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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: July 2017

My Scientology Movie (2017)

Just watch EWTN. Much better and less controversial, honestly.

Scientology has been as controversial for as long as it’s been around. And as it begins to grow and grow, more members do find themselves leaving. But why? Or better yet, just what the hell is Scientology all about? What does a Scientologist believe in? And are all the myths about it true? All of those questions and more get answered here, courtesy of Louis Theroux, a British journalist who takes a huge interest in Scientology and decides to stage his own film-version of first-hand accounts of what goes on in Scientology. Mark Rathbun, a fellow Scientologist, helps Louis out in figuring out more and more about the so-called “religion”, but in doing so, also raises alarms for those involved with Scientology and don’t take too kindly to others making movies about their well-being.

“Anything you can do, I can do better.”

After the comprehensive job Going Clear did, it’d be hard to really tackle the subject of Scientology again. Cause obviously, yes, we get it: It’s not a real religion, it’s filled with evil, disillusioned people, and yeah, it’s just bad news all around. As the years have gone by and more people have been leaving it, the more access we get to figuring out just what the hell it’s all about, as well as why people are still drawn to it, even despite all of these obvious issues being out there in the press, for the whole world to see and take notice of.

And that’s why My Scientology Movie, while sometimes funny and admirable, also feels a little unnecessary. While Louis Theroux makes it a point not to necessarily make this a behind-the-scenes, eye-opening account of Scientology, as a whole, he still doesn’t bring much of anything new to the discussion, either. If anything, My Scientology Movie shows that even those, like Mark Rathburn, who get kicked-out of Scientology, may still be hard-firmed believers – they just don’t have the whole sponsorship to go along with it.

So aside from that, yeah, My Scientology Movie is a pretty standard documentary that doesn’t go too deep, but also doesn’t really act like it wants to do that, either.

It’s sort of what is and that’s fine. Theroux himself does help the movie out because, even when push comes to shove, and the Scientology people are getting so in his face, he still stays cool, calm, collected, and pretty funny. It helps that he’s a bit out-of-place, being this tall, lean, relatively dorky Brit in the hot, steamy sun of L.A., but it’s nice to see a documentarian who doesn’t find it necessary to constantly get by on crazy stunts, or by constantly being the center of attention. And even though this is an obvious dig at Michael Moore, honestly, his presence is sometimes needed for the material he develops; Theroux doesn’t really need to be there, except to help give us a conduit to everything and as that, he’s fine.

Take ’em down, Louis!

Although when it comes to the recreation of Scientology and Theroux making his own “movie”, My Scientology Movie sort of falls flat. It’s a neat idea, for sure, but it never really goes anywhere; once again, if anything, this portion of the movie just makes you sit and wonder about how desperate some of these actors are, that they don’t even know what they’re getting themselves into, or are even portraying. It seems like a lot of Theroux’s intended motives here, didn’t quite work out, but instead, pivoted on a better, much more interesting idea.

But like I said, there’s just not that much development.

We know Scientology is awful and we know that the people involved with it, no matter what their status as a celebrity may be, are also a little nutty. We’ve seen this before, we see it here, and yeah, it’s nothing new. It’s still entertaining and relatively shocking to see, but it’s old fruit that constantly keeps getting bitten into. Is there more out there about this “religion” to find out about and investigate? Sure, but perhaps My Scientology Movie isn’t that step.

At least not right now.

Consensus: Despite a clear attempt to really get down and deep into the religion, My Scientology Movie also doesn’t have anything new to say, but is entertaining enough because who doesn’t enjoy poking fun at Scientology?

6 / 10

We are all Scientologists, essentially. Right?

Photos Courtesy of: The AV ClubFlickering MythIndieWire

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The Incredible Jessica James (2017)

Always fall in love with an Irishman. It works everything out.

While supremely talented, Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is also a very frustrated playwright currently trying to live and survive in the Big Apple. After a recent break-up and a few job opportunities that fell through, she doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with her life, nor does she really expect all that anything great to come of it; she’s sort of just coasting by, hoping for that big break that all us young folks hope and pray for. But in the meantime, she begins to date Boom (Chris O’Dowd), an older dude who is also getting over a recent divorce and doesn’t quite know what he wants to do, either. Together, the two create something of a nice little relationship that isn’t too serious, or meaningful just yet, until well, it gets to be that. Then, the two are left wondering what’s next, not just with themselves, but with each other.

It’s all about the style.

The Incredible Jessica James is another entry into the long list of small, character-based movies that Netflix, finds, picks up, and actually does a nice little favor for. After all, it’s the kind of movie that won’t win any awards, won’t change the world we live in, nor will it ever shake up the foundation of the future of movies to come. It’s just fine, simple, and easygoing enough to work, which is why it’s a nice, pleasant watch.

Now, is that so bad?

Writer/director James C. Strouse is good with these kinds of movies because, even while he likes to get a little head of himself with the sometimes zany comedy, he also doesn’t forget that what makes movies like this worth watching and compelling, is because of the interesting, relatively likable characters worth sitting around for. They don’t have to be perfect, nor do they have to be total and complete a-holes – they just have to be people that we want to sit around and watch for an-hour-and-a-half. And he’s lucky that he’s got someone as solid as Jessica Williams who seems like she’s on the brink of stardom by now and her next step will surely be watched.

Which is a good thing, because Williams is a likable personality on the screen. She’s funny, smart, but also not a little afraid to be vulnerable throughout this movie when it helps us understand more about her. It’s conventional to have her constantly dream of her boyfriend and not totally be able to get over him, but Williams is smart enough not to just make her play that whole aspect, the whole time. There’s more to her, like the fact that she’s actually trying to make a name for herself, is ambitious, and yes, also wants to figure her shit out, way before it’s too late.

Eh. Give ’em five months and see where they stand.

In other words, she’s just like any other young person.

And as her possible love-interest, Chris O’Dowd is good, mostly because he’s doing everything he does: Be Chris O’Dowd. And honestly, that’s fine; the guy is so charming and fun to watch, that even a scene where he’s just standing there, is more than enough pleasure. It does help that he and Williams have a solid bit of chemistry, too, where they not only seem good for each other, but are also different in certain ways that perhaps make them more compatible. Sure, the movie wants us to believe it’s true love, but it’s also not a bit afraid to show us why they may have certain small issues down the road.

Once again, it’s just smart writing, plain and simple. It’s not a perfect movie at all, but it does what it needs to do and that’s give us a normal, everyday person, the spotlight, if only for a bit. The movie doesn’t try to make any point about race, or even gender, which is fine because it’s not that kind of a movie. It’s just a sweet, little indie. Plain and simple.

Now, leave me alone.

Consensus: With a charming pair of leads, the Incredible Jessica James gets by on its sweet likability and everyday appeal.

6.5 / 10

Be ready, world. She sure is.

Photos Courtesy of: Okayplayer, IndieWire, Collider

To the Bone (2017)

Thanks, supermodels! What influences you all are!

Ellen (Lily Collins) is an unruly 20-year-old anorexic girl who spent the better part of her teenage years being shepherded through various recovery programs, only to find herself several pounds lighter every time. There’s no real rhyme or reason or why she’s stopped eating and allow for her body to get so frail – it’s just something that happened and has forced everyone around her to take notice and wonder what they did wrong. It’s even gone on to influence Ellen’s art which, as a result, even influenced a fellow girl her age, to kill herself. Once again, why? No one really knows, so Ellen gets sent away to find some sort of a solution to a group home for youths, led by a non-traditional doctor (Keanu Reeves), who believes much more in talking and getting to the root of the problem, rather than diagnosing it and expecting all sorts of issues just to go away. Through this home and the people she meets, Ellen begins to grow up a bit and start think about the life she has and why it’s actually worth living. And also, why it’s best to just chew down, as opposed to not at all.

Handshake, or pound it? Make up your mind, kids!

To the Bone is a step above the usual, cookie-cutter movie-of-the-week junk we get on TV nowadays. But it’s still a small step that features cursing, sex talk, drug use, and some other disturbing material that also makes it seem like it’s trying a bit hard, but at the same time, not, because it’s actually giving us real teens, with real issues, talking the way that real teens talk. Does that make it great? Nope, not really. But if anything, that makes it more noble than anything that Lifetime can offer you.

And if that’s the standard, then really, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, To the Bone mostly gets by on Lily Collins performance in which, not only does she totally dress herself down in an unhealthy and scary way, but also allows for her character to grow over time. It helps that Ellen is more than another angsty teen who has family-problems and doesn’t really know how to express herself, as she’s much more of a teen who just doesn’t know what to do with her life; the fact that she was mostly pushed to the edge of her life through someone else’s suicide, already makes her a tad different than other protagonists like her, in other movies. And yes, Collins is quite good, too, showing a great deal of sadness, as well as fun and light in a character that, honestly, should have just had a whole movie dedicated to her and to her alone.

Because it’s in the supporting characters that the movie sort of plays its hand a bit too much and, dare I say it, get a bit annoying. For instance, Alex Sharp’s romantic love-interest character, while well-intentioned, comes off a bit goofy and pretentious. It’s as if he jumped right out of the Fault in our Stars and decided to give this movie a bunch of annoying comedy that, quite frankly, it didn’t really need. We get it, he’s different and a bit light on his feet, but does that really mean every line he has, has to be some sort of lame joke that sounds like it came from your weird uncle?

You’ll get there. Have a steak.

Probably not and it’s why To the Bone struggles to figure out just what it’s about.

Either it’s about anorexia and what draws a person to this way? Or, it’s about this one girl, trying to live, trying to survive, trying to find happiness, and just trying to be herself, even when she doesn’t know how to be? The movie flirts with both angles and after awhile, it makes you wonder where it wants to go, what it wants to say, or what it even what it wants to be about. Both stories are interesting and could work, but side-by-side, they don’t and it ends up making the movie feel like a bit of a mess, even if yes, it’s one step above something from Lifetime.

But then again, is that really the peak?

Consensus: Though it flirts with some interesting ideas about anorexia, depression, and coming-of-age, ultimately, To the Bone feels a little melodramatic and light to really dig deep into what it wants to develop.

5 / 10

“Like, uh, woah.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Were the 80’s really all that cool?

Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) can take care of herself, regardless of if she’s on a mission or not. She kicks ass, takes names, and doesn’t really give a flyin’ hoot about authority, or who exactly she’s pissing off – in other words, she’s the total bad-ass. And she’s got a new mission somewhere in Berlin, where she’ll be sent alone to retrieve a priceless dossier from within the city, that is already going through its own changes, what with the Berlin Wall being prepared to being taken down and ripped apart. While there, she partners with station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), to help get her up and around Berlin, as well as clue her into who is to trust, and who isn’t. However, it becomes very clear to Lorraine that it doesn’t matter who you think you can trust, because you can’t trust a single person. Not even a fellow agent from Paris (Sofia Boutella), who may mean well, but also may have some dirty little secrets that she’s hiding from Lorraine, for the sake of her own agenda. Basically, it a cold, rough game of spies-versus-spies and we’re all just sitting by and watching it.

Uh, yeah. I’m going to leave this one alone and let it speak for itself.

Atomic Blonde absolutely wreaks and oozes with so much style, that it works despite itself. It’s the kind of movie that definitely tries so very hard to be “hip and cool”, but in a retro, 80’s-glam kind of way that eventually, you just sort of have to understand that that’s what it’s going for, accept it for what it is, and actually enjoy it. After all, it’s a movie set in the 80’s and feels like it could have been made in that decade, what with the glitzy, bright, flashy colors, talk of spies, Communists, and oh yeah, the New Wave tunes.

Oh man, the New Wave tunes. How could one forget?

Anyway, director David Leitch keeps with the spirit of the graphic novels here and it’s a smart move on his take, because Atomic Blonde, for all its plot issues, never takes itself too seriously. It’s a cold, dark, menacing, and sometimes brutally violent movie, but its tongue is placed firmly in its cheek and it never seems to forget that fact; the fact that we actually have a movie as violent as this, that’s also still able to crack jokes, is a surprise, considering the market for these kinds of movies seems to have been cornered by Tarantino. But nope, thankfully Leitch doesn’t forget where the story and style came from and yes, it helps this sometimes bitter pill go down easily.

Oh and of course, the action. Man, oh man, the action. Leitch is a smart director of action because he knows that in order for the violence/action to be grueling and compelling, well, we actually have to see it. All of the constant craziness of the shaky-cam doesn’t do anything else but cause constant headaches and confusion – sometimes, seeing someone get shot in the face, or kicked in the balls, without any jumping or crazy editing, makes a movie all the more fun. And with Atomic Blonde, there’s plenty of shooting, punching, kicking, bleeding, falling, and death, but because we can see it all, it’s a lot more fun and actually makes you feel it.

And yes, we can easily talk about the 8-minute or so sequence in which Charlize Theron literally goes around a stair-well, kicking a bunch of dudes asses in what appears to be a single-shot sequence. It’s clearly edited in a way to make you think that, but that’s besides the point: The point is that the action works and that’s all it needed to.

Clearly shot around the same time as Split. And yes, someone forgot to tell McAvoy.

And because of the action, the movie’s better off, because the story isn’t quite helping.

Of course, these kinds of spy-thrillers are best known for their MacGuffin premises, where an agent has to get something, from someone dangerous, in an even far more dangerous place, but that’s why the simplicity works so well. We’re used to it and not asked to care all that much about everything else. Atomic Blonde, in a way, sort of gets this wrong and sort of can’t seem to come up with a solid plot-line, mission, or even characters to fully help it out. Theron is a total and absolute bad-ass as Lorraine, but even she feels a little short-sighted; it’s as if the character was only given bullet-points of development on purpose for the sole sake of getting a sequel.

Still, Theron’s good at what she does here and one of the better actresses today who can make a lot of the silly dialogue, work. Other actors like James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella, while definitely talented, also feel like they don’t get a whole lot of time to fully develop, or go beyond the surface. Even Toby Jones and John Goodman, who spend most of the movie sitting at a desk and just spouting exposition, still feel a little more developed in their laid-back, grizzled ways – the others, not so much and it’s a shame. Perhaps, if the sequels do come around, we’ll get more.

Until then, who knows. Just watch and enjoy the ass-kickery.

Consensus: With so much style and action on frequent-display, Atomic Blonde is fun and consistently entertaining, even if it definitely needed some help on its script.

7 / 10

Do your thing, Charlize!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Wakefield (2017)

Sometimes, you just need to get away. But not all that far.

From the outside, Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) seemingly has it all. Two lovely kids, a lovely wife (Jennifer Garner), a solid job in the city, and a cushy, easygoing household out in the New York suburbs. It’s what every man at his age and of his stature would want, but for some reason, Howard doesn’t want it. Like any of it. In fact, he hates his wife, hates his job, hates his house, hates the people he’s surrounded by, and while he doesn’t hate the kids, he comes close. So, when he’s stuck outside in the shed for a short amount of time, he gets the grand idea of staying up there, without being seen or spotted, and just watch his family all from afar. At first, it’s an entertaining diversion from the real world, with real responsibilities and all of that, but eventually, it becomes almost far too serious in nature. After a short while, it isn’t long before Howard gets the grand idea of just staying in that shed, with no plans of ever being found, or letting anyone know just where the hell he’s at, what he’s doing, and what his plans are, once all of this gets far too serious. Issue is, that it eventually does get too serious, but Howard can’t seem to want to leave that damn shed.

That’s the look every person gets when it’s time to break free. If only just a slight bit.

Wakefield‘s premise is so wacky and rather silly, that it honestly depends on if you’re absolutely, undeniably willing to go along with it. If you don’t, then the movie’s just not going to work. But if you do, it’s a fun, sometimes hilarious ride that tells us a little bit about all of these characters and most importantly, allows us to peer into the lives of some normal, everyday individuals who we would have never thought we’d want to see a movie about.

But of course, the movie does help itself by not ever taking itself all that seriously which, when your premise is basically about a dude, up in a shed, watching everything going on in his house from afar, while narrating everything, and essentially, getting crazier, dirtier, and smellier, means a whole heck of a lot. In fact, Wakefield itself could have easily gotten old and tiring after the first half-hour, where it became all too clear just what this movie was going to be about, how it was going to spend its time, and what it was going to be doing, time and time again. But for some reason, writer/director Robin Swicord doesn’t allow for it to ever get that way.

If anything, she allows the material to pop-off the screen and be more, well, fun than it ever had any right to be.

The fact that we actually get to know more about Howard, if only through him and his narration, helps us out entirely. Of course, the movie’s narrative-device is always a little bit tricky, because everything we’re being told through him, is never made clear enough to where we can fully trust what he’s saying, or not. It’s not hard to imagine watching this movie again for the small, itty, bitty clues about what Howard’s telling the truth about, and what he isn’t, but because he’s possibly an unreliable narrator, everything we’re told is a lot more compelling, than if he was just to sit us down by the campfire and tell us folk-tales of yesteryear.

Leaving Jennifer Garner? Don’t know how on-board I am with that, pal.

Granted, hearing said tales from Bryan Cranston wouldn’t have been all that bad, but what I’m trying to say is this: Wakefield could have easily been a useless bore, but it wasn’t. We find out about this guy, his life, and get to enjoy the time we spend with him even if, at times, it can tend to get a little claustrophobic. Then again, that’s probably the point; the more uncomfortable he feels and the crazier he gets, the more we feel the same way because, after all, we’re trapped with the guy. The movie does attempt to try and be this survival-thriller on the side of its character-building, but in reality, doesn’t get too bothered and remembers that it’s all about Cranston reminiscing on his life.

And man, what reminiscences they are.

It’s interesting to see Cranston in a role like this, because it’s not all that far detached from Walter White; like him, Howard Wakefield is a normal, suburban, middle-class father who wants to break away from the chains of society and figure out what it’s like to live a little dangerously. Granted, how deep he gets is a little goofier this time around, but still, Cranston remains compelling through it all. It’s fun to just sit there and listen to what he has to say, even if mostly all of it could be bull-shit; there’s a certain degree of anger and rage simmering from within that’s easy to feel and because of that, it’s neat to see when and where he pops off.

Cause who doesn’t appreciate a solid Cranston freak-out?

Exactly.

Consensus: Even with the odd premise, Wakefield works because it’s smart, funny, and incredibly well-acted from Cranston, who anchors the whole movie throughout.

7.5 / 10

Ew.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Lovers (2017)

Love the one you’re with. And the others on the side.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been married for quite some time and as is usually the case with aging couples, things have gotten a little sour, a little boring, and most of all, a little dull. And because of that, they’ve both taken up with significant others to keep their lives happy, exciting, and above all else, worth going on for. Mary has Robert (Aidan Gillen), while Michael has Lucy (Melora Walters), and while both relationships can be definitely classified as “affairs”, they’re beginning to take on new lives as something far more serious and possibly even permanent. But here’s the thing: Mary and Michael are still together and don’t really know how to approach the issue of breaking up. And now with their son (Tyler Ross) coming home from college for a short bit, they especially don’t know what to do now. Should they break-up and move on, like they really want to? Or stick around and stay together, for a short time? Then again, they’re a married-couple so, who knows, old passions may come back.

Ew. Get a room!

The whole central joke surrounding the Lovers is this: Although the movie is about this couple who have been married for quite some time, we’re still seeing them as anything but. They don’t screw one another, barely even talk to one another, and hell, are rarely even in the same room together. This is deliberate on the part of writer/director Azael Jacobs’ part and it’s a smart take on what could have been a very preachy, very annoying, and relatively very conventional story. We’ve all seen spouses cheating on spouses, have gotten those sob stories, and see how they have all played-out, but the Lovers, with its interesting angle is, at the very least, different.

Does that make it any better? Not necessarily and that’s sort of the problem.

See, Jacobs’ take on making this marriage seem very fake works for awhile, until the other cheek is turned, and oh man, they’re all of a sudden screwing, and kissing, and talking, and gasp, in the same rooms together. It’s a nice little change-of-pace, but it also feels like the movie’s still trying to make jokes, without ever really trying its hardest to get down deep into what really makes a marriage, well, a marriage. The Lovers does seem interested in trying to figure out what constitutes love, marriage, and why people stay together for so long, even if the spark isn’t there. And hell, when the spark isn’t there, what’s the best way to go about getting it all back? Continue to try to screw each other, or set one’s sights elsewhere?

And it’s not like these are all points I wanted to see addressed here, it’s more that the film does seem like it brings them up, but backs away as soon as an idea is about to be developed. Jacobs seems like he knows how to create smart and interesting situations, with even smarter, interesting pieces of dialogue, but the end result is odd, as if he’s more confused at the end, than before he even started. It’s odd and definitely hard to explain, but it’s one of the main reasons why throughout the Lovers, I couldn’t help but be frustrated.

The only true element saving me here were the great performances by all involved, save by one Tyler Ross.

Oh, wait. Never mind. Don’t.

And no, it’s not like I’m going to crash on him because he’s young and playing a weak character in the first place, but because he just does not sit right at all with the rest of the movie. For some reason, Jacobs has written him to be this angst-fueled, angry, pissed-off, and irritated kid who seems to hate his parents, whether together or not, and can’t, not for a single second, let things go as they appear to be. Every scene he’s either picking a fight, or looking like he’s about to explode, and eventually does and it seems so random, so crazy, and so over-the-top, it made me wonder if I accidentally sat on the remote and came upon the Lifetime channel. It sound dramatic, but that’s because it is and it’s so weird.

Thankfully, like I said, the other performances are all great, with Letts and Winger making the most out of their scenes together. Winger’s especially impressive because she shows some sad, yet honest emotions in a character who feels like she could have easily been slut-shamed, but surprisingly, she wasn’t. She’s just an older women, looking for a second chance at love, and possibly finding it – just not in her husband. It’s nice to see Winger around again and it makes me hope that she sticks around for some more roles, regardless of if she’s still a pain to get along with.

Consensus: With two great performances in the leads, the Lovers gets by as a mildly interesting and entertaining take on married-couples, yet, also feels like it has a lot to say, without ever fully getting to a point.

6.5 / 10

It’s okay. Just hit up those side-pieces and all will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Variety, The New York Times, The Bajan Reporter

Sleight (2017)

Is this what Criss Angel is up to nowadays?

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a young guy living on the rough and tough streets of L.A., trying to get by and make a living for him and his little sister. But instead of doing what most of his friends are doing, like hustling, committing crimes, and selling drugs, Bo is keeping himself straight by performing magic on the streets. But honestly, after the death of his parents, it’s getting harder and harder for Bo to keep a roof over his head, so eventually, he turns to this life of crime where he falls under the tutelage of the local drug dealer (Dule Hill), who does not take kindly to people messing around with his stuff. But while all of this is happening, Bo meets Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) who, despite having a college education and plenty of other dreams in life, instantly falls for him. Now, Bo has more of a reason to live, survive and have all the things that he should want, but for some reason, the drug world just isn’t all that forgiving and it’s up to Bo to figure out just how the heck to get by it all. Then, something mysterious appears on his arm and things get odd.

Like really, really odd.

Eh. I’ve had more.

I have to give Sleight the benefit of the doubt in that it’s a low-budget film, with an incredibly diverse cast and relatively original premise. And yes, even a part of me is willing to forgive and get by all of the issues and problems had with this thing, just based solely on the fact that it’s so low-budget and got a lot working against it. But still, for some reason, I can’t get past the fact that Sleight, despite showing plenty of promise, never fully comes together.

In a way, it’s as if the budget needed to be bigger in order for director/co-writer J.D. Dillard to fully complete his vision. Clearly, some things got lost in the shuffle and it shows; there are far too many long-winding scenes where two characters are just sitting in a room, sort of talking, and seeming as if they’re going to never stop. In other words, yes, it’s called “character-development”, but it feels different here in Sleight – it’s as if Dillard had all of these scenes put in, because he didn’t have enough money to do other things.

Maybe this is just me talking, but either way, it slows the movie down to a halt.

And it doesn’t help that these characters aren’t the least bit interesting. Latimore is an interesting, bright, young talent who is surely going to go on and do great things, but his role here as Bo, when it’s not hitting every convention to be expected with a young whippersnapper growing up on the streets of L.A. (minus the whole magician angle), feels weak and almost underwritten. We’re supposed to see all of these different sides to him, but really, it’s just one where he always looks like a patron saint, taking care of all those around him, no matter what, and against all odds.

Giving David Blaine a run for his money. That guy’s still alive, right?

Dillard tries to even make his situation more interesting and therefore, compelling, but even that feels like it can get lost. A late-minute twist comes literally out of nowhere and while definitely cool, almost feels like it was thrown in there because Dillard got an extra check thrown his way from WWE Studios (who also helped distribute it). And I know a lot of what I’m complaining about is how it has a small-budget and clearly shows, but that’s not all it – it’s more that it’s a movie with a solid premise, yet, doesn’t take full advantage of it, mostly because it wants to play all of these different sides.

Dillard seems like he wants it to be a honest, raw, and gritty tale about growing up on the streets of L.A., but also wants it to be a sweet, youthful and lovely look at young love. Dillard also seems like he wants it to be a stone-cold drama about drugs, crime, and bad people, but also wants it to be about a kid possibly developing superpowers, or something of that nature. Honestly, it’s a mixed-bag overall, because it offers so many different sides and angles, yet, never fully comes together on one.

Just one. That’s all it needed. But nope. Couldn’t do that.

Consensus: Budget constraints aside, Sleight is a messy movie that’s filled with ideas and possibilities, but ultimately, never comes together perfectly. Oh, and yeah, its budget holds it back.

4.5 / 10

Wish the force was strong enough to get more “0’s” on them checks.

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Yeah, I don’t know either.

It’s the 28th century, and special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne), whenever they’re not working together to maintain order throughout the human territories, are also trying hard to figure out just what they’re doing together. Are they in love? Do they want to get married? Or do they just want to keep on doing what they’re doing, because it’s easy, simple and not all that made for dedication. Whatever the answer to their dilemma may be, it doesn’t matter, because they soon gather an assignment from the minister of defense (Herbie Hancock), to embark on a mission to Alpha, the ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture for a hefty fee. But both Valerian and Laureline realize that something is off about their discovery and because of that, they’re hunted from all over the place, forcing them to run all over space and hop on different planets, where something odd and interesting is happening just about all of the time.

Blade Runner?

So yeah, Luc Besson is clearly going completely out of his way to ensure that the world gets a dose of Valerian and because of that, the man deserves some credit and above all else, respect. Word is, he not just put took a pay-cut on this one, but even went so far as to put his own money in the project; it’s currently the most expensive independent flick ever made and it shows. The movie is, for lack of a better word, beautiful; the CGI-team must have been hard-at-work, day and night, without any sleep whatsoever, trying to make sure that every piece of this crazily original and wild fantasy world was explored and shown to perfection.

It also does help get us past the fact that the movie’s story and script are troubling, to say the least.

But it’s obvious what Besson is doing here – clearly it’s been over two decades since we got the Fifth Element and because of that, we’ve got something of a new one for Generation-Y. In that sense, the movie can be pretty fun, because it’s so willing to be as ridiculous and as nutty as that movie, but at the same time, it doesn’t always work out. For example, the central romance between Delevingne and DeHaan, while somewhat cute, never works in this great, big universe where crazy, ugly-looking creatures show up left and right, spouting gibberish. It’s as if Besson wanted to have it both ways and because of that, the movie doesn’t always work and never quite figures out what it wants to be.

Uh, Avatar?

But Valerian is also a fun movie, that enjoys its own zaniness. It doesn’t have to always make sense of its universe, its characters, or even its central conflict – all it has to do is offer enough weirdness and electricity to remind us why these kinds of sci-fi movies, especially from Besson, can be a joy to watch. The movie doesn’t always figure out what it wants to do, what it wants to say, or hell, even where it’s going, but it does move so quick, it’s hard to always care.

And yes, the movie is almost two-and-a-half hours and somehow, yeah, it does go by.

Granted, there’s rough patches all throughout, but that’s expected here. Valerian may not be the cleanest, or smartest movie out there on the market, but Besson seems like he truly adores and cares for this material, regardless of if anybody else does. He’s putting it all out there on the line and while it may be too hard to ask for someone to pay for his water, or electric for the next month, I don’t think it’s too hard to say, “Hey, go check it out.” It’s weird and it’s supposed to be, so just get a little used to it and try to have some fun.

Please. Do it for Luc. He needs us all now, more than ever.

Consensus: Big, bright, loud, and ambitious, Valerian is certainly an original, but is also certainly uneven and a bit messy, making it feel like a cluster of a lot of different things that don’t always come together, but still somehow compel.

6 / 10

Surfing U.S.A. Or wherever the hell Luc’s got ’em at.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Girls Trip (2017)

Damn. I miss my girls.

It’s been a very, very long time since best friends Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) all got together and just acted wild and crazy. After all, they’re all grown up with Ryan becoming a huge celebrity/author, Lisa becoming a mother and divorcee who doesn’t get out much, Sasha becoming a gossip-blogger, and Dina, well, not really doing much except losing jobs and not really knowing what’s going on around her. That said, it’s about time that they all got together and they do so when they travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. Of course, they’re there because it’s all on Ryan’s tab, but it’s also because they just miss what they used to have and need to remember what it was like to just have a good time with your girlfriends. But certain issues with their personal lives, how much time has passed, and certain secrets, constantly hold them back from fully loving and exploring the weekend like they should. Eventually, it’s all going to come to a head and, possibly, it may result in this being the last trip these gals ever take together again.

Hopefully not United.

Girls Trip is everything that Rough Night should have been, minus the whole dead-stripper angle. It’s funny, well-written, fun, well-acted, and absolutely feels like you’re involved with the same exact party that these gals are in, committing all sorts of crazy, wild and wacky shenanigans. Of course, it does help that a good portion of the movie, as well as the jokes themselves, are in fact scripted and not just made up on the spot by whoever’s turn it is to speak, but still, that almost doesn’t matter.

The fact is that Girls Trip is funny and deserves to be seen.

It’s the kind of movie that gets off to a slow start because it’s trying to find its groove and has to develop certain things like conflict, characters, etc., but after awhile, gets itself together and all of a sudden, becomes a great time. It’s the kind of studio-comedy that does all the things that are necessary to make a big-budget, studio-comedy work, but so rarely actually do; instead of putting together a neat premise, with funny jokes, and even more interesting characters, everything’s just sort of jumbled together and made up, in hopes that the audience doesn’t know or even care.

But with Rough Night and the House, it’s hard not to notice these issues. It’s a sign that more and more studio-comedies need to be heavily scripted and oh yeah, funnier, too. Once again, all of these gals are to be thanked for keeping this movie as funny as it needs to be, but writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver deserve a little shout-out, too – not just because they wrote a script with ridiculous situations and funny jokes, but because they actually went the extra mile into having us, believe it or not, care.

So. Much. Gossip.

Girls Trip reminds me a bit of Bridesmaids in that it definitely features gals being just as dirty, just as naughty, and just as raunchy as the guys, but also in that it’s a so-called “chick flick” that feels very honest and rash about women friendships and the certain bond that can be created with them. It doesn’t back away from showing just how these women all connect to one another, why they were friends were in the first place, and why they may all give a hoot about what happens to the other, at the end of the day. They could have all been types, too, but thankfully, the movie actually gives them all personalities and certain tics about them that make them, well, human.

Crazy, right?

But like I said, the cast helps out with this, too. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith (nice little Set it Off reunion), and the show-stopper, Tiffany Haddish, are all great here and help one another out, whenever it seems like the jokes may be slacking. However, that so rarely happens because there’s just a certain wild and crazy energy to this all that makes you not just feel like you’re apart of all the fun, but that you’re getting to know these gals better, as time goes on, too. Rather than making us feel like we’re hanging out with a bunch of strangers that we could care very little, or less about, we actually get to know, understand, and at the end, come to love them. Sure, they may be problematic and a little flawed, but if anything, that allows them to become more human and understandable, therefore, making the time spent with them (which is a bit long, by the way), all the more enjoyable.

Consensus: Fun, exciting, and oh yeah, pretty darn funny, Girls Trip features women doing their thing, having fun, not making any excuses for it, and oh yeah, reminding Hollywood what can happen when a little more thought is put into crafting an effective studio-comedy.

7.5 / 10

Not raining? Oh wait. Never mind. It’s style.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Dunkirk (2017)

Us Americans have it so easy.

In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, the troops were all evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found, but because these vessels were constantly exploding from enemy fire, or also because there was such a short supply, most of the soldiers ended up standing around, waiting for anything to take them home. After all, they could practically see their home land, how hard could it be to just get over there? Well, as we see, the battle raged on, with those out there on the sea, on the ground, or in the air, all helping out to ensure that, by the end of this mission, all of the French, British, Belgian and Dutch surviving soldiers would be safely evacuated. Then again, this is the war we’re talking about here and as people know, it can be awfully predictable.

Clearly looking for a Christian Bale-type from the Newsies era.

Christopher Nolan does something very interesting and tricky here with Dunkirk that makes it more than just your typical, run-of-the-mill, big, and bloated dramatization; rather than showing this mission from one point-of-view and leaving it at that, he decides to take on three-to-four different ones, all taking place sort of different times, in different locations, and for different reasons. It’s hard to fully explain without having already seen Dunkirk, but it’s a sign that Nolan, someone who is well-known for his awe-inspiring talent, has some more tricks up his sleeve than just giving us take-by-take tale of a real life event in WWII.

At the end of the day, it still is that, but it’s better than you’d imagine. Trust me.

And it’s mostly better because Nolan, no matter how far and wide he stretches with this material, always has us feeling as if we are right there, on the battlefield, with these fellow soldiers, trying to just survive. Nolan rarely ever leaves the battlefield once we get going and because of that, the next hour-and-a-half, or so, feel like an absolute rush of blood to the head; there’s a finger on the trigger and you can feel it the whole way through, and it never lets up. In a way, it’s almost too tiring, but it’s incredibly exciting, tense, and even unpredictable, which is a hard feat to accomplish in a WWII movie that’s already about a very famous moment in said real war.

But Nolan doesn’t forget to remind us that, even when we are shrieking, jumping up and down, and clamoring for our own lives, even when we’re tucked away, safe as can be in our over-packed movie theaters, that above all else, war is hell. Nolan isn’t exactly making a statement with Dunkirk, as much as he’s just trying to honor the brave souls who tried to stay alive, as well as those who couldn’t, but it is hard to walk away from this not thinking that war, believe it or not, is an absolute hell whole, where the strongest and bravest of men may even finds themselves petrified. It’s hard not to get swept up in everything that Nolan’s doing here and it’s nice to see all of his effort finally pay-off.

Sure beats Interstellar.

OH EM GEE! HARRY!

Then again, there is that feeling that when Dunkirk is over, it’s over and you can sort of go on with your day. This maybe has less to do with the movie, as much as it has to do with me, myself and I, but when Dunkirk‘s over, it’s done and that’s it. The movie hits maybe an-hour-and-47-minutes (Nolan’s shortest in, I don’t know, forever), but it goes by so quickly that you don’t even bother to check the time, or notice; you’re just so taken aback by everything that’s happening on the huge screen, that it almost feels like a disservice to divert your attention elsewhere.

And this isn’t to say that everything Nolan does here, doesn’t deliver, because it most definitely does. By the same token, however, it’s also not hard to sit down, think, and wonder whether or not this is just another big and bloated dramatization. It’s not typical and it’s not run-of-the-mill, but it is, above all else, a dramatization and because of that, it feels a tad too normal and conventional. It’s scary and not safe, but still, normal.

And for a Christopher Nolan movie, honestly, that’s a bit of a letdown.

Then again, may just be me.

Consensus: Big, loud, aggressive, scary, and ambitious as hell, Dunkirk is a sure sign that Nolan has returned to his full-scale roots, with better results this time around.

8.5 / 10

Good luck, boys. You’re sure as hell going to need it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Roll Bounce (2005)

Is this what the kids nowadays call “blading”……yo?

After the death of his mom, Xavier (Bow Wow) has been having a bit of a rough go. His dad has hit a serious case of depression, his little sister needs someone to look up to, and yeah, he basically just doesn’t know where he wants to go, nor what he actually wants to do with his life. The only thing in his life that he is certain about is roller-skating, but even that’s hit a bit of a rough patch now with his local skate palace being torn down. Now, without one near by, Xavier and his buddies have to travel all the way uptown, where the people are richer, more priveleged, and oh yeah, whiter. Obviously, Xavier and his buddies stick out like sore-thumbs amongst this very rich and preppy crowd, but they make it all work by just being themselves, skating their assess off, and having a good time through it all. But with local skate legend Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) back in town and looking to maintain his territory, Xavier and his boys are going to have to step up their games.

Both on and off the rink.

Lean with it….

Roll Bounce is pretty conventional and formulaic, but it’s also the kind of movie that gets by solely on the fact that it’s so sweet, so earnest, and so easygoing, that it’s easy to just forget about all of its issues and enjoy the time you have with it. Granted, there are plenty of problems and, if you’re looking very, very close, you can probably see more bad then good, but for me, Roll Bounce feels like the right kind of soft-hearted nostalgia that means well, isn’t trying to change the world, and just have some fun. In other words, it’s what every movie, ever made, should aspire to be.

But once again, there are those problems that keep Roll Bounce away from achieving some actual greatness. For one, its plot is a little flimsy and at times, doesn’t seem to really be making much sense of itself. While it’s not all that hard to do a coming-of-age tale, it’s also a lot harder to sort of screw it up, where your messages about growing up, becoming an adult, and figuring out just who, or what, you are, don’t fully come together. Xavier, on paper, is our traditional protagonist for a story such as this, and while it’s not hard to sympathize for a character who has already endured so much hardship, it’s not hard to sort of not care about any of it all.

Of course, that isn’t to discredit Bow Wow, or anybody else in this cast – the problem is purely a script issue.

….rock with it!

Director Malcolm D. Lee and screenwriter Norman Vance know how to set the mood and the tone for a movie taking place in the dog days of summer, where everything is catching up on itself, memories are being made, and yeah, people are getting a little tired of the damn heat, but when it comes to making a real compelling story out of it all, they sort of drop the ball. It’s just too melodramatic and cheesy at times to fully work; while it may appear to be a sort of sports movie, it is, in actuality, a family-drama that never gets all that interesting. Chi McBride is good as Xavier’s dad who has some real problems of his own, and had he been given his own movie, it probably would have worked, but put up against Xavier, his wacky and wild buddies, and whatever the hell they’re doing at the skating-rink, yeah, it feels odd.

That said, the tone here is quite infectious and it’s hard to really get past that. It’s close to two hours and yeah, it definitely doesn’t need to be; some characters get development and certain shadings that, quite frankly, don’t really matter, or even go anywhere. But the skating stuff, in and of itself, is what saves the movie, because whenever it seems like the story’s getting too far gone in its own head, thankfully, the bright colors, the loud music, the huge afro’s, and the constant rolling, take over and make things better.

If only for a small bit.

Consensus: Clearly an earnest and sweet piece of nostalgia, Roll Bounce gets by solely on its charm, and not anywhere near its story, or its sometimes odd script that doesn’t always have the faintest clue what it wants to be, or do.

6 / 10

Take the skates off and yeah, they’re just a bunch of punks! Get a job, ya damn kids!

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)

Forgive. Forget. Go a little crazy.

During the 1970s in Northern Ireland, times were tough and they were onlu getting tougher. The IRA was running rampant and people were dropping dead, for no real reasons other than because, well, it was a sign of the times. One such person was Joe Griffin’s older brother gets shot dead by the teenage leader of a UVF. It’s disturbed Joe so much that, all of these years later, now, as an older fella (James Nesbitt), he can’t quite get by in life. He is still haunted by that murder, as well as the memory of it, along with his brother. And it’s why, now nearly thirty years later, Joe is finally ready to meet his brother’s killer, Alistair Little (Liam Neeson), on live TV, with all sorts of producers and agents standing around, expecting some sort of huge emotional breakthrough that only reality television can provide. And well, they’ll most likely get that, except in this case, they won’t be expecting; see, Joe didn’t show up to this meeting for reconciliation, but to extract revenge for all of the pain and anguish that Alistair has caused on his life. It’s just a matter of getting the deed done that matters most.

The most adult game of “hide-n-go-seek” I’ve ever seen.

Five Minutes of Heaven, no matter which way you put it, works best because of the two great performances in the leads, mostly Nesbitt as the strange, deranged and incredibly disturbed Joe. Nesbitt’s a pretty great actor and has been able to play these kind of angry roles before, but never this deranged and crazy, and it’s a nice change-of-pace for him, because while he could have easily gone overboard, he never does. Instead, he plays it short, small, and subtle, making this person’s pain felt the whole time throughout; we know that the man is suffering, but the movie doesn’t have to tell us that at all. Just one look at Nesbitt’s upset face is more than enough to clue us in to what’s really wrong.

And yeah, Liam Neeson is good, too, but he doesn’t show up nearly as much as Nesbitt. That said, he provides a very interesting character who, in any other movie, would have easily been a cold-hearted and evil villain, without any heart, soul, or humanity to be found. But instead, he’s actually a much rather soft and understood man, who has guilt, who feels shame, and wants to be forgiven for all of the awful actions that he’s caused, giving us a chance to see the true human underneath the brooding.

In other words, two great performances in an otherwise fine movie.

Halloween or IRA?

All that said, Five Minutes of Heaven is still a good movie because it asks all sorts of questions about guilt, forgiveness, death, life, and sadness, but also seems interested in actually answering them. We’re told that old wounds can heal with time and separation, but at the same time, we see someone as torn-up and destroyed as Joe, that almost all of that goes out the window. The movie doesn’t always get the chance to answer everything it wants, but the ideas and elements of the story it brings up, guess what? It actually develops and seems to go somewhere with.

Even if the ending is a bit silly. But hey, not all movies have to be absolutely, positively perfect. Sometimes, all they have to do is make you think, watch, and get excited, if only for short, brief instances. Five Minutes of Heaven sort of does that, but also allows for us to feast our eyes on two of the best Irish actors working today.

Aside from the one and only Colin Farrell. I mean, honestly, how charming is that guy!

Consensus: Benefiting from two amazing performances in Nesbitt and Neeson, Five Minutes of Heaven is a smart, challenging thriller that has more on its mind than guns and murder.

7.5 / 10

Some men just want to watch random cars burn.

Photos Courtesy of: Michael McVey, SkiffleboomFlick Diary

Downfall (2004)

Sometimes, the cowards way is all you’ve got. Actually, no. Not really.

It’s the tail-end of the war and well, things aren’t looking so good for the Nazis. Their constantly getting killed, losing ground, and seeing an end in sight, with them on the losing end. And since he can feel the noose beginning to tighten around his neck, Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz), at the peak of his power, decides that it’s time to get his whole empire together in his underground bunker, where they’ll not only be able to wait out the end of the war, but possibly even have a good time, too. It’s odd, too, because while they’re drinking, playing games, having dinner, and listening to music, the Allied Powers are inching closer and closer towards their bunker; some of those in the bunker know this, but decide not to tell the others. Eventually though, it becomes all too real to hide behind the lie and people begin to panic and wonder, “What’s next?” After all, if these Nazis are quite and tried, what could happen to them? That’s when everyone involved hatches the idea to end their lives, right then and there, before it all gets too scary for them.

A courtesy that, I bet, their victims would have loved to have, too.

Who’s that?

But hey, okay, I’ll stop it there. That’s my last bit of generalizing because a movie like Downfall could easily be held up to scrutiny for telling a tale about the last hours and days in the lives of some evil, inhumane and incredibly flawed human beings, and as a result, could be flawed for that very same reason. It’s the kind of movie you never thought would ever be made, but for some reason, here it is and it’s around for a little over two-and-a-half-hours, reminding you that Nazis, Hitler and many others like him did exist and guess what? They took the easy way out. Case closed. End of story.

But director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writer Bernd Eichinger pull-off something smart here in that they make this tale, while controversial to say the least, every bit as compelling as you wouldn’t expect it to be. For some reason, it’s a movie that doesn’t take a stance on Hitler, the Nazis, or any of the actions that they committed during the war, but more or less, show them in pure desperation, without any roads to turn down, and nowhere else to go. In this sense, then Downfall should please any person who still feels the absolute need and want to watch Hitler and the Nazis cower with fear and depression, expecting their lives to be coming close to an end and having nowhere else to go, but it actually doesn’t come off like this.

If anything, it’s a bit depressing.

But in an interesting way.

The movie never goes so far as to make us ever feel sympathy for these heinous human beings, but the movie doesn’t also forget to remind us that, at the end of the day, they too were people and as such, deserve to be seen and judged for that. They may not have all been perfect and in fact, they were all pretty awful and clearly knew what horrible stuff they were up to, but yes, they were humans – if anything, that may make them even scarier, showing just how deep down and dark someone can and will go for the sole sake of power and respect.

Once again, not generalizing, but just stating cold hard facts.

It’s okay, honey. You’ll be out of here soon. Just shut up.

Anyway, Downfall is an interesting movie and although it is long, it’s hard to get totally bored by what you’re watching. There’s something inherently compelling about sitting around and waiting for a bunch of evil people to meet their maker and come to the acceptance that everything’s all over for them; it’s not as if we want to see this all the time, but for some reason, with these people, it’s a lot more compelling to watch. Even though we do expect everyone to die, the movie still has us sitting around, waiting, and watching, for whatever is to come next. It’s just solid writing and directing, and considering how rough the subject-material may have been to bring to the big screen, it’s even more surprising how much it all works.

And of course, the performances from top to bottom are great because, like the writing and direction, they’re all portraying these human beings as, well, human beings. Bruno Ganz probably deserves the highest praise as Adolf Hitler, because not only do we see the pure rage and anger lying within this very unlikable person, but we also get to see the small, intimate moments with him as well. Like, for instance, the scenes he has with Juliane Köhler’s Eva Braun, in which we see a man genuinely happy and in love, but also realizing that his despicable and because of that, it’s very hard to feel anything for him but just utter and pure contempt. But still, Ganz does a great job of never really falling into a sheer and absolute parody, while also realizing that there were small, certain tics about this man that ought to be studied and looked at.

If only just so that we never have another one of him, ever, ever again.

Fine. There. I’m done now.

Consensus: While no doubt a long trip to take with some awfully despicable and evil people, Downfall also provides plenty of interesting food-for-thought about these people, and also by giving us a glimpse into some place we never expected to find ourselves at.

8.5 / 10

“Boys, we’re screwed.”

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Micah, The Blog of Big Ideas

Lady Macbeth (2017)

Arranged marriages are all the rage.

In the year 1865 in rural England, a young woman, Katherine (Florence Pugh), is in a loveless marriage to an older man, Alexander (Paul Hilton). She doesn’t care for the man and in fact, he’s quite awful to her, but she puts up with it all because her father couldn’t take care of her any longer and now she’s got plenty of time to just sit around, drink, and eat, while occasionally having to sexually satisfy her hubby who, for some odd reason, doesn’t actually like being physically intimate. Either way, yeah, Katherine’s not happy about the arrangement, which is why she takes full advantage of the freedom she gets when her husband heads out for a business trip and is planning on being gone for quite some time. But her idea of “freedom” gets to be a bit much when she starts something of a relationship with the helper (Cosmo Jarvis), who enjoys having some hot, steamy sex with the lady of the house, but at the same time, also understands the dangers. This is something that Katherine doesn’t fully take into consideration and it all comes back to hit her in the face when people start coming around and sniffing about her place, wondering what’s going on.

Stop smiling!

Lady Macbeth is a pretty bleak film and because of that, it’s actually pretty hard to enjoy. Even in its 89 minutes, it’s quite repetitive and almost feeling like its script was written without any dialogue at all, but instead, just actions and sounds. In that way, it’s a movie that deserves and requires a lot of time, focus and attention, but mostly, it gets by on being a little dark, a little creepy, and a little eerie.

And yeah, that’s about it.

It does deserve to be said that director William Oldroyd approaches the material well; like stated before, there’s a lot of long, silent pauses where you can literally just hear the wind hitting the windows outside. Some may find this “boring”, but it works in this movie’s favor because it helps create an odd sense that something isn’t quite right here, even before bad stuff actually does start happening. And even when the supposed “bad stuff” does begin to happen, the movie thankfully doesn’t delve into any of the melodramatics you’d expect it to – it’s just chilling and creepy and that’s all it needed to be to get the job done.

Oh lord, The dreaded vial!

And yes, Florence Pugh is also pretty great in the lead role as Katherine who, over the hour-and-a-half, does a lot of changing (literally and figuratively), and finds a way to make all of the sides to her, at the very least, believable. That’s hard to do, too, with a character who we initially feel sympathy for, but know very little about, other than that she’s poor, in a crappy situation, and obviously miserable. However, Pugh has a certain look to her that makes any scene she’s in (which is every one), watchable, because she’s always on-edge and seeming like she’s one step ahead of us.

But like I said before, Lady Macbeth works because it is so chilling and, at times, disturbing. But at other times, it can’t help but feel like the same scene, over and over again, only just continuing on and on until it eventually hits the conclusion. Maybe this was intentional to give us a better sense of how empty and lame these character’s lives were, but it also does help but feel like a waste, even when the movie, like stated before, is so short in the first place. It’s one thing to not really have much of a script, but to have one, with, essentially, the same scene happening, over and over again.

It’s just lazy, honestly.

But man oh man. Thank heavens for Florence Pugh. That gal’s going to go some places.

Consensus: As short as it may be, Lady Macbeth still gets by as a chilling and upsetting psychological thriller, anchored by a solid performance from Pugh.

7 / 10

There’s that happiness again!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

The War of the Rise of the Dawn of the Why Are These Titles So Long?

After their last battle with the humans, due to the actions of evil Koba, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are still fighting for their lives and are still forced into a deadly conflict with the humans, who see their extinction coming and coming very soon. That’s why the ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) wants Caesar and all of the apes gone, prompting the apes to suffer unimaginable losses. And as a result, Caesar sets out to find this colonel and take him down, once and for all. But on the trip, Caesar and his fellow band of trustees find something odd is happening – people are losing their ability to speak. How, or better yet, why? Caesar doesn’t know, or understand, but the further he adventures into this cold, dark and cruel world, the more answers he gets and the more he discovers about the possible end of the world, where the apes may take over, the humans may become extinct, and nothing will ever be the same again. It’s only a matter of time, though, and it’s a coin-toss of who is going to win this battle and continue to habitat the planet.

Comedic-relief? In the ape-apocalypse!??!

This new, rough, tough and re-vamped Apes franchise has been a pretty solid one, to say the least. I say “has” because apparently, it’s going to be the last. Well, at least, for now, and it’s odd because the movie seems like it still could continue on, getting better and better, and make more money for all of those involved. It’s one of the rare franchises that, if over, I’d be a little sad to see gone because, hey, these movies were actually pretty good and considering that the word “franchise” nowadays brings about gag-reflexes, it’s nice to have something that makes up for all of the marketing and tie-ins.

That said, War for the Planet of the Apes is still a fine movie that, whether or not it being the end, still works because it presents a pretty dark and disturbing future that the past two movies have tried to build-on. The only issue that I’ve had with these movies, and especially this one, is that they’re just so dour and mean at times, it almost feels like they’re trying way too hard. Director Matt Reeves knows exactly what he’s doing with this material for the second time around and it’s clear that he’s taking this premise, this world, and this idea incredibly seriously, without barely any jokes or goofiness thrown in there for good measure, but often times, it feels like he’s maybe trying to out-serious himself.

It’s basically the only summer blockbuster you’ll ever see that may depress you and mean to do so in the process.

And that isn’t to say that movies such as these can’t be ultra, super duper serious, because that’s fine; in this world, where the apes have taken over, the humans are struggling, and yet, for some reason, we’re still supposed to root for the more powerful species, things are allowed to be told to us without a punchline. But Reeves can also get a little sucked into this sadness and depression and because of that, the movie can often feel slow, plodding and above all else, a little boring. It’s too in-love with its own dourness that it’s almost too afraid to get its act together and start moving somewhere, hell, anywhere.

But as usual, once it does get going, War is quite the ride, mostly because, like I’ve stated before, Reeves knows what he’s doing with this tale. It’s actually quite interesting how the story plays-out – not by hitting the same sort of beats and conventions that we’re used to seeing with these kinds of stories, but keeping us, the audience, in the dark, for as much and as long as possible. Reeves always seems to have a little trick up his sleeve and because of that, the movie almost feels dangerous, as if anything bad, disastrous, or awful, could happen at literally any second.

“The horror.”

I know, it sounds all so simple and easy, but trust me, this is the kind of stuff that so many movies get wrong and/or can’t do, like at all.

But that’s why War, even despite it being the saddest thing since Trump’s Twitter, still works – it does get moving and can be fun, exciting, and hell, even a little scary. It’s the right kind of blockbuster and honestly, I’d say more about it, but basically, it does everything that the last movie just did, except also wants to provide some closure. And sure, that’s fine; possibly saying goodbye Andy Serkis’ Caesar is a bummer, because Serkis is always so good in the roles, as well as the fellow new apes along for the ride, like Steve Zahn’s possible comic-relief. But a possible ending also does provide a better hope and future for the state of franchise flicks, in that they don’t always have to be about the Easter-eggs, the tie-ins, the merchandise, the references, or even about the greater universe.

Honestly, all it needs to be about is telling a good story, with good characters, and a compelling arch that we want to see continue on, for many, many more movies. That’s what this franchise was able to do – even though, back in the day, it seemed like it was a dead brand – and it’s the hope that for the future franchises to come, they’ll take a lesson or two.

Let’s just hope they brighten up the damn rooms, though.

Consensus: Undeniably thrilling, emotional and exciting, War provides all of the action and adventure, as well as the darkness you’d expect from this ramped-up franchise by now.

8 / 10

And they’re not monkeying around! That works in this context, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2017)

Can’t trust anybody. Not even randomly kind Jewish men.

Norman (Richard Gere), a New York fixer, knows the right people and can get things done. He also can tend to be a bit overzealous and, as a result, begin to scare more people away, than actually bring them in and closer. Often too, his tactics can be a little odd and rub certain people the wrong way. But then again, those are the kinds of people Norman doesn’t want to really work with, which is why when an Israeli dignitary named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) comes to the city, Norman decides to impress the man by buying him some very expensive shoes and seeing if they can build on some sort of friendship. It works and he establishes a strong connection to the man, and it helps him when Eshel becomes Israel prime minister a few years later and, get this, actually remembers Norman and wants him to help out in his office. Norman accepts, but also wishes that he was a lot closer to Eshel and the inner-workings. Eventually, this causes issues for both men and will ultimately prove to be Norman’s unraveling, where his real life, all the secrets and lies that he’s kept throughout the years, finally come to lie.

“Trust me, it’s cold out.”

Norman feels like it’s based on a true story, but it really isn’t. In a way, writer/director Joseph Cedar seems to be basing this story off the numerous individuals who work in the strategy-world portion of politics and he doesn’t seem to be frowning upon them, nor even glamorizing them – in fact, he’s more or less just giving them the fair-shake they probably deserve. Political fixers, so often, are seen as heartless, tactful, and evil-doers who find a way to win and keep at it, no matter what. Why on Earth we look down upon these people as less than human, when in reality, they’re just really good at their jobs. And in Norman, the idea we get about political-fixers, as well as the title-character, is that being good at your job is one thing, but being a good and smart human being is another.

Although, that’s what I think.

See, the small issue with Norman is that the movie never really knows just what proves to be his actual fall-from-grace, because honestly, we never really get to see the rise, either. Of course, the word “Moderate” in the title probably says it all, but honestly, when your movie is built around the fact that your lead character doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot, yet, still falls down dramatically off the social-ladder, it’s hard to really feel any pain or emotion. We may care for this character, or even what he’s doing, but if we really don’t get the sense of what’s being accomplished and lost, then really, what’s the point?

Well, Israel’s got enough problems on its plate, honestly.

If anything, Norman proves to be another solid showcase for Richard Gere who, so late in his life, almost doesn’t care how big the movies he’s doing are. By now, he’s so happy to be able to work with these three-dimensional, interesting characters, that he’ll take the budget on, regardless. And as the title-character, Gere’s quite good here; he has every opportunity to play it silly and cartoonish, but thankfully, he strays away from that. In fact, what we see with Gere’s portrayal is a small, rather smart man who also just wants to be recognized, praised, and above all else, loved.

In a way, if you look closer and closer into Norman, the movie does show itself as an intimate character-study of this one relatively troubled man who, despite seeming to have it all, still wants a little more. Cedar is a smart director to know when to get in the way of his ensemble, but because he doesn’t and they’re all good, we see more sides to these characters than ever expected, especially Gere’s Norman. He begins to show his true shadows and signs that, once broken down, unveil a very unexcited and disappointing man. The movie doesn’t really hit as hard, or as heavy as it should, but considering there’s Gere here, it’s safe to say that he’s still an interesting enough character to watch wheel-and-deal for over two-hours.

Anybody else, anywhere else, probably would have been a pain.

Consensus: Though it never really delivers going any deeper than it should have, Norman still works as a smart, interesting character-study, anchored by an even better Richard Gere performance.

7 / 10

Someone give him a hug already!

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

The House (2017)

Cautionary tale?

Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) have been planning their whole lives for their daughter’s moment she goes off to college. However, when the scholarship money falls though, they have to think of something and something quick, which eventually involves their close buddy Frank (Jason Mantzoukas). In other words, they put their brains together and think of something so crazy, so barbaric, and so insane, that hell, it just might work. That’s right, an underground casino where adults from all over the little town can come together, get wild, get crazy, throw money at the walls, and have a grand old time, as if they were young, free and without any damn responsibilities anymore. The only issue is that, for Scott, Kate, Frank, and well, everybody else, they are old and have something resembling responsibilities, making this casino a much more dangerous and scary place than any of them ever wanted it to become.

Homage to Scorsese? Or once again, just improv? Who knows.

It’s crazy to think a comedy starring two of the best, funniest, and brightest talents in the game, with plenty others surrounding them, would come and land with an absolute thud like the House did, but unfortunately, that’s what happened. It wasn’t screened for critics, it was barely advertised, and oh yeah, it didn’t really do well at the box-office, even despite both Ferrell and Poehler still being draws. What happened?

Well, the short is that it’s not a very good comedy.

But the long is that it’s just like every other studio comedy out there made in the world in that it features barely any story, cohesion, or interesting-writing, but instead, features a bunch of funny, incredibly talented people, just making everything up as they go along. Normally, I’d be disappointed with this, but considering that we literally just got the same thing a few weeks ago with Rough Night, it’s hard to really expect much else; without having to actually put any thought or effort into how these movies play-out, how the jokes build, and eventually, play out, the general idea is that you get a bunch of funny people around, put a camera in front of them, film, and let the magic happen.

Magic can occasionally happen in cases such as these and even in the House, there are some slight glimmers of true fun comedy. But the issue is that the laughs and fun happen so very few and far between one that, even at 80 minutes, it still feels like a stretch. Hell, you’d think that with such a short movie to begin with, that we wouldn’t have to sit through much and make this feel like more of a slog, but somehow, that’s exactly what happens. And yes, it’s exactly what happens when you don’t really put much of any effort into anything, other than getting a solid cast of funny people together.

Then again, maybe I’m putting too much thought into a movie like the House.

Children. They’re the future and why we do the crazy shit that we do.

Then again, maybe I’m not. Maybe I just appreciate it when a movie with as funny and as promising as a premise as the House, actually delivers on not just the funny, but also the promise, and gives us a, get this, a solid comedy. It doesn’t have to change the world, it doesn’t have to break down any barriers, and it sure as hell doesn’t have to be perfect – all it has to do is be funny and feel like it was at least written more than half-way through. The House doesn’t feel like that, though, and it not only suffers because of it, but so does everybody else, too.

And yes, this is to say that Poehler, Ferrell, Mantzoukas, and so many other well-known, talented and reliably funny people here who show up and give it their all, are indeed funny, but at times, it can’t help but feel like their talents are being wasted. Literally, not a single one of them play an actual character that makes sense, or at the very least, works in this movie’s small world; sometimes, even the bittiest kind of character-development can go a long way into helping us realize just why a person is why they are and why watching them is so funny to begin with. It’s simple movie-writing 101 and honestly, I shouldn’t even have to state this, but unfortunately, movies like the House exist and continue to come out, therefore, making it all the more understandable to bring up why a script matters.

Even for, yes, a comedy.

Consensus: Although everyone tries and can occasionally be funny, the House doesn’t live up to the promise of its premise, nor does it really have all that many laughs to help guide along its incredibly short 80-minute run-time.

4.5 / 10

What? Is there anything else you ought to do with money?

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

At First Sight (1999)

Eyes open or closed, we all know Mira Sorvino is downright beautiful.

Young architect Amy Benic (Mira Sorvino) needs a break from the busy high-life of Manhattan and decides to go out to the country-side, relax, and get her massage on. While she’s getting that on, she falls under the spell and hands of the masseur Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer). She instantly clicks with him and realizes that there’s something between the two that’s as rare as it can be. Rare, because Virgil’s also blind and has no idea what she looks like, or anything else for that matter.

Watching all of these sappy, romantic-dramedies can honestly do a number on a person. Nicholas Sparks has dulled the senses so much, that even when something relatively sweet, sort of nice comes around, it’s hard to fully embrace it. For someone like me, I’m just so used to saccharine, annoying romantic-junk that yeah, it makes you forget about actual solid romantic-flicks out there in the world.

Sort of like At First Sight. But also, sort of not like At First Sight.

Let me explain.

Well, close enough.

Well, close enough.

Granted, it’s nothing special, but it works at being a piece of romantic-drama that you can root-root-root for the couple, and just hope that they end up together because you can see that they’re good people, have the best intentions for one another, and most of all, love each other like silly. Isn’t that what we all want to be reminded of when we watch sap-fests such as these? Well yes, as well as the ability to love and be loved is still out there and if you have a heart big enough to allow that into your soul, that even you can come under it’s spell? I think so, and I think that’s why I actually didn’t mind this movie as much as I was planning to.

Val Kilmer is a nice fit as our blind man for the two hours (way, way, way too long for my liking!), Virgil Adamson. Despite how he may be behind the scenes, Kilmer has always had a certain cool, suave charm about him, which is what works well for this character here, who could have easily just been a later-day saint who also happened to be blind. It’s also a nice refresher to see him play a much softer, more romantic-side, even though the movie surrounding him is, yes, corny and undeniably syrupy beyond belief.

But like I said, the guy’s so charming, he makes it work.

Daredevil totally ripped this movie off!

Daredevil totally ripped this movie off! Damn Ben Affleck!

Playing his love bird for the two hours (once again, way, way, way too long for my liking!), is Mira Sorvino as Amy. Sorvino is always a charmer and is as cute-as-a-button that whenever she smiles, it’s so easy to just feel all warm and gooey inside. She’s got that beautiful look to her that works to her advantage and it’s just great to see that in an actress that can make bad material like this work, even if we do see it coming a hundred-upon-a-hundred miles away. You actually believe that she could fall in love with a guy like this, knock down all of the problems of being blind, and just look at the person instead. It’s obvious stuff, but Sorvino and Kilmer make it work together and if it weren’t for these two in the roles, it’d be really hard to get through this thing.

Then, there’s Kelly McGillis who eventually shows up as Vrigil’s sister that is always there for him and watching over him and is okay, but also where the movie really starts to go off-the-rails. The first hour, while cheesy, is sweet, soft and enjoyable enough to where it’s a nice piece of time passing-by, because it’s never taking itself all that seriously. But then, miraculously, as soon as McGillis rears her head in, everything gets a bit bonkers and far too serious. It certainly doesn’t help the fact that she’s always yelling, upset, and crying about something going on. Thankfully, Nathan Lane is here to save the day and as usual, use his comedic-charm to his ability and have us love the guy like never before.

So when in doubt, just trust Nathan Lane.

Consensus: Is it predictable? Yes. Is it obvious? Yes. Is it long? Hell yes! Is it at least entertaining? Ehh, sure. At First Sight may not throw you any curve balls you won’t see coming at you miles away, but Kilmer and Sorvino at least make the material seem more than just your average, run-of-the-mill romantic-drama, even if that’s exactly what it is.

5 / 10

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you not supposed to pet those dogs or something?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you not supposed to pet those kinds of dogs or something?

Photos Courtesy of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Paris Can Wait (2017)

Be yourself, momma!

Anne (Diane Lane) is in Cannes with her husband Michael (Alec Baldwin), a prominent movie producer. As the festival ends she learns that the vacation she and her husband were supposed to go on in Paris will be slightly delayed as they need to go to Budapest first. They plan to fly to Paris, but the pilot suggests Anne not fly due to an ear infection. Michael’s producing partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive Anne to Paris himself. But here’s what Anne doesn’t know, or better yet, expect: Jacques is going to take it upon himself to not just wine and dine her, but also even take her to bed. Why? Or better yet, how could he? Well, it’s because he’s French and that’s just the sort of wacky things that they do, right? Anyway, Anne doesn’t know whether to be flattered, or appalled, but mostly, just wants to be left alone where she can take pictures, enjoy the food, the scenery, and occasional good conversation that gets so very deep, she doesn’t know if she’s made the right decisions in her life.

Should it be Alec?

Paris Can Wait is probably the most perfect movie to take your older-relative out to this summer. If they don’t want the slam-bang, loud action of the blockbusters, then give them something small, quiet, sweet and relatively carefree that doesn’t ask for much except just your undivided attention for, oh, I don’t know, say an-hour-and-a-half, if even that. Which means that it’s a fine little movie in its own right, but does that make it really any good?

Not really. But once again, think about your older-relatives. They like movies, too, and why should they be forgotten about? Why? Because they don’t care for Transformers? Or some dude swinging a web? In this general sense, then Paris Can Wait is probably the most perfect movie around: Inoffensive, simple, and easy-to-follow. It’s not setting out to hurt, kill, or maim anyone, but then again, should it?

Better yet, coming from the matriarch of the Coppola family, shouldn’t it do that, and a whole lot more?

Yes, probably, but as is, it’s fine. Writer/director Eleanor Coppola has set out to make a small movie that tries to discuss all aspects about life, love, growing old, having regrets, and yes, appreciating everything around you, but doesn’t really seem to touch on any aspect all that much; it’s as if she’s treading along, hoping to catch something deep, dark, and rather emotional, but doesn’t. And as a result, we’re left with a movie that’s about so many different, small things, but not totally about a whole lot much else.

Or some French creeper?

It’s a shame, too, because at the center of this tale is a really great performance from Diane Lane who, is still just as beautiful as she was in Francis Ford’s the Cotton Club, but also a lot wiser and smarter of a performer. As Anne, Lane, gets the opportunity to show us a sad and, at times, confused older women who doesn’t quite know if she’s happy with the life she’s lived, but also knows that it’s a little too late to change everything up and act as if it never happened. There’s a very surprisingly and emotional scene involving Anne in a church and it’s a great bit of acting from Lane and probably the best part of the movie.

In other words, it comes out of nowhere and actually goes somewhere.

Something that, unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t follow through with. Sure, it’s enjoyable and a feast on the eyes, ears and probably even, the heart, but at the end of the day, it’s just a piece of time passing by. And what would you much rather do with your time left on this planet: Watch a mediocre movie starring Diane Lane? Or, actually live and experience life, go to Paris, drink wine, eat fatty food, have sex, be naked, and yes, just enjoy things around you?

But hey, don’t forget about those older-relatives. They’re what really matters, after all.

Consensus: With a solid lead performance from Diane Lane, Paris Can Wait gets by as an enjoyable diversion to whatever else is out there in the cinemas (hey, remember those?).

5 / 10

Aw, who cares, Diane! Just take those pics, gal!

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

The Big Sick (2017)

Disease can kill. But also heal. Right? Not sure.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani comic living in the windy city of Chicago and, along with his fellow comics, is just trying to get by and hopefully, hit the big-time. But his whole life begins to change when he meets an American graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his stand-up shows and immediately, the two hit it off. The only issue standing in the way of their relationship is that Kumail’s parents want him to get married within his religion. If he doesn’t comply, then guess? He’s practically kicked out of the family and never allowed to contact them ever again. It’s a shame, but it’s something that Kumail, despite his family’s best wishes, has sort of been trying to live against. Which is why Emily doesn’t know how to react to all of this. As a result, they break-up and Kumail is left back to dating women within his religion. But then, suddenly, Emily is in a coma and even worse, her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), travel all the way up up from North Carolina to see what’s happening with their daughter. It puts Kumail in an awkward situation, but it also makes him want to not just give this family a shot, but possibly even the relationship a shot. When she wakes up, that is.

Is this love? Or just a stand-in?

And here’s the real kicker: It’s all true. Yup. Co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are, get this, a real life married-couple who met exactly like this and because of that, we’re allowed to sit back, watch and enjoy their dark, twisted, sometimes funny, but always sweet romance blossom (?). Which is odd because the Big Sick takes on so many different plot-threads and tones, that it’s a true wonder how any of it comes together in a cohesive manner, or at all.

Director Michael Showlater knows what he’s doing with this kind of material, in that he knows how to play-up the laughs, but also the sadness and sometimes weightiness of it, too. It’s a slippery-slope that Showlater balances around and while he doesn’t always make it work perfectly, the balancing act is way more skillful, the more you think about it and realize that he’s taking somebody’s else’s own material/life, and doing it all justice. It’s nothing flashy, it’s nothing spectacular, and it sure as hell isn’t anything surprising – it’s just sweet and rather good-natured.

Basically like nothing else the guy has ever done before, which is all the more surprising.

But still, it deserves to be noted that another famous figure had a hand in this pie, and it was Judd Apatow. And yes, you feel every bit of it. See, the Big Sick is one of those comedies that deals with a blog plot, but also likes to get side-tracked every so often by random subplots, characters, and jokes that, sometimes work, and other times, don’t. In this movie’s case, it’s hard not to imagine this movie slicing out at least ten-to-15-minutes worth of footage, because after the two-hour mark, it can feel a bit straining.

That look when you can’t decide whether to head for the hills or not.

And it’s not as if the material isn’t funny, or interesting enough – it’s just that it’s all so predictable that, after awhile, you just want it to get over with. We know that Emily survives, we know that she wakes up to smell the cauliflower (or in this case, Kumail), and we know that the two eventually fall in love and get married. So, honestly, why is it taking so long to get there? And better yet, where’s the rest of the story in the film? We get all of this talk about arraigned-marriages and the sort of controversy surrounding Kumail’s companionship to a white woman, but when it comes time to tell that part of the story, the movie sort of lingers over it.

It’s as if, oh no, it wasn’t a problem in the first place.

Either way, I’m clearly taking away a lot from the Big Sick and I shouldn’t; it’s a funny, heartfelt, and well-acted movie that doesn’t live up to all of the insane praise it’s been getting from every person and their grand-mother, but it’s still a nice, small, and sweet diversion from all of the loudness of the summer blockbusters. It’s the kind of movie that people can go into, expecting a romantic-comedy, getting one, but also being a little happy that there was a little more going on than just two attractive and talented people finding one another, falling in love, and yeah, getting married. It’s also a movie about culture, about family, and no matter how insane they both may all drive us, they are, after all, what makes us, us.

So it’s best to just appreciate it all for what it is and shut the hell up!

Consensus: Despite being overly long and uneven, the Big Sick still works because it’s funny, heartfelt, and an interesting rom-com that goes beyond the usual conventions of the formula.

7 / 10

See? They’re all fine!

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire