Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 6-6.5/10

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

Louder Than Bombs (2016)

Life’s just full of sex and sadness, isn’t it?

Ever since the death of the patriarch (Isabelle Huppert), the Reed family hasn’t been doing too well. Even though the oldest son, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), has just recently become a dad, he still feels disconnected from the world around him, as well as what’s expected of him as a person. Then, there’s Gene (Gabriel Byrne), who doesn’t quite know what he wants to do with his life. Now that his wife is dead, he’s just trying to move on and in by doing so, he strikes up a relationship with a local school teacher (Amy Ryan). However, this also causes more tension between him and his youngest son, Conrad (Devin Druid). Conrad, for one, is really going through some growing pains as he not only just sits around in his room, playing video-games all day and night, but can’t seem to communicate with the rest of the world around him. All of these people, despite feeling a great deal of sadness, are going to have to suck it up and move on if they’re ever going to keep their late family-member’s legacy alive and well, but that’s a lot easier said then done, in most occasions.

Jesse's happy.

Jesse’s happy.

Louder Than Bombs is not the kind of movie I expected from Joachim Trier, for better and for worse. For better, it’s the kind of movie that I expected to be sad, depressing and absolutely drowning in its own misery, however, I got something just a tad bit different. For one, Trier doesn’t wallow in any sort of sadness, as much as he uses it as a front to explore more interesting ideas and avenues about life and most especially, these few characters. Though these characters aren’t the most pathetic bunch ever created for a screen, they all still seem somewhat clinically depressed, however, Trier doesn’t want to harp on it too much.

And because of that, he gets some great moments out of this already solid cast.

Eisenberg is solid as Jonah, the one who is supposed to have it all in life and actually does, yet, doesn’t know if that’s what he wants after all; Devin Druid, who played a younger version of Louis C.K. on Louie, does a good as the youngest pup of the clinic, Conrad, who you want to hate because he’s so angsty and annoying, but by the same token, a lot of the way he acts and the things that he says do ring true for any of us who have gone through those awkward stages in our lives where we’re just trying to make sense of what we’ve got in the world; Isabelle Huppert doesn’t get many opportunities to show up, what with her character being dead and all, but she makes the best of what she’s got; and Gabriel Byrne, honestly, just made me want to give him a hug the whole entire time. Sure, he wears that frown on his face throughout a good portion of the movie, but the fact that his character is at least trying to be somewhat happy makes him compelling to watch.

However, a good cast doesn’t always make your movie great. Especially when it’s as messy and uneven as Louder Than Bombs can be, which is unfortunate, because Trier has proven that he’s a lot better before.

For instance, Louder Than Bombs feels a whole lot more pretentious than I expected it to be, which, after awhile, started to get in the way of what could have been a very affecting story. Due to the fact that Trier likes to put all of these character’s focuses into play at least once or twice during the movie, sometimes, it can tend to feel a tad overcrowded and weird. An example of this could be whenever we are in Conrad’s head and mind, and all of a sudden, the movie takes a fantastical tone, where all of a sudden, he can control things with his mind. I get what Trier is trying to go for here, but it doesn’t quite work.

Isabelle is pleased.

Isabelle is pleased.

Which is a shame because there’s some really good character stuff here, too. Trier does a nice job of giving us a sense about each and everyone of these characters, why they’re so sad, and what it is that they’ve got going for them. However, the writing’s not always there; sometimes, it can feel like these characters are a bit too whiny and mopey for their own good, whereas at other times, it seems like they aren’t emotional enough. It’s an odd twist and turn that kept me questioning just what Trier was going for here and made me wonder if his voice got lost in translation somewhere.

It shouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that this is his English-language debut, but for some reason, I can’t help thinking that’s what happened here.

However, there are worse ways to debut. Trier doesn’t try to go too big or ambitious for this story, but instead, downplay it a whole lot. Because of this, there’s a nice feeling throughout the film where we feel like we’re drawn closer to these characters, as well as this family-unit. This makes sense, cause, after all, they’re the meat and bones of the story and without them being compelling, the rest of the movie would just fall.

Thankfully, it doesn’t, but hey, color me a tad disappointed. Maybe that’s my fault.

Consensus: A solid cast elevates Louder Than Bombs to being more than just another sad, somewhat pretentious indie-flick, even if the good intentions are there to be found.

6 / 10

And Gabriel is, well, yes, sad.

And Gabriel is, well, yes, sad.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Midnight Special (2016)

Somebody’s been watching a bit too much Spielberg.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possess special powers and has lightning beams shoot out of his eyes whenever he takes off his goggles, is on the run from the law, as well as some cult who needs him for something. Taking him away from these cruel and mean baddies is his father (Michael Shannon), his daddy’s friend (Joel Edgerton), and his mother (Kirsten Dunst). All of them want to get Alton away to safety, not just because he’s their his actual kid, but because he has the one and only way to some sort of promised land that they’re promised. Call it religion, call it what you will, but they believe Alton can do something for the greater good of their society. However, hot on their heels is the FBI, but most importantly, a new agent by the name of Paul (Adam Driver) who, surprisingly, finds himself more drawn to what’s actually going on, rather than anything illegal in nature. He, like basically everyone else, wants to figure out just what key Alton holds and whether or not he can live up to the odd promise that it seems like everyone around him is making.

You know he's about ready to freak the 'eff out any second now.

You know he’s about ready to freak the ‘eff out any second now.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been making some great films for quite some time and, in my mind at least, he’s probably four-for-four. Not all of his movies have been masterpieces, but, for the most part, they’ve all been good and have at least done something better than most movies out there. Also, they seem to exist in the real dark, gritty and Southern-fried world that we currently live in, where all men have daddy issues, don’t know how to relate to one another, and experience death, in at least one way or another. They’re smart, somewhat relatable stories about humans who you can’t help but be interested by.

That’s why, Midnight Special, while not a slam-dunk like his other movies, still works well because it features a lot of what Nichols does best: Human-drama.

But what’s probably the most interesting aspect about Midnight Special is that there’s more than just humans and drama here – there’s an air of mystery surrounding just who this Alton kid is, what he’s able to do, and whether or not he really can live up to some promise of possessing the keys to the kingdom, or something. The movie never makes much sense of what it is that Alton can do, but for awhile, it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to be the key, main focus; instead, it felt like it was just going to be about how these people relate to one another, in a situation that’s pretty tense and dire. Sure, we may not have a clue as to why people are chasing after these characters, with shotguns and whatnot, but still, we know that it’s not a good situation, and because we get some time to spend and share with these main characters, it’s worth getting involved with them and seeing where their adventure takes them.

And that’s why, when the focus is placed solely on these characters and not much else, Midnight Special works great. It helps that Nichols himself is able to, once again, gather up a solid cast to make his material even better, but still, there’s certain details to each and everyone of them that make them worth being compelled by. Mostly though, it is, once again, Michael Shannon who delivers the best performance as Alton’s daddy, who may or may not have sinister intentions. It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see that Shannon’s the best, because yes, he is the one who constantly appears in Nichols’ work, but still, there’s something to be said for an actor who is and a performance that is constantly making us wonder just what this person is going to do next.

We know he’s a good guy, but what is he using this Alton kid for?

To destroy the world, slowly but surely?

Or, does he just want his son to be happy and feel free in a world that accepts him and isn’t trying to hunt him down for one reason or another?

Cheer up, Joel. If you don't like your time spent here, there's always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Cheer up, Joel. If you don’t like your time spent here, there’s always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Yeah, take those questions as you will and make up your own answers, because honestly, Nichols doesn’t seem all that interested in answering them. And that is totally fine. Nichols has enough strong material going on here that it all mostly works, even when it seems like he’s just jerking us around, giving us constant red herrings to shake our heads at, but still remember when the time comes for the ending.

And speaking of that ending, well, it’s pretty crummy. Maybe, yeah, I shouldn’t say “the ending”, because it’s more or less the big “reveal” of what kind of powers Alton possess and what everybody’s been waiting around and searching for, for the past two hours. It comes as a big surprise, really, but not a good one; it almost seems as if Nichols knew that he was thrown into a corner and had to deliver on some sort of twist that allowed for everything to make some sort of sense, and rather than just leaving it up in the air and pissing people off, he decided to give a reveal, but not actually work at making it understandable.

Of course, this is all spoiler-y material which I won’t dive into here, however, I will say that it disappointed me with whatever happened. For awhile, it seemed like Midnight Special was going to be a smarter, but more thrilling adventure into the Southern farmlands that we usually get from Nichols, but for some reason, the mystery starts to take over and become more of a central focus than any of the characters. It’s fine at first, until you realize that the end-game doesn’t quite work, or make that much sense.

But hey, at least getting there is good enough.

Consensus: A solid cast, a smart, tender direction from Nichols, and an aura of odd mystery, allows for Midnight Special to work, all up until the final few minutes, where it doesn’t make much sense and just seems like it was forced to make something up, unfortunately.

6.5 / 10

Kids. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Children. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Invention of Lying (2009)

If you think about it, can’t all religious text possibly be “lies”? #Controversial

Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is so down-on-his-luck that he’s practically given up now. While he has an okay job as a screenwriter and a nice apartment to live in, he lives in a world nobody is able to lie, so therefore, nobody ever does something for another person cause its the right thing to do. This means that Mark has to go out on a lot of dates where the girls he meets don’t really like him, nor do they ever expect to take anything further than just a simple date and leaving it at that. One date in particular, with Anna (Jennifer Garner), Mark seems to want more out of, but because he, according to her, is “fat and ugly”, the relationship will never work. But somehow, on one fateful day, Mark decides that he has the rare ability to, believe it or not, lie. This means that everyone around him will believe anything he says and can basically get away with whatever he oh so pleases to get away with. Clearly, this means that Mark’s going to do some easily questionable things that are for his own self-gain, but eventually, he starts to realize that it doesn’t matter if you can lie the rest of your life and get away, all that does matter is that you feel something lovely and true.

is the handsome, slack-jawed man her choice?

is the handsome, slack-jawed man her choice?

The Invention of Lying has so much promise that it’s an absolute shame watching went goes down with it. For one, this world that’s been created here, while yes, a tad odd and unconventional, is still an interesting one that you can spend a whole miniseries on, exploring every piece by piece, while also having some real great fun, with jokes and all that. And for awhile, the movie seems like it’s more than up to that opportunity; a commercial with Coca-Cola is perhaps the funniest moment of the whole movie, only to then be up-staged by a Pepsi ad moments later. There’s other bits and pieces in which Gervais explores this world a whole lot more than just having people blurt out mean, nasty and cruel things, but yeah, what eventually happens isn’t good.

And yes, this is a huge problem.

After awhile, it seems like co-directors Gervais and Matthew Robinson, truly did want to get deep down into this world, explore it more, find more jokes to make about it, and, if it got to a certain point, make some interesting contrasts to the real world we live in now, but for some reason, they get distracted. Instead of trying to make something that’s really biting, smart and almost satirical, they opt more for the conventional route, where we’re now more interested in whether or not Ricky Gervais’ character is going to get the girl at the end.

Obviously, he probably will, but to see this idea get explored more so than the other ones going on here, is pretty wasteful. Now, of course, I don’t know if this is on behalf of studio interruption, or if the guys themselves just really wanted to make a rom-com with this thing, but either way, it’s a shame to watch after awhile, because the jokes can sometimes be very funny, but sometimes, it doesn’t always hit its mark.

That said, yes, the Invention of Lying can be a pretty funny movie and yes, can deliver on some of its promises.

Or, the very ugly, but ambitious loner?

Or, the very ugly, but ambitious loner?

The whole add-on of religion was not only a nice touch, but a smart one that yes, was commenting on the idea of religion, but wasn’t doing it in an over-the-top way where some people may feel offended or pissed. However, at the same time, those who don’t follow any sort of religion by any means, won’t find themselves pissed that a well-known atheist like Ricky Gervais backed out on his original ideas. It’s just the right amount of poking fun, but also, reservation that makes a movie like this, while not perfect, seem a little more interesting and smarter.

And yeah, it also helps that the cast is pretty darn solid, too. As an ordinary, everyday man gifted with this one spectacular talent, Gervais is a lot of fun, but also, seems like he wants to do more than just be a stand-in for the story. He does give this character a heart and soul, and even though it may not totally work in the grander scheme of things, and just get in the way of the funnier moments of the movie, it still proves that Gervais himself isn’t just all about gags and making people laugh uncontrollably. Sometimes, he does like to get a little serious and dramatic and it works in most of his pieces.

Here, maybe not so much.

The reason for that is because it does feel very shoe-horned in, especially when you take into consideration that the movie is less about finding true love, as much as it’s just about the lies we are told and the lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better. Jennifer Garner is fine and, surprisingly, has some sweet chemistry with Gervais, but any moment that the movie seemed to focus on their possible budding-romance, it felt like it was being dragged down by a very heavy anchor that couldn’t be lifted. Once again, this could have been studio interference, but still, that doesn’t make it a worthy excuse. But it’s easy to forgive Gervais because even a movie like the Invention of Lying, while not perfect, still reminds us why he’s one of the smarter, brighter voices in comedy, as well as in animal rights.

You go, Rick.

Consensus: Despite not fully delivering on the promise of its premise, the Invention of Lying is still an entertaining comedy, mostly thanks to the talent working in it.

6 / 10

Or, the snarky Brit? Who knows who she'll choose!

Or, the snarky Brit? Who knows who she’ll choose!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Half Baked (1998)

Can one be addicted to weed? Or just be really lazy?

Thurgood Jenkins (Dave Chappelle), his friends Brian (Jim Breuer), Scarface (Guillermo Díaz), and Kenny (Harland Williams) all seem to live their lives by the way of pot. While they don’t consider themselves “drug-addicts” by any means, for the most part, their everyday lives are consumed and filled with smoking pot, munchies, and not really doing anything. Sure, they all have jobs and do their own things, but really, they just only care about pot and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, until Kenny gets arrested for accidentally killing a police horse. This lands him in the slammer with a life-sentence that he may be able to get out of, so long as he has enough money for bail. Considering that his buddies spend all of the money they make from their jobs on stuff like food and pot, he’s sort of lost all hope of ever getting out and is forced to live with the reality that the rest of his life, he’ll be somebody’s bitch. However, Thurgood concocts a plan to get some of the best, most amazing and pure pot out there by taking some from the lab that he works as a custodian at, and selling it out on the streets.

I agree.

I agree.

Problem is, they’re all stoners.

I think I speak on a lot of people’s half when I say yes, I’ve smoked a doobie once or twice and yes, it can be quite funny. Things that would seem mundane and almost boring in real life, take on a new life when you’re under the influence of pot and will not only make you laugh loud and hard, but nearly inches away from soiling your trousers. Maybe that’s a tad too extreme, but you get the point, because it’s the same thing with alcohol – the more of it you take, the more things around you change. Some things may make you laugh, sad, serious, or “deeper”.

Obviously, I’m not breaking down any barriers by writing any of this, but the only reason I bring any of this up in the first place is because it’s what helps me understand Half Baked and its appeal a whole lot more. Watching this, not only was I as sober as a priest, but I was also trying to see this through the lens of somebody who is, yes, high, or better yet, an absolute stoner.

Needless to say, the movie definitely benefits from the influence of drugs.

Which isn’t to say that the movie isn’t funny, because it definitely is. There’s moments of pure comedic-genius that are less chuckle-worthy and more smart than anything, but then there are other times where the movie clearly seems to be trying to make us laugh, and it will sometimes work, if only when it’s being as ridiculous as can be. In the pre-Apatow world of stoner-comedies, it’s interesting to see a movie that’s obviously structured and written in a way to ensure that not every joke is just a person going on and on, improving for hours on-end, all to get to the butt of a joke. Co-writer Dave Chappelle is obviously a lot smarter than that and you can tell that there’s a lot of his influence in Half Baked.

At the same time, it’s also a pretty poorly-done movie. However, I expect that if you’re under the influence of anything (like the creators behind it probably would prefer), you wouldn’t notice a single bit of this. The plot is nonsensical and over-the-top, as you would expect, but it hardly even matters in the grander scheme of things. The best parts about movies that feature hardly any plots, is when the movies themselves just make the rules up for themselves, going along at their own pace, not giving a care in the world about whether or not people can follow the complexity or cohesiveness of what’s going on.

Half Baked, for at least a good portion, is like that.

Of course Snoop shows up to smoke.

Of course Snoop shows up to smoke.

There’s certain sequences, like Thurgood having to save up money on a date, or his sex scene told through photographs that, separated from the rest of the movie, work and are funny. But when you throw in a plot that’s supposed to drive this thing along, it can’t help but drag things down. It’s a common-known fact that movies definitely need to have some itching of a plot to base its ground on, but for Half Baked, I almost wish that it was more of a series of sketches for Chappelle and his stoner buddies to mess around with. Obviously, that’s more like an episode of Chappelle’s Show and less of an actual movie, but still, one probably would have worked over the other.

And yeah, Chappelle himself is just fine in the movie. While nobody’s ever expected Chappelle to be a great thespian, as Thurgood, he does his thing, proves to be charming, and that’s it. Perhaps the weakest, most manipulative parts of the movie is when we’re supposed to be focusing on Thurgood’s relationship with a woman named Mary Jane (get it). Sure, because it’s a movie, we’re supposed to have some sort of romantic love-interest to make things matter more, but if anything, it just gets in the way and feels stupid. Not for a single second did I believe Mary Jane, and not just as a character, but as a person who would fall for Thurgood, stick with him after she finds out what she finds out about him, and has gone through in her life. It’s the kind of character that I feel like was probably invented and established in the post-production phase, when the studio hammered back that there needed to be a love-angle somewhere in the story.

If that was the case, know this: Just like with actual relationships, if the romance isn’t working, don’t bother with it. Kick it to the curb and light up a fatty.

Consensus: While there are short bursts of pure, comedic inspiration, Half Baked still doesn’t stay totally consistent, when it’s trying to be so many movies in one, without realizing that the one movie they have and are working with (the stoner-comedy) is just fine enough for all of us.

6 / 10

That look. We've all had it. Some just seconds ago.

That look. We’ve all had it. Some just seconds ago.

Photos Courtesy of: Mic, Alchetron, MovPins

Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016)

No more haircuts. Just do them at your own house, dammit!

A little over a decade after we last left him, Calvin (Ice Cube) has now found his long-loved barbershop molded together with the beauty salon. Most of this is to keep alive and well in today’s economic times, but this also brings along some more unneeded craziness and drama, like with customers and co-workers. But for the most part, some of the same faces are back, along a few new ones like Rashad (Common), who is currently married to Terri (Eve), even if he can’t keep himself from flirting with co-worker Draya (Nicki Minaj); there’s One Stop (J.B. Smoove) who uses the barbershop as a front for all of his shady and underground dealings; and Dante (Deon Cole), someone who is there for sassy remarks. There’s plenty more where that came from, but for the most part, it’s the same old gang together, bickering and joking around like the old days. Except that now, there’s a new threat on the rise, what with gang violence become more and more relevant on the streets of Chicago. This leads the barbershop to think about how to address it, while also maintaining their sense of community and respect for one another.

The paw prints are back, but hidden beneath corporate America? No!!

The paw prints are back, but hidden beneath corporate America? No!!

There’s more laughs in the Next Cut than there are in either of the other Barbershop movies. While that isn’t to say that those movies aren’t “funny” to begin with, but here, while watching this, there felt to be a greater amount of laughs, in a row, as opposed to the other movies where they feel like their laughs a whole lot more scattered. That may have something to do with the direction and pace, as well; as opposed to the first two other movies, director Malcolm D. Lee feels like he’s in a more frantic mood to tell this story, these characters, and give us all the subplots imaginable.

That’s both good, as well as bad for the Next Cut.

By getting rid of the carefree, easygoing, and breezy feel of the first two movies, we now have a much broader, more obvious comedy than ever before. But what’s interesting is that the movie actually gains more laughs by doing this. There are certain tangents by Cedric the Entertainer that start, and hit their mark, whereas there’s other characters on the side who may not seem like they matter much in the grander spectrum of things, but still bring a little something to the movie with a laugh or a chuckle, as small as it may be. In fact, most of the laughs of the movie come from when everyone’s chiming in on a subject, allowing for their voices to be heard, making whimsical statements, and overall, reminding the audience that they’re characters in this movie, that they have a personality and hey, maybe remember them when all is said and done.

And because this is all taking place in a barbershop, yeah, it makes sense that people would actually get into some heated discussions about race, sex, gender, love, violence, gentrification, and all of that fine and fun stuff. Sure, the dialogue isn’t nearly as clever or as smart as it thinks it is, but is there is such a problem with that when it’s actually funny? Nope not really, which is why it was hard for me to really get on the Next Cut‘s case.

Even if, yeah, they kind of flub the ending a bit.

I admire those involved with the Next Cut in making it more than just your average, run-of-the-mill comedy with dirty jokes. Instead, the movie’s following the same them as the two others where it’s trying to be more about the importance of community and having a sense of feeling apart of something, especially what with all of the gang violence erupting in Chicago. It’s an interesting angle that the movie discusses and shows to great lengths (even if the gang scenes with Tyga are unintentionally hilarious and reminded me a lot of Gran Torino‘s equally laughable Hmong gangs), while also reminding us that it has a point and is trying to address something.

Red, white and phew!

Red, white and phew!

But at the same time, it doesn’t know what to do with that message, nor does it know what to say with it. To state, “hey, we need to stop the violence, guys,” isn’t enough. I know a movie like the Next Cut isn’t trying to be a piece of solutions-oriented journalism, meant to change the world for the better, but what it seems like the people behind it felt like if they just brought up gang-violence, talked about how bad it is to sweet, wholesome families still trying to make a life in Chicago, add a gimmick where the barbershop is now advertising some sort of a Cease Fire, and not really explain why the violence is happening, or explain to even further lengths on how to stop this sort of violence, then they’d be fine.

Hey, so long as they showed people that they knew about it, right?

And sure, you could make the argument that the Next Cut is showing us how to exactly stop the violence in the first place (what with the Cease Fire and all), you could also make the argument that it’s not really doing anything at all. In pure Hollywood terms, a Cease Fire is the cheap, easy and simple way of getting past actually answering issues of violence and gangs, without ever trying too hard to actually solve them to greater lengths like, in real life, they have to be. Also, it’s a little hard to take a movie like the Next Cut so seriously with its anti-violence stance, when it seems all involved with Nicki Minaj’s booty, who Common is banging, and whether or not if one character in the barbershop may be gay. All of this is fine to have as just subplots for your broad comedy, but when you try to plaster it together with a hard-hitting, heavy statement against drugs, violence and gangs, then it all seems too odd.

Next time, just stick with the dirty sex jokes. They tend to seem to work better.

Consensus: Even if its the funniest of the franchise, the Next Cut also feels like the messiest, with a statement about gang violence that deserves to be said, but perhaps in a much better, smarter and less messier movie.

6 / 10

It's West Coast vs. East Coast all over again! Except, not really. Everything's all good.

It’s West Coast vs. East Coast all over again! Except, not really. Everything’s all good.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Barbershop (2002)

Everybody likes to have a little conversation while getting a trim.

On the south side of Chicago. Calvin (Ice Cube) runs a barbershop that he inherited from his deceased father. Since it’s been struggling for the past few years with funding and whatnot, Calvin himself views the shop as nothing but a burden and a waste of his time that he absolutely can’t wait to get rid of so that he can go on and move on with his own life for a change. Granted, there’s other people in the barbershop who may be upset or disappointed with seeing it gone and dead, but Calvin is just thinking for himself and his own life. And now, after selling the shop to a local loan shark, Calvin slowly begins to see his father’s vision and legacy and struggles with the notion that he just sold it out for nothing more than pure selfishness. However, on this one fateful day, a lot of other stuff that happens that begins to affect the others who work in the barbershop, as well as those who come to it, day in and day out, expecting a fine cut, some good conversations, and a greater feeling that they did something right for their community.

Judging by that grin, somebody may be demanding their money back.

Judging by that grin, somebody may be demanding their money back.

Barbershop isn’t, by any means, a stone cold classic in the comedy genre. It is, if anything, a small, simple and easygoing comedy that has a nice, breezy pace, doesn’t ask the hard questions, doesn’t demand the hard answers and, at the end of the day, also doesn’t forget to make its audience laugh. Sure, you could say that’s the deal with a lot of other comedies just like it, but there’s still a special feeling with Barbershop that, even after all of these years, makes me feel like it’s legacy may forever live on, just by how good-natured it is.

Once again, does that make it “a classic”?

Nope, but it does make it a perfectly watchable and fun movie.

This mostly all comes down to the talented cast and the fact that, a lot of them, all seem to get along and have a nice bit of chemistry between one another, even if their characters don’t always get along or seem like the best of friends. Ice Cube, for one, shows that he can be an awfully charismatic and fine lead when he isn’t glowering over those around him as Calvin, giving us a good enough character that we at least identity with him, but not too much of a presence to where he takes over the whole movie and makes us forget about everybody else. In a way, Cube is perfectly fine playing the straight man in this cuckoo’s nest of wild and crazy characters, and that’s why he deserves extra brownie points here.

If anybody is the one who steals the show away from everyone else, it’s Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie. Cedric is doing a lot of hamming it up here and while his character can definitely be taken in for small doses, those doses, as meager as they may be, are still fulfilling and healthy enough that they keep him funny, and the movie going at a fine pace. Much has already been said a lot about the tirades and rants that Eddie goes on and on with about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and more famously, Jesse Jackson, and with good reason – not only are they very funny, but they also prove to be some of the smartest comedy bits that Cedric has ever done (with the exception of everything he had to do or say in the Kings of Comedy).

Of course, some of that could have definitely been improved by Cedric and it would have been perfectly fine, but yeah, it doesn’t matter that he sort of steals the show. Everyone else here is still fine and charming enough that they at least make their presences known, even if they don’t take over the whole film. Peeps like Troy Garity, Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Michael Ealy, Leonard Earl Howze, and plenty more all show up, do their things and remind us why they matter in a story like this.

Cover up those paw prints, missy!

Cover up those paw prints, missy!

Even if, you know, the movie itself sort of jumbles them around a tad too much.

Because Barbershop is such a small, relatively contained comedy, it almost feels like a disservice to the rest of the characters that there’d be so much plot and twists and turns that are, for the most part, as predictable as they come. It’s as if director Tim Story didn’t trust his comedy enough to move and tide things along, that he felt the absolute need to have a whole robbery-angle and a love-story to accommodate it. Sure, these things are fine to have if you’re trying to build up characters, but it can also hurt when it’s taking away from some real moments of fun and laughter. If anything, it just breaks up the joy that everyone’s having and making them all realize that, oh yeah, there’s something of a story here that’s supposed to be told and yeah, it’s kind of lame.

But at the same time, Barbershop isn’t trying to light the world on fire, so even if it does take a few pratfalls here and here, at least it gathers itself back up, brushes off the leftover hair from the ground and continue on with itself, as if it’s not fazed and just having fun.

Or yeah, something like that.

Consensus: Though its over-reliance on plot can become a bit much, Barbershop is still a funny and enjoyable enough movie to get through, if mostly because of its charming cast.

6.5 / 10

I'd take a seat in that chair.

I’d take a seat in that chair, provided laughs were involved.

Photos Courtesy of: Youtube, Qwipster’s Movie Reviews, Superior Pics

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

My money’s on the guy who can fly. And no, not like a bat.

After nearly destroying all of downtown Metropolis after his brawl with General Zod (Michael Shannon), Superman (Henry Cavill) isn’t quite loved by the general public. The media portrays him as either a “hero”, or a “dangerous alien”, government officials are calling for him to testify to his actions, and even those close to him, like Lois Lane (Amy Adams), still aren’t sure if he’s making the best choices. One person who would definitely agree with Lois is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), CEO of Wayne Enterprises, and one of the many people who were affected by Superman’s mayhem of destruction. Seeing as how his whole company got screwed-over by Superman, without so much as a “sorry”, or “I.O.U.”, Bruce decides to take matters into his own hands and go after Superman himself, but this time, as Batman. Meanwhile, evil-genius scientist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is conjuring up his own dastardly plan of sorts, but doesn’t seem to keen on letting those in governmental power know what it is. Obviously Superman and Batman got their issues to settle, but with Luthor somewhere in the background, they may have to push it all to the side and focus on the rest of humanity.

"Hero! Hero! Kill him!"

“Hero! Hero! Kill him!”

I’m going to be nice to Batman v Superman. Even after all of the anticipation, hype, and expectations built-up for this thing, it seems like a lot of people are, predictably, not liking it, which isn’t the only reason why I’m going to give it a break. One reason is that it’s a tad better than a lot of people seem to be giving it credit for in that it’s as dark, as serious and as brooding as you can get with a superhero movie. While Christopher Nolan may not be directing (he’s actually producing), his style is seen everywhere – the overbearing Hans Zimmer score, the countless shots of superheros looking into the distance and being sad, daddy issues, and, oh yeah, the seriousness.

Oh, so very serious.

But that’s one of the main reasons why I dug Batman v Superman in the first place – it’s not trying to crack jokes, wink at the crowd, break the fourth-wall, or make it seem like they’re out to provide knee-slappers. What it’s trying to do is give you this story, these characters, and do so in a very serious, almost unrelenting manner. The world painted here by Zack Snyder is a gritty, cold and bleak one, which definitely works, given how the first ten minutes start-off with us seeing just all of the destruction Superman caused at the end of Man of Steel. While Snyder himself may have caught a lot of flack for using that movie’s last-half as some sort of mindless 9/11 allegory, here, he shows that there’s actually a heartbeat to all of that pain and demolition; it’s not just about blowing things up for the sake of blowing them up, but showing that there’s a consequence for these kinds of actions.

That’s why, if anything, Batman v Superman seems to be, for the longest time, very anti-Superman. If it wasn’t for the first ten minutes portraying his act of retribution as something harmful to the rest of society, the following hour-and-a-half questions just what kind of being Superman is, whether or not he can be trusted, and why his better judgement may get the best of him if he’s not paying close enough attention. So rarely do superhero movies nowadays seem to hold a mirror up to their own characters in a way that Snyder, and co-writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer do with Superman and it brings up some really interesting ideas and questions about the idea of a superhero in and of itself.

Like, for instance, would we trust someone who could literally all kill us one day so easily, even if he was just saving us from every cataclysmic event? Or, would the fact that he’s always saving our butts give him enough privilege to do whatever he oh so pleased? And if not, then what would he have to do to ensure that he’s not just free-wheeling on his own? Set-up governmental rules for him to follow by? Or, just let the people decide?

Batman v Superman brings all of these questions ups and while there doesn’t seem to be much interest in actually answering them, the fact that they’re still brought-up at all means a lot.

And most of this is just to get past the fact that the rest of Batman v Superman is pretty messy and odd, even by Snyder’s standards. At two-and-a-half-hours, there’s so much, with so many, going on here, that it’s almost impossible to talk about it all to great length without spoiling something, or just getting lost in the shuffle of this movie, but just know this, there’s so much going on here that it’s basically too much. Snyder doesn’t know how to settle things down enough to where we get a few subplots and leave it at that; instead, the movie has at least five or six subplots going on, all surrounding the main, important one at the center with Batman and Superman coming to battle.

"I see youuuuuuuu!"

Way to hide, bro.

Speaking of them two, the battle they do eventually have is, pretty nice. In fact, all of the action here is pretty well-done and looks great, which is no surprise because Snyder knows his way around a good shot. It’s just that the movie literally takes two-and-a-half-hours to actually get to the ultimate showdown between Batman and Superman, when it definitely doesn’t need to. The movie already makes itself pretty damn clear what Bruce Wayne is going to be doing for the next hour, which is, chasing after Superman, so why take up all of our time, give us subplots of characters we don’t give a hoot about, and further prolonged the battle we’ve all been waiting so desperately for?

Don’t get me wrong, the fight is definitely awesome and it’s not like I would have preferred it if the fight had been in the first five seconds, but still, there’s too much time dedicated to senseless stories, when it could have been dedicated to developing both Superman and Batman more. And while you could definitely make the argument that we already got enough development with Superman, a part of me walked away feeling like Superman was a bit of a dick in this; when everyone is up-in-arms about all of the destruction he caused to the city, he literally says nothing and continues to fly around the sky, pouting, and, every so often, crying on Lois’ shoulders. No inspirational speech, no selective reasoning, no mic-drop speeches, no nothing.

He literally just takes it and leaves everyone to hate him and question him.

If anything, it’s Ben Affleck’s Batman who fares a lot better than most of the people here. As an older, much more grizzled Bruce Wayne, Affleck gets a chance to show a more seasoned-side to himself than we’ve seen in recent time and it works. While there was a public outcry over Batman being handed to Affleck, he shuts them all up by showing, not only is his Batman a freakin’ bad-ass that will literally stab a guy, or shoot him in the face, but will also take no mercy on whoever has done him wrong.

Screw these Justice League movies! Give me the solo Batfleck movie now!

Consensus: Messy and at times, incoherent, Batman v Superman has gotten its haters for a reason, but for those willing to look past its many weaknesses, will also see a very dark, very serious and very exciting superhero movie that gives us a solid new beginning to the DC franchise, that can hopefully pick up the pieces a bit after this.

6.5 / 10

It always takes three to tango. And what a hot and sexy tango that would be.

It always takes three to tango. And what a hot, sexy tango that would be.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Where can I find me a Greek gal?!?

Still unmarried at 30, Toula (Nia Vardalos) doesn’t have a whole lot going for her life. She’s been stuck working at her family’s restaurant for many years and whenever it seems like she’s getting tired of doing so and wants to leave, she somehow gets guilted into staying by either her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan), or anyone of the numerous first cousins and relatives she has, watching and judging her every move. But one day, Toula gets a job at a travel agency, where, one fateful day, she meets Ian (John Corbett), a teacher who takes a liking to Toula right away and asks her out. Of course, she says yes, and from there on, the two grow closer and eventually, wouldn’t you know it? They fall in love. Obviously, the idea of marriage is brought up and while both are clearly all for it, there’s only one issue that may stand in the way of Toula and Ian getting a chance to say their vows: He’s not Greek. And judging by how the rest of her family reacts when they hear he isn’t Greek, Toula starts to reconsider everything about her life.

The world's most attractive "normal" couple.

The world’s most attractive “normal” couple.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is obviously infamous for many reasons that don’t really have to do with the actual quality of the movie itself. Sure, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but aside from that, what everyone seems to talk about with it is how it spent so much time at the box office, without it featuring any big names, franchises, or whatever else that makes a movie a huge hit. Not only was it an indie-hit, it was a hit that showed Hollywood why word-of-mouth can sometimes be better than just releasing your movie and tossing it out there for everyone to see, even if nobody does actually see it.

But regardless, the movie itself is just fine.

The best part of the movie is that Nia Vardalos’ screenplay clearly comes from a soft spot in her heart. This is clear, not just from the way she portrays the Greek lifestyle and norms, but her whole family as well. If you’ve ever met a Greek family, you’d know that a lot of the movie may be a bit of an exaggeration, but nonetheless, a lot of the running-gags are still pretty funny and do give us better understandings of who these characters are, as cartoonish as they may be. There’s the father who believes that Windex cures anything; there’s the cousins who don’t know how to tell actual, funny jokes; there’s the mother who always has to have the latest family drama; the aunt who seems to always get too drunk and tell-all with random strangers; and so on and so forth.

A lot of the movie is actually funny, which is why it’s sweet to see how Vardalos approaches these characters. While it would have been easy to make her family out to be old-timey and old-fashioned Greeks who clearly don’t live in the new millennium, Vardalos shows that a lot of the ideals and ways they live by are what make them stronger as a family. Sure, Vardalos shows that her family can be a bit annoying, but at the same time, still shows that a lot of what they do, is what makes them who they are – they aren’t apologizing for it and they aren’t asking to be accepted by anybody else who, well, isn’t Greek.

The lady's always take the wedding prep so seriously.

The lady’s always take the wedding prep so seriously.

And yeah, Vardalos herself is pretty solid in the lead role, too. Vardalos has this seemingly everyday woman way about her that makes her character easy to relate to, even when it seems like she may be the most normal character out of the bunch. Same goes for John Corbett’s Ian who, like with most John Corbett characters, is a likable, everyday guy who you would definitely meet on the street and strike up a conversation with. Together, the two have great chemistry and it’s easy to see why they’d fall in love and want to get married, even if the movie does seem to rush it a bit too fast.

But really, this story is less about them two and more about the other characters surrounding them.

Every member of Toula’s Greek family is funny and striking with personality. However, the one who really surprised me was Michael Constantine’s Gus. While the movie originally makes him out to be a bit of a controlling, sometimes overbearing father-figure, eventually, the movie begins to change its tune and show that maybe Gus, if anything, just loves his daughter and wants what’s best for her. He may be too concerned with her not being married and childless, but as the movie begins to show us, he’s only being like this because he truly does want Toula to be happy and, most of all, he wants to have a bigger, more loving family.

Just as any daddy wants.

Consensus: Though it’s a pretty average rom-com, Nia Vardalos’ smart and sometimes, very funny screenplay, allows for My Big Fat Greek Wedding to rise above plenty others in that tired genre.

6.5 / 10

Oh, you kids. So happy in love.

Oh, you kids. So happy in love.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Boomstick Comics, Zeenews.India

The Queen (2006)

God save the queen, indeed.

After the death of Princess Diana, all of London was a public mess. People were crying, leaving beds of flowers, and in a downtrodden depression that hadn’t been since the days of the sudden deaths of John Lennon, or Elvis Presley. However, one person who wasn’t quite as tearful or as upset as the rest of the general public was her former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). Elizabeth, even though she tried to appreciate Diana for what she was, can’t understand why so many people would be in such a fit over somebody who, to be honest, they didn’t know. Surely, Elizabeth doesn’t get the point of this sadness, which is why she seems to live her life as usual, walking around with her beloved Corgis, appreciating her husband (James Cromwell), and doing what she always does. Except, this is probably not the best thing for Elizabeth to do, what with Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) ascending to the office of Prime Minister, creating more tension and hatred for her in the press and among public opinion. Eventually, Elizabeth starts to look at the situation in a different light and realize a little something new about herself, as well as the rest of London.

More skin is always better, Philip.

More leg is always better, Philip.

The Queen is an interesting drama, in that everything about it screams “Oscar-bait”, however, the way in which the movie actually plays out, shows something somewhat different. For one, director Stephen Frears approaches the material, not with an overabundance of metaphors and moments of sheer importance, but with a delicate, attention-paying hand and eye that’s more concerned about these actual few people or so, rather than trying to make some statement about how the Queen’s ideals represent an older way of life, against what Diana represented. Surely, all of this material was probably here for Frears to work with, but because he doesn’t see the need in making his material more heavy-handed than it has any right to be, it plays out a little bit better than it would have, had the Academy been sneering towards his way.

At the same time, however, the Queen is also a movie that doesn’t really do much with itself.

I don’t mean this as a way to say that the movie is boring, as there’s plenty to look at, pay attention to, and think about, even when it seems like there’s hardly anything to look or think about. But what I do mean to say is that the Queen deals with such a small issue, in such a particularly subtle way, that if you aren’t already in love with the Queen, the royal family, or everything that the British Royal stand for the most, then sadly, you’ll be kind of lost. For me, I found it hard to care whether or not Queen Elizabeth actually came to terms with the death and subsequent public outcry of Princess Diana. Most of this has to do with the fact that, well, nothing’s really at-stake here; nobody’s going to be calling for the decapitation of her, there’s not going to be any impeachment, and there will surely be no moment of spiritual awakening.

Everything, as they say, will remain the same. Some things may change, but overall, it will be the same as it always was.

And even though watching as a bunch of British cabinet members run around, talking with one another, and generally looking as serious as can be, may sound like fun to some, it doesn’t always sound as fun to me, especially when there isn’t much to grab at here. Frears does a smart thing in that he doesn’t try to overdo the movie with a heavily-stylized direction, but because of this, the movie can sometimes feel as if it’s just treading along, at its own, meandering pace, where people talk and do things, but really, what does any of it matter? Once again, I know I may be in the minority of saying bad things about this relatively beloved film, but for me, while watching the Queen, it was hard to really get sucked into what was going on, especially when there didn’t seem to be much of anything at-stake, except for people’s own hearts, feelings and self-respect.

"Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!"

“Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!”

To me, that’s only high-stakes drama if we undoubtedly care for the subjects whose hearts, feelings, and self-respect is on the line, and with the Queen, some characters were sympathetic, others were not. Helen Mirren won the Oscar for this here and it makes total sense; not only does she downplay the whole role, but she really gets inside of Queen Elizabeth II’s mind, body and soul, wherein we see here deal with this tragedy in the only way she can – without saying, or doing much at all. And of course, there’s a lot of what Queen Elizabeth II says about the public that’s not only funny, but honest, too, giving us the impression that she’s a lady who doesn’t hold back when expressing her feelings on a certain issue, regardless of whether it’s in-line with public opinion, or not.

This isn’t the kind of performance that tends to win Oscars, which is perhaps why Mirren’s performance is all the more illuminating.

But once again, what’s at stake? According to the movie, it’s everything and anything, but in reality, it doesn’t feel like much. We hear a lot from Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair who, considering that the public loves just about everything he does and says, generally seems to be the voice of reason amidst all of the pain and turmoil, but even he turns into this sappy mess who, seemingly out of nowhere, is breaking into speeches about the Queen, her pride, her courage, and why everybody should stick right up for. Maybe the actual Tony Blair was like this, but it seems to come out of nowhere in a film that paints him in an odd light. Same goes for James Cromwell’s Prince Philip, who seems more concerned about his stag, and less about anything else that’s going on.

Once again, maybe this is how the real people, but it still doesn’t grab me even more and make me actually give a flyin’ hoot.

Consensus: Though the direction and performances are much smaller than you’d expect from the typical, awards-friendly fare that the Queen exists in, there’s still not enough to make someone who generally doesn’t care about subjects such as these, actually start doing that.

6 / 10

"Kiss it. Kiss it harder."

“Kiss it. Kiss it harder.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Identity Theory, Cineplex

Remember (2016)

Who ever feels bad for the Nazis? Nobody! That’s who!

Nearly 90 and slowly, but surely, losing his memory to dementia, Holocaust survivor Zev (Christopher Plummer), has clearly been through a lot. That’s why, so late in his life, when a fellow friend, as well as Holocaust survivor, Max (Martin Landau), asks him to do a favor for him, he’s absolutely fine with it, even though he may forget about it some odd minutes later. But regardless of that, what Max calls on his dear friend to do for him is to search far and wide for a Nazi that is, supposedly, responsible for the death of his family, as well as Zev’s. Max gives Zev the name and a note, which he carries with him everywhere (as well as a gun), leaving Zev to head out onto this trip all by his lonesome. While he may forget what he’s doing, or where he’s at, and just act a tad confused, Zev still does not forget what his mission to do is, even as it grows more and more difficult every time he meets a new person who may, or may not be, related to the person he’s looking for and trying to kill.

Don't make him pull it. Cause I think he will. I'm actually not sure.

Don’t make him pull it. Cause I think he will. I’m actually not sure.

Writer/director Atom Egoyan hasn’t made a good film in quite some time, but we still hold out hope for him. Most of that has to do with the fact that, no matter what project he takes on next, he still finds talented people to be in his films and give him their all. Why is this? I still don’t really know, especially since Egoyan himself hasn’t been relevant since the Sweet Hereafter. But regardless, here we are with Remember, a film starring not one, but two very old Oscar-winners, which already puts it above the fray of the rest of Egoyan’s movies. Perhaps this time around, he wants to play it more confined and smaller, rather than go all out on some sort of big, blockbuster route, where we’d get all sorts of big-named actors and such, showing up and making the movie more ambitious, right?

Well, yes and no.

Egoyan does do something somewhat smart with his direction here in that he doesn’t allow for the story to get too over-saturated. Because we’re literally just meeting up with Zev so late in his life, we have to draw up a lot of conclusions of who this character was before he started to get old, and just why he matters to us now. Egoyan never shows us anything through flashbacks, but instead, allows for us to make up our own mind and watch as he travels through this new adventure of his, sometimes struggling to find a meaning, or better yet, purpose in all of it, but mostly, just trying to survive another day on Earth where he can remember what he’s doing, or where he’s at.

And channeling a lot of this sadness is Christopher Plummer in what is, yes, a very good performance from someone we expect them from constantly. Even though, like I said, Zev is an entirely new character to us, Plummer gives him all sorts of shadings, that have him go beyond just being the old, confused man. Yes, it’s very easy to feel bad for him and want to just give him a hug, but at the same time, Plummer shows that there’s at least some ruthlessness to him that may make him somebody other than from what we expected. Of course, this all help to Plummer and just how good of an actor he is – to make someone like this so grounded, even when it seems like he’s totally losing his marbles.

I guess being a Nazi war criminal also means not having the number to a barber.

I guess being a Nazi war criminal also means not having the number to a barber.

But of course, the rest of the movie is a bit of a problem.

Egoyan tries to make something compelling and tense with this script, but mostly, it just feels like a half-baked idea. At nearly an hour-and-a-half, Remember already feels too short and makes it seem like Egoyan didn’t have the time, or courage to really discuss any of these issues that were brought up here. There’s one scene with Bruno Ganz and Plummer that discusses how those involved with Hitler and the Nazis, still believe it to be their right call of passion. This is an obviously a controversial statement, but the movie never seems all that interested in exploring it anymore, and to just move onto the next scene where Plummer will meet up with somebody else, take out his gun and ask a few questions.

And yes, because Remember is a thriller, it doesn’t always work. In a way, it feels a lot better as a dark, but contained drama, if anything. But once Egoyan tries to throw in the guns and violence, it doesn’t quite go anywhere. Instead, it feels like an actor getting restless and worried that his movie may not already be grabbing people’s attention, so he has to create something to make that happen. It doesn’t quite work and makes Remember feel like two completely movies; both of which, Plummer is very good in.

Then again, when is that man not good in something?

Consensus: Despite dealing with some very dark and serious issues, Remember is all too concerned with its blood and violence, rather than actually addressing anything, but always allowing for Christopher Plummer to work his usual magic and keep everything grounded.

6 / 10

"Damn, we're old, man."

“Damn, we’re old, man.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Rendition (2007)

How sad is it when the only thing you remember from a movie is the water-boarding?

Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a CIA analyst based in North Africa is forced to question his assignment after he witnesses the brutal and unorthodox interrogation of an Egyptian-American by secret North African police. Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is an Egyptian-American chemical engineer whose family emigrated to the States when he was a boy, and who is now suspected of a terrorist act. And his very pregnant wife Isabella El-Ibrahimi (Reese Witherspoon), does everything in her power to find her missing husband. All three stories are connected in strange, if tragic ways.

"You can trust me. I've never played anyone sinister before."

“You can trust me. I’ve never played anyone sinister before.”

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the act the U.S. Government calls, “Extraordinary Rendition”, is not relevant, hell, it’s not even needed to understand or appreciate this movie anymore. It’s basically just a way for Hollywood to preach and say how they are so against the war in Iran and how George Bush is a big, old dummy. There’s no issue with these statements, but when it seems like that’s all your movie’s got to say or do, then you don’t really have a movie.

You just have a soap-box you can’t get off of.

It’s safe to say that Rendition‘s plot is, for the most part, intriguing and deals with all sorts of political questioning and intrigue that makes political-thrillers like this so appealing. Taking all of these different stories, from different continents and having them all make a lick of a difference of how they all connect, is what keeps the interest-factor of this alive and well for about the first 30 minutes or so. Director Gavin Hood is a skilled-enough guy to make it seem like he has a clear head and idea of what he wants to do and where he wants to go, but also what he wants to talk about.

Hood shows that, while our anti-terrorist tactics in America may be considered “necessary” they are, in no ways, the most pitch perfect way to infiltrate any terrorist or their activities. In ways, just picking up a person off the street because of what they look like, torturing them, prodding, teasing them, and having them think that they are terrorists, well, believe it or not, can sometimes create terrorists in the first place. While there’s plenty of torture-sequences that go a bit far and beyond what you’d expect from a glitzy, glamorous Hollywood production, it still serves enough of a purpose to matter in what Rendition, the movie, is trying to get across.

Which is why the next two hours seem like a total slog.

Pondering the day of when he'll win an Oscar.

Pondering the day of when he’ll win an Oscar.

But what’s worse about Rendition is how it seems like it had a lot more going for it, but for some reason, none of that’s to be found in the two-hours-and-two-minute run-time. For instance, certain plots go unresolved and there actually seems to be more questions, than actual answers in the long-run. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the studio wanted to trim down some of the run-time to not scare people away, but really, the damage can kind of already be done. Those who veer-off in the leftie territory, may still find themselves a bit troubled with how far this movie goes with it’s preaching, to where it seems like its main concern is letting people know how it feels, and less about actually telling a real, compelling story.

This is all the more of a shame, due to the fact that the cast here is actually pretty solid and definitely deserves better.

Jake Gyllenhaal really nails the part of the young, brash CIA agent that can’t get past the fact of all the crazy stuff he’s seeing right in front of him and it’s another great role for an actor that was really climbing the totem pole at the time. Now, on the other hand, everybody knows what to expect from the guy and that’s pretty cool considering this is Donnie Darko we are all talking about here. Reese Witherspoon has top-billing here as the wife of Anwar El-Ibrahimi, but doesn’t do much mainly because she is probably in the film for 20 minutes. That didn’t bother me much, mainly because every time she’s onscreen, she really seems like she’s struggling to be taken seriously and it even gets to the point of where she’s just screaming at the top of her lungs, “WHERE IS MY HUSBAND!?!?!?”.

Yeah, sorry gal. No Oscar for you this time around.

Peter Sarsgaard is probably the most memorable out of the whole cast, since he really does seem like a genuinely nice guy (change of pace for the dude), and one that feels really convicted of doing the right thing, regardless of how much trouble it will get him in with the higher-ups. Sarsgaard is always great with every role he’s given and he’s probably the most believable character out of the whole bunch, mainly because his problem can’t be as solved easily. Meryl Streep seems like she’s tailor-made for the queen bitch role as Corrine Whitman, a powerful women that makes men soil themselves with the sound of her voice, and as good as she may be with this role, it still feels like a bit of an undercooked character, that could have been used so much more and so much better than what she really was. Alan Arkin also shows up and does his thing, and that’s not so bad, but it’s kind of a waste of a dude that literally won an Oscar a year before this even came out.

Consensus: Rendition deals with plenty of interesting ideas about the then-current political world, but really, despite a solid cast, doesn’t fully come together.

6 / 10

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

SLC Punk! (1998)

SLCposterThey’re right: The Sex Pistols are too mainstream.

Stevo (Matthew Lillard) and Bob (Michael A. Goorjian) are two friends who seem as if they’re a bit out of place, know it, and don’t have any clue of what to do about it. They don’t just sport blue Mohawks, but they listen to hardcore music, go to punk shows, thrash, smoke pot, drink beer, party, trip, and do all sorts of bad stuff that can sometimes be misconstrued as “rebellious”. Steveo, Bob and the rest of their pals are fine with this, however, the only thing that’s holding them back is the fact that they live in such a boring place as Salt Lake City, Utah, where they aren’t really allowed to branch out as much as they want. Sure, they have a good time being their typical rebellious selves, but what they really want in life, is to be accepted and seen as equals, even if everyone around them makes it all the more difficult, with their poser ways and lifestyles. Stevo, however, is starting to see that all of the anarchy he loves, praises and lives by, may just be a bit of a waste of time, especially considering that everyone around him isn’t gaining much from it to begin with.

Rebels in a restaurant!

Rebels in a restaurant!

Writer/director James Merendino has a lot to say with SLC Punk! and that’s absolutely obvious from the very start of the film. With the loud, head-banging punk music, blue Mohawks, and constant yelling from Matthew Lillard, it’s clear that Merendino has something he wants to get off his chest and it’s interesting to see just how he goes about it. Rather than feeling overly preachy and annoying (like he most definitely could have been), Merendino instead, finds a way to make sure that all of the points he has to make through his characters, is done in a fun, exciting way, so you don’t lose yourself in all of the ranting and raving.

Of which, yes, there are many.

However, for the longest time, I was fine with this. Not only does a lot of what Merendino has to say is true, but it’s also those insightful to those souls out there who have no clue just what he’s talking about, or trying to make a joke about. Even if you didn’t grow up in Utah, the idea and feeling of being repressed is still prevalent in any city, town, or state; the feeling of not being allowed to do everything that you want to do, or be yourself because of some silly, preconceived notion that it isn’t “what’s in”, can be found just about everywhere you go. Merendino is dealing with a bunch of anarchists who clearly don’t hide their feelings or emotions, but there’s no issue with that because a lot of what these characters have to say sort of hits home and feels almost healthy for Merendino.

That’s why, even when Lillard’s character jumps into and practically gets lost into these rants about punk culture, the art of “selling out”, college, certain cliques and social groups, etc., it’s all neat to hear. Merendino seems like a smart fella who, yeah, may have definitely gone through some growing pains, but at the same time, still has something to say that deserves to be heard. Not to mention that there’s a feeling of excitement and energy throughout, mostly due to all of his camera-trickery that makes it seem like we’re right along for the party as it’s happening.

But then, the movie changes and realizes that, well, it has a story to deal with.

And that’s where SLC Punk! really falls apart.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry at a movie for following through on telling its story and giving us at least some sort of narrative to follow through on, but for some reason, it almost feels like a distraction from everything else that Merendino’s doing. For one, the actual plot itself, isn’t very interesting; angry, pissed-off youngin’s spend their times moping around, looking irate, and searching for the nearest bit of conflict they can find. Sure, this may be how life is, but for a movie, there’s not much to it.

Yes. Jason Segel was, at one time, a punk.

Yes. Jason Segel was, at one time, a punk.

Another issue with this focus on the actual story is that, well, the characters themselves aren’t very intriguing to watch do stuff or have stuff happen to them. Sure, the stuff that they have to say may be thought-provoking, but they themselves really seem as if they’re just types, fueled by drugs, booze, and punk music, and that’s about it. Merendino tries to have them become more than they appear, but by the point, it almost feels like a little too late, as if he got so distracted by all of the fun he was having showing this lifestyle, that he realized that he had to at least finish it all up in some way, shape or form.

Then again, Matthew Lillard, above all else, is really the one actor who gets off of this perfectly and it’s nice to see. Nowadays, it seems as if Lillard is getting more and more supporting roles in stuff that some people see, and some people don’t, but regardless, it’s interesting to see where this guy has come from and where’s he gone over the past two decades of his career. While he may definitely get a lot of flak thrown at him for playing Shaggy and just generally seeming like an a-hole in the stuff he does, he’s actually a talented actor who, especially, shows that he’s got plenty of range set beyond just looking and acting like a prick.

Yeah, he’s great at playing that, too, but it’s not all he does.

As Steveo, Lillard has a blast with a role that shows him frequently talking to the camera, and just letting his mind wander about whatever it is that he wants it to wander about. While this is a device some people may find annoying, the pure hellbent rage and anger inside of Lillard is felt, which makes more of these scenes feel raw and emotional, rather than preachy and over-the-top. They totally are, but Lillard shows that there’s a reason for all this anger, and it’s what keeps SLC Punk! from being just another typical angry letter from the future generation.

Consensus: Without much of a solid plot to work with, SLC Punk! falls apart in the final-act when it tries to be important, but for the most part, its fun, exciting, and sometimes insightful, tone makes it worth a watch.

6 / 10

"Yeah. Who cares?"

“Yeah. Who cares?”

Photos Courtesy of: The Inquisitive Loon, Reel Reactions

Triple 9 (2016)

Dirty cops do dirty things. Like not take showers, apparently.

A group of bank robbers are running high on their latest heist and feel as if, finally, it’s their time to settle up, kick back, relax, and enjoy all of their riches. However, that’s all short-lived once the the ruthless and notorious gangster Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) orders her men to pull off another job – the one they keep on calling “the last job”. While none of the guys are happy about this, they see this as their only way out, so they devise up a few plans on how to steal another huge amount of cash. Eventually, they have a million-dollar idea, the only issue, is that it involves cops. But this isn’t much of a problem considering that two of the members in the group, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.) , actually happen to both be cops. But to make their plan even more difficult than before, Marcus gets saddled with Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a by-the-books cop who is now for playing it on the straight-and-narrow. Will the guys be able to get the heist altogether, even despite the obvious issues standing in their way?

Corrupt cops never smile.

Corrupt cops never smile. That’s just a fact.

What’s so interesting about Triple 9 is how little it’s being promoted, or how it doesn’t seem like many people will see it this weekend, even though it features an insanely stacked, all-star cast list of who’s who. Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Clifton Collins, Jr., Michael K. Williams, Teresa Palmer, Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, and more, all show up here in Triple 9, yet, you wouldn’t know it. And it’s not like the studio’s trying to bury the movie, either; this much talent can’t be attracted to something so terrible that it would be thrown in the February time-slot, due its horribleness. While you could definitely make the argument that that has in fact happened before, I still rest my case and say that, for what it’s worth, Triple 9 is a fine movie.

In fact, it’s a very fine crime-thriller, which makes it all the better.

John Hillcoat loves him some blood, action, and crime, which is why it’s no surprise that Triple 9, in nearly every shot, seems as if everyone and everything in it, needs a long, steaming hot shower. However, it’s quite refreshing to see something so down, out and gritty as Triple 9, that isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to its violence, nor when it comes to giving us characters we don’t necessarily hate, or love. In some ways, we can sort of feel very “meh” about a character, depending on how much time they’re given to develop, but really, Hillcoat isn’t trying to make one character in particular, better than the rest. Everybody’s conflicted; everybody’s got an issue; and most of all, everybody’s got at least some sort of “bad” to them.

That’s why, with this solid cast, it can sometimes feel like Triple 9 isn’t giving each and every person a whole lot to do, even if there are a few exceptions to the rule. Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet get the two showier roles of the movie, and even then, it feels like they aren’t here enough. While Casey Affleck could easily be classified as “the protagonist”, he still feels like an afterthought when it becomes clear that Hillcoat himself is a tad too enamored and caught up with all that’s going on with bank-robbers and their own personal lives. No issue with this, as the bank-robbers here are all played by solid actors, but at the same time, it still can’t help but feel like a little too much, for a movie that’s so simple to begin with.

Why does Daryl always get stuck driving?

Why does Daryl always get stuck driving?

Sure, Triple 9 may combat with the idea of it being a far more “serious” and “complicated” crime-thriller, but really, it isn’t all that much different from any other crime-thriller out there.

Every character feels like a type, every situation that they’re thrown into, when it’s not predictable, has been done before, and really, there’s no real message at the end of the day. Not that every movie ever made needs to have a message at the end of it to wrap everything up in a neat, little bow, but Triple 9 thinks that it has one and that’s its biggest issue. It’s maybe far too self-serious and brooding for its own good, when really, all we want it to do is crack open a beer, chill out, and turn that frown upside down.

The more entertaining moments of Triple 9, other than the violence, is when the actors seem to be dialing it up to 11 with reckless abandon. Harrelson and Winslet are definitely the main ones here who take advantage of their limited screen-time, having as much fun as they seemingly can, but there’s others in the cast like talented character actors, Clifton Collins, Jr. and Michael K. Williams, who seem like they showed up, ready to have some fun and just let loose. That’s why, when Triple 9 is just living it up in these moments, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself.

But then, like I said, the actual story comes around and everything gets so super serious, so super quick and it’s a bit a slog to get through. Not to say that people like Affleck, Mackie, or Ejiofor can’t do some interesting stuff with this kind of material, but by the same token, it also feels like they’re bringing down the whole ship with them. Although, not nearly as much as Aaron Paul is, with his one-note, rather annoying character who is addicted to drugs and constantly causing problems everywhere he goes. In fact, if there’s a weak-link in this huge cast, it’s Paul, but it may be less of his problem, seeing as how he doesn’t have much to work with.

Sort of like a lot of other people here. Even if they all make a go of it, for the longest time.

Consensus: Given its well-stacked ensemble, Triple 9 may be a tad bit disappointing for those expecting something far more powerful, but for those expecting a bloody, ruthless, gritty and sometimes, fun, crime-thriller, then enjoy.

6.5 / 10

Red means "they're onto something". I think. Or the bar just has crappy lighting.

The red glow means “they’re onto something”. I think. Or the bar just has crappy lighting.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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