Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

Equals (2016)

So much feels.

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

Who's she looking for?

Who’s she looking for?

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

Then again, I probably won’t do that.

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

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

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

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

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

Who's he looking for?

Who’s he looking for?

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

Well, uh, no thanks.

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

And really blue, too. Literally.

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

6.5 / 10

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

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

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

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

Those girls sure can dance!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I’ll shut up now.

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

6.5 / 10 

So, uh, sequel anyone?

So, uh, sequel anyone?

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, IFC, AV Club

Café Society (2016)

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

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

Blake knows beauty.

Blake knows beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That comb-over, though.

That comb-over, though.

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ghostbusters (2016)

Chill out, geeks. It’s all good.

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

Go-go gadgets!

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

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

Except, well, not as good.

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

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

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

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

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

Lesbian, or nah?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Whatever Works (2009)

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

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

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where's his glasses?

Where’s his glasses?

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

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

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

Now, how could that be “bad”?

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

6 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

As long as they aren’t watching my Netflix, they can do whatever they want.

Max (Louis C.K.) has been as spoiled of a terrier as he can remember, living and enjoying his comfortable life in a New York building with his female owner. However, all of the coziness goes away once Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a giant and unruly canine, is adopted and made out to be the new hound of the pack. Max and Duke obviously don’t get along right away, mostly due to the fact that Max’s daily routine and general life is being disrupted and all of the singular love he had come to expect from his owner, may now be pushed onto this threatening Duke. But one fateful day, when they’re on their walk, they accidentally run down to where the alley-cats are at and, all of a sudden, they’re stuck in the sewers with a rebellious rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) who believes that are all humans are bad and that no animal should be held into captivity. Meanwhile, the rest of Max’s pet pals are out there searching far and wide for Max and Duke, believing that they are in harm’s way and need to be desperately back in their households before their owner comes back and worries that something is up.

Always watch those cats around grub. Or small children.

Always watch those cats around grub. Or small children.

The Secret Life of Pets is the kind of so-so animation we can come to expect when Pixar is back on their game and kicking all sorts of booty in the animation world. It doesn’t necessarily break the mold, nor does it nearly bring us all to as many tears as the Pixar flicks do – they’re appealing enough to the whole family that they’re serviceable enough. And yeah, that’s pretty much it.

And this isn’t to say that the movie is “bad” per se, it just feels like a movie that has a smart idea on its mind, and doesn’t really run to the hills with it. Instead, it sits back, goes for the easy way out and doesn’t even try to challenge the norm. Some people may be perfectly fine with this and there’s nothing wrong with that, however, when you have Pixar taking some of the same brilliant plots, going as far as they can with them, and hitting homers out of the park, left and right, then it’s kind of hard not to compare and contrast the two.

In fact, it’s downright impossible.

That’s why, for what it’s worth, the Secret Life of Pets is just another rehash of Toy Story – however, in this case, you take out the toys and replace them with pets. It’s not the most original idea out there in the world, but hey, it works because who doesn’t love pets talking, moving around, and generally being smart, eh? That’s why it’s a passable movie that doesn’t get a whole lot of mileage out of its premise, but is it bad? No, not really. However, it can feel like a wasted opportunity, especially when you take into consideration today’s generation and how in-love each and every person seems to be with their pets and all of the goofy things that they do.

Don’t believe me? Check the internet and type in “funny dog video”, or even more so, “funny cat video. The results will astound. And honestly, that’s why I believe a good portion of the Secret Life of Pets is made for; it’s not necessarily because anyone had the brightest idea in their head and just needed to get it out there, on film, for the rest of the world to see, it’s more that powers that be saw a popular trend and decided to capitalize on it. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a popular trend of people loving their pets before, but now, it seems what with the internet and video-sharing being what it is today, that it would only make sense for people to be interested in a movie about what pets do when they aren’t home to take care of them and watch over every little thing that they do.

And yeah, for awhile, that joke does well.

The Secret Life of Pets isn’t the kind of movie that aims for the fences with its jokes, or gags; a few set-pieces are actually smart and well put-together, but the payoff is less than lovely. In a way, it almost feels like the movie was set-up in a way that it could get to these certain colorful and lively places, but never really detailing them with good humor. It just all feels like some people were more inspired than others, and unfortunately, those who were more inspired, were working on the animation.

Thanks to Todd Solondz, wiener-dogs will never look the same again.

Thanks to Todd Solondz, wiener-dogs will never look the same again.

And as it is, it looks great and yes, sounds even better, too. Louis C.K. may definitely be an odd choice for a kids movie, but he fits quite well as the lively and spirited dog Max. While it’s easy to picture Louis sitting behind a mic and saying all of his lines, while simultaneously rolling his eyes at the same time, it’s also not hard to picture him enjoying the fact that people want him for these movies, even if he is kind of a racy comedian and all. Then again, so is Kevin Hart and he’s here, being funny and wild as the evil bunny. Others show up and give their voices, too, but no one is really the shining spot; the voices are recognizable, but really, they could have been filled by anyone.

So why don’t we go to those golden days of animation, huh? After all, people like Kevin Hart, Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, and Jenny Slate, among others, are going to do just fine without voice-over roles – what about Billy West? Or better yet, anyone who ever voiced a character from the old days of Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon?

Pretty sure that they’re all in need of some love and admiration that comes in the form of cold hard cash.

Consensus: The Secret Life of Pets has a nifty idea, yet, doesn’t go anywhere exciting with it, but is entertaining enough to work as a passable, if altogether, forgettable piece of animation that, unfortunately, pales in comparison to everything and anything that Pixar is doing.

6 / 10

This is where jealousy and resentment in the household begins.

This is where jealousy and resentment in the household begins.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The BFG (2016)

Yeah, a pretty big f****n’ guy!

Ten-year-old Sophie (Sophie Barnhill) is an orphan, pretty lonely, bored and not quite happy with her life. So, it’s obvious that she’s definitely ripe and ready for any adventure that she can find, even if it just so happens to be by the side of the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). While she’s initially scared of the Giant, she soon starts to realize that there’s something more to him than just being monstrous and talking funny; he’s actually quite sweet and actually wants her to feel comfortable and happy being around him. After all, the Big Friendly Giant feels as if he can’t let her go back to the real world, where she’ll most definitely be going on and on about the Giant, making everyone suspicious and worried about its actual whereabouts. And while, for a short time, Sophie and the BFG are getting along just fine, fellow, meaner giants like Bloodbottler, Fleshlumpeater and others, start sniffing around, looking for something to eat, giving both Sophie and the BFG the idea of how to stop these big, bad and evil giants once and for all.

No one to find you under the covers, little girl. Have no fear. No one has ever gotten caught under the covers.

No one to find you under the covers, little girl. Have no fear. No one has ever gotten caught under the covers.

Steven Spielberg is at that stage in his career now where he doesn’t need to appease anything, or anyone. He doesn’t need to prove anything to himself, or to anybody else, as he’s basically done all that a director and storyteller can do. He’s basically done it all and now, for the time being, it seems like Spielberg is just going to do what he wants, when he wants, and however he wants it. After all, with all the great movies that he’s done, why shouldn’t that be the case?

And heck, when Disney’s footing the bill, the time for play gets even more fun and grand, right?

Well, yes, it actually does. That’s why a movie like the BFG is, oddly enough, a neat little experiment of his; while he’s made family-friendly movies in the past, by far, none of them have ever equaled the silly, childish play of the BFG, not to mention that it’s source material, from Roald Dahl, is also a bit odd for Spielberg’s tastes. He’s been weird before, but Spielberg has never gone to the full limits of weird and fantastical that he has to with the BFG and that’s one of the main reasons why it can be such a joy to watch. You almost get the feeling that Spielberg himself is having a blast trying on some new skin for once, not having to answer anybody, or prove that he’s still got the talent that he was praised so heavily for back earlier in his career.

Now, with something like the BFG, he’s going to try some new things out and, in the process, enjoy himself while he’s at it. He’s like the old man who, once he gets the chance to finally retire, soaks it all in by changing his schedule around a whole bunch, while also still maintaining the usual, like breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, and bedtime. Except that in this case, Spielberg isn’t retired, nor showing any signs of such, and he doesn’t need to change his whole schedule around.

Cause honestly, after watching the BFG, it reminds me a lot of what Spielberg is capable of doing: Making any story, no matter how weird or realistic, compelling to watch.

The first act of the BFG is quite great because it’s actually somewhat different from what we’re used to expecting with Disney-approved kids movies of this nature. Rather than being all about the visual splendor and grandeur, Spielberg allows for his film to take a slower-approach to the relationship between the BFG and Sophie. A movie of this nature, with a much-less inspired director, would have shoved all of the talking and character development to the side for more special-effects and wacky, wild action, but Spielberg is not that director. He knows that in order for us to actually end up giving a hoot about this tale at all, we have to spend some time with these characters, get to know them a bit, and also realize just what the heck is at stake here.

This is the dude who beat out Sly for that Oscar?

This is the dude who beat out Sly for that Oscar?

And it all works out, too, because Mark Rylance and Sophie Barnhill are both pitch perfect for their own respective roles. Rylance gets a lot to do with the BFG, because it’s a performance that’s solely reliant on his facial-expressions – all of which come out beautifully in the special-effects and makes us feel like we truly are watching a giant (not that I’ve ever seen one). While it would have been easy for Barnhill to get mixed-up in having to basically act towards a tennis ball the whole time, she actually works pretty well with it; we never get the sense that she’s talking to the mid-air, nor that she’s outmatched by Rylance’s spark and wit. Together, they have a nice chemistry that transcends being what we normally expect from one like this, and it’s mostly due to the fact that Barnhill and Rylance seem to be enjoying themselves just as much as Spielberg is, but with the add-on of more conviction.

Always need more conviction.

Of course, the BFG isn’t a perfect movie, as we can come to expect with this latter-career Spielberg. The movie clearly has three parts to it; the first being good, the last being fine, and the middle one being pretty terrible. Getting to know these characters means slowing things down, sure, but the movie also decides that there doesn’t need to be an actual, driving-plot to really keep things interesting. It’s almost as if Spielberg decided to himself, at that point in time, that everyone would be so enamored with the BFG, that any sort of compelling story didn’t need to be explained or, better yet, even hinted at. Problem is, the movie never seems to get going with its plot until, well, it’s way too late. And it’s barely under two hours, making a rather long kids movie, but an even longer movie once the middle-act comes around.

But then Spielberg gets his act together, brings us to London in a last-minute twist that’s funny, sweet, and oddly enough, kind of interesting. Spielberg knows how to comedy in general, but never has really displayed it so much for kids, as often as he does in the BFG and if anything, the last-act is a perfect showing of that.

Now, if only we get more fun from Spielberg.

Consensus: While a bit choppy in the story-department, the BFG finds Spielberg in a relaxed, but enthusiastic mood, trying new and fun things out, seeing how well they all work out, and allowing us to watch it all play out.

6.5 / 10

Don't do it, girl. Fun and adventure will await you, but uh, okay never mind. Do it.

Don’t do it, girl. Fun and adventure will await you, but uh, okay never mind. Do it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

But wait? He doesn’t fall down, or break his crown? Then, what’s the point of the song!

It’s been nearly a decade since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), or, as he likes to now be known as, John Clayton III, left Africa to live in Victorian England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). He grew up there when his parents were killed and was taken in by the animals living in the jungle, where he learned the values and ways of survival. Now, as an ordinary Englishman, with something of a heroic history, he tries to live a normal life and start a family, even if he and Jane seem to be having issues getting that done. Now, both Jane and Tarzan return to Africa to save their land from the evil and treacherous Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), an envoy to King Leopold who is using the Congo for his own self-gain. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds. Neither Jane nor Tarzan know this, which is why, with the help of George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and their old friends and allies of the jungle, they both plan on saving the Congo, taking down Rom, and most importantly, saving the precious land for all that it is.

Eat your hearts out, men.

Eat your hearts out, men.

In all honesty, I’d feel like the Legend of Tarzan would be a much better movie, had the Jungle Book not already came out this year. Sure, while you could make the argument that they are totally two different movies, they still have plenty of features tied into one another; they’re both live-action reboots of the story, both stories have to deal with man-in-the-jungle, and they also both seem to feature a crap-ton of CGI to make up for the fact that they weren’t able to film actual lions, tigers, and elephants (mostly due to the fact that humans are terrible and continue to kill each and every one of them). That said, one is way less serious and dramatic than the other, and it also happens to be way better for that same exact reason, too.

Now, which movie do you think I’m speaking of?

And it’s not like there’s a problem with the Legend of Tarzan being a drop-dead serious, almost gritty reboot of a story that is, yes, serious and gritty, but there’s also something to be said for when your self-seriousness kills any fun or momentum you may have, while also not gelling fully well with the rest of the flick and what’s it trying to do. After all, the Legend of Tarzan is being heavily advertised as a fun, wild, and chaotic summer blockbuster; while it’s definitely a summer blockbuster, the other words like “fun”, “wild”, or better yet, “chaotic”, don’t really fit. Some bits and pieces of it can be considered “fun”, but they’re also too light and on-the-nose to really work with the rest of the film that’s more concerned with really putting us down in the dumps.

Director David Yates wants to approach this material in the same, epic-like way he did with the Harry Potter franchise, but the transition doesn’t work well; instead of being all wrapped-up in the dark and sometimes disturbing violence, you may actually get turned-off from it all, especially after the first five minutes and we’re already treated to a bunch of bloodless, PG-13 violence in which a bunch of people shot, stabbed and killed (one of which being, oddly enough, Ben Chaplin), for no apparent reason. When the action comes around, Yates does well – there’s one action-sequence in particular that happens on a train that reminded me a whole heck a lot of Snowpiercer – because he knows how to build it all up and focus on the stuff that works in the action-sequences. But everything that just so happens to take place in between, doesn’t always work because a lot of the script is weak and underwritten.

It's set in Africa, so obviously Djiumon has to be in it, right?

It’s set in Africa, so obviously Djimon has to be in it, right?

Take, for instance, the characters themselves.

Or, better yet, most importantly, Tarzan himself. As our half-naked hero of the hour-and-a-half, Alexander Skarsgård looks the part, what with his chiseled-abs and perfectly long, blonde locks, but I feel as if he’s not the right choice to play a character who is so clean-cut and good, that you could almost baptize him by the end. Skarsgård has that anti-hero look, where you know he can’t be trusted, but because he’s so good-looking, you get entranced by his aura and you fall for his evil games, again and again. Perhaps I’m the only one who feels this way, but so be it. Either way, Skarsgård tries, but ultimately, he didn’t quite work for me.

Margot Robbie also doesn’t get much to do as Jane, although she does get to have more fun than Mr. Serious Tarzan does. Robbie gets a chance to show Jane a fiery, brass and smart gal who, yes, may need to be saved from her man, but also isn’t afraid to say a nasty thing or two to the baddies. And as the baddie, Christoph Waltz is basically doing what he always does, except this time, his character is a whole lot more evil and distasteful than ever before. However, because he’s so mean, despicable and downright cruel, the rest of the movie kind of falters; it wants to reach the pitch black depths of hell, but at the same time, also realizes that it has to appeal to family-audiences out there and whatnot. So, rather than getting a story that really does explore these important themes about colonialism, extinction, and black market trading, the Legend of Tarzan will get scared, back up five steps, and just decide to show Tarzan swinging around in his loin-clothe, grabbing random tree-branches and getting his ass kicked by gorillas, without ever sustaining any serious injuries of any sort.

Then again, in a movie like this, certain stuff like that almost doesn’t matter.

Until it does and it’s totally Yates’ fault for that. Rather than allowing for the Legend of Tarzan to be a silly, rumpus good time where Tarzan flies around in the jungle and Samuel L. Jackson steals every scene he’s in, sounding and acting like he’s in the year 2016 (which is basically what happens), Yates decides that the story needs to unforgivably stark and serious. There’s no problem with that, but you have to do it right to the point of where it feels earned. The Jungle Book did that, with the added-on bonus of song-and-dance numbers and guess what?

Yep, it still worked.

Take notes, Yates (I’ve always wanted to say that).

Consensus: Though it gets the action right, the Legend of Tarzan‘s tone is wildly off, trying to appeal to everyone and yet, not totally working as well as other jungle-themed reboots have done this year.

6 / 10

"Tarzan want to bone Jane."

“Tarzan want to bone Jane.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? (2016)

Wow. Vampires may be cool again.

Leah (Leila George) is in college and, not surprisingly, a lot is happening to her – some good, as well as some bad, although it may not originally appear as that. After much training and working, Leah finally gets the lead in her school’s take on Macbeth, alongside a fellow acting enthusiast Pearl (Emily Meade). The two are cast in the lead roles by their director (James Franco), who not only sees it as a ballsy move on his part, but a revolutionary one, as well. Leah and Pearl, while initially awkward and not quite sure of how to approach one another turn out to, surprisingly, fall in love. Leah is ecstatic about this new point in her life, as well as is Pearl, however, the later’s holding a little secret to herself that may make, or break the relationship in one fell swoop: She’s a vampire. And yes, in order for Pearl to live, she has to suck on human’s blood – something that she feels Leah won’t be down with and, well, how could you blame her? It’s only a matter of time though before Pearl tells Leah just what’s up with her and they can figure out just where to go from there, if anywhere at all.

"Not enough blood do you think?"

“Not enough blood do you think?”

Lifetime is surprisingly getting better and better as we speak. While they’ve been on the butt-end of every bad joke for the past two decades or so, in the past few years, they’ve actually shown themselves to be quite able of producing quality material. Sure, their other TV shows that aren’t UnReal don’t really do much, but the fact that it has a show as good as UnReal on in the first place, ought to tell you something. And heck, even their movies, although sometimes way too silly for their own good, are still okay enough to surprise even someone like me.

That said, does that make them invincible? Nope, not really. That’s why a movie like Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?, while obviously trying to piggy-back off of the odd success of last year’s fun A Deadly Adoption, still earns points because it’s better than what you’d expect from a network such as Lifetime. After all, it appears like the movies they produce are mostly just done because they’re fun, over-the-top, and slightly serious flicks that only got off the ground in the first place because A-list actors and talent wanted to do something exciting with their off-time.

And with James Franco, Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? gets a lot of help from the fact that it’s a bit schlocky and silly, yet, at the same time, better than you’d expect.

It can definitely be silly whenever it wants to; the fact that it never stops bringing up various points about vampire movies and the way they use their sex to express themes about humanity, while all appearing in a movie where vampires exist and use sex to express something about who they are, is never hidden. But that’s okay. The movie never tries to be all too serious to the point of where people watching it will miss the point of what it’s trying to do, nor does it ever get so crazy that you forget it has any sort of story, or message in the first place.

It’s just another Lifetime, after-school special that just so happens to be “okay”.

Obviously, it’s hard to expect this out of every Lifetime movie made from here on out, but what’s so interesting about this flick is that it does try to do something neat with its characters and its cooky plot. While you can definitely take the idea that these outcasts are in fact “vampires”, you could also look at it in another way, in how the movie tries to represent that as homosexuality; something that nobody really comes out in this movie and deems as “bad”, but some people don’t feel comfortable with, even despite the fact that this is the year 2016.

Someone needs to teach these millennials a thing or two about Gen-X.

Someone needs to teach these millennials a thing or two about Gen-X.

Case in point, Tori Spelling’s Julie, the mother of Leah, who obviously has a hard time coping with the new information that her daughter may, shockingly, be a lesbian. Her character isn’t against the reality, but doesn’t seem to expect it, or if anything, understand it. She’s an old-fashioned mother who should have probably been played by Dianne Wiest or Diane Keaton, and not a much younger Spelling, but hey, it brings up some interesting ideas nonetheless. The odd thing about Spelling is that she’s perfect for this role, however, for a much different, far more wild movie; she’s constantly showing up and camping it up, when everyone else seems to be playing it straight-laced and serious. While you could chalk this up to be her just being a bad actress, honestly, I feel as if she’s okay when given something to work with (the House of Yes), which means that her work here shouldn’t be taken as a negative – just as something that doesn’t work here, but would totally work in something else.

Like, I don’t know, say the original flick.

Anyway, the rest of the cast from Spelling is fine, too. Leila George is bright and spunky as Leah, a young woman who seems to be making that transition into adulthood, where she starts to learn a bit more about herself, as well as what she wants, as time goes by in this confusing, but ultimately beneficial time; Emily Meade has impressed me in the past and here, she does a good job as Pearl, someone we’re never too sure of, which works for her character; and James Franco, despite making it out to appear as if he’s in the thing the whole time, he actually only shows up every so often, looking as smug and as delighted as can be with whatever is going on here and honestly, that’s all we need from Franco, right?

Especially in something that’s made-for-TV and, above all, on Lifetime.

Consensus: Though it constantly battles itself between whether it wants to be serious at all, or just wacky and wild, Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? still works because it’s entertaining and way better than you’d ever expect a Lifetime movie to ever be,e specially given the plot-synopsis.

6 / 10

Same-sex vampires? Not on our televisions!

Same-sex vampires? Not on our televisions!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Free States of Jones (2016)

Turns out, most racists don’t enjoy being on the end-side of a gun.

In 1863, Mississippi farmer Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) served as a medic for the Confederate Army, where he treated and helped all sorts of soldiers who were either severely injured, slowly dying, or dead on arrival. Either way, it was terrible for Newt to be around and it made him see some unimaginable things that no man should ever have to see. And once his nephew dies in battle, Newt decides that he’s had it with the war and returns home to Jones County, his hometown. There, he safeguards his family, but therefore, is branded a deserter and chased by all army officials who are either looking to steal citizens goods and crops, or just looking to capture Newt and whoever else may be ducking the war. So now Newt has to run for the swamps and in there, he finds a fellow band of slaves, also trying to hide out and be free from the slavers, leading both Newt, as well as the slaves to create a union where they’ll fight-off the evil and corrupt army with all that they’ve got. It’s dangerous, but it leads to one of the biggest uprisings in U.S. history.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Director Gary Ross clearly has good intentions with Free State of Jones; in fact, so much so that it actually comes close to ruining the movie. There’s a lot that Ross has to cover and talk about here, and because of that, the movie runs in at nearly two-hours-and-19-minutes. For some, this may not be much of an issue, because there’s plenty to watch and learn about, but for mostly everyone else, it will just be a long, boring slog that never seems to end, never knows where it wants to go, nor ever seems any interest in actually exploring anything deeper than its message, which is, essentially, slavery was bad.

That’s it.

Free State of Jones, for its whole run-time, narrative choices, tricks, trades, and detours, eventually ends on a typical note that racism was bad, hating people for their skin-color is bad, and yeah, you should just be nicer to people. While this is definitely a fine statement to have in everyday life, this doesn’t really seem to break any new ground, nor open people’s minds up, especially when the movie is as long as this one is. And while I’m sure that this makes it appear that I didn’t like this flick, I’ll have you know, it’s quite the opposite. Sure, it’s messy, odd, confusing at points, and flawed, but there were bits and pieces of it that worked and interested me, long after having seen it.

Ross definitely has a lot he wants to talk about here and because of that, the movie can sometimes feel like a jumble; it’s also made even worse by the fact that his narrative-structure isn’t always the smartest to use. For example, he uses a lot of typeface that tells us what historical moments/occurrences are happening between scenes, as well as using a bunch of old-timey photos of certain characters and settings. And heck, if that wasn’t bad enough, he also frames it all with a story taking place in 1949, where a descendant of Newt Knight is trying to argue his race and family’s history.

They’re all interesting ideas to bring to a movie that covers as much ground as this one does, but are they the right ones?

Well, that’s kind of the issue with Free State of Jones – it takes a lot of risky steps, but doesn’t find a lot of them paying-off in the end. If anything, they seem to take away from the strength and the power of the actual, true story itself, in which a lot of bad things happen to good people and for all idiotic, except that, once again, this is all from history. Ross has an agenda and has something that he wants to say about the South, America’s history, and racism as a whole, and they’re all noble, but at the same time, it also keeps Free State of Jones from being a better movie. Sometimes, it’s just a little too messy and disjointed to really keep moving at a certain pace.

But for me, the pace actually worked for me. Ross isn’t trying to cram everything down our throats and at our eye-sockets all at one time – he takes his time, allowing for certain details about the story and these characters to come out, slowly, but surely. It’s very rare to get a big-budget, summer flick that doesn’t feel the need to go all crazy with explosions, guns, violence and a big, screeching score right off the bat; sometimes, all a movie needs to do is settle itself down to keep us on-track with everything that’s going on. Does it always work? Not really, but the times that it does, it helps make Free State of Jones a more interesting piece of history that, quite frankly, Hollywood seems to get wrong, or steer away from.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he's the man.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he’s the man.

And this is all to say that yes, Free State of Jones is violent, bloody, gruesome, and ugly, but in all the right ways. The movie is depicting a time in U.S. history that we all don’t like to look back on with smiles, so therefore, Free State of Jones gets as graphic as it humanly can about all of the mean and nasty injustices and deaths that occurred during this time. After awhile, it all gets to be a bit jarring, but that’s sort of the point; war, or even for that matter, violence, isn’t pretty, so why should a movie depicting it so much be?

Well, to answer that question: It shouldn’t.

And yes, the cast is quite good, even if it does sometimes feel as if they don’t always have a whole lot to do. Matthew McConaughey is as charming and likable as he can possibly be as Newt Knight, and it works in the character’s favor. You want to love his winning and charismatic smile, but you also want to believe that he is absolutely willing to sink to the lowest depths of humanity to protect himself, as well as those that he loves so much. Mahershala Ali plays Moses, a former slave who has some of the more emotional moments of the movie and quite frankly, they’re definitely needed. As for the women, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell, play two interesting characters in Newt Knight’s life that, honestly, I would have liked to see their own movie about.

Maybe in another flick, perhaps?

Or then again, maybe not.

Consensus: Disjointed, uneven and a bit nonsensical, Free States of Jones doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, narratively speaking, but still offers up plenty of interesting truths about America’s bloody, brutal, and sometimes upsetting history.

6 / 10

"To freedom! I think!"

“To freedom! I think!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Storytelling (2001)

Read me a story, daddy. Especially ones filled with rape, racism, and teenage angst.

Two different stories that never connect, are told to us through the parts known as “Fiction” and “Non-fiction”. “Fiction” is the story of a young college student (Selma Blair) who gets her emotions all wrapped up in a bunch when her boyfriend (Leo Fitzpatrick) breaks up with her, leading her to fall into the arms of her cocky, but charming professor (Robert Wisdom). “Non-fiction” is the story of a middle-aged, failing documentarian (Paul Giamatti) who gets inspired to make a movie, following a young, confused teenager (Mark Webber) and the rest of his dysfunctional family, that just so happens to have a lot more going on between them than meets the eyes.

Is it too wrong to say that she had it coming to her?

That blonde hair will drive any man wild

Todd Solondz movies are of required-taste and if you can get through them without batting an eye or feeling awkward, then good for you. For me, I still can’t help but feel like this guy is just messing with me, to mess with me. And I hate to say it, but it works well, even though I feel as if I’ve seen and heard it all by now. But still, he continues to push the envelope, even if that aspect of his directing makes him of a provocateur, and not a film maker.

Hell, even in this movie, he makes fun of what people have had to say about him in the past. They call him “shocking for the sake of being shocking”, “racist”, “a bigot”, and even go so far as to be called the dreaded “P-word”: “pretentious”. For a film maker like Solondz to take all of that criticism in stride, really does deserve some credit because he not only throws it right back in those hater’s faces, but even shows them why they may be right as well.

That said, this is where the movie hits its slippery-slope in the way.

The idea of having two, separate stories told in one movie definitely makes it feel like we’re going to get double the trouble with what Solondz has to offer, which is true, but not in the smart, sly way he’s done it before. Instead, all of the dirty stuff that happens here, feels deliberate, as if Solondz himself is trying really, really hard to get a reaction out of us, simply because the material he’s working with doesn’t have that much steam to pile on through. Both stories seem interesting on their own, and even the points he brings up go along with them as well, but it just feels like a missed-opportunity for Solondz to really give us something worth thinking about, rather than landing on the same, two feet that he landed with before.

And yes, you can expect there to be plenty of sex, awkwardness, explicit content, and random conversations about the slimy stuff in our bodies. And yes, sometimes, it works. Other times, it doesn’t. Storytelling feels like the kind of flick Solondz perhaps needed to get off his chest after something as ambitious as Happiness, but still, it also makes it feel more like a greatest hits album, rather than actual greatness itself.

Either way, the stories do sort of work.

With “Fiction”, the idea of young teens falling for an older demographic because of the seniority they show, is actually pretty scary. Seemingly out of nowhere, however, Solondz gets a little bit too ahead of himself, gives us an over-long sex scene (unedited, no red boxes in my viewing), and a couple uses of the “N word” that was supposed to get a rise out of us I assuming, but instead, felt like it was Solondz getting a bit too wacky and explicit for his own good. The aftermath of this scene is smart and funny, however, I still continued to scratch my head wondering, “What was the point of all that?” Is everything we write on paper already considered “fiction”, or is everything after that “real”.

No matter how many licks, we may never know the answer.

Then, we have “Non-fiction” which is oddly longer than the first entry into this flick and shows it’s length as well. It isn’t that I didn’t feel like there was an interesting bit of storytelling to be had here with the loser documenting the stuck-up, egotistical family, it’s just that the targets it’s meant to be satirizing doesn’t quite work as well because it’s all too obvious and easy. The idea of having a film maker, make a movie that’s already pretentious as it is, in your already-pretentious movie is so obvious, that it’s almost too dumb to really take seriously, so that when it does begin to go down the path of making fun of those people who have talked crap on Solondz work in the past, it feels more like a kid saying, “hate to say I told ya so!”, rather than somebody making a legitimate statement about the films he makes. Like I said before, it’s an opportunity that seems missed, even if this story has the most disturbing ending I’ve seen in a long, long time.

"Hi, it's me Paul. Again. Yes, I am depressed. Again."

“Hi, it’s me Paul. Again. Yes, I am depressed. Again.”

Yep, even Happiness‘ ending loses to this one.

Consensus: Even at a measly and meager 87 minutes, Storytelling feels like a collection of interesting things that Solondz can, and is perfectly able to do, however, with no real payoff.

6 / 10

Let's face it: we've all wanted to do the same thing.

Let’s face it: we’ve all wanted to do the same thing.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

Dollhouse1Growing up was actually pretty weird. Like, did I actually do all of those things?

Middle-school student Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) is having a lot of growing pains that seem to all just be piling-up on each other, one after the other. She’s not only teased and bullied at school for looking the way she does, but when she goes home, the kind of place she expects to be “a sanctuary” of sorts, she gets heckled and criticized there by all of her family. Basically, she can’t win, no matter where she goes; after all, she’s the middle child between her nerdy older brother Mark (Matthew Faber) and her perky younger sister Missy (Daria Kalinina), who seem to gather all of the attention from their desperate parents. But now Dawn feels as if she’s got something going on for her life when she meets a cute, but much older boy (Eric Mabius) whom her brother knows and doesn’t want around Dawn. However, the only person who she seems to get the most attention from is the local bully named Brandon (Brendan Sexton III), who not only threatens to rape her, but seems like he actually wants to hurt her. That is, until the two actually do meet up and for some reason, Dawn’s life may be forever changed.

Weird kids never get the window seat!

Weird kids never get the window seat!

Todd Solondz is definitely a writer/director with a style of his own that, if you aren’t more than willing to accept and roll with, his movies can tend to be a miserable slog. With the exception of maybe Happiness, all of Solondz’s movies seem to hold shelter under the same umbrella where characters are constantly terrible to one another, saying mean, cruel and nasty things, and generally acting out in weird, sometimes sadistic ways. Solondz wants to say a lot with this stylistic choice of his own and for the most part, it can work, but other times, it can feel like he’s straining himself just to be more and more miserable than before.

Welcome to the Dollhouse feels like the perfect middle-ground for Solondz and his trademarks – for better, as well as for worse.

While a solid portion of the story wants to deal with a coming-of-age tale, there’s also another portion that seems perfectly fine with just seeing how far and willing these characters are able to being absolutely awful to one another. For instance, Dawn is clearly the least-liked out of her whole family, so much so that her parents clearly favorite the younger one over her and also want to rip down her playhouse she has out back. There’s some humor in the idea that no matter how hard Dawn tries, she can’t get a break from the rest of her family, but it’s also a joke that gets replayed way too often, and after a short while, just becomes cruel.

Solondz may show us that he does care about Dawn, at the end, throughout, it’s kind of hard not to think that there’s at least some part of him enjoying poking the stick at Dawn when she’s down, out and in need of an arm to pull her back up. Some may disagree with this notion, but it’s what continued to bother me throughout the movie – in fact, more so than any of the times that the Brandon kid dropped the word “rape”. In a way, Solondz is trying to poke fun at the reason for why that word is being used, especially from that character – everything else, especially the stuff that seems directed at Dawn, mostly seems like him getting his rocks off for the sole sake of getting his rocks off.

That said, Heather Matarazzo is quite great as Dawn Weiner and it’s no wonder why she actually did something with her life and career after this. At only 12 years of age, Matarazzo is able to find just the right bits and pieces of subtlety to make Dawn more than just your average nerdy, little girl; she’s got a heart and soul to her that wants to be loved, but is also damn confused about what love actually is. Solondz may throw a lot at her, but Matarazzo is a smart enough actress, even at such a young age, that she gets through it all, making us love this character even more, flaws and all.

Typical family din-dins.

Typical family din-dins.

The rest of the characters don’t fare as well as Dawn, but some at least show some semblance of humanity that’s very hard to come by in Solondz’s movies.

Matthew Faber’s Mark is just a nerd who can’t seem to do anything with his band; Daria Kalinina is basically told to play a brat and, well, as Missy, that’s exactly what she does; Eric Mabius is good as Steve Rodgers, highlighting that this guy may actually just be a genuine nice dude, even if Dawn is a little creepy; and then, there’s the aforementioned Brandon, as played by Brendan Sexton III. His character, as well as his subplot, is perhaps the most interesting thing that Welcome to the Dollhouse has going for it, because it not only surprises, but also is a little sweet, too.

Initially, the relationship that Brandon has with Dawn may seem just like another bully-nerd kind of thing going on, eventually, it starts to show different shadings. It shows that, at his heart, Solondz really does care about these young characters and how they connect with one another, even if they really don’t have a single clue how to express their connection, or even got a single clue of what’s going on. Some of Solondz’s more affectionate moments come out in the scenes between Dawn and Brandon, and honestly, I would have been fine with a movie just about them both.

Obviously, minus all of the usual despicable Solondz trademarks.

Consensus: With enough attention to its character, Welcome to the Dollhouse gets by on what could have been perceived as Todd Solondz getting too deep into his character’s own depression and misery, even if it can sometimes come off that way.

6 / 10

Love at first hate.

Love at first wet willy. 

Photos Courtesy of: The Vern’s Video Vortex, Design Sponge

Central Intelligence (2016)

Buddy-comedies are severely lacking in muscle-bound weirdos.

Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was the most popular guy in high school. His nickname was “the Golden Jet”, he was homecoming king, and he did this awesome back-flip that made everyone go crazy. Essentially, he was the man. However, after high school, he never really amounted to much. He works as a drone at an accounting firm and seems to be having problems with his wife. But now with the 20 year reunion looming on the horizon, Cavin gets a random message from a former classmate of his – the nerdy and obese Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), who hasn’t been seen, or heard from since he was publicly shamed at the homecoming pep-rally. Now, though, Bob is jacked, muscular and absolutely willing to kick anyone’s ass, even if he’s still a little weird and really clingy to Calvin. Why? Well, because Calvin was the only nice kid to Bob when nobody else was. And when they’re hanging out, Calvin and Bob are having the times of their lives, until the CIA rolls up, guns a blazin’, wanting Bob’s life, and accusing him of all sorts of wrongdoings, with poor Calvin in the middle of it all.

Get it? He's more muscular and manly than him! A ha!

Get it? He’s more muscular and manly than him! A ha!

If there was ever a comedian whose stand-up I absolutely love, adore and get a kick out of, every time I watch it, it’s Kevin Hart. However, if there was a comedian whose stand-up I love, but whose movies are pretty awful, it’s still Kevin Hart. Dwayne Johnson is sort of in the same boat; while I love his persona in and out of the ring, his movies tend to be “meh” at the very best. Sure, he’s had some winners, but really, they don’t always offer a lot for him to do, except occasionally be charming, yet, always look big, tough and as muscular as a normal human being can look.

You’d think that together, they’d make a movie that’s just as lame as their own respective projects, which, if you did, you’d be wrong.

In fact, I was quite wrong here and you know what? I’m glad. See, Central Intelligence is the typical blockbuster, big-budget, buddy-action flick that’s going to make tons of money because of its stars and that’s all fine and dandy, but honestly, we’ve seen that manipulative system been done before. Does it make the studios richer? Well, yes, but it still takes away from the fact that you have two great stars, teaming up together in something and you give them absolutely nothing to work with.

And sure, you could sort of make the same argument about Johnson and Hart in Central Intelligence, but honestly, it’s a tad different. For one, they both have some funny material to work through, even if it doesn’t always deliver or hit the right notes. While some of the jokes are standard and never really laugh-out-loud material, what Hart and Johnson are able to do, what with their charismatic and lovable personas, is make the material better by just being together, side-by-side, on the screen, and appearing as if they’re having the greatest times of their lives.

That’s why a lot of Central Intelligence works – these two are so fun and lovely to watch, that when you put them together, it’s actually quite joyous to watch as they’re chemistry builds and builds over time. Although Hart is playing the straight man here, he still dials it down to just the right notch where he isn’t a totally boring simpleton; a lot of the yelling, the fast-talking, and schticky things that we usually know and sometimes, love, him for, are here, but they aren’t dialed-up to eleven, as they have been in other movies that solely rely on him. Central Intelligence isn’t that movie, because, after all, it has Dwayne Johnson to work with and he’s having an absolute ball.

And everyone’s better off because of it.

Get it? He's goofier than him! A ha!

Get it? He’s goofier than him! A ha!

Johnson’s very funny here, as he has definitely been in the past; imagine him in Be Cool, but with some better jokes and plotting for him to roll with. But there’s more to the character of Bob, that makes Johnson’s performance better. For instance, the fact that Bob himself is still, when you get down to it, a sad, lonely and embarrassed 18-year-old chubby kid, even if he does look like the Rock. It’s quite funny and could have definitely been overplayed, but Johnson finds just the right fit for this role because he fully commits himself to this kind of silly, effeminate role, without ever making it seem like he’s above the material, or actually in on the joke that’s happening.

And yes, it deserves to be said that Central Intelligence, when it isn’t featuring a whole bunch of car-chases, guns, shootings, and bloodless, PG-13 violence, it does try to be serious and melodramatic, and it doesn’t quite work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see that there was an effort on the part of everyone involved to make this more than just your typical broad, buddy-comedy, but at the same time, it still doesn’t quite hit its mark. If anything, the movie can sometimes feel like it’s straining itself to be “important”, or “about something”, and it just feels honed in.

Granted, I didn’t want to be bothered with anymore of the CIA-conspiracy plot, but still, there’s definitely some stuff that could have been trimmed-down here, or at the very least, taken out altogether. Still, I’ll take what I can get with this summer and if that’s the case, then Central Intelligence was just fine.

Fine enough to make me forget that Kevin Hart movies tend to suck.

Consensus: Building off the wonderful and playful chemistry between Johnson and Hart, Central Intelligence isn’t always funny, but definitely features some nice bits of humor, to weigh out all of the senseless action, twists, and turns that we don’t really care about in the first place.

6 / 10

Get it? He's taller than him! Woo-wee!

Get it? He’s taller than him! Woo-wee!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Brothers Grimsby (2016)

“MI6” usually is the reason for most family-members gone missing.

Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a typical Englishman living in the lower-class and just getting by. His girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) is always down to screw him whenever he wants, his kids are always willing and able to listen to what he has to say, and heck, even his grand-kids are happy to have him around. So yeah, while things may be all fine and dandy for Nobby, the fact remains that he’s still a little sad because he hasn’t seen his brother for nearly 30 years. Why is that? Well, nobody really knows because, quite frankly, nobody really knows who Nobby’s brother is. However, that’s on purpose because, as it turns out, Nobby’s brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong), is a top MI6 agent in the middle of a very important mission. While Nobby wants to get back in good graces with his bro and figure out just what the heck happened, the mission eventually finds its way in between Nobby and Sebastian, making it so that Nobby now has to get involved with the mission. Considering that he’s such a dimwit, this is bad news for everyone involved – most importantly, MI6.

Watch the throne.

Watch the throne.

You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into when you pay to see a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. While he may not be doing the avant-garde, mockumentary flicks anymore, he’s still doing R-rated raunch-fests every now and then, showing the world just how far and willing he is able to go with the vile, disgusting and downright appalling scatological humor, all without making a single excuse or apology for it. In today’s day and age where it seems like saying anything remotely controversial will have you thrown down a dungeon with the key locked away, it’s refreshing to see someone as well-known and famous as Baron Cohen continue to make the kinds of mean and nasty flicks that he does, while also not seem to care who it offends, or what people have to say about it.

After all, the guy can continue to do these movies for the rest of his life and there’d be nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, yes, as well as no. For one, the Brothers Grimsby isn’t a very long movie and it’s definitely better because of that. At nearly 83 minutes, the movie doesn’t try to pack a whole lot in, except for a spy story, a few comedic bits, character-development, and an action set-piece or two to keep most people over. Director Louis Leterrier is a confident enough director in that he knows something like this doesn’t need to have too much of anything; sure, there’s much more comedy than anything else, but Leterrier takes a whole lot on his plate and seems smart enough to know exactly where and when to put each piece.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that each of the respective pieces make up a great whole, but they still don’t get in the way of the best parts. Which is to say that, yes, the Brothers Grimsby is in fact a funny movie. While not every joke, or gag it makes is hilarious, or at the very least, chuckle-worthy, they still all highlight Cohen’s brand of over-the-top, ugly humor that misses quite often, but when it hits, is as funny as you can get. There’s a bit concerning elephants that gets even crazier and crazier as it goes along and it’s an absolute blast to watch, just as is a misunderstanding about a “seduction”. Both scenes can definitely be removed from the movie and there would be no cause or effect on the final product, but still, they work and are funny enough that it doesn’t matter.

And really, that’s all you can want with the Brothers Grimsby – a funny movie.

It doesn’t set out to light the world on fire, nor does it seem to try and change the landscape of the comedy world. It’s a shame that it didn’t do too well at the box-office, because it only shows that some people still may not be able to accept the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen can still make movies, he just won’t be able to do them to unknowing victims. While that’s definitely a shame, it’s also the reality of the matter; you can only strike gold so many times until, eventually, people start to catch on and the well starts running dry.

Little bro's are always nosin' around.

Little bro’s are always nosin’ around.

As Nobby, Cohen gets another opportunity to be as crass and as vile as he can be, however, the character is actually well-liked here enough that we feel as if we’re rooting for him, as opposed to rooting against him because he’s such a blockhead. Of course, Cohen is really just using Nobby as an outlet to act all crazy to those around him, but hey, it’s entertaining to watch and made slightly better by the fact that he isn’t the butt of the joke.

If anyone is, it’s Mark Strong’s Sebastian, who is basically the straight-man of the whole flick and with good reason – he’s so good at it. Strong doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for actually being charming, when he isn’t scaring the pants off of every protagonist in every movie he’s ever shown up in, but here, working alongside Cohen, he gets the chance to show-off in many ways. There’s a lot of ridiculous and unbelievable actions that his character does throughout the whole movie and yes, Strong is absolutely game for each and every one.

And everyone else in the cast is able to, too, however, most of them are kind of wasted. There’s the likes of Isla Fisher, Penelope Cruz, Gabourey Sidibe, Rebel Wilson, and Ian McShane, among others, who all show up and do their things, and all are fine. But at the end of the day, really, the movie is meant to be a showcase for Cohen and all of his dirty and disgusting ways of getting us to laugh at some of the most wrong, most inappropriate things ever put to screen.

But hey, it works.

Consensus: The Brothers Grimsby is exactly what you could expect from Cohen’s brand of humor, even if there’s a little more that takes away from the sometimes hilarious, but always raunchy jokes and gags.

6.5 / 10

Cool guys don't look at explosions and they also jump away from them, too.

Cool guys don’t look at explosions and they also jump away from them, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

All the Way (2016)

Oh, that LBJ. What a silly goose he was!

After JFK is assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson (Bryan Cranston) assumes the position as President of the United States. While it’s a controversial and heartbreaking decision, immediately, Johnson takes the position and makes it his own; promising more Civil Rights laws than even JFK ever promised. This leads him to talking with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Anthony Mackie) a whole lot, with some of their discussions ending with agreements, and other times, not so much. But while Johnson is out battling it with the Civil Rights activists and MLK, he’s also got to work his magic into winning the next election, which is nearly two years away. While for any President running for office again, there would be no issues, the problem for Johnson is that his Civil Rights bills are turning some people away from him, making him less and less loved among the blue-blooded Republicans. It’s all so very tense and crazy for Lyndon, but when push comes to shove, he knows that he can always fall back on his wife (Melissa Leo), who was there for him since day one and will continue to be do so, so long as he keeps his head on and doesn’t lose his temper too much.

He's white.

He’s white.

Oddly enough, All the Way isn’t going to be the last Lyndon B. Johnson biopic we get this year. The already-titled LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson as the titular President is currently being filmed and planned for a late winter release, which leads me to beg the question: Why? Why on Earth do we have not one, but two star-studded biopics about Lyndon B. Johnson? This isn’t to say that his presidency, or better yet, his character doesn’t deserve the attention, but at the same time, it’s hard to wonder why there are already two movies being made about the guy, when possibly one will do?

Then again, there is the case in 2012, where we had two Abraham Lincoln movies and those are definitely two stories that needed to be told.

Regardless, All the Way is an okay movie, but honestly, a lot of its impact is weakened by the fact that it almost tells the same exact story of Selma, but instead, puts it focus directly on the man white man of the story, the President of the United States. There’s no issue with that in terms of narrative storytelling, but after it having been hardly two years since the release of that much powerful, much smarter movie, I think it’s almost impossible not to compare the two, especially considering how ballsy and risky that movie seemed to be. In a way, All the Way is the kind of movie that would have been made and released before the 21st Century, where instead of focusing on the African Americans, their hardships, their strife, and all of the brutality they suffered, we focus on the one man who had all of the power in the world during this infamous and controversial time.

Also, it should be noted that in Selma, there was plenty of scenes dedicated to sitting there and watching as Lyndon B. Johnson himself handled conversations with Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders, although at the same time, that didn’t take up the bulk of the movie. It still, however, provided a voice to Johnson who, from the viewpoint of that movie, as well as this one, was really just a guy trying to do the right thing, while also keep his ass in the White House seat. That’s smart and honest storytelling that doesn’t have an agenda, but more or less, try to tell a story, the best way it can.

That’s why All the Way is no Selma, by any means. However, I don’t think it wanted to be.

He's black.

He’s black.

Jay Roach seems like the one guy HBO calls on to deliver these made-for-HBO movies with politics somewhere, somehow involved, and he’s made a nice career out of it. For one, his movies aren’t glitzy, or glamorous, but more or less, just natural, well-told stories that need to be seen, but not necessarily on the silver screen. It’s actually quite odd to describe, but there’s that feeling while watching All the Way, where you know that it’s perfect for cable, but not so much for the big screen.

Why? I couldn’t tell ya. It’s just feeling.

But much like the play it’s adapting, All the Way is really a platform for Bryan Cranston to act his rump off and well, he’s great at it. Much like he did in Trumbo, Cranston is using a signature and odd voice to really get us into the mindset of who this person is and their kind of personality, and it works, again. While you can tell there’s some deal of over-acting that got transitioned over from the stage, Cranston still handles it well enough that we get the perfect idea for who this person is, especially during the smaller, more humane moments.

Most of these moments come from the scenes he has with his wife, played by Melissa Leo, who is both the voice of reason, as well as the dog whisperer to the sometimes wild and cranky Johnson. Leo’s great at these understated, yet emotional characters and it’s why she’s a perfect choice. Anthony Mackie also shows up as MLK, and in a much better, more focused movie, I feel like he’d be the performance to steal the show, but unfortunately, he isn’t given a whole lot to do. Now if it was Anthony Mackie in Selma, we may have had a whole different movie on our hands.

Consensus: With a good cast, All the Way is better than its route, conventional format makes it out to be, however, with Selma still clear in our minds, it’s hard not to compare the two.

6 / 10

But hey, they're pals in the end.

But hey, they’re pals in the end.

Photos Courtesy of: HBO

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Eh. I’m fine with the apocalypse after all.

Taking place exactly ten years after the events that occurred in Days of Futures Past, the X-Men have now all found themselves enjoying some idea of lives of luxury. While they are still mutants with miraculous powers and looked at as “weirdos who can’t be trusted in a normal, civilized world”, they still get by solely through depending on one another’s good will. Professor X (James McAvoy) is still teaching classes, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to keep the peace among the mutants and humans, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) now lives a comfortable life out in the woods of Serbia, where he has a wife, kid, and a solid job where nobody knows a single thing about him or his checkered past. So yeah, for awhile, it seems like everything’s all fine and dandy for the X-Men, until, after decades upon decades of sleeping, a powerful mutant by the name of Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) wakes up and plans on destroying the world with some of the most ferocious and powerful mutants out there who haven’t already been taken in by Xavier. This means that a battle between two sides of good and evil is about to occur, and who chooses which side is totally up in the air.

He's still a cool hipster-kind of guy.

He’s still a cool hipster-kind of guy.

Bryan Singer clearly loves the X-Men stories and it’s one of the main reasons why he’s been able to not only keep his career alive, but even their own stories. Even when Origins came in and seemed to destroy the franchise for good, he came back to help, and give everyone their favorite mutants that nobody knew that they loved and/or missed. He not only found a way to make their plight a sad and sympathetic one, but to also make their adventures actually interesting to watch and play out, especially when they’re all putting their mutant powers to the test.

And now, with Apocalypse, his fourth X-Men movie to-date, it appears that Singer may have run out of things to actually say about all of these mutants and what makes them tick. While I don’t think it’s necessarily his fault, it’s also hard to wonder where to take this story and these characters next; sure, you can give them plenty more evil-doers to go head-to-head with, but after awhile, it can just become conventional. And also, when all of your drama is about each and everyone of these characters just sitting around and moping about how “the rest of the world doesn’t accept them”, it can get a bit tiring.

So why tell these stories anymore?

Well, obviously, it’s all for money. They still make a pretty penny at the box office and it probably won’t change any time soon, however, I can’t help but think a similar superhero movie like Civil War, where it’s clear that there’s a lot going on, with so many different people, and yet, it all comes together so damn smoothly, will make ones like these pale in comparison. After all, Singer is taking on a whole lot of different plot threads, with a whole lot of characters to deal with and develop over a near two-and-a-half-hour run-time, so it would only make sense that he take care in making sure each and everyone gets their due, right?

Surprisingly, Singer doesn’t quite do this. In a way, it appears that there’s many characters with something to do or say, that after awhile, he just cobbles them all up together, and relies solely on the talented cast’s presence to pick up the pieces whenever they can. It’s not a bad idea, especially when you have such a great cast to work with like this, but there’s also that feeling that Singer doesn’t quite know how to develop this story anymore and just seems to be going through the motions.

We get plenty of action and most of it’s good, but when there’s no heart or emotion surrounding it, does any of it matter? It’s hard to imagine an X-Men universe without some of the core characters and actors that made the original franchise so damn appealing and iconic, but unfortunately, the creative team has set it all up that way. We won’t get many more glimpses of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and even Anna Paquin – instead, we’ll just get more and more of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, and Sophie Turner.

New Wave = Villains

Everyone’s favorite New Wave cover band.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Of course not.

In fact, that cast is so good, I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t care more for these characters once it was all said and done. But that’s the issue with Apocalypse – there’s so much going on, with so many people around and about, that no one person gets enough to do or make a case for why they exist. We’ve got so many great actors here and ready to play, yet, the material’s just not there; it’s all focused on building this villain and this predictable conclusion that will lead to the goodies, facing off against him.

And as the baddie, yes, Oscar Isaac gets to have some fun. However, because he’s so covered and hidden underneath all of that make-up, it really feels like a waste of a good actor. He gets to act all sorts of evil, what with his powers and all, but really, there’s not much else to him; all he wants to do is destroy the world because, well, why not? It’s so typical and it seems like a missed-opportunity for having someone as good as Isaac in a main role. Same goes for Olivia Munn, who literally shows up for pure sex-appeal, is given nothing to do and is expected to be an interesting character for future installments to come.

There will definitely be future installments people, but know this: They have to get better.

They just have to.

Consensus: With so much going on, Apocalypse becomes a mess that Bryan Singer tries so desperately to save, but only gets by because of a good cast and solid-looking action. But in a year of already two great superhero movies, it’s going to take a lot for this franchise to make its presence felt.

6 / 10

"Hey guys! If we look close enough, we may be able to see other superhero movies coming very, very soon!"

“Hey guys! If we look close enough, we may be able to see more superhero movies coming very, very soon!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

MissippiposterIf it don’t fit, equit. Or something of that nature, right?

On a late night in 1963, black activist Medgar Evers (James Pickens Jr.) was gunned-down and killed in front of the hotel where his family was staying. While each and every sign of evidence pointed to the self-proclaimed racist Byron De La Beckwith (James Woods), somehow, he got off with barely even a slap on the wrist. Obviously, African Americans were up in arms over the decision, but also knew that they had no chance of winning it again, due to a completely racist court and jury system at the time. Many years later, Medgar’s late wife (Whoopi Goldberg) is shipping her case around to any firm that will listen to her and take her issue seriously. Some obviously don’t, but one person who does is Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin), an assistant District Attorney, who happens to be married into a very racist family. However, despite the unpopularity of the case, DeLaughter takes it on and experiences all sorts of issues in the process. But no matter how bad or heinous it may get, he’s inspired and passionate enough to know that he’s got one job and that’s to gain some sort of vengeance fro Medgar Evers. Even if that does mean risking his own career to do so.

Just another simple night, sitting around and watching TV.

Just another simple night, sitting around and watching TV with the fam.

What really hits the hardest at-home about Ghosts of Mississippi, is about how so much of it seems and feels relevant to today and what’s going on out there with racial relations in society. Without going on for too long and ranting, let’s just put it like this: Racial travesties like what happened to Medgar Evers, still happens to this very day and it’s the government itself who seems more than willing to try and cover everything up.

However, regardless of if you choose to look at the movie with a modern eye or not, there’s no denying that Ghosts of Mississippi deals with some racial issues that aren’t just still around today, but more than likely help to make the case for “not much has changed”. Black and white people still can’t get along; there’s still a clear divide of injustices; and there’s still cops out there killing black people, and not getting locked away for it. Ghosts of Mississippi was clearly released way before all of these issues became front-and-center news for every news outlet, but it still holds a certain bit of relevance to everything that’s going on out there in the world and the kind of equality we’re all still fighting for.

Anyway, there. That’s all the preaching you’re going to get.

But despite its great relevance, Ghosts of Mississippi isn’t always a great movie; Rob Reiner is a smart director, but here, he decides to play it less than subtle and doesn’t always make the best decisions, from a narrative-perspective. For one, the movie is nearly two-and-a-half-hours long and the only reason it feels like it, is because a solid portion of it is spent on Baldwin’s lawyer character. This is fine, because yes, he was the main lawyer in the case and, in a way, the main heart and soul of this story, but I feel like Reiner went a bit overboard with this character. When it becomes clear that DeLaughter will be single due to the case he’s taking on, the movie decides to introduce a new female character that he can flirt, fall in love with, and marry eventually.

While yes, this probably happened in real life, the fact that it literally takes up at least 20 or so minutes of the film, without showing or telling us anything new about this DeLaughter character that we didn’t already know from the first half-hour, gets to be a bit bothersome. More time could have clearly been dedicated to DeLaughter looking further and further into the case, as well as Goldberg’s Myrlie Evers. Both Baldwin and Goldberg are good in these roles and give them a lot to work with, even if it can sometimes feel like they’re limited to doing anything more.

That Alec Baldwin - always the liberal in the room.

That Alec Baldwin – always the liberal in the room.

But really, the character I wanted to see more and know about, was James Woods’ Byron De La Beckwith – one of the more despicable human beings in film history.

While it’s hard to make the case for a character who is so clearly evil, despicable and guilty of every bad thing he has ever been accused of in the history of his life, there’s something about the way Woods plays him that makes him interesting to watch. Sure, he can go a tad over-the-top and crazy with this character, but maybe, just maybe that’s how he was in real life? Maybe he did go on TV and pronounce his hatred for black people, regardless of the fact that he was in the midst of being accused of killing one some many odd years ago? Or, maybe he didn’t?

I don’t know, honestly. There’s a lot about this story that seems fishy and not all that believable, but whenever Woods was on the screen, I stopped caring. He’s s mean and nasty, that you almost wonder if Woods can take it any further, until you realize that, well, yes – yes, he can.

Which isn’t to say that he sort of steals this movie, but at the same time, yeah, he kind of does. The message at the center is still clear and heard, if a tad obvious, but Reiner gets by solely on a case that keeps us interested, even when it’s clear where it’s going to go, who is going to win, who is going to lose, and just what lessons about life and race relations are going to be learned.

As it turns out, none whatsoever. Which is makes Ghosts of Mississippi, unfortunately, something of a tragedy.

Consensus: Ghosts of Mississippi doesn’t always keep itself interesting, but with a solid cast and relevant themes about race and society, it hits pretty hard.

6 / 10

Evil, everyone! Evil!

Evil, everyone! Evil!

Photos Courtesy of: And So It Begins, Jonathan Rosenbaum

Nine Lives (2005)

Due to the cosmos in the sky, me and some dude from Iowa share the same feelings for bleach? Right?

You know how a cat apparently has nine lives, well, so do women! Well, not actually, but the movie gives us nine stories, all surrounding a woman going through something in her day-to-day life, whether it be at the grocery store, the federal prison, her childhood home, her friend’s newly-acquired apartment, an ex-husband’s wife’s funeral, or so on and so forth. But somehow, in someway, each and every story is connected, rather it be through a character or some event that occurs.

Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia takes what could be a really ordinary, if sad, movie and gives it a little artistic twist by having each and every story filmed in one, single shot. It’s nothing fancy, glitzy, or shiny – just one shot as we watch everything’s that happening in front of our eyes. And yeah, it works. It may seem like a gimmick, but surprisingly, it’s one that ends up working out for the best of the stories, because it makes us feel like flies-on-the-walls, seeing what happens next.

On aisle three, we have a reuniting-couple that's ready to argue and fight about who's to blame for their falling-out before they hit college.

On aisle three, we have a reuniting-couple that’s ready to argue and fight about who’s to blame for their falling-out before they started college. Possible clean-up needed.

But with like I said, this is an anthology film and with most anthology films, not all the stories work as well as others. Does that make the whole movie bad? Nope, just a tad uneven and it causes a whole bunch of problems when your movie seems to have some great bits, thrown into a not totally cohesive whole.

And if anything, Garcia wants us to know that, the lesson of the story here is that, well, everyone is connected in some way, shape, or form. We just may not know it.

The movie blatantly points this out about once or twice, in two, different ways, which I didn’t mind because it was where the movie was supposed to be getting at, but then, it starts gets obvious. There comes a point in this movie where two characters are literally walking outside, looking up at the sky, and say how they are all connected through the stars and planets in the sky and in our universe. Whatever the hell that means, I’ll never know (especially when I’m sober), but it seems like the movie wanted us to believe that. Many movies movies like Short Cuts and Magnolia have said this before and it’s nothing new, or original – it just makes you seem like you’ve had a tad too much to drink and smoke.

But the central theme can be pushed to the side when you look at the solid cast, all of whom are fine, but with some being a whole lot better than others, solely depending on the stories they have to work with. The opening sequence with Elpida Carrillo as a prisoner who wants to talk with her daughter had all of the right ingredients to make a satisfying, start-off for what was to come, but instead, it seemed almost too much and melodramatic for the sake of being so. Carrillo also isn’t a strong enough actress to really pull this role off and makes it seem like she’s over-acting, even if she might be playing it genuine and raw. I wouldn’t know, because her performance wasn’t all that good.

But thankfully, it gets better. A whole lot better, in fact.

The best segment out of the whole movie, which also featured the best performances were Robin Wright (drop the Penn) and Jason Isaacs as two old flames, who finally meet up in a super market after all of these years. Both are amazing stars and can work material like this till the day they die, but what’s so good about this segment is how each performer shows something more insightful with their character, even as the seconds go by. Even more impressive too, when you take into consideration that just about every segment lasts under ten minutes or less. It’s strange how awkward it starts off, but ends on a happy, heartwarming note that may surprise some people by honest and real it feels.

"Please, come in and soak in our despair and unhappiness."

“Please, come in and soak in our despair and unhappiness.”

Then, the next couple of stories are just okay, if a bit too dry for my sake. The story in which Lisa Gay Hamilton comes back to talk with a possible, sexually-abusive father is compelling, until she starts crying and over-doing it. After this, we see another story with a warmed-up lover in Holly Hunter, and the cold, cynical type of dude in Stephen Dillane as they go to meet old friends and what starts out pretty light and fluffy, becomes very dark and mean, but not in a good way. It’s odd how it transitions almost out of nowhere, which was too glaring to put aside, no matter how good the performances in the little segment were.

For all of you people who watched The Help, and thought that you needed more Sissy Spacek, well, no need to fear. She’s in both stories as a philandering wife of a paraplegic, played by the wonderfully amusing Ian McShane. Both stories are weak and just aren’t interesting, despite her being one of the greatest female actresses working today. But hell half no fear when the adorable, but sassy Kathy Baker comes to town as a woman who is in the stages of getting a mastectomy and takes all of her pain, frustration, and nervousness out on her husband. Baker is a pleasant to watch, because she’s always funny when she’s bitching and yelling at somebody, but the dynamic she shares with Joe Mantegna, who plays her hubby, makes it seem like a real life, married-couple, who really do loveone other and will be there with one another through thick and thin.

Really nice and sweet to see, especially in a movie that hasn’t been so light or hopeful in the first place.

The next sequence of the movie is probably the runner-up for the strongest sequence, with Amy Brenneman as a woman who goes to the funeral of her ex-husband’s wife, which may sound strange and all, but works because of that. Still, no matter how bizarre it may be for this gal to show up to her ex-hubby’s wife’s funeral, there’s still something sweet and endearing beneath it all that leaves you with a happy feeling in the pit of your stomach, rather than an empty one. Lastly, the movie ends with Glenn Close playing the mother of a little girl, played by Dakota Fanning, and is good, if a little weird because of the way it’s structured. However, the movie shows us why it was structured the way it is, despite it not fully working out to the best of its advantage.

Sort of like the rest of the movie, if you think about it.

Consensus: Certain stories work, whereas others don’t in Nine Lives, despite a well-acted ensemble and powerful moments of bleakness, but also sincerity as well. Still, how many movies can there be where it tries to tell us that every person on the face of this planet is connected, and doesn’t try to mention it at least more than two times?

6.5 / 10

Those eyes. THOSE EYES!!

Those eyes, though.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

The Beaver (2011)

Cockney-accented beaver-puppets always help get through depression.

Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is at a crossroads that most men at his age come to. He doesn’t know if he’s happy or not, what he wants to do with the rest of his life, and he especially doesn’t know how to talk to those around him. However, he finds a way to cope with all of these issues by picking up a beaver puppet and, by using a cockney accent that makes him sound straight out of a Guy Ritchie flick, interact with each and every person around him. While his wife (Jodie Foster) is happy about it because he’s now talking to them, Walter’s oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin) isn’t too hot about the idea; then again, he’s going through some problems of his own where he doesn’t know what he wants to do after high school and mostly passes the time by writing papers for fellow students. And for a little while, Walter’s new method of coping with his depression seems to be working out for him, as well as those around him, but sooner or later, there does come a point where the facade begins to run thin and people start getting weirded-out by the dude talking with a puppet.

Is this a light-hearted dramedy, or Panic Room?

Is this a light-hearted dramedy, or Panic Room?

The Beaver could have been a bigger movie, but man oh man, did it have some terrible timing. Yes, the Beaver came out a little after Mel Gibson’s racist and misogynistic freak-out and because of that, sadly suffered. The movie could have been wildly released to a whole slew of theaters, could have made a bigger dent at the box-office, and hell, it could have even gotten some critics and fans back on the Gibson Train. However, that didn’t happen and it’s a shame, because the Beaver’s a better movie than some give it credit for.

Of course, it’s by no means a masterpiece, but for what it is, it’s a small, sweet and sometimes funny look at one man’s depression, and how he uses a silly-looking puppet to guide him through it all. Does it make perfect sense? Not really, but the fact is that Jodie Foster directs the movie in such a lovely way, what with it’s breezy pace and all, that it didn’t really bother me how far it wanted to go with this premise.

After all, the movie itself is nearly an-hour-and-a-half, which does make it seem awfully brief.

However, Foster is a capable enough director to allow for material such as this, to work. It doesn’t hit us over-the-head with constant metaphors, nor does it try to be anything more meaningful and life-affirming than just a simple, down-to-Earth tale of one man’s issues. You can call it “hokey”, or “sappy”, or whatever you want, but there’s no denying that the movie’s enjoyable, so long as you aren’t expecting to have your life changed by the end.

But there is a feeling that movie could have been more, if I’m being truly honest. Everything involving Gibson and the beaver is perfectly fine and actually adds a lot of fun to the movie, but whenever it tries to focus more on Yelchin’s character, the movie drags a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes that he has with Jennifer Lawrence can sometimes be pretty good, if only because they have dynamite chemistry, but after awhile, they begin to show up at times that almost seem unnecessary. A movie that was already short as is, could have, somehow, been trimmed down to an even shorter run-time.

And this isn’t to say that Yelchin, Lawrence, or anyone else that isn’t Mel Gibson aren’t good, because they are. However, it also feels like Foster herself may be struggling with where to go with these two stories, how to connect them, and how to make them both simultaneously interesting. The fact that Yelchin’s character is a bit of a slacker without much inspiration in his life, already makes his story-line seem a tad bit more interesting, but the supposed love-interest he has in Lawrence kind of takes it away from being as such. Lawrence herself is quite good, but you also get the feeling that she’s got more charisma and personality than this thinly-written role may have for her.

Some of this doesn’t matter because, when you get down to it, it’s really Gibson’s show and he makes it worth watching.

All personal issues aside, there is no denying that Gibson himself is a charismatic performer who, when given the right material to work with, can not just work wonders, but make you realize that he truly is a star who can do everything. He can do tough-guy bravado, he can do sweet, sensitive guy, and he can definitely do everyman simpleton, and while he only gets a chance to show-off the later, it’s still a good reminder that hey, he’s still a good actor, no matter what sort of trash comes out of his mouth behind-the-scenes.

Well, someone's career is about to take off...

Well, someone’s career is about to take off…

As Walter Black, he gets another chance to be funny, but also show that there’s a more dramatic side to him as well. I’m sure the original script was aiming for a darker-tone, what with Walter acting out in public with a puppet and all, but Gibson takes the material and has a ball with it. He’s not only funny with that pitch perfect accent, but he also gives you the idea that there is a sane and normal-thinking human being underneath all of the acting-out. While he may not fully show it, he’s still there and it’s enough to make you want to see where he goes with the character next.

Of course, it’s a bummer that Jodie Foster doesn’t get much to do as Walter’s wife, but then again, it’s her movie that she directed. She doesn’t feel like she needs to get in the way of Mel’s show and it’s a smart maneuver. Next time, however, I would definitely appreciate more Jodie Foster.

Can’t get enough of her, honestly.

Consensus: Without trying to change the world and the people existing in it, the Beaver is a sweet and likable little dramedy, featuring a great performance from Mel Gibson – someone who is, despite all of the controversy surrounding him, a good actor.

6.5 / 10 

Oh, Mel! What a silly goose he is!

Oh, Mel! What a silly goose he is!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Damsels in Distress (2012)

College kids from Connecticut seem like so much fun when they aren’t speaking!

Sophomore Lily (Analeigh Tipton) falls in line with a new group of gals on her first day after transferring to a new school. The group she falls in line with is led by Violet (Greta Gerwig), a fellow student who tells it like it is, thinks way too much about certain things, and is trying to get her dance craze off the ground and for the whole world to see and become apart of. Together, the two, along with 3 other girls in the group, they run a non-profit Suicide Prevention Center where they allow people to let their feelings loose, and even find a creative escape by tap-dancing. It starts to work because it makes people happy, however, they still battle for the hearts of the fellow male students they see on a regular-basis, and some can’t handle the idea of denial, quite as well as others.

Whit Stillman’s films sometimes work for me, and other times, they don’t. While I’m ultimately interested by what they’re trying to say and do, by the end, I can’t help but feel like I was just talked to, rather than actually given a movie to work with. It’s almost as if I was just in a conversation with someone who is clearly high off their rocker, or just had a tad too much coffee, I sit down with them, try to bring them back down to leveled-ground, but instead, they’re so crazy and hyper, that they just end up controlling the whole conversation, making me frustrated, and then, when it’s all over, leaving me in a cloud of dust, having no clue just what the heck happened to me, or what was even said.

That’s how I feel watching Whit Stillman movies. While I may think about them long after having said conversation, no way am I fully impacted.

I get it, Greta! You can dance!

I get it, Greta! You can dance!

That said, Damsels in Distress is a fun little movie in that I don’t think it ever tries to be as serious as his other movies. In fact, it’s a lot goofier and perhaps more of an actual “comedy” than anything else; whereas his other movies can be seen as “comedies”, but are more based on actual wit, with some more darker themes at-play. And this is all to say that Damsels in Distress is, yes, clever, if not very funny.

Just sort of chuckle-worthy, if you will.

Stillman’s script is filled to the brim with double-meanings, that are splashed with an insane amount of irony, which can make this movie work its magic a little longer. The humor does take awhile to get used to, just by how strange it is, but if you’re willing to let your shields go down on the ground, you’ll find yourself a whole lot happier and more pleasant with how Stillman frames these characters, their personalities, and everything that comes out of their mouth, whether it be just a bunch of mumbo-gumbo, or actual thoughts from the mind of a youngster. I don’t think that Stillman is trying to make any ground statement about the youth in today’s society, but that’s alright, because he doesn’t have to. He’s just having fun with some of these silly, almost caricature-like characters.

"Wait...wut?"

“Wait, what?”

But like I said, being clever doesn’t always make your movie funny, or better yet, interesting. The only times that it really feels like Stillman himself seems all that invested in this material (that is, when he isn’t coming up with snappy-lines), is whenever he’s focusing on and playing around with Greta Gerwig and her character. As the perfectly-named Violot, Gerwig gets to be a lot of things that we know and love her for, as she’s quirky, odd, funny, realistic, always happy about life, sometimes thinks way beyond her head (and the stars for that matter), and has something to say, even if it’s only gibberish. Gerwig seems like she’s perfectly ready and capable of hanging around in Stillman’s world and it’s why she’s been able to transcend the “indie darling” title she’s been slapped with.

However, because the movie loves Gerwig so much, it’s hard to care for anything else when she isn’t around. But it’s almost like Stillman himself knew that; after all, he’s working with so many characters that, after awhile, it just becomes a tad overstuffed and draining to keep up. Not to mention that because the movie doesn’t entirely care about developing these characters beyond “what other funny things they can say”, it’s hard to actually get invested. A part of me likes to think that Stillman knew this, which is why he doesn’t put the greatest effort into helping out Analeigh Tipton’s character, or the countless others who aren’t Greta Gerwig.

Still, it’s fine to listen to these characters talk and go on and on, even if we don’t always know what it’s about, or what Stillman’s trying to say. He seems to want to make fun of the college-life, the sororities, the frats, and the people who just try so desperately to “fit in” and feel apart of something, but in the end, he just settles for clever one-liners. That’s fine and all, just maybe give me something more of a story or what have you.

Or at least, one that’s worth caring about.

 Consensus: When Stillman and Gerwig aren’t working their magic together, Damsels in Distress loses a little bit of luster, but still will keep you laughing in with its odd approach, even if it just takes a little while to get moving.

6.5 / 10

"Honestly, do they really think people talk like this?"

“Honestly, do they really think people talk like this?”

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

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