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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: December 2014

Big Eyes (2014)

So, wait? “Tracing” isn’t actually considered art? Bollocks!

After many years of putting up with an abusive relationship, Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) wakes her daughter up, packs their bags, gets in the car, and heads straight to the city of San Francisco, where she hopes to make a living with her odd, off-kilter paintings of children with largely-proportioned eyes. However, Margaret soon has a wake-up call when she realizes that selling paintings is not only hard if you don’t know how to sell them, or to whom, but also if you’re a woman who wants to be taken more seriously in the world of art. That’s when charming businessman, and occasional painter, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) steps into her life and practically takes her, as well as her daughter, by storm. They get married and, wouldn’t you know it? The two start actually selling their paintings and gain some notoriety in the meantime. Except, that the paintings they’re selling aren’t just Margaret’s, but that they’re Margaret’s, being passed-off as Walter’s, and by none other than Walter himself. It’s an obvious dilemma, but one that falls into some strange, crazy places along the way.

He paints.

He paints.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been impressed by a Tim Burton movie. Most of that has to do with his over-bearing style that hasn’t been fresh since Sleepy Hollow, and some of that also has to do with the fact that the guy can’t seem to get enough of that bro-mance he has with Johnny Depp. But now, for the first time since 2003, Burton has stepped away from his life with Depp and seems to be getting back to his older, Ed Wood-ish days where he not only focused on real life, actual human beings, but give us a humane, relatively normal view into their lives. While it may sound ordinary and boring, for someone like Burton, that’s sort of the point. In order to show the world that you’ve still got the story-telling talent that made you so well-liked and appreciated before, sometimes, you just have to go back to the basics of what made you famous in the first place.

That’s why, after many years of disappointment, after disappointment, it seems like Burton’s back on-track. For how long, is a whole other question entirely, but for now, let’s just suck up Big Eyes for all that it is: A solid, well-told, and overall, well-done biopic about a very strange, but very true real life story.

Without diving in too deep and getting even myself lost in what I’m trying to say, I’ll just note that Big Eyes is a pretty-looking movie. Every set-piece feels and looks exactly like how the bright, lovely days and nights of the 50’s would feel and look, but that’s not what makes this movie to begin with. What mainly does it is the fact that Burton keeps his eye on the story here, as well as its characters, and hardly ever branches away from it. While one could say he’s doing himself a slight by holding back and telling this story as by-the-numbers as one could get, for someone like Burton, that isn’t a bad thing.

In fact, Burton shows resilience here that I haven’t seen from him in quite some time, and it works for the movie as it allows for this story to tell itself, and dive in deeper to some of the more interesting aspects of itself. For instance, the movie makes it clear that while there were many female artists successfully working in the 1950’s, most of them didn’t have the type of sales-pitch to certain people to not only make them rich, but well-known by more people than just their peers, but also by people who don’t usually pay attention to art in the first place. Mostly what Margaret Keane paints are creepy-looking children that’s meant to mean something, yet, what that something means, we never know.

However, that’s sort of the point Burton’s trying to drive home here – it’s not that the art is saying or doing anything spectacular, it’s more so that it was famous and sold really well to those who liked to impress their fellow friends and confidantes at fancy, extravagant dinner-parties. In other words, the art world is based on people’s bullshit and what’s sort of interesting about what this movie does is that it actually explores the notion that maybe that bullshit is exactly what somebody like Walter Keane thrived on. He loved the spectacle of art, and didn’t really care about whatever message it was trying to get across; simply, he just wanted it to make people happy. And for some reason, that’s what Margaret’s art: Made people happy, even if they didn’t know how or why. It simply just did.

But while Burton touches the surface of this idea, there’s a slight feeling that it doesn’t go down this road as much as it should. This makes sense considering how close the still-living Margaret Keane seemed to be during the making of this movie, but it also takes away from what could have been a very thought-provoking piece about the world of art, why it’s important, and just why someone like Walter Keane was able to exploit for all that it was worth, even if he didn’t mean to intentionally do so. However, like I said before though, Burton still keeps this story fun, light, and interesting, even if it seems like he’s just going by on what the time-line presents him with. That’s not a bad thing, per se, especially because the story itself is quite fun and interesting, but it made me wish there’d been more of a push and shove into actually developing these characters, as well as their situations just a bit more.

Though, to be honest, I’ll take a pleasant Burton-piece over another Johnny Deep team-up, any day of the week.

And I do wholeheartedly mean that, too.

She paints.

She paints.

Where Keane’s lives and personalities get the most attention are from the performances by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, who are both fine in this movie, even if they both seem like they’re in two different movies altogether. Waltz is probably the clearest example of this as his Walter Keane is all over-the-place – and I do mean that in the literal-sense. Right from when we’re introduced to him, we get the sense that Walter Keane is a bit of a sneaky fella who may be using Margaret for his own well-being, or may be a simple, nice guy who actually has an attraction to Margaret that doesn’t concern him seeing dollar-signs. Either way, the guy clearly seems to be off-his-rocker every time he is around other people and you never know whether or not it’s all an act to make himself seem likable, or he really is just this nutty, energetic of a bro.

The movie never fully hits a specific landing-strip on what it wants to say about Walter Keane, except that he was clearly the bad guy in this story. That said, Waltz is usually great at playing a bad guy in any story, and also even being able to bring out some humanity within as well. And that’s exactly what he does here as Walter Keane, except that he’s incredibly hammy and over-the-top, for better, as well as for worse. For better, because he actually brings a lot of fun and excitement to the character of Walter Keane who, from what I’ve read, was pretty much that kind of person in real life. And, for worse, because he seems to be trying his hardest to steal every single scene away from Amy Adams and her incredibly subtle performance. Though it’s always intriguing to see what rabbit Waltz is able to pull out of this character’s hat next, it mostly seems to take away from what’s a very powerful performance from the always great Adams, although you wouldn’t know it.

Adams down-plays her role as Margaret and does a fine job at it, so much so, that it actually makes it understandable as to why a meek, mild woman such as herself would actually marry such a hyperactive and wild charmer like Walter Keane. They aren’t the perfect match for one another, but they’re both there for one another in a time where they seem like they need someone the most; to love, to cherish, to hold, and to also pay rent. So yeah, to me, it made sense why Margaret would actually take a sacrifice in her life and marry Walter, even if that meant she’d be sacrificing a whole lot more than her time – her art. Art which, to begin with, was already nice and pretty to look at, but anything more would just be too much.

Hey, sort of like this movie! Wow!

Consensus: Oddly enough, Big Eyes finds Tim Burton at his most restrained and simple, yet, it works wholly because the real life story he’s covering is an odd and complex one, but also fun and interesting into the certain areas it goes.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

We all paint!

We all paint!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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Into the Woods (2014)

‘Cause nothing bad ever happens in the woods.

Many stories are presented here, with almost nearly every one converging in some way, shape, or form, in the deep, dark, hellish woods everybody seems to be travelling into and out of. It all starts when a Baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) are told by a witch (Meryl Streep) that if they want to have a baby, they have to give her the exact ingredients she needs to make a potion that will have her to go back to her youth. The Baker and his wife are more than willing to face this task at-hand here and meet many other characters along the way. Like, for instance, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) who constantly seems to be leading on Prince Charming (Chris Pine), without any promises of actually getting together and/or married. Also, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) meets up with a little boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) who both codger up something of a friendship, although the big, bad wolf (Johnny Depp) is constantly lurking somewhere in the background. Each story wants to have a good ending, but to ensure a good ending, what must have to be done?

Eat More Chikin'.

Eat Mor Chikin’.

There’s been plenty of talk surrounding Into the Woods and none of it, I feel, is really needed. Sure, if you have already seen the original Stephen Sondheim musical on Broadway or anywhere else, then yeah, you might be a little disappointed that they took some things out, or slightly alluded to others, only to make sure that they’d get a PG-rating that’s bigger and better for the family-friendly audience. Purely from a business standpoint, this is a smart move, but it also brings into question: How much can the original source material of a product be tampered with, to still allow for its original identity to stay relatively put?

Well, my friends, that’s a question I don’t feel the need to answer because, quite frankly, I have never seen the play before. Therefore, it’s a bit difficult for me to make my mind up about what the right, as well as the wrong decisions were made in making sure that Into the Woods not only stays true to its original, core audience, but also is friendly enough so that the whole family can come out to the movies to see, have fun with, and not have to worry about discussing the birds or the bees on the ride home. What I will make up my mind in is saying that Into the Woods, while not perfect, is still a fun musical that should be seen by any and all members of the family.

There, that’s it.

Well, not really. Seeing as how there’s more to this movie than just a bunch of fun song and dance numbers, I think it’s important to note that most of what this movie does is interesting. The idea of taking all of these different fairy-tale stories and throwing them into this world where both realism and fantasy mix together, definitely brings a lot of intriguing, yet compelling elements of story-telling together. For one, you have the tales as old as time that have hardly even been picked apart, but then, on the other note, you have a human heart with a cynical mind, that likes to think that these stories are made so that simply kids can either be very happy to hear, or go to bed. Either way, it’s the kids that are hearing the stories the most and taking them all in, which is why it’s so funny that most of Into the Woods seems to be channeled more towards the adults in the audience, much rather than the other way around.

That’s not to say that most of the movie can’t be enjoyed by the little tikes who decide to go out and see this; as mentioned before, the song and dance numbers are fun, light, and sometimes, incredibly catchy that it might just have them humming it on the way out of the theater, and probably for some time afterwards. But most of Into the Woods seems like, when you look beneath the surface, is a hard-hitting, sometimes dark tale about the choices we all make in our lives and how, while they may seem for the better at the present time that they are made, don’t always turn out so well when thought-about more in the future time to come. The movie also goes on to show all of these characters in both positive, as well as negative lights. Though it seems and sounds like it’s all too much for the little kiddies at home, I can assure you that director Rob Marshall does a solid enough job here that he doesn’t allow for too much of it to go over their heads.

It’s just that more of it goes right directly into the heads of their parents.

For instance, take the character of the Baker’s wife, who is played so well by the always lovely Emily Blunt. While she’s a meek and well-mannered lady, she’s still one that clearly wants to be more than just a mother. She wants to be a lover, and a person who feels needed and desired by those she doesn’t often get such affections from. Without saying too much, she gets what she wants from a certain source and it helps give her character much happiness, for the time being. Once that time is up and she’s had it with all of the cheering, she soon realizes that the choice she’s made may have not been the best for her, or for her husband in the long-run. While she may have thought of it as a smart decision on her part that would bring her much happiness and joy, she soon comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t the smartest move on her part and as a result, without giving too much away again, has to face the consequences.

Captain Kirk and Jack Ryan all rolled up into one hunk. Hold onto your panties, ladies.

Captain Kirk and Jack Ryan all rolled up into one hunk. Hold onto your panties, ladies.

Blunt’s character isn’t the only one who has to suffer the consequences of her sometimes naughty decisions. Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella character knows that she shouldn’t be playing with a person’s heart, but when the power is in her control, she can’t help but do so; Daniel Huttlestone’s Jack wants to be with his best-friend once again and is willing to do whatever he can to make sure of that, but by doing so, may also put those around him at-risk and in total danger; and Meryl Streep’s witch, while seeming like she’s doing a nice thing for a couple who clearly needs her help, is also very selfish in that what she wants to do for herself is to only make herself happy, and nobody else but. The list of good and bad decisions made by these characters go on and on, but all feel honest and well-written, without ever being hammered onto us, the audience, in any way.

Sure, the darkness of the later-part of this movie definitely comes as a bit of a shock once the gears switch themselves around and we realize that there’s going to be some hearts broken here, but it works. Whether you expect it or not, it all feels well-intentioned and as if it wants to inform each and every kid who decides to see this that there are consequences for the choices you make in life, so definitely choose wisely. And also, definitely make sure to do the right thing.

But, like I said before, the movie doesn’t shove this down our throats too much, as it is, as expected, still a fun musical with a more than capable of singing cast.

What I said about Blunt, can definitely be said about Corden who has a bit of a dilemma in his own right that he wants to be a good daddy, but because he didn’t have one, he doesn’t know how to be; Streep’s witch character, while nasty and mean, is sometimes charming in her own evil-way that it’s nice to finally see Streep having fun, without trying to be too emotional either; Chris Pine hams it up so perfectly as Prince Charming, the character every little girl loves and every little boy loved to hate, and for the exact reasons as presented here in a perfect, self-deprecating manner; Anna Kendrick is sweet and pretty as Cinderella, but still does a nice job at reminding us that her character can be a little too quick to push the button with every choice that comes her way; and Johnny Depp, for as little screen-time as he has, is strange, off-kilter, and overall, a delight to watch. He’s not in it for too long, but is at least around enough to be funny, enjoyable, and a little creepy, like we always expect from Depp.

Except that, this time, he’s not with Tim Burton! Yay! Everybody’s a winner!

Consensus: With a bunch of fun, exciting, and well-performed song and dance numbers, Into the Woods presents an actual musical that can be enjoyed by the whole family, yet, still doesn’t shy away from getting down to the nitty, gritty moral decisions of its characters and the lessons that they teach.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Hiding from big Tim, I presume.

Hiding from big Tim, I presume.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Imitation Game (2014)

Being liked by others is so overrated.

During WWII, when Britain needed him the most, number-crunching genius Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) stepped up to the plate. However, it wasn’t easy for a fella like him. In Bletchley Park, Turing became involved of a top-secret program where he, as well as a few select others would try to decipher the German’s Enigma Code. Not only would it help them understand what the Nazi’s were going to do next, where and when, but it would also give the British an upper-hand in the war and possibly even allow them to win it. But problems arise with Turing’s personal life, as he’s definitely not well-liked by those he works with and, mostly due to his secretive homosexuality, hardly ever opened-up to those around him. The one exception to his rule was fellow number-cruncher Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who Turing develops something of a friendship with, even as hard as it may have been for him. But the fact of the mater remains: There is a war that needs to be fought and won, and Turing was not going to stop one bit in finishing it once and for all. Even if his own life and reputation depended on it.

"Quick! I need a three-letter word for 'being twee'!"

“Quick! I need a three-letter word for ‘being twee’!”

Everything about the Imitation Game screams “Oscar-bait”, and reasonably so. It’s not just produced by the incredibly sneaky and conniving Weinstein’s, but looks and feels just exactly like the King’s Speech. It’s handsomely-made with its production-values matching every single bit of detail it’s mean to portray; features a lead character that has many personal problems that may, or may not, hinder his effectiveness at the job he’s called on to do; and there’s even a female love-interest thrown in the mix as well. Overall, the movie has a very old-fashioned feel to it, that makes me feel like it’s the kind of movie I could see with my grand-mom and pop-pop, rather than seeing all by myself, or with my buddies, after we’ve had a few at the local bar.

But that doesn’t necessarily always mean a bad thing – it just means a thing. A movie can absolutely, positively hit every beat you expect to hit, yet, still not be bad. It’s just conventional and easy to predict a mile away. Once again, nothing wrong with that, especially when it’s done in the right way it should be.

And that’s where the Imitation Game works most of its magic – it has an old-time look and feel, but feels like it actually moves along at a fine pace, building both its plot, as well as its characters. Mostly though, it works with the former, in that it develops this lead character, Alan Turing, in a way that’s respectful enough to the history that he holds behind him (and reasonably so), but also shows us that well, yeah, the dude wasn’t perfect and more or less, had many problems that ended up getting in the way of his day-to-day human connections. Didn’t make him a terrible person, but just a person who possibly you, nor I would ever want to get stuck with talking to at a dinner-party.

If it was Benedict Cumberbatch playing any other character, then yeah, I’d totally want to hang out with him all day and night. But as Alan Turning? Sorry, Ben!

But, anyway, like I was saying about Turing here – the way he’s written and developed over time is well-done. We see him in all sorts of shades, and while they all may not be effective in their own ways, they still at least give us a bigger-impression of who this person was and why he matters to any of us, whether we be from Britain, the United States, Germany, or Niagara Falls. The movie definitely spells itself out as being important in nearly every frame, but it never became bothersome to the rest of it; it’s just a story about a person who deserves to be appreciated.

Though, there is something to be said for a movie that clearly wants us to sympathize and even identify with its lead character, yet, have him act in such ways that don’t seem believable, even by today’s society standards. For instance, back in the old days of England, being gay was considered “a crime”. It didn’t matter if you were a nice citizen who paid your taxes, lived a comfortable life and hadn’t done anything bad to anybody, ever; if you were gay, you were considered a bad person who needed to be locked away, or ticked, tooled, and played around with, as a way to hope that the government would be able to “get the gay out of you”. In case you couldn’t tell by my writing, it sounds all so very ridiculous and crazy, but that’s just the way the world was back then and it’s the way we, as a society, have to live with in knowing and understand as fact. Doesn’t mean we can’t move on from it and grow as a better, more well-adjusted society, but it also doesn’t mean that we have to forget about it neither and act as if it never existed in the first place.

What bothers me though about the way Turing’s written here, is that they make him out to be a guy who not only seemed like he had relatively serious case of Aspergers, but was openly letting people know that he was a homosexual, if push ever came to shove. My problem with this wasn’t that he told people and they were mostly fine with it, but it was more that he was telling people about it in the first place, even if it meant he would be locked away and possibly drugged-up for the rest of his entire life. This isn’t mean throwing out my own personal opinion, because it feels and reads-off as phony, especially given that the rest of the movie wants to be seen as something of a history-lesson.

I could only imagine the total of men and women who auditioned for the roles as the soliders in this scene.

I could only imagine the total of men and women who auditioned for the roles as the soldiers in this scene.

The bits and pieces about Turing actually cracking the code, what he and the rest of his crew had to do with that code, and for how long, were very interesting and seem like they’re trying more to actually inform the audience about history, much rather than actually give them an interesting, compelling story. It works as being such, to be honest, but for the most part, it feels and reads-off as being pretty legitimate and interesting. However, while the other bits and pieces about Turing’s personal life and how those around him approached it, while interesting at first, slowly dissolved into seeming unreasonable and almost like a liberal’s apology for all of the bad things the past had done to certain people of a certain group/demographic. It didn’t fit right with me and made the movie as a whole, feel like it was just taking a lot of liberties with its story.

That said, where the movie got very interesting was whenever it portrayed the relationship between Turing and his possible love-interest, Joan Clark. Though the movie has a bit of a hard time portraying someone as beautiful and charming as Keira Knightley as “plain”, it still gets by on showing how these two interact with one another, why there’s something of an attraction between the two, and why it’s a total shame that they can’t be together in an acceptable way. They both clearly have an attraction to one another, even if it isn’t simply by attraction. Knightley also does a solid job with a character who feels like she’s trying so very hard to be accepted from her male counter-parts, but ends up being a sweet, somewhat sad girl who just wants to be loved, even if it isn’t in the most ideal way imaginable.

Just anything would suffice for her and because she’s such a bundle of joy, it would suffice for us, too.

Problem with Knightley being so good here, with such a small-role, it makes Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing seem a bit one-note, although that’s maybe not fully his fault. The way Turing is written here is to be made out like some sort of weirdo, who doesn’t communicate with those he’s supposed to be communicating with, and even when he does, doesn’t know how to do so in an normal manner. Sometimes, it seems like he has Aspergers, other times, it seems like he as Autism. And while the movie never fully says what Turing’s problem was when it came to socializing, it still feels like the kind of character we’re supposed to be rooting wholeheartedly for, yet, we never get the chance to understand well enough to do so. That doesn’t mean Cumberbatch isn’t good in this role, it’s just a shame that he wasn’t given a whole lot more meat to chew on.

All in all though, what the Imitation Game is, is a tribute to the legend of Alan Turing. A man who deserves to be known by many more people and here’s to hoping that maybe this movie will give everybody a chance to. Even if, you know, a Wikipedia read will probably do some a lot more justice.

Consensus: While ordinary and by-the-numbers, the Imitation Game still presents an interesting enough view into the life of a man people should know more about, regardless of whether or not he’s portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Pretty much Sherlock. Except with more computer-devices.

Pretty much Sherlock. Except with more shirts and ties.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Interview (2014)

This is what we almost got nuked for?

Dave Skylark (James Franco) is the idiotic, but very energetic host of the incredibly popular talk-show Skylark Tonight. On it, Skylark gets famous people to reveal troubling secrets about themselves that they may have never been able to get out before. However, Skylark wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for his talented producer/best buddy in the whole wide world, Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen). But eventually, Rapoport gets tired of doing the same old stupid, meandering things with the talk show and instead, wants to be taken more seriously. That’s why when he finds out that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a huge fan of the show, both he and Skylark decide that it’s time to set an interview up and watch as the media surrounds them with love, respect, and adoration. Once the interview is set up, though, the CIA decides to get involved and set up a plan where both Skylark and Rapoport will assassinate Un, as a way to ensure that North Korea won’t attack the U.S. with their nukes. It’s a plan that may work, but with two bone-heads like Rapoport and Skylark at the helm, it probably won’t.

If every CIA member looked like Lizzy Caplan, I'd be looking for applications automatically.

If every CIA agent looked like Lizzy Caplan, I’d be looking for applications automatically.

So yeah, there’s been a lot of talk about this movie in the past few weeks. Clearly I don’t need to dive into it too much, seeing as how the rest of the world has been keeping their own tabs on what’s been shaking and baking with the Interview, it’s release-date, and how. But, what I find the most interesting aspect of this whole debate as to whether or not Sony should have cancelled the movie in the first place, is that the movie’s quality itself is hardly ever brought up. Surely a movie that’s threatening to have the U.S. under terrorist attacks, be something of a modern-masterpiece, right?

Well, not really. But then again, it didn’t need to be, either.

All in all, what the Interview actually is, is another Seth Rogen movie; one where dudes act sort of/kind of/maybe gay with one another, marijuana is smoked, and there’s plenty of dick jokes to go around for every man, woman, and child. It’s a formula that most of us can identify as coming a mile away now, and it’s one that I don’t necessarily have a problem with. So much so as that it’s constantly funny and always able to keep me entertained. Once it stops being that, then it’s time for the formula to change altogether, or maybe spice things up a bit.

And from the forefront, this movie seemed to be exactly that. Not only is the premise an ambitious one for such a fellow like Seth Rogen (as well as his co-director Evan Goldberg) to tackle, but one that could even have something smart or thought-provoking about the current state of U.S. affairs, North Korea, Nuclear war, and even the idea of what modern-day journalism actually is. While most of these ideas are brought up, they aren’t fully touched on and only feel like a slight taste of what could have been, had Rogen and Goldberg been more concerned with actually making a point with their comedy, rather than just telling a bunch of sex and butt jokes.

However, when those sex and butt jokes are funny, sometimes, it doesn’t always matter. Sure, it’s definitely lovely to have a comedy that’s not only funny, but smart, interesting, and even important to see and listen to, but that is not the Interview. It’s just another one of Seth Rogen’s many raunch-fests where he makes dirty jokes – some land, some don’t. But all in all, they’re funny and you have to give credit to somebody who seems so ordinary as Rogen to actually go out of his way and create something like this.

Even despite all of the hullabaloo surrounding it.

That’s why, to be honest, it doesn’t matter if the Interview is a great movie to begin with. It is what it is, nothing more, nothing less. Generally speaking, there is a part of me that wished Rogen and Goldberg went a bit deeper into what it was that they were trying to say, on any of the broad topics presented. For instance, the movie brings up the fact that Un is starving his people, while also bringing up points about U.S.’s hypocritical ways when it comes to nuclear weapons and when they seem pertinent to use, and when not to. It’s an interesting idea that the movie shows itself of having, but it doesn’t go anywhere further with it. In Rogen and Goldberg’s minds, it seems like simply bringing it up is enough; doing any more leg-work wouldn’t seem ideal. Though they have many ways to go before they’re the premier comedy writers and directors of our time, I’m still interested in seeing what they’ve got on their plates next.

I just hope that they add a bit more substance to their flicks and develop it further than just surface-material. That’s all.

#NotaBoss

#NotaBoss

And speaking of Rogen, here as Aaron Rapoport, he’s very much in his comfort-zone. He’s nerdy, goofy, and the voice of reason at times, and it’s all so very charming. Once again, it’s the kind of formula that I could never see myself getting bored with, no matter how many times he decides to use it. Same goes for James Franco who, here as Dave Skylark, seems like all he did between scenes was snort a lot of coke. While it can sometimes make it seem like his character isn’t anything more than a caricature, it’s still pleasing to see Franco not only try in a movie, but still get me laughing.

But the one who really walks away with this movie and I sure hope to god doesn’t get type-casted for ever and ever because of this genius casting-choice is Randall Park as the notoriously infamous North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. Most of the reasons as to why North Korea were pissed off at this movie make sense, but other times, it doesn’t. Because not only does the movie portray Un in a sometimes charming-light, but even in a sympathetic one, too. Not fully, but when the movie does focus on Un, it’s mostly to show us that he’s a lonely guy, who not only wants to please his daddy, but even be looked at in a different way from the rest of the world.

Of course this facade eventually runs its course and we see a darker, more-known side to who Un may be, but Park is the one who keeps him away from being a snarky caricature of someone we think we know right from the first moment we meet him. But Park, as well as the rest of the movie, shows us that there may be more to Un than we initially expect there to be. He’s not a great guy and sure as hell is not a saint, but he’s still a person and a sometimes fun one at that. However though, the movie steers clear of making him out to be a totally sympathetic character, because, as we all know full well, he’s not. But as is the case with most bad human beings, we hope that there’s something more. Even if it isn’t there.

Sort of like the Interview.

Consensus: Controversy aside, the Interview is still a funny, sometimes smart comedy, although it does occasionally flirt with being about bigger, bright ideas, and then not going anywhere with them.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

The future faces of America, everybody.

The future faces of America, everybody.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Gambler (2014)

Albert Camus and gambling. How could I have not seen the similarities before?

Literary professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) doesn’t seem like he’s happy about his life. For one, his grand-father just died and has practically left him little-to-no money. Bennett also happens to have a gambling problem, that gets him into all sorts of trouble with powerful kingpins of the underground poker world. And, to make matters slightly worse, he has a job that he absolutely hates, where all he does is practically yell at each and everyone of his students, telling them that not only are they “not great”, but they’re also wasting his precious time. So yeah, Bennett doesn’t necessarily have the best life in the world of all person’s lives, but he does have a possible-girlfriend (Brie Larson), a very rich mom (Jessica Lange), and nearly seven days to settle all of his debts before it’s too late. But a week isn’t so bad if all you have to do is cobble up a couple hundred thousand dollars, right? Well, wrong.

One of the main problems with the Gambler lies solely within the lead character himself, Jim Bennett. For starters, he’s not a very likable, nor sympathetic one to say the least, but he also is quite repetitive without hardly any rhyme or reason. And then, there’s the fact that Mark Wahlberg, of all people, was cast in this role as a literary professor at what seems to be a very prodigious university somewhere in California. Both go hand-in-hand with what makes the Gambler a poor movie, but they’re both hard to describe to a person who hasn’t seen the movie. It just feels, while watching it, very mis-matched and awkward. Almost like a blind date you set up between two mutual friends; you know that they may have similarities and be a nice match, but you’re not sure how they’re going to approach one another.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

It’s a bad simile, I know, but it’s all I got to work with since this is a very frustrating movie.

First off, the lead protagonist of Jim Bennett isn’t a very likable one, which is fine and all if a movie at least shows us that there is something to him that’s not only interesting, but turns him into something of a tragic-figure. However, the writing for Bennett is too repetitious and simple to make him as anything but; Jim Bennett is, simply put, a dick. But he’s the worst kind of a dick – he’s that kind of rich, self-entitled, whiny dick that you see at a dinner-party, who everybody crowds around and listens to all because he seems like a smart, know-it-all dude, when in reality, he’s just a bone-head who pisses, moans, and cries about everything in life, when he doesn’t really need to. Everything’s been practically handed to him on a silver spoon and the only problems that he ever faces in life, are ones that are completely made because of him and nobody else.

Yet, the movie makes him out to be some sort of martyr that we’re not only supposed to feel bad for because he’s so pissed off and angry about life, but also because he apparently has a gambling problem; one that’s never really brought out well enough to be classified as such. What I mean is that while you see certain movies about people with addictions, mainly gambling addictions, you know that they are, the way they are, is because they love the trill of winning whatever big con it is. In the case of gambler’s, they love the excitement of winning a bet and absolutely chase that for as long as they can. Here though, with Bennett, we never see his utter joy and/or pleasure for winning; we just see him bet a lot of stupid hands in the game of Blackjack, lose, and then continue to dig himself in a deeper-hole for no other reason other than, well, he can.

To me, this not only makes him an unlikable, nearly insufferable character to watch and have to stick with for two hours. Not to mention, it also wastes the talents of Mark Wahlberg, an actor who, when given the right material to work with, is strong and impressive, but seems like he is way out of his depth here as, get ready for it, a literary professor who may have reached his mid-life crisis already. I know it sounds like a joke, but judging by how this movie portrays Bennett, as well as the rest of its story, it isn’t. It’s pure, unabashed drama, and it’s hard to take in as fact or compelling.

You’d think that casting-directors would think twice about putting Marky Mark in roles of teachers, but oh well.

Though, to be fair, I have to hold back on the hate of Marky Mark’s performance, because he’s not all bad; you can tell by the fact that he lost about 60 pounds, that he truly is trying with this role. But the problem remains that he’s just not believable enough in this role as a professor who just preaches about the monotony and shit-heap reality that is life. There are some instances in which we see the good, old school Marky Mark come out (mostly in scenes where he’s acting smarter than the person he’s talking to and/or ready to brawl), but overall, it’s a mixed-bag of a performance, that could have easily been avoided, had Wahlberg not been cast in a role that clearly doesn’t suit him well.

Then again though, it all comes back to this character of Jim Bennett; he’s not nice, not interesting, and sure as hell isn’t compelling enough to make this movie work. He’s just a blank-slate, that’s made even worse by the dumb, idiotic decisions he makes in life that not only impact his own life – one that he’s already made pretty clear he doesn’t care for. But, even worse, he impacts those around him who love him, care for him, and actually care about their own, relatively pleasant lives as human beings. He doesn’t care, so therefore, we’re supposed to care.

And because we don’t care about him, or the actions he makes, there’s hardly any tension to be found in the Gambler. Sure, some of the scenes where Bennett’s betting his life away on what seem to be ordinary games of Blackjack, do have some real suspense to them, but it’s only because of the way they’re filmed. It’s not that we’re held in suspense because Bennett may actually die if he loses whatever hand he’s playing with, but because director Rupert Wyatt actually seems to care for how this film looks and feels. Even if his lead character is terribly-written, he’s still trying and that, for the most part, at least made it watchable.

"The King stay the King." Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

“The King stay the King.” Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

Although, Wyatt isn’t the only one trying here. It’s the rest of the supporting cast that show up every so often to not only make things a little bit brighter, but make a lot of these self-important speeches the script frequently lapses into actually interesting. John Goodman has the brightest end of the stick as a bald loan shark that Bennett meets with on a few occasions, and talks about how America is build on “fuck you”. It’s a lovely bit that adds some flair to this film, but also counts as one of the rare speeches here that actually works and doesn’t seem like the writer behind it is just trying his hardest to sound smart.

The one’s who don’t really come away as nicely as Goodman does with his speeches, are Michael K. Williams, Alvin Ing, and Anthony Kelley; with the former two playing actual mob bosses who Bennett runs into conflict with, and the later just being a student of his, who is constantly on the discouraging end of Bennett’s many rants about paying attention in class and not trying to get by in the academic-world because of athletics. None of these characters really seem believable, and it’s even more evident once they open up their mouths and start going on about stuff we either don’t care for, or have much of a foundation to really build our own feelings on. We’re just sort of sitting there, wondering what it all means, and end up not caring at all.

The only impressive part about this supporting cast is that the two female roles, played by Jessica Lange and Brie Larson, actually feel pertinent to the story and add some dramatic-heft to a piece that definitely needed it. Lange plays Bennett’s mother and has maybe two dramatic scenes where you can definitely tell she loves and cares for her dastardly son, but wants to be rid of his problems and hopes that he does to. And Larson, who I’m glad was cast here, at least makes some sense of her character’s motivations, especially when we’re supposed to believe somebody as lovely and chirpy as hers would fall for someone as downtrodden and inexplicably depressed as Bennett. They are two fine performances in their own rights, that go a long way.

Especially for something as disappointing as this.

Consensus: Occasionally entertaining and interesting, but mostly, where the Gambler loses points in is because its lead character is terribly-written, and suffers even more from a miscast Mark Wahlberg playing it.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Ladies, don't act like you aren't impressed.

Ladies, don’t act like you aren’t impressed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Unbroken (2014)

Don’t give up. You can cry a little bit, but that’s it.

Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) was a person who faced all sorts of adversity in his life. As a young kid, he was constantly tattered and teased for being a poor, young immigrant. Then, he grew up a bit and found out that he could run pretty well, which surprisingly took him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. However, his whole life changes once he enlists in the war and faces even more problems than he could have possibly fathomed. After his faulty-plane gets struck down in the middle of the sea, Zamperini, along with two other of his fellow soldiers, are stranded for months at sea, where they are left to survive by any means possible. And I do mean, by any means possible. But then, as soon as things start looking up for Zamperini and he might be possibly rescued, turns out, is actually the Japanese army. This is when Zamperini is taken hostage in a POW camp and is tortured in every which way possible, by the sergeant who seems to have it out for him the most – an entitled, but incredibly violent guy who goes by the name of “The Bird” (Miyavi). But, through thick and thin, Zamperini relies on his inner, as well as outer, strength to get him through even the toughest times.

"You think I'm pretty, huh?"

“You think I’m pretty, huh?”

Or, you know, something like that. And the reason why I say this is because while Angelina Jolie’s film definitely flirts with the idea of being an inspirational tale of one person’s struggle with staying alive, even through all of the adversity he may have been facing, there’s never any real moment where it becomes such. Though Jolie may dress the film up in all sorts of pretty, impressive ways, the fact remains this: Unbroken isn’t a great movie.

It’s a good one, but man, it could have been so much more.

Though, this definitely isn’t to rag on Jolie as a director, because she seems incredibly confident in staging a scene and bringing the right amount of subtle-drama to it, without ever seeming like she’s trying too hard at all, but her movie as a whole just doesn’t quite go anywhere. Which is definitely a weird complaint, considering that you’d think with Zamperini’s real life story, you’d expect a widely compelling, emotional and life-changing movie-experience, but that sort of doesn’t happen. What happens instead, is that you get a well-told story about a guy who, for the lack of a better word, should have hated everything to do with his life and the way it was dealt to him, but thankfully, didn’t and actually excelled as a human being.

While this may sound interesting being typed-out, the sad reality is that, on film, it doesn’t quite translate to being as such. Some of this has to do with the fact that Jolie’s film is by-the-numbers, but also, another part of that has to do with the fact that it just slogs along for so very long, without any real tension or suspense whatsoever, that when it’s over, it doesn’t seem to last long in the memory-banks. It may have been an important story to Jolie, but to everybody else, it seems like one we could have all lived without, even if there is some interesting aspects brough here to the screen.

For instance, when Zamperini gets taken to the POW camp, he automatically falls prey to whatever sick and twisted mind games the Bird enjoys playing and while it’s hard to watch, it brings a lot of interesting questions to the table. Like, why is the Bird focusing all of his attention on this one prisoner? Is it because Zamperini’s simply just an Olympian? Or, is there something far more bizarre, even perverted going on here? That’s not to say that the Bird is gay, but why does he go about the constant torturing to Zamperini in such a way, that it makes him seem like a jealous ex-girlfriend, who is begging and pleading for any sort of attention he can get? The movie brings up the fact that the Bird comes from a rich family, which would make sense as to why he’s automatically in control of maintaining all of the already weak, beaten-down prisoners, but why exactly is he picking on Zamperini, and solely just him?

The fact that Jolie never fully answers this question makes me feel like there was a far more intriguing film to be made here, but sadly, wasn’t as developed as I would have wished. Though, with the character of the Bird, we get someone who might possibly be humane than we want to believe, however, acts so cruelly and despicable to those he has total control over that it’s easy to list him as “a baddie”, and nothing more. But, Jolie does something neat here in that the Bird is maybe the most interesting character out of the whole bunch here, whether we want to admit it or not.

"Seriously? We're working on our tans here!"

“Seriously? We’re trying to catch some rays here!”

Although, obviously, this doesn’t pan-out too well for Jack O’Connell who plays Zamperini. Because even though O’Connell seems like he’s trying his hardest to make the character of Zamperini relate to us all, there’s a sort of sameness to him that makes him seem so ordinary and simple, that it’s almost as if he never had any other traits to him than just “brave”, “courageous”, or “nice”. Jolie doesn’t paint Zamperini out to be a saint, I’ll give her that, but she doesn’t really paint him as much else either. He’s just another guy, thrown into an incredibly terrible, unfortunate situation; one that he could have definitely caved into right away and died, but thankfully, didn’t.

Once again though, this is mainly me just drawing more and more conclusions about a film that is, quite frankly, as plain as you could get. There’s nothing wrong with being considered “plain” (that is, unless you tell my ex-girlfriend that), but for a movie that wants to be about this eventful life where one overcome all sorts of adversity, to then eventually grow up, get past the past, and move on towards a better future, there is. Not that it’s a bad movie, per se, it’s just one that you can see, be interested in for the time it is on the screen, have it end, and then leave it, without thinking about it much longer afterwards.

Sounds bad, but it isn’t. Just nothing entirely special.

Consensus: Though competently-made, Unbroken suffers from hardly ever being more than just a slightly compelling tale of surviving and excelling in life, even when it seems like everything has been stacked-up against you.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Relax, bro. You've got two more laps.

Relax, bro. You’ve got two more laps.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Inherent Vice (2014)

Note to self: Don’t do insane-amounts of drugs while trying to solve crimes.

It’s 1970, and hippie private investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) plans on living it up in every which way he can. That means an awful-lot of hangin’ out, smokin’ pot, and just enjoying his care-free life. That all changes though when an ex-love of his named Shasta (Katherine Waterson), comes around and informs him that her boyfriend, real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), was kidnapped and hasn’t been heard of since. Some say he’s dead, but Shasta doesn’t believe this and wants Doc to drop whatever it is he’s up to (which is seemingly nothing), and find out what has happened to him. Doc agrees, but as soon as he gets started on the case, many other cases start falling into his lap. For instance, an ex-junkie (Jena Malone) is worried that her rocker-boyfriend (Owen Wilson) isn’t in fact dead, as previously reported, and has been kidnapped. Then, a local gangster (Michael K. Williams) asks Doc to delve deep into a possible union between real estate agencies and the Aryan Brotherhood. And there’s many more where that came from, and no matter how far Doc may get into solving these mysteries, Det. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) is always there to stop him, get involved, and see that the cases are done in an efficient, legal way.

"Is your refrigerator running...?"

“Is your refrigerator running…?”

If you haven’t been able to tell by now, there’s a lot going on in Inherent Vice, and not all of it makes sense. At first, it definitely seems so, but once starts off as a simple, ordinary mystery about a disappearance, soon spirals into being about so much more. Some of it’s good, some of it isn’t. But because this is a Paul Thomas Anderson (one of my favorites currently working today) movie, it’s mostly all worth watching.

Mostly.

But, like I said before, because this is a PT Anderson flick, there’s a certain mood surrounding Inherent Vice that makes it seem like the kind of movie he hasn’t ever tried his talented-hands at before. Though some may get a glimpse at this and automatically assume that PT is going straight back to his Boogie Nights days, those same people will probably be utterly disappointed when they find out that this is not at all the case. Sure, the movie may sometimes sound and look like that hip and happenin’ film, but for the most part, Anderson’s tone is a lot different here than usual, and it brings a large amount of sadness and, dare I say it, depression to what could have been considered some very groovy times.

And it’s not that Anderson hasn’t made a sad movie before, it’s just that he hasn’t quite made one in this vein; while it’s a colorful and bright movie, there’s a grainy undercurrent felt in it that makes some of the funniest, wildest moments, seem like they’re coming from somewhere of a nightmare. An enjoyable nightmare, but a nightmare nonetheless. To be honest, too, I think Anderson prefers it this way.

To say that Inherent Vice is “confusing”, would be as conventional as I could get as a writer – not only has it been said many of times from many other writers, but it wouldn’t really do much justice at all to a film that I feel like is confusing, but can still be enjoyed despite this. See, whereas the Master was a confusing, sometimes out-of-this-world film about Scientology, it was also a character-study that functioned as such. Here, with Inherent Vice, we have a confusing, sometimes out-of-this-world film about a few mysterious cases, yet, it’s also a hilarious look at this strange, underground world in California. This is a world where not only does everybody do some sort of drugs, but that they also have plenty of secrets, which, if you wanted to dig deep enough, could actually find out are all connected in their own sick, twisted ways.

However, simply put, this is just me diving deep into what this movie may, or may not mean, and as a result, making myself sound like a pretentious-ass. Because, in reality, the real enjoyment behind Inherent Vice is that it goes from one bizarre-o situation, to another, and it’s hardly ever dull. Random? Sure, but boring? That word doesn’t exist in PT Anderson’s dictionary and it makes this movie one of the funnier pieces of comedy I saw all year. That’s not to say that it’s all meant to be hilarious, but sometimes, just watching a crazy situation, with zany characters involved, get even crazier, just adds so much joy and happiness that it’s hard to hate on.

Old school vs. new school. I got my money on the dude with the Navy-buzz.

Old school vs. new school. I got my money on the dude with the Navy-buzz.

Even if it doesn’t all add up to making total, complete and perfect sense, it’s still enjoyable and that’s where I think most of Inherent Vice works.

To go on about all this and not at least mention the cast would be an absolute crime, because everybody who shows up here, no matter for how long or little, all leave a lasting-impression that deserve to be mentioned, and remembered. Leading the wild race here as Doc Sportello is Joaquin Phoenix, and once again, he proves that he will never play the same role twice, nor ever lose that interest-factor surrounding him whenever he shows up in something. Phoenix fits right in as the “come on, man”-type of hippie that Sportello is and it makes it easy to root him on during this case, even if you never are too sure what’s going to happen to him next. He’s not necessarily a blank slate, as much as he’s just a simple, uncomplicated protagonist that makes it easy for us to identify with him, even while he makes some brash, weird decisions throughout the adventure we share with him.

While Phoenix may be our main point-of-reference here, he’s not the only one worth speaking of. Owen Wilson finally gets a lovely role for himself to dig deep into as Coy, the missing rocker-boyfriend, and mixes in well with the rest of the hippies surrounding him; Jena Malone is sympathetic his sad girlfriend who just wants him home, so she can live happily ever after with him and their kid; Katherine Weston plays Sportello’s ex-flame that has this fiery, yet understated mystery about her and the way she carries herself in certain scenes that she started to cast as much of a spell on me, as she had on Sportello here; Benicio del Toro is fun as Sprotello’s zany lawyer who always has the best ways to get him out of jail; Reese Witherspoon is smart and sassy as Penny (Reese Witherspoon), Sportello’s attorney girlfriend who may be just using him so that she can give the FBI what they want; Maya Rudolph has a nice-bit as one of Sportello’s nurse-secretaries and seems like she’s winking at the audience just about every second she gets; and Martin Short, with maybe nearly five minutes of screen-time, is way more hilarious than probably the whole entire season of Mulaney has been.

None, however, I repeat, NONE, measure up to the types of greatness that Josh Brolin brings to this movie as Bigfoot Bjornsen, Sportello’s mortal enemy/confidante.

See, what’s so lovely about Brolin here is the way in how Bigfoot is written: He’s rough, tough, gruff and a mean son-of-a-bitch who clearly doesn’t care for the likes of Sportello, or the fellow pot-smoking, lazy hippies that he associates himself with. Therefore, he and Sportello have a bit of a rivalry, where one may get a certain piece of info and get ahead of the other, in whatever case they’re covering. It’s fun to watch these constantly try and one-up one another, but most of this is because Brolin is so dynamite in this role, that he nearly steals the whole movie from everybody else. Every scene Brolin’s in, whether he’s deep-throating a chocolate-covered frozen banana, ordering more pancakes in a foreign language, or getting ordered by his wife to have sex with her, he’s an absolute blast to watch. You can never take your eyes off of him, and he’s happy with this; for once, in what in seems like a long time, Brolin looks as if he’s having a good time with the material he’s working with. But the difference here is that he commands your attention every time he shows up, making you think about whether or not this character is actually a good guy, or simply put, just a guy, with a hard job, who just wants to solve his cases.

A nice little Johnny and June reunion.

A nice little Johnny and June reunion.

It’s as simple as that, but Brolin makes it so much more.

But, I’ve just realized that most of what I’m writing about here, may only add to more of the confusion within Inherent Vice and for that, I apologize. It surely is not my intentions, as I clearly want each and every person to see this, even if they aren’t expecting to love it, or even understand it quite nearly as well as they may have been able to do with Anderson’s flicks in the past. And honestly, I don’t even know if Anderson totally wants people to make perfect sense of this movie and how all of the small, meandering threads of its plot-line tie-in together, but he doesn’t ever lose his confidence in trying his damn-near hardest. Even if it doesn’t always work, it’s admirable that he would try in the first place and I think that’s what matters most here.

Sure, making damn sure that your plot, the twists it has, and the characters who weave in and out of it, all make perfect sense as to why they even exist first and foremost definitely matters, but when you have a movie that constantly goes from one scene, to the next, without ever missing a beat of being interesting, then all is forgiven. Maybe you could say I’m giving Anderson too much credit here, and I would probably say “you’re right”, but for some reason, I can’t help but praise this guy anymore than he already has been. Especially here, because it seems like plenty has been said about this movie, without ever getting to the core: It’s entertaining.

While not “entertaining” in the sense that it is constantly exciting with numerous amounts of gunshots, explosions, and car-chases (although some do happen here); more so, it’s in the case that we’re given a simple plot, with some simple characters, and to see it spiral out into absolutely bonkers area’s is what makes it such a blast to watch. One can definitely take this as a serious piece of pulp crime-fiction that’s supposed to make perfect sense, every time that it offers a new plot-thread, but another one can definitely takes this as a serious piece of film-making that, if you want to, you just take for what it is, see what happens next, and just enjoy the ride. I know that it’s hard for me to recommend a movie based solely on that, and not lose some sort of credibility, but I don’t care right now. I feel about as safe and comfortable as I can with recommending this movie for anybody, so long so as they just let it start, go on, and end, exactly as it is. The deep and heavy-thinking can come later, but while it’s on the screen, just let it go and see how you feel.

If you still hate it, then so be it. At least I tried.

Consensus: Maybe not the most comprehensive piece of his career, Paul Thomas Anderson still works his rear-end off to make Inherent Vice one of the crazier experiences at the movies this holiday season, but also allows for it to constantly stay compelling, funny, and most of all, entertaining. Even if all the numbers don’t add up.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Sort of like the Last Supper. Except presumably with more hash.

Sort of like the actual Last Supper. Except presumably with more hash.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

The Germans are the good guys now?

In the wake of 9/11, every country seemed to be hot on the heels of any person/organization that may, or may not, have been affiliated with terrorists and nobody else is feeling this worse than German Intel agent, Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). While Günther knows that there are bigger fish in the sea, just waiting to be caught, he also knows that he’s getting a lot of pressure from those higher in the food-chain. That’s why, when he finds out about the case of a Chechen, who may possibly be planning a terrorist attack, he jumps on it right away and starts to negotiate deals with people who may be possibly linked to this suspected terrorist. One is Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) a small-time lawyer who makes a living out of giving benefits to possible refugees, and a shady banker, Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), who may be funding most of these terrorists. Either way, Günther knows that he has to come up with a result, by any means possible. Because if not, somebody else will. And in this case, it’s U.S. embassy ambassador Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright).

I'd be scared to even go to sleep.

I’d be scared to even go to sleep.

With Philip Seymour Hoffman gone from ever appearing on our screens again (except for the second part of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay due later next year), it’s always bittersweet to check out some of his past projects. Also though, by doing this, it’s inevitable to compare his latest works to what some would consider “his best” and sometimes, “most inspiring”. And in the case of Seymour Hoffman, and the legacy he leaves behind, there’s plenty to compare and contrast with.

However, with A Most Wanted Man, it’s a bit difficult – while the movie itself may not be all that on-par with what we most know him to have done, he’s still pretty good in the movie. That said, the movie itself is still lackluster and feels like a mediocre piece that Seymour Hoffman himself, as well as the rest of the cast, elevates to being something worth watching, if only ever so slightly. But that’s why we can rely on actors such as Seymour Hoffman; they make whatever they show up in, interesting and exciting.

As Günther Bachmann, Seymour Hoffman gets plenty of opportunities to show us what’s really brewing inside this man. While it may not always be pretty, there’s still a feeling that we can trust this character to get past his problematic ways and complete this mission of his, as troubled as it may sometimes be. And like with most of his other performances, Seymour Hoffman does quite a few subtle things with his performance to give us an impression of who this guy is; a certain way he takes off of his tie, or orders a drink at a restaurant, there’s always something for Seymour Hoffman to do where he can continue to build and build this character into being someone worth identifying with. Even though, you know, it may be hard for some simpletons to identify with a German Intel Agent in the first place.

But, like I said before, that’s why we can always rely on talents such as Seymour Hoffman to make that idea, an actual reality.

Though, Seymour Hoffman isn’t alone in putting in a good performance, as the rest of the cast all get their own, respective chances to build their characters and, as a result, the plot as well. Rachel McAdams’ character may be flawed and thinly-written, but she still tries hard enough to make it seem like she’s just another well-intentioned woman, who sadly, doesn’t seem to know the reality of the world going on around her and just how serious certain circumstances can be. Also, Willem Dafoe puts in a sneaky performance as the shady banker who may, or may not be, a total bad-guy behind some dastardly plans, or just a guy, trying to get by in the modern-day economy, even if his own morals are a bit questionable.

While these performances may be good, there’s still a feeling in the pit of my stomach that feels like they deserved a better movie. See, what’s so disappointing about A Most Wanted Man is that it comes from director Anton Corbijn, a director who is most-known for his various, stylized photos, but doesn’t really do much for this movie, except pack it with so much information that it can sometimes be way too overbearing. Especially for even the smartest, most determined-viewer out there.

Be jealous, Sean Penn.

Be jealous, Sean Penn.

But while there may be all of this information tossed at us, in hopes that things get intriguing and tense, the problem is that hardly any of that actually happens. Much rather, the movie just ends up becoming a slog and a meandering one at that. That’s not to say all of Corbijn’s choices are bad, but when you’re movie is this based on a possible case, and hardly delivers any suspense or excitement in the air, it’s quite hard to get involved with the proceedings, let alone care for those involved with them.

The only interesting aspect I can think of that Corbijn brings to the forefront of this film is that he discusses the behind-the-scenes, sometimes back-handed politics between the German and American Intel Agencies, and how both were so desperate to get results, that they didn’t care about who they got or how, they just knew they wanted them right away. This is probably where Corbijn breathes some life into this material, because it not only shows us that Günther may not be as powerful as we’d wish he was, but also gives us a chance to see him develop a nice bit of chemistry with Robin Wright’s Martha Sullivan. The two seem like they enjoy working with one another and amidst all of the political exposition – this means a lot. It actually gives a hint that there may be something deeper, and far more involved between these two characters and it brought plenty of promise to the rest of the film.

But, as fate would have it, all of that promise goes out the window as soon as the case ends and we realize that there are bigger hands at play here. While this may seem like a huge wake-up call to the characters involved – to us, the audience, it feels like the sign of a movie ending, way later than it should have. At least it gives us more time to share and adore with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A true talent meant to be missed forever.

Consensus: Unexciting and sometimes meandering, A Most Wanted Man deals with certain meaningful political ideas and well-done performances, but doesn’t really get the audience involved as much as it nearly should.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

That look. Oh, how I will miss it so.

That look. Oh, how I will miss it so.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Mr. Turner (2014)

Leonardo da who?

Meet British painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall) a very quiet, peaceful man who goes about his day casually painting landscapes, grunting, and trying to get his paintings sold to the highest bidder, whoever they may be. Though Turner definitely has some issues with his personal life that need to be attended to, the man still has very little to worry about. That is, until a close one of his dies and leaves J.M.W. all alone, with hardly anyone to care for, or even love. He’s just by himself, with his studio, his landscapes, and his paint-brushes. However, Mr. Turner wants a little something more out of life that isn’t just all about pleasing people with his beautiful, artistic creations; he wants a sort of connection and love that he can only get with another fellow human-being. He gets this in the form of the equally lonely Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) who, despite what he may or may not think, is his best opportunity in life to live happy, once and for all. Around this time, too, Mr. Turner develops a knack for a different style of painting; one that some can consider to be the early days of “expressionism”. But with every new change in life, there’s usually a problem lurking behind.

Frowning......

Frowning……

Writer/director Mike Leigh doesn’t make the kind of movies you’d find yourself getting excited for. The reason being? Well, for the most part, Leigh’s films are typically casual, normal pieces that don’t really try to break the barriers of modern-day cinema, so much so as they just present a little snapshot into everyday life. Though he likes to change things up every once and awhile, usually, Leigh prefers to stick to his guns and keep his movies simple, easy-to-understand, and as true-to-life as he can possibly make it. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as much as it’s just a thing, and proves Leigh to be one of the better writers and directors we have out there today in the movie world.

Which is why Mr. Turner works as well as it does, even if it is a bit of a change-of-pace for the likes of Leigh. However, it isn’t a huge change that finds him shaking up his style and ruining the rest of his flick; more or less, it finds him diving deep into the life of J.M.W. Turner – a painter you may, or may not have, heard of before. Regardless of whether you have or not, Leigh still finds ways to make Turner’s life interesting and compelling, even if you don’t totally know it while the movie’s playing.

Like I said before, Leigh’s films are simple and mostly casual pieces that give us snapshots into people’s lives, regardless of if we wanted to see these shots or not. Here, with Turner’s life, we see something of a very simple man who may have more to him than we originally expect. We know that he’s a painter, has a thing for unexpectedly acting sexual with women, and isn’t totally likable. However, that doesn’t faze Leigh, as he continues to develop this person more and more, giving us a clear, yet compelling look into the life of a man who, quite frankly, I didn’t know too much about before or even care to, either.

However, what Leigh does that’s so spectacular is that he makes us care and it works for the movie as a whole.

Although, like with most of Leigh’s other films, there is a slight feeling that this movie may be a bit longer than it should be. Mr. Turner, in full, clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half-hours and I’m not too sure that I needed to see/have every single minute of that time-limit. That’s not to say that Leigh doesn’t use this time to his advantage, but it is to say that he could have maybe cut-down on a few subplots that seemed like they were going somewhere, but ultimately, didn’t.

The one that comes to my mind so clearly concerns Turner’s maid Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) who he, sometimes, randomly jumps on her for both sexual and stress-releasing purposes. Every time a scene like this is shown to us, it makes sense why Leigh’s showing us this aspect of his life, but it never makes full, total sense as to why we’re being shown this from her point-of-view every so often. She’s made out to be more of an important character, than she actually is, and it’s very evident in the final half-hour of this when we realize that Turner’s life may be coming to a close, and we’re supposed to feel upset for everybody involved with his life. The problem was, I did, but just not for her character.

Once again though, none of this really has to do with the person playing the character (Atkinson is quite good in a thinly-written role that seems like it could have gone deeper, had the movie been about a different person), but more so with Leigh’s style and pace, which lingers more towards feeling “languid”, than meandering. But this isn’t a huge problem for the movie as a whole, considering that Leigh brings enough depth to Turner himself, as well as his life, where we feel like we know this person and understand maybe why this story is being brought to our attention. Even if Turner’s life wasn’t all that spectacular and was sort of just a normal, rich one, albeit with more art involved, there’s still a feeling that whatever Leigh sees in Turner’s life and legacy, is something extraordinary. Though not all of that comes off of the screen and into our own minds while watching, it’s still noticeable enough that it works in making Turner a sympathetic, if sometimes very flawed, person.

....more frowning....

….more frowning….

This definitely comes out a bit in Leigh’s writing, but a good part of it definitely comes out in Timothy Spall’s wonderfully determined performance as the biopic’s subject, even if it doesn’t seem like he’s doing much at first. Spall may not be a recognizable face to most of those out there, but the guy’s been a solid character actor for as long as I can remember watching him work and it’s about time that he got a role that was rightfully deserving of his sometimes down-played talents. What Spall does well here as Turner, is that he doesn’t make it seem like this is the kind of guy we should like, but by showing us that there is something of a sweet and tender soul inside that gruff outlook of his, we get a better understanding of who he is and why he paints.

Though, this is a very subtle performance from Spall and one that, I assume, won’t garner a huge amount of Oscar-attention, for the sole sake that he never quite has that huge, dramatic, “Oscar acting moment”. Sure, there’s a couple of instances in which he breaks down, cries, and seems incredibly vulnerable, but those moments don’t happen too much, nor did they need to in order to have us feel more Turner and his life we’re seeing portrayed on the screen. Simply put, Turner is just a man who enjoys painting – whatever other thought, rhyme, or reason he may put into it, is totally left up to us to decide. It’s a smart choice on Leigh’s part for not over-playing this hand, but it’s also one on Spall’s for bringing out plenty of shades within this character that we may not have seen right before.

Here’s to hoping that not only does the movie get more attention, but Spall does as well and makes him more of a household name.

Consensus: Though it’s long and often slow, Mr. Turner is never boring, nor does it ever shy away from getting down to the nitty and gritty aspects of its subject’s life, even if it may or may not be totally pertinent to whatever message Mike Leigh is trying to get across.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

..and yup, you guessed it, more frowning.

…and yup, you guessed it, more frowning.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Young Ones (2014)

Appreciate H2O, people. You never know when it’s going to go and make us all crazy.

In a post-apocalyptic version of Earth, where apparently a drought has taken over, everybody’s finding their own ways of surviving. Whether it be through finding water and selling it, or just simply going on the run and picking up whatever resources they can; either way, everybody on the planet is trying to live, and the Holm’s are those kinds of people. Ernest (Michael Shannon), the father and his son, Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee), constantly go out in search for booze, in hopes that they can get more water and bring back to their farm, where Mary (Elle Fanning) hangs around and keeps everything together. It’s all quite simple and easy-going for the Holm’s, but it all eventually turns sour once the local rich kid, Flem Lever (Nicolas Hoult), comes around, not just wanting Mary’s hand in-marriage, but also a part of Ernest and Jerome’s business-handlings. The two clearly don’t like this, but Flem has his ways of convincing them, even if that means somebody has to get hurt, and hurt badly.

"Here's looking at you, possible Oscar-chances."

“Here’s looking at you, possible Oscar-chances.”

Movies such as Young Ones are why I want to get more involved with the process of movie-making. See, not only is this a premise that holds so much promise, it’s easy to figure out which places it can go and how effective they’d be, but also because the cast it attracted is quite talented. Michael Shannon in anything is usually compelling, and the young cast that fills in the rest of the major roles is filled with a list of the brightest, young up-and-comers of today’s movie world. And heck, the film itself is even directed by Jake Paltrow who, for what it’s worth, is the younger brother of everybody’s favorite celebrity, Gwyneth, so obviously there has to be some talent, right? Surely all of these factors combined would create something that’s not just memorable, but absolutely worth watching in every right, correct?

Well, that’s not at all what happens here with Young Ones. In fact, quite the opposite.

See, most of the problems this movie runs into is the fact that the story takes a dramatic-turn about half-way through, and hardly ever recovers from it. That’s not to say the twist is “bad” per se; in fact, it’s surprising, unexpected, and interesting, especially when you think about the cast-members, but after that, all the surprises end. The story gets conventional, the characters become less interesting, and the world that this movie presents to us, just continues to get dull.

How could this happen? Well, there’s a problem in that Paltrow doesn’t seem like he has anything more mapped-out for this flick other than just what’s shown to us in the first half-hour. After that, everything gets conventional and boring, as if every major plot-point that could happen, does happen, and makes Young Ones become something of a drinking-game. Meaning, anybody watching at home should probably take a shot as soon as they predict something to happen in the story and it actually happens. I know I sound desperate, but honestly, it’s hard to really build much excitement around a movie that does very little to surprise its audience, or even itself, for that matter.

And to say it’s “not exciting”, is also to say that it’s hardly original. It’s almost as if Paltrow watched Mad Max, was a fan of Westerns, and may have even seen a tiny bit of A Boy and His Dog, because the whole movie feels like a cobble of smart ideas, from better, more well-done movies. Here, they all come together in a jumble that doesn’t feel inspiring and hardly on-purpose; it’s almost as if Paltrow just put them all in the same script and hoped that if he dressed it up enough, people wouldn’t notice the similarities to plenty of other pieces of works.

Problem is, we do and it’s a distraction.

The only interesting, slightly original idea that Paltrow presents to us is in the form of the robotic transporter that nobody really comes up with a name, as much as they just treat it like an animal. It has four-legs, no voice, obviously no emotions, and just a small screen that you can do so much with, even if you don’t know that right away. The way Paltrow incorporates this device into the story is interesting and doesn’t feel like a cop-out, unlike the rest of the film that uses certain plot-threads to conveniently show up as a way to keep the story moving on. Once again, Paltrwo may think he’s being sneaky, but to us, the hopefully smart, enlightened movie-going audience – it’s easily seen.

And this isn’t to put any blame on the cast; this is mostly just a case of a poorly-written script, given to people who either saw plenty more promise in it that originally needed, or were just offered lots of money in the first place, that they couldn’t possibly even turn it down. Whatever the circumstances may have been, it doesn’t matter because the cast tries hard enough to where they make some of it watchable, if at all. But even then though, some of these roles seem like they were written with the respective actor in mind, seeing as how they’ve played the same role before, and hardly ever step away from the norm.

For instance, take Michael Shannon as the father, Ernest, who is gruff, rough, and tough, but has something of a conscience that knows when it’s acceptable to teach his kid’s life-lessons and when to just let them make their own decisions. Shannon seems to be perfect at these kinds of roles and while he’s fine here, it doesn’t really allow him to stretch beyond his acting-limitations and it makes you wonder whether or not this guy has a bad side to him at all. There’s an idea about him being a hard-drinker brought to our attention, but that doesn’t make him a guy with some questionable morals, as much as it just gives him a flaw. That’s it.

Wow. I'm definitely getting old.

Wow. I’m definitely getting old.

The same way it is for Shannon, is the same way for both Smit-McPhee and Fanning. Seeing as how they’re both young talents who literally got their starts in the acting world before they were hardly even potty-trained, it’s understandable that we see them play the same kind of roles and hardly break away from it. Maybe more so in the case of Smit-McPhee, who is, once again, given a role where he plays a slightly strange, nerdy kid that likes to, you guessed it, draw. Hm? Didn’t he seem to play the same kind of character, with the same kind of hobby in another post-apocalyptic tale from this year? Oh yeah, that’s right!

Once again, I’m not saying he does poorly in this role, it’s just that we don’t really get to see him stretch his wings as much in a role like this and it’s a shame. More so, though, in the case of Fanning who is one of those rare cases in which a young, female actress has been given meatier-roles than some male equivalents, but here, Paltrow gives her the annoying role. All Fanning has to do here is nag, cry and stomp away from any argument in anger; which is maybe how Paltrow sees a young female girl as being, but it doesn’t work so well for Fanning.

The only one here who really gets a chance to change things up for himself is Hoult as the oddly-named bastard, Flem Lever. Though we’ve seen Hoult put in good work, we’ve hardly seen him do so as a bad guy, where those hunky, good looks of his are put to dastardly-use. As Flem Lever, Hoult is mean, nasty, and untrustworthy, and while you could possibly call it a one-note performance, Hoult finds some shadings with this character to make him seem sympathetic, if ever so slightly. But, like the rest of the cast, he’s no match for Paltrow’s uneventful script that begins, continues, and ends, probably exactly like you’d expect it to.

Like I said before: Don’t forget the booze while watching this. You’ll need it the most.

Consensus: While Young Ones sports a solid cast and premise, the movie hardly goes anywhere no other movie has gone before, and also seems to be a waste for mostly everybody involved.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Behind every good man, is man's best friend. Or whatever the hell that is behind them.

Behind every good man, is man’s best friend. Or whatever the hell that is behind them.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Babadook (2014)

Even more reasons to stop reading books and to pick up a screen instead.

Middle-aged, single Amelia (Essie Davis) is the mother to six-year-old Sam (Noah Wiseman) and let’s just say that they don’t necessarily have the best relationship together. Sam is a strange kid who communicates with an imaginary ghost that he swears is going to kill him one day, so in order to prep, he builds weapons to fend him off. Also, to add insult to injury, Sam acts out at school and practically every other public-function, which as a result, makes Amelia look bad in hindsight. She understands this and doesn’t like it, but she’s Sam’s mother and wouldn’t you know it, still loves and supports him; even if he is a bit of a weirdo. But everything gets weirder, and a whole scarier, for the mother-son combo when they open up and read a pop-up children’s book called, “the Babadook”. Apparently, once opened, this mysterious, deadly creature takes over whoever reads it and terrorizes every aspect of their life. This scares Amelia and Sam, but they might be able to stand up to the ‘dook, so long so as they still love one another and have each other’s back.

Horror movies, for the most part, aren’t my cup-of-tea. That is, when they aren’t done right. When they’re done right, they’re the most terrific piece of fun that I could ever have and gives me plenty of hope for the rest of the horror movie world, and wish that plenty of other horror creators see this and eventually follow suit.

No Damien, but he'll do.

No Damien, but he’ll do.

And in the case of the Babadook, this is exactly the same case. While it may not entirely be the most original, game-changing horror flick since the days of the Blair Witch, it still does something right in that it gives us a compelling premise, with even more compelling characters to make all the scares hit harder than they probably should. Sometimes with horror movies, the scares may be there and make you jump out of your cushion-seat, but they aren’t because you’re actually fearful for anybody in the film; you’re more or less just scared of getting spooked yourself. Sure, the characters in the movie may be the ones who are supposed to be the scared the most, but who they really are, are just stand-ins for you, the audience-member who shelled out nearly eleven dollars for this piece of fine entertainment.

What I’m trying to get across by saying this is that while most horror movies understand what it takes to be considered “scary”, they don’t know what it takes to be considered “terrifying”, and dare I say it, “emotionally-draining”. The ones that are considered the former, give us characters that are just there to service something that resembles a plot and the numerous pop-up scares, whereas with the former options, we get movies that have actually real, true-to-life, compelling characters that we not only care for in this time of need, but want to see live and defeat whatever mysterious presence they may be facing off against. The Babadook understands this and are able to actually combine the two elements of being scary and having rich, well-written characters, to wondrous results.

The movie may not be perfect, but hey, this is the horror-genre we’re talking about here! You take what you can get!

Anyway, like I was saying, a lot of the credit for this movie working as well as it does has to go to first-time writer/director Jennifer Kent, who seems like she definitely has a fine eye for scary detail, and an even better head-space for what it takes to make certain characters understandable and interesting. In the case of the mother-son combo that is Amelia and Sam, there’s something intriguing in that we can tell Amelia is clearly and utterly depressed with all that life has given her, and that’s mostly due to Sam and his habit for constantly driving her up the wall and back again. Every person that has ever raised a child will tell ya, being a parent is hard, and it’s even more challenging when you’re doing it all by yourself (which is what Amelia is doing here because of her husband’s death which, ironically enough, was at the same time Sam was being born), but this case, seems even more excruciating.

Sam, the way he’s written at least, is a every parent’s worst nightmare: He’s needy, over-bearing, loud, full of piss and vinegar, and doesn’t seem to know how to act or behave when he’s around others that aren’t his mother. Other people see this and automatically, it’s Amelia who’s the blame which not only has he grow deeper and deeper into her fit of depression, but have her hold a grudge against Sam. It’s not that she hates her son, she’s just downright had it up to here with the way he acts and would probably be a lot happier if it all went away. Once again, not saying that she hates her son and would want him killed, but to be taken off of her hands for maybe a week, or two, or maybe a month, would probably do her some good.

And this is the exact idea that Kent plays into and it allows for the tension to rack-up beyond belief. We don’t really know if the ‘dook is a real monster/ghost, or if Amelia is just imagining all of this because of her bout with depression that borderlines on insanity, but whatever it may be, it’s terrifying. Not because of the jump-scares that Kent sometimes manipulatively utilizes, but because we actually grow to like and care for both Sam and Amelia, and for anything bad to happen to either of them would be incredibly upsetting. Even worse though, is if something bad happened to the one because of the other.

I think we've all seen scarier images in actual, real life books.

I think we’ve all seen scarier images in actual, real life books.

Not only would that be beyond the limits of disturbing, but even more terrifying because travesties like that happens in real life.

But most of the credit for why Sam and Amelia are so worthy of our attention-span in the first place is because of both Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis. Davis is exceptionally great here as the sad-sack Amelia who seems to have some amount of charm in her personality, but hasn’t been able to utilize it for so long, that she’s just a mute to the rest of the world around her. It seems like a one-note performance, but Davis finds certain shadings to Amelia to make her seem like a woman who, at one point in her life, was happy, hopeful and free. While that may seem to be gone for now, it’s clear to us that she may be able to get back to that point in her life, and still be a mother to Sam. It’s just a matter of how and whether or not somebody has to get hurt in the process.

However, the most impressive one of the two here is Wiseman, who plays the typical “annoying-kid” role, but is so good at it, that you’ll believe he’s genuinely like this. But what both Wiseman and, to a further extant, Kent do with this character is show him as exactly he is: A six-year-old boy who clearly has some growing-up problems, but is doing just that, growing up and trying to make sense of this insane, crazy world that’s around him. Once again, his character’s existence is a downtrodden one, but Wiseman allows us to see him certain lights that makes it seem like, if all turns out well for the both of them, that he could one day be considered, you know, “normal”.

Whatever the hell that means anyway.

Consensus: Not as scary as much as its just upsetting, the Babadook presents a generic monster, but gives us two characters that are compelling, interesting, and sympathetic in their own rights, even without all of the terror happening around them.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Yeah, that's smart.

Yeah, that’s smart.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Naked (1993)

NakedposterMaybe all Gen-X’ers appreciated a little reading of Jane Austen on the side of constant yelling and drug use. Just maybe.

After sexually assaulting a woman back in his homeland, Johnny (David Thewlis) runs for the hills. And by “the hills”, I mean, Manchester where he’s going to try and find his ex-girlfriend for no real reason other than to bug her and cause some extra havoc along the way. However, the word “havoc” doesn’t exactly fit Johnny’s persona as he’s the type of dude that is a lot smarter and knowing than you might believe after the first 20 seconds of the movie, or how he dresses and walks around aimlessly. As Johnny’s “adventure” continues on, we begin to get to know more and more about him, his thoughts, his feelings, and just what the hell he even feels like doing with his life; probably more than I ever expected to stick around for.

Reviewing this movie is going to be a bit of a challenge because I have yet to make up my mind as to whether this was a dark comedy with dramatic elements, or a full-on drama, that just so happened to make me laugh. I’m still racking my brain around which either one this flick is and what Mike Leigh was trying to go for. That’s more of a knock against me than his actual directing because some of the things that this character Johnny says, had me laughing because I simply “got it”. Others, however, may not think so much, which is where the confusion of what genre this movie is from comes in.

"Should I hit it, or should I not? Aw, fuck it! I'm a man in his prime!"

“To hit it, or not to hit it? That begs the real question.”

However, finding a genre out for this sort of movie doesn’t matter because the flick is still good, well-written, and interesting to watch, even if you don’t think so until you read all of the positive buzz about it. See, going into this movie, I knew it was going to be good, and coming from the sturdy-hands of Leigh, I knew it was going to be all talky and feel all natural. I love that about Leigh’s approach, as it’s so rare that he ever steps in front of the story and the characters that inhabit it; he just lets it be told, the way it was meant to be told, and he doesn’t ever get in the way. Good man, because I know plenty of directors that probably would have had enough with all of this improv, and at least put his foot down, stating “enough is enough”. None really come to mind, but they’re out there and Leigh isn’t one of them.

No, no, no. Leigh is a special type of director that makes movies, not just for the sake of making movies, but to bring out emotions and feelings within a society that may, at times, seem to be falling apart from the inside out, without them even knowing it themselves. That’s the idea that this flick taps into very well; the idea that life in the underbelly of post-conservative England, especially during the 90’s, wasn’t pleasant, and was filled with just as many contradictions and grimness than you can shake a stick at. People were constantly on the streets, out of jobs, sad, and hopeless for what was to come. They were just waiting to see when the world would end, just so they could remove the sad existence of life they have on the planet.

It’s a dark mind-set to have placed, but it’s one that Leigh attacks with full force and never loses sight of. Sure, his movie may seem to meander at times because all it is is a loner having a bunch of random bits of conversations with people he doesn’t really know or want to know, but it’s very intriguing to actually have to hear and listen to what these people have to say, and how they respond to the thoughts and ideas of what a normal, average young adult would be thinking about and contemplating around the same time. Of course Leigh knows what he’s trying to say, but the people he associates himself with don’t, and he tries to show them in any way that he possibly can. At all costs really.

This also actually brings into discussion the way Leigh filmed this movie, which isn’t very different from other movies of his, but still brings up plenty of interesting ideas of what was meant to be said with this flick. See, rather than having almost every character improv their rumps off in front of the camera with Leigh standing behind it and just filming whatever he could get, he allowed each and every worker to make up their own lines and feelings, rehearse it for quite some time, and then eventually start filming and putting it altogether. At times, this approach works because a lot of what these characters have to say, feel honest and brutal, but sometimes it doesn’t mix well with all of the over-the-top theatrics that Leigh throws in himself.

Case in point, the whole subplot featuring the supposed land-lord of Johnny’s ex, Jeremy G. Smart as played by Greg Cruttwell. Cruttwell is good at playing this evil, sinister bastard that has no care or affection for the women that he seduces, and only cares about making them feel the pain and agony that he feels on a day-to-day basis. And that’s all fine and dandy, but the story never really has much to do with Johnny’s or anybody else’s for that matter. He shows up from time-to-time, takes our minds off of Johnny’s life, and gets us involved with something that seems to be pushing the envelope, only for the sake of doing so. No reason or rhyme whatsoever. Probably would have worked in a flick that was centered solely than this, but being the case that it is in this movie and gets in the way of everything, it’s a bit bothersome to have to deal with, especially since Johnny himself is such an interesting character overall.

All men love not having to do any work, and just laying there.

All men love not having to do any work and just laying there.

The reason why Johnny is such an interesting character isn’t because of how sharp and smartly Leigh has written him to be, but because David Thewlis is such a master at playing him, that it still makes me ponder the reason as to why he didn’t even get an Oscar nomination for his work of brilliance here. Considering that most of what Johnny says and feels, is mainly through Thewlis and Thewlis alone, you feel closer and closer to this character, even though you know you shouldn’t. Johnny’s not a nice guy and as the first shot of this movie may have you think, is a total and complete dick-bag that you do not want to ever be around for five seconds, let alone, for a whole two hours. However, Leigh throws him in front of our faces and never asks us to gain sympathy for him or what he’s brought onto himself.

Instead, we just get a portrait of a character who is just being himself, and nothing but. You rarely ever see that with a movie, and it was a big surprise that Leigh or Thewlis didn’t try to sap him up in any way, in order to make us care for him. He’s a character, being a character, in all his fullest and complete form. And to top all of that off, Thewlis is actually pretty damn hilarious, not just because of the lines he delivers, but by how dry and ironic he is half of the time. Everybody else around him seems so serious and dramatic, that once Johnny comes through to shake things up a bit, you realize that the world needs more humans like Johnny; minus all of the women-torturing, violence, anger, and such. Then again though, the world needs more anger and more people to shake a big, middle-finger to the Man, so maybe that’s what Johnny represents and what we should represent as well?

Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Consensus: At times, it can be a ponderous experience, but taken as a whole, and especially as a meditation on the way our youth views the rest of the world and society altogether, Naked is an interesting flick to watch and listen to, made all the better by David Thewlis’ brilliant piece of acting as Johnny.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Perfect place for a couple of drinks: the same spot you just did a number two in.

Perfect place for a couple of drinks.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Annie (2014)

I hear the Jay-Z beat, yet, I hear no Jay-Z. What gives, Hov?

Ten-year-old Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a foster child living in Harlem who has to deal with the mean treatment of her caretaker, Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), and always looks towards the bright side that her parents may, one day, come back to get her. That’s a dream for sure, but it’s one that Annie doesn’t ever give up on; just like she doesn’t really give up running everywhere she goes, all because she states, “it gets her places quicker”. However, all that running comes back to almost harm little orphan Annie, until the rich, famous and mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), saves her from a possible car accident. This moment finds an audience and gives Stacks the kind of lead in the election that he so desperately needed. Therefore, he is forced to, by his oily campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale), that it’s best for him to keep relations between he and Annie constant and always in front of the public to see. Even if Stacks doesn’t really care for kids as is, he has to do this in order to seem like a relatively likable guy. But then, something changes: Stacks begins to care, but it may be too late.

Oh, and yeah, it’s a musical, too. That’s if you didn’t already know that.

Oh, I get it. You apparently can teach an old dog new tricks.

Oh, I get it. You apparently can teach an old dog new tricks.

Anyway, a lot of people have been raining down on Annie‘s parade as of late and it’s disappointed me. Sure, I get that we didn’t really need a remake/updated-version of the 1982 classic, but then again, you could say that for many other movies out there in today’s day and age that are made for the screen, for no other reason than just money, money, and more money. To me, the fact that critics have been trashing this movie, not only proves that some people aren’t willing to change and go along with the times, but anytime that anybody touches something near, dear and sacred to their hearts, and changes it up a teeny, tiny little bit, there’s automatically resentment. I can’t say that I haven’t acted like this before, but for the most part, when seeing something that’s been remade or updated for a modern-day audience, I sit back and wonder how it could all turn out to be.

Because either way, if the movie’s a train-wreck or not, it’s still something interesting to watch and ponder about. Like, for instance, why was this remade? And the simple answer to that question is simple, “No reason really”. Maybe Jay-Z saw some money in the name-product that is Annie and decided that he might try to cash in on some of that money, even if it did mean making a movie for the whole family, and around the holidays no less.

But I’m definitely beating around the bush with this one. What I’m trying to say about this latest version of Annie, is that the reason for its existence isn’t known and it sure as hell isn’t perfect. That said, I found myself enjoying a lot more of this movie than I maybe wanted to. Most of that has to do with the fact that director Will Gluck makes this out to be the kind of movie that not only doesn’t take itself too seriously, but isn’t afraid to throw some jokes here and there for the older ones in the crowd that may have gotten sucked into seeing this because of a young one at home, begging and pleading to be taken out. Or, they could have just been older, creepier people and saw it by themselves.

You know, like me.

Anyway, moving on!

Like I said though, Gluck’s film isn’t perfect and more often than not, feels like it’s being almost too adorable and cutesy for its own good. There’s a certain sense one can get with a family-film that even though the audience who wants to see it may not think deeper or further than the ones who get roped into seeing it, the charm has to be turned up to eleven and annoy the hell out of everyone who is watching it that may be above the age of twelve. This is exactly in the case of Annie; while it’s charming at times, other times, it feels cloying and like it wants you to not just laugh at it, but pet it, adore it, and take it in as your own.

Sort of like an orphan, really.

And for the longest time, this absolutely bothered me. It made me feel like I was watching a film that didn’t know whether it wanted to be too smart for it’s own good, or just downright earnest that it’s practically asking for a hand-out. To me, Annie seemed a little more like the later, but there’s was always that feeling in the back of my head that maybe I was being a tad too harsh on this. After all, it’s an Annie movie, made for the whole family to see, enjoy and not think too much about, not a piece of awards-bait that asks the hard questions about humanity and demands that you think/discuss them after you’ve just witnessed it. In a time like late-December, where nearly everything I see now is about to bludgeon me to death with their intellectualism, it’s quite refreshing to see a movie which, on paper, is simple and plays out exactly like that. Sure, it’s a tad too earnest for its own good, but once you’re willing to get past that, then it actually works.

If anything though, Annie deserves to be seen for a reminder that Quvenzhané Wallis isn’t just a simple, one-and-done flash-in-the-pan that we’ve seen so many child actors like her become. With Wallis though, there’s an inherent charm and likability to her that not only makes her Annie seem like a real, actual kid, but one that appreciates life more than you’ve ever appreciated anything in your life. Some of this is because of the way she’s written, but most of it is because Wallis seems like she’s having the time of her life on the set of this movie and it helps a lot of her scenes.

Turn away kiddies! Not safe!

Turn away kiddies! Not safe!

And of course, because it is a musical, what matters most is that Wallis is able to belt out some tunes, and she is more than able to. Her voice is sweet and tender, and adds a nice amount of emotion to some of the more cornier-tracks in this movie that could have easily been taken out and we would have already gotten the idea it was trying to get across. She’s an orphan! She’s sad! We get it! Move it on over!

One of the problems with Wallis being so good here, is that she takes away from the rest of the cast, all of whom are big, respectable names in the biz. Thankfully though, since Gluck’s direction is so over-the-top and goofy, everybody here seems like they’re either hopped-up on too much Pop Rocks, or are just simply happy to get a paycheck that they want to express it for everybody else in the movie. Either way, it works in favor of the performances and allows for some of the more badly-placed jokes, to land. Even if they weren’t intentional to begin with.

Jamie Foxx gets to display his key sense for comedy as Stacks and seems like a nice fit alongside Wallis, as they build a nice, but realistic chemistry together; Rose Byrne doesn’t get much to do here as Stacks’ assistant/possible love-interest, although she’s charming enough to get by; Bobby Cannavale is, as you guessed it, a dick and doesn’t hide any of that back whatsoever; and Cameron Diaz is campin’ it up, big time, as Miss Hannigan, but seems to be at least having some fun with the material for once in a long while, so I can’t have too much of a problem with that.

Just like I can’t with the rest of the movie. Even if everybody and their mothers, at the time, seem to despise its guts.

Consensus: Sweet, simple, and overall, pleasant, Annie is the kind of musical that doesn’t try to pummel you over the head with thought-provoking questions about humanity, but much rather, entertain the whole family, with a simple song, a dance, and a huge grin on its earnest-as-hell face.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

So this is why I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours? Thanks. Next time, harmonize and dance somewhere else!

So this is why I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours? Thanks. Next time, harmonize and dance somewhere else!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)

It’s over. So pipe down, nerds!

After having left his precious castle, Smaug roams free and is killed. This leaves many happy and feeling safe for once. This also leaves Thorin (Richard Armitage) to go back and take back what was rightfully his in the first place: His throne. Problem is, word spreads pretty quickly that he’s sitting in his high chair and this does not make Thranduil (Lee Pace). So, like any good elf would do, he wages war against Thorin, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), and the rest of their band of trusted misfits; a war which Thorin and co. could definitely lose, but they don’t seem to be turning away from. However though, the war takes a turn for the worse once the Orc’s get involved in the shenanigans, making it harder for this war to be won, but decide who is on who’s side, and why. It’s all so wild and crazy, but at the center of it all is Bilbo, who just wants to get that precious ring of his back to his comfortable, lovely little life in the shire.

So far, the Hobbit trilogy has been an okay one. Maybe that’s just from my standpoint, but for the most part, I haven’t seen myself incredibly upset about there being three Hobbit movies released over a three-year period. Sure, it’s a bit obvious and manipulative of Peter Jackson to stretch a 300-page book, into nearly eight hours of footage, but for me, the movie’s never got so offensively made that they were just downright terrible. They were fine for what they were, and that’s how they’re supposed to be viewed as, I feel. Even if, yes, the Lord of the Rings franchise is a whole lot better in hindsight.

"Aw damn."

“Aw damn.”

With that being said, it was nice to see Jackson finally end this trilogy on a note that was not only effective, but seemed like it was a return-to-form for his own true-self. The past two movies have been fun, adventurous and chock full of all the medieval exposition nonsense we expect from a movie such as this, but they haven’t really been too exciting to where you could tell Jackson was really just letting loose and having a ball with this material. In a way, one could almost view it as another lame attempt at Jackson just trying to hold onto this name-brand he loves and adores so much.

But regardless whatever the reasons may have been, Jackson brings back all of the excitement he showed in the early part of his ambitious career and it’s what makes the Battle of the Five Armies a good time. Because there’s so much action firing around on all cylinders, with numerous characters coming in and out of perspective, you get the general sense that Jackson is literally taking all the pieces of his puzzle, shuffling them around, and just letting them stick and stay there, for them to do their own thing and see how we respond. And, well, for the most part, it works well; it brings a certain level of tension to a franchise that, quite frankly, needed plenty of it.

However, like with the other films, Jackson still seems to get bogged down in not knowing where to go with his stories, or whom exactly to focus on the most.

What I mean by this is that while this is clearly Bilbo’s story first and foremost, Jackson pays plenty of attention to nearly everyone else around him. Thorin, Gandalf, Legolas, Tauriel, Thranduil, Bard, and even Saruman, all get plenty of development in the first hour or so of this, whereas we don’t really get much of a simple glance or two at Bilbo and just what the hell he’s up to. Sure, I get that Jackson doesn’t want to keep his scope limited and much rather focus on the ensemble at hand, but when you’re film is literally named after the main character and you give him maybe two or three paragraphs for the first hour, it makes me wonder just who the hell you really care about when all is said and done.

That’s not to say when Martin Freeman is given the chance, he isn’t willing to work his arse off whenever Bilbo’s on-screen, because he totally does in that lovably charming, yet sly way of his that always seems to work no matter where he’s at. It’s just that a part of me thinks Jackson didn’t seem to care about any more development for him and instead, just lingered towards the rest of the cast of characters who aren’t nearly as interesting, nor as fun to watch as Bilbo. Everybody’s fine in their roles, but seeing as how this is Bilbo’s own story, it seems only right that we focus on him the most, and allow Freeman to just work his magic. Almost as if he’s in whole other different universe completely, but it doesn’t matter because he’s so much fun to begin with.

"For freedom! I guess?"

“For freedom! I guess?”

Just wish there was more Martin Freeman to go around. I guess you can never get too much of that tiny fella.

But despite all of my moaning and complaining, the movie still entertained the shorts off of me (not literally, sadly). Once again, we see Jackson in a state of mind that shows, despite his story-telling elements being a bit off, he still packs enough punch to make his action excite nearly anyone watching it. It doesn’t matter if you’re invested in the characters or not, if you have a clear idea of who the good guy is, and who is the bad one, then all you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy as the fist-a-cuffs come out and everyone starts duking it out. A part of me wishes the other two movies were like this, but I’ll take what I can get, whenever I get it. Even if, you know, it is a bit pleasing to see this franchise done once and for all. Hopefully it will allow for Jackson to go back to his old school roots and try something smaller, and possibly even go back to doing horror.

Let’s just hope he stays the hell away from another Lovely Bones. Please, anything but that.

Consensus: With enough action-packed sequences of swords, sorcery, and stones, the Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies is the kind of Middle Earth movie we wanted from Peter Jackson, except not nearly as epic as the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

I would say, "don't do it", but we already know he's far too gone. Wait? Was "the Ring" a metaphor for drug-addiction? All this time and nobody's informed me on this? What the hell?!?!?

I would say, “don’t do it”, but we already know he’s far too gone. Wait? Was “the Ring” a metaphor for drug-addiction? All this time and nobody’s informed me on this? What the hell?!?!?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Top Five (2014)

Man, sometimes I wish that more people other than my mom thought I was funny.

Mega-superstar Andre Allen (Chris Rock) has a lot going on in his life right now. For one thing, he’s got a new movie coming out that may, or may not, signal his change from being in/apart of “comedies”, and doing more dramatic, emotional pieces that show him in a serious-manner. He’s also supposed to be getting married to his rich and famous fiancee, Erica (Gabrielle Union), even though some of it seems like it’s all being made up for the reality show they have on Bravo. And, to make matters slightly a bit worse, Andre’s now got to promote his new movie in this one weekend, where he’s going to be interviewed and accompanied by New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Though the two don’t get along at first, they eventually start to hit it off where they learn more and more about one another, and eventually, try to help each other with their own respective careers. Even if both of them feel like they don’t need much help to begin with, whether they realize it or not.

If Charlie Rose thinks you're funny, then hell, you must be!

If Charlie Rose thinks you’re funny, then hell, you must be!

I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again for any of you out there keeping score at home: Chris Rock is by far one of the funniest comedians we have working today. Sure, the man has had his flops and has definitely gotten a bit too comfy and cozy with the likes of Adam Sandler as of late, but for the most part, when Rock brings his A-game, the laughs just never end. Take for instance, his relatively recent SNL hosting gig where, during his opening monologue, he went on and on about such controversial topics as 9/11, the Boston Marathon,the Freedom Tower, and guns. While some cried foul and felt as if it was in poor taste from SNL to let somebody like Rock not just go on about this, but to do so with his own writing.

For me though, it was a hilarious monologue that yeah, may have definitely been a tad bit uncomfortable to sit through at times, but that’s sometimes where the best bits of comedy comes from. If somebody says something you’ve been thinking your whole life, but had never mustered up the courage to actually get out and say yourself, it’s automatically hilarious. Not because what the person said is actually funny, but because they’re bringing out something within you that you’ve been keeping bottled-up inside for so very, very long, and it was about time that it got out there for the whole world to see.

However, that was nearly a month ago and now, we have Rock’s new movie, Top Five, which, once again, proves my point to the rest of the world out there: Chris Rock is one of the funniest comedians working today.

And because this is Rock’s baby right here (he wrote, directed, starred, and made love to this movie), this is a huge aspect in judging how much one person can enjoy this movie. Because while, on paper, it seems like what Rock is doing is trying to make bygones for all of the silly decisions he’s made over his storied-career, it’s more of a piece that shows us why he still deserves to be taken in by the current mainstream audience and not just forgotten about. Rock wants us to remember the simple fact that he’s still got the funny in him, and he spends nearly the whole movie showing us this.

Thankfully, too, it all works. Without ever seeming desperate or as if he doesn’t have his own laugh-track, Rock allows his Andre Allen character to be a perfect example of what Rock does best; the guy riffs on everything around him, and seems to never ever take anything around him seriously. However, he still wants to be taken seriously – not just as an actor, but as a person. While this could have definitely been another one of those “oh great, here we go” moments we normally see in these kinds of movies, Rock steers clear of this and actually seems genuine when he’s being dramatic. He doesn’t try too hard, but more or less, allows himself to just be seen by the audience, picked apart as much as they choose to do so, and looked at in a different light. This doesn’t mean that Rock spends the whole movie just moping around, begging people to love him like it was New Jack City all over again, but he’s more or less utilizing some of those dramatic-skills of his that may have been there his whole life, and we’re just finding out about now.

But I don’t want to make it seem like Rock makes it all about him, his specialties, or even what he wants to get across, because this here movie is a joint-effort and it’s nice to see Rock sit aside and let the rest of his star-studded cast just take matters into their own hands and see what magic can happen. It’s a sign that not only is Rock a lenient director, but that he’s also a nice guy who is willing to let his fellow friends and confidantes take over his show. Even if it is for only slightly a bit.

Rosario Dawson gets the biggest role out of the whole supporting cast and does a great job as Chelsea Brown – the kind of journalist that makes some people, such as myself, who are in that line of profession a bit sick, but is still charming enough, that it’s okay to get past many of the unethical journalistic moves she makes throughout. What’s so interesting about the way in how Brown is written, is that, on paper, she seems conventional; she’s the simple, easygoing gal that’s going to save the big time Hollywood actor from all of the spotlight, glitz and glamour. But while she may seem like this, at first, Dawson builds her to be something of a genuine character with hopes, feelings, and emotions that wants nearly as more from life as Andre does. The movie never tries to look down upon her, or even the sort of effect she’s having on Andre, as much as it just looks at them two together, smiles, and lets them do their thing.

The perfect Hollywood romance. Somewhere, I know there lies a sex tape.

The perfect Hollywood romance. Somewhere, I know there lies a sex tape.

Which already means that yes, Dawson and Rock are great together and seem like they’re actually good pals off the screen. Whatever the inspiration may have been behind Dawson’s casting for Rock is definitely interesting, because she fits into this role perfectly and it becomes abundantly clear whenever the two are walking around the streets of New York City, talking about life, romance, kids, sex, parties, and yes, their top five favorite rappers. But, like I said before, it isn’t just Dawson and Rock’s show, as they’re more than willing to share the spotlight and let the rest of the cast do their thing, shine a little bit, and continue to allow the movie to move on as it so pleases to do so.

J.B. Smoove plays Rock’s bodyguard/assistant and is great in a role that has him being the guy who hits on every woman he sees, in the most casual, innocent way possible; Gabrielle Union plays a character that seems very shallow and one-dimensional at the beginning, but actually has one scene where we see her for the person she truly is and it’s not only a surprisingly effective dramatic scene here, but puts her whole character into perspective and allows us, the audience, to gain just a smidgen of sympathy for her; Cedric the Entertainer also shows up here and reminds everybody that he’s still funny, especially now that he’s away from that strange Who Wants to be a Millionaire? gig; current SNL cast-members, Leslie Jones, Michael Che and Jay Pharoah all make it clear why they should get better material to work with every time we turn on the tube to see them; and last, but certainly not least, Tracy Morgan’s here in a very comedic-role that shows him being the big, lovable goof that he was, making it all the more of a travesty that we may never get to see him acting like this again.

But while I may have only touched upon a few or so people here from this cast, I can assure you, there’s plenty more where these ones came from (especially an amazing cameo from a personal hero of mine). Which is hard for me to not go into further detail about, because everybody who shows up here is, in one way, shape or form, funny. Some of it seems like they’re funny because of what Rock has wrote for them to be funny with, but some of it also seems like they’re all just riffing with reckless abandon. While this would seem pretentious and almost too self-important to be considered “entertainment”; it’s not only just that, but assures us that Rock, along with his very funny friends, are here to stay.

Thank heavens.

Consensus: As ambitious as it is thought-provoking, Top Five finds Chris Rock not just back in his comfort-zone as a comedian, but as a guy who is willing to remind people of the very hilarious talents that are out there, just waiting to be discovered, or at least found again.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Subway romance: So cute, but please, shut up so that I can rock out to my RATM before work.

Subway romance: Cute and all, but please, shut up so that I can rock out to my RATM before work.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Hellion (2014)

Growing up problems? Crank up the Slayer!!!

13-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is an angsty troublemaker that loves to start fires, run from cops, and teach his little brother (Deke Garner) how to be just like him. This mostly has to do with the fact that they’re mother just passed away, but it also has to do with the fact that the two boys’ father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), is hardly ever around. And even when he is, it’s usually with a beer in his hand and a slurred-speech. Needless to say, they’re a pretty messed-up family that’s just barely getting by. But that all changes when child services come around and takes Jacob’s little brother away from him and puts him with their Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). This pisses Jacob off to no end and he starts to act out a whole lot more, although he now also focuses more of his attentions onto his passion: Motor-crossing. Also, Hollis starts to undergo a little transformation of his own by not just putting down the bottle, but also when it comes to getting his kids all back in one house together.

"Betch."

“Betch.”

Most coming-of-agers that mean well, tend to do well for me. Not because I was once a kid, but because it seems so hard to write childhood, and to do so in a non-judgmental way, that it always earns a pass from yours truly. Problem is though, there is such a thing as seeing the same type of coming-of-age flick, being told to me, time and time again. Though it might be dressed up with a different cast, title and narrative, the story still remains the same: Growing up is hard to do.

This is obviously nothing new to express in the world of film, but where I think writer/director Kat Candler slips up at times is by not really delivering anything new or intriguing about this idea. Sure, we get that growing up, especially when done inside a broken home, is downright difficult and can either make or break a person into being who they are for the rest of their lives, but is that it?

To me, it’s not that Candler’s film isn’t well-done, it’s just so typical.

You can’t tell me that as soon as we saw Aaron Paul’s character leaving his home with a six-pack of booze, flowers, and going straight to the side of a random street, that he wouldn’t be going to visit his obviously-deceased wife’s burial-spot? Or, better yet, that when our lead character starts to get involved with what seems to be his passion, that he’ll do so with anger and hate, only to then not really do well with it all? And, honestly, how easy was it to pin-point the moment that the tubby kid of the group would start to become the overly excessive and vulgar one?

It’s all here and it’s all been done before. That’s not to say that movies like this can’t bring something neat or enjoyable to the mix of others in its same genre, but Hellion feels like it’s treading familiar-waters that don’t really feel like they need to be touched in the first place. Though, where Hellion works the most is with the performances and how each and everyone of the cast-members dig deep into their characters, giving off a very raw feel that kept me watching, even when the story seemed to just disappoint me and go into predictable spots.

By now, I think everybody knows Aaron Paul’s a quality actor and is able to bring any type of fiery energy to whatever he does and as Hollis, he’s very good. But it’s not because he’s constantly excited or yelling “betch” all over the place, it’s because he actually dials it down. Hollis is the kind of deadbeat dad character we get in these kinds of movies, except that he’s written a bit better as not being an asshole, as much as just a troubled dude who needs to pay a bit more attention to his kids. Because of this small detail, Hollis seems more like a little lost puppy who, for better and for worse, is doing the best with this “fatherhood” thing that he can. It may not always work for the guy, but the effort is there and that’s what matters the most.

Anyway, what Paul does so well here is that he channels all of the sadness this character clearly has, and keeps it all in. He never really breaks away and loses his total mind, so much so as that you can tell he’s about to crack open at any moment. The same goes for Josh Wiggins as Jacob, who has more of a showier-role here, but is still believable enough that it makes me wonder just how much of what he was doing is actually acting, or is just him being a kid, plain and simple. Regardless of whether or not he’s actually reading a script, Wiggins still gives off this tense feel to a character who, honestly, was already brimming with it early on. Wiggins, right here and now, is a young talent that I’m interested in seeing what he has next on his small plate.

Suck on that, Maleficent!

Suck on that, Maleficent!

But the one I really was impressed by here was Juliette Lewis as Pam, the well-meaning, but incredibly hated sister of the deceased mother. See, what Lewis does so well here, that she doesn’t quite do in many other movies, is that she dials most of her expressiveness back. She’s like Paul in that, whenever you see one of them show up in something, you know that you can expect them to be jumping up and down with nonstop energy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as much as it’s just a thing I’ve noticed after having watched these two in many movies.

For Lewis though, she’s already given the hard task of making a character like Pam seem sympathetic in nature, even though every character in the movie is clearly against her from the start. She’s made out to be like some sort of stuck-up, prude-ish woman that just wants to ruin this family’s little unit, but in reality, she’s trying to keep them together and in it for the long haul, even if that means some line of separation has to be made for the time being. You feel bad for Pam because you know she’s doing the right thing, it’s just that everyone around her is so hell bent on getting back to normal, that she’s made out to be the villain. It’s not hard to feel bad for Pam, the character, and that’s not just to do with the situation her character is written into, as much as it’s Lewis’ need to back-off and play it straight-laced, rather than as a woman who so desperately wants a child of her own and will do anything to make that dream a reality.

She’s the real revelation of this movie. It’s just a shame that she wasn’t thrown in a better one.

Consensus: If you’ve seen a Southern coming-of-age drama in the past five or six years, most likely, you’ve seen Hellion already, except with a few very good performances worth checking out.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

That poor bike. We all know what's next for it with that kid at the helm.

That poor bike. We all know what’s next for it with that kid at the helm.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Captive (2014)

Hide yo wife, hide yo husband, and most of all, hide yo kids.

Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) leaves his young daughter inside the back of his car to go and pick up some pies for dessert later, and moments later, he comes back to find out that she’s not there and is nowhere to be found anywhere in sight. How could this happen? Better yet, why? Well, that’s when two detectives (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman) jump onto the scene and investigate every inch of this case that they can, even if they end up rubbing Matthew the wrong way quite a few times. Still though, they remain dedicated to finding this little girl, even if literally means exploring certain avenues that they wouldn’t normally go down. But now there’s a problem: One of the detectives has gone missing, which not only hinders the effectiveness of this case, but now puts another one at the top of the pile. Meaning that Matthew may never get to see his little girl again. This is when he decides to spring into action and take matters into his own hands, even if that means risking his own life.

I don’t get why people still constantly want to work with Atom Egoyan. Sure, I understand that the guy has made some top-notch films back in his day, but from what I’ve been seeing of him recently, they aren’t well-done. Most importantly though, they contain top-dollar ensembles who, in better movies, would make any film nerd want to get out their cushioned-seats, hop onto their bikes, and get to the nearest movie theater that’s actually playing one of his movies. But sadly, they do nothing but just disappoint. That’s why when I went into the Captive, I expected it to be bad, regardless of how bright and shiny that cast-list may seem.

The beautiful babies I'd imagine these two as having.

The beautiful babies I’d imagine these two as having.

But here’s the real kicker, everyone: I actually enjoyed the Captive.

Although, yes, most of the times, I know I wasn’t supposed to. See, there’s something strange going on with this movie and the way Egoyfan frames it, in that we literally get to see who the villain is in the first five minutes, whether or not the girl is actually alive, and which detective has gone missing. Over time though, the narrative jumps all over its time-line to where the actual abduction is actually somewhere around the half-hour mark, which is, for some odd reason, just after we’ve been introduced to one of the detectives and their job-meeting. This continues on for a good part of the movie to where we’re told to put the pieces of this puzzle together in our own ways, which isn’t necessarily a hard task to complete, it’s just an unnecessary one.

Why Egoyan felt the need to tell this story using a nonlinear method, is totally beyond me. In fact, it makes no sense at all, considering that we’re supposed to have some sense of tension with this case, who did it, why, and when they’re going to get caught. Other than the last aspect, we already know everything and it seems random that Egoyan would choose to use this device.

However, that said, when the film gets going and starts to tell its story in a conventional manner, it surprisingly gets better. But, once again, it got better for me in the way that it wasn’t supposed to. Because, for starters, this movie is quite over-the-top. Sometimes, certain lines that are supposed to hold a great deal of emotional heft, come off as too melodramatic, and we’re watching an episode of One Life to Live. Which isn’t really because of the cast, it’s mostly because the material they’re given is sometimes so goofy, that they can’t help but over-act and dial it up to nearly eleven. Though being unintentionally hilarious is bad thing for any movie to have, it worked for me here with the Captive and at least gave me plenty of chances to laugh-out-loud, even though I knew full well I wasn’t supposed to.

It isn’t like this all of the time, but when it is, I found myself enjoying myself. For better, and for worse.

But then something even stranger began to happen with me and this movie – it got better. And no, this does not mean that the laughs stopped, but more so that the tension that was supposed to be there throughout the whole piece, surprisingly showed itself and made me wonder where the story was going to go next. There’s a neat sequence in which Reynolds’ character may have possibly found his kid’s nappers and decides to sternly confront them, mono-e-mono. Not only is it a nice bit of acting on his part, but it’s then followed by a fun, relatively exciting car-chase that goes all over the snowy streets of Canada, where apparently nobody else seems to be driving. But that’s neither here nor there.

And I guess now would be the part to discuss the cast here and to say that while mostly everybody’s good, they’re stuck with material that’s clearly beneath them. Case in point, Ryan Reynolds. See, as of late, Reynolds has been making a huge effort to break away from the big bucks and the mainstream flicks, and just test himself as an actor, by taking smaller, more indie-based flicks. It’s not only interesting to see his choices, but to see what he does with them and how he’s able to still be his own, charming-self, yet, blend in well with a director’s certain sense of style.

"Yes, ma'am. It's what the kids are currently calling it 'memes'."

“Yes, ma’am. It’s what the kids are currently calling it ‘memes’.”

Here, in Egoyan’s film, Reynolds gets a chance to be funny at certain times, but is still incredibly believable as the grieving father who will literally do anything to find his kid. He’s not necessarily trying anything new that he hasn’t tried before, but he’s still exceptional in a film which, quite frankly, didn’t deserve him or all the effort he seemed to put into this performance. Same goes for Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson who try their hardest as the two detectives assigned the case, although their characters feel a bit underdeveloped, even though Egoyan focuses his main sights on them and what it is that they’re up to.

Sadly though, not everybody fares as well-off as these three. Like I said before about the script being cheesy and mostly over-the-top, this usually entails certain cast-members to read their lines either by yelling so dramatically, you wonder if they’re making fun of the script, or if they’re just confused about why Egoyan is even bothering with it in the first place.

The perfect example of this is Mireille Enos as Matthew’s wife who has a few break-down scenes where she’s yelling at and beating Matthew because she believes it’s all his fault their daughter is lost. Enos is a great actress and is one I always love to see because of how much she challenges herself, but here, she’s so wacky, I couldn’t hold back my laughter during a scene which, obviously, seemed like it didn’t ask for that. Kevin Durand and Bruce Greenwood are two other victims of Enos’ same problem, except that they have it worse seeing as how they’re the baddies and all, and one of them even has a mustache.

Come on, now! That’s like the oldest trick in the book!

Consensus: Poorly-written, unintentionally hilarious, and a waste of a very talented cast, the Captive may be ridiculous, but it’s fun to laugh at, enjoy for as long as it’s on the screen, and most likely forget that you ever saw.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

The local truck stop. That's usually where all the bad shenanigans go down.

The local truck stop. That’s usually where all the bad shenanigans go down.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Still Alice (2014)

Everybody’s a little forgetful. Especially my ex-girlfriend. I mean, it was my birthday for gosh sakes!

50-year-old Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty good life. She has a loving husband (Alec Baldwin), lives in a comfy home, teaches at Columbia, has three, grown-up kids that constantly stay in touch with her, and she seems to have it all figured out. However, that all changes one day when she begins to realize that she’s forgetting certain things. Not just any certain things, but things that she used to know or at least, should know. Though it’s only tiny pieces of forgotten knowledge, Alice still doesn’t take any chances and decides to go to the doctor to take a test. She gets the results a week later and finds out that she’s been diagnosed with a rare case early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She, as well as the rest of her family, is absolutely devastated. But they all soon realize that they have to take advantage of the time they have with their mother now, before it’s all too late and Alice has forgotten just about everything in her life.

It’s a shame that certain movies such as Still Alice, are generally regarded as “made-for-TV specials”, only because of their plot, or what it is that they decide to talk about. Usually, movies about people with certain dramatic, life-altering diseases, are thrown onto Lifetime to be seen by housewives from all over the globe, where they’ll go “ooh” and “ahh”, and think it is maybe the greatest piece of film they have ever seen. This assumption of mine may not be right, but for the most part, movies about diseases, usually get tossed to the TV-screens, so that the heavy-hitters can play where the big boys play, and that’s the cinema’s.

Look out, paparazzo, Alec Baldwin 'a comin'.

Look out, paparazzo, Alec Baldwin ‘a comin’.

But with Still Alice, there’s finally an exception to the rule that proves it doesn’t matter what disease-of-the-week your movie seems to be discussing or highlighting, if it is good, then people will see it, regardless of what form they decide to do so. In this case though, it’s on the big screen, with noticeable, big-hitter names like “Julianne Moore”, “Alec Baldwin”, “Kristen Stewart”, and yes, even “Kate Bosworth”, and still seems like it could be played on TV.

The main reason of that has less to do with the material and more of just the way it’s cheaply-shot by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, but regardless, it’s still a movie that discusses a real life, actual disease and does so in an efficient, thought-provoking way. It hardly ever gets over-dramatic and it doesn’t really even seem to paint its main character, Alice, as any kind of miracle woman, that so tragically gets hit with this disease. Sure, it’s very sad and I wouldn’t wish this disease upon anyone (or any disease, for the record), but Alice, as portrayed in this movie, isn’t a wonderful lady. She’s a nice one, but she’s like you or I – she makes mistakes, she acts selfish and, especially when finding out about this disease of hers, starts to take advantage of the situation to get whatever it is that she wants, from whomever she wants.

This may give the impression that Alice is a terrible woman who nobody would ever want to see a whole movie dedicated to, let alone one including her struggle with getting past a life-changing disease such as Alzheimer’s, but the movie doesn’t try to push that off on us. She’s a normal, everyday woman that you’d meet on the street, but the sad reality of her life is that she has this disease and it’s making her life, as well as those around her, a living hell.

So yeah, it’s pretty sad material that we’re working with here, but Westmoreland and Glatzer don’t ever seem to let this go too far to where it’s downright depressing and preachy. They both show the problems one faces with Alzheimer’s, how they can try to overcome it, and/or what others can do to help that person who is currently struggling. They take their sweet time with this character and her disease, and it never seems “Hollywood-ized”, nor does it ever seem like it’s pandering to anyone, at any time.

Especially not when Westmoreland and Glatzer begin to discuss the darker layers of this story and what the disease can do to those afflicted with it. For instance, there’s a surprising amount of detail that goes into Alice’s plans for her suicide, when she’s going to do it, how she’s going to do it, and just whether or not she’ll even remember. Had this been shown strictly on television first, I can assure you, we probably wouldn’t have seen this aspect developed, or better yet, even brought up in the first place. But considering that this is a feature film, Westmoreland and Glatzer are given a hell of a lot more free reign to dig deep into the problems one person may definitely have if they’re ever diagnosed with this same problem.

It’s not only eye-opening to a dense idiot such as myself, but also helps us appreciate Alice, the character here, a whole lot more.

Because, see, like I said before about Alice and the way she’s written in this movie, she’s not perfect, but she’s real and that’s what matters the most. Some of this has to do with the way Alice is developed, but most of it is because of Julianne Moore and the way she searches long and hard to get to the center of this woman, and how it’s hard to ever take your eyes off of her. However, don’t be fooled by the marketing of this movie, this isn’t a very showy performance from Moore; it’s just a near-perfect showing of what she does best, when given the right material to do so with: Act her rump off.

A couple of weeks ago, in my Maps to the Stars review, I discussed how Moore, to me at least, felt like the type of actress who is usually solid in anything she does, but she’s hardly surprising. She’s always good, but when was the last time you walked away from a movie going, “Wow. That Julianne Moore performance really took me out of my seat”? I can’t think of the last time either, so don’t feel ashamed, my little friend, but I will say that her performance in Still Alice may just be so, which is hugely surprising considering there’s hardly ever a moment here that makes it seem like she wants to grab a hold of the audience’s throats and remind everybody that she’s an actress dammit, and a great one at that. Instead, Moore down-plays just about everything that happens to Alice here and because her condition is one that works its way, slowly but surely, it’s extremely effective and reminds you of good acting, when it isn’t trying to tell you so.

Now, of course there’s been a lot of buzz going on surrounding Moore’s work here and how it might finally, after all of these years, gain her an Oscar, but all that aside, it’s still a very good performance. Moore’s ability to be subtle and show us the pain deep down inside of Alice, each and every time she gets confused about something she doesn’t know, is heart-breaking. She makes us understand that this condition is downright terrifying for the person who has it, and that they can literally forget where the bathroom is in their own home that they’ve had for over two decades. It’s incredibly sad to watch, but Moore gives a raw feel that’s not entirely begging for our attention, but more or less, daring you to take your eyes away from her, no matter what scene she’s in.

"Okay, mom. I swear I'll stop doing YA adaptations."

“Okay, mom. I swear I’ll stop doing YA adaptations.”

And though this is obviously Moore’s show from beginning to end, the rest of the cast is pretty good, too, even if some don’t get as much to do as others. Alec Baldwin, believe it or not, actually gets the chance to play a loving, adoring, and dedicated husband who, sadly, has been thrown into a situation he himself does not know if he can handle. In fact, I’d say one of the more interesting insights this movie delves into is how the person with the disease isn’t just the only one who’s hurt, but much rather, those who love and support that person as well. Sometimes, even worse because the others are at least conscious of what’s going on and realizing that they’re losing someone that they love; whereas, in some cases, the person with the disease understands what is happening to them, at least accepts it, moves on, and appreciates all that they have left on this planet.

With Alice’s family, it’s interesting to see who is actually able to handle this transformation in her life, and who exactly isn’t. A perfect example of this are the two sisters, played by Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart (who is pretty great in this movie and makes me want to see more of her, of course, but on a smaller-scale); the former’s character is a neat, classy and professional lawyer who is, for the most part, the up-tight one of the two, whereas the later’s character is more of the family wild child who does what she wants, when she wants to, regardless of how much influence her parents try to throw into her future. Oh, and even worse, she’s living in L.A. as a part-time actor. If that doesn’t get parents’ blood boiling, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, you’d think that because Bosworth’s character has already has such success with her life as is, that she’d be the one to step right up, know what to do with her mother, and exactly how to handle it in an efficient way. However, that’s the exact opposite of what happens here, as it’s more of Stewart’s somewhat-reckless character that takes the reigns as her mother’s most dedicated and understanding caretaker, all the more proving that it doesn’t matter who you think a person may, or may not be from the way they generally are, see how they are when they react in a moment of crisis and then you’ll know exactly who they are.

Then again though, that’s how it usually is with family. You never know what you’re going to get, but you can always depend on love being there.

Consensus: Without overdoing the melodrama, Still Alice (which is a terrible title, I must say) is an effective, thought-provoking piece about early onset Alzheimer’s disease that not only gives us one of Julianne Moore’s best performances, but also proves to be an insightful look into how family-dynamics change, especially once one member seems to have lost it all. Literally speaking, in this case.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Have been in your situation many times, honey. Don't feel bad.

Have been in your situation many times, honey. Don’t feel too bad.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Wild (2014)

I just walked from my living-room to the kitchen, so why am I still addicted to heroin?

One day, 30-ish-year-old Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decides to do a 1,000 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, all by her lonesome-self. Why is this? Well, after years of drug abuse, random sex with strangers, the loss of her mother (Laura Dern), a few pregnancy scares, and her recent divorce, Cheryl has about had it up to here with life and finally realizes that in order for her to finally change it all, she has to get away from it all and focus her attention on another part of her life: Survival. This means, for Cheryl, she has to eat a lot of cold oatmeal, stay hydrated, stay warm, not die, and sure as hell not get raped by any of the huge creep-o’s that may, or may not be out there in the wilderness, just waiting for a little thing like her to come around into their little wooden-hut. Mostly though, Cheryl just wants to change her life and along her journey, she meets people that are sometimes in the same situation as her, or are just simply hiking for the hell of it.

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going....

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going….

You know, like we all do.

On the outside looking into a movie like Wild, I cannot help myself one bit to not just scoff at a piece that includes someone played by Reese Witherspoon hiking on an Eat Pray Love-style journey of self-discovery, all because she shot up heroin, had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s, and got a divorce, because she had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s. To me, not only does it sound like not “my type of thing”, but it seems like pure Oscar-bait for Witherspoon to show her “range”, and also to see her as a bad-ass kind of gal. Call me harsh, call me what you will, but I know when a movie intrigues me and this was not one of them.

But, from the inside of this movie looking out, I can easily say that not only did it turn out to be “my type of thing”, but Witherspoon more than proved herself capable of being hot, sassy little mama who screws, shoots up, and divorces, whatever she wants, when she wants, and how she chooses to do so.

I never thought I’d ever be typing that in my life, but such is the case when you have a little surprise like this on your hands.

And most of that is due to director Jean-Marc Vallée’s handling of this material and not just letting it tell itself; Vallée gets us inside the mind of this Cheryl Strayed character, shows us what she’s thinking, when she’s thinking, why, and how it affects her current journey in life. Though it gets a bit over-the-top with all of the constant smarmy-narration from Strayed, Vallée still does a nice enough job of putting us slap dab in the middle of this woman’s life and the journey she’s embarking on, and making us actually care for her. Sure, he may utilize more flashbacks than two whole episodes of Lost, but they’re flashbacks that work and allow us to grow closer to this character, the more and more that we know about her.

And trust me, that’s not an easy feet, especially when you have Reese Witherspoon playing the main character, but there’s something about her here that really shocked me and actually puts her whole career into perspective, as a matter of fact. See, it’s not that I dislike Witherspoon as an actress – I think she’s immensely talented and, in the past, has proven to be quite versatile in what she’s chosen, and for how much cash. But lately, it seems that the Reese we all once knew and loved as Elle Woods (or as Tracy Flick, for all you cool 90’s kids out there), has gone the way of the Dodo and would much rather take a huge pay-cut to star in movies where dashing, handsome-as-hell men fight to the death for her and leave her going, “Oh, golly!”

Well, my friends, you no longer have to be scared because it seems like the Reese Witherspoon we all loved is back and this time, she’s rawer than ever! Meaning, that yes, Witherspoon does get quite naked in here and shows us elements to her abilities as an actress that none of us have ever seen before, and it all works. She’s compelling, smart and gives much insight into the type of damaged woman you can still like and care for, even if she’s made some pretty dumb mistakes in the past, and especially to people who don’t at all deserve it. The role could have easily been another large check for Witherspoon, but she puts so much effort into it that it actually pays off and has me so excited to see what she has next. Because, quite frankly, with all of the hits on her hands, by now, she can do whatever she damn well pleases with her career.

....and going......

….and going……

Quite like Cheryl Strayed.

Anyway, all that aside, Wild isn’t perfect. There are moments where it seems to fall back on “are they, or aren’t they rapists” aspect of its story and while it may bring tension to the story, it feels constantly thrown in there, if only to just keep peoples eyes open and watching the screen. But that isn’t to say Cheryl Strayed’s adventure isn’t, as is, already intriguing, or even, ever so slightly, inspirational, because, yes, it is. Though Vallée doesn’t hit us over-the-head too many times with making us feel like we should love this person more and more as she goes on with our journey, it’s still easy to do so. Not because she’s been through a whole hell of a lot to begin with, but because she actually wants to make amends for it all.

The real reason as to why she actually gets up one day and decides to say, “Aw, fuck it! Time for a 1,000 mile hike”, is a question that the movie brings up, never explicitly answers, and leaves hanging like a sad flower that’s been without water for too long. But it doesn’t need to. With giving us many insights into Strayed’s past-life, we get the impression that she needs this more than anything. However, rather than being a total baby and seeming like she’s running away from her problems, it seems more like she’s walking towards a new life, that will probably have its fair share of problems. However, she’s constantly learning and understanding that life will always get better. Sometimes though, you just have to take advantage of it, get up, and see what’s out there in this huge canvas we call “Earth”.

Okay, now I’m definitely getting sappy here. Damn you, Reese!

Consensus: With a compelling lead performance from a very dedicated Reese Witherspoon, Wild gets past any of the problems it may have with its narrative and reminds its audience about the small pleasures in life, even if they don’t always come right away.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...and, yup, you guessed it, still going......

…and, yup, you guessed it, still going……

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Exactly why you never mess with guys named Moses. Especially when you’re near the beach.

If you don’t know the story of Moses by now, you probably should. But anyway, here’s what this movie’s all about. In 1300 B.C, Moses (Christian Bale) is a general and a member of the Royal family, which makes him a brother to  Prince Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). However, he is not blood-related, so therefore, when Seti I (John Turturro) passes away, it’s Ramesses who is next to claim the throne. While this doesn’t upset Moses, he knows that this won’t be good because Ramesses doesn’t take responsibility well and lets his emotions get the best of him. Ramesses knows that Moses thinks this and therefore, he banishes from the land and forces him to survive on his own. While in exile though, Moses finds out that not only does God want him to continue out his plan, but that he needs Moses to take control of whatever the hell crazy stuff Ramesses is doing to his land. Obviously Ramesses isn’t going to fall for all of this mumbo jumbo, which makes God very angry and nature so drastically turns on humanity.

And the rest is, I guess, history.

"Guy-liner is cool!"

“Guy-liner is cool!”

A lot of has been said about Exodus: Gods and Kings, and most of it isn’t about whether or not it’s actually good and worth your time at all. Most of it is, and reasonably so, is about the casting of the white actors in roles that were made especially for Hebrews and Egyptians. It was a small bit of controversy that held some ground, but it was made all the worse by the fact that Ridley Scott couldn’t quite shut his trap and therefore, seemed to have kick-started a huge list of people boycotting his film.

Is it reasonable? Yeah, I guess so. But that isn’t really the point of this movie, or even this review. The point of this movie is to inform and possibly entertain the audience about the story of Moses. However, the point of this review is to tell you that while it does the former, the later is hardly anywhere to be found.

Most of this has to do with the fact that Scott doesn’t really do much of anything entertaining, interesting, or even enlightening about this story. It’s all as plain as day. It may all look incredibly pretty, but honestly, there’s only so much one viewer can do with really pretty visuals. Eventually, you need an interesting story, to be told in an incredibly compelling way. If you can’t do this, then there’s something wrong with your film, all problems with casting aside.

And no, I’m not making the argument that Scott’s movie somewhat fails because we all know the story of Moses, it’s mostly because he doesn’t know where to go with it. He shows us that, yes, Moses was a person who spoke to God, set out to do what he was called on to do, and when it didn’t, all hell (literally) broke loose. This aspect of the film is, at least, exciting, fun, and interesting, something you don’t get from the rest of the movie. It shows us that not only does Scott still appreciate a nice monologue when he wants to use one, but that his exquisite eye to detail still pays off.

That said, I’m talking about what’s maybe 15 or so minutes in a movie that runs on almost two-and-a-half hours. Which wouldn’t have been a huge cause for concern, had the rest of the movie been at least somewhat worthy of watching, but it’s so slow and meandering, you’ll wonder if Scott fell asleep while making it, or was already in the midst of planning and filming his next picture, that he totally forgot about what was already on his plate. Either way, it’s a bit of a snoozer of a film and it’s made worse by the fact that some signs of Scott’s genius shows, teasing us more and more about what this film could have been, had it not decided to get bogged down in whatever it was blabbering on and on about.

And the same could also be said for the cast who, despite all being pretty big, respectable names, don’t really offer much to a movie that desperately needed something to liven it up.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Though Christian Bale is one of the best actors we have working today, it seems that whenever he is in a major blockbuster picture, he never quite gets the chance to show everyone those skills he’s known to have. Here, as Moses, he gives a pretty wooden performance that, at times, can seem inspired, but for the most part, just makes it seem like he’s reading from a Gideon Bible and doesn’t really care whether or not he’s putting any effort into anything. It’s not a terrible performance, but definitely one of Bale’s high-points, I have to say.

Same could be said for the rest of the cast. The likes of John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and María Valverde all show up here, but hardly any of them leave a lasting impression on us. They’re just here to service a script that doesn’t know what it wants to say or do about itself, nor does it really know how to treats its characters, so it just has them talk a lot about seemingly nothing and see if they can draw up any sort of emotion whatsoever.

It seems like that was the same guideline given to Joel Egerton, although he’s a lot better off with his role as Ramesses because he’s call on one thing and performs it well: Be campy. Egerton seems like he’s not only having a fun time with this role, but is at least more interested in diving deep into who this person may have been and why he was inspired to make the actions that he did. Though most of this gets lost in a muddled film that could really care less about any sense of humanity there may be in these characters, the effort is still noticeable and it’s worth commending Egerton for. Even if, you know, the character was written as a guy who yells a lot, forces people to die, and eats a lot grapes.

Consensus: Everybody in Exodus: Gods and Kings seems to be trying, except for Ridley Scott himself and it proves to be a major problem for a two-and-a-half-hour epic that moves slow, doesn’t say anything interesting, and hardly ever seems to know what it wants to do with itself, other than just try and inform people about the story of Moses that they may already have known since kindergarten.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Gotta give it to those Egyptians - they sure did have style.

Gotta give it to those Egyptians – they sure did have style.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz