Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Keep the dead, dead. Just a token of advice.

After much time, dedication, and money handed to them through the university they work in, a group of scientists have discovered a serum that brings the dead back to life. At first, they perform it on a blind dog named Rocky who, once he wakes up and comes back to life, can see. However, he’s acting a bit strange. More so than any other normal dog would. But before they can ever do anything to fix Rocky and figure out just what’s going on, the university decides to shut the project down, leaving all of the scientists without hardly any evidence to make up for their thesis and, possibly, even get their experiment taken away from them. Though, they realize that it’s not time to give up, so late one night, they all decide to sneak back into the university and finish their study, once and for all. That is, until tragedy strikes one of the scientists and leaves them dead. Thinking quickly, they try to bring the person back with the serum, seeing as how well it worked for Rocky, until it becomes apparently clear that the serum has some extreme, rather deadly side effects.

Sci-fi horror films like the Lazarus Effect have been around since the early days of film and it’s no shock to anyone that, after awhile, they can get repetitive, forgettable, and downright boring. However, the one interesting element surrounding the Lazarus Effect is that it’s actually stacked with an interesting; a cast who, may I add, don’t seem like the typical chumps to take up material as cheesy and as underwhelming as this.

The look of someone who just DOES. NOT. CARE.

The look of someone who just DOES. NOT. CARE.

For instance, you have Mark Duplass, playing our main protagonist, Frank. Duplass is a joy to watch in anything he shows up in, whether it be from random spots on television, movies, or in actual, real-life interviews. The guy just seems like a class-act who was, like you or I, a normal dude who dreamed of one day making movies for everyone to see and love, and wouldn’t you know it? His dream came true.

That said, it’s utterly confusing as to why he would bother to show up in something like this. His performance is a bit on the bland side, but honestly, a part of me wants to believe that’s just because the material is so thin and poorly-written for him, that even someone as talented and as likable as Duplass, find it a near impossibility to bring some sort of fun or charm to this whole piece. Same goes for the rest of the cast who are, sadly, thrown into a movie that doesn’t seem to utilize their talents well enough, except to have them deliver lame, exposition, or, occasionally, show some sort of personality that only works because of the convention their character is.

Another example of this cast gone to waste is Evan Peters, who mostly everyone and their mothers loved as Quicksilver in Days of Future Past, who is basically given the role of “the stoner”. This means that, yes, he does smoke an awful lot of weed (through a vape, I may add), eat a lot of snack-foods (munchies, bro), and, seemingly out of nowhere at times, prove to the rest of his confidantes that he is a smart science guy who knows a thing or two. All we’re supposed to do with this character in this film is laugh at him and hope that he comes around to deliver a punchline, whenever the film seems to need it the most to clear the air and stop everything from being so serious. Problem is, the movie never gives him anything funny.

Not to mention the fact that what serious proceedings he’s supposed to be breaking up with his lovely smile and grin, aren’t really all that exciting to begin with.

See? Scientists can be cool too, guys!

See? Scientists can be cool too, guys!

Like I’ve said before, everything in the Lazarus Effect has been done before, and while there can sometimes be some fun to be had in knowing what’s coming next and seeing how the characters react to it all, there’s something so dirty and ugly about this movie that makes all of the fun go right out of the window. For instance, the movie flirts with the idea of there being a spirituality vs. actuality battle going on between some of the characters and while the conversations they have can be interesting, the movie takes them to heart so much that when shit hits the fan, it is so extreme and insane, that it seems like there’s hardly anyway for any of the carnage to end. Basically, you just sit back and watch a bunch of people, some you care about, some you don’t, get killed in gruesome, horrific ways and it’s not fun – it’s just gratuitous.

It also feels lazy after awhile, too, because once you realize what’s causing all of these horrific happenings, it becomes clear that the movie doesn’t have anything interesting to do, say, or actually make you think about after leaving it. It’s just pure, unabashed blood, gore, and violence, and it’s rarely exciting to watch. Just dull as dull can be.

The only chances of some hope that the movie gets is whenever it allows for Olivia Wilde, a bright and bubbly screen-presence when she’s given the opportunity to be so, to camp it up. Wilde’s good as is, whenever she’s playing a normal person who wants to figure out a way to save lives and possibly even revive them, but when her character eventually starts to turn the other cheek and you realize that there’s something a tad bit dangerous to her, then that’s when she seems to actually be having fun. In a movie as lame as this, it would be incredibly hard for someone to even have the slightest bit of joy in their stomach while performing, but Wilde, for what it’s worth, seems like she’s giving it her all, even if the movie doesn’t always have her back in the end.

What a shame.

Consensus: Dull, dark, drab, and ugly, the Lazarus Effect takes an interesting concept, cast, and group of ideas, and goes nowhere with them you don’t see coming from a mile away and already don’t care for.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Eh. Still take her out on a date and meet my mom.

Eh. Still take her out on a date and meet my mom.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Focus (2015)

All it takes is a few really good-looking people to make you forget about your Rolex.

Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a seasoned vet at the art of conning people. He’s been in it for so long, however, that he feels like maybe it’s about time that he starts to settle down and focus on the bigger picture: Actual life. But such is the problem with the life of a con man – you can’t be trusted, which, as a result, means you can’t trust anyone else. It’s pretty sad, but at least you have a lot of money. This all begins to change for Nicky when he meets young, bright, bubbly and downright beautiful grifter, Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), who wants Nicky to teach her the tricks and the trade of pulling off the perfect con. Nicky has no problem with this, because he believes Jess is smart enough and more than capable, but has one major problem: He may be in love with her. Which isn’t just bad for business, but bad for him, as a person. And Jess may feel the same way, but the two never fully know until it’s all too late.

Movies about con men, women, people, etc., all suffer the same problems: They’re fun, flashy and twisty, but sometimes, they get a bit too over-the-heads and can end up becoming a convoluted mess that doesn’t fully add up. One of the rare exceptions to this rule is the classic-caper, the Sting, which definitely helped get through some of its slower-patches with its attention to detail and character, but still had enough twists and turns to fuel us up when we needed it the most, but never overdid it either. It wasn’t the large bed, nor was it the small one – it was the one, slap-dab in the middle that was just right.

How could say "no" to that face? Hot damn!

How could say “no” to that face? Hot damn!

Focus is not one of these movies, and yet, I have a hard time complaining about it much.

For one, it’s a very exciting movie. It’s quick, light-on-its-feet and hardly ever slows down, even when the characters do get to talking about their emotions and so on and so forth. Even then, though, these moments are still neat to watch and pay attention to, because you never quite know whether one is actually being themselves because they want to actually be genuine for once, or if they’re just putting up an act so that they can get what it is that they want. This actually happens during a couple of instances in this film, and it helps speed things along smoothly enough to where we’re not nit-picking every single mistake, or contrivance this movie makes up. Because, trust me, there are plenty to be had here.

There’s one sequence that takes place during the Super Bowl that’s not only the most memorable of the whole movie, but features some of the more tense sequences I’ve seen in something that doesn’t include much gun-play, car-chases, or violence, for that matter. What happens is that we see Smith’s character, Nicky, constantly throw down bets just to have a ball at the game, because he’s with Robbie’s character and, like most women (apparently), she doesn’t give a lick about the sport of football. The bets start off nice, sweet, and playful, like any good two pals would do, but then, once another party walks in on the betting-pool and realizes that they can have some fun while spending plenty of dimes, then the bets get more extreme, the money gets larger, and eventually, we’re left having no clue where the hell this is going to go, why, and who is going to be on the receiving-end of this bet.

I won’t say much more about it, except that it’s the most excitement I’ve had during a movie in quite some time and that’s because it’s unpredictable. Most movies of this nature definitely strive for that, but instead, seem so tailor-made to make sure that everybody has a big, happy smile leaving, so therefore, they’re going to get the pleasing solution to whatever problem may come into the protagonist’s way. Here, it’s never fully clear whether we’re going to get the happy ending, or the sad, dark, and depressing one.

And because of that, Focus hardly loses an ounce of steam. Even if, you know, there’s plenty that goes on here in it that seems to be wildly unbelievable and over-the-top, that it ever happening, or being as intricately planned-out as it is made out to be, hardly ever rings true. But that just shows you what can happen when you make your movie as fun and as exciting as this: You can have some of the biggest, widest, most gaping plot-holes ever seen on the face of the planet, and if you allow us, the audience, to laugh, enjoy ourselves, and come close to even crying, then don’t worry, all is well.

For the most part, that is.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith…….

But where the movie really racks up the points in winning us over is with the pitch perfect casting of both Will Smith and soon-to-be-star Margot Robbie, in the leading roles. Though the age-gap between the two is nearly 22 years, that didn’t bother me as much here, as it does with some of Woody Allen’s movies, because the two have surefire chemistry that barely hits a false note. Sure, you could make the argument that even when the age-difference between the two spouses in Woody Allen’s movie hit almost 30, they can still seem believable and understandable because of good chemistry between the two, but here, it didn’t seem as creepy. Or, at least, the movie didn’t have it written-out to be that way.

For instance, once we see these two together, automatically, you can tell that there’s some sort of spark between the two. It could be all made-up for the con; it could be genuine attraction; or, it could be love. Whatever it is, Robbie and Smith seemed like they really enjoyed working with one another both in front of, as well as behind the camera, because every opportunity they have to make some bit of this feel heartfelt, they go for it. Even if you know Smith’s character is just messing around with Robbie’s to get her to do what he wants for a con, or whatever, there’s still a small feeling that he actually wants to be with her. As unlikely as that may be.

Which is to say, yes, Will Smith does wonders with a role that, quite frankly, could have been so corny and forgettable, had it been played by most other movie stars. But Smith, giving it all he’s got, fits into this role so perfectly that you believe him both as the calm, cool and confident smooth-talker that’s able to get through any con with the use of his fast-working brain, as well as a guy who sincerely wants to settle down in life and possibly even get out of the conning business, just for that reason alone. There’s a heart to this character that makes him worth watching, and it’s where Smith’s performance really takes hold.

But the one who really walks away with this one, is the fiery, the hot, and the engaging woman who is Margot Robbie. Most may know Robbie from the Wolf of Wall Street and while that’s a solid highlight of what she can do, here, as Jess Barrett, she is constantly taking this movie over. Not only does she use her unbelievably lovely good-looks to her advantage to get what she wants, but she too, just like Smith’s character, feels like an actual person that wants everything there is to offer in life. Sure, she wants to con people and make some money in the process of living that life of hers, but at the end of the day, she still wants to have a husband, a family, and even possibly, a life that she can feel safe and comfortable with living.

See, con men – they’re like you or I. Just with a lot more cash lying around.

Consensus: The twists and turns can sometimes border on ridiculous, but Focus always keeps its cool by depending on the engagingly fun and frothy chemistry between Smith and Robbie, while also giving them a fun movie to work all their sly moves in.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Loft (2015)

Stay loyal, fellas. No matter how hard it gets.

Five married men, who all share a loft that they casually take hot, younger women who aren’t their wives, back to to wine, dine and then bang, all stumble upon a huge surprise when they find a girl dead in their place. The blame game begins when it’s revealed that she was Vincent (Karl Urban)’s girl, although, once push comes to shove, the fingers begin pointing to Chris (James Marsden), who everybody believes had some sort of hand in this, whether he meant to or not. Either way though, all five of these dudes have no clue what to do and through the constant thinking, deciding and game-planning, they start to paint a broader portrait of what happened, who is responsible, and what the next best step is to do. They sure as hell know they don’t want to get any cops involved; because once they do, so do then their wives and subsequent families. Basically, it’s all up to these guys to figure things out, but once each other’s dirty laundry starts airing out, none of them may be able to make it out unscathed, married, or better yet, alive.

Since it wrapped up filming in 2011, the Loft has been on the release-bubble and it makes perfect sense. Not only is the movie pretty crummy, but the source material, that’s apparently adapted from a Belgian film of the same name, is very harsh and almost, dare I say it, offensive. Which isn’t to say that movies that offend others aren’t supposed to be made, they’re just supposed to be handled in a way that allows for all sides of the story to have their say and meaning when all is said and done. However, at the end of the day for the Loft, we have a bunch of sleazy, horned-up married-men who realize the costs they take when they start sleeping around, and yet, still go about it anyway because, well, I don’t know, really.

Somebody just realized that he needs new friends.

The face of someone who just realized that he needs new friends.

Bitches be cray?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you, and I don’t think this movie can either. And that’s definitely it’s biggest problem; the cast of characters are strong, recognizable, and well-acted, but these characters are just so dirty and unlikable, that there’s a slight feeling that you not only want their wives to find out, but to also have them jailed so that they learn their lesson the hard way. Sounds a bit extreme and harsh, I know, but the way the character’s are written and made-out to be, it’s hard to think any other way.

Take, for instance, the character of Chris, played by the always charming James Marsden. Chris is, as you’d expect, a typical middle-aged husband – he’s bored, unsatisfied and chock full of hormones that are just waiting to be released in any sort of sexual manner possible. Problem is, his wife is a tad bit crazy and doesn’t give him all the pleasure he needs. It makes sense why he would want to go start banging whatever hot, young thing he can find next; it doesn’t make it right, but it at least serves some sort of purpose, rather than, “Hey, what can he say? He’s horny.”

So then, Chris does eventually finish the deed of having sex with someone who isn’t his wife, and automatically, we’re made to feel sorry for him. Not his wife who, understandably, is on the strange side and paranoid, to say the least, is getting cheated on, right behind her back. No, it’s Chris, the one dude who cheated, screwed around, and was upset to find out that the girl he had sex with was paid to do so in the first place, who is the one we’re made to feel sorry for.

Same goes for the character of Vincent, played by a stern, yet dull, Karl Urban. Vincent has a bit more back-story to him here that I won’t spoil for any of you possible viewers, but I’ll leave it at this – he’s easily the sleaziest, most despicable member of the group, and yet, we’re still supposed to feel some shred of sadness for when it comes close to blowing back in his face. In all honesty, I have no idea why we’re supposed to feel sorry for any of these guys at all, let alone Vincent or Chris; they all know what they’re getting themselves into, understand the rules, regulations, and circumstances, and yet, still go out, party, bang, snort, drink, and live it up as if they’re young, twenty-something swingers.

We’re not supposed to like them, but somebody forgot to tell the people behind this movie that.

A dude's dream. Hopefully, minus the blood, death and all that.

A dude’s dream. Hopefully, minus the blood, death and all that.

But honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg with this movie, because while it’s hard to care for any of them, there is something of an interesting mystery at the center that works well for, I don’t know, the first-half or so. Once it’s revealed to us that these guys don’t have any clue what happened, who was behind it all, and what they’re supposed to do next, the movie keeps us in the dark as much as possible and it’s quite interesting. Once the flashbacks come into play and we’re given more light into these guys’ past, both together and apart, it becomes apparent that clearly somebody’s more of a “baddie” than the rest and that’s where it begins to lose some sort of focus. Because, honestly, they’re all baddies, but I guess just one is worse than the others.

However, the movie starts to go off the rails by the last-half, where we are constantly getting twist after twist thrown at us, without any of them ever landing or making much sense. One character is apparently something of a psycho that can’t help his sexual-tendencies, which makes him do evil, terrible things to those around him and none of it ever rings true. It almost seems like the director and writers got bored with whatever they were doing, didn’t want to wrap things up too quickly or nicely, so instead, added a serial-killer, for shits and gigs.

Cause, you know, nothing’s funner than a serial-killer who loves taking advantage of women.

Consensus: With unlikable characters that hardly shed any bit of sympathy, the Loft becomes an aimless, uninteresting study in people we don’t care about, and an even less-interesting murder-mystery that starts somewhere, but ends absolutely nowhere.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Hint: Dude with glasses. Just saying.

Hint: Dude with glasses. Just saying.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

Hey, someone’s gotta pay the rent.

Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are all vampires who live and share a flat together, and like how most people get when living together for so very long, there’s always problems to be had. They don’t always get along and they mostly don’t know how to each hold their weight equally in a place that needs for them to be at their utmost attention. But there is one thing that they have in common, and that’s sucking other people’s blood. And for the most part, they’ve been doing just fine for so long, that it seems almost insane that somebody would swoop in and screw it all up. That’s when Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a random civilian that they all planned on killing, accidentally comes back to life and realizes that he too is a vampire, with all sorts of neat tricks to show off to those around him. This obviously causes a problem for the rest of the group, who would much rather like to be left in the dark where nobody knows who they are and makes them wonder they can stick it with Nick, or not.

Also, werewolves show up.

Jemaine Clement and sex is apparently the go-to for comedy, nowadays.

Jemaine Clement and sex is apparently the go-to for comedy, nowadays.

While this would all seem incredibly boring to hear a movie about werewolves, vampires, and some other infamous ghouls, the fact that this is done by the same crew who brought us Flight of the Concords, makes it a better watch than expected. In fact, way better. Because not only is the movie funny, but proves that you can use the found-footage, faux-documentary style to still enhance your story, even if the story itself does seem to be winking at the audience.

Now, it should be noted that What We Do in the Shadows isn’t necessarily trying to re-invent the wheel of horror-comedies, but is more or less, just trying to make its audience laugh, while also aspiring to create a new kind of tale where vampires can be considered “likable” – hell, maybe even “cool”. Even if the movie doesn’t intend to make these characters pop-out at us as ones we’ll be remembering till the end of our days, they still create a nice landscape for a bunch of funny bits between characters that we want to see more interactions of. Basically, when you put an old-school, follow-the-leader type of rule-maker, you generally want to see them clash heads with the hot-shot, rebel-with-a-cause bad-ass. Even if they do seem a bit cartoonish, it’s still exciting to watch and can even add to more laughs than expected.

Which is one of the harder problems with reviewing comedies. Well, let me rephrase that: reviewing comedies that are actually good.

See, it’s very easy for me to go on and on and on about a comedy that not only kept me laughing much, if at all, but was offensive and left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Those movies are, generally, fun and easy to review because they actually bring a lot of thought to the table as to why something didn’t work out the way it was intended to, and what could have been the main cause for it. If there’s any example, check out my review for Let’s Be Cops; one of the more terrible comedies I’ve seen in recent time, and even though it’s incredibly thin on its surface, I still found many ways to talk more about it and dig deeper than just simply saying, “Movie not funny”.

With What We Do in the Shadows, a good comedy, it’s a difficult task for me to go on about it without digging deeper than I need to. The movie isn’t trying to make a point, it doesn’t have any sort of secret agenda, and it sure as hell isn’t trying to rile-up the more sappy parts of our emotions – it’s just a comedy, being just that. It’s a funny one, at that, but a comedy that works nonetheless and is mostly helped by the fact that it hardly ever steps away from its story and just continues to deliver the jokes, visual-gags, and crazy non sequiter’s, with reckless abandon.

Maybe it’s not as hilarious as I have made it out as being, but it’s still worthy of a watch, especially if you’re already a fan of Concords to begin with.

#VampireSeflie

#VampireSeflie

But, believe it or not, there is some surface to be looked at underneath all of the gags and laughs, which is to say that the movie actually does go for the gut in looking at its characters’ lives and why they’re worthy of us spending time with them in the first place. The fact that they’re vampires may put us in the spot of not wanting to like, or even sympathize with them, solely due to the fact that they kill people and suck their blood for a living. It’s easy to dismiss them automatically after that, but the movie pulls back the curtain at times and shows that there’s something sad and miserable to these characters’ lives and the existences they’re forced to lead.

Sure, some of that is put on-hold to make room for a funny-clothes gag, but for the most part, we get an idea of who these characters are and why they even matter. Which is to say that, surprisingly, the one who stands-out among the rest of the group is a human by the name of Stu, played so plainly-to-perfection by Stu Rutherford. Stu, the character, is the one sole human that these groups of vampires have no problem of being around, and not killing; they treat him with kindness and respect, as you would to any friend. Because of this, Stu easily becomes the most likable and lovable character that when it seems like his life may be in danger by the end, we automatically stand behind our vampire-friends and hope that nobody even lays a paw on Stu. It also creates for some very funny moments where we see that these vampires, despite what they’re forced to live and breath on, actually have emotions, thoughts, and feelings. They just kill people and suck their blood is all.

Shit. Maybe there was some complexity to this after all.

Consensus: While not aspiring to break any new ground, What We Do in the Shadows still works as a solid blend of horror, comedy, and faux-documentary that doesn’t forget about its characters, or the hilarious set-pieces they create to explore more and more.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Happy family. Consumed blood and all.

Happy family. Consumed blood and all.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Citizenfour (2014)

The closest you can get to a computer-geek, without losing any bit of your popularity. Maybe.

After making a few documentaries that put her on the NSA’s “watch list”, Laura Poitras soon found herself chatting online with an anonymously mysterious person who went by the name of “Citizenfour”. According to mystery person, they had acquired, in their possessions, numerous and numerous amounts of confidential sources, documents, etc. that would show the government to be spying on its citizens. Poitras doesn’t know what to do with this information, except to just take it in for herself. That is all until she finds out that Citizenfour wants to meet somewhere in Hong Kong, which she accepts, although she enlists the help of investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald to help her seize this moment once and for all. Once Poitras and Greenwald walk into some high-class Hong Kong hotel suite, they meet the man we would all know as Edward Snowden, who would then let them know a little bit about his life, what he has, and what he wants to do from here on out.

And the rest, as older-generations like to casually drop into conversation, is history; and by “history”, I mean what we are currently dealing with in the past two years now having known what Snowden found and revealed to the whole wide world about his findings. To be honest, too, there’s some problem with that known knowledge and this movie – while the movie likes to think that it’s dropping absolutely shocking, knee-shattering information to its audience, the fact remains, we already know what the government has been doing. Why? Well, because Snowden himself got on TV to tell us all, once and for all.

Boo to the guy on the right! More of the guy on the left! (And no, that's not a metaphor)

Boo to the guy on the right! More of the guy on the left! (And no, that’s not a metaphor.)

While some of you may think this isn’t a fair criticism, especially considering you could say that about half of the documentaries made about notable, infamous figures in today’s day and age, there’s something different to be said for a movie that thinks it’s showing us something new, something revolutionary, but in all honesty, actually isn’t. We know what Snowden found; we know what’s going on with his life nowadays; and we know how the rest of the world would react this newfound information. Nothing else is all that shocking.

So, for maybe the first-half of this movie, I was left uninterested. Uninterested by what this movie was trying to do with its story, how long it actually took to get to meet Snowden, and almost irritated by how Poitras herself manipulatively used bits and pieces of Nine Inch Nails to add tension to what is, essentially, just a bunch of typed-letters on the screen for us to read. As a director, no matter what sort of film you’re working with, feel that you have to add music in the background to make an audience feel a certain way, with a certain emotion, you’ve already lost some of the battle. You seem more obvious than before and, at least from my standpoint, make it hard for the audience to bounce back.

However, that’s what shocked me so much about Citizenfour, because it actually did bounce back. And quite effectively, too, may I add.

Where this movie ends as an informational-piece, it soon then begins as a small, but engaging character-study of one person we like to think we know so well by how the media portrays him as being, but in reality, actually haven’t the slightest clue about. Sure, some of us may think we know Edward Snowden because he, like most of us, is an innocent, seemingly fragile computer-geek that, by all his might and will, saw stuff that he didn’t like and went as far as to expose those wrongdoings to the rest of the world. In his own, maybe unintentional way, Snowden has been declared a “superhero” among sorts, and it’s because of this title, most of us think that he’s like your or I, just with more computer-skills and obviously a lot more paranoid.

Snowden lookin' sassy. Look out, ladies. No seriously, lookout. The government will be after your ass quicker than you can say "web leaks".

Snowden lookin’ sassy. Look out, ladies. No seriously, lookout. The government will be on your ass quicker than you can say “web leaks”.

But what Poitras and Citizenfour as a whole does, and does well, is that it removes all of the stereotypical bullshit about Snowden and reveals to us a very layered, meager and mild guy that, like all of us, just wants the world to be a safer place. Not just for himself, but for everyone else. And what Poitras does well is that it allows for him to tell his story, without any cheap, cinematic short-cuts to be seen; it’s just him, his bland, black T-shirt, his glasses, his fuzzy, frazzled hair, his jeans, his laptop, and his never-ending barrage of stories to tell about what he saw, what he wants to do, and what’s next in this possible plan of his. Occasionally, we’ll get a side-swipe by Greenwald (which were the worst parts of this movie, for me, but that’s just personal preference because I despise him oh so very much), and the Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill (who I just wanted to give an big, endearing hug by the end of this), but for the most part, it’s Snowden’s story to tell and he’s willing to go deep and dirty with it.

He definitely backs away from giving certain details about his family, his girlfriend, and just where exactly he lives, but that’s all understandable. Maybe one day, in the near-future, when, hopefully, most of the dust has settled, we’ll get a straight-up, no-frills, take-no-names documentary that digs deep into Snowden’s actual life, but for now, and mostly for security purposes, this is as close as we’ll get to seeing Snowden, warts and all. Which works, because not only is Snowden an compelling presence here, in that he is so nerdy and kind that you’d much rather take him out of a locker, rather than stuff him in it, but that he also genuinely seems like a nice dude. You can definitely hold some of that against the movie for not allowing for us to make our own opinion on him, but for what it’s worth, Poitras seems like she wasn’t trying hard to take away from Snowden’s point-of-view or any of the things he had to discuss. She lets him ramble on and on, even if amiably so, but it’s a side of the story that most of us want to hear and she doesn’t take away from that.

Which doesn’t just do Snowden himself justice, but the people who actually want to know more about this possible “superhero”.

Consensus: For the first-half, Citizenfour meanders, but once Edward Snowden enters the picture (literally and figuratively), what we get is an engaging, heartfelt and occasionally stirring look into the personality of a figure we should all know more about.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Grunge-reject, but it's okay. He's better now.

Grunge-reject, but it’s okay. He’s better now.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Force Majeure (2014)

Don’t think I’ll need to visit the French Alps anytime soon. I prefer to be alive.

A Swedish family spends a week in the French Alps for what seems to be a relatively stress-free, enjoyable vacation, as most families want. One afternoon, however, that all seems to change. While the family’s out dining on a deck, they hear an avalanche pop, but they feel as if it is controlled enough that they don’t have to worry and possibly even run for their lives. Several seconds later, it looks as if the avalanche is not at all controlled, is heading straight for them, and leaves them all to do what they assume to be their final moments alive. Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) stays behind and shelters her two kids, whereas Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) runs away and never turns back. Well, turns out that the avalanche actually was controlled in the first place, but one that was just a tad too close to comfort for all of them. But now, Ebba is concerned about her husband, seeing as how he ran away from them all, rather than stay back and try to protect them in any way imaginable. This puts a lot of their relationship into perspective and, as a result, the vacation a lot more uncomfortable and tense.

Just another happy family on vacation.

Just another happy family on vacation.

It takes a lot for a movie to have me on the edge of my seat. I’m not saying that as some sort of brag; I’m saying that because after all of the movies I’ve seen over a the past decade or so, and realizing that many plot-threads are identical in almost every part of one movie’s nature, there’s only so much a movie can do that totally throws me for a loop and has me not knowing what to expect, where, why, or even how. Though there are many movies that can do this to me, they’re more than likely already crazy pieces of genre film that you expect to throw you for a loop, every so often. However, for a human-based drama to throw me off my game? Now that’s something new!

Not to mention, something I definitely welcome.

And that’s what I had here with Force Majeure, a movie that I didn’t expect to be more than just a family dealing with the aftermath of an avalanche. Although, technically, the movie is dealing with the aftermath of said avalanche, the way writer/director Ruben Östlund goes about exploring it as the movie runs along, is what’s so interesting and what, ultimately, threw me for a loop just about every step of the way I was willing to roll with this movie.

For instance, everything leading up to the actual avalanche itself is really simple, almost too much so. It paints this portrait of a normal, everyday family that seem like they need some time away from their lives at home and just want to sit back, relax and enjoy the slopes while they can. But when the avalanche comes rolling in, and all of a sudden, the family fears that their lives may be in full-danger, then it becomes clear that this is going to be a different kind of movie that isn’t as simple, or peeled-apart as you may think.

And speaking of that avalanche rolling down, it’s one of the more tense, hard-to-look-away from sequences that I’ve seen in something that wasn’t an action movie. Literally, it starts off nice and easy, and then all of a sudden, goes from 1 to 11 and already, you can feel that there’s death in the air. However, what Östlund does so well here is that he keeps the camera as still as humanly possible, without ever shifting around and making it seem like he wants us to feel the same excitement and intensity that these characters may be going through as well. He just keeps the camera right then and there, and allows for us to watch it as it’s happening; which, in turn, makes the sequence all the more terrifying, as we can see the avalanche coming in as plain as day, yet, there’s still nothing we can do about it.

Then, after that happens, Östlund takes down everywhere he can go with this family and it’s where the movie gets to become the most interesting, as well as the most unpredictable – something I didn’t expect.

What I mean by “unpredictable”, too, is to say that every scene starts off normal, as if you could tell what’s going to happen, where it’s going to end up, and what we, the audience, is going to learn more about once all is said and done with. By this, I don’t mean that people engage in constant gun-battles that end in hectic blazes of fire, blood and ammunition-shells; what I mean is that while you expect the scene to be just exposition, it turns into showing us more and more about this family, their dynamic together, and exactly what this terrifying event has done to them. Though Östlund makes the smart choice of picking any sides in the matter, nor does he make it at all clear where he is going to go with this story. This is where the characters come in and show that there’s more to this story, rather than just picking out who was in the wrong, and who was in the right. More or less, they’re all in the wrong; it’s just a matter of who is more so in the wrong than the other.

Just another couple of bros relaxing and having some brews.

Just another couple of bros relaxing and having some brews.

That’s if I’m making any sense whatsoever.

Like I was saying, though, Östlund paints each and everyone of these characters human beings; albeit, ones with plenty of emotion that they may not always be able to take control of. This is most evident in Ebba, but with good reason – not only does it seem like her and her husband haven’t been able to spend quality, loving-time together, now she finds out that he may not even have her, or their family’s best interests at heart. After this, she lashes out at him at random, sometimes inappropriate times and not only puts her hubby into an uncomfortable position, but those around them as well. It makes her, on the surface, seem like an annoying, emotional wreck that needs to either be put in the corner, or given a smack to wake her up and allow her to smell the cauliflower.

But she isn’t, and the same goes for Tomas, which makes the dilemma all the more rich and frustrating to answer for yourself. Except, when you look at the situation in his shoes and through his eyes, the decision is a lot more difficult to figure out: Would you try to save yourself from death, if that at all seemed plausible? Or, would you stay with the ones you supposedly love and tough it out regardless? They’re two roads you could take, which makes it all the more interesting to see not only how Tomas himself realizes this, and refuses to actually admit to it, and also by how he constantly gets it thrown back into his face by his wife who clearly knows his intentions. It all creates plenty food-for-thought and may, more than likely, remind you that even though your family loves you and supports you, they may not be there to save you from imminent death.

You know, happy thoughts.

Consensus: On the surface, Force Majeure seems like another simple family-drama, but is anything but with complex questions, and no easy answers whatsoever.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

AND NOW THEY'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!! AHH!!

AND NOW THEY’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!! AHH!!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2015)

ff388289b27ddfa130ea3d18c29e9913_largeVampires from New York are a lot less insufferable.

After being stabbed to death by his assistant with a cursed ancient weapon, scholar Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) finds himself transformed in ways he didn’t expect to be. For one, he can’t kill himself, no matter how hard he tries. And he’s now got an addiction to blood, which would, in turn, make him into a vampire. It’s life-changing alteration that Green feels weird with at first, but sooner than later, soon realizes that he can have some fun with it. The only thing is that he needs to make sure that he gets blood, from anywhere he can find it; meaning, in some cases, he’ll have to kill people, just in order to suck out their blood. After some time, however, his assistant’s ex-wife, Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), shows up and actually begins to fall for him. Green doesn’t know whether he can let Ganja in on his little secret, because if he does, that means the both of them will turn into addicted, blood-sucking vampires. Rich ones, too.

Though he’s had plenty of missteps in the past (like any talented director has), there’s no ignoring the fact that whichever movie he does, Spike Lee always finds ways to make them interesting. Not just visually, but also by what he’s trying to say underneath the actual plot itself. Sometimes, his point is effective and can definitely hit home for some (He Got Game and Do the Right Thing are famous examples of this), but other times, they can be not one bit subtle and just seem like someone getting up on their soapbox and preaching at you for two hours (Jungle Fever and Bamboozled). Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is somewhere in the middle of these two possible options, although it’s hard to ever pin-point what sort of message Lee is trying to make in the first place.

Quite effective. Assuming that the other person doesn't have a fire-arm with them.

Quite effective weapon. Assuming that the other person doesn’t have a fire-arm with them.

Could it be that fortune makes one person lose all humanity and forget about who they once were? Could it be that society has been constructed in such a way that the only way for an African American to survive in today’s economy, is for them to eat and kill their way to the top? Or, simply put, is it that no matter how far down the deep-end one can go in life, that God, our lord and savior, is always there to save you?

Personally, I have no clue and I don’t think Spike Lee knows either.

This creates a problem with a movie that, on the surface, is a bit too plain. It’s known that Lee raised all of the movie’s finances through a Kickstarter campaign and while it is nice to see someone put all of that hard-earned money to good use (as opposed to other famous celebrities utilizing the same method for financing), there’s not much more to this story that makes it all feel deserving of being told to us. Especially when it’s our own money being dealt with here.

However, there is something to be said for someone like Lee, who is able to bring out interesting anecdotes in a film that isn’t filled with too many of them. Rather than coming right out and saying that this movie’s a vampire tale about one dude trying to get as much blood as he possibly can to survive, Lee goes a step further in exploring the actual dude who has, suddenly, been turned into a vampire. As dull on the surface as Dr. Hess Green may be, it’s his background that’s actually the most interesting element about him – he’s a smart fella, for sure, but the only reason he is as rich as he is, is because his parents left it all for him. So now that he’s been stricken with this tragic circumstance, he now has to act on his own and do what’s best for him, rather than having to follow whatever mommy or daddy may have wanted for him to follow.

This might be an instance of me stretching myself a tad too thin, but whatever the case may have been, there was something intriguing to this character that made him compelling to watch. Williams doesn’t bring much flair or excitement to this role, but then again, I don’t think the movie was calling on him to do so, either; he’s as plain as day and the fact that he’s now a blood-sucking vampire, is supposed to make him interesting. If only ever so slightly.

Not creepy at all, bro.

Not creepy at all, bro.

And speaking of the whole vampire-angle to this story, it’s kind of where you can tell Lee’s having the most problems with this film. Rather than shaking up the genre in his own, innovative way, Lee seems to just constantly hammer in the fact that vampires like blood and will do whatever they can to gain access to it. Lee hardly ever strays away from that and it’s a bit of a disappointment, considering how he’s made a career out of doing that practically his whole career. There’s maybe one instance in which we see Lee play with the formula, in which Green sucks the blood of a prostitute who may, or may not have AIDS. Automatically, this puts the whole story into perspective and made me wonder what kind of movie was next to follow. But then, as soon as he brings the idea to the table, Lee then poo-poos it and counts it off as nothing more than a false alarm.

Yet again, another instance in which Lee, someone who seemed to once love to shake things up for cinema, gets back into line like the rest of the other directors out there.

And don’t have me fooled, this isn’t me saying that everything Lee does here isn’t inspired (there’s another key scene near the end involving a church ceremony that is one of the more exciting, visually breath-taking things he’s done in awhile), it’s just that this clearly isn’t the film for him to really stretch his wings out, try something new, or better yet, even show the world why he needs us, the adoring fans, to fund his work. Kickstarter is fine and all, but when you raise a bunch of money, for something that doesn’t seem to quite go anywhere all that eventful or miraculous, then what’s the point? Vanity?

Oh, who knows.

Consensus: Occasionally interesting, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus finds Spike Lee trying to do whatever he can, with whatever limited resources he’s given, but also doesn’t allow it to result as much worth talking about.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

At least we get a dolly shot. That's all that I paid to see.

At least we get a dolly shot. That’s all that I paid Spike Lee millions to see.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

State of Play (2009)

Bloggers can’t pull off stunts like this. Not even me. And I’m Dan the Man, dammit!

Washington D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the type of guy you want telling the news. He gets his facts straight, no bias-stance whatsoever, and he always seems to find an impressive hook on how to make it worth reading or caring about. The latest story that comes his way, puts him in a bit of a rough position because not only is one of his close friends involved with it, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), but because it’s surprisingly a life-or-death situation that escalated to that level quite quickly. With young, hot-and-ready reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), he’ll figure out who exactly was Collin’s mistress, whether her death was a suicide or a murder, why somebody would want her dead, and whether or not it’s even worth risking their life for. Then again though, he works at a newspaper, and I think any story, is a story worth telling, so he’ll go with what he can get.

"Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he's upset."

Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he’s upset.

Surely a movie about a newspaper industry seems already dated, way before conception and release, but that’s where this flick works so well. It is a modern-day thriller, where computers, the internet, smart phones, and texting reigns supreme; however, director Kevin MacDonald also frames this movie in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching one of those old-school, classy, and cool thrillers from the 70’s, where conspiracies ran high, and it was all up to the dedicated reporter to get the truth out. Nowadays, it seems like you go anywhere for any bits of news information, everybody knows about it and has reasoning/sources, but that makes it so sweet to get a flick that reminds us that the old methods of information-sharing still exists, even if it isn’t used quite as often as it once was. Then again, maybe being the fact that I’m a Journalism Major makes me more sympathetic to the issue.

Actually, that’s most likely the reason, but so be it!

Anyway, the film. What works well here is that even though it does seem to be very dense in every piece of detail, every clue, and every hint it throws at us, it never feels confusing. Practically, we are strung along on a trip of finding out anything we can about what’s going on, and are left in the dark about other stuff as well. We think we get the full picture more than a couple of times, and then, we are thrown right for a loop when a slight piece of info comes out and proves us wrong. It messes with our minds and has us curious by how it’s all going to pan-out; but it never feels manipulative.

Where most thrillers would make have conceit becomes over-used and overstay its welcome, MacDonald uses it more to his advantage, in a way to almost coax us into believing all that we hear and see as fact, and nothing but it. With most thrillers like these, we can’t always expect to take in all that’s thrown at us as pure fact, but we do have to believe in it, and I never felt like I was seeing a movie that went maybe a bit too over-zealous with its twists. Mainly, I always felt like MacDonald always knew what he was doing, what he wanted to show us, what he didn’t want to show us, what he wanted us to think at certain moments, and how he wanted us to feel when certain conclusions were made. Many times you’ll be surprised with where one twist will take you, but such is the skill of a thriller, when it’s a thriller done right. And to add on the fact that it’s a movie about the dedication and hardships that reporters take when it comes to getting their stories right, while also making sure to get them out there first; it’s almost like adding a cherry on top. Especially for me.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for these types of movies. Twisty-thrillers and movies about journalists!

But while the movie does work in keeping us on an unpredictable, turny path, it does show some weaknesses as well, ones that became more apparent to me once I got to thinking of them. First of all, I think that having the friendship-clash between Collins and McAffrey works as its own thing, so therefore, to throw in Collins’ wife to the mix, as to set-up some sort of love-triangle, feels manipulative and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, Robin Wright is solid as Collins’ wife, as she plays around with the feeling of being betrayed by her own husband, but also curious enough to get him right back. She’s the perfect form of snidely, evil, and sexy that I’ve ever seen from her, but her character doesn’t need to be used in this light, or even at all. She definitely brings on more guilt to the Collins character, but other than that: Not much else.

While I’m on the subject of the cast, let me just say that all-around, this is a very solid ensemble that feels as if they were hand-picked, for good reasons: 1.) they can all act, and 2.) they actually get a chance to show the mainstream world what they can do when they aren’t slumming themselves down for Hollywood. Russell Crowe seems like he’s a bit too brutish and tough to be taken seriously as this meek and soft, but determined reporter, but somehow, the guy pulls it off very believably. There’s an essence to his character where you know you can trust him to do the right thing, but you don’t quite know if he’s going to get coaxed into doing it, or not. Actually, that’s a pretty interesting point about his personality that movie brings up, but never really develops further, is the fact that not only does he have a job to do, which indicates responsibility, but he has a friend that he obviously cares for and wants to protect. So, basically: What does he do? Turn on his friend, and give the world the spicy story, no details left aside, or, does he stay true to his friend, and give the public a story that has him come out unscathed? The movie sheds this light a couple of times, but by the end, totally loses all sense of it and just stops worrying about it after awhile. Could have really done wonders for itself, but sadly, just does not.

Batman getting rough with Kal-El's daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Batman getting rough with Kal-El’s daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Boo.

Playing Congressman Stephen Collins is Ben Affleck, and I have to say, the guy does quite a swell job here. No, he’s not perfect and he isn’t as enthralling as you’d expect a conflicted-figure like his to be, but he does what the roles asks upon him to do: Show enough feeling to where you could be viewed upon as “sympathetic”, but not too weak to where you don’t seem like you couldn’t be a bit of a rat-bastard as well. With that idea, Affleck does wonders and shows the rest of the world that he can still act (even though by ’09, people already knew that).

Rachel McAdams is also a fiery-sword as the young and brass blogger that hops aboard this story, and seems to be really enjoying herself, whether it’s when she has her time on her own, or if she’s around fellow co-stars and gets a chance to strut her stuff. Either way, she holds her own and doesn’t come off as annoying, or way-too-in-over-her-head or anything along those lines. She’s just Rachel McAdams, and that’s perfect as is.

The rest of the stacked-cast is pretty awesome too, with some getting more notice than the others: I wish there was more of Helen Mirren, but then again, I feel like that could be a criticism for any movie, so I’ll leave it be with that; pre-Newsroom Jeff Daniels shows that he has the acting chops to, one minute, be playing a sophisticated charmer, and then the next minute, be as corrupt and evil as the same politicians he talks out against; Viola Davis gets a short, but sweet cameo as a morgue-employee; and Jason Bateman shows up all coked-up, high-living, and fun as one of Collins’ known-associates, and almost steals the movie all by himself. Almost.

Consensus: Sure, State of Play is nothing more than a classic-piece of deception, cheating, lying, and suspense, all placed around the idea of a newspaper, but for that reason, it’s still entertaining and compelling to watch.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

James Bond was never this cheeky.

After a mission ends up disastrously and leaves a fellow agent dead, secret service agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) makes a promise to the man’s family, especially to the young baby, that he will look after them and be there when they need him the most. Fast forward a couple years later, and that baby, is now a young man named Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who has problems with his mom’s trashy boyfriend, the local bullies that seem to always be on his case about everything, and most importantly, the law. After landing himself in the slammer, Eggsy meets the man he met as a baby, who then recruits him for a secret training-session where he, and many others, will be fighting for the position of being a loyal, noble Kingsman. And honestly, the world needs Kingsmen more now than ever, what with millionaire tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) setting up an evil plan that threatens society as we know it. But with a bit of tuning-up and order thrown into Eggsy’s head, he might just be the one to stop Valentine, all before it’s way too late and there’s nobody left to save.

Matthew Vaughn makes fun movies. Regardless of whether or not you like those fun movies, it can’t be argued against that no matter what stories he decides to take, Vaughn always finds his own, unique way of electrifying them any way he can. That said, there’s a lot of people out there who just don’t care for his work – especially Kick-Ass. Though I quite liked that movie and felt like it was an honest superhero movie, where it seemed like there was no such thing with Marvel and DC hanging around, constantly trying to one-up one another, there’s plenty of people who don’t feel as I do. And that’s fine. I’m used to the rest of the world not agreeing with me on everything I believe in; it helps make me a lot more popular at parties, if I’m being honest here.

"Hey, thir. Nithe to meeth youthe."

“Hi, thir. Nithe to meeth youthe.”

But those who hate Kick-Ass, have to admit that Vaughn, for all that it’s worth, at least tried to spice everything up as much as he could. You could argue that he goes a tad bit over-the-top in certain instances and doesn’t really know whether he wants us to think of a situation as seriously as it’s intended to be, or just scoffed at and not taken seriously one bit, and I wouldn’t argue against you. But for some reason, Vaughn’s movies are fun and they hardly ever bore.

Which is sort of why Kingsman is a bunch of fun to sit back, watch and enjoy, even while stuff is constantly exploding and being shot at. The problems that seem to have followed Vaughn practically everywhere he’s gone in his career, where everything he features is so ridiculous and over-the-top, that it can’t at all be taken seriously, actually work quite well here. The whole movie, for what it’s worth, is essentially one big “yeah, whatever you say, bro” – scenes that seem so over-dramatic and nutty, are made a lot better by the fact that Vaughn has placed Kingsman in this world where everything crazy, is known to be as such. Therefore, rather than trying to explain it all for the people at home, the movie just lets us know right away that it knows it’s being ridiculous and allows you to make up your own mind as to whether you’re down for the ride, or not.

If you are, I can assure you, it’s a fun ride. If not, then piss off!

And that’s mostly where all of the fun can be had with Kingsman; it never wants to take itself too seriously to the point of where it’s dismissive of all its unexplainable, highly improbable acts that occur throughout, but it’s also never too goofy to where it turns into a parody of itself, or better yet, a Bond movie. In fact, if there was some problem to be had with this movie, it was that I felt like the humor didn’t constantly click as well here, as it does for a a movie from someone like, I don’t know say, Tarantino, or an earlier-version of Robert Rodriguez.

Those two film-makers have found their inherently genius ways of combining both bloody, shocking bits of violent, with subversive humor that clearly loves itself, but is also quite funny. No offense to Vaughn, because he clearly has a solid funny-bone located in his body, but he’s no Tarantino; he may be a bit better than Rodriguez nowadays, but then again, so is my dad when he’s had about four beers in his system. What starts out as a James Bond-ish parody flick, soon turns into it’s own comedy that sometimes hit, solely due to the fact by how knowing it is of all its ridiculousness, but then when it tries to sprinkle the funny throughout all of the in-your-face action sequences, it doesn’t always connect well.

Once again, that’s not to say that this movie’s action isn’t fun, or at least worth getting smiley-faced over – because it definitely. There’s actually one scene that takes place inside of a church that goes from normal, exposition-filled scene, to absolutely balls-out, wild and crazy action scene that goes nowhere you’d expect it to actually go to. It then ends in a shocking manner, but I won’t spoil it for you any of you here. I’ll just say that the movie is fun, just not as funny as it thinks it ought to be.

I’ll leave it at that.

"Daniel Craig? Oh, what a hack!"

“Daniel Craig? Oh, what a hack!”

Another element to Kingsman‘s success with most of this wacky material is that its cast is more than willing to commit whatever sorts of heinous it needs for them to do, and still be able to make it all cool with a smile or a smirk soon following. Colin Firth, in what seems like the role he’s been waiting nearly 30 years to play, gets a chance to show the world what it’d be like if he ever got the chance to play Bond, and it’s pleasant to watch. Of course, Firth’s charming and cunning as ever, but there’s also a certain bit of anger and aggression lurking beneath this character that makes you believe he’s a ruthless, sometimes toothless killer. When he’s called upon to act like so, that is.

Same goes for Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine, another pro who seems to be relishing in a role that he’s been wanting to play for some time now. You could say that Jackson’s doing an impersonation of Mike Tyson, what with the lisp and his goofy-demeanor and all, but there’s something more to this character that made him one step above most action-movie villains we normally see. He has an evil plan to get rid of most of the humans on the face of the planet, which is so that he can save the environment from turning on society and destroying Earth itself. It’s an evil plan, no getting around that, but it’s one that has some ground set in reality and for that, it’s worth noting.

The rest of the cast is pretty fine, too, with mostly everyone having a grand time with this wild material. Taron Egerton proves as a suitable protagonist with Eggsy, and gives us the impression that bigger, better things are to come of him; Michael Caine isn’t in this nearly as much, but is still such a class-act, that he brings plenty of dramatic-weight to any scene, just by showing up and doing his thing; Mark Strong, believe it or not, isn’t actually playing a lying, conniving, sniveling baddie like we’re so used to seeing him get type-cast as and it works well because the lad’s quite charming when he isn’t twisting his mustache; and Sofia Boutella, in a movie filled to the brim with male counterparts, somehow finds a way to stand-out as Gazelle, a bad-ass villain who has a set of deadly-pegs for legs and proves to be more deadly than Samuel L. Jackson’s actual, main villain.

You go, girl!

Consensus: Its tongue falls out of its cheek a few times, but for the most part, Kingsman: The Secret Service finds ways to keep things exciting and fun, even if it is completely over-the-top in ways you may not be able to imagine.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

One of these things does not quite look like the other.

One of these things does not quite look like the other.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Ties definitely have a lot more use than just making one look professional.

Young and ambitious English Lit. major Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) fills in for her roommate to conduct an interview with the young, brash and handsome millionaire that is Christian Grey (Jamie Dorman). The two have their interview and, believe it or not, hit it off quite well; so well, that Grey begins to start asking Anastasia out on dates that she can’t believe to be true. However, seeing as Christian’s a nice guy who means well, Ana decides that going out on a date with him wouldn’t be so bad. Then, she gets the idea to spend the night over his place and possibly even lose her virginity. That’s not so bad, either. But then, the tides begin to change when Ana realizes that there’s something creepy, even mysterious behind Christian’s persona; which, as a result, has something to do with the way they make love and whether or not Ana is willing to go through some of the more extreme prices she has to pay for Christian Grey’s price. But is it all worth it?

There’s something about Fifty Shades of Grey that seems a tad edgy, even by today’s movie’s standards. It’s an R-rated, mainstream flick that’s adapting some of the naughtiest, grimiest material that most house-wives read and fantasized about day in and day out. I’ve never read the original source material, but from what I’ve heard, I probably wouldn’t like it. Like, at all.

Hot.

Hot.

However, I’m not the target-audience for this movie, which is why it won’t just hit the top of the box-office by the end of the weekend, but might break all sorts of records in the process. Women from all over the world will be flocking to any movie theater they can find that’s playing this movie, which calls into question: Is any of it worth it? Well, like I said before about it being slightly edgy, especially so for a mainstream flick, there’s plenty of sex here. It’s an R-rated movie in that we see plenty of boobs, butt, bush, S&M, and plenty of spanking. But is it enough to warrant somebody’s undivided attention for nearly two hours? Especially when the main reason everybody is coming to see this for in the first place, only takes up about 20 minutes of screen-time?

Well, people, there’s such a thing as “hard R”, and then there’s such a thing as “soft R”.

And sadly, this adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey leans more towards the later.

However, don’t get me wrong, even though this material clearly isn’t made precisely for me, I went into it expecting anything to happen, both good and bad. Which, for the first half-hour or so, there was surprisingly more good than bad. Some of this, I feel, has to do with the fact that the powers that be behind this movie insistence on getting an unconventional choice of a director like Sam Taylor-Johnson to take over the reigns for this story.

Though Taylor-Johnson has only one film to her name (Nowhere Boy, which is pretty solid), there’s something here about what she does with this material that makes it seem like she actually cares how it looks and feels. There’s a certain airy-breath to this film that fits well with the Seattle setting and makes some of these scenes seem as hot and sweaty as they should be feeling right from the start. There’s one scene in particular where Ana and Christian are going over the paperwork for their upcoming escapades, and while this scene could have been as conventional as they come, Taylor-Johnson films it in a dark, somewhat eerie view that adds a certain layer of promiscuity to a movie that clearly is going for that as is.

Also, not to mention that Taylor-Johnson focuses long and hard enough on these two characters that we at least get some semblance of who they are as human beings, and exactly what they are when they are together. Maybe less so with Christian Grey (more on that guy in a minute), but it’s definitely the case for Anastasia Steele, who is probably made a lot better by the fact that she has the lovely, charming and vivacious Dakota Johnson portraying her. In case some of you out there didn’t know by now, Johnson is the daughter of both Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and while she may not totally look like her dad (thank heavens), it’s easy to see the similarities in terms of looks and the way she handles herself on screen, with her mommy.

But it should be noted that Johnson is clearly her own force of nature that seems like she could be as famous, if not more so, than her famous mom, because not only does she have the face a movie camera could love, but she’s able to make us, the audience, believe in every piece of sappy writing she’s forced to deliver here. On paper, Anastasia Steele is another boring, female character that falls for the hot, young, and rich dude that opens up her eyes to pretty houses, pretty cars, pretty parties, and most of all, pretty sex. And the fact that Anastasia is a virgin, makes it all the more nauseating to even type. But somehow, Johnson is a capable enough actress who is able to bring some semblance of humanity, or believability to this character that not only allows for us to sympathize with her every step of the way, but even wish she would just make the right decisions in life.

Once again, this role shouldn’t work, but she actually does, which probably has to do with Johnson’s well-done performance.

Hot.

Hot.

Now, as for the role in this movie that doesn’t work, it’s Jamie Dorman as Christian Grey, every girl’s favorite slap-happy millionaire. There’s a part of me that felt bad watching Dorman here; for starters, he wasn’t even the initial choice for this role, so already, my heart kind of goes out to the day. Second of all, he’s forced to work with an American-accent that he’s clearly not at all comfortable enough with. But then, the real problem is just that this role is way too dull; too much so for even someone like Dorman to take over and make better. Which, once again, makes me feel bad for the guy, because he’s definitely trying to bring out any shred of humanity to be found within this guy, but he’s as plain as a piece of plank.

Not to mention, the guy hardly gets naked. Like, at all. And while this may not be a problem for other heterosexual men out there, it is for this heterosexual man. No, it’s not because I want to see man-junk whenever the opportunity possibly arises itself, and no, it’s surely not because this past episode of Looking seemed to disappoint me. No, it’s more that when you have your female character getting spanked, licked, banged and kissed, and have her be full-on naked throughout pretty much all of it, and hardly ever dress-down her male counterpart, except to maybe show us his bum, or an ever so sudden bush shot, it goes from being hot, to downright distasteful. If one person is going to get fully naked in a movie about sex, then so should the other! Not this jeans-wearing crap!

But that’s just a little problem that only I may have, and if that’s the case, then so be it.

However, that’s not where the problems for this movie end, because as the story progresses and we’re supposed to feel all messed-up and emotional over what’s happening to our two lovers, it becomes obviously clear that maybe Taylor-Johnson herself got discouraged and just gave up altogether. The movie’s nudity isn’t necessarily safe, as much as it just becomes tiresome and boring, whereas it should be sizzling, hot and spicy, just about every time we see a body-part in all its naked-glory. The story also goes into some strange areas where it’s clear that they want to discuss what a hot-and-heavy relationship like this can do to one person who isn’t totally used to it, but all sorts of food-for-thought points the movie tried to make, go right out the window once we’re left with the same abrupt ending that Mockingjay: Part 1 gave us. And guess what? Just like that movie, we’re definitely getting a sequel, if not a few more.

Except that, this time, I’m not really looking forward to what’s coming next.

