Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2000s

Bee Movie (2007)

Not the bees, indeed.

Now that he’s fresh out of college, Barry the Bee (Jerry Seinfeld) can finally spend the rest of his life doing what he’s always been wanting to do: Work. However, Barry doesn’t quite know what he wants to do just yet, or better yet, knows that he doesn’t want to work with honey. So, he decides to take a brief stroll out into the real world and realizes that there’s something incredibly wild and magical about this outside. He also gets to meet a human lady named Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), who he not only strikes up a friendship with, but continues to learn more and more about the world outside of the beehive. Eventually, this has Barry thinking less and less about the life and career he lives inside the hive, and more about the one outside of it, where he can do whatever he wants and not have to worry about certain ideas that society mandates. That is, until he realizes that the outside world isn’t all that it’s made out to be, either.

"Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we're all bees when you think about it, bro!"

“Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we’re all bees when you think about it, bro!”

For some inexplicable reason, Bee Movie is currently having a moment. Why? Who started it? And when will it end? Well, I don’t know the answer to any of these questions – what I do know is that all of this attention is being placed on a nearly decade-old movie that, quite frankly, was never something to really talk or get all crazy about in the first place.

In a way, it’s odd watching Bee Movie now, in 2016, knowing full well how far and advanced animation has come. Sure, 2007 may not have had nearly as many of the technological advances that we do now, but still, Bee Movie, even in the clearest, brightest and prettiest HD imaginable, still looks kind of murky. The bee characters don’t have much to them, except maybe one physical difference, the humans all look dull and dead in the eyes, and when the movie is adventuring into the great big world that we call Earth, you can tell that a lot of the budget went to certain shapes and figures, and not to the rest of the image.

Still, that’s all silly technical stuff that doesn’t quite matter.

What does matter, and what mostly every meme has been pointing out, is that Bee Movie is a pretty ridiculous movie, but not like the kind we’re used to seeing with animated flicks. With most animated flicks, like how Bee Movie starts out initially, is that they take us to this fantastical, weird and unbelievable world, where inanimate objects speak, have thoughts, feelings and can do things, like you or I, except, maybe, yeah, in their own way. At first, this is exactly what Bee Movie seems to be, but eventually, it turns the other cheek and doesn’t know what it wants to say or do.

In fact, it all changes when we’re introduced to Zellweger’s Vanessa, who is perhaps the dumbest human character in an animated flick to-date. It’s odd that she can not only talk to bees, or other inanimate objects, but how, despite the movie trying to make as many jokes as possible, is still totally cool and normal with it. I wouldn’t mind this in an animated flick, but there does come some idea that the movie has to not only explain itself, but even make sense of it all; to even say that “there’s a force in the air”, or some silly mumbo jumbo like that, honestly, is fine with me. All I need is an explanation and I won’t complain.

Corporations, man.

Corporations, man.

However, Bee Movie doesn’t give that.

Instead, it just takes what could have been a very simple, easy and relatively fun premise of a bee seeing the outside world for what it is, a la, A Bug’s Life or Antz, but instead, drives for something more ambitious. Is it an admirable effort on the writers and directors behalves? Sure, but does it pay-off? Not really.

Once the movie starts getting into a honey-producing corporation headed by Ray Liotta and takes us to court, the movie gets all too wild and insane to really keep up with. This isn’t to say that the jokes aren’t good, because they mostly can be, however, that’s when the movie itself isn’t enamored with finding every bee pun that they can find. It gets annoying after awhile and almost feels like a bunch of 12-year-olds just discovering what comedy is and constantly trying to one-up one another.

It’s nice to hear the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, Chris Rock, and others, but they all feel oddly-placed. Seinfeld and Broderick are both voicing characters who are, essentially, 21-year-old dudes, and don’t sound a single thing like it, Warburton is, as usual, hilarious and the most understandable character out of the bunch, Rock is in it for maybe five minutes, makes us laugh our pants off, then leaves for good, John Goodman shows up at the end as born-and-bred lawyer from Missippi and I probably would have paid to see his face while uttering some of these lines in the voice that he uses, and Zellweger, as mentioned before, feels awkward. Her character not only looks it, but even Zellweger’s line delivery still feels like she’s maybe not in on the joke, or simply, understands it and is not a fan of it in the first place.

Why she or anyone else signed-up is beyond me. But hey, at least the movie made some money, was for the kids and continues to live on in the internet-age.

So, who knows? Maybe everyone’s a winner.

Consensus: With an awkward premise, Bee Movie seems like it could have been a lot funnier and interesting, had it tightened-up its writing and gotten rid of all the inane bee jokes.

5 / 10

"Yeah, at least we're getting paid."

“Yeah, at least we’re getting paid.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Black Book (2006)

Lord. The Holocaust was messed-up.

After just barely escaping her death, young Rachel Rosenthal (Carice van Houten) goes on the run from the Nazis during WWII and soon realizes that it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to stay alive when literally everyone you know is either dead, or missing. That’s why Rachel decides that it’s best on her to become a part of the Jewish resistance and going undercover, assuming the name Ellis de Vries. One of her first and perhaps, most important mission, is to seduce a Gestapo officer named Ludwig (Sebastian Koch), someone who is dangerous and possibly maniacal, as most Nazis at that time were. While Rachel/Ellis is perfectly fine with carrying out the mission, taking down the Nazis and assuring that no more Jews are wrongfully killed, she also can’t help but bring herself to feel a little something for Ludwig who, over time, turns out to be a whole lot sweeter and kinder than she ever expected. Now, Rachel/Ellis is left to think fast about what she wants to do: Either accept the Nazi and not kill him, therefore, risking the Resistance’s plan, or taking him out and achieving what she and the Resistance wanted?

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Everyone knows by now that when you get a Paul Verhoeven movie, you’ve got to expect the trashiest, craziest and wildest movie around. It doesn’t mean that the movie itself has to be good (see Showgirls), but what it does mean is that you’re going to get a movie that knows what it is, doesn’t make excuses for itself, and may, or may not, possibly offend you. If it doesn’t, then there’s surely something wrong with you.

That’s why a tale about the Holocaust, coming directly from the likes of Paul Verhoeven, already calls on controversy before the first scene is even shot. And honestly, that’s where some of the genius comes from with Verhoeven – he isn’t afraid to do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants, regardless of what those around him may feel, or think is “politically correct”. It also helps that Black Book, for better or for worse, is a pretty fun and wacky Holocaust tale that probably didn’t even have to take place during WWII, or deal with Nazis and Jews; it could have literally been a movie about gangsters or cowboys for all we know.

However, Verhoeven sticks with the WWII-setting and well, it works.

Verhoeven doesn’t settle down one bit with this material and that’s where some of the real fun and joy with Black Book comes from. While movies like Basic Instinct and Showgirls love to take their time and harp on the fact that there’s some sort of story being told and built-up to, when in reality, they’re really not, Black Book shows Verhoeven at his absolute peak – never slowing down, pinpointing every plot development, and just always moving. In a way, it’s very fun to watch, but it can also be a bit tiresome; so much moving and running about, for nearly two-and-a-half-hours can really wear a person down, regardless of how many energy drinks are involved.

That said, I’ll take a quick and fun movie, over a slow, brooding and boring one, which is why Black Book works. Verhoeven doesn’t feel the need to settle, or appease anyone, but instead, just tell this movie with as many twists and turns as humanly imaginable. Sure, there’s probably a few too many, but the movie doesn’t really seem to rely too much on whether or not you believe in them – it more or less depends on being able to follow along with the constant action, lies, deception, and lies that take up the whole, entire movie. If you’re able to do that, then yeah, Black Book is a good time.

Cheer up, Nazis. There's more to life than exterminating Jews!

Cheer up, Nazis. There’s more to life than exterminating Jews!

And if not, then well, I don’t know what to tell you. Watch something else.

Where Verhoeven gets most of his criticism from is how he handles his female characters and the actresses in said roles. For one, he isn’t particularly nice to them; every time it seems like he’s got another lethal, smart and conniving femme fatale, he’s always got another dumb female character, making silly mistakes and always letting her emotions get the best of her. With Carice van Houten’s Rachel/Ellis, I’m torn – on one hand, I believe that she’s the heart and soul of the movie, but at the same time, Verhoeven does sort of treat her like garbage. She’s constantly yelling, running about and making silly mistakes, but at other times, she’s doing quite the opposite.

It’s a weird mish-mash of aspects to her character that don’t always gel together well, which makes van Houten’s performance all the better; she’s more than willing to stand up to Verhoeven’s sometimes crazy style and go with whatever pace he needs her to. Same goes for just about everyone else around her. Sebastain Koch is good in a role that, unsurprisingly, caused a lot of controversy for playing a Nazi with a heart of gold, which is odd, but hey, it actually works for a Verhoeven movie.

Consensus: For all of its twists, turns and craziness, Black Book is quite fun and exciting, even if, at times, it can feel like too many wheels are spinning at one time.

7 / 10

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Bleecker Street

Hollow Man (2000)

Even while invisible, Kevin Bacon still loves to show his dong.

Scientist Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is working with a secret military research team to complete his experiment of making living-things, completely and utterly invisible. It works on a couple of animals, but Sebastian being the narcissist and ego-maniac that he is, decides that it’s his turn to go under the wire and test it out. It works, but as you could expect, it does come with some perks. Deadly perks, at that.

At the time that this movie came out, it was regarded as a visual-spectacle. The idea that a character like Bacon’s, could seemingly disappear, re-appear, and show up in different forms over time and still have it look realistic is very stunning to say the least. Granted, in the days of Avatar and every Summer blockbuster known to man since 2008, we’ve come to expect a lot from a visual stand-point, but that’s still not to say that this movie isn’t surprising with what it shows us. If you take it into context of the time that it was made, how, when, and who made it, it’s damn surprising and definitely deserved an Oscar nomination. However, anything more than a cheap-o special-effects nomination, would have been ridiculous and downright laughable.

Sort of like Hollow Man itself.

Now, that’s not to say that the movie is terrible or anything – it’s just a total and complete B-movie. If you still don’t think it is, take into account who the director is, one Paul Verhoeven. Basically, this is a fun movie from the wicked-mind of Verhoeven that never seems to sleep, until he’s satisfied with as much blood, gore, nudity, sex, and violence that he can get. And then some.

The guy’s a nut behind-the-camera and gives this movie the type of feel that we want from our corny, sci-fi flicks, campy fun. Some of it is a bit too serious, but who the hell cares when you got a movie about a guy that’s invisible, naked, and killing people, left and right?

No one! That’s who!

Oscar-nominated visual-effects right there....

Oscar-nominated visual-effects?

Still though, the story does leave plenty to be desired in the end. Actually, there’s a lot left to be desired, what with a premise such as this. This movie is bonkers, in the right ways, and in the wrong ways, but no matter what, you never, ever for a second take this movie, the story, its ideas, or its characters ever seriously. I don’t know if that’s a discredit to the peeps involved, but either way, I just didn’t care. Sometimes, you just want to have fun with a crazy B-movie and often times, it feels like Hollow Man forgets a little bit about that.

Despite getting very horror-ish by the end, with everyone getting killed every which way but loose, the problem within Hollow Man was that it tries so hard to make this main character’s problem seem so universal, so understandable, and so relatable, that it should almost come off as no wonder to us why he would ever, ever think about killing everybody. A story needs to be told here, of course, and Verhoeven needs to get rid of the ketchup packets he paid for, of course, but the movie could have done more to actually make me believe the fact that this guy would literally lose his cool, and instantly start killing people.

Also, the people around him are so stupid and never, ever think for themselves for one instance. Even when Sebastian’s invisible and a bit creepy, everybody still has him call the shots because what better way to go about things than to let the invisible guy who’s been cooped-up for awhile say what needs to be done, right? It’s dumb, but honestly, watching dumb people get killed in awfully gory ways, while sometimes fun, does still seem repetitive because you know, no matter how far they may get from him, they’ll always screw it up somehow and die.

Basically, it’s every other horror movie ever made, but with Verhoeven, there’s nothing wrong with wanting/expecting a little bit more.

...these too.

Oh, now I see why….

And at the same time, it’s hard not to feel a little something for the cast. Kevin Bacon feels like he was really down-on-his-luck when he took the offer for this movie, not because he’s bored or anything, he’s actually having a lot of fun playing the baddie for awhile, it’s more just that he seems like he’s too good for this kind of trashy stuff and couldn’t be bothered either way. Probably just a nice way for him to get a new, Summer house, so if that is the case, good for him.

Elisabeth Shue is also randomly here as his ex-lover/co-worker, who knows what to do when he gets a bit wild, but is also a tad stupid in her ways, too. That’s where Josh Brolin comes in to save the day and show that he can be cool, charming, smart, and pretty bad-ass once he’s given the chance to be. A pre-cursor to his role in No Country For Old Men? I think so. Oh, and any movie that has Greg Grunberg in it, is always a win for me. Even if two strong gals like Rhona Mitra and Kim Dickens are, unfortunately, nothing more than walking, talking meat, with boobs.

Then again, this is a Paul Verhoeven flick. Why should I be surprised?

Consensus: The Oscar-nominated Hollow Man is nothing more than another stupid, nonsensical sci-fi flick that’s initially intriguing, then gets dumber and dumber as it verges into slasher-territory. However, if you want a good time, give it a look cause that’s what it’s here for and nothing else.

5 / 10

"What the fuck did we just star in?"

“What are we all doing here?”

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Boiler Room (2000)

Sometimes, Charlie Sheen’s swagger is just needed.

Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), is university drop-out who doesn’t have much going for his life. However, determined to prove his worth to a demanding father (Ron Rifkin), he decides to take a job at a small brokerage firm and, through his time there, begins to become something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, for lack of a better term.

Writer/director Ben Younger literally wears his Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street influences on his sleeve, that the man doesn’t even try to hide it. In fact, a few times, the man actually shows clips of the movie, in Boiler Room, where the characters here are seen actually saying the same lines of those movies. In a way, you want to call him a “rip-off artist”, but at the same time, you don’t want to, because he’s not hiding it; he’s letting us know, right off-the-bat, that these characters, as well as himself probably, look up to these movies, these characters, and these ideas of capitalism, that they don’t care if they look like copy-cats.

"Wait, what?"

“Wait, what?”

They’re making money, baby and that’s all that matters!

Regardless, Younger as a director and writer, is a pretty solid one. There’s a certain energy to the movie that’s hard not to get wrapped-up in, because as our characters are making more and more money, the more the movie picks up its pace. In a way, it’s the junior-version of Wall Street, but it works so well because Younger is constantly reminding us that none of those influences matter; sure, they’ve helped him to where he’s at with this movie, but hey, so what? Just party, bro.

But honestly, where Younger really starts to fail is in the actual story department itself.

Younger seems as if he knows a thing or two about keeping up the brisk pace and how to have fun with these sometimes detestable characters, but when it comes to actually slowing things down, focusing on these characters, their lives and their motivations, he loses a bit of his step. For example, try the terribly-forced “romance” between Ribisi and Nia Long, who don’t seem to have any chemistry at all, any reason to be together, or anything really holding them together once things go South for both of them. It annoys me that films like these feel the need to add in a romantic subplot, just to appeal to women and hoping that they don’t get alienated from this movie but the bad news is that they already will. No girl will be attracted to a movie about a bunch of young, hot, cool, hip, and rich dudes in suits that make millions and millions of dollars, so it’s hard to imagine ladies wanting to come out and see something in the first place, because oh my gosh, Giovanni Ribisi and Nia Long make-out!

And then, the story begins to get a tad bit more predictable as it rolls on along. Boiler Room is obviously a rags-to-riches story, or so to speak, and because of that, it follows a very plain and conventional plot-line. Ribisi’s character starts at job, starts getting really rich, starts getting cocky, and eventually, one bad thing happens after another, until he’s broke, near-dead and without a pot to piss in. It’s all very formulaic and try as he might, Younger can’t help but get caught up in doing the same stuff we’ve seen done before, many, many times.

"Yeah, I'm done with action flicks. Maybe."

“Yeah, I’m done with action flicks. Maybe.”

Despite this, the cast is quite good and help keep the ship afloat.

In a rare lead role, Giovanni Ribisi kicks some fine stick-selling ass as Seth Davis. Ribisi gets a bad-rap sometimes for taking roles to the next level of over-the-top and making them terribly campy to the point of where it’s cringe-inducing, but some will be surprised that this kid can hit it out of the park when it comes to being subdued and very charming. You like Seth Davis right when you see him and even though his character motivations may get mixed around in a bender a bit too much, you still like both him and Ribisi. Wish that this movie made Ribisi the top mainstream act that everybody thought he was going to be, but I don’t think it bothers him if he’s second-in-command.

Everybody else is fine as hell, too. Vin Diesel is a scene-stealer as Chris Varick, the guy who teaches Seth the ways of the stock broker, and it’s a great dramatic role for Diesel that shows the guy has a terrible amount of charm and humor in him, that makes all of his characters work. The guy may be stuck doing Fast and Furious for the rest of his life, but at least we know that we can depend on him to pull out something like this or Find Me Guilty to remind us of why the guy has such a presence about him in the first place.

Nicky Katt plays the “stereotypical dickhead role” as the one guy who doesn’t really like where Seth is going in his success and it’s an obvious character, but a fine performance from a guy that I see in everything and still haven’t been able to match the name with the face. Let’s also not forget the fine, little cameo from Ben Affleck that practically seems like a total rip-off of Alec Baldwin’s cameo from Glengarry Glen Ross, but still works here because it seems like Affleck is having a total ball here and that’s always a joy. There’s a bunch of others in the cast like Scott Caan, Tom Everett Scott and Jamie Kennedy, all playing the young hotshots within the firm and are all perfectly cast.

