somebody who, if you don’t already know of by now, doesn’t totally like to play by the rules/conventions of what the rest of the movie world sets out for others to follow suit.

"So...uhm...you in the mood for breakfast or anything?"

“So…uhm…you in the mood for breakfast or anything?”

However, it’s not just about how Reichardt places what is, essentially, the climax at the beginning of the film that makes it so unique to watch, it’s more of how she allows her characters to speak like natural human-beings. Which any person who has ever tried their hand or two at writing a script will tell you: Writing how typical people actually talk, is nearly impossible. Actually, that’s a lie, because there are a few writers out there who are able to do so (early Kevin Smith films come to my delinquent mind), but it’s a difficult task and more often than not, the characters can come off as if they’re trying so hard to be real and raw like actual humans, that it’s phony.

But for someone like Kelly Reichardt, it seems and feels so effortless. Not only does she write her characters in a slightly vague way that we have to search beneath each and everything that they say, to just get an understanding of who they are as people, but she also allows them to tell us something about themselves in the way they carry on their bits of silence. Sure, some people may call this a form of “laziness”, or just a director relying on a trick that’s been used for years and years to show us the inner-feelings of character, but when I look at it, especially in the way that Reichardt uses silence, I feel as if this is how real life would play out.

So very often do we get movies where characters just sit down, in silence, and hardly utter a peep. And hell, even if they do utter a peep or two, they don’t constantly sound like the wittiest human beings god has ever put on this Earth. Sometimes, they’re just like us and when they don’t have anything smart to say, they don’t say anything – and even if they do, they know when to shut up right away. This how I like to view each and everyone of Reichardt’s movies: Typical interactions between human beings that you yourself could actually stumble upon in the vast landscape out there that is Earth.

Sure, the people she may present in her films are a bit more attractive than say your or I, but somehow, through the way in which Reichardt’s script is written, they seem almost too real.

Take for instance the character of Josh, played so wonderfully sternly by Jesse Eisenberg. Though we don’t know too much about Josh early on (then again, we don’t much about anyone here), Eisenberg brings out certain layers to this character that’s more than brooding and seeming as if he’s about to lose his freakin’ mind. See, with this character of Josh, we get the idea that this is just another guy, who cares so much for a cause, that he’s willing to go as far, as wide, and as deep as he can, to make that cause a possibility, rather than just something he pisses and moans about at rugged get-togethers. There’s a feeling in this movie that we’re not supposed to really like Josh because of the way in how he goes about making sure his cause actually is heard, but then again, we’re never told to not like him either.

In a way, you can get that feeling that Reichardt herself doesn’t really have the faintest clue of what to think of Josh, other than that he’s just another young guy who, like every other young person out there in the world, believes in something that they hold so near and dear to their heart, that they lose sight of who they actually are. Not just as spokes-persons, but as human beings. That, to me at least, is downright terrifying. Not because of the way it’s presented in this film, but because of how true this really is about certain people out there in this world.

Don't do it, Jessie! You've still got Lex Luthor to portray!

Don’t do it, Jessie! You’ve still got Lex Luthor to portray!

Same can be said for the characters that both Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard play; both aren’t made clear to us early on as to who they are, or why they are, the way they are, but through time and attention, we understand that their goals, though may seem like the same on the surface, aren’t really exactly what either one would want when things really get down to it. Especially for Fanning’s character who, at first, seems like the typical young, wise and brash know-it-all that wants you to show everyone around her how smart she is about the environment and stuff, man, but at the end of the day, is just another little girl who has no clue about how ugly the world can get. I’d explore that same option with Sarsgaard’s character but, considering it’s a character played by Peter Sarsgaard, you could probably already bet that he’s a bit of a sick and twisted dude as is. Which isn’t to say that either performances are bad (Fanning is actually quite good in a role that shows she is in fact GROWING UP IN FRONT OF OUR OWN VERY EYES), but the characters they play make you think and wonder just about who they truly are, when nobody else is around them, staring.

But honestly, now I’m just getting further and further away from the point and avoiding the fact that this movie is fantastic, but not in a very pick-me-up kind of way. Once again, without saying too much, the movie definitely gets quite dark and terrifying at points, but it’s never used in a way to jolt us like so many manipulative thrillers out there do. Instead, Reichardt uses these quietly tense moments to play out what would happen in real life, without all of the glitz, the glamour and the spotlight. And even though I know so many writers and directors out there try to achieve this, Kelly Reichardt really seems to nail that mood.

Which is, yes, pretty weird, especially if you know Reichardt’s filmography. She’s mostly known for these small, naturalistic, and character-driven dramas that can’t necessarily be classified as “thrillers”, but somehow still are, because the tension and the suspense is within the characters interactions between one another. But more so the case here, especially in a scene where one character has to buy fertilizer and I kid you not, had my palms sweating so hard, I needed a towel just to dry them off. And that to me is what really makes this film one of Reichardt’s better pieces: Not only is she showing growth as a writer/director, but she’s also showing the audience that it doesn’t matter how many plot twists you throw around, if you have well-written characters and plot-archs, then you don’t need much else to really excite your audience.

A special note to all you up-and-coming writers out there looking to make a break in the biz, ya’ll.

Consensus: With a naturalistic tone and feel, Night Moves feels like real life, except this time, a whole lot darker and with more questions than answers. Actually, kind of like real life.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"What? We're just eating a PB&J. THAT'S ALL!!"

“What? We’re just eating a PB&J. THAT’S ALL!!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Left Behind (2014)

When the world’s in panic, trust in Nic Cage. Just make sure there’s no bees around.

It’s like any other normal day in the sweet lives of these few humans. A daughter (Cassi Thomson) oh so desperately wants the attention and love from her father that she hasn’t gotten since she was a little girl; the father, Rayford Steele (Nic Cage), is a bit of a dirt-bag in that he takes his wedding-ring off before every flight, only so that he can fool around and tell terrible jokes to young, blonde and busty stewardesses; and his wife (Lea Thompson), on the other hand, is at home, thumping the Bible and speaking the good Lord’s word. But this one day is all of a sudden turned right around for the worst when, unexpectedly, loved ones begin vanishing. Kids, adults, male, females, transvestites, everyone! It’s like some sort of “Rapture” that nobody has any explanation for, except that the Gods must be angry, or something. But the speculation can wait because Rayford Steele has a plane to land, and plenty of passengers to get on the ground safely and in one piece. That is, if they don’t already start killing one another off with their paranoid minds in the first place.

So, if you didn’t already know by now, this movie is a faith-based one, in the sense that it’s centered towards the kind of crowd who goes to these types of movies where they can go to hear and see about all sorts of God-like things that they can’t consume all at once on Sunday morning. That, or they just want to see Nic Cage doing a movie, that’s already a remake of something starring the almighty Kirk Cameron.

"Nice! Wait till HuffPo gets a load of this!"

“Nice! Wait till HuffPo gets a load of this!”

And yes, you heard me right on that people: Nic Cage is starring in a movie that was originally written with Kirk Cameron in mind. It’s kind of a shame really, but seeing where Cage’s career has been as of late, I can’t say that I’m too surprised. Actually, that’s a lie, cause I’m totally shocked and I honestly have no idea why the hell Nic himself would get involved with such propaganda like this! Let alone, a movie that’s really terrible.

However, with most of the movies he does, Cage finds a way to make the most terrible-aspects, the least bit entertaining, or somewhat interesting, in his own, Cage-y way. He yells, breaths heavily, smiles oddly, makes weird faces and just all around, over-acts like the king that he is. The problem is that this isn’t really the kind of movie where he can get away with that, because not only does the material hardly ever call on him to be all crazy and such, but even he himself seems tired and lifeless, as if he’s just totally in this for the paycheck and nothing but. That could rightly be the case, but when I see my movies with Nic Cage, paycheck-gigs or not, I want to see some effort, man!

Here though, Nic himself is sort of sleep-walking through a role that could have been played by anybody and quite frankly, doesn’t really need him. Or anybody for that matter. In fact, if I really had to go down deep into this movie, I’d say that it was a piece of garbage. And no, that’s not because I’m some sort of atheist that hates anything having to do with God, his word, or his holy followers – I just am not a fan of bad movies. And this here, my friends, is a bad movie.

But it’s not the kind of bad movie you and your buddies should sneak out to late one night, drunk/high, and expect to have a great time with. Because yes, even though there are plenty of laugh-out-loud scenes here where the typically insane occurrence will show up on screen, only to go away a second later without hardly any rhyme or reason, the movie’s messiness just ends up ruining any bit of fun that could have been had here. Not saying that the movie had to be a joke from beginning to end, but there’s a point in which your film ends up being more than just silly, and just bad. And such is the case here: It’s bad, and sometimes laughably so, but not enough to where I’d say go out there and see this one with glassy-eyes.

In fact, just don’t bother seeing this. Sure, to its audience, it may have the right message and it honestly may make them feel all warm and gooey on the inside, but for the others that may actually want to pay a couple of bucks to see the next Nic Cage-starrer and seemingly have no idea of what they are getting into, they’ll be pissed. They’ll be bored and though they’ll get plenty of chances to just point and laugh at the screen, it’s not enough to justify seeing this.

Even the whole angle of this being a faith-based movie doesn’t even come into play; there are mentions of God and faith in heavy-handed ways, but honestly, you could look at this as another, run-of-the-mill disaster story that has the ill-chance of taking place on a plane practically the whole time. Add on the fact that every character is terribly-written and the performances from some of the actors playing them are, honestly, even worse. I’ve already talked enough about Nic Cage, but the rest are just pitiful, almost to the point of where it makes sense why they were cast in this movie in the first place: They probably didn’t cost much to begin with, and it pretty much shows.

"Ah! Please don't crush me, New Testament-quote!"

“Ah! Please don’t crush me, New Testament-quote!”

Though I wasn’t expecting much out of him to begin with, Chad Michael Murray is god-awful as the “investigative journalist” that, for one reason or another, every spectator treats him as something of a celebrity. I’m assuming he’s being made out to be the next Anderson Cooper or something, but to me, it seemed hard to believe that ladies panties would be dropping just for some dude who stepped on foreign soil and covered a story. That stuff, my friends, are stories of the past, I’m afraid to say.

But Murray isn’t the only whose bad, Cassi Thomson is awkward and her one scene with Cage is probably the best, only because most of his manner-isms come out and make the scene better. And that’s pretty much it for the whole film really: Cage makes it better. But even then though, he’s sort of there just to service a script that doesn’t deserve him. It’s all bad, from beginning to end, and it makes you wonder just why exactly did Cage sign up for this in the first place. Especially after doing something as wonderful as Joe.

Oh, Nic. Your mind truly is a mysterious one.

Consensus: Irate, laughable, and over-the-top with what it’s trying to get across, Left Behind is another faith-based drama that wants to be about something important and meaningful, without ever really allowing us to be entertained in the first place.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Only one man to save humanity....

Only one man to save humanity….

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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