Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

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

Maggie’s Plan (2016)

Who needs a plan when you can just sleep around?

At this point in her life, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) feels as if it’s about time to start having a baby. While she doesn’t have a man in her life that she can settle down with and actually have the baby with, she still knows that she can have a baby, if solely through a sperm donor. The man she chooses is a former classmate of hers, who now sells pickles (Travis Fimmell). While he totally agrees to it and gives her the sample, for some reason, Maggie gets a little side-tracked. She meets a fellow teacher, John (Ethan Hawke), who takes a liking to her and they start to hang out a whole lot. Even though he’s married to the intimidating, but incredibly pretentious Georgette (Julianne Moore), there’s still something bright and youthful about Maggie that John can’t seem to keep himself away from, but how much is he willing to screw up his whole family for her? Better yet, how much is Maggie willing and able to screw things up with her situation, to then start a life with John and become something she never saw herself as being?

"So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?"

“So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?”

It’s hard not to look at Maggie’s Plan as some sort of sequel to Frances Ha, in which Greta Gerwig’s titular character has now grown up a tad bit, got her own place, found a steady job, and is now thinking about the next stage in her life. Sure, you could definitely say that it’s a bit of a stretch, or not one at all, depending on how you look at it, but it’s hard not to compare the two, especially with what writer/director Rebecca Miller goes for here (that serio-screwball/tragicomedy kind of movie), and how it compares a lot to Noah Baumbach’s style. That said, are both movies the same?

Nope, not really.

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter because Maggie’s Plan is a good movie that, excluding Gerwig and her lovely presence, still works; it’s about much more than Maggie and her “plan”. In a way, it’s about how that plan constantly changes and takes on different forms over time, to where people’s lives are changed and she has no clue how it happened, or what to do about it. It’s odd that Miller is taking on something as silly and light as this can be, especially considering how dark, dramatic and bare her past movies could get, but it’s still nice to see her trying out different things, even if they don’t always work.

See, with Maggie’s Plan, Miller is going for two things here and she doesn’t hit the nail perfectly on the head. There’s plenty of funny moments that are, at the very least, chuckle worthy, but never to extreme laughter, and the dramatic moments, as rare as they come around, often feel like they’re supposed to be more important than they actually appear to be in the movie. There’s two sides to Maggie’s Plan, and they’re both interesting, but Miller can never make up her clear mind of which side she’s willing to take and run wild with; you can make both movies simultaneously, but there has to be a better switch than what Miller sometimes does here.

That said, there’s more good than bad within Maggie’s Plan; there’s a darker undercurrent of a story that’s briefly hinted at, and had Miller gone further down the road, the movie would have been far more sad and emotional. It’s probably a good thing that she didn’t go down that road because the movie does an awful lot of skewering and making fun of these kinds of New York intellectuals that, so often in movies, are loved and beheld as some sort of “God sends”. Sure, these people are fine and they do exist, but Miller herself knows that it’s also fun poke jokes at their expense to, while also not forgetting about their humanity, either.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

And yeah, it also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

Gerwig has played this kind of character before many, many times before and it’s still fine here; there’s a sense that she’s growing older and becoming more mature with each role, so it’ll be interesting where she takes it next. However, the movie isn’t always about her, as it’s much more about those around her, like Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore’s characters. As John, Hawke does his best to be charming and likable, even if the character he plays is sometimes so infuriating and nauseating, you want him to be gone and told to “pipe down”. But because it’s Hawke, all of the annoying things he goes on and on about for no reason or another, there’s something endearing to it all.

Moore, on the other hand, is playing a Danish writer and while the role may seem really silly and over-the-top, Moore gets to the heart and soul of this character and makes us see her as a person. This is also a testament to Miller’s writing, showing that this kind of woman does exist, but she’s not such a terrible person in the first place, even if she’s made out to be that way. It also helps that Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph show up as a married-couple, who also happen to be Maggie’s best pals and they always tell it like it is. They’re funny and smart, even if they show up for a little bit, every so often. Each time is as good as the last, but come on, where’s the movie about them?

I wouldn’t mind that one bit. Although, Maggie’s Plan is just fine, too.

Consensus: Despite its never ending battle with tone, Maggie’s Plan works because of its charming and likable cast, and affection for their characters, even if they aren’t always making the best, brightest decisions.

7 / 10

Oh, Greta. What a heart-breaker you are.

Oh, Greta. What a twee heartbreaker you are.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Love & Friendship (2016)

Jane Austen was pretty catty.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) has just become a widow and needless to say, she needs a little help in life. She doesn’t have much money, many friends, or even all that much security in life to where she can feel safe and comfortable for the next few years of her life. That’s why, through her seductive and manipulative ways, she concocts a way and plan to charm the shorts off of the eligible bachelor Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel). But trying to win the heart of Reginald will be a whole lot harder than she expected, mostly because some people know what she’s up to and let him know of it. While Reginald refuses to believe her sinister ways, there’s no denying that Lady Susan may be up to no good. And then, of course, her oldest daughter (Morfydd Clark) comes into the picture and seems to shake everything up involved with Lady Susan’s plan. What was once going to be an easy, but sneaky task of winning one man’s heart, has now turned into something a whole lot harder.

Friendship1

From the disco, to the ball, these gals are inseparable.

Period pieces aren’t necessarily my thing. Being a dude in his early-20’s, this may come as no surprise to anyone. Though I give them a try and, on the rare occasion, come away liking what I see, for the most part, period pieces just don’t always work because there’s a stuffiness to almost each and everyone of them that make me happy I’m seeing them by myself, and not my grandmother, so I don’t have to hear her jabber on and on about “how exquisite it all was.”

And while I’m at, Whit Stillman movies aren’t necessarily my thing, either. While his movies are mostly hit-or-miss for me, what bothers me the most about his flicks is that there seems to be so much of an investment in the catchy and clever wordplay between his characters, that he almost forgets about the characters themselves. Metropolitan is the rare exception where he combines both aspects quite well, but ever since then, it almost seems as if he’s forgotten about character-development and just tried his hardest to think of a neat way to get people laughing and leaving it at that.

That’s why I’m surprised that Love & Friendship was very much, my thing.

For one, it’s not a typical period piece like you’d expect. Sure, it’s source material is from a Jane Austen novella, but there’s something funny and brash about it all that it makes you think differently about all of the constructs/rules/guidelines that these societies seem to have held. In a way, Stillman sort of looks at the fake politeness and mannerly way everyone in the 18th century was, and decides to turn it all on its head. That means that, yes, people are made fun of, to their faces and are mostly shown that their silly ingrates.

And even though a lot of that same old clever wordplay is occurring here, it actually works in this world that Stillman puts us in. Since everyone is talking in such a plain and formal way, it’s almost refreshing to hear some of these characters talk in a slightly goofy manner, making the odd dialogue work and hit more effectively than you’d expect. While every so often there’s a line of dialogue that doesn’t quite work, or feels stilted, there’s another one that’s funny, and/or smart that you grow a greater appreciation for Stillman.

Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t stand some of his dialogue, but hey, at least he didn’t annoy me too much here.

Yeah, somebody needs to make fun of these stiffs.

Yeah, somebody needs to make fun of these stiffs.

But where the real pleasure and beauty of this film lies is within Kate Beckinsale’s wonderful performance as Lady Susan, someone who should actually be a whole lot more villainous than she is actually seen as in this movie. Beckinsale was great in the Last Days of Disco, which is why it’s no surprise that Stillman brought her back here, where it seems like she not only has the right ear for this dialogue, but knows how to make it funny and biting, even when you don’t expect it to be. Because Lady Susan is a sometimes cold woman, who doesn’t really care about anyone else’s feelings but her own, we’re left with the impression that she’s a bad person who we shouldn’t like, trust, or want to see happy by the end. However, Beckinsale is so charming in the role, that it’s kind of hard not to think the opposite.

For example, Lady Susan says and does a lot of things that everyone around her, given the time period, would not do or say. It’s like I said earlier about how polite and mannerly everyone in this society is; everyone’s thinking bad thoughts about the people around them, but they don’t want to create too much of a ruckus, so they keep quiet and let everything simmer inside of them. Lady Susan is not like that and it’s great to watch Beckinsale do dressing-downs of almost everyone around her, and not give a single care about it one bit.

In a way, it makes me wish Beckinsale would do more movies that challenge her like this, as opposed to the awfully boring Underworld flicks.

That said, everyone else does a terrific job here, too. Chloë Sevigny shows up as Lady Susan’s pal, Alicia Johnson, and the two engage in conversations that makes it appear like they’ve known each other for years; Stephen Fry briefly shows up as her husband and is fine, although, you can never really have enough Stephen Fry; Xavier Samuel is charming and handsome as Reginald, but also shows that there’s a little something more to him, like a heart and soul; and as Sir James Martin, the resident goober of the whole film, Tom Bennett steals every scene, earning laughs every time he says something. All of whom are good at Stillman’s dialogue, even if they do lapse into sometimes getting flustered and not knowing how to deliver it in an intelligible way that’s supposed to work.

But such is the case when you work with Whit Stillman, I guess.

Consensus: Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship makes good use of its 18th-century setting by making something of a smart commentary on it, while also offering laughs and interesting characters to keep it all worth watching for those out there who may not already be fans of period pieces.

7 / 10

"Girls. You could never look this stylish."

“Girls. You could never look this stylish.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Cinema Romantique

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Girls rules. Boys drool. We all know this by now.

After battling it out with the frat next door some years ago, Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are happily comfortable with their daughter and another kid on the way. Not to mention that they now have their house on the market and another one bought – the only thing standing in the way of absolute freedom is a 30-day period where they have to ensure that nothing goes wrong with the house, and that the buyers who intend on taking the house, do actually stick with the deal. So yeah, a lot is riding on the deal and while it looks like smooth sailing from there on out, it turns out that a sorority is moving in next door, which means that Kelly and Mac are going to have to battle it out again with a bunch of college kids. However, this time, it’s freshman Morgan (Chloe Grace Moretz) who creates the sorority so that she can have a fun time with her friends and not be tied down by the sexist parties that the frats hold. And well, she won’t back down from a fight.

Old school vs. new school

Old school vs. new school

The first Neighbors was an incredibly funny movie, but it surprised me in ways that I least expected it to. For one, it was the kind of raunchy, R-rated comedy that, for the first time in a long time, felt like an actual party from start-to-finish. Sure, you could make the argument that any comedy, as long as it’s actually “funny”, can be considered a good time, but honestly, it really did feel like an exciting piece of comedy, that constantly zipped and zapped along. Not to mention that it had a smart theme about growing up, moving on in life, and figuring out what to do with yourself after college is over, the beer has run out, the girls are gone, and there’s not much else to do. You had to look far and wide to find that message, but it was there and it worked for a movie that could have been just another mainstream, R-rated comedy made for all the jocks and bros.

That’s why in the case of Neighbors 2, as unnecessary as it may be for a sequel, still has something to do and say.

What director Nicholas Stoller does here that makes Neighbors 2 a tad more interesting than fodder of this typical nature, is that he switches the perspective from the boys side, to the girls side, and oh man, does it make quite a difference. All of the hard-partying, sleaziness and misogyny that seemed so fun in the first one, is now turned on its head to show that maybe, just maybe frats aren’t the nicest and safest environments out there. No, there’s no mention of “rape” or anything of that nature, however, considering the kind of college culture in which we live in, it only makes sense that a movie like this would address that sex issues do exist in the college world.

Do they need to be addressed? Well, if it gets in the way of the comedy, then maybe, not really. But hey, that’s fine because Neighbors 2 does some smart things along the way, while at the same time, still offering plenty of hearty laughs to hold those over who aren’t looking for deep, and/or interesting messages about sex, life and love in their Seth Rogen comedies.

Do I agree with this idea? Not really, as comedy can do both, but in the case of Neighbors 2, where the laughs actually do deliver quite frequently, I’m going to wave my white flag and not put up much of a fight. The jokes work, all of the overextended ad-libbing in the first has been toned down a smidge, and because the characters are so well-written and done, it’s easier to laugh at their pain and agony, mostly because we actually know who they are. Does that make them the most interesting characters ever? Nope, but they don’t need to be.

College girls. They're just the devils.

College girls. They’re just the devils.

They’re in a comedy where the biggest concern is how many dick, fart, and weed jokes can be made.

But the cast is so good that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in each and everyone of them. Rogen is his usual Rogen-self, being an everyday schlub and whatnot; Rose Byrne doesn’t get nearly as much to do as she did in the first movie, but it’s still fun to see her get to hang with the boys and be a little dastardly her own-self; Zac Efron gets some opportunities to show-off a more funnier-side than ever before and it totally works, if mostly because we get to know more about this character; and Chloe Grace Moretz, while a tad under-written, gives her character a heart and soul that matters in a movie like this.

Rather than just being an annoying and young college girl who doesn’t care about others around her and just wants to be popular, cool, and party all of the damn time, instead, she’s another case of a high school loner who has finally found herself in college and just wants to enjoy it for all that she’s got. In the first movie, it was more about how much of d-bags the guys were because they didn’t care about how loud or wild they were – here, it’s more about how these girls all love the space that they have and don’t want to lose it because of some old-heads. It’s small details that you may have to squint to really discover, but it’s also those kind of small details that make movies like Neighbors 2 pretty damn fun to watch.

Even if, yes, you only do come for the dick, fart and weed jokes.

Consensus: While unnecessary, Neighbors 2 changes its focus in enough ways to where it freshens its narrative, but still being able to include hilarity to hold most over.

7.5 / 10

I've seen all of these people in my Into to Economics class.

I’ve seen all of these people in my Into to Economics class.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Last Boy Scout (1991)

Throw a football, solve a major scandal. Makes sense.

Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) used to be a first-rate Secret Service agent who, for one reason or another, got kicked off the squad. Nowadays, Joe spends his time as a work-for-hire private dick, who smokes a lot, drinks, sleeps in his car, has a kid that doesn’t respect him, and even worse, has a wife who is sleeping around. Basically, Joe’s life ain’t all that grand, but when a friend of his dies (Halle Berry), he can’t but feel inspired to figure out who did this to her and why. Another person who wants to find out the same thing is Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), an ex-football star who has a tad bit of a gambling problem. Though the two don’t necessarily get along, they both feel the need to figure out just what happened and get the sons of a bitches who caused their friend’s death. However, what they soon find out behind the scenes, leads them to the shady people dealing with the professional football league, as well as the President of the United States.

That's Brucie for ya. Always protecting the kids!

That’s Brucie for ya. Always protecting the kids!

Shane Black can write scripts like this in his sleep. While the Last Boy Scout may not feature cops in the lead roles, it still features two people who are, in a way, supposed to be “buddies” in the buddy-cop genre. Black loves these kinds of stories and always adds a certain flair of panache and fun to them that even when they don’t fully deliver, they still like fun pieces of action-comedy, rather than just another waste of time. After all, a movie written by Shane Black is at least a few more times better than most of the action flicks we get out there, right?

And also, having Tony Scott in the mix as director helps out, but not as you’d expect it to. Sure, when the action is happening, it’s as frenetic and crazy as you’d expect a Tony Scott movie to be, but it’s the smaller, more quieter moments between the characters that actually work best. Obviously, this is definitely attributed to Black and his interesting way of writing likable characters, but it’s also a compliment to Scott for taking a step back and let the script do the work itself. Scott hasn’t always been known as the best director for drama or anything of that nature, however, here, he decided to take it easy and it pays off.

Which is great, because Damon Wayans and Bruce Willis are so good in their roles, as well as together, that it almost doesn’t matter how many scenes we get of them just hanging around and talking to one another, rather than just shooting stuff and killing people.

At first, it appears that Wayans isn’t going to handle Black’s dialogue so well, but after a short while, he gets the hang of it and needless to say, we get the hang of him. His lines actually turn out to be funny and even though he’s playing against-type here, Wayans still finds a way to break in that nice charm every so often. Sure, you could chalk that up to Black’s great screenplay, but you can also give some credit to Wayans for knowing just the perfect moment to remind the audience that he’s still Damon Wayans, and he’s a pretty charming fella.

However, Wayans is nothing compared to how great Bruce Willis is here.

For one, Willis seems perfectly tailor-made for this kind of role. He’s not just an everyman who has a certain set of killing skills, but he’s also just an ordinary guy who we’re getting to learn and know more about the flick goes on. Willis handles this dialogue oh so well to where, yes, he nails all of the humor that this character has, but he also gets the smaller, more emotional moments, too. He doesn’t overplay them, though, just as the script doesn’t; he keeps them short and subtle enough for a movie where there’s so many explosions and gun-shots that it doesn’t matter if characters exist in it or not. Why Willis didn’t work with Black on more projects, is totally beyond me.

If I had their recent track-record, I'd be slammin' the bottle pretty hard, too.

If I had their recent track-record, I’d be slammin’ the bottle pretty hard, too.

In fact, I’m pretty sure Bruce could use that now.

But if there is an issue to be had with the Last Boy Scout, as there is to be with most of Black’s screenplays, is that they don’t always know how to end well, or at all. In a way, it almost feels like Black starts off with something simple and understandable, but ultimately, gets bored and just wants to everything and anything come into play, regardless of if any of it makes any actual sense. While this is fine to have in an action movie, where no one really cares about believability or anything like that, after awhile, it sort of seems like Black’s either making stuff up, or just throwing whatever he can at the wall and letting stuff stick as they please.

Sometimes, it works, other times, it doesn’t.

However, at the end of the day, the Last Boy Scout is really just a fun action-comedy. Take it or leave it, I guess.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t always work, especially in the end, the Last Boy Scout is still a nice combo of Black’s hilarious script, with Scott’s wild direction, culminating in a fun movie, if nothing else.

7 / 10

"Hey, agent? Yeah, get me more movies like this. You know, the ones where I actually give a hoot."

“Hey, agent? Yeah, get me more movies like this. You know, the ones where I actually give a hoot.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, All Movies I Like

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Every guy’s got that one ex-girlfriend who looks like Kristen Bell and ruined their lives.

Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) isn’t doing much with his life, really. Sure, he’s got TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), as a girlfriend, but really, he just sits around the house, eating a crap-ton of cereal, getting on the piano, and slowly writing his opera to Dracula. Eventually, all of this laziness catches up to him when Sarah dumps him for rock star and pop-sensation Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Heartbroken and without any clue as to what to do with his life, Peter decides to say screw it all and go vacation in Hawaii. After all, it’s nice, relaxing and just an all around great environment to be in, even though, when he gets there, he discovers that Sarah and Aldous are at the same resort of him, as lovey-dovey as they can possibly get. Though he automatically regrets the decision he makes, a clerk at the resort (Mila Kunis) gets Peter to stay and just enjoy the time he’s got. And yes, that’s exactly what Peter does, even if it does seem to be with her an awful lot. But still, there’s a part of Peter that no matter how hard he tries, he still can’t get over Sarah.

Oh, man up, wussy.

Oh, man up, wussy. She wasn’t even that hoooooo….okay, that’s a lie. She totally was.

You’ve got to hand it to Jason Segel for laying it all out there, literally and figuratively. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was his baby from the first stroke of the pen and it only makes greater sense that he’d be the star of it, and it actually works in the movie’s favor. Segel’s got this everyman feel to him that makes him not only likable, but downright sympathetic, even when it seems like he’s making dumb decisions, time after time again. Then again, the idea here is that because he’s so heart-broken and torn-up, he makes bad decisions by accident, not knowing what else to do.

Once again, this aspect works because it’s relatable and smart, without ever trying to be too much of, either.

At its core, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is another Apatow-lite comedy where people riff on random things for the sake of it, but this time, there’s more of a story to it all, with this one being that Segel’s character needs to get over his ex. Sure, it’s not much of a story, but it’s at least something to hold together all of the sticky pieces of improv that, yes, can occasionally bring out small, brilliant gems of comedic genius, but other times, can seem as if they’re just going on far too long and not really adding much of anything. Sure, a five-minute bit about champagne is fine and all, so long as it’s funny, but does it really need to be here?

Can it be substituted for something else more pertinent to the story? Or, can it just be taken out altogether?

The only reason I bring any of this up is because Forgetting Sarah Marshall is nearly two hours and can certainly feel like it. While we’re in the dawn and age where it’s virtually impossible that any movie, let alone a big-budgeted, mainstream comedy will be under two hours, there’s still something to be said for a movie when its short, but sweet and tight enough to where you don’t feel like you’re strained by the end. And no, I am not saying I was “strained” by Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s end, but more like I was left with a lot of laughs, a rag-tag story that tried to hold everything together, and a better understanding that as long as you find another attractive person to kiss and bang, don’t worry, you’ll get over that attractive person you used to kiss and bang.

Catfight! Catfight!

Catfight! Catfight!

Okay, maybe it’s not nearly that cynical, but you get my drift: The message is as simple as they come, but it still works because the feeling of heartbreak is, unfortunately, for so many out there, universal. Everyone’s experienced it at least once in their life, whether they like to admit it or not, and even though the film likes to poke jokes at the idea of not being able to function in society after a break-up, it’s still very much a reality. Sometimes, the world around you just doesn’t make perfect sense, but because you know you have to be happy and move on, even if you don’t feel it at all, you still have to push yourself further and further to get to that point. Segel flirts with this idea and while he doesn’t fully go for it all, he still brings it up in a way that made me think it was more than just your average studio-comedy.

Because, yes, despite the wonderfully wacky, but charming performances from the likes of Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, and of course, Paul Rudd, amongst many others, the fact that Forgetting Sarah Marshall addresses sadness, love, heartbreak, and the feeling of remorse in an honest, but funny way, made me think of it a lot differently than I used to. Segel may or may not be working through some demons with this work here, but whatever the case is, his heart shines through and it’s nice to see someone take their script as passionately as it should be taken as.

It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a blast to watch.

Consensus: In need of a trim or two, Forgetting Sarah Marshall can definitely feel a tad overlong, but still benefits from lovely and funny performances from the whole cast, as well as a smart script that goes beyond what you expect a studio comedy to be all about, even if it totally turns into that.

7.5 / 10

Hey remember the talk show this guy had? Me neither.

Hey, remember the talk show this guy had? Me neither.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

A Bigger Splash (2016)

Life is always better under the sun.

Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), a famous rock star, is now living away on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria, where she and her photographer boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) spend most of their time eating, laying in the sun, dancing, swimming, laying around naked and, oh yeah, having lots and lots of sex. And for Marianne, this is especially great, seeing as how she can’t speak or strain her vocal-chords all that much due to a recent bit of surgery that may make, or break her long career. But while it seems like Marianne and Paul have the perfect set-up, it gets shaken up a tad bit by Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a former flame of Marianne’s, and a friend of Paul’s. While neither have seen Harry in quite some time, they have no problem with him around, because he’s such a blast to be around, but for some reason, Harry’s got himself a bit of a surprise with him: His daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who, according to him, he only found out about a few weeks prior. Seems fishy, right? Well, as the next few days or so go by, the situation gets more and more tense as old skeletons come out of the closet and people who shouldn’t be getting too close to one another, can’t help but get close to one another.

Young, attractive and horny. Uh yeah. I think we all know where this is headed.

Young, attractive and horny. Uh yeah. I think we all know where this is headed.

A lot of people loved Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. I was not one of them, unfortuantely. For some reason, I felt like there was a whole lot more style going on than any actual story to really keep things tight and all that together, which sometimes made it feel like a pretentious slog. It looked great and, as always, featured Tilda Swinton in top-form, but really, it’s one of the main reasons that I wasn’t really looking forward towards A Bigger Splash. The cast is good and the premise seems interesting, but in the hands of Guadagnino, it could all go up in beautiful-looking, but muddled flames.

Thankfully, it didn’t and holy hell, the movie is so much better off for it.

Don’t get me wrong though, a lot of the rambunctious tendencies from Guadagnino are still out and about here, although they’re far more pushed to the backside than I expected. For some reason, a subplot concerning refugees is brought up in awkward, somewhat random ways, and even though there’s an eventual pay-off to its inclusion, it never gels together with the rest of the story. And also, not to mention that, on occasion, it seems like Guadagnino can’t help himself from blaring the trumpets and horns of the score as loud as they can be, to where it’s not only overbearing, but also gets in the way of what any of the actual characters are trying to say one another.

I know, it all sounds like annoying nitpicks on my part, but once again, these seem to be little eccentricities that Guadagnino himself can’t seem to contain himself away from. For some viewers, it may totally work and add an extra bit of excitement, but for someone like me, who appreciates a clear cut story, the kind that the movie gives us an awful lot, it can get a tad annoying. It almost feels as if Guadagnino doesn’t feel totally comfortable with having so many scenes where people just sit in rooms, or around a table, just talking to and staring at one another, that he all of a sudden has to call up the orchestra to bring the tunes in.

But regardless of all this, yes, A Bigger Splash is, for at least a solid portion of its two-hour run-time, a movie where people sit in rooms, talking to and staring at one another and you know what?

It’s pretty good for that reason alone.

The cast, for one, is really where Guadagnino got lucky. Tilda Swinton, as usual, is great, but here, she gets to play it a bit different; because her character can’t speak too loud, or barely at all, she has to do a lot of emoting and speaking with the looks on her face and body-motions and it’s an impressive performance from an actress who, honestly, we’ve gotten so many from, that it’s pretty hard to count by now. Her backstory as a big-time rock star may not totally work (her music sounds like really mediocre Tom Petty), but it doesn’t matter because after awhile, you just take the movie’s word for itself.

Don't speak. I know what you're thinking.

Don’t speak. I know what you’re thinking.

On the other hand, you’ve got Ralph Fiennes as Harry and well, he’s having the absolute time of his life in the role, as if you’ve never seen him before. As soon as he walks into the movie, all of a sudden, everything’s wacky, wild, exciting and most importantly, fun. Fiennes adds a certain bit of zaniness to this character that was always there in the beginning, but also doesn’t allow for us to forget that this in fact a human being and once we start to see his past relationship with Paul and Marianne get brought up more and more, we start to see him for what he was, and yeah, maybe still is. He’s the life of the party, but that’s only because he’s got such a controlling personality that needs to have everything his way, or the absolute highway; if anything, this character’s a lot more scary than you’d think from the very beginning, but it’s why Fiennes is such a marvel to watch here, as we sit back and watch this character unravel right in front of our very own eyes.

Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts don’t have nearly the kind of flashy roles as Swinton and Fiennes do, but that’s fine, because they’re totally capable of making their time matter. Johnson is a fiery, seductive and mysterious grown-up version of Lolita here, whereas Schoenaerts is supposed to be this drab, dull and ultra serious bro who used to have a drinking problem and clearly has a problem with this situation. Schoenaerts has been knocking each and every role out of the park as of late, that even something like this, where it seems like he’s not really playing an interesting character, he still does wonders with, in all of the smallest ways possible.

It just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter if you have a bit of sketchy story – get a good cast together and yes, you’ve got yourself a pretty solid movie.

Consensus: Despite the occasional lapse into random pretentiousness, A Bigger Splash ultimately benefits from the fun, yet engaging cast who came ready to play with every bit of their might.

7.5 / 10

What a fearsome foursome.

What a fearsome foursome.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mother and Child (2010)

Mothers and daughters are cool and all, but what about the fathers and sons? Where’s their movie!

When she was just 14-years-old, Karen (Annette Bening) had a fling with an older boy and got pregnant. Rather than keeping the kid around at such an early age when, let’s face it, she was still a kid, she gave it up for adoption for the nuns themselves to take care of. Many years later, Karen is regretting that decision every day she lives, and it’s starting to affect the relationships she has with those around her, most importantly, a fellow co-worker (Jimmy Smits), who definitely seems like he’s interested in her. Karen’s biological daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), surprisingly enough, is doing quite well for herself. She’s a hot-shot lawyer on the brink of becoming more and more successful, even if she doesn’t have a husband, or any kids – but that doesn’t faze Elizabeth because, quite frankly, she doesn’t want any. Even though, yes, she does start up something of an unprofessional relationship with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson). Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband (David Ramsey) are preparing to adopt a child, but are finding themselves at odds with the whole process, as well as one another.

If Kerry Washington was laying next to me in bed, I'd be a little surprised too.

If Kerry Washington was laying next to me in bed, I’d be a little surprised, too.

There’s a whole lot of respect I have set out there somewhere in the world for Rodrigo Garcia because, as it seems to me, he’s the only one actually going out of his way to make challenging, yet, engaging portraits of women such as the one’s he covers in his movies. Sure, there’s other directors out there doing it, but for as long as he’s been making movies, Garcia has been giving us solid, small, and tender looks at the lives of various women in the world; some are obviously more likable than others, but there’s a sense of grit and realism to them that makes their more nasty traits, somewhat bearable.

And that is exactly the case with Mother and Child, where some characters will drive you up a wall so much, you’ll want to tear a whole house down.

Take, for instance, the character of Elizabeth – while you want to respect her and give her credit for taking her own body and life in control, and not needing the satisfaction of a man or family to make her feel sane, or better yet, happy, there’s also this feeling that she’s a heartless witch that you want to yell at because she deserves it. However, people like Elizabeth do exist out there in the real world; they don’t always make the best decisions and they may do stuff in their own self-interest, regardless of who else they hurt, but the fact is, they exist in a society with us.

That’s why, no matter how long or how many times a character here ticked me off, I had to remind myself that, “Oh wait, these are like some people I know in real life.” Garcia does a nice job of giving us a sense of who these characters are, while also not telling us everything we need to possibly know about them from the very beginning; there’s certain mysteries and surprises about each and everyone of these characters that get revealed over the two-hour run-time that are most definitely, and will make you see these characters in a different light than before. Whether it’s a more negative, or positive one, depends solely on your viewpoint, but it’s this kind of attention to characters that always makes me pleased watching Garcia’s movies.

Even when, you know, the writing for the story isn’t always there.

Mother and Child is a little over two-hours and with that, we get a lot of scenes that probably could have been taken out altogether. Though there’s maybe three-to-four subplots going on here, maybe two of them are actually the least bit interesting and relevant, whereas the other two seem to come and go as they please, giving us better looks at the talented cast, but ultimately, not doing much to hold our interest. This is a problem I’ve had with most of Garcia’s movies and while I definitely applaud him for expanding his focus, sometimes, it can seem like he’s wasting everyone’s time with something that’s not really all that exciting to watch in the first place.

"Wiggle wiggle".

“Wiggle wiggle”.

Then again, the cast is so good here that it’s almost too hard to not watch and be the least bit compelled. Annette Bening gets a chance to play someone who is a bit mean and nasty to those around her, and well, she does well at it. You’ll start to wonder what it is about her that could be deemed “sympathetic”, but sooner or later, she lets her guard down and you start to see something resembling a soul and heart deep down inside that makes it work. It also helps that her and Jimmy Smits have a pretty solid chemistry together, too.

There’s also Kerry Washington as a soon-to-be-mother who has constant issues with adopting. This is the one subplot I had the most problem with, not just because it didn’t fit so well into the other two, but because it was the least believable and, honestly, the most poorly-written. The way Garcia has Washington’s character written out to be is that she’s so desperate for a child, that she doesn’t care where it comes from, who’s giving it to her, or what it is that she has to do. That means some of the scenes that she has with Shareeka Epps’ character (someone who was great in Half Nelson, but is terrible here), really come off as kind of comical.

We get it that she wants a baby, but is she really going to put up with that much crap from a 17-year-old?

No matter what though, this movie is Naomi Watts to steal and she’s the one I couldn’t stop thinking about the most. Like I mentioned before, Elizabeth is by far the most infuriating character out of the bunch (which is saying something), but Watts allows for us, every so often, to see shades of humanity that work and make us understand this character a tad more. She treats people around her terribly and is manipulative in every which way, but there’s a reason for it all, and it’s all effective. So effective that the last scene with her, honestly, is a real shocker and will catch you by surprise.

But hey, that’s just the power of Naomi Watts when the material is there for her and she’s come ready to play.

Consensus: Though uneven, Mother and Child benefits from a strong cast and attention characters that we rarely see nowadays, let alone for women.

7 / 10

It's alright, An. Jimmy will save you from all harm.

It’s alright, An. Jimmy will save you from all harm.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Cinema Viewfinder, Reel Talk Online

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

He gets angry. He goes green. He doesn’t like it. Yeah, we get it.

Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) has a bit of a problem. After being exposed to a gamma radiation that contaminated his body and cells, he’s now been unable to control his emotions and therefore, has been lashing out as the Hulk. Desperate to find a cure and get away from the controversial spotlight that constantly surrounds him, Banner decides to go across the world, looking anywhere that he can find any sign of hope. Of course, going off the grid as he does also means having to be cut-off from his one true love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who wants nothing more than for him to just be safe. Her father, CIA Gen. Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), however, wants Banner to turn himself into the authorities so that they can cure him and make sure that he doesn’t go around smashing things anymore. But because Banner doesn’t seem all that interested in listening or taking orders, Ross decides to enlist the help of a supremely powerful enemy known as The Abomination (Tim Roth), who is nearly as dangerous, if not more as the Hulk.

How Edward Norton prepares for a role. Any role.

How Edward Norton prepares for a role. Any role.

Except in his case, he’s the baddie!

It’s been said and shown that giving the Hulk his own movie doesn’t quite work out as perfectly as some would prefer. Ang Lee’s Hulk was an odd, slow and downright boring character-study that was way too deep for its own good and the Incredible Hulk itself, while fun, still feels like it’s not really allowing for this interesting character, other than, as expected, setting up several other Marvel movies to come up after. If anything, as evidenced by the first two Avengers movies, Hulk is perhaps best used as a supporting character, who comes around every so often, destroying things, smashing them and reminding people that he can an absolute crowd-pleaser, while also the most dangerous thing around.

But regardless of all this, the Incredible Hulk does do the character some justice, in that it gives him plenty of things to smash and be angry at. At the same time, however, it also can’t help but feel like a small disappointment compared to all of the other standalone Marvel movies, where we get a rich mix of story, humor, heart, and excessive tie-ins. In a way, actually, the Incredible Hulk‘s actually very interesting to watch all of these years later as, at the time, it was the second movie produced by Marvel in this planned-universe (after Iron Man, obviously). So, with that said, it’s neat to see how little the film actually relies on featuring tie-ins from other superheros, or barely even hinting of their existence at all; after all, when this movie was being made, the idea of an Avengers movie was just a pipe-dream that Marvel had planned, it all came down to whether or not people were going to stick around for four more years to actually see it. Thankfully, they did, but as a small microcosm of what Marvel once was, the Incredible Hulk serves as a nice little escape from some of the overstuffed and overcrowded superhero movies we’ve got going on nowadays.

And I’m not just talking about Marvel’s movies, either.

But regardless of its importance in the long-run of Marvel movies, what the Incredible Hulk does best is that it serves its story justice by offering up as much as action as humanly possible. Louis Leterrier isn’t the best director out there, but he’s a competent enough director that when you tell him to shoot an action-sequence, well, he does just that. And to mention, he makes them pretty damn exciting and fun, even if they are just chock-full of CGI and green-screens. Still, that’s the name of the game with these superhero movies and if that’s what I’m going to start complaining about, well then, I’ve got bigger problems on my hand.

And even when the action isn’t going on, the movie still works fine enough. The drama may not be as heavy as it was in Ang Lee’s movie, which is both a positive, as well as negative; positive because it doesn’t drag the story down from being an actual fun piece of big-budgeted action, negative because it doesn’t always feel like it’s the strongest it can be, given the cast and talent involved. Getting Edward Norton involved with the movie in the first place was smart, as it showed that someone as talented and as smart as him was willing to take a chance with this role and, well, guess what? He does a good job with it.

Take away that grizzled 'stache and Liv Tyler's a spitting-image of William Hurt!

Take away that grizzled ‘stache and Liv Tyler’s a spitting-image of William Hurt!

Granted, the material is not nearly as strong as we’re used to seeing Norton work with, but he does what he can, with what he’s given. While Ruffalo is a perfect fit as the Hulk now, it still makes me wonder what would have happened if Norton didn’t piss-off too many people behind-the-scenes and he was around, collecting the big paychecks. Sadly, it’s all speculation, because obviously, Norton didn’t last long.

But hey, he left a pretty good impression.

After all, some of the scenes he has with Tim Roth, William Hurt and especially, Liv Tyler, as oddly-written as they may be, he brings a certain amount of genuineness to it that makes us feel closer to this story, as well as this character. We don’t get to know his heart and soul like we did in Ang Lee’s, but that’s actually fine; you get the sense that perhaps they were setting-up more development of this character for future movies, but instead, had to opt for the easy way out in just letting it all hang. While I don’t particularly agree with the fact that we can’t give Hulk his own movie, one of these days, I’d like to see them do him justice one day, where we get all of the smashing and whatnot, but some heart and humanity behind it as well.

Maybe with Ruffalo? Who knows!

Consensus: As an early Marvel movie, the Incredible Hulk does fine in giving enough action to help measure out some of the messier parts of the movie, like the melodrama.

7 / 10

It's like David vs. Goliath, although, they're both pretty well-matched.

It’s like David vs. Goliath, although, they’re both pretty well-matched.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Keanu (2016)

Cat people can relate.

Recently dumped by his girlfriend and without much of a reason to live, Rell (Jordan Peele) seems to spend most of his days crying, smoking a ton of pot and not even attempting to get over his ex. His cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), on the other hand, seems to be just fine with his life, where he’s got a wife (Nia Long) that loves him and a daughter that is fine enough with him, too. Eventually though, Rell finds some happiness when a cute kitten winds up on his doorstep and he starts to grow closer and closer to it, forging a loving and adoring friendship in which Rell learns about love all over again. But somehow, his cat, who he names “Keanu”, gets stolen by a band of thieves, which leaves Rell and Clarence with nothing else to do other than go out there and search for it. After all, Clarence’s wife and daughter are gone for the weekend, so what else are they going to do for the next few days? When the two do eventually find Keanu, they realize that he’s under the ownership of a notorious and dangerous drug-dealer by the name of Cheddar (Method Man) who mistakes them for two bad-ass, evil gun-slingers. Eventually, the two go along with it long enough to where they’re taking up new identities and getting involved with all sorts of crime, all for the sake of getting Keanu when all is said and done.

Get a gun, get gangster.

Get a gun, get gangster.

A lot of people will get on the case of Keanu because it’s not nearly as funny, or as smart as everything that Key & Peele have done. Sure, that’s already a lot to live up to in the first place, but you’d think that with literally the same team behind this one, that the same line of hilarity and genius would be drawn and would just add to the overall spectacle of this movie and make us realize why them letting their show end was such a smart move in the first place. But no, that’s not what happens.

And you know what? That’s actually fine.

Because, for what it’s worth, Keanu doesn’t set the comedy world on fire, nor does it need to. Sure, Key and Peele have been way funnier and smarter before, but with Keanu, it seems like their sole purpose is to attack a full-feature length, big-budget flick, see what works, see what doesn’t, move on, and continue doing what they do best. If you look at Keanu as a practice-round for both Key and Peele, then yes, it’s a very impressive one, because it’s not just a pretty funny movie, but one that has a thing or two to actually say about race.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe Key and Peele just wanted to make a funny comedy, not try to be too serious, or try to get preachy, and instead, just make the audience laugh at what they’re setting out to do. If that was their goal, then yes, mission accomplished because Keanu, for a good portion of itself, does a lot of funny things. Scenes where it just seems like Key, Peele and the rest of the cast are just making stuff up as they go along, with little rhyme or reason, surprisingly works and adds a bit of a fun flair to Keanu that may not have been too present in the first few minutes. What could have been a very annoying hour-and-a-half movie of a bunch of people riffing off one another because they don’t have much of a script to work with, surprisingly works when you least expect it to.

Sure, the idea that these two characters are playing-up the whole “gangster” look and feel may get a tad old for some, but it didn’t for me.

I don’t know what this says about me – either I really like comedy aimed at making fun at the whole “gangster” lifestyle, or I was just in a good mood – but regardless, Keanu is a funny movie. It’s hard to really go on and on about a comedy movie that sets out to do something, delivers on that promise and doesn’t ask for you to remember tomorrow, next week, or ever. All that it wants from you is to enjoy it and laugh at it while you can. Take away all of the things we know and love Key and Peele for from their show, and you won’t be hitting yourself over the head by how Keanu is just a fine, if pretty funny movie.

Get it? Instead of "Cheese", it's "Cheddar". Hm. I wonder if Key and Peele have ever watched the Wire?

Get it? Instead of “Cheese”, it’s “Cheddar”. Hm. I wonder if Key and Peele have ever watched the Wire?

The movie may try to parody John Wick to some extent, but doesn’t really get that far, or seem all that interested in addressing that idea, just like it doesn’t know what it wants to say about the gangster lifestyle and the people that live or die by it. In fact, you may be surprised by the attention to heart and detail the movie puts into its smaller characters, in which every member of this “gang”, all have their own little backstories and personalities that eventually come into play later on, and it helps make this movie seem like so much more than just your average comedy.

Even if, yes, it totally is.

But that’s okay. Key and Peele are fine and smart enough to know that if they don’t strike gold here, they still have plenty of opportunities to do so in the near-future. As actors here, they both do fine; Peele plays up his slacker-bro, whereas Key has some of the funnier moments as the stiff who turns out to be the most hardcore and sinister of the two when he has to. It’s ordinary roles for these two guys and just like the movie, they’re all fine with it. They’re just here to make us laugh and that’s fine.

Maybe next time, however, try a tad harder, fellas.

Consensus: Despite not reaching the comedic heights their show was able to hit episode-after-episode, Keanu still features an assured, if funny piece of comedy from the minds of Key and Peele, that may play more as an experiment, rather than a fully completed piece. But still, that cat is cute as hell.

7.5 / 10

Kitties always save the day. Until they pull a knife on you and slit your throat at night. What? I've heard of it happening before.

Kitties always save the day. Until they pull a knife on you and slit your throat at night. What? I’ve heard of it happening before.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Hip Hop DX, Movie News Plus

Frankie and Johnny (1991)

It’s always those ex-cons who will steal your heart away. Literally.

After Johnny (Al Pacino) gets released from prison following a small, but still effective forgery charge, he quickly lands a job as a short-order cook at a New York diner, where he hopes to not just get his feet back on the ground, but go back to living the kind of fun and exciting life that he was living before he was sent to the clink. And he finds that with waitress Cora (Kate Nelligan), who he actually has something of a brief fling with; while she wants it and expects it to be more, little does Cora know that Johnny wants Cora’s friend and fellow waitress Frankie (Michelle Pfeiffer). Due to a long, checkered history with men, love and relationships, Frankie’s not all that interested in any of the advances Johnny makes towards her. While she finds him charming and handsome, she mostly wants to focus on herself now at this stage in her life, and not worry about somebody else tying her down. But eventually, Frankie gives in and decides to give Johnny a chance after all, which is when the sparks begin to fly and, all of a sudden, Frankie finds herself in something that she may not be able to get herself out of.

Oh, Al. So weird.

Oh, Al. So weird.

You wouldn’t know it or expect it, but Frankie and Johnny will sneak up on ya. While Garry Marshall has never been considered the most subtle director out there, he does something neat and interesting here with Frankie and Johnny in that he just allows for the story to tell itself out, piece by piece, little by little, so that by the end, we not only feel like we got the full story of these people, but also had a nice little slice of life that we may not have been able to get anywhere else. There’s a certain sense that Marshall enjoys these characters just as much as we do, so instead of rushing the plot and making everything seem like it has to go somewhere, Marshall takes a step back, relaxes and allows for everything to just speak for itself.

And also, for Al Pacino to ad-lib his rump off.

But hey, who’s better at ad-libbing and making stuff up on the fly than Al Pacino? Nobody, that’s who! While watching Pacino play around with this character of Johnny, you get the idea that he saw the script, saw it as another romantic-dramedy that women and their mothers will all go out to see, but also saw a sweet paycheck involved, so instead of passing on it, he decided to just have some fun. After all, when you’re as wildly talented as Al Pacino, who is going to tell you what you can and cannot do when it comes to how you approach a role?

Maybe Marshall had an issue with Pacino seeming as if he’s making everything up on the fly here, or maybe he didn’t, but either way, it kind of works. It not only adds a certain level of excitement and personality to this character, but makes him seem a lot odder than the script may have originally made him out to be. So rarely do we see rom-coms, or better yet, movies where one of the leads may not be perfectly sane; while they’re not clinically insane, or tearing at the walls, they’re still a bit loopy and seem as if they’re somewhere else completely. As Johnny, whether intentional or not, Pacino is able to make this seemingly ordinary character have a little bit of a personality that has him go far and beyond just another dude. He’s a bit off, he’s a bit cooky, but because he’s Al Pacino’s, he’s pretty damn fun and sincere, too.

That’s why, whenever he’s together with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Frankie, magic definitely occurs. Pfeiffer is a great actress and saying so isn’t all that ground-breaking, but it truly is great to see her take on a role that could have been so boring and uninteresting, if not given the right amount of tender love and care. Pfeiffer connects with some raw energy within Frankie, where we initially seem a quiet, reserved and seemingly tough girl who doesn’t care about those around her all that much, and doesn’t have any need for a man or love in her life. But as the movie rolls on, we get to know and see more of this character than ever before, and it’s these moments of sweet human emotion that really make Pfeiffer’s performance something great.

I'd take Hector as my boss any day of the week. Except for Fridays.

I’d take Hector as my boss any day of the week. Except for Fridays.

And together, yes, Pacino and Pfeiffer are quite solid.

I know I’m putting an awful lot of emphasis on the relationship and the performances between these two stars, but really, that’s all that Frankie and Johnny is – an opportunity to see a romantic-dramedy in which Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer act alongside one another. It’s enjoyable because they’re both great actors and it works as a romance because Marshall pays more attention to the smaller details of these character’s lives and makes us actually feel like we know them, as well as those around them. Even a few brief scenes with the wonderful likes of Nathan Lane and Hector Elizondo, while small in hindsight, do so much in making us feel like we are one step closer to these characters and the world that they’ve created for themselves. Everyone is just a normal, everyday person and it’s believable, as well as charming and breezy.

Sure, the movie gets darker and a lot sadder by the end, but it still works because it goes to show you that you don’t need to force the central romance down our throats to make it work. Sometimes, all you need is a good cast, solid attention to detail, and a believable bit of chemistry that can make it all come together.

Take notes, present-day Garry Marshall.

Consensus: With two great performances from Pfeiffer and Pacino, Frankie and Johnny rises above the usual romantic-dramedy threshold and is a lot funnier, sweeter and emotional.

7.5 / 10

It's love. Without cocaine. Or gangs. Or Tony Montana.

It’s love. Without cocaine. Or gangs. Or Tony Montana.

Photos Courtesy of: Gareth Rhodes Film Reviews, Fanpop, Living Cinema

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