Consensus: Boiler Room is, initially, a fun, exciting and thrilling ride, but soon turns preachy and predictable, which makes it feel a little uneven.

6 / 10

"Stop. Over. Acting!"

“Stop. Over. Acting!”

Photos Courtesy of: Derek Winnert

Lust, Caution (2007)

Love works in mysterious, dastardly ways.

During World War II, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is just another young, ambitious and politically-aware college grad looking to make something of her smart mind. Eventually, through meeting up with old friends, she becomes something of a secret agent who is planning to take down the government, or in some ways, just rebel and get her causes voice out there, heard loud and clear for the rest of the world. One of her first and perhaps, most important missions of them all, is to seduce and even assassinate an corrupt political official Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), who also works for the Japanese puppet government in Shanghai. While Wong is initially thrown off by the mission and thinking that she’s not quite capable of getting the job done, she sticks with it, believing that it must be done. However, as time goes on, she starts to find herself falling for the sometimes sad Mr. Yee – a move that may cost her, as well as her fellow rebels, their lives.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

Lust, Caution is perhaps most notorious and controversial for its explicit sex scenes that, unsurprisingly, led to the MPAA giving it the dreaded NC-17 rating. And to speak of those sex scenes, well, yeah, they’re quite explicit, but most importantly, they matter. In a story chock full of lies, deceit, death, violence, and corruption, the one aspect that really speaks volumes is the actual sex itself; it’s graphic, in-your-face and barely leaves anything to the imagine, but it’s also kind of beautiful, too.

In fact, “beauty” could definitely be said for the movie as a whole.

Surely, this isn’t much of a surprise coming from Lee, who’s definitely been known for his movies to have an eye for the exquisite details in the certain ways his movies look. And it helps – the movie literally transports us all the way to Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II, and never seems phony, fake, or as if any of it took place on a major, Hollywood studio. There’s an air of authenticity that works for the movie and also makes us feel like we’re watching more than just another sick and twisted tale of love and murder, but more or less, a sincere look at a love story in the first place.

Lee is no slouch when it comes to the look of his movies, but at the same time, he also doesn’t back down from giving his characters the best work to deal with and because of that, the two leading performances from Tang Wei and Tony Leung are quite great. Wei’s especially great as she starts off as this young, naive and rather silly college school girl, who is still trying to make sense of her life and what she wants to do with it, yet, gets wrapped up in a situation where she has to act and be an adult, real quick, or else. It’s a transformative performance that shows her range and helps makes us feel more and more for her character, as we always know that she’s doing the right thing, but also question her motives, or better yet, how far and willing she is able to keep up with this mission, even when she knows that it can’t end on any sort of good note.

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what's happening here. Scandalous!

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what’s happening here. Scandalous!

Tony Leung is also quite great in the lead role as Mr. Yee, because he never seems like a true-and-tried villain. Sure, he’s definitely got despicable qualities to him, but the movie doesn’t just make him this one-note villain, who can’t wait to kill or screw anything that walks in his way; believe it or not, he actually is a human being, who has feelings, thoughts and ideas, which in ways, makes him all the more terrifying to watch. The movie may want him to be a villain, but Leung can’t help from making this man somewhat sympathetic, even in the slightest regards.

The only aspect about Lust, Caution that truly keeps it away from being another Ang Lee classic, is its length.

At a little over two-and-a-half hours, the movie more than wears out its welcome, as it is, yes, a little slow and even, at times, meandering. As hard as Lee may try to spice things up with sex, violence and lies, there’s still this never ending feeling that the movie is going to continue to go on and on, even when it should be wrapping itself up. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t anything wrong with long movies, so long as they give us a reason to understand why they’re so long in the first place – Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour version of Hamlet comes to mind, as it’s perhaps the most condensed version of that play and still feels necessary – but for some reason, Lust, Caution never makes a reason for it. Sure, there’s a lot of killing, sex, twists, turns and nudity to be had, but for how long and why?

The movie does eventually give us that answer, but unfortunately, it takes maybe way too long to get to it.

Consensus: With a certain eye for beauty, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is a sensual, well-acted, and rather tense thriller that may also be too long for its own good.

7.5 / 10

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Focus Features, Drama Fever

Apocalypto (2006)

Can’t trust humans. But can definitely trust Jaguars.

Even though the Mayan kingdom is at the height of its power, there are signs that the empire may be slowly, but definitely surely, crumbling beneath its very own feet. That’s why leaders start to believe that it’s time for them continue on building more and more temples, while also sacrificing certain folks, so that their crops can survive, as well as their people. During this time, somewhere deep in the forest, lives Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a peaceful hunter in a remote tribe, who, along with his wife Seven (Dalia Hernández), already have a child and another on the way. Life couldn’t be better for Jaguar, or all of his other friends and family, until everything all goes to hell when a much more powerful tribe comes by the village and raids it of the strong men, leaving the women and children to rot and, presumably, die. While Jaguar and his friends don’t exactly know where they are being taken to, what lies beyond the journey is something much more powerful and disturbing, and that is the changing of times and how, no matter how hard you try to get past it, your fate will never desist.

It's love when you have more piercings than her.

It’s love when you have more piercings than her.

Mel Gibson is a good, sometimes even great, director. His movies all look, sound and move, great, and for the most part, they deal with certain, troubling issues about life, murder, temptation and faith that we don’t too often see from most directors, let alone those who were most known for acting in movies, and not directing them. And yet, for some reason, his movies always seem imperfect.

While sure, you can definitely say that Braveheart is a great movie (even though it has its fair share of haters), it’s still a relatively conventional film of one gaining his freedom and beating the man, so to speak. The only difference with that movie is that it features a lot of blood, murder, axes, Scottish dudes, and yes, kilts. What Gibson really impressed people with, as he has done in the years since, is that he knows how to stage a big-budget, larger-than-life epic set-piece, where we do feel immersed in this great new world that we’re literally being told about and shoved into.

He’s done it with mostly all of his movies and yes, Apocalypto is another one of those movies.

That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, but it’s got signs of a true master working with all of the tools in his shed, so to speak, and having a grand time. While the movie came out not too long after Passion of the Christ, it is still, in ways, very different; it’s not nearly as self-serious, or as overly violent as that movie. Instead, there is humor to be had, there is a sense of adventure, and yes, there is a whole lot of shocking and disturbing violence that takes place here, but it all feels earned and not just something that Gibson himself couldn’t get enough of. That Gibson literally places us in this fun, breezy village in the first half-hour, only to then throw us into a setting where people are getting beheaded, women are getting raped, and babies are getting flung from trees, shows that, not just as a director, but as a person, he’s continuing to grow. Of course, talking about the year 2006 and Mel Gibson, wouldn’t be complete without all of the controversy that surrounded him at the time. But in a way, that doesn’t matter; a movie like Apocalypto doesn’t necessarily make Gibson out to be an immoral, or suspicious human being, much like Passion did, it just shows that his aspirations go further beyond being a movie star.

But still, does any of that matter?

"Kill him. The gods told us to. I think, anyway."

“Kill him. The gods told us to. I think, anyway.”

Not really. What does matter is that Apocalypto, for all of its action, its blood, its gore, and severed heads, still doesn’t seem like it really has anything fresh to say at all. Whereas Passion, albeit misguidedly, made a comment on faith as a whole, Apocalypto seems to just say the same thing as Braveheart did: “Always fight back. Never give up. Stick it to the man.” Sure, it may resonate with those who have never seen every sports movie ever made, but for those who have seen one, or a whole bunch of other movies, it comes as a bit disappointing. The signs of Gibson being a far more passionate and thoughtful director are here, and definitely show up in bright spots, but they don’t always stay around long and it’s why Apocalypto, with its 138 minute run-time, can’t help but feel a tad long.

Gibson himself spends a little too much time on the torture and murder of these native villagers, but then again, why shouldn’t he? What Gibson’s showing is true to history and more importantly, honest. He’s not shying away from the harsh reality of it all, nor is he trying to sensationalize anything – he’s showing all of the barbarianism, for what it is. Still though, he doesn’t make a comment on it and it’s where Apocalpyto, sadly, doesn’t reach its full potential.

Consensus: Epic, sweeping and surprisingly ambitious, Apocalypto finds Gibson swinging for the fences and, mostly, coming out on top, even if his message doesn’t seem to translate past being your typical, saccharine line about achieving one’s dreams and beating the odds.

7.5 / 10

The look of our savior. No. Not JC. But close enough.

The look of our savior. No. Not JC. But close enough.

Photos Courtesy of: The Fanboy Perspective

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

Symbolism, right?

Symbolism, right?

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

Halloween II (2009)

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

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

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

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

You know, the typical family stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Defiance (2008)

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

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

All you need is some brotherly love.

All you need is some brotherly love.

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

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

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

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

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

Or an assault-rifle.

Or an assault-rifle.

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10

Or even a furry hat.

Or even a furry hat.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Best in Show (2000)

Are people this crazy at cat shows?

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

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

America's favorite ad-lib couple.

America’s favorite ad-lib couple.

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

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

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

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

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

The true couple.

The true couple.

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Photos Courtesy of: Film Experience Blog

Miracle (2004)

Who needs a college education when you could just defeat the Russians?

When college coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) is hired to helm the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team, he can’t believe himself. At one stage, early in his playing-career, Herb was supposed to be on the same team, but was cut at the last second, making this opportunity seem like a second chance at success. While his wife (Patricia Clarkson) means that Herb won’t be quite the present husband for quite some time, she still supports him enough to where he can take the job and bring all of his hopes, dreams and aspirations to the young, talented whipper-snappers he has to work with. But Herb has a lot to deal with; the team is chock full of hot-heads who think they’re way better than they actually are, and in of their very first games, the team gets their rumps handed to them. So Herb decides to crank everything up a notch and put all of the guys through hell, even if they, as well as some faculty don’t fully support it. That said, Herb’s doing it all for a reason: To defeat the undefeated and incomparable Russian hockey team once and for all.

"Okay, so just get the puck in the net. Any questions?"

“Okay, so just get the puck in the net. Any questions?”

Miracle, on paper, seems like your traditional, syrupy, feel-good Disney sports flick where we know the heroes, the foes, the conflict, and the ending from the very first second of the flick. And on film, believe it or not, that’s actually how it all plays out, but there’s something more to it than just schmaltz and melodrama. Director Gavin O’Connor is smarter than just sitting down and shooting whatever is in front of him, so that he can collect that nice, big and hefty paycheck from the folks at Disney at the end of the day – a part of him feels and appreciates this true, inspirational tale.

And because of that, somehow, there’s more feeling and emotion to it all.

Sure, the movie is still conventional and hits every beat that a sports movie of this nature should indeed hit, but it hits them all so well, that they’re beats that are hardly noticeable. O’Connor does a lot with this sports genre, in that he has a lot of the conventions – like the supportive, but strict wife, or the training-montages, or the tough-as-nails-coach who isn’t loved by everyone, or the brassy, young talent who needs to be coached harder, etc. – and finds a way to put something behind them that allows for them to work. The fact that we already have a sense of nostalgia for this patriotic blend of America at the start of the 80’s sets in right away and hardly ever leaves, making Miracle feel like a cookie-cutter attempt at giving families “adult” entertainment, when in reality, it’s just a typical sports movie, disguised as something far more meaningful and honest.

If anything, it’s just a sports movie that does a nice job of surprising us, even if we know what’s going to happen. Most of that comes with Herb Brooks and Kurt Russell’s great performance of a simple and straightforward man who has a mission in his life, and will not at all stray away from whatever it takes to get him to achieve that dream. Brooks is a soft-spoken man, who has very little to say at all, but Russell does wonders with this kind of role in that he shows a hard, but passionate man who doesn’t seem to care what others may think or care about him – he just wants to win the gold, screw all of the haters. In a way, there’s something so incredibly awesome about that and the fact that O’Connor keeps the focus mainly on him, helps; we don’t normally get sports movies that take the coach over every other character, but here, it works well for the movie.

Uh, who?

Uh, who?

Then again, that does take away from the actual players themselves and, after awhile, does have them feel like a bunch of faceless “nothings”.

It’s admirable on O’Connor’s part to cast mostly unknown and inexperienced actors in these players’ roles, as it allows for us to see them as players, and not just famous dudes trying to play hockey, but he doesn’t help them out much. They don’t get a whole lot of development and the scenes in which they do get even a glimmer of any, they’re so poorly-done, it’s almost too obvious that it was a second-priority for O’Connor and writer Eric Guggenheim. Of course, anytime that the movie gets bored with these kids, it heads right back to the compelling Brooks, but it doesn’t help the movie’s case that it’s supposed to be about this one, miraculous team and all we really care about, or who we know the best and most, is probably the coach.

Once again, nothing wrong with that, but it also does take a whole lot more than just a very good coach, to win the gold.

Consensus: Even with the typical conventions of sports flicks firmly in-place, Miracle gets by on a tremendous performance from Kurt Russell, as well as a heart and emotion to the proceedings that make it feel more than just a soulless, big-budget retelling, destined for ESPN Films reruns.

7 / 10

If Kurt's happy, everyone's happy. It's just a fact of life.

If Kurt’s happy, everyone’s happy. It’s just a fact of life.

Photos Courtes

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Everyone needs a little cut, no?

Evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusts for the beautiful wife of a London barber named Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) and rather than having any competition with this man, Turpin decides to transport him to Australia for a crime he did not commit. Now, Sweeney Todd has returned after 15 years and is ready to extract some revenge, however, he knows that he has to be smart and sly about it. So he decides to open up his barber-shop with the dedicated Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and together, they decide to not only give fellow citizens some nice trims and cuts and whatnot, but also give them a little thing called “death”. That’s right, Sweeney Todd takes all of his anger out on his customers who have no clue that instead of getting a buzz, they’re going to get a slice of their throats from Sweeney and then thrown in the boiler for meat-pies. While it’s sickening, it’s a hit among the people and eventually, it makes Sweeney more and more inspired on getting Turpin in is chair once and for all.

Who hasn't gotten a toy and admired it like this?

Who hasn’t gotten a toy and admired it like this?

Once again, there’s something so damn pleasant about watching Tim Burton have a good time with himself, and while Sleepy Hollow is definitely a solid showing of that fact come to life, Sweeney Todd is perhaps a better example. Here, not only does Burton get to roll around with musical-numbers, but he still gets the opportunity to play around with his dark, brooding and Gothic horror-style that he loves so much and can’t seem to get tired of. And of course, he gets to do it all with the people he loves and adores so much, like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and so on and so forth.

And because of this, Sweeney Todd feels like a celebration of sorts.

Not just for Burton, but musicals as a whole. Sweeney Todd is the kind of darkly humorous and sadistic tale that’s definitely not everybody’s plate of pie, nor is it going to win over any naysayers of the musical-genre as a whole, but for Burton, none of that matters – he’s having a great time allowing for these songs to play out in a traditional format, with the voices and music blaring over the speakers and never quieting down. The downside to all of the musical numbers is that Burton himself doesn’t quite know how to film these scenes and make them look interesting; sure, the songs are entertaining and interesting enough, but they’re filmed in such a one-on-one bland way that it makes the movie feel like you’re actually watching a stage-play filmed on the screen.

Sure, that’s fine and all, but sometimes, it’s always best to have a little more imagination with these numbers, especially when you’re making a full-length, feature-flick, with a big-budget and all. Cause honestly, sky’s the limit and if there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about going big and over-the-top, it’s Burton. And he does go for that quite often here, and you know what?

It actually works.

Oh man. RIP.

Oh man. RIP.

Because the tone and material is so subversive and mean, the humor and gags and whatnot, while silly, still work. Burton’s sense of humor in most of his movies have borderlined on cheesy, but because that’s his crazy style, it’s been accepted; here in Sweeney Todd, it feels right with the material. There’s nothing sillier than watching and listening to a barber singing about his one true love as he’s slicing and dicing the throats of his customers and Burton milks it all for it’s worth. He doesn’t let-up and because of that, it’s hard not to be entertained and excited by Sweeney Todd, even if the material and look of the film can be grim.

But of course, it mostly all comes together so well because Burton has his usual band of misfits to join in on the fun and without them, who knows how his film may have turned out to be. Depp’s Sweeney is a perfect fit because he’s not just charismatic, but a little dangerous, too. Depp has always had a good time in Burton’s movies, but here, it seems like he’s enjoying himself the most, playing the straight man to the, mostly, crazy proceedings. Characters around him like Timothy Spall’s, or Sacha Baron Cohen’s are all campy and wild, whereas Depp, always remains stoic and smart, which helps his character seem all the more sympathetic and, well, “cool”.

Maybe that’s not what he was going for, but hey, it’s what happened.

Honestly though, it’s Helena Bonham Carter who steals the show as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd’s lovely sidekick who will and has followed him through the thick and thin of life. Though her character sings about unrequited love and grinding up human-meat to make pies, there’s a sincerity to her character that keeps her watchable and downright sad. Carter’s comedic-timing is perfect, as well as her chemistry with Depp, but no matter what, when she’s given the spotlight to sing about her feelings of love and remorse, you feel them and it’s probably the only time that Sweeney Todd, the movie, actually seems like it’s taking itself more seriously.

Sure, fun and games are fine and all, but every once and awhile, it’s always nice to have a little cry just to remind yourself that you’re human.

Consensus: Burton’s dark sense of style and Sweeney Todd go so perfectly together, that it’s hard not to enjoy the movie, especially with the vocal and acting talents constantly on-display.

8.5 / 10

Love at first slash.

Love at first slash.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

The Kingdom (2007)

Let’s just stay home and let people settle themselves out, okay?

Charged with the most important assignment of his career, federal agent Ron Fleury (Jamie Foxx) has one week to assemble a team, infiltrate and destroy a terrorist cell based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It’s not what he had in mind when he decided to join back up with the force, but it’s the task that was handed down to him, so he wrangles up Special Agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), a forensic examiner, FBI analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), an intelligence analyst, and Special Agent Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), who all have their own set of skills that will help allow for this mission to go down a lot smoother. And if that wasn’t enough, well, then the four also have the company and good graces of Colonel Faris al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), the commander of the Saudi State Police Force, a man who is providing security for them. However, what seems like good intentions at first, all start to go away once the agents realize that they aren’t allowed to do their jobs and complete their mission because of some strange rules that the Saudi government is passing down to them. Will they obey them? Or, like most Americans, will they just do whatever they want?

Jamie's packin'.

Jamie’s packin’.

The Kingdom shows Peter Berg more of where he’s at now in his career. He tackles these real life moments in our nation’s history and does all that he can with them, never really making a point about what it is that he’s depicting, just more of showing the world a little story that we may, or may not, already have known about. Although Berg starts the movie off by showing the relationship between the U.S. and the Saudis, post-WWI, Berg still settles himself down, opting for a more traditional approach to a story that, quite frankly, could have not only just used more eyes and ears, but more voices.

In a way, it seems like the Kingdom is the perfect movie for Berg to get on his soap-box and speak out against the U.S.’s insistence of a relationship with the Saudis, but he still seems torn; at one point, he’s all about making a point, but then, at other points, he just wants to see stuff blow-up and people get shot dead in the streets. Somehow, somewhere, it doesn’t all come together perfectly and it seems like a case of Berg himself getting lost in translation and not knowing where to speak out, and where to let the violence start happening.

The action’s good though, so that’s got to account for something, right?

And yeah, it definitely does. There’s no denying that Berg knows how to craft a tense and effective action-sequence, but there’s maybe only or two throughout the whole film, which means that a large portion of the flick is dedicated to watching a bunch of characters talk to one another about stuff we may not have a clue about, or better yet, not even care for. The Kingdom may not try to settle all of the issues between the Saudis and the U.S., but what it does set out to do, is tell us a story about something that happened in the real world and why it deserves to be told.

So is Chris.

So is Chris.

Why, for some reason, that emotional impact isn’t felt while watching the movie is, for lack of a better term, weird. Berg knows how to craft action-sequences and in the many scenes where there are people talking, there’s still some underlining sense of dread and tension, but it never quite materializes into being anything all that exciting. Berg is, simply put, telling this story and leaving it at that.

In a way, that’s perfectly fine.

But in another way, it’s not. It lets the very talented cast and crew down, as well as the people it’s supposed to be depicting. Of course, the events and situations are all loosely based on other events that occurred in Saudi Arabia and had to do with American forces intervening, but the idea of patriotism and paying a tribute to these men and women who serve our country, only to make other countries nearly as good and safe as ours, still feels relevant. Berg wants to celebrate these people and there’s no problem with that – except for when he doesn’t quite give them all that much of a spectacular movie that really gets us, the movie-going audience, going.

Consensus: Despite a few solid pieces of action and timely themes, the Kingdom doesn’t know how to package them all up in a neat, somewhat cohesive manner that’s both effective, or interesting, making it feel like a missed-opportunity to really speak out against issues that deserve to be spoken out against.

6 / 10

And you know what? Even Jen is.

And you know what? Even Jen is.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

King Arthur (2004)

He’s Arthur, King of the Britons. Or, at least I wished he was.

The tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was one we all thought we knew, but somehow we didn’t. This is a new take on the story as we see Arthur (Clive Owen), Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Guinevere (Keira Knightley), and countless others battle Saxon invaders for control of what is now Britain. However, leading the Saxons is Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård), a man that you do not want to come toe-to-toe with.

In the beginning of King Arthur, director Antoine Fuqua puts a couple of lines on the screen to let us know that this movie is based on the King Arthur stories that have apparently been unearthed by countless archaeologists and historians. Basically, what the movie’s trying to say is that screw all you thought about, heard, or believed in about the story of King Arthur and his tales of heroism, because they are apparently not true.

Or, maybe they are? We actually don’t really know, because it’s all speculation.

Threesome?

Threesome?

But what’s not at all up for debate is whether or not this movie’s a good one, because trust me, it’s not.

The biggest issue with King Arthur is that it’s a little over two hours, but honestly, it feels way, way longer than that. While Antoine Fuqua isn’t necessarily a great director by any means, he still knows how to move a story when it needs moving; something like a take on the real life of King Arthur, desperately needed a nice push, or better yet, kick to help make it feel less like an useless history-lesson, and more like an actually nice bit of swashbuckling fun.

And even with the action here, sometimes, yes, it is pretty exciting, because Fuqua knows how to film action and make it as dirty, as gritty and as grueling as possible. He’s shown it before and it’s interesting to see him do it in this Medieval-setting, where it seems like he wouldn’t be as well-equipped without guns, cars and explosions to help him out. But like I said, the action can only help so much, especially when you don’t have a story to work with, or even tell.

Fuqua clearly wants to make a mean and moody piece here on the tale of King Arthur, which is fine and all, but it’s not handled well. He seems to want King Arthur to be the type of epic that Gladiator was, but doesn’t seem to have the brass balls to go that for with itself and really hit the tunes and notes that would make it really hard-hitting. Of course we get bucket-loads of blood, gore, and decapitated heads, but does that really give us an epic movie, or just a violent one? I’m aiming more towards the latter, but I could also see how this movie would be seen as an epic, if whoever that person is, perceived epics as stories about people with problems, who love to kill and chop people’s heads off, in the name of God and freedom.

Doesn’t seem, nor does it feel like an epic to me, but hey, I could be wrong.

Sure, the action itself is cool and Fuqua tries, but when you literally have a movie filled with, I don’t know, say, 15-20 minutes of pure-action, and the other hour-and-45-minutes is spent watching people we don’t care to learn about, care for, or even understand in the least bit, talk and wade through their problems, then yeah, it’s a problem. That’s even for the original version, though; in the director’s cut that I, unfortunately, had to sit through, features the same action, but with more blood and gore than ever before. Of course, Fuqua can do that right, but a story of this magnitude and attention does not service him in the slightest bit and it’s why King Arthur is, really, just a slug of a film.

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they're fun people with lively personalities....

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they’re fun people with lively personalities….

What’s even worse, though, is that he really doesn’t give the cast anything to work with. Keira Knightley is meant to be this fiery, sexy presence, despite never seeming like she’s taken a shower, nor ever making it seem like she’s as much of a bad-ass as she should be; Clive Owen just delivers his lines in a growl that’s highly reminiscient of Tommy Lee Jones’ worst; Ioan Gruffudd would come to be a whole lot more charismatic in his career, but here, he’s got nothing to work with and suffers because of it; Stellan Skarsgård always has fun when he’s playing a baddie, and this one as Cerdic is no different; Mads Mikkelsen is bad-ass as Tristan, but nothing else; Ray Winstone is playing the usual hard-ass he’s used to be playing by now here as Bors, and it’s pretty boring and odd, considering he’s talking like a Cockney-gangster, and he’s stuck somewhere in the Dark Ages; Joel Edgerton is all bearded-up and timid as Gawain, but yet, nobody cares; and Ray Stevenson is, well, what do you think happens to his character?

Yep, unfortunately, a poor-man’s Sean Bean, that Ray Stevenson is.

Consensus: King Arthur tries to take an age old story that we all know and love by now, and twist it around, but rather than seeming risky, dangerous, or even fun, it’s just boring and features talented, interesting people, doing nothing worth their effort, or time.

3 / 10

What the hell was Keira talking about? Her boobs are totally that big!

Avatar?

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Who cares if a person’s British or not? If they can say “puff” correctly, then I’m always satisfied.

Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is a sweet, pudgy, chain-smoking British gal who just can’t seem to meet the right man in her life that’s worth settling down with. She’s 32 and she’s running out of time which is why she somehow gets involved with both her boss (Hugh Grant) and that man’s mortal enemy (Colin Firth). Hilarity, love, and British wit ensues.

Usually British comedies have me laughing my fanny off quite much, but then they start to die down and lose the steam that they once had and thrived so much on. Not Bridget Jones’s Diary; it just continued to go on and on until all of the characters were built-up and the hilarious situations that could and just might happen. It was funny to see a British comedy not take any sidebars in getting a little dirty or risque and that’s what I liked the most. When I want to see my rom-coms, I want them to be a bit bad and naughty, but still a tad sweet on the side. In fact, that’s how most comedies should be, but honestly, so rarely are.

And that’s why Bridget Jones’s Diary is a little treat in and of itself.

So lonely. And that snow is making it so much harder to feel less depressed.

So lonely. And that snow is making it so much harder to feel less depressed.

But honestly, what works best about the movie is Bridget Jones herself. She’s a different type of character that we don’t usually see getting the sort of attention or limelight in rom-coms such as these; normally, she’s the single, but somewhat ugly best-friend to the leading female. But this is her story and it’s worthy of it, too, because she’s a little bit of everything all rolled-up into one woman: She’s mean, dirty, funny, rough, good-looking and most of all, chock full of personality. She’s basically the perfect gal and while the movie does make some jokes at the expense of her weight and rather heavy-set demeanor, they’re only used as a way to highlight the fact that she’s just like us and not your typical romantic-lead, hence why she’s all the more lovable and sympathetic.

And because of that, we actually do care for her journey into finding that one and special someone. Granted, it’s a typical rom-com in which she tries to search for that man of her dreams, comes up a bit short, and then has to figure out just who it is that she wants in her life once she’s given a choice, so yeah, in a way, it’s predictable, but it still works. Because we care for and adore Bridget Jones and whether or not she actually does find the love of her life by the end of the two hours, her ride is enjoyable, if not all that surprising. Most rom-coms seem to think that just pitting a few really good-looking people together and seeing whatever sparks can fly is enough, but it honestly isn’t – sometimes, what we need is characters that we can care about and see if they end up finding the one true loves, or if they just continue on into that harsh, but sometimes relaxing world of singledom.

Which, let’s be honest, is not all that bad. You get more time to spend with Netflix, am I right?

"Uhmmm.....me love? Would...uhm...you like to....uhmm...have sex? Uhm please?

“Uhmmm…..me love? Would…uhm…you like to….uhmm…have sex? Uhm please?

As our titular character, Renée Zellweger is, as usual, quite amazing. At the time, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the fact that Zellweger herself wasn’t British and perhaps too pretty for the role, but the gal took it all one step further by doing her best to make herself “ugly” and gained a whole lot of weight and guess what happened? Well, she knocked the role right out of the park, by mixing a great deal of humor, heart and relatability that’s not too often seen in mainstream rom-coms of this nature. Sure, it helps that Bridget Jones herself is a good character to work with, but it also helps that Zellweger herself has perfect comedic-timing and can act like the Dickens whenever a hard, heavy and dramatic scene calls for her.

Then, as the two men who are seemingly fighting for her heart, are Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, are both pretty solid, adding a lot of fun and spirit to their roles, even when it seems like the script is sort of just letting them down. Still though, both are pretty solid at doing what they do, especially Grant who seems to really be relishing in the moment that he’s playing such a despicable cad, that it makes us wonder what’s the difference between fiction and reality with this guy. Is he like this in real life or not? I’ll leave you to decide, my friends. Firth is pretty solid too, even if I wish there was more to him than just a stone-faced, miserable dude that’s still trying to get over his ex. I know it’s hard and all but man, at least shed a smile here and there for once. It ain’t that hard.

After all, you got Renée Zellweger in front of ya.

Am I right?

Consensus: While it’s definitely a conventional rom-com, Bridget Jones’s Diary is still funny, heartfelt, and featuring an amazing performance from Zellweger that shows just the true talents she has.

8 / 10

Cheer up, Colin! You sour-puss! It's the holidays!

Cheer up, Colin! You sour-puss! It’s the holidays!

Photos Courtesy of: Miramax, Thecia.Com.Au

Gerry (2002)

Yeah, just bring a map next time.

Gerry (Casey Affleck) and Gerry (Matt Damon) for one reason or another, decide to head out into Death Valley. Though they feel as if they know the area pretty well and don’t need a map, they start to regret that decision just as soon as they start to forget where they parked their car was, or where the nearest bit of civilization was. While Gerry and Gerry aren’t too scared automatically, slowly but surely, without all that much food, water, or shade, they start to lose their minds a bit and come closer and closer to death itself.

Gerry is another one of Gus Van Sant’s more experimental films where instead of staying straight and narrow with a normal, easygoing convention like, I don’t say, a plot, he sort of just sets the camera down and lets people do things. Sometimes, they do exciting things, or other times, they just sit around, talk, act miserable, and yeah, do nothing. Gerry is the rare exception because there is a simple plot, and there is characters here actually doing something, but does that really make a conventional film? Not really and that’s where Van Sant’s direction comes in and balks at tradition.

Wait, which one's Gerry?

Wait, which one’s Gerry?

But does standing up to the man, flipping the bird, and doing your own thing really make a good film?

Not really, but it does make for a very interesting one and that’s why Gerry, despite having seen it maybe a month or so ago, has still stuck with me. It’s such a straightforward movie in the way that it moves, tells it story, and gives us an idea of who these characters, that it almost doesn’t seem like it’s trying – but look hard enough and guess what? Van Sant and company are trying really hard to bring people down on their level where they’re not just watching two guys wander the desert, looking for any sort of shelter they can find, but stay sane while doing so. The movie does play some tricks here and there with random mirages that don’t always work, but whenever it’s just Van Sant keeping his camera steady and focused on these two guys, as they walk and come closer and closer to dying of stravation, it’s so compelling.

Perhaps it’s more compelling than it should be, considering that nothing ever really happens in Gerry. Then again, that’s sort of the point; these two are literally looking for any signs of life that can save them and that’s about it. Whether or not they run into a bunch of evil, Russian villains on-the-run from the law and bringing all sorts of guns, violence and action with them, doesn’t matter – the movie really is, after all, about Gerry and Gerry. They’re lost in the desert and searching desperately for any bit of life.

Dirt nap. Literally.

Taking a dirt nap. Literally.

What’s more compelling than that?

Probably a lot, but really, the way Van Sant follows them both, slowly but surely, in wide-shots, close-ups, and of course, single-shots that literally last up to 15-minutes on some occasions, it draws you in so much that it’s hard to care about those other silly things like action, or violence, or yeah, twists and turns. After all, a movie like this doesn’t ask for the mainstream audience – it’s for the much more dedicated, arthouse fare who don’t need all of those extraneous add-ons that can sometimes drown films in their own overabundance. Van Sant’s previous flicks have known a thing or two about that and it’s worth saying that the more Van Sant doesn’t get in the way of the actual movie itself, the better.

The times where it does seem like he’s trying to be more stylistically demanding, it gets in the way of Gerry‘s impact. But really, it all comes down to Matt Damon and Casey Affleck as the two Gerry’s who, despite us not ever getting to know anything about them, except for the fact that they enjoy playing online role-playing video-games, they’re still sympathetic and interesting to watch. A lot of the script was improvised and you can definitely tell – one scene in particular that’s probably the longest shot of the whole flick features Affleck’s Gerry on a rock, trying to get down off of it, but doesn’t know how to do so, without breaking a bone in his body. It sounds silly, but the way the two interact with one another in a very tense situation, is not only entertaining, but downright telling. It tells us that these two probably are great friends and have a great camaraderie, even if they are probably going to rip each other’s heads off by the time the movie’s over.

But like I said, the movie isn’t totally about the performances – it’s more about Van Sant and the movie is probably better for it.

For lack of a better word, yes, Gerry is a sad, almost emotionally draining piece. Though it’s probably an-hour-and-a-half, it feels at least ten times longer than that, which is a good thing – it’s the kind of movie that asks for all of your interest and attention and if you give it, you will most definitely be thanked and pleased by the end. Sure, it’s still a depressing movie, but sometimes, depression can be a very compelling thing to watch, so long as it comes from a strong place.

Consensus: As sad as it’s involving, Gerry may not seem like it does much, but give it plenty of time and attention and trust me, it will work on your head for a long time afterwards.

8 / 10

Keep going boys. I think I saw a haystack some ways back.

Keep going boys. I think I saw a haystack some ways back.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Elephant (2003)

On that fateful day, did anyone go to freakin’ class?

Taking place in Watt High School, in the wee-hours of the day, high-schoolers such as John, Elias, Jordan, Michelle and many more, all go throughout their day like they usually would. Hanging out, relaxing, and maybe shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school. However, today is not like every other day. See, today is the day that two kids (Eric Deulen and Alex Frost) wake up, decide to skip school, bring a whole army of weapons instead, and just shoot it up.

Remind you of any similar situations?

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

Could Elephant be about Columbine? Most definitely. But nearly thirteen years after its release, could it also be just about every other school-shooting tragedy in America? Without a doubt and honestly, that’s the scariest reality of Elephant – Gus Van Sant set-out to capture the same kind of overwhelming dread and sadness that existed with that tragedy and in a way, it’s also what predicated so many of these other tragedies.

Not much has changed in this world and whether or not he was hitting at that, Van Sant’s Elephant will, unfortunately, forever be a relevant piece.

Most people (like myself) usually complain about Van Sant’s deliberate pace where it feels like he’s just slowing things down, because he doesn’t have anything else better to do. But for Elephant, it works because it’s deserved. Instead of making this a flick where we see everybody and everyone in this high school, we only get a couple of glimpses into the lives of some of these people where they aren’t really doing much at all, except we feel as if we know who they are, what they represent, and everything they are ever going to be (foreshadowing maybe?). Most of this flick is downright dedicated to Van Sant following these characters as they walk through the halls, talk to other people, not go to class, and do what they usually do on a regular, typical day of school, but the fact that you know something is up, always stays clear in your mind.

The atmosphere that Van Sant creates here is unbelievable. At one side, you have the character-based aspect where we get to know these characters for a bit, start to feel a little something for them because they’re at that part in their lives where older people begin to feel nostalgic for their youth and get jealous, and with that we get to understand just where they stand in the cliques and groups of high school. That’s effective here, because Van Sant is able to make us feel something for these people, solely based on the fact that we know what happens to them, and also, that they feel like real  human-beings that are just wandering around their school like most of us have done and still do. It’s a slow pace, but it works, because we feel like flies-on-the-wall for this one, very unfortunate and sad day.

But then, on the other side, you have this one aspect in the back of your head where you know the shootings are going to happen, you know the kids are going to come into the school, and you know people are going to start dying, but the movie does so much twisting and turning with these characters and all of their different view-points, that you never know when and you never know how. In a way, you could almost declare this as a “thriller” where Van Sant really lays on us the fact that we know something is going to happen, but the “when” really eats at us inside. And since you wait for these shootings to actually happen, the tension just continues to build-up inside of you as you feel like every second you spend with these characters, is a second that could be their last alive.

It’s downright unsettling, but that’s sort of the point.

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

To say that the shootings in this movie are “disturbing”, is an understatement. I have seen plenty of disturbing movies in my past, and most have all freaked me out to the high heavens, but the shootings in this movie did it for me in a way that they just didn’t. That’s mostly because these deaths captured here, on-film, seem almost too real to be faked, or actually put into a film; Van Sant doesn’t glorify them, in a slam-bang action kind of way. There’s not even all that much blood, but when there is, it isn’t made out to be like a horror flick, with guts and gore spread-out all over the walls. They are shown as if somebody was actually getting shot where they fall back, lie on the ground, and practically bleed to death.

By doing this, not only does Van Sant have us feel like everything we are watching is real, but also puts us right on the ground with these fellow kids as they continue to scramble for their lives, because they never know when they might lose it next. By far, the climactic-shootings in this flick are some of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen in my life and it’s done with no flair, no glitz, no glamour, and sure as hell no special-effects. It’s done in the most realistic-way possible and I have to give Van Sant the highest kudos for going with that direction, and never making it seem like a thriller, even though in my head, it definitely was.

Speaking of the shootings themselves, they provide no easy answers to what happened and that’s alright.

Just like the case of Columbine, a lot of pundits, parents, organizations, etc. all pointed the fingers towards the typical things like rap, TV, and Marilyn Manson. Does this actually mean that this is what drove the guys to go to school with Uzi’s and shoot the whole school up? Probably not, but that’s why Elephant is smart – it never points a finger, nor does it bring any closure. It just shows us that there were two kids who decided that, one day, for one reason or another, they had enough and just wanted to raise some hell and havoc at their school.

Why? We may never fully know, but that’s sort of how the world works: There are no easy answers. It’s a sad reality, but yet, it is the world we live in, where people can be shot and killed, for no real reasons given.

Consensus: Stoic, effective, compelling, and disturbing, Elephant is Gus Van Sant at his most tender, showing the horror of this one great tragedy and never shying away from the darker, gritty details of it.

9.5 / 10

And he's staring. Yup. Typical high school.

And he’s staring. Yup. Typical high school.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins

Finding Forrester (2000)

Forrester. William Forrester.

After novelist William Forrester (Sean Connery) discovers that a young athlete named Jamal (Rob Brown) is also an excellent writer, he secretly takes him on as his protégé. There, they develop something of an unlikely friendship. As they learn more about each other, they learn more about themselves, and ultimately, with the help of his new mentor, the basketball star must choose the right path between following his writing dreams or his hoop dreams.

Despite this being a Gus Van Sant flick, Finding Forrester‘s overall story itself is pretty damn conventional. Just in the same way that Good Will Hunting was, essentially, a simple inspirational tale of one small-time genius coming to know more about himself, the world around him, and how to use his smarts to his advantage, Finding Forrester is about the same thing, except this time, with a bit of a different focus than before. Rather than seeing the perspective from low-class, foul-mouthed boy from Boston, this time around, we have a 16-year-old black kid, living in New York. It may not seem all that different, but in a way, there’s short and tiny spins on the age-old story that makes Finding Forrester still work.

"Listen up, kid. Don't be like Mozart."

“Listen up, kid. Don’t be like Mozart.”

Then again, it’s not nearly as great as Good Will Hunting.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect that Finding Forrester offers to this story is that, for someone like Jamal, who looks like what Jamal looks like, and because of the kinds of perks that come with him, he’s never allowed to grow to his fullest potential. In today’s day and age, the issue with race is quite frequent, with many kids just like Jamal never getting their chance to shine and show the world what they can do, even they truly are the masterminds that they’re made out to be. Van Sant sees this small world of the private school system, kind of as this cold, dark and sadistic place where the usual people flourish, mostly because they have all of the money and connections to do so, but the outsiders, don’t. Instead, they are treated as outliers who need to get with the program, or else they’ll be thrown out immediately.

It’s quite sad to see this played out on screen, but it’s something I myself saw while going to a private school in my first year of college and unfortunately, it happens more often than you think.

Then again, Finding Forrester isn’t all that dark or dramatic, even though I make it seem that way; if anything, it’s just a darker, much slower drama than Good Will Hunting. And because of that, the movie definitely runs into problems with pacing, where it seems like it picks itself up to get going, then stops, then starts again, then stops, and then, for some reason or another, Van Sant himself gets distracted by whatever is working his mind and loses whatever build-up he was working with. In all honesty, this is a frequent problem with Van Sant and his movies, which is why it’s a huge issue with Finding Forrester and it’s two-hour-and-16-minute run-time – it comes close to feeling like every minute of it, mostly because Van Sant doesn’t always know when to cut a scene, or at least do any bit of a trimming.

But really, the movie, as well as the sluggish pace, is basically saved by the two leads and what they bring to this sometimes wonderful material. Sean Connery, as usual, is great as William Forrester and does everything he can to make this character more than just another one of those “out-of-touch, old dudes” who we tend to see in movies such as these. However, this is Sean Connery we’re talking about here and the guy doesn’t let you forget about his charm that never seems to go away no matter how many years pass, his comedic-timing that has never left him, no matter how serious he tries to be, and his handsome looks that still, even at age 82, makes him look as good as ever.

Spin a ball, you can spin a book. Or at least that's how I think it goes.

Spin a ball, you can spin a book. Or at least that’s how I think it goes.

May sound weird, but hey, so be it. Sean Connery’s a great talent and needs to come back for at least one more movie, so that we can all wipe the stink of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman away.

But as good as Connery is, Rob Brown doesn’t lose any ground here, either, and it’s one of the better debuts ever seen on film. As I’ve made a mention about Jamal before, he’s a good character because he is a smart, but yet, troubled that obviously knows the difference between right and wrong, but also is still a kid growing up in a place of society that doesn’t always accept him for what he is. Because of that, Brown has to do a lot of heavy-lifting that he works quite well with, showing a great deal of angst, as well as growth in a character that desperately needed it to seem believable. Brown’s had a good career since this, but honestly, he deserves so much work.

And together, Brown and Connery work well off of one another, showing a great deal of chemistry and fun between two people you wouldn’t expect to see that from. That said, the rest of the cast and characters are pretty awful and it’s a shame because Forrester and Jamal are truly compelling. People like F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Michael Pitt, and even Busta Rhymes, all show up here and do what they can with the material given to them, but a lot of their characters are so one-note and boring, that it’s hard to ever take them seriously, or care about whether they exist in this story or not. Abraham’s character is probably the most distasteful and while he’s a smart enough actor not to have a role like this jump into caricature, there’s still a sense that no matter what, this character will always be the villain in the movie. Same goes for Michael Pitt’s character and while she’s not necessarily considered a “villain”, Anna Paquin’s love-interest is just boring. The only one who seems to be trying anything different and at least somewhat succeeding is Busta Rhymes, but after awhile, he’s just left to give Jamal inspirational speeches that could have definitely been left to Connery.

Then again, a battle between Connery and Busta would probably make a better movie, as much as it pains me to say.

Consensus: Finding Forrester definitely suffers from being a lot like Good Will Hunting, in terms of subject matter and themes, but also benefits from a solid one-two punch of Sean Connery and Rob Brown, and their characters, even if the direction isn’t always there to pick them up.

7 / 10

"Yes, dog?"

“Yes, dog?”

Photos Courtesy of: Doeppi’s Blog

School for Scoundrels (2006)

Just go out there and try to make it, fellas. What’s the worst that could happen?

Roger (Jon Heder) is a pushover New York City meter maid who can’t score at his job or with his attractive neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). He’s basically a lovable loser, but a loser nonetheless. A close friend of Roger’s suggests that he go to a self-help class run by the angry Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), who teaches lessons about self-esteem to the biggest losers in the city. There, Roger develops his inner-beast and sooner than later, starts charming the socks off of Amanda. However, while this may be good for Roger, it’s also bad for him, as Dr. P doesn’t like competition, and definitely enjoys taking people down, especially classmates of his. That’s why Roger is absolutely horrified and pissed that Dr. P starts taking Amanda off of his hands and for his own good, making up all sorts of lies and stories about who he really is. Roger may not like this, but knowing what he knows about himself now, is more than up to the task of taking down Dr. P once and for all, and when all is said and done, possibly get the girl of his dreams.

"Nice to meet you. Now let's get this damn movie over with. New CSI is on tonight."

“Nice to meet you. Now let’s get this damn movie over with. New CSI is on tonight.”

Say what you will about what Todd Phillips’ career has turned-out to be, but back in the day, before 2006, he was quite a hot and very interesting commodity. After making two controversial documentaries (Hated, Frat House), one concert flick (Bittersweet Motel), and three raucous comedies (Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch), it seemed as if Phillips was ready to try something new with his career. Of course, this meant that he would take on a slightly more romantic-comedy route and in that, came the remake of the 1960 classic, School of Scoundrels.

And unfortunately, it brought on a lot of the hate that still haunts him to this day.

Because really, the biggest problem with School for Scoundrels isn’t that it’s a romantic-comedy, it’s that it doesn’t even register as either; the romance is never there between any of the leads and the comedy sure as hell doesn’t even work, give or take a few moments here or there. If anything, it’s the kind of movie where it seems like Phillips is trying to make something work here, but really, both sides don’t connect or even go well hand-in-hand. Had the movie been a lot more vicious and mean like his other comedies, it probably would have worked a lot more, but for some reason, it seems like Phillips has to play nice and soften things up a bit, which doesn’t quite work for anyone in the flick, most importantly, him.

And it’s a shame because you could do a lot with a remake of School of Scoundrels; the subject-material is just interesting enough to comment on sexual mores, but it’s also ripe enough with a lot of comedy to poke fun at masculinity, femininity, and what constitutes as either. Surely, that movie isn’t the one that Phillips had in mind while working here, but still, it’s a disappointment when you watch and know what could happen, had the ones involved given more time, attention and care to really working with the material. Even the dressing-down of the men (by constantly using the term “f**got”), seems cheap and lazy – it’s as if all of the funny jokes and gags that Phillips had to offer were found in his three previous flicks and that’s all he had to offer.

But honestly, the main reason why School for Scoundrels is a bit of a bummer, is because its ensemble is so talented, so funny, and so entertaining in so many other movies, that here, to just watch them all flop around and not have much to do, is quite dispiriting.

Ha! Ha! Right?

Ha! Ha! Right?

To name just a tad few, aside from the two main stars, School for Scoundrels features Paul Scheer, Horatio Sanz, Sarah Silverman, Todd Louiso, Aziz Ansari, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Cross, Matt Walsh, Jon Glaser, Ben Stiller, and so many more that, on many, many occasions, have proven to be hilarious, however, here, they’re just not. Most of them try and make something out of seemingly nothing, but most of the time, the movie’s uneven script and direction just leaves them high and dry – Silverman may be the only one who gets away with any sort of laughs, which mostly has to do with the fact that she’s seemingly playing the usual bitch-y sort of role she’s always played.

But then, of course, there’s Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder, and yeah, they just do not work well here. Billy Bob Thornton turns in another one of his lazier roles, where you can tell that he’s just doing this flick for a paycheck, reading his lines in the driest way possible, all so that he can go off, hop back in his trailer, and take another nap. He’s supposed to be this incredibly pompous, but smart a-hole, but doesn’t come off as either; Billy Bob being an a-hole is normally a blast to watch, but here, he just doesn’t seem spirited enough to bother.

And then there’s Jon Heder, who, yes, is pretty awful.

But honestly, I don’t know if it’s really his fault; he’s supposed to play this character that’s a total nerd, but also turns out to be something of a bad-ass once the plot gets going and just can’t pull it off. The movie constantly tries to make it work, but Heder just doesn’t seem to have that ability in his acting-skills to make that work, so instead, he just flails around and acts a lot like Napoleon Dynamite. It’s a shame, too, because aside from Dynamite, Heder can be funny, but he just doesn’t have the goods here.

Sadly, out of everyone’s careers here, his was probably affected the most and never to be heard from again.

Consensus: Despite its talented cast and crew, School for Scoundrels wastes them all on an unfunny script, that doesn’t know if it wants to be romantic, mean, or stupid, so instead, tries to go for all three and fails completely.

2.5 / 10

My thoughts exactly, guys.

My thoughts exactly, guys.

Photos Courtesy of: Pop Matters, Rotten Tomatoes, Christophe Beck

Encounters at the End of World (2007)

There’s weirdos everywhere you go. Especially in the Antarctic.

Infamously well-known film-maker Werner Herzog decides that he’s had with normal, everyday society and travels all the way to the Antarctic community of McMurdo Station, the current headquarters of the National Science Foundation and only home to roughly around 1,100 people during the austral summer, which is October to February). While Herzog initially expects for himself to be enamored with the beautiful sights and all of the lovely, exquisite creatures that this land has to offer, eventually, as Herzog typically does, he gets a tad bit distracted from the all of the beautiful sights and starts paying more and more attention to the citizens of this land and just how they get by, being so far away from the rest of the world. This leads Herzog to interviewing many colorful and crazy characters, like marine biologists, physicists, plumbers, and truck drivers – all of whom have a story to tell and all tell it to Herzog, even if he never quite knows just what he’s getting at.

But then again, with this being a Werner Herzog documentary, are you at all surprised?

What?

Yeah, I don’t know what that is, but that dude may be in trouble.

Encounters at the End of the World is a brave and beautiful documentary that works on two formats. One way, it’s a nature documentary that could definitely be broadcast on the Discovery Channel, highlighting all of the surreal and powerful beauty of this land and the creatures that inhabit it. But on the other way, it also works as one of Herzog’s adventures into the mind and soul of people we don’t normally see in movies, let alone, ever hear about. It’s typical for Herzog to do this in his documentaries, but here, it feels a whole lot more unncessary and almost annoying.

Because, to be honest, there’s a lot of beauty lying underneath the surface of the flick, and not just through its visuals, either. Herzog travels to this land, obviously, to figure out more about the Antarctic, the way its being preserved and, honestly, how much longer it all has before its one big swimming pool. While there’s definitely an underlying global warming and environmental message talked about here, Herzog doesn’t hit us over the head too much with it – he knows that this beautiful piece of nature should be conserved and held in the highest most priority of everyday citizens who really care about this world that we believe in, but he also knows that sometimes, it’s best to leave those ideas up in the air and not always hammer away at them.

Watching this flick and seeing all of the insanely brave that Herzog and his crew is able to capture, honestly puts you in the mind-set of wanting to save the world for all that it is. This may not have been Herzog’s intention in the first place, but it’s still a friendly reminder that out there, in the deepest regions of the world, there’s some real beauty. Sometimes, we just need to see it to believe in it fully.

Then again, Herzog doesn’t really focus on these finer points too much, as his mind wanders, from person to person, as what tends to always happen with his flicks.

Which is sometimes fine, however here, it gets in the way of what could have been a much more focused, much more understated documentary about the great, big world. He gets some interesting interviews out of these odd townsfolk, who have a lot more on their mind than you’d expect them to, but really, it’s Herzog’s sometimes innane line-of-questioning that always gets me. Why on Earth is he so interested in penguins having sex? Or better yet, whether there are any gay penguins in the first place?

Huh?

Where’s that pineapple under the sea?

Sure, it takes someone as zany as Herzog to ask these questions, but do they really need to be asked? Can’t we just sort of leave them on the floor, pick them up later, and, possibly, just Google them? Yeah, we probably, actually, most definitely can, but for some reason, Herzog feels the inspiration to ask these odd questions and they don’t do much, except stop the flick in its tracks.

So yeah, in a way, Encounters at the End of the World is, essentially, two movies, ripped-together into one. It’s not necessarily a cohesive piece, as much as it’s just an interesting one that seems to have greater aspirations than just looking and pointing at its pretty sights, but sometimes, the deeper and meaningful questions don’t always work, especially when they come from Herzog. He’s made some honestly great documentaries out there in the past and nine times out of ten, a question will hit and deliver the kind of powerful moment he probably intends for it to, but often times, he loses himself. He doesn’t always know when’s best to just keep quiet and let his subjects talk, as goofy as they may be.

But sometimes, that’s what makes people like these so interesting: They aren’t who you’d expect them to be and that’s alright.

Same goes for the world that’s way, way out there in the world.

Consensus: Beautiful and powerful to gaze at, Encounters at the End of the World shows off Herzog’s strength in capturing compelling images in real life, however, also shows us that he can’t always handle an interview perfectly and can often times get in the way of everything else that’s going on.

7 / 10

Run away, little penguin friend! Be free and quite possibly die!

Run away, little penguin friend! Be free and quite possibly die!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins