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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Patriots Day (2016)

We could be heroes, just for a few solid hours.

It’s Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston and man oh man, what a lovely day. The Boston Marathon is set to happen, with tons and tons of people all involved and excited to run for a good cause. But of course, things don’t go down this way. In the final stretch of the run, bombs start going off, injuring and killing some. This leads the Boston Police Department, as well as the FBI to get involved as best as they can. Eventually, they find out who is responsible and limit their search to two people: Brothers Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff). Of course, it’s now up to everyone to get together, stand strong and find these guys before they cause even more damage to the city of Boston and put an even greater shadow over what was supposed to be a very lovely, carefree day.

The term “too soon” is normally used with a negative connotation and well, there’s good reason behind it. People, the fragile beings that we are, find it hard to connect or accept tragedy or heartbreak, that talking about it immediately or even a little time after, seems to be too much to handle; nobody can really talk about something sad, because well, that just brings on more sadness. I point this out, not to just ramble on and on for no reason, but to point out why a movie like Patriots Day, while immediate, exciting, tense, and well-done, also feels like it may have been done way too soon.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin'.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin’.

But not in the way you’d expect.

When United 93 came out over a decade ago, it was four years and a few months after the events of 9/11, and considering how emotionally jarring that movie was, it makes sense that people would get up in arms, wondering whether or not this tale needed to be told, so suddenly, so soon, and so in-our-faces. After all, we as a nation still have yet to get over 9/11, 15 years after the fact, so you could only imagine how those in the mid-aughts must have felt when they saw a documentary-like film based on one of the hijacked planes. That said, director Peter Berg approaches the Boston Marathon Bombings with the same sort of tenacity; it’s the kind of movie that takes awhile to get going, but is setting up so many pieces of the story, that just watching and seeing how they connect in the long run is really interesting.

And then the movie does get going and eventually, it becomes something along the lines of a typical action-thriller, except with very real-life circumstances. Just like he showed with Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, Berg has a knack for telling these fact-based stories where we probably know the ending and certain details, but there’s still a thrill and a certain energy behind it that’s hard not to get compelled by. Even when it seems like he’s manipulating certain elements of the story a bit, there’s still a feeling that Berg is giving it all that he’s got to make us feel as if we are there, while the action is all happening, trying our own hardest to put together this sometimes convoluted and crazy pie.

But then again, there’s that issue of being “too soon” and I think that’s where Patriots Day really runs into problems.

For one, it’s been a little over three years since the attack, meaning, that a lot of old wounds still have yet to heal. Due to that, it seems like there’s not enough appropriate room, space, or time to really think about the hard, thought-provoking questions that need to be asked in order for us, a society, to gather a better understanding of what happened. Sure, Berg does a nice job of sticking straight to the facts and giving us what is, essentially, a play-by-play analysis of what’s happenin’ and shakin’, but for a movie such as this to really resonate and hit hard, it also needs to be more than just that.

At its heart, Patriots Day is definitely a tribute to those who lost their lives and those who worked day and night on that one, fateful afternoon, and there’s nothing wrong with that – these are all stories that deserve to be told and given the type of treatment that Berg is more than happy to give them. At the same time though, there’s not enough introspection that makes us think longer and harder about this event – it’s just sort of the standard, bad guys did something bad, now good guys must go and find them. It is, for lack of a better term, a procedural.

An entertaining one at that, but still, a procedural.

"I told ya, it was paked down by da riva."

“I told ya, it was paked down by da riva.”

The bits and pieces of the movie where it seems like Berg really wants to dive in further to this event, is through the portrayals of both Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Surprisingly, the movie does go the extra mile to try and develop them, show them for what they were, and most importantly, give us a better look into what the hell was going through their heads, which is admirable, on the part of Berg’s. He’s telling the whole story for what it is and considering that a good portion of what happens can only happen from their point-of-view, it makes sense that we get some time spent with them and try whatever we can to understand them for their actions. The movie doesn’t hold back on showing us their terrible actions, but it also doesn’t shy away from showing that, well, they were human beings. As troubled and as ill-conceived as they may be, they are still human beings and sometimes, it’s interesting to see their side of the story, regardless of whether or not you sympathize with them or what they did.

Which is interesting here, because while the movie boasts a big, starry and shiny cast with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Rachel Brosnahan, and plenty others, really, the movie’s more concerned with Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff’s portrayals of the brothers. It shows that Berg was at least trying to go somewhere more interesting with this material, but of course, also realized who he was doing this movie for and didn’t want to offend anyone. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, however, it does leave that feeling of wondering maybe it was too soon and maybe something else will come down the pipeline.

Like, I don’t know, say a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Malsany?

Oh, well there we go.

Consensus: Compelling, thrilling and well-paced, Patriots Day works as an exciting take on the events, as well as a nice tribute to those who lost their lives and responded quickly, even if there’s still some material left to be covered.

7.5 / 10

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Postcards from the Edge

Life’s pretty bad. And then there’s your mom.

Hollywood actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) seemed to, at one point in her career, have it all, but now, it seems like she’s about to lose it all. Now that she’s out of rehab and recovering from a very public drug-addiction, she hopes to get better so that she can continue to work and make all sorts of money again like she’s used to doing. But it is recommended by those who know best that she stay with her mother, famed actress Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), who has become a somewhat champion drinker herself. Now, more than ever, not only does Suzanne struggle with her sobriety, but she’s also got to struggle with getting along with her mom and accepting her for all the flaws and faults that she is, underneath the whole glitz and glamour of the career she once had and still receives praise for.

So yeah, if you don’t know, Postcards from the Edge is an adaptation of Carrie Fisher’s autobiography, which is about her own battle with drugs, stardom, booze and yes, her famous mother, Debbie Reynolds. Knowing that, the movie definitely takes on a more interesting and darker spin; after all, watching someone famous, play another famous person who is literally telling their heartfelt, mostly true story, seems a little odd. It makes you wonder why they didn’t just hire Fisher and Reynolds in the first place and call the thing a day, right? After all, they seemed to get along so well in the first place, so why wouldn’t they be up to the task to begin with?

I know, moms, right?

I know, moms, right?

Regardless, the movie still works.

Oddly enough, Postcards from the Edge actually works best in the performances, mainly, those of Streep’s and MacLaine’s. Streep is especially great here because you get the sense that she’s not trying to get us to love her, or better yet, sympathize with her – the movie doesn’t ever seem to get as dark, or as mean as it should, but the very few instances of actual rawness comes through Streep’s portrayal of Vale/Fisher. Just by watching how she interacts with those around her and seeing as how she’s practically pushed to the side of everywhere she goes, all because of a troubled and checkered past, well, is pretty sad to watch. Streep plays it well though, never demanding sympathy and makes this person all the more realistic.

And then there’s MacLaine who seems very much in her element here. Playing an aging dame of an actress, MacLaine gets to enjoy herself, occasionally vamping it up, but always coming back down to reality, reminding us that she’s a grade-A actress who can go head-to-head with Streep any day of the week. Together, they’re the perfect mother-daughter combination, and it almost makes you wish the movie was a smaller, much more contained piece and just focused on them, their relationship, and where exactly they’re going to go from here.

Of course, though, we don’t get that movie.

Don't trust Gene.

Don’t trust Gene.

The movie we do get, in fact, seems awfully concerned with so much else. Mike Nichols always seems to have a general idea of what he’s doing with the material he’s working with and you’d expect from him, a much more emotional, rewarding experience, but the movie doesn’t seem to get all that close to the true emotions that an autobiographical story such as this could evoke. Most of this has to do with the fact that the movie seems to take on a whole lot more than it can actually chew, let alone, swallow; there’s Vale’s career, her relationship with her mom, her mom’s career, her experiences on movie-sets, her trying to nail parts in major Hollywood productions, her trying to maintain a steady relationship, her trying to stay sober, her trying to stay alive, etc.

Eventually, you get the picture and unfortunately, that’s why a good portion of Postcards feels muddled. It takes on a lot, seems to have so much to say, but when all is said and done, it’s just too much. The Hollywood stuff is funny, but it’s not really new or groundbreaking; the relationship stuff with the mother gets developed enough; all of Vale’s career plots sort of work; her drug-addiction never gets nearly as descriptive or as eye-opening as it should; and although it’s always great to see Dennis Quaid, you take him out of this movie and guess what? It keeps on going.

Still, though, there’s a part of me that’s glad a movie like Postcards exists, because it does paint a cynical portrait of Hollywood that we do see often, but still need to be reminded of. The idea that Vale’s career was already dying because of her age, and maybe less about her drug/alcohol addiction, is interesting as we still see it in today’s day and age of film. Of course, having Street play the role is interesting, considering the woman probably gets every role she ever shows any interest in, but still, there’s something to be said about a business that openly discriminates, gets away with it, and continues to live long and prosper.

Maybe something needs to change, eh?

Consensus: With two very good performances in the leads, Postcards from the Edge is an interesting tale of family, but never goes any deeper than it probably should have beyond that.

7 / 10

RIP, kind of.

RIP, kind of.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures, Bobby Rivers TV, Film Experience

The Rundown (2003)

Stay at home. It’s less violent.

Beck (Dwayne Johnson) may be, in certain words, a “retrieval expert”, but really what he is, is a very trained, very specialized and when push comes to shove, very violent assassin who is always and capable of getting the job done without a scratch. However, while these jobs do bring in the dough, what Beck really aspires to be is an owner of his own restaruant, where he can tangle with all sorts of lovely and exotic food, where he doesn’t have to answer to anyone else, except for himself. But until then, Beck’s going to have to put up with a lot of garbage from those he works for, like for instance, his latest mission where he has to go looking for the son (Seann William Scott) of an underworld kingpin, after he disappears in the Amazon looking for a priceless artifact. While Beck does find the guy right away, the two soon realize that they’ll both have to fight their way through the Brazilian jungle, running into all sorts of dangerous characters, one of whom is a wealthy mine owner (Christopher Walken), who doesn’t take kindly to outsiders.

The Rundown looks a lot like every lame action-comedy from the early-aughts that tried so hard to relive the charm and fun of the 90’s and 80’s, but sadly, doesn’t come even close. Heck, it was even one of the first films WWE Studios ever produced, so if that doesn’t already tell you what to expect, then lord knows what will.

Who needs a Rose?

Who needs a Rose?

But surprisingly, it’s a tad bit smarter than what it appears to be and sometimes, that creates the best action and comedy.

For the most part, the Rundown gets by solely on the fact that it never seems to take itself all that seriously. From the very beginning, we get to hear the inner-monologue of Johnson’s character and realize that, “Oh, this is going to be a silly movie.” However, it’s not that kind of faux-silliness we see most of these movies try to get by with, but just seem so phony and fake, it doesn’t quite connect. Peter Berg has definitely made a name for himself taking on hard-hitting, emotionally complex true life events for the big-screen, but back before all of that, he got his start directing a pretty goofy action-comedy that feels like a product of the era it’s trying to emulate, as opposed to the one that it came out of.

Of course, this is something that perhaps only true action-nerds will care about, but it’s what matters most as it gives a little something more to all of the violence, bloodshed, guns, action, explosions, and cursing going on. Not that there’s anything wrong with having all of those elements in the first place, but sometimes, it’s best to have a little something more going on underneath it all to make it seem like you’re not just going for all of the action and intensity, but also trying to tell something of a story, with good characters and a nice, simple message about friends, family, and love.

Or then again, maybe not.

In the case of the Rundown, it doesn’t quite matter, because the movie does get the small things right. Even though the movie itself had to go through some re-edits to secure something of a PG-13 rating, it doesn’t quite show; some blood and gore may have been digitally taken out and oh yeah, cursing has definitely been dubbed over, but regardless, it doesn’t feel like the heart and soul of this movie has been taken from it. It seems like it was always meant to just be a fun movie, regardless of how much viciousness there originally was within it and sometimes, that’s all you need for your action movie to succeed at what it’s doing. It doesn’t matter how formulaic, or silly you can get, but how well you can keep the action moving and sustaining each and every person’s attention-span for the time being.

Which yes, the Rundown does a very fine job with doing, formula and convention aside.

When you've got a Scott? Seann William, to be exact?

When you’ve got a Scott? Seann William, to be exact?

Like I said with Berg, though, can be said about Johnson – while he’s definitely seen as the biggest star in the world we’ve got, there was, at one point in time, when studios were trying their absolute hardest to pass him off as anything but the Rock. In fact, the Rundown feels like a nice little piece of history, seeing how all the charisma and spunk that he shows just about every single second, of every single day, wasn’t quite worked-out just yet; Beck is a sympathetic and silly character, but he’s also got a little bit of a heart to him that Johnson tries to take on, but can’t quite nail. It’s a good performance from Johnson, but as we all know, he would continue to toy away and away at it, eventually nailing that screen-persona we all know and love nowadays.

Same goes with Seann William Scott who has, unfortunately, seems nowhere to be found. Regardless, he’s good here and has a very good chemistry with Johnson, playing off the fact that he’s smaller and less chiseled than his co-star, but without making it seem too gimmick-y. Christopher Walken also shows up and seems to be having a very joyous time playing a bad guy for once and Rosario Dawson’s here, too, who is, unfortunately, not very good. However, it seems to be the case that her character wasn’t quite there to begin with, but because producers probably got worried by the idea of having a whole movie dedicated to two, sweaty and dirty dudes in the jungle together, there needed to be a romantic love-interest thrown in there somewhere for good keeping. Dawson tries with what she’s got, but yeah, the movie may have been able to live on without her.

Sorry, Rose. You still rock.

Consensus: Without taking itself too seriously, the Rundown can be a very fun and charming action-comedy that showcases what was to come of Dwayne Johnson.

7 / 10

Oh yeah, and you've got a Rock, too.

Oh yeah, and you’ve got a Rock, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Explosions Are Rad, This or That Edition

Hidden Figures (2016)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be a racist.

Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are names that you probably haven’t heard of before, but you definitely should. Back in the early-60’s, when NASA was trying their absolute hardest to beat-out the Russians by getting a person on the moon, they needed all of the power and smarts that were capable of figuring this thing out. These three women ended-up becoming a part of that think-system, however, it wasn’t always a pretty one. When they weren’t facing all sorts of racial prejudices at home, or on the streets, they had to go into work, where they were supposed to be respected for their brains and free-thinking, but instead, were forced to deal with the same trials and tribulations that so many other African-American men and women were facing around the same time. Still though, all three women kept their eyes on the prize and made it their mission to complete U.S.A’s mission and that was to get a person on the moon, as soon as, and as safe as, possible.

Eh. I've seen bigger.

Eh. I’ve seen bigger.

Hidden Figures is your typical, conventional, formulaic, and run-of-the-mill story of historical prejudice and racism that we so often see around awards season, that it’s hardly the kind of movie to get all that excited about, regardless of what, or who it may be about. And the story’s of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson all deserve being told and better yet, their own star-studded, somewhat Oscar-baity movie where we get to see them face all sorts of adversity for the color of their skin, constantly work their rumps off, and at the end of the day, get a slap on the back for the good job that they did, even if it’s not nearly enough to justify all of the pain and punishment they had to go through. It’s a sad and awfully way-too-relevant story which is why, above all else, Hidden Figures is a good movie to see.

Does that make it a great movie? No, not really. But it’s the kind that feels like it’s appealing to each and every person on the face of the planet, without trying to offend a single person imaginable, and yet, still tell us a little bit more about this slice of life in country’s history. Everyone knows how we go to the moon and who did it, but do we really know all of the surrounding pieces? Quite possibly, no, and that’s why a movie like Hidden Figures is nice to have around – it not only shows us that our nation still has some growing up to do, but there was such a thing as a moon-landing that made each and every citizen want to lay down their issues for a second and come together on this momentous occasion.

It’s a little tear-inducing, until you realize that the movie is also a very conventional piece that doesn’t quite set the world on fire.

However, it doesn’t seem like it needs to, either. All it really needed to do was tell these three stories, of these three, miraculous women, who not just used their brains and their math-skills to get their jobs done, but did so in some very unwelcoming areas. Like I said though, it’s a conventional movie where a lot of racism is highlighted, but also plenty of comedy and a little bit of romance – not all of it works, but a solid portion of it does and helps us see these characters a little more than just the actresses playing them.

The white man always has to get involved somehow, right?

The white man always has to get involved somehow, right?

Then again, it does help having Spencer, Henson and especially Monae in these roles, as they not only bring out a certain vibrancy about them, but continue to help us believe that these are some incredibly smart mathematicians, who are capable of figuring these problems out. So often do movies get mathematicians/nerds so terribly wrong in movies, where they are so wild and crazy that they’re practically autistic, or that they’re just a bunch of really good-looking people struggling to make it sound like they know what two plus two is. Here though, it works – not only are these three women beautiful, but they do seem as if they know their jobs, making it seem clear that the movie isn’t just about getting the best face for the poster, but the best gal for the job.

Of course though, Hidden Figures does help itself out by not displaying everyone else surrounding these three women as terrible and awful specimens, but in ways, idiotic and products of the time in which they were raised in. Kirsten Dunst’s characters is probably the most perfect example of this, as no matter how hard she tries, she can never help but come off as racist and rude, even when it does seem like she’s doing her job; the movie likes to make and poke fun at her, but this issue is still prevalent in today’s society and it makes you think of how many things have changed, or how many of them may have seemed like they did, only to go back to their old, ignorant ways.

Oh well. Time will tell.

Consensus: Even as conventional as it may be, Hidden Figures is an interesting look into a piece of America’s history that some may not all that much about and will continue to want to study for years and years to come.

6.5 / 10

You go girls! Don't forget to do your math homework, though!

You go girls! Don’t forget to do your math homework, though!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Fences (2016)

Man, dads can be a drag.

Troy Maxon (Denzel Washington) could have had it all. He was a great baseball player who could have made it in the pros, but considering he was black and this was America during the 30’s and 40’s, black people just weren’t allowed in professional sports. So of course, he didn’t get to live out his dream and is now working as a trash man in Pittsburgh, with his lovely wife Rose (Viola Davis), his talented son Cory (Jovan Adepo), his freeloading son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and his special brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson). For Troy, though, everything’s all good – he’s working on putting up a fence around his place and is enjoying time he spends with his wife. However, Troy’s also got a bit of a temper and a bit of a drinking problem, which means that with a combo like that, he tends to get in people’s faces about stuff that he shouldn’t be. But because Troy is very antagonistic, he chooses fights that he sometimes can’t win and due to this, he begins to push those away from him more and more, leaving him to make even worse mistakes.

In case you didn’t know, or better yet, never had to suffer through Intro to Theater, Fences is actually a play by August Wilson. If you didn’t know this and saw the movie version of Fences, you’d probably get the picture real soon and think this immediately. Why?

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

Because like so many other adaptations of plays before it, Fences feels very stagey.

Which okay, may not be the worst thing, but at times, can still be awfully distracting, especially when the person who is adapting it to the screen, isn’t really trying everything that they can to make it more than just a bunch of people standing in the same room for roughly a half-hour, talking about something that was said nearly ten minutes prior. And Denzel Washington, while a good director, for some reason, doesn’t feel the need to actually get out in the world, live a little, and get this material going elsewhere. Sure, you can call this adaptation “faithful”, but does that mean it was a smart move to be that way?

Probably not and that’s why a good portion of Fences, while compelling, can still feel like it’s stuck inside of itself. It’s the kind of movie where people talk a whole lot and while a lot of it can be interesting to watch and listen to, a lot of it also does feel like filler. Washington, as well as everyone else here, has actually performed this play countless of times, so it makes sense that he would feel such a love and affection for it as to not change a single thing about it, but by the same token, there are bits and pieces that need to be updated.

For instance, there’s a whole other character that we hear so much about and eventually factors into the plot quite a great deal, and yet, we never see said person. Same goes with a few other events that take place off-screen, leaving whatever happened to either never come up again, or come up in conversation in perhaps the most obvious manner imaginable. Once again, it’s understandable that Washington himself would want to be as faithful to this material as humanly possible, but there does come a point when you have to realize that you’re making a film, and because of that, you have to make sure everything works. And also, because you’re making a film, you’re able to do so much more that actually matters.

Uh oh. Viola sad.

Uh oh. Viola sad.

Washington just never seems to realize this and unfortunately, Fences does suffer because of it.

But honestly, a good portion of what I said doesn’t even matter, because what Fences truly is, despite what August Wilson may have originally intended for it to come-off as, is an actor’s workshop and man, they clean house here. Even though his directing skills aren’t quite great here, Washington, the actor, is terrific; he’s able to go big, loud and bombastic, as if he was in the theater, playing to the nosebleeds, but he can also be small, quiet and subtle and makes this challenging Troy fella, all the more complex and interesting to watch. Washington knows what he’s working with here and because of that, his performance comes off strong and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him.

But Washington isn’t stingy and doesn’t forget about everyone else here, either. Everyone here, like Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, and the always underrated Stephen Henderson are all quite good, but it’s really the one performance that makes this movie shake the most. Viola Davis, as Rose, is very good because she gets to do the same thing that Washington does – she gets to play it big and loud, but also short, sweet and subtle. She’s great at both sides and together, they create quite the couple that actually makes me want to see them do something else, where they aren’t so confined to just one room, or one backyard, or one topic of conversation the whole, entire time.

Still though, as Fences goes on, it eventually comes together and Washington begins to make more and more sense of his material.

There’s a final-act that’s downplayed and quiet, which is definitely different from the rest of the movie, yet, it still works. In fact, it actually feels like a reward to all of those who sat by, watched and listened to all of these characters hooting and hollering at one another. In a way, it’s a lot more melancholy than the rest of the movie, where it seems like everyone has chilled-out, had a few beers and realized that life is beautiful, so why fret so much? Due to this, the movie may just bring a tear to your eye and make you realize that Washington is a good director.

It’s just a shame that he felt so damn confined.

Consensus: Fences feels exactly like a play, with great performances from everyone, but also a very limited scope in which it lives in.

7 / 10

But it's okay, they're both happy. Let's hope it stays.

But it’s okay, they’re both happy. Let’s hope it stays.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

La La Land (2016)

Tap dance the pain away.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress living in Hollywood waiting for that one big break. She constantly goes to auditions, but never seems to get the part. The closest she ever gets to achieving actual stardom is by serving celebrities coffee at the place she works at on a studio film-lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who dreams of one day owning and running his own club where everyone can listen to and play whatever jazz that they want to. However, the times have changed and unfortunately for Sebastian, who spends most of his time playing conventional tunes at a local restaurant for tips, nobody really cares for that old school version of jazz. Late one night, though, Sebastian catches the eyes and ears of Mia and the two suddenly fall for one another, dancing, singing and acting more creatively than they ever had before. But both Mia and Sebastian long and live for something bigger and brighter than what they have now, and the longer they stay together, the more and more their careers begin to go in separate directions.

Though I never got around to reviewing it (tragic, right?), writer/director Damien Chazzelle’s debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, feels like every person’s first movie. It’s scrappy, it looks cheap, it’s brimming with ideas, and yet, the execution doesn’t entirely work. It’s the kind of movie where you can tell that Chazzelle was just so damn happy that he got together just enough money to make a movie and do his musical-thing, that he didn’t care too much about certain important elements that matter to a movie, like plot, or character-development, or other things like that. It’s a movie that features a handful of lovely, dizzy song-and-dance numbers, that are more than able to get you smiling, but whenever they are over and we’re forced to actually listen to these characters talk to one another and well, just be, it starts to lose all sorts of fun and excitement.

"Is this love that I'm feeling?"

“Is this love that I’m feeling?”

That’s why La La Land is such a huge, dramatic leap forward and feels like the movie Chazzelle may have been trying to make after all.

It just feels like seven years late.

That’s all fine, though, because La La Land is one of the best movies of the year. It’s the kind of musical that has great, swirly, fun, exciting, and memorable song-and-dance numbers, but when the music stops and the people start talking, guess what? It’s still just as exciting and interesting! So often do we get musicals where it feels like all of the music was written first, and everything else came second – imagine a landscape painting where all of the shapes and sizes were finished, but not the actual colors and objects themselves.

However, La La Land gets all of that right, and then some. Chazzelle’s script is smart, though, because while he does get wrapped-up in his love and admiration for jazz, what it represents, and what it does for those sorts of people who will never let it go, he also doesn’t forget that jazz is definitely a dying form. And in its death, lies a new form of jazz that’s poppy, mass-produced and more mechanical-sounding than a Marvel fight scene, as illustrated by John Legend and his character’s band (who are believably bad). Chazzelle does see this changing form and is sad, admittedly, but he also realizes that the movie’s not just about jazz, as much as it’s about art and artists, and what the later can do when they are inspired, happy and ready to show the world what they can do.

But it’s not nearly as nauseating as I may make it sound.

Despite all of its doe-eyed wisdom and love about the arts, about L.A. and about the Hollywood business, it’s also smart and understanding that sometimes, the world doesn’t quite work out the way you want it, especially for artists. Through Mia and Sebastain, Chazzelle shows that providing art and entertainment for the world around you, sometimes, isn’t enough – what really matters most is being able to actually wake up each and every day, happy with what you do, and feeling as if you’re ready to take on the world around you. This isn’t just for artists, or people involved with the entertainment-industry – this is for anyone, with any sort of trade. What La La Land shows is that when you have the ambition and you feel inspired, you can make wonders happen – not just for those around, but for your own self.

Look out, Hollywood! Here come your starlets!

Look out, Hollywood! Here come your starlets!

Once again, I know this sounds so melodramatic and cheesy, but La La Land stays so far away from any of that, that it’s absolutely magical, even when people aren’t singing, and dancing, and emoting. In fact, the song-and-dance numbers, oddly enough, feel as if they were written second to the actual story and character-development, as opposed to it being the other way around; it doesn’t mean that the songs themselves are weak in the slightest, but it does show that more care and effort was put into giving the audience a good, emotional and relevant story, rather than just a dog-and-pony show that seems to only fulfill the needs and desires of the creators themselves.

That said, La La Land will make you feel all sorts of happy, pleasant and joy-filled thoughts and emotions, but it’s still kind of raw, sad and emotional.

How?

Well, Chazzelle does a perfect job in casting both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in his lead roles, because not only do they share a perfect chemistry, but they are also so beautiful to watch on the screen, that it’s actually kind of hard to take your eyes off of them. Stone’s Mia, when the camera isn’t molesting her face, is actually a very depressed character who wants to make a name for herself, but keeps on flubbing it at auditions and not getting the roles that she wants, whereas Gosling’s Sebastian wants to preserve jazz by opening-up his own club, but by doing so, he still has to be successful and possibly “sell-out”. Sure, attacking this idea of being true to yourself, while still bringing in tons of bucks, isn’t exactly anything new or ground-breaking, but La Land Land does it in such a smart, believable way, that it still feels fresh.

The movie shows us that these two don’t just come together and fall in love because they’re the two most attractive people they know (even though it’s definitely one of the reasons), it’s because they both have a love and appreciation for the arts and what it is that they do. It’s interesting, too, because Mia doesn’t even like jazz, making her and Sebastian’s connection stronger – something that so few couples in real life like to admit to keeping them together for so long. But together, they feel like the kind of tragic couple at the center of a fable like Beauty and the Beast, or Romeo & Juliet – they may be perfect for one another, but there’s still something holding them back from fully giving it their all and staying as dedicated as they can be.

Regardless of all this mumbo jumbo, yeah, La La Land is a terrific movie.

It will probably get nominated for heaps of Oscars and it might win them all. Will it be deserved wins? Does it really matter? Not really, but please, whatever you do, see it. You’ll be walking out with a smile on your face and in desperate need of wanting to sing and dance with every person you see.

And if you don’t, I’m sorry, but cheer up.

Consensus: Sweet, delicate, magical and downright beautiful, La La Land is the rare musical in which every song-and-dance number is exciting and lovely, but everything else surrounding it, works even better.

9.5 / 10

Man, why can't we just watch them have sex?

Watching them sing, dance and love one another is fine and all, but man, why can’t we just watch them bang? Talk about a true gift for the holidays.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lion (2016)

Wow. Google really does have it all.

When he was just a little boy living in India, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) accidentally got on a train that took him nearly thousands and thousands of kilometers away from his brother and his mother. Without any idea of where he came from, how he got there, and just who to contact to get home, Saroo ends up spending a great deal of his childhood in shady orphanages, all until a rich Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) decide to adopt him. Now, many years later, Saroo (Dev Patel) is a chiseled, handsomely-grown man who wants to study hotel management. While there, he meets a very interesting gal (Rooney Mara), who he takes a liking to immediately. However, one night, while hanging out with friends, people begin to question Saroo about his childhood home, his family, where exactly he came from, and how he got here, leading him to think long and hard about the same things. And then he discovers Google Earth and for years, does whatever he can to not just locate where he came from, but try to get back to his birthplace.

Everything about Lion leads up to the final act. In said final act, there are so many emotions, so much heartbreak, so much joy, and so much swooping music, that it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in it all. If you don’t shed even the tiniest, bittiest tear, you, my friend, may just have a heart of stone, or no heart at all.

Aw, such a cute little boy.

Aw, such a cute little boy.

That said, the movie does feel a tad incomplete.

One reason has to do with director Garth Davis’ way of telling Saroo’s story, but leaving out certain key-elements. For instance, we spend roughly an hour with him as a little kid, when he’s nearly five or so, and it’s quite compelling. The movie sort of feels a lot like bits and pieces of Slumdog Millionaire, but it still works well because Davis knows how to create an aura of sadness just by a single shot and give us an even greater idea of the brutal, harsh realities of being a little boy, alone and without a clue in the world of where you may be. Luke Davies’ script is also smart, too, in that it takes its time in developing just how far Saroo’s story as a child goes, with certain twists and turns coming out of nowhere, yet, still feeling brutally honest and expected.

But then, more than a quarter through the flick, everything changes. We’re introduced to Saroo when he’s an older, hunkier guy, with long, flowing locks and facial-hear to die for and it just feels way too sudden. While we still get to know a little bit more about him, his family, and the struggles they are inducing, just trying to get by, it still feels like we’re missing certain pieces to the puzzle.

Like, for example, why does Saroo want to find out about his birthplace at all?

The movie tries to clarify it with a heartbreaking image of a food-item that I won’t spoil, shows him sad, distracted and obviously out-of-place, but why? Is it because he misses home? Is it because he’s starting to despise his adopted parents and the adopted brother that seems to be a little crazy? Why oh why? I’m sure the real Saroo, of whom this movie is made about, had a great reason justifying it, other than just simply being sad, but I can’t seem to find it here.

That’s why once the movie gets to the final act – of which happens quite quickly – it feels a little rushed. It’s almost as if Davis and Davies knew exactly how they wanted their first and final act to go down, but in by doing so, they forgot to think of a second one, or better yet, a more substantial second one that doesn’t just feel like filler to get to the more emotional moments. Then again, it is refreshing to get a movie that shows us its character’s journey back home in the most simplified, uneventful manner imaginable – after all, it’s the 21st century and if you want to get somewhere in the world, all you have to do is go on your phone and you’ll get where you need most definitely right away.

Wow. That escalated quickly.

Wow. That escalated quickly.

But like I’ve said before, Lion packs a powerful punch and it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in all the swirling emotions by the end. Which is interesting, because it isn’t manipulative; through Saroo’s story and his experiences, we get a sense that this homecoming is a very emotional thing and because of that, it’s hard not to shed a tear. Some of it may be overly sentimental, but hey, it’s the kind of sentimentalism that so rarely works, so I’ll give it credit where credit is due.

And the performances are quite good, too.

In what seems like his best performance since Slumdog a little over eight years ago, Dev Patel finally gets the role worthy of his enigmatic charm. While he’s most definitely grown into a handsome, rather hunky man, he’s also turned into a much better actor that doesn’t get on his boyish charms, but raw emotions where there’s a certain a pain in his eyes. It’s also worth pointing out that the younger-version of Saroo, as played by Sunny Pawar, does a great job even though, yeah a solid portion of the role may just be reaction-shots.

But still, he makes those reaction shots count, man.

David Wenham and Nicole Kidman are also pretty good as Saroo’s adoptive parents, who both seem to understand and sympathize with Saroo’s quest. Kidman’s performance is especially the best, with a few strong, emotional scenes that could have gone incredibly overboard and melodramatic, but somehow, she plays it all so perfectly, like the pro that she is. The only one who feels out of place, in a way, is Rooney Mara. She shows up about halfway through to be a sort of romantic love-interest for Saroo, meant to push him harder and harder into this life-fulfilling adventure of sorts, but she just comes off like a device, as opposed to an actual, real life character in a movie. I’m still not sure if this person exists in real life, but if so, I’d be a little ticked by how dull I was.

That’s just me, though.

Consensus: Though it’s missing a fully-developed structure (something only us annoying critics care about, I know), Lion also packs a very emotional punch, with solid performances and a heartwarming message, even if it does still come off like a Google Earth commercial.

8 / 10

And now he's got a girlfriend? What is happening? Go back to being a kid, Saroo!

And now he’s got a girlfriend? What is happening? Go back to being a kid, Saroo!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Passengers (2016)

Space can get pretty lonely for hot, attractive people.

On a trip to a new planet, where all sorts of wonderful and exciting adventure awaits them, 5,000 passengers lay asleep, waiting to be awoken in 90 years so that they can start fresh. However, the ship malfunctions and awakes one passenger, Jim (Chris Pratt). For Jim, he has no idea why this has happened, or better yet, what to do, but tries whatever he can to alert someone that he has been woken up before everyone else, can’t get back to sleep and may now be forced to live the rest of his life, alone and on this spaceship before it reaches its destination. It’s such a sad existence that all of a sudden gets a little bit better when Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) suddenly wakes up, too, leaving the two to obviously put their brains together even more and think of ways to get out. But of course, seeing as how they are two attractive, hot people trapped on some spaceship together, they eventually begin to gain feelings for one another, making the situation all the more dramatic, especially when the ship begins to malfunction more and more, leaving them to have to make brash decisions in the wake of it all.

She's hot.

She’s hot.

Okay, so yeah. There’s more to Passengers than I’m letting on, but because I am a nice guy, I will try my best to avoid spoiling any small secrets about Passengers that may not just ruin your experience, but not have you expect anything to happen. Because for a movie like Passengers, not knowing what’s going to happen, helps it a great deal.

It’s just that certain level of unpredictability doesn’t stay around so long.

But still, what Passengers does best is somewhere to be found in the first hour or so, when all of the fun of this setting and the promise of this premise is toyed with in smart, sometimes interesting ways. Director Morten Tyldum and writer Jon Spaihts seem to both love this idea of having this spacious, lavish spaceship to play around with and get crazy with possibilities, which makes it interesting to see how these two characters act within their surroundings; this idea that living the rest of your existence seemingly alone sucks, but there’s also plenty of other stuff in this spaceship like a basketball court, something resembling a Wii, Michael Sheen as a robot-bartender, and so much more to it.

However, what’s perhaps most interesting about Tyldum and Spaihts’ approach here is that it feels like there’s so much more to explore within this spaceship and this idea and that for awhile, it almost seems like they’re going to go there. I’ll admit, the love-story does come on very strong, but still, the idea presented about their relationship and how it pertains to the spaceship and overall existence itself still sticks around, making all of the lovey-dovey stuff, at the very least, bearable. It also helps that the spaceship itself, from the outside and in, as well as the rest of the movie, looks pretty great, never seeming as if it’s cheaping out on getting us even more and more immersed into this story and this setting.

Then the final-act kicks in and yeah, it kind of falls apart.

Without saying too much, it seems like the first two acts were written by Spaihts and the last act was done by some studio head’s wannabe-writer kid. Melodramatic revelations start to drop, people begin to cry, sci-fi jargon is thrown everywhere and supposed to mean something, and oh yeah, lots and lots of stuff begins to catch on fire. Why does this happen? Well, no reason really, except that it’s a studio movie and studios are afraid that if there isn’t any action around, people are going to get bored and leave.

And sure, while I’m not totally against the idea of allowing there to be all sorts of crazy action to crank-up the intensity of a story, here, it feels unnecessary and incredibly rushed. It’s as if the movie wasn’t actually finished being written, but there was a budget and a deadline, so they had to do their best but to stick with the conventional fall-out we expect from a plot like this and it just does not work. It’s overlong and way too chaotic to really work – making this movie seem like two different ones combined, without much of a transitional period.

He's hot.

He’s hot.

And that’s honestly why Passengers is getting such a bad rap.

Sure, some may blame it on the fact that the advertising holds back a very important part of the story intentionally, but it sort of doesn’t matter – the movie is less about the spoiler/surprise, as much as it’s about actually watching these characters interact with one another, in this setting, and thinking about what to make of it all. In that sense, the movie is very interesting and the two performances from Lawrence and Pratt, are compelling, but the movie doesn’t totally challenge them a whole lot, either. Essentially, they are playing very much in their wheelhouse, where they both have to play charming and dramatic, and together, they create quite the hot couple. They keep it watchable, at the very least, even when everything begins to fall apart in the end.

Which isn’t to say that Passengers is quite the train wreck everyone’s been making it out to be, but it could have been so much more, had it not seem like the studio interfered. Or even if they didn’t interfere in the first place, the least someone could have done was look over the script a few more times, think of things to fix and overall, make that ending better. It would have helped out a lot and probably kept that spoiler from being so idiotically secretive in the first place.

But hey, whatever brings butts to the seats, right?

Consensus: For a short while, Passengers takes full advantage of its talented leads and interesting premise, yet, does a full 180 about halfway through and loses any sense of what it was originally going for.

5.5 / 10

So, why shouldn't they be hot together?

So, why shouldn’t they be hot together?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Wait, seriously? An apple?

Right after he is put to death, Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) all of a sudden wakes back up to Dr. Sophie Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). He is told that he is being held at a facility as a member of the Assassins, a secret society meant to fight and protect free will from the Templar Order. It’s also used as a way for Rikkin to figure out the scientific-method on how to stop violence from occurring in a person’s mind and hope to eliminate that threat altogether – her father (Jeremy Irons), meanwhile, wants to get his name in the papers and constantly goes head-to-head with Sophie on where the experiments seem to be going. But like I said, Cal is able to travel back in time to 15th-century Spain through a revolutionary technology that unlocks the genetic memories contained in his DNA, where he can kick all sorts of ass for the sole sake of finding the Apple of Eden. While time goes on, however, Cal’s memories of his earlier life begin to come back and he starts to develop certain ideas in his head about how he doesn’t want to be locked-up and forced to do all of these missions for someone else’s sake – he wants to live.

Who needs a sword when you have long, flowing locks like that to do the killing?

Who needs a sword when you have long, flowing locks like that to do the killing?

Or yeah, something like that.

Any video-game adaptation, no matter how good, or promising the material from the video-game may have been, always turns out to be pretty crummy. There’s a general idea that there has yet to be a virtually acceptable and agreed on “good” video-game movie, although there have definitely been some moderate ones that were fine as is, yet, in the world of mean-spirited and angry critics, still get mixed reviews (Prince of Persia). And yes, I’d be a fool if I didn’t say that all of the hatred and skepticism towards video-game movies doesn’t get to me – even one of my absolute favorite games of all-time, Max Payne, was made in to a pretty bad movie that I, for some reason or another, try to make a case for.

But honestly, there’s no case to be made for any video-game movie. They all kind of suck and honestly, they’re kind of pointless.

Until, well, now.

Surprisingly, there’s something about Assassin’s Creed that probably shouldn’t have worked for me, but somehow, I left it thinking about more positives, than actual negatives. Perhaps the smartest decision that went into Assassin’s Creed, the movie, was that it got a hold of director Justin Kurzel right away, because without him, or his artistic integrity, who knows what would have happened here. Just as he did with last year’s Macbeth, every shot is somehow filled with a certain beauty, yet at the same time, still getting across this idea of darkness lying underneath. In a video-game movie, it’s very easy to just play it safe and try to make everything as joyful and as pleasing as possible, but Kurzel doesn’t forget that the promising source-material he’s working with can get pretty dark and ugly.

Which is to say that there’s also a certain joy to the film, too, especially when the action gets going. For a lot of video-game movies, it seems that the general complaint is that they aren’t nearly as fun as the video-games themselves; that in and of itself is a pretty silly criticism, because well, a video-game is a video-game, and a movie is a movie. Still though, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t take much time getting right to the hectic violence and action as soon as possible, giving us the idea that we are indeed watching a movie, who’s origins also seem to come from a video-game.

Then again, the game was a hard “MA”, whereas the movie, is a bloodless and odd-looking PG-13.

Macbeth flashbacks and wow, they are not pretty.

“Michael, you can’t leave. You helped produce this.”

Does it ruin the experience? Sort of, but not a whole lot, because Kurzel does keep it moving, even when he’s focusing on a rather convoluted and heavy plot. That said, what Kurzel does well here with the story is that he focuses on it enough to make it actually seem like there’s something to fall back on and not just have there be so much damn violence and action, without any rhyme or reason; the movie even does attempt to get darker and deeper with its philosophical ideas about life, death and faith, which doesn’t work, but hey, at least the movie’s trying, right?

Maybe it’s easy to be nice to Assassin’s Creed because it’s compared to everything that has come before it, but if so, that still doesn’t get me past the fact that I enjoyed what I saw, regardless of the obvious holes to be found. It’s nearly two hours and while it could have definitely felt like every second of it, Kurzel keeps the pace going enough to where we get enough character and plot development, as scarce as they may be, as well as more than enough action. What I’m essentially trying to say is that what could have been a total and absolute slug of a film, moves at an efficient enough pace to where you don’t get caught up in all of the silliness and obvious mistakes the movie is making trying to make sense of some sort of a plot.

And of course, there’s no getting past talking about Assassin’s Creed, without discussing the on-slaught of talent here who are, unfortunately, not given a whole lot to do.

Fassbender as the iconic Cal Lynch is a bit dull, if only because the character himself seems to be so charmless, that it feels like Fassbender has to really bring himself down for this kind of role; Cotillard seems a whole lot better than the material she’s working with, but tries, and her and Fassbender have some nice chemistry; Jeremy Irons is, as usual, pretty mean and menacing; Michael K. Williams shows up as a fellow assassin who befriends Cal and is playing a more compassionate character than we’re used to seeing from him; and Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling show up for a few scenes, do what they can, collect their paychecks, and head on out. In fact, the same could be said for just about everyone else here, but hey, at least they’re here, right?

Man, I’m getting way too soft in my old age.

Consensus: Even with the holes of the plot, Assassin’s Creed does feel like a step above the usual video-game movie, with plenty of action, fun, beautiful visuals, and solid cast-members who seem like they could be doing more, but try with what they’ve got.

6.5 / 10

"Yeah, we may have overdone it with the tats."

“Yeah, we may have overdone it with the tats.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sing (2016)

Furries love them some Katy Perry.

Ever since he was just a little koala, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has always wanted to provide arts and entertainment to the world around him. However, because of his size, he was never quite given the opportunity to work on the stage, in front of the crowd – instead, he was always given the position to work behind the scenes for his dad’s theater company. Many years later and with his father long passed away, Buster’s theater isn’t just losing money, but it’s damn near broke. So, in order to not just raise money for the theater, but awareness too, Buster decides to hold a local talent signing competition, where the best and loudest will all come together and battle each other, song after song, for a grand prize of Buster’s choosing. Eventually, the competition gets down to five beings: Mike (Seth MacFarlane) a wise-cracking mouse, Meena (Tori Kelly), a timid elephant who has a way better voice than she’s letting on, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who, for practically all of her life has had to stay-at-home and raise her 25 piglets and is just now getting the opportunity to do something she wants to do for a change, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla who’s family wants him to drop this whole singing thing and join them in the life of crime, and Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk-rock porcupine who’s current break-up with her boyfriend leads her to thinking about her independence a whole lot.

Uh oh. Miss Piggy gonna sue somebody!

Uh oh. Miss Piggy gonna sue somebody!

Sing is so ridiculously and utterly adorable that it takes a lot to bash it. And sure, while I won’t do that, I won’t also say that it’s a great movie – it’s the kind of animated flick that gets by solely on its pure cuteness, appeals strongly to the kiddies, and yes, uses a lot of pop-tunes that will get everyone going home and checking out Spotify instantly. In a way, it’s like every other animated flick ever made, but it’s also just really cute.

Sometimes, isn’t that all you need to be?

For Sing, it seems like that’s the case. Writer/director Garth Jennings seems to know just how to get to a kid’s heart, by infusing loud, catchy songs with lovely, cute-looking, walking, talking and singing animals. Sure, can this sort of stuff appeal to older folks out there? Most definitely, but for the kids, who Jennings really seems to be aiming for, it works even more so; they’ll get up during the movie, sing, dance and laugh at just about every bit of comedy, whether physical or not.

And is there anything wrong with that? Honestly, no. That’s why for what it’s worth, Sing does get the job done. It will most definitely make every kid happy, pleased, but at the same time, it also won’t keep the parents away from feeling as if they’ve been cheated out of their time, and/or money.

At the same time, though, should there have been more of an effort on Jennings part to try and make Sing more than just your standard, yet fun, kiddie-fare?

Sort of, yes, and sort of, no. Yes, because as Pixar has proven already many of times, the best ways to get everyone involved is to also give a little something for the older folks to grab a hold onto as well. There’s no denying that most adults will be happy and pleased with the youngsters being happy, or regardless of that, all of the music and colorful characters, but there’s still a certain idea that for the near two-hours the movie spends, the end result is just fine.

And no, because well, Jennings is probably doing exactly what he set-out to do in the first place with Sing and it’s not his problem that his flick doesn’t meet every person’s standards.

Like, mine.

Seth MacFarlane as a caricature? You don't say?

Seth MacFarlane as a caricature? You don’t say?

Anyway, Sing for awhile is fun and enjoyable, yet at the same time, not exactly groundbreaking or life-changing, like many other animated flicks I’ve seen in quite some time have been. That said, the final 30 minutes, you know, when the actual competition gets underway, are pretty exciting and show a certain amount of energy and zaniness that’s probably best shown in Jennings’ last two flicks, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and incredibly underrated Son of Ranbow. All of the pieces of the lovely, little puzzle eventually come together and you get the sense that Jennings is happy to see it all come out the way it is, even if he may have taken a little too long to get there.

It does help, however, that the voice-cast is also quite great and more than capable of keeping our attentions. But while everyone’s great, the real stand-out, of course, is Tori Kelly as Meena, the self-conscious elephant who can belt it out like nobody’s business. It definitely helps that, out of all the actors who do their own singing here, Kelly is perhaps the most professional-sounding, but that her character gets the message across in a strong manner.

What Sing says about kids, having a talent, and life in general, is that it doesn’t matter what you may or may not think is holding you back from doing what you want to do – as long as you’re doing it, then who cares? Life will continue to go on and get probably better for you, all because you’re doing what you want to do. A message like this is a nice reminder that even if animation doesn’t always knock it out of the park like Pixar, it can still bring heartfelt, warm and rather important messages to the youngsters watching in the lobby.

Alongside all of the singing and dancing they’ll be doing.

Consensus: Admittedly, while Sing is for the kids, there’s still some warm, colorful and good fun to be had, along with all of the crazy catchy pop-tunes that the movie never seems to run out of.

6.5 / 10

Don't be shocked. Sing.

Don’t be shocked. Sing.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Great Debaters (2007)

Yell as loud as you can.

Poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to teach the current youth so that they don’t grow up to be angry, spiteful human beings, despite all of the racial bias and prejudice sent towards their way. That’s why he decides to teach at a predominately black Wiley College in Texas. The year is 1935 and he decides that it’s time to start a debate team, which wasn’t something ever heard of at a relatively black school. While people aren’t initially all for the idea, eventually, people begin to join and Tolson’s got himself a pretty loyal, smart group of youngsters, looking to not just have a good debate, but tell the world of what’s really going on out there. However, it’s Tolson’s own personal politics that end up getting in the way and overshadowing the team and their efforts, leading him to think long and hard about how he wants to stick with this team, or if it’s best to just walk away and let them debate their lives off.

Denzel Washington does something very smart with the Great Debaters – he frames it all not just as a movie about a bunch of people who hoot and holler at each other in long, winding monologues that seem to last for days, but something of a sports movie, where a bunch of rag tag people who have a particular set of significant skill, band together, use their strengths and take on the ultimate opponent. In this case, the ultimate opponent is racism and if there’s a sport, then yeah sure, it’s debating. It may sound incredibly boring, but believe it or not, Denzel is able to make it quite fun and exciting.

So, will it be televised?

So, will it be televised?

Then again, there’s not much debating in the first place.

If there’s an issue to be had here with the Great Debaters is that while there quite a few scenes of actual debating occurring, we never really get to know much more about what goes into debating, or planning an argument, or framing it in a way. Of course, early on, we get the typical training monologue in which the characters use words and get frustrated on how to use them and whatnot, but it doesn’t really feel like we’re actually getting to know how to debate in the process, or better yet, what makes a good debater in the first place; what can be taken away is that whoever yells, hoots, screams and hollers the most and the loudest, seems to actually win. Surely, this isn’t how debating actually works, but a few more scenes dedicated to us understanding just what it is that can help a person become a better debater, would have definitely helped.

Cause instead of getting these scenes, we get a lot more character development, which okay, isn’t always such a bad thing. It does help, however, that Denzel has put together a very good ensemble that knows how to work with this sometimes preachy material and at the very least, keep it grounded and focused. For instance, whenever Denzel himself is on the screen, you can tell that he’s the absolute pro; you feel his presence in every scene he’s in and hell, even the ones he isn’t in. Of course, that’s probably purposeful considering he’s practically behind the camera every scene, directing, but still, it goes to show you just the class-A actor he truly is.

Hell, even the very few scenes he gets with Forest Whitaker, make you clamor for a movie where they just sit in a room together and talk about whatever is on their mind. Honestly, a smaller, much more contained movie like that probably would have been better, because here, while they make the best of what they’re both working with, it still makes you wish for more, more, more.

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Thankfully, the young talent here is quite good.

Despite all of the controversy surrounding him that seems to probably killed his career, Nate Parker seems to be a perfect acting surrogate for Washington, channeling a lot of the same charisma and energy that the later always showed in his earlier roles. Parker’s Henry Lowe may not always be believable as a character, but Parker’s good enough to where you can see that this brash, sometimes arrogant guy would want to get up on a stage and yell for a few minutes, about all of the injustices he has been of witness to in this world. As his fellow teammates, Denzel Whitaker and Jurnee Smollett-Bell are also quite entertaining, showing different sides to how they feel about debating, and the certain hardships that they too face on a daily basis.

In fact, the movie does get across a very smart and powerful message about race and equality that, yes, may seem conventional, but also doesn’t make it less true. Late in the last-half, the movie brings up certain issues about how the rest of the world, mainly, the Northeast, look at racism a whole lot differently than those in the South; the former is predominately a lot whiter than the later, which also brings more questions into the discussion. The movie shows that people who think differently about racism because of what they’ve been brought up and raised around, aren’t necessarily bad people, just very limited in their viewpoint – sometimes, it’s best to wake up, open your eyes and realize what’s really going on out there in the world. Sure, arguing about it and having a nice little debate is always good, too, but it’s always best to know what’s really wrong with the world, before you go off and start talking about it and all of its changes.

It’s definitely a relevant message that plenty could benefit from today.

Consensus: Entertaining and important, the Great Debaters may be formulaic and conventional, but also packs a hearty punch and shows us that as a director, Denzel’s skills still translate.

7.5 / 10

Please. More. Of. This.

Please. More. Of. This.

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Popcorn Reel

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

The galaxy is vast, wide, and apparently, very British.

Everyday British dude Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is currently battling a bunch of contractors who literally want to build a bypass right where his house is. He’s sad about it and constantly rebels in any way that he can, but when he’s not even thinking about it, he’s taken aside by his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who informs him that not only he’s an alien, but that the two have barely a minute left to live on planet Earth, as it is set to be destroyed any time now. And well, that’s exactly what happens – Arthur and Ford are then left to roam about the galaxy, until they’re then picked up by a random ship, holding Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), the President of the Galaxy, his kind of, sort of, quite possible girlfriend Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), who Arthur had feelings for initially, and Marvin the Paranoid Android (Alan Rickman), who seems incredibly depressed about everything around it. Together, the group must face-off against the Vogons, aka, those who were familiar for destroying Earth in the first place and don’t seem to be done just yet.

It's okay, Martin. The day will be over soon.

It’s okay, Martin. The day will be over soon.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a piece of cult pop-culture that’s survived as long as it has, based solely by the fact that people still don’t seem to understand it just yet and are still, as we speak at this moment, trying to make sense of all the crazy, madcap and wild adventures that the countless stories had to offer. That’s why a movie made of this source material is already troubling as is – especially when you’re working on such a big budget and have to, essentially, please not just the fanboys, but everyone else who may seem interested in seeing a madcap sci-fi flick for the hell of it. And it’s also why Garth Jennings, try as he might, just feels kind of lost here.

He gets some stuff right, but for the most part, Hitchhiker’s unfortunately seems like another case of where a lot of people had to be pleased and because of that, the movie itself ends up muddled, somewhat disjointed and yes, even messy.

Still though, there’s some joy and pleasure to be had in the messiness.

For one, Jennings does keep the movie moving at a fine, efficient pace, to where it feels like we’re getting a whole lot of story, but it’s always constantly going. The movie also doesn’t just focus on the one plot in particular, as there are some truly weird, yet humorous sidebars that come in, bring in a little flavor to the proceedings, and leave soon so that they don’t get in the way of the movie. While it may be a little close to two hours, surprisingly, the movie breezes by and may actually sneak up on you with how quick it’s going.

At the same time, though, being quick and swift doesn’t make your movie good, or even hide away all of the issues that may be troubling it in the first place. And if there’s a huge problem to be found with Hitchhiker’s, it’s that it’s just not as funny as it think it is. Sure, bits and pieces pop-up in this one adventure and on the side that could be considered “humorous”, but honestly, they don’t always connect; most of the time, it feels like the movie’s just trying to out-weird itself, throwing another wrench at the screen and seeing how they could go any further. A bit involving a character’s two-heads is supposed to be played for laughs and shocks, but is a gimmick that gets old real quick and honestly, doesn’t even seem like a joke, but just a character trait.

Yup. Just one of those days.

Yup. Just one of those days.

And it’s a shame, too, because there’s clearly a whole lot of ambition here coming from Jennings and everyone else, but the movie ends up being about its plot a lot, its odd sense of humor, its even odder sci-fi, and yet, not much else. It is, essentially, an adventure, for the sake of being an adventure, but we never get a clear understanding of anything that’s going on beforehand, so that when we’re told of what’s going to happen and what the clear goal of this mission is to be, it just doesn’t connect. The movie takes a whole lot of time to set-up its weird puns and sight-gags, but forgets to actually build a comprehensible plot that makes the whole adventure, well, feel like an actual adventure, that doubles as a ride we don’t ever want to get off.

But we kind of do, just so that it would chill out and take some more time with itself to figure things out.

The cast are really the ones who save it, as it seems like everyone came ready to play, for better or worse. Martin Freeman is, as usual, perfect as our every man; Mos Def fits in perfectly, showing his goofier side for once; Zooey Deschanel plays it as a ruler and it kind of works, although you’d sometimes wish she would just crack a smile or something; Sam Rockwell goes way overboard, even though that’s probably what was called on him in the first place, so it’s hard to make sense of whether or not it was a good idea; and the voices of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, and plenty of others all show up, adding a little bit of zaniness and fun to the overall proceedings, almost making us wish we got to actually see them here, as opposed to just hearing.

Because seeing is believing, as all sci-fi lovers know. And Catholics.

Consensus: Odd and goofy, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has its own style of humor that doesn’t always connect, making the over-packed story feel even a little more straining to comprehend or keep up with.

5.5 / 10

What a gang. Now why weren't they more fun?

What a gang. Now why weren’t they more fun?

Photos Courtesy of: Now Very Bad…

Jackie (2016)

Thanks for the fashion tips. Now, get out!

After the tragic and sudden assassination of her husband, First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) has to deal with a lot over a certain period of time. For one, she has to ensure that the rest of her family is alright. Secondly, she has to make sure that her husband’s funeral isn’t just one of the most memorable of any other assassinated President before him, but the best ever. And then, yes, she’s also got to do her absolute hardest to hold onto her sanity, even when it seems like this certain situation in particular wouldn’t call for it. However, no matter how bad life gets, all that Jackie wants is for her husband’s legacy to live on, regardless of what sort of mistakes he made in the past.

Jackie may seem, on paper, like your traditional, ordinary biopic of someone that we think we know so much about, but in all honesty, actually don’t, however, it’s anything but. What director Pablo Larrain does here with Jackie’s story is that he frames it in a way where we get to see small, fleeting glimpses into her life, through certain parts of it, as opposed to getting the rags-to-riches story that we so often get hit with. And sure, there’s nothing wrong with the kinds of biopics that take on those structures to tell their story and to tell a little more about their subject, but with Jackie, an odd structure actually works, as it not only has us feel closer to her than ever before, but also see what really lied beneath the legend.

We still see you.

We still see you.

Sure, most people think of Jackie as this reversed, sometimes not-all-that-bright women who was just lucky to marry the man who would eventually be President of the United States, and a fashion icon, but the movie shows us that there’s much more to her than that. We see that she not just cared about preserving the legacy of the past Presidents who came before her own husband, but also wanted to carve out a legacy for herself as well; rather than just being seen as this harpy wife who stood by her husband, even while he was off, strutting his stuff with many other women, she wanted to be seen, be remembered, or at the very least, be thought of as someone who was intelligent and cared all about the appearances of her and those around her. It’s actually very interesting to see this side to her, as we get a clearer understanding of what her real, actual beliefs and aspirations were, and end up sympathizing with her a whole lot more.

Okay sure, it’s not that hard to sympathize with a woman who has literally just lost her husband right slap dab in front of her, but still, Larrain crafts this story awfully well.

It’s odd though, because while even just focusing on her so much may already seem sympathetic, Larrain still asks a whole lot more questions about her, than he does answer. Like, for instance, why did she stay by her husband for all those philandering years? Was it all for show? And speaking of the show she put on, did she actually care so much about past Presidents, or did she just use that all as a way to show that she was so much more than the First Lady? The movie brings the questions up, never answers them, but at the very least, it does show that Larrain isn’t afraid to question his subject more than actually glamorize her and for all that she was able to do while in the White House.

Damn journalists. Always ruining the sorrow and grief of famous widows.

Damn journalists. Always ruining the sorrow and grief of famous widows.

And as Jackie, Natalie Portman is quite great, however, it does take awhile for it to get like this. Because Jackie herself had such a mannered, controlled and signature way of speaking and presenting herself with those around her, Portman has to do a lot of weird and awkward-sounding pronunciations throughout the whole flick. Her first few scenes with Billy Crudup’s character are incredibly distracting and make it seem like it’s going to overtake the whole movie, but it does get better after awhile, especially when we see her actually show emotion and use her persona to make the situations around her better. Sure, Portman gets to do a lot of crying, smoking, drinking and yelling, but it all feels right and not just another Oscar-bait, showy performances that we so often get around this time.

And while it is definitely Jackie’s story, a lot of others still get attention to paid them as well, like with Peter Sarsgaard’s incredibly sympathetic take on Bobby Kennedy. While he doesn’t always use the accent, regardless, Sarsgaard does sink deep into this character and become someone who is almost more interesting than Jackie, only because we don’t get to spend every single waking moment of the run-time with him. In a way, there’s a certain air of mystery to him where we aren’t really sure what his motives are, how he actually does feel about his brother’s death, and just what the hell he wants to do now with his life.

Somewhere, there’s a Bobby Kennedy biopic to be made and if so, Sarsgaard ought to be there.

Although, yeah, that damn Bobby title’s already been taken.

Consensus: Smart, insightful and compelling, Jackie presents us with an interesting look into the life of its famous subject, while never forgetting to show the possible negative sides to who this person may have really been.

8 / 10

You look great, Natalie. You don't need three mirrors to prove it.

You look great, Natalie. You don’t need three mirrors to prove it.

Photos Courtesy of: Silver Screen Riot

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

We’re like all connected, man.

After her mother is killed and father (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken from here at the age of 16, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has set her sights out on for her whole life to take down the Empire, in whatever way she can. After receiving a random message from him that he has plans on how to destroy the almighty Death Star, Jyn sets out with a group of fellow rebellious souls who, in one way or another, want to hope for a better world and future that isn’t so controlled by the Empire. One such person is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Captain who has definitely done a whole lot in his life that he’s not proud of, but knows to push all of that to the side in hopes that he and the rest of these ragtag folks will be able to hurt the Empire where it hurts the most.

Oh yeah, and it’s somehow all connected to A New Hope, which isn’t a spoiler and trust me, you won’t soon forget about, considering that the movie seems to remind us just about every second that it’s all tied together, through some way. Which isn’t all that bad because yes, it is a prequel of some sorts and yes, it is taking place within this universe that we all practically know by heart, so it would make obvious sense that they would try and tie it all in, make constant references, and give greater context to things we’ve been mulling over since the first one was released nearly 40 years ago.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

That said, a movie should stand on its own, prequel or not, and honestly, that’s where Rogue One sort of falls short.

You basically have to know everything that they’re talking about here and if you don’t, well, then you’re going to feel left out. The one good aspect surrounding the fact that the movie hearkens back to the original so much is that director Gareth Edwards films the movie to where it’s kind of goofy and light, but at the same time, still incredibly stylish and polished to where it still feels especially modern. In fact, it’s hard not to look at Rogue One and see not just how much money was put into it, but how much time, effort and care was put into assuring that the movie had the look and feel of the other movies, yet, still sort of its own thing.

Sure, it’s a movie that connects one too many times to the other flicks and has to remind us incessantly about the larger universe that we already definitely know about, but when this baby’s moving and not focusing a whole lot on what it’s plot is going to turn out to be, it’s quick an enjoyable ride. Edwards definitely knows how to film action -whether it’s on the ground, or in space, or between a bunch of foot-soldiers, or androids – and to do so in a manner that’s compelling, as well as comprehensible, is definitely a step-up from the rest of what we get in the world of summer blockbusters and shaky-cam.

Then again, as good as the action may be, there’s still something that Rogue One lacks in and that’s good, substantial and above all else, memorable characters that, in the many, many years to come, we’ll never get out of our heads and/or stop quoting.

Basically, I’m talking about another Darth Vader, or Han Solo, or Yoda, or hell, even Luke, which doesn’t of interest to Rogue One. And okay, yes, that’s fine – I understand that it’s hard to sometimes strike gold twice when it comes to lovely, absolutely memorable characters and of course, they have a high order to work against, but still, anything would have helped here. Not just a certain trait that lasts long in our mind, but anything.

Rogue One seems to know how to bring all of these shady, random characters from all walks of life together, give them a mission to work towards and basically leave it at that. There’s nothing to any of them, with the exception of a particular set of skill that they’re able to utilize in the heat of the battle, which makes it feel like we’re watching a bunch of characters that we’re supposed to like, sympathize with, and root for, all because of what they’re doing, but it’s kind of hard when we don’t really know any of them. We get some small bits and pieces among the whole talented ensemble, but it still feels like perhaps the movie is holding back on something to keep us glued on to me, until it eventually shows its hand and, well, there’s not much there.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

We’re supposed to care and roll with it, because well, it’s fun and it’s Star Wars. So why should we complain?

Well, it’s easy to complain when you have the talented likes of Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, and Jiang Wen, all doing material that allows them to have a few lines or so every once and awhile, along with a lot of kicking, punching, shooting and fun stuff like that. And of course, I’m not complaining that the movie takes their fighting habits, over their, I don’t know, real life, human habits, but it definitely doesn’t help that every character feels like sketches of someone/something far more interesting that either wasn’t filmed, or cut-out of the final product entirely.

Yen’s blind jedi-like character is pretty bad-ass and honestly, makes me want to see him more and more, but blindness and ass-kicking is pretty much all he gets; Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO droid is memorable because he’s a lot like C3PO, but much more violent and witty, stealing most of the scenes it’s in; Luna’s character tries a little hard to be Han Solo and mostly just feels like a far distant cousin; Ahmed’s barely here; Mendelsohn and Mikkelsen are pros at trash and can elevate anything that they’re working with; Whitaker is pretty bad here, but it seems like he was left without much to do; Wen is there to aid Yen’s character and gets to partake in some bad-assery, but what purpose her serves is never fully explained; and yes, Jones’ Jyn Erso, while not necessarily the most memorable heroine to exist in sci-fi, she still gets the job done, showing us someone we can trust in, but also want to know more and more about, in between all of the planning, and shooting, and killing.

Maybe I showed up to the wrong movie.

Consensus: Stylish and exciting, Rogue One definitely delivers on the epic, grand-scale action that’s become synonymous with Star Wars by now, but also substitutes most of that for a standalone story, with well-written, memorable characters.

7 / 10

True besties.

True besties.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Collateral Beauty (2016)

Mr. Smith Goes to a Wonderful Life.

After the tragic death of his daughter, rich and successful New York ad executive Howard (Will Smith) loses all hope with life. He is, essentially, sleepwalking through it all, barely talking to those around him, getting anything done at work, and just ruining everything that exists in his own world. His coworkers don’t like this – not just because they care and love Howard, but because they’re worried that their company is about to go under. So, in a way to make sure that it doesn’t, the concoct a plan to, in a way, blackmail Howard by hiring three actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore), to come up to Howard, talk to him, and make him think about the three aspects in his life that he thinks about the most: Life, Time, and Death. While the partners believe that it’s only Howard’s life who needs some help, eventually, the actors start hanging around them, making them take one look closer at where they’re going with their own lives and how they could make the best of what they’ve got.

So yeah, Collateral Beauty is a pretty bad movie, made from a pretty bad idea. But here’s the dilemma I always seem to run into with movies such as these: Can a movie be so absolutely, positively, no-doubt-about-it horrendous, if it’s barely 90 minutes? A part of me wants to say that it can’t happen, because there are so many movies out there hitting the two-hour run-time, and then some, and are just so bad, that they should have just never happened in the first place.

"Hey, Will. Cheer the hell up bro."

“Hey, Will. Cheer the hell up bro.”

But Collateral Beauty, no matter how long or short, is just a bad movie.

And it’s kind of a shame, too, because there’s an iota of a good idea to be found somewhere in the deep, thick and confusing layers of this narrative, but sadly, it just never comes out; it’s stuck under a movie that never makes sense of itself, is so stupid without ever knowing the sheer lengths of its stupidity, and somehow, thinks that it’s changing lives with how deep and meaningful it is. Does this movie mean well and have something to say about life, love, death, time, and family? Sure, a little bit, but does any of that come out in a meaningful, somewhat powerful way that resonates with those who set out to see this?

I don’t think so, or better yet, it didn’t for me. Could I be wrong and nothing more than a heartless, soulless, evil and unforgivably mean a-hole? Most likely, but when it comes to Collateral Beauty, I don’t care – the movie’s bad and if you enjoy it, you’re not a bad human being, you just don’t know what a good movie is supposed to be.

It’s weird, though, because everyone involved with Collateral Beauty is, in one or another, a talented individual. Director David Frankel has definitely had some stinkers in his life, but when he’s on his game (like with Hope Springs or the Devil Wears Prada), his movies are actually enjoyable to watch. Here though, it feels like he had no sword in the battle. For one, he was already replacing the much more interesting Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and, oh yeah, he’s working with a script from Allan Loeb, the same person who have us the scripts to winners like Here Comes the Boom, the Dilemma, and oh man, the Switch.

The Switch, people.

What the hell?

Anyway, so yeah, i feel bad for Frankel because it really feels like he doesn’t know how to make this script play well, or even remotely work on the screen, so in a way, he just sort of gives up, films every scene the way it’s supposed to be shot and let’s the script do all of the talking. Clearly that was the biggest issue for the movie, but it also seems like a battle that someone as plain and as ordinary as Frankel just wasn’t ready to battle; perhaps had Gomez-Rejon stayed on, or maybe even a better director got on-board, something could have been done, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we got the finished product of Collateral Beauty, which is stupid from the very beginning and never seems to quick, what with the exception of maybe one or two bright spots to be found in the whole thing.

"Faster! We gotta get the hell out of this movie!"

“Faster! We gotta get the hell out of this movie!”

And yes, most of that comes from the impressive, yet unused ensemble. Will Smith may get top-billing here, but oddly enough, he’s not really in the movie nearly as much as you’d think. And even when he is, he’s downplaying all of that fun, all of that charm, and all of that coolness about him that just radiates off the screen. Nope, instead, he’s playing it sad, depressed and without a single smile to be found. Normally, I’m all for this change of pace, but it never feels real, just calculated; it’s as if someone told him to always have a frown when the camera was on and went one step further and got plastic-surgery to make his face literally look that down and out.

We know he’s better, so why?

And while I’m at it, yep, the rest of the cast here knows better, too. Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Michael Pena Jr., Ann Dowd, and freakin’ Dame Helen Mirren are all here, and as good as they may all be, not even they can save whatever the hell it is that they’re stuck with doing. Norton gets his own whole subplot that kind of works and sees him trying something new, while Mirren and Pena have some great scenes together, but honestly, it doesn’t matter – the rest of the movie is way too concerned with itself and trying to make sense of things that will never, ever make sense, no matter how hard the cast, Frankel, or Loeb tries. It’s just sad and a shame to watch, which makes me think why anyone bothered with it in the first place.

Oh well. At least they got paid, right?

Consensus: Silly, random, nonsensical, and as contrived as you are able to get with a wholesome movie, Collateral Beauty tries to do interesting stuff, but it just never pays off and has everyone, especially the great cast, look dumbfounded.

4 / 10

Always listen to the Dame. Even when she's in crap like this.

Always listen to the Dame. Even when she’s in crap like this.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Big Year (2011)

These people care about these birds a lot; that is, until they find  that white stuff on their cars. You know what I’m talking about.

Three men (Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin), each facing their own personal challenges, try to outdo one another in the ultimate bird-watching competition in 1998. However, bird-watching gets in the way of what’s best in their lives and has them rethinking their dedication and craft.

The whole idea and premise behind The Big Year? Well, it’s real. Every single year, a group of avid birdwatchers go around competing against one other to see who can spot the most birds in some set area. Doesn’t sound like the most happening thing to do on the street, but these people could all be doing something a lot worse with their time, right?

Either way, it makes you think: Did we really need a movie about bird-watchers?

Brian?!?

Brian?!?

Probably not and judging by all of the trailers/posters/ads, it’s made abundantly clear that everyone behind it were trying their damn near hardest to make sure that absolutely nobody knew this was a bird-watching movie, because really, who would want to go out and see that? Seriously. It doesn’t matter who you have, or how good the movie may be – movies about a group of bird-watchers, just isn’t all that exciting to the general audience. And it actually wouldn’t have been such a problem what the material was about, had the movie itself actually just been good, but that’s the icing on the cake, because it just isn’t.

Director David Frankel is your typical layman’s director who shows up to work and doesn’t do much, which probably made him the perfect candidate for the Big Year, a movie that’s so happy-go-lucky and cheerful, that it’s almost nauseating. Being cheerful isn’t always such a bad thing, though – sometimes, it can work in your movie’s favor – but the Big Year relies so much on its slapstick and humor, that it just doesn’t connect. The moments that the movie wants to be funny, just doesn’t work or even register as, well, “comedy”. It’s a problem that never ceases throughout the whole flick, making it all the more of a chore to sit through.

But trust me, it actually gets kind of worse.

Once Frankel takes this story into straight-on drama mode, things start to get really unbearable as all of these dumb stories converging together. The story behind Wilson’s character is probably the dumbest, because here he is being the #1 birder in the world (which is something he deserves credit for, I guess), and he can’t even choose whether he wants to be with the birds or with his wife. Need I remind you, his wife is played by the ever so gorgeous Rosamund Pike who always seems to always look the same as each and every single year goes by. So right then and there, the film tries to pull you into this story and give itself a dilemma – one that, mind you, would be solved if this dude was actually placed in real life. “Goddess or birds?”, seems to be the main dilemma and well, I think it’s pretty simple to figure that one out.

But it’s not just Wilson’s character who gets this type of treatment, everybody else gets it too and it’s only worse when you have three comedic stars like Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black, basically all kicking themselves in the ass just for anything resembling a laugh. Steve Martin used to be one of the funniest and most daring guys in comedy, but now, he’s stuck doing old-man, grandpa roles where his performances consist of him being ultra-serious, with his once-in-awhile signature dance. That dance is priceless, but when he pulls it out here, it comes out of nowhere and didn’t make me laugh at all.

Tim?!?!

Tim?!?!

Then of course, there’s Jack Black who everybody seems to hate, but I for one, don’t. I’ll give Black some love here and there because the guy can be good when he’s given the material to work with, but is really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. He plays his usual “zany” role where he does all of this wacky stuff, and says weird things and why is that, you ask? Oh, because he’s the 36-year old slacker that doesn’t have anything else better to do with his life or his money, instead of just waste it all on bird-watching. Black is probably the most bearable to watch out of the whole cast, but that is really not saying much.

 

But fine, Wilson, Martin and Black all putting in terrible performances? That’s fine. I can accept that because they’ve given terrible ones before and guess what? They’ll continue to do so. The real stab that hurts harder and harder that I think about it is the fact that there’s so many more people in this cast, like Tim Blake Nelson, like Dianne Wiest, like Brian Dennehy, like John Cleese, like June Squibb, like Anjelica Huston, like Rashida Jones, and like so many others, that honestly, deserve a whole hell of a lot better. Why they’re here, why they’re stuck with this crap material, why they needed the money so bad, well, is honestly a hard question to answer.

All I do know is that it’s over with and they’ve all moved on. For the most part.

Consensus: Unfunny, poorly-written, and a waste of everyone involved, the Big Year deals with an odd premise, takes it way too seriously and never knows just what to do with itself.

2 / 10 

"Nope. Not a good movie in sight, fellas."

“Nope. Not a good movie in sight, fellas.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

pradaposterFashion is life.

After graduating college, Andrea (Anne Hathaway) is finally ready to get on with her life and career. Of course, she hits the ground running immediately when she takes up an assistant job to one Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), editor-in-chief and general boss of Runway fashion magazine. Right off the bat, Andrea feels as if she has no clue what she’s doing in this job, with all of the crazy tasks and missions that she’s called on to complete, with barely any of them seeming like a good use of the skills she required as a journalism major at Northwestern. However, with the help of the fellow assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), eventually, Andrea gets the hang of things and before long, the job itself begins to take over her own personal life, with her own personal boyfriend (Adrian Grenier). And wouldn’t you know it, but Andrea starts to lose focus of said personal life and focus way too much on her job, to the point of where she’s alienating all of those around her, and just falling more in deep with Miranda, the fashion world, and the fellow people that inhabit that cult-like world.

You look good either heel, Anne. Trust us all.

You look good either heel, Anne. Trust us all.

The Devil Wears Prada barely registers as a movie, but I mean that in a good way. It’s harmless, meaningless, by-the-numbers, conventional entertainment that’s made solely for women to adore, the men not admit that they liked, and everyone else to watch whenever it pops up on TV. Sometimes, when you’re a big-budgeted comedy flick, isn’t that all you need to be? In a way, sort of and it’s why the Devil Wears Prada, while not setting out to change the world in any stretch of the imagination, does what it needs to, gets the job done, and heads out before it can wear out its welcome too noticeably.

So like I said, what’s wrong with that?

And like I said before, not much, however, there is that feeling that it could be a better movie. In a way, the flick wants to be a satire on the fashion world, the sheer ridiculousness of it, and how, or better yet, why so many damn smart and rich people are in it and constantly flaunting it around like it’s nobody’s business. But in another way, it also wants to be a movie about how the fashion world is this crazy, cooky place where all sorts of smart and rich people get together, throw money around on fabric, and well, offers up quite the ride for those looking to become apart of it. So, really, what’s the movie trying to say?

Honestly, I don’t know, nor do I think it matters. Director David Frankel and writer Aline Brosh McKenna seem to understand how light and fun they each want the material to be, but when it comes to thinking longer, or even harder about it, well, not so much. They both sort of drop the ball on that point, with McKenna seeming like she really wants to stick it to the shallowness of the fashion world, but with Frankel not realizing this and perhaps having way too much fun in all of the glitz and glamour and all that.

Like I stated before, though, does any of it really matter?

Kind of, but not really. Frankel knows how to keep the pace up to where we’ve seen this story a million times before, but there’s still something fun and exciting about it, what with watching Meryl Streep and Anne Hathway on the screen together, working off of one another and generally, having a great time. Streep, believe it or believe it, was nominated for an Oscar here and while it’s a bit of a joke, it’s still a great performance in an otherwise fine movie; she’s not necessarily funny in the role, as much as her character is, but it’s still a sign that Streep, especially when she’s dialing it down and relaxing her acting-muscles a bit, is still a wonder to watch. It not only makes me wish she’d take on more comedy, but probably more challenging-comedy roles, if that makes any sense.

Like mentor....

Like mentor….

Anyway, Hathaway’s good, too, even if she is essentially playing the Julia Roberts character of the flick. Still though, there’s something about her that makes her so likable in the first place, that no matter how far she gets wrapped into her job, we still actually give a hoot about her. Emily Blunt also shows up as the other assistant and is quite great in the role, telling it like it is and bouncing off of Hathaway whenever the scene seems to call for it. Also, even better to see Stanley Tucci in a fun role as one of the key fashion-editors of the magazine, showing why he too, deserves to do more comedy, as well.

Anyway, like I said, the movie’s just about that: It’s a sum of its parts, all of which are fine as they are.

Doesn’t make it bad, doesn’t make it great, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it memorable – but it does make it a movie and I guess, if I’m going to spend at least two hours of my life on one, the least it can be is entertaining, which thankfully, this is.

Consensus: Light, frothy and a little fun, the Devil Wears Prada won’t fool anyone for life-changing Oscar-bait, but will prove to be a good time regardless.

6.5 / 10

Like student....

Like student….

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Okay, never mind. Board-games are pretty scary.

Way before the Ouija board started popping-up, killing clueless teens left and right, it was actually quite the staple in the home of a suburban, middle-class family from the late-60’s. Recently Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) has been trying her absolute hardest to raise her two daughters, Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson), and honestly, it’s getting a lot harder with each and every day. So, in a way to not just pay the bills, but give others in her same situation some idea of love and hope, she runs a phony little business where, for a certain price, she will try to contact the dead. Of course, it’s all a wacky and wild show that the girls help their mom with, but it’s something that’s been working for so long, so why stop now? However, it all gets a little freaky when strange and evil things start happening in the house and no one really knowing whether or not it’s real. The only one who does seem to know exactly is little Doris and, well, she’s not been herself as of late.

See where this is going yet?

De Palma or Hitchcock reference? Or just plain creepy?

De Palma or Hitchcock reference? Or just plain creepy?

After the awful first flick, Origin of Evil wasn’t really high on my radar, nor really making me expect any sheer bit of greatness to be found. Then, I looked at the director and realized that I was working with Mike Flanagan, in the year 2016, again. I say “again”, because Flanagan already put out a pretty amazing home-invasion thriller out this year called Hush, where he showed that you can do wonders with an age old and simple premise, but in ways, even liven it up and make it seem fresh for future people to try out.

And that same kind of fun and creativity that he brought to that little gem, he brings to the big-budget, yet, somewhat intimate horror-thriller that is, yes, big on the scares, but is also bigger on the smaller moments where there’s something creepy lurking in the background, sometimes out of frame, but we never quite know. Flanagan actually works pretty well as two kinds of horror film makers; he’s all for the crazy and insane carnage that most horror movies work in, but he’s also all for the much quieter, subdued side that most horror movies seem to stay away from, in hopes that they don’t bore their audiences from seeing all sorts of ghosts, ghouls and creatures. But it works for Flanagan – he’s playing both of his sides here, but they work well hand-in-hand, as opposed to making it seem like the movie itself was done by two different directors.

See, because yes, Origin of Evil is quite freaky, but it takes its time with itself, which probably makes it freakier.

It’s actually a surprise how understated the movie can actually be; rather than just jumping right at us with all of the ghost stuff, the movie actually helps develop these characters, their relationships with one another, and what exactly they’ve been through as a family. We get a sense, early on, that mostly everyone in this movie is a beaten down and broken individual, who has had some sort of tragedy in their life and just trying whatever the hell they can do to get by. Henry Thomas eventually shows up as a priest that takes a liking to the family, and rather than diving into some creepy romance with Reaser’s character, the movie shows how they’re both hurting and maybe don’t need to sex all of the pain away, but probably just be there for one another, get in their pajamas, watch some wacky rom-coms, eat ice cream, and yeah, maybe end the night on some cuddeling.

What a sham! Right, guys?!? Right?!?!?

What a sham! Right, guys?!? Right?!?!?

Okay, maybe it is dangerously close to sex, but so what? They’re grown-ups and they’re allowed to!

Anyway, where Origin of Evil does lose some points is in explaining just what the powerful and mysteriously evil force is, or better yet, what it solidifies. The movie goes for an extra extreme and harsh explanation that, sure, makes some sort of sense, but also seems like it was just being written as it was being explained by the cast. It almost makes you want to see the movie of that, even if yeah, it would be different from what we have here – a much more melodic, but altogether effective horror flick that does hark back to the good old days, but also shows improvement in messing with the formula of the modern-day horror flick.

Even though there isn’t all that much blood, gore, or even violence, Origin of Evil shows that you can still be pretty damn scary by playing it small, but also, attentive. Flanagan is a smart writer and director, in that he knows and understands just what it is that make so many of those older horror-flicks, like Halloween or the Exorcist, so memorable and chilling in the first place – we actually care enough about the people involved that, by the time they start dropping like flies, well, it matters. Most horror movies I see nowadays, not just forget about that, but don’t seem to have any intentions on even trying. If anything, Origin of Evil proves, just like the Conjuring 2 did earlier this year, is that all you need to make a good, solid and smart piece of horror, is just give us people we want to actually see live through the proceedings.

Oh yeah, and a whole bunch of scares, too.

Consensus: While it’s definitely different from its predecessor, Origin of Evil is also much better, smarter, scarier, interesting and thrilling, blending a great deal of “boo scares”, with smaller ones that creep on you a whole lot more.

8 / 10

Silly kids. When they gonna learn!

Silly kids. When they gonna learn!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Moana (2016)

Tattooed-men aren’t so scary after all.

Ever since she was just a little girl, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) has always longed for the outside world. She, her family, and the countless other folks have been living on this one single island, far away from the rest of the world, surviving all on their own and never running into any issues. However, it seems like all of their worst nightmares are coming true, when all of a sudden, the food starts to go bad on the island and the fish are nowhere to be found. Moana believes that the best way to get this finished is to set out and find the once-mighty demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who may be able to finally save their island and ensure that nobody dies. But getting from point A, to point B, is very difficult and along the way, both Maui and Moana run into all sorts of issues, whether it’s with fellow travelers, or with one another.

Disney princess? Maybe.

A Disney princess to kick all of the other’s asses.

No matter what, there’s no denying that Moana has some pretty great tunes. Getting Lin-Manuel Miranda definitely helps as all of the songs, whether serious or funny, all have a very fun sound and feel to them, that not only shows that some real effort was put into them, but they weren’t just used for filler. Most of the time, with these musicals, it can sometimes feel like the songs barely serve a purpose, other than to just have the voice-actor show off their pipes, but here, each and every song serves a purpose, whether it’s to give insight into a certain character, or give us a better idea of just what the hell they’re thinking at that one exact moment in time.

Sure, there’s no “Let it Go” to be found here, but is that such an issue?

Regardless, the music of Moana is so good that, honestly, it wasn’t hard to wish that the whole movie had just been one, long musical, from beginning to end, without any breaths, pauses, or sighs anywhere to be found. Cause despite all of the hype surrounding it, not only is Moana a very conventional tale that we’ve seen a hundred times before, but it can also get kind of boring and random; after awhile, all of the fantasy elements seem to come out of nowhere in a way that makes you think that the people behind the flick are just making things up because, well, why not. After all, they’re making a movie for little kids and sometimes, making sense or having a rhyme/reason for doing the things that you do, just shouldn’t matter.

But yeah, to be honest, Moana itself is a little boring – the adventure can sometimes be fun and the various evil-doers that they meet along the way do prove some real creativity and spark within the writer’s room, but for the most part, it felt very plodding to me. It honestly seemed like they had the songs written, performed and knew what they were working with, so instead of creating a great story first and throwing all of the songs in there, they just used the songs to connect the dots. I could definitely be wrong, but from afar, this seems to have happened, with a good portion of the story seeming like an excuse just to get to the next musical-sequence and keep everyone awake.

The ocean just spoke to her. Or something weird and sort of insane like that.

The ocean just spoke to her. Or something weird and sort of insane like that.

And yeah, I get it, I’m definitely a Grinch for not being in love with this movie. I get it.

It’s not even like the movie isn’t great to look at, because it is; Disney seems to be getting more and more visually appealing each and every time, combining different animation styles, almost to the point of where things begin looking like real life. And the voice-acting from the whole gang, especially Johnson as the sometimes prickish Maui, is actually all good, but honestly, they’re sort of wasted on a story that does random things for the sake of moving itself along. It has a clear objective that we can all see from the start, which is normally fine, but getting there doesn’t have to be such a slog, does it?

Better yet, it doesn’t have to be such a conventional one, right? Either way, Moana reminds me why animated movies can sometimes be real great when they have a smart head on their shoulders and actually care about what they’re doing, and why they can be so annoying to watch when the exact opposite is happening. Hopefully this isn’t a constant thing with Disney.

Consensus: With great visuals and some very catchy tunes, Moana can be entertaining, however, also has a very conventional story that sometimes doesn’t make sense, nor seem like it wants to, all in favor of just getting to the next track.

6 / 10

Yeah, don't mess.

Yeah, don’t mess.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

Office Christmas Party (2016)

Egg nog brings out the best in everyone.

Josh (Jason Bateman) is currently going through a little bit in his life and with it being the holidays and all, what he really wants to do is just sit back, relax, drink, hang out with some friends, and get in the holiday spirit of warmth and giving. However, with news that the corporation that he works for, Zenotech, may be on the brink of destruction, Josh now finds it impossible to get in any sort of cheer or happiness – if anything, he’s scared-to-death. And come to think of it, so is the branch manager, Clay (T.J. Miller). So, in some way, they concoct a plan where they not only hold the annual office Christmas party, but they do so in a way that may just save the company, once and for all. The only issue standing in their way is, other than the party getting too wacky and wild, is Clay’s sister (Jennifer Aniston), who also happens to be the CEO of Zenotech and will not put up with any unnecessary and insane shenanigans, regardless of whether or not it’s the holiday season.

Ugh, yeah.

Ugh, yeah.

Studio holiday comedies seem to come out just about every year and because of that, we, the audience, mostly has to accept them for what they are. And Office Christmas Party is the perfect example of that: Just about every funny person on the planet is featured here and yet, why does the movie feel so mediocre? A part of me feels that it has more to do with the fact that the studio behind it knew that they could rank-in some dough with a raunchy comedy, while also didn’t feel the need to really add much else to it than a bunch of familiar names, crazy gags, and Christmas tunes to get the licenses to.

Everything else, as they say, will pretty much figure itself out, right?

Well, that’s sort of what happens with Office Christmas Party, but it sort of doesn’t. It’s the kind of movie that made me laugh every once and awhile, but honestly, considering this cast involved, should have had me losing my pants about halfway through. The gags feel tired and lame; the over-the-top humor that seems to come seemingly out of nowhere, also feels forced; and yeah, I hate to say it, but the party is also kind of lame. Will Speck and Josh Gordon directed this and while it’s clear that they and the cast may have been having some good old fun, it doesn’t quite translate to the rest of the movie; a good portion of the run-time is spent focusing on all of these different subplots and how they develop over the night, sometimes providing laughs and other times, just not.

A movie like last year’s Sisters, showed that having your movie revolved around one single party can be pretty great – what needs to work, however, is the party itself. It needs to be fun, it needs to be raucous, it needs to be crazy, it needs to constantly build-and-build, and yeah, it actually needs to be hilarious to watch. Sure, it also needs to help keep the story moving, but honestly, it doesn’t need to take up about half of the movie, like it does here with Office Christmas Party, because after awhile, it just gets frustrating; every moment you think you’re going to finally get some time to mellow-out and enjoy the craziness of the actual party itself, nope, the movie jumps away and back to whatever plot it feels like going on and on about and it just ruins its momentum.

Like I said, though, the movie isn’t terrible.

Keep on smiling, girl. You're fine after this.

Keep on smiling, girl. You’re fine after this.

Mostly, all of its shortcomings are forgiven for the fact that they have one of the better ensembles in a comedy that I’ve seen in quite some time. Now, what they all do and how they perform here is an entirely different story altogether, but the fact that the movie was able to wrangle up not just the likes of comedic heavyweights Bateman, Miller, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, and Randall Park, along with some random, but welcome ones like Courtney B. Vance, Sam Richardson, and Abbey Lee, is really surprising. And yes, mostly all of them give it their shot and do what they can, but really, they’re all doing the same things we’ve seen them all do before, with barely any new spring to be found in their step, or original-spin taken.

The only one who really seems to be enjoying themselves the most, is also the one who may be changing things up ever so slightly with their act here, and that’s Jennifer Aniston. As Carol, the CEO of Zenotech (a name you will continue to be more and more annoyed by as the movie goes on), Aniston gets to really play it mean, brassy and nasty, like she never has before. Sure, you could make the argument that she did all of that up in Horrible Bosses, but honestly, that was played more up for the zany laughs – here, she’s playing someone meaner, darker and a lot less weird. She’s as serious as serious can be and in between all of that, she brings some humor out of this character and made me want to see more of her.

Because if the party’s not all that great, why not just hang with the people?

Consensus: Even with the great cast on-board, Office Christmas Party still feels like a disappointment, what with the jokes not really connecting and being way too plot-heavy to really make it an altogether enjoyable occasion.

6 / 10

Call those agents immediately!

Call those agents immediately!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Film School Rejects