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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: October 2016

31 (2016)

Poor clowns. Never get the respect they deserve.

While on tour and cruising the states, bringing their wacky and wild show to everyone out there, five carnival workers stop at a gas station on the eve of Halloween, not really thinking much of anything, except how much fun they’re going to continue to have on the rest of the tour. But suddenly, for unexplained reasons, they are knocked-out and kidnapped, only to wake up a few hours later, with it being Halloween and them having to fight their way out of a dungeon chock full of murderers, psychopaths, and just plain and simple weirdos. The game is called “31”, and it’s a life-or-death kind of thing, which the carnies more than get the gist of right away. But as ready as they may be to duke it out for their lives, with some of the most homicidal and strange maniacs the world has to offer, they still don’t ever what’s going to come up next. For them, the next 12 hours will be absolute hell and they’re going to have to try and survive each and every minute of it, as best as they can.

Symbolism? Eh, probably not.

Symbolism? Eh, probably not.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like 31. It’s another one of his ugly-looking, gritty, dirty, mean, disgusting, violent, and gory horror-flicks that takes place in the 70’s, features over-the-top characters, a lot of F-bombs for some reason, and just really, really weird stuff that sort of all goes unexplained. Not to mention the camera jerks around so much that you’ll be lucky if you don’t get motion-sickness.

But for some reason, I actually kind of liked 31.

Granted, it’s not a great movie and it’s surely not an improvement over any of his flicks, but it does show him having some fun, while also doing whatever he can to bring in others on his fun, as well. With the Halloween movies, there always seemed like this idea that Zombie had someone, or something, to answer to and he never quite got the opportunity to fully break-out and do his crazy thing. Here, with 31, it’s most definitely his own, single affair and because of that, we get to see more and more glimpses into his messed-up, screwed-up mind, even if we don’t really want to.

And for that, 31 sort of works. It’s the kind of movie that’s just weird enough to pique some sort of interest, but also violent and exciting enough to truly be fun. Sure, there’s a whole lot of disturbing violence that occurs to characters who probably don’t deserve it, but rather than focusing on the doom, gloom and sheer dread of it all, like he’s done a million times before in all of his other movies, Zombie now seems to treat them as something that just ups the ante and keeps the story moving. As with Zombie’s other movies, he’s always excessively focused so much on the harsh and brutal killings, but never really doing anything with them- here, he gives us an idea of just how cruel and crazy this version of Hell is and because of that, it’s easy to be compelled by.

There’s action, there’s violence, there’s blood, there’s gore, there’s chainsaws, there’s barb-wired baseball bats, there’s evil clowns (as if we need more of them), there’s British people in wigs, and hell, there’s even a German-speaking Nazi midget. I assure you that this is a Rob Zombie flick and not an old taping of ECW, I’m speaking of here. But like I said, it’s just so crazy and insane, that it somehow works.

See! Killer clowns really do exist!

See! Killer clowns really do exist!

Zombie, for once in his career, seems to embrace it all, have some fun, and not be as closed-off as he once was.

Still, the movie’s not perfect. Far too many times does the flick feel as if it’s a video-game, offering up another dastardly and evil villain for our group of supposed-heroes to battle, and even when it does seem to talk about something darker, stranger brewing underneath the surface, it backs away from it all. This idea that the 31 game is all some sort of institutionalized madhouse for prisoners being held against their will is brought up at least once or twice, but for some reason, never explored again; it’s almost as if Zombie scared himself with the thought of actually having something interesting to say, or do, and backed away before it was too late.

Shame on you, Rob.

As for the cast, Zombie’s usual band of misfits are around, and mostly all of them are fine. If anyone really stands out here and gets a chance to do something with the sometimes thinly-written material, it’s Richard Brake. In his tall, skinny and lanky-demeanor, Brake truly is terrifying, but in a very unconventional manner; he doesn’t have to wield a big gun or sword to get his point across, just the dead look in his eyes and tattoos on his body are enough to have us creeped-out. It also helps that Brake, of all people, handles Zombie’s material like a champ, making some of the most ludicrous and ridiculous lines come out, well, sort of comprehensible. I get that that’s the job of an actor in the first place, but with Zombie, it seems almost too difficult, as his scripts are just so weird and wacky, not even the most talented thespian could make sense of it. Thankfully, Brake is able to here and even if I don’t really wish Zombie continues to make more movies, if he does, I hope he does so with Brake.

Consensus: Mean-spirited, ugly, disgusting, violent and grimy, 31 is, admittedly, the same kind of flick we expect to see from Rob Zombie, but this time, has a lot more fun with itself than all of the others before.

5.5 / 10

Rob Zombie's answer to French New Wave? Eh. Probably not.

Rob Zombie’s answer to French New Wave? Eh. Probably not.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Spine Chillr

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In a Valley of Violence (2016)

Silly cowboys and dames.

A mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog journey toward Mexico through the barren desert of the Old West. For some reason, Paul has seen a lot in his life and just wants to get away from the rest of civilization, so that he doesn’t have to deal with anymore darkness. In a way to make something of a shortcut in their trip, Paul and his dog take a stroll through a little town called Denton, or, as some people like to call, “a valley of violence”. While the town, at one time or another, was a happening hotbed for all sorts of folks, it is now run by a bunch of criminals and dimwits who like to shoot guns and cause violence because, well, why not? One such rebel is Gilly (James Ransone), the trouble-making son of the town’s difficult marshal (John Travolta), who decides to challenge Paul to a battle. He gets his wish and Paul knocks his rear-end on the ground. Gilly doesn’t take kindly to this, so he decides to get back at Paul in one of the worst ways imaginable, forcing Paul to have to react in violently indescribable ways.

It’s nice to see a writer/director like Ti West try something new and branch out a bit. While in the early stages of his career, he was seen as an exciting, new voice in horror who was ready to breathe some life into a dying genre, he has now decided that perhaps making a Western is the way to go for his talents. Why is that? Well, no one really knows, except for probably West himself (hey, it’s all in the name), which is fine, because as long as he continues to make exciting and fun movies like In a Valley of Violence, he can do whatever he wants.

Nobody gets between a man and his dog.

Nobody gets between a man and his dog.

So long as it’s good.

And that’s In a Valley of Violence is: Good. It’s not miraculous, it’s not a game-changer and it sure as hell isn’t perfect – but considering West’s age and experience, it’s a surprise to get something as audacious and well put-together as this. Rather than making a smart-lipped, quick and fast-paced Western, a la Django Unchained, West prefers to go back to the golden old days, where Westerns took time with their stories, allowing for them to play-out in a much more slower, more melodic way.

It works, but at the same time, it sort of doesn’t. It works in that it helps us see the movie in small, little details that make it more than just another shoot-em-up, slam-bang action-thriller without any reason for doing what it does. At the same time, however, the small details don’t really add up to much; it’s still a pretty conventional Western that may want to be something more than what it presents itself to be on the surface, but look closer and well, there’s not much there.

Which isn’t to say that every Western has to break new ground and state something about the human condition, like Unforgiven or Open Range, but it does have to do a little something more than just shoot and kill, if what it really wants to do is focus on the characters. And because a lot of the characters are pulpy, over-the-top cartoon-figures at times, it can’t help but feel like West, despite obvious good intentions, may get a little too wrapped-up in the weirder aspects of his story. While it’s nice and all fine to make jokes at the expense of your characters and at Westerns in general, after awhile, if they get in the way of the story itself, it can get annoying.

Listen to daddy, kid. He knows a thing or two about being a cool-as-hell gunslinger.

Listen to daddy, kid. He knows a thing or two about being a cool-as-hell gunslinger.

Thankfully, West kicks everything into high-gear by the final-act, realizing what he was originally setting out to make and giving us a fun, exciting and very violent Western.

And it’s also great to see him work with such a talented and likable cast, even if some of them are playing despicable people. As our main protagonist, Ethan Hawke does a good enough job being mysterious and cool enough, even if his recent turn in the Magnificent Seven can’t help but overshadow this a bit. Then, as the fast-talking and quick-witted sisters, Karen Gillan and Taissa Farmiga are both fun, showing that their tongues are firmly in their cheeks. And also, John Travolta gives one of his best performances in quite some time as the politely tense sheriff who may have a moral code, but also doesn’t mind blowing people up every once and awhile. It’s a shame we don’t see more of Travolta challenging himself as an actor, because he actually is a very good one when he wants to be, but here, it’s great to see him have some fun.

But really, the stand-out is James Ransone playing, once again, a cowardly, almost sheepish villain who wants to be considered rough, tough and evil, but in reality, is just a softy with daddy issues. Ransone is great at playing these kinds of characters (season 2 of the Wire) that you love to hate, but hate to love. Here, as Gilly, he gets to over-act a whole lot, but still keep himself grounded in some level where he seems like a real person, but never a real threat. It works in the movie’s favor, as well as in Ransone’s, considering that he’s always the butt-end of whatever joke that may come his way.

Consensus: Even if it is a little too slow and could have definitely been tighter, In a Valley of Violence still offers up an impressive change-of-pace for young and improving talent Ti West. Lets hope it continues on.

6.5 / 10

World's cutest movie dog? Close.

World’s cutest movie dog? Close.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Moonlight (2016)

Dancing in the…

Growing up on the hard, sometimes unforgiving streets of Miami, Chiron has had to deal with a lot. He’s constantly heckled for being gay, even if, as a young kid, he doesn’t even know what gay means, or if he even is it. That’s why a local drug-dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) makes it his duty to take care of him and be something of a surrogate father to him. Chiron doesn’t know what to think of this guy, nor does he really know what a daddy is; his mother (Naomie Harris), is currently trying her best to raise Chiron, but her drug-habit is so persistent and reckless, that even Juan, the one who is selling the drugs to her, has something to say. Fast forward to Chiron being in high school and, well, not much has changed for him. He’s still getting picked on, he’s still finding himself on the bad end of brawls, and most of all, he still doesn’t know how to talk to people. The only person that he does have some sort of a connection with is Kevin, a kid who may be in the same boat as Chiron, but doesn’t quite know it yet. Then, fast forward many years later and all of a sudden, Chiron is out of Miami, making money as a drug-dealer, and yes, jacked as hell. But how did he get there? And better yet, what’s next to come?

Baptize me in Miami beaches.

Baptize me in Miami beaches.

It’s actually kind of weird to talk about Moonlight, but trying hard not to say too much about it. For one, it’s not necessarily a movie built on the element of its surprises, or its twists, or its turns that the plot takes, as much as it’s just about the story evolving into something that we don’t expect from the first scene. In it, we see a typical coming-of-ager where a young little tyke named Chiron, or as he likes to be named, “Little” (played by Alex Hibbert), all of a sudden is being raised and brought-up by a local drug-dealer.

If this was its own little movie, it would probably get a 10 out of 10 from me. It’s sweet, heartfelt, honest, and perfectly acted by Mahershala Ali who, just saying, deserves something of an Oscar nomination (alongside Shia LaBeouf, but of course, neither of which will actually happen) for his work here, showing that the age old cliche of a drug-dealer with a heart of gold, really can be spun and seem fresh. But somehow, writer/director Barry Jenkins switches things up unexpectedly; the screen sudden fades to black and fast-forwards to a story that’s still about Chiron, but now, he’s older, in high school (played by Ashton Sanders), and somehow, it seems like a smart transition. For a director behind the camera and pen for a second time, it’s actually surprising how many risks and gambits Jenkins tries and yet, still somehow pulls it all off.

It makes me wonder why his directorial debut, Medicine for Melancholy was so, meh.

But that’s neither here, nor there.

Anyway, what Jenkins works with best here in Moonlight is that he tells us an honest, raw, gritty and sometimes beautiful tale of love, finding one’s self, and becoming who you are, through certain periods of your life, but it’s neither sappy, nor sentimental. In a way, it’s a whole lot like Boyhood – not just in terms of its narrative – but in terms of how it depicts real, everyday things that people go through when they grow up, but never sensationalizing them; for someone like Chiron and all of us, they’re just things that happen and help make us who we are. Jenkins is a smart director, as well as a writer, in that every single scene, literally, every frame, there’s not just a certain feeling of inherent beauty lying from within, but we also feel that this is one singular story, and not just our own that we can relate to.

And while, yeah, it’s great if you can relate to a movie, it’s not always a necessity and it’s why a movie like Moonlight, as much as it wants to be a typical coming-of-ager, is still uniquely original in its own kind of gritty way. Jenkins allows us to feel something for this protagonist, through all of the thick and thin, never judging him for who he is, what he does, what he becomes, and surely what he represents, but mostly just gives us a story of one person growing up, in Miami and encountering all sorts of painful hardships that gets so highlighted in so many movies, yet, so rarely feels as fresh and as organic as it does here.

Stay there, kid. It's not even worth it.

Stay there, kid. It’s not even worth it.

That Jenkins doesn’t tell us exactly how old Chiron is through all of the stages of his life, or where certain characters are at when they’re not seen on-screen, doesn’t matter; the movie’s not about the plot intricacies and structure, it’s about its raw, painful emotions that, after awhile, are hard to resist. The movie doesn’t ask for you to cry, nor even shed a tear, but it’s hard not to. Its story is so simple and so easy-to-follow, that it’s almost criminal.

How can so many movies with the same structure and same messages still get everything so wrong?

Regardless, Moonlight may also be one of the rare movies in which its lead character is played to perfection by all of its different players. As a pre-teen, Alex Hibbert gets down perfectly the sheer innocence and sweetness that so many kids are born with and can’t ever shake off, regardless of how awful their surroundings get; as a teenager, Ashton Sanders is also quite great, showing a great deal of intensity and emotion, even without uttering a single word half of the time; and as a grown man who would literally have King Kong turning back for his island, Trevante Rhodes, an actual athlete who competed in the Olympics, is absolutely brilliant, not just displaying the same sense of raw intensity and emotion without saying anything like Sanders did, but going even further and showing us that there’s a small, vulnerable child still somehow trapped in there. It doesn’t get any better than these three and honestly, it makes me wonder where their careers are going to go next, what with all of the lovely attention this has been getting.

But of course, there’s others in the cast and they’re all quite good, too. Janelle Monae shows up as Juan’s girlfriend/possible wife and fits perfectly into this movie’s world; Jharrel Jerome plays Kevin as a teen and does a great job showing a certain personality in a story that can get as bleak as Moonlight‘s; Andre Holland plays an older-version of Kevin and is quite perfect, showing a great deal of the same personality, but with an even better chemistry with Rhodes; and, well, unfortunately, Naomie Harris plays the drug-addicted mother of Chiron’s and she’s just not good. It’s a shame, too, because in all honesty, Harris is good in mostly everything else I see her in, but here, she was just so over-the-top and crazy, that she literally felt one crack-pipe away from Rosario Dawson’s similar character in Gimme Shelter. The movie tries to make her more than just the typical, cliche druggie-mommy, but in all honesty, she’s even worse as she really does carry the movie down with her.

Hence why a 9 and not a 10. Sorry, fellas.

Consensus: Even with a plot as simple as this, Moonlight is still painstakingly raw and emotional, that it reaches for the sky, hits it, and then some, echoing in a new, exciting voice with Barry Jenkins.

9 / 10

Silent, but definitely deadly.

Silent, but definitely deadly.

Photos Courtesy of:

Inferno (2016)

Dante had a point.

Famous symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) has had to deal with a lot in his life. But now, his greatest and perhaps most challenging journey awaits him when he has to follow a trail of clues that are loosely tied to Dante, the great medieval poet. When Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia and has no clue of where he’s been in the past few days, or how he got to where he’s currently at, he decides to trust in and team up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories. Together, they race all across Europe to stop a billionaire madman (Ben Foster)’s prophecy from coming true: Unleashing a virus that could wipe out half of the world’s population. But the further and further Langdon gets on this adventure of sorts, the more he’s able to piece together bits and pieces of his memory and begins to realize what’s really going on and how he can possibly save the world, once and for all.

"Look deeper!"

“Look deeper!”

To be honest, the Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, despite looking great and dealing with some interesting ideas and issues about religion, faith, history, and art, don’t really do much. They’re incredibly mediocre flicks that get by on the fact that they’ve got Tom Hanks in the leading-role and are adaptations of famous Dan Brown novels. That’s basically it. The Da Vinci Code is just barely fine, whereas Angels & Demons is a tad bit better, if only because it’s so crazy and doesn’t try to take itself too seriously, but still doesn’t quite light the world on fire. And now, we have Inferno, the third installment in the Dan Brown film franchise that may, or may not, be done after this, and a part of me honestly doesn’t hope so.

For one reason and one reason only and that’s because Inferno, for all of its goofiness and sheer stupidity, is actually quite fun.

See, what this film has, that the other two have clearly been missing out on is this great idea of fun and excitement over this ludicrous material. It’s absolutely insane to believe that a historian could literally travel all around the world, piecing together artifacts and pieces of art, to help him stop a crime that’s about to wipe-out half of the world’s population. The first two movies dealt with the same exact thing, however, they’re so self-serious and melodramatic, that they almost feel like parodies written by talented guys who were just bored. This time, with Inferno, it seems like everyone involved is ready to have a good time and take everything that they have to work with and just not even try to make sense of it.

For that reason alone, it’s already a better movie than the other two; it doesn’t get too tied-up in the intricacies and twists of the plot, as much as it just tries and takes us to the next location, as smoothly and as quickly as humanly possible. Personally, that’s perfectly fine – the clues and hidden messages don’t always have to make sense, as long as they somehow move the plot along and aren’t harped on incessantly. The first two movies would find a clue, or hidden-message and try their absolute hardest to make perfect sense of them and give us a reason for why they matter – here, it doesn’t matter.

History happened, things happen here, get over it.

To me, that’s the real fun of Inferno. Ron Howard has always crafted these movies to look great, but has never done much else with them beyond that. Even he, too, feels as if he was just going through the motions, waiting to collect that hefty paycheck and be on with his day. However, he seems more interested and engaged with everything here, allowing for the energy to stay almost all throughout and barely let-up, even in the scenes where it’s just two or three people talking. Does he try to make perfect sense of the material and show us why it matters to everyday society? Not really, nor does he have to.

Nothing like evil Omar Sy.

Nothing like evil Omar Sy.

And same goes for the cast. Tom Hanks is, for lack of a better term, a movie star and is perfectly fine as Robert Langdon; he’s always seemed like he’s slumming in this role and not really giving a crap, which is still the same here, but it’s fine because it’s Tom freakin’ Hanks. Felicity Jones plays the usual smart gal that Langdon teams with and thankfully, has a little more to her than just pretty looks and having an impressive vocabulary. Even random bit roles from Omar Sy, Sidse Babbett Knudsen, and a really fun Irrfan Khan are effective, in that they are small players, in a very big story and help bring some life and energy to the proceedings.

The only real issue to be had with the cast was Ben Foster as billionaire Bertrand Zobrist, who also has a solution to wipe out half of the world’s population. While the idea of this may seem ludicrous and exceptionally evil, the character does bring up a few interesting points that warrant, honestly, a better movie. Why shouldn’t our world be scared with overpopulation? We’ve already taken out four or five species in our existence, so why shouldn’t we worry about what, or better yet, who’s next on the chopping block? The character doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, but the few times he does, it’s actually compelling and made me want to listen more and more.

Unfortunately, the character is stuck in a very silly movie that doesn’t care about thought, rhyme, or reason.

Which, like I said, is perfectly fine. I’ll take that over boring any day.

Consensus: Is it stupid? Indeed. But is it also fun? Yes, indeed. Inferno may not win intellectuals looking for a far more enlightening experience over, but it does help the franchise out in being more energetic and lively than its first two, quite frankly, boring installments.

6 / 10

"Quick to the Leaning Tower of Pizza! Or something!"

“Quick to the Leaning Tower of Pizza! Or something!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

EDtv (1999)

edposterWhat’s reality TV?

In the world of reality television, every network is constantly fighting one another over getting the highest ratings imaginable. It doesn’t matter if the programs they air are even entertaining, let alone, real – as long as people are tuning in and keeping the ratings healthy, then all is fine. That’s why, one network in danger of closing its doors for good decides that it’s time to focus a whole reality-show, on some random schmo, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With that, they find  Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), a laid-back video-store clerk, who doesn’t really care about the show in the first place, but still thinks it’s a pretty neat idea, so he allows himself to be followed around by a camera-crew, capturing every moment of his life (except for, as he puts it, “bathroom stuff”). While the TV series makes Ed an overnight celebrity, it also begins to wreak havoc on his personal life, complicating his relationship with his new girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman), and causing tension with his brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson). But it also gets him a possible new gilrfriend (Elizabeth Hurley), who may or may not have been hired by the studio for rating’s sake.

"Now, just say "alright, alright, alright". It's pretty easy."

“Now, just say “alright, alright, alright”. It’s pretty easy.”

As is the case with almost every year, two movies who seem to have, virtually, the same plot, or ideas, get released in the same year. In the case of 1999, EDtv came out roughly nine months after the far more entertaining, intelligent Truman Show came out, and just so happened to be a movie about some person having their life filmed for the whole entire world to see. While the former is different from the later, in that it’s protagonist knows all about being filmed and is perfectly okay with it, it still doesn’t matter, because they are both quite different in many ways.

For one, Truman Show is a way better, more thoughtful movie, whereas EDtv is just, well, silly.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie definitely prides itself in not taking its plot all too seriously, but it also keeps itself away from doing anything else. Even as a commentary on the modern-day state of television (which, even by today’s standards, not much has changed), EDtv seems to scratch the surface, but never really dig in deep enough to be such a scathing, mean-spirited satire, a la Network. The moments where it really does sink in to Hollywood, big-budget studios, and television as a whole, is through Ellene DeGeneras’ fun character, but she also seems like a type; she’s supposed to be the film’s villain, but is too comical to be believed.

And this isn’t saying that EDtv is a “bad” movie by any means – at times, it can be very enjoyable in a light-hearted, dad-has-off-of-work-day, but it also just never really does much of anything, either. Even in his lowest of lows, Ron Howard has always seemed like he was trying to do something interesting with his flicks, but here, he does seem spell-bound; he’s sort of going through the motions, allowing for there to be comedy and some fun, but never really doing much else to have the movie jump-off the screen.

In other words, EDtv is just plain. Not boring, but plain. Sometimes, that may be worse than actually being “bad”.

Which is weird because the ensemble cast does try. While Matthew McConaughey is a bit dull as a naturally good and likable everyday dude, he’s really just doing what the script calls on him to do: Be nice, be cool, be charming, and most importantly, just be yourself. Nowadays, McConaughey wouldn’t be found dead with this kind of material, but back in 1999, it was a whole different ball-game for him and having a chance to look at something like this, makes me happy to realize that he’s changed his ways, in some respects.

It's love at first medium-shot.

It’s love at first medium-shot.

Jenna Elfman’s career definitely hasn’t turned out so well since the days of 1999, which is a huge shame, because she really is funny and clearly capable of handling dramatic-stuff, when push comes to shove. The only issue for her is that the movie roles just weren’t nearly as good as what she was doing on TV, audiences didn’t quite respond, and because of that, she’s left to star in shows with talking towels. Same goes for Elizabeth Hurley who, with the Royals, has bounced back quite well, but also seems to have the same issue in that she was charming, fun to watch, and most of all, beautiful-as-hell, but just never quite connected with audiences past Austin Powers.

And then, of course, there’s Woody Harrelson, who is great here as Ed’s brother, which is interesing to watch, mostly because of True Detective. There’s a real friendship to be seen here and while the movie doesn’t always give it the right time and light, the few moments of real camaraderie between Matt and Woody feel genuine and entertaining, as if we’re watching real-life buddies get the chance to pal around with one another. If anything, there’s a feeling that EDtv wishes it was like that, but sadly, it just doesn’t happen.

Consensus: Even with a timely theme, EDtv may have been less before its time, and more of just a plainly mediocre movie that never sets out to really tear the world of television a new one, but doesn’t do anything else of much worth, either.

5 / 10

A budding friendship that would, unfortunately, get really effed-up come 2014.

A budding friendship that would, unfortunately, get really effed-up come 2014.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Derek Winnert, Hey U Guys

Cocoon (1985)

Want to live forever? Or, just be an alien?

When you get old, in most cases, you just get ready and wait to die. For a few folks at a senior citizens resort in Florida, they want to do more with their golden years. Instead of just withering away, remembering the past and dying peacefully, they want to go down loving the hell out of life and enjoying every second of it, as if they were just a bunch of young, ambitious 20-year-olds again. So by doing so, they discover a local pool that, for one reason or another, has a bunch of rocks at the bottom of it. What are they? And what do they exactly represent? Well, the fellas don’t really know, nor do they care. The only thing that they actually do know is that each and every time after getting out of the Cocoon, they disocver that they’ve got new and improved skills to them, where they’re able to move around like they once were able to and, of course, pleasure the ladies like they were still young whipper-snappers. It’s almost too good to be true for the guys and it turns out, that’s exactly the case when they discover that inside the rocks may hold something weird, or even sinister.

Party on, fellas!

Party on, fellas!

What’s nice about Cocoon is that it features an interesting look at age and the idea of growing old, that we don’t too often see in films, especially mainstream ones. While Cocoon is, essentially, a movie about growing old and eventually dying, it’s also a film about living life to its fullest, no matter what age. While that all sounds incredibly corny and schmaltzy (which at times, it can be), director Ron Howard still handles it all perfectly because, well, it’s a movie about old people, with actual old people in it.

Crazy, right?

So often do movies make elderly folks out to be bed-ridden, or wheelchair-ridden old geezers who always have something clever to say for laughs. With Cocoon, all of the elderly characters are given personalities and allowed to be as alive as any other younger person in a movie would get the chance to do. Howard is smart in that he always shows a certain admiration for these characters and never condescends to these older-folks; instead of showing them as old people who need to get on with the times and accept it all for what it is, he shows that they are just like us in ways, and that they need a little bit of spice in their lives to make them feel fully free and that anything can happen.

And as the older-folks, Howard assembled a pretty solid cast. Everyone’s pretty good, with classic-names like Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Maurren Stapleton, Don Amece, and, in my opinion, the standout, Wilford Brimley. Now, of course, Amece won the Oscar for his role here and while nothing against him and his fun, spirited performance, it’s really Brimley who’s the heart and soul of this thing. There’s one key scene he has with his character’s grandson, where they talk about life and death, and what it all means, and it’s all just so beautiful to listen to. Brimley handles what could have been a very awkward moment, with such tender, love and care, that it almost makes us wish that there was a whole movie just about him and his character.

Guess they didn't read the sign that clearly specified, "no large rock-things in the pool".

Guess they didn’t read the sign that clearly specified, “no large rock-things in the pool”.

That said, the whole entire Cocoon is about the old folks and their lives, which is basically where it all falls apart.

Sure, it makes sense that in order for Cocoon to succeed and be financially succesful to all audiences, and not just the old folks, that it would have a bunch of other characters, subplots, and yes, even some young, attractive faces and names to attract all of the youngsters to the cineplexes. In this case, one of the big, young and attractive faces was Steve Guttenberg and while he’s fine, if a bit hammy, he still doesn’t bring much to the movie that felt necessary, as was the case with Brian Dennehy’s alien character. It makes sense to have the sci-fi subplot to go along with everything else and help make sense of all the crazy stuff, but at the same time, Cocoon loses its step when it loses its sight of what it wants to be about.

It wants to be about older people, growing old and accepting the life for what they’ve had, but at the same time, it also wants to be this weird, spooky sci-fi flick about two races and kinds of people accepting one another for what they are, a la Close Encounters. It’s just a weird dynamic that never fully comes together and, if anything, takes away from the older folks and their stories, because, after all, their stories are where the real heart and meat of the movie comes from. Without them, the movie would fail, but with them, then they save the movie.

Next time, more old folks. Screw the sci-fi babble.

Consensus: Even if it’s messy and unnecessarily overstuffed, Cocoon still benefits from a talented cast and an appreciation and understanding of age and life that’s hardly ever seen in movies.

7 / 10

"Yeah. Go fish glowy guy."

“Yeah. Go fish glowy guy.”

Photos Courtesy of: Cinematic Reactions, Indiewire

Splash (1984)

What happens when you get so desperate and hit up M-Date.

After having a brief bout with death when he was just a little kid, Allen (Tom Hanks) has always been a little afraid of life. Mostly though, he’s afraid of the water, in that he almost drowned but thankfully, and miraculously, was saved by a mermaid (Daryl Hannah). Yes, an actual mermaid. While Allen’s friends and family don’t believe him, it’s a truth that he believes in so much, that nearly 20 years later, he meets the mermaid, who is all grown-up and walking on land and in need of some American culture. Allen is more than able to help her out with it all and better yet, maybe even fall in love with her, too. While it’s something that Allen has a problem with, he feels as if he can get past it for Madison’s sake. However, poor Allen himself has no clue that Madison is in fact a mermaid. Obviously, this wouldn’t bode well for any human being, let alone a guy like Allen, who always seems to pick an excuse for not tying the knot and settling down, even when he’s got the greatest girl by his side.

Get it? She's hot!

Get it? She’s hot!

Actual, good romantic-comedies are a dime-a-dozen nowadays that whenever an actual good one does come around, it’s a nice little surprise. It doesn’t mean that the movie is perfect, doesn’t have flaws, and surely doesn’t have all the same predictable issues that usual rom-coms have, because they do – it just means that they’re better than the herd and because of that, are worthy of being watched. That’s why a movie like Splash, as predicatble, conventional, and as imperfect as it may be, it’s still actually good and a whole lot better than what else kind of rom-com schluck that one could be watching.

Does that make it the greatest thing since sliced-bread? Of course not. But hey, it’s a start.

One of the main reasons for Splash working as well as it does is because the script doesn’t take itself all too seriously. It knows that it’s dealing with a fantasy and because of that, it doesn’t try to break any new ground, deliving some hard, honest thoughts and opinions about love, heartbreak, and all of the sadness, as well as happiness that can come with it all – it’s more about some d-bag of a guy, growing up, learning some values, and giving life itself a chance and not just turning his tail whenever tension or something serious may be standing in his way. While having three writers (Babaloo Mandel, Lowell Ganz, Bruce Jay Friedman) for a rom-com about a dude and a mermaid, may seem a bit excessive, it still works, because whatever missteps they make in the process, director Ron Howard is there to pick up the pieces and ensure that whatever mistakes are made, he’ll clean up the mess.

And clean up is what he does. Howard’s a good director – no doubt about that. But what he does well here is that he does keep the energy going along, even when it seems like a worser movie would pay attention to the stupid, silly details of the story. It’s literally a fish-out-of-water story, and while we do get a few jokes using that as a backbone, the movie doesn’t wholly rely on it; it instead focuses on the aspect of the real world and how society would look at someone/something as Madison, and judge her instantly. The movie doesn’t try to say anything about the human-condition, but it comes pretty close and it works.

Every man needs a best friend like John Candy.

Every man needs a best friend like John Candy.

Oh, and yeah, the movie’s funny, too.

The script is good for sure, but it’s honestly the performances that really make it work, what with a solid ensemble to help this material, even when it goes through some choppy areas. Splash is obviously well-known for being the movie that made Tom Hanks into a bonafide star and regardless of all that, it’s still a great performance from Hanks. He’s the typical male protagonist in a rom-com that’s all about him, his life, and his ways, but Hanks has fun with it; he enjoys making this guy look like a bit of an a-hole, as well as an endearing dude who may have actually found the love of his life for once and is finally ready to settle down. It could have been a throwaway role for anyone, but Hanks is better than that.

Daryl Hannah is pretty good, too, as Madison, but a good part of her role does have to deal with, unfortunately, a lot of her looking long, tall, blonde and, yes, naked. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but there are a few good times during the movie where it made me wonder what the joke was, only to then realize that it was about Hannah’s butt or boobs. Thankfully, John Candy and Eugene Levy show up, showing off their brand for oddball humor, even in something that may seem so straight and ordinary as this mainstream rom-com. Candy definitely gets the bigger role of the two, playing Allen’s best friend, who gets to be goofy, but also sort of the heart and soul to the story. It shows us just what kind of great things Candy could do with the form of comedy, even if he never got to fully capitalize on all of it.

Or, at least, not nearly as much as everyone else here got to in the future and after Splash.

Consensus: Even if it is predictable and conventional to a fault, Splash still works because it’s funny, romantic, well-acted, and yes, even a little sweet.

7.5 / 10

Woah. Tom.

Woah. Tom.

Photos Courtesy of: 30 Years On

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

One night stands are always the best kind of stands. Anything more is just overdone.

Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Joanne (Tracey Wiggins) are absolute and total polar opposites. He’s a social activist, who believes that each and everything in the world has to be about race, whereas Joanne herself is a professional woman who understands that race matters, as well as standing up for her own heritage, but also has a white boyfriend and doesn’t let these sorts of issues get in the way of her living her life and being happy. That’s why it’s all the more shocking to find out that they, after a wild night of drinking and partying at their friend’s place, they had sex. How? Or better yet, why? Well, neither of them really know; they just both know that they were both very drunk and vulnerable. So, in a way to make it right, they decide to go their separate ways and not be bothered with who the other person is. However, Micah doesn’t want to let Joanne go and somehow, some way, he’s able to spend the whole day with her, learning more and more about her as the day goes by, while she does the same to Micah in return. But how will the day end when she has a boyfriend and he seems to infuriate her so much?

Yeah, don't look to your right, hon. Awkward!

Yeah, don’t look to your right, hon. Awkward!

To be honest, Medicine for Melancholy would be a pretty easy to make. Most film students out there, aspiring to be the next best thing since PT Anderson, probably have made at least one or two Medicine for Melancholy‘s in their lives and that’s mostly because they don’t amount to much other than just a bunch of random people talking in rooms, with the occasional change in setting every so often. That’s about it. They’re cheap, easy and relatively painless, especially if you’re someone who has yet to be established and is just waiting oh so desperately for the world to realize the talent that you truly are.

And that’s why Barry Jenkins, believe it or not, finds a way to make it so much more than that.

Sure, there’s no denying the fact that Medicine for Melancholy is a low-budget flick that must have been pretty easy to think of and make, but it’s not about the actual process of filming, or scripting, or financing, or anything of that nature – it’s much more about telling a true, humane story about two people meeting, sort of falling in love and sort of not falling love. It’s a universal tale and in a way, you could almost call a time-capsule of the “hipster” young crowd it seems to represent so well here, but it’s also just a good tale in general, with Jenkins himself focusing on the right details to make a tale as simple and conventional as this, come off as slightly different.

Because Jenkins has more on his mind than just saying, “Oh, look at these two cuties hitting it off and flirting”, makes Medicine for Melancholy a little bit better. There’s lots of discussions about race in America, as well as the subcultures that surround it and how people, such as African Americans, are able to survive in such a place that doesn’t take care of them. It’s interesting to listen to these conversations, because they’re not only well-written, but they feel like actual conversations two real life people would be having, not just Jenkins getting on his high horse and letting people he knew about certain social issues in society, a la Aaron Sorkin.

That said, Medicine for Melancholy is still something of a love story, and a smart one at that. Shot in nearly all black-and-white, Jenkins allows for the movie to take on a far more old-school tone and feel, yet, still give us the idea that we are watching a modern-day romance transpire. The modern-day romance itself is, well, not all that good, but that’s sort of the point; the non-stop awkwardness and heavy, deep sighs that continuously occur, make it seem all too real of a situation and one that most of us can, for the most part, relate to.

But it’s less about being everyone’s story, and more of Micah and Joanne’s story, and how they do, or don’t fit together.

Is it love, or convenience? The world may never know!

Is it love, or convenience? The world may never know!

And as the two, Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins are fine, if a little weak in some departments. The one interesting aspect surrounding their performances is that they’re chemistry doesn’t just start-off perfectly right from the get-go; because they have literally just met and gotten to know one another, it takes a little bit of time to gradually get things going to where they’re not only building up a rapport, but beginning to understand the other person for what they are. That said, the performances do sometimes feel stilted – something that can only be had when you give inexperienced actors a whole lot of material to work with, and not a whole lot of room for error.

Because of that, Medicine for Melancholy does feel like it drops the ball a bit. It has a good idea, a brain in its head, and a heavy heart in its soul, but the acting just isn’t always there. Cenac is probably the better of the two, because he gets to act like a goof-ball, but honestly, Heggins didn’t always work for me. Someone who was supposed to be as closed-off as she was, does randomly start falling in love and laughing with him a little too sudden and quick, and when it comes to her actually having to show a bit of personality, well, it doesn’t work. She seems stiff and most of that probably has to do with the fact that Jenkins script and direction doesn’t let-up. The camera is on her, almost the whole time, never lets go, and is just waiting for her to trip and make a fool of herself.

Sometimes, she does and it’s unfortunate, because at its core, Medicine for Melancholy does work.

It’s just got the usual issues that mostly any and all film students run into.

Consensus: With a smart head on its body, Medicine for Melancholy is much more than a sweet, tender look at a possible love blossoming, but a snapshot of what it was like to be young, black and living in the city during the late aughts.

7.5 / 10

Symbolism, right?

Symbolism, right?

Photos Courtesy of: J.J. Murphy, Indiewire, Mubi

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Once he was out, they pulled him back in. “They”, meaning international-audiences.

Investigator Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is known for being a bit of a wild card who has always played by his own rules, but always made sure that whatever needed to get done, got done. Now, after promising himself that he’d step away from the crime game for good, somehow, he gets pulled back into it all after the arrest of Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), an Army major accused of treason. The reason why Reacher cares about Turner’s case in the first place, is because he created some sort of a friendship with her over the past year or so, and felt like she was his next best chance at love, or something resembling it. So, he decides that it’s up to him, to prove that she’s guilty once and for all, but in order to do that, he’s going to have step on a lot of toes, kick a lot of assess, break a lot of bones, and most importantly, run into powerful baddies. It’s a job that Reacher is more than capable of handling, however, the idea is brought up that he may have a daughter out there in the world and, well, it makes Reacher think a lot longer and harder about his life.

Uh oh. Those cops are about to get a serious wake-up call. No literally.

Uh oh. Those cops are about to get a serious wake-up call. No literally.

Though it definitely has its haters, the first Jack Reacher did a lot for me. It was entertaining, quick, and wholly reminiscent of the old-school action-thrillers of the 70’s, that were less about the pizzazz and special-effects, and more about telling a good story and trying to figure out how action comes out of said story. It wasn’t necessarily a huge hit for Cruise stateside, but for some reason, international-audiences still loved it and the movie made a crap-ton of money.

So yeah, obviously, a sequel is to follow and that’s where we are here, with Never Go Back – a dull, unoriginal title that doesn’t do much except to tell you that it’s not the first movie, without having to put something as typical as the number “2”.

Anyway, all of that is besides the point and away from the fact that there probably didn’t need to be a sequel made in the first place, but it’s here and you know what? It’s not so bad. As far as directors of action go, Christopher McQuarrie is better than Edward Zwick, but the later does an okay job here of maintaining himself, even what with everything going on. While it’s hard to say if Never Go Back follows the same formula of most sequels – in that everything that worked in the first movie, is overdone to the extreme – it is quite easy to see that it’s definitely a much more messier movie, perhaps taking on a whole lot more than it feasibly could have.

For one, the mystery case at the center is fine, if only because it’s clear and conventional to a fault – person is wrongly accused, Reacher sets out to right the wrongs, bad stuff happen, bad people show up, etc. That’s all fine, but it’s when the movie tries to toss down a heartfelt testament to Reacher and his possible daughter that the movie really stumbles and doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself. The conversations are incredibly awkward and actress who plays the daughter, Danika Yarosh, is, unfortunately, not given the best material to work with. She’s trying to be that typical, smart-ass teen who always think she knows what’s best for her life, even when she clearly doesn’t, but it’s just a tired role that, quite frankly, grinds the movie to a halt, when it should be constantly moving and not stopping for a single thing.

Yeah, he doesn't like being followed.

Yeah, he doesn’t like being followed.

But thankfully, Never Go Back does feature some good action and of course, the always dependable Tom Cruise doing what he does best, but doesn’t too often actually do in movies: Play someone who isn’t begging for us to love and adore him.

Lately, we’ve seen Cruise change-up his career of sorts, in that, sure, he’s still doing action movies and whatnot, but he’s also playing characters in them that are still human beings, and fully-formed characters in and of themselves. They aren’t perfect, they aren’t always the nicest people, and yeah, they don’t always make the best decisions, but Cruise is such a movie star that he always makes these characters work and his second-outing as Reacher, still works. There’s a lot more to him this time than just kicking ass, taking names, and saying a witty thing here and there, which helps with Reacher himself, because it actually gives Cruise himself more of an opportunity to, well, act.

It also helps that he’s got Colbie Smulders to work off of who, as usual, is quite fun to watch. She’s smart, sassy and more than capable of keeping it with the best of them. It’s a known thing that Cruise doesn’t often have good chemistry with his female leads, but here, he and Smulders work well together, giving you the idea that their characters, in different circumstances, truly could make something resembling a relationship work. But then again, there’s just too much ass-kicking and crime-solving needed to be done, so yeah, they’ll have to wait on that.

Or, at least until the next movie comes out.

Consensus: Even if it doesn’t reach the same heights as the energetic and classic-styled original flick, Never Go Back is still a fine offering of action, twists, and nice acting from Cruise and Smulders.

6 / 10

Honeymoon spot?

Honeymoon spot?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Certain Women (2016)

Lady problems.

Three strong-willed women (Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams) strive to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest. In one story, a lawyer (Laura Dern) finds herself dealing with office sexism, while also trying to ensure that a client of hers (Jared Harris), doesn’t get the bum-end of a deal from the trucking-company he used to be apart of. In another, a mother (Michelle Williams) wants to have her dream house so that she, her husband (James LeGros) and her daughter (Sarah Rodier) can live together in perfect peace and harmony, however, actually finding that house puts her at-odds with said husband and daughter. And lastly, there’s a young law student (Kristen Stewart) who is forced to teach a class out somewhere so far from where she lives, that she eventually forms something of a friendship with a lonely ranch-hand (Lily Gladstone), who may think that they are something more than what they appear to be.

Staring.

Staring.

In the past few years, writer/director Kelly Reichardt truly has grown into the kind of writer and director of indies that most indie film-makers want to be, yet, strive very far away from. She’s the kind of talent who seems to get better with each and everyone of her movies, doesn’t seem to tell the same story twice, get bigger and bigger stars into her movies, and most of all, keep her indie-cred safe and sound. It’s something that she’s been keeping up with for quite some time and it’s why she’s one of the more interesting voices in the film world today, not just indies in particular.

And that’s why a part of me is so disappointed with Certain Women.

See, when you have a movie that is, essentially, a few short, separate segments, rolled up into one movie, it’s hard to make sure that each one stays as compelling as the one to come before it. Reichardt has a knack for telling smart stories about small-town, rural people and expressing their emotions through long, drown-out pauses and moments of silence; the fact that hardly any of her movies have a “score”, just goes to show you just how much she depends on the real, ordinary life to be compelling enough. And with Certain Women, she gets a chance to tell not one, not two, but three stories about normal, everyday gals, living their lives and trying to get by in the world, even if, you know, they’re not all that interesting in the first place.

And that’s all it comes down to.

Reichardt does try to make these stories interesting, but they don’t fully come together, or move in a manner that really keeps it worth watching. We get the sense that Reichardt is never judging her characters for their ways, their morals, or their decisions, which is admirable, but sometimes, it feels like she’s not even around to do much of anything. It’s good to have a director that just lets her cast and crew do what they want, with very little direction, but there were a good couple of occasions here where I didn’t know what was going on, where everything was going to go next, and better yet, why any of it matters. To just chalk it all up to being normal, everyday people’s lives, is the reason to care, doesn’t cut it, unfortunately – sometimes, you need a compelling narrative to keep things, at the very least watchable.

More staring.

More staring.

It’s a shame, too, because the cast does certainly try and, for the most part, come-off strong. Laura Dern’s performance as a lawyer is strong; Jared Harris is a little too silly to work in such a movie as understated and serious as this; James LeGros, as usual, is perfectly fine; Michelle Williams doesn’t really have anything to do; Kristen Stewart is quite great in her role as a frustrated and confused lawyer, offering up a snapshot into the life of someone who’s young, ambitious and professional, yet, still doesn’t have a clue of what she’s going to do with the rest of her years; and Lily Gladstone, without hardly uttering more than five minutes of dialogue, is still pretty great, giving us a look into someone’s repressed existence, even if there is a part of me that wonders if it’s a good performance because she wasn’t suited with much dialogue in the first place, or if she’s actually a good actress who can make this all work.

Either way, the cast does try and it shows that they just don’t have enough material to work with.

And sure, you could make the argument that I’m just being harsh on a movie that “doesn’t really have a plot”, and sure, I guess you’re right, but it’s much more than that. The movie has three plots, none of which are ever that compelling to sit by; Reichardt always seems like she’s ready for something to happen, but for some reason, it never comes around. She’s honestly a great film maker and I can’t wait to see what she’s got cooking up next, but unfortunately, the bag just wasn’t there this time.

Consensus: Even with a good cast, Certain Women can’t help but feel like an uninteresting, slow and aimless exercise from the usually dependable Kelly Reichardt.

6 / 10

And yup, still staring.

And yup, still staring.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

American Honey (2016)

All of which, are American dreams.

Star (Sasha Lane), lives a pretty grimy, sad and depressed existence in American Midwest. Her mom is basically nonexistent, which leaves her to go dumpster-diving with her two younger siblings and come home to a predatory stepdad who doesn’t give a hoot about anything, except getting drunk and acting perv-y. One day while in a grocery market, she stumbles upon Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a strange, mysterious, but ultimately compelling guy who, along with a bunch of other young people just like he and Star, go around the country, selling magazines. Why? Or how? Well, the answer is never all that simple; all that is simple, is that the leader of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough), doesn’t mess around when it comes to her making a profit. Although Star has obligations at home, she decides to run away and join the magazine-sellers and gets into the business of selling the American Dream, by any means necessary. But while doing so, she falls head-over-heels in love with Jake, someone who may feel the same way for her, but may also not want to lose his job as the top magazine-seller.

American Honey is, for me, the movie of the year. It’s the most fun, most excited, most emotional, and most compelled I’ve been with a flick all year, and it’s also perhaps, even in a crazy, messed-up and year so ripe with controversy and heartbreak like 2016, the perfect testament to the American heart, spirit and pride that makes people bleeding hearts for this country. And what’s weirder is that it’s written and directed by Andrea Arnold, who is, of all people, of British descent.

Oh and yeah, a star is definitely born.

Oh and yeah, a star is definitely born.

Which makes me wonder: How does an outsider get such a view of America so downright perfect?

Well, for starters, it helps that Arnold is a pretty great film-maker who, with each and every film she makes, she continues to get better and better. With American Honey, Arnold ups her own ante by rolling with a cast of mostly unknowns, allowing it to be lead by an unknown, having a run-time of 164 minutes and yeah, mostly never shying away from the actual grit of the American Midwest that most movies shy away from. And even if they don’t shy away from them, they still make the American Midwest, and the people that inhabit it, out to be some sort of hillbilly, redneck-y jokes, a la, Larry the Cable Guy. Arnold is a much better and smarter film-maker than that showing that while there are definitely some despicable hicks in the Midwest, there are also some genuinely nice people, trying to make it in today’s economy, where the lowest of the low suffer more and more with each passing-year, and those on top of the food-chain, never have to worry about being taken down.

That said, American Honey isn’t nearly as preachy as I make it out to be; it has a lot on its mind that Arnold, occasionally, will make a mention of, but she isn’t preaching, she isn’t delivering a sermon, and she sure as hell isn’t taking sides on who she does, or doesn’t support in the upcoming election. If anything, she is telling an honest, down-an-out love story, that also deals with a lot of people who don’t ever seem to bathe at all throughout the whole two-hours-and-44-minutes. Because of that, sure, it may seem like Arnold is judging these characters, but really, she’s not – in ways, she shows that they all have hopes, dreams and aspirations for what they want to do with their lives and futures and are just using this magazine-selling business as a way to make it one step closer to achieving said dream.

Sound sort of relatable?

Like I’ve said though, Arnold isn’t trying to get a point across. Her movie never strays away from the focus of our lead protagonist, Star, and for that reason alone, the movie’s great. She is, for lack of a better term, compelling and all of the inexperience she may have as an actress, never shows. Sasha Lane is a talent that, what with the tight aspect-ratio, we never can look away from; there’s something about the youthful way that she acts and looks, that not only makes you think you’re watching a kid come-of-age and understand the world around her more, but actually believe it. I don’t know how much of American Honey was scripted and wasn’t, but all I do know is that Arnold knows how to perfectly capture what it is to be alive and, most importantly, in love.

True love in all its sweat, dirt and uncleanliness.

True love in all its sweat, dirt and uncleanliness.

Cause yes, once again, I reiterate, American Honey is a love story and it’s one where you not only believe in the love at the center, but also feel it. Because we see everything through Star’s eyes and perspective, we literally see this Jake figure as the main of her dreams – a towering, somewhat douche-y figure who knows just what to say to her at the right time, even if he is rather illiterate at times. But watching them two together, whether it’s the non-stop flirting, or fighting, you can’t take your eyes off of them. A good part of that has to do with the amazing performances from Lane and LaBeouf, but it also has to do with the fact that Arnold pays attention to the smallest little bits of detail that make them compelling and exciting to watch, even when it seems like they’re destined for failure.

Oh and yeah, LaBeouf is amazing here. No, seriously. A lot of people like to think of him as a bit of a joke, but I kid you not, LaBeouf is the real deal here. He reminded me a whole lot of Brando, in that there’s something sad and vulnerable about him, yet, also a bit of macho and captivating. There’s times when you don’t know if you can trust him and/or his intentions, but there’s also other times where you just have an idea that he’s the nicest, most sincere person around. We never quite know or trust this character and that’s sort of like falling in love, isn’t it? We’re never quite sure what the other person is thinking, or wanting to do, until they actually say it, or go for it, right?

Either way, LaBeouf is my choice for Best Supporting Actor this year at the Oscar’s. He probably won’t even get nominated, but so be it.

And as for all of American Honey, it’s probably going to be the least-seen movie of Arnold’s career and won’t garner a single Oscar, but I don’t care about any of that. American Honey is the rare indie that’s large and ambitious in its scope, but also aims for those intimate moments of heart and humanity that’s hard to capture, regardless of how many time you’ve spent with real life human beings. It has something to say about the poor, destructive economy of the Midwest, but it also shows that there are certain ideals and values, not just with the Midwest, but with pop-culture, that still exist and are prevalent to even the youngest and most impressionable of minds. If anything, American Honey made me happy to live the life I have and made me want to go out and do more with it.

And yes, possibly even try to sell magazines.

Consensus: Heartfelt, exciting, tender and most of all, powerful, American Honey is the perfect movie the country needs now, even if no one knows it just yet.

10 / 10

Red, white and confederacy, ya'll!

Red, white and confederacy, ya’ll!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Halloween II (2009)

Yeah, Michael’s a little more severe than today’s masked-creepo’s.

A year after narrowly escaping death at the hands of Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), aka, her brother, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) has been through and seen a whole hell of a lot. Probably more than any kid her age should ever have to witness, but now that she’s living with her best friend, Annie (Danielle Harris), she feels as if everything’s going to get back to normal and that she can, for lack of a better word, have a rather care-free existence. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is all over the globe promoting and having discussions about his latest book on killer’s psychology, and most importantly, Michael himself. But even though both of them think that Michael is dead and gone for good, somehow, he’s brought back to life by the spirit of his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and is now back on a rampage, not just taking down everyone in his path, but to find Laurie and get rid of her once.

Yeah, that kid's growing up to be a serial-killer.

Yeah, that kid’s growing up to be a serial-killer.

You know, the typical family stuff.

In a way, it’s too easy to despise Rob Zombie’s movies. The man himself, is actually quite an admirable figure; someone who has made the leap from musician, to movie-director successfully, making a movie almost every two years or so, and also, a person who seems like he knows a thing or two about horror movies in general, just judging by how he handles himself in interviews and whatnot. But unfortunately, the movies he makes are so trashy, so gloomy, so screwed-up, so depressing and so, as much as it pains me to say, boring, that it’s hard to really give him the benefit of the doubt, respectable artist or not.

And that’s why Halloween, his first remake of the famous franchise, was absolutely terrible. It was slow, focusing on the dread, pain and suffering, but never really actually doing anything interesting or exciting with any of it. That seems to be Zombie’s go-to with mostly all of his movies – rather than actually going out and trying to make sense, or make things deeper than what they appear, he just continues on with the unnecessary carnage, blood and gore, and doesn’t really care about what he’s saying with it. While that’s normally fine and all, the fact remains that his movies, including this sequel to Halloween, just aren’t all that entertaining to watch; they’re the kind of horror movies that make you wonder why they were made in the first place, considering they don’t seem like they were all that fun to film.

But maybe they are to Zombie, which is a shame, because there are inklings of a good movie to be found somewhere, deep inside of the dark nether regions of Halloween II.

If there is a big step-up from the first movie this time, it’s that Zombie takes his focus away from the conventional plot-line of the first and has decided to shake the story up a tad bit. Now, instead of constantly focusing on Michael Myers as he walks around, savagely kills people, all while mumbling and grunting his way along to the next victim, the movie also shines a light on Laurie “Myers” Strode and Dr. Loomis. While they are both interesting plot-lines that get some moments of energy and inspiration, unfortunately, they don’t go so well side-by-side; Strode’s coming-of-age, horror-tale is far too serious to really work alongside Loomis’ sometimes satirical publicity-tour.

While Zombie does try whatever he can to make sure that Strode’s story a sympathetic take on someone grasping with death and destruction, it doesn’t help that Scout Taylor-Compton isn’t able to make her scenes work. Despite working with the likes of Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, and a random, but great Margot Kidder, Taylor-Compton just can’t get her act together to make sense of a character that should be an unquestionably bleeding and sad heart. Instead, she just seems like a needy, whiny and ungracious brat who can’t stop yelling at those around her.

Pictured: Apparently not Rob Zombie and his thoughts on modern-day culture

Pictured: Apparently not Rob Zombie and his thoughts on modern-day culture

And Malcolm McDowell is good as Loomis here, but honestly, that’s a whole other movie completely. He’s a whole lot more arrogant than he was in the first movie and because of that, we constantly wonder where his adventure is going to take him and how he’s going to hook back up with Laurie and Michael, even if it does come at the expense of actually having to spend more time with Laurie and Michael. Still, McDowell is having a good time here, in a role that seems to be Zombie’s way of speaking out against the critics who have an issue with the slasher-horror and violence he depicts in his movies.

It’s not really subtle, but it’s a whole lot easier to swallow than whatever Shyamalan does when he has a bone to pick with critics.

Anyway, still though, the main issue with Halloween II is that, despite some interesting avenues being looked at, the movie never gets itself together. Despite Loomis and Stroude getting more of a focus, Michael still has a lot of scenes where he daydreams of his dead mother and childhood-version of himself, which feels unnecessary and only adds more to a running-time that comes close to nearly two hours. Of course, it also gives Zombie plenty more time and opportunity to kill people in disturbing ways, but it doesn’t really do much of anything for the movie; it’s not entertaining, it’s not shocking, it’s just, for lack of a better word, there. Zombie may feel as if he’s showing us, the world, something that we don’t want to see and sticking our noses in it, but in reality, we’ve seen far, far worse in real life and you know what?

We don’t need to bother with his version of those events.

Consensus: While a step-up from the original Zombie remake, Halloween II still ups the ante on the blood, gore, ugly violence and grime that may please Zombie and his fanatics, but doesn’t do much for anyone else wanting a good, exciting and actually shocking horror flick.

4 / 10

Cheer up, Mikey. You'll get more remakes.

Cheer up, Mikey. You’ll get more remakes.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Ouija (2014)

Causal Saturday nights with friends has never been so much fun.

Following the sudden death of her best friend, Debbie (Shelley Hennig), Laine (Olivia Cooke) miraculously stumbles upon an antique Ouija board in her room. In a way to say goodbye to her long, lost friend, Laine plays around with it, but somehow, wakes up an evil spirit that begins to toy around with her and all of her friends. The spirit itself is called “DZ” and as more and more strange events begin to occur, Laine tries to figure out just what the spirit wants, rather than fighting with it and basically, getting nowhere. But as Laine and all of her friends delve deeper into DZ’s intentions and history, they suddenly find that Debbie’s mysterious death was not unique, and that they will suffer the same fate unless they learn how to close the portal they’ve opened.

What’s worse than movies based on board-games? Bad movies that aren’t totally even based on actual board-games. If anything, Ouija may have been a commercial to get the old school, retro and hip Ouija-boards back on shelves for a younger, much cooler audience of kids, but if anything, it just shows us why Hollywood, or most importantly, horror movies have been running out of ideas.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

What’s next? A Monster Trucks movie?

Oh wait.

Anyway, in his directorial debut, co-writer/director Stiles White seems as if he’s trying to make something, almost out of nothing; the premise is tired and boring, but for whatever reasons, he sets everything up in an interesting manner. There’s a whole lot of exposition thrown at us from the beginning, like the rules and regulations these evil spirits and monsters have to follow in order to kill these kids, which may seem monotonous, but actually works, as it helps us get in the mind-set of what to expect. So often, horror movies just assume people know what they’re dealing and let creepy stuff happen – to understand what our evil forces are going to do to our protagonists for the next hour-and-a-half, and what can stop them, actually helps in the long-run. It shows that White at least had some nugget of an idea of what he wanted to do with this movie, because surely, the rest of the movie doesn’t show it.

Though it is interesting to have these characters all come together after a friend’s death, the movie doesn’t do anything with any of them to really flesh them out, or even make them slightly interesting. Sure, it’s a horror movie and often times, it’s best to just forget about characters and just let the spooky stuff happen, but honestly, there’s not enough spooky-stuff in this 90-minute movie to really make the lack of actual character-development fine. If anything, it’s far more jarring and noticeable, what with the movie featuring one too many scenes of these characters sitting in rooms, chatting with one another, and not really seeming as if they’re friends at all – they all seem like actors, meeting for the first time and forced to speak some cheesy lines, so that they can collect their paycheck, go home, and continue reading whatever script is up on the coke-infested table next.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Nothing wrong with that, actually. In fact, that’s a pretty great life.

But of course, Ouija itself doesn’t show many signs of life. With the exception of the initial scene of the teens messing around with the board and blaming one another for moving it around and playing jokes, the movie never really seems to have much of any fun. If there’s any tension or suspense in the air to be had, the moment that White senses it, he jumps back and instead, continues to plod his way, further and further into silence that goes little to anywhere. It reminded me a lot of Annabelle (another Fall 2014 horror flick that clearly was made for brand-name recognition) in that it had everything that resembled a movie – protagonists, antagonists, story, conflict, etc. – but for some reason, there’s just nothing there. It feels like White and his crew all knew that the movie just had to make some money, so it didn’t matter if it was actually effective, scary, or even the least bit entertaining.

As long as the kids are still lining-up to buy tickets to see it, then who the hell cares, right?

Consensus: Without hardly any tension or fun to be found, Ouija feels like a waste of a potentially solid premise, all in favor of studios making more bank.

3 / 10

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Defiance (2008)

Who needs to bathe when you’re fighting for freedom?

In 1941, Nazi soldiers were all over Eastern Europe, going around and slaughtering whatever Jews they could find out in the open, or even in hiding. The numbers got so ridiculous that they reached the thousands and eventually, people began to get more and more petrified of the possible threat and were left heading for the hills, in hopes that they would find, at the very least, some sort of shelter. Three brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell), are able to do that and find refuge in the woods where they played as little children. But what turns out to be a small conquest for the three brothers, soon starts to get more and more people involved, with fellow Jews not just looking for refuge, but also to take part in killing Nazis and getting any sort of revenge that they can find. And for the three brothers, this is fine, however, they also start to collide with one another, when each one has a different point-of-view of how the camp should be run, what sort of rules should be put in-place, and whether or not any of this is even worth it.

All you need is some brotherly love.

All you need is some brotherly love.

Yet again, another Holocaust drama. However, Defiance may be a tad different in that it’s not necessarily a melodrama, Oscar-baity weeper – it’s much more of an action-thriller, with obvious dramatic bits thrown in for good measure. It’s something that director Edward Zwick has been known for doing for his whole career and it’s a huge surprise to see him handle material with so much potential and promise, and yet, not do much with it.

This isn’t to say that Defiance is a bad movie – it’s just a movie that could have been better, what with all of the different pedigrees it had going for it, but instead, got way too jumbled and confused about what it wanted to, or do, that it loses itself. While it wouldn’t have worked necessarily as a deep, dark and upsetting drama about the Holocaust and the horrible Nazis, it still somehow doesn’t work as a cold, deep and dark drama, with action-sequences of Jews facing off against Nazis. In a way, it’s two very “okay” movies, that still don’t find their ways of coming together in a smart, meaningful and coherent way.

Some of this definitely has to do with Zwick’s messy direction, but some of it also has to do with the fact that the script he’s working with, from himself and Clayton Frohman, just doesn’t always know what it wants to say.

For one, yes, it’s a Holocaust drama that cries out about the injustices and awfulness of the Holocaust in an effective, if slightly original manner; taking all of the focus away from the actual camps and ghettos themselves, and placing us in the woods, makes the movie feel all the more claustrophobic and tense. It also shows the desperation of those involved in that they were literally willing to risk five years of their lives, all alone in the shivering cold and unforgiving woods, just so that they weren’t found and executed by the Nazis. The movie doesn’t forget that most of these Jews have no clue about what’s really lurking beyond the woods and in that sense, it’s a smart, if somewhat effective thriller, bordering almost on horror.

But then, the movie takes in all of these other strands of plot that just don’t really work.

Or an assault-rifle.

Or an assault-rifle.

For instance, Jamie Bell’s character all of a sudden has a romance with Mia Wasikowska’s character that feels forced, as well as Daniel Craig’s romance with Alexa Davalos’. I would say that Liev Schreiber’s romance with a sorely underused Iben Hjejle is also random, but it’s hardly ever touched upon, until the very end and we see Schrieber smack her bottom, as if they’ve been canoodling for the past decade or so. Sure, putting romance in your movie assures that it will become more of a universal tale for anyone watching, but it also takes away from the believeability of the story and breaks up whatever tension there may have been.

And it’s a problem, too, because Zwick works well with actors and the ones he has here, really do put in some solid work – they’re just stuck with some lame material. Craig is your typical hero of the story, who always seems like he has his morals and heart in the right places, regardless of terrible the times around him may be; Bell tries whatever he can with a conventional role; Schrieber brings out some semblance of sympathy with a character who’s sole purpose is to be rough, gruff and violent; the ladies never quite get a chance to do more than just be dirty window-dressing; and Mark Feuerstien, despite seeming out-of-place as one of the Jews who takes refuge in the woods, fits in perfectly and is probably the most interesting character out of the bunch, despite not getting a whole lot to do.

Which is a shame, because the whole movie is basically like that. Everyone tries, but sadly, nothing in return.

Consensus: Even with the solid cast and director on-board, Defiance is stuck between two movies and never quite gets out of that funk, giving us a messy, imperfect look at the Holocaust, with an interesting viewpoint.

5.5 / 10

Or even a furry hat.

Or even a furry hat.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Courage Under Fire (1996)

Who to trust? The hunky guys? Or the gal?

While he was on-duty during the Gulf War, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) accidentally caused a friendly fire incident and it caused him to rethink his military career, even if his superiors were able to look the other way for it. Now, with the war-effort over, he is assigned to investigate the case of Army Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), a soldier who was killed in action when her Medevac unit was attempting to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter. And while it seems like a simple case of a solider being killed by enemy-fire, the more and more Serling begins to look, the more he realizes that there’s more to this story than just what’s on the surface. In a way, someone on the U.S.’s side could have killed Walden and if so, for what reasons? By interviewing everyone involved with the incident and who worked closely with Walden on that one specific day, Serling hopes to find it all out and then some.

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Courage Under Fire is a lot like A Few Good Men in that, yes, it’s a fairly conventional drama-thriller that deals with the Army and a case that needs to be solved, however, it ends on a far more interesting note than it may have ever set out for. With the later, it’s become infamous for its final showdown between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise and all of the countless conversations to follow, but with Courage Under Fire, that discussion is literally the whole two hours. In a way, Courage Under Fire is a conversation and an argument both for, as well as against the Army and the war-effort during the Gulf War of ’91, that neither pays tribute, nor attacks the soldiers who have, or haven’t participated in it.

Which is to say that it’s a good movie, yes, but it’s also more than just your average war-drama.

Director Edward Zwick knows how to handle a lot of material all at once, but what’s surprising the most here is that he does seem to actually settle things down and focus on the smaller details of the story that make it so dramatic. Sure, whenever he takes a flashback to the actual incident itself, the movie is chock full of action, with bullets flying, people dying, and explosions coming out of nowhere. At first, it may feel a tad uneven, but eventually, the movie, as well as Zwick, begin to find a groove that works in helping for the movie get to its smaller moments, while also giving the action-junkies a little something to taste on.

After all, the movie, from the ads and posters and whatnot, does appear to be promising this slam-bang, action-thriller of a war flick, which is also very far from the truth. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t thrills, chills and action – there is, it’s just not in the forms of any sort of violence. Instead, it all seems to come from learning more and more about what really happened in this incident, realizing the conspiracy theories and cover-ups, and then, also seeing all of the different perspectives and how those characters shape the perspectives themselves. It’s a whole lot like Rashomon, but there’s a whole lot going on that keeps the similarities at bay, and instead, just feels like an interesting way to tell a mystery that could have been dull, boring and, honestly, uninteresting.

It’s also very hard to make a movie as dull and and as uninteresting as the one it could have been, especially what with the great cast on-hand.

"No blinking!"

“No blinking!”

As is usually the case, Denzel Washington is great in this lead role, showing a lot of dramatic-depth and compassion, without hardly saying anything at all. He’s the kind of actor that gets by solely on a look of his face and totally makes the scene his, and even though his role may not have been as fully-written as he’s used to working with, it’s still a role that Washington himself works wonders with, even if he does have to put in a little extra here and there. It’s also nice to see the likes of Lou Diamond Phillips, Seth Gilliam, and a young Matt Damon, as the soldiers involved with the incident, showing us more into their souls and what they saw.

But really, it’s the performance from Meg Ryan that makes the movie so good, as she shows a rough, tough and brave character who, despite what version of her, we hear and/or see, is still an admirable one. Ryan may seem like an odd-choice for this role, but as she proved in the 90’s, she owned almost every role thrown at her, and it was nice to see her do well with a role for someone who was, essentially, shown in just flashbacks. It honestly makes me wish she did more drama and stayed away from all of the non-stop rom-coms, as she clearly had the chops to pull it all off, but yeah, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

And now, nobody knows quite where she’s gone.

Consensus: With a timely, smart message about war, Courage Under Fire brings a lot of thought and discussion to its sometimes predictable format.

8 / 10

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Writer’s Digest, Teach With Movies, Empire

Mascots (2016)

mascotsposterThose annoying guys in suits and costumes? Yeah, still annoying out of them.

Every year, mascots from all around the world come together to battle out all of their showmanship skills in the one and only World Mascot Association championship’s Gold Fluffy Awards. And this year, the competition is quite fierce, with a couple who can’t seem to be on the same page (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker), a pro who may have this be her last year (Parker Posey), and plenty of others. Of course though, the competition is really about the judges and who determines who the real winners, and losers are. And with the likes of A.J. Blumquist (Ed Begley Jr.) and the famous Gabby Monkhouse (Jane Lynch), it’s hard not to trust the professionalism.

While Family Tree hit HBO a few years ago, in a way, it’s been a decade sine Christopher Guest has made an actual movie. And if you really want to get as descriptive as can be, it’s been even longer since he last made a movie using his usual mockumentary-style, as For Your Consideration strayed away from the form, to mediocre results. But now, have no fear, as Guest is back with his usual brand of humor and cast of characters and, well, the results are still mostly the same.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

Which is to say that Mascots is, yes, funny, but that’s about it. And come to think of it, shouldn’t it have been so much more?

With Guest, it’s hard not to compare something like Mascots to all of his other pieces like, A Mighty Wind and especially Best in Show. For instance, they’re movies about a group of people, coming together for one single event, and while in the former, they may not be competing, they’re still finding some ways to create some sort of actual tension with one another. And that’s why Mascots, seems to not just roll with the same formula and conventions of those similar movie’s plots, but doesn’t seem to do much with them, either; in a way, Guest is actually recycling material.

Take, oddly for instance, the inclusion of Corky St. Clair, one of Guest’s best characters from Waiting for Guffman. It’s weird to see Corky pop-up here, because even though I loved him in that movie, here, he seems completely random and out-of-place – even Guest himself seems weird uncomfortable bringing the character back with a terrible “boner” joke that goes and ends nowhere. But Corky himself also brings up the fact that Mascots, while bright, shiny and funny in spots, never quite hits the mark as much as it would like to.

Sure, some of that comes down to the improv, but a good portion of that also comes down to the fact that the material just isn’t all that funny. Everyone here is clearly giving it their all and showing why they deserve to be able to pal-around in a Christopher Guest movie, but with the exception of all the regulars who are used to Guest’s style, no one really works wonders. Zach Woods and Sarah Baker never quite fit well and just seem like lame replacements for the incredibly-missed Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, while Susan Yeagley fares a whole lot better as a character who, believe it or not, has a little bit more heart to her than you’d expect.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

But if anyone’s really the star of the show here, it’s the mascots themselves.

This isn’t a surprise because Guest always loves the little worlds that he portrays for film, but here, he really puts us into it and makes us see these professionals work their magic and, needless to say, it’s quite entertaining. The movie does actually take time out of itself to show us just what sort of talents these mascots are and what sort of shows they have prepared to put on and they’re just about as fun as the last. It’s nice to see this in a movie, because while Guest does a lot of poking fun, he also shows that they’re quite talented individuals who know how to make people laugh and enjoy themselves for however short of time they’re around for.

Now, if only the rest of the movie felt like that.

Consensus: Though the cast is dependable, Mascots never quite gets going and isn’t nearly as funny as it should be, despite some good moments spread throughout.

6 / 10

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Collider, Consequence of Sound

Denial (2016)

Like, did Hitler even exist?

University professor Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) teaches a class on the Holocaust, its deniers and how history tries to put it away from our memories, yet, it will never, ever go away. She’s also written a book which includes World War II historian David Irving (Timothy Spall), a very loud and well-known Holocaust denier who doesn’t care about what people think about him, or his beliefs, they are his beliefs and well, he’s going to let everyone know about them. So that’s why when he does realize that Lipstadt has wrote about him in her book, Irving decides to take her to court and battle for the case of his slandered name, as well as the truth for what really happened in Nazi Germany. While Lipstadt wants to make Irving out to be a total and complete moron, her legal team, most importantly, her lawyer, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), opts for a smarter, more balanced approach that may not make everyone happy, but will also ensure that he and his team wins, even when it seems like Irving may, somehow, get out on top and keep his name.

Somebody help that man.

Somebody help that man.

Denial deals with a very interesting and complex story that, for obvious reasons, can still remain relevant today. These aspects of racism, political blindness and most importantly, yes, denial to the harsher realities of the world we live in, still very much exist to this day and it’s a shock that it’s taken so long for this true case to get the big-screen treatment.

However, it’s also a shock that the movie just doesn’t know what to do with itself.

A good part of the problem with Denial comes from the fact that it has this compelling story, with these interesting characters to work with, and instead, focuses itself on possibly the most annoying, probably least interesting character of the bunch. With Deborah Lipstadt, there’s no denying that this is her story to tell and one, without her, we wouldn’t have, but once the actual court-proceedings get going, there’s not much to Lipstadt; due to the case being argued by her legal-team, we never hear much from her, except for whenever the camera pans to her reaction to show us what she’s thinking. And of course, we hear a lot of her yelling at and hammering on to her legal-team who are, for the most part, doing this case for free, about how they’re not working this case the right way that would get her to win and also keep its sympathy with those affected most by the Holocaust.

I’m not saying that Lipstadt should have been a supporting character here and almost never heard from – she most certainly deserves to have a lead role in what is, essentially, her story – but the movie doesn’t know when the right times to use her are, and aren’t. Having her always yell at her legal-team for something she knows nothing about, after maybe the fourth or fifth time, gets old and makes her seem like an actually awful person, all beliefs aside. And also, as much as Weisz may be trying here, her American-accent just never works; she lives in L.A. apparently, but is also from New York, which isn’t known until the very, very end.

And even the movie itself shoots itself in the foot for not really knowing what to make of the Holocaust, or get across about it. Sure, it wouldn’t necessarily be ground-breaking news that the Holocaust was a terrible moment in our planet’s history, but to just say it was bad, not focus on that reality, and then, all of a sudden, when the final-reel comes up, make the story about how terrible it was, just seems odd. It’s almost as if Denial didn’t want to focus on the Holocaust too much and take away from its courtroom scenes and whatnot, but also still wanted to remind us that the Holocaust was bad news.

90's, or 70's look? Never quite sure.

90’s, or 70’s look? Never quite sure.

If you’re as confused as me, it’s okay.

If there are times where Denial really clicks, it’s in the courtroom and whenever it’s focusing on Timothy Spall’s angry, irate and most definitely crazy David Irving. As much as the movie wants to hold its arm up against Irving and show him the error of his ways, there’s no denying the fact that he’s actually the most interesting character of the bunch; how one man could shut himself off so much to reality and battle those who actually do believe in it, is so odd and ridiculous, that it makes you wonder just what is going on inside that man’s head. A better movie probably would have focused on him, and not necessarily made him sympathetic, but just showed us what went on in this guy’s head, whenever he wasn’t howling and screaming about how the Holocaust never actually happened.

But of course, we have Denial – the movie where Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson are both great, sparring-off against one another, yet, the movie also wants to have its other way, too. It never quite works as a Holocaust-reminder and because of this, it never quite fully works as a courtroom drama, either. It’s mostly, above all else, mildly interesting drama that’s probably best to just read about, even if there isn’t anything like hearing a very skinny Timothy Spall go on about the Nazis.

Now, where’s that movie.

Consensus: Despite a few good performances, mostly from Spall and Wilkinson, Denial never maintains a clear focus and, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for Weisz to do much with her one-note role.

6 / 10

Uh oh. Look out, Holocaust deniers!

Uh oh. Look out, Holocaust deniers!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Thinking Cinema, NY Books

The Accountant (2016)

Math truly can drive people to murder.

Ever since he was a kid, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has had issues dealing with the world around him. Now that he’s older and on his own, well, he’s a whole lot wiser, even if his people skills aren’t all that great still. Still, he’s a mathematics savant that helps him get by and make a living, solely freelancing as an accountant for dangerous criminal organizations and other shady businessmen who sometimes like to keep their private information, well, private. However, a certain someone is trying to find out just who this Christian Wolff guy is and what his plan is – and that certain someone is treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons), who recruits a young employee (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to assist him in any way that she can. While they’re are looking into him, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. But once Wolff realizes that there’s more going on underneath the hood of this company, then more and more people start getting killed, which leads Wolff to making some very deadly decisions.

Is this how accountants fall in love?

Is this how accountants fall in love?

A part of me is actually surprised about the Accountant‘s rather lackluster reception among critics. Here is, for the most part, a piece of adult-entertainment, that’s dark, weird, violent, and mysterious. I dare call it “original”, because lord only knows how many movies about murderous-accountants there are actually out there (Google says “none”, but you never know), but still, it has all the qualities of the sort of movie that critics and adult-audiences seem to love and adore.

So why don’t more and more people like it?

Well, for the most part, it is a very odd movie. Despite director Gavin O’Connor having made some normal, relatively simple character-studies with Warrior, Miracle and Tumbleweeds, here, he seems to have gotten brought into the cold, cruel world of Bill Dubuque’s script – one that literally features an accountant with Autism, kicking ass, taking names, and shooting all sorts of people down, whenever he isn’t doing math and charming the pants off of fellow accountants. It sounds so strange and in ways, it actually is, but somehow, Dubuque and O’Connor seem to come together in a way that makes this weird world actually work and take place in some sort of reality to where we care for the characters, their situations and most importantly, what actually happens.

The Accountant is interesting in that it wants to be about Christian Wolff, his issues growing up, and his issues as an older-man trying to wade through the world, but at the same time, still wants to be this violent thriller in which rich people are getting knocked-off one by one. We know there’s a connection along the way, somewhere, however, the movie still plays both sides of the field, making it appear to be two movies, yet, still feeling wholly as one. It’s odd to describe, I know, but the Accountant is the kind of disjointed, uneven movie I would normally despise and be confused by, but that didn’t happen this time – instead, I was actually brought in by the story and most of all, its characters.

And playing against-type, Ben Affleck is, as usual, pretty great. He has a lot of weird tics that he has to go through with Christian Wolff, but mostly, Affleck does it all in an effective way to where this guy’s still a total mystery and we don’t know what he’s going to do next, or to whom, yet, we still like and trust that he’s a good person. Part of that is Affleck’s general likability, but another part of it is that the movie does an effective job of placing flashbacks when they need to be placed, which allows us to know more and more about Wolff’s adolescence and get a better, if more sad, picture of what this dude’s life has been.

Oh, and it also helps us be absolutely shocked when he starts killing people with the simple pull of a trigger.

"Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better."

“Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better.”

Others in the cast are quite good, too. Anna Kendrick has a silly role as the fellow auditor, but still gets by on being charming; J.K. Simmons has a dumb scene in which his character explains everything that we need to know about Wolff and their history together, but besides that, he still does a solid job playing; Jon Bernthal is cool, but menacing as the one hitman who’s going around and shooting down all of these rich folks; Jon Lithgow has a couple of crazy moments that makes me wish he would take more of these darker flicks; and Jeffrey Tambor, unfortunately, isn’t around a whole lot, but a part of me feels like a lot of his stuff may be somewhere on the cutting-room floor.

Still, what all of these performers do, and do well, is that they all add a little something to a movie that, quite frankly, could have come off way too serious and melodramatic. In a way, they help it all come-off more legitimate, with Bernthal actually getting one or two emotional moments that hit the right notes, even in a movie that wouldn’t seem to know anything about them. This allows for all of the blood and violence that does eventually come around, to hit a whole lot harder and feel like more than just your typical action-thriller – it’s one with more on its mind and more in its heart.

As strange as that heart may be.

Consensus: While not perfect and definitely an odd hybrid, the Accountant gets by on a solid cast, a smart direction that takes itself seriously just enough, and a couple of nice twists and turns that keep this mystery alive.

8 / 10

So. Many. Numbers.

So. Many. Numbers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Best in Show (2000)

Are people this crazy at cat shows?

Eccentric show dog owners travel to compete at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Some are crazy, some are determined, and some, well, nobody really knows. Regardless of what they are, they are all under one roof, going for the number one spot of having the best dog in the show.

Improv comedy is sort of a gamble in that, if you have the right people, it works. For Guest and his usual suspects, it tends to normally go by all fine, but there are the times in which you can tell that he’s just rolling with whatever weird and crazy stuff he can find, even when some of it can be cut. Such is the case when you have a whole cast just ad-libbing whatever comes to their mind naturally, but somehow, Guest can get by fine with it because he’s had enough material to work with and of course, the solid cast and crew to play with, too.

America's favorite ad-lib couple.

America’s favorite ad-lib couple.

And really, that’s the main thing to talk about when discussing Best in Show, as they’re all the reason why the movie does, and honestly, doesn’t work.

Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara probably deserve some of the highest praise out of the whole cast, because not only is their chemistry perfect, but the little running-gag about O’Hara’s character is probably the best in the whole film. The whole gag is about how she was pretty funky and wild when she was younger, and before she met Levy’s character, so therefore, every guy that she sees in person comes up to her, talking about their wild nights together and it just gets even crazier and crazier as you hear more about it. Especially the one scene with Larry Miller who plays an old flame, and just knows how to make everything so terribly uncomfortable for all. Also, Levy is probably the most endearing character out of this whole film since this guy just never seems to cut a break and get away from a guy his wife hasn’t slept with.

There’s also the terribly neurotic, snooty couple, Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, who both do terrific jobs with their roles as they are the type of people you get with any one of these high-flying competitions where people literally lose their cool over the smallest things out there. All of the fights they have are hilarious and seem so over-the-top, but in all honesty, who the hell cares? Each one is funny and they all have great chemistry together, you know, when they’re just going at it on one another.

We also have the stereotypical gay couple, played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, and have a great chemistry together, very surprisingly, and also have some of the best lines in the whole film. Higgins is always a comedic actor that I have always appreciated when I see him show up in random junk like Fired Up or The Ugly Truth, because he always ends up stealing the show, as he does here. Sure, it’s a stereotype of what we normally see made of gay characters in movies and TV, but it still works and not necessarily made to offend.

After all, like everyone else here, he’s just a character.

The true couple.

The true couple.

Then, there is also the one “couple” that has the dog that’s one two years in a row, played by Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge, and they both play their typical characters that we have seen them both play before. Lynch is probably the better of the two because there’s a deep and dark intensity to her character that I feel like this film could have went into more about, in order to create funnier and more memorable moments, but I guess it was all about going with the flow on this one.

The weakest character out of the whole bunch would probably have to be Guest’s own character he played. It’s not that this character isn’t interesting or funny, he just seems very unoriginal in the fact that he is the usual dumb hillbilly that comes from the roots of the woods, and says things very strangely in his country-bumpkin accent. It’s understood what the one single joke about this character is going to be from the beginning, and rather than trying find variances on it, Guest sort of goes with the same one, over and over again.

Still, the real show is left up to Fred Willard to steal and that, thankfully, he does.

As the head color-commentator, Willard gets to do a whole lot of crazy and random things, by mostly just saying whatever comes to his mind first, even if it has nothing to do with the actual dog show and you know what? It works so perfectly well. Willard has perfect comedic timing and whenever he says something dumb, you don’t care because the guy just continues to roll and roll with it, almost to the point of where you feel bad for the straight-man British actor that calls the show right next to him. It’s one of those moments where it makes me realize that Willard always makes me laugh no matter what it is that he does.

Consensus: Though it’s not always a winner with it’s improvisational jokes, Best in Show is still a very funny comedy mainly because of the talent that’s on-display here, especially Willard who will have you in stitches by the end of it.

8 / 10

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Photos Courtesy of: Film Experience Blog

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone’s got the acting bug. Some more than others, obviously.

The town of Blaine, Mo., approaches its sesquicentennial, there’s only one way to celebrate: A musical revue called “Red, White and Blaine.” And to ensure that everything goes all fine and smoothly with this musical, Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is assigned the duties of director, writer, choreography and just overall boss of everything that goes on. Corky tries out a few talents but ends up settling on a bunch of excited but also, unfortunately, untalented locals (Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara). For awhile, everything seems to be going fine – the musical-numbers are performed well and the actors themselves seem competent enough that they’ll be able to remember their lines when it’s showtime. But when Corky and the rest of the cast and crew find out that respected critic, Mort Guffman, is coming to see what the show is all about and how it’s going to go down, then everyone loses their cool and feels as if it’s time to crank the show up to 11.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

What’s odd about Waiting for Guffman is that it’s probably Christopher Guest’s less known, or seen feature, yet, it may also be his best. It’s not perfect, but it’s tight, hilarious, and most of all, heartfelt. See, there’s something that seems to be missing from some of Guest’s other flicks and it’s the fact that he actually does love and appreciate these characters for what weird specimens they are; he may crack jokes at their expense and enjoy making them look silly, but he also enjoys their company and loves hanging around them.

And that’s why, Waiting for Guffman, despite featuring Guest’s typical jokes and gags, also seems like a tribute to the kinds of characters he likes to poke fun at and get plenty of laughs from. It’s less of a movie about the theater world and how thespians may, or may not, take their work a little too seriously, as much as it’s about these small-town, seemingly normal folks trying to make a difference in their lives, as well as the numerous lives of other people around them. Guest is a smart writer and director in that he doesn’t try and get sappy, or hammer this point away by any means, but there’s a feeling to these characters and this town that they live in that’s easy to feel a warmness from – something that’s not always so present in Guest’s other work.

However, it’s still the actor’s showcase no matter what and it’s why Guest, as usual, is able to work so many wonders.

Because a good portion of his movies are ad-libbed, Guest can sometimes forget when to cut a scene, or an actor’s antics, but here, he seems as if he knew exactly what to do and when to do it all. Everyone gets their chance to have fun and shine like the bright diamonds that they are, but Guest also doesn’t forget to cut things whenever necessary. Sometimes, it’s not about how much funny material you have, as much as it’s about how much of it works when cut-and-pasted next to one another; having someone go on and on about airline food is one thing, but to have a person make a line about it and keep moving on, especially when your movie is barely even 80 minutes, makes all the difference.

Yep, don't ask.

Yep, don’t ask.

I know this makes it sound like so much more than it actually is, but this kind of stuff and attention matters in comedy and it’s why Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks – a lot of the stuff that he would somehow miss the mark on in the next few films to come, he seemed to have nailed down here, which makes me wonder why mostly all of the ones to follow were, at the very least, disappointing. That said, Guest himself is quite great as Corky, playing up one of the best caricatures he’s ever had to deal with; while most of the jokes thrown around about Corky is his flamboyancy, the movie, nor Guest’s performance, comes off as homophobic. Sure, it’s funny that Corky constantly, day in and day out, still says that he’s straight, but the fact remains that Corky himself is still the brains of the operation here and without him, the play itself doesn’t go too well.

In a way, the same could be said about the movie, too.

Cause honestly, Corky is such a fun and lovable character, it’s hard not to miss him whenever he’s not around. Sure, the usual suspects like Levy, O’Hara, Willard, Posey and Balaban are all here to pick up the slack and still have us enjoy what it is that we’re watching, but Guest’s performance takes over the movie so much that whenever he’s absent, it’s hard not to think of where he’s at, or what he’s doing. Guest is obviously behind the camera, doing what he does best, but what about Corky? Sometimes, it’s best to just give us more of a character who is stealing the show to begin with. Maybe it’s not always the case with every great character, but it seems like it would have been perfectly fine for Corky.

Consensus: Funny, smart, quick, and a little touching, Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks that shows just what he can do when he’s thinking on his feet and is still capable of editing his material to perfection.

8.5 / 10

Somehow, it's not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I've seen have been.

Somehow, it’s not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I’ve seen have been.

Photos Courtesy of: Theater Mania, The Film Authority, Cinema da Merde