Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

The Kingdom (2007)

Let’s just stay home and let people settle themselves out, okay?

Charged with the most important assignment of his career, federal agent Ron Fleury (Jamie Foxx) has one week to assemble a team, infiltrate and destroy a terrorist cell based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It’s not what he had in mind when he decided to join back up with the force, but it’s the task that was handed down to him, so he wrangles up Special Agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), a forensic examiner, FBI analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), an intelligence analyst, and Special Agent Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), who all have their own set of skills that will help allow for this mission to go down a lot smoother. And if that wasn’t enough, well, then the four also have the company and good graces of Colonel Faris al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), the commander of the Saudi State Police Force, a man who is providing security for them. However, what seems like good intentions at first, all start to go away once the agents realize that they aren’t allowed to do their jobs and complete their mission because of some strange rules that the Saudi government is passing down to them. Will they obey them? Or, like most Americans, will they just do whatever they want?

Jamie's packin'.

Jamie’s packin’.

The Kingdom shows Peter Berg more of where he’s at now in his career. He tackles these real life moments in our nation’s history and does all that he can with them, never really making a point about what it is that he’s depicting, just more of showing the world a little story that we may, or may not, already have known about. Although Berg starts the movie off by showing the relationship between the U.S. and the Saudis, post-WWI, Berg still settles himself down, opting for a more traditional approach to a story that, quite frankly, could have not only just used more eyes and ears, but more voices.

In a way, it seems like the Kingdom is the perfect movie for Berg to get on his soap-box and speak out against the U.S.’s insistence of a relationship with the Saudis, but he still seems torn; at one point, he’s all about making a point, but then, at other points, he just wants to see stuff blow-up and people get shot dead in the streets. Somehow, somewhere, it doesn’t all come together perfectly and it seems like a case of Berg himself getting lost in translation and not knowing where to speak out, and where to let the violence start happening.

The action’s good though, so that’s got to account for something, right?

And yeah, it definitely does. There’s no denying that Berg knows how to craft a tense and effective action-sequence, but there’s maybe only or two throughout the whole film, which means that a large portion of the flick is dedicated to watching a bunch of characters talk to one another about stuff we may not have a clue about, or better yet, not even care for. The Kingdom may not try to settle all of the issues between the Saudis and the U.S., but what it does set out to do, is tell us a story about something that happened in the real world and why it deserves to be told.

So is Chris.

So is Chris.

Why, for some reason, that emotional impact isn’t felt while watching the movie is, for lack of a better term, weird. Berg knows how to craft action-sequences and in the many scenes where there are people talking, there’s still some underlining sense of dread and tension, but it never quite materializes into being anything all that exciting. Berg is, simply put, telling this story and leaving it at that.

In a way, that’s perfectly fine.

But in another way, it’s not. It lets the very talented cast and crew down, as well as the people it’s supposed to be depicting. Of course, the events and situations are all loosely based on other events that occurred in Saudi Arabia and had to do with American forces intervening, but the idea of patriotism and paying a tribute to these men and women who serve our country, only to make other countries nearly as good and safe as ours, still feels relevant. Berg wants to celebrate these people and there’s no problem with that – except for when he doesn’t quite give them all that much of a spectacular movie that really gets us, the movie-going audience, going.

Consensus: Despite a few solid pieces of action and timely themes, the Kingdom doesn’t know how to package them all up in a neat, somewhat cohesive manner that’s both effective, or interesting, making it feel like a missed-opportunity to really speak out against issues that deserve to be spoken out against.

6 / 10

And you know what? Even Jen is.

And you know what? Even Jen is.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Personally, I believe that Chutes & Ladders is the key to world hunger. But that’s just me.

Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl living in Uganda, which is, essentially, a slum. She and her family constantly struggle to keep a roof over their head, food on their plates, and try to stay on the straight and narrow path so that they don’t have to stoop themselves down to getting money in dirty, sometimes disturbing ways. But for Phiona in particular, her one dream of making it out of the slums, and into a house, with windows, trees, a swing, and most importantly, a front-door, is by becoming one of the greatest chess players in the world. Through the constant tutelage of her teacher Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), she hones her craft and eventually, gets in tournaments. While she wins mostly all of them, the biggest issue for Phiona, according to her mother (Lupita Nyong’o), is that she sees this world outside of Uganda and can’t help but be dissatisfied and somewhat depressed by her poverty. Phiona has to turn all of that sadness, into energy so that she can make all of her wildest dreams come true and make Uganda a very hopeful and happy place, even if it’s only by the game of chess.

"Mother. checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money's at."

“Mother, checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money’s at.”

For some odd reason, despite chess not necessarily being classified as “a sport”, ESPN is here to help produce Queen of Katwe, which automatically will make you think, “cliché”. And if you did think that, you wouldn’t be far off. Queen of Katwe is the rags-to-riches, predictable story that we so often see with sports-related flicks, except that this time, the story is placed in Uganda and features a young, Ugandan girl, doing whatever it is that she can to make out of poverty and into something resembling “financially stable”.

Does it sound familiar? Definitely.

But does it still kind of work? Well, yeah. Surprisingly, it does.

Director Mira Nair has hit a bit of a slump as of late, but seems to get back on the right track with Queen of Katwe, giving us a story that’s as simple as they come, yet, still has a pleasant enough feel to it that makes you feel like it doesn’t matter how many obvious beats the story hits – as long as they’re hitting them in a right way, what’s the problem? Nair sets us in this place, at this time, shows us how awful this girl’s surroundings are, and then shows the happiness, joy and hope that the game of chess brings to her, automatically making us feel the same thing. We know where this story’s going to go once she begins to pick up some awesome skills at chess, but Nair keeps the story, at the very least, tender, that there’s at least some interest into how it’s all going to turn out.

It also helps that Nair doesn’t settle for making this about how terrible-off and poor people in Uganda are, even though, she definitely could have. A far more challenging and adult movie about Uganda would have gone to great lengths to discuss its class-issues, battle with poverty, and most of all, divide between religions (although, if you want that story, just check out God Loves Uganda), but Queen of Katwe is not that kind of movie. After all, it’s a Disney flick, so how on Earth would that be able to fly pass edits and cuts?

Regardless, Nair keeps her focus solely on the story, touches on those issues ever so slightly, and keeps everything moving, even when it seems to be slowing itself up.

So interesting.

So interesting.

Which is to say that Queen of Katwe isn’t perfect; Nair loses a bit of steam about half-way through when we’re supposed to be interested by Phiona’s brief battle with depression, when it all feels a little random and out of left-field. The movie tries to make it an important anecdote that’s meant to drive Phiona even more to achieving her dream of becoming a great chess player, but all it really does is offer David Oyelowo another opportunity to give a great, rousing speech of making one’s self better and overcoming all sorts of odds. Once again, sounds conventional, and it is, but it still works, even if getting those speeches is ham-handed.

That said, the cast are really the ones who keep Queen of Katwe, in some of its far more patchier moments, compelling. Oyelowo is a perfect fit as this minister/coach who cares so much about having these kids achieve their dreams, that he’s willing to risk his own career and marriage over it; Nyong’o’s mother character may seem like another typical, old-timey lady who doesn’t care about her kids hopes and dreams and just wants them to clean their rooms and realize the world is a terrible, unforgiving place, but eventually, she turns around and proves to have the most heart out of all the characters; and newcomer Madina Nalwanga is quite good as Phiona. While she may not always hit the right notes and definitely show that she’s an amateur, there’s still a feeling that Phiona, despite winning all of these games of chess, is still a kid, who just wants to run around and play in the dirt with her friends and family.

Really though, Queen of Katwe works so well with these actors because the people are real. At the end of the flick, we get to learn a little bit about these real people’s lives and actually see them, side-by-side with their acting counterparts. The movie never rips at your tear-ducts, but this moment got me and made me feel like I just saw a true story, with heart, emotion and a great amount of sweetness, play out all in front of my eyes.

And that’s truly something nice.

Consensus: While still conventional and predictable to a fault, Queen of Katwe mostly benefits from a solid cast and heartfelt direction from Mira Nair who has to jump between Disney and ESPN on quite a number of occasions, yet, seems to please both parties, as well as the audience.

6.5 / 10

"Check. Mate. Now leave my sight."

“Check. Mate. Now leave my sight.”

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

Some men just want to kill all the baddies for reasons unknown.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham), after a few years or so, feels as if he had put his murderous past behind him where he can now sit back, relax, enjoy the beach, drink a cold one, and live the life he wants to live. And he sort of gets that with Gina (Jessica Alba), a local woman who is currently having issues with her husband – issues that a man like Arthur Bishop is more than capable of taking care of. However, his whole life changes when Gina is kidnapped by a former foe of Bishop’s (Sam Hazeldine). The only way to save Gina, unfortunately, is for Bishop himself to complete a few odd jobs that include taking out some of the most notorious, most rich and most powerful arms-dealers. Why? Well, Bishop begins to put the pieces together while he’s doing these missions and decides that it’s going to be time for him to take more than just a few people out if he wants to get what he wants and also ensure that Gina’s lovely life is saved.

Sun's out, guns out.

Sun’s out, guns out.

The first Mechanic movie was a fine piece of Statham-action – in fact, it was probably better than a lot of them. What worked was that it had some nice action, a breezy pace, and also not to mention, the wonderful, if always underrated Ben Foster to bring some pathos and magic to the otherwise heavy and action-packed setting. That said, it was also a movie that wasn’t nearly as successful as his others and, not to mention, also seemed like it was more or less going to be forgotten in about five years, let alone, five months.

But for some reason, here we are – over five years later and guess what? We have a sequel to Mechanic?

And you know what? I’m glad. Mechanic: Resurrection is a surprisingly fun movie that feels like it could have easily been some straight-to-DVD trash that nobody bothers to pick up, but instead, only scoff at on their way to the register, and it still sort of it is – but hey, it’s fun trash. It’s the kind of trash that makes me happy that someone like Jason Statham exists and his movies can get so ridiculous, so insane and so over-the-top, that honestly, sky’s the limit on what can and what will happen.

And with Mechanic: Resurrection, it’s great to see Statham do what he does best, because the movie itself is still fun. The missions that Bishop gets sent on, while a bit predictable at first, begin to take on new lives once we realize that they literally place in Bishop in these new, somewhat interesting worlds that could possibly be his own damn movie. The whole Malaysian prison set-piece an inspired one and honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing its own movie made about, just like the pool-sequence, as well as whatever the hell Tommy Lee Jones’ character is.

"Hold on tight, baby. It's going to be a bumpy life from here on out."

“Hold on tight, baby. It’s going to be a bumpy life from here on out.”

Speaking of Jones, believe it or not, he’s actually more inspired here, than I’ve seen him in quite some time.

It’s weird, too, because the character that he’s playing – a rich and powerful arms-dealer, who has a whole bunch of piercings and a spiked-cut to boot – doesn’t seem totally up his alley. But surprisingly, Jones is having fun here and more than willing to enjoy the undeniably dirty and gritty proceedings than ever before. Why he’s in this is totally beyond me, but hey, I’ll take a fun and excited Tommy Lee Jones, over a bored and growling one.

And the rest of the small, but fine cast is good, too. Michelle Yeoh doesn’t have a whole lot to do, for some reason, even though she’s in an action movie for gosh sakes; Jessica Alba is hot and fiery, despite her not having much of a chemistry with Statham; and Statham himself, once again, is perfect for this kind of role. Sure, he’s stoic and quiet, but he’s also charming whenever the script calls on for him to be and it’s a lot of fun to watch, especially when the movie seems to be enjoying his presence. More movies need to take advantage of the fact that, well, Statham is a funny guy and can charm the pants off of a donkey, so why not let him do all of that charming-stuff, aside from the ass-kicking and shooting?

But like I said about Resurrection – it’s not a perfect movie.

It’s silly, it’s idiotic, it looks cheap, and honestly, sometimes feel like a plot that’s making itself up as it goes along, but for some reason, I enjoyed that all. Director Dennis Gansel doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for us to stop, wait and think, but instead, he just constantly throws every bit of action that he can find at us and it works. The movie’s a whole more fun for it and in a way, kind of smart, too.

Okay, maybe not, but still, it at least tries.

Consensus: As far as stupid and silly action-sequels go, Mechanic: Resurrection is a good one that features plenty of cool and exciting action, as well as a supporting cast that’s better than we normally get.

6.5 / 10

"Yeah, honey? Keep the turkey running, I'm going to be a little late for suppa."

“Yeah, honey? Keep the turkey running, I’m going to be a little late for suppa.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire, Jason Statham Source

Alexander (2004)

Some people let fame and fortune go to their heads. Others, just want to party and have a lot of sex.

Ever since he was a little boy, Alexander (Colin Farrell) was always a person destined for great and wonderful things like becoming the greatest empire in the world, at a staggeringly young age of 32. Of course, however, his path to greatness was a rough and troubling one, mired by all sorts of controversy and adversity that seemed to take him down a peg, even when it seemed like he was ready to take down everyone who stood in his way. There’s his mother (Angelina Jolie) and his father (Val Kilmer)’s legacy and how all of their accomplishments have overshadowed his impact; there’s his sexuality and how some people don’t ever know what it is that he likes to have sex with; and then, there’s also that need and utter desire he has that makes him want to kill nations and nations of people because they don’t praise him as the lord he so desperately wants to be praised as. Of course, all of this would be prove to be his ultimate demise.

"I know you love the blonde hair. All the girls do."

“I know you love the blonde hair. All the girls do.”

Alexander is not nearly as awful as people make it out to be. It’s probably Oliver Stone’s worst movie, but in that, therein lies an interesting movie that has a lot of good ingredients, a few rotten ones, and ultimately, doesn’t fully come together as perfectly as his other movies have. But does that make it absolutely, positively awful?

Not really.

And it’s because of Stone, that a movie like Alexander – one that would have been so slow and boring – actually comes off far more compelling than one would expect. Just as he’s shown before, Stone seems a whole lot interested in just what makes a legend like Alexander tick and become the man that he wants to eventually become; sure, the narrative of him from childhood, to his adult-years, don’t always mesh well and would have probably worked out better had they been shown in a more conventional format, but still, there is something of interest to this person here. Stone doesn’t always know what he wants to say about Alexander, or better yet, what point he’s trying to get across by telling his story in the first place, but there is something here, as small and as slight as it may be, that’s definitely worth watching and thinking about.

It’s just that it’s still hard to figure out just what that may be. Stone seems interested in judging this person solely on the fact that he condoned a whole lot of violence, yet, at the same time, didn’t know why or for what reasons, expect that it was all he was taught when he was just a little tike. But then, Stone also seems interested in how his sexual preferences may have also done a little something to make him seem like a weakling that couldn’t be trusted in the long-run. And then, of course, there’s also the fact that Stone seems interested in wondering just what it is about a person like Alexander that makes him feel like a God that can do no wrong, never die and still keep the love, respect and adoration of all those around him.

There’s a lot to think about and work with, but unfortunately, yes, the movie is also quite messy and doesn’t always make the best sense of what it’s trying to do or say.

And yeah, that’s a huge problem for Alexander, considering that it clocks in at nearly three hours, showing us that, once again, Stone is the King of excess, especially when it seems like there’s no real reason for the actual excessiveness in the first place. And hell, if there is a reason, it’s because Stone himself knows that he doesn’t quite know what he’s getting across with the material, so rather than trying his hardest to make a small, concise movie, he overloads it all, adding more bits and pieces of style that come and go as they please. It’s what we’ve come to know and, unfortunately, expect with Stone, even if it does sometimes feel like he’s got something of interest to work with here.

Their family is better than yours.

Their family is better than yours.

He just doesn’t know what it is, sadly.

But that’s why he’s got such a good cast to work with and, in ways, pick up the pieces whenever the narrative seems to flowing from one place to another. Colin Farrell is fine and hunky as Alexander, even if the character himself is written in so many different ways, that he almost feels like an entirely different person altogether, at random parts of the movie. Farrell gets past most of it, but he also feels like he’s struggling to make sense of just what Stone is aiming for here. As his parents, Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie are terrific, vamping and hamming it up, showing us that Alexander definitely had two role models in his life, for better and for worse, and they made him who he is today, and honestly, the movie would have been a whole lot better just about them and their little dynamic.

Because once Kilmer and Jolie are thrown in the background, others like Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and the one and only, Anthony Hopkins show up and quite frank;y, the material just isn’t there for them. They all feel like added-on characters who show up because Stone wanted to work with them and, honestly, needed an excuse. Dawson’s got the most to do out of all these actors, but even she feels short-shifted, only made to give sad looks and take her clothes off. I’m not complaining, but trust me, there’s a whole lot that she can do.

In fact, so can everyone else here. Including Stone himself.

Consensus: Not quite the travesty as some have made it out to be, Alexander suffers from being messy and never always making the best sense of itself, yet, gets by on a few good performances and moments from the near three-hour run-time.

6 / 10

"Join me in this fight now and afterwards, we'll all get mangled!"

“Join me in this fight now and afterwards, we’ll all get mangled!”

Photos Courtesy of: The Ace Black Blog, Metro, Cine Cola

Nixon (1995)

nixonposterHe was a crook, but then again, aren’t we all?

U.S. President Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) definitely had all sorts of controversies in his life and career. And those constants issues with the general public and those around him actually lead-out into the rest of his life, even going so far as to drive him a little nutty. But no matter what, his wife, Pat (Joan Allen), whenever he needed some love and comfort the most, even if he wasn’t quite so sure that he could always trust her. Of course though, despite some of Nixon’s best moments as President, his career and legacy would, ultimately, be destroyed because of the infamous incident that everyone, for future generations, will come to know as “the Watergate Scandal”.

So basically, yeah, Nixon is Oliver Stone’s attempt at trying to make some sort of biopic on the life, times and ultimate career of Richard Nixon. And honestly, it makes sense – if there is any director out there who could understand the mind and brain-space of someone who has been hated and despised over the years, it’s definitely Stone. But don’t be fooled by the term “biopic”, as Nixon is anything but conventional, even if that term is exactly what it promises to be.

"Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit."

“Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit.”

And that is, honestly, it’s biggest problem.

Stone has a lot to work with here and even at a staggering three-hours, it feels like we got more than enough. For what it’s worth, Stone doesn’t back down from showing us the image of Nixon, both professional and personal, that we’ve all come to know and expect by now. He has to make a lot of dirty, incredibly questionable choices and decisions on behalf of the entire country and because of that, he starts to get a little crazy and act out in ways people don’t expect him to. Stone doesn’t seem to be fully judging him for who he is, or better yet, what he represents, and that’s what works best in the movie’s favor; it’s setting out to tell us a little more about the one President that most of the country has learned to grow and dislike more with each and every passing year, and not shy away from some of the more grittier, meaner aspects of his life.

And because Nixon doesn’t back away from the not-so pretty things about Nixon’s life, it also can sort of seem like it has nothing to really say about its central-figure. Even though Stone tries his absolute hardest to fool us into thinking that this isn’t another one of those typical biopics we tend to get around Oscar-season, what with the quick-editing, non-chronological format, etc., it’s still not hard to look at this as, yet again, another biopic of someone that we think we know, but don’t know every little detail about, to the day that he took his first breath, to his last one. But the movie also begs the question: Do we really need all of this? Is there a point to this never ending focus on this one man in particular?

Well, the answer is yes and that’s because Anthony Hopkins is the one playing the lead role.

"Okay, maybe I'm a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though."

“Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though.”

Which is, yes, definitely fine, because no surprise here, but Hopkins does a terrific job as Tricky Dick. Of course, Hopkins himself has a lot to do and work with, playing up the usual mannerisms of Nixon, without seeming like a cartoon and still sinking into the role, despite not looking a single thing like him, but still, there’s something missing here. It’s a performance that does a lot of shaking, yelling, standing, and heavy-lifting, but it’s also one that seems to just be about the actual actor, and not about the actual character/person being portrayed or brought to us. Watching Hopkins do what he does best is a treat, but still, when he’s clearly not working with solid material that gives him more than just another chance to chew the fat, it’s a bit of a slog to watch. It’s almost as if we walked into an empty-theater, just to watch Hopkins himself rehearse and go over his lines, but rather than letting us go out the doors and into the real world, the doors are locked and we’re somehow trapped, forced to watch and be inspired by the thespian that is Anthony Hopkins.

Sure, that may not sound as bad to some, but watching it all play out in Nixon can get to a bit tiring.

Especially when the movie is, like I said before, is a little over three hours long. And while it’s not the Hopkins show the whole way through, what with the likes of Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Paul Sorvino, James Woods, and Ed Harris all showing up and doing their things, it still feels very much like a vanity-project that was created solely for Hopkins and no one else. Stone may have had something interesting to say about Nixon’s actions, his public-appeal and how he’s become a “crook”, but it gets lost in between every scene that features Hopkins screaming and hooting at the top of his lungs. Sure, that’s enjoyable to a whole bunch of people, but when there’s no real rhyme or reason for all of the hooting, hollering and screaming at the top of the lungs, then it just gets tedious.

Which is something that I’d never thought I’d have to say about a Hopkins performance.

Consensus: Despite a warts-and-all depiction of Nixon’s story, Nixon still feels very much like a movie created solely so that Anthony Hopkins could work shop the whole entire three hours and make himself happy.

6.5 / 10

See? He's a happy Dick!

See? He’s a happy Dick!

Photos Courtesy of: Cydney Cornell, The Ace Black Blog

Complete Unknown (2016)

Sometimes, it’s best to just run away, change your identity, rinse, recycle, and repeat.

For his birthday, Tom (Michael Shannon) decides to get all of his best and closest pals together. Why? Well, because why not! Anyway, everyone comes around, enjoying some fine drinks, dinner and even cake and what should be a fun, celebratory time, for some reason or another, gets a little weird. For some reason, Tom’s friend and co-worker, Clyde (Michael Chernus), decided to bring a date with him – some pretty girl he met at a lunch-spot named Alice (Rachel Weisz) – and because of that, Tom can’t stop acting weird. He feels as if he knows Alice from somewhere in his life, but can’t seem to put his finger on it. Why? Well, he doesn’t really know, nor does anyone else at the party, which is why they’re constantly freaked out by Tom’s act. The only one who does know why Tom is acting the way he is, is Alice who seems to have some weird mysteries of her own.

Yeah, not easily recognizable at all. She didn't like win an Oscar over a decade ago or anything!

Yeah, not easily recognizable at all. She didn’t like win an Oscar over a decade ago or anything!

Complete Unknown is a fine movie because it asks for you to pay attention to its story and stick around so you get the full, clear picture of what it’s trying to do and say. Director and co-writer Joshua Marston clearly seems to be battling with a few different ideas and tones in his head and because of that, it’s interesting to see just what he comes up with, even when it does seem like he’s not quite sure of where even he’s going. Then again, isn’t that why we all go out to see indies? To get something that’s new, creative and slightly more original than our typical, mainstream fare?

Well, actually, yeah, and that’s why a movie like Complete Unknown, as messy and sometimes odd as it may be, is still, at the very least, interesting.

And really, that’s all it needs to be to work.

Although, what’s probably the oddest element about Complete Unknown is how you expect to be one thing, by the way it starts off, and then it becomes something different entirely. From the beginning, you expect it to be this small, almost plot-less character-study about a woman who seems to jump from one life to another, almost for no reason whatsoever. It’s interesting that we’re never told this, but instead, shown this through all of her different lives and careers.

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

But then, Marston changes the game on us and instead, gives us a bigger picture, with more characters, more relationships, and more of an idea of where it’s going to go. And yes, unfortunately, it’s sort of where the movie falls over itself; Complete Unknown is a movie that clearly works best when you can’t pin-point what it’s trying to do, or where exactly it wants to go next. When it becomes clear that the movie wants to try and make this a weird sort-of thriller where people are constantly curious about this Alice girl, as well as Tom’s reaction to her, it loses a bit of steam.

Then again, the cast is so good that it almost hardly doesn’t matter. Shannon is great in these sorts of roles where he plays an every man who, one day, starts to seem a bit shifty and may have something far more darker to him. But then, there’s also Rachel Weisz who plays Alice so well, that she sort of steals the movie. There’s a small, but beating heart to Complete Unknown and it all lies with her and her character; what about her past with Tom, we don’t quite figure out right away, but the mystery is enough to stay interested and see where it all goes. Even if the movie does sort of just end, finding out more about these two and their possible past was more than compelling to have made me glad to be on this weird ride.

Consensus: Despite not fully working with all the different tones and genres, Complete Unknown works best when it’s giving its solid cast mysterious, but interesting material to work with.

6.5 / 10

Need to start anew? There's always the beach.

Need to start anew? There’s always the beach.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Youtube, the Verge

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

Even when you think you’re alone, you never really are.

After experiencing all sorts of horrors and tragedies in WWI, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is looking for a little time away from the rest of the world, so that he can relax by himself and soak up what life has given him. So, he’s given the job of a lighthouse keeper which, for awhile, is a job he quite enjoys. Though he’s seemingly all by himself for some thousand miles, he doesn’t mind it and embraces it every chance he gets, regardless of what storms may come his way. But one day, while back in town for a little vacation, he meets the lovely and blissful Isabel (Alicia Vikander), who instantly wants to marry him. And yes, they do, but there’s a bit of a problem: Isabel seems incapable of giving birth. While it seems like their marriage may be in trouble, somehow, a boat carrying a man and a baby comes docking near the lighthouse. While the man is dead, the baby isn’t, and now, Tom and Isabel finally see their opportunity to have that one family that they’ve always wanted. Meanwhile, while they are with this child, the baby’s real mother (Rachel Weisz) sits at home, in heartbreak, not knowing where her child is, or if she’s even alive.

With a movie like the Light Between Oceans, you really have to be prepared for a lot. A lot of emotions, a lot of happiness, a lot of sadness, a lot of beauty, a lot of good acting, a lot of dread, and well, a lot of a lot, really. That seems to be the case for mostly all of Derek Cianfrance’s films – both Blue Valentine and the Place Beyond the Pines take place in all-too real where everyone’s sad, everything bad happens, and there’s only small bubbly moments of happiness. And then, yeah, it’s gone and everyone’s back in the dumps as if the sun never shone down on them.

So majestic and beautiful. Oh yeah and the ocean, too.

So majestic and beautiful. Oh yeah, and that ocean, too.

That said, there’s something compelling about watching this kind of sadness that makes Cianfrance’s flicks watchable, or at the very least, interesting.

In no way are they ever considered “entertaining”, or better yet, “fun”, but they’re definitely worth watching, because there’s a great deal of attention and craftsmanship that comes with his direction and his style. While Blue Valentine will probably remain his best no matter how hard he tries, Pines and this one, both seem to working in the same territory, but on different planes. Technically, they’re both epics and they’re both pretty long (despite this one probably being 20 minutes shorter than Pines), but they also approach love, destiny and happiness in a different manner; the former was much more about how family precedes everything and here, it’s about how family makes you who you are, whether it’s blood or not.

Then again, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m totally stretching and trying my hardest to seem “deep”, but regardless, it’s worth saying that the Light Between Oceans is quite an interesting watch, where love seems to bliss and all sorts of different ways the plot can tell itself and unfold seem to pop-up, but then, it becomes to be a bit much. For one, the plot definitely unravels into some pretty dark, almost disturbing places, that only result in more and more misery for everyone involved. Which is normally fine for a short, hour-and-a-half indie, but here, we have a movie clocking in at two-hours-and-12-minutes, meaning we deal with a lot of sadness, for a really long time.

Mommy's not lookin' so great.

Mommy’s not lookin’ so normal.

Sure, we get the beautiful and lovely specimens like Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz to watch as they navigate throughout this weepy, overly dramatic material, but there comes a point where it becomes too much. Cianfrance definitely loves to live in these sad tones and moods that feel as if he’s never got around to trusting anyone in his life, let alone, the world, but it also feels like he does it just for the sake of doing it. Granted, the material he’s working with isn’t his (it’s adapted from M.L. Steadman), but it still feels like it’s tailor-made for him, if only due to the fact that it never quite brings any insight into its depression and sadness.

In a way, it’s just sort of saying that all of this heartbreak and utter remorse is inevitable.

And if that is the case, then what’s the point? With Blue Valentine, it seemed like Cianfrance was trying to depict a failing romance, less as a way of showing how the world and love works, but just how two different people work when they fall in love and experience romance together. Here, Cianfrance seems to just revel in the fact that these two lovebirds’ lives may possibly be tarnished and ruined forever, for the sole sake of keeping a story going and going.

While it may sound like I’m totally raining down on the movie’s parade, I really am not. It’s hard to look away from a movie like the Light Between Oceans, where almost every single sweeping shot of a landscape is as beautiful as the next and starts to feel like a postcard after awhile, but it’s also hard to really get invested when there’s so much doom and gloom, without any light or joy at the end of the tunnel. We get some of it with Vikander and Fassbender’s all-too-real chemistry together, but that’s about it and it’s probably not entirely the movie’s fault for them working so well together.

So what else does that leave?

Consensus: Despite its gorgeously beautiful cinematography and strong performances, the Light Between Oceans never quite connects on an emotional level and after awhile, just feels like one sad event happening, over and over again.

6.5 / 10 

Someone call Child Services already! They're clearly too happy to be a real family!

Someone call Child Services already! They’re clearly too happy to be a real family!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2016)

Everybody’s mom and dad have problems. Some more than others, but you get the idea.

Growing up in Jerusalem during the 1940s was rough for most people, but for Amos Oz (Amir Tessler), it was a whole lot more so. His mother, Fania (Natalie Portman), and father, Arieh (Gilad Kahana), were clearly in love from the first time they met, and while the love never quite faded out, it came and went in short spurts. However, for Amos, he was the apple of his mother’s eye, so nothing bad ever came of him and whenever he needed a little cheering up, she always gave him an imaginative, but interesting story to keep his little mind alive, awake, and most importantly, hopeful. After all, Jerusalem was going through a huge crisis at this point in time, and for a family like Klausner’s to live and survive, they had to rely on one another to be as strong as humanly imaginable, even if that was a lot easier said then done.

Symbolism? Or something, right?

Symbolism? Or something, right?

Natalie Portman’s career has been a bit of a strange one since she won the Oscar for Black Swan. While mostly every other actor after winning an Oscar would have roles being flung at them from every which direction, Portman opted to take a quieter, more distancing approach to the whole film-business; while she may have been high in-demand, she’s only done about seven or so movies, with two of them being Thor flicks, one being a Terence Malick flick that she showed up in for about five minutes, the one-two punch of Your Highness and No Strings Attached, of course, her passion-project that was unfortunately delayed for about four years, Jane Got a Gun. It’s interesting to see this happen to someone who is still, yes, a big name in the world of Hollywood, but it’s also a bit dispiriting – she’s not just a great actor, but seems to get more and more interesting as she gets older and wiser.

And of course, there’s another passion-project of hers with A Tale of Love and Darkness, which shows Portman really doing whatever it is that she wants, because she can, but it’s not all about making a statement here. If anything, you can tell that there’s a lot to this story and this mood that Portman herself relates to and it helps give an emotional edge to a story that could have easily just been one, long snooze-fest of Portman finding all of the lovely little quirks about this intimate tale.

Which is all to say that as a director, yeah, Portman is quite good.

She’s competent enough to know what works well, and what doesn’t; the smaller, more subdued moments with this family are perhaps some of the best and most interesting that the movie has to offer, because Portman doesn’t really have to do a lot but just keep her camera focused in on the characters, what they do, what they say, and how they act. It works well for the movie, if you only take it solely as a character-study of a family going through all sorts of problems, but when it tries to handle more than it can chew, then unfortunately, Portman begins to stumble. She’s good at the small stuff, yes, but when it comes to making this tale a bigger one that has to do with the fighting, tension, turmoil, and violence over in Jerusalem, it doesn’t quite connect.

But then again, that may be more of a problem with the material, than it is with Portman. She may have wrote and adapted the film from the autobiography, but she also may have had a lot to handle, what with the book being a coming-of-ager, as well as this political allegory for Jerusalem’s history. The book itself is a tad messy, which, as a result, so is the movie and it only makes sense that Portman have the same issues that the book itself may have had.

But as an actress, nope, Portman is terrific.

So sad and drenched. Yet, she's Natalie Portman so of course she's still beautiful.

So sad and drenched. Yet, she’s Natalie Portman so of course she’s still beautiful.

Then again, are you surprised? Portman’s great in the stoic scenes as Fania, where you get a sense that she does truly love her family and Jerusalem, but is also, slowly and surely, getting more and more depressed with each and every passing-day. It’s a role that could have been terribly over-the-top and showy (something that Portman has been accused of in the past), but it’s one that she works so well with because she just sits there and give us all that pained and upsetting look she’s just about mastered by now.

Still though, as good as Portman may be, the rest of the cast around her kind of fumbles, if only because she’s so good as the heart and soul of the story. Gilad Kahana is fine as her husband, even if his character’s intentions don’t always make the most sense, and Amir Tessler, who plays a young Amos, is also fine, if mostly because he doesn’t have to do all that much. Most of the time, he’s just sitting around and reacting to the world around him and that’s all it needed to be – after all, he’s a young kid, growing up and trying to make sense of the world that he lives in, while it’s all sorts of crazy and violent for reasons he can’t even begin to understand.

It’s a sad reality for him, but what I imagine many other kids his age had to go through.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t always connect, there’s a real feeling of emotion and passion to A Tale of Love and Darkness, that makes Portman’s sometimes messy direction still something to be admired.

6 / 10

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm, so to speak.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Mechanic (2011)

Everyone needs a good mechanic. But for life.

Of all the high-order assassins in the business Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) may be the best there is, or that there has to offer. Bishop carries out his assignments with precision, detachment and adherence to a strict code, so that he never feels a single sting of emotion throughout his body when he’s completing these sometimes grueling and dangerous tasks. However, Bishop’s one and only true friend, Harry (Donald Sutherland), who also acted as something of a mentor, is tragically murdered, leading him to automatically think of who did it and just how they can be held accountable for their actions. Along for the ride is Harry’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), who is just as fired-up and upset about his dad’s death, but also knows that in order to extract revenge the right way, he’s going to have to listen to Bishop on everything he says, no matter what. And most of all, he’s going to have chill that energy down a whole lot.

I'm not worried. He knows why he's jumping.

I’m not worried. He knows why he’s jumping.

You’ve seen one Jason Statham movie and guess what? You’ve practically seen them all. Honestly, there’s not necessarily a problem with that; his screen-presence is still one of the most charming around that no matter how many times we see him beat the hell out of people, blow things up, and shoot big, heavy guns, we still love him and want to see more of him. Does that always mean that the movies themselves are all that great? Not really, but then again, they’re action movies – in today’s day and age, action movies hardly ever satisfy each and every person out there in the world, so the fact that Statham still does them and doesn’t show any signs of stopping, even while he’s nearing 50, is quite admirable.

And another reason why a movie like the Mechanic, as mediocre and fine as it may be, is also a solid reminder of what can happen when a Jason Statham movie actually seems to be trying.

For instance, the Mechanic is a little more than just another one of your typical Statham-vehicles – it’s also got another character to deal with that makes the movie more than just watching Statham do his thing. Ben Foster’s Steve is a solid character in a movie as crazy as this, because while he’s so incredibly high-strung and, honestly, over-the-top, there’s also still something of a bleeding heart at the center of this character. Sure, the movie could almost care less about how, or what he feels, but honestly, there’s something there with this character and it’s because Foster is such a good actor, that he’s able to make something as silly as this, the slightest bit meaningful.

Who can be balder?

Who can be balder?

Of course though, he also does a great job of creating some sort of chemistry with Statham, which looks as odd as it sounds. However, what’s so surprising about this pair, is that they actually do work well together; Foster’s wild card character, is a perfect match for Statham’s cool, calm and collected demeanor that never seems to falter. Together, the scenes of them shooting and taking down bad guys, while generic, also brings a certain flair of energy and joy because, as you can see, they’re having some fun here. Statham is, as usual, doing his usual act and is just fine at that, but Foster brings out a little something within him that, quite frankly, isn’t always seen from Statham.

Not totally a problem, but hey, every so often, it’s nice to get a reminder that Statham himself got his start on Guy Ritchie flicks and whatnot.

But either way, the action of the Mechanic is good enough for all of the junkies out there. It doesn’t necessarily light the world on fire (literally), but because director Simon West is more than capable of wading himself through all sorts of wild and crazy havoc, he does a fine job at making sure that it all works out. It’s effective in the kind of way that we can tell what’s going on, to whom, and what sort of effect it may actually be having on the characters involved. Yes, it sounds really stupid when speaking about an action flick, but it’s the small things like this that count the most and help make a seemingly conventional action-thriller like the Mechanic, seem like so much more.

Even if it is also just another excuse for us all to watch and admire all of the bad guys that Statham takes down and kills.

That, to be brutally honest, may never get old.

Consensus: Despite it still being conventional and predictable from the beginning, the Mechanic is still a solid Statham-vehicle that has all sorts of action and explosions, but also benefits from the much-accepted presence of Ben Foster.

6.5 / 10

Eat your heart out, ladies. Oh and guys, too. Definitely guys, because, seriously, why not? He's the 'Stath!

Eat your heart out, ladies. Oh and guys, too. Definitely guys, because, seriously, why not? He’s the ‘Stath!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Born to be Blue (2016)

Let’s get lost on all sorts of drugs and fun.

Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke), at an early stage in his life at least, truly was someone to love and behold. His records were selling like crazy, people wanted to meet him, be him, women loved him, and yes, he was even getting film-roles. But that all seemed to change one day when, all of a sudden, he gets his ass beaten within an inch of his life, taking out his teeth and vowing to never let him play again. Why did this happen? Well, let’s just say that Chet always had problems with drugs and money, and those that beat him up, had a good reason for it. But still, Chet is trying to make something out of this misfortune, whether it’s still continuing to record and play, or start a family with actress girlfriend Jane (Carmen Ejogo). No matter what though, no matter how hard he tries, or where he goes, Chet’s demons always follow him and it’s one of the main reasons why he’s stayed so far away from the mainstream.

Rather than being your ordinary, conventional biopic of a music-legend, Born to be Blue changes things up slightly. What writer/director Robert Budreau does here with the Chet Baker story is that he takes a part of the man’s life and films it for all of the world to see. By doing this, Budreau allows for us to see all that we need to see, or what we need to know about Baker, by highlighting this time in his life where he seemingly had it all, and then lost it all, in a matter of seconds.

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Does it really change the format a whole lot? Not really, but it’s a nice little change-of-pace for a genre that can get so old and tiring when it isn’t paying attention.

That said, Born to be Blue does a nice job at giving us the small details about Baker, his life, his personality, and his issues, that make us feel like we are actually getting to know him underneath all of the sweet-ass playing-skills. So often do biopics of these nature forget that one of the main reasons why people care so much to see these flicks in the first place, isn’t just to see an actor fake-playing an instrument or whatever, but actually getting a chance to see the heart and soul of said person. Here, Chet Baker is shown, warts and all, no apologies whatsoever, but that’s fine.

In a way, it makes the movie better, if a tad gloomy. Just when we think that life is going to turn out perfectly fine for Chet at this time in his life, little do we know that, right around the bend, is something tragic, sad, or depressing that’s going to turn him back to his old, evil ways. It’s quite upsetting really, because we get to see Baker as a sympathetic person all throughout, so that when he does turn that corner and begin to not just hurt himself, but those around him that love and support every little thing that he does, it hits even harder.

It’s meant to, because the rest of Born to be Blue depends on Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker and well, as you could have guessed it, he’s pretty great in the role. As usual for Hawke, he gets a chance to play it small, quiet and subtle as Baker, never fully lashing out into hysterics to show his pain, but still getting plenty of other chances to do so. We understand and we hear just how talented and great Baker is, but the tortured soul that lies somewhere in between it all, is seen through Hawke’s wonderful performance, showing more sides and dimensions to a person that deserves plenty of them.

Match made in jazz hell.

Match made in jazz hell.

Then again, it’s not entirely his movie, which is what makes Born to be Blue something special.

As Jane, a failing actress looking for that last glimmer of hope and fame, Carmen Ejogo is perfect, because she brings a lot of pleasantness and sweetness to a movie that sometimes forgets all about that. Her character is so interesting in her own right that she could have probably gotten her own movie, but as is, she serves as a solid counterpart to Baker’s sometimes outlandish ways, while giving us someone who loves and understands him exactly for who, or better yet, what he is. It helps that they have great chemistry, too, but really, it’s Ejogo who steals the movie from Hawke and everyone else.

Which is to say that the movie is good, if not great. The performances definitely help it, but it’s also quite limited in its scope and its affect, mostly because it still sets out to tell Baker’s story. While it’s effective at doing that, the emotional-connection that’s supposed to be felt, never quite comes through. Some of this could be chalked up to the fact that the movie is quite stand-offish when it comes to portraying Baker’s day-to-day interactions with the people around him, but it also comes down to the fact that maybe he was just such a mystery, in the way he acted and sounded, that it’s hard to make a movie that really gets to the meat of the matter.

We see him so sad and depressed, but why exactly? We hear some hints at his childhood, but really, they all come and go, while we just sit and watch as Hawke comes close to tears in every scene. Maybe there’s more to Baker than we’ll just ever know. For all we got now is the sweet and soulful music that he allowed for our ears to be treated to.

But was it enough? Unfortunately, we may never know or find out.

Consensus: Sad, but incredibly well-acted, Born to be Blue still suffers from being a biopic, but also has a keener-eye towards the heart that makes it seem slightly different and fresh.

6.5 / 10

Smile, Chet. It's okay.

Smile, Chet. It’s okay.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Joshy (2016)

When depressed, hang with the bros.

Josh (Thomas Middleditch) and his fiancee (Alison Brie) were all set and ready to get married. However, she decided to take her life, leaving her family, friends, and most importantly, Josh, heartbroken. Why did she do it? Well, no one really knows why, however, Josh’s friends intend on cheering him up the way that they feel is necessary for someone dealing with a tragedy of this kind. That’s why, nearly four months later, the bros all come up to the house somewhere in the mountains, dedicated to them all partying it up and living life, as if it was Josh’s bachelor party, which was what it was supposed to be in the first place. But the guys don’t get bogged down by the sad details and decide that it’s time to get all of the beer, drugs, guns and women that they can find to get Josh’s mind off of everything. But it’s not just Josh who has some problems to wade through, as most of the guys seem to be going through their own issues on this one weekend, figuring out where to go next with their lives and how, just how the hell on Earth, are they going to grow-up and be responsible adults.

Cheer up, Joshy. They don't call you that name all of the time, right?

Cheer up, Joshy. They don’t call you that name all of the time, right? Cause if they did, that actually would kind of suck.

The mumblecore movement may not be quite as vibrant as it once was back in the beginning of the decade, however, it’s still alive and well, bringing in more and more outsiders to the indie-world, showing off their talent for improv and on-the-fly film making that can, often times, create things of beauty. Drinking Buddies seems like the highlight of the mumblecore flicks, in terms of its scope, who it involved, and what it actually did, but there’s been a few every now and then, offering up lovely bits of insightful entertainment.

And now, with his second-feature, Jeff Baena seems as if he’s ready to throw himself into the mumblecore world and doing a pretty good job at it, too.

Of course, what makes a mumblecore movie as good as it may set out to be, is that it needs a reason, or better yet, a purpose to exist. Most of the time, these movies can sometimes seem like low-budget versions of Adam Sandler flicks where, just like him, they use the excuse of a movie being made to get away with having a bunch of their friends around, do and say silly things. While this may work for most film makers because it doesn’t ask for all that much dedication and money, the problems that it can sometimes bring up is the fact that the story itself isn’t always the snappiest and, if anything, made-up as the film-making runs on by.

Here though, Baena does something smart in that he allows for the actual tragedy of Josh’s ex-fiancee to really carry the movie along, feeling less of like an excuse, and more of something resembling a reason. Of course, the darker aspects of the story come out in full-form by the end, and doesn’t quite connect, but at least it’s a movie that’s trying to be something more than the typical “cool, funny, and talented people hang out for a weekend”. While those movies can tend to be quite fun and exciting, they can also become a tad mundane, when you don’t have much of a narrative-drive moving it along.

In Joshy, aside from the tragic suicide early on, the real plot is figuring out these characters, their lives, their problems, and just how they’re going to get out of them. It’s almost too simple, but it kind of works, because Baena has been able to assess a great group of actors to make the material work, even when it seems like they’re just going with the flow. Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch, Alex Ross Perry, Brett Gelman, and Adam Pally play the core group here and they’ve all got their own problems to work through, some clearly more important than others, but all at least registering on some level.

Longed-hair Adam Pally? I don't know!

Longed-hair Adam Pally? I don’t know!

Of course, this doesn’t always allow for the characters to come off as likable, either, which is probably fine, in Joshy’s case.

Baena doesn’t allow for his movie to be too pleased or happy with itself; eventually, the characters do have to learn a thing or two about the lives that they live and why it’s not always best to act 13, when you’re 35, or at the very least, nearing it. Joe Swanberg himself shows up and brings these characters down to real life and it’s a honest, relatively tense scene, which is what Joshy seemed to be missing the most of. With the exception a confrontation by the end, Joshy doesn’t really have any confrontation or tension in the air, which I felt was necessary for a movie like this to really work, where jerks are hanging around each other too much, getting on each other’s nerves constantly.

Of course, Baena may not have cared much for this, but while watching Joshy, it’s hard not to imagine what could happen, had the movie tried a tad bit harder. It’s nice to get all your talented and lovely friends all together, in one room, let them do their things, and start shooting, but after awhile, it can start to feel like just a bunch of fun-sequences, and that’s about it. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how charming the cast is – sometimes, more story is better.

Consensus: With a likable and talented cast, Joshy‘s improvised, low-budget feel works, but also doesn’t allow for there to be much of a story, either.

6.5 / 10

I'll jump in. No skivvies is fine with me.

I’ll jump in. No skivvies is fine with me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Bollywood Reads

Anthropoid (2016)

It’s hard to be so secretive when it seems like every Nazi screams at the top of their lungs.

In December 1941, two agents from the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) are parachuted into their occupied homeland. Together, the two are sent on a mission to take out Reinhard Heydrich, otherwise known as “the Butcher of Prague”. While it’s no easy, or better yet, simple mission, the two men are smart and determined enough to where they feel as if they will be able to complete this mission, and maybe even live to tell the story afterwards. But regardless of all that, they’re more worried about being able to get start the mission in the first place and reach their target, which will be a lot harder than expected, what with growing suspicions of spies in Czechoslovakia and certain Nazi soldiers wandering around, looking for any bit of controversy that they can shoot citizens dead for.

Yeah, not very good at hiding bro.

Yeah, not very good at hiding bro.

Every year, there’s always a few movies featuring/covering the same material that seem to have the misfortune of being made and coming out roughly around the same time. This year, it turns out that there’s not one, but two flicks made about Operation Anthropoid; obviously, there’s this one and the other, the star-studded HHhH, is set out to come out later this year. Whether or not which movie is the better of the two, isn’t known yet, but having seen Anthropoid, it’s safe to say that possibly, just possibly, that other flick may have the edge.

Of course, I could be mistaken, but either way, Anthropoid, the movie, as it is, is fine, but also leaves plenty of room for improvement.

What’s interesting about the way in which director/producer/co-writer Sean Ellis frames this whole story, is how he does it all in three parts, when you don’t necessarily expect that. You expect there to be a lot of planning of the mission, the execution of the mission, and eventually, the fallout of the mission, which is what Ellis shows here, but he doesn’t necessarily focus on the details you expect. There’s not all that much attention paid to the planning and the maneuvering of the mission, and in place of all that, there’s more scenes dedicated to the real men involved with this mission and developing them.

Which honestly, is perfectly fine, however, in order for a movie to work with this way, there needs to be interesting characters worth watching and caring about. Unfortunately for Anthropoid, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš just aren’t made all that compelling here; they’re shown as the good guys in this story, who will do whatever it takes to complete their mission, but that’s really all there is. There’s an attempt to flesh both of them out by giving them romantic love-interests of sorts, to flirt and chat with, but it never quite works – it already feels like filler and just makes the lead-up to the actual mission itself all the more bothersome.

And this isn’t anything against anyone in the cast in particular, nor is it especially against Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan. The two, as well as everyone else here, are perfectly fine; Murphy has those steely-blue eyes that would make a grown man cry, and Dornan, while still working in that pretty-boy look and feel, seems more genuine this time around than I’ve seen him anything else so far. But like I said, the two try hard to make these characters more than conventional heroes and unfortunately, that’s how they come off as at the end, with some shading here and there.

Uh oh. Mr. Grey is not too happy about the first movie's reviews.

Yeah, I don’t know if Anastasia quite had this in mind when she said “spicing things up a bit.”

Then again, the bright side of Anthropoid is that once the mission goes down, the movie gets significantly better.

All of a sudden, there’s a certain push, pull and feel in the air that wasn’t around for the first half-hour or so – it appears like Ellis himself knew that in order for this movie to really get kicking, giving us the actual mission is the best way to do so. It works, too, as the rest of the movie continues to build on and amp-up the tension as it goes along, even if you already know how the story ends and what happens to everyone involved.

Which does beg the question of whether or not this movie, or the other, really needed to be made? If people already know the story and you don’t really do much to put a spin on it, its effect, or its relevance to the audience, then what’s the point? It seems like Ellis, with Anthropoid, seems to be honoring these fallen men who gave their lives to taking down a ruthless and evil force, which is fine, but they don’t really get much time, or attention – or, at least not as much as the action-sequences do.

And honestly, the action worked. However, Ellis never seems like he has anything of actual interest to say, or bring up, when portraying the events that happened. They can be horrifying and downright suspenseful to watch, but shouldn’t they be something more? Or should they just be as they are? I don’t know. Maybe the other flick will have something to say.

Or then again, maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.

Consensus: Anthropoid wants to be a passionate and heartfelt tribute to those fallen, but in reality, settles for being a slam-bang, suspenseful and exciting action-thriller. A good one, but still, an action-thriller nonetheless.

6.5 / 10

"First, this dude, next, Hitler! After that, the world!"

“First, this dude, next, Hitler! After that, the world!”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Teaser-Trailer.com

Beyond the Sea (2004)

Yup. Still can’t get that song out of my head.

Despite being told that he would not live past 15 years of age due to a heart condition, Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey) set out to leave his mark on show business, vowing to be a legend by 25. That is exactly what he did, and this is his story.

Is Bobby Darin a legend? Better yet, does there deserve to be a two-hour biopic made about him? To answer both questions, probably not. But that still doesn’t stop celebrities like Kevin Spacey from making movies about him, even if, at the end of the day, people will wonder, “why?”And yes, as is the case with most passion projects, Beyond the Sea feels like the kind of movie that probably didn’t need to made, but because it’s done by smart, dependable people, it’s not so bad.

I hope he sings that song about the sea!

I hope he sings that song about the sea!

Just a tad unnecessary, is all.

As writer/director/producer/star, Spacey has a lot to do and it’s surprising just how much effort he put into the way this thing moves. In a way, he wants to make a musical out of this flick, what with a bunch of wacky, wild, and fun dance-numbers taking place seemingly out of nowhere, but he also wants to make a warts-and-all biopic about this troubled celebrity’s life. Is it uneven? Yes. Is it messy? You betcha. But is it boring? Nope. Not really.

And honestly, that’s good enough for me, especially considering that mostly all musical biopics can be downright dull, regardless of whether or not you know the subject the movie is made about. But even so, there’s some glaring issues with the film, that seem to come directly from Spacey himself, in that he doesn’t always nail down the right tone. One of the best examples is a fight that Darin and his wife have, which plays out like a scene in a dark comedy, but ends up being very serious and mean with both of them ending up in tears. It’s a funny scene, that goes to being very strange and shows you that Spacey may have not had the right touch for certain scenes. Even when all of the dark drama does eventually come into the story, it somewhat bogs everything down and doesn’t even really seem interesting.

But if there’s the biggest issue with Spacey’s direction, it’s that, when all is said and done, we never really find out much about Darin himself. Sure, we know the guy has a heart problem, yes, we know the guy wants to be bigger than Sinatra, but what else is there? Occasionally, they’ll bring up the whole fact that he was apparently arrogant in real-life, but that rarely ever comes up or even shows. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any flaws of his pointed out throughout this film once. This isn’t me assuming that Darin was the devil in real life, but he sure as hell wasn’t no latter-day saint, either. Maybe because this was Spacey’s own way of paying tribute to a singer/songwriter he immortalized as a kid, but if you’re going to do a biopic, you might as well do it the right way and allow us to see the full picture.

I agree. What about John?

I agree. What about John?

After all, the more shades you show of a character, the more the audience is able to care for them when they, as Darin does, die.

As for Darin, he was only 37 when he died, so some people may be a bit thrown-off when they see Spacey, who was 44-years old at the time, playing a guy in his teens with tons and tons of prosthetic make-up. It’s goofy and sometimes distracting, but you know what? Spacey is somehow able to make it work by being as charismatic as he can be. Spacey has quite the knack for these darker roles where you just don’t like him, but at the same time, love that aspect about him. Here, you get to actually see him lighten-up some and let loose with a real life figure that seemed to go throughout life in such a frantic movement, that it’s hard not to enjoy and watch. Many will also be impressed that all of the songs are sung by Spacey himself, and the guy shows that he has the chops to not only direct, write, and star in his own movie, but the guy can freakin’ belt it out like no other as well.

Spacey’s got it all going for himself and watching him is worth the watch alone.

And yeah, others like Bob Hoskins, John Goodman, Sandra Dee, and Kate Bosworth all show up and give a little, but really, it’s Spacey’s show through and through. They know that, he knows that, everyone knows that. It’s a shame that it wasn’t more of Darin’s show, but honestly, did we need anything more than what we got? Or, can we assume that his life was the same as any other celebrity’s?

Who knows? Maybe there’s another Bobby Darin biopic out there looming on the horizon.

Consensus: Spacey does what he can to tool around the biopic narrative, allowing for Beyond the Sea to be a bit more interesting than the usual fare, but also seems to short Bobby Darin himself in not getting deep down to the root of who the person actually was.

6 / 10

Oh, that young whippersnapper. And Kevin Spacey.

Oh, that young whippersnapper. And Kevin Spacey.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Movie-Roulette

Zero Days (2016)

Stay off the internet. Read a book and shut up.

The internet has been a huge source of controversy for as long as it’s been around. Some have used it for the greater good of society, whereas others, have definitely not. That said one of the biggest and greatest discussions came around the time of the malware worm known as “Stuxnet” was famously used against Iranian centrifuges. Though many have claimed that it may have originated as a joint effort between America and Israel, some are still not sure as neither America, nor have Israel came right out and admitted it. Even worse, however, is the fact that those who are able to speak about it, choose not to. Why? Is it because they know of a top-secret, confidential mission that’s to never be spoken about to the mainstream media? Or, is it because they have no actual information on what actually happened? Either way, documentarian Alex Gibney is going to get down to the bottom of it all and also figure out just why the internet is such a terribly harmful and dangerous device that any government can use, against whoever they want.

Trustworthy.

Trustworthy.

A part of me feels like Zero Days is a bit too early in its release. There’s no doubt that the subject of cyber-hacking, the internet, technology, computers, and the government’s use of all them, deserves to be spoken about and highlighted, in a documentary from Alex Gibney nonetheless, but still, is it too early already?

Either way, Gibney still talks about it and has made a movie about it, so why not just enjoy it for what it is, right?

Well, perhaps “enjoy” isn’t the right word to say when describing the feeling while watching Zero Days, but still, it’s hard not to get swept-up in an Alex Gibney movie. The way he is able to go from one piece of information, to another, without ever making it seem like he’s missing out, is outstanding – you almost get the idea that he’s reading Wikipedia while he speaks and tells everything to us, but it doesn’t matter. He reads Wikipedia well and honestly, he gets the right people to speak about such a topic, that when all is said and done, we feel like we got to know a thing or two about government-agencies, as opposed to feeling more in the dark than before.

And this is important, too, what with Zero Days being a movie about how government-agencies, like the FBI, don’t ever want to talk about Stuxnet. Seriously. Not even in the slightest bit. It’s a running-joke throughout the flick; it’s almost as if you were asking these subjects about how they got their jobs in the first place. They don’t want to speak about it, nor are they even able to – a perfect “no comment” will suffice.

That said, Gibney gets down deeper than just Stuxnet.

Through his own, journalistic ways, Gibney shows that Stuxnet, whether or not committed by America and Islam in the first place, is a brutal sign of things to come; from now on, government-agencies will now be able and actually want to attack other countries, through the internet, based solely on the fact that they can. Gibney definitely doesn’t doubt that America and Islam had some dirty-dealings in the whole issue, but he also doesn’t doubt that it opens up dirty, vile and dangerous cans of worms that may prove to be more harmful, than actually beneficial, in the long-run.

Kind of trustworthy.

Kind of trustworthy.

Then again, a lot of what Zero Days does right, it also falls back on some of its issues. For one, Gibney doesn’t ever try to spell everything out for the whole audience, sitting back, and who are probably watching in their Laz-E Boys. Sure, one could say that this is “fine” and proves just exactly who Gibney’s demographic is, but it also goes to show that maybe, just maybe, some of this is capable of going over people’s heads.

A perfect example of this is the confidential FBI-informant who pops up every now and then, to tell us all what she was told, what she saw, and what she believes in. Right from the start, this narrative-device is fishy and skeptical, but Gibney continues to hammer on and on about it. While it does answer some questions, it’s poorly-delivered in such a way that, honestly, an open-text displaying everything that this person said, would have been better. It would have looked less amateurish and probably not have been so distracting to watch.

But still, Gibney knows how to discuss a controversial issue.

That’s why a good portion of Zero Days is smart, informative and, at times, eye-opening. It asks the rough and tough questions, without delivering so many answers. But for some reason, that’s fine – the world in which we live in now, almost feels like it’s ripe and ready to ask more questions, as well as answer them, about cyberspace. Perhaps this documentary could have waited longer, but hey, the fact that it’s out and raising awareness, is fine enough.

Consensus: Though it could have waited longer, Zero Days offers up an interesting and detailed look at the world of cyberspace, while also showing that the issue may be more troubling than we all expect it to be.

6.5 / 10

Uh, still not sure.

Uh, still not sure.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Nerve (2016)

Truth, or Dare, or Die?!?!

Set in the world we currently live in, a social-media platform exists and is quite popular in which players can choose between two options: Either be a “watcher”, or a “player”. If you choose the former, you get to sign into your account, pay a small fee, and watch as people do all sorts of crazy and death-defying stunts and dares. However, choose the later, and you’ll be given all sorts of cash from users, daring you to do one thing, after another. There’s more rules to the game itself, how it’s played, and why outside interference (i.e. the cops), is extremely frowned upon, but all that needs to be known is that it’s a sick and twisted game, that finds high school senior, Venus (Emma Roberts), not sure if she wants to go as far as the users want her to. Eventually, the night takes her to meet another user (Dave Franco), who can’t help but love the money thrown his way, even if the dares themselves start getting more and more dangerous. Which is what happens, especially when it turns out that they’re both the most-watched and popular users in Nerve, making them not only richer, but even bigger targets.

"Hey, girl. Wanna ride?"

“Hey, girl. Wanna ride?”

Nerve is a neat idea that, for awhile at least, is as fun as it promises. The dares themselves continue to get more and more wild, there’s a certain air of tension no matter what, and yes, the fact that it’s meant to take place on this one single night in a colorfully-lit NYC, makes it all the more fun to watch. The world in which Nerve takes place in, isn’t all that far-fetched, what with Pokemon Go taking over the whole world, and yes, even the dares themselves still seem somewhat in the realm of possibility.

So why is that the movie falls apart by the end?

Well, the fact remains that sometimes, just having a good idea, isn’t enough to sustain a whole movie. Because when you take into consideration that movie’s themselves need to have a story, with characters, archs, some twists, some turns, and most of all, a satisfying, if also, believable ending, then you’ve got yourself what some people consider “a movie”. Nerve is “a movie”, obviously, and while it definitely has a good portion of what I just listed, eventually, it starts to show cracks within itself.

For one, it tries to be about something that doesn’t quite work. It wants to have discussions about social media, privacy, and the government, but doesn’t really connect with either message/viewpoint; if anything, Jason Bourne was more effective discussing and allowing for the same ideas to find its way into the plot. It’s not that what they’re saying is dated or wrong, it’s just that they come into a movie that feels more like giving us high-flying and crazy stunts, rather than actually sitting down, looking up to the sky, and ponder what it all means.

Which, isn’t all that surprising, when you realize that the same directors behind Catfish, henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, are helming this feature and are showing why they don’t trust the internet. That movie, honestly, came at a time where there was a lot meant to be said for Facebook and Twitter and all sorts of other social-media, but here, they don’t seem to be able to connect their themes to the plot. What they do know how to do is keep the excitement going, whenever they rely on the actual dares themselves.

But like I said before, everything else just doesn’t quite work.

Listening to whatever the cool kids listen to nowadays.

Listening to whatever the cool kids listen to nowadays. Or whatever the cool kids in the early-90’s listen to back then, because that’s what’s “in” now, right?

Well, with the exception of the acting, that is. While it may be a tad difficult to believe Dave Franco and Emma Roberts as high school-aged kids, together, their chemistry works like gangbusters. Roberts works well as this very repressed teenager who clearly seems like she has a lot of personality-issues to work through, whereas Franco’s character is hard to pin-down. We know that he’s supposed to be the love-interest here, and therefore, we’re supposed to like him, but there’s something a little troubling about him and his character that, quite frankly, makes their night more interesting.

There’s others on the side of whatever Franco and Roberts are doing together, like Emily Meade stealing the show, Juliette Lewis having the duty to play dim-witted mommy, and Machine Gun Kelly being less annoying than he is on Roadies, but honestly, characters don’t really matter in a thing like this. What Nerve proves is that sometimes, all you need is an interesting idea to roll and have fun with. Then again, it’s also the same kind of movie that proves that maybe, just maybe, more thought has to go into all of the other pieces of the puzzle, so that audiences don’t lose interest in something that had already been grabbing their attention in the first place. And this matters, too, because when you have big theater chains trying to incorporate cell-phone usage into the movies, well, then you know you’ve really got to work extra hard to keep those teenie-boppers off of their damn phones.

Then again, you could just play this PSA before every movie and it’ll probably do the trick.

Or, maybe not.

Just turn your cellphones off in the theater, people!

Consensus: Interesting and compelling for a good portion, Nerve is surprisingly entertaining, but then it all starts to fall apart by the time the implausible and silly final-act comes around to spoil all of the fun being had in the first place.

6 / 10

Oh man. What a shame it would be to have to walk around, half-naked, with the bodies of Dave Franco and Emma Roberts. Jeez. Could. Not. Imagine.

Oh, man. What a shame it would be to have to walk around New York City, half-naked, having the bodies of Dave Franco and Emma Roberts. Jeez. Could. Not. Imagine.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Equals (2016)

So much feels.

In a futuristic dystopian/utopian society, all sickness and diseases (including cancer) have been eradicated. At the same time, however, so has human emotions, where everyone acts, sounds and interacts with one another just about the same. Because of that, nobody really knows one another and whenever they do start to feel anything resembling “emotions”, they’re made to get it fixed and forgotten about. Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is a member of this society who is now a victim of “feeling” something for a co-worker/confidante of his, Nia (Kristen Stewart). Silas doesn’t know how to channel these feelings without getting in any sort of trouble, which leads him to talk about it with fellow people who are going through the same issues as him. But little does Silas know, is that Nia is going through the same thing that he’s going through and it’s only a matter of time until the souls collide and they make something of their shared-feelings for one another. Although, when you’re stuck in a society that doesn’t take too kindly to people who think, feel, or love for themselves, it’s kind of hard to express one’s love in absolute fullness.

Who's she looking for?

Who’s she looking for?

While watching Equals, I couldn’t stop but think that it was a better adaptation of the Giver, than the actual adaptation of the Giver actually was. Of course, yes, I know that the two stories are different, but there’s a lot that they have in-common; the dystopian, futuristic society, the forbidden romance, the rules and regulations to keep people from acting out in a certain way that most humans should, a depressed tone, and yes, a powerful government that seems to strike fear in all of its citizens who dare not get out of line. One is clearly more adult than the other, but still, watching Equals, there was that constant feeling I had that I needed to either re-read the Giver, or watch the movie again, and see if my mind can be swayed.

Then again, I probably won’t do that.

All in all, Equals is fine enough because it presents us with a society that, yes, may not be all that believable, or make even much sense in the long-run, but is still compelling because of what it offers us to think about. For instance, how come in this society, one where all disease has been eradicated, is everyone made to be walking, talking robots, who don’t feel anything? Why are some of them committing suicide? Better yet, why are some of them cool with others committing suicide? How does anyone get pregnant in this society if no one is really supposed to feel anything, especially not love?

None of these questions are ever answered and I guess that’s why it’s easy to get a little frustrated, but for director Drake Doremus, what this society offers is just another chance to give us a forbidden romance that’s easy to feel something for, even if they exist in a world that doesn’t want, or accept them. In fact, Doremus’ past two flicks, Like Crazy and In Secret, have both been about Doremus’ obsession with forbidden love, or in ways, lust; while he doesn’t necessarily care about giving any sort of conclusion on these ideas of these stories, he also doesn’t stray away from portraying them in some of the drabbest ways imaginable.

But honestly, that’s why a part of Doremus works for me.

He takes his material as serious as can be, without hardly an ounce of humor to be found, but it surprisingly works in the long-run. In Equals, you get this claustrophobic feeling where, no matter how hard you try, your love will never be allowed and will always be frowned upon. Or, well, maybe. Honestly, it’s hard for me to fully make up my mind about what Doremus is trying to say here, but because his camera/attention never strays away from this one single idea of unwanted and secret love, it’s hard to turn away from.

Then again, there is the first half-hour or so that does a lot of world-setting, and yeah, it’s a bit of a bore. Mostly, this has to do with the fact that we never quite understand just how we got here and how things work out in this society. Also, there’s something mysterious about the jobs that these two characters have and while Doremus gives us some hints about what it is that they’re doing, it never really gets the full attention it should have probably gotten. Sure, call me nit-picky, call me what you will, but certain things like this bother me.

Who's he looking for?

Who’s he looking for?

Give me a futuristic society and don’t try to explain all that much about it to me?

Well, uh, no thanks.

Regardless, what works best about Equals is that its central love, between Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart, surprisingly works. Because the two characters are so repressed, the brief moments of actual personality that the two share one another, make a huge impression on the rest of the movie and their relationship as a whole. Hoult’s Silas may seem like a bore, but there’s a little something more to him, just as there is to Stewart’s Nia. Together, the two have something sweet and heartfelt, even if the world they’re trapped in, doesn’t really accept them together. It’s your traditional love story, but a little sadder.

And really blue, too. Literally.

Consensus: A bit dark and repressed, Equals may test some viewer’s patience, but also works because of the attention paid to its central romance.

6.5 / 10

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

Yeah, I’m totally telling my high-school classmates I know Brad Pitt.

Romy and Michele (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) are two 28-year-old women who have been best-friends for life and have always been there for the other no matter what the situation called for. However, their ten year high-school reunion is coming up and they both come to the realization that they haven’t done crap with their lives other sit around, piss, moan, and talk about random stuff. In order to have people think differently of the wastes of life they’ve become, they decide to make lies about themselves and what they’ve been up to in the past years since high-school. Basically, it comes down to them being co-inventors of the “Post-it Note”, among many other glamorous lies.

What’s genius about Romy and Michele is that, sure, yeah, it doesn’t set-out to light the movie world on fire, however, it comes away more meaningful than most movies with that certain level of importance attached to itself from the very beginning. What it does is, essentially, show how these two have essentially done nothing new or cool with their lives since high school ended, but also doesn’t show that as such a terrible thing. They’ve always stayed themselves, have never really hid away from what they thought was cool, and actually have sweet souls, even if they do seem like the types of chicks who’d be out first in the spelling bee. And it’s not like I, or the movie is ragging on them either – they are pretty much those types of Valley Girls that talk, sound, and dress like they’re hot stuff, yet, have no clue what the result of two plus two is – however, the movie never judges them for this.

Those girls sure can dance!

Those girls sure can dance! They probably don’t know calculus, but hey, who cares?

If anything, the movie itself is almost too “nostalgic” to really frown on these two, nor should it have to.

Because honestly, Romy and Michele really do deserve their own movie, whether we know it right away or not. They may be dumb, but they have good hearts and are there for each other and whenever they aren’t thinking of what cool things they could do or say next to impress the hell out of the popular ones from school, they are just talking to each other and being the best friends that they can honestly be. If that doesn’t warm your heart a tad bit, I don’t know what will. It looks at high school as a joke and isn’t very serious when it comes to its depiction of what high school is and used to be, and shows that, honestly, that crap doesn’t matter; who you surround yourself around and care for is all that you need in life.

It’s all incredibly corny, but you know what? It works. If not for the script, but for the amazing chemistry between Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. You get a sense that these two have been side-by-side for as long as they can remember and you also get the sense that they understand each other, in more ways then one. Though the movie has them doing a whole bunch of embarrassingly silly stuff, the movie also doesn’t forget that they’re also very happy to be with one another, even if they still don’t know what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

But what really makes these characters work is that they aren’t necessarily the same person, in and out, and both Kudrow and Sorvino show that off perfectly.

Oh, you 80's-looking-but-stuck-in-the-90's-gals.

Oh, you 80’s-looking-but-stuck-in-the-90’s-gals.

Kudrow is always hilarious in anything she does and even though I am always impressed with what she can do when it comes to showing her more dramatic side, her comedic side never seems to falter and it’s always a blast to watch. She has a lot of choice lines that make this movie any funnier than it has any right to be, but if you get to thinking about it, she’s just another-rendition of Phoebe, with a smaller-brain. That’s not even that much of a complaint either, because that character still works, no matter what!

Then, there’s Sorvino who really knew and understand just what it took to make someone as beautiful as her, look and sound so incredibly idiotic, yet, pull it off so wonderfully, that it was actually genuine. She’s more of the stand-out here because she really sets herself apart from the rest of the crowd for being so damn beautiful, but is also able to make us believe that a lot of people would just push her to the side for being a bit of a weirdo, as well as a bit of a dummy. Like Michele, she’s a not terrible person for being dumb and thinking she’s all that, and if anything, it makes us like her a little more.

Others like Alan Cumming and Janeane Garofalo, show up and do what they can, but really, it’s all Sorvino and Kudrow from the very beginning, to the end. In fact, the movie is so reliant that, after awhile, it can tend to be a bit obvious. No problem with playing to your strengths, but honestly, there was probably more within this movie that could have worked, had there been more polishing and focus. However, it doesn’t really matter, because the movie’s entertaining, funny and yeah, that’s all you need.

So I’ll shut up now.

Consensus: Thanks to a heartfelt, endearing and funny chemistry between Kudrow and Sorvino, Romy and Michele is a lot better than it has any right to be, showing that high school, ten years down the line or whenever, doesn’t really matter, so long as you’re happy and love the people you’re with.

6.5 / 10 

So, uh, sequel anyone?

So, uh, sequel anyone?

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, IFC, AV Club

Café Society (2016)

Hollywood was so much better when people drank all the time.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Jew living in New York during the 30’s. He’s not very inspired with his life there and even if he can join his brother (Corey Stoll)’s line of business, he opts not to, in hopes that he’ll make it big in Hollywood once he gets there and hooks up with rich and successful uncle Phill (Steve Carell). While it takes awhile for Bobby and Phill to eventually meet, when the two do get together, Bobby gets a chance to meet the nice, lovey and sweet Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) – a gal Bobby becomes smitten with right away. After all, she’s the opposite of everything Hollywood stands for – she’s pure, original and not at all expecting to be rich, famous, or on the silver-screen. The two end-up hitting it off, even if Vonnie has a boyfriend already, which makes Bobby try even harder for her heart. Little does Bobby know, however, that Vonnie isn’t just going out with anyone in particular – she’s going out with someone very near and dear to Bobby. Someone that will change Bobby’s life and aspirations altogether.

Blake knows beauty.

Blake knows beauty.

Another year and guess what? Another mediocre Woody Allen movie. That seems to be the general theme with Woody’s past few movies over the last couple of years; while none of them have ever been “awful”, the haven’t been as nearly “outstanding” as we’re sometimes used to expecting from Woody. Gone are the days of Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and her Sisters – now, we have to get used to more Woody Allen movies like Café Society.

Which, in all honesty, isn’t such a terrible thing, because the movie is actually quite nice.

This isn’t to say that it’s “great” by any means, but what Café Society does, and does well, mind you, is give us that sense of old-Hollywood nostalgia that, yes, can be a tad bit corny, but also feels genuine and allows you to feel closer to these characters and these settings. Of course, old-timey Hollywood is no new territory for Woody to explore, but he gets a lot of mileage of this time and place, showing us how most of the people back in the day who came to Hollywood, all expected to fame and fortune right off the bat – like the sort of place where dreams are made of.

And yes, I know that Woody has already covered this sort of ground in his movies before, but it still sort of works. There’s a certain balance that he’s able to find between “nostalgia” and “corniness” that’s surprising; we’d all assume for Woody to lose his touch and just start making more and more annoying mistakes, but nope, he surprisingly knows what can work for the audience, and how much mileage you can get out of a conventional story, so long as you inject with some humor, heart and most of all, interesting characters.

Though Café Society may not have the most illusive and spell-binding characters to date, what helps most of them is that the actors in the roles are good enough that they make them more compelling than they actually have any right to be.

Case in point: Jesse Eisenberg. As a Woody Allen surrogate this time around, Eisenberg gets a few things right – he knows how to be neurotic without over-doing it, and he knows how to deliver a lot of Woody’s tongue-twisters that aren’t at all genuine, but are still sometimes entertaining to hear. But then, halfway around the midpoint, Eisenberg’s character and performance changes, to where he’s more grown-up, angrier and, well, more adult. It’s a hard transition to pull off in a Woody Allen movie, but Eisenberg does well with it, as he shows that he’s able to get as much out of this thinly-written character as he can.

That comb-over, though.

That comb-over, though.

Kristen Stewart’s pretty good, too, as Vonnie; for the third time, her and Eisenberg are together on-screen and they make it work. There’s a genuine chemistry between the two and you can tell that they help the other when push comes to shove. Though Bruce Willis was initially cast in the role, Steve Carell works just fine as Phill, a mean, sometimes conniving Hollywood agent. Sometimes, he can occasionally sound a little too modern, given the time and place of the story, but because Carell’s comedic-timing is impeccable, it still works.

And the rest of the cast is quite solid, too. That’s something that Woody has never lost his knack for, thankfully. However, if there is an issue with Café Society is that, yes, it does unfortuntaely feel like a whole bunch of previous ideas and themes that Woody has worked with in the past, cobbled-up together to make something that’s a lot like his other films and is sort of made-up as it goes along. In a way, you almost get the sense that Woody had some sort of idea to start with, got enough money and star-power to film it all, and just filled in the blanks once the last-act came around.

There’s no problem with that, but sometimes, a story needs to be mapped-out a whole lot better and not just feel like another wasteful opportunity for someone to make a movie for no reason.

Consensus: Light, funny, well-acted, and surprisingly heartfelt, Café Society hits a sweeter spot in the Woody Allen catalog that may not light the world on fire, but still works and shows that he’s got the goods.

6.5 / 10

Jesse and K-Stew should just get married already! They're damn-near inseparable!

Jesse and K-Stew should just get married already! They’re damn-near inseparable!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ghostbusters (2016)

Chill out, geeks. It’s all good.

Paranormal researcher Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) have had a pretty rough relationship in the past few or so years. While Yates has been about tinkering around and playing with her toys, and finding out more about the paranormal in a slightly more silly way, Erin has been approaching the subject in a far more serious, relatively esteemed way. She’s trying to make tenure at the college she’s been teaching at, but she can’t seem to take herself away from that past-self of hers that loved spooky ghosts and communicating with whatever ghost-like things were out there. Now, the two are back together and figuring things out when strange apparitions appear in Manhattan. Along with them to find out more about these ghostly creatures, is engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a slightly odd gal who loves the hell out of her cool gadgets and toys, and Patty Tolan, a lifelong New Yorker who knows the city inside and out. Armed with proton packs and plenty of inspiration, the four women prepare for an epic battle as more than 1,000 mischievous ghouls descend on Times Square, as they not only hope to save the world, but also still seem legit in the long-run.

Go-go gadgets!

Go-go gadgets! Oh, wrong reboot/rehash/remake!

Okay, everyone. It’s time to shut it. Yes, the new Ghostbusters movie is totally forgetting that the first one ever existed; yes the new Ghostbusters features women in those iconic roles everyone remembers from the original; and yes, it’s actually an okay movie. A lot of people couldn’t handle the fact that their beloved childhood treasure was going to be changed for the sake of putting a new spin on an old story, and well, of course, more money. It’s not wrong to think that, and after all of the terrible trailers, it’s fine to get a little worried, but have no fear, as the new Ghostbusters is the kind of movie you’d expect from director Paul Feig.

Except, well, not as good.

That isn’t to say that the new Ghostbusters is a fine and fun movie; there’s plenty to like about it, without ever thinking too hard about anything really. The comedy works when it’s just a bunch of these characters goofing around and ad-libbing whatever Feig doesn’t feel like trying to write to paper; the call-backs, of which there are a whole bunch, are fine and do have that perfect balance between sentimentality and nostalgia that’s not always seen in reboots/rehashes/remakes of this kind; and yes, the performers are quite good.

However, while watching the new Ghostbusters, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a pretty big step back for Feig and co. Ever since Bridesmaids, he’s been building himself as one of the few incredibly reliable directors in comedy who, yes, definitely knows what’s funny and what isn’t, but also seems to be growing. Spy may forever be his giant leap from just being, yet again, another “comedy director”, to someone with hopes and ambitions to be something bigger; while it was essentially “a comedy”, it also had a lot of fun, twisty and exciting action to go along with it, all of which Feig seemed to film perfectly.

Here, with the new Ghostbusters, Feig seems as if he wants to bring all of that fun and excitement he had with that project, over to here, but there’s almost too much for him to do and work around, that makes it all seem like a bit much. The callbacks and popping-up of old characters can tend to be a bit draining (especially when a few of them aren’t even funny); the exposition and plot begin to take over to where it takes away from any actual fun that could still be found in this plot nowadays; and yes, it’s PG-13.

Sure, it may not seem like much, but it totally is.

After all, Feig is perhaps best when he allows for his characters and his cast to just run wild with material, whether scripted or not, and just see where everything falls. Of course, he has to keep the improvisation limited to a few scenes and he also has to remember that there’s a plot that needs to be pushed, die-hard fans who need to be serviced, and a rather more family-friendly crowd to have in-mind, especially when picking and choosing what comedy bits to use.

Lesbian, or nah?

She may be a lesbian, but please, let’s not add anymore fuel to the fire.

For Feig here, it seems as if he’s not as loose and wild as he once was – now, he’s got people really looking at him, making sure he doesn’t miss a beat or screw something up. I’m pretty sure that’s how it was on his past few films, but here, it appears like it got to him a bit, where some of the interest from his other movies seem to be lost. He’s not “selling out”, obviously, but he’s also not gaining anymore cred, either.

Either way, it’s an okay job on his part, as he gets everything right, but at the same time, it also feels like he wasn’t allowed to be his full-fledged self here.

That said, his cast is talented and they more than help him out. McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, Strong, and yes, even Chris Hemsworth, are all funny, even if their characters feel a tad bit thin. McCarthy, Wiig and Strong seem to get the most development, but unfortunately, McKinnon doesn’t. Her character, if anything, is just there to do and say, weird and crazy things for no other reason, except to be weird and crazy. The movie never makes an attempt to really go any further into her background and while it’s a shame we don’t get it here, I do have the feeling we’ll get it some time soon, in the sequels, if there are any.

And yeah, Hemsworth is perfect here. He’s funny, stupid, chiseled and as masculine as you can get without dying of devouring five T-bones in one sitting.

Basically, he’s perfect. More of him, please kind sir.

Consensus: Better than everyone expected, Ghostbusters is funny and charming, but also feels like Feig and his crew are being held back a little by the well-known franchise, and all of the extra baggage that comes along with it.

6 / 10

They're here. They're gals. And guess what, they're going to stay. Deal with it, nerdos.

They’re here. They’re gals. And guess what? They’re going to stay. Deal with it, dorks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Whatever Works (2009)

Living with Larry David can’t be all that bad.

Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) is pretty tired with the world around him. When he’s not picking a fight with the kids he teaches chess to, he’s crying on and on about everything he can find himself to complain about like politics, sex, books, entertainment, and yes, women. He even goes so far as to talk to “them” – mysterious people out there in the world that he thinks are always watching him, no matter what he does or says. That’s why, one night, he decides to end it all and throw himself out of a window. Problem is, he doesn’t succeed and is forced to live with his sad and miserable life. It all changes one day though, when a random drifter named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), comes to his door-step all of the way from the Deep South. While Boris is initially against Melody, the two end up hanging together, more and more, teaching each other things about life that neither originally knew about. Which is fine and all, until they start to fall for one another – something that everyone around them seem to have problems with.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Why haven’t Larry David and Woody Allen worked together before? Honestly? I mean, with the exception of his small bit in Allen’s segment in New York Stories, it’s crazy to think that two people on this Earth as similar as David And Allen haven’t gotten together to cook-up something lovely and magical before. Sure, you could blame that on the fact that David liked to stay behind-the-scenes for a large portion of his career, but either way, it’s worth bringing up because, even though Whatever Works isn’t Woody’s worst, it also isn’t his best, either.

Which is a shame because, once again, David and Allen could make magic happen.

However, time has passed and over the years, Woody Allen has definitely lost his touch. That’s why another story featuring a much-older man and much-younger woman falling for one another, for no reason because they stand one another and talk about the more infuriating things in life, already sounds boring. After all, it’s the story that Allen’s been working with since the beginning of his career and honestly, just taking him out and putting David in can only help matters so much.

And yes, David is playing himself, but he’s also the stand-in for Allen himself, which is a tad bit confusing, because the two aren’t all that different. In fact, it’s honestly a wonder to me how much of this was scripted, or how much of it was David deciding to take an eraser to some stuff he didn’t like and just roll with what he had? I really don’t know, but regardless, David is fine in this role; he can sometimes lash out and say the same things, over and over again, but that’s sort of the point of this character. He’s supposed to be a grump and always have an issue with the world around him.

In other words, he’s Larry David. Signed. Sealed. And delivered.

Others around David are quite fine, too. Evan Rachel Wood’s character may start out as a caricature, but eventually starts to show more shadings that make her likable; Patricia Clarkson shows up about halfway through and makes the movie a whole lot better; Henry Cavill in a young role of his, is as charming as they come and as you’d expect for Superman to be; and Ed Begley, Jr. showing up for not too long, is actually the funniest of the whole cast.

Where's his glasses?

Where’s his glasses?

But still, a fine cast doesn’t always make a great movie, and that’s where Whatever Works sometimes falls. It isn’t that the movie itself is bad – Allen’s annoying writing is toned-down enough to where it doesn’t get in the way of the story, or the characters – but it also doesn’t change much up about what we’ve seen from Allen in the past. His characters talk about existentialism, they fight, they screw, they drink, they host dinner parties, they listen to jazz, they go on walks to the park, and yeah, that’s pretty much it. Occasionally, Allen himself will throw a small twist in there for good measure to make us think that he realizes a lot of his movies are the same, but really, does any of it matter?

Woody is getting up there in age and a lot of his movies are starting to seem a little like the same thing, over and over again? Does that make them “bad”? Not necessarily; they’re enjoyable and pleasant because he has a knack for catching the right tone with his movies and always getting the best and brightest talents for his flicks, but that doesn’t always make a “great” movie.

Even if your movie does have Larry David complaining to the camera.

Now, how could that be “bad”?

Consensus: While not his worst, nor his best, Whatever Works gets by because of its charming cast, but really, is a solid example of Woody possibly running out of ideas.

6 / 10

She's going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

She’s going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week