Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

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

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

It’s like Tinder, or Grindr, but for ugly-looking creatures.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York by boat, carrying a suitcase with him. Why? What’s in the suitcase? And why does the year have to be, specifically enough, 1926? Well, it turns out that he has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. He’s arrived in New York just for a brief stopover that, he assumes, would go down without a hitch. However, his suitcase randomly opens up and a mysterious, platypus-looking creature named Jacob runs out of it, leaving Newt to have to search the city, far and wide, for this creature and get him back in safely his suitcase, so that he can continue on with his adventure. However, his stay in New York becomes far more difficult once he meets a factory worker aspiring to be a baker (Dan Fogler), and an odd woman named Tina (Katherine Waterston), who also turns out to be a member of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). Meanwhile, a deadly, terrifying force is taking over the area, destroying all sorts of buildings and killing people. No one knows where it’s coming from, or from whom, but Newt has an idea and will stop at nothing to make sure that no more people are hurt.

"Come with me, Newt! We've got to show that hack David Blaine what real magic's all about!"

“Come with me, Newt! We’ve got to show that hack David Blaine what real magic’s all about!”

Coming from a person who, as much as I hate to say it, doesn’t quite love the Harry Potter franchise, it’s surprising how much Fantastic Beasts can be at times. Director David Yates who directed the last four Potter movies, shows up here and brings the same kind of fun, lively and exciting bit of whimsy that he brought to those movies, but while the installments he worked with were far more darker and scarier, this time around, he gets to play everything down a bit.

I would mention the same way he did with the Legend of Tarzan earlier this year, but I think we all know that’s not true.

Anyway, the best part about Fantastic Beasts is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, or get too bogged down in the actual plot itself; due to this being an actual franchise-in-the-making, it would have been very easy for the movie to just set up a whole bunch of stuff and just sort of leave it all up in the air, knowing that we’ll still come back anyway. Instead, the movie’s more concerned with giving us the chance to know these characters, this setting and just what this wonderful, slightly more grown-up world of fantasy and wizardry has to offer. There’s a whole heck of a lot more scarier beasts this time around, period-details about the good old days of the roarin’ 20’s that only older people would really appreciate, let alone, get, and even the humor itself, while obviously silly at times, also feels like it’s aiming for a smarter, more adult crowd than the Potter movies.

Bad buzz-cuts automatically mean "villain".

Bad buzz-cuts automatically mean “villain”.

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with those movies or the people who like them, it’s just that, for awhile at least, they were movies specifically created for kids. Times have changed and for Yates, it seems like he understands that the better aspects of Fantastic Beasts are actually getting us involved with this world and all of the colorful, surprisingly wacky characters and creatures that inhabit it. While characters like Newt and Queenie are meant to seem off-kilter, even the human characters, like Tina, or Jacob Kowalski, still seem placed into this bright, shiny and sometimes weird world where magic does exist and for the most part, takes priority over all else. It reminds me of what the early Potter movies set out to be, all before they got obsessed with their own sense of sadness, dread and darkness.

That said, Fantastic Beasts still runs into its problems.

For one, it’s story doesn’t quite work. While in the first half or so, Yates doesn’t get too bogged down by what’s going on, who’s to blame for it all, and how it all can be stopped (magic, right?), eventually, he changes his tune and in the second-to-last-half, decides that maybe it’s time to actually give us a full-blown story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, nor really matter. The best times of Fantastic Beasts are whenever we’re sitting there, watching as these characters run all throughout NYC, chasing creatures, tripping over themselves, and hitting constant obstacles, as if they were outtakes from the Looney Tunes, but whenever we focus in on the actual so-called “villains” of the tale, it never quite registers.

Most of that has to do with the story itself being so incredibly dark and disturbing, making Fantastic Beasts feel a tad bit off. Without saying too much, the subplot involving the so-called “baddies”, ends up coming down to child abuse and depression, which, in a movie where the first hour is dedicated to a bunch of characters chasing around what is, essentially, a platypus who can stick all sorts of items inside of him (please, don’t ask), is odd. It also doesn’t help that incredibly talented actors like Colin Farrel, Ezra Miller and Samantha Morton, are all left to work with some lame material that seems like it wants to be more sinister than it actually is. Even though the evil creature actually turns out to be quite scary and loud, there’s almost no rhyme or reason behind it all; we get the sense that maybe this character’s strict religious beliefs have something to do with it, but maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t quite work and only gets in the way of making Fantastic Beasts as bright and as shiny of a spectacle as it so clearly wants to be.

Consensus: Even with an overly complicated plot that seems to promise darker times to come in future installments, Fantastic Beasts can still be a very fun, charming and lovely little spin-off the obviously more famous Potter franchise.

6.5 / 10

You're Newt, Eddie! You're not Stephen Hawking anymore! So stop with that quivering lip!

You’re Newt, Eddie! Not Stephen Hawking! So stop with that quivering lip!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, The Movie My Life

Basic Instinct (1992)

Eyes advert, fellas!

Homicide detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is known for always solving his cases to the best of his ability and because of that, he not only has a good career, but a good life in general. However, it all changes one day when he begins to investigate the mysterious of a rock star and links up with the sexy, vivacious, and possibly dangerous Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). Believe it or not, she’s actually a crime novelist who loves to write about all sorts of deadly, violent crimes, or better yet, like the ones that continue to pop-up around the same time the death of this rock star occurs. For Nick, however, he believes that no matter how beautiful Catherine is, he won’t let her get in the way of his investigation. But that becomes a whole lot harder when Catherine starts alluding to Nick’s lover (Jeanne Triplehorn) as having more of a criminal background than she may have let on, making Nick think long and hard about whether this case is worth it, or if he just wants to retire from the force now and possibly settle down.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Oh, and Sharon Stone flashes a bunch of dudes.

There’s certain moments in film history that will forever remain infamous and the aforementioned Sharon Stone scene is one of them. Does it matter that the rest of the movie is neither as shocking, crazy, unpredictable, or infamous as that one scene in particular? Not really, but it doesn’t keep Basic Instinct, a rather mediocre, if at times bland erotic-thriller, to continue to pop-up in discussions about sex, movies, the MPAA, and mainstream, big-budget movies as a whole.

Because, like I said, Basic Instinct is a fine movie – director Paul Verhoeven doesn’t have it in him to make a boring movie, by any stretch of the imagination – but it also seems like the kind of movie that wants so hard to be cool, sexy, seductive, and rad, that it also forgets about what makes most movies like that in the first place: Some semblance of entertainment. Verhoeven loves his movies to be trashy, dirty and sweaty, which is what we get a whole lot with Basic Instinct, but that doesn’t make it nearly as fun, or as exciting as it sounds; in a way, it can actually be kind of boring. In a way, it’s clear that Verhoeven wants to make a sort of homage to the film noir’s of the 1950’s or so, but obviously, with a far more modern-update.

If that was his intention, then yeah, he got it down well; he captures the look, the feel, and most of all, the performances, except with a whole lot more boobs, butt, blood, and ice-picks. But style-points in a movie like this can only go so far – after awhile, there needs to be a story, emotion, and most of all, action. And I don’t mean “action” in the literal sense, as much as I mean in the proverbial sense – people just standing around, staring into space and thinking long and hard about what they want to do next, unfortunately, just doesn’t cut it.

You can look, but you can't touch, boys.

You can look, but you can’t touch, boys.

A lot of that happens in Basic Instinct, too.

A part of me thinks it’s just Verhoeven’s obvious European influences coming out, but a part of me also thinks that it’s just him slowly realizing that there’s not much more to the movie than a bunch of hot, steamy sex. And like I said, the hot, steamy sex is done well, it’s just that everything else surrounding isn’t and more or less, feels as if it’s all just filler so that Verhoeven himself can get another sex scene going. It’s understandable why the movie was so shocking back in 1992, but nowadays, sex in movies is overplayed, no matter how explicit and it made me wish that a good chunk of this flick was actually dedicated to an actual, compelling plot, and less to how Sharon Stone’s boobs or butt looked while mounting Michael Douglas.

Then again, the two do mount each other nicely and it’s one of the stronger aspects of the movie. That Nick has a bit of a dark side to him and is drawn to Catherine’s even darker, possibly more sadistic ways, makes the movie all the more enjoyable to watch; we know that he’s going to eventually crack under the pressure and make sweet, sexy love to her like the Dickens, but when, where, how, and at what cost, makes it all the more intriguing to sit through. Together, the two are quite good; they play-off of one another well, with Stone’s over-the-top playfulness, going hand-in-hand with Douglas’ over-the-top seriousness. In a smaller movie, with less of media-attention and a different director, the two probably would have made a very interesting drama, where instead of focusing on how many times they bang, it’s more about how many times they actually do love one another, but of course, that’s all a fantasy.

Of course, what we have is a movie that allows them to put in some good work, even if the work itself isn’t all that there. Verhoeven does eventually have some fun in the final-act, once people start getting killed-off left and right, but by then, it’s a little too late. The movie’s a little over two hours, but honestly, feels a whole lot longer than that, and because of such, it’s a bit of an uneasy watch. Just when you think and expect for the movie to fully pick up the slack and get going somewhere, Verhoeven decides to slow things down and focus in on these characters and whatever garbage lines they have to deliver. Sometimes, that’s fun, as long as it stays trashy and fun.

But being just trashy and leaving it at that, I’m sorry, is not fun.

Consensus: Well-acted and directed with plenty of style, Basic Instinct also proves that all of the sex, violence and nudity in the world, can’t make-up for a weak story and script.

6 / 10

Yeah, it's that scene.

Yeah, it’s that scene.

Photos Courtesy of: The Iron Cupcake, Indiewire

Boiler Room (2000)

Sometimes, Charlie Sheen’s swagger is just needed.

Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), is university drop-out who doesn’t have much going for his life. However, determined to prove his worth to a demanding father (Ron Rifkin), he decides to take a job at a small brokerage firm and, through his time there, begins to become something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, for lack of a better term.

Writer/director Ben Younger literally wears his Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street influences on his sleeve, that the man doesn’t even try to hide it. In fact, a few times, the man actually shows clips of the movie, in Boiler Room, where the characters here are seen actually saying the same lines of those movies. In a way, you want to call him a “rip-off artist”, but at the same time, you don’t want to, because he’s not hiding it; he’s letting us know, right off-the-bat, that these characters, as well as himself probably, look up to these movies, these characters, and these ideas of capitalism, that they don’t care if they look like copy-cats.

"Wait, what?"

“Wait, what?”

They’re making money, baby and that’s all that matters!

Regardless, Younger as a director and writer, is a pretty solid one. There’s a certain energy to the movie that’s hard not to get wrapped-up in, because as our characters are making more and more money, the more the movie picks up its pace. In a way, it’s the junior-version of Wall Street, but it works so well because Younger is constantly reminding us that none of those influences matter; sure, they’ve helped him to where he’s at with this movie, but hey, so what? Just party, bro.

But honestly, where Younger really starts to fail is in the actual story department itself.

Younger seems as if he knows a thing or two about keeping up the brisk pace and how to have fun with these sometimes detestable characters, but when it comes to actually slowing things down, focusing on these characters, their lives and their motivations, he loses a bit of his step. For example, try the terribly-forced “romance” between Ribisi and Nia Long, who don’t seem to have any chemistry at all, any reason to be together, or anything really holding them together once things go South for both of them. It annoys me that films like these feel the need to add in a romantic subplot, just to appeal to women and hoping that they don’t get alienated from this movie but the bad news is that they already will. No girl will be attracted to a movie about a bunch of young, hot, cool, hip, and rich dudes in suits that make millions and millions of dollars, so it’s hard to imagine ladies wanting to come out and see something in the first place, because oh my gosh, Giovanni Ribisi and Nia Long make-out!

And then, the story begins to get a tad bit more predictable as it rolls on along. Boiler Room is obviously a rags-to-riches story, or so to speak, and because of that, it follows a very plain and conventional plot-line. Ribisi’s character starts at job, starts getting really rich, starts getting cocky, and eventually, one bad thing happens after another, until he’s broke, near-dead and without a pot to piss in. It’s all very formulaic and try as he might, Younger can’t help but get caught up in doing the same stuff we’ve seen done before, many, many times.

"Yeah, I'm done with action flicks. Maybe."

“Yeah, I’m done with action flicks. Maybe.”

Despite this, the cast is quite good and help keep the ship afloat.

In a rare lead role, Giovanni Ribisi kicks some fine stick-selling ass as Seth Davis. Ribisi gets a bad-rap sometimes for taking roles to the next level of over-the-top and making them terribly campy to the point of where it’s cringe-inducing, but some will be surprised that this kid can hit it out of the park when it comes to being subdued and very charming. You like Seth Davis right when you see him and even though his character motivations may get mixed around in a bender a bit too much, you still like both him and Ribisi. Wish that this movie made Ribisi the top mainstream act that everybody thought he was going to be, but I don’t think it bothers him if he’s second-in-command.

Everybody else is fine as hell, too. Vin Diesel is a scene-stealer as Chris Varick, the guy who teaches Seth the ways of the stock broker, and it’s a great dramatic role for Diesel that shows the guy has a terrible amount of charm and humor in him, that makes all of his characters work. The guy may be stuck doing Fast and Furious for the rest of his life, but at least we know that we can depend on him to pull out something like this or Find Me Guilty to remind us of why the guy has such a presence about him in the first place.

Nicky Katt plays the “stereotypical dickhead role” as the one guy who doesn’t really like where Seth is going in his success and it’s an obvious character, but a fine performance from a guy that I see in everything and still haven’t been able to match the name with the face. Let’s also not forget the fine, little cameo from Ben Affleck that practically seems like a total rip-off of Alec Baldwin’s cameo from Glengarry Glen Ross, but still works here because it seems like Affleck is having a total ball here and that’s always a joy. There’s a bunch of others in the cast like Scott Caan, Tom Everett Scott and Jamie Kennedy, all playing the young hotshots within the firm and are all perfectly cast.

Consensus: Boiler Room is, initially, a fun, exciting and thrilling ride, but soon turns preachy and predictable, which makes it feel a little uneven.

6 / 10

"Stop. Over. Acting!"

“Stop. Over. Acting!”

Photos Courtesy of: Derek Winnert

The Handmaiden (2016)

It takes three to tango.

In Japan-occupied Korea, a Korean con man named Count Kujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) wants desperately to become rich and not have to worry about a single thing in his life. So, the only way to do that is when the heart of Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a Japanese woman who is about to come into a great deal of money with her father’s inheritance. However, in order to do so, Kujiwara’s going to need to come up with a smart, despicable plan – what he ends up concocting is recruiting an orphaned pickpocket Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to become her handmaiden, watch and listen to her every move, and inform Kujiawara on everything that happens, so that when he does come around to win Lady Hideko’s heart, he’ll have no issues. And while Sook-he is more than up to this opportunity/challenge, somehow, her and Lady Hideko get very, very close to one another; so much so that it may possibly ruin Kujiawara’s plans for fame and fortune, while also ruining the gals’ lives.

"Read me more."

“Read me more.”

In the past few years, I’ve become more and more acquainted with Park Chan-wook and his flicks. After seeing Stoker, I realized that possibly there was more to him than just what people were telling me, not to mention that there was a lot of praise going his way. And sure, it’s understandable that not all foreign film-makers strike gold with their English-language, stateside debut, but maybe, perhaps, there was something I was missing out on?

And yes, after awhile, I realized that I was. Oldboy is still a near-perfect classic on rewatch; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance may be slow and deliberate, but man, it’s a visual masterpiece; Lady Vengeance feels like a rehash, but has some inspiration; and Thirst, while long, still is definitely the best vampire movie to be made in the past decade or so. Of course, there’s a few that I’ve missed, but to be honest, those are the main flicks to watch if you want to know all about Chan-wook and realize that he is one of the more original voices in film today.

And that’s why the Handmaiden, for quite some time, feels like he’s back to his roots.

For one, it’s a sexy and seductive story – you can say “erotic thriller”, but that just brings back bad memories of the early-90’s and Sharon Stone flashing Newman, too much – and it hardly ever lets up on the steaminess. Chan-wook plays around with sex and gender roles, but there’s a passion to it all that doesn’t make it seem overdone; he’s not just showing these characters nude, having sex with one another, and doing all sorts of other dirty things for giggles and laughs, but more or less, to tell the story and show just how vulnerable these characters can be. It helps create some real, hard and honest tension, without resorting to the obvious avenues of twists, turns, or violence, that so often, his movies can tend to dive towards.

Sorry, bro. Clearly not interested.

Sorry, bro. Clearly not interested.

That’s why the performances from everyone involved are so good – they all feel like real human beings, not just caricatures that Chan-wook can toy around with, even if he does have some joy in doing so. Ha Jung-woo is downright despicable at first as Kujiwara, but after a short while, shows more heart and compassion that’s surprising, but also, quite believable; Kim Min-hee, regardless of her beauty, is able to convey countless emotions with just a look in her eye; Kim Tae-ri, with her young girl innocence, works well in a movie that never talks down to her, but shows her in an as many lights as possible; and though he comes in a bit late, Cho Jin-woong is quite evil as Lady Hideko’s creepy, perverted Uncle who doesn’t have many morals, but he’s hard not to be compelled by.

That said, what happens to the Handmaiden in the final act or so started to take me away from it.

For instance, it’s a near two-and-a-half-hour movie that, at first, doesn’t feel like it. Chan-wook is a master at pacing, knowing what’s important and what isn’t, but also knowing how to keep us glued in with certain mysteries that don’t make perfect sense right away, but with time, eventually do as they develop. However, the issue he runs into here is that he seems to pad it on just a tad much; at times, it can feel like he’s making stuff up as he goes along, which can sometimes work if you’re just constantly moving and the pace is nice, but then, it begins to slow down.

What was once a really exciting, quick, fast and electrifying tale of sex, deception and corruption, all of a sudden, turns into a slow, brooding tale of people having sex and getting spanked. I don’t know why, but for some reason, it just didn’t work for me; it seemed as if Chan-wook himself changed everything up to challenge himself more and while it’s definitely commendable, it still doesn’t quite work. Sure, his movie still looks great and the performances, if anything, get more and more emotional as they toll on, but the movie just doesn’t assist them with much of a compelling story, especially when it seems to just be weaving in and out with twists, turns and unpredictable, seemingly random plot-points.

Not what the first-half had in mind.

Consensus: Despite great performances and a very promising first-half, the Handmaiden unfortunately falls apart in the final act, with one too many plot twists and turns to make sense of.

6.5 / 10

Never mind. It takes five to tango. So count me in.

Never mind. It takes five to tango. So count me in.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

Silly cowboys and dames.

A mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog journey toward Mexico through the barren desert of the Old West. For some reason, Paul has seen a lot in his life and just wants to get away from the rest of civilization, so that he doesn’t have to deal with anymore darkness. In a way to make something of a shortcut in their trip, Paul and his dog take a stroll through a little town called Denton, or, as some people like to call, “a valley of violence”. While the town, at one time or another, was a happening hotbed for all sorts of folks, it is now run by a bunch of criminals and dimwits who like to shoot guns and cause violence because, well, why not? One such rebel is Gilly (James Ransone), the trouble-making son of the town’s difficult marshal (John Travolta), who decides to challenge Paul to a battle. He gets his wish and Paul knocks his rear-end on the ground. Gilly doesn’t take kindly to this, so he decides to get back at Paul in one of the worst ways imaginable, forcing Paul to have to react in violently indescribable ways.

It’s nice to see a writer/director like Ti West try something new and branch out a bit. While in the early stages of his career, he was seen as an exciting, new voice in horror who was ready to breathe some life into a dying genre, he has now decided that perhaps making a Western is the way to go for his talents. Why is that? Well, no one really knows, except for probably West himself (hey, it’s all in the name), which is fine, because as long as he continues to make exciting and fun movies like In a Valley of Violence, he can do whatever he wants.

Nobody gets between a man and his dog.

Nobody gets between a man and his dog.

So long as it’s good.

And that’s In a Valley of Violence is: Good. It’s not miraculous, it’s not a game-changer and it sure as hell isn’t perfect – but considering West’s age and experience, it’s a surprise to get something as audacious and well put-together as this. Rather than making a smart-lipped, quick and fast-paced Western, a la Django Unchained, West prefers to go back to the golden old days, where Westerns took time with their stories, allowing for them to play-out in a much more slower, more melodic way.

It works, but at the same time, it sort of doesn’t. It works in that it helps us see the movie in small, little details that make it more than just another shoot-em-up, slam-bang action-thriller without any reason for doing what it does. At the same time, however, the small details don’t really add up to much; it’s still a pretty conventional Western that may want to be something more than what it presents itself to be on the surface, but look closer and well, there’s not much there.

Which isn’t to say that every Western has to break new ground and state something about the human condition, like Unforgiven or Open Range, but it does have to do a little something more than just shoot and kill, if what it really wants to do is focus on the characters. And because a lot of the characters are pulpy, over-the-top cartoon-figures at times, it can’t help but feel like West, despite obvious good intentions, may get a little too wrapped-up in the weirder aspects of his story. While it’s nice and all fine to make jokes at the expense of your characters and at Westerns in general, after awhile, if they get in the way of the story itself, it can get annoying.

Listen to daddy, kid. He knows a thing or two about being a cool-as-hell gunslinger.

Listen to daddy, kid. He knows a thing or two about being a cool-as-hell gunslinger.

Thankfully, West kicks everything into high-gear by the final-act, realizing what he was originally setting out to make and giving us a fun, exciting and very violent Western.

And it’s also great to see him work with such a talented and likable cast, even if some of them are playing despicable people. As our main protagonist, Ethan Hawke does a good enough job being mysterious and cool enough, even if his recent turn in the Magnificent Seven can’t help but overshadow this a bit. Then, as the fast-talking and quick-witted sisters, Karen Gillan and Taissa Farmiga are both fun, showing that their tongues are firmly in their cheeks. And also, John Travolta gives one of his best performances in quite some time as the politely tense sheriff who may have a moral code, but also doesn’t mind blowing people up every once and awhile. It’s a shame we don’t see more of Travolta challenging himself as an actor, because he actually is a very good one when he wants to be, but here, it’s great to see him have some fun.

But really, the stand-out is James Ransone playing, once again, a cowardly, almost sheepish villain who wants to be considered rough, tough and evil, but in reality, is just a softy with daddy issues. Ransone is great at playing these kinds of characters (season 2 of the Wire) that you love to hate, but hate to love. Here, as Gilly, he gets to over-act a whole lot, but still keep himself grounded in some level where he seems like a real person, but never a real threat. It works in the movie’s favor, as well as in Ransone’s, considering that he’s always the butt-end of whatever joke that may come his way.

Consensus: Even if it is a little too slow and could have definitely been tighter, In a Valley of Violence still offers up an impressive change-of-pace for young and improving talent Ti West. Lets hope it continues on.

6.5 / 10

World's cutest movie dog? Close.

World’s cutest movie dog? Close.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Inferno (2016)

Dante had a point.

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

"Look deeper!"

“Look deeper!”

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

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

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

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

History happened, things happen here, get over it.

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

Nothing like evil Omar Sy.

Nothing like evil Omar Sy.

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, he doesn't like being followed.

Yeah, he doesn’t like being followed.

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

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

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

Or, at least until the next movie comes out.

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

6 / 10

Honeymoon spot?

Honeymoon spot?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Certain Women (2016)

Lady problems.

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

Staring.

Staring.

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

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

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

And that’s all it comes down to.

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

More staring.

More staring.

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

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

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

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

6 / 10

And yup, still staring.

And yup, still staring.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire