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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

Inland Empire (2006)

Wait. What?

Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an accomplished actress who, after much time spent waiting and wondering, finally gets the role as the lead in On High in Blue Tomorrows. It’s supposed to be her comeback role, so to speak, so there’s a lot of pressure wearing on it, not to mention, a lot of pressure from her husband not to fall in love with her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux). Sure, it can be done, but the two are playing characters who are having an affair, making it a tad bit harder. However, the director (Jeremy Irons) trusts that both of them will keep it as professional as can be and will make sure that the movie comes out perfectly, because believe it or not, it’s been attempted before, but for some reason, the movie just hasn’t been made. Why, though? Eventually, Nikki and Devon find out and it causes both of them to start imagining weird, rather insane things, that they don’t know if is real, or not.

Wait, what?

Honestly, there’s a lot more to the premise of Inland Empire, in that there’s not just one story, but about three or four more of them, none of which make a single lick of sense, or better yet, ever seem to come together in a way that you’d imagine. Now, if sitting around for three hours and watching as a bunch of random stories get told to you in the most confusing manner imaginable sounds like a good time, then be my guest and enjoy the hell out of Inland Empire.

I, however, didn’t and just couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Sure, there were things to admire and of course, this is David Lynch we’re talking about here, so I can’t be all that surprised, but still, it just didn’t quite work for me. There was so much going on, without any rhyme or reason, that after awhile, I had to sort of give up and just accept the fact that the movie’s going way beyond my intelligence and I’m best to just let it do its thing and see if I can make it up in the end.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

Sure, is that more of a problem with me, as opposed to the movie? Definitely, but by the same token, there is something to be said for a three-hour movie that not only feels every bit of it, but never seems to show any signs of actually going anywhere. Lynch is well-known for doing this sort of thing time and time again, and while it’s always had me happy and rather pleased, this go around, it just didn’t work. It seemed like too much meandering and craziness for the sake of being meandering and crazy, as if there wasn’t a whole lot of story, but weird and surreal imagery that Lynch just had to get out of his system.

And okay, it makes sense, because the look and feel of this movie is, above all else, freaky. Then again, how could it not? Filmed on a hand-held digital-camera, the movie is grainy, dirty and downright gritty, but in a way, it’s also more terrifying for that reason alone, often times feeling like a documentary, than another glitsed-up flick. Film itself can do wonders, but digital-video can also do the same, especially when you’re really trying to go for an aura of realism, even if, you know, there’s nothing realistic happening here.

No seriously, what?

And once again, that’s all me. The movie gets away doing its thing, but it’s so frustrating to watch, that no matter what Lynch does behind the camera and how much inspiration may come out of him, it just didn’t connect for me. There’s a lot going on here and a lot that randomly happens, but the only thing I could remember clearly in my head was a very few haunting-images, bunny-rabbits, a dance to “the Locomotion”, and a lot of walking down hallways.

Like, a lot.

But Laura Dern, all issues aside, is great here and gives it everything she’s got. There’s no denying that Dern’s probably perfect for Lynch’s creepy, twisted and warped mind, and it’s why her performance here, with so many shades shown, is something to watch. Even when it seems like the rest of the movie has gone far, far away, she’s always there, working her rump off and making sure that everything sticks together. She allows for it to do so, too, it’s just a shame that it didn’t fully connect at the end.

For me, at least.

Consensus: Absolutely confusing, weird and random, Inland Empire is a hard movie to get into, mostly due to its frustrating plot, but there is some art to be seen here.

5 / 10

See, even Laura doesn’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Pretty Clever FilmsFour Three Film

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Where’s those Knights of the Round Table?

After the murder of his father (Eric Bana), young Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is sent off, via boat, to an island where whores and crime run wild. However, Arthur gets going with it all pretty quick and soon, he becomes the smartest, craftiest, and trusted people on the island that, practically, everyone is asking him for their help, in any way that they can. But there’s a reason for why Arthur is the way he is – he comes from royalty, yet, doesn’t know what it is, what it feels like, nor does he actually want it. He’s actually pretty pleased with his life and doesn’t feel the need to up-end it, only until he discovers that his power-hungry uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), who also killed his father, is looking for him and needs him to pull the Excalibur sword from stone. Arthur eventually does and leads to all sorts of action and violence that both sides will compete in until their deaths, but also know that there’s more to being a king, than just having power and fine jewelry. There’s also this thing called respect and honor, and stuff like that.

Just look at that get-up! Clearly the baddie!

King Arthur is a movie that a lot of people will, and already have started to, hate. This isn’t to say that those who don’t like it, aren’t wrong, because in fact, they’re probably; the movie is loud, dark, brash, stupid, random, nonsensical, and downright weird. But sometimes, can’t there be fun had in all of that?

See, Guy Ritchie is the kind of director who seems to take on anything he wants, so long as he can put his own little cool, suave stamp on it. It’s why his early movies, the Sherlock Holmes‘, and even Man From U.N.C.L.E. have worked so well for him, because he was able to do something neat and different with these pieces of work, and make them entirely his own. And yes, it also helps that Ritchie’s style, while definitely show-offy, is still fun to watch and brings a certain amount of energy.

Then again, maybe that’s just for me.

See, the first ten minutes of King Arthur are just so odd, slow and boring, that it made me want to check out very early on. But then, out of nowhere, Ritchie’s style kicks in, where everything’s quick, a little dumb, loud, and random, making it feel like we were watching Clash of the Titans, only to then change to channel to 90’s MTV. It’s silly, of course, but it works in moving this flick forward when in all honesty, other films just like it would have kept a slow, leisurely pace for no reason.

Does it totally work? Not really, but it does help keep the movie fun at times when it shouldn’t be. For instance, Ritchie makes Arthur and his cronies as just another group of his usual rag-tag bunch of gangsters, stealing, lying and killing, for their own gain. Granted, Arthur’s supposed to be the hero here, but listening to him and his pals telling a story, or better yet, a bunch of stories all at once, is quite entertaining.

Once again, this may all just be me, but for some reason, King Arthur was a little bit of fun for me.

The issues the movie seems to have is in making sense of its story, which is why, for two hours, the movie can be a bit long. There are times when it seems like even Ritchie himself can’t make sense of the story and why Arthur matters in the grander scheme of things; certain supernatural elements with witches, eagles, and bugs, all randomly pop-up and are supposed to mean something, but they really don’t. The movie hasn’t really told us much about it, other than, “Oi, yeah, this kind of stuff can happen.”

Poor Eric Bana. The man can just never catch a break.

Can it, though? I guess, and it’s why King Arthur, while clearly not a perfect movie, also seemed to need some more help on the story, even though it took three writers to apparently bring it around.

Still, King Arthur provides enough entertainment when it’s needed and it’s also nice to see the ensemble here having some fun, too. After the Lost City of Z, I began thinking of whether or not Charlie Hunnam was actually a good actor, or if he was just another good-looking guy, who also happened to be able to read lines. Here, I think he fits Arthur quite well; he gets to cool, calm, sophisticated, and a little arrogant, which, if you’re someone who looks like Hunnam, it probably works, and it does here.

Even Jude Law gets to have some fun as Vortigern, although he never quite gets the chance to go full “villain”. Sure, he kills innocents, gives people the bad eye, and yes, even scowls, but there’s never any key moment where it feels like the man is as despicable and as evil as he probably should have been. He’s basically just the Young Pope, but instead of preaching and having weird sexual feelings for nannies, he’s actually killing people.

So shouldn’t that make him more evil? I don’t know, either way, Law deserves to be meaner and badder.

Consensus: While it is no doubt a flawed, odd and at times, random piece, King Arthur also proves that Guy Ritchie’s hip and cool style can still work, so long as it isn’t being depended on to help out with the story, or other things that matter to making a good movie.

5.5 / 10

He’s still deciding on what accent to use, or if to even have one at all.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

A United Kingdom (2017)

The world hasn’t changed all that much, unfortunately.

In 1947, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the King of Botswana, met Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a London office worker, and for the most part, it was a match made in heaven. They instantly fell in love, they danced, they sang, they drank, and oh yeah, they planned on getting married. However, that proved to be the biggest hurdle for them to overcome when both the British and South African governments got involved, for various reasons. The latter had recently introduced the policy of apartheid and found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighboring country intolerable, whereas South Africa threatened the British to either break-up the couple or be denied access to South African uranium, which at the time, was vital for the government, and gold and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana. Through it all though, the two would remain a loving couple that, at times, didn’t really know if all of this anguish, pain and separation was really all that worth it.

True love.

At the center of A United Kingdom, we have a really interesting tale that’s a lot bigger and much more ambitious than another similar racially-mixed couple movie, Loving. Writer/director Amma Assante is an interesting director, in that she takes this notion of racism and rather than just seeing it applied to the States, shows that it was the same problem in Britain, but this time, with much more to do with the government and appearances and all of that stuff. It’s a real story that, surprisingly, hasn’t gotten the big-screen treatment to now and you’d think with such rich source material, that yeah, it would be quite the stirring experience.

But sadly, that doesn’t happen.

What’s most odd about A United Kingdom is how safe and easy it plays itself. It never quite seems like the emotional thrill-ride it must have been for those actually involved with this real life part of history, nor does it ever translate to being a rich and passionate story about a couple overcoming prejudice and adversity from all sides, to stay by each other’s side, through the thick and thin. Sure, there’s interesting points to be made about politics and how all governments want to insure that they have the best PR program imaginable, to any and all lengths, but it mostly all gets lost in a near two-hour movie that, for quite some time, is just boring.

Which yes, I know may sound like a silly criticism, but honestly, it’s one I can’t seem to stop myself from saying. It’s the kind of movie where it’s so safe, so conventional, and so easy-going, surprisingly, that it’s hard to really get past it all. In a way, it almost feels like a made-for-TV production that would be perfect for the BBC, but instead, gets the big-screen treatment and because of that, actually suffers – there’s so much story, so many random twists and turns, that after awhile, you just sort of have to give up.

Mad Max?

Because through it all, there is a loving couple that we’re supposed to love, adore and get behind, and yeah, it doesn’t quite happen. Then again, it’s not entirely Oyelowo or Pike’s fault; together, the two have a nice bit of chemistry that’s sweet and believable, but the movie doesn’t focus on them enough. In real life, the two figures were spread across from one another for so long, that the movie does follow suit and with that, we never quite feel their love for one another. One too many conversations over the phone, all by themselves, and never really all that pain-staking.

Then again, it’s probably what happened in real life, to the two actual people.

But is A United Kingdom a bad movie? Not really. It’s well-made, in that it looks nice, professional, and feels like it was given a sizable budget, but still, there’s just not that many feelings to be had. These issues of racism and hatred, for no real reason, are still relevant to today and because of that, are still powerful, but for a movie to try and really get in on that, and fail, almost feels like an missed-opportunity. Because there is a hard, honest, and emotional story to be told, but it’s just not told here.

Oh well. Maybe next time.

Consensus: Well-acted and filmed, A United Kingdom is also, unfortunately, too safe and easy to really do justice for its subject matter, or its real life counterparts, despite all the promise to be had.

5.5 / 10

Spoiler alert: A child does come into play.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Off the Black (2006)

The dude’s who always get the wrong calls, guess what? Get it wrong in life, too.

After his baseball team loses a game due to a call by umpire Ray Cook (Nick Nolte), Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) and some friends decide to vandalize Ray’s house. Unfortunately for Dave, he is caught and starts paying off his debt by cleaning up the mess. But something odd begins to happen to Dave once he cleans this guys house up – he actually starts to like this old Ray fella, who seems like he also likes Dave, too. So, rather than just continuing to mess with the guy, he hangs out with him, more and more, getting to know who he is, where he comes from, and just what his whole life has been like. For Dave, it’s a way of coping with his mother’s absence, as well as the fact that his dad (Timothy Hutton), isn’t quite all that there for him, but for Ray, it’s all about getting to remember what it was like to be a kid, and have a family. It’s something that he hasn’t felt in forever and it’s something that Dave feels happy to give him, until it gets all too sad for either to actually be able to handle once the real truths come out.

He still somehow gets the ladies.

Off the Black is probably the most perfect movie to make your small-budget, really low-key, very indie debut with. Not in that it’s a perfect movie and is absolutely the one to show everyone else in the world the true talents you possess, but because it’s so simple, so easygoing, and so non-challenging, that it feels like you’re watching someone get their act together, yet, at the same time, not want to go too far so that they lose themselves. It’s almost as if Off the Black was made with the intention that writer/director James Ponsoldt would follow all sorts of rules and guidelines and only after the movie was finished, edited, and released, then he would get to have some fun with movies for a change.

And judging by what he’s put out since, it’s not hard to imagine this.

See, Off the Black is a perfectly fine little indie that doesn’t set out to offend, change the world, or even shake up the world a little bit. It tells this small, humane tale about two people connecting, getting to know one another, and yeah, eventually bonding over stuff. It’s so safe and comfortable that it’s probably the most perfect movie you could take an aunt, uncle, grand-parent out to see and leave it knowing that you did a great service, because they’ll be pleased with what they saw. Sure, the cursing, drinking, and occasional bit of smoking may get in the way, but overall, it’s a movie that doesn’t go out of its way too much to really stir up any person’s raw feelings and/or emotions.

Which is also probably why, for a good portion at least, it’s so boring. It’s hard to really pin-point what it was about Off the Black that felt like it was just taking way too much of its time and meandered, even with the 90-minute run-time, but it just happened. There was this constant feeling I had while watching the movie knowing that I typically love certain tales of everyday, normal people like this, but for some reason, this one just didn’t grab me. Ponsoldt’s latest films have all done that, and then some, which is probably Off the Black has gone mostly unremembered, even after all of his success as of late.

Grow up, kid. Start hanging with old drunks.

That said, it isn’t a totally terrible movie. Just a monotonous and rather boring one, to say the least.

It helps that, as usual, Nick Nolte is pretty terrific in the lead role playing, guess this, a drunk who has a rough past and even rougher relationships with those from that past. It’s the kind of dirty, beaten-up role Nolte has downright perfected by now, which is why it’s no surprise he handles it oh so well here, bringing out some true heart and emotion in scenes with Trevor Morgan that, honestly, never feel believable. It isn’t that Nolte doesn’t try, it’s that Morgan’s character is so dull and plainly-written that it’s never all that understandable why he wants to be best pals with this old drunk dude in the first place.

The movie does try to make it appear that Morgan’s character’s mommy issues have to do with it, but even still, it doesn’t quite make sense. Timothy Hutton’s dad character brings out the most emotion in his four or five scenes, showing us a truly sad person who, honestly, could have been better friends with Nolte’s. It feels odd, never quite works, and yeah, it doesn’t help that Morgan’s probably not the best actor, either.

That said, Nolte saves the day. What else is new?

Consensus: As conventional as indie-dramas get, Off the Black never gets as dramatic as it wants to be, which keeps itself away from being all that emotional.

5 / 10

Yeah, not buying it. Sorry, fellas.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes

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

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