Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 5-5.5/10

Hands of Stone (2016)

Never say “no mas”.

At age 72, after a few brushes with death and the notorious mafia, legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement to coach world-class Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Édgar Ramírez). It’s a job that many other trainers would take, let alone, come out of a retirement for, but it’s one that Arcel feels as if he has to do, if only to teach Duran a thing or two about manners and living life like a peaceful, everyday citizen in the United States of America. After all, growing up, Duran had to constantly fight his way through childhood and to ensure that no one ever brought him down as a person; now that he’s older, muscular and more than capable of beating the hell out of whoever steps in his way, he’s definitely not stepped down. But now that Duran wants to face-off against the one and only champ, Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond), he’s more than ready to settle down, listen to his trainer and win the title that he feels he has earned after all of the years and hard-work that he has put in.

"Get up, you wimp!"

“Get up, you wimp!”

With the troubled production, constant delays on its release-date, and late-August release, you’d honestly expect Hands of Stone to be an utter piece of crap that no one wanted to see. Thankfully, it doesn’t turn out that way; it’s the kind of movie that you can tell had a clear agenda on its mind while being made, but for one reason or another, so many backstage politics got involved that after one cut too many, the movie lost its train of thought. It’s the perfect case of a good movie, unfortunately, being tarnished and ruin by the sole fact that it had one too many people’s wallets involved, so therefore, it had to suffer the consequences of having a whole lot in it, but essentially, not being about a single thing.

Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie, just a very messy, unclear and unfocused one.

The one thing that it does get right, thankfully, is the actual boxing itself. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz keeps Hands of Stone from ever getting boring, moving at a quick, fast and efficient pace that hardly ever lets up, even when it is featuring a bunch of people, sitting in a room, and talking about Jimmy Carter the Panamanian Canal. But where the movie really moves, is in its boxing.

Sure, the boxing isn’t as realistic as say, a real fight that you’d check out on PPV (that’s still a thing, right?), but it doesn’t matter – when it’s on, you pay attention and you have some fun. You feel every punch, hold, broken bone, sweat, blood-drip, and everything else that goes hand-in-hand with boxing, so much so that after awhile, you’d sort of just wish the whole movie stayed in the ring and never even bothered to go outside of it.

Because yes, unfortunately, when it does go outside of the ring, it gets pretty bad.

For one, Hands of Stone is, like I said, a messy movie. It has a lot to talk about race, family, power, the government, sports, and so on and so forth, but at the same time, doesn’t really have much of anything to say about them in the slightest. Take, for instance, De Niro’s Arcel, a character who is probably deserving of his own movie, but here, is saddled with playing second-in-command and has a very brief, very random bit where he’s trying to settle a dispute with his long, lost and estranged daughter that literally none of us have ever heard about. It seems like the movie itself knew this, so rather than having her show back up and make some sort of sense to the whole movie, she’s literally never heard from again.

Why, though?

We can't really see what you've got going on underneath the suit and tie, but hey, we're going to assume you've got some pretty big muscles.

We can’t really see what you’ve got going on underneath the suit and tie, but hey, we’re going to assume you’ve got some pretty big muscles.

Also, while I’m at it, why does the movie seem to bring up relations between U.S. and the Dominican Republic, yet, at the same time, never really have much of anything to say about them? And also, why are we learning so much about Durán’s upbringing and hotshot attitude, yet, at the same time, never actually knowing anything more about him besides that? The movie seems to present a whole bunch of stuff, but keep it all at such a surface-level, that after awhile, you don’t even know what it is.

Is it a boxing movie? Or, is it an unfinished cut of one?

Either way, the movie does thankfully stay entertaining all throughout, which mostly has to do with the fact that the pace is quick and the cast is quite good. As stated before, De Niro is good as Arcel, who probably deserves his own movie, just like Edgar Ramirez’s Durán does, as well. In fact, Ramirez is so good here, that he makes it very clear that possibly, some time down the road, he could give it another go, under a new writer, director, and studio, because there’s truly something here, to this person and this person’s tale that makes me want to see more of him and how he goes about his day-to-day life.

Unfortunately, we do get to see some of that here, but it’s in a movie that doesn’t seem to care, or know what to do with any of that rich material.

Consensus: With so much going on, Hands of Stone can’t help but feel and seem like a mess, but an entertaining one because of its fast-pace and good cast, which both deserve way better than what they’re given.

5.5 / 10

The weirdest sequel to Joy, ever.

The weirdest sequel to Joy, ever.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Almost Christmas (2016)

It’s Christmas. Commence the fighting!

One year after the death of the mother, the Meyers family has been a bit of a wreck. Walter (Danny Glover) was a mechanic who finally got the chance to retire, but now, has so much time on his hands, he doesn’t know what to do instead of trying to sell the family-house. Rachel (Gabrielle Union) is constantly losing money and doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for anything in her life, while Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) is the complete opposite, with a successful career and a husband (J.B. Smoove) who she loves, even if he may be looking elsewhere. Christian (Romany Malco) is running for Governor and because of that, has to be constantly on-edge of what to do next, however, his wife (Nicole Ari Parker) is there every step of the way, whereas Evan (Jessie T. Usher), a professional football player, seems to be having problems of his own with steroids and can’t seem to control his emotions. All of them, including many more, all come together for Christmas, even if hardly any of them can get along or even bother to in the first place, something that upsets Walter and makes him think longer and harder about what to do with the family-house.

Who doesn't take a snooze in Church?

Who doesn’t take a snooze in Church?

Almost Christmas, like every other Christmas movie to come before it, is manipulative, sappy, cheesy, and above all else, sentimental-as-hell. Then again, however, it is a Christmas movie, so should it be judged differently? In a way, yes.

See, with Christmas movies, it seems that everyone who sees them, are in such good spirits that it hardly matters how maudlin or corny the proceedings can get; love is in the air and happiness abounds, therefore, who cares how tawdry the emotions can get. And with Almost Christmas, that’s perfectly fine, because it’s one of those movies that you put on around the holidays, not really paying attention to the screen, but doing other things like baking, wrapping presents, bickering with friends and family, etc., and every once and awhile, checking up to see that it’s on, maybe laugh, or maybe not. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s an incredibly forgettable movie that doesn’t harm anyone, but doesn’t do much else, either.

So like I said, should it be judged harsher than any other movie, let alone, those involving Christmas?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Movies like this and last year’s awful Love the Coopers, will continue to come out and cash in on the holiday love and spirits, which is fine and all, because they aren’t really going out there to ruin anybody’s lives in the slightest. They exist simply to bring some lovely, wacky and fun charm to the already joyful proceedings, while also shining some small lights on what the holidays can mean for families getting back together after all of these years, as well as for those who don’t care much about family, the holidays, or people in general. In a way, they’re the kinds of movies that nobody really gets scared of, which is why Almost Christmas, for all of its faults, really is harmless, above all else.

With it, we get a lot of heavy drama, some cheerfully wacky fun moments, and most importantly, a whole bunch of Christmas shenanigans, like ugly sweaters, snow, Santa, reindeer, tunes, and so on and so forth. I know, this makes me sound like an absolute Grinch, but I can assure you, that’s not the case – normally, Christmas movies are my kind of thing, regardless of the season or time of the year. That’s why a movie like Almost Christmas, which should work very well, also seems like it was written in January, cast in February, filmed in March and April, and edited all up until its release-date at the beginning of November.

You two, get out of here and into a better movie!

You two, get out of here and into a better movie!

Which is to say that, yeah, it’s a mess.

But it’s an okay kind of mess, because once again, it isn’t really setting out to ruin anyone’s day. There’s a lot of heavy, deep discussions about life, death, love, marriage, suicide, drugs, and divorce, but none of it really registers as being anything meaningful, or even needed – it all feels like the movie was just checking off a list that they felt was absolutely necessary to make the perfectly conventional and formulaic Christmas movie. And in that sense, yes, director David E. Talbert achieved everything he probably wanted to, but does it really matter much when everything he achieved is so run-of-the-mill?

The only instances of pure fun and enjoyment found within Almost Christmas is the well-stacked and perfectly-cast ensemble, who are clearly making the best of what they’re given. Danny Glover is heartbreaking to watch as the beaten-down patriarch of the family, trying to keep it all together; Gabrielle Union does a fine job as Rachel, even if she’s still, I hate to say it, not funny; Kimberly Elise seems like she was primed and ready for an Oscar-winning role here, but unfortunately, her really good performance is trapped in a silly Christmas flick; J.B. Smoove is having some real fun as her philandering husband, making me itch with more and more excitement over the prospect over a ninth season of Curb; Romany Malco needs more funny stuff to do here (do people forget that he stole just about every scene in the 40 Year Old Virgin?); Nicole Ari Parker is barely around here, which is a shame, because she’s a great actress when the material is there (see Brown Sugar); Jessie T. Usher brings the movie down every second he’s on-screen, although, I highly doubt that’s his fault and more of just his poorly-written character’s; and Mo’Nique, as per usual, steals every scene she’s in, making us laugh with what seems to be constant improv, but also shedding some true heart and emotion by the end, proving to us why it is that she deserves that Oscar of hers, while also showing us why she needs to be in more movies.

Get it together, Hollywood.

Consensus: As conventional as you can get with a Christmas flick, Almost Christmas features sentimentality, comedy, melodrama, and cheesiness, yet, doesn’t set out to severely injure or kill anyone, so it’s okay to keep on by the fireplace on a cold night. That’s about it, though.

5 / 10

Why's everyone standing around? Dig the hell in dammit!

Why’s everyone standing around? Dig the hell in dammit!

Photos Courtesy of: Gorgon Reviews, Vox

Bee Movie (2007)

Not the bees, indeed.

Now that he’s fresh out of college, Barry the Bee (Jerry Seinfeld) can finally spend the rest of his life doing what he’s always been wanting to do: Work. However, Barry doesn’t quite know what he wants to do just yet, or better yet, knows that he doesn’t want to work with honey. So, he decides to take a brief stroll out into the real world and realizes that there’s something incredibly wild and magical about this outside. He also gets to meet a human lady named Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), who he not only strikes up a friendship with, but continues to learn more and more about the world outside of the beehive. Eventually, this has Barry thinking less and less about the life and career he lives inside the hive, and more about the one outside of it, where he can do whatever he wants and not have to worry about certain ideas that society mandates. That is, until he realizes that the outside world isn’t all that it’s made out to be, either.

"Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we're all bees when you think about it, bro!"

“Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we’re all bees when you think about it, bro!”

For some inexplicable reason, Bee Movie is currently having a moment. Why? Who started it? And when will it end? Well, I don’t know the answer to any of these questions – what I do know is that all of this attention is being placed on a nearly decade-old movie that, quite frankly, was never something to really talk or get all crazy about in the first place.

In a way, it’s odd watching Bee Movie now, in 2016, knowing full well how far and advanced animation has come. Sure, 2007 may not have had nearly as many of the technological advances that we do now, but still, Bee Movie, even in the clearest, brightest and prettiest HD imaginable, still looks kind of murky. The bee characters don’t have much to them, except maybe one physical difference, the humans all look dull and dead in the eyes, and when the movie is adventuring into the great big world that we call Earth, you can tell that a lot of the budget went to certain shapes and figures, and not to the rest of the image.

Still, that’s all silly technical stuff that doesn’t quite matter.

What does matter, and what mostly every meme has been pointing out, is that Bee Movie is a pretty ridiculous movie, but not like the kind we’re used to seeing with animated flicks. With most animated flicks, like how Bee Movie starts out initially, is that they take us to this fantastical, weird and unbelievable world, where inanimate objects speak, have thoughts, feelings and can do things, like you or I, except, maybe, yeah, in their own way. At first, this is exactly what Bee Movie seems to be, but eventually, it turns the other cheek and doesn’t know what it wants to say or do.

In fact, it all changes when we’re introduced to Zellweger’s Vanessa, who is perhaps the dumbest human character in an animated flick to-date. It’s odd that she can not only talk to bees, or other inanimate objects, but how, despite the movie trying to make as many jokes as possible, is still totally cool and normal with it. I wouldn’t mind this in an animated flick, but there does come some idea that the movie has to not only explain itself, but even make sense of it all; to even say that “there’s a force in the air”, or some silly mumbo jumbo like that, honestly, is fine with me. All I need is an explanation and I won’t complain.

Corporations, man.

Corporations, man.

However, Bee Movie doesn’t give that.

Instead, it just takes what could have been a very simple, easy and relatively fun premise of a bee seeing the outside world for what it is, a la, A Bug’s Life or Antz, but instead, drives for something more ambitious. Is it an admirable effort on the writers and directors behalves? Sure, but does it pay-off? Not really.

Once the movie starts getting into a honey-producing corporation headed by Ray Liotta and takes us to court, the movie gets all too wild and insane to really keep up with. This isn’t to say that the jokes aren’t good, because they mostly can be, however, that’s when the movie itself isn’t enamored with finding every bee pun that they can find. It gets annoying after awhile and almost feels like a bunch of 12-year-olds just discovering what comedy is and constantly trying to one-up one another.

It’s nice to hear the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, Chris Rock, and others, but they all feel oddly-placed. Seinfeld and Broderick are both voicing characters who are, essentially, 21-year-old dudes, and don’t sound a single thing like it, Warburton is, as usual, hilarious and the most understandable character out of the bunch, Rock is in it for maybe five minutes, makes us laugh our pants off, then leaves for good, John Goodman shows up at the end as born-and-bred lawyer from Missippi and I probably would have paid to see his face while uttering some of these lines in the voice that he uses, and Zellweger, as mentioned before, feels awkward. Her character not only looks it, but even Zellweger’s line delivery still feels like she’s maybe not in on the joke, or simply, understands it and is not a fan of it in the first place.

Why she or anyone else signed-up is beyond me. But hey, at least the movie made some money, was for the kids and continues to live on in the internet-age.

So, who knows? Maybe everyone’s a winner.

Consensus: With an awkward premise, Bee Movie seems like it could have been a lot funnier and interesting, had it tightened-up its writing and gotten rid of all the inane bee jokes.

5 / 10

"Yeah, at least we're getting paid."

“Yeah, at least we’re getting paid.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Hollow Man (2000)

Even while invisible, Kevin Bacon still loves to show his dong.

Scientist Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is working with a secret military research team to complete his experiment of making living-things, completely and utterly invisible. It works on a couple of animals, but Sebastian being the narcissist and ego-maniac that he is, decides that it’s his turn to go under the wire and test it out. It works, but as you could expect, it does come with some perks. Deadly perks, at that.

At the time that this movie came out, it was regarded as a visual-spectacle. The idea that a character like Bacon’s, could seemingly disappear, re-appear, and show up in different forms over time and still have it look realistic is very stunning to say the least. Granted, in the days of Avatar and every Summer blockbuster known to man since 2008, we’ve come to expect a lot from a visual stand-point, but that’s still not to say that this movie isn’t surprising with what it shows us. If you take it into context of the time that it was made, how, when, and who made it, it’s damn surprising and definitely deserved an Oscar nomination. However, anything more than a cheap-o special-effects nomination, would have been ridiculous and downright laughable.

Sort of like Hollow Man itself.

Now, that’s not to say that the movie is terrible or anything – it’s just a total and complete B-movie. If you still don’t think it is, take into account who the director is, one Paul Verhoeven. Basically, this is a fun movie from the wicked-mind of Verhoeven that never seems to sleep, until he’s satisfied with as much blood, gore, nudity, sex, and violence that he can get. And then some.

The guy’s a nut behind-the-camera and gives this movie the type of feel that we want from our corny, sci-fi flicks, campy fun. Some of it is a bit too serious, but who the hell cares when you got a movie about a guy that’s invisible, naked, and killing people, left and right?

No one! That’s who!

Oscar-nominated visual-effects right there....

Oscar-nominated visual-effects?

Still though, the story does leave plenty to be desired in the end. Actually, there’s a lot left to be desired, what with a premise such as this. This movie is bonkers, in the right ways, and in the wrong ways, but no matter what, you never, ever for a second take this movie, the story, its ideas, or its characters ever seriously. I don’t know if that’s a discredit to the peeps involved, but either way, I just didn’t care. Sometimes, you just want to have fun with a crazy B-movie and often times, it feels like Hollow Man forgets a little bit about that.

Despite getting very horror-ish by the end, with everyone getting killed every which way but loose, the problem within Hollow Man was that it tries so hard to make this main character’s problem seem so universal, so understandable, and so relatable, that it should almost come off as no wonder to us why he would ever, ever think about killing everybody. A story needs to be told here, of course, and Verhoeven needs to get rid of the ketchup packets he paid for, of course, but the movie could have done more to actually make me believe the fact that this guy would literally lose his cool, and instantly start killing people.

Also, the people around him are so stupid and never, ever think for themselves for one instance. Even when Sebastian’s invisible and a bit creepy, everybody still has him call the shots because what better way to go about things than to let the invisible guy who’s been cooped-up for awhile say what needs to be done, right? It’s dumb, but honestly, watching dumb people get killed in awfully gory ways, while sometimes fun, does still seem repetitive because you know, no matter how far they may get from him, they’ll always screw it up somehow and die.

Basically, it’s every other horror movie ever made, but with Verhoeven, there’s nothing wrong with wanting/expecting a little bit more.

...these too.

Oh, now I see why….

And at the same time, it’s hard not to feel a little something for the cast. Kevin Bacon feels like he was really down-on-his-luck when he took the offer for this movie, not because he’s bored or anything, he’s actually having a lot of fun playing the baddie for awhile, it’s more just that he seems like he’s too good for this kind of trashy stuff and couldn’t be bothered either way. Probably just a nice way for him to get a new, Summer house, so if that is the case, good for him.

Elisabeth Shue is also randomly here as his ex-lover/co-worker, who knows what to do when he gets a bit wild, but is also a tad stupid in her ways, too. That’s where Josh Brolin comes in to save the day and show that he can be cool, charming, smart, and pretty bad-ass once he’s given the chance to be. A pre-cursor to his role in No Country For Old Men? I think so. Oh, and any movie that has Greg Grunberg in it, is always a win for me. Even if two strong gals like Rhona Mitra and Kim Dickens are, unfortunately, nothing more than walking, talking meat, with boobs.

Then again, this is a Paul Verhoeven flick. Why should I be surprised?

Consensus: The Oscar-nominated Hollow Man is nothing more than another stupid, nonsensical sci-fi flick that’s initially intriguing, then gets dumber and dumber as it verges into slasher-territory. However, if you want a good time, give it a look cause that’s what it’s here for and nothing else.

5 / 10

"What the fuck did we just star in?"

“What are we all doing here?”

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

31 (2016)

Poor clowns. Never get the respect they deserve.

While on tour and cruising the states, bringing their wacky and wild show to everyone out there, five carnival workers stop at a gas station on the eve of Halloween, not really thinking much of anything, except how much fun they’re going to continue to have on the rest of the tour. But suddenly, for unexplained reasons, they are knocked-out and kidnapped, only to wake up a few hours later, with it being Halloween and them having to fight their way out of a dungeon chock full of murderers, psychopaths, and just plain and simple weirdos. The game is called “31”, and it’s a life-or-death kind of thing, which the carnies more than get the gist of right away. But as ready as they may be to duke it out for their lives, with some of the most homicidal and strange maniacs the world has to offer, they still don’t ever what’s going to come up next. For them, the next 12 hours will be absolute hell and they’re going to have to try and survive each and every minute of it, as best as they can.

Symbolism? Eh, probably not.

Symbolism? Eh, probably not.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like 31. It’s another one of his ugly-looking, gritty, dirty, mean, disgusting, violent, and gory horror-flicks that takes place in the 70’s, features over-the-top characters, a lot of F-bombs for some reason, and just really, really weird stuff that sort of all goes unexplained. Not to mention the camera jerks around so much that you’ll be lucky if you don’t get motion-sickness.

But for some reason, I actually kind of liked 31.

Granted, it’s not a great movie and it’s surely not an improvement over any of his flicks, but it does show him having some fun, while also doing whatever he can to bring in others on his fun, as well. With the Halloween movies, there always seemed like this idea that Zombie had someone, or something, to answer to and he never quite got the opportunity to fully break-out and do his crazy thing. Here, with 31, it’s most definitely his own, single affair and because of that, we get to see more and more glimpses into his messed-up, screwed-up mind, even if we don’t really want to.

And for that, 31 sort of works. It’s the kind of movie that’s just weird enough to pique some sort of interest, but also violent and exciting enough to truly be fun. Sure, there’s a whole lot of disturbing violence that occurs to characters who probably don’t deserve it, but rather than focusing on the doom, gloom and sheer dread of it all, like he’s done a million times before in all of his other movies, Zombie now seems to treat them as something that just ups the ante and keeps the story moving. As with Zombie’s other movies, he’s always excessively focused so much on the harsh and brutal killings, but never really doing anything with them- here, he gives us an idea of just how cruel and crazy this version of Hell is and because of that, it’s easy to be compelled by.

There’s action, there’s violence, there’s blood, there’s gore, there’s chainsaws, there’s barb-wired baseball bats, there’s evil clowns (as if we need more of them), there’s British people in wigs, and hell, there’s even a German-speaking Nazi midget. I assure you that this is a Rob Zombie flick and not an old taping of ECW, I’m speaking of here. But like I said, it’s just so crazy and insane, that it somehow works.

See! Killer clowns really do exist!

See! Killer clowns really do exist!

Zombie, for once in his career, seems to embrace it all, have some fun, and not be as closed-off as he once was.

Still, the movie’s not perfect. Far too many times does the flick feel as if it’s a video-game, offering up another dastardly and evil villain for our group of supposed-heroes to battle, and even when it does seem to talk about something darker, stranger brewing underneath the surface, it backs away from it all. This idea that the 31 game is all some sort of institutionalized madhouse for prisoners being held against their will is brought up at least once or twice, but for some reason, never explored again; it’s almost as if Zombie scared himself with the thought of actually having something interesting to say, or do, and backed away before it was too late.

Shame on you, Rob.

As for the cast, Zombie’s usual band of misfits are around, and mostly all of them are fine. If anyone really stands out here and gets a chance to do something with the sometimes thinly-written material, it’s Richard Brake. In his tall, skinny and lanky-demeanor, Brake truly is terrifying, but in a very unconventional manner; he doesn’t have to wield a big gun or sword to get his point across, just the dead look in his eyes and tattoos on his body are enough to have us creeped-out. It also helps that Brake, of all people, handles Zombie’s material like a champ, making some of the most ludicrous and ridiculous lines come out, well, sort of comprehensible. I get that that’s the job of an actor in the first place, but with Zombie, it seems almost too difficult, as his scripts are just so weird and wacky, not even the most talented thespian could make sense of it. Thankfully, Brake is able to here and even if I don’t really wish Zombie continues to make more movies, if he does, I hope he does so with Brake.

Consensus: Mean-spirited, ugly, disgusting, violent and grimy, 31 is, admittedly, the same kind of flick we expect to see from Rob Zombie, but this time, has a lot more fun with itself than all of the others before.

5.5 / 10

Rob Zombie's answer to French New Wave? Eh. Probably not.

Rob Zombie’s answer to French New Wave? Eh. Probably not.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Spine Chillr

EDtv (1999)

edposterWhat’s reality TV?

In the world of reality television, every network is constantly fighting one another over getting the highest ratings imaginable. It doesn’t matter if the programs they air are even entertaining, let alone, real – as long as people are tuning in and keeping the ratings healthy, then all is fine. That’s why, one network in danger of closing its doors for good decides that it’s time to focus a whole reality-show, on some random schmo, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With that, they find  Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), a laid-back video-store clerk, who doesn’t really care about the show in the first place, but still thinks it’s a pretty neat idea, so he allows himself to be followed around by a camera-crew, capturing every moment of his life (except for, as he puts it, “bathroom stuff”). While the TV series makes Ed an overnight celebrity, it also begins to wreak havoc on his personal life, complicating his relationship with his new girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman), and causing tension with his brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson). But it also gets him a possible new gilrfriend (Elizabeth Hurley), who may or may not have been hired by the studio for rating’s sake.

"Now, just say "alright, alright, alright". It's pretty easy."

“Now, just say “alright, alright, alright”. It’s pretty easy.”

As is the case with almost every year, two movies who seem to have, virtually, the same plot, or ideas, get released in the same year. In the case of 1999, EDtv came out roughly nine months after the far more entertaining, intelligent Truman Show came out, and just so happened to be a movie about some person having their life filmed for the whole entire world to see. While the former is different from the later, in that it’s protagonist knows all about being filmed and is perfectly okay with it, it still doesn’t matter, because they are both quite different in many ways.

For one, Truman Show is a way better, more thoughtful movie, whereas EDtv is just, well, silly.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie definitely prides itself in not taking its plot all too seriously, but it also keeps itself away from doing anything else. Even as a commentary on the modern-day state of television (which, even by today’s standards, not much has changed), EDtv seems to scratch the surface, but never really dig in deep enough to be such a scathing, mean-spirited satire, a la Network. The moments where it really does sink in to Hollywood, big-budget studios, and television as a whole, is through Ellene DeGeneras’ fun character, but she also seems like a type; she’s supposed to be the film’s villain, but is too comical to be believed.

And this isn’t saying that EDtv is a “bad” movie by any means – at times, it can be very enjoyable in a light-hearted, dad-has-off-of-work-day, but it also just never really does much of anything, either. Even in his lowest of lows, Ron Howard has always seemed like he was trying to do something interesting with his flicks, but here, he does seem spell-bound; he’s sort of going through the motions, allowing for there to be comedy and some fun, but never really doing much else to have the movie jump-off the screen.

In other words, EDtv is just plain. Not boring, but plain. Sometimes, that may be worse than actually being “bad”.

Which is weird because the ensemble cast does try. While Matthew McConaughey is a bit dull as a naturally good and likable everyday dude, he’s really just doing what the script calls on him to do: Be nice, be cool, be charming, and most importantly, just be yourself. Nowadays, McConaughey wouldn’t be found dead with this kind of material, but back in 1999, it was a whole different ball-game for him and having a chance to look at something like this, makes me happy to realize that he’s changed his ways, in some respects.

It's love at first medium-shot.

It’s love at first medium-shot.

Jenna Elfman’s career definitely hasn’t turned out so well since the days of 1999, which is a huge shame, because she really is funny and clearly capable of handling dramatic-stuff, when push comes to shove. The only issue for her is that the movie roles just weren’t nearly as good as what she was doing on TV, audiences didn’t quite respond, and because of that, she’s left to star in shows with talking towels. Same goes for Elizabeth Hurley who, with the Royals, has bounced back quite well, but also seems to have the same issue in that she was charming, fun to watch, and most of all, beautiful-as-hell, but just never quite connected with audiences past Austin Powers.

And then, of course, there’s Woody Harrelson, who is great here as Ed’s brother, which is interesing to watch, mostly because of True Detective. There’s a real friendship to be seen here and while the movie doesn’t always give it the right time and light, the few moments of real camaraderie between Matt and Woody feel genuine and entertaining, as if we’re watching real-life buddies get the chance to pal around with one another. If anything, there’s a feeling that EDtv wishes it was like that, but sadly, it just doesn’t happen.

Consensus: Even with a timely theme, EDtv may have been less before its time, and more of just a plainly mediocre movie that never sets out to really tear the world of television a new one, but doesn’t do anything else of much worth, either.

5 / 10

A budding friendship that would, unfortunately, get really effed-up come 2014.

A budding friendship that would, unfortunately, get really effed-up come 2014.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Derek Winnert, Hey U Guys

Defiance (2008)

Who needs to bathe when you’re fighting for freedom?

In 1941, Nazi soldiers were all over Eastern Europe, going around and slaughtering whatever Jews they could find out in the open, or even in hiding. The numbers got so ridiculous that they reached the thousands and eventually, people began to get more and more petrified of the possible threat and were left heading for the hills, in hopes that they would find, at the very least, some sort of shelter. Three brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell), are able to do that and find refuge in the woods where they played as little children. But what turns out to be a small conquest for the three brothers, soon starts to get more and more people involved, with fellow Jews not just looking for refuge, but also to take part in killing Nazis and getting any sort of revenge that they can find. And for the three brothers, this is fine, however, they also start to collide with one another, when each one has a different point-of-view of how the camp should be run, what sort of rules should be put in-place, and whether or not any of this is even worth it.

All you need is some brotherly love.

All you need is some brotherly love.

Yet again, another Holocaust drama. However, Defiance may be a tad different in that it’s not necessarily a melodrama, Oscar-baity weeper – it’s much more of an action-thriller, with obvious dramatic bits thrown in for good measure. It’s something that director Edward Zwick has been known for doing for his whole career and it’s a huge surprise to see him handle material with so much potential and promise, and yet, not do much with it.

This isn’t to say that Defiance is a bad movie – it’s just a movie that could have been better, what with all of the different pedigrees it had going for it, but instead, got way too jumbled and confused about what it wanted to, or do, that it loses itself. While it wouldn’t have worked necessarily as a deep, dark and upsetting drama about the Holocaust and the horrible Nazis, it still somehow doesn’t work as a cold, deep and dark drama, with action-sequences of Jews facing off against Nazis. In a way, it’s two very “okay” movies, that still don’t find their ways of coming together in a smart, meaningful and coherent way.

Some of this definitely has to do with Zwick’s messy direction, but some of it also has to do with the fact that the script he’s working with, from himself and Clayton Frohman, just doesn’t always know what it wants to say.

For one, yes, it’s a Holocaust drama that cries out about the injustices and awfulness of the Holocaust in an effective, if slightly original manner; taking all of the focus away from the actual camps and ghettos themselves, and placing us in the woods, makes the movie feel all the more claustrophobic and tense. It also shows the desperation of those involved in that they were literally willing to risk five years of their lives, all alone in the shivering cold and unforgiving woods, just so that they weren’t found and executed by the Nazis. The movie doesn’t forget that most of these Jews have no clue about what’s really lurking beyond the woods and in that sense, it’s a smart, if somewhat effective thriller, bordering almost on horror.

But then, the movie takes in all of these other strands of plot that just don’t really work.

Or an assault-rifle.

Or an assault-rifle.

For instance, Jamie Bell’s character all of a sudden has a romance with Mia Wasikowska’s character that feels forced, as well as Daniel Craig’s romance with Alexa Davalos’. I would say that Liev Schreiber’s romance with a sorely underused Iben Hjejle is also random, but it’s hardly ever touched upon, until the very end and we see Schrieber smack her bottom, as if they’ve been canoodling for the past decade or so. Sure, putting romance in your movie assures that it will become more of a universal tale for anyone watching, but it also takes away from the believeability of the story and breaks up whatever tension there may have been.

And it’s a problem, too, because Zwick works well with actors and the ones he has here, really do put in some solid work – they’re just stuck with some lame material. Craig is your typical hero of the story, who always seems like he has his morals and heart in the right places, regardless of terrible the times around him may be; Bell tries whatever he can with a conventional role; Schrieber brings out some semblance of sympathy with a character who’s sole purpose is to be rough, gruff and violent; the ladies never quite get a chance to do more than just be dirty window-dressing; and Mark Feuerstien, despite seeming out-of-place as one of the Jews who takes refuge in the woods, fits in perfectly and is probably the most interesting character out of the bunch, despite not getting a whole lot to do.

Which is a shame, because the whole movie is basically like that. Everyone tries, but sadly, nothing in return.

Consensus: Even with the solid cast and director on-board, Defiance is stuck between two movies and never quite gets out of that funk, giving us a messy, imperfect look at the Holocaust, with an interesting viewpoint.

5.5 / 10

Or even a furry hat.

Or even a furry hat.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Hollars (2016)

Family’s suck. No matter how colorful.

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

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

I Am Number Four (2011)

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

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

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

"Trust me, I'm hot."

“Trust in me, I’m hot.”

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

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

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

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

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

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

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

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

So that’s good, right?

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

5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Morgan (2016)

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

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

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

Staring.

Staring.

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

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

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

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

Still staring.

Still staring.

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

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

Especially ones like Morgan?

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

5.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Hologram for the King (2016)

Mid-life crisis aren’t always so bad. Sometimes, you just need to go to Saudi Arabia.

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is going through a bit of a problem in his life right now. He’s middle-aged, reeling over a divorce, having issues with connecting with his teenage daughter, has some weird hump growing in his back, and is now stationed in Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. But the biggest problem for Alan seems to be that he just can’t connect with the world around him; he’s going through a great deal of culture-shock, but aside from a taxi-cab driver who shows him the land around him (Alexander Black), and a member of the Danish embassy (Sidse Babett Knudsen), he doesn’t really have anyone to hang out with, or better yet, talk to. And if that wasn’t bad already, the people in power that he’s supposed to be chatting with so that he can do his job, don’t ever seem to be around or ready to meet with him. However, it all changes one day when a doctor (Sarita Choudhury) helps him and begins to take a liking to him, showing him not just the beauty of Saudi Arabia, but the beauty of life, as a whole.

I think.

"Don't worry, Tom. You'll probably get another Oscar some time soon."

“Don’t worry, Tom. You’ll probably get another Oscar some time soon.”

A Hologram for the King is the perfect movie for your dad, if your dad is going through a really confusing time in his life. Say, for instance, he’s retired and doesn’t know how to take up any of his time now, has a new void to fill, and doesn’t know how to go about doing anything, let alone that, then yeah, A Hologram for the King is the kind of movie made strictly for your dad. It may get him out of his slump, it may not, but what it will do is offer a sometimes interesting view on the mid-life crisis.

But for others, it may not do anything else.

However, that’s less of a problem with age and more of a problem with the movie itself, as A Hologram for the King, despite having a lot to do, doesn’t have much to say about anyone or anything in it. This is surprising because, even in his lowest of lows, director Tom Twyker has always tried to make his material the least bit interesting, giving enough character details to go along with his spectacle. But in A Hologram for the King, it seems like he gets to swept-away with his location, his actors and his message, and forgets about how to make, well, a movie.

For example, there’s not really a plot to A Hologram for the King, except for a bunch of things that do, or better yet, don’t happen. While the movie likes to make a joke of the fact that this Alan Clay protagonist hardly ever gets to talk to the people he’s supposed to meet and talk to, after awhile, it gets to be a bit bothersome; it’s as if the movie itself doesn’t want to really do much of anything, or move along, so instead, it just constantly pushes back the expected. Maybe it’s unnecessary, but really, it made me feel as if the movie had no real plot and just wanted to show Tom Hanks being his lovable-self.

"Look! It's sand!"

“Look! It’s sand!”

And yes, Tom Hanks is doing just that and he’s perfect at it. Alan Clay is a pretty dull character, but Hanks is great at showing that there’s more to him that’s not just interesting, but pretty fun – even a random trip to the Mosque shows that Clay may have more to him than on the surface. But of course, the movie just sort of relies on Hanks so much, not really ever giving him a chance to actually work with a solid script, that it feels like he’s stretching at times. We get flashbacks and mentions of this character’s life before the flick and why he’s so sad, but really, none of it seems to register – Hanks tries to get that to happen, but the rest of the movie is so concerned with doing nothing, that it doesn’t matter.

But then again, there is a pleasant, almost easygoing feel to it that’s not terrible and can be entertaining. The self-discovery journey takes the movie in some crazy and odd places, but they’re not all that bad, or uninteresting – they do help make us see more of this character through the situations he gets into and how he acts in them. But really, the movie just wants to take its time, let Hanks do his thing, and that’s about it. There may be an important, almost life-changing message about growing older and accepting it for what it is, but I could never find it.

Maybe the message was that “going off to a foreign country, taking some pictures, seeing the sights, hanging with the natives, and drinking a lot will cure any sadness”, was it?

If so, this movie’s way better than I give it credit for.

Consensus: Despite a pleasant look, feel and pace courtesy of Twyker, A Hologram for the King never gets off the ground, due to its lack of a plot, or any actual emotions registering.

5 / 10

Hey, sometimes happiness is a simple drink in the middle of the day. Or so my old man tells me.

Hey, sometimes happiness is a simple drink in the middle of the day. Or so my old man tells me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Street Kings (2008)

Don’t mess with Johnny Utah. Ever.

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran member of the LAPD who has definitely seen better days. While he does still do his job and take down the bad guys that need to be taken down, he also does so by sucking down bottles of vodka. He does this because he is still mourning the loss of his wife and as is such, has alienated a lot of those around him. One person in particular is his former partner, Officer Washington (Terry Crews), who now looks back on his time with Ludlow in disgust. Ludlow knows this and doesn’t like it, which is why he decides that it may be time to get Washington to shut up, before certain people start listening in on to what he has to say. But wouldn’t you know it that when Ludlow does get a chance to shut Washington up, Washington is gunned-down in what happens to be a random corner-store robbery. Feeling some echo of guilt, Ludlow decides to set out and find out who did this to Washington, but unfortunately, the more he digs up, the more dirt begins to show.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

David Ayer can handle these types of dirty, gritty and violent thrillers about corrupt cops and politicians being, well, just that, corrupt. However, there does come a point where eventually, all of the same things that you made your name on, can get to be a bit too old, especially when you’ve got nothing left to say. Sure, a movie like Street Kings should resonate more so now, than it ever has before; police corruption is at an all-time high and people seem to really be demanding questions more than ever, but for some reason, it’s the kind of movie that brings these hard and questionable figures up, without ever seeming to bother to really say much more about it.

Instead, Ayer is more interested in shooting things and throwing blood anywhere he can set his sights to.

That’s fine because Ayer can handle action well. The best parts of Street Kings, actually, are when it’s just a few characters sitting in a room, expecting there to be some violence occurring soon, with their hands firmly on the trigger’s of their guns, not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop and people are going to have to be lit-up. It’s why some of the best moments of Training Day, were the ones where you had no clue exactly what was going to go down, even if you had a general idea.

Problem is, with Training Day and countless other flicks that Ayer has attached his name to, he’s become a tad too conventional. Street Kings feels like the kind of cop flick that would work somewhere back in the mid-90’s – ideas like these weren’t new, but they were still sustainable for entertainment. You could make the argument that Street Kings is sort of working with the same environment, to just be fun and nothing else, but when you have brothers in blue, who are literally doing terrible, immoral things, or getting killed, left and right, there’s a feeling that maybe, just maybe, someone needs to ask, “why?”

In a way, it’s almost like Ayer has a responsibility to ask those questions and get, at the very least, an idea of an answer. To just service your plot with cops and criminals getting shot and killed, without ever saying anything else about it, seems wrong. Trust me, I’m all for the down, dirty and immoral action when push comes to shove, but Ayer doesn’t really have his flick placed in any sort of fake world, or universe – it’s a real world/universe, where cops are meant to stop bad people, from doing bad things.

In fact, it’s the world in which we live in now.

"Uh. Hey. Freeze, man."

“Uh. Hey. Freeze, man.”

But honestly, besides that, Street Kings can be fun, when it actually cares to be fun. There’s a lot of the same stuff seen before, especially from Ayer’s pen, and you can tell that he’s trying to change everything up, yet, fall back on  the same conventions that have made cop-thrillers, such as his, hits in the first place. Ayer is a good director and writer when he wants to be, but here, it feels as if he’s just moving along, steadily, not trying to rock the boat and rely on what he knows best, without trying to change up any sort of format.

The only opportunity Ayer really gets a chance to liven-up things in Street Kings is with his wonderful ensemble, all of whom are having a great time. Keanu Reeves is actually quite good as Ludlow, mostly because the guy doesn’t always have to say something – some of the times, he just backs it up with his gun, or his fists. This suits Reeves just fine, just as it suits him playing the mentor-role to Chris Evans’ young, hotshot rookie character, both of whom work well together. Evans, too, in an early role before he truly broke-out into stardom, seems like the heart and soul of this cruel, dark and upsetting world, which works, until the movie decides that it cares less about him and more about just shooting people’s heads off.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there comes a point where it’s overkill.

Others randomly show up like Common, the Game, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Terry Crews, and all add a little something to the proceedings. You can tell that Ayer likes to cast these known-actors in roles that you least expect them to work with and it actually works in his favor. However, had he given more screen-time to Hugh Laurie and Forest Whitaker, equally the best parts of this otherwise mediocre movie, all would have been right with the world. The two play opposing chiefs who may or may not be as evil, or as good as they present themselves as being. Ayer always treads the fine line here between these characters and it makes me wish that he decided to do more with the other characters, or even the plot.

Consensus: As conventional as cop-thrillers can go, Street Kings boasts an impressive cast and some fun moments, but ultimately seems to concerned with blowing stuff/people up, and not ever asking why.

5 / 10

"Let me give you my card. And no, I'm not playing that cynical doctor this time."

“Let me give you my card. And no, I’m not playing that cynical doctor this time.”

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Deep Focus Review

Tallulah (2016)

tallulah-posterStick with your own babies.

Tallulah (Ellen Page) has had a pretty rough life for a girl her age. Been on the streets and living in her van for a year now, she finds solace in her boyfriend (Evan Jonigkeit), who helps her out in ensuring that they continue to live on the street and be as free as they want. However, the two break-up one day and Tallulah is left with nowhere to go and absolutely no one to turn to. So, the next best thing, she believes, is her boyfriend’s mother, Margo (Allison Janney), who is surprised to find Tallulah on her door-step in the first place. After being denied once by Margot, Tallulah decides, for one reason or another, to visit her again, but this time, with a newborn baby in her arms. Why? Well, just because she knew that the baby’s mother (Tammy Blanchard), didn’t give a damn about it and was more or less not going to take care of it. However, Margo doesn’t know this and instead, believes Tallulah when she insists that it is her and her son’s baby. Meanwhile, the police are looking everywhere for Tallulah, trying to find this baby, while Tallulah and Margot get more acquainted.

Oh god. Ellen Page and her baby troubles.

Ellen Page and her baby troubles? Again?

Personally, I love the new entertainment-industry we live with today. It’s interesting that online streaming-devices like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and all of them, can not only create their own content for the world to see, but actually offer up something to see. Many people have ranted and raved about why this is such a big issue for the entertainment-industry as a whole, but it’s my own belief that it’s a good thing for the industry, as it allows for smaller, lesser-known stories to be told, talents to be seen, and products to be watched. Sure, you can make the argument that some of them aren’t even all that good (Crackle’s the Art of More, anyone?) and probably don’t deserve to ever see the light of day, but isn’t there something special about getting a chance to see what every provider can offer?

Even if the results happen to be as “meh” as Tallulah?

Cause after all, even though it definitely wasn’t produced as such, Tallulah is a low-budget, Sundance indie that would have probably never gotten the kind of audience, had it gone through the same old, usual crap of screenings and theater-showings. Is there anything wrong with going out to the movies to see a flick? Definitely not. But more and more people are getting scared of actual, big-time theaters themselves because, quite frankly, it’s really hard to promote your small movie if it’s just “meh”.

That’s why Netflix is here to save the day with Tallulah, a movie that is, in case you couldn’t tell by now, perfectly “meh”; it’s the kind of flick that wants to deal with real-life issues, like love, divorce, and motherhood, while also trying to develop its own characters. It’s successful in the later-portion, mostly due to the fact that the cast is so good. However, while watching Tallulah, there was a strange feeling I got where I thought to myself that I was supposed to be liking it more than I actually was.

See, it’s the kind of indie that’s so conventional, but likable, that you can’t really hate it. However, by the same token, it’s hard to really praise and love it, because you know that there’s plenty other better movies out there, sometimes, with the same cast. Obviously, I’m talking about another Janney-Page team-up involving a plot-driven baby movie like Juno, but still, that’s neither here nor there.

What I’m trying to say is that Tallulah, is fine.

Eh, whatever. Watch your baby better next time.

Eh, whatever. Watch your baby better next time.

It can be funny and it can be heartfelt at times, but it never tries to aim higher than that, and it kind of brings itself down because of that. For instance, there’s this weird dream-sequence involving characters floating through the air, that’s supposed to be some sort of symbolism for how they’re getting torn-apart by life, or something, and it just never connects. Same goes for the whole subplot involving Tammy Blanchard’s mother character; while it’s nice that the movie bothers to even include this in the first place, it also takes up a lot of time and doesn’t really bring much to the movie. Blanchard is a good actress, however, her character is so thinly-written and boring, that after awhile, I was rooting against her, more than I was rooting for her and her possible reunion with her baby.

Then, of course, there’s Ellen Page and Allison Janney who are, as expected, great. Page’s role as Tallulah isn’t all that different from what we’ve seen her do before, but she still nails it and makes me glad to see her so charming and lovely again, as opposed to how moody she was in Freeheld and Into the Forest (that’s another movie that came out this week and I’m not doing a review on it because, honestly, it’s bad – like, really bad, so stay away). Janney is also great, showing a different side to her than we usually see, as a stern, and sometimes stand-offish woman, yet, we also grow to love her, the more we get to know about her.

Together, the two are the best thing about Tallulah. They’re relationship builds over time and feels real, honest and organic; they don’t start by loving one another, but they grow to learn how to do so and it helps their characters grow over time. While I would have probably loved to have seen a movie about them connecting, even without the baby, it still doesn’t matter – the baby serves a purpose and allows for them to come back together. The movie itself can sometimes feel like it’s bringing them down, but if anything, the two get past it and allow for themselves to be great.

Even if the movie they’re in, isn’t necessarily “great”.

Consensus: Easygoing and well-acted, Tallulah is a fine dramedy, even if it’s script isn’t always strong as its actors.

5.5 / 10

Jason Reitman - look what you're missing.

Jason Reitman – look what you’re missing.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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