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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: April 2016

Mother’s Day (2016)

It’s the universal day where you honor the woman who has literally done everything for you.

Mother’s Day is by far one of the more unappreciated holidays and around this time of the year, a few select women, as well as men, are going to experience all of the highs and lows that come with being a parent, or better yet, a mother. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorcee who, when she’s not trying to raise her kids, now has to worry about her ex (Timothy Olyphant)’s new wife, who happens to be many, many years younger than he, or she is. Jesse (Kate Hudson) has a lovely kid and husband (Aasif Mandvi), although she hides them from her parents in fear of being judged and poked at, causing more issues and strife between them. Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is basically taking over the mom role of his two daughters, now that his wife died in the war. Zack (Jack Whitehall) and Kristin (Britt Robertson) both have a baby, despite not being married and Zack’s issues with that. And a TV host (Julia Roberts), who sells mood-necklaces to women, also has a bit of a secret that may or may not ruin her career.

Jen can't stop laughing at the hair.

Jen can’t stop laughing at the hair.

What the hell did I just watch? Seriously. Something is very clearly wrong with Mother’s Day in that it’s a comedy that’s not funny, a drama that’s not emotional, a feel-good family flick that’s neither pleasant, nor for the whole family, and a star-studded affair, in which nobody is able to do anything worthy of their time or talents.

In other words, Mother’s Day is a complete waste of time.

And that’s a bit of a shame, too, because for all the crap that director Garry Marshall gets for movies like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, there’s still something pleasant enough about them to where it’s fine that there’s a huge list of acclaimed names doing work way beyond their respect. Call them as bad as you want, I don’t leave those movies mad, annoyed, or confused as to what I just saw; they’re silly, but okay rom-coms that don’t change the movie world, but do what they need to do, and that’s entertain people.

This is why a movie like Mother’s Day is such a bad watch. It’s the kind of movie that wants to be fun for everyone involved, but is so lazy, so poorly put-together, and so boring, that you’ll wonder why Marshall or any of the cast-members even bothered. Did they not read the script? Or did they just see Marshall’s name, see the paycheck, and automatically assume that it’d just be a paycheck gig and they’d leave it at that?

I’m going to assume the latter, honestly.

And yes, a “paycheck gig” is exactly what Mother’s Day for the whole cast, but for some reason, it feels like this is by far the worst, most pathetic one they could find. Which isn’t to say that the cast doesn’t try here, because they do. Aniston, Hudson, and Sudeikis can’t help but be as entertaining and charming as possible, even if they’re working with some of the worst lines uttered I’ve heard in the longest time, but mostly everybody else falls apart with the straining dialogue.

Julia Roberts plays someone along the lines of Anna Wintour, cause she not only acts like her, but looks like her with that terrible wig, and it’s just a terrible performance. Roberts isn’t self-aware enough to pull off that kind of “ultra bitch” role perfectly, and she’s not all that funny enough to make some of her lines actually click with the audience. Basically, it just seems like her and Marshall have worked together so much now that they’re pals and will do everything together from now on, so why wouldn’t she show up here?

And yes, before you even ask, yes, Hector Elizondo does show up here and yes, he’s the brightest spot of the whole movie.

Now, neither can Kate!

Now, neither can Kate!

That said, something is just clearly up with this movie that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. The editing feels as if it was done by an actual blind person, where scenes start and end at the drop of a hat, and random people are focused on in shots that are supposed to be on the main characters. Though I’ve never worked in Hollywood, I bet you donuts to dollars that if they gave me the chance to edit this, I would have done a way better job than what ends up coming out here.

But then again, who knows how much of the editing played a role in the final product. After all, the script is so bad, with hardly any plots that are the least bit interesting, that there’s really nothing to hold it together. There’s a story of a comedian that’s terrible because the comedian himself is god awful and the movie acts as if he’s the next best thing since Steve Martin; there’s a story with Kate Hudson’s racist parents that are just so over-the-top and redneck-y that it makes me wonder how Hudson’s character even got out of the trailer park she apparently came from; and then, if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a story in which Jennifer Aniston’s character can’t stop yelling and freaking out in public over her husband’s new wife. Yes, these plots may all sound relatable to real life, but honestly, watching them play out here makes it seem like the furthest thing.

Oh and it’s not even funny. Did I mention that already, though?

Consensus: Garry Marshall strikes again with a star-studded affair with Mother’s Day, but this time, the results are even worse than expected with a terrible script and pace that goes nowhere in its two-hour run-time.

2 / 10

And hell, look at it! Julia's laughing at it, too! It's so terrible!

And hell, look at it! Julia’s laughing at it, too! It’s so awful!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

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Keanu (2016)

Cat people can relate.

Recently dumped by his girlfriend and without much of a reason to live, Rell (Jordan Peele) seems to spend most of his days crying, smoking a ton of pot and not even attempting to get over his ex. His cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), on the other hand, seems to be just fine with his life, where he’s got a wife (Nia Long) that loves him and a daughter that is fine enough with him, too. Eventually though, Rell finds some happiness when a cute kitten winds up on his doorstep and he starts to grow closer and closer to it, forging a loving and adoring friendship in which Rell learns about love all over again. But somehow, his cat, who he names “Keanu”, gets stolen by a band of thieves, which leaves Rell and Clarence with nothing else to do other than go out there and search for it. After all, Clarence’s wife and daughter are gone for the weekend, so what else are they going to do for the next few days? When the two do eventually find Keanu, they realize that he’s under the ownership of a notorious and dangerous drug-dealer by the name of Cheddar (Method Man) who mistakes them for two bad-ass, evil gun-slingers. Eventually, the two go along with it long enough to where they’re taking up new identities and getting involved with all sorts of crime, all for the sake of getting Keanu when all is said and done.

Get a gun, get gangster.

Get a gun, get gangster.

A lot of people will get on the case of Keanu because it’s not nearly as funny, or as smart as everything that Key & Peele have done. Sure, that’s already a lot to live up to in the first place, but you’d think that with literally the same team behind this one, that the same line of hilarity and genius would be drawn and would just add to the overall spectacle of this movie and make us realize why them letting their show end was such a smart move in the first place. But no, that’s not what happens.

And you know what? That’s actually fine.

Because, for what it’s worth, Keanu doesn’t set the comedy world on fire, nor does it need to. Sure, Key and Peele have been way funnier and smarter before, but with Keanu, it seems like their sole purpose is to attack a full-feature length, big-budget flick, see what works, see what doesn’t, move on, and continue doing what they do best. If you look at Keanu as a practice-round for both Key and Peele, then yes, it’s a very impressive one, because it’s not just a pretty funny movie, but one that has a thing or two to actually say about race.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe Key and Peele just wanted to make a funny comedy, not try to be too serious, or try to get preachy, and instead, just make the audience laugh at what they’re setting out to do. If that was their goal, then yes, mission accomplished because Keanu, for a good portion of itself, does a lot of funny things. Scenes where it just seems like Key, Peele and the rest of the cast are just making stuff up as they go along, with little rhyme or reason, surprisingly works and adds a bit of a fun flair to Keanu that may not have been too present in the first few minutes. What could have been a very annoying hour-and-a-half movie of a bunch of people riffing off one another because they don’t have much of a script to work with, surprisingly works when you least expect it to.

Sure, the idea that these two characters are playing-up the whole “gangster” look and feel may get a tad old for some, but it didn’t for me.

I don’t know what this says about me – either I really like comedy aimed at making fun at the whole “gangster” lifestyle, or I was just in a good mood – but regardless, Keanu is a funny movie. It’s hard to really go on and on about a comedy movie that sets out to do something, delivers on that promise and doesn’t ask for you to remember tomorrow, next week, or ever. All that it wants from you is to enjoy it and laugh at it while you can. Take away all of the things we know and love Key and Peele for from their show, and you won’t be hitting yourself over the head by how Keanu is just a fine, if pretty funny movie.

Get it? Instead of "Cheese", it's "Cheddar". Hm. I wonder if Key and Peele have ever watched the Wire?

Get it? Instead of “Cheese”, it’s “Cheddar”. Hm. I wonder if Key and Peele have ever watched the Wire?

The movie may try to parody John Wick to some extent, but doesn’t really get that far, or seem all that interested in addressing that idea, just like it doesn’t know what it wants to say about the gangster lifestyle and the people that live or die by it. In fact, you may be surprised by the attention to heart and detail the movie puts into its smaller characters, in which every member of this “gang”, all have their own little backstories and personalities that eventually come into play later on, and it helps make this movie seem like so much more than just your average comedy.

Even if, yes, it totally is.

But that’s okay. Key and Peele are fine and smart enough to know that if they don’t strike gold here, they still have plenty of opportunities to do so in the near-future. As actors here, they both do fine; Peele plays up his slacker-bro, whereas Key has some of the funnier moments as the stiff who turns out to be the most hardcore and sinister of the two when he has to. It’s ordinary roles for these two guys and just like the movie, they’re all fine with it. They’re just here to make us laugh and that’s fine.

Maybe next time, however, try a tad harder, fellas.

Consensus: Despite not reaching the comedic heights their show was able to hit episode-after-episode, Keanu still features an assured, if funny piece of comedy from the minds of Key and Peele, that may play more as an experiment, rather than a fully completed piece. But still, that cat is cute as hell.

7.5 / 10

Kitties always save the day. Until they pull a knife on you and slit your throat at night. What? I've heard of it happening before.

Kitties always save the day. Until they pull a knife on you and slit your throat at night. What? I’ve heard of it happening before.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Hip Hop DX, Movie News Plus

Runaway Bride (1999)

Keep a hold on your women, Richie.

Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts) can’t ever seem to make up her mind about any man in her life. That’s why, after three instances in which she got engaged, planned-out a wedding, walked up to the altar, only to turn around and start heading for the hills, she’s now been branded as “the runaway bride”. A lot of her friends and family call her that, so it’s okay, but once journalist Graham (Richard Gere) calls her that after hearing of her story one random day in a bar, she decides to get involved. Obviously, she threatens legal action, which gets all of Graham’s employers upset and worried about what might happen, so yeah, they fire Graham. Pissed-off as one journalist can be on the verge of Y2K, Graham decides to go out and see this Maggie all for herself and give her a piece of his mind. But for some reason, Graham quite enjoys Maggie’s little hometown, where he’s not only welcomed with open arms, but he actually finds himself getting along with Maggie herself. But with her latest wedding coming soon, Maggie will have to think of if she wants to go through with it, or not.

Joan Cusack > Julia Roberts.

Joan Cusack > Julia Roberts.

I know I’m probably not supposed to enjoy, or better yet, enjoy a movie like Runaway Bride, but somehow, I couldn’t help myself. Maybe a good portion of it had to do with the fact that I watched it back-to-back with the soulless and dry Pretty Woman, or maybe it was just that I was in a good mood and trying to have some fun, but either way, Runaway Bride surprisingly worked for me. Then again, I felt like enjoying it was almost the same thing as going out to dinner with your grandmom; sure, you got to spend some quality time with your grams and a free dinner, but seriously, what is she talking about?

And come to think of it: Why doesn’t she know how to send a gosh darn e-mail!

Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to get across here is that yes, Runaway Bride is a fun movie, but it’s also a very corny and silly one that should not at all be taken seriously. That’s why those who hate it, sort of seem to miss the point; it’s not setting out to be this true, down-to-Earth statement about the sanctity of marriage, love, life, families, and all that, it’s really just trying to make us laugh. Garry Marshall definitely loves to dip his feet into the syrupy material of his sap, but he also appreciates a good joke when he’s got it in front of him, too, and it’s why Runaway Bride can work at times when it shouldn’t.

Sure, everybody acts out in crazy, insane ways that they would never in the real world, nor does a small town as simple, loving, or carefree as the one in which Roberts’ character lives in, either, but for some reason, that’s all fine here. The movie is a lot less about the mechanics of the plot and more or less about trying to get us all settled in and laughing. It doesn’t always hit the highest comedic-marks, but then again, what other movie really does? It’s hard to always be consistently funny, so when a movie like Runaway Bride does its hardest to get me to laugh, without seeming like its trying to rip my lungs out, yeah, I’m fine.

And yes, I was even fine with Richard Gere here.

White has never looked so white and privileged.

White has never looked so white and privileged.

I know, I’m shocked, too, but yeah, he actually seems more interested in what’s going on here. As Graham, Gere has to be a bit of a dick who decides to turn the other cheek about halfway through because of, well, love, but it’s somewhat believable this time around. Most of that has to do with the fact that we get to know a bit more about Graham before the whole plot actually kicks in, and it’s also because Gere seems more willing to let himself be the butt of the jokes. A lot of silly, almost slap-sticky things happen to Gere here that make him look like a goober, but it works in the end, because not only do we like this character more, but Gere himself!

And yes, Julia Roberts is good, too. She’s doing her usual thing where she makes every person in the movie bow down to her beauty, as well as her likability and that’s fine to see here. The two have a solid bit of chemistry here that wasn’t able to shown in Pretty Woman and it helps put the movie into perspective, when things start to get all heavy and serious. Which is to say that, yes, the movie definitely suffers when it gets to this point, but are you really surprised? The whole movie is one, two-hour-long joke about Gere and Roberts’ personalities clashing. There’s no plot in that, but hey, I’m fine without one.

Just give me laughs and I’ll be as cool as a cucumber.

Consensus: With a wackier tone in place, Runaway Bride works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor does it allow for its stars to go away without trying to do something fun.

6 / 10

So incognito Richie and Jules.

So incognito Richie and Jules.

Photos Courtesy of: Youtube, Cineplex, Chris and Elizabeth Watch Movies

Pretty Woman (1990)

Hookers tend to have hearts of gold. Until they steal all your money.

While on a business trip, Edward (Richard Gere), for some reason or another, decides that he doesn’t want to spend the night alone. Instead, he wants to buy himself a hooker from off-the-street, which is, yes, dirty and not at all safe, but wouldn’t you know it? Edward gets the luck of the draw! Not only is his hooker named Vivian (Julia Roberts), but she’s as pretty as they come, even if all she does do is have sex with a bunch of middle-aged men for money. However, Edward doesn’t see the need in having sex with Vivian, because he’s all too busy being her friend, so yeah, he decides to pay for her longer, but in a consensual way. And eventually, the two start to get more and more along and understand where the others come from. But for Edward, he doesn’t fully know if he wants Vivian in his life, or he just wants someone he can connect with and go home to at night. Whereas with Vivian, she’s still not sure if she wants to continue being a hooker for the rest of her days, or settle down, start a family, and live what is, basically, the American Dream.

Whatta sugar daddy.

Whatta sugar daddy.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

You can call Pretty Woman “iconic”, or, dare I even bother to use the term, “significant”, because of two notable features; one, it featured the occupation of a hooker as not the worst thing known to man, and showed the whole world the beautiful, bright and charming talent that was Julia Roberts. Take those two aspects from the movie, and guess what? You’ve not only got a pretty dull movie, but a pretty unmemorable rom-com, that has little, to no redeeming qualities.

But yes, Julia Roberts is quite great here, so it’s obvious that I basically have to start there. Sure, you can say that Steel Magnolias and Mystic Pizza were movies that brought Julia Roberts to plenty of eyes, but really, Pretty Woman is what brought her to the mainstream, and with good reason. Every second the camera spends with her, it can’t help but just love every second of her; her teeth-filled smile, her lovely, youthful body, her approachable, but seemingly beautiful face, and yes, even her winning charisma, are all on full-display here and it helps make this character more than just your typical “hooker with a heart of gold”. Okay, maybe not, because yes, this movie practically started that whole convention, but still, Roberts is pretty great here.

Some may still get up in arms over the fact that she got nominated for an Oscar, which, to some extent, is understandable, but at the same time, not, because, well, she makes this movie. She’s not just a bundle of charm, but she’s also smart in making this character the slightest bit likable or believable. Even if the character of Vivian is so clearly made-up and phony Hollywood drivel, Roberts still makes you want to believe that someone like her exists – someone who is just waiting on the dirty, muggy streets of some overpopulated city, doing all sorts of sexual acts for a buck and a burger, while still looking for that special someone who will, one day, sweep her off of her feet, love her for who she is, and give her everything and anything that she’s wanted.

It’s all a bunch of baloney, but hey, Roberts is good enough here that she makes us want to believe in some of it.

Wowza Jules!

Wowza Jules!

As for the rest of the movie, yeah, it’s all pretty lame. Most may know this already, but in case you don’t: I’m not a big fan of Richard Gere. For the most part, his performances always tend to be a bit lazy and dull when he isn’t given the right material to work with and here, nothing really changes. Granted, his character is a bit of an unlikable dope who, yes, means well, but is also so sad and pathetic that you almost wish that Vivian would find another client, who paid her more, and run away with him. Sure, Gere brings the sex-appeal for the ladies that I presume Roberts brought for the men, but there has to be a little bit more than just good-looks and a hot body, right?

Either way, Garry Marshall doesn’t seem to interested in really giving these characters anything more of a personality that goes beyond “nice person”, or “evil person”. The story wants to be a very deep and serious dramedy about the costs of life and love, but at the same time, just really feels like it’s not going anywhere. Eventually, the movie starts to make stuff up as it goes along, like a random conflict with Jason Alexander’s character, and an overworking of Gere’s character’s job. Honestly, I didn’t care for the character in the first place, so why the hell should I give a flyin’ hoot about his big-wig, high-class, corporate job? Is it because he’s ordering a hooker? Is it because he’s Richard Gere? Or, is it because Marshall knew that working with such a limited story didn’t really create much of any conflict, tension, or interest to be found at all?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that Julia Roberts may go down as, singlehandedly, the most attractive prostitute to ever grace screens.

Sorry, Divine Brown.

Consensus: Julia Roberts star-making performance is what helps allow for Pretty Woman to get through some real cracks in its story, but it’s almost not enough.

5 / 10

Come on, Richie! You're smarter than that!

Come on, Richie! You’re smarter than that!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Challenges, Fanpop

Frankie and Johnny (1991)

It’s always those ex-cons who will steal your heart away. Literally.

After Johnny (Al Pacino) gets released from prison following a small, but still effective forgery charge, he quickly lands a job as a short-order cook at a New York diner, where he hopes to not just get his feet back on the ground, but go back to living the kind of fun and exciting life that he was living before he was sent to the clink. And he finds that with waitress Cora (Kate Nelligan), who he actually has something of a brief fling with; while she wants it and expects it to be more, little does Cora know that Johnny wants Cora’s friend and fellow waitress Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer). Due to a long, checkered history with men, love and relationships, Frankie’s not all that interested in any of the advances Johnny makes towards her. While she finds him charming and handsome, she mostly wants to focus on herself now at this stage in her life, and not worry about somebody else tying her down. But eventually, Frankie gives in and decides to give Johnny a chance after all, which is when the sparks begin to fly and, all of a sudden, Frankie finds herself in something that she may not be able to get herself out of.

Oh, Al. So weird.

Oh, Al. So weird.

You wouldn’t know it or expect it, but Frankie and Johnny will sneak up on ya. While Garry Marshall has never been considered the most subtle director out there, he does something neat and interesting here with Frankie and Johnny in that he just allows for the story to tell itself out, piece by piece, little by little, so that by the end, we not only feel like we got the full story of these people, but also had a nice little slice of life that we may not have been able to get anywhere else. There’s a certain sense that Marshall enjoys these characters just as much as we do, so instead of rushing the plot and making everything seem like it has to go somewhere, Marshall takes a step back, relaxes and allows for everything to just speak for itself.

And also, for Al Pacino to ad-lib his rump off.

But hey, who’s better at ad-libbing and making stuff up on the fly than Al Pacino? Nobody, that’s who! While watching Pacino play around with this character of Johnny, you get the idea that he saw the script, saw it as another romantic-dramedy that women and their mothers will all go out to see, but also saw a sweet paycheck involved, so instead of passing on it, he decided to just have some fun. After all, when you’re as wildly talented as Al Pacino, who is going to tell you what you can and cannot do when it comes to how you approach a role?

Maybe Marshall had an issue with Pacino seeming as if he’s making everything up on the fly here, or maybe he didn’t, but either way, it kind of works. It not only adds a certain level of excitement and personality to this character, but makes him seem a lot odder than the script may have originally made him out to be. So rarely do we see rom-coms, or better yet, movies where one of the leads may not be perfectly sane; while they’re not clinically insane, or tearing at the walls, they’re still a bit loopy and seem as if they’re somewhere else completely. As Johnny, whether intentional or not, Pacino is able to make this seemingly ordinary character have a little bit of a personality that has him go far and beyond just another dude. He’s a bit off, he’s a bit cooky, but because he’s Al Pacino’s, he’s pretty damn fun and sincere, too.

That’s why, whenever he’s together with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Frankie, magic definitely occurs. Pfeiffer is a great actress and saying so isn’t all that ground-breaking, but it truly is great to see her take on a role that could have been so boring and uninteresting, if not given the right amount of tender love and care. Pfeiffer connects with some raw energy within Frankie, where we initially seem a quiet, reserved and seemingly tough girl who doesn’t care about those around her all that much, and doesn’t have any need for a man or love in her life. But as the movie rolls on, we get to know and see more of this character than ever before, and it’s these moments of sweet human emotion that really make Pfeiffer’s performance something great.

I'd take Hector as my boss any day of the week. Except for Fridays.

I’d take Hector as my boss any day of the week. Except for Fridays.

And together, yes, Pacino and Pfeiffer are quite solid.

I know I’m putting an awful lot of emphasis on the relationship and the performances between these two stars, but really, that’s all that Frankie and Johnny is – an opportunity to see a romantic-dramedy in which Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer act alongside one another. It’s enjoyable because they’re both great actors and it works as a romance because Marshall pays more attention to the smaller details of these character’s lives and makes us actually feel like we know them, as well as those around them. Even a few brief scenes with the wonderful likes of Nathan Lane and Hector Elizondo, while small in hindsight, do so much in making us feel like we are one step closer to these characters and the world that they’ve created for themselves. Everyone is just a normal, everyday person and it’s believable, as well as charming and breezy.

Sure, the movie gets darker and a lot sadder by the end, but it still works because it goes to show you that you don’t need to force the central romance down our throats to make it work. Sometimes, all you need is a good cast, solid attention to detail, and a believable bit of chemistry that can make it all come together.

Take notes, present-day Garry Marshall.

Consensus: With two great performances from Pfeiffer and Pacino, Frankie and Johnny rises above the usual romantic-dramedy threshold and is a lot funnier, sweeter and emotional.

7.5 / 10

It's love. Without cocaine. Or gangs. Or Tony Montana.

It’s love. Without cocaine. Or gangs. Or Tony Montana.

Photos Courtesy of: Gareth Rhodes Film Reviews, Fanpop, Living Cinema

The Invention of Lying (2009)

If you think about it, can’t all religious text possibly be “lies”? #Controversial

Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is so down-on-his-luck that he’s practically given up now. While he has an okay job as a screenwriter and a nice apartment to live in, he lives in a world nobody is able to lie, so therefore, nobody ever does something for another person cause its the right thing to do. This means that Mark has to go out on a lot of dates where the girls he meets don’t really like him, nor do they ever expect to take anything further than just a simple date and leaving it at that. One date in particular, with Anna (Jennifer Garner), Mark seems to want more out of, but because he, according to her, is “fat and ugly”, the relationship will never work. But somehow, on one fateful day, Mark decides that he has the rare ability to, believe it or not, lie. This means that everyone around him will believe anything he says and can basically get away with whatever he oh so pleases to get away with. Clearly, this means that Mark’s going to do some easily questionable things that are for his own self-gain, but eventually, he starts to realize that it doesn’t matter if you can lie the rest of your life and get away, all that does matter is that you feel something lovely and true.

is the handsome, slack-jawed man her choice?

is the handsome, slack-jawed man her choice?

The Invention of Lying has so much promise that it’s an absolute shame watching went goes down with it. For one, this world that’s been created here, while yes, a tad odd and unconventional, is still an interesting one that you can spend a whole miniseries on, exploring every piece by piece, while also having some real great fun, with jokes and all that. And for awhile, the movie seems like it’s more than up to that opportunity; a commercial with Coca-Cola is perhaps the funniest moment of the whole movie, only to then be up-staged by a Pepsi ad moments later. There’s other bits and pieces in which Gervais explores this world a whole lot more than just having people blurt out mean, nasty and cruel things, but yeah, what eventually happens isn’t good.

And yes, this is a huge problem.

After awhile, it seems like co-directors Gervais and Matthew Robinson, truly did want to get deep down into this world, explore it more, find more jokes to make about it, and, if it got to a certain point, make some interesting contrasts to the real world we live in now, but for some reason, they get distracted. Instead of trying to make something that’s really biting, smart and almost satirical, they opt more for the conventional route, where we’re now more interested in whether or not Ricky Gervais’ character is going to get the girl at the end.

Obviously, he probably will, but to see this idea get explored more so than the other ones going on here, is pretty wasteful. Now, of course, I don’t know if this is on behalf of studio interruption, or if the guys themselves just really wanted to make a rom-com with this thing, but either way, it’s a shame to watch after awhile, because the jokes can sometimes be very funny, but sometimes, it doesn’t always hit its mark.

That said, yes, the Invention of Lying can be a pretty funny movie and yes, can deliver on some of its promises.

Or, the very ugly, but ambitious loner?

Or, the very ugly, but ambitious loner?

The whole add-on of religion was not only a nice touch, but a smart one that yes, was commenting on the idea of religion, but wasn’t doing it in an over-the-top way where some people may feel offended or pissed. However, at the same time, those who don’t follow any sort of religion by any means, won’t find themselves pissed that a well-known atheist like Ricky Gervais backed out on his original ideas. It’s just the right amount of poking fun, but also, reservation that makes a movie like this, while not perfect, seem a little more interesting and smarter.

And yeah, it also helps that the cast is pretty darn solid, too. As an ordinary, everyday man gifted with this one spectacular talent, Gervais is a lot of fun, but also, seems like he wants to do more than just be a stand-in for the story. He does give this character a heart and soul, and even though it may not totally work in the grander scheme of things, and just get in the way of the funnier moments of the movie, it still proves that Gervais himself isn’t just all about gags and making people laugh uncontrollably. Sometimes, he does like to get a little serious and dramatic and it works in most of his pieces.

Here, maybe not so much.

The reason for that is because it does feel very shoe-horned in, especially when you take into consideration that the movie is less about finding true love, as much as it’s just about the lies we are told and the lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better. Jennifer Garner is fine and, surprisingly, has some sweet chemistry with Gervais, but any moment that the movie seemed to focus on their possible budding-romance, it felt like it was being dragged down by a very heavy anchor that couldn’t be lifted. Once again, this could have been studio interference, but still, that doesn’t make it a worthy excuse. But it’s easy to forgive Gervais because even a movie like the Invention of Lying, while not perfect, still reminds us why he’s one of the smarter, brighter voices in comedy, as well as in animal rights.

You go, Rick.

Consensus: Despite not fully delivering on the promise of its premise, the Invention of Lying is still an entertaining comedy, mostly thanks to the talent working in it.

6 / 10

Or, the snarky Brit? Who knows who she'll choose!

Or, the snarky Brit? Who knows who she’ll choose!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Zootopia (2016)

It’s like the actual United States of America. But with animals!

From when she was just a little bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) was always told that she wasn’t going to amount to much. Because of that adversity in her life, Judy trained for years and years to become a cop in the wonderfully huge and grand melting-pot that is Zootopia, a place where all kinds of creatures can live together in perfect peace and harmony. Eventually, Judy’s dream comes true and she finds herself living in Zootopia, with a solid job as a cop. However, she soon finds out that her job won’t amount to much other than just putting tickets on people’s cars. Though she’s disappointed by this, Judy still remains restless and ready to take on any obstacle she meets out there in the real world, which leads her to Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly and cunning fox, who she has a fear of, just based solely on the fact that fox and rabbits aren’t supposed to get along. Using Nick, Judy discovers a missing otter’s case, which leads her to uncovering a greater conspiracy that involves the police chief, the mayor, and plenty other people in power.

Don't call her "cute". Even if, yes, she totally is.

Don’t call her “cute”. Even if, yes, she totally is.

Last summer, when Inside Out came out, a lot of people were going on and on about how it was, essentially, a “kids movie for adults”. And they weren’t wrong. Sure, the animation, the colorful and wild-looking characters were clearly to attract the kids and get them interested in the first place, but really, the plot, the message and the mechanics of it all weren’t really for kids. After all, no kid would have been able to understand “the id”, “the psychosis”, or anything of that psychological nature, nor would they ever be able to understand just what the characters were searching for, or trying to accomplish. In some ways, that’s why I loved the movie, however, I also realize that perhaps the movie was maybe just a tad too smart for its own good, or even for its own audience.

That said, Zootopia is the kind of animated movie made to grab kids’ attention, but really meant to connect with the older-ones who get stuck bringing their kids in the first place.

And that’s a good thing. For one, Zootopia is a solid animated movie that, yes, looks as great and as detailed as ever. Every character, from the sloths, to the lions, to the cheetahs, the foxes, to polar bears, to the bunnies, to whichever you want to call them, all look lovely and pleasantly cartoonish. However, my main adoration for this movie comes in the way it approaches its universe. It’s the kind of movie that has a smart and relatively interesting idea, but rather than using it to rely on a lame plot or kiddie-jokes, instead, it goes balls to the walls with what it can do.

The story is a cross between a police procedural and coming-of-age-tale, but instead, with a rabbit and a fox in the interracial buddy-cop roles. And while for any lesser-movie, they’d just have that idea and leave it there, Zootopia decides to run wild with it and allow for the movie to build both of these characters up, give them personalities, and allow for them to go on throughout this whole world. After all, certain parts of this world that the movie has created for itself is so inventive and creative, that after awhile, it becomes clear that the movie’s dealing with a lot, but not really losing control of itself.

It has a message. It has a message. And most importantly, it has a story.

Granted, the story can sometimes go on and on and for the sake of telling the movie’s central message (racism and treating others for what they look like, and not who they are, is bad), but it still kept me interested. The movie brings up other points about gentrification, xenophobia, and social-classes that do hit, but it isn’t always actually about them; if anything, it’s just using them as a way to make their story feel and sound more important than it may already be perceived as. Of course, one could go on for days with think-pieces out the wahzoo about what Zootopia is trying to say, but none of it really matters, because guess what? The movie’s just a fun piece of animation.

I imagine this is the same smirk Jason Bateman holds on his face each and every day.

I imagine this is the same smirk Jason Bateman holds on his face each and every day.

Sure, it’s definitely made with the adults in mind, but it’s also a good movie for kids in that there’s a lot of the typical humor you’d expect for them to laugh at and love. However, there’s also smarter, more witty jokes aimed at the adults that have to deal with the social and racial constructs of this world, references to movies like the Godfather and Chinatown (among others), and the fact that each and everyone of these animals are supposed to be portraying an aspect of the real world. It’s all so goofy, but so much fun that you don’t care how far they go with these ideas.

You’ll just be happy that someone’s thinking this creatively for once.

And this is all the more surprising considering that there’s at least three directors (Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore) and two writers (Jared Bush and Phil Johnston) working together. Normally, this spells out an uneasy, messy and uneven bit of trouble, but surprisingly, everybody came together here to create some neat and funny ideas, without ever seeming like they’re just throwing stuff in for the sake of it. And yes, the voice cast is also pretty solid, too. Ginnifer Goodwin is bright and sunny; Jason Bateman is as cool as a cucumber; Idris Elba is brass and brawny; and yeah, there’s others. Just know that Zootopia is a fine piece of animation that, if you haven’t already, just check it out.

It has something to say, but more importantly, has something to do with itself, rather than just waste your time because it’s already gotten your money.

Consensus: With smart ideas and messages about the real world we live in, yet, using animated animals to take humans places, Zootopia is not only cute, but awfully inventive and interesting, even when it seems to be preaching an awful lot.

8 / 10 

Oh, sloths. So silly.

Oh, sloths. So silly. Yet, a little creepy-looking.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Miles Ahead (2016)

He didn’t pee his pants, but he was still cool.

After taking over the world of jazz and music altogether, Miles Davis (Don Cheadle), for one reason or another, inexplicably left the public eye, left to scour and hang out in his apartment, where people couldn’t bother him, nor could they even ask him questions about the next album he’ll make. It was just Miles, his music, his drugs, his booze, and his occasional friend popping on through. One day, however, he gets a knock from Rolling Stone writer Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) who absolutely insists on getting a one-on-one story with Miles, if not just for the music, but for the sake of his fans around the world. While Miles doesn’t necessarily agree to a story, he does allow for Dave to hang around with him on these next few days, where he’ll go to his label, get in fights with high-as-hell college kids, and think hard and long about the past love he had with a woman named Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi) – someone he clearly still loves, misses and wants back in his life, even if she doesn’t want anything to do with him, or the drugged-up life he’s created for himself.

Pretty fly for a white guy.

Pretty fly for a white guy.

There’s no denying that Don Cheadle got to make the Miles Davis biopic he has been so clearly and passionately been trying to do for nearly his whole career. And thankfully, that kind of biopic isn’t the typical, run-of-the-mill pieces we’re all so used to and annoyed of. Sure, if you have an interesting enough subject to work with, I bet using the old formula of rags-to-riches may work, but for someone like Miles Davis, it doesn’t seem to fit. If anything, a biopic made about the man, the myth, and yes, the legend, needs to be as idiosyncratic, as unpredictable, and as wild as the man himself was.

And yes, Don Cheadle gets a chance to make that movie.

Does it always work? No, not really. But is it at least entertaining and a lot better than some of the yawn-inducing passion projects we’ve seen from Hollywood stars cut from the same cloth as Don Cheadle? Yes, and that’s perhaps its best attribute.

Throughout Miles Ahead, Miles Davis is seen as a bad-ass who takes his gun out, points it at people, kicks people’s asses, says what he wants, does what he wants, and doesn’t like to mince words or emotions with people he doesn’t care about, or at all. What Miles Davis wants to do, as we can tell from this movie, is just live the life he wants to live. That’s why, for the longest time, Miles Ahead plays very much like a toned-down, but relaxed character-study where, occasionally, we’ll get a random action-sequence with Miles Davis running for his life, or getting in a car-chase, or shooting random people, but we’ll still get those smaller, more humane moments of character where we get a chance to see Miles Davis as the man behind the legend.

Sure, we’ll see and get to hear a lot of what we expected from Davis, but at its heart, Miles Ahead wants to also show that there was a more painful and aching heart deep within Miles Davis that didn’t always shine through with the people around him, but was definitely around and made him the rough, tough and ragged some people obviously saw him as. That’s probably why, as Miles Davis, Don Cheadle was a great choice; Cheadle himself can do meek and mild quite well, as well being funny and gritty, all at the same time. Even when it seems like Miles Davis is a mean, almost despicable human being who doesn’t care for those who actually love and support him, Cheadle will show a small bit of humanity that will make us sympathize with this character a bit more, even while we’re laughing at everything he does.

That said, Miles Ahead is definitely an uneven movie.

There's always one lady to ruin a man's soul. This is that lady.

There’s always one lady to ruin a man’s soul. This is that lady.

You can definitely tell that Miles Ahead is Cheadle’s first movie as a director, because it doesn’t always tonally work. Certain sequences where someone’s shot, beat-up or severely injured, will be played for laughs, in a dark kind of way, whereas in the next scene, we’ll get a flashback to a time when life was lovelier and simpler for Davis. It’s good that we get these scenes and in a way, I don’t mind the scenes of violence and ass-kicking, but after awhile, you start to question what kind of movie Cheadle wanted to make. Did he want to make a heartfelt, detailed and emotional tribute to the man we all knew as Miles Davis? Or does he want to make a fun, exciting and wild tale about Miles Davis, someone who, yes made some great music, but also took plenty of pleasure in knocking people out when push came to shove?

Honestly, I never fully figured that out. However, I will give Cheadle credit for at least trying something new, fun and interesting with the biopic formula. Cause, if anything, I wished the movie would have been more about Davis hanging out/around with Ewan McGregor’s Dave Braden. McGregor, believe it or not, is actually quite charming here and gives Braden a personality that goes beyond just being an annoying, overly clingy journalist who just hounds Davis for answers to his questions. Together, too, they have a great bit of chemistry that is definitely unusual, but still works because they share something of an understanding that there’s a certain love of music between the two and therefore, they need a little excitement out of life. Even though Braden may not be a totally interesting character, he and Davis still feel like the oddest, if well-matched buddies ever put on the screen.

Especially in a musical biopic of Miles Davis.

Consensus: As Cheadle’s directorial debut, Miles Ahead works as a nice, well-acted change-of-pace from the typical biopic formula, but also feels a bit uneven and could have definitely benefited from a few reworkings.

7 / 10

Please let me drink with you!

Miles! I want to party with you!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sing Street (2016)

Start a band. Score chicks. Live your life. Be cool forever.

Growing up in Dublin during the 80’s can be a pretty rough time, especially if you’re Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Conor doesn’t look as tough, or nearly as masculine as the other boys, so he’s constantly teased and messed with for that reason; his parents are on the brink of divorce; and his older brother (Jack Reynor), when he isn’t spouting witticisms about rock ‘n roll, sits around the house, smoking. Conor doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life, until he meets the vivacious and lovely Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an older, but totally cool chick. While Conor doesn’t know if he has a chance or not, he decides to find some buddies, start a band, and start making music videos, considering that it’s the thing to do around that time when people like Phil Collins and Duran Duran were owning the airwaves with these pieces of art to accompany their music. Of course, he wants Raphina to be in the video, which she’s more than happy with, but also doesn’t want to lead Conor, because after all, she has a boyfriend and he’s very confused about what he wants in life. However, it’s the music that gives him an idea and help him through even the roughest and toughest times in his teen life.

That's how the magic starts. Two dudes, a guitar and some cheesy lyrics about love and heartbreak.

That’s how the magic starts. Two dudes, a guitar and some cheesy lyrics about love and heartbreak.

With Once, it was interesting to see how writer/director John Carney was able to carve-out a musical, out of realistic situations. Budding musicians would meet on the streets, or in stores, sing songs about heartbreak, love, life and all that good stuff, and because the music was so strong, the singers were so good, and the lyrics were so heartfelt, it didn’t matter how cheesy it would be. In the world that Carney makes, you believe it because it is at least based in some form of reality that, yeah, even if people do walk around, singing to one another, it’s still at least somewhat believable, and, believe it or not, lovely to listen to.

With Begin Again, Carney sort of lost himself a bit. While the cast and the music was strong, the movie itself was so sentimental and sappy at times, that I wondered if I was watching a Spielberg flick. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fine movie that I much enjoyed listening to afterwards (Adam Levine’s songs were pretty great), but it was placed in such a fictional and almost incredibly unrealistic world that it was sometimes too hard for me to take seriously. The gritty, raw and heartfelt position he took with Once, was somehow lost in the wind, only to have cheesy Hollywood sentimentality take over.

However, with Sing Street, Carney somehow bounces back to the world he once knew and worked with, even if, yes, some things are a tad cheesy and unbelievable.

Most importantly though, you can tell that this is a story that’s close to Carney’s heart and soul. While it’s not known how much of this is autobiographical, you still get the sense that Carney is writing and portraying a time of his life that he looks back on with pleasantness, as well as some sadness. He misses feeling like a young teen who was absolutely willing and capable of taking on the whole world around him, regardless of if anybody wanted to listen to him in the first place.

Also, you get a sense that, through the songs, Carney is really working through all of the genres and styles that showed up and were the bee’s knees during the mid-to-late-80’s. Through Conor, we see him take on new wave, and punk, and soul, and even pop, to where he’s writing awfully catchy songs and coming up with even more inventive and neat music videos, some of which are so funny, entertaining and kitschy, that you can’t believe anybody would be able to make it all up, let alone a bunch of angsty teens.

But still, in the world of John Carney, it somehow works.

But it's okay, 'cause you'll get all the cool girls.

But it’s okay, ’cause you’ll get all the cool babes.

Not only do the songs work and are more than likely to get in your head, they also tell us more and more about this character that go past and beyond just him being sad, or mad, or lonely, or happy. We get a few dream-sequences in which Conor thinks about the life he wishes he had, especially when it comes to music, where everyone loves him, wants to be him, and most importantly, his family is all happy and back together again. However, at the same time, the sad realization of the real world kicks in and it’s sometimes heartbreaking to see his tender soul hurt and ruined, even if you get the general idea that’ll get better for a good-looking, incredibly talented 15-year-old such as himself.

After all, if he continues to write as good as songs as he’s been writing, he’ll be able to do anything he wants.

That’s why, as Conor, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo does a pretty solid job giving us a real, understandable teen who doesn’t always do or say the right things, and yes, may be definitely confused about what he wants with his life, but who isn’t at that age? When you’re 15, the only thing you want is to be heard, understood and respected amongst your peers and taken in as a adult, even if, you know full well that won’t happen. Conor’s the kind of protagonist in a story like this that we can all relate to and enjoy, even when it seems like he doesn’t have the full picture in his head. But that’s okay, because you know what? He’s 15-years-old and he’ll have plenty of time to make up his mind.

As for everybody else, they’re all pretty charming and lovely, too, even in Carney’s world of cuteness. Lucy Boynton is gorgeous, but also kind of sweet as the tortured and sad Raphina; Aidan Gillen plays Conor’s dad who may or may not be a dick, but always says what’s on his mind; and Jack Reynor, in an absolutely scene-stealing role as Conor’s older brother, gives us the kind of heart and soul a movie like this needed. Reynor comes in every so often, smoking weed or tobacco, says whatever’s on his mind and, occasionally, teaching Conor a life lesson that he can learn to live by and make better decisions with. However, the movie doesn’t overdo this character and it’s why, if anything in this movie does feel real, it’s him. He helps Conor become more of a man than anyone, or anything else in this movie, and he’s the kind of character that you could meet in real life, love and want to hang out with, time and time again.

Even if it is Jack Reynor and the dude is probably very busy and doesn’t have time to spend with you.

Consensus: Even if its set in a world of unrealistic proportions, Sing Street is still sweet, earnest, and heartfelt enough that it works as a lively, if immensely entertaining coming-of-ager, with great songs to back it all up.

8 / 10

"Hey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!"

“Hey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Confirmation (2016)

Note to self: Keep Coca-Cola cans away from possible sex-deviants.

In 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) for the Supreme Court of the United States to replace Thurgood Marshall, who was getting ready for retirement. This decision was ultimately met with loads and loads of controversy, with some seeing it as a racial issue, with others just seeing Thomas as not the right guy for the job. One person who ultimately didn’t give it another thought, until she was brought back into it all, was Anita Hill (Kerry Washington). Hill worked as a secretary for Thomas some few years back and while she had certain issues with him, she never bothered telling the press or anything. What she wanted to do was keep it to herself, keep her job, and just live a simple, quiet life, teaching the law to college kids. However, once the word gets out that Hill will be making a statement against Thomas for sexual harassment, the press lights up, accusing her, as well as him for all sorts of things. There’s a whole bunch of players at work with the case, but the one most importantly is Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear) who, at the time, was working as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and also struggles with calling every decision right down the middle, and also remembering not to tarnish the good name of the United States of America.

It's all about the hair-pieces.

It’s all about the hair-pieces.

There’s no denying the importance of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. While Hill herself lost the hearings and was basically held out to dry by all of her fellow colleagues and confidantes, there’s no denying that, after the fact, it spearheaded a movement in which more women, and especially those of color, testifying to sexual harassment issues and were granted positions of power that they deserved. And in today’s day and age, nearly 25 years later, the case is still relevant to a lot of the issues what women most go through, not just in the workforce, but in general.

But for some reason, Confirmation is hardly important. If anything, it’s just an overdone, overcooked, well-acted, and dramatic re-telling of the events that transpired within and around the Anita Hill hearings – the kind that HBO are most known for creating. While I’m all for Anita Hill getting the attention she deserves, what’s interesting is that Confirmation doesn’t just focus the story on her, but instead, decide to look elsewhere.

Perhaps most surprisingly is that it actually asks us to somewhat sympathize with someone like Clarence Thomas.

And in Confirmation, it’s clear that Thomas may have been possibly attacked out of nowhere and wrongly. After all, it’s not Anita Hill herself who comes forth with the story of her and Thomas, but instead, it’s government agencies wanting dig up some dirt on Thomas himself and figure out if they can bury him as soon as possible, or keep him around and gain respect. In a way, you could make the argument that Thomas was randomly attacked, but at the same time, there’s no denying that Thomas did something wrong, in that he sexually harassed an employee of his.

I don’t care which way you paint it, but there’s no way I’m going to sympathize with someone like that.

But Thomas isn’t the only one who gets an unfavorable light shined on him. Another famous political figure here is Joe Biden, as played by Greg Kinnear, and while it initially seems like the movie is going to take a surprisingly hard-headed approach to him, the movie decides to back out of that original plan. Instead of showing Biden to bit of a coward during the hearings (which, if you watch the footage, he was), the movie tries to show him as just a puppet, who’s strings were pulled and prodded by some very powerful puppeteers. Honestly, this may be at least some bit of the truth, but there’s no denying the fact that Biden, at this point in time, acted in an unprofessional and despicable manner, and to not put a greater focus on that fact, almost seems like the creators making an apology for him, if only because they support him now.

The look of a guilty, if very horny man.

The look of a guilty, if very horny man.

All political issues aside, it doesn’t matter – Biden, as well as everyone else surrounding him, acted in a wrongful manner. And yes, this is exactly what Confirmation shows, in an over-sensationalized way and manner – aka, the kind that HBO has always been known for doing and can, on occasion, really work well with. The issue here is that a lot of what would be interesting and thought-provoking about this case, these people and what transpired, instead just seems like a point-by-point coverage. With something like the People vs. O.J. Simpson, we’re not just getting a retelling of the case and all of the people involved with it, but were also getting a closer, more detailed look inside the lives and instances that actually occurred.

Here, with Confirmation, it just seems like something you’d be able to hear through a power point presentation.

Sure, having a stacked and well-acted cast like this is definitely appealing and allows for some of these people to appear more than just famous figures, but does it really matter when all you’re doing is just using them as points? Everybody here does their thing, but nobody’s ever really allowed to rise beyond the material, especially considering that a lot of it is just covering certain bases that many people already know about.

If anything, just watch the documentary Anita. It paints a better portrait of the woman, the case and everybody else involved with this travesty.

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, Confirmation can’t help but feel like a dramatic retelling of a story most of us know by now, but with barely any new, or interesting avenues taken.

5.5 / 10

Why nobody else has tried to bring that dress back into the fashion world is beyond me.

Why nobody else has tried to bring that quaint, little dress back into the fashion world is beyond me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Half Baked (1998)

Can one be addicted to weed? Or just be really lazy?

Thurgood Jenkins (Dave Chappelle), his friends Brian (Jim Breuer), Scarface (Guillermo Díaz), and Kenny (Harland Williams) all seem to live their lives by the way of pot. While they don’t consider themselves “drug-addicts” by any means, for the most part, their everyday lives are consumed and filled with smoking pot, munchies, and not really doing anything. Sure, they all have jobs and do their own things, but really, they just only care about pot and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, until Kenny gets arrested for accidentally killing a police horse. This lands him in the slammer with a life-sentence that he may be able to get out of, so long as he has enough money for bail. Considering that his buddies spend all of the money they make from their jobs on stuff like food and pot, he’s sort of lost all hope of ever getting out and is forced to live with the reality that the rest of his life, he’ll be somebody’s bitch. However, Thurgood concocts a plan to get some of the best, most amazing and pure pot out there by taking some from the lab that he works as a custodian at, and selling it out on the streets.

I agree.

I agree.

Problem is, they’re all stoners.

I think I speak on a lot of people’s half when I say yes, I’ve smoked a doobie once or twice and yes, it can be quite funny. Things that would seem mundane and almost boring in real life, take on a new life when you’re under the influence of pot and will not only make you laugh loud and hard, but nearly inches away from soiling your trousers. Maybe that’s a tad too extreme, but you get the point, because it’s the same thing with alcohol – the more of it you take, the more things around you change. Some things may make you laugh, sad, serious, or “deeper”.

Obviously, I’m not breaking down any barriers by writing any of this, but the only reason I bring any of this up in the first place is because it’s what helps me understand Half Baked and its appeal a whole lot more. Watching this, not only was I as sober as a priest, but I was also trying to see this through the lens of somebody who is, yes, high, or better yet, an absolute stoner.

Needless to say, the movie definitely benefits from the influence of drugs.

Which isn’t to say that the movie isn’t funny, because it definitely is. There’s moments of pure comedic-genius that are less chuckle-worthy and more smart than anything, but then there are other times where the movie clearly seems to be trying to make us laugh, and it will sometimes work, if only when it’s being as ridiculous as can be. In the pre-Apatow world of stoner-comedies, it’s interesting to see a movie that’s obviously structured and written in a way to ensure that not every joke is just a person going on and on, improving for hours on-end, all to get to the butt of a joke. Co-writer Dave Chappelle is obviously a lot smarter than that and you can tell that there’s a lot of his influence in Half Baked.

At the same time, it’s also a pretty poorly-done movie. However, I expect that if you’re under the influence of anything (like the creators behind it probably would prefer), you wouldn’t notice a single bit of this. The plot is nonsensical and over-the-top, as you would expect, but it hardly even matters in the grander scheme of things. The best parts about movies that feature hardly any plots, is when the movies themselves just make the rules up for themselves, going along at their own pace, not giving a care in the world about whether or not people can follow the complexity or cohesiveness of what’s going on.

Half Baked, for at least a good portion, is like that.

Of course Snoop shows up to smoke.

Of course Snoop shows up to smoke.

There’s certain sequences, like Thurgood having to save up money on a date, or his sex scene told through photographs that, separated from the rest of the movie, work and are funny. But when you throw in a plot that’s supposed to drive this thing along, it can’t help but drag things down. It’s a common-known fact that movies definitely need to have some itching of a plot to base its ground on, but for Half Baked, I almost wish that it was more of a series of sketches for Chappelle and his stoner buddies to mess around with. Obviously, that’s more like an episode of Chappelle’s Show and less of an actual movie, but still, one probably would have worked over the other.

And yeah, Chappelle himself is just fine in the movie. While nobody’s ever expected Chappelle to be a great thespian, as Thurgood, he does his thing, proves to be charming, and that’s it. Perhaps the weakest, most manipulative parts of the movie is when we’re supposed to be focusing on Thurgood’s relationship with a woman named Mary Jane (get it). Sure, because it’s a movie, we’re supposed to have some sort of romantic love-interest to make things matter more, but if anything, it just gets in the way and feels stupid. Not for a single second did I believe Mary Jane, and not just as a character, but as a person who would fall for Thurgood, stick with him after she finds out what she finds out about him, and has gone through in her life. It’s the kind of character that I feel like was probably invented and established in the post-production phase, when the studio hammered back that there needed to be a love-angle somewhere in the story.

If that was the case, know this: Just like with actual relationships, if the romance isn’t working, don’t bother with it. Kick it to the curb and light up a fatty.

Consensus: While there are short bursts of pure, comedic inspiration, Half Baked still doesn’t stay totally consistent, when it’s trying to be so many movies in one, without realizing that the one movie they have and are working with (the stoner-comedy) is just fine enough for all of us.

6 / 10

That look. We've all had it. Some just seconds ago.

That look. We’ve all had it. Some just seconds ago.

Photos Courtesy of: Mic, Alchetron, MovPins

The International (2009)

Always trust in a Brit who looks and sounds like Clive Owen. Even when he’s spouting possibly unreasonable conspiracy theories.

After a fellow friend and confidante winds up dead under some incredibly odd and suspicious circumstances, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) decides to take matters into his own hands. He not only joins forces with New York prosecutor Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), but decides that if he’s going to take the International Bank of Business and Commerce, he’s going to have to get his hands a little dirty. This means not just doing some recon work, where he’ll be on the ground, but may also have to do some fighting and, possibly, killing. However, all is in the good name of putting an end to the powerful bank’s funding of terrorism. But as Salinger and Whitman begin to follow the money more and more closely from such lovely places like Germany, Italy, New York, and even Turkey, they both find their own lives at risk from those who will stop at nothing to protect their interests – meaning that, yes, there’s going to be a lot of rich, evil baddies looking to kill anyone and everyone, so long as they continue to remain rich and evil.

Yeah, stay away from Clive when he's got a gun.

Yeah, stay away from Clive when he’s got a gun.

What’s interesting about the International is that it seems to ask the heavy and hard questions that most action-thrillers of its same nature would hide from even bothering to bring up. What do we do, as a society, when the rich continue to get richer and use their gains for sinister-acts like terrorism? In the Night Manager, this question gets brought up quite a lot, where we see a billionaire deal in arms, yet, not give a single care in the world that he is, essentially, killing millions and millions of people. The International seems to take that idea one step further and show that there’s perhaps more at-play; maybe, just maybe, there aren’t just single, independent arms-dealers out there working all by their lonesome selves, but there are bigger corporations out there working to achieve the same things.

Except that, believe it or not, they’re protected by law enforcement for some reason.

In a way, yes, the International is your ordinary story of the one inspired and passionate man to take down the big, evil and rich corporation, but it also takes it a step further in showing that said big, evil and rich corporation can actually do whatever they want and possibly, end up living to tell the story at the end. After all, they’ve got practically everyone in their pocket, so why couldn’t they stop one peon of a person who, yes, may know some stuff, but who is going to listen to him? Especially when there’s nobody to actually listen to in the first place – something that these big, rich and evil baddies are quite capable of, as we’re made to believe.

But for some reason, the International is far too messy and crazy to really drive that point home. Sure, we get the idea that some real bad and powerful people are at play here, but after awhile, there starts to be so many baddies seen, heard from, and mentioned, that it’s not long before all of it gets incredibly confusing. We know that if somebody looks like a bad guy, based solely on who is cast in the role, then yes, they’re the bad people. However, the mission that Owen’s character goes on, where it takes him, and why, never quite gels or works in the grand scheme of things. We know he’s looking for bad guys and that’s about it – everything else is left up to us to pay attention to, or make up our own minds about.

That isn’t to say that the International doesn’t try to be something more than just your ordinary crime-thriller.

"First Pennsylvania, and now, the world!"

“First Pennsylvania, and now, the world!” *Banshee joke

Tom Twyker is a very interesting director who has made some very good films in his career, and also can’t help but make a shot seem as pretty as humanly imaginable. Anybody who has ever seen this movie will tell you one thing about it and that’s the whole Guggenheim sequence in which it’s basically just Clive Owen, facing off against a bunch of armed-baddies with machine guns. It’s an exciting sequence, even if it seems to come out of nowhere and not make much sense, but the constant winding around from Twyker’s camera is what keeps it watchable, as well as for the other scenes concerning action. Considering that some of the violence here is pretty brutal and bloody, Twyker could have easily made this out to be an ugly, gory blood-fest, but instead, he uses it all to juxtapose the sometimes lovely scenery surrounding his characters and the story.

Which isn’t to say that the movie gets by, solely on Twyker’s eye for art, but it’s something. Everything else about the International still, not only feels stale, but rather boring. A lot of information is thrown at us to decipher and think about, yes, but after the third or fourth back-stab from a secondary character we don’t really care much about, it was hard to really care or pay much attention. After all, the story was just going to find another way to make sure that it threw a random, seemingly inconceivable plot twist or two just to shake things up.

It doesn’t always work and instead, feels manipulative. Sort of like having Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts advertised quite heavily as being in your movie, but not do much with her, other than just keep her to the side of Clive Owen, and there to answer his beck and call. It’s nice to see Watts here, but it’s a bit of a disappointment, especially coming from someone like Twyker. Of course, Owen is fine in his role, where he does a lot of glaring, growling and sweating, but it also feels like he’s just working with a dull character, who is stuck in a plot that’s way beyond his, or anybody else’s reach.

Consensus: Despite some action-sequences working, the International never makes full sense of its convoluted, sometimes ridiculous story, leaving this all to just be a mess.

4 / 10

Coffee-meetings have never been so attractive.

Coffee-meetings have never been so attractive.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Run Lola Run (1998)

And I don’t even think she stopped for water.

Here’s the plot, see if you can keep up with it: Lola (Franka Potente) needs $100,000 for her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). Why? Well, dumb-ass Manni received $100,000 for a drug deal he made, but made the stupid mistake of leaving it on the subway for some bum to take and run away with. Now, Lola has to pick up the scrapes and hopefully Manni’s life, as she runs all-over-the-place to get him some money, save his life, and keep their love alive and well.

Oh, and it’s all done to the glorious-beats of the techno/rave music that was a total hit in the late 90’s.

Can’t ever forget about that.

Seeing as the 90’s were a decade where things that were hip and cool, actually were, hip and cool, it should came as to no surprise that this was one of those sleeper-hits nobody knew about, especially if you didn’t live in France, but it somehow touched the mainstream there, here, and the rest of the world. Hell, when people still run to this day, they just usually shout; “Run! (Insert person’s name here)! Run!” Then again, you could say that it was already done four years before, what with Forrest Gump. But whatever side of the fence you were on, you can’t make any means about it: this movie was cool, and you know what?

Still is cool.

What makes this movie so cool, is the fact that everybody working behind-the-camera (most importantly, writer/director Tom Tykwer) seem to be having the absolute times of their lives with this flick and their own way of telling this story the way they want to. Here’s the thing about this movie: You think that it’s just going to be this girl running around trying to save her boy-toy from doing something completely stupid and getting killed doing so, but it isn’t like that. The story is told three different times, with Lola running into and affecting all of these people’s lives differently each time. Some are funny, some are sad, but plain and simply, it’s a cool way of telling a story the way they want to. It’s a gimmick, sure, but it’s one that’s fun and actually brings out the best in the story.

She just keeps going.....

She just keeps going…..

But the way of telling this movie tells it’s story isn’t what makes it so different – it’s the direction itself. There is pulsating beat backing the film up the whole time and you are constantly moving at a tip-top pace that never seems to end and doesn’t want to let you go. Because of that, you never lose the excitement throughout your whole body and therefore, never actually lose interest in the story.

Is the story a little bit cheesy with characters that seem to do stupid things and not really care for one another? Well, yeah.

But that doesn’t matter when a movie like this is having as much as fun as it seems to be. Rarely do I ever get to see a flick that screws around with it’s camera-angles, score, and scenes as much as this movie does without seeming pretentious in the least bit, but Tywker pulls off something impressive that is worth a look, especially if your friends have been bugging you for forever to see this, like mine have been.

Also, it doesn’t even matter if you hate that trance music that was so big in those ecstasy clubs from the late-9o’s, because it works so well for the movie. Each and every time you feel the adrenaline-rush from Lola running, you feel as if you are on the ride with her. The camera follows her at just the right space and time; the music plays and ends perfectly whenever it needs to tell a story; and the twists and turns couldn’t come at smarter times. Basically, this isn’t a movie – it’s an experience to see if you like whenever a director can do something nutty with a conventional premise like this, put his stamp on it, and never let you forget what it is that you are watching.

....and going.....

….and going…..

Even though this movie couldn’t be any less concerned with what it is that they do, the performances from the cast are still well worth the watch, even if it isn’t like the movie’s depending on them for much. Franka Potente does what she can as Lola, and if there is any shining moment to her performance in this movie, it’s just the fact that she ran. A lot. Her boy, played by Moritz Bleibtreu, is solid in this, even if they do seem like an odd-pair to be together. But then again, the whole movie is practically dedicated to them being separated, her trying to find him in twenty minutes, and them left to wonder if they can make it alive or not.

Like any couple who are truly in love,.

Consensus: Run Lola Run won’t win any points in making you feel something for characters or it’s plot, but what it will win points in is originality with it’s story-structure, it’s style, and the way it makes you laugh, while holding onto the edge of your seat because you have no clue what the hell is exactly going to happen.

8 / 10

Lola

….and, oh. She stopped.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au, Mubi

Criminal (2016)

Some people’s brains are better left untouched.

Super, duper and incredibly well-trained CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) tragically dies while traveling to a secret location to meet a hacker who can launch missiles at will. Although all hope is, for a little while, lost, eventually, officials come up with an idea that will transfer Pope’s brain-particles and memory to somebody else’s, so that they’re able to figure out just where this evil and sneaky terrorist may be hiding out at. While they’re a bit stumped for solutions, the guinea pig for the procedure ends up being Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner), a violent and dangerous death-row inmate, who doesn’t know how to act in actual, civilized society, nor does he have any interest in doing so. Essentially, he’s the perfect person for a mission like this, because nobody cares if he lives or dies, not even his own self. And now that Jerico has Pope’s memory and knowledge, he decides to track down the terrorist, but at the same time, can’t keep himself away from visiting and being apart of Pope’s own family, who sadly, don’t know what to do or think after his death, nor do they know who to trust.

Take him in, fellas! He's made too many mediocre movies by now!

Take him in, fellas! He’s made too many mediocre movies by now!

If you take the sci-fi elements of a very “meh” movie from Ryan Reynolds like Self/Less, take the action-thriller elements of a very “meh” movie from Kevin Costner like 3 Days to Kill, then you’ve basically got a Criminal – an overall, very “meh” movie. For some reason, you’d think that with a premise that’s at least somewhat interesting, a solid, if surprisingly well-done cast, and Costner leading the charge, that a movie like Criminal would actually be tons and tons of fun. However, that’s not really what happens.

Instead, a good portion of the movie is spent as we watch, wait and see what happens with this whole sci-fi gimmick the movie seems to jam down our throats. While we get this idea that, apparently, through the sheer magic of science and all that junk, Costner’s new brain will also have a lot of memories and knowledge that Reynolds’ brain has, and therefore, he’ll be going through some sort of crazy transformation. Not just as a killer, either, but as a human being, too. This already hints at the idea that the movie may want to be a whole lot more serious and dramatic than it ought to be, which is why the moments where we actually to see the humanity in this character, or better yet, this silly story, don’t really work or matter in the grand scheme.

Basically, everyone showing up to Criminal wants to see it for guns, explosions, sci-fi stuff and Kevin Costner cursing and beating people up.

There is that in Criminal, however, it’s not always enough to keep interesting. Too often does it feel like the movie is making its plot up as it goes along, where we don’t really get what’s going on with the whole brain-stuff, nor do we ever get an understanding of who Costner’s character is supposed to be after, what that baddie does, and what he’s promising to do that’s so bad. Eventually, it all comes down to a hard drive, which is the classic, post-Y2k action movie trope that never gets old, but also makes that subplot seem a lot less important in the long run. All anybody really cares for is the action and Costner himself, and that’s about it.

And yes, there is action and it’s sometimes good, if a bit frantic. But really, what it’s here for is to just push along a story that doesn’t know where it wants to go, or what it wants to do – it’s just happy that it got a bunch of incredibly talented, famous people to be apart of it, so why waste their time, right? After all, they did come here for a paycheck and to do a little acting, so why not just give them crap material and leave it at that?

"Grrrrrrr."

“Grrrrrrr.”

Well, there’s no problem with that. Except that yes, it is, because you have a really great cast in here with Criminal and they’re all mostly wasted.

Costner is the only one who gets off just fine here and actually makes the movie somewhat watchable. It’s great to see Costner play a character that’s so despicable, so disgusting and so vile, that after awhile of watching him, you almost don’t want him to grow a heart and learn the error of his ways. Sure, with this being a movie and all, you know that’s going to happen, but still, there’s a certain joy in watching Costner steal people’s food, beat dudes up for their trucks, and touch nurses rumps that makes it hard to actually care about a plot. Just give me Kevin Costner acting like a prick for two hours and you can have my money.

And hey, next time, movie, if you’re going to give me that, might as well give me some better roles for the solid supporting-cast, too, okay? Because giving people like Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Gal Gadot, and Amaury Nolasco, roles that don’t really challenge them or give them anything to do, is not just a waste of their time (except, not really, because they’re getting paid to do this), but mine as well. When I see that Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, and Gary Oldman are all reuniting for a movie, over two decades after JFK, I’m automatically excited, so why not deliver on those expectations? I understand it can be a bit hard to give the audience what they always want and desire, but come on, there’s got to be a little more here than what we get. Especially when you give Alice Eve five minutes of screen-time, or have Michael Pitt do a terrible, Russian-accent, and just leave Tommy Lee Jones there to sit around and mope.

Shame on you, movie. Shame on you.

Try harder next time.

Consensus: Criminal gets by on the strengths of its cast, but also doesn’t do much with a semi-interesting plot, except allow for it to fall into action-thriller tropes and conventions.

5 / 10

Now you see Ryan Reynolds? Cause in about five seconds, trust me, you won't.

Now you see Ryan Reynolds? Cause in about five seconds, trust me, you won’t.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Youtube, Pretty Famous

Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016)

No more haircuts. Just do them at your own house, dammit!

A little over a decade after we last left him, Calvin (Ice Cube) has now found his long-loved barbershop molded together with the beauty salon. Most of this is to keep alive and well in today’s economic times, but this also brings along some more unneeded craziness and drama, like with customers and co-workers. But for the most part, some of the same faces are back, along a few new ones like Rashad (Common), who is currently married to Terri (Eve), even if he can’t keep himself from flirting with co-worker Draya (Nicki Minaj); there’s One Stop (J.B. Smoove) who uses the barbershop as a front for all of his shady and underground dealings; and Dante (Deon Cole), someone who is there for sassy remarks. There’s plenty more where that came from, but for the most part, it’s the same old gang together, bickering and joking around like the old days. Except that now, there’s a new threat on the rise, what with gang violence become more and more relevant on the streets of Chicago. This leads the barbershop to think about how to address it, while also maintaining their sense of community and respect for one another.

The paw prints are back, but hidden beneath corporate America? No!!

The paw prints are back, but hidden beneath corporate America? No!!

There’s more laughs in the Next Cut than there are in either of the other Barbershop movies. While that isn’t to say that those movies aren’t “funny” to begin with, but here, while watching this, there felt to be a greater amount of laughs, in a row, as opposed to the other movies where they feel like their laughs a whole lot more scattered. That may have something to do with the direction and pace, as well; as opposed to the first two other movies, director Malcolm D. Lee feels like he’s in a more frantic mood to tell this story, these characters, and give us all the subplots imaginable.

That’s both good, as well as bad for the Next Cut.

By getting rid of the carefree, easygoing, and breezy feel of the first two movies, we now have a much broader, more obvious comedy than ever before. But what’s interesting is that the movie actually gains more laughs by doing this. There are certain tangents by Cedric the Entertainer that start, and hit their mark, whereas there’s other characters on the side who may not seem like they matter much in the grander spectrum of things, but still bring a little something to the movie with a laugh or a chuckle, as small as it may be. In fact, most of the laughs of the movie come from when everyone’s chiming in on a subject, allowing for their voices to be heard, making whimsical statements, and overall, reminding the audience that they’re characters in this movie, that they have a personality and hey, maybe remember them when all is said and done.

And because this is all taking place in a barbershop, yeah, it makes sense that people would actually get into some heated discussions about race, sex, gender, love, violence, gentrification, and all of that fine and fun stuff. Sure, the dialogue isn’t nearly as clever or as smart as it thinks it is, but is there is such a problem with that when it’s actually funny? Nope not really, which is why it was hard for me to really get on the Next Cut‘s case.

Even if, yeah, they kind of flub the ending a bit.

I admire those involved with the Next Cut in making it more than just your average, run-of-the-mill comedy with dirty jokes. Instead, the movie’s following the same them as the two others where it’s trying to be more about the importance of community and having a sense of feeling apart of something, especially what with all of the gang violence erupting in Chicago. It’s an interesting angle that the movie discusses and shows to great lengths (even if the gang scenes with Tyga are unintentionally hilarious and reminded me a lot of Gran Torino‘s equally laughable Hmong gangs), while also reminding us that it has a point and is trying to address something.

Red, white and phew!

Red, white and phew!

But at the same time, it doesn’t know what to do with that message, nor does it know what to say with it. To state, “hey, we need to stop the violence, guys,” isn’t enough. I know a movie like the Next Cut isn’t trying to be a piece of solutions-oriented journalism, meant to change the world for the better, but what it seems like the people behind it felt like if they just brought up gang-violence, talked about how bad it is to sweet, wholesome families still trying to make a life in Chicago, add a gimmick where the barbershop is now advertising some sort of a Cease Fire, and not really explain why the violence is happening, or explain to even further lengths on how to stop this sort of violence, then they’d be fine.

Hey, so long as they showed people that they knew about it, right?

And sure, you could make the argument that the Next Cut is showing us how to exactly stop the violence in the first place (what with the Cease Fire and all), you could also make the argument that it’s not really doing anything at all. In pure Hollywood terms, a Cease Fire is the cheap, easy and simple way of getting past actually answering issues of violence and gangs, without ever trying too hard to actually solve them to greater lengths like, in real life, they have to be. Also, it’s a little hard to take a movie like the Next Cut so seriously with its anti-violence stance, when it seems all involved with Nicki Minaj’s booty, who Common is banging, and whether or not if one character in the barbershop may be gay. All of this is fine to have as just subplots for your broad comedy, but when you try to plaster it together with a hard-hitting, heavy statement against drugs, violence and gangs, then it all seems too odd.

Next time, just stick with the dirty sex jokes. They tend to seem to work better.

Consensus: Even if its the funniest of the franchise, the Next Cut also feels like the messiest, with a statement about gang violence that deserves to be said, but perhaps in a much better, smarter and less messier movie.

6 / 10

It's West Coast vs. East Coast all over again! Except, not really. Everything's all good.

It’s West Coast vs. East Coast all over again! Except, not really. Everything’s all good.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Jungle Book (2016)

Why can’t all animals of the jungle get along and jam out?

In this reboot, we find young Mowgli (bright and spirited newcomer Neel Sethi) running around the hills with his wolf family. Although Mowgli himself is not in fact a wolf, he was raised as one when he was just a little baby and ever since then, has been called “man cub”. While every animal in the jungle seems to be used to and fine with Mogwli, one such beast does not. Here enters Shere Khan (Idris Elba), an evil, maniacal and fearsome tiger who lets his presence be known everywhere he goes, who demands that Mowgli leave the jungle, before it’s too late. Mogwli does leave the jungle and head for land where humans exist, but on the way, he meets a colorful list of characters and other beasts of the jungle. There’s Baloo (Bill Murray), the free-spirited, warm and fuzzy bear that meets Mogwli and strikes up of a nice friendship with him; there’s Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), a snidely, slithering snake who may be taking advantage of the young and meek Mogwli; and most of all, there’s an ape named King Louie (Christopher Walken) who tries to strike up a deal with Mogwli.

Chimps....

Chimps….

Did we really need a reboot of the Jungle Book? Especially one in 3D? Probably not, but hell, it surprisingly feels good to have one that’s this great. Jon Favreau’s been a solid director for as long as he’s taken up time behind the lenses, and while he hasn’t always had the best of movies (looking at you, Cowboys & Aliens), there’s no denying that there’s something about the guy’s artistry and passion that make him a solid film-maker. And all of that same artistry and passion that’s been showing in the past decade or so, is out in full, bright spirit with the Jungle Book; the kind of big-budget blockbuster that you’d expect to be a totally soulless, lifeless and utterly boring cash-cow trying to bring a tale as old as time for the new generation of kids.

However, it’s very far from.

If anything, the Jungle Book is as fun as you can get with a blockbuster right now. What with the summer season looming on the horizon, it’s nice to get a blockbuster that, yes, is big, ambitious and a tad loud, but also isn’t bloated by any means. I don’t know if Favreau himself had any affinity or love for the Jungle Book original story or movie, or if he just saw a nice paycheck gig to work with, but either way, he seems dedicated to making this material work more than it ought to.

And most of that shines through the absolutely breathtaking and beautiful CGI. In the post-Avatar world we live in, it’s nice to see a movie that uses the 3D format to its advantage, rather than just being slapped-on by a studio so that they can get more money and dimly light the screens some more. Obviously, there’s been some good 3D movies in the past few years, but for the most part, none of them have really used it to their advantage to allow for their story to pop-off and excite the audience anymore, or better yet, add an element to the movie, that makes it worth spending all of that money to see in the theaters.

Except for the Jungle Book.

Here, it seems like Favreau knows that working with 3D can be fun, when you use it right. You don’t have to chuck each and everything at the audience to make them shriek and duck (although that does happen a few times here, but it’s fine, because it’s fun), nor do you have to make it seem like your story doesn’t exist without it – you can most definitely have a fun time with it and allow for it to draw audiences into the world your creating more. Here, in the wide, vast and wild world of this jungle that Mogwli and all of these characters live and survive in, it’s hard not to feel like what we’re seeing is just a small part, of a very big world and it’s these scenes where we get to see it adventured out into that makes the Jungle Book, at times, exhilarating.

and snakes....

and snakes….

But what Favreau does best with the Jungle Book is that he gives us a kids movie that, yes, can also be for adults, but mostly for the whole family. While there’s plenty of scary and downright terrifying situations that happen here, Favreau never seems to overdo the sheer terror, but he also doesn’t downplay it, either. In this jungle, we know that anything and anyone can come, get you, and make you their lunch, while also knowing that there truly is something beautiful and majestic about these creatures that live in it, too. Favreau seems to love this world that he’s creating, but he also doesn’t forget to show that there’s some true danger for those who live in it. But have no fear, parents – your kids will not be scared s***less. If anything, they’ll be slightly chilled, but then, have it all go away when they get a look at the pretty, sometimes cute, but always believable elephants, wolves, bears, monkeys, buffalo, and plenty others.

And yes, this kids will also love all of the wonderfully colorful and lovely character who pop-up every now and then, just like kids, almost 50 years ago, fell in love with the same ones.

Except this time, they’re more life-like, detailed and most importantly, voiced by famous people!

Is there a reason why these characters should be voiced by famous actors? Not really. Some of the times, with movies such as this, the voice-acting can get so distracting that you just start to picture the famous actor, cozying up on a couch, drinking some fine Scotch, smoking a cigar, and pleasantly reading their lines, while also readying for their huge paychecks. And that happens here; actors like Lupita Nyong’o, Giancarlo Esposito, Scarlett Johansson, and Ben Kingsley, seem as if they’re just delivering their lines in their mansions, which isn’t to say that their bad, but just kind of plain and ordinary.

Others, like Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, and most of all, Bill Murray, actually bring their characters to full life and give us a reason as to why they deserve to be chosen in the first place. Elba is scary and menacing as the equally scary and menacing Shere Khan; Christopher Walken adds a funny, almost ironic tone and feel to the surprisingly scary King Louie; and Bill Murray, with all of the warmth and love in the world, makes Baloo appear all the more lovable and heartfelt than ever before. And yeah, making his big-screen debut, Neel Sethi is fine as Mogwli, but the story doesn’t always concern him or his acting skills; mostly, it just wants him to run around, yell stuff, and just seem like a kid, which he does fine with.

Oh, the days of youth. How I miss them so.

Consensus: Exciting, beautiful, and emotional, the Jungle Book hits all of the right notes that the original animated flick did many years ago, however, on a greater, far more grander scale – one that Jon Favreau is perfectly capable of handling.

8 / 10

...and bears! Oh my!

…and bears! Oh my!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Soul Men (2008)

How many times can you say “mother****er” and still have it be funny each and every time?

Louis (Samuel L Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) were part of a popular singing duo back in the day, but both went their separate ways and never spoke again. When the death of their former group leader (John Legend) reunites them and sends them driving cross country for a tribute concert at the legendary Apollo Theatre, they will have only five days to bury the hatchet on a 20-year-old grudge.

If there’s any reason as to why you’d bother with Soul Men, it has to be because you want to see one of Bernie Mac’s final movies. Apparently, Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac were friends for a couple of decades before this movie came out and just wanted to be in a film together for the longest time, and you can totally tell why because they have amazing chemistry here. Every chance they get together on-screen, it’s like magic working between two buddies that never seems to end and they always have something to say to each other, no matter how crude or rude it may be.

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Which is to say that a lot of it is definitely ad-libbed as they go on non-stop rants using “mother****er” about 50 or so times (that is not an exaggeration either, people), and that’s what adds a lot of comedy to this film. There were many times where I found myself laughing really hard, other times I found myself chuckling, and other times I just felt myself smiling because I was seeing two buddies work together like they always wanted to, and having an absolute blast with it. Seriously, if it wasn’t for these two guys, this movie would have totally, and I do repeat, totally would have sucked, but because they’re together and making an absolute blast out of it, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not always these two guys together and that’s perhaps the biggest issue with Soul Men.

Since Soul Men is a tale about two older dudes on the road to a concert, we get a lot of blabbering, yelling, screaming, hootin’, and hollerin’ between the two which is relatively amusing at first because it’s these two guys doing it and they always make it entertaining to watch, but then it just goes on and on and on until the film really seems like it’s running out of ideas. A good boner joke is nice to have about two or three times when you have a movie about old dudes that are trying to stay hip and with it, but seriously, when you get to the point of when you have it up to a total of twelve jokes in a 90-minute movie, then you’re just shooting more for the teen-comedy crowd and not the type that would actually venture out to see a Mac/Jackson comedy about two old guys.

As with most movies that revolve around a band, and or, music in general, the soundtrack here is pretty solid with a couple of memorable tunes that pop in and out from time-to-time, as well as some original ones that sound like covers and are all pretty nice and fun to listen to, but don’t really do anything for the movie. Most of them sound unoriginal and although Mac and Jackson sing all of the songs with their terrible voices, they’re never actually played-up for laughs. Instead of the songs actually being a bit goofy and humorous at how bad these guys blow, they play it too seriously and every song-sequence goes on for way too long without any jokes involved whatsoever.

Jackets don't get any prettier than that!

Green suit-jackets don’t get any prettier than that!

It gets even worse once the film begins to get sympathetic by the end and the really lose itself as it just feels uneven. If a comedy wants to play it nice and sweet by the end, there’s no problem with that. However, with Soul Men, it felt forced. Revelations come out as if they were working their way into the story the whole time and a certain character that’s supposed to mean something to both of these guys, doesn’t really do anything and is sort of forgotten about once that character leaves the screen.

I’m not trying to spoil anything, but does it really matter?

Probably the strangest fact about this movie is not only how Bernie Mac died after filming just wrapped-up, but also how Issac Hayes, who also shows up here, died exactly a day after him. That’s right Chef was a goner right after Mac, and at the end of the movie they sort of touch on this fact in a very well-done, and emotionally-charged tribute to the two and it actually got me a bit misty-eyed. This tribute was probably the highlight of this flick and definitely seemed like it got more attention to it, than the actual film itself and it’s shame that Mac and Hayes had to go out on something like this because even though the movie’s not horrible to watch, you still can’t help but feel like these two deserved something better to use as a swan song and have people remember why they were so loved in the first place.

Either way, R.I.P you two soul men.

Consensus: Despite there being a great chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac, Soul Men still flounders underneath its own weight of sentimentality and a lack of actual fun, interesting ideas to roll with its story.

5 / 10

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you're doing. Like cursing. A lot.

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you’re doing. Like cursing. A lot.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004)

Sometimes, when you’re getting a buzz, you just want to be left alone in peace.

Nearly two years later and guess what? The South side Chicago barbershop is still up and running, mostly due and thanks to Calvin Palmer Jr. (Ice Cube), who decided that it was up to him to keep the legacy alive and running. And along for the continous ride with him are his lovely, loyal and entertaining employees – Isaac (Troy Garity), Terri (Eve), Ricky (Michael Ealy), Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze) and the newly-employed Kenard (Kenan Thompson) who may or may not have any clue on how to cut hair. Each and everyone of them have their own personal and workplace problems, and now, it’s only going to get worse, what with a new barbershop called Nappy Cutz moving in across the street. As Calvin tries to change the character of his business, Nappy Cutz, as well as gentrification become a threat to the surrounding community. However, Calvin also knows that it’s up to him, as well as those that love and support him to keep the spirit alive and well of the barbershop and not to let a little business-rivalry get in the way of a good thing.

Yup. Those paw prints will get a man for sure.

Yup. Those paw prints will get a man for sure.

Like I’ve said before, Barbershop was in no way, shape, or form, a solid, comedic masterpiece. If anything, it was just a fine and funny piece of comedy that didn’t ask for too much, and didn’t expect much in return; it just wanted to make the audience laugh, have a good time, and hey, if they learned a thing or two at the end of the day, then guess? All is well and right with the world.

And that’s one of the main problems with Barbershop 2 – it sort of loses that same heart and edge that made the first so lovely in the first place. As is the case with most sequels, there’s a lot more of everything that made the first movie such a joy to watch. That means, more characters, more subplots, more messages, more time spent, and most importantly, more jokes, no matter how hard they fall, or how much they may miss. Sequels in and of themselves have a bad rap, but comedy-sequels usually tend to be even more hated as they overdo almost everything and just become grating.

While I wouldn’t necessarily call Barbershop 2 “grating”, I wouldn’t call it the greatest 100 minutes I ever spent.

Most of this comes down to the fact that the movie isn’t really that funny, or better yet, nearly as funny as the first. A few jokes here and there, make their mark and bring out a chuckle, but plenty of them also come around, miss their mark and don’t really bring out much of any emotion. They’re just dull and plain jokes, for the sake of being told to remind people that this movie is, yes, a comedy.

And because of that, there’s maybe only at least 20 minutes where the movie’s actually funny. There’s one key sequence in which Robert Wisdom’s mayoral elect character comes into the barbershop for shameless advertising and propaganda purposes and it’s the funniest scene of the whole movie. I won’t spoil it here, but it constantly builds and builds and builds to an extreme where it’s almost too crazy to not laugh at, and it’s what every comedy should be like. A situation gets placed, the characters are set, and then, we watch it all play out in front of our eyes, waiting for the laughs to start hitting.

Beauty Shop > Barbershop.

Beauty Shop > Barbershop.

Eventually, they do, however, they don’t always last.

It’s a shame, too, because everyone here seems to be back, ready, and excited to have an even better time with the material here. Cube does his best to remain our eyes and ears of the story, which is fine, because he does it well; Eve is sassy and smart, as expected; Michael Ealy and Troy Garity’s characters still don’t get along and always seem to battle it out over something we don’t really care about; Kenan Thompson brings an added-level of zany fun that’s nice to see; Queen Latifah shows up, essentially, just to plug and prep us all for Beauty Shop, but is such a charming presence that it almost doesn’t matter; and yeah, there’s plenty more to choose from.

However, the one who gets the real time and dedication of Barbershop 2 is Cedric the Entertainer’s Eddie and with good reason. Not only was Eddie the best, most funniest part of the first movie, but Cedric himself is just so damn exciting and funny to watch, that it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in almost everything he has to do or say, even if it seems like he’s doing a whole bit of improv. Either way, Eddie gets more of a backstory that has to deal with the history of the barbershop and it’s a bit dull. Mostly, this is due to the fact that a lot of what we see is just flashbacks that, yes, build this character and this barbershop a bit more, but really, doesn’t do much but take time away from the other characters here, as well as add-on more minutes to an already rather long movie. Of course, Cedric is funny. Nobody’s denying that, but all of the backstory with his character seemed to go on for so long that, after awhile, I felt as if they were prepping us all up for Eddie’s own movie.

Surprised it never happened, but I can’t say that I’m too upset about it, either.

Consensus: Like the original, Barbershop 2 features a bunch of charismatic performers in nice roles, but doesn’t know how to use them as well, with so much going on, and nothing actually being all that funny.

5 / 10

Ice Cube just don't care anymore. He's cut way too much hair by now.

Ice Cube just don’t care anymore. He’s cut way too much hair by now.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Man Jackson

Barbershop (2002)

Everybody likes to have a little conversation while getting a trim.

On the south side of Chicago. Calvin (Ice Cube) runs a barbershop that he inherited from his deceased father. Since it’s been struggling for the past few years with funding and whatnot, Calvin himself views the shop as nothing but a burden and a waste of his time that he absolutely can’t wait to get rid of so that he can go on and move on with his own life for a change. Granted, there’s other people in the barbershop who may be upset or disappointed with seeing it gone and dead, but Calvin is just thinking for himself and his own life. And now, after selling the shop to a local loan shark, Calvin slowly begins to see his father’s vision and legacy and struggles with the notion that he just sold it out for nothing more than pure selfishness. However, on this one fateful day, a lot of other stuff that happens that begins to affect the others who work in the barbershop, as well as those who come to it, day in and day out, expecting a fine cut, some good conversations, and a greater feeling that they did something right for their community.

Judging by that grin, somebody may be demanding their money back.

Judging by that grin, somebody may be demanding their money back.

Barbershop isn’t, by any means, a stone cold classic in the comedy genre. It is, if anything, a small, simple and easygoing comedy that has a nice, breezy pace, doesn’t ask the hard questions, doesn’t demand the hard answers and, at the end of the day, also doesn’t forget to make its audience laugh. Sure, you could say that’s the deal with a lot of other comedies just like it, but there’s still a special feeling with Barbershop that, even after all of these years, makes me feel like it’s legacy may forever live on, just by how good-natured it is.

Once again, does that make it “a classic”?

Nope, but it does make it a perfectly watchable and fun movie.

This mostly all comes down to the talented cast and the fact that, a lot of them, all seem to get along and have a nice bit of chemistry between one another, even if their characters don’t always get along or seem like the best of friends. Ice Cube, for one, shows that he can be an awfully charismatic and fine lead when he isn’t glowering over those around him as Calvin, giving us a good enough character that we at least identity with him, but not too much of a presence to where he takes over the whole movie and makes us forget about everybody else. In a way, Cube is perfectly fine playing the straight man in this cuckoo’s nest of wild and crazy characters, and that’s why he deserves extra brownie points here.

If anybody is the one who steals the show away from everyone else, it’s Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie. Cedric is doing a lot of hamming it up here and while his character can definitely be taken in for small doses, those doses, as meager as they may be, are still fulfilling and healthy enough that they keep him funny, and the movie going at a fine pace. Much has already been said a lot about the tirades and rants that Eddie goes on and on with about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and more famously, Jesse Jackson, and with good reason – not only are they very funny, but they also prove to be some of the smartest comedy bits that Cedric has ever done (with the exception of everything he had to do or say in the Kings of Comedy).

Of course, some of that could have definitely been improved by Cedric and it would have been perfectly fine, but yeah, it doesn’t matter that he sort of steals the show. Everyone else here is still fine and charming enough that they at least make their presences known, even if they don’t take over the whole film. Peeps like Troy Garity, Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Michael Ealy, Leonard Earl Howze, and plenty more all show up, do their things and remind us why they matter in a story like this.

Cover up those paw prints, missy!

Cover up those paw prints, missy!

Even if, you know, the movie itself sort of jumbles them around a tad too much.

Because Barbershop is such a small, relatively contained comedy, it almost feels like a disservice to the rest of the characters that there’d be so much plot and twists and turns that are, for the most part, as predictable as they come. It’s as if director Tim Story didn’t trust his comedy enough to move and tide things along, that he felt the absolute need to have a whole robbery-angle and a love-story to accommodate it. Sure, these things are fine to have if you’re trying to build up characters, but it can also hurt when it’s taking away from some real moments of fun and laughter. If anything, it just breaks up the joy that everyone’s having and making them all realize that, oh yeah, there’s something of a story here that’s supposed to be told and yeah, it’s kind of lame.

But at the same time, Barbershop isn’t trying to light the world on fire, so even if it does take a few pratfalls here and here, at least it gathers itself back up, brushes off the leftover hair from the ground and continue on with itself, as if it’s not fazed and just having fun.

Or yeah, something like that.

Consensus: Though its over-reliance on plot can become a bit much, Barbershop is still a funny and enjoyable enough movie to get through, if mostly because of its charming cast.

6.5 / 10

I'd take a seat in that chair.

I’d take a seat in that chair, provided laughs were involved.

Photos Courtesy of: Youtube, Qwipster’s Movie Reviews, Superior Pics

The Invitation (2016)

Yeah, next time, steer clear of those dinner-party invites from exes.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) drives with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to a home in Hollywood Hills where his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard), is hosting a dinner party with her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Will hasn’t seen Eden in quite some time and hasn’t even met David yet, so already, he’s a bit tense. However, he knows that everything will be all fine and dandy once he gets there, enjoys the fine wine that’s being constantly handed to him all willy nilly, and relax for a change. After all, a good portion of his life has been covered in tension and anguish, so it’s nice that he’s at least going to his ex-wife’s place, hopefully to build back up some bridges, as well as creating new ones. When Will gets there, however, he can’t help but be a little spooked out. For some reason, Will starts seeing things that may or may not be there; a half-naked girl no one seems to know, some random, much older fella nobody else has a clue about, either, all show up and make Will, as well as others feel uneasy. However, Eden and David know this, so they decide to eventually tell everybody what this whole little shindig is about and made for, and needless to say, it shocks a lot of people, or most importantly, Will.

Lumberjack-looking bro #1.

Lumberjack-looking bro #1.

The Invitation is the the perfect definition of a “taut thriller”. Director Karyn Kusama doesn’t allow for things to get off too fast or too crazy early on – instead, she just takes her time, slowly meandering from one place to another, giving us a little something to hold onto, and slowly, but most surely, building up more and more tension as she runs along. The movie itself, you could argue, does take an awful long enough time to get going, to the point of where it almost feels manipulative, but there’s something oddly spooky and chilly in the air about the Invitation that makes it worth watching, even in its sillier, more boring moments.

For instance, there’s never the slightest clue of what’s going to be revealed, or what’s going to happen at the end of the movie.

Okay, that’s a lie. Watching the Invitation, I myself couldn’t help but feel like I knew where the story was going about halfway through, and while I wasn’t necessarily proven wrong, I still can’t say that I was ticked-off about it, either. The movie already did a fine enough job of getting me involved with this little dinner-party, even if I didn’t know a single thing about any of these characters or why they matter, however, it’s such a slow-burn, and an interesting one at that, that sometimes, it almost doesn’t matter how goofy the reveal can be. Sometimes, all you need is a little intrigue to keep things guiding along and all can practically can be forgiven.

And hell, you could make the same argument about Kusama as a director. After the tremendous Girlfight, sadly, she got stuck in a bit of Hollywood limbo as most fresh, young and ambitious directors who want to take on the world tend to be stuck in. Aeon Flux wanted to be bad-ass and cool, but instead, was just boring, and Jennifer’s Body, despite being a whole lot like everything else that Diablo Cody’s ever done, with a darker spin, still didn’t fully work as a horror-comedy. Now, however, Kusama has found her sweet spot, working with a story that’s both mysterious, dark and oddly enough, just weird enough to make it seem like she’s playing back to her old friends that put her on the map in the first place.

Of course, the script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi is also pretty damn good, too, but it’s Kusama who is able to translate this all and make it appear as suspenseful as you can get, when all you really have is people talking, that really surprised me. Small, single-location, almost character-driven thrillers such as this work for me, when they’re done especially right. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Invitation is “character-driven” per se, it still deals with a good handful of characters that you can at least identify with and get a good feel for, even if you don’t care for them, or know that they’re up to no good.

Basically, it’s any dinner-party, ever, where some people you like, and others, you don’t.

And, lumberjack-looking bro #2.

And, lumberjack-looking bro #2.

We’ve all been to one of them, right?

Anyway, the cast here is fine. Logan Marshall-Green’s Will was a tad bit boring, but he still shows himself to be an interesting enough protagonist to make sense of why he’s our eyes and ears for this story; Emayatzy Corinealdi is sweet and smart as Kira; Tammy Blanchard is very strange and off-putting as Eden, although perfectly so; Michiel Huisman is both every bit of charming and sinister as you expect him to be as David, although it could be a tad difficult to tell him and Marshall-Green apart (although, I guess the joke here is that Eden sure as hell has a “type” in that she likes dudes with huge beards and an interesting, if slightly pretentious personality); and John Carroll Lynch, who seems to come out of nowhere just to be “the creepy guy”, is, well, perfect at it and need I say more?

In fact, the Invitation plays out in such a way that I won’t spoil it for you here. It’s both freaky, fun and interesting, if also a tad bit silly. Movies like this that take themselves so seriously always seem to set themselves up for scrutiny when they let their freak flag fly and let loose. Surely, there’s nothing wrong with this when it’s a bit of fun, but when your movie starts off as an interesting, conversation-sparking tale about death, grief, sadness and failed marriages, it’s hard not to wonder what happened when everything all of a sudden turns into a grind house flick.

Then again, maybe this is just how L.A. dinner parties are.

Damn, I need to move out of Philly and fast.

Consensus: By elevating the tension as it runs along, the Invitation is both a suspenseful, but fun bit of dark-thriller that may not have a whole lot to say, but does a fine enough job with what it’s got to make an impression.

7 / 10

When somebody stands up and starts to give a speech at a dinner-party, that's when you know it's time to call the Uber. Or just run the hell out.

When somebody stands up and starts to give a speech at a dinner-party, that’s when you know it’s time to call the Uber. Or just run the hell out.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire