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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

The Lost City of Z (2017)

Just stay home. Much safer.

At the dawn of the 20th century, British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an extremely talented and well-known soldier who, by the word of some fellow Britishmen, state that he was “unfortunate in the choice of ancestors”. Whatever that means, doesn’t spell out anything good for Percy who, for some reason, always feels like his life is leading towards something wonderful, but what that is, he hasn’t quite faced or figured out yet. So, when the opportunity to journey into the Amazon, where he is assigned to figure out the border between Brazil and Bolivia. It’s not something he planned on wanting to do, but he takes the opportunity and realizes that there’s truly something more to this land than he anticipated. On his journey back home, he lets everyone know about the evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. However, all those around him shrug him off as a loon and now Percy, along with his wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland), and fellow journeyman (Robert Pattinson), set out to prove them, as well as the entire world, wrong. It’s the decision that would change his life for good.

All that dirt, yet, still so handsome?

The Lost City of Z is a hard movie to really talk about because my feelings are still kind of mixed. For one, it’s a very well put-together movie; big, bold, beautiful, and sometimes enchanting, it has the look and feel of one of those action and adventure flicks from the 60’s-to-70’s, where the jungle had all sorts of dangerous mysteries for man to discover, and even more possibilities for the men to discover about themselves, too. It’s the kind of movie you sort of just sit back, watch and admire, because there’s so much art and craft put into the way the thing looks, sounds, hell, even the way it’s paced.

And of course, all of the praise deserves to go to James Gray who, after making so many small indie flicks, now seems to be making a giant leap towards bigger-budget fare, although, while still containing the kind of artistry we expect from him. We can tell why he took on this infamous story and better yet, you can tell he really cares; it’s not as if it was some hack studio job he did solely for the sake of money. There’s some real feeling and heart to his storytelling, that feels genuine.

That’s why it’s still hard for me to have problems with this movie, even though I definitely do.

See, it seems the biggest issue with the Lost City of Z is that, even despite it being nearly 140 minutes, it still feels underdeveloped and under-cooked. It’s almost as if it could have been a TV pilot about halfway through, where we get an understanding for the characters, the relationships, and the central conflict, and the rest of the movie could have been further explained and given more time to develop over the next 12 or so episodes. However, there’s just so much going on here, with so little explanation, or time taken to put on it, it honestly feels like a rushed job, as if Gray himself felt like he had to hit all the points to make sure he got what he wanted and didn’t leave anything out.

No problem with that if you’re adapting a non-fiction book, but it’s a problem when it doesn’t feel like all we are watching, are events and simply just that. 12 Years a Slave did the same thing where it felt like one thing happening, after another, but that was more meaningful and understood, as that’s probably how it would have been for a slave; a tale as tall and as wide as the Lost City of Z, deserves more momentum building within itself and it just never gets that. Gray tries and tries again, but honestly, there’s just so much on his plate here from Fawcett’s first trip, to his second, to WWI, to his kids being born, to his discovery of the possible “savages” and realizing that they aren’t “savages”, and etc., that it’s just so much, with so little background.

Watch out, Twi-hards.

It’s a PowerPoint presentation, but without any facts or other bullet-points, it’s just the titles and that’s about it.

Then again, it’s still a hard movie to take your eyes off of, no matter how slow or meandering it can get. It also helps that the cast is pretty solid, too, albeit, save for Charlie Hunnam, which I find myself having a hard time to type, because I do truly feel like he’s a good actor. However, with Sons of Anarchy and a few of his latest film-roles since he started work on that show, I’m not quite sure what it is about him that’s not quite connecting with me. He was great when he was younger, in much more comedy-based stuff like Queer as Folk, Undeclared, and even Nicholas Nickleby, but I don’t know, for some reason, there’s just no real conviction to him here, as there may have been in the old days. He tries, but yeah, it just didn’t connect.

Thankfully, it left room for others to work well, like especially, Sienna Miller in one of her best roles yet, as Percy’s wife, Nina, who is so much more than just a stay-at-home, put-upon wife. She’s smart, brave and actually wanting to travel and discover this world with Percy, and the scenes she has with him, honestly, feel as real and as raw as anything else. Robert Pattinson is also quite good because he basically downplays his role and does the best Keith Richards impression ever, whereas Tom Holland is good as the son who rightfully despises his father for leaving him and his family for all those years, away in the sunny-side of England, but for some reason, instantly forgives him and is on the next trip with him.

Yeah, needed more clarification. Or better yet, a longer running-time altogether.

Consensus: Even with the pure ambition put on by James Gray, the Lost City of Z still feels like an under-cooked tale that has so much going on, but without much behind all of the big events.

6 / 10

Dirty, but once again, still so handsome. How do they do it?!?!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Free Fire (2017)

Did someone say “bang bang”?

Two different groups of thugs get together to finish up the deal on a bunch of guns. Seem simple enough, eh? Well, unfortunately, that doesn’t quite go as planned when the groups begin to feud for some odd reasons and then, eventually, and seemingly out of nowhere, begin shooting at one another. But why? And better yet, who is to be blamed for all of this craziness and havoc?

Co-writer/director Ben Wheatley thinks he’s definitely a lot smarter and humoruous than he actually is, which is why his movies, for the most part, have left me feeling a tad bit dry. Sure, they’ve got inspiration and definitely some creativity, but they mostly feel like mixed-bags where Wheatley tries a lot of different things at once and doesn’t quite come out on top, looking as clean and as smart as he thinks.

Still so cool.

It’s nothing against him, as a person, because I’m sure he’s a cheeky and lovely fella to be around, but it also seems like he’s a lot wittier than he may be. Does he take extra steps to put himself into a corner with the kinds of movies he takes on? Oh yes. Does he at least show a surprising amount of ambition? Definitely. Does he always seem to know what he’s doing? Not quite, and that’s why Free Fire, while still something of a slightly mixed-bag, also works a lot better than his other flicks because, well, it is actually as witty and humorous as it think it is.

Which is definitely saying something.

Cause honestly, the premise is basically one overlong gun-battle and while it can get to be a little tiring after hearing gun-shot-after-gun-shot, it also sinks so much into your brain that it works. Eventually, the sound just becomes background noise to these characters constantly plotting, yelling, and figuring out ways how to get out of this situation alive, get off with all the guns, and also, get rid of the ones shooting at them. Sure, is it maybe too simple for its own good? Most definitely, but it still works because Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump seem to know what it is that they’re dealing with here and it works.

In other words, it’s a fun movie. It’s actually kind of funny, but also pretty barbaric and disturbing when it needs to be, and it draws us even closer into the twisted, sick and warped mind of Wheatley. Could he have possibly have toned-down all of the constant shooting and instead, I don’t know, given us something along the lines of a one-on-one battle? Probably, but still, it’s hard to complain about a movie that doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot, yet, still entertaining. It so rarely happens to me with a movie, so it’s great when it does.

Somehow, they have time for laughs?

And yes, the awesome ensemble is to be thanked for that, too.

Because everyone’s got their own one little trait, it works in the long-run. Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley are the bad-ass Irishmen; Brie Larson is the woman who constantly keeps on getting underestimated, but always proving herself; Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor are scummy dudes; Sharlto Copley, in one of his best performances to-date, is the stylish, yet annoying South African who takes things too seriously; Babou Ceesay is his very hard-to-understand partner; Jack Reynor is pugnacious and always looking for a brawl; and in probably the best performance, Armie Hammer stays cool and stylish, even with all of the killing and violence surrounding him.

With a great cast such as this, would you expect a bit more than just quips and shots fired? Probably, but once again, it still kind of works. Wheatley knows how to shoot this action to where we can tell what’s happening, even when it’s sometimes not all that clear, but he also knows how to draw us in on the tension, by upping the stakes and keeping surprises up his sleeve. It can be viewed as pretentious, but compared to his other movies, it’s probably the least stylish and obvious he’s ever been, which means yes, it’s good.

Pretty damn good, to be honest.

Consensus: As simple as it may be, Free Fire still gets by on its fun, humor, and perfectly put together cast who work well in this crazy atmosphere.

7.5 / 10

Don’t take her Oscar away just yet.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Marley (2012)

No way in hell this dude smoked pot.

Most of you out there may know him as Bob Marley, but you don’t know half the story of the man who’s real name was Nesta Robert Marley, and was also of mixed-races. That’s right, his father was white, and rarely ever saw him which lead to Bob finding one escape from this harsh-reality that he could: music. Oh, and weed too, but being from Jamaica, that pretty goes without saying. Anyway, this movie traces Marley’s existence from his birth in 1945, to his sudden death of cancer at the age of 36. It was a short life, but what a life it truly was.

 

Thus, the beginning of the weed-smoking days.

Thus, the beginning of the weed-smoking days.

So often now, whenever we see a story about an inspirational musician, we get their backstory about how their lives growing-up blew, their mommies and daddies were killed, they had no real family, they were orphans, they were sad, they had drug problems, etc., but rarely do we ever get to see the story of the person who grew up reasonably well, was happy with his family for the most part, and surprisingly, didn’t have many problems with his self-image. Sure, the man was sometimes made a fool because his parents were of different races, but the way the movie approaches this very real fact, it’s almost like an afterthought.

Until, we see just how his life would be sculpted out of this one aspect of his life.

But still, for the most part, life for Bob Marley was a relatively pleasant one that was filled with joy, happiness, thoughts, and plenty of weed. However, things weren’t always so bright and shiny for the world around him, which is why Bob decided to take that sweet, everlasting voice of his, get a guitar, find a microphone, and express what he felt and saw from day-to-day, all through the power of music. Music is one of the best ways you can learn anything about anyone, and with Bob Marley, there was no exception because the man was never afraid to let you know what he felt in a song, how he felt it, and what the ultimate conclusion to his thoughts were supposed to be.

See what I mean?

Many people heard these thoughts and conclusions and, believe it or not, were changed, right then and there. Bob Marley not only influenced people within the reggae/ska genre, but even went so far as to influence countries in a way that was never, ever seen before, not even by musicians. The man knew this too, and never, not for a second, used it to harm’s will. He was always there for the people who loved him the most, the country that supported his ass throughout all of the growth-years, and most surprisingly of all, gave free concerts to regions that were filled with so many poor people, that even asking a dollar for a ticket would have been too pricey (in today’s day and age, a free concert is a sign of a saint).

But the question begs: Why did this man do all of this? Well, it was all because he had a voice, he had dreams, he had hopes, and he had a voice, and everybody wanted to hear it. And hell, he was not afraid to share it with anybody either.

However, Marley doesn’t set out to totally lionize the subject, either. Issues about his own family, feelings, political stances, all that, are touched on here. No stone is left unturned and it’s why, at nearly three hours, the movie can feel a bit excessive, but by the same token, it’s also giving us the full picture of this man we all think we know, yet, don’t actually know nearly as much as we think we do. That’s how the best documentaries work and it’s why Marley works best.

It gives us all that we need to, should, and better know, whether we knew we wanted it or not.

But nonetheless, director Kevin Macdonald still gives us the look at Marley, his life, and everything that he did with it, in a way that not only shines respect for the iconic-artist, but shows how his voice still holds up today, and is a true testament to just how far and wide one is able to go with their documentary’s subject, no matter how iconic or famous they may already be.

 

Consensus: Marley is longer than most documentaries that have to deal with musicians, but when your subject is Bob Marley, and you speak with everybody that knew him the closest, you have plenty of time, plenty of rhymes, and plenty of…well..material to work with. Sorry, couldn’t keep it going all the way.

8.5 / 10

"This next track is for all of the white kids that can't handle chores and being it at 11. Mon."

“This next track is for all of the white kids that can’t handle chores and being in at 11. ‘Mon.”

Photos Courtesy of: Magnolia Pictures

Trespass Against Us (2017)

So many daddy issues. Just hug it out. Or, have a beer.

Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) lives with his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) and kids in a trailer somewhere on a Gypsy-mountain along with fellow family-members and friends. Needless to say, the rest of society down below the hill they all live on, don’t quite like or care for them, so Chad, his wife, his kids and his father Colby (Brendan Gleeson), have all had to make ends meet for themselves and survive the only way they know how. This usually leads to a lot of crime and robbery, most of which Chad handles on his own, so that he can continue to provide for he and his family. But all of the crime, the arrests, and constant trouble from the law eventually not just take a toll on Chad, his father, and his wife, but his kids, and it’s up to Chad to figure out when enough is enough and prove to be something of an admirable father-figure for his kids. But at the same time, giving up the life of crime is a lot harder, especially when you have all sorts of responsibilities to fulfill, and a father who doesn’t approve of his one son trying to get on the straight and narrow.

Bad dad.

Trespass Against Us is an odd movie, in that it tries to jumble around a lot of ideas, tones, and plot-threads, but for some reason, never draws any of them out enough to where they’re actually interesting enough to survive on their own. Director Adam Smith seems like he’s dealing with a lot of issues about family, love, devotion, and faith, but at the end of the day, mostly just finds himself portraying a movie about dirty, smelly people, trying to remain dirty and smelly, but also be a little bit nicer. In that sense, it doesn’t quite work, because there’s just so much else going on and coming at us, that after awhile, it’s hard to really figure out just what the hell the movie is about.

If anything, it’s about how good of an actor Michael Fassbender can be, even when working with junk-material.

And unfortunately, that is the case with his role here as Chad, a put-upon father who doesn’t quite know what to do, or where to go with his life, nor how to actually grow up and start providing the smart, responsible way. But the problem with this character is that there’s so much surrounding him that doesn’t make sense – for instance, he’s old enough to break away from his controlling father, so why doesn’t he? Why is he stuck staying by him, committing crimes, and constantly hurting his family? It doesn’t make much sense and although Fassbender tries, the character just isn’t totally there for us to ever fully sympathize with him, or better yet, even care.

Still bad.

Same goes for Gleeson’s character who seems like a Jerry Jones-type, with a very thick Irish accent who, in all honesty, you can’t understand half of the time. In fact, that goes for a lot of the other characters surrounding Chad; they’re all supposed to be these dirty, scummy and idiot-like people who don’t know how to speak, or control themselves like normal, everyday citizens,. I didn’t have a problem with this aspect of them, I just had an issue that the movie didn’t do much to further develop them, or explore why they are the way they are. Often times, we’ll focus on this for about a minute or two, and then drop into another character, or another plot, and try to explore that.

After awhile, it just becomes an annoyance.

And that’s a shame, too, because Trespass Against Us had promise within its many plots, but it just never comes together in a smart way. It all feels like the movie wants to focus on the difference these Irish Gypsies face with the rest of society around them (which is probably the most interesting thread of story that the movie has to offer), but doesn’t; instead, it just discusses Chad, his family, and how he’s trying to grow up. But once again, it’s still just not developed.

Ugh.

Consensus: Despite good performances, Trespass Against Us is many different things all at once, yet, for some reason, it just never comes together in an interesting, compelling way.

4 / 10

Gee. Where have I seen this pic before?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Keeping it Real

Their Finest (2017)

Now I definitely don’t need to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

It’s Britain, 1940, and needless to say, the war is hitting them pretty hard. Men are being shipped-out randomly, bombs are dropping everywhere, resources are drying up, families are being torn apart, and it just doesn’t seem like the good old days any longer. It seems like everyone is sad, depressed and absolutely unsure of what to do with their lives, which is why the British Ministry of Information decides to step on in and change all that up the only reliable way they know how: Making movies. And one such movie they commission is a supposed true story of heroism and bravery that occurred in Dunkirk, France. Of course, the movie-version of these said events get all wrapped-up and twisted around, to the point of where the original story isn’t even found anywhere, but the message of the tale is simple: Greater and better times are ahead and can still be found now. And crafting that film is writer Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who finds herself constantly battling it out with fellow writers, like Tom (Sam Claflin), actors, like Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), and fellow women in the office, like Phyl (Rachael Stirling) who give her crap for her gender and how she handles herself. But all she’s trying to do is make the best, most inspirational movie she can make, no matter what.

How could you not fall for the chum?

Their Finest is one of the most charming movies I have seen in quite some time and it doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie; it’s so smug, likable and sweet, that it’s almost begging for our adoration before the opening-credits roll onto the screen. But for the most part, it’s the time, the place, and the nostalgic message that makes it feel like Their Finest doesn’t have to even try – it’s homework of charming and pleasing the pants off of the audience is already done for itself.

That said, it’s still a wildly lovely movie that even without the time, the place, the nostalgic message, it would still work. Sure, those things certainly help, but mostly, Their Finest works because it’s a movie that has a heart as big the bombs that are constantly being dropped out throughout. Director Lone Scherfig and writer Gaby Chiappe come together in an interesting way that doesn’t shy away from the dark, brutal, and grueling reality that the war presented for everyone involved, but it also doesn’t shy away from the fact that there was some happiness and light to be found through it all.

It’s like an overlong episode of Boardwalk Empire, except the polar opposite – everyone around the main characters are sad, but the main characters themselves, somehow, through some way, are happy.

It all works, though, and never appears too cloying, or overly cutesy; it all feels earned and just earnest enough that it knows it’s harsh reality, without ever trying too revel in it, either. The movie is, plain and simple, just sweet and lovely – like a Pastri that you know you shouldn’t have, but also can’t keep yourself away from, either. That may not be the best way to describe Their Finest, but trust me, just know this: It’ll be hard not to smile the whole way through. Even when the movie’s sad (which it can be on countless occasions), it’s still kind of cheerful.

And it mostly all comes down to the characters and what they represent. In what has to be her best role to-date, Gemma Arterton finally gets a chance to prove that she can be awfully sweet and charming, when given the right material to work with. As Catrin Cole, we see a character that’s still figuring herself out, trying to make some sort of a mark in the world and above all else, trying to remain happy, hopeful and optimistic towards a brighter, better future. It’s a role that could have been easily grating and annoying in anyone’s hands, but it’s one that Arterton works so well with, that you immediately fall in love with her and her infectious spirit.

Gemma, have you ever seen Atonement? Get out of the subway!

And it’s also easy to see why everyone in the film does, too.

Sam Claflin, once again, proves that he’s quite possibly the most charming and handsome British guy working today, aside from Henry Cavill, as Tom, and shows quite a nice little chemistry between he and Arterton. The relationship may go into obvious places, but because they’re so good and cute together, it doesn’t matter – we want them together, no matter what. Bill Nighy is also the stand-out as the one actor in this whole production who can’t seem to know or realize that he’s a little too old to be quite the superstar he once was. The character could have easily been a cartoonish buffoon, but there’s a lot of heart and warmth in Nighy’s portrayal, that it works. Same goes for everyone else who shows up here, adding a little bit more personality and light to the whole proceedings.

But if anything about Their Finest really works for me, it’s the message that, no matter what happens to you, the outside world around you, or anybody, anywhere else in the world, the movies will always be there for you. Sure, it’s a sentiment that’s not as relevant as it may have been in the early-1940’s, when practically everyone and their grandmother needed a little cheering up, but it’s still the same kind of sentiment that resonates for any film-lover. Movies have always been made, and will always continue to be made, to take people away from their real lives, and place them somewhere lovely and magical, and provide the perfect distraction. Sure, there are movies that are made not to do such a thing (aka, documentaries), but the ones that really take you out of the real world and give you hope and ambition, well, then those are the ones that deserve to be seen, no matter what’s going on around you.

It’s what movies were put on this Earth to do in the first place and it’s why they will always hold a special place in each and every living person’s life.

Consensus: Sweet, endearing and ridiculously nostalgic, Their Finest wears its heart and humor on its sleeve, with even better performances to show for it.

8.5 / 10

Making movies have never been so, ehrm, British.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Can automobiles be family?

