Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 5-5.5/10

The Human Stain (2003)

Cleaning-ladies love them some Hannibal.

For one second, Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) seems to have it all: A fancy job as Dean of Faculty of a liberal arts college, the respect of his peers, and a loving-wife by his side. However, another second later, he loses it all: The job, the respect, hell, even the wife. Once Silk’s life practically falls apart in front of his own, very eyes, he decides to run away and retreat to a cabin in the Connecticut woods where writer, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), is searching for inspiration for his next book. Silk then finds himself happy, reborn, and back-to-speed with his life, and decides to start up a relationship with the local college janitor, Faunia (Nicole Kidman), who’s a lot younger and illiterate than he is. Zuckerman sees this as the perfect moment to let his inspiration run wild, but what he doesn’t know is that underneath Silk’s whole look and facade, there lies something very painful and mysterious.

Philip Roth is perhaps one of the best writers the world has ever been graced with. That’s why, I constantly wonder: Why aren’t there all that many adaptations of his work? Better yet, why are the ones that do get made, not all that great?

And unfortunately, the Human Stain is just another perfect example of the great Roth just not getting the right treatment.

Showing that tat off? She's just asking for the "d" now.

No man can resist that tat.

Where the movie really finds its biggest issue with itself is with the character of Coleman Silk, and the fact that, even by the end of it, we still never get to actually know him even if we totally should. The only real snippets we get to see into his soul and character is through the flashbacks of him as a young adult, which I must say, were far more interesting than anything going on in his present life. Without spoiling what the real mystery behind Silk’s personality and what makes him tick the way he does, all I will say is that the flashbacks are handled with enough emotion, delicacy, and heart, to where you actually feel as if the movie cares for this character and his side of the story.

It should also be noted that Wentworth Miller does a nice job at portraying the younger version of Silk, as well as Jacinda Barrett as his young sweetheart who gets a first taste of who Silk really is and what he’s all about. Together, they form a realistic and heartfelt chemistry that may just get you all weak in the knees and warm inside because they may remind you of what young love was all about. No further discussion about that aspect of the story, because once I get going, I might not be able to stop and I’ll be in a risk of losing my Critic’s License (doesn’t exist, but I like to feel as if it does).

But still, it almost doesn’t matter because the rest of the movie just never flows perfectly together.

In fact, what’s supposed to be important and emotional in this movie, actually isn’t. I guess that Silk’s later-life’s transformation to a crotchety, old man to a happy, free-willing dude was supposed to really connect, but it just doesn’t. Hopkins is great, as he usually is, because he’s able to get us to believe that this old man would find out more about himself as he got older and a tad wiser about “the real world”. However, actually feeling for this dude was a bit harder than I expected, because he doesn’t really seem to have anything about him that’s worth caring about.

It sounds harsh and all, but there was just something about Coleman Silk that doesn’t really jump out off of the screen. Sure, he’s sad and sure, he’s banging a younger gal that definitely has a shady-past coming along with her for the ride (figuratively and literally), but is there really anything else to the guy? Oh, yeah, he does have that mysterious fact about him that’s insightful into who his character really is, but it can only go so far to interest a person, especially one who has seen it all with film (points to self).

So happy, yet, so random.

Why so happy? Uh, I don’t know. Life?

Even Kidman’s character gets the short end of the stick, as it also seems like she has nothing really going for her in terms of character development. Kidman is surprisingly good at playing the town skank that has a checkered-past with ex’s and family, but it doesn’t seem to go any deeper than that. She’s pretty much the whore with a heart of gold-type of character, without the license or occupation of actually being a whore. She just bangs to get over any type of pain or problems she has had in her life. It doesn’t really work when you put her character and Silk together, try to make us feel for them both, and understand where they are both coming from. Instead, it just seems shallow, as if they both took each other to bed, because, well, who else was there really?

Well, I can definitely say that Ed Harris’ character was definitely not there. Harris plays Faunia’s ex-husband who is a disabled war vet, obviously suffering from an extreme case of PTSD, which makes him come off as the bad guy in the story who’s there to just fuck everything up for the happy, loving-people in the story. However, there’s more to him than just that and Harris makes this character work in a chilling way, rather than having him be some one-dimensional prick. Well, he definitely is a prick, but at least he’s a sympathetic one at that.

At least.

Consensus: For a drama full of context and emotion like the Human Stain to work, you need complexity, heart, and understanding, which is something that neither this flick, nor the cast seems to have, no matter how hard anybody tries. And trust me, they try very, very hard.

5 / 10

Gotta love that exciting sport of fly-fishing!

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

I Saw the Light (2016)

If only Sr. had a chance to be ready for some football.

Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) was just another up-and-coming country singer from a troubled home in Alabama. However, through all of the pain and the hardship, the only way he got through it all was through song, which is why he decided to take his soul, his lyrics and most importantly, his voice out there on the road, for all sorts of people to love, praise and adore, even all of these years later. Backed by his supportive, but sometimes aggressive wife, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), Hank seemingly had it all; the fame, fortune, wife, and a nice house to-boot. Problem was, Hank had a pretty big problem with drinking and this often lead to erratic, wild behavior. For instance, he stopped showing up to shows that he was initially booked for, much to his fan’s dismay. And then, he started flingin’ around and looking at other dames that didn’t so happen to be his wife. Yes, it was all so self-destructive, but somehow, even at the end of a long day filled with booze, cigarettes, and women, he always finds a way to come back to his guitar and sing his heart out.

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

There’s only so much one can do with the musical biopic genre. That’s why, every so often, when we do get some rare exceptions and changes to the rule, they’re not only a breath of fresh air, but make it feel as if any musician’s life can be possibly covered in a film version. Many were skeptical of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton movie, however, that turned out to be one of the more exciting flicks of the past year. Now, it’s time for Hank Williams to get his time in the spotlight and unfortunately, it’s more of the same.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

In I Saw the Light director Marc Abraham goes for a darker route than we’re used to seeing with these kinds of movies. While we’re so used to getting a rise-and-fall story, where the highs are incredibly how, and the lows hit the bottom of the barrel, Abraham seems to really aim for the deep-end with this tale. And honestly, I think Williams’ story is more than deserving of it; you read his story, whether in a book, or on the internet, you can tell that Williams’ life wasn’t a very happy, nor pleasant one.

Sure, he did get a paid a whole slew of cash for creating some wonderfully catchy and soulful country tracks, and yes, everyone around him (who, let’s be fair, didn’t actually know him), wanted his talent and his life, but little did they know, that deep down inside, the man was hurting. That isn’t to say that he was perfect, which Abraham definitely embraces, but that also isn’t to say that his life was pretty unfortunate and watching the flick, it’s hard not to feel some ounce of sympathy for the guy.

Yeah, he cheats, he lies, he steals, he drinks too much, and he doesn’t always treat those around him in the besy ways imaginable, but how different is he from so many other people out there?

Regardless, yeah, I Saw the Light has taken a lot of flack for being a slow, sometimes boring movie – this is a point I won’t necessarily disagree with. However, I will also note that the slower, more meditative pace actually worked for me, as it brought me down to the same level and pace that Williams was living his life. Sure, the concerts and performances may have been chock full of fun, excitement and high times, but when the show was over, the lights were dimmed, and everyone went the hell home, what else was there for Williams to go back on home to? You can call him “selfish”, you can call him “a dick”, you can call him whatever you want, but there’s something compelling about Williams, his life off the road, and his home life that drove me to want to see more about him.

Then again, the movie also doesn’t really give us all that much to really work on and draw more conclusions about how terrible his upbringing was. There’s one key scene in which he shows up late to a concert, performs, and decides to spend a solid portion of it, going on and on about his family, his parents, and his childhood. It’s a sad scene, but it’s one that really brought home the idea of just how troubled this man was, hence why he was acting-out so much now that he was a fully grown-man. Issue with that scene is that we don’t really get much more insight into his life, or his childhood after that.

Keep the mic on you man.

Not every couple needs to have duets, Hank.

Basically, it’s just one scene, after another, of Hank Williams drinking, smoking, sexing, and acting like a brat, way too much.

Are these scenes all that interesting, or better yet, entertaining to sit by and watch? Not really, however, I will say that the movie gets a lot of mileage out of these scenes because Tom Hiddleston does a really great job portraying a broken-down, beaten-up soul in the form of Williams; someone who could charm the pants off of a sailor, yet, also make you hate him for doing so. Hiddleston gets a lot of the singing right, which helps add a certain level of legitimacy to the performance, but it’s also the things that he doesn’t sing or say, that really made me feel more for him and his character.

Why he couldn’t have been served with a far more attentive movie, really is a shame, because Hiddleston has got it in his bones to make a run for an Oscar.

There’s others in the cast who are pretty solid, too, like Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford, and most of all, Elisabeth Olsen, as Hank’s former wife who not only wanted to manage his life, but be apart of his career as well. It’s actually interesting what the movie brings up about how Audrey couldn’t really sing, yet, she always insisted on lending her vocals on records and in performances – so much so that a lot of people heckled Hank about it. The movie seems like it wants to go down a more detailed path than just showing them arguing and fighting all of the time, but nope, it just leaves them at that.

Maybe there was more. But maybe, there’s more in another movie.

Consensus: With more attention placed on the sadder aspects of Williams’ life, I Saw the Light works as a more melodic musical biopic, yet, also doesn’t give its talented cast and crew enough material to really make wonders with.

5.5 / 10

If only he stuck around long enough for Monday Night Football.

If only he stuck around long enough for Monday Night Football.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Infiltrator (2016)

Pretty sure that Bryan Cranston doesn’t need drugs anymore to make himself seem cool.

By 1986, federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) had gone under cover so much, that it was all starting to catch up with him. Now, facing retirement with a pretty attractive benefit deal from the FBI, Mazur decides to do one last job that will not only put him in more good graces with those around him, but may also help solve the victor in the war on drugs. Working alongside fellow agents Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), Mazur poses as a slick, money-laundering businessman named Bob Musella, who works with some shady characters who’d much rather not have their finances be sitting around in some bank. But in order to seem more legit and get his target (who is basically Pablo Escobar), Mazur has to gain the trust and confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s top lieutenant. However, Mazur’s personal life starts to slip and slide into his professional one, and eventually, there comes a point where he doesn’t know whether he can complete the job to the best of his ability.

Diane just can't get enough of the 'stache.

Diane just can’t get enough of the ‘stache.

Everything about the Infiltrator is riled with cliches and conventions that we have seen so many times before in more interesting, much better flicks of the same nature. Heck, even TV shows like Narcos and Animal Kingdom seem to get this kind of corrupt and crime-fueled world so right, to the point of where you’d much rather watch them, rather than spend nearly two hours watching a story that you may or may not already know about, happen in the most conventional way imaginable. If you’re on a plane, or channel surfing at 2 a.m. and having nothing else better to do, then yeah, sure, it’s probably an exciting watch.

But if you have better stuff to watch, like say, the two aforementioned shows, then yeah, hit them up instead.

And honestly, the Infiltrator is not all that bad – if anything, it’s incredibly mediocre. As Brad Furman showed with the Lincoln Lawyer some years ago, he has a knack for getting a quality cast together, and giving them some relatively gritty, but fun material to work with. The likes of John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt, and other all show up, and while some of them definitely have more to do than others, Furman gives them each enough time and attention to where it seems like he may possibly be interesting in exploring who they are and why they matter to a story like this.

But then again, at the same time, none of them are ever as developed as they should be, or at least, as much as Cranston’s Mazur is; Leguizamo comes the closest, but eventually, his character is just pushed to the back in favor of more crime, violence, blood and drugs. Cranston though, gets the bulk of the attention and he’s very deserving of it; once again, he’s playing a character that’s starting to develop more and more of a darker-side to himself than he ever expected and, as usual, the transformation is compelling. No matter how deep or dark Mazur the character may get, you always get the sense that, because of Cranston’s presence, that he’ll do the right thing and not break bad too much, to the point of almost no return.

But Bryan can.

But Bryan can.

But then, like I said, there’s the rest of the movie.

It’s all just fine, but a movie like the Infiltrator, where drugs, violence, crime, corruption, Latinos, and 80’s appear in almost every scene, shouldn’t be so middling. In fact, there’s a small stretch here where it’s just, plain and simply put, boring; there doesn’t seem to be anything really at-stake, nor does there ever seem to be anything worth holding onto. The war on drugs is currently going on in this flick, but rather than trying to make a comment or an idea about that, it just presents it as a thing that’s happening and yes, this story wouldn’t be told without it. And yeah, there’s nothing more to it than that.

Sure, maybe I’m expecting too much, or that I’ve seen one too many crime-dramas in the same vein as the Infiltrator, but still, that doesn’t excuse that the movie is rather boring, when it should be as fun and as exciting as can be. Even despite the conventional plot, the movie should still have the right amount of energy, excitement, and unpredictability to it. Unfortunately, there’s not much of that here; there are small bits and pieces where it seems like Furman is really trying to crank up the tension, but mostly, he backs away before anything gets too good.

Is that my fault, or his? I don’t know, but really, I don’t care. See the movie if you want, if not, no big deal.

In two weeks, you’ll probably forget that I even talked about it, regardless.

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, and wonderful central performance from the always reliable Cranston, the Infiltrator also feels very conventional and rather tepid.

5.5 / 10

And yes, he's pissed about it.

And yes, he’s pissed about it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

New York Stories (1989)

Now that I think about it, New York’s kind of lame.

New York is chock full of interesting little lives and stories that are just waiting to be heard and seen. One concerns a passionate, but confused painter (Nick Nolte), who is struggling to come up with new and interesting ideas, none of which are made any easier when his girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette), walks back into his life without promising to be everything that he needs. Another concerns Zoë (Heather McComb), a little schoolgirl who lives in a luxury hotel and constantly dreams about her father (Giancarlo Giannini) and mother (Talia Shire) getting back together, once and for all. And lastly, one concerns a New York lawyer named Sheldon Mills (Woody Allen), who thinks he’s finally met the love of his life (Mia Farrow), even if his overbearing mother (Mae Questel), doesn’t think so. This brings Sheldon to wishing that she’d just go away once and for all; his dream eventually does come true, except not in the way that he wanted, nor did he ever expect.

Paint it black, please.

Paint it black, please.

The biggest issue with anthology films is that you always run the risk of one portion being way better than all of the rest. In the case of New York Stories, given the talent on-board, it’s honestly a shock that none of the segments are really all that good; there’s one that’s more tolerable than the rest, but honestly, it’s sort of like grasping at straws. And yes, just in case any of you were wondering, New York Stories is an anthology flick featuring three, 35-40 minute segments from Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen, respectively.

Let me repeat them all one more time.

Martin Scorsese.

Francis Ford Coppola.

And Woody Allen.

So, why the heck on Earth is this movie incredibly lame? Honestly, from what it looks like on the outside, all three directors had been wanting to do something together for quite some time, however, just never had the right time, or package to do so. Then, a hot-shot, studio exec thought of a grand idea, in having them all contribute to a three-part anthology flick, where people would all get drawn in by the fact that these three directing legends are somehow, slightly coming together on a project for the whole world to see.

Except that this was all happening in the late-80’s, and not the mid-to-late-70’s, when they were all at the top of their game. And also, rather than waiting for them to all have something worthy of filming and throwing into the movie, it appears that each director picked up whatever script they had lying on the ground, had an obligation, was forced to direct something, and just decided to roll with that. Sure, I’m speculating here, but after seeing the final product, I couldn’t imagine New York Stories coming together or being put-together in any other way.

Pictured: The future heir to the Ford Coppola legacy

Pictured: The future heir to the Ford Coppola legacy

For one, Scorsese’s bit is “meh”, at the very best. He gets a lot of mileage out of a neat soundtrack that seems to intentionally ram “A Winter Shade of Pale” down our throats, but honestly, there’s no meat to whatever story was supposed to take place here. Apparently, Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette’s characters are supposed to have some sort of sexy, fiery and ruthless relationship, but they don’t have any sex, and then Steve Buscemi shows up, and uh, yeah, I don’t know. Nick Nolte paints a lot and that’s about it. It’s boring, nonsensical, and most of all, uninteresting.

Words I never thought I’d describe something of Scorsese’s, but hey, such is the case.

Then again, Scorsese’s segment isn’t nearly as terrible as Coppola’s.

Yes, Coppola’s segment is notorious for possibly being the worst thing he’s ever directed in his life and, well, I can’t argue with that. It’s really bad, in the sense that it seems like Coppola had no clue of what to film, or actually do with the time and money given to him, so he just decided to make a movie for his kids. Sure, the character of Zoe is cute, but it’s placed in the middle of two, very adult segments that really, it serves no purpose or place in this movie altogether. Why anyone thought this was a good idea in the first place, is totally beyond me.

Heck, I don’t even think Coppola knows what to make of it still to this very day.

But thankfully, the smartest decision of New York Stories is to allow for Woody Allen’s segment to be the very last because, well, it’s the best. Once again, that’s not saying much, but it works because it’s quintessential Woody – light, breezy, simple, funny, and most of all, entertaining. The other two segments, despite appearing as if they were fun to film, don’t really come off as such; Woody, working with a really silly, almost cheeseball-ish plot-line, gets a lot of mileage out of looking like he’s enjoying his time filming this goofy story.

Does it save the movie?

Sort of. But if there was ever a reason to not feel optimistic of any anthology feature, regardless of talent involved, it’s New York Stories.

Consensus: Despite Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese each having something to do with the final product, New York Stories sort of begins on a whim, continues with a snore, and ends on a somewhat likable whimper.

5 / 10

Every Jewish man's dream and/or nightmare, come true. It depends on who you talk to, really.

Every Jewish man’s dream and/or nightmare, come true. It depends on who you talk to, really.

Photos Courtesy of: Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Boss (2016)

Where’s Bruce?

Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) had it pretty rough as a kid. While she was cared for in an orphanage, she never stayed with any family and one day, decided to up and leave, and see what she could do next with her life. Eventually, it all lead her to becoming a multi-millionaire CEO, who is praised and adored for always getting her way, no matter what. However, that all changes when she gets busted for insider trading, not only taking her to prison, but also ensuring that her public and professional name will never have the same respect it once had. That’s why, as soon as she gets out of the clink, Michelle hooks back up with whoever will have her; no one, unfortunately, really sticks close to her, what without her millions and whatnot. Well, all except one woman: Darnell’s former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), who she was quite terrible to on a frequent basis. Claire opens her doors for Darnell and together, the two embark on Darnell’s latter-part of her career: Selling and manufacturing Claire’s home-made brownies. They become a hit, but they also bring out the worst again in Darnell.

"All you need to do is star in Paul Feig movies."

“All you need to do is star in Paul Feig movies.”

Melissa McCarthy is possibly one of the most gifted comedians we have in the business today. She’s hilarious, sweet, endearing and most importantly, has shown that, when she has to put all of the jokes aside and stop ad-libbing, well, she can actually act pretty damn well. So, in all honesty, why is that her movies don’t really measure up to her talent? Is it because nobody, with the exception of Paul Feig, knows how to direct her just yet? Or, is it because McCarthy is clearly too good for others to get going with?

I don’t know the answer to either question, but it definitely deserves to be brought up because the Boss, like almost all of McCarthy’s other movies, doesn’t really do much.

Sure, it allows for McCarthy to be all sorts of mean, cruel, crass and nasty whenever she wants, along with being funny, but really, that’s all there is to her. The movie does try to give Darnell some sort of emotional shading that makes us feel bad for this character as well as sympathize with her when she learns the error of her ways, but none of it feels ever earned. If anything, it just feels like another movie in which McCarthy will play someone who is awful to almost everyone around her, yet, somewhere near the end, will have a revelation about herself, begin to cry, and will want everyone to feel bad for her. Sure, you could say that this is how most movie formulas tend to be and play-out, but then again, that doesn’t make it an exciting one that I want to see, time and time again, with the same people no less.

That’s why, for all of the funny moments it has, the Boss can sometimes feel straining. Even at barely 100 minutes, the movie already feels overlong; too many jokes or gags where it seems like McCarthy herself is just running wild with her improvisation skills either fall flat, or get old as soon as they reach the two-minute mark. And while you could definitely chalk this up to being another problem that people tend to have with McCarthy and her movies, it should be noted that the person who co-wrote this movie with her and directed her, is none other than her husband, Ben Falcone.

AKA, the same guy who directed her in Tammy.

Does K-Bell really need help on a date?

Does K-Bell really need help for a date?

Now, the Boss is better than Tammy, but the bar is set pretty low. Whereas that movie seemed to have no idea what its plot was, or what it wanted to do with itself, the Boss at least feels like there’s some sort of plot/point to be working with. Sure, girl scouts vs. brownie girls is a bit silly, but the movie does have a plot here that it can fall back on, even when it seems like it’s losing any sight of where it wants to go. And yes, in a comedy, that matters a whole, because if you don’t have anything driving it along, the movie itself can start to feel like a slodge and, as a result, the comedy can sometimes suffer.

For instance, there’s a brawl between the two opposing forces and while it garnered a few laughs or so out of me, it bothered me to realize that it wasn’t the only plot to work with. Apparently, the movie also wanted to involve Peter Dinklage’s rival-CEO character in it, give the movie a villain, and have it appear as if we really needed it, which isn’t the case at all. If anything, it gives a talented actor like Dinklage, nothing to work with, and just adds way more time to this movie than is needed.

While I’m definitely not all about the age old idea that every comedy should be under 90 minutes, a movie like the Boss is a perfect example of why they should be less than that, and nothing more. The Boss seems to go on and on, throwing some funny bits and pieces here and there, but overall, feels like another wasted opportunity on McCarthy. Yes, she’s funny, and so is Bell, and the two work quite well together, but the movie doesn’t always seem to excite them, or us for that matter, either.

Oh well. At least the new Ghostbusters reunites Feig and McCarthy, which isn’t all that bad, right?

Consensus: McCarthy herself brings out some funny moments, but the Boss is just an overlong, sometimes tedious comedy that, once again, wastes the talents of its star.

5 / 10

Better order those Thin Mints, everyone.

Better order those Thin Mints, everyone.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Miracles from Heaven (2016)

And we thought that the Giving Tree was blessed.

The Beams are your ordinary, middle-to-upper class family living down South, where they breed and take care of dogs, go to church every Sunday, and almost always have time for one another. That’s the way they’ve always been and quite frankly, that’s how they’re going to always be. However, the Beams’ lives all change when the middle daughter, Anna (Kylie Rodgers), begins to start throwing up randomly, holding her stomach, and not really being able to hold anything down when she eats it. Why is that? Well, the Beams go to many specialists and try to figure out just what the the hell is going on, until they finally get the right diagnosis and it’s a bit of a shocker: Anna suffers from an incurable disease, pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, which basically means that her intestines cannot process food. Though the doctors have given her medicine and ways for her to eat food without, well, actually chewing or swallowing, the Beams start to lose their touch with all of life, especially God himself. But then something happens to Anna that will forever change the Beams family, as well as everyone else around them.

Even Jen's questioning some of this.

Even Jen’s questioning some of this.

Faith-based movies like Miracles from Heaven seem to turn everyone off for the sole fact that they don’t ever try to hide who they’re made for, or what message they’re going to get across. While certain directors and writers out there in the world (Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, etc.) all make it known where they stand on a certain issue, or have a clear agenda from the very beginning and don’t ever seem to get as much hate as, for some reason, these seemingly well-intentioned, downright harmless faith-based movies that get all sorts of shade of thrown at them. Why is that?

Well, it’s because they’re preaching and, in ways, no better than a preacher you’d see standing in front of a mass of people on Sunday morning.

Personal beliefs aside, most of these faith-based movies, regardless of the ham-handed messages they pass-off, tend to be pretty bad. They look cheap, sound cheap and seem to be a huge waste of some pretty great talent who, for one reason or another, needed a paycheck so bad that they just felt inclined to get stuck in one of these movies. The same thoughts were going through my mind while watching Miracles from Heaven; another seemingly well-intentioned, harmless faith-based movie that knows exactly what it wants to say, isn’t hiding from that fact one bit, and is just trying to cheer the whole family up.

But Miracles of Heaven, for a good part of the flick, works, if only because it focuses on the anguish, the pain, the sadness, and the desperation that a situation like this would have. Director Patricia Riggen is not a very skilled director, however, she chooses to keep her focus less on all of the Christianity for the first-half or so, and just allows for us to grow closer to this family, their dynamic, their personalities, and just why their story matters. Sure, they’re are carbon-copies of every white family from the South ever put to screen, but they’re likable enough that I actually cared about what happened to them, their finances, and their overall reputations, when things begin to go south for  dear little Anna.

And yes, most of that has to do with the fact that Jennifer Garner is very good here and clearly way too good for this kind of wacky, sometimes silly material. She’s the kind of actress that can take this lame stuff, and actually do something of interest with it that may not always feel as powerful as it should be, but at least garners some idea of legitimacy. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you get good actors to handle a stupid script; if they’re engaged, then it might just work out.

Is that God himself? Or just another Magical Negro stereotype?

Is that a reincarnation of God? Or just another Magical Negro stereotype?

That doesn’t always happen, but hey, when it does, it’s a nice sight to watch.

That’s why Garner’s performance, as the matriarch of the family, does have some honesty and truth to it, even in the goofier moments. While this may lean more towards questioning the actual true story itself (which I will try my hardest to refrain from), Garner works her way through some bad material and adds a tone of realism to it that you can feel. Martin Henderson is fine as her hubby, even if he’s never really in the flick; Queen Latifah is pleasant enough that even if her role is so stupid, it’s still enjoyable enough because it’s Queen Latifah and how could she not be having fun; Kylie Rodgers is an okay child actress, even if she doesn’t have a lot to do except cry in pain practically the whole time; John Carroll Lynch plays the local preacher who, really, I wold have loved to see get his own movie, if only because I know there’d be some sort of way that Lynch would make him a creep; and Eugenio Derbez, showing up as the one doctor who tries his absolute hardest to help this disease, is a nice and pleasant surprise that I wish we got more of.

But truly, it’s Garner who helps this movie work.

Even when, you know, it gets bad.

For example, the last-half of Miracles from Heaven gets pretty awful, pretty quick that it made me rethink everything I saw before it. Everything gets explained, people start acting out in ways that they would have never acted before, and all of a sudden, everything’s all “important”. It probably is to the target audience of this, but for me, someone who wasn’t in that audience, honestly, it’s hard not to get really bothered by it. Faith-based movies will never stop being made, released, or able to make money, but lame ones can definitely cease – it just has yet to happen (excluding Risen).

What do I got to do to make that happen dammit? Pray?

Consensus: As corny and melodramatically sappy it can get, Miracles from Heaven benefits from having a realistic and compelling tone for a short while, until it begins to start preaching its rump off.

5 / 10

Oh, little white girls. So privileged, but hey, it's not hard to cry for them.

Oh, little white girls. So privileged, but hey, it’s not hard to cry for them.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Black Film

Genius (2016)

It takes a lot to be considered “a genius”. Like, for instance, an overlong novel.

Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) has published and help edit a lot of books, some of which, are revered classics. Perkins had already previously published works by the great American writers Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce), both of whom have all sorts of riches to their name. Now, a young writer by the name of Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), wants his shot at getting his work published. And once Perkins sees what Wolfe has to offer, he’s absolutely astonished; not only is the work great, interesting, and exciting, but it’s quite long. Obviously, people aren’t going to want to read a 500+ page book, which means that it’s up to Perkins and Wolfe to come together and figure out what should stay, and what can go away. While Wolfe loves his work too much to let every little detail be taken out of the text, he eventually learns to shut up and give in, even if he, nor his girlfriend, Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), are all too happy about it. Then again, neither is Perkins, which makes him constantly battle himself, as well as his wife (Laura Linney), who has stuck with him through the thick and thin.

"500 pages left to go! Woo-hoo!"

“500 pages left to go! Woo-hoo!”

In case you couldn’t tell by its title, Genius thinks very highly of its subjects – or more importantly, it thinks very highly about Thomas Wolfe and all of the literature that he has brought to the world. There’s no problem with that, either; Look Homeward, Angel, while overlong, is definitely a book worth reading, if only once, just to say that you did and well, you did get into some sort of trance because of it. However, being too petrified of the lengths of his other books, I’ve always strayed further and further away from Wolfe’s work; I know that he’s a literary genius and very well-loved in that world, but honestly, it’s just too scary for me.

Then again, Genius is a movie that’s all about the fact that Wolfe himself couldn’t take himself away from making his books way longer than they had any right to be. And in a way, there’s something exciting about watching as an author gets their writing dissected, toyed around with, and prodded by someone who is, essentially, just trying to make a quick dime off of it. That same conflict actually comes up an awful lot in Genius; the choice between loving a piece of work for all that it is, or trying to take the things you love about it and make it more accessible to people who are willing to pay for it.

What do you do?

Well, Genius has that discussion a few times and asks those questions, yet, never seems too interested in ever answering them, which is a problem from the very start, as it seems like director Michael Grandage and writer John Logan love Wolfe so much, that they aren’t able to focus on much else. They want to make the movie about the book-editing process and all of the pain and agony that comes with killing your darlings, but also, give a shout-out to the man himself for the pieces of writing that he graced the world with.

Once again, is there any problem with that? Once again, not really. However, there’s also something to be said for a movie that can never quite figure out what it wants to be; while it wants to hold a magnifying glass up to Wolfe and his persona, the movie never makes much of a strong judgement on him, either. It actually shows that, in between all of his drinking, smoking and sexxing around, he was just a brilliant writer who couldn’t help himself and, darn it, his work should have been left the way it was!

Uh oh. Crazy's back.

Uh oh. Crazy’s back.

It’s actually quite odd and, by the same token, annoying. Genius has all of the right elements to be a very good movie, not just about Wolfe, but the writing-process and book-selling business as well, but it kind of misses its mark to do so, in favor of just featuring Wolfe running around, yelling like a crazy man, and holding his hat in his hand, with Perkins just sitting by, smiling and chuckling to himself.

Once or twice is fine, but practically the whole, entire movie? Oh, come on!

And it’s a bit of a shame, too, because the cast is pretty damn stacked. Firth is fine as Perkins, if only because he does a lot of sitting around and staring, as opposed to speaking and letting people hear his terrible American accent (which was shown-off to even worse affect in Devil’s Knot); Laura Linney doesn’t get to do much as his wife, except just stand around and berate him for doing his job; Nicole Kidman has a couple of good scenes, showing how, slowly, but surely, Aline Bernstein was losing her marbles; and Jude Law, well, let’s just say he does probably everything that was asked of him and it was the wrong thing to do.

However, I can’t hate on Law for doing what he was told; the script called on for someone to constantly be howling and acting wild, and it’s what he gives. In a way, there’s some joy to be had in watching him play it to the rafters with this performance, but after awhile, once we figure out that there’s not much more to him than just that, it can get draining. The movie attempts to show us a deeper, darker side to this persona of his, but it still features him yelling and howling about, which never seems to end, or be toned-down in the slightest. If anything, it made me want to watch something like Dom Hemingway again, where Jude Law got a chance to play it wild and over-the-top, yet, was also rewarded in the end.

Here, he’s just doing it because that’s what he was told to do and there’s no real pay-off for him, or in this case, for Wolfe, either.

Consensus: Genius has a fine cast that helps the sometimes boring material, actually work, but at the same time, still feels like it can’t make up its mind about itself, nor have anything interesting to say about its figures.

5 / 10

I'd look like them too, if Nicole Kidman was coming my way. Then again, I guess I'm just a simpleton, so my opinion doesn't count.

I’d look like them too, if Nicole Kidman was coming my way. Then again, I guess I’m just a simpleton, so my opinion doesn’t count.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Warcraft (2016)

Another day, another good video-game, another “meh” video-game adaptation.

Looking to escape from his dying world, the orc shaman Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) utilizes dark magic to open a portal to the human realm of Azeroth. Supported by his fierce fighters, Gul’dan organizes the orc clans into a conquering army called that they call “the Horde”. Among them is one such orc named Durotan (Toby Kebbell), who not only has a new family on the way, but also appears to be more of a free-thinker than the rest of his fellow orcs. Sure, he’ll follow rules and orders, but he questions them, too, and doesn’t seem perfectly set out to just die for a cause he knows little to nothing about. On the opposite side of the spectrum, and looking to unite and protect Azeroth from these orc invaders is King Llane (Dominic Cooper), the mighty warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), and the powerful wizard Medivh (Ben Foster). As the two sides begin to battle one another and inch closer and closer to a finale, they also start to question whether or not all of this hate, anger and violence is the answer after all.

Orcs don't have dental plans?

Orcs don’t have dental plans?

So yeah, Warcraft is an adaptation of the video-games and really, I’m not going to get down to which ones it’s necessarily using as a platform, nor am I going to go into great deal about the video-game itself because, well, I don’t have much experience with it. Sure, I’ve played it once or twice and have, often times, enjoyed myself, but really, it just wasn’t my bag, unfortunately. I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard, but regardless, none of that really matters because it did nothing to my expectations for this movie, except knowing that it was another video-game adaptation.

However, this time, it was directed by one Duncan Jones.

Jones, in my mind at least, is still 2-0; Moon is a great movie and Source Code is just fine. However, what Jones shows as a director is that he’s willing and perfectly able to take simple genre movies and give us something completely different than what we can expect. Sci-fi is definitely the world in which he likes to lay-out and put his toes in the sand in, but he also aims for a little something higher, as he knows that sometimes, the best sci-fi isn’t the kind that alienates everyone except for the die-hards – sometimes, it’s what gets the alienated to feel apart of something that really matters.

That’s why Warcraft, while it may be definitely running and gunning for its key audience, does everything that I’m sure said audience expects. There’s a lot of magic; characters talking in strange languages we don’t understand; battle-scenes; and yes, a whole bunch of CGI. Does that make the movie bad? Not really. In fact, I’ll give Jones credit for at least doing almost all of these aspects well; the story may be incredibly lacking, but when the action is on the screen, it’s never boring and it helps that the powers these orcs and these human warriors have, is at least clearly enough spelt-out to where we understand what sorts of powers lie on both sides.

Then again, the story is pretty lame and it’s what causes the whole film to fall by the wayside.

Jones definitely seems like his main concern was getting us to believe in this universe and if that was indeed the case, then a job well done on his part. This majestical, fantastical world that Jones has made for the big screen not only works at capturing the imagination, but also makes you want to wonder about it more. While in the game, you could go almost anywhere and everywhere you wanted, here, we’re unfortunately to places that look great, but ultimately, we want to travel out into ourselves.

Poor, Paula. When will her agent just go away.

Poor, Paula. When will her agent just go away!

And honestly, that’s the biggest issue with these video-game movies, not just Warcraft. People want to play these games so much, that when they don’t feel as if they are, they aren’t enjoying anything. That’s why the action scenes, as few as they come by, are exciting and fun for the time being, because they give you that idea that you’re playing a video-game, as opposed to just watching one being played by somebody else. But whenever that action goes away, and the story kicks in, Warcraft loses any sort of sizzle, spice, or fun it had going for itself.

If anything, it can just be boring.

Cause honestly, by now, it doesn’t matter how much you dress it up, or what sort of different brand-name you give it, the battle between good and evil will always be the same. Warcraft wants to appear as if it’s some new breed of story-telling, but honestly, is just a less compelling take on something like Lord of the Rings, or better yet, the Hobbit. And if anything, those movies had something of a clear plot going on that made sense of everything – Warcraft tries to have that, but never makes sense of itself.

And really, I feel like Jones got lost here and was left without a paddle to swim with. He took on this project from the very beginning, so it’s not as if I feel sympathy for him, but honestly, it’s not hard to see someone struggling to keep their cool together, even when the rest of the film is falling around him. This isn’t to say that Warcraft is terrible either – for the key demographic, it gets just about everything right – but also, that’s about. Outsiders looking in may continue to look elsewhere because, for some reason, they missed-out on playing a video-game.

Shame.

Consensus: Despite getting everything right for the people who are going to trek out to see it, Warcraft still suffers from a boring story, a lack of strong characters, and never the sense that it wants to be more than just a “video-game movie”.

5 / 10

"FREEDOM! OR SOMETHING!"

“FREEDOM! OR SOMETHING!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)

Can Windex heal marriages?

Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) have been together for quite some time and now that their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) is old enough to start thinking about what she wants to do with the rest of her life, they can’t help but feel a tad bit hopeless. Both have their own lives going on separately, and even if they do have a date every so often, it seems as if the spark is lost. But to add some insult to injury, now Toula has to worry about what her parents are doing, now that everyone’s found out that their marriage-license was never signed, making the marriage “invalid”. Toula’s parents feel differently about the situation; while her father (Michael Constantine) wants to just get it over with already so that everything can be official, Toula’s mom (Lainie Kazan) instead wants there to be some time and dedication laid out for it so it doesn’t just feel all rushed and the romance is left out of the proceedings. It’s going to take a lot for Toula to get her whole family in check, which is why she decides that it’s time for another big, fat Greek wedding, however this time, one that will be a tad different than the one before.

No stronger bond than a mother and her mamma's boy.

No stronger bond than a mother and her mamma’s boy.

There’s no denying that Nia Vardalos loves everything about her Big Fat Greek Wedding stories and characters. She loves the idea of being Greek, the traditions that family’s try to pass down from each generation to the next, and she also loves, in a way, how crazy everyone and everything can get within these families, which is why most of My Big Fat Greek Wedding one and two is, essentially, the same and chock full of that. Greek family members are always frowning on the new generation, women are told to get married before their eggs dry up (even if they’re only 18 or so), outsiders are looked down upon because of their non-Greek heritage, and yes, everyone else around them just doesn’t get it.

After all, they’re not Greek, so why should they?

And this is all to ask the simple question: Does My Big Fat Greek Wedding constitue a sequel? Well, no, not really. In fact, it’s pretty damn clear that the movie is made-up so that Vardalos herslef can get the whole gang back together, have some laughs, get a tad bit nostalgia and, yes, get some money in the meantime. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a heart or soul to be located here, but it’s hard not to feel a tad bit manipulated when you know that this is a sequel that the world could have waited for longer, or to have never gotten.

While the central plotline is the marriage between Toula’s parents, there’s a whole lot going on around them all that it’s obvious the movie’s just using the “wedding” as a crutch; essentially, if it’s in the title, you kind of have to deliver on the promise. And that’s fine, but nothing going on is ever all that interesting; Toula and Ian’s marriage gets some bits of intrigue when they fight and rant about the cost of marriage and how they’re growing up, but honestly, that’s about. There’s a random subplot involving Joey Fatone’s character, who had maybe ten minutes of screen-time in the first; there’s Paris’ own personal and professional life; and there’s also one involving Toula’s dad finding out if he’s actually related to Alexander the Great or not.

Many years later and guess what? They still want to topple all over one another!

Many years later and guess what? They still want to topple all over one another!

Sure, none of this should really take up a whole 90-minute flick, but for some reason, it actually does and they’re straining. You can tell that Vardalos wants these characters around and to matter, so in order to do that, she creates some more stories for them to grow and work with. It’s not as effective as it was in the first movie, because, well, everything was fine, fresh and brand-spankin’ new – now, these characters don’t have much of a shock or surprise value.

I can imagine that lovers of the first (of which there are many) will see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, knowing full well that they’re going to be happy with it and that’s fine. Vardalos isn’t trying to recruit anyone who may not already be interested – insted, she’s just doing a little something for herself and all of the damn fans who wouldn’t stop bothering her about another movie. It’s smart, too, because the movie goes down a lot smoother than you’d expect.

The acting is fine and can be, at a few times, quite sweet, but really, nobody here ever gets to shine through of being cariacature. And yes, that’s fine; the way Vardalos has written each and everyone of them makes it appear as if they’re sitcom players, but deep down inside, they have some feelings. Sometimes, it’s too hard to look past the corniness, but eventually, because everyone here is charming and all that, it’s hard to fully matter.

In fact, just shut up and enjoy the wedding.

Consensus: Unnecessary, yes, but also still pleasant enough, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 brings back together all of the beloved characters and gag from the first movie, to a lesser extent.

5.5 / 10

The fam's back! Let the binge-drinking begin!

The fam’s back! Let the binge-drinking begin!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Death Sentence (2007)

Nazis never back down from a fight. Except when they’re swarmed by the Allied forces and have no way out.

On the way from a hockey game with his son, Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) decides to stop for gas, because, well, the tank is low and he needs to. However, the station that he’s at gets robbed by a gang of thugs and in the process, Nick’s son gets caught in the crossfire. Obviously, this leaves Nick, as well as the rest of his family as devastated as can be. And while Nick may be just another simpleton, after something as tragic as this, he can’t help but think what’s next for him. Should he just sit around, mope and wallow in his pain and misery? Or, should he go out there and take down said thugs who are causing said pain and misery? Well, Nick being the inspired fella that he is, chooses the later option and is now tracking down and taking out these thugs, one by one. But by doing so, Nick also brings more terror and violence to his family, with the thugs now extracting their own kind of revenge.

Bacon does not like what he sees. And that means a whole lot.

Before facing-off against heartless thugs.

A movie like Death Sentence is a hard one to recommend, because you know full well what it is, but at the same time, you still enjoyed some piece of it. At its heart, Death Sentence is nothing more than a dirty, disgusting and downright mean-spirited revenge tale, made out to be Y2K’s answer to Death Wish, where the good guys go around extracting revenge, baddies get killed and justice is kind of served, without their being any grey area in between. And because of that, the movie is an ugly piece; one that doesn’t try to make any smart messages about life, humanity, justice, death, or violence, but instead, just wants to see people kill one another in bloody, incredibly gory ways.

Can there be some fun in that?

Sure, there can be! Director James Wan, who has now become something of a godsend for horror flicks, actually does a solid job as director here, because he lets a lot of the action speak for itself. He doesn’t get in the way by jilting around the camera, nor does he try to make it “about anything”; with this kind of material, you’d almost wish that Wan at least attempted to make this about something more than just plain and simple blood-stained revenge, but oh well. The fact remains that, when the action is on-screen, it’s quite riveting and exciting to watch.

Take, for instance, a near-20-minute sequence in which Bacon’s character has a chase sequence with the villains of the story. What starts off of as a conventional run through the streets, eventually turns into something intense, unpredictable, and most importantly, exciting. Wan uses a few camera-tricks here and there to make it seem like nothing you’ve ever seen before and well, it works. Because the rest of the movie doesn’t try to get in the way, these small, brief instances of style from Wan are fine enough because they show that he does care to some degree about the material.

However, when the action is gone, dead and off the screen, Wan loses Death Sentence.

There’s no doubting the fact that Death Sentence is just a trashy, gory and downright grueling B-movie, however, at the same time, there’s no denying the fact that it also takes itself very seriously and at least attempts to try and be more meaningful than it is. Wan loves the action and violence and wants to solely focus on that, which is fine, but because there’s an actual story here, it all feels a slight bit uneven. Whereas the story wants to have its say about what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s sort of “okay” with the world today, Wan just wants to see people get killed for the sake of being killed because, well, their bad people and they probably deserve it anyway. Once again, I’m not trashing on Wan for giving bad people some disturbing deaths, to try and have us feel bad, or at the very least, upset that we’re entertained by watching this, is silly.

During meeting said heartless thugs.

During meeting said heartless thugs.

Wan knows that he wants us to all stand-up, cheer and root for Bacon as he takes out all of his revenge on these thugs, so why not enjoy it while we can? It may be vile and upsetting, but isn’t that sort of the point? Violence isn’t supposed to be this pretty, beautiful thing that’s just around in ordinary life – it’s supposed to be ugly, sad, and scary, regardless of who is involved with the violence. Wan gets the ugliness of the violence right, but when he tries to put the lens on everything else, it seems like he’s confused to which movie he’s making, or just what he’s trying to say.

Then again, he’s got Kevin Bacon to rely on, so he’s not all that left alone.

And as Nick Hume, Bacon is as good as he can be, given the script and material he has to work with. Nick doesn’t have much development beyond “sad, but vengeful daddy-figure”, but Bacon gives it all he’s got, whenever he’s not kicking people’s asses because he’s ticked-off and not going to take it anymore. Garrett Hedlund shows up as one of thug’s older brothers, who basically becomes the arch-rival of Bacon’s and, well, he tries. What’s interesting about Hedlund and his career is that even though he’s been around forever, it’s only just now that it seems like he’s hit his stride and gotten to really show some charm in these movies.

Back in 2007, it appears like Hedlund was confused with every role he took; some relied on him to just be annoying and whiny, whereas others relied on him to be somewhat sinister. It’s an odd mix-and-match that he had to play around with, which is why his performance here can get to be pretty laughable at times. However, it seems as if everything has been looking up for Hedlund and I hope that stays.

For his sake, at least.

Consensus: Wan definitely knows his way around an action scene or two, but Death Sentence also tries to be so much more than just another bloody, gritty revenge tale, which is its biggest problem.

5 / 10

After meeting said heartless thugs.

After meeting said heartless thugs. What a transformation!

Photos Courtesy of: Head in a Vice

Risen (2016)

CSI: Jerusalem.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), is a Roman Tribune who is also incredibly trusted by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth). In fact, so much so that Clavius is tasked with doing almost every dirty job that Pontius has available to him and doesn’t feel like getting off of his rear-end to do. One task Clavius has just been recently assigned is to find the remains of a recently persecuted man who, for one reason or another, was put into a tomb, and the next day or so, wasn’t in there anymore. There’s no doubting he was dead; he was crucified, stabbed, and tortured to death, obviously. However, there’s no remains and that leads Clavius to questioning anyone and everyone he can find. Most are willing to give him useful information for a price, whereas others don’t really know anything or are just too scared. But the people that Clavius is able to get some bit of info out of, are the men who declare themselves “Disciples” and claim to have the answer to all of life’s questions, not just Clavius’. This leads Clavius down a road of not figuring out what he fully believes in, or what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

"Why were you a prick to my big bro on the set of HP?"

“Why were you a prick to my big bro on the set of HP?”

Oh yeah, and the guy that Clavius has to go looking for is, most obviously, Jesus Christ himself, as played by Cliff Curtis.

Faith-based movies, honestly, aren’t all that good. There’s the obvious, overly preachy ones like Heaven is for Real, or God’s Not Dead (1 & 2), there’s the low-budget, made-for-TV-yet-somehow-got-a-wide-release ones like Moms’ Night Out and Fireproof, and then, of course, there’s the big-budget, nearly star-studded extravaganzas like Exodus: Gods and King, or Passion of the Christ. Some of them, yes, are better than others, but for the most part, they’re all heavy-handed by trying to get a message across in not-so subtle ways, or just way too dull for their own good that, even if they didn’t try and force a message down our throat, it doesn’t matter because the movies themselves are so horrid, that it’s kind of easy to fault them for doing nothing more than giving us a sermon. It doesn’t matter what religion you are apart of, or what your beliefs are, but these movies, I’m sorry, are just not very good.

And that’s why a movie like Risen, as silly as it can be and get, still does a lot better than most of those movies combined.

Which is definitely incredibly surprising because, from a first glance, it looks awful. If anything, it seems like the kind of low-budget, faith-based movie that you’d, yes, see on TV elsewhere, especially when the biggest name of the cast is Ralph Fiennes’ brother. And then, yes, there’s director and co-writer Kevin Reynolds, who hasn’t made a very good movie in quite some time (or ever, depending on who you talk to), so you already get the idea that something is awfully awry here. But that’s the interesting aspect surrounding Risen – it’s not awful.

Sure, it’s definitely stupid and, more often than not, makes a few bad decisions in favor of making a smart one, but it tells an interesting story that, quite frankly, I’ve never heard or seen before, and even better, doesn’t jam the whole idea of God, Jesus, or Christianity down your throat, either. Reynolds takes what is essentially a detective story, sets it in A.D., gives us the eyes and ears of a non-believer, and turns it into something enjoyable that you can take anyone to.

Okay, maybe not everyone, but a good portion of the people you may know.

"Rawr! We've got to do something dramatic!"

“Rawr! We’ve got to do something dramatic!”

Reynolds understands that everyone’s seen something like Risen before and honestly, he doesn’t try to hide that fact, either; we all know the story by now, so treat us like adults, please. He does and that’s why the story continues on in a fashion that may not always work, but seems to actually surprise us along the way, even if, yeah, we know how it all ends. In fact, there’s a middle portion of Risen that drags so unbelievably, that it really took me out of the movie. Due to the plot already being concerned with Clavius finding Christ’s remains (which we all know he won’t actually do), the movie shoots itself in the foot by not figuring out what to do next, after all is revealed to him?

Break down and tell a sermon? Add a character plot-twist? Throw in a murder for good measure? I don’t know where Reynolds saw the story going after the eventual reveal, but it really slows the movie down to a complete halt and makes it feel like the movie’s just treading water, as if it figures out where to go next and why. I’m willing to believe and accept the fact that Reynolds himself had a smart idea mapped-out for maybe two-thirds of the movie and just winged the rest, but it doesn’t sit well with me because, well, it seems lazy and it could have been so much more.

But at its heart, Risen is a smarter faith-based movie because it isn’t trying to convert anyone, nor is it trying to offend its core audience, either. Whenever Jesus does come in to play here, it’s only to tell the people around him to, for lack of better words, “stop being greedy a**holes”. Not at all surprising that Jesus would say this, but at the same time, that’s fine – the movie isn’t trying to make it some ground-breaking statement, nor is it trying to tell us that’s what Christianity is all about. Reynolds doesn’t want to preach and for that, I’m very appreciative.

I just wish the rest of the movie showed some improvement, however.

Consensus: Risen benefits from being better than most of the faith-based pieces of junk that come out every so often, however, also lacks any plot to really get drawn or connected to.

5.5 / 10

"What a miracle this is, guys. Right? It's really happening, you know? Not made up by anyone, correct?"

“What a miracle this is, guys. Right? It’s really happening, you know? Not made up by anyone, correct?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz, Catholic Mom

Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Seeing is believing and so is hearing, too. I guess.

Speech teacher James Leeds (William Hurt) runs his class the way he wants to and the kids love him for that. However, his world one day is all mixed up when he meets a deaf custodian, Sarah Norman (Marlee Matlin), and takes his world by storm, allowing for him to not just find love unlike ever before, but hope and happiness, too. As well, of course, anger, too.

It’s hard to do a movie about people with disabilities, as you can sometimes tell when a writer/director is sneering at those less fortunate then them. At the same time, however, it’s also hard to do them justice without ever making people with disabilities seem as if they are ungodly-like saints that Christ himself would have christened, had he the chance to do so. After all, they’re just like you or I, normal people, trying to get by and live in a world that, unfortunately, they need some assistance with.

Swim away, Marlee! Swim far, far away!

Swim away, Marlee! Swim far, far away!

That’s why it’s nice to director Randa Haines work well with the material and show people with disabilities, with a little bit of both. They’re not made out to be walking, talking pity parties, nor are they made out to be later-day saints – they’re just people.

 

But the movie is less focused, it seems, on actually trying harder and harder to delve into the deaf community and those affected by it, and just tell another romantic story, but this time, with more deaf people and sign language. Sure, it’s an interesting avenue that you can do a lot with, if you choose to do so, but for some odd reason, Haines feels perfectly content with just letting the romance play-out throughout the whole flick and leaving it at that. Hardly any shocks, surprises, or ground-breaking moments to be found here – nope, Children of a Lesser God is just your typical piece of romance, but engineered in a way to make you think it’s more than just that.

If anything, it’s a relationship with a “meaning”, or better yet, a “purpose”.

But as it’s easy to predict, the relationship that these two protagonist have with one another starts to fall out of control and they both start to realize that their needs and wants may never be satisfied with one another, regardless of how much time and effort they put into it. That would have been a fine attitude to take about a relationship between a guy who can speak and a girl who can’t, but the film treats it in such a melodramatic and sappy way that it was eye-rolling at points. There is of course the one infamous scene where they’re fighting one second, and the next, they’re on the floor, ripping each other’s clothes off, ready to make a baby or something, that comes out of nowhere, but with good reason. Maybe the movie’s trying to say that “love can, often times, be so destructive, that you will go from doing one bad thing, to doing something great the next?”

That, or the movie’s just trying to say, “Hey, yeah. These two hot, attractive people want to bone, so why not let them do it, right?”

Is nobody else unsettled?

Is nobody else unsettled?

Yeah, I think that’s what it is.

Either way, William Hurt is good here, and he constantly had me wondering about him and his screen-appeal. In the 80’s, he was a big draw for some reason, as he wasn’t particularly good-looking, nor was he all that of a likable screen-presence; granted, that’s one of the things that drew me to him, but it’s interesting to see the trajectory of his career from where everyone was loving him, even if he wasn’t always playing the nice guy. Cause yeah, the guy’s a bit of a creep, he’s rough on the edges, and he seems to be a very honest person with all of the roles that he takes, and that’s why it seemed a bit strange for him to be in the lead role as James Leeds, a guy who appears to be the polar-opposite of that. That’s not to say that Hurt doesn’t do a good job, because he does a very good one of handling his own and getting down all of the right sign-language, but there was something about this character that didn’t really interest me, or even feel right to me. Instead, I sort of just wanted him to leave this poor girl alone and move on with his life since she seemed so settled and happy way, way before he came into it.

Speaking of that poor girl, if there is any reason why I’m giving this film a recommendation at all, it’s only because of Marlee Matlin and how amazing she is in this lead role as Sarah Norman. Yes, Matlin is deaf, but the girl does a better job in this lead role, than I could have ever imagined coming from any Hollywood prissy. Matlin does a nice job conveying all the different types of emotions that go through a deaf person’s mind whenever they want to be treated as an equal and it’s even better to watch as her character realizes a lot of things about life that she wouldn’t have normally noticed, if it hadn’t been for Leeds. This makes her a hell of a lot more interesting character than him and it’s just amazing to watch Matlin work the sign language perfectly, make some compelling facial expressions that never come off as campy or cartoonish, but instead, show us just how one person can be loved by another, even if those words are never uttered. We get a sense of who she is, even despite the fact that she can’t speak well, or be heard from everyone around her and it’s why she’s the heart and soul of the story.

If only someone would have told the creators that.

Consensus: Matlin is great in the lead role, but unfortunately, she’s let-down by a, at times, conventional and odd romance within Children of a Lesser God – a movie that may or may not have something interesting to say.

5 / 10

Yes, Marlee. You are number one, girl.

Yes, Marlee. You are number one, girl.

Photos Courtesy of: Acesspedia

Posse (1993)

It’s like Unforgiven, except with a beat.

The film tells the story of a posse of black soldiers who are living and dying by their own ways and codes, team up with an ostracized white soldier (Stephen Baldwin), after they are all betrayed by a corrupt colonel (Billy Zane). Together, they decided to team-up, take him down and show him that he messed with the wrong cowboys.

After kicking complete ass with his gangster flick debut, New Jack City, writer/director/star Mario Van Peebles had a lot of pressure on his back to make something worth being mentioned in the same boat as that one. So yeah, it seems pretty obvious that the guy would take on a passion project of his and give us what is essentially the untold story of African American cowboys.

"Wait. I thought I asked for Alec?"

“Wait. I thought I asked for Alec?”

Right? Well, maybe his passion got a tad too ahead of him.

Van Peebles starts this movie off as if this was going to be a history lesson on how African-Americans had a place as cowboys in the Wild West, but just never really got the credit they deserved. This beginning threw me off for a loop and I honestly thought that I was going to be sleeping throughout the whole thing, but what surprised me the most was how much fun it seemed to have with itself once it got past this. There’s all of the typical trademarks you need with a Western, like the guns, the shooting, the desserts, the horses, the sexy ladies, the gambling, the sweat, the sheriffs, the saloons, and of course, the awesome show-downs. That’s all here and it seems as if Van Peebles is having a lot of fun with it by the way he makes everything so damn hectic all of the time; while “hectic” is usually not a positive word for most movies, but here, it worked and kept me entertained for the most part.

However, anybody wanting exactly what I was afraid to get, will be utterly disappointed as it’s just silly, stupid, and terribly-written. Every single line in this film is just a cliche or line taken from another, or far better Western that not many people have heard of, but know that they heard the line used before. Normally, bad dialogue doesn’t matter, as long as the creator behind the dialogue seems as if they’re having a ball with it – Van Peebles doesn’t give off that vibe, though. In fact, he seems so damn serious about it all, that anytime a character opens their mouth, you almost have to hold back the laughter.

Which is a shame, too, because Van Peebles clearly has a lot to discuss and highlight here.

No woman can resist that Mario charm.

No woman can resist that Mario charm.

There’s a lot of talk about slavery, racism, untold stories of the West, and points about what the black man always had to go through, but none of it ever comes through fully. All of the walking and talking could have been placed in any other flick other than this, and totally worked, but since this is something of a silly Western, it doesn’t fit altogether. In a way, it feels uneven and it can get pretty annoying because once you think the film is about to pick-up it’s feet and start kicking some Western booty, it stops and starts to tell it’s story in some lame flashbacks that all make sense, but we still didn’t need to see.

As for Van Peebles and his acting, he’s pretty good and has a nice presence about him that makes you understand why so many people fear him in the first place, but he does show-off his ego a little bit too much. What I mean by that is that there a couple of scenes where it’s just him, with his shirt off, and standing there looking all ripped-up and tough, while getting a hot girl. It’s obvious that this is his movie and he’s able to do what he wants to do but this just came-off as him trying to hog the spotlight a bit too much, in all of the wrong ways. Then, of course there is everybody’s favorite eye-patch-wearing villain, Billy Zane, who is corny, lame, and nonthreatening, but also very fun to watch because come on, it’s Billy Zane dammit!

Everybody else in this strange cast does a fine job with what they’re given, but it’s what Van Peebles does with them that really works. While there’s clearly a silly aspect surrounding some of the names here (Big Daddy Kane, Tiny Lister, and Tone Loc, for instance), Van Peebles still seems happy to have them all around. Maybe the lame dialogue was to make-up for the fact that some of them were really well-trained thespians in the first place, but still, the bad dialogue aside, Van Peebles knows his cast’s strengths and their weaknesses, which helps make the final showdown, where some important people do get mowed-down and taken out, a tad more exciting and watchable.

If only the rest of the movie had been like that, then we would really have something to talk about.

Consensus: Stupid, frenetic, crazy, overstuffed, and disjointed, Posse is not the best film to watch if you want a smart piece of commentary about African Americans and their roles in the West, but is still a fun flick that will keep your interest for the time it’s on-screen.

5 / 10

True.

True.

Photos Courtesy of: Blaxploitation Pride

Apt Pupil (1998)

Pupil1The old German dude who lives alone next door? Yeah. Probably a Nazi.

16-year-old high school senior Todd (Brad Renfro) has a lot going on in his life. His parents bother him a whole lot, what with their rich ways, his friends all want him to go out, party, drink, and do sexual things, and his grades have to be constantly on the up-and-up, or else he’ll lose his scholarships. But for some odd reason, Todd has an obsession with Nazis, which is why when he finds out that a former Nazi death-camp officer lives around him, he can’t help but talk to the guy. While the former officer, Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), initially doesn’t want to be bothered with this boy’s childish claims, eventually, he gets blackmailed into doing everything that Todd asks. At first, Todd just wants to hear disturbing, overly graphic stories about the concentration camps, but after awhile, it starts to turn more severe. Todd wants him to start doing more and more evil things, which eventually leads Dussander to teaching little Todd a few things about his own heart and soul that may be a little darker than the kid is able to admit to and accept.

Just your friendly neighborhood Nazi!

Just your friendly neighborhood Nazi!

Honestly, a part of me is still shocked that this movie ever got made, or for that matter, got the budget that it did. Although I’m just speculating, I imagine that studios felt as if Bryan Singer have given them a big enough hit with the Usual Suspects, that, regardless of the controversial subject material, they were willing to shell out some money for Singer to work and play around with. Sure, this movie could definitely be made today, but given the budget, the stars in it and the wide release, it’s a surprise that we got to see Apt Pupil in 1998, if at all before Y2K.

That said, being risky and downright ballsy doesn’t always make your movie “good”.

What Singer does and does well, is that he doesn’t shy away from the bleakness of this material. If having a 16-year-old blackmail an aging, nearly 80-year-old former Nazi officer, wasn’t off-putting enough, the movie then delves into each one of their psyche’s and own issues with life, love and morality, without pulling back. Meaning, yes, cats are thrown in ovens, injured birds are killed, school advisers are threatened, and homeless people are murdered.

So yeah, it gets pretty dark, pretty quick and I’ve got to give Singer a lot of respect for not shying away. He could have easily backed down and away from the dark and heavy subject material when producers started breathing down his neck, but nope, Singer pulls through. He allows for these characters to show their true, darker sides, without ever making either one out to be considered “heroes”, or “sympathetic”.

And yes, with that said, the cast is pretty solid, too.

Even though we’re going on eight years since we lost him, it’s still tragic that Brad Renfro isn’t around anymore. As the young and brash Todd, Renfro plays both sides of this character very well; while he’s still got plenty of power and control over this older man, he’s still a naive, sometimes idiotic kid who doesn’t always control his emotions, nor know how to think things through perfectly. Despite the premise seeming a bit silly, Renfro’s portrayal of Todd makes you believe that a kid like this would actually go through all of the appropriate steps to ensure that he’s got a strong hold over this guy.

But what’s interesting about Todd the most, is that when the tides change for the characters, Todd himself continues to become more and more of a child. This is when Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Kurt Dussander really comes into play and works so perfectly – not just for this character, but for this movie. While he’s most definitely an evil and despicable human being, for some reason, it’s kind of hard not to sympathize with the guy. Sure, he used to kill thousands and thousands of Jews, ran away and hid from war crimes he would have definitely been convicted of, but the fact that he’s being terrorized by this darn kid, all of these years later, against his will and without a leg to stand on, is kind of sad. McKellen is great at playing these kind of snarly, slightly mean tragic figures and here, he really gets a chance to shine and show people why he was the perfect choice to play Magneto.

That's the look of some kid who needed military school at a very early age.

The look of a kid who needed military school at a very early age.

Not that we needed much convincing in the first place.

But regardless, one of the biggest problems with Apt Pupil is that it doesn’t really do anything with these dark characters or themes. What Singer does do is show us just how far and willing these two characters are able to go to the deepest, darkest pits of hell, just to keep themselves safe, but that doesn’t really translate to being suspenseful, or tense. After awhile, it just seems like there’s a bunch of slightly detestable characters, doing things to save their asses, but there’s not much to them other than that.

If Singer wanted to make this a brooding and small character study, it probably would have worked; he wouldn’t have had to make this like a thriller, where there’s supposed to be a conflict and story to hold everything together. But considering that the movie is very much a thriller, it doesn’t quite work. The characters don’t have many other lights to them than just what’s presented on the surface and there’s nothing really compelling to just sitting by and watching them poke around and prod with other people, as well as themselves.

Still, it doesn’t matter. Singer got the X-Men job and the world would never be the same again. So yeah, there’s at least some good to come out of this.

Consensus: Singer does the dark characters right in Apt Pupil, however, the plot doesn’t always come together to make a fully compelling flick.

5.5 / 10

"Respect yo Nazi elders, boy!"

“Respect yo Nazi elders, boy!”

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Boozer, Greg King’s Film Reviews, Afixionado

 

Pretty Woman (1990)

Hookers tend to have hearts of gold. Until they steal all your money.

While on a business trip, Edward (Richard Gere), for some reason or another, decides that he doesn’t want to spend the night alone. Instead, he wants to buy himself a hooker from off-the-street, which is, yes, dirty and not at all safe, but wouldn’t you know it? Edward gets the luck of the draw! Not only is his hooker named Vivian (Julia Roberts), but she’s as pretty as they come, even if all she does do is have sex with a bunch of middle-aged men for money. However, Edward doesn’t see the need in having sex with Vivian, because he’s all too busy being her friend, so yeah, he decides to pay for her longer, but in a consensual way. And eventually, the two start to get more and more along and understand where the others come from. But for Edward, he doesn’t fully know if he wants Vivian in his life, or he just wants someone he can connect with and go home to at night. Whereas with Vivian, she’s still not sure if she wants to continue being a hooker for the rest of her days, or settle down, start a family, and live what is, basically, the American Dream.

Whatta sugar daddy.

Whatta sugar daddy.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

You can call Pretty Woman “iconic”, or, dare I even bother to use the term, “significant”, because of two notable features; one, it featured the occupation of a hooker as not the worst thing known to man, and showed the whole world the beautiful, bright and charming talent that was Julia Roberts. Take those two aspects from the movie, and guess what? You’ve not only got a pretty dull movie, but a pretty unmemorable rom-com, that has little, to no redeeming qualities.

But yes, Julia Roberts is quite great here, so it’s obvious that I basically have to start there. Sure, you can say that Steel Magnolias and Mystic Pizza were movies that brought Julia Roberts to plenty of eyes, but really, Pretty Woman is what brought her to the mainstream, and with good reason. Every second the camera spends with her, it can’t help but just love every second of her; her teeth-filled smile, her lovely, youthful body, her approachable, but seemingly beautiful face, and yes, even her winning charisma, are all on full-display here and it helps make this character more than just your typical “hooker with a heart of gold”. Okay, maybe not, because yes, this movie practically started that whole convention, but still, Roberts is pretty great here.

Some may still get up in arms over the fact that she got nominated for an Oscar, which, to some extent, is understandable, but at the same time, not, because, well, she makes this movie. She’s not just a bundle of charm, but she’s also smart in making this character the slightest bit likable or believable. Even if the character of Vivian is so clearly made-up and phony Hollywood drivel, Roberts still makes you want to believe that someone like her exists – someone who is just waiting on the dirty, muggy streets of some overpopulated city, doing all sorts of sexual acts for a buck and a burger, while still looking for that special someone who will, one day, sweep her off of her feet, love her for who she is, and give her everything and anything that she’s wanted.

It’s all a bunch of baloney, but hey, Roberts is good enough here that she makes us want to believe in some of it.

Wowza Jules!

Wowza Jules!

As for the rest of the movie, yeah, it’s all pretty lame. Most may know this already, but in case you don’t: I’m not a big fan of Richard Gere. For the most part, his performances always tend to be a bit lazy and dull when he isn’t given the right material to work with and here, nothing really changes. Granted, his character is a bit of an unlikable dope who, yes, means well, but is also so sad and pathetic that you almost wish that Vivian would find another client, who paid her more, and run away with him. Sure, Gere brings the sex-appeal for the ladies that I presume Roberts brought for the men, but there has to be a little bit more than just good-looks and a hot body, right?

Either way, Garry Marshall doesn’t seem to interested in really giving these characters anything more of a personality that goes beyond “nice person”, or “evil person”. The story wants to be a very deep and serious dramedy about the costs of life and love, but at the same time, just really feels like it’s not going anywhere. Eventually, the movie starts to make stuff up as it goes along, like a random conflict with Jason Alexander’s character, and an overworking of Gere’s character’s job. Honestly, I didn’t care for the character in the first place, so why the hell should I give a flyin’ hoot about his big-wig, high-class, corporate job? Is it because he’s ordering a hooker? Is it because he’s Richard Gere? Or, is it because Marshall knew that working with such a limited story didn’t really create much of any conflict, tension, or interest to be found at all?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that Julia Roberts may go down as, singlehandedly, the most attractive prostitute to ever grace screens.

Sorry, Divine Brown.

Consensus: Julia Roberts star-making performance is what helps allow for Pretty Woman to get through some real cracks in its story, but it’s almost not enough.

5 / 10

Come on, Richie! You're smarter than that!

Come on, Richie! You’re smarter than that!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Challenges, Fanpop

Confirmation (2016)

Note to self: Keep Coca-Cola cans away from possible sex-deviants.

In 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) for the Supreme Court of the United States to replace Thurgood Marshall, who was getting ready for retirement. This decision was ultimately met with loads and loads of controversy, with some seeing it as a racial issue, with others just seeing Thomas as not the right guy for the job. One person who ultimately didn’t give it another thought, until she was brought back into it all, was Anita Hill (Kerry Washington). Hill worked as a secretary for Thomas some few years back and while she had certain issues with him, she never bothered telling the press or anything. What she wanted to do was keep it to herself, keep her job, and just live a simple, quiet life, teaching the law to college kids. However, once the word gets out that Hill will be making a statement against Thomas for sexual harassment, the press lights up, accusing her, as well as him for all sorts of things. There’s a whole bunch of players at work with the case, but the one most importantly is Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear) who, at the time, was working as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and also struggles with calling every decision right down the middle, and also remembering not to tarnish the good name of the United States of America.

It's all about the hair-pieces.

It’s all about the hair-pieces.

There’s no denying the importance of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. While Hill herself lost the hearings and was basically held out to dry by all of her fellow colleagues and confidantes, there’s no denying that, after the fact, it spearheaded a movement in which more women, and especially those of color, testifying to sexual harassment issues and were granted positions of power that they deserved. And in today’s day and age, nearly 25 years later, the case is still relevant to a lot of the issues what women most go through, not just in the workforce, but in general.

But for some reason, Confirmation is hardly important. If anything, it’s just an overdone, overcooked, well-acted, and dramatic re-telling of the events that transpired within and around the Anita Hill hearings – the kind that HBO are most known for creating. While I’m all for Anita Hill getting the attention she deserves, what’s interesting is that Confirmation doesn’t just focus the story on her, but instead, decide to look elsewhere.

Perhaps most surprisingly is that it actually asks us to somewhat sympathize with someone like Clarence Thomas.

And in Confirmation, it’s clear that Thomas may have been possibly attacked out of nowhere and wrongly. After all, it’s not Anita Hill herself who comes forth with the story of her and Thomas, but instead, it’s government agencies wanting dig up some dirt on Thomas himself and figure out if they can bury him as soon as possible, or keep him around and gain respect. In a way, you could make the argument that Thomas was randomly attacked, but at the same time, there’s no denying that Thomas did something wrong, in that he sexually harassed an employee of his.

I don’t care which way you paint it, but there’s no way I’m going to sympathize with someone like that.

But Thomas isn’t the only one who gets an unfavorable light shined on him. Another famous political figure here is Joe Biden, as played by Greg Kinnear, and while it initially seems like the movie is going to take a surprisingly hard-headed approach to him, the movie decides to back out of that original plan. Instead of showing Biden to bit of a coward during the hearings (which, if you watch the footage, he was), the movie tries to show him as just a puppet, who’s strings were pulled and prodded by some very powerful puppeteers. Honestly, this may be at least some bit of the truth, but there’s no denying the fact that Biden, at this point in time, acted in an unprofessional and despicable manner, and to not put a greater focus on that fact, almost seems like the creators making an apology for him, if only because they support him now.

The look of a guilty, if very horny man.

The look of a guilty, if very horny man.

All political issues aside, it doesn’t matter – Biden, as well as everyone else surrounding him, acted in a wrongful manner. And yes, this is exactly what Confirmation shows, in an over-sensationalized way and manner – aka, the kind that HBO has always been known for doing and can, on occasion, really work well with. The issue here is that a lot of what would be interesting and thought-provoking about this case, these people and what transpired, instead just seems like a point-by-point coverage. With something like the People vs. O.J. Simpson, we’re not just getting a retelling of the case and all of the people involved with it, but were also getting a closer, more detailed look inside the lives and instances that actually occurred.

Here, with Confirmation, it just seems like something you’d be able to hear through a power point presentation.

Sure, having a stacked and well-acted cast like this is definitely appealing and allows for some of these people to appear more than just famous figures, but does it really matter when all you’re doing is just using them as points? Everybody here does their thing, but nobody’s ever really allowed to rise beyond the material, especially considering that a lot of it is just covering certain bases that many people already know about.

If anything, just watch the documentary Anita. It paints a better portrait of the woman, the case and everybody else involved with this travesty.

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, Confirmation can’t help but feel like a dramatic retelling of a story most of us know by now, but with barely any new, or interesting avenues taken.

5.5 / 10

Why nobody else has tried to bring that dress back into the fashion world is beyond me.

Why nobody else has tried to bring that quaint, little dress back into the fashion world is beyond me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Criminal (2016)

Some people’s brains are better left untouched.

Super, duper and incredibly well-trained CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) tragically dies while traveling to a secret location to meet a hacker who can launch missiles at will. Although all hope is, for a little while, lost, eventually, officials come up with an idea that will transfer Pope’s brain-particles and memory to somebody else’s, so that they’re able to figure out just where this evil and sneaky terrorist may be hiding out at. While they’re a bit stumped for solutions, the guinea pig for the procedure ends up being Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner), a violent and dangerous death-row inmate, who doesn’t know how to act in actual, civilized society, nor does he have any interest in doing so. Essentially, he’s the perfect person for a mission like this, because nobody cares if he lives or dies, not even his own self. And now that Jerico has Pope’s memory and knowledge, he decides to track down the terrorist, but at the same time, can’t keep himself away from visiting and being apart of Pope’s own family, who sadly, don’t know what to do or think after his death, nor do they know who to trust.

Take him in, fellas! He's made too many mediocre movies by now!

Take him in, fellas! He’s made too many mediocre movies by now!

If you take the sci-fi elements of a very “meh” movie from Ryan Reynolds like Self/Less, take the action-thriller elements of a very “meh” movie from Kevin Costner like 3 Days to Kill, then you’ve basically got a Criminal – an overall, very “meh” movie. For some reason, you’d think that with a premise that’s at least somewhat interesting, a solid, if surprisingly well-done cast, and Costner leading the charge, that a movie like Criminal would actually be tons and tons of fun. However, that’s not really what happens.

Instead, a good portion of the movie is spent as we watch, wait and see what happens with this whole sci-fi gimmick the movie seems to jam down our throats. While we get this idea that, apparently, through the sheer magic of science and all that junk, Costner’s new brain will also have a lot of memories and knowledge that Reynolds’ brain has, and therefore, he’ll be going through some sort of crazy transformation. Not just as a killer, either, but as a human being, too. This already hints at the idea that the movie may want to be a whole lot more serious and dramatic than it ought to be, which is why the moments where we actually to see the humanity in this character, or better yet, this silly story, don’t really work or matter in the grand scheme.

Basically, everyone showing up to Criminal wants to see it for guns, explosions, sci-fi stuff and Kevin Costner cursing and beating people up.

There is that in Criminal, however, it’s not always enough to keep interesting. Too often does it feel like the movie is making its plot up as it goes along, where we don’t really get what’s going on with the whole brain-stuff, nor do we ever get an understanding of who Costner’s character is supposed to be after, what that baddie does, and what he’s promising to do that’s so bad. Eventually, it all comes down to a hard drive, which is the classic, post-Y2k action movie trope that never gets old, but also makes that subplot seem a lot less important in the long run. All anybody really cares for is the action and Costner himself, and that’s about it.

And yes, there is action and it’s sometimes good, if a bit frantic. But really, what it’s here for is to just push along a story that doesn’t know where it wants to go, or what it wants to do – it’s just happy that it got a bunch of incredibly talented, famous people to be apart of it, so why waste their time, right? After all, they did come here for a paycheck and to do a little acting, so why not just give them crap material and leave it at that?

"Grrrrrrr."

“Grrrrrrr.”

Well, there’s no problem with that. Except that yes, it is, because you have a really great cast in here with Criminal and they’re all mostly wasted.

Costner is the only one who gets off just fine here and actually makes the movie somewhat watchable. It’s great to see Costner play a character that’s so despicable, so disgusting and so vile, that after awhile of watching him, you almost don’t want him to grow a heart and learn the error of his ways. Sure, with this being a movie and all, you know that’s going to happen, but still, there’s a certain joy in watching Costner steal people’s food, beat dudes up for their trucks, and touch nurses rumps that makes it hard to actually care about a plot. Just give me Kevin Costner acting like a prick for two hours and you can have my money.

And hey, next time, movie, if you’re going to give me that, might as well give me some better roles for the solid supporting-cast, too, okay? Because giving people like Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Gal Gadot, and Amaury Nolasco, roles that don’t really challenge them or give them anything to do, is not just a waste of their time (except, not really, because they’re getting paid to do this), but mine as well. When I see that Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, and Gary Oldman are all reuniting for a movie, over two decades after JFK, I’m automatically excited, so why not deliver on those expectations? I understand it can be a bit hard to give the audience what they always want and desire, but come on, there’s got to be a little more here than what we get. Especially when you give Alice Eve five minutes of screen-time, or have Michael Pitt do a terrible, Russian-accent, and just leave Tommy Lee Jones there to sit around and mope.

Shame on you, movie. Shame on you.

Try harder next time.

Consensus: Criminal gets by on the strengths of its cast, but also doesn’t do much with a semi-interesting plot, except allow for it to fall into action-thriller tropes and conventions.

5 / 10

Now you see Ryan Reynolds? Cause in about five seconds, trust me, you won't.

Now you see Ryan Reynolds? Cause in about five seconds, trust me, you won’t.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Youtube, Pretty Famous

Soul Men (2008)

How many times can you say “mother****er” and still have it be funny each and every time?

Louis (Samuel L Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) were part of a popular singing duo back in the day, but both went their separate ways and never spoke again. When the death of their former group leader (John Legend) reunites them and sends them driving cross country for a tribute concert at the legendary Apollo Theatre, they will have only five days to bury the hatchet on a 20-year-old grudge.

If there’s any reason as to why you’d bother with Soul Men, it has to be because you want to see one of Bernie Mac’s final movies. Apparently, Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac were friends for a couple of decades before this movie came out and just wanted to be in a film together for the longest time, and you can totally tell why because they have amazing chemistry here. Every chance they get together on-screen, it’s like magic working between two buddies that never seems to end and they always have something to say to each other, no matter how crude or rude it may be.

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Which is to say that a lot of it is definitely ad-libbed as they go on non-stop rants using “mother****er” about 50 or so times (that is not an exaggeration either, people), and that’s what adds a lot of comedy to this film. There were many times where I found myself laughing really hard, other times I found myself chuckling, and other times I just felt myself smiling because I was seeing two buddies work together like they always wanted to, and having an absolute blast with it. Seriously, if it wasn’t for these two guys, this movie would have totally, and I do repeat, totally would have sucked, but because they’re together and making an absolute blast out of it, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not always these two guys together and that’s perhaps the biggest issue with Soul Men.

Since Soul Men is a tale about two older dudes on the road to a concert, we get a lot of blabbering, yelling, screaming, hootin’, and hollerin’ between the two which is relatively amusing at first because it’s these two guys doing it and they always make it entertaining to watch, but then it just goes on and on and on until the film really seems like it’s running out of ideas. A good boner joke is nice to have about two or three times when you have a movie about old dudes that are trying to stay hip and with it, but seriously, when you get to the point of when you have it up to a total of twelve jokes in a 90-minute movie, then you’re just shooting more for the teen-comedy crowd and not the type that would actually venture out to see a Mac/Jackson comedy about two old guys.

As with most movies that revolve around a band, and or, music in general, the soundtrack here is pretty solid with a couple of memorable tunes that pop in and out from time-to-time, as well as some original ones that sound like covers and are all pretty nice and fun to listen to, but don’t really do anything for the movie. Most of them sound unoriginal and although Mac and Jackson sing all of the songs with their terrible voices, they’re never actually played-up for laughs. Instead of the songs actually being a bit goofy and humorous at how bad these guys blow, they play it too seriously and every song-sequence goes on for way too long without any jokes involved whatsoever.

Jackets don't get any prettier than that!

Green suit-jackets don’t get any prettier than that!

It gets even worse once the film begins to get sympathetic by the end and the really lose itself as it just feels uneven. If a comedy wants to play it nice and sweet by the end, there’s no problem with that. However, with Soul Men, it felt forced. Revelations come out as if they were working their way into the story the whole time and a certain character that’s supposed to mean something to both of these guys, doesn’t really do anything and is sort of forgotten about once that character leaves the screen.

I’m not trying to spoil anything, but does it really matter?

Probably the strangest fact about this movie is not only how Bernie Mac died after filming just wrapped-up, but also how Issac Hayes, who also shows up here, died exactly a day after him. That’s right Chef was a goner right after Mac, and at the end of the movie they sort of touch on this fact in a very well-done, and emotionally-charged tribute to the two and it actually got me a bit misty-eyed. This tribute was probably the highlight of this flick and definitely seemed like it got more attention to it, than the actual film itself and it’s shame that Mac and Hayes had to go out on something like this because even though the movie’s not horrible to watch, you still can’t help but feel like these two deserved something better to use as a swan song and have people remember why they were so loved in the first place.

Either way, R.I.P you two soul men.

Consensus: Despite there being a great chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac, Soul Men still flounders underneath its own weight of sentimentality and a lack of actual fun, interesting ideas to roll with its story.

5 / 10

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you're doing. Like cursing. A lot.

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you’re doing. Like cursing. A lot.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004)

Sometimes, when you’re getting a buzz, you just want to be left alone in peace.

Nearly two years later and guess what? The South side Chicago barbershop is still up and running, mostly due and thanks to Calvin Palmer Jr. (Ice Cube), who decided that it was up to him to keep the legacy alive and running. And along for the continous ride with him are his lovely, loyal and entertaining employees – Isaac (Troy Garity), Terri (Eve), Ricky (Michael Ealy), Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze) and the newly-employed Kenard (Kenan Thompson) who may or may not have any clue on how to cut hair. Each and everyone of them have their own personal and workplace problems, and now, it’s only going to get worse, what with a new barbershop called Nappy Cutz moving in across the street. As Calvin tries to change the character of his business, Nappy Cutz, as well as gentrification become a threat to the surrounding community. However, Calvin also knows that it’s up to him, as well as those that love and support him to keep the spirit alive and well of the barbershop and not to let a little business-rivalry get in the way of a good thing.

Yup. Those paw prints will get a man for sure.

Yup. Those paw prints will get a man for sure.

Like I’ve said before, Barbershop was in no way, shape, or form, a solid, comedic masterpiece. If anything, it was just a fine and funny piece of comedy that didn’t ask for too much, and didn’t expect much in return; it just wanted to make the audience laugh, have a good time, and hey, if they learned a thing or two at the end of the day, then guess? All is well and right with the world.

And that’s one of the main problems with Barbershop 2 – it sort of loses that same heart and edge that made the first so lovely in the first place. As is the case with most sequels, there’s a lot more of everything that made the first movie such a joy to watch. That means, more characters, more subplots, more messages, more time spent, and most importantly, more jokes, no matter how hard they fall, or how much they may miss. Sequels in and of themselves have a bad rap, but comedy-sequels usually tend to be even more hated as they overdo almost everything and just become grating.

While I wouldn’t necessarily call Barbershop 2 “grating”, I wouldn’t call it the greatest 100 minutes I ever spent.

Most of this comes down to the fact that the movie isn’t really that funny, or better yet, nearly as funny as the first. A few jokes here and there, make their mark and bring out a chuckle, but plenty of them also come around, miss their mark and don’t really bring out much of any emotion. They’re just dull and plain jokes, for the sake of being told to remind people that this movie is, yes, a comedy.

And because of that, there’s maybe only at least 20 minutes where the movie’s actually funny. There’s one key sequence in which Robert Wisdom’s mayoral elect character comes into the barbershop for shameless advertising and propaganda purposes and it’s the funniest scene of the whole movie. I won’t spoil it here, but it constantly builds and builds and builds to an extreme where it’s almost too crazy to not laugh at, and it’s what every comedy should be like. A situation gets placed, the characters are set, and then, we watch it all play out in front of our eyes, waiting for the laughs to start hitting.

Beauty Shop > Barbershop.

Beauty Shop > Barbershop.

Eventually, they do, however, they don’t always last.

It’s a shame, too, because everyone here seems to be back, ready, and excited to have an even better time with the material here. Cube does his best to remain our eyes and ears of the story, which is fine, because he does it well; Eve is sassy and smart, as expected; Michael Ealy and Troy Garity’s characters still don’t get along and always seem to battle it out over something we don’t really care about; Kenan Thompson brings an added-level of zany fun that’s nice to see; Queen Latifah shows up, essentially, just to plug and prep us all for Beauty Shop, but is such a charming presence that it almost doesn’t matter; and yeah, there’s plenty more to choose from.

However, the one who gets the real time and dedication of Barbershop 2 is Cedric the Entertainer’s Eddie and with good reason. Not only was Eddie the best, most funniest part of the first movie, but Cedric himself is just so damn exciting and funny to watch, that it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in almost everything he has to do or say, even if it seems like he’s doing a whole bit of improv. Either way, Eddie gets more of a backstory that has to deal with the history of the barbershop and it’s a bit dull. Mostly, this is due to the fact that a lot of what we see is just flashbacks that, yes, build this character and this barbershop a bit more, but really, doesn’t do much but take time away from the other characters here, as well as add-on more minutes to an already rather long movie. Of course, Cedric is funny. Nobody’s denying that, but all of the backstory with his character seemed to go on for so long that, after awhile, I felt as if they were prepping us all up for Eddie’s own movie.

Surprised it never happened, but I can’t say that I’m too upset about it, either.

Consensus: Like the original, Barbershop 2 features a bunch of charismatic performers in nice roles, but doesn’t know how to use them as well, with so much going on, and nothing actually being all that funny.

5 / 10

Ice Cube just don't care anymore. He's cut way too much hair by now.

Ice Cube just don’t care anymore. He’s cut way too much hair by now.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Man Jackson

Demolition (2016)

DemolitionposterSometimes, you literally just have to destroy your life.

After the tragic death of his wife, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) shuts down. Everything in his life has been so calculated and planned for so long – from the time he wakes up, to who he talks to on the train, etc. – that when it seems like he has nothing holding him back or together, he just loses all control. He starts slacking off at work, stops shaving, begins saying inappropriate things in public situations, working for free at construction sites, and seems to be channeling all of his sadness and insecurity through countless letters he sends to a local vending-machine company. Why? Well because, when his wife is in the hospital, he tried to get a pack of M&M’s and it didn’t budge. Regardless, an employee at the vending-machine company, Karen (Naomi Watts), finds these letters touching, which leads her to reaching out to Davis. Even though they’re both a bit awkward with one another at first, eventually, the two start to hit it off, with Davis hanging around the house more often, getting to know Karen’s son (Judah Lewis) who’s going through his own identity crisis of sorts. Together, the two figure out life and where to go next.

Jake is sad.

Jake is sad.

As with mostly every movie, there’s three-acts in Demolition; two are pretty good, but one is quite awfully terrible. The first and last act both work well, balancing a fine line between comedy and tragedy that never plays one hand too much, nor does it seem to overstay its welcome. There’s actual sadness to the drama and a heart to the comedy, as dark as it may sometimes get.

But in between the first and last act is the middle, and man oh man, it’s pretty crummy.

No matter how hard I get on Demolition, there’s no denying that Jake Gyllenhaal is great throughout it all. Over the past few years, we’ve really seen Gyllenhaal come into his element as one of our more solidly interesting actors who isn’t afraid to screw around with his image, just for the sake of taking on a role that challenges him to go deeper and further than ever before. Here, as Davis, Gyllenhaal doesn’t really stretch his wings nearly as much as he’s done in say something, like, Prisoners, or most especially, Nightcrawler, but he still does an effective job. Because Davis is, essentially, sleepwalking through his life when we first meet him, the transformation he goes through and makes from being a sad, relatively repressed person, to letting loose, having fun and acting wild, is believable, if only because of Gyllenhaal’s talents as an actor. We shouldn’t totally care for Davis, but because Gyllenhaal gives us an actual, bleeding heart to the character, we feel a lot closer to him and understand the pain and sadness he’s feeling.

But sadly, the movie isn’t always up to Gyllenhaal’s talents. For example, it has a very odd tone that doesn’t always know what it wants to be, do, or say. At first, what Demolition seems to be is a tragic-comedy that deals with certain serious issues like death and depression, but also wants to look at them with a witty eye. At first, the mix and mash between humor, heart and sadness, actually works; the jokes poke fun at the idea of being sad, while also not insulting the characters all that much to where it feels or seems inappropriate. There’s a fine line that’s tread here in Demolition, and director Jean-Marc Vallée, for awhile at least, doesn’t overstep.

Until, of course, he does.

What happens in the middle-act is that the movie gets rid of its serious and sometimes depressing tone, and instead, just totally go for the comedy. This can sometimes be fine, as ling as your comedy is funny, effective, relatable, and most importantly, not annoying. Issue is, the comedy in Demolition, without any sort of dramatic or serious context, can be unfunny, ineffective, unrelatable, and incredibly annoying.

Obviously, this is a problem for the characters, as well as the plot. Gyllenhaal’s Davis begins to act out so erratically, whether he’s dancing through the busy streets of New York City, or getting nails stuck in his foot without getting tetanus shots, which are all played up for har-har laughs, that you never for a second believe it. Sure, the character is sad and needs some sort of release to get his spirit out, but there comes a point when you overdo it and you’re just trying to make as many laughs as you can happen, without ever retaining any of your original sense of heart or drama.

But the movie introduces Naomi Watts’ and Judah Lewis’ characters and, yes, it gets a tad bit worse. Watts’ character almost doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and because her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is so weak, it sort of feels like she doesn’t even need to be here. Granted, it’s nice to see Watts play with a lighter, more fun role for a change, but her character is so ham-fisted into the plot that she almost doesn’t feel like a real person, despite saying that she’s sad and heartbroken just like Gyllenhaal’s Davis.

Naomi is happy.

Naomi is happy.

And Judah Lewis’ character, despite seeming very well-intentioned, does not work in this movie.

Nothing against Lewis, or his acting abilities, but the character is the typical, conventional angsty teen who is having a bit of an identity crisis, clearly has daddy issues, curses a lot, thinks he’s a lot smarter than he actually is, and doesn’t always know how to handle his emotions. While the scenes between him and Gyllenhaal are supposed to be sweet and endearing, they somehow feel oddly off, where it seems like every scene could lead to Lewis’ character either trying to kiss, or kill Gyllenhaal’s. It even gets to a point where the characters go out into the middle of the woods to shoot a pistol and I couldn’t help but think someone was going to take a dirt nap by the end of the scene.

But thankfully, as bad as it gets, eventually, the movie does pick itself back up in the last act, ending on a sweet, somewhat heartfelt note. The comedy starts to fall back a bit more, the heart starts to get bigger, and the acting gets toned down a tad bit. Oh, and Chris Cooper starts to show up more and remind us why he’s everyone’s favorite father-figure. If anything, Demolition feels like the kind of movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, but at the end of the day, still has enough to say to where it works.

Just not nearly as much as it should have.

Consensus: An odd, mostly uneven tone and weak middle-act keep Demolition from really hitting as hard as it wants to, even if the cast does try and there are some small moments of pure joy and sweetness.

5.5 / 10

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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