Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Once he was out, they pulled him back in. “They”, meaning international-audiences.

Investigator Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is known for being a bit of a wild card who has always played by his own rules, but always made sure that whatever needed to get done, got done. Now, after promising himself that he’d step away from the crime game for good, somehow, he gets pulled back into it all after the arrest of Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), an Army major accused of treason. The reason why Reacher cares about Turner’s case in the first place, is because he created some sort of a friendship with her over the past year or so, and felt like she was his next best chance at love, or something resembling it. So, he decides that it’s up to him, to prove that she’s guilty once and for all, but in order to do that, he’s going to have step on a lot of toes, kick a lot of assess, break a lot of bones, and most importantly, run into powerful baddies. It’s a job that Reacher is more than capable of handling, however, the idea is brought up that he may have a daughter out there in the world and, well, it makes Reacher think a lot longer and harder about his life.

Uh oh. Those cops are about to get a serious wake-up call. No literally.

Uh oh. Those cops are about to get a serious wake-up call. No literally.

Though it definitely has its haters, the first Jack Reacher did a lot for me. It was entertaining, quick, and wholly reminiscent of the old-school action-thrillers of the 70’s, that were less about the pizzazz and special-effects, and more about telling a good story and trying to figure out how action comes out of said story. It wasn’t necessarily a huge hit for Cruise stateside, but for some reason, international-audiences still loved it and the movie made a crap-ton of money.

So yeah, obviously, a sequel is to follow and that’s where we are here, with Never Go Back – a dull, unoriginal title that doesn’t do much except to tell you that it’s not the first movie, without having to put something as typical as the number “2”.

Anyway, all of that is besides the point and away from the fact that there probably didn’t need to be a sequel made in the first place, but it’s here and you know what? It’s not so bad. As far as directors of action go, Christopher McQuarrie is better than Edward Zwick, but the later does an okay job here of maintaining himself, even what with everything going on. While it’s hard to say if Never Go Back follows the same formula of most sequels – in that everything that worked in the first movie, is overdone to the extreme – it is quite easy to see that it’s definitely a much more messier movie, perhaps taking on a whole lot more than it feasibly could have.

For one, the mystery case at the center is fine, if only because it’s clear and conventional to a fault – person is wrongly accused, Reacher sets out to right the wrongs, bad stuff happen, bad people show up, etc. That’s all fine, but it’s when the movie tries to toss down a heartfelt testament to Reacher and his possible daughter that the movie really stumbles and doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself. The conversations are incredibly awkward and actress who plays the daughter, Danika Yarosh, is, unfortunately, not given the best material to work with. She’s trying to be that typical, smart-ass teen who always think she knows what’s best for her life, even when she clearly doesn’t, but it’s just a tired role that, quite frankly, grinds the movie to a halt, when it should be constantly moving and not stopping for a single thing.

Yeah, he doesn't like being followed.

Yeah, he doesn’t like being followed.

But thankfully, Never Go Back does feature some good action and of course, the always dependable Tom Cruise doing what he does best, but doesn’t too often actually do in movies: Play someone who isn’t begging for us to love and adore him.

Lately, we’ve seen Cruise change-up his career of sorts, in that, sure, he’s still doing action movies and whatnot, but he’s also playing characters in them that are still human beings, and fully-formed characters in and of themselves. They aren’t perfect, they aren’t always the nicest people, and yeah, they don’t always make the best decisions, but Cruise is such a movie star that he always makes these characters work and his second-outing as Reacher, still works. There’s a lot more to him this time than just kicking ass, taking names, and saying a witty thing here and there, which helps with Reacher himself, because it actually gives Cruise himself more of an opportunity to, well, act.

It also helps that he’s got Colbie Smulders to work off of who, as usual, is quite fun to watch. She’s smart, sassy and more than capable of keeping it with the best of them. It’s a known thing that Cruise doesn’t often have good chemistry with his female leads, but here, he and Smulders work well together, giving you the idea that their characters, in different circumstances, truly could make something resembling a relationship work. But then again, there’s just too much ass-kicking and crime-solving needed to be done, so yeah, they’ll have to wait on that.

Or, at least until the next movie comes out.

Consensus: Even if it doesn’t reach the same heights as the energetic and classic-styled original flick, Never Go Back is still a fine offering of action, twists, and nice acting from Cruise and Smulders.

6 / 10

Honeymoon spot?

Honeymoon spot?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Certain Women (2016)

Lady problems.

Three strong-willed women (Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams) strive to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest. In one story, a lawyer (Laura Dern) finds herself dealing with office sexism, while also trying to ensure that a client of hers (Jared Harris), doesn’t get the bum-end of a deal from the trucking-company he used to be apart of. In another, a mother (Michelle Williams) wants to have her dream house so that she, her husband (James LeGros) and her daughter (Sarah Rodier) can live together in perfect peace and harmony, however, actually finding that house puts her at-odds with said husband and daughter. And lastly, there’s a young law student (Kristen Stewart) who is forced to teach a class out somewhere so far from where she lives, that she eventually forms something of a friendship with a lonely ranch-hand (Lily Gladstone), who may think that they are something more than what they appear to be.



In the past few years, writer/director Kelly Reichardt truly has grown into the kind of writer and director of indies that most indie film-makers want to be, yet, strive very far away from. She’s the kind of talent who seems to get better with each and everyone of her movies, doesn’t seem to tell the same story twice, get bigger and bigger stars into her movies, and most of all, keep her indie-cred safe and sound. It’s something that she’s been keeping up with for quite some time and it’s why she’s one of the more interesting voices in the film world today, not just indies in particular.

And that’s why a part of me is so disappointed with Certain Women.

See, when you have a movie that is, essentially, a few short, separate segments, rolled up into one movie, it’s hard to make sure that each one stays as compelling as the one to come before it. Reichardt has a knack for telling smart stories about small-town, rural people and expressing their emotions through long, drown-out pauses and moments of silence; the fact that hardly any of her movies have a “score”, just goes to show you just how much she depends on the real, ordinary life to be compelling enough. And with Certain Women, she gets a chance to tell not one, not two, but three stories about normal, everyday gals, living their lives and trying to get by in the world, even if, you know, they’re not all that interesting in the first place.

And that’s all it comes down to.

Reichardt does try to make these stories interesting, but they don’t fully come together, or move in a manner that really keeps it worth watching. We get the sense that Reichardt is never judging her characters for their ways, their morals, or their decisions, which is admirable, but sometimes, it feels like she’s not even around to do much of anything. It’s good to have a director that just lets her cast and crew do what they want, with very little direction, but there were a good couple of occasions here where I didn’t know what was going on, where everything was going to go next, and better yet, why any of it matters. To just chalk it all up to being normal, everyday people’s lives, is the reason to care, doesn’t cut it, unfortunately – sometimes, you need a compelling narrative to keep things, at the very least watchable.

More staring.

More staring.

It’s a shame, too, because the cast does certainly try and, for the most part, come-off strong. Laura Dern’s performance as a lawyer is strong; Jared Harris is a little too silly to work in such a movie as understated and serious as this; James LeGros, as usual, is perfectly fine; Michelle Williams doesn’t really have anything to do; Kristen Stewart is quite great in her role as a frustrated and confused lawyer, offering up a snapshot into the life of someone who’s young, ambitious and professional, yet, still doesn’t have a clue of what she’s going to do with the rest of her years; and Lily Gladstone, without hardly uttering more than five minutes of dialogue, is still pretty great, giving us a look into someone’s repressed existence, even if there is a part of me that wonders if it’s a good performance because she wasn’t suited with much dialogue in the first place, or if she’s actually a good actress who can make this all work.

Either way, the cast does try and it shows that they just don’t have enough material to work with.

And sure, you could make the argument that I’m just being harsh on a movie that “doesn’t really have a plot”, and sure, I guess you’re right, but it’s much more than that. The movie has three plots, none of which are ever that compelling to sit by; Reichardt always seems like she’s ready for something to happen, but for some reason, it never comes around. She’s honestly a great film maker and I can’t wait to see what she’s got cooking up next, but unfortunately, the bag just wasn’t there this time.

Consensus: Even with a good cast, Certain Women can’t help but feel like an uninteresting, slow and aimless exercise from the usually dependable Kelly Reichardt.

6 / 10

And yup, still staring.

And yup, still staring.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

American Honey (2016)

All of which, are American dreams.

Star (Sasha Lane), lives a pretty grimy, sad and depressed existence in American Midwest. Her mom is basically nonexistent, which leaves her to go dumpster-diving with her two younger siblings and come home to a predatory stepdad who doesn’t give a hoot about anything, except getting drunk and acting perv-y. One day while in a grocery market, she stumbles upon Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a strange, mysterious, but ultimately compelling guy who, along with a bunch of other young people just like he and Star, go around the country, selling magazines. Why? Or how? Well, the answer is never all that simple; all that is simple, is that the leader of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough), doesn’t mess around when it comes to her making a profit. Although Star has obligations at home, she decides to run away and join the magazine-sellers and gets into the business of selling the American Dream, by any means necessary. But while doing so, she falls head-over-heels in love with Jake, someone who may feel the same way for her, but may also not want to lose his job as the top magazine-seller.

American Honey is, for me, the movie of the year. It’s the most fun, most excited, most emotional, and most compelled I’ve been with a flick all year, and it’s also perhaps, even in a crazy, messed-up and year so ripe with controversy and heartbreak like 2016, the perfect testament to the American heart, spirit and pride that makes people bleeding hearts for this country. And what’s weirder is that it’s written and directed by Andrea Arnold, who is, of all people, of British descent.

Oh and yeah, a star is definitely born.

Oh and yeah, a star is definitely born.

Which makes me wonder: How does an outsider get such a view of America so downright perfect?

Well, for starters, it helps that Arnold is a pretty great film-maker who, with each and every film she makes, she continues to get better and better. With American Honey, Arnold ups her own ante by rolling with a cast of mostly unknowns, allowing it to be lead by an unknown, having a run-time of 164 minutes and yeah, mostly never shying away from the actual grit of the American Midwest that most movies shy away from. And even if they don’t shy away from them, they still make the American Midwest, and the people that inhabit it, out to be some sort of hillbilly, redneck-y jokes, a la, Larry the Cable Guy. Arnold is a much better and smarter film-maker than that showing that while there are definitely some despicable hicks in the Midwest, there are also some genuinely nice people, trying to make it in today’s economy, where the lowest of the low suffer more and more with each passing-year, and those on top of the food-chain, never have to worry about being taken down.

That said, American Honey isn’t nearly as preachy as I make it out to be; it has a lot on its mind that Arnold, occasionally, will make a mention of, but she isn’t preaching, she isn’t delivering a sermon, and she sure as hell isn’t taking sides on who she does, or doesn’t support in the upcoming election. If anything, she is telling an honest, down-an-out love story, that also deals with a lot of people who don’t ever seem to bathe at all throughout the whole two-hours-and-44-minutes. Because of that, sure, it may seem like Arnold is judging these characters, but really, she’s not – in ways, she shows that they all have hopes, dreams and aspirations for what they want to do with their lives and futures and are just using this magazine-selling business as a way to make it one step closer to achieving said dream.

Sound sort of relatable?

Like I’ve said though, Arnold isn’t trying to get a point across. Her movie never strays away from the focus of our lead protagonist, Star, and for that reason alone, the movie’s great. She is, for lack of a better term, compelling and all of the inexperience she may have as an actress, never shows. Sasha Lane is a talent that, what with the tight aspect-ratio, we never can look away from; there’s something about the youthful way that she acts and looks, that not only makes you think you’re watching a kid come-of-age and understand the world around her more, but actually believe it. I don’t know how much of American Honey was scripted and wasn’t, but all I do know is that Arnold knows how to perfectly capture what it is to be alive and, most importantly, in love.

True love in all its sweat, dirt and uncleanliness.

True love in all its sweat, dirt and uncleanliness.

Cause yes, once again, I reiterate, American Honey is a love story and it’s one where you not only believe in the love at the center, but also feel it. Because we see everything through Star’s eyes and perspective, we literally see this Jake figure as the main of her dreams – a towering, somewhat douche-y figure who knows just what to say to her at the right time, even if he is rather illiterate at times. But watching them two together, whether it’s the non-stop flirting, or fighting, you can’t take your eyes off of them. A good part of that has to do with the amazing performances from Lane and LaBeouf, but it also has to do with the fact that Arnold pays attention to the smallest little bits of detail that make them compelling and exciting to watch, even when it seems like they’re destined for failure.

Oh and yeah, LaBeouf is amazing here. No, seriously. A lot of people like to think of him as a bit of a joke, but I kid you not, LaBeouf is the real deal here. He reminded me a whole lot of Brando, in that there’s something sad and vulnerable about him, yet, also a bit of macho and captivating. There’s times when you don’t know if you can trust him and/or his intentions, but there’s also other times where you just have an idea that he’s the nicest, most sincere person around. We never quite know or trust this character and that’s sort of like falling in love, isn’t it? We’re never quite sure what the other person is thinking, or wanting to do, until they actually say it, or go for it, right?

Either way, LaBeouf is my choice for Best Supporting Actor this year at the Oscar’s. He probably won’t even get nominated, but so be it.

And as for all of American Honey, it’s probably going to be the least-seen movie of Arnold’s career and won’t garner a single Oscar, but I don’t care about any of that. American Honey is the rare indie that’s large and ambitious in its scope, but also aims for those intimate moments of heart and humanity that’s hard to capture, regardless of how many time you’ve spent with real life human beings. It has something to say about the poor, destructive economy of the Midwest, but it also shows that there are certain ideals and values, not just with the Midwest, but with pop-culture, that still exist and are prevalent to even the youngest and most impressionable of minds. If anything, American Honey made me happy to live the life I have and made me want to go out and do more with it.

And yes, possibly even try to sell magazines.

Consensus: Heartfelt, exciting, tender and most of all, powerful, American Honey is the perfect movie the country needs now, even if no one knows it just yet.

10 / 10

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ouija (2014)

Causal Saturday nights with friends has never been so much fun.

Following the sudden death of her best friend, Debbie (Shelley Hennig), Laine (Olivia Cooke) miraculously stumbles upon an antique Ouija board in her room. In a way to say goodbye to her long, lost friend, Laine plays around with it, but somehow, wakes up an evil spirit that begins to toy around with her and all of her friends. The spirit itself is called “DZ” and as more and more strange events begin to occur, Laine tries to figure out just what the spirit wants, rather than fighting with it and basically, getting nowhere. But as Laine and all of her friends delve deeper into DZ’s intentions and history, they suddenly find that Debbie’s mysterious death was not unique, and that they will suffer the same fate unless they learn how to close the portal they’ve opened.

What’s worse than movies based on board-games? Bad movies that aren’t totally even based on actual board-games. If anything, Ouija may have been a commercial to get the old school, retro and hip Ouija-boards back on shelves for a younger, much cooler audience of kids, but if anything, it just shows us why Hollywood, or most importantly, horror movies have been running out of ideas.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

What’s next? A Monster Trucks movie?

Oh wait.

Anyway, in his directorial debut, co-writer/director Stiles White seems as if he’s trying to make something, almost out of nothing; the premise is tired and boring, but for whatever reasons, he sets everything up in an interesting manner. There’s a whole lot of exposition thrown at us from the beginning, like the rules and regulations these evil spirits and monsters have to follow in order to kill these kids, which may seem monotonous, but actually works, as it helps us get in the mind-set of what to expect. So often, horror movies just assume people know what they’re dealing and let creepy stuff happen – to understand what our evil forces are going to do to our protagonists for the next hour-and-a-half, and what can stop them, actually helps in the long-run. It shows that White at least had some nugget of an idea of what he wanted to do with this movie, because surely, the rest of the movie doesn’t show it.

Though it is interesting to have these characters all come together after a friend’s death, the movie doesn’t do anything with any of them to really flesh them out, or even make them slightly interesting. Sure, it’s a horror movie and often times, it’s best to just forget about characters and just let the spooky stuff happen, but honestly, there’s not enough spooky-stuff in this 90-minute movie to really make the lack of actual character-development fine. If anything, it’s far more jarring and noticeable, what with the movie featuring one too many scenes of these characters sitting in rooms, chatting with one another, and not really seeming as if they’re friends at all – they all seem like actors, meeting for the first time and forced to speak some cheesy lines, so that they can collect their paycheck, go home, and continue reading whatever script is up on the coke-infested table next.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Nothing wrong with that, actually. In fact, that’s a pretty great life.

But of course, Ouija itself doesn’t show many signs of life. With the exception of the initial scene of the teens messing around with the board and blaming one another for moving it around and playing jokes, the movie never really seems to have much of any fun. If there’s any tension or suspense in the air to be had, the moment that White senses it, he jumps back and instead, continues to plod his way, further and further into silence that goes little to anywhere. It reminded me a lot of Annabelle (another Fall 2014 horror flick that clearly was made for brand-name recognition) in that it had everything that resembled a movie – protagonists, antagonists, story, conflict, etc. – but for some reason, there’s just nothing there. It feels like White and his crew all knew that the movie just had to make some money, so it didn’t matter if it was actually effective, scary, or even the least bit entertaining.

As long as the kids are still lining-up to buy tickets to see it, then who the hell cares, right?

Consensus: Without hardly any tension or fun to be found, Ouija feels like a waste of a potentially solid premise, all in favor of studios making more bank.

3 / 10

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mascots (2016)

mascotsposterThose annoying guys in suits and costumes? Yeah, still annoying out of them.

Every year, mascots from all around the world come together to battle out all of their showmanship skills in the one and only World Mascot Association championship’s Gold Fluffy Awards. And this year, the competition is quite fierce, with a couple who can’t seem to be on the same page (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker), a pro who may have this be her last year (Parker Posey), and plenty of others. Of course though, the competition is really about the judges and who determines who the real winners, and losers are. And with the likes of A.J. Blumquist (Ed Begley Jr.) and the famous Gabby Monkhouse (Jane Lynch), it’s hard not to trust the professionalism.

While Family Tree hit HBO a few years ago, in a way, it’s been a decade sine Christopher Guest has made an actual movie. And if you really want to get as descriptive as can be, it’s been even longer since he last made a movie using his usual mockumentary-style, as For Your Consideration strayed away from the form, to mediocre results. But now, have no fear, as Guest is back with his usual brand of humor and cast of characters and, well, the results are still mostly the same.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

Which is to say that Mascots is, yes, funny, but that’s about it. And come to think of it, shouldn’t it have been so much more?

With Guest, it’s hard not to compare something like Mascots to all of his other pieces like, A Mighty Wind and especially Best in Show. For instance, they’re movies about a group of people, coming together for one single event, and while in the former, they may not be competing, they’re still finding some ways to create some sort of actual tension with one another. And that’s why Mascots, seems to not just roll with the same formula and conventions of those similar movie’s plots, but doesn’t seem to do much with them, either; in a way, Guest is actually recycling material.

Take, oddly for instance, the inclusion of Corky St. Clair, one of Guest’s best characters from Waiting for Guffman. It’s weird to see Corky pop-up here, because even though I loved him in that movie, here, he seems completely random and out-of-place – even Guest himself seems weird uncomfortable bringing the character back with a terrible “boner” joke that goes and ends nowhere. But Corky himself also brings up the fact that Mascots, while bright, shiny and funny in spots, never quite hits the mark as much as it would like to.

Sure, some of that comes down to the improv, but a good portion of that also comes down to the fact that the material just isn’t all that funny. Everyone here is clearly giving it their all and showing why they deserve to be able to pal-around in a Christopher Guest movie, but with the exception of all the regulars who are used to Guest’s style, no one really works wonders. Zach Woods and Sarah Baker never quite fit well and just seem like lame replacements for the incredibly-missed Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, while Susan Yeagley fares a whole lot better as a character who, believe it or not, has a little bit more heart to her than you’d expect.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

But if anyone’s really the star of the show here, it’s the mascots themselves.

This isn’t a surprise because Guest always loves the little worlds that he portrays for film, but here, he really puts us into it and makes us see these professionals work their magic and, needless to say, it’s quite entertaining. The movie does actually take time out of itself to show us just what sort of talents these mascots are and what sort of shows they have prepared to put on and they’re just about as fun as the last. It’s nice to see this in a movie, because while Guest does a lot of poking fun, he also shows that they’re quite talented individuals who know how to make people laugh and enjoy themselves for however short of time they’re around for.

Now, if only the rest of the movie felt like that.

Consensus: Though the cast is dependable, Mascots never quite gets going and isn’t nearly as funny as it should be, despite some good moments spread throughout.

6 / 10

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Collider, Consequence of Sound

Denial (2016)

Like, did Hitler even exist?

University professor Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) teaches a class on the Holocaust, its deniers and how history tries to put it away from our memories, yet, it will never, ever go away. She’s also written a book which includes World War II historian David Irving (Timothy Spall), a very loud and well-known Holocaust denier who doesn’t care about what people think about him, or his beliefs, they are his beliefs and well, he’s going to let everyone know about them. So that’s why when he does realize that Lipstadt has wrote about him in her book, Irving decides to take her to court and battle for the case of his slandered name, as well as the truth for what really happened in Nazi Germany. While Lipstadt wants to make Irving out to be a total and complete moron, her legal team, most importantly, her lawyer, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), opts for a smarter, more balanced approach that may not make everyone happy, but will also ensure that he and his team wins, even when it seems like Irving may, somehow, get out on top and keep his name.

Somebody help that man.

Somebody help that man.

Denial deals with a very interesting and complex story that, for obvious reasons, can still remain relevant today. These aspects of racism, political blindness and most importantly, yes, denial to the harsher realities of the world we live in, still very much exist to this day and it’s a shock that it’s taken so long for this true case to get the big-screen treatment.

However, it’s also a shock that the movie just doesn’t know what to do with itself.

A good part of the problem with Denial comes from the fact that it has this compelling story, with these interesting characters to work with, and instead, focuses itself on possibly the most annoying, probably least interesting character of the bunch. With Deborah Lipstadt, there’s no denying that this is her story to tell and one, without her, we wouldn’t have, but once the actual court-proceedings get going, there’s not much to Lipstadt; due to the case being argued by her legal-team, we never hear much from her, except for whenever the camera pans to her reaction to show us what she’s thinking. And of course, we hear a lot of her yelling at and hammering on to her legal-team who are, for the most part, doing this case for free, about how they’re not working this case the right way that would get her to win and also keep its sympathy with those affected most by the Holocaust.

I’m not saying that Lipstadt should have been a supporting character here and almost never heard from – she most certainly deserves to have a lead role in what is, essentially, her story – but the movie doesn’t know when the right times to use her are, and aren’t. Having her always yell at her legal-team for something she knows nothing about, after maybe the fourth or fifth time, gets old and makes her seem like an actually awful person, all beliefs aside. And also, as much as Weisz may be trying here, her American-accent just never works; she lives in L.A. apparently, but is also from New York, which isn’t known until the very, very end.

And even the movie itself shoots itself in the foot for not really knowing what to make of the Holocaust, or get across about it. Sure, it wouldn’t necessarily be ground-breaking news that the Holocaust was a terrible moment in our planet’s history, but to just say it was bad, not focus on that reality, and then, all of a sudden, when the final-reel comes up, make the story about how terrible it was, just seems odd. It’s almost as if Denial didn’t want to focus on the Holocaust too much and take away from its courtroom scenes and whatnot, but also still wanted to remind us that the Holocaust was bad news.

90's, or 70's look? Never quite sure.

90’s, or 70’s look? Never quite sure.

If you’re as confused as me, it’s okay.

If there are times where Denial really clicks, it’s in the courtroom and whenever it’s focusing on Timothy Spall’s angry, irate and most definitely crazy David Irving. As much as the movie wants to hold its arm up against Irving and show him the error of his ways, there’s no denying the fact that he’s actually the most interesting character of the bunch; how one man could shut himself off so much to reality and battle those who actually do believe in it, is so odd and ridiculous, that it makes you wonder just what is going on inside that man’s head. A better movie probably would have focused on him, and not necessarily made him sympathetic, but just showed us what went on in this guy’s head, whenever he wasn’t howling and screaming about how the Holocaust never actually happened.

But of course, we have Denial – the movie where Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson are both great, sparring-off against one another, yet, the movie also wants to have its other way, too. It never quite works as a Holocaust-reminder and because of this, it never quite fully works as a courtroom drama, either. It’s mostly, above all else, mildly interesting drama that’s probably best to just read about, even if there isn’t anything like hearing a very skinny Timothy Spall go on about the Nazis.

Now, where’s that movie.

Consensus: Despite a few good performances, mostly from Spall and Wilkinson, Denial never maintains a clear focus and, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for Weisz to do much with her one-note role.

6 / 10

Uh oh. Look out, Holocaust deniers!

Uh oh. Look out, Holocaust deniers!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Thinking Cinema, NY Books

The Accountant (2016)

Math truly can drive people to murder.

Ever since he was a kid, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has had issues dealing with the world around him. Now that he’s older and on his own, well, he’s a whole lot wiser, even if his people skills aren’t all that great still. Still, he’s a mathematics savant that helps him get by and make a living, solely freelancing as an accountant for dangerous criminal organizations and other shady businessmen who sometimes like to keep their private information, well, private. However, a certain someone is trying to find out just who this Christian Wolff guy is and what his plan is – and that certain someone is treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons), who recruits a young employee (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to assist him in any way that she can. While they’re are looking into him, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. But once Wolff realizes that there’s more going on underneath the hood of this company, then more and more people start getting killed, which leads Wolff to making some very deadly decisions.

Is this how accountants fall in love?

Is this how accountants fall in love?

A part of me is actually surprised about the Accountant‘s rather lackluster reception among critics. Here is, for the most part, a piece of adult-entertainment, that’s dark, weird, violent, and mysterious. I dare call it “original”, because lord only knows how many movies about murderous-accountants there are actually out there (Google says “none”, but you never know), but still, it has all the qualities of the sort of movie that critics and adult-audiences seem to love and adore.

So why don’t more and more people like it?

Well, for the most part, it is a very odd movie. Despite director Gavin O’Connor having made some normal, relatively simple character-studies with Warrior, Miracle and Tumbleweeds, here, he seems to have gotten brought into the cold, cruel world of Bill Dubuque’s script – one that literally features an accountant with Autism, kicking ass, taking names, and shooting all sorts of people down, whenever he isn’t doing math and charming the pants off of fellow accountants. It sounds so strange and in ways, it actually is, but somehow, Dubuque and O’Connor seem to come together in a way that makes this weird world actually work and take place in some sort of reality to where we care for the characters, their situations and most importantly, what actually happens.

The Accountant is interesting in that it wants to be about Christian Wolff, his issues growing up, and his issues as an older-man trying to wade through the world, but at the same time, still wants to be this violent thriller in which rich people are getting knocked-off one by one. We know there’s a connection along the way, somewhere, however, the movie still plays both sides of the field, making it appear to be two movies, yet, still feeling wholly as one. It’s odd to describe, I know, but the Accountant is the kind of disjointed, uneven movie I would normally despise and be confused by, but that didn’t happen this time – instead, I was actually brought in by the story and most of all, its characters.

And playing against-type, Ben Affleck is, as usual, pretty great. He has a lot of weird tics that he has to go through with Christian Wolff, but mostly, Affleck does it all in an effective way to where this guy’s still a total mystery and we don’t know what he’s going to do next, or to whom, yet, we still like and trust that he’s a good person. Part of that is Affleck’s general likability, but another part of it is that the movie does an effective job of placing flashbacks when they need to be placed, which allows us to know more and more about Wolff’s adolescence and get a better, if more sad, picture of what this dude’s life has been.

Oh, and it also helps us be absolutely shocked when he starts killing people with the simple pull of a trigger.

"Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better."

“Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better.”

Others in the cast are quite good, too. Anna Kendrick has a silly role as the fellow auditor, but still gets by on being charming; J.K. Simmons has a dumb scene in which his character explains everything that we need to know about Wolff and their history together, but besides that, he still does a solid job playing; Jon Bernthal is cool, but menacing as the one hitman who’s going around and shooting down all of these rich folks; Jon Lithgow has a couple of crazy moments that makes me wish he would take more of these darker flicks; and Jeffrey Tambor, unfortunately, isn’t around a whole lot, but a part of me feels like a lot of his stuff may be somewhere on the cutting-room floor.

Still, what all of these performers do, and do well, is that they all add a little something to a movie that, quite frankly, could have come off way too serious and melodramatic. In a way, they help it all come-off more legitimate, with Bernthal actually getting one or two emotional moments that hit the right notes, even in a movie that wouldn’t seem to know anything about them. This allows for all of the blood and violence that does eventually come around, to hit a whole lot harder and feel like more than just your typical action-thriller – it’s one with more on its mind and more in its heart.

As strange as that heart may be.

Consensus: While not perfect and definitely an odd hybrid, the Accountant gets by on a solid cast, a smart direction that takes itself seriously just enough, and a couple of nice twists and turns that keep this mystery alive.

8 / 10

So. Many. Numbers.

So. Many. Numbers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

13th (2016)

Locked up and they don’t let you out. Even if you’re at home.

The Thirteenth Amendment, as written states that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Meaning, in other words, that even if slavery is abolished in our country and no man, woman, or child of color is supposed to be claimed as “property”, somehow, there’s a loophole created in which, if a person is in jail, they are allowed to be considered, for lack of a better term, “slaves”. Ava DuVernary shows us exactly how we get there, what spurred that decision, and how, in the many, many years since, our country has upheld those traditions by putting a better and bigger focus on imprisonment, when it should be about a whole lot more than just keeping the prisoners in prison.

Through previous examples in the past, documentary film makers who make the switch over to full-length, narrative-flicks, tend to not work out so well. Sure, there’s the likes of Kevin Macdonald, who got his start in documentaries, only to turn the other cheek, try his hand at narrative-flicks and yeah, still do great things, but then there’s also the likes of Michael Moore who, after solid documentaries, tried his hand with Canadian Bacon and well, the less said about the movie, the better. But it’s interesting to see someone who is known for their full-length, narrative flicks, like DuVernay, take a stab at documentaries and come off a whole lot better than, dare I say it, her other actual movies in the first place.

Apparently, also a "CRIMINAL."

Apparently, also a “CRIMINAL.”

That said, 13th is very much a thought-provoking and powerful statement on our economy, our culture, and our nation’s history with racism and imprisonment. But still, it’s a whole lot more than that; rather than being one rousing speech about injustices and racism, after another, DuVernay shows the history of how our country has gotten to where we’re at today. See, it wasn’t too long ago that the KKK was running wild around the South, looking for black people and stringing them up on trees – in a way, they’re still doing that, but it’s much more different.

While this may seem like a whole lot of speculation, the movie shows how the days of yesteryear, still haven’t changed. And even if they had, they’re being changed in certain ways to where it’s more politically correct to substitute “criminal”, for “slave”. DuVernay’s got a lot to say and whole lot more on her mind and in her head, but she doesn’t allow for 13th to just be her on her soapbox and never getting off of it.

See, for obvious reasons, 13th is about everyone in our society – not just black people, or white people.

But everyone.

And that’s why 13th, in all honesty, is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time. It approaches a subject and a topic that could have been so desperately one-sided and obvious from the very start, but instead, shows all different perspectives and takes on its topic, that it’s actually quite brilliant and better off for that reason. While DuVernay definitely has a point she wants to make, she still allows for a lot of people to have their say, as well as the spotlight, whether it be positive, or negative; people who automatically think that she just trashes on Trump and leaves it at that, will be surprised to see that both of the Clintons get a little roasted on the fire as well. Even people that she talks to, like the representatives from ALEC (who are a huge focus-point here) and yes, even Newt Gingrich himself, aren’t painted in a bad light – they’re telling their sides of situations and stories and guess what, DuVernay gives them the chance to do so.

How they choose to represent themselves is entirely in their hands.

But honestly, the main reason why 13th works so well is because it feels so very relevant, so very off-the-times, that it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotional and power of it all. By the end of the flick, after we’ve witness how our country has, single-handedly, ensured that more and more people in our country will get put in prison, DuVernay shows us how the battle and incrimination isn’t just behind the bars, or in the cells, but actually on our own streets and in our own homes. There comes a point where DuVernay shows us all of the sickening and downright disturbing footage of all the members of the black community who have been shot and killed by law-enforcement, for reasons that are still unknown to us. If you’re the person who chose not to watch these bits and pieces of footage in the first place, then be ready to be shocked and mad as hell.

And yes, another supposed "CRIMINAL."

And yes, another supposed “CRIMINAL.”

And really, that’s what DuVernay wants us to feel. She wants us to rise up and have something to say, regardless of race, gender, or political affiliation. Even if you are a cold, blue-blooded Republican, or Conservative, there’s no reason or rhyme for why you should sit by and watch as police mow-down unarmed, seemingly innocent men and women in the street just because they, the trained-professionals themselves, felt “threatened”. Even if you believe it to just be a race thing and a way for our country to get rid of “the black people”, trust me, it’s going to come around to white people soon enough.

Either way, political affiliation doesn’t matter here with 13th.

In fact, what it’s all about is whether or not you can stand by and watch as people, day in and day out, black, white, yellow, whatever, get killed, locked-up, and thrown away from the rest of society for good. Some may deserve it, sure, but a whole lot of people don’t and it’s up to us, whether or not we want to sit by and watch it all blow-up in smoke. Sure, I’ve been doing a whole lot more preaching than I would have liked, but hey, that’s what happens when you have a great documentary on your hands that doesn’t let up and forces you see things and think.

Consensus: Hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and brave, 13th shows Ava DuVernay tacking a whack at documentaries and absolutely hitting it out of the park.

9 / 10

Oh yeah, and that guy.

Oh yeah, and that guy.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Playlist, Washington Post

The Girl on the Train (2016)

Sometimes, you just got to make public transportation a little fun.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) takes the train to New York City each and every day and has a lot of time on her hands to do, well, lots of stuff. For one, she likes to drink. She also likes to think about stuff and, on occasion, make-up things in her head. But one thing she loves to do is watch a couple, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), from her train seat window every morning, from the window of her train. However, her life is thrown for a wild loop when, all of a sudden, Megan is with some other man (Edgar Ramirez) and not her husband. And then, it gets even crazier when Rachel finds out that Megan’s missing and Rachel herself could be the prime suspect. But why? Well, because Rachel’s ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and this new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) live literally right around the corner, Rachel, in drunken, jealous stupors, will find herself around the neighborhood, acting out in certain ways that most adults like her shouldn’t be doing. Now though, with the investigation against her, Rachel has to think long and hard about what she remembers and what she made-up in her mind, while also figuring out the truth of Megan’s whereabouts.

Who's baby is that?!? Mystery!

Who’s baby is that?!? Mystery!

The Girl on the Train is trying so hard to be Gone Girl that it’s actually kind of sad. Here’s a movie that, despite so much plot, could have honestly been an enjoyably wacky, over-the-top romp, just like Gone Girl. Instead, it’s rather drab, dark, serious and not nearly as crazy as it should be.

Which is also to say that Tate Taylor is no David Fincher. Believe it or not.

But honestly, the problem with the Girl on the Train is that, aside from it so desperately wanting to like that Fincher classic, it also doesn’t really know what to do with itself for a solid majority of its running-time. For the first hour or so, we’re watching our main protagonist, Rachel, live a pretty miserable and depressing existence – one that’s full of alcohol, wild dreams, and unrequited love. In a way, it’s actually very serious and heartbreaking, but aside from maybe one scene of an actual, full-out breakdown, the movie never gets as deep as it should about her mental and psychological issues and where it all came from. Rather, the movie uses her anguish and pain as a plot-device, to give us more and more characters, more conflicts, and most importantly, more and more unnecessary twists and turns that, after about fourth or fifth one in a minute, gets a tad annoying.

And really, all of the problems with copycatting Gone Girl would have been fine, had Girl on the Train tried to at least bring some real, honest characters to the forefront; most of them are just created for the sole sake of being a plot-device, or a twist that can eventually kill them off, or show that they’re not exactly as who they should be. Although, as is the case with Edgar Ramirez’s psychiatrist character, some characters hardly serve any purpose whatsoever – they’re just hot, sexy and attractive window-dressing to a movie that’s as mean-looking as you can get.

No. Not a leftover scene from the Leftovers. Although, I honestly wished it was.

No. Not a leftover scene from the Leftovers. Although, I honestly wished it was.

Ramirez isn’t the only one who, unfortunately, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. The whole ensemble, as talented as they all are, are saddled with material that doesn’t allow for them to really reach deep, or far dramatic heights – instead, they just have to settle and live with the results. As said about Rachel before, she’s a deeper character than the movie gives her credit for, even if Emily Blunt tries all that she can to not only make her look ugly and disgusting (as much as Emily Blunt can look “ugly” and “disgusting”), but really, the character feels like a missed-opportunity. Same goes for Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett’s characters who, despite getting some semblance of personality and emotion, are also meant to be plot-points.

The boys don’t fare any better, either.

Justin Theroux does what he can as the ex-husband, while Luke Evans does his best hard-Brooklyn accent, despite being a character that lives in the New York suburbs. Only the wonderful Allison Janney really gets a chance to shine with this material and it’s not only a testament to her true talent as an actress, but also a nice bit of excitement in the first hour or so. Because honestly, for the first hour, the movie can be quite a bore – laboring on certain parts of the plot that don’t matter, never picking up the pace, and giving us a mystery we already know the solution to.

That said, it does pick itself up after the hour-mark and thankfully, it’s where the Girl on the Train becomes, surprisingly enough, “fun”. Granted, it’s still not nearly as fun to watch as Gone Girl and it sure as hell doesn’t improve on its issues with its character, but it eventually starts to realize that there can be some wild times had with these weird characters, the sexy tone and feel that Taylor sometimes gives off, and most importantly, the fact that we’re here to watch a bunch of hot, sexy and attractive people bone and deceive one another. Sometimes, that’s all you need with a movie and here, with the Girl on the Train, while it takes forever to get to that part, I’m glad it eventually did.

Because if it didn’t, honestly, it would have been a waste of everyone’s time. Most importantly, my own.

Consensus: Despite trying desperately hard to capture the same excitement and craziness as Gone Girl, the Girl on the Train never quite gets moving, despite a good cast and a promising premise, chock full of twists, turns, mysteries, and surprises that are, honestly, a little too obvious to be shocked by.

6 / 10

You see a lot from public transportation. Maybe not someone's home life, but hey, dare to dream, eh?

You see a lot from public transportation. Maybe not someone’s home life, but hey, dare to dream, eh?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Wait, which movie is this?

Ever since he was a little boy growing up on a slave plantation in the early 19th century, Nat Turner (Nate Parker), has always wanted to be more than just your typical slave. He was literate, could preach the word of God and most of all, saw himself as one with white people. However, little does he know that, outside of his plantation, where everything’s bad, but not awful, lies a cruel, dark and unforgiving world that doesn’t take kindly to black people, free or not. And Nat gets to witness a good portion of it, first-hand, when he and his owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), go out on a few trips where they stop at fellow slave plantations and Nat preaches the word of God. For some reason, the owners see this as a way for their own slaves to get riled up and do the work that they were “supposedly” put on this God’s-green Earth to do in the first place. But after witnessing one too many brutal acts of sadism, Nat decides that it’s time to turn the other cheek, gather up all of the other slaves that he’s come to know and love, and fight back. 

Symbolism? Right?

Symbolism? Right?

A lot of the discussion about the Birth of a Nation, oddly enough, hasn’t been about the title, the movie’s depiction of slavery, its message, or hell, even whether or not it’s actually good and worth watching. Instead, it’s been all about what director/star/co-writer Nate Parker and co-writer
Jean McGianni Celestin did on that one fateful evening, nearly 17 years ago when they were students at Penn State. This review is not about what did, or didn’t happen, and whether or not Parker and Celestin are, or aren’t guilty of their supposed-crimes (even though Celestin did actually plead “guilty”, but that’s neither here, nor there) – in fact, it’s actually going to be about the movie itself, the Birth of a Nation.

And well, it deserves to be talked about. If not exactly for the reasons people imagine.

If there’s anything I have to give Nate Parker credit for here is that you can tell that there’s a fiery, burning-passion deep inside of him that makes this movie hit as hard as it should sometimes. By telling Nat’s story, especially from the literal beginning to the literal end, he’s giving us a small, but important tale of, sure, rebellion, but also of so much more. The tale is definitely about racism and how slavery was terrible, but it’s also a little bit about religion and the way in which slavers back in those days would use it to somehow justify all of their terrible wrong-doings.

Parker could definitely lean into the realm of preaching the masses (which Nat literally does), but he chooses not to; instead, he opts for keeping the focus on Nat, his story and his mission in his all-too short life. It’s a sad story, as most slave-tales are, but Parker shows that there could have been some hope in a dark and foreboding tale such as this. Even for all of his shortcomings as a director, writer and, yes, even human being, he’s still got something here that makes me interested in seeing what he has to do next, because he has a story that he wants to tell here and he doesn’t back down from getting into the nitty, the gritty and the downright vile of it all.

But at the same time, the movie is awfully troubled.

See, for one, it seems as if Nate Parker, the director, has a bit of work to do. A part of me feels the raw and inspired emotion coming from Parker’s direction, but a part of me also notices how much of that emotion seems to be getting in the way of actually creating a good movie, where there’s a nice narrative-flow and a compelling plot-line to make sense of, what with all of the terrible slave-stuff going on. The issue here is that Parker doesn’t seem all that focused; he has a lot to speak out against and say, but it never quite means anything.

There’s one great scene in which Nat has an argument with Mark Boone Junior’s preacher character, in which they literally battle one another with scripture-passages, showing how the other has misunderstood the message of the Bible and Jesus’ teaching. It’s brilliant, smart, tense, exciting, and most of all, important; it shows that the idea of slavery and the business of it all, while a very successful one at that, was based on a huge plain of lies. Parker uses this one scene, to show that he’s worthy of bringing on a discussion about this tale and what he’s got to tale, but the flip side of it all is that he doesn’t quite do much with that.

Friends for life. Until the work needs to be done.

Friends for life. Until the work needs to be done.

Instead, he sort of just leaves the scene there and focuses back on Nat Turner being a hero to us all.

In a way, I don’t argue with the movie in that respect; Nat Turner fought for what he believed in and was going to die if he had to. It’s an admirable act on his part, however, the movie seems to back away from discussing, or even shining a light on some of the more troubling aspects of his story. Like, say, for instance, how he uses the Bible as a way to justify his slaughtering of men, women and children (even if we don’t see the women and children actually killed on-camera here, although it did happen), or how there are literally two rapes that occur in this movie and, for some reason, they all seem to be made-up for the sake of adding some sort of theatrical tension that may not have already been there.

What’s odd about this is that it seems like all of Parker’s emotion and intensity in telling this story, also blinded him to the fact that Turner’s story is a lot more complicated than he thinks. Slaver was awful and Turner had to be around it his whole life, but at the same time, the movie doesn’t ever seem to present anyone, or anything else differently. Every slave-owner, with the exception of Armie Hammer’s Samuel, are dirty, foul-mouthed, drunk and always looking for a fight. Granted, there was quite a number of them in the far-superior 12 Years a Slave, but at least there was some humanity to them in that – here, they just seem like cartoons who haven’t bathed in decades.

That’s why, as a director, Nate Parker has a lot of work to do.

As a whole, the Birth of a Nation has a powerful story to work with, but the execution is surprisingly tame. Parker gets all wrapped-up in actually telling the story, once and for all, that he forgets how to actually construct a whole, feature-length film about it and loses track way too quickly. It’s a movie definitely worth seeing, but yeah, don’t believe the hype.

Consensus: While brave, the Birth of a Nation is a bit too messy to really hit as hard as it wants to, even if Nate Parker’s debut is an interesting one that makes him someone to keep an eye on.

7 / 10

"For freedom! Obviously!"

“For freedom! Obviously!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Wuthering Heights (2012)

Is it safe to say not much has changed?

Heathcliff (as the younger version Solomon Glave, and James Howson as the older one) is brought in off the streets from a nice Christian man, who believes that it is his god-given duty to ensure that those who are off far worse than him, should get the same love and respect as he gets. Some in his family don’t see it the same way, with the exception of Catherine (as the younger version Shannon Beer, and Kaya Scodelario as the older one), who instantly takes a liking to Heathcliff. While Heathcliff is supposed to be working on their farm, most of the time, he spends gallivanting through the fields with Catherine, falling more and more in love with her as the days go by. Of course, she may feel the same way, too, but because he’s black and doesn’t come from a very wealthy family, she begins to have second-thoughts about what those around her may start to think. Pissed-off at her, and especially the harsh treatment he suffers from her older brother, Heathcliff runs off into the middle of the night, presumably never to be heard from again. However, many years later, Heathcliff returns, only to find Catherine married to a much wealthier guy.

He's looking for her.

He’s looking for her.

It’s interesting that, for perhaps the 15th time or so, Wuthering Heights has been adapted and believe it or not, the story still rings true. Granted, maybe one or two adaptations is fine enough, but honestly, it doesn’t matter because the source material, no matter how old or stuffy it may be, still somehow resonates. Issues with class, race, and even sex, still stick around in today’s day and age and while Wuthering Heights may take an awful lot of staring and paying attention to grab a hold of these modern-day themes, it’s still a piece of material that works.

And in Andrea Arnold’s hands, it is, surprisingly, the best it may ever be.

Arnold may seem like an odd choice as adapting this source material, but it becomes very clear that, right from the grainy and gritty look of the movie, that she’s going to get along with it just fine. After all, it seems like the setting for Wuthering Heights, fits Arnold’s darker sensibilities the most, in terms of setting especially; she can make any sight beautiful, even when, in a film like this, where there’s hardly a sign of any sort of sunlight to be found. And while it’s definitely a bit distracting at first, the tight aspect-ratio works for the movie, having us focus in on these character’s, their emotions, and most of all, yes, “the action”.

While it’s hard to really say anything that happens here is, in the very least, “action-y”, if you love period-pieces that are ripe and filled to the brim with emotion, than this take on Wuthering Heights has plenty of it. Sure, some may see it suffocating that Arnold has us straight up in these character’s faces a good portion of the time, but it all works because it allows for us to feel the raw, dirty and downright nonglamorous love and emotions that they all feel at one point or another. Arnold’s style may definitely be manipulative, but it’s manipulative in the sense that it allows for you to see a story done so many times before, done a tad bit differently and judging how the results end up being.

She's looking for him.

She’s looking for him.

And with her cast, Arnold really seems to have it all worked out.

Shannon Beer and Solomon Grave are lovely and imaginative as the younger versions of Catherine and Heathcliff, respectively, but it isn’t till their older and more mature where the performances really start to click. As Catherine and Heathcliff, the older years, Kaya Scodelario and James Howson are quite magnificent because they say so much, with so little. The burning, fiery intensity between them two is felt from the very start and it hardly ever ceases, with Howson turning in some truly heartbreaking moments without even uttering a word. It helps that Arnold’s camera is, once again, practially up their noses to capture all of these moments of true, unabashed emotion on screen, but it also is left up to them to be handle this sort of material and put something of a different spin on it.

Of course though, you can only put a spin on an ancient tale so much and so often that, after awhile, there’s no more spins left. A part of me appreciates Arnold for taking this material on and trying something as different as she could think of with it, but there’s still that feeling that she’s tied down because of it. The freedom and the variety that’s been around in so many of her other films seems to have been lost here, if only because she feels as if she has to work for the audience who is actually going to go out and see this, all due to name recognition. Sure, it’s not a bad idea, but it’s also a bummer to watch when you know that someone like Andrea Arnold, can make so many more wonders, when she’s just got a little more freedom on her hands/

That said, it’s still great. So yeah, don’t listen to me, essentially.

Consensus: Dark, gritty and raw, Andrea Arnold’s low-key take on Wuthering Heights works because of its new spin on an age old tale, yet, at the same time, still feels like it’s holding Arnold back a bit.

8.5 / 10

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Red Road (2006)

I spy with my little eyes, lots and lots of smelly people.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) spends her days monitoring a series of surveillance cameras trained on a rough Glasgow neighborhood. While it’s no stellar job, it’s one that she finds enjoyable enough to where she doesn’t have to do much except keep her eye out on any sort of chicanery or misdoings. And in this neighborhood that she has to constantly check out, there’s a lot of that going. One fateful day, however, while she’s roaming around on her video-cameras, she spots Clyde (Tony Curran) on one of the screens, somebody she doesn’t seem to know much of anything about, yet, for some reason, she becomes incredibly obsessed with him. With what originally starts out as her video-stalking him, soon turns into her following him around on the streets, talking to his friends and getting involved with his life. It’s odd, but Jackie has a reason for all of this and eventually, it’s all going to come out in unsettling ways.

Yeah, Jackie's a little strange, but hey, she's Jackie!

Yeah, Jackie’s a little strange, but hey, she’s Jackie!

What’s interesting about Andrea Arnold’s movies is that none of them ever seem to be “thrillers” in the literal sense, but for some reason, they turn out to be just that. Eventually, we get so wrapped-up in these characters, their lives, and their stories, that eventually, it’s hard not to be gripped by each and everything that they do, or don’t do. And with Red Road, that is especially true – while the movie is, plain and simply, a dark, gritty and slow-burning character-study, there’s still suspense and an air of mystery in it that makes it so much more.

But at the same time, it’s still an expertly-done character-study that, without the talents of Andrea Arnold, probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

While Arnold is in the perfect position to make Red Road some statement about surveillance, government’s reliance on it, and how normal, everyday citizens are literally paranoid every second of their lives because of this fact, she instead decides to just keep her focus as low and as tight as possible. This isn’t a tale about the government, police, or even surveillance – it’s about the freedom that this sort of technology can provide for someone, who is exactly like Jackie and in need of some sort of closure, or different path to go down with her life. The movie never makes it out like technology is this evil, or this great thing, it just shows that it’s a thing that can change a lot of people’s lives, while also making everyone seem closer to one another, even if they truly aren’t.

Once again though, this isn’t some sort of message movie. Arnold is smarter than that and knows that the ingredient to making a solid little character-study is to give us someone worth watching and caring about, even if we don’t know everything there is to know about her. Jackie’s a bit of an odd protagonist, but she’s one who constantly shows more shadings as the movie runs on by, with Kate Dickie pulling off a great performance, one that shows the subtle range we’re not too used to seeing from her in bigger showings like in the VVitch, or on Game of Thrones. Jackie is an intriguing character, but Dickie finds certain ways to make us understand a little bit more about her, through her interactions with those around her, as well the plain, but troubled looks on her face.

Hate that feeling of never know who's going to speak in an elevator.

Hate that feeling of never know who’s going to speak in an elevator.

Of course, there’s more to Jackie as we soon learn and this is where Red Road starts to fall down a bit.

What started as an interesting character-drama, soon turns into something of a melodramtic thriller that, yes, once again, may not be a “thriller”, in any sense, but has those same sort of qualities and attitudes that make it fit in with that genre. Arnold seems interested in having us know why Jackie is doing what she is doing and tying it all together in one, neat little bow, but honestly, it almost feels like it didn’t need to come to that. The movie makes it out as if Jackie’s decision wasn’t random, but expected, through certain twists, turns, and reveals that come to fruition at the end.

Are the twists and turns shocking? Yeah, they actually are. However, they also make Red Road feel like a different entire movie. What was one a small, understated character-drama about this Jackie lady and her quest into the dark regions of Glasgow, now all of a sudden becomes about her dance with darkness and how it all started. It felt odd to me, even if the characters of Jackie and Clyde, as well as the relationship they build over time, continues to be interesting.

Consensus: Not perfect, Andrea Arnold’s debut, Red Road, definitely benefits from an amazing performance from Kate Dickie, as well as some understated, smart writing that pays closer attention to characters we don’t always get to see in film nowadays.

8 / 10

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Boozer, Ruthless Culture

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Every kid’s troubled.

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), is a a defiant young city kid who is preoccupied with the gangster lifestyle. Meaning, that he spends a lot of his spare time stealing, cheating, cursing, rapping, wearing baggy-clothes, and just doing things one little kid his age isn’t supposed to be doing. In hopes of getting that all changed and he may shape-up a bit, Ricky’s sent by child welfare services to live in the country with foster mother Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband, the cantankerous Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Bella instantly takes a liking to Ricky, as does he to her, but Uncle Hec is a bit of a mystery; he’s not necessarily angry at the world or at Ricky, he just doesn’t care. However, their lives all change one day when Ricky and Hec are forced to spend a whole lot of time together, where they’ll have to learn to survive and depend on each other. You know, typical survival stories, but in this case, between a 13-year-old kid and a nearly-70 year-old-man.

Wouldn't get in a stand-off with him, kid. Sorry.

Wouldn’t get in a stand-off with him, kid. Sorry.

What’s interesting about writer/director Taika Waititi is that it seems like he doesn’t necessarily have a certain style that you can pin down, but it’s twee and quirky enough that it’s still recognizable. In a way, Waititi is a lot like Wes Anderson, in that a lot of his humor tends to stem from editing and visual quirks, and less about what joke is actually funny and how it was delivered. Then again, whereas Anderson feels like he’s actually limiting himself, as well as his comedic sensibilities, by having to stick with his awfully pretentious style, Waititi isn’t afraid to move around a bit, feel for some room, and explore the ever-regions of humor and the comedy world as is.

That’s why Hunt for the Wilderpeople, while not a perfect movie, still shows that Waititi is a talent that needs to be watched.

Even after last year’s What We Do in the Shadows, a lot of people may be surprised about the adoration coming for him only now, but I didn’t quite love that movie the same that others did; in ways, it almost felt like one improv-sketch, after another, with the found-footage format just being a little bit of a bore. It wasn’t wholly original, despite having some nice bits and pieces of inspired humor. Here, that same sense of humor, style, and sense of storytelling is practically lost and with good reason – Waititi gives us a simple story, with a pretty simple execution that helps the movie out because it doesn’t take away from its heartfelt message about, well, love, family and all that sort of thing.

Yeah, it’s pretty cheesy to say a film is “about family and love”, but with the Wilderpeople, it’s true and it works; Waititi has a pretty conventional story on his hands here, but he adds enough heart, warmth and charm to it to where it doesn’t matter what conventions get played out again, or what similar beats get hit. All that really matters is that the beats work, the conventions don’t get tiring, and most importantly, that the movie itself stays sweet and charming. After all, a movie can be as predictable as Sunday mass, but as long as it has a little something more brewing underneath the predictability, then it’s all good.

For the most part, that is.

The only thing keeping Wilderpeople away from being a way better movie is the fact that, yet again, it is still a conventional piece of family-oriented film making. Waititi himself has some nice tricks and trades to make the interesting a whole lot more visually appealing, but other times, he can’t help but succumb to the fact that this story is as simple as you get. The characters work and, of course, the performances from both Neill and Dennison are quite great, but really, they’re all in a movie that’s plain and simple. Waititi may have dealt with the heavier-issues of alienation and sadness in something like Eagle vs. Shark, whereas here, he sort of just hints at them, in hopes that nobody will get too sad or depressed and get taken away from the fun that takes place in the woods with these characters.

When the fuzz comes a knockin', it's time to get a rockin'.

When the fuzz comes a knockin’, it’s time to get a rockin’.

That said, the characters do work and help make this as exciting as it can possibly be. As a child actor, Julian Dennison is not only very cute, but he’s also got some skill, too; a lot of moments and lines could have made Ricky out to be another one of those young, pain-in-the-ass kids that’s just annoying to all hell, but there’s more to him than just that. The fact that he wants to be a gangster and idolizes Tupac and Biggie, makes him more than just your ordinary kids protagonist who just likes to cause a lot of mischief and get into fights about cleaning their room.

Trust me, we’ve all seen it before. But thankfully, Dennison’s a good child actor and can make it all work, while also giving us plenty to adore about him.

Then, of course, there’s Sam Neill who seems like he’s actually enjoying himself here, even if he’s not allowed to show too much of it. Because Hec is such a stern and serious dude, you almost get the impression that Neill himself may be bored and want to live a little, but Waititi gives him plenty of opportunities to do so where he’s more than just an old codger who wants kids to get off of his lawn. Sometimes, all he wants is to be around people for a short while, have a good time, feel some sort of adventure, and then, yeah, go back home to where he won’t ever be disturbed again.

Can’t say I hate him, to be honest. In fact, he’s downright relatable.

Consensus: Seemingly not a very original flick, Hunt for the Wilderpeople works well with its attention to characters, heart, and a visual-style that keeps things interesting and most of all, funny.

7.5 / 10

Can I come? Seriously, guys?

Can I come? Seriously, guys?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Shallows (2016)

Just stay on land!

Still reeling from the loss of her mother, medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) decides to leave her relatively comfortable life and travel out to a secluded beach for some downtime. The beach she’s going to is so so unknown and mysterious, that it doesn’t even have a name, nor do the locals feel like giving away its location. Which means that Nancy’s going to have to deal with swimming and surfing alone, even if she herself doesn’t mind it. After all, there’s a few people at the beach that she talks to and gets acquainted with, but mostly, it’s just Nancy, her board, the water, and well, a little friend who may not have a name, but is definitely a shark. While she doesn’t spot him at first, the shark attacks Nancy, leaving her stranded and nearly 200 yards away from any sort of shelter to be found. So, using her own common-sense and smarts, Nancy’s going to have to rely on fate and luck to get her out of this predicament, all while ensuring that she stays alive and doesn’t become the shark’s dinner in the meantime.

Oh, and there’s an awesome bird to accompany Nancy the whole time. Honestly, if it’s not up for Best Supporting Actor by the end of the year, I’m going to be quite upset. CGI, or no CGI – it doesn’t matter.

Wow! What a buoy!

Wow! What a buoy!

The bird steals the show. Plain and simple.

Anyway, yeah. The Shallows is the kind of movie that you expect to be pretty bad, just judging by its premise and its talent on-board. While Blake Lively’s film out-put has been okay and director Jaume Collet-Serra is occasionally hit-or-miss, I guess the idea of sitting around and watching a half-naked Blake Lively lay around on a rock and try to not get eaten by a shark doesn’t seem all that appealing. Sure, Lively’s got a nice body to look at and a premise like that, when done right, can actually work wonders, but for some reason, the Shallows just seemed another lame summer blockbuster that didn’t have much to work with in the first place.

But somehow, it works out so well.

If anything Collet-Serra does all that he can to make this premise work, as limited as he may be. While there’s only so much one can do with a protagonist when they’re literally stranded on a rock for a near hour-and-a-half, Collet-Serra finds some interesting ways and avenues to go down, in order to make it compelling to watch, as well as fun. The movie’s focus itself hardly strays away from Nancy on the rock, when Nancy is in fact, on the rock, and it’s an effective device to use, because it makes us feel closer to her, as if we too, are stranded, without a paddle, and inches away from being shark bait.


Close call, Blake! Don’t worry. Some guy will save you. They always do.

And sure, the Shallows does get away with some silly things that most other movies in its nature wouldn’t be able to get away with, but that’s because Collet-Serra doesn’t focus on the dumb things of the story. The fact that Nancy does say a lot to her, or in this case, the wonderfully awesome bird, can get a tad annoying, as well as can some of the random conveniences that pop-up to make her stay on the rock much longer. There’s small bits and pieces of this movie that doesn’t necessarily work, but because Collet-Serra is actually able to make this very simple, very easy-to-understand premise, actually something enjoyable, it’s hard to really narrow-in on them and get mad.

After all, it’s a shark movie that’s not lame.

It also deserves to be noted that Blake Lively, in a role where she is, essentially, talking to and interacting with a bunch of CGI, special-effects, and green-screen, does a solid enough job that it makes you forget about some of these things while watching. This is actually a very hard role for most actors to pull-off, where they have to remain interesting, while literally having nothing to say, but Lively’s good at it; we believe her as this smart gal that’s resourceful and what the next best step to take is, which makes this situation all the more drastic and dangerous as it piles on and on. Sure, it helps that Lively herself isn’t all that bad of a gal to look at, but that stuff doesn’t matter because she gives a good performance in a movie that, possibly, may not have needed one to really work wonders, but hey, works fine with one, so why not?

Consensus: Simple to a fault, the Shallows is a low-key horror-thriller that works on building up suspension, to where it’s actually fun to get involved in the sometimes scary situation.

6.5 / 10

Move over a little bit, Blake. You're getting in the way of the bird.

Move over a little bit, Blake. You’re getting in the way of the bird.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Goat (2016)

For a few thousand up-front, they’ll be your friends for life.

The summer before his life changes forever and he starts college, Brad (Ben Schnetzer) goes through a very traumatic time in his life where he is robbed and carjacked by a pack of thieves he knows nothing about. Brad isn’t ready for the real world just yet and begins to have second thoughts about actually going to college, until his older brother, Brett (Nick Jonas), promises him that everything will get better once he joins up at his frat. Brad doesn’t really know what he wants to do, but he wants something to get all of his anger out, so he decides to pledge which, at first, is all fine and dandy. The guys all get to know each other, drink, party hard, and have sex with all sorts of hot chicks. But after pledge week is over, it all gets very dark, very twisted, and very serious, with pledges having to do all sorts of cruel and messed-up things to one another, in hopes that they will become apart of this frat, and most importantly, the brotherhood that the frat promises.

Crazy times with the one relevant Jonas bro!

Crazy times with the one relevant Jonas bro!

Though it’s incredibly hard to find, Todd Phillips’ Frat House documentary truly is an eye-opener for those who never got to experience a real-life frat for what it was, or even actually saw one and only learned of how they were from movies and such. Whereas a lot of movies will glamorize these free-wheelin’ lifestyles chock full of booze, drugs, sex, parties, bro-bonding, and countless other events of full-on debauchery, the documentary showed that there was a more sadistic side to all of these supposed wonderful and great things. Instead of making it seem like a fraternity is the way to go for any college male looking for the perfect set of friends and parties, it showed that maybe, just maybe, going to the library and staying in isn’t such a bad thing.

After all, you won’t have nearly as many psychological issues when you graduate and are ready to actually begin with the rest of your life.

But anyway, the reason I bring up that movie is because a good portion of it feels as if it’s all been brought to film in Goat, even though co-writer/director Andrew Neel has drawn most of this from his real-life experiences in fraternities. And because of that, the movie still feels real; everything we’re seeing isn’t done in the usual, over-the-top manner, but instead, with a keen eye for certain details about this lifestyle that makes you feel like you almost are watching a documentary at certain times. Neel is a smart director though, in that he opts to never really get too close to everything here, even though he definitely could have with all of his experiences in real life; while it would have been easy for him to paint his wild and crazy times in a frat as “rad” and “awesomely awesome”, he opts more for sitting back and saying, “well, maybe it was kind of screwed-up”. But at the same time, he’s not.

See, there’s this detached feeling to the proceedings that take place during Goat and it makes a lot of what’s happening all the more compelling to watch. The movie could have easily gotten on a high horse and made it out to be that frats are the worst things to happen to college life since the cafeteria (which, it may honestly be), but it doesn’t try to get across a message in any way, shape or form. After all, the movie understands that for some of the dudes apart of the frat, it is their lives and without it, they would sort of be nothing; James Franco’s small, but powerful cameo as a former brother who shows up for a little to drink and forget about his wife and kid, shows that this frat lifestyle never goes away, no matter how far away you get from it.

It’s actually kind of scary, but it’s even scarier once you remember that frats still do exist at colleges and they’re still doing a lot of what they’ve been doing since they ever started.

"Don't blink, or take a shot of some warm liquid."

“Don’t blink, or take a shot of some warm liquid that’s totally not urine.”

That said, Goat is also a movie that needs to have a story, and not just be one scene of hazing, after another, and yeah, this is where it kind of falls apart. Neel is great at setting up the scenes for these seemingly unpredictable moments to happen, but when it comes to actually getting across some sort of story, in which there are random acts of violence and even a death, it all comes off as a little melodramatic. Not to say that these sorts of things don’t show the true danger of frats, but they also do so in a way that makes it feel a bit like an afterschool special – albeit, one with a whole lot more cursing, drinking, and nudity.

But thankfully, the performances do help it out. Ben Schnetzer is a very young talent who constantly keeps on showing up in interesting stuff, even if the movies themselves don’t always work. Here, as Brad, he gets to do a lot by showing us this truly nerdy guy who may or may not have a darker side to him, but wants to get it out in any sort of way that he can. Some ways, he reminds me of a few kids I knew going to school, who despite seeming like your normal, everyday geek who came and went to class, didn’t say a word, and seemed to keep to himself, all of a sudden was a part of a frat, bro-ing out, drinking hard, having all sorts of crazy sex, and acting like a crazy and out-and-out maniac. Brad’s that guy and Schnetzer is great at making us wonder just where he’s going to go next. Same goes for Nick Jonas’ Brett, who gets a whole lot more sympathetic as he goes on, showing that this cold, dark and awfully cruel world of fraternities can have some honest souls who don’t want to see their friends roll around in feces and dirt just to get into more parties for free.

Sometimes, they just want everyone to have a good time and not lose their own self-worth.

Consensus: Dark, disturbing and shocking, Goat works as an eye-opener for those who aren’t used to seeing fraternities depicted in this way on the screen, even if its accompanying story doesn’t always seem to be as interesting.

7.5 / 10

If you're waking up to this, it's time to get to class ASAP.

Just bro’s being bro’s.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Billboard, Brightest Young Things

Masterminds (2016)

What’s wrong with a little money in your pocket?

David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) is stuck in an unfortunately very boring and plain life. While he doesn’t necessarily know this, he still knows that his life could get a whole lot better if he just took more chances, rather than just lying around and waiting for life to happen. That’s why when his co-worker who he more than just admires on a professional basis, Kelly (Kristen Wiig), brings up the idea of possibly changing it all, he’s all in. The plan, concocted by Kelly’s pal, Steve (Owen Wilson), is to get David to steal $17 million, and hand it over to the gang. Of course, because David and everyone else involved are a little more than just silly and almost complete idiots, the plan doesn’t go so perfectly. This leads David to have to travel halfway across the world, to make sure that the cops don’t get him, even though they’re looking for him anywhere that they can find him. And just to make sure that David doesn’t do any talking, Steve’s hired a hit man (Jason Sudeikis), who he believes to get the job done in a professional, easy manner.

Why so happy? Cause I'm not!

Why so happy? Cause I’m not!

For some odd reason, Masterminds was supposed to come out nearly two years ago, but just didn’t. Normally, these sorts of things have to do with the fact that the studios got cold feet, didn’t trust the product, or there just wasn’t any big-named talent involved, but not with Masterminds. Despite a huge cast of comedic heavyweights and an interesting, if also, true premise, Masterminds sat on the shelves because Relativity Media, the distributors, were facing financial issues.

So why then, are we waiting nearly two more years for this movie? Is it because the money just wasn’t there to promote it? Or is it because the final product itself was so lame that everyone involved was just too scared to even show the world what it looked like?

Unfortunately, it’s neither. If anything, Masterminds is a mixed-bag in that it seemed like it was a messy movie to begin with, but because there was so much time dedicated and taken to fixing it in any way that they could have, it just comes off a lot more mixed. Writer/director Jared Hess is no hack and surely isn’t a work-for-hire director by any means, but honestly, it seems as if he just stood back and let alone of the movie film itself, with the cast making up the lines and situations as they went on, sometimes creating magic and other times, just seeming like they’ve got nothing to work with, so they’re just throwing whatever they can find, at the wall.

Does it all stick? Not really.

And that’s honestly, one of the biggest problems with Masterminds – it just has way too much going on that doesn’t work, or better yet, even connect. It’s a comedy that’s actually filled to the brim with humor and non-stop weirdness, yet, for some odd reason, that humor, nor weirdness ever seems to really work. There’s a few moments here and there where the movie actually offers something funny and, if anything, inspired (it’s hard not to laugh at Galifianakis mispronouncing Spanish), but they all come very few and far between/

Normally, I wouldn’t even mind this in a comedy, but because there’s so many good and funny people here, it makes me wonder what was really going on. Galifianakis is good at these sort of silly, almost idiotic roles and David Ghantt is not all that different from what we’ve seen before, however, it’s a gag that gets old a little too quick, once we realize that the whole movie is just making non-stop jokes on his behalf. It tries to give him some shading with his love for Kristen Wiig’s character, but at the same time, still likes to watch him fall down, hit his head, or do something so irresistibly stupid.

"Hey, man! It's me! Remember? That guy who's actually really funny, except for in this, for some reason?"

“Hey, man! It’s me! Remember? That guy who’s actually really funny, except for in this, for some reason?”

Once again, there’s not a problem with that in most movies, but it just has to be funny. Which in Masterminds, it never really is.

People fall, get shot, get hurt, and say all sorts of silly things, but does it ever really connect in a humorous way? Not necessarily. Surprisingly, it’s Leslie Jones who actually seems ready to play and willing to work with this material, even if, yeah, her role as an FBI Agent seems, at the very least, probably 90% made up on the spot. Same goes for the likes of Jason Sudeikis and Kate McKinnon, who all show up and, essentially, improv like the Dickens. They may have had a script and a direction, but it never really shows because whatever they make up, they just roll with.

Normally, when you have funny people, ad-libbing doesn’t always hurt. But here, when it seems like the worst bits and pieces of improv were chosen, it just does hurt; we watch as these funny people act in scenes with one another, try their hardest to do something crazier than what they did before, but in the end, just settle for being crazy, but without any humor. It’s like watching Tim & Eric, but not knowing how they construct their episodes or their humor – while that’s perhaps more jarring than watching Masterminds, it still deserves to be said that one’s act of weirdness, works a whole lot more than the others.

And if you don’t believe me, just stay for the credits. They show every cut-scene available to the movie, in hopes that people who didn’t laugh all that much, get another opportunity to do so by watching famous people goof-around with one another, forget their lines, and make more and more stuff up as they roll on along.

As I stated before: Still have no clue what happened with Masterminds, but I’m seeming to get a better idea.

Consensus: Even with the onslaught talent available, Masterminds still feels way too insane and made-up as it went along, to fully function as a well-thought out, actually funny comedy.

4.5 / 10

Yeah. My feelings exactly.

Yeah. My feelings exactly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Live by the oil, die by the oil.

On April 20, 2010, an oil rig out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico exploded, leaving many oil riggers on board, dead, severely injured, and even worse, an insane amount of oil to fill up the ocean and wipe out a rather large chunk of the sea population. In this take on the true events, we get a glimpse into the life of one oil rigger, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who is very dedicated to his wife (Kate Hudson), his family, and his job, which means that he is mostly concerned with making sure that each and every member of his crew is safe on board of the oil rig. However, issues arise when certain shareholders and powers that be within BP have some issues with the way the rig has been going as of late; so far, they’re past budget and feeling a lot of pressure from their bosses to get the oil out of this rig, as soon as possible, and by any means neccessary. Of course, this means actually testing the darn rig in the first place, which causes a whole lot of problems and, essentially, sets off the disaster that we’ve all come to know and, unfortunately, may never forget.

"No! I've got to save the day!"

“No! I’ve got to save the day!”

Peter Berg seems as if he’s become the perfect, go-to guy for these true, fact-based tales about hard-working men and women being, well, hard-workers and facing death straight in the face, even when any normal person in their situation would run away and scream for their lives. Berg likes to make tributes to these people and honestly, it’s an admirable task that he has on his hands; he chooses to make movies about the stories that do actually matter and deserve to be told, to a larger audience who may not know the story as is, or exactly what happened. And because of that, another movie in his wheelhouse, like Deepwater Horizon, not only feels like a solid step in the right direction, but hopefully a sign of better things to come with Patriots Day, a film about the Boston bombings that comes out later this year.

Does it really matter though? No, not really. But if anything, a movie like Deepwater Horizon proves Berg to be one of the better directors out there today, but we just don’t know it yet. He’s not necessarily a flashy director, showing off all of the neat and unusual skills that he learned in film-classes or from his peers, nor does he ever seem to be the kind of director who has a statement to make with every flick he directs, with the exception of, of course, showing us that there are average, everyday people like you or I that could be, essentially, heroes. Sure, it’s a little cheesy and melodramatic, but it still works because Berg doesn’t lay it all on thick, as opposed to directors like Spielberg and, oh lord, Michael Bay seem to do.

No offense, Berg. You’re no Spielberg and you’re sure as hell no Michael Bay.

That said, Berg does a nice job with this material as he presents a story that most of us seem to know by now and still, somehow, some way, make it all compelling and tense. There comes a certain point about halfway through the film in which Berg has set everything up that he needs to set up – location, the characters, their relationship to one another, the central conflict of the movie, and why any of this matters in the first place, etc. – and just lets it all spin completely out of control. While that may sound like a bad thing, it works in Berg’s favor; he truly does get put in the heads of these men and women aboard this oil rig and makes us feel as if we are actually there, experiencing all of the carnage and havoc for what they are, which is disastrous.

Sure, you could make the argument that Berg goes a tad bit overboard with it, in the way that he went a little nuts about the soldiers in Lone Survivor breaking all of the bones in their body, but it makes you feel closer to this whole situation. While Berg is trying to tell us a story, he’s not trying to sensationalize anything, either, no matter how many explosions or high-flying acts he lets run wild; he’s respectful of the story itself, but isn’t afraid to also show what the sort of hell it may have been like on-board of that oil rig that day.

Trust the 'stache. It may save your life.

Trust the ‘stache. It may save your life.

Man, and to think that J.C. Chandor was the original director for this.

Regardless, Berg’s recreation of everything here is tense and unpredictable the whole way through, even if, yeah, we know exactly how everything goes down. All that matters most is actually being drawn in by these characters and the cast, which Berg allows for even more. Wahlberg has become something of his muse as of late (he’s starring in Patriots Day), and the two seem to handle each other quite well; Berg allows for Wahlberg to be his macho-self, while also still giving him a sense of vulnerability that makes us see a true human being, stepping up and being a hero of sorts. Berg also gets a lot of mileage out of some really talented actors like Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, and a whole slew of others, but never feels like he’s shorting anyone, at any particular time. Malkovich’s BP member may seem like your typical Malkovich-villain, loud-screaming and all, but there’s a little something more to him than just being a savage-like prick who doesn’t care about the cost of human life when compared to the cost of his shares.

That said, the note that Deepwater Horizon ends on is an admirable one. Berg shows us, in small, relatively subtle ways, that our world is incredibly reliant on oil. While Berg doesn’t ever get the chance to stand on his soapbox and preach, he still shows us that this is what can happen when the danger of more profit and more reliability is out there in the world. Sure, he’s not necessarily asking you to get rid of your cars and start walking/riding bikes, but he’s also asking us to take a second look at what we do with our normal lives and most importantly, just how much we spend when we go to the pump.

Especially to BP.

Consensus: Tense, thrilling, emotional, and believe it or not, exciting, Deepwater Horizon is another true tale from Peter Berg that not only ups the ante on the explosions and deadliness of the situation he’s portraying, but one that’s got something to say and isn’t totally concerned with just blowing stuff up for the sake of it all.

8 / 10

"Coach? I've got a bad feeling about this."

“Coach? I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Blair Witch (2016)

Seriously, where the hell were you Heather? We needed you.

Nearly 15 years after Heather, Josh, and Mikey went out into the middle of the Burkitsville woods, Heather’s younger brother (James Allen McCune) decides that after all of this time, he needs to go out there and find her. Alll he really has to judge is by a bunch of grainy-footage that showed up on the internet somewhere and because of that, he decides to go out there with a few of his friends and check out what’s shaking. Equipped with all sorts of cool gadgets and recording-devices, the friends meet up with some local residents, not just to find Heather and anybody else who may be out there, but to also discover what all of this witch business is about. They eventually find the answer, although it all comes at a great and deadly cost.

No matter what all of the naysayers, the Blair Witch Project was, and still is, a great horror flick. At the time of its release, it was a cultural phenomena because of everybody assuming it was all real, with the actual actors either “missing” or “dead”, and nothing like it had ever been done before. Of course, it was all a joke and awesome gag that made everyone involved filthy, stinkin’ rich, but it also ushered in a whole slew of other found-footage, first-person-narrative horror flicks. Of course, a good portion of them have been bad, but every so often, you get a good one that makes you understand the power and impact that the format can hold.

Oh, relax! It was just a squirrel!

Oh, relax! It was just a squirrel!

The remake/rehash/reboot of that original flick, is not one of them.

In fact, it’s a perfect sign as to why the found-footage format, quite possibly, may have to go away.

And it’s a shock to say this, too, because director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are two great voices in the horror world today who seem like they know a thing or two about delivering shocking, but fun horror. You’re Next is probably their best, with the Guest coming to a close second and here, it seems like they’ve taken a huge step back. For some reason, all of the excitement, all of the creativity, and all of the originality that seemed to be flowing through their blood, was somehow lost here.

Which leads me to wonder: Did they just not care? Or, did they care too much, but eventually, the studio got involved so much that their original version got taken away from them and they were left with this?

I don’t know what the answer may be, but either solution seems plausible. While they’re stuck with a thankless task of working with, what is, essentially, the same story of the original movie, they don’t seem to bring much to it. The technology is updated and of course, a nice touch, but that’s about it – everything is so rote, predictable and conventional that after awhile, it just feels like a check-list is being written while the movie is being made.

Except for the fact that this time, because technology has obviously improved and there’s a lot more CGI in flicks than ever before, everything now is so much bigger, louder and crazier that it actually betrays everything that the original film stood for. Made off of literally nickels and dimes, the Blair Witch Project worked best because it never always showed us everything that we had come to know and expect with horror movies; what the movie proved was that, sometimes, what’s in our imagination and what we picture in it, can honestly be the scariest thing of all. Here, however, nothing is left to the imagination, with us seeing a lot of wacky, odd-looking stuff, yet, none of it ever seems scary.

Oh my gosh! Sticks!

Oh my gosh! Sticks!

It’s all in our face and, in a way, boring.

Because now, yeah, we’ve seen it all before and it’s not as exciting as it may have been 17 years ago. That said, Blair Witch tries to make itself work for fans of the original, as well as fans of modern-day horror, who probably haven’t even bothered to see the original, which, in a way, means that it gets its job done. For someone such as myself, who loves and holds the original up in high-regard, it’s a problem, because it not only feels like a waste of time, but a silly idea that’s made even worse by the fact that it doesn’t seem to play by the same rules of the original.

And oh, before I forget, the acting here is quite atrocious. Say what you want about Heather, Josh, and Mikey from the original, but at least they could handle whatever script they had handed to them, making it seem like they were real people, trapped in a terrible, downright scary situation. Here, the actors can’t handle the script and the characters themselves are just so bland, so boring and so unlikable, that it’s hard to even care about what any of them do. This is all made worse by the fact that since there are literally cameras everywhere, watching and documenting everything that these actors do, they’re performances suffer more, showing that, sometimes, it helps to have good actors in these horror movies, regardless of how little you actually care about them and how much you actually care about the scares and the monsters themselves.

Sure, it’s a horror movie, but sometimes, well-written characters can actually make the scares all the more effective.

Don’t believe me? Just watch the Babadook. Now, that’s a horror movie.

Consensus: Predictable, uninteresting, and hardly even scary, Blair Witch is an obvious cash-grab that, despite the inspiration that usually lies with the creators, just feels like a waste of everyone’s time.

2 / 10

She's like Heather, but far more annoying. Crazy, right? Better believe it.

She’s like Heather, but far more annoying. Crazy, right? Better believe it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Gadget Help Line

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Personally, I believe that Chutes & Ladders is the key to world hunger. But that’s just me.

Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl living in Uganda, which is, essentially, a slum. She and her family constantly struggle to keep a roof over their head, food on their plates, and try to stay on the straight and narrow path so that they don’t have to stoop themselves down to getting money in dirty, sometimes disturbing ways. But for Phiona in particular, her one dream of making it out of the slums, and into a house, with windows, trees, a swing, and most importantly, a front-door, is by becoming one of the greatest chess players in the world. Through the constant tutelage of her teacher Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), she hones her craft and eventually, gets in tournaments. While she wins mostly all of them, the biggest issue for Phiona, according to her mother (Lupita Nyong’o), is that she sees this world outside of Uganda and can’t help but be dissatisfied and somewhat depressed by her poverty. Phiona has to turn all of that sadness, into energy so that she can make all of her wildest dreams come true and make Uganda a very hopeful and happy place, even if it’s only by the game of chess.

"Mother. checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money's at."

“Mother, checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money’s at.”

For some odd reason, despite chess not necessarily being classified as “a sport”, ESPN is here to help produce Queen of Katwe, which automatically will make you think, “cliché”. And if you did think that, you wouldn’t be far off. Queen of Katwe is the rags-to-riches, predictable story that we so often see with sports-related flicks, except that this time, the story is placed in Uganda and features a young, Ugandan girl, doing whatever it is that she can to make out of poverty and into something resembling “financially stable”.

Does it sound familiar? Definitely.

But does it still kind of work? Well, yeah. Surprisingly, it does.

Director Mira Nair has hit a bit of a slump as of late, but seems to get back on the right track with Queen of Katwe, giving us a story that’s as simple as they come, yet, still has a pleasant enough feel to it that makes you feel like it doesn’t matter how many obvious beats the story hits – as long as they’re hitting them in a right way, what’s the problem? Nair sets us in this place, at this time, shows us how awful this girl’s surroundings are, and then shows the happiness, joy and hope that the game of chess brings to her, automatically making us feel the same thing. We know where this story’s going to go once she begins to pick up some awesome skills at chess, but Nair keeps the story, at the very least, tender, that there’s at least some interest into how it’s all going to turn out.

It also helps that Nair doesn’t settle for making this about how terrible-off and poor people in Uganda are, even though, she definitely could have. A far more challenging and adult movie about Uganda would have gone to great lengths to discuss its class-issues, battle with poverty, and most of all, divide between religions (although, if you want that story, just check out God Loves Uganda), but Queen of Katwe is not that kind of movie. After all, it’s a Disney flick, so how on Earth would that be able to fly pass edits and cuts?

Regardless, Nair keeps her focus solely on the story, touches on those issues ever so slightly, and keeps everything moving, even when it seems to be slowing itself up.

So interesting.

So interesting.

Which is to say that Queen of Katwe isn’t perfect; Nair loses a bit of steam about half-way through when we’re supposed to be interested by Phiona’s brief battle with depression, when it all feels a little random and out of left-field. The movie tries to make it an important anecdote that’s meant to drive Phiona even more to achieving her dream of becoming a great chess player, but all it really does is offer David Oyelowo another opportunity to give a great, rousing speech of making one’s self better and overcoming all sorts of odds. Once again, sounds conventional, and it is, but it still works, even if getting those speeches is ham-handed.

That said, the cast are really the ones who keep Queen of Katwe, in some of its far more patchier moments, compelling. Oyelowo is a perfect fit as this minister/coach who cares so much about having these kids achieve their dreams, that he’s willing to risk his own career and marriage over it; Nyong’o’s mother character may seem like another typical, old-timey lady who doesn’t care about her kids hopes and dreams and just wants them to clean their rooms and realize the world is a terrible, unforgiving place, but eventually, she turns around and proves to have the most heart out of all the characters; and newcomer Madina Nalwanga is quite good as Phiona. While she may not always hit the right notes and definitely show that she’s an amateur, there’s still a feeling that Phiona, despite winning all of these games of chess, is still a kid, who just wants to run around and play in the dirt with her friends and family.

Really though, Queen of Katwe works so well with these actors because the people are real. At the end of the flick, we get to learn a little bit about these real people’s lives and actually see them, side-by-side with their acting counterparts. The movie never rips at your tear-ducts, but this moment got me and made me feel like I just saw a true story, with heart, emotion and a great amount of sweetness, play out all in front of my eyes.

And that’s truly something nice.

Consensus: While still conventional and predictable to a fault, Queen of Katwe mostly benefits from a solid cast and heartfelt direction from Mira Nair who has to jump between Disney and ESPN on quite a number of occasions, yet, seems to please both parties, as well as the audience.

6.5 / 10

"Check. Mate. Now leave my sight."

“Check. Mate. Now leave my sight.”

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

It takes one to ruin a village. And about six more so blow it the hell up.

Looking to mine for gold, greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has been taking over small towns, wiping out any man, woman, or child who comes into his way. Why? Because he’s an absolute savage and does not give a single hell what anybody else thinks, says, or does – as long as he’s rich and powerful, then there’s no issues. Eventually, he seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek, wiping out quite a few of the townsfolk there, too, leading some residents, like Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) desperate and in need of some help. That’s when they discover bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who is more than up to the task, but may need a little bit of help from some talented, incredibly violent pals of his. That’s when he recruits the likes of a gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), an assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), all to take down this Bogue, even if they have to get over their differences and whatnot at first – something that’s actually quite easy when they all have a common enemy.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let's hope.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let’s hope.

The original Magnificent Seven isn’t a perfect movie, to be honest. Like a lot of other movies from its time, sure, it’s dated, but it’s also pretty slow and takes a little too long to get going, when all it seems to do is focus on such icons like Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner measuring dicks and beating their chests like true alpha males. Sure, that’s some bit of entertainment in and of itself, but after nearly an hour of that, there needs to be something to help speed it all along, which is why when the action does eventually come around in that movie, it’s glorious and a healthy reminder of what sort of magic can happen when you have a lot of bad-asses, picking up guns and shooting other bad-asses.

So yeah, in that sense, it’s a good movie, but not a perfect one.

And the same goes for the remake, which for some reason, takes even longer to get going. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t mind that as much here, as it’s very clear that director Antoine Fuqua, is just enjoying his time with this cast and these characters so much, that to jump right to the action where most of them may go down in a blaze full of bullets, would almost be a disservice to them all. Fuqua isn’t the best director out there, regardless of the fact that he drove Denzel Washington an Oscar with Training Day, but when he decides to settle all of his crazy tendencies down, believe it or not, he’s actually a pretty solid director. He may love the blood, gore, guns, and women a whole lot more than the actual characters themselves, but he does something smart here in that he keeps the character moments here for safe keeping.

Of course, too, it also helps that Fuqua himself has such a solid cast to help him out, with his pal Washington back in action as the sly, but cool and dangerous Sam Chisolm. Washington may seem like a weird fit, but he works it all out perfectly, showing that he’s the clear-headed individual of the whole group, while also proving that he’s not afraid to lose his cool and shoot some mofo’s down, too. Chris Pratt is also a bundle of joy to watch Faraday, showing off another sense of cool and charm that works in his character’s favor, as well as for him, too. It’s nice to see Pratt, even after something like Jurassic World, that didn’t allow for him to even crack a smile, well, get a chance for him to do that and prove that there’s also something a little more sinister to him, as well.

Yeah, where's Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

Yeah, where’s Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

The rest of the cast and characters don’t get nearly as much attention, but they’re all still fine, nonetheless.

Ethan Hawke has some interesting moments as Robicheaux, showing a serious side effect to all of the gun-slinging and killing that he talks so famously about; Vincent D’Onofrio is goofy and weird as Jack Horne, a big bear of a man, but it’s right up his alley; Byung-hun Lee is cold and dangerous Billy Rocks, even if he doesn’t have a whole lot to say; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is probably the weakest of the crew as Vasquez, never quite getting the chance to really show off any charm or excitement; and Martin Sensmeier, while barely uttering a line as the Red Harvest, is still a pretty intimidating figure nonetheless and it works.

The only shame about the movie is the inclusion of both Haley Bennett and Peter Sarsgaard. Nothing against either performer, who both do fine jobs here, but it also feels like they may have been a little tacked-on. Bennett literally has a leading role here and honestly, a part of me wanted to believe that she’d be one of the so-called Seven, all sexist issues aside, but sadly, that doesn’t happen and she’s lead to just be the smart gal who, yes, can take care of herself and yes, can shoot a gun, but also doesn’t feel like she’s that part of the crew. And Sarsgaard, enjoying his time as a campy villain, doesn’t have many scenes to show off all of his evil tendencies and instead, seems like an afterthought in the movie’s mind; so much time is spent on the Seven, their dynamic and their training for this battle, that the movie forgets the actual threat himself, which is Sarsgaard’s Bogue.

Still, the final battle itself is solid and saves any sort of bad feelings going into this ending. It’s bloody, brutal and surprisingly, unpredictable, with a few people biting the dust that you wouldn’t expect to. It’s nice to see a mainstream movie not afraid to take off some famous people’s heads, while, at the same time, still have the chance to offer up a sequel in the near-future.

Would I see it? Probably. Just give me a better next time.

And no, I’m not talking about Marvel.

Consensus: With a talented and more than capable cast, the Magnificent Seven works as an entertaining, sometimes incredibly violent Western that’s a lot like the original, but also feels more concerned with characters this time, even if the villain himself doesn’t appear all that much of a threat.

7 / 10

Yeah, I'd turn around, too.

Yeah, I’d turn around, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire