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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: May 2016

Posse (1993)

It’s like Unforgiven, except with a beat.

The film tells the story of a posse of black soldiers who are living and dying by their own ways and codes, team up with an ostracized white soldier (Stephen Baldwin), after they are all betrayed by a corrupt colonel (Billy Zane). Together, they decided to team-up, take him down and show him that he messed with the wrong cowboys.

After kicking complete ass with his gangster flick debut, New Jack City, writer/director/star Mario Van Peebles had a lot of pressure on his back to make something worth being mentioned in the same boat as that one. So yeah, it seems pretty obvious that the guy would take on a passion project of his and give us what is essentially the untold story of African American cowboys.

"Wait. I thought I asked for Alec?"

“Wait. I thought I asked for Alec?”

Right? Well, maybe his passion got a tad too ahead of him.

Van Peebles starts this movie off as if this was going to be a history lesson on how African-Americans had a place as cowboys in the Wild West, but just never really got the credit they deserved. This beginning threw me off for a loop and I honestly thought that I was going to be sleeping throughout the whole thing, but what surprised me the most was how much fun it seemed to have with itself once it got past this. There’s all of the typical trademarks you need with a Western, like the guns, the shooting, the desserts, the horses, the sexy ladies, the gambling, the sweat, the sheriffs, the saloons, and of course, the awesome show-downs. That’s all here and it seems as if Van Peebles is having a lot of fun with it by the way he makes everything so damn hectic all of the time; while “hectic” is usually not a positive word for most movies, but here, it worked and kept me entertained for the most part.

However, anybody wanting exactly what I was afraid to get, will be utterly disappointed as it’s just silly, stupid, and terribly-written. Every single line in this film is just a cliche or line taken from another, or far better Western that not many people have heard of, but know that they heard the line used before. Normally, bad dialogue doesn’t matter, as long as the creator behind the dialogue seems as if they’re having a ball with it – Van Peebles doesn’t give off that vibe, though. In fact, he seems so damn serious about it all, that anytime a character opens their mouth, you almost have to hold back the laughter.

Which is a shame, too, because Van Peebles clearly has a lot to discuss and highlight here.

No woman can resist that Mario charm.

No woman can resist that Mario charm.

There’s a lot of talk about slavery, racism, untold stories of the West, and points about what the black man always had to go through, but none of it ever comes through fully. All of the walking and talking could have been placed in any other flick other than this, and totally worked, but since this is something of a silly Western, it doesn’t fit altogether. In a way, it feels uneven and it can get pretty annoying because once you think the film is about to pick-up it’s feet and start kicking some Western booty, it stops and starts to tell it’s story in some lame flashbacks that all make sense, but we still didn’t need to see.

As for Van Peebles and his acting, he’s pretty good and has a nice presence about him that makes you understand why so many people fear him in the first place, but he does show-off his ego a little bit too much. What I mean by that is that there a couple of scenes where it’s just him, with his shirt off, and standing there looking all ripped-up and tough, while getting a hot girl. It’s obvious that this is his movie and he’s able to do what he wants to do but this just came-off as him trying to hog the spotlight a bit too much, in all of the wrong ways. Then, of course there is everybody’s favorite eye-patch-wearing villain, Billy Zane, who is corny, lame, and nonthreatening, but also very fun to watch because come on, it’s Billy Zane dammit!

Everybody else in this strange cast does a fine job with what they’re given, but it’s what Van Peebles does with them that really works. While there’s clearly a silly aspect surrounding some of the names here (Big Daddy Kane, Tiny Lister, and Tone Loc, for instance), Van Peebles still seems happy to have them all around. Maybe the lame dialogue was to make-up for the fact that some of them were really well-trained thespians in the first place, but still, the bad dialogue aside, Van Peebles knows his cast’s strengths and their weaknesses, which helps make the final showdown, where some important people do get mowed-down and taken out, a tad more exciting and watchable.

If only the rest of the movie had been like that, then we would really have something to talk about.

Consensus: Stupid, frenetic, crazy, overstuffed, and disjointed, Posse is not the best film to watch if you want a smart piece of commentary about African Americans and their roles in the West, but is still a fun flick that will keep your interest for the time it’s on-screen.

5 / 10

True.

True.

Photos Courtesy of: Blaxploitation Pride

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Hot Rod (2007)

Evil Knievel seemed like a pretty smart guy.

Self-proclaimed stuntman Rod Taylor (Andy Samberg) is preparing for the ultimate jump of his life. Rod plans to clear fifteen buses in an attempt to raise money for his abusive stepfather Frank’s (Ian McShane) life-saving heart operation. He’ll land the jump, get Frank better, and then fight him, hard.

Back in the good old days before YouTube became this huge cash-grab for any 10-year-old with a camera, the Lonely Island were a group of funny peeps that found their success by making dumb, but funny music videos like “D*ck in a Box”, “Jizz in My Pants”, and “Lazy Sunday”, to name a few. They were funny, snappy, honest, and most importantly, catchy-as-hell, showing that parody music can still work.

Look out, comedy world!

Look out, comedy world!

So yeah, it was only a matter of time before the guys got their movie.

Director Akiva Schaffer makes a flick that seems like what would happen if Will Ferrell and Mel Brooks got together, and had a surrogate baby with Napoleon Dynamite. It’s not a nice mental picture to take but in terms of this flick, it actually works very well. Sometimes the film layers in self-parody, other times, it’s just plain and simple low-brow humor where farting is the main gag, and randomly, it’s just cheap and easy slapstick. The comedy goes all-over-the-place at times, but it works for the most part because the guys never really take it too seriously.

Actually, this film is probably more enjoyable whenever I think of the few memorable scenes in this film where everybody seems like they were on the same page in saying what was, and what wasn’t funny. There’s a funny 80’s ode to the Flashdance scene that shows Samberg running around like a crazy man; there’s a random, but clever rap that’s made out of the word “cool beans”; an argument over who parties in the group that still never got solved; and a hilarious riot scene that comes absolutely out of nowhere, but was the hardest I laughed in the whole movie. I know, spoilers, but hey, I’m being as vague as one man can be.

As for the rest of the film, it doesn’t necessarily struggle as much as it just lingers from scene-to-scene without any real hard-hitting humor. The dialogue is somewhat clever, but also feels like it’s trying too hard to go for that weird, nerdish-like type of humor that hit so well with cult audiences from Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite. Sometimes it can work and keep a film moving at a lightning-quick speed, but it drags things down a bit here and I think that’s what kept me away from remembering everything else that happened. I’m telling you, it was those key scenes that made this film work but everything else in between?

Meh.

As a leading man, Andy Samberg does a solid job, doing a nice blend between goofy and, surprisingly, assured. It’s obvious that he’s channeling that “man-child” act that Ferrell does so well, but it’s not to the point of where it’s annoying or distracting by any means – it’s funny because Samberg himself is funny. He handles all of the dumb scenes very well and makes a very likable character, even if the guy doesn’t really seem like much of a character as much of a reason to have a person smash into things and mess-up stunts. It’s a shame that his movie career now hasn’t really done much for him, but I still hold-up hope that he’ll make that huge transition one day.

Andy over Sacha? Wow, Isla. You go girl!

Andy over Sacha? Wow, Isla. You go girl!

All of his secondary characters are fun to watch too, as they all bring a bunch of light and dumb fun to characters that are there for exactly that. Bill Hader plays the Southerner dummy, Dave, and does his usual act where he’s just an ass the whole time; Danny McBride does a fine job being a destructive asshole that always has to be hitting someone or something in every scene he’s in; Jorma Taccone is funny as Rod’s step-brother, Kevin, and definitely gave me that Napoleon-like character feel; Ian McShane was fun to watch take up a lighter role than we usually see him play, and does fine with his scenes where it’s just him and Rod beating the crap out of each other; and Isla Fisher and Sissy Spacek don’t really do much at all except stand there, look pretty, and just let the boys do all of the fartin’ around.

Literally.

But now to the real question of Hot Rod: is it a “cult flick”? Well, for one, I don’t think it is, even if there is clearly an audience for it. One of the issues with Hot Rod is that it seems like it’s clearly trying to be another one of Will Ferrell’s vehicles, where he runs around, yells and acts like a child. At one time, that whole act struck gold everywhere it went and every time it showed up, hence why this movie attracted so many people looking for the same thing, but nowadays, it seems like a thing of the past. Ferrell’s movies nowadays show him trying to do something different with his comedic-approach, which is sometimes hit or miss, but audiences, honestly, don’t seem so drawn to that. Hot Rod will probably remain a “cult classic”, by those who saw and loved it back in the day, if only because it was in a time and age when Will Ferrell’s brand was bee’s knees.

Nowadays? Eh. Not so much. Maybe we’re better off for that, maybe we’re not. But either way, it’s definitely something to point out.

Consensus: Hot Rod is not as consistently funny as it would probably hope so, probably because of the ever-changing approach to it’s comedy, but still has plenty of memorable scenes and funny performances that make this an average-comedy, with average-people in it.

7 / 10

I've never been so proud to be an American.

I’ve never been so proud to be an American.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Maggie’s Plan (2016)

Who needs a plan when you can just sleep around?

At this point in her life, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) feels as if it’s about time to start having a baby. While she doesn’t have a man in her life that she can settle down with and actually have the baby with, she still knows that she can have a baby, if solely through a sperm donor. The man she chooses is a former classmate of hers, who now sells pickles (Travis Fimmell). While he totally agrees to it and gives her the sample, for some reason, Maggie gets a little side-tracked. She meets a fellow teacher, John (Ethan Hawke), who takes a liking to her and they start to hang out a whole lot. Even though he’s married to the intimidating, but incredibly pretentious Georgette (Julianne Moore), there’s still something bright and youthful about Maggie that John can’t seem to keep himself away from, but how much is he willing to screw up his whole family for her? Better yet, how much is Maggie willing and able to screw things up with her situation, to then start a life with John and become something she never saw herself as being?

"So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?"

“So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?”

It’s hard not to look at Maggie’s Plan as some sort of sequel to Frances Ha, in which Greta Gerwig’s titular character has now grown up a tad bit, got her own place, found a steady job, and is now thinking about the next stage in her life. Sure, you could definitely say that it’s a bit of a stretch, or not one at all, depending on how you look at it, but it’s hard not to compare the two, especially with what writer/director Rebecca Miller goes for here (that serio-screwball/tragicomedy kind of movie), and how it compares a lot to Noah Baumbach’s style. That said, are both movies the same?

Nope, not really.

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter because Maggie’s Plan is a good movie that, excluding Gerwig and her lovely presence, still works; it’s about much more than Maggie and her “plan”. In a way, it’s about how that plan constantly changes and takes on different forms over time, to where people’s lives are changed and she has no clue how it happened, or what to do about it. It’s odd that Miller is taking on something as silly and light as this can be, especially considering how dark, dramatic and bare her past movies could get, but it’s still nice to see her trying out different things, even if they don’t always work.

See, with Maggie’s Plan, Miller is going for two things here and she doesn’t hit the nail perfectly on the head. There’s plenty of funny moments that are, at the very least, chuckle worthy, but never to extreme laughter, and the dramatic moments, as rare as they come around, often feel like they’re supposed to be more important than they actually appear to be in the movie. There’s two sides to Maggie’s Plan, and they’re both interesting, but Miller can never make up her clear mind of which side she’s willing to take and run wild with; you can make both movies simultaneously, but there has to be a better switch than what Miller sometimes does here.

That said, there’s more good than bad within Maggie’s Plan; there’s a darker undercurrent of a story that’s briefly hinted at, and had Miller gone further down the road, the movie would have been far more sad and emotional. It’s probably a good thing that she didn’t go down that road because the movie does an awful lot of skewering and making fun of these kinds of New York intellectuals that, so often in movies, are loved and beheld as some sort of “God sends”. Sure, these people are fine and they do exist, but Miller herself knows that it’s also fun poke jokes at their expense to, while also not forgetting about their humanity, either.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

And yeah, it also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

Gerwig has played this kind of character before many, many times before and it’s still fine here; there’s a sense that she’s growing older and becoming more mature with each role, so it’ll be interesting where she takes it next. However, the movie isn’t always about her, as it’s much more about those around her, like Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore’s characters. As John, Hawke does his best to be charming and likable, even if the character he plays is sometimes so infuriating and nauseating, you want him to be gone and told to “pipe down”. But because it’s Hawke, all of the annoying things he goes on and on about for no reason or another, there’s something endearing to it all.

Moore, on the other hand, is playing a Danish writer and while the role may seem really silly and over-the-top, Moore gets to the heart and soul of this character and makes us see her as a person. This is also a testament to Miller’s writing, showing that this kind of woman does exist, but she’s not such a terrible person in the first place, even if she’s made out to be that way. It also helps that Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph show up as a married-couple, who also happen to be Maggie’s best pals and they always tell it like it is. They’re funny and smart, even if they show up for a little bit, every so often. Each time is as good as the last, but come on, where’s the movie about them?

I wouldn’t mind that one bit. Although, Maggie’s Plan is just fine, too.

Consensus: Despite its never ending battle with tone, Maggie’s Plan works because of its charming and likable cast, and affection for their characters, even if they aren’t always making the best, brightest decisions.

7 / 10

Oh, Greta. What a heart-breaker you are.

Oh, Greta. What a twee heartbreaker you are.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

All the Way (2016)

Oh, that LBJ. What a silly goose he was!

After JFK is assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson (Bryan Cranston) assumes the position as President of the United States. While it’s a controversial and heartbreaking decision, immediately, Johnson takes the position and makes it his own; promising more Civil Rights laws than even JFK ever promised. This leads him to talking with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Anthony Mackie) a whole lot, with some of their discussions ending with agreements, and other times, not so much. But while Johnson is out battling it with the Civil Rights activists and MLK, he’s also got to work his magic into winning the next election, which is nearly two years away. While for any President running for office again, there would be no issues, the problem for Johnson is that his Civil Rights bills are turning some people away from him, making him less and less loved among the blue-blooded Republicans. It’s all so very tense and crazy for Lyndon, but when push comes to shove, he knows that he can always fall back on his wife (Melissa Leo), who was there for him since day one and will continue to be do so, so long as he keeps his head on and doesn’t lose his temper too much.

He's white.

He’s white.

Oddly enough, All the Way isn’t going to be the last Lyndon B. Johnson biopic we get this year. The already-titled LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson as the titular President is currently being filmed and planned for a late winter release, which leads me to beg the question: Why? Why on Earth do we have not one, but two star-studded biopics about Lyndon B. Johnson? This isn’t to say that his presidency, or better yet, his character doesn’t deserve the attention, but at the same time, it’s hard to wonder why there are already two movies being made about the guy, when possibly one will do?

Then again, there is the case in 2012, where we had two Abraham Lincoln movies and those are definitely two stories that needed to be told.

Regardless, All the Way is an okay movie, but honestly, a lot of its impact is weakened by the fact that it almost tells the same exact story of Selma, but instead, puts it focus directly on the man white man of the story, the President of the United States. There’s no issue with that in terms of narrative storytelling, but after it having been hardly two years since the release of that much powerful, much smarter movie, I think it’s almost impossible not to compare the two, especially considering how ballsy and risky that movie seemed to be. In a way, All the Way is the kind of movie that would have been made and released before the 21st Century, where instead of focusing on the African Americans, their hardships, their strife, and all of the brutality they suffered, we focus on the one man who had all of the power in the world during this infamous and controversial time.

Also, it should be noted that in Selma, there was plenty of scenes dedicated to sitting there and watching as Lyndon B. Johnson himself handled conversations with Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders, although at the same time, that didn’t take up the bulk of the movie. It still, however, provided a voice to Johnson who, from the viewpoint of that movie, as well as this one, was really just a guy trying to do the right thing, while also keep his ass in the White House seat. That’s smart and honest storytelling that doesn’t have an agenda, but more or less, try to tell a story, the best way it can.

That’s why All the Way is no Selma, by any means. However, I don’t think it wanted to be.

He's black.

He’s black.

Jay Roach seems like the one guy HBO calls on to deliver these made-for-HBO movies with politics somewhere, somehow involved, and he’s made a nice career out of it. For one, his movies aren’t glitzy, or glamorous, but more or less, just natural, well-told stories that need to be seen, but not necessarily on the silver screen. It’s actually quite odd to describe, but there’s that feeling while watching All the Way, where you know that it’s perfect for cable, but not so much for the big screen.

Why? I couldn’t tell ya. It’s just feeling.

But much like the play it’s adapting, All the Way is really a platform for Bryan Cranston to act his rump off and well, he’s great at it. Much like he did in Trumbo, Cranston is using a signature and odd voice to really get us into the mindset of who this person is and their kind of personality, and it works, again. While you can tell there’s some deal of over-acting that got transitioned over from the stage, Cranston still handles it well enough that we get the perfect idea for who this person is, especially during the smaller, more humane moments.

Most of these moments come from the scenes he has with his wife, played by Melissa Leo, who is both the voice of reason, as well as the dog whisperer to the sometimes wild and cranky Johnson. Leo’s great at these understated, yet emotional characters and it’s why she’s a perfect choice. Anthony Mackie also shows up as MLK, and in a much better, more focused movie, I feel like he’d be the performance to steal the show, but unfortunately, he isn’t given a whole lot to do. Now if it was Anthony Mackie in Selma, we may have had a whole different movie on our hands.

Consensus: With a good cast, All the Way is better than its route, conventional format makes it out to be, however, with Selma still clear in our minds, it’s hard not to compare the two.

6 / 10

But hey, they're pals in the end.

But hey, they’re pals in the end.

Photos Courtesy of: HBO

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Eh. I’m fine with the apocalypse after all.

Taking place exactly ten years after the events that occurred in Days of Futures Past, the X-Men have now all found themselves enjoying some idea of lives of luxury. While they are still mutants with miraculous powers and looked at as “weirdos who can’t be trusted in a normal, civilized world”, they still get by solely through depending on one another’s good will. Professor X (James McAvoy) is still teaching classes, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to keep the peace among the mutants and humans, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) now lives a comfortable life out in the woods of Serbia, where he has a wife, kid, and a solid job where nobody knows a single thing about him or his checkered past. So yeah, for awhile, it seems like everything’s all fine and dandy for the X-Men, until, after decades upon decades of sleeping, a powerful mutant by the name of Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) wakes up and plans on destroying the world with some of the most ferocious and powerful mutants out there who haven’t already been taken in by Xavier. This means that a battle between two sides of good and evil is about to occur, and who chooses which side is totally up in the air.

He's still a cool hipster-kind of guy.

He’s still a cool hipster-kind of guy.

Bryan Singer clearly loves the X-Men stories and it’s one of the main reasons why he’s been able to not only keep his career alive, but even their own stories. Even when Origins came in and seemed to destroy the franchise for good, he came back to help, and give everyone their favorite mutants that nobody knew that they loved and/or missed. He not only found a way to make their plight a sad and sympathetic one, but to also make their adventures actually interesting to watch and play out, especially when they’re all putting their mutant powers to the test.

And now, with Apocalypse, his fourth X-Men movie to-date, it appears that Singer may have run out of things to actually say about all of these mutants and what makes them tick. While I don’t think it’s necessarily his fault, it’s also hard to wonder where to take this story and these characters next; sure, you can give them plenty more evil-doers to go head-to-head with, but after awhile, it can just become conventional. And also, when all of your drama is about each and everyone of these characters just sitting around and moping about how “the rest of the world doesn’t accept them”, it can get a bit tiring.

So why tell these stories anymore?

Well, obviously, it’s all for money. They still make a pretty penny at the box office and it probably won’t change any time soon, however, I can’t help but think a similar superhero movie like Civil War, where it’s clear that there’s a lot going on, with so many different people, and yet, it all comes together so damn smoothly, will make ones like these pale in comparison. After all, Singer is taking on a whole lot of different plot threads, with a whole lot of characters to deal with and develop over a near two-and-a-half-hour run-time, so it would only make sense that he take care in making sure each and everyone gets their due, right?

Surprisingly, Singer doesn’t quite do this. In a way, it appears that there’s many characters with something to do or say, that after awhile, he just cobbles them all up together, and relies solely on the talented cast’s presence to pick up the pieces whenever they can. It’s not a bad idea, especially when you have such a great cast to work with like this, but there’s also that feeling that Singer doesn’t quite know how to develop this story anymore and just seems to be going through the motions.

We get plenty of action and most of it’s good, but when there’s no heart or emotion surrounding it, does any of it matter? It’s hard to imagine an X-Men universe without some of the core characters and actors that made the original franchise so damn appealing and iconic, but unfortunately, the creative team has set it all up that way. We won’t get many more glimpses of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and even Anna Paquin – instead, we’ll just get more and more of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, and Sophie Turner.

New Wave = Villains

Everyone’s favorite New Wave cover band.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Of course not.

In fact, that cast is so good, I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t care more for these characters once it was all said and done. But that’s the issue with Apocalypse – there’s so much going on, with so many people around and about, that no one person gets enough to do or make a case for why they exist. We’ve got so many great actors here and ready to play, yet, the material’s just not there; it’s all focused on building this villain and this predictable conclusion that will lead to the goodies, facing off against him.

And as the baddie, yes, Oscar Isaac gets to have some fun. However, because he’s so covered and hidden underneath all of that make-up, it really feels like a waste of a good actor. He gets to act all sorts of evil, what with his powers and all, but really, there’s not much else to him; all he wants to do is destroy the world because, well, why not? It’s so typical and it seems like a missed-opportunity for having someone as good as Isaac in a main role. Same goes for Olivia Munn, who literally shows up for pure sex-appeal, is given nothing to do and is expected to be an interesting character for future installments to come.

There will definitely be future installments people, but know this: They have to get better.

They just have to.

Consensus: With so much going on, Apocalypse becomes a mess that Bryan Singer tries so desperately to save, but only gets by because of a good cast and solid-looking action. But in a year of already two great superhero movies, it’s going to take a lot for this franchise to make its presence felt.

6 / 10

"Hey guys! If we look close enough, we may be able to see other superhero movies coming very, very soon!"

“Hey guys! If we look close enough, we may be able to see more superhero movies coming very, very soon!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Apt Pupil (1998)

Pupil1The old German dude who lives alone next door? Yeah. Probably a Nazi.

16-year-old high school senior Todd (Brad Renfro) has a lot going on in his life. His parents bother him a whole lot, what with their rich ways, his friends all want him to go out, party, drink, and do sexual things, and his grades have to be constantly on the up-and-up, or else he’ll lose his scholarships. But for some odd reason, Todd has an obsession with Nazis, which is why when he finds out that a former Nazi death-camp officer lives around him, he can’t help but talk to the guy. While the former officer, Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), initially doesn’t want to be bothered with this boy’s childish claims, eventually, he gets blackmailed into doing everything that Todd asks. At first, Todd just wants to hear disturbing, overly graphic stories about the concentration camps, but after awhile, it starts to turn more severe. Todd wants him to start doing more and more evil things, which eventually leads Dussander to teaching little Todd a few things about his own heart and soul that may be a little darker than the kid is able to admit to and accept.

Just your friendly neighborhood Nazi!

Just your friendly neighborhood Nazi!

Honestly, a part of me is still shocked that this movie ever got made, or for that matter, got the budget that it did. Although I’m just speculating, I imagine that studios felt as if Bryan Singer have given them a big enough hit with the Usual Suspects, that, regardless of the controversial subject material, they were willing to shell out some money for Singer to work and play around with. Sure, this movie could definitely be made today, but given the budget, the stars in it and the wide release, it’s a surprise that we got to see Apt Pupil in 1998, if at all before Y2K.

That said, being risky and downright ballsy doesn’t always make your movie “good”.

What Singer does and does well, is that he doesn’t shy away from the bleakness of this material. If having a 16-year-old blackmail an aging, nearly 80-year-old former Nazi officer, wasn’t off-putting enough, the movie then delves into each one of their psyche’s and own issues with life, love and morality, without pulling back. Meaning, yes, cats are thrown in ovens, injured birds are killed, school advisers are threatened, and homeless people are murdered.

So yeah, it gets pretty dark, pretty quick and I’ve got to give Singer a lot of respect for not shying away. He could have easily backed down and away from the dark and heavy subject material when producers started breathing down his neck, but nope, Singer pulls through. He allows for these characters to show their true, darker sides, without ever making either one out to be considered “heroes”, or “sympathetic”.

And yes, with that said, the cast is pretty solid, too.

Even though we’re going on eight years since we lost him, it’s still tragic that Brad Renfro isn’t around anymore. As the young and brash Todd, Renfro plays both sides of this character very well; while he’s still got plenty of power and control over this older man, he’s still a naive, sometimes idiotic kid who doesn’t always control his emotions, nor know how to think things through perfectly. Despite the premise seeming a bit silly, Renfro’s portrayal of Todd makes you believe that a kid like this would actually go through all of the appropriate steps to ensure that he’s got a strong hold over this guy.

But what’s interesting about Todd the most, is that when the tides change for the characters, Todd himself continues to become more and more of a child. This is when Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Kurt Dussander really comes into play and works so perfectly – not just for this character, but for this movie. While he’s most definitely an evil and despicable human being, for some reason, it’s kind of hard not to sympathize with the guy. Sure, he used to kill thousands and thousands of Jews, ran away and hid from war crimes he would have definitely been convicted of, but the fact that he’s being terrorized by this darn kid, all of these years later, against his will and without a leg to stand on, is kind of sad. McKellen is great at playing these kind of snarly, slightly mean tragic figures and here, he really gets a chance to shine and show people why he was the perfect choice to play Magneto.

That's the look of some kid who needed military school at a very early age.

The look of a kid who needed military school at a very early age.

Not that we needed much convincing in the first place.

But regardless, one of the biggest problems with Apt Pupil is that it doesn’t really do anything with these dark characters or themes. What Singer does do is show us just how far and willing these two characters are able to go to the deepest, darkest pits of hell, just to keep themselves safe, but that doesn’t really translate to being suspenseful, or tense. After awhile, it just seems like there’s a bunch of slightly detestable characters, doing things to save their asses, but there’s not much to them other than that.

If Singer wanted to make this a brooding and small character study, it probably would have worked; he wouldn’t have had to make this like a thriller, where there’s supposed to be a conflict and story to hold everything together. But considering that the movie is very much a thriller, it doesn’t quite work. The characters don’t have many other lights to them than just what’s presented on the surface and there’s nothing really compelling to just sitting by and watching them poke around and prod with other people, as well as themselves.

Still, it doesn’t matter. Singer got the X-Men job and the world would never be the same again. So yeah, there’s at least some good to come out of this.

Consensus: Singer does the dark characters right in Apt Pupil, however, the plot doesn’t always come together to make a fully compelling flick.

5.5 / 10

"Respect yo Nazi elders, boy!"

“Respect yo Nazi elders, boy!”

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Boozer, Greg King’s Film Reviews, Afixionado

 

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

MissippiposterIf it don’t fit, equit. Or something of that nature, right?

On a late night in 1963, black activist Medgar Evers (James Pickens Jr.) was gunned-down and killed in front of the hotel where his family was staying. While each and every sign of evidence pointed to the self-proclaimed racist Byron De La Beckwith (James Woods), somehow, he got off with barely even a slap on the wrist. Obviously, African Americans were up in arms over the decision, but also knew that they had no chance of winning it again, due to a completely racist court and jury system at the time. Many years later, Medgar’s late wife (Whoopi Goldberg) is shipping her case around to any firm that will listen to her and take her issue seriously. Some obviously don’t, but one person who does is Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin), an assistant District Attorney, who happens to be married into a very racist family. However, despite the unpopularity of the case, DeLaughter takes it on and experiences all sorts of issues in the process. But no matter how bad or heinous it may get, he’s inspired and passionate enough to know that he’s got one job and that’s to gain some sort of vengeance fro Medgar Evers. Even if that does mean risking his own career to do so.

Just another simple night, sitting around and watching TV.

Just another simple night, sitting around and watching TV with the fam.

What really hits the hardest at-home about Ghosts of Mississippi, is about how so much of it seems and feels relevant to today and what’s going on out there with racial relations in society. Without going on for too long and ranting, let’s just put it like this: Racial travesties like what happened to Medgar Evers, still happens to this very day and it’s the government itself who seems more than willing to try and cover everything up.

However, regardless of if you choose to look at the movie with a modern eye or not, there’s no denying that Ghosts of Mississippi deals with some racial issues that aren’t just still around today, but more than likely help to make the case for “not much has changed”. Black and white people still can’t get along; there’s still a clear divide of injustices; and there’s still cops out there killing black people, and not getting locked away for it. Ghosts of Mississippi was clearly released way before all of these issues became front-and-center news for every news outlet, but it still holds a certain bit of relevance to everything that’s going on out there in the world and the kind of equality we’re all still fighting for.

Anyway, there. That’s all the preaching you’re going to get.

But despite its great relevance, Ghosts of Mississippi isn’t always a great movie; Rob Reiner is a smart director, but here, he decides to play it less than subtle and doesn’t always make the best decisions, from a narrative-perspective. For one, the movie is nearly two-and-a-half-hours long and the only reason it feels like it, is because a solid portion of it is spent on Baldwin’s lawyer character. This is fine, because yes, he was the main lawyer in the case and, in a way, the main heart and soul of this story, but I feel like Reiner went a bit overboard with this character. When it becomes clear that DeLaughter will be single due to the case he’s taking on, the movie decides to introduce a new female character that he can flirt, fall in love with, and marry eventually.

While yes, this probably happened in real life, the fact that it literally takes up at least 20 or so minutes of the film, without showing or telling us anything new about this DeLaughter character that we didn’t already know from the first half-hour, gets to be a bit bothersome. More time could have clearly been dedicated to DeLaughter looking further and further into the case, as well as Goldberg’s Myrlie Evers. Both Baldwin and Goldberg are good in these roles and give them a lot to work with, even if it can sometimes feel like they’re limited to doing anything more.

That Alec Baldwin - always the liberal in the room.

That Alec Baldwin – always the liberal in the room.

But really, the character I wanted to see more and know about, was James Woods’ Byron De La Beckwith – one of the more despicable human beings in film history.

While it’s hard to make the case for a character who is so clearly evil, despicable and guilty of every bad thing he has ever been accused of in the history of his life, there’s something about the way Woods plays him that makes him interesting to watch. Sure, he can go a tad over-the-top and crazy with this character, but maybe, just maybe that’s how he was in real life? Maybe he did go on TV and pronounce his hatred for black people, regardless of the fact that he was in the midst of being accused of killing one some many odd years ago? Or, maybe he didn’t?

I don’t know, honestly. There’s a lot about this story that seems fishy and not all that believable, but whenever Woods was on the screen, I stopped caring. He’s s mean and nasty, that you almost wonder if Woods can take it any further, until you realize that, well, yes – yes, he can.

Which isn’t to say that he sort of steals this movie, but at the same time, yeah, he kind of does. The message at the center is still clear and heard, if a tad obvious, but Reiner gets by solely on a case that keeps us interested, even when it’s clear where it’s going to go, who is going to win, who is going to lose, and just what lessons about life and race relations are going to be learned.

As it turns out, none whatsoever. Which is makes Ghosts of Mississippi, unfortunately, something of a tragedy.

Consensus: Ghosts of Mississippi doesn’t always keep itself interesting, but with a solid cast and relevant themes about race and society, it hits pretty hard.

6 / 10

Evil, everyone! Evil!

Evil, everyone! Evil!

Photos Courtesy of: And So It Begins, Jonathan Rosenbaum

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Never have hallucinogenics been so dull.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a girl who dreams big, beautiful and often times, crazy things. So often so, that the real world surrounding her just doesn’t do anything for her. That’s why when it turns out that she’s set to wed a British chump, she can’t help but run away to her own world of extravagant and out-of-this-world beings. However, in this world, Alice does’t know if she’s dreaming it all, or if it’s really happening. Either way, Alice is thrown into a whole new world that she’s just getting used to. In this world, Alice meets all sorts of colorful and wild characters like the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and then, there’s mystical characters like the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and most importantly, the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry). All of whom are characters that Alice has at least one or two interactions with in this world, but mostly of all whom make her wonder if she’s in a dream that she needs to wake up out of, or a world that she needs to escape from. Either way, she needs to do something, and quick!

Tim and Johnny loved dress-up just a little too much.

Tim and Johnny loved dress-up just a little too much.

It’s an honest surprise how bad Alice in Wonderland turned out to be, because you’d think that this would be something in Tim Burton’s wheelhouse. Alice in Wonderland is the kind of oddly strange, but endearing story that benefits from an extra bit of weirdness, as well as visuals, and considering that Burton is quite solid at being both “weird”, as well as “visual”, it’s almost a no-brainer that he’d be chosen for this.

So why oh why did everything go so wrong?

Well, I think it’s safe to say that the script Burton may have been working with here was probably really, really bad. For one, it never knows if it wants to be overly-goofy, or just plain weird, but with a darkening and serious tone. Burton himself never quite figures that out, either, but it seems like the script is going to battle with itself over whether or not it wants to set out and scare people, or if it wants to just be a silly old time, where colorful things and characters do crazy, over-the-top things.

Honestly, I’m perfectly fine with the later, because Burton himself has proven, time and time again, that he’s more than able to handle all of that and make it fun, even when it can get brooding. Here though, it never fully comes together. Burton always seems as if he’s trying to settle on one style, but instead of sticking to one in particular, he goes back and forth so often, that we never know what to expect with the movie, nor do we actually care. It’s just such a mess in its own right, that the time it takes to figure its own identity and mood out, it gets to become too late and we already don’t really care.

And that’s a shame because Burton is obviously way better than this here, and it’s clear that he took the visuals very seriously. Sure, some will complain that there’s an over-reliance on CGI and special-effects here, but honestly, what did you expect? It was a live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, in the year 2010 – how could it have not been mostly all CGI? The visuals themselves do look quite impressive and it’s clear that certain details from the original flick are here as well, except on a greater scale, but there gets to be a point where you wonder for how long can pretty colors and things make you forget that a story is clearly lacking?

In the case of Alice in Wonderland, not long.

Creepier than Snape? Maybe.

Creepier than Snape? Maybe.

It’s clear that a lot of this story is plodding along, introducing its zany characters one by one, but never really giving them any arch or sustainable personality that makes us want to see them, again and again. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter may have been perfect casting, in hindsight, but in the movie, it’s a typical Johnny Depp performance: He over-acts a whole lot, switches up accents half-way through for some reason, and seems like he’s just making everything up as he goes along. Helena Bonham Carter is at least fun to watch and listen to as the Red Queen, if only because her gags are the only ones that land; Crispin Glover plays her right-hand man and is suitably creepy, although, maybe not creepy enough, given that it’s Crispin Glover we’re talking about here; Anne Hathaway is pretty as the White Queen; Mia Wasikowska seems like she’s interested in doing so much more than what she has here, but instead, has to do a lot of looking around and staring into space; and the voice talents all come in and add another level of charisma to the CGI-creations.

But really, do any of them even matter?

What ends up happening by the close of Alice in Wonderland is that the story goes from point to point, without ever really caring about anyone, or what’s happening. We’re told that the Red Queen is out to take over Wonderland and is this evil, ruthless Queen who doesn’t care about anything that exists, but are we supposed to take any of it seriously? Or, are we supposed to just laugh at her big head? The movie never knows what the answer is and that’s a huge problem.

Eventually, there’s a big battle that comes into play and seems absolutely random, even by this film’s standards. There’s no rhyme, reason, or understanding of what’s happening, for what reasons, and what is to be accomplished; all we do know is that Tim Burton wants his characters to battle it out with one another, for one reason or another. Which maybe would have been fine in any other Tim Burton movie.

Just maybe not in Alice in Wonderland. Sorry.

Consensus: As messy as you can expect a Tim Burton movie to be, but for all of the wrong reasons, Alice in Wonderland never makes sense of its tone, its character, or even its plot, but knows that it’s pretty to look at and only focuses on that.

2.5 / 10

Bobblehead! A ha!

Bobblehead! A ha!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

It’s like the Walking Dead. But with people who clearly bathe.

In the 19th century, a mysterious plague turns the English countryside into a war zone. On one side, there’s the rich and powerful human beings who have their balls, drink their tea, and get on with life as if there’s no issues, whereas on the other, there’s flesh-eating, walking and sometimes, talking, zombies who are always hungry for their next meal. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) lives on the side of the humans, obviously and is something of a master of martial arts and weaponry, who not only finds herself interested in, but joined with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), in fightin against the zombies. While, in all honesty, Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy, she respects his skills as a zombie killer and finds that appreciation soon turning into affection – something that neither party thinks they are quite ready for. But while these two are busy figuring out if they’re going to wipe out all of the zombies together, or not, there’s Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston), who is trying his absolute hardest to figure out a way to live side-by-side with the zombies, and not have there be any issues or harm done to either side. He too wants Elizabeth, but also has something of a troubled history with Darcy and his family that carries into his life today.

Uh oh. Somebody's now gone and pissed-off Cinderella!

Uh oh. Somebody’s now gone and pissed-off Cinderella!

Let’s be honest: A movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was never going to work. Even the book itself, doesn’t quite work. Sure, it’s a clever joke – Jane Austen story that just so happens to feature zombies in between all of the kissing and lavish parties – but it’s one that can also grow tired, if you don’t find interesting, or clever ways to keep it worth telling, again and again. That’s the issue with the book, just as it’s the issue with the movie; there’s an idea that the movie wants to have it both ways, but also doesn’t know if it wants to settle on any one side in particular.

For one, it clearly wants to be a Jane Austen adaptation, where the heart, the romance, and the tragedy is felt through every frame of the picture. But, at the same time, it also wants to be a silly, rumpus and sometimes, funny, zombie flick where people all dressed-up in 18th century attire go around, slaying zombies everywhere they look. Both movies on their own can work, but together, they just don’t mesh well and honestly, director Burr Steers has a difficult time of adjusting between the two stories.

Is it necessarily his fault? Not really.

As I said before, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was never going to really work as a movie; it doesn’t really have any clear-cut audience that it would appeal to most, and for those people who it may appeal to, will still probably find themselves wanting more. While there’s plenty of romance, and kissing, and extravagant parties here, there’s not all that much zombie killing and action which, after awhile, can get to be a tad bothersome. After all, it’s a movie with “zombies” in the title, which makes it seem as if it’s going to take that very seriously and do everything it can to deliver on its promise.

But unfortunately, it doesn’t. Instead, it just constantly has a battle with itself as to whether or not it wants to be a period piece, as well as a zombie action-flick. Which isn’t to say that the movie takes itself too seriously; there’s quite a few moments of actual hilarity, but they’re mostly all reliant on Austen’s actual source material and not the added bonus of having zombies involved with the story as well. Sure, you can’t be mad at the movie for wanting to tell its timeless tale, but you can’t also expect the movie to be all about that side and forget about the whole zombie-angle too, right?

I don’t know. Either way, I think I’m losing track of my point.

Yummy.

Yummy.

The point is that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a misguided attempt at a fun, almost goofy movie. It’s neither fun, nor goofy, but instead, just boring. Steers has shown that he has a knack for comedy with flicks like Igby Goes Down and 17 Again, but when it comes to action, he seems ill-prepared and advised. The fact that we don’t get much action to begin with is a problem, but the fact that we hardly get to see any of it when it is actually happening, is also a whole other problem that makes it appear like the action was a second-thought for Steers. Maybe it was, or maybe it wasn’t, but either way, it’s hard to get enthused about a movie that doesn’t do much of anything.

Of course, the cast is here to try and save the day, but unfortunately, they too are kind of left in the cold. Lily James is bright and bubbly as Elizabeth, but after this literally being her fourth or fifth period piece in a role, I think it’s safe to say that maybe it’s time for James to shake things up. Maybe her appearance in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver will be that change-of-pace she so desperately needs, but either way, yeah, it’s time for a new gig. Same goes for Sam Riley, too, who despite showing a great deal of promise in Control, nearly a decade ago, hasn’t quite shown any bit of charm or personality in the subsequent years. Maybe that’s too much to ask for, but he’s quite dull here and it really makes me wonder if it’s just him, or the terrible script he’s given to work with.

It’s probably the script, but hey, I’ve got to ask these questions, people!

There are others like Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, and Lena Headey who all show up and their stuffy outfits, who all do fine, but it’s really Matt Smith who brings some fun and excitement to the proceedings. In fact, had Pride and Prejudice and Zombies been a lot more like his character, it would have been a much clearer, and more exciting movie. But instead, it’s a misguided attempt on cashing in on a trend that, honestly, seemed like it died nearly a decade ago.

Am I wrong?

Consensus: There’s two movies within Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and none of them quite work whether together, or apart, making it a very uneven and dull film, that tries to have it both ways, but ultimately, fails at having it either way.

3 / 10 

Jane Austen always did love bad-ass chicks.

Jane Austen always did love bad-ass chicks.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Love & Friendship (2016)

Jane Austen was pretty catty.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) has just become a widow and needless to say, she needs a little help in life. She doesn’t have much money, many friends, or even all that much security in life to where she can feel safe and comfortable for the next few years of her life. That’s why, through her seductive and manipulative ways, she concocts a way and plan to charm the shorts off of the eligible bachelor Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel). But trying to win the heart of Reginald will be a whole lot harder than she expected, mostly because some people know what she’s up to and let him know of it. While Reginald refuses to believe her sinister ways, there’s no denying that Lady Susan may be up to no good. And then, of course, her oldest daughter (Morfydd Clark) comes into the picture and seems to shake everything up involved with Lady Susan’s plan. What was once going to be an easy, but sneaky task of winning one man’s heart, has now turned into something a whole lot harder.

Friendship1

From the disco, to the ball, these gals are inseparable.

Period pieces aren’t necessarily my thing. Being a dude in his early-20’s, this may come as no surprise to anyone. Though I give them a try and, on the rare occasion, come away liking what I see, for the most part, period pieces just don’t always work because there’s a stuffiness to almost each and everyone of them that make me happy I’m seeing them by myself, and not my grandmother, so I don’t have to hear her jabber on and on about “how exquisite it all was.”

And while I’m at, Whit Stillman movies aren’t necessarily my thing, either. While his movies are mostly hit-or-miss for me, what bothers me the most about his flicks is that there seems to be so much of an investment in the catchy and clever wordplay between his characters, that he almost forgets about the characters themselves. Metropolitan is the rare exception where he combines both aspects quite well, but ever since then, it almost seems as if he’s forgotten about character-development and just tried his hardest to think of a neat way to get people laughing and leaving it at that.

That’s why I’m surprised that Love & Friendship was very much, my thing.

For one, it’s not a typical period piece like you’d expect. Sure, it’s source material is from a Jane Austen novella, but there’s something funny and brash about it all that it makes you think differently about all of the constructs/rules/guidelines that these societies seem to have held. In a way, Stillman sort of looks at the fake politeness and mannerly way everyone in the 18th century was, and decides to turn it all on its head. That means that, yes, people are made fun of, to their faces and are mostly shown that their silly ingrates.

And even though a lot of that same old clever wordplay is occurring here, it actually works in this world that Stillman puts us in. Since everyone is talking in such a plain and formal way, it’s almost refreshing to hear some of these characters talk in a slightly goofy manner, making the odd dialogue work and hit more effectively than you’d expect. While every so often there’s a line of dialogue that doesn’t quite work, or feels stilted, there’s another one that’s funny, and/or smart that you grow a greater appreciation for Stillman.

Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t stand some of his dialogue, but hey, at least he didn’t annoy me too much here.

Yeah, somebody needs to make fun of these stiffs.

Yeah, somebody needs to make fun of these stiffs.

But where the real pleasure and beauty of this film lies is within Kate Beckinsale’s wonderful performance as Lady Susan, someone who should actually be a whole lot more villainous than she is actually seen as in this movie. Beckinsale was great in the Last Days of Disco, which is why it’s no surprise that Stillman brought her back here, where it seems like she not only has the right ear for this dialogue, but knows how to make it funny and biting, even when you don’t expect it to be. Because Lady Susan is a sometimes cold woman, who doesn’t really care about anyone else’s feelings but her own, we’re left with the impression that she’s a bad person who we shouldn’t like, trust, or want to see happy by the end. However, Beckinsale is so charming in the role, that it’s kind of hard not to think the opposite.

For example, Lady Susan says and does a lot of things that everyone around her, given the time period, would not do or say. It’s like I said earlier about how polite and mannerly everyone in this society is; everyone’s thinking bad thoughts about the people around them, but they don’t want to create too much of a ruckus, so they keep quiet and let everything simmer inside of them. Lady Susan is not like that and it’s great to watch Beckinsale do dressing-downs of almost everyone around her, and not give a single care about it one bit.

In a way, it makes me wish Beckinsale would do more movies that challenge her like this, as opposed to the awfully boring Underworld flicks.

That said, everyone else does a terrific job here, too. Chloë Sevigny shows up as Lady Susan’s pal, Alicia Johnson, and the two engage in conversations that makes it appear like they’ve known each other for years; Stephen Fry briefly shows up as her husband and is fine, although, you can never really have enough Stephen Fry; Xavier Samuel is charming and handsome as Reginald, but also shows that there’s a little something more to him, like a heart and soul; and as Sir James Martin, the resident goober of the whole film, Tom Bennett steals every scene, earning laughs every time he says something. All of whom are good at Stillman’s dialogue, even if they do lapse into sometimes getting flustered and not knowing how to deliver it in an intelligible way that’s supposed to work.

But such is the case when you work with Whit Stillman, I guess.

Consensus: Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship makes good use of its 18th-century setting by making something of a smart commentary on it, while also offering laughs and interesting characters to keep it all worth watching for those out there who may not already be fans of period pieces.

7 / 10

"Girls. You could never look this stylish."

“Girls. You could never look this stylish.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Cinema Romantique

The Nice Guys (2016)

Who ya gonna call? Two studs!

It’s 1977 in Los Angeles, and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a bit down-on-his-luck. His wife has just died, he’s left to care for his teenage daughter all by himself, and he’s got a job as a private investigator that sometimes pays the bills, and sometimes doesn’t. However, there’s a new case that comes his way when a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) mysteriously disappears. While Holland is sure enough that he can solve the case on his own, a local enforcer, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), comes into the picture, vowing to find Amelia as well. The two don’t get along fully well, but hey, they’re willing to push aside differences to solve the case and make a few bit of dollars in the process as well. What the two run into while in the case, though, is probably more than they bargained for, what with shady government agencies, hitmen, and the porn community, all involved in one way, or another.

He doesn't drive, but he takes pics, too. Man. Talk about a total package.

He doesn’t drive, but he takes pics, too. Man. Talk about a total package.

The best thing that Shane Black has ever done for himself and his career is become a director. Once he was able to do that, he didn’t have to worry about any director messing-up, or misinterpreting his vision, but instead, just know that what he wanted to see, was what he was going to get. Case closed. All of his movies have all been pretty great, but with the Nice Guys, it feels as if he’s finally found that sweet spot in cinema that may make or break him.

Meaning, if people don’t go out to the Nice Guys, Hollywood may stop allowing for Shane Black to work carelessly on his own projects and just keep him to name-brands. However, if people do go out to the Nice Guys, which they totally should, Hollywood will not only reward originality and creativity in the biz, but reward Black himself.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter because whichever way you put it, there’s no denying the Nice Guys is just a fun time from beginning to end, and Black is all to thank for that.

Clearly, it’s a buddy action-comedy, given the fact that this is a Shane Black movie, but it doesn’t feel like a well-worn thread; instead, Black himself finds new and interesting ways to not only surprise us, but himself as well. You think you have a clear-cut idea of where this story is going to go, what with the convention and all that, but nope, Black will take a step to the right or left and beat away from the path we’ve all seen before. I can’t go into great detail about what I’m going on and on about, but if you’ve ever seen a Shane Black movie, you get where I’m going; the dude follows the beat to his drum and that’s great. He does it better than anyone else, mostly because he created the damn drum in the first place.

And this is all to say that the Nice Guys is the perfect kind of summer blockbuster you’d want to see. It’s pace is breezy, its sunny-set location is relaxing, it’s jokes deliver, it’s action is exciting and unpredictable, and most of all, the characters themselves are so great and well-written, that it’s hard to find a stand-out here. Black brings in a lot of colorful beings, but mostly all of them are better than the last and after awhile, you start to wonder if he’s got any more in him.

Then, you soon find out that yes. Yes he does.

With Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, Shane Black has found his perfect odd-buddies. Crowe is the rough, tough and ragged figure that loves to solve every problem/argument with a fist and a gun, whereas Gosling is the kind of cowardly figure who definitely uses his brain to get by, but has no capability in fighting or kicking ass. The two obviously clash, but to watch Crowe and Gosling bicker and banter with one another, is an absolute joy. The two really seemed to have get along during filming and even if they didn’t, they do a great job at hiding it.

Cheer up, Russ! You're in a Shane Black flick!

Cheer up, Russ! You’re in a Shane Black flick!

But it isn’t just about the joking around and busting-of-balls that makes these two characters such a blast to watch. Over time, as the movie rolls on and the case that they’re following gets more and more deadly, we get to find out more about these guys, their pasts and how, in ways that they don’t even know, are pretty similar. A lot of this can be attributed to Black’s script, but really, it’s Gosling and Crowe who do a lot of heavy-lifting and make the smaller, more quieter moments in between all of the guns, blood and cars, much more meaningful than you’d expect with a movie like this. Sure, Black keeps them funny, but there’s a heart and soul deep inside of these characters and it keeps the adventure worth sitting through.

It also helps that there’s so many others in the cast that are fun to watch, too.

Angourie Rice plays Gosling’s daughter and while she could have easily been another annoying, precocious child character, she shows that she’s smart, but also still very immature and can’t always handle every situation perfectly, just like any kid would act; Matt Bomer shows up briefly as a scary, vindictive hitman who makes his presence known in an awesome shoot-out; and Kim Basinger, in some limited screen-time, shows up as a shadowy figure, reminds the boys that she’s around to play as well and won’t let the screen get stolen from her.

That’s Basinger for ya. Always stealing that spotlight.

So yeah. I guess the real question is should you see the Nice Guys? The answer is yes. However, I feel like not many people will. Neither Gosling, Black, or Crowe are the box-office draws that they once were, but to me, that doesn’t matter. The Nice Guys is a great time; it isn’t perfect, but then again, what is?

“A lot of stuff,” you could say, but who cares? Just see the movie, dammit!

Consensus: With Black’s well-written script and smart direction, the Nice Guys is a laugh-out-loud, thrill-ride from beginning to end that benefits from a wonderful bit of chemistry between Crowe and Gosling.

8.5 / 10

Oh, Ry and Russ up to their silly shenanigans again!

Oh, Ry and Russ up to their silly shenanigans again!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Girls rules. Boys drool. We all know this by now.

After battling it out with the frat next door some years ago, Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are happily comfortable with their daughter and another kid on the way. Not to mention that they now have their house on the market and another one bought – the only thing standing in the way of absolute freedom is a 30-day period where they have to ensure that nothing goes wrong with the house, and that the buyers who intend on taking the house, do actually stick with the deal. So yeah, a lot is riding on the deal and while it looks like smooth sailing from there on out, it turns out that a sorority is moving in next door, which means that Kelly and Mac are going to have to battle it out again with a bunch of college kids. However, this time, it’s freshman Morgan (Chloe Grace Moretz) who creates the sorority so that she can have a fun time with her friends and not be tied down by the sexist parties that the frats hold. And well, she won’t back down from a fight.

Old school vs. new school

Old school vs. new school

The first Neighbors was an incredibly funny movie, but it surprised me in ways that I least expected it to. For one, it was the kind of raunchy, R-rated comedy that, for the first time in a long time, felt like an actual party from start-to-finish. Sure, you could make the argument that any comedy, as long as it’s actually “funny”, can be considered a good time, but honestly, it really did feel like an exciting piece of comedy, that constantly zipped and zapped along. Not to mention that it had a smart theme about growing up, moving on in life, and figuring out what to do with yourself after college is over, the beer has run out, the girls are gone, and there’s not much else to do. You had to look far and wide to find that message, but it was there and it worked for a movie that could have been just another mainstream, R-rated comedy made for all the jocks and bros.

That’s why in the case of Neighbors 2, as unnecessary as it may be for a sequel, still has something to do and say.

What director Nicholas Stoller does here that makes Neighbors 2 a tad more interesting than fodder of this typical nature, is that he switches the perspective from the boys side, to the girls side, and oh man, does it make quite a difference. All of the hard-partying, sleaziness and misogyny that seemed so fun in the first one, is now turned on its head to show that maybe, just maybe frats aren’t the nicest and safest environments out there. No, there’s no mention of “rape” or anything of that nature, however, considering the kind of college culture in which we live in, it only makes sense that a movie like this would address that sex issues do exist in the college world.

Do they need to be addressed? Well, if it gets in the way of the comedy, then maybe, not really. But hey, that’s fine because Neighbors 2 does some smart things along the way, while at the same time, still offering plenty of hearty laughs to hold those over who aren’t looking for deep, and/or interesting messages about sex, life and love in their Seth Rogen comedies.

Do I agree with this idea? Not really, as comedy can do both, but in the case of Neighbors 2, where the laughs actually do deliver quite frequently, I’m going to wave my white flag and not put up much of a fight. The jokes work, all of the overextended ad-libbing in the first has been toned down a smidge, and because the characters are so well-written and done, it’s easier to laugh at their pain and agony, mostly because we actually know who they are. Does that make them the most interesting characters ever? Nope, but they don’t need to be.

College girls. They're just the devils.

College girls. They’re just the devils.

They’re in a comedy where the biggest concern is how many dick, fart, and weed jokes can be made.

But the cast is so good that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in each and everyone of them. Rogen is his usual Rogen-self, being an everyday schlub and whatnot; Rose Byrne doesn’t get nearly as much to do as she did in the first movie, but it’s still fun to see her get to hang with the boys and be a little dastardly her own-self; Zac Efron gets some opportunities to show-off a more funnier-side than ever before and it totally works, if mostly because we get to know more about this character; and Chloe Grace Moretz, while a tad under-written, gives her character a heart and soul that matters in a movie like this.

Rather than just being an annoying and young college girl who doesn’t care about others around her and just wants to be popular, cool, and party all of the damn time, instead, she’s another case of a high school loner who has finally found herself in college and just wants to enjoy it for all that she’s got. In the first movie, it was more about how much of d-bags the guys were because they didn’t care about how loud or wild they were – here, it’s more about how these girls all love the space that they have and don’t want to lose it because of some old-heads. It’s small details that you may have to squint to really discover, but it’s also those kind of small details that make movies like Neighbors 2 pretty damn fun to watch.

Even if, yes, you only do come for the dick, fart and weed jokes.

Consensus: While unnecessary, Neighbors 2 changes its focus in enough ways to where it freshens its narrative, but still being able to include hilarity to hold most over.

7.5 / 10

I've seen all of these people in my Into to Economics class.

I’ve seen all of these people in my Into to Economics class.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Last Boy Scout (1991)

Throw a football, solve a major scandal. Makes sense.

Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) used to be a first-rate Secret Service agent who, for one reason or another, got kicked off the squad. Nowadays, Joe spends his time as a work-for-hire private dick, who smokes a lot, drinks, sleeps in his car, has a kid that doesn’t respect him, and even worse, has a wife who is sleeping around. Basically, Joe’s life ain’t all that grand, but when a friend of his dies (Halle Berry), he can’t but feel inspired to figure out who did this to her and why. Another person who wants to find out the same thing is Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), an ex-football star who has a tad bit of a gambling problem. Though the two don’t necessarily get along, they both feel the need to figure out just what happened and get the sons of a bitches who caused their friend’s death. However, what they soon find out behind the scenes, leads them to the shady people dealing with the professional football league, as well as the President of the United States.

That's Brucie for ya. Always protecting the kids!

That’s Brucie for ya. Always protecting the kids!

Shane Black can write scripts like this in his sleep. While the Last Boy Scout may not feature cops in the lead roles, it still features two people who are, in a way, supposed to be “buddies” in the buddy-cop genre. Black loves these kinds of stories and always adds a certain flair of panache and fun to them that even when they don’t fully deliver, they still like fun pieces of action-comedy, rather than just another waste of time. After all, a movie written by Shane Black is at least a few more times better than most of the action flicks we get out there, right?

And also, having Tony Scott in the mix as director helps out, but not as you’d expect it to. Sure, when the action is happening, it’s as frenetic and crazy as you’d expect a Tony Scott movie to be, but it’s the smaller, more quieter moments between the characters that actually work best. Obviously, this is definitely attributed to Black and his interesting way of writing likable characters, but it’s also a compliment to Scott for taking a step back and let the script do the work itself. Scott hasn’t always been known as the best director for drama or anything of that nature, however, here, he decided to take it easy and it pays off.

Which is great, because Damon Wayans and Bruce Willis are so good in their roles, as well as together, that it almost doesn’t matter how many scenes we get of them just hanging around and talking to one another, rather than just shooting stuff and killing people.

At first, it appears that Wayans isn’t going to handle Black’s dialogue so well, but after a short while, he gets the hang of it and needless to say, we get the hang of him. His lines actually turn out to be funny and even though he’s playing against-type here, Wayans still finds a way to break in that nice charm every so often. Sure, you could chalk that up to Black’s great screenplay, but you can also give some credit to Wayans for knowing just the perfect moment to remind the audience that he’s still Damon Wayans, and he’s a pretty charming fella.

However, Wayans is nothing compared to how great Bruce Willis is here.

For one, Willis seems perfectly tailor-made for this kind of role. He’s not just an everyman who has a certain set of killing skills, but he’s also just an ordinary guy who we’re getting to learn and know more about the flick goes on. Willis handles this dialogue oh so well to where, yes, he nails all of the humor that this character has, but he also gets the smaller, more emotional moments, too. He doesn’t overplay them, though, just as the script doesn’t; he keeps them short and subtle enough for a movie where there’s so many explosions and gun-shots that it doesn’t matter if characters exist in it or not. Why Willis didn’t work with Black on more projects, is totally beyond me.

If I had their recent track-record, I'd be slammin' the bottle pretty hard, too.

If I had their recent track-record, I’d be slammin’ the bottle pretty hard, too.

In fact, I’m pretty sure Bruce could use that now.

But if there is an issue to be had with the Last Boy Scout, as there is to be with most of Black’s screenplays, is that they don’t always know how to end well, or at all. In a way, it almost feels like Black starts off with something simple and understandable, but ultimately, gets bored and just wants to everything and anything come into play, regardless of if any of it makes any actual sense. While this is fine to have in an action movie, where no one really cares about believability or anything like that, after awhile, it sort of seems like Black’s either making stuff up, or just throwing whatever he can at the wall and letting stuff stick as they please.

Sometimes, it works, other times, it doesn’t.

However, at the end of the day, the Last Boy Scout is really just a fun action-comedy. Take it or leave it, I guess.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t always work, especially in the end, the Last Boy Scout is still a nice combo of Black’s hilarious script, with Scott’s wild direction, culminating in a fun movie, if nothing else.

7 / 10

"Hey, agent? Yeah, get me more movies like this. You know, the ones where I actually give a hoot."

“Hey, agent? Yeah, get me more movies like this. You know, the ones where I actually give a hoot.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, All Movies I Like

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Buddy cop movies: Yeah, we’re too old for that s**t.

Following the death of his wife, Los Angeles police detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) seems to have lost his mind a whole lot and gone totally off the deep end. While he is still working cases to the best of his abilities, he’s also become reckless, to the point of where he’s not only putting his own life in the line of danger, but those around him as well. However, when he’s reassigned and partnered with Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), he can’t help but clash with the older, by-the-books guy. Murtaugh is much more of a straight and narrow family man, whereas Riggs is a wild card who can’t be tamed, nor tied down and automatically, the two find stuff to bicker and banter about, even if none of it really matters to the job. But one fateful day, together, they uncover a massive drug-trafficking ring. Now, they have something to investigate and go after, which also means that they both have to learn how to trust one another and makes sure that they’ve both got the other’s back, even as dangerous as the situations can sometimes be.

Uh oh, everybody. Mel's about to snap. Look out!

Uh oh, everybody. Mel’s about to snap. Look out!

Lethal Weapon is a difficult movie to review all of these years later, because of how far, wide and weird the buddy-cop genre has gotten. There’s been many iterations over the years and while you definitely can’t say that Lethal Weapon invented it by any means, you can definitely make the argument that it helped popularize it and bring it back to the mainstream masses. After all, it showed that it didn’t matter odd your two buddies were – as long as they had a nice bit of chemistry and the movie itself was fun, then guess what? They can be as much of polar opposites as you want them to be!

And yes, Lethal Weapon definitely benefits from the great duo of Danny Glover and Mel Gibson – neither of whom were huge names by this point, but were slowly making their presences known to the audience out there. For some reason, they just gel so perfectly together like a solidly put-together sandwich of peanut butter and jelly on white; Glover is hard-as-nails and all about doing it the old school way, whereas Gibson is all about being a wild child no matter where he goes. It’s kind of corny, but because it’s Shane Black writing the script, believe me, it’s far from it.

Okay, maybe it is corny, but that’s sort of the point.

You can tell that Black has an affinity for these characters and this genre of action that, whenever he gets the chance to let his creative genius fly, he can’t help but let loose. So many conventions and cliches that writers would get attacked and put on a stick for, somehow, Black doesn’t have to go through; mostly, it’s due to the fact that his writing is two different things at the same time. One, it’s a homage to the kinds of movies he loves, but on the other hand, it’s also the same kind of movie that he’s creating and parodying, in and of itself. Anybody will tell you the best parody movies are the kinds that take on a serious route as they run on along and quite making wisecracks about stuff that always happen; Black never stops with the wisecracks, but it’s always fun to watch and listen to, even when, yet again, it feels like this has all been done before.

But that’s sort of the blessing and the curse of being released in 1987. For one, it was the heyday of action movies and right before they all took off the map to become the supreme juggernauts that they still continue to be until this very day, but it’s also placed in such a spot in movie history, that it’s hard to judge and base it on what’s considered “hip”, “cool”, and “in” nowadays. Black has clearly gone on to create better stuff in the years since, but Lethal Weapon will always and forever be his baby; it has his stamp all over it, to the point where it makes you wonder if anyone else could have written this and been as successful as he was.

Yup. He says it.

Yup. He says it.

But none of that jabbering matters.

What does matter in a movie such as this that the humor delivers, the action kicks all the right butt, and the characters are at least somewhat likable. Gibson and Glover are so immensely talented that they could have been playing pet rocks for all we knew – they’d still fire on all cylinders. It’s especially great to see the one role that really sent Gibson over into the American mainstream, where he portrays a wild fire, who may be a bit of a bad boy, but also the kind that saves the day at the end of everything. It’s a mixture of both sides that always kept Gibson interesting and mysterious, but especially so here.

And yeah, Glover’s great, too. He has the great line of the movie, obviously, but even the scenes with his family feel honest and pertinent to creating a bigger picture of who this character is. The dinner-scene between Murtaugh’s family and Riggs is entertaining, but also interesting in that it gives us a breather right slap dab in the middle, but doesn’t feel like it’s wasting anyone’s time or money. It’s just settling down so that we get to know these characters and their talented performers. No problem with that, as long as the bullets go flying and the cars do explode.

Which they do.

Plenty. Of. Times.

Consensus: Lethal Weapon will forever stand the test of time for being solidly entertaining buddy-cop flick, even if its been awfully duplicated over the years.

8 / 10

It's Shane Black so, uh, duh explosions.

It’s Shane Black so, uh, duh explosions.

Photos Courtesy of: Last Road Reviews

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Every guy’s got that one ex-girlfriend who looks like Kristen Bell and ruined their lives.

Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) isn’t doing much with his life, really. Sure, he’s got TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), as a girlfriend, but really, he just sits around the house, eating a crap-ton of cereal, getting on the piano, and slowly writing his opera to Dracula. Eventually, all of this laziness catches up to him when Sarah dumps him for rock star and pop-sensation Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Heartbroken and without any clue as to what to do with his life, Peter decides to say screw it all and go vacation in Hawaii. After all, it’s nice, relaxing and just an all around great environment to be in, even though, when he gets there, he discovers that Sarah and Aldous are at the same resort of him, as lovey-dovey as they can possibly get. Though he automatically regrets the decision he makes, a clerk at the resort (Mila Kunis) gets Peter to stay and just enjoy the time he’s got. And yes, that’s exactly what Peter does, even if it does seem to be with her an awful lot. But still, there’s a part of Peter that no matter how hard he tries, he still can’t get over Sarah.

Oh, man up, wussy.

Oh, man up, wussy. She wasn’t even that hoooooo….okay, that’s a lie. She totally was.

You’ve got to hand it to Jason Segel for laying it all out there, literally and figuratively. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was his baby from the first stroke of the pen and it only makes greater sense that he’d be the star of it, and it actually works in the movie’s favor. Segel’s got this everyman feel to him that makes him not only likable, but downright sympathetic, even when it seems like he’s making dumb decisions, time after time again. Then again, the idea here is that because he’s so heart-broken and torn-up, he makes bad decisions by accident, not knowing what else to do.

Once again, this aspect works because it’s relatable and smart, without ever trying to be too much of, either.

At its core, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is another Apatow-lite comedy where people riff on random things for the sake of it, but this time, there’s more of a story to it all, with this one being that Segel’s character needs to get over his ex. Sure, it’s not much of a story, but it’s at least something to hold together all of the sticky pieces of improv that, yes, can occasionally bring out small, brilliant gems of comedic genius, but other times, can seem as if they’re just going on far too long and not really adding much of anything. Sure, a five-minute bit about champagne is fine and all, so long as it’s funny, but does it really need to be here?

Can it be substituted for something else more pertinent to the story? Or, can it just be taken out altogether?

The only reason I bring any of this up is because Forgetting Sarah Marshall is nearly two hours and can certainly feel like it. While we’re in the dawn and age where it’s virtually impossible that any movie, let alone a big-budgeted, mainstream comedy will be under two hours, there’s still something to be said for a movie when its short, but sweet and tight enough to where you don’t feel like you’re strained by the end. And no, I am not saying I was “strained” by Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s end, but more like I was left with a lot of laughs, a rag-tag story that tried to hold everything together, and a better understanding that as long as you find another attractive person to kiss and bang, don’t worry, you’ll get over that attractive person you used to kiss and bang.

Catfight! Catfight!

Catfight! Catfight!

Okay, maybe it’s not nearly that cynical, but you get my drift: The message is as simple as they come, but it still works because the feeling of heartbreak is, unfortunately, for so many out there, universal. Everyone’s experienced it at least once in their life, whether they like to admit it or not, and even though the film likes to poke jokes at the idea of not being able to function in society after a break-up, it’s still very much a reality. Sometimes, the world around you just doesn’t make perfect sense, but because you know you have to be happy and move on, even if you don’t feel it at all, you still have to push yourself further and further to get to that point. Segel flirts with this idea and while he doesn’t fully go for it all, he still brings it up in a way that made me think it was more than just your average studio-comedy.

Because, yes, despite the wonderfully wacky, but charming performances from the likes of Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, and of course, Paul Rudd, amongst many others, the fact that Forgetting Sarah Marshall addresses sadness, love, heartbreak, and the feeling of remorse in an honest, but funny way, made me think of it a lot differently than I used to. Segel may or may not be working through some demons with this work here, but whatever the case is, his heart shines through and it’s nice to see someone take their script as passionately as it should be taken as.

It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a blast to watch.

Consensus: In need of a trim or two, Forgetting Sarah Marshall can definitely feel a tad overlong, but still benefits from lovely and funny performances from the whole cast, as well as a smart script that goes beyond what you expect a studio comedy to be all about, even if it totally turns into that.

7.5 / 10

Hey remember the talk show this guy had? Me neither.

Hey, remember the talk show this guy had? Me neither.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Lobster (2016)

Crustacean, or everlasting love? Trust me, not as easy as you’d think.

After being dumped by his wife, David (Colin Farrell) has to find a mate in 45 days, or else he’ll be turned into an animal of his choosing. And to help him find the best possible mate, he gets taken to a fancy resort of sorts where he meets and hangs around with fellow other single people, all looking for that special someone before they too, turn into animals and roam their Earth as they so please. While there’s a few people David sets his sights on, eventually, he turns to the neurotic, but awfully fun woman (Rachel Weisz) who doesn’t really have a name, and no other discernible features, other than that she’s near-sighted, just as he is. The two eventually fall for one another and start to sense something real and passionate between one another, but there’s a bit of a problem. See, because they exist in this world where they have to prove their love to the rest of the world, they constantly have to battle with the conglomerates around them, that can either range from evil, controlling hotel managers, to evil, controlling rebellion leaders.

Take your pick, ladies.

Take your pick, ladies.

Though I saw it nearly three weeks ago, I can’t seem to get the Lobster out of my head. It’s the same feeling I had with co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’ last movie (Dogtooth), but for different reasons. With that movie, I couldn’t get out of my head the fact that I was so disturbed and surprised by it, that even a thought of its twists and turns, just absolutely shook me to my core. The more and more that I begin to think about that movie, the more I’m quite confused about whether I liked it (which I think I did), or I loved it for its brash boldness (which I think it was).

With the Lobster, I have the same thoughts running through my head, where I don’t know if I love the movie (which I come very close to doing), or if I just think it’s a tad better and more focused than Dogtooth (I don’t know).

If anything though, it should be noted that the Lobster is unlike any other movie you’ll see this year, for better, as well as possibly for worse, depending on who you are. The Lobster is a very odd hybrid of a movie that’s a combination of sci-fi, comedy, drama, romance, action, and murder, all of which come into play throughout the movie in some very effective doses and it’s hard not to get interested by each and every step that Lanthimos takes with it. On the surface, the Lobster likes to poke jokes at this world, the people in it and how it would never, ever happen, but at the same time, Lanthimos himself takes it quite seriously to where we actually get a feeling for the world we’re thrown into and constantly learn more and more things about it as it goes along.

There’s an small bit of detail concerning why there are so many animals walking around in shots in the movie and once it’s revealed to us why this is the case (in an incredibly subtle way, mind you), it not only takes on a whole new life as something tragic, but downright tearful. Lanthimos makes to show his characters for being the absolute worst that they can be when it comes to obtaining love and/or using it as a way to live another day as a human, but at his very core, he’s still a human being that also wants to appreciate these people for what they are, and the fact that they all have hearts, feelings and emotions, just like you or I. Even the whole angle of how everyone seems to fall in love with one another through superficial ways is, yes, played-up for laughs, but sooner than later, starts to get far more serious and telling, as people actually start to react to love in different, sometimes horrifying ways.

Of course, Lanthimos plays mostly all of this dark material up for laughs and you know what? I laughed.

I hated myself for it, but there’s something just so darkly sinister about all of this material, that it’s almost a joke how far and willing Lanthimos is to let this material get as pitch black as it can be, while still maintaining some sort of humor in the process. Sure, everything and everyone here is so screwed-up and disturbing, but hey, sometimes that can be a little fun; Lanthimos, like I said before, takes this material seriously, but also enjoys trying to poke holes in it, as if he was so in love with his creation, that he also wanted to destroy it so he didn’t seem like too much of a pretentious crap.

Basically how anyone eats on a first date.

Basically how anyone eats on a first date.

And I got to give it to Lanthimos for assembling a solid cast here, all of whom probably read this script and had no idea what the hell to expect, but we’re still so interested that they probably thought, “Hey, it’s an experience, right?” Colin Farrell is hilarious to look at as David, the chubby, pathetic protagonist we come to know, love and sympathize with, even when it seems like he enjoys doing terrible things; John C. Reilly shows up as a very sad man with a lisp who has barely any chance of finding his true love, but because he’s John C. Reilly, it’s hard not to hope and wish for the best; Ben Whishaw plays an overly aggressive man with a limp who will do anything to find true love and I do mean anything; Olivia Colman plays the seemingly fake hotel manager who orders so many people to fall in love, that you wonder if she actually is herself; Léa Seydoux plays a leader of the rebellious group who stays in the woods called “the Loners” and is as steely and as mysterious as they come; and yes, there’s Rachel Weisz, stealing the show as Short Sighted Woman (and no, I’m not making that up).

Weisz is great in just about anything, but here, she really delivers. For one, she’s playing a character that we’re never too sure about, but makes it appear as if she does have some semblance of humanity, that once her and David do start to connect and come together, in awfully hilarious ways, it is, believe it or not, quite romantic. The two do have chemistry and even though they’re placed in some obviously awkward situations, they both make it work and have us believe that true love in this world does exist, even if it all seems to make everyone go mad and do terribly evil things to one another.

But hey, maybe that’s how Lanthimos pictures love as: It makes people go insane and act out in ways that they’d never have done so before.

Still though, despite all of my clear love and adoration for this flick, there’s a part of me that wants to be angry at Lanthimos for not allowing for the Lobster to go any further than it could have.

In the last-act, the movie becomes very plot-heavy and starts to feel as if it’s really building up to something big, but then, well, sort of ends. Lanthimos does this quite a couple of times throughout, where it feels like he’s going somewhere with a certain idea, or plot-thread, but then, all of a sudden, backs away from it; I don’t know if he’s doing that on purpose to toy with us, or if he just gets bored easily, but its noticeable and can get a tad annoying. However, the way the movie end, while interesting, definitely leaves a lot up in the air and really, I don’t know if it needed to be. The movie was never really about a mystery – it was more about whether or not true love could exist in this world where it seems all so calculated and made-up from the very beginning.

Whether or not Lanthimos knew or thought that, is totally up in the air.

Consensus: For what it’s worth, the Lobster is unlike anything you’ll see all year, with a heartbreaking and hilarious script that doesn’t always deliver like it should, but in the off-chance that it does, it’s extremely effective.

8.5 / 10

It's like True Dective season 2, except holy cow, so much better.

It’s like True Detective season 2, except holy cow, so much better.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Bigger Splash (2016)

Life is always better under the sun.

Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), a famous rock star, is now living away on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria, where she and her photographer boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) spend most of their time eating, laying in the sun, dancing, swimming, laying around naked and, oh yeah, having lots and lots of sex. And for Marianne, this is especially great, seeing as how she can’t speak or strain her vocal-chords all that much due to a recent bit of surgery that may make, or break her long career. But while it seems like Marianne and Paul have the perfect set-up, it gets shaken up a tad bit by Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a former flame of Marianne’s, and a friend of Paul’s. While neither have seen Harry in quite some time, they have no problem with him around, because he’s such a blast to be around, but for some reason, Harry’s got himself a bit of a surprise with him: His daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who, according to him, he only found out about a few weeks prior. Seems fishy, right? Well, as the next few days or so go by, the situation gets more and more tense as old skeletons come out of the closet and people who shouldn’t be getting too close to one another, can’t help but get close to one another.

Young, attractive and horny. Uh yeah. I think we all know where this is headed.

Young, attractive and horny. Uh yeah. I think we all know where this is headed.

A lot of people loved Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. I was not one of them, unfortuantely. For some reason, I felt like there was a whole lot more style going on than any actual story to really keep things tight and all that together, which sometimes made it feel like a pretentious slog. It looked great and, as always, featured Tilda Swinton in top-form, but really, it’s one of the main reasons that I wasn’t really looking forward towards A Bigger Splash. The cast is good and the premise seems interesting, but in the hands of Guadagnino, it could all go up in beautiful-looking, but muddled flames.

Thankfully, it didn’t and holy hell, the movie is so much better off for it.

Don’t get me wrong though, a lot of the rambunctious tendencies from Guadagnino are still out and about here, although they’re far more pushed to the backside than I expected. For some reason, a subplot concerning refugees is brought up in awkward, somewhat random ways, and even though there’s an eventual pay-off to its inclusion, it never gels together with the rest of the story. And also, not to mention that, on occasion, it seems like Guadagnino can’t help himself from blaring the trumpets and horns of the score as loud as they can be, to where it’s not only overbearing, but also gets in the way of what any of the actual characters are trying to say one another.

I know, it all sounds like annoying nitpicks on my part, but once again, these seem to be little eccentricities that Guadagnino himself can’t seem to contain himself away from. For some viewers, it may totally work and add an extra bit of excitement, but for someone like me, who appreciates a clear cut story, the kind that the movie gives us an awful lot, it can get a tad annoying. It almost feels as if Guadagnino doesn’t feel totally comfortable with having so many scenes where people just sit in rooms, or around a table, just talking to and staring at one another, that he all of a sudden has to call up the orchestra to bring the tunes in.

But regardless of all this, yes, A Bigger Splash is, for at least a solid portion of its two-hour run-time, a movie where people sit in rooms, talking to and staring at one another and you know what?

It’s pretty good for that reason alone.

The cast, for one, is really where Guadagnino got lucky. Tilda Swinton, as usual, is great, but here, she gets to play it a bit different; because her character can’t speak too loud, or barely at all, she has to do a lot of emoting and speaking with the looks on her face and body-motions and it’s an impressive performance from an actress who, honestly, we’ve gotten so many from, that it’s pretty hard to count by now. Her backstory as a big-time rock star may not totally work (her music sounds like really mediocre Tom Petty), but it doesn’t matter because after awhile, you just take the movie’s word for itself.

Don't speak. I know what you're thinking.

Don’t speak. I know what you’re thinking.

On the other hand, you’ve got Ralph Fiennes as Harry and well, he’s having the absolute time of his life in the role, as if you’ve never seen him before. As soon as he walks into the movie, all of a sudden, everything’s wacky, wild, exciting and most importantly, fun. Fiennes adds a certain bit of zaniness to this character that was always there in the beginning, but also doesn’t allow for us to forget that this in fact a human being and once we start to see his past relationship with Paul and Marianne get brought up more and more, we start to see him for what he was, and yeah, maybe still is. He’s the life of the party, but that’s only because he’s got such a controlling personality that needs to have everything his way, or the absolute highway; if anything, this character’s a lot more scary than you’d think from the very beginning, but it’s why Fiennes is such a marvel to watch here, as we sit back and watch this character unravel right in front of our very own eyes.

Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts don’t have nearly the kind of flashy roles as Swinton and Fiennes do, but that’s fine, because they’re totally capable of making their time matter. Johnson is a fiery, seductive and mysterious grown-up version of Lolita here, whereas Schoenaerts is supposed to be this drab, dull and ultra serious bro who used to have a drinking problem and clearly has a problem with this situation. Schoenaerts has been knocking each and every role out of the park as of late, that even something like this, where it seems like he’s not really playing an interesting character, he still does wonders with, in all of the smallest ways possible.

It just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter if you have a bit of sketchy story – get a good cast together and yes, you’ve got yourself a pretty solid movie.

Consensus: Despite the occasional lapse into random pretentiousness, A Bigger Splash ultimately benefits from the fun, yet engaging cast who came ready to play with every bit of their might.

7.5 / 10

What a fearsome foursome.

What a fearsome foursome.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

High-Rise (2016)

Happens at Marriott Inns all the time.

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Middleston) moves into a towering London skyscraper where most of the rich and powerful upper-class people live on the tippy-top, and the lower-class, mostly poorer people live on the bottom. Laing for himself is somewhere in the middle of everything and soon finds himself accepted by both sides of the spectrum; he enjoys the lavish and exquisite parties that the upper-class has, but he also enjoys having a pretty wacky and wild time with the lower-class ones as well. Mostly though, he’s just trying to play it safe, live a simple life, make some friends, and not get dragged-up in anything too complicated or whatever. However, that all changes when the two classes begin to clash over, well, everything. Power starts going out, supermarkets start running dry, and somehow, more and more people are fighting. Even though the police are around, they don’t seem too interested to get involved, which means that it’s mostly all up to the tenants to solve these issues. This, as expected, leads to some disastrous and downright deadly results.

If he's shocked, something's got to be really screwed up there.

If he’s shocked, something’s got to be really screwed up there.

There’s a good half-hour or so where I was totally on-board with High-Rise and everything that Ben Wheatley seemed to be doing. The tone is off in that we get a sense of this where we are, but we don’t know what to make of anything just yet; we know that something bad is going to happen, but how, why and when? These are questions brought up by Wheatley who seems to, at times, be feeding us a pitch-dark comedy that doesn’t want to clue us in yet of just what its intentions are, or where exactly it’s going to go.

And yes, in a way, I ate all that up. The movie not only looks great, but there was something about its world-building that kept me interested, even if it did seem like Wheatley was plodding his way along something of a plot. Wheatley seems less interested in plots such as these, and more interested in just figuring out more about these characters and the world that they’re surrounded by – while some of it seems real, for the most part, it isn’t. This is a scarily idealized world that we’re not necessarily to be happy about, but still want to see stuff happen in and that’s how I felt watching High-Rise.

And then, that all changed.

For one, Wheatley loses all sorts of focus with this and never seems to know what he wants to do, or say with this material, except just do the same thing, over and over again. Without saying too much, a lot of terrible stuff happens to a lot of people in here and while I’m all for it, there came a point where I was wondering if it was going to mean anything for any reason. Wheatley has shown in his past few movies that he doesn’t mind killing people in ugly, heinous ways because it either, A) looks cool, or B) is cool, which is a-okay with me, but there has to be some sort of reason, or at the very least, some sort of connection to it; to just give us bloody and horrific acts of violence for the sake of it, can not only get real old after awhile, but it just makes you seem lazy. Rather than seeming like the talented and cool kid who can find all sorts of meaning in a painting of a red box, you still seem more like the kid who doesn’t get it, so rips it off the wall and lights it on fire.

That poor child being brought up in a world like this.

That poor child being brought up in a world like this.

Maybe that’s a huge generalization to make, but it’s not a hard one to make after watching High-Rise. There’s a lot of good in the movie, most definitely, but there’s also a whole hour-and-half where the movie does the same thing, again and again, and there’s nothing to it. None of these characters ever feel like real people we care about, nor does any of the action hit close to home because, well, it’s all an over-the-top cartoon. The tone may be dark and eerie, but not for a second did I take anything seriously what anyone did or said. Wheatley may have, but it sure as hell didn’t transition to the screen.

And this is a huge shame, because the cast he’s got really does try their best with all that they can do, but it’s really Wheatley’s show and he doesn’t really allow for anyone to grow beyond him, or the material.

Hiddleston is basically doing exactly what he did on the Night Manager, except seeming more clueless about the world around him than ever and it’s no fun to watch; Sienna Miller is fiery and hot, but has some weird subplots going on that never materialize, nor make any emotional impact; Elisabeth Moss shows up as a pregnant housewife who has a bit of an interesting dark side to her, but it’s so mushed in together with the rest of what’s going on that it almost feels like an afterthought; Luke Evans has some fun, but ultimately, goes down so many wild and wacky paths with his character that he never feels like an actual, living and breathing human being; and Jeremy Irons is, yes, pretty freaky, but that’s all he is. He never becomes detestable, nor does he ever go beyond just being “a scary dude” – he’s supposed to be the main villain of the story, but really, I just didn’t care.

Maybe that’s the point, but honestly, who knows? I clearly sure as hell don’t, as shown by my rating. Maybe I’m stupid.

I do know that.

Consensus: High-Rise toggles with interesting and eerie ideas about social classes and economics, but never makes much sense of them with a story that works, or actually intrigues past just being a bunch of bad things happening, for whatever reasons.

3 / 10

Going up, Mr soon-to-be-Bond.

Going up, Mr. soon-to-be-Bond?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Money Monster (2016)

Don’t take money advice from the television, ever.

Financial TV guru Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a pretty beloved and trusted individual. While he’s overly pompous and clearly in love with himself, he’s entertaining enough that people actually want to see him talk about the stock-market and give his tips and pointers on who to invest in. But after awhile, all of the betting, predicting and fun comes to a grinding halt when a guy named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) shows up in the studio during a live-taping, armed, dangerous and demanding answers. To what? Well, turns out that Kyle put all of his money into a company that went bankrupt and apparently, Lee and his show are the ones to be blamed. So, for as long as he’s possible able to, Kyle plans on being live on the air, holding a gun to Lee’s head and waiting for some answers to his questions from those people who are perhaps the most responsible. Meanwhile, in the studio, Lee’s longtime director (Julia Roberts), is doing her absolute hardest to keep Lee alive, while also making sure that the truth gets out there about these big banks and corporations that make so much, feeding off of the middle and low class.

Who's hotter? And no, it's not subjective!

Who’s hotter? And no, it’s not subjective!

Money Monster, if anything, has a very intriguing premise that you could a lot with. And, for the first twenty or so minutes, it seems like the movie’s going to do just that. Jodie Foster may not always be the most competent director out there, but what she does right in the beginning of Money Monster is set the stage, with the right bits and pieces of character, plot, setting, and mystery that makes it feel like wherever it goes next, you’ll be on-board from the very beginning, up until the end. And heck, the fact that it’s main agenda is to call out those responsible for robbing this economy blind, without ever fessing up and/or apologizing, made it all the more exciting to watch.

And then, well, it all goes downhill.

Unfortunately, Foster loses control of what could have been a very taut and intense thriller. While it may seem like, from the very beginning, that Money Monster will just be a small, contained thriller, it turns out, that the movie wants to be a lot bigger than just that; after awhile, it starts incorporating more and more subplots about Kyle’s personal life, a bank that’s involved with Kyle’s situation, the owner of that bank, a trusted employee of that bank, TV culture, rich vs. poor, and yes, so much more. In a movie that’s barely an-hour-and-a-half, and, for more than half of that, features two dudes in a TV studio, it’s already too much.

Which is fine if you want your story to have a greater importance than just being “crazy guy decides to hold TV studio hostage”, but it doesn’t work here. Any of the ideas/subplots the movie brings up don’t always mesh well and, more often than not, just seem as if they’re thrown in there to create some bit of tension or excitement. However, what’s infuriating about Money Monster is how the promise in having a thrilling and sometimes, fun, thriller was there from the beginning, it just gets lost in a sea of conspiracy theories that seem half-baked, twists and turns that come out of nowhere and make absolutely no sense, and paper-thin characters that we never grow to learn, or even care about.

Save for George Clooney as Lee Gates.

It’s obvious that Lee Gates is supposed to come across as a hybrid between Donny Deutsch and Jim Cramer, but after awhile, you almost forget about this idea and just take the character, and the performance, for what it is. This is mostly due to the fact that no matter how hard he tries to make us think differently, George Clooney is an absolute movie star who can play any role and do just about anything, with anyone, regardless of how thin a script may be. And yes, this script is very thin, but somehow, Clooney finds ways to make this character fun-to-watch and listen to, while also interesting, in that we want to figure out more about him when he isn’t on the screen, talking about money and acting like a jackass. We get inklings of that sprinkled throughout, but none of it is as compelling as it should be, even if Clooney tries his hardest to make it as such.

"Hey, agent? You've got to get me out of the states, man. These roles suck."

“Hey, agent? You’ve got to get me out of the states, man. These roles suck.”

And the only reason why I go on and on about Clooney so much is that he’s really the best part of the whole thing, and especially the cast. Julia Roberts is fine, but doesn’t really do anything we haven’t seen before; Jack O’Connell is working with the weirdest Brooklyn accent, and doesn’t ever have much depth to him; and in what has to be the most bafflingly unexplained accent since whatever the hell Kevin Costner was doing in Robin Hood, Caitriona Balfe speaks in such a way here that I’m still scratching my head about it. I know that she’s Irish, and you get brief glimpses of that in her speech here, but other times, it’ll sound like she’s trying to do an American-accent, but because she’s Irish, she just sounds more like a really sad Texan. Then, other times, her English is so off that she just decides to go for Irish. I don’t know if the movie was making it appear as if she was from Ireland, but honestly, every moment she was on the screen, I was so distracted and mind-boggled that I could hardly care about anything else that was happening at the moment.

Then again, that’s how I felt throughout most of the movie.

If anything, I give a movie like Money Monster credit for being, yes, a real-time thriller that at least attempts to attack those on Wall Street. Foster may not know how to handle all of the different threads of plot here, but what she does know how to do is get her point across; it’s as ham-fisted as can possibly be, but it’s still nice to see in such a mainstream flick as this, where the people in the movie, are probably a lot richer than the people they’re supposedly fighting out against.

But who cares? It’s Hollywood.

Consensus: Despite it having something to say, Money Monster really loses control of its promising premise, with an overabundance of story, a poor script, and a frenzied direction that doesn’t always know when to slow down, or make sense of things that are happening.

4 / 10

Show 'em the money, George!

Show ’em the money, George!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Family Fang (2016)

Life’s a joke anyway. So yeah, make some stuff up while you’re at it.

Ever since they were just little kids, Buster and Annie Fang (Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman) have always felt like they were a part of some big joke in life and never really their own person. Most of this was due to the fact that their parents were well-known con artists that would sometimes stage crazy, nearly dangerous scenes in real life, and more often than not, it was Buster and Annie who were usually huge parts of making sure that the elaborate scams went into play. Now, many years later, Buster and Annie are having a bit of trouble adjusting to their adult-lives, with their own careers; Buster is a writer who had one good book, one bad one, and can’t seem to make up his mind about what he wants to do with this next one, whereas with Annie, she’s a mediocre actress who, for the first time ever, just did a nude scene. And even though Annie and Buster have changed an awful lot, believe it or not, their parents are still the same as they used to be, thinking of new and exciting ways to screw with the people around them. However, when they both go missing, Buster and Annie don’t quite know what to make of it. Do they take it as serious and actually face the fact that they may be lost out there in the world? Or, do they take it as another one of their long-running gags that they’re using as a way to be “artistic”?

Yes, mom and dad, kids really do grow up fast.

Yes, mom and dad, kids really do grow up fast.

What’s interesting about the Family Fang is that even though you’d automatically assume that this is, yet again, another drab, depressing and pretentious piece of Sundance-filmmaking, surprisingly enough, it doesn’t turn out that way. This is probably due to the fact that behind the camera, is none other than Jason Bateman himself. Rather than drowning in the sorrow and misery that can sometimes seems all that’s inside of these characters, Bateman does decide to go for a lighter, sometimes funnier-route, where we’re laughing more at the fact of how weird this family-dynamic is, rather than laughing along with it.

Trust me, there’s a big distinction.

There’s a solid blend between the comedy and drama here that, while I thought worked in Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, still works here, but on a much smaller and subdued scale. Bateman isn’t demanding our emotions, nor is he trying to ask for us to love him, the movie, or these characters – he’s just giving us a story that may be a bit odd, but still resonates because, at the end of the day, it’s really about family, love and finding your true self. Sure, it’s most definitely corny, but Bateman finds a way to get to these themes and messages without overplaying his hand too much to where it feels like cues a movie like this takes.

And then yeah, his performance as Buster is pretty solid, too. For once, it seems like Bateman himself has found that perfect balance between the both sides of his persona. While we’ve seen him try to be dark, dramatic and serious before, more often than not, it feels as if he may just be making a statement about it, or the movies themselves haven’t been that good to really keep up with what he was doing (the Gift is the very, very rare exception). Here, as Buster, Bateman finds just the right sweet spot to where we see this character as a very serious person, but by the same token, still someone who can make a wisecrack every so often, just as Jason Bateman characters tend to do.

Uh oh. Is Jason Bateman trying to "out-act" Nicole Kidman? Look out!

Uh oh. Is Jason Bateman trying to “out-act” Nicole Kidman? Look out!

But as good as Bateman is in the role, it was really nice to see Nicole Kidman get a good role to work with as Annie. While Kidman has been one of the best actresses working today, lately, it seems as if she hasn’t been given a role worthy of her immense talents; there’s been some brief, bright and shining moments of that old light that used to shine all of the time, no matter what project she took up, but unfortunately, not as many around to where I’ve gotten excited about seeing her name pop-up for something. However, as Annie, Kidman gets a chance to show off her more funnier-skills as an actress, as well as remind people that she can, yes, act dramatically.

She and Bateman do that both very well, which is why their dynamic as a brother and sister, works quite well.

If anything, too, it’s actually damn relatable. Given that the story itself may be a bit on the weird side, the fact that Bateman is able to make it appear like the Fangs are just like any other family out there in the world, is a true testament to the kind of director he could be, with more and more time behind the camera. We get a sense of who these characters are, what they’re all about, and while it may come-off as a bit unbelievable, the movie still makes an effort to allow us to see them for all that they are.

It sounds really tedious, I know, but certain attention to characters and their relationships to one another is, unfortunately, often times, too rare to find around these days. Bateman does that right and then some, allowing for his talented cast to work with the material as much as they are able and willing to. Even though he has maybe only 15 minutes in the whole film, Christopher Walken leaves a lasting impression as the Fang father, who may or may not be a total dick for what he made his kids do when they were younger. But because it’s Christopher Walken, you start to think of him less as a “good guy”, or “bad guy”, but more of just “a guy”, and that’s the true greatness of the Family Fang.

Wow. Did I really like it that much? Guess so.

Consensus: The Family Fang benefits from the fact that Jason Bateman is a capable enough director to balance out heart, humor and character detail, to where everything and everyone gets their time to shine in subtle, but effective ways.

8 / 10

Yeah. Hated it when my parents made me do this, too.

Yeah. Hated it when my parents made me do this, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire