Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

Inferno (2016)

Dante had a point.

Famous symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) has had to deal with a lot in his life. But now, his greatest and perhaps most challenging journey awaits him when he has to follow a trail of clues that are loosely tied to Dante, the great medieval poet. When Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia and has no clue of where he’s been in the past few days, or how he got to where he’s currently at, he decides to trust in and team up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories. Together, they race all across Europe to stop a billionaire madman (Ben Foster)’s prophecy from coming true: Unleashing a virus that could wipe out half of the world’s population. But the further and further Langdon gets on this adventure of sorts, the more he’s able to piece together bits and pieces of his memory and begins to realize what’s really going on and how he can possibly save the world, once and for all.

"Look deeper!"

“Look deeper!”

To be honest, the Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, despite looking great and dealing with some interesting ideas and issues about religion, faith, history, and art, don’t really do much. They’re incredibly mediocre flicks that get by on the fact that they’ve got Tom Hanks in the leading-role and are adaptations of famous Dan Brown novels. That’s basically it. The Da Vinci Code is just barely fine, whereas Angels & Demons is a tad bit better, if only because it’s so crazy and doesn’t try to take itself too seriously, but still doesn’t quite light the world on fire. And now, we have Inferno, the third installment in the Dan Brown film franchise that may, or may not, be done after this, and a part of me honestly doesn’t hope so.

For one reason and one reason only and that’s because Inferno, for all of its goofiness and sheer stupidity, is actually quite fun.

See, what this film has, that the other two have clearly been missing out on is this great idea of fun and excitement over this ludicrous material. It’s absolutely insane to believe that a historian could literally travel all around the world, piecing together artifacts and pieces of art, to help him stop a crime that’s about to wipe-out half of the world’s population. The first two movies dealt with the same exact thing, however, they’re so self-serious and melodramatic, that they almost feel like parodies written by talented guys who were just bored. This time, with Inferno, it seems like everyone involved is ready to have a good time and take everything that they have to work with and just not even try to make sense of it.

For that reason alone, it’s already a better movie than the other two; it doesn’t get too tied-up in the intricacies and twists of the plot, as much as it just tries and takes us to the next location, as smoothly and as quickly as humanly possible. Personally, that’s perfectly fine – the clues and hidden messages don’t always have to make sense, as long as they somehow move the plot along and aren’t harped on incessantly. The first two movies would find a clue, or hidden-message and try their absolute hardest to make perfect sense of them and give us a reason for why they matter – here, it doesn’t matter.

History happened, things happen here, get over it.

To me, that’s the real fun of Inferno. Ron Howard has always crafted these movies to look great, but has never done much else with them beyond that. Even he, too, feels as if he was just going through the motions, waiting to collect that hefty paycheck and be on with his day. However, he seems more interested and engaged with everything here, allowing for the energy to stay almost all throughout and barely let-up, even in the scenes where it’s just two or three people talking. Does he try to make perfect sense of the material and show us why it matters to everyday society? Not really, nor does he have to.

Nothing like evil Omar Sy.

Nothing like evil Omar Sy.

And same goes for the cast. Tom Hanks is, for lack of a better term, a movie star and is perfectly fine as Robert Langdon; he’s always seemed like he’s slumming in this role and not really giving a crap, which is still the same here, but it’s fine because it’s Tom freakin’ Hanks. Felicity Jones plays the usual smart gal that Langdon teams with and thankfully, has a little more to her than just pretty looks and having an impressive vocabulary. Even random bit roles from Omar Sy, Sidse Babbett Knudsen, and a really fun Irrfan Khan are effective, in that they are small players, in a very big story and help bring some life and energy to the proceedings.

The only real issue to be had with the cast was Ben Foster as billionaire Bertrand Zobrist, who also has a solution to wipe out half of the world’s population. While the idea of this may seem ludicrous and exceptionally evil, the character does bring up a few interesting points that warrant, honestly, a better movie. Why shouldn’t our world be scared with overpopulation? We’ve already taken out four or five species in our existence, so why shouldn’t we worry about what, or better yet, who’s next on the chopping block? The character doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, but the few times he does, it’s actually compelling and made me want to listen more and more.

Unfortunately, the character is stuck in a very silly movie that doesn’t care about thought, rhyme, or reason.

Which, like I said, is perfectly fine. I’ll take that over boring any day.

Consensus: Is it stupid? Indeed. But is it also fun? Yes, indeed. Inferno may not win intellectuals looking for a far more enlightening experience over, but it does help the franchise out in being more energetic and lively than its first two, quite frankly, boring installments.

6 / 10

"Quick to the Leaning Tower of Pizza! Or something!"

“Quick to the Leaning Tower of Pizza! Or something!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Once he was out, they pulled him back in. “They”, meaning international-audiences.

Investigator Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is known for being a bit of a wild card who has always played by his own rules, but always made sure that whatever needed to get done, got done. Now, after promising himself that he’d step away from the crime game for good, somehow, he gets pulled back into it all after the arrest of Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), an Army major accused of treason. The reason why Reacher cares about Turner’s case in the first place, is because he created some sort of a friendship with her over the past year or so, and felt like she was his next best chance at love, or something resembling it. So, he decides that it’s up to him, to prove that she’s guilty once and for all, but in order to do that, he’s going to have step on a lot of toes, kick a lot of assess, break a lot of bones, and most importantly, run into powerful baddies. It’s a job that Reacher is more than capable of handling, however, the idea is brought up that he may have a daughter out there in the world and, well, it makes Reacher think a lot longer and harder about his life.

Uh oh. Those cops are about to get a serious wake-up call. No literally.

Uh oh. Those cops are about to get a serious wake-up call. No literally.

Though it definitely has its haters, the first Jack Reacher did a lot for me. It was entertaining, quick, and wholly reminiscent of the old-school action-thrillers of the 70’s, that were less about the pizzazz and special-effects, and more about telling a good story and trying to figure out how action comes out of said story. It wasn’t necessarily a huge hit for Cruise stateside, but for some reason, international-audiences still loved it and the movie made a crap-ton of money.

So yeah, obviously, a sequel is to follow and that’s where we are here, with Never Go Back – a dull, unoriginal title that doesn’t do much except to tell you that it’s not the first movie, without having to put something as typical as the number “2”.

Anyway, all of that is besides the point and away from the fact that there probably didn’t need to be a sequel made in the first place, but it’s here and you know what? It’s not so bad. As far as directors of action go, Christopher McQuarrie is better than Edward Zwick, but the later does an okay job here of maintaining himself, even what with everything going on. While it’s hard to say if Never Go Back follows the same formula of most sequels – in that everything that worked in the first movie, is overdone to the extreme – it is quite easy to see that it’s definitely a much more messier movie, perhaps taking on a whole lot more than it feasibly could have.

For one, the mystery case at the center is fine, if only because it’s clear and conventional to a fault – person is wrongly accused, Reacher sets out to right the wrongs, bad stuff happen, bad people show up, etc. That’s all fine, but it’s when the movie tries to toss down a heartfelt testament to Reacher and his possible daughter that the movie really stumbles and doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself. The conversations are incredibly awkward and actress who plays the daughter, Danika Yarosh, is, unfortunately, not given the best material to work with. She’s trying to be that typical, smart-ass teen who always think she knows what’s best for her life, even when she clearly doesn’t, but it’s just a tired role that, quite frankly, grinds the movie to a halt, when it should be constantly moving and not stopping for a single thing.

Yeah, he doesn't like being followed.

Yeah, he doesn’t like being followed.

But thankfully, Never Go Back does feature some good action and of course, the always dependable Tom Cruise doing what he does best, but doesn’t too often actually do in movies: Play someone who isn’t begging for us to love and adore him.

Lately, we’ve seen Cruise change-up his career of sorts, in that, sure, he’s still doing action movies and whatnot, but he’s also playing characters in them that are still human beings, and fully-formed characters in and of themselves. They aren’t perfect, they aren’t always the nicest people, and yeah, they don’t always make the best decisions, but Cruise is such a movie star that he always makes these characters work and his second-outing as Reacher, still works. There’s a lot more to him this time than just kicking ass, taking names, and saying a witty thing here and there, which helps with Reacher himself, because it actually gives Cruise himself more of an opportunity to, well, act.

It also helps that he’s got Colbie Smulders to work off of who, as usual, is quite fun to watch. She’s smart, sassy and more than capable of keeping it with the best of them. It’s a known thing that Cruise doesn’t often have good chemistry with his female leads, but here, he and Smulders work well together, giving you the idea that their characters, in different circumstances, truly could make something resembling a relationship work. But then again, there’s just too much ass-kicking and crime-solving needed to be done, so yeah, they’ll have to wait on that.

Or, at least until the next movie comes out.

Consensus: Even if it doesn’t reach the same heights as the energetic and classic-styled original flick, Never Go Back is still a fine offering of action, twists, and nice acting from Cruise and Smulders.

6 / 10

Honeymoon spot?

Honeymoon spot?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Certain Women (2016)

Lady problems.

Three strong-willed women (Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams) strive to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest. In one story, a lawyer (Laura Dern) finds herself dealing with office sexism, while also trying to ensure that a client of hers (Jared Harris), doesn’t get the bum-end of a deal from the trucking-company he used to be apart of. In another, a mother (Michelle Williams) wants to have her dream house so that she, her husband (James LeGros) and her daughter (Sarah Rodier) can live together in perfect peace and harmony, however, actually finding that house puts her at-odds with said husband and daughter. And lastly, there’s a young law student (Kristen Stewart) who is forced to teach a class out somewhere so far from where she lives, that she eventually forms something of a friendship with a lonely ranch-hand (Lily Gladstone), who may think that they are something more than what they appear to be.



In the past few years, writer/director Kelly Reichardt truly has grown into the kind of writer and director of indies that most indie film-makers want to be, yet, strive very far away from. She’s the kind of talent who seems to get better with each and everyone of her movies, doesn’t seem to tell the same story twice, get bigger and bigger stars into her movies, and most of all, keep her indie-cred safe and sound. It’s something that she’s been keeping up with for quite some time and it’s why she’s one of the more interesting voices in the film world today, not just indies in particular.

And that’s why a part of me is so disappointed with Certain Women.

See, when you have a movie that is, essentially, a few short, separate segments, rolled up into one movie, it’s hard to make sure that each one stays as compelling as the one to come before it. Reichardt has a knack for telling smart stories about small-town, rural people and expressing their emotions through long, drown-out pauses and moments of silence; the fact that hardly any of her movies have a “score”, just goes to show you just how much she depends on the real, ordinary life to be compelling enough. And with Certain Women, she gets a chance to tell not one, not two, but three stories about normal, everyday gals, living their lives and trying to get by in the world, even if, you know, they’re not all that interesting in the first place.

And that’s all it comes down to.

Reichardt does try to make these stories interesting, but they don’t fully come together, or move in a manner that really keeps it worth watching. We get the sense that Reichardt is never judging her characters for their ways, their morals, or their decisions, which is admirable, but sometimes, it feels like she’s not even around to do much of anything. It’s good to have a director that just lets her cast and crew do what they want, with very little direction, but there were a good couple of occasions here where I didn’t know what was going on, where everything was going to go next, and better yet, why any of it matters. To just chalk it all up to being normal, everyday people’s lives, is the reason to care, doesn’t cut it, unfortunately – sometimes, you need a compelling narrative to keep things, at the very least watchable.

More staring.

More staring.

It’s a shame, too, because the cast does certainly try and, for the most part, come-off strong. Laura Dern’s performance as a lawyer is strong; Jared Harris is a little too silly to work in such a movie as understated and serious as this; James LeGros, as usual, is perfectly fine; Michelle Williams doesn’t really have anything to do; Kristen Stewart is quite great in her role as a frustrated and confused lawyer, offering up a snapshot into the life of someone who’s young, ambitious and professional, yet, still doesn’t have a clue of what she’s going to do with the rest of her years; and Lily Gladstone, without hardly uttering more than five minutes of dialogue, is still pretty great, giving us a look into someone’s repressed existence, even if there is a part of me that wonders if it’s a good performance because she wasn’t suited with much dialogue in the first place, or if she’s actually a good actress who can make this all work.

Either way, the cast does try and it shows that they just don’t have enough material to work with.

And sure, you could make the argument that I’m just being harsh on a movie that “doesn’t really have a plot”, and sure, I guess you’re right, but it’s much more than that. The movie has three plots, none of which are ever that compelling to sit by; Reichardt always seems like she’s ready for something to happen, but for some reason, it never comes around. She’s honestly a great film maker and I can’t wait to see what she’s got cooking up next, but unfortunately, the bag just wasn’t there this time.

Consensus: Even with a good cast, Certain Women can’t help but feel like an uninteresting, slow and aimless exercise from the usually dependable Kelly Reichardt.

6 / 10

And yup, still staring.

And yup, still staring.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mascots (2016)

mascotsposterThose annoying guys in suits and costumes? Yeah, still annoying out of them.

Every year, mascots from all around the world come together to battle out all of their showmanship skills in the one and only World Mascot Association championship’s Gold Fluffy Awards. And this year, the competition is quite fierce, with a couple who can’t seem to be on the same page (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker), a pro who may have this be her last year (Parker Posey), and plenty of others. Of course though, the competition is really about the judges and who determines who the real winners, and losers are. And with the likes of A.J. Blumquist (Ed Begley Jr.) and the famous Gabby Monkhouse (Jane Lynch), it’s hard not to trust the professionalism.

While Family Tree hit HBO a few years ago, in a way, it’s been a decade sine Christopher Guest has made an actual movie. And if you really want to get as descriptive as can be, it’s been even longer since he last made a movie using his usual mockumentary-style, as For Your Consideration strayed away from the form, to mediocre results. But now, have no fear, as Guest is back with his usual brand of humor and cast of characters and, well, the results are still mostly the same.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

Which is to say that Mascots is, yes, funny, but that’s about it. And come to think of it, shouldn’t it have been so much more?

With Guest, it’s hard not to compare something like Mascots to all of his other pieces like, A Mighty Wind and especially Best in Show. For instance, they’re movies about a group of people, coming together for one single event, and while in the former, they may not be competing, they’re still finding some ways to create some sort of actual tension with one another. And that’s why Mascots, seems to not just roll with the same formula and conventions of those similar movie’s plots, but doesn’t seem to do much with them, either; in a way, Guest is actually recycling material.

Take, oddly for instance, the inclusion of Corky St. Clair, one of Guest’s best characters from Waiting for Guffman. It’s weird to see Corky pop-up here, because even though I loved him in that movie, here, he seems completely random and out-of-place – even Guest himself seems weird uncomfortable bringing the character back with a terrible “boner” joke that goes and ends nowhere. But Corky himself also brings up the fact that Mascots, while bright, shiny and funny in spots, never quite hits the mark as much as it would like to.

Sure, some of that comes down to the improv, but a good portion of that also comes down to the fact that the material just isn’t all that funny. Everyone here is clearly giving it their all and showing why they deserve to be able to pal-around in a Christopher Guest movie, but with the exception of all the regulars who are used to Guest’s style, no one really works wonders. Zach Woods and Sarah Baker never quite fit well and just seem like lame replacements for the incredibly-missed Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, while Susan Yeagley fares a whole lot better as a character who, believe it or not, has a little bit more heart to her than you’d expect.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

But if anyone’s really the star of the show here, it’s the mascots themselves.

This isn’t a surprise because Guest always loves the little worlds that he portrays for film, but here, he really puts us into it and makes us see these professionals work their magic and, needless to say, it’s quite entertaining. The movie does actually take time out of itself to show us just what sort of talents these mascots are and what sort of shows they have prepared to put on and they’re just about as fun as the last. It’s nice to see this in a movie, because while Guest does a lot of poking fun, he also shows that they’re quite talented individuals who know how to make people laugh and enjoy themselves for however short of time they’re around for.

Now, if only the rest of the movie felt like that.

Consensus: Though the cast is dependable, Mascots never quite gets going and isn’t nearly as funny as it should be, despite some good moments spread throughout.

6 / 10

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Collider, Consequence of Sound

Denial (2016)

Like, did Hitler even exist?

University professor Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) teaches a class on the Holocaust, its deniers and how history tries to put it away from our memories, yet, it will never, ever go away. She’s also written a book which includes World War II historian David Irving (Timothy Spall), a very loud and well-known Holocaust denier who doesn’t care about what people think about him, or his beliefs, they are his beliefs and well, he’s going to let everyone know about them. So that’s why when he does realize that Lipstadt has wrote about him in her book, Irving decides to take her to court and battle for the case of his slandered name, as well as the truth for what really happened in Nazi Germany. While Lipstadt wants to make Irving out to be a total and complete moron, her legal team, most importantly, her lawyer, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), opts for a smarter, more balanced approach that may not make everyone happy, but will also ensure that he and his team wins, even when it seems like Irving may, somehow, get out on top and keep his name.

Somebody help that man.

Somebody help that man.

Denial deals with a very interesting and complex story that, for obvious reasons, can still remain relevant today. These aspects of racism, political blindness and most importantly, yes, denial to the harsher realities of the world we live in, still very much exist to this day and it’s a shock that it’s taken so long for this true case to get the big-screen treatment.

However, it’s also a shock that the movie just doesn’t know what to do with itself.

A good part of the problem with Denial comes from the fact that it has this compelling story, with these interesting characters to work with, and instead, focuses itself on possibly the most annoying, probably least interesting character of the bunch. With Deborah Lipstadt, there’s no denying that this is her story to tell and one, without her, we wouldn’t have, but once the actual court-proceedings get going, there’s not much to Lipstadt; due to the case being argued by her legal-team, we never hear much from her, except for whenever the camera pans to her reaction to show us what she’s thinking. And of course, we hear a lot of her yelling at and hammering on to her legal-team who are, for the most part, doing this case for free, about how they’re not working this case the right way that would get her to win and also keep its sympathy with those affected most by the Holocaust.

I’m not saying that Lipstadt should have been a supporting character here and almost never heard from – she most certainly deserves to have a lead role in what is, essentially, her story – but the movie doesn’t know when the right times to use her are, and aren’t. Having her always yell at her legal-team for something she knows nothing about, after maybe the fourth or fifth time, gets old and makes her seem like an actually awful person, all beliefs aside. And also, as much as Weisz may be trying here, her American-accent just never works; she lives in L.A. apparently, but is also from New York, which isn’t known until the very, very end.

And even the movie itself shoots itself in the foot for not really knowing what to make of the Holocaust, or get across about it. Sure, it wouldn’t necessarily be ground-breaking news that the Holocaust was a terrible moment in our planet’s history, but to just say it was bad, not focus on that reality, and then, all of a sudden, when the final-reel comes up, make the story about how terrible it was, just seems odd. It’s almost as if Denial didn’t want to focus on the Holocaust too much and take away from its courtroom scenes and whatnot, but also still wanted to remind us that the Holocaust was bad news.

90's, or 70's look? Never quite sure.

90’s, or 70’s look? Never quite sure.

If you’re as confused as me, it’s okay.

If there are times where Denial really clicks, it’s in the courtroom and whenever it’s focusing on Timothy Spall’s angry, irate and most definitely crazy David Irving. As much as the movie wants to hold its arm up against Irving and show him the error of his ways, there’s no denying the fact that he’s actually the most interesting character of the bunch; how one man could shut himself off so much to reality and battle those who actually do believe in it, is so odd and ridiculous, that it makes you wonder just what is going on inside that man’s head. A better movie probably would have focused on him, and not necessarily made him sympathetic, but just showed us what went on in this guy’s head, whenever he wasn’t howling and screaming about how the Holocaust never actually happened.

But of course, we have Denial – the movie where Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson are both great, sparring-off against one another, yet, the movie also wants to have its other way, too. It never quite works as a Holocaust-reminder and because of this, it never quite fully works as a courtroom drama, either. It’s mostly, above all else, mildly interesting drama that’s probably best to just read about, even if there isn’t anything like hearing a very skinny Timothy Spall go on about the Nazis.

Now, where’s that movie.

Consensus: Despite a few good performances, mostly from Spall and Wilkinson, Denial never maintains a clear focus and, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for Weisz to do much with her one-note role.

6 / 10

Uh oh. Look out, Holocaust deniers!

Uh oh. Look out, Holocaust deniers!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Thinking Cinema, NY Books

The Girl on the Train (2016)

Sometimes, you just got to make public transportation a little fun.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) takes the train to New York City each and every day and has a lot of time on her hands to do, well, lots of stuff. For one, she likes to drink. She also likes to think about stuff and, on occasion, make-up things in her head. But one thing she loves to do is watch a couple, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), from her train seat window every morning, from the window of her train. However, her life is thrown for a wild loop when, all of a sudden, Megan is with some other man (Edgar Ramirez) and not her husband. And then, it gets even crazier when Rachel finds out that Megan’s missing and Rachel herself could be the prime suspect. But why? Well, because Rachel’s ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and this new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) live literally right around the corner, Rachel, in drunken, jealous stupors, will find herself around the neighborhood, acting out in certain ways that most adults like her shouldn’t be doing. Now though, with the investigation against her, Rachel has to think long and hard about what she remembers and what she made-up in her mind, while also figuring out the truth of Megan’s whereabouts.

Who's baby is that?!? Mystery!

Who’s baby is that?!? Mystery!

The Girl on the Train is trying so hard to be Gone Girl that it’s actually kind of sad. Here’s a movie that, despite so much plot, could have honestly been an enjoyably wacky, over-the-top romp, just like Gone Girl. Instead, it’s rather drab, dark, serious and not nearly as crazy as it should be.

Which is also to say that Tate Taylor is no David Fincher. Believe it or not.

But honestly, the problem with the Girl on the Train is that, aside from it so desperately wanting to like that Fincher classic, it also doesn’t really know what to do with itself for a solid majority of its running-time. For the first hour or so, we’re watching our main protagonist, Rachel, live a pretty miserable and depressing existence – one that’s full of alcohol, wild dreams, and unrequited love. In a way, it’s actually very serious and heartbreaking, but aside from maybe one scene of an actual, full-out breakdown, the movie never gets as deep as it should about her mental and psychological issues and where it all came from. Rather, the movie uses her anguish and pain as a plot-device, to give us more and more characters, more conflicts, and most importantly, more and more unnecessary twists and turns that, after about fourth or fifth one in a minute, gets a tad annoying.

And really, all of the problems with copycatting Gone Girl would have been fine, had Girl on the Train tried to at least bring some real, honest characters to the forefront; most of them are just created for the sole sake of being a plot-device, or a twist that can eventually kill them off, or show that they’re not exactly as who they should be. Although, as is the case with Edgar Ramirez’s psychiatrist character, some characters hardly serve any purpose whatsoever – they’re just hot, sexy and attractive window-dressing to a movie that’s as mean-looking as you can get.

No. Not a leftover scene from the Leftovers. Although, I honestly wished it was.

No. Not a leftover scene from the Leftovers. Although, I honestly wished it was.

Ramirez isn’t the only one who, unfortunately, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. The whole ensemble, as talented as they all are, are saddled with material that doesn’t allow for them to really reach deep, or far dramatic heights – instead, they just have to settle and live with the results. As said about Rachel before, she’s a deeper character than the movie gives her credit for, even if Emily Blunt tries all that she can to not only make her look ugly and disgusting (as much as Emily Blunt can look “ugly” and “disgusting”), but really, the character feels like a missed-opportunity. Same goes for Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett’s characters who, despite getting some semblance of personality and emotion, are also meant to be plot-points.

The boys don’t fare any better, either.

Justin Theroux does what he can as the ex-husband, while Luke Evans does his best hard-Brooklyn accent, despite being a character that lives in the New York suburbs. Only the wonderful Allison Janney really gets a chance to shine with this material and it’s not only a testament to her true talent as an actress, but also a nice bit of excitement in the first hour or so. Because honestly, for the first hour, the movie can be quite a bore – laboring on certain parts of the plot that don’t matter, never picking up the pace, and giving us a mystery we already know the solution to.

That said, it does pick itself up after the hour-mark and thankfully, it’s where the Girl on the Train becomes, surprisingly enough, “fun”. Granted, it’s still not nearly as fun to watch as Gone Girl and it sure as hell doesn’t improve on its issues with its character, but it eventually starts to realize that there can be some wild times had with these weird characters, the sexy tone and feel that Taylor sometimes gives off, and most importantly, the fact that we’re here to watch a bunch of hot, sexy and attractive people bone and deceive one another. Sometimes, that’s all you need with a movie and here, with the Girl on the Train, while it takes forever to get to that part, I’m glad it eventually did.

Because if it didn’t, honestly, it would have been a waste of everyone’s time. Most importantly, my own.

Consensus: Despite trying desperately hard to capture the same excitement and craziness as Gone Girl, the Girl on the Train never quite gets moving, despite a good cast and a promising premise, chock full of twists, turns, mysteries, and surprises that are, honestly, a little too obvious to be shocked by.

6 / 10

You see a lot from public transportation. Maybe not someone's home life, but hey, dare to dream, eh?

You see a lot from public transportation. Maybe not someone’s home life, but hey, dare to dream, eh?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Shallows (2016)

Just stay on land!

Still reeling from the loss of her mother, medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) decides to leave her relatively comfortable life and travel out to a secluded beach for some downtime. The beach she’s going to is so so unknown and mysterious, that it doesn’t even have a name, nor do the locals feel like giving away its location. Which means that Nancy’s going to have to deal with swimming and surfing alone, even if she herself doesn’t mind it. After all, there’s a few people at the beach that she talks to and gets acquainted with, but mostly, it’s just Nancy, her board, the water, and well, a little friend who may not have a name, but is definitely a shark. While she doesn’t spot him at first, the shark attacks Nancy, leaving her stranded and nearly 200 yards away from any sort of shelter to be found. So, using her own common-sense and smarts, Nancy’s going to have to rely on fate and luck to get her out of this predicament, all while ensuring that she stays alive and doesn’t become the shark’s dinner in the meantime.

Oh, and there’s an awesome bird to accompany Nancy the whole time. Honestly, if it’s not up for Best Supporting Actor by the end of the year, I’m going to be quite upset. CGI, or no CGI – it doesn’t matter.

Wow! What a buoy!

Wow! What a buoy!

The bird steals the show. Plain and simple.

Anyway, yeah. The Shallows is the kind of movie that you expect to be pretty bad, just judging by its premise and its talent on-board. While Blake Lively’s film out-put has been okay and director Jaume Collet-Serra is occasionally hit-or-miss, I guess the idea of sitting around and watching a half-naked Blake Lively lay around on a rock and try to not get eaten by a shark doesn’t seem all that appealing. Sure, Lively’s got a nice body to look at and a premise like that, when done right, can actually work wonders, but for some reason, the Shallows just seemed another lame summer blockbuster that didn’t have much to work with in the first place.

But somehow, it works out so well.

If anything Collet-Serra does all that he can to make this premise work, as limited as he may be. While there’s only so much one can do with a protagonist when they’re literally stranded on a rock for a near hour-and-a-half, Collet-Serra finds some interesting ways and avenues to go down, in order to make it compelling to watch, as well as fun. The movie’s focus itself hardly strays away from Nancy on the rock, when Nancy is in fact, on the rock, and it’s an effective device to use, because it makes us feel closer to her, as if we too, are stranded, without a paddle, and inches away from being shark bait.


Close call, Blake! Don’t worry. Some guy will save you. They always do.

And sure, the Shallows does get away with some silly things that most other movies in its nature wouldn’t be able to get away with, but that’s because Collet-Serra doesn’t focus on the dumb things of the story. The fact that Nancy does say a lot to her, or in this case, the wonderfully awesome bird, can get a tad annoying, as well as can some of the random conveniences that pop-up to make her stay on the rock much longer. There’s small bits and pieces of this movie that doesn’t necessarily work, but because Collet-Serra is actually able to make this very simple, very easy-to-understand premise, actually something enjoyable, it’s hard to really narrow-in on them and get mad.

After all, it’s a shark movie that’s not lame.

It also deserves to be noted that Blake Lively, in a role where she is, essentially, talking to and interacting with a bunch of CGI, special-effects, and green-screen, does a solid enough job that it makes you forget about some of these things while watching. This is actually a very hard role for most actors to pull-off, where they have to remain interesting, while literally having nothing to say, but Lively’s good at it; we believe her as this smart gal that’s resourceful and what the next best step to take is, which makes this situation all the more drastic and dangerous as it piles on and on. Sure, it helps that Lively herself isn’t all that bad of a gal to look at, but that stuff doesn’t matter because she gives a good performance in a movie that, possibly, may not have needed one to really work wonders, but hey, works fine with one, so why not?

Consensus: Simple to a fault, the Shallows is a low-key horror-thriller that works on building up suspension, to where it’s actually fun to get involved in the sometimes scary situation.

6.5 / 10

Move over a little bit, Blake. You're getting in the way of the bird.

Move over a little bit, Blake. You’re getting in the way of the bird.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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