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has been living the good life since the events of the last film. He’s practically on vacation and thinking about starting up a family with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). But somehow, he turns to the dark side after an evil, somewhat vicious criminal mastermind named Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows up and demands him to do all sorts of crimes for him. Obviously, it isn’t just Letty who feels betrayed, but also Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese), Tej (Ludacris), and the rest of the gang. So, in order to stop Dominic from going any further into the dark, seedy world of crime and murder, they team back up with the government and try to stop him all at once. But this time, they’re going to get a little assistance from someone they haven’t been too fond of in the past: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the man who hasn’t yet forgiven the family for what they had done to his own brother, but is willing to let bygones be bygones for the time being, just so that he can take down Cipher.

Uh oh. There must be a jabroni somewhere close by.

The last three Fast and Furious movies have been some of the best action movies in the past decade or so. They’ve upped the ante by becoming more and more ridiculous by the installment, while also never forgetting that what makes them so much in the first place is that they don’t ever try too hard to take themselves too seriously – the last movie definitely verged on getting way too dramatic for its own sake, but that was only because it was put in an awkward position of having to pay tribute to its star, Paul Walker. And from what it seems, the franchise will only continue to get more and more successful, the more and more insane it pushes itself to be.

Which is why the latest, Fate of the Furious, is a bit of a mixed-bag.

Don’t get me wrong, the action, the ridiculousness, and the sheer stupidity of it all is still here and in full-form, but at the same time, there’s something else keeping it away from being quite on-par with the past three installments and that all comes down to story. For one, no one goes to these movies for their well thought-out, interesting, and complex plots – they come for the action, the silliness, and most of all, the cars. People don’t care about who’s betraying who, for what reasons, and what sort of lessons can be learned from it all.

Of course, this being a Fast and Furious, it makes sense that we get a lot of lectures and discussions about family and what it means to stand by one another, but that’s to be expected and that’s not he problem. The real problem is that the movie takes way too long to get going, and when it does, it constantly starts and stops without ever knowing why. At nearly two-hours-and-16-minutes, Fate may be the longest installment so far (although, it could have been over two-and-a-half-hours, as previously reported), and at times, it feels like that; there’s so much downtime spent on plot and poorly-written sketches of characters, that it’s almost unnecessary. Having something resembling a plot is fine, because it’s what the past three have done, but Fate takes it up a notch in that it tries hard to give us a plot that’s harder to pin-down and far more detailed.

What a power-couple. Make it happen, real life.

But it didn’t have to be. We know it’s stupid and all filler, and so do they. So why are we getting all of this?

A good portion of that probably has to due to the fact that in lead-villain role, Charlize Theron gets to have a little bit of fun as Cipher, even if her character is so odd and random at times, it almost feels like anyone could have taken on the role. She’s your stereotypical villain in that she does bad stuff, for no exact reason, other than she’s a bad lady and can’t messed with. Once again, I’m not expecting anything more in a Fast and Furious movie, but the movie spends so much time on her, as she plays these silly mind games with Dominic and the gang, that it’s almost like director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan themselves don’t even know the material they’re playing with.

Same goes for the rest of the ensemble who are, as expected, just a bunch of punchlines and a few paragraphs of things resembling characters. But hey, it’s fine, because they all work well with the goofy material and make us realize that it doesn’t matter. Is it odd watching without Paul Walker? Most definitely, but the gang more than makes up for the absence, by doubling down on the charm and excitement, with even Statham himself proving to be having the biggest ball of everyone.

Oh and yeah, the action’s still pretty great, when it happens.

Everything before and in between, honestly, is a bit boring, because it’s all a build-up, but when it does actually get there, it’s still wild, insane, and highly unrealistic, but who cares? Almost all action movies, in some way, shape, or form, take place in some fake, mythological world where real-life issues and consequences don’t matter, and nor should they. These are the Fast and Furious movies, not Shakespeare.

I just wish somebody told everyone else that.

Consensus: A little long and slow, Fate of the Furious still gets by on its crazy, hectic action, as well as its talented ensemble who prove to be perfectly equipped with this goofy material, no matter how far-fetched it all gets.

6.5 / 10

News team, assemble!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Going in Style (2017)

Get some life into ya.

Lifelong buddies Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) all decide that it’s finally time to take some time back and retire, once and for all. However, once they do that, they don’t know what sorts of annoyances await them. For one, the factory that they slaved away for all of those years, aren’t going to be giving them pensions. And if that wasn’t so bad, they’re so broke that they may not be able to keep their own roofs over their heads. It’s so bad that even a piece of pie at a diner is a constant cause for argument. But then, Joe gets the idea: Why not rob a bank? Better yet, why not rob the bank that is, get this, robbing him blind in the first place? It’s a crazy idea and one met with disdain from the two other guys, but as time goes on, they start to come around to the idea. Eventually, the three hatch out a plan for what to do, but considering that they’re three old dudes, it may be a lot harder than it seems.

Do they qualify for the license to carry? Let alone, see?

Going in Style is probably an unnecessary remake, but it’s also different from the 1979 version. While that movie was a mostly dramatic, melancholy look at aging, life, and death, with some comedy splashed in there for good measure, the remake is a lot more fun, humorous, and less about being too dramatic. In a way, it’s as director Zach Braff and the studios thought that having a movie in which a bunch of old dudes try to re-ignite sparks in their lives, only to realize that they haven’t got much time left on Earth, was all too serious and real, so therefore, they added a bunch of jokes about prostates, pie, Alzheimer’s, and oh yes, the Bachelor.

Did I mention that this is Zach Braff we’re talking about here? Sure, I Wish I Was Here was a problem, but surely the same guy who made the near-classic over a decade ago (in Garden State), doesn’t feel the need for these sorts of paycheck gigs, does he? Well, in a way, it sort of seems like it, but it’s not like the movie’s the most manipulative piece of money-making machine ever made.

If anything, it’s just enjoyable and pleasing enough to literally not offend a single person.

Is that we should expect from these actors, as well as Braff? Hopefully not.

But for now, it’s fine, because Going in Style proves that the age old formula of “old dudes getting to have some fun one more time”, still kind of works. The only difference here is that the tone is a lot lighter and playful than you’d expect, which makes all of the crazy plot contrivances, twists, and turns, seem fine. Are they unbelievable and absolutely ridiculous? Absolutely, but for the longest time, the movie doesn’t do much but go about its day, with a smile on its face, and a pleasant mood on its mind.

Ride or die, boys.

And for that, it’s fine. It doesn’t ask for the heavy questions, with the heavier answers, about life, death, love, or immortality, or any of that fun stuff, nor does it really ask you to fully get too invested in its heist at the center of the film; it’s all being used to just get by and allow us to have some fun with these characters, in this place in time.

And once again, that’s fine.

It helps that Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, no matter how old they get, still seem like total pros and can do practically no wrong. Sure, a lot of the stuff that they’re saying and yammering on about isn’t all that funny, but the three are so charming and lovely, does it really matter? Yes, it sort of does, but in this case, not really; it’s annoying to constantly see older actors get the short-shift in which they have to play these old dudes and that’s about it, but if that’s the way the world works, then so be it. It seems like Caine, Freeman, and Arkin themselves are so fine with it that it doesn’t really matter.

So long as they keep on doing what they’re doing, until the expected end of their careers, well then, no argument from me.

Keep doing what you’re doing, fellas.

Consensus: Pleasing and enjoyable enough, mostly by the talented trio of leads, Going in Style doesn’t set out to offend anyone, or change anyone’s life, and in this case, that’s all that is needed.

6 / 10

[Insert boner joke here]

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Win It All (2017)

A better Gambler, than the actual remake of Gambler.

Eddie (Jake Johnson) doesn’t quite have the best life. He makes a living directing traffic, parking cars, and doing the odd job every now and then. But rather than saving it all so that one day, he can eventually make something of his life, he spends it all on late-night poker games where he mostly ends up losing, without any cash in his hand, or pocket. However, when Eddie thinks he’s dead and totally broke, he looks inside of an old acquaintance’s duffel bag, and in it, just so happens to buckets of cash. Seeing this as a new lease on life, Eddie intends to change his ways and not gamble anymore. He strikes up a relationship with a sweet single-mother (Aislinn Derbez), starts to work for his brother (Joe Lo Truglio), as a landscaper, and begins to attend recovery meetings more frequently, and keep up with his sponsor (Keegan-Michael Key), on a much more regular basis. But still, Eddie can’t help but gamble a little bit of the money away, which wouldn’t be so bad, until he finds out his old acquaintance is getting out of jail soon and is expecting all of his money to be there waiting for him.

As long as there’s free coffee and donuts, I’ll always go and admit a problem.

People like Joe Swanberg make me so happy that indie-movies still exist, and it’s movies like Win it All that make me so happy streaming devices/studios like Netflix still exist. For one, they’re studios that allow for these smaller, more low-budget movies, not just see the light of day, but grab an audience who, otherwise, wouldn’t have heard a single thing about it. For awhile now, that’s how mostly all of Swanberg’s movies have been; while he’s been getting bigger names involved, his movies still go mostly unnoticed and automatically ready for a VOD release, where only cool, happenin’ kids who are curious will stumble upon it.

But for others, such as myself, who love and adore everything Swanberg does and stands for, it’s nice to just see a movie like Win it All, get a bigger release. But it’s also nice to see this happen because, well, the movie’s quite good; it’s typical Swanberg in that there’s a lot of improvisation and scenes of people talking, but there’s a little bit more to it this time around. If anything, Win it All shows Swanberg at least extending his arms out a bit at trying some sort of genre-fare, what with the gambling subgenre of flicks, but it’s much more like the criminally underrated Mississippi Grind, than Mark Wahlberg’s ill-conceived the Gambler.

It’s weird, though, because the movie isn’t all about gambling, or even the rush, the thrill, and the excitement about it all – it’s much more about this guy, Eddie, and how he doesn’t seem to quite get a grasp on life and accept that the way he’s living, just isn’t ideal. If anything, Win it All is actually a character-study about this guy, who he is, why he does what he does, what’s there to love about him, and what’s there to get mad at him for.

And oh yeah, Jake Johnson is pretty great in the role, too.

So sad, yet, still so cool. How does he do it?

Johnson’s honestly a pretty commanding force in these low-key indies, because we get to see all that he does on New Girl, in that he plays a bit of a silly goof-ball, but instead with that show, there’s a rawer feel to it all. Rather than laughing along with him, we’re actually laughing at him and looking at him in a sad way, not knowing how far his lovable grin is going to take him from scene to scene. And sure, while a good portion of Win it All is improvised, meaning that we don’t always get to know each and every single little thing about Eddie that we should know, what Johnson helps to do is create a portrait of a sad, but still likable guy, who we’d much rather give a hug, than a punch to the face.

As his brother, Joe Lo Truglio is quite surprising, too, especially by how good he is without ever trying too hard to make us laugh. It’s the one role where we get to see someone who is usually known for being a scene-stealing cook-ball, actually show his dramatic-side and it works out well, creating a lovely, heartwarming bit of chemistry between him and Johnson. Derbez is also sweet and charming as Eddie’s eventual girlfriend, and Keegan-Michael Key, showing a more dramatic-side here, too, gets a chance to be both funny and serious, while always providing a nice glimmer of light every time he shows up.

And because these performances and these characters are so strong, it’s easy to get past the fact that, yeah, the story’s a bit weak and conventional, but honestly, it’s really not all about that. Swanberg knows that and as an audience, we know that, too – it’s about these characters, their relationships, and exactly how they all relate to this Eddie fella. It’s a true character-study, just with some gambling on the side.

Like life.

Consensus: With a terrific lead performance from Johnson, Win it All works as a smart, interesting character-study that, unfortunately, doesn’t care a whole lot about the plot.

7 / 10

It’s love at first sight. Until she realizes he loves playing Go Fish a bit too much.

Photos Courtesy of: Time OutTeaser TrailerThe AV Club

Colossal (2017)

Sometimes, you don’t need to go home. Or anywhere.

After losing her job, as well as her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) in New York City, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) decides that it’s time to head on back to where she grew up in upstate New York, where she can hopefully find some time to get her life back in order and figure everything out. While there, she meets back up with an old friend from school, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who instantly remembers her and is so happy to have her back into his life. Gloria doesn’t know what she did to make him so happy, but for some reason, she’s willing to go along with whatever Oscar throws at her, like always drinking and even working at his local bar. For awhile, Gloria seems to be so very happy, but then, this weird thing begins happening: Somewhere out in Tokyo, a huge monster is destroying everything and everyone in its path. And the news in the U.S. is constantly covering this, with people either in total shock and horror, or just absolutely happy that it’s not them. Gloria doesn’t know what to think, except until she finds out that it may be her causing all of this death and destruction, somehow.

“Agent? Yeah, more stuff like this.”

When I first heard of Colossal, I remember it being pitched as a mixture between Lost in Translation and Godzilla. Interesting for sure, but could it work? Honestly, I wasn’t sure, but it was a bold, brave enough idea to take on and considering the current-day, big budget monster movies we seem to get, it would definitely offer a nice breath-of-fresh-air.

Which is exactly what Colossal is, although of course, it runs into its problem.

Most of the problems with the movie come from the fact that the idea, while interesting and definitely neat, also leaves a lot of questions when all is said and done. It all comes down to certain questions about sci-fi, how things would work, and what would happen, if say something such as this happened. It’s the kind of general questions that plague sci-fi and it’s honestly what bugged me for quite some time during Colossal; it wasn’t that I couldn’t give in to the idea and just run with it, it’s that it seemed to make itself more complicated as it went along, but without ever answering the questions it presented.

Still, for a movie about a bunch of hipsters and monsters, it still sort of works. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo knows that he’s playing around with genres and tones here, but doesn’t ever make it seem too flashy; he knows he’s got something interesting on his plate, so rather than taking away from it, he gives us more to watch and be curious about. Sure, it’s interesting just how all of these monster shenanigans go down and play out, but Vigalondo’s also smart enough to know that having compelling characters make the monsters all the more compelling, too.

And with these characters, Colossal seems to be more interested in them, rather than the monsters, which is, once again, another smart move.

“Wanna PBR?”

Like, for instance, Gloria does, initially seem like a bit of a pain, but as time goes on, we begin to see that there’s more to her and her troubled-past. It also helps that Hathaway is pretty great in the role, allowing for us to Gloria as a bit self-destructive, yet also, at the same time, a smart and relatively independent gal who is capable of making her own decisions, as dim-witted as they can often times be. It’s a low-key and not all that showy role for Hathaway, but it’s the right kind of role for her and it shows why she can be so charming.

Sudeikis is also quite good in the role of Oscar, who seems like a very charming and sweet guy, but slowly begins to unravel into these sad, lonely and angry individual. His actions later on in the movie are questionable and make you wonder if it’s necessarily the right direction for him to go in, but there’s no denying that Sudeikis is actually quite surprising in the role. We grow to love him, but at the same time, pity him. He and Hathaway have a nice bit of chemistry, too, to where you can tell that they probably enjoyed working with one another, as it shows in their smaller, much more intimate moments.

You know, without all of the cool and kick-ass monster fighting, which, for a small, low-budget indie, is pretty good.

Makes you wonder why Hollywood tends to get it so wrong, sometimes.

Consensus: With an interesting idea to work with and a very good cast, Colossal is smart, even if it doesn’t answer all of the questions it lays down by the end.

7.5 / 10

There’s Anne, guys. Always charming and lovely, but for some reason, ya’ll hate her. Get over it!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gifted (2017)

Math is hard. But man, it sure can bring families together.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy named Mary (Mckenna Grace), who also happens to be his niece. His sister/Mary’s mother, unfortunately, killed herself due to issues with the family and it’s because of this that Frank has taken it upon himself to ensure that Mary doesn’t turn out to have too much pressure put on her. However, she’s incredibly brilliant, is very good at math, and doesn’t just know it, but also allows for everyone around her to know it, too. It’s both a blessing, as well as a curse – a blessing because she’s smart and will always be successful, but a curse because going to the public school that she’s at, doesn’t really challenge her. Like, at all. Eventually, people around Mary begin to take notice and worry that she’s not being challenged as much as she should. Enter Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who sees it as her task to help get Mary the right treatment she deserves for her genius brain and ensure that her career is an accomplished and masterful one, much like hers was.

You can find out what the square-root of 3,005 is, but you still can’t read? What child prodigy you are!

Everything about the way Gifted looks, feels, hell, even sounds, just brings gags to my throat. It’s not that I don’t mind these schmaltzy tales of hot, attractive people battling happiness and love, but it’s that so often, they aren’t done correctly. Of course, Nicholas Sparks is definitely to be blamed for that, but it goes one step further than that – it almost feels like these kinds of movies are bound to fail, right from the instance that they are announced, filmed, and released to the wide public. The only kind of schmaltz that seems to work nowadays is the pure Oscar-bait that cares about as tears, as much as they care about votes, which means that they want people to cry, by any means necessary.

And then, like I’ve said before, there’s Gifted, a movie that should have absolutely despised and hated, yet, somehow, came away thinking, “Man, why can’t all these kinds of movies be like this?”

Which is to say that, yes, Gifted works. Is it a perfect movie? Nope. Is it an original one? Not really. Is it still kind of schmaltzy and manipulative? Sort of, yes. But everything about it still kind of works in the way that you wouldn’t expect it to. For one, it actually has a heart and soul that you can feel, not just because it’s telling you to feel it, but because the characters are so lovely, the relationships are so well-drawn, and yes, the actual story is worth getting wrapped-up in.

It’s not a very complex tale, but it didn’t need to be; Sparks’ movies are always so bogged down in silly twists, like alcoholic, abusive ex-husbands, or plot-contrived cancer-scares, that after awhile, it’s nice to get a movie that gives us characters, a conflict, and allows it all to play out, without trying too hard to add too much into the rest of the mix. Director Marc Webb and screenwriter Nick Flynn know what they’re working with here and because of that, it doesn’t feel like they’re taking any cheap shots.

Essentially, what we see is what we get.

Don’t worry, everyone: Octavia is just the sassy black neighbor. Not the sassy black nanny. For once.

Of course, that sounds so easy when put like that, but honestly, it’s just nice to get one of these movies. Flynn’s screenplay is solid in that every character has at least one funny-quip to use at their disposal, but everyone still feels like well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, not made out to be god-like creatures, of fire-breathing devil-worshipers – everyone here is a human being, and in that sense, they’re all complicated. Flynn doesn’t forget to overdue the cute nature of his story, but hey, it’s not cloying, which is all that matters.

And Webb, while no doubt trying to get back in his good graces after the two Spider-Man movies, finds himself giving us a smart, humane tale about humans again. Sure, it’s nowhere near (500) Days of Summer, but then again, not many movies are; it’s just nice to have him back, directing original flicks for a change. Hopefully, he’s here to stay and not ready to get sucked up by the machine that is known as Hollywood.

Because what better way to stick it to the man than have your movie star Captain America himself, Chris Evans?

No, I kid. Regardless, Evans is good here in that he’s his usual charming, snappy-self, but there’s also more to him than meets the surface; the relaxed, chill nature he gives off, eventually starts to show signs of sadness that’s deeper than you’d think. Evans has been looking for a hit outside of the Marvel universe for quite some time and it’s nice to see him finally get it here. Of course, though, the movie is definitely Mckenna Grace’s for the taking and as Mary, she’s quite great. Sure, the character is a type, in that she’s precocious as hell and seems like a 30-year-old trapped inside of a 7-year-old’s body, but it works because you believe in her as this character. If she ever is annoying, or a bit of a pain, it’s because she’s meant to be and not because the movie thinks that she’s just way too cute for our own good.

She is, surprisingly enough, like a real kid. And we get so very few of them in movies nowadays.

Consensus: As schmaltzy and sappy as it can sometimes get, Gifted also works because it has a heart, well-written script, and most of all, solid ensemble of characters who all feel realized and interesting, despite the eventual conventions of the plot.

7 / 10

Like uncle, like niece. Right?

Photos Courtesy of: SlashfilmThrifty Jinxy, Indiewire

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017)

School sucks. So just go home.

It’s February, which means that it’s cold, snowy, and absolutely miserable outside. The best option for mostly everyone is to stay indoors, keep warm, and just hope that the snow doesn’t come down too much for shoveling the next day. During this deadly cold time, a troubled young woman named Joan (Emma Roberts) for some reason, gets picked up by an older couple (Lauren Holly and James Remar), who take a liking to Joan and need her for something. Joan doesn’t really know what, but she’s happy to be out of the cold for once and appreciates all of the hospitality. Meanwhile, at an isolated prep school, there’s Rose (Lucy Boynton) who has a bit of an issue of her own, and doesn’t know how quite to deal with it, whereas her fellow student Kat (Kiernan Shipka), also is dealing with something going on with her, too. The two students are basically trapped in this school over this winter-break, without barely anyone to talk to or hang with, except for each other, which makes all of the strange happenings around the campus all the more weirder and scary. Somehow, these three stories are connected, but neither knows just yet.

Mad Men‘s over. I know. Shocking.

Oz Perkins clearly likes to take his stories slow. As he did with I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, Perkins showed that he has a love for taking his time, keeping his camera still, and constantly building and building on atmosphere, as opposed to just throwing all caution to the wind and letting loose. In a way, there’s no problem with that – as long as you’re building on something interesting and compelling, then really, there’s no problem.

And for awhile, it seems like that’s what the Blackcoat’s Daughter (or as it used to be known as, February), is rolling with.

For the most part, Perkins helps his case out by giving us three interesting stories of three relatively different women, without fully divulging into each and everything we need to know about them. They’re dark, quiet, and a little mysterious, which makes them watchable and for us, the audience, curious of where the story may take them; Perkins doesn’t really show too many instances of horror in the first half-hour of this movie, but instead, just building small, ever so brief moments of character and mood that gradually, over time, come together and help the movie out.

And sure, it does aid these characters that the three gals playing them, Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, and Lucy Boynton, are all commanding presences. Roberts seems like she’s got something deeper and darker going on with her; Shipka just seems creepy altogether; and Boynton, while clearly getting the most to work with out of the three, seems like she could have really worked in something that was perhaps more dramatic, and less sinister. But still, all three here are good and keep us watching, even when we’re not quite sure just where everything is going.

Cause when it does get to where it needs to, Blackcoat’s Daughter doesn’t totally disappoint, but it does feel odd.

Cheer up, Scream Queen. (TV references are all that I’ve got)

In a way, a lot of crazy, bad, ugly, and scary stuff happens in the final-act, but there feels like there’s more behind it and we just never get to see it. It’s as if Perkins himself had the material in mind to help us make better sense of all the scary stuff that’s happening, but either didn’t have the time, or budget, to really develop it more. You can sort of tell this is a problem, too, with certain scenes getting really gory and graphic, but other ones, hinting at something more underneath, and we just never get to see that.

The horror itself is still effective, but when it feels like there’s something missing behind allowing it to hit even harder, it’s a bit of a problem. Most horror movies suffer with this, mostly because it seems like they just don’t have any ideas in the first place, but just scares, but it seems like Perkins himself is a step above that. Perhaps, he’s got a few too many ideas to really connect-the-dots between them and his scares, because there’s just something missing here.

One of these days I’ll figure it out. Hopefully.

Consensus: Effective in building on its atmosphere and chills, the Blackcoat’s Daughter shows Perkins is able to conjure up horror, even if he doesn’t have all the nuts and bolts down.

6 / 10

“Yeah, this vacation blows already.”

Photos Courtesy of: Gruesome Magazine

The Discovery (2017)

What’s the point to life anyway? Like seriously, who even cares?

Soon after the existence of the afterlife has been scientifically proven by Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford), upwards to four million people begin killing themselves, thinking that there’s not much more to live for, if all there really is, well, nothing, when it’s all over. Nearly two years after this discovery, Will (Jason Segel), the son of Thomas, decides to head out to join his father’s small, but trusted group of believers who are constantly trying to figure out what the meaning to the afterlife is and, in a way, fix it all, so that people stop offing themselves. Meanwhile, Will also meets Isla (Rooney Mara), a girl with a tragic past who found her life seriously affected by this groundbreaking discovery and has a hard time really connecting with anyone, because she herself doesn’t really know if she wants to stay around much longer. Eventually, the two start figuring things out about the afterlife and together, they feel as if they’ll be able to crack the code and live happily ever after.

Or, I don’t know. Maybe something like that.

“Don’t be intimidated or anything. I’m just Robert Redford.”

The Discovery is so ambitious and so interesting for so long, that it’s absolute travesty what it eventually turns out to be. Cause for the longest time, co-writer/director Charlie McDowell, just like he did with the One I Love, puts us in a state of where we don’t know what’s going to happen, at any time, to any person, for any which reason; it’s unpredictable and off-putting, making the movie itself all the more intense than it probably should be. But whereas that movie was talking about relationships, how we love one another, how we connect with one another, and the lies we each tell the other in a relationship, the Discovery is dealing with a much bigger issue on-hand, such as life, the reason for it, and what’s after it.

So yeah, that’s probably where some of the issues for the Discovery already come from, because while it’s a movie that tackles a lot, it also doesn’t know how to contain all of it on its plate. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, falls off the plate, and almost never gets picked up again – it’s as if McDowell and fellow co-writer Justin Lader knew that they were dealing with a whole lot, but didn’t care. Just mentioning the reason for life, the afterlife, and existence as a whole, it seems to them, was enough.

But honestly, it’s not.

See, in order for certain mind-benders such as this to work, there has to more than just mystery, science and babbling about life’s meaning; sometimes, there needs to be a plot, characters, heart, some humanity, and oh yeah, a small idea that we, the audience, have a general idea of what’s going on. When that’s not all there, unfortunately, sci-fi flicks like the Discovery get a bit messy – they like to deal with a lot and talk about a lot of things, but without helping the audience out, every so often, there’s sort of no point. It’s like throwing a huge banger, full of booze, drugs, hookers, and disco-punk blasting on the speakers, and not inviting anyone to it, except for just you, yourself.

Okay, actually, that does sound awesome. But see, so should the Discovery, a movie that seems to be very close to Lader and McDowell’s hearts, yet, doesn’t fully transport the same feelings towards ours. There’s a lot of talk about what this “discovery” about the afterlife actually was, yet, we barely get to hear, or see anything of it; there’s also a lot of talk about what this group of people are doing now to solve the issues from before, which again, aren’t made all that clear; and there’s even this sort of rogue mission Segel and Mara’s characters both go on that feels like it’s supposed to be more important and most of all, about something, but it’s just random.

Swim away, Rooney. Perhaps a better, much clearer movie awaits.

Once again, there’s a lot that this movie wants to be about, but it just isn’t.

Still, it’s not a total piece of junk and more often than not, proves to be another sign that McDowell is still a very interesting, young director who has a chance to make some real beauty in the world, if given the right script to play around with. The human-element of the story, meaning, the relationships these characters all have with one another, probably remain the most interesting aspect of the whole movie and it’s a testament to McDowell’s direction that makes us see that. It also makes us wonder why there wasn’t more character-development in the first place.

After all, Segel, Mara, Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough are all very good here, it’s just that there isn’t always a whole bunch to assist them. Segel’s still interesting as a drop-dead serious straight-man; Mara’s deadpan is hilarious, but also shows a sad, heartbroken soul; Redford, when given the chance, can be chilling as this sort of ring-leader; Plemons’ character seems like he wants to be weirder, but isn’t given the chance to; and Keough, despite having what was a pretty miraculous year last year, isn’t given a whole lot to do here, but still remains chilling enough as is. In fact, just about everyone and everything about the movie is, for lack of a better word, chilling.

It’s just a shame that it wasn’t able to be transported into something far more entertaining, or better yet, even compelling to watch.

Consensus: Even with all of its talk about the afterlife and existence, the Discovery still feels like a half-baked idea, given the big-screen treatment, when in reality, it probably should have been a pilot for a very interesting, very promising TV show. Hence why it’s probably perfect to be on Netflix.

6 / 10

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)

Houses that creek way too much aren’t good places to stay. Usually.

29-year-old Lily (Ruth Wilson) is going through a little bit of a crisis in her life and is in desperate need of some peace, quiet and, oh yeah, money. She gets all of the above when she takes a job as caretaker and housekeeper of one Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), a retired horror author who has made some of the genres biggest and best classics. However, Lily has read none of them because she scares easily and doesn’t quite have the patience for stuff like that, nor does she have the patience for some of the weird stuff that begins to happen in this tiny, two-bedroom house. For one, there’s odd noises when there shouldn’t be, but sometimes, that’s to be expected. What really has Lily freaked-out is a growing piece of mold in one part of the house that seems to be getting worse and worse as the days go by and without much of a rhyme, or reason for why it’s happening. Lily just sort of has to depend on her sanity, which also seems to be going away, too, slowly, but surely.

Pam?

Listen up, folks: If you’re going to do a haunted house flick, you really have to step up your game. It is literally one of the oldest genres in the book and it’s been done, time and time again, and only rarely are there certain exceptions where the genre feels like it’s fun, exciting and a little bit fresh.

Unfortunately, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is not that movie.

If anything, it’s a solid reminder of why these kinds of movies don’t work as well when it seems like they’re just going through the motions and yes, show their age. And for writer/director Oz Perkins, son of Anthony, you can tell that there’s small, brief glimpses of some originality shining through, but mostly, he relies on the same old quirks and clicks that we’re so used to seeing with these typical kinds of stories.

Weird images appearing in hallways? Check. Weird creaks and sounds coming from certain places in the house? Double check. An old lady who seems to be losing her mind, while also saying weird stuff? Yup. Images that don’t quite make sense? Indeed. There’s these, and trust me, plenty more, which all come when you expect them and have about the same shock-value as a clown at a five year old’s party does – we’ve seen it before, we know what’s going to happen, we know that there’s nothing quite sinister about it all, and yet, we still watch.

Perkins does have a certain bit of style here which, I guess, is interesting, but it also feels meandering. For instance, Perkins takes the material as slow as he possibly can, focusing more on the quiet and sometimes eerie tone, as opposed to getting down to everything about the story and characters. It’s a neat take and does pay-off, what with the crazy amount of dread built-up over time, but it also feels like he’s just padding on more and more time to a movie that could have probably been at least 30 minutes shorty.

Uh, why? Doesn’t one need to see?

Or heck, maybe even 30 minutes altogether.

And it’s a shame, too, because at the center of this very small, very intimate, yet, very plodding horror flick, is a pretty good performance from Ruth Wilson who, actually, deserves a whole lot better than this. When the Affair was good and not silly, Wilson was quite a revelation, balancing a certain deal of sadness and heart for a character who, in much weaker-performer’s hands, would have come off as shrill and boring. Here, as Lily, we don’t get to know a whole lot about her, other than that she’s a bit weird and has a bit of an off-kilter performance.

To me, and probably me alone, this is the most interesting aspect of the movie that, sadly, does not get nearly as developed as it should. We see, through a phone conversation and a conversation she has with Bob Balaban’s character, that she’s got some issues to wade through, is a little off, and definitely needs something like this to help her get through this next stage in her life. So why on Earth don’t we get to see/hear/understand more of that? Why are we getting all of these spooky ghosts who appear in the hallway, or random flashbacks that don’t make any sense in the long-run?

Honestly, it’s because the movie is, when you get down to it, a haunted house flick. It’s an old, tired genre that shows its age and in Perkins case, isn’t getting any younger, hipper, or fresher.

Consensus: Even with a dark atmosphere and a solid performance from Wilson, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House also relies way too heavily on conventions and suffers from a sluggish pace.

5 / 10

Two sides to every story. Oh wait. Not the Affair. Whoops.

Photos Courtesy of: Moviepilot, The Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

The Most Hated Woman In America (2017)

Say what you want. Except if it’s about God. People really seem to like that person.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (Melissa Leo) was known for being a bit of a shit-stirrer. She was one of the most vocal and well-known atheists in the country, who not just spoke out against the war when it wasn’t generally accepted to do so, but also made her case known about the separation between church, state, and most importantly, the state’s public schools. Due to this, a lot of people had issues with Madalyn, constantly threatening her and her family’s lives, leaving her to fear that she’d die eventually, and not by natural causes, either. But throughout all of the ranting and raving she did, some good came through it with the foundations she created for those who were in desperate need – something she continued to do until her death. And oh, about that death, well, that in and of itself is already a pretty odd and confusing spectacle. Then again, the same could have been said about Madalyn’s whole life.

Say cheese?

The story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair is perfect for a movie, just not for this one. Even though there’s already a documentary on her life, there’s still no reason you couldn’t do a full-length, scripted feature-flick, with this cast, and this story, but for some reason, the Most Hated Woman in America just doesn’t seem to be that one movie. It’s an confused movie about who it wants to be about, what it wants to say, and as a result, sort of muddles through everything in O’Hair’s life that makes her such a fascinating person to watch and listen to in the first place.

But thankfully, Melissa Leo does a slam-bang job as her.

Then again, are you surprised?

Probably not. Leo’s always been a solid actress who takes on rough and challenging roles like these, making them her own, and in a way, somehow making them sympathetic, in only the slightest bit. With O’Hair, Leo has the hard task of making this loud, obnoxious, and often times, incredibly rude woman, seem somewhat courageous and smart in her methods – it’s not like the way she is and goes about getting her point across makes her a bad person, but in any other movie, O’Hair would be the worst person ever. But because it’s Leo playing her, she gets by on pure charm from the actress who can do, essentially, anything.

And the rest of the cast is pretty stacked, too, surprisingly. Adam Scott shows up as a journalist who wants to discover the truth about O’Hair’s disappearance; Michael Chernus and Juno Temple play her two weird grand-kids; Vincent Kartheiser plays her son that goes through all sorts of expected problems, growing up with her as a mommy; and Alex Frost, Josh Lucas, and Rory Cochrane, despite playing conventional types, do what they can to make their kidnapper-characters more than just soulless creeps. They sort of are, but that’s not the point.

Yup. Still yelling.

But then again, with this movie, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point.

Director Tommy O’Haver makes the biggest mistake of taking this interesting and challenging subject, this person’s life, and all that they had to say, and not really saying anything about them. We get a nice history-lesson on who this woman took on and what she achieved, but how does the movie feel about that? And better yet, when does a movie such as this become less and less of a history-lesson, and more of a story being told to us? One with heart, emotion, and excitement in the air, as opposed to being just a slow, rather meandering WikiPedia entry put to film?

Either way, O’Haver misses a great opportunity here and it’s weird, too, because for a little over 90 minutes, the movie seems like it should have gone by so much quicker and had so much more to say. O’Haver’s story does, after all, deserve justice and is still a very relevant one, where certain politicians are, once again, using the big man in the sky to get away with discriminating against those who may be different than them. O’Haver fought for these people who didn’t have a voice as loud as hers and, somehow, yeah, she sort of came out on top.

Now, why can’t we get a movie that comes out on top, too?

Consensus: For all of the history it covers, the Most Hated Woman in America still feels like a missed opportunity that features great performances, but aside from that, not much else for O’Haver’s interesting life.

5 / 10

“Hug it out, son. Who needs faith when you have a mommy?”

Photos Courtesy of: The Daily Beast, Washington Square News, Tampa Bay Times

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Cause we needed an updated version of a buffalo and human falling in love.

Belle (Emma Watson) is a bright, young, and beautiful girl who loves to read, doesn’t have herself a man, and doesn’t really know if she wants to have a family just yet. Due to this, everyone around her treats her like she’s a silly little girl, who doesn’t know much about the real world, except for what she reads in books. Her father (Kevin Kline), however, knows, understands, and loves her no matter what, which is why when he turns out to be captured and held hostage by the Beast in the big castle (Dan Stevens), she saves his life by sacrificing her own. And at first, for Belle, it’s a pretty terrible time – the Beast is mean, grumpy, and not all that fun to be around, and it seems like Belle will probably live the rest of her days miserable and depressed. Sure, there’s the talking objects around her that constantly console her and let her know that it’s all going to be okay, but for some reason, Belle just can’t get past the fact that she’s being held prisoner. Until, of course, her and the Beast begin to actually get to know one another, and then everything changes. For her, for him, and for everyone else surrounding them.

Oh, Belle. So innocent. So sweet. So feminist.

Did we really need a live-action Beauty and the Beast, considering that the original animated flick is downright perfect? Probably not, but hey, it’s Hollywood, so why not get one, eh? And honestly, the live-action update isn’t a soulless, boring and total manipulative cash cow that you’d expect – there’s some fun, some light, and some enjoyment to be had. But for the most part, it feels like the kind of movie that tries so much, for no real reason.

For instance, take the run-time. At just a little over two hours, this live-action update doesn’t just feel overlong, but rather unnecessarily plodding at times. There’s added-on songs, scenes, and even story-bits that, okay, do show some effort, but they really don’t go anywhere; the original movie was barely even 90 minutes and it was perfect for that reason alone. Adding on another 30 minutes doesn’t do much but just add more time for people to get bored and start realize that there’s more problems underneath it all.

Which isn’t to say that this live-action can’t be fun, because it definitely can.

It’s just that for a movie like this, if you’re looking for problems, you’ll find them. There’s a whole gay subtext involving Lefou, as played by Josh Gad, and Gaston, as played by Luke Evans, that just feels shoe-horned in and way too silly for its own good. Sure, I’m fine with gay characters in Disney movies and would definitely love more of them, but in this instance, it just feels forced – it’s almost as if those behind the screen were just deliberately trying to mess with the studio-heads and took the easy way out in doing so. Gad’s fine in the role and can be funny, but Evans, while hunky, charming and can belt them out like no tomorrow, also doesn’t feel right for this role because he’s, well, not necessarily as jacked or as huge as he’s supposed to be.

And that goes for a lot of the other cast-members, too. Everyone playing the objects in the castle are fine, with Ewan McGregor stealing the show as the most Scottish French candlestick ever, but others, like Watson and Stevens, for some reason, just don’t fit. Watson herself seems bland, and Stevens, depending on how much of the movie was him and not just CGI, tries what he can, but overall, it’s a thankless role left to voice-over. Also, their voices do leave a lot to be desired – why we’re not using voice-dubs anymore is totally beyond me and it proves to be a problem for this movie because, a good portion of the people here can’t really sing as much as they should. These songs, while definitely memorable, still need that huge, loud operatic voice that the original had, and with Watson, Stevens, Gad and others, it’s just not there.

Gay or not gay, it don’t matter.

The only heart and soul found here is from Kevin Kline’s Maurice, who gets to be sad and emotional, while also have some fun, too. It’s the true sign that above it all, Kline will always come out on top, because he’s not just a pro who can do it all, but proves why he’s always better than the material that he’s working with.

In other words, they should have just given the movie to him.

And trust me, I know that I’m doing a lot of hating on this flick, but it’s not totally the case. It’s still enjoyable, Bill Condon is a good director who knows how to make material like this click and pop, and the production-design, above everything, is a downright orgy of glitz and glam. It’s just that there are issues, none of which were found in the amazing, still watchable, still great, and always so lovely original.

So yeah Disney, stop trying so hard.

Consensus: Undeniably light, charming and often times, fun, Beauty and the Beast also suffers from being unnecessary and a little too long.

6 / 10

Tale as old as time? Between a buffalo and a human being?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Life (2017)

Choose life. No seriously. Choose it.

A group of diverse, incredibly intelligent astronauts aboard the International Space Station are dealing with one of their most ambitious an daring missions to date: Finding another cell out there in space that can kill all bad cells. Or something like that. Mostly, not everyone aboard really knows and instead of trying to figure it all out, they’re spending most of their time tracking down this cell, working with it, and figuring out just what it is. Eventually, they do find out and it leads to some disastrous, downright chaotic results, where everyone aboard not only has to fear for their life, but also for the lives of those on planet Earth. However, the astronauts know that if they band together and think long and hard about what they have to do, they can achieve anything. Even if it is killing a monster that they don’t really know a single thing about, other than what they are slowly gathering over time.

“God?”

A lot of people have been getting on Life‘s case for being, in other words, an Alien rip-off, which okay, sure, it sort of is, but not really. See, it’s really hard to do a creature feature taking place somewhere in the middle of space, among a very selected few of astronauts without drawing comparisons to that classic, but it’s also hard to do one that’s quite good. Life is the kind of movie that, on paper, sounds so rote, so conventional, and so predictable, that it’s almost not worth bothering about, but once you actually see it all play out, and realize all of the effort put into it, well, somehow, it all comes together.

In a way, you almost forget about the Alien movies altogether and only then remember that, yeah, they’re still doing them.

Either way, Life works when it probably shouldn’t. Most of that definitely comes down to the fact that director Daniel Espinosa is taking this material, from Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, know what to expect with a genre movie of this nature and rather than trying to avoid everything and act all sly and cool, as if they’re way too hip for convention, instead, actually sort of embrace it all, realize that these are the kinds of conventions that work for movies such as these, and keep on going. After the initial 20 minutes, where it seems like time is just being killed for the sake of it, Life gets its act together and never seems to slow down; there are times when it pauses, for sure, but for the most part, it’s always moving, always thrilling, and yeah, always entertaining.

Deadpool…..in space.

Which honestly, isn’t something you always expect from something that seems as predictable as this, but it all works. Espinosa knows that in order to keep material like this fresh and compelling, is to always keep moving, never slowing, and always making sure that we can figure out just what’s happening, where, why and to whom. And honestly, that’s what matters a whole lot – movies such as these can often forget about continuity and being able to figure out what everyone is doing, at any given time, which is why when it happens, it helps out a great deal. It makes us not just feel closer to the characters themselves, but the action altogether.

That said, could there have been more character development? Most definitely.

But there’s something to be said for a movie that features Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson, among others, that doesn’t feel like it’s totally robbing them of their supreme talents. Sure, could we have done with more character-stuff that helps us feel one step closer to these people? Oh yes, but what we’re given, for the most part, helps out a bunch and makes the following proceedings, for the most part, fun. They can be heinous, surprising, and sometimes, disturbing, but they’re effective, and for a sci-fi movie, that’s all that matters.

Be as silly as you want, but deliver the genre thrills and yeah, it’s all good.

Consensus: Life may not be the most original sci-fi tale out there, but it also possesses some truly great action, excitement and fun for those looking for solid genre thrills.

7 / 10

Quick! Get to Mars! Matty Damon’s there!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Choose nostalgia.

20 years ago, heroin junkie Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) skipped out on all of his pals with a huge bag of cash, leaving fellow junkies Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) high and dry, and Spud (Ewen Bremner) with a little something left in a locker nearby. After a near-death experience, Renton feels as if it’s finally time to head on home, all things considered, check up on his old pals, and see if, possibly, they’ll take him back and forgive him for the selfishly cruel act that he committed all those years ago. After all, they’re all nearly 50, so obviously, they can’t still be holding grudges from when they were in their mid-20’s, right? Well, wrong. In fact, mostly everyone still holds something against Renton, leaving him to have to really try hard and work for these guys’ affections. For his old pal Sick Boy, the two team-up on making a bar into a brothel, Spud is busy trying to stay off smack, but also writing a book about all of their stories, and well, for Begbie, who just escaped jail, he’s keen on extracting revenge for something that he’ll never, ever be able to forgive.

Nowhere to go, but down. Get it?

Trainspotting is such a near-perfect movie, that you’d think even the slightest idea of doing a sequel to it would be absolute, total blasphemy. It’s the kind of movie that worked so well for what it was, when it was made, what it represented, and the neat little bow it tied itself up with at the end, that it seemed like it wrote its own gritty, but beautiful demise. And honestly, a part of me was fine with that; everyone apart of has gone on to do amazing things with their careers and the characters themselves, while memorable and all lovable, still feel as if they’re the “one-and-done” kind where enough of them can go a long, long way.

But here we are, a little over 20 years later with T2 Trainspotting (an awful title, by the way).

And it’s odd because T2 is the kind of movie you’d expect to get from a bunch of people who made a big hit early on in their careers, never got the chance to capitalize on said hit and all of a sudden, feel the urgent need and desire to circle back to what made them names in the first place. But like I said before, everyone who was involved with the first Trainspotting, have either gone on to do a whole bunch of work and stay relevant, or have done, in ways, better stuff. For director Danny Boyle, that’s exactly the case, as he’s not only shown that he’s capable of bouncing from genre-to-genre without a single sign of wear-and-tear, but he’s also become one of the best directors working today – just the idea of him signing onto a project automatically causes people to shimmer and shake with joy and excitement.

Which is why T2, isn’t all that bad of an idea. The whole gang is basically back, everyone’s clearly in the mood to tell these character’s stories again, and yeah, they’re more than happy to revel in the grit and debauchery that the first movie loved so much. In that sense, the movie still kind of works; sure, everyone is older and far more silly than before, but there’s still something sweet and earnest about watching a gang of old pals getting back together, smoking, drinking, snorting, shooting, and committing all sorts of shenanigans just like they used to.

Is it sort of sad, too? Actually yeah.

But that’s actually the point of T2 – it’s one of the rare sequels that admits its existence is solely for nostalgia’s sake, but at the same time, doesn’t stay away from that, either. The constant references, visual cues, and yes, actual clips from the original itself, can get to be a bit old and grating, but it actually does help the movie work in a much different manner than said first; due to the characters being older, slower, and not quite what they used to be, it makes sense that the movie’s style is a bit less frantic, hectic and crazy than the first and in a way, more melancholy and mannered. It’s a shock, I know, but it actually works, all things considered. Maybe Boyle could have stayed away from all the constant pointing and shoving, but I think at this point in his career, he’s allowed to – after all, the original is a near-masterpiece, so if he wants to go back to those old days, sip a little wine, and reminisce with his buddies, then so be it.

GET IT?!?!?

He’s deserved it, they deserved it, and if it’s good enough to watch, then yeah, we deserve it, too.

The only aspect of T2 that we don’t deserve is the story itself. See, there actually already is a sequel to Trainspotting, in written-form from Irvine Welsh, entitled Porno, which thankfully, isn’t fully adapted here. The movie still takes a lot from that book with characters and certain sequences, but for the most part, a good portion of it is made-up and you can sort of tell; Begbie’s whole subplot about him wanting to kill Renton is about 20 minutes too long, unnecessary, and just feels like extra energy that could have been put towards elsewhere. Same goes for Spud’s “book” that, about halfway through, he starts writing – it’s an obvious trope we’ve seen a hundred times before and yeah, it’s not necessarily a fresh, or inventive device.

The real meat and heart of the story comes from Renton and Sick Boy’s relationship, what they do together, and how they relate after all of these years. It helps that McGregor and Miller seem like true pals here, but it also helps that the movie approaches their friendship with a sense of humanity and love that was never quite seen in the first. It’s as if the movie is slowly leaning towards something far more gay and hot and sexy, but instead, throws us a curveball with Sick Boy’s girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova, a true find), who has to ruin it all. Still, had the movie stuck with this, it probably would have been way better off.

But as is, it remains a solid so long, farewell to these characters.

Until 2038, possibly.

Consensus: Despite it’s never ending reliance on nostalgia, T2 still works as an entertaining, rather sweet look at aging and friendship, amidst all of the boobs, sex, drugs, and Iggy Pop.

7.5 / 10

The gang’s back and man, time did not work out well for them. Oh well. Let’s do some H-bombs.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

XX (2017)

Women be shoppin’. Except not really.

A mother (Natalie Brown) has no clue what to do with herself, now that her son refuses to eat anything, no matter what’s put in front of him; another mother (Melanie Lynskey) tries to throw the biggest and best party for her daughter, only to realize that it probably won’t happen due to unforeseeable circumstances; a bunch of young whipper-snappers head out into the mountains, expecting to have some fun and catch up some history, only to discover something horrifying and dark; and lastly, another mother (Christine Kirk), seems to be hiding something from her troubled 18-year-old son, but he, nor anyone else really knows what.

In case you couldn’t tell, XX is an anthology piece, done by four women, with four different stories, focusing on, above all else, women. It’s a nice angle to take on the horror-genre and shows that it still has some growing to do, in terms of its versatility as well as its acceptance. However, it does also show that it has some growing to do in terms of its quality.

Scared

See, one of the main issues with XX, and as is the case with most anthology pieces in its same vein, is that it’s way too brief for its own good. At nearly an-hour-20, each story has at least 20 minutes each to tell its story, characters, and most of all, give us the chills. But there’s something with the horror genre that, in order for the scares to be smart, effective, and most of all, scary, there has to be some sort of build-up to it all, and at nearly 20 minutes each, none of these tales really have that.

In a way, each one of them feel like they’re fully realized and fleshed-out, but are missing a few reels, either at the beginning, at the end, or somewhere in between. A part of me wonders what the exact want and reason for making these stories actually was, considering that it doesn’t seem to be any reason other than, “Oh, well, they’re kind of scary, I guess. Oh, and they star women, written and directed by women.” Once again, nothing with this approach, as it is definitely something that the horror genre as a whole could and definitely should, work on, but perhaps XX isn’t the brightest, most shiny example of why.

If anything, it proves to be an interesting and mildly entertaining diversion from what we’re used to seeing with horror anthologies, but yeah, it’s been done better before.

And to talk about the four pieces of story here, it’s best to go on about each one of them. First off, “the Box”, written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, plays with a lot of visual cues, but ultimately, isn’t about much. It’s about this family, going through a rough time when one of the children won’t eat, and has all the makings of a weird, almost surreal dark comedy, but it doesn’t go that way – instead, it plays itself very serious and dark, and sort of just ends on that note. It’s the perfect piece to start out on, because it literally won’t be remembered by the end.

Petrified

St. Vincent’s tale, “the Birthday Party”, works a little bit more because it does take a slightly comedic-edge to its story, but once again, doesn’t feel like it’s really built upon anything. It’s just sort of weird, wacky, and features a random cameo from Joe Swanberg. If anything is to be taken away from this part, it’s that St. Vincent is a competent enough director to show us that she knows what she’s doing behind the camera, so who knows? Maybe it will be nice to see more of her there.

Anyway, then there’s “Don’t Fall”, by Roxanne Benjamin, that started off promising, but ultimately, doesn’t know what to do with itself. Everything happens way too quick, we get the very smallest, slightest bit of character-detail to work with, and yeah, none of it really matters. The gore and the scares work, but they’re done in about five minutes anyway, so does it really matter at all?

And lastly, there’s Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son”, which may be the only one here that actually feels like a fully realized and written short movie about a mother, coping with whatever mystery is in her life. It helps here that Christina Kirk is a good actress and an inspired bit of casting for this dark role, but Kusama herself also shows some initiative, with enough mystery, development, and oddness to make it all work. The ending is stupid and doesn’t quite make sense, but hey, at least it is attempting at doing something.

Which, after all, is all I needed and/or could have ever wanted.

Consensus: Though not terrible, XX is more of a mixed-bag, showing why there should be more stories about women in horror, but also showing why they should be longer than 20 minutes each.

6 / 10

Numb

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Joblo

Burning Sands (2017)

Join a frat, they said. A fun time, they said.

Zurich (Trevor Jackson) is just getting his college career at Frederick Douglas University going when he decides to join up at the most coveted and prestigious black frat there is in the country, Lambda Lambda Pi. And for one whole week, which everyone calls “Hell Week”, Zurich and countless other pledges will all have to endure absolute, undeniable hell, like say, beatings, eating dog food, sleep deprivation, shaving their heads, not being seen on campus, not having sex – all just so that they can be apart of this brotherhood one day and achieve the same dreams that countless generations of their families have done, or have wanted to do, before them. But Zurich doesn’t quite know if this is what he wants; he has a legacy to behold, of course, but he’s also more interested in certain things, like girls, like poetry, and most of all, his health, which seems to be slowly deteriorating ever since receiving some fatal blows to his ribs some weeks ago. But hey, it’s all worth it, right?

“If you do this, maybe you’ll be in an Oscar-winning movie.”

One of the main things said about Burning Sands is how it is, essentially, the black-answer to last year’s Goat, another movie focusing on the hazing, the pledging, and all of the violence that can ensue before joining up with a fraternity. And while to some degree you can see a lot of the comparisons, for the most part, they do seem to be focusing on the object of hazing and the realities as fraternities a tad bit differently – Goat focused more on the psychological and mental anguish and torture such hazing can have a person’s mind, whereas Burning Sands seems to explore the deeper, more passionate connections held between some of these people, during this one specific amount of time.

Does that mean to say that one movie is more on the side of frats, than the other? Honestly, I’m not quite sure; it seems like Burning Sands seems to know and understand that frats can be a meaningful aspect to college life, because they’re fun and they hold some meaning to a lot of those people within them, but possibly, what it takes to become a part of said frat, isn’t always as lovely. In a way, Burning Sands is condemning the people that commit these heinous, almost inhumane acts of senseless, nonsensical violence, but also never quite comes to an understanding of why it’s happening in the first place. There has to be more people to blame here than just the kids themselves, right? Can’t some of the blame also go to the faculty, the staff, and the general atmosphere on college campuses that fraternities are there to help guide young men into being smart, respectful, and common citizens in society, when in reality, they may make someone very far from that?

Always have a mother-figure.

Either way, it’s an interesting question, one that neither Goat, nor Burning Sands seem all that interested to answer.

For Burning Sands, though, it’s really all about what these pledges go through and why most of them, as confident as they may be, really don’t have what it takes. Director Gerard McMurray seems to get the dark and creepy aura of masculinity during a lot of these moments, almost to the point of where some of it borderlines on the verge of being gay; there’s much hugging, loving, holding, and touching of these strong, muscular, and sometimes, half-naked men, that you’ll begin to wonder when the panties are going to drop. It’s an interesting take on the material that seems to go beyond a lot of the other conventional stuff like, say, how shocking it is that these kids are getting beat up and held against their will to do stuff.

In fact, the biggest problem with Burning Sands is that a lot of it does feel like a “been there, done that”, even without Goat in the discussion. See, while that movie focused on the depravity and sheer ugliness of frats, it also approached it all from a different angle – in a way, it was much more detached and sinister, making it way more disturbing and downright creepy. Here, McMurray seems to tackle this hazing with much more direction, but also sort of taking us out of the whole issue, too. It’s almost as if the hazing just happens, we don’t feel anything about it, but somehow, some way, we’re supposed to. In that sense, yeah, it just doesn’t quite work, whereas a movie like Goat, as chilling as it could sometimes get, still resonated.

At the same time, though, the movie’s are still different and as such, should be approached differently, too.

It’s just that in this case, Burning Sands has some issues to wade through. It’s most interesting aspect is that it focuses on Zurich, played very well by Trevor Jackson as someone who, despite the obvious, doesn’t totally seem to want to be in a frat. He’s much more concerned with having sex and trying to pass, just like any other college kid and it’s a nice twist on the whole frat movie subgenre, in which we get a kid who’s only trying to be apart of it, not just to be cool, or hip, or have a bunch of friends, but because he’s basically told to join one, by his friends and peers.

Like I said before, who’s to blame here, folks?

Consensus: As dark as it can sometimes get, what’s holding Burning Sands back from being a far more effective take on underground hazing, is that it never quite becomes more than it should have been.

6 / 10

See? It’s a brotherhood!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

Catfight (2017)

Sometimes, you just need to duke it out with former besties.

Ashley (Anne Heche) is an artist who doesn’t quite have the recognition, nor fortune that she wants. She makes weird, outsider-like paintings that some people enjoy, but others don’t, and nine times out of ten, those happen to be the people who actually buy paintings in the first place. She’s trying to have a baby with her girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone), but of course, the process is a lot more difficult than she’d expect. So, to make ends meet, she works as a caterer and one night, meets an old friend of hers, Veronica (Sandra Oh). Veronica’s got a bit of a messy life, too; her husband resents her, her son doesn’t think she’s cool, and yeah, she drinks way too much. Both of them immediately strike up a conversation at this party, but also realize that they probably don’t like each other much, either. So, as one does, they brawl it out, leading to disastrous consequences for both of them, that will alter the course of their lives.

Somewhere, deep down inside the black hole of Catfight, there’s a joke, but for the life of me, I just can’t seem to figure it out. Is it that all friends hate each other? Is it that comas are funny? Is it that violence is funny? Is it that homophobia is funny? Is it that death is funny? Or art critics? Or artists themselves? Or, I don’t know, just life kind of funny?

Anne’s ready.

Honestly, I still don’t know and that’s sort of the problem with Catfight – it’s the kind of movie that thinks it’s way funnier and clever than it actually is, but never really makes sense of its own hilarity, or cleverness. It sort of presents a few jokes and expects us to take different meanings away from said jokes, when in reality, there’s not much to them. Writer/director Onur Turkel seems to have an interesting mind in how he’s able to craft and balance certain different genres, tones, and moods here, but he doesn’t know how to make sense of them; to go from a dark comedy, to a serious, sad and depressing drama takes a lot of guts and skill to pull-off effectively.

And unfortunately, Turkel seems to only have the guts. The skill may have to come later.

Sandra’s ready.

Regardless, Catfight does have some interesting bits and pieces scattered throughout, but that’s just the problem – they’re too scattered. Originally, it seems like Turkel wants to explore how these two women, while definitely different, are also alike in many other ways, too, showing that they’re both sad, miserable and stuck in ruts that they don’t know if they can get out of. That aspect of the story is a compelling one and it helps that both of the leading-ladies are quite good in the roles, too (more on them in a bit). But then, out of nowhere, the movie decides to shoot for being something sillier, more violent, and above all else, just stranger.

In fact, yes, Catfight can definitely be classified as “strange” – it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, but tries its hand at so many different things that eventually, it’s just gone way too off-track. The only thing guiding the ship along are Heche and Oh, both of whom have always been, and are here, great. It’s actually kind of great to see them two here, because while time and Hollywood may have forgotten about them, us film-lovers haven’t and it’s nice to see them get two starring-roles once again, because they’ve always been incredibly talented. It does help that they get meaty roles to work with and show off their range, but it also helps that they remind us why they deserve to be in more stuff, regardless of “Who’s Hot”, and “Who’s Not”.

So to speak.

But like I said before, their performances, as good as they are, seem to be stuck in a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, what it’s about, or what it’s even trying to say. Attempting to figure this all out on your own, honestly, may be the real entertainment of the movie, but it also makes you wonder what could have happened, had the movie been sharper, more defined, and just clearer with us, and itself. It’s not all that hard to ask of a movie and it should always happen, regardless of how wacky or wild you want your material to be.

Consensus: Even with two solid performances from the always reliable Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, Catfight doesn’t know what kind of a movie it wants to be and ends up taking both of them on a ride that they, or us, probably didn’t ask for.

6 / 10

But oh wait, now Alicia’s ready! Ding-ding!

Photos Courtesy of: The Dullwood ExperimentLongroom