Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2000s

The Kingdom (2007)

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

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

Jamie's packin'.

Jamie’s packin’.

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

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

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

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

So is Chris.

So is Chris.

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

In a way, that’s perfectly fine.

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

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

6 / 10

And you know what? Even Jen is.

And you know what? Even Jen is.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

King Arthur (2004)

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

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

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

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

Threesome?

Threesome?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 / 10

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

Avatar?

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I right?

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Miramax, Thecia.Com.Au

Gerry (2002)

Yeah, just bring a map next time.

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

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

Wait, which one's Gerry?

Wait, which one’s Gerry?

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

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

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

Dirt nap. Literally.

Taking a dirt nap. Literally.

What’s more compelling than that?

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Elephant (2003)

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

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

Remind you of any similar situations?

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins

Finding Forrester (2000)

Forrester. William Forrester.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

"Yes, dog?"

“Yes, dog?”

Photos Courtesy of: Doeppi’s Blog

School for Scoundrels (2006)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ha! Ha! Right?

Ha! Ha! Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 / 10

My thoughts exactly, guys.

My thoughts exactly, guys.

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

Encounters at the End of World (2007)

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

Where’s that pineapple under the sea?

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins

Mesrine (Killer Instinct & Public Enemy No. 1) (2008)

Tony Montana ain’t got nothing on the French.

Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel), was a notorious French gangster who rained supreme during the 60’s and 70’s. He did it all, and then some. And believe it or not, escaped jail not once, not twice, not even three times, but escaped jail four times.

Yeah, talk about some skill.

Yes, Mesrine is, essentially, split into two-halves, rather than take up any time, I’ve decided to review both movies, together, as if it was all one, long, four-hour gangster flick. Is that a better way to watch it? Eh. I’m not sure. It depends, really.

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

How much time do you have on your hands? Better yet, how much time do you have where you want to enjoy yourself and pretty damn riveted from start-to-finish, for a total, combined run-time of nearly four hours?

Does that sound appealing to you, then yes, watch Mesrine‘s two parts, together, in one sitting.

Despite this being quite a long take on a tale that, quite frankly, could have probably been narrowed-down to one, whole, regularly-timed movie, director Jean-François Richet definitely pulls out all of the stops by making it as interesting as humanly possible, while also not forgetting about the small details. He starts off on a risky move right at the beginning, which would have killed any other director’s momentum, but doesn’t here. He gives us a story all based on facts and true accounts, and one that can easily be read about online, but where’s the excitement in all of that?

The first-half of Mesrine has some of the best action, especially because it’s us watching as the titled-character is jumping head first into this world of crime and violence. Also, it helps that Richet doesn’t try to go hard for the whole over-stylized way of action, but instead just shows it off as a gritty act of violence that just so happens to be all true. It almost reminded me of something straight out of Heat and it reminded me of the good old days of Mann, when he was showing characters off as being as utterly remorseless, but interesting, as possible.

But the issue is that after the initial wham and bam of the first-half, it all kind of settles down.

The second-half is much longer and changes everything up both with it’s tone and pace; it’s a lot more slower and melodic as we focus more on the characters and what their motivations are behind every act, but the tone is also a lot different as it’s a bit darker than the first, but also has some nice comedy mixed in there as well. It’s a very strange mixture that ends up working quite well and still kept this film entertaining, even if there wasn’t any awesomely memorable action scenes here, as there was with the first one.

The problem with this whole film is that you already know the ending.

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

Yes, that’s a lame excuse since it’s pretty obvious that this guy would not have this story to be told, while he’s still out there running around and doing big, bad things like he always did. Understandable, but seriously, when all of the tension goes away and we’re left with barely any action scenes left to show, it just feels like a bit tiresome since we are just waiting and waiting for the end of this guy’s life to eventually just play out. He isn’t all that interesting of a character, and feels like every other person-turned-crime-gangster in other movies, and if it weren’t for the sympathetic girls he shacked-up with, he would have been downright reprehensible.

Although, of course, the person in real life still was, regardless of who he shagged.

But still, Vincent Cassel is solid here and despite being in almost every shot, he owns each and every one of them as Jacques Mesrine. Cassel is known for over-doing it a bit too much when he really doesn’t have to, but here as Mesrine, we don’t get nearly as much of it; even when we do get the screaming, shouting and letting it all out, it feels deserved and believable because this character he is playing is such a live-wire with almost everything he does. The guy gets thrown in jail and the first thing on his mind isn’t how he’s going to change his life, it’s how the hell he’s going to break loose and be able to get some sweet cash once he is out. This guy lives the life of a stereotypical gangster: Fast money, fast cars, fast guns, fast women, and overall, a fast life. But it’s not all fun and games with this dude, no, in fact he actually brings it down to Earth sometimes with his softer, gentler scenes where you see that there is a lot more to him than just one scary son of a bitch. The guy is still a person and deep down inside, cares for the people that are closest to him but can never ever be with them since he always seems to be on the run.

The rest of the supporting cast that comes in and out of this movie (just like Mesrine’s life) are all spectacular and may even be more interesting than Mesrine himself, at some points. Gerard Dépardieu plays the head gangster that takes Mesrine under his wing and shows a very dark and gritty side to him that’s not always shown; Matthieu Amalric plays a guy that escapes from jail with Mesrine and is actually a very interesting character to watch since you never know what his intentions are and what he plans to do with Mesrine and the money that they make together; and all of the beautiful ladies that come into Mesrine’s life (Elena Anaya, Cécile De France, and Ludivine Sagnier, to name a solid few) do fine jobs as well by not only serving up some perfect eye-candy, but some perfect dramatic scenes as well.

Consensus: Split into two, Mesrine doesn’t fully add-up, nor does it work as well together, but still, provides enough entertainment, excitement, and solid acting to be more than worth one’s while.

8 / 10

Shades are always cool.

Why so grumpy, Vincenzo? 

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Roger Ebert, Metacritic

Street Kings (2008)

Don’t mess with Johnny Utah. Ever.

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran member of the LAPD who has definitely seen better days. While he does still do his job and take down the bad guys that need to be taken down, he also does so by sucking down bottles of vodka. He does this because he is still mourning the loss of his wife and as is such, has alienated a lot of those around him. One person in particular is his former partner, Officer Washington (Terry Crews), who now looks back on his time with Ludlow in disgust. Ludlow knows this and doesn’t like it, which is why he decides that it may be time to get Washington to shut up, before certain people start listening in on to what he has to say. But wouldn’t you know it that when Ludlow does get a chance to shut Washington up, Washington is gunned-down in what happens to be a random corner-store robbery. Feeling some echo of guilt, Ludlow decides to set out and find out who did this to Washington, but unfortunately, the more he digs up, the more dirt begins to show.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

David Ayer can handle these types of dirty, gritty and violent thrillers about corrupt cops and politicians being, well, just that, corrupt. However, there does come a point where eventually, all of the same things that you made your name on, can get to be a bit too old, especially when you’ve got nothing left to say. Sure, a movie like Street Kings should resonate more so now, than it ever has before; police corruption is at an all-time high and people seem to really be demanding questions more than ever, but for some reason, it’s the kind of movie that brings these hard and questionable figures up, without ever seeming to bother to really say much more about it.

Instead, Ayer is more interested in shooting things and throwing blood anywhere he can set his sights to.

That’s fine because Ayer can handle action well. The best parts of Street Kings, actually, are when it’s just a few characters sitting in a room, expecting there to be some violence occurring soon, with their hands firmly on the trigger’s of their guns, not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop and people are going to have to be lit-up. It’s why some of the best moments of Training Day, were the ones where you had no clue exactly what was going to go down, even if you had a general idea.

Problem is, with Training Day and countless other flicks that Ayer has attached his name to, he’s become a tad too conventional. Street Kings feels like the kind of cop flick that would work somewhere back in the mid-90’s – ideas like these weren’t new, but they were still sustainable for entertainment. You could make the argument that Street Kings is sort of working with the same environment, to just be fun and nothing else, but when you have brothers in blue, who are literally doing terrible, immoral things, or getting killed, left and right, there’s a feeling that maybe, just maybe, someone needs to ask, “why?”

In a way, it’s almost like Ayer has a responsibility to ask those questions and get, at the very least, an idea of an answer. To just service your plot with cops and criminals getting shot and killed, without ever saying anything else about it, seems wrong. Trust me, I’m all for the down, dirty and immoral action when push comes to shove, but Ayer doesn’t really have his flick placed in any sort of fake world, or universe – it’s a real world/universe, where cops are meant to stop bad people, from doing bad things.

In fact, it’s the world in which we live in now.

"Uh. Hey. Freeze, man."

“Uh. Hey. Freeze, man.”

But honestly, besides that, Street Kings can be fun, when it actually cares to be fun. There’s a lot of the same stuff seen before, especially from Ayer’s pen, and you can tell that he’s trying to change everything up, yet, fall back on  the same conventions that have made cop-thrillers, such as his, hits in the first place. Ayer is a good director and writer when he wants to be, but here, it feels as if he’s just moving along, steadily, not trying to rock the boat and rely on what he knows best, without trying to change up any sort of format.

The only opportunity Ayer really gets a chance to liven-up things in Street Kings is with his wonderful ensemble, all of whom are having a great time. Keanu Reeves is actually quite good as Ludlow, mostly because the guy doesn’t always have to say something – some of the times, he just backs it up with his gun, or his fists. This suits Reeves just fine, just as it suits him playing the mentor-role to Chris Evans’ young, hotshot rookie character, both of whom work well together. Evans, too, in an early role before he truly broke-out into stardom, seems like the heart and soul of this cruel, dark and upsetting world, which works, until the movie decides that it cares less about him and more about just shooting people’s heads off.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there comes a point where it’s overkill.

Others randomly show up like Common, the Game, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Terry Crews, and all add a little something to the proceedings. You can tell that Ayer likes to cast these known-actors in roles that you least expect them to work with and it actually works in his favor. However, had he given more screen-time to Hugh Laurie and Forest Whitaker, equally the best parts of this otherwise mediocre movie, all would have been right with the world. The two play opposing chiefs who may or may not be as evil, or as good as they present themselves as being. Ayer always treads the fine line here between these characters and it makes me wish that he decided to do more with the other characters, or even the plot.

Consensus: As conventional as cop-thrillers can go, Street Kings boasts an impressive cast and some fun moments, but ultimately seems to concerned with blowing stuff/people up, and not ever asking why.

5 / 10

"Let me give you my card. And no, I'm not playing that cynical doctor this time."

“Let me give you my card. And no, I’m not playing that cynical doctor this time.”

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Deep Focus Review

Beyond the Sea (2004)

Yup. Still can’t get that song out of my head.

Despite being told that he would not live past 15 years of age due to a heart condition, Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey) set out to leave his mark on show business, vowing to be a legend by 25. That is exactly what he did, and this is his story.

Is Bobby Darin a legend? Better yet, does there deserve to be a two-hour biopic made about him? To answer both questions, probably not. But that still doesn’t stop celebrities like Kevin Spacey from making movies about him, even if, at the end of the day, people will wonder, “why?”And yes, as is the case with most passion projects, Beyond the Sea feels like the kind of movie that probably didn’t need to made, but because it’s done by smart, dependable people, it’s not so bad.

I hope he sings that song about the sea!

I hope he sings that song about the sea!

Just a tad unnecessary, is all.

As writer/director/producer/star, Spacey has a lot to do and it’s surprising just how much effort he put into the way this thing moves. In a way, he wants to make a musical out of this flick, what with a bunch of wacky, wild, and fun dance-numbers taking place seemingly out of nowhere, but he also wants to make a warts-and-all biopic about this troubled celebrity’s life. Is it uneven? Yes. Is it messy? You betcha. But is it boring? Nope. Not really.

And honestly, that’s good enough for me, especially considering that mostly all musical biopics can be downright dull, regardless of whether or not you know the subject the movie is made about. But even so, there’s some glaring issues with the film, that seem to come directly from Spacey himself, in that he doesn’t always nail down the right tone. One of the best examples is a fight that Darin and his wife have, which plays out like a scene in a dark comedy, but ends up being very serious and mean with both of them ending up in tears. It’s a funny scene, that goes to being very strange and shows you that Spacey may have not had the right touch for certain scenes. Even when all of the dark drama does eventually come into the story, it somewhat bogs everything down and doesn’t even really seem interesting.

But if there’s the biggest issue with Spacey’s direction, it’s that, when all is said and done, we never really find out much about Darin himself. Sure, we know the guy has a heart problem, yes, we know the guy wants to be bigger than Sinatra, but what else is there? Occasionally, they’ll bring up the whole fact that he was apparently arrogant in real-life, but that rarely ever comes up or even shows. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any flaws of his pointed out throughout this film once. This isn’t me assuming that Darin was the devil in real life, but he sure as hell wasn’t no latter-day saint, either. Maybe because this was Spacey’s own way of paying tribute to a singer/songwriter he immortalized as a kid, but if you’re going to do a biopic, you might as well do it the right way and allow us to see the full picture.

I agree. What about John?

I agree. What about John?

After all, the more shades you show of a character, the more the audience is able to care for them when they, as Darin does, die.

As for Darin, he was only 37 when he died, so some people may be a bit thrown-off when they see Spacey, who was 44-years old at the time, playing a guy in his teens with tons and tons of prosthetic make-up. It’s goofy and sometimes distracting, but you know what? Spacey is somehow able to make it work by being as charismatic as he can be. Spacey has quite the knack for these darker roles where you just don’t like him, but at the same time, love that aspect about him. Here, you get to actually see him lighten-up some and let loose with a real life figure that seemed to go throughout life in such a frantic movement, that it’s hard not to enjoy and watch. Many will also be impressed that all of the songs are sung by Spacey himself, and the guy shows that he has the chops to not only direct, write, and star in his own movie, but the guy can freakin’ belt it out like no other as well.

Spacey’s got it all going for himself and watching him is worth the watch alone.

And yeah, others like Bob Hoskins, John Goodman, Sandra Dee, and Kate Bosworth all show up and give a little, but really, it’s Spacey’s show through and through. They know that, he knows that, everyone knows that. It’s a shame that it wasn’t more of Darin’s show, but honestly, did we need anything more than what we got? Or, can we assume that his life was the same as any other celebrity’s?

Who knows? Maybe there’s another Bobby Darin biopic out there looming on the horizon.

Consensus: Spacey does what he can to tool around the biopic narrative, allowing for Beyond the Sea to be a bit more interesting than the usual fare, but also seems to short Bobby Darin himself in not getting deep down to the root of who the person actually was.

6 / 10

Oh, that young whippersnapper. And Kevin Spacey.

Oh, that young whippersnapper. And Kevin Spacey.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Movie-Roulette

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Don’t be greedy, people. Or, make stuff up.

At one point in their existence, the Enron Corporation, was one of the most powerful around. They had so much money and so much control, that not only did they start to itch out into the oil business, but they even went so far as to attempt to partner-up with Blockbuster. Even if the later deal didn’t necessarily go through, still, Enron was more than capable of biting the bullet on at least one occasion because, well, they were so rich, that they could afford to make a little misstep, here and there. Or, that’s at least what the numbers represented. Somehow though, as Enron started growing more and more over the years, more and more people started raising speculation about how legitimate they were, as well as how honest and by-the-books their numbers were. Needless to say, the rest of the world soon figured out the shocking results of Enron and it wasn’t at all pretty.

EVIL!

EVIL!

Alex Gibney is such a tremendous director who, it seems anyway, has a new movie out every year, covering a new subject/topic. And it deserves to be noted that almost each and everyone is almost as good as the one that comes before it, so much so to the point that you almost want him to make a documentary about whatever is going on in the world. Donald Trump? Definitely! War? Yeah! The air? Why not!

And heck, while we’re at it, why not just talk about Enron?

This is all surprising to say too, but Enron was Gibney’s first flick and he made quite a mark with it. While the story itself is such a clear-cut and dry tail of a major, big-body corporation getting way too ahead of themselves and folding underneath their own negligence, Gibney somehow finds a way to make it all compelling and, well, entertaining. After all, a story that follows the rise and fall of a once very powerful corporation, is only as good as its pace and man, does this thing move or what?

Gibney throws a lot of information at us, not all of it is fully comprehensible to layman’s ear, however, he figures out how to make it matter and at least somewhat understandable in a way, that it almost doesn’t matter what certain definitions are, for certain words. All that matters is that you’re able to pinpoint exactly when Enron became a powerful force, and when exactly the seams started to show, and people we’re realizing that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t all that they’ve made themselves out to be.

Sadly, not many more came after this.

Sadly, not many more came after this.

And really, the best parts of Enron, the movie, aren’t when we’re watching the rest of the world be singlehandedly fooled by Enron, the company – although, yes, it’s hard not get swept up in all of the excitement and energy – it’s when we start to see Enron start to become a bit of a joke and people are losing all sorts of hope in them. You can call it “sad” for sure, but what Gibney does best is show that even when Enron was falling apart and everyone had practically turned their back on them, there’s still something interesting in watching a company try its hardest to stay alive, well and positive, even in the midst of all sorts of hatred and adversity directed towards them.

Doesn’t make them sympathetic in the least bit, but it certainly does make you think: When did everyone become so awful and mean in this company?

Throughout the flick, we get a good bunch of interviews with people who were once apart of Enron and we get to see their side of the story; while it’s perfectly easy to just automatically throw blame on everyone who was in the company, it’s also another thing to understand that maybe not everyone in the company, was in on the scheme that was occurring beneath their noses. That’s why, to see Gibney try his hardest to humanize these people – most of whom had no idea about what was going on – it’s admirable. He’s not trying to make us feel sorry for them, but he’s actually just showing us that there were people who were in this company and as loyal as they could be and guess what? They still got screwed over.

It’s your typical story of a corporation: You’re loved and adored one second, next, your hated. In Enron’s case, it’s obvious why everyone turned against them, but in that sense, it’s still kind of sad. While they are not forgiven of every wrongdoing they had ever committed, most of the people in the company lost their jobs, their fortune and their beach houses, but most of all, the idea that a corporation could literally pick itself up, make a name for itself, and do whatever it wanted, and be successful at it, was destroyed. Now, thanks to company’s like Enron, the American Dream was no more and the business world of America would no longer be the same.

Thanks, fellas.

Consensus: A typical rise-and-fall story, Enron is a perfect example of just how good Alex Gibney can be when he’s got the juice to make a compelling story, all the more exciting and engaging with certain angles to spin and show.

8.5 / 10

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Photos Courtesy of: SBS, Jigsaw Prods, Reeling Reviews

The Human Stain (2003)

Cleaning-ladies love them some Hannibal.

For one second, Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) seems to have it all: A fancy job as Dean of Faculty of a liberal arts college, the respect of his peers, and a loving-wife by his side. However, another second later, he loses it all: The job, the respect, hell, even the wife. Once Silk’s life practically falls apart in front of his own, very eyes, he decides to run away and retreat to a cabin in the Connecticut woods where writer, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), is searching for inspiration for his next book. Silk then finds himself happy, reborn, and back-to-speed with his life, and decides to start up a relationship with the local college janitor, Faunia (Nicole Kidman), who’s a lot younger and illiterate than he is. Zuckerman sees this as the perfect moment to let his inspiration run wild, but what he doesn’t know is that underneath Silk’s whole look and facade, there lies something very painful and mysterious.

Philip Roth is perhaps one of the best writers the world has ever been graced with. That’s why, I constantly wonder: Why aren’t there all that many adaptations of his work? Better yet, why are the ones that do get made, not all that great?

And unfortunately, the Human Stain is just another perfect example of the great Roth just not getting the right treatment.

Showing that tat off? She's just asking for the "d" now.

No man can resist that tat.

Where the movie really finds its biggest issue with itself is with the character of Coleman Silk, and the fact that, even by the end of it, we still never get to actually know him even if we totally should. The only real snippets we get to see into his soul and character is through the flashbacks of him as a young adult, which I must say, were far more interesting than anything going on in his present life. Without spoiling what the real mystery behind Silk’s personality and what makes him tick the way he does, all I will say is that the flashbacks are handled with enough emotion, delicacy, and heart, to where you actually feel as if the movie cares for this character and his side of the story.

It should also be noted that Wentworth Miller does a nice job at portraying the younger version of Silk, as well as Jacinda Barrett as his young sweetheart who gets a first taste of who Silk really is and what he’s all about. Together, they form a realistic and heartfelt chemistry that may just get you all weak in the knees and warm inside because they may remind you of what young love was all about. No further discussion about that aspect of the story, because once I get going, I might not be able to stop and I’ll be in a risk of losing my Critic’s License (doesn’t exist, but I like to feel as if it does).

But still, it almost doesn’t matter because the rest of the movie just never flows perfectly together.

In fact, what’s supposed to be important and emotional in this movie, actually isn’t. I guess that Silk’s later-life’s transformation to a crotchety, old man to a happy, free-willing dude was supposed to really connect, but it just doesn’t. Hopkins is great, as he usually is, because he’s able to get us to believe that this old man would find out more about himself as he got older and a tad wiser about “the real world”. However, actually feeling for this dude was a bit harder than I expected, because he doesn’t really seem to have anything about him that’s worth caring about.

It sounds harsh and all, but there was just something about Coleman Silk that doesn’t really jump out off of the screen. Sure, he’s sad and sure, he’s banging a younger gal that definitely has a shady-past coming along with her for the ride (figuratively and literally), but is there really anything else to the guy? Oh, yeah, he does have that mysterious fact about him that’s insightful into who his character really is, but it can only go so far to interest a person, especially one who has seen it all with film (points to self).

So happy, yet, so random.

Why so happy? Uh, I don’t know. Life?

Even Kidman’s character gets the short end of the stick, as it also seems like she has nothing really going for her in terms of character development. Kidman is surprisingly good at playing the town skank that has a checkered-past with ex’s and family, but it doesn’t seem to go any deeper than that. She’s pretty much the whore with a heart of gold-type of character, without the license or occupation of actually being a whore. She just bangs to get over any type of pain or problems she has had in her life. It doesn’t really work when you put her character and Silk together, try to make us feel for them both, and understand where they are both coming from. Instead, it just seems shallow, as if they both took each other to bed, because, well, who else was there really?

Well, I can definitely say that Ed Harris’ character was definitely not there. Harris plays Faunia’s ex-husband who is a disabled war vet, obviously suffering from an extreme case of PTSD, which makes him come off as the bad guy in the story who’s there to just fuck everything up for the happy, loving-people in the story. However, there’s more to him than just that and Harris makes this character work in a chilling way, rather than having him be some one-dimensional prick. Well, he definitely is a prick, but at least he’s a sympathetic one at that.

At least.

Consensus: For a drama full of context and emotion like the Human Stain to work, you need complexity, heart, and understanding, which is something that neither this flick, nor the cast seems to have, no matter how hard anybody tries. And trust me, they try very, very hard.

5 / 10

Gotta love that exciting sport of fly-fishing!

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Whatever Works (2009)

Living with Larry David can’t be all that bad.

Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) is pretty tired with the world around him. When he’s not picking a fight with the kids he teaches chess to, he’s crying on and on about everything he can find himself to complain about like politics, sex, books, entertainment, and yes, women. He even goes so far as to talk to “them” – mysterious people out there in the world that he thinks are always watching him, no matter what he does or says. That’s why, one night, he decides to end it all and throw himself out of a window. Problem is, he doesn’t succeed and is forced to live with his sad and miserable life. It all changes one day though, when a random drifter named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), comes to his door-step all of the way from the Deep South. While Boris is initially against Melody, the two end up hanging together, more and more, teaching each other things about life that neither originally knew about. Which is fine and all, until they start to fall for one another – something that everyone around them seem to have problems with.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Why haven’t Larry David and Woody Allen worked together before? Honestly? I mean, with the exception of his small bit in Allen’s segment in New York Stories, it’s crazy to think that two people on this Earth as similar as David And Allen haven’t gotten together to cook-up something lovely and magical before. Sure, you could blame that on the fact that David liked to stay behind-the-scenes for a large portion of his career, but either way, it’s worth bringing up because, even though Whatever Works isn’t Woody’s worst, it also isn’t his best, either.

Which is a shame because, once again, David and Allen could make magic happen.

However, time has passed and over the years, Woody Allen has definitely lost his touch. That’s why another story featuring a much-older man and much-younger woman falling for one another, for no reason because they stand one another and talk about the more infuriating things in life, already sounds boring. After all, it’s the story that Allen’s been working with since the beginning of his career and honestly, just taking him out and putting David in can only help matters so much.

And yes, David is playing himself, but he’s also the stand-in for Allen himself, which is a tad bit confusing, because the two aren’t all that different. In fact, it’s honestly a wonder to me how much of this was scripted, or how much of it was David deciding to take an eraser to some stuff he didn’t like and just roll with what he had? I really don’t know, but regardless, David is fine in this role; he can sometimes lash out and say the same things, over and over again, but that’s sort of the point of this character. He’s supposed to be a grump and always have an issue with the world around him.

In other words, he’s Larry David. Signed. Sealed. And delivered.

Others around David are quite fine, too. Evan Rachel Wood’s character may start out as a caricature, but eventually starts to show more shadings that make her likable; Patricia Clarkson shows up about halfway through and makes the movie a whole lot better; Henry Cavill in a young role of his, is as charming as they come and as you’d expect for Superman to be; and Ed Begley, Jr. showing up for not too long, is actually the funniest of the whole cast.

Where's his glasses?

Where’s his glasses?

But still, a fine cast doesn’t always make a great movie, and that’s where Whatever Works sometimes falls. It isn’t that the movie itself is bad – Allen’s annoying writing is toned-down enough to where it doesn’t get in the way of the story, or the characters – but it also doesn’t change much up about what we’ve seen from Allen in the past. His characters talk about existentialism, they fight, they screw, they drink, they host dinner parties, they listen to jazz, they go on walks to the park, and yeah, that’s pretty much it. Occasionally, Allen himself will throw a small twist in there for good measure to make us think that he realizes a lot of his movies are the same, but really, does any of it matter?

Woody is getting up there in age and a lot of his movies are starting to seem a little like the same thing, over and over again? Does that make them “bad”? Not necessarily; they’re enjoyable and pleasant because he has a knack for catching the right tone with his movies and always getting the best and brightest talents for his flicks, but that doesn’t always make a “great” movie.

Even if your movie does have Larry David complaining to the camera.

Now, how could that be “bad”?

Consensus: While not his worst, nor his best, Whatever Works gets by because of its charming cast, but really, is a solid example of Woody possibly running out of ideas.

6 / 10

She's going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

She’s going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

The Tailor of Panama (2001)

Always need a nasty spy to get rid of the neat ones.

Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), early in his life, used to be a con from Cockney. That was before he met his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), started a family, and most importantly, basically reinvented himself as a popular tailor to the rich and powerful of Panama. While his customers love his lavish and beautiful suits that he hand-crafts himself, they also love the stories he’s brings, with some of them feeling as if he’s more than just their tailor – he’s their friend. Or better yet, he’s a part of their family. The British realize this, especially spy Andrew Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), a man who notices that Pendel is a very important pawn, in a very big chess game and does not let up one bit from getting each and every piece of info he can, at any costs. But Harry isn’t used to having so much pressure be on him and it’s only a matter of time before it all blows up in his face, as well as everybody else’s.

Still Bond no matter what.

Still Bond no matter what.

The Tailor of Panama is a perfectly serviceable spy-thriller that makes you understand why so many people love and hate John le Carré. One of the main reasons why people love his material so much is that he creates such fun and exciting yarns, that they’re hard not to get wrapped-up in. He tends to love writing about spies, and because of that, we get to sit by and watch as deep, dark and seductive stories of secrets, lies, and spy-hijinx occur. Sure, some of it may be too twisty for its own good, but there’s no denying that spies themselves are pretty confusing; they never know what they want to be and le Carré is there to try and make sense of them, without letting up on any sort of fun.

At the same time, a lot of people hate his work and this movie is another example of why.

For instance, people often complain that le Carré’s work can tend to get a bit too complicated and convoluted than it needs to be, and well, that’s kind of the case here. However, it doesn’t start out like that; director John Boorman takes his time with this setting, these characters, and also, give us a better understanding of what exactly is at-stake/going on. Even if this part doesn’t feel fully realized, the least we find out is that some bad, rich people are up to bad, rich people-like things, and it’s up to Rush’s character to stop it all. Of course, you can fill in the blanks from there, but yeah, it’s pretty simple for a short time.

But like I said, it all goes to hell once the actual plot itself gets going and we have to find out more about these shady and corrupt millionaires. As is usually the case with le Carré’s stories, what the reasoning and explanation of these evil-doings actually are, tend to be overdone, overcooked, and just so damn evil, that after awhile, you wonder why their first idea wasn’t to just nuke the whole world while they were at it. This is the part of the Tailor of Panama that bothered me, as everything leading up to it seemed to be light, breezy and semi-twisty fun. After the half-way mark, of course, it goes away and all of a sudden, we have to pay attention to each and every twist that comes around, even if they aren’t fully believable to begin with.

But thankfully, there is Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush here, who make it all worth our while.

Always need a good tailor who eavesdrops way too much.

Always need a good tailor who eavesdrops way too much.

As Harry Pendel, Rush is having a good time, but he’s also got more of a character to play. He has to both be somewhat sinister, as well as naive and nerdy at the same time; something he pulls off quite well, especially in the later, more confusing portions. Though Jamie Lee Curtis may initially seem miscast here, she actually fits well as Pendel’s wife who not only makes the most money in the house, but also appears to be the one who wears the biggest and widest pants in the family. She doesn’t back down when the going gets heavy and she starts to catch on real quick, not only making her smart, but more than willing and up to the task of playing with the big boys.

Of course though, none of these two are any match for Brosnan and all that he does here as Andrew Osnard. On paper, Osnard is a snively, somewhat goofy spy who likes booze, women, and partying; in the movie version, Osnard is a snively, totally goofy spy who likes booze, women, and partying, but also enjoys stealing every scene known to man. Sure, a lot of what makes this character cool in the first place is the writing, but really, it’s Brosnan who makes this somewhat conventional spy character, literally jump off the screen, seeming like someone you wouldn’t expect at all in a story like this, nor would you expect him to be as funny or likable as he is. That’s probably why Brosnan, playing somewhat against-type, was the perfect choice here; he’s not likable a whole lot, but with enough of that winning smile and charm, he’s willing to shine the pants off of anyone watching.

Now, does that sound like true Bond to you? I think so.

Consensus: A tad too twisty and wild, the Tailor of Panama is a fun and exciting spy-romp, made all the better by the key performances from the talented cast, most especially the always vibrant Pierce Brosnan.

7 / 10

That's Pierce, alright! Always sneaking up on ya in the water!

That’s Pierce, alright! Always sneaking up on ya in the water!

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes, MTV, Roger Ebert

Paradise Now (2005)

Walking around all day with a bomb strapped across your chest would probably already feel like death.

Lifelong friends, Said and Khaled (Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman) lead a normal life, working together in a garage and never discussing politics or religion. Having sometime ago volunteered to become suicide bombers they now learn that they’ve been chosen for the next mission and that it will begin in only 24 hours.

Being that this is a terribly touchy subject, not many people feel the need to even go out there and give this film a shot because it tries to humanize people who do terribly heinous things. Is there a problem with that? No, not really. But the problem would be to not give this film a chance it so rightfully deserves in my mind.

Director Hany Abu-Assad does something different with this type of subject material that will get in anybody’s mind because he does one thing that nobody ever wants to hear or see: Sympathy for suicide bombers. Now, don’t get me wrong, those people who strap bombs to their chest just so they can blow it up (along with themselves) in crowded areas full of soldiers, innocents, and civilians are not the people we should feel totally sorry for. But, this film does show us that these people are still human beings none the less, and they all have the same types of decisions and consequences that we have as well, it’s just different in a way.

"Are you ready? No pressure or anything?"

“Are you ready? No pressure or anything?”

That’s what’s interesting about Abu-Assad’s direction, as he paints a portrait of two kids that we don’t really think we would be able to stand in a film like this, yet, he somehow gets us to feel sympathy for them even when it seems like they have no remorse or no care for the pain they are about to cause. These kids don’t really know what they’re about to do, until it finally comes up and then they are sort of left wondering just what the hell they wanted to do in the first place. We see that these two guys believe in violence for freedom, but then, that starts to change once they wonder that maybe, just maybe, all of the problems that these two sides are fighting about, could be resolved in many other, different ways rather than just going around and blowing yourselves up. It provides a lot of food for thought as it makes you see why these kids think the way they do in the first place, and then why they all of a sudden start to change their minds once they are actually confronted with the idea of death staring them right in the face.

You would think that a film that seems so pro-Palestinian would almost be unwatchable, especially if you’re an American, but that’s not really the case. The movie isn’t “pro” or “anti”, it’s just “human”. It takes the life of these humans first and foremost, beyond anything else resembling politics or institutions. The movie itself doesn’t seem to have a problem asking us the hard questions and allowing for there to be actual answers left in the air. It’s risky film-making, especially for subject material as troubling as this, but it works all the same.

Why more film-makers can’t bother to do this is beyond me.

"Can't breathe? Eh, well it's okay."

“Can’t breathe? Eh, well it’s okay.”

Perhaps where this film really falters is in it’s writing that sometimes comes off as very smart and insightful, but also seems a bit too dramatic. There are moments that occur in the latter half of the film, where certain characters start to break into long montages that don’t really seem like they would happen in real life, regardless of the situation. There’s one point where a character is literally just sitting down, starts talking about his dad, goes on about his childhood, and somehow ends up circling it all around to what he thinks is right and what he thinks is wrong about Palestine. It could have been a great and very memorable scene had it actually rang a true note at all.

But other than that, the rest of the film is quite fine. The most powerful aspect of this movie are the two performances given by Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman who both play the friends that have to go through with this whole suicide bombing. Both performances keep you on the edge of your seat because they both show you a lot about how they are, how they change, and what they may, or may not do next. There’s a great amount integrity to them that makes them seem like guys who really want to do this and believe in what they are doing, but then they all of a sudden start to have reservations and you see a bit of an innocent, scared side to them as you would probably see through any human being put in the same situation as them. They are both perfect together, and have a nice chemistry that feels like they’ve been life-long buds and it’s heart-breaking to think that these guys have all lived their lives together and are planning to end their lives that way as well, except they’re under a lot darker stipulations now.

Consensus: Paradise Now may be a difficult film, in terms of subject material, as well as presentation, but it gets by on the heart and humanity of its script, and emotional performances from its two leads.

8.5 / 10

"You see this place, man. One day, it's going to be all ours to blow up."

“You see this place, man. One day, it’s going to be all ours to blow up.”

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Escapist, Little Daya

Storytelling (2001)

Read me a story, daddy. Especially ones filled with rape, racism, and teenage angst.

Two different stories that never connect, are told to us through the parts known as “Fiction” and “Non-fiction”. “Fiction” is the story of a young college student (Selma Blair) who gets her emotions all wrapped up in a bunch when her boyfriend (Leo Fitzpatrick) breaks up with her, leading her to fall into the arms of her cocky, but charming professor (Robert Wisdom). “Non-fiction” is the story of a middle-aged, failing documentarian (Paul Giamatti) who gets inspired to make a movie, following a young, confused teenager (Mark Webber) and the rest of his dysfunctional family, that just so happens to have a lot more going on between them than meets the eyes.

Is it too wrong to say that she had it coming to her?

That blonde hair will drive any man wild

Todd Solondz movies are of required-taste and if you can get through them without batting an eye or feeling awkward, then good for you. For me, I still can’t help but feel like this guy is just messing with me, to mess with me. And I hate to say it, but it works well, even though I feel as if I’ve seen and heard it all by now. But still, he continues to push the envelope, even if that aspect of his directing makes him of a provocateur, and not a film maker.

Hell, even in this movie, he makes fun of what people have had to say about him in the past. They call him “shocking for the sake of being shocking”, “racist”, “a bigot”, and even go so far as to be called the dreaded “P-word”: “pretentious”. For a film maker like Solondz to take all of that criticism in stride, really does deserve some credit because he not only throws it right back in those hater’s faces, but even shows them why they may be right as well.

That said, this is where the movie hits its slippery-slope in the way.

The idea of having two, separate stories told in one movie definitely makes it feel like we’re going to get double the trouble with what Solondz has to offer, which is true, but not in the smart, sly way he’s done it before. Instead, all of the dirty stuff that happens here, feels deliberate, as if Solondz himself is trying really, really hard to get a reaction out of us, simply because the material he’s working with doesn’t have that much steam to pile on through. Both stories seem interesting on their own, and even the points he brings up go along with them as well, but it just feels like a missed-opportunity for Solondz to really give us something worth thinking about, rather than landing on the same, two feet that he landed with before.

And yes, you can expect there to be plenty of sex, awkwardness, explicit content, and random conversations about the slimy stuff in our bodies. And yes, sometimes, it works. Other times, it doesn’t. Storytelling feels like the kind of flick Solondz perhaps needed to get off his chest after something as ambitious as Happiness, but still, it also makes it feel more like a greatest hits album, rather than actual greatness itself.

Either way, the stories do sort of work.

With “Fiction”, the idea of young teens falling for an older demographic because of the seniority they show, is actually pretty scary. Seemingly out of nowhere, however, Solondz gets a little bit too ahead of himself, gives us an over-long sex scene (unedited, no red boxes in my viewing), and a couple uses of the “N word” that was supposed to get a rise out of us I assuming, but instead, felt like it was Solondz getting a bit too wacky and explicit for his own good. The aftermath of this scene is smart and funny, however, I still continued to scratch my head wondering, “What was the point of all that?” Is everything we write on paper already considered “fiction”, or is everything after that “real”.

No matter how many licks, we may never know the answer.

Then, we have “Non-fiction” which is oddly longer than the first entry into this flick and shows it’s length as well. It isn’t that I didn’t feel like there was an interesting bit of storytelling to be had here with the loser documenting the stuck-up, egotistical family, it’s just that the targets it’s meant to be satirizing doesn’t quite work as well because it’s all too obvious and easy. The idea of having a film maker, make a movie that’s already pretentious as it is, in your already-pretentious movie is so obvious, that it’s almost too dumb to really take seriously, so that when it does begin to go down the path of making fun of those people who have talked crap on Solondz work in the past, it feels more like a kid saying, “hate to say I told ya so!”, rather than somebody making a legitimate statement about the films he makes. Like I said before, it’s an opportunity that seems missed, even if this story has the most disturbing ending I’ve seen in a long, long time.

"Hi, it's me Paul. Again. Yes, I am depressed. Again."

“Hi, it’s me Paul. Again. Yes, I am depressed. Again.”

Yep, even Happiness‘ ending loses to this one.

Consensus: Even at a measly and meager 87 minutes, Storytelling feels like a collection of interesting things that Solondz can, and is perfectly able to do, however, with no real payoff.

6 / 10

Let's face it: we've all wanted to do the same thing.

Let’s face it: we’ve all wanted to do the same thing.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Wall-E (2008)

Save the world. Save the robots. Get off your rumps.

It’s been nearly 700 years and yep, us humans have destroyed the planet we all loved and called “home”: Earth. After years and years of negligence and laziness, Earth has become nothing more than just one huge, ever-expanding trashcan. But where have all the humans gone? Well, somewhere up in the sky, they’ve all retreated to a paradise of sorts, sitting down on their lazy butts, getting fatter and fatter as the days go by, eating and drinking everything that comes in their way, and being able to move around, solely by a chair. But while they’re all enjoying the heck out of their fat lives up in the sky, trash compactors are left on Earth to clean up their mess and make life on Earth sustainable again. However, it appears as if all of the trash became too much for the trash compactors, as only one still exists and seems to be working: Wall-E. And yes, being all alone on Earth can definitely be a problem for a little robot like Wall-E, who wants nothing more than some sort of love in his life. Eventually though, he gets that in the form of Eve, a robot sent down from the paradise-in-the-sky who may, or may not have sinister intentions for Earth, the human existence, or even Wall-E himself.

But don’t tell him that! That boy is smitten!

True love if I was ever able to see it happen between two bots.

True love if I was ever able to see it happen between two bots.

Anyway, yeah, Wall-E‘s another typical Pixar home-run, in that it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think, and it makes you happy and absolutely proud that there’s still a small part of you that’s still a child. You may work a typical, 9-to-5, have a wife, kids, dog, car, and drink beer, but deep down inside, you’re still a six-year-old kid who wants to hold his mommy’s hand when he gets sad. Or then again, maybe you’re not that at all.

Either way, you get my point: Pixar has been working with this formula for as long as they’ve been around and guess what? Wall-E is no different.

But there’s a little something more to it that makes it worthwhile in the long-run.

You can tell that director Andrew Stanton definitely has a huge affinity for silent films, as well as the classics of yesteryear, in how he appreciates the simplistic messages of love they spout-out, and also likes how they all rely on an emotion and tone, told solely through the way everything looks. Automatically, when you’re thrown into this new and desecrated Earth, there’s already this sad, lonely and depressed feeling when watching Wall-E, all by his lonesome, do nothing but clean-up, watch old movies, long for someone to hold hands with, and have conversations with a invincible grasshopper. Then, all of a sudden, Eve comes in and everything seems a lot more goofy, joyous and believe it or not, hopeful. Yeah sure, the Earth is close to being nearly destroyed, but hey, at least these two robots found their possible soul-mates, right?

Well, that’s why Stanton’s direction is so smart here; he does a lot without telling us anything us, but rather, just showing us everything we need to know. Eve talks in perfect, Siri-like English, whereas Wall-E barely makes sense and for some reason, it’s better that way; hearing these two speak to one another isn’t the point of this flick, or even their romance. In all honesty, it’s all about the raw and sweet emotions that the feeling of love, or that idea of being connected with someone out there in the world can make you feel. Sure, call it maybe a tad too serious for a Pixar movie, but hey, what can I say?

This is the kind of stuff that gets me going.

Such a cuddly little robot. Until he kills you and takes over the whole world.

Such a cuddly little robot. Until he kills you and takes over the whole world.

Of course, about halfway through, the movie’s tone changes from carefree and pleasant to, of course, more convoluted, tense and plot-heavy, but for some reason, it still works. It definitely shouldn’t – the change is so drastic, that it almost feels like the powers at be got to Stanton and had him get things going – but where the movie goes without itself after this switch is interesting. It certainly does become an obvious farce, but it’s a funny one that drives home its environmental message as well as it could have, without totally pointing and wagging its finger in your face.

Okay, maybe the movie is trying to tell us humans to “stop leaving your trash everywhere and sitting on your rumps all day”, but still, is that not supposed to be something we should hear? I mean, heck, I’m sitting down now as we speak and I already feel like I’ve got to get up and do something with my life. Wall-E knows that it has a story and a plot to work with, aside from all the gooey and heartfelt emotions running throughout, but the mix-and-match between both sides gels so well together that, honestly, I’m shocked.

But at the end, Wall-E still takes itself all the way home.

While it definitely gets a tad bit lost in some odd and relatively annoying political shenanigans involving Fred Willard (!) as the President of the United States (!!!), Stanton is still able to bring us back to where we were at in the beginning: Wall-E searching for that one and special someone to sit down and watch movies and hold hands with. It will bring a tear to your eye the right way and it will remind you that true love does and can most definitely exist.

Even if the true love does exist between two robots in a post-apocalyptic future version of Earth.

Consensus: Fun, hilarious, smart and tender, without ever feeling like it’s trying too hard to be any of them, Wall-E drives home an environmental message that matters, while also not forgetting about what really makes a great family flick for everyone in-mind.

9 / 10

Pictured: America, circa 2026

Pictured: America, circa 2026

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Screen Musings

Finding Nemo (2003)

Animals lose their kids, too. It’s not just humans.

Marlin (Albert Brooks) is an obsessively overprotective Daddy clownfish, but with good reason. Some time ago, when he and his late wife had just welcomed all of their children to the sea, because they weren’t paying enough attention, somehow, they all got swept away, and the wife died. There was one left, however, and it turned out to be Marlin’s sole child: Nemo. And needless to say, yes, Marlin is very uptight and worried about Nemo, so much so that Nemo himself feels as if he needs to venture out there into the world a whole lot more than he’s allowed to. However, all of that adventuring gets Nemo caught by a bunch of humans and thrown in some dentist’s office fish-bowl. For Nemo, this is a new world, but it’s one that he doesn’t quite love just as much as he loves the sea. But Marlin will not stop until he finds Nemo and brings him home safe, once and for all – now, though, he’s got the help of a fellow fish, Dory (Ellen DeGeneras), who may actually be more of a problem than a solution.

How I imagine Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneras talk to one another in real life.

How I imagine Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneras talk to one another in real life.

Finding Nemo came out at a time for Pixar that was definitely crucial. They were still hitting it out of the park with each and every flick they offered, but by 2003, you could start to tell that maybe, just maybe, Pixar’s appeal was starting to wane. Sure, a sequel to Toy Story works perfectly, because who doesn’t love talking toys, but talking sea-creatures? And one that involves one fish being lost and, hopefully, found?

Well, regarldess, none of this talk matters. Finding Nemo wasn’t just a hit commercially, but it also showed that everything Pixar was able to do with their first couple of movies, they were still able to carry-on with and remind everyone that they were the voice and brand-name to be reckoned with when it came to the world of animation. Nowadays, it seems as if they’ve fallen a tad off the ladder, but still, Finding Nemo, as it still lies, works.

The visuals, for one, are as beautiful as they ever have been. Given that the story literally takes place under the sea, it only makes perfect sense that every bit of Finding Nemo be as eye-engaging and beautiful as the bit before it. Heck, even after it being over 13 years of this thing being out and about, you’d think that at least some portion of it looks dated, or doesn’t quite hold-up; technology has, believe it or not, gotten a whole lot better and Pixar has definitely shown this. But nope, it’s still a beautiful movie.

And I’m not just talking about the visuals, either, although they are quite great to look at.

The greatest aspect of Finding Nemo is that it wears its heart on its sleeves practially the whole way through. It all starts off somber, tragic and absolutely upsetting for the first five minutes, but sooner than later, turns into this pleasant, relatively sweet story about overcoming one’s fears, adversities, and own handicaps to get something in life, as well as making one’s self better. While, yes, you could most definitely chalk that same message/theme to every other Pixar movie ever released, the fact remains that it still works and hits close to home here, even if you also get the idea that maybe Pixar wore it on a bit too strong?

Maybe? Eh?

Then again, maybe not. What Finding Nemo works best in is that it allows for its story to hit the emotional archs and all that, but also bring on the funny, too. There’s so many silly and lovely side characters that, honestly, it’s not hard to want to see a movie about them. There’s the sharks going through AA for blood; there’s the sea turtles who live the rock ‘n roll lifestyle like bro-ish surfers; and most especially, there’s the sea creatures stuck in a fish bowl who want nothing more than to escape this unforgiving prison. Of course, Finding Nemo gives all of these characters their chances to shine, but what matters most is that none of them feel like throway gags that Pixar thrown in there to create more toys, or because, well, they were bored; each and every character serves a greater purpose to the story and helps it move along.

Cowabunga dudes!

Cowabunga dudes!

And yeah, while I’m on about the characters, I might as well say that the voice-casting is probably the ballsiest, yet, smartest bit of casting Pixar has ever done. Albert Brooks’ gruff, yet slightly neurotic voice is perfect for the overly neurotic and scared Marlin, who is easy to warm up to, especially since we know that Brooks is such a lovely presence on the screen. But it’s strange that he was cast in the role, because honestly, he wasn’t all that big at the time of this release; it’s hard to say if Finding Nemo helped revitalize his career (he’s not on the screen at all and half the people who saw it probably have no clue who Albert Brooks is), but hey, if it’s a role that utilizes him well, then so be it.

But really, the star of the show is Ellen DeGeneras’ Dory.

Now, despite this too being a voice-role, Dory’s the character that definitely regenerized DeGeneras’ career for the greater good of society. The character allows for her to get as high-pitched and silly as she wants, without ever seeming as if she’s over-doing it to a huge exteme. In fact, it’s the right bit of goofiness and charm that works well for this character, as well as DeGeneras, because even if we do want to strangle Dory at times, it’s still hard not to want to see her and be around her more.

Probably why she’s getting her own flick, now that I think about it.

Consensus: Just as you’d expect from Pixar, Finding Nemo is a heartfelt, sweet, honest, fun, and downright hilarious tale of adventure, family and love, which is what makes it all the more great.

9 / 10

Yeah, now you're lost.

Yeah, now you’re lost.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

Just when you thought playing video-games was “cool” again.

In Bangkok, M. Bison (Neal McDonough), an evil, maniacal, and powerful crime boss, cobbles up all of his henchmen (Michael Clarke Duncan, Josie Ho, Taboo) to begin a bid for power in the city’s slum. They take out all of their competitors, so that the fruit is all theirs to sow and if anybody gets in their way, well, they won’t be in it for much longer because they’ll be dead. However, when you’re as bad of a guy as M. Bison is, chances are, after awhile, people are going to start getting ticked at you and rise up to take their power back. That’s exactly what Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) does when her father is all of a sudden kidnapped by Bison. Why? Well, Bison believes that the man has a certain skill that’s perfect for whatever evil stuff he has planned. But in order to get back at Bison and all of his evil a-holes the right way, she’ll have to be trained by the smart martial-arts master, Gen (Robin Shou). Meanwhile Interpol agent Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) teams up with Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood), to figure out just what’s going on and hopefully, get to the bottom of all the violence before it’s too late.

So, uh, Asian or not?

So, uh, Asian or not?

Why aren’t there any “good” video-game movies out there? Sure, you could make the argument that there’s been a few, every so often, that have been “serviceable” at best, but really, that’s if we’re grasping at straws. What that question really means is why there isn’t one, clear-cut, definitive video-game adaptation that almost everyone can agree to as being “good”. Some will say that has to do with the fact that video-games are meant to be played and not watched, therefore, they aren’t fun and lose their edge, while others will say that it has to do with some of the video-game material being so cheesy and odd, that to adapt for a movie, would be defeating the purpose altogether.

So, with all that said, is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li a “good” video-game movie?

Nope. Actually, nowhere even close.

However, it also isn’t as terrible as people make it out to be. The reason why so many people ragged on this movie in the first place is because, yes, it’s awfully miscast. There’s no denying that. Neal McDonough can play these evil, sick and twisted baddies in his place, but he does some weird accent as M. Bison, to the point of where we don’t know what nationality he is, nor does it seem like he knows. It may not seem like much, but it’s hard to be scared of the villain of the story when he sounds like an odd mix between Sean Connery and Ivan Koloff.

Oh and, yes, there’s Chris Klein. If there’s anyone I feel bad for in this world, it’s Chris Klein. In all honesty, I do believe that the guy’s a good actor, when he’s given the right material to work with and right direction from people who actually know just what the hell to do with him; Election is a perfect example of Klein hamming it up, yet, also knowing his strengths and weaknesses, which may have to do with the fact that Alexander Payne is just great at directing actors, but still, it’s a good performance nonetheless. Here, Klein is left without a paddle, wading through corny-as-cob dialogue that no classically-trained thespian could ever get through without choking a bit, let alone the guy who played Oz.

And honestly, I could go in deeper and deeper as to why he’s so bad, but I think much of the internet has already made material for that. If anything, the script is what really makes everyone and everything, well, “terrible”. Every line is coated in cheese, characters that are supposed to be cool and tough, just sound like morons, and nobody can ever be taken seriously, even though that’s clearly the intention. Which is fine to not be taking seriously – after all, it’s a video-game adaptation we’re talking about here – but there’s something to be said for a movie that wants to portray its heroes as absolute gods and its villains as downright spawns of Satan, yet, can’t help but have everybody launch into sweet and cool ass-kicking kung-fu when push comes to shove.

Even Moon has no clue what he's doing here.

Even Moon has no clue what he’s doing here.

And yes, the sweet and cool ass-kicking kung-fu is actually why the movie isn’t as terrible as some make it out to be.

In the spirit of the video-games, Legend of Chun-Li gets the action as right as it possibly can. It’s goofy, wild, hectic, over-the-top and as bloodless as you can possibly get when all you’re doing is portraying people getting their asses kicked left and right, which is all that it needed to do and be. Sure, the dialogue and characters are awful, which is why it’s easy to lose interest in these bits and pieces, but when the gloves come off and people are ready to throw down, well, the movie’s entertaining. It’s pretty awful, but it’s awful in a kind of fun way, which also has a little something to do with why the action here works.

Of course, nothing else seems to really work, but that’s fine. At least 35 minutes of this movie’s 95-minute run-time is dedicated to action; in between are long patches and stretches of talented actors getting saddled with awful dialogue, characters who we never get to actually know or understand, other than that they’re characters in a video-game, and a plot about how Chun-Li is going to rise up against the oppressor that seems so half-baked, that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this was somehow left in there during post-production, when everyone involved seem to give up, call it a day, and go home, acting as if this never actually happened.

Problem is, it did and there’s no denying that fact.

Consensus: Though it gets the action right, Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li is still poorly-acted, horribly-scripted, and just damn silly at times, that you wonder if anybody cared, took this seriously, or wanted to be elsewhere.

3 / 10

"Don't worry, honey. Your career will get better. Mine, unfortunately, not so much."

“Don’t worry, honey. Your career will get better. Mine, unfortunately, not so much.”

Photos Courtesy of: Games Retrospect, Aceshowbiz