Consensus: Not as titillating, as much as it’s just boring, Fifty Shades of Grey shows early promise of being better than you’d expect it to be, but then turns for the worst once it becomes clear that this movie’s all about the thrusting, and less about the emotions. Sort of like how sex with me is.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Wow. Too hot.

Wow. Too hot.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Taken 3 (2015)

This family should just never step outside ever again.

After a few run-ins with foreign thugs, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) can finally sit back, relax, and soak in that his family, for once in what seems like an eternity, is safe and sound. His daughter (Maggie Grace) seems to be spending some lovely time with her new boyfriend (Jonny Weston), as well as getting an education in college; his ex-wife (Famke Janssen), is also currently dating (Dougray Scott), but doesn’t know whether or not she should take it to the next level; and there’s even a possibility of their being another member of the Mills family. However, that all goes away once Bryan’s ex-wife mysteriously turns up dead and, wouldn’t you know it, Bryan’s the one who is framed for it. Without standing by and allowing for himself to be wrongfully imprisoned, Bryan takes justice into his own hands, goes on the run, and does whatever he can to clear his name. That means kicking a lot of ass, questioning a lot of folks, and figuring out just who the hell is behind all of this. Also trying to do the same is Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), somebody who believes Bryan is innocent, even if he can’t fully prove it just yet.

"Act your age, missy!"

“Act your age, missy!”

Unlike everybody else on the face of the planet, I was never so hot with the Taken franchise to begin with. Sure, it was a neat concept – place an aging-actor, well-respected actor in an action-packed, take-no-names role and just let him be as menacing and scary as humanly possible. However, both movies hardly ever did anything for me. The first Taken was too serious for its own good, and if we’re being honest here, Taken 2 may have been a bit better for me, if only because it was absolutely balls-out wild and hardly ever made excuses for itself. Action movies that are like always win my heart, even if they do feature one of their characters throwing random grenades all over a city.

But hey, let bygones be bygones.

Now, with Taken 3, it seems like the franchise has finally hit its peak, or I guess, lack thereof. The story itself always showed signs of getting old, tired and stale, and that’s exactly what this movie proves as fact. There’s no real story here, except that Liam Neeson is on the run in a Fugitive-kind of way, where we’re left to sit back and enjoy all of the crazy, adrenaline-fueled close-calls he runs into to protect his life, as well as his family members. Honestly, it’s kind of a bore to watch, which shouldn’t at all be the case.

Some of that problem is due to the fact that the story just isn’t all that engaging to begin with, but it’s also because Olivier Megaton’s direction is constantly irritating. Rather than allowing for us to see how an action-sequence plays out, who is affected in it and why, Megaton feels the urgent need to shake the camera up all over the place, and cut every single shot that comes the slightest bit close to hitting four seconds. In a way, it’s almost nauseating and makes it seem like Megaton knows he’s not working with anything worth writing home about, so he just does whatever he can to distract us, in the most manipulatively obvious way possible.

Where’s Tony Scott when you need him?

Also, let me not forget to mention that this movie is PG-13 in the worst kind of way possible. People get their throats slit, shot in the face, blow-up in car accidents, stabbed in the abdomens, and so on and so forth, and there is absolutely no blood to be found. I get that the powers that be behind Taken 3 wanted to appeal to a larger-audience, so rather than scaring the hell out of anyone who wanted to have a good old time at the theater and not think of the harsh consequences for such violent acts as these, they wanted to soften it all up, without showing any sort of ketchup whatsoever. Like with Megaton’s direction, Taken 3 is made solely to distract you from the real problems that may be lurking within the movie itself and rather than being sly, or even coy about it, it’s easy to pick apart every little problem it has, which makes it all the easier to see why this trilogy needs to end, and end now.

"Excuse me, miss? Have you seen my agent anywhere? They seriously need to be fired."

“Excuse me, miss? Have you seen my agent anywhere? They seriously need to be fired.”

Which is definitely a shame because this is the same franchise that helped re-invigorate Liam Neeson’s career. Say whatever you will about these movies, without the first Taken, we wouldn’t have the Liam Neeson we see and sometimes love, in today’s world, had it not been for the unpredictable popularity of that movie. It helps that Neeson brings some gravitas to this role and allows for Bryan Mills to feel more of an actual, living, breathing human being who also just so happens to be able to karate-chop people to death. However, here, in his third-outing as this character, Neeson seems tired and, dare I say it, bored. And he definitely should be. The guy’s had some of his best roles in the past few years, with a lot better movies, and from what it seems, there’s only more of them to come.

So, people, whatever you do, don’t feel bad for Liam Neeson. The dude’s going to be mighty fine for many years to come.

The ones who you should probably feel bad for are the likes of Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, and new-to-the-franchise Dougray Scott. Because, honestly, I don’t know if either of these three are going to get anymore shots at glory like they have with these movies. No offense to Grace, but she’s never been the best actress for this role (especially considering she’s always looked 30, whenever she was supposed to be roughly around 17 to 21), and here, those problems show. She’s got at least one look on her face throughout this whole movie and she wears it to a T. Though I can’t say much about Janssen, due to the fact that she dies pretty early on, the relationship she has with Bryan borders on being friendly, to downright four-play and it makes you wonder whether these two are going to just let all of the bullshit go away and bang, right here and now. That’s the movie I would have liked to see, but sadly, didn’t. Oh well.

Then, of course, we have Dougray Scott, who has actually been pretty good in past movies, but is pretty terrible here. He’s forced to do some sort of American-accent that does not at all work one bit for him, and his character is so clearly not who he says he is at first, that when we eventually get to see some of his true colors come out, it’s no surprise to us whatsoever. And as for Forest Whitaker, he’s just here to service the plot, occasionally dueling out a nice bit of charm here and there. But mostly though, he’s left to just eat bagels.

And there’s your sales-pitch, everybody.

Consensus: With hardly any story to work with, Taken 3 is a relatively boring, aimless piece of PG-13 action, where people practically get beheaded, and there’s not so much as a pint of blood to be found.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

It's okay, Liam. Just get rid of it and let the good times roll.

It’s okay, Liam. Just get rid of it and let the good times roll.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Maze Runner (2014)

Mazes usually aren’t this complicated. Just ask Jack. Oh wait, don’t bother.

For no reason whatsoever, 16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is woken up by a loud bang and finds himself on an elevator that leads to a place he has no idea about. He’s in total and complete confusion, but the people that he meets when he gets to the top (all young males) have a good idea of who he is, what he’s doing here, and just what sort of environment they’re in. According to some of the “villagers”, after society broke down, they were all knocked out, had most of their memories erased, and left to complete a gigantic, seemingly never-ending maze that whoever in charge, created for them to complete. Problem is, the maze is incredibly deadly and almost nobody who has gone into it, has came back out alive. And even if they have, they have no idea of just how the hell to get to the end of it. Basically, it’s task to difficult to accomplish; a reality that some of the villagers have accepted and are absolutely fine with. Thomas isn’t and he decides to take it upon himself to try whatever he can to finish the maze, even if he has to risk his own life.

Another year, another handful or so young adult adaptations.

Not Katniss.  Hell, he's not even Tris. Just a boring bro.

Not Katniss. Hell, he’s not even Tris. Just a boring bro.

Typically, this is a remark made by older folks such as myself and with good reason – ever since Twilight ruled the box-office and ushered in a new kind of audience that could not be messed with, there’s been an endless supply of similar movies that cater to practically the same audience, old heads be damned. While these films can sometimes be great and reach more than just their target-audience (the Hunger Games), and sometimes, can just seem like carbon copies of better-told stories to come before them (Divergent and the upcoming sequel, Insurgent), there’s no denying that we are on YA-overload and eventually, the tower will come tumbling down, destroying just about everything and everyone in it’s path.

But until then, we’re still subject to movies like the Maze Runner which, believe it or not, isn’t as bad as the rest of the batch of YA adaptations have been. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect, but given that the story seems to be basically the Hunger Games, with a tad bit of an indie-twist, there’s both things to credit, as well as discredit.

Let’s start off nice with the giving of credit where credit’s due, and that’s to director Wes Ball who, surprisingly, was given this as his directorial-debut. It would seem almost too risky for a large company such as 20th Century Fox to put all of their hopes, dreams and aspirations on a first-timer like Ball, but the risk is actually greater than the reward, because without trying to do much at all, Ball does everything that a story like this needs. Rather than giving us every bit of detail and information we need to know about this world that we’re thrown into, Ball keeps us in the dark as much as possible. Which is, yes, only fitting considering that the protagonist has the same thing done to him, but there’s something to be said for a director who’s not just making his mainstream debut, but his actual film debut.

Also, what seems to help, too, is that the world we’re set in and forced to believe in, seems pretty interesting. Because there’s no clear idea of what the hell is really going on outside the huge walls surrounding these characters, the ideas and possibilities seem endless. Sure, they could all eventually lead to being, yet again, another world where the evil grown-ups have taken over the world and are making the young whippersnappers something of their own guinea pigs, but for the time being, before that big reveal does, or does not get shown to us, what’s going on around these characters and this movie is totally up in the air. It’s mysterious, but cool. And Ball seems to really relish in screwing with us.

That is, until he isn’t allowed to do that anymore.

See, around the half-way mark, we are of course then thrown into the actual maze itself and while I won’t spend my time spoiling each and every bit of it, let me just say that it’s pretty uneventful. All of the mystery that was surrounding this movie so effectively, totally fades into the air once we’re treated to the sight of spider robots.

You heard me right, people. Spider fuckin’ Robots.

"Men! Let the battles for loss of our virginity begin!"

“Men! Let the battles for loss of our virginity begin!”

I have yet to read the Maze Runner novels (and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever get to reading them, if we’re being honest here), but regardless of whether or not these spider robots are actually in the source material, it calls into question whether anybody involved with thinking of worthy enough antagonists were even trying. Sure, they may be huge, tactical and deadly, but what purpose do they serve, other than to just stand in the way of our protagonists and their ultimate goal of freedom, or whatever? It just seemed goofy to me and ultimately, had me lose interest, just when it seemed like the movie should have grabbed me by the throat and forced me to stick with it every turn it made and every dead-end it hit.

And of course, the half-way point is also when the plot’s cracks begin to show, especially once an actual female jumps in and messes with all of these masculine dude’s heads. Right? I mean, you’d think that with all of these adolescent boys being forced to hanging around members of the same sex, day in, day out and with no promises made about ever a female ever again, that when one would practically fall into their lap, they’d go a little wild over here? Better yet, you’d assume that there would be extreme battles-to-the-death where the last man standing, got the girl and got to repopulate the rest of society (as creepy as it may ultimately have been when a sister and a brother were forced to do the same thing)? Well, honestly, that’s a bit risky and I don’t blame 20th Century Fox for not going with that angle. Heck, even I wouldn’t go with that angle if I was making that sort of movie, for a different crowd, with a lot less money handed to me.

But hey, we dare to dream, folks.

Consensus: A certain air of mystery that surrounds the Maze Runner‘s universe is what makes it so interesting to watch and keep track of, all until the actual maze comes into play and things get pretty dull, predictable and similar to so many other movies released in the past few years.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Inside lies something bad and dangerous. Right, guys?

Ehh. Seems pretty easy.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Voices (2015)

Cats are evil, we all know that. But dogs? Never!

Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is an upbeat, happy-going dude who lives his life with his dog, Bosco, and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. He works at a bathtub factory, is generally liked by his co-workers, although some of them feel he’s may be a tad on the off-kilter side, and normally has a chipper-look at the world around him, as morbid and dark as it may be out there sometimes. Oh, and he talks to a psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) so that he can stop talking to Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. Forgot to mention that little piece of info? Well, sorry. Because, believe it or not, Mr. Whiskers and Bosco actually talk to Jerry; Bosco is obviously very loyal to Jerry and wants him to do the right thing always, whereas Mr. Whiskers is constantly pissing and crapping everywhere, that is, when he isn’t telling Jerry to kill people, just because he can. Normally, Jerry doesn’t listen to Mr. Whiskers, but now that he’s stopped taking his pills and has recently fallen for a co-worker of his (Gemma Arterton), things may now change and Jerry may finally give in to Mr. Whiskers all along.

It’s hard to take a premise like this at all seriously, which is why, for the first hour or so, the Voices is an odd, but wacky hybrid of a movie; one that clearly doesn’t need a few big names attached to it to help it get attention from the curious ones out there, but it also doesn’t hurt much, either. And with that said, I think now is a better time than ever to jump right into one of the main reasons as to why the Voices works as well as it does: Ryan freakin’ Reynolds, people.

The look of someone who has done one too many studio movies and it's time to gut them all away. So to speak.

The look of someone who has done one too many studio movies and knows that it’s time to gut them all away. So to speak.

I’ll admit it, I gave up on Ryan Reynolds a bit back in the day. When 2013 came around and Reynolds himself not only had two box-office bombs, but had them in the same weekend, there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that no matter how charming this man can be, no matter how much promise of something deeper, far more interesting may appear in brief spots, Ryan Reynolds movie-career would be doomed. Sure, he would still have Blake Lively, his good looks, and possibly even his rockin’ bod that many women, even til this day, still fantasize over, but Ryan Reynolds, no offense to anyone else out there, isn’t getting any younger and because of that, it seemed like Ryan Reynolds, the movie star, was over and done before he could ever fully get off the ground and running.

However, as 2015 shines upon us, it seems like Reynolds’ career is singing a different tune – rather than trying to be anything like the next big movie star that this world has ever seen, Reynolds is, instead, challenging himself as an actor and less of a hot-guy-with-a-sense-of-humor. Nowadays, Reynolds wants to show the world that he’s got plenty of talent to put to use and because of that, we’re treated to one of his best performances in the longest time, as Jerry Hickfang. It’s not a role that many would expect for Reynolds to take – on paper, Hickfang is a weird guy, but seemingly harmless, all because he’s dorky in his own way.

But as time progresses in this movie and we realize that there is something very dark and disturbing brewing inside of Jerry, we see Reynolds’ true charm come out in full spades. This can definitely be attributed to the script for allowing a character like Jerry to have at least some semblance of humanity, even amidst all of the nonsensical blood-shed and murder, but it can also be attributed to Reynolds for not letting us lose sight that this is a seriously messed-up individual who needs to be put somewhere safe and relaxing, where he can be cooped-up for the rest of his life without ever putting other people’s lives into harm’s way.

It is dramatic, you can say, but the tone is so strange here, that it actually works; not to mention that Reynolds is game for wherever this movie seems to take him and Jerry next. There’s more to this Jerry character than just a goofy simpleton who loves everything about life, even if he is a little crazy. And yet, it’s still hard to get past the fact that every chance Jerry gets to be endearing with his silly ways, Reynolds milks it for all that he’s got. The guy may be able to charm the socks off of Queen Elizabeth in her prime, but here, as Jerry, he’s charming in a different kind of way; one that’s a lot more sad and makes you want to give him a hug and let him know it will be alright in the end.

You know, even if it isn’t.

Who doesn't want to wake up to this for breakfast every morning?

Who doesn’t want to wake up to this for breakfast every morning?

As great as Reynolds is, though, the movie still has its fair share of problems and some of that can be seen with the final-half which, like I’ve mentioned a bit before, isn’t like the first-half all that much. Sure, there’s plenty of killing, blood and gore, but the dark comedic-tone isn’t fully there like before; which isn’t to say that there always has to be, regardless of what’s actually going on in the movie. When a movie decides to turn the other cheek and get serious with itself, it isn’t a problem, so long so as the movie doesn’t fully lose its identity in the process.

Here, with the Voices, I felt like that actually happened – the laughs come very few and far between, certain characters start acting like they wouldn’t have earlier, and we’re left to focus on more action, rather than any actual humor. The movie didn’t need to be hilarious about the whole way through to make me pleased, however, what it did need to do was stay true to itself. You know, sort of like Jerry – a messed-up individual, for sure, but one who isn’t pretending to be something he’s not.

He is, what he is. For better, and definitely for worse.

Consensus: Though it peers off into far more serious territory, with less than stellar results, the Voices still has enough joy basking in its inappropriate, but fun plot, that is made all the better by one of Ryan Reynolds’ best performances in a long while. Let’s hope this is a sign of beautiful things to come.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Listen to the cat. Always. Listen. To. The. Cat.

Listen to the cat. Always. Listen. To. The. Cat.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Nowhere Boy (2010)

Everybody has mommy-issues. Even iconic musicians.

Before he was shot and killed in 1980, John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) was a young, rebellious teenager like you or I, but he had one big problem: He had no idea who his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) was. From what he knew, she was a woman who had him with a marriage that fell-through, the father left her, and backed the mother so far into a corner, that she had to get rid of little John, and give him away to his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Mimi has been taken care of John for the longest time, ever since he was 5 to be exact, however, after a recent tragedy hits them both, John realizes that his mother is not only still alive, but lives right by his home. John, obviously out of a state of curiosity, decides to visit her and hang out with her, listening to rock n roll music, smoking cigarettes, getting to know his step-sisters, learn how to play the guitar, and skip school. This does not sit well with Mimi, but has John gone on too far to where he doesn’t know who’s right for him, or what for that matter?

Most frown upon this fact that I hold very near and dear to my heart: I am not a huge fan of the Beatles. Don’t have me mistaken, I do appreciate all that they have done for the art of music and consider one of them the biggest influences of all-time, but can I really call myself “a lover” that needs to hear at least one song from each and every album at least once or twice a day? No, not at all. However, I understand their influence to many other bands/musicians out there, which is enough for me to give them the duty and respect they so rightfully deserve.

All that said, I didn’t really find myself caring to see this biopic too much. One reason had to do with the fact that it was about John Lennon and John Lennon only, but also about a part of his life that wasn’t about the Beatles or making music all that much. Instead, it was more about the parental-issues he had growing up as an adolescent in the 50’s, which didn’t really pique my interest as much as it may have done for Beatles fans.

The oddest son-mother-aunt love-triangle I have ever seen, if there ever was one.

The oddest son-mother-aunt love-triangle I have ever seen; if there ever was one.

However, I am a fan of film, especially when they’re done as well as this one, which is why I’m not all that surprised I liked what I saw, despite the subject-material.

On paper, it’s nothing new or out-of-the-ordinary that you haven’t seen done a hundred times before: Boy goes through angst, finds his real mother, gives his adoptive mother a hard time, begins to act out, do/say stupid things, and eventually come have it all come together in a way that’s pleasant and used more as a learning-piece for the rest of his life. However, this tale has the gimmick of being about a younger John Lennon who, not only was more rebellious and snobby than some might have expected the lovable, hippie/peace-maker he would later be in life to actually start off as, but was also just like you or me, except probably had more problems going for himself. Which, as said as it to say, does work in the film’s advantage because it shows what a sad kid he grew-up as, but yet, found solace in such pleasurable activities like playing guitar, listening to music, dancing, swearing, smoking, and having a shag every once and a lucky night. See? Whoever thought that Mr. Lennon himself could be such a little d-bag when he was younger, but also a kid who was getting the grasp of the world, right before he had that said world in the palm of his hands.

Then again though, this flick is more about John’s life before the Beatles broke big, and the low-key approach works. Director Sam Taylor-Wood doesn’t offer anything new or fresh to bring to the familiar-tale of biopics, but that’s fine enough since she doesn’t get in the way of the material, it’s heart, or it’s performers. You can tell that she cares enough for John’s story that she doesn’t allow for it to fall down the conventional path of being too melodramatic, or too subtle. She gets the job done right there in the middle, and it works by not only showing and getting us ready for what was going to shape the rest of John’s life, but why it mattered. The man had a brain in his head, and used it to bring pleasure and happiness to many others out there in the entire globe. That’s the beautiful thing about music, and it only helped that John had a voice and a mind that was worth taking a peek at here and there.

Remember how I said I wasn’t a fanboy? Well, I’m still not. But I like John Lennon. Is there any problem with that?

In fact, some of the worst parts of this movie come from when they give little mentions and nods to the future that was going to consist of what some say, “The Greatest Band of All-time”. Despite not being a full-on lover of the Beatles, I could still touch on some references (because I do love music, as well as movies), and more or less, they seemed cheeky and coy, rather than meaningful to the story or the plot. There’s a lot of discussions about getting “a band” together and there’s some music-playing, but nothing to where this feels like it’s really exploring the music or the material that went into it, and more of just the person who wrote it most of the time. It’s fine to do that with a biopic about any person, it’s just that Taylor-Wood was so obvious with her musical-segues, that it seemed like she seemed obligated to have some music in there so not everybody will be pissed that they didn’t hear “Hey Jude”, despite it being released in ’68, way after this movie ends.

"Uhm, mom? You know there's more room on the other couch over there?"

“Uhm, mum? You know there’s more room on the other couch over there?”

Where the film does pick up and keep you interested is in the real life characters themselves, and the actors playing them. Aaron Johnson (who is now Taylor-Johnson apparently, shacking up with the director) does not look a lick at all like John Lennon, younger or older, but he makes up for that in the way that he’s so good at playing a young dick that it’s easy to forget obvious problems here and there. First of all, most of the performance consists of him looking mad, sad, or on the verge of breaking every valuable-item in whatever room he’s on, and secondly, his accent does drop in and out. However, the kid is good in this role and feels like a young dude, just trying to get ahold of whatever the hell is bringing him down so much in this world, while also being able to express himself in a way that the rest of the world can feel the same pain he went through as well. In that regard, Johnson is great and does well, even if the material doesn’t really ask him to go above and beyond the standard of what we think we know of John Lennon, especially when he was just a young prick.

The one’s who really get to stretch out their acting-muscles are Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff, who both play different versions of mommy to John’s little, pained-child. Thomas is great in this role as Mimi considering she always seems like she has a stick up her ass and never wants it to leave. However, you can tell that she cares for John, wants nothing but the best for him, and loves him endlessly, even if she has a hard time of showing it in the type of way he wants. Then again though, I think anytime you put Thomas in a movie, doesn’t matter which one it is, she’s going to give you some great work, so it should come as to no surprise here. The one who really shocked the hell out of me here was Duff, who gives Julia a longing-sense of frustration and regret as well, but likes to hide behind the facade of hers where she’s still young, wild, and crazy, as if she were a teenager once again. There’s some odd scenes between her and Lennon, where it feels like she’s a little too close for comfort, but together, they hold their ground and keep this mother-son relationship understandable and emotional, despite getting a tad creepy at times.

Consensus: Many who love the hell out of the Beatles and want to hear more of their music, will be very disappointed with Nowhere Boy, as it’s more of a biopic on the younger-life of John as he struggled, came to terms, and tried to understand the world he lived in, no matter how much pain and heartbreak it was full of, and it’s mostly all engaging.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Hate to say it, but right here is the beginning of the end.

Hate to say it, but right here is the beginning of the end.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

Dude, you’re married to Rosamund Pike. How much more happiness do you seriously need?

London psychiatrist Hector (Simon Pegg) feels like his life isn’t as fulfilling as he would like for it to be. Sure, he’s got a nice job, a nice house, and an even nicer wife (Rosamund Pike), but for some odd reason, he feels like that there’s something more to his life. And if he doesn’t find out what that is, he won’t fully be happy. So, of course with the permission of his wifey-poo, Hector sets out an globe-spanning adventure that takes him all around the world and allows for him to meet some of the most interesting people he’d never have the chance to meet, had he stayed in his boring, posh life in London. However, whenever one travels to a new place that they’re not quite familiar with, they of course run into certain problems with people who don’t take too kindly to tourists – aka, exactly who Hector is. This leaves Hector in many life-or-death situations where he has to take into consideration that sometimes, the life you’re dealt, isn’t so bad at all. So stop whining!

Most of the reviews I’ve read for Hector and the Search for Happiness have been basically calling this, “the indie Secret Life of Walter Mitty“. And while that’s not entirely incorrect, it’s still ill-advised for someone who was actually a fan of Ben Stiller’s piece (such as myself); while the movie wasn’t perfect, there was a certain layer of sweetness that helped the movie get by some of its more dodgy spots. Not to mention, it also had me look at Stiller, the director, in a different light than ever before.

Such an adventure ahead of him. And yet, I could care less.

Such an adventure ahead of him. And yet, I could care less.

But that’s besides the point because Mitty is definitely a better movie than Hector, which isn’t to discredit the later’s leading-man at all. In certain aspects, Simon Pegg is a lot charming and lovable than Stiller, but for some reason, he’s absolutely insufferable here. Pegg’s not doing anything different from what we’ve seen him do before, but the character of Hector, is so dull and thinly-written, that there’s a certain feeling of anger I began to feel with this character. He’s already a whiny mope as it is, with practically everything one could want in life, and yet, he still finds enough time to piss and complain about it, acting as if there’s more to life than living in upper-class society.

Just saying, bud, but many people would be happy to live the life you’re living.

So yeah, already this movie’s not working for me, and then, the plot continues on and once I realize that everywhere Hector goes to, he’ll be involved with some sort of life-threatening situation, my interest was lost. Not only was it unbelievable that Hector himself would just randomly get thrown into these deadly situations for no reason or another than to move the plot along, but the movie never treated them as seriously as they should have to really make it feel like, holy crap, Hector could literally die, right in front of our faces, and we’d be spending the rest of the day in absolute shock and despair. But nope, instead, the movie cracks a smile, even when there’s an AK-47 directly staring them in the face.

For instance, take the whole sequence in the later-half when Hector ends up in Africa – a region of the world that movies such as these love to show as desolate, crime-ridden war-lands. Without getting into the intricacies of what lands Hector there in the first place, basically, he gets kidnapped and taken in by a bunch of thugs, where he is then imprisoned, questioned about his recent whereabouts, and threatened with death, so much so that he’s actually thrown into an execution position. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sort of stuff is not funny. Just go on LiveLeak and you’re bound to find plenty of real, downright disturbing videos of the same thing happening to someone, for no reasons whatsoever.

You're leaving that at home?!?!?

You’re leaving that at home?!?!?

However, the movie thinks differently. Much rather, it thinks that coming close to executing someone is rich with humor, so they treat it as something of a joke. As a result, too, Hector himself does the same and spends the rest of the movie acting as if it had never happened; as if, oh, well, you know, it was all a pure coincidence that was meant to happen so that he could understand and appreciate life a whole lot more. Being dumped by my girlfriend and being kicked out of my apartment has me understand the meaning of life, as well as appreciate it a whole heck of a lot more, and that’s about it for me. I don’t believe I need to be blind-folded, kidnapped, threatened, and have a gun pointed in my face to make me think that.

But hey, that’s just me. I’m not Hector and thank heavens for that.

Basically, in case you haven’t been able to tell already, there’s not a lot going for Hector and the Search for Happiness. There’s hardly any comedy to be found whatsoever (even though the movie insists that there actually is), the melodrama is suffocating, and the message, isn’t just obvious, but ludicrous, especially when you consider all that Hector, the character, had to go through to get to that point in his life. The only moments of actual entertainment that can be found within this movie is whenever some odd-ball from the supporting cast shows up, and even then, they clearly seem to not have much to work with. The only one I can think of off the top of my head that really left any sort of impression whatsoever was Christopher Plummer and even then, I still wondered whether somebody shot him with tranquilizers beforehand to make him numb to the utter garbage he was forced to deliver.

Nobody should have to deliver this junk. Not Christopher Plummer. Not Simon Pegg. Not anybody.

Consensus: Everywhere it goes, everyone it meets, everything it experiences, Hector and the Search for Happiness wants you to enjoy the ride with them, but instead, it’s the kind of trip you wish you took alone, with no annoying Brits found anywhere in sight.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Drink up, Simon. And save me some. By the end of this, we'll both need it.

Drink up, Simon. And save me some. By the end of this, we’ll both need a few.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Sorry, aliens. But Earth is kinda lame.

Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) wakes up at 4:30 in the morning, only to then get to her job where she scrubs toilets for a living as a maid. It’s not an ideal life, but it’s the one she was handed. Which is why when she hears that she is, according to a galactic family, the powerful mother of Earth, she’s excited. Confused, but excited nonetheless. However, her excitement dies down once she relies that one of the members of the galactic family (Eddie Redmayne) wants her dead so that he can take over Earth and be the most powerful member of his family. Jupiter should have no fear, though, because a genetically-spliced ex-military member named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) comes to the rescue with his anti-gravity boots and all. So now, it becomes clear that Jupiter’s life is in danger and that Wise is there to protect her life so that she can reign supreme as Mother Earth, but there’s more political back-stabbing going on behind her back and, even if she doesn’t know it yet, her life still is in danger, no matter what.

There’s a problem with this plot that’s hard for me to fully out-line here. Not because I don’t want to give any of its juiciest secrets away, but because I myself sincerely haven’t the slightest clue as to what was really going on in this film half of the time. Sure, it can be somewhat simple to just label down the “baddies”, from the “goodies”, and work from there, but there’s a bigger problem with Jupiter Ascending that makes it feel like maybe the the Wachowskis were fighting for something a bit deeper here.

Something that yes, may definitely be relevant, but doesn’t quite work well for this movie in the long-run. Let me explain.

"Good evening, Jackie."

“Good evening, Jackie.”

We’re told to believe that Earth, as well as many other planets, are owned by a very powerful family; one that contains two brothers and a sister, none of which seem to fully get along well enough (sort of like real siblings). One sibling wants more control than the others, and because Earth is apparently the most prestigious planet to own, he goes for that one right away. Makes sense, but then the movie starts to get stranger and stranger as it runs along.

This is where I won’t spoil it for most of you out there, except to say that the Wachowskis, as much as I credit them with definitely thinking outside of the box here, as they often do, seem like they’re making most of this up as they go along. It’s hard to figure out who does what, to whom, for what reasons, and where, all inside this universe, which makes it more difficult to not only figure things out, but get invested in the story a whole lot more. There’s many scenes where the Wachowskis want the audience to get up, cheer and be absolutely shocked by whatever has just happened, but because the story is so all-over-the-place at times, it never clicks inside the audience’s head that, “Oh yeah! The good guy’s are winning! Woo-hoo!”.

I’m not saying that we need to be spoon-fed every single detail about a new universe we’re being introduced to, but it would help if there was just a bit more help in figuring certain things out about it.

That said, Jupiter Ascending is a pretty fun movie. Get past all of the problems with the plot and its mechanisms, and believe it or not, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Which is, yet again, much to the credit of the Wachowskis, because they always seem to know when the right time is to throw an action scene for good measure, wake its audience up, and keep them wanting more. Because not only does the movie look wonderful, but it also feels like its own kind of breed of sci-fi – sure, it’s confusing sci-fi, but it’s one of the rare sci-fi movies to come out in recent time where I didn’t feel like that they ripped so many other movies off, that it’s an absolute wonder how a bunch of lawyers didn’t get called-up.

The Wachowskis know better and for that, the movie moves at a steady-pace that keeps most of its plot easy-to-disregard, especially during the action-bits. One sequence that excited me the most was a high-flying chase in/and around the skies of Chicago, which apparently took six months to shoot, and with good reason. It seems like a lot of time was dedicated to this sequence looked, felt, and came off the screen, and same goes for the rest of the look of the movie.

Now, if only the Wachowskis paid as much as attention to their story, then we’d probably have a bigger winner on our hands here, but sadly we do not. Instead, Jupiter Ascending is serviceable at best. The Wachowskis have a weird, almost off-kilter sense of humor that sometimes translates well into their pieces (see Cloud Atlas), and sometimes doesn’t even show up (see Speed Racer), but here, they seem like they have the right fit for the tone; they don’t throw a joke in there for an easy-gag to liven everything up when it gets too serious. Because the world is as crazy and slap-dash as they created it to be, they’re practically given free reign to throw any wild gags at us that they want. Sometimes, it’s never clear whether the gags they present are meant to be taken seriously, but regardless, it’s always a joy to laugh, look and point at something incredibly ridiculous as this.

Seriously. Who comes up with that kind of stuff?

I am sworn to secrecy on whether or not this dude dies.

I am sworn to secrecy on whether or not this dude dies.

Speaking of such ridiculous-looking beings here, Channing Tatum is saddled with a goofy-attire as half-man, half-wolf and it actually works for him. This is probably because Tatum himself moves and jostles himself around with the same ability of a member of the wolf pack, but because his character seems like a true bad-ass. You can tell that the Wachowskis are going for some sort of Han Solo anti-hero with Caine Wise, and while he’s not nearly that interesting of a character, it’s still fun to watch as C-Tates flies through the sky on those anti-gravity boots, kicking ass, taking names, and still being able to charm even the most heterosexual man out of his boots.

But don’t be fooled, Jupiter Ascending is more of Mila Kunis’ movie than anything, and with good reason – the girl’s downright cute. Kunis’ character acts us, in that everything being taught to her, is being taught to us, as well, and she works well with that role; she’s easily relatable and feels like a normal human being, without being overly-annoying or surprised by this wacky world she’s thrown into. You could make the argument that maybe her character is a tad too comfortable with this new, crazy, and insane world she’s been thrown into, but it’s hard to have any problems with a character played by Kunis, which also made it better to see that she’s not the typical female you see in these kinds of movies. Sure, she needs the help of Caine Wise every so often, but for the most part, she makes her own decisions and, when push comes to shove, takes some matters into her own hands. Right on, girl.

The rest of the cast is an interesting ensemble, even if most of them feel as if they’re hamming it up for the rafters to hear. Oscar-nominated Eddie Redmayne gives a campy performance as Balem, the bad brother of the family that’s trying to go after Jupiter and feels like he’s been plucked right out of a drag show, and thrown right onto our screens, with perfect delight; Douglas Booth is another bro who may, or may not be a baddie, and the mystery surrounding him is a bit of fun; Sean Bean shows up as one of Wise’s old pals and confidantes, and feels like the rough and ragged dude who has seen, and done it all; and randomly enough, in what I’m sure was a role she did before her career was about to take off, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has a bit role as a kick-ass security-guard. It’s small, but man, it made me wish there was more of her to see.

Consensus: The overly-convoluted plot may be hard to get past, but as a sci-fi, action-thriller from the wicked mind of the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending is still fun and well-paced enough to make the two hours slip on by. Even if you’re still scratching your head by the end of it all.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Just imagine some Chris Brown playing in the background, and you're set, ladies.

Just imagine some Chris Brown playing in the background, and you’re set, ladies.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Guest (2014)

As long as they’re in the Army, let ‘em in! Or don’t. Actually, yeah. Don’t do that.

One day, completely out of the blue, David Andersen Collins (Dan Stevens) knocks on the Peterson’s front-door and tells them that not only did he serve in the Army with their deceased family-member, but that he was also there for said family-member’s final breathing moment. All David wants to do is stop by, pay his regards, and keep on moving to wherever the hell he’s going, but Laura (Sheila Kelley), the mother of the family, would like for him to stay. She clearly misses her son and if there’s anything at all close to him that she can still get, she’ll keep it for as long as humanly possible. So for awhile, David stays in the house, doing chores, keeping an eye on what happens to the younger kids in the house when they go to school, and overall, just being there to lend a helping hand whenever he’s needed. While the youngest (Brendan Meyer) clearly doesn’t have a problem with this, the older sister, Anna (Maika Monroe), clearly does and isn’t too sure whether she can actually trust David. And then she realizes something very strange about his past, and it puts his whole existence into perspective.

With You’re Next, writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard gave us a movie that lived, slept, and breathed the same air as an 80’s home-invasion flick. However, at the same time, it was still eerily present and because of that, it felt like something new, exciting and relatively original. Of course a good amount of the credit for that film working as well as it did was because of the unpredictable plot that kept on surprising us every step of the way, without ever throwing us down too many random hallways, but where it mattered most, Wingard and Barrett seemed to be making a movie that they clearly wanted to use as both as a tribute to the home-invasion thrillers of yesteryear. By doing so, too, they also made a near-perfect home-invasion thriller in its own right that people, like I imagine Barrett and Wingard were once doing, will be talking about for many, many years to come.

The Guest doesn’t quite hit that peak, but it does come pretty close at times.

Relax over there, ladies.

Relax over there, ladies.

As they did with You’re Next, Wingard and Barrett seemed to highlighting their love for “mysterious stranger” movies; ones where a random person shows up from out of nowhere, has an air of oddness about themselves, and also contain more than a few deep, dark, and dirty secrets that may, or may not make them a danger to whoever’s life they’re being thrown into. These are the kinds of movies that can go one way so cheaply and by-the-numbers, but with the Guest, Wingard and Barrett find a way to keep this tale moving, without ever seeming to focus on the constant cliches that usually make these kinds of stories such eye-rollers to sit through.

For instance, David Collins, the central character here, is an odd duckling, although he’s not really a cartoon. Sure, the guy gives off a strange vibe that makes you think he’s up to no good, but because Wingard and Barrett give him so many awesome scenes that high-light him as something of an endearing bad-ass, it’s hard for us to think of him as any bit of a baddie. There may be some underlining meaning behind the things that he does for this family, but whatever they may be, don’t matter because all we want to do is see him single-handedly get rid of all this family’s problems.

Dad may not be getting his promotion because of some young, hot-shot d-bag? Don’t worry about. Son continues to get picked-on by a bunch of the jocks at school? Once again, don’t worry about it. Daughter may have a boyfriend who is a bit of a shady character? Especially, don’t worry about. David Collins takes care of all these problems in his own manner, and while we want to think of all these scenes as obvious, Barrett and Wingard give them all a certain level of fun and electricity in the air that makes these tropes seem like something new, or better yet, cool.

And as David Collins, Dan Stevens gives off the perfect essence of cool, while by the same token, also has something weird and mysterious about him that we don’t know if we can fully trust. Being as how I’ve never watched a single episode of the Downton Abbey, I can’t really say I’ve ever seen much of a Stevens before, but now, that might change. The guy’s clearly handsome, but there’s something about that handsomeness that makes him almost deadly, which is why when the movie decides to have him turn the other cheek, it’s not only believable, but it allows for Stevens’ comedic-timing to really shine.

So conceited.

So conceited.

Although, the major problem I had with this movie mostly came from the fact that I couldn’t ever tell what this movie wanted to say about Collins, or how it wanted us to feel for him. First off, he’s obviously supposed to be the earnest problem-solver for this family, so of course we’re supposed to stand behind him and root him on. But then, the movie changes its mind about him and starts to throw in a convoluted back-story about his “time” in the army, which eventually brings in the government, SWAT Teams, and DEA agents out of nowhere. It’s crazy, sure, but it’s also fun to see, because you know Wingard and Barrett know better with this story then to allow for all of its wackiness to lead up to nothing.

Then again, though, it doesn’t seem like they want us to hate David Collins, either, even despite all of the evil, devil-ish acts he commits in the later-half. Maybe I’m looking a bit too deeply into this, but a part of me just wanted to know how I was supposed to feel about this guy and whether or not he’s the one I should rooting for. Clearly I wasn’t supposed to, but the movie had me fooled on maybe more than a few occasions and that was a tad disconcerting to me. Whereas with You’re Next, it was somewhat clear who we were supposed to stand behind, and who we were supposed to despise, but with the Guest, neither Wingard and/or Barrett can figure out who we’re supposed to love, and who we’re supposed to hate.

Anything in between is just strange. But maybe that’s just my problem and nobody else’s.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t quite reach the intelligent heights of You’re Next, the Guest is still fun, exciting, and a nice tribute to the kinds of movies that Wingard and Barrett grew up loving, and want to spin-around on their heads for the modern-day audience.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Wild Card (2015)

At least this one isn’t an English professor.

Nick Wild (Jason Statham) has a problem. It isn’t that he helps his friends too much, it isn’t that he takes odd-jobs that sometimes put his own life in danger, and it sure as hell isn’t that he likes to flirt with ladies – his problem is that he likes to gamble. A tad too much. And living in Las Vegas, that’s a bit of a problem. But now, Nick seems to have much bigger problems that concern an old lady-pal of his (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who was recently beaten-up, bruised, raped, and left for dead by some scummy, yet dangerous crime-lord, Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia). DeMarco packs a lot of heat and has a lot sway within the Las Vegas crime-syndicate, but he knows that he has to do the right thing and because of that, he decides to help out his old friend. Though, things go South and eventually, Nick finds himself running for his life and wondering where Danny’s going to turn up to get him next, or whether or not Nick’s going to be able to pull it altogether himself, either. Nick doesn’t know, but what he does now, is that he loves to play a simple game of Blackjack.

See, that's the eye I'm talking about!

See? That’s the eye I’m talking about!

The plot I decided to write there, may seem a bit jumbled-up and odd, but that’s my intention. See, for some reason, Wild Card has at least two or three different subplots going on within itself; none of which are really all that interesting to begin with, but they’re all given the same amount of attention that it makes it hard for me to get past not even talking about them at all. There’s a subplot concerning a young, wealthy dude, played by Michael Angarano, who Nick runs into business with, even though Nick knows full well that this kid won’t be able to handle the heat that comes from the mean streets of Las Vegas; there’s the gambling-addiction that I alluded to earlier; and there’s a whole slew of familiar-faces that pop-up here every so often, to give us the impression that they’re going to serve some real purpose to this story, except, don’t.

Instead, they shutter away and sink into the darkness that is this movie’s background. And it made me wonder, why? Why would one try to hide more scenes from the likes of Sofia Vergara? Or Anne Heche? Or Hope Davis? Or hell, even Jason Alexander? Stanley Tucci shows up here in what seems to be nothing more than an extended, yet totally glorified cameo, so I didn’t include him for that reason, and that reason alone, but as for the others, my head needs scratching.

It would make sense if someone like Sofia Vergara could only film a scene or two for the whole film, but if that is the case, then why give her something so useless and forgettable as what she has to do here? Vergara’s in the first five minutes of this and all she spends her time doing is looking scared, fighting with her boyfriend, giving Jason Statham “the eye“, and then, when all is said and done, gets in a car and drives off. That’s it. One of the biggest, most recognizable faces working in entertainment today, and you give her is a role that could have literally had zero dialogue and none of us would have ever known the difference.

But not using it’s ensemble to the best of its ability, isn’t Wild Card‘s biggest problem.

More or less, the movie felt like it was spliced and edited together by somebody who had a major dead-line and didn’t know whether he/she could get it done well enough in time, so they just put anything together, in hopes their bosses wouldn’t notice and the movie would make millions and millions of dollars, giving everybody everlasting happiness. That doesn’t happen here, but there are parts of this movie that work – if only because they actually feel more focused than the rest of it.

For instance, the movie tries to make it apparent to us that Nick Wild has a gambling addiction. He makes several allusions to that throughout, so that when he does eventually get on a table and start spitting out “stays” and “hits”, it makes sense for his character and makes the movie move a bit more. Then, you add on that with the whole subplot concerning Ventimiglia’s crime-lord character, and you have a solid crime-thriller on your hands. Not because this aspect of the film offers people getting sliced with cards and throat-punches, but because it actually felt right for this story, as well as the character who was given to us.

Enough with this mushy stuff!

Enough with this mushy stuff!

But then, for some odd reason, the movie does try to have its cake and eat it, too, which doesn’t wholly work. It gets over-packed for no reason, and feels like there’s a reel or two missing. For some people, the fact that it’s hardly even an-hour-and-a-half may be lovely, but for some, such as me, it feels like an under-cooked meal coming straight from your aunt’s house. Maybe there’s bits and pieces of Wild Card lying on the floor of some editing-room in the deepest, darkest movie-studios of the Earth, but without them, the movie feels incomplete.

That doesn’t make it bad, because with what it does have, it’s quite fun.

As I said before, whenever Jason Statham’s mouthing-off to people, or kicking their rear-ends, it’s always a good time. The guy’s incredibly charming and to see him lay waste to a bunch of baddies, is just a pleasureful sight. And heck, even when he’s gambling, the scenes are shot in a smart way that actually shows the cards being laid-out on the table, what Statham’s character does with them, and the end-result; whereas a movie like the Gambler, continued to jump away from actually giving us a glimpse at what was on these tables. For all we know, they could have been playing a game of Go Fish! Though neither movie is better than the other (and also, they’re quite different), there’s still something to be said for a movie that works at what it originally set-out to be.

Even if it continued to get further and further away from that end result.

Consensus: Messy and too short, Wild Card feels incomplete, but given that the movie offers more than a few solid action scenes that don’t just concern fists being thrown, then it still deserves credit for working well with one thing, while not fully excelling at the many other one’s it tries to go for.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

And more of this! Yeah!

And more of this! Yeah!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

Next time, when you’re making a film geared towards kids, go for a smaller, more comprehensible title.

On the eve of his 12th birthday, Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould), nothing seems to be going right for him. The most popular kid in his school seems to be planning on having his birthday party, the same day as he’s having his; his dad (Steve Carell) is out of a job and currently staying at-home to watch the young baby, who also won’t stop crying; his mom (Jennifer Garner) has a new book that’s about to hit the shelves and possibly break records; his older brother (Dylan Minnette) has prom and his driver’s test the next day, so of course, he’s being a jerk; and his older sister (Kerris Dorsey) is currently getting ready to take the stage for her school’s rendition of Peter Pan. Everybody’s getting on Alexander’s case and it seems like his days are just getting more and more bad as they go on. It’s getting so bad that, before he goes to bed, Alexander makes a wish that all of this bad luck for him would just go away. Well, the next day, guess what happens? It does! But somehow, it’s spawned-off to the rest of the family and it just continuously gets worse for all involved, in the worst possible ways imaginable.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

It’s difficult to make a family movie, that’s literally made for the whole family. Meaning, that while you don’t necessarily have to be catering towards the kiddies of the clan with fart, poop, and pee jokes, you also don’t have to make your humor so subversive for the grown-ups of the group, to where it’s almost inappropriate for anybody to watch, let alone, for family movie night. But also, in making sure that you’re both funny enough to appeal to all parties of the illustrious fam-squad, you also run the risk of actually being a mess of a movie that hardly anybody would be able to see or enjoy.

Somehow though, Alexander and… (I’m not going to list the whole thing, sorry), runs through that slippery-slope and lands somewhere in the middle. That’s to say that it doesn’t necessarily offend anybody, as much as it just offers little, short splices of adult-humor, amongst all of the crazy, wacky hijinx the non-stop barrage of slap-stick offers. This would usually bother the hell out of me, but considering the time-limit (just under 80 minutes), the family-feel nature of it, and the willing cast, I found myself more entertained and pleased than I would have wanted. Doesn’t mean the movies perfect, or without any types of flaws because it’s serviceable and nothing more, but that doesn’t also mean I should get on the movie’s case much either.

It’s simply not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings, so therefore, I’ll try not to do the same; even though, yes, I’ll probably fail.

Though it’s mostly filled with the same old “whatevers” you’d see in these kinds of family-friendly films, the one interesting element of this movie to note, was that Miguel Arteta directed this and, judging by his past-work, you would never know it. Arteta, if you’re a hip, fly and cool movie-watcher, is known for directing such comedy-based indies like the Good Girl, Youth in Revolt, and Cedar Rapids, and while I’d never call any of them masterpieces in their own rights, they’re still different than what I’d expect from him here. They’re all funny movies, but they’re also a tad darker and heavier on the drama than this movie here. Not to mention they’re also all rated-R, but that’s beside the point.

What I’m trying to say, is simply this: Miguel Arteta doesn’t make movies like this and that’s why it surprised me to discover he was the one behind this movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s interesting to see, because Arteta handles the material well; it’s quick, fast, and punchy enough to where the visual, slapstick-gags do their thing and while they may not always hit the mark, there’s not much time spent to think about or dell on them, so you just sort of just take them as they are. Slap-stick, when done right, can be downright hilarious and make me squeal like a 10-year-old girl, but if it’s done wrong, or better yet, too much, then it can sometimes be grating.

#Lolz

#Lolz

Here, the slap-stick continues to get piled on so much, in so many extreme ways because it’s ridiculous as is written – that’s the point. So, because sometimes the slips, slides, prat-falls, and embarrassing moments are so random, they’re actually kind of funny; they don’t need any rhyme or reason, and that’s where some of the fun lies. Of course, the movie tries to barrow itself down and hit some sort of message by the end, but by that point, I didn’t care how sappy it was. The first two-halves of it had entertained me enough to where the movie could have literally ended with them curing world hunger, and so long as they had at least a gag or two dedicated to Steve Carell making funny faces, then I’d have been totally cool with it.

Gosh, now that I think about it, why didn’t they do that? So many missed opportunities here, people!

And speaking of Carell, the dude is so earnest here, that even though the character he’s playing is a bit of a dork, there’s something so incredibly sweet and charming, that it hardly ever matters; Jennifer Garner isn’t my favorite actress, but she’s so down to do whatever the movie throws at her (sometimes, literally), I couldn’t help but respect her just a tad more than usual; Ed Oxenbould is in the typical “smart kid”-role, but the movie doesn’t constantly focus on him, so I was okay with that; and the rest of the cast, with what they’re given to do, all put in some funny moments that may have otherwise been forgettable, stupid and the exactly what this seems to be: A paycheck gig.

Albeit, a fun one where everybody involved seemed to actually be pleased to do.

Consensus: Typical family-fare, but Alexander the… is still charming, fast-paced, and funny enough to where it’s fun for the whole family, as well as for 21-year-old anti-social d-bags. You know, like yours truly.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!"

“Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Leviathan (2014)

In with the new, out with the old. Or something like that.

Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov) is a simple, care-free Russian citizen who is currently going through a problem right now in his life that he can’t seem to handle. A house that he built and has been living in since an early age, is now being threatened to be taken down by mayor Vadim (Madyanov), a crooked political-figure who wants the property so that he can set-up shop when he eventually becomes a bigger hot-shot in the world of politics. To ensure that Koila doesn’t lose his land, he calls upon an old army friend of his, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who is now a practicing lawyer and good one at that, seeing as how he believes that they have enough information to put Vadim away for a very long time. However, personal problems arise for both Koila and Dmitri that not only put their defense into jeopardy, but possibly even their friendship together. Especially considering that neither of them have seen each other in quite some time; who knows who’s changed? You know?

At the end of every year, there always seems to be a foreign film that, for some reason or another, is hardly ever heard from in the preceding 12 or so months, only to then pop-up out of nowhere on everybody’s radar and become the top nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. That’s not to say that these movies are bad, it’s just odd that there’s hardly ever been a foreign language film that’s been known to be so great and amazing throughout the whole entire year, only to then show up once again when the year’s over and become, what everybody assumes, the clear-winner for the Oscar. Maybe I’m stepping a bit too far beyond my reach, but whatever the case, Leviathan is not a movie I heard of at all, until mid-January, when it was all of a sudden on everybody’s radar to win the Oscar.

Cheer up, man. You're Russian and you're not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

Cheer up, man. You’re Russian and you’re not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

So yeah, if you’re a gambling man or woman, then yeah, I’d say that Leviathan is possibly a wise bet to take a chance on. That doesn’t mean it’s neither good or bad, as much as it’s just something that too often happens in the Oscar-race; some movies get submitted by their own, respective countries, whereas others don’t. Whatever the reasons for this problem may be, it doesn’t seem to matter right now; Leviathan is clearly the front-runner and so be it.

However, I’m not sure it deserves it.

What deserves to win in its place is totally up in the air, for now, but regardless, the fact is that I feel Leviathan does a lot of things right, but is ultimately, another down-beat, depressing and morbid tale that most Oscar-votes tend to lean towards because it focuses on the real, painful struggles that can be felt around the world. While the light, sometimes lovely comedies of the foreign-world get ignored because they’re simply “too optimistic”, downright sad dramas see all sorts of the light of the day. The past three winners were fine (A Separation, Amour, the Great Beauty) were fine, but once again, except for the later, most of them are another pair of upsetting movies made to shock audiences who don’t normally set-out to see foreign flicks on a regular-basis.

Anyway, I realize that most of my discussion is getting further and further away from the movie, but it’s just something I felt I needed to address. Because honestly, Leviathan is not a bad movie per se – it’s just a movie that clearly has faults that may definitely get overlooked in the following weeks to come. For reasons I’ve explained already and won’t bore you with anymore.

Where its strengths are in though, is maybe the first hour or so of itself. For instance, it starts off strong in introducing us to these characters, the situation they’re thrown into and what the main focus of this story is going to be. Though you could say the story isn’t necessarily limited in its scope, there’s definitely an idea that we’re going to focus solely on the rivalry between the mayor of this town, and this man who he has come into conflict. I was sold, hook, line and sinker with this plot-line and was definitely looking forward to where it all went next.

Most of this was probably because the characters were so strongly-written and performed, that I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. Because with these characters, you get real life human beings, chock full of their faults and all; but the movie hardly ever judges them for what they do, which is astounding considering what some of these characters do in the later-parts of this film. Take, for instance, Kolia, our main protagonist you could kind of say he is.

For starters, we get the impression that there’s something definitely deeply troubling this man. He can’t seem to hold himself together when it comes to his emotions, nor when he’s tossing vodka down his throat. Heck, one of the first glimpses we get of him is him whacking the back of the head of his son with hardly even a sense of remorse; it’s not just an element of parenthood he was probably raised on, but absolutely condones, seeing as how it’s made him out to be the man he is today, even if he doesn’t fully realize the error of his ways. But though he’s got his fair share of problems, there’s still an element of sympathy that’s felt for this guy because he is trying to keep his home, as well as his family-tradition, alive and well.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

In fact, much of this film is made to point out the problems between tradition, versus the modern-way of doing things. Whereas Kolia would probably partition for the local mom-n-pop store to stay open, the despicable mayor would constantly push and push for that Wal-Mart lurking down a couple of blocks to come in, sweep all of the smaller stores away, regardless of if they were up before, or for how long. The movie discusses this in a smart, intelligent-manner that can sometimes be a tad obvious, but feels important enough that it didn’t matter.

However, that all changes after awhile and it’s where the film seems to lose its step.

Because, without saying too much, the movie sort of switches gears to being less about this feud between the mayor and Kolia, and more about each and every character’s own problems with life. Some are happy; some aren’t; and some are just content to keep on going and going until they can’t any longer. Though this would normally interest me, had this been the original plan to focus on in the first place, it just doesn’t here. Not to mention that the movie seems to go on for another hour or so, with nearly three different endings, none of which seemed to fully satisfy the point it was trying to across in the first place.

So yes, the movie definitely gets muddled by the end and it’s a shame. Maybe it’s just me, but I was all for a lean, mean film about the battle between the small-time, local folk, against the large, rather powerful politician that was ready for a change, by any means necessary. Though I’m fine with a movie changing itself up to keep the story’s focus ever-changing, here, it felt more like a missed-opportunity. Sure, people are sad in their own little lives. So what? Do you have anything more to say than that? With Leviathan, it’s never clear. And maybe that’s the point.

Oh well. Time to go shopping at Target.

Consensus: Despite a compelling first-half that sets plenty of promise for what’s next to come, Leviathan sort of collapses on itself once it tries to handle too much, all at one time, further losing sight of what it was originally trying to say in the first place.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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