Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

The Girl on the Train (2016)

Sometimes, you just got to make public transportation a little fun.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) takes the train to New York City each and every day and has a lot of time on her hands to do, well, lots of stuff. For one, she likes to drink. She also likes to think about stuff and, on occasion, make-up things in her head. But one thing she loves to do is watch a couple, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), from her train seat window every morning, from the window of her train. However, her life is thrown for a wild loop when, all of a sudden, Megan is with some other man (Edgar Ramirez) and not her husband. And then, it gets even crazier when Rachel finds out that Megan’s missing and Rachel herself could be the prime suspect. But why? Well, because Rachel’s ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and this new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) live literally right around the corner, Rachel, in drunken, jealous stupors, will find herself around the neighborhood, acting out in certain ways that most adults like her shouldn’t be doing. Now though, with the investigation against her, Rachel has to think long and hard about what she remembers and what she made-up in her mind, while also figuring out the truth of Megan’s whereabouts.

Who's baby is that?!? Mystery!

Who’s baby is that?!? Mystery!

The Girl on the Train is trying so hard to be Gone Girl that it’s actually kind of sad. Here’s a movie that, despite so much plot, could have honestly been an enjoyably wacky, over-the-top romp, just like Gone Girl. Instead, it’s rather drab, dark, serious and not nearly as crazy as it should be.

Which is also to say that Tate Taylor is no David Fincher. Believe it or not.

But honestly, the problem with the Girl on the Train is that, aside from it so desperately wanting to like that Fincher classic, it also doesn’t really know what to do with itself for a solid majority of its running-time. For the first hour or so, we’re watching our main protagonist, Rachel, live a pretty miserable and depressing existence – one that’s full of alcohol, wild dreams, and unrequited love. In a way, it’s actually very serious and heartbreaking, but aside from maybe one scene of an actual, full-out breakdown, the movie never gets as deep as it should about her mental and psychological issues and where it all came from. Rather, the movie uses her anguish and pain as a plot-device, to give us more and more characters, more conflicts, and most importantly, more and more unnecessary twists and turns that, after about fourth or fifth one in a minute, gets a tad annoying.

And really, all of the problems with copycatting Gone Girl would have been fine, had Girl on the Train tried to at least bring some real, honest characters to the forefront; most of them are just created for the sole sake of being a plot-device, or a twist that can eventually kill them off, or show that they’re not exactly as who they should be. Although, as is the case with Edgar Ramirez’s psychiatrist character, some characters hardly serve any purpose whatsoever – they’re just hot, sexy and attractive window-dressing to a movie that’s as mean-looking as you can get.

No. Not a leftover scene from the Leftovers. Although, I honestly wished it was.

No. Not a leftover scene from the Leftovers. Although, I honestly wished it was.

Ramirez isn’t the only one who, unfortunately, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. The whole ensemble, as talented as they all are, are saddled with material that doesn’t allow for them to really reach deep, or far dramatic heights – instead, they just have to settle and live with the results. As said about Rachel before, she’s a deeper character than the movie gives her credit for, even if Emily Blunt tries all that she can to not only make her look ugly and disgusting (as much as Emily Blunt can look “ugly” and “disgusting”), but really, the character feels like a missed-opportunity. Same goes for Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett’s characters who, despite getting some semblance of personality and emotion, are also meant to be plot-points.

The boys don’t fare any better, either.

Justin Theroux does what he can as the ex-husband, while Luke Evans does his best hard-Brooklyn accent, despite being a character that lives in the New York suburbs. Only the wonderful Allison Janney really gets a chance to shine with this material and it’s not only a testament to her true talent as an actress, but also a nice bit of excitement in the first hour or so. Because honestly, for the first hour, the movie can be quite a bore – laboring on certain parts of the plot that don’t matter, never picking up the pace, and giving us a mystery we already know the solution to.

That said, it does pick itself up after the hour-mark and thankfully, it’s where the Girl on the Train becomes, surprisingly enough, “fun”. Granted, it’s still not nearly as fun to watch as Gone Girl and it sure as hell doesn’t improve on its issues with its character, but it eventually starts to realize that there can be some wild times had with these weird characters, the sexy tone and feel that Taylor sometimes gives off, and most importantly, the fact that we’re here to watch a bunch of hot, sexy and attractive people bone and deceive one another. Sometimes, that’s all you need with a movie and here, with the Girl on the Train, while it takes forever to get to that part, I’m glad it eventually did.

Because if it didn’t, honestly, it would have been a waste of everyone’s time. Most importantly, my own.

Consensus: Despite trying desperately hard to capture the same excitement and craziness as Gone Girl, the Girl on the Train never quite gets moving, despite a good cast and a promising premise, chock full of twists, turns, mysteries, and surprises that are, honestly, a little too obvious to be shocked by.

6 / 10

You see a lot from public transportation. Maybe not someone's home life, but hey, dare to dream, eh?

You see a lot from public transportation. Maybe not someone’s home life, but hey, dare to dream, eh?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Wait, which movie is this?

Ever since he was a little boy growing up on a slave plantation in the early 19th century, Nat Turner (Nate Parker), has always wanted to be more than just your typical slave. He was literate, could preach the word of God and most of all, saw himself as one with white people. However, little does he know that, outside of his plantation, where everything’s bad, but not awful, lies a cruel, dark and unforgiving world that doesn’t take kindly to black people, free or not. And Nat gets to witness a good portion of it, first-hand, when he and his owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), go out on a few trips where they stop at fellow slave plantations and Nat preaches the word of God. For some reason, the owners see this as a way for their own slaves to get riled up and do the work that they were “supposedly” put on this God’s-green Earth to do in the first place. But after witnessing one too many brutal acts of sadism, Nat decides that it’s time to turn the other cheek, gather up all of the other slaves that he’s come to know and love, and fight back. 

Symbolism? Right?

Symbolism? Right?

A lot of the discussion about the Birth of a Nation, oddly enough, hasn’t been about the title, the movie’s depiction of slavery, its message, or hell, even whether or not it’s actually good and worth watching. Instead, it’s been all about what director/star/co-writer Nate Parker and co-writer
Jean McGianni Celestin did on that one fateful evening, nearly 17 years ago when they were students at Penn State. This review is not about what did, or didn’t happen, and whether or not Parker and Celestin are, or aren’t guilty of their supposed-crimes (even though Celestin did actually plead “guilty”, but that’s neither here, nor there) – in fact, it’s actually going to be about the movie itself, the Birth of a Nation.

And well, it deserves to be talked about. If not exactly for the reasons people imagine.

If there’s anything I have to give Nate Parker credit for here is that you can tell that there’s a fiery, burning-passion deep inside of him that makes this movie hit as hard as it should sometimes. By telling Nat’s story, especially from the literal beginning to the literal end, he’s giving us a small, but important tale of, sure, rebellion, but also of so much more. The tale is definitely about racism and how slavery was terrible, but it’s also a little bit about religion and the way in which slavers back in those days would use it to somehow justify all of their terrible wrong-doings.

Parker could definitely lean into the realm of preaching the masses (which Nat literally does), but he chooses not to; instead, he opts for keeping the focus on Nat, his story and his mission in his all-too short life. It’s a sad story, as most slave-tales are, but Parker shows that there could have been some hope in a dark and foreboding tale such as this. Even for all of his shortcomings as a director, writer and, yes, even human being, he’s still got something here that makes me interested in seeing what he has to do next, because he has a story that he wants to tell here and he doesn’t back down from getting into the nitty, the gritty and the downright vile of it all.

But at the same time, the movie is awfully troubled.

See, for one, it seems as if Nate Parker, the director, has a bit of work to do. A part of me feels the raw and inspired emotion coming from Parker’s direction, but a part of me also notices how much of that emotion seems to be getting in the way of actually creating a good movie, where there’s a nice narrative-flow and a compelling plot-line to make sense of, what with all of the terrible slave-stuff going on. The issue here is that Parker doesn’t seem all that focused; he has a lot to speak out against and say, but it never quite means anything.

There’s one great scene in which Nat has an argument with Mark Boone Junior’s preacher character, in which they literally battle one another with scripture-passages, showing how the other has misunderstood the message of the Bible and Jesus’ teaching. It’s brilliant, smart, tense, exciting, and most of all, important; it shows that the idea of slavery and the business of it all, while a very successful one at that, was based on a huge plain of lies. Parker uses this one scene, to show that he’s worthy of bringing on a discussion about this tale and what he’s got to tale, but the flip side of it all is that he doesn’t quite do much with that.

Friends for life. Until the work needs to be done.

Friends for life. Until the work needs to be done.

Instead, he sort of just leaves the scene there and focuses back on Nat Turner being a hero to us all.

In a way, I don’t argue with the movie in that respect; Nat Turner fought for what he believed in and was going to die if he had to. It’s an admirable act on his part, however, the movie seems to back away from discussing, or even shining a light on some of the more troubling aspects of his story. Like, say, for instance, how he uses the Bible as a way to justify his slaughtering of men, women and children (even if we don’t see the women and children actually killed on-camera here, although it did happen), or how there are literally two rapes that occur in this movie and, for some reason, they all seem to be made-up for the sake of adding some sort of theatrical tension that may not have already been there.

What’s odd about this is that it seems like all of Parker’s emotion and intensity in telling this story, also blinded him to the fact that Turner’s story is a lot more complicated than he thinks. Slaver was awful and Turner had to be around it his whole life, but at the same time, the movie doesn’t ever seem to present anyone, or anything else differently. Every slave-owner, with the exception of Armie Hammer’s Samuel, are dirty, foul-mouthed, drunk and always looking for a fight. Granted, there was quite a number of them in the far-superior 12 Years a Slave, but at least there was some humanity to them in that – here, they just seem like cartoons who haven’t bathed in decades.

That’s why, as a director, Nate Parker has a lot of work to do.

As a whole, the Birth of a Nation has a powerful story to work with, but the execution is surprisingly tame. Parker gets all wrapped-up in actually telling the story, once and for all, that he forgets how to actually construct a whole, feature-length film about it and loses track way too quickly. It’s a movie definitely worth seeing, but yeah, don’t believe the hype.

Consensus: While brave, the Birth of a Nation is a bit too messy to really hit as hard as it wants to, even if Nate Parker’s debut is an interesting one that makes him someone to keep an eye on.

7 / 10

"For freedom! Obviously!"

“For freedom! Obviously!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Wuthering Heights (2012)

Is it safe to say not much has changed?

Heathcliff (as the younger version Solomon Glave, and James Howson as the older one) is brought in off the streets from a nice Christian man, who believes that it is his god-given duty to ensure that those who are off far worse than him, should get the same love and respect as he gets. Some in his family don’t see it the same way, with the exception of Catherine (as the younger version Shannon Beer, and Kaya Scodelario as the older one), who instantly takes a liking to Heathcliff. While Heathcliff is supposed to be working on their farm, most of the time, he spends gallivanting through the fields with Catherine, falling more and more in love with her as the days go by. Of course, she may feel the same way, too, but because he’s black and doesn’t come from a very wealthy family, she begins to have second-thoughts about what those around her may start to think. Pissed-off at her, and especially the harsh treatment he suffers from her older brother, Heathcliff runs off into the middle of the night, presumably never to be heard from again. However, many years later, Heathcliff returns, only to find Catherine married to a much wealthier guy.

He's looking for her.

He’s looking for her.

It’s interesting that, for perhaps the 15th time or so, Wuthering Heights has been adapted and believe it or not, the story still rings true. Granted, maybe one or two adaptations is fine enough, but honestly, it doesn’t matter because the source material, no matter how old or stuffy it may be, still somehow resonates. Issues with class, race, and even sex, still stick around in today’s day and age and while Wuthering Heights may take an awful lot of staring and paying attention to grab a hold of these modern-day themes, it’s still a piece of material that works.

And in Andrea Arnold’s hands, it is, surprisingly, the best it may ever be.

Arnold may seem like an odd choice as adapting this source material, but it becomes very clear that, right from the grainy and gritty look of the movie, that she’s going to get along with it just fine. After all, it seems like the setting for Wuthering Heights, fits Arnold’s darker sensibilities the most, in terms of setting especially; she can make any sight beautiful, even when, in a film like this, where there’s hardly a sign of any sort of sunlight to be found. And while it’s definitely a bit distracting at first, the tight aspect-ratio works for the movie, having us focus in on these character’s, their emotions, and most of all, yes, “the action”.

While it’s hard to really say anything that happens here is, in the very least, “action-y”, if you love period-pieces that are ripe and filled to the brim with emotion, than this take on Wuthering Heights has plenty of it. Sure, some may see it suffocating that Arnold has us straight up in these character’s faces a good portion of the time, but it all works because it allows for us to feel the raw, dirty and downright nonglamorous love and emotions that they all feel at one point or another. Arnold’s style may definitely be manipulative, but it’s manipulative in the sense that it allows for you to see a story done so many times before, done a tad bit differently and judging how the results end up being.

She's looking for him.

She’s looking for him.

And with her cast, Arnold really seems to have it all worked out.

Shannon Beer and Solomon Grave are lovely and imaginative as the younger versions of Catherine and Heathcliff, respectively, but it isn’t till their older and more mature where the performances really start to click. As Catherine and Heathcliff, the older years, Kaya Scodelario and James Howson are quite magnificent because they say so much, with so little. The burning, fiery intensity between them two is felt from the very start and it hardly ever ceases, with Howson turning in some truly heartbreaking moments without even uttering a word. It helps that Arnold’s camera is, once again, practially up their noses to capture all of these moments of true, unabashed emotion on screen, but it also is left up to them to be handle this sort of material and put something of a different spin on it.

Of course though, you can only put a spin on an ancient tale so much and so often that, after awhile, there’s no more spins left. A part of me appreciates Arnold for taking this material on and trying something as different as she could think of with it, but there’s still that feeling that she’s tied down because of it. The freedom and the variety that’s been around in so many of her other films seems to have been lost here, if only because she feels as if she has to work for the audience who is actually going to go out and see this, all due to name recognition. Sure, it’s not a bad idea, but it’s also a bummer to watch when you know that someone like Andrea Arnold, can make so many more wonders, when she’s just got a little more freedom on her hands/

That said, it’s still great. So yeah, don’t listen to me, essentially.

Consensus: Dark, gritty and raw, Andrea Arnold’s low-key take on Wuthering Heights works because of its new spin on an age old tale, yet, at the same time, still feels like it’s holding Arnold back a bit.

8.5 / 10

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Red Road (2006)

I spy with my little eyes, lots and lots of smelly people.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) spends her days monitoring a series of surveillance cameras trained on a rough Glasgow neighborhood. While it’s no stellar job, it’s one that she finds enjoyable enough to where she doesn’t have to do much except keep her eye out on any sort of chicanery or misdoings. And in this neighborhood that she has to constantly check out, there’s a lot of that going. One fateful day, however, while she’s roaming around on her video-cameras, she spots Clyde (Tony Curran) on one of the screens, somebody she doesn’t seem to know much of anything about, yet, for some reason, she becomes incredibly obsessed with him. With what originally starts out as her video-stalking him, soon turns into her following him around on the streets, talking to his friends and getting involved with his life. It’s odd, but Jackie has a reason for all of this and eventually, it’s all going to come out in unsettling ways.

Yeah, Jackie's a little strange, but hey, she's Jackie!

Yeah, Jackie’s a little strange, but hey, she’s Jackie!

What’s interesting about Andrea Arnold’s movies is that none of them ever seem to be “thrillers” in the literal sense, but for some reason, they turn out to be just that. Eventually, we get so wrapped-up in these characters, their lives, and their stories, that eventually, it’s hard not to be gripped by each and everything that they do, or don’t do. And with Red Road, that is especially true – while the movie is, plain and simply, a dark, gritty and slow-burning character-study, there’s still suspense and an air of mystery in it that makes it so much more.

But at the same time, it’s still an expertly-done character-study that, without the talents of Andrea Arnold, probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

While Arnold is in the perfect position to make Red Road some statement about surveillance, government’s reliance on it, and how normal, everyday citizens are literally paranoid every second of their lives because of this fact, she instead decides to just keep her focus as low and as tight as possible. This isn’t a tale about the government, police, or even surveillance – it’s about the freedom that this sort of technology can provide for someone, who is exactly like Jackie and in need of some sort of closure, or different path to go down with her life. The movie never makes it out like technology is this evil, or this great thing, it just shows that it’s a thing that can change a lot of people’s lives, while also making everyone seem closer to one another, even if they truly aren’t.

Once again though, this isn’t some sort of message movie. Arnold is smarter than that and knows that the ingredient to making a solid little character-study is to give us someone worth watching and caring about, even if we don’t know everything there is to know about her. Jackie’s a bit of an odd protagonist, but she’s one who constantly shows more shadings as the movie runs on by, with Kate Dickie pulling off a great performance, one that shows the subtle range we’re not too used to seeing from her in bigger showings like in the VVitch, or on Game of Thrones. Jackie is an intriguing character, but Dickie finds certain ways to make us understand a little bit more about her, through her interactions with those around her, as well the plain, but troubled looks on her face.

Hate that feeling of never know who's going to speak in an elevator.

Hate that feeling of never know who’s going to speak in an elevator.

Of course, there’s more to Jackie as we soon learn and this is where Red Road starts to fall down a bit.

What started as an interesting character-drama, soon turns into something of a melodramtic thriller that, yes, once again, may not be a “thriller”, in any sense, but has those same sort of qualities and attitudes that make it fit in with that genre. Arnold seems interested in having us know why Jackie is doing what she is doing and tying it all together in one, neat little bow, but honestly, it almost feels like it didn’t need to come to that. The movie makes it out as if Jackie’s decision wasn’t random, but expected, through certain twists, turns, and reveals that come to fruition at the end.

Are the twists and turns shocking? Yeah, they actually are. However, they also make Red Road feel like a different entire movie. What was one a small, understated character-drama about this Jackie lady and her quest into the dark regions of Glasgow, now all of a sudden becomes about her dance with darkness and how it all started. It felt odd to me, even if the characters of Jackie and Clyde, as well as the relationship they build over time, continues to be interesting.

Consensus: Not perfect, Andrea Arnold’s debut, Red Road, definitely benefits from an amazing performance from Kate Dickie, as well as some understated, smart writing that pays closer attention to characters we don’t always get to see in film nowadays.

8 / 10

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Boozer, Ruthless Culture

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Every kid’s troubled.

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), is a a defiant young city kid who is preoccupied with the gangster lifestyle. Meaning, that he spends a lot of his spare time stealing, cheating, cursing, rapping, wearing baggy-clothes, and just doing things one little kid his age isn’t supposed to be doing. In hopes of getting that all changed and he may shape-up a bit, Ricky’s sent by child welfare services to live in the country with foster mother Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband, the cantankerous Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Bella instantly takes a liking to Ricky, as does he to her, but Uncle Hec is a bit of a mystery; he’s not necessarily angry at the world or at Ricky, he just doesn’t care. However, their lives all change one day when Ricky and Hec are forced to spend a whole lot of time together, where they’ll have to learn to survive and depend on each other. You know, typical survival stories, but in this case, between a 13-year-old kid and a nearly-70 year-old-man.

Wouldn't get in a stand-off with him, kid. Sorry.

Wouldn’t get in a stand-off with him, kid. Sorry.

What’s interesting about writer/director Taika Waititi is that it seems like he doesn’t necessarily have a certain style that you can pin down, but it’s twee and quirky enough that it’s still recognizable. In a way, Waititi is a lot like Wes Anderson, in that a lot of his humor tends to stem from editing and visual quirks, and less about what joke is actually funny and how it was delivered. Then again, whereas Anderson feels like he’s actually limiting himself, as well as his comedic sensibilities, by having to stick with his awfully pretentious style, Waititi isn’t afraid to move around a bit, feel for some room, and explore the ever-regions of humor and the comedy world as is.

That’s why Hunt for the Wilderpeople, while not a perfect movie, still shows that Waititi is a talent that needs to be watched.

Even after last year’s What We Do in the Shadows, a lot of people may be surprised about the adoration coming for him only now, but I didn’t quite love that movie the same that others did; in ways, it almost felt like one improv-sketch, after another, with the found-footage format just being a little bit of a bore. It wasn’t wholly original, despite having some nice bits and pieces of inspired humor. Here, that same sense of humor, style, and sense of storytelling is practically lost and with good reason – Waititi gives us a simple story, with a pretty simple execution that helps the movie out because it doesn’t take away from its heartfelt message about, well, love, family and all that sort of thing.

Yeah, it’s pretty cheesy to say a film is “about family and love”, but with the Wilderpeople, it’s true and it works; Waititi has a pretty conventional story on his hands here, but he adds enough heart, warmth and charm to it to where it doesn’t matter what conventions get played out again, or what similar beats get hit. All that really matters is that the beats work, the conventions don’t get tiring, and most importantly, that the movie itself stays sweet and charming. After all, a movie can be as predictable as Sunday mass, but as long as it has a little something more brewing underneath the predictability, then it’s all good.

For the most part, that is.

The only thing keeping Wilderpeople away from being a way better movie is the fact that, yet again, it is still a conventional piece of family-oriented film making. Waititi himself has some nice tricks and trades to make the interesting a whole lot more visually appealing, but other times, he can’t help but succumb to the fact that this story is as simple as you get. The characters work and, of course, the performances from both Neill and Dennison are quite great, but really, they’re all in a movie that’s plain and simple. Waititi may have dealt with the heavier-issues of alienation and sadness in something like Eagle vs. Shark, whereas here, he sort of just hints at them, in hopes that nobody will get too sad or depressed and get taken away from the fun that takes place in the woods with these characters.

When the fuzz comes a knockin', it's time to get a rockin'.

When the fuzz comes a knockin’, it’s time to get a rockin’.

That said, the characters do work and help make this as exciting as it can possibly be. As a child actor, Julian Dennison is not only very cute, but he’s also got some skill, too; a lot of moments and lines could have made Ricky out to be another one of those young, pain-in-the-ass kids that’s just annoying to all hell, but there’s more to him than just that. The fact that he wants to be a gangster and idolizes Tupac and Biggie, makes him more than just your ordinary kids protagonist who just likes to cause a lot of mischief and get into fights about cleaning their room.

Trust me, we’ve all seen it before. But thankfully, Dennison’s a good child actor and can make it all work, while also giving us plenty to adore about him.

Then, of course, there’s Sam Neill who seems like he’s actually enjoying himself here, even if he’s not allowed to show too much of it. Because Hec is such a stern and serious dude, you almost get the impression that Neill himself may be bored and want to live a little, but Waititi gives him plenty of opportunities to do so where he’s more than just an old codger who wants kids to get off of his lawn. Sometimes, all he wants is to be around people for a short while, have a good time, feel some sort of adventure, and then, yeah, go back home to where he won’t ever be disturbed again.

Can’t say I hate him, to be honest. In fact, he’s downright relatable.

Consensus: Seemingly not a very original flick, Hunt for the Wilderpeople works well with its attention to characters, heart, and a visual-style that keeps things interesting and most of all, funny.

7.5 / 10

Can I come? Seriously, guys?

Can I come? Seriously, guys?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Shallows (2016)

Just stay on land!

Still reeling from the loss of her mother, medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) decides to leave her relatively comfortable life and travel out to a secluded beach for some downtime. The beach she’s going to is so so unknown and mysterious, that it doesn’t even have a name, nor do the locals feel like giving away its location. Which means that Nancy’s going to have to deal with swimming and surfing alone, even if she herself doesn’t mind it. After all, there’s a few people at the beach that she talks to and gets acquainted with, but mostly, it’s just Nancy, her board, the water, and well, a little friend who may not have a name, but is definitely a shark. While she doesn’t spot him at first, the shark attacks Nancy, leaving her stranded and nearly 200 yards away from any sort of shelter to be found. So, using her own common-sense and smarts, Nancy’s going to have to rely on fate and luck to get her out of this predicament, all while ensuring that she stays alive and doesn’t become the shark’s dinner in the meantime.

Oh, and there’s an awesome bird to accompany Nancy the whole time. Honestly, if it’s not up for Best Supporting Actor by the end of the year, I’m going to be quite upset. CGI, or no CGI – it doesn’t matter.

Wow! What a buoy!

Wow! What a buoy!

The bird steals the show. Plain and simple.

Anyway, yeah. The Shallows is the kind of movie that you expect to be pretty bad, just judging by its premise and its talent on-board. While Blake Lively’s film out-put has been okay and director Jaume Collet-Serra is occasionally hit-or-miss, I guess the idea of sitting around and watching a half-naked Blake Lively lay around on a rock and try to not get eaten by a shark doesn’t seem all that appealing. Sure, Lively’s got a nice body to look at and a premise like that, when done right, can actually work wonders, but for some reason, the Shallows just seemed another lame summer blockbuster that didn’t have much to work with in the first place.

But somehow, it works out so well.

If anything Collet-Serra does all that he can to make this premise work, as limited as he may be. While there’s only so much one can do with a protagonist when they’re literally stranded on a rock for a near hour-and-a-half, Collet-Serra finds some interesting ways and avenues to go down, in order to make it compelling to watch, as well as fun. The movie’s focus itself hardly strays away from Nancy on the rock, when Nancy is in fact, on the rock, and it’s an effective device to use, because it makes us feel closer to her, as if we too, are stranded, without a paddle, and inches away from being shark bait.


Close call, Blake! Don’t worry. Some guy will save you. They always do.

And sure, the Shallows does get away with some silly things that most other movies in its nature wouldn’t be able to get away with, but that’s because Collet-Serra doesn’t focus on the dumb things of the story. The fact that Nancy does say a lot to her, or in this case, the wonderfully awesome bird, can get a tad annoying, as well as can some of the random conveniences that pop-up to make her stay on the rock much longer. There’s small bits and pieces of this movie that doesn’t necessarily work, but because Collet-Serra is actually able to make this very simple, very easy-to-understand premise, actually something enjoyable, it’s hard to really narrow-in on them and get mad.

After all, it’s a shark movie that’s not lame.

It also deserves to be noted that Blake Lively, in a role where she is, essentially, talking to and interacting with a bunch of CGI, special-effects, and green-screen, does a solid enough job that it makes you forget about some of these things while watching. This is actually a very hard role for most actors to pull-off, where they have to remain interesting, while literally having nothing to say, but Lively’s good at it; we believe her as this smart gal that’s resourceful and what the next best step to take is, which makes this situation all the more drastic and dangerous as it piles on and on. Sure, it helps that Lively herself isn’t all that bad of a gal to look at, but that stuff doesn’t matter because she gives a good performance in a movie that, possibly, may not have needed one to really work wonders, but hey, works fine with one, so why not?

Consensus: Simple to a fault, the Shallows is a low-key horror-thriller that works on building up suspension, to where it’s actually fun to get involved in the sometimes scary situation.

6.5 / 10

Move over a little bit, Blake. You're getting in the way of the bird.

Move over a little bit, Blake. You’re getting in the way of the bird.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Goat (2016)

For a few thousand up-front, they’ll be your friends for life.

The summer before his life changes forever and he starts college, Brad (Ben Schnetzer) goes through a very traumatic time in his life where he is robbed and carjacked by a pack of thieves he knows nothing about. Brad isn’t ready for the real world just yet and begins to have second thoughts about actually going to college, until his older brother, Brett (Nick Jonas), promises him that everything will get better once he joins up at his frat. Brad doesn’t really know what he wants to do, but he wants something to get all of his anger out, so he decides to pledge which, at first, is all fine and dandy. The guys all get to know each other, drink, party hard, and have sex with all sorts of hot chicks. But after pledge week is over, it all gets very dark, very twisted, and very serious, with pledges having to do all sorts of cruel and messed-up things to one another, in hopes that they will become apart of this frat, and most importantly, the brotherhood that the frat promises.

Crazy times with the one relevant Jonas bro!

Crazy times with the one relevant Jonas bro!

Though it’s incredibly hard to find, Todd Phillips’ Frat House documentary truly is an eye-opener for those who never got to experience a real-life frat for what it was, or even actually saw one and only learned of how they were from movies and such. Whereas a lot of movies will glamorize these free-wheelin’ lifestyles chock full of booze, drugs, sex, parties, bro-bonding, and countless other events of full-on debauchery, the documentary showed that there was a more sadistic side to all of these supposed wonderful and great things. Instead of making it seem like a fraternity is the way to go for any college male looking for the perfect set of friends and parties, it showed that maybe, just maybe, going to the library and staying in isn’t such a bad thing.

After all, you won’t have nearly as many psychological issues when you graduate and are ready to actually begin with the rest of your life.

But anyway, the reason I bring up that movie is because a good portion of it feels as if it’s all been brought to film in Goat, even though co-writer/director Andrew Neel has drawn most of this from his real-life experiences in fraternities. And because of that, the movie still feels real; everything we’re seeing isn’t done in the usual, over-the-top manner, but instead, with a keen eye for certain details about this lifestyle that makes you feel like you almost are watching a documentary at certain times. Neel is a smart director though, in that he opts to never really get too close to everything here, even though he definitely could have with all of his experiences in real life; while it would have been easy for him to paint his wild and crazy times in a frat as “rad” and “awesomely awesome”, he opts more for sitting back and saying, “well, maybe it was kind of screwed-up”. But at the same time, he’s not.

See, there’s this detached feeling to the proceedings that take place during Goat and it makes a lot of what’s happening all the more compelling to watch. The movie could have easily gotten on a high horse and made it out to be that frats are the worst things to happen to college life since the cafeteria (which, it may honestly be), but it doesn’t try to get across a message in any way, shape or form. After all, the movie understands that for some of the dudes apart of the frat, it is their lives and without it, they would sort of be nothing; James Franco’s small, but powerful cameo as a former brother who shows up for a little to drink and forget about his wife and kid, shows that this frat lifestyle never goes away, no matter how far away you get from it.

It’s actually kind of scary, but it’s even scarier once you remember that frats still do exist at colleges and they’re still doing a lot of what they’ve been doing since they ever started.

"Don't blink, or take a shot of some warm liquid."

“Don’t blink, or take a shot of some warm liquid that’s totally not urine.”

That said, Goat is also a movie that needs to have a story, and not just be one scene of hazing, after another, and yeah, this is where it kind of falls apart. Neel is great at setting up the scenes for these seemingly unpredictable moments to happen, but when it comes to actually getting across some sort of story, in which there are random acts of violence and even a death, it all comes off as a little melodramatic. Not to say that these sorts of things don’t show the true danger of frats, but they also do so in a way that makes it feel a bit like an afterschool special – albeit, one with a whole lot more cursing, drinking, and nudity.

But thankfully, the performances do help it out. Ben Schnetzer is a very young talent who constantly keeps on showing up in interesting stuff, even if the movies themselves don’t always work. Here, as Brad, he gets to do a lot by showing us this truly nerdy guy who may or may not have a darker side to him, but wants to get it out in any sort of way that he can. Some ways, he reminds me of a few kids I knew going to school, who despite seeming like your normal, everyday geek who came and went to class, didn’t say a word, and seemed to keep to himself, all of a sudden was a part of a frat, bro-ing out, drinking hard, having all sorts of crazy sex, and acting like a crazy and out-and-out maniac. Brad’s that guy and Schnetzer is great at making us wonder just where he’s going to go next. Same goes for Nick Jonas’ Brett, who gets a whole lot more sympathetic as he goes on, showing that this cold, dark and awfully cruel world of fraternities can have some honest souls who don’t want to see their friends roll around in feces and dirt just to get into more parties for free.

Sometimes, they just want everyone to have a good time and not lose their own self-worth.

Consensus: Dark, disturbing and shocking, Goat works as an eye-opener for those who aren’t used to seeing fraternities depicted in this way on the screen, even if its accompanying story doesn’t always seem to be as interesting.

7.5 / 10

If you're waking up to this, it's time to get to class ASAP.

Just bro’s being bro’s.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Billboard, Brightest Young Things

Masterminds (2016)

What’s wrong with a little money in your pocket?

David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) is stuck in an unfortunately very boring and plain life. While he doesn’t necessarily know this, he still knows that his life could get a whole lot better if he just took more chances, rather than just lying around and waiting for life to happen. That’s why when his co-worker who he more than just admires on a professional basis, Kelly (Kristen Wiig), brings up the idea of possibly changing it all, he’s all in. The plan, concocted by Kelly’s pal, Steve (Owen Wilson), is to get David to steal $17 million, and hand it over to the gang. Of course, because David and everyone else involved are a little more than just silly and almost complete idiots, the plan doesn’t go so perfectly. This leads David to have to travel halfway across the world, to make sure that the cops don’t get him, even though they’re looking for him anywhere that they can find him. And just to make sure that David doesn’t do any talking, Steve’s hired a hit man (Jason Sudeikis), who he believes to get the job done in a professional, easy manner.

Why so happy? Cause I'm not!

Why so happy? Cause I’m not!

For some odd reason, Masterminds was supposed to come out nearly two years ago, but just didn’t. Normally, these sorts of things have to do with the fact that the studios got cold feet, didn’t trust the product, or there just wasn’t any big-named talent involved, but not with Masterminds. Despite a huge cast of comedic heavyweights and an interesting, if also, true premise, Masterminds sat on the shelves because Relativity Media, the distributors, were facing financial issues.

So why then, are we waiting nearly two more years for this movie? Is it because the money just wasn’t there to promote it? Or is it because the final product itself was so lame that everyone involved was just too scared to even show the world what it looked like?

Unfortunately, it’s neither. If anything, Masterminds is a mixed-bag in that it seemed like it was a messy movie to begin with, but because there was so much time dedicated and taken to fixing it in any way that they could have, it just comes off a lot more mixed. Writer/director Jared Hess is no hack and surely isn’t a work-for-hire director by any means, but honestly, it seems as if he just stood back and let alone of the movie film itself, with the cast making up the lines and situations as they went on, sometimes creating magic and other times, just seeming like they’ve got nothing to work with, so they’re just throwing whatever they can find, at the wall.

Does it all stick? Not really.

And that’s honestly, one of the biggest problems with Masterminds – it just has way too much going on that doesn’t work, or better yet, even connect. It’s a comedy that’s actually filled to the brim with humor and non-stop weirdness, yet, for some odd reason, that humor, nor weirdness ever seems to really work. There’s a few moments here and there where the movie actually offers something funny and, if anything, inspired (it’s hard not to laugh at Galifianakis mispronouncing Spanish), but they all come very few and far between/

Normally, I wouldn’t even mind this in a comedy, but because there’s so many good and funny people here, it makes me wonder what was really going on. Galifianakis is good at these sort of silly, almost idiotic roles and David Ghantt is not all that different from what we’ve seen before, however, it’s a gag that gets old a little too quick, once we realize that the whole movie is just making non-stop jokes on his behalf. It tries to give him some shading with his love for Kristen Wiig’s character, but at the same time, still likes to watch him fall down, hit his head, or do something so irresistibly stupid.

"Hey, man! It's me! Remember? That guy who's actually really funny, except for in this, for some reason?"

“Hey, man! It’s me! Remember? That guy who’s actually really funny, except for in this, for some reason?”

Once again, there’s not a problem with that in most movies, but it just has to be funny. Which in Masterminds, it never really is.

People fall, get shot, get hurt, and say all sorts of silly things, but does it ever really connect in a humorous way? Not necessarily. Surprisingly, it’s Leslie Jones who actually seems ready to play and willing to work with this material, even if, yeah, her role as an FBI Agent seems, at the very least, probably 90% made up on the spot. Same goes for the likes of Jason Sudeikis and Kate McKinnon, who all show up and, essentially, improv like the Dickens. They may have had a script and a direction, but it never really shows because whatever they make up, they just roll with.

Normally, when you have funny people, ad-libbing doesn’t always hurt. But here, when it seems like the worst bits and pieces of improv were chosen, it just does hurt; we watch as these funny people act in scenes with one another, try their hardest to do something crazier than what they did before, but in the end, just settle for being crazy, but without any humor. It’s like watching Tim & Eric, but not knowing how they construct their episodes or their humor – while that’s perhaps more jarring than watching Masterminds, it still deserves to be said that one’s act of weirdness, works a whole lot more than the others.

And if you don’t believe me, just stay for the credits. They show every cut-scene available to the movie, in hopes that people who didn’t laugh all that much, get another opportunity to do so by watching famous people goof-around with one another, forget their lines, and make more and more stuff up as they roll on along.

As I stated before: Still have no clue what happened with Masterminds, but I’m seeming to get a better idea.

Consensus: Even with the onslaught talent available, Masterminds still feels way too insane and made-up as it went along, to fully function as a well-thought out, actually funny comedy.

4.5 / 10

Yeah. My feelings exactly.

Yeah. My feelings exactly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Live by the oil, die by the oil.

On April 20, 2010, an oil rig out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico exploded, leaving many oil riggers on board, dead, severely injured, and even worse, an insane amount of oil to fill up the ocean and wipe out a rather large chunk of the sea population. In this take on the true events, we get a glimpse into the life of one oil rigger, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who is very dedicated to his wife (Kate Hudson), his family, and his job, which means that he is mostly concerned with making sure that each and every member of his crew is safe on board of the oil rig. However, issues arise when certain shareholders and powers that be within BP have some issues with the way the rig has been going as of late; so far, they’re past budget and feeling a lot of pressure from their bosses to get the oil out of this rig, as soon as possible, and by any means neccessary. Of course, this means actually testing the darn rig in the first place, which causes a whole lot of problems and, essentially, sets off the disaster that we’ve all come to know and, unfortunately, may never forget.

"No! I've got to save the day!"

“No! I’ve got to save the day!”

Peter Berg seems as if he’s become the perfect, go-to guy for these true, fact-based tales about hard-working men and women being, well, hard-workers and facing death straight in the face, even when any normal person in their situation would run away and scream for their lives. Berg likes to make tributes to these people and honestly, it’s an admirable task that he has on his hands; he chooses to make movies about the stories that do actually matter and deserve to be told, to a larger audience who may not know the story as is, or exactly what happened. And because of that, another movie in his wheelhouse, like Deepwater Horizon, not only feels like a solid step in the right direction, but hopefully a sign of better things to come with Patriots Day, a film about the Boston bombings that comes out later this year.

Does it really matter though? No, not really. But if anything, a movie like Deepwater Horizon proves Berg to be one of the better directors out there today, but we just don’t know it yet. He’s not necessarily a flashy director, showing off all of the neat and unusual skills that he learned in film-classes or from his peers, nor does he ever seem to be the kind of director who has a statement to make with every flick he directs, with the exception of, of course, showing us that there are average, everyday people like you or I that could be, essentially, heroes. Sure, it’s a little cheesy and melodramatic, but it still works because Berg doesn’t lay it all on thick, as opposed to directors like Spielberg and, oh lord, Michael Bay seem to do.

No offense, Berg. You’re no Spielberg and you’re sure as hell no Michael Bay.

That said, Berg does a nice job with this material as he presents a story that most of us seem to know by now and still, somehow, some way, make it all compelling and tense. There comes a certain point about halfway through the film in which Berg has set everything up that he needs to set up – location, the characters, their relationship to one another, the central conflict of the movie, and why any of this matters in the first place, etc. – and just lets it all spin completely out of control. While that may sound like a bad thing, it works in Berg’s favor; he truly does get put in the heads of these men and women aboard this oil rig and makes us feel as if we are actually there, experiencing all of the carnage and havoc for what they are, which is disastrous.

Sure, you could make the argument that Berg goes a tad bit overboard with it, in the way that he went a little nuts about the soldiers in Lone Survivor breaking all of the bones in their body, but it makes you feel closer to this whole situation. While Berg is trying to tell us a story, he’s not trying to sensationalize anything, either, no matter how many explosions or high-flying acts he lets run wild; he’s respectful of the story itself, but isn’t afraid to also show what the sort of hell it may have been like on-board of that oil rig that day.

Trust the 'stache. It may save your life.

Trust the ‘stache. It may save your life.

Man, and to think that J.C. Chandor was the original director for this.

Regardless, Berg’s recreation of everything here is tense and unpredictable the whole way through, even if, yeah, we know exactly how everything goes down. All that matters most is actually being drawn in by these characters and the cast, which Berg allows for even more. Wahlberg has become something of his muse as of late (he’s starring in Patriots Day), and the two seem to handle each other quite well; Berg allows for Wahlberg to be his macho-self, while also still giving him a sense of vulnerability that makes us see a true human being, stepping up and being a hero of sorts. Berg also gets a lot of mileage out of some really talented actors like Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, and a whole slew of others, but never feels like he’s shorting anyone, at any particular time. Malkovich’s BP member may seem like your typical Malkovich-villain, loud-screaming and all, but there’s a little something more to him than just being a savage-like prick who doesn’t care about the cost of human life when compared to the cost of his shares.

That said, the note that Deepwater Horizon ends on is an admirable one. Berg shows us, in small, relatively subtle ways, that our world is incredibly reliant on oil. While Berg doesn’t ever get the chance to stand on his soapbox and preach, he still shows us that this is what can happen when the danger of more profit and more reliability is out there in the world. Sure, he’s not necessarily asking you to get rid of your cars and start walking/riding bikes, but he’s also asking us to take a second look at what we do with our normal lives and most importantly, just how much we spend when we go to the pump.

Especially to BP.

Consensus: Tense, thrilling, emotional, and believe it or not, exciting, Deepwater Horizon is another true tale from Peter Berg that not only ups the ante on the explosions and deadliness of the situation he’s portraying, but one that’s got something to say and isn’t totally concerned with just blowing stuff up for the sake of it all.

8 / 10

"Coach? I've got a bad feeling about this."

“Coach? I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Everyone needs a little cut, no?

Evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusts for the beautiful wife of a London barber named Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) and rather than having any competition with this man, Turpin decides to transport him to Australia for a crime he did not commit. Now, Sweeney Todd has returned after 15 years and is ready to extract some revenge, however, he knows that he has to be smart and sly about it. So he decides to open up his barber-shop with the dedicated Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and together, they decide to not only give fellow citizens some nice trims and cuts and whatnot, but also give them a little thing called “death”. That’s right, Sweeney Todd takes all of his anger out on his customers who have no clue that instead of getting a buzz, they’re going to get a slice of their throats from Sweeney and then thrown in the boiler for meat-pies. While it’s sickening, it’s a hit among the people and eventually, it makes Sweeney more and more inspired on getting Turpin in is chair once and for all.

Who hasn't gotten a toy and admired it like this?

Who hasn’t gotten a toy and admired it like this?

Once again, there’s something so damn pleasant about watching Tim Burton have a good time with himself, and while Sleepy Hollow is definitely a solid showing of that fact come to life, Sweeney Todd is perhaps a better example. Here, not only does Burton get to roll around with musical-numbers, but he still gets the opportunity to play around with his dark, brooding and Gothic horror-style that he loves so much and can’t seem to get tired of. And of course, he gets to do it all with the people he loves and adores so much, like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and so on and so forth.

And because of this, Sweeney Todd feels like a celebration of sorts.

Not just for Burton, but musicals as a whole. Sweeney Todd is the kind of darkly humorous and sadistic tale that’s definitely not everybody’s plate of pie, nor is it going to win over any naysayers of the musical-genre as a whole, but for Burton, none of that matters – he’s having a great time allowing for these songs to play out in a traditional format, with the voices and music blaring over the speakers and never quieting down. The downside to all of the musical numbers is that Burton himself doesn’t quite know how to film these scenes and make them look interesting; sure, the songs are entertaining and interesting enough, but they’re filmed in such a one-on-one bland way that it makes the movie feel like you’re actually watching a stage-play filmed on the screen.

Sure, that’s fine and all, but sometimes, it’s always best to have a little more imagination with these numbers, especially when you’re making a full-length, feature-flick, with a big-budget and all. Cause honestly, sky’s the limit and if there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about going big and over-the-top, it’s Burton. And he does go for that quite often here, and you know what?

It actually works.

Oh man. RIP.

Oh man. RIP.

Because the tone and material is so subversive and mean, the humor and gags and whatnot, while silly, still work. Burton’s sense of humor in most of his movies have borderlined on cheesy, but because that’s his crazy style, it’s been accepted; here in Sweeney Todd, it feels right with the material. There’s nothing sillier than watching and listening to a barber singing about his one true love as he’s slicing and dicing the throats of his customers and Burton milks it all for it’s worth. He doesn’t let-up and because of that, it’s hard not to be entertained and excited by Sweeney Todd, even if the material and look of the film can be grim.

But of course, it mostly all comes together so well because Burton has his usual band of misfits to join in on the fun and without them, who knows how his film may have turned out to be. Depp’s Sweeney is a perfect fit because he’s not just charismatic, but a little dangerous, too. Depp has always had a good time in Burton’s movies, but here, it seems like he’s enjoying himself the most, playing the straight man to the, mostly, crazy proceedings. Characters around him like Timothy Spall’s, or Sacha Baron Cohen’s are all campy and wild, whereas Depp, always remains stoic and smart, which helps his character seem all the more sympathetic and, well, “cool”.

Maybe that’s not what he was going for, but hey, it’s what happened.

Honestly though, it’s Helena Bonham Carter who steals the show as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd’s lovely sidekick who will and has followed him through the thick and thin of life. Though her character sings about unrequited love and grinding up human-meat to make pies, there’s a sincerity to her character that keeps her watchable and downright sad. Carter’s comedic-timing is perfect, as well as her chemistry with Depp, but no matter what, when she’s given the spotlight to sing about her feelings of love and remorse, you feel them and it’s probably the only time that Sweeney Todd, the movie, actually seems like it’s taking itself more seriously.

Sure, fun and games are fine and all, but every once and awhile, it’s always nice to have a little cry just to remind yourself that you’re human.

Consensus: Burton’s dark sense of style and Sweeney Todd go so perfectly together, that it’s hard not to enjoy the movie, especially with the vocal and acting talents constantly on-display.

8.5 / 10

Love at first slash.

Love at first slash.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Find the head and you may get the killer.

Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a New York City detective whose unorthodox techniques and penchant for gadgets make him unpopular with is colleagues. That’s why, after much time spent on science and all of the ground-breaking inventions being made within that world, he is sent to the remote town of Sleepy Hollow, where they hope he’ll be able to solve a whole slew of murders that have been occurring – as local townspeople have all been disappearing in the woods and dead, only to have their bodies found with their heads cut off. Who is doing this and why, Ichabod hopes to find out and it’s why, despite not having a great idea of the land that he’s about to settle into, he is, at the very least, inspired. Once he gets to this town, Ichabod realizes that there’s a lot more going on between these townsfolk that may or may not solve his crime, but also continue to make the folk tale of the Headless Horsemen all the more grandiose and magical, if also kind of dangerous.

From Hell?

From Hell?

It’s great to watch Tim Burton having fun, because unfortunately, he so rarely does nowadays. While he could have made a drab, dreary and downright depressing version of Sleepy Hollow, Burton instead goes for a fun, high-wire, quick, and exciting version that is also drab, dreary and, yes, depressing. Sounds crazy and almost impossible to imagine or even picture seeing, but somehow, Burton pulls it all off so well, adding a great sense of slick and brooding style to go along with the fast velocity in which the plot is being told to us.

Does it all work?

Sadly, no, not really. However, there’s something to be said for a messy Tim Burton movie that is, in ways, a very fun one. By the year 1999, Burton wasn’t quite as well-known as the imaginative and ambitious creative-mind that seemed to have lost his way, like he is now – back then, he was still seen as the imaginative and ambitious creative-mind that may have had a few missteps along the way (Mars Attacks! and Beetlejuice, depending on who you talk to), but recovered from them quite greatly because he still had a style to work with and wasn’t afraid to get as weird as one can possibly get. That’s why, for the longest while, Sleepy Hollow is quite the thrill-ride; it’s probably not as scary as Burton wants it to be, but with an R-rating, it’s allowed to do a whole lot of things, like stab, slice and splatter all sorts of blood.

It’s as if Burton was given free reign to run wild with whatever he budget he had in mind, with whoever was around, and at the same time, still put something of his stamp on an age old classic. It’s basically the dream that every director/writer dreams of one day actually having, which is what makes it all the more joyful to see Burton getting a chance to live out that dream, once and for all. Sure, he may have already had his dreams lived out before with the Batman flicks, but personally, as dark and as sinister as this can sometimes get, it seems like Burton is really in his zone. He doesn’t have to answer to too many people, nor does he have anyone set in his mind about pleasing.

Except, well, himself, of course.

Who needs lines when you're Christopher Walken?

Who needs lines when you’re Christopher Walken?

That said, Burton does slip up somewhere by the end, once the film relies that it has to actually tell its age old plot and give something resembling a reason for all of the crazy murders and whatnot. It’s not that we needed it, because we sort of do, it’s just that it feels like such a hack-job that Burton himself didn’t even seem to care about, is that it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t hold much meaning. We get an idea of who the villain in the story may be, but the movie isn’t solely depending on the big, final twist of who was really chopping all of the people’s heads off; it’s all about the ride and joy of getting there, which is where Burton works best. Grounding himself in rhyme, or reason, is not Burton’s forte and while he can definitely do it, he doesn’t really need to with a movie as silly and, sometimes, as insane as Sleepy Hollow.

It’s also why the final-product, while still enjoyable, still does feel like a bit of a mixed-bag. There’s no denying the fact that it’s a fun-filled, campy, and over-the-top wild ride that doesn’t ever seem to let up, by the end, it can get a little exhausting. All of the characters in this are, well, exactly that; every actor who shows up here is great, but they’re also working with cartoon cut-outs. Sure, some may not expect this from a Burton flick, or better yet, a Sleepy Hollow adaptation, but it would have been nice, if not, necessary to get some downtime in between all of the craziness to get to know who we’re dealing with and why. Just having talented, good-looking people like Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, and Miranda Richardson isn’t enough.

A little bit more detail and care can go a long, long way, no matter how much style you have going on.

Consensus: Wacky, wild, over-the-top and occasionally nuts, Sleepy Hollow finds Tim Burton having a great time putting his own spin on the classic tale, but also finds him never knowing when to slow down and tell us a little more about the story.

7 / 10

Yeah, time to turn around, I'd say.

Yeah, time to turn around, I’d say.

Photos Courtesy of: Overdue Review

The Kingdom (2007)

Let’s just stay home and let people settle themselves out, okay?

Charged with the most important assignment of his career, federal agent Ron Fleury (Jamie Foxx) has one week to assemble a team, infiltrate and destroy a terrorist cell based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It’s not what he had in mind when he decided to join back up with the force, but it’s the task that was handed down to him, so he wrangles up Special Agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), a forensic examiner, FBI analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), an intelligence analyst, and Special Agent Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), who all have their own set of skills that will help allow for this mission to go down a lot smoother. And if that wasn’t enough, well, then the four also have the company and good graces of Colonel Faris al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), the commander of the Saudi State Police Force, a man who is providing security for them. However, what seems like good intentions at first, all start to go away once the agents realize that they aren’t allowed to do their jobs and complete their mission because of some strange rules that the Saudi government is passing down to them. Will they obey them? Or, like most Americans, will they just do whatever they want?

Jamie's packin'.

Jamie’s packin’.

The Kingdom shows Peter Berg more of where he’s at now in his career. He tackles these real life moments in our nation’s history and does all that he can with them, never really making a point about what it is that he’s depicting, just more of showing the world a little story that we may, or may not, already have known about. Although Berg starts the movie off by showing the relationship between the U.S. and the Saudis, post-WWI, Berg still settles himself down, opting for a more traditional approach to a story that, quite frankly, could have not only just used more eyes and ears, but more voices.

In a way, it seems like the Kingdom is the perfect movie for Berg to get on his soap-box and speak out against the U.S.’s insistence of a relationship with the Saudis, but he still seems torn; at one point, he’s all about making a point, but then, at other points, he just wants to see stuff blow-up and people get shot dead in the streets. Somehow, somewhere, it doesn’t all come together perfectly and it seems like a case of Berg himself getting lost in translation and not knowing where to speak out, and where to let the violence start happening.

The action’s good though, so that’s got to account for something, right?

And yeah, it definitely does. There’s no denying that Berg knows how to craft a tense and effective action-sequence, but there’s maybe only or two throughout the whole film, which means that a large portion of the flick is dedicated to watching a bunch of characters talk to one another about stuff we may not have a clue about, or better yet, not even care for. The Kingdom may not try to settle all of the issues between the Saudis and the U.S., but what it does set out to do, is tell us a story about something that happened in the real world and why it deserves to be told.

So is Chris.

So is Chris.

Why, for some reason, that emotional impact isn’t felt while watching the movie is, for lack of a better term, weird. Berg knows how to craft action-sequences and in the many scenes where there are people talking, there’s still some underlining sense of dread and tension, but it never quite materializes into being anything all that exciting. Berg is, simply put, telling this story and leaving it at that.

In a way, that’s perfectly fine.

But in another way, it’s not. It lets the very talented cast and crew down, as well as the people it’s supposed to be depicting. Of course, the events and situations are all loosely based on other events that occurred in Saudi Arabia and had to do with American forces intervening, but the idea of patriotism and paying a tribute to these men and women who serve our country, only to make other countries nearly as good and safe as ours, still feels relevant. Berg wants to celebrate these people and there’s no problem with that – except for when he doesn’t quite give them all that much of a spectacular movie that really gets us, the movie-going audience, going.

Consensus: Despite a few solid pieces of action and timely themes, the Kingdom doesn’t know how to package them all up in a neat, somewhat cohesive manner that’s both effective, or interesting, making it feel like a missed-opportunity to really speak out against issues that deserve to be spoken out against.

6 / 10

And you know what? Even Jen is.

And you know what? Even Jen is.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Very Bad Things (1998)

Bachelor parties. What’s the worst that could happen?

Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) is finally ready to settle down with his fiancee (Cameron Diaz). But before that all goes down, he’s got one weekend with his four pals, where they’re going to take a trip out to Vegas and celebrate his bachelor party the right way. While Kyle’s perfectly fine with a weekend chock full of booze, drugs and pay-per-view, he gets a little more than he bargained for when his best buddy, Boyd (Christian Slater), decides that it’s time to call up a stripper and let her do her thing. She does, but she also gets a little more than what was asked of her when the guys accidentally kill her. Having to tie-up all sorts of loose-ends, the guys all plan on covering it up and acting as if it never happened. However, when you have to tie-up one loose-end, there’s plenty more that need to be tied-up, especially when you have a bunch of yuppies dealing with all these sorts of issues.

One wedding....

One wedding….

Very Bad Things is the kind of movie that was meant to be despised and disgusted by when it first came out. It’s the kind of pitch black comedy that we hear so much about, yet, because more and more studios want to actually make money off of their movies, so rarely actually see. And with Very Bad Things, we get the kind of pitch black comedy that deals with all sorts of ugly and disgusting issues, like rape, like murder, like death, like crime, like incest, like drug-use, and like so many, many other problematic issues that so many movies are actually afraid to even take a whiff at.

And that’s sort of why this movie works as well as it does.

Peter Berg made his directorial debut with this and it’s actually quite surprising; while he’s become known as the go-to guy for true stories of heroic people, acting heroic, it all came from somewhere very dark and disturbing. That’s why, as sick and twisted as the movie may be, there’s still something interesting about why, of all people and of all the material out there in the universe, did Peter Berg decide to direct this? Was it because he needed to get his start and didn’t quite care? Or, was it because he actually liked the material and was basically against the idea of pleasing anyone with his first movie?

Whatever the reasoning behind his decision, it doesn’t matter because Berg does all that he can with this movie and, for the most part, makes it work. Because its grisly, upsetting and downright vile, Berg has to really make us feel as if we’re lowering ourselves down to this sort of heinous material, which he does, but he also allows us to have a little fun in it, too. Sure, a lot of people won’t like the idea that we’re supposed to be entertained, let alone, compelled by a premise involving a bunch of yuppies killing a stripper and trying to get away with it all, but there’s still some fun in watching that all play out here. After all, Berg makes the smart choice in not ever showing these guys in a positive light and is clearly against each and everyone of their ugly decisions.

One funeral....

One funeral….

But does that mean we have to hate the time spent with them?

Not really and it’s why, Very Bad Things, like a lot of other dark comedies in the same vein as it, feels like it’s enjoying itself enough to where we know that it’s in on the joke and is having fun, yet, at the same time, also isn’t afraid to pay attention to the darker, grittier details of a very dark and gritty tale such as this. There’s always a sense of joy in the air, for sure, but Berg isn’t afraid to show the kind of emotional-toll something like this can take on the people involved – especially when a bunch of the people are just your typical white, middle-class jagbags. Berg doesn’t make Very Bad Things all that serious, but there’s a hint of that to be found, which underlines all of the near-comical situations that arise, which makes it, at the very least, admirable.

Of course, it also helps that the cast is very good and clearly able to work with material as mean-spirited as this. Jon Favreau, despite not even getting top-billing, does a fine job as our lead protagonist, as well as his fiancee, as played by Cameron Diaz, who actually turns out to be the harshest, maybe even meanest character of the whole bunch. And as the friends that join in on the activities, David Stern, Jeremy Piven, and Leland Orser are all pretty great, but it’s really Christian Slater who gets to steal the show as the crazy and demented Boyd. While Mr. Robot has, no doubt, allowed for Slater to show off a more maniacal side to him, it’s really Boyd where he gets the perfect shot as displaying his range of crazy, hell-bent anger, without ever making it seem like he’s joking. Slater’s always best when he makes it seem like he’s absolutely losing his cool and here, as Boyd, he doesn’t shy away from it one bit.

Sure, Mr. Robot‘s a better watch, but hey, there’s no problem with getting a wild and nutty Christian Slater.

Consensus: Though its material is, at the very least, upsetting, Very Bad Things still has enough of a funny, comedic-edge to make it, on few occasions, hilarious, but also slightly serious, all things considered.

7 / 10

Five d-bags....

Five d-bags….

Photos Courtesy of: Isaacs Picture Conclusions

Blair Witch (2016)

Seriously, where the hell were you Heather? We needed you.

Nearly 15 years after Heather, Josh, and Mikey went out into the middle of the Burkitsville woods, Heather’s younger brother (James Allen McCune) decides that after all of this time, he needs to go out there and find her. Alll he really has to judge is by a bunch of grainy-footage that showed up on the internet somewhere and because of that, he decides to go out there with a few of his friends and check out what’s shaking. Equipped with all sorts of cool gadgets and recording-devices, the friends meet up with some local residents, not just to find Heather and anybody else who may be out there, but to also discover what all of this witch business is about. They eventually find the answer, although it all comes at a great and deadly cost.

No matter what all of the naysayers, the Blair Witch Project was, and still is, a great horror flick. At the time of its release, it was a cultural phenomena because of everybody assuming it was all real, with the actual actors either “missing” or “dead”, and nothing like it had ever been done before. Of course, it was all a joke and awesome gag that made everyone involved filthy, stinkin’ rich, but it also ushered in a whole slew of other found-footage, first-person-narrative horror flicks. Of course, a good portion of them have been bad, but every so often, you get a good one that makes you understand the power and impact that the format can hold.

Oh, relax! It was just a squirrel!

Oh, relax! It was just a squirrel!

The remake/rehash/reboot of that original flick, is not one of them.

In fact, it’s a perfect sign as to why the found-footage format, quite possibly, may have to go away.

And it’s a shock to say this, too, because director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are two great voices in the horror world today who seem like they know a thing or two about delivering shocking, but fun horror. You’re Next is probably their best, with the Guest coming to a close second and here, it seems like they’ve taken a huge step back. For some reason, all of the excitement, all of the creativity, and all of the originality that seemed to be flowing through their blood, was somehow lost here.

Which leads me to wonder: Did they just not care? Or, did they care too much, but eventually, the studio got involved so much that their original version got taken away from them and they were left with this?

I don’t know what the answer may be, but either solution seems plausible. While they’re stuck with a thankless task of working with, what is, essentially, the same story of the original movie, they don’t seem to bring much to it. The technology is updated and of course, a nice touch, but that’s about it – everything is so rote, predictable and conventional that after awhile, it just feels like a check-list is being written while the movie is being made.

Except for the fact that this time, because technology has obviously improved and there’s a lot more CGI in flicks than ever before, everything now is so much bigger, louder and crazier that it actually betrays everything that the original film stood for. Made off of literally nickels and dimes, the Blair Witch Project worked best because it never always showed us everything that we had come to know and expect with horror movies; what the movie proved was that, sometimes, what’s in our imagination and what we picture in it, can honestly be the scariest thing of all. Here, however, nothing is left to the imagination, with us seeing a lot of wacky, odd-looking stuff, yet, none of it ever seems scary.

Oh my gosh! Sticks!

Oh my gosh! Sticks!

It’s all in our face and, in a way, boring.

Because now, yeah, we’ve seen it all before and it’s not as exciting as it may have been 17 years ago. That said, Blair Witch tries to make itself work for fans of the original, as well as fans of modern-day horror, who probably haven’t even bothered to see the original, which, in a way, means that it gets its job done. For someone such as myself, who loves and holds the original up in high-regard, it’s a problem, because it not only feels like a waste of time, but a silly idea that’s made even worse by the fact that it doesn’t seem to play by the same rules of the original.

And oh, before I forget, the acting here is quite atrocious. Say what you want about Heather, Josh, and Mikey from the original, but at least they could handle whatever script they had handed to them, making it seem like they were real people, trapped in a terrible, downright scary situation. Here, the actors can’t handle the script and the characters themselves are just so bland, so boring and so unlikable, that it’s hard to even care about what any of them do. This is all made worse by the fact that since there are literally cameras everywhere, watching and documenting everything that these actors do, they’re performances suffer more, showing that, sometimes, it helps to have good actors in these horror movies, regardless of how little you actually care about them and how much you actually care about the scares and the monsters themselves.

Sure, it’s a horror movie, but sometimes, well-written characters can actually make the scares all the more effective.

Don’t believe me? Just watch the Babadook. Now, that’s a horror movie.

Consensus: Predictable, uninteresting, and hardly even scary, Blair Witch is an obvious cash-grab that, despite the inspiration that usually lies with the creators, just feels like a waste of everyone’s time.

2 / 10

She's like Heather, but far more annoying. Crazy, right? Better believe it.

She’s like Heather, but far more annoying. Crazy, right? Better believe it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Gadget Help Line

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Personally, I believe that Chutes & Ladders is the key to world hunger. But that’s just me.

Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl living in Uganda, which is, essentially, a slum. She and her family constantly struggle to keep a roof over their head, food on their plates, and try to stay on the straight and narrow path so that they don’t have to stoop themselves down to getting money in dirty, sometimes disturbing ways. But for Phiona in particular, her one dream of making it out of the slums, and into a house, with windows, trees, a swing, and most importantly, a front-door, is by becoming one of the greatest chess players in the world. Through the constant tutelage of her teacher Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), she hones her craft and eventually, gets in tournaments. While she wins mostly all of them, the biggest issue for Phiona, according to her mother (Lupita Nyong’o), is that she sees this world outside of Uganda and can’t help but be dissatisfied and somewhat depressed by her poverty. Phiona has to turn all of that sadness, into energy so that she can make all of her wildest dreams come true and make Uganda a very hopeful and happy place, even if it’s only by the game of chess.

"Mother. checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money's at."

“Mother, checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money’s at.”

For some odd reason, despite chess not necessarily being classified as “a sport”, ESPN is here to help produce Queen of Katwe, which automatically will make you think, “cliché”. And if you did think that, you wouldn’t be far off. Queen of Katwe is the rags-to-riches, predictable story that we so often see with sports-related flicks, except that this time, the story is placed in Uganda and features a young, Ugandan girl, doing whatever it is that she can to make out of poverty and into something resembling “financially stable”.

Does it sound familiar? Definitely.

But does it still kind of work? Well, yeah. Surprisingly, it does.

Director Mira Nair has hit a bit of a slump as of late, but seems to get back on the right track with Queen of Katwe, giving us a story that’s as simple as they come, yet, still has a pleasant enough feel to it that makes you feel like it doesn’t matter how many obvious beats the story hits – as long as they’re hitting them in a right way, what’s the problem? Nair sets us in this place, at this time, shows us how awful this girl’s surroundings are, and then shows the happiness, joy and hope that the game of chess brings to her, automatically making us feel the same thing. We know where this story’s going to go once she begins to pick up some awesome skills at chess, but Nair keeps the story, at the very least, tender, that there’s at least some interest into how it’s all going to turn out.

It also helps that Nair doesn’t settle for making this about how terrible-off and poor people in Uganda are, even though, she definitely could have. A far more challenging and adult movie about Uganda would have gone to great lengths to discuss its class-issues, battle with poverty, and most of all, divide between religions (although, if you want that story, just check out God Loves Uganda), but Queen of Katwe is not that kind of movie. After all, it’s a Disney flick, so how on Earth would that be able to fly pass edits and cuts?

Regardless, Nair keeps her focus solely on the story, touches on those issues ever so slightly, and keeps everything moving, even when it seems to be slowing itself up.

So interesting.

So interesting.

Which is to say that Queen of Katwe isn’t perfect; Nair loses a bit of steam about half-way through when we’re supposed to be interested by Phiona’s brief battle with depression, when it all feels a little random and out of left-field. The movie tries to make it an important anecdote that’s meant to drive Phiona even more to achieving her dream of becoming a great chess player, but all it really does is offer David Oyelowo another opportunity to give a great, rousing speech of making one’s self better and overcoming all sorts of odds. Once again, sounds conventional, and it is, but it still works, even if getting those speeches is ham-handed.

That said, the cast are really the ones who keep Queen of Katwe, in some of its far more patchier moments, compelling. Oyelowo is a perfect fit as this minister/coach who cares so much about having these kids achieve their dreams, that he’s willing to risk his own career and marriage over it; Nyong’o’s mother character may seem like another typical, old-timey lady who doesn’t care about her kids hopes and dreams and just wants them to clean their rooms and realize the world is a terrible, unforgiving place, but eventually, she turns around and proves to have the most heart out of all the characters; and newcomer Madina Nalwanga is quite good as Phiona. While she may not always hit the right notes and definitely show that she’s an amateur, there’s still a feeling that Phiona, despite winning all of these games of chess, is still a kid, who just wants to run around and play in the dirt with her friends and family.

Really though, Queen of Katwe works so well with these actors because the people are real. At the end of the flick, we get to learn a little bit about these real people’s lives and actually see them, side-by-side with their acting counterparts. The movie never rips at your tear-ducts, but this moment got me and made me feel like I just saw a true story, with heart, emotion and a great amount of sweetness, play out all in front of my eyes.

And that’s truly something nice.

Consensus: While still conventional and predictable to a fault, Queen of Katwe mostly benefits from a solid cast and heartfelt direction from Mira Nair who has to jump between Disney and ESPN on quite a number of occasions, yet, seems to please both parties, as well as the audience.

6.5 / 10

"Check. Mate. Now leave my sight."

“Check. Mate. Now leave my sight.”

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

It takes one to ruin a village. And about six more so blow it the hell up.

Looking to mine for gold, greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has been taking over small towns, wiping out any man, woman, or child who comes into his way. Why? Because he’s an absolute savage and does not give a single hell what anybody else thinks, says, or does – as long as he’s rich and powerful, then there’s no issues. Eventually, he seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek, wiping out quite a few of the townsfolk there, too, leading some residents, like Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) desperate and in need of some help. That’s when they discover bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who is more than up to the task, but may need a little bit of help from some talented, incredibly violent pals of his. That’s when he recruits the likes of a gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), an assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), all to take down this Bogue, even if they have to get over their differences and whatnot at first – something that’s actually quite easy when they all have a common enemy.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let's hope.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let’s hope.

The original Magnificent Seven isn’t a perfect movie, to be honest. Like a lot of other movies from its time, sure, it’s dated, but it’s also pretty slow and takes a little too long to get going, when all it seems to do is focus on such icons like Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner measuring dicks and beating their chests like true alpha males. Sure, that’s some bit of entertainment in and of itself, but after nearly an hour of that, there needs to be something to help speed it all along, which is why when the action does eventually come around in that movie, it’s glorious and a healthy reminder of what sort of magic can happen when you have a lot of bad-asses, picking up guns and shooting other bad-asses.

So yeah, in that sense, it’s a good movie, but not a perfect one.

And the same goes for the remake, which for some reason, takes even longer to get going. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t mind that as much here, as it’s very clear that director Antoine Fuqua, is just enjoying his time with this cast and these characters so much, that to jump right to the action where most of them may go down in a blaze full of bullets, would almost be a disservice to them all. Fuqua isn’t the best director out there, regardless of the fact that he drove Denzel Washington an Oscar with Training Day, but when he decides to settle all of his crazy tendencies down, believe it or not, he’s actually a pretty solid director. He may love the blood, gore, guns, and women a whole lot more than the actual characters themselves, but he does something smart here in that he keeps the character moments here for safe keeping.

Of course, too, it also helps that Fuqua himself has such a solid cast to help him out, with his pal Washington back in action as the sly, but cool and dangerous Sam Chisolm. Washington may seem like a weird fit, but he works it all out perfectly, showing that he’s the clear-headed individual of the whole group, while also proving that he’s not afraid to lose his cool and shoot some mofo’s down, too. Chris Pratt is also a bundle of joy to watch Faraday, showing off another sense of cool and charm that works in his character’s favor, as well as for him, too. It’s nice to see Pratt, even after something like Jurassic World, that didn’t allow for him to even crack a smile, well, get a chance for him to do that and prove that there’s also something a little more sinister to him, as well.

Yeah, where's Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

Yeah, where’s Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

The rest of the cast and characters don’t get nearly as much attention, but they’re all still fine, nonetheless.

Ethan Hawke has some interesting moments as Robicheaux, showing a serious side effect to all of the gun-slinging and killing that he talks so famously about; Vincent D’Onofrio is goofy and weird as Jack Horne, a big bear of a man, but it’s right up his alley; Byung-hun Lee is cold and dangerous Billy Rocks, even if he doesn’t have a whole lot to say; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is probably the weakest of the crew as Vasquez, never quite getting the chance to really show off any charm or excitement; and Martin Sensmeier, while barely uttering a line as the Red Harvest, is still a pretty intimidating figure nonetheless and it works.

The only shame about the movie is the inclusion of both Haley Bennett and Peter Sarsgaard. Nothing against either performer, who both do fine jobs here, but it also feels like they may have been a little tacked-on. Bennett literally has a leading role here and honestly, a part of me wanted to believe that she’d be one of the so-called Seven, all sexist issues aside, but sadly, that doesn’t happen and she’s lead to just be the smart gal who, yes, can take care of herself and yes, can shoot a gun, but also doesn’t feel like she’s that part of the crew. And Sarsgaard, enjoying his time as a campy villain, doesn’t have many scenes to show off all of his evil tendencies and instead, seems like an afterthought in the movie’s mind; so much time is spent on the Seven, their dynamic and their training for this battle, that the movie forgets the actual threat himself, which is Sarsgaard’s Bogue.

Still, the final battle itself is solid and saves any sort of bad feelings going into this ending. It’s bloody, brutal and surprisingly, unpredictable, with a few people biting the dust that you wouldn’t expect to. It’s nice to see a mainstream movie not afraid to take off some famous people’s heads, while, at the same time, still have the chance to offer up a sequel in the near-future.

Would I see it? Probably. Just give me a better next time.

And no, I’m not talking about Marvel.

Consensus: With a talented and more than capable cast, the Magnificent Seven works as an entertaining, sometimes incredibly violent Western that’s a lot like the original, but also feels more concerned with characters this time, even if the villain himself doesn’t appear all that much of a threat.

7 / 10

Yeah, I'd turn around, too.

Yeah, I’d turn around, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Weiner (2016)

What’s in a name?

After spending some time in Congress and starting all sorts of controversy for his loud, sometimes arrogant demeanor and approach to certain situations, Democrat Anthony Weiner decides that it’s his time to take things one step further and head for Mayor of New York City. And to be honest, it seems as if Weiner has an actual shot at winning the job; he’s good friends with the Clintons, his wife, Huma Abedin, is loving and supportive, and his viewpoints on race, gender, and class make him all around beloved human being. However, it all comes crashing down when news surfaces that Weiner was on the internet, scouring the web and sending all sorts of naughty pics to gals that he would strike up conversations with. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Weiner got in trouble for his internet-usage, but it was the one time that everyone who loved and supported him, began to turn the other cheek and think long and hard about who they wanted to represent them. Either they wanted the strong-willed, determined family-man, or they wanted the strong-willed, determined dude who looked to look at dirty pics online?

"Vote for me and I swear that I'll delete my web history."

“Vote for me and I swear that I’ll delete my web history.”

Oh and yeah, it’s all filmed.

No, seriously. Like almost everything that you could imagine wouldn’t be filmed in a situation as tense and awkward as this, trust me, it’s filmed. It even gets to a point where the directors, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, even ask Weiner himself why he’s allowing for them to film everything and, well, he hardly even gives an answer. This is meant to show that Weiner himself, doesn’t give a hoot what constitutes good or bad publicity – as long as the cameras are turned towards him, the lights are beaming down on him, and people are talking to him, then Anthony Weiner is more than happy to oblige to anything.

Is that such a problem?

The interesting aspect about Weiner, the person, that the documentary gets across very early-on is that he’s the kind of politician that only Aaron Sorkin still believes in and thinks can still exist; he’s loud, arrogant, brash and selfish, but at the same time, he cares about what he believes in, is very opinionated, and isn’t afraid to get down on the ground level with fellow human beings, making it seem as if everything he does, says and promises, well, he’ll make happen one day. While watching the documentary, it’s not hard to think this, regardless of what political affiliation you may or may not have – watching someone like Weiner run around like a wild madman during his campaign parade is exciting and most of all, inspirational. It’s the sign of a true politician that believes in everything that he wants to do, even if some of it, sure, may be a little unrealistic.

But once again, is that such a problem?

And of course, that same question could be directed towards what he did in his spare-time – aka, what with the sexting and all that nonsense. The movie’s smart in that it never seems to be on Weiner’s side, nor does it ever seem like it’s totally against him; I would use the term “fly-on-the-wall”, in terms of their approach to the material, but Weiner himself makes a mention of it, so it’s kind of hard to compete. But yes, he’s got it right – this is on-the-fly, off-the-wall documentary film-making at its finest and it’s a testament to how passionate these film-makers were to getting everything that they could on film, regardless of if it was considered “rude”, or “unprofessional”.

"My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn't?"

“My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn’t?”

After all, their film-makers and film-makers have always been seen as “rude” and/or “unprofessional”.

Hell, it’s in the blood.

And due to the movie being a play-by-play of everything that’s happening, it’s not hard to get swept up in all the mayhem and drama, even when it seems all to excruciating to sit back, watch and relax. This is especially the case when you consider the fact that a good chunk of the film is literally watching as Weiner’s marriage falls apart right in front of our eyes, with him and Abedin hardly exchanging glances when in the same room, let alone actual words. It’s hard to watch, but you know what? It’s also incredibly watchable. Anthony Weiner wants us to see this for what it is and not really try to draw our own conclusions, even if there are certain things behind-the-scenes that do, or don’t happen and keep us guessing a little bit more.

That said, the movie still does fall short of being perfection because there’s never any introspective given on behalf of Weiner or even the film-makers. Sure, we can make up our own conclusions about what was going through the mind of Weiner during this one time in particular in his life, but sometimes, it’s always best to get a raw, one-on-one interview with the person; to just see him doing things that he would do in his normal, everyday life, no matter how interesting, sometimes, isn’t enough. To hear what’s going on in his head and understanding the beast for what it is, honestly, makes the journey all the more interesting.

Without it, it’s just watching a person do things that may be considered “self-destructive” or may not.

Consensus: Short of perfection, Weiner is a gripping, exciting, compelling, and sometimes hard-to-watch documentary that paints its subject in an unforgiving light, yet, at the same time, also makes him out to be the person some of us never knew actually existed beneath all of the overblown controversy.

8.5 / 10

There's no E-I-N in Weiner. No, literally.

There’s no E-I-N in “Weiner”. No, literally.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Meddler (2016)

Mom’s annoy you, because they love you. Appreciate it.

After the death of her long-loving husband, Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) is kind of lost. She’s heartbroken, sad and lonely, which is why she continuously drops by to see her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), so that she can have a little something to do. The only issue is that Lori doesn’t always enjoy her mom’s presence and because her own career as a screenwriter is stressful as is, she can’t help but bring some of those angry thoughts onto her mother. So instead of trying to help her daughter out every chance she gets, Marnie decides to extend her helping hands to those around who – some of whom, she hardly even knows. And because she was left a whole lot of comfort-money, Marnie is more than capable of doing whatever is necessary to ensure that some of her new friends are pleased with everything they ask of Marnie. While she’s doing all of this, of course, she’s also striking up something of a relationship with a local security-guard (J.K. Simmons), who takes a huge liking to her, even if she isn’t quite ready for a new love in her life.

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

It’s a pretty simple and overly cutesy plot that goes quite awry a few times. See, what’s odd about the Meddler is that it seems like writer/director Lorene Scafaria doesn’t quite know who’s side she’s on – the mom who’s meddling, or the hapless daughter who just wants to be left alone. Considering that this appears to be very autobiographical, it’s odd to see a writer/director side with someone who isn’t them, and it does play into how the movie’s perceived.

There’s a part of the Meddler that’s having fun with itself and its cast, but also seems like it wants to say more. In a way like I’ll See You in My Dreams had something to say about aging and growing old without your soulmate around, the Meddler mostly shows what a person in that situation would do to try and keep themselves busy. Of course, the situations and predicaments she gets herself into are ridiculous, but they’re also kind of funny and charming in only  a way that a movie such as this can get away with.

Because, let’s be honest, driving an Apple employee that you hardly know, to and from law school, never works out.

It’s just a fact.

But what works best about the Meddler is that Scafaria’s writing is just charming enough, to where we don’t care what we can believe in or sympathize with – the situations, after awhile, just write themselves and it’s interesting to watch how each and everyone of them play out. There’s not nearly as much tension as you would expect, but maybe that’s not this kind of movie; it’s just a showing a later-age woman, trying to still make something of the life she’s got left. It’s earnest to a fault, but hey, it kind of works.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

And yeah, it definitely does help that Susan Sarandon is playing the title character, appearing in almost every scene, showing off her great knack for combining her heart and likability, even when it seems like this character may be something of a caricature. Scafaria shows a lot of love and affection for the characters here, but it’s Sarandon’s that gets the most, with just the right touch of humanism to make her seem real, even if she does sort of seem like she’s too nice, too sweet, and too colorful to be real. But thankfully, that’s why Sarandon is here to show us that, yeah, even if she doesn’t, she’s still a whole lot of fun to watch a movie about.

As for everyone else around Sarandon, they fare a bit better on the realism-side. Rose Byrne is seemingly playing Scafaria and does fine enough being miserable and getting into all sorts of fights with Sarandon; J.K. Simmons is playing the older fella that Sarandon falls for and shows why someone like him would be so attractive in her eyes, yet, at the same time, also maybe not be the right fit; and Cecily Strong, as the gal who gets her wedding picked-up by Sarandon’s character, shows a great deal of heart, even if her character is really meant to stand around and just cry a whole lot.

It’s a bunch of hapless roles, but hey, having a good cast can sometimes work in a movie’s favor.

Consensus: Even though its cutesy premise can sometimes get in the way of an actual plot, the Meddler does benefit from a solid lead performance from Sarandon that overcompensates for almost every other wrongdoing of the script and/or direction.

7 / 10

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn't re-arranging your drawers.

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn’t re-arranging your drawers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Every person who has ever picked up a musical instrument – look out!

Childhood friends Conner (Andy Samberg), Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) were all set to rule the music world when they jumped onto the scene as the hip-hop group, the Style Boyz. They had clever, catchy tunes, that also earned them lots of respect in the rap-game, and made them one of the highest sellers of their time. However, as with most big and successful bands, there was a lot going on beneath the surface and eventually, the band broke up. After the break-up, Conner and Owen went on to stay together, with the later as a DJ playing for the former, who was now known as “Conner4real”. Of course, Lawrence faded into obscurity, almost to never be heard of again, while Conner is literally living out the life of an absolute and bonafide star. But as usual with these kinds of tales, when you’re on top for so long, eventually, you’re going to come crashing down real, real hard.

I think we all know who Andy Samberg's #1 fan actually is...

I think we all know who Andy Samberg’s #1 fan actually is

A movie like Popstar doesn’t deserve to bomb as hard as it did at the box office. It’s understandable that parody/satire flicks aren’t everyone’s cup of Joe and it’s definitely understandable that only a few share of people actually know who, or what kind of creative genius’ the Lonely Island actually are, but still. People out there in this world should have known better and understood that these are the kinds of movie that deserve to be made, should be made, and ought to make a whole bunch of money, because, well, that means more movies such as these.

Then again, I didn’t see the movie in theaters, but still. It’s the principle, people!

Anyway, what works best about Popstar is that yes, it’s the Lonely Island doing what they best; yes, they already had their film-outing with Hot Rod, however, that wasn’t nearly as much as their film as this is. All of the weird and eccentric tendencies of that movie, come out in full-form here where it seems like no matter how hard they try, the Lonely Island guys can’t seem to stop getting lost in their own wild, sometimes screwed-up imaginations. Some scenes go on longer than they should and the comedy just continues to draw itself out, but that’s sort of the point; these guys find the smallest, most intricate bits of comedy that work and they run wild with it until it’s dead in the ground and can’t go on any longer.

But then, they find more and more ways to keep it running. It’s hard to explain here because the movie is so littered with odd-ball jokes and gags throughout, most of which, yes, actually do deliver their laugh-out-loud moments. Bits with an over-exaggerated TMZ parody are downright hilarious; a few songs that actually mock Macklemore are pure things of genius; and even a small gag involving Conner’s “get-up” to hide himself in the public, still has me laughing. It’s not ground-breaking bits and pieces of comedy, but they’re still bits and pieces of comedy that had me howling while I was watching them, while also making me chuckle thinking about them long after.

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

And that, my friends, is when you know you have an effective comedy on your hands.

Of course, the movie isn’t totally perfect. Because it’s a parody flick and not the most sincere piece of storytelling, the times where it does get somewhat serious, don’t necessarily work and it’s because of that reason alone, the middle-act doesn’t flow quite as well as the first and last. It’s hard to describe without having seen the movie, but it’s just a feeling I got while watching the movie; the jokes still hit and made their marks, but they were much more stretched out and in service of a plot that seemed to take a halt for some weird reason.

But then, thankfully, the movie gets back on-track and everything’s back to normal in the final-act, where the jokes continue to fly and the songs get even better. And honestly, it’s hard to do wrong with the Lonely Island when it comes to their jams; they’re well-written, perfectly performed, and actually, believe it or not, meaningful. Sure, a good portion of them are just joke songs about dicks in boxes and whatnot, but a good portion of them do make fun of the entertainment world and the whole idea of what makes a celebrity that it makes them more than just a smart, intellectual jokesters.

Even though that’s exactly what they are.

And with Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, they’re all perfect here. The movie only really relies on Samberg, which is fine, because he’s still good as Conner, playing up this sort of act, then having to break it all down/ But really, Popstar works best when it’s just allowing for random people to show in, sometimes up off the streets, add a little bit of their own flavor and charm, and remind us more and more that this is in fact a group effort of humor. Will Arnett, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Mike Birbiglia, Bill Hader, Chelsea Peretti, Imogen Poots, Justin Timberlake, and so many others all pop-up, do their things and yes, are actually funny. It’s surprising to get a movie with so many high-profile cameos and yet, have just about each and everyone of them be just as funny as the last one to come through.

It makes you wonder what Judd Apatow could work on.

Consensus: As a satire on the music-biz, Popstar is biting, but also pretty damn hilarious, featuring some of the best and most catchiest songs from the Lonely Island.

8 / 10

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire


King Arthur (2004)

He’s Arthur, King of the Britons. Or, at least I wished he was.

The tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was one we all thought we knew, but somehow we didn’t. This is a new take on the story as we see Arthur (Clive Owen), Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Guinevere (Keira Knightley), and countless others battle Saxon invaders for control of what is now Britain. However, leading the Saxons is Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård), a man that you do not want to come toe-to-toe with.

In the beginning of King Arthur, director Antoine Fuqua puts a couple of lines on the screen to let us know that this movie is based on the King Arthur stories that have apparently been unearthed by countless archaeologists and historians. Basically, what the movie’s trying to say is that screw all you thought about, heard, or believed in about the story of King Arthur and his tales of heroism, because they are apparently not true.

Or, maybe they are? We actually don’t really know, because it’s all speculation.



But what’s not at all up for debate is whether or not this movie’s a good one, because trust me, it’s not.

The biggest issue with King Arthur is that it’s a little over two hours, but honestly, it feels way, way longer than that. While Antoine Fuqua isn’t necessarily a great director by any means, he still knows how to move a story when it needs moving; something like a take on the real life of King Arthur, desperately needed a nice push, or better yet, kick to help make it feel less like an useless history-lesson, and more like an actually nice bit of swashbuckling fun.

And even with the action here, sometimes, yes, it is pretty exciting, because Fuqua knows how to film action and make it as dirty, as gritty and as grueling as possible. He’s shown it before and it’s interesting to see him do it in this Medieval-setting, where it seems like he wouldn’t be as well-equipped without guns, cars and explosions to help him out. But like I said, the action can only help so much, especially when you don’t have a story to work with, or even tell.

Fuqua clearly wants to make a mean and moody piece here on the tale of King Arthur, which is fine and all, but it’s not handled well. He seems to want King Arthur to be the type of epic that Gladiator was, but doesn’t seem to have the brass balls to go that for with itself and really hit the tunes and notes that would make it really hard-hitting. Of course we get bucket-loads of blood, gore, and decapitated heads, but does that really give us an epic movie, or just a violent one? I’m aiming more towards the latter, but I could also see how this movie would be seen as an epic, if whoever that person is, perceived epics as stories about people with problems, who love to kill and chop people’s heads off, in the name of God and freedom.

Doesn’t seem, nor does it feel like an epic to me, but hey, I could be wrong.

Sure, the action itself is cool and Fuqua tries, but when you literally have a movie filled with, I don’t know, say, 15-20 minutes of pure-action, and the other hour-and-45-minutes is spent watching people we don’t care to learn about, care for, or even understand in the least bit, talk and wade through their problems, then yeah, it’s a problem. That’s even for the original version, though; in the director’s cut that I, unfortunately, had to sit through, features the same action, but with more blood and gore than ever before. Of course, Fuqua can do that right, but a story of this magnitude and attention does not service him in the slightest bit and it’s why King Arthur is, really, just a slug of a film.

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they're fun people with lively personalities....

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they’re fun people with lively personalities….

What’s even worse, though, is that he really doesn’t give the cast anything to work with. Keira Knightley is meant to be this fiery, sexy presence, despite never seeming like she’s taken a shower, nor ever making it seem like she’s as much of a bad-ass as she should be; Clive Owen just delivers his lines in a growl that’s highly reminiscient of Tommy Lee Jones’ worst; Ioan Gruffudd would come to be a whole lot more charismatic in his career, but here, he’s got nothing to work with and suffers because of it; Stellan Skarsgård always has fun when he’s playing a baddie, and this one as Cerdic is no different; Mads Mikkelsen is bad-ass as Tristan, but nothing else; Ray Winstone is playing the usual hard-ass he’s used to be playing by now here as Bors, and it’s pretty boring and odd, considering he’s talking like a Cockney-gangster, and he’s stuck somewhere in the Dark Ages; Joel Edgerton is all bearded-up and timid as Gawain, but yet, nobody cares; and Ray Stevenson is, well, what do you think happens to his character?

Yep, unfortunately, a poor-man’s Sean Bean, that Ray Stevenson is.

Consensus: King Arthur tries to take an age old story that we all know and love by now, and twist it around, but rather than seeming risky, dangerous, or even fun, it’s just boring and features talented, interesting people, doing nothing worth their effort, or time.

3 / 10

What the hell was Keira talking about? Her boobs are totally that big!


Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au