Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Morris From America (2016)

Those Germans need to get with the times.

After his mom died, Morris (Markees Christmas) and his dad (Craig Robinson) had to relocate to Germany, where the later currently works for the country’s soccer-team. While his dad is off, working, making money and trying to stay sociable and fun when he’s still reeling from the death of his wife, Morris is trying to keep his cool, have fun, make friends, and at the same time, learn German. However, it’s a lot harder for Morris than any other German kid, because not only is he American, but he’s also black and a lot of the kids his age tend to pick on him for that reason. The only one who doesn’t is Katrin (Lina Keller), an older girl who is definitely a lot more rebellious than her fellow teenagers and hangs out with Morris a lot, making him feel as if he’s got a shot of making it with her. But sooner or later, Morris starts to act out in ways that upsets his dad and his tutor (Carla Juri), leading Morris to be more and more rebellious, while still trying to live out of his dream of, one day, becoming a successful rapper.

Uh oh. Teenage boy and girl on bed.

Uh oh. Teenage boy and girl on bed.

Morris From America is an odd flick in that I’m not quite sure who it’s for. It’s a coming-of-ager of sorts, that mostly all people can relate, but it’s also kind of a kids movie. Then again, it’s the kind of kids movie where characters cuss, do drugs, and even have phone-sex. If anything, it’s less of an inaccessible movie, as much as it’s one that’s so adult, that it actually pushes away the target audience who it could be made for and could clearly benefit from seeing this the most.

But either way, it doesn’t matter, because Morris From America is still a fine flick; it’s the kind that seems conventional and definitely is, but it’s heart is big, pure and so full of love, that even despite its conventions and often times, random bits of oddness that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, it’s hard to hate. It’s a teddy bear of a movie – soft, furry, and so cuddly, that it wants love and in return, you give it the love it oh so desires. Does that necessarily make it a great movie? Not really, but it makes it a good one that, on paper, probably shouldn’t be as good as it look and definitely sounds.

Cause really, even despite it trying to seem really hard like a witty and likable coming-of-ager for all the black teens forced to live in Germany, it’s actually a lot darker and far more serious than that.

For instance, it’s the kind of movie where the bullying seems downright mean, but also believable and kind of disturbing. Not to get into too many details, but Morris is picked-on from where he’s from, what he looks like, and is often called “Kobe Bryant”, by the white, German kids around him – normally, in films such as these, the teasing can sometimes seem random and deliberate, as if the movie itself just knew that it needed to conjure up some tension – but surprisingly, it doesn’t feel that way here. What Morris gets teased for is believable, as cruel as it may be, and yeah, it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to stop, either. Writer/director Chad Hartigan takes a bold step showing that no matter how hard Morris himself tries, he may never be as loved or as accepted as he should, and it’s pretty sad to watch.

If he tells you to go to your room, you best do it.

If he tells you to go to your room, you best do it.

But it also makes Morris all the more sympathetic, even if he can be a little bratty and selfish at times. Still though, Hartigan makes it very clear that Morris is a 13-year-old boy, who literally has no clue what’s going on around him half of the time and is still trying to make sense of himself, his life and his surroundings, and because of that, he’s going to make a lot of dumb decisions. Also, who hasn’t done stupid things at age 13? Yeah, like I said, it’s a sympathetic character and it’s one that Markees Christmas is pretty great with, even despite being so young. While I’m not sure if it’s his first movie or not, the movie gives him a lot to do, even when he has no dialogue; a simple look here and there is more than needed to make this character work and still be believable, and he handles it all well, seeming like a professional and definitely a young actor with bright things to come.

And hell, with that lovely name, how could he not?

But honestly, the biggest shock and perhaps most pleasant surprise of Morris From America is just how perfect Craig Robinson is in a role that does not seem tailor-made for him. For the longest time, Robinson has always been seen as the big and likable goof-ball, who says and does funny things when needed, and yeah, he always kills it at that. And while he’s definitely still that funny, chuckle-worthy dude here, it’s a lot more serious this time around and it works amazingly. Every scene where Robinson shows up, is gold because there’s a certain sense of sadness to his character, that you feel for, but at the same time, you also know that he’s got something smart to say and bring to the rest of the scene. Though the advertising may have you think otherwise, Robinson is not in the movie all of the time, but if that was the case, it would be no problem, as it’s as much of his flick, considering what he has to do and how he pulls it off so effortlessly.

And yes, it definitely made me forget of Mr. Robinson, thank heavens.

Consensus: Heartfelt and poignant, Morris From America is a sweet and sometimes honest tale about growing up, fitting in, finding your voice, and trying to get through the hard times, but never being sappy or melodramatic about any of it.

7 / 10

Eh. Germany's weird anyway.

Eh. Germany’s weird anyway.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

War Dogs (2016)

The American Dream, circa Generation-Y, yo.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) hasn’t made much of his life since the days of high school. When he isn’t giving rich dudes massages for $75 an hour, he’s out there, trying to sell high-end bed sheets to retirement homes. Needless to say, it’s a very unfortunate life he has, but with the return of his old pal, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), his luck may have changed. Seeing as how they were best pals back in the day and can probably trust one another with everything, Efraim asks for David to be his partner in his selling and supplying weapons to U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. While David isn’t quite sure of how this arms-dealing business works, he soon learns the ropes and wouldn’t you know it? Him and Efraim are raking in all sorts of dough, not to mention getting the interest of the Pentagon, who see two youngsters making it big and succesful in America. However though, little does anyone outside of David or Efraim know, that the two are up to no good and more often than not, finding themselves in some murky areas of the law that may possibly bring them down, have them arrested, or better yet, even get them killed.

I'm impressed, too.

I’m impressed, too.

For Todd Phillips, it seems like War Dogs is his the Big Short. Whereas the later was directed by Adam McKay, someone trying to break out of the mold of directing silly comedies, by exposing the U.S.’s financial history and how it caused for the rest of society to go insane, War Dogs shows Phillips trying to do the same thing, but by exposing America’s reliance on guns and arms-dealers, most importantly, this true tale. In fact, the tale is so crazy and wild, that you’d think making a movie and trying to capture that sense of wackiness would be pretty difficult, but honestly, Phillips works well with the material.

It may not be the movie that makes him out to be a voice to be reckoned with, but it’s a step in the right direction away from another Hangover movie.

Anyway, yeah, what works best about War Dogs is that it has such a crazy real-life tale, that all Phillips really has to do is play by the facts of the story and leave it at that. He, as well as the movie, works best at that because there’s a certain sense of seriousness hiding underneath every zany moment; just when you think it’s all “too good to be true”, check it out and guess what? It’s damn true.

War Dogs is also the kind of movie that has a lot of story and ground to cover, yet, handles it quite effortlessly. The movie could have easily been tied-down in trying to explain just how these two bros were able to access all of these weapons in the first place, but instead of focusing down on that so much, they make a mention of it and continue on with these guys’ adventure into becoming legitimate arms-dealers. It’s kind of a silly tale, but it’s one that’s hard not to believe in, nor get tied-up in because there really is an energy and excitement to it that hasn’t been found in any of Phillips’ movies since the first Hangover.

And in ways, War Dogs is a lot less like the Big Short, than it’s more like Blow, or as it wishes, possibly even Scarface.

It’s the kind of movie that we’ve probably seen before, has a whole lot of ambitions that it doesn’t necessarily reach, but is so entertaining and fun when it gets moving, that it’s hard to hold anything against. Phillips does something smart in that he doesn’t focus too much on the small, itty, bitty details and instead, just lets loose and allows for us to watch as these guys rise up the ranks. We know we’re supposed to hate them for what they’re doing and who they’re supplying weapons to, but honestly, it’s so difficult to do so when the ride of watching them become more and more rich, is so much fun to begin with.

And honestly, in a summer that’s been filled with quite a few duds, it’s nice to have a movie that’s having fun with itself, but also ask for the audience to join in it as well.

Miles, guns are bad. Stay away. Unless you can make a pretty penny off of them, then forget about it.

Miles, guns are bad. Stay away. Unless you can make a pretty penny off of them, then forget about it.

That said, War Dogs does run into issues with seeming like it wants to have something more to do and say about what story it’s presenting, but ultimately, drops the ball on that front. Phillips himself seems as if he’s both for and against these guys; he likes how they’ve seemingly used their smarts and cons to get all of the money that they wanted and seem like legitimate businessman while doing so, but at the same time, also doesn’t like how they went about their business-dealings. The movie does toggle with the idea of making money off of terrorists, as opposed to making it off of government agencies, but as soon as its brought up, it goes away.

It’s a bit of a shame, too, because War Dogs does work whenever it seems as if it wants to dig deeper into these characters, their lives, and their relationship with one another. It helps that Teller and Hill are perhaps the most charismatic young actors we have working today, but regardless, the two work so well together that they do feel like best pals, who are absolutely loving everything about life. Teller gets to play his role more meek and quiet this time around, whereas Hill gets to play slimy and gritty, but also showing that he may be a good friend, as well.

The issue is that with these two characters, that’s only who they end up being: Best pals.

They run through certain problems that all business-partners run through and yeah, they also have small squabbles in between, but there’s more of a heart missing to this movie that makes so many of those other crime-dramas work so well. We may not have to like their actions, or better yet, even like them as a whole, but any sort of characteristic that resembles being sympathetic, would definitely help make this journey all the more compelling. It still works as is, don’t get me wrong, but a little more attention to the stuff that counts would have helped out a whole lot.

Consensus: Fast, exciting and above all else, entertaining, War Dogs paints it true story as a typical rags-to-riches story, but with a darker edge, even if it doesn’t always connect with every mark it sets out to hit.

7.5 / 10

True bros.

True bros.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Encounters at the End of World (2007)

There’s weirdos everywhere you go. Especially in the Antarctic.

Infamously well-known film-maker Werner Herzog decides that he’s had with normal, everyday society and travels all the way to the Antarctic community of McMurdo Station, the current headquarters of the National Science Foundation and only home to roughly around 1,100 people during the austral summer, which is October to February). While Herzog initially expects for himself to be enamored with the beautiful sights and all of the lovely, exquisite creatures that this land has to offer, eventually, as Herzog typically does, he gets a tad bit distracted from the all of the beautiful sights and starts paying more and more attention to the citizens of this land and just how they get by, being so far away from the rest of the world. This leads Herzog to interviewing many colorful and crazy characters, like marine biologists, physicists, plumbers, and truck drivers – all of whom have a story to tell and all tell it to Herzog, even if he never quite knows just what he’s getting at.

But then again, with this being a Werner Herzog documentary, are you at all surprised?

What?

Yeah, I don’t know what that is, but that dude may be in trouble.

Encounters at the End of the World is a brave and beautiful documentary that works on two formats. One way, it’s a nature documentary that could definitely be broadcast on the Discovery Channel, highlighting all of the surreal and powerful beauty of this land and the creatures that inhabit it. But on the other way, it also works as one of Herzog’s adventures into the mind and soul of people we don’t normally see in movies, let alone, ever hear about. It’s typical for Herzog to do this in his documentaries, but here, it feels a whole lot more unncessary and almost annoying.

Because, to be honest, there’s a lot of beauty lying underneath the surface of the flick, and not just through its visuals, either. Herzog travels to this land, obviously, to figure out more about the Antarctic, the way its being preserved and, honestly, how much longer it all has before its one big swimming pool. While there’s definitely an underlying global warming and environmental message talked about here, Herzog doesn’t hit us over the head too much with it – he knows that this beautiful piece of nature should be conserved and held in the highest most priority of everyday citizens who really care about this world that we believe in, but he also knows that sometimes, it’s best to leave those ideas up in the air and not always hammer away at them.

Watching this flick and seeing all of the insanely brave that Herzog and his crew is able to capture, honestly puts you in the mind-set of wanting to save the world for all that it is. This may not have been Herzog’s intention in the first place, but it’s still a friendly reminder that out there, in the deepest regions of the world, there’s some real beauty. Sometimes, we just need to see it to believe in it fully.

Then again, Herzog doesn’t really focus on these finer points too much, as his mind wanders, from person to person, as what tends to always happen with his flicks.

Which is sometimes fine, however here, it gets in the way of what could have been a much more focused, much more understated documentary about the great, big world. He gets some interesting interviews out of these odd townsfolk, who have a lot more on their mind than you’d expect them to, but really, it’s Herzog’s sometimes innane line-of-questioning that always gets me. Why on Earth is he so interested in penguins having sex? Or better yet, whether there are any gay penguins in the first place?

Huh?

Where’s that pineapple under the sea?

Sure, it takes someone as zany as Herzog to ask these questions, but do they really need to be asked? Can’t we just sort of leave them on the floor, pick them up later, and, possibly, just Google them? Yeah, we probably, actually, most definitely can, but for some reason, Herzog feels the inspiration to ask these odd questions and they don’t do much, except stop the flick in its tracks.

So yeah, in a way, Encounters at the End of the World is, essentially, two movies, ripped-together into one. It’s not necessarily a cohesive piece, as much as it’s just an interesting one that seems to have greater aspirations than just looking and pointing at its pretty sights, but sometimes, the deeper and meaningful questions don’t always work, especially when they come from Herzog. He’s made some honestly great documentaries out there in the past and nine times out of ten, a question will hit and deliver the kind of powerful moment he probably intends for it to, but often times, he loses himself. He doesn’t always know when’s best to just keep quiet and let his subjects talk, as goofy as they may be.

But sometimes, that’s what makes people like these so interesting: They aren’t who you’d expect them to be and that’s alright.

Same goes for the world that’s way, way out there in the world.

Consensus: Beautiful and powerful to gaze at, Encounters at the End of the World shows off Herzog’s strength in capturing compelling images in real life, however, also shows us that he can’t always handle an interview perfectly and can often times get in the way of everything else that’s going on.

7 / 10

Run away, little penguin friend! Be free and quite possibly die!

Run away, little penguin friend! Be free and quite possibly die!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins

Polisse (2011)

See, not all cops are terrible, immoral human beings!

The men and women who work in the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police see and deal with a lot on a regular basis. They not only deal with the stress of their jobs but the inevitable fall-out in their personal lives-breakdowns, including, but definitely not limited to, divorce, adulterous relations within the force, and most importantly, depression. After all, seeing the world through some of this abused and endangered children can do quite a number on a person, and when you’re seeing it about a dozen times a day, eventually, all of that pain and turmoil can begin to take a toll on you. As is the case with mostly every member of the Parisian Police, they deal with a lot, but they also have such a strong unit that even when they do run into issues, whatever they may be, they always come together and help each other. But sometimes, as is most of the cases here, that doesn’t always happen and often times, the members can feel betrayed and left-out, without a hand to hold, or a shoulder to cry on.

Uh oh. Some bad person's going to get it.

Uh oh. Some bad person’s going to get it.

A lot of Polisse, honestly, feels like a documentary. Writer/director Maïwenn does something smart and interesting with her material in that she allows for it all to be filmed in all-too real way, where we’re literally flies on the walls, watching as this police unit do everything that they do during a normal working day and night. She doesn’t pass any judgement on any character, she doesn’t paint any person as a sort of a “caricature”, and she sure as hell doesn’t get in the way of everything that’s happening; if anything, her camera is just there to be documentation for all that these policemen and woman have to put up with on a regular basis.

And yes, it can get pretty brutal.

But once again, Maïwenn does something interesting with the material in that she doesn’t allow for it all to get so bogged down in the sadness and misery of the proceedings. While the cases that we hear and see play-out can sometimes be all too disturbing and screwed-up, Maïwenn shows that this, yet again, another day in the life of these men and women. She’s not lionizing them and making them out to be perfect human beings, nor is she really making it seem like what they do is the hardest job of all – she’s just showing that they have a job to do and it can be, often times, a pretty miserable one.

Even if the movie itself doesn’t get too bogged down in the sad aspects of the story, the lives of some of these characters can be, and it’s interesting that Maïwenn put her focus on these characters in the first place. Normally, whenever watching a piece on child-abuse cases and scandals, the focus is normally put on the abused and the abuser, without much variation of the form. Here, however, Maïwenn puts her focus on, honestly, the people who really matter the most; they’re the ones who follow the case from the very beginning and do whatever it is that they can to find the person responsible, and stop them before they continue to go on and cause more pain and harm to children.

If anything, they’re the heroes of the story, but how come they don’t often get the spotlight they deserve?

The kid looks up to the police now, but wait till they get a little older and start to see the world.

The kid looks up to the police now, but wait till they get a little older and start to see the world. Sadly, it may not last.

Either way, Maïwenn paints them all in an honest, never shying away from their issues, as well as what makes them so good at their job in the first place. While it would have been incredibly easy for Maïwenn to show each and everyone of these characters as near-perfect human beings, without a fault in their systems, she goes one step further and shows that, in some ways, they’re more screwed-up than you’d expect – sometimes, it’s because of the job, sometimes, it’s not. They don’t always make the right decisions and they sure as hell don’t always know when enough is, well, enough, but they do their jobs to the best of their ability and they got the job done.

Sometimes, isn’t that all you really need?

Of course, the ensemble cast of characters work best because of the cast working with them, some of whom get more love and attention than others, which is fine, because they’re all good. Joeystarr plays Fred and has some of the more emotional and powerful scenes of the whole flick, showing just how his own home situation can come out onto the work that he’s doing in bad, unprofessional ways; Karin Viard plays Nadine showing an emotional vulnerability unseen in the rest of the characters; and while she’s considered an out-lier by the rest of the characters, Marina Foïs plays the photographer, documenting this group as they all pal around together and try to make ends meet on the job, showing a lot more insight than you’d expect.

But really, what makes all of these characters work so well together is that there’s a real feeling of love and connection between them all, making it feel as if they really are a family, that can’t be toyed with or destroyed, no matter how many harrowing experiences come in their way. The movie, once again, doesn’t make them out to be perfect human beings, but shows that sometimes, having the hand of your fellow man or woman, is sometimes what helps people out the most.

All it takes is a little hand-holding.

Consensus: Polisse doesn’t shy away from the gritty and upsetting features of its story/cases, but it also shows us real, honest characters that don’t so often get the attention that they probably deserve.

8.5 / 10

Hey! That's not UPS!

Hey! That’s not UPS!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sausage Party (2016)

I prefer my groceries non-verbal and dead, thank you very much.

Frank (Seth Rogen) is a sausage in a grocery store and just like every other product in this grocery store, they all dream of a better life, where they’re picked up by customers, taken out of their plastic wrappers, and brought onto “the promised land”. While no product has any actual idea of what lies ahead, once they are picked up and bought, their imaginations run so wild that they create a song and dance number to make themselves more attractive to the customers, or as they call them, “Gods”. For Frank, however, it’s less about being taken to this so-called “promised land”, and more or less allowed to finally have some sweet, sweaty and dirty sex with his girlfriend, a bun named Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig). But for some reason, as of late, Frank has been contemplating the world outside of the grocery store and because of this, he doesn’t really know if he wants to be taken to “the promised land”, leading him on this wild adventure of getting back on the store-shelves, while also ensuring that what he’s doing is right.

You know, what normal store-bought sausage franks think about on a regular basis.

The truth about sausages and buns.

The truth about sausages and buns.

The whole idea of Sausage Party is that it’s an R-rated, raunchy-as-all-hell, mean, vulgar, and nasty animated flick that’s mean to some sort of play on Toy Story, where inanimate objects walk, talk, and act, just like you or I, yet, at the same time, don’t really know much about the world around them, other than what they see in their small, contained worlds and possibly what their told. Honestly, it’s a genius idea that’s a lot more ambitious than it sounds and given the cast and crew involved, it’s a surprise that this didn’t come around sooner. Studios already have issues shelling out loads and loads of money to R-rated movies as is, let alone animated ones that are clearly not at all for kids, even if they’ll probably see the numerous ads, billboards and posters, wondering just what it’s all about and whether or not their parents can take them to see it.

Which is why Sausage Party, despite not being a great movie, is still a step in the right direction for more of these kinds of flicks to come out. Sure, they may be a better, or they may be a lot worse than Sausage Party, but still, they’re R-rated animated flicks, made by and strictly for adults. All of this garbage said, Sausage Party works when it’s trying to be a little more than what it appears to be on the surface; there’s lots of swears and cursing going on, some of which just feel like overkill, but there are also some nice little plays on this grocery-store world and puns, that make it feel like this movie had to take place with the kind of story that it has.

But then again, there’s also a slew of jokes and plays-on-words that are meant to be funny, but unfortunately, just aren’t.

Tequila's always fun no matter what form.

Tequila’s always fun no matter what form.

And really, that’s what it all comes down to when you’re working with a comedy – the jokes have to be funny and if they aren’t, then it’s a problem. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times in which I laughed during Sausage Party, but there were also plenty of times that I didn’t, and it seemed disappointing, considering that everyone involved here are funny people and can make me laugh like a hyena, when they feel is necessary. The fact that they don’t always win me over with laughter, is fine, but when your movie is literally one joke after another, and a good portion of them don’t connect, it’s hard not to notice.

That said, Sausage Party still does work, because it’s got more on its mind than just talking-food – as was the case with This is the End, Sausage Party is a movie in which Apatow friends and company, all question their existence and wonder whether or not there is more to life than just what’s being presented to them. It’s a silly allegory, mostly due to the fact that it’s talking-food asking and looking for answers to these burning questions, but it’s an allegory that’s still smart and makes sense, given this story and these characters. There’s also all of this talk of race relations, religion and, believe it or not, politics, all of which don’t really feel necessary and don’t always work, but still make this more than what you’d expect it to be.

But still, Sausage Party isn’t trying to change the world we live in, and that’s okay. It’s a silly movie, that has fun with itself to the point of where it’s enjoyable and it doesn’t ask for much attention or thought necessary. The cast, as usual, is great, with Nick Kroll probably the stand-out as the Deuche, who sounds and acts like a Jersey Shore bro, as well as Edward Norton doing a very odd Woody Allen-impersonation. Not sure if the movie needed that later one, but hey, Edward Norton voicing a bagel is pretty cool, so I’ll take it.

I may not eat it, because that’s creepy, but I’ll take it.

Consensus: While not necessarily lighting the comedic world on fire, Sausage Party still works well with its creative idea, bringing out laughs and a surprising amount of food-for-thought while it’s at it.

7 / 10

Hungry now?

Hungry now?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hero (1992)

HeroposterEveryone’s a little super. Just look closely and stop judging!

Bernie Laplante (Dustin Hoffman) is known as a cheap-skate, a swindler, and just all around rat, who can’t be trusted with anything, or anyone. However, he makes the first selfless gesture of his life when he helps save injured passengers from a roadside plane crash. Before he can get any sort of recognition or praise for this righteous act of heroism, he vanishes into thin air, feeling as if he’s got nothing else to offer. But Bernie is very wrong, because not only are people out there looking for him, but most of all, the one, the only reporter Gale Gayley (Geena Davis) is now interested in finding this mystery man who put his own life at risk. And in by doing so, she announces a $1 million prize for anyone who is willing and able to step forward. But when handsome vagrant John Bubber (Andy Garcia) takes credit, Bernie now feels like it’s time to speak up, even while all of the media is centered on this one story.

What? Would you not trust these two faces?

What? Would you not trust these two faces?

Hero is a sloppy film in that it balances out a lot of what it wants to say, do, and actually be, but still, it all comes together because, when you get right down to it, it’s an enjoyable movie, with some great performances to be found. Sometimes, that’s honestly all you need in a movie, no matter how messy, muggy, or dirty it may actually be.

Okay, maybe that’s not always the case, but you get my point, right?

Anyway, what Hero benefits from the most is a great cast on-deck who feel as if they are more than capable of taking on this material and giving it all that they’ve got, even if they do sometimes feel like they’re far much better than the material itself. Hoffman especially is great in the lead because while he’s definitely an unlikable and pathetic bum, who constantly steals and rips people off for his own self-gain, he’s still likable and fun to watch. This is the beauty of Hoffman – give him a gritty character, a bunch of unlikable traits, and still, watch him as he works wonders into making him the most lovable guy in the whole world. The script always wants to give you the sense that there’s good in this man, but Hoffman does away with them in smart moves; you almost get the sense that Hoffman would have preferred for this character to have been more detestable and mean, but unfortunately, the movie is too light and quick on its feet to really get down and deep into those dark waters.

If anything, it wants to play around, have some fun, make jokes, but also be “about something”, which is what kind of ruins it in the end.

Cause honestly, Hero is the kind of movie that, yes, on the surface, it’s about something, but for some reason, the direction from Stephen Frears doesn’t seem to show that. If anything, Frears seems more interested in having fun with this situation and watching it spiral more and more out of control; it’s like a Capra crowd-pleaser, but obviously, a lot more modern. However, that’s the central issue with Hero – it never fully feels like it’s as funny, or as light as it should be, nor does it feel like it ever gets as dark or serious as it should.

Yeah, take a shower, Dusty.

Yeah, take a shower, Dusty.

What Hero seems to be talking about here is how the media portrays certain people as being hero’s, for the sole sake of ratings and attention, even if, deep down inside, these people are evil and ugly human beings, really. There’s been plenty of movies made about this topic and honestly, given today’s world of media, you don’t even need movies to know this – just turn on the tube and you’ll see what picture the world paints of celebrities and athletes. That said, it is hard to get down on David Webb Peoples and his script for trying, because Hero is the rare big-budget movie, with A-list stars, that’s more than willing to ask the hard questions.

Sure, it may not give the answers it oh so desires, but sometimes, all you need is a little question to make it all matter most.

Anyway, Hero‘s messy, but it’s a fun and, at times, interesting mess. It is something of a redemption story that, because of Hoffman and his dedication to his craft, is a lot smarter and sweeter than it may have intended to be. Even all of the media stuff, as wild and hectic as it can sometimes get, still works because of Geena Davis, in full-on charm-mode, showing us a character who may be sad, deep down inside, but is still looking for that story of her lifetime to make her feel somewhat complete as much as she possibly can. The movie never gets as deep with her as I make it sound, but trust me, there’s something there, if you look close enough.

And yeah, even Andy Garcia is fine; while comedy has never been his strong suit, there’s something to this character that makes you hate him, but also like him as well. The movie is filled with characters like these and it’s actually quite refreshing to watch; we know we’re supposed to like them, but there’s still factors and ideas about them that make that much harder to be a reality. Why more and more movies can’t feature these kinds of attributes is beyond me, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Doesn’t matter the decade it comes from.

Consensus: Albeit messy, Hero still benefits from a great class, interesting ideas, and an entertaining approach to a premise that could have easily been boring, preachy and sad.

7 / 10

All of the men can't wait for Geena. No matter what the year.

All of the men can’t wait for Geena. No matter what the year.

Photos Courtesy of: Rob’s Movie Vault, Virtual History, Cineplex

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Laundromats were invented to bring people closer together.

In a seedy corner of London, where the tourists aren’t quite encouraged to travel out to see and witness, Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a young Pakistani, is given a run-down laundromat by his uncle (Saeed Jaffrey). His uncle hopes for it to be as successful as every other business idea he has made in this great land of opportunity, which leads Omar to do whatever he can to make sure all goes smoothly and according to plan. But soon after, Omar is attacked by a group of racist punks, leading him to question whether or not he wants to give this job a shot in the first place. All issues go out the window, though, when he realizes their leader is his former lover, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). The men decide that it’s best to work together and see what they can make of this laundromat, while also trying to continue their relationship. However, certain social issues arise, when people start to find out that they’re more than just business-partners and are, in fact, get ready for it, in love.

Those blond-streaks are killer, though.

Those blond-streaks are killer, though.

My Beautiful Laundrette feels and acts a tad like a student film. While Stephen Frears was no slouch by the time this movie was made and released, there’s still that feeling that he may be rushing things a tad too much. After all, making a movie and getting it out to the general public is difficult as is, so might as well get all that you can, out there for everyone to see, right?

That’s why, while watching Laundrette, I couldn’t help but wonder why Frears himself wouldn’t slow things down a bit. Granted, it does keep a story like this interesting, just by moving at an efficient pace, but it also makes us lose out on some of the smaller, more intricate details of the plot and the characters that would make a movie like this so rich and pure. It’s almost as if the script was much, much longer, so Frears himself decided to hit all of the bullet-points and just expect the audience to fall in line with everything that he showed and left it at that.

It doesn’t quite work, but that isn’t to say that Hanif Kureishi’s script isn’t good, because it is.

What Kureishi does best is that he balances out the actual heart and humanity of these characters, with the certain social-issues that surround them. However, Kureishi doesn’t make these social-issues and concerns the sole factor in determining who these characters are; it’s something that they represent, but they’re much more than just their points and opinions about society and politics. For instance, a great example of this is Saeed Jaffrey’s Nasser – he’s the uncle of the family who came over to England at a very young age and, metaphorically speaking, took the bull by the horns. He saw a land, rich with opportunity, and he decided to go for it, becoming successful, but also opening up the doors for those others just like him who are looking to make a break in a foreign land.

But what’s interesting about the script is how it shows that this can also be something of his demise; in a way, it’s made him more pompous and forget exactly who he is, where he comes from, and who he’s supposed to love. Jaffrey’s performance is wonderful and it helps make Nasser the most interesting character of the bunch, because we know what he’s supposed to represent, but the script is too smart to get bogged down by all of this and just focus on this one, in particular detail. Same goes for the gay love-angle – for a movie from 1985, Laundrette is surprisingly modern and not all that dated when it comes to two men falling in love and having sex. Sure, it’s not graphic by any means, but the movie doesn’t shy away from their little love affair either, and while I wouldn’t be saying it was a brave move in today’s day and age of cinema, back then, it must have broken down barriers.

Look out, world.

This is England?

Or maybe not. I don’t know. I myself wasn’t even a thought by that point.

But even when the direction fails them, the performances from the cast are quite solid, too. Aside from Jaffrey, Daniel Day-Lewis really does shine as Johnny, the punk-turned-legitimate-businessman, showing both sides of his anger, as well as his compassion for the world around him. Though Day-Lewis was young and not quite the powerhouse he would come to be known as, you still get inklings of things to come, whenever the opportunity presents itself here.

As for Gordon Warnecke, he’s pretty good, too. Together, the two share a sensual and sweet chemistry that doesn’t feel phony. Had the movie been solely about their love and compassion for one another, amidst all of this tension, turmoil and prejudice, it probably would have been a lot stronger and gotten rid of some of the messier-portions of the flick; however, as is, the movie still works because Warnecke and Day-Lewis seem believable in their love for one another. It kind of comes out of nowhere, honestly, but the look in their eyes when they see each other is true and it helps carry the movie through some of its murkier waters.

Consensus: Frears’ direction may be a little amateurish, but thankfully, My Beautiful Laundrette benefits from a great script and even better performances from the solid cast.

7 / 10

It's true love, people. Get used to it.

It’s true love, people. Get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Criterion, Londonist

Bad Moms (2016)

Moms always do it better than dads. Just a fact.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is the kind of mom that every mother wishes she could be. She’s always there for her kids, getting them to school on time, picking them up and driving them wherever they need, cooking breakfast and dinner for them, and hell, even doing their projects for them. Her husband (David Walton) may not be as caring for her as she wishes, however, she’s been with him ever since she was 20, and she’s stayed as dedicated to him as possible, while also maintaining a steady job at a coffee co-op. But after awhile, all of this running around, rushing and having no time for herself, Amy decides to screw it all and just stop trying so hard. Sure, she’s still going to care for her kids, her husband and her job, but she’s not going to put up with anymore crap, just to make sure that everybody around her is happy. Amy’s going to make herself happy, dammit! This means that she lets loose and party’s hard with two fellow moms, Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), and gains the attention of the other mothers of the class, one of which (Christina Applegate) doesn’t approve of what she sees.

Clean-up on aisle WHATEVER! PARTY!

Clean-up on aisle WHATEVER! PARTY!

Bad Moms is the kind of movie that looks awful and is just asking for resentment. For one, it’s another movie that can be placed into subcategory of movies with the name “Bad” in the title, to hopefully remind the audience that everything that they are about to witness is going to be, at the very least, immoral, wrong, and downright vile. And yes, that also leads to the movies themselves not being all that good and just relying on shock-factor to carry it over; like a kid in middle school going through puberty, they may want to be rebellious and all sorts of angry, but the worst thing that they can possibly do is pee on the neighbor’s cat to prove something of a point.

Of course though, what Bad Moms has going for it that these other movies don’t have, is that it’s actually quite good.

It’s surprising, to say the least, because the first thirty minutes or so of Bad Moms is awful and cringe-inducing. It moves at such a slow speed, with Mila Kunis’ narration tapping on every saccharine and inane detail that, yeah, I’m sure soccer moms will find hilarious, but for others, it’s painful to listen to, because it doesn’t seem like anything is actually happening. Sure, we’re getting introduced to our main protagonist, but what we’re being told about her, doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the story that’s supposed to unfold, so the fact that the movie takes a damn near 30 minutes before it actually starts mentioning something resembling a plot, is troublesome.

But then, thankfully, the movie picks itself up and then, thankfully, Bad Moms becomes a very funny movie. Which isn’t to say that the movie itself is actually “funny” – writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore know how to deliver a raunchy joke, but for every one that lands, at least five or six miss the mark completely. However, because Bad Moms has such a lovely and charming cast on its hand, some of the jokes that honestly, not in a million years, would work, actually do.

And yes, it’s all because of the one, the only and the unstoppable Kathryn Hahn.

Has Kelly Bundy become a prude now?

Has Kelly Bundy become a prude now?

A part of me is very happy a movie like Bad Moms exists, if solely to bring someone as relatively unknown as Hahn, to the mainstream, for people to see, laugh at, and adore. Because it’s not just that she’s the funniest thing that Bad Moms has going for it, it’s that she’s the best thing about it, at certain points. Her character may seem like your typical sordid and sexual divorcee who screws whoever and whatever she wants, because she’s single as hell and not at all tied down, but because of Hahn, she also shows that there’s something resembling a human being underneath all of the drinking, partying, and making-out. After awhile, it becomes so clear that everything Hahn says is going to be hilarious, that you’ll just laugh at every single thing that comes out of her mouth, even if it isn’t as funny as something she said before.

Other than Hahn, the rest of the cast is quite lovely, too. Mila Kunis suits well as the protagonist who has a lot on her plate, but also has to still be enjoyable enough that she’s compelling; Kristen Bell works well as the sheltered and wispy-voiced mom; and Christina Applegate, Annie Mumolo, and Jada Pinkett Smith all do fine jobs at playing the evil moms of the school, while giving a funny moment here and there. The only troubling thing about this movie and its cast is that the male characters are so poorly-written, that some good and funny actors, like Jay Hernandez, David Walton, and Clark Gregg, all come off terribly one-note and cartoonish – something that this movie doesn’t seem like it was going for.

But if anything, what Bad Moms works well with is that it makes a very fair and smart points to mothers and about the role of motherhood and how, sometimes, you just need to relax a little bit. The movie isn’t trying to say that you, as a mother, should let all of the responsibilities go out the window with reckless abandon, but it’s also not saying that you have to be worried about every little thing known to man. Sometimes, it’s best to just relax and let things happen, while also keeping a keen eye on what matters most and making sure that everything is running smoothly in your household.

For a 22-year-old bro, this didn’t register quite as much, but for the target audience of Bad Moms, I’m pretty sure it will, which is perfectly fine.

Consensus: While it’s not perfect and definitely messy in some aspects, Bad Moms is also the kind of female-oriented piece of film that’s funny, honest, well-acted, and not at all patronizing to all the mothers and women out there in the world. And a few guys, for sure.

7 / 10

Take a shot gals. You deserve it!

Take a shot gals. You deserve it!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Entertainment Tonight

Suicide Squad (2016)

Always be nice to those weird kids from high school. You never know how they’re going to turn out.

In the world in which even Superman himself can be considered a “terrorist”, it’s time for some action. That’s when intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated super-villains for a top-secret mission. While it’s risky as all hell to trust a bunch of evil, armed and dangerous villains to help save the world, the U.S. government still feels as if there’s nothing to lose if the plan goes South, so they decide to give it the green-light. Meaning that certain baddies like Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and Slipknot (Adam Beach) are all given plenty guns and ammunition at their disposal. And together, along with Captain Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) watching their every move, they have to stop an evil and powerful witch named Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) to stop from destroying the world. Meanwhile, an underground and heinous criminal by the name of the Joker (Jared Leto) is trying to get back the love of his life, all while taking down every person who gets in his way.

She's too good for the Joker.

She’s too good for the Joker.

There’s commonly a negative connotation when a movie is called “a mess”. Some of the times, the movie’s can be “messes”, because there was no idea put-in to how it was going to work, so instead of actually thinking things out, the film maker just cobbles up whatever they can find, hoping for some sort of a cohesive product to come out of the madness. Unfortunately, these movies mostly end up just being dull and, often times, boring.

Then, there’s the “messes” that are so wild, so crazy, and so chaotically put-together, that you can tell someone tried really, really hard to make it all work, however, knew that whatever they had left, they had to work with. Do that make the movie’s “good”? Not really. But does it make them, at the very least, “interesting”? Yes.

And honestly, that’s what Suicide Squad is: An interesting mess, that also happens to be pretty fun.

Sure, you have to get past all of the snap and chopping of the plot, the numerous characters, subplots, special-effects, musical-numbers, twists, turns, plug-ins, product placement, and god knows what else I left out, but honestly, Suicide Squad isn’t all that bad of a flick. It’s got plenty of issues, for sure, but it’s also the kind of movie that writer/director David Ayer had very near and dear to his heart, gave it all he had, and came up a little short. But he doesn’t focus on any of the character’s screwed-up, sad childhoods like Dawn of Justice did; he doesn’t muddle himself in all of the misery of these character’s lives, like Dawn of Justice did; he doesn’t forget that he’s got a solid cast to work with, like Dawn of Justice did; and yeah, he doesn’t forget that the most compelling characters to watch, no matter how thinly-written they may be, are sometimes the ones who morals are in grey areas, like Dawn of Justice did.

Now, this isn’t me saying that Dawn of Justice was some awful and terrible wreck of a flick, like so many others have stated; it’s a movie that tries to be more than your normal superhero flick and yes, is a little gloomy, but still delivers some good moments. That said, the movie forgot that watching a superhero movie, in which, people who are essentially cartoon characters, fly around and kick each other’s asses, which is something that Suicide Squad doesn’t forget. Ayer himself knows that some of the most fun had in comic-book flicks is the action itself, where over-the-top characters engage in some of the bloodiest and most violent of brawls, without caring about who’s feelings are being hurt in the process.

Of course, Suicide Squad has to worry about a PG-13 rating, but it still gets by on that.

Where Ayer really loses points with Suicide Squad is that his plot doesn’t always work. In fact, I’d wager that there hardly is one in the first place; it isn’t until after the first hour, in which we’re introduced to every character in loud rock-montages, where we get an inkling of a plot. Apparently, the Squad has to go in and stop an evil force from taking over the world. Why is it happening? Better yet, why should any of them care? Ayer never really asks these questions, nor does he ever seem to make sense of what drives the plot to begin with – he’s sort of just relying on these characters and these actors to save the day.

Yeah. I miss Heath.

Yeah. I miss Heath.

And yes, that sort of happens, but it sort of doesn’t. Ayer is usually very good at giving these kinds of rough, tough and ragged characters some semblance of humanity and personality that makes them compelling to watch. Here, Ayer has so many characters to work with, that he gives a lot of attention to one or two characters, while totally forgetting about others. Adam Beach’s Slipknot is in and out of the plot so quick, that it’s almost a wonder why he was in the movie in the first place; Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang really has nothing to him, except that he likes to steal money, or something; Cara Delevigne’s character pulls double duty as both a super evil witch and a super scientist, none of which are well-written; and Karen Fukuhara’s Katana wields a cool, deadly sword and that’s about it.

Everyone else, like Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Jared Leto’s Joker, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, and yes, even Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc, all get attention, courtesy of Ayer’s screenplay and direction. Ayer has so many to work with and he’s only able to really define a few, so that when the final-act of the movie comes around and we’re supposed to “buy” them as a group that can connect and care for another, it doesn’t quite connect. A few of the characters we like and can believe in, but others?

Yeah, not so much.

Which isn’t to say that the cast is bad – in fact, everyone’s quite good. They all know what sort of material they’re rolling with and because of that, seem to be having a ball. Smith, Robbie, Hernandez and Viola Davis have perhaps the best roles, whereas Jared Leto’s the Joker is, well, a disappointment. He’s so crazy and insane, that it almost becomes like a parody of sorts. Sure, Leto was a smart choice for an actor to take over the role that Heath Ledger seemed to ruin for every other actor in the world, but his material is so wacky and unnecessary, that he takes away from the rest of the movie and makes me wish that DC would just hold off on him for a short while, and give him his own time to shine with Batman.

And yes, we will get more DC movies. I have no problem with this, however, it seems as if they have to get their act together. Marvel will continue to be trouble for them, but only time will tell if they can take them down, or just raise the white flag and give up, once and for all.

It probably won’t happen, but hey, we’ll see what happens next.

Consensus: Messy, disjointed, and sometimes, incoherent, Suicide Squad is a wild ride, for better or worse, depending on who you are, but it’s action and cast is fun enough that makes it something to possibly enjoy.

7 / 10

Yeah, I'm, uh, turning down the other side of the street.

Yeah, I’m, uh, turning down the other side of the street.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Jason Bourne (2016)

All right, everyone! Let’s just leave this poor, ass-kicking, former-CIA agent alone already!

After the events of Ultimatum, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has, essentially, gone off the grid. No one knows where he is, what he’s up to, and quite frankly, they don’t care, either. As long as he isn’t causing any static and opening his mouth up about confidential stuff, then the government is perfectly fine with him doing whatever it is that he’s up to. However, Bourne gets tracked down by a former confidante of his, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), and all of a sudden, he’s now back in the spotlight. Now, government-agencies want after him and super secret assassins, want him dead. Clearly Bourne doesn’t want to die, so he fights these agencies and assassins with all that he’s got, while also carrying around a hard drive that will hopefully bring out some of the shadier secrets of these agencies to the mainstream, for everyone to see. But Bourne is going up against some pretty heavy-hitters this time and he may have to take it to the next level, in order to make sure that he not only lives, but that the truth is exposed once and for all, so that no one falls prey to these agencies like he has.

Uh oh. Who was talking bad about this latest season of Project Greenlight?

Uh oh. Who was talking bad about this latest season of Project Greenlight?

So yeah, you can tell that Jason Bourne is following a pretty familiar thread: Bourne gets tracked down from government agency, Bourne kicks ass, he runs, he forgets stuff, he remembers stuff, and oh yeah, he has some bad things to say about these agencies after his butt. It’s definitely not original or groundbreaking by any means and it’s definitely at-fault for that, considering that we’ve got not just Matt Damon back, but Paul Greengrass, too. In fact, the only reason either of them are doing this movie in the first place is because they’re both back together and not working side-by-side with Jeremy Renner, or Tony Gilroy.

Would there have been such a problem with that? Not really.

Would I have liked to see how that movie actually turned out? Most definitely.

In fact, the way I see it, the only way for this Bourne franchise to continue on and not show its wrinkles, is by teaming-up with Renner-Gilroy Bourne franchise. Legally speaking, I know this may be downright impossible, however, there’s a part of me that wants it to happen, because both characters are strong enough to keep a movie interesting, regardless of what they’re doing. That isn’t to say that this lone edition of the original Bourne franchise isn’t so bad, it’s just that you can tell that some people are losing interest in making these stories more compelling, interesting, and smart, and more or less, just deciding to fall for the same old tricks and trades that made the original franchise such a hit.

Cause as is, Jason Bourne works both as a follow-up to the old franchise, that’s meant to continue the story of Jason Bourne alive and well, for more installments to come, but then, at the same time, the movie also feels like its own standalone feature. It’s almost as if the creators had the intentions of keeping this story going, but also knew that they may have to tied-up loose-ends, just in case. It feels very odd, actually, but also, doesn’t take away from the fact that when this movie wants to, it can be as thrilling as humanly imaginable.

Which is saying something, because the first three Bourne movies are pretty damn exciting.

CIA Agent Who Grows to be Sympathetic Towards Jason Bourne #70

Pictured: CIA Agent Who Grows to be Sympathetic Towards Jason Bourne #70

Most of this is because Greengrass, despite everyone’s qualms with his shaky-cam, knows how to make an action scene snap, crackle and pop, just like an action scene should. He gets a lot of mileage out of showing how these sequences, as small and contained as they may initially appear to be, can get so wild and crazy, that it’s hard not to get caught up in the chase and excitement of it all. There’s a nifty sequence by the end when the story finds itself in Vegas and there’s a crazy chase throughout a five-star hotel, with people running all over the place, causing all sorts of havoc. It’s the kind of fun, yet, thrilling action-sequence, that only gets more and more exciting to watch, once you start to piece together all of the pieces of the possible puzzle, not knowing what’s going to happen next, or to whom.

And that’s the real beauty of these Bourne movies – the fact that we don’t always know how they’re going to end, even if, yes, we totally do.

Which isn’t any hit on Damon, or anyone else here. As is, the movie treats them as well as it should – they’ve all got plenty of meaty material that can sometimes be silly, but can also sometimes be cool to watch. For instance, all of the scenes with Tommy Lee Jones are fun to watch because, well, we know he can handle material like this as good as the next guy – he’s basically playing the same role he played in the Fugitive and you know what? It still works. He’s still cranky and stealing every scene imaginable. Then, there’s also Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp (strangest the Night Of reunion) Alicia Vikander, and Vincent Cassell showing up, and adding a little bit of flair to the proceedings, reminding us that every little cast-member, regardless of how much time they got dedicated to them, are definitely worth watching because they add a little something.

But no matter what, it’s Damon who ends the movie on a bright note, showing what he can do, with so little and still reminding us that this protagonist is someone worth caring about and seeing more movies of. Sure, the backstory with his daddy and all was a bit overwrought, but hey, it gave us more time to see what happened in this character’s past, as well as gave us more time to spend with Gregg Henry.

Now, when’s that such a bad thing to have in your movie?

Answer is: Never.

Consensus: Though the story may be lacking in originality, Jason Bourne gets by mostly on its tense, exciting and always fun action, to go along with some pretty solid acting in a summer blockbuster that would have otherwise not taken the time to even care about such petty things in the first place, had different people been working on it.

7 / 10

Still not coming to you, man? Oh well. Maybe the next movie you'll remember the expiration date on the milk.

Still not coming to you, man? Oh well. Maybe the next movie you’ll remember the expiration date on the milk.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

Lies, cheats, and steals? Yup, total package.

Jack Abramoff lived life unlike most people. For one, he always had a dream and desire to be in a movie of his own, so in a way, he used his real life as an actual movie, in and of itself. When he was young, he was head of his College Republicans group, and then decided that he wanted to be something of a film-maker, acting as a producer on one such flick. At this time, however, Abramoff was very paranoid about Communism and the country’s certain enemies, so he decided to make right with the political power and throw all of his power, support, and most importantly, money, the way of certain politicians. In other words, Jack was a lobbyist and didn’t at all try to hide it, however, it’s his ways, codes and ethics that he chose to live by, that get him, as well as plenty others working with him, in the slammer.

Even if he was in jail for a measly five years.

"I do, solemnly swear, that I am a total deuche."

“I do, solemnly swear, that I am a total deuche.”

Once again, when Alex Gibney sees an injustice, his doesn’t just sit around, folding his arms, throwing chairs, and trying to get over it all with a tub of ice cream. Instead, he’ll get up, grab his camera, call-up his crew, and see just who he can get a chance to talk to and help himself, as well as us, the audience, understand whatever story there is to be documented and focused on. Because of this, Gibney has become a trustworthy and inspirational voice in the documentary world; sure, he’s like Michael Moore in the sense that he makes it clear of his agenda right off the bat, but he’s also more journalistic, allowing for these stories to just tell themselves as they are.

And Abramoff’s story is one worth telling, if not just for the interest-factor, but because it makes you more and more angry as it runs along, and more of the heinous details come to life. Gibney makes it obvious from the beginning that he doesn’t necessarily care for Abramoff, as much as he cares about what the guy actually represents – this idea that greed, respect and power, can all come to you in some sort of way, as long as money is involved. He doesn’t like how Abramoff single handedly used his cunning and conniving ways to get closer and closer to the Oval Office, and he especially doesn’t like how it seems like every person that Abramoff talked to, instantly fell for the guy.

But being mad can only get you so many places, especially when someone like Abramoff exists and still does, to this very day.

The movie doesn’t try to paint him in a sympathetic light, and nor should it; after all, he’s the one guy who ripped-off and screwed over Native American tribes for nearly a $1 billion, just so that he could get him and his buddies more cash in their pockets. Why? Well, it’s because they hard more smooth-talking to do with certain people in the political system and in order to make sure that they’re happy as you are, they need to have all sorts of money.

But things brings up a certain idea that I don’t even know if Gibney himself had intended to talk about:The idea that there is such as “too much money”.

In this sense, what I mean to say is that there’s almost too much money in the political system, and especially, in elections. Throughout the flick, we are told of who Abramoff gave money to run for campaign reasons, as well as how much the totals were, which are important facts, because they can be pretty startling. The movie never actually gets on the case of the Presidential election cycle system itself, as much as he brings up the fact that someone like Abramoff, who was ripping-off innocent people, left and right, was still able to give all sorts of money that his little, evil and angry heart desired to do.

Well, if Bush liked him, than he can't be that bad, right?

Well, if Bush liked him, than he can’t be that bad, right?

Once again, though: Is there such a thing as “too much”?

Gibney shows that all of the extra cars, women, houses, parties, and yes, money, can eventually lead a person to do all sorts of mean and detestable things that, even when they were young and inspired, didn’t ever think they’d become. In fact, if there’s a problem to be had with Casino Jack, is that we actually don’t ever get to chance to talk to, or hear from Jack himself. Sure, it makes sense – he was in jail and probably didn’t want to be bothered – but it also feels as if there’s something missing from here, when all is said and done.

Of course, there’s something to be said for the movie, in how Gibney allows for key-witness and character witness give their own ideas and opinions on Abramoff and his wrong-doings, allowing for us to make up our own conclusions of what type of person he is. This is fine, but really, it would have helped especially more, had Jack himself showed up to give his own two cents. Sure, those two cents could have been total lies and meant absolutely nothing, but the fact that he would have gotten in front of the camera, told us what he thought, and threw himself out there to be even more dissected than he’s already been, would have helped.

Maybe not him and his case, but the rest of the movie.

Either way, he didn’t need our help anyway.

Consensus: Gibney hits another winner, showing Jack Abramoff off in all of his actions and misgivings, all of which are as blood-boiling, as the last, questionable action to have come before. That said, why no Jack?

7 / 10

Oh, with a hat like that, never mind.

Oh, with a hat like that, never mind.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Many galaxies from here will only know us by the Beastie Boys and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

After their near-death experiences with Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), everyone on-board of the Enterprise are finally ready to relax for a little bit and take care of whatever they need to care of. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is thinking about a career change, as well as is Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), and everyone else is currently thinking of what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Either spend the rest of their days on the Enterprise, or finally get that one chance to settle down and allow for the universe to go on without them in it. However, they run into issues when Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator, takes them down and separates each and every one of them on a planet that they little to nothing of. But with the help of a local native, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). For everyone, they have to band together and take down Krall before his power takes over and ruins the rest of the galaxy.

The people's elbow, courtesy of Spock?

The people’s elbow, courtesy of Spock?

The first Star Trek reboot, was amazing and probably one of the very best movies of that very great year. Then, the second film came around, and even though it definitely divided a whole lot more viewers than the original, it still delivered the action, the heart, the emotion, and most of all, the sci-fi excitement that’s to be had with this beloved franchise. And now, after a few years or so of some starts and stops, Beyond is here and without J.J. Abrams, well, let’s just say that it’s not quite nearly as great as it once was before.

It’s not anywhere near being bad, either, but still, when you have to live up to those two movies, it’s pretty hard to defy expectations.

Then again, maybe Beyond isn’t trying to be as dramatic or as emotional as the first two. If anything, it’s surprising how the third installment of this franchise seems to be taking a lighter, more playful route than the first two; normally, you’d expect more heart-shattering, almost breaking twists, turns and breakthroughs, but instead, Beyond is more about bringing us back to these characters and showing us everything that they do best. And sure, while Justin Lin is no J.J. Abrams, he’s no slouch, either; he’s the kind of director that knows a thing or two about being able to balance out action, humor, and heart, all while staying true to the die-hard fans who will most likely look for every little thing to tear and pick apart because, well, they can and they want to.

And with this latest Star Trek reboot, the strongest and best aspect of these movies is the fact that these characters are so easy to love and be compelled by, even if they can seem a tad bit cartoon-y. However, Lin, as well as co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung know exactly what works best for them all: Give them their character trademarks to play-up, find a way to include them into the story, and yeah, let it all play out as smoothly as can be. It’s not the most challenging, or difficult formula to follow, but there’s something to be said for a movie where each and every character is as lovely as the last, and the cast, once again, is on-point each and every time.

The only thing that isn’t quite as on-point is the story, as well as our villain.

To say that Beyond is, for better or worse, episodic, isn’t all that difficult – in Kirk’s narration, he even mentions the word at the beginning. If anything, Beyond feels like an overextended episode of a Star Trek TV series (something that’s actually happening), where the good guys do their thing, carry their archs, run into problems, have to solve it, take down a baddie, and at the end of the day, come together where everything is all peaches and cream. Of course, that’s not exactly how Beyond plays out, from beginning to end, but it’s pretty close.

And yeah, there’s no problem with this because it does work out, but it also does feel a tad bit small, given the huge universe that’s surrounding this story and these characters. While the new addition of Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah is a welcome addition that will surely work out perfectly for the next few installments, it still feels like nothing really happens of any sort of importance. It’s fine and all, but really, did much happen when all was said and done?

Edgar Winter?

Edgar Winter?

Maybe, I don’t know.

What I do know is that, even after Khan in the second, Star Trek is back to where it started with the first movie, in having another weak villain, with a very good actor in said villainous role. First, it was Eric Bana, now, it’s Idris Elba, who is as charismatic and compelling as you can get, yet, is stuck behind a whole bunch of make-up here and meant to just yell and do bad things to people who probably don’t deserve it. Elba, like always, gives it all that he’s got, but the motivations aren’t really there and it’s an underwritten role, for someone who could have really made magic happen, had he been given the right material to work with.

But, once again, Beyond only suffers slightly because of this. The rest of the cast is great, with Quinto, Urban, Pine being the standouts, and of course, the late, great Anton Yelchin showing us why he was still fun to watch in a goofy role like Chekov, but so is everybody else. You really can’t say one person is better than the other, because they’re all here, showing us why they matter and why the Star Trek franchise deserves to keep on having more and more movies.

Hopefully with better villains is all. That’s all I’m saying.

Consensus: While a small step down from the first two movies, Beyond still offers up its fans plenty to have fun and cherish with the colorful, lovable characters, as well as a few exciting action-sequences, that are sure to make up for some of the busts we’ve had this summer.

7.5 / 10

God? Dad? Thor?

God? Dad? Thor?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Elvis & Nixon (2016)

Had this taken place today, imagine the selfies.

In December 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) was still considered “the King”, however, he didn’t want to be just that anymore. If anything, his one true dream was to become a CIA agent, where he would look over America and make sure all of the old past-times stayed put and that none of these hippy, flower-power children took over society. But in order to make all of his wildest dreams come true, he would have to be accepted into the CIA in the first place and, most importantly, have a chat with the one, the only, President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey). But even though he was the King and quite possibly, the most well-known and famous celebrity of all time, even Elvis himself couldn’t get into the White House with an appointment. So, in order to make sure that it all happened, he would need the help of a former friend/confidante of his, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), to make sure that all that everything went down all according to plan. Of course, though, because it’s the President, it’s a known fact that everything has to work out perfectly, with no surprises whatsoever. However, when you’re working with the King, anything can possibly happen.

He's lonely.

He’s lonely.

And yeah, the rest is obviously history.

It’s hard to imagine that a movie could be made about the infamous meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, two of the most iconic figures of the 60’s and 70’s, let alone, of all time. Of course, it was said to be a zany happening that nobody quite made sense of, yet, thanks to a photo and some speculation, we have a whole lot of odd history and yes, now even a movie made of the meeting and everything that went into it to make sure it all happened.

Did we really need one? Better yet, did we need an-hour-and-a-half one?

Probably not, but the best part about Elvis & Nixon is that it doesn’t strive to be anything more than what it is: The planning and eventual meeting of Elvis and Nixon. Director Liza Johnson does something smart in that she frames the story as this small, intricate little moment in history that didn’t really shake the world, change it, or make us all think of differently, but just make us think, “Well, how the hell did this actually happen?”, as well as, “Heck, what the hell even happened?”

Of course, a lot of what Elvis & Nixon does and says about the leading up to and the actual meeting itself, may be all bull-crap, but it makes for entertaining bull-crap that’s fun to watch. We don’t really need to know anything more about these two than what’s presented to us as is, and therefore, we sit, wait and wonder just when the two are going to meet, just what’s going to happen, and exactly what the heck Elvis himself was doing bringing guns into the White House after all.

Sure, you may not have these questions on your mind in the first place, or even care in the slightest, but Elvis & Nixon is the kind of movie that brings you into its story, whether you like it or not.

Then again, there is something to be said for the fact that the movie doesn’t seem to trust its two figure-heads quite enough to make this whole movie, their own, as there’s whole lot of attention paid to Alex Pettyfer and his character, Jerry Schilling. Yes, it’s to be said that Schilling played quite a big part in actually getting the two icons together on that one fateful day, but really, do we needed a whole subplot dedicated solely to him, his issues, and whether or not he’s going to make it home to Sky Ferreira? Not really, and while Pettyfer is fine in the role, it’s sort of thankless and doesn’t really seem like it matters in the long run.

He needs a badge.

He needs a badge.

Same goes for the likes of Johnny Knoxville, who gets one or two funny lines, but essentially, is just there to say somewhat perverted things and be the “comedic-relief”. And it’s a bit of a waste because, thanks to the likes of Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Tate Donovan, Kevin Spacey, and Michael Shannon, the movie’s plenty funny. Why this character needed to be around, doesn’t really make much of sense to me and just seems like it takes up more unnecessary time in already very short movie.

But as is, thanks to Spacey and most importantly, Shannon, Elvis & Nixon works quite well.

Had the movie just been the two just them, sitting in the Oval Office, chatting it up, it probably would have been just as exciting. However, that doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t really matter; they’re both great, whether apart or together. Spacey may not seem like the right fit for Nixon, but fits into the role quite well, nailing all of the mannerisms that made Nixon himself such a character to watch. And then, yes, there’s Michael Shannon as Elvis, who is pretty great, showing us a humane King, that not only knows the limit of his ability as a superstar, but also realizes that the time has come for him to live a normal, everyday life as any other citizen. Elvis rarely gets the movie treatment, but here, it’s obvious that if they ever do give us another shot at watching Elvis’ story be filmed, Michael Shannon would be a perfect, if oddly unique choice to do it all over again.

Consensus: Surprisingly overstuffed for such a short movie, Elvis & Nixon isn’t perfect, but is funny, entertaining, and well-acted enough to work and make us think a little more about this odd slice of American pop-culture.

7 / 10

Together, they could be the bestest of pals.

Together, they could be the bestest of pals.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Tailor of Panama (2001)

Always need a nasty spy to get rid of the neat ones.

Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush), early in his life, used to be a con from Cockney. That was before he met his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), started a family, and most importantly, basically reinvented himself as a popular tailor to the rich and powerful of Panama. While his customers love his lavish and beautiful suits that he hand-crafts himself, they also love the stories he’s brings, with some of them feeling as if he’s more than just their tailor – he’s their friend. Or better yet, he’s a part of their family. The British realize this, especially spy Andrew Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), a man who notices that Pendel is a very important pawn, in a very big chess game and does not let up one bit from getting each and every piece of info he can, at any costs. But Harry isn’t used to having so much pressure be on him and it’s only a matter of time before it all blows up in his face, as well as everybody else’s.

Still Bond no matter what.

Still Bond no matter what.

The Tailor of Panama is a perfectly serviceable spy-thriller that makes you understand why so many people love and hate John le Carré. One of the main reasons why people love his material so much is that he creates such fun and exciting yarns, that they’re hard not to get wrapped-up in. He tends to love writing about spies, and because of that, we get to sit by and watch as deep, dark and seductive stories of secrets, lies, and spy-hijinx occur. Sure, some of it may be too twisty for its own good, but there’s no denying that spies themselves are pretty confusing; they never know what they want to be and le Carré is there to try and make sense of them, without letting up on any sort of fun.

At the same time, a lot of people hate his work and this movie is another example of why.

For instance, people often complain that le Carré’s work can tend to get a bit too complicated and convoluted than it needs to be, and well, that’s kind of the case here. However, it doesn’t start out like that; director John Boorman takes his time with this setting, these characters, and also, give us a better understanding of what exactly is at-stake/going on. Even if this part doesn’t feel fully realized, the least we find out is that some bad, rich people are up to bad, rich people-like things, and it’s up to Rush’s character to stop it all. Of course, you can fill in the blanks from there, but yeah, it’s pretty simple for a short time.

But like I said, it all goes to hell once the actual plot itself gets going and we have to find out more about these shady and corrupt millionaires. As is usually the case with le Carré’s stories, what the reasoning and explanation of these evil-doings actually are, tend to be overdone, overcooked, and just so damn evil, that after awhile, you wonder why their first idea wasn’t to just nuke the whole world while they were at it. This is the part of the Tailor of Panama that bothered me, as everything leading up to it seemed to be light, breezy and semi-twisty fun. After the half-way mark, of course, it goes away and all of a sudden, we have to pay attention to each and every twist that comes around, even if they aren’t fully believable to begin with.

But thankfully, there is Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush here, who make it all worth our while.

Always need a good tailor who eavesdrops way too much.

Always need a good tailor who eavesdrops way too much.

As Harry Pendel, Rush is having a good time, but he’s also got more of a character to play. He has to both be somewhat sinister, as well as naive and nerdy at the same time; something he pulls off quite well, especially in the later, more confusing portions. Though Jamie Lee Curtis may initially seem miscast here, she actually fits well as Pendel’s wife who not only makes the most money in the house, but also appears to be the one who wears the biggest and widest pants in the family. She doesn’t back down when the going gets heavy and she starts to catch on real quick, not only making her smart, but more than willing and up to the task of playing with the big boys.

Of course though, none of these two are any match for Brosnan and all that he does here as Andrew Osnard. On paper, Osnard is a snively, somewhat goofy spy who likes booze, women, and partying; in the movie version, Osnard is a snively, totally goofy spy who likes booze, women, and partying, but also enjoys stealing every scene known to man. Sure, a lot of what makes this character cool in the first place is the writing, but really, it’s Brosnan who makes this somewhat conventional spy character, literally jump off the screen, seeming like someone you wouldn’t expect at all in a story like this, nor would you expect him to be as funny or likable as he is. That’s probably why Brosnan, playing somewhat against-type, was the perfect choice here; he’s not likable a whole lot, but with enough of that winning smile and charm, he’s willing to shine the pants off of anyone watching.

Now, does that sound like true Bond to you? I think so.

Consensus: A tad too twisty and wild, the Tailor of Panama is a fun and exciting spy-romp, made all the better by the key performances from the talented cast, most especially the always vibrant Pierce Brosnan.

7 / 10

That's Pierce, alright! Always sneaking up on ya in the water!

That’s Pierce, alright! Always sneaking up on ya in the water!

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes, MTV, Roger Ebert

Swiss Army Man (2016)

A little flatulence can go a long way.

For some reason he can’t explain, Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded, sad and pretty damn alone in this one little island. However, right before he’s about to kill himself due to loneliness-overkill, a random body (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore. Though this shouldn’t mean much to Hank, originally, nor should it get in his way of ending his life, for some reason, it can’t stop farting. Why? Well, Hank doesn’t really know. But what he does know is that the flatulence is able to take him from point-A-to-point-B and, hopefully, itch him closer and closer to home and getting some help. Eventually though, time starts to pass with Hank and, for other reasons unexplained, the body starts to do and say certain things that no other lifeless body should ever do or say, ever. So obviously, Hank is perplexed, but rather than figuring out all of the scientific reasons why this could have happened, he then decides to throw all caution to the wind, except it for what it is, move on, try to find shelter, and in the meantime, have a little fun. After all, he’s got a lifeless body with him that is capable of all sorts of weird superpowers, so why not try and take advantage, right?

Being shipwrecked will make you become Grizzly Adams pretty quick.

Being shipwrecked will make you become Grizzly Adams pretty quick.

Swiss Army Man, as I’m pretty sure most have either heard, or expected after reading that plot-synopsis, is a pretty strange bird of a flick. It’s the kind of fantasy film that I feel as if a really young Kevin Smith would have written and cobbled-up together, but instead of there being a plethora of weed, dick and sex jokes, there’s only farting. A whole lot of it, too. But you know what? It’s actually funny and kind of works.

Writers/directors Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan (“Daniels”, as they like to call themselves), clearly have a lot of wacky and wild ideas in their heads and don’t know what to do with them, or where to store them all. So, it only makes sense that in a movie like Swiss Army Man, where a dead body literally starts speaking, farting, barfing-up water, and feeling emotions, they throw everything that they’ve got at the wall, see what sticks, and when they’re not pleased fully, they decide to throw more at the wall, and rinse, recycle, repeat. For most people, this will be tirelessly annoying and downright amateurish of them, but somehow, they make it all work.

Swiss Army Man isn’t the kind of movie that needs to be taken seriously right off the bat and it’s what keeps itself interesting and fun for the most part. It deals with dark comedy in a way that’s so strange, I’m not sure how it would be seen as “comedy” elsewhere; the Daniels’ clearly have a weird sense of humor, but they use it well enough here to where it doesn’t get in the way of the story, or making it feel as if they’re getting in the way.

However, at the same time, they kind of do.

The Daniels’ work best when it seems like they’re throwing everything at us, including and actually, most especially, the kitchen sink. They take what could have been a really standard survivalist story, with instead of Wilson the Volleyball, there’s a dead corpse, therefore giving it an angle, and exploring all sorts of other weird ideas and facts about life. The Daniels’ may have set out to make a silly comedy, but they somehow come-off as being more enlightening and sweet when all is said and done.

They have to do a lot here to keep this story interesting and their idea fresh, so in that sense, they succeed. It’s only when the movie, as well as their own selves, realize that all of the silly shenanigans and fun from before, have to be put back to the side, for a message about life, love and living to your fullest potential – although, I’m not too sure about that last one, as I feel like the movie itself was kind of making that up, too. Once again, there’s no problem with a comedy wanting to get serious and spout out some serious life-lessons in the process to learn and abide by, but there’s a certain movie you do that in and I don’t believe that Swiss Army Man, the farting-corpse movie, is that one movie.

Clearly breathing.

Clearly breathing.

If anything, it’s that movie’s hated and alienated step-cousin that people feel obligated to invite for family functions, but don’t really bother with or talk to much.

Poor Swiss Army Man – now I actually want to give it a hug.

As for Dano and Radcliffe, since they basically are the two main stars of the flick, do well together. Dano is still doing that off-put and frazzled nerd, whereas Radcliffe, playing incredibly against-type, gets a lot to do, without ever showing us. Sure, he moves his lips a whole lot, but because he’s playing a corpse, Radcliffe can’t move or emote a whole lot; most of the movie is spent with him in something of a mix between a grin and frown. Either way, Radcliffe works perfectly in this role, making us laugh when we least expect it, and also nailing down this movie’s odd tone, whenever it seems like it needs him to. If anything, the movie makes me wonder where the Daniels’ careers will go after this and who would dare try out whatever they’ve got cooking next.

Perhaps a peeing-skeleton movie? Or, a movie where nobody pees, poops, farts, throws up, and just acts like normal, typical human beings in a world as sensible as the one we leave in?

Meh. Probably not. That’s boring.

Consensus: Hardly ever boring, Swiss Army Man works better than it should in an odd, but rather funny kind of way, but also loses itself when it tries to be important and manipulatively tug at the heartstrings.

7 / 10

Nope, not a horror movie. I don't think at least.

Nope, not a horror movie. I don’t think at least.

Photos Courtesy of:

The Neon Demon (2016)

Eat a burger and enjoy life, girls! Besides, it’s what’s on the inside that actually counts!

Just after her 16th birthday, Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles in hopes of launching some sort of a career as a model. Everyone around her tells her that she’s got the look and innocent appeal for it all, making her not only the most sought-for talent on the market, but the most hated among fellow models who are still trying to make it big, but somehow, can’t seem, to get noticed. Jesse starts to notice this and even though she makes a close friend with a make-up artist (Jena Malone), she still can’t trust anybody enough to where they’re best friends of any nature. And if that wasn’t bad enough for Jesse, she now has to worry about a seedy motel manager (Keanu Reeves), who always seems to be demanding money from her for some reason, and a creepy photographer (Karl Glusman), who wants to be more to her than just a friend, but also doesn’t want to creep her out too much and scare her away. The fashion-world begins to heat up a whole lot more once Jesse enters it, which leads her to decide who to trust, and who not to trust.

Is this aNicolas Winding Refn, or Lars von Trier movie?

Is this a Nicolas Winding Refn, or Lars von Trier movie?

Nicolas Winding Refn, for the past few years or so, has absolutely decided to stop worrying about what other people were thinking about his movies, his pretentious style, and his treatment of everyone and everything in his movies, and just do whatever the hell he wants to do. In a movie like Only God Forgives, it worked so well because every second he got, Refn took something odd, but equally interesting out of his bag of tricks and allowed for a somewhat conventional story, play-out a whole lot different than was hardly expected. Drive was less successful, in my opinion, if only because it seemed like there was a real story to assist everything and rather than sticking straight to that and making it fully work, it felt like Refn himself got bored and wanted to play around for some odd. Either way, both movies are better than the Neon Demon, but it’s still very much the same thing: Refn doing what he wants, when he wants, and however he wants it, and you know what?

I kind of love that.

Refn seems to really be aiming for David Lynch at this point where it seems like he wants to approach this story in a straight manner, but also doesn’t want to lose his points with the cool crowd. For every scene or two where it’s literally just two characters, sitting in a wide room and having an awkward, almost silent conversation, there’s another scene where the Cliff Martinez soundtrack gets turned all the way up to eleven and for one reason or another, inanimate objects start to appear out of nowhere. Refn clearly has two sides to him that always seem to battle each other; there’s the smart, plot-driven side that showed heavily in his excellent Pusher flicks, and the other, a more artsy, visually-attentive director who sometimes prefers telling his stories in a visual manner.

Neither side should work side-by-side, but Refn offers up just enough interesting bits and pieces for both, that it actually works. It helps that the Neon Demon takes place in this cruel, dark underworld of fashion where, yes, on a daily basis, people are constantly judging you and aiming for your spot, giving it something of a satirical look and feel. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s Refn’s funniest movie – not that that’s hard to be in the first place, but still, it’s worth pointing out. Sometimes, you never know if Refn’s intentionally being funny, or if his world is just so twisted and wacky that you can’t help and laugh, but either way, it mostly all works because, well, it keeps your eyes and ears glued to the screen.

Sounds stupid, I know, but it really does matter in the long-run.

Not creepy at all, bro. Keep it up.

Not creepy at all, bro. Keep it up.

The Neon Demon is the kind of movie that will spark discussion about what it means, what it’s trying to say (other than the world of modeling is terrible), or how it ends, which is actually great to have. It seems that a lot of directors and writers don’t have as big of guts as Refn does, when it comes to keeping your audience in the dark about, well, almost everything and being perfectly content with that. Sometimes, the directors/writers feel self-conscious and don’t want to be looked at as “pretentious” or better yet, “mean” – Refn doesn’t care about these labels. Actually, he probably embraces them.

It gives him more time to play around with this already-odd story, vivid characters, and slew of actors who, honestly fit each and every role to a T. Elle Fanning definitely seems to have passed her older sis as the more dominate actress and well, there’s a good reason why: She’s clearly got more versatility. As the very young and satiable Jesse, Fanning does a lot with very little; she seems naive enough to get caught and wrapped-up in the utter sleaze of this world, but we also know that there’s something darker deep down inside of her that makes us think she knows a little more than she lets on. Either way, Fanning has to do a lot here with her performance, that doesn’t necessarily consist of a lot of heavy-lifting, but allowing herself to be plain in most scenes where she isn’t the most colorful character, but then change it all around to proving that she does have a voice and remind us that, yes, she is the lead character in this tale of hers.

The others in the cast are pretty great, too, and do more than just help round out the odd characters. Abbey Lee Kershaw and Bella Heathcote, not only look alike, but are pitch perfect in their roles as two, slightly older models who are struggling to be noticed because of the beautiful Jesse’s presence; Jena Malone plays a make-up artist who seems to have something of a crush on her and it’s a fun role for someone who enjoys playing it straight; Karl Glusman, despite being terrible in Love, actually does well here as the kind of creepy boyfriend; Desmond Harrington shows up as a creepy photographer and is, well, effectively creepy; Christina Hendricks shows up in literally one scene as a scouting agent and is so perfect that I missed her the rest of the movie; and Keanu Reeves, in one of his far better roles as of late, gets a chance to camp it up as a sleazy and perverted hotel manager, always having something funny to say and working perfectly within Refn’s universe.

A possible team-up in the future? Let’s hope, as the world would be a much better place with Refn-Reeves movies.

Consensus: Not totally coherent, the Neon Demon will most likely push a lot of people away, but that’s sort of the point and it’s why Refn’s direction, as scattered as it may be, is consistently interesting, dark, and fun to think about long afterwards.

7.5 / 10

It's a good look on you, Dakota, ehrm, Elle.

It’s a good look on you, Dakota, ehrm, uh, Elle.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

Sometimes, the best jokes are the ones that almost kill you.

Ben (Paul Rudd) doesn’t really know where he’s going with his life, nor does he know what he wants to do with it. After tragedy that struck him and his ex-wife, he’s now left all alone. Although he was a writer, at one point in his life, he seems too depressed and sad to even bother picking up a pen and paper and jotting down a new story. That’s why, when he decides to become a licensed caregiver for the physically handicapped, it’s a huge surprise; not just to him, though, but also to the people who employ him. After taking the classes and becoming certified, Ben lands the job of taking care of Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young kid from England who happens to be suffering from muscular dystrophy. While Ben has no experience in taking care of people professionally, he eventually gets the hang of everything because he and Trevor get along. But the one issue holding them back is the fact that Trevor doesn’t seem all that interested doing anything else in his short life than just watching TV; Ben, on the other hand, believes that Trevor needs to go out and explore the world.

Cheer up, boys. You're still getting paid.

Cheer up, boys. You’re still getting paid.

The Fundamentals of Caring is perfect for Netflix. After suffering through not one, but two Adam Sandler flicks, it seems like Netflix wants to remind people that they do consider quality over popularity, and with the Fundamentals of Caring, they show that they do care for their users. They know that some people, in this time of the year, where the sun is always setting, the air is getting stickier, and the weather is getting hotter and hotter, will just want to sit inside their cool houses and escape it all by watching whatever is on Netflix that piques their interest. However, they don’t want heavy, emotionally-strong dramas, nor do they want anything that takes a lot to think about with their constant twists, turns, and moments of interest.

Sometimes, people just want to watch something that they don’t have to think about too much and just enjoy at face-value, and that’s why the Fundamentals of Caring is a perfect movie for the online streaming service. It’s the kind of movie that you can tell was your typical Sundance dramedy, where people suffer and are occasionally sad, yet also, come to terms with their sadness, say clever things, hug a lot and, at the end of it all, end up becoming closer to one another and better people than ever before. We’ve seen this kind of movie before and most of the time, it’s pretty damn annoying and boring.

However, there’s something slightly fresh about this movie’s take on that familiar plot.

Mostly, that’s due to the fact that the cast is so good and talented that no matter what they’re given, they can do wonders with. People will initially be struck surprised by how much Paul Rudd seems to be downplaying everything here as Ben, but give it some time and trust me, he becomes Paul Rudd, as we all know and love him. However, there’s something slightly different to this character than what he’s used to playing; he’s a whole lot more sad and clearly dealing with some demons, so when something is bothering him, you can tell just by looking at him. Rudd is always known for improvising, saying silly things and just generally being a likable presence, but here, he really dials it down and shows that he’s got true acting-chops.

I don’t know if anybody was ever doubting him in the first place, but if they were, here’s their proof that they can use in a court of law!

Craig Roberts is also solid as Trevor, another character that could have been grating and overbearing, but somehow, it works. Roberts has just the right level of smart and insecurity that makes his Trevor more sympathetic; sure, it’s easy to care for him because he’s suffering from such a terrible disease, but he’s also kind of a jerk, too. The movie doesn’t hold back from the fact that someone like Trevor, in his situation and all, could use it to his advantage to make the people around him feel bad for him and wait on his every word. A similar theme was explored in Still Alice, however, here, Roberts shows that there’s more to Trevor that makes him appear as just another teenager who uses mean bits of comedy as a crutch to hide his deepest, darkest insecurities.

Sex? With Selena Gomez?!? Uh oh. Someone better tell Biebs.

Sex? With Selena Gomez?!? Uh oh. Someone better tell Biebs.

Growing up, am I right?

Anyway, him and Rudd have a great chemistry that shows these two growing up beside one another, helping the other realize something about life. The movie can tend to get a tad sappy and melodramatic, but no matter how far it goes into these avenues, Rudd and Roberts always make these characters seem real and worth it – there’s a sense of raw energy between the two that makes their scenes crackle and pop with the same fire that you’d probably see in a Judd Apatow movie when there’s no script and everyone’s just rolling with whatever they can think of.

And at the end of the Fundamentals of Caring, everything happens exactly as you’d expect it to. But for some reason, that’s fine. The movie’s enjoyable and lovely enough, never being too dramatic, nor too funny either – somehow, it found just the right amount of drama and comedy to balance everything out. Some may definitely be expecting more and may also be disappointed that the movie doesn’t light the entertainment world on fire quite like everything else Netflix has done, but hey, it’s the summer.

Stop complaining. Just crank up that AC and check it out. Forget that the Do-Over may be recommended to you at the end.

Consensus: With a solid cast and a careful attention to drama and comedy, the Fundamentals of Caring works, being both a coming-of-ager, as well as an earnest look at coming to terms with one’s sadness.

7 / 10

"Here's to you, kid."

“Here’s to you, kid.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Me Before You (2016)

Billionaire playboys always find love. Who cares if they’re in a wheelchair?

Young, brash, sexy and rich banker Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) had it all. However, on one fateful day, he lost it all when a motorcycle ran into him, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Of course, he’s got plenty of money from his parents and whatnot, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about being left in the dirt, but still, he’s miserable, annoyed and pissed-off at the situation that he’s left in. To make sure that he doesn’t get too sad and start making brash decisions, Will’s mom (Janet McTeer) decides to hire a caretaker, Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke), to also act as his friend. Lou is a bit of a light and quirky figure, who enjoys everything there is to life, even if her family isn’t well-of and has to constantly battle to stay alive in the middle-class. While working for the Traynor’s, Lou spends most of her days assisting Will as much as she can, even if he wants nothing to do with her. But after awhile, Will begins to lighten up to Lou’s energetic ways and accepts her for what she is. This leads the two to having some grand times, doing everything and anything that they want, ignoring the fact that Will may never be able to walk again. It’s a method that works for quite some time, until the reality of the situation comes into focus.

Those dragons definitely aren't fashion experts.

Those dragons definitely aren’t fashion experts.

Me Before You comes at an unfortunate time where Nicholas Sparks and John Green adaptations come out every year or so. Sure, while there are people who love and adore those kinds of movies, getting choked-up every time a person scream their love for another, even if the other person they’re saying “I love you” to, happens to also have a life-threatening disease or disability, for the most part, they don’t do much to freshen the romance drama. They’re all mostly by-the-numbers and conventional tales, that reach for the tears, get them, and make you feel like crap afterwards.

However, those same issues with the current state of the romance drama is the main reason why Me Before You works as well as it does.

Director Thea Sharrock and writer Jojo Moyes come together in a way that makes this romance feel familiar, but for some reason, because the characters are so well-written and done, there’s something interesting to watching them come together, hate one another at first, start to lighten up after awhile, and, of course, end up falling in love. Sharrock and Moyes know that this type of romance has been done hundreds and thousands of times before, however, they don’t seem to be trying to make any new statement about love, life, or even those with disabilities.

Even though it’s a tad dispiriting to see that the one who is actually stuck in the wheelchair for all his life is basically a billionaire living in a castle, as opposed to, I don’t know, say, a middle-to-lower class citizen living in a broken-down, beaten-up row home in the city, Me Before You gets by because it’s charming. It’s humor hits when you least expect it to and, believe it or not, it’s heart is in the right place; the movie does set out to make each and everyone of us cry, and well, it kind of delivers on that.

James Bond? Maybe?

James Bond? Maybe?

Once again, though, it’s all because the characters, from the two love-interests, to everyone else around them, are all clearly defined and interesting, even if they originally seem like types.

Sam Claflin is as charming and as hunky as can be as Will that, despite the fact that he’s in a wheelchair practically the whole movie, you still fall for the guy. Sure, he’s a bit of an a-hole at first, but given his situation and the life he used to live, you sympathize with him, rather than wanting him to shut up and stuff some money-bags in his mouth. And although she doesn’t get a whole lot of opportunities to do so on Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke is so damn lovely and pleasant as Lou, that it surprised me. I had a feeling she was always capable of charming the pants off of me, but as Lou, we really get to see a bright, bubbly and sweet girl who may not have a single bad bone in her body and rather than it seeming like cloying, or annoying, Clarke plays it just well enough to where you believe this gal could be this fun-spirited and lively about the world around her.

And together, yes, their chemistry is quite great. They’re both very attractive Brits, so yes, it’s only obvious that they’d have wonderful chemistry with one another, but it still works, regardless. The two characters help make each other better over time and while it doesn’t happen right away, gradually, they begin to draw closer and closer that, by the time the final act comes into play, and all of a sudden, the idea of a tragedy occurring yet again becomes all too real, we’re involved.

In a way, we feel like we’re in this same relationship with them and it’s hard not to get swept-up in it all.

That said, the final-act will most definitely make or break some people, for better, as well as for worse. Without saying too much, Me Before You gets awfully ballsy, asking the hard questions and giving us even harder answers. It’s nice to see this kind of risk in a rom-com as pleasant as this, but it worked for me. It felt like it was meant for this kind of story, even if the message at the end of it all was a tad hokey and odd, all things considering.

But hey, just see it for yourself. Give your money to this and not to another Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

Please.

Consensus: With a fiery chemistry between its two lovely leads, Me Before You works as a rom-com that’s pleasant and sincere enough to work as both as a romance, as well as a comedy, although it never plays either hand too much.

7 / 10

Is this a wedding? Why is she wearing red? Oh no!

Is this a wedding? Why is she wearing red? Oh no!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sex and Lucía (2001)

Yes. There’s sex. And yes. There’s Lucía.

After learning that her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa), a talented but troubled writer, may have committed suicide, the beautiful Lucía (Paz Vega) decides to escape to a remote Spanish island. While she’s there, she decides to spend most of the time running around, all hot and naked on the beach, not giving a care who sees her, or who talks to her – she just wants some time alone to herself so that she can sit back and think about what went so wrong in her relationship in the first place. However, she does meet Carlos (Daniel Freire), a scuba diver, and Elena (Najwa Nimri), Lorenzo’s former lover. But Lucía doesn’t know this and after awhile, it becomes all too clear that possibly Lorenzo has something to do with both of these people’s lives. Not to mention that maybe Lorenzo has now found a way to have his real life play out onto the page, what with his second novel being highly anticipated and Lorenzo himself in desperate need for some fresh and bright ideas to work with.

It's all in the book!

It’s all in the book!

For the longest time, Sex and Lucía truly did tick me off. Honestly, it seemed like the kind of movie that, at its heart, was a simple, rather uncomplicated tale of love, remorse and forgiveness, but for some reason, writer/director Julio Medem doesn’t seem to want make it that way. That’s fine, if that’s what you want to do, but for at least the first half-hour or so, I was wondering what I got stuck with.

Medem constantly moves the camera around a lot here, doesn’t seem to focus on one shot for any longer than five seconds at a time, and also doesn’t really seem all that interested in making sense of his characters, or the plot in which they live in. In a way, it’s as if Medem literally just picked us up and dropped us into this world that none of us really asked to be apart of, but for some reason, we’re getting it any way. This would have been fine and all, had the movie actually did something of actual interest in the half-hour, rather than just show people have contrived conversations about stuff we know little to nothing about, but nope, it was just boring, uninteresting, and most importantly, middling.

Then, something changed.

All of a sudden, about half-way through, Medem decides that he does want to slow things down a bit, start to focus on the finer points of the story and, wouldn’t you know it, he actually decides to fill us in on just what the hell is going on and what all of these damn characters seem to talk about. I don’t know if Medem himself was starting to get absolutely sick and tired of his wild style, too, but either way, he takes things down a notch and, slowly, but surely, Sex and Lucía, starts to work its magic. After all, at its heart, it’s a story about life, love, remorse, and forgiveness, so it can be all that silly, right?

Oh, Lucia. She's her own woman, for sure.

Oh, Lucia. She’s her own woman, for sure.

Well, that’s kind of the thing about Sex and Lucía – it wants to be both this smart, but emotional take on humans and their love, but at the same time, it also wants to be a sexy, fiery and crazy ride where people do crazy things, just for the sake of doing crazy things. There’s two movies within Sex and Lucía, and while one is clearly more seen than the other, they both still kind of don’t work simultaneously. You almost get the impression that Medem himself can’t help but be silly when push comes to shove, but also wants to show everybody that he’s just as serious as cereal. It doesn’t always work, but it’s admirable on his part, as it shows that all of the weird and nutty antics of the first half-hour, are gone and left to dry-up.

And this is all to say that, yes, Sex and Lucía, is a good movie.

However, it just matters what movie you’re going in to expect.

It can be sometimes wacky and random, but at the same time, it can also be smart and rather insightful. The culmination of what happens between Lucia and Lorenzo, from the hot and sexy early days, to the angry, confusing and weird later ones, is actually quite sad, if only because it’s honest and true. Most relationships don’t keep the spark going when they’ve been together for so very long; often times, it just goes away, only igniting every so often when both parties feel is necessary, or actually have the time for.

That’s why, for awhile, Paz Vega is pretty great as Lucia. We never get a full sense of who she is, but what we do know is that she’s a sweet, soulful and downright sexy creation who takes what she wants and doesn’t give a care in the world about anything else. However, as good as she is, her performance gets pushed to the side for some very long stretches of time, once we begin to focus on Tristán Ulloa’s Lorenzo, who is more like a tragic figure in one of the books he writes. Obviously, this is intended, but it works for this story, because it can be so, at times, dramatic and over-the-top, that you’ll wonder if you’re watching a soap opera, or a porno gone totally and completely wrong.

Either way, the movie is gorgeous to look at, so if you get past all of the other stuff, you’ll be fine.

Consensus: Two movies put into one, Sex and Lucía, wants to have its cake and eat it, too, and while it doesn’t always work at playing both angles, it’s still entertaining enough that it keeps hold of your attention.

7 / 10

Pretty world it is out there. And even prettier people, too.

Pretty world it is out there. And even prettier people, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Flavorwire, Nick Lacey on Films, Ivalow2010

Hot Rod (2007)

Evil Knievel seemed like a pretty smart guy.

Self-proclaimed stuntman Rod Taylor (Andy Samberg) is preparing for the ultimate jump of his life. Rod plans to clear fifteen buses in an attempt to raise money for his abusive stepfather Frank’s (Ian McShane) life-saving heart operation. He’ll land the jump, get Frank better, and then fight him, hard.

Back in the good old days before YouTube became this huge cash-grab for any 10-year-old with a camera, the Lonely Island were a group of funny peeps that found their success by making dumb, but funny music videos like “D*ck in a Box”, “Jizz in My Pants”, and “Lazy Sunday”, to name a few. They were funny, snappy, honest, and most importantly, catchy-as-hell, showing that parody music can still work.

Look out, comedy world!

Look out, comedy world!

So yeah, it was only a matter of time before the guys got their movie.

Director Akiva Schaffer makes a flick that seems like what would happen if Will Ferrell and Mel Brooks got together, and had a surrogate baby with Napoleon Dynamite. It’s not a nice mental picture to take but in terms of this flick, it actually works very well. Sometimes the film layers in self-parody, other times, it’s just plain and simple low-brow humor where farting is the main gag, and randomly, it’s just cheap and easy slapstick. The comedy goes all-over-the-place at times, but it works for the most part because the guys never really take it too seriously.

Actually, this film is probably more enjoyable whenever I think of the few memorable scenes in this film where everybody seems like they were on the same page in saying what was, and what wasn’t funny. There’s a funny 80’s ode to the Flashdance scene that shows Samberg running around like a crazy man; there’s a random, but clever rap that’s made out of the word “cool beans”; an argument over who parties in the group that still never got solved; and a hilarious riot scene that comes absolutely out of nowhere, but was the hardest I laughed in the whole movie. I know, spoilers, but hey, I’m being as vague as one man can be.

As for the rest of the film, it doesn’t necessarily struggle as much as it just lingers from scene-to-scene without any real hard-hitting humor. The dialogue is somewhat clever, but also feels like it’s trying too hard to go for that weird, nerdish-like type of humor that hit so well with cult audiences from Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite. Sometimes it can work and keep a film moving at a lightning-quick speed, but it drags things down a bit here and I think that’s what kept me away from remembering everything else that happened. I’m telling you, it was those key scenes that made this film work but everything else in between?

Meh.

As a leading man, Andy Samberg does a solid job, doing a nice blend between goofy and, surprisingly, assured. It’s obvious that he’s channeling that “man-child” act that Ferrell does so well, but it’s not to the point of where it’s annoying or distracting by any means – it’s funny because Samberg himself is funny. He handles all of the dumb scenes very well and makes a very likable character, even if the guy doesn’t really seem like much of a character as much of a reason to have a person smash into things and mess-up stunts. It’s a shame that his movie career now hasn’t really done much for him, but I still hold-up hope that he’ll make that huge transition one day.

Andy over Sacha? Wow, Isla. You go girl!

Andy over Sacha? Wow, Isla. You go girl!

All of his secondary characters are fun to watch too, as they all bring a bunch of light and dumb fun to characters that are there for exactly that. Bill Hader plays the Southerner dummy, Dave, and does his usual act where he’s just an ass the whole time; Danny McBride does a fine job being a destructive asshole that always has to be hitting someone or something in every scene he’s in; Jorma Taccone is funny as Rod’s step-brother, Kevin, and definitely gave me that Napoleon-like character feel; Ian McShane was fun to watch take up a lighter role than we usually see him play, and does fine with his scenes where it’s just him and Rod beating the crap out of each other; and Isla Fisher and Sissy Spacek don’t really do much at all except stand there, look pretty, and just let the boys do all of the fartin’ around.

Literally.

But now to the real question of Hot Rod: is it a “cult flick”? Well, for one, I don’t think it is, even if there is clearly an audience for it. One of the issues with Hot Rod is that it seems like it’s clearly trying to be another one of Will Ferrell’s vehicles, where he runs around, yells and acts like a child. At one time, that whole act struck gold everywhere it went and every time it showed up, hence why this movie attracted so many people looking for the same thing, but nowadays, it seems like a thing of the past. Ferrell’s movies nowadays show him trying to do something different with his comedic-approach, which is sometimes hit or miss, but audiences, honestly, don’t seem so drawn to that. Hot Rod will probably remain a “cult classic”, by those who saw and loved it back in the day, if only because it was in a time and age when Will Ferrell’s brand was bee’s knees.

Nowadays? Eh. Not so much. Maybe we’re better off for that, maybe we’re not. But either way, it’s definitely something to point out.

Consensus: Hot Rod is not as consistently funny as it would probably hope so, probably because of the ever-changing approach to it’s comedy, but still has plenty of memorable scenes and funny performances that make this an average-comedy, with average-people in it.

7 / 10

I've never been so proud to be an American.

I’ve never been so proud to be an American.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

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