Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

The Hollars (2016)

Family’s suck. No matter how colorful.

John Hollar (John Krasinski) is having a bit of a rough time in his life. He’s struggling to make something of his career as a graphic designer, so he now works in retail, hoping to make something from nothing, and now, impregnated his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick), and doesn’t seem to know if he’s ready for that or not. Either way, John’s going to have to grow up real soon as he finds out that his mom (Margo Martindale) has brain cancer. Feeling as if it’s finally time for him to go home and see the family he left behind so many years ago, John has to put up with a lot – despite his mom actually being all fine and dandy, all things considering, everyone else in his family seems to be crumbling. John’s brother (Sharlto Copley) is still reeling over his divorce and estrangement from his kids, while his father (Richard Jenkins), is about to lose his company and file for bankruptcy. Not to mention that one of his mom’s nurses, also happens to be an old foe from high school (Charlie Day), who’s now married to his high school girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). So yeah, it’s an odd time for John, but he’s going to do whatever he can to make out as humanly sane as possible.

To read the full review, head on over to Riot-Nerd and check it out. It’s a new gig that I’ll be showing up on every so often, so yeah, check it out and let them know what you think!

Sully (2016)

He’s the Captain now.

On Jan. 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 goes up in the sky and heads for its destination. However, not long after take-off, they run into a bunch of geese, not only destroying the plane, but even going so far as to take out its engines. This leaves the two pilots, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), to have to make an emergency landing in, of all places, New York’s Hudson River. Though it’s very risky and sort of a do-or-die decision made at the last second, it miraculously works out, with all of the 155 passengers and crew surviving. As expected, this makes Skiles, but most importantly, Sully, out to be true American heroes who, after experiencing something as tragic as 9/11, need someone to look towards for inspiration. However, as is the case with most problems such as this, U.S. Airways lawyers and insurance companies want answers to what exactly happened up there in the sky, leading to an investigation of Sully’s judgement, history, and most of all, his character.

"This is your captain speaking. Yeah, we're kind of screwed."

“This is your captain speaking. Yeah, we’re kind of screwed.”

Even at age 86, Clint Eastwood is still knocking them out like nobody’s business. And sure, while Sully may not be the greatest movie he’s ever made or, god forbid anything happen, the perfect note to go out on, it’s still a solid reminder of what kind of film-maker he can be when he’s got good material to work with and seems to have some sort of inspiration to work off of. That’s not to say that everyone of Eastwood’s are “bad”, but sometimes, you can when the creative-juices are flowing, and sometimes, when they’re not. With Sully, you can tell that they are flowing and it’s nice to watch, especially since, at almost an-hour-and-a-half, it does everything that a good movie needs to do: It tells a good story, gives us solid performances, and most of all, has us going home feeling a little bit better about our lives.

Now, what’s so wrong with that? After all, aren’t most movies supposed to do that?

Actually, no, but that doesn’t matter here; Eastwood is setting out to tell this story of a hero that, honestly, time seems to have forgotten about. With Sully’s story, however, Eastwood isn’t just using his movie as a platform to pay a tribute to the man and leave it at that – he wants to tell a story of a little moment in our nation’s most recent-history that we may remember perfectly, or may not, but definitely mattered. After all, it’s people like Sully who might possibly make this world a better place and even though Eastwood, as a film-maker, could have definitely gone down the road of lionizing this man from beginning to end, instead, he shows a real human being dealing with this whole idea of fame.

However, what’s interesting about Sully’s story is that his so-called “fame”, if anything, really comes from a possible tragedy, where a man like him was just doing his job, at the perfect time that he needed to. He had to make a very smart judgement call and while some, even to this day, still feel as if he could have avoided his final solution, there’s no doubting it was a hard one to make and it’s one that, certain people like Sully, find hard to cope with and understand. Eastwood shows how, even though Sully may be looked at by the rest of the world as a flat-out “hero”, he has a hard time accepting it, or even making sense of it.

The 'staches that fly together, sit out in the freezing cold together.

The ‘staches that fly together, sit out in the freezing cold together.

As stated before, he was just a pilot flying a plane and insuring that everyone on-board made it off alive.

And as the titular character, Hanks is quite great because, as usual, he shows us a real beating heart underneath all of the gray facial and head hair. While it’s easy to just see Tom Hanks, one of the world’s most recognizable actors ever, under a bunch of make-up and hair jobs and never look past it, look harder and you’ll see Hanks really disappearing into a role that shows off everything that he can do so well. He makes us feel for a person who, in all honesty, didn’t really need all that much sympathy drawn out of us to begin with, but still, it’s nice to see him give it his 110% as we all know and expect of him to do.

Of course, it was nice to Aaron Eckhart in, finally, a good movie again, doing his best to create some comedy out the dark and dramatic moments here, and while she doesn’t have a whole lot to do, Laura Linney is still good enough to offer up plenty as Sully’s wife. And really, it’s neat to see actors like Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Jamey Sheridan play a bunch of despicable, almost evil investigators who are acting solely on the behalves of U.S. Airways. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the portrayals of them as a complete and total hatchet job, Eastwood does show them all off as being people who are, yes, doing their jobs, but also not realizing just what this man Sully did for these passengers, as well as for the nation.

And in a time like post-9/11, where New York City was still clearly reeling from tragedy, trying to make sense of everything and not looking forward to stepping onto planes again, it mattered.

Consensus: With a solid leading-role from the always dependable Hanks, as well as a melodic, but smart direction from Eastwood who, even at age 86, is still capable of reminding us that movies like Sully deserve to be made, if solely to pay a tribute to those smaller heroes we don’t always think about on a day-to-day basis.

7.5 / 10

Follow him. He's Tom Hanks.

Follow him. He’s Tom Hanks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, the Wrap

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Some of the greatest loves are the from those who just take pictures of bridges.

While she is, in no way, considered bored with the life she lives with her family, Italian immigrant, Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), still feels as if there’s a little something more to her life that she’s possibly missing out on. Not sure what that is, she takes to just doing her own thing for a few days, while her family is out and about at the Illinois State Fair. But one fateful day, she meets the illustrious and incredibly confident Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), a photographer for National Geographic who was sent around the world to take pictures of the world’s oldest and most well-known covered bridges. It sounds boring to some, but to Francesca, she’s so interested that she can’t help but take a liking to the world of photographer, but also to Robert himself. And you know what? Despite her being married and whatnot, Robert takes a liking to her and brings up the possibility of an affair – a small decision that would continue to haunt them for the rest of their lives. For better, and especially, for worse.

Meryl photogenic? No! You don't say?

Meryl? Photogenic? No! You don’t say?

Sound a little Nicholas Sparks-y, eh? Well, that’s because it’s supposed to – after all, Sparks novels of forbidden and tragic love come from a special place in each and everyone’s worlds and hearts, and it’s what we call love. Actual love. You know, where two people meet, get to know one another, figure out what they do and don’t like about the other person, spend more time with them, and yes, eventually, over time, fall in love.

It’s a crazy thing, but hey, it does exist in this place that we like to call Earth, right?

Well, that’s why a movie like the Bridges of Madison County, as corny and as sappy as it may sound, is anything but. If anything, it’s a heartfelt and endearing snapshot in the lives of two people who, clearly, had a lot of life to live before and after the time that they met and got to know one another, but for some reason, clearly seem to have been so taken by this point in their lives, that it makes them who they are. It’s the kind of movie you wouldn’t expect for Eastwood to not just star in, but direct, but somehow, he makes it work, showing that with enough attention and detail to the smaller things in a story like this, everything can work out so perfectly.

After all, when you’re telling a romance tale, all you really need is a romance that’s easy to believe in and to root for. And that’s what we get with Robert and Francesca, two people who seem to be almost polar opposites upon first glance, but after a short time, begin to get to know and love one another, gradually and realistically, even if it may seem like they’re just serving a plot. But that’s why two class-acts like Eastwood and Streep are meant for these kinds of movies; the romance at the center may seem shoddy and rushed, to a fault, so it’s up to them to figure out small, but important ways on how to get it to work where we fully do trust that they are in love and against the rest of the world.

Which is to say that, yes, Eastwood and Streep are pretty great here, whether they’re together, or not.

It's okay, Meryl. Just win another Oscar.

It’s okay, Meryl. Just win another Oscar.

For Eastwood, it’s interesting to see him in a different, much more romantic and sweet light. Sure, he’s quiet and subdued as usual here, but he’s also got something of a heart that’s easy to spot at the very beginning, and not something that we have to search for. Despite what sneaky things Robert may be up to, the movie always makes it out to appear that he has the best intentions at heart and it shows – you almost always get the sense that he doesn’t just want some quick and easy nookie, but a woman to love and care for, what with him getting older and not really having any seeds planted out there in the world.

With Streep, the two create a nice bit of chemistry that continues to build and build over time, with him always egging her on to say something more about her life, and with her, constantly seeming like she’s got something on the tip of her tongue, but is too shy to actually get it out. As Francesca, Streep is, as usual, amazing, handling a really heavy Italian-accent very well, while also giving us a female lead that feels honest and raw, but never brutal. The movie never judges her for what she choices to do and because of that, it feels like we get to know more and more about her, through the life she tells us about, as opposed to who she decides to and decides not to, sleep with.

That said, as good as Streep and Eastwood are together, there’s an issue that Eastwood, the director, runs into and it’s that he has two plot-lines going on here, with one far more interesting than the other.

While the romance between Streep and Eastwood is lovely, nice, sweet and powerful, there’s also this story revolving around Francesca’s two kids, older and grown-up, having to figure out their own lives and what they want to do next. Though Annie Corley and Victor Slezak are two good actors in their own right, here, the material just doesn’t work for them; Corley seems too whiny and conceited to be sympathetic and Slezak’s line-readings are so wild and crazy, that it makes me wonder why there wasn’t at least 50 takes of every one of this guys’ scenes. Of course, this is what usually comes to happen with Eastwood’s movies – they’re never perfect and always taken down by a weak element, but still good enough to watch.

It’s just a shame that that had to happen here.

Consensus: The real heart and emotion of the Bridges of Madison County lies within Eastwood and Streep’s great chemistry and performances, while the subplot occasionally gets in the way, creating more of a fine piece of romance, as opposed to a great one.

7.5 / 10

Sordid affairs have never looked so sweet.

Sordid affairs have never looked so sweet.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

 

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

It’s better to be an outlaw, than a conformist.

Back in the day, when he was a kind, fun-loving and good-natured man of society, Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) had to witness helplessly as his wife and child were murdered by Union men all led by Capt. Terrill (Bill McKinney). It destroyed Josey so much that he automatically set-out for revenge, joining the Confederate Army and lending all of the crazy and violent services that he had to offer. But when the war ends and all of his fellow Confederates decide that it’s the best time to lay down their arms and surrender, Josey outright refuses. Reason being? He doesn’t trust a man like Terrill and with good reason, because as soon as the Confederates their arms, their gunned-down and killed by Terrill. Now, Terrill sets out to take down Josey Wales, once and for all and make sure that he doesn’t spread his hate or anger any longer, or to anyone else in particular. But this is exactly what happens when Josey, along his trip, meets all sorts of colorful and lovely characters who ends up not just calling allies, but family, even.

Chief? And Clint? Wow. Words can't explain.

Chief? And Clint? Wow. Words can’t explain.

Westerns are sure to scare a lot of people away, mostly because of the time and attention they take to actually fully enjoy them for what they are. This is the case with a good number of Westerns, whereas other ones just plain and simply stink, are way too slow for their own good, and feel like the same movie we’ve seen before, just with more horses and gun-battles. But that’s why Clint Eastwood’s Westerns are things to be admired and loved, even – they’re the kinds of plays on the genre that you automatically assume is so calculated and precise, that anything against the genre would fall flat on its face.

But even in 1976, long before his Oscar win for Unforgiven, Eastwood proved that the Western genre was not at all dead and in a way, could still make all sorts of wonders. But what’s probably most interesting about what Eastwood does here, is that it doesn’t seem like he’s doing much, especially when it comes to his directing; all he really does is tell a story, keep the camera as still as possible, and yeah, just let everything happen as it should, in front of the camera. It sounds as simple as can be and definitely is on the screen, but it works so well because the story itself is a compelling one, going into places you least expect it to and doing certain things that you don’t expect it to.

Why is that? Well, it’s because Westerns seem so ordinary and plain, that yeah, it’s hard to get a really good one, right?

Well, incorrect. Kind of. What works best about Outlaw Josey Wales is that it has something to say about the nature of violence, murder and death, but doesn’t try to hit you over the head with it. The Native American shown here are all sympathetic human beings, not the usual savages we see in flicks such as these, but instead, mostly just people who want peace and love with their fellow man and women. Josey Wales, the movie as well as the character, shows that it’s possible, especially when the two sides have a common enemy and are more than capable of laying down their arms against one another and joining hands, whether it’s to frolic in nature, or to take down the white man, once and for all.

Either way, it’s a heartwarming message that’s actually thrown into a movie that’s chock full of violence, blood, gun-shots and rape. But does it still work? It surprisingly does, as the type of Western Eastwood here paints, isn’t a terribly endearing or lovely one, but mostly, one that would exist in the real world. As is the case with every society you live in, there are some bad apples and there are some good ones, too. Unfortunately, the bad ones do outweigh the good ones, but those good ones are around to take them down and make sure that no more wrongful deaths or murder occurs.

But all this said, when you get right down to it, Josey Wales isn’t a movie that’s all about the message or trying to prove a point  – it does do what every good Western does and that’s offer plenty of gun-slinging violence and action for each and every person to enjoy.

I bet he feels lucky.

I bet he feels lucky.

And as a director, Eastwood truly does know how to make these scenes pop and sizzle with the right amount of fun, but also heinousness that makes some of these callous acts of violence seem disturbing. While he is no doubt giving the gun-loving audience a taste of what they all want and oh so desire, he is also making it done in a way where you can tell that he’s not all for the violence and is, in a way, trying to also pass some blame and judgement on it all.

Either way, as a director Eastwood is terrific here, and yes, even better as an actor. Once again, he’s not doing anything we haven’t seen him do before, but he still owns it all so well, sometimes, without even saying anything. All he has to do is spit out his tobacco, glare at people, and give a little growl, and guess what? His presence is felt throughout the whole thing. It’s honestly why Eastwood is still considered such a bad-ass and why an iconic figure like him was always welcome in anything resembling a Western.

But while this could have definitely been Clint’s show from start-to-finish (after all, he did direct the movie), what’s perhaps most admirable about him as a director is how he’s able to lend the screen to the rest of the cast and have them show off all that they can do and bring a little bit more fun and fiery energy to the proceedings. Sondra Locke plays Laura Lee, a supposed love-interest that doesn’t quite work, but is still compelling enough to watch; Paula Trueman plays the cooky and always batty Grandma Sarah, who starts off as something of a caricature, only to turn out to be an honest, living and breathing person; and as Lone Watie, Chief Dan George is perfect, nailing every bit of humor and heart that this character has to offer, while also maintaining a pitch perfect odd-couple chemistry with Eastwood. In a way, they’re like the perfect, little, crazy family.

They all love one another, but man, they sure can shoot.

Consensus: As far as Westerns go, the Outlaw Josey Wales isn’t just action-packed and fun, but heartfelt, emotional and smart, offering a perfect showcase for what Eastwood can do as both actor, as well as director.

9 / 10

And that, my friends, is how a perfect friendship gets started.

And that, my friends, is how a perfect friendship gets started.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDFB, Quotes Gram

I Am Number Four (2011)

I feel like Number 666 is pretty damn cool. Where’s that person’s movie?

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) seems like an ordinary teenager, who wants to live long, prosper, have a great time, find some hot chicks, drink, party, and just do what every other teenager in the whole entire world wishes for. However, he’s very far from ordinary – in fact, he’s an alien on the run from merciless enemies hunting him and the eight others like him. So in order to make sure that he doesn’t get found out by this group of baddies, he and his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), have to constantly go from town-to-town, changing their identities and staying as hidden and as unseen as they possibly can. That’s easy for Henri to do, but for John, he just wants to be out there in the world, living life like a typical teenager, which leads him to start going to the local high school, where he meets an falls for the cutest girl at the school (Dianna Agron), but at the same time, also captures the attention of the school-bully (Jake Abel), who isn’t afraid to start some stuff with John whenever he oh so feels the need or desire.

Basically, it’s high school, but you know, with aliens.

"Trust me, I'm hot."

“Trust in me, I’m hot.”

Just like Disturbia was D.J. Caruso’s junior-Hitchcock, I Am Number Four is definitely his junior-Spielberg. Everything in it just breathes, hell, screams Spielberg; the high school-setting, the angsty, misunderstood teenagers, the aliens, the government conspiracies, the monsters, etc. It’s as if Caruso felt the need to start trying out whatever famous director’s style he could go for next, regardless of whether or not he actually had the talent to do so, so in a way, it’s an admirable effort on his part.

Issue is, I Am Number Four also feels a whole heck of a lot like every other YA adaptation that tried so desperately hard to recapture the same magic and success as Twilight did and because of that, it definitely feels like a step-down for someone who is a pretty competent director. After all, Caruso gets a lot right here that other Spielberg-wannabes have tried to aim for; the high school and its characters are compelling, if also somewhat realistic, and for awhile, the mystery of these aliens, their powers, and all that stuff, is interesting enough to stick around for. But then, the movie also dives really, really deep into the mythology which, honestly, doesn’t matter, or work.

I Am Number Four is the kind of movie that probably works best, when nobody takes it serious – the director, writers, cast, everyone. It’s so goofy and weird that often times, it would have probably been best if the movie made itself out to be something of a parody of these YA adaptations, and then decided to turn the other cheek and become its own genre-flick, like say Shaun of the Dead, or even Airplane. But of course, that isn’t the case here – instead, we get a relatively self-serious movie that doesn’t always know how to tone down the sci-fi mythology that nobody can understand or care for, nor does it know when the best time for some fun character-stuff needs to happen.

Then again, maybe that’s just a problem with me – expecting human stuff out of a YA adaptation.

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

But still, Caruso does offer up enough to make the movie, at the very least, an entertaining piece of mainstream trash that doesn’t need to be thought about long, especially considering that all it really wants to do is set-up more and more sequels to come. And considering that this is the film-business, is that such a problem? It isn’t if you have something to really work with; Twilight got five movies, whereas I Am Number Four only got one and honestly, there’s something wrong with that. A part of me feels like if I Am Number Four got the opportunity to expand on its universe, hire some better writers and whatnot, that it would have grown on to be something better than just another YA-knockoff that people forget about after a week or two.

It probably wouldn’t have been the next Hunger Games in any way, shape or form, but it would have at least been somewhat of an enjoyable diversion, right? Cause with the cast, the movie could have definitely done more to add some sizzle and spice to the whole YA-genre. Alex Pettyfer, despite always having to work with an odd American-accent, is perfectly fine and hunky as Four, or the apt-named, John Smith; Dianna Agron’s pretty-girl-who-takes-pictures-so-yeah-she’s-interesting character is boring, but she does enough of something with it; and yeah, Timothy Olyphant is a blast to watch, making the best of what he can, even going so far as to infuse any bit of humor that he can find in the creases. Everyone here is fine, but sadly, they never got the next opportunity to see what they could do next with this story, this franchise, or even this world.

Oh well. At least we got another Divergent movie coming out sometime soon.

So that’s good, right?

Consensus: Too serious to be campy, and too weird to be hilarious, I Am Number Four is an okay diversion from the rest of the YA-fare, but unfortunately, also doesn’t have much of its own identity to help itself out and break away from the rest of the pack.

5 / 10

Wow. Alex must not really want Isabel in his life. Deuche.

Wow. Alex must not really want Isabel in his life. Deuche.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Klown (2012)

The best role models are always the most random.

Frank (Frank Hvam) is trying so desperately to prove to his girlfriend that he’s father-material, even if everything that it seems like he’s doing is proving otherwise. He surprises her with sex in the middle of the night, and he’s seen as a perv; he gets nice and pretty things, and he seems like a sugar daddy; he shows his soft side, and he’s seen as a softy. But this time around, Frank wants to prove that he’s got the goods to make a solid father and in order to prove this, he decides to kidnap his girlfriend’s 12-year-old nephew, Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen), on a little trip of sorts. Normally, this would be all fine, dandy and relatively sweet, but where Frank’s taking Bo is on a trip that he and his friend Casper (Casper Christensen) call “Tour de Pussy”. Though Casper is initially against Bo coming on the trip, as well as he should be, he eventually gives into the fact and embraces it – doing everything that he normally would, with Frank occasionally joining in on the festivities.

Learning how to swim, but in the Danish way.

Learning how to swim, but in the Danish way.

A movie like Klown makes me wonder why more comedies in America aren’t nearly as good. It’s the kind of comedy that gets everything right, that not only every comedy should get right, but every movie in general; it’s got hilarity, a little bit of heart, some neat little twists and turns, and most of all, likable and well-written characters that you actually do want to watch more of. And heck, it even clocks in just under an-hour-and-a-half, making it the rare short movie that, quite honestly, I could have watched for another hour or two.

Can’t remember the last time I said that about a movie, let alone, a comedy.

But that’s the magic of Klown – it’s the one rare exception to most R-rated, raunchy comedies out there that seem as if they’re just trying so desperately hard to make its audience laugh, that they fall over themselves, laying in a puddle of their own filth. Some people love that, which is fine, but for me, I prefer the raunch to come from a smart, special place, where it all feels earned and is as disgusting as you can usually get. Call me a sick individual, or whatever you want, but trust me, when raunch works in a movie, it can work like gangbusters and that’s one of the real beauties of Klown – it’s raunchy-as-all-hell, but man, does it ever work.

If anything, Klown could definitely be described as a crazy mixture of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with a real Adult Swim tone and feel; the situations that these characters get themselves into are, yes, a little predictable and expected, but they’re so subversive, so wrong, and so damn evil, that they’re incredibly hard not to enjoy or laugh at. Case in point, there’s quite a few times here where you know the punch-line is going to be coming very, very soon, but because it’s been so jacked-up over time, and there’s a real great bit of energy to the whole film, that you just laugh your pants off when the time comes.

Yeah, doesn't get anymore embarrassing.

Yeah, doesn’t get anymore embarrassing.

In fact, Klown is so chock full of laughs that it’s really difficult to pin-point the funniest moments.

And that, my friends, is when you know you have a great comedy on your hands – it doesn’t try too hard to make you laugh and because of that, it works oh so perfectly. But really, I’ve got to give all of the success of Klown, to both Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, who not only star in the movie as crazy versions of themselves, but even wrote the damn thing, too. To say that these two are some sick, twisted and messed-up individuals, would be predictable and not quite right; they’re screwed-up, but they’re also incredibly talented in knowing how to write a quick, entertaining movie, but also never forgetting about their trademarks. While I’ve never seen the show that this movie is based on, if anything, it makes me want to check it out, just to know what these two guys have to offer to the world of comedy and also, whether or not they’re funnier to watch than most American products out there.

Call me unAmerican, call me what you will, but if something’s funny, I’m going to watch it and enjoy the hell out of it. Regardless of where it comes from.

Consensus: Downright vile and almost inhumane, Klown is the sort of comedy from the wrong side of the tracks that so rarely gets made, yet, also doesn’t ever seem to work well, with nearly as much heart, humor and subversiveness as it has.

9 / 10

One, big, happy Danish family.

One, big, happy Danish family.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aidy Reviews

The Sea of Trees (2016)

Life is better than the woods. Trust me.

After a great tragedy leaves him numb to the rest of the world around him, Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) decides that he’s just about had it with life. So, in one last act of giving himself what he wants, he decides to travel all the way to Tokyo, or more importantly, the Aokigahara forest. Why? Well, the forest is actually nicknamed “the Suicide Forest” for, you guessed it, all of the suicides and deaths that occur here. But when Arthur gets there, he encounters a Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe), who wants to kill himself as well, but for some reason, isn’t as definite about it. Then again, neither is Arthur. So the two decide to try and get out of the forest, but for some reason, they can’t seem to find a way out and continue to get injured on the adventure out. Meanwhile, Arthur constantly thinks about the life he had back in America with his wife (Naomi Watts), that may or may not have lead him to Japan and, subsequently, made him want to take his own life.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. "Page", meaning script.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. “Page”, meaning script.

The big question on most people’s minds about the Sea of Trees is one thing, “Is it as terrible as people have been making it out to be?” Well, the answer is, “kind of, but not really”. For one, it’s a bad movie that seems awfully misguided – rather than being a deep, interesting and heartfelt meditation on life, death and one’s existence, it’s just one dramatic moment, after another of people appearing sad and that’s about it. There’s supposed to be more heart and emotion in the proceedings, but for some reason, there just isn’t. Everything’s as dry as paint that’s been on a wall for a week and it’s an even bigger shame because the cast and crew, on a good day, can absolutely work wonders.

However, this wasn’t a good day for a single one of them and it’s very apparent while watching it.

And it’s weird because when Gus Van Sant misses, he usually misses his target in a crazy, almost insane way; sometimes, he can often get too experimental and wacky and just lose sight of what he was going for in the first place (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). However, the Sea of Trees is a miss from Van Sant that’s a lot more like Last Days, or Paranoid Park, where it seems like he’s actually so bored with the material, that he doesn’t really care about doing anything interesting, experimental, or even the least bit exciting. He’s just sort of there with the material, filming whatever he thinks needs to be filmed and, essentially, living up to the legend that Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back made fun of all those years ago.

This is odd, too, because Van Sant is actually a very inspired director, but here, he just loses that sense of inspiration; the story is supposed to be filled with so many emotionally-strong moments where people break-down, cry, and air out their feelings for compelling moments, but none of it ever registers. It’s actually kind of weird, really – it’s the one and only bad movie that, for lack of a better term, is just boring. The people in it and acting seem like they’re trying, but to what effect? When there isn’t a script or a direction to really work with, what’s the point?

Well, there isn’t one really, but at least they all seem to try.

Matthew McConaughey seems like a very smart choice for this lead and works quite well, as usual, but his character is so blandly-structured, that he just doesn’t feel like anything, or anyone. He’s just a sad dude that we’ve seen before in other movies and that’s about. His scenes with Naomi Watts, who is playing McConaughey’s wife, are awful; most of the time, they’re fighting about stuff we have no clue about, and when they’re not doing that, they’re trying so hard to create any sort of romance and chemistry that’s just nowhere to be found. Once again, on a good day, McConaughey and Watts can create all sorts of sparks and work wonders for good material, but the good material just isn’t here for them and instead of their scenes being insightful, they’re just annoying.

"Not alright, alright, alright."

“Not alright, alright, alright.”

But it’s an even bigger shame to see Ken Watanabe here, because he too is trying, but also has such a dull character to work with, you wonder if he’s even trying after awhile. Of course, he most likely was, but the scenes he has with McConaughey lack any sort of energy that can be found in the actor’s back-catalog. And yes, even random appearances from Katie Aselton and Jordan Gavaris can’t do anything to save the Sea of Trees, or its actors.

Everyone’s just having a bad day and it’s hard to change that when it’s so obvious.

Which brings me back to my original conclusion: Is the Sea of Trees awful? Not really, but yeah, it’s still bad. It looks great, has the occasional moment of good-acting, and yes, does bring one or two surprises to its story. But the rest of the two hours is just plain and simply put, boring. It’s hard to really care for a movie that does some small things right, when everything else that it seems to be aiming for, they miss and just don’t know how to do right. There’s no one to blame, it’s just a thing that, unfortunately, can happen every once and awhile.

Consensus: Despite a promising cast and director, the Sea of Trees is a bland, uneventful and honestly, boring piece of drama that never gets off the ground and felt more like a chore to make, as opposed to a joy or a pet-project, which it should have felt like.

3 / 10

"Look, over there is a good movie. Hopefully. Let's go find it."

“Look! Over there! A good movie! Let’s go find it”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Morgan (2016)

Humans are evil enough. Let’s just leave it at that.

A corporate troubleshoot named Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent in to check out a new scientific experiment named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). Though Morgan may look, act and talk like a real human girl, the reality is that she’s just a scientific specimen that was created to create some sort of super-being, in hopes of greater specimens to be made in the future. However, almost seemingly out of nowhere, Morgan stabs a fellow doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye, leaving everyone involved with the raising of Morgan to wonder just what the hell happened, where did it all go wrong, and how can it be fixed. That’s why Weathers is here, to not only check out what went wrong, but also, how far gone just Morgan is, to the point of where it’s time to destroy her and move on to the next science experiment that may make the world a better place. But being able to think for herself know more than ever and growing more special powers, Morgan isn’t so happy about this and starts to act out in more dangerous, overly violent ways, leaving her creators to reconsider their creation.

Morgan feels like the kind of movie that was written in the 80’s, left sitting on a shelf somewhere, collecting up all sorts of dust and spiders, until someone decided that they had officially run out of ideas from the 70’s and had to get on with the next decade, so of course, it was the next option. Of course, I don’t mean this as a particularly bad thing – Morgan is the kind of movie that has a retro-feel and vibe, yet, never gets to become “corny”, or nostalgic”. It’s still modern enough to take place in the year 2016, yet at the same time, also feels like the kind of corny sci-fi film that’s been made since the dawn of time.

Staring.

Staring.

Which is to say that it’s entertaining, yes, but that’s about it.

And normally, I’d be perfectly fine with this. While a lot of people have been comparing this to Ex Machina, they’ve been forgetting that this movie doesn’t entirely float on that movie’s same radar; Machina is obviously way better, but it’s also far more serious, dark, disturbing and further more, in-touch with certain issues about technology taking over the rest of society. Morgan seems like the kind of movie that may have had something interesting to say about this, but really, is a whole lot more concerned with killing people and watching as one character, after another, bites the dust in awesomely gory and intense ways.

Once again, is there anything wrong with that? Probably not. That’s why, for a good portion of Morgan or so, it’s at least an interesting watch, because of the sense of terror, doom and tension in the air that’s there for a reason, but never gets going right away. We know that Morgan is bad and will eventually snap, but watching these characters, getting to know them, their location and most importantly, settling into these quarters, is still compelling to watch, if only because it takes its time to do small things that most blockbusters of this nature wouldn’t dare bother with. Of course, this isn’t saying that Morgan is a smart, or even well-written movie, but for a short while, it’s the kind of sci-fi movie that takes it time, doesn’t rush itself, and pays attention to certain things that probably matter in a movie like this and in order for it to work.

Then again, about halfway through, the movie does get crazy and, eventually, become something of an uninteresting bore.

Still staring.

Still staring.

Director Luke Scott seems like he had the perfect idea for setting this character and this plot up, but when push came to shove and it was eventually the time to start moving, he kind of lost his head. He gets way too bogged down in killing characters and doing so in gruesome ways, rather than actually trying to keep the momentum and intensity building up and up, until it eventually becomes almost too much for even the audience to handle. Most of this definitely comes from the fact that he doesn’t really develop any of the characters, but it also has to do with it seeming like a rushed job on the final-half, where things continuously happen, but there’s no real fun, joy, excitement, or connection to any of it.

Granted, this may be a case of me expecting more from a product than there probably needs to be, but hey, so be it. Morgan has a great cast and it seems like everyone came ready to play, but their material is so thin and so weak that after awhile, it’s not hard to want to see everyone die. Mara is probably the most interesting character of the bunch, but after a short while, her character becomes so hilariously unenthused, that it can almost seem like a parody. Same goes for the fellow scientists who sit there, love and support Morgan, and who also can’t seem to pull the trigger on it when the time comes around. These are the kinds of scientists that it’s hard to believe in actually existing – the ones who love their experiments more than life itself and are more than willing to sacrifice the goodwill of the rest of society for it – but without them, who knows how many sci-fi movies we’d have around?

Especially ones like Morgan?

Consensus: Initially tense and interesting, the well-cast Morgan soon turns into a conventional sci-fi thriller that just gets rid of characters as a chore and doesn’t quite know how to end next.

5.5 / 10

Well, not anymore. Maybe. Can't quite see past the emo-cut.

Well, not anymore. Maybe. Can’t quite see past the Pete Wentz emo-cut.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

Even when you think you’re alone, you never really are.

After experiencing all sorts of horrors and tragedies in WWI, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is looking for a little time away from the rest of the world, so that he can relax by himself and soak up what life has given him. So, he’s given the job of a lighthouse keeper which, for awhile, is a job he quite enjoys. Though he’s seemingly all by himself for some thousand miles, he doesn’t mind it and embraces it every chance he gets, regardless of what storms may come his way. But one day, while back in town for a little vacation, he meets the lovely and blissful Isabel (Alicia Vikander), who instantly wants to marry him. And yes, they do, but there’s a bit of a problem: Isabel seems incapable of giving birth. While it seems like their marriage may be in trouble, somehow, a boat carrying a man and a baby comes docking near the lighthouse. While the man is dead, the baby isn’t, and now, Tom and Isabel finally see their opportunity to have that one family that they’ve always wanted. Meanwhile, while they are with this child, the baby’s real mother (Rachel Weisz) sits at home, in heartbreak, not knowing where her child is, or if she’s even alive.

With a movie like the Light Between Oceans, you really have to be prepared for a lot. A lot of emotions, a lot of happiness, a lot of sadness, a lot of beauty, a lot of good acting, a lot of dread, and well, a lot of a lot, really. That seems to be the case for mostly all of Derek Cianfrance’s films – both Blue Valentine and the Place Beyond the Pines take place in all-too real where everyone’s sad, everything bad happens, and there’s only small bubbly moments of happiness. And then, yeah, it’s gone and everyone’s back in the dumps as if the sun never shone down on them.

So majestic and beautiful. Oh yeah and the ocean, too.

So majestic and beautiful. Oh yeah, and that ocean, too.

That said, there’s something compelling about watching this kind of sadness that makes Cianfrance’s flicks watchable, or at the very least, interesting.

In no way are they ever considered “entertaining”, or better yet, “fun”, but they’re definitely worth watching, because there’s a great deal of attention and craftsmanship that comes with his direction and his style. While Blue Valentine will probably remain his best no matter how hard he tries, Pines and this one, both seem to working in the same territory, but on different planes. Technically, they’re both epics and they’re both pretty long (despite this one probably being 20 minutes shorter than Pines), but they also approach love, destiny and happiness in a different manner; the former was much more about how family precedes everything and here, it’s about how family makes you who you are, whether it’s blood or not.

Then again, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m totally stretching and trying my hardest to seem “deep”, but regardless, it’s worth saying that the Light Between Oceans is quite an interesting watch, where love seems to bliss and all sorts of different ways the plot can tell itself and unfold seem to pop-up, but then, it becomes to be a bit much. For one, the plot definitely unravels into some pretty dark, almost disturbing places, that only result in more and more misery for everyone involved. Which is normally fine for a short, hour-and-a-half indie, but here, we have a movie clocking in at two-hours-and-12-minutes, meaning we deal with a lot of sadness, for a really long time.

Mommy's not lookin' so great.

Mommy’s not lookin’ so normal.

Sure, we get the beautiful and lovely specimens like Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz to watch as they navigate throughout this weepy, overly dramatic material, but there comes a point where it becomes too much. Cianfrance definitely loves to live in these sad tones and moods that feel as if he’s never got around to trusting anyone in his life, let alone, the world, but it also feels like he does it just for the sake of doing it. Granted, the material he’s working with isn’t his (it’s adapted from M.L. Steadman), but it still feels like it’s tailor-made for him, if only due to the fact that it never quite brings any insight into its depression and sadness.

In a way, it’s just sort of saying that all of this heartbreak and utter remorse is inevitable.

And if that is the case, then what’s the point? With Blue Valentine, it seemed like Cianfrance was trying to depict a failing romance, less as a way of showing how the world and love works, but just how two different people work when they fall in love and experience romance together. Here, Cianfrance seems to just revel in the fact that these two lovebirds’ lives may possibly be tarnished and ruined forever, for the sole sake of keeping a story going and going.

While it may sound like I’m totally raining down on the movie’s parade, I really am not. It’s hard to look away from a movie like the Light Between Oceans, where almost every single sweeping shot of a landscape is as beautiful as the next and starts to feel like a postcard after awhile, but it’s also hard to really get invested when there’s so much doom and gloom, without any light or joy at the end of the tunnel. We get some of it with Vikander and Fassbender’s all-too-real chemistry together, but that’s about it and it’s probably not entirely the movie’s fault for them working so well together.

So what else does that leave?

Consensus: Despite its gorgeously beautiful cinematography and strong performances, the Light Between Oceans never quite connects on an emotional level and after awhile, just feels like one sad event happening, over and over again.

6.5 / 10 

Someone call Child Services already! They're clearly too happy to be a real family!

Someone call Child Services already! They’re clearly too happy to be a real family!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gerry (2002)

Yeah, just bring a map next time.

Gerry (Casey Affleck) and Gerry (Matt Damon) for one reason or another, decide to head out into Death Valley. Though they feel as if they know the area pretty well and don’t need a map, they start to regret that decision just as soon as they start to forget where they parked their car was, or where the nearest bit of civilization was. While Gerry and Gerry aren’t too scared automatically, slowly but surely, without all that much food, water, or shade, they start to lose their minds a bit and come closer and closer to death itself.

Gerry is another one of Gus Van Sant’s more experimental films where instead of staying straight and narrow with a normal, easygoing convention like, I don’t say, a plot, he sort of just sets the camera down and lets people do things. Sometimes, they do exciting things, or other times, they just sit around, talk, act miserable, and yeah, do nothing. Gerry is the rare exception because there is a simple plot, and there is characters here actually doing something, but does that really make a conventional film? Not really and that’s where Van Sant’s direction comes in and balks at tradition.

Wait, which one's Gerry?

Wait, which one’s Gerry?

But does standing up to the man, flipping the bird, and doing your own thing really make a good film?

Not really, but it does make for a very interesting one and that’s why Gerry, despite having seen it maybe a month or so ago, has still stuck with me. It’s such a straightforward movie in the way that it moves, tells it story, and gives us an idea of who these characters, that it almost doesn’t seem like it’s trying – but look hard enough and guess what? Van Sant and company are trying really hard to bring people down on their level where they’re not just watching two guys wander the desert, looking for any sort of shelter they can find, but stay sane while doing so. The movie does play some tricks here and there with random mirages that don’t always work, but whenever it’s just Van Sant keeping his camera steady and focused on these two guys, as they walk and come closer and closer to dying of stravation, it’s so compelling.

Perhaps it’s more compelling than it should be, considering that nothing ever really happens in Gerry. Then again, that’s sort of the point; these two are literally looking for any signs of life that can save them and that’s about it. Whether or not they run into a bunch of evil, Russian villains on-the-run from the law and bringing all sorts of guns, violence and action with them, doesn’t matter – the movie really is, after all, about Gerry and Gerry. They’re lost in the desert and searching desperately for any bit of life.

Dirt nap. Literally.

Taking a dirt nap. Literally.

What’s more compelling than that?

Probably a lot, but really, the way Van Sant follows them both, slowly but surely, in wide-shots, close-ups, and of course, single-shots that literally last up to 15-minutes on some occasions, it draws you in so much that it’s hard to care about those other silly things like action, or violence, or yeah, twists and turns. After all, a movie like this doesn’t ask for the mainstream audience – it’s for the much more dedicated, arthouse fare who don’t need all of those extraneous add-ons that can sometimes drown films in their own overabundance. Van Sant’s previous flicks have known a thing or two about that and it’s worth saying that the more Van Sant doesn’t get in the way of the actual movie itself, the better.

The times where it does seem like he’s trying to be more stylistically demanding, it gets in the way of Gerry‘s impact. But really, it all comes down to Matt Damon and Casey Affleck as the two Gerry’s who, despite us not ever getting to know anything about them, except for the fact that they enjoy playing online role-playing video-games, they’re still sympathetic and interesting to watch. A lot of the script was improvised and you can definitely tell – one scene in particular that’s probably the longest shot of the whole flick features Affleck’s Gerry on a rock, trying to get down off of it, but doesn’t know how to do so, without breaking a bone in his body. It sounds silly, but the way the two interact with one another in a very tense situation, is not only entertaining, but downright telling. It tells us that these two probably are great friends and have a great camaraderie, even if they are probably going to rip each other’s heads off by the time the movie’s over.

But like I said, the movie isn’t totally about the performances – it’s more about Van Sant and the movie is probably better for it.

For lack of a better word, yes, Gerry is a sad, almost emotionally draining piece. Though it’s probably an-hour-and-a-half, it feels at least ten times longer than that, which is a good thing – it’s the kind of movie that asks for all of your interest and attention and if you give it, you will most definitely be thanked and pleased by the end. Sure, it’s still a depressing movie, but sometimes, depression can be a very compelling thing to watch, so long as it comes from a strong place.

Consensus: As sad as it’s involving, Gerry may not seem like it does much, but give it plenty of time and attention and trust me, it will work on your head for a long time afterwards.

8 / 10

Keep going boys. I think I saw a haystack some ways back.

Keep going boys. I think I saw a haystack some ways back.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Elephant (2003)

On that fateful day, did anyone go to freakin’ class?

Taking place in Watt High School, in the wee-hours of the day, high-schoolers such as John, Elias, Jordan, Michelle and many more, all go throughout their day like they usually would. Hanging out, relaxing, and maybe shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school. However, today is not like every other day. See, today is the day that two kids (Eric Deulen and Alex Frost) wake up, decide to skip school, bring a whole army of weapons instead, and just shoot it up.

Remind you of any similar situations?

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

Could Elephant be about Columbine? Most definitely. But nearly thirteen years after its release, could it also be just about every other school-shooting tragedy in America? Without a doubt and honestly, that’s the scariest reality of Elephant – Gus Van Sant set-out to capture the same kind of overwhelming dread and sadness that existed with that tragedy and in a way, it’s also what predicated so many of these other tragedies.

Not much has changed in this world and whether or not he was hitting at that, Van Sant’s Elephant will, unfortunately, forever be a relevant piece.

Most people (like myself) usually complain about Van Sant’s deliberate pace where it feels like he’s just slowing things down, because he doesn’t have anything else better to do. But for Elephant, it works because it’s deserved. Instead of making this a flick where we see everybody and everyone in this high school, we only get a couple of glimpses into the lives of some of these people where they aren’t really doing much at all, except we feel as if we know who they are, what they represent, and everything they are ever going to be (foreshadowing maybe?). Most of this flick is downright dedicated to Van Sant following these characters as they walk through the halls, talk to other people, not go to class, and do what they usually do on a regular, typical day of school, but the fact that you know something is up, always stays clear in your mind.

The atmosphere that Van Sant creates here is unbelievable. At one side, you have the character-based aspect where we get to know these characters for a bit, start to feel a little something for them because they’re at that part in their lives where older people begin to feel nostalgic for their youth and get jealous, and with that we get to understand just where they stand in the cliques and groups of high school. That’s effective here, because Van Sant is able to make us feel something for these people, solely based on the fact that we know what happens to them, and also, that they feel like real  human-beings that are just wandering around their school like most of us have done and still do. It’s a slow pace, but it works, because we feel like flies-on-the-wall for this one, very unfortunate and sad day.

But then, on the other side, you have this one aspect in the back of your head where you know the shootings are going to happen, you know the kids are going to come into the school, and you know people are going to start dying, but the movie does so much twisting and turning with these characters and all of their different view-points, that you never know when and you never know how. In a way, you could almost declare this as a “thriller” where Van Sant really lays on us the fact that we know something is going to happen, but the “when” really eats at us inside. And since you wait for these shootings to actually happen, the tension just continues to build-up inside of you as you feel like every second you spend with these characters, is a second that could be their last alive.

It’s downright unsettling, but that’s sort of the point.

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

To say that the shootings in this movie are “disturbing”, is an understatement. I have seen plenty of disturbing movies in my past, and most have all freaked me out to the high heavens, but the shootings in this movie did it for me in a way that they just didn’t. That’s mostly because these deaths captured here, on-film, seem almost too real to be faked, or actually put into a film; Van Sant doesn’t glorify them, in a slam-bang action kind of way. There’s not even all that much blood, but when there is, it isn’t made out to be like a horror flick, with guts and gore spread-out all over the walls. They are shown as if somebody was actually getting shot where they fall back, lie on the ground, and practically bleed to death.

By doing this, not only does Van Sant have us feel like everything we are watching is real, but also puts us right on the ground with these fellow kids as they continue to scramble for their lives, because they never know when they might lose it next. By far, the climactic-shootings in this flick are some of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen in my life and it’s done with no flair, no glitz, no glamour, and sure as hell no special-effects. It’s done in the most realistic-way possible and I have to give Van Sant the highest kudos for going with that direction, and never making it seem like a thriller, even though in my head, it definitely was.

Speaking of the shootings themselves, they provide no easy answers to what happened and that’s alright.

Just like the case of Columbine, a lot of pundits, parents, organizations, etc. all pointed the fingers towards the typical things like rap, TV, and Marilyn Manson. Does this actually mean that this is what drove the guys to go to school with Uzi’s and shoot the whole school up? Probably not, but that’s why Elephant is smart – it never points a finger, nor does it bring any closure. It just shows us that there were two kids who decided that, one day, for one reason or another, they had enough and just wanted to raise some hell and havoc at their school.

Why? We may never fully know, but that’s sort of how the world works: There are no easy answers. It’s a sad reality, but yet, it is the world we live in, where people can be shot and killed, for no real reasons given.

Consensus: Stoic, effective, compelling, and disturbing, Elephant is Gus Van Sant at his most tender, showing the horror of this one great tragedy and never shying away from the darker, gritty details of it.

9.5 / 10

And he's staring. Yup. Typical high school.

And he’s staring. Yup. Typical high school.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins

Finding Forrester (2000)

Forrester. William Forrester.

After novelist William Forrester (Sean Connery) discovers that a young athlete named Jamal (Rob Brown) is also an excellent writer, he secretly takes him on as his protégé. There, they develop something of an unlikely friendship. As they learn more about each other, they learn more about themselves, and ultimately, with the help of his new mentor, the basketball star must choose the right path between following his writing dreams or his hoop dreams.

Despite this being a Gus Van Sant flick, Finding Forrester‘s overall story itself is pretty damn conventional. Just in the same way that Good Will Hunting was, essentially, a simple inspirational tale of one small-time genius coming to know more about himself, the world around him, and how to use his smarts to his advantage, Finding Forrester is about the same thing, except this time, with a bit of a different focus than before. Rather than seeing the perspective from low-class, foul-mouthed boy from Boston, this time around, we have a 16-year-old black kid, living in New York. It may not seem all that different, but in a way, there’s short and tiny spins on the age-old story that makes Finding Forrester still work.

"Listen up, kid. Don't be like Mozart."

“Listen up, kid. Don’t be like Mozart.”

Then again, it’s not nearly as great as Good Will Hunting.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect that Finding Forrester offers to this story is that, for someone like Jamal, who looks like what Jamal looks like, and because of the kinds of perks that come with him, he’s never allowed to grow to his fullest potential. In today’s day and age, the issue with race is quite frequent, with many kids just like Jamal never getting their chance to shine and show the world what they can do, even they truly are the masterminds that they’re made out to be. Van Sant sees this small world of the private school system, kind of as this cold, dark and sadistic place where the usual people flourish, mostly because they have all of the money and connections to do so, but the outsiders, don’t. Instead, they are treated as outliers who need to get with the program, or else they’ll be thrown out immediately.

It’s quite sad to see this played out on screen, but it’s something I myself saw while going to a private school in my first year of college and unfortunately, it happens more often than you think.

Then again, Finding Forrester isn’t all that dark or dramatic, even though I make it seem that way; if anything, it’s just a darker, much slower drama than Good Will Hunting. And because of that, the movie definitely runs into problems with pacing, where it seems like it picks itself up to get going, then stops, then starts again, then stops, and then, for some reason or another, Van Sant himself gets distracted by whatever is working his mind and loses whatever build-up he was working with. In all honesty, this is a frequent problem with Van Sant and his movies, which is why it’s a huge issue with Finding Forrester and it’s two-hour-and-16-minute run-time – it comes close to feeling like every minute of it, mostly because Van Sant doesn’t always know when to cut a scene, or at least do any bit of a trimming.

But really, the movie, as well as the sluggish pace, is basically saved by the two leads and what they bring to this sometimes wonderful material. Sean Connery, as usual, is great as William Forrester and does everything he can to make this character more than just another one of those “out-of-touch, old dudes” who we tend to see in movies such as these. However, this is Sean Connery we’re talking about here and the guy doesn’t let you forget about his charm that never seems to go away no matter how many years pass, his comedic-timing that has never left him, no matter how serious he tries to be, and his handsome looks that still, even at age 82, makes him look as good as ever.

Spin a ball, you can spin a book. Or at least that's how I think it goes.

Spin a ball, you can spin a book. Or at least that’s how I think it goes.

May sound weird, but hey, so be it. Sean Connery’s a great talent and needs to come back for at least one more movie, so that we can all wipe the stink of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman away.

But as good as Connery is, Rob Brown doesn’t lose any ground here, either, and it’s one of the better debuts ever seen on film. As I’ve made a mention about Jamal before, he’s a good character because he is a smart, but yet, troubled that obviously knows the difference between right and wrong, but also is still a kid growing up in a place of society that doesn’t always accept him for what he is. Because of that, Brown has to do a lot of heavy-lifting that he works quite well with, showing a great deal of angst, as well as growth in a character that desperately needed it to seem believable. Brown’s had a good career since this, but honestly, he deserves so much work.

And together, Brown and Connery work well off of one another, showing a great deal of chemistry and fun between two people you wouldn’t expect to see that from. That said, the rest of the cast and characters are pretty awful and it’s a shame because Forrester and Jamal are truly compelling. People like F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Michael Pitt, and even Busta Rhymes, all show up here and do what they can with the material given to them, but a lot of their characters are so one-note and boring, that it’s hard to ever take them seriously, or care about whether they exist in this story or not. Abraham’s character is probably the most distasteful and while he’s a smart enough actor not to have a role like this jump into caricature, there’s still a sense that no matter what, this character will always be the villain in the movie. Same goes for Michael Pitt’s character and while she’s not necessarily considered a “villain”, Anna Paquin’s love-interest is just boring. The only one who seems to be trying anything different and at least somewhat succeeding is Busta Rhymes, but after awhile, he’s just left to give Jamal inspirational speeches that could have definitely been left to Connery.

Then again, a battle between Connery and Busta would probably make a better movie, as much as it pains me to say.

Consensus: Finding Forrester definitely suffers from being a lot like Good Will Hunting, in terms of subject matter and themes, but also benefits from a solid one-two punch of Sean Connery and Rob Brown, and their characters, even if the direction isn’t always there to pick them up.

7 / 10

"Yes, dog?"

“Yes, dog?”

Photos Courtesy of: Doeppi’s Blog

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

CVS, you better look out the next time I come through that front-door.

Bob (Matt Dillon), his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch), Rich (James Le Gros) and Nadine (Heather Graham) are all a bunch of junkies who survive by robbing pharmacies in Portland, Oregon, in 1971. The natural leader of the gang, Bob, decides that it’s time to leave town after many, many scraps with the law and because of that, it brings about more and more problems with him, as well as with the rest of the group.

Writer/director Gus Van Sant has never really been a favorite of mine. Sometimes the guy does it for me (Good Will Hunting), sometimes he doesn’t (Paranoid Park), and other times, the performances are just so good that I don’t give a crap about his direction (My Own Private Idaho). This is one of those films that I’m sort of in the middle with – it’s not all that crazy or experimental, nor is it all that accessible, either. It’s somewhere between the two beasts we’ve come to know and expect from Van Sant and it’s why Drugstore Cowboy, as zany as it may get, is, at the very least, an interesting watch.

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Not perfect, but hey, that’s fine, right? Life isn’t, so why should a movie be?

What’s perhaps so interesting about what Van Sant seems to be doing here is that he cobbles up together a mixture of all these different sub-genres and moods. There’s a heist movie, a crime movie, a romance, a anti-drug message, and also, a very dark drama that seems to have some dark comedic moments in there as well. Sounds like it could have been a total and absolute mess, which it sort of is, but it works; the movie is about a bunch of drug addicts who don’t ever seem to have their lives together, so why should a movie about their trials and tribulations be any different?

Van Sant does a smart job by getting in these character’s heads and mind-sets, while also never judging them for the decisions and actions that they choose to make throughout the whole movie, as questionable as they may be at points. But really, what Van Sant does show about these characters is just how sad and miserable their existences actually are, despite all of the fun and wild times that they may be having when they’re high off their rockers. Van Sant definitely enjoys sitting around and watching as these characters try to live their lives in normal ways, but he also can’t get past the fact that they’re realities are pretty screwed-up.

But at the same time, Van Sant doesn’t get too down in the dumps, as he actually shows that there’s maybe a little more to these characters and their lives, as well as their drug habits.

In a way, yes, Drugstore Cowboy is definitely an anti-drug flick in that it shows no matter how deep down in drug addiction you may be able to get, you can still get out of it, but don’t think that for one second, it won’t come back and bite you in your ass eventually. All of these characters either need their fix, or they just need to get away from the fuzz, but either way, they’re going through some very, fast-changing lives that get shaken up at just about every second and this film shows you that the lifestyle may be able to change. It’s not an easy change, though, and that’s where the harsh truth of drug-addiction and the message of Drugstore Cowboy comes into play.

It’s not happy, but it’s as real as you can possibly get.

Naked, but not alone. Hey, what's so wrong with that.

Naked, but not alone. Hey, what’s so wrong with that?

These harsh truths also go all the way back to the characters because, for the most part, they’re all just about as unlikable and unsympathetic as you can get. But the actors in the roles are so good that it’s hard to get too upset about. Matt Dillon gives a wonderful performance as the main junkie, Bob, and it’s one of those performances where Dillon relishes in being a total a-hole, but also likes to show a bit of a human side to him. If there was anybody in this flick that I actually liked or even came close to giving my heart to, it was Dillon’s character just because the guy starts to show some humanity by the end and never really loses that edge to him that made him so cool in the first place.

His wife is played by Kelly Lynch, who is pretty good in this role, showing off her feminine beauty, as well as her own knack for making us think that we could fall in love with her as well. Maybe that doesn’t make sense but I guess it sounds pretty cool, which is what most of this film goes for as well. James Remar is also here totally chewing the scenery as the bored cop who seems like he has it all out for Bob and his junkie friends, but you soon start to realize that the guy cares more about him than you may suspect and it’s actually a nice touch. So often these kinds of movies like to get down on cops and law-enforcement for being a bunch of party-poopers who are such sticklers that they can’t help but lighten up a little and let people have their fun, but mostly, the reality is that these cops, aside from doing their job, just really want to make the world a better place and ensure that no more people succumb to the addiction that is drugs.

Sure, not all cops think that way, but there’s a solid majority that do and it helps put Drugstore Cowboy into perspective a whole lot more.

Consensus: Though Van Sant may stuck between his artistic side and actually telling a story, Drugstore Cowboy works for its unflinching, painful look at the world of drug-addiction, while also giving a heartfelt message that’s less corny than it sounds.

8 / 10

Trust me, Will knows.

Trust me, Will knows.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2016)

Everybody’s mom and dad have problems. Some more than others, but you get the idea.

Growing up in Jerusalem during the 1940s was rough for most people, but for Amos Oz (Amir Tessler), it was a whole lot more so. His mother, Fania (Natalie Portman), and father, Arieh (Gilad Kahana), were clearly in love from the first time they met, and while the love never quite faded out, it came and went in short spurts. However, for Amos, he was the apple of his mother’s eye, so nothing bad ever came of him and whenever he needed a little cheering up, she always gave him an imaginative, but interesting story to keep his little mind alive, awake, and most importantly, hopeful. After all, Jerusalem was going through a huge crisis at this point in time, and for a family like Klausner’s to live and survive, they had to rely on one another to be as strong as humanly imaginable, even if that was a lot easier said then done.

Symbolism? Or something, right?

Symbolism? Or something, right?

Natalie Portman’s career has been a bit of a strange one since she won the Oscar for Black Swan. While mostly every other actor after winning an Oscar would have roles being flung at them from every which direction, Portman opted to take a quieter, more distancing approach to the whole film-business; while she may have been high in-demand, she’s only done about seven or so movies, with two of them being Thor flicks, one being a Terence Malick flick that she showed up in for about five minutes, the one-two punch of Your Highness and No Strings Attached, of course, her passion-project that was unfortunately delayed for about four years, Jane Got a Gun. It’s interesting to see this happen to someone who is still, yes, a big name in the world of Hollywood, but it’s also a bit dispiriting – she’s not just a great actor, but seems to get more and more interesting as she gets older and wiser.

And of course, there’s another passion-project of hers with A Tale of Love and Darkness, which shows Portman really doing whatever it is that she wants, because she can, but it’s not all about making a statement here. If anything, you can tell that there’s a lot to this story and this mood that Portman herself relates to and it helps give an emotional edge to a story that could have easily just been one, long snooze-fest of Portman finding all of the lovely little quirks about this intimate tale.

Which is all to say that as a director, yeah, Portman is quite good.

She’s competent enough to know what works well, and what doesn’t; the smaller, more subdued moments with this family are perhaps some of the best and most interesting that the movie has to offer, because Portman doesn’t really have to do a lot but just keep her camera focused in on the characters, what they do, what they say, and how they act. It works well for the movie, if you only take it solely as a character-study of a family going through all sorts of problems, but when it tries to handle more than it can chew, then unfortunately, Portman begins to stumble. She’s good at the small stuff, yes, but when it comes to making this tale a bigger one that has to do with the fighting, tension, turmoil, and violence over in Jerusalem, it doesn’t quite connect.

But then again, that may be more of a problem with the material, than it is with Portman. She may have wrote and adapted the film from the autobiography, but she also may have had a lot to handle, what with the book being a coming-of-ager, as well as this political allegory for Jerusalem’s history. The book itself is a tad messy, which, as a result, so is the movie and it only makes sense that Portman have the same issues that the book itself may have had.

But as an actress, nope, Portman is terrific.

So sad and drenched. Yet, she's Natalie Portman so of course she's still beautiful.

So sad and drenched. Yet, she’s Natalie Portman so of course she’s still beautiful.

Then again, are you surprised? Portman’s great in the stoic scenes as Fania, where you get a sense that she does truly love her family and Jerusalem, but is also, slowly and surely, getting more and more depressed with each and every passing-day. It’s a role that could have been terribly over-the-top and showy (something that Portman has been accused of in the past), but it’s one that she works so well with because she just sits there and give us all that pained and upsetting look she’s just about mastered by now.

Still though, as good as Portman may be, the rest of the cast around her kind of fumbles, if only because she’s so good as the heart and soul of the story. Gilad Kahana is fine as her husband, even if his character’s intentions don’t always make the most sense, and Amir Tessler, who plays a young Amos, is also fine, if mostly because he doesn’t have to do all that much. Most of the time, he’s just sitting around and reacting to the world around him and that’s all it needed to be – after all, he’s a young kid, growing up and trying to make sense of the world that he lives in, while it’s all sorts of crazy and violent for reasons he can’t even begin to understand.

It’s a sad reality for him, but what I imagine many other kids his age had to go through.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t always connect, there’s a real feeling of emotion and passion to A Tale of Love and Darkness, that makes Portman’s sometimes messy direction still something to be admired.

6 / 10

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm, so to speak.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Southside With You (2016)

First dates are always so awkward. Especially when there’s no Starbucks around.

Way back before he became the President of the United States, Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) was just like you or I – he was a young dude, trying to make a difference in this world, be successful, and yes, also try to win the hearts of lovely women. One woman who seems to have captured his heart as of late is a young, ambitious lawyer named Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). So, like any young guy his age would do, he asks her out on a date and they get going on that date, even if Michelle herself doesn’t quite know that it’s a date yet. No worries though, as Barack is using this day solely as a way to pick her brain a bit, show her the kinds of cool and smart stuff he can do, and while they’re at it, get dinner, have a few beers, and yes, even seeing Do the Right Thing, which may make or break the future of what they could possibly have together. Will it all work out in the end? Or will it just be another one of those one-off dates?

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. Yeah, or something like that. I don't know. I'm still working on it."

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. Yeah, or something like that. I don’t know. I’m still working on it.”

Of course, we know what happens between Michelle and Barack, but that doesn’t really matter for a flick like Southside With You to work. In fact, even knowing who Michelle and Barack Obama are in the first place, probably shouldn’t matter for a flick like this, because it’s less about who they turn out to be, or what they represent, as much as it’s just about who they were at this time in their lives and how they came together, to love one another and figure out that they both wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

A little romantic, isn’t it?

Well, that’s because it is and it’s one of the main reasons why Southside With You is definitely a great little piece of romance, despite it having something of a gimmick being that it’s Barack and Michelle in the romantic-leads. But honestly, that novelty goes away not after long, because the two performances are so good, that they don’t feel like two-bit impersonations, straining for likability or credibility, as much as they just feel like two different “takes” on who these people were when they were younger, and way before the world chewed them up and got ready to spit them back out. Sure, it helps that the two are definitely dead ringers for these two notable figures (Sawyers especially looks so much like Obama that I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI took a look at his birth certificate), but it also helps that these two are more interested in developing them both as people, not just as caricatures that we see on the news.

If anything, Southside With You works best because it’s a snapshot of most young people’s lives, not just Barack and Michelle Obama’s lives in particular. They’re young, out-of-college, not sure what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but know that they have dreams, aspirations, and hopes that they’ll figure it all out soon enough and, eventually, find that one and special someone. In a way, yes, Southside With You works a lot like Richard Linklater’s Before movies did: They’re just a bunch of long, walking-and-talking conversations, but they’re meaningful, entertaining, and most importantly, insightful, in that they show us more about who these people were and just why it is that they fell so in love with each other after all.

Sure, a good portion of the movie could be total bull-crap, but it’s enjoyably sweet and heartfelt bull-crap, so what’s the harm?

The look on many lady's faces when they come toe-to-toe with the one and only Barack.

The look on many lady’s faces when they come toe-to-toe with the one and only Barack.

Sometimes, little, well-to-do movies like Southside With You need to exist, because they help flesh out a persona or iconic figure that we think we already know everything we need to know about, and don’t anymore information on. And in today’s political landscape, where it seems like the Obama’s all have one foot out the door, it’s interesting to see just who they all once were and where they got their start, even if we all know how life and the world turned out for them. And I don’t mean this as a way to bring out my political ideas or beliefs about the Obama’s, or anything resembling politics whatsoever, I more or less mean to say this as a way to show that a movie like Southside With You deserves to be seen, if solely because it will show people that there are more to our politicians and famous figures than just what’s seen on the tube.

Yes, they’re actual human beings who love, care and want to do right. They may not always make the best decisions, nor do they always have the right intentions with every decision that they make, but their humans, just like you or I. That goes for every person, not just Barack, or Michelle Obama, but everyone.

Even Donald Trump as much as it may pain for some to say and admit.

Consensus: Sweet and heartfelt, Southside With You works regardless of one’s political opinions or beliefs, making us all see a little more about Barack and Michelle Obama than ever expected.

8 / 10

Take his hand, honey. Trust me. It'll work out plenty for you.

Take his hand, honey. Trust me. It’ll work out plenty for you.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Don’t Breathe (2016)

If the world of magic isn’t doing it for him any longer, David Blaine may have a future in robbing blind people’s houses.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three kids who seem to be making a living off of knocking off people’s homes. While it’s definitely trashy and not an ideal lifestyle to live, honestly, it’s the only way they can survive. One day, they hatch up this perfect plan to rob this rich blind guy (Stephen Lang), who also happens to live all by himself, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It seems like the perfect job to, hopefully, end all jobs and that’s what seems to be happening, until they screw up one too many times and it turns out that the rich blind guy isn’t so sad and defenseless as they expected.

Honestly, that’s about all I can say about Don’t Breathe without really spoiling all of the fun for those who want to check it out, because it truly is the kind of small, but simple movie that deserves to be less said about, in order to be fully enjoyed. It’s the kind of movie that takes so many sick and twisted turns throughout it’s near hour-and-a-half run-time, that really, speaking about any of them in particular, or even hinting at them to great lengths would be an injustice. Just know that Don’t Breathe is the kind of movie that starts out as something you’d expect, but ends as something totally different.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

Make any sense?

If not, that’s okay; Don’t Breathe seems like the sort of movie that works best when you look at it as a thriller, and less of an actual horror flick, filled with shocks, gasps, and jump-scares (even if that’s how it’s being advertised). Co-writer/director Fede Alvarez does something genius here with his material in that he continuously finds smart and clever ways to sneak up on us some more, making what would seem like a very simple, almost straightforward story, get spun in so many different ways, that it’s actually hard to pinpoint where it’s going to end up or turn to next. That same kind of film making seemed to be lost in his version of Evil Dead, even if there is a part of me that feels like he was just playing by some sort of studio mandate and didn’t have the total free reign to strike out on his own, do whatever he wanted to, and let his freak-fag fly.

Here though, Alvarez gets more than enough opportunities to do so and it’s quite a blast to watch. You almost get the sense that Alvarez is just so happy to be here, making a movie in his own name, with his own stamp, and isn’t going to shy away from doing whatever the hell it is that he wants, regardless of whether people enjoy it or not. In a way, that sort of works best for the movie, as the flick itself can get to some pretty dark, grueling and messed-up places that aren’t easy to expect – if anything, they’re small, little nudges towards darkness that Alvarez himself is more than happy to embrace, even when it seems like his movie is being advertised heavily towards teens.

If anything, Don’t Breathe is for the true, die-hard horror-junkies, even if it’s not totally a horror flick.

Someone's trapped in the closet! Who's in the closet?

Someone’s trapped in the closet! Who’s in the closet? Get it? R. Kelly?

But like I said, that’s kind of why Don’t Breathe is so special – it’s as small, as contained and as simple as you can get with a movie, even better, a horror-thriller, but it works so well. Rather than seeming like a manipulative way to cut-down on budget costs and whatnot, Don’t Breathe‘s premise actually seems more freaky, in hindsight, in how it’s this one, singular incident, as opposed to the whole wide world. It’s not the scariest flick out there, but the gore, the action and the blood is in full-force and you know what? That’s alright with me.

That said, if there is any department that Don’t Breathe seems to need help in is that it’s characters aren’t all that well-written or dimensional, but that can be forgiven in a movie as short as this. It seems more like Alvarez gives them as much attention as he can, showing them in their lives, and then spurning them off into more crazy and insane havoc, where the lines are constantly being blurred between who’s a “good guy”, and who’s a “bad one”. Honestly, it’s hard to ever make sense of who is in the right, who is in the wrong, and who is just doing whatever the hell it is that they can to survive, but no matter what, it’s a compelling thrill-ride.

With, or without the scares.

Consensus: Small and contained, yet fun, compelling and most of all, surprising, Don’t Breathe is the kind of low-key horror-thriller that Hollywood seems to have given up on, but we’ll hopefully see more of.

8 / 10

He's foolin'. Dude's just trying to collect disability.

He’s foolin’. Dude’s just trying to collect disability.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Verge 

The Mechanic (2011)

Everyone needs a good mechanic. But for life.

Of all the high-order assassins in the business Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) may be the best there is, or that there has to offer. Bishop carries out his assignments with precision, detachment and adherence to a strict code, so that he never feels a single sting of emotion throughout his body when he’s completing these sometimes grueling and dangerous tasks. However, Bishop’s one and only true friend, Harry (Donald Sutherland), who also acted as something of a mentor, is tragically murdered, leading him to automatically think of who did it and just how they can be held accountable for their actions. Along for the ride is Harry’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), who is just as fired-up and upset about his dad’s death, but also knows that in order to extract revenge the right way, he’s going to have to listen to Bishop on everything he says, no matter what. And most of all, he’s going to have chill that energy down a whole lot.

I'm not worried. He knows why he's jumping.

I’m not worried. He knows why he’s jumping.

You’ve seen one Jason Statham movie and guess what? You’ve practically seen them all. Honestly, there’s not necessarily a problem with that; his screen-presence is still one of the most charming around that no matter how many times we see him beat the hell out of people, blow things up, and shoot big, heavy guns, we still love him and want to see more of him. Does that always mean that the movies themselves are all that great? Not really, but then again, they’re action movies – in today’s day and age, action movies hardly ever satisfy each and every person out there in the world, so the fact that Statham still does them and doesn’t show any signs of stopping, even while he’s nearing 50, is quite admirable.

And another reason why a movie like the Mechanic, as mediocre and fine as it may be, is also a solid reminder of what can happen when a Jason Statham movie actually seems to be trying.

For instance, the Mechanic is a little more than just another one of your typical Statham-vehicles – it’s also got another character to deal with that makes the movie more than just watching Statham do his thing. Ben Foster’s Steve is a solid character in a movie as crazy as this, because while he’s so incredibly high-strung and, honestly, over-the-top, there’s also still something of a bleeding heart at the center of this character. Sure, the movie could almost care less about how, or what he feels, but honestly, there’s something there with this character and it’s because Foster is such a good actor, that he’s able to make something as silly as this, the slightest bit meaningful.

Who can be balder?

Who can be balder?

Of course though, he also does a great job of creating some sort of chemistry with Statham, which looks as odd as it sounds. However, what’s so surprising about this pair, is that they actually do work well together; Foster’s wild card character, is a perfect match for Statham’s cool, calm and collected demeanor that never seems to falter. Together, the scenes of them shooting and taking down bad guys, while generic, also brings a certain flair of energy and joy because, as you can see, they’re having some fun here. Statham is, as usual, doing his usual act and is just fine at that, but Foster brings out a little something within him that, quite frankly, isn’t always seen from Statham.

Not totally a problem, but hey, every so often, it’s nice to get a reminder that Statham himself got his start on Guy Ritchie flicks and whatnot.

But either way, the action of the Mechanic is good enough for all of the junkies out there. It doesn’t necessarily light the world on fire (literally), but because director Simon West is more than capable of wading himself through all sorts of wild and crazy havoc, he does a fine job at making sure that it all works out. It’s effective in the kind of way that we can tell what’s going on, to whom, and what sort of effect it may actually be having on the characters involved. Yes, it sounds really stupid when speaking about an action flick, but it’s the small things like this that count the most and help make a seemingly conventional action-thriller like the Mechanic, seem like so much more.

Even if it is also just another excuse for us all to watch and admire all of the bad guys that Statham takes down and kills.

That, to be brutally honest, may never get old.

Consensus: Despite it still being conventional and predictable from the beginning, the Mechanic is still a solid Statham-vehicle that has all sorts of action and explosions, but also benefits from the much-accepted presence of Ben Foster.

6.5 / 10

Eat your heart out, ladies. Oh and guys, too. Definitely guys, because, seriously, why not? He's the 'Stath!

Eat your heart out, ladies. Oh and guys, too. Definitely guys, because, seriously, why not? He’s the ‘Stath!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Born to be Blue (2016)

Let’s get lost on all sorts of drugs and fun.

Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke), at an early stage in his life at least, truly was someone to love and behold. His records were selling like crazy, people wanted to meet him, be him, women loved him, and yes, he was even getting film-roles. But that all seemed to change one day when, all of a sudden, he gets his ass beaten within an inch of his life, taking out his teeth and vowing to never let him play again. Why did this happen? Well, let’s just say that Chet always had problems with drugs and money, and those that beat him up, had a good reason for it. But still, Chet is trying to make something out of this misfortune, whether it’s still continuing to record and play, or start a family with actress girlfriend Jane (Carmen Ejogo). No matter what though, no matter how hard he tries, or where he goes, Chet’s demons always follow him and it’s one of the main reasons why he’s stayed so far away from the mainstream.

Rather than being your ordinary, conventional biopic of a music-legend, Born to be Blue changes things up slightly. What writer/director Robert Budreau does here with the Chet Baker story is that he takes a part of the man’s life and films it for all of the world to see. By doing this, Budreau allows for us to see all that we need to see, or what we need to know about Baker, by highlighting this time in his life where he seemingly had it all, and then lost it all, in a matter of seconds.

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Recording studios? What are they?!?

Does it really change the format a whole lot? Not really, but it’s a nice little change-of-pace for a genre that can get so old and tiring when it isn’t paying attention.

That said, Born to be Blue does a nice job at giving us the small details about Baker, his life, his personality, and his issues, that make us feel like we are actually getting to know him underneath all of the sweet-ass playing-skills. So often do biopics of these nature forget that one of the main reasons why people care so much to see these flicks in the first place, isn’t just to see an actor fake-playing an instrument or whatever, but actually getting a chance to see the heart and soul of said person. Here, Chet Baker is shown, warts and all, no apologies whatsoever, but that’s fine.

In a way, it makes the movie better, if a tad gloomy. Just when we think that life is going to turn out perfectly fine for Chet at this time in his life, little do we know that, right around the bend, is something tragic, sad, or depressing that’s going to turn him back to his old, evil ways. It’s quite upsetting really, because we get to see Baker as a sympathetic person all throughout, so that when he does turn that corner and begin to not just hurt himself, but those around him that love and support every little thing that he does, it hits even harder.

It’s meant to, because the rest of Born to be Blue depends on Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker and well, as you could have guessed it, he’s pretty great in the role. As usual for Hawke, he gets a chance to play it small, quiet and subtle as Baker, never fully lashing out into hysterics to show his pain, but still getting plenty of other chances to do so. We understand and we hear just how talented and great Baker is, but the tortured soul that lies somewhere in between it all, is seen through Hawke’s wonderful performance, showing more sides and dimensions to a person that deserves plenty of them.

Match made in jazz hell.

Match made in jazz hell.

Then again, it’s not entirely his movie, which is what makes Born to be Blue something special.

As Jane, a failing actress looking for that last glimmer of hope and fame, Carmen Ejogo is perfect, because she brings a lot of pleasantness and sweetness to a movie that sometimes forgets all about that. Her character is so interesting in her own right that she could have probably gotten her own movie, but as is, she serves as a solid counterpart to Baker’s sometimes outlandish ways, while giving us someone who loves and understands him exactly for who, or better yet, what he is. It helps that they have great chemistry, too, but really, it’s Ejogo who steals the movie from Hawke and everyone else.

Which is to say that the movie is good, if not great. The performances definitely help it, but it’s also quite limited in its scope and its affect, mostly because it still sets out to tell Baker’s story. While it’s effective at doing that, the emotional-connection that’s supposed to be felt, never quite comes through. Some of this could be chalked up to the fact that the movie is quite stand-offish when it comes to portraying Baker’s day-to-day interactions with the people around him, but it also comes down to the fact that maybe he was just such a mystery, in the way he acted and sounded, that it’s hard to make a movie that really gets to the meat of the matter.

We see him so sad and depressed, but why exactly? We hear some hints at his childhood, but really, they all come and go, while we just sit and watch as Hawke comes close to tears in every scene. Maybe there’s more to Baker than we’ll just ever know. For all we got now is the sweet and soulful music that he allowed for our ears to be treated to.

But was it enough? Unfortunately, we may never know or find out.

Consensus: Sad, but incredibly well-acted, Born to be Blue still suffers from being a biopic, but also has a keener-eye towards the heart that makes it seem slightly different and fresh.

6.5 / 10

Smile, Chet. It's okay.

Smile, Chet. It’s okay.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

A Hologram for the King (2016)

Mid-life crisis aren’t always so bad. Sometimes, you just need to go to Saudi Arabia.

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is going through a bit of a problem in his life right now. He’s middle-aged, reeling over a divorce, having issues with connecting with his teenage daughter, has some weird hump growing in his back, and is now stationed in Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. But the biggest problem for Alan seems to be that he just can’t connect with the world around him; he’s going through a great deal of culture-shock, but aside from a taxi-cab driver who shows him the land around him (Alexander Black), and a member of the Danish embassy (Sidse Babett Knudsen), he doesn’t really have anyone to hang out with, or better yet, talk to. And if that wasn’t bad already, the people in power that he’s supposed to be chatting with so that he can do his job, don’t ever seem to be around or ready to meet with him. However, it all changes one day when a doctor (Sarita Choudhury) helps him and begins to take a liking to him, showing him not just the beauty of Saudi Arabia, but the beauty of life, as a whole.

I think.

"Don't worry, Tom. You'll probably get another Oscar some time soon."

“Don’t worry, Tom. You’ll probably get another Oscar some time soon.”

A Hologram for the King is the perfect movie for your dad, if your dad is going through a really confusing time in his life. Say, for instance, he’s retired and doesn’t know how to take up any of his time now, has a new void to fill, and doesn’t know how to go about doing anything, let alone that, then yeah, A Hologram for the King is the kind of movie made strictly for your dad. It may get him out of his slump, it may not, but what it will do is offer a sometimes interesting view on the mid-life crisis.

But for others, it may not do anything else.

However, that’s less of a problem with age and more of a problem with the movie itself, as A Hologram for the King, despite having a lot to do, doesn’t have much to say about anyone or anything in it. This is surprising because, even in his lowest of lows, director Tom Twyker has always tried to make his material the least bit interesting, giving enough character details to go along with his spectacle. But in A Hologram for the King, it seems like he gets to swept-away with his location, his actors and his message, and forgets about how to make, well, a movie.

For example, there’s not really a plot to A Hologram for the King, except for a bunch of things that do, or better yet, don’t happen. While the movie likes to make a joke of the fact that this Alan Clay protagonist hardly ever gets to talk to the people he’s supposed to meet and talk to, after awhile, it gets to be a bit bothersome; it’s as if the movie itself doesn’t want to really do much of anything, or move along, so instead, it just constantly pushes back the expected. Maybe it’s unnecessary, but really, it made me feel as if the movie had no real plot and just wanted to show Tom Hanks being his lovable-self.

"Look! It's sand!"

“Look! It’s sand!”

And yes, Tom Hanks is doing just that and he’s perfect at it. Alan Clay is a pretty dull character, but Hanks is great at showing that there’s more to him that’s not just interesting, but pretty fun – even a random trip to the Mosque shows that Clay may have more to him than on the surface. But of course, the movie just sort of relies on Hanks so much, not really ever giving him a chance to actually work with a solid script, that it feels like he’s stretching at times. We get flashbacks and mentions of this character’s life before the flick and why he’s so sad, but really, none of it seems to register – Hanks tries to get that to happen, but the rest of the movie is so concerned with doing nothing, that it doesn’t matter.

But then again, there is a pleasant, almost easygoing feel to it that’s not terrible and can be entertaining. The self-discovery journey takes the movie in some crazy and odd places, but they’re not all that bad, or uninteresting – they do help make us see more of this character through the situations he gets into and how he acts in them. But really, the movie just wants to take its time, let Hanks do his thing, and that’s about it. There may be an important, almost life-changing message about growing older and accepting it for what it is, but I could never find it.

Maybe the message was that “going off to a foreign country, taking some pictures, seeing the sights, hanging with the natives, and drinking a lot will cure any sadness”, was it?

If so, this movie’s way better than I give it credit for.

Consensus: Despite a pleasant look, feel and pace courtesy of Twyker, A Hologram for the King never gets off the ground, due to its lack of a plot, or any actual emotions registering.

5 / 10

Hey, sometimes happiness is a simple drink in the middle of the day. Or so my old man tells me.

Hey, sometimes happiness is a simple drink in the middle of the day. Or so my old man tells me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Bronze (2016)

Third is the one with the treasure chest.

Back in the 2004 Olympics, Hope Greggory (Melissa Rauch) made the news when she came in third as a gymnast. She had an inspirational story to go along with her whole performance, and because of such, it made her a star. However, it didn’t last long, and now, many years later, she’s still trying to recapture that same sort of infamy she had almost a decade ago, by using it to her advantage at local restaurants and stores in her hometown. But the sad reality is that she still lives with her dad (Gary Cole), steals money from him and his job, and doesn’t really seem to do much with her life except just piss him off, or piss on the other people around her. But it all changes when, one day, her old coach tragically commits suicide and leaves an option up to her: Train a newly-developing talent (Haley Lu Richardson) for the Olympics and she’ll receive half-a-million dollars. Hope doesn’t really care about helping others, but she likes the idea of all that money, so she decides to take on the task, even if that means having to re-visit old demons and friends that she felt better leaving in the past.

That sort-of duck-face doe.

That sort-of duck-face doe.

For a lot of comedies, having detestable characters can sometimes work. Someone who is just so mean and nasty to the world around them, in ways, is pretty funny and honest – it’s easy to relate to a person when your deepest, darkest fears, are brought out by these people and their bursts of anger, however many or limited they may be. But then again, there is something to be said for having detestable characters in a comedy, just for the sake of it.

And that’s the biggest issue of the Bronze.

While it’s nice to see a movie so clear in defining a solid portion of its characters as “a-holes” and not really leaving much of a gray-area, the issue it runs into is that when there’s so many a-holes, what do you do when your movie wants to rely on heart, emotion and inspiration? To just be terrible the whole time, making evil jokes towards characters who probably don’t deserve it, doesn’t quite cut it – sometimes, it’s best to have at least two characters that you can, at the very least, sympathize with. They hold the ship together, even when it seems like the ship is drowning in its own anger and turmoil.

But it also doesn’t help if your characters are being mean to those around them, for no reason and not really having anything funny to say or do. In fact, most of the issues with the Bronze would have probably been forgiven and forgotten about, had the movie itself actually been funny – but nope, it isn’t. What it really is is an excuse to watch a bunch of people say mean things to one another, for the sake of doing so, add some sports in the mix, and yeah, that’s about it.

And honestly, I don’t even think it’s an excuse.

There is a small bit of heart to be found in the flick, and while the movie doesn’t try and get too awfully sentimental, sometimes, a little bit of that can help and go an awfully long way. Movies like Bad Santa, or Bad Teacher, where even the smallest glimmer of light shining through all of the crudeness, can sometimes make a movie better, just because it tries its hardest to paint this character in at least something of a different light and above all, show shadings. In the Bronze, we get some of those shadings with Hope, but they don’t feel believable, deserved, or all that earned; it’s as if the movie knew that it was just way too mean and had to make sure everybody got their hugs at the end of the day.

Eh. Who cares, really?

Eh. Who cares, really?

Which yeah, is perfectly fine (I like hugs), but it doesn’t work here. Melissa Rauch is fine as Hope, showing off a mean side that hardly ever goes away, but despite this being her own script, it’s surprising how very little she gives herself to do. You almost get the sense that she wrote a lot of this movie, with the idea that she would step into the role and have the chance to say all of these terrible and nasty things to people around her. She sure is having fun, but is anyone else? Not really and that’s the biggest problem.

Of course, others in the cast are a little bit better, but they too feel like wooden-shaped caricatures in a movie that wants to be cruel to them, but also give them some cake, too. Thomas Middleditch is great as someone Hope calls “Twitchy” and is fun to watch, but also has a heart to him that’s effective; Gary Cole is good as Hope’s supportive dad; Haley Lu Richardson is constantly sunny-eyed and bright; Cecily Strong plays the lower-class mother of the gymnast and is just over-the-top; and Sebastian Stan clearly seems to be having fun, playing and acting like a total d-bag. The best scene is probably between him and Rauch, where they have sex like you’d expect self-centered gymnasts to have sex like.

But unfortunately, despite it being the funniest scene, it’s also the most imaginative and original, something clearly missing from the rest of the Bronze.

Consensus: Mostly unfunny and unpleasant, the Bronze loves that it gets to be mean and say nasty things, but it never becomes fun or interesting to watch any of it happen.

3 / 10

Soak it in, honey. It don't last forever.

Soak it in, honey. It don’t last forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire