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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: October 2015

Burnt (2015)

Chefs don’t have to be hot. But it certainly helps.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a respected chef among his peers and confidantes, however, his personal life has begun to take a toll on his work. Excessive use of drugs, booze, and women, have led Adam to go straight and sober, where all he has to focus on now is his kitchen and the food he produces. In an attempt to rebuild his career to where it was once before and gain those three Michelin stars he’s been so desperately fighting for, Adam’s old friend, Tony (Daniel Brühl), sets him up in his hotel’s kitchen, where all sorts of people come by and languish in the food that he and his kitchen have made. And with an all-star staff including the fiery, but ambitious Helene (Sienna Miller), Adam thinks that his lifelong goal my finally be on the horizon. Problem is, Adam’s past life with drugs still haunt him until this very day, which tend to make him more tense and angry to those who least deserve it; something that may ultimately cause Adam of gaining those three Michelin stars and also send him back to the bottomless pit of life that he tried so hard to get out of.

He's tense.

He’s tense.

Burnt hasn’t had a very easy trip to the theaters and honestly, it’s a bit of a shame, too. For one, it suffers the problem of coming out within a year of Jon Favreau’s Chef movie, as well as featuring the two co-stars from the biggest of 2014 (American Sniper). You’d think that with the latter problem, the studio would find a way to make that work to their advantage, but for some odd reason, there hasn’t been much of a focus on the fact that this is, yet again, another pairing of Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Except, this time, instead of being in the battlefield, they’re in the kitchen.

Which, isn’t all that different, from what Burnt shows.

And honestly, the best parts of Burnt are when they are in that kitchen, prepping-up the food, getting in formation, scoping out what sort of crowd they have to work with, and most of all, fighting and bickering at one another. Though director John Wells may get a bit carried away with his constant chopping and cutting of certain shots, it did help add a certain bit of excitement to scenes that, quite frankly, could have just been nothing more than food-porn at its worst. Instead, we get to see how these people work and maneuver around in the kitchen, seemingly doing what they love to do. They may not get paid much and not have all that much time to spend at home with their families, but what they’re doing with their lives (which is making grub for rich snobs), is honestly all that they need in their lives to make themselves go home happy and feel as if something was accomplished in said day.

Which is to say that everything else that takes place outside of the kitchen in Burnt is, honestly, not as exciting, fun, or interesting to watch. Instead, it’s just predictable and boring, as most redemption tales can tend to be if their lead protagonists aren’t all that intriguing to watch or dissect.

And in the case of Adam Jones, this is sort of true. While the character may be poorly-written, you can tell that Bradley Cooper, being the grade-A talent that he is, truly is trying to make this character pop-off the screen and be more than just your average, ignorant, misogynistic and mean dick-head. There’s a few scenes where it’s actually entertaining to watch as he berates each and everyone of his co-workers for not stepping up their games, but in the end, all it really adds up to is him just showing us more and more reasons why we shouldn’t like him, nor ever actually root for him when we’re supposed to.

Once again, though, none of this is Cooper’s fault; he’s so talented at what he does, that being a huge prick, in his own way, can come off as being slightly “charming”. It’s just that so much of the movie is about his personal life and the issues he seems to be having, that it feels like it isn’t really giving him much to work with. Sure, we get that he’s sad that he was once a total and complete junkie who couldn’t make a dish, but really, is he that great of a guy to begin with? Favreau’s Chef showed that, through cooking and creating food, he was making himself, as well as those that he loved, better because of it; Burnt just shows that cooking is Adam Jones’ way of coping with all of the problems he used to have in his life, but at the same time, doesn’t seem to actually be treating any of those around him, who may genuinely care for his sorry-ass, any better.

He’s still a prick and that’s about it.

She's tense.

She’s tense.

Still, those surrounding Cooper do fine jobs, too. Sienna Miller and Cooper have such great chemistry together that it’s absolutely no surprise that they work well here, sometimes playing-off of one another’s personalities; Daniel Brühl gives a heartfelt performance as Jones’ childhood friend, even if a revelation about this character does settle in to the story awkwardly and seemingly out-of-nowhere; Omar Sy is fine as Jones’ trusted confidante who, like Brühl’s Tony, has a revelation about him that’s a bit odd; and Matthew Rhys does a great job as one of Jones’ arch-rivals who is not only as much of a vindictive dick as Jones, but is also a bit more humane, and it shows quite well.

The whole cast here is fine and in no way do I blame them for any of the movie’s short-comings. But to be honest, I don’t even find that many short-comings to be had with Burnt; sure, it’s a bit messy and definitely feels as if it’s taken more than a few trips to the cutting-board, but honestly, it still works because it constantly keep its story moving. Even if Adam Jones is, like I said, not a very strong character, everything surrounding him can be, which helps make it go down like nice bowl of rice pudding.

Had to throw in a food metaphor.

Consensus: Burnt may not be perfect, but is at least entertaining and well-acted enough to where it feels like a better movie about cooking, rather than its central character.

6.5 / 10

But together, they're oh so in love.

But together, they’re oh so in love.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

Silly Americans: Always ruining elections.

During the 2002 Bolivian elections, politician Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida) was in desperate need of some help. His campaign wasn’t so succesful, he was made out to be a fool in the press, and basically, didn’t have a shot in hell of winning this election. So, in a pure act of desperation, he called upon the help of Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a controversial figure within the political-campaign world because of how far and able she is willing to go to ensure that her candidate not only wins, but actually proves to be the one person everyone must trust, no matter what sort of shady facts may be lying in said person’s past. However, Jane is a bit of a mess; she’s not only battling depression, but also not very sociable and relies more on sitting off in corners, rather than giving her own two cents in when it’s so desperately needed. Now, to make matters even worse, Jane’s going up against political consultant Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a former confidante of hers who she has more than a few drops of bad blood. With Candy on the opposing side, Jane feels more dedicated and passionate than ever to winning this election, even if that does mean that she has to do a bit of soul-searching on her part to understand just what this election actually means to the Bolivian peoples.

Bald vs. Bold.

Bald vs. Bold.

There’s something about Our Brand is Crisis that makes it so annoying to watch, which is that it thinks everything that it’s saying about how political elections are nothing more than just shameless, utterly ridiculous self-promotion and lying, is smart or new. Neither of which, it actually is, but nobody seemed to tell director David Gordon Green, writer Peter Straughan, or producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Like the latter two did with the Men Who Stare at Goats, they’re helping to produce a story that they think has some satirical bite, but in all honesty, just doesn’t.

Instead, it’s just boring, dull and most of all, predictable.

Which is a bit of a shame because it seems like there was some promise here. Granted, the fact that Green was attached should have already brought some interest in, but from what it seems like here, he’s doing nothing more than just a for-hire job, where he’s told to stay within the lines, never itch out, and always make sure that the audience knows what’s going on. Nothing here shows that Our Brand is Crisis is a David Gordon Green, which may work in his favor further down the road when he wants more people to forget about the types of mainstreams bombs he can sometimes produce, and focus more on his smaller, more indie-based flicks he came to prominence with.

You know, everything that the Sitter isn’t.

But still, it’s clear that from the very start, Green had no chance in hell of making this work. The script by Straughan is, for lack of a better word, unfunny. The movie thinks that pointing its finger at these characters and waving it around in a mocking way should bring laughs, but it doesn’t because nothing here is ever funny, nor is it ever well-done. The whole movie is supposed to be surrounding how desperate and willing this campaign team is to have their electoral win, so they stoop as low as they can get, but for some reason, the movie never seems to want to focus on that. Sure, we see Joaquim de Almeida do some foolish things to make himself look better and more approachable, but really, the movie is mostly focused in on this Jane character who isn’t really all that interesting to begin with.

"Oh my! Something interesting is calling!"

“Oh my! Something interesting is calling!”

To be honest, nobody in this movie is ever actually interesting, per se, but at least they aren’t given as much of a full-dimensional arch as Jane is. Granted, Sandra Bullock is more than up to the task of making this character work and seem any bit of likable, but she just isn’t. There’s been a lot of talk about how this character was originally written for a man that, only until Sandie expressed interest, they decided to change the character up as well, which makes perfect sense. Had this role been filled with a man, there’d probably be less prat-falls, throwing up in trashcans, and random freak-outs – however, because there’s a woman in this role, and it just so happens to be Sandra Bullock, the movie feels the need to have her do all of these things, as if she’s in the third Miss Congeniality.

Not a, you know, supposedly smart and witty political satire.

It isn’t just Bullock who gets the shaft when it comes to actually being able to work with solid material worthy of her talents – in fact, there’s a whole, interesting supporting case to prove that. Anthony Mackie, as usual, is as charming as ever, but never feels like he matters enough to the story that when he suddenly becomes the ghost whisper to Bullock’s Jane, it’s random; Ann Dowd has a few fun scenes, but mostly, just sits around in the background; Billy Bob Thornton is acting like a dick here and that’s pretty much it; Joaquim de Almeida is given a lot to do, but at the same time, not really, because all he’s doing is presenting a character that we’re not supposed to know much about to begin with; Zoe Kazan does a lot of translating and speaking Spanish in a sort of dead-pan that made me miss Zooey Deschanel; and of all the rest, Scoot McNairy is probably the only one who gets the most laughs, if only because his character is played up for so much stupidity that it reminded me of Lacey from Pootie Tang.

And whenever a movie is able to make me think of Pootie Tang, I can’t be that mad.

Consensus: Considering the current political climate, it’s disappointing to see that not only does Our Brand is Crisis feature anything smart to say of political elections, but also isn’t all that funny or interesting, either, wasting a solid cast and crew who have better places to be.

3 / 10

Being hungover? Rom-com trope #72!

Being hungover? Rom-com trope #72!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

All the President’s Men (1976)

Can’t trust journalist nowadays. They’ll do anything for a quick dime!

Obviously based on true events, political operatives working for President Nixon broke into the Watergate Hotel to spy on the Democratic National Committee. Two low-level reporters by the names of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) come upon the story and have no clue what to do with. Because one’s an experienced journalist, and the other one isn’t so much as so, they aren’t really gelling together well and therefore, the story is being left with a big question-mark. That is, until Woodward gets a reliable tip and, as their editor (Jason Robards) tells them, follow the money that they begin to investigate the event and the mystery surrounding it. Eventually, the two discover that there’s an elaborate scheme at hand that involves all sorts of political espionage, sneakiness, and illegal activity, all being directed from, none other than the White House. Being the dedicated journalists that they are, Woodward and Bernstein go the most extreme lengths to ensure that their story hits the presses and is able to see by the rest of the world. Even if that does mean, on many occasions, risking their own lives and safety in the process.

Yup, journalists are always on phones.

Yup, journalists are always on phones.

Being a journalist helps make movie like All the President’s Men all the more great to watch. While there’s no doubt in my mind that somebody else who may not at all be involved with the world of journalism could, and most likely already has, found something to love and adore about the movie, it’s still something special to me that has me connect to this movie all the more, each and every time I check it out. For example, that certain rush and adrenaline that goes all throughout your body when you stumble upon a story that, at first, may not seem like much, but eventually, turns into something far more greater and powerful than you ever expected it to be. Then, to go out, follow your sources, catch up with people, back-up facts, put more info in the story, edit it time and time again, try your hardest to get it published, have to edit it one last time, chop it up as much as can be, and publish it for you, as well as the rest of the world around you to see, is just one of the many lovely feelings I get as a journalist.

So with that said, yes, All the President’s Men is a great movie for journalists who love to write stories and all of the other extra work that goes into them.

However, in its own right, it’s also a great movie that deserves to be seen because, well, it’s so damn well-done.

For one, it’s a thriller that is, believe it or not, thrilling. The reason I say “believe it or not” is because for anyone who has ever picked up a piece of paper or passed 8th grade history, will now exactly what the historical significance behind the Watergate scandal was and the countless other, ins and outs surrounding it. And because of that fact, All the President’s Men could have been nothing more than a glamorized, Hollywood-retelling of the story, but it’s actually not; in fact, most of what the movie is actually about, has less to do with the breaking of the story itself, and more about what certain emotions and feelings the story actually brings along.

Though the suits aren't always that nice.

Though the suits aren’t always that nice.

Of course, seeing as how this is directed by Alan J. Pakula, it’s obvious that a lot of All the President’s Men surrounds that idea of being paranoid in a society where, whether you want to admit it or not, the government is always spying on you and everything you do. You may want to believe that they’re spending all of your well-earned tax money on institutions such as school, the army, and programs to help out those who need it the most, but really, they’re just screwing everybody over. While I know that I sound like the kid who has gotten stoned one too many times, this is the same kind of point that the movie brings up and in an effective, never-hacky way.

The scenes where Woodward and Bernstein are out, covering their bases, trying to get more info, and meeting up in some of the shadiest spots to do so, are all filled with a certain bit of intensity that makes you wonder what’s going to happen next even though, you know, you know exactly what is going to happen at the end. The story’s going to be told; Nixon is going to be made an example out of; and Bernstein and Woodward are going to become the legends that they so rightfully deserve to be. However, there’s a certain chill in the air that makes it seem like Pakula can, and most definitely will, switch things up at any moment he sees fit. And honestly, because the movie’s so interesting and compelling, I wouldn’t have had much of a problem with that; but because he sticks to the story and all the facts within it, makes it all the more of an impressive job of directing on his part.

Not to mention that, Redford and Hoffman themselves are quite solid here, as well. Though we’ve come to see Hoffman and Redford in more interesting roles in the time since they starred in All the President’s Men, it still goes without saying that these two are talented pros and make every second count. It also helps that their personalities allow for us to distinguish between the two and understand why they make the certain choices that they do throughout the majority of this flick; Hoffman’s Bernstein is a bit sneakier, whereas Redford’s Woodward, likes to keep things on the straight and narrow, even if he does begin to realize that that’s sometimes easier said then done in the world of journalism. And yes, that world is indeed one where even the most easy-going, level-headed dudes can, whether they intended to or not, break a person’s life in-half, all for the goal of telling a story the public needs to see.

So yeah, people. Start writing!

Consensus: Engaging and exciting, despite everyone knowing what happens at the end, All the President’s Men is both, a smart-thriller, as well as a nice bit of social commentary about the way our social climate worked and still does, even to this very day.

9 / 10

But yeah. Those phones, though.

But yeah. Those phones, though.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Room (2003)

When in doubt, toss the old pigskin around.

Uhm. Well, the story goes, Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a successful businessman who plans on getting married soon to his lovely fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Though they are more than in love and, most times, share hot, steamy, passionate, and sweat-inducing sex, there’s still something missing – well, at least from Lisa’s point-of-view anyway. For reasons unknown, Lisa goes behind Johnny’s back when he isn’t around, to sleep with his best buddy, Mark (Greg Sestero). Though Mark and Johnny are good pals and often throw the football around for fun, this love for the same woman is what ultimately keeps them from embracing one another, and always fighting. There’s also another subplot going on here about an orphaned kid named Denny (Philip Haldiman), who is neck-deep into the world of drugs and has debts that he needs to pay. Eventually, these issues among this small group of friends, lovers and confidantes all come together when Lisa decides that she wants to throw Johnny a b-day party.

And yeah, that’s about it. I think.

Best friends always play ball together.

Best friends always play ball together.

Honestly, who the hell am I kidding? The Room, literally and figuratively, has no plot. Sure, you could make the argument that it’s really about the love-triangle between Mark, Lisa and Johnny, but if you do make said argument, you’re a tool. Just know that the movie does have a central plot, but everything else that happens around it, are sometimes so random and abrupt, that they really don’t make much of a different to a movie that, quite frankly, is a whole jumble of nothing.

And you know what? I love every second of it.

So yeah, everything you’ve either heard, read or been made to understand about the Room by now is most definitely true. It’s a nonsensical, poorly-made, over-the-top, and unintentionally hilarious drama that, somehow, some way, was able to raise $6 million. Also, let me not forget to mention that, with all the midnight showings and infamy it’s created, has most likely made back all of said $6 million dollars, if not more. If there is a perfect example of the injustices society has created, look no further than this movie.

But honestly, that’s the true beauty of this. That somebody actually looked at this final-product, thought, “Hmm. Yeah.”, and actually released the damn thing, is absolutely astounding. And the person we have to thank most for that is in fact, the man, the myth, the odd legend known simply as Tommy Wiseau. Since the Room’s premiere, Wiseau has become something of a 21st Century Ed Wood; while his pieces of work are terrible, he still loves them enough to not just create more, but to also make it out like they’re pieces of art that need their prizes immediately. Whatever goes through Wiseau’s head on a everyday basis is beyond me, but from what I’ve seen with the Room, I know that I want to know more and more about him.

Wiseau is, yes, a terrible actor, but there’s something so odd about his presence and the way he speaks, that you wonder if he ever could be considered a “good actor”. Something tells me that if the likes of either Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese saw him, picked him up, took him under their wing, and worked with him, that he’d become a scene-stealer who, after hearing he was in something, we’d look forward to getting a glimpse of from right as soon as the movie started. Of course, though, that hasn’t and probably will not happen, so what we’re left with is a dude who is, yes, a terrible actor with a weird accent, who also seems to be sleep-walking through his own movie. That said, you can’t take your eyes off of him, or wait to see what he does, expresses, or yells out next.

Denny and Johnny were truly like, father-and-son.

Denny and Johnny were truly like, father-and-son.

Honestly, I haven’t been this taken with an actor’s presence in quite some time.

But what’s perhaps the most interesting aspect surrounding the Room, is the fact that it’s a movie where everything seems to be happening, yet ultimately, nothing ever really does happen. People sit down and have over-long, aimless conversations with one another; emotions are cried-out on top of ceilings; footballs are passed-around; pizza is eaten; people are screwed (both literally and figuratively); and fists are exchanged. But really, there’s nothing to any of it here; if anything, the Room is just a whole big pile of nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable, funny big pile of nothing, but a pile of nothing, nonetheless. Which, in actuality, is a bit of a shame. For one, it’s a shame that Wiseau, through whatever wizard trickery (aka, blackmail) he was able to commit, actually got over a million dollars for this movie to be made, whereas well-known, immensely talented directors like Steven Spielberg, Spike Jonze, and, yes, Scorsese, still have to battle their ways to get full-financing for whatever projects they want to get off the ground. I’m all for a movie that’s made for people to enjoy and laugh at, but I’m also for a movie that sets out to do that from the beginning, which the Room, despite what Wiseau himself may claim, does not set out to do.

Still, it’s a shame that everybody else in the Room, other than Wiseau, actually do seem to be trying with the wacky material given to them. Though none of them, judging by what I’ve seen on their respective IMDB’s are ever going to get past the shame and humility that this movie caused them, it’s still interesting to see what careers any of these people would have had, had they never said “yes” to Wiseau in the first place. For instance, Greg Sestero actually seems like a competent actor who, not only has good-looks to help him out when it comes to getting roles, but also seems like he could be called on for snarky one-liners, when need be. However, this is all just taking place in an imaginary, never-going-to-be-real world that I’m currently creating in my head, and not the one where the real life Sestero hasn’t worked since steadily since 2003, but is still in the spotlight for writing a book about this movie and everything else surrounding it.

So yeah, I guess you could say he’s doing alright in the real world. But still, you have to imagine! The possibilities!

Consensus: Unbelievable, in terms of how bad it gets, as well as how many people thought it was fine to be released, the Room is every bit of the midnight legend it’s been made out to be, for better, as well as for worse.

10 / 10

but really…..

0 / 10

That damn football again!

That damn football again!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Gift (2015)

High school is life.

Married couple, Simon and Robyn Callum (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), have been encountering some problems as of late with their marriage, so they decide to move back to where Simon grew up. One day, during shopping, a person by the name of Gordon Mosley (Joel Edgerton) comes up to Simon, to see if he remembers him from high school. Long story short, Simon kind of does, but kind of doesn’t, either. Plenty of time has passed, but to be a nice guy, Simon decides to invite “Gordo” over a fine dinner one night. It isn’t until long that both Robyn and Simon start to see that there’s something odd and off-putting about Gordo; he constantly leaves them gifts and comes over unexpectedly, asking for Simon, but stays longer than he probably should. Eventually, Simon gets tired of this and lets Gordo have it, which is when they think everything’s over with. However, Robyn’s fish are killed, her dog goes missing, and randomly, she starts having panic-attacks, which leads Simon to think that it’s all Gordo causing this and nobody else. But the main question remains: Why would Gordo go all this way to push himself into some dude from high school’s life, some twenty-odd years later?

A-hole.

A-hole.

Despite there being plenty more out there to see, I tend to believe sometimes that I’ve seen plenty of movies. Some were better than others, of course, but that’s not the point of my rambling – the point is that I think, after all the movies I’ve seen, I’ve come to know a lot about what to expect with certain movies. Therefore, when a story starts to lean down a certain direction, my brain automatically turns to the most conventional solution because, well, I’ve seen it all before. In all honesty, I wish I didn’t always think like this with movies, because it actually sucks a lot of the fun out, but so be it. I’m a miserable sack and I blame it all on movies.

But I digress.

The same directions that I’ve just alluded to, are the same ones I saw appear on countless occasions during the Gift. However, what’s different from this movie, as opposed to so many other ones out there that I’ve had the displeasure of seeing, is that it goes down a different way that I didn’t least expect it to. For instance, when Gordo starts showing up unexpectedly, inserting himself into this little couple’s life together, and making it known that he wants to be their friends, my brain was already saying, “Oh great. Here we go. He’s going to creep this family out so much that, eventually, they’re going to have to let him know straight-up, that their relationship is over. Then, Gordo’s going to get all crazy, start harassing the family, creeping them out plenty more, until, there’s a final battle between both sides that’s bloody and senseless.”And heck, once the dog ended up missing and the fish were killed, my mind had already turned off and let me knew that, yup, the Gift was going to be nothing different from any of the other “creepy neighbor thrillers” out there.

Once again, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, time and time again, writer/director Joel Edgerton turned down a different street and instead, opted for more fresh ways to tell this pretty familiar story. Take, for example, the characters Edgerton has created here – nobody here, even though the movie may sometimes lean a certain way, is considered to be a “good guy” or a
“bad” one. Mostly, everyone is just a person who may have better morals/social skills/earnings/personal issues/etc. than others and that’s all there is to them. This not only helps the movie feel like it’s more than just a thriller, but a character-study, as well heighten the tension in the air because, quite frankly, we start to care for these characters.

We care for them, not just because the movie wants us to, because after a bit of time, we get to know each and everyone of them. But it’s never over-done; we get certain, little inklings about a person’s life to where we’re able to conjure up exact ideas of how these people may be. And even though, it’s never fully clear who these people are. Maybe that was the cynical point Edgerton was trying to get across, but either way, it’s still an interesting thought to have in a movie that, honestly, could have been all about this couple getting terrorized and the creepy guy, continuing to be creepy.

Edgerton is a smarter talent than that and it goes without saying that, this being his debut and all, I’m quite impressed.

Not because Edgerton finds himself more off-screen, than in front of it, despite this being his movie and all, but because he seems to understand what it takes for a movie to be both smart, but also fun-in-a-silly-kind of way. This is especially evident in the final act when it becomes clear that this is less of a story about a creepy people being creepy, and more about how bullies continue to be bullies, no matter how old or experienced they get. Though the movie itself is smart and complex, the message it sends across, isn’t; however, it’s handled in a way that makes it seem like Edgerton was actually trying to say something here, as simple as it may have been.

Sweetheart.

Sweetheart.

But still, the characters here are strong enough that it doesn’t matter if Edgerton trips up on making sense of this movie. As Simon and Robyn, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are, respectively, very good here and help create their own characters well enough to where we see them as separate human beings, and not just a couple. To me, this was probably the most important aspect to making these characters work; while it’s easy to say that they’re in love, hence the fact they’re married, it’s what they do when the other’s not around that makes them into their own person and allows us to see them for all that they are.

For instance, whenever Simon’s not around, Robyn casually goes on a job around her neighborhood, re-organize the house, work on her computer, and do whatever else she feels like doing when she’s home all alone. Though these may seem unimportant when watching them, after awhile, the film uses this as a way to develop her character and make it known that, you know, she’s just a simple, sweet and easy-going gal; she may have had past problems with drugs, as we get more than enough hints at throughout, but overall, she’s a lovely gal. In fact, she’s probably so lovely, that it becomes almost baffling as to why she decides to stick with someone like Simon who, being played by Jason Bateman should already tell you, is a bit of a dick.

In fact, he’s a huge dick.

While this may seem like the same kind of role we’ve seen Bateman do a million times before, there’s something darker and meaner about this character that makes it feel slightly “different”. Instead of all is snarky comments being played for laughs, they’re now played for serious breaks of silence, where he makes a room a whole lot more tense for just saying what he feels and thinks. Bateman’s great here and it shows that, when given a solid script, the dude really can deliver. Same goes for Hall who, by now, we understand to be a pretty great actress. She not only handles the American-accent well, but also allows us to see that there may be a bit of a darker side to this character too, even if it doesn’t always show.

But perhaps, the best character of the bunch is, no surprise, the one being portrayed by the same dude who created this movie to begin with.

Though it’s made clear to us early on that Edgerton’s Gordo may be a bit of a weirdo who is best left in his own, little world of weirdness, rather than jumping in other people’s, there’s still something about him that makes him a character worth watching. While he may be socially awkward and odd at his worst, he is, in no way, a person who seems capable of murder, or any of the heinous acts he’s accused of throughout the flick. And once it becomes clear that he’s not really a bad person, we start to feel bad for him a whole lot more and wish that, not only would someone give him a hug, but also take him out, buy him a beer, and develop a long-standing relationship with him.

Still though, the dude’s still a mystery to us by the end and it’s what makes the Gift perhaps more thought-provoking than most thrillers of this nature that I’ve seen in quite some time.

Consensus: Working as both a character-study, as well as a psychological thriller, the Gift is a smart, complex and tense tale echoing in a new writing/directing talent in the form of Joel Edgerton.

8 / 10

Strange guy.

Strange guy.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hunting Ground (2015)

Stay in school, kids. Or at home is fine, too.

Going to college, for most people, is an exciting time. It’s a place that they’ve been studying hard for practically the past five or six years and now that it’s finally here, they can’t wait but to just soak it all up. From the classes, to the teachers, to the fellow students, and especially to the party-scene, college is a magical place where everyone can find themselves and be inspired to do what it is that they want to do for the rest of their lives. However, it’s also a place that, especially for women, can be a very traumatic, disturbing time as well. It is estimated that nearly 20% of college females will be raped in their college years and through countless other stats, interviews with real life subjects who have been sexually assaulted, and several department-heads of colleges, we start to get a bigger picture of what’s really going on. Because, it isn’t just the rape that’s the only problem at hand here, it’s also the institutions themselves who, for their own self-interest, whether it be for donations, for sports, or for public reputation, throw these rape cases away, hoping that they’ll just eventually dissipate into thin air, as if they never happened in the first place. Problem is, they did happen and it’s about time that somebody did something about it.

Seen this one too many times.

Seen this one too many times.

A few years ago, with the Invisible War, Kirby Dick showed what it was like to be apart of something as distinguished and respectable as the United States Military, and to have been a victim of sexual assault. That movie, even till this day infuriates the hell out of me; not just because people are being raped to begin with (which is a huge problem that needs to stop, ASAP), but because of how every rape case is handled. Rather than actually setting out and stopping the perpetrators from possibly committing the same act again, the Army would much rather settle everything out of court, blame the issue on the victim, act as if it never happened, was just a common mistake, and move on.

And to be truly honest, college itself is no different from the Army in that general regard.

While the Hunting Ground may not be as powerful as the Invisible War was, there’s still something that hits very close to home that makes it all the more sad, disturbing, and most of all, enraging. That nobody involved with these colleges is doing anything to stop these rapes from happening by either, punishing the perpetrator in an effective manner, or making it so that these crimes continue to be reported, will make you heart pound and blood boil. Dick understands this, sees this and never steps away from this fact; that these rapes can be stopped by a simple procedure of kicking that student out and making their presences known, is what’s all the more upsetting.

But through it all, Dick never forgets that this movie is, first and foremost, about the subjects here who, sadly and unfortunately, been through a sexual abuse at the hands of people who are, quite frankly, sick and twisted imbeciles. No matter how dark or disturbing the stories may be, Dick realizes that it’s the courage of these subjects who make this movie work and matter most; without them, he would have just a bunch of stats that don’t really prove any point, but crunch numbers in an annoying, slightly vague manner. Dick knows that in order to get his point across in an effective way, he needs to have as many stories as humanly possible, just to get his point further across about how rape, in and of the act itself, is an epidemic that needs to be stopped.

What’s most disappointing about this fact is that it can be easily done.

There's a possible generous alumni that you've missed out on, colleges. Good job!

There’s a possible generous alumni that you’ve missed out on, colleges. Good job!

All it takes is for a teacher, or a disciplinarian, or someone higher-up in the college, to speak up, say something and demand that a just punishment be made. However, as the movie shows us, it’s not so easy for every person involved with the university to just do such a thing, and not expect to reprimanded right away. For one, some of these figures may lose their jobs, as well as their tenure. This, altogether with the fact that the institution wants to keep that pretty picture alive and well for the rest of the outside world to see, is genuinely upsetting, but it’s sadly the reality in which we live in. Rape occurs, and rather than punishing those who initiate it, they all go after the victim and put all of the blame on them.

Once again, this is just one of the many points that Dick brings to light in the Hunting Ground. While it may not be his most powerful, or effective work he’s ever done, it doesn’t matter, because the movie still gets its point across and asks for there to be justice for those who need it the most: the Victims. That nobody is looking out for them, or has their best interest in mind, really makes the world of college as a whole, especially screwy. Colleges will never go extinct, but if they do continue to act up and not change their ways, they may be in fear of losing many possible students. Some parents will not want to send their kids away to a school that allows such heinous, vile acts like rape, and they especially won’t send their kids away to a school where instead of being embraced for bringing it up to the people who matter, the victims are wrongfully persecuted, left to be made an example of, and, in most cases, told to leave the school because of the hostile situation they’ve created.

This is all malarkey and you know what? It’s about time that it was put to an end, immediately.

Consensus: While not his best, Kirby Dick’s the Hunting Ground is still a powerful, generally upsetting documentary that points fingers at the problem of rapes on campuses, shows that there’s justice to be done, and asks why it hasn’t yet, to the people who most deserve to hear those same questions.

8.5 / 10

Pictured: Hell

Pictured: Hell

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Green Inferno (2015)

Can’t change the world, unless we change each other. And stay away from cannibals, too.

Young, impressionable Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is currently a freshman at some fancy college in New York City. She enjoys the life she has, but at the same time, still feels like she could be doing a little something more. That’s why when she meets a group of environmentalists who are traveling out to the Amazon to help save the trees there, she decides to go and join them, despite her father’s, as well as her best friend’s trepidations. And while the trip looks to be going perfectly and successful for the group, suddenly, they’re plan goes all haywire in the sky, leaving them to crash-land somewhere in the deepest, darkest and under-seen parts of the jungle. Which definitely spells out trouble for the group when they encounter a bunch of cannibals who want nothing more than to dismember them, fry them up, and have them for lunch, dinner, breakfast, and possibly a midnight snack. Though every member of the crew is in danger of losing their lives, it’s Justine who somehow catches the eye of the cannibals’ leader and who they prep-up for possibly even more sinister tasks.

What's the problem? She's just got pretty hair is all.

What’s the problem? She’s just got pretty hair is all.

To be honest, Eli Roth is a bit of an overblown talent. Sure, he’s made an entertaining horror movie in the form of Cabin Fever, but everything else, including only the two Hostels, aren’t anything to really write home about. Yeah, they’re every bit as bloody, gory and gruesome as movies in the horror genre, but do they really do anything other than just splatter a bunch of ketchup at the screen? Not really. That’s why whenever I would hear some people call Roth “a horror genius”, I can’t help but wonder what it about him, or the movies that he’s made, something of genius?

And while the Green Inferno doesn’t really push me closer to that answer, it still helps me understand why so many people love the dude to begin with.

For one, it’s as disgusting as you’d expect it to be which, depending on who you are, may or may not be a good thing. In most cases, I don’t mind movies being disgusting, so long as they have a reason for being so; that the Green Inferno takes place in roughly the same place as Cannibal Holocaust did, helps make it easy to sink-in the fact that, yes, dismemberment does tend to happen on a daily basis and yes, people do get eaten like fried chicken, as well. Nothing in this jungle that the movie’s taking place in is pretty, so therefore, why would anything that they do to each other, or to generally considered “outsiders”, be as such? There is no reason, which is why it’s actually fine that Roth splits and splats as many body-parts as he wants. After all, it’s his movie and he can choose to do with it, whatever he oh so pleases.

With that said, Roth doesn’t really have anything more to say other than, well, “Cannibals are scary, yo. Avoid at all costs.” While I don’t necessarily have a problem, or disagree with this sentiment, there’s a part of me that feels as if Roth could have gone one step further, especially due to the fact that he had plenty of ingredients to do so with. Take, for instance, the characters in the environmentalist group – most of whom seem to be genuinely nice kids who want to help out the world around them, rather than just sitting around, with their fingers on their laptops, and American privilege coming out of their rear-ends. But the movie also shows that they’re all, no matter how nice or nasty they may seem to be, very naive about the world that they want to help and think that all is fine as long as there’s love and care.

Never too late to turn around, everyone.

Never too late to turn around, you know.

This is actually a very interesting idea that Roth brings up and seems to want to go somewhere with, but also chicken-out of by the end. Though he’s not saying that these types of lefties are inherently “bad”, or “stupid”, he’s also not painting them in any sort of favorable light, either. In fact, the one who appears to be the leader of the group, is actually one of the more despicable characters of the movie as he’s always thinking and acting for his own self-interest, regardless of if it saves those around him, or not. He’s a total dick and the fact that he’s the leader of this group of people who aren’t supposed to be, is an interesting piece of story-telling.

But it ultimately falls on deaf ears once Roth realizes that he enjoys breaking-off body-parts more.

And I honestly can’t blame him because the type of carnage and violence that Roth depicts here is, disturbing and in-your-face, however, he never seems to be glamorizing it in some kind of way. He may see that the violence can look pretty gory and get those types of gore-hounds of their seats to cheer, but he also notices that it’s also pretty screwed-up and doesn’t let us forget about that, especially when we live in a world where radical extremists like ISIS are doing the same, if not worse, things in real life, as these unnamed cannibals do here. This is probably another case of unnecessary speculation from yours truly, but regardless, it helped me think of this movie as more than just another one of those ordinary, stupid and overly-grimy horror movies that we get hit with every other month or so.

I still don’t think Roth is a genius of any sorts, but who knows? He may be getting there soon enough.

Consensus: Regardless of if you’re a huge fan of Eli Roth in the first place, the Green Inferno is still a dirty, disgusting and ultimately disturbing horror movie that flings all sorts of limbs at the screen, yet, doesn’t forget the sort of chills that they bring, as well.

6 / 10

Check out the latest issue of Vogue.

Check out the latest issue of Vogue.

The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

If I was an immortal and looked like Vin Diesel, I’d have no complaints.

After striking up a fight with a witch a really long time ago, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) has now become something of an immortal witch-hunter. However, he only goes after the witches that are acting up and need a swift kick in the ass. Though Kaulder has been through it all in his over-extended life, he still finds ways to surround himself around friends that also serve as business-buddies, too. One such buddy is Father Dolan (Michael Caine), a local priest who finds the bad witches for Kaulder. The two have such a strong-bond that when Dolan turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, Kaulder can’t help but get to the bottom of it and see who is responsible. Eventually, this leads Kaulder to realizing that it’s a witch who is out to get him and will stop at nothing until she kills him once and for all. Kaulder is more than up to the task of taking this witch, head-on, however, he’ll need a little bit of assistance on the side from the likes of a fellow priest (Elijah Wood), and a trusted friend named Chloe (Rose Leslie), who apparently holds some neat powers that could come in handy.

Yeah, not really the movie, but okay.

Yeah, not really the movie, but okay.

Most people out there will say, and have already said, that the Last Witch Hunter is like playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons with Vin Diesel. While this is an appealing idea, I’m afraid, that this is nowhere near being the truth. For one, D&D is actually a fun game to not just play (once you get the hang of it), but to watch and be around (especially when those players seem to have such an undying passion and love for it). Also, seeing as how Diesel himself has, on countless occasions, professed his love for the game, it would make sense that he’d put his absolute heart and soul into making sure that this project of his own desire would turn out to be just as fun as the famous game he seems to be trying to use as a place-mat.

But sadly, none of this happens.

Ever.

So, don’t get all mixed up with what certain people say, because the Last Witch Hunter is a bore from beginning to end. And while I’m usually one for this type of fantasy-genre where dudes with swords, go up against witches, dragons, and all sorts of other baddies, when it’s done right, the problem is that director Breck Eisner doesn’t seem to know how to do that type of movie. Instead, it’s just a hodgepodge of random genres that never seem to come together and instead, make everything just cling and clang together, without hardly any spark to be made.

What makes it even worse is that the story never seems to make any sense. Though we’re placed in a modern-day setting where witches, witch-hunters and priests all have some sort of underground world in which they combat with one another, the movie suddenly goes back into time and it comes as a total shock. But not a good one, I’m afraid – instead, it’s more of the kind that feels like the writer’s got all tired and bored with what they were doing, so rather than trying to come up with some new, fresh ideas to keep the story moving, they decided to throw time-travel in there for good measure.

Does it work? Not really. Does it add any excitement? Not even close.

And a movie that features witches, flaming-swords, and dragons, yet, isn’t exciting, is a damn shame. Although, what’s probably the smartest ploy that the marketing team for this movie has been able to create, is by having Vin Diesel appear in a Viking-ish look get-up, with a wild bear, over-sized fur-coat, and bad-ass sword. Not only does it promise some crazy, as well as awesome action where Vin’s kicking all sorts of witch-ass in the good old days, but also make it seem like that’s going to be the bulk of the movie.

The genius behind that all is, is, well, that’s hardly even 15 minutes of the film.

That's not his cocaine, it's my cocaine!

That’s not his cocaine, that’s my cocaine!

Instead, we’re treated to watching as Vin Diesel plays a character who has, apparently, been alive for centuries-on-end, witnessed so many traumatic, legendary moments in life, and seen many people come and go, yet, not really care about any of that at all. Mostly, he’s just a smooth-talker who bangs hot stewardesses, drives a sexy car, and says witty things, for some reason. You’d think that after all that he’s been through, that he’d at least be somewhat affected and screwed-up, but surprisingly, he isn’t; he’s just happy to be around, still screwing hot babes and all.

Which is a shame, because we know that Vin Diesel can work with better material, when it’s given to him. Say what you will, but Vin Diesel has some real charm to him that works in movies that call on him for it – the Last Witch Hunter is not that movie. He tries to make this Kaulder dude seem hip, cool and likable, but because the movie accompanying him is so lame and random, he doesn’t get much of a chance to make any of that work. More often than not, he just seems bored and without a friend to play with.

Poor Vinnie.

Everybody else, too, sadly, faces the same fate as Diesel does. Michael Caine gets maybe ten or so minutes here and does whatever he can; Elijah Wood seems like he wants to have fun with this role as a dorky priest, but is thrown to the background, so that shoddy-looking CGI can take over; and Rose Leslie, despite featuring some of that same, feisty spirit she had on Game of Thrones, also seems like she’s lost in a movie that’s not too concerned with how good of an actress she is, and just how well she can hold a reaction-shot. And if that’s all that acting requires, then anybody could have been in the Last Witch Hunter, let alone, the talented people who sadly got tied-up into this.

Consensus: On the surface, the Last Witch Hunter promises to be a fun, exciting schlock-fest, but once you get past that, it soon becomes clear that it’s nothing more than just a terribly-misguided, ugly-looking, and boring piece of fantasy that doesn’t deserve who it has in it.

2 / 10

Huh? Eh. I don't care.

Huh? Eh. I don’t care.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Steve Jobs (2015)

No one’s a genius until Aaron Sorkin says so.

Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is one of the most inspirational human specimens to have ever graced this fine planet. For one, he paved the way we view and live according to technology. At the same time, though, he was incredibly difficult to work with and often times, found himself making more enemies, than friends. Not only did this carry into his work life, but his personal one, as well. And through three important moments in Jobs’ life, we see both of these sides play out and sometimes, clash heads. Though each story takes place in a different year (’84, ’88, and ’98, respectively) each one shares a similarity in that they all take place at conventions and feature Jobs getting prepped-up and ready to premier a recently-made piece of technology of his. While this is already a stressful enough time, now, he’s got everybody coming up to him, bothering him, and constantly making him lose sight of the bigger-picture that he has to work with. Co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), wants Jobs to give more credit to what he and his team did on certain items; a former fling of his (Katherine Waterston) has his kid that he refuses to say is actually his own flesh and blood; CEO of Apple, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), wants to always remind Jobs of what’s really at risk here; and always there for him, almost no matter what, is his dedicated, passionate assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who always stands by his side, even though we wouldn’t ever blame her if she did.

"Eh, maybe you're right, honey. These things probably won't ever catch on."

“Eh, maybe you’re right, honey. These things probably won’t ever catch on.”

So yeah, it’s clear that Steve Jobs is a bit contrived. Each one of these major moments in Jobs’ life, all of a sudden, now feature each and every person from his past coming into the fray, making their presences known, and giving us a certain shadings to Jobs that we may have not gotten had it just been him, all alone, in a room. While I assume that Aaron Sorkin would make that movie still interesting, it’s nice to see that, despite the obvious-nature of the structure of the plot, that he’s able to make it all go away once we realize that yes, this is an Aaron Sorkin-scripted flick. Meaning, everybody talks so electric and stage-y, that no one in the real world would ever speak the same.

Then again, that’s why most of us head out to see Sorkin pieces, and that’s why Steve Jobs, is amazing (the movie, I mean, although the person himself wasn’t too shabby, either).

Though it hits the two-hour mark and is filled with nothing but walking, talking, and narrowly-shot hallways, Steve Jobs never, ever gets boring, nor does it feel overlong. In fact, if there was a complaint I had about this movie, was that it wasn’t long enough; three acts in Steve Jobs’ life is fine and all, but had Sorkin taken it one step further and decided to focus in on a snapshot from way later on in Jobs’ life, it would have most likely been welcomed. After all, Sorkin is known for making even the strangest of conversations and topics seem, somewhat interesting and relateable; even if you aren’t a huge a techno-geek, Sorkin still puts you right by the side of Jobs so intimately, that everything he says, does, or gets pissed-off about (which is a lot), you feel it. It doesn’t matter if you know exactly how many bytes or megabytes have to go into his presentation – all that matters is that you can understand what somebody says when they state, “I hate you”.

But once again, because this is Sorkin, we get many variations on that well-known and understood term, which makes the movie all the more exciting. There’s a exciting feel in the air whenever people start talking in Steve Jobs and it’s one that hardly ever leaves, even in some of the more downbeat moments. Like, for instance, we’ll get one heartfelt scene of Jobs connecting with his she’s-not-actually-mine daughter, that’ll make you see him for the human that he is, and then, in the next scene, you’ll see him get into a verbal-sparring bout in public with Woz, where he practically tells him that “he’s nothing”, that’ll make you see him for the monster he was mostly alleged to be. Sorkin himself is perfect at this type of blending between different tones and/or feelings, and it’s no different with Steve Jobs.

Sure, there’s plenty to laugh at in a snarky way, but still, there’s a lot to be disturbed and saddened by, which is exactly the point of Sorkin’s script.

While Sorkin is, as usual, showing off his skills for writing snappy, inexplicably silly phrases, he is, at the same time, still building up this Steve Jobs character that we often think we know, but this movie actually shows you, warts and all. There’s no real hiding behind the fact that this Steve Jobs, as presented in the movie, was a stubborn, sometimes maniacal son-of-a-bitch; not to just his enemies, but to those who actually cared for and loved him. Sorkin knows this, understands this, and not until the very, very end, try to make amends for it; he sees Jobs for all that he was, and doesn’t hold back in reminding the audience that he could definitely be a terrible person. Did that mean he didn’t, on the rare occasion, commit a nice act for a fellow human being?

No, of course not!

He made iPods for gosh sakes!

But still, all kidding aside, Sorkin’s script is just about perfect. Though the sappiness does begin to take over quite a bit towards the end, the script, as it is, takes over the whole movie and reminds us why most of us out there still stand by Sorkin, even when it seems like he loves to hear himself speak and yammer-on about lord knows what. Steve Jobs, because of Sorkin’s help, is more than just a biopic, it’s more of a character-study and it shows that sometimes, all you need is really interesting characters, mixed with great dialogue, to make a plan, simple scene, more riveting than anything ever presented in a Michael Boy movie.

Of course, you’re actors need to be solid players, too, but that’s a given. And with Steve Jobs, the cast is absolutely outstanding. Michael Fassbender, despite not being the first choice for this iconic role, still does a terrific job as our titular-neurotic, blending both sides of this man’s personality together so well, that you hardly ever notice that there’s a change in his psyche. After awhile, we just sort of come to know, accept and understand that whenever Steve Jobs gets pissed-off, he’s going to snap on whoever is nearest to him, and while it can be hard-to-watch and listen to, the mixture of Sorkin’s winning-dialogue, with Fassbender’s commanding presence, gels so sweetly, that it’s like these two were made for one another. Though we do get a chance to see plenty of the nice attributes surrounding Jobs’ persona, it’s the nastier ones that keep everything riveting, and it’s great to see Fassbender sink his teeth into each and every second of it, loving everything that he’s doing.

"Wanna do the walk-and-talk and see whose the best? Huh?!?"

“Wanna do the walk-and-talk and see whose the best? Huh?!?”

Also, speaking of someone whose acting-style blends quite well with Sorkin’s writing, is Jeff Daniels. This may come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has ever seen an episode or two of the Newsroom, but still, it deserves to be said that with Jeff Daniels, Sorkin may have found his go-to guy whenever he’s counting on a reliable source to deliver this dialogue and not make it seem hammy, or stitled. Which is why it’s all the more surprising to see Seth Rogen, in a very dramatic role, work well with the dialogue as well. Not that I ever doubted Rogen’s abilities as an actor, but still, it’s awesome to see him not just get a chance to stretch out his serious-acting wings, but to do so that works and doesn’t seem odd.

But no matter how much male-posturing and dick-measuring goes on here, it always comes down to the women.

In Steve Jobs, there’s two women that deserve to be mentioned, because they’re the ones who make these men get everything done, even if they don’t intentionally mean to – which, for a Sorkin piece, is saying something, because he’s not always revered for the nice treatment of his female characters. Katherine Waterston, despite being given the difficult role of playing an unlikable woman that constantly bothers Jobs, as well as the audience, does a fantastic job in showing the utter sadness and despair a woman in her situation may feel like. While she doesn’t always go about getting her way in the smartest manner possible, she’s still sympathetic enough to where you’d understand why she’s so miserable and needy.

Kate Winslet, on other hand, has a different character to work with as Joanna Hoffman’s, Jobs’ most trusted friend and confidante. While Hoffman does take an awful lot of crap from Jobs throughout the majority of this flick, there are still those instances in which we see her take control and remind him that, not only will she not put up with so much garbage, but throw it right back at him as well. By the end, the flick tries to bring up some honestly valid points about why Hoffman’s and Jobs’ relationship never became anything more than just business, but also, reminds us that it’s not all about sex to make a person love another; sometimes, it’s all about respect and care. Winslet is amazing in this role and, if things work out her way, she might be looking at another Oscar come that time.

Then again, I don’t want to cross my fingers.

Same goes for Danny Boyle as director. While it looks nice and definitely keeps itself moving at a fine pace, Boyle’s direction, does what it needs to do. I know that’s a surprise to be saying about Danny Boyle, but honestly, the movie didn’t need his direction to make things work as well as they do; it certainly helps, for sure, but the movie isn’t made or broken because of it. It just still works, which is probably all that it needed to be, because it’s my favorite of the year.

So far.

Consensus: The combo of an intelligent script from Aaron Sorkin and well-done cast, help allow for Steve Jobs to be more than just an acting-piece, and instead, an actual look inside the mind and life of an icon that we need to know more about.

9.5 / 10

One of these days, Stevie, this could all be yours. Just stop being an asshole.

One of these days, Stevie, this could all be yours. Just stop being an asshole.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Sleepers (1996)

Never mess with a hot-dog stand, kiddies.

Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra (Jason Patric), Thomas “Tommy” Marcano (Billy Crudup), Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt), and John Reilly (Ron Eldard), are all childhood friends from Hell’s Kitchen who, after many years, haven’t really kept in close contact. Most of this has to do with the fact that, when they were younger, they were all sent to a juvenile delinquent center, where they were both physically, as well as sexually abused by the wardens there. Many years later, one of those wardens (Kevin Bacon), gets shot and killed in a bar late one night and guess who the shooters allegedly are? Yup, John and Tommy. Seeing as how they’re buddies are in the right to have shot and killed the warden, Shakes and Michael concoct a plan: Get Michael to defend the dead warden and have their old local mafia gangster, pay-off a lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) who will do the job that needs to be done, where both John and Tommy shine in a positive light and aren’t convicted. However, moral dilemmas eventually sink in and make everybody rethink their decisions – not just in this one particular moment, however, but through their whole life in general.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he's doing.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he’s doing.

There was a constant feeling I had while watching Sleepers that made me think it was just so “movie-ish”. Like clearly, a case like this couldn’t ever be true – and if it was, it sure as heck didn’t deserve the oddly-sentimental tone that Barry Levinson gives it. Despite there being a chock full of talent both behind, as well as in front of the camera, Sleepers just never resonates, mostly due to the fact that it all feels too sensational and over-wrought – something I would expect material of this nature to be.

However, that isn’t to say that Sleepers is a bad movie, because it isn’t. For at least an hour or so, Sleepers is actually a smart, disturbing, and interesting coming-of-ager that doesn’t necessarily try to reinvent the wheel of the kinds of movies that have come before it, but at least put you in the same position of these characters, so that when they do all eventually get back together some odd years later, we’re already invested in them enough as is. When the kids are transported to the juvenile delinquent center, it’s made obvious that the movie’s going to get a whole lot more heavy and mean, and it still worked.

Though maybe the big reveal of having these kids sexually abused was a bit campy, it still worked because it added a certain sizzle to a story that, quite frankly, needed one. Whenever you put young kids and pedophiles in the same story, most often, the stories tend to get quite interesting and thankfully, that’s happening with Sleepers. While I sound terrible for typing what I just did there, it’s the absolute truth; in hindsight, Sleepers is two meh movies crammed into one, with one being a lot more gripping to watch, then the other. That’s not to say that the courtroom stuff of the later-half doesn’t bring about some form of excitement, but because it all feels so phony, it never quite works.

Now pedophiles being in-charge at juvenile delinquent centers? That’s something I can definitely believe in!

Still though, the later-half of the movie brings Sleepers down a whole bunch. For one, it’s hard to ever believe, not in a million years, or even in places like Syria, that there would be a case as blatantly perjured and/or one-sided as this. Sure, the movie tries to make it understandable that a public-defender could get away with doing something like this, so long as he kept-up appearances, but I don’t believe I heard Brad Pitt’s character stand-up and yell “Objection!” once. For the most part, he’s just sitting there, looking determined, tense and most of all, pretty. That’s what we expect from Brad Pitt, of course, but it doesn’t help make the case seem at all legit, even though the movie seems to be depending on that.

"I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore."

“I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore.”

Then, there’s Levinson’s direction that, honestly, is pretty odd. Though Levinson makes it clear that the boys killed a person that raped them when they were kids, the fact remains that they still killed plenty of other, probably innocent people. So, to just stand by them and say, “Well, that guy had it comin’ to him”, seems a bit weird; the guy whose death is being contested over was a bad person, but what about all of the others? What if these two guys are just, regardless of what happened to them when they were younger, bad apples that need to cause some sort of ruckus by killing others? Does that make them worthy of being stood-up for?

The movie never seems to make that decision and it’s a bit of a problem.

But, like I said, the cast on-deck is fine. It’s just unfortunate that most of them don’t have a great deal of heavy material to work with. Jason Patric and Brad Pitt both seem like they’re trying hard to make everybody take them seriously, but sadly, it just ends up with them being a bit dull. Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup, on the other hand, also don’t have much to do except just look mean, mad and ready to pull out a pistol at any second.

The more seasoned-pros of the cast do what they can, too, but as I said, they get lost a bit. Kevin Bacon is in full-on sicko mode that’s fun to see him playing around with, even though his character is quite the despicable human specimen; Dustin Hoffman gets some chances to shine as the inept lawyer of the case, which works because of how laid-back his persona is; and Robert De Niro, with the few scenes he gets, seems to inject some heart into this story that’s definitely needed. He doesn’t help push the movie over that cliff it so desperately seemed to be searching for, but he does the ticket just enough.

And that’s all any of us want from Bobby D, right?

Consensus: Sleepers is, essentially, two movies into a two-and-a-half-hour long one that is occasionally interesting, but ultimately, ends up seeming to silly to be believed in or compelled by.

6 / 10

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Bugsy (1991)

BugsyposterBig-time gangsters need a little lovin’ too, people!

Benjamin “Don’t-Call-Me-Bugsy” Siegel was notorious for being one of the more profitable and powerful gangsters of his time. However, no matter how shady dealings he got involved with, no matter how many women he slept with, no matter how many people he killed, and no matter how much money he was able to gain, he still wanted to settle for a normal life, where he’d be able to come home to a loving, relaxing home where his kids, his wife, and their many nannies would be around, all having a great time. But it was a lot easier said then done, because of who Bugsy got in bed with – both literally and figuratively. On one hand, Bugsy was in business with the likes of Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), two notorious figures in the mob world, and on the other hand, had a lady that he could not stop falling head-over-heels for in Virginia (Annette Bening). Eventually though, Bugsy decides that he wants to open up a casino in Las Vegas, but because of the mess that is his personal life, it starts to leak into his professional one, which ends up impacting his life and putting his name in the history books.

"I ain't cryin'!"

“I ain’t cryin’!”

Ever since Goodfellas came around and hit the big screens, the gangster film sub genre shook up quite a bit. No longer did we have these slow-burning, dramatic stories about gangsters’ plight and emotional problems that they constantly have to get through. Now, the stories were quick-as-a-button, fast, and always compelling, even if the characters themselves weren’t the most morally responsible people around. That’s not to say that in the time from the Godfather, to 1990, that there weren’t any solid gangster flicks being produced – it’s just that most of them seemed to be rolling the same way, without any one’s in particular identity being singled-out from the rest of the group.

Bugsy is, despite coming out nearly a year after Goodfellas, feels like that same step back.

Which, I guess, is sort of the point. Director Barry Levinson and writer James Toback seem to want to adapt Bugsy Siegel’s story in the same vein as a film would have been made back in the 1920’s. That is to say, everything looks great, sounds great, and feels great, but really, at the center of it all, isn’t all that much to really get involved with. It’s as if Levinson and Toback set out to make a party-of-a-flick and just like an actual party, when the alcohol dries up, the band ceases, and everybody leaves to get on with their real lives, there’s nothing really worth holding onto other than the good time everyone just had.

Bugsy, the movie, feels like the party ended awhile back and now we have some dude moping around and whining about he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because, well, he’s a gangster. However, he’s not just any gangster; he’s the violent one who goes around, shooting and killing people for supposedly robbing him, in front of dozens of others. And this isn’t a problem; that Bugsy is a bad guy who goes around, making shady dealings with all the more shady people, killing whoever he needs to kill, screwing whatever dames he sees fit, and earning as much money as humanly possible, makes the film something of an enjoyable watch.

But the fact that the movie tries to make Bugsy out as some sort of sympathetic figure, doesn’t really work. Not because it’s a disservice to this character in the first place, but because it never feels right or genuine. It’s as if Levinson and Toback were so entranced with the legend of Busgy, that they forgot that maybe all of those people he killed, probably didn’t always deserve it. Still though, we hardly ever see the movie trying to make an actual flawed human being out of Bugsy – he’s still just a dude who makes a lot of money, cheats on his wife, and kills whoever gets in his way of more money.

You know, what we always want with our nice guys.

This is all to say that because Bugsy himself is so unlikable and morally reprehensible, no matter how hard he tries to go “legit”, makes the movie feel like a bit of a slog. We get countless scenes where Bugsy seems to be doing certain things that only benefit himself and honestly, it’s hard to ever care; though we know how the story ends, there’s still no tension or anticipation in how he makes these deals come to fruition. We’re just sitting around in our underwear and Cheetos-covered t-shirts, watching as some handsome ladies-man make more money than we can ever dream of.

Just pull the trigger already! Make things interesting!

Just pull the trigger already! Make things interesting!

Is it ever fun to watch? No.

Should it be? Well, as Scorsese showed us, it sure as hell can be.

And even despite the cast’s many attempts, Bugsy never materializes to being much other than just a biopic with limited heart and humanity. Warren Beatty fits perfectly as Bugsy, but also seems like he’s doing the same kind of role he’s inhabited before, except this time, just as a notorious figure in mob history. Annette Bening seems to be having fun as Virginia, Bugsy’s lover, and actually steals a few scenes away from the rest of the dudes around her. It’s probably no surprise that Beatty and Bening share wonderful chemistry here, but really, they’re what saves this movie; you believe every second that they have together. Whether it’s fighting, banging, loving, and/or talking, you believe that these two would fine one another, fall in love and try to make ends meet for the rest of their days together.

Though I think Bening and Beatty’s real life love story will have a better ending than it does here.

Consensus: Despite it looking, sounding and featuring pretty people, Bugsy never makes a strong enough case for giving its subject a two-hour-long biopic with the heart and compassion of a rock.

5.5 / 10

Nice car. Nice guy. Nice, aw who cares.

Nice car. Nice guy. Nice, aw who cares.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Sahara (2005)

Being in the desert is hot enough, but having Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz together might make things melt.

Master explorer Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his goofy sidekick, Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), are two dudes that have known, explored, and been through everything else in the world together. However, this next mission they’ve come upon, may be their hardest one yet, and it gets even worse once a doctor, Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz), climbs aboard for the ride to find a fabled coin linked to a historical legend, as well as stop the African waters from being poisoned by corrupt government-officers. But for Pitt and Giordino, it’s all fun and games, and just another chance for a wild adventure.

Here’s one of those movies that will always remain in infamy, but not for the reason those behind it may have wished for. The movie debuted nearly a decade ago and did pretty well. It debuted at #1, got an audience, and had McConaughey and Cruz back on top of the action-adventure world like they wished, but here’s the strange kicker: It still lost money. In fact, it lost a crazy ton of movie.

See, even though it was leading the box office, it grossed only a bit over $16 million, which is fine for most movies. Then again, most movies don’t cost around $160 million to make, meaning that this movie was a total bomb in every sense of the word. Hell, even to this day, it still hasn’t made all of it’s budget back and whenever you have a movie like that, you have to wonder: Did it really deserve all of those problems?

Well, in this movie’s case, I’d say, “maybe”.

Then again, that’s not to say that the movie is all that bad to begin with, it just tries so damn hard to be something else, without ever being anything at all. A bit confused? Well, let me sort of explain it. Despite never reading the novels that this movie is adapting, from what it seems, there’s a fine mixture of James Bond’s tricks and gadgets, with the wit and swash-buckling adventure of Indiana Jones. That sounds like a pretty damn awesome combination, especially when you have a cast like this, but somehow, it all got lost somewhere in the fold. It wasn’t that the movie totally got rid of this cool combination, but instead, didn’t know which one to side with the most.

Instead of having all of the non-stop fun and action, the movie decides to focus in on a plot that not only makes barely any sense once it goes on and on, but also preaches a bit too much. Yes, polluted water in poor countries like Africa is no joke, and not something that should be batted-away as if it doesn’t happen, however, the movie focuses on it too much, to the point of where the fun of the movie seems to go away. Then, you get to the humor of the movie, which has some fun jokes here and there, but in all, seemed strange and oddly-placed. It wasn’t like the humor wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, it just did not come at the right times and moments.

Put those two elements together, you have a movie that doesn’t really know what to do with itself, so instead, just focuses in on the action and the hot bodies and looks of Cruz and McConaughey. And yes, the action is fun, and yes, the bods are hot and sexy (much like the desert they spend most of their time causing havoc in), but it doesn’t amount to much more other than a movie that aspires so hard to be something, that it’s too noticeable to take in as a piece of legitimacy. I know I may sound a bit too serious for a movie like this, but if I wanted to see Indiana Jones, I would just watch all three (except that last one) in one day. I don’t really care to see a carbon-copy of it, which not only tries to capture the same charm and humor that made those movies such a joy to watch, but also the action scenes that feel like nothing more than a way to get our minds off of the preposterous plot in our hands here.

I could only imagine how hot those babies would be.

I could only imagine how hot those babies would be.

Although, I must say that watching McConaughey and Cruz give off some dull performances was not all that enjoyable, especially since both of these stars are sometimes the best parts of other movies that they show up in. McConaughey’s charm seems to weave in and out of a character that has plenty of wise-cracks, but not much of a heart, which makes him less of a human, and more of a superhero with a pretty body and face. Cruz is also a tad dull, which is a shame, because when she’s enjoying her work, it’s always a blast to watch. However, since her character is a nice, sweet doctor that cares for other people, we don’t get to see much of it. She’s much more reserved here, and even she seemed bored by it. She was just waiting for THAT moment to start yelling out in Spanish, and throw everybody else around her into a deep frenzy of unknowings.

Now, that would have been fun to see.

Thankfully though, there’s one person to save this movie and that’s none other than one of the most underrated actors of our generation, Steve Zahn. Zahn gets all of the sarcastic remarks down perfectly, but also seems like a smart cat that knows what needs to be done next, and will stop at nothing to see it actually happen. He acts like a stoner and listens to classic rock, but he isn’t that brain-dead, which comes off as a surprise, since the whole movie tries to make him seem like that. However, Zahn knows better than that and makes the material so much better than what he was given. Poor guy. Still waiting for that one, big break.

One of these days, I assure you, it will happen, Stevey.

Consensus: Despite its infamous legend, Sahara is an okay watch portrays hot people, doing hot things, in even hotter locations, even if none of it really adds up to a spectacular movie.

5 / 10

Saving the movie; one baseball-cap at a time.

Saving the movie, one baseball cap at a time.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Wait a minute. This isn’t the new season of House of Cards!

In an unnamed West African country, a young boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) lives with his mother, father, older brother, younger sister, and not-all-that-there grandfather, who have all had their lives taken over by all sorts of war and havoc. But because they’re passionate about where they live and the name of God, they stick to where they’re at and won’t let any outside forces, whether they be the the junta, rebels, or government forces, ruin their times. Problem is, that’s exactly what happens and poor Agu is the one who has to witness it all. Not only does his mother and sister set-out for an undisclosed location where they’ll hopefully be safe, but Agu’s father, grandfather, and brother are all shot and killed in cold blood, leaving Agu to have to run for the hills, all on his own, where it seems like every other person that he encounters either wants to kill him, or take him in as a prisoner. One person in particular goes by the name of Commandant (Idris Elba), a ferocious, clearly intimidating force to be reckoned with. But he’s also one that takes a liking to Agu and promises to take care of him, so long so as Agu joins up as one of his child soldiers where they’ll ravage any villages that they stumble upon, leading to plenty of violent tasks Agu has to complete just so that he doesn’t lose his own life and become like the rest of his family.

Don't look into those eyes, kid.

Don’t look into those eyes, kid.

Besides the fact it’s being released on Netflix, the same day that it’s being released in theaters, Beasts of No Nation is still a movie worth seeing, discussing and remembering for awhile to come. Sure, some of the latter portion may have to do with the fact that there are countless grotesque and disturbing scenes of people getting shot, killed, raped, split-open, sliced, and diced, all while involving pre-pubescent children, but still. It’s been a long, windy and sometimes dangerous road for Cary Joji Fukunaga’s flick and honestly, I’m just happy to finally be seeing it.

Not to mention that the movie itself, is actually pretty great, if not incredibly hard-to-watch at certain times. Then again, that’s to be expected, given the source material and subject at-hand (child-soldier tales were never known for their light, comedic-touches). But while that may break most movies, Fukunaga is smart enough to realize that in order to make all of these immoral acts of violence seem pertinent, that they can’t be excessive; instead, they have to put you into the story much more. Because Agu is literally thrown into this world where war provides almost no rules that the actual, real world would provide, it makes sense that almost every situation he’s involved with, ends up with somebody getting their heads blown-off, or split by a machete.

It sounds graphic, and that’s because it is.

And this is to say that, yes, a lot of Beasts of No Nation is hard to sit through, but because it feels as if we’re getting a no-bullshit, actual account of what happened (or, at least, still happens to this day), it never seems excessive or gratuitous. Like he did with the first season of True Detective (that’s to say, the way, way better one), Fukunaga portrayed these acts of senseless violence in such a detached manner, that they’re more disturbing to watch, then they are appetizing. It’s like the opposite of any Eli Roth movie; the blood spatters, but instead of getting up and shouting, “F**k yeah!”, you’re more inclined to gasp, hide your eyes and hope that you don’t see anything like that in the movie again.

Problem is, you most likely will. And in some cases, it’ll be a whole lot worse.

But like I said, Fukunaga is a smart director and story-teller, and shows that all of these acts of violence are meant to shock, but to also put you more into the mind-set of Agu and why someone as seemingly innocent, sweet and child-like as he is at the start of the film, would turn into this mean, evil, and nasty killer by the end of it. For one, the movie doesn’t ever represent any side as “good”, “bad”, or “moderate”; Agu’s family is actually killed by who are presented to be “one of the better groups”, so already, the movie makes it clear that it’s taking no sides. And nor should it – Agu himself would clearly have no idea who to trust, or who to steer clear of. Hence why, when the first hand that reaches out to him eventually comes in the form of a huge, bulking man known as Commandant, Agu can’t help but fall for the love and care, hook, line and sinker.

And it definitely deserves to noted that Idris Elba is spectacular Commandant. While we know he’s not a good person and kills people because he can, there’s something still so charming about him that makes Commandant a compelling-figure. A good portion of this has to go with the fact that he isn’t written to be a mustache-twirling villain and into more of a human that was born into this kind of society, but most of it has to go to Elba’s unabashed charisma, who is sometimes able to blend menace and intellect all into one person. While he’s not the star of this movie, Elba is still the most important figure and whenever he does show up, you know that he’s going to completely own every scene and remind you why he’s the one who should be the next Bond.

An evil, thoughtless killer? No! Not this little guy!

An evil, thoughtless killer? No! Not this little guy!

Just saying.

But no slouch either, is non-professional actor Abraham Attah as Agu. Because Agu is, essentially, our eyes and ears to this new world, Attah sometimes feels like he’s being placed into certain scenes just to show significance, but he’s still great because of how believable he is with the transition this character goes through, that it’s almost terrifying. Agu, originally, seems to be a innocent, playful kid like you or I once were, but when push comes to shove, travesty occurs, and he’s left without a hand to feed him or comfort him, he grows up real quick and starts killing as much people as he sees fit (or is at least ordered to). The transition he goes through isn’t a clear one as there’s always a sense of morality hidden underneath this kid’s facade that makes you think he may not be all that swamped-up by Commandant’s evil, but still, it’s quite frightening to watch play-out, especially because Attah is so good.

If there is a complaint to be had with Beasts of No Nation that keeps it away from being an unabashed masterpiece, is that it sometimes feels as if it’s too dark and depressing, without any shade of sentiment to be seen. While some of you may say that it’s a stupid complaint to have for a movie that’s literally about child soldiers in Africa, to me, it still mattered. The same problem I had with 12 Years a Slave; while the material definitely deserves to be as ugly as it can be, there still needs to be a small glimmer of hope that makes it seem like a worth while experience, and not just a torturous one.

Here, Beasts of No Nation ends on a note that promises some life after the fact, but by the same token, also can’t help but feel as if it’s also saying, “Being a child and forced to kill people is bad. Hey, people in Africa have it bad, don’t they?” While it was definitely an engaging story to watch unfold in front of my very own eyes, it’s also one that doesn’t share much of a strong message at the end and tends to just leave you alone, left to suffer on your own time. Then again, you’re on Netflix, so you can always get rid of those bad feels by binging the absolute hell out of Friends.

As one tends to do after being a witness to traumatic experiences.

Consensus: At times, very hard-to-watch, but still, Beasts of No Nation provides a compelling, awfully emotional look into the gritty world it displays, that it deserves many points for not backing down from its disturbing vision.

8.5 / 10

That's Elba's more subtle way of saying to "cancel the apocalypse".

That’s Elba’s more subtle way of saying to cancel the apocalypse.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mississippi Grind (2015)

You can never lose in poker. Until you lose. And then your life is done with.

Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a gambler. This has then carried out into the rest of his personal life because he’s not only lost a marriage because of it, but owes a lot of people, a lot of money. Though he intends on paying each and everyone of those debts off, he still can’t seem to take himself away from the poker-table nearly as much as he’d like. One fateful game, however, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming, silver-tongued fellow gambler who has a lot more lady luck on his side than Gerry. In Curtis, Gerry not only sees a gambling-partner that he can bet, gain and lose money with, but a pal that he can go on a road trip with and have all sorts of fun that he hasn’t been able to have in quite some time. However, while on the road to Mississippi for a huge gambling event, they get to know one another better which, in some instances, can prove to be more problematic than either would have liked. But at the end of the day, they’re both two gamblers, just trying to get by in a world that they constantly seem to owe money.

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Gambling movies are, for the most part, fun. Which, if you think about it, is kind of screwed-up. For one, gambling is an addiction. And just like many other addictions out there, it takes over a person, strips that person of everything they’ve got and, if they aren’t lucky enough, may ruin said person for the rest of their lives. So yeah, as you can tell, addiction’s not a fun thing to deal with, let alone, a gambling one, so to make gambling movies, actually fun and exciting, seems odd.

However, Mississippi Grind is smart enough to be a little bit of both.

While on one hand, Grind shows gambling and being in the midst of having luck go your way, as an absolute blast and the greatest feeling in the world. The dice are coming up clutch, every hand is in your favor, and the chips seem to constantly be coming your way, no matter how risky or daring your bets may tend to get. That same feeling of electricity and anticipation is in the air during nearly every gambling scene in Grind (which is saying a lot), and it shows people why gambling, in and of itself, can be so addicting to those who want to get a whole bunch of money, in a quick, relatively easy fashion.

On the other hand, however, Grind also shows how all of this constant betting, gambling, winning, and losing, can also be draining – not just emotionally, but financially as well. Like they did with the stellar Half Nelson almost a decade ago, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show the dark and miserable side effects that come along with any addiction, of any kind. While getting your kicks off by fueling your addiction may have you feeling as if you’re on top of the world and nothing can bring you down, the sad reality is that when everything does crumbling down and you do begin to think clear, sober thoughts, you’ll be constantly chasing after that same high, all over again. But this time, by any means/costs necessary.

And all of this is especially true with Gerry, played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn.

While we get the picture early on in the movie that Gerry is, a bit of a sad sack who owes just about everybody and their mothers, money, we also can see that he’s trying to get better and forget about his addiction that’s slowly, but oh so surely, swallowing him whole. Gerry may go out to the scummiest casinos and clubs out there to play a little game of Texas Hold ‘Em and throw a few bills down, but he knows that he can’t go over any limit, or else it’ll be too late. And while the film definitely shows that that time may have already come, Gerry is still trying to make ends meet with his real-estate job and constant promise of giving those he owes money to, the money he’s already supposed to have been given to them by now.

But because Gerry seems like the sort of poor guy who is in so over-his-head with just about everything, he’s interesting to watch and root for. While we don’t want him to go to these poker-tables and throw all of his money away, at the same time, we also see what kind of over-zealous joy it brings him, so it makes sense that we’d want him to continue on doing what he’s doing. And Mendelsohn, as usual, is great in this rare-lead role of his, but also seems to fit into the role of playing “a good guy” for the first time in quite awhile. While there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll soon follow this role up with about a dozen or so more smarmy, dirty and disgusting villainous ones, it’s still a nice breath of fresh air to see that he’s able to switch things up every once and awhile, and still have people believe in who he’s portraying.

How could anyone say, "You've reached your limit", to a face like that?

How could anyone say, “You’ve reached your limit”, to a face like that?

And while Mendelsohn deserves some fine credit here as Gerry, Ryan Reynolds deserves just as much playing the smooth-talking charmer that is Curtis.

Because Curtis always has something witty to say and seems to be the life of every party he shows up to, it only makes perfect sense that someone like Reynolds wouldn’t just get the role, but play it to perfection. But what’s so interesting about Curtis is that while he may seem like a good guy because of how fun-loving and easy-going he is, there’s also a hint of menace underneath it all that makes it seem like he’s definitely full of bullshit and is also trying to screw Gerry over if that means getting to more money for himself. These are two sides to Reynolds’ persona that we so hardly see, but here, as Curtis, the man does wonders with.

Together, Mendelsohn and Reynolds strike-up a wonderful chemistry that not only sees them having hearty laughs over the good times, but coming close to punches when the hard ones come around, too. You never know whose playing who, or if there’s even a play to begin with; we just know that someone is going to get more lucky at the poker-table than the other, and it’s going to completely set the other one off. And like I said before, Boden and Fleck do solid jobs at presenting these two characters as opposites, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, the movie still highlights the fact that their shared-interest (i.e. gambling), may also be the one that sets them apart forever and ruin both of their lives.

Now, who wants to go out and hit the slots?

Consensus: Both engaging, as well as entertaining, Mississippi Grind does justice to both the world of gambling and also the talents of its cast, creating a movie that’s definitely worth the watch.

8 / 10

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bridge of Spies (2015)

If it comes down to the Russians and Tom Hanks, I’m going with Hanks all the way.

In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, high-priced insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is given a very difficult task: Defend Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) in court. Who is Rudolph Abel, may you ask? Well, he’s a Soviet spy who has been caught and brought in on charges of spying. Due to the fact that such things as Soviets, spies and terrorism are hot-button topics in the world at the time, it would only make sense that Abel see every charge that’s against him, go through, where he would have to live the rest of his days in shame and sadness. However, through his bosses, Donovan is the one chosen to defend Abel, just so that it seems like he was given a fair-trial in the country that he was solely out to ruin. It’s not an easy choice for Donovan and now that he’s put his family in the spotlight, it makes the case all the more difficult to see-through. But, because he’s a passionate, confidante lawyer, Donovan will stop at nothing to ensure that Abel sees a fair trial, and also, that his family walks away from it all, safe and unharmed.

Oh yeah, Tom Hanks totally blends in with a crowd.

Oh yeah, Tom Hanks totally blends in with a crowd.

What some people may not know about Bridge of Spies, is that while that plot I just described may be the main-center plot-line, there’s still another one in the works that finds its way of connecting all of the pieces of the puzzle together. There’s one involving a CIA spy plane being shot down over Russia, where the pilot, Francis Powers (Austin Stowell), is taken into custody; whereas the other concerns an American college student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who is studying in Berlin, only to then be detained for being on the wrong side of the wall. While Spielberg drops these two subplots in unexpectedly, they still fit in with the rest of the movie and make-up what is to be the latter-half of Bridge of Spies.

Was it necessary? Probably not, but then again, being in the hands of Spielberg, it still works.

Though it may feel like it’s two movies combined into one that’s maybe 20 or so minutes too long, Bridge of Spies does a solid job in giving its interesting story the treatment it deserves. Granted, the movie itself has a lot benefit from having a real-life story as complex and neat as this (Big Eyes was another film that I felt like benefited from this same fact), but still, Spielberg helps it all out by moving along the pace, whenever it seems like the movie may be slowing down to focus on one too many random add-ons and whatnot.

And this is all to say that, yes, Bridge of Spies is a good movie, just as it is. Spielberg and his trusted band of script-writers (Matt Charman and the Coen brothers) help stretch this story out to where it feels like we’re getting all sides of the story, told in the most complete, fair-sided way possible. For example, even when we do see Rudolph Abel early on in the movie, clearly participate in sneaky spying shenanigans, the movie still figures out a way to make him human, at the very least, sympathetic. That isn’t to say that Spielberg wants us to feel bad that he was a spy and got caught being one, but because he’s a person too, and like most people, has a family and regular life to get back to at home. And as Abel, Mark Rylance is very good in the role as he shows a certain level of heart and humor to this character that makes him a bit easier to stomach, given the charges that he’s being convicted of.

Cooler glasses contest!

Cooler-looking glasses contest!

But Rylance isn’t the star of this movie – it’s clearly Tom Hanks. And while this may come as a shock to no one, but hey, Hanks is pretty great in this role. Because Donovan is a slick, silver-tongued lawyer that tends to know the right thing next, Hanks gets a chance to have some fun with this role and not just be the usual, near-superhero role that Tom Hanks tends to be given. Though Spielberg does get a bit carried-away in presenting those holding power with the U.S. as one-sided hot-heads who can’t wait to kill them some Commies, the movie still keeps its helmet on tight enough to where it doesn’t try to teach you a lesson, but more or less, tell you a story.

That, to me, is what Spielberg is usually best at: Telling a story, no matter what sort of relevance it may hold.

From what I can already tell, Bridge of Spies will probably go down as one of Spielberg’s least-known flicks, but there’s a novelty in that idea. While it isn’t necessarily lighting the world on fire, but that’s what makes it so special; it’s just a simple movie, trying to tell a relatively complex, if at times, confusing tale of espionage and political-maneuvering. Spielberg may try his hand too many times at making this story more than what it appears to be (those countless endings, oh jeez), however, he’s just doing what he’s been doing for nearly his whole career.

Sometimes, he preaches. Sometimes, he doesn’t. But all of the time, no matter what, he’s a story-teller. And it’s nice to see that form back in full-swing from Spielberg. Let’s hope it stays this time around and we don’t get another Indiana Jones 4.

And yes, that movie did happen.

Consensus: Though it won’t be remembered as one of Spielberg’s masterpieces any time soon, Bridge of Spies is still a well-acted, entertaining and, at times, very interesting take on a story that not too many people hear or know about.

7.5 / 10

Tom Hanks vs. a wall. Now that's something I'd pay to see.

Tom Hanks vs. a brick wall. Now that’s something I’d pay to see.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Crimson Peak (2015)

Sisters always know best.

Young author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is destroyed by the news of her father’s death. So much so, that she’s left without anyone to really care for her and take over her day-to-day doings. That’s when the strapping young lad from England known as Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), comes around and sweeps her off of her feet. While Edith is initially hesitant to hook up with Sharpe, she eventually gives in and starts to see him for all that he is. While he is maybe too tied and dedicated to his older sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), she soon realizes that it’s just because they have an inseparable bond that cannot be tied or broken. But Edith begins to get more curious about the history that the Sharpe relatives have and, in ways she least expected to, finds out certain things that are quite shady and surprising. Add on the fact that she seems to be constantly followed around by a creepy-looking witch, Edith has a lot to be worried about. But it’s ultimately up to her to figure out whether or not she’s going to make it out this situation, knowing everything she needs to in order to stay alive.

Oh, Mia. Lighten up already!

Oh, Mia. Lighten up already!

Like I’ve said before, Guillermo del Toro is not someone I love. While I do appreciate the fact that he puts a fine amount of thought into his pieces, overall, they tend to feel as if they’re so reliant on how beautiful they look, that when it comes to actually giving an effective story, he sort of chucks it all out the window. While he’s definitely interested in keeping his audiences compelled by every move he makes, he also doesn’t forget that he’s got a lot of pretty things to show-off for the whole world to see and be amazed by. While that’s worked for del Toro before in much better, well-told movies, Crimson Peak pales in comparison because there really isn’t much to the story other than just, “Yeah. Old-looking, English mansions can be spooky”.

And that about sums up the movie.

Although, to be fair, Crimson Peak isn’t without its strengths that make it a worthy affair to sit through, even when it seems to be treading water so much, that you wonder if it even had a story to begin with. As expected, it’s a very pretty, albeit scary-looking film. To say that the large, but old-timey mansion is its own character in the movie, is a total cliché; however, in this movie’s case, it’s the actual truth. As soon as Edith and the Sharpe relatives end up in this manor, the movie all of a sudden becomes more of a haunted house-feature that appreciates how dark the halls are, and how most people can’t tell what’s making that noise so late in the night. Del Toro loves to freak his audiences out and while the movie may not be all that scary, it still keeps you interested in what the mystery at the dead-center of the flick may be. Even if the actual reveal itself doesn’t deliver much on the promise, it still will keep you on-edge for a good portion.

Then again, this movie also got a huge problem in that it’s so slow and meandering, it doesn’t seem as if it’s going anywhere, anytime soon. While it’s fine that del Toro tends to take his time with his stories, so that he can develop characters, as well as their relationships with one another, so to create a more powerful effect when all goes South in the latter-portions, here, it seems like he’s taking too much time to get anywhere at all. Though it’s obvious he’s setting the movie up for a big, awfully creepy reveal at the end, the time it takes to hint at that, to when it actually gets there, is so long apart, that they almost feel like sequels to one another.

This wouldn’t be such a problem, either, had the characters been all that interesting to watch and see be fleshed-out, but they too feel stiff and boring.

Is it weird that they supposedly dated in real life?

Is it weird that they supposedly dated in real life?

Mia Wasikowska’s Edith may seems like the different kind of female protagonist we get in these kinds of movies, but after awhile, she just seems to fall back asleep and not really build this character. Tom Hiddleston is creepy as Thomas for a good portion of the movie, but because del Toro hints at something more complex and sweet about him, there’s a feeling of expecting more and we don’t really get it. And also, Charlie Hunnam shows up as one of Edith’s childhood friends from back home and feels like he just showed-up on the set, not just because he could, but almost as a favor to del Toro (they worked together in Pacific Rim).

The only one out the cast who seems to be enjoying the most of their time here is Jessica Chastain, in a surprisingly very campy, over-the-top performance. In the past few years since she’s become a big name, Chastain has been known to play these very serious, overly-dramatic characters that never seem to crack a smile, let alone know what an actual smile is; that’s not to say she isn’t a good actor in these kinds of roles, it’s just that it feels like she’s too stern and straight-faced, that it’s hard to imagine that she’s get anything resembling a personality deep in there. But as Lucille, she gets a chance to show just how wild and weird she can be, and can sometimes even elevate the movie to her standards. While it’s nice to see del Toro write a strong female character, it’s also nice to see him write one that isn’t trying too hard to be the heart and soul of the story – mostly, Lucille is the villain of the story and she’s a hard one to turn away from.

Which is, yes, a problem when she’s more interesting to watch than your protagonist.

Consensus: Crimson Peak may boast scary, gothic-y visuals, del Toro’s story never seems to take-off to the point of where it’s ultimately engaging or tense to watch play-out.

5.5 / 10

Turn away now!

Turn away now!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Kids can have some pretty messed-up imaginations.

Set after the Spanish Civil War, a time where Spanish rebels were being fished-out in the woods and left to be gunned-down by the nation’s soldiers, a 12 year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) gets thrown into a new world that she never expected to be in. In the real world, her pregnant mother is stuck with a powerful, but incredibly violent captain, Fascist Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who not only wants to get rid of every rebel there is to get rid of, but to also make sure that his baby-son is born so that he has something to prove to his dead daddy. In the not-so real world, Ofelia enters an imaginary land in which she meets creatures who attempt to convince her that she used to be a princess. But to ensure that everything goes all fine and dandy for her, as well as her family, she has to complete some tasks for these creatures, and follow them, rule-by-rule. If she screws up and decides to improvise, the scary monsters of this fantasy-land will know and she’ll have to pay the price. So Ofelia best ought to be careful not to mess any of these instructions up, nor get caught in the act of by Vidal.

Sort of scary.

Sort of scary.

Many people love Guillermo del Toro and it’s understandable why, too. For one, he seems to be one of the very few directors left around, still making big-budget flicks that allow for his imaginary to run more wild than an eight-year-old boy. He loves all things ghosts, goblins, ghouls, demons, and everything else that goes bump in the night. In a way, del Toro is like the kid who never grew up and instead, gets a chance to make whichever movie he sees fit; he’s living the dream, some might say, and they’re definitely not wrong.

However, I am not one of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not raining down on del Toro – the guy has made many good movies in his career and will probably continue to do so until he grows ancient and decides that maybe he did get old (even then, though, it still probably won’t happen). But there’s always this feeling I get with his movies that they can’t help but feel as if they’re constantly searching for the right shot, at the right moment, with the right music, all to then give off the right feeling for the audience to take home with them. Sure, you could say he’s a perfectionist and he’s not unlike any other directors out there who take absolute, almost crazy pride and dedication with their movies, but, for me at least, it always feels like this takes me out of del Toro’s movies and the stories he’s trying to tell.

Take, for instance, this story of 12-year-old Ofelia. Obviously, for anybody who has ever seen it, the fact that she’s a little girl having imaginary, spooky friends, surrounded by a setting that’s been ravaged by war, will definitely draw comparisons to del Toro’s the Devil’s Backbone. Apparently that is intentional and this movie is, in some ways, supposed to be considered a spiritual sequel. I can roll with that, however, that movie was a bit better in combining the two separate stories together, in order to make them seem like one, cohesive whole. The story of Ofelia and her wild, fantastical adventures, going alongside the story of Vidal’s bloody, gruesome tactics in taking down rebels, doesn’t quite work.

Which isn’t much of a problem because, for a good majority of this flick, del Toro doesn’t seem at all interested in making the two into one. Then, all of a sudden, he changes his mind and realizes that maybe they do need to and it doesn’t quite work as well. In a way, it actually takes more away from Vidal’s story which can be the most interesting one in the movie; while I’m not knocking on the character of Ofelia because she’s a young girl, at the same time, everything that she was going through didn’t really register for me. Yeah, I get it: She’s a kid who talks to a lot of creepy-looking, awfully-descriptive monsters, what else does she have to offer?

Kind of scary.

Kind of scary.

Not much, honestly.

Of course though, the good part of her subplot is that it allows for del Toro to show-off all of his wonderful and wild creatures, and none of them really disappoint. This is obvious from del Toro, but it should be definitely said that someone who aligns himself so much with the designs he makes for all of these monsters and whatnot, still seem to surprise and interest. There’s a couple of odd-looking, but cool-looking monsters that pop-up here, but perhaps the best, most memorable one is the Pale Man. By now, almost every person on the face of the planet has shown a picture of it and said, “Aww, look! How rad, yo!”, so I won’t bother getting into too many of the details, but I will say one thing, it’s still an freakishly scary sight.

Did I go to bed, normal and fine as usual? Yeah, of course. But it was still pretty freaky.

And while I know it may seem like I’m getting totally on del Toro’s case here, I really don’t want it to be. Pan’s Labyrinth, despite my problems with the plotting, is still an engaging movie, solely due to the fact that del Toro brings his audience into this little universe of his, but never does he allow for it to get over-the-top or serious. There’s always a certain degree of seriousness or menace in what’s happening here that makes it feel like it’s a horror movie, definitely, but not one all the way through. It’s still got something for people who just want a good, effective movie, that has something of a political message, but also not. It’s just another opportunity del Toro gets to create and design all sorts of wild-looking creatures, and he’s clearly enjoying every second of it.

So yeah, we should probably do the same, too.

Consensus: Though it’s plotting is a bit clunky, Pan’s Labyrinth is still, no matter what, a fine film from the likes of del Toro who can’t help but gush over everything he’s done here, even if the story sometimes feels like it’s taking a back seat.

7.5 / 10

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Photos Courtesy of: Villains Wiki, Pan’s Labyrinth Wiki

Munich (2005)

When you need a job to be done, always call up the Hulk and James Bond.

During the 1972 Summer Olympics, nine Israeli Olympic athletes were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists, in front of the whole world to see. In retaliation to this, the Israeli government decided to launch a unofficial mission to take out those who were deemed “responsible” for the massacre, by any means necessary. Given the leadership role of the group is Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), an Israeli Mossad agent, who leaves his pregnant wife (Ayelet Zurer), knowing that he is doing something that he can be proud of, even if the details are a bit shoddy. Joining him are the likes of Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds), Hans (Hanns Zischler), and a former toy-maker-now-turned-bomb-creator, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz). Together, the men will unite and band together to take out those whom they are ordered to take out and while things start off promising, eventually, the hits begin to get a bit messy and leave these five men fearing for their own lives. Not to mention that Avner is starting to get in bed with some shady fellas who he uses as sources, but may also not be able to trust them full-well.

Can't get any closer fellas?

Can’t get any closer fellas?

For most of you dedicated DTMMR readers out there (all two of you), you’ll probably realize that I have already done a review of Munich a few years back. And nothing against that review or whatever, but I’ve definitely done some growing in the past few years. Not to mention that I’ve grown a fonder appreciation for Spielberg and all that he puts into his films; no longer is he just “the guy who makes good movies”, he’s now, “the guy who makes good movies and has some incredibly interesting ones, too”. Therefore, it made perfect sense to me to give this movie another shot and see how it is that I felt about it, all these years down the road.

And thankfully, my feelings have gotten better. Even if not everything’s changed.

Munich is, probably, Spielberg’s riskiest movie. Sure, some may say A.I. was, or the real hardcore fans will say 1941 may have been, but I’m afraid that they are wrong, because Munich most definitely is. With Munich, Spielberg was reported to have been given a budget of nearly $70 million, which is fine and not surprising at all considering that it’s Spielberg, but at the same time, when you take into consideration the factors at-play here, it totally is a shocker.

For one, Spielberg cast a largely international cast, with cast-members who weren’t well-known by large audiences (even Eric Bana himself wasn’t a huge box-office draw). Also, he focuses most of his movie on a bloody, violent and downright disturbing mission that does have to deal with the Munich massacre, but is in no way a re-telling of those events (which is something that most studios are looking for when they’re funding a movie). And lastly, if not the most important of all, it has no real end-point. Meaning, the Palestinians and Israelites, even until this very day, are still continuing on to battle and feud with one another, leaving the movie to feel, in a way, incomplete.

But, Spielberg being Spielberg, he makes it work.

A good hour or so of this movie feels like Spielberg getting a chance to make that gritty, dirty and overly-violent Bond movie he’s never been offered and the man takes every opportunity he can to make the feeling last. While this is a two-hour-and-44-minute-long movie, it doesn’t really take us all that long to get to the action of the plot and realize that people are going to be killed in some heinous ways and Spielberg’s not going to shy away from it a single bit. Though it should definitely be noted that the countless killings and murders in this movie are portrayed as horrifying and as shocking as they should be, Spielberg also doesn’t forget about the certain rush, or excitement one can feel when a plan is going into action. There’s a few scenes that highlight this, but they’re all tense to watch and remind us all what it is about Spielberg’s fun side that we miss so much of.

Still though, there’s a lot to this movie that’s very harsh and sad, which works well with Spielberg trying to get his message across and whatnot. From what it seems like with Munich, Spielberg does not think too fondly of the violent-relations that Palestine and Israel have with one another, nor should he; Spielberg knows that religion will continue to separate people till the end of time, but at the same time, he doesn’t believe that any of it should lead to senseless violence or deaths. In a way, Spielberg is basically using Munich as a way to get across his age old message of “everybody, let’s just get along”, but because this message is mostly specific to the never-ending issues between Palestine and Israel, it feels fresh and fully-realized.

Believe it or not, these guys could still kill you. Just let them finish their dinner first.

Believe it or not, these guys could still kill you. Just let them finish their dinner first.

No longer is Spielberg preaching! He’s actually got something worth while to say!

Of course though, what usually plagues Spielberg in most other movies, still follows him with Munich, in that he still hasn’t figured out a way to end a strong story, with a strong ending. There’s many endings within Munich, and while none of them are really bad per se, they mostly feel unnecessary and mundane; it’s almost as if Spielberg was like, “Hey, maybe the audience didn’t see my parallels to 9/11 the first time I brought them up. Let me throw another one in there!” Of course, if there’s a director to make any sort of 9/11 parallels to Israeli-Palestine conflict, then it’s Spielberg, but here, it feels over-done and too self-fulfilling – as if Spielberg realized how smart and nifty he was for connecting the literary dots, that he wanted the whole world to see.

But still, Spielberg makes more good decisions with Munich, than he does bad, and while that sounds like faint praise, I can assure you that it’s not supposed to. This is most evident with the cast and whom Spielberg decided fit which sort of roles perfectly, as minor and standard as they may have been. Daniel Craig, despite not being Bond just quite yet, still felt the pugnacious-feel of Steve so well that it would make sense if those in charge of who chooses the next Bond, saw this and decided to give the hunk a shot; Ciarán Hinds brings a certain warmness to Carl, even despite the mean things he has to do; same goes for Hanns Zischler as, well, Hans, another older-man who feels as if he’s being thrown into a situation he never asked for, but is happy to accept the challenge anyway; Mathieu Kassovitz’s Robert is perfectly nerdy that it makes it all the more disorienting to see what it is that he’s actually creating; and Geoffrey Rush, despite his accent really going in and out, still works well with the role as the government official you’re never too sure to trust or not.

Of course though, it’s Eric Bana who the movie depends on the most and he deserves it. Bana is, in other words, an underrated actor, I feel; while he’s never lit the screen on fire quite like he did with Chopper, the guy always shows up in movies, giving it his all, and continuing to show that he can blend in well with any director’s style. Bana’s done it all and it’s about time that he was given his own, dramatic-powerhouse to work wonders with! And that’s what he does as Avner; while the character isn’t necessarily made out to be as “heroic” as some of Bana’s other characters can sometimes be written as, there’s still a lot to this guy that makes you feel as if he’s got everybody’s best intentions at heart and doesn’t want anything bad to happen. Cause, after all, he’s just taking orders.

And also, allowing for Jews everywhere to get laid again.

Consensus: Despite a lackluster ending, Munich is a fact-based spy-thriller with emotion, a well-acted cast, and the usual dose of interesting anecdotes that Spielberg is able to orchestrate effectively.

8 / 10

Don't question Eric Bana. You won't like Eric Bana when you question him.

Don’t question Eric Bana. You won’t like Eric Bana when you question him.

Photos Courtesy of: Having Said That, One Shot, Amazon Web Services

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

AIposterIf this is the future, I don’t want anything to do with it.

In the near, not-too-distant future, global warming has caused massive flooding and heavily reduced the human population. Also during this time, a scientist by the name of Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt) has started creating robots known as Mecha who walk, talk, and feel just as humans do. One robot in particular is David (Haley Joel Osment) ends up getting adopted by Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor), who are still reeling from a injury their son, Martin (Jake Thomas), had and left him in a coma. Through David, Henry and Monica get the chance to help raise another child; one that, due to the technology embedded in him, no matter what, David will always and forever love them both. And for awhile, it seems to be going great, but once Martin wakes up, then all hell breaks loose for David and the rest of the Swinton family. This leaves David navigating through the rest of the world where robots are either left to slave their ways through raunchy jobs, or get destroyed for the public’s amusement. But no matter what, David wants to become a real boy and along with Joe (Jude Law), a robot gigolo, he believes that can happen.

Like with most families, the good times don't always last.

Like with most families, the good times don’t always last.

A lot of people have gotten on Spielberg’s case for A.I. and unreasonably so. For one, all of the odds were stacked against him as is with Kubrick wanting to make this movie, dying, and then having his estate pass off the rights to him. Another, is that Spielberg really had to make this appeal to a broad-audience so that he could not only make a “good” movie, but one that would also make rich people, even more rich (something that, due to the source material he was stuck to work with, was no easy task). And lastly, well, because he’s Steven Spielberg; while he can do whatever he wants, he still always loves to end things on a happy, if not overly-positive note.

Which, considering the bulk of A.I., is surprising.

What’s perhaps most interesting about A.I. is that it finds Spielberg in pure-creative form. While we start the movie off at a suburban household, we eventually get thrown into this huge, futuristic world, and this is where Spielberg really shines. This isn’t to say that the first-half of the movie doesn’t work as its own, because it does, but it also seems manipulative in that Spielberg needed a reason for David to be thrown out into this great big world, so therefore, had to create tension among characters who, quite frankly, are pretty stupid.

No seriously, take the Henry character, as played by Sam Robards, for instance. At the beginning of the movie, we see that he’s suddenly all about having a robot-boy come into their lives and fill the void that their unconscious son can’t for the time being. Monica, on the other hand, but soon turns the other cheek. Around the same time, however, Henry begins, for no reason or another, to despise the very idea of David and clearly wants nothing to do with the thing, so therefore, scolds it and refers to it in passing, as if it’s something they have to deal with, rather than embrace.

Uhm, excuse me, bro? But weren’t you the one who bought it in the first place?

Anyway, then the Martin kid wakes up, gets pissed-off that David is trying to be too much like him, and then, we’re treated (which, in this case, probably isn’t the right word, but whatever), to one of the more disturbing scenes Spielberg’s ever made. David is abandoned in a grassy, mostly deserted area of the woods by Monica, who does nothing but push and shove him away from her, professing that she wished she “taught him more about the world”. Considering that she never discussed this when David and her were spending so much time together, this seems random, but still, the fact that David – something manufactured to love unconditionally – is yelling, screaming, and clearly, “feeling” distraught, makes this scene hit harder than it probably should. After all, David is now lonely in this world and while he may not know what to expect, he’s still a young thing, and it’s hard to not feel an ounce of sympathy for him.

But like I said, once the movie gets into discovering this world more, Spielberg clearly starts to work his smart wonders in not only exploring its creepiness, but its downright bleakness. While Kubrick would have definitely envisioned a much darker, more disturbing future, Spielberg’s future is still pretty damn bleak; a future where huge crowds of hooting, hollering, beer-swigging crowds cheer over the destruction of malfunctioning robots for entertainment. Once again, the picture that Spielberg paints isn’t nice, or sweet, but because it’s Spielberg, it’s slightly a bit lighter than what Kubrick would have done and because of that, it’s always going to be held up to scrutiny.

However, it shouldn’t and that’s the problem.

One of the key themes within A.I. is loneliness. David being on his own for a solid majority of this flick (although, he does have the adorable Teddy by his side), this is especially clear. He has a quest for becoming a real boy, but because we know that this dream of his will never come true and the adventure will lead to almost nothing, it’s very sad to watch as he constantly tries to make himself, as well as those around him, believe in it. Though he’s a robot, he’s still a kid-like robot, whose wonder and amazement of the world around him can never be matched by any cynic old-head, like you or I.

"You can do anything you put your mind to, David. Except pee. Or eat. Okay, not 'anything', but you get my point, kid."

“You can do anything you put your mind to, David. Except pee. Or eat. Okay, not ‘anything’, but you get my point, kid.”

Once again, this is all sad and it’s supposed to be. Even Joe’s story, although random and not especially necessary, still seems to revolve around him making all sorts of sweet love to women, yet, still not have any true connections in the world and mostly just glide-on by. That he has nothing else more to make of his life other than that he was “a great lover”, already makes it clear that Joe is a robot, with nothing else to him but just that. Together, David and Joe find one another and seem to set out on a world that, quite frankly, doesn’t care about whether or not exist.

I’m getting depressed just writing about this. But I’m not mad, because that’s the point.

By the same token, though, Spielberg still screws the movie up by losing this idea about half-way through. Though the movie is nearly two-and-a-half-hours, it takes a long while to get where it needs to get going and once it eventually does reach its drive, it feels like something of a cop-out. Spielberg decides to take us to the source of David’s creation and what’s supposed to be scary, shocking, and disturbing, just seems like an odd twist thrown at the end to create a drama, as if this were some sort of futuristic soap opera.

And then, there is, as we all know, the ending. Yes, this is the same ending that Spielberg still catches flak for, as well as he should. To be honest, it feels like something of a cop-out; the idea of having this story relate to Pinocchio’s already feels like that, but when Spielberg jumps into the future, many, many years later, and describes practically everything to us, it’s as if he doesn’t trust his audience anymore. Now, the same audience who sat by, watched and were disturbed by the sci-fi future he had to present, is now the same audience who is listening to Ben Kingsley rant on about exposition that doesn’t make any sense and would have probably been left better off not included.

Then, it just ends. David is treated to a dream that he always wanted, and even though the movie has reached almost two-and-a-half hours by this point, it still feels as if there’s something more to be explored. The outside world surrounding David, maybe, but still, there’s a certain incomplete feeling to A.I. that makes me not only want to watch it again, but possibly think harder and longer of where it could have gone.

But the movie, as it stands, still works – it’s just not nearly as great as it could have been had Kubrick been alive to have it made and see the light of day. Rather than fall for all of the sympathetic, melodramatic sap that hits the later-half, Kubrick would have found a certain path to go with that would have made it stuck around longer. But because he wasn’t around, the movie feels like it wants to tell a sweet ending, to a pretty bitter story.

The only way Spielberg insists on doing.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t reach the magnifying heights it could have with Kubrick alive to make it, A.I. is still bleak, dark and interesting enough to make up for the fact that Spielberg sort of drops the ball with the last-act.

8 / 10

A robot, a teddy bear, and a male gigolo walk into a bar...

A robot, a teddy bear, and a male gigolo walk into a bar…

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

War of the Worlds (2005)

“Stop using your technology now!”, he types on his laptop.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), an ordinary, blue-collar man doesn’t have the greatest life a man like he should have. His ex-wife (Miranda Otto) doesn’t really trust him and is currently pregnant with her new husband; his kids (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), he doesn’t really see, so therefore, they don’t really connect with him all that much and usually end conversations with angry shouting; and his house itself, is dirty, unorganized, and a mish-mash of stuff he has no use for anymore. His life can be so miserable at times, that if an alien attack were to randomly occur, he’d probably be better off. Well, wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly what happens! The aliens do invade Earth and although their motivations aren’t known just yet, they’ve taken extra precautions and have deactivated every piece of technology on the planet, leaving each and every human to be scrambling all over, without any idea of what to do. This leaves Ray, along with his kids, to run around like chickens with their heads cut-off, too, but he’s inspired enough to try and find shelter, as soon as possible. Problem is, he’s still facing problems with his family and it might just linger in to the mission of getting to safety.

Tom Cruise running.

Tom Cruise is scared.

So rarely do we get to see Steven Spielberg lash-out any form of anger that may be within him. However, for the first hour of War of the Worlds, we get to see Spielberg at his angriest and, above all else, most playful. People are zipped to ashes; cars are flipped; buildings are destroyed; and everybody’s running around like chickens with their heads cut-off. On the other side of the camera, though, is Spielberg who, it’s not hard to imagine, may have had a huge, cheek-to-cheek grin while filming all of this.

Not only does he have the dough to play with whatever he wants to play with, but he’s doing so in a style that feels as if it’s also giving a big old “F**k you” to every other director out there who specializes in these kinds of summer, blow-everything-up blockbusters (basically, Roland Emmerich). While the carnage and destruction is fun and exciting to watch, Spielberg also doesn’t forget to show the impact of this, where he understands that people are, yes, dying right in front of our eyes. At the same time, though, he still can’t get past the sense of wonder of just how great everything looks, sounds and feels; while the alien spaceship special-effects feel a little weak, all of the terror that they do cause, doesn’t and helps make it capable of getting past those problems.

And honestly, the main reason why I’m focusing solely so much on the first hour or so of this, is because after it’s over, everything slows down, and we now have to focus on these characters a bit more, the movie gets pretty lame.

It’s almost as if Spielberg signed onto this in the first place, because all he wanted to do was chuck things around and see stuff blow up, but then, remembered that there had to be some form of a human story here, with actual, human-like characters, and instantly got disinterested in what he was doing. This makes the rest of the film, not only feel like a bore, but feel like Spielberg himself is just going through the motions, already too tired and strained from all of the effort he put into the first hour of this movie. Because with Spielberg, you can’t forget that when worse comes to worse, he’s always got to focus on that family-drama.

Which, in some cases, isn’t all that bad. Though it’s a plot-trope he tosses in more than he should, he does get these occasional bursts of smart energy where it seems pertinent to helping flesh the story out a bit more, and therefore, have the movie impact its audience a whole lot harder.

In the case of War of the Worlds and Tom Cruise’s on-screen family, it feels as lazy as Spielberg’s done before.

Tom Cruise is still scared.

Tom Cruise is still scared.

For one, there’s nothing really interesting to this family that makes it easy for us to want to get behind them the whole way through and see if they end up surviving the whole disaster by the end. Cruise’s Ray character is so average, that it doesn’t really matter, because all he’s really doing, once you think about it, is just running around and ducking under and behind certain surfaces; Dakota Fanning’s daughter character yells and screams the whole time and it used as an obvious crutch for Ray to have to make tough decisions; and Justin Chatwin’s son character is such a pain-in-the-ass and annoying, that when it came around for the time to, possibly, leave the movie for good, I could care less. In fact, I wanted him to get the boot earlier!

Because these characters are so poorly-written as is, watching them as they try to survive this disastrous situation, really does not prove to be a fun time. There’s nothing to be compelled by, nor is there any real interesting bits of character-drama to be found; everybody’s just sort of feuding with one another because, well, they’re family and that’s what family’s seem to do. However, due to the fact that Tom Cruise is in the role of the patriarch and it’s his family we’re talking about, then of course you know how it’s all going to go.

I won’t say much more, but I think you get my meaning if you’ve ever seen a movie with Tom Cruise in the past decade.

Hell, even longer!

Then, as the plot progresses, Tim Robbins shows up in the movie as a weird, violent and overly dramatic dude who camps out in the middle of the woods, strapped-to-his-boots with guns and whatnot. Because Robbins’ character is all about having guns protect himself from whatever dangers may be out there, the movie paints him in such a crude-light, that it’s downright distracting. Robbins doesn’t help matters either, as he genuinely seems to be just over-acting as much as he can. And shame on Spielberg for not telling him when to tone it down, take it easy, or call for lunch.

Basically, he stopped giving a hoot and it’s not the kind of Steven Spielberg that I don’t think anybody wants to see.

Consensus: Despite a very strong first-half, War of the Worlds soon runs out of ideas, looses track of itself, and rely too heavily on familiar family-drama that’s shoe-horned in to just have us root and cheer on Tom Cruise, once again.

6 / 10

Tom Cruise is always scared!

Tom Cruise is always scared!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins