Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

Have a baby by one of them, and you’ll be a millionaire.

At 43, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is still up to her old bag of tricks. She’s now got a very nice job at a news station, but spends most of her time still counting her drinks, sleeping with random guys, and living it up like the good old days, not giving a care in the world about what anyone has to say about her, or what it is that she does. However, that all begins to change one day when she realizes that, surprisingly, she’s pregnant. Although, maybe it’s not all that surprising, considering that she not only slept with a random American she met a music festival named Jack (Patrick Dempsey), but also hooked back up with old flame, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Now, with the baby soon to be on its way, Bridget has to think and figure out just who the father is, or better yet, who actually wants to stick around with her and father the child, regardless of who’s it actually is.

To be honest, I saw the second Bridget Jones movie, Edge of Reason, and never got around to reviewing it for the sole sake that it was just an awful movie. The first had all sorts of fun, heart and charm to it that made it well worth the watch, regardless of if it was date night or not, but the second movie, if anything, just turned all of that on its head and showed us how an already grating character, can continue to be more and more annoyingly unsympathetic. It’s honestly not a surprise why it took so long for another movie to come out, but you know what?

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

It is is a surprise that this third, and quite possibly last, movie, is actually pretty good.

For the most part, what made the first such an enjoyable and relatively hilarious movie, is back this time around, as well as plenty of other things. There’s heart, there’s gross-out gags, there’s a lot of hard-thinking British humor, and most of all, there’s characters to actually care about again, or more importantly, Bridget herself. The second movie featured her up to all of her old tricks and whatnot and just didn’t work, but this time around, she’s back at it again, but with a different stance. This time, it seems like the movie is trying to say that at her age, it’s time for Bridget to finally grow up and accept her life for what it is.

Which yeah, of course means having a baby, but that’s why the movie actually works; it’s kind of silly and a little sit-com-y, but we know this character and already kind of love her to begin with, so why not throw a baby in the mix? While she’s been fairly M.I.A. these past couple of years, Bridget Jones’s Baby is the perfect reminder of why Renée Zellweger’s such a charming and radiant actress on the screen, when given the right material to play and joke around with. Sure, she’s not British and her accent is a little faulty at times, but you know what?

She got the role over a decade ago and more than made it her own, so whatever!

Oh yeah, next time, just give her the movie.

Oh yeah, next time, just give her the movie.

Playing the two hunks she has to choose from, Patrick Dempsey and the returning Colin Firth are both actually quite great and not necessarily the kinds of stiffs you’d imagine them as being. Dempsey’s Jack character takes a surprising turn about halfway through where you realize that this guy actually does have a heart and soul and may just stick around, whereas with Firth’s Darcy, he’s still the same old kind of straight-man that we expect to get from him, but with a short burst of energy of spunk to be found somewhere throughout. Both get enough development to show us why they may be the right fit for Bridget, which works because it makes the stakes seem much more important; in a way, it almost doesn’t matter who the actual blood-father is, as much as it matters just who wants to stay with Bridget and possibly raise the kid as their own, with her.

May not seem like it matters much, but in the world of rom-coms, where every plot is taken at such a superficial level, it does and helps make Bridget Jones’s Baby, while exactly what you’d expect having seen the first two, seem a tad more emotional. No, it may not make you sob or break down, but it may just have you happy to see this character and her adventures, once again, choosing between what kind of man she wants in her life, once again, counting the drinks that she has, once again, and yes, still sort of embarrassing herself in front of large crowds, once again.

It’s all familiar, but hey, who says familiarity has to be all that bad?

Consensus: While formulaic, Bridget Jones’s Baby is also a solid return-to-form for the franchise, featuring plenty of laughs and emotion to go along with the charming performances.

7.5 / 10

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Assholes Watching Movies

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Who needs powers when you can just be weird?

Ever since he was a little kid, Jake (Asa Butterfield) always got some of the best, most imaginative and crazy stories from his grandfather (Terrence Stamp). It’s helped Jake, as he’s gotten older, become more imaginative and creative, feeling as if there’s always something more out there in the world and not just what’s in the bright and sunny Florida suburb he and his family inhabit. However, when his grandfather mysteriously dies, Jake receives all sorts of weird clues, leading to a mystery that spans different worlds and times. Eventually, he and his dad (Chris O’Dowd) end up traveling to Scotland, to find this place called Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, even though everyone knows, Jake included, that the place doesn’t exist any longer and hasn’t been around since it was destroyed during WWII. But for some reason, when Jake shows up, he’s welcomed into the school, where everyone is alive and well, even if they exist in one, single time-loop, all taking place the day before they were blown-up in the war. Through Jake, the school has a newfound hope that they will be saved and not forced to spend the rest of their days in death.

Well, I guess this is the closest we'll get to a season four of Penny Dreadful.

Well, I guess this is the closest we’ll get to a season four of Penny Dreadful.

After Frankenweenie and Bright Eyes, it seemed like it was possible that Tim Burton would be back on-track. After literally a decade of ups, downs and in-betweens, it was weird, but I was actually getting somewhat excited for a Tim Burton movie, but why? Well, for starters, it seemed like Miss Peregrine’s was exactly the right fit for Burton’s style – people had been referring to it as “Burton’s X-Men” which, from afar, yes, looks exactly such.

But man oh man, how wrong we all were.

In a way, okay yeah, sure, Miss Peregrine’s is, essentially, Burton’s take on the X-Men tale, in that he takes a bunch of weirdly deformed characters and shows that they each have some special, or odd power. However, that’s about it. Everything else, from the story, to the pacing, to yeah, just about everything, is different, in that the movie is nowhere near as entertaining as it was made out to be, nor is it even close to being something worth watching.

For one, whatever interest Burton had in this story in the first place, is hardly anywhere to be found. If anything, it seems like there was some fascination with the characters, but when he got to the plot itself, which concerns time-loops, evil creatures, and WWII, then he lost all control. Needless to say, there’s a lot of exposition, but without any of it making sense or even meaning anything; there’s a lot of story to cover here, but what’s worse is that Burton never decides to actually make us understand it a bit clearer, or even bother to pick up some sort of pace to distract us from the fact that no, none of it matters.

Frederick Douglass, he is not.

Frederick Douglass, he is not.

Instead, we literally get a two-hour movie (that feels like four), that doesn’t make any sense no matter how long you think about it, a bunch of characters we never get to know over the course of the time we spend with them, and barely any signs of pure creativity or inspiration normally found in Burton’s other movies, even including the bad ones. The movie has a very dull and drab look to it, that even when Burton is trying to do something neat, or cool (like at the very end), it still doesn’t quite jump-off of the screen. It’s as if Burton himself had an idea of what he wanted to do and then lost total interest once filming actually got started. However, rather than backing out, facing a bunch of lawsuits and whatnot, he decided to take the movie on, practically sleepwalk through the whole thing, put it all together as best as he could, and yet, somehow, still make it his highest-grossing movie to date?

How the hell did this happen, people?

Regardless, none of this matters or gets away from the fact that Miss Peregrine’s is just a casually boring movie. Burton shows barely any signs of life that he cares and as much as its sad to say, it transcends over to the rest of the film. The cast, as talented as they may all be, don’t really seem to be giving it their all, either. Asa Butterfield is an incredibly dull leading-man, with an even worse accent; Chris O’Dowd is playing a born-Scotsmen who now lives in America, yet, has that terrible accent of his; Eva Green is vampy, as per usual, but it goes nowhere with how weak her character is written; Samuel L. Jackson shows up as the big baddie of the tale and seems like he’s having fun doing something slightly different, but also ends up going nowhere; and then others, like Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, and Judi Dench, all of whom are exceptionally great when given the chance to be, literally have nothing to do here.

Why are they here? Better yet, why did they even sign up? Maybe they’re missing out on something I don’t know about, but what I do know is that the finished-product of Miss Peregrine’s, is crummy and another sure sign that maybe, just maybe, Tim Burton may have to take another break.

Until Johnny calls him back up, of course.

Consensus: Slow, meandering and just plain boring, Miss Peregrine’s lacks any sort of creative imagination or fascination that’s usually seen with Burton’s other flicks, leaving us all to wonder why he even bothered in the first place.

4 / 10

Nope. Killer clowns are better and way cooler. Sorry, guys.

Nope. Killer clowns are better and way cooler. Sorry, guys.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Haters going to hate. So sing, girl!

It’s the 1940s and New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) dreams of becoming a great opera singer. Unfortunately for Florence, her voice isn’t all that great and if anything, is actually pretty terrible. Her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), knows this. The crowds she constantly plays to, knows this. Hell, everyone knows this. The only person who doesn’t seem to really know this in the slightest bit is Florence herself, which is why St. Clair does the best that he can to keep the truth away from her, so that she doesn’t lose all hope and give up her singing career. But it gets to be even more difficult for St. Clair when Florence decides to book a concert for Carnegie Hall, which leaves him clamoring to ensure that people don’t get in Florence’s way, as well as let her know that she’s quite rubbish when it comes to singing, actually. And while this may seem like it’s just a case of St. Clair performing his husband-like duties, it’s actually far more serious than that and brings into question what this performance for Florence means, after all.

Florence Foster Jenkins is perfectly servicable to any and all ages. Does that make it a great movie? No. Does that make it a bad movie? No. Does that make it a movie? Yes, it does.

It's true love, I think.

It’s true love, I think.

If anything, Florence Foster Jenkins is probably the perfect movie to take your parents, grandparents, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, godson, goddaughter, step-dad, step-mom, step-uncle, step-aunt, step-brother, step-sister, step-cousin, hell, even your freakin’ pet, to. Meaning it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t set-out to harm, kill, or even offend anyone, but it’s also the kind of movie that’s just there to please everyone it sees and if it doesn’t please you, well, then, I’m sorry, but you’re not living.

It’s that simple.

Anyway, what works best about Florence Foster Jenkins is that, yes, it can get a little schmaltzy, a little sentimental, and definitely a little cheesy, but you know what? It still kind of works. Director Stephen Frears seems to have two sides to him: The one side that makes dark, unforgiving and mean flicks (Dangerous Liaisons, the Grifters, Dirty Pretty Things), and another side that likes to make warm, heartfelt, and light flicks that casually bring smiles to people’s faces (High Fidelity, The Snapper, The Queen). Here, he’s clearly working in the later form and it’s quite alright; he tells a lovely little story, the way it deserves to be told; he’s not getting down on Florence, the person, nor is he really getting down on anyone else, for that matter. He’s simply telling the story and you know what? Having a little bit of fun doing so, too.

And he’s not the only one. Unsurprisingly, Meryl Streep is quite good in the title role, playing a character we want to laugh at and make fun of, but over time, we start to learn more about and actually care for. Streep has played a lot of characters over her long and storied career, but a part of me wonders if she’s ever played someone like Florence Foster Jenkins and it makes me happy to see her play around with this role, playing it a little lighter this time around.

"It says here that all you have to do is show up and that's it. You're nominated!"

“It says here that all you have to do is show up and that’s it. You’re nominated!”

Will she get nominated for an Oscar? Probably, but whatever. It’s Meryl Streep. That’s practically a given by now.

Hugh Grant is also great in the role as her husband, the cad-like fellow St. Clair Bayfield. Clearly, this is a perfect match for Grant and the guy has some fun with it, as is to be expected; we start-off kind of despising him for cheating on his sick and dying wife, but through time, we start to see that there’s a little more to him that actually does care and will do whatever he can to make sure that his wife goes out on top. Rebecca Ferguson plays his girlfriend of sorts and is pretty good, even if her role can’t help but seem like an add-on to a heavy list of characters, like Simon Helberg’s, or Nina Arianada’s. While all are fun and charming to watch, sometimes, it can’t help but feel a little over-stacked.

Still though, like I said, everyone’s having fun here and it’s not hard to have the same feeling when watching Florence Foster Jenkins. It never tries for hard, emotionally gripping drama, but it doesn’t try to be incredibly silly, either – it’s just the right amount of humor and heart that only someone like Frears could deliver on. It makes me happy to know that he’s still contiuing to make movies just about every year or so, even if, yeah, of course, there’s still a stinker to be found somewhere.

Looking at you, Tamara Drewe.

Consensus: Charming and sweet, Florence Foster Jenkins doesn’t aim for the stars, but doesn’t have to, either, with its good cast and smart direction.

7 / 10

"Come on, honey! Off we go to the Oscars, again!"

“Come on, honey! Off we go to the Oscars, again!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Little Men (2016)

Adults ruin all the fun!

After the death of his grandfather, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and his parents move into his apartment complex in Brooklyn. There, he meets Tony (Michael Barbieri) a young Hispanic kid who shares the same fun interests that Jake does and also happens to always be around the area a whole lot. It’s a solid friendship that’s built mostly on their shared love of video-games and acting, but beyond them, there’s something far more serious going on. Jake’s parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), have inherited mostly all of what the grandfather had, including the thrift store located underneath them. The thrift store is currently being run and maintained by Tony’s mom, Leonor (Paulina Garcia), who seems perfectly comfortable with her business, even if she knows that her time is going to be quite limited there, what with rent getting higher and higher in the area. Now feeling the push from Brian to pay the necessary amount of rent to stay, Leonor starts to pull Tony further and further away from Jake, leading to the boys giving their parents the silent treatment, as most kids their age are perhaps most known for doing.

"I stubbed my toe!"

“I stubbed my toe!”

The best thing about Little Men is that writer/director Ira Sachs, who I’ve never been quite a huge fan of, never seems to judge a single person in this whole entire movie. Every character here acts in a selfish manner, somehow, none of them are ever seen as “the bad guys”, nor are the others seen as “the good guys”. If anything, everyone here is just a person – they all make their own choices, decisions and matters in life, regardless of whether or not they’re actually the right, or smart ones, to make.

And that’s why, for all of its small, understated moments, Little Men is quite the flick.

It’s the kind that moves at such an efficient pace that you hardly even realize that it’s just barely under-an-hour-an-a-half, but feels way shorter. With his past few movies, Sachs has shown that he’s not afraid to settle things down with his plots and keep them as languid as humanly possible, but because of that, they tend to just be boring. Here, it’s very different; with what feels like it was a very quick-shoot, with barely any time to waste, Sachs creates a very quick, but meaningful tale of growing up and also, getting older.

See, if anything, Little Men is a coming-of-ager that’s actually painfully honest about getting older and trying to see the world, not just through your own, rapidly maturing eyes, but through your parent’s as well. Sachs does a smart job of showing us not only why this situation is bad for the two kids at the center of the flick, but why it’s bad for all of the parents, too; after all, they are the ones who are having this disagreement, not the little ones. How this one situation affects just about everyone around them is important and more specifically, handled so well by Sachs, who seems to give each and every character some sort of detail that makes them more inherently interesting as the time goes by.

It’s also the cast who are all quite great, too, especially the kids at the center.

Cheer up, parents. You've still got the second generation to think about here.

Cheer up, parents. You’ve still got the second generation to think about here.

While I’ve never seen them in anything before, both Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are great here and not only feel like actual, real life kids, but their friendship is an interesting one that could have definitely been its own movie, what without all of the parents bickering at one another happening on the sidelines. Taplitz is just the right amount of dorky and artsy, whereas Barbieri is just the right amount of brass and sharp, but together, they actually do work as pals; they both have a love for acting that shines through in a great scene, but they also seem to get along whenever they aren’t focusing on acting. Sachs perfectly shows what it’s like to get to know someone when you’re young and just figuring yourself out, while at the same time, figuring out how that fellow person is going to factor into your life as you get older. It’s a beautiful relationship that, yes, at times does seem like it’s going to lean into some sexual areas, but surprisingly, doesn’t.

It’s just sweet and nostalgic.

As for the older folks in the cast, they all do fine jobs. Greg Kinnear turns in a very raw performance as Jake’s downtrodden dad, Jennifer Ehle is good as the psychiatrist mom who may think a little too hard, Talia Balsam is good as the snarky, sometimes mean-spirited aunt, and Paulina Garcia, as Jake’s mom, does a nice job, but her role is the one I had the most problem with, the same as I had with Naomie Harris’ in Moonlight. As Leonor, Garcia has a tough role in that she has to be a little unsympathetic, yet, at the same time, still sympathetic to us, if that makes any sense. The role is there for her to take, but for some reason, I couldn’t help but thinking that Garcia downplays the role way too much; when she should be engaging in some sort of conversation with the characters who are speaking to her, she just sits away, smokes her cigarettes, and then breaks into random, unbelievable monologues.

She reminded me of a femme fatale that you’d find in a noir, as opposed to a small, intimate indie, where real people talk, act and exist. Garcia was great in Gloria and Narcos, which makes me disappointed to see that her role, while clearly important, also feels like the most unbelievable aspect of the whole thing. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I don’t think that I am: When your whole movie is based on the realistic look and feel, it’s hard to really accept the moments where something doesn’t ring true and just feels like a writer, well, writing.

Consensus: With a smart direction and cast, Little Men is an interesting, emotional and sometimes relateable tale of growing up, not just for kids, but for parents as well.

8.5 / 10

Kids, man. They're literally the future.

Kids, man. They’re literally the future.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hands of Stone (2016)

Never say “no mas”.

At age 72, after a few brushes with death and the notorious mafia, legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement to coach world-class Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Édgar Ramírez). It’s a job that many other trainers would take, let alone, come out of a retirement for, but it’s one that Arcel feels as if he has to do, if only to teach Duran a thing or two about manners and living life like a peaceful, everyday citizen in the United States of America. After all, growing up, Duran had to constantly fight his way through childhood and to ensure that no one ever brought him down as a person; now that he’s older, muscular and more than capable of beating the hell out of whoever steps in his way, he’s definitely not stepped down. But now that Duran wants to face-off against the one and only champ, Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond), he’s more than ready to settle down, listen to his trainer and win the title that he feels he has earned after all of the years and hard-work that he has put in.

"Get up, you wimp!"

“Get up, you wimp!”

With the troubled production, constant delays on its release-date, and late-August release, you’d honestly expect Hands of Stone to be an utter piece of crap that no one wanted to see. Thankfully, it doesn’t turn out that way; it’s the kind of movie that you can tell had a clear agenda on its mind while being made, but for one reason or another, so many backstage politics got involved that after one cut too many, the movie lost its train of thought. It’s the perfect case of a good movie, unfortunately, being tarnished and ruin by the sole fact that it had one too many people’s wallets involved, so therefore, it had to suffer the consequences of having a whole lot in it, but essentially, not being about a single thing.

Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie, just a very messy, unclear and unfocused one.

The one thing that it does get right, thankfully, is the actual boxing itself. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz keeps Hands of Stone from ever getting boring, moving at a quick, fast and efficient pace that hardly ever lets up, even when it is featuring a bunch of people, sitting in a room, and talking about Jimmy Carter the Panamanian Canal. But where the movie really moves, is in its boxing.

Sure, the boxing isn’t as realistic as say, a real fight that you’d check out on PPV (that’s still a thing, right?), but it doesn’t matter – when it’s on, you pay attention and you have some fun. You feel every punch, hold, broken bone, sweat, blood-drip, and everything else that goes hand-in-hand with boxing, so much so that after awhile, you’d sort of just wish the whole movie stayed in the ring and never even bothered to go outside of it.

Because yes, unfortunately, when it does go outside of the ring, it gets pretty bad.

For one, Hands of Stone is, like I said, a messy movie. It has a lot to talk about race, family, power, the government, sports, and so on and so forth, but at the same time, doesn’t really have much of anything to say about them in the slightest. Take, for instance, De Niro’s Arcel, a character who is probably deserving of his own movie, but here, is saddled with playing second-in-command and has a very brief, very random bit where he’s trying to settle a dispute with his long, lost and estranged daughter that literally none of us have ever heard about. It seems like the movie itself knew this, so rather than having her show back up and make some sort of sense to the whole movie, she’s literally never heard from again.

Why, though?

We can't really see what you've got going on underneath the suit and tie, but hey, we're going to assume you've got some pretty big muscles.

We can’t really see what you’ve got going on underneath the suit and tie, but hey, we’re going to assume you’ve got some pretty big muscles.

Also, while I’m at it, why does the movie seem to bring up relations between U.S. and the Dominican Republic, yet, at the same time, never really have much of anything to say about them? And also, why are we learning so much about Durán’s upbringing and hotshot attitude, yet, at the same time, never actually knowing anything more about him besides that? The movie seems to present a whole bunch of stuff, but keep it all at such a surface-level, that after awhile, you don’t even know what it is.

Is it a boxing movie? Or, is it an unfinished cut of one?

Either way, the movie does thankfully stay entertaining all throughout, which mostly has to do with the fact that the pace is quick and the cast is quite good. As stated before, De Niro is good as Arcel, who probably deserves his own movie, just like Edgar Ramirez’s Durán does, as well. In fact, Ramirez is so good here, that he makes it very clear that possibly, some time down the road, he could give it another go, under a new writer, director, and studio, because there’s truly something here, to this person and this person’s tale that makes me want to see more of him and how he goes about his day-to-day life.

Unfortunately, we do get to see some of that here, but it’s in a movie that doesn’t seem to care, or know what to do with any of that rich material.

Consensus: With so much going on, Hands of Stone can’t help but feel and seem like a mess, but an entertaining one because of its fast-pace and good cast, which both deserve way better than what they’re given.

5.5 / 10

The weirdest sequel to Joy, ever.

The weirdest sequel to Joy, ever.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Yoga Hosers (2016)

Canada’s cool and all, but man, those accents.

Colleen and Colleen (Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith) have been best friends ever since they were little kids. Nowadays, they spend most of their days going to yoga, talking about boys, and most importantly, working their dead-end jobs at a local convenience store that they so desperately hate, yet, have to do because the one Colleen’s dad (Tony Hale) owns it and always needs the store in tip-top shape, even if neither of them are hardly ever around to make sure that it’s actually getting the business it needs to thrive. However, their job has gotten a lot harder, when it turns out that people have been mysteriously and randomly being murdered all across the area of Montreal. Why? Or better yet, who? Well, neither of them really know, but you know who does? Legendary detective and crime-solver Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp) does and he decides to join forces with the two gals, to not just figure out what is killing all of these people, but also to make himself feel better. Meanwhile, the two Colleens also are trying to start a band and keep on getting sidetracked by all of this murder business that they want no part of.

"Ooooh, baby I love your way. Or something like that."

“Ooooh, baby I love your way. Or something like that.”

Kevin Smith, what the hell bro? Someone who started out as one of my favorite writers and directors, someone who I literally asked a question in real life, someone who’s movies, no matter how awful they could get, I stuck up, what has happened here? After Tusk and now Yoga Hosers, it seems as if Smith has lost himself a whole lot; while he’s making admirable attempts to get away from his slacker past and try towards something more ambitious and fun, does it really have to be this?

Seriously?

Because after watching Yoga Hosers, I am pretty damn sure that the Kevin Smith that I once knew, laughed at and loved, is all but dead and gone. Sure, Red State was meh and Tusk was bad, but now, I don’t even know what to make sense of. It’s almost as if Smith himself wasn’t quite sure of what he was making, but knew that he wanted to make something weird, had a whole lot of money in his pockets, had a cast who was willing to work, and didn’t care of anything else that matters, so put together this slap-dash movie that plays out like a bad joke. You know, the kind where someone has to be “in” on it?

But it doesn’t seem like anyone is, except for Smith himself.

To be honest though, there are small, if incredibly brief moments of pure hilarity from Smith and his screenplay; no matter how twisted or warped he gets into his own head and believing in his own crap, he still can’t help himself but to be funny. Some small snippets of dialogue connect and for some odd reason, it transports you to a time where Smith not just gave a crap, but did actually want to appeal to others outside of his weird head. Nowadays, though, it’s weird – Smith doesn’t seem to care, or if he does, he doesn’t actually show it to anyone.

Because once all of the funny bits and pieces of dialogue are dead and gone with, he then tries whatever he can to make a plot, which consists of, bear with me, faux rock-bands, a French detective who wasn’t at all funny in the so-called “predecessor”, yoga, drinking, partying, sex, friendship, hockey, Canadians, Americans, maple syrup, accents, hot dogs, Nazis, Al Pacino impersonations, and uh yeah, whatever the hell Yoga Hosers actually are.

So yeah, you get the idea.

Yoga Hosers, as a movie, is a complete mess, but it’s not even an interesting one, to say the very least. So much stuff happens, yet, none of it ever registers as having any sort of reasoning; it seems as if Smith is just throwing everything at the wall, because he wanted to, had the opportunity to, or just didn’t simply give a hoot. Sometimes, that can be fine, when you have an auteur known for making the inexplicably weird and unintelligible, interesting (David Lynch, The Coen’s), but no offense, Smith is nowhere near that caliber.

Guess who the hell that is!

Oh, great! This freakin’ guy!

But it’s not like that’s even a bad thing, either. In fact, one of the things that drew me to Smith, the person, as well as the artist, was the fact that he was this normal, everyday dude who loved movies, who loved TV, who loved pop-culture, and who especially loved comic books, and also had this talent to make these small, low-budget movies that were nasty and dirty, but also incredibly funny and, at times, heartwarming. He was this small director who didn’t set-out to really change the world in which we live in, but instead, offer-up some brief, fleeting moments of entertainment and fun for us all to laugh and enjoy.

Nowadays though, that Smith is gone.

It’s not a bad thing that he’s decided to change things up with his career, and get weirder, and far more serious, but it’s a bad thing when it just doesn’t work and make it seem like he’s abandoning everything he’s once known, loved and stood by. Nowadays, rather than making a good, funny and heartfelt movie about real, everyday, normal people, he’s making movies that seem to revolve solely around his friends and family. Once again, nothing entirely wrong with that, however, it has to all come together and work – something that Yoga Hosers never does.

It’s not funny, it’s not insightful, it’s not exciting, it’s not compelling, it’s not dramatic, and it sure as hell isn’t even well-acted. If anything, Yoga Hosers is just another sure sign that people should stop giving money to Smith, so that he’ll realize that, okay, yeah, maybe he does need to chill out and get back down to ground level, where all of us fellow human beings are sitting firmly at. And then, maybe then, I’ll accept him back into my good graces and forgive him, once and for all.

But until then, I’m done. Sorry, Kev. We had a good run together, but sometimes, all good runs must come to an end.

Consensus: Weird, unfunny, dumb and just downright hard-to-watch, Yoga Hosers is the clearest example of Kevin Smith’s tragic fall from grace and artistry, further proving how his best days are long, long behind him.

1 / 10

Millennials text a lot! #Relevance

Millennials text a lot! #Relevance

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Almost Christmas (2016)

It’s Christmas. Commence the fighting!

One year after the death of the mother, the Meyers family has been a bit of a wreck. Walter (Danny Glover) was a mechanic who finally got the chance to retire, but now, has so much time on his hands, he doesn’t know what to do instead of trying to sell the family-house. Rachel (Gabrielle Union) is constantly losing money and doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for anything in her life, while Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) is the complete opposite, with a successful career and a husband (J.B. Smoove) who she loves, even if he may be looking elsewhere. Christian (Romany Malco) is running for Governor and because of that, has to be constantly on-edge of what to do next, however, his wife (Nicole Ari Parker) is there every step of the way, whereas Evan (Jessie T. Usher), a professional football player, seems to be having problems of his own with steroids and can’t seem to control his emotions. All of them, including many more, all come together for Christmas, even if hardly any of them can get along or even bother to in the first place, something that upsets Walter and makes him think longer and harder about what to do with the family-house.

Who doesn't take a snooze in Church?

Who doesn’t take a snooze in Church?

Almost Christmas, like every other Christmas movie to come before it, is manipulative, sappy, cheesy, and above all else, sentimental-as-hell. Then again, however, it is a Christmas movie, so should it be judged differently? In a way, yes.

See, with Christmas movies, it seems that everyone who sees them, are in such good spirits that it hardly matters how maudlin or corny the proceedings can get; love is in the air and happiness abounds, therefore, who cares how tawdry the emotions can get. And with Almost Christmas, that’s perfectly fine, because it’s one of those movies that you put on around the holidays, not really paying attention to the screen, but doing other things like baking, wrapping presents, bickering with friends and family, etc., and every once and awhile, checking up to see that it’s on, maybe laugh, or maybe not. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s an incredibly forgettable movie that doesn’t harm anyone, but doesn’t do much else, either.

So like I said, should it be judged harsher than any other movie, let alone, those involving Christmas?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Movies like this and last year’s awful Love the Coopers, will continue to come out and cash in on the holiday love and spirits, which is fine and all, because they aren’t really going out there to ruin anybody’s lives in the slightest. They exist simply to bring some lovely, wacky and fun charm to the already joyful proceedings, while also shining some small lights on what the holidays can mean for families getting back together after all of these years, as well as for those who don’t care much about family, the holidays, or people in general. In a way, they’re the kinds of movies that nobody really gets scared of, which is why Almost Christmas, for all of its faults, really is harmless, above all else.

With it, we get a lot of heavy drama, some cheerfully wacky fun moments, and most importantly, a whole bunch of Christmas shenanigans, like ugly sweaters, snow, Santa, reindeer, tunes, and so on and so forth. I know, this makes me sound like an absolute Grinch, but I can assure you, that’s not the case – normally, Christmas movies are my kind of thing, regardless of the season or time of the year. That’s why a movie like Almost Christmas, which should work very well, also seems like it was written in January, cast in February, filmed in March and April, and edited all up until its release-date at the beginning of November.

You two, get out of here and into a better movie!

You two, get out of here and into a better movie!

Which is to say that, yeah, it’s a mess.

But it’s an okay kind of mess, because once again, it isn’t really setting out to ruin anyone’s day. There’s a lot of heavy, deep discussions about life, death, love, marriage, suicide, drugs, and divorce, but none of it really registers as being anything meaningful, or even needed – it all feels like the movie was just checking off a list that they felt was absolutely necessary to make the perfectly conventional and formulaic Christmas movie. And in that sense, yes, director David E. Talbert achieved everything he probably wanted to, but does it really matter much when everything he achieved is so run-of-the-mill?

The only instances of pure fun and enjoyment found within Almost Christmas is the well-stacked and perfectly-cast ensemble, who are clearly making the best of what they’re given. Danny Glover is heartbreaking to watch as the beaten-down patriarch of the family, trying to keep it all together; Gabrielle Union does a fine job as Rachel, even if she’s still, I hate to say it, not funny; Kimberly Elise seems like she was primed and ready for an Oscar-winning role here, but unfortunately, her really good performance is trapped in a silly Christmas flick; J.B. Smoove is having some real fun as her philandering husband, making me itch with more and more excitement over the prospect over a ninth season of Curb; Romany Malco needs more funny stuff to do here (do people forget that he stole just about every scene in the 40 Year Old Virgin?); Nicole Ari Parker is barely around here, which is a shame, because she’s a great actress when the material is there (see Brown Sugar); Jessie T. Usher brings the movie down every second he’s on-screen, although, I highly doubt that’s his fault and more of just his poorly-written character’s; and Mo’Nique, as per usual, steals every scene she’s in, making us laugh with what seems to be constant improv, but also shedding some true heart and emotion by the end, proving to us why it is that she deserves that Oscar of hers, while also showing us why she needs to be in more movies.

Get it together, Hollywood.

Consensus: As conventional as you can get with a Christmas flick, Almost Christmas features sentimentality, comedy, melodrama, and cheesiness, yet, doesn’t set out to severely injure or kill anyone, so it’s okay to keep on by the fireplace on a cold night. That’s about it, though.

5 / 10

Why's everyone standing around? Dig the hell in dammit!

Why’s everyone standing around? Dig the hell in dammit!

Photos Courtesy of: Gorgon Reviews, Vox

Bee Movie (2007)

Not the bees, indeed.

Now that he’s fresh out of college, Barry the Bee (Jerry Seinfeld) can finally spend the rest of his life doing what he’s always been wanting to do: Work. However, Barry doesn’t quite know what he wants to do just yet, or better yet, knows that he doesn’t want to work with honey. So, he decides to take a brief stroll out into the real world and realizes that there’s something incredibly wild and magical about this outside. He also gets to meet a human lady named Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), who he not only strikes up a friendship with, but continues to learn more and more about the world outside of the beehive. Eventually, this has Barry thinking less and less about the life and career he lives inside the hive, and more about the one outside of it, where he can do whatever he wants and not have to worry about certain ideas that society mandates. That is, until he realizes that the outside world isn’t all that it’s made out to be, either.

"Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we're all bees when you think about it, bro!"

“Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we’re all bees when you think about it, bro!”

For some inexplicable reason, Bee Movie is currently having a moment. Why? Who started it? And when will it end? Well, I don’t know the answer to any of these questions – what I do know is that all of this attention is being placed on a nearly decade-old movie that, quite frankly, was never something to really talk or get all crazy about in the first place.

In a way, it’s odd watching Bee Movie now, in 2016, knowing full well how far and advanced animation has come. Sure, 2007 may not have had nearly as many of the technological advances that we do now, but still, Bee Movie, even in the clearest, brightest and prettiest HD imaginable, still looks kind of murky. The bee characters don’t have much to them, except maybe one physical difference, the humans all look dull and dead in the eyes, and when the movie is adventuring into the great big world that we call Earth, you can tell that a lot of the budget went to certain shapes and figures, and not to the rest of the image.

Still, that’s all silly technical stuff that doesn’t quite matter.

What does matter, and what mostly every meme has been pointing out, is that Bee Movie is a pretty ridiculous movie, but not like the kind we’re used to seeing with animated flicks. With most animated flicks, like how Bee Movie starts out initially, is that they take us to this fantastical, weird and unbelievable world, where inanimate objects speak, have thoughts, feelings and can do things, like you or I, except, maybe, yeah, in their own way. At first, this is exactly what Bee Movie seems to be, but eventually, it turns the other cheek and doesn’t know what it wants to say or do.

In fact, it all changes when we’re introduced to Zellweger’s Vanessa, who is perhaps the dumbest human character in an animated flick to-date. It’s odd that she can not only talk to bees, or other inanimate objects, but how, despite the movie trying to make as many jokes as possible, is still totally cool and normal with it. I wouldn’t mind this in an animated flick, but there does come some idea that the movie has to not only explain itself, but even make sense of it all; to even say that “there’s a force in the air”, or some silly mumbo jumbo like that, honestly, is fine with me. All I need is an explanation and I won’t complain.

Corporations, man.

Corporations, man.

However, Bee Movie doesn’t give that.

Instead, it just takes what could have been a very simple, easy and relatively fun premise of a bee seeing the outside world for what it is, a la, A Bug’s Life or Antz, but instead, drives for something more ambitious. Is it an admirable effort on the writers and directors behalves? Sure, but does it pay-off? Not really.

Once the movie starts getting into a honey-producing corporation headed by Ray Liotta and takes us to court, the movie gets all too wild and insane to really keep up with. This isn’t to say that the jokes aren’t good, because they mostly can be, however, that’s when the movie itself isn’t enamored with finding every bee pun that they can find. It gets annoying after awhile and almost feels like a bunch of 12-year-olds just discovering what comedy is and constantly trying to one-up one another.

It’s nice to hear the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, Chris Rock, and others, but they all feel oddly-placed. Seinfeld and Broderick are both voicing characters who are, essentially, 21-year-old dudes, and don’t sound a single thing like it, Warburton is, as usual, hilarious and the most understandable character out of the bunch, Rock is in it for maybe five minutes, makes us laugh our pants off, then leaves for good, John Goodman shows up at the end as born-and-bred lawyer from Missippi and I probably would have paid to see his face while uttering some of these lines in the voice that he uses, and Zellweger, as mentioned before, feels awkward. Her character not only looks it, but even Zellweger’s line delivery still feels like she’s maybe not in on the joke, or simply, understands it and is not a fan of it in the first place.

Why she or anyone else signed-up is beyond me. But hey, at least the movie made some money, was for the kids and continues to live on in the internet-age.

So, who knows? Maybe everyone’s a winner.

Consensus: With an awkward premise, Bee Movie seems like it could have been a lot funnier and interesting, had it tightened-up its writing and gotten rid of all the inane bee jokes.

5 / 10

"Yeah, at least we're getting paid."

“Yeah, at least we’re getting paid.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

No (2012)

So. Much. Relevance.

It’s 1988 in Chile, and for the past fifteen years or so, dictator Augusto Pinochet has been doing all sorts of things that you would expect some person with way too much power and control would be doing. And for those who don’t like his ways, well, somehow, they disappear and are never heard from again. But the rest of the world’s leaders aren’t happy about this and know that in order for there to be peace and solidarity between all nations, they pressure Pinochet to put the next election to a vote. Against his will, essentially, Pinochet agrees and puts the fate of the office in the hands of the people, once and for all. Those who want him to stay vote “YES,” those who want him to go vote “NO.” In the month leading up to the election, each side is given 15 minutes of airtime each night to promote their cause on television. Running the “NO” campaign is Rene Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), a young advertising executive, who knows how to win the election the right way. However, with very few resources and a lot of tension coming from the opposing side, Saavedra and his fellow campaign managers run into all sorts of problems that may take them away from winning the campaign.

There's no sleeping in political campaigns!

There’s no sleeping in political campaigns!

Without sounding too obvious, I think it’s safe to say that a movie like No is pretty damn relevant to what the United States is going through at this very same exact moment. But that’s not to say that the movie is all that specific to just the 2016 Presidential elections, but more or less, every election, in any country ever. This idea about elections in and of themselves have become something of laughing-stocks over the years; everything is planned out perfectly, no candidate really means what they say, and when you get right down to it, all it is is a dick-measuring competition between two people who have more money than they know what to do with.

But No, in a smart way, changes that all up and reminds us why elections, or at least, the very idea of them, are so damn important to begin with.

Director Pablo Larrain does a lot of smart things here, but perhaps the smartest of them all is that he doesn’t lose sight of what matters most in between all of the crazy, sometimes over-the-top commercials, ads and whatnot, and that’s the human element of what was going through Chile at this point in time. No does tell us, at the very beginning, what is going on in Chile, but it doesn’t necessarily rely on a whole lot more than just that to inform us; simply, it uses the way in which these campaign managers all fight for their side to win, as passionately as they do, to drive home the idea even more.

It may not seem or sound like much, but it matters a whole lot. Larrain seems to be making a point about free speech, the idea of it, and why it matters so much in a society, regardless of if said society is run by a democracy or dictatorship, but never hitting us over the head with it. Because his story is about a political campaign, rising up against the more powerful forces that be, Larrain never gets preachy. He’s just telling a story, the way it deserves to be told.

And because of this, No can be quite a thrilling ride.

Some men just want to watch the world be a happy place.

Some men just want to watch the world be a happy place.

I’m not sure if Larrain meant for it to be perceived as that, but hey, it still works. There’s something incredibly interesting about watching and listening as a bunch of very smart, driven people, gather together in a room and figure out how to spin a certain story to make themselves look better, or create the most overly theatrical presentation and sweep the nation with their message and artistry. In a way, it’s a lot like watching the final season of the West Wing, but this time, barely anyone speaks English, is hardly pretentious about their work, and it’s a lot more condensed this time around.

At the same time, however, when No is all said and done, it still feels like a universal tale. Sure, this one in particular just so happens to be about Chile and how its citizens were constantly being held back by a brutal and rough dictatorship, but a good portion of the story can be centered towards other societies and populations as well. It’s not just about spinning a campaign the best way one can do, as much as it’s actually about achieving what you want to achieve and what you think is best for all those concerned. No deals with a lot of hot-button political issues, but it never forgets about the human aspect and knows that in order to make a society great, you have to have great people in it, who want to constantly make it better, and ensure that no more injustices are committed.

Isn’t that what everybody wants though?

Consensus: Smart, interesting and most of all, compelling, No tells a fact-based tale without hitting too hard on the heavy, important issues it’s trying to tell, as much as it just reiterates the fact that political campaigns, when done right, can change lives for the better.

8.5 / 10

Don't tempt them. They have weapons.

Don’t tempt them. They have weapons.

Photos Courtesy of: CTCMR

Lights Out (2016)

Always keep those phones charged, kiddies.

When Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) was a kid, she battled through all sorts of demons, in-personal and personal. Whenever the lights out went out at her place, scary things began to happen, which made her question life and her own existence as a whole. Now that she’s older and out of the house for good, she feels as if she finally has left all that behind. Her mother (Maria Bello) is still a little cooky and definitely doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, but her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who she looks over, does and that’s all that matters to her. However, the strange entity that once threatened Rebecca is back and more dangerous than ever, but now instead of just going after Rebecca and her mom, it wants to take Martin, which means that the family is going to have to pull out all of the stops to get rid of it, once and for all.

At just a little over 80 minutes, Lights Out doesn’t get too bogged down in all the sorts of stuff that most horror movies of its nature tend to get a little too carried away with. For one, it’s not too concerned with its genealogy, or better yet, explaining all the sorts of stuff that happen – it trusts its audience to have a good idea that spooky stuff happens when the lights go off right from the get-go and that’s about it. The fact that the movie doesn’t try to make the force, or what have you, that’s terrorizing these people, into some sort of ancient folklore only known or talked about from crazy, old people living out somewhere in the middle of the mountains, also makes it even more refreshing, while also reminding us that this, first and foremost, a horror movie.

Oh, T. It'll be okay.

Oh, T. It’ll be okay.

And a pretty scary one, at that.

Director David Sandberg and writer Eric Heisserer seem to come together perfectly on one aspect of Lights Out, and that’s how to handle the scares. Sure, the idea is a gimmicky one for sure, but it’s also one that’s handled incredibly well; we get a good sense of what the force does, how it does what it does, and how it could possibly be stopped, with still some questions unanswered when all is said and done. The movie doesn’t concern itself with the questions, the answers, or the reasons, but mostly just pays close attention to creeping people out with smart, random, but always effective scares.

In fact, the movie works best perhaps when it’s just playing around with its certain rules and conventions, being stuck in its own little creepy world and not caring about much else. Sure, it’s good to have a story, characters, development, and heart added to the proceedings as well, but sometimes, when all you want to do is relish in your own scariness, then nothing’s wrong with that. Both Sandberg and Heisserer know exactly what they’re making, don’t try for anything more, and because of that, end up pulling off a solid little bit of horror.

Of course, the movie does have characters and plot, which also keeps it away from being truly, if above all, great.

Yeah, turn around, bro. Think that's a pretty easy decision to make.

Yeah, turn around, bro. Think that’s a pretty easy decision to make.

But here’s the thing: The movie is so short and quick with itself, that all of the qualms about the acting, or the plot, or even the characters, may seem rather silly. The movie doesn’t take up a whole lot of time on them, but instead, building up the scares and scenarios. It’s admirable and smart, but the fact remains that these aspects of the movie are troubling and can sort of make the other 40 minutes of this flick seem rather, I don’t know, lame.

Teresa Palmer is always great to watch, but even here, she seems like she’s not just forcing her American-accent, but some of her goofy-lines as well. Same goes for Maria Bello who, unfortunately, is stuck with the crazy, sometimes not-all-that-there mother role that likes to yammer on about things that may or may not be real, while also having nervous breakdowns left and right. It’s a rather obvious role and though Bello tries with it, there’s no getting past the fact that, yeah, it’s kind of weak. Still, like I said, the movie gets by solely on the fact that it’s short and sweet, so when you take all of these problems into consideration, it hardly matters much.

They’re not around, but guess what is?

The spooky stuff!

Consensus: While not perfect, Lights Out still gets by on the sole fact that its short, sweet, and pretty scary when it wants to be, making it the rare franchise-starter that’s actually interesting.

6.5 / 10

CSI?

CSI?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Be one with nature. Not with people.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), his wife Leslie, and their six children all live in the wilderness of Washington state. They’ve done so as a way of life for as long as the oldest has been around and because of this, they’ve taught their kids a lot about life. For one, they’ve learned how to survive, read, think for themselves, and take care of one another, without getting bogged down or too distracted by what’s going on in the overpopulated world outside of the woods. However, their lives all begin to change when Leslie suddenly dies and has a funeral back in her hometown, leaving Ben to bring the kids back around to not just see their real family, but the rest that the world has to offer. Of course, not everyone takes a liking to seeing Ben back around, criticizing those he hasn’t seen in years, but Ben doesn’t care – he’s too busy ensuring that his late wife gets the proper burial she deserves and so desperately wanted before her tragic death. But obviously, not everyone believes what Ben wants is the right, or better yet, proper way.

I'm pretty sure using phones is a big no-no when sticking it to the man.

I’m pretty sure using phones is a big no-no when sticking it to the man.

The first 20 or so minutes of Captain Fantastic are, honestly, pretty bad. Most of it takes place in the woods, with Mortensen’s character and his family all living away from the rest of society, loving every second of it, getting by and letting it be known that this is the way of life that ought to be lived. In a way, it felt like writer/director Matt Ross was saying the same thing, only through these characters; that living in an overpopulated society full of people, cars, restaurants, stores, etc., really isn’t what life should be all about. Instead, it ought to be lived vicariously through nature and appreciated for that alone. It was so nauseating to hear and watch that it had me feeling like it was time to just tune the rest of the movie out and hope that the best comes around.

But thankfully, it does.

Eventually, the story changes and all of a sudden, we’re given something of a “road movie”, in which Mortensen’s character and his family are out traveling, running into family-members that they haven’t seen in forever, or met, and trying to get used to these new surroundings. In a way, it’s a fairly more conventional movie than the one originally promised/planned, but it’s one that’s far more likable and well-done as it seems like, believe it or not, Ross has something to say and it’s that maybe living outside of society isn’t what it’s all made out to be. Perhaps, being and living around other human beings, doing things, communicating, interacting, so on, is really what’s the most enjoyable aspect about life in the first place?

Sure, it sounds so cheesy and obvious, but Ross brings this out in a very smart manner that isn’t ham-handed in the slightest. If anything, he gives us great, lovable characters and shows just exactly how they live their lives and get by, without ever trying for anything more. It sounds so simple and easy, and that’s because it is, but it still works so well that it’s hard to really get across, other than just to say, “Yeah, it’s a sweet and honest tale about life, growing up and accepting the world for what it is.”

Well, essentially.

"Freebird? Again?"

“Freebird? Again?”

And in it, Ross has assembled a pretty great cast, especially what with Viggo Mortensen in the lead as Ben Cash. What works so well about Mortensen here is that, underneath all the 70’s mop and beard, you can tell that there’s an earnest, lovely human being, however, he’s also a challenging figure. The movie is interested in exploring the ideals and history of this family, as well as it’s interested in just what goes on throughout this man’s head; he’s a barrel of contradictions who doesn’t always know what’s best for his kids, but at the same time, still doesn’t know what’s best for kids from other families. It’s not just entertaining to watch as Mortensen constantly plays around with what this character “thinks” is right, as opposed to what “is” right, but pretty interesting as you never quite know where he’s going to end-up next, metaphorically speaking.

Surrounding him is a pretty solid cast, though, who all measure up to his abilities. Certain talented folks like Ann Dowd, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Zahn are all perfectly cast as the family members that he casually runs into during this trip of his and all bring out a different aspect to this character, based solely on the way that they interact with and react to him. We get a sense that they’re all loving people, trying very hard to connect with someone that they just don’t know how to connect with, mostly because they don’t actually like him. Sometimes, showing us a character and the way they are with those around them, does a better job than just telling us, which may sound obvious, but it’s a rule that seems to be lost on a lot of writers and directors today, which is why it’s great to see Ross utilizing that here.

The only downside of the movie is, unfortunately, the family of kids themselves.

Actually, that’s wrong. All of the kids in the cast are fine, but there’s one who seems like he doesn’t quite measure-up as well and that’s George McKay as the oldest, Bo. McKay is fine and does what he can, but unfortunately, his American-accent is just awful. You can tell that he’s doing one and because this character has a lot of yelling/freak-out moments, it’s not hard to hear it even more and get distracted. Also, not to mention that the character’s subplot can be a little silly at times; the fish-out-of-water scenario is a fun bit, but the idea that this character is casually looking into colleges on the sly and trying to make something of his genius brain, not only feels ridiculous, but a lot like a ripped portion of Shameless. Either way, it doesn’t quite work and because it does take up a bulk of the flick, it can’t help but keep Captain Fantastic away from being great.

Still, it’s a very good movie nonetheless so yeah, see it. Please. It’ll make you laugh, happy and possibly, even cry.

Consensus: Heartfelt, sweet, funny, and well-acted, Captain Fantastic takes what could have been a very annoying plot, turns it on its head and makes something exciting and lovely out of it.

8.5 / 10

Those kids desperately need Netflix in their lives.

Those kids desperately need Netflix in their lives.

Photos Courtesy of: Cannes, Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Elle (2016)

Women, stand up.

After being randomly raped in her own home, Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) doesn’t know who to trust or what to make sense of. So, the only thing that she can do, without alerting the police, is just get on with her everyday life, as if nothing had ever happened in the first place and everything is peachy-keen. She goes back to her job as the head of a successful video game company, where she gets on her a few employees, but also adores a few others. Meanwhile, she’s dealing with issues from her ex-husband (Christian Berkel), as well as her best-friend/employee (Anne Consigny), and cougar mother (Judith Magre), who spends most of her time and fortune on a much younger man who she hardly even knows, yet, trusts enough to get married to and leave everything to, if she does just so happen to die in the foreseeable future. And if that wasn’t enough for Michèle, she’s also got these new neighbors who are way too stingy for their own good, an immature who won’t learn to grow-up, and a possible affair that may be more and more scandalous, the longer she decides to not tell anyone about it.

Women and video-games?!? Say it ain't so?!?

Women and video-games?!? Say it ain’t so?!?

It’s been a long, long ten years, but you know what? Paul Verhoeven is back, everyone. And honestly, as corny as it is to say and type, he’s better than ever. While from a certain standpoint, Elle may seem like it has way, way too much going on for what it is, essentially, a revenge-thriller, but that’s the actual beauty of it. Verhoeven has made a career off of taking all of these different strands of story, putting them together in one pile, and letting it rip, which is exactly what he does here, but it’s far more than just pure, trashy, pulpy entertainment.

Believe it or not, there’s actually a heart and soul to Elle that may surprise you.

That isn’t to say that Verhoeven himself doesn’t have some fun with the material, because he totally does. In a way, Elle is his excuse to play with genres more than he’s ever done in the past. Thriller, romance, drama, comedy, mystery, nothing is off the table for Verhoeven and because of that, it’s hard not to be excited by Elle. Like he did with Black Book, Verhoeven hardly ever lets up and just keeps on going and going and going, until he needs to catch a breather or two, but even then though, in those very rare, small moments of actual heart and humanity, Verhoeven’s still restless.

It’s basically what he did with Black Book, but whereas with that movie, it felt like he was just sort of running wild, with nowhere to go, here, there’s at least something of an objective in plain sight: Telling the story of this complicated, yet, incredibly compelling woman.

And as this one woman in particular, Isabelle Huppert gives one of her best performances. Crazy, right? One of the best actresses to ever grace the screen, American or Foreign, Huppert gives what is, essentially, a career-defining performance in a Paul Verhoeven movie, and while his track-record with female actors/characters is, at the very least, spotty, he gives her everything to work with and she takes it all with flying colors.

That's not her husband! Oh my! What is happening?!?

That’s not her husband! Oh my! What is happening?!?

Because Michèle is such a difficult character to love and understand, Huppert has a great time; you never quite know what she’s thinking, what she’s going to do next, or even what her reasons are behind most of her odd decisions. But no matter what, her character is inherently intriguing, where she makes one decision, then makes another to contradict that last, and you’re sort of left wondering why? But it doesn’t matter – Huppert runs just as wild with this character as Verhoeven does with this movie and it makes me happy to see her finally, after all of these years, get some possible Oscar-talk.

Even if she doesn’t win, it just matters that she’s finally getting talked about, for what seems like a time coming.

Of course, Verhoeven’s caring and allows everyone else to put in some great work, too, alongside the likes of Huppert. Anne Consigny is great as her best-friend/employee who knows everything there is to know about Michèle and accepts her for what she is, warts and all; Christian Berkel is a nice fit as Michèle’s ex who she still, on some occasions, bangs; and as her cougar-bound mother, Judith Magre is such a blast to watch, playing-up the fact that she is ancient, but also isn’t ashamed of that. Deep down underneath the thriller itself, is a fun, crazy and sometimes thrilling family-drama that in a lesser-movie, would have been the only piece in the pie, but because this is a Paul Verhoeven movie, there’s a whole lot more pieces where that came from.

And in a way, it works and sort of doesn’t. Due to Verhoeven dealing and playing around with so many strands of plat and genres, he can’t help but get twisted up in it just a bit, which is what eventually happens by the end. See, when all is said and done, and we realize that the movie is definitely going to be about the actual rape itself, the movie does go off the deep-end, to where it’s far more sinister and violent than we ever expected it to be. Does it still stay fun? Yes, definitely. But what, at one point, was a cold, dark thriller placed in this believable, detailed character-drama, soon just turns into another one of Verhoeven’s slightly erotic-thrillers that care more about nudity and blood, than actual hearts or humans.

May sound like a little too much to ask for, but hey, so be it. Paul Verhoeven’s back and let’s hope that he’s here to stay.

Consensus: Wacky, wild, twisted and entertaining, Elle is a solid balancing act and return for Paul Verhoeven, while also featuring one of the best performances the legendary and impeccably talented Isabelle Huppert has ever given.

8 / 10

Can't trust that scarf!

Can’t trust that scarf!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Rules Don’t Apply (2016)

When you’re Howard Hughes and pissing in Mason jars, you can do whatever you want.

It’s 1958, and Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a devout Baptist beauty queen from Virginia arrives in Hollywood, her eyes chock full of hopes, dreams and wonders of possibly taking over the movie world. She gets picked-up at the airport by Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), who will soon be her permanent driver and aspires to achieve the same sort of fame and fortune that Marla does, however, it’s a tad bit different. Together though, the two form a connection and affection for the man who is employing them both: Billionaire, womanizer, and famed aviator, Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty). They’ve both heard all of the crazy stories and don’t quite know what to believe about Hughes, but what they do know is that he’s a very hard man to see, track down, or better yet, even have something resembling of a conversation with. He’s so mysterious, that it’s almost like he doesn’t exist. However, the two eventually do cross paths with Hughes in some very odd, strange ways that change both of their lives forever and may also crush whatever it was that they expected from Hollywood in the first place.

After what’s been nearly two decades, it’s nice to have Warren Beatty back in our lives and on our screens, regardless of how short-lived it may be. As an actor, Beatty has always been a master at playing any sort of role, whether dark and dramatic, or light and fun, bringing the best to whatever flick he’s in. As a director, he’s far better. Ambitious, smart and always equipped with something to say, Beatty doesn’t just take on directorial projects for the hell of it – he needs to have a reason to tell a story and a certain passion within it.

He loves his hats.

He loves his hats.

Which is why for all its faults, flaws and obvious issues, Rules Don’t Apply, despite the awful title, still deserves a watch.

It’s unfortunate though, that Rules Don’t Apply has been in the works for so long, because it clearly shows; with nearly four editors on-tap here, there’s obvious moments where it seems like the movie was cut, pasted and messed around with way too much. Certain scenes play too long, too short, or sometimes, literally make absolute no sense. Does this have more to do with the directing/crafting of the movie itself, or more to do with how the movie was edited and perhaps made to reach some sort of arbitrary standard for the studios involved? Whatever the answer may be, it doesn’t matter; the fact remains that Rules Don’t Apply is still a pretty messy, uneven piece that has the look and feel of a movie that’s been tampered with one too many times.

Still, however, it’s a movie that deserves a watch, mostly because there are certain aspects and elements to it that are interesting and do work. Beatty seems to craft two different stories simultaneously; there’s the love blossoming between Marla and Frank, and there’s the crazy and wild persona of Howard Hughes that sometimes finds its way of getting between that. Aside from the other, they work and are incredibly compelling, but together, they don’t quite hit the same notes. Most of this has to do with it being very clear from the get-go that Beatty is more invested in Hughes himself and less of how Marla and Frank come together – their romance, while cute and sweet at times, also feels like a macguffin just to give us a sneak-peek into the secret and weird life of Hughes.

In a way, Beatty wants to explore the sheer hypocrisy and sadness that lies within such a system and place like Hollywood, where it seems like a lot of promises are made, a lot of money is thrown around, and a lot of people talk, but nothing actually happens or get done. It’s not necessarily original, but it is interesting to watch, mostly because we see it all play out through the dough-eyed eyes of Frank and mostly, Marla. But in another way, Beatty also wants to show us that someone as crazy, as insane and as certifiably nuts as Howard Hughes, did exist, have power, have control, had a whole lot of money, and mostly, got by in life based on the pure fact that he was labeled a “mysterious genius”. Rules Don’t Apply constantly seems to be battling with itself over what to say, but mostly, just ends up presenting two different sides to a coin that we’re not really sure about, which leaves it feeling slightly unfinished.

Still, it’s hard not to watch.

Don't be too happy, kiddies. Howie's always watching.

Don’t be too happy, kiddies. Howie’s always watching.

Beatty, the actor, seems to be having the time of his life as Hughes, lighting up the screen with his casual weirdness that we’ve never quite seen from him before. At nearly 80 years of age, it’s interesting to see Beatty try something new on for size and work with this odd, idiosyncratic person and give us a compelling performance; we feel as if we’re supposed to trust him because of how he speaks, but we also know that he’s insane and because of this, is unpredictable. Beatty plays at this idea very well and has us constantly wondering just where he’s going to go next with this performance and how it’s going to factor into the movie as a whole.

It also helps that Beatty doesn’t allow for his performance to get in the way of Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich, who are both pretty amazing here. Though Ehrenreich seems to be on the rise what with the Han Solo movie coming up, it’s really Collins who surprised me the most, giving us a character who is so bright, so bubbly, so charming and so lovely, that it’s hard to imagine watching her dreams shatter before her very own eyes. If anything, a movie about her life and brief touch with stardom would have been its own move, but of course, Beatty himself does have different intentions and can’t seem to help himself, leaving Collins’ performance, while very good, seeming like a missed opportunity.

Then again, there’s a whole slew of others that seem to literally show up, do their thing and then leave, all with the drop of a hat. Certain players like Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick and Taissa Farmiga get a few scenes to help develop their characters a bit, but others like Paul Sorvino, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Amy Madigan, Steve Coogan, Dabney Coleman, Paul Schneider, Haley Bennett, and trust me, more, all have nothing to do. It’s as if they could have only shown up to film for a day and we’re allowed to have that scene put in. If that was the case, it’s impressive that Beatty was able to get such a wildly eclectic group of people to come out and work, but also a tad annoying cause all it does is add to an already rather stuffed flick.

Something Hughes himself probably wouldn’t have had a problem with.

Consensus: With so much going on, Rules Don’t Apply can’t help but seem uneven, but does benefit from a few good performances, as well as a welcome return from Beattty himself.

6.5 / 10

Behind every crazy man, is one who is trying so hard to translate everything that's being said.

Behind every crazy man, is one who is trying so hard to translate everything that’s being said.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, News Report Center

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Life’s a little sad. So just take the boat out.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) lives a pretty sad life. Most of the time, when he’s not cleaning out toilets, fixing sinks, or working on pipes in four apartment complexes, he’s spending most of the time drinking at the bar, getting drunk and starting brawls with people. However, his life is shaken-up a tad bit when his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies of a sudden heart-attack, leaving Lee to pick up after his brother and become the legal guardian to the son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). This means that Lee has to return to his hometown, watch over Patrick for the time being, take care of his brother’s affairs and figure out where to go next. But there’s something going on deeper and darker underneath Lee that makes his travel back down memory lane a whole lot more disturbing and it involves his ex-wife (Michelle Williams), who is still reeling from the affects of a tragedy she and Lee both had gone through when they were together, some many years ago.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has such a distinctive ear for dialogue, it’s a wonder why more of his movies haven’t worked. You Can Count on Me, while perhaps his most famous, is a good movie, that’s still outdone by its quirks and Margaret, even despite all of the setbacks and controversies during production, is still an uneven, overblown, and occasionally interesting movie that gets outdone by Lonergan not having enough focus. But here, all of those issues and problems there, seem to have gone away. Now, with Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan has found focus, he’s found humor, he’s found heart, he’s found self-control, and most importantly, he’s found a great cast who almost never let him down, or let-up in giving him the best that they can.

manchester2

Uh oh. Get the Kleenex ready, boys.

So, what the hell took so long?

Regardless of the “whys”, or “whos”, of that inane question, Manchester by the Sea is one of the better dramas I’ve seen in quite some time, but it isn’t quite what you’d think. Sure, it’s a little sad, it’s a little depressing and it’s definitely a little hard-to-watch, but all feels real, raw and gritty, to the point of where it never rings true or feels overdone. Rather than just making this a sad movie, about sad people, Lonergan finds smart, small and interesting ways to not just inject some humor into the proceedings, but also have us more interested in these characters in the first place.

Rather than just being a tale about sad people being sad, Lonergan takes it one, small step forward and shows us why they’re sad in the first place, how they cope with it all, how they get by, and most importantly, how they all connect with one another. Manchester by the Sea is one of the rare drama’s where you may actually get excited by the sight of watching a bunch of characters gather into one room and just speak to one another; Lonergan, despite a heavy theater background, knows how real people talk and express themselves, without ever seeming like he’s reaching too far and wide to show that. We could have all easily been turned off and away from this sad, repressed world that Manchester by the Sea shows us, but Lonergan does the smart thing in that he embraces it all and shows that, underneath all of the quiet, dark moments, there’s some light and love found in there, too.

Which is why Manchester by the Sea is far better than most indie dramas out there.

Sure, it embraces the darkness and sadness its characters represent, but also doesn’t just wallow in its own misery, either; the movie takes pride in building its characters, showing them for all that they are, and never passing any judgement. A movie like this, with these kinds of characters, could have easily came off as pandering, or even rude, but Lonergan seems to adore each and everyone of these characters, warts and all, that after awhile, it’s hard not to follow suit. They’re not all perfect, they’ve all got issues, they’ve all got benefits, and they’ve all something about them that’s just not, for lack of a better term, “troubling”, but then again, so does everyone on Earth. This idea that we’re actually sitting around, watching real life people, talk and engage with one another, makes it not just easier to relate to them all, but come closer and closer to loving them all, as well.

Ain't nothing like a brother's keeper.

Ain’t nothing like a brother’s keeper.

Oh and yeah, it helps that the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Casey Affleck is a pretty great actor, but over the past few years, hasn’t quite shown it. He’s been a little out of the spotlight, occasionally popping up in supporting roles, or being giving leading roles without much mainstream appeal, but here, as Lee Chandler, he gets the best role of his career and he makes every second work. Right from the start, there’s something interesting about this guy that makes us want to see how he lives his life, how he talks to people and generally, how he gets by. Affleck shows us that there’s more to him than just this downtrodden and slightly alcoholic shadow of a man – he shows that there’s a living, breathing and feeling human being that wants so desperately to get by in life, but for reasons that come very clear to us in the middle of the movie, just can’t. It’s a raw, gritty performance that doesn’t always go for the big emotions, but when it does, Affleck shines through it all and shows that he’s dangerously on the cusp of breaking out for the whole world to know his name and face.

Why it hasn’t happened yet, is totally beyond me.

As his brother, Kyle Chandler makes the best of what he can, what with the flashback structure popping in and out whenever it wants. However, as much as flashbacks can sometimes ruin a flick and seem obvious, above all else, it works here and helps make us understand more about these characters, as well as Chandler’s dead brother-character, who we see as a loving, adoring brother who was always there for his little bro, even when it was nearly impossible to do so. Despite playing the conventional role of the angst-y teen, Lucas Hedges does a nice job as the orphaned nephew in that he shows us a kid trying to come to terms with his life, where it’s heading and exactly who his family is. He has a nice bit of chemistry with Affleck that shows that there is some sort of a relationship there, but still clearly needs to be worked on.

However, the real standout in maybe just four or five scenes is Michelle Williams, showing up occasionally as Affleck’s ex-wife. While it may surprise some that she’s not in here a whole lot, every scene that Williams gets, she makes count for all that it’s worth; she’s funny, smart and dramatic, sometimes, all at the same time. There’s one key scene late in the movie where her and Affleck’s run into one another on the streets and it’s hard-to-watch by how emotional it gets. It shows that as long as the material is there, you can give an actress a small role and watch her work wonders for the whole product.

Not that Manchester by the Sea needed much help in the first place, because it’s quite great, but it’s definitely nice to have.

Consensus: At times, it’s funny and light, others, it’s dark, dramatic and sad, but no matter what, Manchester by the Sea is an expertly crafted and acted character-piece about life, love, regret, family and heartbreak, without ever coming off as melodramatic as it may sound.

9 / 10

It's okay. Go crabbing. Feel better about yourself.

It’s okay. Go crabbing. Feel better about yourself.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Life is depressing, then you die. It’s that simple.

Despite the big house and even bigger bank account, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is still incredibly sad about something. Her second husband (Armie Hammer) constantly leaves for business trips, when in reality, he’s just having sex with other women; she doesn’t keep in-touch with her teenage daughter; and she’s still feeling some sort of guilt from having cheated on her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). But for one reason or another, he sends her a transcript of his latest novel and it absolutely haunts Susan’s life – in her dreams, at work, at her house, seemingly everywhere. And why is that? Well, it just so happens to be a random tale about a husband (also Jake Gyllenhaal), a wife (Isla Fisher), and a daughter (Ellie Bamber) who get ran-off the road by a bunch of mean, dirty and foul Southerners. What does this novel have to do with Susan’s life? Well, she doesn’t quite know, but the more she continues to read, the more she starts to think about her own life and all of the countless decisions she should have, or shouldn’t have, made.

It’s been nearly seven years later since famed fashion-designer Tom Ford’s A Single Man and well, he’s been sorely missed. While that movie not just proved to be a great acting showcase for the always underrated Colin Firth, it also proved to the world that Ford was more than just one of the biggest, most notorious names in the fashion-world. His aspirations and ambitions with his career went further beyond designing pretty clothes and making a heap-tons of money – he had a skill for directing movies and guess what? It all showed.

I don't know, so don't ask.

I don’t know, so don’t ask.

But what’s so interesting about A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, his latest, is that Ford shows he doesn’t just have a knack for crafting beautiful visuals, but also knows how to make, well, a movie, with a good story, good acting, and most importantly, emotion. This time around, however, Ford’s creative-skills are put to the test in that he takes on what is, essentially, two movies into one; there’s the dark, depressing character-drama about sad and lonely rich people, and then, there’s the even darker, but far more grueling and violent Southern-revenge thriller. What do the two have to do with one another?

Well, I’m still trying to figure that all out.

However, there’s no denying that Ford crafts a very interesting, if at times, hard-to-watch movie. While it’s easy to give him credit for making the one story about the sad and lonely rich people and making it somehow work, it’s not as easy to give him credit for the Southern-fried revenge-thriller. The two are very hard movies to make, side-by-side, but somehow, he pulls it all off; both stories and compelling and also seem like they could have been their own movies.

Which is also the very same issue with Nocturnal Animals, in and of itself. For one, it takes a lot on, and handles it well, but also runs into the problem of having one story-line be fare more intriguing than the other. It happens to almost every movie with countless subplots, but here, it feels more disappointing, because they’re both very interesting to watch; it’s just that one clearly has more juice than the other.

Shave up, Jake. And possibly shower.

Shave up, Jake. And possibly shower.

And yes, I am talking about the Southern-fried revenge-thriller, although, it doesn’t make me happy to say that.

See, with that story, Ford is able to transport himself into far more deadly material, where anything can happen, at any given time. Just the introduction into this story, with the couple getting pulled-off to the side of the road and essentially terrorized over the course of ten minutes straight, still plays in my head, just by how truly disturbing it is. But it continues to get better and better, asking harder questions and not giving all that many answers, either.

But then, there’s the other-half of Nocturnal Animals and it’s still good, yet, also very different. It’s slower, more melodic and and far more interested in building its characters. And is it successful? Yes, but it just so happens to be placed-up, side-by-side with this other movie and it makes you wonder whether or not they should have been put that way in the first place? The book in which Tom Ford is adapting does, but I don’t know if it transitions well to the screen, where we literally have two entirely stories being told to us, with two very different styles.

So yeah, as you can tell, I’m still racking my brain around Nocturnal Animals.

If there’s anything I’m for sure certain about, it’s that Tom Ford is no fluke of a director and has, once again, put together a pretty great cast. Amy Adams gets a lot to do with very little, as the very cold and mean Susan Morrow who, through certain flashbacks, we do see develop over time and become more human to us; Jake Gyllenhaal plays her ex-husband as well as the daddy in the book very well, even if they are, two different performances, both seeming to be emotionally draining; Aaron Taylor-Johnson has always been fine in everything he’s done so far in his young career, but here, is absolutely bone-chilling and scary as the one psychopath from the story; Michael Shannon pops up as the Texas Ranger from that story and is clearly having a ball, yet also, showing off a great deal of heart and humanity in a story that, quite frankly, could have used more; and others seem to pop-up, like Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Michael Sheen, and Andrea Riseborough, and do whatever they can, but sometimes, have such limited screen-time that it’s a bit of a shame.

But hey, maybe that’s just me being extra needy.

Consensus: By working with two movies at once, Tom Ford expertly crafts Nocturnal Animals into being a dark, dramatic and sometimes disturbing emotional-thriller that may not fit perfectly together, but does offer up some really great performances.

7.5 / 10

It's love. Or is it?

It’s love. Or is it?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Allied (2016)

WWII looked like it was a pretty wild time.

It’s WWII and intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) literally gets dropped in North Africa where he is stationed for his next mission. Working alongside French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), Max tries to finish this deadly mission behind enemy lines still alive, which also means that he’ll have to fend-off any sort of sexual feelings for his fellow spy. However, that doesn’t quite happen; somehow, the two end up getting together, sharing relations and now, a whole lot more serious than either of them ever expected in the first place. Now, reunited in London, their relationship is put to the ultimate test when it comes out that Max may not know everything there is to know about Marianne and is pressured to choose love, or his country.

Believe it or not, Allied is directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Stephen Knight. I say, “believe it or not”, because it’s simply an odd combination; Knight is known for his dark, sometimes heavy tales of violence and betrayal, where Zemeckis, well, isn’t. Hell, if anything, he’s been more well-known as of late for letting CGI and today’s technology get the best of him a tad too much. Sure, for a director who has been working for as long as he has, to dabble so much with CGI, special effects, and motion-capture, is admirable, but it doesn’t always mean that his movies, in and of themselves, are all that terrific.

Who said gals can't shoot?

Who said gals can’t shoot?

Which is why Allied still isn’t terrific, but also may be the right step in the direction for Zemeckis to come back down to Earth and to make solid, well-told and simple human tales, without so much computer-magic being used.

What works best about Allied is that Zemeckis approaches the material in a very slow, but melodic and dialed-down manner that helps allow for the story to develop over time, without just jumping to conclusions, or twists, or turns automatically. It’s actually a very simple and straightforward plot, and because of that, the movie doesn’t necessarily aim for the stars and try to be anything it’s not; it’s an old school, old-fashioned and above all else, relatively easygoing spy flick taking place in London during WWII. Knight deserves credit, too, for not making his story seem more important or overblown than it actually is – it’s literally a tale of two spies, falling in love, doing spy-stuff and possibly coming apart at the seams. What else is there to know?

That’s why Allied, above all else, is a refresher, especially in today’s Oscar-bait world we are currently going to be living in for the next month or so. It may flirt with the idea of being a really heavy, powerfully emotional tale about love, sex, betrayal, war, violence and death, but really, is just another spy movie in which someone has to be killed, or not. Zemeckis does clearly want for the story to be a romantic-tale, but none of that quite registers; Pitt and Cotillard have good chemistry, but the movie needed to focus more on them actually falling head-over-heels for one another, then just showing them having hot, sometimes sweaty sex and automatically assuming that that means they’re “in love”. It doesn’t quite work that way in real life, nor does it work here, which is why Zemeckis and Knight’s small, but noticeable attempts to try and make it at that, don’t really register.

Okay, maybe there's some CGI here.

Okay, maybe there’s some CGI here.

If anything, we really just want to see spies be spies, in WWII, of all times and places.

And that aspect of the movie definitely works. Allied has a slightly different take on WWII in that it wasn’t just a terrible time to live in, what with the constant death and heartbreak occurring almost everywhere you looked, but also a time in which people just had to live through. Because of this, we get a small, but interesting look at the lives that these characters create for themselves during this time, where it isn’t just sadness, tears and constant depression, but some small, fleeting moments of happiness. We see people have sex, drink, have picnics, go to bars, do cocaine, and yes, have even more sex. Why does any of this matter? I’m not quite sure, honestly, but it shows that maybe that there was more to the times of WWII than most of us care to know or focus on.

Still though, at Allied‘s heart, it’s a tale of two spies, falling in and out of love, over a certain amount of time. And because the movie can be so intimate and focused, the performances can also seem so raw and gritty, which helps because Pitt and Cotillard are two of our finest actors working today and give it their all. Pitt gets the most spotlight and focus out of the two, with his character having to grappled with a lot of upsetting, conflicting emotions over a period of time and making us feel more for this person. We don’t really get to know much more about him other than that he’s a spy, is from Canada, and can speak French, but that’s sort of fine – the fact that he has no life, other than his spy one, actually makes his tale a whole lot sadder.

Same goes for Cotillard’s Marianne, who is a lot more mysterious and interesting to watch, only because the point of the movie is that we don’t know each and everything there is to know about her. Cotillard has a lot of fun here as the sexy and seductive spy that may be up to no good, but may also just be playing a role to get the mission done – we never know each and everything there is to know about her, and because of this, it’s hard to not want to see more of her. Had the movie been a lot less focused on its plot and a whole lot more attentive to its character, we probably would have gotten more of Cotillard, doing what she does best, but I guess this is what we get.

It’s not bad, just could have been a whole lot better, obviously.

Consensus: With enough focus placed on its two great leads, Allied gets by on being a compelling spy tale that could have been far better, but keeps its aim so low that it’s fine enough as is.

7 / 10

Can't see why Angie was so threatened.

Can’t see why Angie was so threatened.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Dick Tracy (1990)

What a Dick that guy is.

Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) is the type of detective all men of the law aspire to be. He’s charming, smart, inspired, always on the good side, gets whatever lady he wants, and always finds a way to catch the baddies before they cause anymore harm in the world. But he might just have met his match with “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino). Caprice has practically taken over the crime world by himself, and made almost every sort of illegal activity occur. With Tracy on his tale, though, times may change for Caprice.

I’ve never fully understood why this thing didn’t become a series of movies rather than just a movie that seemed to promise one. Apparently, Beatty has been hyping one up for a long time and is still fighting producers and creators as to whether or not he still owns the name/title Dick Tracy. Who knows? Maybe 26 years later ain’t too late?

Regardless, Dick Tracy came to us back in the day when comic book movies used to not be so serious and dark, and instead were just goofy, campy, and over-the-top. However, they were also knowing about it so it wasn’t just a strange movie from start-to-finish, it had reasoning for being so silly. That’s the smart approach Beatty thankfully takes here and is one of the key aspects to Dick Tracy being more than just another conventional comic book flick.

"Go fish."

“Go fish.”

Cause we’ve got way too much of that now.

It all starts as soon as we’re introduced to the character of Tracy, what he does, how he does it, and where he does it. He gets a call on his watch about somebody missing, leaves the play he is at with his gal, comes back five minutes later after scoping the scene out, and acts all natural and cool. If that doesn’t at least have you chuckle, then don’t even bother with this movie because that’s all there is here. Just goofiness, through and through, and that’s what keeps it relatively fun.

The only time the movie does seem to lose its sense of “fun”, is when it decides to focus its story on so many other elements that weren’t needed. Throughout the whole movie, we get to see Tracy’s miniature-sized side-kick, “The Kid”, pal around, hang out, and help Tracy solve crimes. The only problem is that he’s an orphan and orphans are supposed to be thrown into the orphanage as if they were garbage. Most of the movie concerns whether or not Tracy will end up falling for the tricks and keeping Kid, or getting rid of him and doing what the law says. It’s a dilemma that we’re supposed to care about, but just don’t. Kid is actually sort of annoying because all he does is yell, scream, and shout that there is some crime needing to be stopped. He’s a joyful, little lad, but it got annoying, real quick. And yes, is having “the Kid” loyal to the comics? Of course, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

But as the film goes on, it continues to entertain but bore at the same time. It’s very confusing actually because you never know what type of film Beatty is trying to go for. You know he’s trying to make a wacky, wild romp that’s based on some nutty source-material, but he never quite goes all out. Certain parts of Dick Tracy are really silly and weird and seem like the perfect fit for the kind of over-the-top, wild romp that comic books seem to promise. But then, there’s a bunch of subplots that continue to complicate the story and make it seem like we’re supposed to be caring about this more than we actually are.

After all, what everyone comes to Dick Tracy for, in the first place, is to have a little bit of fun. Take that away and what the hell is the point?

The ladies love Dick.

The ladies love Dick.

Thankfully, the cast always keeps things together. Despite being nearly 53 at the time and initially seeming like an odd fit, Beatty works well as Dick Tracy. There’s always been something about Beatty’s cool, calm and breezy charm, that makes you trust and like the guy, but also never feels like he’s macho-posing for the hell of it. It works for the character and makes Tracy seem like a good guy. Granted, in a time where superheros reign supreme and show up almost every, single summer, it’s a bit unexciting to get a superhero that just shoots a Tommy Gun and figures out predicaments pretty easily, but it’s simple. You don’t need a superhero that has some sort of inner-problems going on with his life, or something taking away what he can and cannot do with his special talents. You just need a guy that does right for the world he loves, does whatever he can, continues to fight until no more, and leave it at that.

Simplicity at its finest, folks.

But really, it’s Al Pacino who walks away with this all here. As “Big Boy” Caprice, Pacino spends literally each and every scene yelling and acting way over-the-top. But, it works. Pacino loves to scream and shout himself through a role, but while that can sometimes feel unnecessary in mostly everything he does, here, it works for the whole movie. The tone, whenever it’s focusing on him, is played for laughs, so we never need to take him seriously. Pacino’s in this crazy, little pulpy world that doesn’t care how much he screams, or how loud it is – it just cares how much fun he’s having.

Everybody else in this movie deserves a pat on the back for the same thing as well, even if they only show up for a good couple of minutes. James Caan is here for five seconds to look cool, mobster-ish, and intimidating, only to walk off and get blown-up by a secret car bomb; Paul Sorvino shows up in tons and tons of make-up, only to be betrayed and thrown in a tub of concrete underneath the ground; the late, great Charles Durning is playing a cop that Tracy can trust no matter what; and last, but sure as hell not least is Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, who does exactly that. It’s funny to see, especially because you know Hoffman is enjoying himself while doing so. Oh and Madonna is quite the sexy, fiery presence that the movie oh so promised on in all of its advertisements, proving that she could definitely act, given the right material to play around with.

Consensus: Beatty’s direction may be too all-over-the-place for such goofy material as Dick Tracy to make it work wonders, but it always stays fun, light, goofy, and knowingly over-the-top, without ever making apologies for being so. It’s just pure, unadulterated fun.

7 / 10

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Den of Geek

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Destiny’s Child was a thing?

After serving in the Bravo Squad out there in Iraq, nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) returns home for what is, presumably, a victory tour. A video of him on the battlefield and aiding a fellow soldier (Vin Diesel) went viral and has now made him the poster boy for the war effort and because of that, the media wants to get every ounce of him that they can handle. And you know what? The Army isn’t so against whoring him, or his fellow soldiers, out for the greater good of society and have it appear that the actual war effort everyone speaks so highly of is actually, well, worth it after all. Even though Billy still keeps on getting flashbacks and headaches from his tour in Iraq, the Army still needs him, as well as the rest of the Bravo Squad to get on the field at halftime during the Thanksgiving football game and wave to the crowd. Meanwhile, Billy himself is literally about to break open, thinking about what he’s going to do next with his life, and whether or not he wants to stay put at home, with his dedicated and loyal sister (Kristen Stewart), or go back to the war and continue doing what he did before.

Quite hogging up Beyonce's spotlight, Billy!

Quite hogging up Beyonce’s spotlight, Billy!

Ang Lee is probably one of the best directors we have working today. He’s constantly challenging himself to take on different stories, as well as to work with new technology and advance the way we, the audience, watch his movies. He’s bounced from genre-to-genre so often that it’s no surprise some of his movies don’t quite work, but no matter what, they’re always interesting to watch, just because it’s Ang Lee and the guy can’t help but try his hardest with whatever he’s working with.

And then there’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Although a lot of people have been going on and on about the 120 fps frame-rate and 3D. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see the movie in that way, but what I can assure you is that I saw the movie as clear as humanly imaginable. Is it a gimmick? Possibly. But is it neat to watch? Yes, but it also doesn’t really add much to the movie, either. What it does add is a certain level of authenticity and have us see every crease, every pimple, every shave-mark in these characters’ faces. Why? In all honesty, not really sure. Ang Lee seems to have used it to challenge himself, once again, but sadly, it doesn’t add-up to much.

It just makes a dull movie, really pretty to look at and that’s about it.

And with Billy Lynn, Lee seems to be doing a whole lot, with very little. On one aspect, he’s playing around with comedy, drama, satire and thriller elements all in one movie, while also doing his best to make sense of the constantly changing-in-time narrative. What could have been a very simple and easy-to-track movie about a bunch of soldiers returning home after a hellish tour in Iraq, soon turns into a very complicated, unnecessary overstuffed movie about said soldiers, but also about politicians, football, the American Dream, PTSD, money, sex, family, and most importantly, violence.

In fact, if there is one aspect of the story that Lee seems to get right, it’s the actual violence itself. While we don’t get a whole lot of scenes of Billy on the battlefield and in Iraq, the very few times that we do, they’re are startling, intense, and most of all, disturbing. One sequence in particular starts off violent in a chaotic sense, then turns into a smaller, much more contained bit of violence that, surprisingly, is a lot scarier to watch than all of the other shooting and explosions. But of course, that’s literally one piece of this very large pie and when you put it all back together, they don’t quite fit together.

Who hasn't thought of Vin Diesel as their daddy?

Who hasn’t thought of Vin Diesel as their daddy?

One piece is a satire on how common, everyday citizens use the war and the soldiers themselves as propaganda to help continue and make sense of the war effort; another piece is how the soldiers themselves are so screwed-up that they don’t really know that they need the help to survive in everyday, normal life; there’s another piece about settling back into normal, everyday life, which is a lot harder for a person who has actually gone to a place where they were told to kill the enemy, by any means necessary; and then, there’s another piece about actually relating to others about the experience in the war and realizing that it was an absolutely terrible time in your life.

As you can tell, yeah, there’s a lot going on here.

Tack on the fact that the movie has a lot of characters here, all saying and doing something, but not really serving a purpose. Lee’s got a lot on his plate and because of that, a lot of stuff misses, and barely any of it hits; the constant jokes about Hollywood trying to make a movie about these guys’ real-life experience is an old joke that gets constantly played over, again and again. And with Lee, you get the sense that he truly does have something interesting to say here, but what is that? War is hell, but also so is back at-home? Or, is he trying to say that no one really understands the war until they’ve actually gone out on the battlefield and killed someone?

Once again, not really sure sure. What I do know is that Lee, as usual, keeps the material as entertaining and interesting as he possibly can, but after awhile, the story just doesn’t connect. We’ve seen far too many of these anti-war flicks by now, that without a very effective stance, none of it really matters. Shaping Billy Lynn’s actual PTSD during a Destiny’s Child halftime is one of the more impressive moments of the film, let alone, Ang Lee’s career, but it comes literally in the middle of a movie that needed far more energy and excitement to really keep itself compelling.

If there’s anything to take away from Billy Lynn, however, it’s that Lee knows how to assemble a pretty crazy and eclectic cast, all of whom do fine, but like I said, aren’t working with the best of material.

Kristen Stewart is good as the kind-hearted and supportive sister-figure who, honestly, isn’t the film as much as she should be; Chris Tucker tries to have some fun as the Hollywood agent, but doesn’t really have anything actually funny to do; Garrett Hedlund plays the leader of the Bravo and seems like he had more fun in Pan; Vin Diesel is an odd fit as Billy’s Lieutenant, who may or may not be a father-figure; Steve Martin shows up randomly as Norm Ogelsby, a very rich Texan who owns the professional football team and does what he can with an in-and-out Southern accent; and newcomer Joe Alywn does a very good job as our title character, showing a great deal of heart, warmth and insecurity as a young kid, unfortunately, forced to grow up, real quick.

Consensus: With so much going on, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk feels like a jumble that Ang Lee, try as he might, has a bit of a hard time navigating through and making sense of, even if certain aspects of the whole do deliver.

6 / 10

It's okay, kid. We'll take care of ya.

It’s okay, kid. We’ll take care of ya.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Creative Planet Network

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Growing up blows. But hey, drinking in bars is pretty cool, right?

Growing up, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) didn’t always have the best time. She was a casually awkward girl, who couldn’t quite make friends, hit puberty at a weird time in her life, and most importantly, lost her beloved father while she was in the car with him. Now, at 17, Nadine has hit peak awkwardness when her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). It’s obviously a weird and downright terrible situation for Nadine, who has gotten so comfortable just hanging around with Krista. Now, she feels alone and in desperate need to find some way to take up her time; she tries to get in with Darian and Krista’s friends, but just can’t talk or relate to any of them. Most of her time, to be honest, is spent bothering and ranting to her English teacher (Woody Harrelson), who clearly has a lot better things to do then just sit around and listen to a teenager whine about how life gets her down. But now Nadine thinks she may have found an outlet for her sadness through thoughtful teen Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto), who not only gives her a glimmer of hope with her dating life, but also shows that she’s not the most awkward teen in the area.

Come on. Who hasn't tried to look like Pedro at least once in their life?

Come on. Who hasn’t tried to look like Pedro at least once in their life?

The Edge of Seventeen, on paper and through all of the countless ads, trailers and posters, seems like nothing more than your average, run-of-the-mill, downright nauseating teen-comedy that goes for the raunchy laughs and false modesty that could have only been written by a bunch of people who never knew what it was like to grow up in high school, or be socially awkward, and are trying so desperately hard to connect with “the kids”. And no, after having seen the movie, I can’t say that I’m far off from my expectations, either. Except yes, I totally am.

See, the Edge of Seventeen is a pretty run-of-the-mill, conventional teen-comedy, but there’s more to it than that. For one, it’s written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig who is, for one, a woman, and a very talented writer, at that. She seems to know just how it is that kids talk and get along with one another; they’re awkward, weird, sometimes funny, and always trying to impress one another. Watching a casual conversation between two characters in the Edge of Seventeen is not only sweetly nostalgic, but downright cringe-inducing because, well, this is what it’s like to grow up.

While Craig has created this character of Nadine to help channel out all of the angst and embarrassment from her younger years, the feelings of coming-of-age and growing up are universal; that point you get at in your life and in high school when you don’t quite know what you want to do yet, who your friends are, or even who the heck you really are. So instead of sitting down and taking a long, hard thinking-session about it, you just decide to play video-games, watch TV, or go on the internet. It’s typical kids stuff that, while watching the Edge of Seventeen, I myself couldn’t help but relate to.

But of course, there is something of a story to the Edge of Seventeen and while it’s not perfect, it still feels honest and raw, something that’s missing from a lot of other teen-comedies.

In a way, it’s refreshing to hear teenagers cuss and talk about sex without a single care in the world. But it’s also more refreshing to hear actors that know how to deliver it all. As Nadine, Hailee Steinfeld has a lot to do and comes out on top; her character doesn’t always make the best decisions, say the smartest things, or even act rationally, but there’s always this sense that, yes, she is a kid and yes, she may eventually figure it all out. Either way, we see a lot to her character that makes her sweet and bubbly, yet at the same time, raw and vulnerable. It’s the kind of performance we don’t see in teen-comedies and it’s also a greater example of why Steinfeld’s one of our best young actresses out there working today.

Tuesdays with Woody.

Tuesdays with Woody.

She’s not the only one who gets away with the whole movie, however. Blake Jenner is good as her older brother, who shows that there’s a little more heart and compassion to his jock-y ways; Haley Lu Richardson plays her sketchy bestie-turned-mortal-enemy and tries to remain sympathetic, even if it’s hard not to hate her character; Kyra Sedgwick may not get a whole lot to do with the mom role, but makes the best of what she can; Hayden Szeto, despite being nearly eleven years older than Steinfeld, still has great chemistry with her and feels believable as a fellow awkward kid who has a better head on his shoulders, but still doesn’t quite got it all figured out yet; and Woody Harrelson, in what could have been a very thankless role as the sometimes inspirational teacher, brings heart, warmth, and humor, sometimes coming close to stealing the show.

But where the Edge of Seventeen ends is that it does have a tad too much of a happy/sappy ending that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite ring true.

Without saying too much, there’s this feeling that we’re supposed to be left with of having this idea that life is going to get better. However, a part of me is curious just how this is? Life, for Nadine at least, will continue to get more and more awkward, with sex coming into the picture, more drinking, and possibly drugs. Oh and yeah, what about her brother and her best friend shacking up? The movie seems to bring all this up, only to then try and tie it all up in a neat, little bow by the end of the hour-and-a-half and sure, it’s an enjoyable ride, but for some reason, it feels like there’s a much bleaker, much more realistic ending waiting somewhere out in the distance.

Who knows, maybe I’ll just have to wait for the Edge of Twenty-One.

Now that’s going to be awkward.

Consensus: Funny, touching and well-acted, the Edge of Seventeen may cop-out by the end, but altogether, still feels like a raw, sometimes painful-to-watch teen-comedy that has bite and something to say.

7 / 10

I know, right? Awkward!

I know, right? Awkward!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bleed for This (2016)

Never say never. Even when you probably should.

Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a local Providence boxer who shoots to stardom after winning two world title fights. He’s also got a bit of a brash, cocky attitude that ticks off everyone of his opponents, as well as makes him a fan-favorite for boxing and sports fans alike. He’s got so much potential to do great things with his boxing-career and he’s trained so hard for it all, that no matter what happens to him, he’s not going to let it slip away. Especially not even a near-fatal car accident that leaves him with a broken neck and ideas that he may not ever walk again. Rather than getting his spine worked on and giving him even better chances of walking again, Vinny decides to go with Halo surgery, that leaves him with this crazy box strapped to his head and shoulders. Why? Because Vinny believes that he’s still got what it takes to get back in the ring and defend his title. However, time starts to roll on and eventually, Vinny gives up, believing that there’s no reason to try anymore. That is, until he starts lifting and training again, even with the harness on his body. This is when his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), decides to come back to Vinny and mount their comeback, even if absolutely no one believes that it can, or better yet, should happen.

I think it goes without saying that sex with that thing on is practically nonexistent.

I think it goes without saying that sex with that thing on is practically nonexistent.

Bleed for This comes so very close to be the ugly stepchild of the Fighter, that it’s almost distracting. However, what works best about Bleed for This is that director Ben Younger does small, rather interesting things to not just play around with the formula and conventions of a boxing movie, but avoid similarities to far better ones, too. In the Fighter, the movie was much more concerned with the wacky, wild and over-the-top family surrounding the title character, than actually him, whereas the story behind Bleed for This, and the very true one at that, is actually about the fighter himself and barely anyone else.

Just the way a boxing flick should be told.

See, with Vinny Pazienza, though we don’t really get to know much about him in the first act, other than that he’s a bit of a hot-shot and show-boat, the movie still makes up for all of that in showing us just the kind of person he truly is when faced with death-defying adversity. Once Vinny gets into the car-accident, it would have been incredibly easy and also, boring, for Bleed for This to become a run-of-the-mill redemption tale, played to hokey music and even hokier lines like “never give up, kid”, or “never give up”, or something along those lines, but Younger is a much smarter director than that. If anything, Younger knows how to avoid all of those age old cliches of what we expect from the boxing movie and find a way to not necessarily forget about them, but just not really embrace them much, either; he puts less of an emphasis on the fact that Vinny truly is an underdog and more of on the fact that this really happened and well, whether or not we know how the story actually ends, it’s quite a journey to watch.

It also helps that there’s a great deal of fun and lively energy to Bleed for This throughout the whole two hours. Whereas with Younger’s debut, Boiler Room, it sort of felt like all of the fun and wild energy was there, but soon, began to dissipate once a real, actual story started weaving its way into the main-frame, Bleed for This instead takes the story and runs rampant with it; none of what we’re really seeing is fresh or original, but it almost doesn’t matter. So what if everyone surrounding Vinny, including Vinny himself, all speak in ridiculous Boston-like accents? So what if Vinny works out and trains to AC/DC? So what if Vinny’s sisters all look and act tacky? So what if Vinny’s dads a little bit of a dead-beat and only cares about making money? So what Vinny’s trainer, Kevin Rooney, is an alcoholic, who has seen far better years as Tyson’s trainer?

"Come on, champ. Bring us home an Oscar."

“Come on, champ. Bring us home an Oscar.”

So what to all of this formulaic junk? Because really, the movie’s best and at its brightest when it doesn’t care about playing by any certain rules and just telling its scrappy, underdog tale, the way it wants to. Does it get wrapped-up in the usual issues that most sports movies do? Of course it does, but it does such a good job of telling its story in an exciting manner, that it hardly matters because it’s barely even noticeable.

The more sports movies that follow this path, I’m telling you, the better.

It should also go without saying that Bleed for This is helped out incredibly by the cast involved, most in particular, Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart, in one of the best performances I’ve seen either give in quite some time. Teller’s brash, cocky attitude that may be all too real, works well for someone like Vinny, who may not be as much of a d-bag, as much of a tool who loves his body and loves how he can beat people up. In that sense, Teller’s perfect for the role, but also works in other instances when we see Vinny’s true colors and realize that, above all else, he’s still kind of a kid who just wants to put on his gloves and fight.

And come to think of it, aren’t we all like that a little bit?

With this and Sully, it finally seems like Aaron Eckhart is back on the right track to reminding us all why he’s such a talent not to be wasted on crap like I, Frankenstein, or Battle: Los Angeles (seriously, Aaron, what the hell, man?). Regardless, Eckhart’s great as Kevin Rooney, working with an almost laughably cartoonish Boston-accent that works hand-in-hand with his bald head and ever-expanding beer-gut. Is it the kind of showy role that most actors roll with when they’re looking desperately for Oscar attention? Pretty much, but Eckhart is so good here, it hardly matters. You see a certain love, friendship and understanding between him and Vinny that grows over time, making it not only seem like the two understand each other, but possibly even need each other, too. It’s basically a bromance, without all of the excessive hugging and kissing.

You know, typical bro stuff.

Consensus: Even with all the conventions of a boxing movie standing in its way, Bleed for This gets by on heart, good performances, and a great deal of energy that buffs formula in small, but smart ways.

8 / 10

"Yeah, they told me to win the title, so I did. Am I right?"

“Yeah, they told me to win the title, so I did. Am I right?”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire