Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Creepy dolls? Eh. I’ve seen worse.

Sam (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto), used to be the happiest couple around. He, a toy-maker, her, just a lovely housewife, with the whole community behind their backs. Then, tragedy struck and all of a sudden, they pushed away the outside world. However, they are still kind enough to let a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and a couple of orphan girls to stay in their big old house for a certain amount of time, so long as they follow a bit of rules. The main one: Don’t go into Esther’s room. Do you think these kids listen? Hell no! This obviously starts a lot of bad stuff, including the constant appearance of an even freakier doll named Annabelle, who the girls all seem entranced by, but don’t know exactly why. Is it a demon? A prank? Or just their little imaginations running wild?

“Let me have a decent meal in peace!” – Annabelle

The first Annabelle movie was, in all honesty, a piece of crap. It was slow, boring, and felt like it had really know story, was written over a weekend, and given all sorts of money for the sole sake of tying up with this horror-universe that the Conjuring practically created. That’s why a sequel, in my eyes, just didn’t sound all that enticing.

Then Lights Out director David Sandberg showed up and suddenly, I was color interested, and with good reason.

For one, Sandberg knows how to shoot this kind of horror; the camera tilts and constant swoops, may be a bit nauseating, but they help what could have been a very easy and tame horror flick, hit a lot harder. We’re always left in the dark with what’s going to happen next and rather than taking its good old time, Sandberg starts off from the flood-gates and keeps on going. In a way, he keeps the horror fun, if not all that terrifying.

Yup. Crosses save the day.

Which is to say that Annabelle: Creation is a much more “fun” horror movie, than actually a “scary” one, and that seems to be the case with me and most horror movies out there nowadays. It isn’t that I can’t get scared, or even jump a little bit during horror movies, it’s more that I can’t quite get scared by the ghosts, ghouls, and creatures that lurk somewhere in the dark. My thought is that the real world is scary enough, with an even more threat to my life, so how are these evil characters from a movie supposed to genuinely scare me even more?

Well, they don’t. That’s why when I go to a horror movie, it’s just for some fun. If the scares happen, then so be it.

With Annabelle: Creation, the scares never quite came for me, but that doesn’t mean Sandberg doesn’t at least try his best. You can tell that he’s sort of working with a relatively weak and unoriginal script, as well as part of a franchise that’s being used to just set everything else up, but he makes it all work by just showing us a knack for telling horror stories that may not always be terrifying, but know how to have a good time.

And in today’s day and age, I think we all need a little bit of that. Right, people?

Consensus: While maybe not entirely frightening, Annabelle: Creation is still, heads, shoulders, knees, and toes above its predecessor in terms of quality and overall entertainment-value. Too bad it feels so damn corporate.

6 / 10

“Ready when you are.” – Annabelle

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Advertisements

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Well, maybe Bond is a lot cooler.

It’s been a year since we last caught up with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and well, let’s just say, things are still kind of the same. Baddies still want to kill him and he’s still got to find ways on how to not only kill them, but save those lives around him. And while he’s definitely looking forward to living a life on the straight-and-narrow, he’s pulled back in when a new threat arises in Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a dangerous, but very light and happy drug-dealer who’s trying to end this war on drugs as we know it. Back with his usual band of misfits, like Merlin (Mark Strong), Eggsy is ready to stop Poppy once and for all, but this time, with the help of another spy company, Statesman. And if that wasn’t enough for Eggsy, it turns out that his mentor Harry (Colin Firth), who he had long thought was dead, is still alive and trying to get his skills back. But that’s obviously going to be a lot harder than he expects, especially what with this mission continuing to threaten more and more lives.

Somehow, it works.

The first Kingsman, while definitely in poor-taste, was no doubt a Matthew Vaughn film, for better and for worse. It was stupid, loud, dirty, dark, violent, and oh yeah, pretty fun. It’s the kind of movie that didn’t really know if it wanted to be smart, or just plainly dumb, but either way, it was fun and got by mostly on the charm of its game-cast, as well as Vaughn himself who takes this kind of material, makes it his own, and doesn’t allow for us to forget about that. There’s something actually kind of awesome and relatively brave about that, because while so many people will get on his case for his mistreatment of women and other issues within society, he still doesn’t care; he takes it in stride, moves on, and continues to make some fun movies.

That’s why the Golden Circle is a bit of a disappointment, especially coming from his side.

For one, it’s a sequel which, already, causes some problems. Meaning, it’s louder, more over-the-top, longer, and densely packed with so much stuff, it’s almost overkill. I get Vaughn’s enthusiasm for having the opportunity to hang with these characters again and in a way, it makes it feel like less of a hack, studio-job, and much more of a passion-project, but there’s so much going on here, it can’t help but feel stuffing. At nearly two-and-a-half-hours, Vaughn may have a lot to say and a lot to do, but in all ends up jumbling together, making the first one seeming like a tight, well-paced adventure.

This new one, unfortunately, takes too many weird side-roads to get where it needs to go, especially since the script isn’t nearly as smart as it may think it is. The first one ran into that same kind of a problem, where it’s almost like it thought it had something neat and smarmy to say about intelligence movies of its nature, but really, just wanted to shoot people and objectify women. Once again, if that’s your bag and you can pull that off, then good for you,

Hey, everyone. See this? It’s Julianne Moore having fun. Let her have more of that!

The first one could and did. This one? Maybe not so much.

Still, every opportunity I get to think of the problems I had with this movie, in terms of its story and jam-packed story-line, I still remember that there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, too, in particular with the action-sequences that Vaughn has no problem with making so absolutely insane and crazy, it’s hard to expect it anywhere else. There’s just a certain bit of flair and energy to these sequences that aren’t found much elsewhere, and it’s hard not to get swept-up in it all, even if you know that when they’re done, it’s time for 20-25 minutes of more random bits of dialogue.

But hey, the ensemble seems to be having fun with it, so is that entirely a problem? Well, not really. Taron Egerton fits this role of Eggsy like a glove; Firth shows back up and gives us a bit more depth to a character that I think we already had enough of; Strong comes back and brings some heart and fun to a character that deserved more depth and, finally, got it this time around; Julianne Moore gets the opportunity to vamp and have fun here as Poppy Adams, and yes, makes every moment worth it; Pedro Pascal proves to be a bad-ass as another secret-agent, Jack Daniels; Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Halle Berry, despite a whole lot of promise by the ads, aren’t in this whole lot, although they make the best with what they can; and oh yeah, there’s a secret musical-guest that’s a pretty nice addition and a whole lot of fun. Don’t know if it’s a spoiler or not so I’ll just shut up and say that this person, along with everyone else, made the experience a little bit better.

Not a whole lot, but a little bit. And that’s all that really matters.

Consensus: Bloated and overly ambitious, the Secret Circle, unfortunately, suffers from a great deal of sequelitis, but due to Vaughn’s knack for exciting action and a fun cast, it still works.

6 / 10

Somehow, skiing just got pretty bad-ass.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

12 and Holding (2005)

Small towns are way too weird.

Jacob and Rudy (Conor Donovan) are identical twins, in terms of the way they look and sound (sort of), but they are different in their own ways. Rudy is far more outgoing and considered “the golden child”, whereas Jacob, mostly due to a birthmark covering a large portion of his face, is forced to mostly stay indoors and keep to himself. However, they both get along well enough to where they spend as much time together and even build a tree-house, for them and all their friends to hang. But disaster strikes one night when, after messing with some bullies, the tree-house is lit on fire, with Rudy inside, trapping him and, as a result, killing him. Now, it’s up to Jacob to take most of the attention from his brother and he uses that attention to make a name for himself. Meanwhile, Leonard (Jesse Camacho), another friend, is overweight and trying to lose it all, while Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) tries to befriend an adult named Gus (Jeremy Renner), who is in town and doesn’t quite know what to make of this new friendship, as inappropriate as it may be.

Uh, like step away?

12 and Holding is another odd movie from the likes of writer/director Michael Cuesta and I mean that in the best way possible. Granted, compared to his debut, L.I.E., 12 and Holding doesn’t quite hit the same emotional notes, but it’s still interesting in that it focuses on a small, core group of people, gives them some development, a sense of conflict, and allows their stories to just be told to us. Sure, the stories don’t always work, but at least Cuesta’s trying something, right?

Well, yes. And no. Sort of.

See, one of the issues with 12 and Holding is that it tries a lot harder to be an outright comedy this go around, unlike L.I.E., that was far more serious and disturbing. There’s still that sense of dirt and grit here, but not nearly as in-your-face as it was with Cuesta’s debut; this time around, the disturbing-features are played up more for cringe-inducing and awkward laughs. Occasionally, Cuesta will hit a high spot for comedy, but often times, it can feel as if he’s maybe trying a tad too hard, as if the material itself wasn’t, on the surface, funny enough.

Which is odd to say, I know, considering that in the first 15 minutes, a kid literally gets burned-to-death, but still, you can tell Cuesta is going for the darker-laughs this time around and he doesn’t always hit his mark. He does develop these characters and give them enough to work with, however, he also can’t help but give us the occasional quirk, too. It would have helped if these quirks were, at some point, funny, but they aren’t and because of that, it can feel straining.

“So, how’s the food?”

That said, the drama still works and had the movie just been with that, then yeah, it probably would have been a slam-dunk.

If there’s one thing that Cuesta gets right, is the small-town, suburban malaise that, in a way, American Beauty dealt with. Sure, that movie did it a whole lot better and effortlessly, but 12 and Holding does something interesting in that it shows how grief messes with each and everyone of us, regardless of if we are willing to accept it or not. Cuesta shows that we all deal with it on our own terms and because of that, we act out in somewhat rather outlandish and insane ways; we can’t really diagnose it, or even excuse it, as it’s just in our human nature.

If anything, 12 and Holding is much more sad and depressing than anything, and had the movie focused on this much more, it would have been better. However, it didn’t and it dealt with comedy a tad too much. Still, the ensemble is pretty great with nearly all of the child and adult-performers putting in solid work. Perhaps the most shining star in the whole thing is Zoe Weizenbaum as Malee, the incredibly curious and sexually vivacious teen that makes a good half of this movie pretty uncomfortable. However, she’s so charming and lovely to watch, with Renner’s Gus helping out, too, that it makes these scenes go down a lot easier.

Not like L.I.E., of course, Nothing can quite be as disturbing and as off-putting as that.

Consensus: Uneven to a fault, 12 and Holding tries to be way too funny, when it probably didn’t need to, but still works as a small, sad and thought-provoking indie about small-towns and grief.

6 / 10

Gonna grow up to be some awfully weird adults. Just like the rest of us.

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

L.I.E. (2001)

Get out of Long Island the first thing you do.

Still affected by the death of his mother, Howie (Paul Dano) has been having a bit of a rough go at life, for the time being. His dad (Bruce Altman) doesn’t seem to get him and is too busy spending time with his new girlfriend, who Howie obviously detests, and his best-friend Gary (Adam LeFevre), who he also has a love for, plans on moving out of their small suburban town in hopes of achieving his dreams of being rich and famous. Howie wants to profess his love for Gary, but he finds it easier to just go around causing all sorts of shenanigans with him, like for instance, robbing random people’s houses. One person that they rob is Big John (Brian Cox) an older, very charming man who has a certain affinity for young boys and immediately takes a liking to Howie. The later, all confused as to who to love or care for, immediately takes to Big John, too, and they both forge something of a friendship that gets dangerously close to being something much more. But will the two take the plunge, or learn to just respect one another?

Did Howie get his candy yet? You know, like he was promised?!?

A part of me feels like a great deal of the positive reception and, dare I say it, hype around L.I.E. has to solely due with the fact that it was touching on some really disturbing taboos that no one could get away with. Sure, the movie got slapped with an NC-17 rating nonetheless, but mostly that was due to the fact that it dealt with homosexuality, pedophilia, and sex in general, all featuring characters who seemed to be clearly underage. You could make the argument that the movie’s just another case of Larry Clarke’s Kids, but that would actually be an insult to L.I.E.

This movie’s much more thoughtful, whereas Clarke’s was just over-the-top and disturbing, for the sake of being so.

But still, L.I.E. isn’t quite nearly as good as it should be. One of the main aspects holding it back is that it’s the directorial debut from Michael Cuesta and in ways, you can tell. The movie’s dark, dirty, gritty, and grainy look, while giving it a realistic-look and feel, also feels amateurish, especially when the movie decides to stylize itself up a bit more with random, floating montages. You could say that it’s “pretentious”, but it isn’t entirely; a good deal of the movie is small, contained and actually, subtle, but there’s the other deal that also seems like a first-time director having a bit too much fun with a budget and a script in his hands.

That said, when the movie does settle down, L.I.E. works as a thoughtful and smart character-study of two troubled people coming together in a surprisingly believable way. It helps that we get to know each character very well before they meet one another, however, it also helps that Cuesta was able to get both Brian Cox and a very young Paul Dano in these lead roles, because they don’t just work well together, but they are actually the heart and soul of the whole picture.

Which is saying something, considering that the movie itself is pretty damn dark.

Don’t do it! Or do. It’s okay!

As Big John, Cox has the really troubling job of making a despicable and disgusting character seem somewhat sympathetic. And well, it works – not only do you come to care for this heinous wreck-of-a-man, but you also actually seem to get charmed by him. A part of the charm is his act and how he reels people in, and Cox gets by on this in spades, while all still seeming like one creepy individual. There’s more to this character that, in all honesty, deserved to be explored, but as far as portraits of actual monsters go, Cox’s Big John remains one of the more fully-realized and well-done.

Which is a shame because despite him trying very hard, Dano’s Howie doesn’t quite resonate as much. See, one aspect behind Howie’s character is that he’s a whole bunch of things that teenagers at that age are; confused, naive, angry, upset, and constantly fluctuating between emotions and how it is that they feel at any given moment. We get to see a lot about Howie and Dano makes it all work, but then, Cuesta comes around to making there more to Howie, like how he writes poetry, understands certain pop-culture references, and watches old movies, that don’t quite work. The movie wants to make Howie more than he actually is – which is just another upset teenager – and because of that, it takes away from what was already a smart and understandable character to begin with.

Oh well. Both Dano and Cuesta would continue to go on and do much better.

Same is obviously said for Cox.

Consensus: By touching on some disturbing themes in a very in-your-face way, L.I.E. can often times seem a little cloying, but still works because of the smart, understated and thoughtful performances from both Dano and, especially, Cox.

6.5 / 10

Love at first face-piercing.

Photos Courtesy of: Alter Ego Entertainment

The Unknown Girl (2017)

Not your problem, don’t solve it.

Jenny (Adele Haenel) is a young doctor who has a pretty bright career ahead of her and is using her knowledge to help out those looking up to her. But late one night, after a very long day of working with all sorts of people, she’s just so pooped and can’t be bothered with someone who rings her buzzer late after work hours. While she normally would have any other day, on this particular day, she doesn’t, and ultimately, it ends up biting her in the rump for the days to come. As it turns out, the person ringing the buzzer was a young African woman who was found dead not long after ringing away. How? Or why? Or better yet, who exactly was this woman? It constantly aches and chews away at Jenny and for the next few days, she spends, when she’s not looking over patients, finding out more about this woman and the life she led. Is it to make up for the guilt she feels? Or is it just because she herself needs a little bit of inspiration in her own stale-mate life?

“Cheers! Or at least try to! We’re in a Dardenne movie.”

It should be said that a Dardenne movie is a lot better than most of what is out there, regardless of how good the actual Dardenne movie is. And in the case of the Unknown Girl, this is especially true. It’s not that it’s neither bad, nor good – it’s just that it’s very mediocre and awfully generic, especially given the standards that the Dardenne’s have come to be known for in the past two decades they’ve been around.

And it’s odd, too, because the Unknown Girl has everything one could want from a Dardenne movie. It’s bleak, a little sad, super-serious, well-acted, and filmed in such a naturalistic, realistic way that it almost seems like a documentary than anything else. In that sense, it’s very French and wears a lot of the Dardenne’s movies on its sleeves, but for some reason, the story just isn’t here.

And that ultimately proves to be its main and only issue.

“Hello? Yeah, I’m pretty depressed.”

The fact that the story in and of itself is a Macguffin, sort of doesn’t matter; it’s fine that we sort of spend our time, waiting and watching as Jenny finds out more about this mysterious woman’s life. In a way, there’s plenty of secrets to be had and it makes you think of just where it’s going to go, especially since the Dardenne’s movies aren’t always the most predictable bunch.

But then, it gets going and it turns out, oh wait, there’s not much to it. We begin to find out more about the life this woman lived, why she was ringing the buzzer that night, the guilt, the sadness, and the tragedy of her life left behind, and that’s about it. We don’t really learn much about anyone in the meantime, nor does it ever feel like much of anything was accomplished – it’s just a story, being told in the most generic-way imaginable. Which isn’t to say that it makes the Unknown Girl a bad movie, but considering that we’re talking about the Dardenne’s here, it can’t help but feel like a disappointment. This is usually their bread and butter, and while there are bits and pieces and splashes of interesting ideas, they feel in-service of a story that’s not quite where it wants to go, or what it wants to do.

It just meanders long and long enough until we’re at the end and left wondering, “Well, that’s it? Really? Anything else?”

But nope. There isn’t. Oh well.

Consensus: Despite there being flashes of the usual solid work done by the Dardenne’s, the Unknown Girl still feels like a bit of a disappointment, with a slow-pace, generic story, and awfully simple outcome.

5 / 10

Great door-to-door service medical-care. Why don’t we have this in the States?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Dean (2017)

Go home. Then leave.

Dean (Demetri Martin) is an NY illustrator who needs a little bit of inspiration in his life. So what better way to find it then when your mom dies and your dad is basically depressed? Well, that’s what happens to Dean when, suddenly, his mom dies and he has to leave his sheltered, lovely little life in NY, and head back home to the sunny and hot L.A. While there, Dean reconnects with old friends and family; friends still seem like they’re not doing much with his life, whereas his family, like his father (Kevin Kline), seem stuck, too. And you know what? So is Dean! That’s why, when he meets the sexy and mysterious Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), he immediately hits it off with her and starts to see something of a future with her. Meanwhile, his dad is finding a possible soul-mate in his real-estate agent (Mary Steenburgen), who may also be the right recipe to help get him out of his funk. Are both going to get better and start to realize that there’s more to life than just sulking around and being freakin’ miserable all of the time?

Ugh. Quite whining!

Dean is a lot of different styles and trademarks that other writer/directors have pulled-off before and much better, too. It’s a little bit of Wes Anderson, a smidge of Woody Allen, and oh yeah, a whole lot of Zach Braff. It’s an odd concoction, which sort of works, but also seems like writer/director/star Demetri Martin liked what he saw a bit too much and just decided to pick and choose what he wanted to work with?

I don’t know. Actually, what I do know is that it sort of works, but also doesn’t feel all that terribly original. Sort of like Martin himself who, despite having such a cult-following for his alternative and whimsical brand of stand-up, just never quite connected with me. He felt too twee and a little too of-himself to quite work for me, but hey, that’s me and stuff like that doesn’t matter.

I just want to let the world know that I am not a Demetri Martin fan. Now that it’s out in the open, I hope that we can both move on and get along cordially.

But it’s odd because it seems like you really have to be an absolute adoring fan of Martin’s to really like Dean, or what he’s doing in it. He’s literally the star of this thing, through and through, playing a rather unlikable and whiny character that feels real and honest, but by the same token, can tend to get a bit annoying. While Dean himself may not be all that interesting, to me, seeing just where this character went along for his journey of self-discovery and the people he hung around, was more than enough to keep me interested. Martin is fine in the lead role, but once again, your tolerance of him may vary on how you feel exactly for this character.

“Ew! What a lame-o hipster!”

The real saving-grace of Dean is, thankfully, the supporting-cast who all seem like they did this sort of as a labor-of-love, what with all of the big, talented names attached. Gillian Jacobs, while her character seems absolutely like a type, gets by in showing a nice deal of chemistry with Martin; Rory Scovel plays Eric, Dean’s best buddy who is a bit weird, but also endearing enough to work; Kevin Kline is fine as Dean’s dad, but honestly, feels like he was thrown in there because he had some free-time and wanted to be a nice guy to Martin; and yeah, the same goes for Steenburgen.

In fact, the much better movie here in Dean, actually, isn’t about Dean at all.

It’s about his dad trying to get a firmer grasp on the rest of his life, move on, find love again, and figure out where to go from here. But the subplot’s never as fully developed as it ought to be; we go through very long stretches of the movie without even a glimpse of what Kline’s character is up to, but instead, are stuck watching Martin’s Dean. It’s a shame, too, because Steenburgen and Kline do seem to have genuine chemistry here and their scenes together, while definitely minor and rushed, do have a bit of sweetness attached to them that the rest of the movie, honestly, is missing.

But still, it all depends on how you feel for Demetri Martin.

Consensus: As far as indies go, Dean‘s pretty conventional and safe, but the ensemble is fine enough to help you pass the time along and enjoy what’s in front of you.

6 / 10

Go away, Demetri. Let Kevvy-poo take over.

Photos Courtesy of: CBS Films

Megan Leavey (2017)

Never step between a woman and her dog. Dawg.

Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) was like a lot of us when we get to a certain point in each of our lives – we’re bored, uninterested in a lot of stuff, and just not really sure of what we want to do, or where we want to go. That’s when she decides to join the military and finds out that it’s a lot harder than she expected. But eventually, she finds her path and it isn’t before long before she’s a young Marine corporal and finding interest in the oddest aspect of the army: The K-9 unit. See, after she gets in trouble for committing a lewd act on the base, Leavey is assigned to have to clean up in the K-9 unit, where she forges a bond with Rex, a particularly aggressive dog that, over much time, she begins to train into becoming a top-level bomb-sniffing dog. And together, the two entrust in one another to complete all sorts of missions on the battlefield, looking for bombs and ensuring that no one gets killed. However, when out on the field of battle, all lives are in jeopardy.

“The other Mara girl, reporting for duty, sir!”

Megan Leavey is, literally, a story about a girl and her dog. Sounds cheesy, melodramatic, sappy, and pretty damn awful, but surprisingly, it isn’t. Sure, it’s melancholy and a little corny, to be fair, but it’s also so simple, so straight-forward, and actually, so sweet, it’s hard to dismiss it for being what it is and not making any excuses for itself. It almost makes you wish more movies were just like it, but not really, because then that would just be boring.

In fact, having one Megan Leavey a year, is fine with me.

Well, scratch that: Actually, it would be nice to have more stories of tough, strong-willed and talented women, directed by and written by, women, all the time, throughout the year. We got that before with Wonder Woman and well, it’s nice to get it again with Megan Leavey, because when you get down to it, it is just that – a movie about a strong-willed, smart and talented woman who saved lives and is a better human being for it. She also acquired quite the bond with a lovable dog, which also helps put it into focus, but it’s so nice to get a story like this, without any sort of preaching whatsoever, that it makes you actually wish there were more of them around.

Sure, writer/director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s direction isn’t all that stylish and can, at times, certainly seem like something made-for-TV, but she doesn’t get in the way of the material, or the true-story this movie’s all about, so it actually works. We get to know Megan Leavey, why she matters, and why exactly we’re getting a near two-hour movie about her trying her best to connect with a bomb-sniffing dog in the military; there’s plenty of jokes that could be made at this movie’s expense, but the fact that it’s all true, actually helps. In fact, it would have probably just seemed like an indirect remake of that same movie from a years ago, Max, but thankfully, this story’s true and that one isn’t.

They must be getting her mixed-up with Rooney, the troublemaker.

Maybe. I still have yet to see it and don’t quite plan on it.

Cause after all, Megan Leavey is fine enough for me. It’s a movie about a girl bonding with a dog and it’s a little goofy, but it works the way it is. And it definitely helps to have Kate Mara in the lead-role, because anytime it seems like this material could get maudlin or cheesy, guess what? Mara’s there to save the day and bring some legitimacy with the role. Her Megan Leavey is a very smart and intelligent woman, but also not a perfect one; she makes mistakes and she says the wrong things when she shouldn’t, but you know what, that helps make her more human. The role’s also the more impressive once you take into consideration that a good portion of her roles are just her acting across from a dog, which can’t always be an easy-feat.

Then again, those who act in the Planet of the Apes movies are acting across from Andy Serkis in a tennis-ball-laden-onezie, so yeah, maybe it’s not all that hard.

Consensus: Ridiculously straightforward, Megan Leavey works better as a smart and relatively compelling true tale of a woman, her dog, and the lives that they saved.

6.5 / 10

Who’s cooler?

Photos Courtesy of: Bleecker Street Media

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Yeah, don’t go to Germany. For many reasons.

Clare (Teresa Palmer) is just a young photographer who travels out to Germany to see what she can shoot. She obviously gets wrapped-up in the night life, as well as the fellow young and happenin’ artists just like her, including schoolteacher Andi (Max Riemelt). The two hit it off and of course, they spend the night together, making all sorts of sex. But then, the next day comes around and Clare realizes that Andi doesn’t want her to go. Like, anywhere. And now, for no reason, Clare is held prisoner in a large apartment-complex, that has been seemingly abandoned and without a single sight of another human found anywhere in the nearest vicinity. Is she ever going to be able to get out alive? Better yet, what is she going to have to do to get out?

Never too late to turn around.

As usual with kidnapping thrillers, the Berlin Syndrome is a depressing movie. But there’s something interesting about its depression that makes it worth watching, even in its saddest and perhaps most deepest moments of despair. Most of that comes through the way the movie is filmed to almost make it seem like a dream – the ugliest, scariest, and most disturbing of dreams – but also, because of Teresa Palmer in the lead role who, after quite some time, hasn’t been this good in a while.

Like, a real long while.

And yes, I blame Hollywood.

See, the thing about Palmer is that, despite her being awfully good-looking, she’s also a compelling presence on the screen; she’s a strong, tough, and very smart woman who seems like she knows what she’s doing, in just about every movie. Of course, every movie that she shows up in, whether small or big, never seems to really take this into consideration and instead, she’s stuck with the conventional role of being the hot-chick and love-interest of whatever male protagonist she’s opposite of. It’s a shame to see her get this role, time and time again, but once again, it seems like that’s the way Hollywood operates: Take the smartest, brightest and most beautiful talent there is, and watch them as they make their way through awful roles.

True love. I think. Or he does.

That said, Palmer is quite great here because as Clare, every step of the way, we’re with her. We feel her pain, her agony, her anguish, her insanity, and oh yeah, her perseverance in, hopefully, one day getting out in the big, bright world. Sure, she does a lot of yelling and hollering, but really, it’s all in the look of her eyes and the way she carries herself from scene-to-scene that makes her so compelling to watch, even when it seems like her character, nor this plot, are ever going to get anywhere.

She’s the absolute reason why the Berlin Syndrome works as well as it does, because without her, it would be nothing more than just another creepy, off-putting kidnapping thriller.

Which, of course, it is. But it isn’t an awfully surprising one, really. There’s some suspense and intensity to be had throughout the proceedings, but once you get past the lead characters, there’s not much to really grasp at. The villain of the film, while getting the chance to shed some humanity in between all of the raping and other disturbing acts of depravity, doesn’t have much more to him than, well, daddy issues. Or mommy issues, I think. Either way, the dude’s got issues and while it’s admirable that the movie attempts to have us see him more than just a cold-hearted asshole, he still is, no doubt, a cold-hearted asshole. Why we get so much of his backstory and so very little of Clare’s, is a bit odd.

But hey, at least Palmer gets the chance to shine. That’s all that matters, in the end.

Consensus: As is the case with kidnapping thrillers, the Berlin Syndrome follows a conventional formula, but does benefit from giving Teresa Palmer a solid role to work with and make worth watching.

6 / 10

The things we do to get out of deadly kidnapping situations. Something we can all relate to, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Vertical Entertainment

Dark Night (2017)

Movies: The ultimate escape from violence.

It’s America and a few individuals are, well, living life. Some are happy, some aren’t, but there’s no denying that they’re all human beings just trying to get by in the world. And of course, all of these human beings lives come together in one fateful night where they decide that it’s time to go and check out the latest superhero flick, but while they’re doing this, they’re also in for an awful surprise. A very, very awful surprise.

It’s very hard to really get down to what Dark Night is about because, after all, it’s based on the Aurora Shootings from 2012. The title’s a dead giveaway of course, but also, the movie, right from the get-go, lets us know that this is going to be a dark, disturbing and rather unexpected tale into a few humans lives who we already know the end for; in a way, it’s even more depressing to watch, because no matter how happy these few lives may be, we all know the painful, tragic ends of them.

Okay, kid. You’re crazy. We get it. Now, shut up!

Does that make the movie better? Not really and it’s sort of an issue that Dark Night runs into throughout its very short and thin hour-and-a-half run-time.

It does deserve to be said that writer/director Tim Sutton has a clear idea for what he wants to do here and because of that, his vision is compelling, if a bit meandering. Rather than displaying a full-set of conventional story-lines, the movie sort of jumps around from story-to-story, at its own pace, by its rules, and without any real rhyme, or reason. And hell, half of the time, the movie isn’t even focusing in on the separate storylines, as much as it’s just focusing in on a single-shot of some inanimate object.

These are all made to have us thinking, like, for instance, what does it all mean? What is Sutton trying to tell us? That all our lives, while precious and full of its own little moments, both good and bad, is ultimately destined for disaster? Probably not, but it definitely feels like that, making the movie feeling, once again, depressing. And that’s sort of the point, too; that each and everyone of these people who were shot and killed in the theater that fateful night, were literally just looking to escape from their real lives and to be transported into a fake, magical and fun one, for two-hours, is even more upsetting.

Yeah. Not suspicious at all.

After all, it’s what the movies were made for. Take that away from us, what good are they?

But still, Sutton’s film is much more of a tone-poem than anything else and it sort of works; it moves and meanders as much as it want and because of that, it can be interesting to see exactly where it goes. But there’s also that feeling that perhaps, just even maybe, Sutton isn’t really doing justice to the real-life victims or the tragedy that inspired it. By just jumping in on these few stories to see what’s up and continuing to move on, makes it not just feel like a missed-opportunity to have us understand more, but to also really dig in deep into some of these character’s lives. While they are no doubt fictional, they are still characters nonetheless and because of that, we’re meant to sit there, watch them, and study them, for all that they are.

Sutton doesn’t really do that and it feels odd. Of course, he is playing by his own rules, so the better for him, but for us, those watching, it can be a bit frustrating. Just when you think Sutton’s going to go somewhere the least bit mildly thrilling, he jumps away and focuses his attention on somewhere, or someone else. It should also be noted that the so-called “killer” in this movie is the one who seems to get the most focus, as we casually see him lose his s**t practically everywhere he goes and seem on the edge of breaking down. Of course, we know the end, but did we need to see the whole build-up to this monster? Sure, it’s disturbing, but what does it really tell us?

Nut-jobs exist?

No s**t.

Consensus: Perhaps not the most conventional of movie-going experiences, Dark Night still aims at portraying the tragedy of the real-life events that inspired it and are somewhat successful.

6 / 10

How we all prepare for another one of Nolan’s masterpieces.

Photos Courtesy of: Aurora Sentinel, IndieWire

Chuck (2017)

Rocky who? Oh yeah, that guy.

Chuck Wepner (Liev Schrieber), for quite some time, had the life that any person would have wanted to live. He was an accomplished boxer, kicked a lot of people’s assess, had a wonderful wife (Elizabeth Moss), good kids, loyal friends and family, respect, a cool nickname (“the Bayonne Bleeder”), and oh yeah, went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. In fact, he was so well-known that, believe it or not, Sylvester Stallone actually used his life and career as the inspiration for Rocky – a fact that, for a very long time, Chuck would continue to let everyone know about, regardless of if they asked or not. But after awhile, Chuck began to get too big of britches and, to go along with his insane drug-habit, he couldn’t stop screwing around with all the wrong people, other women included. Eventually, he loses his job, his wife, his legacy, and oh yeah, his family. So where does he go from there?

No really, where does he go from there?

Uh oh. Chucky go some ‘asplainin’ to do!

See, Chuck was advertised heavily as “the story of the guy who inspired the story of Rocky“, as if any of that really matters. It’s like when John Carter came out and the advertisements were all saying, “the story that inspired Star Wars and Avatar“, once again, as if any of that matters. Because even though the story may have inspired another one, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the adaptation of said story, isn’t conventional, or formulaic.

After all, we didn’t get Chuck before Rocky. The other way around, in fact. So because of that, Chuck comes off a bit like a run-of-the-mill, stationary biopic that hits all of the same beats and rhythymns that Rocky hit, but also feels a little overdone. Because instead of feeling like a movie, of its time, like Rocky did, Chuck goes the extra mile to put us in the place of the 70’s, where coke was everywhere, disco was constantly playing, and people dressed-up so super fly.

Does it kind of work?

Yeah.

It’s hard to have an issue with a movie that makes the energy and glitz of the 70’s so fun and infectious; if anything, it’s nice that they were able to get it all down so perfectly, without feeling like they were trying way too hard to recreate a period of time that they obviously didn’t have the budget for. Director Philippe Falardeau, while no doubt a very serious French director, also seems to be enjoying himself here, not allowing for the material to get too dark or serious, but just to the point where it matters. But for the most part, he’s having a good time and relishing in the period-setting and the details that all went along with it.

Does that help take away from the fact that Chuck is a little conventional and, well, as a result, slight? Not really. But it makes what could have been a very boring movie, turn out a lot more fun and entertaining. It’s still a formulaic boxing movie, about an underdog who had his shot at the big time, accomplished it, and then lost it all due to awful life decisions, but it’s an entertaining one, at that. So yeah, it helps.

All about the hair.

And yeah, it also helps that the ensemble is quite good here and clearly able to keep up with the times.

Liev Schreiber is perfect casting as Wepner, because he not just looks the role, but feels it. There’s something lovable about him, but also makes you realize that he’s a bit of flawed asshole who you can’t always trust, especially not with your wallet or wife, but can always still love, when the end of the day comes around. And that’s what matters for a story like this, about a guy like this, who definitely didn’t make perfect decisions, but was a good time to be around. He had his moment in the spotlight, made it last, and did what he could to keep the party going? Granted, he forgot about his wife, kids, bank-account, and plenty other responsibilities, but hey, who am I to judge?

Either way, Schreiber’s great in the role that he was, essentially, born to play. Everyone else is good from Elizabeth Moss as his annoyed, but strong wife, to Jim Gaffigan in a pretty silly role. But everyone’s good here; even the bit role with Naomi Watts, while feeling a little self-serving, still works because, believe it or not, her and Schreiber do have good chemistry.

See, not every couple has to have their own Gigli.

Maybe that’s why they’re broken-up now. Ugh. True love doesn’t last, people. So love the one you’re with and try to make it last.

That’s the moral of Chuck, right?

Consensus: Formulaic and run-of-the-mill, Chuck is a boxing-drama that doesn’t really break any new ground, but is fun, light, and well-acted enough to get by the conventions that usually keep movies down like this.

6.5 / 10

“Guys. Who’s Sly?”

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

Blue Steel (1990)

Chicks can be cops? Yeah right!

Newly badged-up policewoman Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) gets her first shift on the job and already has caused enough pandemonium amongst the force to get her side-lined pencil-pushing for the next couple of months. What happened is that during a hold-up in a convenience store, Megan got all tense and caught up in her emotions, and she ended up blowing the guy away, just as soon as he pulled out his gun. It seemed like the right thing for Maggie to do to save her life, as well as many others, but in the faces and minds of the NYPD: It wasn’t and what makes it even worse is that nobody can actually find the gun that the robber pulled-out. Well, that’s because it’s stuck in the hands of sales manager, Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver), a guy who’s outside appearance has him come off as charming, cunning, and slick with his words, but on the inside, there’s some sick, twisted stuff going on there.

If you want to look at this film through a study of femininity at its finest, then you can definitely find a whole bunch of material to chew on. Megan is the type of character that is easy to reel for, even when she seems to be in a bit over her head. She’s easily conflicted, brave, but also a little headstrong, which also helps to make her believable.

Who ya shootin’?

And yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is the one leading the pack as Megan Turner and is good at showing us a real woman, with real feelings, and real emotional problems that we all go through as people, regardless of our gender. Curtis has never really done anything on the big-screen that’s really wiped-out everybody else in the movies that she’s been in, but she’s still very good here and shows that she’s able to be likable, but also quite stiff as well, which may have

That’s why to have a movie focusing on her and all of her troubles to get through this crossroads in her life is more compelling than anything else going on. We rarely ever see a change in where the shoe is on the other foot, especially with cop movies, and it’s pretty interesting because Bigelow presents us with some understandable ideas and thoughts, but never gets to the point of answering them. And to be honest I don’t think they need to. The gender battle between male and female will continue on until one gender is extinct, which wholly means that Megan’s battle will continue along as well. It’s not as sad or depressing as I may make it sound, I promise, but it’s more realistic in the way that not everything in this world is going to change because you can pick up a gun, shoot it, and show how cool and deadly you are.

However, the problem with this movie is that it’s not all about Megan’s pursuits in staying true to herself and her job, but actually about how they need to find this guy who’s going around, killing people, and doing all sorts of other weird stuff along the way. This part of the movie should have been the most interesting and entertaining, hell, even the best part of it all, but it instead showed promise, only to have it continue to falter further and further away from being anything more than just Bigelow throwing a piece of ham in our face as we run on a treadmill.

Every single damn time that we think that Megan’s going to get the bad guy, he somehow finds another way to get out from underneath her grip, and cause even more trouble, pain, and anger for Megan and his victims. It’s tense at times, but after awhile, it feels like Bigelow needs to find someway to prolong this story even further, as if the idea of having Megan be a female cop in a rather masculine police-force wasn’t enough promise for meaty-material. Then again, I’m not the director so I can see why she would want to keep us entertained and compelled as to what’s going to happen next, which sort of did work and sort of didn’t.

Oh, never mind. I see.

As I’ve said before, less style, more story. That’s what I always say.

Okay, maybe I don’t, but in this case, I do.

And playing the psycho here is Ron Silver who is actually pretty creepy, even if his character’s development doesn’t help him out too much. It isn’t that we can’t understand how this guy’s a cook, it’s pretty obvious right from the start; but what we don’t understand is why, why, why! All people are a little sick and twisted in the head once you get to know them, but with this character, it never seems to make much sense, other than for him to serve the purpose of the story. He rambles on about random junk, tells people to do weird things, and sometimes gets into screaming-bouts with himself, just out of the blue. We never find out why he’s a nut, why he continues to kill people, and why he’s so damn determined to get Megan to hold her gun in a demanding, enforcing way. Silver is a talent that we will never miss, but his character can only go on for so long.

The rest of the cast is filled to the total core with character actors of the past and present, some of which, may surprise you by how good they are. Clancy Brown, Kevin Dunn, Richard Jenkins, and Louise Fletcher show up here and bring a little something to the movie. After all, it’s a cop-thriller, but it’s got a tad bit more going on than what we’re used to.

Sort of.

Consensus: Blue Steel succeeds as a close, intimate look on how gender-clashes will always be around no matter where a woman lands herself in, but when it gets to the other points of the story like the mystery, the suspense, and the twists, nothing seems to be clicking like it should.

6 / 10

“I do solemnly swear to put up with sexist assholes.”

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten TomatoesCinéphile

My Scientology Movie (2017)

Just watch EWTN. Much better and less controversial, honestly.

Scientology has been as controversial for as long as it’s been around. And as it begins to grow and grow, more members do find themselves leaving. But why? Or better yet, just what the hell is Scientology all about? What does a Scientologist believe in? And are all the myths about it true? All of those questions and more get answered here, courtesy of Louis Theroux, a British journalist who takes a huge interest in Scientology and decides to stage his own film-version of first-hand accounts of what goes on in Scientology. Mark Rathbun, a fellow Scientologist, helps Louis out in figuring out more and more about the so-called “religion”, but in doing so, also raises alarms for those involved with Scientology and don’t take too kindly to others making movies about their well-being.

“Anything you can do, I can do better.”

After the comprehensive job Going Clear did, it’d be hard to really tackle the subject of Scientology again. Cause obviously, yes, we get it: It’s not a real religion, it’s filled with evil, disillusioned people, and yeah, it’s just bad news all around. As the years have gone by and more people have been leaving it, the more access we get to figuring out just what the hell it’s all about, as well as why people are still drawn to it, even despite all of these obvious issues being out there in the press, for the whole world to see and take notice of.

And that’s why My Scientology Movie, while sometimes funny and admirable, also feels a little unnecessary. While Louis Theroux makes it a point not to necessarily make this a behind-the-scenes, eye-opening account of Scientology, as a whole, he still doesn’t bring much of anything new to the discussion, either. If anything, My Scientology Movie shows that even those, like Mark Rathburn, who get kicked-out of Scientology, may still be hard-firmed believers – they just don’t have the whole sponsorship to go along with it.

So aside from that, yeah, My Scientology Movie is a pretty standard documentary that doesn’t go too deep, but also doesn’t really act like it wants to do that, either.

It’s sort of what is and that’s fine. Theroux himself does help the movie out because, even when push comes to shove, and the Scientology people are getting so in his face, he still stays cool, calm, collected, and pretty funny. It helps that he’s a bit out-of-place, being this tall, lean, relatively dorky Brit in the hot, steamy sun of L.A., but it’s nice to see a documentarian who doesn’t find it necessary to constantly get by on crazy stunts, or by constantly being the center of attention. And even though this is an obvious dig at Michael Moore, honestly, his presence is sometimes needed for the material he develops; Theroux doesn’t really need to be there, except to help give us a conduit to everything and as that, he’s fine.

Take ’em down, Louis!

Although when it comes to the recreation of Scientology and Theroux making his own “movie”, My Scientology Movie sort of falls flat. It’s a neat idea, for sure, but it never really goes anywhere; once again, if anything, this portion of the movie just makes you sit and wonder about how desperate some of these actors are, that they don’t even know what they’re getting themselves into, or are even portraying. It seems like a lot of Theroux’s intended motives here, didn’t quite work out, but instead, pivoted on a better, much more interesting idea.

But like I said, there’s just not that much development.

We know Scientology is awful and we know that the people involved with it, no matter what their status as a celebrity may be, are also a little nutty. We’ve seen this before, we see it here, and yeah, it’s nothing new. It’s still entertaining and relatively shocking to see, but it’s old fruit that constantly keeps getting bitten into. Is there more out there about this “religion” to find out about and investigate? Sure, but perhaps My Scientology Movie isn’t that step.

At least not right now.

Consensus: Despite a clear attempt to really get down and deep into the religion, My Scientology Movie also doesn’t have anything new to say, but is entertaining enough because who doesn’t enjoy poking fun at Scientology?

6 / 10

We are all Scientologists, essentially. Right?

Photos Courtesy of: The AV ClubFlickering MythIndieWire

The Incredible Jessica James (2017)

Always fall in love with an Irishman. It works everything out.

While supremely talented, Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is also a very frustrated playwright currently trying to live and survive in the Big Apple. After a recent break-up and a few job opportunities that fell through, she doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with her life, nor does she really expect all that anything great to come of it; she’s sort of just coasting by, hoping for that big break that all us young folks hope and pray for. But in the meantime, she begins to date Boom (Chris O’Dowd), an older dude who is also getting over a recent divorce and doesn’t quite know what he wants to do, either. Together, the two create something of a nice little relationship that isn’t too serious, or meaningful just yet, until well, it gets to be that. Then, the two are left wondering what’s next, not just with themselves, but with each other.

It’s all about the style.

The Incredible Jessica James is another entry into the long list of small, character-based movies that Netflix, finds, picks up, and actually does a nice little favor for. After all, it’s the kind of movie that won’t win any awards, won’t change the world we live in, nor will it ever shake up the foundation of the future of movies to come. It’s just fine, simple, and easygoing enough to work, which is why it’s a nice, pleasant watch.

Now, is that so bad?

Writer/director James C. Strouse is good with these kinds of movies because, even while he likes to get a little head of himself with the sometimes zany comedy, he also doesn’t forget that what makes movies like this worth watching and compelling, is because of the interesting, relatively likable characters worth sitting around for. They don’t have to be perfect, nor do they have to be total and complete a-holes – they just have to be people that we want to sit around and watch for an-hour-and-a-half. And he’s lucky that he’s got someone as solid as Jessica Williams who seems like she’s on the brink of stardom by now and her next step will surely be watched.

Which is a good thing, because Williams is a likable personality on the screen. She’s funny, smart, but also not a little afraid to be vulnerable throughout this movie when it helps us understand more about her. It’s conventional to have her constantly dream of her boyfriend and not totally be able to get over him, but Williams is smart enough not to just make her play that whole aspect, the whole time. There’s more to her, like the fact that she’s actually trying to make a name for herself, is ambitious, and yes, also wants to figure her shit out, way before it’s too late.

Eh. Give ’em five months and see where they stand.

In other words, she’s just like any other young person.

And as her possible love-interest, Chris O’Dowd is good, mostly because he’s doing everything he does: Be Chris O’Dowd. And honestly, that’s fine; the guy is so charming and fun to watch, that even a scene where he’s just standing there, is more than enough pleasure. It does help that he and Williams have a solid bit of chemistry, too, where they not only seem good for each other, but are also different in certain ways that perhaps make them more compatible. Sure, the movie wants us to believe it’s true love, but it’s also not a bit afraid to show us why they may have certain small issues down the road.

Once again, it’s just smart writing, plain and simple. It’s not a perfect movie at all, but it does what it needs to do and that’s give us a normal, everyday person, the spotlight, if only for a bit. The movie doesn’t try to make any point about race, or even gender, which is fine because it’s not that kind of a movie. It’s just a sweet, little indie. Plain and simple.

Now, leave me alone.

Consensus: With a charming pair of leads, the Incredible Jessica James gets by on its sweet likability and everyday appeal.

6.5 / 10

Be ready, world. She sure is.

Photos Courtesy of: Okayplayer, IndieWire, Collider

The Lovers (2017)

Love the one you’re with. And the others on the side.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been married for quite some time and as is usually the case with aging couples, things have gotten a little sour, a little boring, and most of all, a little dull. And because of that, they’ve both taken up with significant others to keep their lives happy, exciting, and above all else, worth going on for. Mary has Robert (Aidan Gillen), while Michael has Lucy (Melora Walters), and while both relationships can be definitely classified as “affairs”, they’re beginning to take on new lives as something far more serious and possibly even permanent. But here’s the thing: Mary and Michael are still together and don’t really know how to approach the issue of breaking up. And now with their son (Tyler Ross) coming home from college for a short bit, they especially don’t know what to do now. Should they break-up and move on, like they really want to? Or stick around and stay together, for a short time? Then again, they’re a married-couple so, who knows, old passions may come back.

Ew. Get a room!

The whole central joke surrounding the Lovers is this: Although the movie is about this couple who have been married for quite some time, we’re still seeing them as anything but. They don’t screw one another, barely even talk to one another, and hell, are rarely even in the same room together. This is deliberate on the part of writer/director Azael Jacobs’ part and it’s a smart take on what could have been a very preachy, very annoying, and relatively very conventional story. We’ve all seen spouses cheating on spouses, have gotten those sob stories, and see how they have all played-out, but the Lovers, with its interesting angle is, at the very least, different.

Does that make it any better? Not necessarily and that’s sort of the problem.

See, Jacobs’ take on making this marriage seem very fake works for awhile, until the other cheek is turned, and oh man, they’re all of a sudden screwing, and kissing, and talking, and gasp, in the same rooms together. It’s a nice little change-of-pace, but it also feels like the movie’s still trying to make jokes, without ever really trying its hardest to get down deep into what really makes a marriage, well, a marriage. The Lovers does seem interested in trying to figure out what constitutes love, marriage, and why people stay together for so long, even if the spark isn’t there. And hell, when the spark isn’t there, what’s the best way to go about getting it all back? Continue to try to screw each other, or set one’s sights elsewhere?

And it’s not like these are all points I wanted to see addressed here, it’s more that the film does seem like it brings them up, but backs away as soon as an idea is about to be developed. Jacobs seems like he knows how to create smart and interesting situations, with even smarter, interesting pieces of dialogue, but the end result is odd, as if he’s more confused at the end, than before he even started. It’s odd and definitely hard to explain, but it’s one of the main reasons why throughout the Lovers, I couldn’t help but be frustrated.

The only true element saving me here were the great performances by all involved, save by one Tyler Ross.

Oh, wait. Never mind. Don’t.

And no, it’s not like I’m going to crash on him because he’s young and playing a weak character in the first place, but because he just does not sit right at all with the rest of the movie. For some reason, Jacobs has written him to be this angst-fueled, angry, pissed-off, and irritated kid who seems to hate his parents, whether together or not, and can’t, not for a single second, let things go as they appear to be. Every scene he’s either picking a fight, or looking like he’s about to explode, and eventually does and it seems so random, so crazy, and so over-the-top, it made me wonder if I accidentally sat on the remote and came upon the Lifetime channel. It sound dramatic, but that’s because it is and it’s so weird.

Thankfully, like I said, the other performances are all great, with Letts and Winger making the most out of their scenes together. Winger’s especially impressive because she shows some sad, yet honest emotions in a character who feels like she could have easily been slut-shamed, but surprisingly, she wasn’t. She’s just an older women, looking for a second chance at love, and possibly finding it – just not in her husband. It’s nice to see Winger around again and it makes me hope that she sticks around for some more roles, regardless of if she’s still a pain to get along with.

Consensus: With two great performances in the leads, the Lovers gets by as a mildly interesting and entertaining take on married-couples, yet, also feels like it has a lot to say, without ever fully getting to a point.

6.5 / 10

It’s okay. Just hit up those side-pieces and all will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Variety, The New York Times, The Bajan Reporter

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Yeah, I don’t know either.

It’s the 28th century, and special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne), whenever they’re not working together to maintain order throughout the human territories, are also trying hard to figure out just what they’re doing together. Are they in love? Do they want to get married? Or do they just want to keep on doing what they’re doing, because it’s easy, simple and not all that made for dedication. Whatever the answer to their dilemma may be, it doesn’t matter, because they soon gather an assignment from the minister of defense (Herbie Hancock), to embark on a mission to Alpha, the ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture for a hefty fee. But both Valerian and Laureline realize that something is off about their discovery and because of that, they’re hunted from all over the place, forcing them to run all over space and hop on different planets, where something odd and interesting is happening just about all of the time.

Blade Runner?

So yeah, Luc Besson is clearly going completely out of his way to ensure that the world gets a dose of Valerian and because of that, the man deserves some credit and above all else, respect. Word is, he not just put took a pay-cut on this one, but even went so far as to put his own money in the project; it’s currently the most expensive independent flick ever made and it shows. The movie is, for lack of a better word, beautiful; the CGI-team must have been hard-at-work, day and night, without any sleep whatsoever, trying to make sure that every piece of this crazily original and wild fantasy world was explored and shown to perfection.

It also does help get us past the fact that the movie’s story and script are troubling, to say the least.

But it’s obvious what Besson is doing here – clearly it’s been over two decades since we got the Fifth Element and because of that, we’ve got something of a new one for Generation-Y. In that sense, the movie can be pretty fun, because it’s so willing to be as ridiculous and as nutty as that movie, but at the same time, it doesn’t always work out. For example, the central romance between Delevingne and DeHaan, while somewhat cute, never works in this great, big universe where crazy, ugly-looking creatures show up left and right, spouting gibberish. It’s as if Besson wanted to have it both ways and because of that, the movie doesn’t always work and never quite figures out what it wants to be.

Uh, Avatar?

But Valerian is also a fun movie, that enjoys its own zaniness. It doesn’t have to always make sense of its universe, its characters, or even its central conflict – all it has to do is offer enough weirdness and electricity to remind us why these kinds of sci-fi movies, especially from Besson, can be a joy to watch. The movie doesn’t always figure out what it wants to do, what it wants to say, or hell, even where it’s going, but it does move so quick, it’s hard to always care.

And yes, the movie is almost two-and-a-half hours and somehow, yeah, it does go by.

Granted, there’s rough patches all throughout, but that’s expected here. Valerian may not be the cleanest, or smartest movie out there on the market, but Besson seems like he truly adores and cares for this material, regardless of if anybody else does. He’s putting it all out there on the line and while it may be too hard to ask for someone to pay for his water, or electric for the next month, I don’t think it’s too hard to say, “Hey, go check it out.” It’s weird and it’s supposed to be, so just get a little used to it and try to have some fun.

Please. Do it for Luc. He needs us all now, more than ever.

Consensus: Big, bright, loud, and ambitious, Valerian is certainly an original, but is also certainly uneven and a bit messy, making it feel like a cluster of a lot of different things that don’t always come together, but still somehow compel.

6 / 10

Surfing U.S.A. Or wherever the hell Luc’s got ’em at.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Roll Bounce (2005)

Is this what the kids nowadays call “blading”……yo?

After the death of his mom, Xavier (Bow Wow) has been having a bit of a rough go. His dad has hit a serious case of depression, his little sister needs someone to look up to, and yeah, he basically just doesn’t know where he wants to go, nor what he actually wants to do with his life. The only thing in his life that he is certain about is roller-skating, but even that’s hit a bit of a rough patch now with his local skate palace being torn down. Now, without one near by, Xavier and his buddies have to travel all the way uptown, where the people are richer, more priveleged, and oh yeah, whiter. Obviously, Xavier and his buddies stick out like sore-thumbs amongst this very rich and preppy crowd, but they make it all work by just being themselves, skating their assess off, and having a good time through it all. But with local skate legend Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) back in town and looking to maintain his territory, Xavier and his boys are going to have to step up their games.

Both on and off the rink.

Lean with it….

Roll Bounce is pretty conventional and formulaic, but it’s also the kind of movie that gets by solely on the fact that it’s so sweet, so earnest, and so easygoing, that it’s easy to just forget about all of its issues and enjoy the time you have with it. Granted, there are plenty of problems and, if you’re looking very, very close, you can probably see more bad then good, but for me, Roll Bounce feels like the right kind of soft-hearted nostalgia that means well, isn’t trying to change the world, and just have some fun. In other words, it’s what every movie, ever made, should aspire to be.

But once again, there are those problems that keep Roll Bounce away from achieving some actual greatness. For one, its plot is a little flimsy and at times, doesn’t seem to really be making much sense of itself. While it’s not all that hard to do a coming-of-age tale, it’s also a lot harder to sort of screw it up, where your messages about growing up, becoming an adult, and figuring out just who, or what, you are, don’t fully come together. Xavier, on paper, is our traditional protagonist for a story such as this, and while it’s not hard to sympathize for a character who has already endured so much hardship, it’s not hard to sort of not care about any of it all.

Of course, that isn’t to discredit Bow Wow, or anybody else in this cast – the problem is purely a script issue.

….rock with it!

Director Malcolm D. Lee and screenwriter Norman Vance know how to set the mood and the tone for a movie taking place in the dog days of summer, where everything is catching up on itself, memories are being made, and yeah, people are getting a little tired of the damn heat, but when it comes to making a real compelling story out of it all, they sort of drop the ball. It’s just too melodramatic and cheesy at times to fully work; while it may appear to be a sort of sports movie, it is, in actuality, a family-drama that never gets all that interesting. Chi McBride is good as Xavier’s dad who has some real problems of his own, and had he been given his own movie, it probably would have worked, but put up against Xavier, his wacky and wild buddies, and whatever the hell they’re doing at the skating-rink, yeah, it feels odd.

That said, the tone here is quite infectious and it’s hard to really get past that. It’s close to two hours and yeah, it definitely doesn’t need to be; some characters get development and certain shadings that, quite frankly, don’t really matter, or even go anywhere. But the skating stuff, in and of itself, is what saves the movie, because whenever it seems like the story’s getting too far gone in its own head, thankfully, the bright colors, the loud music, the huge afro’s, and the constant rolling, take over and make things better.

If only for a small bit.

Consensus: Clearly an earnest and sweet piece of nostalgia, Roll Bounce gets by solely on its charm, and not anywhere near its story, or its sometimes odd script that doesn’t always have the faintest clue what it wants to be, or do.

6 / 10

Take the skates off and yeah, they’re just a bunch of punks! Get a job, ya damn kids!

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

It’s Only the End of the World (2016)

Families rule. Or so I’m told.

After being away for so very, very long, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) finally returns home to, hopefully, let his whole family what he’s been up to, what his future plans are, and oh yeah, that he’s probably going to die pretty soon. Of course, though, that one last piece of knowledge seems like it’s going to be a lot harder to get out – not because it’s so tragic and heart-breaking, making it all the more difficult to actually tell loved ones about, but because his whole family is so loud, so tense, and so wild, that he can’t even get a word in edgewise. For instance, there’s his older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) and wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard) who, for some reason, can’t think of anything to say to him; Catherine is almost too nice and sincere, whereas Antoine is just constantly angry, over just about everything. Then, there’s Louis younger-sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux), who he still holds a very close relationship with all of these years later, despite the obvious separation. And then last, but certainly not least, there’s Marianne (Natahlie Baye), who still loves Louis no matter what, but also seems to have her hands a bit full with, well, stuff.

Crazy momma.

It’s odd how It’s Only the End of the World seemed to come and go, without anyone really making a big stink about it. Considering that writer/director Xavier Dolan has become film’s sort of “It Boy” who makes smart, understated, and incredibly pretentious dramedies about difficulty challenging people, it’s weird to see this movie not just get a mixed reception, but barely even hit theaters in the States. It played Cannes, got a weird reception, and that was about it.

But did it really deserve that? Not really.

Granted, It’s Only the End of the World is a bit of a step down from what Dolan has done in the past few years since he showed up, but it’s also another sign that, despite his age, the man’s ambitions are endless. Even with something as small and as freakishly intimate as It’s Only the End of the World, it’s hard to tell just where Dolan’s limits are reached; he seems to go above and beyond the source material’s obvious stagey-ness, and in doing so, shows that he’s adept to other styles, and not just his own. Of course, the movie’s very talky, loud, and almost abrasive, but that’s sort of the point and it fits well with what Dolan does best: Allow for his fragile, complicated characters be themselves.

And in It’s Only the End of the World‘s case, that’s actually fine. There’s no denying the fact that the characters here are all loud-mouths and a little nuts, but there’s also no denying that there’s at least some fun in watching it all play-out. Dolan’s a smart director/writer who knows when it’s best to call down his own little directorial tricks and sort of just let the cast do what they do best, and here, with this small, yet solid ensemble, he does just the ticket. Everyone here is good, with perhaps Cotillard’s more subtle, somewhat subdued performance being the best apart from all of the craziness, getting the chance to play the material up, have some fun, but also uncover a bit of a darker, more emotional side to it all, too.

Still, for some reason, angst-ridden adult.

But the issue with all of this also comes down to character-development, which honestly, can’t be found here.

Sure, this may have a little something to do with the subject-material itself not quite having everything that’s needed for a feature full-length, but it also does come down to Dolan himself, who seems like he cares too much about the performances, and less about what’s going on beyond them. In his past few movies, despite all featuring great performances, Dolan hasn’t forgotten to at least give us some small crumb of character, in whoever he chooses; the performances themselves may be big, loud and bombastic, but at the same time, there’s something going on underneath it all to work.

In It’s Only the End of the World, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of that there and it ends up hurting the movie. See, it’s one thing to have a bunch of loud, angry characters yelling all of the time and constantly fighting, but it’s also another thing to see all of that, and have no idea why any of it is happening. Dolan runs into the issue of just setting his dysfunctional characters down in the same room together, let them spar, and expect us to forget about everything else that matters; no matter how entertaining these verbal-battles get, there still seems to be something missing, like a rhyme or reason why.

And honestly, we never get that.

Just small, subtle hints about why these characters are all so pissed-off and yelling, but never anything else. And that’s an issue. It’s an issue when your whole movie revolves around a bunch of people for an-hour-and-a-half, but it’s also an issue for your movie when you decide to shoot each and everyone of these characters in extreme close-ups. Once again, there’s no denying the artistry of Dolan, but yeah, sometimes one needs to cool themselves down a bit.

Consensus: Smart, engaging performances can’t make up for the fact that It’s Only the End of the World is a little too repetitive and thinly-written to become the masterclass in storytelling that Dolan’s previous films were.

6 / 10

And oh yeah, the sort of mismatched, married-couple. So French!

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

Yep. Vampires exist. But only in Iran.

Set in some cold, dark and downright mysterious town somewhere in Iran, lurks a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) who preys on almost everyone around her, but most importantly, men who do wrong by women. So in a way, she’s a vigilante, but at the same time, begins to start to realize that there’s more to life than just killing and sucking the blood out of people. Believe it or not, the vampire meets a human being (Arash Marandi) who may not just have the hots for this blood-sucking creature, but she may even have it for him in return! After all, he’s a hot, young, hip, and chill guy, who listens to rad music and likes to be nice to those around him, so what’s there not to love, or better yet, not try to kill and suck all of the blood out of? However, it gets harder and harder for this vampire to make up its mind of what it wants to do, when it not only starts to have the need for blood, but also realizes that the city around her is getting worse, with all sorts of ugly and catastrophic violence occurring.

Got to do that make-up right for the blood-shed.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night probably deserves a lot of props for being as odd, as weird, and as original as it can be. It’s a horror movie, about a vampire, lurking on possible prey, which already sounds pretty lame and formulaic, but writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour does something neat with the familiar premise in that she adds a little zest and spice to the whole thing. She adds a unique neo-noir look and feel to the movie, that could have easily been just another tension-piece about a vampire, but instead, turns into this home movie of sorts, where it seems like Amirpour is just using whatever is at her disposal, as opposed to just making a movie, expecting for all of these things to come to her.

Obviously, that sort of stuff takes time.

And yeah, Amirpour makes it all worth it. There’s something exciting about watching a first-time film-maker show their true colors, once and for all, with absolute, undeniable style, as well as a great deal of originality, which helps Amirpour out. She tackles something easy and conventional, and puts a smart spin on it that doesn’t just keep the movie, at times, interesting, but the genre of vampire movies, as well.

Then again, there is such an issue here in that it’s so darn slow. And normally, a deliberately plodding and slow pace to a movie like this is fine for me as is the case with most tension-pieces, where it isn’t about the shocks, the scares, the blood, or hell, even the gore, but more about the suspense racking up, slowly but surely over time, without ever seeming like it’s stopping. In Amirpour’s case, it’s nice that she didn’t lose track of what she wanted to do, but there are times where it feels like she could perhaps pick up the pace a tad bit, and opts not to.

Come on, bro. Be nice to the cat! It’s just a gag, after all!

Is this a case of a first-time director just having a ball with their new toys and not wanting to stop playing with them?

Or, well, is it a little pretentious?

In a way, it’s a mixture of both. It’s sweet to see Amirpour want to play with all of the treats she has, for a much longer time, but there does come a point where all the treats have to be simmered down a bit and an actual story has to go on along. The fact that the movie does have a compelling romance-arch at the center of all the hookers, drugs, guns, murder, blood-sucking, and electronic music, is something to point out, but the movie gets so distracted by its own coolness that, sometimes, it can’t help but feel like the story itself is just playing second-fiddle to Amirpour and her coolio style.

Once again, the style is cool and definitely a nice touch, for once, but at times, it does bring the movie back from being much, much better. It works as a horror movie, that obviously has some goofier, lighter touches, but it also tries to double as a message-piece, about feminism, politics, and the drug wars, that also doesn’t feel like it gets anywhere. Granted, these are themes and ideas you really have to dig down deep for here, but they are there and well, they feel like a stretch, at best.

But hey, it’s her first movie. She’s allowed to let loose a bit.

Consensus: Rather odd and unique, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night definitely gets points for originality and style, but also loses some points for not knowing when to settle down, pick up the pace, and well, tell the story. Especially when said story is actually a compelling to watch play out and develop.

6 / 10

Vampire? Naw.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Obit (2017)

You’re dead, but are you forgotten?

Newspapers are dying and guess what? So are people, too! And to make sure that those names, faces, and famous figures aren’t forgotten by the rest of the world, the obituaries are there to write it all up. But most importantly, at the New York Times, one of the most prestigious and well-known newspapers still around, there’s still this need to ensure that every person who dies, whether well-known, or not, get their bits and pieces in the newspaper. But as we see, even those famous and incredibly talented writers run into issues that every journalist runs into; whether it’s getting all of the facts correct, finding the right sources, or hell, even making sure that it’s the right length, these writers have to make sure that their stories go down without a hitch. And even if there is one, what’s next to do?

Unfortunately, most will not even know what this logo means.

For a fellow journalist, Obit is a nice documentary because, even in our current climate, where journalists, the media, and news people in general, are getting attacked for going out there in the real world and reporting on, well, the news, it’s still nice to see that writing, words, and news itself, are still important to our society. And even those people that still decide to stick through it all, even when the world is changing and the job-field is getting smaller and more limited, deserve to have the spotlight shined on them, even if it’s for only a short amount of time. It reminds me why I love being a journalist and why I enjoy going out there, getting a story done, and figuring out what works best, what doesn’t, and so on and so forth.

It sounds boring, I know, but for someone in my field, it’s like a kid at a candy store.

The same kind of feeling that, in all honesty, I never felt with Obit.

And this isn’t to say that the movie is bad – it’s well put-together in that it’s paced nicely, smooth, looks great, polished, and yeah, gets as much information out there for an-hour-and-a-half that’s absolutely necessary. But by the same token, it still feels like the kind of thing that would have been much better off as an hour-long This American Life special, as opposed to an-hour-and-a-half-long movie that has some nice points and ideas to make for at least 30 minutes, but then sort of rambles on and for the next hour or so. It’s the kind of documentary that goes into the subject/topic, knowing that it doesn’t have a clear-cut story to begin with, so instead, plays like a fly-on-the-wall, but also shows why certain documentaries that sort of just wing it, can be a little annoying to watch.

What’s a newspaper? Is that like the internet?

Which isn’t to say that these kinds of documentaries that just sit there and document everything that they see and are told, are bad movies in the first place; a similar one like Page One, plays the same way, but is compelling, exciting, interesting, and well, fun-to-watch, despite not really having a story in mind. Obit has an idea in its mind and attempts to make something out of nothing, but ultimately just rambles on and on, without an idea, or direction of where to go with itself. It made me wish for more specific cases and, honestly, a tighter-production.

Still though, it serves, at best, a tribute to those who actually have these jobs, writing about dead people, both famous and not, who still try their best to make sure that the absolute truth gets out. In that sense, then yes, Obit works; it gives us the right people to watch and listen to, as well as some interesting cases where these writers were tested. However, it also feels like, once again, there’s almost too many of them, with so very little to be known about each and everyone, that makes me wonder if there was a longer-cut of this out there somewhere, or if there just wasn’t all that much to really work with?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But yeah, Obit‘s fine. Just don’t expect a whole much.

Consensus: Though it shines a nice light on journalism and journalists, as a whole, Obit still feels like its got very little to work with, for a very long time, by offering only small bits and pieces of interesting tidbits.

6 / 10

Pictured: The hell of the New York Times.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten TomatoesBrightest Young Things

The Book of Henry (2017)

And what an odd book that is.

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is a lot like every other 11-year-old-kid out there in the world. He’s awkward, a little weird, sometimes quiet, nice, sweet, and oh yeah, brilliant-as-hell. In fact, he’s maybe a bit too smart for his own good and at times, that finds him not just getting into trouble with people who could possibly be his friend, but even his own family. Although, both his mother, Susan (Naomi Watts), and little brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay), love him immensely, they also know that he can be a bit much. They also know that his brain is so huge, with such an insane amount of knowledge, that they actually use it to their advantage; her, for help on the stocks and how to save money, and him, for emotional support through these rough times of growing up. But something changes in all of their lives that not only affects Henry especially, but all the other people around them, leaving the family to make some drastic, almost disastrous decisions.

If you thought one annoying precocious kid was bad enough……

A part of me wants to absolutely and totally annihilate the Book of Henry for being a ridiculously messy, uneven, weird, sometimes way-too-stupid-for-its-own-good take movie about growing up, learning who you are, death, and oh yeah, child-abuse, or more importantly, rape. However, there is another part of me that wants to praise it and, at the very, absolute least, respect it for going all-out on a plot that could have been absolutely cookie-cutter and derivative of everything we’ve ever seen done before and taking risks, chances, and certain unpredictable roads, even if yeah, they don’t quite work out. But then, there’s that middle part of me that doesn’t know what to think, say, or hell, even believe in.

After all, if a movie as muddled and as nutty as the Book of Henry can, for at least an-hour-and-a-half, entertain me and sort of surprise me, yet, at the same time, still feel way too weird, than what’s that say about me? I do like bad movies? Do I give them a pass just because they try something different? Or, am I just too broken down and beaten-up by the everyday, conventional blockbusters that are pushed in front of my face that, when something comes to me, from someone, somewhere, regardless of how messy it is, still makes me think and expect something different, that I just have to accept it for what it is and yeah, possibly even like it?

Once again, I don’t know what to think.

A movie like the Book of Henry is challenging. Not because it’s an altogether deeply confusing, or hell, even psychological movie, but more that it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t know what to make of itself so, as a result, the viewer is left with the same feeling. Director Colin Trevorrow, after breaking all sorts of records with Jurassic World two years ago, seems to have gotten carpe diem for the Book of Henry and in a way, is allowed to make this movie as crazy and as weird as he wants. Screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz does deserve some credit for trying something new and, dare I say it, intriguing with the YA genre of films, but even he, at certain points, seems like he’s losing all control.

Which is to say that the Book of Henry, in all honesty, isn’t a good movie; it’s tone is so over-the-place, with a plot that continues to get wackier and wackier, and a silly twist that happens midway through, it’s just not that easy to say it totally works out. If anything, it misses the ball, more than it actually connects with it and because of that, it’s hard to fully recommend this movie to anyone, or hell, even for myself.

…try two!

But like I said, it’s definitely an original. Whether or not that originality works out for itself, or bites its own ass in the end, is a whole other matter to decide on. But Hurwitz and Trevorrow clearly try to make this work as much as they can; Trevorrow constantly keeps the plot moving and Hurwitz, while mostly getting stuck with idiotic lines for precocious 11-year-olds only seen and/or conceived in movies, does try and juggle some things that you’d never expect one to do, yet, sort of respect.

But yeah, like I said, the movie’s just sort of all-over-the-place.

For some reason, however, it still kept me watching. Every opportunity it had to bother me and piss me off to the highest of the heavens, it still brought me back in with trying to figure itself out and go somewhere I did not at all expect it to. It’s the kind of movie that takes some many odd chances on telling its story, seeing just where the hell it can go, stepping back, and eventually, just throwing everything at the wall, that it’s much more interesting to watch than, well, actually entertaining. But hey, if having your mind stimulated while watching big-budgeted movies is entertaining to you, then hell yeah, you’re going to probably the enjoy the hell out of the Book of Henry.

But then again, probably not. I myself am still not sure. And I just reviewed it.

I think.

Consensus: By taking so many risks that so few little movies of its magnitude and well, budget, actually do nowadays, the Book of Henry deserves some kudos for going out on a limb and trying something new, even if it just never coheres together well. Like, at all. So yeah, it’s a mess.

5.5 / 10

And a middle-class, waitress mom who spends her leisurely time playing, guess this, video-games! Naomi Watts, ladies and gentlemen!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire