Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 2010s

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

Weiner (2016)

What’s in a name?

After spending some time in Congress and starting all sorts of controversy for his loud, sometimes arrogant demeanor and approach to certain situations, Democrat Anthony Weiner decides that it’s his time to take things one step further and head for Mayor of New York City. And to be honest, it seems as if Weiner has an actual shot at winning the job; he’s good friends with the Clintons, his wife, Huma Abedin, is loving and supportive, and his viewpoints on race, gender, and class make him all around beloved human being. However, it all comes crashing down when news surfaces that Weiner was on the internet, scouring the web and sending all sorts of naughty pics to gals that he would strike up conversations with. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Weiner got in trouble for his internet-usage, but it was the one time that everyone who loved and supported him, began to turn the other cheek and think long and hard about who they wanted to represent them. Either they wanted the strong-willed, determined family-man, or they wanted the strong-willed, determined dude who looked to look at dirty pics online?

"Vote for me and I swear that I'll delete my web history."

“Vote for me and I swear that I’ll delete my web history.”

Oh and yeah, it’s all filmed.

No, seriously. Like almost everything that you could imagine wouldn’t be filmed in a situation as tense and awkward as this, trust me, it’s filmed. It even gets to a point where the directors, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, even ask Weiner himself why he’s allowing for them to film everything and, well, he hardly even gives an answer. This is meant to show that Weiner himself, doesn’t give a hoot what constitutes good or bad publicity – as long as the cameras are turned towards him, the lights are beaming down on him, and people are talking to him, then Anthony Weiner is more than happy to oblige to anything.

Is that such a problem?

The interesting aspect about Weiner, the person, that the documentary gets across very early-on is that he’s the kind of politician that only Aaron Sorkin still believes in and thinks can still exist; he’s loud, arrogant, brash and selfish, but at the same time, he cares about what he believes in, is very opinionated, and isn’t afraid to get down on the ground level with fellow human beings, making it seem as if everything he does, says and promises, well, he’ll make happen one day. While watching the documentary, it’s not hard to think this, regardless of what political affiliation you may or may not have – watching someone like Weiner run around like a wild madman during his campaign parade is exciting and most of all, inspirational. It’s the sign of a true politician that believes in everything that he wants to do, even if some of it, sure, may be a little unrealistic.

But once again, is that such a problem?

And of course, that same question could be directed towards what he did in his spare-time – aka, what with the sexting and all that nonsense. The movie’s smart in that it never seems to be on Weiner’s side, nor does it ever seem like it’s totally against him; I would use the term “fly-on-the-wall”, in terms of their approach to the material, but Weiner himself makes a mention of it, so it’s kind of hard to compete. But yes, he’s got it right – this is on-the-fly, off-the-wall documentary film-making at its finest and it’s a testament to how passionate these film-makers were to getting everything that they could on film, regardless of if it was considered “rude”, or “unprofessional”.

"My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn't?"

“My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn’t?”

After all, their film-makers and film-makers have always been seen as “rude” and/or “unprofessional”.

Hell, it’s in the blood.

And due to the movie being a play-by-play of everything that’s happening, it’s not hard to get swept up in all the mayhem and drama, even when it seems all to excruciating to sit back, watch and relax. This is especially the case when you consider the fact that a good chunk of the film is literally watching as Weiner’s marriage falls apart right in front of our eyes, with him and Abedin hardly exchanging glances when in the same room, let alone actual words. It’s hard to watch, but you know what? It’s also incredibly watchable. Anthony Weiner wants us to see this for what it is and not really try to draw our own conclusions, even if there are certain things behind-the-scenes that do, or don’t happen and keep us guessing a little bit more.

That said, the movie still does fall short of being perfection because there’s never any introspective given on behalf of Weiner or even the film-makers. Sure, we can make up our own conclusions about what was going through the mind of Weiner during this one time in particular in his life, but sometimes, it’s always best to get a raw, one-on-one interview with the person; to just see him doing things that he would do in his normal, everyday life, no matter how interesting, sometimes, isn’t enough. To hear what’s going on in his head and understanding the beast for what it is, honestly, makes the journey all the more interesting.

Without it, it’s just watching a person do things that may be considered “self-destructive” or may not.

Consensus: Short of perfection, Weiner is a gripping, exciting, compelling, and sometimes hard-to-watch documentary that paints its subject in an unforgiving light, yet, at the same time, also makes him out to be the person some of us never knew actually existed beneath all of the overblown controversy.

8.5 / 10

There's no E-I-N in Weiner. No, literally.

There’s no E-I-N in “Weiner”. No, literally.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Meddler (2016)

Mom’s annoy you, because they love you. Appreciate it.

After the death of her long-loving husband, Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) is kind of lost. She’s heartbroken, sad and lonely, which is why she continuously drops by to see her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), so that she can have a little something to do. The only issue is that Lori doesn’t always enjoy her mom’s presence and because her own career as a screenwriter is stressful as is, she can’t help but bring some of those angry thoughts onto her mother. So instead of trying to help her daughter out every chance she gets, Marnie decides to extend her helping hands to those around who – some of whom, she hardly even knows. And because she was left a whole lot of comfort-money, Marnie is more than capable of doing whatever is necessary to ensure that some of her new friends are pleased with everything they ask of Marnie. While she’s doing all of this, of course, she’s also striking up something of a relationship with a local security-guard (J.K. Simmons), who takes a huge liking to her, even if she isn’t quite ready for a new love in her life.

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

It’s a pretty simple and overly cutesy plot that goes quite awry a few times. See, what’s odd about the Meddler is that it seems like writer/director Lorene Scafaria doesn’t quite know who’s side she’s on – the mom who’s meddling, or the hapless daughter who just wants to be left alone. Considering that this appears to be very autobiographical, it’s odd to see a writer/director side with someone who isn’t them, and it does play into how the movie’s perceived.

There’s a part of the Meddler that’s having fun with itself and its cast, but also seems like it wants to say more. In a way like I’ll See You in My Dreams had something to say about aging and growing old without your soulmate around, the Meddler mostly shows what a person in that situation would do to try and keep themselves busy. Of course, the situations and predicaments she gets herself into are ridiculous, but they’re also kind of funny and charming in only  a way that a movie such as this can get away with.

Because, let’s be honest, driving an Apple employee that you hardly know, to and from law school, never works out.

It’s just a fact.

But what works best about the Meddler is that Scafaria’s writing is just charming enough, to where we don’t care what we can believe in or sympathize with – the situations, after awhile, just write themselves and it’s interesting to watch how each and everyone of them play out. There’s not nearly as much tension as you would expect, but maybe that’s not this kind of movie; it’s just a showing a later-age woman, trying to still make something of the life she’s got left. It’s earnest to a fault, but hey, it kind of works.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

And yeah, it definitely does help that Susan Sarandon is playing the title character, appearing in almost every scene, showing off her great knack for combining her heart and likability, even when it seems like this character may be something of a caricature. Scafaria shows a lot of love and affection for the characters here, but it’s Sarandon’s that gets the most, with just the right touch of humanism to make her seem real, even if she does sort of seem like she’s too nice, too sweet, and too colorful to be real. But thankfully, that’s why Sarandon is here to show us that, yeah, even if she doesn’t, she’s still a whole lot of fun to watch a movie about.

As for everyone else around Sarandon, they fare a bit better on the realism-side. Rose Byrne is seemingly playing Scafaria and does fine enough being miserable and getting into all sorts of fights with Sarandon; J.K. Simmons is playing the older fella that Sarandon falls for and shows why someone like him would be so attractive in her eyes, yet, at the same time, also maybe not be the right fit; and Cecily Strong, as the gal who gets her wedding picked-up by Sarandon’s character, shows a great deal of heart, even if her character is really meant to stand around and just cry a whole lot.

It’s a bunch of hapless roles, but hey, having a good cast can sometimes work in a movie’s favor.

Consensus: Even though its cutesy premise can sometimes get in the way of an actual plot, the Meddler does benefit from a solid lead performance from Sarandon that overcompensates for almost every other wrongdoing of the script and/or direction.

7 / 10

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn't re-arranging your drawers.

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn’t re-arranging your drawers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Every person who has ever picked up a musical instrument – look out!

Childhood friends Conner (Andy Samberg), Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) were all set to rule the music world when they jumped onto the scene as the hip-hop group, the Style Boyz. They had clever, catchy tunes, that also earned them lots of respect in the rap-game, and made them one of the highest sellers of their time. However, as with most big and successful bands, there was a lot going on beneath the surface and eventually, the band broke up. After the break-up, Conner and Owen went on to stay together, with the later as a DJ playing for the former, who was now known as “Conner4real”. Of course, Lawrence faded into obscurity, almost to never be heard of again, while Conner is literally living out the life of an absolute and bonafide star. But as usual with these kinds of tales, when you’re on top for so long, eventually, you’re going to come crashing down real, real hard.

I think we all know who Andy Samberg's #1 fan actually is...

I think we all know who Andy Samberg’s #1 fan actually is

A movie like Popstar doesn’t deserve to bomb as hard as it did at the box office. It’s understandable that parody/satire flicks aren’t everyone’s cup of Joe and it’s definitely understandable that only a few share of people actually know who, or what kind of creative genius’ the Lonely Island actually are, but still. People out there in this world should have known better and understood that these are the kinds of movie that deserve to be made, should be made, and ought to make a whole bunch of money, because, well, that means more movies such as these.

Then again, I didn’t see the movie in theaters, but still. It’s the principle, people!

Anyway, what works best about Popstar is that yes, it’s the Lonely Island doing what they best; yes, they already had their film-outing with Hot Rod, however, that wasn’t nearly as much as their film as this is. All of the weird and eccentric tendencies of that movie, come out in full-form here where it seems like no matter how hard they try, the Lonely Island guys can’t seem to stop getting lost in their own wild, sometimes screwed-up imaginations. Some scenes go on longer than they should and the comedy just continues to draw itself out, but that’s sort of the point; these guys find the smallest, most intricate bits of comedy that work and they run wild with it until it’s dead in the ground and can’t go on any longer.

But then, they find more and more ways to keep it running. It’s hard to explain here because the movie is so littered with odd-ball jokes and gags throughout, most of which, yes, actually do deliver their laugh-out-loud moments. Bits with an over-exaggerated TMZ parody are downright hilarious; a few songs that actually mock Macklemore are pure things of genius; and even a small gag involving Conner’s “get-up” to hide himself in the public, still has me laughing. It’s not ground-breaking bits and pieces of comedy, but they’re still bits and pieces of comedy that had me howling while I was watching them, while also making me chuckle thinking about them long after.

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

And that, my friends, is when you know you have an effective comedy on your hands.

Of course, the movie isn’t totally perfect. Because it’s a parody flick and not the most sincere piece of storytelling, the times where it does get somewhat serious, don’t necessarily work and it’s because of that reason alone, the middle-act doesn’t flow quite as well as the first and last. It’s hard to describe without having seen the movie, but it’s just a feeling I got while watching the movie; the jokes still hit and made their marks, but they were much more stretched out and in service of a plot that seemed to take a halt for some weird reason.

But then, thankfully, the movie gets back on-track and everything’s back to normal in the final-act, where the jokes continue to fly and the songs get even better. And honestly, it’s hard to do wrong with the Lonely Island when it comes to their jams; they’re well-written, perfectly performed, and actually, believe it or not, meaningful. Sure, a good portion of them are just joke songs about dicks in boxes and whatnot, but a good portion of them do make fun of the entertainment world and the whole idea of what makes a celebrity that it makes them more than just a smart, intellectual jokesters.

Even though that’s exactly what they are.

And with Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, they’re all perfect here. The movie only really relies on Samberg, which is fine, because he’s still good as Conner, playing up this sort of act, then having to break it all down/ But really, Popstar works best when it’s just allowing for random people to show in, sometimes up off the streets, add a little bit of their own flavor and charm, and remind us more and more that this is in fact a group effort of humor. Will Arnett, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Mike Birbiglia, Bill Hader, Chelsea Peretti, Imogen Poots, Justin Timberlake, and so many others all pop-up, do their things and yes, are actually funny. It’s surprising to get a movie with so many high-profile cameos and yet, have just about each and everyone of them be just as funny as the last one to come through.

It makes you wonder what Judd Apatow could work on.

Consensus: As a satire on the music-biz, Popstar is biting, but also pretty damn hilarious, featuring some of the best and most catchiest songs from the Lonely Island.

8 / 10

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

 

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

Some men just want to kill all the baddies for reasons unknown.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham), after a few years or so, feels as if he had put his murderous past behind him where he can now sit back, relax, enjoy the beach, drink a cold one, and live the life he wants to live. And he sort of gets that with Gina (Jessica Alba), a local woman who is currently having issues with her husband – issues that a man like Arthur Bishop is more than capable of taking care of. However, his whole life changes when Gina is kidnapped by a former foe of Bishop’s (Sam Hazeldine). The only way to save Gina, unfortunately, is for Bishop himself to complete a few odd jobs that include taking out some of the most notorious, most rich and most powerful arms-dealers. Why? Well, Bishop begins to put the pieces together while he’s doing these missions and decides that it’s going to be time for him to take more than just a few people out if he wants to get what he wants and also ensure that Gina’s lovely life is saved.

Sun's out, guns out.

Sun’s out, guns out.

The first Mechanic movie was a fine piece of Statham-action – in fact, it was probably better than a lot of them. What worked was that it had some nice action, a breezy pace, and also not to mention, the wonderful, if always underrated Ben Foster to bring some pathos and magic to the otherwise heavy and action-packed setting. That said, it was also a movie that wasn’t nearly as successful as his others and, not to mention, also seemed like it was more or less going to be forgotten in about five years, let alone, five months.

But for some reason, here we are – over five years later and guess what? We have a sequel to Mechanic?

And you know what? I’m glad. Mechanic: Resurrection is a surprisingly fun movie that feels like it could have easily been some straight-to-DVD trash that nobody bothers to pick up, but instead, only scoff at on their way to the register, and it still sort of it is – but hey, it’s fun trash. It’s the kind of trash that makes me happy that someone like Jason Statham exists and his movies can get so ridiculous, so insane and so over-the-top, that honestly, sky’s the limit on what can and what will happen.

And with Mechanic: Resurrection, it’s great to see Statham do what he does best, because the movie itself is still fun. The missions that Bishop gets sent on, while a bit predictable at first, begin to take on new lives once we realize that they literally place in Bishop in these new, somewhat interesting worlds that could possibly be his own damn movie. The whole Malaysian prison set-piece an inspired one and honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing its own movie made about, just like the pool-sequence, as well as whatever the hell Tommy Lee Jones’ character is.

"Hold on tight, baby. It's going to be a bumpy life from here on out."

“Hold on tight, baby. It’s going to be a bumpy life from here on out.”

Speaking of Jones, believe it or not, he’s actually more inspired here, than I’ve seen him in quite some time.

It’s weird, too, because the character that he’s playing – a rich and powerful arms-dealer, who has a whole bunch of piercings and a spiked-cut to boot – doesn’t seem totally up his alley. But surprisingly, Jones is having fun here and more than willing to enjoy the undeniably dirty and gritty proceedings than ever before. Why he’s in this is totally beyond me, but hey, I’ll take a fun and excited Tommy Lee Jones, over a bored and growling one.

And the rest of the small, but fine cast is good, too. Michelle Yeoh doesn’t have a whole lot to do, for some reason, even though she’s in an action movie for gosh sakes; Jessica Alba is hot and fiery, despite her not having much of a chemistry with Statham; and Statham himself, once again, is perfect for this kind of role. Sure, he’s stoic and quiet, but he’s also charming whenever the script calls on for him to be and it’s a lot of fun to watch, especially when the movie seems to be enjoying his presence. More movies need to take advantage of the fact that, well, Statham is a funny guy and can charm the pants off of a donkey, so why not let him do all of that charming-stuff, aside from the ass-kicking and shooting?

But like I said about Resurrection – it’s not a perfect movie.

It’s silly, it’s idiotic, it looks cheap, and honestly, sometimes feel like a plot that’s making itself up as it goes along, but for some reason, I enjoyed that all. Director Dennis Gansel doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for us to stop, wait and think, but instead, he just constantly throws every bit of action that he can find at us and it works. The movie’s a whole more fun for it and in a way, kind of smart, too.

Okay, maybe not, but still, it at least tries.

Consensus: As far as stupid and silly action-sequels go, Mechanic: Resurrection is a good one that features plenty of cool and exciting action, as well as a supporting cast that’s better than we normally get.

6.5 / 10

"Yeah, honey? Keep the turkey running, I'm going to be a little late for suppa."

“Yeah, honey? Keep the turkey running, I’m going to be a little late for suppa.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire, Jason Statham Source

Snowden (2016)

It doesn’t matter if you’re awkward and kind of nerdy – if you can type fast, the world is yours.

Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was just another typical, young dude from North Carolina who had an obsession with Ayn Rand and most of all, wanted to be in the Army and serve his country. However, due to a disability that made it so that any pressure applied to his legs would almost certainly cripple him for life, he had to opt-out for something that he was far better advanced and skilled in: Typing. That’s when he heads up to Virginia, where he learns a thing or two about network systems, hacking, and most importantly, how to maintain confidential information. And for Snowden who, at first, felt like he was doing a justice for his country, this was the perfect life to live; he was a patriot, a hard-worker, while making lots of money, as well as some sweet money with his supportive, but also incredibly liberal girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shaliene Woodley). This all begins to change for Snowden when he not only realizes that the government is using its resources to destroy the lives of, quite possibly, innocent people, but also spying on each and everyone of its citizens for reasons that he apparently doesn’t have the clearance to hear the answers to.

Edward Snowden. War hero?

Edward Snowden. War hero?

Did we really need a Snowden biopic after Citizenfour? Not really, but much like with Man on Wire and the Walk (yet again, another JGL flick), did we really need a movie about Philippe Petit? Probably not, but sometimes, it does help to get a little more info and attention on a subject who, for some reasons or another, may actually need, or deserve it. In Snowden’s case, this is especially true – while he will, in no way, ever be a forgotten person of our times, his cause and what he believes in still seems to be forgotten about, even when people seem to be putting more and more of an over reliance on WikiLeaks, despite all of the issues going on with that website and what it publishes to the rest of the world.

That said, Citizenfour is probably the go-to movie for finding out everything you need to know about Snowden, the person.

Or better yet, by checking out the web itself, even if the government is spying on you actually do it, that is.

But regardless, the tale of Edward Snowden, as done by Oliver Stone, isn’t all that bad. Sure, it’s by-the-numbers and rather conventional, but because the tale of Snowden, how he became someone we know about, why he got there, and where he had to go through, is actually very interesting. Even if you do a small Google search on Edward Snowden himself, you may find one or two things that you didn’t already know about, discovered here – but then again, you may not. Either way, it’s less that Snowden is a meaningless movie, it’s more of a movie that isn’t doing anything particularly ground-breaking, yet, doesn’t have to – it’s telling a story of a person whose life in the past decade or so, has become quite the compelling one.

And while Stone is typically known for the kinetic, sort of crazy outrage in movies such as these, believe it or not, he’s actually a lot more chill and relaxed here – rather than running off the seams, trying to tell us more and more about the paranoid state of mind one must be in while working for the government, Stone keeps everything on even-ground along with Edward, allowing for us to see, hear and think everything that he’s seeing, hearing and thinking at the same time. It actually works in the movie’s favor, especially since a lot of Snowden’s tale is, unfortunately, about a lot of inner-angst, depression and paranoia that only he seemed to feel and for us to feel as if we are one step closer to him, actually works with the movie.

That said, the movie does lack in actually giving us more to the characters surrounding Snowden, even including Snowden, too.

Love at first bit.

Love at first bit.

As Edward Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does the best that he can – because he’s playing someone with as much personality as a pebble, he has to dial down all of the charm and fun that we’re so used to seeing from him. However, even with the deep-voice and awkward twists and turns of his body, the performance still works; there’s not a whole lot of heavy-acting moments where he loses his cool and stops the whole movie dead in its tracks, but there’s still enough to watch and be compelled by, even when everyone and everything else around him seems not to be so up-to-snuff.

Case in point: Shaliene Woodley and her performance as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Of course, Woodley’s a great actress and lovely as all hell, but still, even her good looks and chemistry with JGL can’t help Mills from seeming like just a case for Stone to get all sorts of liberal opinions and views out there, and also challenge Snowden’s viewpoint and career. It’s too preachy to really work, but it does help that it’s all being done through Woodley, who is able to show some sort of heart and emotion with a character who, quite frankly, needed a whole lot more of it.

After all, she’s a real woman and is the love of Edward’s life. So why not a little more?

As for the rest of the heavily-stacked ensemble, they all fair fine, but once again, they aren’t nearly as developed as they should be. Zachary Quinto and Melissa Leo play the distraught but always interested Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, respectively; Rhys Ifans is hamming it up completely as Snowden’s seemingly evil boss; Ben Schnetzer has a good couple of moments as a fellow hacker within the CIA that teaches Snowden a thing or two and wakes his eyes up; and yes, believe it or not, with barely even ten minutes of screen-time, Nicolas Cage does a pretty solid job evoking a sense of pride, playing one of Snowden’s peers who, like everyone else around him, teaches him something about life. It’s cheesy, but hey, it still kind of works.

Consensus: Perhaps the movie we didn’t quite need, yet still actually get, Snowden is very much a play-by-play of what we can expect from a traditional biopic, but still benefits from an interesting store and a solid lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who, unfortunately, has to do a lot of acting, for a lot of people.

7 / 10

And he just keeps typing, and typing, and typing....

And he just keeps typing, and typing, and typing….

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Other People (2016)

Come back home, where everyone hates and judges you. It’s always a great time.

At the ripe age of 29, David (Jesse Plemons) finally knows feel himself. For one, he’s come out to everyone around him and is finally working as a writer and not having a single worry in the world. However, that all changes when he has to move back to Sacramento to go and see his family, mostly because his mother (Molly Shannon), has come down with a pretty severe case of cancer. But no matter what distractions may be in his job, or in his love life, David keeps his attention solely on his mom who, unlike his conservative father (Bradley Whitford), actually accepts him for who he is and not what he should have turned out to be. Of course, over the time that David spends with his family, they get into fights, arguments, discussions, and all sorts of other stuff that family tends to get into, while the mother of the family is sitting there, wondering just where her life is going to take her next and whether or not this is all going to be the last moments she spends with not just her family, but on Earth in general.

Wow. The bully from Like Mike sure has grown-up.

Wow. The bully from Like Mike sure has grown-up.

So yeah, basically imagine the Hollars, but with not nearly as many stars in the roles and a way better, smarter direction and script to work with and yeah, you’ve got Other People. Of course, it’s the same kind of Sundance movie in which a young, constipated man returns to his family home where he’s subject to all sorts of criticism and praise for all of the decisions he may have, or may have not made, in the years since his leave. It’s conventional in terms of format, but whereas the Hollars felt like it barely had anything to say or do with that convention, Other People actually does do something and has something to say, which is basically that, “yeah, people die, but other people live, too.”

It sounds so simple, but trust me, played out in the film, and through writer/director Chris Kelly’s lenses and words, it works out so well.

That said, Other People isn’t a perfect movie; often times, its small, subtle tone and approach to its plot can get in the way of what could have been some really raw, emotional moments, but that’s neither here nor there. I have to give credit to Kelly for at least taking a smaller approach to this material and not just demanding our tears at every waking moment; instead, he gradually takes his time, waiting for the moments to come up and just constantly building these characters, their relationships, and each one of their personalities, so that we get a better idea of who we’re dealing with and whether or not they’re actually worth giving a damn about in the first place. And considering that Kelly comes from a SNL background, it’s surprising to see him, as a writer, wait for the right moments to actually strike the audience with a serious bit of laughter, or tears, rather than just going for it when he feels bored.

Is that a dig at SNL? Quite possibly, but hey, that’s neither here, nor there.

What matters most is that Other People, while dealing with a conventional and yes, formulaic plot, also does small, little wonders with it that helps it become so much more than just another chance for a bunch of famous, good-looking people, to slum it in low-budget, grainy-looking indies. Instead, it’s a movie that has a beating heart, that has something to say about cancer, family, relationships, and love, but at the same time, doesn’t; Kelly isn’t looking to force messages of drama and loveliness down our throats but instead, just give us a tender story that sort of shows us everything that he wants to get across or say.

Yup. This kid.

Yup. This kid.

Basically, he does a lot of “showing”, and not “telling”, which for any writer or director, that’s a smart thing to do. Kelly may not have a huge background in movies just yet, but he makes a lot of smart decisions that so many other well-experienced and legendary directors have made and continue to seem to be making. So if anything, yes, let’s hope that Kelly continues to work and show the world that hey, sometimes it’s always better to play it a little low-key, eh?

Anyway, the cast is also very good and another reason why Other People works as well as it does. It’s nice to see Jesse Plemons take on a much more realistic and naturalistic role that shows him in a more interesting light that, honestly, we haven’t seen from him since the days of Landry. That said, Plemons is still great here, showing a lot of smart, but also naivete to a character who may have it all figured out, but may also not. There’s a fine line he plays with this character and it works, allowing him to be both insightful, as well as just normal enough that he doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the characters and performances.

And that’s why Molly Shannon shines so much as his mother, Joanne. As Joanne, Shannon has a lot of heavy-lifting to do, which means she gets a chance to cry a whole lot and just be a total mess, but it’s never done for shows, nor does it ever feel overdone – it’s actually bare and raw, something that you’d most likely see in real life, being done by a real person in her situation. It’s interesting to say this, too, because Shannon’s obviously not fully known for her dramatic-roles, and here, she shows that she’s more than up to the task of delivering. Sure, she can still be a barrel of laughs when she wants to, too, but when she wants to make us cry, she can still work with that, too.

Why she isn’t a whole lot bigger and more recognized is totally beyond me.

Consensus: As simple and straightforward as you can get with a Sundance indie, Other People may not change the world, but offers up charming, heartfelt writing, along with some great performances to make it feel like a nice little family outing worth spending time with.

7.5 / 10

Mothers and sons. Can't beat 'em.

Mothers and sons. Can’t beat ’em.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Logo

Complete Unknown (2016)

Sometimes, it’s best to just run away, change your identity, rinse, recycle, and repeat.

For his birthday, Tom (Michael Shannon) decides to get all of his best and closest pals together. Why? Well, because why not! Anyway, everyone comes around, enjoying some fine drinks, dinner and even cake and what should be a fun, celebratory time, for some reason or another, gets a little weird. For some reason, Tom’s friend and co-worker, Clyde (Michael Chernus), decided to bring a date with him – some pretty girl he met at a lunch-spot named Alice (Rachel Weisz) – and because of that, Tom can’t stop acting weird. He feels as if he knows Alice from somewhere in his life, but can’t seem to put his finger on it. Why? Well, he doesn’t really know, nor does anyone else at the party, which is why they’re constantly freaked out by Tom’s act. The only one who does know why Tom is acting the way he is, is Alice who seems to have some weird mysteries of her own.

Yeah, not easily recognizable at all. She didn't like win an Oscar over a decade ago or anything!

Yeah, not easily recognizable at all. She didn’t like win an Oscar over a decade ago or anything!

Complete Unknown is a fine movie because it asks for you to pay attention to its story and stick around so you get the full, clear picture of what it’s trying to do and say. Director and co-writer Joshua Marston clearly seems to be battling with a few different ideas and tones in his head and because of that, it’s interesting to see just what he comes up with, even when it does seem like he’s not quite sure of where even he’s going. Then again, isn’t that why we all go out to see indies? To get something that’s new, creative and slightly more original than our typical, mainstream fare?

Well, actually, yeah, and that’s why a movie like Complete Unknown, as messy and sometimes odd as it may be, is still, at the very least, interesting.

And really, that’s all it needs to be to work.

Although, what’s probably the oddest element about Complete Unknown is how you expect to be one thing, by the way it starts off, and then it becomes something different entirely. From the beginning, you expect it to be this small, almost plot-less character-study about a woman who seems to jump from one life to another, almost for no reason whatsoever. It’s interesting that we’re never told this, but instead, shown this through all of her different lives and careers.

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

But then, Marston changes the game on us and instead, gives us a bigger picture, with more characters, more relationships, and more of an idea of where it’s going to go. And yes, unfortunately, it’s sort of where the movie falls over itself; Complete Unknown is a movie that clearly works best when you can’t pin-point what it’s trying to do, or where exactly it wants to go next. When it becomes clear that the movie wants to try and make this a weird sort-of thriller where people are constantly curious about this Alice girl, as well as Tom’s reaction to her, it loses a bit of steam.

Then again, the cast is so good that it almost hardly doesn’t matter. Shannon is great in these sorts of roles where he plays an every man who, one day, starts to seem a bit shifty and may have something far more darker to him. But then, there’s also Rachel Weisz who plays Alice so well, that she sort of steals the movie. There’s a small, but beating heart to Complete Unknown and it all lies with her and her character; what about her past with Tom, we don’t quite figure out right away, but the mystery is enough to stay interested and see where it all goes. Even if the movie does sort of just end, finding out more about these two and their possible past was more than compelling to have made me glad to be on this weird ride.

Consensus: Despite not fully working with all the different tones and genres, Complete Unknown works best when it’s giving its solid cast mysterious, but interesting material to work with.

6.5 / 10

Need to start anew? There's always the beach.

Need to start anew? There’s always the beach.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Youtube, the Verge

The Hollars (2016)

Family’s suck. No matter how colorful.

John Hollar (John Krasinski) is having a bit of a rough time in his life. He’s struggling to make something of his career as a graphic designer, so he now works in retail, hoping to make something from nothing, and now, impregnated his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick), and doesn’t seem to know if he’s ready for that or not. Either way, John’s going to have to grow up real soon as he finds out that his mom (Margo Martindale) has brain cancer. Feeling as if it’s finally time for him to go home and see the family he left behind so many years ago, John has to put up with a lot – despite his mom actually being all fine and dandy, all things considering, everyone else in his family seems to be crumbling. John’s brother (Sharlto Copley) is still reeling over his divorce and estrangement from his kids, while his father (Richard Jenkins), is about to lose his company and file for bankruptcy. Not to mention that one of his mom’s nurses, also happens to be an old foe from high school (Charlie Day), who’s now married to his high school girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). So yeah, it’s an odd time for John, but he’s going to do whatever he can to make out as humanly sane as possible.

To read the full review, head on over to Riot-Nerd and check it out. It’s a new gig that I’ll be showing up on every so often, so yeah, check it out and let them know what you think!

Sully (2016)

He’s the Captain now.

On Jan. 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 goes up in the sky and heads for its destination. However, not long after take-off, they run into a bunch of geese, not only destroying the plane, but even going so far as to take out its engines. This leaves the two pilots, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), to have to make an emergency landing in, of all places, New York’s Hudson River. Though it’s very risky and sort of a do-or-die decision made at the last second, it miraculously works out, with all of the 155 passengers and crew surviving. As expected, this makes Skiles, but most importantly, Sully, out to be true American heroes who, after experiencing something as tragic as 9/11, need someone to look towards for inspiration. However, as is the case with most problems such as this, U.S. Airways lawyers and insurance companies want answers to what exactly happened up there in the sky, leading to an investigation of Sully’s judgement, history, and most of all, his character.

"This is your captain speaking. Yeah, we're kind of screwed."

“This is your captain speaking. Yeah, we’re kind of screwed.”

Even at age 86, Clint Eastwood is still knocking them out like nobody’s business. And sure, while Sully may not be the greatest movie he’s ever made or, god forbid anything happen, the perfect note to go out on, it’s still a solid reminder of what kind of film-maker he can be when he’s got good material to work with and seems to have some sort of inspiration to work off of. That’s not to say that everyone of Eastwood’s are “bad”, but sometimes, you can when the creative-juices are flowing, and sometimes, when they’re not. With Sully, you can tell that they are flowing and it’s nice to watch, especially since, at almost an-hour-and-a-half, it does everything that a good movie needs to do: It tells a good story, gives us solid performances, and most of all, has us going home feeling a little bit better about our lives.

Now, what’s so wrong with that? After all, aren’t most movies supposed to do that?

Actually, no, but that doesn’t matter here; Eastwood is setting out to tell this story of a hero that, honestly, time seems to have forgotten about. With Sully’s story, however, Eastwood isn’t just using his movie as a platform to pay a tribute to the man and leave it at that – he wants to tell a story of a little moment in our nation’s most recent-history that we may remember perfectly, or may not, but definitely mattered. After all, it’s people like Sully who might possibly make this world a better place and even though Eastwood, as a film-maker, could have definitely gone down the road of lionizing this man from beginning to end, instead, he shows a real human being dealing with this whole idea of fame.

However, what’s interesting about Sully’s story is that his so-called “fame”, if anything, really comes from a possible tragedy, where a man like him was just doing his job, at the perfect time that he needed to. He had to make a very smart judgement call and while some, even to this day, still feel as if he could have avoided his final solution, there’s no doubting it was a hard one to make and it’s one that, certain people like Sully, find hard to cope with and understand. Eastwood shows how, even though Sully may be looked at by the rest of the world as a flat-out “hero”, he has a hard time accepting it, or even making sense of it.

The 'staches that fly together, sit out in the freezing cold together.

The ‘staches that fly together, sit out in the freezing cold together.

As stated before, he was just a pilot flying a plane and insuring that everyone on-board made it off alive.

And as the titular character, Hanks is quite great because, as usual, he shows us a real beating heart underneath all of the gray facial and head hair. While it’s easy to just see Tom Hanks, one of the world’s most recognizable actors ever, under a bunch of make-up and hair jobs and never look past it, look harder and you’ll see Hanks really disappearing into a role that shows off everything that he can do so well. He makes us feel for a person who, in all honesty, didn’t really need all that much sympathy drawn out of us to begin with, but still, it’s nice to see him give it his 110% as we all know and expect of him to do.

Of course, it was nice to Aaron Eckhart in, finally, a good movie again, doing his best to create some comedy out the dark and dramatic moments here, and while she doesn’t have a whole lot to do, Laura Linney is still good enough to offer up plenty as Sully’s wife. And really, it’s neat to see actors like Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Jamey Sheridan play a bunch of despicable, almost evil investigators who are acting solely on the behalves of U.S. Airways. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the portrayals of them as a complete and total hatchet job, Eastwood does show them all off as being people who are, yes, doing their jobs, but also not realizing just what this man Sully did for these passengers, as well as for the nation.

And in a time like post-9/11, where New York City was still clearly reeling from tragedy, trying to make sense of everything and not looking forward to stepping onto planes again, it mattered.

Consensus: With a solid leading-role from the always dependable Hanks, as well as a melodic, but smart direction from Eastwood who, even at age 86, is still capable of reminding us that movies like Sully deserve to be made, if solely to pay a tribute to those smaller heroes we don’t always think about on a day-to-day basis.

7.5 / 10

Follow him. He's Tom Hanks.

Follow him. He’s Tom Hanks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, the Wrap

I Am Number Four (2011)

I feel like Number 666 is pretty damn cool. Where’s that person’s movie?

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) seems like an ordinary teenager, who wants to live long, prosper, have a great time, find some hot chicks, drink, party, and just do what every other teenager in the whole entire world wishes for. However, he’s very far from ordinary – in fact, he’s an alien on the run from merciless enemies hunting him and the eight others like him. So in order to make sure that he doesn’t get found out by this group of baddies, he and his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), have to constantly go from town-to-town, changing their identities and staying as hidden and as unseen as they possibly can. That’s easy for Henri to do, but for John, he just wants to be out there in the world, living life like a typical teenager, which leads him to start going to the local high school, where he meets an falls for the cutest girl at the school (Dianna Agron), but at the same time, also captures the attention of the school-bully (Jake Abel), who isn’t afraid to start some stuff with John whenever he oh so feels the need or desire.

Basically, it’s high school, but you know, with aliens.

"Trust me, I'm hot."

“Trust in me, I’m hot.”

Just like Disturbia was D.J. Caruso’s junior-Hitchcock, I Am Number Four is definitely his junior-Spielberg. Everything in it just breathes, hell, screams Spielberg; the high school-setting, the angsty, misunderstood teenagers, the aliens, the government conspiracies, the monsters, etc. It’s as if Caruso felt the need to start trying out whatever famous director’s style he could go for next, regardless of whether or not he actually had the talent to do so, so in a way, it’s an admirable effort on his part.

Issue is, I Am Number Four also feels a whole heck of a lot like every other YA adaptation that tried so desperately hard to recapture the same magic and success as Twilight did and because of that, it definitely feels like a step-down for someone who is a pretty competent director. After all, Caruso gets a lot right here that other Spielberg-wannabes have tried to aim for; the high school and its characters are compelling, if also somewhat realistic, and for awhile, the mystery of these aliens, their powers, and all that stuff, is interesting enough to stick around for. But then, the movie also dives really, really deep into the mythology which, honestly, doesn’t matter, or work.

I Am Number Four is the kind of movie that probably works best, when nobody takes it serious – the director, writers, cast, everyone. It’s so goofy and weird that often times, it would have probably been best if the movie made itself out to be something of a parody of these YA adaptations, and then decided to turn the other cheek and become its own genre-flick, like say Shaun of the Dead, or even Airplane. But of course, that isn’t the case here – instead, we get a relatively self-serious movie that doesn’t always know how to tone down the sci-fi mythology that nobody can understand or care for, nor does it know when the best time for some fun character-stuff needs to happen.

Then again, maybe that’s just a problem with me – expecting human stuff out of a YA adaptation.

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

But still, Caruso does offer up enough to make the movie, at the very least, an entertaining piece of mainstream trash that doesn’t need to be thought about long, especially considering that all it really wants to do is set-up more and more sequels to come. And considering that this is the film-business, is that such a problem? It isn’t if you have something to really work with; Twilight got five movies, whereas I Am Number Four only got one and honestly, there’s something wrong with that. A part of me feels like if I Am Number Four got the opportunity to expand on its universe, hire some better writers and whatnot, that it would have grown on to be something better than just another YA-knockoff that people forget about after a week or two.

It probably wouldn’t have been the next Hunger Games in any way, shape or form, but it would have at least been somewhat of an enjoyable diversion, right? Cause with the cast, the movie could have definitely done more to add some sizzle and spice to the whole YA-genre. Alex Pettyfer, despite always having to work with an odd American-accent, is perfectly fine and hunky as Four, or the apt-named, John Smith; Dianna Agron’s pretty-girl-who-takes-pictures-so-yeah-she’s-interesting character is boring, but she does enough of something with it; and yeah, Timothy Olyphant is a blast to watch, making the best of what he can, even going so far as to infuse any bit of humor that he can find in the creases. Everyone here is fine, but sadly, they never got the next opportunity to see what they could do next with this story, this franchise, or even this world.

Oh well. At least we got another Divergent movie coming out sometime soon.

So that’s good, right?

Consensus: Too serious to be campy, and too weird to be hilarious, I Am Number Four is an okay diversion from the rest of the YA-fare, but unfortunately, also doesn’t have much of its own identity to help itself out and break away from the rest of the pack.

5 / 10

Wow. Alex must not really want Isabel in his life. Deuche.

Wow. Alex must not really want Isabel in his life. Deuche.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Klown (2012)

The best role models are always the most random.

Frank (Frank Hvam) is trying so desperately to prove to his girlfriend that he’s father-material, even if everything that it seems like he’s doing is proving otherwise. He surprises her with sex in the middle of the night, and he’s seen as a perv; he gets nice and pretty things, and he seems like a sugar daddy; he shows his soft side, and he’s seen as a softy. But this time around, Frank wants to prove that he’s got the goods to make a solid father and in order to prove this, he decides to kidnap his girlfriend’s 12-year-old nephew, Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen), on a little trip of sorts. Normally, this would be all fine, dandy and relatively sweet, but where Frank’s taking Bo is on a trip that he and his friend Casper (Casper Christensen) call “Tour de Pussy”. Though Casper is initially against Bo coming on the trip, as well as he should be, he eventually gives into the fact and embraces it – doing everything that he normally would, with Frank occasionally joining in on the festivities.

Learning how to swim, but in the Danish way.

Learning how to swim, but in the Danish way.

A movie like Klown makes me wonder why more comedies in America aren’t nearly as good. It’s the kind of comedy that gets everything right, that not only every comedy should get right, but every movie in general; it’s got hilarity, a little bit of heart, some neat little twists and turns, and most of all, likable and well-written characters that you actually do want to watch more of. And heck, it even clocks in just under an-hour-and-a-half, making it the rare short movie that, quite honestly, I could have watched for another hour or two.

Can’t remember the last time I said that about a movie, let alone, a comedy.

But that’s the magic of Klown – it’s the one rare exception to most R-rated, raunchy comedies out there that seem as if they’re just trying so desperately hard to make its audience laugh, that they fall over themselves, laying in a puddle of their own filth. Some people love that, which is fine, but for me, I prefer the raunch to come from a smart, special place, where it all feels earned and is as disgusting as you can usually get. Call me a sick individual, or whatever you want, but trust me, when raunch works in a movie, it can work like gangbusters and that’s one of the real beauties of Klown – it’s raunchy-as-all-hell, but man, does it ever work.

If anything, Klown could definitely be described as a crazy mixture of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with a real Adult Swim tone and feel; the situations that these characters get themselves into are, yes, a little predictable and expected, but they’re so subversive, so wrong, and so damn evil, that they’re incredibly hard not to enjoy or laugh at. Case in point, there’s quite a few times here where you know the punch-line is going to be coming very, very soon, but because it’s been so jacked-up over time, and there’s a real great bit of energy to the whole film, that you just laugh your pants off when the time comes.

Yeah, doesn't get anymore embarrassing.

Yeah, doesn’t get anymore embarrassing.

In fact, Klown is so chock full of laughs that it’s really difficult to pin-point the funniest moments.

And that, my friends, is when you know you have a great comedy on your hands – it doesn’t try too hard to make you laugh and because of that, it works oh so perfectly. But really, I’ve got to give all of the success of Klown, to both Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, who not only star in the movie as crazy versions of themselves, but even wrote the damn thing, too. To say that these two are some sick, twisted and messed-up individuals, would be predictable and not quite right; they’re screwed-up, but they’re also incredibly talented in knowing how to write a quick, entertaining movie, but also never forgetting about their trademarks. While I’ve never seen the show that this movie is based on, if anything, it makes me want to check it out, just to know what these two guys have to offer to the world of comedy and also, whether or not they’re funnier to watch than most American products out there.

Call me unAmerican, call me what you will, but if something’s funny, I’m going to watch it and enjoy the hell out of it. Regardless of where it comes from.

Consensus: Downright vile and almost inhumane, Klown is the sort of comedy from the wrong side of the tracks that so rarely gets made, yet, also doesn’t ever seem to work well, with nearly as much heart, humor and subversiveness as it has.

9 / 10

One, big, happy Danish family.

One, big, happy Danish family.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aidy Reviews

The Sea of Trees (2016)

Life is better than the woods. Trust me.

After a great tragedy leaves him numb to the rest of the world around him, Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) decides that he’s just about had it with life. So, in one last act of giving himself what he wants, he decides to travel all the way to Tokyo, or more importantly, the Aokigahara forest. Why? Well, the forest is actually nicknamed “the Suicide Forest” for, you guessed it, all of the suicides and deaths that occur here. But when Arthur gets there, he encounters a Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe), who wants to kill himself as well, but for some reason, isn’t as definite about it. Then again, neither is Arthur. So the two decide to try and get out of the forest, but for some reason, they can’t seem to find a way out and continue to get injured on the adventure out. Meanwhile, Arthur constantly thinks about the life he had back in America with his wife (Naomi Watts), that may or may not have lead him to Japan and, subsequently, made him want to take his own life.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. "Page", meaning script.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. “Page”, meaning script.

The big question on most people’s minds about the Sea of Trees is one thing, “Is it as terrible as people have been making it out to be?” Well, the answer is, “kind of, but not really”. For one, it’s a bad movie that seems awfully misguided – rather than being a deep, interesting and heartfelt meditation on life, death and one’s existence, it’s just one dramatic moment, after another of people appearing sad and that’s about it. There’s supposed to be more heart and emotion in the proceedings, but for some reason, there just isn’t. Everything’s as dry as paint that’s been on a wall for a week and it’s an even bigger shame because the cast and crew, on a good day, can absolutely work wonders.

However, this wasn’t a good day for a single one of them and it’s very apparent while watching it.

And it’s weird because when Gus Van Sant misses, he usually misses his target in a crazy, almost insane way; sometimes, he can often get too experimental and wacky and just lose sight of what he was going for in the first place (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). However, the Sea of Trees is a miss from Van Sant that’s a lot more like Last Days, or Paranoid Park, where it seems like he’s actually so bored with the material, that he doesn’t really care about doing anything interesting, experimental, or even the least bit exciting. He’s just sort of there with the material, filming whatever he thinks needs to be filmed and, essentially, living up to the legend that Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back made fun of all those years ago.

This is odd, too, because Van Sant is actually a very inspired director, but here, he just loses that sense of inspiration; the story is supposed to be filled with so many emotionally-strong moments where people break-down, cry, and air out their feelings for compelling moments, but none of it ever registers. It’s actually kind of weird, really – it’s the one and only bad movie that, for lack of a better term, is just boring. The people in it and acting seem like they’re trying, but to what effect? When there isn’t a script or a direction to really work with, what’s the point?

Well, there isn’t one really, but at least they all seem to try.

Matthew McConaughey seems like a very smart choice for this lead and works quite well, as usual, but his character is so blandly-structured, that he just doesn’t feel like anything, or anyone. He’s just a sad dude that we’ve seen before in other movies and that’s about. His scenes with Naomi Watts, who is playing McConaughey’s wife, are awful; most of the time, they’re fighting about stuff we have no clue about, and when they’re not doing that, they’re trying so hard to create any sort of romance and chemistry that’s just nowhere to be found. Once again, on a good day, McConaughey and Watts can create all sorts of sparks and work wonders for good material, but the good material just isn’t here for them and instead of their scenes being insightful, they’re just annoying.

"Not alright, alright, alright."

“Not alright, alright, alright.”

But it’s an even bigger shame to see Ken Watanabe here, because he too is trying, but also has such a dull character to work with, you wonder if he’s even trying after awhile. Of course, he most likely was, but the scenes he has with McConaughey lack any sort of energy that can be found in the actor’s back-catalog. And yes, even random appearances from Katie Aselton and Jordan Gavaris can’t do anything to save the Sea of Trees, or its actors.

Everyone’s just having a bad day and it’s hard to change that when it’s so obvious.

Which brings me back to my original conclusion: Is the Sea of Trees awful? Not really, but yeah, it’s still bad. It looks great, has the occasional moment of good-acting, and yes, does bring one or two surprises to its story. But the rest of the two hours is just plain and simply put, boring. It’s hard to really care for a movie that does some small things right, when everything else that it seems to be aiming for, they miss and just don’t know how to do right. There’s no one to blame, it’s just a thing that, unfortunately, can happen every once and awhile.

Consensus: Despite a promising cast and director, the Sea of Trees is a bland, uneventful and honestly, boring piece of drama that never gets off the ground and felt more like a chore to make, as opposed to a joy or a pet-project, which it should have felt like.

3 / 10

"Look, over there is a good movie. Hopefully. Let's go find it."

“Look! Over there! A good movie! Let’s go find it”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Morgan (2016)

Humans are evil enough. Let’s just leave it at that.

A corporate troubleshoot named Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent in to check out a new scientific experiment named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). Though Morgan may look, act and talk like a real human girl, the reality is that she’s just a scientific specimen that was created to create some sort of super-being, in hopes of greater specimens to be made in the future. However, almost seemingly out of nowhere, Morgan stabs a fellow doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye, leaving everyone involved with the raising of Morgan to wonder just what the hell happened, where did it all go wrong, and how can it be fixed. That’s why Weathers is here, to not only check out what went wrong, but also, how far gone just Morgan is, to the point of where it’s time to destroy her and move on to the next science experiment that may make the world a better place. But being able to think for herself know more than ever and growing more special powers, Morgan isn’t so happy about this and starts to act out in more dangerous, overly violent ways, leaving her creators to reconsider their creation.

Morgan feels like the kind of movie that was written in the 80’s, left sitting on a shelf somewhere, collecting up all sorts of dust and spiders, until someone decided that they had officially run out of ideas from the 70’s and had to get on with the next decade, so of course, it was the next option. Of course, I don’t mean this as a particularly bad thing – Morgan is the kind of movie that has a retro-feel and vibe, yet, never gets to become “corny”, or nostalgic”. It’s still modern enough to take place in the year 2016, yet at the same time, also feels like the kind of corny sci-fi film that’s been made since the dawn of time.

Staring.

Staring.

Which is to say that it’s entertaining, yes, but that’s about it.

And normally, I’d be perfectly fine with this. While a lot of people have been comparing this to Ex Machina, they’ve been forgetting that this movie doesn’t entirely float on that movie’s same radar; Machina is obviously way better, but it’s also far more serious, dark, disturbing and further more, in-touch with certain issues about technology taking over the rest of society. Morgan seems like the kind of movie that may have had something interesting to say about this, but really, is a whole lot more concerned with killing people and watching as one character, after another, bites the dust in awesomely gory and intense ways.

Once again, is there anything wrong with that? Probably not. That’s why, for a good portion of Morgan or so, it’s at least an interesting watch, because of the sense of terror, doom and tension in the air that’s there for a reason, but never gets going right away. We know that Morgan is bad and will eventually snap, but watching these characters, getting to know them, their location and most importantly, settling into these quarters, is still compelling to watch, if only because it takes its time to do small things that most blockbusters of this nature wouldn’t dare bother with. Of course, this isn’t saying that Morgan is a smart, or even well-written movie, but for a short while, it’s the kind of sci-fi movie that takes it time, doesn’t rush itself, and pays attention to certain things that probably matter in a movie like this and in order for it to work.

Then again, about halfway through, the movie does get crazy and, eventually, become something of an uninteresting bore.

Still staring.

Still staring.

Director Luke Scott seems like he had the perfect idea for setting this character and this plot up, but when push came to shove and it was eventually the time to start moving, he kind of lost his head. He gets way too bogged down in killing characters and doing so in gruesome ways, rather than actually trying to keep the momentum and intensity building up and up, until it eventually becomes almost too much for even the audience to handle. Most of this definitely comes from the fact that he doesn’t really develop any of the characters, but it also has to do with it seeming like a rushed job on the final-half, where things continuously happen, but there’s no real fun, joy, excitement, or connection to any of it.

Granted, this may be a case of me expecting more from a product than there probably needs to be, but hey, so be it. Morgan has a great cast and it seems like everyone came ready to play, but their material is so thin and so weak that after awhile, it’s not hard to want to see everyone die. Mara is probably the most interesting character of the bunch, but after a short while, her character becomes so hilariously unenthused, that it can almost seem like a parody. Same goes for the fellow scientists who sit there, love and support Morgan, and who also can’t seem to pull the trigger on it when the time comes around. These are the kinds of scientists that it’s hard to believe in actually existing – the ones who love their experiments more than life itself and are more than willing to sacrifice the goodwill of the rest of society for it – but without them, who knows how many sci-fi movies we’d have around?

Especially ones like Morgan?

Consensus: Initially tense and interesting, the well-cast Morgan soon turns into a conventional sci-fi thriller that just gets rid of characters as a chore and doesn’t quite know how to end next.

5.5 / 10

Well, not anymore. Maybe. Can't quite see past the emo-cut.

Well, not anymore. Maybe. Can’t quite see past the Pete Wentz emo-cut.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

Even when you think you’re alone, you never really are.

After experiencing all sorts of horrors and tragedies in WWI, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is looking for a little time away from the rest of the world, so that he can relax by himself and soak up what life has given him. So, he’s given the job of a lighthouse keeper which, for awhile, is a job he quite enjoys. Though he’s seemingly all by himself for some thousand miles, he doesn’t mind it and embraces it every chance he gets, regardless of what storms may come his way. But one day, while back in town for a little vacation, he meets the lovely and blissful Isabel (Alicia Vikander), who instantly wants to marry him. And yes, they do, but there’s a bit of a problem: Isabel seems incapable of giving birth. While it seems like their marriage may be in trouble, somehow, a boat carrying a man and a baby comes docking near the lighthouse. While the man is dead, the baby isn’t, and now, Tom and Isabel finally see their opportunity to have that one family that they’ve always wanted. Meanwhile, while they are with this child, the baby’s real mother (Rachel Weisz) sits at home, in heartbreak, not knowing where her child is, or if she’s even alive.

With a movie like the Light Between Oceans, you really have to be prepared for a lot. A lot of emotions, a lot of happiness, a lot of sadness, a lot of beauty, a lot of good acting, a lot of dread, and well, a lot of a lot, really. That seems to be the case for mostly all of Derek Cianfrance’s films – both Blue Valentine and the Place Beyond the Pines take place in all-too real where everyone’s sad, everything bad happens, and there’s only small bubbly moments of happiness. And then, yeah, it’s gone and everyone’s back in the dumps as if the sun never shone down on them.

So majestic and beautiful. Oh yeah and the ocean, too.

So majestic and beautiful. Oh yeah, and that ocean, too.

That said, there’s something compelling about watching this kind of sadness that makes Cianfrance’s flicks watchable, or at the very least, interesting.

In no way are they ever considered “entertaining”, or better yet, “fun”, but they’re definitely worth watching, because there’s a great deal of attention and craftsmanship that comes with his direction and his style. While Blue Valentine will probably remain his best no matter how hard he tries, Pines and this one, both seem to working in the same territory, but on different planes. Technically, they’re both epics and they’re both pretty long (despite this one probably being 20 minutes shorter than Pines), but they also approach love, destiny and happiness in a different manner; the former was much more about how family precedes everything and here, it’s about how family makes you who you are, whether it’s blood or not.

Then again, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m totally stretching and trying my hardest to seem “deep”, but regardless, it’s worth saying that the Light Between Oceans is quite an interesting watch, where love seems to bliss and all sorts of different ways the plot can tell itself and unfold seem to pop-up, but then, it becomes to be a bit much. For one, the plot definitely unravels into some pretty dark, almost disturbing places, that only result in more and more misery for everyone involved. Which is normally fine for a short, hour-and-a-half indie, but here, we have a movie clocking in at two-hours-and-12-minutes, meaning we deal with a lot of sadness, for a really long time.

Mommy's not lookin' so great.

Mommy’s not lookin’ so normal.

Sure, we get the beautiful and lovely specimens like Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz to watch as they navigate throughout this weepy, overly dramatic material, but there comes a point where it becomes too much. Cianfrance definitely loves to live in these sad tones and moods that feel as if he’s never got around to trusting anyone in his life, let alone, the world, but it also feels like he does it just for the sake of doing it. Granted, the material he’s working with isn’t his (it’s adapted from M.L. Steadman), but it still feels like it’s tailor-made for him, if only due to the fact that it never quite brings any insight into its depression and sadness.

In a way, it’s just sort of saying that all of this heartbreak and utter remorse is inevitable.

And if that is the case, then what’s the point? With Blue Valentine, it seemed like Cianfrance was trying to depict a failing romance, less as a way of showing how the world and love works, but just how two different people work when they fall in love and experience romance together. Here, Cianfrance seems to just revel in the fact that these two lovebirds’ lives may possibly be tarnished and ruined forever, for the sole sake of keeping a story going and going.

While it may sound like I’m totally raining down on the movie’s parade, I really am not. It’s hard to look away from a movie like the Light Between Oceans, where almost every single sweeping shot of a landscape is as beautiful as the next and starts to feel like a postcard after awhile, but it’s also hard to really get invested when there’s so much doom and gloom, without any light or joy at the end of the tunnel. We get some of it with Vikander and Fassbender’s all-too-real chemistry together, but that’s about it and it’s probably not entirely the movie’s fault for them working so well together.

So what else does that leave?

Consensus: Despite its gorgeously beautiful cinematography and strong performances, the Light Between Oceans never quite connects on an emotional level and after awhile, just feels like one sad event happening, over and over again.

6.5 / 10 

Someone call Child Services already! They're clearly too happy to be a real family!

Someone call Child Services already! They’re clearly too happy to be a real family!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2016)

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

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

Symbolism? Or something, right?

Symbolism? Or something, right?

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

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

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

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

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

But as an actress, nope, Portman is terrific.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm, so to speak.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Southside With You (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

A little romantic, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz