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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

The Dinner (2017)

Have a nice, friendly din-din with your bro, they said.

Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife, Claire (Laura Linney) get ready to spend an evening with his brother and sister-in-law at a fancy restaurant where they can catch up, discuss some things, and yeah, just do what adults do by a certain age when not much else is left to do: Try to one-up each other. It’s this sole reason that Paul doesn’t want to go, but there’s something going on with his son (Charlie Plummer) that this dinner needs to address and rather than sitting around, moping, and not seeing anything getting better, Paul decides to suck it up and have dinner with his brother and his wife. And said brother, who also happens to be Congressman Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), knows that he and Paul have some things to address, but it takes too long to get there because, well, they don’t quite get along. There’s a history there and it’s something that keeping this dinner away from being, at the very least, a civilized one. Tack on the fact that Stan’s wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), isn’t in the best of moods, either, and yeah, it’s going to be a long night.

Steve Coogan is sure-as-hell wishing that he was dinner at with Rob Brydon right about now.

Without going so far as to review the Dinner on what could have been, instead of its merits like one should always do, there’s a part of me that wishes it had been a lot easier, simpler, and laid-out than what actually happens. See, on the surface, there’s a movie that’s ripe with promise of tension, questions, answers, family-history, and well, ideas about the world we live in, the world we make for future generations to come around, and most above all, politics. In that sense, had the movie just been a four-hander between these four very talented actors, just waxing on and on about life and all of its issues, then yes, the Dinner probably would have been as compelling as it promised.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

The Dinner is, for lack of a better term, overstuffed beyond belief and way too busy to really work with itself out. Director Oren Moverman has proven in the past that he has a knack for telling small, subtle, but dark tales about everyday humans, but for some reason, he gets wrapped-up in way too much going on here; granted, it was Cate Blanchett who was originally supposed to direct here, but dropped out, leaving Moverman to pick up the pieces. He tries to make sense of the many strands of plot this movie has, but after awhile, once the eighth or tenth unnecessary flashback hits the screen, it becomes really repetitive and really annoying, really quick.

After all, it’s only breaking up any of the tension that the actors create here in the first place, making it seem like the material was too troubling to work with in the first place, or that Moverman didn’t trust these actors enough to really give the movie all the intensity it needed to work. And when it’s just them four, sitting around a table, it’s quite a treat to watch; Coogan, Linney, Gere, and as usual, Hall, are all pros at what they do and can handle whatever this sometimes wacky script throws at them. However, it gets to become a problem when the movie steps away from them so much, almost to the point of where you wonder whether the title is ironic, or if there is actually supposed to be a so-called “Dinner” taking place?

I don’t know who’s their daddy, but Richard Gere and Steve Coogan did not came from the same mother.

And if so, with whom? Or better yet, will we actually be able to watch it?

Still though, it’s hard to hate a movie with this cast because when the Dinner is on them, it’s fun and rather, exciting. It’s a true testament to what can happen, even if you have a weak script, when you have a solid cast, doing what they do best: Act. Coogan’s probably the most impressive here, as his character not only gets the most development out of the four, but also gets to show off his much darker, meaner and weirder side that we don’t too often see. Sure, his American-accent is a little too odd for me to fully buy, but in this character’s case, it sort of works. Yeah, I’m still not sure.

However, the movie not only needed more of him, but yeah, everyone else, too. It’s called “the Dinner” for a reason – let’s see said “Dinner” actually occur.

Consensus: Despite solid performances from the four leads, the Dinner suffers from a way too busy and hackneyed plot that does so much, it breaks up any of the tension that’s meant to be felt with dark and disturbing material such as this.

5 / 10

“Cheers to pure hatred and contempt for one another and everything around us!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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The Belko Experiment (2017)

Take a sick day next time.

An ordinary day at the office becomes a horrific quest for survival when 80 employees at the Belko Corp. in Bogotá, Colombia, learn that they are pawns in a deadly game. It all happens when, out of nowhere, a weird, sinister voice comes over the PA system, letting them all know that they are trapped inside their building and that two workers must be killed within 30 minutes. Two die and the employees think that’s all there is to it. Little do they know that plenty more will have to be killed in order for the voice to stop doing what it’s doing and let the workers go. And for some workers (John Gallagher Jr.), this is fine, because they have a conscience and don’t want people to die. But for others (Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley), they know that the only way to come out of this thing alive is to make the weakest suffer and die off first. Ask questions later. After awhile, it just becomes a free-for-all where no one knows who’s going to live, die, or hell, even what the end game is here.

That look you make when you’re absolutely tired of all the damn memo’s.

The Belko Experiment seems to be going for some sort of message about the current day workforce, or hell, even the government in and of itself. After all, the movie is set in Colombia, where an American corporation is held, dealing with certain issues that never become made clear to us. Is the movie trying to say that foreign relations with the States is so bad, that everyone associated with them is eventually going to become killers? Or, is it trying to say that the workforce, in and of itself, is already so vicious in the first place, that eventually, everyone in it is just going to start killing one another to be the best, literally and metaphorically speaking?

I honestly don’t know. But probably not.

See, the Belko Experiment isn’t a very smart movie that wants to get itself all bogged down in certain stuff like politics, or hell, even ideas. It just wants to kill, give us a lot of gore, and make certain office-items into weapons. A part of that can be fun to watch, but here’s the issue with the Belko Experiment: It’s just not all that fun to begin with.

In a way, it’s actually pretty depressing and dare I say it, disturbing. But honestly not in the way that it intends; writer James Gunn seems to be clearly going for some sort of darkly comedic-edge, where heads are splattered and limbs are exposed, but for some reason, there’s still a smirk on everybody’s faces by the end of the killing. However, that doesn’t quite translate here at all. The Belko Experiment is a drop dead serious movie, which could still allow for the premise to fully work, but it never seems as convinced of its own darkness, that it allows itself to go there.

It’s always just moving along, steadily and surely, but is it easy to care? Not really.

What a courageous guy. Too bad that he’ll probably have to kill her later.

And yeah, that’s what it ultimately comes down to with the Belko Experiment – it’s hard to ever really care. Sure, watching seemingly normal, everyday people go to work and be threatened with meaningless, senseless death is upsetting to begin with, but the movie’s character-development is, well, lacking. For the first ten minutes or so, we get to know a little bit about the main players of the story, but mostly, they all just come down to types, so that when things do start to go awry and characters begin to make rash, downright questionable decisions, none of it really connects, or translates.

Take a movie like It Comes at Night that, in a way, is a horror movie, but not really. That one deals with the day-to-day horror of real life human beings, being shoved the brink of madness and having to act out in heinous ways that they’ll soon regret, but did for the greater good of themselves and the ones that they love. While the Belko Experiment never tries to reach for the same heights that that movie did, it still seems to touch on the same issues of normal people, having to act out in disgusting ways, to save their asses. The difference is that It Comes at Night made us understand and believe these decisions, where the Belko Experiment seems to just, well, give us conventional types, expect us to buy them, and watch as they hack one another off.

When in reality, who cares?

Consensus: The Belko Experiment flirts with being darkly fun, but also gets a little too wrapped-up in being too sinister and mean-spirited to be as exciting as it wants to be.

5 / 10

Conservatives, or just deranged dicks? You be the judge.

Photos Courtesy of: VarietyIndieWire

The Hero (2017)

Don’t let Hollywood forget about you. Even if everyone else you knew already has.

Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is an aging Western icon with a golden voice, but in all honesty, his time in the spotlight seems to mostly be behind him. Nowadays, when he isn’t making money in voice-over roles for silly animated flicks, or for lame-o commercials, He spends his days reliving old glories and smoking too much weed with his former-co-star-turned-dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman). But he soon finds out that he’s got cancer and it’s not looking too pretty, so it comes time for him to put his life into order, think long and hard about the people he’s hurt, and those that he wants to continue on and love. So of course, around this time, he gets a new lease on life when he meets stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who, despite the obvious age-gap, decides to take him on as something of a mate and try hard to navigate through each of each other’s difficult lives. Meanwhile, Lee tries to connect with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), all while searching for one final role to cement his legacy.

“What sort of device is this?” (Okay, he’s not that old, but still)

Co-writer/director Brett Haley’s last movie (I’ll See You in My Dreams) was a surprise-winner for me. It not only gave the ridiculously underrated Blythe Danner the starring-role she was quite deserving of, but also offered something of a smart, low-key, humorous, and heartfelt look at aging, finding love again, and oh yeah, death. It wasn’t too deep that it was depressing, nor was it too funny and light that it could be cheesy – it was just somewhere in the middle and yeah, it worked wonders.

But for some reason, the Hero doesn’t quite work as well. It tries to discuss the same themes and ideas about aging, finding love again, and yes, death, but it sort of fumbles them all in a mess of a movie that doesn’t know where to go, what it wants to be about, or hell, how long it wants to go on for. Because even at just a little over an-hour-and-a-half, it still feels way too long, as if the script wrote just enough material for an hour, but the budget asked for a much longer movie, so of course, everything had to get more and more padded-out.

And also, yeah, Haley seems to have lost a bit of inspiration in the writing-department this time around, too.

But it’s not like the Hero doesn’t play around with some complex thoughts; the idea of aging in a business that has long forgotten about you, is still an interesting to watch, because it’s something that so clearly happens, whether it’s in Hollywood, or elsewhere. But the Hero seems to barely touch on this and instead, just be more about this old dude’s relationship with a ridiculously unrealistic character who could most definitely be classified as nothing more than “a type”. Not that Laura Prepon isn’t good in the role, or at least, doesn’t try, it’s just that she’s so obviously a conceit that writers make up on-the-fly, that listening to her recite poetry, literally, makes me gag.

A May-December romance in Hollywood? You don’t say!?!?

And honestly, she’s not the only type here, either.

Even in the lead role, Sam Elliott is most definitely playing himself, once again. Obviously though, this time, he’s got more to work with and yeah, he makes it worth the movie’s time and effort. He’s honest and sad when the movie asks for it and while he gave a better performance in a much smaller-role in Haley’s last movie, it’s still nice to see him get a leading-role, when there’s very few of them in his long, storied career.

But like I said, he’s still a type. Nick Offerman’s stoner-buddy, while heartfelt, is still used as the obviously straining comedic-sidekick who smokes pot and makes jokes about the old days; Krysten Ritter is the estranged daughter who hates her dad no matter what and reminded me far too much of Evan Rachel Wood’s ridiculously similar character in the Wrestler; and Elliot’s real-life wife, Katharine Ross, shows up as his character’s ex-wife and they have a few nice scenes together, but that’s it. There’s nothing more to them, or their relationship. What you see, is what you get, so don’t expect anything more.

Sort of like, ahem, this movie.

Consensus: Even with a solid performance from Elliott in a rare leading role, the Hero still feels like it’s scratching the surface of a very interesting premise that doesn’t get the opportunity to go further and deeper than what seems to be promised.

5 / 10

Long live Sam Elliott. Just not in this movie.

Photos Courtesy of: NPRDeadlineJunk Host

The Mummy (2017)

Damn. Where was Brendan Fraser when we needed him?

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a soldier in the United States Army who, when he’s not taking down terrorists and saving the country, is going around foreign countries, stealing ancient artifacts, and selling them on the black market for way more than is ever predicted. However, he discovers something that maybe even he may not be able to get away from: A tomb containing, get this, a mummy. Turns out, the mummy (Sofia Boutella) is an old princess who was supposed to be Queen, only to then have been sabotoged, killed and, of course, mummified. Now, she’s out of her tomb and needs something to latch onto, regardless of what it is. So, of course, she latches onto Nick and desires every part of him, hoping that she can, sooner than later, become an evil, but much more powerful spirit than ever before. Nick doesn’t like this, so, with the help of a world-renowned archaeologist Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), who Nick has had relations with in the past, he hopes to not only be rid of this evil, but stop it once and for all, so that no one else in the world can be attacked by such an evil.

Wow. Scientology can do all sorts of tricks to 54-year-old-men’s bodies.

The Mummy is an odd movie in that it’s clearly and most obviously setting-up a franchise, with future, money-grabbing movies to come down the line, but by the same token, also doesn’t feel like it’s leaving a whole lot of room for places this story can go. For instance, we get a glimpse of Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, who turns crazy and nuts, only to then not moments later, so what’s there to be of him in the future? Is he getting his own movie where he can do what he already did for us? Not to mention the mummy, too, who clearly has her story all laid-out for us, so as to not give us any grey-areas on the matter whatsoever.

So you’d think her story would be done, right?

Well, oddly enough, no. The movie still sets her story up as if there’s something monumental that we just have to wait around for and see. Then, of course, there’s this issue of Tom Cruise who, even at this stage in his career, seems like he may be slumming it a bit for something like the Mummy, where even his charm and wit can’t be the center of attention, but a non-stop punchline just in case for when things get too serious and scary. But yeah, even his story is set-up to continue on and on, but again, his story seems done and, yeah, it’s Tom Cruise, so is he really going to sign on to another one of these when he could just stay at home and collect Mission Impossible money for the rest of his days?

Probably not, but hey, the Mummy is still having fun setting itself up for further adventures down the road. And this is obviously a problem, because it takes away from what could have already been a pretty fun, light and silly romp. Granted, we didn’t really need a reboot of the Mummy, but hey, we got it and if this is the best that they could do, then yeah, it feels like maybe, just maybe, Brendan Fraser’s franchise shouldn’t have even be messed with in the first place.

Literally pre-gaming for Ozzfest already.

Cause it’s not like the Mummy is as awful as everyone is making it out to be; it’s occasionally fun, charming and yes, a little goofy, but it can occasionally come together and be worth watching. It’s honestly all of the CGI, story-strands, set-ups, and mythological elements that don’t quite work and yeah, even get in the way of the spirit of this movie, that can be found if you look deep and hard enough. Granted, it’s not easy to like a movie like the Mummy, especially when it does seem as if it’s trying too hard to please everyone who watches it, but it can be a bit enjoyable, if you can get past all of these other issues that seem to constantly be getting in the way.

But yeah, that can be a pretty difficult task, so it’s understandable if it doesn’t quite work out for you, like it did for me.

I’m just a weird guy who takes it easy on these over-budgeted, glossy, and expensive summer blockbusters that don’t know how to settle themselves down and can, occasionally, become total messes. But sometimes, messes can be fun. They can also be dull, too, which the Mummy can be, when it forgets to let itself be some bit of fun.

Some bit, unfortunately. But there is a bit.

Consensus: Way too much story and set-up for very little reason, the Mummy can be occasionally fun and entertaining, but also feels like it’s a step-down for everyone involved, especially a randomly cast Cruise.

5 / 10

Uh oh. Chris Martin may have an issue here.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Fist Fight (2017)

Honestly, I myself would have just wanted to brawl with one of my teachers.

It’s the last day of school, and for most people, they’re just worried about getting pranked and having to remember the shame for the rest of the summer. But for Andy (Charlie Day), he’s just worried about getting his ass kicked or not. See, it all started when Andy ran into Ron (Ice Cube), the history teacher who is a bit of a hot-head and not the nicest guy around, and accidentally ratted him out to the principal (Dean Norris) for doing something extremely bad. Ron doesn’t like snitches, so he challenges Andy to a brawl, in the parking-lot, right after school. Everyone hears about it, which leads to many people getting in Andy’s head, messing with him, and driving him even further to madness than ever before. Which is an issue for Andy, especially on a day like this, where he actually has to be at his daughter’s talent show by the end of the day and, you know, not worrying about getting his ass kicked.

Don’t look, Charlie. He’s about to quote an two-decade’s old NWA song.

There’s something to be said for most mainstream comedies out there in the world today that feel as if they were written with a paintbrush. Most of them just have a plot, have a few characters, and other broad spectrum of the story, but for the most part, don’t really have much else filled. It’s almost as if they’re just written for the sake of being written, so that big stars can sign onto them and the projects can get funding, made, and released to the world to see.

What happens in between, honestly, is all up in the air and made up on the spot, and that’s feel like what happens with Fist Fight, another studio comedy that relies heavily on improv, but ultimately, doesn’t have that many jokes to sustain its already overlong run-time and premise. That said, there is some humor to be found, which is mostly always the case when you have reliable comedy talents in it like Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell, and, uh, Christina Hendricks? Believe it or not, everyone’s pretty funny here and adds a few zingers every so often to make it seem like the movie isn’t just one lame joke, over and over again.

That’s typically the case with improv: Some of it is good, some of it isn’t. But most of it is, and can be, entertaining to watch.

“Something, something, drugs. AHAHA!”

That said, Fist Fight also feels like the kind of comedy where there isn’t all that much else to it, except funny people, playing around, collecting a paycheck, and trying to make the most of it. It’s not even that it feels soulless, as much as it just feels a bit boring, because you know that there’s really nothing in this that makes these talents want to work their hardest and best; Bell is a perfect example of this, as she literally starts off the movie, saying that she wants to bang a student, but that she’s also on meth. Sure, Jillian Bell is always funny, and is definitely funny here, but when you start the movie off with those two extremes, it’s a little hard to fall back on anything else.

And oh yeah, the plot, too. See, one of the interesting things about Fist Fight is that there is, believe it or not, some interesting commentary to be had about the school-system and how, in ways, it will literally drive two respectable, likable teachers, to the brink of madness and feel as if they have to beat the hell out of each other, just to keep their jobs. It’s a bit of an extreme example, for sure, but it also helps Fist Fight seem like more than just a lot of jokes and some story.

Which is, essentially, what it is.

And no, I’m not crapping on Fist Fight for not having more interesting ideas, or better yet, even more plot to work with; it’s a comedy and by default, has to be funny. If that’s the case, then yes, Fist Fight is a serviceable comedy that has laughs to offer. But like I said, not much else.

Consensus: Even with a solid cast who can handle goofy material like this well, Fist Fight also feels a bit underdeveloped and like every other studio comedy ever made.

5 / 10

Someone do something. Come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Somersault (2004)

Growing up just got a lot harder.

Australian teenager Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is left with little choice but to leave home after she’s caught red-handed with her mother’s boyfriend. Without anyone in her life willing to help her out, or even talk to her, Heidi heads to Jindabyne, a tourist community where a lot of people are, yet, for some reason, Heidi still can’t seem to strike up a deal with anyone. No jobs, no places to sleep, nada. But then she meets Joe (Sam Worthington), a farmer who’s dealing with all sorts of personal problems at home and is more than happy to look for some sort of distraction in his life, even if it is in the form of Heidi. And yeah, the two get along real well, hell, even coming close to loving one another. But there’s some issues in Heidi’s life that constantly seem to come between her and happiness, as well as between her and Joe.

Just kiss and stop pretending to be happy!

Somersault is probably the dirtiest, grittiest, and naughtiest Lifetime movie ever made. It looks and sounds like one, yet, there’s people screwing, people getting naked, and people doing all sorts of drugs, to the point of where it feels like Lifetime After Dark, where the kids have all been tucked away and now it’s time for mom, dad and possibly, even the teenagers, to have a little bit of fun. This isn’t to say that the movie’s bad, by any means, but it is to say that it’s obvious there’s a market for these kinds of stories, and while most of them do deserve the big-screen treatment, some of them were probably better left off on the smaller-one.

Just like Somersault, unfortunately.

And this isn’t to say that there isn’t anything good with Somersault to be had, or better yet, seen. The lead performances from both Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington are, well, great. There’s a reason why both have taken a stab at starring in Hollywood flicks, to certain degrees of success, because here, they both exude a certain amount of charm, amidst all of the sadness and pain they may be feeling. Cornish’s Heidi is a self-destructive being who seems like she’s about to fall apart in every scene, whereas Worthington’s Joe is a chill and collected lad who may also be pretty damn depressed. Together, they create a nice little relationship that is cute because they’re both so young and clearly have no idea just how dark, cruel, and unrelenting the world can get, but also because they have nice chemistry. Sure, Worthington has become a bit of a dull-presence on the screen, but believe it or not, at one time, he was the real deal and Joe’s a perfect performance to show that.

But despite these two being as good as they are, the movie always seems to fall back on soapy, melodramatic convention that, honestly, seems to betray said good performances. Writer/director Cate Shortland clearly deserves credit for telling a story that so many people would stick away from digging deep into, but she does and never goes back. Somersault is a sad, somewhat depressing tale about even more sad and depressed people just trying to navigate through life and understand what it is that can make them happy.

See? That’s more like it!

Or, at least, that’s what I think the movie’s about.

Honestly, after awhile, it seems like Shortland sort of loses focus on what she was setting out to do, or even tell, and just wanted to see how far she could go, getting people to partake in a whole bunch of nudity and awkward sex. Sometimes, there’s something quite compelling about watching all of that, but in Somersault, it feels like a crutch; rather than developing the story even more and really figuring out what’s going on, the movie falls back, gives us sex, nudity, drugs, and doesn’t want us to ask anymore questions.

Once again, it’s really the performances keeping this together, because at the end, Somersault just feels like a Lifetime movie, made with all sorts of dark and heavy emotions that are maybe grittier this time around, but still don’t fully ring true. Why Heidi is the way she is, never makes sense, and just seems like a moody teenager who does too many drugs and alcohol. Whereas with Joe, he’s just a sad fella. Why should we care?

Consensus: Somersault tries to dig in deep, but despite two solid performances from the leads, it mostly falls apart by relying far too much on convention and melodrama, better suited for TV.

5.5 / 10

Put clothes on you crazy Aussies!

Photos Courtesy of: Alchetron

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Come sail away and never come back. Seriously.

All of these years of screwing people over left and right has finally caught up with Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who is now so down on his luck that he begins to feel the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly than ever before. So when deadly ghost sailors led by his old nemesis, the evil Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle, Jack is left to connect back with old friends and mates who will hopefully be able to get him out of this bind. But for Jack, his only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon. However, it’s so hard to track down, he’ll have to strike up with some people who may know a thing or two of where it’s at, and just how the hell to get it. Enter Carina (Kaya Scodelario), a beautiful astronomer who uses her good-looks to her benefit, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a young lad apart of the British Navy who knows a thing or two about the high seas and the undead that will soon be hot on their tail. But it’s still Jack himself who can’t seem to get over the fact that all of this ill-will has finally come back to bite him in the rump.

These guys both have Oscars. Why are they here?

In all honesty, the first Pirates of the Caribbean is still, despite all of the bloated sequels to follow, a solid piece of entertainment. It’s fun, exciting, pretty funny, and oh yeah, features a top-notch ensemble of people who knew exactly what kind of material they were dealing with, and didn’t try too hard to really look for any deeper-meaning under the sea. It worked, not just making the franchise one of the most popular around, but reminded us that Johnny Depp, despite being a reliable name in the biz for a very long time prior, can carry a movie on his back.

Hell, people, the dude even got nominated for an Oscar. Literally. An Oscar. For a movie about a bunch of pirates and ghosts. What the hell?

But of course, time went by and the Pirates movies became irritating. They became longer, more overblown, and yeah, just dull. They could be fun, at times, but honestly, at nearly three hours, they all but worn out their welcome, even if people continued to pay to constantly see them. It’s sort of like the Transformers franchise in that it’s still popular, despite none of the movies really being all that good – people just like big, bloated and over-produced theater-rides and can’t help themselves but to get another.

And that’s why Dead Men Tell No Tales, while not terrible, or as awful as it should have been, should still be the final nail in the coffin for this already overlong franchise. After all, the fans of the original have probably stopped following just what Captain Jack and his matees are up to, not to mention that the reason for this franchise to continue on, doesn’t just seem ridiculous, but downright annoying. It’s a cash-cow for sure, but it’s the kind that doesn’t make any sense of its reason for existing – after awhile, it just gets sad to watch and makes you wonder, “What could have happened if they had just stopped after the first?”

Even you, Orlando!?!?

Well, there would have been quite a few people who wouldn’t have gotten filthy, stinkin’ rich, but who cares about all that?

Anyway, Dead Men Tell No Tales does have the occasional burst of action and excitement, but most of that has to do with an awe-inspiring set-piece that doesn’t contain pirate ships trying to blow each other up. There’s a bit with a guillotine early on that’s somewhat inventive, and hell, even by the end, there’s a bit that clearly rips-off the Bible, but hey, it’s neat to watch and takes full advantage of the 3D IMAX. But aside from those two bits, the rest of the movie is a bit of a blur.

It’s paced well, sure, but after awhile, it’s hard to ever really care just what’s going on, what has to be accomplished, and who may, or may not, come out of this alive. The characters try to still be charming and lovely, but even they feel like they’re just replacements, like Scodelario and Thwaites’ characters who, unfortunately, have to be related to other characters already apart of the franchise. While everyone in the cast is still fine and doing what they’re doing, it’s still hard not to feel like maybe, just perhaps, their efforts would be better suited elsewhere.

You know, like something that isn’t a freakin’ Pirates movie for gosh sakes.

Consensus: Even at two-hours-and-nine-minutes, Dead Men Tell No Tales still feels a bit long, with only bits and pieces of inspiration and excitement to be found, amongst another entry into an already overplayed franchise.

5 / 10

Okay, I can see why Johnny’s here. Which, by now, is just sad to admit.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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

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