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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Technology is rad.

Motoko Kusanagi is an android cop with a human brain working the streets of a future Japan and trying to make sense of her existence. After all, she’s half-human, half-robot, doesn’t really know how she’s alive, is able to do a lot of the things that she does, and doesn’t quite know how it all ends. In other words, she’s going through an identity crisis of sorts, but is always loyal to getting rid of all evil-doers in the world. And one of her most difficult missions to date, is findiong and getting rid of “The Puppet Master”, a super secret cyber criminal who illegally hacks into the computerized minds of cyborg-human hybrids, getting them to do whatever he so pleases. What makes this mystery person so darn deadly is that they are able to modify the identity of strangers, leaving Motoko pondering her own makeup and what life might be like if she had more human traits, while also creating all sorts of a wide-spread panic amongst the government and military.

Is this considered nudity?

A part of my movie-soul feels like it’s missing out on something because I haven’t seen all of the animated classics from Japan that I probably should have. Sure, a big fan of Cowboy Bebop, and of course, have seen mostly all of Miyazaki’s flicks, but there’s still a great deal of others that have come and gone by my head, without me thinking another second of it. Some of this has to do with the idea of not being able to take an animated-flick of these natures as seriously as other animated flicks, or let alone, regular films in general, but another part of it has to do with a part of me feels like these movies may be too closed-off to fully reach out to someone like me who, for instance, may want to shake myself up a bit and see more that’s offered.

Case in point, Ghost in the Shell.

It’s not that it’s an easy movie to like, or even dislike – it’s just a hard movie to actually understand or get to the bottom of, and that is honestly the biggest issue. The movie seems to pride itself way too much on the fact that it’s confusing, vague, making up certain rules and guidelines as it goes along, and ponders all sorts of crazy questions about life, one’s existence, and most of all, technology. It’s an overload of ideas and story that seems like it’s not really doing much, but constantly throwing us for more loops, time and time again. It actually isn’t until the final-act that things start to make some lick of sense, but even by then, it may be a tad too late to the point of where it’s a wonder what the point was in the first place.

Was it to confuse us? Was it to actually have us question the world in which we live in? Was it to have us think longer and harder about our existence on this planet? Or, honestly, was it just to distract us from the idea that what we’re really watching here is a bunch of robots trying to kill one another, for no real reasons whatsoever?

Ew. I think. Maybe?

To me, it feels a whole lot like that last option and it’s a shame, too, because Ghost in the Shell looks, sounds, and feels great.

It’s just that, you know, it doesn’t always want to make the best sense for anyone who may be new to it. And sure, you can call me an “idiot”, or “someone who just doesn’t know how to pay attention”, but I can assure you, that is not the case – there was a part of me that constantly keep watching and listening for even the slightest bit of detail or thread that I could pick up on and follow, but sadly, it just never seemed to come around.

Does that mean the whole movie was a pain? Not really because, as I’ve said before, it’s a movie that looks great, with animation that still stands the test of time, action that can sometimes go from chaotic, to beautiful, and believe it or not, some neat characterizations that, in a much more clearer and defined movie, probably would have given them more to work with. Our lead protagonist of Motoko Kusanagi is an interesting one because, just like herself, we constantly watch her and question her mortality; we’re not sure if she’s more human than robot, more robot than human, or just a total robot without any human features, except for what’s programmed into her. There’s a nice conversation that she has on a roof-top between her and a fellow man-bot, and it’s fun and kind of sweet, which I wished that there was more of.

Which probably goes to show you that, yeah, I was already expecting something out of an anime flick such as this, that I probably shouldn’t have been.

Oh well. I’ll continue to grow, I guess.

Consensus: Even with some wonderful visuals and action, Ghost in the Shell is also, unfortunately, way too chaotic with its premise to fully make sense of everything that it’s meaning to do, or trying to say to us.

6 / 10

There’s more to the world than just robots.

Photos Courtesy of: The Vault

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Cause we needed an updated version of a buffalo and human falling in love.

Belle (Emma Watson) is a bright, young, and beautiful girl who loves to read, doesn’t have herself a man, and doesn’t really know if she wants to have a family just yet. Due to this, everyone around her treats her like she’s a silly little girl, who doesn’t know much about the real world, except for what she reads in books. Her father (Kevin Kline), however, knows, understands, and loves her no matter what, which is why when he turns out to be captured and held hostage by the Beast in the big castle (Dan Stevens), she saves his life by sacrificing her own. And at first, for Belle, it’s a pretty terrible time – the Beast is mean, grumpy, and not all that fun to be around, and it seems like Belle will probably live the rest of her days miserable and depressed. Sure, there’s the talking objects around her that constantly console her and let her know that it’s all going to be okay, but for some reason, Belle just can’t get past the fact that she’s being held prisoner. Until, of course, her and the Beast begin to actually get to know one another, and then everything changes. For her, for him, and for everyone else surrounding them.

Oh, Belle. So innocent. So sweet. So feminist.

Did we really need a live-action Beauty and the Beast, considering that the original animated flick is downright perfect? Probably not, but hey, it’s Hollywood, so why not get one, eh? And honestly, the live-action update isn’t a soulless, boring and total manipulative cash cow that you’d expect – there’s some fun, some light, and some enjoyment to be had. But for the most part, it feels like the kind of movie that tries so much, for no real reason.

For instance, take the run-time. At just a little over two hours, this live-action update doesn’t just feel overlong, but rather unnecessarily plodding at times. There’s added-on songs, scenes, and even story-bits that, okay, do show some effort, but they really don’t go anywhere; the original movie was barely even 90 minutes and it was perfect for that reason alone. Adding on another 30 minutes doesn’t do much but just add more time for people to get bored and start realize that there’s more problems underneath it all.

Which isn’t to say that this live-action can’t be fun, because it definitely can.

It’s just that for a movie like this, if you’re looking for problems, you’ll find them. There’s a whole gay subtext involving Lefou, as played by Josh Gad, and Gaston, as played by Luke Evans, that just feels shoe-horned in and way too silly for its own good. Sure, I’m fine with gay characters in Disney movies and would definitely love more of them, but in this instance, it just feels forced – it’s almost as if those behind the screen were just deliberately trying to mess with the studio-heads and took the easy way out in doing so. Gad’s fine in the role and can be funny, but Evans, while hunky, charming and can belt them out like no tomorrow, also doesn’t feel right for this role because he’s, well, not necessarily as jacked or as huge as he’s supposed to be.

And that goes for a lot of the other cast-members, too. Everyone playing the objects in the castle are fine, with Ewan McGregor stealing the show as the most Scottish French candlestick ever, but others, like Watson and Stevens, for some reason, just don’t fit. Watson herself seems bland, and Stevens, depending on how much of the movie was him and not just CGI, tries what he can, but overall, it’s a thankless role left to voice-over. Also, their voices do leave a lot to be desired – why we’re not using voice-dubs anymore is totally beyond me and it proves to be a problem for this movie because, a good portion of the people here can’t really sing as much as they should. These songs, while definitely memorable, still need that huge, loud operatic voice that the original had, and with Watson, Stevens, Gad and others, it’s just not there.

Gay or not gay, it don’t matter.

The only heart and soul found here is from Kevin Kline’s Maurice, who gets to be sad and emotional, while also have some fun, too. It’s the true sign that above it all, Kline will always come out on top, because he’s not just a pro who can do it all, but proves why he’s always better than the material that he’s working with.

In other words, they should have just given the movie to him.

And trust me, I know that I’m doing a lot of hating on this flick, but it’s not totally the case. It’s still enjoyable, Bill Condon is a good director who knows how to make material like this click and pop, and the production-design, above everything, is a downright orgy of glitz and glam. It’s just that there are issues, none of which were found in the amazing, still watchable, still great, and always so lovely original.

So yeah Disney, stop trying so hard.

Consensus: Undeniably light, charming and often times, fun, Beauty and the Beast also suffers from being unnecessary and a little too long.

6 / 10

Tale as old as time? Between a buffalo and a human being?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

XX (2017)

Women be shoppin’. Except not really.

A mother (Natalie Brown) has no clue what to do with herself, now that her son refuses to eat anything, no matter what’s put in front of him; another mother (Melanie Lynskey) tries to throw the biggest and best party for her daughter, only to realize that it probably won’t happen due to unforeseeable circumstances; a bunch of young whipper-snappers head out into the mountains, expecting to have some fun and catch up some history, only to discover something horrifying and dark; and lastly, another mother (Christine Kirk), seems to be hiding something from her troubled 18-year-old son, but he, nor anyone else really knows what.

In case you couldn’t tell, XX is an anthology piece, done by four women, with four different stories, focusing on, above all else, women. It’s a nice angle to take on the horror-genre and shows that it still has some growing to do, in terms of its versatility as well as its acceptance. However, it does also show that it has some growing to do in terms of its quality.

Scared

See, one of the main issues with XX, and as is the case with most anthology pieces in its same vein, is that it’s way too brief for its own good. At nearly an-hour-20, each story has at least 20 minutes each to tell its story, characters, and most of all, give us the chills. But there’s something with the horror genre that, in order for the scares to be smart, effective, and most of all, scary, there has to be some sort of build-up to it all, and at nearly 20 minutes each, none of these tales really have that.

In a way, each one of them feel like they’re fully realized and fleshed-out, but are missing a few reels, either at the beginning, at the end, or somewhere in between. A part of me wonders what the exact want and reason for making these stories actually was, considering that it doesn’t seem to be any reason other than, “Oh, well, they’re kind of scary, I guess. Oh, and they star women, written and directed by women.” Once again, nothing with this approach, as it is definitely something that the horror genre as a whole could and definitely should, work on, but perhaps XX isn’t the brightest, most shiny example of why.

If anything, it proves to be an interesting and mildly entertaining diversion from what we’re used to seeing with horror anthologies, but yeah, it’s been done better before.

And to talk about the four pieces of story here, it’s best to go on about each one of them. First off, “the Box”, written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, plays with a lot of visual cues, but ultimately, isn’t about much. It’s about this family, going through a rough time when one of the children won’t eat, and has all the makings of a weird, almost surreal dark comedy, but it doesn’t go that way – instead, it plays itself very serious and dark, and sort of just ends on that note. It’s the perfect piece to start out on, because it literally won’t be remembered by the end.

Petrified

St. Vincent’s tale, “the Birthday Party”, works a little bit more because it does take a slightly comedic-edge to its story, but once again, doesn’t feel like it’s really built upon anything. It’s just sort of weird, wacky, and features a random cameo from Joe Swanberg. If anything is to be taken away from this part, it’s that St. Vincent is a competent enough director to show us that she knows what she’s doing behind the camera, so who knows? Maybe it will be nice to see more of her there.

Anyway, then there’s “Don’t Fall”, by Roxanne Benjamin, that started off promising, but ultimately, doesn’t know what to do with itself. Everything happens way too quick, we get the very smallest, slightest bit of character-detail to work with, and yeah, none of it really matters. The gore and the scares work, but they’re done in about five minutes anyway, so does it really matter at all?

And lastly, there’s Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son”, which may be the only one here that actually feels like a fully realized and written short movie about a mother, coping with whatever mystery is in her life. It helps here that Christina Kirk is a good actress and an inspired bit of casting for this dark role, but Kusama herself also shows some initiative, with enough mystery, development, and oddness to make it all work. The ending is stupid and doesn’t quite make sense, but hey, at least it is attempting at doing something.

Which, after all, is all I needed and/or could have ever wanted.

Consensus: Though not terrible, XX is more of a mixed-bag, showing why there should be more stories about women in horror, but also showing why they should be longer than 20 minutes each.

6 / 10

Numb

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Joblo

Burning Sands (2017)

Join a frat, they said. A fun time, they said.

Zurich (Trevor Jackson) is just getting his college career at Frederick Douglas University going when he decides to join up at the most coveted and prestigious black frat there is in the country, Lambda Lambda Pi. And for one whole week, which everyone calls “Hell Week”, Zurich and countless other pledges will all have to endure absolute, undeniable hell, like say, beatings, eating dog food, sleep deprivation, shaving their heads, not being seen on campus, not having sex – all just so that they can be apart of this brotherhood one day and achieve the same dreams that countless generations of their families have done, or have wanted to do, before them. But Zurich doesn’t quite know if this is what he wants; he has a legacy to behold, of course, but he’s also more interested in certain things, like girls, like poetry, and most of all, his health, which seems to be slowly deteriorating ever since receiving some fatal blows to his ribs some weeks ago. But hey, it’s all worth it, right?

“If you do this, maybe you’ll be in an Oscar-winning movie.”

One of the main things said about Burning Sands is how it is, essentially, the black-answer to last year’s Goat, another movie focusing on the hazing, the pledging, and all of the violence that can ensue before joining up with a fraternity. And while to some degree you can see a lot of the comparisons, for the most part, they do seem to be focusing on the object of hazing and the realities as fraternities a tad bit differently – Goat focused more on the psychological and mental anguish and torture such hazing can have a person’s mind, whereas Burning Sands seems to explore the deeper, more passionate connections held between some of these people, during this one specific amount of time.

Does that mean to say that one movie is more on the side of frats, than the other? Honestly, I’m not quite sure; it seems like Burning Sands seems to know and understand that frats can be a meaningful aspect to college life, because they’re fun and they hold some meaning to a lot of those people within them, but possibly, what it takes to become a part of said frat, isn’t always as lovely. In a way, Burning Sands is condemning the people that commit these heinous, almost inhumane acts of senseless, nonsensical violence, but also never quite comes to an understanding of why it’s happening in the first place. There has to be more people to blame here than just the kids themselves, right? Can’t some of the blame also go to the faculty, the staff, and the general atmosphere on college campuses that fraternities are there to help guide young men into being smart, respectful, and common citizens in society, when in reality, they may make someone very far from that?

Always have a mother-figure.

Either way, it’s an interesting question, one that neither Goat, nor Burning Sands seem all that interested to answer.

For Burning Sands, though, it’s really all about what these pledges go through and why most of them, as confident as they may be, really don’t have what it takes. Director Gerard McMurray seems to get the dark and creepy aura of masculinity during a lot of these moments, almost to the point of where some of it borderlines on the verge of being gay; there’s much hugging, loving, holding, and touching of these strong, muscular, and sometimes, half-naked men, that you’ll begin to wonder when the panties are going to drop. It’s an interesting take on the material that seems to go beyond a lot of the other conventional stuff like, say, how shocking it is that these kids are getting beat up and held against their will to do stuff.

In fact, the biggest problem with Burning Sands is that a lot of it does feel like a “been there, done that”, even without Goat in the discussion. See, while that movie focused on the depravity and sheer ugliness of frats, it also approached it all from a different angle – in a way, it was much more detached and sinister, making it way more disturbing and downright creepy. Here, McMurray seems to tackle this hazing with much more direction, but also sort of taking us out of the whole issue, too. It’s almost as if the hazing just happens, we don’t feel anything about it, but somehow, some way, we’re supposed to. In that sense, yeah, it just doesn’t quite work, whereas a movie like Goat, as chilling as it could sometimes get, still resonated.

At the same time, though, the movie’s are still different and as such, should be approached differently, too.

It’s just that in this case, Burning Sands has some issues to wade through. It’s most interesting aspect is that it focuses on Zurich, played very well by Trevor Jackson as someone who, despite the obvious, doesn’t totally seem to want to be in a frat. He’s much more concerned with having sex and trying to pass, just like any other college kid and it’s a nice twist on the whole frat movie subgenre, in which we get a kid who’s only trying to be apart of it, not just to be cool, or hip, or have a bunch of friends, but because he’s basically told to join one, by his friends and peers.

Like I said before, who’s to blame here, folks?

Consensus: As dark as it can sometimes get, what’s holding Burning Sands back from being a far more effective take on underground hazing, is that it never quite becomes more than it should have been.

6 / 10

See? It’s a brotherhood!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

Catfight (2017)

Sometimes, you just need to duke it out with former besties.

Ashley (Anne Heche) is an artist who doesn’t quite have the recognition, nor fortune that she wants. She makes weird, outsider-like paintings that some people enjoy, but others don’t, and nine times out of ten, those happen to be the people who actually buy paintings in the first place. She’s trying to have a baby with her girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone), but of course, the process is a lot more difficult than she’d expect. So, to make ends meet, she works as a caterer and one night, meets an old friend of hers, Veronica (Sandra Oh). Veronica’s got a bit of a messy life, too; her husband resents her, her son doesn’t think she’s cool, and yeah, she drinks way too much. Both of them immediately strike up a conversation at this party, but also realize that they probably don’t like each other much, either. So, as one does, they brawl it out, leading to disastrous consequences for both of them, that will alter the course of their lives.

Somewhere, deep down inside the black hole of Catfight, there’s a joke, but for the life of me, I just can’t seem to figure it out. Is it that all friends hate each other? Is it that comas are funny? Is it that violence is funny? Is it that homophobia is funny? Is it that death is funny? Or art critics? Or artists themselves? Or, I don’t know, just life kind of funny?

Anne’s ready.

Honestly, I still don’t know and that’s sort of the problem with Catfight – it’s the kind of movie that thinks it’s way funnier and clever than it actually is, but never really makes sense of its own hilarity, or cleverness. It sort of presents a few jokes and expects us to take different meanings away from said jokes, when in reality, there’s not much to them. Writer/director Onur Turkel seems to have an interesting mind in how he’s able to craft and balance certain different genres, tones, and moods here, but he doesn’t know how to make sense of them; to go from a dark comedy, to a serious, sad and depressing drama takes a lot of guts and skill to pull-off effectively.

And unfortunately, Turkel seems to only have the guts. The skill may have to come later.

Sandra’s ready.

Regardless, Catfight does have some interesting bits and pieces scattered throughout, but that’s just the problem – they’re too scattered. Originally, it seems like Turkel wants to explore how these two women, while definitely different, are also alike in many other ways, too, showing that they’re both sad, miserable and stuck in ruts that they don’t know if they can get out of. That aspect of the story is a compelling one and it helps that both of the leading-ladies are quite good in the roles, too (more on them in a bit). But then, out of nowhere, the movie decides to shoot for being something sillier, more violent, and above all else, just stranger.

In fact, yes, Catfight can definitely be classified as “strange” – it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, but tries its hand at so many different things that eventually, it’s just gone way too off-track. The only thing guiding the ship along are Heche and Oh, both of whom have always been, and are here, great. It’s actually kind of great to see them two here, because while time and Hollywood may have forgotten about them, us film-lovers haven’t and it’s nice to see them get two starring-roles once again, because they’ve always been incredibly talented. It does help that they get meaty roles to work with and show off their range, but it also helps that they remind us why they deserve to be in more stuff, regardless of “Who’s Hot”, and “Who’s Not”.

So to speak.

But like I said before, their performances, as good as they are, seem to be stuck in a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, what it’s about, or what it’s even trying to say. Attempting to figure this all out on your own, honestly, may be the real entertainment of the movie, but it also makes you wonder what could have happened, had the movie been sharper, more defined, and just clearer with us, and itself. It’s not all that hard to ask of a movie and it should always happen, regardless of how wacky or wild you want your material to be.

Consensus: Even with two solid performances from the always reliable Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, Catfight doesn’t know what kind of a movie it wants to be and ends up taking both of them on a ride that they, or us, probably didn’t ask for.

6 / 10

But oh wait, now Alicia’s ready! Ding-ding!

Photos Courtesy of: The Dullwood ExperimentLongroom

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

largLock the door next time! Come on!

When Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) decides that she’s had enough of it and quits her nursing job, she expects to live out the rest of her life the way she wants to. She can drink, smoke, read, listen to music, and eat ice cream all day, and not have a thing in the world to worry about. That all changes when one day, she comes home to her house burglarized, with some of her most treasured possessions gone, without a clue in the world of where it may have gone to. Though she does call the police, they don’t seem to really care, leaving Ruth to set out and find who robbed her house, by herself. But she soon realizes that it could be a very dangerous job for one woman to do by herself, leading her to invite random neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) along for this adventure of sorts. Tony’s more than ready to crack down on these two-bit criminals, until the both of them learn that they are dealing with much bigger fish and they aren’t going to fry easily.

Or yeah, something like that.

He was a boy.

He was a boy.

Writer/director Macon Blair is making his directorial debut here and while you may not know the name, you definitely know the face. He’s been in both of Jeremy Saulnier’s movies (Blue Ruin, Green Room), and is slowly, but surely, making a name for himself out there in the indie-world, which is why it’s interesting to see him try his hand at writing and directing movies. Cause if anything, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore feels a lot like a Saulnier movie, but instead of being drop-deadly, bleakly serious, it’s got a bit of a comedic-edge to it.

Initially, the movie seems like any other indie-comedy, with long, silent breaks of weird bits and pieces of comedy followed in, but slowly, and surely, the movie starts to show its true colors. Blair’s writing is, at the very least, interesting here, because he never quite picks a genre that he wants to work with; it’s a dark comedy for sure, but how dark and how funny the movie is going to stay, is never quite sure. We get these brief signs that the story’s going to take a viciously upsetting turn, but when and where is never quite known, and the mystery of it all is quite compelling.

And then, it gets viciously upsetting and all of a sudden, it feels like a whole different movie entirely.

See, as much as I don’t want to do this, Saulnier’s two movies so far, have absolutely benefited from the fact that they’re mean and serious, almost from the very start. They don’t try to crack any jokes, make light of a situation, and they sure as hell don’t loll-gag. They get right to the point and don’t leave us waiting. And that’s why they both work as well as they do – the violence we eventually get in those movies is stark and chilling, but sort of expected and germane, because the mood of the whole piece was already stern in the first place.

She was a girl.

She was a girl.

That’s why Blair’s movie doesn’t quite gel as well as it should. It doesn’t take itself seriously enough to fully work as a deadly serious thriller, nor does it goof around enough to work as a comedy. If anything, it’s a weird, odd, and twisted version of the two and in that sense, it’s definitely worth watching. Blair’s ambition to combine these two genres, so to speak, doesn’t fully come together as well as he may have wanted, but it’s worth noting that he at least tries and is at least semi-successful.

Shouldn’t that account for something?

Where Blair got really lucky was in the casting of both Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood as this odd couple of sorts. Lynskey hasn’t always been considered “a scary presence”, but here, she shows that beyond her everyday woman appeal, there’s something meaner lingering. We don’t quite know what it is, or how it’s going to present itself, but we know it’s there and she’s interesting to watch because of that. Wood’s also very good in this role as Tony, a sort-of weirdo who knows karate and has numb-chucks. Normally, this kind of character would be used as a non-stop punch-line and never taken seriously, but Blair’s writing for him and Wood’s portrayal of him, shows that there’s actually a sweet soul stuck deep down inside of this goofy guy. He may think he’s a lot tougher than he is, but then again, who doesn’t? Together, the two have a nice chemistry that gets to play out in small, yet cute ways, showing that perhaps Blair could have just focused on them and left it at that.

Cause when Blair does show the “robbers”, of sorts, like I said, the movie acts very dark and serious. It also doesn’t help that these characters seem as if they’re from another movie entirely; one that’s way more over-the-top than this one here. So yeah, it doesn’t help them anymore and only takes away from Lynskey and Wood’s great moments together.

Consensus: With a darker edge than most comedies, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is an interesting watch, but also uneven, taking a more sinister and meaner approach to its material that doesn’t quite gel so well with the funnier, more human bits of itself.

6.5 / 10

Can I make it anymore obvious?

Can I make it anymore obvious?

Photos Courtesy of: Collider

Welcome to the Rileys (2010)

Need a better outlook on your life? Call up a hooker.

James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo play the titular Doug and Lois Riley, a married couple whose relationship has become lifeless and frozen due to both of their reactions to the death of their daughter Emily. An encounter with Mallory (Kristen Stewart), an underage stripper in a dingy local club, where Doug only wants to pay her to talk to him, eventually leads to a cautious friendship between the two and a realization of life for everybody.

There’s not much of a story to Welcome to the Rileys and it never really offers any surprises, but it’s not boring, or better yet, all that conventional. Because where the movie excels in, is the smaller, more low-key moments in this story that make it more than just your typical tale of a sad person, helping out another sad person, who also just so happens to be a hooker. It’s a simple, tried and true story we’ve seen done a hundred times before, but writer/director Jake Scott, the son of Ridley, does all that he can to make it so much more.

"Wanna come on down to the Bada Bing?"

“Wanna come on down to the Bada Bing?”

Still, it is a pretty simple tale and because of that, it’s hard to fall in love with it.

If there is anything to be found here to fall in love with, it’s each of the performances from the key three leads.

James Gandolfini is great here as Doug Riley, because while there’s something deep and a little dark about him, there’s also something very sweet, earnest, endearing and relatively compassionate about him that makes you believe that he could do something as oddball as this. Every time the guy smiles, you feel a certain drip of happiness pour out from the screen and because of that, you cannot help but just love him and enjoy his presence on-screen. There’s no doubt that Gandolfini was the king of playing mean, nasty and downright grotesque thugs, but he did also excel at giving us characters with hearts and it’s nice to get that reminder – one which, unfortunately, we never quite got the chance to see more of.

Gandolfini almost gets his own show taken away from him though, from Melissa Leo who gives off a very natural and realistic performance as the still-grief-ridden mother, Lois. Leo’s character starts off as a bit of a nutcase as she never comes out of the house because of what happened, but as time rolls on you start to see a more round human-being come out of her and the things that she does and as soon as her pretty face pops into the story big-time about half-way through, the story itself hits a big boost that made it more of a delight to watch. It’s also nice to get a movie where the couple at the center, despite all of the hardships that brought them to this point, still do love and trust one another with all their hearts. Leo and Gandolfini, as a married-couple, would have probably been a great movie on its own, but here, they get a chance to create something lovely and nice. It’s something you don’t usually see in movies and it’s great to realize that trust is still one of the biggest elements in a relationship in order to make it work.

Oh, K-Stew. Shut up and be happy!

Oh, K-Stew. Shut up and be happy!

And yes, Kristen Stewart is also good as Mallory. Granted, she does have the more clichéd role, as whom is, essentially, “hooker with a heart of gold”, but this also helps make her performance much better and impressive. There’s something sad about her character that makes you want to reach out to her, too, but there’s also some sort of mystery, too. The scenes between her and Gandolfini’s character could have easily been creepy and cringe-inducing, but the two have a solid chemistry that truly does seem like a loving, lasting relationship that isn’t played so one can get their kicks off, but so that they both can feel some meaning in their lives.

It’s all so sweet, simple and obvious, but that’s how life works and it’s why Welcome to the Rileys works.

Consensus: The story and message may be a bit of your usual, hokey pokey, after-school special stuff that we are used to seeing in these types of dramas, however, the strong performances from the trio of leads make Welcome to the Rileys one-step above the ordinary stuff we are used to seeing with human-dramas such as this one.

6.5 / 10

Who wants a K-Stew, when you could have a M-Leo?

Who wants a K-Stew, when you could have a M-Leo?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Does anyone want to live forever? Does it even exist?

A Wall Street stockbroker named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO (Harry Groener) from a mysterious wellness center, so that he can get him back to New York and ensure that nothing goes wrong with the company, even though that seems like it could definitely happen. Lockhart gets into a car accident out of nowhere and is then taken in by the hospital, cared for and allowed to stay there for as long as he needs. While there, Lockhart meets the young, attractive and blissful Hannah (Mia Goth), who seems very interested in the outside world, which is something that Lockhart wants to show her. But for some odd reason, her uncle, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), isn’t all that much of a fan on what exists outside the hospital. In fact, none of them really are, which makes Lockhart suspicious and question what’s really going on at this facility, how he’s going to get away from it, and most importantly, how the hell is he going to stat alive.

I hate showers too, Dane. But you need 'em.

I hate showers too, Dane. But you need ’em.

A Cure for Wellness is a movie that deserves praise, if only because of how weird, how dark, how odd, and how weird it is for a major-studio to get behind and give a wide-release to. And it’s not like they gave it to their most trusted and well-known auteur – Gore Verbinski hasn’t quite made such a great name for himself, besides the Pirates movies, and even those last two were a bit much. But it seems like they had enough faith in him and the source-material to not just pour a bunch of money into it, but allow for the rest of the world to see it, in all of its creepy glory.

And yeah, in that sense, it’s pretty good.

Verbinski knows how to frame a shot and give off a very eerie tone, practically the whole time. Almost every shot is calculated in such a perfect manner, that you feel like the shot-list itself was probably its own character in the production of making this movie. But it’s not really showy, either – it just seems like Verbinski is meticulous and has a certain way of how he wants to tell this story, putting us in already unsettling mood in the first place.

Which is why the movie definitely works, if mostly because of its tone. It’s dark, odd and definitely mysterious, for the longest time, which is a pretty solid feat considering that the movie clocks in at just about two-hours-and-26-minutes – another shocker to a movie that the studio clearly had some faith in. You almost get the sense that Verbinski is toying with us to a certain degree, not allowing us to see everything that we think we should, and continuing to keep us in the dark, longer and longer. It’s smart film-making and a sure sign that the man knows how to direct horror – something he already proved with the Ring a decade ago, but hey, it definitely needed re-stating.

But getting away from Verbinski, A Cure for Wellness does have some issues and that’s mostly in the story-department.

See, for the longest time during A Cure for Wellness, there’s this deep, dark secret at the center of the story that’s supposed to keep us gripped, guessing and on-the-edge-of-our-seats, but really, it’s pretty easy to figure out right away. And this is not some cynical, movie-critic problem because I’ve seen one too many movies in my time – if you’ve ever seen a horror movie such as this, trust me, you’ve got a pretty clear idea of where it’s going. And once it does get to that point, and all of a sudden, we’re supposed to be shocked and sent into the clouds, it doesn’t fully deliver.

Yeah, may be a bit of a problem with the water.

Yeah, may be a bit of a problem with the water.

Sure, the visuals still keep it compelling, but once we get down to the brass-tacks of this story, what’s really happening at this facility, and why, well, it doesn’t quite make sense. I won’t spoil it here, but yeah, it’s a little lame and it soon gives way to convention that’s disappointing, because for awhile, A Cure for Wellness proved to be something a tad bit smarter. It moves at an efficient pace for its long run-time, but it also never seemed to be taking any silly shortcuts, either – it was allowing for its story to get told, as slowly, but as surely as humanly possible.

It’s just a bummer that, at the end, it doesn’t really connect the way it should.

But hey, at least it’s got something to show for itself. And hey, at least it’s got a pretty solid cast, what with Dane DeHaan getting one of his first leading-roles, showing us that he is definitely capable of carrying a movie himself. His character’s a little thin, to be honest, but it makes sense – we’re supposed to see this story play-out, through his eyes only and it helps that he’s a little bland and work as a cover for our way through. That said, I do hope that DeHaan gets more of these bigger, leading-roles, because he’s got a certain presence to him that works – it just needs to be delivered on the same way Chronicle did.

On the supporting side, Mia Goth plays his supposed love-interest who is very interesting to watch, because she’s got a little mystery going on about her, too. The movie never makes it clear what they’re trying to do with her, but Goth has a look and feel to her that’s hard to take your eyes off, giving you the impression that she’s sweet and a little dangerous, too. Same goes for Jason Isaacs who, with this and the OA, proves that he’s perfect at playing these weird and pretty sadistic human specimens that don’t always use science in the best way imaginable.

So yeah, at least not all bad, either.

Consensus: With a stunning production, eye-catching visuals, and a creepy tone throughout, A Cure for Wellness works surprisingly well as a mood-piece, but maybe not so much as a thrilling, unpredictable horror-chiller.

6.5 / 10

Wait. Is the sky falling?

Wait. Is the sky falling?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Great Wall (2017)

Monsters are everywhere you look. Except the literal ones. Yeah, those things don’t exist.

While on a long, far-reaching search for black powder, mercenaries William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) hold-up one night and encounter something strange, mysterious and deadly. They are able to chop off a piece of its arm, carrying it around with them everywhere they go, even if they don’t fully know just what it actually is. Then, they stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called “the Nameless Order”. Led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), the Nameless Order has been making it their mission to taking out any sort of threat that has come their way, but as of late, it’s been these odd, very vicious and disgusting monsters that, are also of the same kind that William and Tovar ran into that one night. That’s why, rather than killing the two, the Nameless Order decide to take the guys in, asking them for a helping hand in taking down these monsters, once and for all. It’s easy for William, but for Tovar, not so much.

White.

White.

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the Great Wall for a rather understandable reason: Matt Damon’s casting in the lead role seems like, yet again, another instance of Hollywood being too scared of casting any sort of minority in a lead role, that they just give it to the next big name, who also happens to be white. Hey, it’s happened before and it will definitely happen again. However, in the Great Wall, it’s not all that justified for a few reasons:

  1. Damon’s character in the movie is actually supposed to be white and isn’t supposed to be Chinese, therefore, making him a suitable actor for the character’s supposed race.
  2. Nobody really seems to have gotten all that mad that, included in this movie’s large international cast, Willem Dafoe (a white guy), is here, as well as Pedro Pascal (an Hispanic man) – two people who, last I checked, aren’t actually in the least bit Chinese.
  3. The movie itself is not meant to be taken seriously under any circumstances and because of that, it’s really hard to get mad at it for anything, let alone its casting decisions.
  4. And yeah, it’s just a silly movie.

Which is to say that, despite all of this, the Great Wall is still an enjoyable movie, although yes, incredibly stupid once you realize that it’s actually about a bunch of warriors, facing-off against a bunch of nameless, literally brainless green monsters who don’t really look like anything we’ve seen before, but they’re still not all that original, either – they’re like a weird cross between a dinosaur and a rat, but even then, I’m not so sure.

And coming from director  Zhang Yimou, you’d probably expect a little something more, but just like he proved with House of Flying Daggers, Yimou doesn’t always care the most about story and character-development, as much as he cares about what looks cool on the big screen, in 3D, and what’s fun. Sometimes, too, that’s all you need; the Great Wall is the perfect example of Yimou having so many toys at his disposal and getting an opportunity to play with each and everyone of them. Could he have gone deeper with the plot, these characters, and the overall message of the tale?

Nope. Still white and this time, a little Hispanic.

Nope. Still white and this time, a little Chilean.

Sure, but he doesn’t and it helps the movie not feel like all that much of a slug to get through.

Because when the movie does try and dive into the stuff like that, well, it doesn’t always work. We don’t really get to know anyone here, nor do we ever fully understand the plot itself, so when it takes time to explain itself, it just takes away from the movie and almost makes you wish for more monsters to show up. The characters themselves don’t have anything interesting to really say or do, either – sometimes, it seems like a lot of it was just filmed with the hopes that it would make it into the final-cut, but with no obligation whatsoever. Granted, we don’t always need clear, pitch perfect and three-dimensional characters in goofy monster movies such as the Great Wall, but it certainly does help us feel like there’s more at-steak, than just a bunch of lifeless, bland things getting killed on screen.

It also helps because you’ve got such a good cast here, with not much to do. Damon’s working with an odd accent the whole time, making him sound like he’s straight from Canada; Pascal’s character has all of the witty one-liners and laughs, as corny as they can sometimes get; Dafoe’s character is shady and mischievous, for reasons never made clear; Jing Tian gets to be a bit of a bad-ass when she isn’t trying to get some sort of spark flickering between her and Damon; and everyone else who shows up, well, they try, too. Mostly, the Great Wall doesn’t care about this stuff and for once, it’s sort of okay.

What it does prove is that it’s sometimes best to just take in and accept a monster movie, for exactly what it is.

Consensus: Even with the weak characters and story, the Great Wall still mostly gets by on the action, the look, the feel, and the surprisingly great deal of eye-popping 3D.

6 / 10

Ah, yes. That's more like it.

Ah, yes. That’s more like it.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

David Brent: Life on the Road (2017)

Never give up on a dream. As crummy as it may be.

It’s been awhile since we’ve last seen or heard from David Brent (Ricky Gervais), and while his career as a D-List star didn’t quite pan-out to much, he’s now using whatever fortune he has left over to go out on the road with his band, Foregone Conclusion. Of course, he’s paying for it all, isn’t getting paid-leave from his work, and doesn’t really know, or get along with any of the other members in the band, but David is living out of his dream of hitting the road and giving audiences some sweet tunes. However, David does come to terms with the fact that his career may not be the best thing for him at this point in his life, and it may also be financially draining him, with money being spent on all sorts of crazy costs like hotel rooms, cars, set decorations, PR reps, food, beer, and yes, mini-bars. But still, David will not let all of these issues stand in the way of living the life of an absolute rock star, even if there’s no audience to really see that.

Always need the hype-man, no matter the genre.

Always need the hype-man, no matter the genre.

Ricky Gervais has, believe it or not, grown a lot since the Office. But at the same time, he’s still kind of living in the shadow of David Brent, so it’s not all that surprising to see him go back and see what Brent’s up to, even all of these years later. And sure, it’s more than enough to give someone pause, seeing an actor go back to their most iconic role, but Life on the Road shows us that there’s more than just nostalgia’s sake to catch back up with Brent.

Sure, it’s great to see him be awkward, say mean, nasty things to those around him, and make a general ass of himself, but the way Brent is made out to be, it’s hard to ever hate him. That’s how he was on the show, and that’s how he is here, which is why no matter how hard he tries, Gervais will never be able to get out of the shadow of that character, even if he definitely has come close. And it’s also why Life on the Road proves to be a very enjoyable trip down memory-lane, in some ways, to realize that the Brent character can continue to live on and on, still be the same person, and can still be loved by all of those who fell in love with him over a decade ago.

Does that mean we always need to see a David Brent movie? Probably not, but hey, it’s nice to have around.

Eat your hearts out, ladies.

Eat your hearts out, ladies.

And what’s interesting about Life on the Road, is that it’s not necessarily an Office movie, as much as it’s just a movie about a character from that show. No other iconic and lovable character from that show has an appearance here, nor are there many mentions about that show’s existence – mostly, we just get to see Brent’s life, picking back up after being away from him for over a decade. But it still works; Gervais is great at this character, making each and every conversation he has, turn into an absolute and embarrassing travesty, while at the same time, still making us want to see more from him.

Oh, and it’s also good that the songs are pretty nice to hear, too. For any movie like this, it would have been easy for the songs to be crap, because of how silly they are, but no, there’s actually been some real effort and drive put into how the songs sound and yeah, they sort of work. They’re dumb for sure, but they still work, given the movie’s context.

But it’s really hard to talk much more about Life on the Road and go on and on about it because, after all, it’s relatively forgettable. It’s nice to get this refresher of Brent, see how he’s doing, and what sort of an ass he’s still being, but when all is said and done, the movie is still an-hour-and-a-half long episode of the Office, just without everyone else. This time, it’s just Gervais being Brent and that’s about it. It’s still fun to watch, but when it’s over, it may leave the mind immediately.

Still, it’s a hell of a lot better than Special Correspondents – whatever the hell that was.

Consensus: As a nice and refreshing reminder on why we loved the title character in the first place, Life on the Road proves that Gervais can still perfect this character and give us plenty to laugh at.

6.5 / 10

Can't compete.

Can’t compete.

Photos Courtesy of: The Playlist

Wendigo (2001)

Gotta watch for those deer and rednecks.

George (Jake Weber) is on assignment for his photography job and is supposed to head up into upstate New York and take some pictures. Seeing as how this could be a nice, lovely and enjoyable little vacation for him and the rest of his family, the three all decide to go up and enjoy some times in the wilderness. That is, well, until they actually get there. On the way up, they have some car trouble, run into a bunch of mean locals who don’t like out-of-towners coming into their place and taking over, and hit a deer. So yeah, not the best way to start out the trip, but it gets a bit worse. George’s wife, Kim (Patricia Clarkson), starts feeling more tense the more she’s up there, whereas the young son, Miles (Erik Per Sullivan), doesn’t quite know what’s going on. He’s imagining some weird, horrific things in his mind, but he doesn’t know whether or not they’re real, make believe, or things that just occur when you’re in this part of upstate New York. Either way, the weekend does not go by as expected.

It's okay, kid. Childhood will be over soon enough.

It’s okay, kid. Childhood will be over soon enough.

Writer/director Larry Fessenden does something very interesting with Wendigo, in that he makes a horror flick, that would be played for the art-house crowd. Meaning, he doesn’t just give us all the typical blood, guts, ghosts, ghouls and monsters right off the bat, just as we’d expect from your typical, standard horror-fare; in place of that this time around, there’s character-development, a sense of time, place, and mood. In other words, it’s smart film-making and writing, which isn’t something I can say too often about movies within the horror genre.

Then again, though, there is that final-act where Fessenden himself throws everything out the window.

But hey, let’s not talk about that right away. First, with the good stuff. For one, Wendigo has a very solid first two-acts, in that we’re never too sure where it’s going to end up, what it is, or better yet, what sort of genre is being played with. In a way, Wendigo‘s first two-acts are far more based in the psychological-thriller territory, as there’s some freaky and odd imagery, but never any actual idea that there’s going to be any sort of supernatural presence at play – what we get, is a bunch of random people, acting weird and rude, for almost no reason. It’s like a horror movie, but with real people, in place of all the monsters, which is actually a whole lot scarier if you stop and think about it.

But then, Fessenden ups the ante by actually, believe it or not, giving us characters that we can not just identify with, but actually come to learn to love and grow with, as time goes. Sure, these three protagonists are playing the standard, middle-to-upper-class, cutesy, harmless family, but there’s something heartfelt and interesting about their dynamic; there’s some signs that George may be a bit of a hard-ass and Kim may be smarter than she lets on, but for the most part, they’re a nice, lovely, little family to watch. And that’s why the first-half of Wendigo is spent on them, watching them as they interact with one another, with others, and just in general.

Just another harmless walk in paradise.

Just another harmless walk in paradise.

Once again, not all that groundbreaking stuff in film as a whole, but considering that this is a horror film we’re talking about here, yeah, some shocking and refreshing stuff.

But then, like I stated before, it sort of all goes out the window. This isn’t to say that Fessenden forgets to build up on the tension and suspense throughout, because he definitely does, but when it comes time to get the pay-off for all that suspense and anticipation, well, it doesn’t quite deliver. Without saying too much, Wendigo eventually turns into a full-on, all-out horror flick, that doesn’t hold back on any image and isn’t at all near being subtle. For a typical horror flick, I know that this is something to be accepted, but Wendigo isn’t that typical horror movie – it’s something far smarter and more interesting, yet, ends on a note that could have been mistaken for a Friday the 13th movie.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit harsh to say, but it’s a shame to watch a movie that you’re digging so much and trusting, and then, to have that rug pulled-out from underneath of you. It’s as if, in his head, Fessenden knew that he had a good movie to work with, but only knew at least 2/3’s of it, to put it to paper – the rest, as they say, was sort of made-up on the spot and that’s what seems to have happened with Wendigo. All of his hope, faith and strengths went into the earliest portions of the movie, but when it came to the home stretch and having us leave on a good note, well, he dropped the ball.

Don’t know why there’s so many sports metaphor, but so be it. I’m bummed.

Consensus: Even though Wendigo starts off as a smart, thoughtful and interesting horror-thriller, it eventually turns the other cheek and gets way too crazy and silly, abandoning any sort of hope one might have had for something new, or refreshing within the genre.

6 / 10

Oh, and what's this? Don't ask.

Oh, and what’s this? Don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Horrornews.net

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Damn. Life kinda sucks.

In a small New England town, where everyone knows each other, their family history, and business, Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) works as a housekeeper for the rich but sometimes heartless Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt). Vera’s a crabby woman who says and does what she wants, which is something that Dolores puts up on a day-to-day basis and has been for at least two decades now. However, when Vera turns up dead, the cops all look right towards Dolores and want to know just what her motive was. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter, Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a well-respected New York City journalist, decides to visit her old town and mother and investigate the matter for herself. As Selena continues to dig deeper and deeper into this case, as well as into her own mother’s past, she realizes that there’s a lot more involved with her family-history than she, or the cops, know. Something that may explain why she is the way she is all of these many years later.

It seems like a lot of people have problems with movies if they’re “too depressing”. Sometimes, it seems like a movie has to be right amount of dark, stark and serious, but also the right amount of light, heart and humor, to make it seem more like a balancing-act. While in some cases, sure, this may be true, but for a movie like Dolores Claiborne, there doesn’t need to be much light, heart, humor, or even fun – all it needs to be is a dark, stark, serious and yes, damn depressing flick.

"Don't look at me with those wild eyes, Daffy!"

“Don’t look at me with those wild eyes, Daffy!”

And in that way, sure, it works.

Director Taylor Hackford seems to get enough right then wrong here, considering that he’s adapting some very rough and disturbing material from Stephen King. While it’s hard to dive into this movie without saying many of the spoilers that do eventually come to light, just know this: You probably won’t be expecting it and that’s because Hackford seems to do a good job of hiding the mystery from us. Sure, the movie may tell us some stuff too early on to really have us gripped, but there’s still an aura of mystery surrounding the movie, even in the more simpler moments.

That said, there’s something odd about Dolores Claiborne, and it seems to come through the actual material itself. In a way, the story is an absolute horror-story, except, without ghosts, goblins, or ghouls, there’s real life, dirty, despicable and disgusting human beings. In a way, the later is far more scarier than the former, which is why a story like this can be and is, chilling. But Dolores Claiborne is odd in that it doesn’t know whether or not it wants to be an all-out horror flick, a dark Southern Gothic, an over-the-top thriller, or a small, subtle drama about families and the secrets we all keep.

All by themselves, they make for some very interesting movies. However, together, they just don’t quite mesh.

Hackford’s good with the mystery here, but he isn’t the most subtle director in all the world, which can sometimes lead to his far more darker and messed-up scenes, somewhat coming off as silly. There’s a very loud score that screeches every time something bad or dramatic happens, and it almost seems like a parody after awhile; it gets worse by the end of the flick when character revelations are coming to us and half of the time, we’re hearing the bombastic score and nothing else. While a story like this probably isn’t asking to be as downplayed as I make it sound, there is something to be said for a movie that doesn’t know when to chill it on the theatrics and just trust the story, and the actors to speak for themselves.

After all, there are a lot of heavy-hitters here and for the most part, they all do fine. But before I jump into one performance in particular, I just want to talk about accents in movies: They’re hard to pull-off. I get this. You get this. They get this. We all get this. However, there’s an issue with your movie when there’s supposed to be one sort of signature accent that each and every character should have and, well, for some reason, they don’t. Everyone’s speaking differently, despite being from the exact same place, everyone seems to be trying hard, and yeah, everyone seems to be forgetting about them halfway through.

It happens in a lot of movies, but it’s never hit me as hard as it did with Dolores Claiborne, the one movie where not a single person has the same accent going for them. Due to every character here basically being from this New England town, there’s a lot of hard “a’s” and “r’s”, and while two people in particular seem to get it down perfectly, others like John C. Reilly, David Strathairn, and especially Jennifer Jason Leigh, not just struggle with it, but never seem to let us forget about that neither; Reilly sometimes sounds British, Strathairn, while chilling, sounds like a cartoon, and Leigh, seems like she doesn’t know whether she wants to fully commit to the accent, or not. Instead, it all just sounds like everyone’s getting started with the accents and aren’t quite ready to film them just yet, but Hackford himself didn’t care and just started filming anyway.

Symbolism?

Symbolism?

Regardless, they just don’t work.

End. Of. Story.

Okay, maybe not the actual end because if there is one person who not just gets the accent right, but just about everything else, it’s Kathy Bates. It’s probably no surprise at all that Bates can do great work with a role as a hard-ass, rough-nosed woman who doesn’t take any crap from anyone around her, but there’s more to her than just a tough shell – we soon start to realize that under the hard-exterior, lies a sad, tortured and vulnerable who just wants to be loved, or better yet, even held. It’s the kind of role that, in a much better movie, would garner a lot of Oscar-buzz, but unfortunately, because the rest of the movie is so wild and crazy, it unfortunately takes away from Bates’ powerhouse-of-a-role more.

Oh well. Kathy’s still bad-ass no matter which way you put it.

Consensus: With a dark, brooding atmosphere and great performance from Bates, Dolores Claiborne works, but is also hampered by the rest of the ensemble, as well as Hackford’s tendencies to go a little overboard when it isn’t necessary to do so.

6.5 / 10

Nice green-screen. What? Was New England nowhere to be found?

Nice green-screen. What? Was New England nowhere to be found?

Photos Courtesy of: Cinesnatch

Proof of Life (2000)

Americans, stay home.

Alice and Peter Bowman (Meg Ryan and David Morse), are a loving couple who are now stationed in a nice little house somewhere in South America. Why? Well, because where Peter’s energy company is overseeing construction of a dam, something that is obviously benefiting them, but no one else who actually lives there and has to put up with all of the destruction, construction and rampage. While Peter is out and about doing his job, Alice is at home, getting more and more frustrated and unhappy about their marriage, what she wants to do with her life, and wondering whether or not she actually wants to start a family with Peter, or leave him altogether. Well, Alice is in for a shock when she finds out that Peter has been taken hostage by a bunch of terrorists, looking for more money from Alice and seeing how long they can keep her on the hook, while he’s still alive. Alice, without a clue in the world of what to do, decides that the best way to handle this situation is call up a professional: Enter Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), a professional negotiator who has a strict moral code when it comes to hot and heavy situations like these, and won’t put up with any silly shenanigans, especially since he’s kind of becoming a little attracted to Alice and her plight, all things considered.

"Yeah, let's go yell and shoot things."

“Yeah, let’s go yell and shoot things.”

Most of the heat surrounding Proof of Life around the time of its release wasn’t how “good”, or “bad” it actually was, but because of how both co-stars, Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, got together, shacked-up and inevitably, ended the later’s years-long marriage to Dennis Quiad. Does any of that really matter? No, not really, but it definitely does help to make sure that a movie, whether it’s bad or not, is talked about in the mouths of many people who probably have no reason to see it in the first place.

They just want the gossip and that’s about it.

That said, Proof of Life is a better movie than the controversy surrounding it, mostly because it’s about something slightly more than you’d expect with thrillers of these natures. Director Taylor Hackford is definitely hit-or-miss, but what he does well here, is that he does find smart, interesting ways to keep the tension moving, even when it seems obviously and abundantly clear just where the story is going, at almost every moment. Writer Tony Gilroy also deserves some credit for trying to make this ordinary thriller about more than just a husband being kidnapped, and more about the issues of big, corporate America coming in and taking over foreign countries for land, oil and money, but a part of me feels like there was a far more detailed script, that went into this a whole lot more and more.

Instead, Proof of Life mostly concerns itself with the fact that Morse’s character may have been up to no good and probably deserves some bad stuff to happen to him, but to die for it all? Well, probably not. And that’s fine; Hackford and Gilroy do come together enough in a way that makes us care about Morse’s character while he’s on this seemingly never ending journey to nowhere, as well as making us care about the characters at home, sitting around, waiting for something, hell, anything to happen. In fact, there’s more character stuff going on here than I see with most other thrillers of the same kind, making it worthy of getting invested in.

Wait, which one's David Morse?

Wait, which one’s David Morse?

And yes, that does mean that Crowe and Ryan are good, however, both seeming to be in different movies.

Proof of Life is by no means whatsoever, a smart, sophisticated film made for the far more prestige-crowd out there, but at the same time, it’s no silly, slam-bang action-thriller, either. It’s just serious enough to be dark, but also fast-paced enough not to be slow. That’s why it’s odd by how cartoonish Crowe is here, showing up into every scene, only to drop some witty line, kick somebody’s ass, or stare long and hard at Meg Ryan. Don’t get me wrong, Crowe is fine with that and can be fun to watch, but when you take into consideration the rest of the movie surrounding him, it seems a little off. Same goes for David Caruso, who is so loud, obnoxious and foul-mouthed, you wonder if he was expecting this to be some sort of Die Hard spin-off.

But on the other hand, Morse and Ryan are both quite great here, showing that this kind of material can work, so long as you underplay as much as you can. Sure, often times, Morse laps into the loud craziness that contains both of Crowe’s and Caruso’s performance, but there’s also these small, human moments that make his character tick a whole lot more and it’s interesting to see what sort of lessons he learns and how he handles said situation. Ryan’s good as his wife, because her character’s also a little complicated, too; she’s the wife who actually got into a dispute with her hubby, didn’t know whether or not she wanted to stay with him and now, all of a sudden, has to really care about him and his well-being, all of a sudden. It’s a difficult role to make sympathetic, but Ryan does and it’s a shame that she never seemed to get enough credit for her against-type roles, because she truly did challenge herself, when push came to shove.

Unfortunately, not so much anymore, but here’s to hoping for a possible return of Meg Ryan.

Even as unrecognizable as she may be.

Consensus: While definitely an odd mixture between being too serious and sometimes silly, Proof of Life is an interesting thriller that tries to be about something, but overall, just ends up being a tense thriller.

6 / 10

"Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway."

“Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway.”

Photos Courtesy of: Rave Pad, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB

An Unfinished Life (2005)

Bears bring everyone closer together.

After she gets in another fight with her boyfriend (Damian Lewis), Jean (Jennifer Lopez) decides that it’s about that time to get her daughter and get the hell out of dodge. They do, however, without much of a destination in mind at all. This leads Jean to her father-in-law, Einar (Robert Redford), and his huge farm that he shares with his best buddy, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who is paralyzed from getting mauled by a bear – the same bear who still roams the streets of this small town in Montana that everyone seems to love and adore. While Einar is accepting of Jean and his grand-daughter, eventually, old memories of his long, lost and deceased son begin to come back, making him fight more and more with Jean, and in a way, basically just resenting her. It’s something that Jean doesn’t appreciate, however, Einar’s relationship with her daughter is fine enough, so she decides to get a job in town, get her own place, and allow for Einar and his grand-daughter to catch up. Eventually though, the boyfriend comes back and wants Jean to come back home with him, or else.

I don't know who's more in love: Me, or them two?

I don’t know who’s more in love: Me, or them two?

An Unfinished Life is, essentially, a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, but it’s a good one that looks great, has a very solid cast, and yeah, is a little sweet and tender in the middle. Sure, it’s corny, sentimental, syrupy and as sappy as can be, but it’s the right kind of sap – the kind you put on pancakes if you’re feeling fun, or the kind you put up with because you’re in a good movie. And yes, being in a good movie could definitely help you appreciate An Unfinished Life a tiny bit more, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it has its charms.

Then again, it is a Lasse Hallström movie, so it’s easy to be a little weary of how far the charms go.

But what’s interesting about An Unfinished Life is that a lot of it, for a good portion or so, really seems to be rolling along, without much of a plot in the mix. There’s some talk about this boyfriend coming back, a bear roaming about the city, and heck, even some conflict between the estranged family-members, but that’s about it, really. Hallström approaches this movie, thankfully enough, with his indie-sensibilities, that aren’t too focused on the bigger, more emotional things that happen, and more in-tuned with human characters, their relationships with one another and whether or not we actually care about them when all is said and done.

And with a cast like this, it’s kind of hard not to. Robert Redford is basically doing Clint Eastwood here, growling and scowling every so often, seeming like a general grump, but he’s great at it; he’s such a class-act that the moments where he’s supposed to appear as this sort of cranky dude, don’t really register as such, because we’re too busy loving the hell out of him in the first place. His chemistry with Morgan Freeman, who is also quite great, makes the movie a tad bit more magical, because you can tell that there’s a real love and admiration between the two. Whether or not that’s how it was in real life, I do not know, but it certainly shows here in this movie and gives us probably the best old-guy bromance I’ve seen in quite some time.

That said, there are weak spots to be found and it’s what ultimately does carry An Unfinished Life down when it was constantly going up and up.

"Duuuuuuuuh."

“Duhhhhhhh.”

Oddly enough, Jennifer Lopez doesn’t quite seem like the perfect fit here as Jean; she’s supposed to be this lean, mean, down, out and gritty gal who doesn’t take any crap from anyone and is her own person, but she doesn’t quite work. Lopez is beautiful and it’s hard to really take her as someone that could be misconstrued as a “trailer gal”. Also, before Homeland snatched him up and Hollywood finally decided they knew what to do with him, Damian Lewis is here and shows that his American-accent wasn’t quite there just yet and definitely needed some time to improve, making his scenes here feel odd and out-of-place.

In fact, after about the first hour or so, the movie does start to roll with something resembling a plot and it’s what takes the movie down a whole bunch of notches. What was originally working as a slow, but thoughtful character-study of many different people who all have a little something in common, soon becomes a melodramatic, over-written, and convoluted tale of lies, deception, anger and violence.

In other words, a Hallmark movie-of-the-week.

Dammit.

Consensus: With a solid cast and some thoughtful direction, An Unfinished Life works better than it should, all up until the final-act and it sort of switches gears, losing any sort of steam it had going for itself.

6 / 10

Keep on dreaming of Sundance, Rob.

Keep on dreaming of Sundance, Bob.

Photos Courtesy of: Vinnieh

Live By Night (2016)

Alcohol kills. Literally.

It’s the 1920’s in Boston and Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) wants to make a name for himself, and get out of the shadow of his father (Brendan Gleeson), a Boston police captain. By doing that, he starts robbing banks and taking out local gangsters, getting his name more known, of course, but also putting him on a lot of people’s radars. Eventually though, once Joe does his time in the slammer and gets out, it’s the 1930’s and more people want to get drunker than ever before. What ends up happening is that Joe gets sent to Tampa, where he and his best buddy (Chris Messina), will watch over rum-business, make sure people are drinking it, buying it, and not trying to start any scuffles. However, when you’re a bootlegger, things aren’t always going to go as planned and when you’re with a lovely lady, like Graciella (Zoe Saldana), you’re going to continue to have issues – not just with racist locals, but sometimes, even with your own bosses. This is something that Joe realizes right away and has to start acting quickly, or else he, as well as everyone else that he loves, may soon be killed.

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

Live By Night isn’t nearly the disaster, or awful train-wreck, so many have been calling it. If anything, it’s just a sure sign that Ben Affleck, like many other great directors/actors/writers/artists/human beings before him, is capable of giving up, admitting defeat, and being a disappointment. Sure, say what you want about his acting resume, as a director, Affleck has rallied-up an impressive roster behind the camera; Gone Baby Gone, the Town, and Argo are all pretty great movies, highlighting that Affleck knows what it takes to make a solid, exciting and compelling piece of film. Are they all perfect? Nope, of course not, but they get a lot more right, than they don’t.

And there’s the ugly stepchild known as Live By Night, that shows Affleck’s directing skills that he continuously building on and on as the years and projects have gone by, perhaps, came back to stab him in the back a little bit. But what’s odd about Live By Night is that it’s not a bad movie because of what Affleck does, it’s more of what he doesn’t do, or better yet, include.

For instance, Denis Lehane’s book could probably be adapted into some sort of miniseries, let alone, its own show altogether.

There’s a lot of subplots, relationships, characters, ideas, and messages toggled around with here, some of which are very interesting to watch and see how they play-out, but unfortunately, they’re all packaged within a movie that’s just a little over two hours, not allowing for there to be enough time and attention devoted to ensuring that each and everyone of these points gets the eyes that they deserve. Don’t believe me? Well, take for example, halfway through the flick, our lead protagonist, Joe Coughlin, goes to prison for what seems like a pretty heavy sentence and then, in the next scene, he’s out and ready to continue on with the rest of his life.

But there’s more of that going on here. Certain characters pop in and out, who are supposed to have some sort of overall meaning to Coughlin, his life, and his work, but for some reason, they are harped on for about ten to fifteen minutes, forgotten about and never to be heard from again. It’s odd, because it seems like Affleck himself knows that he’s got a lot on his plate and seems like he has an eye for this period’s detail and style, but it never quite translates to the story. It feels too jumbled, messy and sporadic, as if it’s not ever safe to get too attached or involved with one major plot-point or character, because they next scene, it/they could all be gone.

What a preacher's daughter!

What a preacher’s daughter!

Which isn’t to get past the fact that Live By Night is an entertaining movie, it’s just sometimes too random for its own good.

It’s a shame, too, because Affleck shows that he can still direct a somewhat compelling movie, all obvious issues aside. There’s a few gun-battles that are tense and fun, there’s a car-chase sequence that’s well-staged, and yeah, there’s even some compelling moments involved with Coughlin and how exactly he runs this rum-business. But like I said, there’s probably six or seven hours worth of material, all cut-up, jumbled and put together in a two-hour piece, that also feels like it’s trying hard to get everything out there, but doesn’t know how to package it correctly.

Even the ensemble, as talented as some of these people may be, don’t always get-off quite easy. Affleck is fine as our lead, although never quite as magnetic as he should have been; Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller are sultry and sexy, but that’s about it; Elle Fanning’s character has an interesting complex, but it ends on such a silly note that it’s easy to forget about her; a porky and relatively plump Chris Messina shows up as Coughlin’s cousin/go-to man who feels like he deserved so much more attention than he got; Brendan Gleeson shows up as Coughlin’s very Irish dad and feels like he wandered off the set of Assassin’s Creed and thought about collecting a nice paycheck; and Chris Cooper, despite trying very hard as the town’s preacher, oddly enough, gets a whole lot to do, then leave in such a manner that feels rushed and a total betrayal of the character himself.

Oh well. At least Miguel’s in it for about five minutes.

Consensus: With so much going on and to explore, Live By Night can’t help but feel like a jumbled-up mess, albeit, one with a great look and feel to it, that occasionally stirs some sort of emotion resembling excitement.

6 / 10

Walk away from it, Ben. You'll be okay.

Walk away from it, Ben. You’ll be okay.

Photos Courtesy of: GQ, Are You Screening, Metro

Thumbsucker (2005)

Sucking thumbs are bad, but what about binkies?

Justin (Lou Taylor Pucci) is going through the usual growing pains that many teens his age have gone through before him and will continue to do so after him. The only small difference is that whereas most teens get by on focusing on themselves and trying harder to get better, Justin does so by sucking his thumb. It’s an odd habit he has, that eventually, his parents get him on some medicine, in hopes that he’ll not just kick the thumb sucking, but also become more focused in school. Thankfully for them, what they wanted does happen; eventually, Justin stops sucking his thumb, starts up a relationship with a girl (Kelli Garner), gets better at school, and starts winning all sorts of championships with his debate team. But eventually, all of the medicine begins to pick-up with Justin and it isn’t before long that he starts to spiral out of control, hurt those that he loves, and realize that he needs to grow up a lot sooner, but on his own and without any medicine to help him out.

Cut it out, baby!

Cut it out, baby!

Does Thumbsucker sound like some sort of metaphor for coming-of-age, growing up and realizing that you’re not a little baby anymore? Pretty much, yeah. Writer/director Mike Mills crafts what is, essentially, the 500th quirky, indie coming-of-age flick from the mid-aughts and while this one’s a little different in terms of its style, unfortunately, the story is pretty much still the same.

But sometimes, some of the same is fine. With Thumbsucker, there’s a feeling of familiarity here, but not just with the material itself – Mills does something neat in that he does paint Justin’s issues with growing up and accepting the world around him, as almost a universal thing that all kids at that age go through. Some can handle it quite well and get by with flying colors, whereas others, like Justin, have a rough time with it, suck their thumbs, and need a daily dose of whatever medicine they’re prescribed to get by and through another day. In a way, I make Thumbsucker sound like a melodramatic piece of Lifetime-trash, but it’s a little smarter than that.

For one, it’s got a neat style, yo.

For any of those who have seen Beginners or the recent 20th Century Women, they’ll know that Mills has a knack for telling a story in his own way, visually. Sometimes, this can get in the way of the material, but here, it does help it out, especially since a lot of what the movie seems to be talking about and covering, is a little dry. It’s a conventional tale that without Mills’ constant bits and pieces of art thrown in there for good measure, would have just been another run-of-the-mill coming-of-ager, but of course, it’s got that going for it.

Where Mills seems to lose himself a tad bit is in the story department, and not really knowing how to compact everything and everyone so perfectly well. For instance, Justin’s story is the clear focal point of the whole movie, but then, Mills also veers his head towards Justin’s parents, played by Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’nofrio, and then to Keanu Reeves’ hippie-dentist character, and eventually a little to Garner’s Rebecca character. Vince Vaughn’s teacher does get a moment here and there, but not his own subplot.

For a movie that barely even hits 90 minutes, it’s surprising how jam-packed this can be with story and that ends up becoming its own worst enemy. While Justin’s story is more than enough to maintain the whole flick, all of these other stories, like with the parents and their battle with aging, fidelity and staying happy, while are admirable, still don’t matter much. It’s as if we got the story of Justin, only to get to the parents themselves, only for the movie to realize that we have to hear about Justin a lot, too. It’s a constant back-and-forth that just didn’t quite work for me and made it seem like Mills himself was figuring out exactly where to go with it all, too.

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Then again, the ensemble he’s put together is something else, so that helps, too.

Though we don’t get to see too much of him nowadays, Lou Taylor Pucci was quite the young talent and proves it with Justin. Here, Pucci has to act really angsty and smart, which could have definitely been annoying, but because Pucci plays this Justin character as a bit of a wild and loose cannon, it actually works to his benefit. It’s actually fun to watch him interact with those around him, as opposed to sad or boring. Kelli Garner plays the eventual apple of his eye and they have a nice bit of chemistry together, which would make sense considering they were going out around the same time, too, but that’s neither here nor there.

On the supporting side, Vince Vaughn does a nice job dialing down his persona, yet, still staying funny and heartfelt. If anything, all of Vaughn’s various attempts at playing it straight don’t quite come off as good as it does here and should be the calling-card he uses for future reference. Keanu Reeves, while still totally playing in his element as a bro-ish kind of dude, is fun to watch. And as the parents, D’onofrio and Swinton are good, too, even if their story could have probably had its own movie. Benjamin Bratt is around for a scene or two, makes us laugh and most of all, makes us wish he was around more.

Don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but hey, it’s the truth.

Consensus: While a tad too quirky and overstuffed for its own good, Thumbsucker is still a familiar, but also heartwarming coming-of-ager, assisted by a very good ensemble.

6.5 / 10

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Roulette 

The Color of Money (1986)

The Color of Money

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has been out of the hustlin’ game for quite some time. Nowadays, he spends most of his time, jumping from town-to-town, checking out all of the local pool-halls and seeing what new, exciting and unknown talent lurks in the sometimes seedy underworld. One day, he ends up catching Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) playing and realizes that the kid’s not just cocky and brash, but he can also play a pretty mean game of pool, too. However, Eddie feels like it can still be worked on in ways, so he decides to take Vincent under his wing, where the two will go from town-to-town, playing all sorts of talented and colorful characters, sometimes for money and other times, just for plain and simple respect. Vincent wants to learn from Eddie, but he’s also got a chip on his shoulder, making Eddie feel like he has to try harder to teach the kid a thing or two. And of course, the relationship only gets more complicated once Vincent’s girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), comes along for the trip, catching the eye of Eddie.

Old school....

Old school….

The Color of Money, as a movie all by itself, is okay. In a way, it’s a perfectly serviceable sports movie, in which we get to see a certain side of society that we don’t often get to see, with a story that’s conventional, and some pretty good performances. But when you also take into consideration that the Color of Money isn’t just a 25-year-late sequel to the Hustler and directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, well then, it takes on a whole new life.

If anything, it feels like a total disappointment.

Which isn’t to state that the Color of Money is a bad movie in the slightest, but it doesn’t feel like anything particularly fun, exciting or ground-breaking as it probably should have been. Did we really need a sequel to the Hustler? Probably not, but the idea here is promising and the fact that the movie was able to get Newman back in the iconic role of Eddie Felson, makes matters all the better. That’s why, while watching the Color of Money, it’s not hard to sit and imagine, “How could something with so much working for it and with so many damn talented people involved, turn out to be so ‘meh’?”

Honestly, I don’t have the answer. The only person who probably does is Scorsese himself as, as much as it pains me to say, seems like he was doing this for nothing more than just a paycheck. Sure, there’s brief, fleeting moments of the same kind of energetic inspiration we’re so used to seeing from him and his movies, but for the most part, the movie’s slow, the momentum barely ever picks up, and the times where it seems like there’s going to be some real stakes and/or emotional tension in the air, the movie suddenly backs off and continues on some path that we aren’t totally interested in.

It’s odd, too, because like I’ve stated before, the performances are quite good here, it’s just that they’re not playing with all that much.

It’s nice that Newman won the Oscar for this, but it’s also a shame, too. The reason being is because out of all the other 8 times that he was nominated, the one time that he won had to be for his least-compelling role to-date, not to mention an inferior take on a character he already played to perfection over two decades before. That’s not taking anything away from Newman, because he’s one of the absolute greats of cinema in general, but it goes without saying that it’s a little bit disheartening when someone who is so talented, so amazing and so compelling to watch, wins the highest prize an actor could win, for a role that shows him not doing much but just coasting along like we’ve seen him do before.

...meet new school!

…meet new school!

Because most of the movie is actually spent on Cruise and his character, who also seems like doesn’t have enough to really work with. Cruise does a nice job with the super-hyper, super-cocky Vincent, but also gets to be a tad annoying, mostly due to his character just being boring. We’ve seen this kind of character before a hundred million times, we know he’s got talent, we know he’s going to put it to good use, and we know he’s going to be successful, but we also know that he’s got a huge ego and will most likely make a terrible decision that not just hurts him, but all of those around him.

Sound familiar yet?

Surprisingly, the one who actually leaves the biggest mark is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Carmen, who not only feels like the voice of reason here, but in a totally different movie altogether. Mastrantonio’s best skills as an actress has always been that she was the cool girl in the corner, who always had something to say, but didn’t mind keeping it to herself – here, she plays that role and is perfect with it. The chemistry she has with Newman is actually pretty electric, making it all the more clear that the movie should have probably been more about them, and less about the mentor-student relationship that’s overdone with Cruise and Newman.

Oh well, at least Newman got that Oscar. We can all walk away happy from this knowing that fun fact.

Consensus: Even with the talented cast, Scorsese being the camera, and promising material leftover from the original, the Color of Money unfortunately still feels conventional and tired, like the sports genre itself.

5.5 / 10

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Photos Courtesy of: Moon in Gemini 

Hidden Figures (2016)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be a racist.

Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are names that you probably haven’t heard of before, but you definitely should. Back in the early-60’s, when NASA was trying their absolute hardest to beat-out the Russians by getting a person on the moon, they needed all of the power and smarts that were capable of figuring this thing out. These three women ended-up becoming a part of that think-system, however, it wasn’t always a pretty one. When they weren’t facing all sorts of racial prejudices at home, or on the streets, they had to go into work, where they were supposed to be respected for their brains and free-thinking, but instead, were forced to deal with the same trials and tribulations that so many other African-American men and women were facing around the same time. Still though, all three women kept their eyes on the prize and made it their mission to complete U.S.A’s mission and that was to get a person on the moon, as soon as, and as safe as, possible.

Eh. I've seen bigger.

Eh. I’ve seen bigger.

Hidden Figures is your typical, conventional, formulaic, and run-of-the-mill story of historical prejudice and racism that we so often see around awards season, that it’s hardly the kind of movie to get all that excited about, regardless of what, or who it may be about. And the story’s of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson all deserve being told and better yet, their own star-studded, somewhat Oscar-baity movie where we get to see them face all sorts of adversity for the color of their skin, constantly work their rumps off, and at the end of the day, get a slap on the back for the good job that they did, even if it’s not nearly enough to justify all of the pain and punishment they had to go through. It’s a sad and awfully way-too-relevant story which is why, above all else, Hidden Figures is a good movie to see.

Does that make it a great movie? No, not really. But it’s the kind that feels like it’s appealing to each and every person on the face of the planet, without trying to offend a single person imaginable, and yet, still tell us a little bit more about this slice of life in country’s history. Everyone knows how we go to the moon and who did it, but do we really know all of the surrounding pieces? Quite possibly, no, and that’s why a movie like Hidden Figures is nice to have around – it not only shows us that our nation still has some growing up to do, but there was such a thing as a moon-landing that made each and every citizen want to lay down their issues for a second and come together on this momentous occasion.

It’s a little tear-inducing, until you realize that the movie is also a very conventional piece that doesn’t quite set the world on fire.

However, it doesn’t seem like it needs to, either. All it really needed to do was tell these three stories, of these three, miraculous women, who not just used their brains and their math-skills to get their jobs done, but did so in some very unwelcoming areas. Like I said though, it’s a conventional movie where a lot of racism is highlighted, but also plenty of comedy and a little bit of romance – not all of it works, but a solid portion of it does and helps us see these characters a little more than just the actresses playing them.

The white man always has to get involved somehow, right?

The white man always has to get involved somehow, right?

Then again, it does help having Spencer, Henson and especially Monae in these roles, as they not only bring out a certain vibrancy about them, but continue to help us believe that these are some incredibly smart mathematicians, who are capable of figuring these problems out. So often do movies get mathematicians/nerds so terribly wrong in movies, where they are so wild and crazy that they’re practically autistic, or that they’re just a bunch of really good-looking people struggling to make it sound like they know what two plus two is. Here though, it works – not only are these three women beautiful, but they do seem as if they know their jobs, making it seem clear that the movie isn’t just about getting the best face for the poster, but the best gal for the job.

Of course though, Hidden Figures does help itself out by not displaying everyone else surrounding these three women as terrible and awful specimens, but in ways, idiotic and products of the time in which they were raised in. Kirsten Dunst’s characters is probably the most perfect example of this, as no matter how hard she tries, she can never help but come off as racist and rude, even when it does seem like she’s doing her job; the movie likes to make and poke fun at her, but this issue is still prevalent in today’s society and it makes you think of how many things have changed, or how many of them may have seemed like they did, only to go back to their old, ignorant ways.

Oh well. Time will tell.

Consensus: Even as conventional as it may be, Hidden Figures is an interesting look into a piece of America’s history that some may not all that much about and will continue to want to study for years and years to come.

6.5 / 10

You go girls! Don't forget to do your math homework, though!

You go girls! Don’t forget to do your math homework, though!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Wait, seriously? An apple?

Right after he is put to death, Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) all of a sudden wakes back up to Dr. Sophie Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). He is told that he is being held at a facility as a member of the Assassins, a secret society meant to fight and protect free will from the Templar Order. It’s also used as a way for Rikkin to figure out the scientific-method on how to stop violence from occurring in a person’s mind and hope to eliminate that threat altogether – her father (Jeremy Irons), meanwhile, wants to get his name in the papers and constantly goes head-to-head with Sophie on where the experiments seem to be going. But like I said, Cal is able to travel back in time to 15th-century Spain through a revolutionary technology that unlocks the genetic memories contained in his DNA, where he can kick all sorts of ass for the sole sake of finding the Apple of Eden. While time goes on, however, Cal’s memories of his earlier life begin to come back and he starts to develop certain ideas in his head about how he doesn’t want to be locked-up and forced to do all of these missions for someone else’s sake – he wants to live.

Who needs a sword when you have long, flowing locks like that to do the killing?

Who needs a sword when you have long, flowing locks like that to do the killing?

Or yeah, something like that.

Any video-game adaptation, no matter how good, or promising the material from the video-game may have been, always turns out to be pretty crummy. There’s a general idea that there has yet to be a virtually acceptable and agreed on “good” video-game movie, although there have definitely been some moderate ones that were fine as is, yet, in the world of mean-spirited and angry critics, still get mixed reviews (Prince of Persia). And yes, I’d be a fool if I didn’t say that all of the hatred and skepticism towards video-game movies doesn’t get to me – even one of my absolute favorite games of all-time, Max Payne, was made in to a pretty bad movie that I, for some reason or another, try to make a case for.

But honestly, there’s no case to be made for any video-game movie. They all kind of suck and honestly, they’re kind of pointless.

Until, well, now.

Surprisingly, there’s something about Assassin’s Creed that probably shouldn’t have worked for me, but somehow, I left it thinking about more positives, than actual negatives. Perhaps the smartest decision that went into Assassin’s Creed, the movie, was that it got a hold of director Justin Kurzel right away, because without him, or his artistic integrity, who knows what would have happened here. Just as he did with last year’s Macbeth, every shot is somehow filled with a certain beauty, yet at the same time, still getting across this idea of darkness lying underneath. In a video-game movie, it’s very easy to just play it safe and try to make everything as joyful and as pleasing as possible, but Kurzel doesn’t forget that the promising source-material he’s working with can get pretty dark and ugly.

Which is to say that there’s also a certain joy to the film, too, especially when the action gets going. For a lot of video-game movies, it seems that the general complaint is that they aren’t nearly as fun as the video-games themselves; that in and of itself is a pretty silly criticism, because well, a video-game is a video-game, and a movie is a movie. Still though, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t take much time getting right to the hectic violence and action as soon as possible, giving us the idea that we are indeed watching a movie, who’s origins also seem to come from a video-game.

Then again, the game was a hard “MA”, whereas the movie, is a bloodless and odd-looking PG-13.

Macbeth flashbacks and wow, they are not pretty.

“Michael, you can’t leave. You helped produce this.”

Does it ruin the experience? Sort of, but not a whole lot, because Kurzel does keep it moving, even when he’s focusing on a rather convoluted and heavy plot. That said, what Kurzel does well here with the story is that he focuses on it enough to make it actually seem like there’s something to fall back on and not just have there be so much damn violence and action, without any rhyme or reason; the movie even does attempt to get darker and deeper with its philosophical ideas about life, death and faith, which doesn’t work, but hey, at least the movie’s trying, right?

Maybe it’s easy to be nice to Assassin’s Creed because it’s compared to everything that has come before it, but if so, that still doesn’t get me past the fact that I enjoyed what I saw, regardless of the obvious holes to be found. It’s nearly two hours and while it could have definitely felt like every second of it, Kurzel keeps the pace going enough to where we get enough character and plot development, as scarce as they may be, as well as more than enough action. What I’m essentially trying to say is that what could have been a total and absolute slug of a film, moves at an efficient enough pace to where you don’t get caught up in all of the silliness and obvious mistakes the movie is making trying to make sense of some sort of a plot.

And of course, there’s no getting past talking about Assassin’s Creed, without discussing the on-slaught of talent here who are, unfortunately, not given a whole lot to do.

Fassbender as the iconic Cal Lynch is a bit dull, if only because the character himself seems to be so charmless, that it feels like Fassbender has to really bring himself down for this kind of role; Cotillard seems a whole lot better than the material she’s working with, but tries, and her and Fassbender have some nice chemistry; Jeremy Irons is, as usual, pretty mean and menacing; Michael K. Williams shows up as a fellow assassin who befriends Cal and is playing a more compassionate character than we’re used to seeing from him; and Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling show up for a few scenes, do what they can, collect their paychecks, and head on out. In fact, the same could be said for just about everyone else here, but hey, at least they’re here, right?

Man, I’m getting way too soft in my old age.

Consensus: Even with the holes of the plot, Assassin’s Creed does feel like a step above the usual video-game movie, with plenty of action, fun, beautiful visuals, and solid cast-members who seem like they could be doing more, but try with what they’ve got.

6.5 / 10

"Yeah, we may have overdone it with the tats."

“Yeah, we may have overdone it with the tats.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sing (2016)

Furries love them some Katy Perry.

Ever since he was just a little koala, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has always wanted to provide arts and entertainment to the world around him. However, because of his size, he was never quite given the opportunity to work on the stage, in front of the crowd – instead, he was always given the position to work behind the scenes for his dad’s theater company. Many years later and with his father long passed away, Buster’s theater isn’t just losing money, but it’s damn near broke. So, in order to not just raise money for the theater, but awareness too, Buster decides to hold a local talent signing competition, where the best and loudest will all come together and battle each other, song after song, for a grand prize of Buster’s choosing. Eventually, the competition gets down to five beings: Mike (Seth MacFarlane) a wise-cracking mouse, Meena (Tori Kelly), a timid elephant who has a way better voice than she’s letting on, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who, for practically all of her life has had to stay-at-home and raise her 25 piglets and is just now getting the opportunity to do something she wants to do for a change, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla who’s family wants him to drop this whole singing thing and join them in the life of crime, and Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk-rock porcupine who’s current break-up with her boyfriend leads her to thinking about her independence a whole lot.

Uh oh. Miss Piggy gonna sue somebody!

Uh oh. Miss Piggy gonna sue somebody!

Sing is so ridiculously and utterly adorable that it takes a lot to bash it. And sure, while I won’t do that, I won’t also say that it’s a great movie – it’s the kind of animated flick that gets by solely on its pure cuteness, appeals strongly to the kiddies, and yes, uses a lot of pop-tunes that will get everyone going home and checking out Spotify instantly. In a way, it’s like every other animated flick ever made, but it’s also just really cute.

Sometimes, isn’t that all you need to be?

For Sing, it seems like that’s the case. Writer/director Garth Jennings seems to know just how to get to a kid’s heart, by infusing loud, catchy songs with lovely, cute-looking, walking, talking and singing animals. Sure, can this sort of stuff appeal to older folks out there? Most definitely, but for the kids, who Jennings really seems to be aiming for, it works even more so; they’ll get up during the movie, sing, dance and laugh at just about every bit of comedy, whether physical or not.

And is there anything wrong with that? Honestly, no. That’s why for what it’s worth, Sing does get the job done. It will most definitely make every kid happy, pleased, but at the same time, it also won’t keep the parents away from feeling as if they’ve been cheated out of their time, and/or money.

At the same time, though, should there have been more of an effort on Jennings part to try and make Sing more than just your standard, yet fun, kiddie-fare?

Sort of, yes, and sort of, no. Yes, because as Pixar has proven already many of times, the best ways to get everyone involved is to also give a little something for the older folks to grab a hold onto as well. There’s no denying that most adults will be happy and pleased with the youngsters being happy, or regardless of that, all of the music and colorful characters, but there’s still a certain idea that for the near two-hours the movie spends, the end result is just fine.

And no, because well, Jennings is probably doing exactly what he set-out to do in the first place with Sing and it’s not his problem that his flick doesn’t meet every person’s standards.

Like, mine.

Seth MacFarlane as a caricature? You don't say?

Seth MacFarlane as a caricature? You don’t say?

Anyway, Sing for awhile is fun and enjoyable, yet at the same time, not exactly groundbreaking or life-changing, like many other animated flicks I’ve seen in quite some time have been. That said, the final 30 minutes, you know, when the actual competition gets underway, are pretty exciting and show a certain amount of energy and zaniness that’s probably best shown in Jennings’ last two flicks, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and incredibly underrated Son of Ranbow. All of the pieces of the lovely, little puzzle eventually come together and you get the sense that Jennings is happy to see it all come out the way it is, even if he may have taken a little too long to get there.

It does help, however, that the voice-cast is also quite great and more than capable of keeping our attentions. But while everyone’s great, the real stand-out, of course, is Tori Kelly as Meena, the self-conscious elephant who can belt it out like nobody’s business. It definitely helps that, out of all the actors who do their own singing here, Kelly is perhaps the most professional-sounding, but that her character gets the message across in a strong manner.

What Sing says about kids, having a talent, and life in general, is that it doesn’t matter what you may or may not think is holding you back from doing what you want to do – as long as you’re doing it, then who cares? Life will continue to go on and get probably better for you, all because you’re doing what you want to do. A message like this is a nice reminder that even if animation doesn’t always knock it out of the park like Pixar, it can still bring heartfelt, warm and rather important messages to the youngsters watching in the lobby.

Alongside all of the singing and dancing they’ll be doing.

Consensus: Admittedly, while Sing is for the kids, there’s still some warm, colorful and good fun to be had, along with all of the crazy catchy pop-tunes that the movie never seems to run out of.

6.5 / 10

Don't be shocked. Sing.

Don’t be shocked. Sing.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz