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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

The Runaways (2010)

Oh, that band who did “Cherry Bomb“?

Once upon a time, way back when in the early-to-mid 70’s, there was an all-girl punk rock band called The Runaways. Formed by Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), they were brash, young, and angry, and because of this, were influential to almost every punk band, as well as to all women within the music world. However, problems with management and the members themselves would, eventually, lead to their too-early demise, just as soon as others were starting to know and hear them.

The Runaways may be influential, but in all honesty, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually knows anything about them, beyond that one song that they are known for. It’s a shame, too, but it also begs the question: Do they deserve their own biopic? In all honesty, possibly not, but writer/director Floria Sigismondi does a nice enough job of making the case.

All films about the good old days of rock ‘n roll have the same type of thing going for it – drugs, sex, and hard, rockin’ music. There’s no problem with that because nine times out of ten, it’s usually a bunch of fun to watch and be a part of. And thankfully, that’s what happens here; there’s a certain rampant and crazy energy to the Runaways, the band, and to the movie as well, that carries on throughout its run-time, making it feel less and less like a conventional, by-the-numbers biopic, and more of a snapshot at the lives of some very young and rambunctious women.

She definitely doesn't give a damn about her bad reputation with hair like that.

She definitely doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation with hair like that.

But the problem is that none of them are all that interesting.

Sure, it’s enjoyable to watch a whole bunch of happy people rock out and go crazy to some awesome tunes, but at the end of it all, you need a compelling story to really keep you going and that is something that this story just does not hold. We get all of the usual cliches where rockers get addicted to drugs, experiment a little bit with sex, and eventually become a bit too cocky for their own good. That usually comes with the product when you have something like this, but it comes off as just boring and plain.

It’s also hard to really care about anyone here, because well, we don’t get to know any of them. We all know who Joan Jett and Lita Ford are, but we want to know more about everybody else involved and it’s something we’re not totally given. Ford is barely even talked about here and most of the screen-time is dedicated to following Currie’s life and seeing what she’s going through when she’s on and off of the road. This would have all been fine and dandy if her story was at all interesting, but it just isn’t. All of the problem’s she was going through at home with her loving-sister and drunken daddy just felt tired, even if they may have been true. More time could have been dedicated to all of the other band-members and created a much more cohesive product, as a whole.

The one bit about Currie here that is interesting is Dakota Fanning and how she grows up in front of our very own eyes. Fanning is doing a lot of naughty kid stuff here like poppin’ pills, snorting coke, having sex, and jumpin’ around in tightly-skinned leather-clothing and she makes it seem believable because the girl has a bit of an edge to her. She’s got a lot of nastiness to her that could really make us see what it is about her personality that makes people believe she can be a leading-woman in all girl rock-band and it’s all because of Fanning that makes this character work.

Michael Shannon as fabulous as ever.

Michael Shannon as fabulous as ever.

Then, there’s Kristen Stewart who also does a pretty kick-ass job as her far more interesting real life character, Joan Jett. Obviously everybody knows Joan Jett and thinks she’s bad-ass as it is and that’s the same type of edge that Stewart gives her. She’s lean, mean, and doesn’t seem like she takes much crap from anyone, especially guys that think she’s just another piece of meat. I would have honestly liked to see a whole film on her, with Stewart in the lead-role, and it’s kind of a bummer that this may be the only type of documentation we get to see of her in a movie type of way.

Oh well, maybe in the far-future when rock music is extinct.

As good as both of these gals may be though, Michael Shannon is the one who really steals the show and makes his real life character, Kim Fowley, the most interesting and most entertaining aspect of the whole flick. Shannon is as flamboyant and energetic as he has ever been and it’s great to see him have such a fun time with a role where he just let’s loose on everyone around him, but there is also something that seems very grounded in reality about him that makes you see why he is one of the most successful and respected producers of all-time. The guy’s got his own agenda, sticks to it, and doesn’t let anybody get in his way. He’s the perfect inspiration for anyone, especially if you’re a music producer and it’s a reason why the guy is still working today. Actually, a whole film of him being played by Shannon would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than this whole film, but hey, can’t get ’em all.

Consensus: The Runaways does work with a lively atmosphere and winning performances from the cast, but stocky and sometimes unoriginal writing get in the way of what could have been a far better biopic.

5.5 / 10

Bad girls revolt.

Bad girls revolt.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

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Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Not enough sex. Seriously.

After her fling with billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) just wants to get on with the rest of her life. She’s the assistant at an independent book-publishing company, where she hopes to one day get a bigger role in the company and make a name for herself. But for some reason, she still can’t seem to shake the feeling of Christian off of her. He knows this, which is why he goes after her, looking to start up another relationship, but this time, with more boundaries and less wild-play that could potentially hurt her, and give him more pleasure. It’s a fine line that the two walk, but eventually, they both find each other falling more in love than they did before, even if there are certain factors surrounding them that don’t look too brightly on their relationship. Those including a former flame of Christian’s, Mrs. Robinson (Kim Basinger), and Anastasia’s boss (Eric Johnson). There’s also a weird girl (Bella Heathcote) lurking in the shadows every time Anastasia and Christian are together and neither of them know exactly why.

Uh oh. Lip biting? Yeah, it's definitely going to go down!

Uh oh. Lip biting? Yeah, it’s definitely going to go down!

In all honesty, there’s not really all that much of a plot to Fifty Shades Darker. Instead, it’s more like there’s about five or six scenes of dialogue, then a steamy sex scene, and then that same cycle, over and over again. There’s no real tension, no real drama, no real character-development, there’s not even anything resembling a conflict – it’s just a bunch of hot, attractive people talking to one another about stuff that doesn’t really matter or even make sense, or having hot, naughty sex.

But hey, at least the sex is kind of hot, right?

And if that’s all these movies are going for, then yeah, they sort of deliver on that element. The first movie actually cared a tad bit more about its story, which is why it was probably lacking so much in the sex-department (I’d rather watch the first 100 times straight than sit through this pile again). But here, they make-up for all of that; both Anastasia and Christian get naked, get spanked, get felt, get hot, get naughty, and most of all, they get f***ed.

But honestly, there should be so much more to a movie than just that, right? Especially to a movie that’s nearly two hours, right? And especially to a movie that’s directed by James Foley, right?

Speaking of that fella, what is he doing here? I understand having a paycheck gig to put a down-payment on that beach house you’ve been working for your whole life, but he’s doing another one of these for next year’s Fifty Shades Freed. So what’s going on here? The movie looks great and definitely has that lush look and feel to it, but everything else about it is just so dry, so boring, and so poorly-done, you wonder if anyone showed up for work. Foley’s good at taking these small, intimate stories about human emotion and make it all work, but here, he just seems like he was snoozing the whole time, waiting for that money to roll on in.

Of course, he’s made some bad movies in the past, too, but this is the bottom of the barrel for him, and everyone else involved.

Dakota Johnson was pretty good in the first movie and was more or less, the saving grace. Her Anastasia in that movie was a smart, strong and sometimes sassy young gal who was approaching this adult-hood with a wandering eye and it was interesting; you almost got the sense that she knew she was better than the material she was working with and because of that, it helped her character. But here, there’s nothing to her; she’s bland, uninvolved and seems to know that she’s working with junk material and isn’t doing anything to help it out. Johnson’s actually been quite impressive in the past year or two since the first movie, which is why it’s a shame to see her so tired and bored here.

Eh. Eyes Wide Shut parties are more exciting.

Eh. Eyes Wide Shut parties are more exciting.

Same goes for Jamie Dornan, who with the Fall and Anthropoid, at least showed that he had the chops to be a compelling presence. But his Christian has nothing to him; he’s supposed to be this slightly weird and creepy guy, but if anything, he just seems like a really hot guy with a bit of a temper. He’s supposed to be scary and a little dangerous, but it never registers. Of course, that failed accent of his probably has something to do with it all, too, but regardless, his performance is just stale and it’s a shame.

And them together, there’s just no fireworks whatsoever.

Sure, they rip each other’s clothes off, they hump, and they kiss, but really, there’s no spark between any of them. Some of this may have to do with the fact that they don’t really like one another in real life, of course, but besides all of that, they just don’t have anything going for them, or their relationship. The movie tries to frame it like they’re falling so desperately and passionately in love, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t care. They don’t care. And ultimately, the movie doesn’t care, either.

But hey, we’re getting one more of these, so we better suck it up, right.

Consensus: Boring, bland, and uninteresting on every level, Fifty Shades Darker feels like there was hardly any effort put into it, except when it came time to take the clothes off and screw.

3 / 10

"I told you you were going to like the way you looked. Hell, I guaranteed it."

“I told you you were going to like the way you looked. Hell, I guaranteed it.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Does anyone want to live forever? Does it even exist?

A Wall Street stockbroker named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO (Harry Groener) from a mysterious wellness center, so that he can get him back to New York and ensure that nothing goes wrong with the company, even though that seems like it could definitely happen. Lockhart gets into a car accident out of nowhere and is then taken in by the hospital, cared for and allowed to stay there for as long as he needs. While there, Lockhart meets the young, attractive and blissful Hannah (Mia Goth), who seems very interested in the outside world, which is something that Lockhart wants to show her. But for some odd reason, her uncle, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), isn’t all that much of a fan on what exists outside the hospital. In fact, none of them really are, which makes Lockhart suspicious and question what’s really going on at this facility, how he’s going to get away from it, and most importantly, how the hell is he going to stat alive.

I hate showers too, Dane. But you need 'em.

I hate showers too, Dane. But you need ’em.

A Cure for Wellness is a movie that deserves praise, if only because of how weird, how dark, how odd, and how weird it is for a major-studio to get behind and give a wide-release to. And it’s not like they gave it to their most trusted and well-known auteur – Gore Verbinski hasn’t quite made such a great name for himself, besides the Pirates movies, and even those last two were a bit much. But it seems like they had enough faith in him and the source-material to not just pour a bunch of money into it, but allow for the rest of the world to see it, in all of its creepy glory.

And yeah, in that sense, it’s pretty good.

Verbinski knows how to frame a shot and give off a very eerie tone, practically the whole time. Almost every shot is calculated in such a perfect manner, that you feel like the shot-list itself was probably its own character in the production of making this movie. But it’s not really showy, either – it just seems like Verbinski is meticulous and has a certain way of how he wants to tell this story, putting us in already unsettling mood in the first place.

Which is why the movie definitely works, if mostly because of its tone. It’s dark, odd and definitely mysterious, for the longest time, which is a pretty solid feat considering that the movie clocks in at just about two-hours-and-26-minutes – another shocker to a movie that the studio clearly had some faith in. You almost get the sense that Verbinski is toying with us to a certain degree, not allowing us to see everything that we think we should, and continuing to keep us in the dark, longer and longer. It’s smart film-making and a sure sign that the man knows how to direct horror – something he already proved with the Ring a decade ago, but hey, it definitely needed re-stating.

But getting away from Verbinski, A Cure for Wellness does have some issues and that’s mostly in the story-department.

See, for the longest time during A Cure for Wellness, there’s this deep, dark secret at the center of the story that’s supposed to keep us gripped, guessing and on-the-edge-of-our-seats, but really, it’s pretty easy to figure out right away. And this is not some cynical, movie-critic problem because I’ve seen one too many movies in my time – if you’ve ever seen a horror movie such as this, trust me, you’ve got a pretty clear idea of where it’s going. And once it does get to that point, and all of a sudden, we’re supposed to be shocked and sent into the clouds, it doesn’t fully deliver.

Yeah, may be a bit of a problem with the water.

Yeah, may be a bit of a problem with the water.

Sure, the visuals still keep it compelling, but once we get down to the brass-tacks of this story, what’s really happening at this facility, and why, well, it doesn’t quite make sense. I won’t spoil it here, but yeah, it’s a little lame and it soon gives way to convention that’s disappointing, because for awhile, A Cure for Wellness proved to be something a tad bit smarter. It moves at an efficient pace for its long run-time, but it also never seemed to be taking any silly shortcuts, either – it was allowing for its story to get told, as slowly, but as surely as humanly possible.

It’s just a bummer that, at the end, it doesn’t really connect the way it should.

But hey, at least it’s got something to show for itself. And hey, at least it’s got a pretty solid cast, what with Dane DeHaan getting one of his first leading-roles, showing us that he is definitely capable of carrying a movie himself. His character’s a little thin, to be honest, but it makes sense – we’re supposed to see this story play-out, through his eyes only and it helps that he’s a little bland and work as a cover for our way through. That said, I do hope that DeHaan gets more of these bigger, leading-roles, because he’s got a certain presence to him that works – it just needs to be delivered on the same way Chronicle did.

On the supporting side, Mia Goth plays his supposed love-interest who is very interesting to watch, because she’s got a little mystery going on about her, too. The movie never makes it clear what they’re trying to do with her, but Goth has a look and feel to her that’s hard to take your eyes off, giving you the impression that she’s sweet and a little dangerous, too. Same goes for Jason Isaacs who, with this and the OA, proves that he’s perfect at playing these weird and pretty sadistic human specimens that don’t always use science in the best way imaginable.

So yeah, at least not all bad, either.

Consensus: With a stunning production, eye-catching visuals, and a creepy tone throughout, A Cure for Wellness works surprisingly well as a mood-piece, but maybe not so much as a thrilling, unpredictable horror-chiller.

6.5 / 10

Wait. Is the sky falling?

Wait. Is the sky falling?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Great Wall (2017)

Monsters are everywhere you look. Except the literal ones. Yeah, those things don’t exist.

While on a long, far-reaching search for black powder, mercenaries William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) hold-up one night and encounter something strange, mysterious and deadly. They are able to chop off a piece of its arm, carrying it around with them everywhere they go, even if they don’t fully know just what it actually is. Then, they stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called “the Nameless Order”. Led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), the Nameless Order has been making it their mission to taking out any sort of threat that has come their way, but as of late, it’s been these odd, very vicious and disgusting monsters that, are also of the same kind that William and Tovar ran into that one night. That’s why, rather than killing the two, the Nameless Order decide to take the guys in, asking them for a helping hand in taking down these monsters, once and for all. It’s easy for William, but for Tovar, not so much.

White.

White.

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the Great Wall for a rather understandable reason: Matt Damon’s casting in the lead role seems like, yet again, another instance of Hollywood being too scared of casting any sort of minority in a lead role, that they just give it to the next big name, who also happens to be white. Hey, it’s happened before and it will definitely happen again. However, in the Great Wall, it’s not all that justified for a few reasons:

  1. Damon’s character in the movie is actually supposed to be white and isn’t supposed to be Chinese, therefore, making him a suitable actor for the character’s supposed race.
  2. Nobody really seems to have gotten all that mad that, included in this movie’s large international cast, Willem Dafoe (a white guy), is here, as well as Pedro Pascal (an Hispanic man) – two people who, last I checked, aren’t actually in the least bit Chinese.
  3. The movie itself is not meant to be taken seriously under any circumstances and because of that, it’s really hard to get mad at it for anything, let alone its casting decisions.
  4. And yeah, it’s just a silly movie.

Which is to say that, despite all of this, the Great Wall is still an enjoyable movie, although yes, incredibly stupid once you realize that it’s actually about a bunch of warriors, facing-off against a bunch of nameless, literally brainless green monsters who don’t really look like anything we’ve seen before, but they’re still not all that original, either – they’re like a weird cross between a dinosaur and a rat, but even then, I’m not so sure.

And coming from director  Zhang Yimou, you’d probably expect a little something more, but just like he proved with House of Flying Daggers, Yimou doesn’t always care the most about story and character-development, as much as he cares about what looks cool on the big screen, in 3D, and what’s fun. Sometimes, too, that’s all you need; the Great Wall is the perfect example of Yimou having so many toys at his disposal and getting an opportunity to play with each and everyone of them. Could he have gone deeper with the plot, these characters, and the overall message of the tale?

Nope. Still white and this time, a little Hispanic.

Nope. Still white and this time, a little Chilean.

Sure, but he doesn’t and it helps the movie not feel like all that much of a slug to get through.

Because when the movie does try and dive into the stuff like that, well, it doesn’t always work. We don’t really get to know anyone here, nor do we ever fully understand the plot itself, so when it takes time to explain itself, it just takes away from the movie and almost makes you wish for more monsters to show up. The characters themselves don’t have anything interesting to really say or do, either – sometimes, it seems like a lot of it was just filmed with the hopes that it would make it into the final-cut, but with no obligation whatsoever. Granted, we don’t always need clear, pitch perfect and three-dimensional characters in goofy monster movies such as the Great Wall, but it certainly does help us feel like there’s more at-steak, than just a bunch of lifeless, bland things getting killed on screen.

It also helps because you’ve got such a good cast here, with not much to do. Damon’s working with an odd accent the whole time, making him sound like he’s straight from Canada; Pascal’s character has all of the witty one-liners and laughs, as corny as they can sometimes get; Dafoe’s character is shady and mischievous, for reasons never made clear; Jing Tian gets to be a bit of a bad-ass when she isn’t trying to get some sort of spark flickering between her and Damon; and everyone else who shows up, well, they try, too. Mostly, the Great Wall doesn’t care about this stuff and for once, it’s sort of okay.

What it does prove is that it’s sometimes best to just take in and accept a monster movie, for exactly what it is.

Consensus: Even with the weak characters and story, the Great Wall still mostly gets by on the action, the look, the feel, and the surprisingly great deal of eye-popping 3D.

6 / 10

Ah, yes. That's more like it.

Ah, yes. That’s more like it.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Even if they’re a little goofy, they’re still your family.

Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is an old goof-ball, who gets by on teaching music at a local high school and generally playing pranks on all of those around him, one especially involving a pair of fake-teeth that he casually brings around in his pocket and puts on from time-to-time. Why? Well, no one really knows – they all just sort of take it as a thing that he does and they leave it at that. His estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), returns home from wherever she’s been, and gets his hopes up for them catching up and spending some time together. All his hopes and dreams are dashed once she informs him that she has to head out for Bucharest in the morning, where her firm is currently making all sorts of moves to help better improve the work-area there. Seeing as an opportunity for them to fully hang out together, Winifried surprises Ines, but not being himself – instead, he’s playing “Toni Erdmann”, the German Ambassador, who has fake-teeth and Tommy Wiseau-like hair. Initially, this bothers the hell out of Ines because it may ruin all of the business she has to do, but eventually, she kind of gives in and sees just how far her dad can keep this joke up.

Belt it, girl. But not too loud, or else the suits may hear ya.

Belt it, girl. But not too loud, or else the suits may hear ya.

Not too long, I was talking about Blood In Blood Out and how it’s near three-hour run-time wasn’t all that justified. Sure, there was some good stuff in it that could have definitely made it into a feature-flick, but not nearly enough to pad-out a whole three-hour flick. At first, I had the same feeling with Toni Erdmann; while it is a shorter movie by about thirty-minutes, it’s still a two-and-a-half-hour long comedy about, of all things, fathers, daughters, family and yeah, globalization.

Sounds like something you’d want to spend two-and-a-half-hours watching, right?

Well, here’s the funny thing: I felt the same way. For the longest time, Toni Erdmann just felt too slow, too meandering, and too formulaic to really work; that first hour has some bright and promising ideas, but it also seemed like writer/director Maren Ade also wanted to take way too much of her time developing them, even if they don’t really go anywhere. It sort of made me think of all the mumblecore flicks of yesteryear, but instead of blabbering teenagers, here, we just got a bunch of Germans going on and on about business and not giving us any context to it all.

But then, about halfway through, it all clicks. The plot does eventually come in, the characters start to become interesting, and oh yeah, all of that business-jumble begins to make some sense and at least matter to the overall plot. See, what’s interesting about Toni Erdmann and Ade’s writing, is that there’s always a build-up. What that is, is never exactly clear, but slowly and surely, we start to get an idea of where the movie’s going, only to then have it pulled from underneath us, time and time again.

In a way, Toni Erdmann is a dark comedy about family and love and all of that sentimental junk, but the movie doesn’t really play that hand too often; it could have easily gone in deep with the father-daughter relationship and had us be a witness to a lot of shouting matches, but nope, that doesn’t happen. Ade seems much smarter than that, in that she knows that sometimes, the best way to build tension, even in the smallest breaths imaginable, is to not really try hard to build-up anything at all – it’s better to just let it simmer.

Which may sound boring, I know, but it works.

Toni Erdmann is the rare movie in which a great deal of the comedy is so subtle, you may have to check once or twice to see if you forgot anything, until at the very end, all of the big laughs come in with reckless abandon. Take, for instance, a near-20 minute sequence that starts off weird and continues to get more and more ridiculous as it goes along, staying hilarious, until the very end of it and all of a sudden, there’s something sweet and heartwarming to it all. There’s a few other scenes like this, which is surprising, because you’d think that a trick like that would only work once, but time and time again, Ade finds ways to surprise and go against convention.

Daddy may have just seen the Room.

Daddy may have just seen the Room.

Without her around, man, this remake better be good.

Speaking of that supposed-remake, as great and as talented as Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig are, it’s going to be a little hard to see Winifried and Ines, respectively, played differently than by Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller. Both are so perfectly fit for these well-drawn and three-dimensional characters, that you almost wonder if they were written for each one of them in mind. Simonischek is bright, charming and likable, even when it seems like he’s sort of making stuff up on the spot, whereas Hüller has to play it straight and narrow, but gets some opportunities to shine and show some personality and she works quite well with it.

Together, the two create a perfect chemistry that constantly keeps this movie exciting. You know that there’s something sad between them two, but rather than it being some long lost secret of heartbreak and hurt, it’s more that they just both outgrew one another; you still get a sense of the great history they spent together, which makes some of their more melancholy and quiet scenes, pretty damn sad. But Ade keeps it smart in that she gives us a father-daughter relationship that isn’t too obvious, has enough mystery going for it, and doesn’t really try to say who the worst person between the two is.

After all, they could both be horrible. Who knows?

Consensus: Even with the long run-time, Toni Erdmann sorts itself out as a solid mixture of comedy, drama, and character-stuff that makes it well worth the sit-down.

8 / 10

See it. You'll understand soon enough.

See it. You’ll understand soon enough.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Man Called Ove (2016)

People like a grump.

59-year-old Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is his little townhouse’s sullen old guy. He is recently widowed and suicidal from the impact. One day, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her family move into the house across the street. When they later knock down Ove’s mailbox with their car, this becomes the prelude to an unexpected friendship and a turnaround in the world-weary man’s life. But this new outlook on life also brings back fond, as well as sad memories, of his past in which he had to face all sorts of hardships and somehow come out on top. Now though, Ove is just looking to live another day and not let people take advantage of him, or think of him as anything less, due to this age.

We’ve all seen this story before. The old, grumpy curmudgeon yells and offends people, until after a short while, he starts to get along with a select-few and eventually, comes around. He’s not as mean, he’s not as nasty, he’s not as cruel, and he’s sure as hell not all that angry anymore – now, he’s a happy old fella, who has some unlikable tendencies and aspects, but eventually, everyone around him has learned to accept him for who he is, that it doesn’t matter.

Many years before the grumbling took over his life. Man, look how happy.

Many years before the grumbling took over his life. Man, look how happy.

In other words, yes, A Man Called Ove is predictable and conventional, to a fault, but it’s also got a humongous heart at the center which more than makes up for this being something of a cross between St. Vincent and Gran Torino. In a way, where the former failed, Ove works in that it creates this character we want to know more about and understand why he is, the way he is; to just pass this Ove guy off as a grumpy old fella because of his age, would surely be weak and not all that interesting. Eventually, we do start to see more about the life he’s lived and as time progresses, his interaction with those around him.

But the movie still remains smart.

It doesn’t paint Ove out to be this later-day saint, waiting somewhere in the shadows, hoping that someone will notice his good-deeds, but more of an old guy who can give a little more to those around him, make them feel a tad bit happier about their lives, and oh yeah, stop complaining so much. It’s a simple formula, for sure, but it works so well because we want to see Ove interact with everyone around him, and by the same token, know anything more about him, too. Sometimes, that’s all you need with a movie, regardless of how predictable your story can be.

Also, it helps that Rolf Lassgård is pretty amazing in the lead role as Ove. Lassgård may not be a household name to those in the States, but for any of us who saw After the Wedding (like me), know one thing: The man can act. And also, he’s got a voice that would scare dinosaurs away. He’s this big, rough and loud bear of a man that commands every scene he’s in, but also isn’t afraid to pull back, either. With Ove, we get to see someone who truly has a lot more going on than just snappy remarks against those surrounding him – there’s someone who is sad, lonely, and yeah, maybe even a bit regretful. Lassgård allows us to see this man for the commanding presence that he is, but also doesn’t forget that he’s working with an interesting character, too.

And yep, years go by and that's him alright.

And yep, years go by and that’s him alright.

Bahar Pars also plays Ove’s new neighbor who takes an immediate liking to him and basically doesn’t pay attention to all of the mean and nasty things he says. The two have a great little rapport going on between them because they both balance each other out in smart, interesting ways; whenever he’s grumpy and yelling, she sits back and basically tells him to, “shut up”, and whenever she’s freaking out over something, he reminds her that no obstacle is too impossible to reach, that she hasn’t already touched in the first place. It’s a very sweet little friendship that, once again, makes Ove a little smarter than what we’re used to getting with these kinds of stories.

Until, of course, the final-act, when things change and yeah, then we’ve all of a sudden got a plot to work with.

Of course, it’s hard for me to get mad at a movie for snapping itself awake and giving us a story, but with Ove, it almost feels like there doesn’t need to be one. Spending the near-two hours, just watching as Ove went around town, yelled at people, complained, tried to fix things, etc., would have been fine. But nope, we get more of something else and yeah, it doesn’t quite electrify. It’s fine to have, but meh, we could have been fine without it all, to be honest.

Consensus: Working with a familiar premise, A Man Called Ove still works as a sweet, sometimes funny look at a troubled and mad old man, perfectly played by Lassgård.

7 / 10

But hey, at least kids brighten the old codger's day.

But hey, at least kids brighten the old codger’s day.

Photos Courtesy of: Music Box Films

David Brent: Life on the Road (2017)

Never give up on a dream. As crummy as it may be.

It’s been awhile since we’ve last seen or heard from David Brent (Ricky Gervais), and while his career as a D-List star didn’t quite pan-out to much, he’s now using whatever fortune he has left over to go out on the road with his band, Foregone Conclusion. Of course, he’s paying for it all, isn’t getting paid-leave from his work, and doesn’t really know, or get along with any of the other members in the band, but David is living out of his dream of hitting the road and giving audiences some sweet tunes. However, David does come to terms with the fact that his career may not be the best thing for him at this point in his life, and it may also be financially draining him, with money being spent on all sorts of crazy costs like hotel rooms, cars, set decorations, PR reps, food, beer, and yes, mini-bars. But still, David will not let all of these issues stand in the way of living the life of an absolute rock star, even if there’s no audience to really see that.

Always need the hype-man, no matter the genre.

Always need the hype-man, no matter the genre.

Ricky Gervais has, believe it or not, grown a lot since the Office. But at the same time, he’s still kind of living in the shadow of David Brent, so it’s not all that surprising to see him go back and see what Brent’s up to, even all of these years later. And sure, it’s more than enough to give someone pause, seeing an actor go back to their most iconic role, but Life on the Road shows us that there’s more than just nostalgia’s sake to catch back up with Brent.

Sure, it’s great to see him be awkward, say mean, nasty things to those around him, and make a general ass of himself, but the way Brent is made out to be, it’s hard to ever hate him. That’s how he was on the show, and that’s how he is here, which is why no matter how hard he tries, Gervais will never be able to get out of the shadow of that character, even if he definitely has come close. And it’s also why Life on the Road proves to be a very enjoyable trip down memory-lane, in some ways, to realize that the Brent character can continue to live on and on, still be the same person, and can still be loved by all of those who fell in love with him over a decade ago.

Does that mean we always need to see a David Brent movie? Probably not, but hey, it’s nice to have around.

Eat your hearts out, ladies.

Eat your hearts out, ladies.

And what’s interesting about Life on the Road, is that it’s not necessarily an Office movie, as much as it’s just a movie about a character from that show. No other iconic and lovable character from that show has an appearance here, nor are there many mentions about that show’s existence – mostly, we just get to see Brent’s life, picking back up after being away from him for over a decade. But it still works; Gervais is great at this character, making each and every conversation he has, turn into an absolute and embarrassing travesty, while at the same time, still making us want to see more from him.

Oh, and it’s also good that the songs are pretty nice to hear, too. For any movie like this, it would have been easy for the songs to be crap, because of how silly they are, but no, there’s actually been some real effort and drive put into how the songs sound and yeah, they sort of work. They’re dumb for sure, but they still work, given the movie’s context.

But it’s really hard to talk much more about Life on the Road and go on and on about it because, after all, it’s relatively forgettable. It’s nice to get this refresher of Brent, see how he’s doing, and what sort of an ass he’s still being, but when all is said and done, the movie is still an-hour-and-a-half long episode of the Office, just without everyone else. This time, it’s just Gervais being Brent and that’s about it. It’s still fun to watch, but when it’s over, it may leave the mind immediately.

Still, it’s a hell of a lot better than Special Correspondents – whatever the hell that was.

Consensus: As a nice and refreshing reminder on why we loved the title character in the first place, Life on the Road proves that Gervais can still perfect this character and give us plenty to laugh at.

6.5 / 10

Can't compete.

Can’t compete.

Photos Courtesy of: The Playlist

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Sorry, Batfleck. Better luck next time.

When something goes awry in Gotham City, who do they immediately call? Well, for one, they do try the police, but when that doesn’t pan-out, they give a call to Batman (Will Arnett). And yes, he does deliver. Batman has, on many occasions, saved Gotham City from absolute and total destruction, putting some of the most insane and violent criminals away for good. However, underneath the mask, the body-armor and the whole facade, therein likes Bruce Wayne, someone who lives on his own island, all by himself, with the assistance of his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and is, essentially, longing for something of a family. He eventually gets it in orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who basically gets himself adopted by Wayne and spends almost all of his time with him, even when Wayne doesn’t want anything to do with Grayson. Then again, he doesn’t want anything to do with anyone, so it makes sense. But now that Batman’s most notorious villain, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) has turned up, causing all sorts of trouble, well, it’s time for Batman to put his skills to the test, but this time, with someone named Robin by his side.

Harvard police department!

Harvard police department!

Those expecting the LEGO Movie, again, may be a tad bit disappointed by the LEGO Batman Movie. For one, it doesn’t quite reach for the cinematic ambitions that the former reached for and actually got, but at the same time, it’s also quite a joy to watch, just as the former was. See, this time around, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have taken the day off, allowing for the latest installment of this franchise to be done by Chris McKay, someone who, if you don’t know, is actually associated with Robot Chicken.

And yeah, the LEGO Batman Movie feels exactly like an longer, much more family-friendly episode of that show. Which isn’t to take away from this product, or that product, because both are very funny; they’re clearly both done with some love and affection for the material that they’re spoofing and yeah, meta as hell. But what works best about the LEGO Batman Movie is that it is a movie, it has a plot, it has structure, and yeah, it does have some emotion thrown in there for good measure.

In other words, it’s a movie. Plain and simple.

That may sound stupid to say, but it matters for a huge animated movie like this – the jokes, as funny as they may be, often times do need something to work around and with, and not just thrown together all haphazardly. In the LEGO Batman Movie, we get a plot that essentially shows us a sad Batman, who is lonely, longs for a family unit, and yeah, is a bit of a dick. The movie does take it one step further, though, in actually developing him as it goes along, not forgetting about the mythology of this character, but also not forgetting to show us why most of all do love and adore him for what he is, what he symbolized, and why it’s so cool to see him take down evil-doers.

No Heath or Jack, but hey, he'll do.

No Heath or Jack, but hey, he’ll do.

I know this sounds a little cheesy and odd, considering that I’m talking about the LEGO Batman Movie, but when we just had Batman V. Superman come out and totally forget the appeal of Batman, well, it’s sort of like something needs to be said. And while I didn’t quite hate that movie as a lot of people did, the LEGO Batman Movie is definitely a better take on that character’s story and movie all around.

Still, though, they’re obviously two different movies and with good reason.

The LEGO Batman Movie is funny, cheerful, and at times, even hilarious. It goes the extra mile to poke jokes at the expense of Batman, his story, and all that, but also skewer everything else about these superheros that we know and after awhile, it gets to become almost too good to be true. If you’re a fan of this kind of comic-book culture, then yeah, the LEGO Batman Movie will do everything in its power to make sure that there’s more than a few in-jokes for you, which works and helps keep it moving, even when it does seem like there may be a bit of a slow down in the pace.

And it also helps that we’ve got such a great and talented ensemble here, too. Will Arnett is great at his gravelly-voiced Batman, showing some layers to the character; Michael Cera is a perfect pick as the always sunny and happy Robin; Rosario Dawson is solid as Barbara Gordon, even if she is, essentially, the straight-woman in this whole predicament; Ralph Fiennes is a perfect fit as Alfred and yeah, could totally see him doing this role in real life, without all of the animation; and Zach Galifianakis is also quite a bunch of fun as the Joker, showing us shades of depth to him, as well, but also maintaining some manic fun, too. There’s more in this cast, too, but just know this: They’re all funny and they’re all fun to hear from.

Consensus: While not nearly as ambitious as the LEGO Movie, the LEGO Batman Movie still gets by on its charm, witty in-jokes, and overall fun and love for its source material.

7.5 / 10

Robin and Bat forever and ever.

Robin and Bat forever and ever.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

This Wick guy can’t catch a break.

After having to eliminate all of those who killed his precious dog some years ago, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is now enjoying his life of luxury, at-home and not having a single worry in the world. However, it all changes when a former associate of his, Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up at his door-step, asking him to take someone out. While Wick doesn’t really want to, he basically has to, because Santino is part of the “organization” that Wick and many other lethal and powerful people are apart of. So Wick does his job and takes out the target, however, little does he know that Santino wants to tie-up loose ends and get rid of Wick, putting a seven million dollar bounty on Wick, for anyone who is capable of taking him down. Is this a battle Wick can fight, hell, even win? Probably, but it’s going to be a hell of a ride, taking down every skilled mercenary that’s out to make a quick dollar off of the head of Wick.

One of the key complaints people seem to have with video-game movies is that they don’t feel like you yourself, are actually playing a video-game. Instead, it feels like you’re watching someone else play a video-game, not ever handing over the control, and not doing anything right – they’re constantly doing the wrong things, dying over and over again, and not even bothering to put in cheats. Video-game movies can be frustrating for this sole reason and it’s why most of them don’t work and are better off staying as video-games, where anyone can play them and do what they want.

Don't mess with a man who has a beard like that.

Wes Bentley gonna sue somebody!

Which is why John Wick: Chapter 2 is probably the best video-game movie, that’s not actually adapted from a video-game.

With most sequels, the ones behind them know that whatever worked in the first, should be done in the second, but with even more aggression and repetitiveness. Often times, this can make the sequels feel boring and dull, as if there’s no heart or emotion to them, but just studio-mandated sequences. Chapter 2 is the rare sequel in which the excursiveness of itself, actually helps the movie out in the long run; the first movie was crazy and chaotic, too, but Chapter 2 takes it to the next level.

In a way, Chapter 2 is a better movie, all around, than the first John Wick. There’s more creativity here, more excitement, and yes, a little bit more of a story. But Chapter 2 is smart in that it doesn’t try anything terribly new or different that could potentially push fans of the original away; there’s still tons of action, blood, bullets, guns, knives, and blown-off faces. In other words, it’s a grand old time, but it’s never cheap about it.

Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad seem as if they know how to make this pulpy material work, without trying too hard; Kolstad seems to just write one dumb monologue after another, whereas Stahelski shoots every action-sequence in the most simplest way imaginable, without all of the unnecessary cuts, CGI, and finickiness that can sometimes make most action-thrillers a chore to sit through. Here, you can see just about everything going on with this action and because of that, it’s more compelling to watch.

That, and because well, it seems like Keanu Reeves himself is doing a lot of his own stunts.

Oh yeah, get on with the shooting.

Oh yeah, get on with the shooting.

Which, yes, may not sound like much, but trust me, it does. Reeves has been well-known as an actor who uses a stunt-double for his action-sequences, but doesn’t solely rely on them for each and every scene known to man – Tom Cruise is a lot like this, but he’s also far more showier about it than Reeves. And in Chapter 2, you can tell that a lot of is Keanu, which is pretty impressive, considering that he’s nearly 53-years-old and can be seen here jumping, kicking, punch, falling, rolling, and most of all, running. Age doesn’t matter for Reeves and it’s a great thing, because he seems to absolutely love these kinds of roles and they fit him like a glove, so it all works for everyone in the end.

Of course, Chapter 2 gets by on its wild ensemble, most of whom are leftovers from the original. If there’s one issue to be had with Chapter 2, it’s that the movie does have the ability to stop itself rather abruptly, just so that a character can sit around and whisper something somewhat meaningful, or menacing, but doesn’t really amount to much. While it’s neat to get an action movie that does this, it also breaks up the tension and makes us just want to see these characters beat the hell out of one another. Sure, it helps that you’ve got pros like Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Peter Stormare, John Leguizamo, and Laurence Fishburne working with this material, but yeah, sometimes, enough is enough and it’s time to just get on with the ass-kicking.

But hey, a movie that can give us a bad-ass Common, then, deserves a whole lot of credit.

Consensus: More action-packed and crazier than the original, Chapter 2 is the rare instance in which a sequel is better than its original, based solely on the fact that it constantly packs more on as it goes along.

8 / 10

He's got a new dog. Don't. Touch. It.

He’s got a new dog. Don’t. Touch. It.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

The Comedian (2017)

Isn’t stand-up comedy supposed to be funny?

Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) has seen better days. He was once the star of a much-loved sitcom from the 70’s, hit the stand-up circuit as one of the biggest, loudest and meanest shock-comics out there on the scene, and yeah, he had a whole bunch of love and adoration from people in his world. However, time went on and eventually, the rest of the world sort of forgot about Jackie. Nowadays, he’s forced to work for the nostalgia circuits, playing to small crowds, filled with either hapless teens, or barely-there senior citizens. Jackie realizes this and because of that reason alone, tension builds up within him, more and more. One event goes bad when Jackie beats up an audience-member filming and heckling him, leaving Jackie to have to serve out a some jail time and community service. While on community service, he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), a troubled gal who gravitates towards Jackie and his ways. But she doesn’t really know what’s underneath all of the jokes, and he doesn’t really know what’s underneath all of her beauty, either.

Ladies love those has-beens! Especially the ones without money, right?

Ladies love those has-beens! Especially the ones without money, right?

The Comedian is a perfect example for what happens when you have a good cast, and that’s about it. The plot, the jokes, the heart, the humor, the meaning – just about everything about it is odd and doesn’t quite work. But man oh man, whenever they’re given the chance to do so, the ensemble here tries with every bone, every fiber, and every material of their body to make this material work.

And because of their effort, and because they’re all good, yes, they do help the Comedian out a whole bunch. Does that mean it’s a good movie? No, it does not. But it does help make a very bad movie, slightly less worse than it could have been, with less talented and committed people involved.

And this doesn’t just go to the cast, either – behind the cameras is director Taylor Hackford, who hasn’t always had the best track record, but does have more hits than misses, and four writers, Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman, all of whom seem to know what they’re doing in their own, respective projects. But for some reason, they just didn’t quite know what to do here; it’s as if they signed on to do a movie about comedians and late-aged ones, but ended up just telling one too many dick, fart and sex jokes.

And oh yeah, the jokes themselves are pretty lame, too.

If there’s one big no-no in movies about comedians, it’s that the comedy you’re selling us on, in the first place, has to be funny. Like, does anyone remember that subplot in Mother’s Day where the British dude wanted to be a comedian and strutted his stuff out on the stage, told really awful jokes, and everyone in the movie was laughing at him, as if he was some sort of godsend? Well, if not, don’t worry, because you didn’t miss much. But if you did see that, then you get an idea of just how the Comedian is – not really funny, even though no one seems to have told it so.

There are the occasional moments of actual humor, but it’s mostly because of Jackie’s brand of comedy – he’s the kind comedian who Stern would have had on his show every day, just going as deep and as far into the dirty talk as either of them could. If that’s your brand of humor, then yeah, a lot of De Niro’s jokes will work perfectly for you and hit the mark, but if not, well then the jokes will just continue to be more and more grating as they go on. De Niro’s character gets grosser, meaner, and far more idiotic, making us wonder whether anyone involved knew what actual humor was in the first place?

"Get it? Fart!"

“Get it? Fart!”

Or, at the very least, just how stand-up comedy worked?

And then it goes on. The movie then tries to deal with romance, drama, and almost attack the showbiz industry itself, but it just never makes sense, mostly because a good portion of it can be unbelievable. Jackie goes viral at least three times, none of them ever making sense, or seeming as if they could happen in the real world that the Comedian seems to inhabit. It’s odd because it seems like everyone involved behind the cameras are so out-of-touch, you almost wonder just how long this script was sitting around on the shelf for, never got looked at, and collected up dust.

Probably a lot and yeah, it shows.

But like I said, the cast really does help this movie out, a great bunch. De Niro does what he can in the lead role; he’s deliciously mean and cruel when he wants to be and it works, but the jokes just ruin him. De Niro’s line-delivery feels awfully too stilted to make it sound like we’re hearing an actual comedian on the stage, and not just an actor reading lines and forgetting where the punchline is. Still, when he’s off the stage, De Niro is compelling, as we get to see a sad, old man for what he is: Sad, old and kind of miserable. This character and this performance deserve a way better movie, which is why it’s hard to just accept this one for what it is, as poorly-written as it can sometimes be.

Then, there’s everybody else. Leslie Mann is charming, despite her character having some awfully weird baggage going on that’s never fully explained; Harvey Keitel plays her controlling and generally creepy father who is way too over-the-top, but has some fun scenes with De Niro; Patti LuPone shows up as De Niro’s sister-in-law to yell at him and get in his face, which is fun; Danny DeVito plays his brother who basically does the same thing; Edie Falco plays his manager and has nice chemistry with him; Charles Grodin shows up as a rival who’s barely around; Cloris Leachman shows up as this sort of aging Lucille Ball character and is fine; and yeah, there’s many, many more cameos from all sorts of real life, well-known comedians. It makes you wish there was more of them and less of the scripted jokes, because lord knows the Comedian would have been, well, funnier.

Consensus: Try as it might, the Comedian just doesn’t have enough juice to make itself funny, relevant, sad, important and interesting enough, even with the talented ensemble helping out as much as they humanly can.

4.5 / 10

"So yeah, when's Marty going to get going on this Irishman movie, so we can stop doing stuff like this?"

“So yeah, when’s Marty going to get going on this Irishman movie, so we can stop doing stuff like this?”

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

War on Everyone (2017)

everyoneposter

Can corrupt cops be a funny thing in 2017?

Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) are two corrupt cops who have been together for so long, doing what they do, blackmailing criminals, and making a lot of money off of it, that they hardly give what they’re doing, a second thought. They don’t see it as something bad, nor do they see it as any bit of dangerous – if anything, they see it as another way to get some more money and not live off of the terrible salary that most cops in their positions would be stuck with. However, they start to re-think a lot of their decisions once they discover there’s an evil, maniacal and downright vicious criminal (Theo James) out there, looking to take them both down. Meanwhile, while the two are trying to crack this case and get rid of the baddie, Terry’s off starting a relationship and trying to fill that void in his life, and his mansion, that’s been so noticeable for so very long. He’s hoping that perhaps this Jackie gal he’s been taking up with (Tessa Thompson), will change his outlook on life and possibly have him rethink the decisions that he and Bob make when they’re out on the job.

It's not the 70';s, but fro's like this still exist?

It’s not the 70′;s, but fro’s like this still exist?

Remember that period of time in the mid-to-late-90’s when just about every crime/action/comedy/thriller tried so desperately to be the next “Pulp Fiction“? Remember how they were so clearly made out to be some sort of witty, yet, violent and demented ride of pure craziness, but just felt like a bunch of studio-executives getting together and coming up with stuff that they thought would be “hip”, or “cool”? Remember how most of them, for the most part, kind of blew?

Well, yeah.

And that’s sort of what War on Everyone is. It’s not terrible, or bad, or as much as a rip-off as some of those movies from the 90’s could definitely get – it’s just it feels like it’s trying so desperately hard to recreate some of the magic made from Tarantino, that it literally has no identity all by itself. It’s as if you’re listening to one of Tarantino’s best friends talk about the movie idea they had, with all the jokes, gags and scenes of violence that they wanted, and while some of the ideas are nice, mostly, they’re just afterthoughts and clearly trying way too hard.

Which is weird to say about this movie, because it’s written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, someone who has, with his two movies so far (the Guard, Calvary), proven that he’s capable of dark, comedic thrills, as well as giving us a fresh story to work with, too. For some reason, War on Everyone feels like it’s trying too hard, but by the same token, not trying hard enough; the plot is so simple and straightforward, that you’d almost wish for the nonsensical and crazy twists and turns, but nope, they never come around. Instead, we get a procedural with jokes and observations about music, art, movies, TV, life, death, one’s existence, and capitalism.

That may sound fun and somewhat interesting, but it’s odd, because they don’t really come off that way in War on Everyone.

I'll watch that for an-hour-and-a-half.

I’ll watch that for an-hour-and-a-half.

They mostly just come off as a way for McDonagh to make people laugh and think of him as some witty son-of-a-bitch, but it doesn’t quite work – it feels too often like he’s bragging, or showboating, when there’s no reason for him to be doing so in the first place. Giving us solid characters and a story would have been fine enough, but unfortunately, the movie’s just one punchline-after-another, without there ever seeming to be a rhyme or reason for it, but to just try and break up any tension that may be found.

The only instances in which War on Everyone truly comes to life is in the form of its ensemble, all of whom are very good and more than make this sometimes cheeky material play better. As a duo, Peña and Skarsgård work well together; you can tell that there’s a certain camaraderie between the two that wouldn’t have worked, had they not been able to get along and build some sort of chemistry. It’s really Skarsgård who delivers the best performance, though, as we get some brief moments of his life, realize how much of a sad-sack he is and, as briefly as we get it, realize that there’s something more to him than just good looks and witty one-liners. There’s a human being underneath the facade and it makes his character interesting, and his performance all the better.

Tessa Thompson also benefits from being the gal in this subplot, as she not only brings out the best in Skarsgård, but truly does seem to be going for something more emotional and dramatic than the rest of the movie probably had in mind. Shame, too, because they both work great together and it would have been lovely to just see a movie all about them two, falling in love, and having hot, steamy sex together.

Seriously, though? Where was that movie?

Consensus: Even with the occasional moment of fun and humor, War on Everyone seems as if it’s trying way too hard to recreate some sort of dark comedy magic that was long dead by the 21st Century.

5.5 / 10

We get it: You're bad cops. Go away.

We get it: You’re bad cops. Go away.

Photos Courtesy of: Fresh From the Theater, Cinema Axis, I Watch Stuff

Christine (2016)

Hate to say it, but journalism hasn’t gotten much better.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hill) is not all that happy with her life. While she’s got a reporting job at a local news station, the stories that she seems to want to really dive into and make her name on, unfortunately, don’t seem to get much attention or done at all. The station is changing, just like the rest of the journalism world itself is, too. That’s why Christine sticks to her guns no matter what and tries to get the juiciest, meatiest stories she can find. However, there’s a lot more going on in Christine’s life than just her job; she’s also trying to find that one, special someone so that she can get married, have kids and do everything that she was brought up to do. She thinks she has that opportunity with the star reporter at the station (Michael C. Hall), but she’s so closed-off and awkward, she doesn’t know how to go about initiating anything resembling a conversation, let alone, a date. Meanwhile, her mother (J. Smith-Cameron) is now living with her, making her more and more frustrated about life, leading her to act out in some despicable, shocking ways.

Wrong channel?

Wrong channel?

The story of Christine Chubbuck is, needless to say, a very sad one. While there’s a good part of this movie that was most definitely made-up for the sake of having an actual movie, the idea that someone who just wanted to make something of a difference in this world, tell interesting stories, find love, get married, have kids and just be happy, if anything else, is relatable to life in general. And knowing the real story behind the subject, as well as director Antonio Campos’ past two flicks (Afterschool, Simon Killer), it’s hard not to expect Christine, the movie, to be an absolute dark and deep breath of depression.

But it’s actually kind of not. In ways, it can actually be pretty funny, in that it makes fun of certain characters, while also, by the same token, embraces them for who they are, especially Christine herself. But no matter how funny the movie can get, there’s always this underlining air of sadness that’s mostly always felt, even in some of the more compelling scenes; one in particular, where we hear of all of Christine’s problems in a very straightforward, manner-of-fact way, starts off one way, and ends a totally different way then you’d ever expect.

But it still works.

It’s definitely a credit to Campos and writer Craig Shilowich for coming together and figuring out how to make this forgotten figure in our pop-culture’s history, story, still relevant and heart-wrenching. Why should we care about this girl, other than the fact that she killed herself on live television? Well, the movie tells us why, not forgetting about her flaws, while at the same time, not forgetting that she was a human being who wanted just the same as you or I.

But as much as Campos and Shilowich deserve the credit here for telling Christine’s story to the best of their ability, it’s also a lot of credit to Rebecca Hall, giving it her all and then some, in a role that finds her really stretching her acting-muscles and it all coming off so perfectly. A lot of people went crazy this awards season about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy and how she nailed down the voice, but also made us see beneath the fine dresses and speech – Hall does that with Chubbuck, but I think, almost does a better job.

Yeah, don't be on the opposite end of Letts' wrath.

Yeah, don’t be on the opposite end of Letts’ wrath.

For one, it’s definitely a little hard to get used to Chubbuck’s manner of speaking and the way she carries herself in just about every conversation she has, but Hall works with it and shows us that there’s more to her than just an awkward-presence, and instead, a person who solely wants to be seen, loved, and cared for, regardless of who said person may be. It’s actually quite heart-breaking to watch, as even though Chubbuck may think she’s the smartest person in the room, the movie still shows us that nobody’s paying attention to her and because of it, she’s driven deeper and deeper into her depression. Christine may not place itself as a sort of cautionary tale, or even a cry for help, for those who can’t cry for themselves, but at the end of the picture, it definitely seems like that.

And the rest of the cast is quite good, too, showing us how each and everyone interacts with Chubbuck, as hard as it sometimes may be. Michael C. Hall plays the one reporter she falls for and while he may seem like the typical d-bag, there’s actually more to him as the movie progresses; J. Smith-Cameron is a very good actress, but unfortunately, her role here does seem very stuffed-in, as if the character may have not been all that much of a presence in real life, but the movie felt like it needed her around; Maria Drizzia plays Christine’s co-worker who actually listens to her and, in other ways, looks up to her; and Tracy Letts plays her boss who always yells, drinks, and smokes, and he’s pretty great at it.

Like I said, no one here is a bad person, or a good one – they’re all just people.

Like Christine Chubbuck.

Consensus: Well-acted and insightful, Christine is an interesting look at one of TV’s more forgotten-figures, showing us a sad, but always compelling look into a life full of depression and some hopes.

8 / 10

Very, very lonely there in the journalism world.

Very, very lonely there in the journalism world.

Photos Courtesy of: HeyUGuys

Split (2017)

One crazy just isn’t enough.

After a birthday party at the mall, three teenagers, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), are randomly kidnapped by a man named Dennis (James McAvoy). They have no clue why, or what his intentions are, but now, they’re stuck in his underground lair, of sorts, where he will do whatever he wants with them. However, there’s something relatively off about Dennis that the girls know right from the start; he’s constantly switching in and out of different personalities. Sometimes, he’s acting like a woman, sometimes, he’s acting like a hard-ass, and other times, he’s acting like a nine-year-old child. Eventually, the girls catch wind of this and realize that they could possibly use this to their advantages and manipulate him. But the more personalities that Dennis switches to, the more violent and angry they get, making the situation all the more dangerous and scary, even if, on the outside, there may be some hope, what with Dennis’ therapist (Betty Buckley), thinking more and more about Dennis’ issues and wanting to see just what he’s really got going on in that twisted, wild and out-of-control head of his.

Grumpy

Grumpy

Very early on in his career, when hopes were high and the sky was basically the limit, a lot of people were championing M. Night Shyamalan as “the next Spielberg”, or more radically, “the next Hitchcock.” And for awhile, it’s not hard to see why people bought this; his early movies, while definitely odd, were still ambitious, thrilling and well-done, showing a writer/director who wasn’t afraid to get us on the edge of our seats a little bit, but also tell a solid story in the mean time. It’s why a movie like the Sixth Sense, despite the pop-culture obsession surrounding it, is actually better than people give it credit for – in fact, it’s why a lot of his movies are better than people give them credit for. But then, of course, it all went haywire for M. Night’s career, and slowly but surely, his random plot twists became so ridiculous, so expected and so damn predictable, he essentially became a parody of himself.

It’s odd, though, because ever since After Earth, there’s been some sure signs that M. Night may soon make it back to our hearts, minds and souls again; the Visit, well definitely a silly movie, was still fun enough that it worked enough as a solid reminder that when he wants and isn’t distracted, M. Night can deliver on the genre-thrills. And they keep on coming with Split, M. Night’s latest that shows us what can happen when he isn’t given a whole bunch of stuff to work with. Sure, it’s his script and all, but the movie’s budget is smaller, the names in the cast aren’t as big as he’s used to working with, and guess what? The plot is actually so simple and straightforward that it gives him just enough of an opportunity to play around a little bit and have some fun.

Which is exactly what Split is, but it’s also a little bit more than just that.

Split finds M. Night meaner and darker than ever before, and for me, that really worked; taking the kidnapping plot out of the equation, this is a story about mental disorders, repressed homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, and oh yeah, cannibalism. It’s a very freaky and off-putting movie, but in that way, it actually works perfectly. M. Night knows just the right buttons to push, when to push them, and how to make them count; there’s a couple of silly moments here that are quite reminiscent of some of his lowest-peaks, but there’s something surrounding them that make the silliness, still kind of work.

This time, M. Night isn’t worried about tooting his own horn here, nor is he all that worried about trying to prove something to everyone that he deserves love and admiration from movie fans all over the world – this time, he just wants to give us a tense, shocking, and surprisingly unpredictable pulp-thriller. There are even moments where the film seems as if it’s going to go into places you expect it to, but then, it turns the other cheek and surprises; M. Night hasn’t been this smart in the longest time and it’s nice to see him back, working his tail off to provide some rough and tough stuff.

Bashful

Bashful

Still, rough and tough is what we need from M. Night and less of whatever the hell else he’s been doing for the past decade or so.

But M. Night isn’t the only star here and thankfully, he gets out of the way a lot and lets James McAvoy shine as “Dennis”. McAvoy has always been an exceptional talent to watch, but here, he really challenges himself, going deeper and darker into the depravity and sure craziness of this character. Sure, it can sometimes be really funny and weird, but it actually works in the movie’s favor, because there’s always a deep underlining of sadness felt throughout it all. It comes through the direction, of course, but most definitely through McAvoy’s performance, where he has to inhabit all of these different characters, personalities and mannerisms, handling them all very well, without seeming like he’s hamming it up too much.

Okay, maybe he does a little, but hey, he’s allowed to this time around.

Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy also put in good work as the three teens who have to figure their way out of this situation, with Taylor-Joy’s being the most handy. Although M. Night made her something of a laughing-stock in the Happening, Betty Buckley gives a good performance as Dennis’ therapist, who wants what’s best for him and stop bad things from happening, but also wants to push her own career a little bit, too. The movie constantly switches in-and-out between her and his story, which can sometimes get in the way the pacing, but for the most part, they’re both so good at what they do, it almost doesn’t matter.

Oh and that ending. Well, without saying too much, there is a twist and well, I’m still not sure what I have to say about it. I’ll just leave it at that and see where my thoughts take me over the next few weeks or so.

Consensus: With a smarter head on his shoulders this time around, Split finds M. Night in a playful, yet scary mood, adding tension, excitement and craziness to a pretty dreadful and dark story, giving us something that not many Hollywood companies would sign off on.

8 / 10

Happy

Happy

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gold (2017)

Greed is sort of good, so long as your ugly, bald and fat.

After his father dies, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is left without much to do in his life. He was so successful for so very long, but now, without the inspiration of his dear old daddy to help him out, he’s basically hitting rock bottom, drinking, smoking and eating a whole lot more than he used to. Even though his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) is there to cheer him on every step of the way, there’s still something just dragging Kenny down and not making him able to catch that big break just yet. Then, out of nowhere, it hits him: Set out on an adventure to the uncharted jungles of Indonesia and look for gold. Kenny feels that this idea is great enough that he could get funding from just about any person with half a brain – unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Instead, Kenny has to reach out to a local businessman, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), to help him on this adventure and see just what kind of gold mine they’re actually working with here. Turns out, there’s a whole lot of it hidden, and now, it’s up to Kenny and Michael to get it all out, make a whole lot of money, and not get dragged down by other various greedy sons-of-bitches.

"Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away."

“Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away.”

It’s interesting to compare Gold and director Stephen Gaghan’s last movie, Syriana, to one another because while they definitely have a lot in common, they’re also quite different in many ways, too. For one, they’re both movies that preach about billionaires, greedy businessman, and the whole mentality of making more money, by any means, at whatever costs. However, while the later was far more ambitious, taking on what were basically four different subplots all at once, it also happens to be the far more boring of the two.

Gold, on the other hand, is quite a wild ride.

The only issue is that it does take some time to get going. For at least the first hour or so, it seems like the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be; does it want to poke fun at this overweight, balding businessman who can’t seem to get the idea that he’s just lost “it”, or, does it want to celebrate him for the courage, the drive and bravura that it takes for him to get up, each and every day, expecting to make millions and millions of dollars? Gaghan, for the longest time, seems like he doesn’t quite know and it’s why the first-half of Gold is probably going to start people off on the wrong foot.

Because after said first-half, things are a whole lot better, in that they’re quicker, more interesting and most of all, just fun. After a short while of not knowing what it wants to say or do, Gold eventually figures out that making there’s some true joy and loveliness to be had in making all of this money; it seems as if it’s never going to end and basically, the world is your oyster. Gaghan cranks up the pace and all of a sudden, rather than having a dark, dramatic and rather slow piece about businessmen doing whatever they can to stay afloat, we get a dark, yet, slightly comedic, and rather exciting piece about businessmen making all sorts of money and having a great time doing it.

What? You're telling me you wouldn't trust this guy with your livelihood?

What? You’re telling me you wouldn’t trust this guy with your livelihood?

It’s not hard to get swept up in all of this fun and excitement, either, which is why Gaghan deserves praise for knowing just how to tell this story, the right way. Because even while it’s all fun and games, the movie still does have a little something to say about the ridiculousness and cut-throat world that all of these men seem to inhabit and it turns the movie on its head a bit. Of course, the Founder explores the same ideas and probably does a better job, but the fact that Gold does, at the very least, try and discuss these very real issues, is smart and makes it feel like something far more different than one would expect from the first-half.

And yes, it also gives McConaughey to have a great time with this role, too.

Of course, Gold will probably be best remembered for the absolute dressing-down and uglying-up of McConaughey in a role that gives him weird teeth, a potbelly, and a balding hair-piece. While it may seem like a showy-stunt to show us all just what lengths McConaughey will go to, it still works for the character; this Kenny Wells can be so vile and disgusting at times, it’s hard not to feel irked by him, if only by his appearance alone. That said, McConaughey is more than capable of showing the dark sides of this character and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him, even when it seems like the movie’s getting a whole lot more nuts and convoluted.

And yeah, the rest of the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Édgar Ramírez has a nice chemistry with McConaughey, making it seem like the two could be more than just business-partners, but actual buddies; Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but does have a few moments to shine; Corey Stoll and Bill Camp show up as vindictive and toothless Wall Street dudes and are perfect at it; Bruce Greenwood has an odd British accent, for some reason; Toby Kebbell puts on a weird American accent, for some reason; and yeah, there’s more.

Just know this: Gold is fun. End of story.

Consensus: Despite starting off relatively weak, Gold gets going and shows us that greed isn’t good, but with a great cast and lively pace, it’s hard not to enjoy.

7 / 10

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

So. Much. Food.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an extraordinarily talented and largely self-taught culinary novice who has taken something that he loves so much, and tried whatever he can to make a living out of it. When he and his family are displaced from their native India and settle in some random, yet lovely little French village, they decide to open an Indian eatery, where all French citizens can get a taste of what they like to call “home”. Unfortunately for all of them, however, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant is literally right across the street with her fancy and well-established restaurant that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon. However, Hasson and his father (Om Puri), won’t be taken down by Madame Mallory and decide to band together. But Hassan’s motives begin to change when he realizes that there’s truly something special to the way Mallory cooks, making him decide by who he sticks by in this ongoing battle of the finest cuisine.

Uh oh. Dame's back.

Uh oh. Dame’s back. Look busy.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is food porn to the ultimate maximum. This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, because food is good and if you’re able to film it in the right way, then it can practically become the main selling-point of a flick, even stealing the show from the actual living, breathing, human characters making said food. And it’s probably no surprise that the same director who made us all fall in love with chocolate with Chocolat, is making us fall in love with all sorts of food again.

However, maybe not so much as with the characters, sadly.

See, what Lasse Hallström gets right in the look and feel of the movie, he forgets all about in the story-department which can’t help but sometimes feel like an afterthought. Sure, no one is going to mistaken the Hundred-Foot Journey for an exciting, suspenseful thrill-ride, with twists, turns and red herrings galore, but by the same token, that doesn’t mean it has to be a total and complete bore. Or better at that, a two-hour long bore.

And okay, I get it, there is definitely an audience out there who will love and adore this movie, all faults aside, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to get past when you realize that there’s barely any tension here, little to no actual drama, and yeah, a whole bunch of sappiness. Once again, it’s no surprise that we’re getting all of this from Hallström, but it still makes you wish that somewhere deep down within this man’s soul that he would just push himself, as well as the movies he takes on, just a little further. The Hundred-Foot Journey didn’t have to be an overlong slog, but it moves with barely any efficiency that it makes you wonder if it’s going anywhere, or ever going to end.

But I didn’t hate the movie.

If anything, it’s just middling. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t set out to ruin any person’s mood, or lives in the process, but instead, tell a simple, rather sweet story about a bunch simple, rather sweet people, making all sorts of lovely little pieces of food that you’ll want to grab off of the screen. There’s honestly nothing like that, but sometimes, a movie such as this doesn’t have to be over two hours – sometimes, just being an hour-and-a-half is more than enough and gets the point across pretty much perfectly.

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

But it is good to have such a talented ensemble here to, thankfully, make things work when they most definitely need to. Helen Mirren tries on this French-accent and it works; while she’s playing a shrew of a woman, she still lets out some bits and pieces of charm every so often that not only reminds us of what a class-act she is, but how she truly can make any scene she shows up in, well, better. Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon both play the two young chefs who learn to cook better with one another, while also making sweet, sexy, yet cute love on the side and they’re adorable enough as is to really make it work, even if it’s hard to care whether or not these two incredibly attractive people end up together in the end.

After all, they’ll be fine anyway.

The real stand-out here is Om Puri who, unfortunately, passed away not too long ago. Puri has been the sort of go-to guy for tough, strict and rather stubborn Indian fathers in movies such as these and it makes sense, because he plays them perfectly. Don’t believe me? Check out East is East and get back to me. Anyway, Puri does a fantastic job here because it seems like, out of all the characters to choose from, his is the only that develops. Over time, his character realizes that there’s more to life than just family and tradition, sometimes, striking out on one’s own is what really matters. Puri’s character never goes the full 180 and you know what? He’s sort of better off that way.

He’s more human that way, really.

Consensus: Saccharine and trite, the Hundred-Foot Journey aims to please those not looking for much excitement or drama, but for the most part, is pleasant and well-acted enough to work.

5 / 10

Don't ever teach Dame on anything.

Don’t ever teach Dame on anything.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Julieta (2016)

This can happen to moms everywhere! Just get off of our backs already! Jeez!

Julieta (Emma Suárez) lives in Madrid with her daughter Antía. They both suffer in silence over the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), Antía’s father and Julieta’s husband. However, there are times grief doesn’t bring people closer, it drives them apart, as is the case with these two. Julieta doesn’t quite know this just yet, until she realizes that right after she turns 18, Antia gets up and leaves her mother, without a simple explanation, rhyme, reason, or even a clue of where it is that she might have gone. Julieta, like so many other mothers in her position, is obviously distraught and tries whatever she can to find her daughter and, hopefully, bring her back home, where she rightfully belongs. But as this journey goes on and on, Julieta realizes the painful truth that maybe, just maybe, she didn’t know much about her daughter to begin with.

"I'm so sad, wanna know why?"

“I’m so sad, wanna know why?”

Julieta is an odd movie for Pedro Almodóvar to write and direct, because while watching it, it’s hard to think of it as a movie that’s coming from him. Sure, there’s chunks of melodrama, a lot of female characters, and of course, plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere, but at the same time, it still feels like an everyday, normal melodrama about a mother, a daughter and all of the other missed connections families have with one another. In other words, Julieta is a “safe” movie and probably the safest I’ve ever seen from Almodóvar, which is neither a good thing, or a bad thing.

It’s just a thing.

But unfortunately, it’s a thing that keeps Julieta from really working as well as it probably should have. Once again, it’s nice that Almodóvar is giving us a story about women, when so many other writers/directors would shriek at the idea of doing such a thing and it’s also nice that Almodóvar is able to wrangle out such good performances from this cast. Emma Suarez as the older-version of the title character is probably the best here, because she has to go through a whole bunch of emotions – most of them sad – but never seeming boring. There’s just something about her presence, as sad as it may be at times, that makes her watchable and take over this movie every chance she gets.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t quite helping her out. For one, it seems like Almodóvar himself sort of realized that he wasn’t working with that meaty of a story; there’s a mystery here, but mostly, it’s all tucked in the back so that a bunch of people can cry, get sad, and go on and on about their emotions. In fact, these characters here talk so much about their emotions, that it makes me wonder if they ever had anything else on their mind, like I don’t know, sports, the weather, politics, or hell, just anything else about how they feel?

"Please, stop speaking about your feelings. I've stopped caring about forty minutes ago."

“Please, stop speaking about your feelings. I’ve stopped caring about forty minutes ago.”

Probably not, but hey, it’s an Almodóvar flick so of course, this is to be expected.

But what’s different about Julieta is that, when it’s not constantly jumping in-and-out of its narrative from past, to the present, it’s giving us a story that just doesn’t feel all that compelling in the first place. From what it seems, Julieta is just another mother confused and worried about her daughter – one of whom who just seems like a brat that, honestly, Julieta herself may be better off without. It’s an odd thing to say, I know, but it’s what kept going throughout my mind the whole time I was watching this and thinking of where this story was going and whether or not any of it was going to matter in the end.

And honestly, it kind of doesn’t. Julieta may show us that Almodóvar is able to restrain himself again and take a bit of a chill-pill when it comes to his story-telling (especially after the crazy and wild one-two punch of the Skin I Live In and I’m So Excited), but it also proves to be his most boring movie by a long shot. Sure, there’s certain aspects surrounding it that can be admired, like the previously mentioned characters, or the colorful look of it all, but when you get right down to the meat of it all, it just doesn’t quite hit hard. It feels like there may have been a real juicy, compelling, emotional and exciting story somewhere in here, but it doesn’t quite seem to come out.

And for Almodóvar, that’s at least, a problem.

Consensus: Not necessarily bad, as much as it’s just a bit of a bore, Julieta highlights Almodóvar’s knack for telling a laid-back story, but never quite giving it the right amount of heart, or energy it seems to need.

5 / 10

Oh, man, the 80's! What a crazy time! I mean, just look at that 'do!

Oh, man, the 80’s! What a crazy time! I mean, just look at that ‘do!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Founder (2017)

Yeah, still eating at McDonald’s. Sorry, guys.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is just another salesman trying to get by in the world so that he can come home to his wife (Laura Dern), and have something to show for it. While on his travels one day, Ray stumbles upon this new fast-food restaurant in Illinois called McDonald’s. While there’s not much to them at first glance, the fact that they actually have only a few items on the menu and are so quick, automatically strike Ray as something that he needs to work with. So, he hatches a plan with the owners, brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), in that he’ll help them expand and bring McDonald’s to the rest of the world. But eventually, as time rolls on, he starts to realize that there’s more money to be made in this food-joint, but the only way to do so is in having to back-stab and get rid of everyone in his life, who has loved and supported him all of these years. Also, he’ll have to get rid of Mac and Dick, leading to an all-out legal-battle that will continue to haunt the McDonald’s name until the end of time.

Okay, probably not, but still.

Yeah, this convo's about to get real weird.

Yeah, this convo’s about to get real weird.

The Founder is actually a pretty misleading title, but it works perfectly with what the rest of the movie is trying to get across. This idea that a person who thought of an idea, as smart as it may be, entitles them to some sort of power, fame and fortune, is an interesting one, especially when said person didn’t actually do anything with the idea. In the Founder, we get this sort of conflict – Ray Kroc may forever and ever be known as the one who got McDonald’s name out there to the rest of the entire world, but he didn’t find, or better yet, even invent the place, the art, the craft, and originality that went into it all in the first place.

Which begs the question: Who’s worthy of being considered “the founder”? The guys who made the place, or the guy who brought the place to where it is today?

It’s a bunch of interesting questions that, thankfully, get brought up many of times throughout the always entertaining, compelling and rather insightful tale about McDonald’s, how it got started, and how it got to be the fast-food juggernaut that it currently is today. Say what you will about McDonald’s, their crappy, fast and easy food, and even the people who work there, but it’s a place that is everywhere you look and will probably stay that way until the person is left breathing. So yes, it’s very interesting to see where it all came from and how it came to be, especially since there’s darker-beings at play surrounding this tale.

For one, director John Lee Hancock approaches Robert D. Siegel’s script in a smart way; he never allows for us to think that this is going to be some quick, fast-paced and glossy biopic about this one smart businessman who hatched this plan to become one of the richest men in the world. There’s always this idea of a darker, more sinister undercurrent here, which makes all of the ups and constantly colorful montages, in a way, seem eerie; we know that Kroc is going to eventually turn the other cheek, lose that winning-smile of his, and start to, as they love to say in the entertainment world, “break bad”, but when, where, and how it all goes down is always left in the air, making this tale a rather unpredictable one at times.

Then again, it’s also a smart and honest tale about what can happen when one person sees money-bags in their eyes and doesn’t really care about the people around them. The Founder makes us wonder whether it was all worth it for Kroc and everyone else involved with the restaurant; can you be a rich, successful and live a rather comfortable life by sticking to your principles and not letting your image get away from you? Or, do you have to get a little down in the dirt at times, hitting elbows and yeah, making some uncomfortable compromises? The Founder asks these questions, never quite comes up with a clear-cut, obvious answer and for that and that alone, it’s a very good movie.

It doesn’t ask whether or not you should go out there and support McDonald’s (which yeah, you probably shouldn’t), but it does ask whether or not someone can stay true to themselves when they want to make some money for themselves.

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

That, to me, has stayed in my head ever since.

Regardless, as Kroc, Michael Keaton gives us an amazing performance because Keaton, like the man he’s playing, always seems to have something brewing underneath the surface. On the surface, Kroc seems like a rather nice, almost squeaky-clean guy, but the more and more time we get to spend with him, the more realize that there may just be a small screw loose in his head that has him ticking like a bomb, ready to explode and lose all control. Keaton constantly has us guessing just where he’s going to go next with this person and constantly surprises us with his portrayal; while this is no doubt a person we’re supposed to have hard feelings towards, it’s kind of hard because Keaton is just so damn charming. The movie doesn’t let Kroc off the hook, though, and in today’s day and age, that’s something definitely needed.

Everyone else is pretty great, too. Laura Dern doesn’t get a whole lot to do as Kroc’s first wife, but she brings enough warmth and sympathy when is necessary; John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman are perfectly as the two brothers who came up with McDonald’s and are slowly, but surely, starting to see that dream slip away from them; Linda Cardellini shows up in a under-written role as Kroc’s second wife, but tries; B.J. Novak is perfectly slimy as the one who hits Kroc’s head the hardest with opportunities and business ideas; and Patrick Wilson, as brief as he’s here, does a solid job at seeming like a guy who may be a little smarmy, but also may just be something of a good guy, trying to make a quick buck, and oh yeah, loses his wife for it.

Chew on that, people.

Consensus: With an absolutely terrific lead performance from Michael Keaton, the Founder not only makes us question the meaning of its tale, but many others, while still giving us a smart, rather haunting portrait of a business man, with an idea, an agenda, and of course, a shady moral compass.

8.5 / 10

What an empire of morbidly obese customers.

What an empire of soon-to-be morbidly obese customers.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

I’m So Excited! (2013)

Trains are so much lamer.

A plane setting off for some sort of destination runs through all sorts of problems while up in the air. It all starts when a technical failure endangers the lives of everyone aboard the Peninsula Flight 2549. The pilots are in constant communication with the Control Tower to figure out just how to fix the issue; the flight attendants and the chief steward are, even in the face of danger, try to put on a happy face for the passengers, forget their own personal problems and devote themselves body and soul to the task of making the flight as enjoyable as possible for the passengers; and basically, yeah, everyone sits around as they wait for a solution. But it’s not all that bad, boring and miserable because first class is tended to by Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajardo (Carlos Areces), and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), three fellows who know how to throw a good party, even if they’re up in the air and probably, most likely going to die by the time the plane hits the ground.

Hey, just be happy there's no snakes and Samuel L.

Hey, just be happy there’s no snakes and Samuel L.

The most interesting aspect surrounding Pedro Almodóvar and his movies is that there is, essentially, two beasts to him that he’ll play around with from time-to-time. There’s eccentric, rather crazy, unpredictable side that takes these whack-o stories that he’s thinking up and just get as insane as he wants with them. Then, there’s the other beast that’s far more reserved, emotional and sensitive, with the occasional burst of craziness thrown in for good mix. Almodóvar has made a career of this and while the results aren’t always perfect, needless to say, they prove that Almodóvar, no matter how old he gets, no matter how movies he makes, and no matter how long he stays around, he’s always finding something fun and fresh to keep himself going.

And that all goes away by the time you I’m So Excited, perhaps his most wacky, wild and silly movie, but probably his least compelling.

Which for some, may be all that’s needed; there’s nothing wrong with a seasoned writer/director taking some time away from the heavy, emotionally-gripping tales that they usually create and laying back, popping-up a bottle and letting the good times roll. Almodóvar himself has done this on quite a couple of occasions, for sure, but here, it feels like it gets away from him a tad bit too much. For one, I’m So Excited is, essentially, one-joke spread very far and wide for a premise that’s already too thin in the first place.

It also doesn’t help that Almodóvar’s sense of humor seemed to have gone away this time around, with him making some very lazy and obvious jokes about sex, drugs, women, men, gays, race, and even blow-jobs. In fact, there’s maybe a few too many blow-job jokes, which isn’t bad to have around, but they’re just not funny. It’s as if Almodóvar actually sat himself down and watched an Adam Sandler comedy, tried to reenact some of what goes on in those movies, make his own little twist, and see what happened.

Well, I’m So Excited happened and unfortunately, for everyone’s case, let’s just hope and pray that Almodóvar stays away from the Sandler filmography.

Is it too soon to be making cracks about pilots being messed-with in a live plane?

Is it too soon to be making cracks about pilots being messed-with in a live plane? Still?

That said, there are bits and pieces of I’m So Excited to enjoy, but they’re very few and far between. There’s a quite a few dance-and-music numbers that work well to keep the momentum going and the usual cast of characters that we all know, love and associate with Almodóvar are all here and having a very good time, but still, there’s something missing. Almodóvar, you can sort of tell, seems to know this about halfway through, when he’s gone too far with the possibility that all of these characters may die and doesn’t even try to have us sympathize with them.

Instead, we sit around and watch as if they act crazy, say silly things, do drugs, get drunk, have sex, and yeah, cry a whole lot. The movie does try to get across some idea that on this plane, there’s a real issue of classes that needs to be addressed, but in all honesty, it’s a bit underwhelming and feels thrown in there. Almodóvar tries and because of that, it’s really hard to attack a movie, because it seems like he always knows what he’s doing, even when he’s not, but yeah, sometimes, it’s not too hard to realize when a movie just isn’t quite coming together, so you decide to stick around, see what happens next, and, if worse comes to worse, join in on the escapades a tad bit.

After all, the movie’s done in barely 85 minutes, so what kind of harm could be done.

Consensus: Not necessarily “bad”, as much as it’s just “off”, I’m So Excited shows the fun and wacky side to Almodóvar, but without the stellar results we know and usually expect from him.

4 / 10

First class must be a blast. Too bad I'm not a millionaire.

First class must be a blast. Too bad I’m not a millionaire.

Photos Courtesy of: Reel Talk Online

Paterson (2016)

There’s a poet in all of us.

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a hardworking bus driver in Paterson, N.J., who follows probably the same routine each and every day of his life, with the exception of a few changes here and there. He wakes up for work bright and early in the morning, eats his cereal out of a small cup, packs a lunch, goes to work, listens to the people’s conversations, observes the city around him, has lunch in front of a lovely, relatively soothing waterfall, comes home to his somewhat quirky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks his dog Marvin (Minnie), around the town late at night, stops by the local bar, has a beer, talks to people, comes home, goes to sleep in the arms of his wife, and wakes up the next day to do it all again. However, the one thing that Paterson seems to really care most about in his life is his poetry and the hopes of one day making it big, so that the whole world can see what he’s jotting down in that notebook of his.

Paterson is perhaps the most relaxing and calming movie that I’ve ever seen. It barely follows a plot, there doesn’t seem to be much of any development found whatsoever, there’s no conflict, and there’s no real narrative driving the movie from one scene to the next. If anything, the movie just wanders around, following a familiar pattern that we get used to after the first ten minutes or so, taking its time to tell itself, and barely ever cranking up the energy a single bit. Normally, this would piss me off to high heavens, especially for an indie flick, and not to mention, one by Jim Jarmusch.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don't all look like Adam Driver.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don’t all look like Adam Driver.

But for some reason, I came close to kind of loving it for that reason alone.

Jarmusch’s movies, despite them not all being great, all clearly come from a very interesting mind who has a knack for telling stories the way he wants to tell them, regardless of if they actually work in the shown final product, or if they even make sense (the Limits of Control). But no matter what, it’s hard not to watch his movies and think long and hard about what must have been going on through his mind during the creative-process’ of making these movies and with Paterson, I’m probably the most interested in, because while most of his movies are slow, meandering pieces about goofy characters, this one’s a slow, meandering piece about relatively normal characters, with the pace feeling more deliberate and mannered, than just, well, boring.

And I think that’s what separates Paterson from a lot of these other slow-as-molasses indie flicks I see nowadays, especially those from Jarmusch – the feeling, the tone and the aspect that sticks inside of this town known as Paterson, is so calmed-down, that it only makes sense a movie about said town would play-out the same way. There are some brief, fleeting moments in which it seems like Jarmusch is going to step things up a bit, but nope, they go away the next second, and the movie moves on to whatever it wants to do next.

And you know what? That’s perfectly fine with me, because it worked here.

Normally, it doesn’t and can just feel like a director trying something new and it not working a bit, having them come-off as pretentious. Jarmusch has had this problem before, but here, it works in his favor, as he never really gets in the way of the characters, the story, or the mood. It’s just simple, non-stylish and show-offy storytelling that, quite frankly, needs to be done more in the world of indies. So often, film makers working in these independent frame of minds, no matter how seasoned or young they may be, often feel the need to show-off all their skills, talents and ideas into one piece, and actually get in the way of what could have been a very effective, smart story. Jarmusch, like I’ve said before, has done this before and may do it again, but he doesn’t with Paterson and that’s why it deserves to be cherished.

And the Oscar goes to..

And the Oscar goes to..

That, and because Adam Driver’s quite great in the lead role, too. Without sounding too much like Buzzfeed here, Driver is definitely having a moment in today’s pop-culture landscape, but you wouldn’t quite know it. He’s been in a lot of movies over the past few years, some big, some small, but regardless of the size of them, he’s always good in them, trying out something new and interesting, each and every time. As Paterson, Driver dials down a lot of that free-wheeling energy we so often know and sometimes adore him for like when he’s on Girls, but it works for the character and for the rest of the movie. Due to Paterson himself being an actual observer of the world around him, it makes sense that he wouldn’t take over every scene he’s in, but instead, allow others to talk, express themselves, and get us, as well as Paterson himself, a better chance to know them.

It’s sort of like a poem, right?

Anyway, as his wife, Golshifteh Farahani is an interesting choice and one that pays off, because not only is she charming as all hell, but she actually makes his scene’s better. Her character treads this very fine line between being annoyingly quirky and charming, but most of the time, it’s hard not to be charmed by her. The movie doesn’t know how to treat her, which is actually okay, because it just gives Farahani more opportunities to light the screen up and show us not just why Paterson loves her the way his eyes show, but us, the audience, as well.

It’s been awhile since my last screen crush has hit me, but I think that may be about to change.

Consensus: Incredibly slow and melodic, Paterson may drive most people away from its downtrodden pace, but will bring in those more thoughtful and attentive viewers, with an eye for clever detail and interesting storytelling, that never once feels showy.

8.5 / 10

Who isn't in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Who isn’t in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

20th Century Women (2016)

Women rule. Boys don’t drool, but they don’t rule, either.

It’s 1979 and Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is going through some growing pains. Now that he’s growing up more and more, he’s starting to see the world for the sort of ugly, sometimes evil place that it can be, but he’s also realizing some beautiful things about it, too. This is mostly through the women that surround him, day in and day out. His mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), stands by him every step of the way, smothering and protecting him from the outside world; Abbie (Greta Gerwig), when she isn’t dealing with her own problems, takes him out to rad-as-hell, incredibly violent and crazy punk shows; and Julie (Elle Fanning), while admittedly a friend, also gives him that idea that they could be together, forever, but she’s also a little too busy having sex with random a-holes who don’t care about her nearly as much as Jamie. There’s also William (Billy Crudup), who tries to be something of a father-figure to Jamie, even if he’s got his own problems with growing up, too. Altogether, they create an imperfect, dysfunctional family of sorts that all love and respect one another, but also find it very hard to get by in day-to-day life.

Beach makes everyone better.

Beach makes everything and everyone a little bit better.

20th Century Women is, thankfully, Mike Mills’ least stylish movie. It also happens to be perhaps his most heartfelt, with fully-realized, smart and honest characters that aren’t hiding behind a behind a bunch of twee style-points and narrative-conceits. Due to this, it often feels like the typical indie we’d expect from one Wes Anderson, however, it doesn’t quite reach those great, emotional highs – if anything, it’s a movie that stays so put in the lows of life, that it’s actually more realistic.

And yet, there’s still a style to this that can sometimes actually get in the way of the story itself.

For instance, we never quite know where the story’s going to go, end up, or even what sort of flow it’s going to follow through with for the whole two hours or so. It’s actually somewhat refreshing to get a movie that doesn’t have any need for such silly things like formula, or convention, but like I’ve stated many times with stylish movies, clearly trying to make their mark, they also can come close to ruining any sort of emotional power that they may have otherwise built on. 20th Century Women is an odd movie in that it constantly interrupts its own flow, but in doing that, it’s constantly telling us more about these characters, their lives, their relationships with one another, and just where America was at the time.

In all honesty, it’s hard to really hold much against 20th Century Women, because even when it does come close to being downright irritating, it still gives something else to chew on, so to speak. It’s not a slow movie and it’s definitely taking its time for unknown reasons – it’s just telling a story, the way it can only be told, shedding light on each and every person we see. It not only makes us feel closer to these characters, but makes us gain a sense of emotional attachment to them, as well as their surroundings.

Because if anything, the movie’s plots a little funky and doesn’t really seem to be all that focused, but a part of me thinks that was the point of what Mike Mills was doing. In life, there’s no clear objective, no one set standard or rules, and there’s sure as hell no just one obstacle to overcome and everything in life is all okay. Life is a constant stream of series of events, happenings and moments that you can’t predict and never quite see coming, which is actually the beauty about life in and of itself.

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

The same kind of beauty that, in its brightest, shining moments, 20th Century Women really harps on.

But Mills is a smart director in that he doesn’t always get in front of camera and let everyone know it’s his show and that’s it – he’s got such a good cast that it would almost be sacrilege to get in their way and not allow them to do what they do best. Annette Bening turns in another great performance as a mother-figure, who may not be a total hippie, but also may not be a pushover, either. It’s an interesting narrative that she constantly plays with this character and shows us that Bening can play all sides to a character, no matter how big, or limited her role may be.

Greta Gerwig also shows up and is quite good as the rather punk-ish gal going through all sorts of issues and problems, yet, isn’t a total sap that ruins every scene she’s in; Elle Fanning continues to get better and better and shows it here as the apple of Jamie’s eyes, who may love him like he does, or may be simply just using him as a total friend and that’s about it; Billy Crudup gives one of his better performances in recent-memory as the bro-y super of the building they’re all living in and feels like he could have had his own movie, but because he’s here, he’s just another one of the great, highly interesting stories; and as Jamie, Lucas Jade Zumann, despite having a lot of talent to battle, more than holds his own and makes it very clear that he’s going to have a bright and shining future in movies.

Especially if he can hold his own in a movie filled with as many heavyweights as there are here.

Consensus: 20th Century Women may bounce around a tad too much with its style, but mostly gets by on the sheer strength and warmth of its cast and message.

8 / 10

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother's love.

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother’s love.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire