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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 5-5.5/10

Thelma (2017)

College blows. Especially when you’re a witch. Or something.

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a college student who comes from a faith-heavy background and doesn’t know what to expect with her new surroundings. Her parents are very happy for her, but are also a little afraid that she will begin to question her faith, lose Jesus in her life, and become a much different person than they raised. But that turns out to be the least of any of their worries when Thelma begins experiencing extreme seizures. She has no idea where they come from, or when they’ll eventually hit her, but whatever it is, it isn’t anything good. That’s why she decides to live in the moment and allow herself to be open to anything that comes her way. Even if that means a relationship with a tall, dark and mysterious girl named Anja (Kaya Wilkins), even if it goes against everything that she was told and taught while growing up.

For awhile, Thelma is a smart, interesting, and complex coming-of-age that deals with heavier, meatier themes, but mostly, comes down to one girl realizing who she is, what she is, and whether or not she can still stick with having God in her life so much. It’s a movie that reminded me a lot of Raw, except in this case, it’s a lot smaller, subtle, and less bloody. But in another way, it’s also weaker.

It’s what love does to us all.

Cause one of the key elements surrounding Thelma is the fact that co-writer/director Joachim Trier (who started his career off making some great movies, only to now lose it a bit), doesn’t handle the horror-elements all that well as you would want, or expect. Where Raw worked as an allegory for this one girl’s coming-of-age, while watching her tastes, functions, and overall personality change, Thelma doesn’t work as an allegory, because the horror-stuff doesn’t really make much sense. It can be about a girl wrestling with her faith and her needs, but it’s really just a chance for Trier to try and do some spooky-stuff, whenever he’s lost focus on the smaller, more intimate stuff with his characters.

Which is a shame because, once again, at the heart, Thelma is solid.

It’s smart and knows that it’s playing around with genre-beats and conventions, but also, knows that it wants to express certain ideas about a girl coming-of-age and finally realizing what she is. It deals with heart and truth, which is why the first hour, when all the supernatural beings are pushed to the side and only slightly hinted at, works and is worth watching. After that, however, it just gets way too insane and crazy, almost to the point of where it seems like Trier himself may have been bored.

Don’t trust the one that sleeps next to you. Especially if they take all the covers.

And it’s a shame, too, because Thelma herself, as well as Eili Harboe, are interesting. Thelma’s a female protagonist that feels like a young girl, seeing and understanding the world for the first time, realizing that her faith-heavy upbringing is a little silly, and also seeing that she wants something in her life that she’s told not to have. Once again, it’s a lot like Raw in that it’s filled with a lot more darker-stuff and is subtle, but it still deals with a young girl, coming to grips with who it is, that she is and for that reason alone, it’s worth watching. We don’t get characters like this much anymore and it’s refreshing when we do.

Then again, it all comes back to the spooky-stuff and for me, it just didn’t work. I know lots and lots of people appreciated that aspect and didn’t mind the movie taking risks, but when your risks take away from what’s already strong and powerful as it is, what’s the risk for? To try something new? To show-off? Or to just not be bored by playing it small and simple?

For me, small and simple is all you need. Therefore, Thelma was more than I needed. Or even what I wanted.

Sorry, not sorry.

Consensus: Though it begins as a thought-provoking and interesting coming-of-ager, Thelma soon delves into horror, supernatural-beings, and all sorts of other crazy junk that takes away from the heart and soul of what’s already there.

5.5 / 10

Love does this, too? I don’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: The Orchard

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Who needs one Fast & Furious franchise, when you could have so, so many more?

It’s been many years since we last saw him and as it turns out, daredevil operative Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) wasn’t doing too much. He was just living big, rich and with plenty of hot, sexy women around him, having all of the fanciest and coolest parties around. But now, he’s being asked to come out of retirement for another job, with this one, hopefully, being the last. Together with a band of trusted nut-jobs just as crazy as he is, Xander must race against time to recover a sinister weapon known as Pandora’s Box, a device that controls every military satellite in the world. But of course, the job isn’t as easy as it seems, what with his arch-rival Xiang (Donnie Yen) looking to take Xander down and, possibly, even a government-conspiracy behind it all.

The only scene with Donnie Yen where there isn’t 20 cuts-a-minute. Maybe.

Return of Xander Cage is clearly trying to make the original xXx look a subtle indie flick, and in a way, that’s fine. The first, while not at all perfect, is often too tame and to held-back by its own edginess to be anything more than just a lackluster attempt at creating a James Bond for the MTV-generation. Now, it seems like the MTV-generation has gone the way of the Dodo and it’s up to its sequel to be the James Bond for the Snapchat crowd.

For better, as well as for worse.

Look, there’s no denying that Xander Cage knows what it is and isn’t making any sort of apologies for itself and that’s fine. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s stupid, it makes literally no sense, it destroys all laws of physics, and yes, it features some of the corniest one-liners in the history of corny action movies. But it’s also a bit too much, which may make it seem like I’m just another self-serious movie-goer who expects high-art with everything he sees.

Is some of that true? Yeah, why not? But trust me, I know and expect Xander Cage not to be an Oscar-worthy film; I just expect it to be a solid action-flick that takes itself somewhat seriously, gives me fun, exciting action set-pieces, and oh yeah, maybe even a believable, charismatic character here and there. It doesn’t have to fly me to the moon or knock it out of the park with every aspect of its creation, but it also doesn’t have to be a total joke of a movie that, without the fancy special-effects, ensemble cast of characters, and huge budget, me and my buddies could have made, drunk off of our asses, tongue-firmly-in-cheek.

All the ladies need a little Vinnie D.

But nope, Xander Cage is, instead, a $85 million movie that plays like a B-movie you’d find in the Wal-Mar bargain bin.

Does that make it a bad movie? Not really, because it sets out to do exactly what it wants to do – be loud, big, and stupid-as-hell – but there’s a fine line between “having fun”, and just “being idiotic”. Xander Cage crosses that line right from the get-go and never seems to even bother to go back; the large stunts, for instance, while awfully imaginative, are clearly so fake, you can almost see the green still left on the screen. No character has a single bit of serious dialogue, with talented actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Donnie Yen, Rory McCann, Tony Jaa, and hell, even Diesel himself, really chumming their ways through the whole thing, making it seem especially obvious that they’re in it for the money and not much else. It’s a shame too, because large blockbusters like this can actually have something resembling a heart, a soul, and hell, even cohesion (like the Fast & Furious franchise), but nobody here seems to be bothered with that.

They’re just throwing whatever at the wall, seeing what sticks, and rolling the camera.

And trust me, that’s not as fun as it sounds.

Consensus: Big, loud, expensive, crazy, stupid, and ridiculous, Return of Xander Cage is exactly what it wants to be, but also doesn’t become much else beyond that.

5 / 10

Fur coat off. Sexy.

Photos Courtesy of: Paramount Pictures

Crown Heights (2017)

Once again. Not. Much. Has. Changed.

Colin Warner (LaKeith Stanfield) is just another teenager living in Brooklyn. He’s an immigrant from Jamaica who is getting used to his surroundings, has a girlfriend, a job of stealing things, and oh yeah, plans on going to college. If not now, then at least sometime soon. That all changes, however, when the police arrest and charge him with murder. Colin has no clue who the victim was or who actually did it, but the police say they have witness-testimony of someone who looks like Colin, so it has to be him, right? Well, no, but still, Colin gets locked away for a little over two decades, without any sign of hope whatsoever. The only breath of fresh air he has is that his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), is fighting for his innocence on the outside and doing all that he can to get a retrial and to prove that once and for all, Colin did not murder someone.

A conjugal, or dream? Who cares, right?

If it weren’t for the true story behind it, Crown Heights would have been another conventional, run-of-the-mill biopic about injustice and racism in America. Even if it wasn’t based-off of a true story, it would still hold an amount of truth and harsh honesty that with the current prison-system we have in America, makes it all the more of a bitter pill to swallow. But as it is, on its own, true story-aspect or not, it’s still a conventional, run-of-the-mill biopic about injustice and racism in America.

In a way, you want to give it a passing-grade because it’s a story that can be told one too many times, but you also don’t want to get past the fact that it really doesn’t bring much of anything new to the table that the Hurricane didn’t already do, almost 20 years ago. If anything, Crown Heights proves that the human spirit is the most powerful force of all and the fight for justice, should never wane, no matter how many years go by, no matter how much money is lost, and how much hope is lost in the wind. It’s a little schmaltzy and most definitely cheesy, but hey, it’s true.

Oh, and yeah, it’s a true story.

Eagles best corner-back. Just saying.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin does try, time and time again to really let this material jump off the screen, but it doesn’t ever happen. There are times when it flirts with true tension (like whenever it’s in the courtroom), but it never becomes more than just a sad story of an investigation gone wrong and a life possibly lost to an already corrupt justice system. As it is, it probably would have worked much better as a documentary, where we would have been able to get all of the information thrown at us, with such quickness and velocity, that it didn’t matter if we already knew how it ended. Documentaries allow for a human-face to be shown and it’s why true-crime documentaries are currently the bee’s knees today – they can be quick, fun, sad, exciting, and most of all, suspenseful.

Crown Heights never comes close to that and it’s a shame. Even LaKeith Stanfield, who is slowly becoming a leading-presence to keep an eye on, seems wasted on a role that keeps him playing one-note, the whole way through. He’s either sad, wistful, or crying and it can get to be a bit draining. Due to him being in jail, too, Stanfield doesn’t really get to do all that much with those around him, except for the scenes he has with Asomugha or Natalie Paul’s Antoinette. Everyone here tries, but like I said, if the material just isn’t there, there’s only so much they can do.

Consensus: Crown Heights is an unfortunate story, trapped in an unfortunately dull and lifeless movie that, without a great deal of truth behind it, would have been another cable-TV movie-of-the-week.

5 / 10

Too many faces like him, going through the same crap as him.

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios and IFC Films

Justice League (2017)

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

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

But who?

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

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

Unfortunately, quite the opposite happens.

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

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

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

Just kiss already! Get this testosterone done with already!

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

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

Patti Cake$ (2017)

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

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

Watch that glow.

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

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

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

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

Like Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

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

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

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

Just why wasn’t it better?

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

5 / 10

There’s the mixtape’s cover.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

Thank You for Your Service (2017)

Thanks for defending our country. Now beat it!

Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Specialist Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Kole), and Will Waller (Joe Cole), are all soldiers finally returning home after a year-long stint in the war. It was a rough time for all of them, but now they’re just happy to be home and, hopefully, re-adjust to the lives they left behind. However, that’s not so easy for them, especially considering what each one had to go through while they were over in the battlefield. For Schumann, he doesn’t know how to connect with his wife (Haley Bennett), or the rest of his family; for Aieti, he’s also having issues with his wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes), but also seems to be suffering from incredibly psychological problems, too; and Waller, after returning to an empty and abandoned home, with no wife and kids, struggles to make sense of what his life is. Each of them possibly want to return to the battlefield, but have to be medically-cleared, which is a whole other issue and of itself.

Coming home to Haley Bennett? See, home-life isn’t all that bad!

Thank You for Your Service is a movie that deserves to be seen because it reminds us, as a nation, what the men and women who went over to war, protected our country, in our honor and name, have to go through when they get back home, supposedly safe and sound from anymore of the troubles and evils of the world. Whether or not you agree with the war, almost doesn’t matter; the people getting involved with the war and fighting, deserve our sympathy. Not because they almost died and saw some horrific stuff, but because when they get back home, they’re not necessarily welcomed back with open-arms – it’s mostly a pat-on-the-back and shrug off to the side, without as much as a goodbye-note. It’s saw, awful, and above all else, disturbing and it deserves to be seen from all the world to see.

Does that make it a good movie? Eh. Not really.

That isn’t to say it isn’t well-intentioned, because it is. Writer/director Jason Hall, who wrote the script for American Sniper, seems like he has a good look and feel for getting his point across, without totally hitting us over the head with it all. That these soldiers, when they aren’t on the battlefield and at home, where there is no action whatsoever, seem trapped and confused, already tells us everything that we need to know, without so much as a piece of dialogue. It’s a smart move on Hall’s part because while you could see this direction as workman-like, the fact that he doesn’t get in the way of the real heart and message helps, too.

But then there are bits and pieces where it seems like Hall is getting a little over his head. For instance, a lot of the movie is just sitting around and watching as these guys try to adjust back to the life they once knew and as such, it’s interesting. Seeing how the system turns a blind-eye to them, or how their family-members, try as they might, just don’t seem to “get it”, is already enough action. Meaning, we don’t really need much of a plot, or even over-arching conflict – these guys trying to be normal and everyday like, is more than enough.

But then, like I said, Hall injects too much. There’s a whole subplot concerning Aietit’s character and the darkness he goes through, which not only feels phony, but a little silly. Why would this guy, who clearly seems to be suffering from major-trauma, continue on as something of a drug-peddler, where he’s not really acting violent, or getting all that much money. Also, there’s a lot of hallucinations and moments of pure insanity that, yes, get the point across, but do so in such a ham-fisted way, it feels like a disservice to those real soldiers who have actually been out there, fought, and lost their minds, as a result.

Miles Teller: A true American hero for us all.

It’s as if Hall wants to be as subtle as he can be, trusting the audience to make up their own conclusions, but then turns the other cheek and doesn’t.

It’s messy and shows us that perhaps Hall could have benefited from the help of another director, who may have taken this already-compelling material, and kept it as such, without trying to do too much else. Thankfully, though, what Hall does well is that he gives his cast ample opportunity to make these characters seem like real people, even despite his sometimes odd direction. Miles Teller, for instance, gives another great performance as a young man trying to make ends meet in this world, one week after he already did the same thing in Only the Brave, a much better and more accomplished movie that deals with the same issues of honor, tradition, and brotherly love.

But really, it’s Beulah Kole who’s the stand-out, giving us a performance of incredible subtlety, whenever the movie seems to be doing the opposite. Half of his scenes are just him, sitting there, looking confused, out-of-whack, and having no clue of what the hell’s going on. It’s a brutally sad performance, but it’s a very good one and shows that the best way to get a message across, is by not having to say anything at all.

Once again, show, don’t tell.

Consensus: Despite its good intentions and emotional look at the lives of these soldiers, Thank You for Your Service also suffers from a rather messy direction that does a lot more telling, than showing, when it shouldn’t have.

5.5 / 10

“Bro, this sucks.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Happy Death Day (2017)

Just die. Again. And again. And again.

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is another college student who, after a rather crazy night of drinking, wakes up in the bed of a guy she doesn’t even know, Carter (Israel Broussard). She takes a Tylenol and gets going to her sorority house, where she has to deal with a great deal of annoying, rather bitchy sisters who get on her, as well as the other sisters, for every little thing. But Tree doesn’t care all that much because she’s got something to celebrate tonight and no, it’s not just a weekend, but in fact, her birthday. Then, it all goes to hell when she’s stabbed-to-death by a masked killer. Bummer, right? Well, turns out that Tree wakes up in Carter’s bed after being stabbed and soon gets the feeling that everything she experienced the day before, isn’t actually the day before, but instead, the same day, over and over again. Why is this happening? How is this happening? Tree doesn’t really know just yet, but what she is going to do is figure out who her killer is and whether or not killing them will actually bring her back to normal, everyday life. And obviously, in the meantime, learn a few lessons about those around her, too.

Suitor #1

I don’t really know if you could call your movie “original”, when all you’re doing is stealing an idea that was already original in the first place (in this case, Groundhog Day) and using it for a different setting and genre. Hell, two other movies did the same thing (YA-weepie Before I Fall, and Marlon Wayans-starring Naked), so once again, is it really original? Especially when you actually mention said movie, where the original idea came from?

Probably not, but hey, Happy Death Day is one of the better PG-13 slasher flicks out there that doesn’t feel like it’s actually catering to just a bunch of bored, ADHD-riddled kids who love MTV. It’s got some thought-process to it, some self-aware, funny writing, and oh yeah, a pretty kick-ass female-lead. It’s totally conventional, formulaic, and predictable to a fault, but it’s also a little fun, so long as you’re willing to look past the fact that there aren’t many surprises along the way, and that the plot’s going to be followed, the exact way you think it would be.

But still, the pace and general mood is fun, so why should I care too much?

Suitor #2

After all, it’s the kind of slasher-flick made for the MTV-crowd, yet also feels like it’s sort of making fun of them, too. For instance, take Tree, a character who, in all honesty, feels a little too smart for this kind of movie and, lord if he was still alive, would sit perfectly in a Wes Craven movie. She’s smart, sassy, a little mean, a little rude, and oh yeah, actually pretty likable. We’re supposed to look at her and think of the way that she’s constantly partying, sexxing, blowing-off her dad, and not really caring what others generally think of her, as something awful about her, but it actually works in her defense. She’s not a scared, little virgin, waiting for the slasher to come and kill her off in the first few seconds, nor is she the conventional skank who typically gets killed-off pretty quickly, too – she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve and it’s because of her, that Happy Death Day is serviceable.

Surprisingly, she keeps it fun and high-brow, even when it’s definitely not. Some of that praise definitely goes towards the script, but also to Jessica Rothe, who does a lot with this thinly-written role. Rothe, despite being literally 30, fits well into this role, because it never seems like she’s trying too hard to be hip, cool, or even relatable – she’s just another college girl, going through some crap, trying to get by, and having as much fun as she can while doing it. Honestly, this is the kind of character I’d like to just see in a coming-of-ager, forget a silly slasher, but hey, can’t always get everything, right?

But hey, if this means that we see more of Rothe, I’m fine with that.

Consensus: Even with the unoriginal gimmick attached, Happy Death Day still gets by, despite offering very few or no surprises, because it’s fun, self-aware feel, as well as a knockout, drag-out performance from Rothe in the lead.

5 / 10

And oh yeah, suitor #3, who is obviously right behind her.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

1922 (2017)

Keep an eye on those farms.

Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) is a simple, everyday farmer out in the rural lands of Nebraska. His wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), loves him, even though she doesn’t like how he can be a bit of a dummy, while their son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), looks up to him. It’s a fine, little family that gets by so well because they don’t really have any problems. Then, it all goes to crap when Arlette wants to sell the farm and the land, so that they can make some big money and live her dream of moving to the city. It’s something that she’s always wanted, but Wilfred hasn’t and because of that, he decides that it’s time to get rid of Arlette once and for all. Problem is, when he does just that, more darkness and sinister-intentions begin coming out and it makes Wilfred a scary man, but someone quite dangerous – it’s something that Henry takes note of and is desperately afraid of.

Yeah. Not crazy at all.

1922 is a better movie than Netflix’s last Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, but it also suffers from some of the same issues that that movie just couldn’t get past. Here, there’s actually something of a story that goes places and does interesting things, but by the same token, also feels like it’s stretched maybe 20-30-minutes beyond what it should have been. What would have been a solid, one-hour special on late-night programming, soon turns into an overlong flick about a guy succumbing to his demons and not really surprising us all that much.

That said, Thomas Jane is pretty great in the lead role and if anything, deserves to have 1922 seen, just for him.

I said the same thing about Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game, but what’s different here is that Jane really digs deep into this challenging and surprisingly complex character that we’re never sure of if we actually want to like, or not. The movie itself never really makes up its mind, either, which is fine, because it helps the performance all that much more. Even though Jane himself constantly gets crap about being a shoddy-actor, there is a certain amount of fun and charm to him that’s hard to deny him of; Wilfred is, a dark and scary person, but Jane gives him a sort of goofiness that helps make this character seem like so much more than just your typical bumble, who speaks in such broken English, you don’t know whether to laugh, or turn on the subtitles.

She’s just now realizing that she’s made a mistake, marrying the man that she has.

But like I said, 1922 is mostly relying on his performance to save the day, which it does. If anything, writer/director Zak Hilditch does go further and further into more disturbing material than you’d expect, but he can only do so much, for so long. After awhile, it becomes clear where the movie’s going, what it has to say, and that’s about it. It’s pulpy and a little freaky, but at the end of it all, there’s no real shocks, surprises, twists, and/or turns. It’s just a dude turning into a menace, before our very own eyes. And for some reason, that’s not nearly as compelling as you’d hope it would be. Except for that it’s Thomas Jane going nuts before our eyes and yes, he makes it all the better.

He always does, people. Give him more stuff to do.

Consensus: 1922 isn’t the most essential Stephen King adaptation of 2017, but it features some dark thrills, chills, and a solid turn from Jane to help make it better.

5 / 10

Who needs a scarecrow when you can just have this dude out there in the fields?

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

American Assassin (2017)

American Assassin

After a devastating terrorist attack kills the woman of his dreams, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is pulled into a dark, unrelenting world of tracking these terrorists down and getting his own sort of revenge. But just as soon as he gets close enough to do so, he’s whisked away by the CIA who, having tracked all of Mitch’s actions in the past year or so since the attack, like what they see and feel as if they can use it to their own advantage. However, Mitch is a bit of a hot-head and while he has the skills to shoot a gun and kick all sorts of ass, he needs to know how to control his temper so that missions can be completed, without any issues whatsoever. That’s when Mitch is sent to an isolated boot-camp, headed by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a former Marine who is quite the ass-kicker himself. Together, Stan and Mitch track down a terrorist (Taylor Kitsch), who has plans of starting a global war, but once again, it all comes down to whether or not Mitch can control himself, when the push comes to the shove.

Do they allow those kinds of hair-do’s in the CIA? Or should I say, hair-don’ts!

The first 40 minutes or so of American Assassin are actually pretty good. Director Michael Cuesta, who, oddly enough, has made quite the name for himself in small, rather disturbing indies, doesn’t really speed things up, as much as he lets it all play out in front of our own eyes, in a very mannered-way. In a way, that makes the violence all the more shocking and graphic. Sure, having an R-rating attached certainly helps things, but rather than seeming like an action set-piece in a big-budgeted movie, American Assassin‘s action, in the first-half at least, feels like it’s going for something colder, darker, and deeper, than just blood, guts and terrorists doing bad thing.

Then, it all goes away.

At about the half-way mark, the movie then realizes we need a mission, we need a story, and oh yeah, we need some sort of conflict that isn’t just Mitch and Stan constantly dick-measuring – there needs to be a baddie, a reason, and oh yeah, way more action. When this happens, American Assassin eventually turns into a very dumb, over-the-top, and surprisingly safe action-thriller that wants to keep on being dark and meaningful, but is just too silly for its own good. It’s as if Cuesta may have gotten thrown out of the director’s chair about halfway through production when the powers that be eventually realized he wasn’t making the Bourne rip-off they so desperately wanted.

Cause even in something like Bourne, at least the politics of that movie, while challenging, at least feel fully realized. The action happens for a reason and while it is no doubt played-up for thrills and chills, it still comes from a very dark, realistic place, in a world where these sorts of things happen each and every day. In American Assassin, the politics are way too troubling and one-sided, almost to the point of where I wonder whether it was made before, or after Trump got elected.

In other words, it’s so jingoistic that it borders on xenophobic.

Kick some ass, Mikey. Do it for ‘merica!

Then again, the villain is a disillusioned and paranoid former-soldier from the South, so I guess that kind of saves it? I’m not sure, actually. What I am sure of is that for the final hour or so, American Assassin gets pretty rote and well, boring. It’s action isn’t all that exciting, it’s script continues to get sillier, and yeah, we see where it’s always going. The first-half had at least some surprises and excitement to it, because it felt a little fresh, but once that goes out the window, we’re back to crazy action-sequences that you can see perfectly fine, but do you really want to?

The only real saving-grace above this all is Michael Keaton, who feels like he’s way too good for the material and may have signed-up for something else entirely. Still, as the strict and mean Stan Hurley, Keaton gets a lot of mileage out of being the angriest and possibly, toughest guy in the room, despite himself being quite tiny and over 60-years-of-age. Still, it’s a testament to the kind of actor Keaton is, because he helps this thing move, probably when it shouldn’t.

As for Dylan O’Brien? Yeah, the verdict’s still out on him.

It’s not that I see him as dull, either, it’s just that the material he’s given here either doesn’t give him enough room to stretch, or he himself doesn’t know how to take this character. He’s jacked and handsome, but when you get down to it, there’s still this kid-like vulnerability to him that doesn’t quite register and makes this character feel like Jr. Bourne.

But hey, as long as he doesn’t get injured again, at least he’s got the Maze Runner to fall back on, right?

They still make those, right? Somebody help me.

Consensus: Despite a very promising start, American Assassin soon turns into a full-blown action-thriller, that’s never as fun, or as smart as it clearly wanted to be.

5 / 10

Baby Looney Tunes are taking over the CIA! Help us, foreign nations!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Kidnap (2017)

Kidnap (2017)

Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) is just another single mother doing whatever she can to get by. Her job as a waitress can be a little demanding, with her also battling over custody for her son with her ex-husband, and yeah, she tries. But to add another wrench in her life is the moment when her son is kidnapped by a bunch of random rednecks. Karla has no clue why they kidnapped her son, but you know what? She’s not going to hesitate for a single second to find them and get her son back. Which is something she does, although it becomes readily apparent that Karla’s going to have to do a lot of driving, yelling, running, maneuvering, thinking, and oh yeah, possibly even killing. See, Karla’s life just got a whole lot more complicated, but it’s her son and she’ll fight for him any day.

So happy….UNTIL!

Just like with the Call a few years ago, Halle Berry is once again stuck with a B-movie where all she has to do is show up and give it her all. Which is exactly what the Oscar-winner does; there are brief moments where she really has to let loose on her emotions and well, it actually kind of works. Granted, she’s practically crying and yelling throughout the whole movie, but no one does that quite as well as Berry does and she actually elevates the material, just by showing up and putting in solid work.

It makes me wonder why she’s doing stuff like this, when in reality, she’s still a tremendous actress and downright beautiful to-boot.

But once again, why is she here?

Always check your blind-spots.

And this isn’t to say that Kidnap‘s a terrible movie; it’s exactly what you would expect in a late-summer diversion. It’s fast, fun, and incredibly stupid. The fact that the plot-line never goes beyond “Halle Berry chases kidnappers” for the whole 86 minutes, should really show you what you’re getting yourself into. And it’s not necessarily a problem that the movie doesn’t try to over-complicate itself with things like plot and motivations, but a part of me feels like there truly was no script here and a lot of it was just left up to director Luis Prieto and Berry to make up as they went along.

If that’s true, what they do make up can be exciting, but most of the time, a little repetitive. For instance, a good portion of the first-half is this car-chase that goes on and on and on for what seems like hours. Which is fine, because it does keep the adrenaline going, but there’s not much else to it; we just hear Berry talking to herself and wondering what the next best move for her is. After awhile, it can get a bit old and feel like, once again, there’s not much of a script.

Just action, action, and oh yeah, a little more action.

Once again, though, it’s not as if this is always a problem with movies – simplicity is, in ways, sometimes a movie’s best friend. But here, with Kidnap, it feels lazy and as if there really wasn’t anything else actually going on beneath the surface to be found. It can be fun, but even at 86 minutes, it still feels like it was stretched a bit too thin, even by its own standards.

So yeah, Halle, please get back into the mode of making good movies again. Please. We need you and miss you.

Consensus: Even as a late-summer diversion, Kidnap is fine, but also feels like it’s not really going anywhere and solely depending on the still-great skills of Halle Berry.

5 / 10

Oh. Here we go with this for an hour.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)

Who needs a goal? Kick somebody’s ass!

A lockout has reunited old teammates and brought a crew of new players to the bench for the one, the only, and the notorious Halifax Highlanders. Sidelined after one too many hits and now married with a baby on the way, Doug “The Thug” Glatt (Seann William Scott) is forced to hang up his skates and settle into something that we call “normal life”, with him trying his hand at selling insurance. Does it quite fit him like a hockey-glove? Not at all, but it does keep him occupied and his wife (Alison Pill) happy, so why not just stick with it? But it all changes when Doug’s nemesis, the young, cocky hotshot Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), is made captain of the Highlanders and new ownership threatens to tear his team apart. Now, Doug feels as if it’s time to lace back up the skates, put the gloves back on and, yeah, take some people’s teeth out.

Get it? They’re Canadian! Listen to the way they pronounce their “O’s”!

In the world of sports movies, it’s very rare that we get one about hockey. Better yet, it’s incredibly rare that we get a good one. Or hell, it’s incredibly rare that we get a hockey-comedy that isn’t just funny, but also kind of sweet and exciting to watch for everybody, regardless of if they love hockey or not. But that’s exactly what the first Goon was: Hilarious, hard-hitting, and at the center of it all, a little heartfelt. It was, for lack of a better word, one of the better sports movies made and perhaps, close to being the best hockey-movie of all-time.

Notice how I said “close to”, people. Don’t get all riled-up as I know Slapshot! is still #1 is on everyone’s list.

But still, Goon probably didn’t need a sequel, but here it is and well, things feel a whole lot different. For one, the quality has been downgraded a whole lot. Jay Baruchel takes over directing-duties this time around and while he’s very good at shooting hockey and the sort of excitement that can be felt from watching a game, where it seems like everyone’s more interested in beating the hell out of one another, and not actually, you know, scoring goals and winning, he feels awkward with everything else. The comedy, the drama, and even the slightest bit of heart that’s anywhere to be found, just doesn’t quite work.

Does he know what’s happening?

The only thing that really does work is, other than the hockey and over-the-top, but effectively extreme brawls, is Seann William Scott who, once again, proves why he’s one of the more underrated talents in comedy. Cause while the guy is definitely funny, he also has a little something more to him than just crass-jokes about balls and Canadians (which is all this movie’s comedy revolves around); he’s actually a pretty nice guy who means well and basically loves everyone around him, even if he is an absolutely nutty and crazy fighting-machine. Scott’s delivery with everything he says here is golden and feels like he’s constantly lifting the movie above what it actually seems like it wants to be.

Cause at the end of the day, it’s still a really loud, a really crass, and really dumb sports-comedy that sort of works, but also sort of doesn’t.

It’s hard because when you compare it to the first one, you have to think that there may have been an opportunity wasted. The story isn’t really here, the comedy is really slapdash, in terms of what’s funny and what isn’t, and the supporting-characters all just feel a little one-note. It’s as if the heart and soul was somehow lost, even though it seems like everyone involved with this, wanted to make this, and felt so incredibly passionate about it, that they didn’t care if the money was there or not. They wanted to make Goon 2 and well, they got it.

I just wish it was something totally worth waiting the past five years or so for.

Consensus: While still just as silly and raunchy as the first, Last of the Enforcers also feels like a drastic step-down with weak writing and a bad case of familiarity, despite the hockey-scenes and William Scott saving the day.

5 / 10

That’s more like it, Dougie! Knock his ass out!

Photos Courtesy of: Entertainment One

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Never invite the help for dinner. That’s rule #120 for the upper-class.

Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a masseuse who has a great deal of clients. One just so happens to be Kathy (Connie Britton), the mother of a girl that Beatriz not only helped, but befriended many years before. Now, Beatriz works her magic on Kathy and in a way, they consider themselves as “friends”. Others may see it differently, but they talk a lot and get to know one another so well that they basically might as well just be friends. Or at least, something like it. Anyway, Beatriz is in a funk one day when, because of the awful day she tells Kathy about, Kathy decides to invite her to a dinner they are having a little bit later. Kathy’s doing this out of the kindness of her own heart, but her husband (David Warshofsky) isn’t too happy about it; for him, this is a business-dinner and not a very social one, meaning that having someone like Beatriz around may be odd. However, Kathy insists and she gets her way, leaving Beatriz to spend the night in the house, at the table, talking with the guests, drinking wine, and eating all sorts of lovely meals. But little does she know that one of the guests (John Lithgow) is quite the pompous ass that literally stands against everything she is for.

Looks like someone didn’t get the “rich housewife gown” memo!

Everything that Beatriz at Dinner is attempting to say, or at least, get across, I whole-heartedly agree with and stand by. In today’s day and age, with the political-climate we currently have going on, it’s great to see a movie stand up to these sorts of fat-cat, bigwigs of the upper-class that constantly seem to be getting away with filthy, bloody murder. But what Beatriz at Dinner does well and at least gets across, is that it shows us that these people are, as you’d expect, human. They may have looser morals and heavier wallets, but they are no doubt, humans, and in a way, that makes them scary.

The fat-cat, bigwig of the upper-class here in Beatriz at Dinner is played by John Lithgow and as usual, he totally immerses himself in the role. He’s compelling, powerful, takes over any room he’s in, seems like he always has something arrogant to say, and oh yeah, is quite menacing when he wants to be. But he’s also humane and feels like a real person – the kind you wouldn’t want to call “a friend”, but the guy you could see yourself sitting and having a drink with, only because he seems like a good time when he isn’t talking about big-game hunting or knocking down trees. But through Mike White’s script and Miguel Arteta’s direction, we see someone who does have a soul and a heart, as black as they may be, and because of that, they are hard to look away from and because of that, easier to indict and point the finger at.

Issue is, that’s all the movie has going for it.

Which isn’t to say that Beatriz at Dinner doesn’t have other fine qualities to it, other than shaming the rich and powerful; it can be, at times, quite funny and interesting, if only because we want to know more and more about these characters. As usual with Arteta’s movies, he’s not afraid to simmer everything down to where we aren’t getting constant jokes, every few seconds, but instead, moments to relax and focus on the finer things in comedies such as these, like characters and what’s to them. Of course, White knows what he’s doing with a script like this when it comes to writing comedy and nailing down perfectly the kind of awkwardness that would be had in a certain situation such as this.

“Cheers to whatever!”

But if anything, the real problem is that it feels unfinished. The movie, for being nearly 80 minutes, feels like it’s missing maybe a few too many reels, especially near the end. The dinner party comes around and why it takes up the bulk of the movie, it still feels rushed and not as if everything fully came together. Some of the humor in these scenes works and there’s a lot of hinting at something deeper going beyond the surface, but nope, the movie just sort of backs away and continues on with way too many ham-fisted points about current-day society.

Once again, I totally agree with what it has to say, but there’s a better way to go about it than here.

And also, if there’s a main problem here, it’s Beatriz herself. While it’s nice that we get a movie where the Latin-American masseuse is the lead protagonist, it also doesn’t help that she’s kind of a type, too. Beatriz, whenever is necessary for her and not really understanding the conversation going on around her, constantly chimes in and rambles on and on about stories from her native-land, goats, and well, mother nature itself. It’s basically one-joke, stretched way too long and it hurts because we know that there’s more to this character than just waxing on and interrupting conversations. Hayek is fine in the role, but yeah, even she feels like she may have been stuck with something that isn’t exactly a win-win for her, in the end.

Consensus: Regardless of what, or who, it speaks about and against, Beatriz at Dinner still feels like it’s missing some pieces to fully keep a cohesive, smart and subtle dramedy, even despite a good cast to help out.

5 / 10

Of course she has a guitar to jam out with.

Photos Courtesy of: Killer Films

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

Looks like T-Swift’s gonna need one of these soon.

The merciless dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman) is being held-up on charges of some serious war-crimes, but for some reason, there’s no real clear-cut evidence against him. The only option imaginable to actually come in front of a court and testify to this man’s heinous actions is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a notorious contract-killer who is currently serving a pretty long sentence for his various kills in his storied-career. So yeah, he signs a deal to come forward, but now, his name is out there and people want him dead. So what does one do for a hitman who needs protecting, especially for the next 24 hours? They call up the hitman’s bodyguard, who also happens to be Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), a straight-laced bro who is also reeling from a bit of heartbreak. Now, it’s up to Michael to make sure that Darius can stay alive and testify, or else it’s not just his ass on the line, but possibly his life. Only issue: He and Darius don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.

Like, on anything.

Oh yeah. Salma Hayek’s also here, basically re-doing her role from the equally insane Savages.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard wears its late-80’s, early-90’s action-comedy influences on its sleeve and doesn’t really make any sort of excuse for it, either. In a way, that’s sort of commendable – it’s like all of those Tarantino rip-offs we got about midway through the 90’s that tried to be something that they clearly weren’t. But in this case, the movie isn’t wholly trying to be something it isn’t – it knows it’s stupid, silly, wacky, and over-the-top, and it’s kind of fun for that reason alone, right?

Well, uh, yes and well, uh, no.

See, the one issue with the Hitman’s Bodyguard is that it’s a lot of things all wrapped-up into one, without ever making total sense of itself. Sure, it’s a dark comedy that flirts with the idea of heinous, ugly violence being played for laughs, with constant swearing and nudity being flung everywhere, but it also seems like it never knows when to tone any of that down. Cause the jokes don’t always land, the camaraderie doesn’t always work, or hell, make sense, and the plot, despite the constant twists and turns, just doesn’t make sense. You get the sense that director Patrick Hughes sort of got this right from the get-go, so rather than taking his time on every little plot-detail, he kept everything moving as fast and as crazy-quick as he could.

Still, it doesn’t keep the movie away from being shy of two hours, but yeah, it does help that the movie knows how to keep itself going, even if it is only to distract us from the fact that there are some problems here. Like, for instance, the script just isn’t as funny as it thinks it is; the constant conversations between Jackson and Reynolds, while occasionally amusing, also grow tired and old, after about the fourth or fifth one that clocks in at about ten minutes. It’s nice to have an action-comedy that cares this much about dialogue and listening to two characters, essentially, just banter about, but it makes you wish that the script itself were better.

Another foreign country. Another freakin’ car-chase.

Or hell, that the jokes were funnier.

Instead, we get some lame punchlines, callbacks, and oh yeah, forced drama about love, life, and careers. It doesn’t work and it’s sure as hell hokey, but once again, there’s at least an attempt to do something here. Would this have all been handled a lot better in the hands of Shane Black? Most definitely. But that guy wasn’t around, because he’s off trying to make another classic and because of that, we get Hughes working from Tom O’Connor’s script. Whether these two saw eye-to-eye on what exactly was hilarious about this script or not, isn’t shown in the final-product, because it’s sort of like everything gets thrown at us, at once, without any break in the action.

Which can be fine, too, because the movie does have some solid action-pieces and bits and pieces from Jackson and Reynolds. In fact, Reynolds and Jackson are probably the true reasons to see this; they clearly have great chemistry with one another and also show that, despite them both being charismatic as hell, they also know when to give the other the spotlight. They’re not constantly duking it out to see who gets the better lines or the shinier moments, they’re just having fun and trying to invite us in on it, too.

Shame that doesn’t quite happen, though. Once again, however, there is an effort. And that’s all that matters.

Consensus: Perhaps not as hilarious or as smart as it thinks it is, the Hitman’s Bodyguard benefits from some fun action and a solid pairing of Reynolds and Jackson who, despite not having the best material to work with, wade through it all with their dignities still in-tact.

5.5 / 10

Get it? Nuns and hit-men? So loopy!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Bushwick (2017)

It’s the end of the world as we know it and as long as Bautista’s there, I feel fine.

It’s just another typical day in NYC and Lucy (Brittany Snow) and her boyfriend (Christian Navarro) decide to spend their time together, heading off to see Lucy’s sister and grand-mom. Nothing too crazy or out of the ordinary, but typical. Then they step off the subway, and for some reason, hell has broken loose. Guns, weapons, bullets, and bodies are flying everywhere on the streets of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Why? Well apparently, Texas is attempting to secede from the Union, and militia forces have descended upon New York City to claim it as an East Coast base of operations and negotiation tool. Now it’s up to Lucy to survive the day, which isn’t all that easy when you’re a small, relatively civil white girl from Brooklyn who is constantly falling prey to evil people, on both sides. However, her only sense of safety and perseverance is Stupe (Dave Bautista), a burly war veteran who has seen horrors like this before and knows what he’s getting himself into, but at the same time, isn’t too happy about it.

Can’t wait for their second date.

The whole gimmick behind Bushwick is that it’s not just all taking place in real-time, but it’s supposed to be shot in one, continuous-sequence, a la Birdman or, from what I hear, Woody Harrelson’s Lost in London. Which already proves to be a problem for the movie; we can tell when the cuts and swipes occur, but the movie’s also not very subtle about breaking its own rules, either. Both co-directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott earn some praise for at least attempting something rather difficult and time-consuming, but at the end of it all, it can tend to be a bit distracting.

Still though, it kind of works.

See, Bushwick puts us right in all of the action, which helps the movie move from scene-to-scene, even if a lot of it can seem repetitive. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t really ask for us to think of things like logic, or even expectations, but sit back, watch, and continue to be all wrapped-up in all that’s happening. A lot of the action takes place off-screen, far away from our eyes, but heavy in our minds and the imaginations can honestly run more wild than what’s actually seen. It’s something so rarely done in modern-day thrillers, that it’s nice to see it here, even if it was probably unintentional.

And sure, the movie’s a little silly. When the action slows down and the intensity sort of dissipates, the characters aren’t all that smart. And this is where the one-shot gimmick runs afoul – we can always tell when these actors are acting, no matter what. They’re made to seem like real people, in a disastrous situation, without anywhere to go, or any shelter to hide in, but really, because we don’t get the hundred or so edits to get that right shot/take, we’re watching what is, essentially, actors running lines as if they’re petrified and all shaken up.

Uh oh, bro. Don’t talk about that other wrestler-turned-actor, who is also one of the biggest stars in the world. Dave doesn’t like that.

The only one who really gets by with all of this is Dave Bautista because, well, he’s such a menacing force, he doesn’t have to act scared or worried. He actually downplays the role much more than you’d expect, and it’s much more interesting than you’d want from a movie about a five-block trek through a war-zone. Even in the smaller moments where the movie decides to take its time to develop characters, as dumb as they may be, Bautista shines and shows us that there’s more behind the big arms and body.

Believe it or not, the fella can actually act. Wow.

And nothing against Brittany Snow, or any of the few others here, but yeah, they don’t quite work. The movie much more about the mood and the tension in the air, as opposed to being a smart, thought-provoking allegory for the current state of affairs in America. While something such as this is perfectly relevant in the same way that the Handmaiden’s Tale sort of is, Bushwick doesn’t care too much about really developing these ideas any further than just using them as a, you know, backboard for showing some real cool action and using a neat style.

Does it totally work? Eh. Not totally. But hey, it’s better than anything else I’ve seen in the past week, so why not be nice.

Consensus: Despite its odd gimmick and silly writing, Bushwick is still a rather tense and exciting thriller, that has some stakes in the real world, but never goes beyond much of any of that.

5.5 / 10

The couple made in hell. Literal, hell.

Photos Courtesy of: RLJ Entertainment

The Wall (2017)

Trumps worst nightmare.

U.S. soldiers Allan “Ize” Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Shane Matthews (John Cena) answer a distress call in the desert of postwar Iraq. Out of nowhere, gunshots erupt, leaving Shane badly injured and Allan with a bullet in his leg. Forced to take cover behind a crumbling stone wall, Isaac now finds himself in a fight for survival against an unseen sniper who has all of the advantages.

The Wall is one of those lean, mean, tight, and incredibly small thrillers that don’t get made as much as they probably should. See, most of Hollywood believes that the best way to achieve some chills and thrills, is solely through big, loud, explosions of action, CGI, and exposition that doesn’t really matter. It isn’t always the case, but for the most part, Hollywood has let the American thriller down and it’s up to folks like Dough Liman to try and save it.

Lots of experience from COD.

Unfortunately, the Wall isn’t quite the saving grace you could hope for.

If anything, it’s a very small movie that flirts with the idea of being incredibly compelling and fun but, other than at least 20 or so minutes of actual intensity, the movie sort of just sits there and coasts by. It seems like, at any point, it’s going to take off and go somewhere crazy and relatively fun, but just as soon as that’s promised, for some reason, things slow back down. It’s weird, too, because you can tell that Liman wants it to take off of the ground – it’s just that he either doesn’t know where to go, what to do next, or basically, just didn’t have enough money to do the sorts of things he wanted to do.

After all, Liman shot this whole thing practically on the sly, without anyone really knowing of its existence, nor what it was going to be about, which is a noble decision on the part of Liman’s, but it also may have taken the movie back a bit. The budget is smaller than most thrillers of this nature and because of that, some of the more ambitious things he may have been tempted to do, probably couldn’t have happened. And it’s not like I have issues with small movies such as this, just sitting in one location for the whole run-time, but that’s literally what happens in the Wall for at least half of its hour-20 run-time: Sits.

The only aspect of the movie that makes it all worth saving and sticking around for is Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the lead role.

Wait. Why is there a picture of air?

And I think it should be stated by now, people, that Taylor-Johnson is a pretty great actor. Sure, he’s a hunk, a pretty-boy, and most definitely the crush of every girl out there who has ever laid their eyes on him, but all that aside, the guy can handle any role put at him. His role here finds him doing a lot of heavy-lifting all by himself, without much assistance from those around him, and it deserves to be noted that he makes it all interesting to watch. We don’t get much background about his character, other than the fact that he’s a soldier and loves America, but Taylor-Johnson gives us the promise that there’s something more there, just waiting to be revealed; add that to the fact that he’s a soldier, trapped in a deadly-position, without much of a way out, and yeah, he’s awfully sympathetic.

Which is why the Wall, though it doesn’t really get as deep as it probably should have, definitely seems like the kind of movie that wants to say something about war, the military, or even foreign affairs, but at the same time, sort of only skirts by all of these ideas it probably had brewing in its mind. The Iraqi soldier speaking on the radio the whole movie, constantly reminds us, the audience, about the United States and their constant insistence on getting involved with other country’s business and while it is no doubt a true and honest sentiment, it’s told to us through someone who is, either nonexistent, or basically, just a victim. There’s not much else to him, so because of that, we’re sort of just left with the idea that he’s a sick human being who wants to see soldiers killed, because, well, why not.

May be a case of me nitpicking, but I don’t know. At least some of those mainstream, Hollywood, big-budget thrillers have a little bit more on their mind than just shooting, blood, action, violence, and xenophobia.

Consensus: Even with a solid lead performance from Taylor-Johnson and a few solid thrills, the Wall crumbles under the weight of its own rather small ambitions and, of course, budget.

Hurry, Aaron! Save that air!

5 / 10

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate

The Glass Castle (2017)

Every family’s a little crazy. Obviously some, more than others.

Though Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) grew up to be a smart, tough and powerful gal writing for a column, she had quite a rough upbringing. Her parents, for lack of a better word, were hippies in the sense that they didn’t care too much about certain materialistic things. You know, things like a house, or bills, or even school. This led Jeannette and her relatives to having to grow up by themselves and save up money, day in and day out, in hopes that they’ll one day make it out. And the father, Rex (Woody Harrelson), was probably the biggest problem of them all. Not only did he love himself a drink, but he was so controlling, he wouldn’t let anybody out. The mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), was just always there, painting, and trying her hardest to ensure that her family stayed together. Honestly, it was a lost cause which is why, when Jeannette grows up, she doesn’t really want much to do with her parents. But the older she gets, the more she realizes that no matter how hard she tries, her parents and her family’s legacy is something that she can never, ever avoid.

Daddy’s little girl. So long as daddy ain’t drinkin’.

The Glass Castle is an odd movie that felt like it should be a whole hell of a lot darker, meaner and more disturbing, than it actually plays out. It’s literally a story about a drunken-deadbeat of a father who forced his family to stay in poverty, not really depend on anything but him, and as a result, sort of scar them for life. And that story, as is told, kind of works; the Glass Castle has an honest way about telling its story where we get the sense that no matter how many years go by, the scars will still always be there.

But that’s only one aspect of the story. The other aspect is this notion that the movie also wants to praise the drunken-deadbeat father for being charming, thinking for himself, and always being able to provide an argument in a justified manner. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to hate him for all of the awful, almost unforgivable actions that he commits throughout the two hours, but also love him for these faults, too. Once again, it’s odd and it never quite works together, and it’s all the more disappointing considering that this is coming from director Destin Daniel Cretton who, a few years ago, shook the airwaves a few years ago with Short Term 12.

Which also starred Brie Larson who, for some reason, feels wasted here, as does everyone else.

She turned out all right. Right?

The only person in the cast who gets to do the most is Woody Harrelson and oddly enough, even he feels like a problem for the movie. Though it’s not entirely his fault – the writing’s too confusing – it still shows us that no matter how hard he tries, even Woody Harrelson’s charm can’t save a character who is, at the end of the day, an asshole. We get constant flashbacks of him being something of a nice father, who tells his kids to inspire more, but we soon find out that he only says that because he can’t support them in any other way. We also get constant flashbacks of him connecting with Jeannette and we get the sense that they truly did have a loving relationship growing up, and constantly depending on one another, but then we also find out that the father didn’t want her to leave the nest and sabotaged her career, at one point.

It’s really weird, honestly. And it feels like the movie never quite makes up what it wants to be about, or hell, what it even wants to say, about us, about this family, and about family as a whole, in general. The story itself is compelling and, on occasion, we’ll get some small glimmers of material that could have been further explored, in a much darker, much more adult-oriented movie, but the Glass Castle also feels like it’s playing very much for the made-for-TV crowd. It looks and has better acting than one of them, but it’s just as messy and uneven, making it a missed opportunity on all fronts.

Go back to indies, Destin. Please.

Consensus: While the original source-material leaves plenty of room for promise, the adaptation of the Glass Castle is a confused, mish-mash of melodrama, sap, and mixed messages about family, alcoholism, and coming-of-age.

4.5 / 10

“Who needs gas? Or electric? Or water? Or school? Or hell, anything else! We got family!”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Look of Love (2013)

The Look of Love (2013)

At one point in his life, Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) seemingly had it all. He was a Soho adult magazine publisher and entrepreneur that seemed to have all of the money, all of the drugs, all of the women, and all of the fancy people around him to help him out. However, it wasn’t always like that. In fact, before he got on top, Raymond started with just a few adult burlesque houses, where nudity and sexual innuendo was a constant cause for controversy. Eventually, it all came to work out for him, because not only did people want to see naked women, they also wanted to be in the company of them, as well as Raymond, who was, in all honesty, a charming chap. And while he was closer and closer to becoming one of Britain’s wealthiest men, he had some issues to deal with, mostly those in his personal life with wife Jean (Anna Friel), who he can’t seem to stay faithful to, or his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), who seems to be taking all of the drinking, sex, and drugs a little bit to hard and may prove to be her ultimate undoing.

Life is good when you have Anna Friel on your arm.

The Look of Love is one of those glossy, glammy, and glitzy biopics about rich people having all of the fun in the world. It doesn’t really try to inform or educate us, nor does it ever really set out to change the nature of biopics as we know it; it has a subject, it has a story, and it has a sort of hook. That’s all we need.

But for some reason, coming from director Michael Winterbottom, something seems to still be missing. See, it isn’t that the Look of Love can’t be entertaining when its living it up with all of the excess of drugs, sex, booze, and partying, because it does, it’s just that when that is all said and done, it doesn’t have much else to offer. A good portion of this can have to do with the material just not working and Winterbottom’s rather lax-direction, but it may all just come down to the fact that Paul Raymond himself just isn’t all that interesting of a fella to have a whole movie about.

Or at the very least, a movie in which he is shown as a flawed, but mostly lovable human being.

And it’s odd, too, because Raymond definitely gets the whole treatment; everything from his success as a businessman, to his failure as a family man is clearly shown and explored. But for some reason, it still feels like the movie is struggling with what to do, or say about this man. Sure, he brought himself up from nothing, to become more than just someone, or something, but is that about it? What did he do to get to that? Who was he with? What was the rest of the world like? Any sort of conflict?

And above all else, why do we care?

Truth is, we sort of don’t.

It’s even better when you’ve got a fine ‘stache.

That isn’t to say that Winterbottom and Coogan especially, don’t seem to try here, because they do. As Raymond, Coogan gets a chance to be light, funny, and a little dirty, which is something the man has always excelled in. But when it does come to the movie showing us more to Raymond behind the lovable and wacky facade, the movie stumbles a bit and Coogan’s performance can’t really save things in that department, either. We see that he loves his daughter and is fair to his ex-wives and lovers, but does that really give us a total reason to have a whole hour-and-a-half-long movie about his life and successes?

Once again, not really. It helps that Anna Friel and Imogen Poots are good in supporting-roles, but even they feel a bit underwritten. Friel’s ex-wife character is gone for such a long stretch of time that we almost forget about her, until she shows back up, gets naked, gets drunk, and has some fun, and Poots’ daughter character, while initially promising at first, turns into a convention that biopics like these love to utilize. Granted, she was a real person and the movie isn’t taking any narrative short-cuts in this respect, but still, it just doesn’t wholly feel right.

Was there more to her? Or her mother? Or even Raymond? Once again, we may never know.

Consensus: At the very least, the Look of Love is an entertaining, if also by-the-books biopic of a man we probably didn’t really need a whole movie dedicated to in the first place.

5 / 10

And when you’ve got plenty to drink and snort. But that’s obvious by now.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Daddy Longlegs (2009)

Safdie

Lenny (Ronald Bernstein) is really trying to make it work. After his divorce, he was given custody of his children with his ex, but for some reason, he can’t even seem to make that work. He constantly yells, gets frustrated easily, and doesn’t really know how to maintain his time to ensure that he has enough of it for work, for his kids, and for the rest of his personal life, and whatever the hell else that entails. Issue is that it’s all starting to catch up with him now and for some reason, a mental-health disease is back in full-form and keeping him away from being able to grasp with all of these responsibilities even more than before. What’s he to do? Give it his best shot and see what happens? Ask for other people’s help and see if they don’t mind? Or, simply put, just give up on it all and abandon anything that he has left in life.

See? He’s a nice guy!

Daddy Longlegs, like all of the Safdie Brother’s flicks, seems a lot like a Cassavetes clone. Or, I guess in this case, the right term is “wannabe”. See, it’s not that they don’t nail the style, the mood, or even the look of that legend’s films, because they definitely do, and then some. It’s more that they don’t really nail much else, like compelling characters, or even an interesting story worth sitting by and sticking around for, regardless of time, or subject-matter.

And sure, you could even make the argument that a lot of Cassavetes films were like that, where we didn’t really want to sit and spend time with a lot of these awful people, but there was still something about them that made us want to stay glued to our seats and screens. Most of that had to do with in the way of the performers and in Ronald Bernstein, the Safdies are lucky. Bernstein has a ticking time-bomb look to him where we’re never too sure just when, where, or how this guy is going to crack, but we just know that he is, so standing by, watching, and waiting for it all to happen, is a bit of ride in and of itself. The character is thin and a bit conventional, honestly, but Bernstein makes this guy seem a little bit more crazy than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character and makes him watchable.

The rest of Daddy Longlegs is watchable, too, but once again, the Safdies feel like they are getting at something, but only scratching the surface.

Uh oh. Nut’s about to crack.

Cause while the movie wants to sort of sit there and poke fun at Lenny’s crazy actions and his seemingly dysfunctional life, it also wants to focus on how nice of a guy he is, who takes time out of his day to take care of his kids and ensure that they grow up fine. Or, at least that’s what I think. See, this aspect of Daddy Longlegs is a bit confusing and makes the movie a tad bit uneven; it wants to be a dark, somewhat twisted comedy, but also show us a softer side to this nut-ball, too. It never quite chooses which way it wants to go down and because of that, it gets to be a bit frustrating to watch.

It helps that the movie can look a lot like a documentary and that it feels authentic, but they never quite nail down a compelling story to sit by. Cassavetes always seemed to be making things up on the fly, so it didn’t always matter what his story was about, or what the central-conflict would even turn out to be – all that mattered was characters and the relationships they had with themselves and the world around them. The Safdies seem to itch close to achieving the same goals that that wizard did, but unfortunately, come up very, very short.

Thank heavens for Bernstein, though. Guy saves the day.

Consensus: The Safdies are clearly going for a Cassavetes vibe here with Daddy Longlegs, and while they somewhat succeed on a technical level, they don’t have solid writing to back any of it up. Instead, it’s left to Bernstein to sort of save the day, which he does.

5.5 / 10

That’s how all dads treat their children. Correction, only the “best” ones do.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

To the Bone (2017)

Thanks, supermodels! What influences you all are!

Ellen (Lily Collins) is an unruly 20-year-old anorexic girl who spent the better part of her teenage years being shepherded through various recovery programs, only to find herself several pounds lighter every time. There’s no real rhyme or reason or why she’s stopped eating and allow for her body to get so frail – it’s just something that happened and has forced everyone around her to take notice and wonder what they did wrong. It’s even gone on to influence Ellen’s art which, as a result, even influenced a fellow girl her age, to kill herself. Once again, why? No one really knows, so Ellen gets sent away to find some sort of a solution to a group home for youths, led by a non-traditional doctor (Keanu Reeves), who believes much more in talking and getting to the root of the problem, rather than diagnosing it and expecting all sorts of issues just to go away. Through this home and the people she meets, Ellen begins to grow up a bit and start think about the life she has and why it’s actually worth living. And also, why it’s best to just chew down, as opposed to not at all.

Handshake, or pound it? Make up your mind, kids!

To the Bone is a step above the usual, cookie-cutter movie-of-the-week junk we get on TV nowadays. But it’s still a small step that features cursing, sex talk, drug use, and some other disturbing material that also makes it seem like it’s trying a bit hard, but at the same time, not, because it’s actually giving us real teens, with real issues, talking the way that real teens talk. Does that make it great? Nope, not really. But if anything, that makes it more noble than anything that Lifetime can offer you.

And if that’s the standard, then really, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, To the Bone mostly gets by on Lily Collins performance in which, not only does she totally dress herself down in an unhealthy and scary way, but also allows for her character to grow over time. It helps that Ellen is more than another angsty teen who has family-problems and doesn’t really know how to express herself, as she’s much more of a teen who just doesn’t know what to do with her life; the fact that she was mostly pushed to the edge of her life through someone else’s suicide, already makes her a tad different than other protagonists like her, in other movies. And yes, Collins is quite good, too, showing a great deal of sadness, as well as fun and light in a character that, honestly, should have just had a whole movie dedicated to her and to her alone.

Because it’s in the supporting characters that the movie sort of plays its hand a bit too much and, dare I say it, get a bit annoying. For instance, Alex Sharp’s romantic love-interest character, while well-intentioned, comes off a bit goofy and pretentious. It’s as if he jumped right out of the Fault in our Stars and decided to give this movie a bunch of annoying comedy that, quite frankly, it didn’t really need. We get it, he’s different and a bit light on his feet, but does that really mean every line he has, has to be some sort of lame joke that sounds like it came from your weird uncle?

You’ll get there. Have a steak.

Probably not and it’s why To the Bone struggles to figure out just what it’s about.

Either it’s about anorexia and what draws a person to this way? Or, it’s about this one girl, trying to live, trying to survive, trying to find happiness, and just trying to be herself, even when she doesn’t know how to be? The movie flirts with both angles and after awhile, it makes you wonder where it wants to go, what it wants to say, or what it even what it wants to be about. Both stories are interesting and could work, but side-by-side, they don’t and it ends up making the movie feel like a bit of a mess, even if yes, it’s one step above something from Lifetime.

But then again, is that really the peak?

Consensus: Though it flirts with some interesting ideas about anorexia, depression, and coming-of-age, ultimately, To the Bone feels a little melodramatic and light to really dig deep into what it wants to develop.

5 / 10

“Like, uh, woah.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

At First Sight (1999)

Eyes open or closed, we all know Mira Sorvino is downright beautiful.

Young architect Amy Benic (Mira Sorvino) needs a break from the busy high-life of Manhattan and decides to go out to the country-side, relax, and get her massage on. While she’s getting that on, she falls under the spell and hands of the masseur Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer). She instantly clicks with him and realizes that there’s something between the two that’s as rare as it can be. Rare, because Virgil’s also blind and has no idea what she looks like, or anything else for that matter.

Watching all of these sappy, romantic-dramedies can honestly do a number on a person. Nicholas Sparks has dulled the senses so much, that even when something relatively sweet, sort of nice comes around, it’s hard to fully embrace it. For someone like me, I’m just so used to saccharine, annoying romantic-junk that yeah, it makes you forget about actual solid romantic-flicks out there in the world.

Sort of like At First Sight. But also, sort of not like At First Sight.

Let me explain.

Well, close enough.

Well, close enough.

Granted, it’s nothing special, but it works at being a piece of romantic-drama that you can root-root-root for the couple, and just hope that they end up together because you can see that they’re good people, have the best intentions for one another, and most of all, love each other like silly. Isn’t that what we all want to be reminded of when we watch sap-fests such as these? Well yes, as well as the ability to love and be loved is still out there and if you have a heart big enough to allow that into your soul, that even you can come under it’s spell? I think so, and I think that’s why I actually didn’t mind this movie as much as I was planning to.

Val Kilmer is a nice fit as our blind man for the two hours (way, way, way too long for my liking!), Virgil Adamson. Despite how he may be behind the scenes, Kilmer has always had a certain cool, suave charm about him, which is what works well for this character here, who could have easily just been a later-day saint who also happened to be blind. It’s also a nice refresher to see him play a much softer, more romantic-side, even though the movie surrounding him is, yes, corny and undeniably syrupy beyond belief.

But like I said, the guy’s so charming, he makes it work.

Daredevil totally ripped this movie off!

Daredevil totally ripped this movie off! Damn Ben Affleck!

Playing his love bird for the two hours (once again, way, way, way too long for my liking!), is Mira Sorvino as Amy. Sorvino is always a charmer and is as cute-as-a-button that whenever she smiles, it’s so easy to just feel all warm and gooey inside. She’s got that beautiful look to her that works to her advantage and it’s just great to see that in an actress that can make bad material like this work, even if we do see it coming a hundred-upon-a-hundred miles away. You actually believe that she could fall in love with a guy like this, knock down all of the problems of being blind, and just look at the person instead. It’s obvious stuff, but Sorvino and Kilmer make it work together and if it weren’t for these two in the roles, it’d be really hard to get through this thing.

Then, there’s Kelly McGillis who eventually shows up as Vrigil’s sister that is always there for him and watching over him and is okay, but also where the movie really starts to go off-the-rails. The first hour, while cheesy, is sweet, soft and enjoyable enough to where it’s a nice piece of time passing-by, because it’s never taking itself all that seriously. But then, miraculously, as soon as McGillis rears her head in, everything gets a bit bonkers and far too serious. It certainly doesn’t help the fact that she’s always yelling, upset, and crying about something going on. Thankfully, Nathan Lane is here to save the day and as usual, use his comedic-charm to his ability and have us love the guy like never before.

So when in doubt, just trust Nathan Lane.

Consensus: Is it predictable? Yes. Is it obvious? Yes. Is it long? Hell yes! Is it at least entertaining? Ehh, sure. At First Sight may not throw you any curve balls you won’t see coming at you miles away, but Kilmer and Sorvino at least make the material seem more than just your average, run-of-the-mill romantic-drama, even if that’s exactly what it is.

5 / 10

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you not supposed to pet those dogs or something?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you not supposed to pet those kinds of dogs or something?

Photos Courtesy of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer