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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

Reservation Road (2007)

Still though, those little bastards gotta hurry their asses up off those buses!

Ethan and Grace Lerner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) are more than happy with the way things have been going for their lives, but all of that happiness ends when their son gets killed in a hit-and-run accident. Even worse, the person in the car (Mark Ruffalo) who caused it, knows who they are, is still stuck with the guilt, and has yet to fess-up to what he’s done. That’s when Ethan decides to take matters into his own hands and figure out just who the hell is responsible for all of this pain and misery that has been inflicted on him and his family.

Even though the idea of watching a bunch of people go through grief and suffer through pain and agony doesn’t sound like the most exciting bit of an-hour-and-a-half I’d like to spend, you can never, ever go wrong with a cast like this. People know Phoenix to be the type of guy who takes rich and hearty-material that challenges himself, Ruffalo is always a guy that’s capable of taking anything the world throws at him and make it totally and completely work in his favor, and having Sorvino and Connelly round things out ain’t so shabby, either. So, the big question on your mind may be, “How the hell did all of this go wrong?”

My answer? “Script, man. Script.”

The main problem with this script is that even though it does pay attention to the problems its characters face on a day-to-day basis when it comes to dealing with their own levels of grief, the movie still feels the need to rush things up and make this almost like a type of thriller. That sounds all fine and dandy for people who want more than just a character-based story and want some action and excitement to go along with their tears and heavy-grieving, but for a movie like this where we essentially know what happened, who did what, and what the only way to end this could be, it’s a little silly and not all that thrilling. We know who killed the kid, who’s responsible, where this could go, and that this can only end in two ways, either death or imprisonment  so what the hell is all of the tension supposed to be there for?

Pictured: A guy who just got done thinking.

“Damn. Paparazzi.”

And it’s odd, because the tension in this movie is supposed to lie in the fact that everything this driver goes through in life, always has him ending up in one way or another, connecting with the kid’s family. For example, his ex-wife just so happens to be the kid’s sister’s music teacher that is totally superfluous to the plot, except to only include the always wonderful Mira Sorvino (more on her in a bit). Then, it gets even worse when Ethan decides to take the investigation into his own hands and get lawyers involved and in case you couldn’t tell where this is going, get ready, because guess what? The man who killed Ethan’s son, just so happens to be that lawyer he asks for help.

Shocked yet?

Anyway yeah, this movie is just chock full of coincidence-after-coincidence and they don’t seem to serve any other purpose to this story, other than to keep the audiences minds awake for when the flick decides to actually focus in on its characters. You could also argue that the flick only added in those thriller-elements to appeal to a larger-audience that wouldn’t really feel the need to venture out to some movie about a bunch of people crying and being sad all of the time, and if that is the case, well then that’s a damn shame because there is a lot of promise for this type of material to work, regardless of if it’s a mainstream, or indie production.

But regardless, it almost shouldn’t matter when you have a cast like this, because they’re supposed to be able to do no wrong. And that sort of happens, but not really. Joaquin Phoenix may seem a tad miscast at first as the grieving simpleton father of a suburban-family, but shows us differently when he unleashes those raw and honest emotions we always see in each and every one of his performances. You feel bad for the guy and you just want to give him a hug and tap on the back, whispering into his ear that “everything’s going to be alright.” It’s not Phoenix’s most daring role, but it was a true sign that he could play a normal, everyday dude.

Pictured: Sad actors

Pictured: Sad Actors

The same can definitely be said for Mark Ruffalo who never seems to phone-in a performance, no matter how crappy the movie may be, which is what happens here. Ruffalo is great as the driver that kills this boy and runs away without getting caught, because he makes you feel something for the guy, even though he is totally in the wrong, through-and-through. You can sort of see why a guy like him would run away from the punishment of being arrested, but after awhile, it does start to get a bit ridiculous that it hides this all for so long, and for all of the reasons that he apparently has to himself, as well. Still, Ruffalo prevails and shows why you can give him anything, and he can make it work.

Jennifer Connelly is simply used here to be another grieving character of the whole movie and does that very well. Connelly is always good in what she does and that’s why it’s so weird to barely see her around anymore, but it should always be noted that she’s a good actress, when the material is there. It’s sort of here for her, and sort of not, so it’s hard to fully judge her.

Oh and yeah, I previously mentioned Mira Sorvino and it isn’t because she does anything simply out-of-this-world with this movie (mainly because she isn’t given much to work with in the first place), but, without any type of spoilers or giving-away major plot-points (like it really matters), there’s this one scene with her and Ruffalo that is probably the most endearing and emotionally-truthful out of the whole movie, and it really took me by surprise. Rarely does this movie ever talk about how Sorvino’s and Ruffalo’s character used to be married and a loving-couple with one another, other than when they yell, fight, and argue with one other, but that one scene, that one moment between these two, not only made this movie just a tad better, but made me feel like there could have been so much more had they just dropped the whole death-of-the-kid angle and even went so far as to focus on Ruffalo’s character trying to actually get through the divorce and make ends meet. Sure, it’s not the movie we got, but man, I imagine wonders could have been made going down this road, especially with the always dependable Sorvino who, like Connelly, needs to be in more.

Much, much more. Come on, Hollywood!

Consensus: Even with a solid cast on-deck, Reservation Road can’t get its head together quick enough to where it fully works as a small drama about sadness and grief, or as a nail-biting thriller.

5 / 10

I guess he's going to start taking after his kid. Hayyoh! Okay, I'm done.

I guess he’s going to start taking after his kid now. Hayyoh! Okay, I’m done.

Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features

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I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)

Houses that creek way too much aren’t good places to stay. Usually.

29-year-old Lily (Ruth Wilson) is going through a little bit of a crisis in her life and is in desperate need of some peace, quiet and, oh yeah, money. She gets all of the above when she takes a job as caretaker and housekeeper of one Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), a retired horror author who has made some of the genres biggest and best classics. However, Lily has read none of them because she scares easily and doesn’t quite have the patience for stuff like that, nor does she have the patience for some of the weird stuff that begins to happen in this tiny, two-bedroom house. For one, there’s odd noises when there shouldn’t be, but sometimes, that’s to be expected. What really has Lily freaked-out is a growing piece of mold in one part of the house that seems to be getting worse and worse as the days go by and without much of a rhyme, or reason for why it’s happening. Lily just sort of has to depend on her sanity, which also seems to be going away, too, slowly, but surely.

Pam?

Listen up, folks: If you’re going to do a haunted house flick, you really have to step up your game. It is literally one of the oldest genres in the book and it’s been done, time and time again, and only rarely are there certain exceptions where the genre feels like it’s fun, exciting and a little bit fresh.

Unfortunately, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is not that movie.

If anything, it’s a solid reminder of why these kinds of movies don’t work as well when it seems like they’re just going through the motions and yes, show their age. And for writer/director Oz Perkins, son of Anthony, you can tell that there’s small, brief glimpses of some originality shining through, but mostly, he relies on the same old quirks and clicks that we’re so used to seeing with these typical kinds of stories.

Weird images appearing in hallways? Check. Weird creaks and sounds coming from certain places in the house? Double check. An old lady who seems to be losing her mind, while also saying weird stuff? Yup. Images that don’t quite make sense? Indeed. There’s these, and trust me, plenty more, which all come when you expect them and have about the same shock-value as a clown at a five year old’s party does – we’ve seen it before, we know what’s going to happen, we know that there’s nothing quite sinister about it all, and yet, we still watch.

Perkins does have a certain bit of style here which, I guess, is interesting, but it also feels meandering. For instance, Perkins takes the material as slow as he possibly can, focusing more on the quiet and sometimes eerie tone, as opposed to getting down to everything about the story and characters. It’s a neat take and does pay-off, what with the crazy amount of dread built-up over time, but it also feels like he’s just padding on more and more time to a movie that could have probably been at least 30 minutes shorty.

Uh, why? Doesn’t one need to see?

Or heck, maybe even 30 minutes altogether.

And it’s a shame, too, because at the center of this very small, very intimate, yet, very plodding horror flick, is a pretty good performance from Ruth Wilson who, actually, deserves a whole lot better than this. When the Affair was good and not silly, Wilson was quite a revelation, balancing a certain deal of sadness and heart for a character who, in much weaker-performer’s hands, would have come off as shrill and boring. Here, as Lily, we don’t get to know a whole lot about her, other than that she’s a bit weird and has a bit of an off-kilter performance.

To me, and probably me alone, this is the most interesting aspect of the movie that, sadly, does not get nearly as developed as it should. We see, through a phone conversation and a conversation she has with Bob Balaban’s character, that she’s got some issues to wade through, is a little off, and definitely needs something like this to help her get through this next stage in her life. So why on Earth don’t we get to see/hear/understand more of that? Why are we getting all of these spooky ghosts who appear in the hallway, or random flashbacks that don’t make any sense in the long-run?

Honestly, it’s because the movie is, when you get down to it, a haunted house flick. It’s an old, tired genre that shows its age and in Perkins case, isn’t getting any younger, hipper, or fresher.

Consensus: Even with a dark atmosphere and a solid performance from Wilson, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House also relies way too heavily on conventions and suffers from a sluggish pace.

5 / 10

Two sides to every story. Oh wait. Not the Affair. Whoops.

Photos Courtesy of: Moviepilot, The Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

Whale Rider (2002)

Ride a bull, ride a whale. Ride life.

Only the males are allowed to ascend to chiefdom in a Maori tribe in New Zealand, which has been something of an ancient custom and never messed with. And for one man (Cliff Curtis), this custom is upset when the child selected to be the next chief dies at birth, leaving the twin sister, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), surviving and left to carry the hypothetical torch. The only issue is that the rest of society won’t allow it and it’s something that Pai, even at age 12, won’t back down from. With the help of her grandmother (Vicky Haughton) and the training of her uncle (Grant Roa) to claim her birthright, she sets out to become the next chief of her tribe and stand up for what she believes in is right. The only real person standing in her way is her ultra-traditional grandfather (Rawiri Paratene), who doesn’t believe in Pai at all, and surely doesn’t see her leading the tribe, like her father was supposed to do, all before he screwed it up by leaving the country and taking pictures all around the world.

Costume? Or, just another day at school?

Whale Rider feels like a movie made by someone making their debut. It’s slow, chock full of style, beautiful visuals, ideas, themes, and things to say, but for some reason, it just never fully comes together as well as it should. Which is odd because writer/director Niki Caro, for the most part, has made a good career for herself since this – even if this is considered to be her major breakthrough, it still feels like a movie that’s praised so much because of how different and unique it is, coming from completely out of nowhere, even if there are some truly troubling issues with it all.

And that mostly comes down to the fact that the movie just doesn’t know what it wants to say, do, or even be about. For instance, there are these ideas about new facing the old, or breaking tradition, or hell, even sexism, that actually work and seem like they could take the film in an interesting direction. But as soon as one of these themes are explored, Caro switches gears immediately, leaving her wandering eyes to pay more attention to the beautiful scenery that surrounds her characters, and not really make sense of the said characters themselves. There’s a lot of looking and sight-seeing, for sure, but much else?

Meh. Not really.

And it’s odd, because a lot of Whale Rider just seems to be beautiful visuals, small, almost-too-subtle character moments, over and over again. There’s no real driving momentum behind it – only just a very loud score and a way too quiet narration that’s supposed to guide us, but almost feels like it was thrown in there manipulatively during post because early screenings probably came back confused and abandoned. It’s not as if the movie doesn’t have an interesting style to it, but it’s just that there’s too much of the style; it’s the sign of a first-time writer/director getting their chance to work with everything at their disposal, not having a clear idea of how to work with it all, and somehow, just throwing it all out there.

Of course, some sticks and lands, but most doesn’t. What does stick and land are the actual performances themselves, most of whom are sometimes better than the material. At age 12, Keisha Castle-Hughes became notorious for being the youngest ever Best Actress nominee and with good reason – she’s smart, spunky, and entirely believable as a confused, angry, and eager 12-year-old who wants to impress everyone in her life, but unfortunately, just can’t seem to catch a break. She’s easily the most drawn-out character her and it helps that Castle-Hughes never seems like she’s trying too hard in a role that, normally, would have been way too directed, in hopes that the kid doesn’t go over-the-top or screw everything up.

Thankfully, she doesn’t.

“Don’t leave me daddy. Even if America calls for more drug-dealer roles.”

Another great performance comes in the form of Rawiri Paratene, but his character is also the same one I seemed to have the most problems with. See, it’s this idea that constantly runs throughout Whale Rider, in which we see the old school, not be able to get with the times, and face the new school, and it’s one that Paratene’s character stays solely in, not just coming off like a bit of a stern and stubborn dick, but a total and complete evil asshole. The movie wants to portray him as this broken down, sad, troubling, but yet, sympathetic older dude who can’t seem to get on with the way the world’s turning, but what I see is just an old grump, who’s practically rude and terrible to everyone around him and for what reasons? For the sake of tradition? The tribe? Just because?

Honestly, I never quite figured it out and it seems like just another instance of Caro dealing with something, but never fully realizing. There’s a lot of that in Whale Rider and it seems like a shame, because everything about the look, the magical, sometimes fantastical-feel to it, and even the gritty, raw moments of emotion, work, but when it comes down to everything else, the movie, as well as Caro, just don’t know where to go or what to do.

Oh well, at least it made money and reminded people that New Zealand movies don’t have to just be Lord of the Rings.

Consensus: For a movie with so much beauty and interesting ideas about, believe it or not, breaking tradition and feminism, it’s a shame that Whale Rider is so messy and unfocused to fully get itself together.

5.5 / 10

Whale rider? Or, rock rider?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, NZ on Screen

The Most Hated Woman In America (2017)

Say what you want. Except if it’s about God. People really seem to like that person.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (Melissa Leo) was known for being a bit of a shit-stirrer. She was one of the most vocal and well-known atheists in the country, who not just spoke out against the war when it wasn’t generally accepted to do so, but also made her case known about the separation between church, state, and most importantly, the state’s public schools. Due to this, a lot of people had issues with Madalyn, constantly threatening her and her family’s lives, leaving her to fear that she’d die eventually, and not by natural causes, either. But throughout all of the ranting and raving she did, some good came through it with the foundations she created for those who were in desperate need – something she continued to do until her death. And oh, about that death, well, that in and of itself is already a pretty odd and confusing spectacle. Then again, the same could have been said about Madalyn’s whole life.

Say cheese?

The story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair is perfect for a movie, just not for this one. Even though there’s already a documentary on her life, there’s still no reason you couldn’t do a full-length, scripted feature-flick, with this cast, and this story, but for some reason, the Most Hated Woman in America just doesn’t seem to be that one movie. It’s an confused movie about who it wants to be about, what it wants to say, and as a result, sort of muddles through everything in O’Hair’s life that makes her such a fascinating person to watch and listen to in the first place.

But thankfully, Melissa Leo does a slam-bang job as her.

Then again, are you surprised?

Probably not. Leo’s always been a solid actress who takes on rough and challenging roles like these, making them her own, and in a way, somehow making them sympathetic, in only the slightest bit. With O’Hair, Leo has the hard task of making this loud, obnoxious, and often times, incredibly rude woman, seem somewhat courageous and smart in her methods – it’s not like the way she is and goes about getting her point across makes her a bad person, but in any other movie, O’Hair would be the worst person ever. But because it’s Leo playing her, she gets by on pure charm from the actress who can do, essentially, anything.

And the rest of the cast is pretty stacked, too, surprisingly. Adam Scott shows up as a journalist who wants to discover the truth about O’Hair’s disappearance; Michael Chernus and Juno Temple play her two weird grand-kids; Vincent Kartheiser plays her son that goes through all sorts of expected problems, growing up with her as a mommy; and Alex Frost, Josh Lucas, and Rory Cochrane, despite playing conventional types, do what they can to make their kidnapper-characters more than just soulless creeps. They sort of are, but that’s not the point.

Yup. Still yelling.

But then again, with this movie, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point.

Director Tommy O’Haver makes the biggest mistake of taking this interesting and challenging subject, this person’s life, and all that they had to say, and not really saying anything about them. We get a nice history-lesson on who this woman took on and what she achieved, but how does the movie feel about that? And better yet, when does a movie such as this become less and less of a history-lesson, and more of a story being told to us? One with heart, emotion, and excitement in the air, as opposed to being just a slow, rather meandering WikiPedia entry put to film?

Either way, O’Haver misses a great opportunity here and it’s weird, too, because for a little over 90 minutes, the movie seems like it should have gone by so much quicker and had so much more to say. O’Haver’s story does, after all, deserve justice and is still a very relevant one, where certain politicians are, once again, using the big man in the sky to get away with discriminating against those who may be different than them. O’Haver fought for these people who didn’t have a voice as loud as hers and, somehow, yeah, she sort of came out on top.

Now, why can’t we get a movie that comes out on top, too?

Consensus: For all of the history it covers, the Most Hated Woman in America still feels like a missed opportunity that features great performances, but aside from that, not much else for O’Haver’s interesting life.

5 / 10

“Hug it out, son. Who needs faith when you have a mommy?”

Photos Courtesy of: The Daily Beast, Washington Square News, Tampa Bay Times

The Indian Runner (1991)

If you’re based off of a Springsteen track, chances are, you may be a little depressing.

Frank and Joe Roberts (Viggo Mortensen and David Morse) have been loving and dedicated brothers to one another, even if they couldn’t be anymore different. Frank’s a bit of a wild child, always getting into some sort of trouble, and never staying in one place for very long, whereas Joe, likes to abide by the law as a cop, keep his family together, and yeah, not cause many problems. The two do have some issues with each other, but they’re just like any brother-combo, in that they love one another, no matter what. Which is why when Frank starts messing up big time, what with a pregnant girlfriend (Patricia Arquette), and a slowly-going mad mind, Joe feels as if it is up to him to step up and try to save his brother from totally losing his marbles and possibly doing something he will soon one day forget.

It’s been noted that the Indian Runner, Sean Penn’s debut behind the camera, was inspired by Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman“. It’s a solid song and it’s easy to see where a lot of the inspiration Penn drew from here; he loves these small, subtle tales about normal, everyday, hard-working, blue-collar Americans like you or I, who are trying to make ends meet, but always run into some sort of hardships and have to get over grief. Essentially, the Indian Runner is a two-hour-long Springsteen song, but for some reason, the heart and soul was left in the stereo.

Uh oh. Viggo’s drinking again.

Does anyone even know what a “stereo” is anymore?

Regardless, Penn gets by on keeping his narrative focused and not really trying to complicate things. We get sad people, living in a sad town, not really doing much with their lives other than, of course, being sad. In a way, the Indian Runner works well as a mood-piece that allows for Penn to show us the different layers of this depression and how it can hit each and every character here, but that’s about as far it goes.

See, after awhile, mood-pieces can get to be a bit of a bore, especially once it becomes clear that you don’t really have a story to work with. And with the Indian Runner, that’s exactly the case, with the movie moving along at such a slow pace, you wonder when it’s ever going to get moving, or better yet, what it’s actually going to try to do. It’s interesting that Penn doesn’t really give us much of a plot, filled with an easy conflict seen from a mile away, but he also doesn’t give us much else in place of that. It’s as if he had a whole bunch of ideas about how to build these characters and their relationships with one another, and just thought that somehow, some way, a plot would materialize.

It doesn’t and that’s why the movie suffers.

And normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem; one of the main reasons why all of those insufferable and nauseating mumblecore movies work well enough is because they can sometimes be so short, you hardly have enough time to be mad. With the Indian Runner, at a little over two hours, it’s easy to get mad, annoyed, and downright frustrated, because you never quite know when anything is going to happen, or even if there will be anything to happen. The general idea is that we’re just going to sit around and watch a bunch of people do things that we probably don’t care about, because well, there’s nothing driving any of them.

What a man.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t character-development to be had here, but it’s a bit thin, at times, bordering on conventional. For instance, take Mortensen’s Frank who is a little crazy, unpredictable and violent – something that Mortensen can play in his sleep. And yeah, he’s good in the role, but there’s never much else to the character other than this, and even the craziness is never fully explained – we assume that some of it may have to do with a childhood trauma, but we’re never quite clear on what that actually is.

Same goes for Morse’s Joe, who seems like he’s just another ordinary, good guy who has to make some tough decisions, but ultimately, gets by in life. Morse is good, as usual, but there’s just not much to this character that makes him all that compelling to watch. Even incredibly brief appearances by the likes of Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper, Valeria Golino, and Sandy Dennis don’t do much but make us wonder why Penn didn’t put more time and effort into giving these talents more to play around with. The only one who seems to get by well enough here is Arquette, who remains lovely and cheerful in a very depressed movie, but that’s about it.

But hey, at least Penn got better behind the camera.

Consensus: Sean Penn makes his directorial debut with the Indian Runner, and shows that he’s got a lot of promise to work on, but also needs to know how to come up with better writing.

5.5 / 10

They don’t look alike, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.

Photos Courtesy of: Radiator Heaven

Heavy (1995)

The more, the merrier.

Victor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) works in a pizza shop and doesn’t really talk to anyone around him. While he gets along with most everyone, it has to do with the fact that he’s so shy and big, nobody really knows how to really talk to him, or what to say. Because for Victor, life is just something to get through on a day-to-day basis and it doesn’t really matter about much of anything else. But his life sort of changes when a new girl, Callie (Liv Tyler), comes into town and begins working at one of the local taverns in the area. Immediately, Callie takes a bit of a liking to Victor – it may not be love, infatuation, or anything sentimental, but it’s enough to give Victor some life and hope. But Callie has some issues going on in her own life, in that she doesn’t really know what she wants to do, either. The two end up forging something of a friendship that helps the two navigate through life and realize that there truly is some sweetness out there in the sometimes dark and brim world.

Writer/director James Mangold has had quite the career, mostly because he’s never really seemed to pin himself to one genre in particular. When he’s not making action-heavy, big-budget spectacles (the Wolverine, Knight & Day), he’s actually out there making subtle, slightly arty dramas (Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line). And of course, when he’s not making those movies, he’s off trying his hand at other genres, like Westerns (3:10 to Yuma), fantasy rom-coms (Kate & Leopold), and twisty, Hitchcockian-thrillers (Identity).

"Take me away. Far, far away from here, where people don't call me, 'Steve.'"

“Take me away. Far, far away from here, where people don’t call me, ‘Steve.'”

And then, there’s his debut, which is perhaps his most different movie, but unfortunately, probably his weakest.

For one, it shows that Mangold definitely knew how to create a sense of time and place. Heavy is a very sad, depressed and at times, moody flick. Mangold puts us in this small town, where it’s not exactly bright, shiny, or even happy – it’s just a lot of rain, clouds and frowns. There’s hardly any light in the sky, nor is there much of any light in the people’s faces. In a way, they’re all kind of miserable and at a stand-still, not knowing where they want to go, what they want to do, and how to go about the rest of their lives.

Which is fine for a mood-piece, if that is exactly what you’re going for, but at nearly two hours, Heavy wears out its sad and repressed welcome. After all, Mangold presents this small part of the world and doesn’t have much else to offer; the sweeping shots of the forest and mountains underneath dark clouds of rain, while beautiful, are also incredibly repetitive, not adding much to the story except an obvious bit of symbolism. Which isn’t to say that it’s a pretty movie, because it is, but beautiful landscapes can only go so far.

Especially when you don’t have much of a story to actually work with.

And that seems to be what’s happened with Heavy. Mangold has a good idea of how to frame and show a story, but actually telling it and allowing for there to be any sort of drive behind the narrative, he doesn’t quite seem to have the knowledge of here. Cause if anything, Heavy isn’t just a heavy movie, but it’s a slow one, that doesn’t really seem to have much to say, or anything to really show. It’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad and trying their hardest not to be sad anymore.

Or something like that, I’m not quite sure. It’s basically the most picture perfect Sundance movie ever made: Moody, dark, gritty, and basically just depressed. It doesn’t have much of a reason to be, either, but Mangold clearly doesn’t know that and pounds hard on the darkness.

Cheer up, Liv! You're always going to be rich!

Cheer up, Liv! You’re always going to be rich!

If anything, the performances do help this movie out a whole bunch, even when it seems like there’s no real character-development or strong writing to even help them.

Case in point, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Victor. Vince is a pretty accomplished character actor, who shows up every now and then in those sloppy, country bumpkin-ish roles. Here though, he’s actually pretty thoughtful and rather sweet as Victor, never going too far to say much of anything, but always getting something across by just the look on his face, or the slight-movement of his brow. It’s actually the perfect kind of small, subtle performance, for this small, rather subtle movie, the only problem is that the rest of the movie doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, so of course, it’s a great performance put to waste.

Same goes for Liv Tyler as the object of Victor’s affection. At this stage early on in her career, Tyler was more of a cute mystery – we didn’t quite know if we could trust the characters she portrayed, nor did it seem like she did. And here, she’s quite good in a role that doesn’t quite measure up to much, except being pretty, moody, and nice to almost everyone around her. Pros of the big-screen like Shelley Winters, who plays Victor’s sometimes controlling mother, and Debbie Harry, as the co-worker who’s a bit of a problem to everyone, work out well here, but they, too, like the rest of the movie, just seem underdeveloped.

Oh well. At least Mangold would eventually get his act together.

Consensus: Even with the beautiful cinematography, Heavy just never fully comes together as both a visually and emotionally satisfying movie, but instead, only resulting in the former.

5 / 10

Kiss her, bro. Do it. Why not?

Kiss her, bro. Do it. Why not?

Photos Courtesy of: Derek Winnert

The Runaways (2010)

Oh, that band who did “Cherry Bomb“?

Once upon a time, way back when in the early-to-mid 70’s, there was an all-girl punk rock band called The Runaways. Formed by Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), they were brash, young, and angry, and because of this, were influential to almost every punk band, as well as to all women within the music world. However, problems with management and the members themselves would, eventually, lead to their too-early demise, just as soon as others were starting to know and hear them.

The Runaways may be influential, but in all honesty, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually knows anything about them, beyond that one song that they are known for. It’s a shame, too, but it also begs the question: Do they deserve their own biopic? In all honesty, possibly not, but writer/director Floria Sigismondi does a nice enough job of making the case.

All films about the good old days of rock ‘n roll have the same type of thing going for it – drugs, sex, and hard, rockin’ music. There’s no problem with that because nine times out of ten, it’s usually a bunch of fun to watch and be a part of. And thankfully, that’s what happens here; there’s a certain rampant and crazy energy to the Runaways, the band, and to the movie as well, that carries on throughout its run-time, making it feel less and less like a conventional, by-the-numbers biopic, and more of a snapshot at the lives of some very young and rambunctious women.

She definitely doesn't give a damn about her bad reputation with hair like that.

She definitely doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation with hair like that.

But the problem is that none of them are all that interesting.

Sure, it’s enjoyable to watch a whole bunch of happy people rock out and go crazy to some awesome tunes, but at the end of it all, you need a compelling story to really keep you going and that is something that this story just does not hold. We get all of the usual cliches where rockers get addicted to drugs, experiment a little bit with sex, and eventually become a bit too cocky for their own good. That usually comes with the product when you have something like this, but it comes off as just boring and plain.

It’s also hard to really care about anyone here, because well, we don’t get to know any of them. We all know who Joan Jett and Lita Ford are, but we want to know more about everybody else involved and it’s something we’re not totally given. Ford is barely even talked about here and most of the screen-time is dedicated to following Currie’s life and seeing what she’s going through when she’s on and off of the road. This would have all been fine and dandy if her story was at all interesting, but it just isn’t. All of the problem’s she was going through at home with her loving-sister and drunken daddy just felt tired, even if they may have been true. More time could have been dedicated to all of the other band-members and created a much more cohesive product, as a whole.

The one bit about Currie here that is interesting is Dakota Fanning and how she grows up in front of our very own eyes. Fanning is doing a lot of naughty kid stuff here like poppin’ pills, snorting coke, having sex, and jumpin’ around in tightly-skinned leather-clothing and she makes it seem believable because the girl has a bit of an edge to her. She’s got a lot of nastiness to her that could really make us see what it is about her personality that makes people believe she can be a leading-woman in all girl rock-band and it’s all because of Fanning that makes this character work.

Michael Shannon as fabulous as ever.

Michael Shannon as fabulous as ever.

Then, there’s Kristen Stewart who also does a pretty kick-ass job as her far more interesting real life character, Joan Jett. Obviously everybody knows Joan Jett and thinks she’s bad-ass as it is and that’s the same type of edge that Stewart gives her. She’s lean, mean, and doesn’t seem like she takes much crap from anyone, especially guys that think she’s just another piece of meat. I would have honestly liked to see a whole film on her, with Stewart in the lead-role, and it’s kind of a bummer that this may be the only type of documentation we get to see of her in a movie type of way.

Oh well, maybe in the far-future when rock music is extinct.

As good as both of these gals may be though, Michael Shannon is the one who really steals the show and makes his real life character, Kim Fowley, the most interesting and most entertaining aspect of the whole flick. Shannon is as flamboyant and energetic as he has ever been and it’s great to see him have such a fun time with a role where he just let’s loose on everyone around him, but there is also something that seems very grounded in reality about him that makes you see why he is one of the most successful and respected producers of all-time. The guy’s got his own agenda, sticks to it, and doesn’t let anybody get in his way. He’s the perfect inspiration for anyone, especially if you’re a music producer and it’s a reason why the guy is still working today. Actually, a whole film of him being played by Shannon would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than this whole film, but hey, can’t get ’em all.

Consensus: The Runaways does work with a lively atmosphere and winning performances from the cast, but stocky and sometimes unoriginal writing get in the way of what could have been a far better biopic.

5.5 / 10

Bad girls revolt.

Bad girls revolt.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

The Corruptor (1999)

Chinatown’s good for everything but the night life.

NYPD Lieutenant Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) is head of the Asian Gang Unit and his main job is to ensure that there is peace in Chinatown. After a turf war between the Triads and the Fukienese Dragons broke out in the town, Chen now really has hands full, with even more possible gang-warfare expected to break out and kill more and more people, most of all, innocents who just so happen to get wrapped-up in the fire. The city sees this, knows this, and recognizes that this is a huge problem, and not one that can be handled by just one cop all alone. That’s why they decide to send over talented agent Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg), who knows how to get the job done, however, Chen isn’t having any of it; Wallace doesn’t like Chen much either, but he knows that there’s a job that needs to be done and because of that, he’s not going to let personal issues get in the way. But the two start to dig in on each other’s past more thoroughly and they begin to find out that the other has something dirty and controversial, making them wonder if they can continue to work together and stop this whole warfare from starting.

"So, uh, do we have to be friends, or something?"

“So, uh, do we have to be friends, or something?”

You have to feel bad for Chow Yun-Fat, one of the most exciting and iconic Chinese talents ever, because no matter how hard we try, the States just doesn’t get him. Or, if they do, they don’t give him the right material that’s not just worthy of his talents, but matches perfectly why people have loved him so much in John Woo’s films. See, the movies that he’s done, where he’s the lead and made out to be this big deal, don’t really match the same sort of craziness and excitement that Woo’s films have and allow for Yun-Fat to shine; movies like Bulletproof Monk, the Replacement Killers, Dragonball Evolution, and yeah, even the third Pirates of the Caribbean, all gave him something to do and kick ass, but it just didn’t match what everyone knew and loved him for over in China. What made him a bonafide star over there, for some reason, just didn’t translate over to here.

And it’s not like it’s his fault, either, because Yun-Fat tries as he might in all of these flicks, including the Corruptor – it’s just that these movies themselves don’t measure up. They’re not as crazy, not as wild, not as fun, and sure as hell not as entertaining as we’re used to seeing Yun-Fat and his movies and it’s why they feel like a sheer disappointments, considering what we know Yun-Fat himself can do.

But the Corruptor may be the better of them because it gives him a lot to do, in terms of action and acting, but still, there’s something missing.

For one, the Corruptor was clearly seen as Yun-Fat’s big break into the American-market and because of that, he gets a lot to do; he nails his English as well as you’d expect, the scenes where he has to throw guns around and kick ass, he shows off style in, and when it’s just him, sitting down, smoking a cig, he’s still pretty cool and charming. The man’s got presence for sure, it’s just that the Corruptor, oddly enough, just doesn’t know what to do with him, or better yet, even itself.

The Corruptor tries to be a lot of things, but for some odd reason, never seems to fully explore any of the numerous ideas. At one point, it’s a look into the deep, violent and bloody underground of Chinatown; at another, it’s a look at police corruption. At one point, it’s a drama about racism and prejudice and how it affects the workplace; at another, it’s about sons and fathers not connecting with one another and hiding secrets from one another. At one point, it’s this mysterious, crime-thriller where secrets have to be discovered and murders have to be solved; at another, it’s this slam-bang, crazy and violent action flick that likes killing people and blowing up cars.

Kind of confused, yet? Well, that’s sort of the point.

Chinese stand-offs are a lot wilder than Mexican ones.

Chinese stand-offs are a lot wilder than Mexican ones.

The Corruptor doesn’t know what it wants to be and it’s a shame because director James Foley is probably not the best one to make sense of this material. You almost get the sense that he was shooting and looking for something deeper, smaller and far more emotional, but once the studio got involved and realized the possibility of the bucks that they could rake in, well, he lost all control. Foley is best when he’s dealing with these tiny and sturdy character-pieces, and while the Corruptor still feels very much like a noir of his, it’s still clearly not up his alley and it takes away from what could have been a far better, more exciting and interesting movie.

Speaking of studio interference, it’s also obvious that Mark Wahlberg was thrown into the cast, just because he was a sort of big name at the time and the studio really wanted to ensure that people would flock out to see it. And even though Wahlberg is perfectly fine now and one of the best leading-men we have around, back in ’99, he wasn’t quite established; his acting wasn’t all that there, he seemed far too serious for his own good, and yeah, he didn’t show much versatility. And it’s a shame, too, because the scenes he has with Yun-Fat, you can tell that the two are clearly trying to make some sort of spark happen, but the script just isn’t there and neither are they. They’re there to collect a paycheck, move on and see what happens to their career next.

It’s a good sign for Marky Mark. Maybe not Yun-Fat, but hey, it probably doesn’t bother him much.

Consensus: Unfocused and rather conventional, the Corruptor gets by on the bits and pieces of a compelling story, as well as an always reliable Yun-Fat, but ultimately, feels like a missed opportunity to make something great and memorable.

5 / 10

"Yeah, elsewhere, I'm a pretty big deal."

“Yeah, elsewhere, I’m a pretty big deal.”

Photos Courtesy of: Film Critic, Esq.

War on Everyone (2017)

everyoneposter

Can corrupt cops be a funny thing in 2017?

Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) are two corrupt cops who have been together for so long, doing what they do, blackmailing criminals, and making a lot of money off of it, that they hardly give what they’re doing, a second thought. They don’t see it as something bad, nor do they see it as any bit of dangerous – if anything, they see it as another way to get some more money and not live off of the terrible salary that most cops in their positions would be stuck with. However, they start to re-think a lot of their decisions once they discover there’s an evil, maniacal and downright vicious criminal (Theo James) out there, looking to take them both down. Meanwhile, while the two are trying to crack this case and get rid of the baddie, Terry’s off starting a relationship and trying to fill that void in his life, and his mansion, that’s been so noticeable for so very long. He’s hoping that perhaps this Jackie gal he’s been taking up with (Tessa Thompson), will change his outlook on life and possibly have him rethink the decisions that he and Bob make when they’re out on the job.

It's not the 70';s, but fro's like this still exist?

It’s not the 70′;s, but fro’s like this still exist?

Remember that period of time in the mid-to-late-90’s when just about every crime/action/comedy/thriller tried so desperately to be the next “Pulp Fiction“? Remember how they were so clearly made out to be some sort of witty, yet, violent and demented ride of pure craziness, but just felt like a bunch of studio-executives getting together and coming up with stuff that they thought would be “hip”, or “cool”? Remember how most of them, for the most part, kind of blew?

Well, yeah.

And that’s sort of what War on Everyone is. It’s not terrible, or bad, or as much as a rip-off as some of those movies from the 90’s could definitely get – it’s just it feels like it’s trying so desperately hard to recreate some of the magic made from Tarantino, that it literally has no identity all by itself. It’s as if you’re listening to one of Tarantino’s best friends talk about the movie idea they had, with all the jokes, gags and scenes of violence that they wanted, and while some of the ideas are nice, mostly, they’re just afterthoughts and clearly trying way too hard.

Which is weird to say about this movie, because it’s written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, someone who has, with his two movies so far (the Guard, Calvary), proven that he’s capable of dark, comedic thrills, as well as giving us a fresh story to work with, too. For some reason, War on Everyone feels like it’s trying too hard, but by the same token, not trying hard enough; the plot is so simple and straightforward, that you’d almost wish for the nonsensical and crazy twists and turns, but nope, they never come around. Instead, we get a procedural with jokes and observations about music, art, movies, TV, life, death, one’s existence, and capitalism.

That may sound fun and somewhat interesting, but it’s odd, because they don’t really come off that way in War on Everyone.

I'll watch that for an-hour-and-a-half.

I’ll watch that for an-hour-and-a-half.

They mostly just come off as a way for McDonagh to make people laugh and think of him as some witty son-of-a-bitch, but it doesn’t quite work – it feels too often like he’s bragging, or showboating, when there’s no reason for him to be doing so in the first place. Giving us solid characters and a story would have been fine enough, but unfortunately, the movie’s just one punchline-after-another, without there ever seeming to be a rhyme or reason for it, but to just try and break up any tension that may be found.

The only instances in which War on Everyone truly comes to life is in the form of its ensemble, all of whom are very good and more than make this sometimes cheeky material play better. As a duo, Peña and Skarsgård work well together; you can tell that there’s a certain camaraderie between the two that wouldn’t have worked, had they not been able to get along and build some sort of chemistry. It’s really Skarsgård who delivers the best performance, though, as we get some brief moments of his life, realize how much of a sad-sack he is and, as briefly as we get it, realize that there’s something more to him than just good looks and witty one-liners. There’s a human being underneath the facade and it makes his character interesting, and his performance all the better.

Tessa Thompson also benefits from being the gal in this subplot, as she not only brings out the best in Skarsgård, but truly does seem to be going for something more emotional and dramatic than the rest of the movie probably had in mind. Shame, too, because they both work great together and it would have been lovely to just see a movie all about them two, falling in love, and having hot, steamy sex together.

Seriously, though? Where was that movie?

Consensus: Even with the occasional moment of fun and humor, War on Everyone seems as if it’s trying way too hard to recreate some sort of dark comedy magic that was long dead by the 21st Century.

5.5 / 10

We get it: You're bad cops. Go away.

We get it: You’re bad cops. Go away.

Photos Courtesy of: Fresh From the Theater, Cinema Axis, I Watch Stuff

The Mighty (1998)

David and Goliath could have always been pals. But society, man.

Maxwell Kane (Elden Henson) is having a pretty rough time growing up. His mom’s died, his father (James Gandolfini) is in jail, he’s living with his grand-parents (Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands), and his big, sort of dumb, and easy to pick on. He’s trying to better himself and in a way, make the situation that he’s in, better as a result, but because of all these bullies and the fact that he has yet to pass the seventh grade, really does hinder from accomplishing some of the achievements he sets out for himself. However, there is some hope for Maxwell, but oddly enough, it comes in the form of his next-door neighbor Kevin (Kiernan Culkin), who happens to have been born with a bad spine, forcing him to hobble around on crutches for what may seem like the rest of his short existence. With Kevin, Maxwell not only learns how to read better and pass the seventh grade, but in return, he puts Kevin up on his shoulders and takes him everywhere that he wants to go. And because Kevin has such an ambitious head on his shoulders, this normally leads the two to some pretty crazy and wild adventures, with a few of them leading to some pretty dark and scary places.

Round one, fight!

Round one, fight!

I’m torn about the Mighty for a lot of odd reasons. It’s not because I can’t decide whether the movie is “good”, or “bad”; it’s definitely “fine”, and probably nothing more. No, what I’m really torn about is whether or not I should have liked it more, because of what it did with the sub-genre of kids movies. The Mighty, on the outside and sort of in, seems like a traditional kids movie, in which it deals with some sad themes, like death, jail, and bullying, but uplifting ones, too, like family, love, respect and inspiration.

But it’s never really a total kids movie, or at least, not the kind I’m used to seeing. What the Mighty teaches, is that being the best to your ability is always a good way to get by in life, but also keeping yourself smart, by reading, challenging yourself, and constantly exploring the world, will also make a you better person in the long run. It also takes about the reality of death, what it does, how it can affect you, and how just to get by it all; very rarely do kids movies touch on death, for the sake of not scaring too many parents/kids away from seeing, but the Mighty isn’t scared of doing that. In fact, it embraces the reality of life and knows that it’s better to talk about it, rather than just shove it to the side and forgetting about its existence.

But at the same time, the movie’s still not as good as it should be.

One reason is because while it can be sentimental, it’s also very cheesy, seeming like a movie made in the early 70’s, as opposed to a movie made in the late-90’s. For instance, there’s a bunch of bullies who run rampant around Chicago, picking on Maxwell, Kevin, and oddly enough, random adults who sort of just take it and accept it as is. Needless to say, these are kids who are probably around 15-16, running around a city like Chicago, getting away with robbery and random bits of assault, all forgetting that it’s Chicago and yeah, they don’t put up with a lot of crap, let alone a pack of young white kids, snatches up purses and picking off wallets.

That, to me, is just relatively laughable, but okay, I’m willing to get past it for the sole fact that it’s basically a kids movie and sure, some fantasy is allowed. But then the movie, for some reason or another, decides that it needs more to its plot than just Kevin and Maxwell getting to know one another better, and making each other better people. Therefore, we get a random, wholly unnecessary subplot involving Maxwell’s long lost criminal daddy, that comes in and out of the story for a total of fifteen minutes, wastes the sheer talent of Gandolfini, and oh yeah, is settled in about two seconds.

I'd eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it though.

I’d eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it and let the grown ups speak, though.

It’s silly and breaks up any energy that the movie had going for it.

Because when it’s about Maxwell and Kevin, well, it kind of works. Once again, it’s one of these kids movies where the kids talk and act a lot smarter than you’d typically expect, which can get to be a bit tiresome, after about the fourth or fifth soliloquy. It does help that two very young guys like Elden Henson and Kiernan Culkin are working with this dialogue, but sometimes, even they fall prey to its forced-quirkiness, with Culkin’s character hardly ever saying anything in a serious manner – older Culkin is a different story, but when he was about 12 or so, yeah, it just didn’t quite work.

Honestly though, it’s a real shame that so many people in this great cast got wasted. Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton are basically here to just be the grand-parents, who don’t really do or say much of anything at all; Sharon Stone tries what she can with such an under-written role as Kevin’s mom; Gillian Anderson’s character is another bit of pure waste, even though she’s charming as hell; and even Meat Loaf shows up, not really doing much. The Mighty is definitely a kids movie, which makes sense that it would put such a huge emphasis on the kids and forget about the adults, but come on, when you have a cast full of so many heavy-hitters, it’s an absolute shame not to use them.

Then again, if the kiddies are happy, who cares, right?

Consensus: Corny, overly sentimental, and surprisingly over-plotted, the Mighty does deal with some very important aspects about growing up and living up to your full potential, but ultimately, doesn’t live up to its own.

5 / 10

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, Mubi

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

So. Much. Food.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an extraordinarily talented and largely self-taught culinary novice who has taken something that he loves so much, and tried whatever he can to make a living out of it. When he and his family are displaced from their native India and settle in some random, yet lovely little French village, they decide to open an Indian eatery, where all French citizens can get a taste of what they like to call “home”. Unfortunately for all of them, however, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant is literally right across the street with her fancy and well-established restaurant that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon. However, Hasson and his father (Om Puri), won’t be taken down by Madame Mallory and decide to band together. But Hassan’s motives begin to change when he realizes that there’s truly something special to the way Mallory cooks, making him decide by who he sticks by in this ongoing battle of the finest cuisine.

Uh oh. Dame's back.

Uh oh. Dame’s back. Look busy.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is food porn to the ultimate maximum. This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, because food is good and if you’re able to film it in the right way, then it can practically become the main selling-point of a flick, even stealing the show from the actual living, breathing, human characters making said food. And it’s probably no surprise that the same director who made us all fall in love with chocolate with Chocolat, is making us fall in love with all sorts of food again.

However, maybe not so much as with the characters, sadly.

See, what Lasse Hallström gets right in the look and feel of the movie, he forgets all about in the story-department which can’t help but sometimes feel like an afterthought. Sure, no one is going to mistaken the Hundred-Foot Journey for an exciting, suspenseful thrill-ride, with twists, turns and red herrings galore, but by the same token, that doesn’t mean it has to be a total and complete bore. Or better at that, a two-hour long bore.

And okay, I get it, there is definitely an audience out there who will love and adore this movie, all faults aside, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to get past when you realize that there’s barely any tension here, little to no actual drama, and yeah, a whole bunch of sappiness. Once again, it’s no surprise that we’re getting all of this from Hallström, but it still makes you wish that somewhere deep down within this man’s soul that he would just push himself, as well as the movies he takes on, just a little further. The Hundred-Foot Journey didn’t have to be an overlong slog, but it moves with barely any efficiency that it makes you wonder if it’s going anywhere, or ever going to end.

But I didn’t hate the movie.

If anything, it’s just middling. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t set out to ruin any person’s mood, or lives in the process, but instead, tell a simple, rather sweet story about a bunch simple, rather sweet people, making all sorts of lovely little pieces of food that you’ll want to grab off of the screen. There’s honestly nothing like that, but sometimes, a movie such as this doesn’t have to be over two hours – sometimes, just being an hour-and-a-half is more than enough and gets the point across pretty much perfectly.

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

But it is good to have such a talented ensemble here to, thankfully, make things work when they most definitely need to. Helen Mirren tries on this French-accent and it works; while she’s playing a shrew of a woman, she still lets out some bits and pieces of charm every so often that not only reminds us of what a class-act she is, but how she truly can make any scene she shows up in, well, better. Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon both play the two young chefs who learn to cook better with one another, while also making sweet, sexy, yet cute love on the side and they’re adorable enough as is to really make it work, even if it’s hard to care whether or not these two incredibly attractive people end up together in the end.

After all, they’ll be fine anyway.

The real stand-out here is Om Puri who, unfortunately, passed away not too long ago. Puri has been the sort of go-to guy for tough, strict and rather stubborn Indian fathers in movies such as these and it makes sense, because he plays them perfectly. Don’t believe me? Check out East is East and get back to me. Anyway, Puri does a fantastic job here because it seems like, out of all the characters to choose from, his is the only that develops. Over time, his character realizes that there’s more to life than just family and tradition, sometimes, striking out on one’s own is what really matters. Puri’s character never goes the full 180 and you know what? He’s sort of better off that way.

He’s more human that way, really.

Consensus: Saccharine and trite, the Hundred-Foot Journey aims to please those not looking for much excitement or drama, but for the most part, is pleasant and well-acted enough to work.

5 / 10

Don't ever teach Dame on anything.

Don’t ever teach Dame on anything.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Julieta (2016)

This can happen to moms everywhere! Just get off of our backs already! Jeez!

Julieta (Emma Suárez) lives in Madrid with her daughter Antía. They both suffer in silence over the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), Antía’s father and Julieta’s husband. However, there are times grief doesn’t bring people closer, it drives them apart, as is the case with these two. Julieta doesn’t quite know this just yet, until she realizes that right after she turns 18, Antia gets up and leaves her mother, without a simple explanation, rhyme, reason, or even a clue of where it is that she might have gone. Julieta, like so many other mothers in her position, is obviously distraught and tries whatever she can to find her daughter and, hopefully, bring her back home, where she rightfully belongs. But as this journey goes on and on, Julieta realizes the painful truth that maybe, just maybe, she didn’t know much about her daughter to begin with.

"I'm so sad, wanna know why?"

“I’m so sad, wanna know why?”

Julieta is an odd movie for Pedro Almodóvar to write and direct, because while watching it, it’s hard to think of it as a movie that’s coming from him. Sure, there’s chunks of melodrama, a lot of female characters, and of course, plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere, but at the same time, it still feels like an everyday, normal melodrama about a mother, a daughter and all of the other missed connections families have with one another. In other words, Julieta is a “safe” movie and probably the safest I’ve ever seen from Almodóvar, which is neither a good thing, or a bad thing.

It’s just a thing.

But unfortunately, it’s a thing that keeps Julieta from really working as well as it probably should have. Once again, it’s nice that Almodóvar is giving us a story about women, when so many other writers/directors would shriek at the idea of doing such a thing and it’s also nice that Almodóvar is able to wrangle out such good performances from this cast. Emma Suarez as the older-version of the title character is probably the best here, because she has to go through a whole bunch of emotions – most of them sad – but never seeming boring. There’s just something about her presence, as sad as it may be at times, that makes her watchable and take over this movie every chance she gets.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t quite helping her out. For one, it seems like Almodóvar himself sort of realized that he wasn’t working with that meaty of a story; there’s a mystery here, but mostly, it’s all tucked in the back so that a bunch of people can cry, get sad, and go on and on about their emotions. In fact, these characters here talk so much about their emotions, that it makes me wonder if they ever had anything else on their mind, like I don’t know, sports, the weather, politics, or hell, just anything else about how they feel?

"Please, stop speaking about your feelings. I've stopped caring about forty minutes ago."

“Please, stop speaking about your feelings. I’ve stopped caring about forty minutes ago.”

Probably not, but hey, it’s an Almodóvar flick so of course, this is to be expected.

But what’s different about Julieta is that, when it’s not constantly jumping in-and-out of its narrative from past, to the present, it’s giving us a story that just doesn’t feel all that compelling in the first place. From what it seems, Julieta is just another mother confused and worried about her daughter – one of whom who just seems like a brat that, honestly, Julieta herself may be better off without. It’s an odd thing to say, I know, but it’s what kept going throughout my mind the whole time I was watching this and thinking of where this story was going and whether or not any of it was going to matter in the end.

And honestly, it kind of doesn’t. Julieta may show us that Almodóvar is able to restrain himself again and take a bit of a chill-pill when it comes to his story-telling (especially after the crazy and wild one-two punch of the Skin I Live In and I’m So Excited), but it also proves to be his most boring movie by a long shot. Sure, there’s certain aspects surrounding it that can be admired, like the previously mentioned characters, or the colorful look of it all, but when you get right down to the meat of it all, it just doesn’t quite hit hard. It feels like there may have been a real juicy, compelling, emotional and exciting story somewhere in here, but it doesn’t quite seem to come out.

And for Almodóvar, that’s at least, a problem.

Consensus: Not necessarily bad, as much as it’s just a bit of a bore, Julieta highlights Almodóvar’s knack for telling a laid-back story, but never quite giving it the right amount of heart, or energy it seems to need.

5 / 10

Oh, man, the 80's! What a crazy time! I mean, just look at that 'do!

Oh, man, the 80’s! What a crazy time! I mean, just look at that ‘do!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Passengers (2016)

Space can get pretty lonely for hot, attractive people.

On a trip to a new planet, where all sorts of wonderful and exciting adventure awaits them, 5,000 passengers lay asleep, waiting to be awoken in 90 years so that they can start fresh. However, the ship malfunctions and awakes one passenger, Jim (Chris Pratt). For Jim, he has no idea why this has happened, or better yet, what to do, but tries whatever he can to alert someone that he has been woken up before everyone else, can’t get back to sleep and may now be forced to live the rest of his life, alone and on this spaceship before it reaches its destination. It’s such a sad existence that all of a sudden gets a little bit better when Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) suddenly wakes up, too, leaving the two to obviously put their brains together even more and think of ways to get out. But of course, seeing as how they are two attractive, hot people trapped on some spaceship together, they eventually begin to gain feelings for one another, making the situation all the more dramatic, especially when the ship begins to malfunction more and more, leaving them to have to make brash decisions in the wake of it all.

She's hot.

She’s hot.

Okay, so yeah. There’s more to Passengers than I’m letting on, but because I am a nice guy, I will try my best to avoid spoiling any small secrets about Passengers that may not just ruin your experience, but not have you expect anything to happen. Because for a movie like Passengers, not knowing what’s going to happen, helps it a great deal.

It’s just that certain level of unpredictability doesn’t stay around so long.

But still, what Passengers does best is somewhere to be found in the first hour or so, when all of the fun of this setting and the promise of this premise is toyed with in smart, sometimes interesting ways. Director Morten Tyldum and writer Jon Spaihts seem to both love this idea of having this spacious, lavish spaceship to play around with and get crazy with possibilities, which makes it interesting to see how these two characters act within their surroundings; this idea that living the rest of your existence seemingly alone sucks, but there’s also plenty of other stuff in this spaceship like a basketball court, something resembling a Wii, Michael Sheen as a robot-bartender, and so much more to it.

However, what’s perhaps most interesting about Tyldum and Spaihts’ approach here is that it feels like there’s so much more to explore within this spaceship and this idea and that for awhile, it almost seems like they’re going to go there. I’ll admit, the love-story does come on very strong, but still, the idea presented about their relationship and how it pertains to the spaceship and overall existence itself still sticks around, making all of the lovey-dovey stuff, at the very least, bearable. It also helps that the spaceship itself, from the outside and in, as well as the rest of the movie, looks pretty great, never seeming as if it’s cheaping out on getting us even more and more immersed into this story and this setting.

Then the final-act kicks in and yeah, it kind of falls apart.

Without saying too much, it seems like the first two acts were written by Spaihts and the last act was done by some studio head’s wannabe-writer kid. Melodramatic revelations start to drop, people begin to cry, sci-fi jargon is thrown everywhere and supposed to mean something, and oh yeah, lots and lots of stuff begins to catch on fire. Why does this happen? Well, no reason really, except that it’s a studio movie and studios are afraid that if there isn’t any action around, people are going to get bored and leave.

And sure, while I’m not totally against the idea of allowing there to be all sorts of crazy action to crank-up the intensity of a story, here, it feels unnecessary and incredibly rushed. It’s as if the movie wasn’t actually finished being written, but there was a budget and a deadline, so they had to do their best but to stick with the conventional fall-out we expect from a plot like this and it just does not work. It’s overlong and way too chaotic to really work – making this movie seem like two different ones combined, without much of a transitional period.

He's hot.

He’s hot.

And that’s honestly why Passengers is getting such a bad rap.

Sure, some may blame it on the fact that the advertising holds back a very important part of the story intentionally, but it sort of doesn’t matter – the movie is less about the spoiler/surprise, as much as it’s about actually watching these characters interact with one another, in this setting, and thinking about what to make of it all. In that sense, the movie is very interesting and the two performances from Lawrence and Pratt, are compelling, but the movie doesn’t totally challenge them a whole lot, either. Essentially, they are playing very much in their wheelhouse, where they both have to play charming and dramatic, and together, they create quite the hot couple. They keep it watchable, at the very least, even when everything begins to fall apart in the end.

Which isn’t to say that Passengers is quite the train wreck everyone’s been making it out to be, but it could have been so much more, had it not seem like the studio interfered. Or even if they didn’t interfere in the first place, the least someone could have done was look over the script a few more times, think of things to fix and overall, make that ending better. It would have helped out a lot and probably kept that spoiler from being so idiotically secretive in the first place.

But hey, whatever brings butts to the seats, right?

Consensus: For a short while, Passengers takes full advantage of its talented leads and interesting premise, yet, does a full 180 about halfway through and loses any sense of what it was originally going for.

5.5 / 10

So, why shouldn't they be hot together?

So, why shouldn’t they be hot together?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

The galaxy is vast, wide, and apparently, very British.

Everyday British dude Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is currently battling a bunch of contractors who literally want to build a bypass right where his house is. He’s sad about it and constantly rebels in any way that he can, but when he’s not even thinking about it, he’s taken aside by his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who informs him that not only he’s an alien, but that the two have barely a minute left to live on planet Earth, as it is set to be destroyed any time now. And well, that’s exactly what happens – Arthur and Ford are then left to roam about the galaxy, until they’re then picked up by a random ship, holding Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), the President of the Galaxy, his kind of, sort of, quite possible girlfriend Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), who Arthur had feelings for initially, and Marvin the Paranoid Android (Alan Rickman), who seems incredibly depressed about everything around it. Together, the group must face-off against the Vogons, aka, those who were familiar for destroying Earth in the first place and don’t seem to be done just yet.

It's okay, Martin. The day will be over soon.

It’s okay, Martin. The day will be over soon.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a piece of cult pop-culture that’s survived as long as it has, based solely by the fact that people still don’t seem to understand it just yet and are still, as we speak at this moment, trying to make sense of all the crazy, madcap and wild adventures that the countless stories had to offer. That’s why a movie made of this source material is already troubling as is – especially when you’re working on such a big budget and have to, essentially, please not just the fanboys, but everyone else who may seem interested in seeing a madcap sci-fi flick for the hell of it. And it’s also why Garth Jennings, try as he might, just feels kind of lost here.

He gets some stuff right, but for the most part, Hitchhiker’s unfortunately seems like another case of where a lot of people had to be pleased and because of that, the movie itself ends up muddled, somewhat disjointed and yes, even messy.

Still though, there’s some joy and pleasure to be had in the messiness.

For one, Jennings does keep the movie moving at a fine, efficient pace, to where it feels like we’re getting a whole lot of story, but it’s always constantly going. The movie also doesn’t just focus on the one plot in particular, as there are some truly weird, yet humorous sidebars that come in, bring in a little flavor to the proceedings, and leave soon so that they don’t get in the way of the movie. While it may be a little close to two hours, surprisingly, the movie breezes by and may actually sneak up on you with how quick it’s going.

At the same time, though, being quick and swift doesn’t make your movie good, or even hide away all of the issues that may be troubling it in the first place. And if there’s a huge problem to be found with Hitchhiker’s, it’s that it’s just not as funny as it think it is. Sure, bits and pieces pop-up in this one adventure and on the side that could be considered “humorous”, but honestly, they don’t always connect; most of the time, it feels like the movie’s just trying to out-weird itself, throwing another wrench at the screen and seeing how they could go any further. A bit involving a character’s two-heads is supposed to be played for laughs and shocks, but is a gimmick that gets old real quick and honestly, doesn’t even seem like a joke, but just a character trait.

Yup. Just one of those days.

Yup. Just one of those days.

And it’s a shame, too, because there’s clearly a whole lot of ambition here coming from Jennings and everyone else, but the movie ends up being about its plot a lot, its odd sense of humor, its even odder sci-fi, and yet, not much else. It is, essentially, an adventure, for the sake of being an adventure, but we never get a clear understanding of anything that’s going on beforehand, so that when we’re told of what’s going to happen and what the clear goal of this mission is to be, it just doesn’t connect. The movie takes a whole lot of time to set-up its weird puns and sight-gags, but forgets to actually build a comprehensible plot that makes the whole adventure, well, feel like an actual adventure, that doubles as a ride we don’t ever want to get off.

But we kind of do, just so that it would chill out and take some more time with itself to figure things out.

The cast are really the ones who save it, as it seems like everyone came ready to play, for better or worse. Martin Freeman is, as usual, perfect as our every man; Mos Def fits in perfectly, showing his goofier side for once; Zooey Deschanel plays it as a ruler and it kind of works, although you’d sometimes wish she would just crack a smile or something; Sam Rockwell goes way overboard, even though that’s probably what was called on him in the first place, so it’s hard to make sense of whether or not it was a good idea; and the voices of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, and plenty of others all show up, adding a little bit of zaniness and fun to the overall proceedings, almost making us wish we got to actually see them here, as opposed to just hearing.

Because seeing is believing, as all sci-fi lovers know. And Catholics.

Consensus: Odd and goofy, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has its own style of humor that doesn’t always connect, making the over-packed story feel even a little more straining to comprehend or keep up with.

5.5 / 10

What a gang. Now why weren't they more fun?

What a gang. Now why weren’t they more fun?

Photos Courtesy of: Now Very Bad…

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