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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2006

The Good German (2006)

Who needs Nazis when we can just face ourselves?

Jake Geismar (George Clooney), an Army correspondent, helps his former lover, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), comb post-World War II Berlin for her missing husband, who is wanted by not just the American forces, but the Russian ones as well. However, the plan to find him gets a bit out-of-whack when Jake’s driver, Tully (Tobey Maguire), a soldier with all sorts of connections to the black market decides that he wants to get involved with finding this guy, while also getting some of his own issues solved in the meantime. Still, Jake and Lena want to find their man, so they trust Tully as much as they can, until it becomes an all-out, drag-out battle between good, evil, Nazis, Americans, and Russians. Basically, it’s a good old-fashioned war and it’s up to all the players involved to get out of it, alive and well.

Did men really look that handsome? Probably.

There is no denying that with the Good German, Steven Soderbergh is paying an homage to the noirs of yesteryear. The look, the feel, the sound, hell, even aspect-ratio, feels as if it was transported from the 40’s and brought right to our screens again. It’s a seamless production that obviously cost a lot and it shows – there’s not a single flaw to be found in the way everything looks and just goes to show that Soderbergh, despite how much flack he may receive for it, truly is a neat-freak. He knows what he wants and he gets it.

Shame he just didn’t get his way in the story.

Cause once you get past the glossiness of the production, the Good German just doesn’t work. It’s style works and is neat, but the story, the characters, the conflicts, the twists, the turns, the revelations, the possibility of anything ever making sense, just never fully come together. It feels as if the production itself was rushed, either to get the movie done in time for awards season, or that the production was so dedicated to making the flick looking great, that they forgot to really focus on the sort of stuff that matters.

And with a lot of Soderbergh bombs (which there aren’t many), that seems to be the one issue: The script just isn’t there. A good portion of this has to do with him not always writing his scripts and in the case of the Good German, which was written by Paul Attanasio, this is especially the case. It tries to take on so much, with so very little context, and in a run-time that should feel light and almost breezy (105 minutes, mind you), for some reason, it feels longer. Most of this is due to us not really knowing what’s going on with these characters, this mystery, or even what’s at-stake; the fact that the whole movie begins with us looking for some character’s husband, already shows you that there’s a problem.

No! Do something fun!

Then Tobey Maguire shows up and yeah, it’s hard to really figure everything out.

Which isn’t to say that Maguire is a problem for the movie, because in hindsight, he’s probably the best thing for it. His character is so goofy, wild, and unpredictable, that he feels like he deserves his own movie, where the focus is primarily on him, trying his best to navigate throughout this world that just doesn’t know what to do with him. Maguire’s best in these sort of unhinged performances and his performance as Tully, is up there with one of his best.

But once again, he just doesn’t have a movie to fully service him like he deserves. And because he’s so off-the-wall, it’s easy to see that he doesn’t fully fit in with everything else going on around him. For instance, in the context of what the movie’s trying to do, his out-of-control performance doesn’t really connect and feels like something of its own different creation, one that’s obviously more interesting and fun to watch, than whatever the hell the Good German turns into, with Clooney and Blanchett giving, unfortunately, boring performances. They, like everyone else here, try, but the script’s just not there and when that happens, what’s the point?

Oh wait. That’s right. A paycheck. Never mind.

Consensus: Even with the style down perfectly, the Good German can’t quite get past the “homage” phase, and into becoming something of its own that’s compelling, interesting, and worth watching.

3 / 10

“We huntin’ Nazis.”

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

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The Road To Guantanamo (2006)

War crimes, eh?

Right after 9/11, the whole world was pretty much all shaken up and paranoid. Meaning, anyone who was either Muslim, or looked to be Muslim, were watched, attacked, and in some cases, arrested, interrogated, and tortured, all for the sake of tolerance and peace. Or so they say. And around this time, there was a case in which several British Muslim friends go to Pakistan to attend a wedding. For some odd reason, despite the political climate, they decide to go off and visit Afghanistan, but they find Kandahar under attack and flee to Kabul. Seeing as how their trip has turned to absolute crap, given what’s going on, they try to return to Pakistan but mistakenly end up in a Taliban stronghold. Following their capture, they are sent to a U.S. military base in Cuba, where they endure all sorts of mental and physical pain, anguish, and hurt, all by the hands of soldiers who are red-hot and ready to find terrorist, no matter where they may be. Hell, in some cases, they don’t even care if they’re terrorists or not – they just need someone to interrogate and find more information about. And it all took place in a little place called Guantanamo.

Anyone who shops at the GAP clearly must be a terrorist.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Docudramas are really hard to pull-off in a totally and completely satisfying way. Mostly, that has to do with recreations themselves, while maybe meaningful and pertinent to explaining some stories for the camera and the audience at-home, can also feel a little hokey. Sometimes, just hearing a person explain a situation is more than enough, rather than having the actions played-out to us in over-dramatic, possibly theatrical ways, with actors who don’t really seem to fully grasp what they’re doing.

Basically, it reminds people too much of TV documentaries and honestly, some of those can kind of be lame.

But the Road to Guantanamo uses these dramatizations in a manner that doesn’t just aid the story, but makes it feel a lot more like a movie. The movie itself is probably an-hour-and-a-half long, but it zips through everything so damn quickly that, honestly, it feels like an hour less than that. Director Michael Winterbottom has taken on many different faces and beings throughout his career and it’s surprising to see him handle everything here so well, what with the interviews, the dramatizations, and political-messages all coming together in one, seamless package.

Don’t know what scare-tactic is, but yeah, probably not working.

If anything, it’s impressive how well it all comes together, without it ever feeling like the message was lost, in between all of the action and disturbing, sometimes graphic details. Cause at the center of this all, is really a story, or a few, in that sense, about Guantanamo itself and just how far exactly the United States went to ensure that they found terrorists, regardless of if the prisoners were even terrorists in the first place. And being nearly 16 years since the start of the Iraq War, it’s common knowledge that, yes, Guantanamo was an awful place and even worse, did way more harm than good.

If anything, it helped create more terrorists, than actually stop, or find them. It helped usher in an even more negative persona for the United States and the Army, than either already had before. Did it help us get a few people? Quite possibly. The facts still remain to be seen, even until this very day, but what Road to Guantanamo helps us understand a whole lot more, is that in this huge dungeon of doom, there were still human lives at stake here. Most were being destroyed and it’s honestly a tragedy that no one, not even till this very day, has been held accountable for it.

Sure, the movie does leave a lot of questions up to the viewer about why these men were even in Afghanistan in the first place, but really, those sorts of questions aren’t all that pertinent. The fact remains that a little part of each and everyone of them died once they were taken in and tortured and who’s to blame for that? Us, or them?

Honestly, the answer is pretty damn easy.

Consensus: As compelling as it is thoughtful, the Road to Guantanamo is lightning-fast docudrama on a few individuals stories, that not only highlight their own personal journeys through hell, but just what it is that Guantanamo itself stood for then, and until this very day.

8 / 10

See what I mean?

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Bidoun, Ceasefire Magazine

Inland Empire (2006)

Wait. What?

Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an accomplished actress who, after much time spent waiting and wondering, finally gets the role as the lead in On High in Blue Tomorrows. It’s supposed to be her comeback role, so to speak, so there’s a lot of pressure wearing on it, not to mention, a lot of pressure from her husband not to fall in love with her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux). Sure, it can be done, but the two are playing characters who are having an affair, making it a tad bit harder. However, the director (Jeremy Irons) trusts that both of them will keep it as professional as can be and will make sure that the movie comes out perfectly, because believe it or not, it’s been attempted before, but for some reason, the movie just hasn’t been made. Why, though? Eventually, Nikki and Devon find out and it causes both of them to start imagining weird, rather insane things, that they don’t know if is real, or not.

Wait, what?

Honestly, there’s a lot more to the premise of Inland Empire, in that there’s not just one story, but about three or four more of them, none of which make a single lick of sense, or better yet, ever seem to come together in a way that you’d imagine. Now, if sitting around for three hours and watching as a bunch of random stories get told to you in the most confusing manner imaginable sounds like a good time, then be my guest and enjoy the hell out of Inland Empire.

I, however, didn’t and just couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Sure, there were things to admire and of course, this is David Lynch we’re talking about here, so I can’t be all that surprised, but still, it just didn’t quite work for me. There was so much going on, without any rhyme or reason, that after awhile, I had to sort of give up and just accept the fact that the movie’s going way beyond my intelligence and I’m best to just let it do its thing and see if I can make it up in the end.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

Sure, is that more of a problem with me, as opposed to the movie? Definitely, but by the same token, there is something to be said for a three-hour movie that not only feels every bit of it, but never seems to show any signs of actually going anywhere. Lynch is well-known for doing this sort of thing time and time again, and while it’s always had me happy and rather pleased, this go around, it just didn’t work. It seemed like too much meandering and craziness for the sake of being meandering and crazy, as if there wasn’t a whole lot of story, but weird and surreal imagery that Lynch just had to get out of his system.

And okay, it makes sense, because the look and feel of this movie is, above all else, freaky. Then again, how could it not? Filmed on a hand-held digital-camera, the movie is grainy, dirty and downright gritty, but in a way, it’s also more terrifying for that reason alone, often times feeling like a documentary, than another glitsed-up flick. Film itself can do wonders, but digital-video can also do the same, especially when you’re really trying to go for an aura of realism, even if, you know, there’s nothing realistic happening here.

No seriously, what?

And once again, that’s all me. The movie gets away doing its thing, but it’s so frustrating to watch, that no matter what Lynch does behind the camera and how much inspiration may come out of him, it just didn’t connect for me. There’s a lot going on here and a lot that randomly happens, but the only thing I could remember clearly in my head was a very few haunting-images, bunny-rabbits, a dance to “the Locomotion”, and a lot of walking down hallways.

Like, a lot.

But Laura Dern, all issues aside, is great here and gives it everything she’s got. There’s no denying that Dern’s probably perfect for Lynch’s creepy, twisted and warped mind, and it’s why her performance here, with so many shades shown, is something to watch. Even when it seems like the rest of the movie has gone far, far away, she’s always there, working her rump off and making sure that everything sticks together. She allows for it to do so, too, it’s just a shame that it didn’t fully connect at the end.

For me, at least.

Consensus: Absolutely confusing, weird and random, Inland Empire is a hard movie to get into, mostly due to its frustrating plot, but there is some art to be seen here.

5 / 10

See, even Laura doesn’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Pretty Clever FilmsFour Three Film

Off the Black (2006)

The dude’s who always get the wrong calls, guess what? Get it wrong in life, too.

After his baseball team loses a game due to a call by umpire Ray Cook (Nick Nolte), Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) and some friends decide to vandalize Ray’s house. Unfortunately for Dave, he is caught and starts paying off his debt by cleaning up the mess. But something odd begins to happen to Dave once he cleans this guys house up – he actually starts to like this old Ray fella, who seems like he also likes Dave, too. So, rather than just continuing to mess with the guy, he hangs out with him, more and more, getting to know who he is, where he comes from, and just what his whole life has been like. For Dave, it’s a way of coping with his mother’s absence, as well as the fact that his dad (Timothy Hutton), isn’t quite all that there for him, but for Ray, it’s all about getting to remember what it was like to be a kid, and have a family. It’s something that he hasn’t felt in forever and it’s something that Dave feels happy to give him, until it gets all too sad for either to actually be able to handle once the real truths come out.

He still somehow gets the ladies.

Off the Black is probably the most perfect movie to make your small-budget, really low-key, very indie debut with. Not in that it’s a perfect movie and is absolutely the one to show everyone else in the world the true talents you possess, but because it’s so simple, so easygoing, and so non-challenging, that it feels like you’re watching someone get their act together, yet, at the same time, not want to go too far so that they lose themselves. It’s almost as if Off the Black was made with the intention that writer/director James Ponsoldt would follow all sorts of rules and guidelines and only after the movie was finished, edited, and released, then he would get to have some fun with movies for a change.

And judging by what he’s put out since, it’s not hard to imagine this.

See, Off the Black is a perfectly fine little indie that doesn’t set out to offend, change the world, or even shake up the world a little bit. It tells this small, humane tale about two people connecting, getting to know one another, and yeah, eventually bonding over stuff. It’s so safe and comfortable that it’s probably the most perfect movie you could take an aunt, uncle, grand-parent out to see and leave it knowing that you did a great service, because they’ll be pleased with what they saw. Sure, the cursing, drinking, and occasional bit of smoking may get in the way, but overall, it’s a movie that doesn’t go out of its way too much to really stir up any person’s raw feelings and/or emotions.

Which is also probably why, for a good portion at least, it’s so boring. It’s hard to really pin-point what it was about Off the Black that felt like it was just taking way too much of its time and meandered, even with the 90-minute run-time, but it just happened. There was this constant feeling I had while watching the movie knowing that I typically love certain tales of everyday, normal people like this, but for some reason, this one just didn’t grab me. Ponsoldt’s latest films have all done that, and then some, which is probably Off the Black has gone mostly unremembered, even after all of his success as of late.

Grow up, kid. Start hanging with old drunks.

That said, it isn’t a totally terrible movie. Just a monotonous and rather boring one, to say the least.

It helps that, as usual, Nick Nolte is pretty terrific in the lead role playing, guess this, a drunk who has a rough past and even rougher relationships with those from that past. It’s the kind of dirty, beaten-up role Nolte has downright perfected by now, which is why it’s no surprise he handles it oh so well here, bringing out some true heart and emotion in scenes with Trevor Morgan that, honestly, never feel believable. It isn’t that Nolte doesn’t try, it’s that Morgan’s character is so dull and plainly-written that it’s never all that understandable why he wants to be best pals with this old drunk dude in the first place.

The movie does try to make it appear that Morgan’s character’s mommy issues have to do with it, but even still, it doesn’t quite make sense. Timothy Hutton’s dad character brings out the most emotion in his four or five scenes, showing us a truly sad person who, honestly, could have been better friends with Nolte’s. It feels odd, never quite works, and yeah, it doesn’t help that Morgan’s probably not the best actor, either.

That said, Nolte saves the day. What else is new?

Consensus: As conventional as indie-dramas get, Off the Black never gets as dramatic as it wants to be, which keeps itself away from being all that emotional.

5 / 10

Yeah, not buying it. Sorry, fellas.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes

The Hoax (2006)

It’s always best to get in the fake company of known-crazies.

Author Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) is finding it hard to stay afloat. His latest book was just passed-on, making him feel as if he’s nothing and probably going to be forgotten about some time soon. However, when he catches wind that famed billionaire Howard Hughes is as crazy as can be and barely anyone knows anything about him, well, Clifford concocts the perfect book. In it, he’ll be interviewing Hughes about his life, his business expenditures and most importantly, get all of the latest dish on his deepest, darkest and dirtiest secrets. Clifford feels like he can really get down to the bottom of what makes Hughes clicks and why he is the way he is, something that the publishers absolutely love and go haywire for. The only issue is that Clifford has never met Hughes and probably never will; the security is so air-tight on that man, that not even his closest, best friends can get anywhere near him. But that’s not going to keep Clifford away from getting the book he wants, he’ll just have to talk to everyone but Howard and try to do what he can to get the best story out of imaginable. Even if, you know, there are some lines to be blurred between “fact” and “fiction”.

"Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?"

“Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?”

It’s hard to do a bad, uninteresting movie about con-men. Whether the tales themselves are real, or fake, it doesn’t quite matter; it’s so entertaining to watch a bunch of sly, smart people act their ways through life, with all the right lies and moves. There’s something truly exciting about watching this, because deep down inside each and everyone of us, there’s that feeling that we wish we were that smart, that brave, and that damn slimy to do the same as they are, get away with it, and walk away from it all with a smile on our faces.

And that’s why the Hoax, despite seeming like it can border on the verge of ringing false, is still entertaining to watch.

Even though it is, oddly enough, directed by Lasse Hallström, of all people. However, what Hallström does best here is that he doesn’t get in the way of the material, or try to force anything down our throats; regardless of what the true stories behind most of these situations may have been, the movie moves at such a quick, efficient pace that it’s hard to really pin point the issues with the facts. The movie may seem ridiculous at points, but at the same time, it’s hard not to have a little fun, watching as this little weasel of a man tries his best to wig and worm his way out of every tense situation possible.

But beneath all of the facades, gags, lies, deception, and most of all, cons, there’s something to be learned here. There’s this idea running throughout the Hoax that is interesting, because it tries to make sense out of this whole situation in the first place. The fact that someone like Irving was so easily capable of fooling just about everyone around him, for so very long, for all of the wrong reasons, really makes you think – is there such a problem with his lies? After all, the lies and deceptions he was making, were all to really just get himself some money and a little bit of fame – he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, start any wars, and he sure as hell wasn’t hurting Hughes’ feelings.

Wait, who's Leonardo DiCaprio?

Wait, who’s Leonardo DiCaprio?

There are bits and pieces of the Hoax that show that maybe, just maybe, Irving’s little escapades had more of an effect than he, or anyone else had ever expected, but mostly, the movie realizes that this is best left to our interpretation. The movie doesn’t make us think that Irving is a great man for getting away with everything that he was able to get away with (although, he’s definitely ballsy, for sure), but show that even someone like him, can get away with so very much. And when all is said and done, for what reasons?

Well, fame and fortune and for most, anything can happen.

As Irving, the man, the myth, the legend, so to speak, Richard Gere does a solid job because he’s playing very much against-type. Sure, he’s still charming, handsome and yes, the ladies love him, but there’s also something more dastardly about him that makes his performance here the more bearable than some of his others, where we’re literally begged to fall in love with him and adore his beautiful, well-constructed face, chin and hair. Even though Irving isn’t made out to be a perfect human being here, there’s still something sympathetic about him that makes you hope he gets away with all of his lies, even though, yeah, it probably won’t happen.

While Gere’s Irving is mostly front-and-center for a good portion of the movie, there’s others who all show up on the side and remind us why they deserve to be noticed. Alfred Molina plays Irving’s sidekick, so to speak, and has some truly great moments, never letting you know exactly when the man is going to crack under all of the pressure; Marcia Gay Harden plays Irving’s wife, and despite an odd Swedish accent, she’s still charming; Stanley Tucci has a few great scenes that make you wish he was in the whole thing, as is the case with Hope Davis and Julie Delpy. They all add a little bit of fun and excitement to a story that certainly didn’t need their help, but hey, at least they were here to add something.

Consensus: While a good portion of it seems made-up (wouldn’t that be great?), the Hoax still gets by on the charm of its cast, and quick, swift and exciting pace.

7 / 10

Yuck it up, fellas!

Yuck it up, fellas! No seriously, please do. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Photos Courtesy of: PopMatters

Volver (2006)

It’s like Paranormal Activity, but you know, actually good.

Revolving around an eccentric family of women from a wind-swept region south of Madrid, Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). To top off the family crisis, her mother Irene (Carmen Maura) comes back from the dead to tie up loose ends. But is this just Raimunda’s mind going a little out-of-whack, or is her late mother actually alive, well, and not actually dead?

Surely, something that sounds so simple and straightforward cannot be the work of crazy, envelope-pushing director Pedro Almodóvar. Over his long and storied career, he’s tackled subjects like pedophilia, sexual-awakening, incest, crime, murder, homosexuality, and HIV, among many others, so how the hell can a guy who likes to talk about stuff like that, be tackling a flick that seems like it came straight-from-TV? Well, it’s easy, he’s Pedro Almodóvar and he can do whatever he wants and thank the lord that he can.

It's an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

It’s an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

Even though this easy subject may not seem like a piece of Almodóvar’s work, in a way, it still is. The attention to color and detail is absolutely beautiful (as if that poster didn’t already tell you), and his way of capturing the life and beauty throughout the streets of Madrid is eye-catching and makes you feel at home. I heard that Almodóvar decided to film this movie around the area of where he grew up and you can really tell. There’s a sort of love and fondness for this area and it shines through each and every frame.

So yeah, it’s pretty, but there’s also more to it than just that.

Volver is very different though, because it’s not fully entrapped in its own plot conceits, like some of his other work can be/get. Though there’s a few nifty twists here and there, Volver‘s still a pretty straight-forward family-drama that hits the right notes because we spend time with these characters and get to know them. And in doing that, we also get to understand them and see them for all that they are, and who they are. Meaning, not everybody here has a halo around their head, but that’s what makes it more interesting to watch, because they’re real people.

Just a lot whole lot more attractive and emotional, it seems.

It’s also one of those films where everybody talks so interestingly, that you always want to hear them chat about whatever is on their mind. Whether they’re talking about food, family, life, sex, money, death, or ghosts, I was always hooked and listening and payed close enough attention to what they all were saying because they even give us hints about certain plot-points that pop-up later in the movie. Almodóvar’s always done that with his flicks and while it’s definitely a neat little trick of his, it doesn’t, in any way whatsoever, get in the way of his actual movie.

Definitely not ketchup.

Definitely not ketchup.

Another thing that Almodóvar does best, is also be able to assemble an awesome cast and that is exactly what he has done once again here. Penélope Cruz stars Raimunda and is radiant and as believable as she’s ever been seen before. Yes, Cruz is beautiful, gorgeous, sexy, vivacious, and as perfect of a looker as you can get, but beauty aside, she can still act and especially in an Almodóvar flick, someone who seems to know exactly what her strengths are. Anyway, what makes Cruz so great here as Raimunda is that she feels like a real woman that’s going through a lot of problems that gets to her and ends up taking a lot of that anger and frustration out on the others around her, but yet, also has this sweet and kind side to her that shows she cares for the ones around her, even if her character doesn’t always show it. Cruz is a beauty to watch because she commands the screen every single time she shows up, and also shows that she can bring out any emotions in her act and make it all seem believable.

There are others here, too, so I guess I’ll chat about them, too, although it should be stated one more time that Cruz is great here, as she usually is.

It’s been a long, long time since I saw Carmen Maura in anything, let alone a Almodóvar film, and shows that she’s still got the chops and makes her old-lady character a lot more lovable and understandable than you’d expect. Lola Dueñas plays Cruz’s sister and is very funny, but also very realistic in how she seems a bit more grounded in reality and happier with her life than Cruz may be. This provides a great contrast between the two ladies but in the end, you can still that they are sisters that love each other and care for each other no matter what. These three work well together and show that even though they may have some problems here and there, they are still a family and they still love each other no matter what happens to them in their own, respective lives. It’s a nice message to understand and see on-screen, especially when it comes from the guy who’s most known for making a movie about a priest who touches little boys.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a change of pace, I guess you could say.

Consensus: Considering this is Almodóvar’s way of “playing it cool”, Volver definitely does seem a bit held-back from the explosiveness of a story it could have been, but still has enough heart, emotion, beauty, and well-acted performances to make it an easy-going experience that will probably make you want to hug your mommy or sister. As for your brother and daddy? Tell them to hug themselves!

8.5 / 10

"Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar's flicks."

“Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar’s flicks.”

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

pradaposterFashion is life.

After graduating college, Andrea (Anne Hathaway) is finally ready to get on with her life and career. Of course, she hits the ground running immediately when she takes up an assistant job to one Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), editor-in-chief and general boss of Runway fashion magazine. Right off the bat, Andrea feels as if she has no clue what she’s doing in this job, with all of the crazy tasks and missions that she’s called on to complete, with barely any of them seeming like a good use of the skills she required as a journalism major at Northwestern. However, with the help of the fellow assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), eventually, Andrea gets the hang of things and before long, the job itself begins to take over her own personal life, with her own personal boyfriend (Adrian Grenier). And wouldn’t you know it, but Andrea starts to lose focus of said personal life and focus way too much on her job, to the point of where she’s alienating all of those around her, and just falling more in deep with Miranda, the fashion world, and the fellow people that inhabit that cult-like world.

You look good either heel, Anne. Trust us all.

You look good either heel, Anne. Trust us all.

The Devil Wears Prada barely registers as a movie, but I mean that in a good way. It’s harmless, meaningless, by-the-numbers, conventional entertainment that’s made solely for women to adore, the men not admit that they liked, and everyone else to watch whenever it pops up on TV. Sometimes, when you’re a big-budgeted comedy flick, isn’t that all you need to be? In a way, sort of and it’s why the Devil Wears Prada, while not setting out to change the world in any stretch of the imagination, does what it needs to, gets the job done, and heads out before it can wear out its welcome too noticeably.

So like I said, what’s wrong with that?

And like I said before, not much, however, there is that feeling that it could be a better movie. In a way, the flick wants to be a satire on the fashion world, the sheer ridiculousness of it, and how, or better yet, why so many damn smart and rich people are in it and constantly flaunting it around like it’s nobody’s business. But in another way, it also wants to be a movie about how the fashion world is this crazy, cooky place where all sorts of smart and rich people get together, throw money around on fabric, and well, offers up quite the ride for those looking to become apart of it. So, really, what’s the movie trying to say?

Honestly, I don’t know, nor do I think it matters. Director David Frankel and writer Aline Brosh McKenna seem to understand how light and fun they each want the material to be, but when it comes to thinking longer, or even harder about it, well, not so much. They both sort of drop the ball on that point, with McKenna seeming like she really wants to stick it to the shallowness of the fashion world, but with Frankel not realizing this and perhaps having way too much fun in all of the glitz and glamour and all that.

Like I stated before, though, does any of it really matter?

Kind of, but not really. Frankel knows how to keep the pace up to where we’ve seen this story a million times before, but there’s still something fun and exciting about it, what with watching Meryl Streep and Anne Hathway on the screen together, working off of one another and generally, having a great time. Streep, believe it or believe it, was nominated for an Oscar here and while it’s a bit of a joke, it’s still a great performance in an otherwise fine movie; she’s not necessarily funny in the role, as much as her character is, but it’s still a sign that Streep, especially when she’s dialing it down and relaxing her acting-muscles a bit, is still a wonder to watch. It not only makes me wish she’d take on more comedy, but probably more challenging-comedy roles, if that makes any sense.

Like mentor....

Like mentor….

Anyway, Hathaway’s good, too, even if she is essentially playing the Julia Roberts character of the flick. Still though, there’s something about her that makes her so likable in the first place, that no matter how far she gets wrapped into her job, we still actually give a hoot about her. Emily Blunt also shows up as the other assistant and is quite great in the role, telling it like it is and bouncing off of Hathaway whenever the scene seems to call for it. Also, even better to see Stanley Tucci in a fun role as one of the key fashion-editors of the magazine, showing why he too, deserves to do more comedy, as well.

Anyway, like I said, the movie’s just about that: It’s a sum of its parts, all of which are fine as they are.

Doesn’t make it bad, doesn’t make it great, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it memorable – but it does make it a movie and I guess, if I’m going to spend at least two hours of my life on one, the least it can be is entertaining, which thankfully, this is.

Consensus: Light, frothy and a little fun, the Devil Wears Prada won’t fool anyone for life-changing Oscar-bait, but will prove to be a good time regardless.

6.5 / 10

Like student....

Like student….

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Black Book (2006)

Lord. The Holocaust was messed-up.

After just barely escaping her death, young Rachel Rosenthal (Carice van Houten) goes on the run from the Nazis during WWII and soon realizes that it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to stay alive when literally everyone you know is either dead, or missing. That’s why Rachel decides that it’s best on her to become a part of the Jewish resistance and going undercover, assuming the name Ellis de Vries. One of her first and perhaps, most important mission, is to seduce a Gestapo officer named Ludwig (Sebastian Koch), someone who is dangerous and possibly maniacal, as most Nazis at that time were. While Rachel/Ellis is perfectly fine with carrying out the mission, taking down the Nazis and assuring that no more Jews are wrongfully killed, she also can’t help but bring herself to feel a little something for Ludwig who, over time, turns out to be a whole lot sweeter and kinder than she ever expected. Now, Rachel/Ellis is left to think fast about what she wants to do: Either accept the Nazi and not kill him, therefore, risking the Resistance’s plan, or taking him out and achieving what she and the Resistance wanted?

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Everyone knows by now that when you get a Paul Verhoeven movie, you’ve got to expect the trashiest, craziest and wildest movie around. It doesn’t mean that the movie itself has to be good (see Showgirls), but what it does mean is that you’re going to get a movie that knows what it is, doesn’t make excuses for itself, and may, or may not, possibly offend you. If it doesn’t, then there’s surely something wrong with you.

That’s why a tale about the Holocaust, coming directly from the likes of Paul Verhoeven, already calls on controversy before the first scene is even shot. And honestly, that’s where some of the genius comes from with Verhoeven – he isn’t afraid to do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants, regardless of what those around him may feel, or think is “politically correct”. It also helps that Black Book, for better or for worse, is a pretty fun and wacky Holocaust tale that probably didn’t even have to take place during WWII, or deal with Nazis and Jews; it could have literally been a movie about gangsters or cowboys for all we know.

However, Verhoeven sticks with the WWII-setting and well, it works.

Verhoeven doesn’t settle down one bit with this material and that’s where some of the real fun and joy with Black Book comes from. While movies like Basic Instinct and Showgirls love to take their time and harp on the fact that there’s some sort of story being told and built-up to, when in reality, they’re really not, Black Book shows Verhoeven at his absolute peak – never slowing down, pinpointing every plot development, and just always moving. In a way, it’s very fun to watch, but it can also be a bit tiresome; so much moving and running about, for nearly two-and-a-half-hours can really wear a person down, regardless of how many energy drinks are involved.

That said, I’ll take a quick and fun movie, over a slow, brooding and boring one, which is why Black Book works. Verhoeven doesn’t feel the need to settle, or appease anyone, but instead, just tell this movie with as many twists and turns as humanly imaginable. Sure, there’s probably a few too many, but the movie doesn’t really seem to rely too much on whether or not you believe in them – it more or less depends on being able to follow along with the constant action, lies, deception, and lies that take up the whole, entire movie. If you’re able to do that, then yeah, Black Book is a good time.

Cheer up, Nazis. There's more to life than exterminating Jews!

Cheer up, Nazis. There’s more to life than exterminating Jews!

And if not, then well, I don’t know what to tell you. Watch something else.

Where Verhoeven gets most of his criticism from is how he handles his female characters and the actresses in said roles. For one, he isn’t particularly nice to them; every time it seems like he’s got another lethal, smart and conniving femme fatale, he’s always got another dumb female character, making silly mistakes and always letting her emotions get the best of her. With Carice van Houten’s Rachel/Ellis, I’m torn – on one hand, I believe that she’s the heart and soul of the movie, but at the same time, Verhoeven does sort of treat her like garbage. She’s constantly yelling, running about and making silly mistakes, but at other times, she’s doing quite the opposite.

It’s a weird mish-mash of aspects to her character that don’t always gel together well, which makes van Houten’s performance all the better; she’s more than willing to stand up to Verhoeven’s sometimes crazy style and go with whatever pace he needs her to. Same goes for just about everyone else around her. Sebastain Koch is good in a role that, unsurprisingly, caused a lot of controversy for playing a Nazi with a heart of gold, which is odd, but hey, it actually works for a Verhoeven movie.

Consensus: For all of its twists, turns and craziness, Black Book is quite fun and exciting, even if, at times, it can feel like too many wheels are spinning at one time.

7 / 10

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Bleecker Street

Apocalypto (2006)

Can’t trust humans. But can definitely trust Jaguars.

Even though the Mayan kingdom is at the height of its power, there are signs that the empire may be slowly, but definitely surely, crumbling beneath its very own feet. That’s why leaders start to believe that it’s time for them continue on building more and more temples, while also sacrificing certain folks, so that their crops can survive, as well as their people. During this time, somewhere deep in the forest, lives Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a peaceful hunter in a remote tribe, who, along with his wife Seven (Dalia Hernández), already have a child and another on the way. Life couldn’t be better for Jaguar, or all of his other friends and family, until everything all goes to hell when a much more powerful tribe comes by the village and raids it of the strong men, leaving the women and children to rot and, presumably, die. While Jaguar and his friends don’t exactly know where they are being taken to, what lies beyond the journey is something much more powerful and disturbing, and that is the changing of times and how, no matter how hard you try to get past it, your fate will never desist.

It's love when you have more piercings than her.

It’s love when you have more piercings than her.

Mel Gibson is a good, sometimes even great, director. His movies all look, sound and move, great, and for the most part, they deal with certain, troubling issues about life, murder, temptation and faith that we don’t too often see from most directors, let alone those who were most known for acting in movies, and not directing them. And yet, for some reason, his movies always seem imperfect.

While sure, you can definitely say that Braveheart is a great movie (even though it has its fair share of haters), it’s still a relatively conventional film of one gaining his freedom and beating the man, so to speak. The only difference with that movie is that it features a lot of blood, murder, axes, Scottish dudes, and yes, kilts. What Gibson really impressed people with, as he has done in the years since, is that he knows how to stage a big-budget, larger-than-life epic set-piece, where we do feel immersed in this great new world that we’re literally being told about and shoved into.

He’s done it with mostly all of his movies and yes, Apocalypto is another one of those movies.

That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, but it’s got signs of a true master working with all of the tools in his shed, so to speak, and having a grand time. While the movie came out not too long after Passion of the Christ, it is still, in ways, very different; it’s not nearly as self-serious, or as overly violent as that movie. Instead, there is humor to be had, there is a sense of adventure, and yes, there is a whole lot of shocking and disturbing violence that takes place here, but it all feels earned and not just something that Gibson himself couldn’t get enough of. That Gibson literally places us in this fun, breezy village in the first half-hour, only to then throw us into a setting where people are getting beheaded, women are getting raped, and babies are getting flung from trees, shows that, not just as a director, but as a person, he’s continuing to grow. Of course, talking about the year 2006 and Mel Gibson, wouldn’t be complete without all of the controversy that surrounded him at the time. But in a way, that doesn’t matter; a movie like Apocalypto doesn’t necessarily make Gibson out to be an immoral, or suspicious human being, much like Passion did, it just shows that his aspirations go further beyond being a movie star.

But still, does any of that matter?

"Kill him. The gods told us to. I think, anyway."

“Kill him. The gods told us to. I think, anyway.”

Not really. What does matter is that Apocalypto, for all of its action, its blood, its gore, and severed heads, still doesn’t seem like it really has anything fresh to say at all. Whereas Passion, albeit misguidedly, made a comment on faith as a whole, Apocalypto seems to just say the same thing as Braveheart did: “Always fight back. Never give up. Stick it to the man.” Sure, it may resonate with those who have never seen every sports movie ever made, but for those who have seen one, or a whole bunch of other movies, it comes as a bit disappointing. The signs of Gibson being a far more passionate and thoughtful director are here, and definitely show up in bright spots, but they don’t always stay around long and it’s why Apocalypto, with its 138 minute run-time, can’t help but feel a tad long.

Gibson himself spends a little too much time on the torture and murder of these native villagers, but then again, why shouldn’t he? What Gibson’s showing is true to history and more importantly, honest. He’s not shying away from the harsh reality of it all, nor is he trying to sensationalize anything – he’s showing all of the barbarianism, for what it is. Still though, he doesn’t make a comment on it and it’s where Apocalpyto, sadly, doesn’t reach its full potential.

Consensus: Epic, sweeping and surprisingly ambitious, Apocalypto finds Gibson swinging for the fences and, mostly, coming out on top, even if his message doesn’t seem to translate past being your typical, saccharine line about achieving one’s dreams and beating the odds.

7.5 / 10

The look of our savior. No. Not JC. But close enough.

The look of our savior. No. Not JC. But close enough.

Photos Courtesy of: The Fanboy Perspective

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

School for Scoundrels (2006)

Just go out there and try to make it, fellas. What’s the worst that could happen?

Roger (Jon Heder) is a pushover New York City meter maid who can’t score at his job or with his attractive neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). He’s basically a lovable loser, but a loser nonetheless. A close friend of Roger’s suggests that he go to a self-help class run by the angry Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), who teaches lessons about self-esteem to the biggest losers in the city. There, Roger develops his inner-beast and sooner than later, starts charming the socks off of Amanda. However, while this may be good for Roger, it’s also bad for him, as Dr. P doesn’t like competition, and definitely enjoys taking people down, especially classmates of his. That’s why Roger is absolutely horrified and pissed that Dr. P starts taking Amanda off of his hands and for his own good, making up all sorts of lies and stories about who he really is. Roger may not like this, but knowing what he knows about himself now, is more than up to the task of taking down Dr. P once and for all, and when all is said and done, possibly get the girl of his dreams.

"Nice to meet you. Now let's get this damn movie over with. New CSI is on tonight."

“Nice to meet you. Now let’s get this damn movie over with. New CSI is on tonight.”

Say what you will about what Todd Phillips’ career has turned-out to be, but back in the day, before 2006, he was quite a hot and very interesting commodity. After making two controversial documentaries (Hated, Frat House), one concert flick (Bittersweet Motel), and three raucous comedies (Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch), it seemed as if Phillips was ready to try something new with his career. Of course, this meant that he would take on a slightly more romantic-comedy route and in that, came the remake of the 1960 classic, School of Scoundrels.

And unfortunately, it brought on a lot of the hate that still haunts him to this day.

Because really, the biggest problem with School for Scoundrels isn’t that it’s a romantic-comedy, it’s that it doesn’t even register as either; the romance is never there between any of the leads and the comedy sure as hell doesn’t even work, give or take a few moments here or there. If anything, it’s the kind of movie where it seems like Phillips is trying to make something work here, but really, both sides don’t connect or even go well hand-in-hand. Had the movie been a lot more vicious and mean like his other comedies, it probably would have worked a lot more, but for some reason, it seems like Phillips has to play nice and soften things up a bit, which doesn’t quite work for anyone in the flick, most importantly, him.

And it’s a shame because you could do a lot with a remake of School of Scoundrels; the subject-material is just interesting enough to comment on sexual mores, but it’s also ripe enough with a lot of comedy to poke fun at masculinity, femininity, and what constitutes as either. Surely, that movie isn’t the one that Phillips had in mind while working here, but still, it’s a disappointment when you watch and know what could happen, had the ones involved given more time, attention and care to really working with the material. Even the dressing-down of the men (by constantly using the term “f**got”), seems cheap and lazy – it’s as if all of the funny jokes and gags that Phillips had to offer were found in his three previous flicks and that’s all he had to offer.

But honestly, the main reason why School for Scoundrels is a bit of a bummer, is because its ensemble is so talented, so funny, and so entertaining in so many other movies, that here, to just watch them all flop around and not have much to do, is quite dispiriting.

Ha! Ha! Right?

Ha! Ha! Right?

To name just a tad few, aside from the two main stars, School for Scoundrels features Paul Scheer, Horatio Sanz, Sarah Silverman, Todd Louiso, Aziz Ansari, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Cross, Matt Walsh, Jon Glaser, Ben Stiller, and so many more that, on many, many occasions, have proven to be hilarious, however, here, they’re just not. Most of them try and make something out of seemingly nothing, but most of the time, the movie’s uneven script and direction just leaves them high and dry – Silverman may be the only one who gets away with any sort of laughs, which mostly has to do with the fact that she’s seemingly playing the usual bitch-y sort of role she’s always played.

But then, of course, there’s Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder, and yeah, they just do not work well here. Billy Bob Thornton turns in another one of his lazier roles, where you can tell that he’s just doing this flick for a paycheck, reading his lines in the driest way possible, all so that he can go off, hop back in his trailer, and take another nap. He’s supposed to be this incredibly pompous, but smart a-hole, but doesn’t come off as either; Billy Bob being an a-hole is normally a blast to watch, but here, he just doesn’t seem spirited enough to bother.

And then there’s Jon Heder, who, yes, is pretty awful.

But honestly, I don’t know if it’s really his fault; he’s supposed to play this character that’s a total nerd, but also turns out to be something of a bad-ass once the plot gets going and just can’t pull it off. The movie constantly tries to make it work, but Heder just doesn’t seem to have that ability in his acting-skills to make that work, so instead, he just flails around and acts a lot like Napoleon Dynamite. It’s a shame, too, because aside from Dynamite, Heder can be funny, but he just doesn’t have the goods here.

Sadly, out of everyone’s careers here, his was probably affected the most and never to be heard from again.

Consensus: Despite its talented cast and crew, School for Scoundrels wastes them all on an unfunny script, that doesn’t know if it wants to be romantic, mean, or stupid, so instead, tries to go for all three and fails completely.

2.5 / 10

My thoughts exactly, guys.

My thoughts exactly, guys.

Photos Courtesy of: Pop Matters, Rotten Tomatoes, Christophe Beck

You, Me and Dupree (2006)

DupreeposterEverybody’s got that one, seemingly attractive friend who has an oddly-shaped nose and has every woman attracted to him. Yeah, screw that guy.

Carl (Matt Dillon) and Molly (Kate Hudson) are back from their honeymoon and finally feel as if it’s the time for them to start focusing on their lives and possibly even starting a family. That all goes out the window once Carl’s old pal, Randy Dupree (Owen Wilson), comes around, asking for some money and a place to live. Why? Well, because it appears that Dupree has yet to grow up and accept life for what it is. Instead of having a job where he gets money, he mostly just sits around the house; instead of having a steady girlfriend, he’ll sometimes just jerk-off and have random flings; instead of being able to be trusted and responsible, he sometimes takes a tad too much of everything he’s handed for granted. And while Carl and Molly both grow tired of Dupree’s wild and unpredictable antics, eventually, they come to realize that maybe he’s going to make their lives a bit better. After all, there’s this fun and happy spirit to him that’s almost too hard to deny.

Some of the best bums I know, are the best chefs. When they're not paying for the food, that is.

Some of the best bums I know, are the best chefs. When they’re not paying for the food, that is.

You, Me and Dupree is a very weird comedy in that it doesn’t really have a plot, or, as my pals in the biz like to call it, “a hook”. It’s a mainstream comedy with big-names attached to it, but no real premise to have people the slightest bit interested; if anything, it appears that the powers behind You, Me and Dupree just relied solely on the fact that it was able to get these people to show up in their movie in the first place. Heck, even Michael Douglas’ unfortunate name can’t help but be thrown on the poster, even if he is only in the movie for at least 20 or so minutes.

And the only reason why I bring any of this up is because it’s actually kind of hard to talk about You, Me and Dupree without feeling like I’m just writing about a movie I think I saw. Don’t worry, I’ve seen it and yeah, it was fine. It’s the kind of movie that, like I said, because there doesn’t seem to be anything actually going on other than Owen Wilson acting like a goof-ball, it’s hard to fully remember any stand-out scene that had me laughing for days, or really surprised me. Mostly, the whole movie just came, went, did its thing, and that was it.

Does that make it bad?

Maybe, but I didn’t hate myself while watching it.

If anything, I was just more confused as to how it got made. The movie’s not incredibly funny, nor is it all that dramatic, either. There’s certain ideas and themes about marriage, loyalty, and sex that come and go as they please, but you get the feeling that directors Joe and Anthony Russo don’t really have a clue what to make of them; they’re way more interested in watching Owen Wilson cause all sorts of havoc around him, while acting like the nicest guy possible. And yes, there is definitely some fun to watching this – Wilson is, believe it or not, a likable presence on-screen, so that when he is given cruddy material like this, he allows for it to appear better than it may actually be. There’s no denying that the script is pretty lame and only brings out the gultiest and easiest laughs, but somehow, it slightly works because Wilson’s good at this kind of role.

And the rest of the cast is fine, too, even if they’re far-off worse than Wilson. Kate Hudson is charming, as usual; Matt Dillon gets a few occasions to have fun and be weird, which is always a plus; Michael Douglas gets to play a dick, which is always magically delicious; and Seth Rogen, in what appears to be an early role of his, does well and leaves an impression. Their characters aren’t all as drawn-out as Wilson’s Dupree and for that, they kind of suffer. However, they all try their hardest with material that clearly isn’t up their alley, nor is it made to fully work.

Mikey Douglas as a father-in-law? Sign me up!

Mikey Douglas as a father-in-law? Sign me up!

Which once again makes me wonder: How did it get made?

Did the actors just read this script, think it was trash, but because they were somewhat interested in doing something that would give them a lot of money, just do it anyway? Did they all want to work together? Or, did they all just want to spend some time with Michael Douglas? Honestly, the later option is perhaps the most believable and it shows; You, Me and Dupree seems like the kind of mediocre-as-hell comedy that would have been the main focus of a season on Project Greenlight. It’s cheap, stupid and really easy-to-follow-along-with, which is basically what you could call any of the movies made from that show.

However, because the cast is involved, it becomes something of a bigger beast. It’s got a bigger budget and you know what? It’s actually a better movie. Does that make it perfect? Nope, but it does make it at least somewhat better to sit through than the worst comedies from its stars.

May not sound like much, but hey, at least it’s something.

Consensus: With a talented cast on-board, You, Me and Dupree just barely squeaks by as being an okay movie, even if its jokes aim as low as they can, without a single care in the world to actually try harder.

5 / 10

What can he say? He's just Dupree!

What can he say? He’s just Dupree!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Superman Returns (2006)

ReturnsposterHe’s back and you know what? Those glasses are still working their charm!

Five years after exploring the deepest, darkest parts of the galaxy, Superman (Brandon Routh) finally returns back to Earth. Why? Well, it seems like his time had finally come for him to get back to his old ways and schedule. Miraculously enough, around the same time that Superman reappears, so does Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. And through Kent’s eyes, Superman gets to see just how much life has changed in the past five years. For one, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now engaged and with a child, even if she still hasn’t quite gotten over Superman; Perry White (Frank Langella) still heckles Clark over giving him crappy stories; and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), well, is awaiting for Superman’s arrival so that he can launch his evil, dastardly plan of taking over the world and being rid of the super-dude, once and for all. Obviously, Superman won’t let this happen, but he’s going to have a lot of issues battling Luthor if he can’t get his personal issues in order, or if he can’t keep those that he loves, out of harm’s way.

The meet-cute knows no boundaries!

The meet-cute knows no boundaries!

But when you’re Superman, sometimes, that’s a lot easier said then done.

I’ve got to give Bryan Singer credit for going all out with Superman Returns. Not only does his fanboy love shine through each and every single scene of this movie, but even for those who may not already be on-board with Superman in the first place, well, he doesn’t forget to reach out to. In a way, Superman is the quintessential, perfect human being, except for the fact that he isn’t a human being – he’s an alien. While this may sound all cool and rad, especially if you had all of the skills and capabilities that Superman had, Singer shows that there’s something actually very sad about this fact.

After all, don’t forget that Superman’s whole family, let alone, his race perished within the first five minutes of the original 1978 flick. Now, it’s just him, all by himself, left to make up his own legacy for his own good, where nobody’s there to really care, love, or support him, except for maybe a select few. But once again, because he’s Superman, he can’t get too close, nor trust anybody quite as well – some people will try to take advantage of him, whereas others may not want to be bothered with a possibly dangerous alien from outer-space.

This inherent sadness is what drives Superman himself, and it’s also what drives a good portion of Superman Returns.

In a way, it’s not your typical superhero summer blockbuster, but at the same time, it sort of is. It isn’t because there’s so much more attention to the tenderness and the humanity of this character, rather than just how much ass he can kick, and what sorts of heavy stuff he can lift. Then again, it sort of is because Singer can’t help himself from getting lost in all of the crazy, high-intensity set-pieces that can be deafeningly loud, but still equally as effective. This mixture of two sides of Singer may not always work, but when it does come together, it comes together so well that it makes me wonder why they don’t just give every superhero story to Singer.

After all, the guy has done some pretty wonders with the X-Men, so why not anymore heroes?

Regardless, there’s a lot to really be touched by with Superman Returns in that it really does ask for us to reach out and feel something for Superman himself. This may sound almost too simple, it’s stupid, but you’d be surprised how very few superhero movies actually seem to try and get us care for their title characters, more than just because they’re going to save the day from the bad guy. Here, Singer shows that there’s more to Superman than just what meets the eye; sure, he’s good-looking, super-strong, jacked, and not the person you want to pick a fight with, but he’s so lonely in this vast, wide world where people don’t know what to do with him, and after awhile, it begins to take a toll on him and make him wonder what any of it is worth. Should he continue to fight the good fight for Earth? Or should he just stick it out all on his own?

What a happy gang of pals.

What a happy gang of pals.

Either way, Brandon Routh does a solid enough job as Superman/Clark Kent to where he doesn’t get in the way of the character. Routh has obviously received flack over the years for not amounting to much after this role, which is wrong, because not only does the guy have some charm to him, but he’s also a sympathetic figure, and not just another pretty-boy asking for our compassion. You can almost look at Superman here like a sick little puppy that needs a home, a bone, and somewhere to shed his fur. Obviously, this works in the movie’s favor, and it’s definitely because of Routh.

As the iconic Lois Lane, Kate Bosworth may seem too young at first, but eventually, she works well into the role and gives us the sense that she’s the same old kick-ass heroine that she was in the older movies, and comics; James Marsden plays her fiancee who may, or may not be a dick, but may also just be a simple, everyday guy thrown into the shadow of Superman; Frank Langella gets some fun moments and lines as Perry White; Parker Posey plays Lex Luthor’s right-hand-women Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey), and does a nice job showing that there’s more humanity to her this time around; and as for Lex Luthor, well, Kevin Spacey does a good job in the role, however, there’s still a big issue with him.

A big, big one.

What’s bothersome about Luthor here is that, yes, he’s the stereotypical villain in a comic book movie, so obviously we can expect there to be some unbelievability. However, the plan that Luthor eventually hatches to take over the world, which would entail wiping out the rest of the human race for some reason, just seems so random and out-of-this-world. The movie seems to treat this as some grand master plan from Luthor, even though he is a crazed-loon and, for the most part, he doesn’t have the right head on his shoulders. While I could easily just pass this off as a small thing to nitpick at, it really doesn’t end-up that way and instead, turns out to take the bulk of the later-half of the story where the emotions are extra heavy and we’re really asked to pay attention.

It works, but still, it comes close to not doing so at all.

Consensus: With an extra bit of attention to the heart and soul of its title character, Superman Returns works both as a silly, yet exciting superhero flick, as well as a tender look at the loneliness these kinds of characters embody.

8 / 10

Still no glasses! Come on, girl!

Still no glasses! Come on, girl!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Queen (2006)

God save the queen, indeed.

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

More skin is always better, Philip.

More leg is always better, Philip.

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!"

“Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!”

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10

"Kiss it. Kiss it harder."

“Kiss it. Kiss it harder.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Identity Theory, Cineplex

Old Joy (2006)

Best friends should sometimes stay in the past.

Mark (Daniel London) is soon to be a father and quite frankly, he’s not ready for it. While his wife isn’t quite all that controlling of his current life, there’s still that feeling he gets in the pit of his stomach where he knows that all of the freedom of having hardly any responsibilities and pressures in the world, will soon be going away. So when his old friend Kurt (Will Oldham) proposes a camping trip in the Oregon wilderness, he’s more than up to it. Sure, they may have not seen each other for quite some time, but Mark needs some peace, quiet and relaxation from his current life and also wants to catch up with his old buddy in the meantime, so why the hell not? The trip does eventually happen, and while they’re on it, they find out more about one another, their lives since the last time they saw one another, and just how much they’ve changed, not just as adults, but as human beings. Also along for the ride is Mark’s dog Lucy (Lucy), who probably has the greatest time of her life just running around, picking up sticks, and wondering just what her human companions are doing.

Best friends shop together!

Best friends shop together!

It should probably go without saying that Lucy, the dog in the movie, is probably the most important character of the bunch. Sure, while she may not have any dialogue to spare, or be an absolutely integral part to the script and how the story plays out, she makes up exactly what the point of Old Joy is. When Mark and Kurt are walking around one another, trying to find the best words to say, or figure out what’s the next best topic to address, there’s Lucy, running around, picking up tree branches, wagging her tail, and seeming like she’s having the time of her life. In other words, while these two are figuring out what it is that they want to do with their lives, Lucy’s just there, enjoying herself and not seeming to give a single hoot about the rest of life’s problems.

The only reason I bring Lucy up is because she is, essentially, the one character worth paying attention to. She’s always there, whether in the background or clearly seen, and she may not have anything to do say, but in doing so, she drives home the point that these two men, despite having been great friends at one point in their lives, are nowhere near that to this day. Maybe when they were 20-somethings who had all sorts of aspirations and hopes for the world that they lived in, they had the time of their lives, but nowadays, they’re getting old, missing out on opportunities that were once available to them way back when, and for the most part, wishing that they could “just go back”.

And, like I said, there’s Lucy – always hanging around and enjoying herself.

But I digress. Daniel London and Will Oldham are both pretty solid here, and that means a lot. Because Old Joy is, essentially, a two-hander (if you don’t include Lucy), the movie does seem to rely on their talents and skills as actors to get across who these characters are and where they are at in their lives, without ever having to actually speak it, or make some sort of exclamation about it. In other words, they both have to play it really, really subtle, and considering that the script could have probably been fit on one page, it means a lot when just a twinkle in their eyes, or a turn of their facial-expressions, is more able to have us see a character in a different light, than having them actually say what we’re supposed to be thinking about them.

And this small, minimalist approach to ordinary stories such as this, is why writer/director Kelly Reichardt is such an extraordinary talent. Nobody tells stories quite like these ones nowadays and even if they, there’s not nearly as much attention to detail. There’s so many lovely, sweeping shots of the nature surrounding these guys, as well as a sweet, but peaceful score from Yo La Tengo to make it feel as if you’re right on this trip with these guys, and not knowing whether you’re enjoying it, or not. Regardless of whether you should, Reichardt seems more interested in the woods, and grass, and trees around these guys, that are supposed to make them feel completely and utterly at home, but instead, proves even further why they’re not as good of friends any longer.

Best friends eat in diners together!

Best friends eat at diners together!

In a way, Old Joy is a very sad story that doesn’t hold back the fact that these two men have seen life gone by them and now, they’re trying to make amends for it. But what Reichardt smartly shows is that maybe, just maybe, it’s already too late. The conversation’s already too dry, the personalities have already changed, and life’s been lived for far too long, to the point of where they lost a thing to talk about, or be interested by, in one another’s life. While Mark and Kurt may, interestingly enough, want the other’s lifestyle, they never ever come right out and say it, nor does it make them hate the other; they’re just sad and disappointed that this is where life has taken them and there’s almost no turning back.

You know, the happy stuff one person comes to terms with in their mid-life crisis.

If there is one issue I have with Old Joy is that it does feel way too short. Sure, the 76 or so minutes that it’s up on-screen, is as meticulously planned and put together as you can get, but when all was said and done, there was a slight feeling that there was maybe a tad more to this story than we got. Not that there needed to be more said between these two characters, but maybe another conversation or two would have done some justice – not just to these characters, but to the movie as well.

Then again, this may just be me whining and complaining for no reason.

Consensus: With a keen eye and attention to the smaller details, Old Joy extends itself beyond being just another road-trip movie, and instead, taking on a different life as a more subtle, but still engaging look inside the lives of two guys who, quite frankly, may not be the best of friends anymore.

8 / 10

And most importantly, friends bring  their luggage around.

And most importantly, friends bring their luggage around.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Roger Ebert.com

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Art is just pretty colors. Nothing more. So let’s take it easy.

Famous and notorious symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is used to facing all sorts of controversies in issue throughout his life. However, he’s now facing the biggest surprise of his life when, as it turns out, he becomes the leading suspect in a murder of a Louvre curator that he met some odd years ago. Why is this, though? Well, Robert doesn’t really know. But what he does know is that the murder all means something and has to do with a bunch of symbols, shapes and colors, all of which, somehow connect. So, in order to figure out just what the hell it all means, to find the actual killer, and above all else, clear his name, Robert, along with police cryptographer (Audrey Tautou), will have to run from the police and go through every piece of art that they believe to solve the puzzle of this guy’s murder. While all of this is going on, an albino assassin (Paul Bettany), who apparently works for the Church, is going around and killing people for shady reasons. But will Robert be the next one on this assassin’s list? After all, the stuff he has to say about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Catholicism, aren’t too popular and most definitely make him a key target for the Catholic Church to take out and shut up, for good.

Can't trust the French.

Can’t trust the French.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the Da Vinci Code back before it even came out. Most of that had to do with the tricky subject-material the book seemed to deal with in discussing how Jesus may, or may not, have had relations with Mary Magdalene, as well as how Catholicism wasn’t originally set out to be monothestic, but rather, goddess-centered. Surely, the ideas are interesting and make one think quite a bit, but honestly, they’re hardly ever touched at in the movie; there’s a nice sequence involving Sir Ian McKellen’s character who goes on about the Last Supper painting in ways that’s intriguing and fun, but really, that’s about it.

And you know what? That scene is probably the best one here.

Everything else about the Da Vinci Code, despite what the subject-material may have promised initially, just feels, looks, and seems safe. That mostly has to do with the fact that Ron Howard’s the director here and more or less, appears to be making a movie for the kind of large crowd that would want to go see this and not have to worry about being offended or thinking too hard. I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool to see Robert Langdon go through some of these historical documents and use his brain to think things through and connect the dots, but really, the movie doesn’t always seem too concerned with that. Most of the time, it just wants to keep itself moving without ever focusing on one key plot-element in particular.

Which isn’t to say that Howard does a bad job here; the movie looks as slick and as professional as can possibly be. But an action director, Ron Howard is not, and it shows quite often here. For one, the majority of the movie features Langdon running away – whether it be in cars, or on his own feet, Langdon always seem to be sprinting to the next location. Rather than to allow for the tension to pick up and grab ahold of us, Howard seems to use the manipulative device of just shaking the camera like he was trying to wake it up (or us, for that matter), and it just gets distracting. The movie, as was, already doesn’t do too much to grab ahold of you, but to see Howard try so incredibly hard to make you forget about that fact, can get a bit sad.

But perhaps Howard’s biggest wrong-doing with the Da Vinci Code isn’t his action-sequences, but the fact that the movie’s awfully way too self-serious and melodramatic, and it surely didn’t need to be. Had this been a crazy, wacky, and over-the-top piece of campy fun (which is definitely how it appears to be when you read what the movie’s about), I wouldn’t have minded some of the sillier moments that seemed to come completely out of nowhere and make very little, to almost no sense whatsoever. But because the movie hardly ever cracks a smile, or a joke, it all just seems like it’s taking itself way too seriously and doesn’t really just what kind of nuttiness lies within this material.

Can't trust albinos.

Can’t trust albinos.

If only.

Thankfully though, Tom Hanks, as usual, seems to be trying. Even as a character like Robert Langdon who, honestly, feels pretty boring, Hanks finds ways to make him somewhat charming and cool, even if all he does is stare at stuff all day, think way too hard about whatever it is, and come to crazy, almost random conclusions that nobody will ever believe. Hanks’ sort-of mullet is definitely annoying, but eventually, it’s easy to get by and just appreciate the fact that, yes, Hanks is here, trying to make this movie better, and do just whatever the hell he can to make this material come off as at least slightly legitimate.

Joining Hanks is a pretty solid international cast that we don’t get to see too much of in movies nowadays. Tautou does what she can to be more than just “the girl”; Bettany is just, plain and simply, creepy, but works well as it; McKellen adds the only bit of sizzle and spice to a movie that, quite frankly, needed a whole lot more of it; Alfred Molina shows up to chew the scenery as a member of the Catholic church; Jean Reno is the cop on Langdon’s tail and just wants to know what the hell happened; and yeah, there’s some more to be found, too. But still, none of them are ever given the full chance to spread their wings and fly as much, and as high as they want to – instead, they have a key demographic to appeal to and it’s just boring.

Consensus: Largely inoffensive, the Da Vinci Code barely touches on any of the controversial issues that made it such a hot-button many years ago and instead, suits itself for a more generic, run-of-the-mill, and occasionally interesting thriller. Lame.

5 / 10

But hey, don't worry, you can trust the British.

But hey, don’t worry, you can trust the British.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Kids can have some pretty messed-up imaginations.

Set after the Spanish Civil War, a time where Spanish rebels were being fished-out in the woods and left to be gunned-down by the nation’s soldiers, a 12 year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) gets thrown into a new world that she never expected to be in. In the real world, her pregnant mother is stuck with a powerful, but incredibly violent captain, Fascist Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who not only wants to get rid of every rebel there is to get rid of, but to also make sure that his baby-son is born so that he has something to prove to his dead daddy. In the not-so real world, Ofelia enters an imaginary land in which she meets creatures who attempt to convince her that she used to be a princess. But to ensure that everything goes all fine and dandy for her, as well as her family, she has to complete some tasks for these creatures, and follow them, rule-by-rule. If she screws up and decides to improvise, the scary monsters of this fantasy-land will know and she’ll have to pay the price. So Ofelia best ought to be careful not to mess any of these instructions up, nor get caught in the act of by Vidal.

Sort of scary.

Sort of scary.

Many people love Guillermo del Toro and it’s understandable why, too. For one, he seems to be one of the very few directors left around, still making big-budget flicks that allow for his imaginary to run more wild than an eight-year-old boy. He loves all things ghosts, goblins, ghouls, demons, and everything else that goes bump in the night. In a way, del Toro is like the kid who never grew up and instead, gets a chance to make whichever movie he sees fit; he’s living the dream, some might say, and they’re definitely not wrong.

However, I am not one of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not raining down on del Toro – the guy has made many good movies in his career and will probably continue to do so until he grows ancient and decides that maybe he did get old (even then, though, it still probably won’t happen). But there’s always this feeling I get with his movies that they can’t help but feel as if they’re constantly searching for the right shot, at the right moment, with the right music, all to then give off the right feeling for the audience to take home with them. Sure, you could say he’s a perfectionist and he’s not unlike any other directors out there who take absolute, almost crazy pride and dedication with their movies, but, for me at least, it always feels like this takes me out of del Toro’s movies and the stories he’s trying to tell.

Take, for instance, this story of 12-year-old Ofelia. Obviously, for anybody who has ever seen it, the fact that she’s a little girl having imaginary, spooky friends, surrounded by a setting that’s been ravaged by war, will definitely draw comparisons to del Toro’s the Devil’s Backbone. Apparently that is intentional and this movie is, in some ways, supposed to be considered a spiritual sequel. I can roll with that, however, that movie was a bit better in combining the two separate stories together, in order to make them seem like one, cohesive whole. The story of Ofelia and her wild, fantastical adventures, going alongside the story of Vidal’s bloody, gruesome tactics in taking down rebels, doesn’t quite work.

Which isn’t much of a problem because, for a good majority of this flick, del Toro doesn’t seem at all interested in making the two into one. Then, all of a sudden, he changes his mind and realizes that maybe they do need to and it doesn’t quite work as well. In a way, it actually takes more away from Vidal’s story which can be the most interesting one in the movie; while I’m not knocking on the character of Ofelia because she’s a young girl, at the same time, everything that she was going through didn’t really register for me. Yeah, I get it: She’s a kid who talks to a lot of creepy-looking, awfully-descriptive monsters, what else does she have to offer?

Kind of scary.

Kind of scary.

Not much, honestly.

Of course though, the good part of her subplot is that it allows for del Toro to show-off all of his wonderful and wild creatures, and none of them really disappoint. This is obvious from del Toro, but it should be definitely said that someone who aligns himself so much with the designs he makes for all of these monsters and whatnot, still seem to surprise and interest. There’s a couple of odd-looking, but cool-looking monsters that pop-up here, but perhaps the best, most memorable one is the Pale Man. By now, almost every person on the face of the planet has shown a picture of it and said, “Aww, look! How rad, yo!”, so I won’t bother getting into too many of the details, but I will say one thing, it’s still an freakishly scary sight.

Did I go to bed, normal and fine as usual? Yeah, of course. But it was still pretty freaky.

And while I know it may seem like I’m getting totally on del Toro’s case here, I really don’t want it to be. Pan’s Labyrinth, despite my problems with the plotting, is still an engaging movie, solely due to the fact that del Toro brings his audience into this little universe of his, but never does he allow for it to get over-the-top or serious. There’s always a certain degree of seriousness or menace in what’s happening here that makes it feel like it’s a horror movie, definitely, but not one all the way through. It’s still got something for people who just want a good, effective movie, that has something of a political message, but also not. It’s just another opportunity del Toro gets to create and design all sorts of wild-looking creatures, and he’s clearly enjoying every second of it.

So yeah, we should probably do the same, too.

Consensus: Though it’s plotting is a bit clunky, Pan’s Labyrinth is still, no matter what, a fine film from the likes of del Toro who can’t help but gush over everything he’s done here, even if the story sometimes feels like it’s taking a back seat.

7.5 / 10

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Photos Courtesy of: Villains Wiki, Pan’s Labyrinth Wiki

The Holiday (2006)

It’s always those attractive celebrities who need the most love during the holidays.

Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are both women who seem to be going through the same sorts of problems, even though both live in different countries. The former is from London, and had an affair with a man (Rufus Sewell) who has just recently gotten engaged; whereas the later is L.A.-bound and has a boyfriend (Edward Burns) who cheated on her. They both feel hopeless and upset, and with it being the holidays, they have no clue what to do next with their lives other than sit around, mope, and cry. However, Amanda has an idea that will also affect Iris: She wants to take a trip to London and Iris wants to take a trip to L.A. So the two concoct a plan where they’ll switch residencies for the time being and live in the other’s shoes. This all happens, but what surprises them both is how they end up meeting new people and, believe it or not, start striking up some romances of their own. Iris starts to see a film composer, Miles (Jack Black), whereas Amanda starts to hook-up with Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law). Both are happy and enjoying their time together, but the reality is that they’ll eventually have to get back to their real lives, and it’s something that may keep the relationship’s away from being anything more than just “some fun”.

She's attractive.

She’s attractive.

And honestly, that’s all there really is to this movie in terms of complications or tension. There’s no big twist thrown at the end to throw the whole plot and/or its characters into a whirl-wind of chaos, nor is there any sort of hurdle that these characters have to get over in order to make themselves feel fulfilled. It’s honestly just a bunch of hot-looking, attractive people, flirting, dating, smooching, sexxing, and then, oh wait, having to then come to terms with the fact that they’ll be living in separate parts of the world in a few days.

That’s it.

A part of me should be pleased that writer/director Nancy Meyers didn’t try too hard to make this movie anymore complicated than it needed to be. So rarely do we get movies that are literally about, what it’s about, and don’t try to stray too far away from that original-plot. So in that general aspect, Meyers does a fine job of giving the audience, exactly what they’re seeking for.

But at the same time, there still needs to be a bit more of a plot to make up for the fact that this movie is over two-hours long. However, it’s not the kind of two hours that flies on by because of the company the movie keeps; it’s every bit, every hour, every minute, and every second of two hours and 16 minutes, which is to say that it definitely needed to be trimmed-down in certain areas. The main which being the scenes that Iris has with her older neighbor (played by the late, great Eli Wallach). Don’t get me wrong, these scenes are nice, charming, and sweet, but as a whole, they don’t really add much to the final product; we just sort of see that Iris is a kind, loving and caring gal that’s nice to old men.

Once again, that’s it.

The scenes that she has with Jack Black’s Miles, tell more about her, her personality, and the kind of lover she is – the scenes she has with Wallach, thankfully, do not. However, Winslet, as usual, is as lovable as she’s ever been; it certainly helps that Iris is a strong-written character to begin with, but it also has to do a great deal with the fact that Winslet can handle both the comedy, as well as the more dramatic-aspects of the script, whenever she’s called on to do so.

He's attractive.

He’s attractive.

Diaz herself is quite fine as Amanda and also does the same as Winslet does: She balances out both the heavier, as well as the lighter material well enough to where her character stays consistent with the movie’s emotions. It’s not a huge shocker to know that I’m not a big fan of Diaz, but she’s actually quite enjoyable to watch here, because she doesn’t always over-do her act. Her character may be a bit stuck-up, but that’s the point; to see the cracks and light in her personality shine through, makes her all the more likable and sympathetic, regardless of where she comes from.

But this isn’t just a lady’s affair, because the men who do show up, also give their own, little two cents to make the Holiday work a bit more than it should. Black isn’t as grating as he usually is, and Law, the handsome devil that he awfully is, also shows certain layers deep inside of a character that could have probably been as dull as a box of hammers. Thankfully, he isn’t and it helps the relationship that his character and Diaz’s strike-up.

Problem is, though, it’s that run-time.

Also, not to mention that the movie doesn’t really make any reason for its existence. There are a few occasions where it’s funny, but for the most part, it’s just particularly nice. Nice does not mean “funny” – it just means that the movie can be seen by practically all audiences, regardless of age. Nancy Meyers always makes these sorts of movies and while they may not necessarily be lighting the world on fire, they’re just pleasant enough to help any person watching, get by. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, a kid, an adult, a senior citizen, gay, straight, bisexual, married, single, widowed, engaged, in a “it’s complicated“, or whatever. All persons from all walks of life can enjoy a Nancy Meyers movie.

That alone does not make them amazing pieces of film – it just makes them accessible.

Consensus: With a likable cast and fluffy-direction from Nancy Meyers, the Holiday is fine to watch and relax to, even despite it being way too long, and feeling as such.

5.5 / 10

Aw, bloody hell! They're all attractive!

Aw, bloody hell! They’re all attractive!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Fall (2006)

Wish my daddy told me stories like these.

Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is a very successful stuntman in Hollywood during the 1920’s. He’s been in plenty of movies but has found himself in a hospital, after a suicide attempt, where he rots his life away wondering just when he’s going to die, how he’s going to die, and where exactly that damn morphine is. He may have found all of the answers in a young girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who not only hangs out with him, but listens to him as he tells fantasy stories about pirates, gypsies, swords, guns, and all sorts of wild and adventurous things. But there’s more than just fantasy in the stories he tells, and together, they both find the solutions to all of their problems, no matter how different each one’s may be from the other.

Everybody knows that Tarsem Singh is one of those guys who knows what’s beautiful and what isn’t. Every one of his flicks (yes, even Mirror Mirror) all feel like fully-realized portraits that could have been painted by either Dali or Van Gogh, and inspired more and more people to take a brush, a can of paint, and a clear surface and start getting down to business, art style. However, the same can’t be said for his stories and even though I feel like we haven’t seen all that this guy has been able to do when somebody gives him a script, a story, and a huge budget, he’s still not there yet. Give him some time, and he will be but as for right now, the guy’s got some homework.

No matter what type of bad stuff I say about Singh’s writing, I cannot deny that this movie isn’t a piece of art, given to us on a silver platter for over two hours. Then again, almost any film nowadays is considered “beautiful” or “artful” because of what every person on the face of the universe can do with a keyboard, a screen, and a couple of clicks. But not Singh. Nope, this guy knows what actual-beauty looks like in a world like ours and not only is it great to see somebody embrace that fact, but show it off in the best way possible. Can some of it be considered showwy and too much?

Yes and no.

 

Looks like Lee Pace to me. Great job hiding yourself!

Looks like Lee Pace to me. Great job hiding yourself!

Yes, because, let’s face it, the only reason this story is told the way it is, is just so Singh can show everybody how huge his imagination is, and how much pretty colors his eyes can see. Directors like Terrence Malick and Ang Lee have the same eyes and same ideas when it comes to letting their visuals tell a story, but they aren’t as obvious as Singh is here. The guy wants everybody to see what he sees, and as nice as that may sound, it does seem rather indulgent at points, considering the story didn’t need to be told this way. Some may agree with me on that aspect, and some may not, but regardless, Singh does show off a bit too much.

Then again, it’s no for the sole reason that this movie is incredibly beautiful in every sense of the word. You get plenty of colors showing up when you least expect them to; visual tricks that you didn’t think were even possible; and a couple of large landscape shots that make me feel pissed I didn’t at least check them out on a big screen or anything else that’s larger than my 1999 Sony television. Or at least I think it’s Sony. Anyway, the movie is eye-candy for everybody who cares to seek their eyes on this thing and I have to give credit to Singh for showing us what you can do when you’re inspired, have some money to burn, and at least feel passionate about what you show on the screen. Once again, it doesn’t all work and seems a tad like over kill at some points, but if anything, Sing knows how to come up with a pretty shot.

Visuals aside, the movie doesn’t have a compelling story but at least it tries to.

Though the story at the center of the movie is very straight-forward and simple, Singh tries to go one step further with these wildly imaginative, over-the-top stories of fantasy and whimsy, and they more or less feel like manipulative opportunities for Singh to just break loose with what he’s got at his disposal. Which isn’t to say I didn’t mind these stories, they just to be a bit old, is all. It all started off perfectly by giving us a great deal of imagination, fantasy, fun, and humor to play with, and had me terribly excited as if the rest of the flick was going to be like this just about the whole way through, but it starts to lose its edge.

Somewhere along the lines, it seemed as if Singh, just like his main-narrator, had a strong start with the story he wanted to tell, then just lost all sorts of originality and decided to improvise his way through a story that could have touched almost everybody who ever heard it or saw it. The improv-idea of story telling actually doesn’t work and seems like a cheap excuse for Singh not to be able to come up with any spectacular ideas that may have kept us more glued to what was going to happen to this “story” and this “real-life story.”

Somewhere, imprinted in the sand, it says: "Lawrence was here".

Somewhere, imprinted in the sand, it says, “Lawrence was here”.

Although they’re saddled with something of a lame story, Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru are very good in each of their roles, whether they’re together or not, but too many of their scenes are dedicated to them just goofing-around with one another, getting along just fine, having fun, telling stories, and occasionally, getting a tad serious so one person can get a bit high for the hell of it. These scenes are sometimes good, and sometimes stupid because they go on and on without any point or message at the end of the road. There’s just a bunch of metaphors and foreshadowing between these two and whether or not Singh actually thinks this how people talk and tell stories in real life, is all up to him. However, it’s also up to me to tell him that this isn’t really how people tell stories and if you have a script that’s along the line of works like Aaron Sorkin, or Quentin Tarantino, or David Mamet, and can get away with i- then, good for you. But Tarsem, my friend, you just can’t.

Stick with making pretty images.

Consensus: Tarsem Singh definitely shows his imagination in beautiful shadings with the Fall, it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t hook quite as effectively as these said images do.

6 / 10

Hey, it's my backyard!

Hey, it’s my backyard!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Lives of Others (2006)

Spy gadgets – just another thing the Germans got us beat on!

Party-loyalist Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) hopes to boost his career when assigned the task of collecting evidence against the playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, celebrated theater actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Wiesler’s bosses believe that they are up to no good and in order to fully indict them on all of the wrong-doings, he must find some crucial evidence in where they seem to be participating in acts that go directly against the country. But what he finds out about both of them, doesn’t just change their lives, but his own as well.

You see it in almost every film that ever takes place in Germany, during the 80’s: People were constantly being watched by a “Big Brother” government. We’ve all seen it done before, but there’s something about Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s approach to this story that gives this one a little extra twist, and also something to really hold onto, even if you still hate the Germans for all of those terrible years. We all knew they had their evil ways, but let’s just try and get past it all for the better of movies!

Shall we?

Those eyes, though.

Just another day at the office; where everybody’s pissed-off all of the time.

Anyway, what was solid about von Donnersmarck’s direction here is that he’s given the rough task of taking all these different stories, and finding a way to mesh them all together to create one, cohesive whole. He takes on the love-triangle perfectly and shows us why one lady would get stuck up in such a situation such as this; then he takes on the spy story where we see this one man doing his job, sometimes to the fullest extent; and then, underneath it all, is a taut, suspenseful thriller that comes around in a big way during the last-half or so. What starts off as a neat, little character drama, soon turns into a full-out thrill-ride, but isn’t a drastic change of pace that seems forced. Because von Donnersmarck treats everything lightly and takes his time going through all of the details that we need to, or should at least know to make ourselves more familiar with what’s going on, the movie can be followed easier and therefore, creates more tension.

Some people believe that in order for a movie to be tense and suspenseful, that the director behind it has to keep the audience in the dark as much as possible, without lending a helping hand at any time. A part of me wants to believe that, but the other part of me believes that there needs to be at least some hand-holding to make sure that both the audience, and the movie itself, are on the same page. Movies such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are going to great lengths to make sure that the audience doesn’t fully know everything that’s going down, just so that it can pull more and more tricks once the actual-reveal comes up at the end, and it’s annoying. It’s deceitful for no reason. Here, however, von Donnersmarck gives us just enough to understand and take in for ourselves, all before he throws us for a loop.

He cares for the audience. He wants us to know just what the hell is actually happening, rather than just throwing us into something and saying, “good luck”. Not saying that there is anything wrong with movies that are a tad vague on details for the betterment of the mystery that’s possibly at the center, but to just make sure that the audience doesn’t know what’s going, because it’s fun, isn’t that; it’s bothersome. Which is why when you get a movie that gives its audience plenty to take in and make their own assumptions about, it’s quite a treat.

If only more and more thrillers were like this. Even if the movie does have a bit of a languid pace, there’s still something to hold onto here and it works in the movie’s favor.

Krauts! Hit the deck!

Krauts! Hit the deck!

Where the movie works though, too, is in the performances and how they actually bring a human-element to a story that, quite frankly, needed one to make it come around full circle. As the sneaky playwright Sebastian Koch does a solid enough job to where he seems innocent enough. At times, he is a little bland since we never understand what he wants to do with his life, other than just talk a whole bunch of crap on East Germany, but overall, he seems like a human, rather than just a character this movie needed to enhance the plot. As his girlfriend, Martina Gedeck gets a bit more to do as we see her back-story come out in certain spots that is, at times, disturbing. But because of this, we feel more for her and the situations that she’s sadly been thrown into.

However, the one that really steals this movie and gains our attention the most, is also the most tragic figure of this whole movie. Late actor, Ulrich Mühe, plays Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, a government spy who has basically took on this assignment to look a lot more skilled with his job. Even though he starts off as a total d-bag, who seems like he just wants to do his job and make anybody pay who gets in his way, he actually becomes more sympathetic as time goes on and you realize that he’s doing more for this couple, then any of them would have ever expected. It’s pretty impressive what this guy can do with a character that just seems like your stereotypical a-hole right from the start, but totally change up our minds on him very quickly, just by a few good deeds here and there. They all have reasons behind them, too, and aren’t just done because the guy wants to be a good Samaritan, but they’re reasons I won’t divulge into here for the sake of spoilers.

Overall though, it’s a downright shame that Mühe died so soon after this because after this hit the states, the roles would have just come pouring in for him.

Consensus: With its languid pace, the Lives of Others may run on a tad longer than it maybe should have, but given the cast’s performances and the story itself, there’s a lot to enjoy here, as well as be effected by.

8.5 / 10 

The perfect German couple. Gosh, they are so screwed.

The perfect German couple. Gosh, they are so screwed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au