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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: Movies

Wonder (2017)

It’s 2017, kids. Grow up.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is a normal, 10-year-old kid. He has ambitions of one day becoming an astronaut, he loves his mom (Julia Roberts), his dad (Owen Wilson), his sister (Izabela Vidovic), and his dog). But he’s also been born with facial differences that, to the world around him, is scary. Those who know and love him, don’t care, but the outside world isn’t quite accepting of Auggie and the way he looks. It’s why he’s stayed away from a mainstream school and chooses to where an astronaut’s helmet, just about everywhere he goes in public. But now, that’s all about to change. Finally, after many, many years, he’s going to an actual school, with actual other classmates, and without the helmet. It’s going to be a brand new life for Auggie and it’s not just going to change him, but those around him. For better, as well as for worse.

It’s hard to really get mad at a movie like Wonder. It does everything that it sets out to do – which is, to make us cry our eyes out – and it’s just so damn sweet, so innocent, and so nice about itself, that even the thought of kicking it, let alone thinking of doing it harm, is also too much to even handle.

Don’t trust him, Auggie! All kids are evil!

But here I am, talking a little bit of smack about Wonder, against my better wishes.

Which isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do, because it absolutely does. Co-writer/director Stephen Chbosky seems to have a knack for setting up these very raw and emotional scenes, giving the right cue, and then, watching as the tears begin to run. He does it at least 10-15 times here, and while not every time works, the moments in which it does, it’s hard to not think about. In a movie that’s as mild-mannered and as child-like as Wonder, it’s also a movie that isn’t afraid to get to the heart of some matters and pick at our inner-most weaknesses.

In a way, it’s kind of a sick movie, but it’s the kind of sick movie that made me happy to tear-up a little bit. It not only reminded me that I am a human, with a heart, and feelings, for once, but also that small, well-natured movies can still exist and not necessarily knock it out of the park, but be enjoyable and pleasant enough to get the job done. Even despite it being released in the heart of awards-season, Wonder is no doubt a family-movie, made for the family, and not really made for the 80-90-year-old Oscar-voters.

It’s a movie made for people who want to cry a little bit, feel all warm and gooey inside, and possibly beg for someone to hug them.

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The only issue that I, the angry, cynical d-bag that I am, have is that often times, it feels like Wonder is juggling way too much and doesn’t know how to really settle itself down, so instead, takes some easy short-cuts. For instance, rather than Wonder just being about Auggie and his adventure into being accepted in the school-system, it’s also about everybody else around him and who may have been impacted by his life. There’s his sister, his sister’s best-friend, and two friends at his school, who all seem to get their own little subplots to go along with his, which is nice to see for once.

There’s a sitcom in there somewhere.

It would have been easy for Wonder to just be all about Auggie, without ever really focusing on those around him, when in reality, that isn’t the case in real life. And the subplots we get, while a little jammed-in, help bring some more heart, emotion, and thought, to a movie that was already brimming with it. Chbosky isn’t afraid to take small risks like these and it’s nice to still see, even if it also feels like the movie would have probably worked best as, I don’t know, a miniseries.

Because while you have Auggie’s adventure getting the most of the attention, all of the other characters, while getting their times in the spotlight, still don’t feel fully realized. We get at least ten or so minutes with them, to help give us some context, and then we’re back to Auggie. In some cases, like with Noah Jupe’s Jack, we get a better understanding of his home life, but then it’s all we apparently need and we’re back to the main crux of the story, which happens to be Auggie. It doesn’t quite work as well as it should; rather than feeling like it’s giving us a much more fuller, clearer picture, it instead leaves strands of plot, sometimes dangling in the air.

Some movies can do that and get away with it. Wonder is not that movie.

Instead, it’s a movie that makes a slight step above an after-school special, with a great cast, a great director, and a solid team of writers, but still, the execution is just a tad bit off. It’s the kind of movie that all kids and families should see, because it literally speaks about how kindness can make the world a much better, much safer, and much nicer place, but it’s also the kind that’s not quite perfect.

Did it need to be? Nope, not really. But it flirts with the idea of being that and it’s a shame when it doesn’t get to that level.

Consensus: Even with noble intentions and a heartfelt direction, Wonder feels like it has too much within it, to feel complete, even at a near-two hours.

6 / 10

If Julia Roberts is your flesh and blood, facial deformity or not, you’ll turn out fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate

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Justice League (2017)

Just not the same without Superman. He’s not in this, right?

After the rather tragic death of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world is in desperate need of a superhero. And with the current uprising of evil super-villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), the world is in desperate need and they need it quick. Enter Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who decides that it’s time to get together all of the best and most powerful of superheros to take down this foe. There’s Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who we know has supreme strength and can kick all sorts of ass, when she isn’t playing with the heart and emotions of Bruce. There’s Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who can not only talk to fish, but kick all sorts of ass, too. There’s Barry Gordon, aka Flash (Ezra Miller), who can run just as fast as he runs his mouth. Then, there’s Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who uses his robot body to do, well, whatever he damn well pleases with it. Though it takes some time, the gang gets together and decides that it’s best to save the world from ultimate destruction, but for some reason, they’re just not as powerful as they think. All they need is one more hero and they’ll be set.

But who?

When you need a Quicksilver, but your movie just not funny enough. Or at all.

No matter what, I am always rooting for DC. While Marvel is clearly kicking all sorts of ass in the superhero-movie world, I still hold out hope that one day, DC will give them the opponent they probably need and deserve. And with this past summer’s Wonder Woman, hell, I thought that maybe DC was getting their act together and was ready to put up a fight. Then, after Zack Snyder had to tragically bow-out, and they were able to gather up the talents of Joss Whedon, things were looking even brighter and better. It seemed like, oh man, DC showed up to the duel and was ready to go all the way, last corporation standing, do or die.

Unfortunately, quite the opposite happens.

In fact, Justice League seems like another five steps back, when it should have definitely been the same amount, but at least forward. But for some reason, the same issues that have been plaguing their past few films (except for the aforementioned Wonder Woman), seem to still be coming up: Their just too uneven and disjointed to fully work as one, cohesive whole. Whereas Marvel seems to have a formula that they will never stray away from, it’s one that works; their movies are the right combination of humor, action, quirkiness, character-work, drama, world-building, exposition, and excitement that when they decide to mix it up every so often, it never feels like it’s going to fail. It’s a near-perfect formula that works for them each and every time and it’s the same kind of formula that DC is trying to imitate, but just can’t seem to completely comprehend.

One of the main reasons for that, at least here, may be that Whedon’s script and Snyder’s direction just don’t mix-and-match well. Like, at all. For instance, Snyder’s direction is so gloomy, so serious, and so moody, and Whedon’s bits and pieces of script are so light, silly, and in ways, meta, that they feel like two different movies. One is trying to be Dawn of Justice (not as bad as people say, especially compared to this), and the other is trying to be both Avengers movies (both are pretty solid).

And like I said, the two just don’t fit.

Just kiss already! Get this testosterone done with already!

There are some moments of pure fun and excitement to be found, however, they are incredibly fleeting. After the initial half-hour and we’re done with all of the annoying exposition, world-building, and sort-of origin-tales, the movie sort of comes together in that the gang’s all in one place, fighting, picking each other’s look apart, and oh yeah, actually building character. It takes so long to get to this point, that when we’re actually there, it’s hard to notice – but when it is there, it’s quite fun and worth watching.

Same goes for the action which, regardless of who directed it the most or not, still works. Each superhero gets to show-off their own superpower and it feels worth it. It’s almost enough to get past the fact that the movie seems sorely underwritten and so rote, but hey, at least it’s not a total slog, right?

If anything, Justice League has me at least somewhat curious to see what they do next and where they go with these solo films. After all, the main reason why some of these characters just don’t work is because we hardly even know them in the first place; Cyborg’s backstory is constantly being brought-up to us and it just gets to be annoying, because we don’t care. We’re supposed to be getting those movies in the upcoming future, but we sort of need them desperately and now.

Cause without them, DC’s just not going to be able to put up the fight that they oh so want to put up.

Consensus: Even though they get an “A” for effort, Justice League is another sign that DC has a lot of work to do, especially on its characters, its script, and its oversall management of their promising franchise.

5.5 / 10

The male-gaze is back, fellas. Yay for misogyny!

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

Lady Bird (2017)

Don’t grow up. Like ever.

Marion (Saoirse Ronan) is just like any other kid growing up in California. She longs for a life out in the North, wants to get out of her small, dilapidated home, constantly fights with her mom (Laurie Metcalf), gets along swimmingly with her father (Tracy Letts), and wants a little something more. That’s why, with this being her senior year and all, she’s poised to do right by herself, and whether that’s by studying her ass off so that she can get into the college of her dreams (NYU, of course), or by being with the hottest, most interesting guys in school, it doesn’t matter. She just wants to get by this year and if she learns a little life-lesson every so often, well then, so be it.

Despite being awfully pretentious and a little too whimsical herself, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird is surprisingly not like that at all. In fact, it’s a very straightforward, understated, subtle, and moving coming-of-ager that takes a look at a time in all of our lives, when everything was a lot nicer, sweeter, and a whole lot simpler, even if, at the time, it didn’t feel like that at all.

Don’t fall for those charms, Lady Bird! All men are the same!

Movies like Lady Bird are so up my alley, that in all honesty, I don’t even try to hate them – I know that they’re going to work their nostalgic magic on me, so it’s best to just succumb and accept it for what it is. But what makes Lady Bird so particularly special is that it seems to understand and respect that coming-of-agers can fly around a bunch of bulls**t about love, adolescence, growing up, and figuring out just what it is that makes us all tick the way we do when we’re so much younger. Gerwig’s direction, while sometimes a little too quick and snippy, feels mannered in the sense that we get these literal small snapshots into the senior year of this girl, when everything’s right on the cusp of changing and she, nor anybody else around her, really knows.

In that sense, it’s pretty sad and almost tragic. But it’s oh so beautiful because, once again, Gerwig brings no b.s.

She understands what it is about these kinds of tales that make us all swoon and feel all warm inside, while also smack our heads in annoyingly awkward, but fond memories. Lady Bird never talks down to its subject, nor does it really judge anybody else, either; it’s fair, well-mannered, and understands that the best way to have us all relate to these young, sometimes pretentious kids, is to remind us that they’re all kids, going through the same stuff we probably did, or still are going through. That means that yes, Lady Bird touches on certain issues like drugs, sex, alcohol, growing up, careers, picking colleges, unemployment, depression, family-turmoil, faith-struggles, friendships lost, anxiety, addiction, and so on and so forth, but it never feels like too much, or too little.

Everything is given plenty of time to shine and remind us that, once again, these were once our lives. It may be Gerwig’s life that’s being portrayed on the screen, but it’s still easy to feel some semblance of understanding. And it’s not as if the movie’s just getting by on pure, high school nostalgia, either – it’s a downright funny, sad, and downright touching look at this one girl’s coming-of-age – but the heartfelt memories don’t hurt, either. They help have the movie hit closer to home and feel less like it’s just Gerwig bragging about her upbringing, and instead, inviting us to register her life, with ours and grow more compassion as time goes on.

“Stop being a bitch, okay?”

Which is to say that I’m definitely excited and interested in whatever the hell else Gerwig wants to do behind-the-camera. In front of it, I’m fine with not seeing too much of for a short while, but hey, that doesn’t matter here.

What matters is that Gerwig knows how to direct a smart movie that isn’t just all about the actors, but the look, tone and general feel. That seems to be the problem with most directorial debuts from actors – they know how to get great performances out of their casts, but when it comes to everything, like plot or the visuals, it just doesn’t quite work. It can sometimes feel under-cooked and a little dull, which is why it’s always nice to get the rare occasions that work splendidly, such as this.

Sure, the performances all around here are great, with Laurie Metcalf stealing the show as the supportive, yet also brutally honest mama, but they aren’t the crutch that Gerwig hopes and depends on. She’s got more tricks up her sleeve and it makes me hope and wish for the best, whatever she decides to do next.

Possibly Lady Bird, Ten Years Later? Who knows?

Consensus: Honest, sweet, funny, well-acted, and a little sad, Lady Bird is a bright directorial-debut from Gerwig that not only doubles as a moment of self-reflection, but a great bit of nostalgia for when days were simpler, if also a whole lot more dramatic and emotional, for some damn reason.

9 / 10

True pals. For life. For now. At least.

Photos Courtesy of: A24

Step (2017)

This is why they outlaw dancing!

It’s senior year and for some students at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, times are going to be tough. When they aren’t juggling school-work, boyfriends, work, family-issues, and just general things that most teens have to go through, oh yeah, they got this little thing called college coming up. For some of them, they already have their decision made and now all they have to worry about is how much money they’re going to get from their choice. However, for others, the choices aren’t so clear and as the months continue to go by, and slowly but surely, the senior year begins to fade away, so do the bigger, brighter and better opportunities for colleges that these girls want to get into. But through it all, the girls are always able and willing to fall back on their dance team, that’s not only one of the better ones in the State, but a perfect release from their stressful day-to-day lives.

Clearly channeling Bey.

Step is an interesting documentary because you could easily seeing as just being about this high school dance team and leaving it at that. And for the first half-hour or so, that’s what it is; it’s interesting and entertaining, but still a little conventional and sort of like an afterschool-special. Then, director Amanda Lipitz shows her true intentions by having the movie focus less on the dance team itself and instead, use it as a springboard to focus on the actual members themselves, their lives, their hopes, dreams, ambitions, and wishes for what the rest of their lives may turn out to be.

Aka, what college they’re going to.

And in that sense, Step is a very intriguing documentary because it literally focuses on these gals in one of the most important moment in their lives, where all of a sudden, everything becomes far more serious and adult-like. In a way, it’s kind of sweetly nostalgic – that feeling of having to choose a college, or better yet, what the hell you want to do with the rest of your life, while also saying goodbye to childhood. It’s sad and heart-breaking, sure, but it also brought me back to my good old days and made me feel warm, just as I bet this documentary intended to.

Don’t know what this move is, but if the kids are all doing it, then it must be hip and cool, right?

It’s also smart because Lipitz doesn’t forget to focus on these girls as they are becoming full-fledged, adult women and it’s all the more compelling because it feels like no frills are being taken. We see them all for their mistakes, problems, and issues, as well as their accomplishments, skills, and lovely qualities that make them worthy for a whole documentary to be about them. In fact, the ones who make the most mistakes are the ones to watch the most, because through them, it’s easy to remember the decisions we’ve all made in our pasts, and how some of them worked out and didn’t.

In other words, it’s insightful, but also incredibly sweet and lovely to watch. It brings us back to the good old days, while also not forgetting that these women’s lives and their stories are what matter the most. In a way, it’s actually more interesting to see them struggle with the day-to-day, like get good grades, or have to keep a steady boyfriend around, rather than seeing their dance-moves.

Sure, they’re good dance moves, but do we really need to see them all to make us feel that these girls are, in any way, special?

Probably not. But okay, I guess it helps.

Anyway, Step is the one movie you should see. Don’t let the possibility of it being dancing for an-hour-and-a-half scare you in any way, shape or form. It’s mostly just about a bunch of women, getting ready for adulthood, being on their own, and having to understand what it all means.

Remember those days?

Consensus: Heartfelt and sweet, Step takes a smart, insightful look into the lives of a few girls and brings us all back to a time when everything was a lot simpler, but also painstakingly important.

8 / 10

Respect and power to ya girls.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

The Transfiguration (2017)

An actual vampire in Brooklyn.

Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a troubled young teen living in Brooklyn. After he walked in on his mother’s dead body, he and his brother (Aaron Clifton Moten) are doing their best to get by. Milo spends most of his time reading, watching movies, and planning stuff in his countless notebooks, whereas as his brother, absolutely depressed, can’t seem to get off the couch for anything. Milo’s life is changed, however, when he meets a fellow troubled teen by the name of Sophie (Chloe Levine), who just moved in a few floors up with her grandmother. She’s already pretty messed-up, but the two find solace in their own little screwed-up lives, where they sit around, occasionally talking, drinking, reading, going to the beach, the amusement park, or just being in one another’s company. It’s actually very sweet, despite the fact that Milo also happens to be a vampire and needs to feast almost every other Wednesday, or else he’ll, as expected, die. Which may sound easy to find and do when you live in the hood, but believe it or not, it really isn’t.

Eat your heart out, Edward Cullen.

Writer/director Michael O’Shea pulls something off incredibly interesting here in that he combines elements of a hood movie, with a vampire-tale. And it’s kind of weird because even without all of the horror-stuff of Milo having to trap people, to find blood, and start chowing down, the movie’s already pretty scary and dangerous; just watching Milo get picked-on and teased by the local gangs is more than enough to create an air of tension. But nope, O’Shea doubles down and at times, it can almost be too much.

But when you’re doing a horror movie, isn’t that kind of the point?

Hell, isn’t that the point when you’re trying to make any sort of movie?

And with the Transfiguration, it’s a job well-done on O’Shea’s part because when he isn’t focusing on the hood, or horror elements, he’s focusing on these two, sad, lonely, and utterly depressed teens who couldn’t be any more adorable in their own misery. O’Shea isn’t afraid to keep things slow and mannered, giving us all we need to get to know and understand where these two kids come from, why they would ever become friends in the first place, and it grows us even closer to them. Cause we know that no matter how much fun they may have, falling in love and becoming the best of friends, we know that there’s always a world of violence, hurt, anger, depression, and oh yeah, vampires.

So young. So sad. So in love.

Like I said, it’s a bit too much and it can get a tad bit jumbled. But like I said, too, O’Shea doesn’t forget about the characters here and they’re the main reason why the Transfiguration works so well: They actually matter. Eric Ruffin is stunning as Milo, because he seems so creepy, so out-of-place, and so aloof, you couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. He’s a cute kid who you desperately want to love and adore, but there’s also a great deal of danger and weirdness to him that’s hard to look away from, or deny, and it takes over the role. Ruffin himself, as a young talent, does a lot with very little and it’s a solid showing on his part, never allowing us to fully trust or love this character, because we never fully know when the other shoe will drop and the fangs begin to show.

Chloe Levine is also equally as charming and lovable as Sophie, mostly because the movie never dumbs her down for our own sake. She’s screwed-up, a little crazy, and altogether twisted, but she’s also just in desperate need of a friend and her scenes with Ruffin never ring a false note. They have a sweet little bit of chemistry that feels honest and beautiful, which is a nice diversion to get away from the pain and destruction that takes over the rest of the movie.

But hey, it goes to show you that the best horror, whether all that scary or not, always works best when there’s actual emotion behind it all.

Consensus: Though it jumbles a bit much, the Transfiguration is an interesting, compelling, well-acted, and altogether upsetting piece of horror that also doubles as an effective coming-of-ager, set in the harshest and most unforgiving of lands.

7.5 / 10

Yup. Not weird at all.

Photos Courtesy of: Transfiguration Prods.

Newness (2017)

These millennials and their sad hook-ups.

Martin (Nicholas Hoult) and Gabi (Laia Costa) meet late one night through a hook-up app and they do just that. They go out, have a few drinks, hit it off, go back to one of their places, have sex, and move on with their lives. However, both feel as if there is something far more serious and meaningful at play here, so they decide to give this relationship thing a shot. At first, it works and they’re both incredibly happy. But as time goes on and on, they begin to start feeling the separation from the rest of the outside world and decide that instead of closing themselves off to one another, they’ll have an open-relationship, where either is able to do what they want, with whomever, so long as it’s okay with the other person. Gabi finds comfort and solace in an older gentleman (Danny Huston), but Martin, already reeling from a divorce, seems to be having a much tougher time getting used to the dating world and doesn’t know what he wants. Gabi doesn’t either, but they’re both two young, attractive people living in L.A., during the 21st century, so why float around from person-to-person?

Always looking at screens. Damn kids.

Director Drake Doremus has a rather hushed, muted style that’s worked well for his past two features (In Secret, Equals), because they could have both been very over-the-top, loud, and soapy melodramatic pieces of romance in anybody else’s hands. However, in his hands, he decided to play everything down in a much moody style, where he paid much more attention to how the camera flowed and how the movie sounded; the script came second and while that’s not always the best idea, it worked for him. The movies aren’t perfect, but they’re a sure sign that whatever bad blood he received with Like Crazy (a fairly underrated film, honestly), he knows how to dial it back – sometimes in a manner that alienates his audience more so than it invites them into his sad, sad world of repressed emotions.

But all that seems to be lost with Newness, his latest with writer Ben York Jones, in which the emotions are felt, only because they’re projected bright, big, and loud for the whole world to see. In fact, it’s as if Doremus wanted to hit back at the haters who have been getting at him for his movies being so quiet and decided that the best way to shut them all up was have an extra-talky movie, where characters went on and on about how they felt, and whether something was bothering them or not. That’s fine for most romantic-dramas and hell, it worked for Doremus with Like Crazy, but here, it’s way too over-the-top.

So much so that it feels phony.

It’s weird because you get the sense that Doremus understands and knows how real people, in their day-to-day lives, talk and communicate with one another. He’s not smarmy, nor is he cynical – he just has a knack for catching on with dialogue. But with Newness, the characters speak in such an mannered-way, it’s as if they’re reading off of cue-cards written by Nicholas Sparks. Think a character’s upset about an action caused by their partner? Don’t worry, they’ll spend 15 minutes yelling about it.

Three’s a party.

This isn’t to say that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in real life relationships, but to see a movie about it, where the only real objective is to show how awfully painful relationships can be for Gen-Y, it doesn’t quite work. It’s all too depressing and meandering and makes it feel like Doremus and York Jones are just stretching an hour’s worth of material to nearly two, which makes all of the arguments and yelling seem overblown and sappy. It can be a bit of an annoyance after awhile and all you really want for the characters to do is shut up, break up, and move on already.

In fact, it’s that simple.

The only possible saving-graces are the performances, but even they aren’t enough to save the day. Nicholas Hoult is hot and charming, but he’s sort of a blank-slate here; Laia Costa, despite being cute and spunky as hell, feels out-matched when the movie gets sappy and silly; Danny Huston shows up as a genuinely nice guy, who then turns into just being fodder for another argument Martin and Gabi can have; and Matthew Gray Gubler, showing up again as the voice-of-reason for our male romantic-lead, does just that.

Wait, does that role for him sound familiar? Stick with what ya know, I guess.

Consensus: Newness tries its hardest to be smart, insightful, and disturbing, but mostly feels like a melodramatic, over-the-top piece of sap that’s given some indie-cred because it’s shot beautifully.

4.5 / 10

Like relationship, or Tinder? Ugh!

Photos Courtesy of: Giant Interactive

Mayhem (2017)

The higher-ups just need to know what they’re dealing with.

Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) is having a pretty crappy day. After being unjustly fired from his job, he discovers that the law firm’s building is under quarantine for a mysterious and dangerous virus, in which people start acting out in violent ways and killing one another, but for some reason, no cause for punishment is to be found. So Derek, who now has the virus, begins to act out too, taking down people who have done him wrong and have pissed him off to the high heavens, with the FBI outside, trying their best to contain the violence to this one firm’s building. And along with co-worker Melanie (Samara Weaving), Derek plans on attacking and taking down the executives, once and for all. Issue is, they’re on the top floor and it’s going to take a whole lot of violence to wade through, just to get to one of them, let alone all of them.

Level up. Get ready…

Mayhem is a crazy movie, but it’s also actually grounded enough in reality to where it works better than you might expect. Director Joe Lynch seems to take this idea of absolute and total carnage, but rather than just trying to one-up himself, each and every chance he gets, he actually gives us a story, with characters, and a real sense of tension in the air. It’s not just sick, disgusting, and sometimes disturbing violence, for the sake of shock-value, but sick, disgusting and disturbing violence, with a reason and a cause.

Which is, yes, to disgust us. But it works.

Lynch and co-writer Matias Caruso also do something else smart with Mayhem in that they set all of the carnage and brutality in a world that isn’t too unlike ours. While the mayhem-inducing virus itself, may be a bit silly, the movie uses it as a way to act out all of its craziest, most violent fantasies of taking down the higher-ups within a corporation, who don’t care one bit about the bottom or those below them – instead, they’re just more concerned with more money, more power, and more control, regardless of who they stop on, or kill, when they’re up to the top. In the context of what Mayhem is doing, this is actually taking literally and because of that, the movie feels a lot more honest and realistic than you’d expect.

It’s still over-the-top and crazy, but it is, once again, grounded to give it a sense of time and place. Also, not to mention that the violence is pretty crazy and fun, making Mayhem a nutty movie that has some social-context, but also doesn’t spend too much time preaching, but instead, just chopping all sorts of limbs off. It’s not afraid to get weirder, deeper, and darker, and it’s a brave take on this kind of a movie that we’ve seen many times before, but in this case, doesn’t feel like a drab.

Take. Them. Down.

Not unlike the Belko Experiment, which was already way too depressing for its own good.

It’s also nice to see Steven Yeun get a leading-role like this immediately after his stint on the Walking Dead. As a Korean-American actor working in Hollywood, it will be interesting to see where Yeun’s career goes; he fits perfectly both as a supporting-player, but also, as we see here, a rather rough and tough leading-man who has charm and bravado, sometimes in the same scene. There’s some depth to this character, but Yeun generally seems to be embrace this character’s more sinister-themes lying underneath everything else.

Same goes for Samara Weaving who, from what I’ve seen so far, is becoming more and more of a powerful and likable presence on the screen. She’s absolutely beautiful, but she’s also the kind of beauty that isn’t afraid to dirty herself up, play around with her image, and get down in the mud, to roll around a bit. Here, she has to play something of a stickler that begins to lose her uptightness and just let loose, and it works – she’s lovely, charming, sweet, but also a little scary.

In other words, a dangerous beauty. So look out, people.

Consensus: While it is no doubt a nutty movie, Mayhem also brings in some social-context to go hand-in-hand with all of the violence and over-the-top features.

7 / 10

What happens when you literally mean “unpaid intern.”

Photos Courtesy of: RLJE Films

Patti Cake$ (2017)

Give us all a beat. We can rap over it.

Patty (Danielle Macdonald) is just like any other young kid living in New Jersey: She dreams of a much better, richer, and happier life outside of the one she currently has. Instead, in her case, she hopes to one day be one of the biggest, best rappers around. It’s a dream that most people around her to just give up on already, but it’s one that she wants to achieve and alongside her best-friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), she thinks it could happen. All she needs to do is get her name out there, which in turn, means getting a record-deal, getting on a stage, and achieving enough noteriety for her rapping-skills. In order to do this, though, she’s also got to bunker down and start saving up money, which as a result, keeps her away from her family who are already having a bit of a problem as it is, with her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) near-death, and her mother (Bridgett Everett) always drinking and going home with random guys.

Watch that glow.

Patti Cake$ is a sweet movie that I wish I liked more. It’s like a much funnier, much nicer version of 8 Mile, what with the rapping and all, but it just never takes off or really goes beyond being formulaic. Sure, it’s another one of those interchangeable rags-to-riches stories, with a woman in the lead-role, but it’s still a conventional story that follows every line, beat by by (pun intended), and doesn’t really seem to have anything smart or interesting to say about these kinds of stories.

It’s just diverse and a little weird, which is fine too, I guess?

I mean, that’s why the movie’s still okay enough for me to recommend; it’s just different and charming enough to work. It’s the kind of crowd-pleaser that doesn’t ask much of the audience, except to have a certain understanding of hip-hop music and a general belief that dreams can still come true, even in today’s dark and cynical times. Which, once again, is fine, but it doesn’t really do much else beside that; it’s just a little weird, a little odd, a little funny, a little dramatic, and a little bit of all these different things, rolled-up into one.

And does that really equal something altogether compelling? Not totally. And it’s why Patti Cake$, try as it might, never fully congeals to something particularly ground-breaking, not that it really needed to, either. Writer/director Geremy Jasper seems to have an interesting idea on his hands and seems to take this material seriously enough to have us care for the characters, but also seems to really not be putting much other thought into the story itself.

Like Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

But man, those characters. At least they save the day.

As the titular Patty, Danielle Macdonald is pretty great because she’s chock full of sass and attitude, but also feels like a young kid. She’s confused, interested, and a little annoyed, but she’s always hopeful of what the future may be able to bring and it’s nice that the character treats her with a great deal of love, humanity and respect. Her rapping-skills are quite good, too, which helps give her character an air of authenticity, even if the songs that she ends up making are absolute and total garbage, but hey, that’s neither here, nor there.

However, the real stand-out is Siddharth Dhananjay as Jheri, Patty’s best-friend/hype-man. Jheri’s a bit of a goofy character, in that he’s essentially a sidekick, who’s always there to push Patty forward and to continue on with her dream, but he’s also much more endearing, too. He’s genuinely looking out for her and wants the best her that she can be; the fact that he’s not in it for personal-gain, gives us one of the movie’s only real surprises. He’s charming and funny, but also kind of sweet, and he’s basically the heart of the movie.

Just why wasn’t it better?

Consensus: Even if it’s charming, Patti Cake$ is also a rags-to-riches, inspirational story with barely any shocks or surprises, that utilizes a good cast to its only real great strength.

5 / 10

There’s the mixtape’s cover.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

Beach Rats (2017)

Some places are still behind with the times.

Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is just another young teenager, living in Brooklyn, with his mom, his sister, and his dying father, aimlessly getting by another summer. He spends most of his time with his friends, drinking, smoking, running around, playing hand-ball, and generally just doing whatever it is young guys do nowadays. Frankie also has something of a girlfriend (Madeline Weinstein), who he doesn’t quite know if he wants to make into something more seriously, or just keep doing whatever it is that he’s doing. Cause whenever no one is looking and he’s all by himself, Frankie also likes to go on men-only chat-rooms, find men, talk to them, meet up with them, and oh yeah, hook up. It’s something that Frankie is still confused about, but it’s also something that he’s doing his best to keep to himself, particularly because his friends would probably hate him and his girlfriend would break up with him. But honestly, Frankie doesn’t know what he wants yet.

Boo ya sell-out!

As she did with her first movie (It Felt Like Love), Eliza Hittman perfectly captures the teenager’s gaze, where everything surrounding you is big, bright, beautiful, shocking, and surprising. While her direction is definitely aimless and in ways, a little meandering, it’s worked for her so far because she’s getting us inside the heads of these young characters, who don’t really know or understand the world quite around them just yet, but look and listen to everything with amateurish eyes and ears. It’s a brave directorial-style to work with, but especially so since this is her second flick so far and shows that she’s got a niche and going to stick to it.

Does it help that her story is a little wonky?

Probably not, but Hittman’s able to get past that, cause Beach Rats is less about the story, the twists, and the turns, as much as it’s about the mood, the look, and the overall feel. The constant images flowing past our eyes, while carefully crafted and put together, also feel a little random, but work; putting is closer in the mind-set of it being summer, where anything and everything is possible. It’s a moody flick, for sure, but it’s the kind of mood that has you longing for youth, while also hating youth, too.

So yeah, it works like that.

It’s okay. Make-out with that dude. Please.

But no matter what happens with the story, Harris Dickinson is pretty great and it’s through him that Hittman is able to get the most mileage out of this movie. Dickinson, despite being British, fits into this role perfectly; he’s hunky, chiseled, handsome, and ridiculously masculine, just like the guys around him. But he’s also rather sweet and sensitive, and Dickinson shows us a real raw and sympathetic edge to a character who could have easily been conventional and boring. Rather than just turning out to being the self-loathing guy gay who acts out violently because he doesn’t want to like what he likes, he turns into a much more sad character who doesn’t know what he wants to be and is constantly being told to look, or be in one way that he can’t quite relate to just yet.

It’s a smart direction from Hittman, but an even smarter performance from Dickinson, because they both cancel each other out. We never know exactly what he’s thinking, or what’s going through his head, but his body-language shows it all. Hittman seems to love and respect this character, warts and all, and it helps us see him for just another lonely, confused, and rather depressed kid who’s constantly having to hang out with all of these rough, tough dudes, when in reality, he just wants to be himself.

Damn. Growing up sucks. But being young is even worse. Glad I’m past that.

Consensus: Not much of a real story, Beach Rats plays out more like a compelling mood-piece, capturing youth, angst, and self-identity, with a great performance from Harris Dickinson in the lead.

7 / 10

Put a shirt on dammit! Making us all look bad!

Photos Courtesy of: NEON

Novitiate (2017)

Trust in God. Not the nuns. They’re a little mean.

Once she turns 17, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides that it’s time to leave her old life behind and join the Catholic Church to become a nun. It’s a decision that her mother (Julianne Nicholson), who is agnostic, doesn’t quite understand or fully support, but she doesn’t have much of a say in the matter – Cathleen believes that she’s had a calling from Jesus and has fallen in love with him. Cathleen enters a Catholic convent as a postulant under the tutelage of the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who is known for her passion and grace in the world of religion. While there, Cathleen meets fellow nuns who are doing their best to stick with it, even if the responsibilities and rules are quite demanding and not all that understandable. But specifically at this point in time, during the early-60’s, the Catholic Church itself was going through a bit of a change, what with the planned reforms of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Church would show a much more open and accepting image to all those who wanted to have faith in God. Most within the Church got behind these rules right away, whereas Reverend Mother doesn’t, fearing that it may change the community forever and for the worst.

Still looks like Andie Macdowell, in a nun outfit.

Novitiate doesn’t necessarily come off as a scathing indictment on the Catholic Church, or even faith in general, and it’s much better off for that. Writer/director Maggie Betts, making her directorial debut, seems to understand and respect those who actually fall in love with God, or whoever they praise, are willing to throw their whole lives completely away, and devote everything to prayer, abstinence, and spreading the good word of the Lord. While it may sound like a boring life to a normal layman, to those who are involved with the Church, it’s the greatest honor they can bestow and Betts doesn’t seem to be making fun of these people, as much as she easily could have.

Instead, she shows a certain sweetness to these people who devote their lives to God. But then again, she also realizes that there are a few bad apples who either, misinterpret the word of God and act out in heinous ways, or can’t keep up with their sacred notions and never seem to give up. Betts seems to be saying that while having God in your life can be a good thing, having it run your each and everyday life, isn’t, and it can drive people to pure insanity.

And as we all know, living in the world that we live in, this isn’t much of a stretch for Betts to make.

That said, Novitiate is an overall smart movie that doesn’t necessarily have an agenda, but shows us the Catholic Church during a transnational period, that they don’t even know or understand is quite as severe as it’s going to be. It’s not necessarily a stylish, or fully exciting movie – there’s a lot of walking, praying, sitting in silence, crying, and hushed-tones – but the movie creates a certain uneasiness just by doing this, that it’s easy to get compelled by. The movie is deathly serious and understated, therefore, never quite goes overboard or as insane as you’d expect it to be with some of these religious types, and it feels a lot more realistic for that. It’s less of a sympathetic-portrait of the Catholic Church, and much more of a humane one, where we see all the good, as well as the bad, within it.

Uh oh. Someone’s talking during prayers.

The only pure instances in which the movie goes slightly a bit overboard is with Melissa Leo’s performance as Reverend Mother, but it still works. Leo’s presence here is a little shocking because you can always tell that she’s about to crack loose, but because she’s a nun and has to set a good example for the fellow nuns out there, she has to stay cool, calm, and collected. There are instances in which we see Leo lose all control and it’s scary, but not in the horror movie kind-of-way – it just seems like a person slowly losing grips with her own form of reality, and coming to terms with the all-too real one.

It’s a scary and powerful performance, and from Leo, I wouldn’t expect much different.

Everybody else is quite good in this supporting-cast, but really, it’s Margaret Qualley who remains the heart and soul of the whole project. As Cathleen, Qualley gives us a sad, somewhat scared character who keeps to herself, but is so in love with God and the Jesus, she can’t hold it all in. Through Cathleen, we see just how one can misinterpret The Word and it’s Qualley that keeps us on-edge, not knowing whether she’s going to crack and lose all control, or if she’s going to stay her meek and mild self. Through it all, we still sympathize with her; we know that she means well and even if she is throwing her life away, it’s her life to throw away. We just want her to realize that there’s more to life than the Church and to stand outside, in the real world, if only for a bit.

Consensus: Slow and a little languid, Novitiate surely follows its own pace, but is also a well-acted and compelling look at the Catholic Church, that’s neither judging, nor entirely sympathetic. Just honest and realistic.

7.5 / 10

“God? You spoke to Madonna. Why can’t you speak to me?”

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classic

Good Time (2017)

Oh. And it is.

After a botched robbery lands his brother in the slammer, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) has to scrounge up whatever money he can find to ensure that his mentally-handicapped brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), gets out and is safe with him. But it’s going to take a lot of wheeling, a lot of dealing, and oh yeah, a whole lot of money to do that. One thing leads to another and all of a sudden, Connie’s night goes from bad to worse and it’s all up to him to constantly think of what’s the next best move to keep him alive, well, and out of the clink with his brother.

Short synopsis, I know, but that’s the point. See, Good Time is one of those movies that’s basically about the one night in hell, that never ends, continues to escalate, gets worse, and builds up to insane proportions of drugs, guns, money, murder, and cops. Lots and lots of cops.

But it’s so damn thrilling and surprising, it hardly even matters that it ends on a conventional note.

Just two brothers walking down a sidewalk. Nothing shady at all..

Good Time is the latest from Ben and Joshua Safdie who have made a name with these small, lean, mean, and gritty indies that verge on pretentious, but still feel realistic enough that it’s okay. In fact, the movies are so dirty and grueling, it’s hard to look away from them; they feel so improvised and cheaply-made, you sort of have to sit and watch and see what they come up with next, even if it can get a little irritating. They’ve never been the biggest fans of plot and in Good Time, that actually helps.

In a way, it allows for the movie to move at an efficient pace, so that when the next crazy moment happens, it’s shocking and surprising, and just adds to the chase. Most crime movies in this same vein and nature tend to get stuck in constant cliches of being on-the-run, not being able to trust anyone, and the constant double-crosses, but not Good Time. While those formulaic-moments do eventually come around, they still fit in a movie that zigs and zags around being conventional and above all else, stays thrilling.

Which is to say that Good Time is a “fun” movie, but not in the way you’d expect.

It’s fast, fun, electrifying and, at certain points, downright crazy, but it does take its time to make sure that you’re along for the ride, too. It would have been perfectly easy for the Safdie’s to just make everything up as they went along, throwing ridiculous obstacle, over another, with reckless abandon, and never making it seem like our protagonist will reach his goal, or even survive the night, but they keep it close and contained. It helps us pulsate along with the thrill-ride, but also grow closer to this character who, despite not being the smartest or nicest guy around, is still damn compelling to watch.

R-Pats with blonde hair just doesn’t do it for the ladies. Take note.

And yes, people, that has to do with Robert Pattinson and is his great performance here. Sure, he’s been good before and clearly tried to do whatever he could to get away from the Twilight spotlight, but often times, those roles felt a little on-the-nose and, unfortunately, weakly-written. In Good Time, Pattinson totally changes how we look at him, with shaggy hair, tons of facial-hair, and the look that makes you think he hasn’t showered in a few weeks and it’s a breath-taking performance. He’s constantly on his feet, thinking of what the next best move is, and while it’s not entirely smart, you still sort of believe and understand it, making this sometimes intense character, seem grounded in a state of reality.

He isn’t, but who would want to be?

Anyway, Pattinson is great here, but really, it’s Buddy Duress who steals the show. It’s hard to say too much about his role, or how he enters the movie, but just know that when Duress enters the movie, the tempo changes. Hell, everything changes. It’s all of a sudden a lot more funny, silly, dark, and damn violent, which makes it feel like this movie’s going somewhere we truly haven’t seen before, even if it has been done before.

Good Time is the kind of movie that doesn’t feel like its re-inventing the wheel by any means, but by never letting up on the tension and always seeming one step ahead of us, it’s one of the more exhilarating pieces of film I’ve seen this year. It gives me hope for not just Pattinson, for the Safdie’s, or for indie-cinema, as a whole. But film, in general.

Let’s hope that film doesn’t let me down.

Consensus: Fast, fun, zippy, crazy, and anchored by an amazing lead performance from Pattinson, shedding his hunky looks, Good Time is just that, if not more.

9 / 10

Running from all the Twi-hards.

Photos Courtesy of: A24

Columbus (2017)

Life is architecture. That works, right?

Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) is a recent high school graduate, is at a bit of a stand-still in her life. She wants to go out to college, work on architecture, study, and make a name for herself, but ever since her dad left, her mother (Michelle Forbes) has been having some issues with staying sober. So it’s what keeps Casey at home, working at the local library, and occasionally, flirting with her coworker (Rory Culkin). But then her life changes a bit when Jin (John Cho), enters town. His father, a renowned architecture scholar, falls ill and is forced to stay in the hospital, making Jin to come back home and figure out what the next step is. He, like Casey, is in a bit of a rut and together, the two strike up something of a friendship that starts off as admiration for one another, but then, turns into something far more sweet. But not in the way you’d wholly expect.

Who cares about the people? Look at those trees!

Columbus is one of those rare movies that isn’t afraid to take its time, literally plant a camera down, just keep shooting, and use absolute silence. It’s the kind of movie that’s perfect for when you have an empty home all to yourself, because there’s hardly a score (and when it does play, it’s beautiful) and just a bunch of characters walking, talking, and gawking at the beautiful buildings all around them. If that sounds too boring for you, then yeah, Columbus is just not going to work.

It’s a smart, interesting, and relatively touching character-study that should be seen.

But hey, if it’s not your bag, then it’s not your bag. So be it.

Regardless, Columbus brings us a smart and fresh voice in writer/director Kogonada who, thankfully, makes the smart decision to not get all that pretentious with the material. Sure, it’s about architecture and certain people’s love for it, but the movie’s much more about taking advantage of the life you have, the opportunities you get, and figuring out just where you want to go next. Architecture is used as a gorgeous backdrop, but really, it’s less about the buildings, shapes, sizes, and colors, and much more about the actual humans who build them and live in them.

And with that said, it’s a pretty great ensemble. Haley Lu Richardson shows us that she’s one of the more interesting younger-actresses out there who, despite her beautiful looks, is also able to really give off the vibes that she’s just another ordinary, young, and confused girl in this world. The movie smartly doesn’t make her decision to leave all about a romantic love-interest, but her dedication to her mother and the fact that she has no clue just how to go about moving out and doing something with her life. She’s not whiny and sad – in fact, she’s quite settled and pleased – but she also wants to go somewhere, anywhere that’s possible.

“So, like, buildings.”

It’s a lovely role that reminds me of a young Winona Ryder. I hope that Richardson’s career turns out the same way, without the shoplifting incident.

But then, there’s John Cho who is also very interesting here, not because he plays a man at his crossroads, but because he’s actually in a drama, given a role that’s worthy of his talents. Cho’s got great delivery where he always seems like the smartest guy in the room and will call you out immediately, but also shows that there’s plenty of insecurity to him. The relationship he and Richardson’s character has, seems like it’s going to get weird and creepy, but actually turns into something beautiful that’s not just shocking to us, but to them, too. It’s sweet and mannered and never once does it seem like it’s going to go over the line.

That’s not just good acting, either – that’s just good writing.

Remember the name “Kogonada”, people.

Consensus: Mannered and a little slow, Columbus may seem like it’s taking too much time to get going, but it’s sort of the point and it helps the performances work so much more.

8 / 10

Seriously, who needs humans when we have buildings!?!?

Photos Courtesy of: Superlative Films

Brigsby Bear (2017)

Some shows we just never want to end. Looking at you, Freaks & Geeks.

For as long as he can remember, James Pope (Kyle Mooney)’s life has been run on “Brigsby Bear Adventures”, a children’s program that teaches James about recycling and not masturbating more than twice a day. Weird stuff like that, but hey, James loves it so much that he doesn’t care or even see the weird message. Then, the series abruptly ends and James doesn’t know what to do with himself. And to make matters even worse, he’s moved into a new house, with a new family, and doesn’t quite know how to fit in with the rest of the world around him. Still though, everybody pretty much already accepts him for what he is and they decide that it’s time to help James finish up Brigsby’s final adventure. James hopes it will bring him some closure on the TV series, whereas everybody else hopes that it will allow him to move on and come to terms with the real world.

Blow it up, Brigs!

So yeah, I’m being a little coy about Brigsby Bear because there are some parts of the plot that are kept secret and with good reason: It’s dark. But in a way, it’s shocking and it works; it gives you the idea that this movie’s going to go far and beyond just being another silly, over-the-top indie-comedy about a childish man-baby trying to finish off the final episode to a cult-followed TV show.

It also helps allow for there to be real some tension in the air, even when in reality, there isn’t. There aren’t bad people, or insanely good people in Brigsby Bear and it’s kind of sweet. It’s the kind of movie that cares much more about characters, their relationships to one another, and how they treat the outside world, as opposed to just being all about the plot and riffing on everyday life. Had this movie been taken in the hands of someone like Will Ferrell or Steve Carrel, who knows how centered and focused it would have been.

But without them, and instead, with Kyle Mooney, it’s much far better off.

Never break character.

And that’s why Brigsby Bear, while it could have easily just been a spin-off of Mooney doing goofy and crazy things, like he does on SNL, it’s much different. He has this character that, despite having the general facade of being a weirdo, is actually kind, earnest, and so innocent, he could literally kill a cat and you wouldn’t be upset with him. He’s just getting used to a new world and it’s Mooney’s performance that really works wonders, enthusing a great air of mystery of this character, but also a great deal of sympathy too.

And of course, the same sentiments transcend to the rest of the characters, too. Matt Walsh is funny as the dorky dad who tries to relate to James; Michaela Watkins does the same; Claire Danes, playing probably anything resembling a villain here, is fun to watch; Greg Kinnear’s nice cop role gets better once we discover he’s got a bit of the acting bug; Ryan Simpkins plays James’ sister who seems like she’s going to be an embarrassed pain in the rear-end, but eventually lightens up; Jorge Lendeborg Jr. plays one of James’ friends who seems lik he’s going to be a deuche, only to then not be and probably be the best character in it all; and Mark Hamill and Jane Adams, well, the less said about them, perhaps the better.

Either way, just know that they’re all good, because they’re given characters to work with and not just the sitcom-y kind, either.

Real people, who also seem to be kind of funny to watch.

Consensus: A little odd, but overall, Brigsby Bear is a very funny, sweet, and well-acted comedy that actually takes its time to work.

7 / 10

Brigsby’s mid-life existence.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classics

Brad’s Status (2017)

Life sucks. Then you get old. Then die. Yep. That’s about it.

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) has a pretty nice life. A great wife (Jenna Fischer), who’s incredibly supportive of him, a cushy job, a quaint suburban house, a few friends, and a son, Troy (Austin Abrams), who’s something of a musical-prodigy and all ready to head off to college. But Brad still has an issue with his life and where he’s been heading in the past many years; for instance, his former-pals from college are all rich, successful, and living far more luxurious lifestyles than he is, which gets him thinking. Like a lot. And it sort of begins to ruin the trip that he has with his son, where they’re off visiting colleges like Harvard and Yale, all for the hopes that Troy will join the likes of the many greats who have come and gone there before him. Brad, on the other hand, can’t stop thinking about his life and what the hell he’s going to do next. Basically, he’s just going through a mid-life crisis – he just doesn’t really seem to know it yet.

See, Brad? Life’s not so bad! You’ve got Pam in your life!

Writer/director Mike White knows what he’s talking about here and because of that, Brad comes off a lot more sympathetic than he probably should have been. While no doubt everything that Brad is yelling, ranting, raving, complaining, and getting all upset about is nothing more than just white first-world problems, it still feels relevant and interesting. We may not agree with everything that he’s pissed-off about – not having enough money, wanting to see other people, wishing that he was working for a different place – but we can sort of see where he’s coming from and it helps make Brad more interesting and relatable, as opposed to just another rambling, bumbling, and angry white guy who truly has nothing to worry about.

Like at all.

And that’s why Brad’s Status both works and also doesn’t. It works because it features some smart and snappy writing about real life issues that everyone faces at least once or twice in their existences. But it’s also bad because that’s literally all Brad’s Status is about; just when we’re introduced to a new character, or possibly even, a new conflict, we know it’s only a matter of time until something irritates Brad and he has to let his mind loose. It’s a convention we see coming, again and again, and it makes Brad annoying, but the writing seem cheap and sitcom-y.

Uh oh. Time for an angry rant.

Which, coming from Mike White, is a bit of a disappointment. He ought to know better and not really fall back onto this sort of stuff that seems like a lame fall-back. And it isn’t like because Brad can sometimes be an asshole, means that he’s not watchable – some of the most compelling characters are the ones you love to hate – it’s just that he’s a bit of a bore. His issues are relevant and, at some point, understandable, but there comes a point when one has to shut up and move on, and Brad’s Status, much like Brad himself, doesn’t seem to.

The one real aspect keeping Brad’s Status moving is Ben Stiller who, once again, seems to really playing to his strengths, albeit, in a much more dramatic-manner.

But it’s a solid turn from Stiller who seems to get off on playing these overachieving, annoying perfectionists, but actually injects some real heart and humanity into him. We see a lot of that play out in the relationship he has with his son here, who is already an interesting character in the first place. Normally, with these kinds of movies where the dad’s a bit of a bummer, the kids generally seem to hate them and loathe their even existence, but Abrams’ Troy. In a way, Troy loves his dad more than even Brad knows or even notices, and it’s why Brad’s Status remains a much smarter movie than you’d expect – there’s an actual feeling of love and emotion somewhere to be found beneath all of the ranting.

Much like real life rants.

Consensus: With an exceptional lead performance from Stiller, Brad’s Status works as an interesting, if also troubling character-study of a relatable, but also annoying person that we may all grow to become one day.

6 / 10

“Dad? What are you hissing about?”

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Who gave Kevin Feige acid?

The God of Thunder, also known as Thor (Chris Hemsworth), after finding out that he and his evil adopted-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), have an evil older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett) that they never knew a thing about, is sent away to an awful planet where all of the universe’s trash and undesirables are dropped off and sometimes, even sold. Thor becomes one of those items and is forced to face-off against an old pal of his, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who, after leaving the rest of the Avengers to fend for themselves over two years ago, has been hulking out, beating the crap out of all sorts of foes. But Thor thinks that he can get through to Hulk and, hopefully, bring him back to Asgard, so that they can take down Hela, as powerful as she may be. Of course, though, Thor’s going to need some more help than just a Hulk. This leads him to Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a bad-ass bounty hunter who gives a Thor a run for his money, in terms of fighting and drinking, but also in the ways of the heart.

Brotherly love.

Ragnarok is probably one of the weirder Marvel movies out there, which I don’t say lightly. The first Guardians of the Galaxy and even to a certain extent, the sequel, were both so incredibly odd and crazy, that they almost didn’t feel like products of a huge corporation, made for the sole sake of mass-consumption. In ways, they were original and electrifying enough to stand on their own terms and not just be another installment to the already-expanded Marvel Universe that we hear way too much of.

But yes, Ragnarok comes pretty close to being even weirder and it’s both great, as well as a little disappointing. It’s great because it shows that even with a character like Thor who, in all respects, may be the least interesting Avenger of the bunch, can actually have his story told and go to crazy lengths that we don’t expect. Due to Ragnarok being set in the galaxy, where everything is already nutty and wild, director Taika Waititi, who is already an inspired-choice, gets the opportunity to go as far and as deep into this insanity as he wants.

Which is great and all because the movie’s funny.

Like, really funny.

“Uh, yeah. Like, Thor, uh, you’re a uh, you know, pretty crazy guy.”

And it’s why the one-half of Ragnarok works so well; it’s not afraid to be silly, weird and meandering, even when we know that there’s a story to be told and a much bigger-universe out there. Most of the humor and fun of the movie comes from just making fun of these characters, their characteristics, and how exactly they’re all just a bunch of comic-book characters, literally made to function as fully-dimensional human beings. It’s a joke in the sense that it’s not really a joke, because it’s all taken seriously and still gives us glimpses of actual character-development, but man, it can be so funny to watch.

But then, the other-half of Ragnarok, the one that takes primarily on Ragnarok, is a bit of a bummer. And it’s not like bits and pieces of this half aren’t interesting and/or fun to watch – watching Cate Blanchett vamp and go way over-the-top is more than worth the price of admission – but it’s so slow and expository, it just feels like a bit of a drag. All we really want to do is get back to Thor, Hulk, and whatever the hell Jeff Goldbum is, because they’re where the real party is at.

However, you also can’t fault the movie all that much because they sort of get this idea real quick and decide to keep things with Thor for a good portion. It makes sense why we have all of this villain-building, but it could have done better. That, and also, the Thor-stuff is just so much fun that we almost never want to leave it.

It’s just a weird and crazily fun time. Something I don’t say too often when it comes to Marvel movies.

Consensus: Not afraid to get a little weird and silly, Ragnarok proves why we deserve to see Thor’s story again, with a great bit of fun, exciting supporting-players to keep things always entertaining.

7.5 / 10

LET. THEM. FIGHT.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

All family’s are screwed-up.

Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon living in Cincinatti and not having to worry about too much. He loves his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and their two children, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Both of whom are getting a little bit older so they are starting to show some signs of rebellion, but nothing too much. When he isn’t performing surgeries, however, Dr. Murphy normally spends his time with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen who insinuates himself into the doctor’s life in many ways. At first, it’s just casual hang-outs that no one feels weird about, but then, it begins to change and Steven has to soon try and cut the chord between him and Martin. However, this decision results in some awful things happening to his family and it’s now up to him, to not just make a choice, but think of the rest of his life, in retrospect.

Ascent into darkness. That works, right?

The Killing of a Sacred Deer proves, once again, that when it comes to building and creating worlds/universes full of our weirdest imaginations, co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos really can’t be stopped. Mostly all of his movies, while obviously taking place on planet Earth, all seem to live in these sort of odd realities, where people act, speak, and get by in randomly weird ways. Whereas the Lobster was literally about a whole world being changed, the Killing of a Sacred Deer still takes place in our day-to-day world, where single people aren’t being turned into animals, but instead, people say and do weird stuff.

And unlike the Lobster, the Killing of a Sacred Deer is a pretty downtrodden and dark movie. Whereas the former was much more comical in its darker-efforts, the later is an out-and-out horror flick that feels a little smarter and interesting than that genre usually represents. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou don’t really seem to be making fun of anyone, or any one thing in particular, but instead, showing us how humans act, when their backs are up against the wall and have to think quickly, and in ways, correctly.

As you can tell, I’m being very cagey about what this film’s actually about and what it’s premise eventually turns into, but that’s for a good reason: It’s best to see this wide eyes and ears.

But that’s also one of the main issues that seems to be holding the Killing of a Sacred Deer back: That it’s almost too much plot. After the first hour or so, once Lanthimos has built-up his characters, the conflicts, and the world in which they live, he sort of just sits there and lets it all play-out, rather than just going from one plot-point, to another. In a way, the Killing of a Sacred Deer ultimately comes down to being about one situation, but stretched-out to a whole hour and you can start to feel it; it’s still compelling and interesting to see just where it all goes, but mostly, it also feels like it’s just another case of Lanthimos loving his creation too much, he never wants to leave it.

Instead, he lets it settle, which can sometimes make the movie feel like a slog, especially when it shouldn’t.

But still, Lanthimos gets by on never letting loose of the tension that it’s in the air and because of that, the movie is always worth watching. You never quite have an idea of where it’s going to go, how dark it’s going to get, or even who’s going to be alive by the end of it, and that makes Lanthimos one of the far more dangerous directors out there. It’s something that we don’t too often see in modern-day cinema and it’s why it’s nice to see Lanthimos get some mainstream exposure, so that he can continue on his awfully deprived and sickening ways.

How envious I am of that perfectly bushy beard.

It’s also nice to see Lanthimos play with the big-leagues because he also gets the chance to work with an incredibly talented ensemble. Colin Farrell, returning for another outing with Lanthimos, works very well as the tight, straight-laced everyday man, Dr. Murphy. Farrell’s Irish, in case you didn’t know, but he’s always had to hide it in American-accents – but as Dr. Murphy, he’s Irish full-and-through and it’s kind of jarring. But hey, it also kind of works. We’re never explained too much about his backstory, or why an Irish doctor is over in the states, with a wife, kids, nice house, and seemingly never lost his accent, but that sort of stuff doesn’t matter because when it comes to playing slow-burning nuts, Farrell’s one of the best. He’s so devoid of any personality, that it’s almost funny and it’s why Farrell works so well here.

Same goes for Nicole Kidman who, once again, seems to be playing another suburban mommy with darker-edges surrounding her. But really, it’s Barry Keoghan as Martin who steals the show, seeming as if he’s just another sweet, rather innocent kid, who may also be something of an evil, despicable psychopath. There’s always questions surrounding him and his relationship to this family, which also works in favor of Martin who never seems to tell us exactly what’s on his mind, or what his next bit of action is going to be, but man, it’s so hard to look away from him.

Sort of like all teens out there, am I right?

Consensus: Less comedic than Lanthimos’ previous-ventures, the Killing of a Sacred Deer is also a tense, upsetting, and incredibly well-acted look at family-life and the decisions we all have to make. I think.

8 / 10

Just make-out already and be hot! Please! We need it here the most!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

City of Ghosts (2017)

We. Need. Journalists.

A bunch of Syrian rebels who call themselves “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” risk their lives to document the atrocities committed by ISIS in their homeland. And what happens next is that not only do their guerrilla-style journalistic-ways get the rest of the world to notice just what the hell is going, what ISIS is all about, and what’s to come of many more cities/countries to come, is that their lives are put in-danger. After all, ISIS’ big support is social-media and the persona that they have created heaven on Earth – distort that in any way, or basically, tell the truth, then they will find you, hunt you down, and kill you. It’s why the original-members/editor-in-chiefs of RBSS have to be constantly aware of their surroundings, at all times, and not necessarily sure of what’s to come next with their lives. But at the end of the day, it’s all for a good-cause, but at a cost.

“Can you cut-off another limb, please? Didn’t get a good shot of it the first time around. Thanks.”

I’m a little torn by City of Ghosts because while I’m happy that director Matthew Heineman was able to make a movie about citizen-journalists, doing their jobs, but also doing it for the better of the world to come, it also feels a tad bit messy. It’s the kind of movie that wants to make a statement about how awful and evil ISIS is and, if we don’t wake up sooner or later, then they may become more of a threat than we could have ever imagine, but at the same time, also talk about these journalists and their lives. Neither viewpoint is wrong to be focused on, but in the same movie?

It kind of doesn’t work.

And it’s why City of Ghosts, while I appreciate the story it is highlighting, the subjects, and its cause, as one whole production, it can’t help but feel like it’s attempting to do a few things at once. There’s no denying that Heineman himself keeps things moving, interesting, informative, and most importantly, compelling, but even he struggles a bit with what, or whom, to focus on. The editor-in-chiefs of RBSS are worth spending a whole movie about, which is what Heineman does; he sees these people as nearly flawless, yet fragile human beings who are willing to risk it all, for the sole sake of informing the world. They deserve our tribute and Heineman, while not one for shying away from the ugly details of their sacrifices, also can’t help but paint these fellas as true angels of the world.

Just an everyday guy here, people. Nothing to see.

That’s okay, though, because they deserve it. What they probably don’t deserve is a movie that seems to want to also talk a whole lot more about ISIS, too, but just doesn’t know how to do so in a cohesive manner. And I get that it’s a rough trick to pull-off; being a history-lesson about ISIS, their origins, and just what the hell they are, is a whole lot more extensive, than just focusing on a news organization and its members. But like I said before, together, it just doesn’t quite work out.

Still, it deserves to be seen. Not because it’s a movie about the evil sadists that are ISIS, but because it’s a movie about good journalists, doing good work, reporting on news, sharing everything to the whole world, and oh yeah, not being made-out to be liars or “fake news”.

And this is all in 2017, people. Just take note of that.

Consensus: The two story-strands of City of Ghosts doesn’t fully come together, but as a look at journalism done right, in today’s day and age, it deserves to be seen.

7 / 10

But seriously: F**k ISIS.

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

Make Christmas Bad Again.

Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carol (Kathryn Hahn) are all moms who deserve a little bit of a break. But the holidays don’t necessarily mean that, so the next few days or so, they’re spending, slaving away, looking for presents, putting up decorations, and most importantly, making all sorts of food. It’s a pain, but it’s the kind of things that moms do to ensure that the holidays go by smoothly. However, if all that wasn’t enough, each mom her their own mother come around, to hopefully, make things better. This doesn’t happen, of course. Amy’s mother, Ruth (Christine Baranski), is a stickler and constantly nags at Amy for this Christmas not being as memorable as it should be, despite Amy’s desperate try for it to be as such; Kiki’s mother, Sandy (Cheryl Hines), loves her so much that she can’t seem to grasp any sense of a comfort-zone; and Carol’s, Isis (Susan Sarandon), when not gambling, drinking, smoking, and sexing her life away, is usually around to just ask for money, which Carol doesn’t want to do, ever, but always ends up doing anyway.

Open-containers in the mall? WHO CARES!

Yup. This holiday-season is going to be fun.

The original Bad Moms was a quite surprise. While it looked stupid, over-the-top, broad, and ridiculously white, it was also a pretty funny comedy that had a slight bit of something smart to say and, oh yeah, also paid tribute to moms everywhere. Although it was written and directed by two dudes, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, it felt like the kind of movie that was made for women, by women, and with smart, interesting women, even if that middle-portion wasn’t entirely true. It’s very rare that we actually get movies made exactly for women, let alone comedies, or better yet, let alone good movies in general, and it’s why Bad Moms, while not exactly perfect, got by on pure-charm.

And same goes for A Bad Moms Christmas, which is odd considering that it was made so quick, you’d automatically think of a botched rush-job, but it doesn’t come off that way. Instead, the familiarity with these characters, their lives, and their personalities, helps the story move by at a rapid-pace, without ever seeming to settle down. Jokes fly, with a good portion of them landing, and the others, not, but most of all, it’s all quick, funny, and pretty damn entertaining.

We’ve all been in this position.

Is it as surprising as the first? Not really.

In a way, you know what you’re going to get with A Bad Moms Christmas and because of that, everything works a lot better. We expect tons of raunch, non-stop montages of these moms doing bad-stuff, and eventually, lessons to be learned. It’s all conventional stuff, but with a R-rated raunchy-comedy that’s actually raunchy and funny enough to register as such, it’s all fine. Maybe it’s with the holidays coming up, I’m a lot more lenient to movies such as this, where the sap and endearing whiteness is able to seen from a mile away, but hey, so be it.

Or maybe, it’s just that this ensemble is so much fun to watch, it hardly even matters. As with the first movie, everybody here who shows up, gets an opportunity to be funny and at least bring something to the table, not seeming like window-dressing for an already polished movie. Of course, as we know from the first, Kunis, Bell, and especially, Hahn, are all funny and exciting to watch, but it’s the older moms like Baranski, Hines, and Sarandon who really excel. While they’re all playing their types, the types have some heart and humanity behind them that it doesn’t really matter; also, it’s nice that the movie gives each and everyone of them a chance to not only shine in their own scenes, but together, being one of the very few movies featuring three women, all over the age of 50, to just sit down, talk about their lives, and not once make a joke about Viagra.

Okay, they talk about sex, but who cares? They’re moms! They’re allowed to do whatever they want!

Consensus: As much as it’s like the first, for better and for worse, A Bad Moms Christmas brings back all of the fun, likable characters from the first, as well as the silly, over-the-top raunchy humor, too.

6.5 / 10

What Ms. Claus don’t know, won’t kill her.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Little Hours (2017)

Let loose of Christianity. And your pants.

It’s the Middle-Ages and, as expected, basically everything, everywhere, is run by religion. And in these times, nuns Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) lead a simple, albeit sex-free life in their convent. Their days are spent chafing at monastic routine, spying on one another, and berating the estate’s day laborer, who Fernanda, being the paranoid that she is, constantly thinks of him as being as a Jew. After a particularly vicious insult session drives the peasant away, Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), who’s harboring some dark and dirty secret of his own, brings on newly hired hand named Massetto (Dave Franco), a young servant forced into hiding by his angry lord (Nick Offerman), who caught him sleeping with his wife and is currently hunting him down. So, in order to stay safe and sound, and away from his lord, Massetto must stay deaf and dumb, and act as if he has no interest in any sort of proclivities. Even though, he, like everyone else at this convent, does and it eventually comes to front-fold when they all get a nice look at Massetto.

“ARE YOU JAMES?!?!?”

The Little Hours is basically a one-joke movie, in which it’s the Middle-Ages and everyone speaks in a modern-day tone and dialogue, filled with curses, witticisms, sayings, and a lot of dead-pan. And as is the case with most one-joke movies, they can tend to get a little old and repetitive; see, it’s not what the joke is about, as much as it’s what you’re able to do with it, how you’re able to spin it, and make telling it, still seem somewhat fun and fresh. It’s what the Little Hours is able to do for awhile, until it doesn’t.

But man, what a cast.

Seriously.

Writer/director Jeff Baena hasn’t been in the game for too long, but has already somehow been able to get a bunch of famous faces in his various movies, and the Little Hours is no exception. In fact, one of the main reasons why the movie works as well as it does, is because of how dedicated and willing this ensemble is to make this material work and funny. Everyone here is dead-pan and while there are some people that seem to be funnier than others, everyone is in on the joke and it works.

Just a man and his ass. Don’t ask questions.

No one person in particular is funnier than the other, but one who stands-out, in my eyes, is Dave Franco, especially since what a lot of he has to do is physical and simply using his body, rather than saying everything. Franco’s always been funny and a blast to watch on-screen, but here, we see his talent tested to where, instead of saying everything, he has to act it all out, through body-language. It’s a gimmick-role, sort of, but it’s one that’s impressive because Franco seems to excel at this kind of stuff, even when he isn’t talking.

And yeah, everybody else is pretty great, too, but does any of that need to be said?

What Baena does do well, except offer some funny bits and pieces of comedy, is that he does offer-up an interesting look at religion and sex, through the clearly comedic-eyes. Baena doesn’t seem to be making a comment on Christianity, as a whole, and it’s positive, as well as negative effects, on those who support and follow it, but he does seem to be showing that sometimes, age-old stipulations and rules, that take away certain freedoms, are wrong and should be broken. Sure, it’s told to us in such a silly and raunchy manner, but it’s effective and shows that Baena has more on his mind than just a bunch of funny people cursing, getting naked, and having sex.

Although, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Consensus: Essentially a one-joke premise, the Little Hours grows to wear thin, but with a smart, funny cast who are all absolutely game, it gets on passable humor.

6 / 10

Let’s just pretend these three aren’t celebrities trying to be normal, everyday nuns.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Every generation needs their own Rupert Pupkin.

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a mentally unstable girl who, after a recent stint in a clinic, finally gets out into the real world, only to then fall back into the same spell of obsession that she did before. This time, the object of her affection is social-media influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Her Instagram account is highly-followed, full of bright, shiny pictures, and full of all sorts of daily inspiration that Ingrid seems to need and want. To make it even better, Taylor responds to one of Ingrid’s comments, giving her the idea that it’s time to head out to L.A. and find out if Taylor will be her friend. And with an inheritance of over $600,000, she’s willing to make that dream a reality. The only issue is that Ingrid will have to make something of a persona up, to where she will be seen and accepted by Taylor as a friend, possibly even best-friend – a title that Ingrid has wanted from someone over the course of her life, not just one person in particular.

Who hasn’t done this? It’s so sweet…..I think.

Ingrid Goes West is an interesting movie because it doesn’t necessarily seem to be commenting on social-media, as a whole. It would have been easy for it to fall down the same rabbit-hole of many other countless shows and movies, where the idea of social-media is a harmful, awful place where nothing in this world is private and everyone’s soul can be seen with just a click of a button or two. Is that such an evil thing? Maybe. But what Ingrid Goes West shows us is that it’s honestly how one uses social-media, is what makes it such an evil and despicable platform in the first place.

That said, as goofy and as crazy Ingrid Goes West gets, it still feels firmly placed in reality, where these archetypal characters all feel real, honest, and humane, even if they are awful pieces of crap. Take, for instance, Taylor Sloane herself – she’s the typical valley girl who has a solid Instagram account, with pictures of the sun, pretty trees, houses, her brunch, oh and of course, Joan Diddion books. She seems harmless and actually, pretty nice, but what the movie shows us is that there’s more to her than usual, in both good ways and bad. She’s the kind of woman who seems sincere on the surface, but beneath the surface, she’s just as arrogant and as insecure as all of her followers may be, and therefore, in a way, isn’t she manipulating these kinds of feelings for her own betterment?

Ingrid Goes West asks this question, as well as many others, but it works so well is because it all feels so honest and real.

Not once does co-writer/director Matt Spicer seem like he’s not with the times, or doesn’t know what he’s satirizing. Sure, by the time the movie reaches the third-act, thing spiral pretty much out of control and the movie gets a little bit weaker, but even then, it still feels like Spicer is fully wrapped-up in this awfully twisted, sick kind of world where B-level artists, photographers, and performers all hang around one another, act like they’re having a great time, loving each other all, when in reality, they’re just as conceited as the other. So yeah, if there is anything that Spicer is poking fun at here, it’s not social-media, but those who use it to make themselves seem way more talented and much more spiritually woke and inclined than they actually are.

All Gen-Y hipsters love themselves some Joan Diddion. Or so they say.

But still, as much preaching as Spicer may seem to be doing, the movie itself is still funny and a little sad. Once again, that idea of reality shines through each and every scene to where we go from laughing at one of Ingrid’s ridiculous antics and how deep she sinks herself into this lie, but then we come to the realization that it seems all too real. There are many more Ingrid’s out there in the world, and they don’t just have to be beautiful and compelling.

They can just be as depressing as you’d expect someone who falls in love with a social-media personality to be.

That said, Ingrid is probably Aubrey Plaza’s best performance to-date, because she kind of bucks the typical performance we’re used to seeing from her. No matter what, Plaza’s always enjoyable to watch, but she always seems to be playing the same bit role, where she’s always dead-pan, odd, and off-kilter. Here, she digs into something more primal and creepier, making Ingrid a damaged and battered human being that we sympathize with, but also fear for, too. She’s a dangerous beauty, but also a sad one, at that, and it’s Plaza’s role for the taking.

Elisabeth Olsen is also pretty great in a role that, in other hands, in another movie, probably would have been awfully one-note. While we know from the very start that Taylor Sloane is absolutely full of her pretentious bulls**t, it also doesn’t forget to make us see her as humane who, just like you or I, may be wanting something a bit more than she already has. We never come to like her, but she’s still compelling, in that there are literally a million other Instagram profiles just like her, getting away with all the same junk as she does.

What a time to be alive.

Consensus: As weird as it is timely, Ingrid Goes West is an honestly brutal and raw attack on those who use social-media to their benefits, for better and for worse, while also not forgetting to be a funny, incredibly well-acted tragicomedy.

8 / 10

#PeaceLoveandHarmony

Photos Courtesy of: Neon