Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2016)

Everybody’s mom and dad have problems. Some more than others, but you get the idea.

Growing up in Jerusalem during the 1940s was rough for most people, but for Amos Oz (Amir Tessler), it was a whole lot more so. His mother, Fania (Natalie Portman), and father, Arieh (Gilad Kahana), were clearly in love from the first time they met, and while the love never quite faded out, it came and went in short spurts. However, for Amos, he was the apple of his mother’s eye, so nothing bad ever came of him and whenever he needed a little cheering up, she always gave him an imaginative, but interesting story to keep his little mind alive, awake, and most importantly, hopeful. After all, Jerusalem was going through a huge crisis at this point in time, and for a family like Klausner’s to live and survive, they had to rely on one another to be as strong as humanly imaginable, even if that was a lot easier said then done.

Symbolism? Or something, right?

Symbolism? Or something, right?

Natalie Portman’s career has been a bit of a strange one since she won the Oscar for Black Swan. While mostly every other actor after winning an Oscar would have roles being flung at them from every which direction, Portman opted to take a quieter, more distancing approach to the whole film-business; while she may have been high in-demand, she’s only done about seven or so movies, with two of them being Thor flicks, one being a Terence Malick flick that she showed up in for about five minutes, the one-two punch of Your Highness and No Strings Attached, of course, her passion-project that was unfortunately delayed for about four years, Jane Got a Gun. It’s interesting to see this happen to someone who is still, yes, a big name in the world of Hollywood, but it’s also a bit dispiriting – she’s not just a great actor, but seems to get more and more interesting as she gets older and wiser.

And of course, there’s another passion-project of hers with A Tale of Love and Darkness, which shows Portman really doing whatever it is that she wants, because she can, but it’s not all about making a statement here. If anything, you can tell that there’s a lot to this story and this mood that Portman herself relates to and it helps give an emotional edge to a story that could have easily just been one, long snooze-fest of Portman finding all of the lovely little quirks about this intimate tale.

Which is all to say that as a director, yeah, Portman is quite good.

She’s competent enough to know what works well, and what doesn’t; the smaller, more subdued moments with this family are perhaps some of the best and most interesting that the movie has to offer, because Portman doesn’t really have to do a lot but just keep her camera focused in on the characters, what they do, what they say, and how they act. It works well for the movie, if you only take it solely as a character-study of a family going through all sorts of problems, but when it tries to handle more than it can chew, then unfortunately, Portman begins to stumble. She’s good at the small stuff, yes, but when it comes to making this tale a bigger one that has to do with the fighting, tension, turmoil, and violence over in Jerusalem, it doesn’t quite connect.

But then again, that may be more of a problem with the material, than it is with Portman. She may have wrote and adapted the film from the autobiography, but she also may have had a lot to handle, what with the book being a coming-of-ager, as well as this political allegory for Jerusalem’s history. The book itself is a tad messy, which, as a result, so is the movie and it only makes sense that Portman have the same issues that the book itself may have had.

But as an actress, nope, Portman is terrific.

So sad and drenched. Yet, she's Natalie Portman so of course she's still beautiful.

So sad and drenched. Yet, she’s Natalie Portman so of course she’s still beautiful.

Then again, are you surprised? Portman’s great in the stoic scenes as Fania, where you get a sense that she does truly love her family and Jerusalem, but is also, slowly and surely, getting more and more depressed with each and every passing-day. It’s a role that could have been terribly over-the-top and showy (something that Portman has been accused of in the past), but it’s one that she works so well with because she just sits there and give us all that pained and upsetting look she’s just about mastered by now.

Still though, as good as Portman may be, the rest of the cast around her kind of fumbles, if only because she’s so good as the heart and soul of the story. Gilad Kahana is fine as her husband, even if his character’s intentions don’t always make the most sense, and Amir Tessler, who plays a young Amos, is also fine, if mostly because he doesn’t have to do all that much. Most of the time, he’s just sitting around and reacting to the world around him and that’s all it needed to be – after all, he’s a young kid, growing up and trying to make sense of the world that he lives in, while it’s all sorts of crazy and violent for reasons he can’t even begin to understand.

It’s a sad reality for him, but what I imagine many other kids his age had to go through.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t always connect, there’s a real feeling of emotion and passion to A Tale of Love and Darkness, that makes Portman’s sometimes messy direction still something to be admired.

6 / 10

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm, so to speak.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Southside With You (2016)

First dates are always so awkward. Especially when there’s no Starbucks around.

Way back before he became the President of the United States, Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) was just like you or I – he was a young dude, trying to make a difference in this world, be successful, and yes, also try to win the hearts of lovely women. One woman who seems to have captured his heart as of late is a young, ambitious lawyer named Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). So, like any young guy his age would do, he asks her out on a date and they get going on that date, even if Michelle herself doesn’t quite know that it’s a date yet. No worries though, as Barack is using this day solely as a way to pick her brain a bit, show her the kinds of cool and smart stuff he can do, and while they’re at it, get dinner, have a few beers, and yes, even seeing Do the Right Thing, which may make or break the future of what they could possibly have together. Will it all work out in the end? Or will it just be another one of those one-off dates?

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. Yeah, or something like that. I don't know. I'm still working on it."

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. Yeah, or something like that. I don’t know. I’m still working on it.”

Of course, we know what happens between Michelle and Barack, but that doesn’t really matter for a flick like Southside With You to work. In fact, even knowing who Michelle and Barack Obama are in the first place, probably shouldn’t matter for a flick like this, because it’s less about who they turn out to be, or what they represent, as much as it’s just about who they were at this time in their lives and how they came together, to love one another and figure out that they both wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

A little romantic, isn’t it?

Well, that’s because it is and it’s one of the main reasons why Southside With You is definitely a great little piece of romance, despite it having something of a gimmick being that it’s Barack and Michelle in the romantic-leads. But honestly, that novelty goes away not after long, because the two performances are so good, that they don’t feel like two-bit impersonations, straining for likability or credibility, as much as they just feel like two different “takes” on who these people were when they were younger, and way before the world chewed them up and got ready to spit them back out. Sure, it helps that the two are definitely dead ringers for these two notable figures (Sawyers especially looks so much like Obama that I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI took a look at his birth certificate), but it also helps that these two are more interested in developing them both as people, not just as caricatures that we see on the news.

If anything, Southside With You works best because it’s a snapshot of most young people’s lives, not just Barack and Michelle Obama’s lives in particular. They’re young, out-of-college, not sure what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but know that they have dreams, aspirations, and hopes that they’ll figure it all out soon enough and, eventually, find that one and special someone. In a way, yes, Southside With You works a lot like Richard Linklater’s Before movies did: They’re just a bunch of long, walking-and-talking conversations, but they’re meaningful, entertaining, and most importantly, insightful, in that they show us more about who these people were and just why it is that they fell so in love with each other after all.

Sure, a good portion of the movie could be total bull-crap, but it’s enjoyably sweet and heartfelt bull-crap, so what’s the harm?

The look on many lady's faces when they come toe-to-toe with the one and only Barack.

The look on many lady’s faces when they come toe-to-toe with the one and only Barack.

Sometimes, little, well-to-do movies like Southside With You need to exist, because they help flesh out a persona or iconic figure that we think we already know everything we need to know about, and don’t anymore information on. And in today’s political landscape, where it seems like the Obama’s all have one foot out the door, it’s interesting to see just who they all once were and where they got their start, even if we all know how life and the world turned out for them. And I don’t mean this as a way to bring out my political ideas or beliefs about the Obama’s, or anything resembling politics whatsoever, I more or less mean to say this as a way to show that a movie like Southside With You deserves to be seen, if solely because it will show people that there are more to our politicians and famous figures than just what’s seen on the tube.

Yes, they’re actual human beings who love, care and want to do right. They may not always make the best decisions, nor do they always have the right intentions with every decision that they make, but their humans, just like you or I. That goes for every person, not just Barack, or Michelle Obama, but everyone.

Even Donald Trump as much as it may pain for some to say and admit.

Consensus: Sweet and heartfelt, Southside With You works regardless of one’s political opinions or beliefs, making us all see a little more about Barack and Michelle Obama than ever expected.

8 / 10

Take his hand, honey. Trust me. It'll work out plenty for you.

Take his hand, honey. Trust me. It’ll work out plenty for you.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Don’t Breathe (2016)

If the world of magic isn’t doing it for him any longer, David Blaine may have a future in robbing blind people’s houses.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three kids who seem to be making a living off of knocking off people’s homes. While it’s definitely trashy and not an ideal lifestyle to live, honestly, it’s the only way they can survive. One day, they hatch up this perfect plan to rob this rich blind guy (Stephen Lang), who also happens to live all by himself, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It seems like the perfect job to, hopefully, end all jobs and that’s what seems to be happening, until they screw up one too many times and it turns out that the rich blind guy isn’t so sad and defenseless as they expected.

Honestly, that’s about all I can say about Don’t Breathe without really spoiling all of the fun for those who want to check it out, because it truly is the kind of small, but simple movie that deserves to be less said about, in order to be fully enjoyed. It’s the kind of movie that takes so many sick and twisted turns throughout it’s near hour-and-a-half run-time, that really, speaking about any of them in particular, or even hinting at them to great lengths would be an injustice. Just know that Don’t Breathe is the kind of movie that starts out as something you’d expect, but ends as something totally different.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

Make any sense?

If not, that’s okay; Don’t Breathe seems like the sort of movie that works best when you look at it as a thriller, and less of an actual horror flick, filled with shocks, gasps, and jump-scares (even if that’s how it’s being advertised). Co-writer/director Fede Alvarez does something genius here with his material in that he continuously finds smart and clever ways to sneak up on us some more, making what would seem like a very simple, almost straightforward story, get spun in so many different ways, that it’s actually hard to pinpoint where it’s going to end up or turn to next. That same kind of film making seemed to be lost in his version of Evil Dead, even if there is a part of me that feels like he was just playing by some sort of studio mandate and didn’t have the total free reign to strike out on his own, do whatever he wanted to, and let his freak-fag fly.

Here though, Alvarez gets more than enough opportunities to do so and it’s quite a blast to watch. You almost get the sense that Alvarez is just so happy to be here, making a movie in his own name, with his own stamp, and isn’t going to shy away from doing whatever the hell it is that he wants, regardless of whether people enjoy it or not. In a way, that sort of works best for the movie, as the flick itself can get to some pretty dark, grueling and messed-up places that aren’t easy to expect – if anything, they’re small, little nudges towards darkness that Alvarez himself is more than happy to embrace, even when it seems like his movie is being advertised heavily towards teens.

If anything, Don’t Breathe is for the true, die-hard horror-junkies, even if it’s not totally a horror flick.

Someone's trapped in the closet! Who's in the closet?

Someone’s trapped in the closet! Who’s in the closet? Get it? R. Kelly?

But like I said, that’s kind of why Don’t Breathe is so special – it’s as small, as contained and as simple as you can get with a movie, even better, a horror-thriller, but it works so well. Rather than seeming like a manipulative way to cut-down on budget costs and whatnot, Don’t Breathe‘s premise actually seems more freaky, in hindsight, in how it’s this one, singular incident, as opposed to the whole wide world. It’s not the scariest flick out there, but the gore, the action and the blood is in full-force and you know what? That’s alright with me.

That said, if there is any department that Don’t Breathe seems to need help in is that it’s characters aren’t all that well-written or dimensional, but that can be forgiven in a movie as short as this. It seems more like Alvarez gives them as much attention as he can, showing them in their lives, and then spurning them off into more crazy and insane havoc, where the lines are constantly being blurred between who’s a “good guy”, and who’s a “bad one”. Honestly, it’s hard to ever make sense of who is in the right, who is in the wrong, and who is just doing whatever the hell it is that they can to survive, but no matter what, it’s a compelling thrill-ride.

With, or without the scares.

Consensus: Small and contained, yet fun, compelling and most of all, surprising, Don’t Breathe is the kind of low-key horror-thriller that Hollywood seems to have given up on, but we’ll hopefully see more of.

8 / 10

He's foolin'. Dude's just trying to collect disability.

He’s foolin’. Dude’s just trying to collect disability.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Verge 

The Mechanic (2011)

Everyone needs a good mechanic. But for life.

Of all the high-order assassins in the business Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) may be the best there is, or that there has to offer. Bishop carries out his assignments with precision, detachment and adherence to a strict code, so that he never feels a single sting of emotion throughout his body when he’s completing these sometimes grueling and dangerous tasks. However, Bishop’s one and only true friend, Harry (Donald Sutherland), who also acted as something of a mentor, is tragically murdered, leading him to automatically think of who did it and just how they can be held accountable for their actions. Along for the ride is Harry’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), who is just as fired-up and upset about his dad’s death, but also knows that in order to extract revenge the right way, he’s going to have to listen to Bishop on everything he says, no matter what. And most of all, he’s going to have chill that energy down a whole lot.

I'm not worried. He knows why he's jumping.

I’m not worried. He knows why he’s jumping.

You’ve seen one Jason Statham movie and guess what? You’ve practically seen them all. Honestly, there’s not necessarily a problem with that; his screen-presence is still one of the most charming around that no matter how many times we see him beat the hell out of people, blow things up, and shoot big, heavy guns, we still love him and want to see more of him. Does that always mean that the movies themselves are all that great? Not really, but then again, they’re action movies – in today’s day and age, action movies hardly ever satisfy each and every person out there in the world, so the fact that Statham still does them and doesn’t show any signs of stopping, even while he’s nearing 50, is quite admirable.

And another reason why a movie like the Mechanic, as mediocre and fine as it may be, is also a solid reminder of what can happen when a Jason Statham movie actually seems to be trying.

For instance, the Mechanic is a little more than just another one of your typical Statham-vehicles – it’s also got another character to deal with that makes the movie more than just watching Statham do his thing. Ben Foster’s Steve is a solid character in a movie as crazy as this, because while he’s so incredibly high-strung and, honestly, over-the-top, there’s also still something of a bleeding heart at the center of this character. Sure, the movie could almost care less about how, or what he feels, but honestly, there’s something there with this character and it’s because Foster is such a good actor, that he’s able to make something as silly as this, the slightest bit meaningful.

Who can be balder?

Who can be balder?

Of course though, he also does a great job of creating some sort of chemistry with Statham, which looks as odd as it sounds. However, what’s so surprising about this pair, is that they actually do work well together; Foster’s wild card character, is a perfect match for Statham’s cool, calm and collected demeanor that never seems to falter. Together, the scenes of them shooting and taking down bad guys, while generic, also brings a certain flair of energy and joy because, as you can see, they’re having some fun here. Statham is, as usual, doing his usual act and is just fine at that, but Foster brings out a little something within him that, quite frankly, isn’t always seen from Statham.

Not totally a problem, but hey, every so often, it’s nice to get a reminder that Statham himself got his start on Guy Ritchie flicks and whatnot.

But either way, the action of the Mechanic is good enough for all of the junkies out there. It doesn’t necessarily light the world on fire (literally), but because director Simon West is more than capable of wading himself through all sorts of wild and crazy havoc, he does a fine job at making sure that it all works out. It’s effective in the kind of way that we can tell what’s going on, to whom, and what sort of effect it may actually be having on the characters involved. Yes, it sounds really stupid when speaking about an action flick, but it’s the small things like this that count the most and help make a seemingly conventional action-thriller like the Mechanic, seem like so much more.

Even if it is also just another excuse for us all to watch and admire all of the bad guys that Statham takes down and kills.

That, to be brutally honest, may never get old.

Consensus: Despite it still being conventional and predictable from the beginning, the Mechanic is still a solid Statham-vehicle that has all sorts of action and explosions, but also benefits from the much-accepted presence of Ben Foster.

6.5 / 10

Eat your heart out, ladies. Oh and guys, too. Definitely guys, because, seriously, why not? He's the 'Stath!

Eat your heart out, ladies. Oh and guys, too. Definitely guys, because, seriously, why not? He’s the ‘Stath!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Born to be Blue (2016)

Let’s get lost on all sorts of drugs and fun.

Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke), at an early stage in his life at least, truly was someone to love and behold. His records were selling like crazy, people wanted to meet him, be him, women loved him, and yes, he was even getting film-roles. But that all seemed to change one day when, all of a sudden, he gets his ass beaten within an inch of his life, taking out his teeth and vowing to never let him play again. Why did this happen? Well, let’s just say that Chet always had problems with drugs and money, and those that beat him up, had a good reason for it. But still, Chet is trying to make something out of this misfortune, whether it’s still continuing to record and play, or start a family with actress girlfriend Jane (Carmen Ejogo). No matter what though, no matter how hard he tries, or where he goes, Chet’s demons always follow him and it’s one of the main reasons why he’s stayed so far away from the mainstream.

Rather than being your ordinary, conventional biopic of a music-legend, Born to be Blue changes things up slightly. What writer/director Robert Budreau does here with the Chet Baker story is that he takes a part of the man’s life and films it for all of the world to see. By doing this, Budreau allows for us to see all that we need to see, or what we need to know about Baker, by highlighting this time in his life where he seemingly had it all, and then lost it all, in a matter of seconds.

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Does it really change the format a whole lot? Not really, but it’s a nice little change-of-pace for a genre that can get so old and tiring when it isn’t paying attention.

That said, Born to be Blue does a nice job at giving us the small details about Baker, his life, his personality, and his issues, that make us feel like we are actually getting to know him underneath all of the sweet-ass playing-skills. So often do biopics of these nature forget that one of the main reasons why people care so much to see these flicks in the first place, isn’t just to see an actor fake-playing an instrument or whatever, but actually getting a chance to see the heart and soul of said person. Here, Chet Baker is shown, warts and all, no apologies whatsoever, but that’s fine.

In a way, it makes the movie better, if a tad gloomy. Just when we think that life is going to turn out perfectly fine for Chet at this time in his life, little do we know that, right around the bend, is something tragic, sad, or depressing that’s going to turn him back to his old, evil ways. It’s quite upsetting really, because we get to see Baker as a sympathetic person all throughout, so that when he does turn that corner and begin to not just hurt himself, but those around him that love and support every little thing that he does, it hits even harder.

It’s meant to, because the rest of Born to be Blue depends on Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker and well, as you could have guessed it, he’s pretty great in the role. As usual for Hawke, he gets a chance to play it small, quiet and subtle as Baker, never fully lashing out into hysterics to show his pain, but still getting plenty of other chances to do so. We understand and we hear just how talented and great Baker is, but the tortured soul that lies somewhere in between it all, is seen through Hawke’s wonderful performance, showing more sides and dimensions to a person that deserves plenty of them.

Match made in jazz hell.

Match made in jazz hell.

Then again, it’s not entirely his movie, which is what makes Born to be Blue something special.

As Jane, a failing actress looking for that last glimmer of hope and fame, Carmen Ejogo is perfect, because she brings a lot of pleasantness and sweetness to a movie that sometimes forgets all about that. Her character is so interesting in her own right that she could have probably gotten her own movie, but as is, she serves as a solid counterpart to Baker’s sometimes outlandish ways, while giving us someone who loves and understands him exactly for who, or better yet, what he is. It helps that they have great chemistry, too, but really, it’s Ejogo who steals the movie from Hawke and everyone else.

Which is to say that the movie is good, if not great. The performances definitely help it, but it’s also quite limited in its scope and its affect, mostly because it still sets out to tell Baker’s story. While it’s effective at doing that, the emotional-connection that’s supposed to be felt, never quite comes through. Some of this could be chalked up to the fact that the movie is quite stand-offish when it comes to portraying Baker’s day-to-day interactions with the people around him, but it also comes down to the fact that maybe he was just such a mystery, in the way he acted and sounded, that it’s hard to make a movie that really gets to the meat of the matter.

We see him so sad and depressed, but why exactly? We hear some hints at his childhood, but really, they all come and go, while we just sit and watch as Hawke comes close to tears in every scene. Maybe there’s more to Baker than we’ll just ever know. For all we got now is the sweet and soulful music that he allowed for our ears to be treated to.

But was it enough? Unfortunately, we may never know or find out.

Consensus: Sad, but incredibly well-acted, Born to be Blue still suffers from being a biopic, but also has a keener-eye towards the heart that makes it seem slightly different and fresh.

6.5 / 10

Smile, Chet. It's okay.

Smile, Chet. It’s okay.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Hologram for the King (2016)

Mid-life crisis aren’t always so bad. Sometimes, you just need to go to Saudi Arabia.

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is going through a bit of a problem in his life right now. He’s middle-aged, reeling over a divorce, having issues with connecting with his teenage daughter, has some weird hump growing in his back, and is now stationed in Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. But the biggest problem for Alan seems to be that he just can’t connect with the world around him; he’s going through a great deal of culture-shock, but aside from a taxi-cab driver who shows him the land around him (Alexander Black), and a member of the Danish embassy (Sidse Babett Knudsen), he doesn’t really have anyone to hang out with, or better yet, talk to. And if that wasn’t bad already, the people in power that he’s supposed to be chatting with so that he can do his job, don’t ever seem to be around or ready to meet with him. However, it all changes one day when a doctor (Sarita Choudhury) helps him and begins to take a liking to him, showing him not just the beauty of Saudi Arabia, but the beauty of life, as a whole.

I think.

"Don't worry, Tom. You'll probably get another Oscar some time soon."

“Don’t worry, Tom. You’ll probably get another Oscar some time soon.”

A Hologram for the King is the perfect movie for your dad, if your dad is going through a really confusing time in his life. Say, for instance, he’s retired and doesn’t know how to take up any of his time now, has a new void to fill, and doesn’t know how to go about doing anything, let alone that, then yeah, A Hologram for the King is the kind of movie made strictly for your dad. It may get him out of his slump, it may not, but what it will do is offer a sometimes interesting view on the mid-life crisis.

But for others, it may not do anything else.

However, that’s less of a problem with age and more of a problem with the movie itself, as A Hologram for the King, despite having a lot to do, doesn’t have much to say about anyone or anything in it. This is surprising because, even in his lowest of lows, director Tom Twyker has always tried to make his material the least bit interesting, giving enough character details to go along with his spectacle. But in A Hologram for the King, it seems like he gets to swept-away with his location, his actors and his message, and forgets about how to make, well, a movie.

For example, there’s not really a plot to A Hologram for the King, except for a bunch of things that do, or better yet, don’t happen. While the movie likes to make a joke of the fact that this Alan Clay protagonist hardly ever gets to talk to the people he’s supposed to meet and talk to, after awhile, it gets to be a bit bothersome; it’s as if the movie itself doesn’t want to really do much of anything, or move along, so instead, it just constantly pushes back the expected. Maybe it’s unnecessary, but really, it made me feel as if the movie had no real plot and just wanted to show Tom Hanks being his lovable-self.

"Look! It's sand!"

“Look! It’s sand!”

And yes, Tom Hanks is doing just that and he’s perfect at it. Alan Clay is a pretty dull character, but Hanks is great at showing that there’s more to him that’s not just interesting, but pretty fun – even a random trip to the Mosque shows that Clay may have more to him than on the surface. But of course, the movie just sort of relies on Hanks so much, not really ever giving him a chance to actually work with a solid script, that it feels like he’s stretching at times. We get flashbacks and mentions of this character’s life before the flick and why he’s so sad, but really, none of it seems to register – Hanks tries to get that to happen, but the rest of the movie is so concerned with doing nothing, that it doesn’t matter.

But then again, there is a pleasant, almost easygoing feel to it that’s not terrible and can be entertaining. The self-discovery journey takes the movie in some crazy and odd places, but they’re not all that bad, or uninteresting – they do help make us see more of this character through the situations he gets into and how he acts in them. But really, the movie just wants to take its time, let Hanks do his thing, and that’s about it. There may be an important, almost life-changing message about growing older and accepting it for what it is, but I could never find it.

Maybe the message was that “going off to a foreign country, taking some pictures, seeing the sights, hanging with the natives, and drinking a lot will cure any sadness”, was it?

If so, this movie’s way better than I give it credit for.

Consensus: Despite a pleasant look, feel and pace courtesy of Twyker, A Hologram for the King never gets off the ground, due to its lack of a plot, or any actual emotions registering.

5 / 10

Hey, sometimes happiness is a simple drink in the middle of the day. Or so my old man tells me.

Hey, sometimes happiness is a simple drink in the middle of the day. Or so my old man tells me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Bronze (2016)

Third is the one with the treasure chest.

Back in the 2004 Olympics, Hope Greggory (Melissa Rauch) made the news when she came in third as a gymnast. She had an inspirational story to go along with her whole performance, and because of such, it made her a star. However, it didn’t last long, and now, many years later, she’s still trying to recapture that same sort of infamy she had almost a decade ago, by using it to her advantage at local restaurants and stores in her hometown. But the sad reality is that she still lives with her dad (Gary Cole), steals money from him and his job, and doesn’t really seem to do much with her life except just piss him off, or piss on the other people around her. But it all changes when, one day, her old coach tragically commits suicide and leaves an option up to her: Train a newly-developing talent (Haley Lu Richardson) for the Olympics and she’ll receive half-a-million dollars. Hope doesn’t really care about helping others, but she likes the idea of all that money, so she decides to take on the task, even if that means having to re-visit old demons and friends that she felt better leaving in the past.

That sort-of duck-face doe.

That sort-of duck-face doe.

For a lot of comedies, having detestable characters can sometimes work. Someone who is just so mean and nasty to the world around them, in ways, is pretty funny and honest – it’s easy to relate to a person when your deepest, darkest fears, are brought out by these people and their bursts of anger, however many or limited they may be. But then again, there is something to be said for having detestable characters in a comedy, just for the sake of it.

And that’s the biggest issue of the Bronze.

While it’s nice to see a movie so clear in defining a solid portion of its characters as “a-holes” and not really leaving much of a gray-area, the issue it runs into is that when there’s so many a-holes, what do you do when your movie wants to rely on heart, emotion and inspiration? To just be terrible the whole time, making evil jokes towards characters who probably don’t deserve it, doesn’t quite cut it – sometimes, it’s best to have at least two characters that you can, at the very least, sympathize with. They hold the ship together, even when it seems like the ship is drowning in its own anger and turmoil.

But it also doesn’t help if your characters are being mean to those around them, for no reason and not really having anything funny to say or do. In fact, most of the issues with the Bronze would have probably been forgiven and forgotten about, had the movie itself actually been funny – but nope, it isn’t. What it really is is an excuse to watch a bunch of people say mean things to one another, for the sake of doing so, add some sports in the mix, and yeah, that’s about it.

And honestly, I don’t even think it’s an excuse.

There is a small bit of heart to be found in the flick, and while the movie doesn’t try and get too awfully sentimental, sometimes, a little bit of that can help and go an awfully long way. Movies like Bad Santa, or Bad Teacher, where even the smallest glimmer of light shining through all of the crudeness, can sometimes make a movie better, just because it tries its hardest to paint this character in at least something of a different light and above all, show shadings. In the Bronze, we get some of those shadings with Hope, but they don’t feel believable, deserved, or all that earned; it’s as if the movie knew that it was just way too mean and had to make sure everybody got their hugs at the end of the day.

Eh. Who cares, really?

Eh. Who cares, really?

Which yeah, is perfectly fine (I like hugs), but it doesn’t work here. Melissa Rauch is fine as Hope, showing off a mean side that hardly ever goes away, but despite this being her own script, it’s surprising how very little she gives herself to do. You almost get the sense that she wrote a lot of this movie, with the idea that she would step into the role and have the chance to say all of these terrible and nasty things to people around her. She sure is having fun, but is anyone else? Not really and that’s the biggest problem.

Of course, others in the cast are a little bit better, but they too feel like wooden-shaped caricatures in a movie that wants to be cruel to them, but also give them some cake, too. Thomas Middleditch is great as someone Hope calls “Twitchy” and is fun to watch, but also has a heart to him that’s effective; Gary Cole is good as Hope’s supportive dad; Haley Lu Richardson is constantly sunny-eyed and bright; Cecily Strong plays the lower-class mother of the gymnast and is just over-the-top; and Sebastian Stan clearly seems to be having fun, playing and acting like a total d-bag. The best scene is probably between him and Rauch, where they have sex like you’d expect self-centered gymnasts to have sex like.

But unfortunately, despite it being the funniest scene, it’s also the most imaginative and original, something clearly missing from the rest of the Bronze.

Consensus: Mostly unfunny and unpleasant, the Bronze loves that it gets to be mean and say nasty things, but it never becomes fun or interesting to watch any of it happen.

3 / 10

Soak it in, honey. It don't last forever.

Soak it in, honey. It don’t last forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Morris From America (2016)

Those Germans need to get with the times.

After his mom died, Morris (Markees Christmas) and his dad (Craig Robinson) had to relocate to Germany, where the later currently works for the country’s soccer-team. While his dad is off, working, making money and trying to stay sociable and fun when he’s still reeling from the death of his wife, Morris is trying to keep his cool, have fun, make friends, and at the same time, learn German. However, it’s a lot harder for Morris than any other German kid, because not only is he American, but he’s also black and a lot of the kids his age tend to pick on him for that reason. The only one who doesn’t is Katrin (Lina Keller), an older girl who is definitely a lot more rebellious than her fellow teenagers and hangs out with Morris a lot, making him feel as if he’s got a shot of making it with her. But sooner or later, Morris starts to act out in ways that upsets his dad and his tutor (Carla Juri), leading Morris to be more and more rebellious, while still trying to live out of his dream of, one day, becoming a successful rapper.

Uh oh. Teenage boy and girl on bed.

Uh oh. Teenage boy and girl on bed.

Morris From America is an odd flick in that I’m not quite sure who it’s for. It’s a coming-of-ager of sorts, that mostly all people can relate, but it’s also kind of a kids movie. Then again, it’s the kind of kids movie where characters cuss, do drugs, and even have phone-sex. If anything, it’s less of an inaccessible movie, as much as it’s one that’s so adult, that it actually pushes away the target audience who it could be made for and could clearly benefit from seeing this the most.

But either way, it doesn’t matter, because Morris From America is still a fine flick; it’s the kind that seems conventional and definitely is, but it’s heart is big, pure and so full of love, that even despite its conventions and often times, random bits of oddness that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, it’s hard to hate. It’s a teddy bear of a movie – soft, furry, and so cuddly, that it wants love and in return, you give it the love it oh so desires. Does that necessarily make it a great movie? Not really, but it makes it a good one that, on paper, probably shouldn’t be as good as it look and definitely sounds.

Cause really, even despite it trying to seem really hard like a witty and likable coming-of-ager for all the black teens forced to live in Germany, it’s actually a lot darker and far more serious than that.

For instance, it’s the kind of movie where the bullying seems downright mean, but also believable and kind of disturbing. Not to get into too many details, but Morris is picked-on from where he’s from, what he looks like, and is often called “Kobe Bryant”, by the white, German kids around him – normally, in films such as these, the teasing can sometimes seem random and deliberate, as if the movie itself just knew that it needed to conjure up some tension – but surprisingly, it doesn’t feel that way here. What Morris gets teased for is believable, as cruel as it may be, and yeah, it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to stop, either. Writer/director Chad Hartigan takes a bold step showing that no matter how hard Morris himself tries, he may never be as loved or as accepted as he should, and it’s pretty sad to watch.

If he tells you to go to your room, you best do it.

If he tells you to go to your room, you best do it.

But it also makes Morris all the more sympathetic, even if he can be a little bratty and selfish at times. Still though, Hartigan makes it very clear that Morris is a 13-year-old boy, who literally has no clue what’s going on around him half of the time and is still trying to make sense of himself, his life and his surroundings, and because of that, he’s going to make a lot of dumb decisions. Also, who hasn’t done stupid things at age 13? Yeah, like I said, it’s a sympathetic character and it’s one that Markees Christmas is pretty great with, even despite being so young. While I’m not sure if it’s his first movie or not, the movie gives him a lot to do, even when he has no dialogue; a simple look here and there is more than needed to make this character work and still be believable, and he handles it all well, seeming like a professional and definitely a young actor with bright things to come.

And hell, with that lovely name, how could he not?

But honestly, the biggest shock and perhaps most pleasant surprise of Morris From America is just how perfect Craig Robinson is in a role that does not seem tailor-made for him. For the longest time, Robinson has always been seen as the big and likable goof-ball, who says and does funny things when needed, and yeah, he always kills it at that. And while he’s definitely still that funny, chuckle-worthy dude here, it’s a lot more serious this time around and it works amazingly. Every scene where Robinson shows up, is gold because there’s a certain sense of sadness to his character, that you feel for, but at the same time, you also know that he’s got something smart to say and bring to the rest of the scene. Though the advertising may have you think otherwise, Robinson is not in the movie all of the time, but if that was the case, it would be no problem, as it’s as much of his flick, considering what he has to do and how he pulls it off so effortlessly.

And yes, it definitely made me forget of Mr. Robinson, thank heavens.

Consensus: Heartfelt and poignant, Morris From America is a sweet and sometimes honest tale about growing up, fitting in, finding your voice, and trying to get through the hard times, but never being sappy or melodramatic about any of it.

7 / 10

Eh. Germany's weird anyway.

Eh. Germany’s weird anyway.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hell or High Water (2016)

Crime? Yeah. Keep it in the family.

Toby and Tanner Howard set out to rob a bunch of banks across the Texas region, but for what reasons? Toby (Chris Pine) has two kids that he’s got to support, whereas Tanner (Ben Foster), doesn’t really. The two are brothers who haven’t been in contact much all of these years, but for some reason, have now caught back up to do a bunch of a bank jobs, save up some money, and become all nice and rich. However, hot on their tail is aging, almost-retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). While the brothers think they have the plan down to a T and are going to run into no mishaps along the road, of course, they do end up actually having some issues, whether it be poor-planning, or Tanner acting out in violent, sometimes dangerous ways. Either way, the bros have a plan that they’re going to stick to and stay alive with, even if Hamilton knows a thing or two about robbers of these sorts and isn’t going to back down from a challenge, even if his older age is telling him that it’s time to settle down and just retire already.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

It’s nice to get a movie as relaxed and laid-back as Hell or High Water, yet, at the same time, still be tense and on-edge while watching it. Director David Mackenzie knows his way around a suspenseful sequence and doesn’t shy away from kicking up the action to high-gear, whenever he sees fit. However, he also makes the smart decision to slow things down whenever is necessary, so that we get a sense of this setting, these characters, their relationships, and just exactly what’s at-stake. Honestly, it’s movie-making 101, but for some reason, it still surprises me that we get so few of that in movies nowadays that when I do get it, it’s a nice and pleasant surprise.

Which is why, for the late-summer, Hell or High Water is definitely a nice jump of joy.

It’s not the kind of movie that breaks down barriers, or brings peace to the whole world, but it’s the kind of movie that shows how much can be done, with so little. Even when it seems like Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan are way too comfortable and don’t really have anywhere to go, they all of a sudden pull something from underneath the rug and give us an action-sequence, a speech, or just a conversation between two characters that’s just as exciting as any of the shoot-outs or car-chases. Although, that isn’t to say that the shoot-outs and car-chases are fun and exciting, because they most definitely are, but they aren’t the bulk of the movie and that’s what matters most.

In a way, Hell or High Water is much more about some sort of political statement than any sort of popcorn crime-thriller; sure, it takes absolute joy in being all about sweaty Southern gals and pals cussing and shooting and robbing, but it also enjoys having a little something to say about these aspects as well. It’s a lot like a 99 Homes in that it speaks out against the government, the banks, and the whole entire system that would make two brothers feel as if they needed to rip-off of a bunch of banks, for whatever reason. The movie’s very hush-hush on their reasoning until a certain point (which, when it is revealed, makes a lot of sense and is pretty damn smart), but it’s more about how a world like ours can produce people to rebel and fight back against a system that’s constantly ripping them off and robbing them of their own goods and will.

It’s less preachy than I make it sound, trust me, but it’s still effective all the same.

That’s why a cast like this is so good and so needed to make sure that all of the material comes off organically; to have a bunch of silly, sometimes cartoonish Southerners go on and on about society and the United States government would get to be a bit old and not believable, but the ensemble does make it all work. But when they aren’t spouting-off their political ideas or beliefs, they’re also building their characters up to be understandable human beings, and not just goofy characters in a crime-thriller.

She's probably the biggest bad-ass of them all, and she doesn't even rob a bank. Or does she?

She’s probably the biggest bad-ass of them all, and she doesn’t even rob a bank. Or does she?

For instance, the brotherhood between Ben Foster and Chris Pine’s characters is so well-written, yet subtle, that you feel as if they’ve known each other their whole lives, have had issues in the past, but have gotten over all of them for the sake of growing older and allowing for bygones to be bygones. Foster is a compelling nutcase, whereas Pine is a lot smaller and understated, but all the more interesting, as we know that he’s got a head on his shoulder, but why he’s doing what he’s doing is always left in the air. It does eventually get answered, but really, it’s the mystery that keeps him so watchable.

And then, of course, there’s the always reliable Jeff Bridges, in full-on Rooster Cogburn-form, howling and cackling as much as he possibly can. But no matter what, he’s always lovable and fun-to-watch, even when it seems like his character may be running into caricature-territory. However, as good as he may be, it’s really Gil Birmingham who steals the show, offering a sweeter look into the life on an American that we don’t always see in movies, nor do we see get all that much attention as he does here. It’s the kind of quiet and contained performance that gets overlooked with so many big names and big performances, but it’s the kind that I loved and made me want to see more of, even if it’s just a supporting character.

Still though, he deserves his own movie and it’s one that I definitely wouldn’t mind watching.

Consensus: Small and understated, yet, still tense, exciting, compelling and most importantly, well-acted, Hell or High Water is a nice diversion from the rest of what the summer’s got to offer and definitely well worth a look.

8.5 / 10

Kirk got lost somewhere in Texas and hasn't called back yet. He's just having way too much fun.

Kirk got lost somewhere in Texas and hasn’t called back yet. He’s just having way too much fun.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Cinema Clock

War Dogs (2016)

The American Dream, circa Generation-Y, yo.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) hasn’t made much of his life since the days of high school. When he isn’t giving rich dudes massages for $75 an hour, he’s out there, trying to sell high-end bed sheets to retirement homes. Needless to say, it’s a very unfortunate life he has, but with the return of his old pal, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), his luck may have changed. Seeing as how they were best pals back in the day and can probably trust one another with everything, Efraim asks for David to be his partner in his selling and supplying weapons to U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. While David isn’t quite sure of how this arms-dealing business works, he soon learns the ropes and wouldn’t you know it? Him and Efraim are raking in all sorts of dough, not to mention getting the interest of the Pentagon, who see two youngsters making it big and succesful in America. However though, little does anyone outside of David or Efraim know, that the two are up to no good and more often than not, finding themselves in some murky areas of the law that may possibly bring them down, have them arrested, or better yet, even get them killed.

I'm impressed, too.

I’m impressed, too.

For Todd Phillips, it seems like War Dogs is his the Big Short. Whereas the later was directed by Adam McKay, someone trying to break out of the mold of directing silly comedies, by exposing the U.S.’s financial history and how it caused for the rest of society to go insane, War Dogs shows Phillips trying to do the same thing, but by exposing America’s reliance on guns and arms-dealers, most importantly, this true tale. In fact, the tale is so crazy and wild, that you’d think making a movie and trying to capture that sense of wackiness would be pretty difficult, but honestly, Phillips works well with the material.

It may not be the movie that makes him out to be a voice to be reckoned with, but it’s a step in the right direction away from another Hangover movie.

Anyway, yeah, what works best about War Dogs is that it has such a crazy real-life tale, that all Phillips really has to do is play by the facts of the story and leave it at that. He, as well as the movie, works best at that because there’s a certain sense of seriousness hiding underneath every zany moment; just when you think it’s all “too good to be true”, check it out and guess what? It’s damn true.

War Dogs is also the kind of movie that has a lot of story and ground to cover, yet, handles it quite effortlessly. The movie could have easily been tied-down in trying to explain just how these two bros were able to access all of these weapons in the first place, but instead of focusing down on that so much, they make a mention of it and continue on with these guys’ adventure into becoming legitimate arms-dealers. It’s kind of a silly tale, but it’s one that’s hard not to believe in, nor get tied-up in because there really is an energy and excitement to it that hasn’t been found in any of Phillips’ movies since the first Hangover.

And in ways, War Dogs is a lot less like the Big Short, than it’s more like Blow, or as it wishes, possibly even Scarface.

It’s the kind of movie that we’ve probably seen before, has a whole lot of ambitions that it doesn’t necessarily reach, but is so entertaining and fun when it gets moving, that it’s hard to hold anything against. Phillips does something smart in that he doesn’t focus too much on the small, itty, bitty details and instead, just lets loose and allows for us to watch as these guys rise up the ranks. We know we’re supposed to hate them for what they’re doing and who they’re supplying weapons to, but honestly, it’s so difficult to do so when the ride of watching them become more and more rich, is so much fun to begin with.

And honestly, in a summer that’s been filled with quite a few duds, it’s nice to have a movie that’s having fun with itself, but also ask for the audience to join in it as well.

Miles, guns are bad. Stay away. Unless you can make a pretty penny off of them, then forget about it.

Miles, guns are bad. Stay away. Unless you can make a pretty penny off of them, then forget about it.

That said, War Dogs does run into issues with seeming like it wants to have something more to do and say about what story it’s presenting, but ultimately, drops the ball on that front. Phillips himself seems as if he’s both for and against these guys; he likes how they’ve seemingly used their smarts and cons to get all of the money that they wanted and seem like legitimate businessman while doing so, but at the same time, also doesn’t like how they went about their business-dealings. The movie does toggle with the idea of making money off of terrorists, as opposed to making it off of government agencies, but as soon as its brought up, it goes away.

It’s a bit of a shame, too, because War Dogs does work whenever it seems as if it wants to dig deeper into these characters, their lives, and their relationship with one another. It helps that Teller and Hill are perhaps the most charismatic young actors we have working today, but regardless, the two work so well together that they do feel like best pals, who are absolutely loving everything about life. Teller gets to play his role more meek and quiet this time around, whereas Hill gets to play slimy and gritty, but also showing that he may be a good friend, as well.

The issue is that with these two characters, that’s only who they end up being: Best pals.

They run through certain problems that all business-partners run through and yeah, they also have small squabbles in between, but there’s more of a heart missing to this movie that makes so many of those other crime-dramas work so well. We may not have to like their actions, or better yet, even like them as a whole, but any sort of characteristic that resembles being sympathetic, would definitely help make this journey all the more compelling. It still works as is, don’t get me wrong, but a little more attention to the stuff that counts would have helped out a whole lot.

Consensus: Fast, exciting and above all else, entertaining, War Dogs paints it true story as a typical rags-to-riches story, but with a darker edge, even if it doesn’t always connect with every mark it sets out to hit.

7.5 / 10

True bros.

True bros.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Joshy (2016)

When depressed, hang with the bros.

Josh (Thomas Middleditch) and his fiancee (Alison Brie) were all set and ready to get married. However, she decided to take her life, leaving her family, friends, and most importantly, Josh, heartbroken. Why did she do it? Well, no one really knows why, however, Josh’s friends intend on cheering him up the way that they feel is necessary for someone dealing with a tragedy of this kind. That’s why, nearly four months later, the bros all come up to the house somewhere in the mountains, dedicated to them all partying it up and living life, as if it was Josh’s bachelor party, which was what it was supposed to be in the first place. But the guys don’t get bogged down by the sad details and decide that it’s time to get all of the beer, drugs, guns and women that they can find to get Josh’s mind off of everything. But it’s not just Josh who has some problems to wade through, as most of the guys seem to be going through their own issues on this one weekend, figuring out where to go next with their lives and how, just how the hell on Earth, are they going to grow-up and be responsible adults.

Cheer up, Joshy. They don't call you that name all of the time, right?

Cheer up, Joshy. They don’t call you that name all of the time, right? Cause if they did, that actually would kind of suck.

The mumblecore movement may not be quite as vibrant as it once was back in the beginning of the decade, however, it’s still alive and well, bringing in more and more outsiders to the indie-world, showing off their talent for improv and on-the-fly film making that can, often times, create things of beauty. Drinking Buddies seems like the highlight of the mumblecore flicks, in terms of its scope, who it involved, and what it actually did, but there’s been a few every now and then, offering up lovely bits of insightful entertainment.

And now, with his second-feature, Jeff Baena seems as if he’s ready to throw himself into the mumblecore world and doing a pretty good job at it, too.

Of course, what makes a mumblecore movie as good as it may set out to be, is that it needs a reason, or better yet, a purpose to exist. Most of the time, these movies can sometimes seem like low-budget versions of Adam Sandler flicks where, just like him, they use the excuse of a movie being made to get away with having a bunch of their friends around, do and say silly things. While this may work for most film makers because it doesn’t ask for all that much dedication and money, the problems that it can sometimes bring up is the fact that the story itself isn’t always the snappiest and, if anything, made-up as the film-making runs on by.

Here though, Baena does something smart in that he allows for the actual tragedy of Josh’s ex-fiancee to really carry the movie along, feeling less of like an excuse, and more of something resembling a reason. Of course, the darker aspects of the story come out in full-form by the end, and doesn’t quite connect, but at least it’s a movie that’s trying to be something more than the typical “cool, funny, and talented people hang out for a weekend”. While those movies can tend to be quite fun and exciting, they can also become a tad mundane, when you don’t have much of a narrative-drive moving it along.

In Joshy, aside from the tragic suicide early on, the real plot is figuring out these characters, their lives, their problems, and just how they’re going to get out of them. It’s almost too simple, but it kind of works, because Baena has been able to assess a great group of actors to make the material work, even when it seems like they’re just going with the flow. Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch, Alex Ross Perry, Brett Gelman, and Adam Pally play the core group here and they’ve all got their own problems to work through, some clearly more important than others, but all at least registering on some level.

Longed-hair Adam Pally? I don't know!

Longed-hair Adam Pally? I don’t know!

Of course, this doesn’t always allow for the characters to come off as likable, either, which is probably fine, in Joshy’s case.

Baena doesn’t allow for his movie to be too pleased or happy with itself; eventually, the characters do have to learn a thing or two about the lives that they live and why it’s not always best to act 13, when you’re 35, or at the very least, nearing it. Joe Swanberg himself shows up and brings these characters down to real life and it’s a honest, relatively tense scene, which is what Joshy seemed to be missing the most of. With the exception a confrontation by the end, Joshy doesn’t really have any confrontation or tension in the air, which I felt was necessary for a movie like this to really work, where jerks are hanging around each other too much, getting on each other’s nerves constantly.

Of course, Baena may not have cared much for this, but while watching Joshy, it’s hard not to imagine what could happen, had the movie tried a tad bit harder. It’s nice to get all your talented and lovely friends all together, in one room, let them do their things, and start shooting, but after awhile, it can start to feel like just a bunch of fun-sequences, and that’s about it. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how charming the cast is – sometimes, more story is better.

Consensus: With a likable and talented cast, Joshy‘s improvised, low-budget feel works, but also doesn’t allow for there to be much of a story, either.

6.5 / 10

I'll jump in. No skivvies is fine with me.

I’ll jump in. No skivvies is fine with me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Bollywood Reads

Polisse (2011)

See, not all cops are terrible, immoral human beings!

The men and women who work in the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police see and deal with a lot on a regular basis. They not only deal with the stress of their jobs but the inevitable fall-out in their personal lives-breakdowns, including, but definitely not limited to, divorce, adulterous relations within the force, and most importantly, depression. After all, seeing the world through some of this abused and endangered children can do quite a number on a person, and when you’re seeing it about a dozen times a day, eventually, all of that pain and turmoil can begin to take a toll on you. As is the case with mostly every member of the Parisian Police, they deal with a lot, but they also have such a strong unit that even when they do run into issues, whatever they may be, they always come together and help each other. But sometimes, as is most of the cases here, that doesn’t always happen and often times, the members can feel betrayed and left-out, without a hand to hold, or a shoulder to cry on.

Uh oh. Some bad person's going to get it.

Uh oh. Some bad person’s going to get it.

A lot of Polisse, honestly, feels like a documentary. Writer/director Maïwenn does something smart and interesting with her material in that she allows for it all to be filmed in all-too real way, where we’re literally flies on the walls, watching as this police unit do everything that they do during a normal working day and night. She doesn’t pass any judgement on any character, she doesn’t paint any person as a sort of a “caricature”, and she sure as hell doesn’t get in the way of everything that’s happening; if anything, her camera is just there to be documentation for all that these policemen and woman have to put up with on a regular basis.

And yes, it can get pretty brutal.

But once again, Maïwenn does something interesting with the material in that she doesn’t allow for it all to get so bogged down in the sadness and misery of the proceedings. While the cases that we hear and see play-out can sometimes be all too disturbing and screwed-up, Maïwenn shows that this, yet again, another day in the life of these men and women. She’s not lionizing them and making them out to be perfect human beings, nor is she really making it seem like what they do is the hardest job of all – she’s just showing that they have a job to do and it can be, often times, a pretty miserable one.

Even if the movie itself doesn’t get too bogged down in the sad aspects of the story, the lives of some of these characters can be, and it’s interesting that Maïwenn put her focus on these characters in the first place. Normally, whenever watching a piece on child-abuse cases and scandals, the focus is normally put on the abused and the abuser, without much variation of the form. Here, however, Maïwenn puts her focus on, honestly, the people who really matter the most; they’re the ones who follow the case from the very beginning and do whatever it is that they can to find the person responsible, and stop them before they continue to go on and cause more pain and harm to children.

If anything, they’re the heroes of the story, but how come they don’t often get the spotlight they deserve?

The kid looks up to the police now, but wait till they get a little older and start to see the world.

The kid looks up to the police now, but wait till they get a little older and start to see the world. Sadly, it may not last.

Either way, Maïwenn paints them all in an honest, never shying away from their issues, as well as what makes them so good at their job in the first place. While it would have been incredibly easy for Maïwenn to show each and everyone of these characters as near-perfect human beings, without a fault in their systems, she goes one step further and shows that, in some ways, they’re more screwed-up than you’d expect – sometimes, it’s because of the job, sometimes, it’s not. They don’t always make the right decisions and they sure as hell don’t always know when enough is, well, enough, but they do their jobs to the best of their ability and they got the job done.

Sometimes, isn’t that all you really need?

Of course, the ensemble cast of characters work best because of the cast working with them, some of whom get more love and attention than others, which is fine, because they’re all good. Joeystarr plays Fred and has some of the more emotional and powerful scenes of the whole flick, showing just how his own home situation can come out onto the work that he’s doing in bad, unprofessional ways; Karin Viard plays Nadine showing an emotional vulnerability unseen in the rest of the characters; and while she’s considered an out-lier by the rest of the characters, Marina Foïs plays the photographer, documenting this group as they all pal around together and try to make ends meet on the job, showing a lot more insight than you’d expect.

But really, what makes all of these characters work so well together is that there’s a real feeling of love and connection between them all, making it feel as if they really are a family, that can’t be toyed with or destroyed, no matter how many harrowing experiences come in their way. The movie, once again, doesn’t make them out to be perfect human beings, but shows that sometimes, having the hand of your fellow man or woman, is sometimes what helps people out the most.

All it takes is a little hand-holding.

Consensus: Polisse doesn’t shy away from the gritty and upsetting features of its story/cases, but it also shows us real, honest characters that don’t so often get the attention that they probably deserve.

8.5 / 10

Hey! That's not UPS!

Hey! That’s not UPS!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sausage Party (2016)

I prefer my groceries non-verbal and dead, thank you very much.

Frank (Seth Rogen) is a sausage in a grocery store and just like every other product in this grocery store, they all dream of a better life, where they’re picked up by customers, taken out of their plastic wrappers, and brought onto “the promised land”. While no product has any actual idea of what lies ahead, once they are picked up and bought, their imaginations run so wild that they create a song and dance number to make themselves more attractive to the customers, or as they call them, “Gods”. For Frank, however, it’s less about being taken to this so-called “promised land”, and more or less allowed to finally have some sweet, sweaty and dirty sex with his girlfriend, a bun named Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig). But for some reason, as of late, Frank has been contemplating the world outside of the grocery store and because of this, he doesn’t really know if he wants to be taken to “the promised land”, leading him on this wild adventure of getting back on the store-shelves, while also ensuring that what he’s doing is right.

You know, what normal store-bought sausage franks think about on a regular basis.

The truth about sausages and buns.

The truth about sausages and buns.

The whole idea of Sausage Party is that it’s an R-rated, raunchy-as-all-hell, mean, vulgar, and nasty animated flick that’s mean to some sort of play on Toy Story, where inanimate objects walk, talk, and act, just like you or I, yet, at the same time, don’t really know much about the world around them, other than what they see in their small, contained worlds and possibly what their told. Honestly, it’s a genius idea that’s a lot more ambitious than it sounds and given the cast and crew involved, it’s a surprise that this didn’t come around sooner. Studios already have issues shelling out loads and loads of money to R-rated movies as is, let alone animated ones that are clearly not at all for kids, even if they’ll probably see the numerous ads, billboards and posters, wondering just what it’s all about and whether or not their parents can take them to see it.

Which is why Sausage Party, despite not being a great movie, is still a step in the right direction for more of these kinds of flicks to come out. Sure, they may be a better, or they may be a lot worse than Sausage Party, but still, they’re R-rated animated flicks, made by and strictly for adults. All of this garbage said, Sausage Party works when it’s trying to be a little more than what it appears to be on the surface; there’s lots of swears and cursing going on, some of which just feel like overkill, but there are also some nice little plays on this grocery-store world and puns, that make it feel like this movie had to take place with the kind of story that it has.

But then again, there’s also a slew of jokes and plays-on-words that are meant to be funny, but unfortunately, just aren’t.

Tequila's always fun no matter what form.

Tequila’s always fun no matter what form.

And really, that’s what it all comes down to when you’re working with a comedy – the jokes have to be funny and if they aren’t, then it’s a problem. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times in which I laughed during Sausage Party, but there were also plenty of times that I didn’t, and it seemed disappointing, considering that everyone involved here are funny people and can make me laugh like a hyena, when they feel is necessary. The fact that they don’t always win me over with laughter, is fine, but when your movie is literally one joke after another, and a good portion of them don’t connect, it’s hard not to notice.

That said, Sausage Party still does work, because it’s got more on its mind than just talking-food – as was the case with This is the End, Sausage Party is a movie in which Apatow friends and company, all question their existence and wonder whether or not there is more to life than just what’s being presented to them. It’s a silly allegory, mostly due to the fact that it’s talking-food asking and looking for answers to these burning questions, but it’s an allegory that’s still smart and makes sense, given this story and these characters. There’s also all of this talk of race relations, religion and, believe it or not, politics, all of which don’t really feel necessary and don’t always work, but still make this more than what you’d expect it to be.

But still, Sausage Party isn’t trying to change the world we live in, and that’s okay. It’s a silly movie, that has fun with itself to the point of where it’s enjoyable and it doesn’t ask for much attention or thought necessary. The cast, as usual, is great, with Nick Kroll probably the stand-out as the Deuche, who sounds and acts like a Jersey Shore bro, as well as Edward Norton doing a very odd Woody Allen-impersonation. Not sure if the movie needed that later one, but hey, Edward Norton voicing a bagel is pretty cool, so I’ll take it.

I may not eat it, because that’s creepy, but I’ll take it.

Consensus: While not necessarily lighting the comedic world on fire, Sausage Party still works well with its creative idea, bringing out laughs and a surprising amount of food-for-thought while it’s at it.

7 / 10

Hungry now?

Hungry now?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Anthropoid (2016)

It’s hard to be so secretive when it seems like every Nazi screams at the top of their lungs.

In December 1941, two agents from the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) are parachuted into their occupied homeland. Together, the two are sent on a mission to take out Reinhard Heydrich, otherwise known as “the Butcher of Prague”. While it’s no easy, or better yet, simple mission, the two men are smart and determined enough to where they feel as if they will be able to complete this mission, and maybe even live to tell the story afterwards. But regardless of all that, they’re more worried about being able to get start the mission in the first place and reach their target, which will be a lot harder than expected, what with growing suspicions of spies in Czechoslovakia and certain Nazi soldiers wandering around, looking for any bit of controversy that they can shoot citizens dead for.

Yeah, not very good at hiding bro.

Yeah, not very good at hiding bro.

Every year, there’s always a few movies featuring/covering the same material that seem to have the misfortune of being made and coming out roughly around the same time. This year, it turns out that there’s not one, but two flicks made about Operation Anthropoid; obviously, there’s this one and the other, the star-studded HHhH, is set out to come out later this year. Whether or not which movie is the better of the two, isn’t known yet, but having seen Anthropoid, it’s safe to say that possibly, just possibly, that other flick may have the edge.

Of course, I could be mistaken, but either way, Anthropoid, the movie, as it is, is fine, but also leaves plenty of room for improvement.

What’s interesting about the way in which director/producer/co-writer Sean Ellis frames this whole story, is how he does it all in three parts, when you don’t necessarily expect that. You expect there to be a lot of planning of the mission, the execution of the mission, and eventually, the fallout of the mission, which is what Ellis shows here, but he doesn’t necessarily focus on the details you expect. There’s not all that much attention paid to the planning and the maneuvering of the mission, and in place of all that, there’s more scenes dedicated to the real men involved with this mission and developing them.

Which honestly, is perfectly fine, however, in order for a movie to work with this way, there needs to be interesting characters worth watching and caring about. Unfortunately for Anthropoid, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš just aren’t made all that compelling here; they’re shown as the good guys in this story, who will do whatever it takes to complete their mission, but that’s really all there is. There’s an attempt to flesh both of them out by giving them romantic love-interests of sorts, to flirt and chat with, but it never quite works – it already feels like filler and just makes the lead-up to the actual mission itself all the more bothersome.

And this isn’t anything against anyone in the cast in particular, nor is it especially against Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan. The two, as well as everyone else here, are perfectly fine; Murphy has those steely-blue eyes that would make a grown man cry, and Dornan, while still working in that pretty-boy look and feel, seems more genuine this time around than I’ve seen him anything else so far. But like I said, the two try hard to make these characters more than conventional heroes and unfortunately, that’s how they come off as at the end, with some shading here and there.

Uh oh. Mr. Grey is not too happy about the first movie's reviews.

Yeah, I don’t know if Anastasia quite had this in mind when she said “spicing things up a bit.”

Then again, the bright side of Anthropoid is that once the mission goes down, the movie gets significantly better.

All of a sudden, there’s a certain push, pull and feel in the air that wasn’t around for the first half-hour or so – it appears like Ellis himself knew that in order for this movie to really get kicking, giving us the actual mission is the best way to do so. It works, too, as the rest of the movie continues to build on and amp-up the tension as it goes along, even if you already know how the story ends and what happens to everyone involved.

Which does beg the question of whether or not this movie, or the other, really needed to be made? If people already know the story and you don’t really do much to put a spin on it, its effect, or its relevance to the audience, then what’s the point? It seems like Ellis, with Anthropoid, seems to be honoring these fallen men who gave their lives to taking down a ruthless and evil force, which is fine, but they don’t really get much time, or attention – or, at least not as much as the action-sequences do.

And honestly, the action worked. However, Ellis never seems like he has anything of actual interest to say, or bring up, when portraying the events that happened. They can be horrifying and downright suspenseful to watch, but shouldn’t they be something more? Or should they just be as they are? I don’t know. Maybe the other flick will have something to say.

Or then again, maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.

Consensus: Anthropoid wants to be a passionate and heartfelt tribute to those fallen, but in reality, settles for being a slam-bang, suspenseful and exciting action-thriller. A good one, but still, an action-thriller nonetheless.

6.5 / 10

"First, this dude, next, Hitler! After that, the world!"

“First, this dude, next, Hitler! After that, the world!”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Teaser-Trailer.com

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

While I’m never too sure about what’s lurking in the woods, dragons aren’t the first things that come to mind.

When Pete (Oakes Fegley) was just a small kid, his parents were killed in a tragic car-accident. The only one/thing there to protect and be there for him, actually came in the form of a huge dragon that Pete went on to name “Elliot”. Now, it’s been a couple of years and Pete and Elliot are getting along swimmingly; they love one another so much that they run around the forest together and get in all sorts of wacky and wild hijinx. It’s the kind of relationship every person could ever want in a best friend, and this kid Pete has it with this huge dragon that some townspeople believe in, and others don’t. However, Pete gets spotted one day by a park ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard), who believes that she can provide all of the solace and comfort that Pete needs in a world like this, even if Pete can’t stay away from Elliot, leading to some dangerous results for all parties involved.

If the warm, comforting hug of Robert Redford doesn't make you feel safe, then nothing will.

If the warm, comforting hug of Robert Redford doesn’t make you feel safe, then nothing will.

It’s a common conception that movies made for families and kids, tend to be quick. The reason for this is because kids are young and because of that, they don’t have the best attention-spans and can’t give a hoot about certain plot intricacies that movies aimed at an older-audience, sometimes like to get bogged down in. This summer has been no exception to that rule and it shows that yes, even if kids do like to have everything at their disposal, come so fast and crazy, doesn’t it also matter that things slow the hell down, too? Well, that’s why a kids movie like Pete’s Dragon exists and proves to the world that not all kids flicks need to be as action-packed and quick as a Fast and Furious movie.

Sometimes, a much slower, more melodic pace is just fine, so long as there is something to focus in on.

Director David Lowery (who may seem like an odd choice, given his directorial debut was the bloody, violent, and very adult Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) knows exactly what he wants to do with this story, but he doesn’t get too carried away on providing all of the high-flying and quick action that you’d come to expect with Disney kids flicks. Instead, he likes to focus on such things like plot, setting, and, well, believe it or not, characters. To Lowery, or so it seems from his two movies, knows a beautiful shot when he sees one, but also knows that what goes into them best is when you have a sense of place, time and character-development, to where you care more about everything that’s going on.

Sure, this may seem like Film-Making 101 here, but you’d be surprised how many films miss this part in the first place – especially kids flicks. Lowery allows for Pete’s Dragon, the movie, to settle in and get its own groove going; we get some wonderful CGI and some nifty running-around sequences, but mostly, Lowery is taking his time, giving us a better chance to get to know what we’re working with here. And it’s why Pete’s Dragon, when the adventure is all said and done, is quite a tear-jerker.

But it’s the right kind that earns the tears, and not some manipulative piece that needs so badly to rip them out of your sockets.

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

What Pete’s Dragon works best with, is how it gives off this sense of sadness in the air, even when you assume that certain scenes are supposed to be cheerful and relatively crowd-pleasing. There are a lot of scenes involving Pete and Elliot, just alone, by themselves, and clearly in need of something greater than just themselves; Lowery doesn’t hammer us over the head with this idea (just like he doesn’t with the environmental message that pops up every now and then), but he shows it in some honest, telling and heartbreaking ways. It’s very rare that kids movies are as moody as this, but Lowery finds just the right notes to play, at the right times.

Then again, the movie honestly isn’t as downtrodden as I make it sound; there’s a lot of fun to be had with this adventure, these characters, and also this setting, in general. Considering that it’s supposed to be set in the late-70’s/early-80’s, there’s a very Spielberg-y feel to it that doesn’t feel like a rip-off, as much as it feels like a sign-of-the-times; people were a lot sunnier and cheerier then, while also wanting to explore the ever-regions of the forest for something mystical, hell, even magical. The movie wears its nostalgia on its sleeve, but it never overdoes it and can, often times, feel like a movie that could have definitely been made around the same time as E.T.

But I digress.

The later part of Pete’s Dragon is overextended and honestly, the movie may be a tad long by at least 15 minutes, but that’s almost too hard to really be mad about when there’s this much attention to the small stuff that so many other summer blockbusters of this nature and for this audience, seem to forget about. The characters all have their own personalities, but they don’t feel one-note; Karl Urban’s one character may seem like the villain, but as time goes on, we start to see that there’s more shading to him than before, even if he is a tad laughable. Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley and Robert Redford also show up as the adults, too, and they’re all fine, but really, Oona Chaplin and Oakes Fegley are the ones who really put in the best work, seeming like actual kids, and never once precocious. They could have easily been, but nope, just like Stranger Things showed, Pete’s Dragon isn’t a fan of conventions.

Oh, and yeah, Elliot the Dragon is pretty great, too. He’s cuddly, while still dangerous at the same time. Why can’t all dragons be like that?

Consensus: Exciting, grandiose, sweet and emotional, Pete’s Dragon is the right kind of summer blockbuster for kids, even if the summer is winding down and kids do like their movies a whole lot faster.

8 / 10

"Pete, stop puffing on the magic dragon and guess what? There will be no more dragon."

“Pete, stop puffing on the magic dragon and guess what? There will be no more dragon.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Indignation (2016)

College was always just one sexual experience, really.

It’s the early 50’s and Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is ready to start a new chapter in his life. Rather than risking his life for his country in the war, something all of his other friends are doing, he decides to go to college, far, far away from home to Ohio. There, Marcus goes through the same old problems of studying too long, not getting along with his roommates, and having issues with his teachers. However, the one thing that keeps Marcus actually interested in this college life is the illustrious and mysterious Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). Eventually, Marcus builds up enough courage to ask Olivia out on a date, and it ends with them engaging in some controversial and naughty acts. While Olivia thinks as if she’s done nothing wrong and, if anything, just helped pleasure someone she’s attracted to, Marcus is shocked and has no idea what to think. After all, it’s 1951 and no one really does what Olivia to Marcus on this one fateful day – even if they do, they don’t ever tell people about it. Then, word travels round about Marcus and Olivia are left, wondering what to do with their college careers and most importantly, with one another.

Behind every good man, is a girl just waiting to rock his world.

Behind every good man, is a girl just waiting to rock his world.

For Philip Roth, it seems as if no matter how good his novels are, they don’t always seem to translate well to the screen. That’s to be said with a lot of writers and their pieces of work, however, with Roth, it seems to be all too glaring and obvious; someone who’s narrative voice just hasn’t translated yet to film, to where someone can perfectly understand what sense of mood he’s trying to give off. People have attempted to try and capture this (and others still are trying to), yet, have come up short.

Writer/director James Schamus is, finally, the rare exception.

While Indignation itself is a movie adaptation without any sort of narration that sometimes provide to be the best parts of Roth’s books, it actually ends up working in the movie’s favor, as it allows for there to be more attention set on the look and feel of this whole film. For one, it’s a lot more downbeat and sad than you’d expect; the grainy way the movie looks, to the sometimes silent way these characters talk, it all feels like we’re in the Depression, when in reality, we’re stuck in the beginning of the 50’s, where teens were getting sent to Korea and everyone was still finding their place after the war. And for what reasons?

Well, the movie seems to address these questions, but without ever answering them – which is fine, because Schamus makes it clear from the beginning that isn’t the kind of story that’s meant to sum up the underlining repression of the 50’s. If anything, it’s mean to be one, sole tale of a young man, trying to navigate throughout the world, one step at a time, as well as he can without losing his head. While it sounds conventional and somewhat hokey, Schamus and his cast keep it all together to where it works and, even if you weren’t alive during this time to feel some sense of nostalgia, you still feel compelled by watching it all play out.

But of course, the movie doesn’t always even itself out.

For example, it sometimes feels like the protagonist, Marcus, is a bit of a mess himself, albeit an expected one. Due to him being such a young guy, at a very confusing time in his life, and trying to make that awkward transition from childhood, to adulthood, the movie mixes and mashes with trying to identify what kind of person he is. We get that he’s going through some growing-up pains, but how severe are they? Better yet, how are they brought on in the first place? By him? His overbearing parents? His rude roommates? His needy and somewhat psycho gal-pal? His Communist-like Dean? His religion?

Oh, that Logan Lerman. So sassy and cool.

Oh, that Logan Lerman. So sassy and cool, in a nostalgic kind of way.

Who knows?

While it’s fine that Schamus brings all of these different ideas up, it’s a tad infuriating to see him touch on all of these, yet, still get that chance to fully fall down on what he’s trying to say about Marcus, the character. Instead, we mostly rely on Logan Lerman’s great performance, showing all sorts of anger being bent-up in this kid, while also making him seem compassionate and loving to those who deserve it the most. He’s got a bit of an edge to him that’s typical with Roth, and Lerman plays it up so perfectly that it would be neat to see him in more adaptations after this, even if it’s not playing this same character, or what have you.

And everybody else is pretty great, too. Sarah Gadon keeps us interested in whether or not she’s a total whack-job, or just someone who needs love in this cruel, dark world; Linda Emond plays Marcus’ mother who never makes it quite clear what’s on her mind, but we do feel her pain; Pico Alexander shows up as, what you’d assume to be the typical “frat jock a-hole”, but turns out to be the most interesting character of the whole flick; and Tracy Letts just about nails every scene he has as Dean Caudwell, although it’s mostly because he has some of the best scenes in the whole flick. In fact, the few scenes that he has, can sometimes take up a large portion, but because they’re so well-done and well-acted, they’re hard to talk about at greater-length.

You’ll just know them when you see them and they’ll steal the show.

Consensus: As Roth adaptations go, Indignation is good in that it balances out a certain level of heart, humanity and raw passion, with some solid performances to help it out, as well.

8 / 10

"Uh, so what you wanna do?"

“Uh, so what you wanna do?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bad Moms (2016)

Moms always do it better than dads. Just a fact.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is the kind of mom that every mother wishes she could be. She’s always there for her kids, getting them to school on time, picking them up and driving them wherever they need, cooking breakfast and dinner for them, and hell, even doing their projects for them. Her husband (David Walton) may not be as caring for her as she wishes, however, she’s been with him ever since she was 20, and she’s stayed as dedicated to him as possible, while also maintaining a steady job at a coffee co-op. But after awhile, all of this running around, rushing and having no time for herself, Amy decides to screw it all and just stop trying so hard. Sure, she’s still going to care for her kids, her husband and her job, but she’s not going to put up with anymore crap, just to make sure that everybody around her is happy. Amy’s going to make herself happy, dammit! This means that she lets loose and party’s hard with two fellow moms, Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), and gains the attention of the other mothers of the class, one of which (Christina Applegate) doesn’t approve of what she sees.

Clean-up on aisle WHATEVER! PARTY!

Clean-up on aisle WHATEVER! PARTY!

Bad Moms is the kind of movie that looks awful and is just asking for resentment. For one, it’s another movie that can be placed into subcategory of movies with the name “Bad” in the title, to hopefully remind the audience that everything that they are about to witness is going to be, at the very least, immoral, wrong, and downright vile. And yes, that also leads to the movies themselves not being all that good and just relying on shock-factor to carry it over; like a kid in middle school going through puberty, they may want to be rebellious and all sorts of angry, but the worst thing that they can possibly do is pee on the neighbor’s cat to prove something of a point.

Of course though, what Bad Moms has going for it that these other movies don’t have, is that it’s actually quite good.

It’s surprising, to say the least, because the first thirty minutes or so of Bad Moms is awful and cringe-inducing. It moves at such a slow speed, with Mila Kunis’ narration tapping on every saccharine and inane detail that, yeah, I’m sure soccer moms will find hilarious, but for others, it’s painful to listen to, because it doesn’t seem like anything is actually happening. Sure, we’re getting introduced to our main protagonist, but what we’re being told about her, doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the story that’s supposed to unfold, so the fact that the movie takes a damn near 30 minutes before it actually starts mentioning something resembling a plot, is troublesome.

But then, thankfully, the movie picks itself up and then, thankfully, Bad Moms becomes a very funny movie. Which isn’t to say that the movie itself is actually “funny” – writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore know how to deliver a raunchy joke, but for every one that lands, at least five or six miss the mark completely. However, because Bad Moms has such a lovely and charming cast on its hand, some of the jokes that honestly, not in a million years, would work, actually do.

And yes, it’s all because of the one, the only and the unstoppable Kathryn Hahn.

Has Kelly Bundy become a prude now?

Has Kelly Bundy become a prude now?

A part of me is very happy a movie like Bad Moms exists, if solely to bring someone as relatively unknown as Hahn, to the mainstream, for people to see, laugh at, and adore. Because it’s not just that she’s the funniest thing that Bad Moms has going for it, it’s that she’s the best thing about it, at certain points. Her character may seem like your typical sordid and sexual divorcee who screws whoever and whatever she wants, because she’s single as hell and not at all tied down, but because of Hahn, she also shows that there’s something resembling a human being underneath all of the drinking, partying, and making-out. After awhile, it becomes so clear that everything Hahn says is going to be hilarious, that you’ll just laugh at every single thing that comes out of her mouth, even if it isn’t as funny as something she said before.

Other than Hahn, the rest of the cast is quite lovely, too. Mila Kunis suits well as the protagonist who has a lot on her plate, but also has to still be enjoyable enough that she’s compelling; Kristen Bell works well as the sheltered and wispy-voiced mom; and Christina Applegate, Annie Mumolo, and Jada Pinkett Smith all do fine jobs at playing the evil moms of the school, while giving a funny moment here and there. The only troubling thing about this movie and its cast is that the male characters are so poorly-written, that some good and funny actors, like Jay Hernandez, David Walton, and Clark Gregg, all come off terribly one-note and cartoonish – something that this movie doesn’t seem like it was going for.

But if anything, what Bad Moms works well with is that it makes a very fair and smart points to mothers and about the role of motherhood and how, sometimes, you just need to relax a little bit. The movie isn’t trying to say that you, as a mother, should let all of the responsibilities go out the window with reckless abandon, but it’s also not saying that you have to be worried about every little thing known to man. Sometimes, it’s best to just relax and let things happen, while also keeping a keen eye on what matters most and making sure that everything is running smoothly in your household.

For a 22-year-old bro, this didn’t register quite as much, but for the target audience of Bad Moms, I’m pretty sure it will, which is perfectly fine.

Consensus: While it’s not perfect and definitely messy in some aspects, Bad Moms is also the kind of female-oriented piece of film that’s funny, honest, well-acted, and not at all patronizing to all the mothers and women out there in the world. And a few guys, for sure.

7 / 10

Take a shot gals. You deserve it!

Take a shot gals. You deserve it!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Entertainment Tonight

Suicide Squad (2016)

Always be nice to those weird kids from high school. You never know how they’re going to turn out.

In the world in which even Superman himself can be considered a “terrorist”, it’s time for some action. That’s when intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated super-villains for a top-secret mission. While it’s risky as all hell to trust a bunch of evil, armed and dangerous villains to help save the world, the U.S. government still feels as if there’s nothing to lose if the plan goes South, so they decide to give it the green-light. Meaning that certain baddies like Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and Slipknot (Adam Beach) are all given plenty guns and ammunition at their disposal. And together, along with Captain Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) watching their every move, they have to stop an evil and powerful witch named Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) to stop from destroying the world. Meanwhile, an underground and heinous criminal by the name of the Joker (Jared Leto) is trying to get back the love of his life, all while taking down every person who gets in his way.

She's too good for the Joker.

She’s too good for the Joker.

There’s commonly a negative connotation when a movie is called “a mess”. Some of the times, the movie’s can be “messes”, because there was no idea put-in to how it was going to work, so instead of actually thinking things out, the film maker just cobbles up whatever they can find, hoping for some sort of a cohesive product to come out of the madness. Unfortunately, these movies mostly end up just being dull and, often times, boring.

Then, there’s the “messes” that are so wild, so crazy, and so chaotically put-together, that you can tell someone tried really, really hard to make it all work, however, knew that whatever they had left, they had to work with. Do that make the movie’s “good”? Not really. But does it make them, at the very least, “interesting”? Yes.

And honestly, that’s what Suicide Squad is: An interesting mess, that also happens to be pretty fun.

Sure, you have to get past all of the snap and chopping of the plot, the numerous characters, subplots, special-effects, musical-numbers, twists, turns, plug-ins, product placement, and god knows what else I left out, but honestly, Suicide Squad isn’t all that bad of a flick. It’s got plenty of issues, for sure, but it’s also the kind of movie that writer/director David Ayer had very near and dear to his heart, gave it all he had, and came up a little short. But he doesn’t focus on any of the character’s screwed-up, sad childhoods like Dawn of Justice did; he doesn’t muddle himself in all of the misery of these character’s lives, like Dawn of Justice did; he doesn’t forget that he’s got a solid cast to work with, like Dawn of Justice did; and yeah, he doesn’t forget that the most compelling characters to watch, no matter how thinly-written they may be, are sometimes the ones who morals are in grey areas, like Dawn of Justice did.

Now, this isn’t me saying that Dawn of Justice was some awful and terrible wreck of a flick, like so many others have stated; it’s a movie that tries to be more than your normal superhero flick and yes, is a little gloomy, but still delivers some good moments. That said, the movie forgot that watching a superhero movie, in which, people who are essentially cartoon characters, fly around and kick each other’s asses, which is something that Suicide Squad doesn’t forget. Ayer himself knows that some of the most fun had in comic-book flicks is the action itself, where over-the-top characters engage in some of the bloodiest and most violent of brawls, without caring about who’s feelings are being hurt in the process.

Of course, Suicide Squad has to worry about a PG-13 rating, but it still gets by on that.

Where Ayer really loses points with Suicide Squad is that his plot doesn’t always work. In fact, I’d wager that there hardly is one in the first place; it isn’t until after the first hour, in which we’re introduced to every character in loud rock-montages, where we get an inkling of a plot. Apparently, the Squad has to go in and stop an evil force from taking over the world. Why is it happening? Better yet, why should any of them care? Ayer never really asks these questions, nor does he ever seem to make sense of what drives the plot to begin with – he’s sort of just relying on these characters and these actors to save the day.

Yeah. I miss Heath.

Yeah. I miss Heath.

And yes, that sort of happens, but it sort of doesn’t. Ayer is usually very good at giving these kinds of rough, tough and ragged characters some semblance of humanity and personality that makes them compelling to watch. Here, Ayer has so many characters to work with, that he gives a lot of attention to one or two characters, while totally forgetting about others. Adam Beach’s Slipknot is in and out of the plot so quick, that it’s almost a wonder why he was in the movie in the first place; Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang really has nothing to him, except that he likes to steal money, or something; Cara Delevigne’s character pulls double duty as both a super evil witch and a super scientist, none of which are well-written; and Karen Fukuhara’s Katana wields a cool, deadly sword and that’s about it.

Everyone else, like Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Jared Leto’s Joker, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, and yes, even Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc, all get attention, courtesy of Ayer’s screenplay and direction. Ayer has so many to work with and he’s only able to really define a few, so that when the final-act of the movie comes around and we’re supposed to “buy” them as a group that can connect and care for another, it doesn’t quite connect. A few of the characters we like and can believe in, but others?

Yeah, not so much.

Which isn’t to say that the cast is bad – in fact, everyone’s quite good. They all know what sort of material they’re rolling with and because of that, seem to be having a ball. Smith, Robbie, Hernandez and Viola Davis have perhaps the best roles, whereas Jared Leto’s the Joker is, well, a disappointment. He’s so crazy and insane, that it almost becomes like a parody of sorts. Sure, Leto was a smart choice for an actor to take over the role that Heath Ledger seemed to ruin for every other actor in the world, but his material is so wacky and unnecessary, that he takes away from the rest of the movie and makes me wish that DC would just hold off on him for a short while, and give him his own time to shine with Batman.

And yes, we will get more DC movies. I have no problem with this, however, it seems as if they have to get their act together. Marvel will continue to be trouble for them, but only time will tell if they can take them down, or just raise the white flag and give up, once and for all.

It probably won’t happen, but hey, we’ll see what happens next.

Consensus: Messy, disjointed, and sometimes, incoherent, Suicide Squad is a wild ride, for better or worse, depending on who you are, but it’s action and cast is fun enough that makes it something to possibly enjoy.

7 / 10

Yeah, I'm, uh, turning down the other side of the street.

Yeah, I’m, uh, turning down the other side of the street.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Zero Days (2016)

Stay off the internet. Read a book and shut up.

The internet has been a huge source of controversy for as long as it’s been around. Some have used it for the greater good of society, whereas others, have definitely not. That said one of the biggest and greatest discussions came around the time of the malware worm known as “Stuxnet” was famously used against Iranian centrifuges. Though many have claimed that it may have originated as a joint effort between America and Israel, some are still not sure as neither America, nor have Israel came right out and admitted it. Even worse, however, is the fact that those who are able to speak about it, choose not to. Why? Is it because they know of a top-secret, confidential mission that’s to never be spoken about to the mainstream media? Or, is it because they have no actual information on what actually happened? Either way, documentarian Alex Gibney is going to get down to the bottom of it all and also figure out just why the internet is such a terribly harmful and dangerous device that any government can use, against whoever they want.

Trustworthy.

Trustworthy.

A part of me feels like Zero Days is a bit too early in its release. There’s no doubt that the subject of cyber-hacking, the internet, technology, computers, and the government’s use of all them, deserves to be spoken about and highlighted, in a documentary from Alex Gibney nonetheless, but still, is it too early already?

Either way, Gibney still talks about it and has made a movie about it, so why not just enjoy it for what it is, right?

Well, perhaps “enjoy” isn’t the right word to say when describing the feeling while watching Zero Days, but still, it’s hard not to get swept-up in an Alex Gibney movie. The way he is able to go from one piece of information, to another, without ever making it seem like he’s missing out, is outstanding – you almost get the idea that he’s reading Wikipedia while he speaks and tells everything to us, but it doesn’t matter. He reads Wikipedia well and honestly, he gets the right people to speak about such a topic, that when all is said and done, we feel like we got to know a thing or two about government-agencies, as opposed to feeling more in the dark than before.

And this is important, too, what with Zero Days being a movie about how government-agencies, like the FBI, don’t ever want to talk about Stuxnet. Seriously. Not even in the slightest bit. It’s a running-joke throughout the flick; it’s almost as if you were asking these subjects about how they got their jobs in the first place. They don’t want to speak about it, nor are they even able to – a perfect “no comment” will suffice.

That said, Gibney gets down deeper than just Stuxnet.

Through his own, journalistic ways, Gibney shows that Stuxnet, whether or not committed by America and Islam in the first place, is a brutal sign of things to come; from now on, government-agencies will now be able and actually want to attack other countries, through the internet, based solely on the fact that they can. Gibney definitely doesn’t doubt that America and Islam had some dirty-dealings in the whole issue, but he also doesn’t doubt that it opens up dirty, vile and dangerous cans of worms that may prove to be more harmful, than actually beneficial, in the long-run.

Kind of trustworthy.

Kind of trustworthy.

Then again, a lot of what Zero Days does right, it also falls back on some of its issues. For one, Gibney doesn’t ever try to spell everything out for the whole audience, sitting back, and who are probably watching in their Laz-E Boys. Sure, one could say that this is “fine” and proves just exactly who Gibney’s demographic is, but it also goes to show that maybe, just maybe, some of this is capable of going over people’s heads.

A perfect example of this is the confidential FBI-informant who pops up every now and then, to tell us all what she was told, what she saw, and what she believes in. Right from the start, this narrative-device is fishy and skeptical, but Gibney continues to hammer on and on about it. While it does answer some questions, it’s poorly-delivered in such a way that, honestly, an open-text displaying everything that this person said, would have been better. It would have looked less amateurish and probably not have been so distracting to watch.

But still, Gibney knows how to discuss a controversial issue.

That’s why a good portion of Zero Days is smart, informative and, at times, eye-opening. It asks the rough and tough questions, without delivering so many answers. But for some reason, that’s fine – the world in which we live in now, almost feels like it’s ripe and ready to ask more questions, as well as answer them, about cyberspace. Perhaps this documentary could have waited longer, but hey, the fact that it’s out and raising awareness, is fine enough.

Consensus: Though it could have waited longer, Zero Days offers up an interesting and detailed look at the world of cyberspace, while also showing that the issue may be more troubling than we all expect it to be.

6.5 / 10

Uh, still not sure.

Uh, still not sure.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Tallulah (2016)

tallulah-posterStick with your own babies.

Tallulah (Ellen Page) has had a pretty rough life for a girl her age. Been on the streets and living in her van for a year now, she finds solace in her boyfriend (Evan Jonigkeit), who helps her out in ensuring that they continue to live on the street and be as free as they want. However, the two break-up one day and Tallulah is left with nowhere to go and absolutely no one to turn to. So, the next best thing, she believes, is her boyfriend’s mother, Margo (Allison Janney), who is surprised to find Tallulah on her door-step in the first place. After being denied once by Margot, Tallulah decides, for one reason or another, to visit her again, but this time, with a newborn baby in her arms. Why? Well, just because she knew that the baby’s mother (Tammy Blanchard), didn’t give a damn about it and was more or less not going to take care of it. However, Margo doesn’t know this and instead, believes Tallulah when she insists that it is her and her son’s baby. Meanwhile, the police are looking everywhere for Tallulah, trying to find this baby, while Tallulah and Margot get more acquainted.

Oh god. Ellen Page and her baby troubles.

Ellen Page and her baby troubles? Again?

Personally, I love the new entertainment-industry we live with today. It’s interesting that online streaming-devices like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and all of them, can not only create their own content for the world to see, but actually offer up something to see. Many people have ranted and raved about why this is such a big issue for the entertainment-industry as a whole, but it’s my own belief that it’s a good thing for the industry, as it allows for smaller, lesser-known stories to be told, talents to be seen, and products to be watched. Sure, you can make the argument that some of them aren’t even all that good (Crackle’s the Art of More, anyone?) and probably don’t deserve to ever see the light of day, but isn’t there something special about getting a chance to see what every provider can offer?

Even if the results happen to be as “meh” as Tallulah?

Cause after all, even though it definitely wasn’t produced as such, Tallulah is a low-budget, Sundance indie that would have probably never gotten the kind of audience, had it gone through the same old, usual crap of screenings and theater-showings. Is there anything wrong with going out to the movies to see a flick? Definitely not. But more and more people are getting scared of actual, big-time theaters themselves because, quite frankly, it’s really hard to promote your small movie if it’s just “meh”.

That’s why Netflix is here to save the day with Tallulah, a movie that is, in case you couldn’t tell by now, perfectly “meh”; it’s the kind of flick that wants to deal with real-life issues, like love, divorce, and motherhood, while also trying to develop its own characters. It’s successful in the later-portion, mostly due to the fact that the cast is so good. However, while watching Tallulah, there was a strange feeling I got where I thought to myself that I was supposed to be liking it more than I actually was.

See, it’s the kind of indie that’s so conventional, but likable, that you can’t really hate it. However, by the same token, it’s hard to really praise and love it, because you know that there’s plenty other better movies out there, sometimes, with the same cast. Obviously, I’m talking about another Janney-Page team-up involving a plot-driven baby movie like Juno, but still, that’s neither here nor there.

What I’m trying to say is that Tallulah, is fine.

Eh, whatever. Watch your baby better next time.

Eh, whatever. Watch your baby better next time.

It can be funny and it can be heartfelt at times, but it never tries to aim higher than that, and it kind of brings itself down because of that. For instance, there’s this weird dream-sequence involving characters floating through the air, that’s supposed to be some sort of symbolism for how they’re getting torn-apart by life, or something, and it just never connects. Same goes for the whole subplot involving Tammy Blanchard’s mother character; while it’s nice that the movie bothers to even include this in the first place, it also takes up a lot of time and doesn’t really bring much to the movie. Blanchard is a good actress, however, her character is so thinly-written and boring, that after awhile, I was rooting against her, more than I was rooting for her and her possible reunion with her baby.

Then, of course, there’s Ellen Page and Allison Janney who are, as expected, great. Page’s role as Tallulah isn’t all that different from what we’ve seen her do before, but she still nails it and makes me glad to see her so charming and lovely again, as opposed to how moody she was in Freeheld and Into the Forest (that’s another movie that came out this week and I’m not doing a review on it because, honestly, it’s bad – like, really bad, so stay away). Janney is also great, showing a different side to her than we usually see, as a stern, and sometimes stand-offish woman, yet, we also grow to love her, the more we get to know about her.

Together, the two are the best thing about Tallulah. They’re relationship builds over time and feels real, honest and organic; they don’t start by loving one another, but they grow to learn how to do so and it helps their characters grow over time. While I would have probably loved to have seen a movie about them connecting, even without the baby, it still doesn’t matter – the baby serves a purpose and allows for them to come back together. The movie itself can sometimes feel like it’s bringing them down, but if anything, the two get past it and allow for themselves to be great.

Even if the movie they’re in, isn’t necessarily “great”.

Consensus: Easygoing and well-acted, Tallulah is a fine dramedy, even if it’s script isn’t always strong as its actors.

5.5 / 10

Jason Reitman - look what you're missing.

Jason Reitman – look what you’re missing.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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