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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2000s

Towelhead (2008)

Don’t you just love your neighbors.

Jasira (Summer Bishil) is a 13-year-old Arab-American girl navigating through the confusing and frightening path of adolescence and her own sexual awakening. When Jasira’s mother sends her to Houston to live with her strict Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi), she quickly learns that her new neighbors find her and her father a curiosity, something that has some positive, as well as dangerously negative effects on them, and everyone around them.

It’s hard to watch Towelhead and not at all try and compare it to writer/director Alan Ball’s other work. For one, American Beauty and Six Feet Under are absolute masterpieces, showing off Ball’s great sense of heart, humor, satire, and thoughtfulness beyond it all. In a way, True Blood took him away from what we all know and love, which is why it’s so good to see something like Towelhead, as mixed as it may be, still at least hit the same notes we expect from Ball.

Like father....

Like father….

But at the same time time, when you’re up against American Beauty and Six Feet Under, it’s a really hard battle to win, which ultimately becomes Towelhead‘s one factor holding it all back.

Ball isn’t really diving into a subject he hasn’t tried before (suburbia), but at least he still makes it feel fresh and inventive just by how hard he pushes this story. A lot of the subject material, as you would suspect, is very controversial, but Ball isn’t afraid to dig in deep. Jasira’s story starts off bad and then gets worse and worse and worse, and it only has some bright spots here and there, but not enough to fully make us feel as if we can put a smile on our faces when it’s over. It’s a ride of torment that Ball involves us in, and if you can handle it and watch, then you may actually come away liking this flick.

Now, if menstrual blood, tampons, underage sex, masturbation, bloody tampons, and dead kittens aren’t your cup of tea, then yeah, Towelhead may grossly disturb you. But then again, it’s sort of the point; Ball is showing that growing up, going through puberty, and eventually, having a sexual awakening, isn’t a very pretty thing. It’s sometimes scary, random, and yes, a little disgusting. But it’s a fact and way of life and it’s kind of great how Ball doesn’t approach any of this in a back-offish way, but instead, showing it all in its gritty glory.

Something he’s done before, of course, but man, he does push some buttons here.

Problem is, something feels missing. Normally, this wouldn’t always bother me, had I not been familiar with the director’s work prior, but with Ball, I love and appreciate his work so much, it’s hard for me not to watch Towelhead and wonder what was here and what was missing. Ball seems to be reaching a bit here, in that there’s a lot he wants to say about racism, about sex, about gender, about puberty, about religion, about family, and about so much other stuff, that he could do to the absolute fulfillment in the whole five seasons of Six Feet Under, but in Towelhead, he has to find a way to cram it all in under two-hours somehow, and it can’t help but seem a little messy. It’s as if Ball himself knew he had a lot to work with, gave it the Freshman try, saw what stuck, what didn’t, and just leave it all there, in one, messy, and rather unfocused piece.

But then again, I’d much rather have a messy, unfocused piece from Alan Ball, than from a lot of other people out there, so it does help.

Like mother...

Like mother…

Really though, where Towelhead does seem to lose a bit of intelligence is in the way Ball himself writes everyone who isn’t Jasira. Either they’re all sickening, mean, or absolutely rude, and it makes you wonder: Is it the point? One adult character in particular is Maria Bello as Jasira’s mother. Bello is great, as usual, but her character is just so selfish, so mean, and so callous the whole time she’s on the screen, that it made me wonder just how the hell anybody would want to stay at her place over a long Summer. Also, Jasira’s dad and her mother seem like total opposites that would never, ever come together in real life, let alone be married for six years and have a kid.

On the flip-side of the equation, there’s Aaron Eckhart as the terrifyingly creepy next-door neighbor that takes a liking to Jasira right from the start. We already know that Eckhart can play sleazy very well, but this is a different kind of sleazy right here. This guy is dirty, uncomfortable to be around, inappropriate, nasty, cruel, and any other bad word that I can come up with now, but would just so repetitive. Eckhart takes control of the screen every time he’s in front of it and the scenes he has with Jasira, just make this film even more tense and bizarre than it already was in the first place. There’s only about two or three scenes where his character feels fleshed out, but Eckhart never forgets to remind us that this guy is a predator, and predator’s are always lurking around every corner.

So yeah, some of the characterization works and some of it doesn’t.

As Jasira, Summer Bishil is pretty great, in that she doesn’t feel like the typical teen you’d get in a movie such as this. She’s smarter, a little bit wiser, and yes, even aware of her surroundings. Still, at the same time, she is a bit naive and silly about the world around her and it’s interesting to see her learn, adapt and grow over the course of the movie, even when it seems like the movie’s pushing her arch so ridiculously far, it’s a wonder how she stays believable and understated through it all. But she does, so good for her.

Consensus: Towelhead is another one of Alan Ball’s take-downs of middle-class suburbia, with some biting, lovely writing, but also an unfocused direction that leaves a lot of loose strands by the end.

7.5 / 10

Oh, and definitely like neighbor.....

Oh, and definitely like neighbor.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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Wendigo (2001)

Gotta watch for those deer and rednecks.

George (Jake Weber) is on assignment for his photography job and is supposed to head up into upstate New York and take some pictures. Seeing as how this could be a nice, lovely and enjoyable little vacation for him and the rest of his family, the three all decide to go up and enjoy some times in the wilderness. That is, well, until they actually get there. On the way up, they have some car trouble, run into a bunch of mean locals who don’t like out-of-towners coming into their place and taking over, and hit a deer. So yeah, not the best way to start out the trip, but it gets a bit worse. George’s wife, Kim (Patricia Clarkson), starts feeling more tense the more she’s up there, whereas the young son, Miles (Erik Per Sullivan), doesn’t quite know what’s going on. He’s imagining some weird, horrific things in his mind, but he doesn’t know whether or not they’re real, make believe, or things that just occur when you’re in this part of upstate New York. Either way, the weekend does not go by as expected.

It's okay, kid. Childhood will be over soon enough.

It’s okay, kid. Childhood will be over soon enough.

Writer/director Larry Fessenden does something very interesting with Wendigo, in that he makes a horror flick, that would be played for the art-house crowd. Meaning, he doesn’t just give us all the typical blood, guts, ghosts, ghouls and monsters right off the bat, just as we’d expect from your typical, standard horror-fare; in place of that this time around, there’s character-development, a sense of time, place, and mood. In other words, it’s smart film-making and writing, which isn’t something I can say too often about movies within the horror genre.

Then again, though, there is that final-act where Fessenden himself throws everything out the window.

But hey, let’s not talk about that right away. First, with the good stuff. For one, Wendigo has a very solid first two-acts, in that we’re never too sure where it’s going to end up, what it is, or better yet, what sort of genre is being played with. In a way, Wendigo‘s first two-acts are far more based in the psychological-thriller territory, as there’s some freaky and odd imagery, but never any actual idea that there’s going to be any sort of supernatural presence at play – what we get, is a bunch of random people, acting weird and rude, for almost no reason. It’s like a horror movie, but with real people, in place of all the monsters, which is actually a whole lot scarier if you stop and think about it.

But then, Fessenden ups the ante by actually, believe it or not, giving us characters that we can not just identify with, but actually come to learn to love and grow with, as time goes. Sure, these three protagonists are playing the standard, middle-to-upper-class, cutesy, harmless family, but there’s something heartfelt and interesting about their dynamic; there’s some signs that George may be a bit of a hard-ass and Kim may be smarter than she lets on, but for the most part, they’re a nice, lovely, little family to watch. And that’s why the first-half of Wendigo is spent on them, watching them as they interact with one another, with others, and just in general.

Just another harmless walk in paradise.

Just another harmless walk in paradise.

Once again, not all that groundbreaking stuff in film as a whole, but considering that this is a horror film we’re talking about here, yeah, some shocking and refreshing stuff.

But then, like I stated before, it sort of all goes out the window. This isn’t to say that Fessenden forgets to build up on the tension and suspense throughout, because he definitely does, but when it comes time to get the pay-off for all that suspense and anticipation, well, it doesn’t quite deliver. Without saying too much, Wendigo eventually turns into a full-on, all-out horror flick, that doesn’t hold back on any image and isn’t at all near being subtle. For a typical horror flick, I know that this is something to be accepted, but Wendigo isn’t that typical horror movie – it’s something far smarter and more interesting, yet, ends on a note that could have been mistaken for a Friday the 13th movie.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit harsh to say, but it’s a shame to watch a movie that you’re digging so much and trusting, and then, to have that rug pulled-out from underneath of you. It’s as if, in his head, Fessenden knew that he had a good movie to work with, but only knew at least 2/3’s of it, to put it to paper – the rest, as they say, was sort of made-up on the spot and that’s what seems to have happened with Wendigo. All of his hope, faith and strengths went into the earliest portions of the movie, but when it came to the home stretch and having us leave on a good note, well, he dropped the ball.

Don’t know why there’s so many sports metaphor, but so be it. I’m bummed.

Consensus: Even though Wendigo starts off as a smart, thoughtful and interesting horror-thriller, it eventually turns the other cheek and gets way too crazy and silly, abandoning any sort of hope one might have had for something new, or refreshing within the genre.

6 / 10

Oh, and what's this? Don't ask.

Oh, and what’s this? Don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Horrornews.net

Proof of Life (2000)

Americans, stay home.

Alice and Peter Bowman (Meg Ryan and David Morse), are a loving couple who are now stationed in a nice little house somewhere in South America. Why? Well, because where Peter’s energy company is overseeing construction of a dam, something that is obviously benefiting them, but no one else who actually lives there and has to put up with all of the destruction, construction and rampage. While Peter is out and about doing his job, Alice is at home, getting more and more frustrated and unhappy about their marriage, what she wants to do with her life, and wondering whether or not she actually wants to start a family with Peter, or leave him altogether. Well, Alice is in for a shock when she finds out that Peter has been taken hostage by a bunch of terrorists, looking for more money from Alice and seeing how long they can keep her on the hook, while he’s still alive. Alice, without a clue in the world of what to do, decides that the best way to handle this situation is call up a professional: Enter Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), a professional negotiator who has a strict moral code when it comes to hot and heavy situations like these, and won’t put up with any silly shenanigans, especially since he’s kind of becoming a little attracted to Alice and her plight, all things considered.

"Yeah, let's go yell and shoot things."

“Yeah, let’s go yell and shoot things.”

Most of the heat surrounding Proof of Life around the time of its release wasn’t how “good”, or “bad” it actually was, but because of how both co-stars, Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, got together, shacked-up and inevitably, ended the later’s years-long marriage to Dennis Quiad. Does any of that really matter? No, not really, but it definitely does help to make sure that a movie, whether it’s bad or not, is talked about in the mouths of many people who probably have no reason to see it in the first place.

They just want the gossip and that’s about it.

That said, Proof of Life is a better movie than the controversy surrounding it, mostly because it’s about something slightly more than you’d expect with thrillers of these natures. Director Taylor Hackford is definitely hit-or-miss, but what he does well here, is that he does find smart, interesting ways to keep the tension moving, even when it seems obviously and abundantly clear just where the story is going, at almost every moment. Writer Tony Gilroy also deserves some credit for trying to make this ordinary thriller about more than just a husband being kidnapped, and more about the issues of big, corporate America coming in and taking over foreign countries for land, oil and money, but a part of me feels like there was a far more detailed script, that went into this a whole lot more and more.

Instead, Proof of Life mostly concerns itself with the fact that Morse’s character may have been up to no good and probably deserves some bad stuff to happen to him, but to die for it all? Well, probably not. And that’s fine; Hackford and Gilroy do come together enough in a way that makes us care about Morse’s character while he’s on this seemingly never ending journey to nowhere, as well as making us care about the characters at home, sitting around, waiting for something, hell, anything to happen. In fact, there’s more character stuff going on here than I see with most other thrillers of the same kind, making it worthy of getting invested in.

Wait, which one's David Morse?

Wait, which one’s David Morse?

And yes, that does mean that Crowe and Ryan are good, however, both seeming to be in different movies.

Proof of Life is by no means whatsoever, a smart, sophisticated film made for the far more prestige-crowd out there, but at the same time, it’s no silly, slam-bang action-thriller, either. It’s just serious enough to be dark, but also fast-paced enough not to be slow. That’s why it’s odd by how cartoonish Crowe is here, showing up into every scene, only to drop some witty line, kick somebody’s ass, or stare long and hard at Meg Ryan. Don’t get me wrong, Crowe is fine with that and can be fun to watch, but when you take into consideration the rest of the movie surrounding him, it seems a little off. Same goes for David Caruso, who is so loud, obnoxious and foul-mouthed, you wonder if he was expecting this to be some sort of Die Hard spin-off.

But on the other hand, Morse and Ryan are both quite great here, showing that this kind of material can work, so long as you underplay as much as you can. Sure, often times, Morse laps into the loud craziness that contains both of Crowe’s and Caruso’s performance, but there’s also these small, human moments that make his character tick a whole lot more and it’s interesting to see what sort of lessons he learns and how he handles said situation. Ryan’s good as his wife, because her character’s also a little complicated, too; she’s the wife who actually got into a dispute with her hubby, didn’t know whether or not she wanted to stay with him and now, all of a sudden, has to really care about him and his well-being, all of a sudden. It’s a difficult role to make sympathetic, but Ryan does and it’s a shame that she never seemed to get enough credit for her against-type roles, because she truly did challenge herself, when push came to shove.

Unfortunately, not so much anymore, but here’s to hoping for a possible return of Meg Ryan.

Even as unrecognizable as she may be.

Consensus: While definitely an odd mixture between being too serious and sometimes silly, Proof of Life is an interesting thriller that tries to be about something, but overall, just ends up being a tense thriller.

6 / 10

"Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway."

“Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway.”

Photos Courtesy of: Rave Pad, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB

The Hoax (2006)

It’s always best to get in the fake company of known-crazies.

Author Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) is finding it hard to stay afloat. His latest book was just passed-on, making him feel as if he’s nothing and probably going to be forgotten about some time soon. However, when he catches wind that famed billionaire Howard Hughes is as crazy as can be and barely anyone knows anything about him, well, Clifford concocts the perfect book. In it, he’ll be interviewing Hughes about his life, his business expenditures and most importantly, get all of the latest dish on his deepest, darkest and dirtiest secrets. Clifford feels like he can really get down to the bottom of what makes Hughes clicks and why he is the way he is, something that the publishers absolutely love and go haywire for. The only issue is that Clifford has never met Hughes and probably never will; the security is so air-tight on that man, that not even his closest, best friends can get anywhere near him. But that’s not going to keep Clifford away from getting the book he wants, he’ll just have to talk to everyone but Howard and try to do what he can to get the best story out of imaginable. Even if, you know, there are some lines to be blurred between “fact” and “fiction”.

"Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?"

“Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?”

It’s hard to do a bad, uninteresting movie about con-men. Whether the tales themselves are real, or fake, it doesn’t quite matter; it’s so entertaining to watch a bunch of sly, smart people act their ways through life, with all the right lies and moves. There’s something truly exciting about watching this, because deep down inside each and everyone of us, there’s that feeling that we wish we were that smart, that brave, and that damn slimy to do the same as they are, get away with it, and walk away from it all with a smile on our faces.

And that’s why the Hoax, despite seeming like it can border on the verge of ringing false, is still entertaining to watch.

Even though it is, oddly enough, directed by Lasse Hallström, of all people. However, what Hallström does best here is that he doesn’t get in the way of the material, or try to force anything down our throats; regardless of what the true stories behind most of these situations may have been, the movie moves at such a quick, efficient pace that it’s hard to really pin point the issues with the facts. The movie may seem ridiculous at points, but at the same time, it’s hard not to have a little fun, watching as this little weasel of a man tries his best to wig and worm his way out of every tense situation possible.

But beneath all of the facades, gags, lies, deception, and most of all, cons, there’s something to be learned here. There’s this idea running throughout the Hoax that is interesting, because it tries to make sense out of this whole situation in the first place. The fact that someone like Irving was so easily capable of fooling just about everyone around him, for so very long, for all of the wrong reasons, really makes you think – is there such a problem with his lies? After all, the lies and deceptions he was making, were all to really just get himself some money and a little bit of fame – he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, start any wars, and he sure as hell wasn’t hurting Hughes’ feelings.

Wait, who's Leonardo DiCaprio?

Wait, who’s Leonardo DiCaprio?

There are bits and pieces of the Hoax that show that maybe, just maybe, Irving’s little escapades had more of an effect than he, or anyone else had ever expected, but mostly, the movie realizes that this is best left to our interpretation. The movie doesn’t make us think that Irving is a great man for getting away with everything that he was able to get away with (although, he’s definitely ballsy, for sure), but show that even someone like him, can get away with so very much. And when all is said and done, for what reasons?

Well, fame and fortune and for most, anything can happen.

As Irving, the man, the myth, the legend, so to speak, Richard Gere does a solid job because he’s playing very much against-type. Sure, he’s still charming, handsome and yes, the ladies love him, but there’s also something more dastardly about him that makes his performance here the more bearable than some of his others, where we’re literally begged to fall in love with him and adore his beautiful, well-constructed face, chin and hair. Even though Irving isn’t made out to be a perfect human being here, there’s still something sympathetic about him that makes you hope he gets away with all of his lies, even though, yeah, it probably won’t happen.

While Gere’s Irving is mostly front-and-center for a good portion of the movie, there’s others who all show up on the side and remind us why they deserve to be noticed. Alfred Molina plays Irving’s sidekick, so to speak, and has some truly great moments, never letting you know exactly when the man is going to crack under all of the pressure; Marcia Gay Harden plays Irving’s wife, and despite an odd Swedish accent, she’s still charming; Stanley Tucci has a few great scenes that make you wish he was in the whole thing, as is the case with Hope Davis and Julie Delpy. They all add a little bit of fun and excitement to a story that certainly didn’t need their help, but hey, at least they were here to add something.

Consensus: While a good portion of it seems made-up (wouldn’t that be great?), the Hoax still gets by on the charm of its cast, and quick, swift and exciting pace.

7 / 10

Yuck it up, fellas!

Yuck it up, fellas! No seriously, please do. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Photos Courtesy of: PopMatters

An Unfinished Life (2005)

Bears bring everyone closer together.

After she gets in another fight with her boyfriend (Damian Lewis), Jean (Jennifer Lopez) decides that it’s about that time to get her daughter and get the hell out of dodge. They do, however, without much of a destination in mind at all. This leads Jean to her father-in-law, Einar (Robert Redford), and his huge farm that he shares with his best buddy, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who is paralyzed from getting mauled by a bear – the same bear who still roams the streets of this small town in Montana that everyone seems to love and adore. While Einar is accepting of Jean and his grand-daughter, eventually, old memories of his long, lost and deceased son begin to come back, making him fight more and more with Jean, and in a way, basically just resenting her. It’s something that Jean doesn’t appreciate, however, Einar’s relationship with her daughter is fine enough, so she decides to get a job in town, get her own place, and allow for Einar and his grand-daughter to catch up. Eventually though, the boyfriend comes back and wants Jean to come back home with him, or else.

I don't know who's more in love: Me, or them two?

I don’t know who’s more in love: Me, or them two?

An Unfinished Life is, essentially, a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, but it’s a good one that looks great, has a very solid cast, and yeah, is a little sweet and tender in the middle. Sure, it’s corny, sentimental, syrupy and as sappy as can be, but it’s the right kind of sap – the kind you put on pancakes if you’re feeling fun, or the kind you put up with because you’re in a good movie. And yes, being in a good movie could definitely help you appreciate An Unfinished Life a tiny bit more, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it has its charms.

Then again, it is a Lasse Hallström movie, so it’s easy to be a little weary of how far the charms go.

But what’s interesting about An Unfinished Life is that a lot of it, for a good portion or so, really seems to be rolling along, without much of a plot in the mix. There’s some talk about this boyfriend coming back, a bear roaming about the city, and heck, even some conflict between the estranged family-members, but that’s about it, really. Hallström approaches this movie, thankfully enough, with his indie-sensibilities, that aren’t too focused on the bigger, more emotional things that happen, and more in-tuned with human characters, their relationships with one another and whether or not we actually care about them when all is said and done.

And with a cast like this, it’s kind of hard not to. Robert Redford is basically doing Clint Eastwood here, growling and scowling every so often, seeming like a general grump, but he’s great at it; he’s such a class-act that the moments where he’s supposed to appear as this sort of cranky dude, don’t really register as such, because we’re too busy loving the hell out of him in the first place. His chemistry with Morgan Freeman, who is also quite great, makes the movie a tad bit more magical, because you can tell that there’s a real love and admiration between the two. Whether or not that’s how it was in real life, I do not know, but it certainly shows here in this movie and gives us probably the best old-guy bromance I’ve seen in quite some time.

That said, there are weak spots to be found and it’s what ultimately does carry An Unfinished Life down when it was constantly going up and up.

"Duuuuuuuuh."

“Duhhhhhhh.”

Oddly enough, Jennifer Lopez doesn’t quite seem like the perfect fit here as Jean; she’s supposed to be this lean, mean, down, out and gritty gal who doesn’t take any crap from anyone and is her own person, but she doesn’t quite work. Lopez is beautiful and it’s hard to really take her as someone that could be misconstrued as a “trailer gal”. Also, before Homeland snatched him up and Hollywood finally decided they knew what to do with him, Damian Lewis is here and shows that his American-accent wasn’t quite there just yet and definitely needed some time to improve, making his scenes here feel odd and out-of-place.

In fact, after about the first hour or so, the movie does start to roll with something resembling a plot and it’s what takes the movie down a whole bunch of notches. What was originally working as a slow, but thoughtful character-study of many different people who all have a little something in common, soon becomes a melodramatic, over-written, and convoluted tale of lies, deception, anger and violence.

In other words, a Hallmark movie-of-the-week.

Dammit.

Consensus: With a solid cast and some thoughtful direction, An Unfinished Life works better than it should, all up until the final-act and it sort of switches gears, losing any sort of steam it had going for itself.

6 / 10

Keep on dreaming of Sundance, Rob.

Keep on dreaming of Sundance, Bob.

Photos Courtesy of: Vinnieh

Volver (2006)

It’s like Paranormal Activity, but you know, actually good.

Revolving around an eccentric family of women from a wind-swept region south of Madrid, Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). To top off the family crisis, her mother Irene (Carmen Maura) comes back from the dead to tie up loose ends. But is this just Raimunda’s mind going a little out-of-whack, or is her late mother actually alive, well, and not actually dead?

Surely, something that sounds so simple and straightforward cannot be the work of crazy, envelope-pushing director Pedro Almodóvar. Over his long and storied career, he’s tackled subjects like pedophilia, sexual-awakening, incest, crime, murder, homosexuality, and HIV, among many others, so how the hell can a guy who likes to talk about stuff like that, be tackling a flick that seems like it came straight-from-TV? Well, it’s easy, he’s Pedro Almodóvar and he can do whatever he wants and thank the lord that he can.

It's an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

It’s an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

Even though this easy subject may not seem like a piece of Almodóvar’s work, in a way, it still is. The attention to color and detail is absolutely beautiful (as if that poster didn’t already tell you), and his way of capturing the life and beauty throughout the streets of Madrid is eye-catching and makes you feel at home. I heard that Almodóvar decided to film this movie around the area of where he grew up and you can really tell. There’s a sort of love and fondness for this area and it shines through each and every frame.

So yeah, it’s pretty, but there’s also more to it than just that.

Volver is very different though, because it’s not fully entrapped in its own plot conceits, like some of his other work can be/get. Though there’s a few nifty twists here and there, Volver‘s still a pretty straight-forward family-drama that hits the right notes because we spend time with these characters and get to know them. And in doing that, we also get to understand them and see them for all that they are, and who they are. Meaning, not everybody here has a halo around their head, but that’s what makes it more interesting to watch, because they’re real people.

Just a lot whole lot more attractive and emotional, it seems.

It’s also one of those films where everybody talks so interestingly, that you always want to hear them chat about whatever is on their mind. Whether they’re talking about food, family, life, sex, money, death, or ghosts, I was always hooked and listening and payed close enough attention to what they all were saying because they even give us hints about certain plot-points that pop-up later in the movie. Almodóvar’s always done that with his flicks and while it’s definitely a neat little trick of his, it doesn’t, in any way whatsoever, get in the way of his actual movie.

Definitely not ketchup.

Definitely not ketchup.

Another thing that Almodóvar does best, is also be able to assemble an awesome cast and that is exactly what he has done once again here. Penélope Cruz stars Raimunda and is radiant and as believable as she’s ever been seen before. Yes, Cruz is beautiful, gorgeous, sexy, vivacious, and as perfect of a looker as you can get, but beauty aside, she can still act and especially in an Almodóvar flick, someone who seems to know exactly what her strengths are. Anyway, what makes Cruz so great here as Raimunda is that she feels like a real woman that’s going through a lot of problems that gets to her and ends up taking a lot of that anger and frustration out on the others around her, but yet, also has this sweet and kind side to her that shows she cares for the ones around her, even if her character doesn’t always show it. Cruz is a beauty to watch because she commands the screen every single time she shows up, and also shows that she can bring out any emotions in her act and make it all seem believable.

There are others here, too, so I guess I’ll chat about them, too, although it should be stated one more time that Cruz is great here, as she usually is.

It’s been a long, long time since I saw Carmen Maura in anything, let alone a Almodóvar film, and shows that she’s still got the chops and makes her old-lady character a lot more lovable and understandable than you’d expect. Lola Dueñas plays Cruz’s sister and is very funny, but also very realistic in how she seems a bit more grounded in reality and happier with her life than Cruz may be. This provides a great contrast between the two ladies but in the end, you can still that they are sisters that love each other and care for each other no matter what. These three work well together and show that even though they may have some problems here and there, they are still a family and they still love each other no matter what happens to them in their own, respective lives. It’s a nice message to understand and see on-screen, especially when it comes from the guy who’s most known for making a movie about a priest who touches little boys.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a change of pace, I guess you could say.

Consensus: Considering this is Almodóvar’s way of “playing it cool”, Volver definitely does seem a bit held-back from the explosiveness of a story it could have been, but still has enough heart, emotion, beauty, and well-acted performances to make it an easy-going experience that will probably make you want to hug your mommy or sister. As for your brother and daddy? Tell them to hug themselves!

8.5 / 10

"Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar's flicks."

“Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar’s flicks.”

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

Thumbsucker (2005)

Sucking thumbs are bad, but what about binkies?

Justin (Lou Taylor Pucci) is going through the usual growing pains that many teens his age have gone through before him and will continue to do so after him. The only small difference is that whereas most teens get by on focusing on themselves and trying harder to get better, Justin does so by sucking his thumb. It’s an odd habit he has, that eventually, his parents get him on some medicine, in hopes that he’ll not just kick the thumb sucking, but also become more focused in school. Thankfully for them, what they wanted does happen; eventually, Justin stops sucking his thumb, starts up a relationship with a girl (Kelli Garner), gets better at school, and starts winning all sorts of championships with his debate team. But eventually, all of the medicine begins to pick-up with Justin and it isn’t before long that he starts to spiral out of control, hurt those that he loves, and realize that he needs to grow up a lot sooner, but on his own and without any medicine to help him out.

Cut it out, baby!

Cut it out, baby!

Does Thumbsucker sound like some sort of metaphor for coming-of-age, growing up and realizing that you’re not a little baby anymore? Pretty much, yeah. Writer/director Mike Mills crafts what is, essentially, the 500th quirky, indie coming-of-age flick from the mid-aughts and while this one’s a little different in terms of its style, unfortunately, the story is pretty much still the same.

But sometimes, some of the same is fine. With Thumbsucker, there’s a feeling of familiarity here, but not just with the material itself – Mills does something neat in that he does paint Justin’s issues with growing up and accepting the world around him, as almost a universal thing that all kids at that age go through. Some can handle it quite well and get by with flying colors, whereas others, like Justin, have a rough time with it, suck their thumbs, and need a daily dose of whatever medicine they’re prescribed to get by and through another day. In a way, I make Thumbsucker sound like a melodramatic piece of Lifetime-trash, but it’s a little smarter than that.

For one, it’s got a neat style, yo.

For any of those who have seen Beginners or the recent 20th Century Women, they’ll know that Mills has a knack for telling a story in his own way, visually. Sometimes, this can get in the way of the material, but here, it does help it out, especially since a lot of what the movie seems to be talking about and covering, is a little dry. It’s a conventional tale that without Mills’ constant bits and pieces of art thrown in there for good measure, would have just been another run-of-the-mill coming-of-ager, but of course, it’s got that going for it.

Where Mills seems to lose himself a tad bit is in the story department, and not really knowing how to compact everything and everyone so perfectly well. For instance, Justin’s story is the clear focal point of the whole movie, but then, Mills also veers his head towards Justin’s parents, played by Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’nofrio, and then to Keanu Reeves’ hippie-dentist character, and eventually a little to Garner’s Rebecca character. Vince Vaughn’s teacher does get a moment here and there, but not his own subplot.

For a movie that barely even hits 90 minutes, it’s surprising how jam-packed this can be with story and that ends up becoming its own worst enemy. While Justin’s story is more than enough to maintain the whole flick, all of these other stories, like with the parents and their battle with aging, fidelity and staying happy, while are admirable, still don’t matter much. It’s as if we got the story of Justin, only to get to the parents themselves, only for the movie to realize that we have to hear about Justin a lot, too. It’s a constant back-and-forth that just didn’t quite work for me and made it seem like Mills himself was figuring out exactly where to go with it all, too.

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Then again, the ensemble he’s put together is something else, so that helps, too.

Though we don’t get to see too much of him nowadays, Lou Taylor Pucci was quite the young talent and proves it with Justin. Here, Pucci has to act really angsty and smart, which could have definitely been annoying, but because Pucci plays this Justin character as a bit of a wild and loose cannon, it actually works to his benefit. It’s actually fun to watch him interact with those around him, as opposed to sad or boring. Kelli Garner plays the eventual apple of his eye and they have a nice bit of chemistry together, which would make sense considering they were going out around the same time, too, but that’s neither here nor there.

On the supporting side, Vince Vaughn does a nice job dialing down his persona, yet, still staying funny and heartfelt. If anything, all of Vaughn’s various attempts at playing it straight don’t quite come off as good as it does here and should be the calling-card he uses for future reference. Keanu Reeves, while still totally playing in his element as a bro-ish kind of dude, is fun to watch. And as the parents, D’onofrio and Swinton are good, too, even if their story could have probably had its own movie. Benjamin Bratt is around for a scene or two, makes us laugh and most of all, makes us wish he was around more.

Don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but hey, it’s the truth.

Consensus: While a tad too quirky and overstuffed for its own good, Thumbsucker is still a familiar, but also heartwarming coming-of-ager, assisted by a very good ensemble.

6.5 / 10

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Roulette 

The Rundown (2003)

Stay at home. It’s less violent.

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

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

Who needs a Rose?

Who needs a Rose?

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

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

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

Or then again, maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Rose. You still rock.

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

7 / 10

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

Oh yeah, and you’ve got a Rock, too.

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

The Great Debaters (2007)

Yell as loud as you can.

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

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

So, will it be televised?

So, will it be televised?

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

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

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

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

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Thankfully, the young talent here is quite good.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

Please. More. Of. This.

Please. More. Of. This.

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Popcorn Reel

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup. Just one of those days.

Yup. Just one of those days.

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

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Now Very Bad…

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

pradaposterFashion is life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like mentor....

Like mentor….

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

Like student....

Like student….

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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