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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 4-4.5/10

Fun Mom Dinner (2017)

Moms rule. Dads drool. Right?

Emily (Katie Aselton) is in, essentially, a loveless marriage and needs to have some fun in her life. Her best friend, Kate (Toni Collette), feels the same way and the two decide that it’s finally time to get involved with one of these “fun mom dinners” that they hear so much about. Okay, actually, that’s not how it actually goes down. Emily gets an invite from the two moms holding the dinner, Melanie (Bridget Everett) and Jamie (Molly Shannon), who as a result, also invites Kate who doesn’t actually like either Melanie or Jamie. Why? Simple mom stuff, honestly. And it’s why the dinner starts off a little weird and awkward, until the booze starts flyin’ and the weed starts gettin’ smoked and then, all of a sudden, everyone’s having a good time. And then, Emily starts talking to a cute bartender (Adam Levine), and heads off with him, putting the whole night into one, crazy funk where everyone’s scrambling all over the place, looking for her, while also connecting with one another and realizing that their moms and nights such as this need to happen more often.

This is the part where they sing “99 Luftballoons”. In German. H-I-L-A-R-I-T-Y.

Or yeah, I think that’s what it is.

Actually, for a movie that’s about 80 minutes along, it really pads itself with jokes, random bits of humor, and a plot that’s already thin to begin with. But honestly, that’s the least of Fun Mom Dinner‘s problems, because simply put: It’s just not funny. It tries so hard to be a cross between Bridesmaids and Bad Moms, but isn’t nearly as interesting, deep, or even funny as the two.

In other words, it’s just a bit of a bore, which is a shame because it’s a movie, written and directed by women, starring women, and about women being, well, women. It’s supposed to be a fun time at the movies, regardless of your sex, but for some reason, it just feels like a missed-opportunity for a lot of people who got together, spent some time working on this thing, giving it their all, and eventually, coming up short. It’s didn’t have to be this way, but sadly, it is.

But really, Fun Mom Dinner just doesn’t ring all that true.

These women, while all good in their own little performances, don’t feel believable as pals. Sure, they’re all connected by the fact that their kids all go to the same school, so maybe that’s the point, but still, when they do start to become closer and more acquainted with one another, it just doesn’t connect. It feels like a group of fun-loving gals who wouldn’t actually be fun friends together in real life, and can’t even act like it once they’re paid to do so.

And the part where they reference “Sixteen Candles”. Which they do a thousand times.

Once again, though, that isn’t to take away from any of the respective performances, because they’re all fine on their own. It’s nice to see the always lovely and joyful Katie Aselton get a leading-role, even if her character is chock-full of cliches; Molly Shannon feels wasted, especially after last year’s Other People; Bridget Everett is basically given the loud, obnoxious role that Melissa McCarthy’s usually stuck with, and while she’s still amusing, she feels like a crutch the movie constantly falls back on when it wants to be wacky and silly, for no apparent reason; and Toni Collette, for some reason, just feels bland here, which is weird, because at one point, she was considered one of the most interesting actresses working.

Unfortunately, not anymore.

Now, she’s playing second-fiddle in a movie that doesn’t really know what to do with much of these ladies, other than have them yell and act-out in crazy ways, yet, not really giving anything else behind it. It would all help if the movie was funny, but it’s not and because of that, it’s hard to really recommend the hell out of Fun Mom Dinner. It tries to be the next Bad Moms, but with that movie’s sequel coming out later this year, do we really need a copycat, or should we just wait for a, hopefully, superior second installment?

Probably wait it out. Or see this, too. I did that and it doesn’t really matter.

Consensus: Constantly straining itself to be funny and somewhat insightful, Fun Mom Dinner also feels weak and poorly put-together, despite the insane talent both in front of and behind the camera.

4.5 / 10

And yeah, where they just talk about their lives and stuff. UGH.

Photos Courtesy of: Momentum Pictures

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Sleight (2017)

Is this what Criss Angel is up to nowadays?

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a young guy living on the rough and tough streets of L.A., trying to get by and make a living for him and his little sister. But instead of doing what most of his friends are doing, like hustling, committing crimes, and selling drugs, Bo is keeping himself straight by performing magic on the streets. But honestly, after the death of his parents, it’s getting harder and harder for Bo to keep a roof over his head, so eventually, he turns to this life of crime where he falls under the tutelage of the local drug dealer (Dule Hill), who does not take kindly to people messing around with his stuff. But while all of this is happening, Bo meets Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) who, despite having a college education and plenty of other dreams in life, instantly falls for him. Now, Bo has more of a reason to live, survive and have all the things that he should want, but for some reason, the drug world just isn’t all that forgiving and it’s up to Bo to figure out just how the heck to get by it all. Then, something mysterious appears on his arm and things get odd.

Like really, really odd.

Eh. I’ve had more.

I have to give Sleight the benefit of the doubt in that it’s a low-budget film, with an incredibly diverse cast and relatively original premise. And yes, even a part of me is willing to forgive and get by all of the issues and problems had with this thing, just based solely on the fact that it’s so low-budget and got a lot working against it. But still, for some reason, I can’t get past the fact that Sleight, despite showing plenty of promise, never fully comes together.

In a way, it’s as if the budget needed to be bigger in order for director/co-writer J.D. Dillard to fully complete his vision. Clearly, some things got lost in the shuffle and it shows; there are far too many long-winding scenes where two characters are just sitting in a room, sort of talking, and seeming as if they’re going to never stop. In other words, yes, it’s called “character-development”, but it feels different here in Sleight – it’s as if Dillard had all of these scenes put in, because he didn’t have enough money to do other things.

Maybe this is just me talking, but either way, it slows the movie down to a halt.

And it doesn’t help that these characters aren’t the least bit interesting. Latimore is an interesting, bright, young talent who is surely going to go on and do great things, but his role here as Bo, when it’s not hitting every convention to be expected with a young whippersnapper growing up on the streets of L.A. (minus the whole magician angle), feels weak and almost underwritten. We’re supposed to see all of these different sides to him, but really, it’s just one where he always looks like a patron saint, taking care of all those around him, no matter what, and against all odds.

Giving David Blaine a run for his money. That guy’s still alive, right?

Dillard tries to even make his situation more interesting and therefore, compelling, but even that feels like it can get lost. A late-minute twist comes literally out of nowhere and while definitely cool, almost feels like it was thrown in there because Dillard got an extra check thrown his way from WWE Studios (who also helped distribute it). And I know a lot of what I’m complaining about is how it has a small-budget and clearly shows, but that’s not all it – it’s more that it’s a movie with a solid premise, yet, doesn’t take full advantage of it, mostly because it wants to play all of these different sides.

Dillard seems like he wants it to be a honest, raw, and gritty tale about growing up on the streets of L.A., but also wants it to be a sweet, youthful and lovely look at young love. Dillard also seems like he wants it to be a stone-cold drama about drugs, crime, and bad people, but also wants it to be about a kid possibly developing superpowers, or something of that nature. Honestly, it’s a mixed-bag overall, because it offers so many different sides and angles, yet, never fully comes together on one.

Just one. That’s all it needed. But nope. Couldn’t do that.

Consensus: Budget constraints aside, Sleight is a messy movie that’s filled with ideas and possibilities, but ultimately, never comes together perfectly. Oh, and yeah, its budget holds it back.

4.5 / 10

Wish the force was strong enough to get more “0’s” on them checks.

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

The House (2017)

Cautionary tale?

Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) have been planning their whole lives for their daughter’s moment she goes off to college. However, when the scholarship money falls though, they have to think of something and something quick, which eventually involves their close buddy Frank (Jason Mantzoukas). In other words, they put their brains together and think of something so crazy, so barbaric, and so insane, that hell, it just might work. That’s right, an underground casino where adults from all over the little town can come together, get wild, get crazy, throw money at the walls, and have a grand old time, as if they were young, free and without any damn responsibilities anymore. The only issue is that, for Scott, Kate, Frank, and well, everybody else, they are old and have something resembling responsibilities, making this casino a much more dangerous and scary place than any of them ever wanted it to become.

Homage to Scorsese? Or once again, just improv? Who knows.

It’s crazy to think a comedy starring two of the best, funniest, and brightest talents in the game, with plenty others surrounding them, would come and land with an absolute thud like the House did, but unfortunately, that’s what happened. It wasn’t screened for critics, it was barely advertised, and oh yeah, it didn’t really do well at the box-office, even despite both Ferrell and Poehler still being draws. What happened?

Well, the short is that it’s not a very good comedy.

But the long is that it’s just like every other studio comedy out there made in the world in that it features barely any story, cohesion, or interesting-writing, but instead, features a bunch of funny, incredibly talented people, just making everything up as they go along. Normally, I’d be disappointed with this, but considering that we literally just got the same thing a few weeks ago with Rough Night, it’s hard to really expect much else; without having to actually put any thought or effort into how these movies play-out, how the jokes build, and eventually, play out, the general idea is that you get a bunch of funny people around, put a camera in front of them, film, and let the magic happen.

Magic can occasionally happen in cases such as these and even in the House, there are some slight glimmers of true fun comedy. But the issue is that the laughs and fun happen so very few and far between one that, even at 80 minutes, it still feels like a stretch. Hell, you’d think that with such a short movie to begin with, that we wouldn’t have to sit through much and make this feel like more of a slog, but somehow, that’s exactly what happens. And yes, it’s exactly what happens when you don’t really put much of any effort into anything, other than getting a solid cast of funny people together.

Then again, maybe I’m putting too much thought into a movie like the House.

Children. They’re the future and why we do the crazy shit that we do.

Then again, maybe I’m not. Maybe I just appreciate it when a movie with as funny and as promising as a premise as the House, actually delivers on not just the funny, but also the promise, and gives us a, get this, a solid comedy. It doesn’t have to change the world, it doesn’t have to break down any barriers, and it sure as hell doesn’t have to be perfect – all it has to do is be funny and feel like it was at least written more than half-way through. The House doesn’t feel like that, though, and it not only suffers because of it, but so does everybody else, too.

And yes, this is to say that Poehler, Ferrell, Mantzoukas, and so many other well-known, talented and reliably funny people here who show up and give it their all, are indeed funny, but at times, it can’t help but feel like their talents are being wasted. Literally, not a single one of them play an actual character that makes sense, or at the very least, works in this movie’s small world; sometimes, even the bittiest kind of character-development can go a long way into helping us realize just why a person is why they are and why watching them is so funny to begin with. It’s simple movie-writing 101 and honestly, I shouldn’t even have to state this, but unfortunately, movies like the House exist and continue to come out, therefore, making it all the more understandable to bring up why a script matters.

Even for, yes, a comedy.

Consensus: Although everyone tries and can occasionally be funny, the House doesn’t live up to the promise of its premise, nor does it really have all that many laughs to help guide along its incredibly short 80-minute run-time.

4.5 / 10

What? Is there anything else you ought to do with money?

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

Casting JonBenet (2017)

So wait, who did it?

After two decades of all the questioning, all the guessing, all the myths, all the lies, all the rumors, and all the TV specials that your Grandma DVR’d, JonBenét Ramsey’s murder is still such the talk of the town that movies are being made about her life and possible circumstances surrounding her murder. And in this one special made-for-TV reenactment, countless actors/actresses/writers/directors are put on camera to not just talk about her life, but their own as well, and somehow, how the two can connect in ways that they never ever expected them to.

Don’t get too happy, kiddie. JonBenet was the same way.

But sometimes, that’s not actually the case. In fact, what mostly happens in Casting JonBenet is that just a bunch of people stare straight into the camera, say some awfully odd, goofy things, and continue on as if nothing was ever said in the first place.

Hm, Errol Morris much, eh?

Well, yes and no. See, Casting JonBenet wants to so desperately be like one of Morris’ all-time classics, where the outcasts of society have a little something to say to the camera, whether we want to hear it or not, that it’s actually straining itself. It’s not even that the people involved don’t have interesting things to say or ramble on about – it’s just that it goes on too long, without much of anything resembling a focus. It’s as if the camera was just placed and people walked in front of it and embraced as they wanted.

With Morris’ movies, he was never seeming to really go out of his way for this kind of zany stuff – it all just sort of came to him. And you could sort of make the argument that that’s what happened to director Kitty Green here, but a part of me refuses to believe it. Green clearly has an agenda here and while there’s no problem with their being one from a documentary film-maker, there’s still something to be said for when that agenda doesn’t quite work.

In other words, making fun of people to just make fun of people, while in real life may be the opposite, isn’t so fun to watch.

“Don’t worry, honey, no one reads his blog anyway.”

And that’s why Casting JonBenet, as short as it may be, is a little too much to handle. It’s mean-spirited and a little dumb. It’s as if no one involved really cared much about going deeper and further into what these people said, their lives, or hell, even JonBenet’s life itself. Granted, it’s nice that the movie didn’t go out of its way to make this into an investigative piece about what may or may not have happened to JonBenet, but come on, just listening to people talk about it, getting the facts clearly wrong, and never being corrected on it, cannot just get a little irritating, but pretty damn boring.

And when you’re making a movie, whether a documentary, or narrative-piece, it doesn’t matter, sometimes, you just have to go the extra mile to make sure your audience is in it. For me, I wasn’t; I know that people have loved this movie and what it does with the medium of documentary film-making, but it just didn’t connect with me. I appreciate what it’s attempting to do, its obvious influences, and some of the people here, but yeah, just not totally for me.

Probably why I waited a whole two months to actually get around to reviewing this. Oh well. Sorry, folks.

Consensus: Casting JonBenet tries a little too hard to be like Errol Morris, but in doing so, also forgets what makes his flicks so worthwhile in the first place: The reality of a heart and humanity.

4 / 10

Pay attention, ladies! Ugh! What divas!

Photos Courtesy of: Rolling StoneThe VergeRefinery29

Small Crimes (2017)

You can’t go home. Like ever. Especially if you’re an a-hole.

Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) a former cop, returns home after a six-year stint after attempted murder on his deceased partner, and well, let’s just say that no one really likes him. His dad (Robert Forster) is more forgiving than his mother (Jacki Weaver) is, meanwhile, old friends become new enemies who take to spitting in his food at restaurants. But still, Joe has to do something, which is why he decides to stay in town a little longer, and complete whatever it is that he has to do. But in order to do it, he’s going to have to befriend a local nurse (Molly Parker), who, good for him, doesn’t know a single thing about his checkered-past. Like I said though, everyone else does and it makes Joe’s life, not just an endangered one, but one that’s not so perfect when you’re living in a small town, full of sometimes dangerous and mad people. For Joe though, he’s just going to have to stick to his job and see if he can complete it, with his head still in-tact.

Co-writer and actor Macon Blair is an interesting talent. Literally no one had ever heard of him, or his name five years ago, but now, all of a sudden, in the past three years, he’s become one of indie’s hottest talents, starring in and also writing/directing some cool features. It makes you think where he’s been all this time and just what else he’s got ready to bring to the table.

A little rugged, but still hot.

Which is why Small Crimes is so disappointing.

Cause not only is Blair co-writing it, but he’s co-writing it with director E.L. Katz, who a few years ago, made a cruel, dark, twisted, but surprisingly smart Cheap Thrills. You’d think that these two talents’ penchant for dark, seedy tales of violence and crime would come together perfectly like peanut butter and fluff, but for some reason, that doesn’t happen. Instead, the movie proves that perhaps their styles are far too different and weird to actually come together at all, resulting in a movie that’s all mixed-up in tones, subplots, and characters that either don’t make any sense, or aren’t interesting enough to even get invested in.

Basically, it’s a big step down for both of these folks and it makes you wonder just what happened? Because honestly, there’s a good, and rather fun story to be had here, with a small-town full of murder and deceit and lies, but it gets lost in the shuffle. There’s a romantic subplot, there’s a family-conflict, there’s issues concerning Joe’s case, and yeah, there’s a whole lot more for, mind you, a movie that’s a little over 90 minutes.

But a jumble isn’t such a bad thing, really, so long as it’s all interesting. But in Small Crimes, it’s just not. There’s not really much of a character who’s compelling to keep the movie watchable, nor is there really any conflict with the story, because, oh, that’s right, they never really clue us into what the hell Joe’s actually getting up into. Movies like this bug me, where they tell you certain details of what’s happening, but not everything – think of a riddle, but instead of deciphering what the message means, you have to think of what part is missing. It’s an annoying contrivance for certain stories like this to feel like they’re one step ahead of you, when in reality, they’re just holding back for no reason.

A little scared, but still hot.

Sometimes, telling the audience what’s happening, isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it may help your movie out a bit.

And in the case of Small Crimes, it would have definitely helped out. Cause instead, we sit and watch as this Joe guy, gets ready to commit a crime, that we’re not too sure about, and/or for what reasons. The movie either expects us to put the pieces of the puzzle together, or better yet, just wait for some more info to come around. In some cases, storytelling like this can work and seem smart, but here, it’s just aggravating.

The only aspect in which Small Crimes seems to work is when the action of the story comes together, and well, it’s actually pretty brave, disturbing and dirty, the way it ought to be. But then, by that point, the movie has already lost some adrenaline and energy, making it seem like a little too late and perhaps, even a wasted opportunity. Because when you have a cast this stacked, with a premise so simple and promising, you have to wonder where it all went wrong, or better yet, why?

But then again, who cares?

Consensus: Small Crimes had promise to work with the talent involved, but it ends up being a mish-mash of plot, characters, and tones, that just never seem to rub against one another well.

4 / 10

A little bloody, but still hot.

Photos Courtesy of: Bloody Disgusting

Trespass Against Us (2017)

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

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

Bad dad.

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

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

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

Still bad.

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

After awhile, it just becomes an annoyance.

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

Ugh.

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

4 / 10

Gee. Where have I seen this pic before?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Keeping it Real

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

Blood In Blood Out (1993)

Trust your brothers. Half, or not.

Growing up on the streets of East Los Angeles is pretty rough, especially if you’re a Chicano kid. You’re always being looked at by cops, you’re always seen as a gang-member, and you’re always seeming to be looking for trouble. For three brothers, this is especially the truth. There’s Miklo (Damian Chapa), who leads their gang and seems to have the most violent tendencies out of the three; there’s Cruz (Jesse Borrego), the artist of the three who aspires for something bigger and better, even if his own family and gang-life may bring him down; and then there’s Paco (Benjamin Bratt), who knows that he wants something more out of life, too, but just doesn’t know what yet and because of that, is stuck thinking about what sort of career he wants to explore. All three of them try to navigate through life and survive on the streets, however, when you have a gun in your face, that’s a lot easier said then done, which is what happens to one of the brothers, leaving the two left to pick up the pieces back at home, while the one is at jail, gaining a whole new outlook on life. And not in the good way, either.

Self-portrait?

Self-portrait?

When you’re movie is nearly three hours long, you have to try really hard to have us, the audience, make sense of that. You can’t just have one large movie, with all of this material written for it, and throw it at us, expecting us to take it all in and be fine with it – this is literally three hours of our lives. Three hours we may never, ever get back; it’s fine if it’s an hour-and-a-half, or maybe even two hours, but three is really asking much and that’s sort of why Blood In Blood Out doesn’t totally work.

Had it been literally an hour shorter, it probably would have been an exciting, compelling and relatively heartfelt look inside the lives of three men and the adventures that their lives took, but with that extra hour, it’s overlong, drawn-out, and honestly, kind of dull. It’s the kind of movie where, had it been shorter, would have been fine, warts, flaws and all, but as a three-hour movie, it’s sort of hard not to get by them; you start to pick apart the puzzle a little bit more, piece by piece, until you realize that there’s something wrong here and you’re getting closer and closer to figuring out what. And then, you do, because you had all of the time in the world and well, what else were you going to do with your time?

Oh, watch the movie? Okay, yeah sure, but Blood In Blood Out doesn’t really have all that much going on within it.

For the most part, it’s a pretty conventional tale that will, every half-hour or so, bring out some true excitement and liveliness, but for the most part, tells this familiar story in such a slow-pace, it’s hard to really ever get caught up in it all. Not to mention that the movie does take on three different subplots, neither of which are ever all that interesting, with the exception of Miklo’s trips to jail; there, the movie becomes an interesting, if overly familiar prison-drama that’s got all of the standard stuff we expect from prison-dramas of the same nature. But for some reason, in that story at least, there’s a sense of realism and grit not found in the other, too, and helps keep things afloat when, quite frankly, they start to drown.

And as director, Taylor Hackford doesn’t quite have enough skill to make all of this material work and stay alive, in a three-hour production. It’s clear that a lot of this could have been trimmed-out, taken out, left on the editing-room floor, and somewhere to be found on the DVD extras, but nope. For some reason, Blood In Blood Out is nearly three hours and it never makes the case for it to be that way.

Is it possible to be moody, gritty and hot, all at the same time?

Is it possible to be moody, gritty and hot, all at the same time?

Of course, there’s a lot of brutal and bloody violence to be seen and shocked by, but at what cost? The movie is portraying prison the same way it’s always been portrayed as and it’s not really doing much else, either. The other two stories are supposed to be this small, dark and sometimes sad tales about guys growing up and finding out more about their lives, but it just doesn’t quite work – we don’t feel anything for these characters and we sure as hell don’t really see them as anything more than just cliches.

The only aspect about them barely getting them by is the ones who play them.

Damian Chapa has a lot to do as Miklo and does a fine enough job with it, but like a few others, he does tend to go a little over-the-top, almost to the point of where it’s laughable. There’s something about the look in his eyes and his bulky-presence that carries him from scene-to-scene, but there’s also something about how he yells almost every line of dialogue, that also ruins said eyes and presence. Jesse Borrego doesn’t fair much better as the artsy Cruz, who battles with drug-addiction and being ripped-off by agents, and yeah, it doesn’t quite matter, because, well, who cares. Benjamin Bratt is probably the best out of the three, because when push comes to shove, he downplays almost the whole thing. His character is far more responsible than the other two and because of that, it’s not hard to sympathize with him as best as we can.

Now, why couldn’t we have gotten his own story for one, little movie?

Consensus: At a nearly three-hour run-time, Blood In Blood Out more than wears out its welcome with familiar, dated subplots about violence, prison, gangs, racism, drugs, and all of that other fun stuff we learned about in high school.

4 / 10

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

Photos Courtesy of: Crime Movies, Grantland

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

Collateral Beauty (2016)

Mr. Smith Goes to a Wonderful Life.

After the tragic death of his daughter, rich and successful New York ad executive Howard (Will Smith) loses all hope with life. He is, essentially, sleepwalking through it all, barely talking to those around him, getting anything done at work, and just ruining everything that exists in his own world. His coworkers don’t like this – not just because they care and love Howard, but because they’re worried that their company is about to go under. So, in a way to make sure that it doesn’t, the concoct a plan to, in a way, blackmail Howard by hiring three actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore), to come up to Howard, talk to him, and make him think about the three aspects in his life that he thinks about the most: Life, Time, and Death. While the partners believe that it’s only Howard’s life who needs some help, eventually, the actors start hanging around them, making them take one look closer at where they’re going with their own lives and how they could make the best of what they’ve got.

So yeah, Collateral Beauty is a pretty bad movie, made from a pretty bad idea. But here’s the dilemma I always seem to run into with movies such as these: Can a movie be so absolutely, positively, no-doubt-about-it horrendous, if it’s barely 90 minutes? A part of me wants to say that it can’t happen, because there are so many movies out there hitting the two-hour run-time, and then some, and are just so bad, that they should have just never happened in the first place.

"Hey, Will. Cheer the hell up bro."

“Hey, Will. Cheer the hell up bro.”

But Collateral Beauty, no matter how long or short, is just a bad movie.

And it’s kind of a shame, too, because there’s an iota of a good idea to be found somewhere in the deep, thick and confusing layers of this narrative, but sadly, it just never comes out; it’s stuck under a movie that never makes sense of itself, is so stupid without ever knowing the sheer lengths of its stupidity, and somehow, thinks that it’s changing lives with how deep and meaningful it is. Does this movie mean well and have something to say about life, love, death, time, and family? Sure, a little bit, but does any of that come out in a meaningful, somewhat powerful way that resonates with those who set out to see this?

I don’t think so, or better yet, it didn’t for me. Could I be wrong and nothing more than a heartless, soulless, evil and unforgivably mean a-hole? Most likely, but when it comes to Collateral Beauty, I don’t care – the movie’s bad and if you enjoy it, you’re not a bad human being, you just don’t know what a good movie is supposed to be.

It’s weird, though, because everyone involved with Collateral Beauty is, in one or another, a talented individual. Director David Frankel has definitely had some stinkers in his life, but when he’s on his game (like with Hope Springs or the Devil Wears Prada), his movies are actually enjoyable to watch. Here though, it feels like he had no sword in the battle. For one, he was already replacing the much more interesting Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and, oh yeah, he’s working with a script from Allan Loeb, the same person who have us the scripts to winners like Here Comes the Boom, the Dilemma, and oh man, the Switch.

The Switch, people.

What the hell?

Anyway, so yeah, i feel bad for Frankel because it really feels like he doesn’t know how to make this script play well, or even remotely work on the screen, so in a way, he just sort of gives up, films every scene the way it’s supposed to be shot and let’s the script do all of the talking. Clearly that was the biggest issue for the movie, but it also seems like a battle that someone as plain and as ordinary as Frankel just wasn’t ready to battle; perhaps had Gomez-Rejon stayed on, or maybe even a better director got on-board, something could have been done, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we got the finished product of Collateral Beauty, which is stupid from the very beginning and never seems to quick, what with the exception of maybe one or two bright spots to be found in the whole thing.

"Faster! We gotta get the hell out of this movie!"

“Faster! We gotta get the hell out of this movie!”

And yes, most of that comes from the impressive, yet unused ensemble. Will Smith may get top-billing here, but oddly enough, he’s not really in the movie nearly as much as you’d think. And even when he is, he’s downplaying all of that fun, all of that charm, and all of that coolness about him that just radiates off the screen. Nope, instead, he’s playing it sad, depressed and without a single smile to be found. Normally, I’m all for this change of pace, but it never feels real, just calculated; it’s as if someone told him to always have a frown when the camera was on and went one step further and got plastic-surgery to make his face literally look that down and out.

We know he’s better, so why?

And while I’m at it, yep, the rest of the cast here knows better, too. Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Michael Pena Jr., Ann Dowd, and freakin’ Dame Helen Mirren are all here, and as good as they may all be, not even they can save whatever the hell it is that they’re stuck with doing. Norton gets his own whole subplot that kind of works and sees him trying something new, while Mirren and Pena have some great scenes together, but honestly, it doesn’t matter – the rest of the movie is way too concerned with itself and trying to make sense of things that will never, ever make sense, no matter how hard the cast, Frankel, or Loeb tries. It’s just sad and a shame to watch, which makes me think why anyone bothered with it in the first place.

Oh well. At least they got paid, right?

Consensus: Silly, random, nonsensical, and as contrived as you are able to get with a wholesome movie, Collateral Beauty tries to do interesting stuff, but it just never pays off and has everyone, especially the great cast, look dumbfounded.

4 / 10

Always listen to the Dame. Even when she's in crap like this.

Always listen to the Dame. Even when she’s in crap like this.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Who needs powers when you can just be weird?

Ever since he was a little kid, Jake (Asa Butterfield) always got some of the best, most imaginative and crazy stories from his grandfather (Terrence Stamp). It’s helped Jake, as he’s gotten older, become more imaginative and creative, feeling as if there’s always something more out there in the world and not just what’s in the bright and sunny Florida suburb he and his family inhabit. However, when his grandfather mysteriously dies, Jake receives all sorts of weird clues, leading to a mystery that spans different worlds and times. Eventually, he and his dad (Chris O’Dowd) end up traveling to Scotland, to find this place called Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, even though everyone knows, Jake included, that the place doesn’t exist any longer and hasn’t been around since it was destroyed during WWII. But for some reason, when Jake shows up, he’s welcomed into the school, where everyone is alive and well, even if they exist in one, single time-loop, all taking place the day before they were blown-up in the war. Through Jake, the school has a newfound hope that they will be saved and not forced to spend the rest of their days in death.

Well, I guess this is the closest we'll get to a season four of Penny Dreadful.

Well, I guess this is the closest we’ll get to a season four of Penny Dreadful.

After Frankenweenie and Bright Eyes, it seemed like it was possible that Tim Burton would be back on-track. After literally a decade of ups, downs and in-betweens, it was weird, but I was actually getting somewhat excited for a Tim Burton movie, but why? Well, for starters, it seemed like Miss Peregrine’s was exactly the right fit for Burton’s style – people had been referring to it as “Burton’s X-Men” which, from afar, yes, looks exactly such.

But man oh man, how wrong we all were.

In a way, okay yeah, sure, Miss Peregrine’s is, essentially, Burton’s take on the X-Men tale, in that he takes a bunch of weirdly deformed characters and shows that they each have some special, or odd power. However, that’s about it. Everything else, from the story, to the pacing, to yeah, just about everything, is different, in that the movie is nowhere near as entertaining as it was made out to be, nor is it even close to being something worth watching.

For one, whatever interest Burton had in this story in the first place, is hardly anywhere to be found. If anything, it seems like there was some fascination with the characters, but when he got to the plot itself, which concerns time-loops, evil creatures, and WWII, then he lost all control. Needless to say, there’s a lot of exposition, but without any of it making sense or even meaning anything; there’s a lot of story to cover here, but what’s worse is that Burton never decides to actually make us understand it a bit clearer, or even bother to pick up some sort of pace to distract us from the fact that no, none of it matters.

Frederick Douglass, he is not.

Frederick Douglass, he is not.

Instead, we literally get a two-hour movie (that feels like four), that doesn’t make any sense no matter how long you think about it, a bunch of characters we never get to know over the course of the time we spend with them, and barely any signs of pure creativity or inspiration normally found in Burton’s other movies, even including the bad ones. The movie has a very dull and drab look to it, that even when Burton is trying to do something neat, or cool (like at the very end), it still doesn’t quite jump-off of the screen. It’s as if Burton himself had an idea of what he wanted to do and then lost total interest once filming actually got started. However, rather than backing out, facing a bunch of lawsuits and whatnot, he decided to take the movie on, practically sleepwalk through the whole thing, put it all together as best as he could, and yet, somehow, still make it his highest-grossing movie to date?

How the hell did this happen, people?

Regardless, none of this matters or gets away from the fact that Miss Peregrine’s is just a casually boring movie. Burton shows barely any signs of life that he cares and as much as its sad to say, it transcends over to the rest of the film. The cast, as talented as they may all be, don’t really seem to be giving it their all, either. Asa Butterfield is an incredibly dull leading-man, with an even worse accent; Chris O’Dowd is playing a born-Scotsmen who now lives in America, yet, has that terrible accent of his; Eva Green is vampy, as per usual, but it goes nowhere with how weak her character is written; Samuel L. Jackson shows up as the big baddie of the tale and seems like he’s having fun doing something slightly different, but also ends up going nowhere; and then others, like Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, and Judi Dench, all of whom are exceptionally great when given the chance to be, literally have nothing to do here.

Why are they here? Better yet, why did they even sign up? Maybe they’re missing out on something I don’t know about, but what I do know is that the finished-product of Miss Peregrine’s, is crummy and another sure sign that maybe, just maybe, Tim Burton may have to take another break.

Until Johnny calls him back up, of course.

Consensus: Slow, meandering and just plain boring, Miss Peregrine’s lacks any sort of creative imagination or fascination that’s usually seen with Burton’s other flicks, leaving us all to wonder why he even bothered in the first place.

4 / 10

Nope. Killer clowns are better and way cooler. Sorry, guys.

Nope. Killer clowns are better and way cooler. Sorry, guys.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Halloween II (2009)

Yeah, Michael’s a little more severe than today’s masked-creepo’s.

A year after narrowly escaping death at the hands of Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), aka, her brother, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) has been through and seen a whole hell of a lot. Probably more than any kid her age should ever have to witness, but now that she’s living with her best friend, Annie (Danielle Harris), she feels as if everything’s going to get back to normal and that she can, for lack of a better word, have a rather care-free existence. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is all over the globe promoting and having discussions about his latest book on killer’s psychology, and most importantly, Michael himself. But even though both of them think that Michael is dead and gone for good, somehow, he’s brought back to life by the spirit of his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and is now back on a rampage, not just taking down everyone in his path, but to find Laurie and get rid of her once.

Yeah, that kid's growing up to be a serial-killer.

Yeah, that kid’s growing up to be a serial-killer.

You know, the typical family stuff.

In a way, it’s too easy to despise Rob Zombie’s movies. The man himself, is actually quite an admirable figure; someone who has made the leap from musician, to movie-director successfully, making a movie almost every two years or so, and also, a person who seems like he knows a thing or two about horror movies in general, just judging by how he handles himself in interviews and whatnot. But unfortunately, the movies he makes are so trashy, so gloomy, so screwed-up, so depressing and so, as much as it pains me to say, boring, that it’s hard to really give him the benefit of the doubt, respectable artist or not.

And that’s why Halloween, his first remake of the famous franchise, was absolutely terrible. It was slow, focusing on the dread, pain and suffering, but never really actually doing anything interesting or exciting with any of it. That seems to be Zombie’s go-to with mostly all of his movies – rather than actually going out and trying to make sense, or make things deeper than what they appear, he just continues on with the unnecessary carnage, blood and gore, and doesn’t really care about what he’s saying with it. While that’s normally fine and all, the fact remains that his movies, including this sequel to Halloween, just aren’t all that entertaining to watch; they’re the kind of horror movies that make you wonder why they were made in the first place, considering they don’t seem like they were all that fun to film.

But maybe they are to Zombie, which is a shame, because there are inklings of a good movie to be found somewhere, deep inside of the dark nether regions of Halloween II.

If there is a big step-up from the first movie this time, it’s that Zombie takes his focus away from the conventional plot-line of the first and has decided to shake the story up a tad bit. Now, instead of constantly focusing on Michael Myers as he walks around, savagely kills people, all while mumbling and grunting his way along to the next victim, the movie also shines a light on Laurie “Myers” Strode and Dr. Loomis. While they are both interesting plot-lines that get some moments of energy and inspiration, unfortunately, they don’t go so well side-by-side; Strode’s coming-of-age, horror-tale is far too serious to really work alongside Loomis’ sometimes satirical publicity-tour.

While Zombie does try whatever he can to make sure that Strode’s story a sympathetic take on someone grasping with death and destruction, it doesn’t help that Scout Taylor-Compton isn’t able to make her scenes work. Despite working with the likes of Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, and a random, but great Margot Kidder, Taylor-Compton just can’t get her act together to make sense of a character that should be an unquestionably bleeding and sad heart. Instead, she just seems like a needy, whiny and ungracious brat who can’t stop yelling at those around her.

Pictured: Apparently not Rob Zombie and his thoughts on modern-day culture

Pictured: Apparently not Rob Zombie and his thoughts on modern-day culture

And Malcolm McDowell is good as Loomis here, but honestly, that’s a whole other movie completely. He’s a whole lot more arrogant than he was in the first movie and because of that, we constantly wonder where his adventure is going to take him and how he’s going to hook back up with Laurie and Michael, even if it does come at the expense of actually having to spend more time with Laurie and Michael. Still, McDowell is having a good time here, in a role that seems to be Zombie’s way of speaking out against the critics who have an issue with the slasher-horror and violence he depicts in his movies.

It’s not really subtle, but it’s a whole lot easier to swallow than whatever Shyamalan does when he has a bone to pick with critics.

Anyway, still though, the main issue with Halloween II is that, despite some interesting avenues being looked at, the movie never gets itself together. Despite Loomis and Stroude getting more of a focus, Michael still has a lot of scenes where he daydreams of his dead mother and childhood-version of himself, which feels unnecessary and only adds more to a running-time that comes close to nearly two hours. Of course, it also gives Zombie plenty more time and opportunity to kill people in disturbing ways, but it doesn’t really do much of anything for the movie; it’s not entertaining, it’s not shocking, it’s just, for lack of a better word, there. Zombie may feel as if he’s showing us, the world, something that we don’t want to see and sticking our noses in it, but in reality, we’ve seen far, far worse in real life and you know what?

We don’t need to bother with his version of those events.

Consensus: While a step-up from the original Zombie remake, Halloween II still ups the ante on the blood, gore, ugly violence and grime that may please Zombie and his fanatics, but doesn’t do much for anyone else wanting a good, exciting and actually shocking horror flick.

4 / 10

Cheer up, Mikey. You'll get more remakes.

Cheer up, Mikey. You’ll get more remakes.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Masterminds (2016)

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

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

Why so happy? Cause I'm not!

Why so happy? Cause I’m not!

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

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

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

Does it all stick? Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 / 10

Yeah. My feelings exactly.

Yeah. My feelings exactly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

King Arthur (2004)

He’s Arthur, King of the Britons. Or, at least I wished he was.

The tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was one we all thought we knew, but somehow we didn’t. This is a new take on the story as we see Arthur (Clive Owen), Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Guinevere (Keira Knightley), and countless others battle Saxon invaders for control of what is now Britain. However, leading the Saxons is Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård), a man that you do not want to come toe-to-toe with.

In the beginning of King Arthur, director Antoine Fuqua puts a couple of lines on the screen to let us know that this movie is based on the King Arthur stories that have apparently been unearthed by countless archaeologists and historians. Basically, what the movie’s trying to say is that screw all you thought about, heard, or believed in about the story of King Arthur and his tales of heroism, because they are apparently not true.

Or, maybe they are? We actually don’t really know, because it’s all speculation.

Threesome?

Threesome?

But what’s not at all up for debate is whether or not this movie’s a good one, because trust me, it’s not.

The biggest issue with King Arthur is that it’s a little over two hours, but honestly, it feels way, way longer than that. While Antoine Fuqua isn’t necessarily a great director by any means, he still knows how to move a story when it needs moving; something like a take on the real life of King Arthur, desperately needed a nice push, or better yet, kick to help make it feel less like an useless history-lesson, and more like an actually nice bit of swashbuckling fun.

And even with the action here, sometimes, yes, it is pretty exciting, because Fuqua knows how to film action and make it as dirty, as gritty and as grueling as possible. He’s shown it before and it’s interesting to see him do it in this Medieval-setting, where it seems like he wouldn’t be as well-equipped without guns, cars and explosions to help him out. But like I said, the action can only help so much, especially when you don’t have a story to work with, or even tell.

Fuqua clearly wants to make a mean and moody piece here on the tale of King Arthur, which is fine and all, but it’s not handled well. He seems to want King Arthur to be the type of epic that Gladiator was, but doesn’t seem to have the brass balls to go that for with itself and really hit the tunes and notes that would make it really hard-hitting. Of course we get bucket-loads of blood, gore, and decapitated heads, but does that really give us an epic movie, or just a violent one? I’m aiming more towards the latter, but I could also see how this movie would be seen as an epic, if whoever that person is, perceived epics as stories about people with problems, who love to kill and chop people’s heads off, in the name of God and freedom.

Doesn’t seem, nor does it feel like an epic to me, but hey, I could be wrong.

Sure, the action itself is cool and Fuqua tries, but when you literally have a movie filled with, I don’t know, say, 15-20 minutes of pure-action, and the other hour-and-45-minutes is spent watching people we don’t care to learn about, care for, or even understand in the least bit, talk and wade through their problems, then yeah, it’s a problem. That’s even for the original version, though; in the director’s cut that I, unfortunately, had to sit through, features the same action, but with more blood and gore than ever before. Of course, Fuqua can do that right, but a story of this magnitude and attention does not service him in the slightest bit and it’s why King Arthur is, really, just a slug of a film.

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they're fun people with lively personalities....

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they’re fun people with lively personalities….

What’s even worse, though, is that he really doesn’t give the cast anything to work with. Keira Knightley is meant to be this fiery, sexy presence, despite never seeming like she’s taken a shower, nor ever making it seem like she’s as much of a bad-ass as she should be; Clive Owen just delivers his lines in a growl that’s highly reminiscient of Tommy Lee Jones’ worst; Ioan Gruffudd would come to be a whole lot more charismatic in his career, but here, he’s got nothing to work with and suffers because of it; Stellan Skarsgård always has fun when he’s playing a baddie, and this one as Cerdic is no different; Mads Mikkelsen is bad-ass as Tristan, but nothing else; Ray Winstone is playing the usual hard-ass he’s used to be playing by now here as Bors, and it’s pretty boring and odd, considering he’s talking like a Cockney-gangster, and he’s stuck somewhere in the Dark Ages; Joel Edgerton is all bearded-up and timid as Gawain, but yet, nobody cares; and Ray Stevenson is, well, what do you think happens to his character?

Yep, unfortunately, a poor-man’s Sean Bean, that Ray Stevenson is.

Consensus: King Arthur tries to take an age old story that we all know and love by now, and twist it around, but rather than seeming risky, dangerous, or even fun, it’s just boring and features talented, interesting people, doing nothing worth their effort, or time.

3 / 10

What the hell was Keira talking about? Her boobs are totally that big!

Avatar?

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

Yeah, it would be a total shame if you looked like Zac Efron and couldn’t get a date.

Mike and Dave Stangle (Adam Devine and Zac Efron) are two bros who like to party hard. In fact, maybe a bit too hard. Everywhere they seem to go, they create some sort of havoc that can’t be maintained and while it is definitely memorable, it’s for all of the wrong reasons. That’s why, with their sister’s wedding coming up, Mike and Dave’s parents are a bit worried; to be fair, they know that Mike and Dave are capable of being grown-ass adults, but they also know that they can always make sure something will go wrong, even if they don’t mean for it to. So, in a way to have them grow up a tad bit and look presentable at the wedding, Mike and Dave are forced to find dates to the bring to the wedding. While Mike and Dave have known their fare share of women over the years, they want to find someone who is, at the very least, kind and caring. Eventually, they post an ads on Craigslist, allowing them to meet all sorts of wacky and wild ladies, and sometimes, even men. Eventually, they settle on two gal-pals, Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) – two women who are both playing Mike and Dave to get a weekend vacation in Hawaii for free, even if the bros themselves don’t actually know this.

When the broskis walk in, you always know it.

When the broskis walk in, you always know it.

Believe it or not, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is actually based on a true story. In order to spare you from looking it all up and wasting anymore of your time on this thing than is more than necessary, just know this: The movie follows the true story, almost note-by-note for the first-half. The dudes become Craigslist famous, they get on talk shows, they eventually meet a bunch of wacky characters that only Craigslist meeting’s can have, and yes, they do get dates. However, that’s about where the movie’s inspiration seems to end, as well as its originality.

See, the biggest issue with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is that it just isn’t all that funny. Real story or not, writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien have an promising premise on their hands, one that’s ripe with hilarity, fun, and all sorts of raunchy R-rated fun; think perhaps, Todd Phillips, with a dash of Generation-Y cuteness. But instead of actually infusing any sorts of fun, liveliness, or even originality, Cohen and O’Brien seem as if they’re perfectly fine with quoting far better, more memorable movies, not giving us any characters, and especially, not even trusting their own actors to really work well together, or alone.

Either way you put it, the movie’s just not funny.

There are bits and pieces where there seems to be some comedic inspiration, however, it’s clear that they don’t seem to come at all from the script. A lot of what appears to be going on in Mike and Dave is that there’s a lot of improv between the actors, where there may have been four or five cuts of a scene, that may have had a different joke, or line thrown in there for good measure. That’s sometimes fine, especially if you have as talented as the people you have here, but it seems like the takes that director Jake Szymanski eventually settled on, weren’t all that funny in the first place.

And heck, even judging by the end-credits (are you surprised that another mainstream comedy has one?), it seems that some of the better jokes were left out. Why is this? Well, it seems like the movie itself has an identity crisis of sorts; while it wants to be a nutty, dirty and absolutely care-free R-rated comedy, it also wants to be a sweet, endearing and nice take on friendship, love and most importantly, marriage. That’s not to say that both sides can’t exist in one movie, but for some reason, they just don’t come together here.

Typical bros.

Team Foxcatcher? More like, Team Ladycatcher! Am I right?!?

Instead, they feel like they’re taking away from what could be a really funny movie, if anybody cared enough to really add any actual “funny” jokes. While humor is definitely subjective, in nature, there’s no also no denying that when something doesn’t work well, it’s noticeable. Think of a fresh and new stand-up comedian trying his material on the stage – he may have the goods and may possess a funny bone in his lanky, sometimes awkward body, but he just can’t get it all out to where people understand that they’re funny and know what “being funny” actually means.

Not speaking from experience, but you get my drift.

And while the likes of Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Adam Devine, have all proven themselves to be very funny, they just aren’t here. None of them have really discernible personality traits that make them stand-out or excite us, mostly because they’re all just “characters” and not actual “people”. Which, yeah, sure, you can make the argument that characters in movies don’t need to necessarily be “real people”, but when your movie is based on a true story, it’s kind of hard not to expect that. After all, Cohen and O’Brien must have thought that there was something heartfelt about this story of true bros who, after searching far and wide on Craigslist for possible dates, ended-up bringing girls that they knew when they were younger and less bro-ish.

Or maybe they were? I wouldn’t know just from judging this movie and that’s it’s biggest problem!

Consensus: Despite a few funny moments, mostly thanks to a talented cast, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates also needs more than just pretty girls to help them, but funny jokes and likable characters to help make the actual event worth RSVP’ing for.

4 / 10

And they lived happily ever bro-y.

And they lived happily ever bro-y.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Comingsoon

Money Monster (2016)

Don’t take money advice from the television, ever.

Financial TV guru Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a pretty beloved and trusted individual. While he’s overly pompous and clearly in love with himself, he’s entertaining enough that people actually want to see him talk about the stock-market and give his tips and pointers on who to invest in. But after awhile, all of the betting, predicting and fun comes to a grinding halt when a guy named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) shows up in the studio during a live-taping, armed, dangerous and demanding answers. To what? Well, turns out that Kyle put all of his money into a company that went bankrupt and apparently, Lee and his show are the ones to be blamed. So, for as long as he’s possible able to, Kyle plans on being live on the air, holding a gun to Lee’s head and waiting for some answers to his questions from those people who are perhaps the most responsible. Meanwhile, in the studio, Lee’s longtime director (Julia Roberts), is doing her absolute hardest to keep Lee alive, while also making sure that the truth gets out there about these big banks and corporations that make so much, feeding off of the middle and low class.

Who's hotter? And no, it's not subjective!

Who’s hotter? And no, it’s not subjective!

Money Monster, if anything, has a very intriguing premise that you could a lot with. And, for the first twenty or so minutes, it seems like the movie’s going to do just that. Jodie Foster may not always be the most competent director out there, but what she does right in the beginning of Money Monster is set the stage, with the right bits and pieces of character, plot, setting, and mystery that makes it feel like wherever it goes next, you’ll be on-board from the very beginning, up until the end. And heck, the fact that it’s main agenda is to call out those responsible for robbing this economy blind, without ever fessing up and/or apologizing, made it all the more exciting to watch.

And then, well, it all goes downhill.

Unfortunately, Foster loses control of what could have been a very taut and intense thriller. While it may seem like, from the very beginning, that Money Monster will just be a small, contained thriller, it turns out, that the movie wants to be a lot bigger than just that; after awhile, it starts incorporating more and more subplots about Kyle’s personal life, a bank that’s involved with Kyle’s situation, the owner of that bank, a trusted employee of that bank, TV culture, rich vs. poor, and yes, so much more. In a movie that’s barely an-hour-and-a-half, and, for more than half of that, features two dudes in a TV studio, it’s already too much.

Which is fine if you want your story to have a greater importance than just being “crazy guy decides to hold TV studio hostage”, but it doesn’t work here. Any of the ideas/subplots the movie brings up don’t always mesh well and, more often than not, just seem as if they’re thrown in there to create some bit of tension or excitement. However, what’s infuriating about Money Monster is how the promise in having a thrilling and sometimes, fun, thriller was there from the beginning, it just gets lost in a sea of conspiracy theories that seem half-baked, twists and turns that come out of nowhere and make absolutely no sense, and paper-thin characters that we never grow to learn, or even care about.

Save for George Clooney as Lee Gates.

It’s obvious that Lee Gates is supposed to come across as a hybrid between Donny Deutsch and Jim Cramer, but after awhile, you almost forget about this idea and just take the character, and the performance, for what it is. This is mostly due to the fact that no matter how hard he tries to make us think differently, George Clooney is an absolute movie star who can play any role and do just about anything, with anyone, regardless of how thin a script may be. And yes, this script is very thin, but somehow, Clooney finds ways to make this character fun-to-watch and listen to, while also interesting, in that we want to figure out more about him when he isn’t on the screen, talking about money and acting like a jackass. We get inklings of that sprinkled throughout, but none of it is as compelling as it should be, even if Clooney tries his hardest to make it as such.

"Hey, agent? You've got to get me out of the states, man. These roles suck."

“Hey, agent? You’ve got to get me out of the states, man. These roles suck.”

And the only reason why I go on and on about Clooney so much is that he’s really the best part of the whole thing, and especially the cast. Julia Roberts is fine, but doesn’t really do anything we haven’t seen before; Jack O’Connell is working with the weirdest Brooklyn accent, and doesn’t ever have much depth to him; and in what has to be the most bafflingly unexplained accent since whatever the hell Kevin Costner was doing in Robin Hood, Caitriona Balfe speaks in such a way here that I’m still scratching my head about it. I know that she’s Irish, and you get brief glimpses of that in her speech here, but other times, it’ll sound like she’s trying to do an American-accent, but because she’s Irish, she just sounds more like a really sad Texan. Then, other times, her English is so off that she just decides to go for Irish. I don’t know if the movie was making it appear as if she was from Ireland, but honestly, every moment she was on the screen, I was so distracted and mind-boggled that I could hardly care about anything else that was happening at the moment.

Then again, that’s how I felt throughout most of the movie.

If anything, I give a movie like Money Monster credit for being, yes, a real-time thriller that at least attempts to attack those on Wall Street. Foster may not know how to handle all of the different threads of plot here, but what she does know how to do is get her point across; it’s as ham-fisted as can possibly be, but it’s still nice to see in such a mainstream flick as this, where the people in the movie, are probably a lot richer than the people they’re supposedly fighting out against.

But who cares? It’s Hollywood.

Consensus: Despite it having something to say, Money Monster really loses control of its promising premise, with an overabundance of story, a poor script, and a frenzied direction that doesn’t always know when to slow down, or make sense of things that are happening.

4 / 10

Show 'em the money, George!

Show ’em the money, George!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The International (2009)

Always trust in a Brit who looks and sounds like Clive Owen. Even when he’s spouting possibly unreasonable conspiracy theories.

After a fellow friend and confidante winds up dead under some incredibly odd and suspicious circumstances, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) decides to take matters into his own hands. He not only joins forces with New York prosecutor Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), but decides that if he’s going to take the International Bank of Business and Commerce, he’s going to have to get his hands a little dirty. This means not just doing some recon work, where he’ll be on the ground, but may also have to do some fighting and, possibly, killing. However, all is in the good name of putting an end to the powerful bank’s funding of terrorism. But as Salinger and Whitman begin to follow the money more and more closely from such lovely places like Germany, Italy, New York, and even Turkey, they both find their own lives at risk from those who will stop at nothing to protect their interests – meaning that, yes, there’s going to be a lot of rich, evil baddies looking to kill anyone and everyone, so long as they continue to remain rich and evil.

Yeah, stay away from Clive when he's got a gun.

Yeah, stay away from Clive when he’s got a gun.

What’s interesting about the International is that it seems to ask the heavy and hard questions that most action-thrillers of its same nature would hide from even bothering to bring up. What do we do, as a society, when the rich continue to get richer and use their gains for sinister-acts like terrorism? In the Night Manager, this question gets brought up quite a lot, where we see a billionaire deal in arms, yet, not give a single care in the world that he is, essentially, killing millions and millions of people. The International seems to take that idea one step further and show that there’s perhaps more at-play; maybe, just maybe, there aren’t just single, independent arms-dealers out there working all by their lonesome selves, but there are bigger corporations out there working to achieve the same things.

Except that, believe it or not, they’re protected by law enforcement for some reason.

In a way, yes, the International is your ordinary story of the one inspired and passionate man to take down the big, evil and rich corporation, but it also takes it a step further in showing that said big, evil and rich corporation can actually do whatever they want and possibly, end up living to tell the story at the end. After all, they’ve got practically everyone in their pocket, so why couldn’t they stop one peon of a person who, yes, may know some stuff, but who is going to listen to him? Especially when there’s nobody to actually listen to in the first place – something that these big, rich and evil baddies are quite capable of, as we’re made to believe.

But for some reason, the International is far too messy and crazy to really drive that point home. Sure, we get the idea that some real bad and powerful people are at play here, but after awhile, there starts to be so many baddies seen, heard from, and mentioned, that it’s not long before all of it gets incredibly confusing. We know that if somebody looks like a bad guy, based solely on who is cast in the role, then yes, they’re the bad people. However, the mission that Owen’s character goes on, where it takes him, and why, never quite gels or works in the grand scheme of things. We know he’s looking for bad guys and that’s about it – everything else is left up to us to pay attention to, or make up our own minds about.

That isn’t to say that the International doesn’t try to be something more than just your ordinary crime-thriller.

"First Pennsylvania, and now, the world!"

“First Pennsylvania, and now, the world!” *Banshee joke

Tom Twyker is a very interesting director who has made some very good films in his career, and also can’t help but make a shot seem as pretty as humanly imaginable. Anybody who has ever seen this movie will tell you one thing about it and that’s the whole Guggenheim sequence in which it’s basically just Clive Owen, facing off against a bunch of armed-baddies with machine guns. It’s an exciting sequence, even if it seems to come out of nowhere and not make much sense, but the constant winding around from Twyker’s camera is what keeps it watchable, as well as for the other scenes concerning action. Considering that some of the violence here is pretty brutal and bloody, Twyker could have easily made this out to be an ugly, gory blood-fest, but instead, he uses it all to juxtapose the sometimes lovely scenery surrounding his characters and the story.

Which isn’t to say that the movie gets by, solely on Twyker’s eye for art, but it’s something. Everything else about the International still, not only feels stale, but rather boring. A lot of information is thrown at us to decipher and think about, yes, but after the third or fourth back-stab from a secondary character we don’t really care much about, it was hard to really care or pay much attention. After all, the story was just going to find another way to make sure that it threw a random, seemingly inconceivable plot twist or two just to shake things up.

It doesn’t always work and instead, feels manipulative. Sort of like having Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts advertised quite heavily as being in your movie, but not do much with her, other than just keep her to the side of Clive Owen, and there to answer his beck and call. It’s nice to see Watts here, but it’s a bit of a disappointment, especially coming from someone like Twyker. Of course, Owen is fine in his role, where he does a lot of glaring, growling and sweating, but it also feels like he’s just working with a dull character, who is stuck in a plot that’s way beyond his, or anybody else’s reach.

Consensus: Despite some action-sequences working, the International never makes full sense of its convoluted, sometimes ridiculous story, leaving this all to just be a mess.

4 / 10

Coffee-meetings have never been so attractive.

Coffee-meetings have never been so attractive.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Tumbledown (2016)

TumbledownposterFolk singers have the saddest lives.

After her husband dies, Hannah Miles (Rebecca Hall) goes into her own bit of hiding. While she isn’t necessarily depressed and doesn’t know what to do with her life, at the same time, it doesn’t seem like she’s making much movement on it, either. Aside from the every so often hook-up she has with the local hunter (Joe Manganiello), she doesn’t seem to be getting any serious about another relationship and, for the most part, doesn’t really seem to care that her husband was, when he was alive, a cult-followed folk singer who so many people loved, yet, didn’t fully get to appreciate because he died so tragically at a young age. However, one person in particular that wants to find out more about this singer’s life is part-time writer Andrew McCabe (Jason Sudeikis). Though Hannah is initially against the idea of bringing a stranger into her home and into her late husband’s studies to chronicle his, as well as her, life, she starts to give in and realize that she’s happy with Andrew around. Not to mention that he brings out a certain sparkle within her that hasn’t been around since, well, when her late husband was actually alive, well and writing songs all about her.

Why have dinner when you can just maul one another?

Why have dinner when you can just maul one another?

Tumbledown has all of the promise of a soft, sweet and tender romantic-dramedy, but sadly, it falls prey to its own conventions one too many times. For one, the movie itself doesn’t seem to want to take itself too seriously at first, which is fine, but it’s not very good at being funny, either. There’s a lot of annoying rom-com cliches and conventions that show up here that not only feel very beneath the cast and crew working here, but the material itself.

The idea of one moving on with their life after the loss of a very near, dear and loved one, is a universal theme. Not only is this shown in movies like I’ll See You In My Dreams, where the older women are shown to be living out the rest of their years, wondering where to go or what to do, but it’s very rarely shown for the younger women out there who are, believe it or not, widows. Death knows no boundaries, so it’s an honest wonder to me why we don’t have more of these kinds of movies about young widows trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, where do they go from their certain situation, and most of all, whom do they choose.

Throw in the folk music angle and guess what? You’ve got a pretty interesting movie that goes above and beyond any melodramatic romantic story we’re so used to seeing and hating with Nicholas Sparks.

However, that’s the exact issue with Tumbledown: It turns exactly into that kind of movie.

Most of this is especially evident with the characters. Even though the cast here is understandably strong, it’s a bit of a shame to see some of them playing such types that, after awhile, it makes you wonder why they even bothered to begin with. Rebecca Hall gets the meatiest role as Hannah Miles, where shows both sadness, as well as loveliness to a character who seems like she’s at a bit of a stand-still with her life. Though she wants to live each and everyday in absolute tears, she doesn’t and it’s interesting to see how she still copes with the loss of her husband, even if she also knows that there’s more to life for her out there – it’s just a matter of whether or not she wants to actually go out there and see it for herself.

Mmmm! Ms. Hall just ain't got time for that Sudeikis charm!

Mmmm! Ms. Hall just ain’t got time for that Sudeikis charm!

So yeah, Hall’s character isn’t really the issue as much as it’s Jason Sudeikis’ Andrew McCabe who is, basically, Jason Sudeikis, but this time, playing a college professor and writer. Sudeikis is a good actor and, in the past few months, I’ve come to respect for at least trying to do something more interesting with his career than just sticking himself in every broad comedy he can find, but for some reason, he doesn’t feel right for this role. The character is a little too smarmy for what appears to be a really laid-back, almost reserved kind of guy. He and Hall have good chemistry, but the way that they’re relationship gets put together, or how they come to a certain common ground, doesn’t always feel believable and it’s a shame, because they’re both solid actors. Sudeikis just doesn’t seem like he’s the perfect fit for whatever kind of character Andrew McCabe is.

Other actors show up here like Joe Manganiello, Dianna Agron, the always welcome Blythe Danner, Richard Masur, and Griffin Dunne, but they’re kind of just here on the side to allow for Sudeikis and Hall to do their thing and develop their never-believable relationship. It’s good to see these actors here, but when they aren’t really around to do anything but play window-dressing to a poor plot and script, it almost feels like a disservice. Especially for Danner who, in the past few years at least, has shown that there’s more to her than just playing the sassy, sometimes way-too-smart mom that knows what’s going on with every relationship around her, but will sometimes keep her mouth shut.

I love Danner with all my heart, but I want to see different roles for her, especially since we all know she’s got the chops.

Same goes for the rest of the cast, because something like Tumbledown, while showing off a indie-sensibility, plays out like any mainstream rom-com. People fall in love, people fall, people get hurt, people get into fights, and believe it or not, people cry, but they always seem to brush it off with a laugh or two. This happens with life, but not nearly as much Tumbledown portrays it as and it can’t help but feel like a disappointment.

Consensus: Given the subject material and ensemble cast, Tumbledown can’t help but feel like a bummer when you see it all get wasted on a rote rom-com plot.

4 / 10

Will they? Or won't they? Oh, I just don't know!

Will they? Or won’t they? Oh, I just don’t know!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

He Named Me Malala (2015)

The Taliban is bad.

As a young girl growing up in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai has always had a lot of stuff to say on her mind. Most of that comes from the fact that her father was and has always been the same way, but seeing the world for what it is, Malala always had something to say, especially about the injustices in the world that so often tended to be occurring right around. Sob that’s why, when she realized that women in her native land were being treated terribly and not at all how women should be treated, as well as their education, Malala spoke up for the whole world to see and hear. Obviously, the Taliban wasn’t too happy about this, so they attacked her and her family with rocks and guns, actually going so far as to shoot Malala and leaving her in a coma. Unfettered, Malala eventually woke up and believe it or not, continued on with saying whatever it is that she wanted to say, and as a result of this, became a leading advocate for children’s rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Just another girl and a friend.

Just another girl and a friend.

There is nothing wrong with a movie being as completely enamored and in love with Malala Yousafzai. She’s a smart, independent, and compelling woman who, believe it or not, isn’t as old as her wise ways may have her appear to be. However, there is such a thing as maybe being “too much” of being enamored and in love with her? In a way, director Davis Guggenheim can’t keep himself away from focusing on everything great that Malala herself has done, said, and is still doing for the world around her, that he actually forgets to go any deeper or further into just who this woman is.

Sure, we know that she spoke out against the Taliban, was shot, and made into this hero, but how does she feel about that? Does she like it? Hate it? How does she get by in the world around her, with all of this fame and notoriety chasing her everywhere she goes? Also, how does she feel about what’s going on in the current political climate? Is she for all of Obama’s policies? What’s her feeling about ISIS? What does she feel should be done to stop terrorism as a whole?

All of these questions may seem a bit much, but are absolutely necessary for a movie like He Named Me Malala – one that doesn’t ask a single one of these questions.

Instead, Guggenheim focuses in on Malala’s significance, her achievements, and her whole family. There’s nothing wrong with this and, in ways, Guggenheim probably gets the best bits of insight out of these moments where it’s just Malala and her family hanging around one another, but really, there’s not enough of these moments. We get to hear a lot about her father, his upbringing, as well as her upbringing, and they can do a lot to fill in the spaces between the present and the past, but really, they amount to just giving us backstory.

What He Named Me Malala so desperately needs is substance, and a whole lot more of it. To just show Malala herself as a woman who stood-up for what she believed in and spoke her mind, only to then get punished for it all, isn’t quite enough. In a way, all you’re doing is writing a news article, with possible follow-up stories to occur. But considering that this is a documentary in which Guggenheim had all of this access to Malala, her family, as well as their thoughts and feelings on just about everything, it’s a wonder why he didn’t go any further.

Was it not to offend the actual subjects themselves? Or was he, once again, not too concerned with actually digging deep into these people’s inner-thoughts and ideas, and more about what sort of purpose they serve in today’s day and age?

Whatever choice it may be, what’s apparent is that Guggenheim could have done more here and really give us a compelling, if multidimensional look inside the mind of Malala. After all, the few moments where Guggenheim does seem to bring out the best within Malala, he gets some interesting tidbits of info that he could have actually ran wild. For one, he finds out that Malala, actually does miss her home and where she grow up, which is interesting considering that she’s not only banished from there, but will probably be killed on site, had she ever decided to actually walk back on that land.

Try saying that name three times fast.

Try saying that name three times fast.

Then, there’s also the dynamic she has with the rest of her family. In Malala’s case, she is the closest with her father, as they seem to be utterly in-sync with their thoughts and ideas for how a country should be ran and why. There’s clearly a love and adoration the two share for one another than cannot be stopped or toyed with. As for Malala’s relationship with her mother? Well, let’s just say it’s less loving and caring.

Of course, Malala and her mother love one another, but it doesn’t go to the certain lengths that it does with her and her father. In a way, her mother wants Malala to shut her mouth and not cause all of this trouble that they’ve already been in, which brings into consideration the question: Should Malala have opened her mouth? Or she should have stayed back and let all of the wrongdoings, continue to happen and live with it all until her dying day? The answer is obvious, but the question itself is an utterly compelling one that deserves to be brought up.

Then again, Guggenheim would have dug into it, either way. He would have just shown his appreciation for Malala and that would have been it. After all, that’s what he did and while there’s no harm or foul in doing so, it does make you wonder where the real, hard-hitting documentary is at?

Consensus: Despite its subject’s worthiness of being documented, He Named Me Malala is still a frustrating, if occasionally interesting look at the life of a woman who is already wiser beyond her years, but at the same time, is still very much a young kid, with a lot more going on in her life than just boys or school work.

4 / 10

He just can't help himself that Davis.

He just can’t help himself that Davis.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

Michael Bay: A true American.

On the evening of the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2012, a huge group of Islamic militants were angry and upset for obvious reasons and decided to attack the American diplomatic compound, that was, at the time, holding U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. However, they didn’t just top there, they soon went onto target a nearby CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya, which was supposed to be super, duper top secret, but for some reason, got leaked out because of some lookie-loos. And even though they weren’t supposed to get involved in the first place, and told constantly to “stay-put and not leave their post” a bunch of CIA security contractors decide that it’s their time to shine and end this brutality and violence before it gets too late and crazy for anyone to stop it. Issue is, it already is too late and now it’s not only up to these CIA security contractors to risk their lives, but to also ensure that they save the U.S. Ambassador.

He's a hero.

He’s a hero.

And yeah, the rest as they say, is well-known history.

Michael Bay loves the absolute hell out of America. So, it makes sense that he would actually take time out of his busy schedule of robots beating the hell out of one another, oiled-up dudes, and general misogyny, and give us, as he probably likes people calling it, “a heartfelt tribute to the soldiers of Benghazi, as well as those who put their lives on the line for the greater-good of society.” And don’t worry, this isn’t me taking a stance on who is to blame for what happened at Benghazi, nor what could have been done better to prevent anything of that nature from happening at all, because really, the true story is about the soldiers who decided to take-up arms and protect their fellow friends and allies, even if it was absolutely clear that they were out-numbered and most likely, not going to make it out alive.

Which, yes, means that this subject calls for some very overly-patriotic, preachy moments where America’s soldiers look like true heroes, in the midst of all the blood, carnage and chaos – which is what Bay absolutely delivers on. And while this is something we expect from him in an cringe-inducing way, here, it actually works because well, these were real people and they do deserve to have the spotlight shined on them for what it is that they did, regardless of what your political affiliation may be. Even though Bay does make each and everyone of them seem like perfect human beings who have lovely wives, kids, dogs, and personalities, it’s still easy to get past because you remember that, once again, this is a true story and these people were in fact, and still are, real.

At the same time though, being a well-deserved tribute doesn’t mean that your movie is at all “good” – just more thoughtful than usual.

Especially when your name is in fact, Michael Bay.

This is all to say that 13 Hours, despite Bay trying his hardest to put some thought and senselessness into the proceedings, is still a gory, crazy and hyper-violent shoot-em-up, where instead of getting the usual Bay caricatures, we have actual soldiers and Libyans, going toe-to-toe, in a literal battle of whose grenade-launcher is bigger and more effective. In other words, it’s exactly like every other Michael Bay movie, which can tend to mean that there’s a lot of explosions, gun shots, and people dying – none of which we actually get to see in a manner that’s effective or, especially, coherent. However, it isn’t always like this, as the setting-up of what initially went down in Benghazi, although a bit dramatic, is still compelling and, most importantly terrifying.

Hell, he's a hero.

Hell, he’s a hero.

But then, it all goes away once Bay starts letting stuff explode and be loud for the hell of it. There’s no problem with this, in terms of factual accuracy, as I’m pretty sure this is exactly what happened in Benghazi, but after awhile, it becomes deafening, repetitive, and tiring – none of which Bay probably intended to actually happen, but such is the case when you’re delving out way too much action/violence and not really offering us anything much else. That Bay seems more interested and taken away with the sheer violence of the events, he focuses less on the meaning of it all; this is alright, as we never know whether he’s trying to make a point or not about war being the right means for ending a conflict, but still, it’s not like he’s even trying, either.

Once again, nobody expects substance from Bay, but given the source material he’s working with, you’d expect a tad bit more.

Nothing too much, but just a slight bit.

Still though, it’s not a terrible movie – just a very misguided one that clearly finds Bay wondering which side of him he wants to show. Maybe there’s a more thoughtful, smarter side to Bay that we don’t ever get to see in the loud, bombastic blockbusters he usually puts out, or maybe, he’s just that over-grown man-child who likes to watch things hit one another, go “brash“, then look at boobs, make sexist jokes, and waste the talents of each and every talented actor who was in desperate need of paying the bills in some way, or fashion. Honestly, the later side of Bay is probably the only side of Bay, but after seeing 13 Hours, it’s not hard to imagine that quite possibly, there’s a bit more underneath the surface that’s worth getting somewhat invested, hell, interested in.

Then again, maybe not.

Consensus: While 13 Hours may show Bay trying a bit harder than ever to give this material the right amount of heart and sentiment it deserves, he still falls into the same motions of constant over-the-top and hectic violence, that’s never as compelling or exciting as Bay may want it to be.

4.5 / 10

But you know what? They're all heroes. If just for one day.

But you know what? They’re all heroes. If just for one day.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire