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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

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

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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

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

pradaposterFashion is life.

After graduating college, Andrea (Anne Hathaway) is finally ready to get on with her life and career. Of course, she hits the ground running immediately when she takes up an assistant job to one Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), editor-in-chief and general boss of Runway fashion magazine. Right off the bat, Andrea feels as if she has no clue what she’s doing in this job, with all of the crazy tasks and missions that she’s called on to complete, with barely any of them seeming like a good use of the skills she required as a journalism major at Northwestern. However, with the help of the fellow assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), eventually, Andrea gets the hang of things and before long, the job itself begins to take over her own personal life, with her own personal boyfriend (Adrian Grenier). And wouldn’t you know it, but Andrea starts to lose focus of said personal life and focus way too much on her job, to the point of where she’s alienating all of those around her, and just falling more in deep with Miranda, the fashion world, and the fellow people that inhabit that cult-like world.

You look good either heel, Anne. Trust us all.

You look good either heel, Anne. Trust us all.

The Devil Wears Prada barely registers as a movie, but I mean that in a good way. It’s harmless, meaningless, by-the-numbers, conventional entertainment that’s made solely for women to adore, the men not admit that they liked, and everyone else to watch whenever it pops up on TV. Sometimes, when you’re a big-budgeted comedy flick, isn’t that all you need to be? In a way, sort of and it’s why the Devil Wears Prada, while not setting out to change the world in any stretch of the imagination, does what it needs to, gets the job done, and heads out before it can wear out its welcome too noticeably.

So like I said, what’s wrong with that?

And like I said before, not much, however, there is that feeling that it could be a better movie. In a way, the flick wants to be a satire on the fashion world, the sheer ridiculousness of it, and how, or better yet, why so many damn smart and rich people are in it and constantly flaunting it around like it’s nobody’s business. But in another way, it also wants to be a movie about how the fashion world is this crazy, cooky place where all sorts of smart and rich people get together, throw money around on fabric, and well, offers up quite the ride for those looking to become apart of it. So, really, what’s the movie trying to say?

Honestly, I don’t know, nor do I think it matters. Director David Frankel and writer Aline Brosh McKenna seem to understand how light and fun they each want the material to be, but when it comes to thinking longer, or even harder about it, well, not so much. They both sort of drop the ball on that point, with McKenna seeming like she really wants to stick it to the shallowness of the fashion world, but with Frankel not realizing this and perhaps having way too much fun in all of the glitz and glamour and all that.

Like I stated before, though, does any of it really matter?

Kind of, but not really. Frankel knows how to keep the pace up to where we’ve seen this story a million times before, but there’s still something fun and exciting about it, what with watching Meryl Streep and Anne Hathway on the screen together, working off of one another and generally, having a great time. Streep, believe it or believe it, was nominated for an Oscar here and while it’s a bit of a joke, it’s still a great performance in an otherwise fine movie; she’s not necessarily funny in the role, as much as her character is, but it’s still a sign that Streep, especially when she’s dialing it down and relaxing her acting-muscles a bit, is still a wonder to watch. It not only makes me wish she’d take on more comedy, but probably more challenging-comedy roles, if that makes any sense.

Like mentor....

Like mentor….

Anyway, Hathaway’s good, too, even if she is essentially playing the Julia Roberts character of the flick. Still though, there’s something about her that makes her so likable in the first place, that no matter how far she gets wrapped into her job, we still actually give a hoot about her. Emily Blunt also shows up as the other assistant and is quite great in the role, telling it like it is and bouncing off of Hathaway whenever the scene seems to call for it. Also, even better to see Stanley Tucci in a fun role as one of the key fashion-editors of the magazine, showing why he too, deserves to do more comedy, as well.

Anyway, like I said, the movie’s just about that: It’s a sum of its parts, all of which are fine as they are.

Doesn’t make it bad, doesn’t make it great, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it memorable – but it does make it a movie and I guess, if I’m going to spend at least two hours of my life on one, the least it can be is entertaining, which thankfully, this is.

Consensus: Light, frothy and a little fun, the Devil Wears Prada won’t fool anyone for life-changing Oscar-bait, but will prove to be a good time regardless.

6.5 / 10

Like student....

Like student….

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Moana (2016)

Tattooed-men aren’t so scary after all.

Ever since she was just a little girl, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) has always longed for the outside world. She, her family, and the countless other folks have been living on this one single island, far away from the rest of the world, surviving all on their own and never running into any issues. However, it seems like all of their worst nightmares are coming true, when all of a sudden, the food starts to go bad on the island and the fish are nowhere to be found. Moana believes that the best way to get this finished is to set out and find the once-mighty demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who may be able to finally save their island and ensure that nobody dies. But getting from point A, to point B, is very difficult and along the way, both Maui and Moana run into all sorts of issues, whether it’s with fellow travelers, or with one another.

Disney princess? Maybe.

A Disney princess to kick all of the other’s asses.

No matter what, there’s no denying that Moana has some pretty great tunes. Getting Lin-Manuel Miranda definitely helps as all of the songs, whether serious or funny, all have a very fun sound and feel to them, that not only shows that some real effort was put into them, but they weren’t just used for filler. Most of the time, with these musicals, it can sometimes feel like the songs barely serve a purpose, other than to just have the voice-actor show off their pipes, but here, each and every song serves a purpose, whether it’s to give insight into a certain character, or give us a better idea of just what the hell they’re thinking at that one exact moment in time.

Sure, there’s no “Let it Go” to be found here, but is that such an issue?

Regardless, the music of Moana is so good that, honestly, it wasn’t hard to wish that the whole movie had just been one, long musical, from beginning to end, without any breaths, pauses, or sighs anywhere to be found. Cause despite all of the hype surrounding it, not only is Moana a very conventional tale that we’ve seen a hundred times before, but it can also get kind of boring and random; after awhile, all of the fantasy elements seem to come out of nowhere in a way that makes you think that the people behind the flick are just making things up because, well, why not. After all, they’re making a movie for little kids and sometimes, making sense or having a rhyme/reason for doing the things that you do, just shouldn’t matter.

But yeah, to be honest, Moana itself is a little boring – the adventure can sometimes be fun and the various evil-doers that they meet along the way do prove some real creativity and spark within the writer’s room, but for the most part, it felt very plodding to me. It honestly seemed like they had the songs written, performed and knew what they were working with, so instead of creating a great story first and throwing all of the songs in there, they just used the songs to connect the dots. I could definitely be wrong, but from afar, this seems to have happened, with a good portion of the story seeming like an excuse just to get to the next musical-sequence and keep everyone awake.

The ocean just spoke to her. Or something weird and sort of insane like that.

The ocean just spoke to her. Or something weird and sort of insane like that.

And yeah, I get it, I’m definitely a Grinch for not being in love with this movie. I get it.

It’s not even like the movie isn’t great to look at, because it is; Disney seems to be getting more and more visually appealing each and every time, combining different animation styles, almost to the point of where things begin looking like real life. And the voice-acting from the whole gang, especially Johnson as the sometimes prickish Maui, is actually all good, but honestly, they’re sort of wasted on a story that does random things for the sake of moving itself along. It has a clear objective that we can all see from the start, which is normally fine, but getting there doesn’t have to be such a slog, does it?

Better yet, it doesn’t have to be such a conventional one, right? Either way, Moana reminds me why animated movies can sometimes be real great when they have a smart head on their shoulders and actually care about what they’re doing, and why they can be so annoying to watch when the exact opposite is happening. Hopefully this isn’t a constant thing with Disney.

Consensus: With great visuals and some very catchy tunes, Moana can be entertaining, however, also has a very conventional story that sometimes doesn’t make sense, nor seem like it wants to, all in favor of just getting to the next track.

6 / 10

Yeah, don't mess.

Yeah, don’t mess.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

Office Christmas Party (2016)

Egg nog brings out the best in everyone.

Josh (Jason Bateman) is currently going through a little bit in his life and with it being the holidays and all, what he really wants to do is just sit back, relax, drink, hang out with some friends, and get in the holiday spirit of warmth and giving. However, with news that the corporation that he works for, Zenotech, may be on the brink of destruction, Josh now finds it impossible to get in any sort of cheer or happiness – if anything, he’s scared-to-death. And come to think of it, so is the branch manager, Clay (T.J. Miller). So, in some way, they concoct a plan where they not only hold the annual office Christmas party, but they do so in a way that may just save the company, once and for all. The only issue standing in their way is, other than the party getting too wacky and wild, is Clay’s sister (Jennifer Aniston), who also happens to be the CEO of Zenotech and will not put up with any unnecessary and insane shenanigans, regardless of whether or not it’s the holiday season.

Ugh, yeah.

Ugh, yeah.

Studio holiday comedies seem to come out just about every year and because of that, we, the audience, mostly has to accept them for what they are. And Office Christmas Party is the perfect example of that: Just about every funny person on the planet is featured here and yet, why does the movie feel so mediocre? A part of me feels that it has more to do with the fact that the studio behind it knew that they could rank-in some dough with a raunchy comedy, while also didn’t feel the need to really add much else to it than a bunch of familiar names, crazy gags, and Christmas tunes to get the licenses to.

Everything else, as they say, will pretty much figure itself out, right?

Well, that’s sort of what happens with Office Christmas Party, but it sort of doesn’t. It’s the kind of movie that made me laugh every once and awhile, but honestly, considering this cast involved, should have had me losing my pants about halfway through. The gags feel tired and lame; the over-the-top humor that seems to come seemingly out of nowhere, also feels forced; and yeah, I hate to say it, but the party is also kind of lame. Will Speck and Josh Gordon directed this and while it’s clear that they and the cast may have been having some good old fun, it doesn’t quite translate to the rest of the movie; a good portion of the run-time is spent focusing on all of these different subplots and how they develop over the night, sometimes providing laughs and other times, just not.

A movie like last year’s Sisters, showed that having your movie revolved around one single party can be pretty great – what needs to work, however, is the party itself. It needs to be fun, it needs to be raucous, it needs to be crazy, it needs to constantly build-and-build, and yeah, it actually needs to be hilarious to watch. Sure, it also needs to help keep the story moving, but honestly, it doesn’t need to take up about half of the movie, like it does here with Office Christmas Party, because after awhile, it just gets frustrating; every moment you think you’re going to finally get some time to mellow-out and enjoy the craziness of the actual party itself, nope, the movie jumps away and back to whatever plot it feels like going on and on about and it just ruins its momentum.

Like I said, though, the movie isn’t terrible.

Keep on smiling, girl. You're fine after this.

Keep on smiling, girl. You’re fine after this.

Mostly, all of its shortcomings are forgiven for the fact that they have one of the better ensembles in a comedy that I’ve seen in quite some time. Now, what they all do and how they perform here is an entirely different story altogether, but the fact that the movie was able to wrangle up not just the likes of comedic heavyweights Bateman, Miller, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, and Randall Park, along with some random, but welcome ones like Courtney B. Vance, Sam Richardson, and Abbey Lee, is really surprising. And yes, mostly all of them give it their shot and do what they can, but really, they’re all doing the same things we’ve seen them all do before, with barely any new spring to be found in their step, or original-spin taken.

The only one who really seems to be enjoying themselves the most, is also the one who may be changing things up ever so slightly with their act here, and that’s Jennifer Aniston. As Carol, the CEO of Zenotech (a name you will continue to be more and more annoyed by as the movie goes on), Aniston gets to really play it mean, brassy and nasty, like she never has before. Sure, you could make the argument that she did all of that up in Horrible Bosses, but honestly, that was played more up for the zany laughs – here, she’s playing someone meaner, darker and a lot less weird. She’s as serious as serious can be and in between all of that, she brings some humor out of this character and made me want to see more of her.

Because if the party’s not all that great, why not just hang with the people?

Consensus: Even with the great cast on-board, Office Christmas Party still feels like a disappointment, what with the jokes not really connecting and being way too plot-heavy to really make it an altogether enjoyable occasion.

6 / 10

Call those agents immediately!

Call those agents immediately!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Film School Rejects

Lights Out (2016)

Always keep those phones charged, kiddies.

When Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) was a kid, she battled through all sorts of demons, in-personal and personal. Whenever the lights out went out at her place, scary things began to happen, which made her question life and her own existence as a whole. Now that she’s older and out of the house for good, she feels as if she finally has left all that behind. Her mother (Maria Bello) is still a little cooky and definitely doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, but her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who she looks over, does and that’s all that matters to her. However, the strange entity that once threatened Rebecca is back and more dangerous than ever, but now instead of just going after Rebecca and her mom, it wants to take Martin, which means that the family is going to have to pull out all of the stops to get rid of it, once and for all.

At just a little over 80 minutes, Lights Out doesn’t get too bogged down in all the sorts of stuff that most horror movies of its nature tend to get a little too carried away with. For one, it’s not too concerned with its genealogy, or better yet, explaining all the sorts of stuff that happen – it trusts its audience to have a good idea that spooky stuff happens when the lights go off right from the get-go and that’s about it. The fact that the movie doesn’t try to make the force, or what have you, that’s terrorizing these people, into some sort of ancient folklore only known or talked about from crazy, old people living out somewhere in the middle of the mountains, also makes it even more refreshing, while also reminding us that this, first and foremost, a horror movie.

Oh, T. It'll be okay.

Oh, T. It’ll be okay.

And a pretty scary one, at that.

Director David Sandberg and writer Eric Heisserer seem to come together perfectly on one aspect of Lights Out, and that’s how to handle the scares. Sure, the idea is a gimmicky one for sure, but it’s also one that’s handled incredibly well; we get a good sense of what the force does, how it does what it does, and how it could possibly be stopped, with still some questions unanswered when all is said and done. The movie doesn’t concern itself with the questions, the answers, or the reasons, but mostly just pays close attention to creeping people out with smart, random, but always effective scares.

In fact, the movie works best perhaps when it’s just playing around with its certain rules and conventions, being stuck in its own little creepy world and not caring about much else. Sure, it’s good to have a story, characters, development, and heart added to the proceedings as well, but sometimes, when all you want to do is relish in your own scariness, then nothing’s wrong with that. Both Sandberg and Heisserer know exactly what they’re making, don’t try for anything more, and because of that, end up pulling off a solid little bit of horror.

Of course, the movie does have characters and plot, which also keeps it away from being truly, if above all, great.

Yeah, turn around, bro. Think that's a pretty easy decision to make.

Yeah, turn around, bro. Think that’s a pretty easy decision to make.

But here’s the thing: The movie is so short and quick with itself, that all of the qualms about the acting, or the plot, or even the characters, may seem rather silly. The movie doesn’t take up a whole lot of time on them, but instead, building up the scares and scenarios. It’s admirable and smart, but the fact remains that these aspects of the movie are troubling and can sort of make the other 40 minutes of this flick seem rather, I don’t know, lame.

Teresa Palmer is always great to watch, but even here, she seems like she’s not just forcing her American-accent, but some of her goofy-lines as well. Same goes for Maria Bello who, unfortunately, is stuck with the crazy, sometimes not-all-that-there mother role that likes to yammer on about things that may or may not be real, while also having nervous breakdowns left and right. It’s a rather obvious role and though Bello tries with it, there’s no getting past the fact that, yeah, it’s kind of weak. Still, like I said, the movie gets by solely on the fact that it’s short and sweet, so when you take all of these problems into consideration, it hardly matters much.

They’re not around, but guess what is?

The spooky stuff!

Consensus: While not perfect, Lights Out still gets by on the sole fact that its short, sweet, and pretty scary when it wants to be, making it the rare franchise-starter that’s actually interesting.

6.5 / 10

CSI?

CSI?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Rules Don’t Apply (2016)

When you’re Howard Hughes and pissing in Mason jars, you can do whatever you want.

It’s 1958, and Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a devout Baptist beauty queen from Virginia arrives in Hollywood, her eyes chock full of hopes, dreams and wonders of possibly taking over the movie world. She gets picked-up at the airport by Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), who will soon be her permanent driver and aspires to achieve the same sort of fame and fortune that Marla does, however, it’s a tad bit different. Together though, the two form a connection and affection for the man who is employing them both: Billionaire, womanizer, and famed aviator, Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty). They’ve both heard all of the crazy stories and don’t quite know what to believe about Hughes, but what they do know is that he’s a very hard man to see, track down, or better yet, even have something resembling of a conversation with. He’s so mysterious, that it’s almost like he doesn’t exist. However, the two eventually do cross paths with Hughes in some very odd, strange ways that change both of their lives forever and may also crush whatever it was that they expected from Hollywood in the first place.

After what’s been nearly two decades, it’s nice to have Warren Beatty back in our lives and on our screens, regardless of how short-lived it may be. As an actor, Beatty has always been a master at playing any sort of role, whether dark and dramatic, or light and fun, bringing the best to whatever flick he’s in. As a director, he’s far better. Ambitious, smart and always equipped with something to say, Beatty doesn’t just take on directorial projects for the hell of it – he needs to have a reason to tell a story and a certain passion within it.

He loves his hats.

He loves his hats.

Which is why for all its faults, flaws and obvious issues, Rules Don’t Apply, despite the awful title, still deserves a watch.

It’s unfortunate though, that Rules Don’t Apply has been in the works for so long, because it clearly shows; with nearly four editors on-tap here, there’s obvious moments where it seems like the movie was cut, pasted and messed around with way too much. Certain scenes play too long, too short, or sometimes, literally make absolute no sense. Does this have more to do with the directing/crafting of the movie itself, or more to do with how the movie was edited and perhaps made to reach some sort of arbitrary standard for the studios involved? Whatever the answer may be, it doesn’t matter; the fact remains that Rules Don’t Apply is still a pretty messy, uneven piece that has the look and feel of a movie that’s been tampered with one too many times.

Still, however, it’s a movie that deserves a watch, mostly because there are certain aspects and elements to it that are interesting and do work. Beatty seems to craft two different stories simultaneously; there’s the love blossoming between Marla and Frank, and there’s the crazy and wild persona of Howard Hughes that sometimes finds its way of getting between that. Aside from the other, they work and are incredibly compelling, but together, they don’t quite hit the same notes. Most of this has to do with it being very clear from the get-go that Beatty is more invested in Hughes himself and less of how Marla and Frank come together – their romance, while cute and sweet at times, also feels like a macguffin just to give us a sneak-peek into the secret and weird life of Hughes.

In a way, Beatty wants to explore the sheer hypocrisy and sadness that lies within such a system and place like Hollywood, where it seems like a lot of promises are made, a lot of money is thrown around, and a lot of people talk, but nothing actually happens or get done. It’s not necessarily original, but it is interesting to watch, mostly because we see it all play out through the dough-eyed eyes of Frank and mostly, Marla. But in another way, Beatty also wants to show us that someone as crazy, as insane and as certifiably nuts as Howard Hughes, did exist, have power, have control, had a whole lot of money, and mostly, got by in life based on the pure fact that he was labeled a “mysterious genius”. Rules Don’t Apply constantly seems to be battling with itself over what to say, but mostly, just ends up presenting two different sides to a coin that we’re not really sure about, which leaves it feeling slightly unfinished.

Still, it’s hard not to watch.

Don't be too happy, kiddies. Howie's always watching.

Don’t be too happy, kiddies. Howie’s always watching.

Beatty, the actor, seems to be having the time of his life as Hughes, lighting up the screen with his casual weirdness that we’ve never quite seen from him before. At nearly 80 years of age, it’s interesting to see Beatty try something new on for size and work with this odd, idiosyncratic person and give us a compelling performance; we feel as if we’re supposed to trust him because of how he speaks, but we also know that he’s insane and because of this, is unpredictable. Beatty plays at this idea very well and has us constantly wondering just where he’s going to go next with this performance and how it’s going to factor into the movie as a whole.

It also helps that Beatty doesn’t allow for his performance to get in the way of Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich, who are both pretty amazing here. Though Ehrenreich seems to be on the rise what with the Han Solo movie coming up, it’s really Collins who surprised me the most, giving us a character who is so bright, so bubbly, so charming and so lovely, that it’s hard to imagine watching her dreams shatter before her very own eyes. If anything, a movie about her life and brief touch with stardom would have been its own move, but of course, Beatty himself does have different intentions and can’t seem to help himself, leaving Collins’ performance, while very good, seeming like a missed opportunity.

Then again, there’s a whole slew of others that seem to literally show up, do their thing and then leave, all with the drop of a hat. Certain players like Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick and Taissa Farmiga get a few scenes to help develop their characters a bit, but others like Paul Sorvino, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Amy Madigan, Steve Coogan, Dabney Coleman, Paul Schneider, Haley Bennett, and trust me, more, all have nothing to do. It’s as if they could have only shown up to film for a day and we’re allowed to have that scene put in. If that was the case, it’s impressive that Beatty was able to get such a wildly eclectic group of people to come out and work, but also a tad annoying cause all it does is add to an already rather stuffed flick.

Something Hughes himself probably wouldn’t have had a problem with.

Consensus: With so much going on, Rules Don’t Apply can’t help but seem uneven, but does benefit from a few good performances, as well as a welcome return from Beattty himself.

6.5 / 10

Behind every crazy man, is one who is trying so hard to translate everything that's being said.

Behind every crazy man, is one who is trying so hard to translate everything that’s being said.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, News Report Center

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Destiny’s Child was a thing?

After serving in the Bravo Squad out there in Iraq, nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) returns home for what is, presumably, a victory tour. A video of him on the battlefield and aiding a fellow soldier (Vin Diesel) went viral and has now made him the poster boy for the war effort and because of that, the media wants to get every ounce of him that they can handle. And you know what? The Army isn’t so against whoring him, or his fellow soldiers, out for the greater good of society and have it appear that the actual war effort everyone speaks so highly of is actually, well, worth it after all. Even though Billy still keeps on getting flashbacks and headaches from his tour in Iraq, the Army still needs him, as well as the rest of the Bravo Squad to get on the field at halftime during the Thanksgiving football game and wave to the crowd. Meanwhile, Billy himself is literally about to break open, thinking about what he’s going to do next with his life, and whether or not he wants to stay put at home, with his dedicated and loyal sister (Kristen Stewart), or go back to the war and continue doing what he did before.

Quite hogging up Beyonce's spotlight, Billy!

Quite hogging up Beyonce’s spotlight, Billy!

Ang Lee is probably one of the best directors we have working today. He’s constantly challenging himself to take on different stories, as well as to work with new technology and advance the way we, the audience, watch his movies. He’s bounced from genre-to-genre so often that it’s no surprise some of his movies don’t quite work, but no matter what, they’re always interesting to watch, just because it’s Ang Lee and the guy can’t help but try his hardest with whatever he’s working with.

And then there’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Although a lot of people have been going on and on about the 120 fps frame-rate and 3D. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see the movie in that way, but what I can assure you is that I saw the movie as clear as humanly imaginable. Is it a gimmick? Possibly. But is it neat to watch? Yes, but it also doesn’t really add much to the movie, either. What it does add is a certain level of authenticity and have us see every crease, every pimple, every shave-mark in these characters’ faces. Why? In all honesty, not really sure. Ang Lee seems to have used it to challenge himself, once again, but sadly, it doesn’t add-up to much.

It just makes a dull movie, really pretty to look at and that’s about it.

And with Billy Lynn, Lee seems to be doing a whole lot, with very little. On one aspect, he’s playing around with comedy, drama, satire and thriller elements all in one movie, while also doing his best to make sense of the constantly changing-in-time narrative. What could have been a very simple and easy-to-track movie about a bunch of soldiers returning home after a hellish tour in Iraq, soon turns into a very complicated, unnecessary overstuffed movie about said soldiers, but also about politicians, football, the American Dream, PTSD, money, sex, family, and most importantly, violence.

In fact, if there is one aspect of the story that Lee seems to get right, it’s the actual violence itself. While we don’t get a whole lot of scenes of Billy on the battlefield and in Iraq, the very few times that we do, they’re are startling, intense, and most of all, disturbing. One sequence in particular starts off violent in a chaotic sense, then turns into a smaller, much more contained bit of violence that, surprisingly, is a lot scarier to watch than all of the other shooting and explosions. But of course, that’s literally one piece of this very large pie and when you put it all back together, they don’t quite fit together.

Who hasn't thought of Vin Diesel as their daddy?

Who hasn’t thought of Vin Diesel as their daddy?

One piece is a satire on how common, everyday citizens use the war and the soldiers themselves as propaganda to help continue and make sense of the war effort; another piece is how the soldiers themselves are so screwed-up that they don’t really know that they need the help to survive in everyday, normal life; there’s another piece about settling back into normal, everyday life, which is a lot harder for a person who has actually gone to a place where they were told to kill the enemy, by any means necessary; and then, there’s another piece about actually relating to others about the experience in the war and realizing that it was an absolutely terrible time in your life.

As you can tell, yeah, there’s a lot going on here.

Tack on the fact that the movie has a lot of characters here, all saying and doing something, but not really serving a purpose. Lee’s got a lot on his plate and because of that, a lot of stuff misses, and barely any of it hits; the constant jokes about Hollywood trying to make a movie about these guys’ real-life experience is an old joke that gets constantly played over, again and again. And with Lee, you get the sense that he truly does have something interesting to say here, but what is that? War is hell, but also so is back at-home? Or, is he trying to say that no one really understands the war until they’ve actually gone out on the battlefield and killed someone?

Once again, not really sure sure. What I do know is that Lee, as usual, keeps the material as entertaining and interesting as he possibly can, but after awhile, the story just doesn’t connect. We’ve seen far too many of these anti-war flicks by now, that without a very effective stance, none of it really matters. Shaping Billy Lynn’s actual PTSD during a Destiny’s Child halftime is one of the more impressive moments of the film, let alone, Ang Lee’s career, but it comes literally in the middle of a movie that needed far more energy and excitement to really keep itself compelling.

If there’s anything to take away from Billy Lynn, however, it’s that Lee knows how to assemble a pretty crazy and eclectic cast, all of whom do fine, but like I said, aren’t working with the best of material.

Kristen Stewart is good as the kind-hearted and supportive sister-figure who, honestly, isn’t the film as much as she should be; Chris Tucker tries to have some fun as the Hollywood agent, but doesn’t really have anything actually funny to do; Garrett Hedlund plays the leader of the Bravo and seems like he had more fun in Pan; Vin Diesel is an odd fit as Billy’s Lieutenant, who may or may not be a father-figure; Steve Martin shows up randomly as Norm Ogelsby, a very rich Texan who owns the professional football team and does what he can with an in-and-out Southern accent; and newcomer Joe Alywn does a very good job as our title character, showing a great deal of heart, warmth and insecurity as a young kid, unfortunately, forced to grow up, real quick.

Consensus: With so much going on, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk feels like a jumble that Ang Lee, try as he might, has a bit of a hard time navigating through and making sense of, even if certain aspects of the whole do deliver.

6 / 10

It's okay, kid. We'll take care of ya.

It’s okay, kid. We’ll take care of ya.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Creative Planet Network